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.
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.
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”.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
I spent a good portion of one long Ohio summer at my best friends house. I was 18 going on 19 that year. Josiah and I spent countless hours playing ping pong, hunting, and riding four wheelers that year. One evening some of his parents friends were over, and one of the ladies brought two new brake pads for her oldsmobile and she asked if Josiah’s dad, Chris, would change them out for her.
Chris said “sure, we will change them for you” and looking at Josiah and me, he said “why don’t you two go ahead and do that”.
I had never changed the brakes on a car before. He knew it wouldn’t be very difficult for us, since they were just disk brakes. Plus Chris had all the tools we needed; a nice floor jack, a compressor, and an impact wrench with all the bits we could want. It seemed scary at the start, because the brakes going out from a mistake we made would be devastating, but we got right at it anyway. We soon saw that it was just a series of little steps, and we had the capability to do it. So we went right to town, jacked up the car, took the old disks off and replaced them with the new ones. We made sure the calipers were freely movable, we bled the lines to ensure there wasn’t any air left in them and we checked the brake fluid up top.
It really didn’t take us too long, and then we asked Chris if we did it right. He said that sounded about right, so we took it for a test drive. I drove real slow at first. Pushed the brakes hard. Pushed them soft. Felt them bite and release. It was a fantastic experience. No one actually showed us how to change the brake pads.
We only used our previous experience from changing tires, and the stories we had heard about replacing pads (always bleed the lines), and figured it out. That experience encouraged me to take on more challenges.