Winter Living With The Cree pt. 3

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So, I woke up the day after running trap lines and setting nets feeling a bit off. I attributed it to all the rich food we’d been eating. Moose meat is wicked heavy, and I ate enough of it to sate a bear for hibernation. As the morning progressed it became clear I’d picked up a stomach bug that was going around Ouje. Not a great experience on a trip like this, but after a day of rest and lots of water was feeling leaps and bounds better. The bug caught a few of the other guys as well and forced a sort of “sick v. well” rota for all the tasks around camp. I missed out on a day of setting marten traps and getting started on making Cree snow shovels.

 

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Catfish Ben with our first hare

 

The next day, however, was a full one. We started the day walking our trap line with Laurence and checking the snares we’d set. We caught one snowshoe hare and carried it back to camp after resetting the snare. Walking a trap line first thing in the morning has an almost meditative feeling to it. You don’t speak because you don’t want the animals to associate the place with loud noises and human interaction. The trudging of each step creates a rhythm as we fall into line behind one another, matching the stride of the trail breaker and packing down the snow with each step.

 

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Doug watching intently as Anna works the otter’s pelt.  

 

When we got back, Anna led us over to one of the other shelters in camp and explained that she’d be skinning out an Otter and we’d be helping Laurence skin out a Fisher Cat he’d trapped a few days prior. I’m not particularly versed in hunting and my only experience gutting out an animal is with fish (The scales are the best part if you fry them right! Why would you take ’em off?) So I wasn’t sure what to expect. I really shouldn’t have worried. Anna and Laurence made the process look like art. They chattered back and forth with us the whole time, explaining each step as they went. Anna working with the otter was something akin to seeing a master carpenter shape out the pieces he needed for a cabinet. It was slow, and the attention to detail was absolutely impressive. Doug, a member of our group, had been trapping otters on his property in Maryland (Oh, did I mention three of our group of five hailed from the land of pleasant living?) and had found preparing the pelts difficult. Otters, like any other mammal that lives in the water, have a thick layer of fat to insulate them against the cold water. Doug had found removing this layer frustrating and time-consuming. As we watched Anna work, it became apparent that the layer of fat wasn’t even something she worried about. There are tools marketed to trappers that are “specialized” for use on Beaver, Otter and other animals with fatty hides. Anna used a simple, cheap and small knife set for her work. I watched realization spread across Doug’s face as the mental arithmetic added up. Talking with him later he explained that the knives he’d been using were too big, and didn’t allow for the slow methodical method that Anna used.

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While Anna was working with the Otter, I helped Laurence with the fisher. Fisher Cats, for those who don’t know, are a large member of the weasel family. They’re sleek and move through snow and water like a bit of black grease slides through moisture. They’re also known up here in the north for their scream. If you’ve never heard it before I highly recommend taking a minute to go listen here.

Done? Like a banshee right? Imagine hearing that at night time while you’re camped out far away from any infastructure.

Aaaaaaany way, sorry for the little side trip down “What the hell was that?” lane.

As I worked the hide away from the fishers body I was struck by how lithe the musculature of these animals is, and how narrow certain parts of their bodies are, before exploding into a wide ribcage. While we worked away at it, David told us about using dried fisher testicles as slingshot ammo for hunting small game. It’s hard to tell when David’s joking. A lot of the older Cree we met have a very specific laugh that they use almost as punctuation, a short sharp chuckle that ends a sentence. David used it almost constantly, and it was very telling of how happy they are living this lifestyle. Always laughing or smiling, even while doing hard physical work, or talking about hard times in the Cree’s history.

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While we skinned out the fresh hides, David went and got a lynx pelt that he needed to stretch. Seeing a lynx hide up close is something else. It’s large and the paws are like dinner plates, almost shaped like the smaller variety of snowshoes that allow for quick turns between trees in the woods. Watching David stretch the hide out was an education in simplicity (Seems like a trend is forming here), he simply pulled it over two planks that formed a pincer shape. Then using a third wedge-shaped plank forced the pincer apart, pulling the lynx taught. After the otter and fisher had been skinned out, he did the same with them. Once they’d been stretched long enough anna would pull them across a frame to finish treating them.

 

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Otter hide being stretched

 

Once the hides had been processed, we spent a bit of time working on making snow shovels, but I’ll save the details of that for the next piece. Laurence had roasted two geese all day by hanging them next to the stove in his tent, and after a long day of work, we couldn’t ask for a better meal to end the day.

 

I really hope you guys have been enjoying these articles as much as I’ve enjoyed writing them up. It’s hard to encompass all the subtlety of the world we only got a glimpse of, but I’m having a blast trying.

 

Stay tuned,

Slainte Maithe everyone.

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The Calvert Cliffs


I forgot how much Maryland has to offer. It’s “America in miniature”, after all. An hour or so in any direction will put you in a completely different ecosystem. My favorite has always been the marshes here, especially the ones on the coast. That “in miniature” aspect of my home state is compressed even more in them, and I’ve never seen a better example of that than the cliffs of Calvert. 

Calvert cliffs are about two hours south of Baltimore, almost at the edge of the Chesapeake bay. I didn’t even know about them until my uncle sent me an article. I invited my grandfather along. He’s always had a camera in his hands, and since he retired that’s become even more true. I figured it’d be a nice outing with him, and a chance for him to snap a few shots along the hike. 


The trails aren’t long (none of them are more than two miles) but that’s sort of why I loved them. They compress the hardwood forests with the beach ecosystem and create a marsh of brackish water in between them. Beavers have dammed the stream that runs through the park and flooded the area until a wide, still pond was born. It’s been populated by all manner of wildlife and in most places enough water lilies to obscure the water itself from view. 

The park is a hotspot for fossil collecting. There were quite a few families on the beach sifting through the sand looking for shells and fossilized shark’s teeth. Gramps and I spent forty-five minutes or so meandering around the beach looking for driftwood for my grandmother, and enjoying the sound of the waves. I found a few fossilized scallop shells, and waded out into the sea (no matter how cool the weather, I can’t resist the chance to get into the water). 

The outlet of the stream into the ocean was my favorite part of the hike. Seeing the reeds and cattails give way to sand, stone and salt water just had something beautiful about it I’ve yet to find words for. 


The park itself seems to be a pretty popular place for people to visit, and that meant a scarcity of wildlife, but it was clear that life was there. Heron tracks ran along the small stream where fresh water turned to brine, and beaver dams and old lodges littered the ponds. I’d love to visit on a weekday, early in the morning and watch the herons Wade through the brackish water, capitalizing on the overlap of freshwater prey, and trapped crabs and fish from the ocean. 

The walk back to the car was a great chance to chat with my grandfather. I’ve always admired his quiet way of seeing the world. He lives in a family of talkative, argumentative folks, but he just sits and listens. He notices things that a lot of people wouldn’t, and takes his time forming opinions. He talks a lot about being proud of his children and grandchildren for being educated, but doesn’t consider himself to be “smart”. The truth is, he’s the wisest person I know, and it was good to just walk through the wild with a person who imparted the love of it to me, and talk about life, and the things we find beautiful in it. 

This may have been the last little weekend trip I take, and I’m glad I got to spend it with Gramps. I’m beyond excited to get back up north, but it’s going to be hard to leave my marshes and wetlands behind when the time comes. 

Eating The Red Berries


Spicy food is an odd thing. It’s an evolutionary attempt by plants to keep us and other animals from eating them. It makes sense, if you eat a pepper once and it hurts your mouth, you’re not likely to try it again right? 

Not our species though. We’re notoriously bad at learning from our mistakes, and the mistakes of those around us. There’s a theory out there about”eating the red berries”. An older, more experienced ancestor would know from experience what berries were toxic, and avoid them. So a younger member of the tribe/group would learn by watching them and the knowledge of what’s safe to eat gets passed down this way. 

We’ve sort of lost this ability, or at least some of us have. We revel in attempting things that we know are impossible, or at least uncomfortable. To keep going with the food topic, think of the various”challenges” that show up every couple of months. Cinnamon was the challenge of choice when I was in highschool, and then I got to witness one of the most objectively intelligent people I know attempt the”Gatorade” challenge during a course in Maine, knowing factually that it would make him feel sick. 

Even after seeing plenty of examples of others failing these challenges, some of us still have this innate need to try them anyway. Food with kick to it has even become a cultural staple in some cases. We love the tingling burn it leaves on our lips, even if it’ll make us feel awful in a few hours. We all want to be the person to sample the red berries and come back to the group saying “look, this is ok”, and if we can ALL eat them as a group it becomes a bonding experience, and the natural end point of passing of knowledge. 

That skill has a purpose, but we live in a time where it isn’t necessarily required. The knowledge we’re hoping to acquire first hand already exists, and is easily accessible. So what is it in some of us that aches to attempt it anyway? Arrogance and ignorance, if you’re asking me. 

We can apply the same line of thinking to outdoor activities fairly easily. We go to “inhospitable” places, and for some reason bask in the glory we perceive we’re garnering by doing so, and that glory isn’t just from the outside. Society lifts up explorers and people who summit Everest etc, and it makes sense. They’ve eaten the berries. They’ve come back saying”look, we can do this. YOU can do this”. 

Look at Everest. We know the names of those that attempted the first summits, but now it’s something plenty of people do every year. That’s not to diminish the personal accomplishments of those who came after, but to point out that once something’s been shown to be doable, folks will do it without reservations. 

This has translated into a slew of modern day “adventures”. People who make their living by going out and having experiences in the natural world. They lead rough lives, lives that physically tax them to the extremes, and for no reason beside the experience. The map’s pretty much been drawn. They aren’t discovering new places, or climbing previously unsummited cliffs. 

If you ask me, thats pretty amazing. Breathtaking experiences aren’t only for the red berry eaters anymore. Or rather, we all get to be red berry eaters now. We all have the opportunity to be the tardiest of explorers, increasing the knowledge of a place for the group, but still having personal experiences that allow us to grow exponentially. 

There’s obviously problems that come along with this. Unprepared folks that end up injured, less than ecologically minded people who leave the places worse then they found it. Those are valid issues, that can only be remedied by education and understanding, and to an optimist like myself, the fact that these people are going to these remote places to begin with means they’re open to expansion of their understanding. (This optimism thing is likely to plant both feet firmly in my esophagus.) 

But, as far as I can tell those are the real issues of a societal shift towards personal exploration. There are plenty of complaints and think pieces naysaying those of us who crave this lifestyle. It’s understandable, and a lot of it comes from people who are caretakers of the wild places that are being explored. It’s a fair point, and paired with an appropriate educational plan for visitors will hopefully help. 

(Sharing what I know. Trying at least)

And that brings us back around to that”shared knowledge base” we talked about. Information is as easily accessible as the places we want to explore. While it’s tempting to go into them blind, assuming we can handle whatever it throws our way. That’s the wrong approach, or at the very least the arrogant one. 

All this knowledge has been gleaned by this that came before us. They are the red berries for us, and came back telling us we could too. They also came back telling us about which ones we shouldn’t. We’d be idiots not to listen. 

So by all means, eat the red berries, but when those who’ve come before us have given us  warning of what NOT to eat, we’re obligated to listen to that part as well. Enjoy your time in these beautiful places, but don’t assume you know better then others, and listen to them when they advise you. Not only are you helping preserve the places for others, you’re hopefully adding to the communal knowledge and helping those who come after you. You’re eating the red berries for the generation that comes after you. 

“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

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

 

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

http://www.homelessshelterdirectory.org

http://www.salvationarmyusa.org

http://www.chicagohomeless.org

 

 

Mushrooms (Not a badger to be seen)

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

 

Chalk that up as a win right?

 

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

Slainte Maithe everyone.

“I’ve learned”

 

 

There was a man.

He couldn’t tell you much about himself.

Not for lack of trying mind,

He just always seemed to replace the pieces he’d shown you as soon as you’d seen them.

He’d say “I’m not really a sports sort of guy”

Next thing you’d know he’d be next to you at a ball game cheering as loudly as the rest.

I recall a conversation I’d had with him, common interests was the topic.

We’d been on the subject of things that brought us grief. Family we’d lost, friends we couldn’t trust.

And just like that, in the middle of this conversation,

he sluffed off his skin

Not like a snake, or a crustacean shedding it’s skin to get bigger.

He just shrugged, and sort of burrowed into himself,

turned inside out and responded to my latest complaint with a completely sincere

“I’ve learned to let these things slide off me”

I thought he meant the little things, that brought him grief, but I was wrong.

He meant himself, his entire being, the things that made him, him.

And it was in that phrase that I saw his secret,

I understood how I could envy and pity this man all at once.

I pitied him, for his lost friends

Not lost by error, but by giving them up, in a hope for newer cleaner ones.

I pitied his family

For having to deal with this shifting spectre of a son and brother.

And yet I envied him, for he stood in the center of all this mistrust

orbited by abandoned loved ones and betrayed, confused friends.

And he was happy, and when the happiness stopped?

 

He simply turned himself inside out and said

 

“I’ve learned to let these things slide off me”

 

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.

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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.

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                                                   (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.

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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.

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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.

 

 

Convergent Thought Evolution.

I’ve been going through a lot of my old scribblings over the last few days and found a short little thing I wrote that seemed like nothing at the time. However, reading it now I was surprised to see a lot of similar thoughts to those Robert Service transcribed in his poem “The men who don’t fit in”. Service’s work has quickly become a staple of mine, so it was an odd thing to see similar frames of mind between them. I hope you guys enjoy it, and if not go read Robert Service. I know you’ll enjoy that.

The more we learn, the harder life gets to navigate.

However, wisdom and knowledge are a less like a burden than I used to think.

I created this image of all the information I had ever learned tied

around my waist while I swam the length of a pool.

The rope was long enough to allow moments where the weight would help me.

As I turned at either end of the pool I could pull myself through the water

Until I passed over the burden. Then I had to start tugging it along again.

This was the wrong analogy.

It’s more like a map of an ancient broken maze that I keep seeing new paths through.

They all end up in the same place

but that’s the cruelty of the maze.

It keeps opening new paths as you head towards the destination.

Each path holds something you think you might want.

Or even just a different landscape to see while you walk.

Some can flow through paths making choices as they go,

not bothered by the plans they’d laid for the path before them.

Not me. I am one who succumbs to the wall’s cruelty.

I see paths sprouting up like weeds behind me,

In front,

below,

and to the right.

It crushes me, the weight of choice.

 

I stop and stare and see so many paths I can’t barrel down just one.

I head down the first for a bit, but I’m so curious about what lays down the others.

So I backtrack, and head down a different trail.

Sampling each of them for a while, then realizing some of them have started closing off,

and new one’s have opened.

This is the beauty and danger of living with an interest in all.

You accept that you will never be truly great at anything, only decent at all things,

but you will see more paths than most,

and that will make it all worth it.

You will die with your name unknown to the rest of the world.

No great paintings, no amassing of wealth.

But you will have seen more than they have,

And that is the cruelty of the maze,

but it is a gift to those of us who prize seeing more than the rest.

We wouldn’t trade it, but it’s going to remind us of the things we could trade it for.

It’ll be constant and keep things raw as long as it can by pointing them out to us

 

The friends that seem put together because they run down one path,

with the veracity and patience of bamboo.

The lovers who crave the stability we detest,

and they grow bored with our inability to sit still long enough to be bored.

Employers, who see something in us we refuse to look at,

for fear it’ll be the last thing we notice.

 

Towns we love and say to ourselves “I could live here”

but as soon as we visit the next one it wins us over,

it eclipses the memory of any other town we’ve seen.

 

So we live with the rawness, and salve it with a change in direction

it lasts for a while

But never long enough to heal.

We’d stop moving if it healed.

We find a new path and press the memories to the wall as we walk.

So they open up and we can treat them with the next twist in the maze.

What you want to do isn’t always what you need to do. 

I’ve been working for my uncle between courses in Maine. I’ve been towing cars, which isn’t exactly in my wheelhouse. It’s good money and physically hard work, but it bores the hell out of me. 

Last week, I stumbled upon an opportunity to work for the rest of the year as a canoe and hiking guide. Of course, this initially seemed like a great idea. It lined up with my time frame before I go back to Maine, I’d be outside every day and I’d be helping other people have experiences outdoors. This is what school for, and it’s what makes me happy. 

Seems like an obvious choice doesn’t it? 

It did to me too. Believe me. At least until I sat down and thought about it.

 

Most of the readers here are a lot like me. Folks that have that hint of wanderlust in our souls that drive us towards the new and exciting. People of our ilk tend to do what we like. It’s a good quality most of the time. We find something we’re passionate about we do it whole heatedly, we don’t know any other way to be. 

Sometimes though, we need to reign that urge in and think about our long term goals. My uncle went out of his way to get me this job, and I owe him for that.

That’s  hard thing tor independent minded people to accept. We don’t live in a vacuum. Other people take chances on us all the time, and if we give someone our word that we’ll do something, we better do it as well as we can.  

That doesn’t mean it’s not a hard thing to make yourself stay somewhere that isn’t a good fit. We’ve all been there. Jobs that drove us up a wall, towns that seemed like we’d be stuck in them forever, relationships that just weren’t right but made us comfortable in some odd way. It’s so easy to just drop out of them in the hope of something better. It’s a part of the human condition I think, to move on to seemingly greener pastures. We wonder what’s over the hill and eventually that wondering turns into action. Sometimes though, it’s good to hold out on those urges and just stick with something for a while. 

(My corvid friends ALWAYS seem to find me, no matter where I am)

There are ways of subverting that feeling of restlessness and being trapped. It’s especially easy if you have a timeline that you know will play out, but it’s doable either way. I know I’m only in Maryland until January, and then I’ll be back in Maine doing what I’ve so recently found to be what calls me. So I’ll make the most of the time I have here. Not just in the work I’m doing, but in my time to myself. 

In regards to the work, it may bore me but it’s a skill I don’t have yet. That’s the important thing to realize when you’re feeling trapped. There’s always something to learn, or improve. If you’re stuck somewhere, find a way to keep yourself occupied and busy. If your job isn’t providing you with challenges and you really are just killing time there, then find something in your free time that will help you once you’ve left. Waiting tables until school starts up? Pick up your text books early and start studying. Working an office job for the summer before you move somewhere else? Find a map and familiarize yourself with your future home and the things to do there. 

I’m lucky enough to be in a situation that allows for both. I know next to nothing about cars, let alone towing them. So I’m throwing myself into this job wholeheartedly while I can. 

(Crab claws are part of a car’s basic requirements right?)

And during my time off? Well, Maryland is a great place to be if you’re an outdoorsy sort. In my time here I’ve hiked every chance I’ve gotten, and continued to study the environment here. It’s a good way to occupy my time, and it’s fun to go out and know everything I can about the flora and fauna I encouter during my hikes. 

It’s also just as beautiful here as I remember from being a kid. There’s something incredible about seeing some of the places I remember from childhood with more mature eyes. If you’re ever around the area drop me a line and we’ll go visit whichever environment you’d like. Ocean? We’ve got it. Salt marshes? Check? Rivers and mountains? You better believe it. 

So, the long and short of this article is this; life isn’t just about doing what you like, or even what you’re already good at. Sometimes it’s about putting your head down, working hard to be better at something you dislike and finding those little moments that remind you that it isn’t forever. That those things you want to do or see will still be there when you’re finished, and the time spent waiting for them will only improve your ability to enjoy them, as long as you keep them in the back of your mind while you work towards them. 

Slainte Maithe everyone. Keep working towards what you want, and I hope you get there soon.