The Aging Process Is Not Trout Fishing

I recently finished reading for perhaps the 2nd or 3rd time Richard Brautigan’s 1967 collection of stories entitled “Trout Fishing In America”. In the book, Brautigan would tell a story and would then assume the persona of the book’s title and would reply to the story as “Trout Fishing In America”. What this has to do with the aging process I am not quite sure, but as I started to write, this title popped into my soggy mountain brain. Perhaps it is because 1967 was a magical year for me and many other teens as we began our search for meaning and the purpose of life.

Perhaps the 50th high school class reunion that I attended in 2017 fits into the larger picture of aging in America somehow. And from what I have seen so far, it is not a picture that you would frame and hang up for all to see on your living room wall.

One of the first things that you notice about getting older is that time seems to pass by very quickly and one season follows another in a fast-forward sort of way. If you have been fortunate enough to have children, they have left the nest and have kids of their own and it seems like overnight you have become a grandparent.

Memories seem to fade or become so blurry as to be hardly recognizable. People have come into your life and people have left and sometimes it is hard to even remember their names.

The thought that started this train was my memory of asking my mother where my dad might be found. Her sometimes reply was that he was “in the library”. And as our collective consciousness will recall, the library was a metaphor for the bathroom. It seemed like most older people would take some reading matter with them to the library in order to facilitate the bodily processes that had apparently slowed down over time.

What was once a two minute hike up a well worn trail had/has become a meandering of sorts through hill and dale. As our metabolism slows, other things follow and that is only part of the aging process.

I have noticed that my skin is not as smooth as it once was. There are lines and scrapes and spots and light and dark areas that populate mostly my arms and legs.

Several years ago, I could work in the garden for most of the day without resting. I now do about an hours worth of work in order to take a fifteen or twenty minute break. All the work gets done but in a far longer time frame. Not a big problem, just another adjustment that needs to be made as we age in order to make it through the day.

I guess I could go on and on about all the subtle changes that take place as we journey down life’s pathway. What we will always find is that it is better to let go than it is to hold onto the way things used to be. As we make adjustments, we can move forward with a confidence that only comes with maturity. And remembering that you are only as old as that inner picture of yourself, which today may be thirty rather than the 69 or 70 calendar years your body tells you it is.


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As I slowly begin to press open the gate towards the 70th anniversary of my birth, there are many things about this life on earth that I don’t understand and violence is one of them.

Defined by Webster as: the use of physical force so as to injure, abuse, damage, or destroy, I have become all to aware of the results of violent acts. Everyone that was alive at the time remembers where they were when JFK was shot on that 23rd day of November 1963. And that morning of September 11th, 2001 is etched on our brains for all time. Just those two events alone changed the timeline of our lives in ways that can never be measured.

Historically speaking, violence has been around for a long time. Genesis 4:8 relates the story of Cain killing his brother Abel because he was angry at his brother. My memory of this story had Cain hitting Abel with a rock to the head but in reading that verse today, there is no mention as to the method Cain used.

Be that as it may, it seems that some of us are repelled by violence and others seem prone to it.

One of my first memories of violence was watching the Friday night fights at my grandparents house during one of my summertime visits. Generally the main event featured a white guy and a black guy duking it out until one of them was knocked out or was so badly beaten that the referee would call the fight off. I can still hear my very “old school” grandparents yelling at the top of their lungs for the one guy to beat the other and the racially charged words they used. I don’t have to tell you which guy they wanted to win.

Another form of violence is what we now call “bullying”. As a pre-teen in grade school I had a big mouth and very little control over it, which often precipitated trouble for me. As I only lived a block from school, when the current bully would follow me home after school in order to start a fight, I could quickly make it to my front yard and my mother’s protection without to much effort. She could be pretty intimidating when needed. I never considered myself a “sissy” but was just not prone to fighting.

Another memory of those formative years was being forced by the current bully to fight someone else who they had a problem with. Rather than stand up and punch it out, I took the other guy (even less prone than me to fight) to the ground and despite being told to hit the guy in the face, I would wrestle and maybe throw a few punches to the back of his head. I could only imagine what being hit in the face would feel like so I was not going to go there. I guess I proved myself that one time as I was never forced to fight again.

Back in the mid sixties and my high school days, Friday night football games were all the rage. I would not go so much for the football as to see and be seen by the girls in my class. We often had a lot of fun and I remember making my lip so sore blowing an old trumpet that the salty, after game french fries would puff up my lip like I’d been in a fight. And speaking of fights there was always this one guy wandering around the stadium, crew in tow, looking for someone to fight. During this era, there was at least two diverse groups of kids. One group was called the “greasers” and the other group the “frats”. I guess we all thought the greasers were destined for the trades after high school and the frats were destined for college and the big bucks blowing in the wind.

I don’t remember this particular guys name, but it seemed like he was always around football night and rumor had it that he had been kicked out of school a few years prior to my seeing him around. He was very handsome in a James Dean sort of way and kept a pack of cigarettes rolled up in his tea shirt sleeve. I remember that he had several scars on his rugged face and that the girls really seemed fond of him.

What I most remember thinking was that he seemed destined to end up someplace bad and that he also seemed to be locked into being something that his posse wanted him to be. It was almost like they pushed him into acting like the bad guy and their taste for violence was what motivated him and them. The rest of this historical story is kind of blurry but I hope you get my point. I moved to a different school and lost track of the rest.

Modern day examples of violence are typified by the Harvey Weinstein’s of the world who take advantage of women and men and seem to think they have earned the right to abuse and damage whomever they please. Just as I can’t fully comprehend violent people, I can’t imagine taking something from someone that is not freely given to me.

And though I hate to mention it, some of the modern day church has it’s own issues with control, manipulation and domination (forms of violence), not to mention sexual scandal.

I am not a pacifist by any means. I believe that there are just wars, etc. and would not hesitate to protect my family by whatever means necessary. I hope that never happens and really can’t say how I would react in that moment anyway. I remember that just before shooting my first deer, gun in hand and doe in sight, asking my self the very simple question as to whether or not I was capable of pulling the trigger and ending this animals life. It was a moment of hesitation that I will remember the rest of my life. As the animal hit the ground, I was thankful that it had provided my family with lots of meat. And as a friend of mine would later explain, the goal of conservation is to create a healthy environment for our wildlife to flourish and not overpopulate to their detriment.

At this point I can’t really recall what prompted this flight of words. More memories turned into stories I guess. And perhaps it is a ride that we can all relate to in some way.




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That First Kiss or Driving in America.

As a boy growing up in America during the mid sixties, I will have to admit that I looked forward to receiving my drivers license more that I did my first kiss. Not that the first kiss wasn’t highly anticipated, but the biggest right of passage that I lived with at that time was obtaining a driver’s license. And, as we were told in drivers ed class that driving in America was a privilege not a right.

So I guess in many ways I have been intrigued by driving and the associated freedom that it implies ever since I was a young teenager.

My first experience with driving was sitting beside my grandfather and shifting gears for him as he drove. He worked for the railroad and had a big truck with one of those four-on-the-floor shifters with a big round handle on top. I remember visiting him most every summer and sometimes going to work with him.

The next step in my drivers education was still siting beside him, but this time I learned to steer the truck as well as shift gears. I remember my shaky hands and always trying to over-steer the truck. His wise council to me was this: you don’t need to constantly move the steering wheel back and forth (ie: over steer) but let the truck guide itself and only use your hands to gently correct the trucks sideways motion. This is a lesson that impacts me every day and that I passed on to my four kids as well.

As history would have it, the next and almost final step with my grandfather was actually sitting behind the wheel and working the clutch while he shifted and I drove. This was really exciting until I hit a red light at the top of a steep hill. As you can guess, panic ensued and my only focus was keeping the clutch and brake pushed in so that I would not roll back and into the car that was right behind me. Without so much as a moment’s hesitation, my grandfather pulled up the handbrake and told me that when the light changed I was to carefully let out the clutch and give the truck some gas as he gently let the handbrake loose and we moved forward and off the hill.

His deft handling of the situation impressed upon me the fact that there was a solution to many of life’s situations and not to give up at the first sign of trouble. This was another life lesson that I was able to pass on to my kids as a part of their own drivers ed with me in the passenger seat. I would always take them to a hilly part of town and hope the light would go red just in time for us to put this lesson to use. Yes, all of my kids learned to drive in a manual shift car.

Learning to drive with my grandfather took place way before I drivers training and I received my license. It really was a kinder and gentler time.

Another part of my learning to drive history involved my mother’s mother who lived with us after her 2nd husband passed away. She had a lime green automatic Plymouth with push button shifters on the dashboard. She was not a very confident driver and one summer I went with her to visit my relatives in Terre Haute, 400 miles from home. She was the type of driver who went slow and would never cross over a lane to get gas or get something to eat. I was 14 1/2 or 15 at the time and remember talking her into letting me drive. As we lived in Port Huron, we took I-94 and had to drive through Detroit on the way to Indiana. I remember getting caught in rush hour traffic on the expressway and her telling me to be careful because I didn’t have a license and what would happen if we were involved in an accident. I promptly told her that I was confident that I wouldn’t run into anyone and she replied what if someone ran into me. That was an outcome I had not considered and you can bet I paid an extra amount of attention until we were out of the stop and go and on the open road again.

Fast forward to the summer of 1965 when I took drivers ed with several of my class mates. As I remember it was 2-3 hours a day for a couple of weeks and we learned to park and drive in traffic and all the rest. The emphasis was driving defensively and always being ready to react in time. The last day, a highway patrol officer showed us a film of accident results with one image of what it looked like after a head broke through a windshield. It was not a pretty site and an eerie calm subdued the darkened room we were in. After all the time I had been driving illegally and thought I knew how to drive, a light came on and I realized after seeing that horrific film, that all I knew about driving was the manual/mechanical part of driving a car. What I didn’t realize until that very moment was the responsibility being given to us 16 year olds. That driving was as much a mental exercise as it was a mechanical function. And that very thought probably saved my life and many others from that day forward.

As I age, I am grateful that I have driven for almost 53 years without an accident although I have been in many situations that could have been very bad had I not been able to react in time because of those same “defensive” driver tactics. That, and as Amy Grant once sang, the angels watching over me and my family.

But that is a story for another time and another ride. Enjoy yours today.


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To Dream Or Not To Dream

I woke up this morning with the feeling that I had once again experienced a dream that repeated several aspects of dreams that I have had before.

One element of this dream state features a house that Sandi and I lived in from 1978 until 1985. It was an old farmhouse on 200 acres that had been abandoned and partially burned that we moved into and slowly remodeled for the rent. I must say that many good years were spent in that house that never had an indoor toilet or insulation against the winter winds.

Out first two children were born while we lived in that house that we heated with wood and had an electric bill of only $11 per month.

In my dream, that has been repeated many many times, the house is a lot different but I can tell it is the same one we lived in. In several ways it is a more “perfect” house without all the flaws that the real house had. Everything about the house is amplified in my dream state. There is also a feeling that it is very cosy and comfortable, even though several aspects of the physical house change from dream to dream. How the house presents itself is almost like I can feel the whole of it even when I am in only one room. Sometimes it feels like I live in the house with a different family even though I am hard pressed to explain how this idea presents itself.

There is also a past, present and future sense of being that is attached to the house itself in my dream. In many of these dreams, a local resident has begun to build houses behind the house I live in and almost a neighborhood is established.

One repeating part of this dream is that there is a road beside the house that leads up a sharp incline into a mountainous range full of danger and adventure. At the top of the mountain is a large lake that is surrounded by a steep cliff that has a trail on top of it that runs around the lake. All sorts of animals live in the wooded area on either side of the trail and I can tell that I have spent many hours exploring this area and keeping away from the dangers that I know exist in that environment.

In real life, there was a road beside our house that led up a mountain and past a house that had been abandoned many years before we set eyes on it. Sandi and I would walk this road many times a week, before kids, and explore the unknown as it presented itself to us. Each time we would take a little different path into the woods at the end of the road. What had been old logging trails cut through the woods and dared us to follow them.

I am sure there is much more to this that I could expound on but this is all that I recall at this moment. For some reason, I was prompted this morning to write this little bit down and share it with you.

What I do remember however is the fact that this is only one scenario and that there are several more repeated themes that manifest themselves in my dream world. Maybe I will have to remember them as well.

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The Wind Does Not Break A Tree That Bends

From my house to where I work is approximately 4 and a half miles. Every day that I drive it I am amazed by the splendor of the mountains that surround me. As one of the oldest mountain chains, the Appalachian’s are unique in their formation and subsequent display.

On my way to work this morning, I was reminded of and old friend of mine who I spent a significant amount of time with in East Lansing before I moved to the mountains of North Carolina.

His name was John Robbison and he was a part of the intellectual college scene that wrapped itself around East Lansing, home of Michigan State University. He was older than me and just this side of being a father figure. We would walk the streets around the town and university and talk about art, literature and life in general.

At the time I was working several jobs to stay afloat with one of them being as assistant to a sculptor that we both knew. Her name was Louise McCagg and she created bronze and aluminum pieces that mostly featured her interpretations of the human body.

On this particular day with John, he was pondering the direction of his life and told me in no uncertain terms that he had come to a major turning point in his life. I think that John’s wife had a moneyed background and John had not had a teaching job in quite some time. As we walked, John told me that he had reached a decision that he was ready to die in East Lansing and therefore had also come to the conclusion that he was also ready to live in East Lansing as well.

What this meant to him at the time was that he had been pondering the idea of opening a bookstore and with his mind now settled, he could begin the process of committing his next few years to this project.

It wasn’t long after that walk with John that “Jocundry Books” opened its doors across the street from the university. The bookstore officially opened in August, 1976, and was unique in the fact that there were chairs scattered throughout the store and people were encouraged to sit and read.

I remember that John had a copy of the 20 volume Oxford English Dictionary with magnifying glass displayed and ready to use in one corner of the store. In another corner there was a large round table where people sat and on Sunday’s there would be a copy of the New York Times along with Lox, cheese and bagels and plenty of free coffee.

I think you get my drift: the store was more a part of John’s personality and really set the bar high for what a local bookstore should be.

It wasn’t to long after that I was hired to work the second shift and began what many would call my dream job. The sections I managed were religion, literature, and what was then called remainders (books that were out of print and priced to sell).

To make a long story short and get to the point I originally wanted to make, Sandi and I moved to North Carolina in August of 1978 to begin our lives together.

I vaguely remember visiting East Lansing either late ’78 or early ’79 and of course visiting my favorite bookstore. I remember telling John about the majesty of the mountains and also his succinct reply. John was from Kansas and told me that it didn’t take much to appreciate the beauty of the mountains but that it took a real poetic eye to find the beauty in mile after miles of flat plains. And to this day, that thought has stuck with me.

Also in light of Boeing’s Max 8 problems I will mention the sad follow-up to my last visit with John and my friends at the bookstore. Several months after my visit, John and a bunch of my friends and employees of several bookstores were on Flight 191 from Chicago bound for Los Angeles and the International Booksellers Convention. A flight that I would have been on had I not moved to West Jefferson with Sandi. A flight that went down on May 25, 1979 killing all 277 people onboard.

As I write this, I am amazed at how one memory can be connected with many others: almost a spiderweb of thoughts. And as to the title of this post: as the wind blows outside my house, I know that without the bending that we have done over the years, we would not be able to continue walking towards our destiny. We may have suffered a few broken branches but the tree is still standing in the ground and ready for the sun to shine another day.

Have a great “ride” toady.

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Sugar & San Francisco

My mind has always been prone to flights of fancy and as such some last a moment and others might hang around for a week or two.

One such flight is my utter amazement at the fact that two of the biggest companies in the world are built around selling what amounts to carbonated, flavored, sugar water.

I am sure that many of us baby boomers have consumed our share of either Pepsi or Coke and even though I haven’t had either for several years, I can still tell you the differences between the two drinks.

Having moved to North Carolina from Michigan in the late seventies, I was surprised at the fact that the locals seemed to consume “drinks” at most every meal. It was either that or sweet tea. And of course as a northerner, I called these “drinks” soda’s.

But I digress: the flight of fancy that perpetuated this recent post was a story I read the other day about San Francisco’s attempt to place a warning label on all sugary drinks. And of course the soft drink industry was not going to sit still and allow that to happen.

Almost three years after the cities proposal, an appeals court decided that the warning violates the rights of drinks manufacturers. The warning would have read, “WARNING: Drinking beverages with added sugar(s) contributes to obesity, diabetes, and tooth decay” and would have made San Francisco the only major city to use a cigarette-style warning on soda bottles.

Now remember this is the city that has a huge homeless population and has gained media attention around the lack of facilities to take care of the bodily waste produced by this particular populous. And they are worried over sugary drinks. Kind of like getting the cart before the horse it seems to me.

I remember the last time I bought a Pepsi. I put my money into the vending machine at work, popped the top, and after the first swig, wondered what had prompted me to purchase it. After I returned to normalcy, I poured the rest of the soda down the drain and have not looked back.

Pepsico, the company that markets Pepsi and other consumer stuff, is currently trading on the stock market at about $112.00 per share. In contrast, shares of Apple are trading at about $175.00 today.

Which leads me almost to the end of this addended flight. Who would have thought that the bottled water industry, of which Pepsi is a major player, would have reached the $100 billion dollar mark this past year. That folks, is lot of water. If we had invested in this a decade or so ago, we’d all be living the high life on some tropical island paradise.

I could say more, but I have said enough for this day’s “ride”. Hope you are well fed and well watered.

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What Happened To 2018?

It is hard to believe that my last post was in December of 2017, more than a year ago. And I will have to admit that I was more than a little surprised by this.

I began this blog journey as a way to process my life after leaving the church I had been a part of for almost 20 years. Since that November of 2006 I have published 299 stories or observations that have made “Looking For The Long Ride” a part of my life.

And there is a fine line between living a life and observing that very same existence.

And this is not to say that I have not had anything to say this past year: just that the need to put it out there in type has not been one of my top priorities.

In a very real sense I have spent the past year creating memories.

Sandi and I visited friends in Florida in February and had a great time exploring all the many things that there are to do in nature; especially when the friends know the ins and outs of several of the best state parks.

We also celebrated our 40th anniversary and traveled back to Michigan (our birth state) and explored some of our favorite haunts and visited friends and relatives.

It has also been my pleasure to pickup two of my grand kids from school every Wednesday and make the trip into West Jefferson and buy ice cream at Ashe County Cheese. We would then sit in front of a store across the street and people watch until the ice cream was eaten and we would then head to my house in Boone.


And even though I don’t remember a whole lot from my early years in school, I must admit I didn’t have a grandpa that took me out for a treat every week either. My wife says that repetition creates memories and that is what I am hoping for.

Recently I have taken up reading the Wall Street Journal. A friend started sending me links to articles that interested him and, having been a newspaper reporter for about three years, I was impressed by their objective approach to reporting the news. It seems as though most news media these days are into presenting one side or the other in an attempt to manipulate readers into a more or less hyper PC perspective.

Anyway, it has been interesting to read about the world that we live in from a “wall street” point of view. From this I have come to realize that almost everything has a monetary slant, from the food we eat to the cars we buy.

For instance, did you know that almost all fast food meat is not antibiotic free. And, even if the fast food industry had a desire to eliminate antibiotics and growth hormones, the next step would be to find a source that would enable them to purchase better stuff at a competitive price. And from a strictly monetary standpoint, that source doesn’t exist currently. Even Chic Fil A still uses a lot of chicken that is dosed with antibiotics and says that their wish is to be antibiotic free by 2020. The holdup is finding the product. In the Journal analysis the answer to better chicken and burgers is for the fast food industry to begin to put pressure on the supply chain in order for this change to be made.

So, it has been an interesting 2018 and 2019 will perhaps be even more inventive and interesting across the wide spectrum of our daily lives and experiences.

And that’s a good “ride” any day!

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