Deliberate Living

 I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.”

We’ve all probably heard this quotation by Thoreau at some point. One of my favorite jokes is telling people how glad I am to have it as an answer when people ask why I like sleeping on the ground in the outdoors, if only because it’s a better answer than “I just really hate showering and answering my phone”. 

Truthfully though, the line is well known for a reason and I’ve been thinking a lot about the question it brings to mind. What’s “living deliberately” look like?

Is it just thinking completely about every action before you take it? Doubtfully so. Were this the case, why did our buddy HDT have to head out into the woods to find it?  I think there’s more to be said about the involvement of mind and body in each action and activity you involve yourself in each day. Simpler ways of doing things force you to be deliberate about them, and in my humble opinion, bring greater joy at having been done. 

Let’s elaborate on that line of thinking a bit. I’m no expert on happiness, or on social commentary by any means. However I am an experienced observer of my own bad habits. The worst of these come from moments of idleness, and that idleness is usually helped into the world by technology and more “efficient” ways of doing things. 

Now, I’m no “cell phones are making us dumb, kill ’em!” sort. I’m actually thinking of a much less harped on machine. Your washer and dryer. 

Bear with me for a second. 

So, if we want to live deliberately that means being fully invested in all we do. This is a great motivational quote when applied loosely to broad topics like career paths, or a weekend hike that’s a great photo opportunity and needs a quote for your Instagram post, etc. But on a day to day basis it seems to be asking us to do more work. Outlandish. Unthinkable. 

Until you start to peel that particularly off-putting onion. The same amount of work is being done, the difference is that you’re doing it, and your mind and body are fully engaged. So let’s get back to the washer/dryer bit. Since the weather broke I’ve been doing my laundry in a home depot bucket. I’ve got a makeshift washboard and a pole for agitation, and when I’m done I hang it all out to dry. So the physical part of this is obvious, but it’s also mentally engaging. You don’t plan a day for laundry. You wait until the sun’s out, and the weather is nice enough. Even while working on other things, the back burner of your mind is looking for the right day. 

That’s one example, but it brings us to the broader point I’m trying to make. Western culture loves “efficiency”. The idea that as things improve we get more free time. Time for liesure, socializing etc. So if we’re getting more and more efficient, and supposedly have more and more free time, why are we the most overworked, and unhappy we’ve ever been as a culture? 

Editor’s note; Woah there Christopher. That’s a bigger question than your able to answer, maybe ease u- (at this point the writer stuffed his editor into his washbucket)

I don’t have all the answers to that, but I do think that a lot of the time we’ve “freed” ends up going to waste on trivial things, and things like television and Wikipedia wormholes that, while fine in their own right, end up keeping us from more important things. If you’ve been involved in every task you’ve undertaken that day, instead of having them done via satellites and cogs, I’d be willing to bet that the sleep you’re missing out on because you just HAVE to click the next link on that wiki about the swamp apes of southern America will feel much better, or the phone ringing to invite you out with a group of friends will be a welcome change instead of a social obligation. 

And yes, that swamp ape example is based in fact. 

So live a little more deliberately somehow today. Don’t buy the precut salad mix, take the raw vegetables home and enjoy the moments of engagement while you cut them. Ask a friend to help change your car’s oil  instead of paying someone to do it. Turn everything you can into some act of defiance against the idea that free time is the goal. Fill out every day, and squeeze 63 seconds out of every minute. 

(At this point the editor has asked that I stop speaking like some sort of snake oil salesman)

Basically. Just do stuff for yourself and enjoy having done it.  

Cranky bones, out. 

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A Year In Review

I’m finishing up this piece sitting on a group of friends’ deck in Chicago. It’s fitting. A year ago I sat on the same deck with the friends I’ve known for years, trying to explain why I was leaving my life in St. Louis to go to a semester long course in northern Maine. 

I didn’t have a plan past that. I just wanted a break from the everyday. A chance to get my monsters in check, to sort through the events that led me to need a break in the first place. I went looking for nothing more than an interesting experience. What I found was a lifestyle that did away with previously mentioned monsters entirely. Jack Mountain, and the people I met, didn’t give me what I thought I wanted, but it gave me what I didn’t know I needed. 

It’s hard to explain the last year in a way that doesn’t come off as performing lip service to the school, fellow students and the instructors that have been instrumental in sheparding me towards a way of life that not only brings me more joy than I’ve ever known, but allows me the opportunity to pass that joy onto other like minded souls. Each experience I had that impacted me on a visceral level was crafted by people more experienced, and more knowledgeable than I am. I will forever be grateful to them for those experiences and the generosity they’ve shown in sharing their know-how with me. 

So the past year. That’s what we’re here to talk about. This piece of scribbling could be longer than anything else I’ve written, but I’m just going to chat about the “big three”. Three moments in the last year that stick out in the tectonic shifting that shaped this new life.

1. Seeds of School Of The Forest

April seventeenth was the start of the semester I participated in at Jack Mountain Bushcraft school and guide service. Over those nine weeks I was introduced to skills and methods of living that will forever be the ground work for any program I teach. I learned about “frilufstliv”, or the idea of living a life that has a real and constantly evolving relationship with the outdoors. The moment in this semester that truly shifted my course in life was a rainy Thursday afternoon when I went setting trail markers with my instructor and friend, Tim Smith. As we walked we chatted back and forth about future plans and what I was getting from the course. As we wandered along the paths hammering blazes onto trees, we talked about my desire to bring people into this lifestyle at an earlier age. Tim mentioned off hand that he had run a youth program a few years back, and would love to see it revived. I expressed my interest in being involved, but didn’t think much more about it. It continued to lay low in my mind, dropping in and out of thought, always growing and making its call louder and louder. Now it’s my pleasure to not only be involved with it, but to be running the program itself. It’s a ridiculously underserved opportunity, but I’m grateful and excited that the project is off the ground and has courses listed on its calendar. 

2. Homecoming

I stayed for six months in Baltimore working, but mostly killing time until I could head north again. It was an eye opener after living a sustainable outdoor lifestyle for nine weeks. I’d always previoualy thought of good ol’ charm city as some sort of personal Xanadu. Now though, it serves as a reminder of how detached from the natural world our culture has become. Not by any fault of their own, the folks I worked with had no frame of reference to discuss the experiences I love having in the outdoors. Not the “adventures” or moments of internal/external struggle that invariably become the talking points when discussing the outdoor industry. People want to hear about the romance and the trials, but those aren’t the moments that keep me doing this. It’s those little moments where all is right. They are fueled by simple things, like a pot of trail coffee and the sound of snow falling, or a sit spot that you’ve watched go through its shift from spring to summer. These are the things I want to talk about, but are hard to discuss without a prior reference point for both indivuals. Baltimore cemented my resolve that school of the forest is a worthy endeavor. I saw detachment from, and fear of the world that brings me so much joy. SOTF gives me the opportunity to pass this on to young people and hopefully affect their internal lives for the better.

3. A community on the outskirts of the norm

This industry seems to attract certain types of people. A lot of the self described “lone wolves” seem to rise and bare their teeth in an attempt to make their presence known. In my experience so far, they end up whimpering and sulking away when the day to day work needs to be done. They want the romance of the life, and the ego stroking that comes with having a captive audience to be macho and “independent” at. My friend and associate Ben Spencer put it best while discussing this very subject. “Our best ‘survival skill’ has always been our ability to get along with other people.” 

He said this in passing on a long drive back from northern Quebec, and it wiggled its way down into my brain. It’s the most succinct explanation of humanities’ growth as a species and is becoming more and more relevant in an increasingly interconnected world. Words of wisdom from a fellow filthy vagrant. 

And that’s the amazing thing about this tight little community I’ve somehow tumbled heel over head into. They are an eclectic, intelligent, completely bizzare group of lost souls. Seekers of something more in this life. Something old, that lives in our deepest memories of primordial soup. Sure, half the time our conversations are crass and filled with the worst jokes of every category (dad jokes, groaners, thinly veiled threats of violence) but at the end of the day we as a strange little collective find the meaning we require in our sweat of the day mixed with the nuerons that fire as we sit around our cook fire at night talking about the desire for others to experience this amazing natural world we live in. The outdoor industry feels like home, and it does so because of the people who’ve welcomed me into it. They are too many to mention here, but they know who they are, and the effect they’ve had on me.  

Thanks for keeping up with my ramblings for the last year, and here’s to the next one. Let’s hope it’s filled with bad puns on trail and all the boots I can eat. 

“The Most Penetrating Of Preachers”

 

If you know me, you know I’m a big fan of Hermann Hesse’s work. I recently found a piece by him that I hadn’t been exposed to yet. “Bäume: Betrachtungen und Gedichte” is a collection of poetry about trees, and Hesse has a piece in it. Stumbling upon that was like finding out a Christmas stocking had a secret compartment in the toe, with a sampler of scotch stored away in it. Talk about a good day.

The piece is phenomenal, and if you have the time there’s a wonderful reading of it here.

It got me thinking though, about this last year.

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I had some rough patches. I’m not going to bore you with the details of that, because those rough patches were eclipsed by finally finding something I can throw myself into completely. I found that thing that calms that indefinable lust for something larger than myself that I’ve ached for as long as I can remember. I had a lot of false starts ( considered the priesthood, political work, botched attempts at romantic relationships, etc) but the answer came during a moment of frustration in the north Maine woods.

I do not cope well with blowhards and people that take themselves too seriously. I worked with enough of them in my time with Governor Holden. In the world I’m getting into, there’s a lot of that it seems. During some of our downtime on a canoe trip, I eventually got fed up with a conversation that was essentially a pissing contest and wandered off for a little quiet time. (If I keep up this “disappear as a coping mechanism schtick, I’m going to be that old man who people have to ‘keep an eye on’)

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I took a book, and just found a spot a few hundred yards away from camp, sat cross-legged under a pine and started to leaf through the book and the scribblings in my notebook. That lasted for about a minute before the landscape in front of me stole my attention. I was sitting at the edge of clearcut, where tire tracks were still visible. It was sort of a sad sight, but the more I watched the more I saw bits of life creaking their way through. In the middle of this clear cut, was a pine sapling, green as the woods on either side of the cut and probably only able to grow because the larger trees around it had been removed. It had free reign of the sun, water, and nutrients from the ground. I’ve got the campsite’s location written down, and I plan on going back to see that sapling every few years or so once I’m up north for good.

Now, at this point, Tim and I hadn’t even talked about School of the forest, but I already planned on doing outdoors work with youth. My vague plan was to get involved with Outward Bound, or something similar. The sight of that sapling sort of drove it home, in exactly the sort of sappy sentimental metaphor I’m susceptible to. I saw something new, and promising growing from the remains of something old. What could possibly be more important in life, than helping that metaphor happen in young people’s lives? If the work I do in the future, helps bring this passion and peace found in the outdoors to others then I’ll be proud to have done it.

That moment didn’t come from “adventure” or “challenging myself”, the way a lot of the outdoor industry seems to be geared towards. It came from just existing in that ecosystem and seeing a “restart” button having been pressed, instead of just destruction of the land. Call it hope, call it optimism. I’m a big fan of both of those. It isn’t either of these things though. It came from an inkling of understanding of the life cycle of a forest, and observation.  I didn’t have a good handle on the term at the time, but it came from a sense of “frilustliv”.

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So going forward with school of the forest, that idea will be baked into the bones of every course I run. This idea of simply being in nature, and being at peace with your place in it. As I’ve said before, if I’d stuck with the path towards the priesthood, I’ve no doubt I’d be as evangelical about it as anyone. I’m hoping to bring a bit of that fire to this project. Not because I think it’s right and everyone should think the same, but because the peace I found through experiencing “free air life”, and then studying it and seeing the correlations between what I’d experienced and the benefits others had reported were so compelling that I have a need to pass this on. To anyone, but especially to youth with too much energy, and minds that move too quick for them to harness and ride. I’ve been there. Hell, I’m still there some days, but this lifestyle has helped immensely. I’d be selfish not to hope that I can show others this peace, and earlier in life than I found it.

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This has been your monthly “Christopher lets the preacher out of his cage” broadcast.

I’ll leave you with the bit from Hesse’s piece that struck me. it’s the final few lines.

But when we have learned how to listen to trees, then the brevity and the quickness and the childlike hastiness of our thoughts achieve an incomparable joy. Whoever has learned how to listen to trees no longer wants to be a tree. He wants to be nothing except what he is. That is home. That is happiness.

Now get of your phone/computer/ machine with the magic buttons, and go outside.

 

Slainte Maithe everyone.

 

 

Stoicism and Empathy

Stoicism is the closest thing I have to a set “world view”. It’s a big part of my personal identity, and that’s part of why I’ve had so much trouble writing this piece.

Stoicism, in the basic sense revolves around not allowing anything outside of yourself to affect your thoughts or actions, unless it’s an influence that helps the practitioner become a more rational person. It’s been compared to Buddhism by some, in that the practitioner is trying to achieve some sort of enlightenment via detachment and the performing of actions that benefit society as a whole.

Lately,  I’ve hit a stumbling block with it though. The thing that keeps tripping me up is how little room it seems to leave for empathy on an interpersonal level if you focus on the dogma of detachment instead of the philosophy as a whole. A friend of mine, who’s one of the most empathetic people I know, and I had a bit of an argument about something I’d done that upset her. It spiraled into an overall assessment of our friendship in general. The discussion eventually reached an impasse of sorts. With one of us needing more understanding and communication, and the other (myself) being pig headed and stubborn in the way only someone trying to detach themselves can accomplish. All she was asking what that I voice concerns and complaints so that they could be discussed. All I wanted was to let the anger I felt about the situation go, and get on with it. (If my mother’s side of the family had a motto, it’d be “Just shut up and do something”. Not a talkative bunch when it comes to complaining about personal things)

Here’s the thing. When I finally “let things go”, for the most part, they really go. Some of the bigger things take a while (Still haven’t forgiven my brother Joe for pushing me off our bunkbeds years ago). Otherwise I’ve gotten pretty good at detaching myself from the outcome of things, especially over the last couple of years. That’s not necessarily a good thing. It shows that I’ve been too focused on the detachment side of the stoic philosophy, and not enough on the “grow into a more rational human being” side of it.

“If someone can prove me wrong and show me my mistake in any thought or action, I shall gladly change. I seek the truth, which never harmed anyone: the harm is to persist in one’s own self-deception and ignorance.”

~Marcus Aurelius

It’s easy to fall into that “Self-deception” aspect, especially with personal beliefs that we hold dear. I’m particularly guilty of it in interpersonal interactions. The politician and debater in me wants to come out on “top”, rather than accept criticism of my stance on a subject. It’s part of the reason I left that field of study. I saw the traits and habits I used in my work start to bleed over into my personal life, and the relationships I had suffered for it.

Sometimes in killing one aspect of ourselves we find superfluous, we allow room for something else to grow. In this case, it was apathy. Apathy is actually one of the goals of stoicism, but only towards suffering and discomfort the person practicing it experiences. I’ve gotten a good handle on that, but I let it encompass a lot of other aspects of life it shouldn’t.

It’s taken me weeks to work out a solution to this. Not because it’s a hard answer, but because I’m stubborn and proud. Nobody likes to admit they’ve been wrong, but I take that distaste to a level that’s probably analogous to a “Scorched earth policy”. So I’ve come to realize the answer is to only use ONE can of gasoline on friendships that are difficult.

 

Kidding.

 

A big part of the solution for me personally is just to listen, and listen well, to what someone else is telling me. It’s not an easy thing to do. My mind automatically looks for openings and weaknesses in their “Argument” instead of just boiling down what their saying to the root of their personal grievance and figuring out, “Is this something I can fix and by doing so improve myself as a person? If not, what is the most appropriate way of explaining why I won’t or can’t change my behavior? ”

Easier said than done. That big ol’ bit of pride in my belly is going to rear it’s head over and over. Maybe I’ll hold onto that can of gasoline. I’m not how you burn a character flaw (probably involves some sort of unholy ritual, I’d guess) but I’m certainly going to try. I’m not big on mantras, but if there’s one that’ll be bobbling around my head while I work on this it will be this.

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?”

Fix yourself, not the people around you. If they bring you a valid concern over your actions, take it to heart instead of trying to rationalize it. If it is valid, and they’ve brought it to your attention, they’ve done you a favor. Be grateful for it, and do your best to improve on the problem. That’s not to say that you should accept any criticism as gospel, down that path lies a personality akin to a damp towel. If you can see that what you did produced more harm than good, start to work on cutting that habit out of your daily life. It’ll take time. Rome wasn’t burned in a day.

Oh wait. Yes it was. Maybe there’s more to the scorched earth policy than I thought.

Kidding. Again.

 

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 

 

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. 

Pop Heinkle’s Hands And Reprobus’ Work Ethic

We’ve all heard that whole bit about people looking like their dogs right? You see a man with a sagged, lined face walking his bulldog and it just seems right. We see bits of ourselves reflected in our pets, and that’s why we like having them around.

Sometimes it isn’t just a physical resemblance. It’s certain traits that let us get along so well with these balls of fur and joy. We can learn a lot from the dogs we have around us. A lot of the time they’re a better indicator of ourselves than any psychoanalysis would be.

My dog is absolutely this for me. My family jokes constantly that Reprobus is my “id”. All my energy and impulsiveness bottled and corked into 45 pounds of joy and desire for work. He needs a job to be doing, or he gets himself into trouble. Curiosity and impishness that can only be countered by wearing himself out entirely, and a distrust of new people. I can certainly relate to that, especially the other side of that distrust, which is an almost asinine devotion to people once his border collie brain decides they’re part of the “flock”.

We all need something to devote ourselves to. For some, it’s social interaction or a creative outlet. It’s the thing you do that all other things in life work towards. The thing that you can put everything you are into. For Rep and I, that thing is work itself. Something that physically wears us out to the point of sitting still for longer than ten minutes.

It’s a hard thing to channel for some of us who take part in an outdoor heavy lifestyle. Especially when the workweek takes up most of our time, and the work we do isn’t physically demanding. I worked in an office all through college, and I’d come home with my mind racing and my bones aching for some kind of activity. It got me in trouble a lot. I’d do stupid things out of sheer boredom, and annoy the hell out of anyone around me with an endless stream of consciousness out of my mouth.

Now that I’m back in Baltimore, I’m working for my uncle towing cars. It’s demanding physically and leaves me feeling truly tired after a twelve hour shift. The other day I glanced down at my hands and realized that they were starting to look like my great grandfather’s paws. He worked in a brickyard his whole life and some of my first memories of him involve his hands. Even in his nineties he still had hands like a bear. Albeit a bear covered in grease and clay, or dirt if he’d been working in their garden. We don’t always intend to end up like our family, but sometimes it sneaks up on us, in ways we don’t expect. I have never considered myself to be a hard worker, if anything I’m prone to bouts of laziness. However, having a job to do that allows me to work with my hands all day and come home sweaty and filthy has brought out the work ethic I respected so much about my great grandfather. It’s rewarding in and of itself, rather than being rewarding because of the money or accolades received. 

So, how does this apply to you, the reader?

 I can’t rightly say. All I know is that if you have the opportunity to work with your hands in some way do it. Find small tasks that require some form of tactical dexterity and apply yourself to them. If you’re mind is racing and you can’t slow it down, physical work draws you out of yourself and into the subject of your efforts. It doesn’t have to be something truly manual. Got an artistic bend? Try some form of sculpture or wood working. If I’m still wired after a day of work lately, I carve and whittle. It’s even better if you can make something you or someone else will have a daily use for. 

For example, 

After my first week of working at Henry’s I found myself restless on the weekend. Even hiking couldn’t wear me out enough to replace the long days of the workweek. So I asked around at work and found a few little projects. Currently I’m working on a walking cane for a coworkers mother.

 

It adds an extra touch of meaning to a project when it’s for someone else. You’ll find yourself more focused on getting it right, and that’s drive to improve your ability as you go, rather than doing good enough for yourself. 

So, get the chaos of your mind out on occasion. Work with something tangible, sweat a little and get a few calluses on your hands. At the very least you’ll end up with a better nights sleep, at best you’ll find the work ethic of physical labor transferred into your daily life. That’s nothing to shake a stick at, carved or otherwise. 

 

 

Patience and Cicadas 

We’re all bad at it.

As I settle into the routine that I’ll have for the next half a year or so it’s hard not to dwell on the stretch of time in front of me before I finish up more of the training that will let me work in the industry that’s my calling. That’s not a bad thing.

I am intrinsically poor at having to wait for things. People, the sun to come up, etc. It’s why I don’t like going on road trips with other people, or traveling with them in general. When I decide I want to go, I go. So when there isn’t something to wait on, other than time itself to pass I try to take it as an embuggerence,put my head down and keep busy. Which is a shame, because there’s so much else I could be doing.

My summer and fall of just waiting in Baltimore happen to coincide with the hatch of the seventeen year Cicadas here in Maryland. These insect have always fascinated me. The year after I moved to St. Louis I got to experience the seven year swarm and it confounded my childish mind. Why did these things wait so long to emerge, only to die within a few weeks? Other insects didn’t do this, at least not to my young eyes. They came back every year when it was their time then faded away as the weather started to chill the air. This was the order I had seen, and it meshed with my high energy levels and penchant for always moving.

As with everything I didn’t understand as a child, my mother gave me leaflets and books to read about them. I became enthralled with the cicada lifecycle. It was fascinating, and in my view at the time obscene. Taking all that time to grow and develop, to me seemed like wast of the highest order.

It isn’t though. It’s a great strategy for a species and allows them to fill niches that are relatively safe. For the time they’re developing the Cicadas live underground, away from the elements and most predators. They slowly store up energy (and seventeen years is definitely slow) until some internal stimuli tells them “go”. Then they emerge in such numbers that no predator, no matter how large the population could possibly hope to devour them before the majority can breed and die. It even seems to my (admittedly under informed) eye that they’ve attempted to leave the predator/prey arms race of evolution entirely by waiting so long. Anything that adapted to prey on them specifically would have to already be on that seventeen year cycle, or something similar.

However, in all my research, I was missing a metaphor in the slow growth of these creatures. We all have periods in our lives of forced sedation. We’re working towards something different maybe, or waiting for an opportunity to arise that interests us. So it’s easy to waste the time that isn’t devoted to those goals. We go out, or something similar. Classic time wasting activities. I’m incredibly guilty of this, and maybe some of you are as well. We fall into easy patterns in order to make the time go faster.

That isn’t what our little Cicadoidea friends are doing. They’re going through molts as they feed on sap underground, slowly but surely getting closer to the stage of nymphhood that will allow them to crawl out of the ground, up a tree and emerge, winged and ready to start supplying the woods with their signature song.

Molting is something we as humans do over and over in our lives. Our lifespans are filled with what can feel like false starts, or failed attempts. It’s taken me years, and a few false starts of my own to realize the importance of those steps in my life. If I hadn’t spent four years in college, working in the political field, I’d have spent the rest of my life wondering if I’d missed a chance to do something good. Instead, I get to know for certain I wasn’t equipped for that sort of work, and luckily the next thing I fell into happened to be something that I’m certain will allow me to supply my “signature song” to the world.

Enjoy each little phase of your life, is what I’m getting at here. Even if it feels like you’re slogging through to get to the next one. If you’re lucky enough to know what that next phase is, you’re already off to a start. The trick is to capture that time in between and use it to improve yourself in preparation. Practice and constantly being on the lookout for new skills and information that will help you out. That’s our version of the cicada nymph’s sap. Gorge yourself on it. Let it help you grow until that shell your stuck in sluffs off of its own accord.

Patience is hard, and some scrawny woodsman in training waxing poetic about bugs (I have a few biologist friends who are going to be up in arms about “Cicadas aren’t true bugs”. If they mention it, I hope a cicada flies into their hair) isn’t going to make you better at it. The drive you foster in yourself by seeing your life in necessary stages might. Make them all count. I’m certainly going to try.

If you want to know more about Cicadas just ask (I get weird thrills from doing research) or check out this site. I don’t know who runs it but they goddamn love these little critters.

Now get off your computer, go sit outside till it’s dark and listen to these beautiful little alien eyed critters while you can

“Pass It Around”

There’s a lot of good in this world. It can be easy to get caught up in all the daily minutia that seems determined to keep us from remembering that. It’s all we see on a day to day basis sometimes. That’s a good thing in itself sometimes. We’re part of an increasingly interconnected world and society, and we should pay our dues for the ease it affords us by helping out were we can.

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That’s another article though. This one is about the simple joy that comes from showing others that “good” we talked about. There’s something toxic in a lot of us modern western folk. Something that finds good things and wants to hoard them away for ourselves. I  don’t claim to know why we’re like that, or that it doesn’t exist in other cultures, but it’s incredibly prominent here.

And it’s a shame really, because the joy we find in things builds on it self exponentially when we pass it along. It’s a matter of seeing outside yourself for a moment. Your sense of personal happiness, or contentment may not grow in a tangible way when you share the things you love with people, but if you take a step back and see what it brings to those you’ve shared with the overall happiness is doubled.

This isn’t just a happy little think piece. I did begin it with a certain subject in mind. Teachers. We all know that old tired adage of “those that can’t do teach”, and we all know it’s probably one of the worst bits of “folk wisdom” that’s ever been spoken by a human being, correct? Good. As long as we’re on the same page.

I think we should all strive to be teachers in our day to day lives. If you know how to do something and can pass it on, not only are we affirming to ourselves that we have enough of a handle on our chosen subject that we can explain its workings, and show how it’s done concisely and effectively. We’re also giving someone else a chance to be infected with a passion for something . That’s not anything to balk at. People in my generation have more access to information than any of us monkey’s in shoes ever have, and that’s great. However, it’s one thing to read and watch pieces about a subject and another entirely to be doing them with someone who can guide you through it.

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The “Ghost Flower” or “Corpse Plant” One of the many plants I’ve had to research since I got back. 

Since I got back to Maryland a few weeks ago, I’ve been out hiking and swimming every chance I get. I’d been away from the land of pleasant living for so long, I felt I owed it to my home state to reacquaint myself with it. In my head a new outdoor environment is sort of like a dog you’ve never met before. It’s best to take the first bit slowly, get to know one another a bit before you start roughhousing (everyone here wrestles with all the dogs they meet right? No? Just me?). So when my cousin asked if she and her boyfriend could come along on one of my little sojourns I was initially hesitant. However, once we got out on trail I experienced what this article started off talking about. Like a lot of young people in our generation my cousin “like ,totally loves nature”, but it’s a one-dimensional relationship. People in our age group sometimes interact with nature the way they  interact with a movie. This has been true of other generations as well. To me the most accurate example of this is “national lampoon”. The family finally makes it to the grand canyon, and Chevy Chase says something along the lines of “well, there it is. Let’s go”.

That had been my cousin’s experience with the outdoors up to this point. Taking them out and telling them about each bird we saw that I knew, or showing them the basics of how to read the clouds (a skill I’m also still learning) made the experience three dimensional in a way none of us, I think, expected. The minutia of the trail replaced the minutia of everyday life for those few hours.

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I obviously used the outdoors as my example, because that’s what I love, and it’s the field I’m falling into, but the experience can be overlayed onto anything. So, if you’re good at something and you love doing it, I challenge you to take an hour this week and show someone who’s interested how to do it.

And I’ll leave you with the song that got my mind wandering down this little path. “Other Side Of Rainbow” by Gogol Bordello. There’s a particular line that started the thought process

“And if you hear of something good,
Don’t hold it back, pass it around.”

So take good old Eugene’s advice, go pass around whatever you’ve got that’s good.

 

A Conversation With Angie

 

This has nothing to do with outdoors, or wandering. It does have to do with people, people that need any help we can offer.

On my way to Maryland, I stopped at a rest area about ten miles outside of Indianapolis. While there I had a conversation with a woman named Angie. Angie is homeless, a result of she and her husband both being laid off around the same time. She explained that they usually spent their nights at local shelters or the salvation army, but since those places are first come first served, sometimes they can’t get a place. So they bounce from rest stop to rest stop throughout the night. Indiana and a lot of other states have limits on how long you’re allowed to stay at rest stops. Indiana’s limit it three hours. She approached me with her “grand baby” in her arms and asked me for food, or change. I gave her one of the boxes of cliff bars I had in the back seat along with a few dollars, and we continued talking. When I asked her name, she said Angie, but informed me that she would not give me her last name, as she’s had people report her to the police before. She explained that her daughter,the mother of her “grand baby (I don’t know why that particular term cut me deeper than if she’d just said “granddaughter”, but man it did) had a drug problem, and she didn’t trust her to look after the baby. I kept chatting with her for a few minutes, and she went on to say that since she has a car, they sometimes get turned away at shelters, and that even when she does get a place the shelters in Indianapolis have been struggling lately. Angie attributed this to the growing homeless population in the city, and it would seem she’s not wrong. This article explains that while the national average has seen a decrease in homeless populations, by about 18%, Indianapolis has seen it increase by 21% in 2013, and by 19% in 2014. The local shelters simply don’t have the resources to support this influx and it was incredibly humbling to talk to Angie about it. She explained that any money people give her, goes to putting enough gas in the car that they can get from one rest stop to another when they get turned away at the shelters, and driving her husband around to job interviews at local supermarkets and convenience stores.

 This isn’t just a documentation of my experience. I hope that Angie gets help, but she’s a victim of a much larger problem in Indianapolis. Not just the shrinking job market, but the limited resources of the shelters. The homeless rate seems to be growing this year as well according to Angie. It’s a shameful situation, and it doesn’t only exist there. Wherever you are, there’s a homeless demographic, and the truth is it’s not that hard to help them. You or I won’t personally solve the issue, but we can support the people who are working to by donating to shelters in your area. That doesn’t have to mean money. Sometimes they just need an extra set of hands. Or if you’re one of my outdoorsy followers, perhaps you can give some of the meat you harvested this season. There are a million reasons not to help, and I can understand them. However, the reasons to help are much more. In the article previously linked, it explains that the two groups that suffer the most tend to be women in domestic danger (That statement is backed up here), and veterans. These are two groups of people who have truly known suffering, and because there are so many of them, we simply offer them more of it.

People worry about being scammed, or are too busy. I get it, I really do. So, instead of arguing about why you should, I’m going to leave you with a few links to places you can donate to help, as well as a directory of homeless shelters, where you can find your local one and start helping out any way you can.

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org/

http://www.salvationarmyusa.org/

http://www.chicagohomeless.org/