Author: Daniel Davidson
This time of year. It’s a great sigh of all the world before a long winter, it’s crisp mornings with pleasant afternoons. It’s the smell of must as leaves begin to fall.
It’s also the time for first exams at university.
Coming into October I would be settling into the rhythm of the semester and going through that first round of biology, chemistry, and anatomy testing.
It’s a feeling of knowing many things, but not quite enough.
Once I had a dissection kit and a preserved frog, now I have surgical packs and as many living patients every morning.
How did all that change?
In those days, studying, eating, living in such close proximity to friend’s, it felt like it would go on forever. But it didn’t.
Like the leaves born of this spring, flourished through the heat of summer, and now old in autumn – so many of those relationships have gone away.
The days of first exams are done, and we’ve all moved on. Families, fortunes, and failures have visited many of us, and we’ve all changed.
Can’t Do It All
4 years ago, my first born arrived healthy and screaming in the Kahweah Delta labor and delivery room in Visalia CA. It was sometime late Sunday night, sleep was minimal that night, and the next, in the hospital for all of us. The hospital sent my wife and new baby home on Tuesday morning and all was well.
I decided that my wife and mother-in-law had everything handled well at home, and we were so busy that summer at work, that I went back Wednesday morning.
Just after finishing vet check, with the herdsman I had been working with for 2 years, the owner of the dairy called me and gave me a grevious reprimand about how we were never available for him like we used to be (because we were doing his work on Saturdays instead of weekdays), and that we better do more for him or he was taking his business elsewhere.
I was stunned. I had just left my wife and brand new baby the day after we left the hospital, and he was mad because I didn’t prioritize him enough.
I referred him to call the practice schedule manager, and that we would take care of him as best we could.
He fired me a couple weeks later.
Four years later – I don’t miss working for him.
Now I am working in companion animal services, and last week was my daughter’s 4th birthday. I took Friday off so we could celebrate, and we went camping for the weekend in Bay City State Park, had an absolutely wonderful time.
When I got back to work this week, I heard a long time client had called Friday needing an urgent prescription, and when the office referred them to the emergency room because I was out-of-contact, they said they would look for care somewhere else.
I hope they can find the urgent care they need. With another veterinarian, or practice, I’m happy they get the service they are looking for. So many people are rude and demanding about their urgencies, and I hope they weren’t that way.
I can’t do it all. I can’t see every single patient, meet every client need, and still have time for my family.
Some relationships must end for others to flourish.
Forestalling the Decay
There’s really no place for worry.
So much of my time is spent fighting the inexorable march of destruction.
Every new puppy gets older, and the patient with heart failure we helped with medicines, may die or kidney failure in a few months anyway.
Having the transmission rebuilt, the entire AC system, the front shocks, wheel bearings, calipers, brakes, rotors, and tires on your work vehicle – means the alternator can fail the same night a thunderstorms take out power and water at your home.
My back has recovered from the herniated disk I experienced in May of this year. I make sure to walk everyday after work.I am managing my weight. Now I need to buy new shoes, because I’ve worn out the leather uppers from all the extra walking.
I read and study more, to better understand the practice of veterinary medicine, and I can only do that so long now (because I have to walk and care for my back).
It’s all smoke and emptiness.
But I think it’s still true that we can find beauty even in the most dire of circumstances.
Like Galadriel’s phial, still alight in the heart of Mordor itself, we’ve been given enough to keep taking steps through the bleakest and lonliest of nights.
We Don’t See It All
The summer of 2014 was an incredibly important time for me, and I was not aware of it.
It started with a greyhound bus trip to Visalia California. I spent two weeks externing at Mill Creek Veterinary Service in the month of May. I palpated a lot of cows in that time, ate good mexican food, and had an overall fun time. My dear family drove all the way out there and picked me up. We stayed a night in the Big Sur and woke to the glorious Pacific ocean. We drove the Beartooth Highway as it had very recently been opened, and we bathed in the heated sulfur pools of Thermopolis Wyoming.
I believe that was the trip that we found ourselves out in the wilderness with a flat tire, and a seized rim, so my brother and dad and I had to use stones and logs to pry and hammer the old tire free. It was fun to work together.
I went to Orrville Veterinary Clinic soon after returning to Ohio, and I spent 5 weeks learning from the wonderful veterinarians. Mel Wenger, Gabe Middleton, and Bill Yost became mentors to me both in life, and in medicine.
I made many friends there, including a kindhearted, hardworking, and absolutely cute RVT.
Yet later that summer I was fortunate to travel to Somerset Michigan and spend two weeks with the team at Countryside Veterinary Service. I stayed with Dr. Greg Crosley and his wife Diane. They were kind and caring and full of wisdom.
I remember getting back early from one day in the field, and asking to spend some time in the companion animal side. They told me I was too stinky, with my coveralls and muck boots, from the morning spent on dairy farms, but they would be happy to host me if I wanted to spend a full day with them. I did not take them up on that offer, instead just riding with the equine and bovine vets each day.
All of this occured in the summer of 2014, and little did I know how much those choices would echo through my life.
One day I would be an owner of Mill Creek Veterinary Services, in Visalia California.
12 months after finishing my externship with Orrville, I would marry that technician I met there.
8 years after that summer, I would move to Michigan and join the crew at Countryside Veterinary Service – as a companion animal veterinarian.
All this to say that we really don’t know the way our choices will turn out. So play the cards you’ve been dealt, plant the seeds provided to you, and be amazed at how things may turn out.
All around us
There is magic in the crisp autumn air and the leaves ablaze with crimson and orange.
There is an infinitely complex rhythm from the ten thousand drops of rain, battered and blown by the gales of a summer thunderstorm.
There is a a haunting beauty in the icey waters of a winter river.
Somehow I find it’s easy to miss these things in the grind. In the neverending quest for more, we may overlook the unbelievable gifts already given us.
Moving to Michigan has changed many things in the lives of this Davidson family. We welcomed a third child into our family (Victor was born the end of February) and I made a major transition in my practice of veterinary medicine – to now care for cats and dogs in leui of dairy cattle.
I just wanted to share today how surprised I have been at the value I’ve found in medical records. I’ve often considered medical records to be of little value for personal use, something more to do with covering onself for insurance purposes rather than a utility of care. Sure they are valuable for transitioning care from one provider to another, but otherwise they never really seemed important.
Over the last month of practicing companion animal medicine, I’ve found them to be incredibly helpful to me personally as more than a way to record my findings, but actually as a way to organize my thoughts. The very act of writing down my thoughts has been unbelievably helpful in organizing those same thoughts. This blog has been useful for the very same reason, so the function of finding clarity through writing medical notes should not have surprised me. Each day is a new adventure and a chance to learn and grow more. Each physical exam is a chance to learn a little more about a patient, and each medical record is a chance to grow in the art of communication and the mastery of elegance.
Some years ago, my mom took me, and my younger sister, to a fantastic Josh Turner concert at the Ariel Theatre in downtown Gallipolis, Ohio. Josh and his mates put on a wonderful show, and we all had a good time singing and dancing. We spent some time after the show visiting with the band members outside, and all in all it was an incredibly fun night. Somehow I ended up driving down old 2nd Avenue a night or two later, and seeing the same theatre venue now all empty, silent, and cold. The contrast struck me on a deep level emotionally, and I never forgot the way I felt that night. It was like the time I walked alone on a snowy night with the cold wind biting my face, and I saw the light of a living-room window pouring out into the winter dark. I thought of the happy warm family inside.
It’s been 18 years since that night, and now I find myself in Salt Lake City for a professional conference of veterinarians practicing bovine medicine. I’ve lived in Idaho, Utah, Canada, Ohio and California in the time between that Josh Turner concert and now, and I even spent a summer in southern Ecuador. I found bars to be too loud, mostly unfit for having a discussion, and overall not the most enjoyable activity for me in each of those places.
I went to a reception event at Keys On Main one night this week. It was prepared by Endovac Animal Health for veterinary students, practitioners, and affiliates. It was loud, warm, and packed with people inside. Sitting at a table, near the dueling pianos, I could sense the vibration of every keyboard percussion through my fingers on the tabletop, I could feel the floor slightly trembling from the nearby dancing, and I could pick out the raised voices of nearby students singing along with the Styx cover. The memory of the cold theatre came rushing back to me, and as I held my pint of Blue Moon, I all at once saw the entire experience differently.
All of it – the chaotic noise, the trembling floor, and even the radiating heat from all the people nearby in the small space – it’s a celebration of Life. It’s just like my 18 month old son, dancing by squatting up and down, throwing his hands in the air, and walking in circles every time he hears music. The lifeforce we have to be able to do such things as sing a song, dance around a floor, or play a keyboard loudly, is an incredible gift. We are in an enormous elemental universe of stars, supernovas, and black holes and yet somehow, in this moment of space and time, we humans are together, in this room, feeling the energy of one another and contributing our own energy to the group. We are all aware, deep down, of the inexorable coming of our death, and maybe Dilan Thomas could have written another verse to Do not go gentle into that good night, one about dancing and song, as a way to rage against the dying of the light.
It only matters, if they know
“Money is a story”.
I heard Seth Godin say that sometime ago on an episode (I don’t remember which episode) of his podcast Akimbo, and today I think understood a little more of what he meant by that.
Money has no power of it’s own.
A forest on the other hand is something of itself. With a great many majestic trees, it becomes a shelter for insects, birds, and mammals. It protects it’s inhabitants from the harsh cold winds, the unrelenting summer sun, and even from other animals.
Rivers can likewise be regarded as objects of power. With all their eddies and riffles and unfathomable micro currents and diversions, they can carve a niche right into granite.
Money can be considered more like a river than a forest, in that a primordial characteristic of both is their flow from one place to another. However, money and rivers are shown to be quite different when you stop paying attention to them. Leave a river for a few thousand years and it will create oxbow lakes, sandy pits, and deep canals. Forget about money and it becomes worthless. Oh sure, some collector may want it in a later age for it’s peculiarity, but that’s a gamble.
The power of money is not in it’s ability to do anything directly for us. The power of money lies in the ability to tell other people we have it.
What good is a billion dollar checking account if no one can access it?
What’s the use of carrying around $1,000 cash in your wallet if you live in a cashless society?
Duffel bags of hundred dollar bills are worthless if you can’t tell anyone you have them.
The opportunities afforded me today are literally incomprehensible. I will instantly have thousands of hours of video, hundreds of podcasts, and enough digital writing to fill a library (if it were on paper) with nothing but a quick voice command to Alexa, Siri, or Google. All of that knowledge, all of that opportunity, and all of that connection to society held within my hand.
I have emails waiting for responses on both my primary accounts, I have unread messages on LinkedIn, and text messages from friends that I haven’t responded to yet, and yet I still have a hunger for deep connection with other humans. I have a desire for something that is both more, and less, than the overwhelming tide of social-networking.
I remember an arduous hike from several years ago in Glacier National Park, wherein we ended up traveling several miles further than intended (which included being close to a black bear sow and her cubs at dusk and nearly missing the last shuttle in the park). One lady in the hiking group was of especially strong character and maintained a positive spirit throughout the ordeal, and near the end, when it was quite dark and we were all worn out and in pain from a mile of steep downhill grade, I remember her remarking “isn’t it marvelous how the farther we get, the more primitive our desires become? At first we all wanted to rest in our beds, and then we got hungry, and now all we can think about is getting a drink of water.”
A new dimension was becoming apparent in our lives at that point. The ever increasing challenge of the hike began to reveal the difference between our wants and our needs, between the things we merely craved and things we treasured, between the more superficial and the deeper things of life. We were enduring the process of pruning. I don’t have all the answers, and I still suffer the pain of loss, but I find yet more and more value in the process of pruning.
Many things. that were magical and interesting to me as a child, now seem rather dull and merely two-dimensional. The magic box, which can make coins dissapear, turns out to be just a cardboard and glass trinket when the mirrors are exposed. It was full of surpise when I saw it as a child, but now it is common and predictable.
Over the last few days I’ve been considering one area that seems ever deeper, more mysterious, and more beautiful with each passing year.
I listened, some months ago, to a reading of Martin Luther King Jr.’s open letter from Birmingham Jail. King was a master of his words, and even with other voices reading his letter, you still hear his voice, and it is so intimate that I can begin to feel he was actually talking to me.
There is a deeper story told, a theme, one that weaves its way through every paragraph and each adjective of a well designed writing. Even a scientific journal article can be a work of art when it is elegant and uncompromising. A well written ballad, like came from Mick Jagger and Keith Richards in 1964 in As Tears Go By, with it’s three short verses, tells a very long story indeed about the fleeting nature of our lives and the human experience.
Having the ability to speak, having the wonderful gift of literacy, and the incredible opportunity afforded me, in this very laptop and blog, to share my thoughts with the world is the real Promethean gift. James warned us in his timeless letter that “the tongue is a fire….”
So let us each carry this flame wisely. Neither consumed by it, nor burying it, but rather using it for the edification of many.
Form Follows Function
One phrase that I remember from veterinary school is “form follows function”. I don’t remember whether that was spoken by Dr. Masty in comparative ruminant anatomy, Dr. Greene in Intro to Radiology, or Dr. Krakowka in Pathology and Biology of Disease, but I think I heard it that autumn of 2012. Of course it’s also possible that I read it in a text book, and none of those people ever said it to me. It’s been nearly a decade since that first year and so much of it is a blur now.
Regardless of the source of that expression, it stuck with me and recently I’ve been considering it in other contexts. I think it’s a violation of this principle that explains the internal tension I feel over lifted trucks with wide wheels that never see anything but the highway, the ache of disappointment when I open Instagram, and Holden Caulfield’s refrain of everyone being “phony”.
So much of our lives are filled with impression management. We desperately seek to hide our insecurities through carefully curated profile pictures and vacation highlight reels. We laugh at Dwight’s unfettered ambition to be named Assistant Office Manager (rather than Assistant To The Office Manager), and yet we are doing the exact same thing in our neverending quest for status.
“Just a sliver more of that, and a little less of the other, and I’ll feel all better”.
We’ve become experts at maintaining a form of life without building the underlying function.
The Way Forward
Take hold of the chaos and open your hands to the maelstrom. Place a stake in that barren and wild place, and build a shelter in which others may find rest.
But do not hold too tightly to that endeavor, for one morning your path will lead on. A second time you must leave that comfort of familiarity.
So go. Plant a tree. Dig a well.
I was given a mug at a very young age, I believe it was at my fourth birthday – I don’t remember for sure on the mug, but I know that’s the birthday that I was given a small hammer. Sheila gave me a small hammer with a wooden handle and a steel head, so that even at a young age I owned a creative tool of my very own.
Anyway, whether or not it was that birthday or another, I had this mug as a child and it was significant to me because it was “real”, it was not a toy, it was not for pretending – it was the real deal and it was mine. I remember a schooner on the mug, in hues of blue and golden, with billowing sails making it look magnificent to me. I spent some time staring closely at the portrait, looking for any sign of the slightest movement in the sails or the surf, and wondering if it was the Dawn Treader. I thought that perhaps it would come to life, and like Eustice, Lucy, and Edmund, this was my way into Narnia.
That mug never came to life, but it did give me a special place for mugs in my heart, and Sleepytime tea was my favorite brew to drink. I later learned to appreciate a few other flavors, and brands, but Celestial Seasonings Sleepytime was always the golden standard.
I purchased a few household items during my stay in Moscow Idaho, not enough to fill a kitchen, but enough for my needs. As a college student I also was quite frugal, and buying new things seemed completely unnecessary, so I did as much shopping as I could at the second hand stores. I remember picking out a plate, a bowl, and a few utensils and then seeing a shelf full of mugs. Each mug had a personality, had a slightly different shape, or handle, or finish, and they were so cheap that I considered buying several of them. I finally settled on two sturdy looking mates, with nice thick walls and simple decor of stars.
As Moscow was exceedingly cold and snowy, hot tea was always a welcome addition to any evening, and these thick mugs let you keep your hands warm for a good long time without being scalded. They were ideal, and because I had two of them, I would often share the evening tea-time with a friend. In this case, I was on-call and stuck in my dorm. It was a quiet evening inside the dorm, with a cold wind outside and not much else happening. I was restless and felt a great weight that evening. I sent this picture to a friend as an invitation, and they actually came over and spent some time with me.
I had forgotten about these mugs, and I had forgotten about that evening – but last month the Google photos AI reminded me of a picture taken the same week as this one was, both of them now nearly a decade ago. When I went to look at the memory, I saw this photo of the mugs and remembered that evening. That memory looks quite different to me now, than it did while I was in it.
Later that year, when I was back in Ohio for Christmas, Sheila offered me a cup of tea one evening, in a legit Sleepytime mug. It had the picture of the cozy bears on it, and it made the tea taste just that much better. I exclaimed at how wonderful a mug and asked her how I could get one like that myself – and right then and there she gave it to me.
Sheila has passed on, and that Sleepytime mug she gave me was shattered a handful of years ago. That friend that visited me that evening, we rarely ever talk anymore.
Just this past week, my sister texted the family some pictures of her new cute apartment in Georgia. In one of her pics, hanging on a rack, I saw a thick mug with stars and recognized it as one of same ones I had bought all those years ago, and had been recently reminded of when reviewing old photos. I’ve changed so much since that restless November night, and yet I still feel grateful at the memory of a friend taking their time to come visit me.
Don’t let the fear of what will yet be, or the shame of what once was, keep you from connecting, from sharing your life with others.
“It’s impossible to simply maintain“. That’s what a mentor veterinarian told me over lunch earlier this week, as we were discussing our role as consultant, and what that means to be a consultant for an owner, and how we need to communicate that role. We are more than just problem-solver, or answer-giver, and fixing a problem is not nearly as valuable to the owner as building a culture that prevents the problem, yet owners tend to value the former more than the latter.
In cases where we have leaned heavy in certain areas, we have consistently seen major improvements, but it always comes at a cost that is higher (mostly labor and effort cost). The answers are often found to be a drift away from what we once had already decided was important to do; things are now a little bit sloppier, we cut a few corners to save some time, we found an “easier” way to get the work done. I know it’s not fair to blame physics, but it sure seems like cultures, behaviors, and workmanship are ruled by entropy as much as chemical processes.
I think this is the natural way of things, and it’s why you always see the mud and dead grass on the inside corner of any right-angle in a concrete footpath. It’s why I just now noticed that I myself was slouching, and breathing poorly, even as I write this. Energy conservation – and I don’t even need to conserve physical energy as I have more than enough extra calories already stored in too many adipocytes.
Anway, going back to what the vet said during the lunch “it’s impossible to simply maintain“, he was indicating that the groups we seek to serve are not in closed systems. People come and go from those groups, external pressures and internal dynamics are always shifting, and all of that will have an effect on the system in question.
So how do we demonstrate this to owners?
It seems like, on many occasions, we have figured out how to get the desired results by being the force that brings energy into the system, but how do we go beyond supplying the energy to affect change? How do we begin to actually redesign systems? What if part of every project I do, every report I write, I deliberately focused on the steps we need to take to maintain (reevaluation at an appropriate later date, assignment of someone to oversee the issue in question, etc) the ground we gained. Because I think that vet was right – simply maintaining is a pipe dream.
We must choose to go forward.
Leading and Following
The Narnia books were one of my favorite, and most often read, stories of my childhood. Many of the life-lessons were easy to understand as a child, and of course my imagination went wild with the fantastical talking beasts and the adventures that the protagonists, which were children my age, went-on.
I’d like to take a moment to reflect on two specific lessons from those books that I now see in a different light than I did at nine years old.
First consider Professor Digory Kirke. He was a kind and quiet provider, and mentor, to the four children. I never thought before of how difficult it must have been for Digory to hear Lucy’s tale of Narnia, and to not grow jealous in that moment. It was a great favor given to Lucy that Aslan opened the door for her to find her way into Narnia. Digory no doubt yearned his whole life to return to that wonderful place, and it would have been hard, maybe even painful, to hear that someone else in his home had been invited – while he had not. And yet he was never jealous, he was never selfish, he never tried to steal Lucy’s invitation from her.
Lucy’s adventure is the next lesson that resonates with me more and more as I grow older. In the second book, Prince Caspian, the four children find themselves in a Narnia greatly changed since they had last visited. It’s a world much older, and now groaning under the weight of conniving, backstabbing, power-hungry rulers and the harsh oppression of its most vulnerable, and magical, inhabitants – the talking animals.
The word’s of film Trumpkin are harsh and true “you may find Narnia a more savage place than you remember“. In the midst of this pain, while lost and still not sure how they are going to be able to help Prince Caspian, Lucy sees Aslan bidding her up the ridge. Lucy excitedly tells her siblings, and Trumpkin that they should all go up the ridge and follow Aslan. Edmund supports her, but all the older members of the group decide to go the safer route down toward the river.
The downward route into the gorge ended in a dangerous trap and the entire group had to retrace their steps back up the ridge. Aslan gently admonishes Lucy for not following Him alone.
I thought this would have been a scary thing to do when I read this as a youngster, to break away from the group and follow the path you saw – even when the others didn’t see it. In some way it feels like it would be even scarier now that I am an adult. I think there is a tension here, between being bold enough to follow your calling, as was Lucy’s challenge, and mature enough to know when you should listen to someone else, as Edmund did.
A fallen leaf, once was green and growing. Then it showed a flame of orange and a wave of red. Stately in form and strong in its season. Now dry and perched on the ground. It is still, and only a memory from summer.
A smile across his face, the cold Autumn breeze turning his nose and cheeks red, and with the magnificent wonder carried by all young children, the boy runs down the lane. Life itself is new to him and he delights in it all.
A single stride, only one footfall in so many the boy has already taken, and the proud leaf is crushed under the treads of his sneaker. A gust carries the chaff away, and the leaf is remembered no more.
Before and After
I remember those wild summer days in Ohio.
The afternoon air dared not move. Chocked full of humidity and burdened by heat of the day, it was thick with the smell of pollen and cut grass. Squirrels moved around their trees with a special laziness, and the only songs to be heard came from a handful of determined red-winged blackbirds. Looking west you could see the cumulus clouds, the harbingers of heavy rain, reaching high into the atmosphere.
This was the calm before the storm.
Inside the house, with the air conditioner running, and physically separated from it, you could still feel the pregnant pause and bated breath carried by the whole of the outside world. Likely as not, the TV was tuned to Channel 3 news, and Tony Cavalier was standing in front of a projected map of our region. Overlaying the state lines and the names of cities were large swaths of green, yellow, and red. He would imitate the prevailing winds and push the boundaries of the storm in their projected directions, all the while listing the threat of flash floods and wind gusts.
Then it began to change.
The lacy-fingered leaves of the water maples started trembling and showed their silver underbellies. The oppressive heat quickly faded away in light of the cool breeze. This was last call. The few birds that had been singing now headed for roost, and the low and long thunder could be heard rolling over the hills.
Sometimes the weather warnings were dire enough that we went the cellar, other times we would be trying to finish work in the field and would run into one of our barns at the last minute. Wherever it was you took shelter, there was only one thing to do.
Within the next 15 – 30 minutes, an incredible amount of energy was released from the heavens. In those times of outburst, I’ve seen panelling ripped off a roof, old limbs tore from their trunks, and sheets of rain so thick that they seemed to swallow up every barn and tree as they sped toward the house.
And then it was over. The raging and the magnificent release of energy was born in full. Stepping outside and breathing the fresh air was beautiful, it was much cooler than before and always smelled so clean right after a storm. You could see the many rivulets gurgling across the hills, and the flat places in the lawn had been turned to small swamps. This too only lasted a few minutes. Soon the excess water would find its way to now swollen creeks and pasture ponds. Water was dripping from the branches of old trees, and even though you could see where a few branches had been lost, the trees themselves were no longer trembling. They looked strong – and now clean to boot.
This was the calm after the storm.
When You Can’t Abstain
I’ve heard it said that you don’t get to complain if you didn’t vote. I think that idiom distracts us from what is really important, and what is really happening in our minds and souls. The opportunity to complain with impunity isn’t what we most care about, and this post isn’t even about voting.
No, I think we are more scared of unintended consequences from our choices, and of suffering for our choice. It’s much more comfortable to let someone choose for us, to let things happen to us rather than to make things happen.
Take fire doors.
I remember one thing distinctly from my onboarding into the union of the Ohio Valley Electric Corporation, and that was to not tarry below a fire door. Up until that day, I had no idea what a fire door was. These were massive steel doors hung over key doorways. In the event of a fire (a fire in a coal power plant could turn into an unimaginable inferno) these doors could be released and come crashing down in the doorway – effectively separating the two regions of the power plant.
Ok, step one is don’t stand under the fire door lest it crush you. That’s an easy enough way to save yourself from an unfortunate death.
It’s the question about step two that makes us uncomfortable, which side do I stand on?
And that’s the crux of it all – you must make a choice. When disaster comes calling, you better be on the right side of that door. That same steel curtain could be the protector standing between you and a painful demise, or if you’re on the other side and running from the flames, it could be the end of your road. As Colin Meloy sings in Rox in the Box “and it’s one, two, three, on the wrong side of the lee. What were you meant for?”
There comes a time in life when you cannot abstain. A time when you must act, and I think now is a good a time as any to ask that question. What are you meant for?
Pontius Pilate sought to abstain. He tried to abdicate his responsibility for murder. He washed his hands and told the mobs that Jesus death and blood were on their heads, and not his. When questioned by God on whether he ate forbidden fruit – Adam said that Eve ate, and she gave him some to eat.
Esther bucked that trend. In her place of security, she had ample opportunity to hide behind the laws, to hide behind the status quo. She chose to risk all of that, to risk her very life, for the good and right cause.
We so often look for someone else to make the choice, someone else to hold the reins of responsibility. Let us not wait for those in power to make things right, for those with the authority to make it easy to do the right thing.
When we come face to face with the time that we are meant for, may we all choose, and take action, as Esther so beautifully did.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.