A trip home, Bicycles, Beauty, and a fallen 19
I went home for the first time in four years, since I left south by southwest. A ragged mix of emotion and raw whatever you want to call it. I was only a refined worker and knew how to use my body but really nothing else. I had always known I wanted more, but sometimes the first step is the largest and leaving all you’ve known takes brass balls, but to continue down that path you need larger ones that aren’t afraid to be busted a time or two.
I have never felt comfortable at home; however I praise my parents for where they decided to put roots, an area so full of lust, effort and beauty that it taught me more than I ever could’ve known. The walls that housed us where full of love, but not always a connection, and being an angst kid wanting to venture around didn’t lend for quality time you could say. But down that gravel road and along the arms of the cascades and banks of rivers I found adventure, and myself.
The water and rivers back home are cloaked in the arms of maples, and evergreen trees that house them. Their branches hide it from the outside world, trying to keep the beauty and noise all to themselves and allow the effort of people to enjoy them. Enshrined in life, wrapped in toxins, they embellish all they told. “Neath the canopy the elixir sways the soul, the sound gives us the music we attain, it soothes and cures any ailment or quandary I’ve ever had. It’s a hidden world I sought time after time. Hidden from everything but myself, it was the first place I was comfortable being me.
A bike took me to such places, and if my parents knew then how far I traveled to find such things there would’ve been a revocation of some kind. Once car bound it was on to much further locals. My brother always seemed to be in some sort of trouble, my sister was the youngest girl and as the fable goes, the squeaky wheel gets the grease, she was well lubed. I never complained too much, not my nature, I was usually left to my own vices, a good kid, not in too much trouble, so my birth was wide and I discovered that with the distractions of the other two, the middle child was free to roam.
Sometimes driving old back roads with my dad he’d say, “that road there goes up to the top of the mountain, a dirt road all the way to Sultan” I’d smile and say “I know” he’d look at me funny, like I wasn’t being honest. So I would say, “Well you have to pass the old boy scout camp first, beyond the spot where people shoot, there’s a cool small water fall with railroad tracks on top after a long series of switch backs, then a long fire road climb till it turns to forest again, then it flattens out and descends towards highway 2, hop a large gate then head west to Sultan. He responded by “maybe we should get you a better bike”
I would find old relics of logging and mining towns and equipment. I would sit-down stare and listen to what it all said. I could begin to hear voices of those that where here before me, the effort, toll and hope it took to create all they did, I felt then as I still do now that I was one of them. It took a certain kind of grain to go where they did a hundred years before I stepped foot there. Rotten iron descending into the earth, the sheer magnitude of those who didn’t know any limits, I would return home completely destroyed from my day, the miles and toll it took to allow my imagination to leave me alone for a while. Running on complete fumes I could barely turn the pedals but looking around at what allowed me to grow up I knew it would give me safe passage to get home. Spending 12-16 hours a day by myself wasn’t uncommon when I was young. My dad would sometimes call me lazy when I got home, and I’d smile because I knew something he didn’t.
It felt like I had a secret, I had a key to time and places so spectacular that I almost didn’t want to share. I felt a connection, my first, it was to the inanimate, not a person, not my mother, or grandparents. I’d lie on my back and watch the clouds and the gorgeous noise of a river. My father on our road trip home said you always knew how to side step the shit and drama of people and families, and it was because I understand beauty, the silent perfect beauty of what happens when we stop fucking with it and allow it to be authentic. I had no language for love; we weren’t a hugging type family. It was a dust yourself off, is anything broken? If not let’s get back to work. Soft words spoken followed with a soft touch was something I’ve always wanted, but as a youth didn’t get, I had to develop into what I wanted to be on my own. I understood and knew beauty but didn’t know how to speak of it, I knew that life’s hard enough to try and make it what we think it should be. Take off the filters, go beyond where you think you should, and go deeper within yourself, all these things, a bicycle gave me. Be authentically you; trust me you’ll find it. I get a deep pleasure now allowing those the same opportunity this contraption gave to me.
When you’re old enough to learn about beauty, simple true beauty, it fills us with a noise that humbles and harmonizes us. The soft love of nature may have been the first I ever felt, or at least let myself feel. There is no misunderstanding, or frustrating beginning or ending. The same deciduous that nearly cover the cool waters from bank to bank wrapped me as well. I never felt alone when standing between great trees in knee deep glacier run off, completely singular and void of human contact.
Maybe that’s my biggest connection with it; open veins of water ways don’t hit me the same ways as an enveloped river. To see the beauty you have to dig a little, the vaunted obvious texture allure us all, but go beyond where most roam and you’ll be rewarded beyond belief. Most get stuck on the immediate beauty of what they first see, me however, I’ve never worked on such cues. I’m not a smart guy, my test will show this. My brain works in a different manner, and that too brought childhood frustrations with my parents. But by listening and being intuitive something clicked and wondering how it works instead of why it works allows us to be humbled by our own failures and success, it’s not just for us to enjoy what we do.
Maybe its nostalgia that brought me this piece, or the aging of my parents. Driving the car around old roads everything had changed a little. The streets where cast by large trees and weeds that where small when I left, the town looked the same, some old shops and restaurants, had moved or closed. There is a light that peers through the clouds that filters the colors, making the green, greener and the trees spectacular. Something in me though was different, it wasn’t my home any longer, and the idea at first took a long time to soak in. I rode on all those roads that raised me, this time a man and the miles where easy especially on the new machines. I had grown strong, wiser, fuck-I even matured. Don’t get me too wrong, I still found my old usual haunts and boardwalks but even those too where different and no longer fit like they use too.
The trip was to see a union, my second in June. A great person saying I do in the back ground of Mt. Si, but I had been meaning to go home for a while. Through past relationships, old plans and a dull pain of the unattainable, I still made the journey. I met up with people I had been meaning to for years, rode my favorite slices of asphalt in hick mining towns and drank bottles of Rainier and looked under the cap to find my fortune.
Spent time with the Fisherman Captain, a couple old friends, my parents, my old hound Chubbs, nephews, and gravel. Drove by old houses and wondered who lived in them now, the same people still? I didn’t knock, time was short. I never made it east of the mountains, a place I would escape often. I picked through old papers and boxes of books and found the scripts that speak to me the loudest, tucked them away in a bag and prepared to head back to my desert home. I get centered on Norman Mclean, the man picks my nerves and ties me with rhythms about truths and life and through his shorts stories and the master piece of a river runs through it, I found “young men and fire” the story of the Mann Gulch fire where 12 smoke jumpers died in 1949.
The next day I had heard of the deaths of 19 fighting the Yarnell fire outside of Prescott, I looked across from my laptop at the book next to me, the cover of a crew posing near the tail section of their plane where they would jump out and try to save the natural abundance we all enjoy so much. After high school I spent time in Winthrop Washington at a smoke jumper camp, learning the ropes and equipment. I was living in the back of my truck, riding bikes in the beautiful hills, trying to entice the ladies, and sneaking beers from the local brewery. I had heard of the Smoke Jumper academy in Missoula Montana. Unsure of where my life would weave, I looked into joining the school. Jumping out of planes and into a forest trying to save the trees and earth I love so much resonated with me, dropping into an inferno and emerging heroic, the idea of being a normal fire fighter never occurred to me, there, you have to deal with people, here, you deal with beauty.
If you want to understand the thoughts, the truth, description, and poetic ideals of those that protect our lands. Buy the book and allow yourself to spread over the pages written only a way a master can. I awoke my father at four in the morning and we began our trip south towards the flying crafts. I had enjoyed our time immensely, the most consecutive amount we’ve had together since I was 17 years old. Boarded the plane and read paragraphs of all the books I grabbed. I had an hour layover in Salt Lake City; the captain said we would be flying over the Grand Canyon, then Flagstaff and towards Prescott before descending down into Phoenix where the temperature was already a 108 at 10 am.
The sky was clear off in the distance, then became heavy with cumulous, smoke and darkened by the choking of sunlight. The air felt heavy and I was pulled away and back to the window. I thought of the last gasp of those 19, where the land they protected had turned on them and took them forever. They gave all they had, protected us, attempted to save acreage they loved and loved being men in. I had met most of them in Crown King, a small town a ways off a gravel road. On a “secret” training session I was camped out and just riding and reading, putting pieces together after a break up. Outside the saloon where most ate and the general store, their worn out green suits picked up my bike as they bought some goods and sharpened saws.
We swapped a couple quick stories, I was off to ride to Prescott and back, told them once, before I became a little grey and bald I was nearly one of them. Broad smiles and backs, I would’ve loved to be amongst them, even on their last effort. The plane cut through the smoke and I thought of their souls rising up to the heavens over a land they protected and always will. It’s not for the money, but for the effort of beauty, at least that’s what I’ll tell myself, Young men and fire Mclean wrote but it’s a truth of life. If we don’t put ourselves out there we’ll never feel the heat and exuberance of life, being afraid to get burned will lead to dormant days, we never know which will be our last.
A couple days later I played host to a fourth of July party. Great casual friends mellowed about my house, hammock and pool. I looked around at them and was gracious for the efforts that allowed me to become a portion of who I am meant to be. I thought of the 19 whom no doubt had plans on our independence day, but would’ve jumped at a moment’s notice when they were called to duty. The measure of people should always remain open ended, their efforts always calculated, effervescent, and alive, the way they always will be.
Take nothing for granted. Ever.