On Fleece Pants

11 minute read

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Just some great pants.

I would like to find the man

I would like to find the man from whom I stole These Fleece Pants. The black ones that I’m wearing now, as I watch the sunrise and wait for my friends to wake up. Fish jump out of the water, just enough to catch the bugs. They make a small “splsh” sound, leave tiny ripples across the otherwise glassy lake, and dive down into the clear water. Earlier, These Pants ran from the fire pit — where I failed to re-establish last nights’ embers — to the picnic bench, where a chipmunk gnawed at the outside of the package of Dave’s Killer Bread. It was These Pants that saved our breakfast.

I want to find you, Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants, to thank you for letting me borrow them during our camping trip together in New Zealand, when our Land Ethics final was making our way through a dark, rainy night to an unmarked campsite. We all brought our extra gear to share; I lent you my Whisperlite stove, you lent me These Pants. I think your name was Chris, or maybe it was Tom. Everybody in New Zealand is named Tom. You were the oldest student in our class — in your 30s! I never asked you why you were studying abroad in New Zealand in your 30s, but I wish I had. Your story, of how you used These Pants before they found me, is one I would very much like to hear.

This is the hill above the campsite where These Pants and I first met. Do you remember, Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants?

You should know that looking back now, I have no idea if I ever intended to give These Pants back to you. When the weekend was over you returned my stove, but I was still wearing These Pants. I said, “we’ll see each other around, I’ll return them to you next time we see each other.” But, Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants, I never saw you again. I suppose, technically, I still have the chance to stay true to my word, but I do not even know your name, let alone where you live or how to find you!

You should know, also, when you said “these pants are old and ratty but I guess they still work,” you were underestimating the spirit of These Pants to an unimaginable degree. They dry quickly, and have cinched edges around the feet, so they are ideal for cold, damp trips to the mountains. And as far as I can tell, they are made of miracle fabric that is soft and flexible, but durable enough to bushwhack through dense undergrowth without getting any holes. The inside of my sleeping bag knows These Pants well, because they slip over leggings and hiking pants, but ensure I take off my boots before, so they make me remember to change out of your wet socks before bed. In this way, These Pants save my feet from getting painful and soggy on long trips. On the last day out, I don’t even have to change in the morning, and just hike out wearing These Pants. This quality lets them see landscapes around the world.

Cool wetness, however, is not just found at high altitudes. These Pants bring me to misty beaches around the world. Later in the year after These Pants were bestowed upon me, I wear them on a chilly day in the Coromandel on Hot Water Beach, where they become covered in sand. We only have one shovel between five of us, so I get down in These Pants and dig with my hands, searching for hot spots in the earth. When at last we have a make-shift jacuzzi just out of reach of the waves, I strip off and carelessly discard These Pants in the pile of sticky, wet sand. We laugh for hours at the rising tide, abandoning our hard-won pool only once we are thoroughly pruned and the waves finally drown our hot water with the freezing Pacific. As we walk back to the rusty old Subaru, I only barely remember to grab These Pants. They are filthy, but well-spirited. They forgive me for my neglect, and join me on my flight home. At this point, we both know that we will never see Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants again.

Back in California, These Pants warm me as I walk along the eastern edge of the Pacific Rim. Together we pine for more adventure, and so we build a bonfire with old friends on the Santa Cruz beach. I am fairly sure this is illegal, but the night is so cold with just These Pants and a tank top (winter in California, huh). Besides, who makes fire illegal at the beach. These Pants and I huddle with Erik, Nathan, and Liliana, exchanging stories and giggles about absurdities like only college students can. We don’t drink, even though we’re all old enough now, because we want to remember what it feels like to be in love with the world together. The next morning, I wear These Pants on our second flight together, to my second home in Somerville, Massachusetts. We are greeted by the Polar Vortex, and in the first three months of owning them, I have been in a full 100ºF temperature range with These Pants.

I feel bleak in this winter tundra. My body aches to be outside again. These Pants have no defenses against mosquito bites, and they do not bolster my confidence against giant spiders that inhabit the woods, but they remind me of the immense freedom of the wilderness. Prior to North America, I don’t think These Pants had ever seen a proper trail — just open landscape to explore. I lay every night in my bed and listen to the train rumble by, dreaming of waking up in valleys filled with yellow tufts of grass, where the “route” I am meant to follow is a stony river. In my dreams I wear These Pants while I drink straight from snowy runoff streams. In Real Life, I wear These Pants on inconveniently-timed video calls to my far-away friends. I wear These Pants while I cry because my Adventure Life feels so far removed from Who I Am here. I wear These Pants when I eat whole giant bags of cheddar-flavored popcorn. I wear These Pants while I study for finals by myself in the library at 2am. I wear These Pants when I walk home in the dark.

These Pants keep the outdoors on my mind, but I wear them exclusively indoors after I get the tattoo on my thigh. These are the only pants I own that are loose around the top of my legs, so I wear them basically nonstop for a month, until it heals. I thought I would be wearing dresses when I got it done, but it is a cold April in Boston 2014, so the entire campus has seen These Pants.

The tattoo is a Koru spiral — a shape which I learned about nearly ten months before, in our class together, Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants. You remember. The spiral represents how we all start our lives in one place, but we grow and change in different ways throughout our lives, getting further and further from our starting place, taking longer to make wide-reaching changes to ourselves, but always with a connection to our center. We often find amber capsules of our old selves, way points we pass in our journeys through life, in artifacts. In the old Maori days, it was with tools, or pounamu jewelry (pictured left), or even with mental connections to sacred places. Nowadays, it can be with old diaries or trinkets, like music boxes or stuffed animals. It can be with smells like Grandma’s kitchen before the pinched nerve, when her hands were still good enough to bake. It can be with a pair of earrings, shoes, or pants.

These Pants are perfect for making memories at home. Because they are so easily washable after they charge through wilderness, it doesn’t feel bad to get them messy when I make art. This is how These Pants get the red and pink splotch of oil paint in the inside of the left thigh — right over the tattoo — as I make an attempt at an oil painting of an Autumnal Forest. I give that painting to Rhyan when she moves to New York. I lie when I say I don’t like it because it’s no good (it isn’t) but she disagrees and takes it with her, to reminder her of me in her new apartment. I’m glad, because I’m secretly quite proud of it. When I visit her, it hangs in her bedroom.

Two summers after These Pants and I met, we started a new urban adventure in the form of Sports, and I discovered they are unmatched in the area of sideline clothing. These Pants have consequently watched countless ultimate frisbee games at Harvard Stadium, and belayed countless partners up the walls at Rumney. They have cheered for the All Blacks, the New Zealand national rugby team; The Red Sox, my favorite American League baseball team (don’t worry, I’ll always be a Giants fan); The Leaf Cutters, my Costa Rican destination tournament ultimate team. These Pants stay warm even on drizzly tournament days that the team hopes will be rain outs, but never are. They slip on over uniform shorts and off over cleats, and they don’t mind when the wind kicks up dust storms on unkempt fields.

These Pants have been covered in every substance I encounter with any frequency. From sideline dust to sand, water, beer, bug spray, sunscreen, ink, paint, maple syrup, hot sauce, mud, dog saliva, pizza, peanut butter, pond scum, ketchup (or tomahto sauce as the case may be), barbecue sauce, chocolate, sawdust, white-out, glue, acrylic, guacamole, bacon grease, bicycle grease, ocean water, lake water, tree sap, coffee, metallic silver film development bath, pastels, molten wax, pastry dough, cinnamon, honey, hand sanitizer, cat hair, dog hair, horse hair, vinegar, hair spray, glitter, whiskey, hair dye — but These Pants don’t mind my sloppiness; they welcome being a part of the experiences. Everything has a story behind it. Everything washes out. Everything, somehow, except the smell of smoke. These Pants smell like hot summer campfire nights of eating three s’mores made with jumbo marshmallows. Of snowy ice-climbing with quasi-strangers in the White Mountains. Of cooking meat on an open fire where there are no bears, and foil packets filled with grilled vegetables where there are. They smell like the flameless embers that are the only things that singe tiny holes into their calves when I add pinecones to flames that are already high enough. They smell like soot and ash that rise when I kick over the last log under the stars right before I sleep. These Pants smell like both the beginnings and ends of adventures.

And so, Man-From-Whom-I-Stole-These-Pants, I would like to thank you. Thank you for the joy and warmth and comfort of the past four years. Thank you for the excuse and ability to go outside on spontaneous trips. For helping me pack for 72 hours in 5 minutes. Thank you for the innumerable sunrises and sets and their accompanying dusks and dawns, for the unimaginable beauty I am so grateful to witness. Thank you for this morning, in a grove of trees in front of a glassy lake with my best friends asleep behind me. Thank you for These Pants.