Narratives

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This is dedicated to the memory of Mahnaz Kousha, one of the greatest teachers I’ve ever had, a kind, beautiful and fiercely intelligent woman who taught me about narratives among other things.

It’s been hard to know whether or not to keep writing with about what’s going on in the world. Words seem a paltry defense against the hatred and fear that’s spreading like a malignancy. However, working for the past month at the Minneapolis VA has reminded me that fighting for our country, in any way possible, is a never ending duty as an American. Just the other night I admitted a veteran in his eighties. When I walked back to the wards to check on him, he asked the nurse to step out of the room and give us a minute. He said he had something he wanted to say about one of his responses to my neurological assessment. You know the funny look I gave you when you asked me who the president was, he asked. I just want you to know that even though I don’t like what he’s doing, especially towards those Hispanics, I respect the office. It was tender to watch this sick old man working hard to stand in his integrity as both an American and a veteran in the face of mindless stupidity. I’m sure there are many veterans who support Trump, but I haven’t met any yet at the VA.

The veterans I’ve met, many of whom have served their country at the expense of their physical and mental health, seem baffled by the lack of basic integrity of a draft dodger who they now find as their commander and chief. Whether one agrees with even the basic idea of the military or not, it is undeniable that these men and women have suffered to pursue the ideal of a greater good. My resident and I joked about how almost every vet that we admitted assumed I served and asked me what branch of the military I was in. What surprised me though was the universal reply of That’s serving your country just the same, when I responded that I served in the Peace Corps. My service was not the same and didn’t come with the same kind of sacrifices, but working at the VA reminds me of the feeling of greater purpose and community with my fellow Americans that I had while serving abroad. It’s this feeling that compels me to keep fighting in any way that I can. For me, part of this means trying to deconstruct the current political narrative and replace it with a better one.

It’s always dangerous for an imperfect man to attack an ideology because I know I fall prey to the same mental pitfalls as anyone else. Therefore I’ll state at the outset that I’m deeply flawed and know it. I’m a glutton, I’m often unaware of my privilege, I can be careless regarding the consequences of my decisions, and I’m not a vegetarian, to name a few. I want to simply acknowledge that I know I’m no better than anyone else when I advocate for a better world. However, although I often fail to live up to my own values, I still believe it’s my obligation as a human being to fight for justice when it’s being circumvented.

The current state of politics is not and cannot be about partisanship. I say that because there’s no equivalency. The Democratic Party holds a multitude of dissenting opinions. There are advocates for change, advocates for restraint, spenders, fiscal conservatives, war hawks, and pacifists. They are made up of inspirational leaders like Bernie Sanders and monsters like Harvey Weinstein. They aren’t liberal or conservative, they are simply an amalgamation of a multitude of political parties that find themselves joined together in an unlikely alliance. The Republican Party on the other hand, led with their own complicity by Donald Trump, is a party which has centralized its values around anti-science, xenophobic, chauvinist, anti-intellectual, and racist policies that reinforce the status quo and further exacerbate inequalities in race, gender, and socioeconomics. These policies leverage the fear, faith, and anger of mostly white people by dangling a narrative of white Christian superiority as a carrot to consolidate power in the hands of those who already have it.

Draconian immigration policies, a complete and utter disregard for the environment, an assault on education and reproductive rights, and tax policies that benefit the super rich have been the bread and butter of Republican policies since I could vote. There is an important role for dissent and differing political opinions in a democracy, but that role shouldn’t be based in a morality that is rooted in fear, ignorance, and hate. Like I’ve said before, I think this country has the potential to be a force for good in building a better world. What I’m going to write about isn’t a matter of partisan politics, it’s a matter of morality and common sense. We cannot get to that better world as long as the Republican narrative is given any kind of legitimacy. I will therefore try to deconstruct that narrative in spare moments where I’m not rotting my brain on Netflix or navel gazing with a tumbler of whiskey. I want to do this in order to better understand how to fight for justice, but I also want to uncover and create a common sense narrative for what’s going on.

 

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Important Voices

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Community Politics

“If we extend the metaphor of the garden to our social body, we might imagine ourselves as a garden within a garden…The garden is unbounded and unkempt, bearing both fruit and thorns. Perhaps we should call it all wilderness. Or perhaps community is sufficient. However we choose to think of the social body, we are each other’s environment.”
Eula Biss On Immunity

We are not alone. If there’s anything I know to be true, it’s that we live in relationship with the world around us and the people in it. Whether the discussion is about vaccination as in On Immunity by Eula Biss, or about social welfare, we need to start from the objective fact that we are in constant relation to one another while we take breaths on this earth. This isn’t a liberal stance, it is an objective reality. In an era where truth is purportedly up for interpretation, this idea can be difficult for some people to understand. I thought about this concept a few months ago while sitting in my backyard with my family. My mom’s cousin and I were talking politics and it quickly became evident that he viewed his success as his own alone, which meant that the failure of others were theirs alone. He’s an extremely successful lawyer here in Minneapolis and our conversation began with the familiar lament of the aged that there is a new lack of respect among young people today. He argued that the millennial generation doesn’t know how to work, and that the tax dollars from his highest earner tax bracket go to pay for healthcare and welfare for people who don’t deserve it. This garbage came from a kind man who demonstrated with his words an unbelievable lack of understanding regarding how the social and economic forces around him shape his privileged world.

Our conversation reminded me of a two-part Freakonomics episode I listened to that consisted entirely of an interview with Charles Koch. In that interview, Stephen Dubner prostrated himself in front of who we were led to believe was an affable, all-knowing, and good intentioned Charles Koch whose only goal was to make the world a better place now that he’s made more money than he knows what to do with. Why should we care about these two separate conversations between reasonable seeming successful men when our country is spiraling out of control due to the politics of liars, racists, and narcissists? We should care because the fallacy behind the ideology of these reasonable seeming men is what underlies and provides structure to today’s Republican Party. I say Republican Party intentionally because I don’t care about being politically correct. I care about being kind, decent, and thoughtful, but I’m not going to pretend that what’s happening today is happening on both sides of the political aisle.

Along with his brother David, Charles inherited Koch industries from his father Fred Koch. I won’t detail the hypocrisy of how Fred Koch made millions in Soviet Russia while becoming one of the staunchest anti-communists in America, but I do want to illustrate the kind of hypocrisy that it takes for a libertarian political donor to be politically active in advocating a pull yourself up by your bootstraps philosophy when his baby booties were lined with hundred dollar bills. Moving on to my mom’s cousin. When discussing the merits of hard work and success, he discussed how his parents raised him with the expectation that he’d study hard and go to college. He then mentioned how surprised he was to see their other cousin Margo when he went to his brother’s suma cum laude ceremony. The obvious chauvinism of this comment escaped him, as well as the fact that he was born into a wealthy family headed by his successful father who practiced law. He forgot that his education was in-part funded by his sisters, including my grandmother and margo’s mother, who dropped out of high school to help pay for their brother’s educations.

Conversations about privilege don’t always fit as nicely as this, but no matter who we are or where we’re from, our successes and failures are heavily influenced, if not completely determined, by the social structures surrounding us. The ideology and policies put forth by today’s Republican Party are inconsistent, morally repugnant, and misleading. That the structures in society affect our behavior as individuals is a fact, not an opinion. That race is a social construct that has little if any basis in physical biology is also a fact, not an opinion. So when I hear pundits and lawmakers describe groups of people as if they were individuals making collective decisions with a shared free will, I cannot help but wonder if the speakers are stupid or lying. We must be better. We have the economic and social resources in the country to create a society where all children could be fed, educated, housed, and grow up with the opportunity to do whatever they wish.

So no, it’s not the time to be politically correct, it’s time to be morally strong. We need to confront racism, sexism, homophobia, xenophobia and false narratives as we see them. Ta Nehisi Coates did so in The First White President as he carefully demolished the narrative that Donald Trump was elected due to economic fears. Jimmy Kimmel has continued to dismember the arguments of Republican legislators trying to repeal the ACA. And Lebron James was brutal and effective yesterday as he simply and correctly called out the POTUS for being a bum.

As the world is seemingly falling in around us, I believe that it’s important to remember that there is no enemy. Trump voters are not the enemy of progress, nor is Trump himself. They are just human beings whose decisions and belief systems are based in fear and ignorance instead of compassion and facts. By no means do I think that these belief systems excuse the hateful and piglike behavior predominantly perpetrated by white men like myself, but I want to remain consistent with my understanding of the difference between individual actions and the structures that underlie them. Therefore, I want to keep on fighting for change by supporting the structures and institutions in our democracy that work to save us from ourselves while propelling us toward progress. I’m thinking of public schools, the scientific method, universities, county hospitals, environmental groups, libraries, park systems, and the many arts organizations to name a few. The past year has demonstrated that the forward march of progress toward a better world is not inevitable, and I see that revelation as an excuse to get off the couch and start working towards that world today.

 

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Ely

Ely. We have to write an end of the year essay about our RPAP experience and I’m stumped. What’s Ely? I’ve got no fucking idea. Ely is a picturesque town on surrounded by iron black waters and pristine wilderness. Ely is Dees Bar and The Steakhouse, sad drunk dirty fun backwards wild and untamed. Ely is normal life and an escape from normal life. Ely is pride and desperation. Ely is winter, cold, gray, and dark. Ely is winter, quiet, magical, and endless. It’s a small town where you make friends at the laundromat. In Ely you go to high school sports games and church fundraisers no matter how old you are or what you believe in. It’s a waxing and waning town where pride, boredom, resentment, dependency, and excitement all blend into each other. Ely is a jacked up coal rolling pickup with NRA bumper stickers rumbling down Sheridan Street. Ely is a silent lake pierced by the haunting cry of a Minnesota loon.

 

To work as a doctor in Ely means personal medicine. Ely is medicine at its finest and medicine at its dirtiest. Being a doctor in Ely means really knowing everyone in the grocery store and figuring how much brain to turn on and off. Working in Ely has meant balancing personal and professional life in a way I’ve never had to think about before. Living in a place, spending time in patient’s homes, drinking with them at the bars, coaching their children, and eating soup and cornbread next to them at church fundraisers all changes the practice of medicine. In Ely patients become people.

 

In Ely I watched as a 92 year old woman was allowed to die. She came into the clinic in severe respiratory failure brought on by yet another bout of pneumonia. The on call doctor knew her well. We stabilized her in the ED and talked to her family as she continued to deteriorate. She’d known her doctor for years and had made her wishes known. She wanted no lifesaving treatment. She wanted to die peacefully when her time came. It took less than an hour to find a Catholic priest, start treating her pain, and bring in the rest of her family. The intimate relationship between the physician, the patient, and her family alleviated the guilt associated with deciding not to institute lifesaving treatment.

As I brought in lozenges so that this woman’s family could keep her lips moist as she struggled through her final breaths, I thought about the first patient I ever saw die. Ten months ago I met a sharp 92 year old woman who was admitted to Abbot Northwestern in respiratory failure. We became friends and yet I stood by as she spent over a week in the ICU being poked, prodded, and breathed into. Ely is a place that can teach you how medicine is human, about humans for humans and practiced by humans.

 

Ely means walking out to your car after work to see a red pickup drive slowly past your bumper stickers. It means balling up your fist as the pickup swings around the parking lot to pull up next to you. I recognized the man who got out of the truck as a patient I saw in clinic two months before. He was a taciturn woodsman in his fifties with no medical history, no medications and a stomach ache that wouldn’t go away. His history didn’t add up so I moved on to the physical exam where I heard crackles in all lung fields on pulmonary ascultation and a musical holosystolic cardiac murmur that increased at the apex with no radiation to the carotids. He had open heart surgery the next week and I hadn’t seen him until just then as he pulled up his shirt to show me the scar running down his chest. I felt like a jackass.

 

Ely is driving to work past the “Make Ely Great Again” sign again and again and again until you can’t take it anymore so you rip it down and stuff it in the trash. Ely is white. Poor white liberal white rich white conservative white canoeing white ATV white mining white BWCA white and the lines that cross and entangle these blurry distinctions. Ely is non-white. Ely is Vermillion Community College that specializes in forest service, land management, and law enforcement jobs but recruits young black athletes from the south to come up and play sports knowing full well how hard it is to integrate into this cold white town.

 

Ely is drinking fresh coffee listening to the birds wake up in the woods and wondering what it is that drives some of us to fight against the welfare of others. Ely is listening to MPR as you make your morning bowl of Crappola and plain whole milk yogurt and feeling a dark wave of sadness wash over me. It only takes five minutes to hear about how GOP senators are fighting to slash Medicaid funding which provides healthcare for the poor, the disabled, and children. That’s a fucking joke right? It’s gotta be a fucking joke.

 

Ely is rage. There’s a rage brewing in our world right now, a rage that I’ve never before had to engage with on the level that I do in Ely. I may not have been born with a silver spoon, but no doubt I was born with a locally sourced and functionally generic spoon purchased so that my parents could spend their money taking my brother and I traveling around the world. I’m beyond privileged. I know that there are people of every skin color and gender that suffer and lack opportunities, but that’s no excuse for bigotry. We live in a time of skyrocketing wealth, massive income inequalities, and technology that encourages us to want everything. Couple that with the fact that this same technology is changing how we see and communicate about racial and gendered oppression that is cemented in hundreds of years of history and we have a powder keg of discontent on the verge of exploding.

 

Ely sits firmly on the center of that powder keg. Don’t get political why do you have to talk politics everything isn’t about race why can’t everyone just not see color why can’t women just be women and men be men why does everyone have to be so politically correct? That’s what usually happens when the conversation veers anywhere other than the basic. On my final drive from Ely down to the “Cities,” I savored the experience of listening to bad country music while watching the sun slowly fall between storm clouds. I needed to turn my brain off for a few hours and drain Ely from my mind.

 

I began the trip however with a podcast that addressed the questions of what is fact and fiction, and how after so many years of scientific and technological process, there appears to be a strong pushback against the ideal of the scientific method. I love the scientific method. Besides having the opportunity to engage with people on such an intimate level, a renewed appreciation for critical thought and science is what I’m most grateful for in medical school. So this podcast struck a cord with me because whether or not I’m discussing global warming, mining, abortion, or vaccines, I find myself increasingly frustrated by people’s pervasive desire to ignore basic truths and content themselves with the simple statements: “It’s just my opinion,” and “It’s a matter of faith.” The speaker separated opinions into “intrinsic truths” which are facts about which the holder doesn’t care about evidence, and “extrinsic truths” which are facts about which the holder is willing to discuss, debate, and defend. She didn’t offer any grand solution, just the simple strategy of recognizing these differences. I wish I had this framework for some of my discussions in Ely.

 

 

At the risk of sounding banal, Ely is what you make it. It’s beautiful and terrible, it’s inspiring and depressing, you can roll with it or try to change it and you can do neither or both. No matter what experience I finish up, I always struggle with the question of whether or not I did it right, this past year being no different. Should I have held my tongue more when race and mining came up? Was I too distracted and unfocused? Should I have carved out more time in the woods? I could answer yes to each question and a thousand more, which quickly renders them all useless. I spent my year in the north woods doing what I did and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity.

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Time

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Lazy Saturday evening on Burntside lake

Afternoon light fell sharply across the boy’s face as I walked past his house. He was three maybe four years old and sitting in the grass by the front steps. As we made eye contact he raised his hand solemnly and waved to me. I waved back and kept walking down the street. Spring light hangs long in the sky this far north, a good light for walking.

 

Walking gives me time to think about the day, the week, the year. Walking gives me time to think about the taser pointed at my chest. It was just a second or two, enough time to see the fear in the cop’s eyes. He was so scared. Then it was gone again, pointed back at the man who was trying to hurt himself. The dressing I’d hastily bargained for and wrapped was back on the ground. He started to bleed again. Towering over the cop he screamed Get out of my house.

 

I didn’t leave the hospital until close to 11 pm, but I have the time. I have the time to squat down next to his bed and listen. To push aside the hunting knife and bucket of blood. I have the time to talk, to step between the patient and the cop, to wait and wait and wait and wait until he was ready to let me work. There was blood all over the ER bay, blood on my clothes. I’m worried about the day when I don’t take the time. I was proud of the 15 stitches which took very little time.

 

My time in this town is winding down. Two more weeks and then I’m back in the city. I just had two weeks of study troll time at home in Minneapolis in order to study for USMLE Step 2. It’s unnerving how quickly it takes for my time in Ely to feel completely alien. I woke up at 3:30 Friday morning so I could make it to the clinic by 8:00 am. Once the Ely water tower came into view and I rolled down the windows and leaned my head outside to smell the woods. The clinic day passed in a fog and I made it out to my housesitting paradise on Burntside Lake just in time to take a nap.

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View from the bedroom

My eyes opened with wind blowing in the cedars and the lake rippling in the soft breeze. Ollie (the lab and my charge) and I strolled down to the shore and surveyed the array of canoes, kayaks, paddle boards, and speed boat. He chose the boat. I forgot what a rush it is to lean into the throttle and feel the rise toward 45 degrees before crashing forward and skimming across the sunset drenched water. After we both dove into the black water Ollie moped on the dock as I taught myself how to paddle board. Taught might be an overstatement as paddle boarding is one of those rare activities that’s just as easy as it looks. I paddled south for 15 minutes or so and just as I swung back around I saw an eagle drop from the sky, screaming down towards me. She passed no more than ten feet above my head, touched the water behind me, and soared back up into the sky. I watched her do this three more times before flapping off toward another bay. She was hunting.

After a late night sauna, I slept like the dead and woke up to a roaring thunderstorm. The rain cleared as I finished Swing Time over a pot of hot coffee. After the coffee ran out, both Ollie and I were ready to use our bodies. I was trailing him through the woods at Hidden Valley when the greens started to swirl in front of me. My watch only read 18 minutes, so I realized that the problem was that I was a shit runner compared to my partner. By the time I got into a relative groove, I was undone by my sweat. It only takes one horsefly to send me crashing back to earth with the reminder that I’m far from a true woodsman.

Sitting in this beautiful kitchen, drinking fresh coffee,  and listening to the wind slip through the trees, time feels decadent.

Doesn’t even mind the Chacos

 

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Winter/Spring

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Wintery spring

On Wednesday night I was stopped in the gym by a patient who wanted to tell me that his bowel movements had improved. After telling me about his poop he said that at first he didn’t recognize me because I didn’t have a beard the day before in clinic. I didn’t think anything of it until my friend Jill came up to me and asked me if I was a Chia pet. No streaking at all, the patient said as I leaned up against his treadmill trying to catch my breath. Good good, I replied inching back towards the door before he pulled out his phone to show me pictures. I’d seen the pictures yesterday in clinic, and I figured that I didn’t need to see them again. I was escaping back onto the rowing machine because I’m spoiled and I was tired of running outside in the cold. Spring lowered my defenses for the past couple of weeks, and then camping, birds, green grass, and warm breezes all gave way to 10 days of rain, sleet and snow. On Wednesday there was enough snow to plow the roads.

 

If my mind is slow to adjust to the changing winds, my body and beard evidently change just fine. The night before the real snow hit, my phone informed me that bad things were to come. I went to a fundraiser dinner with my friend and I immediately started packing in calories in case everything went to shit. I continued that course late into the night, finishing off a box of Samoas, two quesadillas, and some Moose Tracks ice cream with Sandies crumbled on top. I don’t care how many people make fun of me for eating Sandies. They’re delicious and they put me right back in Agnes’s kitchen where Drayton and I would sit after school and tell her about our day. I woke up on Wednesday morning to snow on the ground and ice cream on the corners of my mouth. Life’s real tough up here in the north country.

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Winter

That’s the hard thing though, because in so many ways I live a perfect life. I love my work, I have great friends, great health, and a family that I value more than anything in this world. My joy however doesn’t negate the fact that injustice is rampant and there are plenty of people who need change to achieve a basic human standard of living. Unlike me, most people don’t have the luxury to wait around for change to come. I just finished reading Sister Outsider by Audre Lourde, and there was a lot that I liked, some that I loved, and occasionally things that I couldn’t stand. Mostly however, she reminded me how insane this racist and sexist society that we live in is. Her writing doesn’t need my validation, but I appreciated how she created moments in which the curtain was pulled back and I was left staring dumbly at the page and wondering how the fuck we got here.

 

I am by no means woke and I sleepwalk through most of my interactions comfortably cushioned by my own privilege. However, once smarter people than me start to blow away the smokescreen of normative racism and sexism, it becomes hard to stay blind. Questioning my reality however can be disconcerting. I walk to work and see the American flag fly over the veterans memorial, go to bowling league most Friday nights, and drink too much beer and then sing karaoke at the steakhouse. This life is good and easy. The real world though is more interesting, troubling, and unjust. Given America’s history of violent colonial intervention abroad and it’s foundation on slavery and the genocide of Native Americans, it’s impossible to maintain the illusion of American moral superiority. Values matter much more than borders. Reactionary good-ol-boys in Kazakhstan, Mexico, or Ely have much more in common with each other (regardless of politics) than they do with people in each country who advocate for social justice.

 

There’s simply too much information available today to stay asleep to the insanity of racial and sexual injustice in America. As I continue to work towards being a part of the solution, I know that I’ll fuck up often. For a while I was concerned that there were too many liberals engaging in “woke-offs” (I stole that from a friend) with each other, because it’s easier to pick apart someone who agrees with you than address the very real and scary problems that exist with people whose world view you find abominable. I still think it’s stupid to argue with people in order to out politically correct them for the sake of my own ego. Now however, I think that’s only part of the story. White liberals like myself can’t possibly know what it’s like to fear for our lives and the lives of our children at the hands of those sworn to protect us due to the color of our skin. I have no idea what it means to live in a world where the story of my life is twisted and corrupted into various narratives in which I am a lesser human. With that in mind, I’m going to try as hard as I can to stay open to critiques of my own behaviors and viewpoints. I want to do this because although cliche, I know that my freedom is bound in the freedom of those around me and that it is impossible to fight for justice in the world if I can’t do it in my own heart.

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Family Medicine

 

I’m  lucky to be up here. The doctors I work with are all exceptional, each one teaching me something different about how to be a physician. The nursing staff however have become my family. Their teaching spans from the dangers of leaving my cell phone unattended to the various reasons why I should stay humble. My nicknames vary daily, oscillating between “Mr. Target Customer Service,” when I wore my red sweater and khaki pants to “Romeo,” which I recently saw stored as my contact info in Mel’s phone. Beyond the medicine I’m learning, the warmth and kindness I’ve received this past year has been overwhelming. I am constantly in awe of the privilege with which I get to move in the world, be it doing facial biopsies, giving bilateral knee injections, or the hours of visits trying to make diagnoses while having intimate conversations with total strangers.

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Results of leaving my phone at the nurses station

Last week I had the opportunity to drive to a lakeside converted barn for a home visit with a patient with aggressive metastatic cancer. Sitting in his living room with his family, I felt like I was really seeing someone. I was surrounded by their art, their love, and their beautiful messiness. Just watching him lean back in his own chair in his own home helped me contextualize this man in a a way that I never would have been able to in a clinic visit. This struck me as especially poignant while visiting someone for whom cancer has robbed of so much his humanity. The tenderness of that interaction and the vast information gleaned from sitting in someone’s house, further convinced me that Family Medicine is a uniquely privileged profession. Although it’s not romantic or flashy, it is by far the most challenging and fascinating specialty I could go into. I take that back, it is romantic in a messy sort of way. During this past year I have learned a little more about love every day. I see parents bringing children in, spouses bringing spouses, and children bringing parents. I get a daily dose of “old love,” the love between people who have lived a lifetime together. That love is never perfect, but it’s easy to pick out the couples who started with magic, because that’s what keeps their rheumatic eyes flashing even as their bodies fail them.

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New Love

Sometimes near the end of a long clinic day my face feels frozen in a greasy smile. Adhesive facial myositis isn’t a thing, but after twenty or so patient encounters I feel like there is something not right with my face. Last Friday was one of those long days where I kept glancing outside to see sun brightly illuminating everything with the glitter of spring. When I have to work inside, those perfect days are harder for me than today’s grey clouds and cold sleet. I left the clinic at the end of the day, headed straight home, and quickly threw some camping equipment in my old green backpack. I stuffed in a peanut butter sandwich, 2 polish sausages, 1 green pepper, ground coffee, a percolator, rolled tobacco, and a flask of Wild Turkey. My app showed clouds rolling in around 7 pm, but that the rain would hold off until midnight or so.

Secret blackstone is perfect for this kind of night because the trailhead is about a half hour from Ely and the campsites are only an 8-10 min hike from the parking lot. The light was still holding as I set up camp. This allowed me to forage around for plenty of downed firewood. I had to spend an extra 5 minutes looking for cedar bows to put under my sleeping bag because when I was putting up the tent I realized that I’d forgotten my sleeping pad. It must have fallen out of the pack in my rush to leave the apartment. The campsite fire pit faced east toward the coming night. It was protected from the wind by the roots of an uprooted tree. A strong wind was coming off the lake, but as I leaned back against the logs that were scattered around the fire it only functioned to blow the smoke past my right shoulder. Dinner was simple, two sausages skewered on a sharpened branch, one similarly roasted green pepper, and whiskey to wash it down. After dinner I laid back against the logs watching the stars appear one by one in the sky as the clouds rolled away. I rolled a cigarette and watched the flames dance in front of me as my mind drifted between the past, present, and future.

 

The next morning I waited until the rain stopped to pull myself out of my tent and into the foggy morning air. There were only a few cedar bows left directly under my bag, as the rest of them had been squeezed out to the sides of the tent during the night. I quickly shook as much water from the rain fly as I could and packed up the tent wet because I knew I’d have to dry it later at my apartment. I then fired up the percolator over my little camp stove and waited for the coffee to boil as I ate my peanut butter sandwich. There are few things more satisfying than savoring good coffee while looking out over a glass lake and hearing absolutely nothing but the wind in the trees. After I finished the coffee I hiked back out to the car, changed into running clothes, and ran through the wet trails. I mostly concentrated on the smells and sites in the woods, but I also reflected on how lucky I am to have the family that I do.

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Blackstone Lake

My brother had left back to the cities the day before, taking with him his newly adopted dog Frankie. Frankie is a 7 month old yellow lab who is impossible not to fall in love with. Even so, the best part of the trip was being able to spend time with Drayton. It’s hard not to relish hanging out with your brother when he has grown up into such an impressive person. He engages being a high school english teacher with all of the drive and intelligence that it deserves. I cannot think of a more challenging and important profession, and he is diving into it with both his heart and eyes open. It’s always humbling to be in the company of someone who is genuinely good through and through, as well as who has a razor sharp wit and intelligence. We hiked every day he was up here and watched his little lab become a creature of the woods, daring and explosive if lacking in coordination and judgement. Taking her through town however, we witnessed the full display of her powers as she charmed even the most grizzled of Ely residents. I’ve always hated how people get weird about dogs, so I’ll leave it at that.

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There’s never been a happier couple

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She made it hard to play it cool

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