‘Like frogs or rabbits’ | on living in the present, and wandering

May 15, 2017

Faint rain, imagined snow. Mid May and it’s still stew weather, heavy stouts. I have to run the heat in the morning driving in to work but refuse to wear a jacket and then turn off the heat so I can maintain my edge. In the conference room waiting to meet my client I can’t warm up, goosebumps on my arms…doing push ups in the morning after coffee, trying the cold shower wakeup thing to feel alive, resilient. This morning it hurt so bad though, the cold burned and made my scalp seize up and go numb and I thought about the book 1984, how the senses deaden over time and discomfort starts to feel normal. How we crave comfort despite, even from the ones who torture us. Rounding the turn on our road, my morning walk, a quick one to the lake to see what’s there. Yesterday a blue heron coming in to land, didn’t see me at first…then did and thought better of it, and tried a tree branch it was too big for and couldn’t find purchase, kept slipping, so I left it to its favorite spot where I first saw it fishing in perfect heron profile, a Native American print.

Rounding the turn and thinking about identity, why I walk, what I’m looking for, where I go in my head. How it’s cleansing, when I worked down in SODO for Starbucks for so many years I tried to walk every day even when it rained just to get a little light, to imagine a life for myself beyond work. The day I had to actually get in the car and drive though, when things got really bad and I called my friend Steve from under the West Seattle bridge and explained what was going on, and he said he’d meet me that night, and how comforting to have a friend like that who could give good advice, who cared.

Steve worked at Starbucks too and left before I did, he’s older: we bonded climbing Mount Rainier in ’99 with a group from Starbucks, and we tried it again a couple years later and thought it would be easier somehow the second time but it wasn’t, it was awful: there was just us and a few others and our guide made the mistake of over-confidence, which I have a hundred million times…and we followed sun cups up the mountain we thought were boot track and got way off-route in the late night/early morning start, and had to turn back and the winds were really bad, and we hadn’t staked our tents down right at camp so they were bouncing and flapping and when our guide’s wife ran up to theirs to secure it she gashed the side with her crampons and it looked like a collapsed lung…and Steve and I, a good four hundred pounds of man-weight in my three-season tent, we bounced in it all night giggling and levitating from the winds like a bouncy house…and in the morning I almost fell off a rock face from the altitude after sharing a canned beer with our guide, dizzy and overwhelmed, slipping on the loose volcanic scree.

But it was that trip coming down I resolved to ask Dawn to marry me, and understood for the first time the real difference between what they call a three-season and four-season tent. And whenever I take that poor tent out now and regard the twisted, bent poles, it’s a reminder of my ignorance and hubris—but it still works, despite.

And how Steve tried to get me a gig with his work when I left Starbucks and started out contracting, and we got into a negotiation at his office where he asked my hourly bill rate and forced me to give him a number so I did, and it was triple digits, and he about fell over and said he could hardly afford half of that but I stuck to it, and later we went out hiking up Cougar Mountain, and forgot all about it.

It seems the rain’s been gurgling the same from the gutter since October now. In the mornings at the lake there’s a tribe of fishermen who gather, many of them Asian and smiling, with portable radios and buckets or carry-on luggage they use to wheel their gear and bait, some of them smoking cigarettes…and me in my own world, how I must look to them, what they must think, if they even notice…how we flicker in and out between the past and future, lost in ourselves. What it must be like to really be in the present when there’s so much less of it than the past, or future. In the book I’m reading, the author writes:

Confronted by the uncouth specter of old age, disease, and death, we are thrown back upon the present, on this moment, here, right now, for that is all there is. And surely this is the paradise of children, that they are at rest in the present, like frogs or rabbits.

— Peter Matthiessen, The Snow Leopard, 1978.


Categories: Memoir

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , ,

30 replies

  1. Was the blue heron sighting real or a metaphor? Works pretty well either way.

    If it weren’t for the harrowing night on Mt. Rainier, do you think you’d be married to Dawn today?

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A snake? Anything but a snake. I’m sorry but I’m going to have to boycott your blog for a day or two. 😉


    • Ha, now I know…sorry about that Mark! I’ll take it down and put up a badger, promise!

      Liked by 1 person

      • Ignoring the picture, I just read your post. As usual, there is just so much there.

        About 1 1/2 years ago I went on a solo two night backpacking trip — spending the two nights at a campsite in Point Reyes. The problem was that the location was, apparently, right in the middle of the jet stream. The wimpy little stakes I had brought to hold my tent down weren’t up to the task. I went for a long hike my first morning and got back around noon. Fortunately, the wind was just picking up, otherwise the tent would have blown away long before I got back. For the next three hours, however,, I sat in the tent keeping it in place. I finally gave up around 3:00 or 3:30 and packed up and hiked out and went home a night early.

        Never again. I have learned my lesson. I now have monster killing tent stakes.

        But there’s so much more. The blue heron.

        The rumination on why you walk, which I ponder myself whenever I have a chance to get out there for a hike or a walk or something that gets me into mother nature.

        And more. Gotta go back and read it again to remember.

        Liked by 1 person

      • Hey that’s too cool Mark, thank you. Wow, what a comment! I was such a dick about three-season vs. four-season. I actually thought it was a MARKETING PLOY. It’s not! It’s really important! It is! Ha! So glad you liked it and thanks for the thoughtful comment, for your story in Point Reyes…funny. Bill


      • I have a three season tent but I didn’t take it on that trip because it’s very small and I wanted a little more room. Never again.


      • You learn the hard way.


  3. Really like that quote. Was reading this piece the other day about how much this Mom regretted having kids, and was just shocked by the amount of people that agreed with her and the despair they felt towards their kids. As a stay-at-home I definitely understand where that comes from. But like the quote, kids show us so much about how to live. And I think the true source for that despair is reflection of a paradise lost, that you note here, but I think you capture the antidote, they should be a beacon back, a second chance of grace. Blessings to you and yours.

    Liked by 1 person

    • That’s sweet Austin, thank you..enjoyed that angry poem you wrote, though seems you might have taken it down or something, couldn’t tell. Here’s to kids.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Yeah I took it down, too much cheap angst like that out there already. Felt dirty pushing my selfish laments on the back of the tragedy described therein…dang I think Camus The Plague has really gotten to me. Almost done with it, thank God (or the Flying Spaghetti Monster, or the Umbra, or whatever) for that!


  4. Well, that sounds like a traumatic way to decide to get married! How difficult it must be to be in the present, how impossible. Because we’re made of our memories, of everything we’ve experienced in our lives and without all of that, what are we? All of that is what makes us so impossible, so wonderful and awful. Great post, Bill

    Liked by 1 person

  5. I like that you’ve hung on to that tent. It’s good to have reminders that we’re lucky to be here, now.
    I also like the term “sun cups.” Never heard it before, but I guess it’s a mountain thing?


    • Sun cups are the effect that comes from a little melt out in the snow, that makes it look like footsteps or “cups” actually. I should know more about how it happens but don’t,often notice like a little stone or piece of sand that maybe warms, and causes this little halo meltout effect. Looked like steps that night to us.


  6. Oh, *hell yes!* a snake. It’s a long one, eh? It’s still popular (not the right descriptor) to fear snakes (and scorpions and spiders and sharks and bears) cuz people really do believe these animals exists to scare and of course kill us. I like the um, retro(?) effects on the shot, bravo! About aging: it’s overrated. I’m 47 (not old yet, not young either) and I’m certainly not decrepit. Not even with effected bone-on-bone arthritis in my R ankle. Great post, I like the way you write, it’s humble and greathearted.

    Liked by 1 person

    • And for the kind comment here too, I’m 46 going on 47. Life is good, “in between” perhaps, trying to keep on the young side of things.


      • Oh, gee whiz. The things that are impressed upon when we were young…the idea that to age is ultimately to become decrepit. And useless. And lonely. For having broken (compound fractures) both of the bones in my R shin in 2013, I have effected arthritis in the ankle. That foot thereof lacks full flexion, sometimes I have a stiff hobble, I suppose it looks like I stepped on a nail. But the way people (men only, actually) want to commiserate! “Robert, what’s wrong with your leg?!” Um, nothing wrong with me leg, what’s wrong is that you want to rescue me from my central nervous system.


      • Oh, I prattled on about my ankle. Oops.


  7. I’m still startled, sometimes, by the things you include in the same sentence. “But it was that trip coming down I resolved to ask Dawn to marry me, and understood for the first time the real difference between what they call a three-season and four-season tent.” Your life must be a series of dichotomies.


    • Hi Dave, thanks for that insight. Yes, dichotomies, and yes, glad it’s startling…that’s good. Thanks for reading and telling me so. — Bill


  8. Ah yes, the gurgling gutters. Madness shall ensue soon if the sun fails to smite these rain clouds that threaten to smother us in our sleep.
    Wonderful post Bill. I love the mindfulness you carry with you on your walks. Thanks for sharing them with us.

    Liked by 1 person

  9. ‘stew weather.’ i like that. your walks are always a journey of the mind.

    Liked by 1 person

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