They’re all bad

Statistically speaking, I think it’s safe to say that my ideas are bad. I don’t mean that they are malignant or somehow wicked, just that 97% percent of them are less than what I’m hoping for. Half of them are below average.

And I’m learning to be ok with that.

I’m not looking for more average, I’m on the hunt for outliers. What’s that one thing, or that small cluster, which once implemented which will create a wave a change, a veritable cascade of value.

Take food for example. A tremendous amount of calories must be ingested in order to supply our natural bodies, and without that steady intake – we suffer. For many thousands of years, it was of highest importance to maintain food supply. Recently, the food supply in some parts of the world has been stabilized, and now we can turn our attention to other things – like this.

Insulin. A tiny amount is the difference between vigorous life and certain death.

It doesn’t matter if Banting, McLeod, Best, and Collip discovered dozens, or tens of thousands, of “dud”, or “useless”, organ extracts and organic compounds in the body. Insulin made it all worth it.

Like this blog. I expect to look back on this posts years from now and find that I’ve grown in understanding between now and then. The work I am doing now, even the work that I am putting the most energy and focus into, will hopefully look antiquated in light of the work I have yet to do.

So I’m ok with “bad” ideas. Ideas that don’t go anywhere. Ideas that don’t pan out to be game changing for me. I can let these go and move on. The only way to find the best ideas is to keep looking.

There yet remains undiscovered insulin.

Echoes

I think it was about this time of year, five years gone now, that I sat with Dr. Krakowka in his backyard in Columbus Ohio. Over a beer or two, and the course of an evening, we talked about pathology, and philosophy, and life in general. I don’t remember all of our conversation, but I remember him insisting that I should read a certain book, one I had never heard of, Zen and The Art of Motorcycle Maintenance.

There was an abundance of reading material during that time in veterinary school, so I was in no rush to add yet another title to the laundry list of things I ought to read.

Several months later, while collecting my cap and tassel from the University bookstore, I saw the very same book Dr. K had spoke of. I had a few extra dollars left on my school account (useful for paying for printing, but I wouldn’t need much more of that as I was graduating) so I purchased the text.

I at first found it to be rather boring, so I only read a couple chapters and gave up. But because Dr. K had spoken so highly of it, I opened it again and engaged with it.

It seemed disjointed to me, like it lacked direction, because that is precisely the plight of the protagonist. He is lost. He is tired. He isn’t sure whether he can connect to the world around him anymore. Fragmented memories haunt him and he often sees the “ghost” of who he used to be.

It’s been one decade since I first went to The University of Idaho. Ten years can seem like a very short time, but at this point in my life – setting off for the north was nearly a third of my entire life-experience ago, and I’m no longer the same person.

In the last couple years, I’ve had a few of these ghostly experiences. It always happened after some particularly strong memory was triggered. I experienced a wave of emotions, the very same emotions that were with me years ago during the formation of that memory. What made the experience strange, was becoming aware of how much I have changed since then. Not in an overbearing way, but just seeing that the choices Daniel made then, are not always the same choices I would make now, and by extrapolation – everyone else in those memories has also gone extraordinary change in the same time.

Will I even remember writing this in another ten years? What will I think then of how I choose to interact, or not, with my son Ivan, who not able to do much of anything right now at only 2 months old. What about my eldest Katarina, turning 2 years old in just a couple weeks and full of joyful fire? How will today’s choices carry through the next short decade, during which we will all change again?

Your Choice

My friend and I were daydreaming about leaving Moscow Idaho. It was a sunny spring day, as we drove the Moscow Pullman highway east into Idaho. I don’t remember if we were in my Silverado, or in her Subaru, but we talked of how beautiful it would be to visit the National Parks in Utah right at that moment.

As our discussion covered the Colorado river, the red rocks, the abundance of open land, and incredible places we could visit – it was as if the idea became tangible and began to take shape. We both grew quiet. She quietly said “but we can’t go yet, we have finals next week”.

I don’t remember exactly what I replied, but I was often truculent those days, and I challenged her perspective.

Why couldn’t we leave? Of course we would miss the final examination next week, and maybe we would fail the class, but what was really stopping us from doing just that? Why not just head for the mountains right then, and figure the rest out on the way? Does the fact that we had already completed three years of college mean we have to finish our final year? What was really stopping us from dropping our plans then and there, on the Moscow Pullman Highway, and just continuing our drive across the continent?

It’s a choice that keeps us.

I think this was the message of The Truman Show, when our beloved protagonist chose to leave – there was nothing that could stop him. Storms, false-friends, and the entire community organized against him wasn’t enough to keep him there.

There is a great freedom that comes with the realization that we have the power to leave, that we are no trapped, that we have a choice – and that very same breath of freedom also brings the mantle of responsibility.

If we choose to stay, we also choose to accept the consequences of staying. If we leave, we bear both the good and the bad that comes with that. As it is written in Galatians 6 “for whatsoever a man sows, that shall he also reap”.

Funnels and Flow

Pouring of liquids has mildly fascinated me for as long as I can remember. I think it’s the grace that is in the flow of a small stream, the way it bends and bubbles around the rocks, and especially how it maintains a shape as it falls short distances.

Haliburton Forest, overflow of Lake Havelock

I remember one occasion where my chore allotment was to wash dishes after dinner. I was dreading how long it would take (it was always longer than sweeping the floor or clearing the table) and rather than buckling down and washing, I began playing with the water. I poured cup full after cup full of water into the plastic drying basin (looked like this) and watched the water flow from the little holes in the cutlery pockets.

The water at first flowed straight, and fast, from those little holes, but as the tub emptied, the angle changed and the point-of-impact of the three little streams changed as well. I spent so long playing like this that the water grew cool, and dad came in the kitchen and asked if I was ok. It was bedtime and I still hadn’t finished my chores.

I had opportunities to pour more fluids than just dirty dishwater as I grew older, and they all pour a little differently. Cold milk flows quite a bit differently than hot tea. Engine oil and and gasoline are vastly different. And of course, the lip and shape of containers I poured from had a great impact on how the fluids flowed.

Over time this became a game for me, and watching my dad, a chemist with a steady hand pour exquisitely well, I always tried to free-hand it.

I went out to spray some ant-hills yesterday, and as I went to transfer the solution from one half-full container to the other half-full container, I felt like using a funnel. I’ve used funnels many times before, when the costs of spilling solution were higher than a little cleanup of milk or petrol, but this time I didn’t really need the funnel – it just seemed natural to use it.

It struck me in that moment that something has changed in me, and I can’t pinpoint exactly when it happened. Maybe it is the influence of the woodworking, and conscientiously taking extra time and effort to use the circular saw “just so”. Maybe it is an effect of fatherhood, and watching my daughter uncannily imitate my motions and words. Maybe it is from owning a business and being aware that seemingly insignificant choices, and changes, amplified over time, can influence a large ship.

Whatever may be the cause, my lifestream will continue to change as it flows through shallow sandy beds, turbulent stoney outcroppings, and quiet pools.

There is no going backward in this flow. There is no stopping of this river.

There is the chance to prepare yourself. The chance to train and be ready for the many rocks that lay ahead. The chance to move lithely through those terrors rather than smashed and broken upon them.

Bitchin’

I honestly don’t mean to be controversial, nor inflammatory, with that title.

I’ve thought, off and on, of writing this post for a few months now, since Independence Day 2019.

July 4th 2019 was the release date of Stranger Things Season 3, and that expression was used several times that series. It didn’t strike me as vulgar when it was said. The more I have thought about it, the more I think it fit with the story the Duffer brothers had been telling since the first season.

Stranger Things again, and again, challenges us to stand up for what we believe is right. Even when everyone around refuses to believe, despises, or even outright persecutes – each character is still expected to carry their convictions through.

In the first season, Joyce has to stand up to every single person in her life about her belief that her missing son yet lives. Hopper takes on the state police force. Steve calls out the manipulative and abusive behavior of his closest friends…. the list goes on for each person who must personally face significant pain, or danger, to follow through on their convictions – and the one glaring cautionary tale is the gentle Barbara Holland.

Barb isn’t into mischief, and he seems to be doing OK at avoiding trouble in her life. She is trying to be a friend to Nancy, but when Nancy heads for clear trouble, Barb allows herself to be talked into a bad idea. She knows what is right for her to do, but she allows herself to be talked into taking a road that deep down she knows is wrong. Her compliance to Nancy’s enticements ends up costing her very life, and she’s one of the only named-characters to get devoured by the Demogorgon.

So going back to the word bitchin’. I had a bitch, an Australian Shepherd with two beautiful blue eyes, and she was fierce, vigilant, and attacked both raccoons and coyotes that came too close to our farm. Eleven and company were a lot like that in Stranger Things. Each person was called on to be fierce, to be vigilant, to fight evil…and in that way, bitchin’ seemed like the perfect term.

Caring For Storm

Katarina was playing in the backyard, by herself, while I worked in the garage the other afternoon.

She’s only 19 months old, and in that short time she’s shown much independence and an understanding of the world around her.

I heard an excited yipping, that sounded almost like the squeaking of our puppy Perry, but not quite. I figured it was the neighbors’ puppy, Storm, barking at Katarina from across the fence, but to be sure it wasn’t an escaped Perry, I went out on the porch to check.

Sure enough, it was Storm yipping. I expected that Katarina might be frightened by that, and that she would be crying, or come running my way for me to pick her up, but she was doing the very opposite. She was walking right toward the fence that separated her and the excited dog across the fence.

Katarina didn’t notice that I had walked out on the porch, so I just watched her quietly. She was holding something shiny in her hands as she walked toward the fence. I was wondering at that moment if I should intervene, because maybe Storm would take whatever was in her hand and carry it away. Just as I was about to call out to her, she said “water?” in a questioning voice (when she says water, it sounds more like the word wire, but we still get the meaning).

Then it all came together for me.

The shiny thing in her hands was Perry’s stainless steel water bowl, still a quarter full of water, and she was offering it to Storm. It was beautiful to see her offering him help.

The Path

I thought this was a new path. I had to find a way of my own in the wilderness. Like Bilbo, the hero from my childhood, the steps I took led me deeper out of my comfort zone, farther and farther out of what I had expected my life to look like. Even as I took those steps, I suppose that I thought I would find some place to call home.

I don’t remember the last time that I played hide and seek in the backyard with my friends, I remember playing that game so many times, but I can’t remember the last time. That last time came, the last game I was ever to play with them, and I didn’t know it for what it was.

Each step I take makes my history longer and leaves me with yet more memories of things that once were, but will not be again for me.

My grandparents have all moved on. I have memories of Grandma Jenny, Grandma Elaine, and Grandpa Carl – but my daughter will never know them. Her world is one that doesn’t have them.

And yet.

Yet these roads are well worn. Generations upon generations have walked this way and have asked the same questions. I understand more of why Jacob said to the Pharaoh “The days of the years of my sojourning are 130 years. Few and evil have been the days of the years of my life, and they have not attained to the days of the years of the life of my fathers in the days of their sojourning.”

The fact is, I never will find my home in this world. One day I’ll write my very last blog post, one day my fingers will hit these keys, now worn smooth by my typing, for the last time. The last line of code, the last words, the last thoughts. I don’t know when that day will arrive, but I know that this time I have been given is an incredible gift.

Later, some time after Jacob had spoke to Pharaoh with those tormented and heavy words, he reached the end of his journey, and summoning his strength one last time, he knew it was his final chance, he sat up and spoke a great blessing on his sons.

Enough Data

I am finding that most of my decisions are made with enough data, and this is a different perspective on a trend I have been aware of for a handful of years now.

I want more data for my decisions, and I have continually wanted more data since I graduated veterinary school. Honestly it started before graduation. I was working as a Kennel Assistant (caring for dogs and cats, and cleaning their kennels, on Saturdays and some holidays) for a successful veterinarian in Columbus Ohio.

He took time to mentor me, making my work in the kennels much more valuable for me than just learning how to pill cats and dogs, and getting paid $9 an hour. Discussing the bloodwork on a case, and the unknown factors, I told him how I felt.

I felt like I was in a dark room, and I could see just past the end of my nose. I was looking for something, and the only way to find it was to reach out into the darkness, beyond how far I could see, and take hold of it. My mentor’s response suprised me – he said “don’t worry, after a decade in practice I still feel that way”.

Ah, I was hoping that he was just trying to make me feel better about my ignorance of many things. I was hoping that feeling would subside over time, but nearly 4 years into this arena and it hasn’t gone away. It’s kind of like a shapeshifter. Every time I solve a problem, every time I learn a system, every time I grasp the issue, I find a deeper level of meaning waiting to be understood.

So now I am learning to follow the rest of my mentor’s advice and to abide that uncertainty and make the best decision with what I have, and then learn more, and decide again. Wash, rinse, repeat. Iterate.

Don’t let the uncertainty paralyze you. You may have enough data.

One Bucket

What good is a single bucket of water on a house fire?

If you had that single bucket of water, would you pour it on the house aflame? Or would you put it on the wall of house next door, to help prevent it from catching? Or would you offer it as a drink to the other people fighting the fire?

Just don’t despise your single bucket of water. Use it. Then go fill it again and use it again.

Think about the boy that gave Jesus his five small barley loaves and two fish.

What is the story I want to tell?

I see a scene of late summer, early afternoon and the air dry and restless. The grass has grown long and the weeds tall across the hills. Kneeling on the ground, near to a scrub oak, she carefully considers the remaining supplies in her pack and takes a bearing. She knows she needs to make a couple more miles before nightfall, and she’s being deliberate. She’s young, maybe twelve or thirteen years old, and I don’t know why she isn’t with anyone else. Something terrible has happened and this is her way forward. She is not in immediate danger, but she knows she is not in a place of safety either. She must be vigilant. There’s a seriousness to the situation, but she is not panicking.

I’m not sure where she came from. I don’t know where she is going, and I’m not even sure why it matters. When I tried to write about her story it seemed so jumbled, so scattered, that I didn’t enjoy reading the few lines I put down.

Maybe I will put down some more lines, and this story could yet reveal itself.

Spaces

I was incredibly fortunate to be a child with open spaces all around me. There was a pile of old haybales in the loft of our horse barn. I rearranged the pile in such a way that there was a space for me to sleep with soft hay below me, and walls of bales all around me. Occasionally during the January winter nights, I would go sleep on that hay pile. I can still remember one night in specific. My dog Esther was with me, and we could occasionally hear the rustle of one of the goats in a stall below us, or the gentle bellow of of one of the cows (yes we let our beef cows use the beautiful horse stalls). On that night it was snowing, and when the wind picked up, I can still see the way the flurries came dancing and gliding under the eves and settled on the cold oak floorboards.

This was only of the many spaces that I had claimed as a young man. There was also the massive limb of a giant white oak tree that grew on our neighbors’ hill. That one limb was as large around as many decent trees ever grew to be, and it had a perfect bend and arch to it that let me lay on it and watch the woods from a short distance up. I once asked a dendrologist about the possible age of those oaks. From their location, size, and history of logging in that region of Ohio – he said they could be around two-three centuries old.

When I went to University, I found the available spaces to be much less common. My alma mater had an absolutely delightful Arboretum (the other “Old”, and mostly forgotten, Arboretum had a rich history, but I’m talking about the “New” Arboretum here), and I spent oh so many evenings there with my thoughts to accompany me. Many times I went there with my closest friends, and other times it was the place to find solitude. On one occasion, there was half a dozen of us that went up late one Friday or Saturday night. When the dawn drew nigh, we climbed the hill and sat on the roof of a small storage shed, that was situated under the campus water-tower. This shed was a stone’s throw from a hedgerow that lined the backyard of the President’s house. We sat there and watched the sun rise up over the city.

I was some months later at a dinner with President Nellis, and I told the First Lady (Ruthie) that I loved the Arboretum tremendously, and how once I was with some friends sitting on the roof of the old shed and I apologized if we ever got too loud when we were so close to their home. She said “oh we can hear you students in the middle of the night, but it doesn’t bother us too much, we love and enjoy the arboretum too”.

But the UI Arboretum wasn’t even the space where I had my most memorable moments. That most precious space was Alice’s Room. Way up on the fourth floor of the Commons building (now called the Student Union), Alice’s Room was a small place of beauty, with wood panels and a wall of glass that looked out over Phinney Hall. You could see a long way from up there.

In the cold winter nights, the air was crisp and clear and there were a thousand points of light out in the night. There was also a steam plant down below on Line St, and the floo gas rhythmically drifted up and curled out into the night. It was mesmerizing. Sitting in that room, always in silence, gave me new perspective. When the tempest raged in my head, I could escape to Alice’s Room and ride out the storm of emotion and the chaos of thoughts. More than once I desperately hoped the janitor would forget to check the room, and instead just lock the door. That way I could spend the entire night in there, but just a few minutes before locking the building down, he would always find me in there and kindly tell me he was about to lock up.

I don’t know if I’ll ever get back to any of those spaces, and if I do, they won’t be the same. My memories are not of simple physical places, but of the stage I was in and how those spaces were interwoven with my life. Those spaces are part of my story now.

Story in Song

Bob Dylan was able to tell an entire story in just a few lines of verse. It’s an absolutely beautiful thing. Take the first verse of The Times They Are a Changin.

A repetitious and technically basic guitar strumming carries the song. It is just fast enough to make you to cause some internal tension, but it never sounds rushed. He calls out far and wide “come gather ’round people wherever you roam” and asks them to reevaluate their position in society and in life “and admit that the waters around you have grown”.

He spends just a little extra time to draw out his question – “if your time to you is worth saving” and follows it rapidly with his own answer “then you better start swimmin or you’ll sink like a stone”, but this game of question and answer is just a lead up to what he really wants to say. “The times they are a changin”, which he accents with a blast from his harmonica. This is the centerpiece of all of the song.

That is a truly outstanding level of storytelling. Bob is compelling and leaves you with a chill, and the entire song is less barely over three minutes long.

However, today I also want to talk about another artist, and a specific song that has blessed me many times, and just yesterday I was singing it very loudly in the truck. It has such a well-crafted first verse, that can be written in two distinct, yet equally true and beautiful, ways.

Consider the first verse – “I am weary with the pain of Jacob’s wrestling, in the darkness with a fear” – describing the state of being and then referencing this very famous story immediately gives us an entire perspective on that state. Not just weary, but weary as one would be after years of self-seeking and deceiving family members, years of living in fear, working incredibly hard for a goal only to be conned out of it by his own uncle. And then the next line in the song is magnificently written – because it can be written in two distinct ways and either way is completely accurate.

Option 1. “But He met the mourning-wounded with a blessing, so in the night, my hope lives on”. I take this to mean that He (Christ) met the mourning and wounded man (Jacob) with a blessing. As you know in the story, Jacob wrestled all night long and would not let go of Christ, and his (Jacob’s) hip was thrown out of socket and he received a blessing, a new name, from Christ. Therefore the hope of the songwriter lives on because even though he may be wounded and mourning, Christ will bless him in due time.

Option 2. “But he met the morning, wounded, with a blessing, so in the night my hope lives on”. Reading it this way, I can see a focus on Jacob wrestling all night long, and not letting go. He (Jacob) made it all night long, and even though he was wounded, he received a blessing when the morning came. In this case the songwriter takes heart in remembering the suffering of Jacob, now and his hope will live through the night because he has the example of Jacob to remember.

I don’t know which way Andrew Peterson thinks of when he sings this song, but it blesses me as it is.

Aging

You’ve changed and it took me a moment to recognize you. Your hair once thick with the hue of a late autumn forest, is but a thin forgotten gray.

They speak of the years being kind and of the days pleasant, but on your face the years have drawn deep lines, and on your cheeks the days have worn long.

Yet I see the same old friend when I look into your eyes. The life-flame within you grows still strong.

Overwatch 2001

This has nothing to do with the incredibly popular video game Overwatch. This post is about the game I first played in 2001 – “Halo: Combat Evolved”. It was an incredible experience for me. The first night I had played it, when it came to go to bed, sleep eluded me. I am one that often has no memory of turning the light off (in fact I frequently have fallen asleep with the light still on). On that night, sleep eluded me. Instead I had eidetic memories of battling grunts and jackals.

I had never played a video game with such a responsive enemy before. The intelligence was creepy. Yes the NPCs had their starting positions, but they moved and responded to me in such a way that it felt like I was really there. I got lost in the game for a while, they had at the first passed my Turing test.

Eventually I traversed the uncanny valley and the game took a much more mundane role in my imagination. The AI was scripted and bounded. It was, after all, hollow and dead inside once you had dug deep enough.

And yet there was still magic to be found in that game, not by the games designers, but within our own imagination – in recreating a moment that had impressed me as a boy a couple years before.

This scene.

An excellent story of honor, love, sacrifice… I recommend watching that film in its entirety. It will move you.

Anyway, that scene had especially impressed me and my younger sister, Elizabeth, and in cooperatively replaying Halo many times over, we had found a way to recreate that scene. In fact I can still remember exactly how we did it,

We would sit in the room upstairs in my mom and dad’s house, the old room with pink carpet and thick walls, that had once been part of the original log cabin. I had an alarm clock that was also a CD player. It had a cracked screen. It had a function to increase volume until the snooze button or shut off was pressed, and it would occasionally get all the way to maximum volume before waking me up. Unfortunately for my dear family, it would wake all of them up at that level. On one occasion, I finally woke in a panic because my family was yelling at me to shut it off, and in my haste to do so – I knocked it off the table and cracked the screen.

Elizabeth and I would play together, over an hour through one of the longest stages in the game, Two Betrayals, and make it to the Final Run.

Two Betrayals. Halo: Combat Evolved

A legion of enemy warriors, including even two armored tanks and a dozen dug-in infantry troops, waited for us at the other end of the valley.

We would then put, into that old CD player, the soundtrack (that we probably had downloaded from Napster) of the “The Last of The Mohicans”.

Most often I, but on occasion I would allow my little sister to do it, would sneak out ahead and steal one of the flying ships from the enemy. Ideally one would use the powerful weapons of the flying ship to bombard the entrenched enemy position, or at least to take out the heavily armored tanks, but in this case we would park our vehicled on a very high ledge and instead pull out the sniper rifle.

The other player, previoulsy watching and patiently waiting, would now arm themselves with the shotgun and an assault rifle, and with the Last of the Mohicans Music resonating in the room, the person on the ground would let out a battle cry and charge the enemy position. The trick of that person was mainly to avoid the massive cannon blasts from the enemy armor and to charge straight for the door on the far end of the valley, all the while the person up on the bridge sat in overwatch.

Up on the bridge I could see the full battlefield and I would use the sniper rifle to protect my friend from the attacking infantry. We made believe that we were the legendary Uncas and Hawkeye while we provided cover for our brave hero that was face to face with the enemy.

That is a most precious memory of a shared experience with my sister Elizabeth, and one I will continue to treasure.

New Lights and Learning

A recent past weekend, I took on a project that scared me. I ran electric wire to one side of our garage and installed two lights, two switches, and an outlet.

I learned more through this little project than I thought I would. That is funny to me because it means that I was ignorant about how much I was ignorant.

I learned to appreciate the wonderful role of a fuse. At first it was frustrating when it blew and everything went dark, then I realized that I had wired a simple switch incorrectly. I put the positive on one terminal and negative on the other. A quick Google image search showed me my error immediately. I created an uninterrupted loop, that would have resulted in overheated wire. The fuse stopped that dangerous progress.

I also learned more about drilling through concrete. I learned why outlet boxes come in so many depths. A small project, just to add light to the front yard, taught me so much.

Bathhouse Row

This was my first time to visit the historic Bathhouse Row in Hot Springs, AR. Tiffany, Katarina and I had a wonderful stroll down, up and back down Bathhouse Row. We were late to town and ended up only having a few minutes in the National Park Visitors Center. It was still worth the visit and gave us a glimpse of what once was at Bathhouse Row.

The beautiful old structures had gilded fronts and architecture honoring the Spanish missions and the ancient Roman bathhouses. The interior was dominated by marble, brass, and steel.

The thought that returned to me again and again, when we visited each ornate structure, was “how this must have looked like in its heyday!”. Looking at the historical visitation records it may not be impressive that 265,000 people visited in 1926, but considering the limitations on transportation at that time, Bathhouse Row would have been a magnificent sight. I imagine it full of people and energy, just bursting to the seams with excitement. In one of the bathhouses, it was written that ladies had waited for hours for an available bath.

I felt like Bathhouse row was just a frame of what it used to be. Walking amongst the buildings was like looking at an old photograph, quiet and lonely now, which had once been beautiful and bustling.

I want to visit Hot Springs again, I want to breathe more of it, and I want to be in the history of it.

Out front of The Arlington, that old castle of Hot Springs Arkansas

Hallucination

Hallucination – an experience involving the apparent perception of something not present.a sensory experience of something that does not exist outside the mind, caused by various physical and mental disorders, or by reaction to certain toxic substances, and usually manifested as visual or auditory images.

Dictionary.com

Back in my late teens, I had an especially busy year at Hocking College. I was taking around twenty credits, tutoring for a handful of classes (Equine Anatomy and Physiology, Ichthyology, and Aquatic Ecology), as well as preparing for a summer of adventure in Moab, Utah.

I was very tired from all the activity, so occasionally I would fall asleep reading a book, or during lecture. Sometimes the days ran long, and after 9:00 pm I would still be at school. It was an hour drive back to my home, and since I had to be back by 6:00 or 7:00 the next morning, I would just sleep in the tack room of the colt-barn (I was breaking a three year old colt that year so I had access to that barn).

I knew that I was tired, but I felt like I could manage it and just keep going – until the night I hallucinated. I had a regularly scheduled tutor time that evening. I would sit in one of the empty classrooms available to help anyone who needed it for that course. In this case I don’t remember if was preparing for Ichthyology or Aquatic Ecology. Nonetheless I was waiting in one of the laboratory/classrooms, in the downstairs of the CNR building. In that beautiful place, we had the Rock Lab, the Mammals Lab, the Fish Lab, and the Duck Lab (which I was in). It was evening, most classes were finished and students had left and I was all alone.

Rather than sit idly, I had one of my textbooks out for another course and was perusing when I decided to turn on some music. Putting my earbuds in and pushing play, Dvorzac serenaded me. After a minute of reading I noticed something move out of the corner of my eye. I quickly looked up at the doorway because I thought someone must be here for tutoring and trying to get my attention.

Nothing,

I went back to reading and, then again, I noticed movement in my periphery. I looked back at the doorway and no one was there. I looked around the lab to my right and left, and no one was there. The room was entirely empty.

Then I looked up and I saw the movement which had caught my eye.

All around the room. Perched on top of the glass display cases, perched on top of the cabinets, and the mounted on the walls, were dozens of museum-mounted waterfowl. Gadwalls, Canvasbacks, Pintails, Shovelers, Redheads, Mergansers – each and every one of them were swaying. Like a well orchestrated dance troupe, they were moving and bobbing in rhythm to the New World Symphony.

I was dumbfounded. I knew that they were museum mounts and quite enough still, but yet I could see them swaying. I plucked the music from my ears and as the song in my head quieted down, so did the ducks.

I realized at that point in my life that I should be sleeping more.

The Foreignness of a Newborn Babe

I have seen hundreds, and perhaps thousands, of newborn Holstein calves over the last 3 and a half years.

Back in veterinary school, I saw a black calf with white spots, or vice versa. Now I see so much more in a calf.

I see chest and hip shape, muzzle curve, ear angles, neck length, elbow rotation, fetlock breakover, craniolateral position of the eyes and more. I am not even trying to look at those things, I just see them now. It fascinates me because it was happening over time without my full knowledge.

There is some part of my brain that collects, stores, and compares those measurements and observations, without me even aware of it, and it is working all the time. It’s a process that builds, and even as it conitinually ran in the background of my brain, I never really noticed it until my daughter was born.

Katarina taking her first of many naps

In that moment that I saw her present to the world, I realized, like Jon Snow, I knew nothing. It was humbling to see this little life and not know anything about how a brand new human looks. It was a token moment, feeling like the moment the window pane trembles, and the walls shudder, under the lashing rain and burgeoning gusts of a thunderstorm. In that instance, you realize just how much the window and walls mean to your survival.

Seeing her for the first time told me very clearly that my life had crossed some threshold and would never be the same.

Our ship had found itself in new waters.

When I Needed Nails

I had a certain amount of free time at my Alma Mater, when I was nestled in that beautiful northern land of Moscow, Idaho.

The amount of time waxed and waned with the cycles of the semester. In the most crowded of seasons, I was with Chi Alpha, studies, Resident Assistant duties, College of Natural Resources Ambassador events, and volunteering with the capital Dr. Finch – that I planned out my entire day in 15 minute blocks – including the shower.

When the pendulum swung the other way, specifically late finals week, or during some of the holidays, I had an over-abundance of free time. One Thanksgiving break, I spent a couple 14 hours days in the computer lab going through Excel modules and teaching myself ANOVA, and on another occasion I watched all 4 Shrek movies in a single day.

Well one of these free days, I believe it was during a class cancellation due to a snow day (which in Idaho meant we got something like 40 inches of snow in a couple hours), I decided to practice my art of picking locks. I purchased a padlock or two and went about to make a set of rudimentery picks.

Snow day University Of Idaho 2011

I already had an anvil, and a forging hammer, so all I needed was some small pieces of decently strong steel. Tool steel, like that found in a screwdriver or a blade, would be too brittle to fashion into a pick on a cold anvil. The blends used in coated paper clips aren’t stiff enough at their size, so I settled on the desire to find some old non-galvanized nails, and if I worked them around on the anvil for a bit I could harden them up enough to make a functional pick.

It would have been easy to aquire those nails if I had been back at the farm, for dad kept a broad variety of styles and sizes in a coffee can in the garage. I didn’t know anyone nearby Moscow with a woodshop or an old nails box. So I went walking the streets, leatherman in my pocket, looking for a pile of deserted pallets, or scraps of wood. These piles proved elusive, and then the thought came to check the old telephone and electric poles.

Jackpot.

Within a couple blocks of 6th street, and a few minutes of pulling and prying with my trusty Leatherman, I had a range of old nails and more than enough for my project. Staples, useless to my purposes, outnumbered the nails a thousand to one, but there were still ample nails for me. As I removed them, I wondered what flyer, or missing pet poster, those nails must have originally held, and how many years before had someone, standing at that very spot, placed it – only to be forgotten shortly after?

When I needed nails, someone from the past, their reasoning now long forgotten, had placed them into an utility pole for me. Long after their original purpose of holding a flyer had ended, tens of thousands, if not millions, of people had passed them by, and yet none of them took the nails for their own.

When I needed nails, I found them right out in front of us all, available to everyone, yet left for me.

Anna’s Canyon Cafe

We parked on the historic route 66 in Williams Arizona and found cold and clean air a refreshing change for the morning.

Walking just around the block, we stopped in at Anna’s Canyon Cafe for breakfast. It was still early, and the only patrons in there were a couple members of the Sheriffs department and an elderly couple.

The decor was simple and antique Western just as you’d expect. Gilded mirrors and western photos adorned the walls. The old wood floor and bar, with a green chair rail all around, and swinging double doors to the backroom, made it feel like a saloon.

Sourdough toast is always a hit with our little SOE Agent (not really an SOE agent, we just like to pretend she is)

I had the veggie omelette, Tiffany ordered the sausage, biscuit and gravy, Katarina ate from both of our plates we all three enjoyed our food. If you like a quiet place for a hot comforting breakfast (crispy and oily hash browns were in both our dishes) check out Anna’s Canyon Cafe. They’ve taken care to save some of that old wild west feel.

I Found You!

Parenthood has forever changed me, kind of like marriage did.

Back when I was a single man, I had so much time alone. Evening after evening, if I didn’t have plans with friends, I went to sleep in silence. I often ate my supper alone. I watched the television program that I wanted to, or listened to the music that I wanted to (I must have played Emotionalism a couple hundred times). My bathroom cabinet was stocked only with products that I used. The blankets and sheets on my bed were the blankets and sheets that I chose. Yes I was limited by budget and location, but other than that I had full autonomy. I could get anything I wanted from the local Salvation Army, and decorate my apartment in the best way I saw fit.

After marrying, I found a forever date. Dinner out – now always for two. I get to consider someone else in every decision.

Now that we have a baby, the dynamic has changed again.

It’s a whole new level of taking another into consideration.

Even when my wife and I step out on the porch for a few minutes of coffee and contemplation, and our little one is happily playing with her cousin and auntie Emily, she will find us. She is not easily dissuaded.

Made a Mistake

I made a mistake last week.

A friend set up a training session for some fellows in our new church plant. These guys have signed up to volunteer on a specific team, and they need to go through the training before they are cleared to volunteer.

I am the coordinator for that team in our new church, and we are very short handed, so it was a great help to me that my friend set up the training. An older fellow agreed to do the training, and I had two guys on my team who said they could go to the training.

As we got closer to the date of the training, Sunday at 9:00 am, I confirmed the RSVP with the two guys on my team. I had hoped for more guys to be able to make it, and I didn’t want to waste the time of the older fellow.

Everything looked like it was going to turn out well, and then Saturday morning I got a message that no one showed up for the training.

The training was Saturday morning, not Sunday morning.

I had misread the message and put it on my calendar on the wrong day. I had told those fellows the wrong day!

Because of my mistake a significant amount of time was wasted. I felt so bad, I called the fellow that was to lead the training and apologized, I called the fellows on my team and explained the mix-up.

Still I felt bad.

I felt like I shouldn’t have stepped up to coordinate the team, like they would be better off without me. I felt like I was the reason for much pain in these fellows lives – but that isn’t true. I made a mistake. I did not intentionally cause these men any trouble.

If this had been the other way, if someone had stood me up because they misread my message and they had the wrong date, I would understand and I would not think ill of them.

So why do I feel so much worse, about myself, than I would about someone else?

Simplify Your Life

That was the message of what might, or might not, have been the very first class lecture in my time at veterinary school. It’s possible there were other lectures before it, but that was the most memorable lecture of the early days.

Like most other lectures, this one began with a PowerPoint show, unlike other lectures it was a quick succession of pictures. Dr. Jim said he would share with us the secret to success at veterinary school.

First picture up was of Fabio, in all his extravagance, and Dr. Jim said “if this is your boyfriend, break up with him”.

Then a picture of a Black Lab, “if this is your pet, get rid of it’.

A picture of a nice suburban home, “if this is your home, sell it”.

Finally he put up a picture similar to the following.

“This is what your life should look like. If any of your classmates around you recognized immediately what that picture is, beware of them, that is a prison cell. And that is exactly what your life outside of veterinary school should look like. Nothing extra.”

So many times we are distracted and not focused. We are trying to do many things at once, and not doing any of them as well as we want. If that’s the case, maybe we should take Dr. Jim’s advice and trim out the fatty things holding us back.

Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us


Hebrews 12:1 ESV

“Hello Beastie”

Those two words have meant much to me over the last decade.

You can watch the clip that contains that quote here. It’s a memorable point in the somewhat forgettable second installment of Pirates of the Caribbean – The Dead Mans Chest.

Captain Jack Sparrow has spent two and a half hours of screentime running from cannibals, pirates, the English Navy, and Davy Joneses crew of fishmen. In the end, it was our plucky pirates own lusts that caught him up, and then he goes on to deliver that line that gives me chills, as he looks unquestionable death right in the face. “Hello Beastie”.

There’s no way out of this one for Jack. There’s no one to be guiled, no rope to swing away with, and no tricks left. It’s the true end.

Yet, even in those very last moments, when all else is taken away from us. When the future and the past are both forgotten, when all our hopes and our fears are swallowed up by the magnitude of the present, we still have a choice.

On one hand we can give up, let our pain make the decision for us and say “it’s too much, what could I possibly do”? On the other hand, we can take what we have been given, look right at what has come our way, and give even our final breath to the right course.

The Lighting of the Trees

My interest was captured by a beautiful invitation on the door of the donuts shop this morning. It was advertising a fundraiser for the Tulare Hospital Foundation at $125 ticket price. Hors d’oeuvres, cocktails, networking, awards, and a silent auction were all promised as part of the evening’s experience.

I stopped for a minute and looked at the flyer, and I found myself surprised that a posh event like this would even be of interest to one such as myself. I began to daydream about Tiffany and I dressing to the nines, sipping wine and enjoying the gala. Yes Christmas is our favorite holiday (thus our daughter has a French middle name – Noelle), and yes I am happy to support the hospital, but I think the real allure… was status.

I believe the attraction I felt, in that moment, was the chance to feel high-society. At such an event, I could tell myself the story of mystique and sophistication, and I would have the chance to play the role of a wealthy elite.

I don’t know why I felt this today. Perhaps it is because I watched a couple episodes of Frasier last night, with all of it’s tongue in cheek refinement and erudition. Perhaps it is because I am adjusting to the life I now live with a 14 month old, and the regular public displays of goofiness I provide. Perhaps I am feeling rather unrefined.

As an aside, when my daughter, seated next to me in her carseat while I drive to town, hands me her WubbaNub Baby Giraffe (pacifier), what am I to do except for to begin sucking on the pacifier? When I can so easily delight her, and make her smile, a smile which is like a thousand gold sunsets, how can I not accept the gift from her – no matter how much posterity I give up? And when someone driving the other way seems to recognize me and gives me a very questioning look, what can I do except wave and smile?

I still feel it

I thought that, by now, this would be easier. I expected that after a hundred public posts, I wouldn’t feel any more fear sharing my thoughts.

Kind of like preg-checking cows. I thought that the pain was going to go away from that too. My arms were bruised, sore, and swollen for the first few weeks on this job. Early on, every next cow was yet another stab of pain. In the same way, the first posts here made me sweat a little, made me second guess myself at every little sound of an incoming email or text. It was that thought, way in the back of my mind, saying it would be someone angry at me for something I wrote, saying it would be someone telling me how wrong I am.

I don’t feel like I am injured on every cow anymore. Sometimes it still hurts, sometimes my wrist has still ached, and my forearm occasionally tender, but it is manageable. The pain doesn’t prevent me from doing my job anymore. The pain is there. The pain is real. There are even many things I do now to prevent injury ….but the pain is not what guides me.

And also with these posts. The fear must still be addressed. Like a feral dog just outside the light, the temptation to hide, to mince my words, to water down my thoughts, to avoid saying the hard things, to make everything a little softer than I truly believe it should be – is still there.

There is a time for soft words, and there is a time to speak the hard things. Proverbs 27 says that “as iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another”. That isn’t a very pleasant picture to my mind – two pieces of iron grinding against one another. I don’t find it comfortable to think about being one of those blades, and yet as I mature, I find good coming from that place of conflict. Not always comfortable, not always pleasant, but good.

Washing machine woes

The laundry didn’t get washed last night, and I still don’t know the root cause. We loaded the machine as normal, set the cycle like we have hundreds of times before, and then nothing exciting happened.

The drum began to spin gently, the lid locked tight, the pump tried to push out any residual water, but the new never filled the basin. It was such a lackluster breakdown. A quiet spin that went nowhere, a couple sad beeps, and a soft reset.

I checked the water pressure – good. I checked the water filters – looked good but I didn’t get them out of the line yet.

I went to handy Google, and found quite the plethora of similar complaints. The one that is most exciting is right here. It’s an in-depth technical walkthrough of troubleshooting. Yes there is a warning about needing the necessary expertise to go through it…but I have a voltmeter (which up until writing this post I thought was spoken as vol-timm-iter) and I have a basic understanding of electricity.

With time and patience, I think this could turn out to be like the auto-mechanical projects I’ve taken on, very rewarding at the end!

Taking Hold

I’ve been holding onto a hundred different ropes. Every one of them is a thread running to something in my life – something that I believe has potential. Something wild to be taken and tamed. It’s high time to let go of some of those ropes.

All this time, I am eagerly anticipating that day when I defeat a Bengal tiger at the end of one of those ropes.

Anyone can subdue a lamb. Many have tied up a calf. It is nothing extraordinary to catch a squirrel.

The future belongs to the one who bears the gaze of the tiger, and then binds it.

I’ve been waiting and preparing for that life or death dance with that proud beast.

The myriad of squawking chickens and noisy toy monkeys on the end of my ropes are distractions. It’s time to let them go.

It’s time, with both hands, to take hold of the line that leads directly to the snapping jaws.

Into the Night

The sun, having once again run it’s magnificent course over the day, begrudgingly settles below the horizon. Casting a final few rays of gold and bathing the whole of the western skyline in red flames, it signals the conclusion of a fine autumn day.
We left our walls and our shelters, those frames of wood and iron that surround us with only what we know, that separate us from every wild and lurking thing in this world. We went out into the fields, forests, rivers, and mountains at dawn, but it is now dusk, and we return to our homefires. We latch the doors and make light of our own, but no matter how many bulbs are burning – the night is always close by and the darkness presses in through our windows.
As our eyelids get heavy, we find the comfort of our beds and rest our heads upon pillows. Sleep inexorably approaches. Consciousness slips away, and within the confines of our small fortresses, we drift upon dreams.
Out there, out where the burgeoning darkness consumes the face of the earth, many creatures are just beginning to stir themselves into action. The heat of the sun made them hide all the day long, but now it is night, now it is their turn to roam the streets, and they are hungry.

Estrella, the Australian Shepherd, at night

Are you OK being with yourself?

I am always with myself by necessity, but I am learning that I can also choose to be with myself.

In the same way that I can be, physically present, with my family, and at other times I can choose to be present emotionally and cognitively.

A family member once told me they were in between jobs and had been asked by a friend to care for their friend’s home over several weeks one winter. This home was a small mansion that sat on a lake in Minnesota, and my family member’s responsibility would be watching over the home and taking the family Golden Retriever out for regular exercise, and they would be paid to boot. I was starstruck at the thought of that. What a glorious winter that would be. No deadlines. No expecations. Just the chance to be present, in a luxury home, in the glorious Minnesota winter.

I pictured lots of hot tea and cider, beautiful snow all the time, a warm fire and good books. Oh what a dream. My family member said they didn’t know if they would take the opportunity because “I don’t know if I like myself enough to be with alone with myself that long”. He went on to say that he didn’t think it would be as much of an issue for me, but that it was a real struggle for him. That comment made me think deeply.

It’s been a decade since that conversation, and as each day passes, I am learning more about present with myself and being OK about that. I am not the same man I was yesterday, and tomorrow will be a new day again, but the beautiful gift and the only place I can ever be, is right here, today.

You are not a mistake. You are loved more than you’ll ever know. It’s only life, enjoy the ride.