The rains came at the end of December and have since called this place home.It is not the countryside, rather a despondency that blooms in the midst of this cold winter downpour. Those in the parts of the world where such weather is commonplace probably bare it away silently, knowing year after year that such is their fate. Here in southern North America, this bleak, relentless drenching has transformed myriad normal men and women into so many agitated, forlorn creatures.
The wearing down of the spirit by natural means such as continuous dark, damp days is in no way sinister.In that light, this indifferent water torture shows a modicum of kindness. The spirit breaking inventions used by one human on another cut more profoundly, with much greater precision. Cruelty is intentional, and therefore personal. Such malevolent behavior, like the weather, is sometimes predictable, sometimes not.
Confronting darkness in any form, be it natural or man-made presents each of us with the opportunity to choose a response.With rare exception, we can decide whether to reflect or reject the shadows cast upon us.Reacting on impulse is natural, but void of the benefit of circumspection.Stepping back, taking stock, digging deep and choosing a way forward that lies outside readily ostensible options, a path that leads us back to the light, that is the work of living.
January 9th. The Christmas tree, or should I say fire hazard now long in the tooth droops in the corner of the living room. Brittle needles find their way to the hardwood floor, forming a circular colony of tinder. Surprisingly, the scent of pine has been growing stronger, filling the front rooms of our small cape cod style home. Holiday postpartum has descended upon this place. Andy Williams is not singing of the “Most Wonderful Time of the Year.” Festive open houses are closed. The last of the baked goods have fossilized and so been shown out to the frozen garden plot for the birds to beak. The heat runs near constantly as the days of subfreezing temperatures depress the mercury in this part of the world.
I miss the holidays, the anticipation, the many opportunities to raise a glass with old friends and make new ones. Over the years Christmas time has always managed to deliver joy, optimism, and magic. I found myself this season thinking for the first time about the fact that I have only so many Holiday celebrations left. It may sound morose, indeed but this recognition of reality is also a useful reminder. Living fully, openly, and with the intent to make the most of each moment is a choice…just that, a choice. We only have so long to become our best, then we rest. Have you made strides in this quest over this last year?
When the twinkling lights go dark, and the long nights unrelentingly hold the world, we may turn inward, we may be saddened, or we may take no notice. To each his own. I for one find myself a bit saddened, a bit grateful, and a bit nostalgic. Every day is not Christmas, though as Charles Dickens suggested we might do our best to keep it in our hearts throughout the year.
Barring an untimely demise, I will find myself eleven months from now decking the halls, raising a glass, wrapping treasures for those I love, and feeling that twinge of the childlike excitement that the holidays bring. I know not all share my opinion of the magic of Christmas time, and to those who struggle during the season, I wish you strength and love. May your days be merry and bright, long after the twinkle lights have faded.
I spent 3-4 hours last weekend refurbishing runner sleds.I have a bit of a fascination with these playthings. Over the years I’ve accumulated five of them. The first one I received for my fifth birthday, a 1966 Flexible Flyer.Another belonged to my maternal grandpa, dated 1906.The third I found in the shed of the house my sons and I moved into once we were finally able to move out of our one bedroom apartment. I stumbled upon the last two in a pawn shop on Nolensville Road here in Nashville, Tennessee.If You aren’t familiar with Nolensville Road, it is rife with pawn shops, paycheck advance loan joints, and killer Mexican restaurants.In addition to the family of runner sleds, I am in possession of one ridiculously long wooden toboggan, the sled, not the hat…and when the hell did we give birth to that term for a ski cap? But I digress.Why this winter snow and sled proclivity?I’m guessing it is a subconcious reaction to growing up in alway sunny southern California.
Yes, I now live in Nashville, Tennessee.No, we don’t get a lot of snow these days, though we used to. In the early nineteen something-or-others we had such a winter here in middle Tennessee that the Cumberland River froze over.The mighty waterway that splits our fair city turned solid to the point where one could drive a car across it.Global warming…politics/science aside, I refurbish the sleds in the hope that we will have at least a day or two this winter to run them.
Peter Pan would have liked sledding.Not the pop psychology Peter Pan, the immature fuck-up that many equate with the “not willing to work” type.From what I read the real Pete fought valiantly for what he valued.He worked to be free and shared the fruits of his indefatigable labors with the lost boys.Courage, rather than immaturity may be a fine way to define Mr. Pan.Do what we have to do to protect what we love, right?
As it relates to surviving the aging process in modern times, what about blinders?Some of those who are not familiar with the term “horseless carriage” may also be confused by the term “blinders.”Blinders where created to be worn by horses as they pulled carriages through the busy streets, often more like mud troughs, of bustling turn of the century cities.They were designed to protect the beasts from overstimulation.Blinders, therefore, aren’t intended to create a state of blindness, rather they are intended to facilitate focus.I think we can all give a nod to the value of focus.Focus is the rail on which we are able to forge momentum.It is the way we get from standing still to full speed.Growing up is one thing, acting the role of a “grown-up” is another.Focus is most likely about creating a life that matters, whether it fits a societally accepted norm or not.
Some people loved sledding when they were children.Some people did not.Some who did appreciate the sport lost that love as the grew up.Others did not; (Sidebar, I realize my fixation with riding sleds is absurd).Deconstructed, the act of sliding down a hill on a fast moving vehicle has no scientifically significant value.You can’t necessarily become spiritually whole, the richest man in the world, or the president of the United States by sledding down an icy hill…or can you?Olympic bobsledders may win gold medals then return to their day jobs at HomeDepot.Are they the better for it?Probably.Have they become the Dalai Lama?Ehh!
Sleds aside, what do we gain from our adult choices; from putting aside childish things?Do we gain Money?Security?Power?Freedom…Whatever the fuck that means?Most likely yes.What do we lose in exchange?The process of maturing is exciting, confusing, intoxicating most often inevitable.It can bring great things, but at what cost?Do we have to surrender our child-like wonder in order to survive as adults?If we do in fact, have to sacrifice our childhood consciousness to become grown-ups what language will we use to communicate with children?If not their’s then who’s?
Peter Pan was written by James Matthew Barrie in 1904.He saw struggling children in need of relief, and so created a fantasy world based on his hopes for their emotional survival, or so I surmise.He crafted a surreal safe harbor for humans faced with the reality of aging.It was to be his most celebrated work.It overshadowed all others in his career.Curios that a story so well received at the time of its creation has been reduced to a term used to define those who refuse to conform to rather rigidly defined acceptable forms of “adulthood” in modern times.
Back to sled riding for a sec, and for those without snow in there lives please substitute an appropriate metaphor. If at times we feel stuck, sad, discontented, hopeless or just bored, perhaps a swift ride on a polished set of steel runners could be the perfect emotional reset.If everything is just fine, all is right with the world, would it not be still be a hoot to make time to feel the rush of plummeting down a snowy hill, just to see where it takes us; feeling the wind blow through our hair as we descend a slope of memories long left behind.Why the hell not?
Freedom, heaven, hell, sorrow, joy, regret, redemption; they live within all of us. On good days we get to choose which of them we will invite for a play date. I find that when the long nights of winter begin to weigh on me the ensueing darkness can be parted by pushing off hard and diving onto my ’66 Flyer for an icy glide. Sometimes its the simple things, often even “childish things” that make the world brighter, better, and for at least a rare moment, timeless.
I have nothing to say… Oh wait, that can’t be right.The voice in my head never stops yammering, so perhaps I should just share a bit of that monkey din.Let’s see, I was super uptight with my kids this morning in response to their less than “militarily precise” approach to preparing for the first day of school.My fluster-faced antics were unnecessary and as it turns out, super unproductive.They watched me rant with bemused looks of teenage indifference.Suddenly it dawned on me that I was “choosing” to be an ass. “Thank god,” I thought, and just like that, I chose to change my choice.I decided that I no longer wished to be a “that dad,” so I stopped my foolishness, and apologized to my sons.Breakfast and the ride to school were lighthearted and fun.So that’s all I have to say…
Wait, I do want to mention that while I was acting like a child, they were keeping their distance, staying emotionally clear of the bad mojo vortex.They had decided it seems, to give me the space to work through whatever ass clown hair shirt I was knitting without engaging.Well done boys.
I have nothing to say, that needs to be said, at the moment.That said or said thrice perhaps, I like saying stuff.When I was a young boy I had, as some parents might say “a lot of energy.”My father was a man of few words.Of those few words, the ones I often heard were “stop babbling.”What?Not enrich the world with my eight-year-old prattle?You can’t be serious? Poor guy’s ears must have been near bleeding!
I have a couple talkers in my house.The suspects are male, ages 13 and 16.While they both can go on serious verbal tears, the 13-year-old is exceptionally gifted.He can speak incessantly for such extended periods that we’ve actually coined terms to describe his gift.When he’s been thinking out loud at the speed of sound for some interminable period, we call it ‘streaming’…he calls it “broadcast mode.”I used to talk, or “babble” like that when I was a boy, ha!It doesn’t hurt anyone, so I just let him blow that horn.
Some folks don’t talk much. Some folks do.Some are great listeners while others don’t seem to have the ability to give two stray shits about what anyone says, even as they pretend to listen. What?Ha, just kidding.
So it seems I have nothing important to say, but I’m damn happy to be here, to have another day on this planet with opportunities in front of me and most of the “learning the hard way” behind me.Babblers, quite folk, grumpsters, and joy monkeys, may you find wildflowers and spring water along your path as you walk to the beat of your own personal expression drums.
Broken things, some we are quick to cast aside, some are not so easily released.A Van Gogh, a toy doll, a locket, a person; all come into existence with the sheen of shiny fresh brand new ‘here I am.”Over time that bit fades, ultimately replaced by the thing that most often happens to things that persist in the act of existence,some sort of brokenness.A locket or pocket watch have sentiment on their side.If these become broken a fix of some sort is possible if the owner is sufficiently motivated by emotional attachment.What of broken people?As I glance to my left wrist, I see my great grandfather’s watch. He, a broken thing that ultimately could not be “fixed’ left this working timepiece as a memory.
Hearts are regularly broken; so are bonds of friendship, vows, and refrigerators.The casting aside and replacing of broken things happens when we lose faith, often rightly so, in the possibility of repair.Other times we simply must do the work of restoration or so parish, as with our hearts.I have a sentimental streak that has caused a light hoarding behavior at times.I hold onto my collection of five old runner sleds even as the warming of the earth no longer offers winter in my part of the world.The sleds aren’t broken.However, their usefulness is but a memory.Still, like a locket bearing the picture of a loved one, in my case winter, they hold value, hope, promise, or nostalgia, that I am reluctant to release.
I’ve walked some of my days with a broken heart, many adult humans do.Fill in the blank as to the details with your own experiences, and we will likely be in understanding of one another.It is a scar, or a badge, or a shitty outcome that clings to the soul like a limpet to the hull of a sailing vessel.It by itself will not plot the course of a journey though it may slow the runnings.So it goes with we who have minds made of chains that rattle and dance each morning when we decide to once again rise and face the day.
I learned yesterday that my best friend of thirty-eight years, Dr. David, (mentioned in a previous Random Fiction blog post “Free Fall,” irony included) has acute leukemia. He has passed, at least temporarily from the realm of shiny new things into that of the broken.He wore a brave face Thursday as he entered a month of hospitalized solitude to face down his indiscriminate adversary in a firestorm of chemotherapy.
Interestingly, several months ago, before this category 5 shit-storm reared its ugly head, Dave and I spent a weekend visiting the college town where he and I met. Our in the moment state of unbrokenness found us commenting that we both felt as though we were still the same boys that had made acquaintance there those many years ago.Alas, as some friend of Anne Lamott’s said, “we are all born astride the grave.”Acknowledging that fact is ultimately both a curse and a relief… at least for me.That said, I will give any and all of my time, money, and bone marrow to fix this particular broken thing.Love to you my dearest friend.My heart is with you all the way.
Tacking hard back and forth across the teeth of the wind.Spray filling my eyes as the bow plunges into wave after indifferent wave.The imprint of rope on my clenched fingers may by now be permanent.The going is slow and my destination still so far off that I’ve almost forgotten its original allure.All I know is that the safe harbor I’ve been seeking seems to lie at the birthplace of the relentless headwind.“Perhaps it is time to choose a new course,” I think as another wash of spray wipes my brow.“Perhaps.”
The stories any of us can recall about sailing downwind are few for their lack of incident, even scarcer if one has never actually sailed, but let’s say its national metaphor day and roll with it. For most of us, our many days are marked in turn by periods of smooth runnings, threatening waters, and periods of the listless, anxiety-provoking doldrums. Each it seems has their time and place on the nautical map of our journey, and I imagine a reason they’ve found us, or we’ve found them. Few milestones rise up in monolithic fashion while we are enjoying the momentary gift of easy passage through this life.It may be that the cursed wind, or lack of it, thwarting our efforts at any given moment is also the very gift that aids us in the writing of a story finally worth telling.
Distant lightning flashed. White light careened through the skylights momentarily illuminating the dark bedroom. The air bristled with discomfort, disquiet coursing through my mind, through every cell in my body. Thunder rolled across the night, and the wind rose to a harsh whistle at the windows. The unease that filled the night was not however born on the wings of the coming storm. It was of my own making; a rising tide the origin of which was a mystery, unknowable and ominous.
As the first huge drops of rain began to hammer the skylights, I huddled in the darkness wrestling with the sense that everything in my world seemed beyond control, beyond the possibility of repair, beyond hope. The spread of this darkness began to envelop my mind, strangling my thoughts, paralyzing any ability I once would have used to still the maelstrom of doubts. For reasons the genesis of which escape me, there are times in life when the smallest thing, the largest thing, everything seems overwhelming.
As the storm overtook the house in its full force, I lay still in the darkness. Fear of living is not something I choose to dance with, but there are times when the music comes up, and that fear reaches for my hand and pulls me out onto the floor despite my resistance. This was such a night, such a dance, spinning around the room I moved to the tune of unfounded fear.
The sound of the hammering rain drew my eyes in the direction of the skylight. As I stared wide-eyed into the blackness a lightning bolt struck, once again blasting the world with white light. At that moment I saw the myriad raindrops exploding against the glass. That’s when it dawned on me.
The raindrops are a metaphor for life. Moments before they had not been raindrops. From an ineffable particle field of clouds miles above they had formed, born into the shape of a water droplet; a singular entity created from the ether. They live in individual form hurtling through space and time; their unique existence real and measurable, for a moment. Upon striking the skylight, the rooftop, or the ground they were transformed; no longer individual drops, returned to the shapelessness of rushing water, washing away to be absorbed by the earth. There they are assimilated and redistributed as means for growth and current for streams and rivers. After a few hot days, any evidence of their unique existence is diminished and finally vanishes.
So it is with life. A beginning from nothing followed by a meteoric plunge through the universe of existence; and finally a return to the fathomless whole of all things. Everything that has a beginning has an end. Once placed in this perspective no journey is without hope, without relief, or without its own particular brilliance. The storm of disquiet within dissipated, understanding washing over me in a gentle wave of acceptance and appreciation. I pulled the covers over my slowly relaxing body, rolled to my side and fell into a deep, dreamless sleep.
“No fucking way!” Les blurted, staring through the passenger window at the sitting Grizzly.During his time in the mountains, he had only had two encounters with bears, in as many days, yesterday and today.A wave of uneasiness swept over him with the intensity of a mountain storm, swift and ominous.Deciding that McGee Creek would not be his fishing destination de jour Les turned the key to fire up the Cruiser.The always reliable starter whined, but the engine did not catch.
“Shit!” he exclaimed, “Not Good!”Les released his twisting pressure on the key momentarily then tried again glaring imploringly at the ignition.The starter whinnied on for seconds like an anguished electric horse, but the familiar roar of the engine did not come.
“Slam” something hit the driver side window with such force that Les closed his eyes, certain that he would be covered with broken glass.His right hand shot to the passenger seat wrapping his hand around the grip of his pistol.As he took up the .45, he saw through the passenger window that the bear was no longer on the river bank.He whipped around to face the driver side window weapon raised.A surprised Shash took a step back, showing a mix of amusement and concern in his dark eyes.
“Jesus!” Came Lester’s muffled voice through the closed window, “You scared the shit out of me!”
“My apologies,” offered Shash, taking another step away from the Cruiser to allow room for his enormous frame to execute the slightest of bows.“Sounds like you’re having engine troubles.I knocked to offer my assistance.”
“Knocked?” Lester thought, “The blow Shash had landed could have crushed a lesser car!” Les’ mind was swimming.“Bears, giants, dead engines, what the fuck?Did someone drug my Bourbon last night?And what the hell happened to my truck?”
He laid the Browning back on the passenger seat and unbuckled his seatbelt.He reached for the door handle then hesitated.What the hell was this Shash doing here and where the shit-hell had he come from?Les hadn’t seen anyone, other than the Grizzly when he’d pulled to a stop here in the middle of nowhere, and there were no other cars at the turnout.
“Pop the hood,” Shash commanded in his deep rumble of a voice, “I’ll have a look.”
After a pregnant moment of consideration, Les smiled weakly and complied.As the giant made his way to the front of the Cruiser Les noticed that he appeared to be wearing the same oversized mad-max, bounty hunter regalia that he’d worn last night at the Sierra Springs.Les glanced at the Browning resting on the seat beside him, considering the bizarre, disconcerting nature of his current situation, then decided to leave where it lay.He took a deep breath, wiped the sweat from his brow, opened his door and stepped out onto the dusty gravel ground of the turnout.
Shash had opened the hood and reached into the engine compartment with a mechanic’s confidence.“Try it now” he bellowed not realizing that Lester had left the cab and was now standing two feet from him.Les jumped, “Jesus!” He exclaimed.
“How much coffee have you had this morning friend?You seem a bit edgy.”Shash grinned.
Lester looked up at him with a mixture of indignation, awe and thinly veiled alarm.Without saying a word he turned and marched back to the cab.
“I’m definitely taking a nap today” he muttered to himself.
Les swung into the driver’s seat and turned the key.Sweet internal combustion music sprang from the now purring engine.Shash closed the hood. “Loose spark plug connections.All good for now, but you may wanna look at replacing them before winter.”Les, sitting in the driver seat with a bit of a glazed look on his face nodded slowly. “Safe travels Lester” Shash said.Then he turned and strode across the road.
“Thank you,” Les yelled at the closed window, his words bouncing loudly throughout the cab.He fumbled for the window switch, but by the time the window was opening Shash had crossed the road and was heading for the woods.Les watched mutely as the giant made his way into the beginnings of a cedar grove and vanished.
Lester McClain sat motionless gripping the steering wheel; feeling the gentle vibration born of the purring engine on his damp palms.Eventually coming out of his stupor he turned his gaze to McGee Creek.No sign of the bear.Releasing the wheel, he ran his hands through his hair leaning back with a long exhale.“Jesus!” He exclaimed for the third time that morning.He put the cruiser in gear. Fishing was no longer on the agenda.No, if fact Les was suddenly and overwhelmingly motivated to pursue indoor activities for the rest of the day. With a spray of gravel, he wheeled out onto the road, made a hurried U-turn and headed back down the mountain.
Days can lose their given names when one has no particular thing that must be done or no particular place to be.Every day can be a Saturday or any day for that matter.Lester McClain had managed to put himself in a position where the names of days had little relevance.He had been unlucky in love, a story for a later time, but lucky in the realm of finance and so he had opted for an early escape from the American grind.
Overlooking his remaining days from a fiscally secure vantage point, Les had decided to liquidate most of his holdings and deposited the substantial proceeds into a low-risk mutual fund.He then sold most of his possessions, keeping only what he could fit in his silver 1996 Toyota Land Cruiser and moved from San Francisco to Lee Vining California to take up a quiet life in the mountains.The ghosts and demons that followed him were unwelcome, so as most of us do he relegated them to the dungeon of his mind and went about his life as though they had never existed.
For several years now his routine had been simple, probably deathly dull to most, but mostly satisfying to him.Hike, fish, read, avoid dealing with any personal issues, hike some more, have a drink or three in the evening, sleep, repeat.That much time alone will make a man his own best friend, trusted confidant, or his own worst enemy.And so it was the case that Lester McClain had the habit of talking to himself out loud on a regular basis.
Les sat up blurry eyed on the old brown leather sofa opposite the kitchenette in his tiny cabin.The summer sun had demanded his attention at 5:30am.At that unreasonably early hour, his reluctant body rose to the ritual calling of his morning routine.
“I need some fucking curtains!” he muttered to himself.
Cold, fucking cold, water splashed on his face, mostly to force the eyes into focus. That focus revealed bloodshot blue eyes with a faint ring or yellow around the iris, greying, unkempt blond hair falling in tangles to his collar and a three-day beard. Having finished the unpleasantry of cold water coupled with a mirror prior to 6am Lester commenced a staggerer’s walk toward the kitchen to start the coffee.As he sat on the sofa waiting for the percolation to complete, he found himself regretting that last glass of bourbon, five drinks were not his custom.
“Nice to see you?” he remembered. “Who was that…guy?”Les had, by his own choice embraced a life a relative solitude.He had not, to his recollection, ever met this Shash who joined him last night at the bar, yet the giant had seemed to know him.“Ugh,” he thought, “I need coffee.”He made his way back across the spartan cabin floor, smooth worn pine boards seamed loosely to allow for the breathing of the seasons, to the kitchen counter and poured a tall cup of deep black waking.His hand rested on the chipped white tile countertop as he took a deep, tongue scalding gulp.“Ahh!”
The Land Cruiser engine roared, 6:15am time to be somewhere that was not here.“What day is it?” He thought.“Ah, does it matter? Nope.”He said to the steering wheel.He guided the shift lever into reverse and backed down the driveway.The sound of off-road tires on the gravel had become music to Les; the soundtrack to his comings and goings.
As he drove toward the Narrow Canyon, he remembered the bear.It had appeared way up river as he hooked the last of his three trout the day before.As he worked the line, he had seen out of the corner of his eye the massive shape of an upright full-grown Grizzly bear.He reeled the large rainbow hard but not so hard as to break the line then let it run a bit under the deep bend of the graphite rod, keeping an eye on the fish, using his peripheral vision to monitor on the bear.Les had seen bears before on the river and did not take such encounters lightly.As the fish fought for its freedom, the bear seemed only to watch.Les’ mind wandered to the holstered Browning .45 on his right hip.So fixated did his thoughts become on the gun and bear that he almost lost the fish.
When the fish finally surrendered, he looked directly at the bear.The bear too seemed finished and stepped away from the river, vanishing behind a stand of pines.Les netted the fish and turned downstream.He creek hopped thirty yards or so in the direction of the Land Cruiser then turned to scan for his possible pursuer.Nothing but water, stone, forest, and sky.He took the fish from the net and quickly ran his knife through to end it’s suffering.
“I’m sorry I made you wait” he whispered to the now at peace fish.“Thank you for the gift of your sustenance.”
Les checked again for the bear, no trace.He placed the third rainbow in his creel, secured his fly to the rod anchor and made for the safety of his truck.
Les, not being a superstitious man had not attributed anything to the incident with the bear other than a man and a bear happening by chance to be at the same place at the same time.Following that logic he decided while driving to change course, abandoning Narrow Canyon for a morning at McGee Creek.“No need to go where the bear is fishing,” he said to the dashboard, averting his eyes from the blazing morning sun that careened down the slopes of the Sierra Nevada mountains.The Cruiser slowed to a stop at a small parking turnout adjacent to McGee.Les turned the key and was about to pull it from the ignition when he saw it,the bear.A huge Grizzly bear was sitting by the river, pensively watching the water play across the rocks. As he watched, stunned, the bear looked up. Les thought he saw the faintest hint of a smile on its face.