on being five

My dear Littler Prince,

How is it possible that you are already five?  It doesn’t seem like that could be.  How has it been five years already?

It’s funny, though, at the same time I also want to ask, how has it only been five years?  The way you keep up with your older brother, not just in games but in the way you talk and interact with everyone in your life, it seems like you are so much older sometimes.  How has it only been five years?  How are you doing all the things you are doing?

I can still picture you as a newborn, your hair red and wild, and that look that said, “Get ready world, I’m coming for you.”  The world wasn’t ready for you then and it still isn’t.  Your energy and your passion and your determination and your curiosity are going to take you far.  That’s indisputable.

It leads to clashes now and then, of course, when your strong will runs into your older brothers strong will, or mine, or the Queens.  That’s okay.  When that happens, we aren’t trying to keep you from following your passions, we’re just trying to manage the day or keep you safe, or other boring but essential adulating things.  And, the good news is that as you continue to grow and learn the clashes will get fewer and father between.

So, another year gone?  It wasn’t filled with as many big adventures as our years usually are.  Soon, we may start embarking on those again, but for now we contented ourselves with smaller adventures closer to home.  You took the training wheels off your bike this year.  You took an interest in words this year, asking how to spell things, creating words of your own, really playing with language.  You sat at your older brother’s elbow for most of his schooling too.  (That’s all the curiosity mentioned above coming in.)  There were hikes and local, but new to us, camping trips.  There were water balloon fights in the summer.  There were puddle stomping sessions.  There were Lego building marathons.  There was so much squeezed in that one year that it wouldn’t be possible to capture it all here.  I hope you’ve got some good memories that you’ll hang onto for years and years. 

I know I do. 

And, I know I’m curious what the year ahead has in store for you.  It’s going to be another busy one.  Every day an adventure in its own right.

And, no, the world still won’t be ready for you, but that’s okay.  You’re going to shape it how it needs to be anyway.

Can’t wait.

Love you.

Love,

Daddy/Matticus/The Jester

the old man

Photo by Orbit Publishers on Pexels.com

Thinking back, years since his last trip, it was the river that he had loved the most.  He’d told people at various times that it was the smell on the way in or the tall trees or the way the canyon captured the light in the mornings and evenings or watching his kids eyes go wide with wonder the first time they saw the campground or the lazy afternoons reading a book in a hammock or the way the stars winked and whispered through the long nights.  And, while those were things he loved, it was the river that he had loved most of all.  It was the river that made all the stress and headaches of their yearly camping trips worthwhile.

It came crashing down the canyon, ice cold, ferocious and wild.  There were misty waterfalls and hidden fishing holes.  There were wide open stretches for swimming and dangerous rapids.  There were countless memories tucked away along the stretches he knew best, and even more memories held dear from the stories handed down from his elders.  The river.  The river.  The river.

Now he was the elder and he missed it.  He missed it something fierce and his mind was made up to go.

The packing list came together quickly enough.  It took a couple extra trips into the attic to find all his gear.  It was tiring work getting some of the heavier stuff safely down the ladder.  But, worth it as he checked things off and moved closer to going.  Food was bought.  The car was packed.  It all happened slower than it would have in his youth but time was funny and it seemed fast to him.  His days weren’t as full as they used to be.  Wife passed on.  Kids moved out with families of their own.  His days could stretch to unseemly lengths and often did.  So, he did not mind the time it took to get ready.  He didn’t really notice it at all.

His mind was buzzing with the prospect of adventure.  His hands shook with excitement.  Well, they shook most of the time anyway but now they shook more.  Some of the times he had to stop weren’t to rest so much as they were to force himself to calm down.  He was going.  He was going to see the river, to walk its banks, to hear its roar. 

The drive went smoothly.  He had to make an extra stop on the way in.  One more in and out of the car than he used to.  Old age had done a number on his bladder.  But, other than that, he stopped for lunch in the same place the family had always eaten before, surprised to find how little the restaurant had changed over the years.  The little train that went in circles in the rafters was still there chugging along.  The menu seemed the same too.  The food didn’t taste the same but that was true of most things, wasn’t it?  It’s rare for food to taste the same from year to year.  It was good enough, though, and didn’t really matter.  The food wasn’t the reason for the trip.  Then he’d made the unscheduled stop.  Then he’d stopped to fill up the tank before the final climb into the mountains.  It was all so familiar.  He was happy about that.

Then the smell had hit him as he wound his way up the mountain.  That smell.  It was no wonder he’d often told people he loved that smell.  It meant he was nearly there.  He wasn’t just on his way.  He was on the doorstep.

Then the trees changed as he rose from the valley floor.  They grew greener and taller and thicker and then he was among the giants.  They truly were giants, some of the largest trees in the world.  The road carved through the forest as it went up and up and up.  It was no wonder he’d often said he loved the trees.  They were so unlike anything he had in his day to day.  He’d never lived near a forest like this.  It was special, enchanting.  The sun filtering through the pine needles held a certain magic he could not define.

Then the road crested and slipped down into the canyon that held his beloved river.  For a moment he had a glimpse of the sheer magnitude and magnificence of it all.  The steep canyon walls.  The cascading waterfalls.  The untamed wild where the only blemish was the narrow road that took him down to his hearts home.  His hands had started shaking again and he’d used a pull out to rest for a minute.  It wouldn’t do at all to lose control on this road.  It was too narrow.  The canyon too steep.  The river at the bottom too fierce.  That particular ending to his story wasn’t one he was interested in at all.

Then he was driving again and his hands fell into the familiar rhythm of turns, like they’d done this drive a thousand times before.  Maybe they hadn’t done it that many times.  But they’d done it enough to know it.  To really know it.  He easily handled the sharp turns.  He quickly and confidently fell back into the pattern of smoothing out the corners.  The worst of them, the nearly 180 degree left hand hairpin that had often made his tires sing when he was younger, came and went.  And then he was to the sharp right hand turn, where the mountain seemed to lean into the road and he had always wondered how the larger vehicles had managed to get by it without crashing. 

One final drop and he was level with the river.  It rolled and splashed to his left.  It was beautiful.  It was everything he’d remembered.  He lowered his window so he could hear it and the sound filled his car.  A high water year, the rapids were raging, the water swift, the sound deafening.  He’d known it would be, of course.  When he’d made up his mind to come, he had looked to see what the snowpack had been like over winter.

He had considered stopping as he crossed over the familiar bridge, one in a dozen landmarks he’d pass with a widening smile, but he continued on.  The campground was only twenty minutes ahead and his old bladder was telling him to make haste.  He listened to it as he’d learned to over the years.  He left the window down and enjoyed the feel of the air as he wound the final few miles to his camp. 

Today he would set up for the week.  He’d pitch his tent, gather wood, string up a hammock, set up the kitchen, and acclimate as best he could.  Tomorrow he’d put his old fishing pole together and find a likely enough spot to toss a line and be on the river.  He didn’t care if he caught anything.  Being on the river had never been about catching things.  Fishing was just an excuse to be on it.  He couldn’t wait. 

He smiled and nodded.

Tomorrow.  The river.  The river.  The river.

a state on fire

We walked through the burn scar, happy to see new life peeking through the soil, green in a landscape of ash grey, while breathing the smoke from a new fire raging to the south.  Seeing the remnants of a dead fire while breathing the proof of a live one.  It was eerie and sad.  I took video while we walked, to capture the moment as best as I could.  Though, that only really gets the image of it.  Not the smell.  Not the desolation.  Not the death in the air.

Still, there was life at our feet.  Tiny flowers and little green shoots sprouted along the trail.  And in the haze we could see other such life pushing through the ash.  It was encouraging to see that.  Despite the destruction, all was not lost.  Despite the raging inferno that had scarred the terrain a year earlier (nearly to the day), life was returning and, in some cases, had never left. 

Little did we know then what our day had in store. 

From one fire to another, we travelled homeward, the smoke constant and the charred hillsides popping up again and again.

I’m not entirely sure where I’m going with this.

When I conceived the idea for the post on our drive home (we had been backpacking near Shaver Lake), it seemed to mean something.  All this damage.  All these fires.  I came home and looked up the names of each of them.  There were nine active and old fires that we either drove through, walked through, or saw the smoke from.  And if we saw the smoke it meant we were breathing it.  But now a month later when I’m finally get around to writing this?  That number would be thirteen instead of nine.  Four more fires started along the same corridor in the last four weeks.  One per week.  But, what does it mean?

Well, I don’t know.

Maybe it is enough to have been there and to share these words now and raise the question:  What does it mean?

Maybe these words are nothing more than a diary entry of sorts.  I went.  I saw.  There was devastation.  There was beauty.  And somehow that is right.  That is life.

Maybe this is nothing more than my mind trying to reconcile the memories from my youth when I was fascinated by fire while at the same time calculating the cost currently.  The forests that have burned now will not have grown back to what they were in my lifetime, nor in my children’s lifetime.  Anything that is lost now they will never get to experience.  These forests take too long to grow back.  They can’t just be instantly replaced like so much else in our lives.

Maybe it’s all of the above.

I don’t know.

Another letter to myself

Dear Jester,

Is it okay that I keep writing letters to you, to myself, like this?  Yes.  I’m sure you’ll agree it is fine.  I should know.  I’m you and you’re me.

Anyway…

I’m not sure how to go about this, so we might as well dive into the crux of the matter: It is seeming harder and harder to keep up with the speed of life right now.  And that was really brought into focus by the death of a friend last week. 

You had seen them struggling and you had mentioned to yourself that you should reach out and then you didn’t and now they are gone.

And why didn’t you reach out?  Because you hadn’t seen him in 22 years?  Because you were busy with chores and school and toddler tantrums and infant sleep and birthdays and the day to day grind of life in the kingdom?  Because you didn’t know how much he was struggling?  Because you didn’t know…

You didn’t know.  You didn’t know you wouldn’t have another chance. 

If you had known, you would have sacrificed something else to make the time.  One less thing would have gotten clean.  Or a little bit less sleep would have been had.  You would have made a different choice.  But you didn’t know.  And, there is no way to know that reaching out would have helped.  Would have been worth doing anyway.

So, dear Jester, I’m not sure what the point of this letter is.  I was grasping for some sort of philosophical piece on the speed of life but the words on the page keep failing that, in my opinion.  Very unlike me, I have started, stopped, deleted, and started over this letter four times now.  And this will have to be good enough.  I don’t have the mental energy to attempt it again.

I guess, I just hope you can set aside any guilt you are feeling, we are feeling.  Be kind to yourself.  Grieve. 

And maybe next time reach out…  Because that pile of dishes can wait.  Sometimes, reaching out can’t wait.  And you don’t know what you don’t know.

Sincerely,

Matticus

So this is 40

My dear Jester,

Yes, that’s me.  Yes, I’m writing a letter to myself.  I did that last year too.  I think.  I guess I could look it up but it really isn’t that important.  Anyway…

So, this is 40…?

*Looks around and nods.*

Okay.  This is 40.

Why shouldn’t it be?  You’ve had quite the adventure. 

Married.  Three kids.  Two cats.  Home owner. 

Six cities.  Ten jobs.  More roles than that.  More managers than that too as it turns out.

You’ve been to the top of more mountain passes than you can remember.  You’ve snowboarded on seven different mountains.  You’ve been to (at least) sixteen different states.  You’ve been to four different countries. 

You’ve been a DJ, a beach bum, a blogger.  You’ve been a raver, a husband, a father.  You’ve been a friend, a brother, a son.  You’ve been lost, mentally and physically.  You’ve been a part of four published books and you have words in at least that many still waiting to be published. 

You see?  Adventures a plenty.  Why, you could write a story for each of the sentences above.  The time you watched the sun rise over the mesas on a backpacking trip in New Mexico.  The time you were in whiteout conditions on the slopes in Colorado.  The time you thought you might like to try and become a professional beach volleyball player.  The time you watched your first son being born, your second son being born, your third son being born.  The time you looked down from the top of Whitney.  The second time you looked down from the top of Whitney.  The day you brought your kitten rescues to their forever home.  The day you stood on the side of a mountain and vowed love and adventure to your Queen.  And on and on and on.

Adventures.  A.  Plenty.

So, why the letter at all?  Are you confused about the number?  Are you just bragging about all you’ve been able to accomplish so far?

*Looks around and shrugs shoudlers.*

You don’t know and that’s okay.

I’ll tell you this, my dear Jester, you better hang on tight because there is still so much to do, to see.  There is still so much to learn!  The next 40 years are going to be a whirlwind of adventures.  They won’t all be good, of course.  That’s the way it goes.  That’s as it should be.  But, there will be more good than you can imagine.  And, I know your brain.  I know you can imagine quite a lot. 

So, be patient.  You need to work on that.  Hug your kids.  Kiss your wife.  Pet your cats.  Take the trips.  Put in the hard work when it is needed.  Fix the sinks.  Take care of the house.  Go camping.  Go backpacking.  Go on bike rides and walks.  Go to the beach.  Watch the movies.  Listen to the all the music you possibly can.  Struggle.  Triumph.  Cry.  Smile.  Love every single second of it all as much as you can.

Because why not.

And let me know when the number ticks up one more.  I want to hear what stories you’ll have to share then.

Have a great year,

Matticus