A Follow Up On Angie

Six months ago I was on my way north for what I now know was the most important course I’ve ever taken. I was wrapped up in my excitement and joy to be leaving St. Louis. At a small rest stop in Indiana I met Angie, and I was so struck by our conversation that I wrote about her on my site. It had nothing to do with the content of my usual work, but I was so profoundly heartbroken by this woman’s story that I couldn’t help it. It was something I simply had to do, because I couldn’t do much else. It’s since become the fourth most read article on primitiveaddictions.com

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And the truth is, it should be. If anything it should be the most read. Because the things touched on it will always be a part of our lives as human beings. People like Angie will always need our help, and we should be as forthright with that help as we can be.

 

But that’s another article. Today’s is in a much happier tone. A few weeks ago I got an email from an address I didn’t recognize. The subject line simply read “Thank you”. Now, as the bleeding heart hippie I am, I’m subscribed to a lot of political/environmental awareness newsletters and almost didn’t open it, assuming it was another ad about some political victory that I had nothing to do with, but some organization thought I “needed” to know about. On this basis I didn’t open it.

 

Boy am I glad I did so later. It was from Angie.

It wasn’t long, and it wasn’t detailed, but in it she let me know that she had found work, and a place to stay, and was writing me from the library, where she had just read my article. She asked if she could pay me back for the cliff bars.

I’ll admit, I choked up when I read that particular line.

She explained that she’d kept my website’s name, and forgotten about it until she found it in the console of her car. Through the website she found my contact information and wanted to get in touch.

She ended the email with “thank you for the words.” That phrase will be the new bench mark for my writing, because it sums up why a lot of us write. Sure, sometimes it’s a simple exercise in expunging a thought, or a way to organize a stampede of them that we can’t wrangle otherwise. A lot of the time though, it’s an attempt to reach out. Not to anyone in particular, but to some unknown person or group. We put it down on paper or megabyte and say “look, this is what I’m thinking and I know it’s got to resonate with somebody out there.”

I can’t really put into words the feelings I have about her statement though. On the one hand I know cerebrally that I didn’t DO much of anything. I scribbled my thoughts down, put them up on the internet and then forgot about it. I did the least amount of work I could without actually affecting my life in anyway.

On the other, something I wrote touched someone’s life in a positive way. I don’t know how to explain what that feels like as a writer. I don’t even KNOW how to describe exactly what it feels like, but I wish more people could feel it.

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The truth is they can, and in bigger amounts than I did. By giving, by helping. As I said, I did next to nothing. I wrote. I didn’t help her get a place to stay for the night, or anything that really cost me a damn thing. I will do my best to make up for that in the future, and if you take anything away from this, or the previous article, I hope it’s a drive to pay attention to unimportant people. By that I mean people that you could walk by, look at and move on without the interaction having any effect on your life. My generation CRAVES meaning in our lives, and I think at the very least this is a good place to start. If you have excess of any kind (time, money, things) and are comfortable with having a bit less, look for people who need that little bit you’ll take off the top. I know a lot of young people read this, and I know that it’s hard just to get by right now for some of them. I’m not advocating giving away so much that you can’t take care of yourself.

 

What I am advocating is “a little off the top”. That weekend you planned on sleeping in till noon? Skip it. Find an opportunity to give that little off the top. There are volunteer organizations in every town, and they need help. I guarantee it. It doesn’t have to be a homeless shelter. (But I hope it is) Sure, you’ll miss those extra hours of sleep, but if at the end of the day you feel anything close to what I felt reading her response, and just knowing she was ok? It’ll be worth it. You’ve got ol’ cranky bones’ word on that.

Here’s a couple of links that I posted with the last one. You know, just to get you started.

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org

http://www.salvationarmyusa.org

http://www.chicagohomeless.org

 

 

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The Big Shift 

I have been a student all my life. I plan on continuing to be one for the remainder of it. However, starting next year, I’ll be making”the big shift” from student to instructor. I’ll be moving (again) to New Hampshire and helping the owner and head instructor of my school in Maine start a youth program

Now, in retrospect I’ve been helping with courses like this for a long time. Different subject matter, but similar formats. In highschool I worked for my fencing coach on occasion, going with him to fencing demos at schools, and teaching/performing at Renaissance Fair’s. Eventually, doing a few demo’s on my own when my coach couldn’t find the time. I helped facilitate groups attending Heifer international’s poverty courses in Arkansas, and organized youth programs for the Midwest-US China association. 

Its a big change in mindset though, to go from student to teacher. It takes a basic comfort in the subject, paired with an understanding that the people you teach may be completely oblivious to the little details of it that you take for granted. 

On top of that, it’s likely the most responsibility I’ve ever shouldered. The purpose of the courses I’ll be running is not just to inform, but to help young people find something that is missing from modern life. A closeness, and deeper understanding of nature and our place in it. I am of the mind that this is at the root of a lot of modern issues, and I’m not alone. In his book “Last child in the woods” author Richard Louv lays out a description of modern children and the way they are educated that lacks any real immersion in the outdoors. He refers to a “nature deficient” generation, that I was born into, but due to the choice of my parents to homeschool my siblings and I, observed from the outside. As Louv talks about all the things previous generations were able to partake in (Unstructured outdoor time, gardening, nature walks etc) that young people today simply don’t do, some mental and emotional puzzle pieces that have been irking me for a long time started to fall into place.  

I was lucky in my young life to have a school structure that encouraged me to be outdoors (this is all your fault Ma), it allowed curiosity to grow that was stifled in the one year I attended a regular grade school. Once I completed the scheduled curriculum content, that was it. Information and understanding was a step in a ladder that teachers would only allow me, and the rest of the class to climb so high on, because if we went to far ahead, what would they teach tomorrow? It created boredom, and a tendency to create problems for teachers. Which really meant I took time away from other students during some classes. To them I apologize wholeheartedly. 

So, the antithesis of this is the guiding factor as I create lesson plans in preparation for this new project. I want to have to say “I don’t know” in answer to questions on occasion, and follow it up with”why don’t we figure it out?” Not only does this mean that I’ll be learning as I teach, but hopefully it will help students to light that spark of curiosity and gently give it air, and fuel until it’s a roaring fire they can cook their ideas on.

Between that as my guide, and the fact that I’m also responsible for these kids safety. (Outdoor activities involve a few potentially dangerous tools, if not used properly, as well as the simple fact that kids fall a lot) the task can seem pretty daunting. However, when I remember all the time I’ve spent outdoors, and the training I received at Jack Mountain, and in all those other projects mentioned earlier, I know I’ve got a good set of skills to start with but plenty to learn as I go. 

So, that big shift? I pretty well stoked for it. Now I just have to ask my siblings about all the stupid things they remember us getting into when Ma took us hiking so that I can keep an eye out for students attempting them. 

And that’s another reason I’m excited for this. Some of my favorite memories involve my youngest siblings and being outside with them. When there’s six of you, there’s a pretty big age gap between the oldest and the youngest. Which meant that I could help them as problems arose, or answer questions if I knew them. 

In particular I remember going to Rockwood state park with my youngest brother, Pj. He couldn’t have been more than seven or eight at the time. Inside the visitor center was a row of terrariums, filled with local reptiles and amphibians. One of them contained a large, fat tiger salamander that Pj instantly became fascinated with. I don’t recall being particularly drawn to it, but I remember helping him read the placard below its tank. With every new bit of information his eyes hungered for another bit. At the time I remember mostly being annoyed that he couldn’t just read it himself, but in hindsight I see the beginnings of something that’s still a bit part of his life. PJ has had a whole menagerie of lizards, snakes, frogs, fish and anything else you can think of. With that comes a knowledge base that is entirely built on his own curiosity about them. 

Moments like that are what make being an instructor of young people so simultaneously daunting and exciting. If I had let my annoyance at his inability to read stop me from helping, maybe that curiosity would have had one less match lit under it. On the other hand, I have the opportunity to help light more matches along the way, and I likely won’t even know I’ve lit them most of the time, but I can tell you all this, I hope I help regardless. 

I’ll be sure to let you all know as things progress with the program, and as always if you have questions don’t hesitate to ask. 

Slainte Maithe everyone 

 

Immersion 

Americans love the outdoors. 


Well. Something along those lines. We love the idea of them, and we love to have personally conquered them. It’s a strange pattern in our culture, and ours specifically.  

It’s not just about the commercialization and industrial mentality I’m talking about. People smarter than me are doing a much better job pointing out the issues brought up by that and working towards solutions.

No, this has more to do with our disconnect from nature as a culture. Nature and the outdoors are something we DO, the way we go to a bar or a theme park. We “make a day of it”. We plan it out and check off things as we go along. I’m as guilty of it as anyone. Probably more so. I’m working on it. 

Now, this isn’t unique to Americans. We aren’t the only ones who market adventures and use the outdoors as a backdrop. There’s nothing wrong with that inherently. If an individual has the ability to show people a more tantalizing side of life by taking them climbing a mountain, or skydiving, all the power to them. 

The difference is, we don’t know when to stop. Everything is peacocked up into some grand escapade. I’ve even seen nature walks marketed as “adventure in an afternoon”. 

That’s not right. Not in the slightest. Worse yet, it cuts us off from a lot of aspects of the outdoors. Things that inarguably help us be better people. 

Other cultures have this inherently tied into aspects of daily life. The concept of “friluftsliv” is a recent discovery for me, but it’s one I’m going to pursue doggedly for the rest of my life. It’s a Scandinavian idea that roughly translates to “free air life”. It bleeds into a lot of daily life in those cultures. It’s the idea of just being in nature. Not out to conquer it, or take something away. Just existing. That’s something I’ve always felt when I’m out on trail, or even just sitting out in a backyard. We need it so badly, and we don’t even know it. 
I’ve been reading a lot about youth education lately. It’s all in preparation for a project I’ll be starting in the new year. (If you’re curious check out the site and let me know what you think) 

One of the books every teacher I approached recommended was “Last child in the woods”. I’d recommend everyone read it, but the premise is that young people NEED the outdoors the way a tadpole needs water until it’s a frog. Then it can take time away from it if necessary. That’s my analogy, not the author’s, but I think it’s a good one. We don’t immerse ourselves in nature as much as we should. We spend our time there to accomplish a goal, and then it’s back to the humdrum of every day life. 

I get it, and for some folks maybe that’s the only way they can enjoy it. Going back to that tadpole analogy, maybe some people are more like toads. In the water when they absolutely have to be, then a whole life spent out of it. Why though? As much as we’d like to remove ourselves from the natural world, we’re part of it. Admittedly, modern life tends to paint the “wild” as an other. An outside force we’ve been trying to escape since we first stood upright and came down from the trees.


 I tend to disagree with this, and I’m not alone. There have been plenty of studies and research done showing that time spent outdoors is not only good for us physically, it makes us happier. Again, I’d recommend “last child in the woods if you want a clear explanation of how it effects the growth of young minds, and how those effects can change a person’s entire life.


  

So, here’s a challenge. The next time you go outdoors? Go by yourself. Not just without a group of friends, but without anything else that connects you to them. Leave your phone, or if you really MUST have it for pictures/emergencies/etc put it on airplane mode. Take a journal, and just find a quiet place to stare off for a few hours. Jot down the thoughts that really reach out to you, or sketch what you see. Anything to really force yourself into just being. Because, no matter how much you feel like you’re not part of nature, you are. And in my experience, it’ll remind you pretty quickly. 

Mushrooms (Not a badger to be seen)

You never know what’s going to catch your interest on a hike. If nature’s feeling paticulalry riled up it’ll be a day filled with deer leaping across the path, or a family of jays you’ve disturbed from their daily habits of disturbing everything else around with their shrieking.

Other days it’s something simple and slow. In the mornings it might be spiders in thier webs that catch the light as it breaks silently through the overhead leaves, or the chourus of frogs and insects as they wake up and start to avoid/pursue one another.

In this case, the morning was a quiet friday, around seven AM. I’d been busy all week getting stuff together for my time in Canada and Maine this coming winter, as well as working. So I hadn’t had much time to spend outdoors. Somedays I like to set a distance, and knock it out. It’s about the excercise. That morning wasn’t like this. It was slow, meandering. I don’t know if people regularly saunter through the woods, but that’s certainly what I felt I was doing.

For whatever reason the theme of this hike was fungi. Now, I’m as big a fan of mushrooms as the next person. That is to say, I like the one’s I can eat, and know jack diddleyumpkiss about the rest of them.

How many of us would wander past the scene above and see it only as part of the view? It doesn’t have to be mushrooms. It could be moss, or the variety of grasses that brush against your legs. How much do you really know about them? How easy is it to change that?

It’s pretty simple. The internet and your own curiousity are probably the best tools you’ll ever have access to. Sure, field guides are wicked helpful, but if it’s a new topic for your personal study you likely don’t have eight books on mushroom identification. (Just another reason I miss the library at Jack Mountain) So, punch it into google and start the search.

The first little cluster I found was on a fallen log. They’d either started growing after it fell, or had adapted afterwards to lay out horizontally with the ground.

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The large white ones, I beleive, are Cerrena unicolor. Sometimes called “Turkey Tails”.  Now, I spent an unbeleiveable amount of time trying to identify these suckers because I was looking for something green. What I hadn’t realized, and what a real fungi fanatic would have told me is that I’m not only looking at two fungi here, but another living thing. Algea. In the words of th outdoorsman we all aspire to. “that’s pretty neat”

The orange goop, is some sort of Jelly fungus. I’m still trying to sort that one out, and will update once I know more. To be honest, I’m pretty happy with “Jelly fungus” as a name. Common names always entertain me. They’re often a version of “does what it says on the box”. Some person, who knows how long ago, looked at these weird squishy orange things and thought “Yeah, that’s jelly. I bet bears use it on their toast”. Or something along those lines. I may be assuming this hypothetical person has the same idiotic thought process as I do.

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Look at it. It can be anything you want. I see a rough sea, with a few sharks circling, you might see something different. I’m a big fan of these close up shots. Sure, you could take a photograph of the whole speciemin, and that’d probably be a better identifier. You wouldn’t get to see the little details though. You’d see a white, toadstool looking mushroom, and if you knew the ecosystem well enough, that might tell you what it is.

As far as the enviroments of fungus goes though? I don’t. Ask me just about anything about birds or fish in maryland, and I’m pretty comfortable giving you a description. Thats half the point of making your hikes into these kind of excercises though isn’t it? I’m researching in the hopes that somewhere down the line, some client is going to point at one of these and ask the dreaded “What is that” or “Can I eat it?”, and I’ll be able to say “Knock yourself out, just wait till I lay down some tarps and turn on some Zepplin, because buddy? You’re about to see the face of god”. Or more than likely I’ll be able to give a simple “Nope”.

In this case, I learned something equally as important as whether or not this big ol’ fellah is edible. I found that mushrooms, and fungi in general can be pretty hard to identify to a beginner. There’s a lot of look alikes, and when you’re dealing with something that’s possibly toxic, that’s a gamble I’m not willing to take. I believe what I’ve found is a “Shaggy Parasol”, which is edible. Now that’s where the danger starts. I could be completly wrong. I’m going off of sight, a photogrph, and a few field guids (Online and hard copies.) I figured, “Sure I’ll just type in ‘large white mushroom maryland” and that’ll be that.

Christopher you ignorant lumox. You’re going to get somebody killed.

 

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So, the take away from my adventure with mushrooms? I’m picking up on the traits used to identify them in the field. Cap size and shape, color of the various parts, as well as the environment they grow in. That’s a good start, and it’s opened up a whole world in the undergrowth for me to pay attention to when I hike. Plus, mushrooms don’t run away or bite the way the subjects of some of my other self motivated “collections” have.

 

Chalk that up as a win right?

 

If you happen to know more about mushrooms than I do, and can fill me in before I have the chance indentify any of these past the point of doubt, don’t hesitate to shoot me an email, or comment below.

Slainte Maithe everyone.

It’s a rough life, but it’s ours. 

I never had passion. Passion was something viewed from behind a desk that other people experienced. 

We hear alot from philosophers and family members about doing what we love. It’s this ideal they want us to strive for, but only if we’re doing it safely. “Make sure you have something to fall back on”, “get a business degree, just in case that whole”art”thing doesn’t work out”, etc. It’s a well meaning, but confusing approach to advice. 

A perfect pairing of the practical and the artistic. My grandfather, doing what he loves.

It doesn’t stop at family and friends either. Recently Wells Fargo released a series of ads that portrayed young people doing lab work, or some other”high minded” work. I’ve obviously got nothing against any of the science or business professions, but the quotes paired with them got my Irish up. One in particular showed a young man putting fluid into a beaker and had the quote”an actor yesterday, a botanist today”

Besides, without artists, who would help me find such great hats?

Sure, maybe this particular kid had a passion for the stage AND the classification of rare and exotic flora. That’s not how this was presented though. It was laid out like they’d fixed some inherent problem with this Kiddo’s life goals. They’d made him into something valuable out of something superfluous. 

Now I’m not an artist but a lot of my best friends are, and they put more of themselves into pursuing that path in one day than some people put into a year of work. Isn’t that following the advice we hear from almost every source? Find your passion and chase it like a rabid dog, only letting up when you’ve caught the thing. They work extra jobs so they can afford to exist, and still manage to make time for the things that really get them excited. 

As I said, I’m not an artist. However my experience transitioning into the outdoor industry has been pretty much the same. Lots of well meaning folks telling me that it was great I found something I love, but was it really a good idea to pursue it when I already had a well paying job with benefits? 

See? Perfectly normal human beings.

Yeah, you’d better believe it was. That passion I used to stare at like some unattainable, but beautiful goal? I have it now, and I’m not trading it for anyth ing. I’ve been on the other side of the spectrum. Working a job that payed the bills, and sideways glancing at people with a passion the way people in three thousand dollar suits tend to look at homeless people when they pass them on the street. I admired the work they did, but didn’t understand how much time was devoted to producing that work. It’s a job, a job that takes a lot out of you. Not only physically, but emotionally too. How could it not? You’re invested entirely in it, body and soul. Nothing impressive comes out of a person without taking parts of them with it on the way out. 

So, to those of you who work in the arts? Keep doing it. The rest of us who look on from afar at the beauty you create and appreciate it will do our best to help you bring the beauty in your minds out into the light. 

To those with a passion for the sciences and engineering fields? The same applies. You help us to understand the world we inhabit more and more. 

To those who think those previously mentioned things cannot both exist, or that one is more valuable than the other? Reevaluate your priorities. Almost everything you enjoy in life was made by a person with different life callings than you, so learn to appreciate were those things come from. 
Slainte Maithe everyone. Go watch a movie, and think about how that particular passtime and so many others couldn’t exist without a marriage of the practical and the artistic aspects of our beautiful, irritating species. 

The value of little trips


A few weeks ago my cousin and I had planned on taking a day hike along the Potomac River here in Maryland. When something came up for her and she couldn’t make it, I turned it into a three day solo kayaking and camping trip. 

We love those long trips that let us really let loose and wash everyday life off of us. Why wouldn’t we? We’re outdoors and doing what we love. Real life doesn’t let most of us take those trips very often though. So in some cases we just sit and dream about when we’ll finally get the chance. 

There’s another option though, and that’s making the best of the little breaks we get. A trip doesn’t have to be far away, or in some objectively magnificent place. Sometimes the little trips to close places serve as a nice reprieve. 

That was my experience on this gentle paddle down the Potomac. Its a calm, muddy river that doesn’t seem like it has much to offer when you first put in. I had only planned being out for a night at most, but once I’d looked at my map and found a pull out spot not far from where I’m staying. So I figured what the hell, I’ll just keep going. 

And that’s the beauty of short trips. They often turn into something unexpected, that you couldn’t have planned if you tried. I ended up paddling forty-five miles through my home state, and seeing it in a way I wouldn’t have otherwise. 

I started at the Daniel’s dam area of the Potomac state park, and paddled down it for about ten miles the first day. The river was pretty blown out from a recent storm that actually made national news for the damage it caused in ellicot city. It made the day easy and the current carried me more than my own effort did. 

It really was gorgeous. Certain spots, like the image above were like silver backed mirrors when the sun hit them. The weather was classic Maryland summer temperatures, mid nineties and humid anything. I probably could have done twice my distance each day if I hadn’t spent so much time pulling off to the bank and taking a swim. I met a lot of other people who lived near the river, and the told me about good swimming holes and campsites along my way. One elderly couple even went so far as to give me their phone number in case a storm came up. (It happens a lot in this are, especially during the summer months). 

The next two days went pretty much the same. Slow, lazy days on the river. Nothing to complain about at all. It was a nice chance to remind myself of some personal truths. This is what I’m going to do for the rest of my life. It’s been hard to keep that goal in mind during my time here in Maryland. I’m working a job that keeps me busy, and helping out my grandparents with anything they need. I’m proud of both of those facts, but they aren’t exactly things that move me towards my eventual goal. So it’s easy to let myself get discouraged, or feel my mind wandering into doubting if I’m doing the right thing, or on the right path. 


I am though. The Potomac reminded me of this. Those three days recharged whatever wild battery was dwindling in me. Just being outdoors and feeling my senses fill up with everything it has to offer allowed me to get back on mental track, and reignite my determination to get into this industry I’ve been exposed to.  


So take little trips whenever you can, and take them slowly. Pay attention to all the little details. Let each of them remind you why you’re on that trip. For peace of mind, exercise, or whatever it is you need. You’ll get were you’re headed, even if it seems forever away. In the meantime take the time to appreciate were you are, it might surprise you.