I grew up in the Commonwealth of Virginia, a beautiful state, that has been graced by nature with areas of truly awe-inspiring geography. From the tidal waters of the Chesapeake Bay to the endless ribbons of wooded mountains and valleys stretching down its spine.
In 1783, Thomas Jefferson traveled to Harper’s Ferry (then Virginia) and upon seeing the confluence of the Shenandoah and Potomac River remarked that this natural wonder “is as placid and delightful as that is wild and tremendous. For the mountains being cloven asunder, she presents to your eye, through the cleft, a small catch of smooth blue horizon, at an infinite distance in that plain country, inviting you, as it were, from the riot and tumult roaring around to pass through the breach and participate in the calm below…This scene is worth a voyage across the Atlantic.”
But Jefferson never traveled west of the Appalachians. He could only imagine what his Corp of Discovery, led by Lewis and Clark had witnessed and seen on their journey to the Pacific and back. As a teenager, I too hiked high above Harpers Ferry and like Jefferson meditated with the beauty of the confluence. But Jefferson never saw the sunrise in Eastern Montana, the sunset and alpenglow on the Mountains in Glacier National Park. If Harper’s Ferry is “worth a voyage across the Atlantic”, then Montana is worth low bagging to get to. Montana is worth all the pains of having your heartbroken while you’re a zit faced teenager knowing that things are going to be better. Montana is worth the late night insomnia of doubt about what you should do with your life. Montana is worth all this and more. Not just one view worthy, but thousands, from the soul swallowing immensity of the Missouri Breaks to every peak in the Spanish Peaks.
Thank God I was not born in Montana and never had these state backdrops of Montana infused into my life before consciousness. Every drive is a discovery, every trip across this state another opportunity to fall in love and realize the promise of life. Montana, worth a voyage from anywhere.
Tomorrow I begin my 18th year of teaching. Roughly 1,800 students can say that I attempted to teach them. I’ve grown an immeasurable amount since that first period bell rung so many years ago.
Summer break has come to an end. It really came together, much accomplished, much learned and the experiences I lived through recharged me, brought me back to a good place. I think I might finally be where I’m supposed to be. Thank you to everyone, I’m so lucky.
One final last trip into the backcountry this weekend. The weather didn’t cooperate, but even on her worst days Montana is where you want to be.
Today’s reading in Ryan Holiday’s Daily Stoic dealt with recognizing joy. We often live in constant hunger for more, something we don’t currently have. Imagine that, with the blink of an eye, you have all that you desire. Would it be joyous? Bliss?
What if we have already achieved joy, but desire masks the symptoms? What would make you happy right now? Don’t let desire cancel joy. I spent three consecutive days floating the North and Middle Fork of the Flathead, pure bliss. My mind was unsettled, my conscious convicted and my attention erratic. Always ask, “Is this joy?” If it is, savor it.
I’m traveling far and wide in the next few weeks. I’ve also given up on Facebook (for now) which was the primary way people linked up with this blog. If you think what I have to say is at all worth sharing, please do.
One of the best parts of Spring in the Flathead Valley is the slow opening of the Going To The Sun Road inside Glacier National Park. As the National Park Service works to plow and remove the snow to Logan Pass, the road is open to cyclist only. And so for roughly two months unparalleled road riding is available. It’s a treasure and a gift that I simply can’t get enough of.
From 2002 to 2004 I taught at Paul VI Catholic High School in Fairfax City, Virginia. Though I only lived a few miles from the school the commute was ridiculously long. I was a first year teacher, exhausted and anxious, that long half hour on the way too and from school would allow my idle mind to race into all the catastrophic nightmares I could conjure. Often I would think back to my time in Montana. In Montana you could always substitute your personal worries to worrying about the weather, wild land forest fires, large mammal attack, drowning, or being caught in a shootout with some outlaw biker gang or white aryan nation battalion.
Oh, Montana, thank you for giving me a life worth living.
Long for experience, not things. What good are things if you have not leaned, with your back against the wall of a great city, watching the flood tide of humanity rush pass you, feeling energy from the brilliant, the brave and the demons who have walked the same streets for centuries. What good will things give you if you have not woken, awake and wide-eyed in terror, in the middle of a long night, knowing your own actions your own vices threaten to destroy you. What good are things if you have not sat up all night with a friend, rehashing the high highs and low lows, and then you see the pale light of the new day on the eastern horizon. When your only dream is a nightmare and your mind only computes minor chords, at least you know you are alive. Long for experience, not things.
against the wall, the firing squad ready. then he got a reprieve. suppose they had shot Dostoevsky? before he wrote all that? I suppose it wouldn’t have mattered not directly. there are billions of people who have never read him and never will. but as a young man I know that he got me through the factories, past the whores, lifted me high through the night and put me down in a better place. even while in the bar drinking with the other derelicts, I was glad they gave Dostoevsky a reprieve, it gave me one, allowed me to look directly at those rancid faces in my world, death pointing its finger, I held fast, an immaculate drunk sharing the stinking dark with my brothers.
You’re always giving, my therapist said. You have to learn how to take. Whenever you meet a woman, the first thing you do is lend her your books. You think she’ll have to see you again in order to return them. But what happens is, she doesn’t have the time to read them, & she’s afraid if she sees you again you’ll expect her to talk about them, & will want to lend her even more. So she cancels the date. You end up losing a lot of books. You should borrow hers.
How do you look back on a whole lifetime of books and not think about the many friends you let down? You borrowed and didn’t return, you gave and they vanished. Should there be a tabulation of friendship casualties, killed in action, missing in action, wounded?
Suppose your life a folded telescope Durationless, collapsed in just a flash As from your mother’s womb you, bawling, drop Into a nursing home. Suppose you crash Your car, your marriage—toddler laying waste A field of daisies, schoolkid, zit-faced teen With lover zipping up your pants in haste Hearing your parents’ tread downstairs—all one.
Einstein was right. That would be too intense. You need a chance to preen, to give a dull Recital before an indifferent audience Equally slow in jeering you and clapping. Time takes its time unraveling. But, still, You’ll wonder when your life ends: Huh? What happened?