Posted on December 21, 2020
The fog in my head feels eerily like a hangover but I know that’s impossible because quarantine took away such mornings long ago. The daylight can no longer be ignored so with a bit of indignation I roll out of bed.
It would take too much effort to walk over to the window, so instead I stare at the walls.
Life has become a strange, repeated existence. I had no idea how dull the world could be. Walking to the kitchen, I retrace my steps: choose the coffee, grind the beans, and press a button to signal the start of a new day.
Is it a new day? These repetitive steps all merge together, the same scene played over and over. No longer frustrating, instead replaced by a complacent feeling of comfort. Dull comfort.
Quarantine has caged the animal within. I stifle a yawn; life is no longer lived enthusiastically, but endured. Millimeter-by-millimeter these four walls close in on me.
I slump to the floor and unconsciously reach for a book nestled under a family of dust bunnies. I turn it over and close my eyes, wishing to fall back into an empty sleep.
A wave of color floods to my face. Not sure if it’s my embarrassment of the mess around my flat or the apathy engulfing my spirit. Based on my pattern of eating, sleeping, and general slothfulness, both would be correct.
Before slinging the book back underneath the shelf, I take a quick glance at the title: Nietzsche’s Thus Spoke Zarathustra stares back asking, “what happened to this person who lived on the edge, recklessly, always reaching higher?” Perfect.
Nietzsche. One of the few German philosopher I enjoy reading – his ideas mesh with my lust for life. A timely find, and perhaps through Nietzsche’s words I have the chance to escape this quarantine prison. “Become who you are…” I laugh a bit at the thought.
My mind drifts back to when I was in rhythm with life, in tune with the basic impulses that once sparked human existence. I’m back on the Maasai Mara. Waking up with the sunrise, and the mysteries of the world coming to life. I’m a newborn kid in awe of the unlimited potential at dawn.
Kenya evokes the curiosity of a child at play, savoring the simple beauty of nature. Pieces of the world adults no longer see or experience. A spirit freed from the structure of modern life.
Nietzsche also saw the wild child as a key piece of his philosophy, the spirit of his Übermensch, the superman, who raged against the colorless and sterile trends of modern society.
“In every real man a child is hidden that wants to play…” Nietzsche wrote, the child’s ability to forget quickly and continue moving forward in time. It is the free spirit of the Übermensch, his philosophy tapping into the childlike fearlessness to discover the magic of potential.
The haze outside my window flickers and comes alive; its piercing eyes reflect the wild side of life. Inviting me to attack.
Outside my room, the Maasai Mara glows, reminding me we are born to play, to race, and fiercely compete with ourselves. Creating friction in life to stir up the soul, and here in Kenya there is a cauldron of emotions I’ve long forgotten.
Inside my room, however, there is decadence: TV reruns, day-old pizza, an unmade bed with empty cartons of Ben & Jerry’s scattered around ~ all slices of self-destruction further sucking me into contentment, a place my free spirit fled months ago.
Inside. Outside. Black. White.
It is a little humorous. Here I am, wrapped up on the couch, comfortable in this cocoon of safety with all this technology insulating my life. Everything is a tap away on my iPhone.
And outside a wilderness is calling.
I reach over and pick up the book again.
The human spirit is a complex one, a dichotomy of two desires.
When one is absent, there is an imbalance and the soul is thrown into turmoil.
“You must have chaos within you to give birth to a dancing star…” an ode to the necessity of exploring the forbidden in order to find brilliance.
In the Nietzschean world, it is the struggle between the Apollonian spirit of order and Dionysian spirit of chaos, and this year the Apollonian (confined spirit) is crushing the Dionysian (free spirit) ~ and it isn’t even close.
Like an unhindered animal in nature, the spirit must be allowed to run free.
The winds of Kenya break my thought, carrying spices of new experiences announcing the arrival of chaos, a migration to search and discover.
The pieces of electricity we create define who we are, whether it’s living in foreign worlds or raising children and experiencing the world again from their perspective.
Moments of bliss that move us up a higher level and remind us never stop seeking.
Out on the Mara plains, I see the curious eyes of chaos staring back. Taunting me with the playful knowledge that this bizarre year is no reason to give in to indifference.
The beauty of Kenya taught my soul long ago to “become who you are…” and made me realize I am not at war with the world but instead searching for peace.
While my coffee grows cold, I get up and search for something clean to wear. I’ve been stuck in the mud too long. My Dionysian free spirit has returned with new dreams and I’m ready to tread on the edge of the void.
Nietzsche and Kenya blend well together, and I’m wide awake. I slip on my shoes and prepare to step back into this brave new world.
I place the book back on the shelf and hear the laughter of Nietzsche, his famous words pushing me out the door: “What does not kill you, makes you stronger…”
“You have brains in your head.
You have feet in your shoes.
You can steer yourself
Any direction you choose.
You’re on your own. And
you know what you know.
And YOU are the one who’ll
decide where to go.”
– Dr. Seuss
Posted on October 21, 2020
“Standing on the precipice of a wilderness unknown. Alone. Resistance, both past and present, pushes from all sides.” I stare at the words written and wonder what it would feel like to walk along a razor’s edge, day-after-day, your existence always in the balance.
My room fills with the warm yellow hues of the evening sun inviting me for a walk, but I am paralyzed. Mystified by this invisible force of power used to manipulate people. Used without empathy. Used without acceptance of responsibility.
From the American Indians pushed around in the 19th century, to the American People pushed around outside the White House just a few months ago in the 21st century ~ use of force, power without responsibility.
I’ve come to realize while this is a beautiful world, rich in love and life, it is a beauty balanced by hardship for those not in power.
There’s a sentence written by a Tuscarora tribe leader on my desk, describing leadership: man has responsibility, not power.
“You’re drifting once again in thought…” her voice breaks my trance. “Always reflecting, dreaming of the past.” Her voice is one I’ve not heard in a while and silently she takes form ~ she looks peaceful with a touch of sadness.
I try to hid my elation in her return. “Dreaming of the American West, the 19th century. I wish I could travel back in time and experience the freedom to explore. To gain perspective on life back then…” I whisper this thought to myself.
“Freedom for one often means the opposite for another.” She slowly slides up to my desk. “Do not dream of returning to old ways. Yesterday has long drifted down the river and it’s not coming back…”
Her laughter is not harsh, but warming, “Seriously, you living in the 19th Century? You’re definitely a helpless romantic!” She picks up my coffee mug and takes a sip, enjoying the bitter blackness. “The first morning without your gourmet coffee, iPhone and comforts of home…” Her twinkling eyes reflect my simple mind.
Can’t help but smile at the truth of her words, the rage this year has me living in the past. I feel as if I’m trapped, running in quicksand trying to reconcile the heartbreaks of yesterday with those of today. The harder I run, the further away I am to answers. Only cruel politics headline the day and I remain stuck in reverse.
“There is an old Lumbee Indian saying,” she taps gently on the side of her horse, and I watch it gracefully work its way through my living room. “Seek wisdom, not knowledge. Knowledge is of the past, wisdom is of the future.”
“Doesn’t seem to be much wisdom these days,” I begin, before she cuts me off.
“Tell me the wisdom of a 19th century, western educated white man? Believing he has all the answers, superior to all other life and therefore open to exploit the resources available.” Her eyes, while gentle, show implication. “American Indians believed the opposite, nature and animals offering wisdom necessary for a better life.”
Her eyes hold mine, filled with a genuine and deep curiosity. “Such extreme and opposite views of life. Is either correct?”
Immediately my mind swims in the melodic lyrics of Stephen Stills, and I sing, “…and nobody’s right if everybody’s wrong…”
The correct path and most difficult path is to listen, learn from others, and adapt. Of course, humans do what comes easiest ~ blame others and hide their cowardice through force.
How different would a 19th century version of myself be? A troubling question, for we are all products of our environment, the differences being the culture we were raised and shade of our skin.
A white man raised in the 1800s, without any understanding of American Indians and the west, would be at the mercy of a few biased news sources…
“Humans have the ability to take from one crystalized moment of awe, say a prairie full of buffalo, and walk away with two very different and contradictory actions. Where one sees synergy and respect, the other sees dominance and manipulation…” Her honesty speaks of today.
Walking to my window overlooking Elliott Bay, I listen to her conclusion, “…the real horror of this, both sides have absolute belief in their view and will stop at nothing to force their beliefs on others.”
I turn from the window and she turns her back on me and I watch her fade away. I flick on the TV. Words of hate coming from the mouth of an American leader.
How far have we regressed since I was a kid… or have I simply moved from the naïveté of my youth to an older, jaded perspective?
Wisdom will lead us from the chaos we are in. Courage to search for answers from all sides, with honesty the mode of communication. This is where we find true leadership. Where we find peace.
“Never forget, cowards cannot help but lie…” a piece of wisdom from the past we’ve forgotten. Leadership today is in turmoil, described succinctly in the words of the Omaha tribe, “A coward speaks with his eyes shut and from a distance. Unlike a brave man, who dies but once, a coward dies many times.”
Six bankruptcies, pages of dishonesty, and still he flails along… and further we go down this river of deceit.
On this cool October night, I am happy my muse has returned. There is comfort in her questions and her wisdom.
“Look around,” she asks, “those voices of change you hear… where are they coming from?” I look and see her as a young child, being forced to leave a place she calls home. Walking with elders, confused.
“These are the voices of the young and old. Voices rising above the din of lies seeking a better future…” Her smile grows as she promises, “these are the courageous ones, and no brave person will ever die alone.”
She turns, her face etched with hope. “The time for leadership is now, and it starts with you. A Crow shaman once said: you already possess everything necessary to become great.”
She runs her hand through my hair and rides away, her last piece of wisdom spoken in cadence with the canter. “The mark we leave on life is one to last forever; a testament to what we value in life and how we will be known and understood by future generations…”
Have the courage to admit faults. To understand someone with a different culture and point of view, it builds character, builds an alliance. It builds a nation.
Our present does not equal our future. We evolve.
Posted on April 27, 2018
Echoes of a ghost? Of the future? Of the past?
There is a feeling of perplexity. I’m no longer standing in the conference room on the top floor of a skyscraper. There are no floor-to-ceiling windows with Hong Kong harbor far below. And my Armani suit? Transformed into what appears to be rags.
There is panic, but also familiarity. I look down at my hands holding huge buckets of supplies, filled to the brim; shocked to learn I can hold so much. My first instinct is to drop the buckets, must be too heavy but the weight is electric. My arms and shoulders are full of life.
I let out a lighthearted sigh. I’m not sure what I am doing but it feels right.
Beside me, the sea glimmers with life while the sun prepares for another colorful dive to end the day. I’d like nothing better than to sit peacefully and watch her. How is it I am here?
I recognize this world. This body. My blood, powered by a slow heartbeat flowing briskly with purpose. I lift a bucket up towards my face without effort, ignoring the pungent fish odor. The power of my arms makes me smile. Damn, I feel good. Am I dreaming?
The smell of the sea vanishes, replaced by the scent of the exotic. My heart races. Ms. Laura walks my way, pausing as she looks at my hands ~ ha, perhaps it’s my powerful arms? She blushes, smiles, and quickly looks away.
Her dress, beautiful and modest, does not belong here. We are a fishing village; well-worn clothes are all we own. It finally dawns on me. This is no dream. I am a man of the sea, she is not. I speak the Hakka dialect, a little Cantonese, and zero English.
“Did you enjoy class today?” Ms. Laura asks very slowly, enunciating every syllable, her British accent snaps me to attention.
My mind spins with answers. I understand her English words but my voice cannot be found. With a red face, I spew out a reply in my unintelligible Hakka dialect.
She laughs. “You need to study harder, or could it be you need a different teacher?!?” I look at her in fear, a little slow getting her joke before she reassures me and puts her hand on my shoulder, resting it longer than one would consider normal. I relax. Her touch transports me to another world.
A world where we are together, she’s my wife in total happiness. Quickly the dream fades with the chuckle from my fishing partner, Xiao Gao. He grabs a bucket and loads it onto our skiff and without skipping a beat says, in a rough Hakka tone, “Rui-de, you’ve attended her class all year, yet you cannot speak one word of English,” his infectious laughter inspires others to join in.
“She is so perfect…” my face still burning, I let my words trail.
Sometimes I’d like to just fly away, I think to myself. Escape into my dreams and chase the world. But then all I have to do is look around. Everything I want is here.
My mind begins doing battle with my memory. Somewhere, I know her. I’ve talked with her. I’ve been with her. But I catch a glimpse of myself in the reflection on the water and I laugh a bit at the thought.
Me. A simple Po Toi Island boy.
The blast of the horn signals the departure of the Po Toi ferry back to Hong Kong Island and the wealthy Stanley village. We are cut off again from the outside world until its return.
Three times a week this picturesque lady arrives in Po Toi to teach English to our dwindling population. Most of my friends have already left to seek a better life. For me, though, Po Toi is my home.
Well, the sea is my home, Po Toi the place where I have the greatest access.
Another great ending to the day. Ms. Laura takes her position alone at the stern of the ferry and our eyes lock, my favorite part of her visits.
With the sun gently reflecting off her golden hair, framing the picture of perfection, she looks over her shoulder to see if anyone is watching and then turns back and brings her fingers to her lips and waves me goodbye.
It is a goodbye with hope. Recognition of yuan-fen (缘分). The moment in time where our destinies align and we become what we are meant to be.
The changing reality of what “can be” sends my heart pounding to the beat of the surf. The world once again has meaning. I step onto the skiff and head out to the deeper waters to chase my living. Chase my dream.
The sea knows my soul. The sea is my soul. Nevertheless, it is possible there is something else out there for me as well. My mind and memory once again run wild to find her, to find our future.
Posted on March 29, 2018
Alone I walk. The bite of the winter chill does not let up, colors of the world fade into different shades of bleakness. The ache for youth pulsates strong although I’m acutely aware each passing second takes me further away from this dream.
A nondescript voice echoes in my head, “the closer to death you are, the closer to life you become…”
My turned-up collar does little to stifle the cold wind caressing my neck, motivation for the continued search of a spark to ignite another year of passion.
The winter’s silence is broken by a warm whisper, “so you’ve finally come to see me again…” I look to find a smile I’ve grown accustomed to when in a philosophical mood. She’s always walking beside me, but it’s been too long since I last heard her voice.
“This morning, I noticed you were preoccupied with a quote at the coffee shop. What did it say?” She asks.
“Is not wisdom found among the aged? Does not long life bring understanding?” – Job 12:12
Reading this quote during breakfast was the trigger for my current philosophical fog.
“Experience and wisdom have shifted my life more than I could’ve imagined. Hard to believe life becomes richer as we grow older – the electricity of my 20’s pales in comparison to the beautiful aches of aging,” I pause to rub the crick in my neck. “Never gave it much thought until this morning.”
I open the door to a small roadside café ~ lured by the aroma of exotic foods.
I look around the café, the serene setting and lack of urgency capture the bliss of the moment.
A newly found paradox within my mind, within my life.
In my 20’s every day had an unlimited future. Every corner had something new to offer. The more active I was, the greater I felt. My goal was to secure enough adrenaline for the day and bold ideas for tomorrow.
A concept of my youth I held fast. A concept time erodes as years drift past.
“When we were young, life was a series of wild rapids, ridden without fear. We were unstoppable.” I pause to look at the roast duck in front of me and quickly finish my thought. “Then at some point, we began to have doubt in our invulnerability and our lives changed forever.”
“This gauze of doubt you have mentioned before, correct?” her laughter holds a touch of self-deprecation as she pours us a shot of the local spirit.
“Feeling untouchable, the definitions of youth and immortality are interchangeable.” She grabs a duck leg and continues, “then fear creeps in. The gauze of doubt begins to blur vision and time becomes finite. The recognition of death.”
“Ah yes, I think I’ve bored you with this before.” I smile and she points to a speck of spinach on my front tooth, I clean and go on. “We take risks when we’re young, devour the late hours of the night and soak up the knowledge around – ahead an unlimited amount of time.” I pause to think of the happiness I had growing up. Thanks I owe my parents and friends I could never begin to repay, knowing they would say the same in return.
“Then came the bittersweet moment in life, confronted by mortality I began to appreciate time. I evolved.” I lift my glass, our eyes lock and we chase our words.
“With age comes experience. With experience comes wisdom. A young mind is too busy absorbing life to contemplate deep meaning. The growth of wisdom is a gift, a gradual gift.” The stillness becomes magnified.
Which of us said those words? I am not sure, but their truth allows me to exhale and reflect. On the surface, responsibilities with my career and life seem to have increased, but my relaxed attitude is a sign of wisdom with the recognition being in the now holding undeniable freedom and a purer happiness.
This small town nestled in the northeastern part of Ukraine huddled against the cold shoulder of Russia is where today exists. Questions drift around and I enjoy the chase to find the answers.
There is a certain confidence in the freedom to pursue. Pursue happiness. Pursue dreams. Pursue wisdom and relish in age.
“The older I get, the freer I become. Accepting mortality sets me free.” Again, our eyes lock and we knock back another shot. She refills the glasses, gazes around the room without worry.
“It is called the Paradox of Life.” she smiles, looking younger than ever. “As people age, the body loses the vitality of youth but the mind…” her eyes light up as she moves forward as if to whisper the greatest secret of life, “the mind revels in emotions, in the happiness of the moment. People with wisdom forget the worries of tomorrow and focus on the positive pieces of reality in front of them. Studies show we find our greatest happiness as we grow older, thus the paradox.”
The walk back to the hotel is refreshing. The evening has faded into the night and while still below zero, the conversation warms the winter breeze.
“There’s a certain poignancy to life I never realized.” I look around at the scene deciding I could definitely be happy here. I look at her reflection in the snow and moonlight.
She pauses as we reach the intersection, shifts her weight and expands on my thought. “The world is dynamic, multidimensional, and there is always happiness to be found. It’s the gift of wisdom, the gift of youth.”
“Savor and appreciate the emotions of life.” She looks down the street at my hotel.
“When people believe time is unlimited, the focus is on knowledge, on possibilities, on the future. A perfect time for daydreamers.” She grabs my hand, putting emphasis on her words, “when you understand time is limited, the focus needs to be re-directed to the present…where serendipity happens.”
She looks at me inquisitively. “Not quite sure what this means for a daydreamer like yourself…” her flurry of words float in the air between us, separating me from her smile. I watch it all drift away with the gentle breeze, and before I can answer she is gone.
Posted on September 27, 2017
My glass of absinthe arrives accompanied by an Oscar Wilde quote: “A glass of absinthe is as poetical as anything in the world. What difference is there between a glass of absinthe and a sunset?”
The hues reflecting into the window, while a sunrise instead of a sunset, agree with this claim: beauty, wrapped within inspiration. I make a silent toast and close my eyes. Exhaustion slowly working its way through my body.
The fog of last night makes it difficult to remember how we met, but from the first touch, the first sip, I saw the world through a different lens. Light became particles dancing in front of me ~ waves of color never seen before, flowing and carrying me to my next destination.
I snap my eyes open part in fear of becoming sucked back into the night and disappointed to find she has not returned to sweep me away. La fée verte.
Yesterday, late afternoon, I felt as if I was in the late 19th century, at the Old Absinthe House in New Orleans watching the world zoom past. Picking out colors from the blur.
A beautiful blend of cultures, each offering a gift of inspiration and ingenuity to make this New World a better place. Within a life full of pressure, the peaceful dance between us all relaxes me and I’m without a care.
It is here she reveals herself to me, a penetrating gaze. Eyes with a story to tell, I look away.
She haunts me all day, her aura evolving with my mood: a day full of dreary work highlighted by a blinding beacon of light. The sultry air accentuating her smile before slowly dissipating.
She, unknown, has taken a hold of me.
The falling rain mirrors both the loneliness and need for a new reality. I look down at my glass, artistically placed. The enlightenment begins, for to reach the glass I inevitability must brush ever so lightly against her. Electricity.
A single drop of her potion, is it truth I seek?
Each sip, the world takes on a different meaning. Her eyes reflect the cloud of green in my glass, twisting around me with a promise, “an experience, forever remembered…” And she pours herself into my mouth and soul.
Absinthe. This psychedelic myth, a catalyst for adventures from which many never return, and I suppose, never regret.
Rubbing my eyes, I am tired but in no way sleepy, and begin to play with excuses for my faulty memory and actions of last night.
“A curious soul has no choice but to wander this path…while a courageous soul owns this path.” This is the rationale I replay continuously in my head. Experiences I’ve long desired, making the question of any regret irrelevant.
Her eyes are the invitation. Her warm breath is the distant echo of summer and with a slight tilt of her shoulder, the light dress of summer falls to the floor.
A crisp chill of an autumn breeze hypnotizes me. A season of change sweeps in and the Green Goddess begins the introduction into my soul; a quick read while hers, conversely, descends back millennia. Impossible to comprehend.
I have no control and enjoy this feeling of helplessness. Hand in mine she leads me to new places, to realities never imagined and in doing so removes decades of stress from my psyche.
The golden hour of sunset has long since given way into the depths of the blue hour, slowly taking on a yellowish hue as the wicked green hour swallows me whole.
Her invitation had long ago been accepted.
Absinthe, on the rocks with a 3:1 water ratio and a mind open to change and acceptance. My adventure begins around my third glass… along with another Oscar Wilde quote:
“After the first glass, you see things as you wish they were. After the second, you see things as they are not. Finally, you see things as they really are, and that is the most horrible thing in the world.”
“Seeing things as they really are…” Politics of fear shuts borders while diversity fuels bold ideas. Cowards hoard power while the courageous share. And evil only exists as a contrast to good.
“Why are there such extremes not only around the globe,” I ask, “but within myself as well?”
The Green Goddess watches as I try to make sense of the world, letting her poison soothe me before adding, “there are people with so much, yet they are completely miserable. And there are people with so little, yet they are incredibly happy.”
Lightly she pushes me down on the sofa, beads of rain glistening off her skin. “It’s because those in power fear change. Fear to lose their power to those who dream. Who fantasize. Who achieve. Frozen in the past, unchallenged, they create a barren reality where escape is impossible.”
There’s an empty sadness in her voice. “Be part of the answer.” She rises and before walking away, leaves a quote hanging in the air. “In the words of John Milton from Paradise Lost,” she exhales, tears running down her cheeks, “The mind is its own place and in itself, can make a Heaven of Hell, a Hell of Heaven.”
Disappearing from the doorway, I hear her faint response blend with the slamming of the door, “Choose heaven…”
Yes. Life is what we make of it.
Experience it. Let go of fear. Embrace differences. Pursue. And understand a little absinthe can go a long way…
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
Posted on September 29, 2016
The scene is one I can imagine centuries ago. A young man overlooking his homeland, within his reach a promise of a career to ensure him of a great life. A “normal life” both he and his family have dreamt about since he was a kid.
His dream at his fingertips, he does not move. He sits there perplexed at the struggle within his soul. A piece of him desires something very different, something unknown. He can taste the adrenalin of this uncertainty.
Two thoughts tangle, tearing him up. A decision has to be made. A divergence of his universe, in one he will stand up, walk back to the village and accept his career to settle into a normal life, while in the other he’ll look over his land one last time and accept adventure as his new destiny.
The divergence was instantaneous.
He sits motionless, wondering which spirit remains. The shadow of a setting sun shifts the appearance of his surroundings and over the horizon, a faint sound calls out catching his attention. He draws a breath and looks over his land.
“How did you end up doing what you’re doing?” her question snapped my head up from the photograph in front of me. “You had a freshly minted MBA, a simple plan of embracing the American Dream working with a Fortune 500 and somehow you fell into this crazy global existence.” She looked at me half-mockingly.
“The American Dream rejected me…and I panicked,” I laughed. “Once the seed of doubt entered my thinking, there was no looking back.”
I look back at the photo. Wonder what life would have been like if I’d hung around the States instead of taking a flyer of adventure in Asia?
Enjoying this contradiction, I review the photo and the stack of journals in front of me, searching to find a trace of a young man who disappeared so long ago.
She holds out a piece of paper, and reads from it:
“Invincibility. The youthful feeling of blind confidence where anything imagined can be achieved. Memories of flying down a mountain, one foot barely touching down on a boulder before confidently taking flight again, suspending life as the other foot searches and touches down lightly only to set off once more. Freedom. Repeat until exhausted.”
“Zero fear,” she says after reading the passage. “All of his senses meshing perfectly with nature and in total confidence. No thought of failure. Bliss.”
“I can understand this feeling,” I add, “youthful invincibility is one of the best stages of life where everything seems possible…running through it all, never believing it will end.”
“Then one day, a faint touch of doubt enters the mind mid-stride and the peaceful invincibility begins to fade. Strained by the thinnest gauze of doubt, the confidence of the immortal mind of youth vanishes forever. And life begins…”
She reads to me, handing me a yellowed piece of parchment as she finishes, dated a day before the young man disappeared.
“The stage of life where we all find ourselves lost at some point…” she says aloud while carefully turning a page of a journal.
“The time between the youthful invincibility of blind confidence where everything will work out as dreamed, and the age of reason where experience brings an understanding that it’s alright if it doesn’t…”
I smile at this thought. The Gauze of Doubt introduced itself to me when my version of the American Dream faded right out of school along with the myth of a normal life. My favorite quote, Doc Holliday from the movie Tombstone still rings clear, “there’s no such thing as a normal life, there’s just life…”
The photo and journals date back to the mid-1800’s, a young man with a lust for life imprinted on his character, a man who spun his own destiny. Words of wisdom in his thoughts, words that hold strength because they’re backed by his actions.
Experience matters. Friendship matters. Integrity matters. After his disappearance, his journals and stories focus on the lives he touched and his new surroundings.
Veering off the well-worn road to success, he chose the path of adventure. He traveled. He learned. He traveled some more.
He never forgot the moment the gauze of doubt covered his eyes, unexpectedly sending him hurtling into a divergent universe. A universe he created.
There is a sense of envy I have reading his words, my wish to experience and see the pieces of life he lived.
Three stages of life formed his writing, at each stage an opportunity to accede into a new reality:
“There is a bit of Thoreau in his philosophy, his writing reminds me of the quote “…not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves...[Henry David Thoreau, Walden]” she looks back at me while taking a sip of her coffee. “The thin gauze of doubt he talks about may dissolve the confidence of youth, but in doing so it ramps up the adrenaline of reality.”
“Almost two hundred years separate you two, but yes, you do have your great, great grandfather’s mind, half stuck in reality and half elsewhere,” her eyes giggle, meeting mine.
And doubt seizes the day. Will I ever find out what happened to him?
It is intriguing to look back in time, to dream of changing the unchangeable, but the past pales in anticipation of tomorrow’s opportunities.
I do not move. I sit there perplexed at the struggle within my soul. A piece of me desiring something very different, something unknown, and I can taste the adrenalin of this uncertainty.
The divergence was instantaneous…
Posted on July 26, 2016
It was a strange day I remember, exploring Budapest for the first time with a sensation I had walked these streets before, every corner a story to be told. Each step filled with fascination, time of no concern as evening tumbled from dusk into the magical darkness of night. Pulled forward by destiny into my past.
She was there, a flash of a smile wrapped up in the Old World like a well-worn shawl.
An artistic light gathered around her, fusing the old with new, highlighting the intricacies of the human spirit. Not yet love, only a tickle of possibility. The depths of the night offered us the chance to roam new lands, to dance with the tide and imagine our next adventure.
The start of the day blends with the end of the night, leaving the unanswered question of where we belong. Amid all the laughter, a melancholy undercurrent swirled beneath, leading to the inevitable conclusion.
The exit. A measured trace of emotion is revealed but little else. With no sense of belonging, we vanish into each other’s arms like the whispering winds of the past.
Where will you go when morning arrives? Did we truly exist or were we just a dream, lost in this endless slumber of life?
The music of the world refuses to fade, a reminder of the hope tomorrow brings. The pull of destiny continues. With a smile, I close my eyes and dream of the New World.
Side Note: Along with travel to Budapest (and Europe), two pieces of music helped inspire this post: Karl Jenkins – Bards of Wales (based on János Arany ballad of the same name). Hungarian history is fascinating, a great feeling of the Old World. The other is my favorite piece by Antonín Dvořák, his New World Symphony.
Nothing is quite as mysterious as where we came from or where we are going ~ reconciling the Old and New World.
Posted on November 4, 2015
Lack of sleep makes concentration difficult. I’m on my third cup of coffee and I can’t help but stare out the window trying to recapture last night’s fading dream of a life of a cowboy.
“找不到你公司税务登记证 ! 在哪里?”
The sound of these foreign words spin me back to reality here in China.
“如果找不到太麻烦!” My secretary again looks at me for a response.
I shut my eyes and focus on the feeling of “Let’er Buck” – a touch of the West, a touch of home.
A world away, I taste the dew of the morning and roll out of bed to gaze over never-ending wheat fields. I imagine saddling up the best friend a cowboy will ever have and head out to face the day.
The feeling of adventure mixed with a taste of adrenaline I suppose is why the cowboy often has a wistful smile as he saddles up.
It doesn’t take long for the soft eyes of my horse to be replaced by the glare of my secretary. Her continual banter in Chinese steals me away from my daydream.
The figures on the spreadsheets in front of me wrestle each other in an endless battle to determine whether the year will see a profit or a loss.
There will be a lot more wrestling with figures before the day ends and the freedom of a ride has never felt so far away. Running on the wind lifted by the cheers of a crowd.
I hold up my hand, and the Chinese words stop mid-sentence and for a second all is quiet, a rare moment of peace.
“I should’ve been a cowboy…” I mutter, a common wish for most guys I grew up with, although for me I admit a life on the back of a bucking bronc is not in my blood.
The courage to ride requires a special spirit infused at birth. The adrenaline rush of the ride, the feel of the rope, speed of the chase and mixing blood with mud is a lifestyle meant only for the few.
What I am chasing though, is almost as elusive, the spirit of the cowboy. The legend created by songs and stories I’ve heard growing up: the down-to-earth attitude, importance of treating each other well and when taking a fall ~ fearlessly dusting off and saddling up again.
Dusting myself off, I stare at my computer and pound out another business email…
The essence of the life of a cowboy defines the spirit of my hometown of Pendleton, Oregon. Waking up every morning with the annual September dream of becoming a cowboy, if only for a day.
To walk out onto the infield grass and take it all in, feeling the crowd with the beating heart of the grandest rodeo in the world, the Pendleton Round-Up.
Around the world there are company executives pilfering the paychecks of their workers, politicians focused on lining their pockets and places where a hard day’s work has become a myth of days gone by.
The cowboy spirit flows through Pendleton with the memories of past cowboy heroes such as Lane Frost, Mike Boothe and Mike Currin – men as genuine in the arena as they were outside.
Also the present champions, Trevor Brazile, winner of four consecutive all-around titles at the Pendleton Round-Up and bareback champion Ty Breuer, showing the heart and spirit of cowboys still run true.
For some, the dreams of the West and the cowboys who built America may be disappearing, however they still remain a strong foundation for the people of Pendleton.
Ranchers and farmers understand there is no such thing as an easy ride and to grab an opportunity when it arrives, knowing it may not come again. So when the rope leaves their hand there is no doubt it will find its mark.
The echo of the rodeo reverberates in my mind, as my fingers struggle to tap out a message on my iPhone. These hands stand in stark contrast to the callused hands of a cowboy holding a rope and reigns.
Any calluses I do have are quickly fading away, perhaps similar to the fading cheers a cowboy hears as he walks away from the arena one last time.
Years ago when I was in my mid-20s, I was talking to a bronc rider after an excellent ride and he said something I’ve never forgotten: “The opening of a bucking chute is like the start of a new day. Some days will be tough with rough rides and broken bones – those days are to be remembered because it makes good days like today taste all the better.”
Patience. Belief. Hard work. Cowboy logic.
There are many things I’ve learned from rodeo champions over the years, but perhaps the most valuable lessons have come from the local farmers and ranchers.
Growing up, my annual summer job at PGG operating Rew grain elevator during harvest stands as one of the best work experiences I’ve ever had.
The many people I worked with at Rew helped form my character, each one having the heart of a Pendleton cowboy. Two such cowboys, Bob Byers, who can create a solution for any problem and Terry Simpson who has an outlook on life second to none; both men define Pendleton perfectly.
From Pendleton to Calgary to Cheyenne and to cities around the world, the spirit of the life of a cowboy flows free and strong. Looking out the window again, I put on a George Strait CD to fit my mood and the music even makes my secretary smile.
Here in China, I’ve found the soul of the cowboy both in myself and in the great people I work with over here.
Closing my eyes, I feel the wind on my face and the pounding of hooves and earth blending perfectly with the music. I feel great.
Yes, I may be thousands of miles from home but all I need to hear are the words “Let’er Buck” and I am right back in the middle of the Pendleton Round-Up arena and it’s a perfect day.
The beginning of December is where the last piece of magic will be performed when future champions get ready to ride at the National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas.
Cowboys who grew up in small towns around the country, holding onto a belief that one day their names will be dancing in the bright lights of Vegas. Their focus locked-in on the final ride of the year and the chance to etch their name in the history books and become a part of cowboy folklore.
Good luck and good health to all. 祝你们好运气，健康.
Posted on October 5, 2015
Crawling out of the teepee at first light, my spirit is buoyed with excitement of the salmon run on the Big River (the Columbia). The echoing roar of Celilo Falls in the background is a symphony, welcoming back the tribes once again.
Rubbing my eyes and taking a cool breath of morning air, there is a light laugh beside me followed by several pieces of salmon pemmican pushed into my hand reminding me while I may not have been born into the Umatilla tribe, I am treated as family.
I spot a friend from the Nimi’ipuu (Nez Perce) tribe across the way, and remember the spring day long ago in 1838 sitting down with Chief Tuekakas (Joseph the Elder) and a group of men from the Hudson’s Bay Company out of Fort Vancouver.
I was a young kid responsible for translation, fascinated by these leaders discussing the impact of the first party of Cherokees to resist removal to a reservation, not yet knowing their brave march westward would one day be known as the Trail of Tears.
The impact of Chief Tuekakas’ words that day led me to take the opportunity to travel with his people, the Nimi’ipuu.
The wisdom I collected over those years I hold with gratitude, but my most cherished moment came the day when we stumbled onto a camp of the Umatilla people at the base of the Blue Mountains. All it took was one look and I realized I had found the destiny I had been searching.
Over the past 20 years since those early days, I have lived with the Walla Walla, rode with the Cayuse and shared many a meal with the Palouse, Tenino and Chinook – learning a culture and a land far removed from my birth home in Scotland.
My memory is faint, but I understand while the climate, terrain and traditions of my homeland are quite different; the love of Mother Earth is the same.
It is with this thought I can rest my head, my mind drifting off to dreams of the past. Crossing the Atlantic with family and friends in the year 1828 to reach the New World only to watch in horror as disease ripped through our cramped tenement housing, wiping out everything I held dear.
Broke and alone by the end of the year, I snuck aboard a wagon train with a dream to arrive in the Oregon Country to make my destiny. Discovered by the wagon master early on the trail, my skills as a fisherman and hunter proved valuable, and at a young age I had my first job.
The journey through the free country of the west taught me the land, accepting the beauty it offered. The berries and roots kept us fed. The buffalo, elk and deer honored us with their great bravery as we matched them with our hunting skills.
Not a day goes by where I do not thank the animals, plants and spirit of this land for all they provide, and acknowledge the tacit agreement where we will take care of Mother Earth in return.
Sitting here today along the banks of the Big River, the current mood of the Umatilla people is of sorrow. During the previous night, a tense meeting with the tribal leaders signaled the inevitable signing of a treaty with Washington D.C. to give up 6.4 million acres of land.
A treaty threatening to strangle the freedom and culture built over thousands of years. When the tribes sign the Treaty of 1855 they will receive in exchange, land designated at the Umatilla Indian Reservation to become a permanent homeland.
My mind clears as I gaze off into the distant waters of Celilo Falls. My wife Awendela silently sings as she ponders the future of her people, repairing the fishing nets needed for another day’s work.
Biting into my pemmican, I retell an old folktale from the past, drawing a parallel with the clash of cultures we are experiencing today, an emphasis to remain strong and positive.
“An old man spoke to his grandson. “My child,” he said. “Inside everyone there is a battle between two wolves. One is evil. It is anger, jealousy, greed, inferiority, lies and ego. The other is good. It is joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth.”
The boy thought for a moment. Then he asked, “Which wolf wins?”
A moment of silence passed before the old man replied, “The one you feed…” ”
Thinking of the world today, I wonder, which wolf is winning?
With the endless cycle of greed that sweeps through men and their politics, I fear the more things change, the more they stay the same.
I feel for the children of this land. The change in lifestyle will be difficult and clashes of culture will create an opportunity for the Evil Wolf to gain traction in the minds of the young.
Turing around, I watch the children of the Cayuse with their ponies teaching the other kids the essence of the magnificent Cayuse horse dominating the plateau. I smile. We can learn much from the children, for their hearts are pure.
Succeed in educating children well and we ensure a way of life and culture forever.
Teach as well as learn the way of the world, and we can all sleep better at night listening to the howling of the Good Wolf, sharing its “joy, peace, love, hope, humility, kindness, empathy, and truth” with us all.
Yes, feed the Good Wolf. I sigh and take another bite of pemmican…even with the sadness, I believe this shall be a very good season indeed.
NOTE: The photos above are from the Pendleton Round-Up and Happy Canyon pageant taking place every September in Pendleton, Oregon. A communion of sorts for the farmers and ranchers of the area along with the gathering of Native American Indian tribes of the Northwest, with the Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation hosting a teepee village of over 300 teepees.
A weeklong experience every one should experience once in life ~ Let’er Buck ~
Category: Education, Nature, Philosophy, Photography Tagged: American History, American West, Confederated Tribes of the Umatilla Indian Reservation, Culture, Happy Canyon, Identity, Let'er Buck, Native American Folklore, Native Americans, Pendleton Oregon, Pendleton Round-Up, photography