Home and Away

We know who we are at home, where all is familiar. But who are we away?

When I was a kid, going to Ole Miss football games with my Dad was kind of everything to me. I didn’t yet know about travel, or drinking, or girls, or hiking, or anything else that later would get me excited. So when Dad and I were at the game, watching our team together, everything seemed to be exactly in place.

And, in fact, those games were in a place: Oxford, Mississippi. That’s where we tailgated, walked to the stadium, took our seats, usually saw our team lose, and then commiserated together in the car afterwards, in time for dinner at home with Mom. They were home games.

And then one time when we saw them play somewhere else – away.

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Already Gone

I’m not sure I’m actually here.

I left Portland two years ago, and in two weeks I’m leaving again. And that right there should tell you that I am in some weird in-between place that is very hard to describe. I left, but I’m still here? All I know is, whatever it used to mean to be here, in Portland, it no longer means that. I no longer feel like I’m really here.

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Listen and Learn

I won’t often bust out a Bible verse here, but Proverbs 12:15 is a good one: “The way of a fool is right in his own eyes, but a wise man listens to counsel.”

There is a version of this in AA, which was literally founded when two alcoholics realized that only by working together could either stay sober. In fact, the entire program is about AAs working together to stay sober. The Big Book, written by some of those founders, says “Practical experience shows that nothing will so much insure immunity from drinking as intensive work with other alcoholics.”

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Keep it on the Line

When emotional winds blow around, it’s important to stay calm, do our best, and check back for more instruction.

Years ago, when I worked on fishing boats in Alaska, it would occasionally fall to me to actually steer the boat. Our skipper thought it was a good idea for all of us to have the ability, but he and I also shared a six-hour shift, and occasionally even an old salty bastard like him needed an actual break.

On one such occasion, we were crossing the Gulf of Alaska, a leg of several six-hour shifts that consisted of aiming for a spot several hundred miles away. He had set up a GPS line that aimed right at it, so in one sense, my instruction was simple: Keep it on the line, as he put it.

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On Tilling the Earth

When things get too crazy, stressful, or just plain tiring, it’s probably time to get back to the basics.

So many of my worldviews and beliefs flow from my time with the Grateful Dead, and here’s another one.

There’s a show called “Anthem to Beauty,” about the period of time when the Dead transformed from a completely tripped-out, acid-gobbling, experimental rock band that owed their record company money, was plagued with infighting and was basically losing its collective mind — around the time of their album “Anthem of the Sun” — to a time when they were recording two fantastic and successful albums filled with solid songs that became staples of their shows for the next 25 years: “Workingman’s Dead” and “American Beauty.”

I can’t find the exact clip on YouTube, but Mickey Hart, one of the drummers, basically said that their music, their lives, their whole scene was just getting too weird and was threatening to break itself apart, and they needed to get back to the basics of songwriting, crafting music, and as he said, “Tilling the Earth.”

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What’s the Plan?

Plans aren’t everything, and they change all the time, but it still helps to know what the current one is.

The most extreme example I can recall of needing to remember the plan was when I jumped off a 200-foot-high bridge. I was bungee jumping, which of course I had decided to do, but a large part of my brain did not care about that as I stepped to the edge. It was screaming “No!” on every channel.

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A Sign of the Quitting Time?

A backpack rest against a highway sign reading "Fawn Pass."

I don’t necessarily believe that the universe, or God, or gods, or The Way has a consciousness and some kind of plan, much less for me. It’s temping, though. I mean, which world do you want to live in? And is the world around us not defined, at least for us, by our thoughts?

All I know is that sometimes life throws at us something that sure seems like a sign. Or maybe a confirmation you’re on the right path. Or just something so damn nuts that you can only stare at it in disbelief and wonder what, if anything, it means.

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When the Smoke Clears

A hiking trail leads through trees toward a far-off mountain

Unable to take another day at the desk, I say to hell with it, throw my pack in the car, and hit the road.

I have a trail in mind, and I don’t care that online reviews say the road is a bitch, or that the smoke is still hanging thick in the valleys, or that it’s supposed to be close to 90, or that some reviewers said “bugs,” or that I’m out of shape, or this or that or anything else. I’m going hiking.

The road starts out nice, gets a little rough, and then brings my Kia Soul to a complete stop. Not where I was hoping to start, and the hike just got a little longer, a little tougher, but it’s not like I’m going back. And it’s too late to go somewhere else. Besides, this was the plan. I didn’t sign up for a perfect day in the mountains, even if that’s what I was hoping for. I signed up for a day in the mountains. Because I couldn’t take another day out of them.

I start walking.

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Meeting With Mountain Me

wind river mountains

The mountain version of me forever waits up in the high country, or in the woods, or by a riverside, to remind “city me” why he should get out more.

We sit in beautiful, even sacred places, talking about life and peace and being centered in what’s really important. We laugh and tell stories and even sing. Mountain me is eternally patient, ever reminding city me that this, this right here, is why you fight through the inertia, the driving, the weather, the to-do list, the fatigue, and the depression, to get out here.

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