Posted on April 10, 2023
With the turmoil of the world surrounding me, my thoughts are too scattered to collect. Ever-increasing confusion cloud the horizon – twists of facts blurred by the speed of falsehood add to my detachment. I feel compelled to examine reality.
Intense weather, intense news, extreme political rhetoric. Should I wade outside or find a dark corner in my room to hide from this madness?
Distractions. All distractions.
Existential dread is a springtime affliction I experience with increased frequency. This year it’s more pronounced as I sit here staring at my swollen knee… a torn meniscus prevents me from long-awaited spring hikes into the hills of Czechia or heading out on a run to stretch the body and soul after a long winter.
Instead, I sit reminiscing, scrutinizing what lies ahead (and what doesn’t). Contemplating life.
Reality has taken the form of the parable Sisyphus, the mythical Greek man destined to push a boulder up a mountain only to watch it roll back down. And he gets to do it over again, ad infinitum. A bleak reality. A monotonous life… parallel to mine and those I know.
Viewed from the outside, we are but slaves to routines with the macabre void of death waiting for collection at the end. And if you are wondering, yes, these days, I am the life of the party… 🙃
The above photos remind me of my countless trips up and down Mt. Ellinor. And as with Sisyphus, each ascent had the same monotonous steps, albeit with minor variances but roughly similar. As did the days that filled the time between climbs. Hmmm, what is keeping me sane?
Nothing changes. We eat. Sleep. Exercise. Work. Die. It is the abbreviated history of humankind. Spiritually, what keeps us alive? What keeps us striving?
Reviewing past photos of Ellinor, the answer comes in pieces, reflections on what has brought me to this point in life and, surprisingly, to the philosophy of Camus and Nietzsche.
The short answer: Art.
The human mind has an endless appetite for creativity. It observes reality, churns it around the head & heart, and creates its own existence – a world in which to belong.
The question becomes, do we succumb to the chaos we experience daily from the mass of information and give in to the absurd reality fed to us? Put our mind on autopilot and drearily live through the day?
Such questions have become a spring tradition with me, to the point where I classify as an existentialist… with pieces of stoicism, Daoism, and cultures from around the world holding me together.
Add to this dread my swollen knee and wondering if my future Ellinor will resemble the ones of my past, and I wish I had a beer in front of me right now. My Czech friends would laugh at this, as any authentic Czech has at least one in the fridge for such occasions.
Spring, as a concept, is hope itself. And being fooled again by spring is easy, for the silence of winter allows complacency to creep in, and with the Siren’s song of spring echoing loudly, it creates discomfort.
Discomfort is something to cherish and revel in. Wrap yourself up in the existential questions, for to live is to invite stress and difficulties to spur us forward. We need to churn thoughts repetitiously, to the point of madness… and from this existential quest, we find the lucidity of courage.
It’s a love-hate relationship for me with spring, originating from an inherent romanticism since youth… The thought is in spring, I’ll be inspired, in summer in love, by autumn reflective, and by winter, ready to take solace in a year/life well spent.
In reality: it is ‘roll the stone up the hill, watch it roll down’ repeated ad nauseam.
Somehow I fool myself into believing in the comfort of spring’s Siren call – she makes me feel like I could be enough and contribute to her world. I’d say it is a lot like bad TV, rewatching those shows I’ve seen a thousand times… yet, even with the ridiculousness of it all, I rejoice in it. Star Trek, anyone?
Existentialists look to the absurdness of life as a catalyst. Getting sucked into the repetitive void that makes life meaningless is easy. But we have one tool which gives us freedom: the creative mind. In essence, our ability to appreciate and create Art. It allows us to escape this
fucking Sisyphean reality.
One of the critical points of existentialism is taking complete responsibility for one’s life. No excuses. Even in Nietzsche and, to a lesser extent, in Heidegger, improving oneself is the minimum of what we owe ourselves (and thus life).
“What makes existentialism so appealing to me?” I ask myself, slowly getting up from my chair to pace around the room – my obsession with hitting my daily step goal remains strong even while hobbled.
Everyone, at some point, struggles to understand the meaning of life, and for me, existentialism cuts to the core of who I am. It allows me to revolt against what society/politics push my way and sink deeper into exploring my own reality and happiness. It kickstarts my creative mind; from this, I can find a slice of Heaven in this crazy world.
And what is this Heaven I mention? I seek one of the more pretentiously beautiful lines of the epic poem Paradise Lost by John Milton to answer this question.
When in such a mood as I am now, I think of my best friend from childhood, Pat Breland, who has been gallantly making great Art even after receiving a terminal cancer diagnosis in March. This quote fits well:
“The mind is its own place, and in itself can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”– Paradise Lost, Book One, lines 242 – 270 by John Milton
Throughout my life, I leaned on the ideas Pat taught me growing up on what it is to be great ~ he lives life artfully, in all respects. His music, family, and optimistic outlook create a world where he thrives. Having one of the highest IQs of anyone I’ve ever known also helps.
Take the beauty found in the world, assess it with an inspired mind, and craft it into a life desired.
Unexpected shifts in life happen; losing one you love fuels hope in memories. A loss of hope; I cannot imagine life without it.
Throughout his life, Pat demonstrated that the ability to make his own reality and build meaning is where the power of Art lies.
The flexibility of the mind is the most incredible power an individual has. An agile mind can warp itself in any shape to reconcile reality with what it is focused upon. It could be happiness, misery, or a depressed void.
We can be mired in misery yet find a way to make it feel like Heaven.
Art allows pathways to find this Heaven and find happiness. No matter how badly I may feel, I can inevitably find a way to make myself the hero of my own story, recreate myself and find a Heaven within, regardless of what Hell reality throws my way.
The mind is powerful enough to adjust to any situation. Within us, we have a paradise more incredible than the Garden of Eden.
Reflecting back on these beautiful hikes, like Camus’ Sisyphus, I am not crushed by the hopelessness in my situation; I’m liberated by it. There is true freedom and happiness in the face of this illogical world.
Every hour, every second of the day, arrives the same Sisyphean choices we all face. And excitement comes from the revolution of Art and imagination inside to take us somewhere special.
I will escape with an admonition of Soren Kierkegaard: Life is not a problem to be solved but a reality to be experienced.
The words of great philosophers of the past are elegant in thought. There is a certain desperate beauty in feeling lost during our existential quests. Being lost allows us to put life into perspective – it is how we find ourselves.
The artful mind can take us to places the most beautiful scenes in nature cannot. It can reveal pieces of the human soul that are not easily understood, giving us a glimpse into infinite possibilities.
Art is not an imitation of reality but a way of expanding upon it to grasp new meanings of who we are.
Art is the brilliance of the human mind, to go beyond the beauty of nature and uncover an alternate reality. This is how humans continue to evolve and find answers to the universe and each other.
It is love. It is kindness and care for those with passion. It is meaning.
Posted on February 26, 2017
Unfamiliar territory, the uncertainty paralyzes. A surge of panic fills my head and heart, only to be soothed by the perfect amber of a freshly poured Czech beer.
“Here I go again…”
Around me is a language I do not understand. Spreadsheets in front of me I cannot comprehend. A feeling of being exactly where I should be. I relax, surprised by the comfort of the chaos.
The color refreshes a memory when I was lost in the more familiar surroundings of the Skokomish Wilderness.
The sky still black, I anticipate the amber sunrise when we summit…rather if we summit, as of right now, I have no idea where we are.
“Shit…” I mutter to myself, louder than I had wanted, waiting only seconds before the echo returns with her reply. “Oh my God, I can’t believe it. You are lost again aren’t you?”
I ignore the question, wishing it away, but the echo continues, “Why did I agree to go on this climb?” She lets out an exasperated sigh, hidden within, a tint of laughter.
Unpredictability in life is the one thing I’ve found to be a constant.
A sharp blow of her hiking pole on my butt is her protest to my stifled laughter, “It’s not funny…” she declares and we continue up the mountain.
“Why is it so difficult to stay on the path laid out in front of me?” I wonder and reach for my beer. Standing in the middle of uncertainty, again where every step I take leads me away from where I expect to be.
Would I want it any other way? Perhaps on some days…
Uncertainty has become a friend of mine. Things change around me quickly and if I do not flow and evolve along with it, I’ll suffocate. Be miserable.
It is cliché, but there is truth in Maya Angelou’s quote, “We delight in the beauty of the butterfly, but rarely admit the changes it has gone through to achieve that beauty.” Without change, we rob ourselves of beauty. We rot.
“Remaining at status quo stagnates the soul,” I think to myself, and kicking back with my beer I wonder if that’s such a bad thing?
Yes, change can suck.
Albert Einstein once said, “Men marry women with the hope they will never change. Women marry men with the hope they will change. Invariably they are both disappointed.”
Ah yes, is there anything more destructive than unfulfilled expectations? I suppose this is the catalyst for change, to get lost in the world and explore ~ anything to avoid the poison of expectations.
The chaos of setting out on a new path, getting lost, is part of the process. From the moment we are born, adventure turns fear into wisdom, sparking curiosity to discover.
I think back to standing on the precipice between mountain and sky… the abyss speaking to me, and I glance towards my beer, her amber words ringing clear as I empty my mug, “balance, my friend…there’s a time for adventure and a time to reflect on adventure.” I nod to the waitress for another.
The echo breaks the stillness of the dark while my headlamp scans the trees and boulders ahead.
“Why, again, are we doing this?”
The only words I can think of are “时间不多，从来不停 ~ Time is fleeting, never stop.”
Eight characters a friend of mine, Eric Moen, shared with me last year. Words to provide added incentive to spark change when comfort begins to lead to stagnation.
Those eight characters take me back when I stood along Hood Canal admiring a pre-dawn sky, sparking a childhood dream to climb Mt. Ellinor and watch this land come alive with the sunrise. Yet, in all these years never taking the time to do so. Why?
“Why?” I add to my reply back to the echo, “To see magic. This is why we are here.”
“And… just exactly where is here?!?”
I begin to answer and then begin to question why I invited her. “A very good question…” and continue ahead to what I hope will become an opening.
There is nothing quite like the childlike curiosity we hold inside. The anxiety of pushing forward with new ideas, until that moment arrives ~ our heart rate slows and we unearth something new, something enchanting.
“I’m beginning to understand you never have a plan do you?” another question rings back my way.
Shuffling of hooves on the rocks above remind us we are not alone.
“Not real sure any plan worked out the way I had imagined, so why bother…” is my quick reply, seconds ahead of another sting of a hiking pole on my backside.
I scramble up and around a set of boulders and come face to face with a familiar friend.
Nature never ceases in its pursuit of change; never fears a new challenge change may bring. The sky and the sunshine call out to us all, “You are not alone, the universe is with you the whole way.”
A breathless gasp comes from behind, and her arm wraps around me along with a whisper “this place is so beautiful…”
Take away expectations, lose the fear of change and get lost in the world. There is no greater truth: time is fleeting, never stop.
“Be the change.” ~ Mahatma Gandhi
Category: Bohemia, Lao Zi, Nature, Olympic Mountains, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Adventure, Bohemia, change, Expectations, Mt. Ellinor, Olympic National Forest, Philosophy, photography
Posted on August 28, 2014
Sitting along the shore of Elliott Bay, I often wonder what it would have been like centuries ago when Native Americans spent the summertime in Seattle. The Seattle summer with its perfect weather is special, so I imagine it would have been heaven on earth to see the sun setting on this land so long ago when the wilderness ruled.
Back in those days, getting outside and involved was not much of a question as physical interaction with nature was a part of everyday life. A hard life no doubt, but I would bet more satisfying too as everything you owned likely came from the things around you: animals, earth and community.
Animals and earth to feed and clothe, and a community to share, love, explore and work the land.
Not quite the same scene we have today, where two minutes “on-line” results in the delivery of food, clothing and most importantly the latest tech-toy delivered right to the front door without having to leave the house.
Products produced by factories scattered all over the globe. A crazy concept even today, something unthinkable a couple hundred years ago. Most everything I own I have no real clue as to its true origin.
Still, amid all this technology and social media shrill that drowns our senses from the calls of the real world, there are always reminders that take us out of this artificial shell and plop us down in the middle of life. Something to makes us reassess our obsession with material possessions.
The nudge of a wet nose from Man’s Best Friend, or driving through a mountain pass with the sun dipping below the horizon is just what is needed for us to get back to the basics. Back to the feeling of living.
The past few weeks have had me traveling around the Pacific Northwest with work, and instead of flying I made a point to drive; taking the more scenic routes and allowing myself a few more days to take in the sights.
My mind spinning a bit as I would try to reconcile life today with how it was more than 100 years ago. Getting lost in how different things are today made me wonder what the next 100 years will bring…and how foreign our time today will appear to our future selves.
Back to the early 90s, when I took off for China for the first time, I had this small sticker on my bag that read: Don’t Die Wondering.
The message the sticker represented fascinated me, as I loved to wonder…in fact, I was more often in dream than I was running around nature. The message reminded me that dreaming and wondering is just part of the formula, and moving forward by doing and experiencing is how we complete the circle and find a happy life.
I still have this sticker and message, and more than ever realize how important this simple slogan is: to wonder, to dream and to go out and do. To create a unique path in life. For the most part, I imagine that people in history also followed this same simple line of reasoning.
A reminder that it is a never-ending process.
Wonder. Dream. Do. Happiness.
I suppose that the message on this sticker was a simple warning that if we spend too much of our time wondering what could have been? With the mind spinning to answer the unanswerable, “what if?” It is easy to get lost in the irrelevant past while new opportunities slip by.
Why sit wondering what it would be like, when adventures and experiences lie right outside the door?
It will be impossible to fully understand what Native Americans or frontiersmen of the past thought when they saw the dawn rise every day over Seattle hundreds of years ago, but I imagine it must have recharged them.
A perfect start to the day, a time to admire the land and contemplate what was to be explored and admired. With no TV or Internet to tempt and waste hours of a day, I would think it must have been exciting to be immersed in nature as a part of daily life. True, such a life would be hard, but in a sense also simple.
As this great summer winds down, I am left thinking that we will continue to push ourselves further away from this great land of ours, with the result of losing touch with the physical nature of living.
As we load ourselves up with processed foods and mass-produced ’emotions’ emitting from our screens, at some point we will begin wondering what could have been ~ what if we had moved forward and taken the advice from a 30-year-old sticker: Don’t Die Wondering.
Posted on May 19, 2014
On the Southeast corner of the Olympic National Forest in the State of Washington (USA), lies an area unmatched in its beauty and sense of freedom. A fierce wilderness, just tame enough to charm a simple tenderfoot like myself, but sharp enough to ensure that it will never come under the control of any man.
The Skokomish Wilderness emerges from the shores of Hood Canal as a key to unlock the spirit that hides within the hearts of everyone seeking the bliss nature has to offer:
This relatively unknown land is not just an untamed wilderness but it holds a history that defines America and her natural lands. Throughout the 1800s, the lands of the USA were being destroyed by corporate greed aptly described by John Muir:“The great wilds of our country, once held to be boundless and inexhaustible, are being rapidly invaded and overrun… and everything destructible in them is being destroyed.”
In the early 1900s, timber companies had their axes aimed on the last stands of virgin rainforest in the USA…the Skokomish and Olympic Wilderness. The local Forest Service, serving as patsies to large timber companies, invited President Theodore Roosevelt out to the Pacific Northwest for a visit: a visit designed to secure his signature opening up the land for logging.
However, the plans of the timber companies crashed as Roosevelt viewed the wilderness and then a clear-cut section of forest and told his guide “I hope the son-of-a-bitch who is responsible for this is roasting in hell” not knowing at the time that the very person responsible was standing next to him.
Roosevelt had found in this area a place where any man, woman or child could not help but fall deep into the wilderness and a return to nature. A place that even in the late 1890s had already begun to disappeared around most of America. A place to find that lost sense of greatness and freedom; a spirit we spend too much of our lives searching for.
During Roosevelt’s stay, he visited Lake Cushman and the elegant Antlers Hotel, built for adventurers at the doorstep of a wilderness, and he fell in love with the land. He is quoted as saying: “There may be some place in the world equal to Puget Sound, but I do not know where it is…” and the impression the land made can be clearly understood today.
It was this visit to the Skokomish wilderness area that triggered Roosevelt to use the Antiquities Act to set aside the land as the Mt. Olympus National Monument (eventually with much of it becoming part of the Olympic National Forest). Preserving a part of life and land where the greed and manipulation of lesser men would be unable to invade and take root.
Is there not a better feeling than getting lost in the simple scenes of nature?
To listen to the incredible wisdom of a babbling brook, watching it grow in size to a gurgling creek and then stand proudly as it matures into an intense roaring river, unabashed with excitement during spring rains.
It is so simple. It is so beautiful.
There is nothing quite like a visit to the Skokomish Wilderness to invigorate the soul and lift off the chaotic gloom of winter. To see a land, while changed, still holding onto its primal instincts.
I often dream of writing about this area; the transformation from a home to the Native Americans, to a target of the timber industry and then its intriguing flirtation as an upscale tourist destination for the very wealthy of the world.
This flirtation began as timber interests dwindled and young adventurers known as “Remittance Men” (receiving allowances from their wealthy families on the East Coast) highlighted a run of upscale investments, with the goal of creating a great wilderness playground for the wealthy elite.
Crisscrossing the globe to get to Seattle, a berth on a steam ferry to Union City, a stagecoach to reach Hoodsport, and from there a horseback ride to bring them to the doorstep of the upscale, yet isolated, Antlers Hotel.
For those able to afford such a trip, they would be rewarded with a slice of heaven. Guests stayed on average for at least a month: to taste a life that had only been heard in stories, unsure whether the stories were actually true or merely tales of fantasy…
As fate would have it, the allure of this fantasy faded quickly as war and unfortunate timing stopped the flow of investment, and just like that, the Skokomish Wilderness faded from the minds of wealthy adventurers.
This amazing time period between 1880 and 1930 fascinates me. On several occasions, I have dreamt about staying at the Antlers Hotel.
The year is 1903, and my vivid imagination and memory has me waking up prior to dawn, with black coffee in hand I walk down to the shores of the lake.
I look up, and just make out the silhouette of Mt. Ellinor peering down on the lake and hotel, her peaks inviting me up for a climb and adventure. I can feel a smile forming on my face as I exhale at the beauty of all that is around me. Then this peaceful solitude is shattered…
A gruff voice with a twinge of admiration and respect breaks through my thoughts, and I hear the words as clearly today as I did a 100 years ago: “You have not truly lived, if you dare not go where dreams are created…”
And as I turn, President Roosevelt’s eyes flash a smile of a promise to protect these lands, and without another sound he continues his hike along the banks of the lake, fishing rod in hand…
I watch, and as if to show a sign of great respect, a Roosevelt elk walks along side him. An elk who bears his name in tribute and recognition of his efforts in protecting his kind and this land so many years ago.
We all need a place to find freedom for our spirit; to appreciate the beauty around us so we can take the responsibility and dare to dream for a tomorrow better than today.
For a few, such a place is the Skokomish Wilderness.
Posted on September 6, 2013
There is a special connection that exists between nature and man, and amid all the incessant din we create, stepping out along the shores of Elliott Bay in Seattle, Washington such a connection can be made.
There is an intricate dance between the Olympic National Forest and the Puget Sound waterway, a dance that makes the Pacific Northwest a little slice of heaven in the developed world.
During the evening hours in summer, the Olympics and the Sound often produce one of the most incredible mosaics of color & life: a sunset over Seattle’s Elliott Bay and the Olympics.
The above is the first time-lapse photography video I have put together, and was taken from Pier 70, outside my flat in Seattle.
Perhaps the best part of the peace and solitude of a Seattle sunset, is that it is meant to shared. The beautiful silence of the colors seem to bring out the best in people. If you walk along Pier 70 or along the shores of Elliott Bay park during the golden hour, the conversations with the people, seagulls and wind will all blend in with the natural silence of the sunset. A rejuvenating moment.
In regards to the beauty of Seattle, an emphasis should be placed on summer nights. The grey of Seattle winters are not that desirable, and instead I suggest you come to Hong Kong and I’ll treat you to some great dim sum and sunny skies.
As this is my first foray into time-lapse photography, in this video there are some flickers and errors that should be corrected. Theoretically, I can correct these errors in Photoshop and/or LRTimeLapse, I just do not have a clue how to make such precise adjustments right now…and unless my patience improves unlikely in the future as well, as my computer will lie in pieces on the street below 🙂
Enjoy the final days of summer.
Posted on August 19, 2013
Never do I feel more alive, than when I am with you. You take me from the mundane and offer me a simple taste of glory. Our affair spans more than a decade, but each time with you feels like we have just met.
Knowing that I am one of many does not change my feeling, for what we have is special.
Every time I come back to the Olympic National Forest, my mind goes back to the first time we met: I stood breathless, in awe of your beauty. When I tackled your slopes, you offered me views that I could never imagine.
While you belong to Mother Earth, I will always consider you mine.
It is with my hat in hand, that I come again to share time with you…to find peace in the solace of nature.
It is with this same hat I give a tip to the men and women who make you accessible. Building up the trails, making what would be an extremely difficult climb into something less strenuous, giving me more time to rest in your brilliance.
The workers of the US National Forest Service (and Mt. Rose Volunteer Trail Crew), give their working life to you, so you can give yourself to me.
You give yourself to all, but forever you will remain free.
A dash of folklore has it that Chief Seattle wrote a letter to the President of the USA, in reply to the government’s offer to purchase the remaining Salish lands. Within the letter are some of the wisest words ever written:
“The President in Washington sends word that
He wishes to buy our land.
But how can you buy or sell the sky? The land?
The idea is strange to us.
If we do not own the freshness of the air and the
Sparkle of the water, how can you buy them?…”
Respect the wilderness and Mother Nature will in turn respect us.
Ellinor, looking back on our time together, whether under the heat of the sun or huddled in the icy & snowy depths of winter, every time we part I leave a better man.
When the chaos of this international zoo begins to spin out of control, no matter how long we’ve been apart, inevitably I come crawling back and you always take me in.
I am grateful for your unconditional support of this restless wanderer. Your gift of courage to take that extra step into the unknown. To achieve greater heights.
Above: Mt. Rainier in the distance. Below: Descending in the Dark
My knees ache more today than they did when we first met decades ago, and there will inevitably come a day when all I can do is stare up at your grand magnificence.
Jealousy may arouse in my heart while I watch younger generations march proudly up your slopes, but it will be in the guise of pride. While impossible, I will always consider you mine.
I will shed a tear when this day comes, not in sadness or envy of those you welcome to your peaks, but a tear of grace for the time we spent together. I love you and your brothers and sisters who surround you.
The Skokomish Wilderness and Puget Sound that form your front door, will always be there to welcome.
I simply love the life we have shared together.
You share. You support. You inspire. But you do not love.
Unrequited love. Such love holds no significance to me, for if I love you, I am happy. With this I am secure.
It is true that you are difficult, cold, and as moody as the unpredictable weather, but when you shine you are the essence of life. Mt. Ellinor, there are so many incredible places in the world but only in your house do I feel I am home.
On the topic of ‘unrequited love’ the philosopher Nietzsche had this to say: “indispensable…to the lover is his unrequited love, which he would at no price relinquish for a state of indifference.”
Category: Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: Chief Seattle, Nature, Olympic National Forest, photography, Puget Sound