Everyone Needs A Brian

Brian Naghski looking serious.

There are many basic needs in this world. To begin with: We need air, shelter, water, and food. After that, a sense of purpose, a reason to live. Friendship. And finally – hopefully – someone to love who also loves you in return.

It’s not quite as simple as that. Humans also need community, stories, physical activity, positive interactions, and healthy boundaries. Goals, successes, failures, curiosity, opportunities to learn, time in the natural world, hobbies, sunlight, etc.

And, in my opinion – and this is very, very important – everyone needs a Brian. To be more specific, everyone needs a Brian Naghski.

Brian lead-climbing.

Just to be clear at the start, I don’t call Brian “Brian.” I call him “Bri Bri” (pronounced with two long “I” sounds) or, sometimes, I call him “My Bri Bri.” Because he’s that wonderful.

First of all, Bri Bri’s laugh is amazing. Everyone who knows him talks about his laugh, about how it sounds, about how great it is. It’s loud and infectious. When he laughs, other people laugh too. But since laughs are difficult to describe, I can only say that when Bri Bri laughs, all the people around him get a look on their faces like when people watch puppies do something ridiculous and cute.

Also, Bri Bri gets excited about any adventure. If I suggest a ten-mile off-trail navigation course in the desert, he’s in. Better yet, he emails me before we go, writing: “By the way, I really like hiking in the dark.” Going into a difficult adventure, he’s hoping to navigate by the stars.

Or if it’s a white-water rafting trip through a canyon, he writes, “When are you going? I wanna make that happen!”

Or a winter snow-survival trip? He writes, “You know how I love to sleep in snow caves, Don Pedro!”

Bri Bri is endlessly positive and completely unguarded. If he thinks something is awesome, he says, “That’s just AWESOME!!!” He doesn’t care who’s nearby, and he doesn’t care what they think. He’s himself at all times.

He also wants to hear any good story. Even though he’s a slow reader, he wants to read great books. He asks me for summer reading lists and for short, during-the-year reading suggestions. And if I giggle while reading a book next to him in my camp chair, he says, “Hey, when are you gonna loan that book to me?”

Bri Bri’s tall and heavy. He’s a BIG guy. He was a heavyweight wrestler in high school and a defender on a college lacrosse team. Rock climbing isn’t easier for bigger people, so when Bri Bri rock climbs, he has to battle. But that’s what he does. He sweats and grunts and works at it. And if he doesn’t get a route, he gets back on it and tries again a few minutes later. He’s happy to try hard and he’s fine with gasping for air, pumping out his forearms, or feeling his calves quiver. When he climbs, he wants to do some work.

But he’s not just into adventures. Bri Bri brews good beer and shares it with his friends. He loves his wife Kara and his two kids. He scarfs food and chugs coffee. He has a great New Jersey accent, and he believes in building community anywhere he goes.

We used to work together. When Bri Bri was a licensed SPED teacher at the high school where I taught Language Arts, he’d regularly come into my speech class where we had a rule that any visitor – adult or teenager – had to give a short impromptu speech on a topic of the class’s choosing when they first entered the room. It was a tough rule, especially for Bri Bri. He’s not a natural public speaker – and he gets a little nervous sometimes in front of big groups – but he always took on the challenge, and spoke on any topic we gave him, even though our topics were pretty ridiculous sometimes.

Because Bri Bri’s real and honest about his struggles, he understands people, and people connect with him as well. Kids at his new high school say he’s their favorite teacher. One of his students told me, “He gets so excited, and he’s always SO nice to everybody.” I know how his students feel because Bri Bri was my favorite colleague. When he came across a broken-zippered, duct-taped, neon-green down jacket, he knew it was the perfect present for me. And not for my birthday because Bri Bri just gives out presents at random times throughout the year.

Bri Bri and his skis, volunteering with my outdoor program.

We don’t get to hang out too often. Bri Bri has his family and I have mine. We teach at different schools. He coaches youth sports and I run a leadership program. He travels back to the east coast to see his family and I spend a lot of time writing or adventuring with my family. But if we do get a chance to hang out, I always try to take it. Because time with Bri Bri is time well spent.

So yesterday was Bri Bri’s birthday, and for his birthday, Bri Bri wanted to hang out together, to share food and rock climb at our local crag, just the two of us. He wanted to meet me in the morning and not be in a rush. He wanted to climb a few routes, talk for a while, climb a few more routes, then talk some more.

When I showed up, he was rappelling down to the bottom of the main buttress. I met him on the ground and pointed to his ancient climbing rope. It’s at least 10-years old, thickening and shaggy and a pale, faded red color. I said, “I see you bought yourself a new rope.”

He pointed to the t-shirt I was wearing – a surf shirt he knew I found on the ground that had holes in the shoulders – and he said, “I see you bought yourself a new t-shirt.”

Then I got to hear his amazing laugh while we hugged. After that, he handed me a breakfast burrito that he’d bought for me as if it was my birthday morning. And to be honest, it sort of was. There really wasn’t a better way to start a day than hanging out with My Bri Bri.


Staying The Same

My birthday today, and I sorta just like the same things as always: My family, books, teaching, rivers, camping, poetry, great stories, and this place – The Columns, Eugene, Oregon (@jskorty pic):

climbing poster Columns

Swimming The River Rapids Like A Drowning Polar Bear Cub

I love this old Ben Leroy Go-Pro river-swimming video for so many reasons:
1. We put flip-flops on our hands as makeshift paddles
2. 8-year-old Roo just jumps into the current above the rapids like she’s not even worried about it
3. Most of Ben’s video reminds me of a polar bear cub drowning
4. The choking at the end

One-minute and twenty seconds of glory.

Dirtbag Skills!

Here’s my new article: “How To Be A Dirtbag” (7 Skills To Build Your Rugged Side).

Pic credits:
1. Cassie Chyne Cook at Monkey’s Face, Central Oregon (Mikey Holmes’ pic)
2. Ben Leroy’s pic of me bouldering at Sisters Boulders, Oregon
3. Rainy Hoffmeister at Lost Rocks, Northern California
4. Jennie Hoffmeister‘s pic of me on the Alvord Desert slat flats, Eastern Oregon

Paddling North Five Days On The River – Day One


Plate-glass morning water with fish shatters. A hummingbird drops over the tent and hangs in the space created by the rain.

I read a Carol Shields novel and the daylight sneaks through the leaves of the cottonwood, white and green.

It rained steady all evening, and starting a fire was like baking without sugar or flour. But now the sky is striped by blue between clouds, and I think, “How many people in history have tried to write about clouds?”

Nubes como las olas…

Nubes sin mala intención…

Drifting thoughts of clouds…

Or some other cliché…

Better ideas waiting that I’ve never had…

It would be easy to steal. To Thomas Edison. To feed an image of greatness. “Look at me, a worker, a brilliant mind.”

But I am not brilliant. My mind is not a rare jewel. I only observe what is around me. Seeing the green grasshoppers collecting on my legs at the river’s edge. The blue heron shushing across to the other side. The osprey sitting sentinel on the fence-post above the cutbank. Flipping my spinner under the branch in four feet of water and the rainbow trout hitting the Rooster Tail in the first rotation of the reel.

We use two rocks as a plate and eat the fish with our fingers. Skin salted with Johnny’s, MSG, meat blackened over a stick-fire. Hot Tang and Folgers from boiled river water.

These are no proverbs.

These are no parables.

This is only the first day. How it is. How it was.