Going out with REI

Screen Shot 2017-11-25 at 10.47.24 PM.pngMy #OptOutside excursion was a hit this year. Salamonie State Forest in northeast Indiana is one of three U.S. Army Corps of Engineers reservoir projects completed in the 1960s to reduce flooding on the Wabash River. Dams were placed on the Roush, Salamonie, and Mississinewa Rivers. The area surrounding Salamonie Reservoir is a testament to the area’s glaciated history, where creeks tributary to the Salamonie River cut steep draws into the hillsides, sending water sluicing over exposed limestone waterfalls up and down the river valley.


My hike consisted of a series of poorly marked loops along horse trails and fire roads, but I hiked the forest extensively as a Scout in my teens. It had been thirty-five years since I’d hiked it with any granularity, and it felt like coming home. What makes the hiking easy even without navigational aid, is that you’ll run into one of two features to put you back on course, either the sheer 80-degree grade down to the Salamonie River to your north, and the county roads to your south, one of which is the main state forest road.

IMG_3120The sky was nearly cloudless and the temperature reached the upper 40s, which is perfect for going out in a t-shirt and merino sweater. I munched on Cracker Jack when I got hungry and drank just under half a gallon of water. Gaia GPS says that I hiked 8.4 miles, and that seems accurate. I carried a full pack as I usually do to keep my training realistic, with a total weight just over 20 pounds. My biggest problem was the muddy areas where hooves have decimated the trail. Being compliant with Leave No Trace philosophy did in my Under Armor trail runners, which were on their deathbed to begin with, but they went out in style; if you believe mud is stylish.

IMG_3148My biggest thrill was the amount and diversity of the wildlife I encountered. Top of the list was the many white-tailed deer. I also ran into a couple of ladies on horseback who were out enjoying the weather. Other than the muddy low areas on the horse trails, the path was in good condition. Hiking through the open grassy area south of the main forest road near the entrance brought back memories of hiking with old friends as a Scout. Over the years I had forgotten which state park or forest the area belonged to, but being out in it again purchased instant recall.

I realize that REI’s #OptOutside is a marketing gimmick, but it is a damn good one. That they shutter their stores on Black Friday and encourage their employees to spend the day in nature aligns well with my worldview. I am always more than happy to oblige, and if you scroll through their hashtag on Twitter, you’ll see a couple of pictures from my hike (also available here).



Top five habits: The all-in foodie

Respect the food!

There is a popular modern slogan that was in part birthed by the slow food crowd. “Farm to Table.” It comes close in describing how we should view food and nutrition. For such an important part of our lives and health, we “farm out” much of the process and products to strangers.

We should be advocates for knowing where our food comes from. If not our own gardens (even herb gardens on the kitchen window sill), then community gardens, farmer’s markets, or community supported agriculture (CSA) ventures. You say that those things don’t exist close to you? And yet we’ll drive thirty miles to the mall for a special purchase or as entertainment. The reason they don’t exist in great numbers is because we haven’t asked for them.

I’m all for small and slow solutions, and since these types of services take time to implement, let’s start asking for them now. It may even be a business opportunity for you; learning the skills now that will allow you to buy land and tools and begin building a clientele.

Something else that we have lost, or are in the process of losing, is the meal time rituals that have been a part of our cultures since time immemorial. The act of planning a meal, getting the ingredients, preparing them, cooking, sharing the food around a table with family and friends is something to be celebrated, not despised. I’m sure that some of your fondest memories are of dinner table conversations. I know some of mine are.

The same people who say that they don’t have time to cook are the same people who sit for an hour with a buzzer in their hand, waiting for a restaurant table. We’re like that when we’re on auto-pilot. One needent slow cook a pot roast for every meal. There are many simple meals with whole food ingredients that can be prepared and served in half an hour completely from scratch. I urge you to give it a try. In doing so, you could also be teaching yourself and even your children and friends a valuable life skill. There are many teens who don’t know a single simple recipe beyond boiling ramen and microwaving pre-packaged faux-food.

Getting into the dinner routine is a simple act of the will, where it isn’t one person’s responsibility to set the table, prepare food, cook, and do dishes. When everyone pitches in and spends time together throughout the process, everything gets done quickly. This is an opportunity for everyone to interact, laugh and talk.

Later, we’ll get into ways that you can get involved locally to promote a more regional food economy, but for now, consider the above. At the least, at every meal, do your best to recreate the food ritual. Meals aren’t only for nutrition, they’re a social act and we should do our part to keep that alive. Don’t eat alone if you can help it, always try to have a healthy meal with friends and conversation.

Top five habits: Attitude

Today is the first in a five part series addressing the top habits that will nudge you toward living at a human scale and pace.  A positive and hopeful attitude drives positive gain in our lives. This has been a hot topic in the social sciences lately because of depression and other disorders that are on the rise. We need tools, especially today, to help fight the negativity bias and whatever else may contribute to negativity and despair. In an earlier post, I talked about living deliberately, and that certainly helps. It is difficult or impossible to change if you’re on auto-pilot.

The virtue of self discipline, otherwise known as self mastery, realizes that we don’t operate on instinct by itself, but have the power to use reason and reflection to guide ourselves into the future. If you want it, will it. That will greatly increase your chances of success, but I can guarantee that if you don’t will it, it won’t happen.

The quality of your view depends on where you are standing. It is the same way with perception and our outlook on the world and the circumstances in our life. It isn’t always possible to change our circumstances, but we can always change our behavior – how we react or if we react at all. Making the leap to positivity from negativity or apathy is the most necessary component in any attempt to change for the better.

What are two things you can do to attain a consistent positive attitude? Write it down. This is a popular habit in many circles because it works. At the end of the day, look back and find three things you’re grateful for and why. Then, for the times when you’ll start to get negative again, write them down in a notebook. It helps to have those consistent positive messages to turn to. Second, Mr. Miyagi was right: breathe. Take a minute to put yourself back into your body and in the moment. Nothing works better to get you there than taking deep, calm breaths and focusing on the process. Eyes closed, breathe in through the nose, out through the mouth. Repeat. Have a positive day.



Star (or, a tale of two dogs)

Do you want to know what it feels like to be a hero? I’d gone over to my friend Hank’s house in my pickup truck to get a workbench he’d gifted me for helping him out a couple months ago. After we’d had a couple of micro-brews out of a growler from the biker bar we frequent during big sporting events and on karaoke night, we let his black lab Casey out for a bit of fresh air.

Well, he bolted.

It wasn’t the first time, and probably won’t be the last, but he’d been so damn good for the past few months he’d gotten himself off of probation. His case worker will be by early next week to install an ankle monitor. Just kidding.

But Casey was gone so long one time last year that Hank about gave himself ulcers worrying whether he’d ever make it home. He’d asked for suggestions through social media, but I was so tired from a demanding schedule at the time I didn’t do what I should have done and gone to my friend’s aid and help him look. I wasn’t going to make that mistake again.

We’d loaded the workbench into my truck and I announced that I wasn’t going anywhere until Casey was back on the leash. We drove around for about an hour before we found the naughty chow hound woofing down an unknown substance from a knocked over trash can in a neighbor’s yard. We coaxed the unrepentant fop into Hank’s van and celebrated by heading over to the St. Paul Tavern for some perfectly seasoned pollock and creamy slaw. Casey got nary a nibble because of his recent truancy.

So as they say, “I told you all of that so I could tell you this…”

On the way back to Hank’s place, we happened upon a border collie loping along next to the road and I noticed it was dragging a chain.

“Pull over, Hank, I think that’s a stray…”

We stopped half on and half off of the road so we didn’t go tumbling into the drainage ditch and I approached the vagrant with calming words. She was shaking but came to me submissively. It was obvious the poor thing hadn’t eaten recently but her fur was still shiny and well groomed – signs she’d been well cared for and loved. I slipped my hand under her chin hoping for the best and wasn’t disappointed.

Leather collar. Shot tag from the vet dangling from an S-hook. And there it was, a brass plate attached to the collar with the owner’s name and phone number. I thumbed the numbers into my mobile phone and after an anxious but excited exchange, we met up back in St. Paul beside the tavern. I asked them what her name was before I hung up, telling them I would speak it to her and calm her down a bit until they arrived.

“Star. Her name is Star”

The owners lived quite a ways out in the country, so it took them a few minutes to get there. I was walking her around the street corner where we’d parked when they pulled up in an SUV. Star recognized the hum of the engine and the gravel popping under the tires before I even realized they were upon us. She started jumping up and down and whimpering as the owner opened her door and walked toward us. I let all the slack out of the chain with the sprung clasp that was still attached to her collar and they collided in a reunion embrace that was emotional enough to make a lumberjack bawl like a sissy girl.

They were in heaven and I was coiling up the chain to hand to the owner, who was so emotionally involved with the reunion that I didn’t even get her name as she thanked me. They got back in the SUV and spit gravel back toward home where I’m sure a big bowl of water, a bowl of her regular food, and more hugs were waiting.

I watched their tail lights get tiny in the distance, but my heart has remained full.

I think that is what it feels like to be a hero to someone. It feels like doing the right thing. That, and enjoying the buzz when things go right.


“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quite alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As longs as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

― Anne Frank

Fighting auto-pilot

Talk about a gorgeous day...

Thoreau said to live deliberately. He went to the woods to do so, and while going to the woods is good for you, living deliberately is something you should do every day, wherever you are.

I call living non-deliberately “auto-pilot” for the obvious reason. Auto-pilot is a mode where you punch in the destination and your vehicle takes you there without a bit of effort on your part. Unless you’re in a car and think that cruise control is auto-pilot, that is, but highway fatalities are a subject for another time.

What is the fatal flaw in not deliberately living the journey? If you said, “for people, the journey is more important than the destination” you are correct, and I award you a gold star. We would be splitting hairs by arguing the relative importance of getting to where you’re going, but you might agree that you should continue living deliberately once you get there.

Different folks might give slightly different answers to what “living deliberately” means to them, but if you don’t, you’ll know on your death bed. Is it focusing on the wrong things? Or is it not focusing at all? Maybe a bit of both. I’m not the guru with all of the answers, I’m someone pursuing truth just like you, like a man walking toward the light of a candle in the darkness. But don’t we all have an idea of what is truly important in life?

Auto-pilot is what robs us of pursuing those important things. I can tell you three things with certainty:

  • If you spend any significant amount of time watching television or scrolling social media (ouch!), you’re on auto-pilot
  • If you aren’t infusing daily life tasks with meaning through association with their end results, you’re on auto-pilot
  • If you don’t nourish both the life of the mind and the life of the body, you’re on auto-pilot.

The ordinary is where living deliberately thrives, not in the pursuit of the extraordinary. Focusing on other people and on experiences both ordinary and extraordinary are what deliberate living is all about. Ordinary means usual. Say that you go to a shop where you are known and walk up to the counter. “What can I get for you?” If they know you, they already know, and when you say, “oh, the usual,” they get right to work. You don’t order the usual because it’s boring, you order it because that is what you like! The familiarity with which you order that ordinary item is also part of the magic of the usual. Even the unusual and the extraordinary, when they happen to us, eventually become ordinary and usual. Again, not because they’re boring, but because we like them.

Force yourself out of auto-pilot. Thoughts don’t always lead to actions, and we filter a lot of static out of our brains on a regular basis, but when your thoughts present you with a gift, grab it and act on it; we were meant to spend ourselves on others. There’s a rush and a buzz as satisfying as a back rub that we get from “paying it forward” and being grateful for the encounters we have every day. Deliberately live the ordinary and the extraordinary; the usual and the unusual. Infuse yourself into them and bring them to life. Your life. Your ordinary and extraordinary life.