Chisos Basin, TX

Doc Doug, Bill, Fred, and Fred sit on the porch of the Terlingua Trading post. From the shade, they gaze out across a receding valley. Far in the distance, across the Rio Grande, sawtoothed mountains are gauzed by haze. A fire is burning somewhere on the border, Bill says. He spent his morning supplying burritos to the Diablos, an elite group of Mexican wilderness firefighters who are allowed to cross the border with impunity. Bill is retired from the park service—he first met the Diablos seven years earlier—but he is far too energetic to stop working. He still volunteers coordinating slurry bombers, but today he has been stuck on burrito-duty. Years later, he still knows most of the Diablos and this latest fire has made for an impromptu reunion. Tonight he is going to bring dinner to their campground and, one suspects, they will sit in the superheated desert air trading stories over a few bottles of what Doc Doug calls "ice cold medicine."

The porch does not belong to Doc Doug, but it is hard to imagine it being of any value without Doc Doug sitting on it. He's an institution in his own right. Doug has a formidable white beard, a sweat-stained do-rag cinched on his head, and the sort of cobalt-colored eyes that appear in hackneyed literary descriptions far more often than in real life. Having put in several years of camping and a stint living in an old school bus, Doug is a bona fide desert rat. He's also an urban refugee. Three decades ago you could have found him living in Houston, making money in an electronics job, and generally having a bad time. So he made the decision to quit, to unplug, to relax. To a society that is neurotically obsessed with quantification, Doc Doug is a categorical failure: he doesn't clock 70-hour work weeks, his investment portfolio is a case of beer, and he probably couldn't give a damn about his blood pressure. And he doesn't need to—he seems immensely happy and profoundly relaxed, enjoying a state of mental health rarely seen in wage slaves hurrying between offices and suburbs. The Doc decided to trade a life based on quantification for a life based on minimal work, conversations on a porch, and a few beers after noon. Is he crazy? Are you?