Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Emotional Fat

I used to backpack several times a year, carrying up to 50 pounds of gear in my JanSport pack. No matter how hard I prepared the trips were always a challenge. I mean really, how can anyone train for a backpacking trip where you carry 1/3 of your body weight for eight hours a day?

Well, you can actually do that. Just get fat. I weighed a nice 145 pounds back then. Today, well, let’s just say I have been carrying that back pack and more for years. Sure I have strong legs. But I also have bad knees, inflammation, and a hard time finding clothes that I feel good in. As I age, it becomes harder and harder to shed the pounds that have been with me for decades. And the longer I keep carrying them, the more damage they do.

It isn’t just extra fat that hurts us. We can also carry a backpack of past hurts, emotional fat so to speak. These grudges weigh more than a meteor and can harm us emotionally just as bad as fat can damage us physically.

How do you know if you are carrying a backpack full of old grudges?

Ask yourself, “How long ago did this egregious act happen to me?” If it was longer than a month then you are a grudge hoarder, someone who lives their life as a victim. If it is longer than 10 years you should consider the self-help section at your local bookstore. If it is when you were in high school 20 or 30 years ago, you need a therapist and your own reality show on A&E. Seriously, you will be weighed down by the emotional backpack you put on every morning and you will never be able to fly nor fully mature into the beautiful flower you were promised at birth. As I tell my Beagle when he has grabbed one of my Smartwool socks, “Let it go!”

This is not to say that people haven’t had bad things happen to them. We all experience such things. But why define ourselves by them? Why not instead define ourselves by our accomplishments and victories instead of our defeats and challenges? I bet those of us who have a laundry list a mile long of “who done me wrongs” probably have a list three miles long of impressive accomplishments and “who done me rights”. It is just figuring out which list you want to live your life by, which flag you want to run up the pole.

I think a great illustration of this can be found on the internet. Have you ever had a health issue and searched for your symptoms? I have come across websites where people complain loudly and beneath their signature they proudly list out every diagnosis in their medical record as though they were college degrees.

“Jon S. Ick.  Type II Diabetes, Ulcerative coalitus, Crohn’s Disease, Hashimoto’s syndrome, osteoarthritis Type 3 class B, Lymes’ Disease, dry eyes, insomnia, restless leg syndrome.”

That is not how I would want to define myself. But hey, everyone is entitled to live in their misery.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

The Long Forgotten Trail

Maybe I’m old school. To me, a trail is a trail. It is dirt, has mud holes and roots and dappled sunlight, and has seen tiger beetles and humans and deer and fox walking upon it. It has no mile marker signs or fluorescent orange spray paint marking trip hazards. A good trail has only a paper map with dotted lines and it sometimes seems to disappear, only to reveal itself again a hundred yards away. The unknown, the challenge, the excitement is all right there waiting to be experienced. I want the unexpected when I go into nature. I want to be surprised and challenged. I want to know how to read the land and navigate by the stars.

Parks I used to frequent no longer give me the  “escape into nature” experience. Every root is painted bright blue or orange so you don’t trip over them. The forests are now managed and burned, with signs telling me all about it. The evidence of human management is everywhere. The trails are becoming “multi-use” so I have to always be on the watch for mountain bikers tearing down the path, whether they are allowed to be there or not, instead of focusing on the beautiful trillium or Dutchman’s Britches or Mourning Cloak butterfly. “On your left!” shouts a runner as they whiz by. Bet they missed the Trillium.

This is all a result of overpopulation. We are taking over every spec of land. I just read that visitors now have to make reservations to view the fireflies at Elkmont in the Smoky Mountains. Reservations to view fireflies. I used to hike there. How fricking depressing.

I have been fortunate in my lifetime. I have backpacked the Rockies, Smokies, Porcupines, and Green Mountains. I have backpacked across the entire State on the Michigan Shore to Shore Riding and Hiking Trail (God forbid they ever try to pave that one) and South Manitou Island. I solo hiked Isle Royal and walked so many of Michigan’s trails I would have to look back into my journals to remember their names. I have lived a month in the wilderness of Alaska, kayaking 200 miles through Prince William Sound. I have canoed the Okefenokee Swamp in the deep South and the Bog River in the Adirondacks Mountains of New York. I have searched for endangered species in caves and talus slopes, bogs and fens, swamps and barrens, fields and forests. All of these adventures were done without carrying a cell phone or a prescription drug. I didn’t die. I didn’t have separation anxiety. I was in heaven. So you can see where I am coming from.

I like wild and natural.

Sadly, I now live in the city. So I try to find places to go where I can at least feel some connection to nature without the presence of human hand. It used to be easy. Many parks in this area afforded the experience and I could wander off trail (violating park rules) and find a secluded place to sit and watch the wonders of nature. I could paddle down rivers without coming across flotillas of drunken partiers in their canoes and inner tubes. 

Things have changed. We are urbanizing nature.

I often wonder when the city folks decide to pave trails that travel from city to city if they ever ask the locals, the country folk and their kids. Really, it is like opening up a new road into their quiet country life. A new access point for the folks from one city or town to travel through the country to the next, a way to go from point A to point B. Gone is the adventure, the discovery, navigating your way down an unknown trail. You can download the app with a map to your smartphone, hop on your $1500 mountain bike wearing your brightly colored high tech biking gear (we used to wear tshirts, blue jean cutoffs, and sneakers which seemed to work just fine) and swiftly ride from one town to the next. Or you can walk it, your Nikes slapping on hot asphalt to the beat of Pink jamming on your iPod.

Your feet never once touch Mother Earth or step in a mud puddle where you might discover some tadpoles or a sipping Swallowtail. You never notice the flowers or the snakes, or the Emerald Jewelwing perched on a leaf.  You are just a body in motion. You don’t hear the song of the wind in the trees, or hop over a brook. It is another step on our journey toward utter detachment from nature.

Some will argue that these “trails” bring people into nature. I would say perhaps some, but for the most part when I have seen folks using them, they are completely tuned out of what is going on around them. They are either speeding on their bikes or snowmobiles or ATVs, jogging, running or walking with headphones on, or talking feverishly with their comrades. 

But Nature does not tune out of our presence. She experiences the interruption, the small scale fragmentation of habitat, the introduction of more invasive species, the increase in litter and noise, the destruction of kids with sticks and feet who like to smash things. Every living thing knows we are there whether we see them or not.

But perhaps the purpose of the groomed trail is not to bring people closer to nature but to provide a route of transportation. So call it what it truly is - a road without cars. Perhaps there needs to be a new movement for the preservation of trails, as in "keep your hands off them" preservation of trails. No grooming, no gravel, no asphalt, no bridges, no trail heads. Just little dirt paths full of adventure.

Wednesday, June 4, 2014

What a World

I am relaxing after work, sipping a cup of coffee and watching a mindless TV show - Cops. Soon I hear a siren. "Wow, that sounds so real" I say to no one. It gets louder and I realize it is real. There is a cop car in front of my house just sitting there with his/her siren going. In fact there are cop cars at every intersection as far as I can see, and others racing up and down the roads. I think of Marshall Dillon and Festus on horseback, kicking up dust in Dodge looking for Johnny Ringo. I grab my iPhone, turn on my scanner app, and listen to the drama unfold. Of course I pause Cops.

Apparently some medium complexion dude in a red sweatshirt and red shorts is running through my neighborhood with a gun, likely he has just been involved in a shooting. The cops get a tip from someone and descend on a house exactly one block over. Got em!  Wait, I just saw this on Cops!

What is crazy about this whole scene isn't the gunman or the cops, it is the two little girls a few doors down, playing on the sidewalk. They don't even look up at the cops racing around the neighborhood, or pay any attention to the sirens. They just keep playing. Obviously the mother isn't paying any attention either. She lets them stay out on the sidewalk, totally exposed to whoever is running loose with a firearm.

The neighbors two doors past the children are out on the swing and in their lawn chairs, drinking coffee. An armed criminal is running around the neighborhood and no one seems to care. Now granted I have a scanner, I know what is happening. But still. Even if I didn't, common sense would tell me to get my children indoors, and my own ass, and lock the door. I am a country girl. I am not comfortable with any of this and I hope I never get comfortable with any of this.

I have been watching Cops lately to learn about some of my neighbors. I see these characters walking up and down my street every day. Every year is different here on Indiana Avenue. A few years ago it was gangs. They left the same year. Then it was pretty peaceful for the next several years. But this one, well, let's just say it is one for the record books. An ex con walks his baby up and down the middle of the street several times a day. He is nice but I have seen some of those tattoos on Lock Up Raw. Then there's the three guys that love to race up and down the street on minibikes, all day long on the weekends. I heard one crying last Saturday morning, he is pushing his battered bike up the sidewalk out of the park, right next to my house. Crashed. "Dog no!" he keeps moaning. Oh, and of course let's not forget my crazy, abusive neighbor. Who knows what he will do on any given day. Right now? Straw bales stacked 10 feet high so he can climb on his roof. Straw bales that are now decomposing.

Then there are the renters next to him, one guy named Matt staggers over with an almost empty wine bottle, plops down on one of my straw garden bales, and proceeds to talk non-stop about how he used to manage a substance abuse residential treatment center. Really. My friends Sylvia, Lyle (a minister), and I are peacefully trying to make maple sugar and enjoy the night.  But wait there's more! Before Matt comes over, a coworker and his son stop by to drop off some logs. I show him around my home, they want to shell some corn with my old 1800's corn grinder, so I let them. In the midst of their joy, bang bang bang someone starts shooting a gun in the park behind my house. I am embarrassed and feel trapped. I can't get out of the city.

Before long, Matt wanders over to me and says "I have a question for you. I have to relieve myself, your know, urine? I didn't just want to, you know, well I don't know all of you very well so I thought I'd ask...". Ask what? Can I piss in your yard? Right in front of you? I tell Matt to go home.

How did I ever end up here?

I have started buying one Powerball ticket every week, hoping I will win so I can buy 200 acres of beautiful land and put a little log cabin or an Airstream right smack in the middle of it. Personally, I am opposed to gambling. Look what I am becoming. But I can't help it. It seems like it is my only hope. Probably the same way some drug dealers think.

I don't belong here.