Walk With Joey [on Not So Flawed Wednesday]

We owe Joey Coconato a debt of gratitude. He has unwittingly made our journey through the pandemic-year-of-isolation, not only bearable, but expansive. We’ve hiked with him through the canyons of Utah, the back country of Yellowstone, off trail in Glacier National Park. We’ve crossed glaciers with him, forded multiple rivers, traversed gorgeous rock benches, dodged thunderstorms, quivered at some serious exposure, shivered and sweated. We’ve cracked a beer with him in celebration of standing on a high pass. We’ve enjoyed some box wine and dubious meals while staring into a crackling fire.

His YouTube channel, My Own Frontier, is the chronicle of a man who is more John Muir than Steve Jobs. He’s pretty much left the mania of this society for the majesty of the outdoors. His early backpacking films betray a man on the cusp of jumping into the life he wants to live; his look more urban than rustic, a man preparing to find his voice. Within a year, he robustly unzips his tent and in a spirit free and playful announces in a voice undivided, “Well good morning! We’ve made it to day #2!” His enthusiasm for the new day makes us smile. The jump is complete, his hair is long, his equipment is in full disarray from overuse.

Joey walks the earth. He is living the kind of life that most people desire but fear. He’s tossed away his safety net. He stands face to face with the great unknown. He makes a plan but adjusts according to the forces of nature. He places himself squarely within those powerful forces with no shield or 401K. Rather, he invests in a deep respect for the lightning and proper relationship with the bears. Finding a beautiful meadow, enjoying the color of the aspen trees or the rock formations in a canyon, is his gold. He establishes his camp so that he might enjoy the views and spend time with the stars.

He’s quick to tell us that he is not a guide. He enjoys making his films and hopes that we enjoy them, too, but we are not to plan our back country trips according to his story or route. It is the very thing that we find compelling about him. He is clear. He is not invested in any way in what others do or think. He is creating his way. Your way is entirely up to you.

But he is wrong about one thing: he is, without trying, a guide. He is a master of simple appreciation. He’s stripped away the Walmart stampede and cuts through the luxury car illusion. With the wind gently blowing through his mic, standing on the shore of a mountain lake, and lets slip his quiet awe: “Sometimes I’m struck that this has been here every single day of my life. It was here before I was born. It will be here long after I’m gone.” He is a guide of perspective, a teacher of value, one of those rare beings that doesn’t get lost in the glitter and the noise.

read Kerri’s blog post about JOEY

Wash Your Spirit [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in a while, climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.” ~ John Muir

I did not know how badly my spirit needed a good washing until we were hiking the Ditch Trail. The aspen trees were just beyond their autumn peak so the mountainside popped with islands of orange and vibrant yellow. The only noise was the breeze murmuring through the trees, quaking the leaves. I literally felt the world of angry people drop away. I breathed deeply the air, the sun warmed me to the bone. The cleansing commenced. Silence of the mind.

Jim once told me that people go to the seashore to experience the eternal. The tides were coming and going long before your birth and will come and go long after you are gone. It puts everything into perspective.

The mountains are like that, too. They are perspective-givers. This week Horatio told me “This life is short so we better get out there and do what we want to do.” The mountains are in constant motion but our lifespans are too short to see the waves rising and falling. On our last day in Colorado, while climbing above timberline, I realized (again) that in my short life I have been less and less concerned with what I want to do and more and more interested in how I want to be. Standing at the edge of Lower Lost Man Lake with Kerri and Kirsten, a bitter wind watering my eyes, I wanted nothing more. The spirit washing continued.

Driving back to Wisconsin, we mused that our re-entry into the world of people would be difficult. It was nice to be out of the fighting and the lying and the aggression. It made me wonder how the mountains perceive us. Such a small creature steeped in a full-blown-delusion-story of having dominion over all things. “Hubris,” the mountain blinks and we are gone.

In the midst of our incessant search for value and meaning and achievement and worth and dominance, our bitter fight over whose story we will tell, the mountain issues an invitation. Come. Walk awhile. Exit the chatter and stand in this moment. What else do you seek?

read Kerri’s blog post about THE MOUNTAINS

Touch Nature [on Two Artists Tuesday]

“One touch of nature makes the whole world kin.” ― John Muir

Since we’ve exhausted every mountain climbing documentary ever made, we now end our days walking an epic trail. We’ve done some serious time on the Appalachian Trail, The Pacific Crest Trail, The Continental Divide Trail and, lately, our imaginary feet have, through the magic of hiker movies, walked every inch of the John Muir Trail.

In addition to our actual walks everyday, our end of evening film walks serve as our escape. It’s how we cope. Because my pals routinely tell me that they, like us, are exhausted or anxious or chronically unfocused, I’ve started the practice of asking them how they mentally get away amid the age of pandemic, social unrest, natural disaster, and pathological lie. My question is always met with a look (or sound) of surprise. Some read. Some play music. Some exercise. Some unplug from news and technology. All seek some time out-of-doors.

Mental get-a-way.

Hands in the dirt, feet on the path. The changing sky, getting caught in the rain or facing the sun, the smell of falling leaves or pine, those damn mosquitoes, cicada chorus, a hawk visitation…perspective givers, all.

Much of the madness chasing us through our days is nothing more than the horror story we unleash in our minds. Human beings are wildly creative and for proof look no further than the fear tales daily yammering through your thought. Amidst the presence of an actual pandemic, the imagination can let loose a full gallery of monsters.

We have legitimate monsters running rampant in our world. We also have imaginary monsters running roughshod in our brains. Sometimes it’s hard to distinguish between the two. Fortunately, there is a test that helps differentiate between them: the legitimate monsters, as a people (as human beings) we will always turn toward and face. The pandemic. Climate change. Injustice. The imaginary monsters we either run from or work hard to magnify. Ignore or amplify. Why is it that human beings argue so ardently for their fears?

The folks that deny the legitimate monsters have confused the legitimate monsters with the illusory. They believe the yuck that runs around in their minds is real. In order to validate the inner yuck requires an all out suppression of the actual threats like viruses, a warming globe, systemic racism. Conversely, dealing with the real challenges leaves no space for fantasy monsters like deep states and wild-hairy-democrats-drinking blood in under ground tunnels. That’s my theory.

A walk in the woods famously clears the mind of made-up-monsters. All of our devices and politics and power games seem silly when standing among the redwoods or on a beach with infinity breaking like waves and rushing the sand to meet your toes. There’s nothing like The Milky Way to make all those inner monsters seem trivial.

There’s nothing like cresting a mountain to affirm that we are – if nothing else – united in our smallness and passing lifetimes. It is only in our minds that we are possibly bigger than the mountain or more important than the seas.

read Kerri’s blog post about NATURE TRAIL