For the first time in my relatively uneventful life I was truly entertained by the chance to smash a fly with a rolled up magazine.
I have in the past felt a certain smug satisfaction after dispatching a bug that had been dive-bombing my eyes for 10 minutes.
And I have on occasion been frustrated by my failure to deliver a conclusive whack to an unusually nimble insect.
But I had not previously watched a fly, banging repeatedly against a window pane in the mindless manner typical of the species, and felt relieved of the burden of boredom.
I am ashamed to admit this.
Not because I’m leery about confessing to insecticide.
I’m embarrassed because the source of my excitement about the appearance of that single fly was the absence of the digital entertainment to which I am accustomed.
My cellphone was as useful as a two-wheel drive pickup in a mud bog.
This ought not have bothered me.
Or at least not to the point that I leaped with glee from my chair when I noticed the fly.
We had rented this rustic cabin in the woods fully cognizant that it was as thoroughly analog as the one-barrel carburetor in a lawnmower.
The prospect was in fact enticing.
We would spend a winter night in the Malheur National Forest’s Sunshine Guard Station, along the Middle Fork of the John Day River about 15 miles from the nearest gas pump and beer cooler.
We wouldn’t suffer unduly, to be sure.
Most notably, the wooden structure has electricity.
And although the guard station lacks running water, as frequent campers we’re used to the minor deprivation of an outhouse.
I thought of our weekend as an adventure, but one rather more comfortable than a backpacking trip or even a couple of nights in our toilet-less pop up trailer.
No tent poles to fumble with, for one thing.
Also, comfortable seats and reliable heating (although I would have preferred to burn tamarack rather than kilowatts; alas, the guard station has electric heaters in place of a woodstove or fireplace).
We brought our snowshoes and planned to explore the area during daylight.
I had one book in progress, and a second ready in case I made it through the first.
As the weekend approached — my wife, Lisa, reserved the guard station about a month earlier — I daydreamed occasionally. I conceived the classic scene of the city-dweller, imagined myself sitting in a comfortable chair, watching snowflakes swirl outside, a mug of hot cocoa within easy reach.
This wasn’t a fantasy.
Not completely, anyway.
Late on Saturday afternoon, after we had hiked the road behind the guard station and snowshoed for a piece on another road up the river some miles, I was indeed sitting in a chair.
But rather than feeling cozy and satisfied, as I watched the light leak out of the day and smelled the potato soup simmering on the stove, I was a trifle bored.
Perhaps more than a trifle.
I would read a few pages but instead of settling into the book, as I usually do at home, sometimes for the better part of an hour, my attention would waver.
Except it was the absence of outside stimulation that kept distracting me, not its presence.
I found this passing strange, and not a little exasperating.
With no television blaring, no promise of a basketball game to watch or favorite movie to revisit, no website or weather forecast to peruse on my phone, I should have smoothly lost myself in the story I was reading, only to realize later, as I looked at the dark windows, that the sun had set.
And a fine story it was — “Burning Fence,” the compelling nonfiction book by renowned Oregon novelist Craig Lesley.
Yet I couldn’t get comfortable.
With hindsight I suspect the problem was the pressure that a person sometimes feels when a long-anticipated event finally arrives. It is much the same with a vacation — you feel compelled to make the experience not merely memorable but transcendent, having toiled so long to make it possible.
Yet the burden, almost always, is too great, the expectations unreasonable.
That perfect Currier and Ives tableau I had created in my mind, for instance, surpassed the reality, as I suppose I knew it would.
There were no snowflakes, for one thing.
Also, the guard station, lacking a woodstove to perfume the air with pine, actually smelled more like a place that has been indifferently maintained and is rarely aired out. The potato soup couldn’t quite overcome this slightly unpleasant scent.
Still and all, as the evening went on and I began to feel sleepy, there were moments when the real experience seemed familiar, resembling the idyllic scene I had envisioned over the past month.
In particular I reveled in the silence.
I don’t mean that the cabin was quiet.
With a 9-year-old boy and his 13-year-old sister around, true silence was as improbable as my learning even the basics of calculus.
Besides which, the fans from the electric heaters purred constantly.
What I noticed, and appreciated, was the complete absence of city sounds. No obnoxious burbling from a passing car with an exhaust system held together by rust and optimism. No slamming doors. No blaring train whistles.
Just the great silence of the deep woods.
And an occasional buzzing fly to get me out of my chair.
Jayson Jacoby is editor of the Baker City Herald.