Wait for It

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There is a book set mostly in Alaska called One to Perish – One to Tell the Tale.  It’s a true story about a guy who leaves his secure but insanely stressful desk job to return to his roots of industrial construction which lead him to the far-beyond-his-roots pipeline country of the Alaskan North Slope.  Along the way he discovers who his brother is while bouncing about the tamer sections of the Last Frontier. The book hasn’t been written yet, but it promises to be a great American novel complete with tales of danger, outdoor adventure, family reunions, personal epiphanies, love lost, dogs, and bacon.  Until it gets all cobbled together into a leather-bound, coffee table clutter piece, here’s a free sneak peak excerpt.

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“In twelve years of coming here, I’ve never seen it like this,” Joel tells me with eyes bugged wide open so that I know he’s sincere.  The “it” is the little, yet raging body of blue water that spurs off of the lake fed by Portage Glacier.  Several days of nonstop rain has transformed the normally trickling brook into a swift river of choppy, turquoise breastmilk-like rapids.  This same rain that has kept us mostly inside during our camping trip has now graced us with, in Joel’s heart, a one-time, unavoidable opportunity at happiness or fun or a just another story of dumbassery conquered.

“We have to go.  We just do,” he says to me, his intentionally hidden southern drawl unintentionally reappearing to make that powerful cultural connection that usually seals the deal on any proposition with me regardless of the lunacy it presents.  His demand doesn’t have that juvenile “Yeah, bruh!” tone that I always regretfully feel spews out of me, it is simply a factual announcement of the day’s event and, of course, I nod my “all in” as if I’d already read the schedule and knew about this activity.

Looking at the churning, twisting channel of liquid blue, I ask to no one in particular, “Where does this even end up?”

“Not sure.  Somewhere.  I’m sure we’ll pop out near a road or something.  Bring your phone and Rachel can come get us when we’re done.”

So there it was with little room for discussion. With a rented inflatable SUP, his pack raft, and two bicycle helmets, we stomp through the woods and down a trail to where he thinks is an opening into this watery roller coaster to…Somewhere.  I have tons of flat-water standup paddle board experience but absolutely zero hours on white or even swift water.  Even if I did, it is impossible to read this narrow, blistering creek for more than 15 yards ahead because it bends hard and often as if the goal during its creation was to cut the longest distance downhill from A to B.  What I could see was a terrifying nightmare of slightly submerged rocks and stumps with guarantees of jagged face smashers below and some native shrubs that crowd each bank and stretch out their limbs in an attempt to reach one another creating a thorny handshake to clothesline any fool who dare try to shoot through their private tunnel.

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The July air is somewhere in the mid 60’s but the water spilling off of the glacier is nowhere near that.  My guess is that it’s somewhere between 45 degrees and absolute zero.  Wet feet would be an aggravating inconvenience, but a full-on, over the ears plunge could be a whole other ballgame neither of us wants to play. Since I’ll be standing up and carry a greater risk of going in the water and because of his hospitable nature, Joel lets me wear his drysuit while he opts for a hodge podge ensemble of a pair of Chuck’s, Cuddle Duds, shorts, a Fred Meyer’s windbreaker, and a blue do-rag.  Not one thing in his get-up offers salvation from hypothermia, but my guess is that he’s happy to put me in a safer situation while at the same time adding one more element of risk to his own which further fuels his drive to go in the first place.

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Unlike my calculated bravery where I decide to go only when the rewards clearly tip the scale on the risks, his grit comes more from an innate moxie that calculates nothing except for the obvious facts that (1) something put this mountain before him and (2) he must climb it at all costs.  The more I think about our adventures as kids, the more I realize how many times, just like now, he stood in the line of fire between me and a thousand monsters that should have eaten me alive.  Although I’m sure older brother protection is partially behind those motives, I’m also beginning to understand that Joel has to be in harm’s way or at least some form of nonstandard, tumultuous chaos just to keep his organs functioning properly.  On the business end of those crosshairs is where he calmly and most efficiently operates.  When short term stress levels are through the roof, his world slows down and he is able to dissect the moment, cherry picking individual elements of danger, and (so far) resolving each one in a particular order while most of us are paddling for dear life.

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No doubt in my mind, that need is the reason why he chose to be on the front lines with Marines in Kosovo when he certainly did not have to be.  It’s why he flies with Medevacs as a flight nurse for fun…well, fun with pay.  It’s why he fell into deep trouble with the Navy then strategically talked his way right out of an assumed AWOL, which actually turned out to be a playful, multi-day beer run across the Middle East during the war-torn early days of Operation Desert Freedom.  Tumult, big risk, unseen danger, high adventure.  For him they are not the breath of life exactly, but they are juice from the fruits harvested from a full one.  And a life without that juice would seem incomplete, I’m certain.

We reach the water’s edge and I’m immediately glad we came.  I try to figure out how fast the water is moving and what’s beyond the turn just down from the put-in, but I realize that none of that matters because I couldn’t think fast enough to plan that far ahead anyway.  We are going, it will just be what it is, and the only plan is to react my way around each snare as it shows up.  Joel’s only concern is that his pack raft has hung on every single limb in the forrest…and that is frustrating for him.

Before stowing my phone away in a sandwich bag, we take a quick picture and I study our aging faces that still have a few of the same boyish features as the ones of our youth.  Even in those days, I knew we would go down our own roads then meet back up to walk down a few more together.  One of us limping along with a reserved spirit for playing in the wild as long as it made sense, the other sprinting madly with the true spirit of adventure regardless of the cost.  Both willing to take the plunge when called to go, but one always more willing to perish so the other could live to tell the story. Another final look back to get that confidence-inspiring grin that has motivated me for nearly four decades, then I grab my paddle with a white-knuckled clutch as we both slide into the freezing unknown.

 

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The Day My Dog Became Awesome

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Pre awesome days

I think a dream was the source of inspiration…or maybe it was just one of those moments of a child’s unmoving belief in something absolute and necessary.  Regardless, a year and a half ago Annabelle informed us out of the blue, “I want a black dog and his name will be Lightnin’.”  Sounded very reasonable and convincing coming from the daughter whose prized toy these days is a giant yoga ball of household destruction she named Cobra that she earned from delivering her teachers a mischief-free week at school.

And so it was that the planets aligned just so this past August and we were able to rescue a semi free of charge dog from the pound who has been anything but free of charge nor felt the need to show any sign of gratitude for his death row pardon.  His prison name was Dewey, a dirty word we are not supposed to say out loud anymore because Annabelle thinks it will hurt his feelings or remind him of those dark days in York County Animal Shelter when his very minutes were numbered. His redemption name became Lightnin’ LeRoux.  True to my nature, I call him everything but Lightnin’ including but definitely not limited to Fruit Bat McGoozle, Black Bat, and Captain Dry-Nosed Mountain Lab which will no doubt lead to years and years of confusion and misbehavior on his part.

Prisoner #10183. Dewey Sausage Filling

Prisoner #10183       Dewey Fruit Bat

Though I believe repentance covers forgiveness, I also believe I have been rewarded for an earlier life of countless sins with the penance of having a water dog who is terrified of all shapes of water, suspension bridges, rustling leaves, broken sticks, and pretty much every natural and man-made obstacle or scenery one encounters while running through the beautiful trails of the Carolinas. His rookie walks through local greenway trails were filled with many standoffs and battles of will because he spent most of the walk gnawing on his leash, lurching away from his handler like he was trying to win a tractor pull, and just being a basic jerk to my kids and their parents while also reacting with terror at the sight of water and the sounds of nature…sounds like blue birds singing or the Earth turning. He hates them all. 

He’s not, however, at all afraid of eating iPhones or baseboards and has an uncanny talent for seeking out very sentimental artifacts of the girls’ and turning them into pulpy globs of mush in seconds.  LeRoux has an even more impressive talent for playing that God-forsaken game of picking up a shoe and then keeping an island or some other immovable barrier between himself and me as I try to calmly, at first, get to him to remove the shoe from his razor-fanged mouth.  His love of this game that I want no part of and its almost daily round of play in those post-prison early days earned him at least one mild beaning from a Cutie tangerine in a desperate and successful audible called to break the flow of my fruitless head faking and spastic lunges around and around and around the kitchen island all in the name of salvaging a child’s $3 worn-out, chewed-down flip flop.  But he’s just a puppy, I remind myself, so he gets to stay just a little longer because of Puppy Grace and because the girls and Deaton love him to pieces…and he does this hysterical thing with his ears where he lifts one up while he patrols the kitchen for spiders or something.  Oh, yes…he’s a spider murderer…sometimes for sport, sometimes for snack, so that really helps keep him on board.  I think he gets that arachnid appetite from his father who I’m certain was a fruit bat even though the county pound thinks that’s ridiculous.  Clearly a coverup.

Lightnin's Hype Men

Lightnin’s hype men

An official One Ear Alarm!!! No call for panic, just be aware.

An official One Ear Alarm!!! No call for panic, just be aware.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Like father...

Like father…

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like son.  Spider eaters.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

So I keep feeding him and taking him on trail runs where he seems to be getting better with things like pooping off the main trail and ignoring crunching leaves, but it is still not a great experience and a constant battle to keep him in check.  “He’s just a puppy,” Rachel says and I remind myself daily.  But in my mind, even puppies should know that a 6″ wide babbling stream of water trickling peacefully through a quiet forest yields no reason to panic and howl or throw the “All Stop” lever that operates his legs.

A few weeks ago while visiting Mom in Blowing Rock, I decided to take him to my favorite running ground, Boone Fork Trail.  It’s a five mile loop off the Blue Ridge Parkway that has everything from steep, rooty climbs, to fast downhill bombs riddled with super technical, pokey rock-mine paths.  It also has 1000 water crossings ranging from tiny skip-overs to ones over the fairly deep and sometimes swift Boone Fork.  Everything this dog hates wrapped up in beautiful, single-track package.

Rolling to the hills Thelma and Louise style

Rolling to the hills Thelma and Louise style

With Lightnin’ hooked up to his leash, we trotted away from my truck in the early morning sunshine at an easy pace because the clockwise route starts off with some worthy elevations and he’s just a puppy so I had to be considerate of his developing bones and lungs.  He galloped up the hills and over the roots like a champion, never launching his typical toothy attack on the lanyard attaching his neck to my hand and only pausing once to sniff some wild mountain beast’s abandoned dung pile.  I was so impressed with his behavior that I did the unspeakable act that EVERY trail dog walker does but pretends that they don’t…I untethered LeRoux just as we started the mostly downhill leg of the route that crashes through the rhododendron tunnels into the dank woods that follow the creek.

As if some switch was flipped, Lightnin’ suddenly decided he was a dog and one with a sacred bloodline of ancient mountain running bat-labs. We flew down the hill on a path with tight turns that require instant, nearly impossible foot placement decisions.  The pace was much faster than our initial, but still not quite a sprint since he’s just a puppy.  And this black mountain charger never blinked an eye about it.  He danced over log bridges, he waded through the freezing creek and actually slowed to lower his slobbery muzzle in the water to drink like it was the nectar of his birthright.  He pranced through the rocks and roots right behind me which I found amazing considering he has twice as many feet as I do which means he has to instantly think twice as hard about where all those tender, Doritos-smelling foot pads have to land.

Somewhere around the 2.5 mile point, I realized that the only sound I could hear was my stomping feet and labored breathing.  LL was casually gliding along with barely a pant while wearing that giant dog grin that I’ve only seen before on YouTube.  He was right on my heels and even gently swatted at my shoe with his paw every few seconds.  This was very unnerving for me because it nearly made me trip several times at scandalous spots, but I figured this was his inner puma exposed so I let it go. I did have to scoop him up to portage him across two water crossings that are tricky even for seasoned bushmen and then once more to go down a sketchy ladder built of logs by a guild of carpenter bears to descend a 10′ shear drop where the trail rudely carves right through the middle of the carpenter bears’ high country club house. Other than that, LeRoux was holding his own. Then he began to push his way ahead.

He started with a modest car length lead, graciously looking over his shoulder at me from time to time to see if I was still close.  I quickened my pace to close the gap, but that only made his mountain lab engine fire another cylinder and trot ahead even faster.  By mile 4 I was charging uphill with everything I had and Lightnin’ was 20 yards and 5 turns ahead prancing up the slope like an Arabian on parade and grinning like that idiot at Walmart with too many items in the express lane who knows he’s wrong and that no one is going to do a thing about it.  He still stopped to check on me, but it became less often and I could tell it was more out of habit than of genuine concern for my well being.  By the 4.5 mile mark, I was sucking hard at the Appalachian wind and politely screaming for him to wait on me…which he did.  He sat down long enough for me to catch up and re-leash his collar which was a great move since the final half mile we passed at least two other dogs on walks.  That always makes him try to leap out of his skin in an effort to play with strange, four-legged foreigners who, along with their owners, generally do not reciprocate his open, pouncing expression of love.

Back in the truck, I praised him with long jowl scratches for being amazing and held our foreheads together in a made-up high five alternative that he did not understand or appreciate.  He looked at me and smiled like we were now ready to take on the world since we had conquered this trail together.  Even though he crushed my fastest time on his maiden Boone Fork voyage, he was not the least bit cocky about it and I could tell that he had room in his heart to help me be a better runner.  I pulled out of the parking lot admiring my copilot for being so full of warrior energy as he took a deep breath in preparation to share his secrets of being a master trail smith.  Then he paused and rested his head on the center console as if to carefully choose the words of his speech.  He closed his eyes and fell instantly in to a snoring sleep before I even turned on the Parkway.  “You’re just a puppy,” I said with a sweaty smile to the comatose half-bat.  “You’ve got plenty of time to show me how it’s done.”

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Going...

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Warm Day Promises

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November Blue

Yesterday the weather and time were finally kind enough to allow it, so I took Adamae on a 4 mile paddle since she’s been asking about it throughout the Great Garage Cleansing that started 2 weeks ago and has exposed hidden gems like ragged, abandoned dolls and a wad of assorted paddles…the kind used to move things in water.  The uncovered half-dozen random paddles, two stand up paddle boards, and one ghetto canoe reminded her that we have a lake near and, in fact, have several means of walking on it.  As soon as I told her we were going, she purposed it in her pixie heart that this was a mid-November swimming adventure.  In her defense, it was nearly 70 degrees outside and felt more like 94 when standing directly in the blazing sunlight which she had been for most of the afternoon as she hot rodded around on her balance bike only stopping to throw dolls, blueberry candles, and other treasures stolen from the garage sale bin into the back of my truck like the trailer trash kid that she is.

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Through the sandwich bag filter

Her mom naturally protested the Autumn event’s swim leg like a good mother should, but I stood by Adamae’s plan for bailing off of a perfectly sound paddle board into freezing lake water and actually kept her fire going like any seasoned hype man would.  “I want to swim when we go paddle,” she said as we were loading up the gear.  She delivered the opening argument in nearly that same voice that’s obvious when you’ve told them “No” about something so they circle back 2 minutes later with the same request but in a whiny tone that gets them a first class ticket to NOWHERE…at least in our house.

“And I want you to swim, Girl Ann,” I reassured, though surprised at her whine challenge to something I already thumbs-up’d three times prior within the past few minutes.  (Force of habit, I suppose.)  “It’s a brave thing to do and you’ll be super glad you pulled it off.”

“I want you to swim with me, Daddy.”

“No ma’am.  I’ll just watch and cheer from the board.” Down the road we go.

The boat landing was busy for a November Wednesday afternoon with its light stream of fishermen’s hurried, last minute sunset launch traffic and nest of wake surfers’ parked vehicles made obvious by the surfing stickers plastered on their back glasses.  As I unloaded the board, fastened Adamae into her life vest, and walked toward the lake, the sun was still beaming down on us though now slightly tipping towards the tops of the trees along the west bank.  She reminded me again that she was ready to swim.  “Not yet,” I tell her.  “Let’s wait until the end of the paddle so you aren’t cold the whole time.”  That logic didn’t hit its mark with a 4 year old, but it did register with her that swimming is definitely on the menu, so it was well enough for her to climb aboard and shove us off.

Fruits of Fall

Fruits of Fall

I’ve never bought or endorsed buying a Barbie in my life, but somehow a naked, mocha skinned, hourglass-figured play doll with tons of makeup and a hairdo that was clearly the results of the untrained scissor-hands of a rouge toddler stowed away in some hidden life vest crevice and was now riding fare free on my board.  Adamae stashed her gallon Ziplock bag of snacks under the bow bungee straps and was now hands free to dunk her secret Barbie off the edge of the board into the cold, moving waters of Lake Wylie.  As tempting as it was to complain about Barbie’s uninvited company in my daughter’s life and on my SUP, I let it slide.  What could she possibly get from my superficial complaint, anyway?  Plus, it was kind of fun to see Barbie’s sh@t-eating grin disappear beneath the green water over and over like an unwilling volunteer at our church’s Spring fund raiser dunking booth, but a much trampier volunteer with a bad haircut.

A mile into the paddle, I’ve answered 300 completely unrelated questions, been reminded that swimming was a high priority on this trip, and watched poor Sister Barbie drink 300 gallons of lake water.  Adamae has gone through two or three rounds of paddle duty where she tries her best to keep the SUP going with a device 3 times as long as she is.  We basically stop moving forward during her paddling, but I’m just happy that she’s into it and that she is not at all griping about being outside.  We met my friend Phillip on the lake and paddled another mile with him until AM announced that we’ve gone far enough and it was time to either turn around or get in the water.  Phillip is a good ol’ South Carolina native who is naturally ripped up without lifting a single weight and has a storybook paddling form.  We’re in different board classes so we’ve never gone head to head in a race, but we both know without saying that he’d crush me with minimal effort.  Jealousy would have a barn door of an opening with me except for the one edge that I can murder him on trail runs, so that balances my insecurities within our friendship.  Our first paddle together last year was over 13 miles because neither of us would yield to the other that we had gone far enough.  But he has young kids of his own and had no problem yielding to Adamae’s suggested turnaround point.  What a great guy.

The sun was starting to set on the way in.  Phillip and I talked as we always do of getting together with the wives and kids to camp or race or paddle.  We always make this promise when we meet but have never pulled it off.  The plans and commitments always sound so perfect and easily orchestrated when built under the warm sun while gliding on top of the supportive water, but the cold realities of work and life seem to swallow those plans entirely once we reach our respective land homes.  Today is no different.  As the sun dips down behind us, the temperature drops and Phillip peels off with an air-fisted farewell to scamper off to his side of the pond.  I reminded Adamae that we are only 1 mile away from her swim session and she responds, this time, with dentist visit enthusiasm, “Mmm…”

By the  time we got back to the landing, the sun had all but completely signed off for the evening but I am a man of my word so I let Adamae know that she was free to splash down whenever she felt ready. Whether it be the loss of bright light, bravery, a few degrees of body heat, or interest in the project altogether, she was having none of the Junior Polar Bear Club cannon ball.   With little exception, the big promises of actions to be taken or changes to be made under the cozy comforts of the sun are exactly like those made under the warm umbrellas of class reunions, church camps, and funerals.  Well intended guarantees to stay in touch, live better, stand strong, always remember, and honor names are so easily and quickly diluted in the darker skies and chilly waters left from a November setting sun or old habits that refuse to be rehabbed…or just the incredibly stifling powers of the normal routines we play out over and over day after day.  Promises to ourselves and others to be brave or make great change seem to be the ones that get washed away the fastest.  I don’t put Adamae’s swim retraction in that category just yet.  She’s a 4 year old kid…and that water was colder than a witch’s teet.

With the board buckled back down to the truck rack, I check on Girl Ann and see that she’s waded out knee deep into the still waters of the boat landing.  Still brave just not  committed to complete misery.  I’ll take that any day. “Let’s go, Tootie,” I chirped and was answered with the sweet song of tiny feet padding with a skippy rhythm on asphalt as she bounded for her spot in the back seat.

Wrenching

Wrenching in the rain

 

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My Lamb

Plotting an Attack

Plotting an Attack

Never has someone smashed my feelings, made me laugh, or infuriated me more than you. Since the minute following your womb exodus you’ve pushed me away despite my efforts to hold you close while giving you freedom to play unshackled and free from the ear-bloodying whirs of parental helicopter blades.  One day you’ll capitalize on your stubborn brilliance and find the right circle where you and your gang all dream and laugh in one accord.  Be brave and unmoving in your convictions once you have enough experience to form solid ones.  In the meantime, I’ll steal as much love from you as you let me, you beautiful chaos.

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The Movement

I love that place that graces us with the chance to occupy its space where we are coming out of something awful and are about to move into something better, even when I don’t know what the “better” is. I am madly in love with that transition. This probably explains the reason why I create uncomfortable or tumultuous situations is so I can get high on the movement out of them. Maybe that’s not exactly true, but it is a fact that when the clouds part and I can see through the tornado I am never happier to be alive.

Songs with flawless harmonies sound like water and are just as critical as breathing during those short windows. I wish I could live huddled in the sill of those windows forever. It’s a place of brokenness and healing. It’s easy to love everyone while floating through this beautiful gap because there’s this balance of fatigue from the battle and energy from the excitement of tomorrow’s adventure. Somehow that puts us all in the same field of play and I can get over my insecurities enough to love people for who they are instead of measuring them against what I think they should be. And that’s the goal.

So today I’m high as a kite as I wait for the twin-propped plane to snatch me away from this miserable tundra to deliver me to my wife, brood, and brother. More than anything in this world, I wish everyone could have what I have today: tangible hope, in this case, in the form of a boarding pass and a contractual promise that I don’t have to come back to this tainted place … at least for a little while.

I have no right to be, but I’ve been broken on this hitch with news that my friend Mike lost his precious daughter just a year younger than my own in an accident. I have no right to be broken because he is the one who is left reeling and I’m just a bystander whose only mechanism for compassion is to compare his situation to my own to see how I would feel. Maybe we all do that, but for some reason it feels selfish that some of the tears I’ve spilled over this are because when I see an old picture of Mike’s beaming baby daughter as she’s zipped up in her forever smiling dad’s hoodie I see my own daughters. It’s impossible for me to understand. I am just so very sorry.

I’ve been wrestling for a week with being wholly crushed and knowing there is not one thing that I can say to or do for Mike that can help bear the mountain of pain that must be falling on him and his wife. Words don’t mean anything nor are they remembered in times like this, but the company of caring dear friends and family means the world and I know he is getting that. Everything in me hurts for him. I’m a mess with spoken words of encouragement and even writing this feels useless, but hopefully it’s another arrow in the quiver of people thinking and praying for him.

And if I knew it would bring even a fraction of relief, I would give him my boarding pass to the transition. I’d call McDonald and we’d meet Mike where his is, each with a guitar and we’d all play a song.  And that song would sound like water.

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Gently Down the Stream

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How We Live

When everything in the professional world seems perfect and heavy doses of amazing playtime activities are balanced in as flawless cogs that keep the life engine a-goin’, it makes no sense to throw some irrational wrench in the gears that will disrupt the smooth chugging of that efficient little motor that was created by and also drives The Business of Being Married and Raising Children, LLC. But, being the shade tree mechanic that I am, I did it anyway. I chunked the filthy wrench right in the face of our perfect machine. I threw it hard and true.

With my guts worn to acidic nubs from self-inflicted and probably highly unnecessary work-related stress, I made the official ruling to remove myself from the financially stable, health insured, but absolutely unconquerable job that nearly 4 years ago kindly relocated us from Louisiana to South Carolina. There is no logic to this move other than it felt like work was rotting me from the inside out and that’s probably bad.  I don’t have an escape plan or too many local options for my skill set considering I live in the banking capital of America and have no banking skills other than how to use an ATM and balance a checkbook to the red cent every month (the latter being a dying art, by the way). But it just seems like the right thing to do when considering the long term. Irresponsible…maybe. Necessary…definitely.  I want to reset and learn to love life and people because it feels good not simply because it’s the right thing to do. Though work stress isn’t the root of my state of un-wellbeing, it certainly isn’t helping me build a positive attitude and teach my young-uns to do the same.  And that’s not who I want to grow up to be.

I heard someone say that if you can spend a little time getting yourself right then you’ll be able to get your junk out of the way so you can be a better friend / spouse / father/ neighbor/whatever.  That sounds good to me so I’m shoving my canoe into  unknown waters and for once just try to drift gently down the stream with only a paddle to dip in if I get off course, whatever that course reveals itself to be, while I try to scour off all of the crustiness that I’ve put on over the years and learn to be a better man to myself, my fam, and everyone else I run into…and I’m going try not to starve to death.  All are huge challenges, especially without a plan.

I delivered my notice of exodus with no job prospects on the horizon, just a vision of freedom from an industrial sweatshop of stress, the support from a patient wife, and pounds of prayers to the Almighty. It’s terrifyingly delightful. The fog that falls from not having security is thick enough to bag up and stash away for those occasional at-bats when you need to be reigned in after feeling a little too cocky. That fog is heavy and easily chokes out the vision of what could be and it’s filled with doubt, gratitude, fear…and then a single phone call thins it out just a bit.

“Mr. Stewart, are you interested in coming to Alaska as a welding inspector on a pipeline on the North Slope for a few months?” an unknown, pudgy nasal voice asks in the most unfriendly invitational tone I’ve ever heard squawked out of my flip phone.

Alaskan North Slope? In the winter? It’s deadly cold and miserable up there this time of year I’ve heard.  I have way too many doo-dads and loose ends around this house to abandon for any length of time.   My brother lives in Anchorage, though, and I could probably breeze by his place on the way.  Wonder what he’s up to?

Ah, Springtime!

Ah, Springtime!

“Sure,” I tell Sunshine McHappycheer, the most irresistible HR rep what ever was. “I need to reset anyway and I haven’t heard back on my submitted application for jug player with the Avett Brothers so I’m all in.”

And away we go.

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Application under review

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Smells Like

My poor wife is an X Man with the cursed mutation of dog nose.  She smells scents that most of us do not to a degree unexpressed in the standard unit by which we measure them.  Things that are inarguably wafting through the air are exponentially exaggerated in her nostrils.  Then there are those phantom smells that she carries on about that I have neither evidence of their existence nor foundations of their fabrication, so I have to yield to her claims of detection of wet dog feet or 110 volt electricity.  This is a cruel gift for my wife to have because I detest man perfume and tend to stink at all times, but, at least to my knowledge, I am not usually the muse for her poetic, descriptive outbursts of olfactory discoveries.  It would be a fair trade if she were able to harness this burden for the good of mankind…like Woofer from Clue Club used to do.

I knew it all the time.

I knew it all the time.

With her absence from our home over the last few weeks, that mutation has slightly slipped into my nose caves and made me more aware and sometimes less tolerable of everyday smelly vapors.  My office reeks now more than ever of both over indulgence in fruity lady sachets, generous helpings of expensive man perfume, and heavily neutral unclean coworkers.  Most of this is new and, though not unbearable, it is an unappreciated addition to my senses that I wished she would have packed in her suitcase and carried with her during her trip.

I lined up in a pack of trail runners for a race in the mountains of western North Carolina yesterday and was bathed in the aroma of adrenaline, BO, and patchouli…and it was not bad at all.  Actually, it was oddly pleasing…just very loud.  Trail race packs closer to Charlotte are usually unscented to me or pungent with banker’s and financial advisor’s smells of corporate success, wine and cheese, and new cars.  I’m not hating, those fruits are just unfamiliar in my library of smells.

We stink already

We stink already

Church today was filled with what is probably the usual standard potpourri of diverse scents expelled from 150 people all gussied up for Sunday morning service while sharing the close quarters of the sanctuary.  But with my new sympathy mutation, I found myself backed into a corner unable to escape the force of this melting pot of vapors being meticulously crammed through my nose at an unmerciful rate.  What is meant for individual goodness, blessings, and anti-offense becomes an outright nostril bullying when those goodnesses unite in one building in one accord.

I’m sorry for doubting, Rachel.  I’ve been given a mild touch of your dog nose gift and it’s not horrendous but a regretful way to get through the day.  Similar to wishing I could un-see any episode of Days of Our Lives from 2002 to present, it would be nice to un-smell all of this and go back to not knowing the truth about the level of nose stimulants assaulting the air, including the ones that come from me.  I’m starting to think you aren’t complaining you simply report your findings without judgement of others.  I believe your beautiful burden can best be captured by Garrison Keillor’s dog who said, “I wish you people knew how you smell to me.”  I’m starting to get it.  It’s pretty ruff!

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