Category Archives: Essay

Scroll or Move

Sometimes I wake up desperate to escape, to shake things up, to be that family who is always doing some kind of amazing and epic adventure. On these days I have a choice. I can sit drinking coffee and scrolling through Instagram lusting after the glamours sanitized life of others while feeling increasingly depressed or I can get up and move. Often I chose the former, lusting after material things, believing that if we had this pack raft or that backpack, then those things would make our life more fun and our adventures easier and more epic. In the winter, when the gray cold grips me, I can spend hours scrolling through places to move that are not filled with snow, ice and cold for much of the year–concocting grand schemes as to why we should move. All this mindless scrolling and lusting leads me to think that we either do not have the right gear, we live in the wrong place or we don’t have the time or resources to be epic. All lies and skewed perception, of course.

Instead of all of this lusting, scrolling, watching, dreaming I need to be moving. It does not have to be epic. Though epic is relative. For someone with a toddler and epic could be going for a walk around the block. Our epic is not your epic and some days our epic is just going for a walk on the trails I’ve built and discovering a pile of bear scat. Simply go and ride the current of the day and see where it leads. Pack some snacks and the essentials; hot chocolate in the winter, swimsuits in the summer. Whatever it is, throw it in a bag and go.

Patagonia founder Yvon Chouinard says, The cure for depression is action… do what you can according to what your resources are. I have to agree with him. This concept can be applied not only to getting outside but also to our life dreams and goals. So move your body, move the pen, move your mind. Move beyond your preconceived notions. Don’t compare your day to those on social media or your friends down the street. Your adventure is your own and as long as you are having fun, and even when you’re not, the important thing is that you are making memories. You don’t make memories staring at a screen.

Snow Day

On snowy nights as a child I would flick on the backyard light and judge the snow coming down, along with the amount that had accumulated on the deck. I would go to bed hoping with all my might that in the morning the radio would announce that our school was closed. Usually my hopes were dashed and I would trundle off to school, jealous of those who did not share my fate.

The days of children waiting with bated breathe by the radio to hear if their school is closed are gone. Now the phone rings shortly before six in the morning, or even the night before, and the cheery prerecorded voice of the superintendent comes on telling us that schools are closed due to inclement weather or the chance of inclement weather. A friend, and fellow stay-at-home-dad, who lives in Bozeman, Montana, asked recently what constituted a snow day in Vermont. As near as I can tell, I told him, it’s a crap shoot. Of course I am sure it is more than that, some complicated formula. I called the cheery-voiced superintendent to ask but I never heard back from her. In Montana, my friend told me, if the buses start and the roads are passable there is school. They’ve had a few 9am starts because it was twenty below, but other than that no one can seem to remember when the last full snow day was. Some time in the 90’s is the best guess.

From journal entries I know that I’ve met snow days as an adult with dread and anxiety because I had other plans for the day. That is parenthood in a nutshellmake a plan and watch it fall apart for any number of reasons. I always assume I will have more time to write on snow days because the boys will sleep in and there will be no rush to get them off to school, but the boys never seem to sleep in on snow days. It is as if they have a sixth sense and are up and out the door at first light or one of them is up and pacing waiting for the other to wake up so that they can go out and play. On school days I have to drive them out of bed with my bad singing.

Despite my anxiety the snow days always seem to turn out to be great funas days usually do when you toss out your preconceived ideas and let the day unfold organically. The backyard and surrounding acreage are a blank canvas and the day follows its own special rhythmoutside at first light,t then back inside to dry out and warm up. Outside again a few hours later, and if it all works out, perhaps a third time when Mom gets home. When you ride the coattails of your children’s joy and wonderment, you’ll be hard pressed to hang onto the dour feelings we conjure up so easily as adults.

A Moment of Despair

The waves come slowly but quickly gain strength and power. I know what is coming but I am powerless to move. When the largest crashes over me I am held down, gasping for air and wondering if I will survive.

Outward appearances and surface assumptions mask the dark ocean of despair and self-loathing that holds me under in the depths of depression. Instead, many see the blessed life I am fully aware that I have. A beautiful supportive wife and two healthy boys, I am in good health and doing what God has called me to do. It is my family that keeps me fighting for my life. I will not allow the boys to grow up fatherless. But can I survive once they are grown? Focus on the now, you just need to make it through today, I tell myself. Start again tomorrow. Tomorrow could be better. Each day could be better. My family needs me.

I’ve seen death from many angles, and know firsthand the hole and pain it leaves. I have come to understand why people choose suicide but I still feel it is selfish. But right now, I’m not sure how much more I can take. There is relief in the thought, of the torture finally ending, but also the terror of leaving my family. I break into sobs; an awkward sputtering sound escapes my lips. For even here, alone, I hold back. The tears stream down my face but the release is not a complete one.

I spend the rest of the day in a painful funk, doing my best to mask my turmoil from the world. This leaves me exhausted, but one step closer to the end of the day. Then I can escape into my book and then into sleep. With this, there is the promise that tomorrow just might be betterif only a little.

To Feel Even Keel

Melancholy fills my mind in the quiet hours when the house is empty. The cycle of self analyzation and the worry that my own brain is what is making it all worse beings anew. Is it something I am doing? Because then I could stop it. Midwinter is an unpleasant time to be in my mind. The grayness takes its toll, even though the days are growing longer. Even though this year I am able to find the beauty in the gloomiest of days, the darkness still comes. How I long for a day to feel normal. Though it has been so long I am not sure if I was ever normal. Just oblivious, self medicated and busy with a job that kept my mind occupied.

I want to jump out of my skin! Run away from my body, my mind, life. Is it really the weather? Or is it because I feel bad for focusing on putting physical activity back into my routine and now feel I have less time for cleaning the floors, bathrooms, doing the dishes? Why can’t I just feel normal? Not spectacular, not elated, just even keel. Why can’t I add something into my life without feeling as if I’m going to lose my mind? Last year was a dark tunnel, this year I’m on a daily rollercoaster of emotional turmoil overwhelmed, then fine, then the blackness rushes back in. Am I the one causing this, with my self analyzing? I need to get out of the house and out of my head. But I don’t want to move. I certainly don’t want to talk to anyone. I don’t believe I can muster the strength to put on the face of someone who is ok. Of someone who is not fighting for their life at every turn. I don’t go out, instead I pace, I try to occupy my mind, I ride the rollercoaster, until it is time to crawl into the safe cocoon of our bed.

But within all this there is a sliver of hope and despite the darkness I know God has a plan and He is always there for me. I hold fast to that and each day I wake up with the thought that today could be a good day.

Trail Love

Before I knew about mountain biking or the term singletrack, when BMX was all the rage and I wanted the skills of the kids in RAD, I was building bike trails in the small wooded sections on our property. The trails were short no more than a couple hundred feet in length, and I would connect them by riding across the yard or the road. Building the trail involved little more than raking, clipping and hand sawing, perhaps moving a rock or two. I’d ride laps dreaming I was on a grand adventure or racing around a track.

The mid-July sun beats down on our backs—we are dressed for battle in full military fatigues crawling on our forearms and knees through the field, moving our arms like the feet of an old windup toy to pack down trails in the tall grass. We are creating a labyrinth that will become our base for a week or so before the farmer comes to hay.

A few decades on, I am past Army costumes and my tools now have engines, but I still love to build trails. Which is why, back in 2012, freshly returned to Vermont from the urban west, Erin often found me under my large-brimmed straw hat pushing our mower through the high grass of the field of our rental property or clipping branches in the woods. I was building trails for the boys, I’d tell her. Though perhaps I was just grasping at childhood memories, trying to dull the pain of my father’s death.

For me, building a trail is a creative release. It is a meditation that has meaning beyond the dopamine hit of physical exertion. The creativity and feeling of accomplishment is another way for me to lead the tango with my depression. It is a way to give me something tangible that can break the cycle of the negative self talk.

My favorite trails are narrow and meandering, leading through forests of any kind. The journey is far more important than the destinationa horrid cliché, I know. Trails bring me peace, comfort and challenge; they spark that bottomless wonder that we have as children but seem to lose as we gain in agesociety having subtly beaten it out of us. Each footfall on a trail is a new experience, a chance to reveal something, a mystery to be solved, a new sight to see, an old relic to find, a burbling stream to sit beside or an enchanted land to discover. Trails are all the stories and dreams of my childhood stretching out before me. Here the world comes into sharper focus, thoughts clear, a bird serenades me as I come to the conclusion of a problem, an interesting mushroom or the most brilliant fallen leaf, stopping me mid-stride. On days when the darkness wallops me and on the days when everything is good, a saunter on the meandering trails near our home clears my mind and helps me refocus, allowing me to see what the Lord has given us, a place filled with beauty and wonder–if only we take the time to see it.