An Excerpt from Jim Conrad's
NATURALIST NEWSLETTER
of May 24, 2009
Issued from the Siskiyou Mountains west of
Grants Pass, Oregon, USA

PERSIMMON PUDDING
& MY BIG GAMBLE

About thirty years ago I saw that I couldn't live the life I wanted while at the same time paying for health insurance. The choice was clear: Abandon my path or do without health insurance.

I didn't take the gamble lightly. I'd traveled enough to have seen what it was like in countries where no one had health insurance. There were many more blind people in the streets, more people with missing or useless limbs, and more in bed with ailments that probably could have been cured if they'd had medical attention.

During last weekend's backpacking trip from Onion Mountain I got to thinking about all this because before my friends left me there Anita had given me to carry along some persimmon pudding and a bottle of grape juice. The pudding had been made from fresh California persimmons and Anita had squeezed and canned the juice from her own grapes. Monday morning descending the slope I'd waited until I was a little tired, hot and really hungry to bring it out and then, with a broad view of a beautiful valley below me, the moist freshness of a perfect morning lingering in the air, with juncos trilling in the pines and a sky about as blue as possible, I ate that persimmon pudding and washed it down with big swigs of grape juice and I don't believe I've ever enjoyed a meal more.

For some reason, after thirty years, I decided that that persimmon-pudding moment finally carried me across the threshold beyond which I knew without a doubt that now I've won my gamble doing without health insurance. For, if tomorrow I'd learn that I have a cancer that could have been detected and cured if sometime during the last thirty years I'd have had a physical check-up of the kind insurance pays for, but now I have just two weeks to live, I'll still have won my gamble. These last thirty years I've seen and experienced much more than I ever dreamed possible and I've enjoyed innumerable moments like that meal of persimmon pudding and grape juice. If thirty years ago I'd upgraded my job to one enabling me to pay for health insurance, my life wouldn't have been graced with nearly the number of transcendent moments I've experienced without insurance.

There's even been an unforeseen benefit arising from living without health insurance. For, the very moment I irrevocably made the decision to live without it, something flipped in my brain. From that moment through thirty years until now I've regarded every literal and figurative bend around the corner as a potential life-altering risk. No emergency room for me if I fall from that ladder. No heart bypass if I have a heart attack.

Thus, during these last thirty years I've been on high alert, paying attention and watching out. This has imparted to my life an intensity and a focus I think is largely missing in lives of people who at least think they're secure, that "things are taken care of." Also, by eating and drinking properly, and exercising and avoiding self-destructive habits, I've ended up with a body that even now, approaching age 62, thrills with the pure pleasure of breathing fresh air, of hiking and climbing and carrying a backpack mile after mile, and my digestive tract can still absolutely annihilate a gummy, black, shining-in-mountain- sunlight persimmon pudding washed down with sparkling grape juice.

I'm not suggesting that others follow my example. It was a real gamble, and I just got lucky. I know several people smarter and more talented than I who gambled but lost.

It's just that as I was licking the last brown smears of persimmon pudding from my fingers and smacking my lips, it occurred to me that someone out there might benefit from being reminded that sometimes the gamble pays off. And if you find yourself facing the choice I did thirty years ago, and you feel strong, you know what you want to do and you can't do it while paying for health insurance, you know you have the self discipline needed to pull off the whole thing, feel a little lucky, and haven't yet made your welfare critical to the lives of someone else... remember me on that high mountain perch last Monday morning with persimmon pudding crumbs in my beard and grape juice glistening on my lips, and do what feels right to you.