Monday, November 26, 2012

Hiking ... Some Thoughts


November 25, 2012


Hiking is exhilarating … it’s beautiful … it is being "one with nature".  All well and good.  For me, however, it is more than that.  When I am not gasping for the last breath of air I shall ever breathe, hiking is also a great time to think. Today, was such a day. 

My hike today wandered aimlessly up the Black Mountain Trail from the trail head on the West River. The operative word in this case is "up". The trail is of medium difficulty, but honestly, it gets harder every year for me. Pounds and years taking their toll.  On the bright side … more stops to rest … more time to think.

To start, I had a difficult time getting motivated.  It was nippy outside with a crisp wind blowing.  The sun teased me unmercifully, popping in and out from behind gathering, menacing clouds.  Once you got on the trail, the conditions would be great.  Once you got there … not when you look out of the window.  Eventually, I convinced myself to go.

Understand what hiking means to me. Dictionary definition: Walking along a trail, usually up the side of a sheer precipice, carrying a pack strapped to your back containing a variety of survival paraphernalia with a combined weight slightly less than two times the body weight of the person wearing the pack and excluding water (that would be left behind). To this, I would add at least one hanging stone. Normally this means a small stone sculpture … two pounds max. However, recently, I have been moving the Book Club to new locations. Years ago, I made a piece that I called the Book Club which represented my wife’s actual book club. It was composed of six “large” hanging stone sculptures, each representing one of the book club members and weighing ten to twenty pounds. I had decided to move these sculptures to new locations on nearby trails. There is no truth in the speculation that this symbolic dissolution of the Book Club has anything to do with my exclusion from the group because I am male. I would need to carry one of the hanging stones with me on my hike.

One might speculate that, given its weight, the placement of the large hanging stone would be in close proximity to the trail head.  One would be right. But, one would still have to find the right place … not too public – it needs to be “found” …  not just any tree – one needs a horizontal limb, substantial enough to support twenty pounds of rock … not just any trail – stone hangers, like serial killers, like to revisit the scene of the crime, relive the event, speculate on its discovery. When I return to a spot where I had previously hung a stone and find it to be gone, I spend hours wondering why it was moved, where it went, and what the finder imagined about how it got there. Yes, I have a very sad life.

In addition to hanging rocks in trees, I also enjoy stacking stones along the trail. First of all, the vertical aspects of the stacked stones is very appealing to me. If it was good enough for the ancients, it is good enough for me. I fully understand the Hikers’ Code … “ leave no trace”, “pack it in .. pack it out” “ don’t put that crap here you lazy, perverted asshole”. To that I say, “Pretty Pretty Pretty”. I leave what I find … rearranged of course.


On many of the trails that I hike, I have left stackings. I just hiked a trail a couple of days ago that meanders along a small mountain stream. The stream is a jumble of angled stones (great for stacking) of varied sizes and with lots of flat slabs of stone (the Holy Grail of stacking stones).  I have done three different stacking along that stream, of which two of the three are still standing.  I love to revisit a stacking to find that it has survived.  For these two, it has been about two years. They somehow managed to remain standing regardless of the winter snows, spring floods, falling branches, and the hands of other hikers. I find them to be comforting … familiar. Here is the difficult part to understand. I equally love to arrive at a spot and find a stacking gone. Crazy, don’t you think?  Stackings have a life of their own. They exit until they no longer exist. We rearrange and reorder natural objects. We may alter their condition, but ultimately, they are natural objects and subject to the laws of nature. Their nature is to follow the laws of nature (kinda Goldworthyque don’t you think). Man, as far as we know, is the only creature with the ability to visualize his future, his demise and beyond. He has the ability to create objects … tributes to himself … to survive long after his demise. Man, however, cannot imagine infinity … for himself, nor his inventions. Our creations are but mortar and stone … slaves to the laws of nature.

Maybe the closest we will come to infinity are our words. Maybe the real thing that sets Man apart is his ability to manipulate symbols (written language) to describe his creations … his imaginings. Just maybe, our words will outlive both Man and his monuments.


So it seemed to me 
while thinking 
and walking!

Saturday, November 17, 2012

Death's Door Film Festival


One of the things that is unusual about me is that I frequently envision my death.  I don’t see that as necessarily being morbid or obsessed with death. I see it as an exercise in priorities. It is about sorting out what is important to me … what touches me … what makes me cry or laugh or on rare occasions makes me shout.  It helps me understand who I believe I am. In our safe deposit box, I have a stack of amusing pictures of myself.  There is always a poster board of old photos of the deceased at the funeral parlor. Just in case, I have collected photos for such an occasion … amusing ones … at least they are amusing to me. In my will, I have included a sizable narrative on the do’s and don’t of funeral arrangements for me.  Like, don’t have one. Or memorials … only if Anne needs to have it.  Over the years, I have daydreamed a million scenarios and held a zillion “what if” conversations of family, friends, and the greater part of society that might possibly be generated by my demise.

All this to say, I have come up with a good idea. When I die, there could be a film festival of sorts. Well-wishers could be required to view a selection of my favorite movies. I have, I admit , had difficulty convincing others to watch those films with me during my years above ground. And when they did … I must admit their attitude was lacking.  

Thus, here goes …


1. The Wizard of Oz

2. Anne of Green Gables

3. Moulon Rouge

4. Cabaret

5. Cinema Paradiso



I have spared the unbereaved the pain of Existo, Urinal, Eraserhead, Pink Flamingos, etc.



Now. Is that so weird?

Sunday, November 4, 2012

Big Chief Little Heart

A large part of growing up is about being scarred for life. For some of us, it was physical ... that whipping that turned into a beating. For others, it was psychological. For the most part, we took our lumps and moved on. We hated the perpetrator, usually our parents, until such time as senility erased the memories. In a few cases, we suppressed the memories and went on to lead successful careers as serial killers. Our trials often shook those suppressed memories loose and we concluded our blubbering testimonies with "Daddy made me do it". I was lucky enough to have had multiple scars. I collected them like bubble gum cards and sorted through them in the privacy of my room at night. This allowed me to spread my anger around. Such generalized distain for others pretty much defined me as a Marshall.

Of all the scars, the Big Chief Little Heart Scar is the one that quite often comes to mind. I was in the seventh grade and the barber shop in Centerville was the cheapest, so that is where we went. It hadn't been that long since Dad had stopped cutting our hair. Guess he got tired of trying to hold us still or got tired of yelling "Be still, damn it". All I really remember about the barber was his big nose, his non-top talking, and this hair. Always look at your barber's hair before you let him cut yours. It is like looking at your girlfriend's mother before you marry. My barber had one of those tall flat tops, about an inch and one half. Each hair stood straight up like a sharpened spike in a in a Viet Nam man-trap. It had an oily sheen about it and looked ever so much like a bed of nails that any swami would be proud to lie down upon.




I sat down in the chair and delivered the usual "trim it up". To be honest, I never really had long hair. The closest thing to that in our house was my brother Ron's greaser look. Mine was the short-hair ed athlete look much favored by Dad.  Hence, the amount of hair falling about me did not tip me off. It was quick and painless as they say. What did tip me off was the look on my mother's face when I met her at my Uncle Hugh's store across from the barber shop afterwards. I had never seen my mother that angry before. Uncharacteristically, she marched me back in the barber shop and proceeded to rail at the barber about what he had done. I stood silently as she and the barber discussed the merits of my new "do" and provided amusement for the good ole boys sitting around. Given the availability of the large mirrors lining the walls of the shop, I took the opportunity to take my first real look at myself. Were I of of a more outspoken persuasion, I would certainly have screamed "butcher".  The picture in my head, however, was of that of an Indian chief yanking back Custer's head and relieving him of his golden locks. I had been scalped ... clippers flat to the head and let her rip.

Like they say, there are always two sides to every coin. Mom was nearly in tears, but Dad kinda liked the look. Myself ... I spent my time pondering the next audition for a banjo-picking, porch-swinging hillbilly in  Deliverance II and simultaneously steeling myself for what I knew was to come. On Monday, I would have to go to school. It would be brutal. We all believed in bullying in those days and prided ourselves on our skills. I fantasized that my hair would grow over the weekend.  It did not. I dreamed that my parents would not make me go to school. They made me go. I convinced myself that no one would notice. They noticed. They noticed . On how they noticed. They were eating me alive when suddenly, there was a gentle voice from above ... an angel ... divine intervention. "Bruce, could you come up to my desk?" Miss McDonald, my teacher, stood up as I approached. My guardian angel smiled as I neared her desk and she eased her arm around my shoulders and gently turned me to face my tormenters. It all happened in a flash. Before I realized what was happening, her hand shot to the top of my head and she vigorously  proceeded to give me a bristle rub. She and the class exploded in uproarious laughter. Yes, I have scars.


Today, I went to get a haircut. Some things never change. I go there because it is cheap. Last time I went there I didn't get a very good haircut. I am not too hard to please. Today, I got the same barber that cut my hair before. He seems like a lost soul. I can't bring myself to say no when he asks if he can help me. He talks a lot and the stories are all the same. He doesn't fit in, but he doesn't get it. His life sounds pretty joyless. He told me about his two heart attacks. He told me about being in the volunteer fire department , but corrects himself to say that means he help direct traffic and brings the firemen coffee when they want it.  When he raises the clippers to my head, his hand shakes violently. I took off my glasses and he put his on. He tells me how he had his eyes checked and dilated yesterday and how he has to wear his reading glasses today because his vision is so blurry. My confidence has a slow, but steady leak. Hair rained down on my face and in my mouth. I wonder how the barber is able to completely miss the floor with it. At last, we were done. He said the thing you never want your barber to say. He said, "I am just going to tell you straight up. No need to lie about it. I cut your bangs too short. That is all there is to it".



After several tries, he figured out how to run my credit card. He looked me in the eye and asked, "Did you want to put a tip on it"? "Sure", I replied.