“Anam Cara”

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I spent Christmas and new years back east visiting family. On new years eve after most of the other guests had gone home I was sitting in my Uncle Pat’s music room with all my uncles listening to them play, singing along when I knew the tune, and chatting about life. I’d recently been through the end of what in retrospect I’d realized was an unhealthy relationship, and ultimately a toxic friendship as well as some bad news about the program I was in at Univeristy and losing a job. In talking about it with them, I mentioned how amazed I was by the people that had stepped in and not only comforted me but called me out when I was being insufferable. It was a level of friendship I wasn’t aware was there until it was necessary. My uncle Jimmy, who’s the oldest of the gang, and usually the loudest, got very quiet for a moment then simply said “Anam cara”. I know very little Gaelic, but knew “cara” was heart and pressed him to explain. He told me that it means “Freind of my soul” and when I rolled my eyes at him, assuming he meant “soul mate” in the way it’s thrown around today, and was trying to give me an expletive-laden version of “Plenty of fish in the sea” he stopped me and in typical Jimmy fashion, dumbed it down into the saltiest version he could think of. “It’s like this Chris, everyone’s got friends, right? But the one’s who you know are the good ones will hold up a mirror to your face whether you’re all done up or smeared in shit”

The phrase itself really stuck with me, and the more I looked into it the more I could see that quality in the people who’d been there for me. Especially my gang of fools living in Chicago who I see once or twice a year. Even with that distance and time, as soon as we’re together the dynamic is exactly the same as it always was. As individual recognition goes, my roommate, who became a brother in arms long before we lived together, and even survived the big dirty with me comes out on top. He dragged me kicking and clawing through the rough spots and always made sure there was something good to eat on the other side.

This sort of friendship is easy to miss in others. It’s sometimes painful the way resetting a broken bone can be, but most of the time it’s boring. It’s the autonomic nervous system of interpersonal relationships. It’s there, it does it’s job, and doesn’t complain unless you push it too hard. Even when you do, it’s only asking that you slow down a bit and let it catch up. Time and reflection have to be taken to notice it, as is true of anything that has the potential to be taken for granted.

In realizing how important these select people were to me, I knew I had to say proper goodbyes before I left for Maine. I’m writing all this down so I don’t have to have a deep personal conversation with each and every one of them, and because a lot of them live in places that don’t make for a short trip.

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My approach to any sentiment that I hold dear is to create a physical symbol of that thing. I’ve got my home states flag inked into my skin  where I can always see it, I have little knickknacks from every place I’ve visited and that impacted me significantly, etc. I think of them as little totems for those overwhelming feelings, good or bad, that keep them outside of myself so I avoid my family curse of “keep it all inside and then one day you’ll die”. So I decided to pass that on. I took an old table leg and sawed of small circular slices of it, then burnt those words “Anam Cara” on the back, and asked each of these people for a small animal/symbol/word that meant something to them and burnt that onto the front, as well as making myself one with the good ol’ vegvisr burned into it.

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If you’re interested, Brainpickngs has a great article about this concept, and it links to John O’donohue’s (The poet credited with describing this term in a way modern men and women can relate to) Here.

This last paragraph and quotation about “Anam Cara” is really for those people who’ve been in my life in this way. Stay touch as much as time allows and know that even when I’m in Maine I’m just a phone call away. After the last year, I’ve definitely got some ground to make up anyway. Know that at some point through every day we’re apart, I’ll glance at my little totem hanging around my neck and think of each of you, and how much joy you’ve brought to my life.

The superficial and functional lies and half-truths of social acquaintance fall away, you can be as you really are. Love allows understanding to dawn, and understanding is precious. Where you are understood, you are at home.

~John O’Donohue

~slàinte mhath

 


 

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“John Muir’s head exploded” or; the story of Cranky Bones

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So since I’ve still got a month or so till I head to Maine and start writing posts about ACTUAL outdoorsy stuff, I figured I’d fill you guys in on the Primitive addictions logo above. This version was created by my friend Haily Kaufman, and incredible woman who I met through my university. If you’re in the market for something similar you should check out her work Here and here. She’s got a wicked way with whatever drawing implement you put in her hand.

The title of my blog/internet persona originated from a little cross stitch that sits on the mantle of my aunt’s home. I was spending some time with them a few years back and saw it and happened to be reading “My first summer in the sierra”  by John Muir. I started doodling and came up with a really simple line drawing of a Muir-esque man with his head opened up and trees, mountains and a river springing out. I didn’t think much of the drawing or words until I was hiking a stretch of the Appalachian in Georgia. In my downtime I started carving the guy into a table top I’d brought along to carve. I didn’t finish it on the trail, but once I got back it was the only thing I spent my free time on for a week or so. Below is the finished carving.

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Eventually I decided that I’d get a tattoo of this guy to be the centerpiece for my “wandering sleeve” which is a fancy way of saying “get a little tattoo in every town I visit”. I took it to the shop by my apartment and met Justin Kennon (Check out his Instagram here if you live around St. Louis and need an artist). I gave him the basic idea and told him he could do his own spin on it. I’m really happy with the path he took with my basic design, and I can’t wait to fill in all the extra skin around him with storys from the palces I visit.

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So that’s the story so far. Expect to see cranky bones show up more often, and in weirder and weirder places.

Got a design that follows you throughout your wandering? tell me about it in the comments.

 

Avoiding Comfort

My family has this weird tradition (I say family, I mean my three boneheaded brothers and I, “king bonehead”.) Every year on the first snow we all strip down to our underwear and go see who can stay out the longest. I don’t really remember why this started, but it’s been an influence on my approach to life. There’s a strange trend in the human mind to seek comfort, and while I understand this entirely, the best things I’ve ever done in life have been uncomfortable, or downright painful.  So, I’ve become an addict for things that I don’t take a shine to right off the bat.

Boxing is my favorite example. I hate the feeling of being hit, everyone does. The first three times I got the wind knocked out of me I almost quit right then and there. A strange things happens though when you keep forcing your body to do things it doesn’t like. It adapts, and not in the way I’d expected. I figured I’d simply get better at boxing and get hit less. Perhaps with another coach that may have been the case. Mine has a slightly different approach. His favorite line is “If a punch doesn’t knock you clean out, it may as well be counted as a miss.” After three years of having this shouted in your face when you start complaining, you stop seeing the pain, and start seeing it as an opportunity the other person missed and acting on it.

This isn’t just true of sports, or being outdoors. It’s also incredibly true to pass times. There’s this desire for all the good parts, but without taking on the less than fun effects of it. I’ve always liked the smell of cigarette smoke. I grew up around it, and I learned something from it. It wasn’t a pleasant smell, but I saw how it calmed down the people who used it. It was a sacrifice to some unknown god. In the old days we killed a calf and burned it as an offering, now we light our own throats ablaze and spit the smoke out towards the heavens. There’s something meaningful about that. It makes the chemical reaction something we’ve earned. The same way with alcohol. You want the buzz? You’ll have to learn to stomach bad beer, or strong whisky down your throat. Everything in life should be that way. Sacrifice bits of yourself to get what you want.

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    I suppose it’s sort of  that way already, but we just don’t notice most of it. It’s sort of leeched out as we devote time and breath towards whatever it is we’re working towards. Those are usually the good things though. Anything you’ve devoted time and attention to has a worth of it’s own. That’s why the chemical reactions are so appealing to us. It’s instant, but we also immediately feel what we’ve given up. The bits of our lungs getting clogged, the burn of vodka down into our stomach. Those are good things, because we’re constantly reminded that we’re poisoning ourselves in exchange for that high we need.

   Personally, I like that concept of “poisoning” myself. I like being reminded that I’m burning off bits of myself, via fire or toxins. I know what I’m giving up for the few moments of calm that I get. Bits of my lungs in exchange for a train of thought I can actually run and leap onto as it blares past. I understand what I’m giving up in exchange for those little experiences. It’s modern day sacrifice. No god in between the burnt offering and the reward. We sacrifice bits of ourselves to our own desires. I personally enjoy that sentiment, and I’ve never understood the appeal of flavored vodka and things like that. The deliberate attempt to lose the harshness of intoxicants, but maintain the enjoyableness seems like a dangerous and greedy thing to me.

Maybe it’s because I’m rereading Jack London’s work, but I think this quote would come to mind as I write it anyway.

There is an ecstasy that marks the summit of life, and beyond which life cannot rise. And such is the paradox of living, this ecstasy comes when one is most alive, and it comes as a complete forgetfulness that one is alive.

~Jack London, Call of the Wild

I adore this line, because it sums up perfectly something I’ve only ever felt when I’ve failed, or realize I’m about to. The most alive I’ve ever felt was when I fell off a small ledge while running at local park. I hit a patch of ice, and slid (In my head, I’m pretty sure I looked like a looney toon) off the edge. I fell about ten feet and cracked two ribs. the jog/walk back to my car? I don’t really remember it. I remember fear which turned into action, immediate and born of requirement. I’m not saying you should fall off cliffs to feel alive, but put yourself in situations where it could happen. Then at the end of the day, while you’re having a beer and a lung scorching smoke, laugh about the fact that it didn’t.

Little additions to your pack.

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I’m of the mindset that the simpler the gear, the better it is for long hikes. This was learned after my first attempt at the Appalachian trail. I got about ten miles into the hike before I realized that everyone I’d passed was carrying a lot less in their packs than I was. I’ve since trimmed down what I carry, and gotten rid of stuff that was definitely unnecessary. You’ll find plenty of blogs out there that give you a huge list of gear, and I’m sure at some point I’ll write up a whole list of what I bring on long hikes. However today we’re just going to cover a few additions that I’ve made a must have in my pack when I camp or hike.

A good ax or hatchet: So full disclosure, I’m a bigger fan of the felling ax than I am of the hatchet. However if you’re solo hiking or aren’t comfortable lugging an ax through towns (I am, which is a whole other story) find a good hatchet to take with you. It’ll be less weight in your pack, and is admittedly much more versatile. I’ve had knives break in the middle of a hike, and a well cared for hatchet makes a good substitute in most cases.

A good wool blanket to pair with your sleeping bag: These seem like an obvious pairing, but you’d be amazed at how many people I’ve met who just bring a bag. If you’ve got a bag rated at twenty degrees or lower you’ll be warm, but the added utility of the blanket will let you have something for those slightly chilly nights in front of your camp fire.

A tarp, my god bring a tarp: I’ve passed so many hikers drying out their sleeping bags and gear after water seeps into their tent overnight. Bring a tarp, and put it under your tent even if it’s been bone dry all day. The tarp can also double as a quick shelter if you’re caught in the rain, rather than trying to set up your tent.

A hobby: Bring something you’re good at, or would like to get better at. I usually carry around a couple whittling knives and a chisel. A lot of people bring an instrument. Not only does this give you something to do while you’re sitting around the campfire, but it’s also a great way to make friends on a trail. If you’ve got a harmonica, and the guy who just showed up at the shelter has a guitar why WOULDN’T you have a campfire music session? I also always have a pipe or two with me, and a few ounces of tobacco. The extra pipe has made me plenty of friends and led to some great conversations.

A Dog: This is obviously not for everyone. Don’t bring a dog that won’t be able to hike 10+ miles a day with you, or one that doesn’t eventually warm to people. My dog isn’t exactly a people person right off the bat, but once he warms to them he’s almost annoying with his affection. For one thing, it’s nice to have a companion with you every day. A dog is that, but without the risk of discovering he’s a chatter box a few miles into the hike and being stuck with him for the next hundred. There’s also the added safety of a dog. A lot of animals are scared off by a barking pup, and mines also kept some pretty shady people in Tennessee from talking to me (again, story for another time)

 

If you’ve got anything that isn’t a necessity but always comes on the trail with you, or think I’m carrying the wrong things post a comment and let me know!

 

This will always be the first song I listen to on a long road trip. Chuck Ragan really embodies the urge to wander in his music.

Did you ever wander far from home?
Far from what is safe and comfortable?
Trading all your demons for the moon
And sleeping till the sun makes it all true.

I don’t know how long I’ve been gone
And I can’t say when I’ll get home.
I’ll keep my engine clean and strong
And run this soul where it belongs.

Somewhere I can hear a lonesome train
Burning in a direction I can’t name.
I’ll shut my eyes and lay these bones to rest
Off the beaten path we all know best.

I don’t know how long I’ve been gone
And I can’t say when I’ll get home.
I’ll keep my engine clean and strong
And run this soul where it belongs.
Maybe I’m just spinning wheels lost in a world
That lost the thrill of living on the edge until
It’s time for the bedroll, until the ember’s gone.

Primitive Addictions

Hello there everyone,

This blog will be a showing of the little fixes I get to feed my addiction to the outdoors, and an ever-growing exploration of my work as a trail guide and outdoor educator. I thought about writing a long post explaining how I’d reached the point where I dropped my pursuit of working in the political field, but I decided that I’d just show you guys the essay I wrote that got me into the school I’ll be attending in April. Take care, and get outside when you can.

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     “I have always had the desire to be outdoors. I was homeschooled all the way up until college, and because of this I could finish my work much sooner than most of my friends who attended school. In that free time I’d grab a book and head to a local park. The books I read were always in a similar vein. In grade school I devoured Jack London’s northern adventure stories, and as I got older leaned towards Ralph Waldo Emerson and Henry David Thoreau. These authors inspired me to wander, and I spend any free time I have during breaks heading to new places I haven’t seen yet and camping or hiking. In college I studied political science, and enjoyed it Immensely. However, one course in particular spent some time talking about the formation of America’s National Parks. Through this I was introduced to Theodore Roosevelt’s friend and associate, John Muir. His passion for the outdoors struck a certain chord with me, and the more I looked into his work, the more I felt like that was the sort of work I’d like to end up doing, even on a much smaller scale. The peace he described feeling while lost in the wilds of the Sierra are the closest words to my heart, because he put into prose a sense of belonging I’ve only ever felt has been staring out into the woods and knowing deep in my bones that I was were I should be.  My eventual goal now, is to work for the national parks service in some shape or form.

 

   I spent my last year of college working as the event coordinator for (former) Missouri Gov. Bob Holden. While the work we did was rewarding, it wasn’t in a branch of public service I would like to do for the rest of my life. I have respect for people who can handle sixty hour work weeks,and constant stress. However there were aspects of the work that I couldn’t bring myself to admire. There was no comradeship, and everyone involved in that side of politics always seemed to be trying to get more than out of people than they had to put in. I am unfortunately not suited for that mindset, and it brought out a selfishness and constant distrust of people that I know would only grow worse if I stayed involved. I do not blame anyone but myself for letting that happen or regret the time that I spent there, unfortunately could only see the damage it caused in retrospect.

 

    The truth is that I lost my sense of self while I was in that world. I found myself acting selfishly towards the people around me and in doing so lost the sense of empathy I pride myself on. It is hard to trust anyone, especially yourself when most of your days are spent trying to figure out if something you are told is honest, or a misrepresentation of the facts in order to gain more than you give. Luckily, I have rediscovered my center and am working on bringing myself back towards it. I look forward to doing work that is honest again and more in keeping with my own personal values. I can think of nothing more suited to myself than to spend my days learning about the outdoors by being in them, and in turn passing on that knowledge to people who crave it the same way I do. I’m hoping that this course will supply me with that hands on skill set that I can apply to my career goals. I have spent so much of my life enjoying trails and campsites built by other people, and I’d like to help build some for other people to enjoy. I believe this course will help me do so. Thank you for considering me as a candidate for this scholarship, and I cannot wait to begin this experience come spring. In keeping with the theme of rediscovering the self that has come out as I write this I’d like to end with a quote from John Muir that encapsulates the center that I had lost, and am now on the path back towards.”

 

“Keep close to Nature’s heart… and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”