Winter Living With The Cree (Finale)

Our last few days in Ouje consisted mostly of repition. Checking traps, nets and snares. We’d settled into a rythm of sorts, and that’s not something to take for granted. Life isn’t made up of adventures everyday, or constant excitement. This is the case in an office job as much as in a substinanence lifestyle. Call it “the grind” or a “rat race”, most days consist of repeated actions that sustain us in some way. 

We snared a few more rabbits, but also saw most of the traps come up empty. Laurence and Anna had been after a Marten that’s been roaming around the camp, and had set up a few traps in separate locations with this goal in mind. We snowshoed out to their locations everyday, and each time were disappointed by the lack of Marten in them. It’s a reality check of sorts. Expectation v. Reality is an ongoing struggle for some folks in the outdoor industry. Especially with the rise of social media. We only see the successful hunts, the selfies at mountain peaks and the perfect campsites. So it’s understandable that some of us (myself included) go into some experiences with a preset image of how said experience will go. That’s not how life works, let alone a lifestyle as dependent on uncontrollable variables as the one we experienced in Quebec. 

We did have a few other projects worth mentioning, the first being our snowshovels. The Cree carry small, hand carved snow shovels for the same purpose we use them for, as well as for getting ice out of a newly chiseled fishing hole. They’re beautiful to look at, combining the simplicity of purpose with vibrant colors and patterns. Traditional Cree snowshoes achieve the same concept. They are a tool, and the appeal of them comes not only from their asthetic appearance, but from the way they interact with their intended environment. Snowshoes, for example. The traditional model of a Cree snowshoe is decorated with small colored fibers on their upturned tips, and when they move through the snow the colors, the flexibility of the decoration combine with the motion of the shoes as they drift through powder, drawing the eye into the illusion of something with a life of its own. 

Seeing the process of making a snowshovel as well as taking part in it ourselves forced us to consider not only the shapes we wanted to carve, but the function we needed those shapes to perform. 

                                           Masters at work

There are limited power tools available in the bush. David shaped the forms of the snow shovel with a chain saw, then used an axe to flesh out the basic curves and lines. The understanding of the tool, and the hours logged using it become apparent immediately. Once the basic shape is pulled out of the birch, a crooked knife is employed. Traditionally, axe and crooked knife are the only tools used. 

As we worked the shovels into shape, Laurence and David watched. Their method of teaching was more like being a guide. When we had questions about a next step or a specific curve in the shovel, they simply told us to shovel some snow. It was a continuation of the practical approach they took to a tools use. When we used the unfinished shovel, we could see what needed to change in order for it to be more effective. There are few things as rewarding as making a tool, and employing it for its designated purpose. 

With the shovels carved, we spent the rest of the day rechecking traps, and helping dig out a collapsed shelter. In doing this the necessity of snowshoes in the environment we were inhabiting became apparent. The trail we walked to reach the shelter was hard packed, and didn’t require the distribution of weight that snowshoes provide, but once we reached the walls of the shelter itself we struggled to stay on top of the snow while we dug out enough snow to hop over the waist high wooden walls. 

While we worked with Laurence to empty the shelter frame of snow, we didn’t speak much. The quiet was only broken by small bursts of laughter when one of us slipped, or a leg crunched through the deep snowdrifts on either side of the frame. It was good to simply work, as always. 

By the time we’d finished, it was time for dinner. Our last meal with the Cree was a culmination of a lot of the work we’d done over the week. Stewed snowshoe hare, boiled sucker fish, and the biggest pot of moose meat you can imagine. A few of David and Anna’s children joined us for dinner, joking with us about the best parts of the various dishes we partook in. Even convincing Ben, Colin and I to try the brains of the snowshoe hares. I’ve had fried pig and calf brain sandwiches (Baltimore cusine; if you can fry it, you can eat it) but the rabbit brains were something completely new. Nothing went to waste from the animals we’d harvested. Fish heads, rabbit offal and every other edible piece of these animals was laid out in front of us. 

After dinner, Anna, David and Laurence came to our tent and told stories, sang Johnny Cash songs with us and prepared to say our goodbyes. Before we called it a night however, Anna showed us a special part of Cree culture; the care of infants. This started by bringing the skins of the hare’s we’d caught, now dried and stretched, and demonstrating how to cut and spin the hides into long rabbit fur ropes that would be woven together to make a child’s coat. 

As we sounds the skins, David told us more stories about his life in the bush, and about his memories of the shifting world he’s witnessed as the Cree started to modernize. Once he’d finished, and the rabbit “yarn” had been spun, Anna brought out a finished child’s coat for us to see. She joked that it was a shame none of us were small enough to try it on. As the bag of bones in the group, I offered to give it a try and draped the hood of the coat over my head, while holding the freshly sounds hides up to my face like a beard. Laurence laughed and said I looked like “Daniel Boone”. 

As Anna showed us more of the ins and outs of child care, it seemed that this was the most important thing she’d showed us. We could see the joy in her face as she talked about building the baby’s hammock, and how Cree diapers and swaddling had been practiced. As the night slowly came to an end, it seemed right that our time with the Cree ended with an insight into how their lives had begun. Or maybe I’ve read too much poetry for my own good. 

This experience was one I’ll think of often. We witnessed ways of teaching, and a philosophy behind it that was counter intuitive to our Western education background. We only got a glimpse of life in the bush, and I know for certain that I’ll be hankering for another taste until I get back up to the great white north. 


As always, if you’ve got questions about the experience, or want to know more about Ouje-bougomou and setting up a visit don’t hesitate to ask. 

Slainte Maithe

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The Art Of Gear Checks.

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Whelp,  it’s almost time to head north folks.

I’m mostly packed up and to my mind that’s the most important part of any trip. Not the packing, but the preparation that comes along with it. Making a checklist of gear and supplies, and going through it a few times saves a lot of headaches once you’re on trail.

I’ve become fascinated with trip prep over the years. It’s not something we see a lot of in books, movies and stories about expeditions, but it’s probably the only reason those expeditions could happen. Folks planning long periods of time away from the conveniences of life have to think of every factor possible. That’s hard enough to do for yourself, let alone a large group of people. In the stories of glory and adventure we tend to see in fiction of any kind about the outdoors, it gets left out. No body wants to see fourty five minutes of a movie in which the two main characters argue about whether or not to bring the extra tarp. (An actual experience I’ve had. I still stand by the fact that we needed the extra tarp.)

Almost all of the books I’ve read on guiding stress the importance of checklists, gear checks etc. That goes without saying. What hammers it home is hearing anecdotes from others about some vital piece of gear, or seemingly obvious part of the list that was left sitting on the kitchen table, or countertop when everyone piles into the truck. People are excited to get out on their trek. Of course, as a guide you are too. That doesn’t excuse your responsibility to the group to make sure every knot is tied correctly, and every ingredient of the meals has been measured and packed.

One of my favorite exercises at Jack Mountain was writing up meal plans for our expeditions. It was a mundane, necessary, and albeit somewhat tedious task. You keep track of your food intake over the week, then use that data to plan for the trip appropriately. This method of planning takes a bit of forethought, and an understanding of what you really need. Not to “survive”, but to be comfortable enough that being on trail is what it should be. Relaxing, and an experience that you’ll remember fondly instead of looking back on it as “that time I didn’t bring enough flour and was miserable the last two days of hiking.

It doesn’t just apply to food. I’m a natural “but what if I really NEED these twelve extra axes?” sort of packer. It can be a problem if you don’t really step back and look at your habits on trail and make sure that what you pack is what you need. Sure, bring along an extra item or two, if you think it’ll bring something to the experience.

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                             (You know, like a shield. That you need. For obvious reasons)

In some downtime during courses, I read a book called “New York to Nome” by Rick Steber. It’s an account of the experiences of Shell Taylor and Geoffrey Pope paddling from the Hudson bay, across North America, all the way to nome, Alaska. In it they see all sorts of incredible things, but they also go into details about how they set up food and gear drops, rationed out food when necessary etc. That makes it all seem pretty well plotted out. I’ll let you read the book yourself and see why it was decidedly not that.

 

It’s tempting to fly by the seat of your pants when you go on a vacation, or even just an over night trip somewhere. In most modern getaways, you can do that and be just fine. It’s important for either solo outdoors folks, guides, or even parents taking their family out for a weekend to keep in mind the limitations of being out and away from the conveniences of life, and plan for them accordingly. Hell, even if you’re just going with a group of friends, it can’t hurt to plan for the inevitable “Oh geez, I didn’t even THINK about bringing a sleeping bag” friend (We’ve all got one) and toss an extra blanket in the trunk.

This article is sort of short, as I’m putting the final touches on little details for the next coming months of school and snowshoeing with the Cree in northern Quebec. As well as hammering out little nagging thoughts about the project that’s coming afterward.

Oh, and it’s the holidays? Whoops. Knew I was missing something.

 

Watch this space. Big stuff coming.

Slainte Maithe everyone.

 

 

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. 

Three hundred thousand miles 

I just went on a road trip back to the Midwest, and that road trip ticked my odometer over the 300k mark. 

(Admittedly, I replaced my engine two years ago. Otherwise Jeep Prime would be dead by now)

Now, this isn’t a review of Jeeps, or a love letter too cars. This is about mileage.

I think of that mileage the way a geologist would think of digging down through layers of rock. As they go down they find different indicators. Stone that was probably carried by melting glaciers, volcanic rock from long dead magma. 

That’s what the miles on my Jeep mean to me. I can look at a certain stretch of miles and remember the places I was. From 299k to 300k, will always bring to mind this last trip. Stu and Morgan’s wedding, where I got to see two lovely people celebrate how happy they are, and will be as long as they’re with each other, and catch up with people I haven’t seen in years. Time spent with my closest friends in Stl, writing Tom Wait’s style songs about a woman who smells of Potato salad on a warm day, and time with the Chicago gang, building them a fire, having a few beers and reminiscing on life, and the paths we’ve all been taking. 

Somewhere around 250k I was on my way to Georgia, to start my attempt at the Appalachian trail. I only made it halfway through that hike, but it was still the moment when what I wanted became clearer. When I knew the outdoors was where I needed to be. That wouldn’t come to fruition for a few years, but it started there. 

Or the miles could bring to mind a drive to new Orleans with my other universal movie monsters. A week of revelry and excess. Getting to experience new Orleans away from bourbon street, meeting fellow Baltimoreans and loving the surprising common thread. 

The further back I go with this, the more nostalgic it becomes. Road trips with former girlfriends, driving back home to Maryland to see family. Cavorting around st. Louis with my friends (that last one is a phrase my father used to describe my wayward ways during college. In retrospect he’s right. I should have been studying instead of driving to parks and bars)

And that’s what I like so much about this method of memory. Jeep Prime (yup, that’s still his name) has been the biggest constant in my life, and due to that, can be linked to all the events. Bringing Rep home for the first time, getting rear ended by an old woman who was more concerned with the tiny dent in my bumper than the folded up hood on her little Prius. 

The mileage thing might not work for everything, but it’s important to find something like this to attach memory to. Sure, journaling is a great option, but words don’t bring back sensory memories the way other forms do. When I remember miles 299k-301k, I’ll be flooded with the smells of fire, and gin buckets. The sounds of Morgan and Stu laughing during their first dance, and everyone cheering for them as they start their new life. The ache of my ribs after laughing long into the night with the guys in Chicago. 

So find something you can make little mental notches in. Boots are good, if you’re a hiker. Or a collection of playlists, each one reminding you of a period of time. 

For me though, nothing’s going to beat Jeep Prime as a reminder of all the places I’ve been, and things I’ve seen. 

Cranky bones, transform and roll out. 

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 

 

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.

The value of little trips


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


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


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

“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.

 

 

Places To See Driving Through New England

It’s been a good couple weeks traveling north to Masardis. I spent the first in Maryland with my family and then wandered up through New England. This is my favorite part of traveling, just seeing a sign for something that looks interesting and hopping off the freeway.These aren’t in any specific order, so just take them ala cart as they fit into your plans.

  1. Hammonaset Beach, Connecticut.

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I only stopped here because I was a bit ahead of schedule, and the friend who was letting me couch surf wouldn’t be home by the time I got there. So I took the exit, not knowing what to expect. What I got was a beautiful beach. Hammonaset isn’t much for hiking, but the beach is calm, and the view of the Atlantic goes on forever. Definitely worth stopping if you’re on a schedule, or making a day trip off. I’m definitely going to swing by on my way back to MD in June and swim.

2. Salem, Massachusets. 

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Admittedly, this one will be hit or miss for some people. I had already planned on stopping in Newburyport (More on that in a moment). So when the signs started popping up for Salem, I figured it’d be worth a stop. The town has a multitude of old buildings and if you’re lucky enough to be there on an overcast day like I was the town takes on exactly the sort of atmosphere you’d expect considering Salem’s history. I also highly recommend stopping into the Salem Witch Museum. It’s kitschy as you’d expect, but I think that’s part of the fun. They have a strange “tour” where you sit in a large amphitheatre and listen to a Vincent Price-esque voice over give you the history of the Witch Trials, aided by wax figures.

3. Moose Hill Nature Reserve, Massachusetts

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This one is strictly for people who like hiking in New England’s unique environment. The staff are incredibly kind, and happy to help you pick a trail that will suit your particular trip. I personally recommend the vernal pool trail. It leads you through a Pine forest, and passes the pools it’s named for. The photo above doesn’t begin to do them justice.

4. Newburyport, Massachusetts. 

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This place my friends. This place is worth seeing. Well, it is if you’re a fan of horror books/movies/etc. See, Newburyport is the town H.P. Lovecraft based his fictional town of “Innesmouth” on. There isn’t anything built up around that fact, and the one person I talked to about it (A woman who ran a Celtic goods store. I had to stop in. Of course I did.) had no idea. This is the only one on this list I’d planned on visiting at the start of the trip. It definitely didn’t disappoint. Walking along the harbor I saw Deep One’s in every piece of driftwood, or splash as a fish rolled the surface. (If you don’t know what I’m talking about, go read “The Shadow Over Innesmouth” before you visit.)

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The town itself if beautiful on it’s own. Like much of new england, it’s old buildings have been repurposed for modernities like restaurants and shops, but that doesn’t take away from the sense of age that almost leaks out between the mortar of the bricks.

So, those are the one’s from this trip. Did I miss something really good? Or not stop at  particular attraction in one of the towns I did visit? Let me know, and I’ll try and swing through next time!