My Top Three Regrets

“Twenty yours from now you will be more disappointed by the things that you didn’t do than by the ones you did do.  So throw off the bowlines.  Sail away from the safe harbor.  Catch the trade winds in your sails.  Explore.  Dream.  Discover. “- Mark Twain

In honor of Mark Twain’s timeless wisdom, I have put this theory to the test by listing my top three regrets from twenty years ago.  Mind you, I was just six, so take it easy if they are a bit shallow.

# 1  Screwing up my chance to be Mickey Mouse’s best friend.

Image

What other dude do you know that has castles in Florida and California, a horde of good looking dames at his disposal (Pochahontas, Jasmine, hell even Minnie Mouse–the list goes on), and does practically nothing but live off his stellar reputation?

The most damning part is that I had a chance to make a brilliant impression and blew it.  Hard.

We entered the theme park.  I immediately lost my cool and began a despondent search for Mickey, “Mickey, Mickey, Mickey, where are you?”.  Little did I know that this woeful desperation was going to wreck any chance of a bromance with Mickey.

Finally, I found him.  And what did I do?  Ran up to him, hugged him, and handed him the most measly offering one could think of–my peanuts from the airplane.  I couldn’t think of anything better?? That was the last I saw of Mickey.

# 2  Becoming a Cowboys fan.

As Bill Simmons mentions in his “Rules of Fandom”, once you pick a team you are taken for eternity.  I picked the Cowboys at age six when I made the mistake of asking Dad who the good guys and the bad guys on the TV were.  The good guys were the Cowboys and the bad guys were the Eagles.  Now I am stuck with Jerry Jones’s plastic face forever.

# 3  Becoming a Cub Scout.

Why would anyone agree to wear a get-up like this?  And this wasn’t 2013, a time where it has become fashionable to wear a scarf with no regard for temperature.  Once in first grade, my teacher punished me for talking too much by taking away my privilege to wear my Cub Scout uniform to school.  I put on the best fake crying performance of my life.  I should have just quit right then and there.

Out with the Adage!

After this exercise, I now disagree with Twain’s adage.  All three of my regrets relate to things I did.

Based on my stellar research and reflection, I will throw Twain’s adage out with the bowlines and dive into a life of caution and conservatism.

America’s “Vague, Uncomfortable Disconnection”

“most Americans today feel vaguely and uncomfortably disconnected.”  Robert D. Putnam from Bowling Alone (2000)

Walk the bustling streets of a crowded city, sit in a coffee shop, and you can not help but notice pervasive emptiness.  Human disconnection permeates public space.

“New York-Style Fisting” 1

New York City is a place long known to produce deep-seated misanthropic feelings.  A year back, a friend moved there and was ecstatic upon witnessing his first  New York shouting match.  Two people, in no uncertain terms, publicly expressing enmity.  Or the time I visited myself.  Upon my friend’s excusable second request for a young woman’s name at a boisterous nightclub, the woman responded with, “Am I a f***ing broken record?!”.  In economic terms, the overwhelming supply of people abates demand for any single human being.

Where Did it Start?

Robert Putnam, in Bowling Alone, asserts that our “vague, uncomfortable disconnection” started with our parents generation.  I disagree.  Our disconnection started further back during the American Revolution.  A time when America’s forefathers ardently fought for America’s individuality.  This idea was then dispersed to the masses through the Civil Rights movement.  America’s idiosyncrasies began to manifest itself as “disconnection” when it was transformed by the creations of Silicon Valley.

To be fair, America has come far.  From the depths of Japanese internment in the 1940s and separate drinking fountains in the 1960s, we have created a culture where most feel comfortable asserting pride in their ethnic heritage.  Americans, as John Elway so concisely summarized, “feel comfortable in their own skin.”

However, the advent of “selfies” and a blizzard of self-promotional Facebook posts forces one to wonder if this explosion of self-identification and confidence has contributed to a declining social structure.  For each self-shot picture of yourself or promotional post about your buddy’s gig you have unwittingly contributed to the devaluation of human interaction.

Tinder Moments

A new app, Tinder, has acknowledged and embraced abundant supply of trivial human contact by creating a trading market based solely on physical attractiveness.  The value system is simplistic, binary.  Heart or no heart.  I have noticed (and maybe even been guilty of) people clicking blindly until they got bored.  We are eroding the value of human contact.

The Binary Relationship

We have erred in our belief that we can write code for the construction of a fulfilling relationship.  We have invested in the delusion that we can create digital shortcuts to human connection.

Human connections have little to do with fiber-optics and high-resolution images and everything to do with physical proximity.  What has happened to front porches, lemonade stands, kids playing in the park? And what about the archaic art of hand-written letters laced with smudges, illegibility, and other traces of human fallibility?  Why have we allowed binary expression to prevail?

Perhaps other generations felt this distance.  Perhaps this is something humans will grapple with forever.  Or maybe, just maybe, we need to limit constant spoon-sized servings of humanity and hold out for heaping, meaningful slices of kinship.

1 Trademark, Dwight Lutz

Big Bend Day 3- Just Don’t Collapse

After 24 draining miles, we still had 8 miles and 1,800 meters to climb.  Blue Creek Path, a winding trail through a dry creek bed, would be our path out.

IMG_1643

After two miles and multiple thoughts of collapsing, my little brother spotted massive caves adorning the rock walls above.  His initial request to scale the wall was not effective.  A combination of thirst and lack of oxygen flow to the brain resulted in an emphatic “hell no”.  After some hankering and a slow restoration of our senses, we agreed to fight the underbrush and make our way up the canyon.  While my older brother prudently hung back, Max and I climbed slippery sediment to a large, dark cave.

IMG_1701

Potential Bear Hibernaculum

We were uneasy as we imagined the animals inhabiting the dark shelter.  In a dim-witted last effort, we pressed on.

IMG_1712

Dark cave, why not?

We found a sprawling empty cave.  The enormity and dark shadows of the ancient room mesmerized us.  We basked in the shade and echoes of the immense caves and then headed back towards the trail.  Max taught me how to slide down slippery rock using my left foot as a rudder and we scooted right down the mountain.

IMG_1708

Hey Max

The next five miles nearly brought all of us to our breaking point.  In a moment of weakness and spite towards the unending upward terrain, I shouted something to the effect of, “make it stop!” and kicked a powerless shrub.  Heat, rocks, and elevation will change a man.

Still, the great expanse of this place captured our imaginations.  The scale and distance of Big Bend alters the way you think about limitations.  Land, rocks unending.  Sky floats forever.  Time stands still at the altar of infinite space.

As we reached the downhill portion of our journey, we reflected on an amazing test of our resolve and the unmatched beauty we witnessed.  We even appreciated the ten-mile section of the hike through the barren desert flats.  We will always grasp the effect of pervasive dirt, wind, and sun on life.  We now fathom the great oppression and beauty of miles of nothing.

IMG_1609

Big Bend Day 2- Sand, sand, cactus, cactus

“It has been said, and truly, that everything in the desert either stings, stabs, stinks, or sticks.  You will find the flora here as venomous, hooked, barbed, thorny, prickly, needled, saw-toothed, hairy, stickered, mean, bitter, sharp, wiry, and fierce as the animals.  Something about the desert inclines all living things to harshness and acerbity.” Edward Abbey, The Great American Desert 1977

Fast-moving low clouds filled the canyon.  Any fog from our angst-ridden sleep dissipated as we soaked in the mystical display.

IMG_1644

Low clouds over the valley

Around mid morning we reached the basin and entered ten miles of sand and desert that would erode our willpower step by step, grain by grain.

The sun beat down on us for hours and the weight of our water and food began to take its toll on our shoulders and feet.  Eventually, I focused in on my brother’s paws, watching them trample rock after rock.  I hardly looked up and when I did I was dejected by the slow-moving vista.  Miles of harsh flora stood between us and Homer-Wilson Ranch, our resting place for the night.

IMG_1652

I’ll always be a Texan

The only signs of life were an occasional deer track, some baked horse turds, and a large tarantula.  We felt frivolous for worrying about monsters of the forest when we saw so few critters.

By late afternoon, the drudgery of the desert had us disenchanted, openly questioning the use of this thirty-two mile trek.  In travel, and often life, you must pass the point of initial frustration to gather new experience.  We pushed onward for a few miles until we reached Homer-Wilson Ranch.

A spectacular red and orange sunset glistened off the towering canyon walls.  Behind us we saw the distant peaks of the Chisos Mountains stretching far into Mexican territory.  We headed up a hill and watched daylight slowly pale.  We scanned upward and saw the black silhouette of a man with a Cowboy hat striking a contemplative pose atop the cliff.  A perfect caricature of the American West made the long walk worth it, even if the man turned out to be somebody’s humdrum grandpa and not John Wayne.

IMG_1682

Here’s the payoff

Big Bend Part 2- A Dark, Starry Night

We arrived around 3 pm.  My older brother walked to the Park Ranger office to secure a park permit.

Shortly thereafter, I wandered in and stared at an ominous life-sized mountain lion replica.  I read the facts: 139 sightings this year.  I moved over to the book section where my paranoia feasted on a book entitled “Death in Big Bend.”  I read an unfortunate excerpt of a man who caught a mountain lion stalking his campsite.  The man threw rocks in the cat’s direction and shouted profanities.  Why they felt the need to inform us of the man’s profane language was beyond me.  As if rugged pumas have tender sensibilities easily offended by coarse language.

Long story short, the man survived only to strand himself on a lonely icy peak with no way down the following year.  Yes, Big Bend is perilous.  Thirst, mountain lions, and bears are just a sample of the fates that may befall a man.

We drove a few water jugs and some food to a stash point that we aimed to reach the following night.  The stash point was just a bear box atop a canyon gazing over an ocean of desert terrain.

We hit the trail at four pm, well aware that daylight was fast evaporating.  Our joking references to savage puma attacks did not seem as funny when a glance at the map revealed that we would be searching for a safe plot of land in complete darkness, guided only by headlamps and whatever crude judgment we had acquired over a handful of other wilderness hikes.

IMG_1677

Darkness fast approaching

Around six pm we were enshrouded by black and more stars than I cared to count.  Darkness is a different entity here.  The closest full-sized town is at least one hundred miles and Ft. Stockton barely qualifies as a human inhabitation.

IMG_1683

And….curtains

We lurched forward through a canyon bestriding a dry creek bed.  The moon lit the canyon just enough for us to realize that our surroundings looked nearly identical to the big cat exhibits at the zoo.  Giant rocks, light shrubbery, and taller trees dotted the bowl-like enclosure we stubbornly trekked.

Another check of the map revealed that we would need to settle for the first flat spot we found or risk several miles through a shoddily marked desert trail starting at the basin below.  We flailed around the brush until we found an even piece of ground.  We pitched our tent and tied our food to trees some 400 meters away so as to avoid collateral damage from opportunistic creatures.

I hardly slept.  Each rustle, each broken twig, awakened me.  All throughout, my little brother slumbered away.  After what seemed like days, morning light arrived.  We survived and, just as importantly, our food and water stood intact.