Birthday Advice to a Ten-Year-Old Me

Hey Kiddo,

Good news! You (we) are going to be ten tomorrow. You may not realize this but you are about to live one of the greatest years of your life. Don’t waste it. Please take my advice on the following:

Stay out past your curfew. The exhilaration you’ll feel on the sprint home in the dark will be worth the grounding, especially because dad will let you off the hook in the morning.

Play sports…in the grass. Don’t worry about your pants or skinning up your knees. Nothing smells better than a grass stain and a stinging raspberry is a badge of honor at your age.

Claim as many “do-overs” as you can. You won’t be able to get away with that for much longer. Trust me, I’ve tried.

Get into a fight with your best friend. Punch him in the nose. He’ll hit you back and it’ll hurt; but you’ll make up the next day. Things only get more hurtful and complicated as you get older.

You know that girl who lives on the corner? Hold her hand. I know you have never been able to finish a complete sentence in her presence and that you’re self conscious about your huge glasses; but trust me on this one, you’ll walk away from the experience with a smile on your face and a memory that will last a lifetime.

It’ll be tempting to betray your youth in the coming years. You are already a grown up in so many ways. I won’t lie, you’ll get to have some absolutely incredible experiences as you get older. That hand holding thing gets really awesome. There is, however, something really special about being ten. You’ll know more about what matters than you will at 35 and your soul will be lighter as a result.

Have fun and Happy Birthday!

Sincerely,

The Older Greyer You

The West is the Best – An Ode to Americans (Part 2)

Three days prior, we’d ended the first leg of our High Sierra trek with a 3,000 foot decent from Kearsarge Lakes. The sapphire blue bodies of water run in a chain just below timberline.  One sip from these pristine pools made me realize that I had never tasted (I mean really tasted) water before. I had tasted the cocktail of chemicals that magically appears from my tap, but never once had my lips touched something so base and so pure.

The lakes themselves run off into Bubbs Creek, a trickle that grows in tumultuousness as it cascades down one of the many gorges that make up King’s Canyon National Park. The trail we were on followed its banks ever deeper toward Lower Vidette Valley. Somewhere along the way we were to make camp.

Daylight flees with a quickness in the Sierras. It’s easy for the sun to hide behind the enormous peaks.  The landscape began to lose depth and distinction in dusk’s grey light. It became increasingly difficult to spot the cleared camping areas that our aching feet were desperately seeking. But, just ahead on the trail, a warm glow beckoned us like siren’s soft lullaby.

Lying propped up on one elbow, legs crossed, before a low crackling fire, within the protective womb of a pine grove, was a cowboy. A real life, boot wearing, dusty jeaned, bona fide cowboy.  His horses shuffled nervously as we came into view.His hypnotized gaze broke from the dancing flames and leveled on our haggard band with a serene confidence. Through a roguish grin and narrow eyes he drawled a low, ”howdy”. In case you missed that…he said, “howdy”. Who says “howdy”? A cowboy that’s who!

He was easily one of the most suave and mysterious people I had ever encountered – a possessor of some secret knowledge that made him different than other people. His life, the product of a perfect harmony between his own free will and nature, couldn’t help but make a mockery of my own with its desperate attempt to find balance and meaning amidst the illusions of materialism and professional status.

We asked him where we could find the nearest campsite. He pointed, looking down his extended finger with one open eye, as if through the sites of a rifle, and said, “five minutes’ walk, just round the bend.” His fearlessness was contagious. We calmed and strolled into camp almost as if we had known it was there all along.

It was this fearlessness, the power of knowing that I could survive, that I had sought by agreeing to go on this adventure in the first place. I had forgotten that somewhere along the way as I hobbled off the trail after having gotten injured. I needed to channel my inner cowboy. This was my journey now.I had chosen it; and I had just as much a chance of finding peace in these revised circumstances as I did when my trek first began. I was going to make it back to Vegas. I was going home…and the universe was going to help me.

Just then a total stranger in a white pick-up truck rolled slowly around a bend in the road that met the trailhead to which I had managed hike. I fixed my gaze on the driver through his lightly tinted windshield and commanded him to stop with my thoughts. It worked! All I needed to do was convince him that I needed a ride.

The West is the Best – An Ode to Americans (Part 1)

How did I know that it was time to bail? Well, it was when I figured that, if I went any further, my only way out would be in a helicopter; or that, if shit really hit the fan, I would be the first one eaten. It’s funny how the decision tree maps out at 11,000 feet, but those were the only “rational” conclusions I could conceive of if I kept going.

We’d been on the High Sierra Trail in Sequoia/King’s Canyon National Park for three days; and after thirty plus miles and over 20,000 feet of vertical, my knees were shot. I had become a danger to myself and the others in the group. It was time for me to call it a trip.

The day before, we had passed a trailhead that supposedly led out of the park. It was an eight-mile backtrack, but that was way less than the 35 miles that still lay ahead for everyone else. So, I bid my companions farewell. I was sad to go but relieved that my frozen corpse was not going to be divvied up between them to be used as emergency rations…tears streaming down their faces while they secretly marveled at how much I tasted like ham.

Though in significant pain, I really enjoyed the solitude of the hike down to the trailhead. Towers of grey granite reached impossibly skyward forming hollows that devoured the forests and rivers lining the basins that snaked through the mountains. The eons of effort these spires of rock had spent trying to reach heaven convinced me that it does, in fact, exist. For a moment, I was no longer afraid of dying. Why would anything go to so much trouble for something that wasn’t real?

The pep in my step that had steadily built as I approached the trailhead quickly slowed to a plod. Did I mention that we’d covered over thirty-miles? Though I had triumphantly completed the eight-mile trek to the nearest park exit, I was still over 20-miles away from the car that we had driven more than 250-miles from Las Vegas to our starting point. How the hell was I going to get back across the Sierra Mountains and across the desert back to Las Vegas?

The plane home was leaving in four days from McCarran International Airport with or without me. My knees were throbbing. I had less than a hundred bucks in my pocket and a quickly diminishing supply of Cliff Bars. Holy shit, it wasn’t my friends that I needed to worry about…I was going to have to eat myself (mmmm, ham). I felt like a seven-year-old lost in the grocery store. I needed an adult.

Cratered, it was impossible for me to fathom, in that moment, the beauty I was about to witness – a beauty that none of the enveloping peaks, in all their magnificence, could muster.

Goodbye Hope

From down the hall they summon her to offer a mother’s comfort. “Mommy, are you there?” The last of her tears and withered locks fall into the wash basin. Goodbye hope…you were never real anyway. Maybe a mother’s loving lie will do just the same. “In a minute, love.”