Saturday, December 23, 2017

The Last Christmas Present

Have you ever had something just pop into your head fully imagined? That does not usually happen to me. When writing essays, stories or songs, it is something more like I'm on a journey and don't know where I'm going or where I will end up. This time was quite different, it was almost like the story was beamed into my mind. I can still remember standing on the beach and wanting to find paper and pen fast before the vision of the story left me....and yet, it never did.

One thing must be cleared up Dad doesn't surf (he tried once) and he is still around and we get along fine.

ONCE UPON A TIME..............

It fell to me of all people to do this thing. My life has been the road. Everything I need or want fits in a carryon bag and that's how I like it. If I had a hero, it had to be the fictional character, Jack Reacher, the man that tosses his clothes when they get dirty and buys new ones, not in a desire to be wasteful, but in a move to have no dirty laundry to carry around. This life has been good to me and I have been rewarded with a career that demands precision and the ability to make quick decisions and let go of things that don't work well.

So, perhaps it was fitting that upon arrival at my parents' home for the holidays, I found the one thing my mother wanted most was for me to clean out the garage of my father's belongings. He had passed on more than 6 months ago, and no one had the heart to do what needed to be done. My father and I were never close, in fact it would have been difficult to find two people that were as different in personality in the same family. Where I found joy in a minimalist existence, he found happiness in the mementos from his life. His garage was full of those things. I could remember thinking back when I was young that he liked his things more than he liked us. Looking around, all I could see was junk, yet I felt there was something in there somewhere that was worth finding.

My dad was a private man, he spent more time off surfing than he did with us. I can still remember getting sad when I saw how happy he was when he came home with a  new surfboard. I wondered if I would ever see him that happy to play with me. Most of my memories of him involved me watching him waxing boards, hanging up wetsuits, and talking to Mom about the great waves he got after a session at the beach.

I guess this job fell to me because everybody knew that I would be the one that could throw away all of Dad's cherished possessions. I could do that. It wouldn't be that hard for me to get rid of things that nobody needed anymore, but there was something out here in the garage that needed finding. There was one little nagging thing from my youth that I wanted to put to rest for good.

Dad was an odd duck by anybody's standards and one of his little quirks was thinking that objects carried memories with them. I tried on more than a few occasions to get him to demonstrate a provable example of that. He would just shrug and say that it worked for him. He could hold up a toy from his childhood and say that it immediately brought back memories of playing with it, where he was and who he was with. I responded that it was merely visual clues and his brain was doing the work, not the object. Dad paid me no mind and would go about caressing some old knickknack and getting that wistful look that I was quite accustomed to seeing.

There was one truly weird story that Dad told. It had me looking around the garage more closely than I would have. He used to speak of a yellow Hansen surfboard that he owned. I remember it being a big deal because it cost a lot of money and he and Mom argued the day he brought it home. He was really careful with that particular board, but in spite of that, he had an accident while surfing that injured him and the board. The way he told the story, some blood from a cut on his knee, found it's way into the break in the fiberglass on the surfboard and created a bond between them. So far, this was a typical Dad story. He went on to say that the board spoke to him in his mind. It told him if he promised to keep it safe, it would save every memory of every wave he rode and would let him replay that memory by just touching it. That sounded like my Dad alright, but I was a little concerned about the talking board stuff. It wasn't like it was the only crazy thing my Dad ever did or said, but that wasn't the reason I remembered that story.

As my Dad got older and finally got to where he couldn't surf anymore, He still kept that one board around, and it was starting to look old as well. Dad seemed to spend more time near the board and many times, as I thought about it, he was laying a hand on it. Well, if it made him happy in his old age, then what was the harm, right? wasn't all that hard to find after all. Over in the corner, under a blanket and still covered with dust, there was a dingy, dinged, faded yellow surfboard, brown spots everywhere with "Hansen" on the deck. So, this was it. Are we talking magic? Or one more person falling prey to my Dad's flaky beliefs?
I wondered why I thought it was even possible that it contained memories...that was stupid, and yet, no one was looking and what would it cost me to try?

I reached out....

Thursday, December 21, 2017

The Frozen Floridians and Accidental Magic: Part 4

It is difficult to convey how so many different feelings can pass through your mind in such a short time while backpacking. One great feeling is that of being away from the craziness of regular life, heading to a place where all that matters is putting one foot in front of the other and the knowledge that everything you need and can have is right there on your back.

Yes, that is one awesome state of mind to be in, until you find yourself trudging along in the dark and cold, and suddenly realize that you have dropped your hat....somewhere behind you in the night. And your hat is a fantastic Under-Armour beanie that will keep a soul alive in the freezing cold mountain air...and you are bald-headed and the temperature is dropping to a place that you've not experienced since childhood in Minnesota.. It must be mentioned that in this particular case, the hat is black. The chance of finding it on the trail in the dark is about the same as finding a bear....nah, you'd find a bear first.

As I marched along with that single cone of light from my headlamp and started thinking about the predicament I was in, I realized how different life is when you can't just drive a little ways, pull out a credit card and get whatever you need.
The things we take for're hungry? Pull over and grab a bite at McDonald's. Need a shirt? Drive a few miles in any direction and there will be a clothing store. About as close as you can get to that feeling on the trail in normal life,  is driving far from home and realizing that you left your wallet behind. You realize then, "Hey, I'm going hungry" when a few minutes before, you were imagining a cup of coffee with a chocolate chip cookie..

I was going to have to survive 27 degrees for the next two days without a cover for my head. I thought of using my extra shirt as a head cover, and also wondered why in the world I had not opted for a jacket with a hood instead of the one I did buy that was a few bucks cheaper. Meanwhile, Paul was looking at me curiously over his cigarette at our break, probably wondering if I was going to be a liability and if he and Chase were going to divvy up my food rations and leave me on the trail whimpering alone in the dark. Fortunately, I had brought something extra along for my head. It wouldn't do much to keep me warm, but it was a cover, a buff, they called it in the he-man store, basically a berkah for men.

I pulled it over my head and tried not to think about what I was going to do when the temperature hit rock bottom. This trip I had already experienced the elation of going out with experience under my belt, and the best backpack and sleeping bag I could buy, but I was quickly earning the reputation of being the guy that loses the trail name "One Shoe" started solidifying in my brother's brain as the most apt name he had ever created for a fellow backpacker.

It was late in the evening when we came across another hiker heading back down the mountain. It was beyond pitch black and the moon and stars had taken the night off. They left behind a brisk cold wind that occasionally swooped in and reminded me that I was really going to miss that piece of headgear tonight. We chatted briefly with our newfound friend that was also crazy about hiking in the total dark, and found that we still had a lot to do before reaching our camp at the top of the mountain. As we parted ways, I mentioned that he might find a bit of accidental trail magic on the way down, and to please wear that hat all the way home and remember the guy who donated it....