Adventure

Continuing the Decade of Adventure

This past week in Arizona has been a hot one! Despite the heat, we have visited the Grand Canyon, Sedona, and made a trip out to Queen Canyon east of Superior to a do a little climbing. While we were there, a guy happened along who wanted to interview us. It is a fun little video, and shows a little of where we were hanging. We definitely need to head back here in the fall or spring and climb some of the other routes.

Shout out to Tim and Girthhitchguiding who has propelled us along the way.

Ascending; A Poem

A sleepless night, onion paper walls defend my minds keep; while goblins, dragons, monsters untold, bash at the gate.

A ready footed guide wakes with first light, beckoning adventure.

Dolfins at play, dancing in unwanted anticipation, churn the sea of tranquility. Doubt filled breath, now wasted, evaporates in the cool morning breeze.

The giant, once slumbering stirs, it’s dented armour gleams with dawns first rays; dauntless we approach, feigning courage with each step.

An Intrepid duo embark, following upwards, quashed fear lies crumpled at the base, frayed into a messy pile. Strands of safety lead upward like webs in the beanstalk. Our guide lights our path, nimble like so many sheep watching from the crags.

Now Ascending, hold to hold, feet nervously, desperately, search for confidence. Pitch upon pitch, lofty goals now achieved, sharing sacred space with the eagles, father and son silently celebrate the triumph.

Exhausted and satisfied, sleep evades no longer, onion paper walls freshly torn, relent, welcome rest invades the keep. Another giant, silently, patiently awaits our approach. 

Sharing Sacred Space

For most of my adult life, I would consider myself a man with faith. The object of that faith however has not been constant, consistent, apparent, valued, or at times even defined. I have, like most people, I suspect, shifted on the “faith continuum” anywhere and everywhere between atheism and belief. Today, I think I would categorize myself in the camp of solid agnostic. A man filled with constant doubt, and uncertainty. Truthfully that space is one which I find it difficult to live in, but for the foreseeable future, I think that it is where I will remain; getting comfortable with mess, and doubt.

With all of that said, I have always found the mountains to be a sacred space. Whether I shared that sacred space with my late cousin Josh, or then after with my warrior wife, and now with my kid, mountains have always been, for me, a sacred space. Maybe it is the influence of the many First Nations people that I have known and been influenced by? It could also be a product of what Richard Rohr and many others call panentheism where you find the Divine in all things. I honestly don’t know what it is, but what I do know is that mountains evoke something in me, that very few other things do.

This weekend I spent 2 ½ days in the mountains with my amazing son, and an amazing friend. I have only known Tim for a couple of months, but every now and then, someone comes along in your life and you discover that your are kindred souls, something just clicks. Tim is one of those people. A side benefit is that he is an amazing alpine guide, and he sacrificed time away from his family to hang with Andrew and me and guide us up two multii-pitch climbs. His enthusiasm in imparting his vast body of alpine knowledge and experience is inspiring. But more than that, he and I share the same love for mountains, and this weekend we got to share time in that sacred space. In many ways I am envious of the fact that he lives in the mountains all the time. Andrew would love it if we packed up and moved out of Edmonton and to the mountains where he could pursue climbing and snowboarding full time. That move is not likely in the cards. But weekends like this past one, help fill the tank so to speak, and enable me to reconnect in ways that very few venues allow me to.

On Saturday we climbed Mother’s Day Butress on Cascade Mountain, a 400 metre ascent which was awe inspiring, but not all that difficult in terms of climbing. Don’t get me wrong, we were still attached to ropes and harnesses, but the level of difficulty (5.4 - 5.6 for climbing geeks) wasn’t up there. Our Sunday climb, our going to “church” climb was altogether different. Sunday offered up a 250 meter climb up the face of Tunnel Mountain on a route called Gooseberry. It was a cakewalk for our accomplished guide, but thankfully he gets his kicks out of teaching newbies like Andrew and I how to become proficient climbers as much or maybe even more than being personally challenged in terms of his own climbing career.

The climb today was probably one of the most difficult things I have ever done in my life. I fell on a mountain and learned to trust not just my guide but my equipment. I navigated pitches where at first glance I had no idea how to ascend, and then through grit and determination, found a way. I watched my kid struggle and achieve the same milestones today (minus the falling) which was a profound gift in itself. Tim provoked and encouraged us, leading us up a challenging (at least for us) adventure, where we discovered that there is more in the well, just sitting there in reserve, at our disposal, if we just put ourselves in places where there is a legitimate need to draw from it. Add to that great conversations, meals shared, wine and great beer consumed and it was a profound few days, that I will never forget.

I write this post, exhausted, bruised, cut, swollen, muscles protesting, and more importantly, full of heart, a soul refreshed, I pride not only in my own accomplishment, but in my growing and amazing young man of a son. And I reflect on the growing friendship that is built on similar passions and a perspective that enables a sharing of something sacred, ill defined, messy, mysterious, and yet at the same time vastly profound.

What does it mean to be a man?

I don’t know if you have noticed it too, but men are not the most popular people on the planet right now. On the whole, I think a lot of criticism directed towards our cohort is well deserved. The Metoo movement rightly calls out reprehensible behaviour that until just recently was largely glossed over by society, and many would argue still is; after all, we do have a self-declared misogynist in the Whitehouse.

Yes I know, there are plenty of good, decent men in the world still. Some days, I would even count myself among them. And yet, I too know in my inner core, how men have, and still do think of their counterparts, how even good men talk about women when they are not around. How even good men perpetuate stereotypical behaviour and reinforce traditional roles where women live in a subservient position.

So what does it mean, look like, to be a man? Robert Bly offers up some thoughts on this in his book Iron John. A book in which he exegetes a Grimm Brother’s fairy tale about a young prince and his journey towards manhood. Truthfully, Bly’s book is not an easy read. It is full of poetry, difficult prose, myth, and can easily bog down. I did persist and finished it just yesterday. Now I think I need to read it again. Not because I think that his book is the new manual on manhood or masculinity, not by any stretch. But it forced me to look inwards, self-examine and start asking myself difficult questions. It is not just my fifty year old self who needs to know how to be a man, but my fifteen year old son, who is teetering on the cusp of manhood as well. The stakes are kind of high.

One of the major themes throughout Bly’s book is his treatment of the “wild man”. He documents a number of variations of the wild man in numerous cultures (the hairy man, the hairy woman). I think that our contemporary society often celebrates the idea of a “wild man” a man of extremes, independent, daring, cast all caution to the wind. I know my son was smitten with this persona after watching Alex Honnold free solo El Capitan. And yet, Bly clearly states that the problem with manhood is not that we aren’t all wild men, but that most men are not at all in touch with the wild man. In other words, it is not about wanting to become the wild man, living in the woods, under a lake, covered entirely in hair, but rather, that most of us have never even ventured into the woods, and given ourselves a chance at encountering that character.

I don’t think that this means that we as men all need to buy an axe and a tent and head out into the woods to get in touch with the wild man either. Although that also seems to be a growing trend in my circles these days too.

I find it interesting that Bly highlights the genetic similarities between genders, and then focuses on the three percent which separates us. Men and women are almost genetically identical, and yet, three percent creates a vast difference. We are virtually the same, and yet not. My reading suggests that it is in trying to ignore that three percent, that leads many men to become frustrated, angry, and even at times tyrannical.

I actually don’t know the answer to the question posed in the title of this post. I know that I, like so many others, want my life to have meaning, purpose, significance, and authentic relationships. I think myself, and many men I know yearn for these things, and don’t know how to get our hands wrapped around them. I think the wild (nature) beckons many of us, because inherently the woods, the mountains, the rivers, the ocean offer up a glimpse into the transcendent, and speak whispers to that longing deep inside which we so deftly quell. And I don’t think it is enough to venture off alone either. We may encounter the wild man out there, by ourselves, but I know personally, it is in sharing a common experience where true meaning is found. Very few of us are cut out to sit atop a pole in the middle of the dessert.

If I am honest though, it is not merely company that the average man seeks. Life is full of company. We have company on our teams, in our work place, on committees, even within our families. Company rarely offers up honesty, transparency, or self evaluation. I have been enamoured for decades by the stories of the Inkling - a literary society made up of kindred spirits who regularly gathered at Magdelan College or the back of a pub in Oxford (the Eagle and Child, I have sat there, and drunk a pint in their honour). C.S. Lewis, J.R Tolkien, among many others. These stories have formed for me a standard of sorts, a demand for brutal honesty, self disclosure that truthfully I have rarely encountered (even in myself).

I think the wild man calls us out of our comfort zone, our habitual way of life, and beckons us into the woods. Into a place that is unfamiliar, where we are forced to examine our own limitations, deficiencies, and our skills and talents. It calls us down, into the ashes, into places we might not want to go; to acknowledge the wounds and stare into the grief we have accumulated along the way. I personally have found this to be mostly a solitary journey, but I don’t think it need be. I think it could be made by an intentional group of men and boys who follow the wild man into the woods. Sojourners with a common purpose built around vulnerability, to discover what it means to be a man, what it means to live life well, what it means to contribute to the betterment of our world. To ultimately discover what difference that three percent makes, in a positive manner, which celebrates the uniqueness and strength of masculinity without the need or tendency to resort to misogyny.

If you are inclined to read Bly’s rendition of the Fairy Tale, I have attached it below.


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My Cousin Josh

Flying to Atlanta today, I found myself writing a poem about my cousin Josh. He died tragically, far too young, in a climbing accident in Kananaskis country. Seventeen years later, I found myself compelled to remember, to quietly grieve on an airplane and write the following poem. Oddly, as I have turned fifty, I now find myself pursuing many of the things that he loved and that we shared together, not as often as I would have liked. I have taken up mountain climbing and kayaking and now share those pursuits with my son. While I was devastated by his death, I don’t think I actually grieved his loss. It is so odd that this should begin, so many years later, but perhaps it is the beginning of many of these occurrences. As I said in my last post, I am mostly a man unaccustomed to grief. Not unaccustomed to loss by any means, but for the most part of my life, too shut off from my own emotions to experience them in a healthy way. Perhaps you can teach old dogs new tricks.

Climbing. 

A tribute? 

A long buried need for shared adventure, danger, beauty, clinging to rock, to dreams, even a glimpse of the divine.

But how, gone now, so many years, decades even, your laugh echos within the caverns of my mind, wispy remembrances, breeze through lava tubes in the desert.

A new partner, unexpected, but in so many ways, like you. Glint in his eyes, passion in his bones, craving life, drinking it in, throttle open wide.

Bone of my bone, flesh of my flesh. Like ours, so many sunsets past, I hold it all loosely, open hands, striving not to grasp, lest he too trickles through my fingers, smooth grains falling back upon the beach, tide lapping it back into the deep.

Climbing.

Buried grief, now rising, pushing up, unwanted and grateful together. Tears, seventeen years in the making stream down hot cheeks, I remember your smile, your zest, sun dogs for a halo. 

What might have been, could have been. Cousin, son, husband, brother, friend, uncle to so many left wanting.

Another crag, another crack, one more crux, hands reach upwards, feet searching for solid holds. 

Climbing.

A Decade of Adventure

I am not sure, without looking back, if I have talked about my “decade of adventure”. Turning fifty in April, was at the same time the culmination and beginning of something significant. Somewhere along the way in the few months before, I decided that the next ten years were going to offer me experiences that I hadn’t yet had in my first half century.

Last weekend was the first of what I hope to be many new adventures. In part, I am simply trying to keep up with my brave, strong, passionate, loving-life son of fifteen. But more than that, I want to live life, in a way that prevents me getting old. Trust me, my body is fighting me all the way. Aches, pains, stiffness, almost daily small doses of Advil, wine, and massage keep me mobile. But more important than that, age is a state of mind. This past decade has been one mostly filled with indulgence. I invested most of my energy into developing my palate, my mind, my understanding of coffee, flavour, food, that art of imbibing. I figured it was high time for my body to get some much needed attention, which I trust will in turn, reinvigorate my perspective on what it means to grow old, gracefully in wisdom.

Arguably, many would likely question my wisdom, perhaps even my sanity, for venturing up a rock face 250 meters above level ground. Many would question my parenting in regards to not only encouraging dangerous sports with my son, but actually facilitating them. And yet this is what we did. We spent a couple of days with six other men, talking, hiking, labouring, struggling, climbing, sharing, eating, drinking, together, encouraging one another to take one more step, no matter how much it hurt, or how much it seemed like folly.

Obviously I am proud of the fact that I persevered through the difficult approach hike in and out on Saturday, where we traversed thousands of fallen trees while walking eight kilometres and climbing 400 meters in elevation. I wanted to quit so many times. I would look down at my Apple Watch and see my heart rate cresting 170 bpm confirming what I already knew as I could feel my pulse pumping out my ears.

But more importantly, it was a weekend of fellowship. Men, most of whom I did not know at the beginning of the weekend, now friends and fellow sojourners who journeyed with me and my son, along challenging paths in an adventure that we will regale for decades to come (hopefully). It was a weekend where my fifteen year old son got to witness vulnerability among men, a rare thing in our society. It was a weekend where my son was embraced and considered an equal by men 20, 30 even 50 years older than him. It was a weekend where my son sat quietly in the circle around a fire, and listened and then privately told me later that he thought it was cool the way Tim and I were a lot alike and connected so easily. It was a weekend where I was proud to be a dad, of a kid who despite all of my failings as a father, demonstrated how much of a man he is becoming in his own right.

My whole world view is in turmoil right now. But in the midst of that, it is grounding to know that despite it all, I am still just a guy, who needs to be known, and wants to know others. Who delights in the fellowship of sojourners along the way, and who feels humbled at the sight of my progeny living so well at such a tender age.

Given the start of the adventure, I may have been too conservative. Perhaps my decade of adventure will need to extend into the next half-century!

Slaying Giants

This past weekend I embarked upon the first of what hopefully is many new adventures. My son and I, along with six other men spent the weekend mountain climbing around Nordegg and the experience inspired this poem. Thanks Tim for your dedication and skill and willingness to share it with others.

Precariously balanced on a slack line  strung up by doubt on one end and anticipation on the other.

Regaled with the good intentions and adventures of others who have gone before me.

Conversation and the journey distract, momentarily. Then suddenly disembarking from my metal steed, uncertainty jumps up from its hiding place to once again stare me down.

This journey into adventure seems oddly, not to be my own. Is it mere folly? Following blindly the aspiration and enthusiasm of younger legs?

And then we are off, a ragtag band of brothers, sons, strangers, on a quest to conquer rock, iron, fear, and doubt. 

Tangled awkwardly together at first, the ascent begins, slow, deliberate steps silently lay before me, with only the ring of metal snapping to remind me of potential danger.

Then gathering, for a moment, the shackles are removed and with them, the fear and doubt. The journey upward continues, transcendent, silent screams of wonder ring in my ears. 

Perched upon the rock, I now understand the falcon, and it’s domain. A whispered prayer of thanks offered, the rock, freshly anointed with the sweat of my brow, fond thoughts towards those who conquered it before me. 

Above the final crux, I sacrifice the uncertainty and doubt, dawning fresh garments laced together with joy and anticipation. My gaze now directed longingly to the horizon, I catch sight of another giant, it’s dented armour glinting in the light, beckoning, my heart leaps.