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Traveling, living, loving, exploring and trying to make some semblance of sense out of this crazy world.  


Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The Devil's Advocate

This post is a continuation of comments made online, and some thoughts I have had since then, regarding the Access Fund and its members, as well as the climbing community as a whole.

I know that I shock and offend many of you deeply, and indeed that is often one of my goals.

ONE of them.

The other, overriding in almost every instance, is to make you think.

I apologize deeply for occasionally so losing faith in myself that I lose my temper and regress to a less than elegant mode of communication. It’s often just easier to type than to go get my medications. Easier, not wiser.

Such is not my intention; to simply offend would be mere vulgarity. Any idiot can be vulgar.

First and foremost, the Access Fund is a fine organization accomplishing many things. Gene Kistler in particular has gone above and beyond in support of a tiny crag far from his home turf of New River Gorge, where he uses the tiny amount of time left over between being a husband and a dad, running an outdoor shop, and climbing like a madman by staying buried in community and coordinating events between local climbers on his own behalf and that of NRAC. Gene is the donor who provided many of the top anchors recently installed at Franklin Gorge, and has acted as a sounding board for many of my complaints and ideas..

So much for the defense of the AF, which I am sure will have, by the time I post this, many, many vociferous defenders.

I responded to a post online, in which the post's author was advised to contact the Access Fund in search of a solution to impact problems and general climber apathy.   Based on my own fairly extensive and repeated experience, I advised against spending his time either preaching to the choir or baiting the piranha from the shallow end of the online gene pool (that is- posting on the forums).  Instead, I advocated beginning on a smaller scale and finding the people at his own crag who wanted to help.

(Between bouts of bitching about it online, I found a good crew of people at Franklin and elsewhere just meeting them there at the crag… kudos to each and every one of you- for what you did, my deepest thanks.).

I advised against contacting the Access Fund, because in part I know that what he will get is an Adopt-A-Crag packet and the contact info for his local affiliate, neither a real solution to frustration. Paperwork and phone calls- mmm, yes, I know you feel so much better now…

It becomes more and more difficult to believe in any of our advocacy groups, if one thinks for a minute about just how many members are already there, at the crag, contributing to the problem, not the solution.

Not because they don’t know how- I’m sure many of them attend at least one Adopt each year and no doubt work very hard on what they do there... petting dogs, sipping latte, exchanging emails and Facebook info, trying on their free shirts, nibbling their tiny PowRBars.... oh, yes, and building trail.

But the connection between that day of fun and confusion and new friends and laughter with a predetermined series of activities versus the average AF member's day at the crag was lost before it ever existed. There is simply no continuity, because no one with any advocacy group expects or requires the average member to act that responsibly and proactively on every climbing day.

No one is willing to equate freedom with responsibility, practiced every time you start up the trail. Telling people they have certain duties in order to remain free is not exactly a popular stance.

So I will defend my online point- it IS all about the money. You need the memberships to fund the events and sponsor conferences, grab the ears of Senators and to buy entire mountains. I have no problem with that and have been quite impressed with the accomplishments of the last few years.

But you need contented members and the corporations they own making more-than-mandatory donations and creating feel-good PR in order to survive as a corporate level non-profit.

Thus, you will seldom exhort your members when you can gently urge. You will make no definitive statement of the incredible impact that is created by the popularization of climbing, but rather point to the projects achieved. And I freely and sincerely declare that every one of them has been amazing and worthwhile. I have no problem with the overall structure that is the Access Fund organization.

But the truth is clear. Our name is Legion, for we are many.

We are by no means the first, of course. Far from it… every other sector of society despoiled this country long before nylon, Gore-Tex and Stealth rubber were invented… we are, in most cases, simply wandering amid the overgrown remains of their excess.

The difference is motivation. We are supposed to be outdoorsmen, one of the few groups whose passion is to explore and experience the world as it is. Not shooting or fishing, not mining or cutting, but traveling on the face of the land and accepting the challenges that come with choosing a slightly different path to the top.

Climbers are focused, driven, wonderful eccentric people. I’ve been one for the last thirty-four years of my life.

I’ve come from the bottom up; a wide-eyed teen in wool hat with tied swami and a brand-new figure 8 on a hawser-stiff strand of Goldline, shivering in the bitter cold of a December morning, awkward in surplus jump boots and oversized work gloves, looking out over the Shenandoah Valley from the top of the Blue Ridge with a new vision of the world. Incredibly generous and kind people gave me the priceless treasure of their experience and knowledge in the years that followed, and we found a place among all of us where no matter our disagreements in dress and style, in class and origin, politics and religion, we could all find a common ground to share the joy of this amazing thing.

In turn, the next generation of us who had come along took up that thought, that creed, and shared with each other and newfound friends the guidelines and discoveries of this world.

And when anyone in that crew erred, we said so. Truth was also something that we shared, and we expected it from each other, from the businesses where we spent our hard-earned pay, and from the organizations to which we belonged. The same held true for any of the many newcomers that were made welcome and shared with as family.

But this is NOT the way it is now.

Old timers no longer speak up when the newcomers stray from the path, unleash their crag dogs (many, if not most of whom are NOT appropriate to the setting, no matter how many years myopic pet owners are willing to spend debating the topic), poach climbs on private land where access is already an issue, and in general act like the worst examples of the other user groups upon which most young climbers look with a sort of condescending superiority.

Members of prestigious organizations such as the American Alpine Club, the Sierra Club and the Access Fund do not exemplify the goals or the mission of those organizations whenever they are in the field. It is more important to “have fun” or “relax” than to, with very little more effort and only a spoonful or so of honesty, preserve our heritage, secure our access and establish our legitimacy as not just users but friends of the mountains.

If you live in a place where every single AF member you know is deeply committed to being involved in as many climbing-access and impact related activities as they have time and funds to attend, then you live in one of three towns I can think of, or you live in a community likely comprised entirely of outdoor professionals.

Perhaps this seems a bit harsh, but I will NOT believe that everyone reading this will be free of the thought that they could do more, be more outspoken about what is right and wrong at the crag, and take the few extra minutes while you are right there to actually fix the problems you see, instead of waiting for someone else to organize a trail day or for the Access Fund to Adopt your crag.

Adopt it yourself.

In the age of iphones, Facebook and half a dozen other social media, do you really need  to pay someone in Boulder a hundred dollars a year to organize you and keep you informed of the fights, while making those fights more complicated than they need to be?  Do you need to be involved with a group who is constantly cleaning up after its members who have knowingly put up climbs on private land?  A group who cannot even come to a consensus on whether or not dogs and boomboxes at the crag are good or bad things?  Do you want to be part of an organization that will never revoke your membership, so long as you routinely pay your dues, even if you set fire to J-Tree or chop bolts in another country or add them to classic trad lines?

If you still think advocacy groups are a great idea and want to involve your area in their National program, great!  Might I suggest that you use that day to build something meaningful, or replace top anchors, or maybe invite the local landowners that you have been pissing off and crapping on for years to come see how you‘re trying to make things better and would love to do the same in return for access to a private crag.

The point I am making is simple- stop being so happy and proud to be a member of the Access Fund or any other advocacy group and start making that mean something. You have managed to purchase some amazing crags, and the temptation is to sit back and congratulate yourself, go explore the new crag, maybe take it kind of easy for the rest of the year.

But while you've been fundraising and buying self-fulfilling prophecies, you and your fellow members have walked through and climbed at more than a few crags that were quite literally falling to pieces under your feet, and you've managed to leave the job of recruiting volunteers and maintaining the trails to locals who have never been to the rendezvous at the New or the Red or the Gunks, and likely will never go, because of the representatives of your organization they have encountered, and the actions they've seen out of those members.

Again, they’re all fine events… but they are by no means the full scope of climbing.

I know I sound extreme, and in many respects I am just that.

But right now your public lands are under attack from many quarters.

This is, quite literally, a war.

Whoa… there he goes again, over the top.

Not so much.

Economic necessity is pushing a number of the local people who own mountain land to the brink. Timber is falling in a brown and green wave, here in the south, as woodlots are cleared for the money needed to keep house and home together.

Out-of-state retirees buy mountaintop acreage, literally fly in modular homes, and stock them with twice per season convoys from their local Costco. Gas drilling rigs are slowly but surely creeping in, and with them will go the pure springs and life of the mountain streams and high plateau bogs.

Misguided environmental efforts are stealing local jobs and blocking funds for wind energy projects as pointless wilderness proposals threaten climbing development and mountain biking access, effectively leaving the woods to fewer friendly eyes and wide open to timber and game poachers, as well as drug and illicit game smuggling. The same proposals ignore the fact that thousands of acres of private land adjoin the proposed boundaries, land on which the owners are free to indulge in as much development and resource extraction as they are allowed under local law.

Local law enforcement in counties and on public lands more and more often finds itself stretched thin as state budgets shrink to cover tax shortfalls and national programs are slashed in administrative efforts, right or wrong, to halt an economy swaying between inflation and recession on the back of an unstable dollar.

Massive cuts have come to the budgets that put inspectors in the field to oversee logging, drilling, and mining operations, leaving less scrupulous operators to violate environmental guidelines and push the boundaries as far as they can get away with.

Government listens now as never in the last 50 years to the paying users of the forest- the mining and gas operators with crews of a dozen buying local goods and using local services and generating tax revenue, the loggers who bid for 100 year old trees for dollars on the foot, and the hunters and fishermen who spend millions on permits, lodging and necessities eight to ten months out of the year.

Now more than ever, it falls to climbers, mountain bikers, backpackers, and the other educated, active users of this country’s amazing public lands to go beyond the edge of the map, to get out and find the rest of the country you too often drive blindly through.

You- WE need to be the part of the face between the government and the people and the environment. Each of us must be the hand that heals the forest and the earth, as well as the hand that climbs.

We need to support the communities around the conveniences we search for so desperately, and show the numerous ways in which those communities benefit from our presence. Stop stocking your coolers at Sam’s or Costco in the middle of metropolis and come spend your desperately-needed dollars where you find your desperately-needed recreation.

Skip a big climbing rendezvous and stay in a little community campground near your favorite crag. Go see a drive-in movie. Go roller skating. Buy some ice cream and gas and actually take time to talk to the locals.

Find out how many local jobs will be lost if you block the building of 40 wind turbines for the 1% chance that at least 1 endangered bat would likely be killed in the next 100 years of operation. Balance that against families, faced with losing the job of installing those turbines and the money it represented, instead being forced into clear cutting acres of mountainside oak and poplar forest to make bank payments, burning off brush against cliffs filled with caves in which hibernate thousands of bats, asphyxiated by the smoke in mid-winter by economic necessity, and building 250-foot chicken houses on the resultant wasteland, adding to the nitrogen load of the Potomac.

Not every wilderness is a good idea, and not every wilderness coalition is a open-hearted group of earth-loving environmentalists.

Just as not every Access Fund member is a paragon of climber responsibility and just as I am by no means an example of a great writer or thinker.

Simple old rules- question authority… ALL authority.

Especially me…

Ahhh… now, see? You’ve got me doing it…


In the end, a discourse such as this makes little difference, here or elsewhere.

And it is, of course, no excuse for my being the grating, vicious bastard that I am. I have no excuse for that. My charming, profane, pompous, arrogant nature comes from a slightly jaded view after a lifetime of wandering amid amazing athletes and near-legendary characters, dirt bags and rock stars, junkies and hookers and businessmen, vision seekers and PR whores, just a curious country boy who wandered over the mountains to see what lay on the other side.

I try to tell it the way I see it. I am as harsh with myself as any of you, so get in line to kick my ass or tell me how much I suck. The first guy that does both is looking back at me from the mirror each and every day.

This is my kung fu, and it is very strong.

It will inevitably take events beyond remediation to move any population to recognize need. I saw this in more than one country and have railed in vain against it and walked silently through it too often here in America.

I yield now to finer minds than mine to find the faults in my arguments and statements. It should not prove difficult nor should it take too long.

I wish you as much luck in coming up with working answers of your own.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Against the Darkness

Author's note: the previous piece, "Ashes of Bridges" was written all in one setting over a couple of hours after weeks of thought. My intent was to write a piece about the battle depressed people (like myself) go through day to day, and to simply give insight to my own life. I intend to judge no one but myself, and simply wrote of how things seem to me; the challenges and strengths of the people around me, and the winding road that has led me to the place I live in.

I almost immediately set about writing the piece below, only to find that my musings had stirred deep emotions, both in myself and in the people I wrote about.

I love my family. They have, one and all, faced their own obstacles and conquered their own summits. Any fault of finding oneself out in the cold lies solely at my own feet, for they have so many times opened the door. Below you will find the answer to why, even in the arms of family, there are those of us who can never go home again.

This piece is dedicated with love to my wonderful family:Gilbert and Joyce Gray, Marty, Diana, Mallarie and Mathea Breeden, as well as to the answer to my own personal prayer, Cindy Bender.

Against the Darkness

And ever after, comes the Darkness.

 The Fallow ground at the end of all the words, the silence when the last violin has fallen to whispers, the last flicker of epiphany ground slowly to a chilling halt. Inspiration cools, the fingers stumble, the “Delete” key more and more frequently in use, entire paragraphs purged after long minutes of crafted debate with the Muse.

Silence within, as the city thumps and roars beyond the window, Cindy sitting patiently reading in the sunlight reflected from distant roofs to the book perched cat-like in her lap.

A message from my father, leaving me to understand, once again, that to communicate this darkness at my heart, to try and shape the passage through Night into words and images is to wound those who have tried so desperately to give harbor to a ship which has no choice but to sail. We are too much alike, father and son, stubborn men who think too much and feel too much, logical men ruled by our hearts and trying, too late, to make sense of senseless actions.

There has never, with one or two rare exceptions, been any question of an open hearth and home for the prodigal son. My mother has too often bridged the divide and has never once failed to make welcome either her rebellious son or any guest or friend of his, no matter how tenuous the recollection or connection. She has held onto the faith that passes all understanding, and has given me to strength and the courage, time and again, to humble myself before Eternity and beg forgiveness, to draw another breath and rise up, secure in the belief that I am never alone in the night, no matter how dark.

My sister’s life has filled with LIFE and I can think of no one better to find joy in a family, in the country, with a strong, funny, intelligent husband and two amazing, completely unique daughters to call her own. I can think of no time that their hearth and home has not been open to strangers in need, even the one she calls “Michael”.

It is not a question of welcome, nor one of opportunity, nor occasion. Again, there is no blame, simply a tragic history of almost unavoidable conflicts between strong-willed and opinionated people of intelligence, and I have inherited too much of my family‘s own spirit of always needing to know “Why?” rather than accept a pat answer, the inborn need of any curious creature to stretch beyond its own horizons.

I have followed a Path Less Traveled from time to time, blending back and forth into the mainstream, the trail branching and circling back upon itself. My basic failure to develop enough adult responsibility to plan a career, start a family, save for the future or own a home of my own, coupled with the wandering genes of my mother‘s Irish heritage, reinforced by a life of wanderlust answered, has led to an irreparable separation of perspectives.

I am not narcissistic enough to call it enlightenment.

But I am a Rover. We are a scattered tribe unbound by blood, known by a secret cant of solitude; strangers in a room of friends, alone in the midst of our own family. We seem lost in thought because some part of us is caught forever in the past or future, unable to settle on and in this present moment and simply be present.

I left the bright shining Valley in which I was finally settled and raised to find something beyond the simple country life and perspectives that I had always known, even the more liberal opinions and habits of my peers.
Like Oliver, I simply wanted “More, please!”

But I left with a broken heart, and the wound colored all that I did or said for the next two years. I saw wonders of world renown and discovered secrets to rival their beauty that had been seen by few if any in the last hundred years.

I found a new home and filled it with longing for a world and a love I had left behind. I plunged into a darkly-shining new world of late nights and loud music, huge buildings, freeway traffic, metropolitan living, brutal heat and glaring desert sun. Crowded stadiums, the smell of smoke and powerful electronics, hours of shouting and climbing, contorting ourselves through the gridwork and steel of huge buildings to rig anchors for massive lifting motors, creating the web that would levitate a complex structure of lights and lasers, speakers and special effects over a stage of musicians, wandering through the thronging mass hours later, drained, distant, the entire world pulsing to the gut-deep thump of bass as you inhale the ripe smell of crack and meth cooking in a broken antenna tube, the rich undertone of marijuana and the taste of loneliness in the midst of ten thousand people.

And still the promise of light called to me in the darkness, the forest lessons given by loving parents to their children so long ago a light on the distant shore, beckoning the tiring swimmer.

Sedona’s rainbow walls, stretching crimson faces forever into the sky.

Granite Mountain’s remote beauty and stellar granite climbing.

Ringtails peeking from the edges of boulders as I sit, sweating, taped wrists and chalked fingers and a ten-thousand yard stare across Devil’s Canyon to the distant granite promise of Top of the World.

Chalking on a thin volcanic hold, feet smeared on nubbins as the rope sways back down a committing, some might say suicidal first ascent below me, to the uncertain hands of a stagehand who had never seen a Gri-gri until an hour before.

Memories of moments when I felt connected. Memories of the sun, shining so clear, all questions at bay, all issues resolved if only for a single moment in the perfect flow of my self against the world.

For memories and faith are all I have, all any of us have, come the darkness. Faith is the belief in another sunrise.

And memories are the seeds of hope we plant in fallow ground, in faith.

No memory proves proof against regret, in a life so filled with regrettable behavior. From worthy deeds in the north country, my thoughts flow downstream to the turmoil and contention of the City. The people I knew there were good people, for the most part, and many of them were amazing climbers. In the strain of swimming in that furious current, in the tearing tension between my country soul and the chrome nightmare in which I found myself drowning in excess, I stumbled. With love reborn and the promise of a family and a career, I fell.

Self-doubt and petty grudges became a Cause, sleep deprivation and simmering adolescent disillusionment sparked to anger at a simple departure of opinions. The resultant conflagration destroyed any chance I had at finding new friends or keeping the old ones. Had I the chance, I would humbly beg forgiveness from them to this day. Most put up with far too much of my rage, my obsessions and my pointless stoner pomposity to have been justified by any support I ever gave to their routes or ideas. They were simply too gracious to tell me to get lost until Rich LeMal one day offered to do just that.

I failed time and again to prove worthy of the friendships I took for granted, as the shattered prisms of an inner absence distorted the high, clear desert sunlight into something malignant and fey. My soul grew twisted in the long steel shadows; moving at the speed of sound, fed on poisons and the music of sirens and concrete and sweat-slicked flesh. Brief collisions that could not be called connections, urgent answer to the fire in the blood and then the long, regret-filled grind up from the depths of sleep into a morning of mistake’s recognition. Good-bye presumed before the first hello.

In the end not even a family was enough to quench the blazing, self-righteous, self-destructive fury of my course. In an instant they rise before my inner eye, against the backdrop of Phoenix, Joshua Tree, and the Pacific Coast Highway; a tossing head of unmanageable red-gold curls and a pair of mischievous blue eyes, face like a Botticelli, will like a force of nature and the body of a water sprite, a soul like the fall of clear water into unseen depths, and there, between us, another, echoing the beauty of his mother, tiny fist curled around my smallest finger. A flickering image, against the burgeoning flame.

Grains of precious sand, slipping away again and again between the grasping fingers of memory, the stains of tears slowly drying beneath the desert sun, so swiftly setting.

A year of slow dissolution, the caustic flame of self-hate poured on every trace of self-worth, diving headlong into the sins of the flesh to hide from the memories of something clean and pure and true. Climbing new routes with complete amateurs holding my lifeline in their hands, uncaring of the possibility of injury or death, secretly hungering of the final bright flare of agony and regret before the long fall into night. Scars and the suppurating wounds they concealed were carried festering into the beauty of the back country, long hours staring at the rising ramparts of the Rockies, searching for answers I would not hear amid the secret wilderness of the Wind Rivers and the Tetons; poisons that seeped out into new friendships, into family visits, driving me ever and again into the forest, where the whisper of the winds and the kiss of stone on flesh could for a time drive away the haunting shapes of a lost future and broken friendships.

But in the end every trail, no matter how cruel or long, became only an escape, brought me to a place where I could curse the Beast inside me, with only myself and the obdurate stone as a target for my seemingly endless rage.

Silence, and again, the darkness, a brief dip in the bitter water of that inner shore, where the ruins of all our dream castles slowly crumble before the unceasing tides of reflection. Searing kiss of the merciless razor of introspection to cast judgment’s glare in pure shades of black and white.

And still we carry the traces of that blessed scar that is love, written on our skin, to water the seeds of hope, planted against the promise of rain, memory of a river of fallen tears.

The past moves away. And so swiftly the turns taken on those distant paths less traveled fade from memory, and the way back to what we once were is lost.

You can never go home again.

But you can move forward, and make of the future, of every dawning moment of possibility, your new home.

And with the new day, again, the darkness ends. Morning lifts the promise of life from ground once fallow. We draw breathe, raise ever-hopeful eyes to the horizon and the endlessly fulfilled promise of the sunrise, as the last stars fold themselves into the dawn. Distant birdsong lifts us into the sky, beckons us to dream anew, backs straightening once again beneath the load of existence and the burden of memory and the day-to-day responsibilities we carry, legacy, a varied harvest of the seeds we have sown.

In the midst of turmoil, peace, In the midst of frustration and confusion, sanctuary.

A wise soul, behind deep woodland eyes. A strong hand, worn with the work and cares of motherhood. Ready laughter and serious regard, charming innocence and seductive candor. Patient, curious, intelligent, nurturing, irreverent and bright. 

In the midst of another conflagration, I suddenly turned to see the long-abandoned possibility, an answer to my prayers, walking through the door. In seconds I felt the attraction, in days the beginnings and in the weeks that followed the inevitable conclusion. Mutual resistance was pointless… it was bigger than the both of us. Despite a thousand obstacles and detours, after countless near-misses of decades, orbits conjoining, in perfect balance.

So now I strike out, once more, against the current, into the dawning day, with opportunities won and lost, with the single, simple promise to do my best, in the fallow fields, to sow the seeds, and to reap the future with open arms. To share the journey, its triumphs and inevitable defeats, for as long as the song and the story run true. Our time beneath this sun is brief, but we walk this path hand-in-hand.

Do not think that I mourn for myself. If my thoughts run a darker vein, they are simply an exploration of the journey I have taken, and the battle that still challenges my days, in different season.

Come share with me in this adventure, living in full knowledge of your own journey.

Let us make of each day something worthy of remembering.

Until that final Evening comes, and we lay down the burden of all these follies and failures and few petty triumphs, listening with a faint smile to the fading echoes of our meager wisdom as we put aside this frail vessel and set sail for the endless Sea.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Ashes of Bridges

We have only two choices-

Judge the ones we love


Love the ones we judge

Judgment we are forbidden. Judge not, lest ye BE judged.

Who then better to judge and be judged than ourselves?

Life is at once interminable and a headlong plunge, somehow, days draining away like a severed artery’s bright stream in endless moments of regret and self-doubt, in all-too-brief seasons of laughter and triumph and joy. Resolution’s dusty shape revealed for the certain lie it was when uttered. The steps grow heavy, leading into the wood, and the silent promise of the stone echoes flat and without magic to my inner ear. All I was I am not, any more. Long absence fills with the conversations I no longer enjoy with people who are no longer here, the faces and antics only vanishing ripples in a river still flowing past, its waters darker in the failing of the day, the current a struggle for the fading fighter.

This beat-up, grouchy old man who glares at me in bemused disappointment from my morning mirror seems at times a sad and wasted thing in the shining reflection of the fire that burned in my youth. How can such a time, etched so large on memory and heart and in the aches and pains of assorted joints so swiftly have slipped so very, very far away? How have the intervening years brought so much more grief, and so filled this vast divide with dross that steals even the light of occasional victory?

Knowing that the cuts given and received were mainly at one’s own hand gives no reprieve from the pain, or relief from the burden. I am a harsh and opinionated curmudgeon who is too quick to anger, too deeply wounded by callous disregard and too stupid to let well enough alone; whose only defense is that I have always tried to be as brutally honest with myself as I am about the failings and victories of others. I have defended the things I love as I would the people I love, and if I have a failing it is in too much passion and too little forbearance.

My profession has somehow slipped away after all the years I spent trying to become a craftsman. The value of the few who could do much was corrupted by the profit of doing much for little.

The easy power and endurance of youth is a panting swab of sweat-soaked brow long before the summit. My family is fractured, by a sudden shift of the economy, by extremists with seductive logic and resounding calls of faith, by the unyielding realities of Life, by the last three decades of dealing with their contentious brother and prodigal son.

My father was once a soldier who became a teacher, and later an electrician self-taught to earn the money to build his family the home he had always dreamed of. He learned to fly and gave me the gift of the sky. He spent many hours in the air searching for wreckage and hope and final answers in the Civil air Patrol. Later still he became one of the most effective, hard-working construction superintendents ever to drive onto a site. He did the jobs of 3 contractors, brought in jobs under budget and ahead of schedule and solved problems that stopped other superintendents cold by sheer willpower and refusal to quit.

Less than six months after a persuasive speech assuring all the superintendents that all was well with them despite the recession (Nawww, ain’t no need to pull out of your profit-sharing, group insurance and retirement plans, fellas… everything is just fine, here!”), the major commercial construction company he worked for let him go, along with every other Social Security benefit recipient in their employ, a budget decision which amounts to firing all of the most experienced people you have, the veteran problem solvers and the crafty old dogs who have come up through the ranks, and leaving the lickspittles, the inexperienced degree-holders, and the slackers who became foremen because they couldn‘t do anything else to run a crew made up of relatives, yes men and old buddies of the regime. The company still manages to build Wal-marts and Food Lion stores, but they do so with a great deal more wasted effort and material, at a much higher price… which gets passed right down the food chain, pun intended, to the consumer.

Dad now drives homeless school children to and from classes, morning and night, and spends a great deal of time worrying about intangibles and wondering what to do with himself. I spend what time I can cutting wood to save money on their electric heating bills, cleaning gutters and raking and moving leaves to keep the house dry and mold-free for them, thinking of their years of support and wishing I could do more.

My mother, God bless her soul, has been a church secretary for the last several decades, before which she was a receptionist and stenographer, and even, back in the good old days of the Department of State, a spy, I’m pretty sure. She worked for the Bureau of Intelligence and Research, which means she either was a spy or filed all their paperwork. She plays piano and organ, and did both for the church for the last several decades, as well.

She also sings like an angel, which she will do free of charge, while cooking delicious meals or sewing or knitting something for any one of a hundred people she knows and ministers to on a daily basis. She is doing everything she can to raise my niece to be a better person than any of us managed to be. If God has a workshop for faith, my mom probably wrote the basic handbook and cookbook. I know she has reserved parking in Heaven, and probably a hook with her name on it when she goes to hang up her jacket in the Great Closet. She’s been punching the clock Up There since the 70s, sick or well, rain, snow, sleet or shine. It‘s one of the only reasons she‘s still relatively sane.

My sister and her husband are doing hard work in a difficult time. Once a paralegal, Diana is now a stay at home mom, home-schooling her daughter Mathea. The laughing little girl I raced down a hundred beaches from Maine to Kitty hawk, the blue-eyed cherub who stole my ice cream and cake, the sweet-voiced wonder for whose virtue I threatened the physical destruction of any number of lustful local youngsters, in the blink of an eye, in the blur of years filled with so little of note save endings, somewhere, somehow, she grew up into a mother and a homemaker. A recent series of events forced my sister and her husband to move from their home of years to a small cabin n the country. He now commutes dozens of miles to work in law enforcement and she stays home seasonally tending garden, canning, mending clothes and teaching her daughter, making a home for her family and looking for light at the end of a long economic tunnel.

In their rare spare moments, they minister to the elderly with song and struggle to understand this insane hurtling existence in terms of Middle Eastern fishermen who wrote down their thoughts about 2,000 yrs ago.

Marty, my brother in law, spends long hours lifting iron in the basement when not wrestling with intangibles or laughing with his loving wife and baby girl. He presses just as hard to maintain contact with his eldest daughter, Mal, short for Mallarie Elianna, the darkly shining feminine echo of my own belligerent youth; slender as a blade, with a dark fall of chestnut hair shadowing her expressive, heavily-lined eyes, and swirls of tattooing at either shoulder, elbow and wrist. She is Lilith reborn, unique and still ubiquitous of her generation, another questing soul, further back along the Path, looking for her own way through the forest. And I can only stand here in the far distance, my many missteps, wrong turns and blunders behind me, and hope that my waving of caution to avoid my mistakes is not mistaken for invitation to retrace my course.

I understand their confusion, and I envy them their perspective, however fraught they may be at times, from the other side of the American Dream; the Home, the career, the Plans For The Future. I cannot find the trail that will take me Home again, nor can I build it, not with a thousand stones moved by bleeding hands, a cold fury of tears washing away the endless stain of lost opportunities and the ashes of bridges burned.