Friday, May 30, 2008

Yeah! This guy knows how I feel!


I found another soul known for raving about the scenery . . . and doing something about too.

Gary Snyder is a great American Poet, Environmentalist and Buddhist. Check out his poem "For All." It appeared on the Writer's Almanac today. A good match for my Memorial Day Camping Post. I wish I'd heard Keillor read it this morning on the radio, but I found it on the website. Click Here.

Gary Snyder Quote:
"We are fouling our air and water and living in noise and filth that no "animal" would tolerate, while advertising and politicians try to tell us we've never had it so good."

More Links:

An article called The Wild Mind of Gary Snyder in the Shambala Sun, a Tibetan Buddhist Mag.

A page of Poems and Quotes on Kerouac Alley, a Beat Generation Site.


Have Fun!

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Two of My Favorite Muppets Moments.

Everyone who grew up in the late 70's has a favorite Muppets Moment. I stumbled across Mahna Mahna today and then found Grover. Enjoy!













Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Memorial Day Camping



I've mentioned this before, in "Zen and Art of Motorcycle Maintenance" Robert Pirsig talked about people sitting in front of the TV and then driving around on vacation watching but insulated from the world by a plate of glass. From one hermetically sealed environment to the other. Nowadays, we are surrounded, nay hypnotized, by images behind glass plates; we drive to work looking through the windshield, sit down at a desk behind a computer screen, drive home again and turn on a TV or another computer. We have people, I'm guilty, going to resturants or coffee shops and opening a laptop to stare at. Cellphones now allow people to wander through life staring at anything except the world around them. Its a wonder we know anyone else at all.

When I was a child, I was filled with wonder. All my trials and tribulations came later; self inflicted and self fulfilling. Our family was a camping/outdoor family. Back in the day when you would let kids wander around the woods of a gigantic state park without a second thought. I've been blessed, and cursed, with an Explorer's Mind and a Vagabond's Heart. This must be why I am always raving about the scenery. Oooh, the sunset on the water and the blinking lights, yeah I know, but it gets me going.

We were always camping on Memorial Day it seems. It was the first of several trips each summer. Almost before my memory, Mom and Dad took us camping. We had a trailer/tent combo thing. I can squint my mind's eye and almost recall. It was sheet metal and red. The tent folded off the side of the small trailer; bunk in the trailer and tent over it and on to the ground. There was storage under the bunk. It seems like it was from Sears. The kids were on the ground; Mom and Dad in the bunk. Years later an acquaintance showed up in the infield at a race with a completely restored version of the same unit; stripped, powdercoated, recanvassed. It was beautiful.

In addition to Memorial Day, Grandad and GG, as they are known now, took all the grandkids, between the ages of 6 and 12, camping for two weeks each summer. These were magical trips. Partly to make sure that Midwest and East Coast cousins knew each other. Perhaps even more important, but also catalyzed by hanging out with distant cousins in the woods, complete universes were opened to our young minds. There was exploring and discovery; play and creativity. We went to Ludington, Lake Champlain, New Jersey, Washington D.C., and Disney World. It opened our minds to so much. I could write volumes.

The visions come pouring back: wild blueberry pancakes; squirrel bread made from acorns and left over pancake batter; huge hikes; wildlife; calisthenics up on the tent platform, and just being in the world and soaking it up. Even the rain pounding down on the roof of a camper, while GG read to us from "The Wind in the Willows" or "the Happy Hollisters." I've probably written 10 pages in my notebook just describing Ludington State Park. I haven't even put any people in the story yet.

Another part of camping, oddly, was golf. I can't remember how many times "the guys" went off and played a round of golf. Clubs were essential camping gear it seemed. We had a natural foursome; my Dad, Grandad, Uncle Bob and myself. I felt so grown up going with them. My game never amounted to much but I learned so many things from all three of them.

Music was a part of camping too. Uncle Bob got me started on the guitar hanging around campfires. He and Aunt Chris sing so sweetly together. We had great singalongs. We would hang paperplate signs on bathroom mirrors around the park. "Campfire Singalong, bring your instruments. Admission: a log for the fire." Some years it was just all of us. Other years there were many. Or sometimes just at our own site, people would stop along the road to listen.

There was a special clearing at Ludington. On one end was a playground; on the other a fire ring that must have been 10 feet in diameter. We would start the fire, set up some chairs and tune up the guitars. The singing would begin. By the time night fell, we were surrounded by dark woods. The fire ring end was mostly grass; the playground was dirty sand. Above us was a large oval to the night sky and the stars. The green of the woods faded to a dark border. The stars stopped where you could no longer see the trees.

With much anticipation, we would hear whole families coming down the trail, crashing through the woods, to join us. One year, a bluegrass festival was in a nearby town. Several of the musicians were staying at the park. They came down through the woods, one of them pushing a dolly loaded with instrument cases. That was a great year for the singalong.

Although I have squandered much of it, it was such valuable experience for me to perform in front of people there. At first, I just had a guitar and was strumming off to one side. Later, I joined more of the festivities wholesale. What a life it was. I have been working now to get back to where I was; the chops, the confidence.

Memorial Day is close to my birthday. The family always went out of their way to do something for me while we were out and about. One of my favorite Memorial Day memories involves Clown Cupcakes [Mom is already laughing]. Mom knocked herself out that year. We were at a church camp, Six Lakes I think. It is a classic Michigan campground. Roads and sites are carved into of the woods. A large clearing made for a picnic area up near the woods and gradually becomes the beach. The Mid Michigan beach in the Woods is unique. There is more grass than sand. From the picnic area down to the lake, the tables, grills and shelters thin out. The large open area is for sunbathing and frisbee; maybe lawn darts or horseshoes. Then, right at the water, there is this ridge and a step down. Tufts of grass hang over a cut that drops down to sand. Most often, some plastic sheeting is coming up from under the sand. If you didn't lay down plastic and then sand, the grass would just take back over. Walking out into the water, you knew where the sand ended. The sand, dumped in place to create a beach, gave way to the natural muck of a Michigan Lake bottom; clay and dirt, sand and bluegill poop squeezes up between your toes. There's nothing like it.

So, that year, my Mom baked a couple hundered cupcakes. That would have been a lot, but she also planted a plastic clown head in the top and frosted each one to look like a clown suit. The clown head was a head and a daisy petal collar with a spike for a neck. Each cake had two or three frosting clown suit buttons down the front and some detail for arms on each side. They were works of art; individually frosted works of art. Lots of bright color; especially red frosting.

In grade school, we were given this pink chewable pill sponsored by Crest. The pill stained the plaque around your teeth and gums. The school nurse would look in everyone's mouth and she could tell what kids weren't brushing very well. Mom's red frosted clowns had the very same effect on the kids at camp; many of whom were apparently not brushing as well as they might at home. It looked like a pandemic of pediatric gingivitis.

I will always carry with me the experiences, the wonder, the joy and the love that I got while camping. There is nothing better for a kid than to be turned loose in the woods. To be able to find a squirrel skull or a twig that looks like a rifle or a pine cone that looks like Richard Nixon. There is pure joy in a child's discovery of little pieces of the world. You don't have to let your kids wander around a huge state park; let them run around your backyard or that little park down the road. Just let them get out there and get dirty. It's like planting their mind in good soil.

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Wisconsin



I'm in Wisconsin tonight, but I could throw a rock and hit Minnesota. A couple weeks ago, I was here in Wisconsin. Back then, I was in the "V" created by I-43 and US45, north of Milwaukee. I was running from Sheboygan over to Lomira. Cutting across on some county roads and state highways, I had another great drive. There were fourway stops and long curves; dairy cows and fishing lakes; clumps of trees out beyond corn fields and beautiful old barns. I saw a barn with a huge cornice over a door; an eagle perched at its peak. Near Random Lake, I drove through a small artists community. There was a sign for "Pottery and Forge" and several studios; paintings, quilts, furniture.

I saw some poor sap driving an Accord or a Corolla or something. In the front, with him, was an older lady. Probably a Mother-In-Law because in the backseat was his wife . . . and she had the GPS! Talk about a well equipped backseat driver. There was a big sign for Bob Fish GMC, a car dealer. His logo was a very nice graphic of a dolphin. A porpoise dolphin, not a dorado dolphin, which is, of course, a mammal, and not a fish.

When I was at MSU, my parents and brother and sister lived in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. The nearest real mall was four hours away, here in Wisconsin. The terrain in Wisconsin is similar but less remote. I began to think of a U.P. Trip I made with some housemates:



I lived in a house a block off campus at Michigan State. It was a great house; subdued, yet had great parties when the time was right. All the right stuff was available. We had a gigantic purple bean bag chair, the Grape, in front of the TV. It had to have been 8' in diameter. There were a couple couches and an entertainment center. The dining room was sparse with a table and 5 or 6 chairs. The kitchen was nicely done; good enough for 6 guys.

Past the kitchen, the wall into the garage had been knocked out and down a couple steps was a JennAir Indoor Grille set into a brick arch. The room had some barstools, exposed brick, a skylight and fake ferns. It was so 1970's, it looked like the set of a Porno Flick.

Just past the indoor grill on the way to the deck was a hot tub. I kissed my first wife, the first time, right there in the tub surrounded by steam and cedar carsiding. Just out the sliding glass door was a deck, the width of the house and 10 or 12' out into the backyard. That summer I had a strange loopy sunburn on my chest from sitting on that deck with a guitar. I was jamming with a guy who had just chosen Med School over going on tour with Amy Grant. Fool!

From the front, the house was a plain looking colonial. Oh, but if the interior walls could talk.

A half dozen of us occupied the house. John, whose dad owned the house, was finishing up a Civil Engineering degree. And although he as the son of a suburban Detroit dentist, he drove a jeep and carried himself like the love child of Thoreau and some husky woman in a greasy tshirt who cooked at a lumber camp in the far north woods.

Loren was a photographer. I don't remember what he was studying but he left town shortly after I did. Last I knew, he was in the Canadian Rockies capturing images for National Geographic. We had a couple of Pre-Med students and Buck. Today, Buck would be called a Metrosexual. He was doing a marketing internship in town and plucked and preened like a supermodel. Whatever he was doing, however, seemed to work with the ladies.

Most of the housemates made a trip up to my parent's house in the Upper Penninsula of Michigan. Three or four piled into my Bronco II; the tailgate stuffed with gear. There were two or three more in another car. I'm not sure how we got away with imposing so much on my unsuspecting family.

We left East Lansing one afternoon and tore up the highway. US27 and then I75. Just as we crested the Mackinaw Bridge, the tollbooth came into view. We should have thought about that. And, really, the toll booth operator has little more power than a snow plow driver or the person at the counter of the Secretary of State Office, but it was a man in uniform. My truck was filled with smoke. Smoke we didn't want anyone in uniform to smell. "Tollbooth!" I screamed! Down came the windows; the sunroof popped open. If we hadn't been 100 feet over the water, we would have flapped the doors to fan it out. We must have looked like a car fire, rolling down to the tollbooth with smoke pouring out all the windows. In reality, I'm sure no one even noticed.

There's more. Read it here.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

2008/03/30




If you haven't read 2008/03/29, it is below and comes before this post. Or click here to read it.


The morning after the early spring blizzard in Wisconsin, I make my delivery; a drop and hook. The drop goes fine because the truck before me parked on the ice and snow. He couldn't get out from under his trailer because he has no traction. I find a spot where they've just pulled a trailer. Parking on the small patch of asphalt, I get right out. Hooking is another story. The parking lot is covered in crispy snow and ice. Last night's heavy snow was wet enough that after freezing last night it is like a rink. Where's Snoopy and his Zamboni? I get under an empty just fine, but it takes a half hour of rocking back and forth to drag the trailer out.

I send my empty call and get my next load assignment. The comments say "Driver must have 50 to 75 blankets." Where am I going to find blankets?! It's a Saturday morning, there's a terminal a couple hours away, but are they open? I ask dispatch for help. "Already taken care of" they say. It must be another drop and hook.

I drive through more of the aftermath of the blizzard. There are trucks and cars and their tracks in the snow of the ditch. My pickup is further north and west. In the stark snowy landscape of Minnesota, the place is easy to find. Finding someone who works there is another matter.

There were several cars on the north side of the building. Around on the south side, there are a few trailers and three locked doors. I check the trailer nose boxes for paper work, but they are all empty. Further around back, a couple more locked doors. I drive around to where the cars are; two more locked doors. There is one last door down by an overhead door. As I tentatively tug on the handle, it clicks open!

In a large open space under the yellowy haze of sodium lights, there is metal stock all around me. I can hear the steady chuck and clunk of metal forming machinery. Around a corner, there is a young guy running a shear. He is a good part of the chuck and clunk as his shear clips off a piece of steel and it drops into a bin. Looking up, he pauses just long enought to thumb over his shoulder to another guy. For all the cars in the lot, these guys are the only visible work force.

The second guy tells me to check the backs of the trailers for paperwork; trusting souls. Back on the other side of the building, I find my paperwork in an unlocked trailer with tens of thousands of dollars worth of equipment. I'm on my way.

The next day, I'm sitting outside a store in Indianapolis. I-465 was in much better shape than the last time I was here, so I'm early. I made a couple passes by to conoiter my approach. On the second pass, I just hit the four way flashers and get out to walk around. It's going to be easier than it looks from the road.

Three hours later, and two hours past my appointment time, the guys show up to unload me. Then my box beeps and I've got a preplan for one o'clock about 45 minutes away. The unloaders manage to eat up all my time. I help them toss blankets back into the trailer.

Exasperated, I ask dispatch what to do with the blankets. I've got about 40 minutes to do my 45 minute trip. I've driven to the next exit down the highway to a truckstop to do my paperwork. Dispatch asks how many and I tell them I've got 50 or 60 blankets. Their answer comes back "put them in the nose of the trailer." My answer is a new ETA. I give myself two hours to deal with the blankets and drive to the next customer.

When I climb into the back of the trailer and start to fold and stack, I begin to realize there must be over a hundred! I'm never going to get all this done and get to the next stop on time. I'm tired and frustrated and then it hit me. . .

I've become a student of Zen Buddhism and struggle to keep it in my daily life as a trucker. I really enjoyed the book "A Complete Idiot's Guide to Zen Living." It is very Zen with just hints of Buddhism. The authors discuss adding Zen to any religious practice. I highly recommend the book and was glad to use it that day.

Part of Zen and Buddhism is mindfulness; a single minded focus on the task at hand. Even when that task is simply living your life. The extraneous and the negative get in your way. Another part is accepting life as it presents it self. Dwelling on the past or the future does not help you. You only have just this moment to do the right thing. If you do what is right, right now, the past and the future don't matter. Byron Katie is a Author and Life Coach or something. She's made a statement that oozes Zen whether she meant it to or not. She says: "Life is simple. Everything happens FOR you, not TO you. Everything happens at exactly the right moment, neither too soon nor too late. You don't have to like it - it's just easier if you do."

When I realized that I was giving over to my anger and frustration, I remembered my Zen Mindfulness. I took a deep breath and dropped it; let it flow through me and out. Focusing on the blankets, I laid one on the floor like a tarp to rake leaves on to. I concentrated on just the task. I pulled a blanket from the pile; found two corners and lifted them over my head folding them together; then a fold the opposite way and another. I began a stack on the first blanket and reached for another. When I missed a grab at a blanket or dust got in my eyes, I let it go; barely recognizing the thought. I purposely did not check the time. A truck slowed as it went by the end of my trailer, I knew he was chuckling at me. I let that go too. Soon enough, I had a pattern, a routine. It wasn't "Dancing With the Stars," but I had a rythm.

In what seemed like only minutes, I was dragging my third and final stack toward the nose. I was done! I checked my phone for the time. I had lots of time to get down the road! I was winded but felt good in that tight way after some exercise or a morning hike. Maybe, if I had let myself get pissed off, I would have been done just as fast. The attitiude, however, was completely different. I felt good. I was smiling. The rest of the day did not carry the weight of upset. There was nothing to forget, to get over. This is the key. There was nothing. It is really that simple.

Mindfulness means many things. It can be brought into your life from different angles. Another angle I've used is about snacking. It is easy to have a bag of pretzels or something on the dash as I head down the highway. This leads to what could be called mindLESS snacking. Just driving, reaching in the bag for a handful . . . and then another, and another, not thinking at all. Applying mindfulness, I still snack, but I get a handful of pretzels and then close the bag and put it away. There is a beginning and an end to the snack. Even if I decide at some point to have another handful, by the time I reach my destination, I've eaten a lot less pretzels; mindful that I didn't need the extra.

Broadening mindfulness, I can more easily defeat my rationalizations. I am one of the most creative and acrobatic rationalizers. This let me fall into the habit of eating in the truckstop more often than from my truck. Truckstop food choices are some of the worst. But it is so easy to just have a burger and fries. There are salads, if you look. I've gotten back to eating healthier again and mostly out of the truck. Mindfulness is not just about doing the right thing for yourself, it is doing the right thing for the universe. I am trying to eat only my share. It is so easy, in this country especially, to feel like you can just eat anything you want. Being mindful of the suffering of all sentient beings means most Buddhists are vegetarians. As my studies continue, I might get back to that myself.

It is easy to sally through this life without considering the consequences of your choices and actions. You can waste your days feverishly planning your future. You can live staring only at the carnival mirror of your past; all while life passes you by. Both are hollow. You can fill your days without really knowing where you are headed or what you want. Pull back into this moment. Think it all the way through and consider the full consequences of your decisions. Be mindful.

2008/03/29


I've got one last winter driving story for you.

As I write this, I realize what trouble there was on each end of this trip. It began as weird spring weather in the mountains of Pennsylvania. Above several hundred feet of elevation, the fog was very dense. In a boat, there would be nothing but the sound of the water lapping on the hull and the rattle of the rigging. The watch would be on deck staring into the surreal expanse of grey; straining their ears for the bell of another vessel. Instead, I'm straining my eyes hoping to catch the wisp of some color or the glow of tailights before it is too late. I hope I'm going slower than whoever is in front of me.

A truck looms out of the fog. It starts as the faint constellation of two low tailights and the DOT marker lights over my head. My confidence is shaken as I quickly slow the truck. I follow this guy for several miles. He is achingly slow. After a couple trucks and several four wheelers pass us, I decide to go around him. Up and down through the mountains, the haze squelches all frames of reference. I feel like I am flying by his truck. Looking down at the speedometer, I'm barely going 47 mph!

Finding an exit ramp in the fog is interesting. In the mountains, it is just plain spooky. My directions say "off ramp, turn right, 1/4 mile turn right at light, use second driveway." I can barely see the leading edge of my hood. Creeping along, I find the customer and drop my trailer. The empty trailer they give me is ancient and illegal; one of the DOT lights is out. 13 feet in the air, I can't replace it myself. With barely enough legal hours, I make a pickup and then find a truckstop. I'm beat; mentally tired. In the morning, I'll get that light fixed.

Hanging around waiting for the shop to fix my light, I see the Weather Channel National Map. Snow and winter storms the whole length of my trip from Middle Pennsylvania to Northwest Wisconsin. Chicago and Milwaukee are supposed to get it bad tomorrow. A simple light fix expands to include service on three of the four wheel hubs on the trailer. I am now several hours behind schedule.

Pennsylvania, Ohio, Indiana have no snow and hence are no problem. As soon as I cross into Illinois, it begins to snow. It's not real bad until I get to Wisconsin. It is snowing very hard. A heavy wet spring snow in the high twenties. It is freezing.

The change in the road is immediate. There is so much wet snow, and it is so cold, there are half mile long strips of ice under my passenger side tires. It feels like it is an inch thick. I can see only a little better than when I was in the fog.

My heater has two settings; "Off" and "Weld." I've had it off for a little while. The ice sneaks up on me. Suddenly, ice is freezing on the windshield in the widow's peak where the wipers don't reach. Ice is forming on the wipers themselves. Wiper fluid barely keeps the salt off and does little to melt any ice. It makes the ice on the wipers worse. The road is a little better because it is snow covered. We are down to one lane as no one braves the hammer lane. You can't even see it.

I am no fair weather driver, but I want to find a place to stop. My problem is that it is 22 degrees and I don't have enough fuel to idle all night. With diesel fuel over $4.00 a gallon, the company is understandably stingy with fuel. Instead of running out of the top half of the tanks, they are running us deep into the bottom half. Tonight, that's a problem. My fuel stop is only 100 miles from my delivery. I have to press on regardless.

Ice on the wipers is so bad, I am having to knock it off. I can't pull over to do this as the few exits I've seen haven't been plowed. Getting back on the highway could be a problem. To stay ahead of the wiper ice, I have to reach out the window and snap a wiper. To do this, I have to find a straight patch of highway; turn off the engine brake; roll down my window; stand up in the cab, coasting; reach out and grab the wiper as it cycles toward me; and snap the wiper without rolling off into the snow. Not just off the highway, but outside the two tracks of those before me is dangerous. There are times I'm crouching down or leaning to one side to be able to see; putting off the wiper snap as long as possible.

By the time I reach my fuel stop, I've driven 35 or 40 mph for the last five hours. Almost a futile exercise and physically daunting as well. I haven't been able to reach the passenger wiper. It has five pounds of ice on it; as big as my arm. There is a quarter inch of ice on the headlights. No wonder I couldn't see! I fuel up and send a message that I won't be making the delivery tonight and park. It is the sleep of Van Winkle.

In the morning, on the way through the last 100 miles, there are four trucks jackknifed and in the ditch. One looks bad, tractor folded around on the trailer and 50' into the woods; fifth wheel first. I made the right call.