“Tsung-i of Mount Hsuan-sha in Fu-chou, great Sung China, this world of suffering, had the religious name Shih-pei. Before he entered the priesthood, he was fond of fishing. He drifted in a boat in the Nan-t’ai rive like many other fisherman. No doubt he did not even expect the Golden Fish that comes to you unbidden without angling for it.”
From IKKA MYOJU, Dogen Shobogenzo
Early in the morn I chase the morning sun
Till the evening comes and I laid me down again
I only hope this big old world ain’t round
Cause I’m going, going, gone
This fine eleventh day of the second month of this the two thousandth and sixteenth year since we pushed the big red reset button on time once again finds me making little piles out of the big pile of fishing gear, clothing, camping equipment and other detritus of a life based on random intense spurts of collection and hyper sentimentality resulting in a cabin full of used books, random parts to incomplete tents, broken (but fixable) wooden snowshoes, animal hides and bones, pottery and other little totems of life that hold my memories for me. Just like a run on sentence, sometimes my collecting gets the best of my frugal Scandinavian genes and becomes like an overgrown apple tree that ceases to bear accessible fruit without a good brutal but well executed trim job every now and again. It is on this cold, snowy day that I am preparing for a month of life outside my tiny cabin, out in the weird wild world; good things may come to those who wait but waiting is just flat out boring, especially when gas is $1.41 a gallon.
Everything I own I carry on by back
I lose it bit by bit I gain more everyday
Everything I own has turned from white to black
But I’m still going, going and gone
We all deal with physical clutter in our own way: some have the wherewithal to see the greater economic value in their stuff and are able to attach a fair to modest price and a for sale sign to their extravagances and pawn them off on other “collectors” at garage or yard sales while others go into wild fits of frenzy and burn what is flammable, compost all that is biodegradable and throw out the rest. Donating your clutter to a thrift store has become an increasing popular option for those who chose not to flip out and purge in a glorious act of explosive unburdening, thanks in part to the great recession and a corollary cultural concession that shopping at thrift stores doesn’t necessarily pin you as a grifter vagrant or other itinerant ne’er-do-wells. If said stuff is not a ratty mess one is able to unload vast stores of unwanted junk and non-junk into the open arms, and sometimes unattended collection boxes of second hand merchants. As an outdoor professional who makes a ridiculously small amount of money compared the average thirty something year old in this country, I have to be thrifty, which is good for 2 reasons:
- The Rant: Most modern outdoor gear is overpriced, underperforming, hyper colored, poorly made, and ill suited for the type of camping/ exploring that puts a paycheck in my hand. I find most of the high tech outdoor equipment to be melty around an open fire, never really breathable and waterproof as they claim, uncomfortable as wearing a blue plastic tarp, irreparable, and rarely made with a high degree of integrity. Any gear makers looking for a reviewer?
- The Reason: You can find some great gear for cheap if you know what you’re looking for at thrift stores and antique malls.
You say hey hey we’ll give you honest pay
A dollar a day lord a dollar a day
The straw boss says we can start you today
Cause I’m going, going, gone
But stuff I do have in spades, which is why I am choosing to procrastinate my packing chore right now as each item I look for and find leads to ten more things I haven’t seen in a few years but which demand my inspection and introspection. I was talking recently with a friend and we agreed we both have had a tendency to be compulsive movers, runners and escape artists; a rolling stone collects no moss just as a rolling human collects no stuff, but at some point the stone must realize that it can’t roll forever and as soon as it stops the moss will be there waiting for it.
Looking back at my 20 years of constant if not compulsive travel, I maintain that it is not necessarily the trip that is the drug, but instead that ephemeral moment when, truck/backpack/pockets are packed, you turn out of your driveway for the last time into the unknown. That short sweet moment when you turn your back on who you were and before you get to who you’re going to be lasts only maybe a minute or two, but is powerfully addicting and life changing; life in the midst, the departure of the hero’s quest . Maybe that is why some of us keep traveling; we went away and came back without the corresponding secret knowledge that was promised to us by Joseph Conrad, Jack Kerouak, and Moses. So we keep looking, keep running, keep shedding life and love like a comet until all that is left is either a molten core or a hunk of intergalactic ice.
The rain came fast and washed away the mud
Wind blew hard and blew away the rest
My roots hit rock everywhere I go
So I’m going, going, gone
We all start out as little pebbles in life. In the scree of our youth we chose our geologic course, those who remain in their place begin to settle into the Earth, leaving a depression, creating gravity, giving perch to foxes to scout and ravens to shout, shady nooks for tulips to dazzle, and slowly accumulating a community of life on and around itself. Some day a seed may find its way to the rock and burrow in a root or two, beginning the slow quiet explosion of an immobile rock, giving purchase to rain and ice to calve, dirt and moss to conceal. I am a little envious and a lot appreciative of those rocks I know who never left their home for they have community and, via the erosional forces of life give birth to sand and silt that will one day give rise to future rocks, or if nothing else a nice soft beach to take a beautiful women for a picnic on a warm summer afternoon (that’s a proposal Miss. Cuke, assuming by magic you haven’t rolled on).
Then there are those of us who as little pebbles felt the interminable pull of gravity and found ourselves, at times careening, rolling, sliding, and in general getting caught up in all forms of mass wasting and other glacial activities, some legal and other not so much. As opposed to those stationary rocks that were born in the soft, damp, verdant valleys safe from gravity’s persistent insistence and grizzly bears carelessly tossing boulders looking for moths to eat, we movers were born to the high places in the thin air that clouds judgment but also leaves for a clear view of life. With fits and starts, some of us left the peaks and started our own journey for the hushed lowlands below in hopes of someday finding the peace that only a mossy boulder can know. But it’s in that journey that we face the perils of our being, that which sustains us can also be our nemesis.
That’s the thing with living a life of motion, it can, like an avalanche take on an autonomy of its own and begin to consume others until you can’t remember where you were headed just that the view from the bottom of the mountain isn’t so bad after all, if not a little confused. As we compulsive movers know, the best shot we have at community, friendship, love and all else those mossy rocks enjoy is to meet other rock and rollers along the way with hopes that someday we will all be able to run up against a solid canyon wall and collect there, motionless, mossless, fox and ravenless, but with enough stories to keep each other warm through the clear desert nights.
Can’t run from yourself you’re the same everywhere
You can change your name the color of your hair
Even though I know I can’t run to make things right
Here I go, going, and gone
After almost 20 years of life on the road, I am just now becoming aware of the fact the running towards looks suspiciously like running away. What you must know about yourself if you are a vagabond of life is why you are so in need of this lifestyle. If you don’t have a good handle on yourself, the road can be a sketchy place like the bum I met in Phoenix who wanted to trade his socks for a smoke, I told him a life on the road is no place for cold feet as I walked off barefoot, should have traded. Like Lest Heat Moon said in Blue Highways “It’s that time when the pull of the blue highway is the strongest, when the open road is a beckoning, a strangeness, a place where a man can lose himself.”
The scarecrow says which way do you go
You can’t stay here and face the wind and snow
The scarecrow points me on down the road
Where I’m going, going, and gone
As a denizen of many stretches of pavement, VW pop top campers, city parks, time zones, tropical beaches, foreign countries and foreign cultures, I see travel as a beautiful life, but just like any good idea that is carried to an extreme, if you don’t keep a hand on your hat it’s liable to blow off. Maybe we all are in the same place, it’s just us compulsive travelers who have no time for metaphor. What are we running away from? What pulls us forwards? Big questions for a blog post that started as a way to procrastinate packing, but that is what happens sometimes when your world has been wrung inside out by a rolling stone; seeking any moment to fill questions with caffeine fueled philosophy and half baked geologic metaphor. For me, I pack for a month of travel for the typical reasons: fly fishing, work, life, luck, love, rejuvenation and a good cup of coffee, not in any particular order. Hopefully we will all find our place on this big old rock, I’m sure if I do it’ll be by accident, just as this blog started out to be a fishing story, then turned into an excuse to sit around a quiet cabin and drink one more cup of coffee, but like Shih-pei found out, when you stop looking you often find what you need.
So I’ll see you friend way on down the road
Where I’m bound lord only knows
Try to make it right anywhere I go
So I’m going, going, gone