A blind writer’s path to happiness – Which Mountain to Climb?

Happiness. What does that word mean to me? I’ve been thinking on this question of late. So far, I’ve decided that what happiness is for me is mostly what writing is not. Smiles, fun, good times shared with good people, feeling excited and grateful about life, looking forward to a new day, new adventures.

No, for me, writing, a solitary mentally taxing activity, is not much of any of these things.

Which tempts the obvious question, why do I choose to write if it doesn’t make me happy?

Because some things are simply work worth doing. Some things, like weeding a garden on a hot summer day, may not be pleasant or “happy” in the moment, but the results of the effort bring satisfaction later, sometimes days and weeks later, when the harvest finally comes in. Of course, you must like gardens to appreciate the value of weeding. I confess to liking stories and storytelling, which propels me to write in hopes of creating a good story someday.

Others have labelled such late returns as “delayed gratification.” I’m not sure it’s something to be proud of, but over the course of my life, I’ve become something of an expert in this area. As self-satisfying as this distinction has been at times, I’m now wondering why the hell I put off being “happy” so many times in hopes that my disciplined, focused, often martyr like work would later produce gratifying results. Such efforts included relationships that would have been more wisely abandoned in a matter of days instead of years.

This brings me to another “h” word that has shaped my life-

Hope.

yes, along with being a disciple of the “delayed gratification” mantra, I’ve also ben prone to the “hope for better” syndrome. the irrational belief that if I worked harder, longer, better at whatever, the clouds would part, the sun would shine, and life would be beyond wonderful.

Someone once told me, “there is no hope.” Please, let’s not get into a pedantic diatribe about this four letter word, perhaps we can agree that “Hope” means whatever you or I or anyone else wants it to mean. I think the afore mentioned person’s take on “hope” was that one just can’t sit on a rock “hoping” that it will start raining gold, life reality is that “hope” can inspire us but “Work” is what makes dreams happen. As usual, this is a rather simplistic statement, at least in my experience.

I’d “hoped” to be an Olympic volleyball player and I “worked” for years to achieve this goal. However, there was a fundamental flaw in my hoped for vision. I did not have the physical attributes required to be a world class volleyball player. For those not familiar with the sport, one of volleyball’s defining features is an eight foot net which divides the two opposing teams. In order to be successful at this sport, you must be able to jump high above this eight foot obstacle. As I barely stand over five and one half feet tall, I was at a distinct disadvantage compared to players towering over six feet. Sure, there are short guys who can nearly jump over tall buildings but I was not one of them. Hence, This life choice was not well grounded in reality.

Did this limit my happiness playing volleyball? Ultimately, yes, because I wanted to win as that seemed to be the measure of success and my lack of height often prevented me from winning. Still, and this is a further reflection on my tendency to hang on too long to things that aren’t working, I played for many years “hoping” to somehow defy reality and reach my goal. A wiser man described such acts of futility as insanity.

Which, finally, brings me to the ultimate subject of this post, which mountain to climb?

I’ve come to believe that if I can face a life challenge each day and create happiness in the process of working to achieve that goal, it’s a mountain worth climbing. Blindness has made such choices much simpler as I’ve had to accept that many things I used to do are not practical anymore. I don’t climb real mountains, sail oceans, or play any sort of sports involving balls which i cannot see. This void was depressing for awhile but eventually I followed my wife’s lead and began to simply enjoy the delights of our daily walks, the pleasure of biting into a tuna fish sandwich on toasted wheat bread, the enjoyment of conversation with neighbors. Then, there’s still writing and storytelling, work I do that is not often fun but eventually rewarding.

All said and done, this blind writer is finding his life path sprinkled more and more with bursts of happiness because I’m making smarter choices on which mountains to climb, and, most important, I’m simply enjoying climbing.

tio stib

Jul, 2017

You might also enjoy “Perfection,” “Fishing

Why Geese Fly in a V-formation:

“Gramps, why do geese fly in a V?”

The pair were sitting together on a shoreline bench when they’d heard the loud honking behind them. Now, a flock of geese, in a telltale V formation, flew over their heads.

“That’s a very good question, Max,” the old man responded.

There was a pause as the older man and his grandson watched a sky filled with honking, flapping V’s sweep by.

“First, geese are cooperative creatures. By flying in a “V” form, they greatly reduce their collective air resistance and so increase their flight range.

Man and boy continued to stare upward as more and more formations of geese rushed past.

Gramps continued, “The goose at the head of the V is not necessarily the leader of the flock. Geese take turns leading. As one bird tires, it drops to the back of the formation and another takes its place. Flying in a V-form increases visibility as each bird can see what’s happening in front of them. Now that’s teamwork.”

The boy considered this information, then asked, “But why do they honk so much?”

Gramps smiled, “When flying, geese honk to provide recognition to each other helping them maintain speed and stay in formation.

There was silence as the last of the migrating geese faded into the clouds.

The boy sighed, “All those geese getting along, flying in formation, getting where they need to go, nothing like the traffic jams Dad complains about driving to and from work. Why don’t people cooperate like the geese do?”

The old man put an arm over the boy’s shoulder and hugged him, “another very good question.”


Moral: In Nature, the truth is plain to see.


tio stib

You might also enjoy: Do It Anyway; The Blindside Parables 22 - Life is Like a Broken Egg



Hocus-Pocus

get organized
be disciplined
keep marching on

this is how you get things done

don’t wait
don’t stop
don’t pause for breath
for failure would be certain death

it takes hard work and lots of sweat
to reach the goals that we have set

but let’s skip all the hocus-pocus
because you, too, may hav noticed

that when the race is finally run
this kind of stuff just isn’t fun


tio stib

You might also enjoy: Passwords: Control Freaking










The Blindside Parables 26 – A Drop of Rain

there it is
perched on the end of your nose
one single, small drop of rain

not much to talk about,  you might think
but consider this

consider the word “sextillion”

I had to look it up

a sextillion is
one thousand million million million million million millions

or simply put

1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000

that’s a one with a lot of zeroes after it
may I assume we agree that a sextillion is a heck of a big number?

okay, what does sextillion have to do with a drop of water?

that drop of water on your beak contains more than a sextillion water molecules

really, more than 1,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 molecules of H2O

Super Wow! All that sitting on your proboscis

Wandering further into the weeds, consider this-

where do you think all those sextillion water molecules came from?

given that the earth is covered with over 71% water, it’s quite possible that that little water spot on your snout has H2O molecules from every ocean on the planet, and from trees in arctic tundras, leaves in Amazon jungles, and even a few from the lush, green grass of your local golf course. 

water is constantly doing its thing, evaporating and turning into vapor, floating around the earth in clouds, falling out of the sky as rain, sleet, and snow.

Water does a lot of moving around. True, there are places water seldom visits, like the Sahara, and there seem to be more and more such waterless lands lately. But, still, those sextillion molecules in front of your face represent a large amount of your planet.

If this is not jaw dropping enough, remember that the human body is, itself, 60% water and every day, all the time, our bodies are losing water vapor, water molecules to the atmosphere.

So that drop of rain on your muzzle, besides containing traveling molecules from all around Planet Earth, also contains H2O molecules that evaporated from the 8 billion or so human beings breathing right now.

that’s a helluva lot of humanity on your hooter

Best to stop here, you might be reconsidering that walk in the rain


Moral: Some things are best seen from a distance.


tio stib

You might also enjoy: Rain, Rain, Come Aain; The Blindside Parables 24 - Almost Heaven

The Music of Tears

I remember it like yesterday.

Packed into the high school gym, staring with hundreds of other students at the symphony orchestra sitting silent in the center of the floor.

A special assembly, an introduction to classical music by the Seattle Symphony Orchestra.

The principal stepped to the microphone. We hushed. He paused, let his eyes wander over the young faces whose minds were mostly somewhere else.

He spoke, “yesterday, we lost a beloved friend and teacher.”

He briefly described how an older English teacher, a fixture at the school for generations, had suddenly passed away.

We bowed our heads for a moment of prayer. Then the principal introduced the conductor.

Milton Katims, a renowned musician and a wise, compassionate man, dedicated the opening piece to the memory of our lost teacher. He raised his baton and the tribute began.

There was a strange quiet in the gym. Strange because a thousand high school kids were speechless. 

Samuel barber’s “Adagio for Strings” starts softly, with violins, violas, Cellos, and basses blending delicate harmonies around a simple theme.

I looked around. All eyes were riveted on the musicians birthing the beautiful sounds.

Sounds that crescendoed, louder and louder,  to a final climax of heavenly ecstasy. Then,

silence.

I remember it like yesterday.

Stunned.

Crying.

Blissed by the music of tears.


tio stib


You might enjoy this video.


The Blindside Parables 25 – Father, Son, and Lonely Ghost

Admittedly, Sam Black had made a few miscalculations over the years. The most recent was his failure to check the lay of the land before burgling a well anointed home. Fondling a diamond necklace, he heard voices below. His hasty exit through a bedroom window did not anticipate the three storey  drop from the hillside home. His neck had not handled the fall well and his next vision was St. Peter reading off Sam’s impressive list of failings.

“Well, Sam,” Pete had concluded, “to your credit, you never stole handbags from old ladies, but there’s no pretending you’ve been Robin Hood either. We’re going to need more time to evaluate your case.”

Meaning: Hang out in purgatory. Don’t call us, we’ll call you.

And so Sam found himself in a nether world where time did not exist, the land of permanent, stagnant status quo. Needless to say, this did not suit a man of action. He considered his options. Perhaps he could do something that would raise his stock with the higher powers.

Flash: he could stop brother Red from luring nephew Benny into the long line of family ne’er-do-wells.

Which was exactly what Red was doing at that moment. For the court allotted father/son weekend, Sam was sharing the facts of life with eager eyed, twelve year old Benny. They were standing amidst the throng of travelers in Grand Central Station on a New York hot summer day. 

“Benny, my son, what we’re doing here is rebalancing a system of economic inequality, a system that favors the rich over the poor. We’re simply moving assets from one man’s pocket into a more deserving one.”

This was Red’s introduction to the fine art of pickpocketing. And the pair stood in the middle of pickpocketer paradise, a teeming train station on a steaming afternoon. No overcoats and excess garments to fumble with.

Red picked their first mark, handed Benny a map of New York, and pointed him at a couple wearing Hawaiian shirts with bags slung over their shoulders. There was a noticeable bulge in the man’s rear pants pocket.

Benny approached with a concerned look and map in hand, “Excuse me, I’m lost. Can you help me find Central Park?”

The couple, who were also studying a map, turned to look at him. Another lost traveler, of course they could help.

But before that could happen, a roundish man, indifferently dressed, seemed to trip and fall on his face at their feet.

The trio of the lost stared down. Red, who normally double tied his shoe laces, couldn’t believe his luck. Somehow, both shoes had untied laces and he’d tripped over them as he made his move on the wallet.

The map readers turned away and Benny was directed to the park in question.

Score: Good Guys 1, Bad Guy 0. Sam was beginning to enjoy this.

The next mark was an older lady wearing an outlandish feathered hat. Bedecked with sparkling jewelry, she had a very expensive Italian purse under her arm.

Benny made the same approach. The woman, not used to being confronted by street rabble, condescended  to listen to Benny’s story. She had just begun to provide directions when a frenzied yipping erupted at their feet. The lady’s heretofore silent companion had taken an instant dislike to the man who was reaching for his mistress’s purse. Benny and hat lady watched as the small terrier launched itself at Red’s trouser leg and clamped its teeth on his ankle.

Now it was Red who was yipping.

“Tiger! Tiger! Bad boy! Stop that!” instructions which the four legged protector finally acceded too, letting go his death grip, and standing back a safe distance to growl.

“I’m so very sorry, sir, I don’t know what got into tiger. He’s never done that before.”

Bending down to rub the damaged ankle, Red looked up and just smiled, “Think nothing of it, madam. These things happen.” With that, he tipped his hat and disappeared into the crowd.

Score: Good Guys 2, Bad Guy 0. yes, Sam smiled, who knew purgatory could be such fun.

Father and son regrouped, Red wondering, where did that dog come from? Okay, the next mark needs to be a sure thing.

By the guidebook he was studying, the older man with the full grey beard leaning on a cane, was another traveler. He, too, had a familiar bulge in his rear pants pocket. 

Overweight and out of shape, Red noted, this was going to be easy.

Once more, Benny approached with a lost look and map in hand. The man, who Benny thought must be somebody’s grandfather, smiled down at him. 

“Guten tag,” said the man.

What was this, Benny thought, the guy doesn’t even speak English.

Then the man’s smile broadened, “Just funning you, boy, I speak English, but my German is much better.”

Benny held out his map to ask directions but before a word left his mouth, the man, with unbelievable speed and dexterity whipped his cane around and thrust it into Red’s belly, sending the surprised larcenist stumbling backwards, landing with an ungainly splat on his butt.

The old man pointed the cane at Red and said in a cool, steady voice, “let that be a lesson to you. After thirty years in the Berlin police force, I know a few things about pickpockets.”

The retired cop turned back to Benny, “My name is Fritz. I’ve come to see your wonderful city. Would you like to share a drink with me, perhaps we can explore together, I’ve heard Central Park is a special place.”

Benny and his newly found grandfather walked off together.

Red struggled to get up, dusted himself off, and looked up at the heavens. 

What did I do to deserve this day?

If only he knew.

Score: Good guys 3, Bad guy 0


Moral, Not all angels have wings.


tio stib

You might also enjoy: A Season for Adventuring; The Blindside Parables 22 - Life is Like a Broken Egg

The blindside Parables 24 – Almost Heaven

“Watch out!” I yelled, slamming the Land Rover’s brake pedal to the floor. Sam’s earlier caution flashed through my mind. the brakes hadn’t worked in years, But he assured me the old wreck never went fast enough to need them. Sam forgot to mention the small hill I was now careening down. Careening down backwards.

Yes, backwards. That hadn’t seemed so odd earlier when reverse was the only gear I could slip the ancient car into. Sam also neglected to share that the steering box was stripped, making frantic spins of the steering wheel pointless as the vehicle headed straight for Sophie’s Fruit and Vegetable stand.

“Move it!” I screamed as startled shoppers dove away.

I saw the wood post just before the Rover destroyed it.

Ka-Pow!

The post was obliterated. Maddy, Sam’s affectionate term for this wayward machine, continued on as calamity exploded behind, or should I say ‘in front of” it. Car and driver, the latter admittedly a gracious label for my role in this disaster, stopped abruptly when confronted by a wall of unyielding cacti, slamming my head against the useless steering wheel.

Coughing twice, the engine died. Steam seeped out from under the dented hood. Dazed, I struggled for consciousness.

“You alive, son?”

One eye slowly opened, squinting in the dazzling light. I saw a white bearded head bobbing in front of my face.

“Boy, you okay?”

Of course not, you old fart, I heard my mind say, quickly losing all respect for Saint Peter. Then another thought: Shut up fool, that other guy could be welcoming you.

Kind hands gently shook me.

Damn, I thought, recognizing Sam. Now I had a lot of explaining to do.

Ka-Boom!

I jerked round to source the noise. Behind me, a cloud of dust rose sleepily into blue sky. The scene below was anything but peaceful. It seemed a tornado had torn through the hut. Mangled fruit and vegetables and broken souvenirs were strewn throughout a pile of bent sheet metal and fallen wood. What had once been a thriving business was now a roadside garbage dump.

Only one thing still stood vertical. The sign, Sophie’s Stand, had one end planted in the debris. Smiling at me sideways between the two words, Sophie’s face gave a death shutter and the sign slowly surrendered to gravity, crashing to earth. 

“Jeez!” I wailed, wondering how I could have done all that by merely knocking down one post. “So sorry,” I whimpered, “so sorry.”

“It’s nothing, boy,” said Sam.

Nothing! I thought. Nothing! I’d just destroyed what had been Aunt Sophie’s life for over forty years. I pushed my face into the steering wheel and sobbed.

An arm comforted my shoulder, “Here, try this.”

I looked up. There she was again, Sophie’s face, those big brown eyes, the bright smile on a bottle labelled Sophie’s Best. The best, indeed. From what I’d heard, folks were known to drive hours to get this prized homemade hooch, said to cure everything from infertility to constipation.

I grabbed the bottle and gulped. What the hell, I needed to drown my sins. I hadn’t visited my aunt in over ten years, missed her funeral, and now demolished the pride of her life.

With another swig, the dark cloud of guilt began to evaporate. I gulped more of Sophie’s Best. Not bad, I thought, as I was guided to the shade of a palm tree and plopped into a plastic chair.

Self pity dissolved into drunken stupor and I found myself staring at an empty bottle. Raising it up, I toasted Sophie, “damn fine hooch, Auntie!”

Sam pulled another bent chair beside me, grunting as he sank down. He lifted a full bottle skyward and saluted, Sophie!” Then proceeded to drain half the contents before passing the bottle.

In front of us, a silent army of zombies emerged from nowhere to paw through the wreckage for anything of value.

Sam spoke slowly, “Maybe it’s for the best. Sophie always wanted to give everything away.”

“Maybe so,” I added, drinking more hooch to quiet my pained conscience.

“Sophie liked you,” he said as I returned the bottle. “You’re the only city folk ever came to visit.”

“That’s nice,” I answered, trying to convince myself that seeing her once in ten years merited my absolution for the day’s disaster.

“We had a good life, me and Sophie,” reflected Sam, as we watched hands picking through the carnage.

I remembered the visit, years ago, when I’d first met Sam and Sophie, drawn by some unknown urge to know family, not to mention the need to escape town and an irate girlfriend who’d just thrown me out of her apartment.

I took another drink and recalled looking up as the irate woman, screaming about my character defects, emphatically hurled her birthday present onto my puzzled head. what girl wouldn’t want a giant stuffed walrus for her birthday. Okay, it wasn’t the diamond engagement ring she’d been expecting. I concluded that the spark was gone and it was time to move on.

Several buses and many miles later, I was dropped on an empty road in front of Sophie’s stand. A young girl arranging fruit looked over at me. 

“Sophie?” I’d asked.

She’d pointed up the hill. I started walking, suddenly aware of the bright sounds and colors of birds flying about me. I gasped in wonder as my lungs inhaled the pungent tropical air. Turning left, I entered a tunnel of vibrant green foliage pierced by shafts of streaming gold sunlight. In the distance, I spied a small cottage.

A cloud of butterflies descended on me, floating, fluttering, circling, then drifting away as I entered a clearing. Passing through an orchard, trees laden with fruit, I saw two rocking chairs sitting in the deep shade of the cottage porch, looking out on the nearby garden.

Birds flew past from all directions. The buzz of life was electric. Ahead, tending rows of lush plants, a woman was singing, filling a basket with the joys of harvest.

“Aunt Sophie!” I cried out hopefully.

The singing stopped and the stout woman in the calico dress turned around. A smile burst upon her face.

“Lordy?” she blurted, dropping her bounty and rushing to embrace me.

I’d never felt so loved.

She’d introduced me to her man, Sam. I didn’t  know if they were married in the eyes of anyone but themselves, and it didn’t seem to matter. What I did know, was they were partners, friends, and playmates. You got high just being around them and their zeal for life.

Yes, I thought, taking another belt of Sophie’s Best, that was a great time, then passed the bottle to the old man sitting silently beside me.

“Well Sam, what you going to do?”

A cluster of men had gathered behind us. They seemed to be waiting in expectation. Sam turned, smiled, and handed his bottle to the closest man. As the hooch was passed from mouth to mouth. I found myself slightly miffed. I was really enjoying Sophie’s Best and wasn’t in the mood to share. However, being the cause of the mess before us, I said nothing.

“Well,” Sam sighed, “this was Sophie’s place, her way to serve the world. Now she’s gone. Seems it’s the stand’s time to go too.”

There were anxious looks between the men, throats cleared and feet shuffled in the dust.

After a long, awkward silence Sam realized the real issue at hand. He looked up and laughed.

“You all afraid I’m gonna stop making “Sophie’s Best. Well, I reckon I’ll keep that going until I join Sophie at the pearly gates.”

Sam paused, then vented, “But no way I’m rebuilding that stand alone!”

Eager hands shot up and voices called out.

“No way Sambo!”

“We’ve got it brother!

“No worry man!”

“Vamosa hombres!”

I watched in amazement as a transformation occurred. The sad faced group of apologetic men and the mob of pilferers became a focused army of workers. They sorted re-useable materials from the fallen hut. Squashed produce was tossed back in the bushes to rot into oneness. Before noon, what had been Sophie’s Stand was loaded onto a flatbed truck and, gears grinding, the load lurched forward.

Finishing our third bottle of Sophie’s Best, Sam and I threw our chairs on the truck, and staggered, arm-in-arm, after the community parade.

Earlier, after some discussion, Sam had decided to relocate Sophie’s stand on a nearby rise. Arriving at this spot, the convoy patiently awaited his approval.  He circled once, swaying slightly, stopped, then shared, “Nice view. It’ll do.”

The crowd cheered as Sam crossed himself, then anointed the sacred ground with  splashes of holy hooch.

Mor applause. Then, the work began.

Placing our chairs in the shade of a towering coolabah tree, Sam and I resumed drinking. The stage in front of us was a hive of activity.

While it can be justly said that most of the world’s problems have been caused by misguided males, I must admit that when guys get their act together, they can do a helluva lot of work in short order. 

Everyone seemed to know what they had to do. Children passed wood and metal to men who began putting the building back together. Women showed up with food, pausing to hug Sam and keep his plate full. There was laughter and singing, and people seemed genuinely happy. It was community in ways I’d never felt in the city.

By late afternoon, what had been piles of reclaimed materials had become the newly arisen Sophie’s Stand. Fresh produce was being put on shelves and two men rehung the sign under the tin roof.

Sam spoke to a young man who climbed a ladder with a brush and can of paint. Carefully, the artist added a word to the sign above Sophie’s smiling face.

the sign announced, “Sophie’s last Stan.”

Sam grinned and the crowd clapped in approval.

“Sambo.”

I turned to see a small boy dropping something at Sam’s feet. It was a signpost and  read, “Almost Heaven: Population 2.” 

I remembered the story. Sophie had told it to me as we sat on those rocking chairs watching the evening sky melt into shades of orange and red.

She and Sam had been rocking, drinking in the peace of their little world. She’d said, “Honey, this is as close to Heaven as I’m gonna get. I’m almost there.”

“Amen, Momma,” Sam agreed.

The next day, the sign had appeared in front of Sophie’s stand.

As all watched, Sam stooped and touched the sign reverently. Then he and the boy raised it in front of the resurrected stand. Two men quickly dug a hole and planted the post.

Sam whispered into the young artist’s ear. The painter was about to alter the number “2” when I heard my voice cry out,

Wait!”

a It was time to make a stand of my own. Raising Sam’s arm with mine, I shouted,,

 “Almost Heaven, population 2!”

Cheers rang out and hats flew. Sam and I took another celebratory drink and sat to watch life start anew.

Cars pulled up, people seeking fresh fruit and vegetables, a warm smile, maybe even a bottle of sophie’s Best.

And they’re still coming.


Moral: Look around, heaven may be closer than you think


tio stib

You might also enjoy: The Blindside Parables 21 - Adapt, Migrate, or don’t Be Happy; A Season for Adventuring




A Season for Adventuring

ghosting through the morning mist
as day slips from gray to gold
my stomach growls
the road replies
with a small cafe
cradling coffee
I watch him devouring a mountain
of syrup dripping hotcakes
he turns
we smile
 nod
fellow travelers
men of the frontier
last night
rocketing into starry oblivion
riding Cat Stevens’ peace train
saluting the shadows
of cacti sentinels marching in the moonlight
roadtripping
on the loose
free again
all those blue highways
all those maps
all those little country stores
all those stops  to buy a soda
asking directions
where the heck is Boggan’s Oasis?
all those steps into the unknown
into the magic of surprise moments
wild horses splashing through a sea of purple sage
golden eagles spiraling from heaven in their mating dance
“Jeez! That’s a helluva rattlesnake.”
sweating
cresting  the final ridge
running
diving
plunging into
sparkling turquoise water
erupting into rainbows and sunshine 
screaming with frigid delight
lost in steaming holy water
alone on a desert ocean
swaddled in eternity
sky slowly slipping
from gold
to pink
to gone
so many Shangri-Las
I will not travel these roads again
but they will haunt my heart when
 once again
Fall calls the vagabond
to a season for adventuring

tio stib

You might also enjoy: A Wilderness Pill; Breaking Trail


The Blindside Parables 23 – West Coast, Pot Roast, Burnt Toast, Adios

It was a simple choice. Go right or go left. All agreed, the middle was not an option.

Fast Frank, Miller, and New York Lance stared at Kayo. Kayo stared down at his dripping hand, at the soggy napkin. The disastrous drenching in  Wild Sheep rapids had left the map a blue ink smudge. Unfortunate, as this soggy pictogram was their guide through the next ominous obstacle.

Granite rapids awaited.

Four faces studied the useless relic of their pre-trip recon. Deciding not to rely on their usual impetuous, devil may care approach to trip planning. they’d sought out local knowledge of the challenges they might face.

but where to find such insight? Who could help them navigate through the perils of rafting the wild and treacherous  Snake River as it dropped precipitously down the mile deep wilderness of Hells Canyon?

the unanimous choice was Paddy’s Place, the most renowned bar in town, not so much because of the quality of its liquid fare, but more so the variety of its characters. And so a few beers were bought and advice poured forth. 

“You’ll all be killed,” an old fart lamented, crossing himself..

“Piece of cake, I’ve done it on an inner tube,” added another, raising his finger to the bartender for another free cool one.

So far, not much to bolster their confidence. Then a finger pointed to a geezer bent over the end of the bar, “talk with Blind Tommy, he lived in the canyon for years.”

 the four surrounded the man wearing red and white striped pajamas, cowboy boots, a greasy green vest that said “Paco’s Tacos” on the back,  topped off with a Brooklyn Dodgers baseball cap that barely contained a mop of white hair. 

A grizzled face looked up from an empty glass, “well, it seems I’ve either won the lottery or I’m about to be arrested for back taxes.”

And so they met Blind tommy, who, once his glass was refilled, seemed to be their savior. Yes, he knew every rapid in the canyon, had dragged out the bodies of those stupid enough to disrespect a river that would kick their ass in a heartbeat. About half a bottle down, tommy volunteered to sketch out the safe path through each rapid. He was given more whiskey, a stack of napkins, and a pen.

Looking back, Miller remembered that Tommy seemed to be a bit confused about the names and order of the “big ones” as he called the rapids. But the zeal of his storytelling muted all caution.

“There you go, boys,” tommy slid the sacred pages across the bar. “Best of luck!” then adding with a salute, “West coast, pot roast, burnt toast, adios!”

Glasses clinked. The foursome left Paddy’s confident that the napkins in Kayo’s pocket would safely guide them through the wilderness. 

Unfortunately, three of the group had forgotten that Kayo was not big on details. This was why Wild Sheep rapids had turned their week’s supply of breakfast into mush. He’d assumed that ten pounds of granola would be secure and dry in plastic garbage bags. the powerful rage of the Snake River had ripped the bags and turned granola into mush. Unfortunately, Kayo’s small mindedness had extended to Blind tommy’s napkins. the pocket in which he’d stuffed them had gone swimming with the rest of his clothes when wild Sheep launched him into the river.

Fast Frank brought heads into focus, “no maps, no Tommy, what now?”

It was a 50/50 split, Kayo and Lance thought tommy said stay left, Miller and Frank remembered tommy belching something, then adding “stay right or get dropped in the shit.”

Smart money would have hiked down to check out the rapid first hand, but after being trashed in Wild Sheep, being spit out in the quiet pool at the bottom with themselves and their gear drowned and in tatters, the intrepid adventurers claimed immortality. 

No one noticed that New York Lance, who’d been dragged from his dreams at 4 a.m. crying that the stars were aligned against him, wasn’t his usual chattering self. His ears were filled with the sounds of danger ahead.


And so, one yellow raft, absurdly small against the scale of the mighty river and towering canyon walls,  went left while the other  went right.

  A “big one” is coming happens when, suddenly, there is a line on the horizon and beyond that, the river is gone.

Nothing.

Nothing but an ever building crescendo of sound climaxing with a thunderous roar bouncing off the canyon walls.

Nothing but a steaming cloud of spray, flitting rainbows, and an all engulfing murderous din.

River running is a lesson in commitment. There are no maybe’s in this white water world. You make a choice, go for it, or the river makes the choice for you.

Fast Frank and miller paddled right, found themselves in a narrowing V of fast water and then their flimsy craft accelerated and was sucked into the chaos.

As the first roller exploded over the bow of the collapsing raft, Miller looked left. He had a fleeting glimpse of Kayo rowing frantically, the rear end of his yellow raft being pulled down into foaming oblivion. He and Lance had sailed over a house sized boulder straight into  a hole that would have swallowed an elephant. As blind tommy had put it, they’d “dropped in the shit.” 

But where was Lance? this question remained unanswered as Miller and Frank struggled to survive. Their fragile raft was being squashed, tossed, and finally flipped in the mountainous waves. Catapulted into the water, Miller swallowed a mouthful, then bobbed to the surface, grabbing the raft as it scooted by.

It was over in seconds. Miller and Frank swimming their upside down craft to a sandy beach.  A momentary nod to each other for having survived the calamity, then both pairs of eyes ssearched the river for their companions.

the other raft appeared, also upside down, with Kayo pushing it towards shore.

but where was Lantz? There was no sign of a bobbing head or bouncing life preserver.

Kayo stood in the shallows and yelled, “Lantz!”

No response.

then, popping up from the depths of doom, surrendered by the River Styx, a spot of orange. 

Kayo dove and swam to the lifeless form.

they dragged him up the sand, coughing, gasping, eyes wide in stunned disbelief.

then, he raised his fist and yelled, “is that all you’ve got!”

The other three stared down at him.

Must be a New York thing.

***

Years later, sitting by a quiet stretch of river, the last of the fearless four lifted a bottle to the setting sun and saluted,

“West Coast, pot roast, burnt toast, adios amigos!”


Moral: Before asking a blind guy at a bar for advice, note if he’s wearing pajamas.


tio stib

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