Yep, I’ve been absent here after quite a while of consistent posts. There are explanations.
1) I am writing more for filthy lucre. As of February 1 I am the paddlesports columnist for Silent Sports Magazine. I have also become a regular contributor for a wonderful website called The Art of Manliness. No, it’s not about being a Maxim-ogling troglodyte. Actually, it’s exactly the opposite.
2) I am writing a book. I have a contract and everything. 7 chapters in, 25 to go. It is, well, demanding.
Bear in mind that I own a business, hold a fairly time-consuming church calling and I still like to paddle and hang out with my wife, remaining son at home and friends. Which means the first thing that got cut was recreational writing.
So this isn’t goodbye…just a little hiatus…
Denn alles Fleisch, es ist wie Gras
und alle Herrlichkeit des Menschen
wie des Grases Blumen.
Das Gras ist verdorret
und die Blume abgefallen.
One of my favorite pieces of music is Brahm’s Ein deutsches Requiem. Normally we call it the German Requiem, but Brahms called it Ein menschliches Requiem: The Human Requiem. I like that better. There’s some speculation as to Brahm’s impetus to write it, but it has been suggested that the death of his mother hit him particularly hard. Doesn’t matter why, what matters is that he did.
So I sit here at a patio table in Boston, waiting to fly home tomorrow after a conference. It’s beautiful, flowers and shrubs, a pretty bold squirrel searching around me for some sort of nut. There are basil and rosemary plants that perfume my temporary office.
I started trying to write some ad copy for work and decided to listen to Brahms.
Now I am unable to work until I write this down.
I remember over 20 years ago, sitting in a Sunday School class being taught by a gentleman named Dave Clark. Dave was a geologist professor at the University of Wisconsin, but since we have a lay clergy in our church, we all take turns doing different things. We were lucky to have Dave as a teacher. He was thoughtful, stimulating and somewhat intolerant of lazy thinking and platitudes. He challenged our thinking, and certainly brought his heart and his brain into the equation.
At the end of this particular Sunday School class, Dave pulled out his boom box and played this movement of the Requiem. I remember listening and being moved to tears. I didn’t understand the words other than looking them up in the Bible and figuring out that fleisch is flesh and gras is grass.
So yeah. All flesh is as grass. It withers, fades and shrivels up. The glory of man is as grass, and the blooms fall. Sometimes it lasts a long time, sometimes it doesn’t. I think that’s the point.
My friend Doug is now as grass. Doug Clark was the thoughtful and kind son of this wonderful Sunday School teacher, and I have known few men like him, and I will most likely never meet anyone like him again.
Now it’s customary to say really nice things about someone after they die and gloss over the not-so-nice things. The problem I have is that Doug probably had many character defects: we all do, but I am aware of precious few of them. I’m sure he showed them, but Doug had the gift to love greatly, deeply and authentically. Because I knew Doug loved me, I was pretty blind to the rest of his character flaws. And I know a handful of people who loved so deeply. His goal was to be like Jesus. When I say Jesus, I mean Carl Sandburg’s version.
He never came near clean people or dirty people but they felt cleaner because he came along. It was your crowd of bankers and business men and lawyers that hired the sluggers and murderers who put Jesus out of the running…This Jesus was good to look at, smelled good, listened good. He threw out something fresh and beautiful from the skin of his body and the touch of his hands wherever he passed along.
The Jesus who healed. The one who loved. The one who threw out something fresh and beautiful. Not the Jesus that supposedly hates simmers and can’t wait for an opportunity to toss someone into the garbage chute to eternal damnation. Not the Jesus used for political reasons. Not the Jesus that doesn’t exist. Sorry, haters. Doug wins.
A few weeks ago I was heading out of town for a trip to Germany. I was to fly out Saturday, and Doug had been ill for some time with an incurable and particularly nasty form of cancer. He was withering. The bloom was about gone. I wanted to see him, to see if I could bring him back anything from Germany. Doug had served a mission in Germany back in the 70s, and I thought a little chocolate or a one-legged pair of lederhosen might provide him a little bit of a lift.
I called about 9:00 Friday morning to see if Doug was available. The quiet voice on the other end of the phone was undoubtedly one of his sons, who told me in a flat voice that he wasn’t, but did I wanted to leave a message. I said, no, that I’d call back later.
I learned a few hours later via Facebook that he had passed away a few hours before I called.
[Insert tears of regret here]
Doug would, no doubt, chide me for my foolishness. “Hey, didn’t you listen to the next part?”
So seid nun geduldig, liebe Brüder,
bis auf die Zukunft des Herrn.
Siehe, ein Ackermann wartet
auf die köstliche Frucht der Erde
und ist geduldig darüber,
bis er empfahe den Morgenregen und Abendregen.
The good news is that we just need to be patient. Like the song says.
Therefore be patient, brothers,
Unto the coming of the Lord.
Behold, the husbandman waiteth
for the precious fruit of the earth,
and has long patience for it,
until he receive the morning and evening rain.
So be patient.
I don’t want to be geduldig. I don’t think it’s fair my friend died at all. I don’t think it’s fair that he left a wonderful (I mean wonderful) wife and four children (ibid. on the wonderful part) to cope with the loss of a great husband and father. It’s not fair that he left such a big hole in the world. And I’m selfish. And life isn’t even remotely close to fair. If it were fair, it wouldn’t be the world.
But I will be patient. I know I’ll see Doug again, this time with two legs. He’ll be Doug again, maybe even better. We’ll both have more hair. He’ll be a little skinnier, maybe, but he’ll keep the awesome beard. We’ll go paddling together and possibly motorcycling or whatever one does in the afterlife that correlates with those things. One hopes that it’s paddling only the water’s cleaner and motorcycling without anything ever breaking down.
“Keep listening,” says Doug.
Aber des Herrn Wort bleibet in Ewigkeit.
Die Erlöseten des Herrn werden wiederkommen,
und gen Zion kommen mit Jauchzen;
Freude, ewige Freude wird über ihrem Haupte sein;
Freude und Wonne werden sie ergreifen
und Schmerz und Seufzen wird weg müssen.
But the word of the Lord endureth forever.
And the ransomed of the Lord shall return,
and come to Zion with songs
and everlasting joy upon their heads:
they shall obtain joy and gladness
and sorrow and sighing shall flee away.
Thanks for the reminder, Doug.
“No problem. I love you, Darren.”
Freude…ewige Freude. Eternal joy sounds pretty good to me. So long as I can spend eternity with my wife, my family, and people like Doug, I can’t imagine it could be any other way.
Now I can blow my nose, wipe my eyes and get back to work.
I try to put stuff up here fairly often, but the truth is, I’ve been writing a lot on the side (the paying gig stuff) and I believe that there are only so many words inside my head that are worthwhile to anyone besides me, and that’s even debatable sometimes. Anyway, I’d rather not put up anything than something lame.
But it’s a lovely day, and I’m writing from the backyard of Canoelover Basecamp, soaking up some shade. I inherited my skin pigments from the Picts so I try to reflex sun and soak up shade. Wife 1.3.1b is sitting next to me knitting. A murder of crows is annoyed by our presence, and I suspect by the fledglingesque appearance and the soprano cawing that a she-crow nested in the big oak and is kicking the babies out of the nest a little. Monochromatic dogs place themselves strategically in the yard and a clump of dianthus from next door is dumping scent prodigally. I’m enjoying moving the hose, adjust to a trickle, from plant to plant in my new little hosta garden. The Japanese maple has been pruned to resemble a bonsai. It’s a perfect day.
On the canoe front, there are changes afoot. I am rearranging/thinning/culling canoes from the fleet. Too many is too many. In my mind’s ear I can perceive audible gasps from the readership. You’re thinking Canoelover has blown a head gasket.
Not so. I have a few boats that are dusty and aren’t being paddled as much as they should be paddled. I also have a new sea kayak that is but half paid for, and I need to turn boats that don’t get wet often into one that does. So the Moore-built Mike Galt-designed Dandy is up on the block. That’s because Friday a Lotus Dandy is showed up. It’s like driving a replica Porsche Speedster for a few years then finding a real one. So no change in the fleet count. But I am also selling my Blackhawk Ariel…again, more than a millimeter of dust and it’s gone, buh bye. I shall miss thee, Ariel. So that’s down one. I am also considering selling off one of my Pat Moore designed and built boats — a Proem or a Reverie II. The Rev is a collectible boat, one of a kind, and I am torn. It’s like owning a P-51 Mustang. If you fly it, you run the risk of crashing and destroying it, but flying is what they were made for. Bollocks.
Anyway, I may be two down. Let me know if you’re interested in any of them.
In other news: Got a permit for the BWCA in August. Just Wife 1.3.1b and I, no kids or other encumbrances. That will be the first time just the two of us are going without kids since we had them. A few weeks before that we have the Outdoor Retailer Summer Market trade show in Salt Lake City. We’re taking a few extra days on each side to drive out and do some camping along the way, usually in one of these. Not sure of the route just yet, but it will be nowhere near an interstate. Roadside America is a fantastic service (roadsideamerica.com) that tells you where all the stupid/cool/bizarre roadside attractions are. World’s largest ball of bailing twine? Grant Wood’s American Gothic house? The Maharishi Tower of Invincibility? It’s all there.
We’re traveling in style in our TC Teardrop. It’s basically a tent that rolls…with a really nice mattress inside. No significant change in mileage (they weigh very little and are out of the slipstream). Pull up to a rest stop, throw open the kitchen and have a nice omelet or a curry or whatever. Indian food in Nebraska. It can happen.
Needless to say, we’re already looking forward to August.
In the meantime…it’s high season. Work is not all-consuming but it certainly is a strong influence on how I spend my time. Work…family…reading…writing…paddling…lather, rinse, repeat. If I were a parrot, it would make me pine for the fjords.
Do not burn yourselves out. Be as I am — the reluctant enthusiast… a part time crusader, a half-hearted fanatic.
Save the other half for yourselves and your lives for pleasure and adventure. It is not enough to fight for the land; it is even more important to enjoy it. While you can. While it’s still here.
So get out and hunt and fish and mess around with your friends, ramble out yonder and explore the forests, encounter the grizz, climb the mountains, bag the peaks, run the rivers,… breath deep of that yet sweet and lucid air, sit quietly for a while and contemplate the precious stilness, that lovely mysterious and awesome space.
Enjoy yourselves, keep your brain in your head and your head firmly attached to the body, the body active and alive, and I promise you this one sweet victory over our enemies, over those desk-bound people with their hearts in a safe deposit box and their eyes hypnotized by desk calculators.
I promise you this: you will out live the bastards.
- Edward Abbey
I am a poet, and read my poems in a strange, nasally sing-song voice.
People say, “Why does he read so strangely?”
But then they will say;
“Oh, he is a poet, and he is better than us.”
They are right. I am superior.
Fools think they can understand my poems.
Larks can; they sing along with me while others mock.
But superior people can grasp my meanings
If they dress in black
And attend private colleges
That will saddle them with
The banker’s pain will be worth it.
My palate spews verse like the tongues of water,
Split by a boulder in the waterfall of my mind.
Stand back or you may be dampened by my words.
I just purchased a new portable titanium stove from Four Dog Stoves, owned by Don Kevilus, a self-taught genius who understands How Things Work. He builds well designed and thought out portable stoves for use in heating up small canvas tents for wilderness camping from October to April (at least in the upper Midwest). These tents provide a level of comfort unknown in their nylon-skinned brethren.
Adding heat to the equation males life so much better in the winter. You can consume and thus carry fewer calories since your body will throttle back your metabolism when it doesn’t need the heat. It can also drive moisture out of clothing and sleeping bags. During a winter trip a sleeping bag can absorb a lot of moisture, and an 80 degree ridgeline can drive that moisture out. And of course, in survival situations it’s a critical piece of gear.
But before you use your stove, you gotta burn it in. This means a nice hot fire for a few hours or more to burn off any chemicals that might have been used in the manufacturing process. Titanium has no coating per se, but there is a galvanized elbow that has to burn off its toxic coating. Eew.
At any rate, you start cooking with a stove in your tent before a good solid burn-in and you’ll experience a toxic sweat lodge.
I had a few hunks of hickory that were about 4 inches long, so I split them with my mind power and set them aside. The fire started quickly, and pretty soon smoke poured from the chimney and the tinking of metal began as the stovepipe turned into a rainbow of colors.
The stovepipe is ingenious. Rather than having seamed pipe that has to be snapped together, Don created a conical pipe that nests so the pipe starts little and gets bigger as it goes. It looks sorta Dr. Seussian but it works great. Everything fits inside the stove’s firebox. Super light, super compact.
Because titanium doesn’t rust per se and has a melting point of 3500 degrees F., there’s no burn-out on the bottom of the stove. Don builds two layers into the bottom of his stoves and that keeps things stable where fires are the hottest.
Anyway, lighting a small wood stove with the stovepipe wired to your coach light is likely to draw attention, especially when it’s first going and bellowing white smoke. Then again, the neighbors are used to it. I think they secretly enjoy the randomness that shows us in our less-than-random street.
This is a well-made piece of gear. Don obviously has a skill for spot-welding. This thing could be dropped down the side of a cliff, retrieved and put back to use without a whimper. The door and damper is as airtight as some $1500 stoves. In fact, it’s better in some ways. The screen behind the butterfly door is not something I’ve seen before on traditional wood stoves. It’s that good.
Gear testing attracts Ian too. As the wood burned down into a nice bead of coals, Ian came outside to check in and to chill by his old man. For that reason alone, I love testing new gear.
A few years ago I took a kayak trip to Puget Sound and paddled in one of my favorite places, Deception Pass. It’s a tricky place when the tides aren’t slack with an eddy fence that might as well be barbed wire. Easy to trip up there.
Deception Island is a mile or so offshore, a lovely little 4-acre island, a speck of rocky beauty with no real beaches, but there are a few spots where you can poke the bow of your kayak and make an awkward exit. As often is the case, size doesn’t correlate with beauty. It’s a gem.
Our little group found one of these spots where five or six kayaks could squeeze. We tied them up together in a raft and found a substantial root that we trusted enough to risk being marooned if it failed. We make our way up what might be called a path to a grassy promontory overlooking the San Juans. We made our little lunch and enjoyed the infinite shades of grey. I like overcast days sometimes for this reason. Grey forces you to focus on the shape of things, not the color. Maybe that explains my predilection for black and white photography with a grainy Ilford film.
The wild roses were in bloom. Fortunately they bloom for a long time and the life cycle of the rose blossom was represented, from tiny buds to flowers, spent flowers dropping their petals, little green balls that become bright red rose hips. It’s all there. I picked a few of the fattest hips and popped them in my PFD pocket and promptly forgot them.
I found them months later, slightly shriveled with a few crusty salt crystals. I cut one open and found a dozen or so seeds that I set on the window sill in the kitchen. I wondered about sprouting them and planting them in the backyard. I planted a few in some potting soil and waited. And waited. And waited.
After a few weeks I dumped the little container into my hand and the seed was exactly the same. Weird. Or so I thought.
Turns out it’s not weird. I talked to a friend who works at the local extension office as a horticulturist. I explained my dilemma. He chuckled and explained that rose seeds need a brutal series of events to allow them to germinate. The seeds are coated in a pretty thick layer of a fuzz that is full of a hormone that slows germination. A rose hip needs what he called scarification; something that will abrade the seed. This can be done physically with a freeze/thaw cycle or a weak solution of acid.
He wondered why I didn’t just take a cutting and dip in rooting hormone. “Oh yeah. I forgot who I’m dealing with here.” It wasn’t about the roses…I can take cuttings from the hundreds of rose bushes allow some of my favorite streams. I just figured it would be cool.
Wild roses are thorny, unruly bushes that are almost unrecognizable when placed beside a cultivated rose. They can call them American Beauty, but to my mind, they’re overdone. I prefer the wild rose with its five simple petals. I don’t need long stems and a flower so heavy it can hardly support itself. My grandfather loved his roses, and because he loved them, I loved them for him, but that’s where it ended. Sorry, Grampa. I’m a bit unruly myself.
Wild roses grow in places that would kill a hot house cultivar in a country minute. It makes me wonder if our soft lives are putting is in a place where we’re we’d be as fragile as Apricot Queen Elizabeth’s Grandiflora or a Pompon Grand Alba if things got a little hostile.
Like most people, my life has hardly been smooth sailing. I’ve been ground up a little, maybe to remove that stuff on me that kept me from germinating. I’m not the best looking rose, but I have had a lot of experiences that have allowed me to grow into a pretty substantial Bush.
I know some folks refuse to germinate. They are either coddled to the point where they’re petrified to be scarified so they can grow. We’ve all known people who are content that way. I feel sorry for people who have had unlimited resources to protect them from the grinding that hurts, but is necessary to understand others…to develop compassion, to learn to endure the scarification with dignity and some grace.
The hot house cultivars (I just have to mention Grandiflora Romneyii) ultimately fail under conditions that most of us experience on a daily basis. Running out of money before running out of month. Wondering where you’re going to find the $400 to fix the car that blows a head gasket. Finding that a roof leak is a lot worse than you thought. Finding yourself unemployed, uninsured and fighting a chronic illness.
When life scarifies, it’s good to count your blessings that you’re a Rosa arkansana or R. acicularis. You’re tougher than you think. You don’t need staking when the wind blows. Aphid cower at your robust nature. You’re a survivor.
This is a little essay that I wrote for the Canoecopia show guide. Thought it fit nicely here.
It trickled into my boots, bled through my wool pants, then seeped through the other layers until the full impact spread over my legs. I was standing waist deep in water, my canoe half-full, teetering over a small, mostly-submerged log.
It’s an uncommon sensation. One second you’re admiring the honking nuthatch picking its way over a shagbark. The next second you are aware of only one thing, the nuthatch a distant memory.
There are two kinds of canoeists: ones that paddle a lot and sometimes swim, and those who paddle little and don’t. Those of us who are passionate about canoeing are the most likely to achieve unanticipated moisture. For me it happens rarely, maybe once a decade on a calm but twisty stream; more often in big whitewater. It’s usually an unexpected branch, log, wave or rock that becomes the catalyst for change.
This was my first flatwater swim since the 1994, so I was due for a baptism. It was March, the day after Canoecopia. A few of us went for the traditional day-after little paddle on Badfish Creek, known for its swift current, downfall and little surprises along the way.
We were prepared and dressed for the weather, and for any out-of-boat experiences. The big blue NRS waterproof duffel is the perfect bailout bag (thanks, Farley). There’s a set of dry everything, one-size-fits-huge. I always carry it for others. The people who swim, not me.
Yet there I was. The blue duffel floated high, still tethered to my canoe, bobbing lazily in the eddy behind the tree that produced my nemesis. We were close to the takeout, I was wearing wool, so I emptied my Argosy, squeegied my legs, emptied my boots, wrung out my socks and got back in. I paddled a little more quickly than normal, but since my core was dry I produced enough heat to say comfortable enough.
Back at the car, I cracked open the duffel and found the fleece pants and sweater I keep in there. Oversized, brown and fuzzy, they’re warm and something of a bold fashion statement. I quickly stripped and replaced the lower clothing and threw the brown sweater over my other clothing. Ugly socks and dorky shoes and I was ready for the unfashion show. I looked like a cross between Fozzie Bear and a mudslide, but I was warm, safe and slightly humbled.
It was a good swim.
The opportunity for humility is brought to us in many ways and forms. It happens daily…we’re forced to face our frailties and foibles, and we face a daily choice; embrace the opportunity, or blame the Universe for annoying us, buzzing around our heads like a persistent black fly.
I’m not sure a lot of people understand humility. Our culture tends to think of humility as thinking you suck when you’re really awesome, whereas arrogance is thinking you’re awesome when you suck. The truth is that sometimes we’re awesome and sometimes we suck. Most of the time we paddle along, competent and in control, but periodically we take a little swim. Those little swims are just as important as the uneventful passages. They give the uneventful passages a lot more meaning.
Because life is not about staying dry.
…I’ve been writing for real. As part of my job(s). I’ll be back soon.
In the meantime…
Google maps can be very informative, and also entertaining.
A few nights ago I was getting directions from Canoelover Base to a hotel in downtown Chicago. I used the little yellow street-view flying dude (see lower right) to see what the entrance to the hotel looked like. It worked. The Sax Hotel is across the street from the House of Blues. Good enough.
Then I hit a button or something and the screen zoomed to North America. Little flying dude was confused.
I dragged him to a random place in Texas and dropped him. Not sure why. I guess I was just curious.
What I suspected in the middle of northern Tejas. Dry and brownish.
I thought about Arizona. Boom. Done.
Sorta what I expected. Dry and tannish. What about Utah? I predict dry and reddish.
Huzzah! Dry and reddish — but also gorgeous. Random hoodoo!
I wondered what would happen if I did that in the Northwest Territories. Cool.
Cool. Near Yellowknife somewhere. What I expected. Green.
So now the good stuff. What about my homeland, Wisconsin?
First, the random sample of up nort, eh?
Now a random sample of down south.
Of course, a milk truck. Welcome to America’s Dairyland. Wisconsin vs. California? That’s like comparing apples and oranges. Or more appropriately, milk and a white, strip-mined drinkable lactated product.
Then I decided to zero in on some favorite spots.
The Wisconsin River, looking upstream from the Hwy 23 bridge.
The Bois Brule, looking upstream from Cty Hwy FF.
The Platte from Highway 65/31.
And one of my favorites, the Grant, near Blackjack Road.
Is there any wonder I love this state?
Actually, there is wonder. I never thought a place could be so consistently beautiful. It’s a different beauty, of course. No majestic grandeur of the Tetons or the view of the Pacific from Bellingham. No rain forests or Na Pali coast from Kauai. But it is, all in all, more consistently beautiful in its infinite variation. Make a matrix of landscapes, seasons and weather conditions and you get a pretty wide variety of states of gorgeous. Think Clue–you know–Colonel Mustard in the Pantry with a Bratwurst.
- Driftless Coulees in the Spring during a thunderstorm.
- Cornfields in the Summer when fireflies are mating.
- Northern Forests in the Fall when the leaves change.
- Vast lakes in the Winter, frozen over and covered with a rainbow of ice fishing shanties.
I may be exaggerating. Then again, maybe I’m not. Don’t risk it.