Saturday, December 31, 2011

On the trail in 2011

Did I tell you the story of a few of us seeing God on the trail this past summer up in the Sangres?  Noah and I were talking about it again the other day and, well, we’re pretty sure we did.  
It all came up because of the little photo book of our summer expedition that was gifted last week.  All those great pictures told the story of all the stuff we did.  There was Grandma up on horseback.  There were Adel’s deer antlers he found.  There we were on the train.  And yes, we did talk about our UFO sighting.  You kind of had to be there, but it was pretty cool. 
Anyway, the section of the book that got most attention from Noah was that of the hike up the North Crestone Creek trail by just the guys where, as chance would have it, we met God.  We think. 
To get to the trail, we drove up a forest road a couple miles off pavement to a small, creekside national forest camp ground.  We gathered our gear, cached our water, and up the trail we went.  
Within the first thirty minutes, the trail narrowed, but it was evident that it was really just the forest road we had driven up on, which was now gated.  Not too much later, though, the trail cut back onto a mountain side, got a whole lot steeper, and we were truly hiking in Colorado.  The stones, wildflowers, the sound of the North Crestone Creek down below us, the guys up ahead.  It doesn’t get much better than that, I have to tell you.  
We stopped now and then to eat something and comment on the surroundings.  Usually it was Adel and Bruce up front, most often out of sight.  Noah and I pulled up the rear. 
I guess if there is any message to this blog today, it has something to do with my willingness -- fear? -- of heading up forest trails up into the mountains.  
At least that’s what the concrete piece of this is.  The real internal piece, I suspect, is more about my fear of doing other stuff in the world besides hiking where nobody can help you.  
What does that mean?  I don’t know exactly.  Does it mean I have to give more of myself to social justice issues?  Does it mean I have to take more chances as a writer to learn more about what I need to write about?  Does it have something to do with my spiritual salvation?  
Could be.  But back to the hike. 
I am aware of walking Noah too far on the trail to where he has a miserable time.  I am aware, too, of that gnawing in me that I might walk too far, cramp up, and embarrass myself in front of these macho guys.  It was complicated.  Probably more complicated than it needed to be, but there you have it.  We were up on the trail -- 9,000 feet, maybe -- about two hours out.  I was thinking Noah had enough.  We talked and we decided that, yup, that was about it.  We’d catch up with the guys and let ‘em know we were done for the day. 
Not more than a minute later, Bruce came back down the trail to check on us.  He encouraged us to forge ahead with the news of a beautiful vista just ahead.  He knew what buttons to push!  On we went. 
Oh.  And such a vista.  Its picture is my favorite of the trip.   It is the essence of what I had hoped for by bringing boys to the mountains.  As brother John Muir wrote, ‘The clearest way into the Universe, is through a forest wilderness.’  I had recorded that portal with my camera, with two students standing by. 
After a bit of a break and our soaking in the sights, we caught glimpse of a solo hiker coming down the trail from farther up on the mountain.  He was an older white-bearded guy in shorts packing enough that it was evident he had spent at least one night up there.  I wanted so much to hear more. 
I don’t remember much that was said, actually.  I’m sure I pressed him for details of what lakes he had seen.  I’m sure Noah told him who we were.  His parting remark though, as he proceeded down the mountain, would absolutely make our entire day.  
‘There’s a little creek just up the trail, you know, not more than a couple hundred yards,’ he yelled back.  
The creek was, in fact, delightful.  The water was cold on tired, bare feet.  Bruce went downstream a piece and did a full emersion, I think.  We all listened to the water as it bounced over and ground the Sangres into sand.  
Some time after we ate the last trail bar, the identify of the white-bearded one on the trail was questioned.  Who was that guy who turned us on to the best part of our day?  
Who else could it be?  We concluded it had to be God.  There he was, the bearded Godhead floating on a cloud -- caught taking a holiday in Colorado!  We enjoyed that story so much it survived to be told again at Christmas.  Family stuff, indeed.  
So, gentle reader, what is the lesson offered here at the end of 2011?  
Don’t be too afraid of things, I suppose.  For the life of me it sounds just the opposite of what Dorothy told Auntie Em she learned in Oz.  What was it, something like, ‘If you can’t find your heart’s desire here at home, you won’t find it anywhere else because you never really lost it anyway’...?  (I loved the movie but thought that line was preposterously weak.)
Anyway, in 2012 I am going to try to be a little less afraid to do stuff.  Writing, yes.  Bucket list destinations, yes.  Telling people I love them, yes.  Being as honest with myself as I can, yes.  Working for social justice in the world, yes.
Be brave in the new year.  Thanks for reading.  

Today’s Elder Idea:  Don’t be too afraid of things.
your humble blogger
image:  Boys @ 9000 ft. 

Wednesday, December 28, 2011

Dreams realized

Last year after all the Christmas presents were opened at our house, amid all the neat stuff I got, I felt a little let down.  
It felt familiar, I guess, like when I was a kid.  Maybe you know that feeling:  You’ve tried to drop enough obvious hints for that great gift that you really want, but it doesn’t show up under the tree.  Back in the day when Mom & Dad were making Christmas for seven kids, a guy just accepted the ennui in stride.  After all, the stuff I did get was pretty cool, if not downright practical, and Mom & Dad did the best their budget could afford.
Last Christmas later in the day, though, I took a chance and talked to Cindy Lou about my disappointment.  As you might imagine, she was disappointed with my disappointment.  She loves me deeply, and she certainly expected the clothes given with love were just what Santa ordered.  
Somewhere in that difficult conversation, Cindy came to understand that I prefer stuff to mess around with on Christmas, not stuff to wear.  (I learned years ago she doesn’t want stuff to plug in on Christmas, so I go with things like jammies, jewelry, and books.  I reminded her, too, that our newly acquired Hilton Head timeshare is a Christmas gift of sorts designed to delight her every spring for years to come.) 
I have to say, I was very proud of ourselves for how we handled that difficult discussion last year.  She listened with her heart while I spoke from mine.  It hasn’t always been thus with us!   :-o  
Somewhere in all of that consideration about gifts and disappointments, I got to thinking about dreams realized.  In the midst of remembering cold and prickly feelings from childhood, my better angel had me look at the flip side of my things.   
I think it is fair to say that by the time a body reaches the age of 60, he or she must have some big disappointments to deal with.  It’s just how life is. 
On the other hand, by the time that same body reaches maturity, what wonders of the universe has she or he been blessed to witness?  
So here and now, at the end of one year and the advent of my 62nd, let me list a few of the things I am truly grateful for:
  • A meaningful career as a public school teacher who tried to make a difference with kids. 
  • Being a retired public school teacher with a pension. 
  • Two lovely daughters, six amazing grandchildren, and a wife who loves me.  
  • A warm, safe house in a quiet suburban Midwest neighborhood with thoughtful but not nosy neighbors.  
  • Enough money to go to the grocery whenever we want.
  • Good health and the ability to see a doctor when needed.
  • A good education that has encouraged me to pursue so many curious, rewarding topics.
  • Appreciation for how hard a bird’s life is. 
  • The blessing of having found a loving church community. 
  • Living at a time when computers bring magic into our lives.  
  • Here at home, great places to sit and read, listen to music, and ponder the meaning of everything while not being tied up in knots of hunger.  
I could go on, but you get the idea.  My life has been and still is amazingly good.  I am a lucky man in a world where so many have so little. 
And the truly cool thing about most of my realized dreams is that I never even had enough sense to dream them in the first place.  But here, with a mindset of mindfulness, I recognize them and I am truly grateful.
Today’s Elder Idea:  
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
Langston Hughes
American ‘jazz poet’

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Passion for music

You might think the image accompanying this blog doesn’t exactly fit the headline. 
Contraire, amigo!  
It was back in the 70s when a few friends got together to make music for each others’ weddings, when I learned just how much fun making music in front of folks could be.   
Let’s make this very clear.  I did not play an instrument.  I just sang.  
I don’t mean to sound condescending with that crack.  It’s just that I was very aware that the guys playing guitar worked for hours getting the chord progressions and solo riffs right.  Me?  I got to listen to music and either sing along with the lead or work at picking out a harmony.  I figure I had the much easier gig, even though I had a hell of time memorizing lyrics.  
So in the course of offering a musical service to friends, Collage was born, a local band of buddies who ended up playing a lot of wedding receptions over that decade.  
I can still remember the first paying reception gig.  Our equipment was a wonder.  We borrowed an amp from a relative, I was told. Later on, after a couple beers, the story got a little richer.  For mic stands?   Cement poured into a margarine bowl with an aluminum rod stuck in it.  I can’t remember the actual microphones, but let us just say our set-up was makeshift.  In any case, let it be known that all survived that first three-set night at the long-closed Imperial House North here in Dayton.  I mean, we actually got paid in the process.
Collage started out with a couple of guitars, a keyboard, and a tambourine.  It was Steve Doody on lead, John Lauer on rhythm (sometimes acoustic), and eventually Jeff White on bass.  Marty Doody was our lovely keyboard player and female lead.  I sang lead a lot, but was happiest with harmonies, I think, though I couldn’t always find one.  Marty was a master at harmonies!    
Eventually we added a drummer.  We had a couple different guys, but within a short time that drummer was one Bruce Gunnell, a high school student at the time, but a former junior high school student council president I had quite a bit of fun working with as a new teacher, me serving as student council advisor.  Bruce was a kid, of course, and though mature beyond his years, he tells stories now of how one cold look from John could let him know the drum was too damn loud.  And such a conversation we had over the use of brushes!   Bruce still chuckles about that one today. 
With regular gigs came a showier wardrobe.  And, loyal reader, such is why the blue tux adorns this edition of The Back Porch blog.  I only wish I had a photo of the first tux we guys wore, bought used from Price Stores downtown:  Black & white brocade.  I kid you not.  
We looked pretty good, actually, as did Marty.  She always found something sexy to wear.  She was a pretty girl with a pretty voice.  In so many duets, the two of us worked off of each other to create some nice music.  We had a good time, too. 
I mention passion for music today for a couple of reasons.  First, I’m in the process of reading the Steve Jobs bio by Walter Isaacson, where the author makes it clear Jobs loved music, which, the story goes, is what drove the creation of iTunes and the iPod.   For Jobs it was Bob Dylan and the Beatles.  They rocked his world, and because of that passion, the world is a more musical place.  
Second, Collage’s mild-mannered drummer Bruce Gunnell is still at it, making music, but in a much different market:  Los Angeles.  Cali, if you will.  Today it is guitar and vocal as instruments of choice, with a little harmonica tossed in.  
Bruce has been in love with music forever.  Collage was his first band, besides the Wayne HS marching band, but it would not be his last.  He played in Jerry's Kids at Ohio University, and when he got to LA twenty-five+ years ago, he landed a drumming gig with The Leaving Trains, where he got to travel a bit and make some very loud, and I hear, pretty good, music.  Sorry, wasn’t my style. 
About a year or so ago, Bruce bumped into a guy in his Montrose neighborhood who was looking for a voice to fill out his band.  Bruce was game.  Such was good for a while, but after a time the feel wasn’t right.  That unnamed band folded, but Bruce and the bass player, Nancy Neal, stuck with it.  
In the process of getting more serious about music again, Bruce took to writing some music for one of Nancy’s lyrics.  Then he wrote a couple of his own songs, and the magic was back.  Since Thanksgiving, Nancy and Bruce have been in the studio with friends, recording three new, original songs.  I’ve heard stories of how things went, but I am eager to hear to mixed recordings.  
And, I just got word yesterday from Brother Bruce that said music is in the mail, winging its way to Ohio for Christmas.  I can’t tell you how eager I am to hear what the old Collage drummer has come up with.  
His passion for music turned out to be a mighty good thing. 
Today’s Elder Idea:  Rock and roll is here to stay, it will never die / It was meant to be that way, though I don’t know why....
from song by Danny & the Juniors