Winter Living With The Cree Pt. 2

Welcome back to uncle cranky bones’ story corner.

IMG_20170119_073622249.jpg

Last time we were together the group from Jack Mountain had spent the day hiking and getting to know some of the Cree from Ouje-Bougomou. The next day held more of the same. We were invited to visit their cultural center, which filled us in our Ouje’s history as a community. The Cree in the James Bay area were relocated seven times, starting in 1920. As the land they’d lived on for generations was converted into lumber mills and hydro dams in the late 80’s, the Cree decided to fight for their homeland. In 1992 they won that fight. Not only did they can sovereignty in the land set aside for them, the Canadian government allocated funds for use in building up a community center. Thus, Ouje-Bougomou was born. The community was built with the Cree’s values in mind,  even winning an award from the United Nations in 1995 for their efforts in building a sustainable and environmentally friendly town.

After our tour was over we headed out to the bush. We arrived at Scott lake as the sun was setting, got settled in our tent which as similar to our lodgings in Ouje, but smaller. It was filled with tools and a pair of lynx paws that hung off one of the rafters. We had dinner with David and Anna, as well as David’s partner in trapping, Laurence. They shared a little about their lives growing up in the bush. Anna shared her experience working for the cultural center and explained that most of the time doing it she longed to be back out in the bush with David. She used the phrase “He was free out there” and that sentiment really struck me, and influenced the rest of the trip.

img_20170117_072608769.jpg

 

David and Anna have been doing this a long time. They’re in their seventies and have raised twelve children. All while navigating a world that was changing before their eyes. They’ve built a successful guide business, not because they’re industry savvy, but because they live this life every day. It becomes apparent as they talk about traditions, and methods of living in the bush that they have an affinity for the land they inhabit that is far beyond any scribbling I can put in this article. They have thirty-eight grandchildren and are intimately connected with the entire community through their family. Every time they speak about someone they know they introduce them in terms of how they are connected to their family. Our favorite part of every day with them as after dinner. We’d sit around doing the dishes and listening to David and Anna tell stories. Some about their lives, some about the Cree lifestyle, and (my personal favorite) legends their people had about life in the bush.

As we headed to our tent they told us that, come morning, we’d be going out on the trap line ith Laurence. We fell asleep with visions on snowshoes and rabbit snares dancing in our heads. A little less poetic than sugarplum fairies, but still managing to have the same effect on our little band of miscreants as said visions have on children at Christmas.

img_20170117_114918833.jpg

Snowshoe tracks and Rabbit prints

The next day held exactly what those visions had proffered. Laurence was quiet. No, that isn’t quite accurate. Laurence IS quiet embodied. . He rarely spoke, and hen he did he muttered to himself in Cree or made little statements that would slip by if you didn’t pay attention. As we snowshoed through his trap line, crossing beaver ponds, hills and eventually moving out onto the lake, he set rabbit snares. The Cree’s approach to teaching is far different from what we in western culture would think of as educating. They don’t lecture or explain things. They simply do, and expect you to pay attention and emulate what you see. The methods we saw employed weren’t fancy. Simple wire snares, and branches placed in the path to guide the snowshoe hares we were after into them. Simplicity is a watchword in the Cree’s traditional way of life. No frills, just enough to get the job done effectively. David, Anna and Laurence all grew up living a subsistence lifestyle. Trapping and fishing to meet their daily dietary needs, and that fact is apparent in the approach taken to running a trap line. The goal isn’t recreation, it’s bringing in the calories they need, in the most efficient way possible.

img_20170117_115724358.jpgLaurence’s‘ Rabbit Snare; simple and as we learned, incredibly effective

 

 

Our next task was the culmination of this approach. After setting the snares, we headed back to camp to help David go fishing. Fishing with David is not a “drink a beer, sit on the dock and maybe catch a fish worth posting to Instagram” affair. There aren’t rods or lures, or the pot of hot cocoa I always mentally associate with ice fishing. David chisels two large holes in the ice, with multiple smaller holes in between them. Then he threads a large net between the initial holes with a forked birch branch and a spruce pole. The spruce is used like a needle, guiding the net from one hole to the next, until it’s stretched under the ice. This isn’t a hobby, this is a means of gathering food to feed a community.

img_20170117_143425650.jpg

After setting the net, we headed back for dinner and more stories from David and Anna. We laughed and joked with them for a while, then headed back to our tent for the evening. We talked about books we were reading, and plans for when we got back to the US (Even joking about how we’d inadvertently “run away to Canada” for the presidential inauguration). We weren’t sure what the next day held, as the lifestyle in the bush is less schedule focused, and revolves instead around what needs to be done as needs arise.

I’m going to leave you folks in the same spot. There’s lots more to come in regards to this trip, and I’m chomping at the bit to share it with you. Come check in on ol’ uncle cranky bones later. I’ll have more stories to spin for you as soon as I can.

Slainte Maithe everyone.

 

Advertisements

Death to the pack rat. 

(Don’t need much more than this)

The best part about moving is the inevitable downsizing that comes with it. I don’t particularly like “stuff”. Well, that’s actually sort of inaccurate. I like stuff. I have a habit of picking up junk whenever I travel, little trinkets that remind me of where I’ve been. Sentimentality should be for people and experiences, not trinkets. I know it’s a bad habit, and I’m breaking myself of it. 

For the past six months I’ve been staying with my grandparents, and that experience has really brought the value of a minimalist approach to life into a tangible experience. They have rooms filled with things that probably had some value when they bought it, but now they don’t even remember what half of it is. That’s the path I was heading down I think. Buying things and assigning value to them, then putting them somewhere and forgetting about them. To hell with that. 

So how do we alter that course once we realize we’re on it? 

The biggest step for me was thinking about every object as a tool. An implement that I use to improve some aspect of life. Once that value has been assigned, it’s a lot easier to get rid of meaningless objects. 

The hiccups you run into tend to center around the thought that you may need or use something at some point in the future. There are a few approaches to avoiding this. The first is one purported by “the minimalists” (they run a podcast that’s chock full of advice on removing excess). Their idea involves setting an amount of time, 90/30/60 days etc. Go through each item and ask yourself if you have used, or will use it within that set amount of time. 

The process I’ve been using is actually one I was taught ages ago by my mother, and probably should have paid more attention to. She called it “sometimes, always, never”. In this case, the process sort of speaks for itself. Group things into categories of sometimes, always and never. Get rid of the “never”, keep the always and the next time you go through the process, anything you haven’t needed to take out of “sometimes” gets tossed/donated/sold. 

Having lived on the road and trail the way I have, I’m almost cutthroat when I do this. It’s not necessary to be, but for me it works.Except for books. I haven’t had the heart to get rid of any of them. We all have our little vices. 

So, the holidays are coming up, and with that comes more things you don’t really need. There are ways around offending those family members and friends that find joy in giving things. I’m personally a big fan of Heifer international, so that’s usually what I ask for, but there are plenty of other charities that can serve the same purpose. 

If you’re really serious about trying this, and those friends don’t support it, in my eyes they might not be friends worth having. Hell, there’s probably another article worth writing about learning to declutter your life of friends who aren’t good for you, or don’t support you. I’m notoriously bad at it, another type of sentimentality I’d be better off without. 

So, as the title of this piece implies; try and kill the pack rat this holiday season. At the very least give it a couple knocks to the noggin for good measure. 

Take care everyone, and enjoy the holidays.

Silken Hands


Hands are a testament to the life we’ve led.Each callous and scar a reminder of work done, or drops of life shed.  

Give me a pair that’s ragged and worn, filled to bursting with sinew and cracks in bone.  

Show me the places where skin has cracked, then filled itself in. Each swing of a hammer, or knick of a knife. Tiny memories carved of living tissue. As hands build, they build themselves. 

They grow, wrapping themselves in corded experience. Skin grows over splinters, and slivers of metal. Cementing themselves as a part of the hands themselves. 

Hands of silk are fine for poetry and song, but in practice tear and run. Rough hands hold the beauty of memory in them, telling the story of someone’s life. 

So again, give me that pair that’s been shaped and molded by life. 

Creating My Own Vices

I whittle and carve when I’m bored the way people more intelligent than me read the news, or do Sudoku. Most of the time I’m doing that I’ve got a pipe in my mouth. 

It’s seems like the idea would have come to me sooner. It certainly crossed my mind before. “Carve yourself a pipe”. The truth is, I didn’t feel up to carving  something like that. The things I made tended to have a roughness to them. Serviceable, but certainly not pretty. I wanted to know for sure that with just my handtools (knife, cabinet scraper, chisels and sandpaper) I could still make a pipe that had curvature to it. It’s harder than it sounds. 

I’ll admit, I cheated a bit. I found a kit with the bowl pre-bored, and the stem already shaped and drilled. The next one I make, I’ll do those myself as well now that I’ve got a handle on the process.

These little projects always calm my nerves, and they’ve been stretched pretty thin as I get ready to leave Maryland for the foreseeable future, for the second time in my life. 

The shaping process was the hardest. I was concerned about using the chisels, in case I cracked the wood though to the bowl, and ruining the whole piece. So I found a middle ground with my 3/4ths chisel and took my time. I slowly pulled out a rough octagon, then switched to my whittling knife. Let me tell you, the edge I keep on that thing made it so easy to take off paper thin slivers. Admittedly, I did in six hours what a belt sander could have done in twenty minutes. Christ it felt good though. Seeing the knife shape the wood at a glacial pace, watching as each corner slowly turn into a slight curve. 

The whole process took me the better part of the weekend. I get pretty dogged about my projects, so I carried the thing around in my pocket wherever I went. Chipping away little bits of wood, as little bits of time presented themselves. I finally got it down to the shape I wanted then switched to a cabinet scraper and some sandpaper. This is my favorite part of carving anything. The place where your hand slipped and left an unintended gouge? Smoothed away. That spot where you knicked your thumb and bled into the edge of the bowl? Gone. 

After about two hours of grumbling at anyone who asked me anything, and snarling at myself when my hands locked up (as they are apt to do), I got the shape I wanted pulled out. 

I’ll be honest, I am WICKED proud of this project. 

I considered just leaving it natural, and clear coating the outside. I put it down and went to carve pumpkins with my family. I couldn’t make a decision on where to go from this point. Halfway through carving a witch into a gourd I remembered seeing a friend stain a little project of hers with blackberry juice and ash mixed together. I gave my family an Irish goodbye and went to buy blackberries. 

I hope they’ll forgive me, but it was absolutely worth it. 

It’s amazing how quickly the weekend past working on this. Which is exactly what I wanted. I’m in autopilot now, with such a short time till I get to go back where things make sense and start working on projects I care about. 

“Like them I left a settled life, I threw it all away”

The song “northwest passage” is my favorite song by Stan Rogers, and the line that grew into the title of this piece is why. 

When those of us who’ve tasted the road and the wilds at either end of her,return to real life its jarring. We see old friends and enjoy ourselves, but there’s something different in our interactions with them. 

On my trip back to St. Louis for a friends wedding, I got to spend time with my best friend and former roommate. It was wonderful, but we’re on different paths now and it was glaringly obvious. He’s enjoying domestic bliss, working a good job that he enjoys and for all I could tell is really happy. It was wonderful to see, but afterwards I was even more certain that sort of life isn’t for me. It’s that “settled life” I was sliding into working for Governor Holden, and the exact life that was keeping me miserable. 

We trade things to live this life don’t we? Things we don’t even know we’re trading when we make the deal. We know them in an abstract sort of way, but as we get further down the road they get pointed out in a more realistic way. We see friends start families, and live in a way that seems alien to us. We try to stay in touch and keep up with them, but it gets harder and harder. Relationships of any kind take work, and maintenance, and that’s tough to achieve in a normal situation, let alone one that involves miles between and spotty cell service. 

It brings acorns to mind. Our friends and family have found a good patch to settle into, and have started laying roots. It’s good, it’s what acorns are supposed to do. It’s not a criticism of anyone to say they’ve settled down. The only people I’ve known who sling that phrase like mud are those that can’t find happiness in the joy of others, or that want to do the same thing but haven’t managed it yet. 

Then there’s acorns that drop into a stream and get carried a ways. Sure, most of them eventually find a mooring along the way and start putting down those roots. Maybe I’ll be lucky enough to do that, but I’m not counting on it. For now I’m just enjoying the ride towards wherever this stream takes me. 

It’s what I’ve always wanted, and what I’ve known for a long time. The road, and the places along it are my loved ones, and it’s important to think of them that way. The road, and all it brings can be lonley things when you think of them as something in-between stages of life, instead of acknowledgeing that the road is an entity. More than that, it’s the entity you traded security, relationships and so much more to be with. She offers you something no other way of life could, and in return you’re expected to forego a lot of other aspects of life. I’ve seen people who can juggle both lifestyles, and I applaud them for it. I can’t, at least not right now. 

(I’ll take this over anything)

Its difficult not to think about the allegory of the cave here in some way. Except that it’s not that either party has reached a higher levof understanding. It’s more that they’ve exited the cave on opposite sides, and found something good on both, but have no frame of reference to explain it to the other. My experiences in Maine, and the goals I’ll be trying to accomplish with my next project are pretty counter intuitive to someone who doesn’t see anything wrong with existing in a city, or falling asleep to the constant sound of combustion engines.

(Attempting to bridge the gap between lifestyles)

 Just as difficult, is convincing me that the things that come along with their lifestyle is something I’d like to do outside of a visit. I’ve always had a bit of the zealot in me, and it’s a struggle to not be dogmatic about this life, especially when I’ve personally seen so much improvement in my life since I started the shift towards it. I would turn it into a crusade if I didn’t keep reminding myself that what works for me, won’t necessarily work for everyone else. 

That’s the toughest part of self discovery in life I think. You find something great, and you want to share it with people you care about. The danger arises from assuming they want to hear about it. 

 
So, what’s the point of this little scribbling? 

The truth is I don’t know. I was hoping that as I wrote my thoughts down an answer would appear between the phrases. All I got was observations, but at the very least they’re out of my head and on the page now. 

Hit the road, and hit it hard my friends. 

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

wp-1459598027570.jpg

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.

img_20160331_233525935.jpg

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

 

 

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. 

“Places”

I’ve been working like a madman these last few weeks. I promise there’s an article in the works about a short little camping trip I went on, and the value of little trips like that. For the meantime however, here’s another little thing I wrote sitting in the break room, wishing I was wandering again.

wp-1460565435448.jpg

Places have always meant more to me than the people in them. They feel more inviting than the conversations that take part inside of them. I’d rather walk into a hotel lobby and find the spot that turns all the sounds into echos and just stand there. The places I go take parts of me and keep it, promising that next time I return I’ll get it back. I never do. They just take more, and promise greater dividends on my next pass through.

These places choose me and as soon as I’ve got the thought of a new place in my head I’ve got to be there. It tears me apart to sit still while this turbulence exists inside my head. I know I need to wait, and I count to ten and tell myself “patience” while my leg bounces in a vain attempt to pull me to the door. I want to go, be in motion, be heading to something new. I want my feet, or the wheels of whatever I can drive to be headed in whatever direction my mind is currently facing. It is abrupt, and  the desires are shifting.

I have never wanted a constant. Why would anyone? Why would you try to bring someone along who would only burn up on reentry? Or become a cracked peg in one of the wheels. There, and holding up it’s end for the most part, but it’s still a loss in speed of some kind. I fear that breaking peg. I fear that constant north. North should exist on compasses and maps. It shouldn’t exist while you’re wandering to a place you don’t know the name of. Places like that don’t have time for attachments that can’t climb to the top of the hill with you.

This is something different. This is north in motion. North shifting it’s own heading. This new North is the constant that not only keeps up, but beats me to the top of the hill. For whatever this is, I’m glad to have had the magnetic pull if only for this quickly passing moment. You can’t keep heading north if north wants to shift its direction without you.

Màthair

From my mother, piety and beneficence, and abstinence, not only from evil deeds, but even from evil thoughts; and further, simplicity in my way of living, far removed from the habits of the rich.

~Marcus Aurelius: Book one; Line Three

Today I’m twenty-six. I’ve been on this wonderful, odd, planet for over a quarter of a century now. This article actually started as something about the odd paths life takes you down, but while writing it I noticed a trending constant. A constant that, to be honest, should have been obvious from the start. That constant is my Ma.

img_20160729_090815.jpg

My mother is something incredible. (I’d never tell her that in person. We’re not that sort of family.) When the issue of my siblings and I’s education arose, she took that burden on herself, homeschooling all of us through all of it up to college. When I say “all”, I mean six. Homeschooling six children with energy levels like ours isn’t something I’d ever have the heart to attempt. We were even referred to as a litter once by a stranger in a pet store. My mother was incredibly upset by the encounter. Little did she know the woman who made the comment had seen me, and one of my brothers trying to climb into a pen filled with puppies ten minutes earlier. (We told her this years later, to her dismay. Or amusement? Could be both)

I make it sound like we were a bunch of wild heathen children, causing havoc wherever we went. That’s somewhat true, and it’s a testament to my ma’s dedication to us that we all grew up with an ingrained desire to learn and to work hard at it, when we started out as a bunch of feral blonde monsters.

I am almost certain I was the toughest of the bunch to deal with. I was her first child, and that combined with a stubbornness and innate desire to do what I want, when I want to, couldn’t have been easy. I honestly don’t know where she found the endless patience to deal with educating me, let alone all six of us.

img_20160812_215112.jpg

                                                   (Still a horde of feral monsters)

And trust me, I know I tried her patience to no end. A favorite story around my parents’ house is the time I built a fort by turning over all her living room furniture, and barricading myself in it because I didn’t want to do a math lesson. (I still hate math. Sorry Ma.) After an hour of me yelling, and not getting anywhere with that stubbornness I mentioned, she finally cracked and chucked an orange off the counter at me. It’s a funny image, but looking back on it I know two things. Firstly, that she immediately felt awful about it, and secondly, that I absolutely deserved it. Hell, I deserved a whole bushel of oranges with an anvil and a really irritated ape of some sort buried under them.

She’s taught me a lot about how to interact with people. She taught a selfish man, how to find more value in what I’ve done for others in a day, than what I’ve done for myself. She imparted to me my endless love of literature and the outdoors. Finding ways to rev up my wandering engine at home through reading classics that are now books I read the way some people use a security blanket, then turning me loose on the woods, parks, and long drives.

img_20160221_162902.jpg

Long drives. Let’s talk about those for a moment. I live for long drives, to places I’ve never been. It’s the closest I get to meditation or prayer. Those long aimless drives that to some people would seem like a waste of time, or gas, or an endless amount of other “commodities”. Not to my mother. When we got to be too much, or life in general got her down, we never saw it. I only see now, in retrospect that all those adventures we went on were her clearing her head. I don’t know if habits can be passed on genetically, but if so that’s one I definitely attribute to her. Not adventure, that’s ALL due to Mr. Jeff Russell. No, what I got from her was the soft parts of wandering. The gentle sense of calm that comes with simply going. Those little moments between destinations where you notice small details of the scenes that pass by. We still make fun of my mother for a

Not “adventure”, that’s ALL due to Mr. Jeff Russell ( I’m sure an article about him is coming in the near future, now that I’m on this tangent)  No, what I got from her was the soft parts of wandering. The gentle sense of calm that comes with simply going. Those little moments between destinations where you notice small details of the scenes that pass by. We still make fun of my mother for a particular summer involving her teaching us geology. When my mother takes an interest in something she’s teaching it invades all her thoughts I think. So our drives from class to class, or anything else really, were invaded that summer by the phrase that still makes my mother turn bright red when we say it back to her. “Look at that awesome rock formation!” It was the cheesiest, most contrived (to my, at the time Preteen mind) thing I’d ever heard.

No, what I got from her was the soft parts of wandering. The gentle sense of calm that comes with simply going. Those little moments between destinations where you notice small details of the scenes that pass by. We still make fun of my mother for a particular summer involving her teaching us geology. When my mother takes an interest in something she’s teaching it invades all her thoughts I think. So our drives from class to class, or anything else really, were invaded that summer by the phrase that still makes my mother turn bright red when we say it back to her. “Look at that awesome rock formation!” It was the cheesiest, most contrived (to my, at the time Preteen mind) thing I’d ever heard.

But that’s the beauty of my mother and her desire to teach. Not only her six maniacs but anyone who’ll listen. She has a way of doing things that stick them into your brain. I hear her voice in my head on every highway that cuts through cliff faces and along hills. I see her in every landscape. Her passion is unabashed. That’s a hard thing to be in a family of people who tend to keep to themselves, and keep what they really feel close to the chest.

That doesn’t stop her though. I’m terrible about texting most of the time, unless it involves work. My mother knows this, and doesn’t care. I still wake up most days of the month to a small something from her reminding me that I am missed, or some tidbit of information she found that she knows I’ll find fascinating. If you read this Ma, I know I don’t always answer, but I always smile when I see them.

Somehow, through all my boar headedness and idiotic desire to march to the beat of a drummer who, I can only assume at this point, can’t keep time and is probably missing at LEAST one arm, all the things Ma tried to impart in me through her curriculum, and simply through the way she lived, stuck. Not that I do them as well as she does, but that I strive every day to do them half as well.

img_20160220_124012164.jpg

The biggest one goes without saying. Patience that is fueled by a deep love for others. Lisa Russell is the most patient woman I have ever met in my life, and after twenty-six years I think I’ve ferreted out what lets her be like that. She cares, for everyone, instantly and deeper than anyone else I know. I took it for granted most of my life, that if I really needed something she’d do her best to help me get it. I can’t really ever pay her back for all of it, but I don’t think she’d want that anyway. She’d want me to pass it on. So that’s what I’ll try to do. If I take one thing away from all the things she taught me it’ll be that. At the very least it’ll mean I don’t have to take away algebra.

The line at the top of this page is from a book she “forced” on me at a young age, that I detested at the time but has become the closest thing I have to a bible. I don’t know if she intended it to become so important. It was mixed in with a slew of other greco-roman classics that were part of our curriculum. I can say this without feeling as if I’m bending the truth though. My mother turned me on to stoicism, not only by giving me the book to read, but by embodying some of the ideals it professes without trying, or possibly knowing she was doing so. I am constantly left in awe of her, and the sacrifices she’s made to give my siblings and I the best possible life we could have.

So, it’s my birthday. Twenty-six years ago my mother brought me into this world, and she helped me navigate it through everything that reared it’s ugly head. I miss the hell out of her, and everyone else in my family, and this is the closest I’ll get to ever telling them. If you haven’t called your mother lately, go do it. Hell, go hug her if you can.

I figure if you guys do that, it’ll balance out me NOT calling mine.

Kidding…. Mostly.

 

 

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