Paddling North Five Days On The River – Day One

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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.

“Meet the IOP: Young Adventurers with a Knack for Environmental Understanding”

I’m so proud of my student leaders every year. But last year – when I was out on medical leave after my brain injury – my student leaders really stepped up.

Here’s Envision Magazine’s feature on the Integrated Outdoor Program, with a focus on the student leaders (thanks to Mara Welty and Damon Holland):

Read the article here.

It’s Simple, Really, We Don’t Need Much

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My daughter and I were just talking, creating a list of things that make this life incredible, and we realized how many small things were on the list.

Here are ten of the many that we came up with:

  • Dark chocolate
  • Avacados
  • Bright sunlight in winter
  • Red bell peppers
  • Poems
  • Novels
  • Rivers
  • Juniper Trees
  • Sage
  • Coffee

Bridge Jumping: On Writing and Failure (pics and video)

I jumped off of a bridge into the Willamette River after school the other day. It was a cold water day – snow run-off – but some young people wanted to know a safe place to do a big jump into the water, so I showed them where a deep enough channel was. See the pics of that jump below.

This jump reminded me of a story, a failure story, and I told it at my reading at the University of Oregon. Click here to see me tell that story (just posted by my publisher, Ben Leroy, this morning).

Here’s a pic of five of us jumping at once (me on the right). Click to expand the pic:

all five

 

 

 

 

 

 

And here’s the next pic when I’m out of the screen, the other four still in the air:

four

 

 

 

 

 

 

And finally, this is the swim out to the South bank into the cottonwoods, staying together because the water was cold:

swimming out

 

Back By Popular Demand: End-Of-Year Dirtbag Report

Because you asked for a dirtbag update:

Usually, I celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work. This is how it goes: Bri-Bri, My-Only-Friend-In-The-Entire-World-Jeff-Hess, and I scour the multiple “lost and found” boxes for a week. We find the most useful items, in sizes that fit the others, wrap them in school-issued newspaper, then have a gift exchange on the Friday before break. I’ve gotten a good travel coffee mug out of the exchange, a nice sweatshirt, and an excellent shell that I use all the time, plus a few other items that I use on a semi-regular basis.

But we didn’t celebrate this year. We let ourselves get too busy to have fun.

Very undirtbag.

And although I didn’t celebrate dirtbag Christmas at work this year, Jennie and I made each other gifts at home – instead of buying them – and I still felt sort of like a dirtbag.

Sort of.

See, I’ve had some very undirtbag moments this year. The weirdest?

In October, a public speaking gig got me put up in the fanciest hotel I’ve ever stayed at. They flew me first class to the event and rented a late-model, bright red Mustang for me to drive. At the rental counter I said, “Oh, no thanks. I don’t need a Mustang.” But the rental agency woman just smiled at me and said, “You’ll love it. It’s such a great car.”

In classy style – as if I was fighting against the new me – I did accidentally flip the car into reverse as I drove forward into valet parking, grinding the gears so loudly that all of the valet parking boys doubled over laughing.

That felt dirty. But still, there was valet parking at this hotel. Only valet parking. No other option but valet parking.

Yet a dirtbag is a dirtbag is a dirtbag…

A dirtbag spends less money, believes in time over money, believes that working is only worth it if it means that he is buying more time. A dirtbag would rather lay his sleeping bag in the dirt, the free dirt, than pay for a campsite, a motel, a tent, or anything else. More time outside. More time climbing. Swimming rather than showers. Sharing food rather than networking. Sleeping on someone’s floor to save money. Surfing more. Biking more. Skateboarding in the street. Laying in the sun and reading. Climbing a tree and staring at the clouds.

Another thing: I’ve been injured this year. I tore four ribs off of my sternum joint in an accident in February and spent all year doing physical therapy. I’m mostly healed now, but the doctors told me that the dent in my chest wall will never go away and I may never climb like I did before the accident. Being injured is funny for a physical person because it’s hard to feel rugged when you’re in pain all of the time. How rugged is a man laying in the fetal position on the floor, high on Percocet?

But I did get out this year anyway. And here’s a Dirtbag-6 list for those who like lists:

1. Nights camping this year: 29

2. Months wearing the same pair of shorts: 2 straight

3. Best outdoor endurance climbing day: July 17th, 36 routes, The Columns, Eugene, 1692 vertical feet, 5.8 to 5.10a

4. Backpacking trips: 3 (The best: Alder Springs, Squaw Creek Canyon, Central Oregon)

5. Days swimming in a river this year: 37 (most recently, December 18th, Polar Bear Swim, Willamette River, Oregon)

6. Nights slept on a floor this year: 13

I’ve also eaten a lot of free food, taken donations from my friends’ deep freezers, gone two full days just on food-scores from a single staff meeting, waited until people left a pizza place then finished all of their leftovers, and scored a box of Twinkies from a trashcan.

But let’s see…Proudest dirtbag moment of the year?

One night, a few weeks ago, Jennie returned home from a walk and said, “I found us a Christmas tree, and it’s perfect. I just need help getting it because it’s at a dumpster.” Nine feet tall, with the top broken off, I cut and reshaped it into one of the prettiest 7-foot Christmas trees anyone has ever seen. Forty dollars saved.

And finally, two nights ago, I was given my brother-in-law’s “too tight new jeans.” They’re Ralph Lauren jeans with the sales tags still on. My daughter turned to me and said, “Take ‘em back, dirtbag. What could you do with all that money?”

 

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears is up for pre-order

Let Them Be Eaten By Bears – A Fearless Guide To Taking Our Kids Into The Great Outdoors (Perigee/Penguin Books) is now available for pre-order on Amazon.

Click to check it out.