Whither goest thou, Bud Man?

Having launched his career in the exciting field of anthropology a few scant months ago, my son called last week to let me know he’d already stumbled across a mystery in the California wilderness that had left him and his colleagues quite baffled.

A recent graduate of Chico State, my offspring has been traveling through the wilds of California and Nevada as part of a U.S. Forest Service project to identify historical sites.

He’s examined old gold mining operations, American Indian campsites, the remnants of forgotten pioneer structures and the occasional abandoned automobile chassis.

There are always a myriad tantalizing questions that spring from these isolated, forgotten spots: Who lived here? Why did they leave? What were their lives like?

As my son travels back and forth across the West, however, he admits that one recurring phenomenon has left him completely mystified:

“Dad, no matter how far you go, no matter how remote, no matter how seemingly inaccessible, you will eventually find at least one Budweiser can standing alone in the wilderness,” he related during a recent phone conversation. “I mean, you’ve got to wonder why somebody would hike 40 miles into the middle of tick-infested nowhere to drink a beer. It’s almost always Budweiser and it’s always just sitting there like a forgotten, one-can shrine to the god of fermentation.”

Yes, I agreed, the mystery of the migrating beer cans could prove to be a whole lot more puzzling than, say, the lost colony of Roanoke or the disappearance of the Anasazi.

By utilizing our combined intellects (never a good idea, but what the hell…) we were able to come up with several hypotheses that might someday help to solve the mystery for future generations.

They include:

* Bibulous bears. As civilization intrudes more and more on the natural habitat of California bears, they’re going to intrude more and more on our beer coolers. Being otherwise rather stand-offish creatures by nature, they’re going to scuttle far back into the bush before they pause to enjoy that single, treasured Budweiser.

* Johnny Budweiserseed. Much like Johnny Appleseed, this folk legend staggers from thicket to bog from dawn to dusk planting beer cans in hopes that they will someday grow into mighty 12-packs.

* Black helicopters. The cans may have been discarded from the same mysterious black helicopters that hover over crop circles and dead cattle in the Midwest. Hey, 10,000 government conspiracy theorists can’t be wrong.

* Monuments to hardy explorers. The solitary beer can may be marking a personal triumph of fortitude in the wilderness, much like legendary frontiersman Daniel Boone’s famous carving “D. Boon cill a bar on tree.” Although it may lack the personal touch, the obvious advantage of using a mass-produced beer can to commemorate your passage is that the Budweiser label is probably spelled correctly.

We haven’t yet agreed upon a definitive explanation for the wilderness Budweiser phenomenon, but I’m sure it’s only a matter of time until you read our conclusions in the Journal of the Royal Anthropological Institute…

Originally published September 30, 2001