Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Self help? No, I'll just keep paddling.

Some time ago, I was at my local library preparing for the prospect of a new college semester. After hours of temple-rubbing work I decided to actually take advantage of the thousands of books surrounding me. I have been interested lately in finding a belief system that both conforms to my personal beliefs, and allows me to grow and flourish as a citizen of this universe. This pointed me in the general direction of eastern religions by the sheer notion that you never hear of a radical Buddhist or extremist Hindu. Also, their view of the universe seems much more evolved than the religions of the western world. Subsequently I picked up this book:

Zen and the Art of Happiness: by Chris Prentiss

It was a quick little read, and my thoughts on it are thus. This book can be helpful to some, and by some I mean those who have sunken to rock bottom and need to build up the fundamentals of having a life that is functional in our society. It's continuous mantra is "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that can happen." Now, I don't disagree with this ideology fundamentally. But I feel as though it's application is off-center. The author (co-founder of Passages in Malibu, California) calls on analogies and anecdotal evidence proving that having this blindly ignorant outlook on life is helpful. I agree that having a positive outlook on the world and the events that befall us can effect our overall happiness. I know several things to be true, and have learned a lot since my life came crumbling down around me. I have learned that it's nice to look on the bright side, put a positive spin on things to get you through the darker times of your life where all hope seems lost. I have also learned that it's OK to admit that the universe is just fucking with you sometimes. This is just how the world works sometimes, it doesn't seem to me that there is any logic that can be applied to terrible events. I don't believe that I, or anyone for that matter, am being punished by some vengeful God that looks down at us and punishes the wicked and rewards the pure of heart by making their life any easier or difficult. I think I was just dealt a bum hand. You take a sudden agitation of chronic medical conditions, add the vindictive selfishness of someone who I thought was looking out my siblings, with a dash of family tension and you get the first couple years of my 20's. That's what happened, there's no rhyme or reason to it, sometimes the shit-storm of your life shakes out some terrible things
over the course of a month. The point I'm getting to is that we can't just cling to self-affirming words that help build the foundation of a subservient life. Instead of just passively allowing the world to do what it may, I prefer the guiding words of THIS "self help" book:

Paddle Your Own Canoe: by Nick Offerman

The words in this book are all about taking control of your own life and living it the way you want. I subscribe to the notion that if you grab life by the balls and be a man about your problems, you'll turn out alright. You might not have everything that you want, you might not be happy with everything that's ever happened in your life, but at least it's your life. I have a hard time reading a book that tells us to sit shotgun while life just goes about it's business a takes a hard right or quick left every now and again. I would rather take the wheel and be the master of my own destiny. Thank you to Mr. Offerman, for giving me a practical guide to being a man and bending my fate to my own will.

There are many tales of drug and alcohol-fueled adolescent mischief throughout the book, which I happen to enjoy from a story-telling standpoint. But the last 4-5 pages of every chapter are hard-nosed life advice from a man that's been around the block a time or two. While these pieces of advice compliment and overlap the values of his Netflix stand-up comedy special, American Ham: Ten Tips for a Prosperous Life (which if you haven't seen or even heard of, I recommend you use the device you're reading this blog on, and witness it immediately). I find them just as useful, comforting and easy to get behind in print as I do in a more audio-visual medium.

The thing I'm getting at is one of the main points that Mr. Offerman brings up time and time again in both versions of telling us to "paddle [our] own canoe," and that piece of advice is to get a hobby. It may be beneficial to explain that Nick doesn't want want you to take up a hobby in the high-school-club sense of the word, but more of a discipline. Woodworking is a discipline mentioned and called back to heavily throughout the two pieces. So I'm trying my hand at writing, or crafting words to express my inner feelings. They may be very on the nose like this blog post, or they could be more subversive and mysterious in the form of a poem or a work of fiction. The point is, I'm trying to put something out there they can make a difference in someone's life, even if the only person's life it effects is mine. Because I'm going though a rough patch, I'm needing some validation and an outlet to express the things that are difficult to talk about in person. I just want to let you all know that I'm taking Nick Offerman's advice and paddling my own canoe, but with a keyboard, or paper and pen. This is how I'm going to help myself be the person I want to be and help shape my world. not by repeating to myself, "everything that happens to me is the best possible thing that could happen to me."

I think it is also worth mentioning that Mr. Offerman has another book that will be released soon. I am elated at the notion of reading more about what one of my personal heroes has to say about some of histories gutsiest troublemakers, hopefully it's peppered with golden nuggets of wisdom like Paddle.

Out May 27th.

Friday, April 17, 2015

My first independent venture into our National Park System.

This past weekend my girlfriend and I took a drive down to a charming little town called Springdale, Utah. There we found, red rock, a tent campsite, and some crazy Australian/British (depending on who you ask) students from California. But much more importantly, the entrance to the main canyon of Zion National Park. The views from the town were amazing, very tall, sheer cliffs of red rock sandstone complemented by the green juniper needles abundant around the Virgin River. That night, we made tinfoil dinners on a bed of charcoal briquettes in the fire ring, listening to Mumford and Sons on my brand new, fancy-pants, environment-proof speaker system (which I thought would be perfect for hiking). I held Jessica's hand throughout this entire process, cluing her in on everything I knew about essentials of camping. A satisfied smirk of contentment came over me as she became more comfortable in an environment she's been dreading since she had terrible experiences camping in San Antonio and Oklahoma in her youth. She became more at-ease and accepting of some of the less comfortable parts of sleeping outside, in a tent. My life is so heavily involved with camping for my work and during hunting season. I admire her willingness to try something new that is so important to me. This is the second time we've wandered outside her comfort zone in the last two weeks, having gone out to murder some cans with as many bullet holes as we could muster. Yet another thing that Jessica a) never grew up around b) was very frightened of and c) willing to try because she knows how important it is to me.
About to risk our lives on the final leg of the Angel's Landing trail
Not only was she willing to go outside her comfort zone for me and go camping. outside. with bears?!?!! she thinks... But she was actually excited to go out and do massive amounts of cardio on some of the hardest hikes in the park! We saw some amazing views, feared for our life, and ate well earned PB&J's. This trip brought us closer together as a couple and made some amazing memories in one of the most beautiful canyons in the world. As much as it pains me to say (because they're under the Department of the Interior agency of the federal government just like the BLM, who apparently I'm supposed to have a friendly, brotherly rivalry with because I work for the Forest Service), the National Park Service has their shit together in their corners of this country. Their road and trail systems are impeccable, well-designed, and well-planned to accommodate such heavy use. Zion was the perfect combination of all of the things I love about nature, beautiful views of geological formations, a variety of interesting tree species, and the beauty presented in the sky, clouds and weather. Needless to say, this trip was chock full of beautiful views and awe inspiring hikes weaving through the red-rock. So yeah, Zion NP was a good place for me to experience the things I love most about nature, but I also had the experience of having Jessica by my side.
Taking a break at the top of Observation Point, taking in all the majesty of the canyon
Yeah, we did the touristy stuff, the things that you hear the most about the park. We laughed in the face of danger while climbing to the top of Angel's Landing, with only a length of chain keeping us from plummeting to our deaths. We went as far as we could up The Narrows, inadvertently soaking our boots and socks with water from the Virgin River that throughout time carved the shape of this spectacular park's main canyon. The majesty and sheer size of these landmarks alone make you feel small on this planet while still inspiring me with it's spectacle of color, diversity, and height. I couldn't help but think of my favorite president ever, Teddy Roosevelt, and everything he saw in the American west before venturing back to Washington and implementing the preservation of such national beauty. Being in areas so well preserved makes me feel closer to the way the entire west looked like before it was so heavily developed. Yes there was plenty of bitching, inflamed joints, with a touch of sunburn, but we kicked some ass and took some names (slowly and steadily) on some of the hardest and most scenic hikes in my entire life.

Taken from Observation Point, looking down at Angel's Landing and the rest of Zion Canyon

I had never been to this part of Utah before, but once we started planning, the date couldn't come fast enough. I'd heard so much about this place, with much respect and admiration from all those I spoke to who had ventured down to this mystifying place before me. I never expected I could have such an emotional and spiritual experience in such a highly-traveled area, but being dwarfed by the sheer, runny, rusted, streaking red canyon walls I would eventually summit during my trip is a soulfully humbling experience. Being in these historically preserved places remind me of the best part of my job, which is being in very remote areas, rich with beauty. It's always a very humbling and equates to concentrated meditation sessions that recharge my soul and center me. What's even better is that as of now, Jessica and I are planning a trip to Arches National Park in the coming weeks for a similar experience outside of Moab. Much like Springdale, Moab is another one of those highly tourist-based towns, but it still as a very homey, small-town feel that's very inviting to me. I even talked Jessica into agreeing to a resolution to visit a new National Park every year for the rest of our lives! I could not love Jessica any more than I do at the conclusion of this trip, despite her being fairly grouchy for being outside of her comfort zone in a strange environment, doing something very foreign to her. It's her willingness to at least try to take interest in activities I am constantly doing year round that is so attractive to me. It was a captivating experience, and I don't wish to have had anyone else accompany me to what is now in my top 5 favorite places in the entire world. I'm proud of you and grateful for you, baby.
This picture pretty much sums up not just the trip, but our relationship in general