edge of black


Runner’s World had a short article about night running the last issue.

It listed all the safety accessories you should buy and use…the headlamps, reflective clothing…the bear alert…just kidding about that last one…most of the urban runners wouldn’t need something like that….it listed a lot of different “must haves”…I can’t remember them all.

Something as simple as running is still going to be an opportunity to sell us something.

Something as potentially scary as running in the pitch black is a really good thing to sell accessories for.

I run early in the morning.

Some mornings, it’s black as …night…outside.  It’s dark.  I can’t see the rooster on the porch…can’t see my hand in front of my face.

Some mornings the full moon’s lit everything up like a Wal-Mart parking lot.  It’s bright.

It makes for easier running when I know where I’m going.

Actually, I have a pretty good idea where I’m going.

I just can’t see the road in front of me.

I have two routes I take….short runs always…down our country road.

One way is past the guy who rakes. Every day he’s out raking, waving at the cars…been doing it for years.  I can never tell when he’s going to be out in the morning, either.  I run at 5 and he’s surprised me, standing out by the edge of the darkness with a shovel, even that early in the morning.

That pretty much freaks me out when someone is standing by the edge of my running route that early in the morning.

That scares me.

The other way is what we call the hard way.

It goes up a gradual hill for half a mile and then drops off down a fairly steep hill for about another half a mile.

Then I turn around and run up the steep hill and cool down on the gradual part.

That’s what we call the hard way.

We’ve seen a quite a few bears lately on the “hard way”…that scares me some, too.

It’s weird to be surprised by something really big that’s covered in thick, black fur.

But I’m almost less scared of being surprised by a bear than I am to be surprised by a guy with a shovel.

I don’t accessorize when I’m running…just a black t-shirt and dark blue shorts.  I plan ahead…minimum visibility.  Actually, I do have a “Road ID” that’s reflective that I wear…I guess so that they can identify “The Man in Black” if they need to….”Why’d he have to camouflage himself?  It was hard enough to see him at night as it was?”

The thing about running at night….running in the darkness…is that I really have to pay attention.  I am on full alert…listening, scanning the sides of the road…staring off into the edge of my vision as far as I can….wondering what might be out there that can see me in the inky blackness but that I can’t see.  I really have to rein in my imagination.

You can’t think about that last Friday the 13th movie you saw…or trolls out in the woods lying in wait to eat me.

The darkness isn’t really my element.

I guess that’s why they have a big flashlight section at the discount store.

I guess that’s why we always figure out a way to accessorize everything…running included.

We need a way to distract us from the scary things at the edge of the black.


wading through

great blue heron

My son Isaac and I went on our maiden canoe voyage yesterday.

A couple of years ago, my wife and I talked about how much fun it would be to have a canoe.

Now we have 3.

I’m not sure how that all happens…but I frequently end up with more than I need. Too many good deals and people wanting to give me things, I guess.

Anyway, we took the old Blue Hole canoe down to the lake yesterday and went out when no one else was up or out on the lake.

It was so peaceful.

After paddling for a while we got to a section of the lake that I’ve never seen from the road….it must have been one of the camps because there were the typical camp buildings and docks.

I saw a big grey blob on one of the docks (I probably need new glasses) and when we went over to check it out, it turned out to be a Great Blue Heron.

We quietly paddled over to within about 5 or 10 feet of it and just sat and watched him while he watched us.

After doing this for a while, I guess I made a sudden move and he flew off to the cattails on the other side of the lake.

What could I do in a case like that but chase him over there?

So we went over and watched him wade through the shallow water by the edge….until he tired of us stalking him and flew off.

A Great Blue Heron is a big bird.  It was pretty impressive.

We went up to Asheville to visit our daughter at college yesterday, too.

We did the typical day of pizza and thrift stores….just goofing off and visiting.

She mentioned that she might want to reconsider her major…that the stuff they seemed to be working on wasn’t very interesting…that she couldn’t see how it related to her major.

That made me remember how much I had to wade through to get to the place where I got to do work that felt real.

Maybe it’s some twisted right of passage where the people setting up the programs say, “I had to do it…why shouldn’t they?  It’s the way it’s done.”

Maybe it’s a weeding out…seeing who has the dedication and drive to plow through all the BS adults place in their path…seeing who has the mental fortitude to keep going even when the road immediately ahead looks goofy as heck.

I’m not really sure how much of the things I did while I was in school felt very real.  It all felt like something I had to wade through to get to the “real life” on the other side of the wall.

But as hard as the “wading” ever was…as hard as the waiting ever was..the time I spent in school was some of the easiest and best times I had as far as suspecting I might know what my immediate future held for me.

I had a definite reason to postpone knowing what it meant to be the only one really defining what structure my life might have.

Taking responsibility for myself is a hard thing.

It’s hard to wade through most of the things we come up against in this life.  It seems like college is a place where we deal with more people telling us what to do than at other times…it feels like a slow march to get to where we want to be.

Keep wading, Zoe.

It’s a beautiful thing when you finally get to fly.

the wild,into

I’m listening to the audio book of Jon Krakauer’s “Into the Wild” again.

I’ve read the magazine article in Outside, read the book that Jon Krakauer developed from his article, watched the movie that Sean Penn developed from the book, read other articles on the web (here’s a good one I haven’t seen before…a follow-up to the original story…)…and I’m still pretty fascinated with this story.

The thing that is most interesting to me is that, given more courage or resolve, or maybe just being willing to become estranged from my family and to live completely for the moment, that could have been me or any of my friends who have actually lived lives of quiet (and in my case, restrained) adventure.

I don’t identify with Chris McCandless…completely…but I remember feeling idealistic and craving adventure.  I know how that feels.

I suppose that I still do crave adventure to some degree…now I’m just more nervous about keeping “all four wheels on the road” and making sure things are kind of stable for my family.

Here’s an interesting website…more pictures and information about Chris’ life.

Here’s a video of Jon Krakauer and Sean Penn talking about creativity, activism, the film Into the Wild…talking about a lot of stuff.

That last video has less to do with Chris McCandless than it does with some of the strong motivations that might have driven him to live the life he lived….and how these same emotions drive artistic pursuit and activism.

This story resonates with a lot of people.  I haven’t tired of it…even though by now it’s old news.

There is something beautiful about someone living their life so aggressively.  It’s inspiring to see idealism like that…even though some aspects of how he expressed that idealism seem pretty extreme.

Like Jon Krakauer says in the second video, if Chris had pulled off his Alaskan adventure and hiked out at the end of his experience, we never would have heard anything about it.

Chris McCandless would have carried it with him the rest of his life, though.

And for him, that would have been more than enough, I suppose.

05 The Ballad of Chris McCandless



I was obsessed with surfing for a time.

I think that when I was a little younger and a little more flexible, I entertained the thought that maybe I could stand up on a wave and feel the freedom that I imagined that would bring.

I don’t think I could even really stand up on a skateboard very well, but I thought that waves might be different.

Delusions of grandeur or something like it, I guess.

Anyway….I don’t think of surfing in the same way, even though it’s still a beautiful sport to me.

There still is something in me that pulls me towards the ocean.

Not the “Myrtle Beach ocean”…crowded with board walks and sunburned tourists , overbuilt and trashed out.  Not that kind of ocean.

The ocean I see in my head is the one where a family could hike down a trail cut into the side of a mountain to a beach that’s more private…”harder to get to” equals privacy, somehow…and spend the day surf fishing and playing in the Pacific Ocean…eating…together.  Together.

The idealized Western with a capital “w” ocean.

I don’t think that anything is the way it was.  It would be kind of freaky if it was….kind of disconcerting if we had a bunch of pockets of “nothing’s really changed” in a world where everything around them was so different.

Time is changing things all the…time.  Change is growth.  If you aren’t changing, you’re probably dying…and that’s a change, too, I suppose.

Things change.

But the memories can always be the same.  They are what we make them…rough edges sanded down and everything burnished to a high sheen.

Our memories are the gift we can give to ourselves…the spin we put on them makes it easier to live sometimes, holding on to the good and happy, shaping the sad to make it more palatable.

Now some folks take exception to the idea that our choices in how we remember things are liquid…fluid and malleable.

They don’t like thinking that a slight spin on our histories is allowable.

“That’s not how that happened…chronologically speaking it makes no sense…you don’t have your story right…”

They live by a sad set of very literal standards…and do what they can to hold everyone around them to the same standards.

They can’t allow that each of us owns our personal histories.

They don’t believe that it’s our myth to shape as we’re living it.

What they forget is that in the very darkest moments…in the saddest of times…there are usually bits of light and kindness that shine through.

It’s that frequent occasion for something good to happen that could be the focus of a lifetime of memories.

Maybe that’s what pulls me towards an appreciation of surfing.

There are random and varied experiences in this life… there’s nothing too profound in understanding that…and they just keep coming.

Like the waves, they just keep coming.

No matter how much we try to live each day the same way, never “upsetting the apple cart”, never doing anything very radical that might make us remember how much opportunity for a big life we might have, never trying to understand how much opportunity there is in this life…no matter how static we think we’ve orchestrated things to be…there are always going to be changes going on.

This is what carries us.

Our ability to shape our memories is what lets us stand up on our boards and “make the drop”.

Wave after beautiful wave.



now sitting’s going to kill me

boy sitting

I drive the mail around.

I sit on my butt and reach into an organized pile of mail, pull out the pieces that are supposed to go to the address I’m currently stopped at, and put them into the mailbox.

Then I drive to the next mailbox and repeat the process.

Then I drive to the next mailbox and repeat the process.

Then I drive to the next mailbox and repeat the process.

I do this 6 days a week …Saturday through Friday.  You would think I have it nailed by now, and I probably could do it in my sleep…I’m getting fairly comfortable with doing the same thing day in and day out.

I’ve been reading a lot of articles in some of the magazines we get at the house about how bad sitting is for a person…how sitting encourages obesity and promotes an early demise.

I sit all the time.

I can’t avoid it.  I have to sit to deliver the mail.  I don’t know any other way.

Thoreau said something about quiet desperation.  I know that’s true.  I chafe against doing the same thing every day (when someone else is designing parts of my day….I’d eat the same peanut butter sandwich for lunch every day and do it unconsciously…I don’t think my repetitive choices bother me as much as long as they’re self-directed) but it’s a good trade right now.  I like having an income.

But this sitting revelation is kind of a drag.

If I find out that I need to watch my cholesterol, I can stop eating the three meat pizza at Sam’s Club.  I can exercise more.  I can be proactive about the grease floating around in my body.

I don’t know what to do about the sitting, though.

I haven’t figured out how to build a right hand drive stand up mobile yet that would pass inspection.

Like my son used to say when confronted with a really vexing situation, “I CAN’T KNOW!!”

Apparently, it’s not a situation where you can counteract the effects of sitting by exercising more, either.  You can’t fight the sitting rap…you can’t beat the system.

If you’re sitting, you’re dying.


Maybe a “chinese fire drill” every 15 minutes is the way to go?  I’ll just stop at a stop sign or a country crossroad and run around the car a couple of times, throw my hands in the air, get my blood pumping.

I might even make the evening news if I do it long enough.  It would be an unusual sight…might make a good segment for “These United States” or “American Strong” or some segment like that.

It’s like anything else, I suppose.  Maybe worrying about how my job is killing me is going to kill me.

Maybe it’s the worry.  I should just take the “ignorance is bliss” thought and run with it.

Or just sit with it.


Johnny Cash was a Zen Master

We had a big console stereo that my father would play his Johnny Cash records on.

If I was going to grow up with a selective and small record collection in the house ( I remember a Porgy and Bess soundtrack and a Burl Ives record…some kid’s “pop-up sleeve” records…not much else), I suppose I could have done a lot worse than Johnny Cash.

He was probably the coolest guy I knew about when I was little…the coolest guy playing music, at least.

This was a long time before it was “hip” to listen to country music…back before country musicians became pop stars and the music changed.

But even a kid could tell that there was something different about Johnny Cash.

You read some of the history and you realize how many young (at the time) songwriters he featured on his show or helped in other ways…Kris Kristofferson, Bob Dylan, others I can’t remember…he was good for good music.

I guess that today is the ten-year anniversary of Johnny Cash’s death.

Being a musician doesn’t always mean a career with much longevity.  Most stars are kind of here today and gone tomorrow…and when they’re gone, they’re often soon forgotten.

Johnny Cash was different.

He leaves a big memory.

head full of nothing and caffeine free

Sitting staring at the computer screen…the modern version of the writing pad…completely empty of ideas and motivation.

That doesn’t bode well for an interesting post.

Here’s a video from a guy named Josh Ritter…song called “Idaho”.

When in doubt, I search YouTube for a video to act as a “place marker”…and when I’m really feeling lost and without inspiration, I look for a video with some kind of connection to Idaho.

Really, though, it may be that it’s not so much Idaho as it is someplace “away”.

Then again, it probably is about Idaho…it’s so darn beautiful.

Maybe I just need to calm my nerves and settle down, shake the wanderlust out of my hair, and get back to the business of blooming where I’m planted.

This is just what happens after I take a short trip…it just whets my appetite for a bigger and more constant adventure.

It is such a pleasure to be able to handle the things that consistent employment and geographic stability lets me handle.

I like taking care of my family.

That’s a good thing.

But I love to step out of the car and feel the strange and new air hit my face, smells different from the ones in Western North Carolina, see the plants and the animals and the people who seem different somehow, feel just a little off-balance and confused with all the differences I see and feel.

The geography of fresh experience is a powerful magnet for me.

There’s an Expedia commercial that they’re airing right now where they present people with the option of taking a trip anywhere in the world.

The only catch is that they have to be able to leave immediately.

It’s not surprising that most of the people say something along the lines of, “oh…I couldn’t do that…I couldn’t leave like that on short notice…”

There’s this one guy who packs his yellow suitcase and off he goes to China.

He was ready and willing to jump at opportunity.

I wonder if I’d be willing and able to be that guy given the chance?

I doubt it…too scared and anxious about our “situation” to take that leap of faith.

I’ve said it before….and once again I’ll say it, loudly and as clearly as I can muster….the world is a BIG PLACE…SO DARN BIG AND WIDE OPEN…and I hold tightly to my moorings…afraid to drift off into the wild and blue.

I do love the small reminders of the world’s beautiful bigness that even a short road trip provides.



We went to the beach this past weekend.

It was a dirty beach…I wrote about that part of the experience yesterday…but it was a fun beach.

We had a good time.

On our second and final night at the shore, we walked down the beach to the big ferris wheel.

From our end of the beach, it looked pretty close.

It turned out to be a little farther than we expected.

When we finally got to it, and poked around a little on the boardwalk, we decided to walk back on the road.

The walk back on the road was somehow a little farther than we expected, too.

My youngest son kept stopping at all the green power boxes and studying one of the signs they’d stuck on the side.

These boxes held the underground power equipment….I guess they were junction boxes or something.

When he finally asked me what the picture he’d been studying meant, I told him that it meant that it was dangerous to dig.  There were cables underground that you could hit if you were digging around them.


It seemed like every block had one of these power boxes…and he must have stopped and studied every one of them, hands on knees, reading the signs that said that something must be dangerous here…it was just a matter of figuring out what exactly might be the issue.

I realized later that Mommy was carrying his shovel.

He had a strong reason for deciphering what a shovel behind a crossed out circle meant.

It makes for a slow walk…this trying to figure things out as we went…but it’s fun to see the wheels turning.

butts on the beach


We went to the beach this weekend.

My youngest son turned 4 and he’s really excited about staying at motels…and he’s really excited about the beach…so we decided to kill two birds and stay at a motel on this trip.

It was beautiful.  The weather was perfect.  Warm but not overly hot, dry after a wet summer, the crowds had thinned out some after Labor Day…it was great.

You really did have to wonder just how many butts one beach could hold, though.

I’m talking about cigarette butts, of course.

My father told me once about “field stripping”….taking the cigarette down to the bare essentials and basically shredding it so the wind could carry it all away.

You’d strip the paper off the filter and then kind of shred everything and it would be quicker to decompose.

I don’t think anyone at the beach who loved to smoke and stare off into the wild blue beyond the horizon had ever heard of this technique.

It was one huge sandy ash tray.

There’s something pretty gross about having to sift out the butts before you could build a sand castle.

But maybe ecology is only the study of our natural environment…. and sandy beaches with a high proportion of cigarette butts is the new norm?

Maybe “nasty” is the new norm?

I hope not.

If I went to the beach and all I took away from it was how dirty the beach was, it would be pretty sad.

That’s really not what the trip was all about.

It was beautiful in its own way.  If you turned the right direction and only saw the ocean and the long strip of sand before it disappeared into the water, you could almost feel kind of “natural”.

You could almost feel the pull of the endless blue…stretching out farther than the eye could see.

Then, if you rotated 180 degrees, you could always ground yourself again and remember that you were smack dab in the middle of touristville.

This particular beach is kind of known for being kind of skeezy…so I shouldn’t be surprised if I see a few cigarette butts.

I was surprised not to see more McDonald’s bags and used ketchup packets, though.

It seems like they’d go hand in hand…but except for all the butts, the beach was fairly clean.

I don’t think that people go to the beach for the beach these days, though.

It seems like they must go for the boardwalk and the 35 dollar seafood buffets…the hot tub and the parasailing, funnel cakes and shopping and riding their hogs up and down the main drag, tattoos and piercing and lots of cigarettes on the beach.

It’s a family beach, too.  I’m curious what the beaches are like that aren’t considered family beaches.

I guess the places that are “easy” are sometimes kind of sleazy.

It’s like some of the trails I’ve hiked on…until you get beyond the “wheeze” envelope, they can be pretty nasty. Until you get beyond where it’s easy to waddle out into the woods, you don’t get a chance to avoid the by-products of humanity.  You don’t get a chance to miss all the trash until you’re willing to work a little to avoid it.

With the beach, there’s only so far people can go, so what else do they have to do but sit down in the sand and smoke another pack?

I love the beach. We had a fun and fine time. My son had a great birthday.

In spite of all the butts on the beach.

I don’t think our four-year old even noticed all the butts in the sand.