Kurt Bell

A life of courage, joy and independence.

Going Alone





A Life of Courage, Joy and Independence
By Kurt Bell – 2017

Be you still, be you still, trembling heart;
Remember the wisdom out of the old days:
Him who trembles before the flame and the flood,
And the winds that blow through the starry ways,
Let the starry winds and the flame and the flood
Cover over and hide, for he has no part
With the lonely, majestical multitude.
-W. B. Yeats

It takes a tranquil and untroubled mind
to roam freely across all parts of life.
-Seneca

Sections:

  1. Introduction
  2. My Muse is a Corpse
  3. The Path of Wildness
  4. Going Alone
  5. The Good Life
  6. The Stoic Life
  7. The Anxiety Hike
  8. My god is a little god
  9. Recommended Reading

INTRODUCTION

Greetings from a man in the past, with a sincere interest in your future.

My name is Kurt Bell. I’m fifty-three years old as I write these words, which is important and relevant, as I do not think I could have written them at any other age. This book could not have been produced in my twenties, or in any decade prior, or to follow. This is a story to be told from my fifties, and my one chance at describing the landscape and perspective of my life, as seen from this particular vantage and time. This is my “Season of Philosophy,” which is my way of describing a period of life for recording ideas and stories which are reflective and cumulative of the best lessons so far lived and discovered. This book is an effort at sharing my experience and advice with those to come, and who might be inclined to sit and read a bit from an aging man who will be gone from life much sooner than he’d like. For, despite my various trials and challenges, I do dearly love being alive, and it saddens me to know I’ll soon die and pass away forever to nothing. Saying this isn’t a forecast or prognosis of eminent death, but instead, is simply a sober reminder of the reality that life so often ends when we least expect, and sometimes just when we’re at last ready to live.

I wrote this book with the young in mind; particularly, the young who are just now waking into adulthood with questions about the life they’ve found themselves living, and the future which yawns ahead like a strange road to uncertainty. I was in this same position once, from about age sixteen to forty-five, which was a long time of seemingly aimless drift. I’d like to help you shorten this period, and make better use of the precious days I believe you and I each only get once.

It took me a long time break free of life’s drift and settle into what I like to call a life of courage, joy and independence. There’s no gimmick here. I have no ulterior motive. I don’t believe in an immortal soul, and therefore have no interest in saving mine or yours. However, I do sincerely want to be helpful, and I’d like to help you enjoy a better life, and begin living this better life sooner. I won’t ask you to believe anything I say, though I will explain the reasoning behind the arguments I propose. Let me start by sharing a little of my own background, and some of the events which contributed to the challenges I faced, and have mostly overcome.

I arrived at young adulthood on my own. At age sixteen my family was in the process of breaking up, and I was operating as an adolescent without much adult guidance or oversight. I was lucky though that a high school teacher at the time introduced me to a book titled Walden, by the author Henry David Thoreau. This happened after our English class had been assigned to read The Call of the Wild, by Jack London, and I’d expressed to the teacher how much I’d enjoyed the story, especially the narrative description of wilderness, and the experience of life in the wild for both man and beast. I remember this same teacher taking time from her duties to walk me to the school library to locate and offer me a copy of Walden, which proved a pivotal event in my life, as the book opened my eyes to a way of living and thinking which closely aligned to some inner interests I’d barely become aware were developing within me. Walden helped me to find the courage to venture out and alone onto my own road, to…follow the beat of my own drummer, as Thoreau would describe, and to allow myself to live life in better accord with my own inclination and native aptitudes. It was the going alone bit which moved me most, as this provided an example in courage to strike out without companionship, aid, or comfort, and to take risks I might not have otherwise taken. I took Thoreau’s example to heart, and began my own solo meanderings and living in emulation of a lifestyle I thought well suited to who I was, and who I wanted to become.

My first attempts at Thoreau’s lifestyle were a few solo hikes into the mountains surrounding our humble ranch near Lake Hughes, California. My family lived then in a very rural location, on ten acres of land a few miles up Pine Canyon Road from the community of Lake Hughes, sixty miles north of Los Angeles. Our home was surrounded by chaparral wilderness, and going alone required very few footsteps from our front door. I spent a lot of time walking alone then in the wild, escaping perhaps from the confusion of my teens, looking for something, not yet ready to discover what wasn’t there in the wild to meet me.

The remains of our home at Lake Hughes are still there, burned out after the fire which destroyed everything in the late 1980s. The foundation and remaining bits of our lives at “Moonshadow Ranch” are located on the north side of the road, down in the wash, just a quarter mile downstream from what remains of an old highway rest area. Though our home site can easily be missed, the roadside rest is still evident by a dirt turnout and parking area on the north side of the road amidst a cluster of tall pines. Our family bought Moonshadow – which included a simple, one-bedroom home on ten acres of land – for $20,000 dollars in 1976. We bought it at the tail end of a family journey we called “The Odyssey,” when our traveling home was a converted Frito Lay potato chip delivery truck, and we wandered the United States and Canada searching for our collective selves. It would be a mistake to overlook the influence The Odyssey had on my life, which in many ways played as important a role in setting precedent for the importance of adventure as Thoreau’s model of independence and self-reliance at Walden. After The Odyssey – and after I gained the relative independence of a driver’s license and a car – I began venturing further out on my own, even transforming my first car – a 1970 Camaro Rally Sport – into a miniature motorhome. I did this by removing all but the driver’s seat, and fashioning a bed, dresser and storage cabinet into the places where the removed seats had been. When I was done, I’d created a little muscle-car motorhome which was quite comfortable for my solo adventures; though honestly, I only used it once or twice for this purpose. In fact, I found hitchhiking to be a more interesting and reliable way of getting around; and I was lucky to enjoy a short hitchhiking career before hitchhikers disappeared from the American landscape.

I began hitchhiking during the last two years of high school, initially just in California, though gradually I made my way halfway across the USA and up nearly into Canada. I enjoyed three or four very long solo hitchhiking adventures during this time, where I literally went with the wind, and slept out in the open, with very little money, resources or access to communication. These experiences (mini Odysseys, really) had a great influence in dulling my apprehension about going alone. Today, I can thank those hitchhiking trips for development of the nerve and gumption I’d need to later simply walk away from the sane and secure; to venture alone into wild places without a map, a friend or any certitude regarding finding my way back. This early life path I was on, of ever extending adventure, of going further and farther into stranger places, always alone, would likely have led me to disaster, and perhaps an early death, or a solitary life of social irrelevance, if it hadn’t been for the institution of Chaffey Community college in Alta Loma, California, and a professor named David Bixler, as well as the small band of soul mates with whom I shared a few years between high school and university.

David Bixler introduced me to Biology, as well as the more academic side of Thoreau, and the perspective of natural history, and the methods and processes of science. David Bixler awoke the grown-up empiricist in me, and sent me forward on a life of reasoned discovery, with an eye and an interest in the frontiers of what we know, and why we should care about what is true, and not just what is comforting, traditional, sanctioned or popular. Another important event at this time of my life was discovering the public broadcasting TV series, Cosmos, written and hosted by Carl Sagan. This program, and its companion book, won me over fully to the paradigm of science, and ignited a flame of interest in the natural world which burns as strong today as when I felt my first shutter of awe at the recognition of deep time, and the processes by which our species has come to know ourselves and our place in the universe.

The path I chose as a young man was risky. Going alone is a hazard at any age. Go too far…and you may not get back. And even if you return, some essential part may remain in the place you found, a place in mind, a place alone, a place you may never find means to relate to others who have never been so far afield without the comfort and guidance of maps, compass, companions or gods. The people who find these solitary places may appear eccentric or mad, describing realities which don’t seem very real to the rest of us, which may only be real in the world they discovered. I sensed early this risk in going alone, and took measures to protect myself from going too far or too long. The most significant decision was my choice to settle and marry a young woman whom I love, respect and admire, and who represents and lives a life very different from anything I’d known. Likewise, was I to her, and together we formed a symbiotic union of stability and adventure which has served us well for thirty years.

Over time I finished high school, went to college, got married, pursued a career, paid my taxes, and raised a family. I’ve managed to fulfill most of the expected roles and responsibilities of a man of my time. On the other hand, I’ve also lived another, quite different life. A life lived in pursuit of the noble goals suggested by Thoreau, the example of the Odyssey, and the fond remembrance of my youthful adventures. Through this other life I discovered and developed another side of myself, became the man who Thoreau suggested I might be, and lived a lifestyle which has been a source of much satisfying personal fulfillment.

I wrote this book in appreciation of Thoreau’s Walden, and other similar books which have influenced me over the years, and which I have identified at the end of the book in the Recommended Reading section. It is my hope that perhaps my book can prove helpful to a young someone like myself, who finds themselves suddenly awake and conscience in a universe of wonder, and not sure just how to proceed, or how to best spend their time. I won’t try and tell anyone exactly what to do, though I will share objectives and principals which I have found helpful. Nor can I offer companionship, as the path I recommend isn’t wide enough for two, and must always be followed alone.

Now a note about how this book was written, the characters within, and the formatting approach in putting the whole thing together. I wrote Going Alone between 2013 and 2017, between the tail end of my life in Japan, and the start of my new life in the USA. The book was compiled from various journals, which in turn were composed in bits and pieces, via tweet-sized sentences and paragraphs which I pecked out on my mobile phone before uploading to my personal blogs on WordPress and Facebook. I wrote nearly everything while on the move and adventuring, usually while walking and hiking, sometimes at the very edge of Internet connectivity. Each of the uploads was hashtagged with a theme, which in turn became the sections of this book:

  • #mymuseisacorpse
  • #ThePathofWildness
  • #GoingAlone
  • #TheGoodLife
  • #TheStoicLife
  • #mygodisalittlegod

The blurbs are rarely related, though sometimes there is a small story being told in the process of updates, which may become clear if the blurbs are read in their original order of upload. It’s possible to find the original blurbs, in their original order, along with any associated photos as well as date and time stamps, by referring to my various Facebook pages. In particular, my Facebook page softypapa which is the place where nearly all my writing did initially appear. The section of this book titled The Path of Wildness was developed entirely during my years in Japan, and is essentially my first attempt at the larger book. However, the story was not complete then. The ideas not fully considered or fleshed out. It took coming to America, and my time alone in the desert, to complete the story. The section titled Anxiety Hike is from a blog post of the same name, and was added to provide a guide to anyone who might want to experience for themselves one of the hikes which was the forum and source of inspiration for so much of this book’s content. If you decide to give this hike a try, just remember that it’s best to go alone.

This book includes some characters such as the Muse, the Ghosts of Siberia, The Soulless Beasts, The Desert Killer, and my little god (intentionally lower case). These characters are, of course, fictional, and their appearance in my writing rather surprised me as I never set out to create any of them. It simply turned out that some ideas were better conveyed through the dynamic of imagined interactions with characters whom I could attribute my inspiration, my fear and my doubt, and who become effective foils to my own reflection on their character and attributes. I really enjoyed seeing these characters develop and take a role, not only in my writing, but also in my life. And though I never fooled myself into thinking they were real, I did greatly enjoy imagining what they might think or do in various life circumstances which helped me to explore these topics better, and in new and creative ways. Place names are nearly all made up. The Deep Water Wilderness and Volcano Wilderness as well as places like The Sandman’s Bed and The Edge of Deep Water are my own names for places I either didn’t know the real name of, or which I renamed for my own purposes. Siberia, Bagdad and Campo #1 are real places.

There are two versions of this book: the annotated and unannotated copies. This is the unannotated version, which consists solely of the posts “blurbs” I uploaded to my various blogs, along with this introduction section, as well as a brief introduction at the start of each section. There are no explanatory words between the journal blurbs, which stand alone without apology or excuse. Most of this book therefore is made up of writing exactly as I produced it. All I’ve done by way of editing is to segregate the hash tagged content into associated sections (and removed the hashtags). I do plan to produce an annotated version of this book which will include the posts, along with explanatory content sharing the context and circumstance behind my words. Though I think this might be helpful to some in understanding my meaning, I rather prefer this unannotated version, which is a more direct expression of the ideas I wanted to record and share.

So, here we go. Welcome to my book, and the result of my life’s effort of fulfilling the suggestion and challenge offered by Thoreau in Walden. This book is my own answer and homage to that great author’s masterpiece of expression of the bold experiment he made of his life, and the example he has become to so many. I visited Thoreau’s grave in 1998, and while there I left a small pebble atop his resting place, as had so many others before me, a simple homage to a man and his creative effort which has meant so much to me, and has helped me to be stronger and more courageous in my desire to emulate his example. Now I leave a somewhat larger pebble to Henry David Thoreau in the form of this book. A simple gesture of appreciation for the life of courage, joy and independence which I have found in large part by way of his example.


MY MUSE IS A CORPSE

This first section chronicles the three-week experience of having my desert inspiration follow me home to the city. I had no idea how long it would stay, though I’m glad I could record a little of what it had to say while with me. This experience began on March 4th, 2017 and was complete on March 23rd. I’ve enjoyed a long relationship with my muse, which tends to arrive suddenly, urgently demanding I record my thoughts before she withdraws and leaves me with nothing more. I first met my muse in my early 20’s, living alone on an empty stretch of beach in Northern California. The muse has since been with me always, through every decade of my life, speaking through me via the mediums of poetry, prose, art and video. She visits at her leisure and pleasure, though I’ve found activities like solo adventure, listening to music, and the moderate application of alcohol have a way of luring her out. Though she never stays for long, and if I fail to listen, or write down what she has to say, when she’s saying it, then her message will surely be lost. I’ve never fooled myself into thinking that my muse is anything other than my own creative spirit. I know there is no supernatural entity which visits inspiration upon me from time to time. I’m aware that this creativity is subject to my own life, living and well-being, and that my muse will die with me, or perhaps even one day falter and grow silent when my mental energies which produce her begin to fail (this process has already begun) or my will and interest shift to elsewhere or nowhere at all.

The following words are the product of my muse; spoken to me at odd times, requiring I step aside from work to write down what I hear, or pull to the side of the road to do the same. They tell a story in a way; in bits and pieces; ideas strung together over time, revealing a train of thought buoyant of life, and catalyzed of action.

~

It’s flattery to call my muse a corpse, as she is so much less; having never been alive, she has no still heart, no snuffed out conscious, no darkened lattice of memory, and certainly no legacy of love and caring to echo through time in life’s wake. I call her dead by means of convenience, to call attention to what she has not, to highlight how far she is removed from the dearest possessions of life, and to enshrine her grave indifference with the startling, fearful aspects of what cannot possibly love, and has more in common with sand than the buoyant, striving, animate community of life.

~

My muse is blind, deaf, mute and dead. She is the inorganic fact of reality. The inanimate ambition of entropy. The chill, dark waste between the stars. The uncaring substrate of physics and chemistry; bound, secured and destined towards some emotionless mathematical end.

~

Crossing now from the place where I share life with humanity, into the vast void of Indifference. At once I find my own voice again. At last the muse returns.

~

Yesterday’s long desert sojourn was a new experience of Indifference. A recognition that the cold shoulder of nature is made of stone.

~

Yesterday’s desert hike left little impression at the time. Almost a disappointment, in fact. Yet in hindsight I re-see those far and empty places. My thoughts come back to them over and again.

~

I’m haunted by this past weekend’s hike like no hike before. I’m pretty sure I went further than I should. Deeper than I thought I could. My reward, the deepest draught of Indifference my mind can yet withstand. Such an awful, fearful, terrible truth.

~

My muse is a nihilist, whispering cold words describing the eternity of empty beyond death. She’ll meet me only in lonesome places, like a conspirator or a thief. But really, she’s a confidant, and perhaps my most honest friend; though she laughs at my fear, and mocks my every vain hope.

~

It’s curious how the muse was nearly silent during my adventure last week in the Deep Water wilds. She normally only talks to me when I’m alone, and at risk, in very wild places. Instead, she followed me home this time, to whisper barely audible thoughts throughout the week; touching my shoulder during meetings, suggesting ideas during my commute, smiling at me through a distant crowd. I wonder how long she’ll stay? Why she now talks to me here? What brought her in from Indifference?

~

It seems my muse did not follow me back from the wild to inspire my words, but instead to catalyze my will. How much easier to do right while hints of the void and empty swirl behind my head, and memory of the black mountains of Indifference loom across the wasteland of dry Earth.

~

The thing which followed me out of the wild this week, which I’ve been calling my muse, isn’t a ghost, or a spirit, or a force or anything beyond the scope of my mind. It’s simply a lingering impression, the sting following a hard slap in the face, the cold, deep, indifferent reality of nature. A lasting effect of meeting the dead gaze of a universe which doesn’t care, doesn’t feel, and doesn’t know. I hope this impression lasts.

~

Almost went to the wild today. I decided instead to attend to a few domestic life necessities. That’s alright. It’s not like wildness gives a damn if I come to visit. The dead winds howl across the Indifferent badlands, against and over the cold black mountains, through and along silent sand washes, and twist and bend the dry, thorny foliage, with or without my attendant, failing gaze.

~

The melancholy peace, of a solitary walk in the deep desert, has found footing in my everyday sojourn. The dull, dim, yet alert and living eyes. The sensitive hearing. The slow, purposeful stride towards nowhere in particular, along unseen and unmarked paths. And best of all, the rich and empty thinking which comes of lonesome, yet not lonely, passage through strange, unpeopled places.

~

A principal of deserts is that winds blow into their depths, and point the way towards deeper desolation, and the arid, disinterested heart of the wastes. While standing upon a broad open plain at night, invisible mountains miles distant on either side, their outline visible only by the interruption of starlight through the cold, thin atmosphere, a slight veil between the bare, stony ground and outer space, I shiver alone and cold, feeling the dead desert breath draw me in like a tide.

~

The scope of my control extends to my actions and reactions, and the consequences they might entail.

~

Death is the realization of that creeping Indifference which sweeps consciousness and being aside like fallen leaves, and carries both memory and love along into the darkened night.

~

To the quiet mind Indifference looms. No wonder then our myriad and incessant manufacture and attendance to distraction.

~

The deep value of a solitary desert walk is the sobering recognition of a landscape and circumstance without any real escape. For though we may return to our warm bed and our fellows, the memory lingers of the cold night winds under the naked stars, and the blistering sunlight across a vast landscape without refuge. Such impressions gain deep footing and purchase within the mind, but only when we go alone, and only when we go so far as to glimpse the very real and near point of no return.

~

To a mind which has risen above fortune, both the necessary and superfluous actions of the day become like attendance to a disinterested game of chess. For while our mind and body must periodically engage the game and move the pieces, our deeper attendance is to matters more worthy of our true character and aim.

~

Do you attend your dying breath in this present moment? How much more worthy a pursuit than philosophy. I’d rather reckon each exhalation, in deep fastidious awe, than the gilded words of the holy and wise. Indeed, if their wisdom be true, they’d silence their speech and mind in mute attendance of their own mortality, and the consequent vista thus revealed.

~

The fallow field of the well-lived life is the time between riches, fame and security. A time to cultivate a more true and honest harvest.

~

The price of leisure is attendance to the fact of who we are and the choices we’ve made. It’s no wonder then we sometimes choose for ourselves the slave’s abject distraction.

~

The sober subject of our life’s decline arrives so often late to the feast, and long before the diner has enjoyed their fill.

~

There’s a similar sensation of precious anxiety which results of descending forty feet beneath the sea on a single breath, or hiking four miles off trail into a stark and barren wild. But only if you go alone.

~

Not only the fact of humanity, but all trace or reminder of our race, must be left behind before we can truly sense there is no God.

~

Reason is the arbiter of virtue. What other force can provide a more accurate or worthy measure?

~

I have this plan which I’ll never fulfill, for I am a family man and must respect the sensitive conscience of those who love and care about me. However, if I were alone in life, and received my physician’s forecast of pending death, and were to have this council affirmed by a qualified another, then I’d make provision for a last and final journey into the wild; the desert of course, to find my end in the wastes, alone and without succor, to face down Indifference in its own awful light; stark and devoid, pale and blinding, cold and incapable of care. I wonder how I could handle such a last adventure? Could my mind bear with peace such a truth, even as the light and caring of my own being flickers and fades into the dark, cold void.

~

My muse seems lately at ease with her new surroundings. A transplant of the desert wastes to the living suburbs. Her mute voice speaks as always of her home in the wind and the night, remembers the empty badlands, the colored soils, and the unending progress of time. She looks around her new surroundings, dead eyes seeing nothing past the here and now; no regard for humanity, no love of virtue, or charity, no preference or admiration of what is alive or dead. No wonder she seems so at home…when I now realize she was here all along.

~

How like a hermit crab I have become… So insular and self-contained. My needs of course extend to society. Indeed, I’d die without my fellows. And I like to hope my fellows might need me in some small way. Though beyond the sustenance of my person, I find now ample nourishment for the mind and spirit in such dull pursuits as the marking of time, and the vain cataloging of the many treasures I am so fortunate not to possess.

~

I had an interesting talk with a friend today where I confessed my nihilism, and found comfort in not giving a damn. Such is how the serpent consumes its own tail.

~

Hiking in the desert with my daughter is like sailing a boat upon the sea with a long tether tied to the dock.

~

Emily and I visited the human femur I discovered in the desert last year. It’s still there, despite the fact I’d notified the police. Maybe they didn’t find it? Perhaps they gave up the search? After all, the bones are literally in the middle of nowhere. It’s possible they determined the bones aren’t human, though this seems unlikely given the absence of large wildlife in the area, and the perfect match to human anatomy. I was rather surprised to note how much the bone had deteriorated since my last visit. Further proof that our essence is essentially animated dust. I plan to call the Sheriff’s office again and offer to take them to the spot.

~

It was strange being in the deep desert today without my dead muse. Where could she have been? I suspect it’s because I didn’t go alone. In fact, I know that’s the cause. I did see signs of her presence in the wind, and across the darkened landscape, and in moments of subtle extrospection. Though to hear her cold words rise within my mind I must remember to first deny myself the warmth of any companion, and to face fully and alone the fact of all mortal dissolution and oblivion. Only then will the muse speak to me her mute inspiration.

~

Though my muse is not alive she nevertheless enjoys some apparent will and motive force. Her composition is maintained of gravity, and her limbs and appendages are driven of starlight and wind. Her attitudes and moods are as varied as the composition of rocks and soils, and her intellect and modesty the product of vast space and deep time. Some very small part of her does have an organic pulse, this is true, though this soft rhythm is utterly drowned out by the roar and cacophony of nature’s inanimate rush towards entropy. Though my muse is not alive, her words and law-like meaning nevertheless ring clear in my brain whenever I muster the courage to look past the warm company of fellowship, and the reassuring clamor of minds, to the intense dark beyond the firelight, and the deep abyss beyond life.

~

It’s interesting how my daughter did not share my fear in the wild yesterday. She seemed at ease in a place I’ve practically run from in the past, that slippery granite mountaintop where I first caught sight of the hidden heart of the Volcano Wilderness. I felt an echo of that old fear yesterday as we ate our lunch together upon that windswept peak, gazing over and down into the place where my dead muse lives. I’m confident her comfort was in part a result of our company, and I do wonder what she might have thought or felt there alone, in a place so silent my daughter at one time commented she could hear her own heartbeat. Would the muse speak to her? Would my daughter feign have never come? Does her young mind perhaps require more years to better apprehend what wasn’t there in the desert wastes? Is it possible such absence simply goes unseen to those unfamiliar with its hollow circumstance and empty aspect?

~

My father’s legacy. All those worries. At the bottom of the sea.

~

The wild places of the California desert have proven so much more potent a fount of inspiration than the mountains of Japan. I suspect though that this has more to do with the characteristics of desert than any condition of place or quality of time.

~

How blind I was to the desert muse before Japan. Though I could never find her voice while I was away in that exotic land, surer still her absence had I never gone. If I’d remained in Japan my sight would have continued its myopic plunge into the familiar, the green and wet mountains and valleys there rising and widening in scale and contrived importance, ossifying at last into a world view of comprehensible dimension and satisfying importance. I would have at last died in my course there, satisfied of my living career, placated by my narrow world view, an invalid, comforted by my own deep ignorance. Since returning to America though, I face the familiar with alien eyes and foreign design. There is no more latent comfort in what was once all I knew. My weary eyes strain to discover the familiar. Old brain circuits crackle to life, mending failed, flawed or erred mental connections with material of another land and culture, values and meaning of a second and quite completed life. Tired limbs now become limber of the necessity of building this new life again, and old muscle memory is replaced with fresh reflex, guided of matured control and sensibility. It is with this reborn self that I have encountered and connected with my desert muse, found her fleeting across the wastes, utterly lost and invisible to the man I was, and was again; visible only now, as such a one as I could surely never meet or know over the course of just a single lifetime.

~

The faculty of choice is most keenly exercised at rough and unexpected life juncture. Does misfortune rise in our way? Does death approach? Is it not now in our power to exercise discretion and judgment in recognizing what is within our control? Have we not utter claim over our thoughts, actions and reactions? Do we not possess the ability to watch with equanimity as our fortunes rise and fall again, correcting our course with judicious turns of the rudder, aiming for the open sea yet breathing calmly as we become ruined upon the rocks and plunge beneath the waves? Our opinion and judgment of things lie outside the pale of all external forces besides ignorance, disease and death, which may first weaken and then destroy our resolve and capacity to stand. But until that time we’ve power enough to select and will our own footing. To observe and recognize the vast machinery of the universe’s headlong tumble towards tomorrow, and to know both the scope and scale of our meager influence.

~

As I have no one to pray to, I’ll instead suggest an admonition to myself: Let my footsteps be slow today, to delay the world in its orbit, and force time to better measure and dispense its precious ration. Let my mealtime portions be small, let me endure the healthy want of food in proportion to my usual excess. Let me then grow lean and strong as a consequence, better able to survive, endure, and appreciate the true suffering of those without. And let my thoughts be very few and small, just some simple words this hour and the next; ideas sufficient to my true need, or better still, my honest lack thereof.

~

What philosophy, maxim or dogma can withstand the scrutiny of solitude in deep, wild places? In fact, if we linger too long alone then madness may steal the show under the guise of sagacity. Be careful then to first uncover and refine truth within the bustling tumult of everyday life, to then temper what is found in the cold light of empty nowhere. Such understanding then is forged of humanity, hardened of nature and activated of our improved subsequent living. Tell no one what you’ve found, yet answer honestly every pointed inquiry.

~

How much better a retiring mind than a retiring body. The first may be attained at any stage in life, at least so far our philosophy permits. The latter only upon leisure, and the gross accumulation of sustaining resource. Liberate the mind at once through the discipline of reason, and you may then work hard to the end of your days in contented leisure.

~

What number of individuals is required to tame the wild? Two. No more are needed, though greater numbers are certainly better to this end. No individual, no matter their will, resolve nor strength, can ever civilize even the humblest blade of grass. Only in company, or better still society, can this great feat be achieved.

~

What opportunity this? Does my leg ache? Fortitude. Does my neighbor complain? Patience and an attentive ear. Have I lost my job, or reputation, or security? Resilience and apathy. Does my life now come to an end? Resignation to facts, and a loving smile to those from whom we must now depart.

~

The penalty of actually incurring the risks which appear so present and fearful during youth, is less terrible than the punishment of their aversion, which must be sustained and borne when we are old and our opportunities have passed. Youth is the time to assuage mid-life regret.

~

Occupied with distraction from cradle to grave, our lives pass with little notice or regard of the wilderness void which is our eternal, inanimate home. Our certain dissolution and apparent finality of being is masked with unreasoned promise of hidden tomorrows, filled with answered hopes, happy reunion and joyous reconciliation. We turn to death in our time chanting “There is more. There is more!” while the evident nothing envelops us like a tide. Our deceived corpse, no longer capable of care, dissolves to matter and energy; our last, utterly conscious-less act, the slight tipping of the scale in the balance of entropy. How better, or perhaps more desperate, our lives, should we give up the unfounded myth that there is something more?

~

Tempered consumption forms a firm bedrock to philosophy. Observe appetite with caution, as you would any passion; sample it to determine if it is mean, base or sound. If wholesome, partake less than you’d like; leave always the appetite wanting; become strong through willful resistance. If our temptation is unsavory, empty, or lacking in virtue, then leave it aside altogether; starve instead on a feast of fortitude.

~

Picking my way carefully down the mountainside. Did I really climb so far? Was it really then so steep? My declining thoughts are a mix of the inspiration of the lofty vision my progress had attained, coupled with concern about the darkness in the valley below, growing deeper with every minute, creeping slowly towards me up the mountain. Such a long day it’s been. Such a fine day for climbing. How did I lose track of the time? Instead of photos now; I choose instead to simply think.

~

Credulity puts on airs with the feigned dignity of dogma and the false virtue of faith. Better to go through life without answers than to believe without good reason.

~

Very soon my life will fold in on itself and wink out like the dim candle it has always been. Yet my muse will remain. Being dead, and having never been alive, my muse has the capacity to persist beyond me. She will carry no memory of me besides the fading influence of my words and deeds. My muse cannot miss me, speak my name, or remember me to another. My anonymity is scarcely more secure in the grave than when my pulse was beating and I had some voice to be known. My dead muse keeps perfect secrets; is incapable of telling truth or lies, is the perfect confidant.

~

I’ve declined to a place where my poverty is secure from fortune. I’ve so little of real worth that my desire for more is fully satiated. I owe no mortgage to reason, own outright my capacity to choose, pay no tax on apathy, and wield discretion like a sovereign. This outpost of peace was always near within my recognized ignorance. Easily attained though the journey required fifty years. I owe thanks to Seneca, Epictetus, Aurelius, Emerson, Thoreau, Sagan, Attenborough and Bixler for suggesting the way.

~

I’ve begun the process of watching an acquaintance fail in business. It’s a venture in which he’s likely gambled everything, and thus has everything to lose. I’ve been there myself, twice, and the memory is so real it’s almost tactile. I laid up late last night staring at the ceiling, thinking of him. I’ll bet he was staring at the ceiling too. Just like I used to do. Beginning to drown. Going down through a form of death which isn’t really dying.

~

Apathy arms us with the same indifference which the universe wields in the execution of its mindless purpose. We stride through life bestowing benevolence in true proportion to our capacity; sharing unalloyed generosity and love, rich in the giving, expecting nothing in return.

~

Returning from solitary adventures in the mountains of Japan and the rugged landscape persisted in my head like an intimate and cloistered hideaway. The desert however, unfolds in the mind like a great and empty map; devoid of sanctuary, exposed and utterly impersonal.

~

The will of apathy is neither mean nor small attention, but freedom from undue investiture; to apply our focus and efforts wisely, to make good and useful ends of our days, to be a benefit to mankind, and not burn our energies over useless kindle and conflagration.

~

The optimist’s bright luster cannot be dulled by apathy, nor their charity, kindness or philanthropy. Indeed, these qualities are enhanced and made potent through a distilled and refined focus; the narrow and distinct possession of mind which comes of knowing what is, and what is not, within our own control.

~

Our true, and perhaps only, essential purpose is etched into our being with the imperative of desire, and the awful threat of living and dying alone. It’s a mindless drive, truly requiring no thought. We live our purpose on auto-pilot; fulfilling its mandate with the satisfaction of every instinctual whim. An easy way to live, and a satisfying way to die.

~

Life is orphaned from the start. Our progenitor having more in common with a stone than the loving parent we might hope to deserve. We stand and gaze across the wild for some sign of kin and kind, our eyes drawn at last to the sky and stars in hazy remembrance of dim, indifferent origins.

~

We awake! Our fresh senses alive and new and electric with perception. At once we begin our locomotion; stepping and grabbing and speaking. We’re never lost, not for a moment, though our minds may despair of purpose or meaning or direction or worthy end. Indeed, a deep mandate has the reins. A singular, worthy end. There’s but one direction, one meaning that really matters, a consolidated purpose, driving and quite distinct. All artifact speaks to this one end. All else is abstract substance and substrate, compost and waste, filler and raw resource towards the gain.

~

I was asked today by a friend about my thoughts on the topic of worthwhile employ. Should the best occupation yield leisure and option to my heirs? Provide a catapult and catalyst to the next generation’s situation and state? At the time, I was asked I thought such an aim both worthy and admirable. But upon some reflection I see now little good in laying up my days against the improvement of my heirs. For if the better aim of virtue is a mature capacity of wisdom, enlivened with fortitude, made lean and impervious of apathy, and grave of self-control; then how much better to offer our heirs instead of wealth, the worthy example of our well-borne poverty, and the steady resolve, and still motion, of a body and mind at peace with self-control.

~

How might I become impervious to well-being; develop an immunity to good fortune, and make the good life a reality despite every blessing.

~

My poverty cannot withstand the price of so much good fortune.

~

My tribe are those who currently stand among brambles, wondering how they got there, bleeding a bit from the thorns, observing no trail back. Perhaps a book like Walden sent them this way; though by now they’ve far less use of a guide. Indeed, what wilderness is this that requires a guide; when every direction is in, and there’s now far too few rations for retreat. My tribe will know this place, though none of them are about. They’ll find me here long after I’m dead. I’ll leave them some marks. I sometimes spot marks of those who have gone before me; faint, strange, nearly indecipherable the further I go. There are older marks still, appearing fresh as the day they were made.

~

What should I tell my child on the use of time? Should I caution her simply to be mindful of its passing? To measure each moment with her attentions, and keep busy with the application of sober utility? Should I recommend foresight towards the life she may want to live? If so, how do I caution her not to reside too long in the fiction of what might be; or against setting up house in the past; or living as a ghost within the life of another? I must indeed offer caution against the waste of moments, which is the sport and pastime of so many; the impatient counting down of hours towards an ignoble, and seemingly, untimely death. Yes. I’ll instruct her to beware all this and more; to mind carefully what is ahead, and what is passed; to not lose sight of her own way by ungracious attention to the footsteps of others; and to know her true and even course not by the landmarks of her surroundings, or the warmth of the air, or the pleasant company, or the ease of the road; but instead by the satisfying perception of firm footing over any ground, any fortune, and for as long as her daylight remains.

~

Our genetic inertia propels us towards ends we rarely consider: sex, love, marriage and even Jesus proclaim our mute acceptance of responsibility to the survival of our species. Our blind allegiance binds this mandate to action. The veil may never rise for us, though the ones to whom we may one day become God should certainly pity our narrow vision, and quite constrained understanding.

~

Society bears down with a crushing weight of responsibility, while the wild bears down with the weight of necessity. The consequence of failure in the first circumstance may be destitution and disgrace, while failure in the second punishes with extinction and death. Going alone then into the wild relieves for a moment the first and lesser burden, in exchange for the thrill and challenge of a more base and primal threat. When we return from wild places alive, and mostly intact, our perspective is changed and temporarily revised; for what threat really is any office censure, any mere social disgrace; an embarrassing fumble of etiquette; or even failure in love or enterprise compared with what we’ve just met and mastered? The more consequent danger is now passed, and we move on through the day with a contented grace, having brought back a hidden trophy and prize in the simple fact of our survival. But this peace is perishable, requiring refresh at regular intervals lest we again mistake the civilized challenge of responsibility with the wild threat of necessity.

~

The human project is the occupation of attention until we’ve run out of time, death arrives, and we’re no longer forced to perceive. Indifference is the thing we do not want. For if we quiet our mind enough, something which isn’t really there becomes apparent. And if we separate ourselves far enough from our fellows, there it isn’t again. To apprehend this startling absence, through dead landscape or still mind, is like sensing a ghost which isn’t real; a frightening paradox to not behold. So, instead of not seeing, we first do this, then we do that, and then yet another thing; and then we die; hopefully well distracted, by the community and clamor of loved ones, whose presence and attention assure us there’s more than nothing in the end.

~

Make your great life adventure early in life, when you’ve both everything and nothing to lose. The gamble then is more secure in your favor, the likelihood of success augmented by your ignorance and inability to recognize or assess risk. You’ll succeed even if the adventure kills you. Just don’t get pregnant, and in so doing assume your own risk onto the life of an innocent another. Save that wondrous adventure for later, when you’ve had your fill of yourself, and are more mature and ready to truly give. For your adventure’s venue, select what appears alien and strange; a curious and seemingly foreign life street or some exotic backwater of nowhere. Go meet your anxiety, and give it a fair listen; rebuke its fearful claims and hysterical protests. Come away satisfied you know better your mind, and can now answer and assuage its ancient unsound fears. You’ll know when the adventure is done, when you possess fewer dreams of tomorrow, and behold a broad and expansive landscape of today. Oh, and go alone…If you can bear it. If not, then take, or better still make, a friend along the way. You’ll find your tribe is out there.

~

Your mind is on a track. There’s actually very little leeway between birth and death. The course is strikingly simple, though we don’t notice due to our one chance at living, and the fact that our perspective biases us to exaggerate what little difference there really is between one life and the next, and one generation to the next. Gender plays a role in the course we must live, as does age, though these aren’t very popular topics to discuss. But keep that in mind, and listen to what your nature has to say, even if you choose not to heed; for informed choice brings both responsibility and accountability into the hands of the chooser. Always apply reason to your biology, always demand diplomacy of your motives, always seek virtue of your wants, or deny them altogether. In this way, never hesitate to resist your nature should it prove base, barbarous, unjust, or inhumane.

So, you’ll bump along this course of living, fortune heaving you at once to the left, and next to the right; but always forward, and at a steady rate, even when at rest, even when you decide not to choose. Remember that you’ll always be on those rails, and there’s nothing spiritual or spooky or inexplicable about them; so don’t get suckered into motivation, divination or exorcism to change your way. Instead, ride the rails like the successful survivor you have become, we have become, we’ve all become, by virtue of the simple fact we’re alive. You see, biology’s criteria for success is both simple and absolute. So, ride your rails to the end of the line. And if you choose, pass carefully your successful mandate into the future, as your mother and I have done through our loving creation of you.

~

It’s been over a month now since my dead muse followed me back from the desert. She’s always right here whenever my mind falls away from the fore. She lurks like a shadow and a memory, though her cold presence is now devoid of the fearful substance I remember of our first encounter. How my breath was taken away at that first sight at the edge of the Volcano Wilderness. I wonder if she saw me then too? Did she know me before? I certainly never knew anything prior so awful in the wild. Though there was that one cold night…thirty-odd years back. That night I passed alone within a vast desert empty, an empty which brushed past my tent while I slept, threatening my youth with its whispered age, and inviting me out to shiver barefoot and exposed while gazing up at the dark night, and across at the black empty. I was young then. Perhaps too alive to see. Maybe that’s the reason she’s here now? Are my eyes simply opened? Was she here all along? Will she ever leave? I think I know the answer. Though it’s perhaps best I keep that supposition to myself.

~

How much is enough? For myself, it is enough to stop asking this question. For if my ethics are sound, my reason keen, and my intent judicious, then there will always be just enough of every endeavor. So instead of asking after the quantity of things, I should instead seek after their quality. How sound today my ethics? How keen my reason? How judicious my intent? Let me then tune my social machinations to run silent, efficient and true, satisfied that whatever product is the result, of whatever quantity, is utterly sufficient to The Good Life.

~

Where will you set up house? Though the body must reside in some shelter of a sort to keep it safe and warm, the mind needs only space and liberty sufficient to exercise its native capabilities and natural inclination. These places are not incompatible; though an excess of the former may indeed distract from the latter; while too much of the latter may cause disconnect from those who share our former.

~

Is it possible my dead muse has died? Is that even feasible? If not truly dead, she certainly seems less present. Perhaps it’s because I’ve been so long from her dead home out there in the desert? Maybe the spell has simply worn off? She can’t utterly be gone, as I hear her faint whisper now as I type these words; like a distant cold wind across a skeleton landscape of stones and sand; hushed and muffled; indifferent and absolute.

~

My dead muse is gone… The only words which remain now are my own. These thoughts are familiar…though they come with that same labored effort I’ve known since youth…like pulling a heavy root from hard soil. It was easier when my dead muse led the way, allowing me to follow behind as she stepped easily through abstraction, pointing the way towards silent impressions I cannot muster alone by way of my dull pedestrian life. I expect a trip back to the desert will secure our reunion. Though I wonder if she’ll ever follow me back again? Has she perhaps seen enough of civilization’s vain and glossy proposals of meaning? Has she had her fill of our fearful efforts to hold back her night? The words are gone.


THE PATH OF WILDNESS

Note: This section was originally composed in Japan, and before I began my Going Alone adventure. I wrote The Path of Wildness in response to the many young people who contacted me during the height of my time as a YouTube content creator. There was a noted theme to so many of the email I received from viewers, who described their dreams, and the fears which kept them from making their dreams real. I wanted to offer then a prod towards action, to motivate them to live before the chance of living was passed. This section was the result. Later, The Path of Wildness became principal fourteen of The Good Life (see the section of this book of the same name); being both a recommendation to action, and a plan for getting unstuck from life uncertainty.

As I near 50 I’m becoming increasingly aware that my situation is like a man holding his breath in a sealed container of water, with less than a minute of consciousness remaining. Now is the time to scratch something meaningful on the wall to share what I have seen and learned.

The Path of Wildness is easy to find
The course of a stream
Leaves blown in the wind
A beast’s track through the brush
And the direction of our first inclination

The Path of Wildness is an answer and response to a prescribed way of life which may leave some individuals with a sense that their living is little more than a series of pre-determined, step-like episodes between birth and death. The stages of living between these events: childhood, adolescence, adulthood, parenthood and senior, are themselves natural and in accord with the needs of the species and most individuals. Many find satisfaction in living this course and to these individuals I have little or nothing to say. Others though, long for something more; something innate, genetic and seemingly calling. Adventure and change can give a degree of satisfaction and relief, yet even these may seem too tame. To those who feel drawn to something beyond the entertainment and stimulation of senses I offer a walk along The Path of Wildness. Don’t bother penciling the event in your schedule, preparing a pack with goodies and supplies, or even inviting a friend along, for this experience is along the course of your first inclination, and you must surely always go alone.

  1. The Problem: Life has no apparent meaning
    My adventure videos on YouTube have produced a steady stream of email from people who tell me of the dreams they can’t quite bring themselves to live, and their fear of being alone and feeling like their lives don’t matter. Nobody ever quite says it that way, and instead they cloak these worries as life anxieties or the result of their many trials and life challenges. I think sometimes that they do this more to convince themselves than anyone else that these are the true causes of the churning worry in their gut. Yet another cause seems apparent to me, a more acute and potentially life-threatening fear, a demon of sorts, lurking in the shadows of conscious thought, peeking with knowing eyes in the direction of our mortality, pointing a crooked finger perhaps at the hazy terminal point of our life with a suggestive grin that nothing will be found beyond. This thought, along with the weighty implication it bears, appears to be the more real and tactile cause of the concern I hear in the words of those who write to me. I never point this out to them as I suspect they prefer I play along in their game and humor them with a response in keeping with their stated concerns. However, I think I will now attempt a more honest answer reflective of my own life experiences as well as the most sincere interactions I have enjoyed with others.This light and living we now know offers a stark contrast to the nothingness we intuitively sense existed before our birth, and the same nothingness we fear a return to after life is over. In fact, this fear is far worse than mere nothingness, as we are each capable of holding a vision of Hell in our minds more terrible and real than the worst damnation preached from any austere and authoritative pulpit. This greater terror is our sense that the universe can get along without us, that our life and living are of little real consequence, and that our best efforts will account for little beyond the comfort given to the handful of individuals we share and interact with, before death takes us away utterly, permanently and forever. This is the real terror so many struggle to avoid which instinct and reason coldly claim as true. An abject fear of ultimate insignificance and meaninglessness in the face of the curious fact of temporary life in spite of death.I don’t understand why the thought of death, real death, absolute death, with no chance of recovery, salvation or continuation is more tolerable to some; though I suspect it may relate to some level of comfort and acceptance in being alone. Not that anyone will be alone after death, as even the concept of alone would be wishful thinking at best. Nevertheless, if we can abide our own company for extended periods of time, then the thought of being without others or ourselves even, may somehow become more palpable and acceptable, a more familiar, intangible something and somewhere less feared, as accepted or perhaps resigned to. To such a person a life without meaning may be acceptable. Days, months and years of striving to no real personal end alright. The journey is reward itself. The momentary satisfaction and good feelings connected with virtue being their own reward. Death offers no transition but is seen as a simple stop. A period and ending of effort and striving and reflection towards understanding which may yield nothing more than transitory and ultimately meaningless gain to ourselves and those to follow. But is that a bad thing? If yes, then it’s understandable that many protest, recoil and fly from such thoughts, but if no, then our breathing can relax as we measure each inhalation as one of the few we get and use the fuel of living to move our body and brains in such a way as to create meaning in the moments and goodness in the willful expression of perceived best ends. So what words can I say to those who write to me asking my thoughts regarding their worldly dilemmas when my suspicion tells me their real concern is a fear of unimportance and death? In most cases I will engage their most direct questions and give the best answer and suggestion I can, given my untrained, and un-credentialed qualifications. I wish though that I could speak to them more plainly, and tell them that their deeper fears are real, and then ask them to explain their terror for my own benefit, and then hear my claims which I hope may benefit them. Perhaps then we could both gain from a more honest and humane inquiry and inquisition than any civilized, restrained or judicial discourse could provide. For my part I am now prepared to lay my humble case before any who may care to hear.
  2. Opportunity: Available light
    Mind is an instantiation of consciousness formed of energy organized within the brain along pathways designed of genetics and molded through the unique living of each individual. There is no soul in the sense of anything transcendental or eternal. The fact that our materials and energy are everlasting, having been used by others before us and destined for reuse by the yet unborn is testament to the fact that our person is temporary and ephemeral. We are individually and collectively a brief, dim and fast fading spark and flash of material and energy in the darkening night of the universe. In this fact we discover both our dilemma and great potential: The challenge being to remain upright in the face of our utter, fleeting insignificance while engaging whatever meek will we can muster towards observation, reflection and art while the light and sound of the universe wash across our senses. Without apparent purpose we are left to decide for ourselves whatever meaning or significance should guide our days and actions. This is the great dilemma of the individual which demands forthright acceptance of the facts of the observable universe and withholds any complete explanation or guidance. You must stand alone. You must stand in solitude. You must hold yourself upright despite unstable footing and dangerous circumstance. You must withstand the awful winds and control your trembling hands while strange howling emanates from the wilder places, and no trail or trodden path indicates the direction of safety. From here if you can quiet the heart and gain control of your senses, overcome or learn to tolerate feelings of isolation, loneliness, and fear, then you will be prepared to make your own path through the wild, to step where the weeds are tangled, and small, biting creatures lurk with hairy legs, slicing jaws and venomous sting. This is your path to follow. A truly dangerous and terrifying route none has ever trod or may ever again follow. The light is faint now and growing more so as the evening of your days grows near. Follow the dusk and note the sights, speak of what you see, describe in writing or story or painting or photography. Poetry is the most natural and best suited vehicle to capture your experience. Walk your path and observe and then tell the story of your available light.
  3. Health: Exercise and Eating Well
    I exercise daily. However, my exercised routine is light, easy and requires only a little time. My base workout is a fifteen-minute pool swim. My swimming style is very low-impact. I do a gentle breast stroke for five laps, and another five laps backwards-breaststroke, alternating these two styles between each lap. The backwards-breaststroke is something a swimming instructor taught me, and involves simply resting face up on the water (like you would do with a conventional backstroke) though instead of reaching back over your head to do a reverse crawl, simply lift your arms to your sides (while keeping your arms in the water) before then stretching out your arms to give a nice stroke until your hands are again at your waist and your arms parallel to your body. This stroke takes a little practice, but when you’ve got it down the process is easy. This swim is low-impact and also very relaxing, as you can look up at the sky while gliding gently through the water. I especially enjoy this swim in the evening at sundown when I can watch the first stars twinkle into view as the azure sky fades to black. When enjoying this backwards-breaststroke just beware you don’t bang your head on the far end of the pool as your mind floats off with the clouds.  As mentioned, my swim is my base exercise, and I do this every day. However, I do also enjoy walking to provide a lower body workout. To this end, I typically walk between two and four miles daily, either spread out over several small walks (like a fast mile during my breaks at work) or one very long walk at the end of the day. If, for whatever reason, I need to skip some exercise, it will be my walk, as the swims are not optional, and can only be missed for reasons such as illness or lack of access to a pool.Your good philosophy depends upon your body, which relies upon your health, which rests upon the choices you make as to what food and drink you ingest. Devote some time early in life to an understanding of what makes good bodies, and then take care of yourself accordingly. Here is a summary of my own, imperfect dietary solution:
  • 5:00 AM – Wake up and drink a glass of water
  • 5:15 AM – Clean up and then “drink” a blended vegetable smoothie made of:
    • Kale
    • Spinach
    • Broccoli
    • Mushroom
    • Carrot
    • Beet
    • Fruit (just a little) Note: I blend three glasses of this mixture ahead of time and keep these in the fridge. I don’t add anything other than the above ingredients besides water, or juice to help get the blending started.
  • 5:30 AM – Single, large fried egg with a slice of buttered toast
  • 8:00 AM – Large mixed salad (same ingredients as smoothie but with a handful of trail mix) with lemon juice dressing
  • 11:30 AM – Bowl of homemade chili with a slice of whole-wheat bread
  • 3:00 PM – Small bowl of lightly salted popped popcorn as a mid-day snack
  • 6:00 PM – Enjoy another smoothie
  • 8:00 PM – Prepare and enjoy a healthy dinner (go ahead, have a beer with your meal!)

The menu above is my own, and reflects my limited sensibilities regarding taste. I’m sure that someone more adept in the kitchen might find better and more satisfying alternatives. Of key importance here is the absence of processed foods, sugary drinks or excessive sweets of any sort. I do allow myself an occasional fast food meal with my family, and an infrequent indulgence in salty snacks such as chips or sweet desserts such as a cookie or a piece of candy. Popcorn at the movies is a must, as well as a few other simple and periodic indulgences which help to give my life spice and interest, without taking away too much from my efforts at eating well. As for drinks, I limit my intake of coffee to no more than two cups a day, and try to avoid fruit juice (too much sugar) and sodas. A beer or glass of wine are fine in the evening.

I can’t emphasize enough how important I have found diet to be in the pursuit of a happy, balanced life. I was 47 years old when I developed this diet, and sadly spent so many years feeling tired, anxious, irritable, unproductive and downright unhappy before I discovered how the very common-sense fact of what I put into my body impacted the resulting biochemistry of body and mind. If you choose to attempt only one aspect of my proposals in this document then I recommend the adoption of a healthy diet as the one to try.

  1. Action: The Path of Wildness
    Once healthy, and in a position of understanding regarding the possible deeper fear and trial which makes life such a challenge to those who desire rest and comfort not only now but beyond the pale of life, you will then be ready to apprehend and take action in the direction of knowledge, art and wisdom. Indeed, you may be prepared to rise to your full stature as a man or woman of observation and reason in order to apply these sense and brain faculties towards the higher, perhaps seemingly more worthy acts of art. This then, is the time to step upon The Path of Wildness.

The Path of Wildness is easy to find
The course of a stream
Leaves blown in the wind
A beast’s track through the brush
And the direction of our first inclination

Do not mistake at this juncture the concepts of wilderness and wildness which are related yet distinct. Wilderness is a place commonly regarded as devoid of most human influence. Stretches of desert in the American southwest, the far reaches of the Arctic and Antarctic and most of the expanses of the Earth’s oceans among many others are good examples of wilderness. Few such areas remain untouched by humanity, though many are nevertheless quite wild and capture the spirit and essence of regions where humans are more alien than familiar. Wildness on the other hand is the landscape of freedom. Wildness is less a place as much as a region of uncertainty, risk and very real danger. Wildness is a feature of wilderness though it is entirely possible for a well-trained, outfitted and prepared human to enter wilderness without venturing very far into wildness. However, those who step into wildness may do so without ever leaving their home, in fact they may enter wildness from the comfort of their recliner or in the company of friends and family; though in practice wildness is most easily accessed through wilderness which is one of the reasons I have spent so much of my life alone in the out-of-doors.

Why should someone venture into wildness? Why risk the danger, isolation and fatigue of exploring alone (even among others) where chance or bad choices may leave you crippled or mortally wounded? There are several benefits which vary in degree depending upon the character and interests of the explorer, though one benefit is of special use to all as it grants to the user a most useful skill and habit, and which, through training, can transform the timid, fearful and meek into brave, spirited explorers. That quality is simply the character of courage in the face of the unknown, and a willingness to step boldly into seemingly dangerous regions of ignorance and uncertainty, to confront our weakness and shortcomings in open field where neither can hide and must instead be viewed for what they really are, and once surveyed, then likely dismissed as unworthy intimidators whom we order to stand aside as we stride past into the deeper darkness and cold. Not pride, nor unwholesome confidence shall replace these fears as these too cannot fail to fall away during our struggle through the wild places. Indeed, most superfluous human traits are vulnerable to being lost along the way as the close cutting branches, vines and thorns pull away everything which sticks out from our person and is not essential to our truer character and inner strength. This is the singular gain and ambition of movement along The Path of Wildness, to wear away our excess, refine our better spirit and help us gain and maintain the courage necessary to live well as long as the light continues to shine in our eyes.

The Path of Wildness is easy to find. The course of a stream. Leaves blown in the wind. A beast’s track through the brush. And the direction of our first inclination. I’ve described The Path in this way deliberately in order to leave clues in the commonplace experience of nature, which are easy enough to follow, as a simple training of sorts for the more challenging foray of trust in our personal instinct. I have a reason for relying on instinct, though I understand that instinct is not always right and in fact may often be quite wrong and dangerous. Nevertheless, despite the risks, instinct is something we all have, and a sense we can start with when doubt and considered uncertainty threaten to immobilize our movement. There are times for rest, and times for movement, and most of us can easily sense when change is needed, though sometimes we lack the will or conviction to make the first step. It is in times such as this that I recommend moving boldly onto The Path of Wildness. This is done by probing our immediate senses for a hint of which way to go, and as long as the urging does not cause us to step over a cliff in our first step (steps and cliffs are of course figurative in many cases) then we should lift our foot and begin moving, or lift our will and push forward with thought, resolution, voice, interaction or whatever form of human living might be involved. We move. We start. We have direction. It may not be the best direction but courageous movement away from irrational fear or unwarranted timidity is often its own reward, and course correction can usually be made once we are under way.

Once upon The Path the brave explorer should expect two things: danger and treasure. The first is very real and may wound, cripple or even kill. Expect to emerge from your foray bleeding, lame and perhaps a bit deranged for the experience. Yet, a wholesome perspective might view such damage as nothing more than the expected price of discovering treasure where none like you has ever ventured. New explorers may hope (and likely succeed) in carrying away fresh wealth in the form of possessions, status or acclaim from the lonely wild lands. These can indeed be had, in abundance in fact, though the glitter and sparkle of such tangible gain may appear as rust to those who go further in search of the intangible treasures of mind and experience. These brave individuals will most likely return from their ventures exhausted to the point of collapse, pale with blood loss and slightly mad from the close proximity they achieved to the source of the terrifying howling which can only be heard in the most extreme frontiers of the dark and bleak wildness. Their pockets will certainly be torn and empty and they may be unable to speak clearly of the wonders they have seen, though this is less due to any defect in the speaker’s voice, and more commonly is a result of the hearer’s excess comfort and certainty, which blocks the ears to truth as surely as beeswax. I recommend applauding anyone who returns alone from the wild lands whether they bear treasure in both arms or gleaming ear to ear within the broad expanse of a blessed, mad smile. Do this, for each is a person of courage, someone who has broken clean of the quicksand of complacency and fear and who is exercising those most rare and critical faculties of the human species: courage and freedom. But remember also that some who step upon The Path will never return. Some will become lost. Others will die. Still more may give up and return by some secret way to rejoin those, who in fear, remain huddled together in warmth and comfort and possibly some degree of lifelong despair. These are the things you can expect upon The Path of Wildness.

Go then…when you feel lost. Step fast, when you suspect your confusion or hesitancy are heeding some unworthy instinct, borne of the fear of suffering and not suffering itself. Move swiftly now in the direction of your first instinct. Call your best critical faculties to the fore and demand they guide your every footfall. Expect to tire and fall, be ready to suffer, understand that you may die, though know also that along the way, with every step and action you are living the truest, most noble and worthy venture of your life.

  1. Creating meaning
    Those who venture upon The Path of Wildness will find a meaning of sorts in the energy, joy and experience of living a life of courage, a life of periodic misstep, mistake and failure tempered with breakthrough, discovery and understanding. Taken together, these qualities cause life to take on a depth and character which is humbling, satisfying and reassuring. Our living becomes a beautiful sum of many parts: sour, sweet, bitter, raw and savory. A delicious meal of days which fills our mind like a wonderful feast fills our stomach, and gives us pause along the way, and in the end, to rest in sated comfort at the fullness of our very living.

~

No dragons here
Only darkness

~

A simple
human purpose
To ask
And to answer
Questions

~

No more purpose
Than to outlive ourselves
And then really
Not even that

~

I stand alone
in the cold
Confused
Lost
And content

~

Avoid becoming encumbered
and smothered
With excess certainty

~

Erect no edifice
You’re not willing
to destroy

~

Biology informs me
I’m corrupt
And degenerate

~

The howling on Mt. Wildness
Beckons with fear

~

Ignorance is my constant companion
Ever at my ear, whispering nothing

~

Fearful musing are best

~

The howling always comes
from further than you are
willing to go

~

I don’t fear being wrong
I fear believing I’m right

~

The universe only ever offers
so much raw entertainment
At some point we must begin
to improvise

~

The improbable palate of silence
Raises color and tone
From nothing

~

Death is comprehendible
That’s why we hide

~

Your own face
is fearful here

~

Every step
A triumph of will

~

Meditate too long
And the way is lost

~

There’s no need to venture outside
To explore in wild places
Curiosity, reason, instinct and courage
Are the sole necessities of adventure

~

Mt. Wildness is a place
More terrifying than fear
More remote than the unknown
For it is both

~

Making an adventure
of living

~

There are no fresh starts
Only new steps

~

There are no bridges here
Where streams are cold and fast

~

Mt. Wildness
Is the landscape of fear
A truly dangerous place

~

There’s a woodsman’s cabin
On the near slope of Mt. Wildness
Abandoned many years

~

Go alone
And any road
Can become a path

~

After a certain point
We all begin to dissolve

~

The blessing
Of becoming lost

~

Ordinary light
Becomes strange
And stranger still

~

Innocence renders the initial step unnecessary;
for youthful movement is from the first intuitive,
earnest and seemingly irrevocable

~

Sometimes go
Where you do not want to go

~

Mt. Wildness is a dark place
Full of light

~

If you fear dark places
Then stay where you are
Otherwise come
Where none can be your guide

~

Let wildness guide
Never trust it to lead
Lest you never return

~

Move or stop if you are so inclined
Have courage for either action

~

The map of indecision

~

Any road
Can become the path

~

Time and distance must always impart change
Too long or far and friends become strangers,
longer still foreign and longer yet alien

~

The features on your face
Trace the course of the path

~

Attitude couples with action
Cause the path to appear

~

Push into the haze
Expecting nothing more
Than an opportunity
To become lost

~

Faces become strange
Too long on the path

~

Get busy
Before the curtain starts to fall

~

One step and you’re on the path

~

Precedence is abhorrent
To those upon the path

~

Those who stare very long at the light
Must surely go blind

~

Either course will do

~

The light is not an end

~

Companionship is a warm distraction

~

The path is outside
Though not always outdoors

~

Tunnels aren’t dark enough
Find another way

~

The path runs through the machine

~

Bridges aren’t real
Find another way

~

A single step is sufficient

~

The way is clearer still
Under cover of night

~

Keep walking
The sun is setting after all

~

It’s good to work alongside your humility
and share the excess weight of pride,
with our only true and honest companion.

~

When I was 18 ideas flashed past my
consciousness too fast and fleeting to
catch or even properly apprehend.
At 28 I squeezed them from my
mind with crayons and loud music;
raw, textured notions wholly adolescent
and shaped like cliche. 38 allowed no
time for such nonsense. 48 finds the
ideas returned though now I’m too
tired and fed up to attempt to lead,
and instead follow meekly wherever
the sunlight moves, seeking warmth
and thoughtful respite in whatever
time remains.

~

Instilling fear and the suspension of
critical thinking are the methods of
those who themselves fear and refuse
to think. Refugees of reason huddled
in the dark, begging company and
offering stale sustenance if only
you’ll acquiesce.

~

Stationary strides are longest

~

Only individuals can have courage,
for the group can never truly be brave

~

If you ever doubt your way
And question right or left
Choose the darker, dense and overgrown route
For this is where your ignorance is thick
And where passage will surely
Come at a price

~

For a time in my 20s I didn’t wear shoes.
It was hard at first though my feet soon toughened,
and I walked with ease over every surface,
without discernible wear and feeling everything.
I wonder what might become of my consciousness,
should I give up my learned conventions of thought,
and trod treadless across the landscape of mind.

~

Wildness if found
Wherever courage
Provokes another step

~

Moving at the pace of interest
We arrive sooner

~

To discover and engage in art
Is to spend a lifetime upon the path

~

The Path of Wildness is a solution
For those not seeking escape

~

It’s better to remain alone in your room
Than with another in the wild

~

The slant of sunlight and shadow
Also mark the way

~

Expect curves upon the path

~

Only life can traverse the path

~

The Path of Wildness
is a hiking philosophy
And a theory of adventure

~

I’d offer my hand as guide
Only then we’d lose our way

~

Shadows lie along the path
Shadows point the way
The darker the better

~

The Path of Wildness is purely secular
and in now way spiritual
Biology is the defining and controlling factor
There is no sentience guiding our steps
Save perhaps the collective experience
Encoded in our genes

~

The Path of Wildness is largely irrelevant
To a civilized mind

By this I mean that the willful
thoughts and guided actions necessary
to become and remain civilized are not
always in keeping with a pathway
oriented along the more intuitive
nudgings of our first inclination.
Though we may at times
perceive the path we are perhaps
less inclined or able to step or
remain very alone along its
uncertain course. Though this
can always be achieved if the
way is within our mind only
and we are able and willing to
seek some haven from distraction
for the duration of our wanted journey

~

Thoughts grow feral
On The Path of Wildness
Linger long
Utterly wild

~

I expect to die here
And soon…

~

I’d like to share with you a great recipe for solitude: Simply talk, act, think or believe unlike others

~

Beware he far side of Mt. Wildness
Where our words become babble

~

The only streams here
Are cold, fast and treacherous

~

There’s a howling on the mountain
Something worthy of fear

~

I fear no social circumstance
For I’ve been to Mt. Wildness

~

There’s a howling
In the darker brush

~

The old shack
At the end of the road

~

To walk the path
Is to adventure on life

~

Making life
Into an adventure

~

The frontier of relevance

~

Any road can become a path
If your step is resolute
And your thoughts quite alone

~

Your and I are dissolving
Day by day

~

Dissolution is genetic, bodily and
seemingly essential. Do, make and
say what you must before everything
turns to sand.

~

There’s a sea below Mt. Wildness
A howling thing roams the woods
And a woodsman’s cottage on the near slope

~

I’d rather not
Know by instinct
Without a thread
Of honest reflection

~

Trails are courses

~

What trails do you follow?
What paths do you blaze?

~

Honest virtue
Requires no accolade

~

Learn to suppress
Or ignore
Appetite

~

Aren’t we all
Crippled and suffering

~

Hesitate long
And the path will be gone

~

Practice your art

~

Paths are formed by instinct
Trails by consensus

~

I’m putting together a sign to post on the frontier of Mt. Wildness. My hope is that it will help keep travelers safe.

~

The darkness is repelled by courage
Step towards it and it moves away
Though one day it will not

~

Though no passage is necessary
A bridge to wildness
Is welcome egress

~

The course of your first inclination
Is nothing more
Than a catalyst to action

~

They’re all dying words
Make ’em count

~

An investment in relevance

~

If you are so inclined
Then always choose adventure over education
You’ll have fewer regrets in the end

~

Play a bit longer outdoors
Before you at last
Must go in

~

Abandoned paths
Everywhere you look

~

The Path of Wildness Themes:

  1. Fear and courage
  2. Action
  3. The path
  4. A willingness to suffer and become lost
  5. Alone
  6. Immediacy
  7. Intuition
  8. The Machine
  9. Acknowledging death

~

Fast movement
Hinders progress

~

Sanction is petty compensation
For a lifetime upon the straight and narrow

~

You are not on the path
if the way is very easy
For very long

~

The most fearful thing
Is the distant howling

~

The path is fearful
And dark

~

Failure is tolerable

~

Light your own way
Up the slopes of Mt. Wildness
Where the dawn never comes

~

The random and ordered patterns of entropy are beautiful
When we can overcome our tidiness

~

Birds always fly along the path
Leaves always blow along the path

~

If you are every uncertain how to start
Simply follow the leaves and tread in the direction of bird flight

~

Father and son can walk the path
Just never together

~

The surest sign you’ve left the path
Is when you meet another along the way

~

The Path of Wildness is easy to find
The course of a stream
Leaves blown in the wind
A beast’s track through the brush
And the direction of our first inclination


GOING ALONE

The Great Indifference is a perspective which yields an improved understanding of the true nature of the universe. It is a place of clear thought, and relentless truth. The way there is never easy, never marked, and can only be reached in solitude, and when the only chance of return is under the power of one’s own volition. What you find there may be worth the journey, even if only you alone can understand or appreciate the prize.

There is no path to The Great Indifference, for followers must always lose the way. Strike out at once along the direction of your first inclination, and your own route will soon be discovered. Note what you find, or do not, as discovery alone is its own satisfaction. And whatever you later relate to others will fall like alien words upon ears plugged and deafened by fraternity, solidarity, and the warm comfort of common society. Only your fellow travelers in wildness might understand, though their own solitary venture may insulate their ears to whatever vain utterances you elect to voice.

I recommend this way to those who are ready to lose, prepared to be wrong, and desirous of truth ahead of comfort, peace or immortality. Come this way for the sake of virtue, for a sound mind, an even temper, a restful heart, and at last, an honest death; an end without hope of reward, reawakening, or revelation; a fixed point of terminus punctuated upon the tail end of eternity, which is everything after the end of one’s living.

The vista of The Great Indifference will direct your gaze to your bruised, sore and bleeding feet; the instruments of your arrival in that august place. The pain will grow intense with your notice. A gratifying reality. How sweet the moment of awakening, when the uncaring, corpse-like gaze of reality makes precious the breath of this moment, and the next, without thought for any breath beyond, which is only a wishful, potential vapor; nor the breathes already consumed, which have dispersed to mingle with the universal atoms, to never again return orbit ’round our fleeting mortal constitution.

I’d tell you the way to The Great Indifference if I truly thought I could. Though if you go where I told you it was found then the telling would guarantee its absence. Go instead on your own, by your own motive force, along a way only you can see, alone, and accepting of your solitude, aware you may never come back; and if you do, that you may never find words to adequately convey what you truly saw.

~

When I talk about Going Alone some may think I’m referring to hiking and camping all by one’s self. That’s partially right. But mostly I’m referring to a mental endeavor to seek after and develop life principals without the reinforcing comfort of authority, dogma or consensus. This doesn’t require thinking up the ideas oneself, but instead using reason to discern if a proposition is true and fits with the reality of the world around us. That’s Going Alone. It’s only coincidence that being alone in very wild places is an excellent forum for rendering truth from the abundance of comforting propositions and stories we tell one another to keep back the dark. When you’re alone in the dark there’s nowhere the truth can hide.

~

Emily and I lingered at the beach tonight until it was nearly dark. Just before we left a middle-aged man arrived limping badly and wearing nothing more than a swimsuit and a beach towel around his neck. He deposited the towel on a rock and limped with difficulty straight into the sea. Once in the cold water and free of his bad leg he began swimming powerfully out to sea, diving under a few large waves before making it clear of the surf. We watched him swim straight and direct, further and further, as the night got darker and darker. We saw him swim past a family of dolphin passing far beyond the last rocks, in water more than fifty feet deep. The man never veered his course or turned either up or down the coast, but kept straight for open ocean, swimming hard and fast. He must have been more than a quarter mile out when darkness overtook our efforts to follow. My last sight of the man was a single swing of his arm rising above the now black sea. I noticed the street lights were on as Emily and I made our way back to the motorcycle. And I wondered if these would guide the man back to shore when he’d had enough of his solo nighttime winter ocean swim.

~

I’m haunted by the desert now. The pull is powerful and relentless. Like a vacuum drawing something to nothing.

~

At the bookstore just now, I discovered a book titled “Route 66 Ghost Towns”. I eagerly read through the sections on Essex, Amboy, Bagdad, Ludlow, Newberry Springs and Daggett. The chapter ended with no mention of Siberia. It would seem I’ve made a very good choice in selecting Siberia as my adopted hometown.

~

By this time tomorrow I’ll be in Siberia. I’ll arrive about an hour before sundown, as temps begin to descend from midday highs around 110 degrees. There are no ghosts in Siberia, though there is much that is dead. The void left by humanity passing away here has made room for possession by the wind, the heat and cold, and the steady progress of time. These things ignore my presence, though they’d appear different if I was not alone. I’d see only ruin and desolation with another. I’d see ghosts which were never there

~

I leave a thinning trail of connection with every mile I put between my life and the desert. This thread grows so slender that 100 miles out I dangle like a spider on a silk strand. The melodramatic abyss looms. A humorous caricature of nature, if only it weren’t so real. I hang there for a day, in the wind and the sun, knowing the threat of exposure is nothing compared to the frailty of that one, long, slender thread.

~

The steep and rugged mountains of Japan never scared me. Even that time I ran from the mother boar, and again (several times) when giant hornets swarmed to check me out. The mountains were far too civilized with life to offer any real threat. Not human life, but life itself, the mere fact that the landscape had a pulse, and a vibrant one at that, dissuaded my fear and alleviated my apprehension. Even to die in those remote, unpeopled mountains, would be to pass in the embrace of what is both familiar and alive.

The desert offers no such comfort. What lives there is sparse, mute and still. There’s little hum or buzz or grunt. Just some howl from time to time, which carries lonesome sentiment and a desperate pleading. Even birdsong sings of solitude. The wind speaks loudest here. And the sun burns its case without respite, from sun up, to sun down.

I fear the desert. Even before I go.

~

I’m half way to Siberia and thinking of that long 100-mile thread I mentioned earlier today. Could it be that the thread actually originates out here? How alike the unthinking wastes of nature and the timeless nonexistence before birth and after death.

~

During the night at Siberia I left camp to wander alone over the desert in search of night things. Nocturnal spiders and snakes, and the things which stare from the dark with glimmering eyes. And the stars which come out, and the moon in its time. The wind too enjoys the night, moving in warm gusts over the land, always inward, towards the deep center of the desert. While thus employed during my nighttime hike, I came upon that stone-lined footpath I’ve mentioned before. With… nowhere better to go I followed for a pace, minding the path’s straight course from darkness into darkness. Thinking over the mind, process and hands which produced this way. What motive brought it about? What purpose did it serve? With every footstep here long removed by the wind, only my own senseless allegiance to precedent justifies a cause I can never know.

~

The desert is as sorry a companion for thought as it is for fraternity. I sometimes claim that my muse lives here, though this is a lie. Whatever sentience moves across the dark sands comes no further than the outskirts of my camp. I mistake its eyes reflected in my light for those of the fox who lived here first. Neither will come nearer than reflection, nor suggest more than aloof disinterest. The desert and the fox leave me to my own devices, to find thought and words on my own, caring for neither credit nor attribution.

~

A nondescript slice of concrete in the desert marks the spot where a small island of gas pumps once stood. I discovered the remains of this old Route 66 service station by studying satellite imagery of the desert around the ghost town of Siberia. While exploring the site, my mind contrived the story of human ambition and loss here which I suspect may bear more than fleeting resemblance to fact. And the ghosts I’ve borne in my mind for this place are now condemned to haunt these ruins for the rest of my days.

~

I discovered all that remains of the gas station and cafe at the California ghost town of Siberia. Sal and Ruth built this place in the 20s out of mortar and desert sand. The combination home and business had two gas pumps and a service garage with a maintenance pit (visible in photo). There was a separate door into the cafe which had wooden floors, and where Ruth served her customers on fine decorated china. When traffic on the old highway at last gave out, Ruth and Sal made the tough decision to leave their life’s work behind to fall to ruin and fade into the desert, while the couple sought better fortune elsewhere. Today nothing remains of the gas station and cafe but stone foundations and the outlines of lives now smothered in Indifference.

~

I further found the stairs which led into the abandoned roadside diner at Siberia, California. How many road weary American pilgrims stepped up and through the door here for a half hour of relief from the trials of crossing the harsh desert in an unreliable jalopy, or miners coming in from the surrounding claims for a welcome taste of civilization and a home-cooked meal. How many would-be Californians, like my own great grandfather, came here dreaming of a better life if they could only get across this cursed desert! Is it possible my great granddad may have actually been here? Did he perhaps at one time step up these two steps to receive his first formal welcome into California after his long journey from Illinois? The places of rest were few at that time along this inhospitable stretch of America’s Mother Road, making the odds he’d been here not unreasonable, nor very far-fetched.

~

High desert temperatures today kept me near Siberia, and far from the frontier where The Great Indifference doesn’t loom. Why does it remain so far? Why can’t it reclaim the ghost town in the same way as the nocturnal fox who haunts my camp, or the ruin which spoils every human artifact here? It seems human absence is not enough. All reminder must be gone; save the living pulse of a solitary individual, far off trail, far from any comfort or aid, which is the only companionship The Great Indifference may ever abide. I wonder if I’ll sense this strange absence just before the light of my life winks out? When my body is far off trail, beyond any comfort or aid; when the dark frontier grows near, and reality swells with dead promise. I suspect I will. I suspect that’s how we all die, and the reason we cling so desperately to this wondrous thing of life, we sense that our living is something of a revolt, a strange and orderly uphill climb against the pull of universal disorder and chaos. The Great Indifference is that uncaring gravity well we hope to avoid, by averting our eyes with fellowship, love and laughter. And by telling ourselves and one another comforting stories of reunion, reconciliation, and forgiveness. But the night doesn’t care about our fear, nor the wind our chill, nor solitude our lonesome desperation. Better than stories is to face the night, stand in the wind, and embrace today the ones we love. Then, when we discover Indifference looming with the intake of our final breath, we can close our eyes and smile peacefully at an inevitable reunion arrived at after a well lived life.

~

An early lunch in a Route 66 cemetery at the ghost town of Ludlow. Nearly all of the graves here are unnamed and assembled of scrape lumber and nails. Remembrance would be left to the imagination.

~

Today’s desert adventure yielded a very pleasant surprise! In my youth my body could tolerate much heat and outdoor exertion with little impact besides a little weight loss and a propensity to go further than I should, resulting in many blind stumbles alone through darkened desert terrain after failing to find camp before sundown. Back then, I could go all day, and into the night, with little fatigue and rarely dissuaded from any wilderness goal.

After returning to California after my life Japan, I found my new desert adventures were commonly cut short due to sudden exhaustion, and a quite unfamiliar accompanying sense of fear over my physical well-being. I chocked this new limit up to my advancing age, and resigned myself to a fate of steadily diminishing horizons with each successive year.

And then came today. Wow! My old self has seemingly returned! At dawn I hiked a few miles out from the ghost town of Siberia, cautious of the summertime desert inferno I knew would soon arrive, and concerned my body might quickly give out with the heat, extreme exposure and exertion. By the time I returned from this first hike the heat was indeed on, and I’d greedily consumed all my water before I arrived back at camp. I should have been redlined, but I was ready to go out again. And I did!

After refilling my canteens, I stuck out for round two, and an even longer and harder hike. By the time I was back again, the day was hotter, and the water was again no more, yet my body seemed ready to do it all over again. I held back though, not wanting to press too far into this surprising, rediscovered capability.

It’s 4:30 PM now and the desert will soon begin to cool. I feel as lively and ready as I did at dawn, though the eight liters of water which I’ve today drank and sweat away have left my exterior a sun-scorched, salty, dusty and stinky mess. Just like when I was young!

How nice to meet my youthful self again out here in the summertime desert wastes. But don’t worry. I won’t be fooled. I’m 53, not 25. And no matter how good I may feel today I must always respect my true age and my body’s true condition.

~

The desert around Siberia goes on tonight without me. Another dark passage of night like billions before, and billions to come. My presence so brief and fleeting and irrelevant as to escape notice of something with no capacity to notice. Such futile ends those delicious thoughts under the railway bridge. So meaningless to eternity my vain attempts at virtue. Still I think. Still I pursue virtue. For eternity was never mine. And relevance is found in each moment of common human connection. Let the universe live on, and pursue whatever ends it holds with the patience of an immortal. Time was never mine. Just these moments. Just these words.

~

I’d bring others with me to the desert if I didn’t already know that solitude would retreat before our advance.

~

The hot desert months protest my every ambition. Those far mountains…impossible. Those near hills…don’t even think about it. A few days camping exposed upon the alluvium…maybe a day. Such dreams are reserved for winter. Though even then I sense mute protest to my every solitary excursion.

~

I previously believed that winter was the best season for desert hiking. Cold nights, snug in my good sleeping bag. Warm, temperate days, when I can walk for miles while drinking little and sweating less. But now I’m suspect summer has become my preferred time to hike in the desert. I’m not there for the walk after all, or the sights, or–heaven forbid!–any companionship. My aim is the limits. Which are much nearer and more distinct when the temperature is above 100 degrees. A simple August walk a half mile from camp, while the inferno burns, and the landscape twists and shimmers with threat, goes as deep as a five-mile December excursion over black barren peaks, and through long twisting valleys of stone. Though I can turn and see camp, or the road, or my car, seemingly nearby under the summer sun, my mind presses such comforting thoughts aside with much concerned attention to my red, swelling hands, my nearly empty canteen, the total lack of any sheltering shade, and the onset of a woozy haze and dizziness, and faltering ability to see or think straight. Indifference looms then, surrounds, envelopes and ignores me as only its nature and capability demand. My skin then threatens to dry and crisp, and my bones to bleach and break, as my folly and insignificance are held like twin gifts in hands held upright in the direction of safely. This is what I sought with such difficulty in the winter wilds. This is what I found so easily in the summer desert, within footsteps of my car, when only I had the foresight to go alone, knew better, and went anyway.

~

Is it possible to will a place to become haunted? If so, then I suspect I succeeded this weekend during my visit to the desert ghost town of Siberia. The ghosts I made there are only as real than the emotions I used to create them. And they followed me away from that place when I returned home, and will haunt my memory for as long as I live or care to recall. The ghosts will die with me, just like the prior passing of the real persons whose hidden history is their secret inspiration. But such is the way of hauntings, to derive from hinted facts, to then grow and live by imagination, until the imaginer themselves becomes nothing more than a faint and shadowy impression, an indistinct suggestion of facts, a muse and inspiration to the imagination of generations yet to come.

~

Go with a friend, to discover something you can share. Go alone, to find something you may be unable to share.

~

I took this photo just after sunrise last Friday after I’d finished packing camp and eating breakfast in Siberia. This stone wall (and another just to the right of the image) are all that remain of the old railroad station here. The stones which make up the wall were pulled by the builders from surrounding desert alluvium and represent well the long and diverse geologic history of the region. The stones include layered sedimentary rocks formed when this region was the bottom …of a shallow sea. There’s pink rhyolite which oozed slowly from a nearby volcano. One stone includes course breccia from an ancient landslide or waterfall. While still another is a lovely conglomerate formed at the bottom of deep pool at the end of a long series of rapids, perhaps in the age of dinosaurs. Though the wall itself represents very recent events in human history, the stones and sand of which it is made tell a much older and more interesting story. This same story is told by the desert itself. If only we have eyes to see.

~

Warming my hands by this small fire. The dark and vacant desert night crowds close with its silent depth. There’s little fuel left. Just a few small sticks from someone else who’d been here. Where are they now? There are no lights in the night. It seems I’m truly alone. But that’s always been the case. Even in a crowd, my flame–like the flame of all others–burns at the discretion of just my attendance. The fuel is not the matter. There’s plenty of that. It’s the attendance, and the effort I make, to pile on more fuel, and stir the coals. But now my arms grow weak, as they’ve been doing for years, since about age forty. And my thoughts a little slow, and stray, forgetful even…to tend the fire. That’s why it’s become so small. Just a dimming light in the infinite night. I’m tired now. It’s time for a rest. I’ll just lay down here in the soft sand. It’s warm from the day which has already passed. A comforting reminder of the life that was. I’ll just close my eyes for a bit. The fire seems fine. I’m sure the coals will still be glowing at dawn. The night always ends well. That’s always what I’ve said.

~

Walking in the mountains of Japan consumed my mind in direct proportion to the distance moved. If I walked five miles then my mind was never further than that same distance. No place then was really very wild, even though I sometimes went where I suspect nobody’d ever been.

Desert miles stretch all out of proportion to distance. Five miles or fifty are to the same effect. Even fifty yards can do the job when conditions are right.

Lately it seems I don’t even need to go. Just remembering the desert is becoming enough. That never happened with the mountains, or the sea, or with solitude alone.

I’m tempted to think the desert is coming for me. Has me trapped in some way. But that’s nonsense. Indifference doesn’t care. Is incapable of giving a damn. It’s all in my mind. My vain attempt to hold on to what I’ve found. To gain some purchase in reality that might survive my passing. But the desert doesn’t care. Nor the mountains. Nor solitude. Though the desert voices this silence the loudest.

~

That look on the old man’s face. Even though we were both at a crowded mall, surrounded by effervescent living. A warm summer evening. Crowds of young people living. Did he see the Indifference? Was that why his gaze went past everyone into nothing? I think he did. He doesn’t need the desert. He’s almost there.

~

I wrote recently of tending a campfire. However, it’s been years since I’ve actually built one. I prefer now to let darkness come on its own when I’m alone in the wild. I’ll use a light to set up camp, or a flame to cook my meal. But when the camp is set, and my stomach is full, I’ll switch off the light, and sit alone in the vast darkness. Almost like before.

~

I asked myself today why my thoughts so often turn to death, and the related subjects of emptiness, indifference, and oblivion. It’s because I enjoy life, and I believe there’s nothing to follow after we die. I believe that what waits after death is the same utter void we didn’t know before we were born. I believe all this love and laughter, challenge and struggle, and the many opportunities to be, and to do good, will pass away completely the instant our minds shut off, and our being begins to dissolve away. I believe there will be no chance for reunion, reconciliation, or justice after our functions cease. And I believe that we will never again awake into anything like what we are now, though our matter and energy may in fact be used by others. So, if this is what I believe, then I guess it’s no wonder I spend a lot of time thinking about, and gazing into, the void. No wonder I go to wild places. That’s why I choose the desert. And the reason I always go alone. For whenever I return from such places, or such thoughts, I always come back a better man. More sober and composed. Less troubled by petty things. More engaged with my family. More at ease with who I am. Better resolved towards being a good man. And more prepared for the absolute end I must very soon face…alone.

~

Just one more week until the start of flash flood season in the California desert. I look forward to this event with more excitement than Shark Week! Soon my dark and silent nights in Siberia will come alive with thunder, lightning and rain in the nearby Bristol Mountains. These summer storms create powerful and short-lived rivers, which appear suddenly from nowhere, to spill from canyons and dissipate across the broad alluvial plain where I sleep. The floods carry heavy sediment loads of course rock and sand, which are deposited atop the desert, adding new layers to a geologic story which began 34 million years ago; in a period when grasslands first appeared on Earth, and rainforests retreated to the equator. The story goes on, year upon year, century after century, for countless millennia, with few observers, and nobody to know the full tale.

~

There are two types of “swim into deep water” that I enjoy in my life. The first is any solo adventure which stretches the bounds of safety, and puts me beyond easy reach of help. I enjoy these experiences for the impression of frail vulnerability I gain whenever I’m all alone with The Great Indifference, and have no friend or comfort to turn to.

The second “swim into deep water” is when I find some way to honestly undermine my own beliefs, or anything else which I think is true. Sadly, this is becoming less easy, now that I’ve killed so much of my world view, and am left with only a handful of “I dunno”s. It seems there’s little existential threat to admitted ignorance, though there’s lots of discomfort if you don’t like not knowing, and find yourself all alone with your doubt. But then that’s where the first and second types of “Deep Water” meet, and where we enter the really, really deep water which I call the “Deep End of the Ocean”.

The Deep End of the Ocean is where admitted ignorance and accepted Indifference come together and cancel one another out. The very deep sea grows still here in the face of the fact that we don’t really know the answer we previously thought so sure, while simultaneously recognizing that the universe does not, of is incapable of, giving a damn about our troubling dilemma.

I don’t get to swim in Deep Water very often, as life has a way of sending rescuers to such places to quickly extract and return us back to work, or to our friends, or our family, our church, bar, shopping mall, television, or anything else that gives us comforting suckle, while reassuring us that we are right, and in fact, not alone.

So, I’ll take such swims as I can, and when I’m able. And with a little luck I’ll one day drown out there, far to sea, alone with my doubt, beyond any savior, trembling within the dark, indifferent depths above, below, and everywhere all around.

~

The most disturbing thing about being alone in the desert isn’t what you might find there, but what you won’t.

~

The volcanos of the Eastern Mohave Desert are largely extinct due to the way in which they were formed. Each cinder cone and lava dome in this region had its origin deep within the Earth’s upper mantle. This geologic story begins roughly 100 miles northeast of the intersection of the North American and Pacific crustal plates – which form the San Andreas Fault – where this fault crosses the San Bernardino Mountains at Cajon Pass. Though these plates are running laterally against one another, there is sufficient subduction of the Pacific plate to draw water-rich oceanic crust deep into the mantle below the North American plate. The introduction of water into the mantle at these depths lowers pressure such that large bubbles of hot magma form which begin to rise up and into the Earth’s solid crust. It’s essentially the same process which causes bubbles to form in a bottle of pop after the cap is opened. These “bubbles” of molten rock burn their way slowly through miles of solid rock as they rise towards the surface, cooling, changing, and growing smaller as the go. Tens of thousands of years later, the molten bubbles of magma arrive at the surface to “pop” as small, short-lived volcanos, or simply to bulge through the surface–without popping–to form nicely symmetrical lava domes.

While driving through the desert on Interstates 15, 40 or old Route 66, it’s possible to see dozens of these extinct volcanos and lava domes frozen at the moment of their death, when the last of their molten magma cooled upon reaching the surface of the Earth. We can even gauge how long their journey was by the color and texture of their rocks; with dark volcanos rising more quickly than light-colored volcanoes which enjoyed a longer, or slower, trip from the liquid mantle to the surface of the Earth.

~

Forty-eight hours until I leave again for Siberia. It’s a swim into deep water out there at this time of year. Even at night. A warm glide over unfathomed depths in every direction. Sometimes out there I distract myself with living. It’s an easy trick which we learn from birth. But the game becomes so apparent the moment I falter in my play. Like a man playing solitaire on a desert island, who suddenly looks up and remembers his real situation. There are no conspirators when I’m alone out there in the deep desert. Nobody to help keep up the game. No one to share the illusion. None at all…out there.

~

If you don’t enjoy criticism then don’t attempt to swim alone in the deep desert. If you don’t like being wrong, then remain at home with your costly peace and certitude. I’d accept no something in exchange for my nothing. The desert took it all away from me, including the space where it once all belonged.

~

I arrived at Siberia minutes after sundown and had only a short amount of time to set up camp before deep darkness enveloped the land. The only light or sound of humanity after nightfall here is the very rare passing of a vehicle on Route 66 or the commanding passage of a mile-long train moving up or down the Mojave grade. The mountains to the south are 16 miles (26 kilometers) away. During summer thunderstorms I can sometimes see lightening in those mountains without hearing any sound of thunder.

~

Silence and peace with every footstep and moment. Even now the desert quiet is with me. This has nothing to do with the desert, really. Though without the deep desert the spell might never have been broken. I used to worry that if I spent too much time alone out there then I’d in some way never get back. Instead, what I’ve found out there has seemingly become lost within me. It looks out through my eyes and sees the vast and terrible emptiness behind everything, reminding me …to build and maintain sound principals of virtue, which are the tools and apparatus of a good and meaningful life. It hushes my mind with quiet when life rustles with demand, helping me to focus and attend to my responsibility, as well as the true ends of virtue. I see the nothing which awaits after life is done, which compels me to act now in the name of virtue, and the improved well-being of my fellows, as well as the well-being of those yet to come. I used to think I’d someday lose myself in the desert. Though I never guessed I’d be lost until the desert Indifference became lost in me.

~

90-minute countdown to departure for Siberia. I wonder if that fear I always meet along the way is waiting now to ambush me? It usually lurks out past Ludlow, not far from Pisgah crater, on the right side of the road.

When the fear comes it always tracks me close beside the road, easily shadowing the big bike as I roll and glide through the black lava fields. In winter it’s dark already when I arrive, so I can’t see, but I know it’s there. In summer, like now, it seems to move stealthily among the rocks while waiting for nightfall, which approaches fast from the east.

The fear does something to me about three miles from Siberia. I always want to turn back. Haven’t yet. But who knows tonight? Turning in onto the dirt road to the Siberia ruins I’ve more important and real worries to attend to; as navigating a 600-pound motorcycle on a dirt road is real fear enough to dispel any mere phantom.

Once I arrive, and shut off the bike, the fear is gone. It wasn’t like that the first, or even the second, time I went; when I cowered in the car, with the doors locked, staring out at the dark. I felt like such a kid then. It’s a wonder I went back. No more though. When the bike’s engine stops. And the desert silence swarms in. All fear. Every last bit. Drains away.

~

Have I arrived in Siberia or has Siberia arrived in me?

~

Greetings from Siberia. It’s dark now. And big. This place is so big. As I sit here on the hot, dark sand, I think I’ve figured something out. I know now why this place can’t get me. Why I’m not afraid here anymore. Why the solitude and the night, and the Indifference, can’t take me away; though it’s got me now, and there’s nowhere to run. It’s because I’m connected. Deeply connected. To my wife, and my daughter, and my brother, and my mom. And to the others too. I try hard with my family. And do a pretty good job, I think. Not so much the others. It’s my failing. One of many. These connections though do the trick, I think. They keep me safe here. Prevent my mind from wandering to places from which it might never return.

In 1989 I left my girlfriend–now my wife–behind in a small college town near Oregon while I embarked on a Great Life Adventure. I made it as far as the desert. In fact, not far from where I am now. Just over the Bristol mountains to the northwest, near the shore of Soda Dry Lake. Something happened to me then which caused me to promptly return to Yumiko. I gave up the desert then. I knew I was about to go too far into the wild. Not physically. But that other way. I sensed then–quite rightly–that if I’d continued then I’d never have made it back. I was right. I know that now.

Now I’m back in the desert. Twenty-eight years later. The same threat looms here like before. I can sense it. But I’m not afraid. It can’t get me. I’m too strong now. Though my body is weak, my spirit, resolve and hard-won maturity are more than a match for The Great Indifference.

Not so in my youth. If I’d stayed then I would surely have been consumed.

~

I don’t expect to remember life.

~

Every swim into deep water comes at a price. The cost is the genuine quality of our connection with those we left behind. For as our universe expands without them, we find we’ve less to relate, and have fewer common connections. That’s why we so often choose society over solitude, institutions over independence, and the status quo over the strange and the unknown. Venture too far or long into deep water and we risk losing sight of shore. The place where you swim then is very real, it just won’t seem so to others, and the things you describe…well, perhaps it’s better you just keep these things to yourself. Enjoy your society, relish your institutions, abide the status quo if it be good, and just, and of virtue. Just don’t forget where you’ve been. And what you’ve seen.

~

At one point during my hike in the desert today I took refuge from the heat under a bridge where Route 66 crosses a desert wash. I found a Japanese book under the bridge. The book describes a round-the-world bicycle journey. Hand-written Japanese writing on the back of the book reads “I will not die far from home. I will make it back alive.” Yumiko tells me the writing is a man’s handwriting, and the dialect is from the Kansai region of Japan.

~

Take another with you if all you want is adventure. Life can pass easy this way. Though I suspect at times you’ll wonder if there’s more. There isn’t. Which is an awful fact. Quick. Cover it up with distraction. Turn back to the comfort of friends. Clasp your hands in prayer. Keep yourself company with the sound of your own voice. Just don’t go alone. Unless you really want to see.

~

Though I missed the mark yesterday in the desert, failed to disconnect, failed to become lost. I did however find trace of someone else’s success. That Japanese man who left his book beneath a Route 66 bridge. The boldly scribbled note he left at the back of the book. There’s no doubt he met The Great Indifference. It’s not just in my mind. It’s really not out there.

~

My goal from last weekend’s hike was to safely explore how many hours I could hike into the day after sunrise, and before things started to get dangerous. The answer is about four hours on a day when temps will max out at around 110 degrees Fahrenheit. But that was WITH three stops to rest under various flash flood bridges beneath the railroad tracks and Route 66. These stops were crucial to bringing my body temperature down, as there is absolutely no other shade in the open desert to use for this purpose. If I hadn’t had those bridges to rest under I think the hike could have been only two hours or less. I could literally feel my body temperature rising like a kettle on the stove while walking exposed to the direct sunlight. This was especially true after 9:00 AM. The experience was rather alarming, and I definitely would not want to be caught an hour or more from camp during summer any time after 9:00 AM. I must keep the summertime hiking to either nighttime or for just a few hours after dawn. A VERY good lesson learned.

~

I’ve found what’s possibly another lost grave belonging to the desert ghost town of Siberia. The only reason I even guess it’s a grave is because it matches so well with graves I’ve seen in other ghost towns along Route 66. This collection of arranged stones is located just a short way out from where the town used to be, is formed of hastily arranged stones, and can seemingly serve no other useful purpose. Wooden crosses or headstones were commonly used on graves like this, though the howling desert winds take their toll on such markers and many graves I’ve seen are today missing their wooden markers and remain just a pile or outline of stones. I was a little delirious with the heat when I found this and I’m afraid I probably couldn’t find it again if I tried.

~

I’m following that mysterious stone-lined desert path which runs from nowhere to nowhere within the desert ghost town of Siberia. This path has become a companion of sorts for me whenever I come here, as I always seem to stumble upon it during my nighttime walks, and I still find new traces of it when I meander about in the morning drinking my coffee. Invariably, my mind always wonders about the hands which so carefully placed these.

~

I wish I had the courage to write all of the words. I’d have thought it would be easier way out here. Maybe after I lose sight of land? Maybe only after I toss the compass over the side?

~

Route 66 camp at Siberia, California. It’s summer now, and already I can feel the intensity of the sun as it crawls up slowly towards the horizon. The solar heat literally spills over the mountains before the sun can even be seen. It’s like feeling the first trickle of a heat flood which is about to engulf the desert. I get a little anxious in this hour of the day, and I tend to work fast to break camp and ready the motorcycle for a hasty retreat. The radiant heat energy of the desert is astounding, and there is absolutely nowhere to hide besides the shade under railroad and highway bridges, which I must sometimes share with birds and jackrabbits. It’s no wonder most of the animal life out here is nocturnal, hiding away from the sun at dawn, just before the inferno switches on. Walking alone across the desert on a summer day can be a very lonesome experience. Where is everyone? Why are all the locals hiding? What do they know that I don’t seem to grasp?

Ready to depart Siberia California. The night before I took this photo was especially hot, only cooling to a comfortable level just before dawn. I ate my dinner while seated on the gravelly dirt, covered in sweat, wondering about male tarantulas which wander actively through the summer night looking for females. Though the wind was gentle this particular night, I did take precaution to lash the tent securely to the ground with pegs and ropes, and to angle the tent with the narrow sides facing east and west which align the tent perpendicular to the night wind, which can sometimes rise suddenly to blow with great intensity for hours through the night. Desert night winds (unless due to a storm) nearly always blow into the desert, which means west to east at Siberia, which fact allows me to reliably prepare my tent to weather the blast should it come.

The night is quiet here in every season, except the trains, which literally blast through the dark with deep rumbling engines which shake the ground, and resonant whistle blasts which echo off the black volcanos. The stars also remain constant in every season. Even when the Bristol and Bullion mountains to the north and south are being drenched in summer thunderstorms, the air overhead at Siberia is nearly always clear and clean all the way to the Milky Way. Just satellites mar the view, or an occasional jetliner, strangely silent, remind me of my species.

It’s a good thing. Such solitude. So much is lost then. So little gained. A very equitable trade.

~

Eventually, I won’t need the desert. Or the silence. Or the stillness. Or the atmosphere of peace. Maybe then I’ll understand the reason Epictetus wrote that “the wise man stays at home.”

~

With today’s outing, I was experimenting with how long I could remain exposed and moving out in the open desert, on a day when temps would top out at around 110 degrees F. (43 C.). I learned that I don’t want to be more than an hour away from shade after approximately 8:00 AM. I could probably extend that range by wearing more–and better quality–clothing, as it seems it’s really the exposure to direct sunlight which drives my body temperature up fast, rather than the simple fact of being outdoors. The sunlight hitting my exposed skin seems to transfer an astonishing amount of heat energy which might otherwise be blocked or deflected by a sensible layer of clothing. I’m planning to research the desert clothing solutions in use by desert-dwelling peoples in places like Africa and the Middle East for some tips and tricks to help keep me safe. Another idea is to carry some form of easy-to-assemble shelter which I can quickly erect as a hiding place from the sun. I’m thinking perhaps of using a large reflective space blanket secured to the ground with pegs and elevated with a short pole. For this journey, I was using the very nice shady areas beneath flash flood bridges along both the railroad and Route 66. I’m certain I could easily spend an entire day under one of these bridges during even the hottest desert days. However, a smaller shelter (like my proposed space-blanket tent) would likely offer far less cooling opportunity, and I’ll need to experiment carefully with such options. An extra concern is the fact that since I’m on a motorcycle there’s no chance to escape the heat in a pinch by ducking into a car to enjoy the air conditioning. This means that I must always plan to get back to my bike with enough exposure reserves (new term?) to get the big GSA fired up, safely down the dirt road from Siberia, and out onto Route 66 where I can enjoy the moderately cooling effect of a 60 MPH wind. Altogether, I’m very satisfied with this experiment, though as you’ll discover if you watch this video, I think the heat may have made me a bit delirious at times.

~

I’m beginning to assemble some Going Alone best practices. Suggestions for anyone interested in entering wildness alone in search of The Great Indifference. Of course, the first trick is knowing that you don’t need to go to wildness to encounter Indifference. You just need to see past the thin veneer of meaning and illusory permanence we so expertly smear over everything and everyone around us.

  1. Go Alone
    Reject all company in the wild. Reject even the desire to consult yourself. Let every new outing put yet another mile between you and everything that comforts and reassures your mind. With time, what you’ve left behind will be like a distant carnival of stimulation and distraction. A loud, brilliant spectacle of days leading to a fearful end no one dares honestly discuss. But beware going too far, too soon, or too young. For it is possible to go so distant into wildness that you can never come back. For that matter, find love in your life. Find a partner who will understand. And who will let you go to the wild alone. Someone to return to. Someone who will leave a light on for your return. And warm you with their embrace when you reach out longingly to hold them after you’ve come back. Someone to appreciate after you’ve seen what’s not really out there.
  2. No Campfire
    Let the night come on its own terms. Sit alone on the hard ground and let darkness arrive. Walk blind into the night. Stumble and fall. And meet the fearful things you imagine are there.
  3. No Seat
    Never bring any chair into the wild. Nor create a seat. Just sweep away with your bare hand the larger stones and then sit on the ground, or in the sand, or on a rock. Or better yet, stand and move always.
  4. Find a Desert
    Go someplace hard and empty. Avoid places with soft grass on the ground, or green leafy trees for shade. Find someplace where no one goes. Find a place hot, or cold, or windy, or bleak. A place where life isn’t really welcome. Where you feel a bit threatened by the empty.
  5. No Connectivity
    Switch off the device. And then never switch it back on. Or, if your muse is catalyzed by the act of posting, then make the effort one way. Avoid checking or responding while in the wild. Or better yet, ever.
  6. No Books
    You know better. Leave the books at home. Though bring blank pages. And a pencil. Or your blog. Do these things if you discover your muse meets you there in the wastes. Listen and record what you hear then. Don’t be embarrassed to share. Though you’ll likely be looked at and thought of as increasingly odd.
  7. Death at First Light
    Greet the dawn by imagining your own death, and the eternity of utter empty quiet to follow. Imagine that you’ll never again see the ones you love. Never again experience any thought or emotion. Ask yourself how you should best spend the coming day, knowing how few days really remain, and how much you will very soon lose when this life is done.

~

I’m gearing up now for today’s ride and overnight at Siberia. The temperature forecast for today is 109 degrees and 113 for tomorrow. I always lose more in the desert than I gain. I wonder how much less there’ll be of me after I return? I wonder what part of me will evaporate away today and tomorrow in the heat and empty?

~

I have a home. I have a wife. I have a daughter. And I have an extended family. And I have a place called Siberia. It’s someplace that reminds me that the universe doesn’t care. It’s a place that threatens without acknowledging my presence. Its silence deafens my every hope and ambition. I become almost nothing here. For a night. And then a day. Before I go back to my wife. And to my daughter. And my family. And my life. And I resolve then to make purpose and meaning where there is none. To identify virtue and make it my friend. And to vow allegiance to what is true. And to deny what is false. And to live a Good Life. A life of meaning. A life of love. A life well lived.

~

I’m embarking on my first ever solo night hike in the desert. It’s dark out there. And I’ve no reliable way to find my way back to a ghost town without lights or any sign of life. I won’t go far this first time. Just until I can no longer touch bottom.

~

The temperature today was around 110 degrees F. (43 C.), with a gentle, yet very hot, wind blowing in from the west. It’s hard to describe well the emptiness out here at night, with just my little penlight providing a dull haze of illumination in an ocean of black. The locomotives do thunder through from time to time, yet they seem as indifferent to my meek presence here as the night and the heat. I think it’s their steel rails which insulate the occupants from the fearful reality which swims here in the night.

~

A lot of me evaporated away into the hot desert night during this hike. I’m discovering that the stuff that goes wasn’t necessary anyway. Each time I go to the desert I return with less. And I’m a better man for the process. More deliberate. More sincere. Less distracted. Lighter in every way.

~

The desert quiet is everywhere with me now. Everything slower. Silence deep within the mind.

~

Desert skies offer little impediment to elevated thought. Without clouds or much insulating humidity between the Earth and the vacuum of space, my thinking floats easily up and away from whatever might otherwise restrain and constrain upon the firm bedrock of convention. If I float my ideas high enough, I can no longer make out the ground. Everything becomes a vast landscape of Indifference. There’s little difference in any direction. Even the deep dark above yawns awesome and deep. A similar infinity below towards the ground. And around me on every side. I’m increasingly mute whenever I return. There seems little reason to share what I can barely find words to describe.

~

There’ll be just a sliver of moon two days hence when I arrive at Siberia. The moon will hang low in the west just after I arrive at sunset. Within two hours this faint source of light will pass over the horizon, leaving deep night until dawn. A darkness not even the abundant starlight can awaken. I’ll walk then alone into the desert. A flashlight to guide the way. All inner light extinguished through a force of will to fit in.

~

I’m at the edge of the desert now. Terrible heat. Awful, really. I’ve been exposed now for hours. So much has been drained from me. I’m counting the remaining hours now to sunset. Anticipating some relief after the sun goes down. I like life this way. I enjoy looking over the awful edge of oblivion.

~

After nine months and four attempts I was at last able yesterday to get a San Bernardino County Sheriff’s Deputy to the desert location where I discovered what I thought were human bones. Three deputies agreed, and the bones are now on their way to the coroner.

~

Have you ever smelled the odor of a rock? This is something I’ve only ever experienced in the deep East Mojave Desert. In the low, crumbling ruins of the ancient Bristol and Bullion mountains. Among the island peaks of the Old Dad and Old Woman mountains. And at the rugged and exposed feet of the great Providence and Granite mountains. The smell of stone here can only be detected during the hottest days of summer, and only just after sundown, when the faint twilight grows and a swell of gratitude emerges that we’ve survived another inferno day. The exposed stones here are the ancient product of the collision of continents, white, red and black in color, rich in silicon and iron. It’s the iron we can seemingly smell. It’s the same odor of our own fresh and copious blood. The taste of a bloody nose. Something about the long hot day and the sudden cessation of heat when the sun goes down appears to draw this same faint odor from the stones, from the landscape itself. It’s a beautiful smell while it lasts. Strangely familiar. Wildly unexpected. As exotic and evocative as a rare perfume. Don’t expect this aroma of iron from the forest, or the sea, or the desert sands. It’s a product of bare and exposed and ancient desert mountains. A factor of deep heat and sudden cooling, and the relief of survival, and the promise of night and the chance of another day.

~

I often like to compare my desert outings to a swim in the sea. In wintertime, a walk into the desert is like a leisurely swim into deep water from a calm and serene shoreline. It isn’t until you’re very far out that it dawns on you how deep, black and cold the water below is, and how distant the shimmering shore. In summertime though, a walk into the desert is like playing in the surf on a day when heavy wind and waves pound upon the shore. There’s trepidation from the first step. And danger even before we’re over our heads in apparent depth.

~

Summer is like a storm upon the desert. A raging tempest of heat, which drives nearly all life to the cover of daylight shade, or to flee altogether until the storm’s autumn end. To swim then is to risk death in short order. To drown in the heat. To die with bulging eyes and swollen tongue, stumbling naked into a shimmering mirage. To become parched and bleached bones upon the sand.

The winter desert kills with cold indifference. It’s cool daylight silence lures us too far from where we should turn back. The comfort is a feign illusion. Just a little further. I’ll go just past that ridge. The atmosphere so mild and comforting at midafternoon. The sunset coming on. Shall I stop and watch? Nightfall. The onset of deep, deep cold. Which way back? No lights. No trail. No guide. A final evening. The start of an endless night.

~

There was a storm raging all about me during this hike. You can’t see it for the clear, clean atmosphere, the dead air, and the deceptive desert silence. Yet you can see it in my beet-red face. You can detect real and rising anxiety in my fast words, and sense my growing delirium in the odd topics of conversation, and the distracted nature of my discourse. While making this video I’d been exposed in the open sun in temperatures of 110-degree Fahrenheit (43 C.) for over two hours, and the heat stress was really beginning to take its toll. I remember thinking, while I walked to hide under the Route 66 bridge, how I was perhaps getting near to someplace bad with regard to my bodily condition. Getting close to someplace I shouldn’t want to go. Yet curiosity urged me to continue just a little further when I soon left the shelter of the bridge. To inch just a bit nearer the edge of heat stroke and the one-way vista beyond. There’s something deeply satisfying about tempting danger in this way. I suspect it’s the same feeling others get when they drive very fast, or swim with sharks, or climb without ropes. A deep invigoration and appreciation of life which comes of every near miss of life’s final and utterly conclusive end.

~

The season of heat is passing. Temperatures today in the Eastern Mojave Desert won’t climb past 100 degrees until mid-afternoon. A mild day by recent standards. Soon the sun will relent its terrible onslaught of energy upon the land; not by nature of diminished output, but only through the gradual shortening of days, and the less direct angle of attack. I can already feel the coming change; anticipate the cooler evenings, and the crisp bite of midnight cold which is herald of the much deeper and colder winter nights to come. There isn’t much time between seasons here. Barely a chance to rest a moment and prepare for the next season’s atmosphere and inclination. Spring and autumn are bliss here. Though the memory and forecast of what was and what’s to come dull all but the most senseless immediate regard.

~

Age 53 and my mental faculties are both optimally tuned and failing fast. The experience of operating this system is like piloting an airplane through a range of mountains I can’t possibly summit. With each passing year of life, the canyons narrow and the valleys rise. There’s no going back, and time’s running out ahead. I’d better do my thinking now before this journey very soon ends as a smoldering stain upon a high alpine cliff.

~

There is great virtue in self-destruction. By this I do not mean self-harm. Or injury in any way to our well-being, or our innate sense of happiness. In fact, I seek to increase these greatly. To rarify goodness and find more immediate and sound answers to life’s most challenging issues and questions. I do this through destruction. Self-destruction to be exact.

I attempt this destruction daily. Usually in the morning. Just before sunrise. I do this by throwing everything of real value upon the fire. Not a scrape of sentiment should remain. I start the fire with an honest question. Are these things true? I then heap on the fuel of criticism. Blow the flames with puffs of objectivity. Lay on abundant dry honesty. And then watch the new day’s inferno rage.

What’s left in the embers is the little bits of truth I’ll carry for another day. These are my treasures now. Not those combustible ideas of dogma, tradition and authority. I’ve burned them down again. As I will again tomorrow. And the day after that.

My secret goal is to one day have nothing left to burn. To be forced to go a day in utter doubt and confusion. Oh, what a blessing to walk in the company of an ignorance hard earned of education, and lost utterly to fearless naked doubt.

~

I used to be afraid of the desert for impractical reasons. I was afraid of the dark. And the solitude. And the questions which lurked there. These fears have largely passed. Now I’m afraid of more practical things. Like the heat. And the cold. And the risk of going very far while very alone. But also, there’s a new and very different fear that’s arising. I began to sense it just recently. Perhaps truly during this last outing two weeks back. It’s the sense of the perception of a pathway emerging before me. An invisible route of my own making. A way opening up which I know I’ll follow. I don’t fear this direction for any reason other than I know that passage is one way, and utterly irrevocable.

~

48 hours ’till Siberia. I’ll arrive half an hour after sunset. It’ll be dark then. I’m thinking perhaps I’ll leave the motorcycle at the ghost town ruins, and night hike immediately after I arrive. Instead of packing the motorcycle with my camping gear, I’ll instead prepare my three-day tactical bag, and wear it while riding all the way out to the desert. This is easy to do, as I can simply loosen the pack’s shoulder straps and allow the bike’s pillion seat to carry the pack’s full weight. This way, I just get off the bike when I arrive, tighten the straps, and start walking into the dark.

For this hike I’ll go perhaps a mile north from Siberia into the near edge of the Deep-Water Wilderness. This will be my first real overnight in the desert-and away from the reassuring touch of civilization-in over three decades. A homecoming of sorts.

The last time I did a night hike like this I was very young. I remember that night well. I remember emerging from my tent deep in the night to admire the rising moon. I remember the warm empty promise of the desert night wind. I remember feeling so small and frail, standing naked and barefoot on the sand in the vast and empty night. The great, dark desert illuminated with faint pale moonlight. The only man on Earth it seemed. It’s possible my nihilism can be traced to this moment, or moments like this. There were many then.

I wonder how my much older mind will react to this same experience 48 hours from now? Things are very different now. I’m a family man now. I have solid life objectives now. I have sound principals now. I have deeply meaningful purpose now. I know and recognize The Great Indifference now. I don’t fear the empty. Death is a wondrous, perhaps utterly final mystery to me now. I no longer pretend I’ve out-thought death’s mystery, and I no longer pledge allegiance to any comforting story of forever. I now instead await and welcome whatever strange, wondrous or terrible reality really awaits. I think I’m ready for whatever I’ll now find in the night.

~

There’s always lightning here at night in Siberia. In the east. And in the north. Ever seen. Never heard.

~

The dust storm hit my desert camp before I could finish pounding in the last tent stakes, sending the loose tent flaps flapping madly while minute particles of dust began irritating my eyes, and blocking out the setting sun. The wind blew hard for several hours at the start of night, while I alternated resting and walking about the dark camp. It was too hot to remain in the tent. Too windy to cook a meal or relax. Too soon for sleep.

The wind eventually stopped. The dust passed or settled into the dark. The stars came out. Still too hot to sleep well, I bound the tent flaps open, to invite in the night breeze, as well as scorpions, tarantula, and snakes. I lay naked upon the floor of the tent. Nothing to sleep on or covered by; just the soft, hot sand below, and the dehydrating hot wind above, blowing heat all about and over every inch of my body.

I slept then. Not well. Not deep. Night thoughts rose in my mind between dream and consciousness. I tended these like a small, fragile flame when I could; when my mind rose far enough from sleep to realize I was thinking. I let all those quiet night thoughts go. I can’t remember a one now. They were ghosts in the night.

I’m awake now. It’s another hour before dawn. The morning wind woke me with a long and sudden blast of hot anger. I expect this is how the desert anticipates the summer day to come. An anxiety of mindless natural force.

The desert around me is so dark and empty. Only the wind my companion. And the stars a distant, mute audience. This night I’ll remember always. A fitting candidate for the one-day smile on an old man’s face. My grandchildren wondering–why does granddad smile that way?

~

Sweat and life evaporate equally out here. The lull and comfort of civilization and companionship dull my perception of life’s immediate passing. The tick tick of seconds we’ll never get back.

Don’t think such thoughts! Here, amuse yourself with the TV, or watch a movie. How about a meal? Or a drink? Or a chat with friends?

There’s no such distraction out here. Just the locomotives determined passing; blind to anything other than their rails.

I can’t help sense time’s passage here. Feel the very real weight of age. My muscles seem to fade with each step. That distant peak, possible yesterday, impossible today; not even a dream tomorrow.

Each moment, less and less.

~

There was an enormous dust storm racing across the desert towards me. I was scrambling to set up and secure my tent before the storm arrived. The initial winds were pretty intense, nearly knocking the tent flat before blotting out the remaining sun and ushering in the start of a long, hot, gritty night. Note the small volcano at lower left just as it’s being swallowed by the storm.

~

There’s an invisible killer prowling the entirety of the desert on a schedule both predictable and unposted. It swallows everyone and everything at once, and begins squeezing until we’re either dead or it’s time for departure has come. It will come again tomorrow, a little sooner or later depending on the season. It disappears for some months while its less dangerous fraternal twin takes its station. There’s a short season of overlap when both twins can be met on the same day; though never at the same hour. Remember that these killers cannot be seen. Are soundless. Have no mind. And are utterly without mercy.

~

It didn’t escape my notice that the desert dust storm I encountered two nights back encompassed the Deep-Water Wilderness. Before the wind and sand swallowed me up where I camped on the gently sloping alluvial plain near Siberia, I watched as the storm-front passed quickly across the edge of Deep Water, one mile to the north of my camp. This means the dust storm swept up and through first the twisting red canyons of Deep Water, and then along the craggy black volcanic mountains leading to the heart of the desolate Bristol range. From within those mountains, someone would never see such a storm approaching.

The experience of such a sand storm within the mountains would be both sudden, and overwhelming. Immediately prior, the air would be still. The sky would be clear. The desert as silent as always–and then suddenly a brown wall and wave of wind would appear over the ridge and up the canyon. Anyone walking or setting up camp there would be consumed in seconds by wind and sand; left standing or hunkering against the sandblast gale. Eyes covered by hands. Mouth tight. Mind racing. And as these storms often come at twilight, the person caught so exposed would also be subject to sudden nightfall, as the sand snuffs out the setting sun, ushering in a long, harsh twilight.

I wonder how often the desert explorers and miners of old encountered such storms? The only story I’ve read of such an event relates a 100-year-old tale of an old miner who was caught suddenly by a sand storm in the same general area where I was camping two nights back. In fact, he was a few miles south east at the edge of the Amboy Crater lava field, attempting the long walk from Bagdad to Twentynine Palms where he would attempt to sell various items he’d collected from the mines. He was an old man, and got by any way he could. I suspect the sandstorm he met rose up from the same dry lake bed where my storm was born. The miner was overwhelmed by the storm, just as I was, and sought shelter in a lava tube, while I found refuge in a tent. While waiting out the wind and sand he discovered large chunks of gold in the lava. The story goes that he took enough gold to fill a Bull Durham bag, with plans to return for the rest. Sadly, the old miner was dead within 24 hours of his return to Bagdad, and the gold he brought back was used to pay his funeral expense.

I expect these sand storms have been a feature of the desert here for tens of thousands of years. Now that I know of them–and know what to look for and expect–I’ll anticipate the day I’m once again suddenly enveloped in a long, blustery, gritty night of blowing sand and howling wind. I’ll relish the chance; and prepare my mind for the trial.

~

Four weeks back and my overnight at Siberia was a brutal affair. The ground had absorbed a great deal of energy from sunlight, which it then radiated into the cooling night air from sundown until well past midnight. Sleep was very difficult for me then, as sweat pooled on the bottom of my tent, and I tossed and turned until 3:00 AM. I arose at dawn thoroughly dehydrated, and fully sapped of all energy. The prospect of facing sunrise, and the broiling day to come, was daunting then, and I hastily broke camp in favor of a full retreat to my cool and comfortable home on the coast.

Two weeks later, on August 11th, and the story was different. Temperatures were five degrees cooler, and the earth was losing its collected daytime heat fast after sundown. This was due to an unexpected sand storm which rose suddenly at dusk, with winds that seemingly drained the Earth of heat before the long summer twilight was complete. I slept better then, save for the clamor of wind rattling my tent, and the grit of sand blowing in through open flaps, as well as the bite of some desert creepy crawly which clambered into bed with me from the dark. When I awoke the next day at dawn, the planet was in halcyon spirits, and I wondered if summer had somehow gone. The air temperature was cool, and atmosphere refreshingly clear after the long night of blowing sand. I stepped out of my tent into pale light beneath a still ebony sky. The stars were gone in anticipation of the dawn. Day and night hung then in perfect balance. My fear of the desert was gone then too. I even contemplated a two-mile hike to the edge of Deep Water.

The desert had me fooled. Not deliberately of course. There’s far too much indifference here to support any malice. I was fooled by circumstance, and the natural confluence of events, and the quality and character of that particular morning’s climate, and my own foolish trust of a clockwork universe of ever descending consequence.

I was slow to break camp then. I lured myself to complicit peace, and a quiet and settled attitude.

Suddenly the heat returned with force. It was about thirty minutes after those beams first touched my skin after sunlight spilled over the Bristol Mountains. I felt my internal temperature begin to rise, rising faster than sweat could control. Besides, I was thoroughly dehydrated from the dry night wind. There wasn’t enough moisture in me to mount an effective thermal defense. I was losing the battle even before it really began. A little panic then. A little haste.

I broke camp quickly, and was on my motorcycle and moving along Route 66 in no time. That felt good. I was keeping the rising desert heat at bay through the wind of my ride, and the false sense of safety that our contraptions do provide.

I stopped the bike once to admire a distant bajada. And another time to cast a melancholy gaze at the nothing that was once the ghost town of Bagdad. Neither time did I get off the bike. Neither time did I stop the engine. Two much risk in either action. Just keep moving. Forget about the heat.

About ten miles from my camp at Siberia I saw the low, black profile of the volcanic cinder cone called Amboy Crater, and my route began taking me past the crater’s many miles of hardened black lava. This is a particularly hot place, hotter than the surrounding desert. This is due to the black rocks which absorb heat to such an extent that you cannot touch them with bare skin, and which radiate this heat all day and night in great waves upon the land. This area is one of the origin places for the great winds which drive the sandstorms here, an origin place for many indifferent desert things.

On a whim I decided to pull into Amboy Crater at the Bureau of Land Management’s narrow, one-lane paved road leading into the National Monument. I knew there were covered picnic tables by the trail head, which is the start of the two mile walk to the crater summit. I thought I’d rest a bit in the shade. Ready myself for the long, two-hundred-mile ride home.

I woke an hour later to utter silence. The same midsummer daytime silence which speaks such volumes in the desert. There was nobody around when I’d arrived. Nobody came while I lay nearly naked on the concrete in the shade, ants climbing over my body, displaying the same open Indifference I know so well here.

I sat up and rubbed my eyes, which squinted bloodshot and red, still stinging from the night’s blowing sand. “Why do I do this?” I asked myself. “Why do I come to such places?” No answer was needed. The silence was answer enough. I didn’t think anything more. Though I did write a short bit of prose then. I’ve copied it below. It’s about the heat…and the cold. The twin killers as I called them. Here’s what I wrote:

“There’s an invisible killer prowling the entirety of the desert on a schedule both predictable and unposted. It swallows everyone and everything at once, and begins squeezing until we’re either dead or it’s time for departure has come. It will come again tomorrow, a little sooner or later depending on the season. It disappears for some months while its less dangerous fraternal twin takes its station. There’s a short season of overlap when both twins can be met on the same day; though never at the same hour. Remember that these killers cannot be seen. Are soundless. Have no mind. And are utterly without mercy.”

Six hours later I was home. Safe with my wife and daughter. Enjoying a long, cool swim in the pool.

Twenty-four hours after I left Amboy Crater, a husband and wife from Los Angeles drove into the same empty parking lot. I’m sure nobody else was there. They probably parked their car in the same spot where I’d parked my motorcycle, which was the most convenient location in the lot, close to both the shelter of the covered picnic benches and the trailhead. At around 11:00 AM the couple set out for the crater. By 2:00 PM they were both dead.

~

One reason few people remain in the desert very long is the dawning awareness that arises here, that no legacy or memory can stay intact in such a hostile and dangerous place. Everything dies in the desert. Everything fades to dust and sand. Nothing remains or returns like it was before.

Elsewhere, in more mild climes, the fact of our growing and extending circles of family and friends, and the seeming permanence of what we’ve made or done in our lives, lead us to believe that the results of our life efforts will last, and maybe even survive for a while beyond our own passing. We imagine our life’s work will stand for a time as a humble monument to our brief existence here. We’re comforted we won’t soon be forgotten. That after death, our name won’t quickly become disconnect from the individual we once were. That anonymity will not sweep over us as it does every man, and every woman, and every child, who was, and who no longer is. That we won’t at last become nothing more than a fading name, scratched, along with some dates, onto cut stone in a graveyard of forgotten someones. Old age and death are less fearful then, as we’ve fooled ourselves that our works will last for a while upon the Earth, while our spirit will then go on to exist forever in heaven or hell. Such a curious equanimity. Such a deceitful peace.

Deserts offer no such peace. Deserts remind us that we are sand, and wind, and heat. Animated for a while. Alive for just another day. They inform us we have no soul. They tell us that death is no more than a return to the nothing we knew so long before life. And deserts say these things without words. Speaking facts through mute and stark example. Caring not if we listen or comprehend. Incapable of caring even. Emptiness their first and final word.

This is why few who come remain long in the desert. This is why we come and then so quickly go. There’s only so much we can take of such a place. Only so much we can stand, before we run back to our loved ones. Return to those who share our myths, and stories, and tales, and promise of comfort, permanence and peace. To tell ourselves that what we began to suspect out in the desert isn’t really true. To hold our hands to our ears and close our eyes. To speak reassuring words of forever. To talk of final reunion, and final reconciliation, and final justice. To speak again of forever, and then again. To talk of someday mansions in the clouds, and a just law giver who will love us forever. And of joy to last for eternity.

We leave the desert to escape the denial of such comfort. We leave the desert to forget the sand. To forget the silence. And the heat. And the empty. And the utter indifference of a universe that truly does not seem to care. And the awesome implication these discovered facts suggest may be true.

~

The peaceful corridors of the mind. I’ll walk there now and again later. From time to time. So quiet. More silent even than the desert at night. Not even the sound of crickets.

~

Tonight, will be the first evening in Siberia this summer when the temperature at sunset will already be below 100 degrees. I want to be there then. I want to walk alone towards the darkening desert mountains then. I want to watch while the killer makes its evening retreat into night.

I haven’t yet made a long nighttime excursion and overnight into the Deep Water near my ghost town home of Siberia. My reason is the fearful summertime heat which returns so soon after sunrise, and my knowing reluctance to wake in the morning far from the feign safety of my motorcycle, and the necessity of hiking so far back while the desert killer begins stalking in from the east. Twice in the past, the killer nearly got me: Once two years back. Another time three decades before that, when I was young, strong, and a very real danger to myself.

The last time the desert almost caught me I had foolishly lingered too long in the vicinity of Deep Water, and was nearly taken as I attempted a hasty, and somewhat panicked escape across and over a barren badlands of slippery, decomposed granite. As I jogged along and through the craggy rolling landscape, I worried that the loose rock would twist an ankle and leave me crippled and exposed to the coming killer. That experience was foolish, and the fear that I felt then was very real and well earned. I almost think I spotted death moving towards me then rather near from the north, from the deep end of the desert sea, wavering and flickering in the dry heat haze, a terrible mirage caught up in my panicked breathing, drawn to my hot, pounding pulse.

Before that, many decades before; I’d left my little red truck by the road on a late summer morning in the Panamint Valley. Without water, or a hat, or any protection at all, I’d decided to hike to a distant sand dune. So far, yet apparently so near. I turned back too late. Perhaps twenty minutes too late, having failed my goal. I was very frustrated, and so very stupid. I was nearly dead when I reached my truck again. My face was ghastly red. My body in the full riot of heat stroke. I later estimated I had probably less than thirty minutes of life left in me then. The killer had been directly on my heels, though I had no way to know him at that young age. I was then quite blind. It took several hours for my strong, healthy body to recover that day. It’s been decades since, and my mind has still not overcome the experience.

Now I’m like a boy stung badly by bees who can’t help returning to the hive. I gaze at the desert from a distance. I venture close when I can. I walk towards Deep Water where the threat is real. I always turn back before the killer spots me. I know I’m playing chicken with a force which will not flinch. I cannot let myself meet the killer again. I can’t afford even to get close. I’ve far too much joy in life to risk fruitless death. I have proud responsibilities I both recognize and gladly own. I have my people and loved ones who count on me. And I have these strange words I do dearly love to write and share.

Yet I will go out again to tempt the killer. I’ll watch it move across the desert at dawn, to storm and rage all day, and then pass away as the sun goes down. I’ll watch. But I will not tempt. And I’ll remember always that the killer will never know me. Even if it sees me. Even if it kills me. Even if I someday blunder and stumble into its path. It will never, ever know me.

~

It’s interesting to note how the fearful things of my ordinary life refuse to accompany or follow me into the desert. Worries about money, career, or reputation drop away as I ride my motorcycle into the wastes. It’s as though these things can find no purchase or footing in a place where their concerns have no relevance. Or perhaps it’s simply because these worries become mean and petty in the face of the more real and permanent truths I must encounter in their stead. Like the rich man who spills coins from his hands when he looks up to find the executioner at the door. Or the businessman who abandons all and runs ahead of an approaching plague. Or the well-known figure who chooses loved ones over adulation while lying upon his death bed. The curious thing is the way this effect lingers after my return. How I can walk like Caesar for days among my petty, civilized fears; looking down my nose at vanity, propriety, and esteem; respecting only love, and goodness, and virtue. I return always from the desert haunted and empowered by a grave truth I can only know by going deeper and further than I’d like, by going past the limit of the more common sense, by rejecting my base mortal fear, and by always going alone.

~

There are several ways to become lost in a desert. Only the most fortunate are never found. Even if they return to community, home, and loved ones, they are never found. Even if they live long, and to a ripe old age, they are never found. Even if a subtle smile graces their countenance for the rest of their days, they are never found. Their blessing is being never found. Their great secret is being lost. Their humble wisdom is knowing no way back.

~

The following words are a confession of my selfish past and present, as well as a statement of my on-going effort at improvement. I note these things for the benefit of my daughter and her children should they somehow inherit my want of Going Alone.

I’d be lying if I said my path isn’t scary. It is. The “Going Alone” theme isn’t hyperbole. It’s the perfect signpost on the faint trail where I prefer to walk, and the name of a destination I’ll never reach. However, this route isn’t nearly as solitary as it once was, as there are now some improved oasis of human connection along the way, some better opportunity for time apart from the nowhere road to no place special.

I’m no longer as alone as I once was. I’ve my wife, and my daughter, and my brother, and my mom. Granted, I’ve always had these, though now I have them better than ever. And they have me. For better or for worse, we’ve each other now, and more than ever before.

Sadly though, the rest have fallen away. Or rather, I’ve let them all go. It’s a rather mean and callus thing, to be sure. But so too would be the artificial maintenance of connections I no longer want, or need, or desire to keep. I suspect that if I’m not capable of being a very good friend, then it’s probably best to not be one at all.

I do enjoy this quiet life. My strong, abiding preference has always been to be alone. I prefer the solitary company of my steps and my thoughts. I prefer the empty landscapes and long solitude of nights and days without others. I appreciate having no one to console or reassure me when I’m afraid of what’s true. And I desperately want no one to distract me from the awful indifference which looms now across the horizon of my mind, and gapes like a cold void at the frontier of my every solitary adventure.

I’m lucky to have my wife. Thirty years together and she knows my journey. I’ve a partner who both allows and encourages this path I’m on. In the past, this Going Alone route sometimes drew me far away from her. Those were lonely times for us both. For me, the fact of being someone who was lost. For her, the fact of being married to someone lost, and the consequence of married solitude.

The last decade saw gradual improvement through the natural process of hard-won maturity, and the persistence of commitment to the values my wife and I both share, and which we attempt to instill in our daughter through both lesson and example. The key change was our fourteen months apart. That time when I came to America first, and left my wife and daughter behind in Japan. That experience broke me. Thankfully I was broken then. After we were reunited, I was a new man. I understood better the value of my human contacts, especially my family. I gave up Going Alone then. And for two years I focused on becoming a better husband and father. A better man. I think I succeeded. The improved quality of our lives is testament to this change, as well as the patience of my family in waiting for me to catch up to values they already knew.

But I knew I hadn’t really changed. I just knew better what was most important. I know that I can never fully get off the path of Going Alone. And with this realization I gave up my friends. I gave up my connections. I abandoned social media, and email, and reduced my online footprint to a single blog and an occasional video. I found a good balance. A disconnected balance. Disconnected from all but my most intimate connections. My wife, my daughter, my brother, and my mom.

Now I go alone again. Every two weeks on a Friday. I literally go alone then. I go off to the desert and disconnect for a full 24 hours. I then return and reconnect. I reconnect with my wife. And my daughter. And my brother. And my mom. There’s little to no connection with anyone else.

My wife and I talk about this sometimes. She smiles and tells me she’s lost her interest in other connections too. Perhaps this is a factor of our shared age. Or maybe it’s because though we are very different, we’ve nevertheless shared the same road together for most of our lives.

My wife and I spend far more and better time together now. We often smile at one another and hold hands like when we were dating, and we go places together, and we walk, and we talk, and we laugh like we once did. We just want each other now. And our daughter. And our brothers and sister. And our mother and father. And our little dog. And our little home. Our safe little corner of the universe. It’s a place where The Great Indifference can only peek in through the window from the cold and dark outside, that is, if it had any interest, or ability, to do so. It has no place here now. Its place is out there, where nothing cares.

I sometimes look out our window on a peaceful and happy Sunday night with my family. And I wonder at the dead Indifference staking the night out there in the dark. The dead Indifference which was never alive and never died.

Still, this path scares me. For though I’m not fully alone, I know that I am alone. I found The Great Indifference early in life. And now I’m so far along there’s no chance of turning back. Though even if I could, I’d never turn back. For how can reason rightly turn away from what it knows is true?

This path brings me closer each day to a once distant horizon growing near. It’s a place I neither fear nor want. I can’t turn back. And though I can’t turn back, I know the remaining journey is secure with the ones I love. Secure until the moment we pass away forever from one another. With no chance of final reunion, no chance of final reconciliation, and no chance of final justice, I must attend to these things in the here-and-now. I must recognize and stand up to my fears now. No more cowardly hiding from this life through my time in the wastes. No more cowardly hiding from the wastes through my fear of what was never there.

~

I’m looking north from the edge of the desert ghost town of Siberia. I’m standing at the edge of the Deep Water wilderness which extends into the horizon. At left is Black Mesa, a place I haven’t yet reached. At center, is the heart of Deep Water; an intimidating badlands and maze-like moonscape of decomposed granite flash flood channels and gullies. At right can be seen the distant and hazy silhouette of the Old Dad Mountains, and the much nearer unnamed black volcano I visited last winter where I discovered the remains of “El Campo One.”

I so want to strike out now into this wilderness. It’s a place where humans seemingly never go. At least not since the 19th century gold miners gave up and left. I’d go out there now if I didn’t know the killer was already on its way and ready to meet me. Instead, I’ll head back to my motorcycle now. I’ll escape while I still can. Already the temperature has risen drastically since sunrise. Or maybe that’s just my fear. Either way, it’s a good time to get away.

~

My GSA motorcycle is packed and ready to go. It’s a shame to leave though…just as my imagination and thinking were acclimating to the silence and solitude. But that’s alright, as bits of this peace always follow me home, adding incrementally to the joy and meaning of a well-lived life.

~

In Japan, the landscapes I explored appeared new and young, almost adolescent. With steep and rugged mountains rising direct from the sea, and long, narrow valleys twisting into impossibly remote, mist covered peaks. Everywhere the rocks were jagged and angular, as though freshly fallen from cliffs and peaks. The mountains of Japan also roar and tinkle always with the sound of flowing water, unbelievable quantities of clean, fresh and cold water melting from snowy alps, percolating from saturated mountain soils, and raging trough wild streams and rivers which rise and swell with abundant rainfall and the torrent of seasonal typhoons. The landscape has the character of youth, being bold, brash and full of life and abundant energy. I was always in awe of the wilderness in Japan, though the effect was somewhat superficial, like the experience of watching a skilled athlete in control of a young and powerful body, or the impetuous activities of youth, newly animated with the spirit of discovering they are alive. These things are impressive, though not often moving.

The American desert is very different. My time alone in wild places here is like a stroll through a mausoleum of geology. The mountains are ancient and worn, the greater part of their being having been reduced to the sand beneath my feet. The rocks are angular like the rocks in Japan, though in the desert they stay this way for eons, there being little rain to capture, move and grind away their rough edges. The water that does come is powerful, yet brief and fleeting, like the smile of an old man remembering the joys of youth while the Reaper places its hand upon his shoulder. And the desert is quiet, and silent, and at peace. The desert always has my respect, and at times moves me like a great teacher or quiet sage, though I know it is neither.

I’m glad I’ve known both landscapes. I’m grateful for the character lesson of each, as well as the example of good living they provide through two quite distinct and different seasons of life.

~

I realize now that my repeated visits to Siberia have left an imprint there which I neither intended nor wanted. My brief living at that spot has marked it with my passage, and added something to the mystery of that place.

I always set up my camp at Siberia in the same spot. It’s an area both convenient to my motorcycle, and slightly protected from the desert’s prevailing east wind. The sand beneath where I place my tent has become soft due to my removal of all but the smallest stones. And the four corners where I pound my tent stakes are clearly marked with the large stones I use to secure these into the ground. Finally, there’s a small section of cut wooden railroad tie with a small metal grate secured to the top. This item is stuck into the sand just outside the rectangle of stones. I found this item in the desert some months back, and brought it to camp to serve as my cook table. This is my camp at the desert ghost town of Siberia. It’s a rough place of stone, sand, wood, and steel. Yet it’s origin of human hands is clear. It’s an artifact of human caring.

The effect of these symmetrically placed stones, surrounding an area of fine sand, and accented with a wood and metal grate, suggests human intervention. It’s the same thing I experience now when I encounter old graves in the desert, or when I first discovered that stone-lined footpath through the middle of Siberia. These things tell us someone’s been here. They suggest someone once cared in a place where caring has long since departed.

My contribution to the mystery of Siberia is a rectangular perimeter of rock, surrounding a bed of soft sand, and an accent of wood and metal. I realize now that even if I never go back to Siberia, my fingerprints are there. My mark on that place is secure. I’ve added yet another strange human assembly of objects to that place. I’ve produced yet another mystery of stone and debris. Something to perhaps catch and puzzle the mind of anyone who visits and looks closely, today, tomorrow, or a hundred years from now.

~

The young man I once was would never join me in the desert. He’d know better than to not go alone. He’d make up some polite excuse to tell me no before giving me the social slip. I’d be proud of his foresight then, even if I knew he didn’t understand the reason he must go alone.

My young self would be such a burden in the desert. So lost, and searching, and full of energy, questions and pointless speculation. I’m glad I wasn’t there when I was that young man.

I’d never invite my younger self to the desert with me. I’d do him that small favor at least. Otherwise, I’d be perfectly silent with him. I wouldn’t tell him a single thing.

~

Just a hint of my return to the desert and my muse descends upon me as from nowhere. Is it really this easy to summon poetry, art and the product of rich and fulfilling imagination? This strange catalyst of beauty, depth and meaning, always at hand, forever at the ready, at least as long as our faculty of mind persists, and our will to bend along the path of our natural inclination remains.

~

The desert is not a good place of escape, as the wide-open spaces provide nowhere to hide. There’s no distance too far to separate us from what we deny or fear, which trails us easily in a landscape where the only footprints are our own. For the sake of hiding, it’s much better to stay put within our safe and familiar, to bury ourselves under piles of routine, and cover our eyes with the familiar and ordinary. I fear the desert not for the risk of becoming lost, but instead for the very real threat of being found.

~

The forecast tonight for the East Mojave Desert is mild temperatures and high winds. The experience of shutting off the big motorcycle’s engine after arriving in such a place, and under such circumstances, is not unlike plunging headlong from rocks into a warm churning sea.

Switching off the motorcycle’s engine then is a shock. After 200 miles of riding, the sudden quiet is deafening, like an implosive concussion drawn in by the sudden cessation of sound. Night, and deep darkness flood in as the bike’s single headlight cuts out. Darkness and silence at once reign. The effect is enveloping, encapsulating, and smothering.

Immediately though, the wind pushes aside the silence, and the night. There’s a particular sound the wind makes in the desert at night. It’s a rustling sound, the sound of confusion, the sound of disorder, the sound entropy makes as it slowly fills the universe with waste.

At this moment I’ll stand upon the desert sand with my legs apart, a firm stand against the wind, a resolute posture in the face of the night. A long night. Even after the daylight comes, a very long night.

~

I’ve arrived in the desert ghost town of Siberia. This place is more empty now than ever. There’s no muse, no ghost and no god. Even the wind is hush, and only whispers through the branches of the creosote brush. Curiously, there’s no fear here either. Those phantoms were never real anyway. Though for most of my life I allowed them some say over my imagination and anxiety. No more now. There’s nothing here but sand, stone, wind and quiet. Sure, there’s mortality too. Nothing to fear there either. Only a deeper and more silent dark than even the desert can muster.

~

It takes time for our mind to adjust to solitude in wild places. To overcome our settled sense, and shrug off the norms and conventions of social habit. I feel these things falling away slowly with every step removed into the wild. The sense is like becoming aware of a great apparatus and structure being carried upon the back, which I only note as it begins to fall away, piece by piece. How many steps would be necessary to remove it wholly? Is that even possible? What creature would I then become?

~

The place I visited yesterday startled me for its natural artistry, and seeming permanence in time, and will-less beauty. While crossing over a rugged badlands of soft-colored pink and pale granite, a place devoid of visible life save some specimens of tiny red cactus blending easily with the stones and sand, I came upon a flat high point displaying a curious natural feature called desert pavement. This strange geologic phenomenon occurs in deserts, and mainly in areas where steady winds blow over high relief ground littered with tiny stones. The stones in this particular spot came from a nearby outcrop of reddish volcanic rhyolite peeking up through the much older granite country rock. Millennia of alternating heat and cold had chipped to bits the exposed face of hard rhyolite which were then scattered evenly by random winds over an area roughly the size of a tennis court. This spot was perched on a perfectly flat rise overlooking a 360-degree landscape view encompassing roughly two hundred square miles of empty desert. The wind here was strong and steady, and probably had been day after day, not for weeks or months, but for centuries and millennia. The constant wind had the working effect of a stone mason who might carefully arrange the broken rhyolite into a perfect mosaic before blowing away the sand. Working over many centuries with wind from different angles, and with the seeming accuracy of an Egyptian pyramid builder, the reddish puzzle pieces and pebbles had been blown about and fitted perfectly together with exacting accuracy. The final result was a perfectly flat expanse of desert stone, formed not as a solid sheet of rock, but instead as a fitted composite of tiny rocks perfectly placed by the hand of wind, and time, and chance, and an eternity of mindless patience. I sat upon the stones then to remove my shoes and walk barefoot (mindful of the small cactus) over the smooth face of natural art I’d found, perhaps never before seen by human eyes. I then sat for a long time upon the pavement and thought as the warm desert wind blew steady at my back. I thought of all the small haphazard events which had created this natural wonder, and of all the time it took to complete. I thought of the art of nature, which neither cares for recognition and praise, nor is capable of perceiving when such is offered. And I thought of my own brief witness of this same, and the hurried way even this small recognition and perception must soon be swept away like the sand which long ago was blown like waste from this desert peak.

~

I failed to reach the deep end of the desert this weekend despite the fact I hiked in further than I had in over a year. Depth clearly isn’t a function of distance, though some distance is clearly needed.

~

I’m beginning to detect a subtle vacuum force within the desert which draws me away and into places I have difficulty climbing away from. I’ve so far tempted this force with no more than a day’s journey, which I’ve always easily escaped. I’ll soon try two days of depth. I wonder how much harder the climb back will be?

~

Last week’s trip to Siberia was my first night arrival on the motorcycle. The ghost town is located in an enormous valley of roughly 200 square miles without another human being anywhere. The only sign of human life here are the long trains which pass by occasionally in the night, and the one or two cars which glide through the dark like phantoms along Route 66. The darkness here is utter and complete on moonless nights like this, and when I shut off the motorcycle’s engine, and then kill the lights, the night swarms in like a smothering blanket, and I find myself gazing up at the stars like the hopeful companions they can never be.

~

My reconnoiter last week to the edge of the Deep Water Wilderness has revealed the desert killer is gone. This means I can plan my first extended desert hike since returning to the USA. I’m thinking a two-day, two night, outing from Siberia, through Deep Water and into the Black Mountains. I’d lie if I told you the thought of going so far alone doesn’t scare me. Especially as I know my little god will certainly not join me there. I’m learning now there’s good reason the deep desert is sometimes described as a forsaken land.

~

These last two trips to the desert were more alone than ever, which is the aim, and purpose of going. My companions in solitude were absent; The Muse, The Desert Killer, my little god. Only Indifference remained, which is devoid of companionship, and the thing which fills the solitude with empty.

~

It’s a little difficult to describe how alone I felt out here this night. There was literally no sign of humanity in any direction, not even the lights of airplanes. Only the wind made any effort at motion, or sound, or any activity which suggested I was still within the world of animate movement or life. Though there was no life here which would care for me–I’d left them a day away, in another world, and a place I could barely muster to memory for the fact of its very real distance of mind–I was nevertheless very, very alone with the soulless beasts roaming the dark, reminding me that I too have no soul, and therefore no capacity to survive any darkness greater than this night. And though I was alone, I knew that I was still not as alone as I’d yet like to be. Going Alone is a far and deep trespass into places we both fear and marvel, and it is always possible to go too far, and always a fact that we must each one day go further than we can ever return. I’m not nearly ready to go that far. I’ve far too much love of life to wish that feign passage anytime soon. So, when the full moon finally began peeking over the invisible Black Mountain to the east of my night camp at Deep Water, I knew I’d then enjoy some relief from the deep night, and some rest from the delicious anxiety of deep solitude which ever has the capacity to satisfy, while always leaving more emptiness than was hoped for or sought.

~

It’s still thirteen hours before I’ll step away from my motorcycle and plunge headlong into the desert night, to begin a two hour hike through darkness to the edge of Deep Water. Already though, I sense the nothingness and empty of the deep desert come sniffing at my heels, seeking out my weakness, begging me to remember my fear. This feeling will only grow through the day; though it will dispel instantly once I’m swallowed by the night.

~

Tonight’s hike will begin at Siberia roughly an hour after sundown. The moon will be nearly full, providing pale illumination and rendering the landscape to shades of light gray against the black canopy of space. If I keep my flashlight turned off, then my eyes will adapt to the dark and I’ll easily pick my way through the desert, past obstacles such as rocks, cactus and creosote brush, However, without my light, I might not spot rattlesnakes which come out to hunt in the dark. With the light on, my pupils will close and my world will shrink to a shallow pool of bright illumination guiding my footsteps through the night. I’ll then easily spot snakes, tarantula and scorpions; through without any trail to follow I’ll need to rely on instinct, and the position of the moon, as my guides. From time-to-time I’ll stop, turn off the light, and wait while my eyes readjust to the dark, and I can pick out the silhouette of the low mountains to the north which are my aim, and the edge of the Deep Water Wilderness.

After an hour or so of hiking through the dark, I should reach the edge of the Bristol Mountains. I’ll need to select, in the dark, a narrow canyon to follow up, and into, the badlands, which are my destination, and where I hope to reach before setting up camp for the night. These canyons are narrow, with many small, dry waterfalls. So I’ll need to hike carefully, and remain extra vigilant for snakes which hunt for rodents among the rocks. During daylight hours (when the snakes are hiding) I often see their winding tracks in the sandy places between the stones.

An hour later I should be near my goal. After a tricky scramble up a steep slope of decomposed granite, I’ll come upon the badlands mesa I call The Edge of Deep Water. From here, when I turn off my light, I can see over two hundred square miles of empty desert, between the Bullion Mountains to the south, the Old Dad Mountains to the north, the Granite and Providence Mountains to the east and the extinct volcano of Pisgah (which name means “summit” in Hebrew, and was the mountain from whence God showed Moses the Promised Land) to the west. In all that vast space there will be only two signs of humanity, which are the twin red beacons atop the Bullion Mountains marking the site of remote radio towers.

In this place…I will stay the night.

~

I’d fooled myself into thinking the desert killer was gone. I’d mistaken the killer for summer heat, and deep winter cold, and imagined some respite now between the extreme seasons. But I sensed it now as I rode my motorcycle down into the desert, and away from the living comfort of my species. I sensed the killer out there in the dark, floating amidst the blind hills and mute mountains, over a landscape illuminated with faint moonlight; a natural light illuminating the Indifference and the grave things we all strive to forget over the course of our lives, until these things emerge from the fearful wastes to find us. I have no more need to fear the desert night than the warm and happy nest my family and I call home. The desert killer can find us now in either place, only out here I can better see it coming.

~

Such fear just before my arrival at Siberia. Terror of a sort, really. The fear hit me about a mile out, while slowing the bike to spot the dirt road where I turn off Route 66. I’m always scared at this point. But tonight…wow! That little coward within let out a yelp and a squawk saying “GOOO! Don’t turn! Just go back the way you came!” Of course I ignored him. I nearly always do. He’s always wrong. Though I suspect one day he’ll be right.

~

The waitress at Barstow kindly filled my thermos with hot coffee, so I’ll have a cup here at Siberia before I start out walking into the mountains. The moonlight is superb! And I can see the black hulks of the Bristol Mountains a few miles off to the north. The darkness within the mountains seems another thing, though I know I’ll be able to see fine once I get there. The fear should pass shortly. It’s interesting how cowardice so quickly flies before resolve.

~

I’m back. The wilderness definitely got the best of me this time. I feel like a boxer who’s gone several rounds with an opponent way outta his league. The feeling is good though, as it’s satisfying to press limits and explore weakness of both body and mind. I’m sure I’ll be thinking about the last 48 hours for years to come. I’m glad I have the chance to do these things while I still can. However, it’s a bit unsettling to discover my body is now more fit for the wild than my mind.

~

I found a note left for me on my motorcycle at the ghost town of Siberia, left for me by a young railroad signalman who I’d met over the summer when he stopped by Siberia to maintain the railroad signal there. I left a note for him in return, as well as a nice specimen of million-year old petrified wood from the surrounding mountains.

~

The fear I experienced this week in the desert has been on my mind. It was that second night, or better, the two hours leading up to sundown, which really pushed my limits. I was well into the Deep Water Wilderness, further than I’d ever gone. I’d left my gear on the ground an hour back, in the shadow of a large stone cliff. I thought I could go further and faster with just the bare essentials. I didn’t even bring water, which was already running short, choosing to trade thirst for speed, which I deemed equitable given the way the desert was cooling as the sun dipped nearer the horizon. After an hour of up and down, left and right, across an exposed landscape of silence and wind – silence in the low hollows, and wind upon the relief – I made a hard scramble up a slippery granite slope to a summit capped with a crown of jagged rock, like teeth growing from the land. The wind was howling here, and cold, as through premonition of the coming night’s deep chill. That wind; the way it blew past my ears; as though reminding me of my mortality; telling me how frail and vulnerable I was. This was my own mind speaking of course. The wind didn’t care. The cold was senseless to my presence; and the coming night would envelope the land with or without my approbation. Placing a hand upon the jagged summit I looked out over the land before me, and shivered more deeply than the cold would warrant. A cliff in front of me dropped sharp into a deep canyon of many colors, a place which would seem beautiful at any other time, but which now appeared terrifying for the fact that I would not want to be down there. To go there would be to enter both silence and cold, as the shadows of night had already arrived down there, and the long deepening of night, and the onset of cold, were well underway. I looked beyond the dark canyon to a maze of narrow, twisting valleys, steep cliffs and jagged peaks: darkness everywhere below me. I wanted nothing to do with that place; not then at least; not under those circumstances. I turned and made my way quickly back to where I’d left my gear, to the relief of water, and the warmth of a jacket, and the relative security of my few familiar things. Yet the darkness of that canyon followed me back, enveloping me as I set up camp, and then smothering me with utter night after the sun was gone, moving away only after the full moon rose in the east an hour after sundown. Yet by then I knew the darkness and the moonlight were really one, brothers in a way. Only our human love of beauty and poetry ascribe loveliness and comfort to the one, and fear and solitude to the other. They are, in truth, equally indifferent. The darkness and moonlight hiding or illuminating equally well a breathing man as well as a corpse, having neither capacity nor faculty to care in any case. It’s these times when I think deeply of my loved ones, when I remember their voices, and their faces, and the lives we live and share. Those thoughts keep back the night, assuage the fear, and fool my mind into forgetting, for a moment, the Indifference is really there.

~

Coming upon the deserted mining site of Campo #1. This place is exceedingly quiet. When the wind is still the only sound is a slight, rhythmic thumping which appears to be coming from within. In fact, the sound is from within, and is the noise blood cells in the eardrum make as they bang into one another flowing through the body. I’ve only ever heard this sound in very remote places deep within the desert. And only when Going Alone.

~

There’s something perfect about hiking at night. But only if there’s no trail to follow, and no companion to share the way. For how else can the mind better become lost, with no signpost or path to guide and constrain our step? How much easier to perceive the soulless beasts which prowl the night, and know that we are their kin, than if we forgo our own kinship with a species which pretends we are more? I’d walk all night alone into deepening dark places if only my will and courage were the equal to my desire to face what is true.

~

I first became aware of the soulless beasts when I began hiking alone at night in the desert. I’d encounter these beasts suddenly, as a fox in my path, or a snake along the sand, or a large wandering spider crawling over my shoe. Even the energetic moths which assault my flashlight give out an air of mechanical disinterest, of purpose driven of instinct and lust, hunger, or unthinking determination. I began to call these creatures “soulless beasts” as a means to describe their seeming familiarity and comfort with the pervasive Indifference of the desert night, not realizing my implicit bias that I was somehow different. Yet the soulless beasts know better. Though they don’t care for me, they do remind me with their caution, fear, and their own keen indifference that I too am one of them. The full mortality which glistens in their eyes reflects my own distant fear of death. The beasts stare at me and through me at once, my life of neither interest nor consequence to them beyond their own primitive needs. I tell myself that my interests are something more; that my ends of a greater aim. The beasts though are unconvinced, as too the dark desert night. Even the wind rustles ignorance, which is no more than a frail cover for Indifference. I’m convinced at last that I too am a beast. And I walk on into the night. After first switching off the light.

~

Though I know I’ve no real reason to be afraid, I’ll confess to some anxiety tonight when I realized that “Campo #1” may be the place I once referred to as “the woodsman’s cabin on the near side of Mt. Wildness.” It’s a frightful thing when fiction becomes reality, and the haunted places of the mind refuse to stay with the imagination.

~

The wilderness absorbs my life energy like sunlight into beach sand; warming the landscape slightly, minutely animating the passage of time. My wanderings, thoughts, and ambitions dissolve away to nothing with each aimless footstep. Purpose here has as much value as a diamond lost in the sand. Memory as much reach as the mortal who remembers. Solitude is the key to this grim vista. Walk with another to hide the way. Close your eyes to pretend the Indifference isn’t.

~

My book needs a chapter on death; though this theme already pervades every section and page. Is it enough to reflect the atmosphere of indifference with my words? Should I also make explicit effort to relate what I’ve found haunting the wastes, and also the places where my species makes noise and laughter to push away the night? Perhaps it’s enough to let the finality beyond life blow like the cold desert wind, or sit for millennia like a desert rock slowly turning to sand. I should then simply allow these things to be. Let the wind blow, and the Earth turn to sand. Let the story be told to both the day and the night, the living and the dead, and most clearly to whoever will go alone.


 

THE GOOD LIFE

The Good Life Meditation is my daily effort of recounting, considering and developing my personal life objectives and principals. I perform the action of verbally listing and describing these points each day, typically at dawn, as a start and readiness to the coming day.

Affirmation of Human and Civil Rights I must recognize respect and abide the rights of individuals and minority groups within society such that these are not compromised in the pursuit of the common good. The lesser of society shall not be neglected or trodden upon in service of the many.

Five Objectives

  1. Good Use of Time
    To make good use of the moments I have remaining and to dwell little on past utilization other than to inform my better judgment towards forward progress.
  2. The Development and Maintenance of Good, Sound Principals
    Foremost in life comes the necessity of securing sound guidelines to live by, rules and principals tested and true, objective and fair, balanced and good.
  3. The Cultivation of Good Emotional Reactions
    Taking control of my emotions such that they inform my living less than control it. Feelings and reactions becoming councilors in my life rather than rulers and chiefs.
  4. The Performance of Good Actions
    Deeds worthy of a life working to pass each day as an improvement not only for itself, but for those with whom it shares life now as well as those in the future and more distant present who do share our common inheritance.
  5. Recognition of True Limit and Opportunity
    An honest recognition of my scope of control which extends to my thoughts, action and reactions and the consequences these might entail. Recognition of true opportunity and good fortune. How can I craft favorable ends from any circumstance of pain and loss? What misfortune do I not have the power to fashion into an instrument of virtue? Is that Death at the door? Make haste to let it in, for the hour of our meeting is truly at hand, and I will not needlessly detain a will, force or substance I cannot control.

Twenty Principals

  1. The Principal of War
    To rise each morning taking arms against my own philosophy as well as the philosophy of others. To suffer no unsound or unjust objective or principal to survive another sundown.
  2. The Principal of Reason (honesty & objectivity)
    My instrument of discovery and destruction of all things untrue. A tool of self-immolation turned first inward as I engage the bold charge of discovery.
  3. The Homunculus
    The small, mute and hidden mortal within my head who pulls levers and strings, and hints at my opinions and judgments, and who must die utterly upon the failure and dissolution of my person.
  4. The Home of Good and Evil
    A catalog of right and wrong maintained by that little man within my head, containing both opinion and judgment, and suggestive of a platform of subjective responsibility.
  5. Purpose (biology and virtue)
    First live and reproduce, then to die and get out of the way. Secondarily, to decide some meaning further to the first. For myself, I select virtue. A life lived in pursuit of the further well-being of myself and others and the Earth itself.
  6. The Atomic Principal
    Everything is bits and pieces, flowing and changing, forever reforming. So too myself and all others, here for a bit, soon to pass, soon to dissolve, never again this thing once more.
  7. The Principal of Nature (paradigm & mandate)
    Everything and everyone has some qualities and character which define what they are and what they are about. This nature, combined with perspective and will, is their paradigm and operational guide. The demands of biology are a mandate deep and sound from the perspective of survival and the continuance of our kind.
  8. The Principal of Maturity (wisdom & fortitude)
    A collection of experience gained of life trials both succeeding and failing and recalled with some accuracy and honest consideration toward improved future ends. Wisdom is the soil where such considerations are ploughed, while fortitude is the will and persistence to see the harvest through.
  9. The Social Principal (diplomacy & justice)
    Human beings are made of nature for the service of one another. We can survive alone, though we rarely flourish. The understanding and wisdom gained in deep, persistent solitude can rarely be communicated or translated to others, and may become irrelevant babble despite possibly being true. Find one another, and make effort to be together and share ideas. Go at times alone, but always return to be with others. Become a diplomat and ambassador to not only the familiar, but also the strange and new. Strive always with others towards sane and just ends.
  10. The Feast of Offal
    The waste and by-products of unreasoned and unprincipled living are discarded like filth everywhere we live, think and act. We barely recognize the mess we create, and even consume our own and the refuse of others which floats by us in the air to be inhaled and metabolized into our own careless apparatus of thought and perspective. Cover your mouth and nose instead. Filter out the foul excess of undisciplined thought and living.
  11. Temperance (suffering, simplicity & apathy)
    Controlled consumption of all things such as food and drink, work and play, and even our thoughts and emotions. Recognize these things and then think and measure out a reasonable portion for yourself, and then perhaps not even consume all of that. Such worthy living naturally entails some suffering when we deny ourselves our wants, though simplicity of life makes this easier when the denial becomes part-and-parcel of our habits and conditioned response. Apply apathy towards the intemperance of others. Recognize the excess of ourselves and our peers, and use impersonal indifference as a buffer to the consumption of this Feast of Offal.
  12. Agency & The Great Indifference
    Every individual life is an agent, and the products of its living are its artifacts. Subtract these away and what’s left is the vast landscape of The Great Indifference; characterized by an incapacity to observe or maintain any thought or opinion towards well-being, an utter lack of regard towards joy or suffering, a god-less backdrop of unthinking, inanimate substance and time.
  13. The Best Seat in the House
    This place and time where I am now will suffice in the moment. I’ll have peace where and who I am at this time, and doing whatever engages my necessity and motive. Meanwhile, I’ll also strive towards better ends for myself and others, not as a replacement of my current circumstances and work, but rather as a natural improvement upon these.
  14. The Path of Wildness
    At every life crossroads I’ll access the fact that a decision must be made, and then determine how much time I have to make it, and then collect my facts and consider the options, and then decide at the appointed time. If my facts are insufficient, and there really is no more time, then I’ll listen to my gut instinct, let it have its say, and then move again in that direction, confident in having made the best evaluation I could, in the time I had available, and with the resources and facts at my disposal. I’ll be alright in my mind whatever the outcome.
  15. The Risk of Avoiding Risk
    What deeper danger is made manifest as we focus our attention and fear upon the most present potential risk? What comes creeping from behind while we cower away from the immediate things which causes us to tremble? What greater danger can come to consume us while we turn our backs on the apparent danger of the life we really want to live?
  16. Sin & Damnation (falsity, credulity, faith, superstition, dogma)
    There’s an immediate price to pay for sin, for giving up on the hard work of abiding our nature, of abiding reason, of abiding what is true.
  17. Complete Oblivion (no final reunion, reconciliation, or justice)
    Soon the light within the mind will wink out. Our lives will come to an end. The storehouse of memory will lose its electricity, which is the means of its maintenance and growth. The columns of our mental library and lyceum will quickly crumble and fall, the roof cave in, the foundations turn to sand. The philosopher is gone, evaporated to atoms. There will be no last reunion with loved ones, no reconciliation of hard or misspoke words, no satisfaction of wanting justice. The whole thing blows away with the next morning’s breeze.
  18. The Great Life Adventure
    Embark when you are young upon that beckoning dream and adventure. Let it be the centerpiece and reference point of the man or woman whom you will become, let the experience inform and guide your active philosophy and the development of our own living principals and standards.
  19. The Season of Philosophy
    Think and record your thoughts while you can. See how the sun is fading now, dropping near the horizon? You will not survive the coming night.
  20. Arena & Utility
    Every place and situation is an opportunity to practice and refine your objectives and principals. Ask yourself at every point what utility and good end might be found for the employment of your reason and philosophy, which must be forever alert, skeptical and active.

Today’s Thought and Action Plan
I will think and act every day in a deliberate and purposeful manner, watching over my thoughts, husbanding my actions, regardful of the impact and consequence of my every decision and substantive move.

~

Our most lasting value is reflected less in deadlines met, or goals achieved, than virtuous commitments fulfilled. Define what constitutes the aim of virtue, and let their pursuit and fulfillment be your highest end

~

Beware any feigned virtue which cloaks its mandate in tradition, faith or dogma. Any truth with something to hide, or which cannot stand alone without insubstantial aids, deserves to let fall under the weight of its own weak folly.

~

Apathy becomes a virtue the moment it is applied to events and circumstance beyond our control. I’m apathetic to the desert heat, though I take pains to protect myself from its effect. I apply apathy in good measure to the morning traffic, while reminding myself to leave for work a little earlier tomorrow. And the cancer which may one day destroy my body, and take my life, is equally deserving no more attendance than the reasonable application of the physician’s art, and the competent aid of good council in setting my affairs in order. Instead of worry, my time might be better spent with loved ones and engaged in earnest living. Apathy is our tool and respite from whatever affects us yet is beyond our control. More powerful than fortitude. More tactful than desire. And far, far more graceful than giving up.

~

But how can I maintain my apathy in the face of the suffering of others? Do not mistake apathy for indifference, where the missing quality is caring, or the ability to care. Indifference simply fails to care; while apathy considers what truly can be done, and applies its energies towards these more effective ends. Compassion and apathy coexist well together. For who can be a more effective caregiver than the man or woman who recognizes, guides and controls their own emotions and whimsy, and then offers always the most genuine and heartfelt love?

~

I wrote the lines below to my daughter this morning who begins her first day of work at her very first job.

We shoulder daily the great apparatus of human endeavor. It matters little where our hands or minds find purchase, as long as the grip is firm and engaged towards virtuous ends.

~

Very often I only remember to apply apathy after the opportunity has passed. Today something happened, and apathy arrived in time to prevent the moment from taking control. I was riding my motorcycle to work in the commuter lane. Traffic in the normal lanes suddenly began to slow, with red brake lights coming on up ahead, and I went on the alert for drivers suddenly veering into my open lane to avoid the growing congestion. This happens often, as drivers frequently ignore the double yellow lines which divide the commuter lane from the normal lanes of traffic, and fail to see the motorcycle occupying what they think is an empty lane. Sure enough, a dark sedan swings in behind me. It’s a safe distance back–no danger of collision–though my ire rises suddenly when I note the driver is alone…in the carpool lane. It’s a minor thing–this lane is reserved for motorcycles and cars with two or more occupants–though my mind immediately begins rehearsing an old internal monologue of injustice. How selfish the driver is. How inconsiderate to those who make an effort to arrange carpools, or who drive fuel efficient vehicles. And what of the state of society? Where’s the Justice? Have we lost our ethical footing? It’s a long rant. Almost a manifesto. But just as I was getting started. Just as the first flush of indignation began to rise in my cheeks. I suddenly remembered apathy. That lesser known or regarded virtue of self-discipline. Apathy, the ability to recognize what is–and what is not–within our control, to then administer our attention, thought and action towards ends we can actually achieve, and away from futile anger and needless upset. I caught myself. I saw that I could do nothing in that moment about the inconsiderate lone driver behind me. I became apathetic to his trespass, and in so doing I recovered control of my emotions, my thoughts, and the apparatus of my ethical framework and actions. Instead of fuming at the man, or worse, engaging him in some way, I asked myself what I could do to improve the social circumstance that perhaps led to and even encouraged his action. I decide to write this blog post. And to share the experience with my daughter. To remind her of the virtue of allegiance to fair and just laws. And to hopefully instill in her some example of life best practices, and the powerful utility of a virtue called apathy. A virtue which helps us recognize true limits, and apply our energies where they can do the most good.

~

Apathy came to my rescue again today. I’d composed and sent an email to the team, in which I neglected to state an important fact which I should not have overlooked. When this was publicly pointed out to me, I immediately felt shame, regret and frustration rising up to twist my heart into a knot. But then I remembered my apathy, which first calmed my nerves, and then helped me to identify the factors surrounding this upset. I was then able to note what was both within and outside my control. The fact of my error could only be corrected, but never removed. To let this mistake take control of my well-being therefore was both foolish and ineffectual. Better to temper my emotion and apply this energy to a quick response, publicly acknowledging my appreciation to the person who provided the correct information, and then to consider steps I could take to avoid such error again. I calmly composed and sent the email. I then collected my thoughts and reminded myself in the future to carefully review complex matters before weighing in with a response. Apathy directed me away from what I could not control, namely the fact of my error, and towards what I could, which was remediation, and the development of new behaviors to help prevent such mistakes in the future.

~

The fact that our species has lifted its head above the fray of tooth and claw, to look around and wonder, to imagine virtue and conceive its worthy ends, does not deny the fight which must, for now, go on, and to which we are amply built to participate

~

The Feast of Offal is not only an expression of folly and the consequence of unprincipled living, but also a screen and distraction from the fact of Indifference, which everywhere pervades.

~

Ever since departing from social media, and turning off all mobile notification save contact from instant messenger, my phone has become a mute, loyal and worthy companion. It no longer disturbs me with tweets, or posts, or likes, or news, or events. It politely answers only when I ask it questions, which leaves me freer to think, and to act, as I see fit. When the phone does buzz, it’s always someone I love. Always someone dear. Never a robot. Never an algorithm designed to adjust my thoughts, or behavior, or spending. I’m not a technophobe. Just a man who treasures the possession of his moments.

~

The homunculus is no less an organ of the body than the liver or the spleen.

~

My homunculus resides in a barrel within my head. Though my outward man works, votes and pays taxes, the inner self sleeps with his back in a crook, and looks out at the sunrise through a gaping round orifice, begging passerby to not block out the sun. He walks the avenues of my mind with bare feet and a torn shirt, or shirtless if the weather is fine. While I attend meetings, my homunculus meanders alone, or with dogs, in search of an honest man. When I dine he resists hunger with a crust of bread, and a pot of cheese should he wish a feast. One day I will become that better man, that ragged, lean and honest self; when I at last put aside this vain pursuit of living, and choose instead to simply live.

~

My homunculus has a ledger. It’s a crude journal of inaccurate impressions, vague suppositions and conclusions drawn of far too little experience or fact. This book has a section for good and evil, and even another for right and wrong. The entries are all drawn in bright crayon, as they require color to gain emphasis, being otherwise of so little merit. My homunculus is quite proud of what he’s made. He even shares and compares with others, drawing and offering criticism, which he hardly likes. But what more or better could he use to gauge the world? His life is so short, and so imperfect – though he prefers to not be reminded of this fact – that he holds to what he’s got with more certitude than merit. That’s his fault, though don’t expect him to confess it. Few ever do.

~

Virtue isn’t complicated. It’s just the pursuit of the well-being of thinking creatures. It’s making decisions, and performing actions which make life better, in objective, meaningful ways. Clean drinking water, good education, equality between the races and the sexes, clear communication, good medicine, and prioritized attention to the most-needy and suffering among us. Well-being also includes the preservation of healthy habitats for wildlife, clean, open spaces for recreation, and the humane and conscientious treatment of those with whom we share the planet. These things can be decided by all of us through reasoned discussion. There’s no need of dogma, revelation, or miracle to pursue such ends. Virtue is what we agree is good. And then the doing of it.

~

Coming back to the USA brought many changes. A new job, new home, new commute, a different diet, new things to do on the weekends, new worries, new challenges, but very few new friends. In fact, almost none. I can probably count on the number of fingers I need to eat a cookie, the people I’ve become close to since returning to America. My wife probably needs fewer fingers than that. We talk about it sometimes. We both find it a little odd that neither of us has made much effort to cultivate new friendships, or even maintain old. Our daughter on the other hand has more new friends than we can keep track of. We’re meeting or hearing about new people in her life all the time. Yet Yumiko and I have seemingly returned to our base configuration of just having one another. We make no effort to expand, and have little interest to do so. We like things the way they are.

A good weekend these days includes a few meals out as a family, a movie together, some grocery shopping, and lots of free time to just do whatever we want, alone or together. We like it this way. We feel like we’re settling into our 50s in a more personal and intimate way than ever before.

A big contributor to this change was my departure from the JVLOG community, which is a Japan-based network of YouTube content creators who often share much of their personal lives online. I shared a lot…over six thousand videos across ten years and twenty channels! Being on the business-end of a camera became a big part of who I was then. It made me feel like I had many more friends than I actually did.

I now enjoy maybe two or three really good conversations a week with people who are not my family. That’s enough. I don’t want any more good conversations than that. And I certainly don’t want any bad conversations.

I suspect Yumiko and I will continue to settle in deeper this way. There seems to be a renaissance brewing between us. A rediscovery of the first decade of our life together. A time when we just had one another and nothing else.

I can easily see us going on this way. Watching our teenage daughter grow and go. Devoting our energies to her well-being, until she needs us little, and then retiring our focus to our own humble living.

I see a small, one-bedroom apartment by the beach, and within walking distance to downtown. I see a dog. I see some favorite TV shows together, some restaurants we like, movies on Sunday where we spilt a bucket of popcorn. I see me alone in the desert for a day or two every other week, while Yumiko does her things. I see grandkids and old age. I see helping one another through the difficult last decade. I see a sad goodbye, followed by some time alone for one of us. I see a good life together. But I see very, very few friends from this point forward.

~

The Season of Philosophy is that time between The Great Life Adventure and the period of our mental and bodily decline. Wait too long and the words will never come, or have no way to get out.

~

The Great Life Adventure is that experience in life when you step from knowledge into ignorance and return with less, and then continue losing more for the rest of your days.

~

The experience of The Great Life Adventure is like having a small hole appear in a bag of gold dust we carry everywhere secured to our waist. The gold is our certitude, and the security of our cherished world view, and our knowledge, and everything we believe. It’s best if the hole comes early, is very small, and has time to drain away much of our treasure before we realize what we’ve lost. The adventure was a success if, once discovered, we then make no effort to mend the hole.

~

Anxiety is an ambush predator. It takes advantage of sudden, unexpected circumstance or worry to pounce upon our back, thrust its claw into or chest, and twist hard the beating heart which drives its fury. The experience is tangible, tactile, and deadly real. When it happens to me I usually find myself wishing some retreat, some way to get away, some relief from whatever external happening I imagine is the cause of my anxious worry.

At age fifty-three things have changed. I’ve learned there’s little I can do to alter external circumstances which are beyond my control, and which are the source of my worry. Simply wishing I was away from the problem is a fantasy, as long as I want to retain my duty and abide my responsibility. Wishing others would be different is likewise folly. As is the demand for justice where no enforceable law has been broken. After all it’s not illegal if someone is lazy, incompetent, or simply does not care to do their job well. These things are all largely outside our control. And it’s worthwhile to remember this when anxiety strikes. If only to remind ourselves of the bounds of our power and control.

What we DO control is our reaction and response to whatever is happening in the world around us. We decide what we will feel, think, say, or do, in almost every circumstance. We’re especially in control of our inner world, which is the place from which our external actions arise. This internal world is the focal point of our power and control, and the realm we must master should we become invincible to external onslaught. Not immortal. Not impervious to pain. But invincible to whatever we recognize as not ours to control.

A very busy work day is our problem if we fail to manage our time well, and let our responsibilities pile. That’s our bad. It’s good to feel pain in that circumstance. Let it soak in and prompt us to do better. But if the day is madness because some system or process fails, or someone calls in sick, or our boss lays on too much work, or it’s a Monday. Then what are we to do beyond reasonable protest and a request for help? If these attempts fail then our natural response may be to worry.

But this is where things have changed for me. Instead of anxiety, which is a form of fearful standstill in the face of a threat we cannot seem to overcome, why not try temperance, and apathy, and recognizing the nature of others, and the nature of circumstance, and most importantly the true scope and reach of our own power and influence, our own nature.

We temper our anxiety when we deliberately limit our consumption of anxious thinking. This process involves literally pausing before we ingest a thought, to examine it and lay it aside if it us found to be unwholesome. To only consume the thought if it is good and worthy, and helps us towards worthwhile and virtuous ends.

Apathy is our tool to disarm whatever is beyond reach of our direct control. This is done by first recognizing our inability to reach the thing, to then let it go, and then plan some contingency or scheme for a better world in spite of the thing, using the powers we do have.

Finally, nature. I ask myself: Is it not the nature of lazy people to be lazy? How foolish of me then to continually expect otherwise. Is it not the nature of systems or processes to sometimes fail? Why so distraught then over system or process failure? What about Mondays? Is it not their habit to come once each week between Sunday and Tuesday? If these are true and accurate descriptions of the nature of these things, then let me get over my foolish expectations otherwise. Let me strive to recognize the nature of all things, and though I may cautiously hope for better, I will expect nothing more than their nature.

These are the changes which give me better control of worry and anxiety. The tools are temperance, apathy, and the recognition of the nature of things, along with my own nature, and my desire for reasonable justice and the pursuit of a more virtuous life.

~

Is there any end which can’t be reached by faith? This fact should raise our guard. That every world religion uses the same path to a different truth must tell us something about the path. Can they all be right? Can this method be used to any end? Is there any claim which cannot be believed by faith?

~

Happiness depends upon no factor more than our willingness to be content.

~

The nothing beyond life should be a terror were it not so easily imagined around, or avoided altogether through the petty pleasures, dramas and distractions of life. I’ll busy myself with living, or imagining a life beyond this living, rather than look past life’s end to the apparent nothing that offers nothing.

~

The claims “God must have done it” or “God must be behind such design or action” have only the power of hypothesis. These statements alone lack sufficient force to persuade anyone other than those already inclined to believe. To convince further, the authors of such statements must next pass their ideas through the rigors of well-designed test and critical evaluation. Simply saying so is insufficient proof. And appeals to faith only weaken the case to the point of disregard.

~

I’ll live where I can’t touch bottom. Swim always where dark, cold water touches my toes, and where imagined threats eye me hungrily from way down in the deep. I’ll leave the shallow waters now and never return. Never again to stand with my chest and arms in the air. Self-condemned to tread water with difficulty until I’m dead, and then to sink at last to the same blind depths where we all must one day go. Never again safe. Never again certain. Always in doubt. Always at peace. Confident only that I’ve found a very good way to live.

~

Faith is the sin of belief as a means to an end we could not otherwise achieve.

~

It’s increasingly evident where I’m now headed. As it’s the same place I was going thirty years ago. Only then I’d never have arrived. Not a chance. I had to go the long way ’round.

It’s clear to me now there’s no direct path from where I was at age 23 to where I am now at 53. I was facing an impossible climb then. It’s a lucky thing a changed course at the very last moment. Truly, not a second to lose.

Now I’m clear the rough stuff. It’s relatively smooth passage the rest of the way. Even if I live to one hundred. Even if I die soon from accident or disease. Even if I suffer ’till the end of my days. Even if I must watch my loved ones die first.

I’d like to apologize for so much introspection. Yet what else of real value do I have at this, the autumn of my life? I can talk of love, charity and benevolence to others. All good things of course, and things within my power. Yet these are given traits and qualities of any man or woman who has tried to live well and good. That’s the reason I write of these other things. Characteristics of a more alien and foreign nature. Things discovered on the path I’d never planned to take, and never knew existed. Never even knew I was on.

~

I’m watching my mind squirm and wriggle now. It’s wants to escape. But it can’t go anywhere without me. And I won’t let it. I won’t agree to what it wants. The experience is a little like a resolute parent watching with folded arms while their child tantrums on the floor.

The part of me that protests is very ancient. Very primitive. And very, very wise. It’s not me really, but instead simply the part of my brain developed of millions of years of survival. It’s the part of me that’s survived every single life and generation from my parents right back to the protozoa which were our common ancestor. This part of me knows danger. Knows how to spot it. Knows what to do to stay safe. And screams at me now to run away.

The warning voice is telling me not to go out to the desert tonight. It remembers the awful experience two weeks back. It knows the heat, and dehydration, and solitude which are waiting to wring my age-weakened body like a sponge.

I won’t listen… And though I respect and appreciate that warning voice, and the vast epochs of time which give its shrill words credence. I think I know better now what’s good for me. I know there are far worse things than mere suffering or death. The Risk of Avoiding Risk.

~

Fortune once held sway over my well-being, as I judged myself blessed or cursed by its caprice. This same force now flails at me like a child; weak arms pounding little fists at my every vulnerability, connecting with dull force and vain impact. The difference is my abandon of well-being as a function of well-being. Instead now, virtue alone defines and measures my success or failure in all things. Of this fortune has no say.

~

The withering edifice of my person shall carry all that I am to the bottom of the sea. There are no lifeboats on this vessel. No preservers to strap on before the stern goes down. With a little courage, the band plays on to the last moment. Dark waters below. One last breath.

~

There’s time aplenty for a well-lived life. With no heaven above, and no hell below, we are relieved of the dream of forever, and free to invest well these few remaining moments. How well lived the life of a mortal, who reminds themselves daily, even hourly, that there is no tomorrow.

~

My years living before the sea. And my years before the rugged and wild mountains of Japan. Were but like whispered hints and rumor of my life now before the desert.

~

The concepts of heaven and an afterlife are more than a promise of immortality. They serve also as a cache of relief from our failed mortal dreams, our mistakes, as well as a promised balm against all current confusion. If only we simply believe, then our worthy burden shall be relieved, if not now, then after we’ve no chance to know otherwise.

~

Do you remember the time before your birth? Neither do I. Then why leave anything on the table with regard to a well-lived life, when there’s no good reason to think we’ll find anything after this life other than the same dark and quiet empty we knew before. Live well. Live honestly. Love…and be kind to those who share our path. Leave a good and honest reckoning of our time and trials here before passing at last to eternal dissolution and nothingness. Live the best life possible during the only life we’ll seemingly ever know.

~

Dogma enjoys no respite from certitude. This fact is only an issue when we realize the gods gain their morals from us.

~

The threat of complacent living. The risk of the settled life. We may die never knowing what really killed us before we were even dead.

~

I’m right on the edge of the desert now. The killer is nowhere in sight. It’s gone now for the night. I feel a strange reassurance now. Strange only because I feel reassured here, in this otherwise threatening place. It’s the same comfort we feel when we’re safe at home with our loved ones. A deception of sorts. One we never quite outgrow in civilized climes. But out here this feeling is a stranger; an imposter even. The killer will stalk the night tonight here in the desert. Just as it’s doing now where you are. Only out here I have a better chance of seeing it come.

~

The view from the position of mortality is immediate and clear. There’s no fuzzy line to a wished for forever, and no escaping our troubles but to either solve them or wait for them to outlive us. Even humble things become blessings then. Not because they are gifts. But simply because they are.

~

I’ll measure my days like a castaway his scarce rations. I’ll apportion then but just 24 hours each day, and allow myself just that. I’ll tolerate no greedy dreams of excess, nor any waste of these perishable and perishing moments.

~

Have you ever gone below decks with your life, to examine your hull’s weak and ruptured places, and note the cold water pouring in. To mark the growing depth of intake at your feet, and to listen as your vessel twists and groans with the gathering stress and pressure of incremental decent. Or maybe it’s better to remain above decks always. To gaze at heaven and the stars, and to dream of life everlasting.

~

Ghosts rely on us for their insubstantial substance. They float and haunt only where our imaginations allow. They fade when forgotten, and moan again when another generation takes up their cause. We join their ranks after we’re gone. But only if remembrance and circumstance provide a means of resurrection.

There are no ghosts where our imaginations no longer venture. Nothing spectral haunts the desert where forgotten tribes once lived. No phantoms linger upon shipwrecks lost at sea. And the heavens and hells of dead religions are empty of every pious soul and sinner who ever believed.

~

Miracles are attributions of wonder we neither understand nor care to discover. We marvel from a distance, and dismiss the cause and effect before our eyes, or the hard work of natural agents, or the simple marvel of chance, in favor of some reason we can never support, yet which makes us feel good while affirming our own comforting world view.

Meanwhile, the water cycle receives no credit for the life-giving rains, the doctor’s art no attribution for our cure, and the near miss of an auto accident no credit to chance.

It’s a less glorious or interesting thing to take nature on face value. And far less reassuring to our selfish self-interest and sense of importance. If only the universe would truly care and love us. If only we were truly chosen. Then we could get on with less worry. Then we can have peace without the hard work of thinking and discovering for ourselves.

~

Life is far more interesting than it is dangerous.

~

Both my fear and my courage have increased with age. My fear; as a result of perceived consequences. And my courage; by way of running out of time.


THE STOIC LIFE

I owe much to ancient Greek and Roman Stoic thinkers and the influence they’ve had in Western culture and society. I suspect my hero Henry David Thoreau was influenced directly, or indirectly, by Stoic writing, as he often refers to values proposed and supported by Stoic writers such as Marcus Aurelius, Epictetus and Seneca. If I could have my youth to do over again, I would include in my late teens the writings of these thinkers which I did not otherwise discover until midlife. So influenced, I suspect I could have avoided much of the struggle and hardship of life reconciliation during the decades of my twenties, thirties and forties, which otherwise required many hard knocks to liberate some sense into my living. This section of my book is dedicated to words which I knowingly wrote with the Stoics in mind. This section is my homage to the Stoic perspective and way of life, which has done much to refine my sensibilities, and without which I could not have composed my Good Life plan of living at this late stage of my life, or perhaps ever.

~

I told a man my mind and he asked me “What efforts have you made to destroy this idea? And how may I help to bring it down?” What a worthy friend. So caring of my best interest. Let us war together upon my claims to truth.

~

Create a garden within your mind. A place hemmed in by reason. Where you can nurture virtue in true soil. A quiet and simple sanctuary, ever present, always home.

~

Virtue is independent of possessions. Though what we have or want may distract us from virtue.

~

What is it you can truly touch? Even your raised voice will only carry so far. Distinguish these things. Measure your reach. Attend to practical ends.

~

What small routines, mindful actions, and discerning ways reveal the wilderness passage.

~

Shout your musings down the corridors of time They echo and return Lost at last

~

Virtue rests in tempered self-reflection. Not much. Just enough to gather the facts. Just enough to gain accurate perspective for the application of reason. Let it go then. And think not of events other than your rational conclusions and the resolutions they entail. And never gawk or dwell upon the circumstance of others, which is an intemperate indulgence, and a distraction from your own true labor. Attend the mending of your own folly, which you alone can repair. And burden not your neighbor with any prying misattentions.

~

The routines and vain actions of life are but a bluff and distraction from living. Bright and shiny. New and interesting. Our lives given over to awe and wonder. Our better purpose is ignored. The considered life. The principled life. A life of discipline and temperance. A life spent enacting and enforcing the laws we must ourselves discover and ratify. Police, barrister, judge and perhaps executioner. Engaged in the messy business of applying reason to our base animal thoughts, in the hope of forming something true from instinct, emotion and gasping higher thought. Gasping like a man drowning in the sea of evolved conclusions. And when that higher mind sputters some words of good sense above the waves, how then to remember and live in accord with what we’ve found? When all the sea rages, and none may hear our voice over the froth and din. Still we go on. Swimming towards something better. Straining muscle with willful, disciplined strokes. Until we at last drown. And sink again below the mad waves. Attaining nothing more than the best life we knew how. That’s the thing we seemingly seek to avoid.

~

Let every act of virtue be self-contained
At once thought, action and reward
Seeking nothing more
And asking no notice or remembrance

~

Do I die now in equanimity?
Then I’ve indeed reached a good end.

~

This balanced and tuned apparatus So frail and fleeting Upon which my everything is carried Through places and years Always now… So near nevermore

~

Be responsible for what is within your control. Let others own their own thoughts and flesh.

~

My first thought at every challenge: What opportunity this moment virtue?

~

Humbly acquiesce to sound principal

~

How might I bear well this worthy burden
Carry this necessary weight
Tolerate painful right action
Rather than flee to easy salvation

~

When challenge arrives
And panic rises in the heart
Still then the mind
Still more the tongue

~

These few square meters of flesh are far more than I can maintain or cultivate. Ruin progresses despite plan and action. My only real estate is my will. A moment by moment application of hard earned best practice. Applied to the ends revealed of reason.

~

I’d rather take less or give up my portion than suffer the loss of nourishing restraint.

~

My response is all I really own. The rest are like leaves blown in an autumn wind.

~

It’s easy to become a monster
Simply follow
When you know you should lead
Your spirit will die
And something hollow…
And rotten
Will fill the empty space

~

Man and womanhood are sufficient ends
To a stout and earnest mind
Dismissive of distraction
Heedless of precedent
Careless of legacy…
Fearless of death
Consumed of resolve
To speak one true thing
To fill the empty space

~

Peace is easy
When expectation is reduced
To the level of reality

~

To give more
And want less

~

Let not a single thought escape my mind which has not suffered the scrutiny of reason.

~

The sober subject of our lives’ decline arrives so often late to the feast, and long before the diner has enjoyed their fill.

~

Would you detain or lament Death’s rightful trespass; throw up protest and complain perceived misfortune; cry like a child denied sovereignty over all they see and know? To what end…that your gravity and equanimity might go first before the gallows?


THE ANXIETY HIKE

Sharing the way
I’m going to tell you the way to a place where I’ve encountered The Great Indifference, though I suspect the very telling will spoil the way. If you follow my path you’ll likely find nothing but sand, and waste, and heat; all the composite bits of what you’re after without the substance of what’s not there. My guidance is the problem. The fact that you’ve followed me through my words to the place I found alone, and in a sense, lost. You’ll need that bit yourself before you’ll find the Indifference. Not to be lost, in fact, but instead to be indeterminate, and off course. When you’ve reached the point you’ve satisfied your curiosity about the way I once took, then ask yourself if you’re ready to step off the unseen marks of my past trespass, to embark in some way along new lines towards your own solitary waste and desolation. Once you’re ready, then put aside my maps and guidance. Stuff them deep into your pack. Tear them up perhaps if you’ve a mind to crush the empty promise of discovering anything of real value by retracing my footsteps exactly. Step now into the soft sand or across the hard and slippery granite. Do you have your GPS life beacon? Is it charged, armed, and ready to save your life? If not, are you willing to gamble deep and hard with your own soulless mortality for the chance to meet what isn’t there? If so, then you don’t need my words any longer. Go, and die today in the face of what is not, to live on and better as part of what really is.

Hike stats:

  • Distance: 6 miles round trip approximate, return is via a different route
  • Trail quality: No trail, flat terrain on slight incline, uneven surfaces with hard and slippery granite-like rhyolite slopes, periodic washes & gullies, one steep volcanic dome
  • Best time to go: November through April (avoid summer months)
  • Dangers: Heat, exposure, snakes, spiders, rugged terrain, open mines, no help
  • Reasons to go:: Solitude, natural beauty, to encounter The Great Indifference
  • Indifference rating: High chance of encounter only if you go alone

Why did I come to this place?
I’m haunted by something which does not exist. Something which does not drift across the desert sands, or linger in the cold night air, nor touch my heart, nor press my words. Still the words do come, arising from my own forceful optimism, drawn along in their emergence by the vacuum pull of a landscape which does not and cannot care. The desert is indifferent to my ideas, my positions, my feelings and even my life. Though it can and will consume these, not through any action or intent on the part of nature, but by way of the landscape’s withering neglect and disregard, and the resulting loneliness and disconnect which is the bittersweet end I always seek and discover in such places, as well as the very torment even my bones must painlessly endure as they dry, bleach, and crack to sand under the inferno sun before desert winds scatter what’s left of me to oblivion.

A type of anxious motivation comes to me whenever I tread alone into a place which I sense is not just indifferent to my life and death, but incapable of even giving a damn about either. With some mischief I call this self-inspiration my Muse, and reckon it a she. Such poetic license… I do worry though that I’m only confusing matters by not speaking plainly that my muse does not really exist. She’s only a thing of my mind. A circumstance of place and time, and past experience, and disposition, and bias, and want.

Going Alone
The words I seek and which I attribute to my Muse come in fact from my own liberated senses. The experience is like the anxious freedom a child knows when they go past the limits prescribed by caring adults, to take thrilling risks which yield secret and suspect reward, and hold unknown and unforeseen consequences. The words which arrive to me in this state have more in common with fearful mad laughter than sane and sober sagacity. Perhaps this is the reason I must always go alone. For to share this experience with another must surely break the spell of relentless risk and introspection. And perhaps this fact can also explain a little why I so often fail in my efforts at entering the deep desert alone, and turn back, citing my family and responsibility and other worthy reasons to give up.

But hope is not lost for those who aim to find more than just my footsteps. All that’s needed to go beyond my path is to simply not stop looking; to continue past the lines I’ve marked in red upon my map; to trespass the unknown and uncertain; to be ready to fail, ready to become lost, ready to never come back. And most importantly, to be ready to go alone.

When to go and what to expect
I recommend this hike from November through April, when temperatures are manageable and not too dangerous. Though beware the precipitous nighttime cold which comes on fast as soon as the sun passes over the horizon. Even in summer you can chill deeply through the night due to the limited cloud cover, which fails to insulate the Earth, and allows the accumulated heat of the day to dissipate quickly away to space, as from a bare body on a bed without a sheet.

As for heat, there is little shade anywhere along this hike, so dress appropriately, with proper protective cover and sunscreen. The reason I didn’t include September and May in my recommended hiking months is that though the morning temps at these times are quite nice, the afternoon direct sun can be blistering given there is no escape. Particularly dangerous is the fact of occasionally, and surprisingly, very hot days during these months, which can easily kill anyone who goes too far and finds themselves trapped in the rising heat miles or hours from safety. Don’t let the blissful conditions of morning lure you so far into the desert that you can’t escape when the inferno turns on at around 11:00 AM. Death is easy here, and it sneaks up quickly upon the foolish and unprepared. Even with sufficient water you may not outlast the experience of prolonged direct exposure to the relentless sun and heat.

Arrival and campsite
Siberia is easy to find. Just type “Siberia, California” into your navigation app and follow the way. There are no amenities in Siberia – It’s a desert ghost town after all – so be sure to fill up with whatever you need at the community of Needles, Twentynine Palms or Barstow, depending if you approach from the east, south or west. Don’t be fooled by the fact of Amboy. As of this writing there is really nothing there of much help.

You won’t need a four-wheel drive vehicle to get to Siberia, as the only dirt section of road is short and passable by an average two-wheel drive car. When your navigation app indicates you are close, you’ll see on the map that you must turn from Route 66 onto a dirt road which leads a short distance into the desert to what’s left of Siberia. As you approach, look on the north side of Route 66 for a large tire propped up on a pole beside the entrance to the dirt road.

This big tire was placed here by railroad men who marked it with the words “West Siberia” (East Siberia is where the road crosses the railroad tracks) and who use the tire to help them easily find their way off Route 66 to the Siberia railroad crossing. I’ve also heard from the railroad men that the East and West designation are references to the direction of train travel on the railroad. Don’t be surprised if you see one or two big white railroad trucks drive by during your stay, as this important and active stretch of rail seems to require constant attention. The railroad men have never stopped to say anything to me during my visits here, and I don’t think they mind much my nondescript little camp, or the fact that I routinely park my car or motorcycle near the ghost town ruins. To be safe, I recommend against parking or camping too close to the railroad tracks, or especially the crossing or little signal shack, as this might indeed raise the attention of the railroad men, who must keep this line secure, and in continuous operation. Please also keep in mind that the area around the Siberia ghost town is private property belonging to the railroad for at least fifty yards on either side. The railroad police do patrol this area, and they won’t be too happy finding you near or crossing over the tracks. Otherwise, they seem to be fine with folks parking at, and hanging around, the area of Siberia. Another landmark at the juncture of the dirt road is the enormous “Route 66” graffiti painted in white lettering directly on the ground where the Siberia road meets Route 66. However, don’t count on those painted words to be there in the future, as this stretch of Route 66 is long overdue for a repaving and I don’t expect the lettering to last should the California highway department come through with new asphalt.

When you near the big tire juncture, slow and then turn off Route 66 and onto the dirt road (watch out, as there’s a bit of a sandy spot just as you come off the highway). You are now entering the remains of the community called Siberia, which once served travelers moving on both the railroad and the highway, as well as miners who prospected and worked claims in the surrounding mountains. This ghost town formally began life in 1883 as one of several water stops for trains on the Santa Fe railroad. The steam locomotives of this time consumed water greedily as they climbed westbound up the Mojave Grade from Amboy through Bagdad, Siberia and Klondike (aka Ash Hill). Clearly, the names given these spots are suitably evocative of far and remote places, and harsh and hostile landscapes. And the names are appropriate. As you’ll discover when you visit.

When you arrive at Siberia you’ll find a single crumbling stone wall marks the current center of the ghost town. This wall, and the foundation upon which it stands, is all that remain of the railroad station at Siberia. Though you can drive right up to the ruins, I recommend instead that you park your vehicle some distance away, as the dirt and sand around the ruins is littered with rusty nails which can easily make your adventure more interesting with a flat tire. I usually park next to the eastern edge of the dirt road which I drove in on–roughly parallel the ruins–and then set up camp a little way out in the open desert. If you look closely, you might even find signs of my camp which consist of a rectangle of large stones I used to hold down my tent ends, and a small wooden block with a metal grating on the top which I use as a table for my stove. Again, when setting up camp, beware of old nails and broken glass in the sand which can easily puncture the bottom of a tent, sleeping bag or you. I refer to this site as “base camp” as I often use it as the setting out point for longer adventures into the desert.

If you arrive before sundown then I recommend spending some time exploring the desert around the Siberia ruins, where you’re sure to find many reminders of the town which once was. I suggest a walk through the desert along the dirt road leading back to Route 66, where, with a little luck, you’ll find the remains of a stone-lined footpath which someone created here decades ago. The narrow trail was created by careful placement of desert stones positioned on the ground one after another in two parallel lines leading from nowhere to nowhere. I find strolling this old path conducive to many empty thoughts, which are a satisfying suggestion of the empty offerings you may find be lucky enough to find during your desert hike here.

If you overnight here, then be prepared for strong wind, cold air, brilliant stars and the frequent low rumble and groan of long trains passing nearby. Most will be slow-moving freight trains, numbering dozens of cars, with three to five powerful locomotives at the head, and maybe one or two locomotives pushing from the rear. At least once in the night you may spot a fast-moving Amtrak passenger train speeding by with brilliant lights flooding from every compartment. The sight of this civilized, peopled conveyance is a bit surreal in this lonesome and otherwise dead-of-humanity place, like the passing of a bright, lively mortal through the dull and gray land of the dead. Each and every train which passes will sound its horn four times as they approach the crossing where the dirt road goes over the tracks, and where crossing bells and lights announce the approaching train to the empty, indifferent desert. Each train will issue four blasts; three long and one short: blaaaaaaare, blaaaaaaare, blare, blaaaaaaare. A similar blast of four will be heard again as the train passes far off through Klondike to the west and where the railroad crosses Route 66 to the east. Very few cars will pass on Route 66 during the day or the night. If you are very lucky, and visit between the months of July and September, then you’ll experience the distant rumble and flash of lightening upon the distant peaks, though it’s very unlikely any rain will fall where you are at in Siberia, being one of the driest places anywhere in North America.

Don’t be surprised if you sense something watching you in the night. Desert fox emerge from their den at sundown to hunt in the dark, and their natural curiosity may lead them to pause and watch you from some distance out. If you’re very lucky you might catch sight of their eyes gazing at you from the dark, reflecting the light of your flashlight. How suspect, strange and alien we must seem to them. Do they wonder at our motives? Ask themselves why we are here? If only you could reassure the fox that you’ve no intent to leave or take anything besides your own complacent certitude and weak dependence.

Tongues of Rock
Beginning in Siberia you’ll want to start your hike early in the morning by heading out towards the northeast. If you must, then use a compass. If you can, then consider the art of dead reckoning. Though, if you are not possessed of a good sense of direction then please don’t try this, as the desert here is no place to become lost. Just remember that if you are ever in a pinch and can’t remember your way out then simply head south and you’ll eventually run into the railroad and then the highway. Another simple solution to escape this particular region of desert is to simply follow the apparent course which water might take. Since all rivers in this immediate area drain to an enormous lake basin to the south, you will eventually arrive at the railroad if you simply pretend to be water and follow the watercourse down.

Setting out from Siberia you’ll immediately come to the railroad tracks. I don’t recommend crossing or even approaching these, which is a sure way to get in trouble should the railroad police catch you, or worse if a train catches you. Instead, I recommend hiking a quarter-mile east to cross instead UNDER the tracks where a low bridge crosses over a flash-flood channel. But watch out for snakes under the bridge, which is a perfect hiding place for such species. After the tracks, you’ll immediately see a large earthen berm stretching out to the left and to the right. This berm was formed by the railroad using bulldozers in an effort to protect the tracks from flash floods. Coming out from under the tracks, the berm spreads away in long angles out into the desert. Beyond this berm is open desert. When you step past the berm you’ve now left civilization. Moving away from the tracks you’ll probably see some railroad debris such as old steel tracks and wooden ties resting along the edge of the wash, as well as older items such as rusted cans and broken glass; though after the berm you’ll only rarely spot anything made by humans, beside periodic Mylar balloons which float out here from birthdays and surprise parties in Los Angeles, to become tangled and entwined in the limbs of creosote and burro bush. Please consider collecting these intruders and taking them out of the desert with you when you go.

From where you are now, look towards the northeast, and you should see a large and ominous black mountain standing alone like a dead sentinel. This mountain is your destination. It’s about two and a half miles away as the crow flies, and will serve as a reliable beacon for the next hour or so of hiking. There’s another, larger volcano directly east of you, but this is not your destination, as it won’t lead you far enough from civilization and safety to do any real good.

When you descend from the berm you’ll be stepping onto the most current page of a long and fascinating geologic story. The hard, yet sandy soil beneath your feet extends downward to depths of dozens or hundreds of feet before reaching bedrock. Further out to the south the depth of sand grows steadily deeper, and may be many hundreds or thousands of feet deep to a maximal depth of over ten thousand feet of accumulated sand. You’re standing essentially upon an ocean of rocks and sand, walking upon water so to speak, atop a sea of alluvium deposited here over many millions of years. That’s because the place where you stand is the outer edge of a vast valley between the hills and low mountains of the Bristol range to the north, and the much larger Bullion Mountains to the south. The Bullion’s are those large peaks you can see when you look south from Siberia, and where you’ll spot a red light beacon flashing at night from the highest peak. Those mountains are very far away. Long ago the mountains on both sides of the valley were enormous, and the space between them vast and deep. However, this ancient valley has been filled in over a vast expanses of time by the steady and gradual erosion of the mountains on either side. If we could magically make all the sand which fills the valley suddenly disappear, then you would find yourself wishing you had a parachute as you begin falling towards the valley floor far below. When you are standing near the railroad at Siberia, you are in fact standing atop a vast pile of sand, and the hills you will soon walk to are nothing more than the worn-down tops of once-giant mountains, whose stony bodies were turned to sand, and used to fill in the landscape. Imagine all the time which must have been required to fill this enormous valley with sand. Imaging all the wind and all the rain necessary to complete the feat of eroding, transporting and depositing all of this sediment. This fact is still more startling when you consider that nearly all of this sand arrived via intermittent flash floods which, just once or twice a year, pour from the mountains to add another layer of sediment to this long story of sand.

The sands upon which you stand are composed of a mixture of many types of rock; from beach-like grains, to pebbles, to stones and even boulders, all of which were laid down by flash floods which periodically spilled across the land from the mountains over many thousands and millions of years. Those mountains which surround you now were once much bigger, their materials worn down from solid rock to sand, and moved from mountainside into the open desert. Just take that in for a moment… Try and imagine the countless successive floods which spilled from the mountains out onto the open plains, emerging from narrow and winding canyon onto broad slopes of sand; waters mixed and churning with mud, rocks, boulders, sticks, logs as well as dead plants and animals. Upon emerging from the mountains these floods would spread into myriad braided channels, which diverge, meet and separate again over the course of many miles before at last sinking into the landlocked desert basin. These violent flash floods are infrequent and intermittent; rarely re-visiting the same open desert courses twice, as the new deposits of debris tend to push subsequent floods to either side of the last course. This is the process which, over many hundreds and thousands of years, produces the geologic features of alluvial fans and bajada which are distinct features of deserts, being made all the more visible due to the lack of trees and extensive ground cover.

The desert near Siberia consist of rock and sand of dark and light coloration. I refer to the darker material as “tongues of rock”. Both types of rock, the dark and the light, are volcanic in origin, having come to the surface of the Earth at different times, to flow and cool after exposure to the atmosphere. The dark colored rock is from an earlier eruption, and consists of magma rich in iron which oxidized as it flowed over the surface of the Earth before solidifying. The red color of these rocks is literally due to rust from their exposure to the Earth’s atmosphere millions of years ago. The light-colored material between the dark streaks are the eroded sands of a later eruption which flowed over and covered much of the first eruption. Erosion has worn away material from the second eruption to reveal the older fingers of dark rock which now resemble mile long teardrops of hard stone. The lighter color of the secondary flow tells us that these rocks contain less iron and more silicon than the first flow. The low iron content means less oxidation and a reduction in red color. Walking across this landscape is as pleasurable an experience as reading a book of ancient history, as ever mile reveals a new and interesting chapter in the story of the Earth. Keep your eyes open for bits of petrified wood along the way, as this area did also once host a forest which was apparently killed and covered by the ash of a nearby volcanic eruption.

I hope you’ll enjoy your long trek across the open desert from the railroad to the tongues of rock. Just keep your eyes on the dark black mountain which is your destination. But again, be careful to not confuse the mountain you are after with the large black volcanic cinder cone which can be seen further out and to the southeast. If you find yourself running roughly parallel to the railroad while steering towards this more distant black mountain, then you are probably hiking towards the wrong peak. The mountain you want is the smaller one to the north, which stands alone and looks something like a rounded dome, and for which walking towards will gradually direct you further and further from the railroad.

About the time you reach the tongues of rock you will begin to lose sight of your destination black mountain which has slowly dropped over the horizon due to the rising terrain before you. If you are not good at dead reckoning then it might be a good idea to bring a GPS unit or compass and a proper map, as this isn’t a good place to get lost or turned around in, and it’s worthwhile to come with proper navigation equipment and skills if you believe you need them. I’m pretty good at just finding my way around and back and so when I lose sight of the black mountain I just continue walking in the same direction. Eventually, if you keep walking in the same direction you are going now, the landscape will level off and you will again spot the black mountain, though much closer than when you first lost sight of it.

About 45 minutes out from the railroad the desert will change from the relatively soft alluvial sediment consisting of a great diversity of rocks, to the harder and more irregular tongues of rock. The rocks here are quite interesting, as they are mostly volcanic with many of the surface rocks resting on the ground in interesting tableau, almost as though they’d been positioned here by the landscape designer at a Japanese Zen temple. If you look closely at many of these stones you’ll note that they are covered with a deep and rich patina. This dark coloration is quite evident when you pick up one of the stones and examine its underside, which is likely much lighter in color than the surfaces which are exposed to the open air. This phenomenon is called “desert patina” or “desert varnish” and there are several explanations for its origin. Keep your eyes also open for hematite, which is a high-quality form of iron ore. The specimens here are especially nice, and may easily mistaken for meteorite, especially since both rock types are strongly attracted to magnets.

One explanation for desert varnish is the gradual accumulation of impurities which are deposited on the rocks from rain water. Another idea is that bacteria are the source of the varnish, leaving the dark stains as a by-product of their metabolism. In either case, the varnish appears to develop on the rocks at a known rate, which is helpful to researchers who can use this information to date how long a stone has been left exposed in the open by noting the relative accumulation of varnish. Another useful function of this knowledge is in determining how long ago human rock art was inscribed on desert stones, where marks were made by scraping away the dark varnish. This is done again by measuring the amount of desert varnish which has accumulated on the stones since the art was made.

The stones which you will find resting so nicely upon the tongues of rock are some of the best examples I’ve ever seen of desert varnish, and I highly recommend you take a break from your trek to examine the stones here. Just be careful to replace these in the same spot and position where you found them for the sake of future passerby to enjoy.

When you can see the black mountain again you are now very near a major landmark on this hike. At the end of the tongues of rock you will suddenly come upon a small bluff overlooking a large sandy arroyo called “Siberia Wash”. The wash is always dry, save for the times when sudden and violent flash floods come through. You’ll be safe crossing, though definitely check the weather before your hike, as a forecast of rain should keep you on the alert for the sudden appearance in the wash of a churning wall of water, flowing behind a loudly grinding head of boulders, stones and plant debris. Though the chances of encountering a flash flood are slight, the risk is real and the chances of death should you become caught up in the flood are quite high. As an added precaution, please remember to never set up camp in a sandy wash basin, as this is just asking for trouble. Keep in mind that one the leading causes of accidental death in the American desert southwest is drowning due to setting up camp in the soft sands of a flash flood arroyo. Desert floods can appear suddenly and without warning under a cloudless sky due to localized cloudbursts occurring far out of sight higher up the mountains.

From the bluff overlooking Siberia Wash, you can now easily see the black mountain directly ahead. If you look a bit to the right you’ll see a smaller peak with something at the top which I call “the watcher” due to the fact that it looks like a human figure standing on the top of the hill looking back at you. This watcher will follow your movements from now until you pass beyond the northwest edge of the black mountain. Before you move down off the bluff and into the sandy wash you’ll want to see if you can spot another small wash leading up and out of the larger wash on the other side of the arroyo. This is a good landmark and destination if you want to discover the jeep tracks which are the next section of this guide. It’s alright if you don’t find the small wash though, as your overall destination is still the black mountain which you can likely easily see from where you are.

Descend carefully down the side of the bluff and into the sandy wash. Be careful here as the decent is deceptively dangerous with loose and slippery footing and many narrow slots and crevasses where you could easy catch your foot.

Old jeep tracks
After you cross the Siberia Wash you’ll encounter a short yet steep climb up and onto the tongue of rock on the far side.  As before, watch out as the crumbly rock surface could cause a nasty slip and fall. Once you’re up on top you’ll find it easy going along the flat surface which inclines very gradually upward in the direction of the black mountain. This area is curious for its very flat and even surface, and if you look closely you might spot some old jeep tracks running in the same direction you are walking. I imagine these tracks were laid down many decades ago by miners, though they remain quite distinct for the fact that there is very little rain to wear them away, and though the wind is strong and nearly constant here, it is rarely powerful enough to move the small stones which form the outline of the jeep tracks. Keep a lookout here for fine examples of a phenomenon called “desert pavement” which is the seemingly delicate arrangement of tiny pebbles into a mosaic of inlaid stones upon the flat surface of the desert. The process which produces this pavement requires many years of wind, rain and gravity to bring the stones into just the right place to fit together like a jigsaw puzzle.

Keep the black mountain directly ahead of you and just a little to your right as you proceed and you will soon encounter a second wash, only a little smaller than the first. From the edge of the tongue of rock you’ll want to carefully survey the black mountain which is now just across the wash. You’ll find several small ridges coming off the side of the mountain. There’s a ridge at the near edge with a small canyon on either side. Make your way to the north side little canyon and begin making your way up this little canyon.

Windy point
About halfway up the small canyon you can begin carefully climbing up the side towards the ridge above. About halfway up the side stop and look around. If you’re lucky (and in the right spot) you might make out the very faint outline of an animal trail which crosses this hillside. Follow the trail towards the black mountain until you reach the side of this ominous peak. And now that you have reached the mountain, look up. That’s pretty impressive, huh? When I reached this same point I quickly gave up any idea of climbing the black mountain. There’s something about the steepness of the sides, the fact that I was alone, the strong wind blowing here, the startling sunlight, and the condition of my body, which was already protesting the hike with fatigue and the whispering voice of caution which is a steadily more familiar and present companion to my advancing age.

Climb now along the very edge of the Black Mountain where it meets the little canyon and up to the ridge which extends out from the side of the mountain. Walk out on the ridge and find a nice spot for a sit, to look back in the direction of Siberia. The Black Mountain is now looming directly behind you. A small canyon falling away on your either side. Looking left you can see “The Watcher” upon his distant perch, watching you still. To the right the second wash you crossed disappears soon around a bend and into the badlands to the north, to the place you are headed next. In there can be found The Sandman’s Bed. If you’re lucky now the wind is blowing. Blowing hard perhaps. Looking far directly ahead you can see many, many miles to the distant Bullion Mountains beyond. So far. So impossibly far.

This is the point when the fear first struck me on this hike. A real anxiety rising from the immensity of the vista before me. The solitude. The uncaring wind. My own growing sense of my body’s failing functions and frail durability. How easy it would be to stumble and twist a leg on the decent from this place. Somewhere where nobody knows where I am. Someplace I’d not likely ever be found. Sure, someone could find my car back at Siberia. But what could lead them here to me across the trackless desert? With so many other places to look? Yes. Here I am vulnerable, and weak, and getting old. The Indifference becomes apparent at this point. Especially when I look over my right shoulder at the badlands to the north. Towards The Sandman’s Bed.

The Sandman’s Bed
Look behind you from Windy Point. If you came here alone could you climb to the top of that Black Mountain at your back? This challenge proved too much for me, and I found myself dismissing the thought outright, with vehemence, with such conviction that I found myself startled by my own willingness, eagerness almost, to give up. How could this be? As climbing black mountain was the very reason I’d come here. Now all I could think to do was retreat. And I couldn’t escape fast enough…If you’re resolve is greater than mine then climb the Black Mountain and hazard a glimpse of deeper indifference than my courage or resolve could muster. When you’re done – or if, like me, you gave up – then make your way carefully back down the side of Windy Point the way you arrived. Though don’t go back along the animal trail, and instead simply go directly to the bottom of the little canyon, and then up the other side. Below you now are the badlands. Make your way carefully down, and then skirt east along the base of Black Mountain until you can see another black volcano in the far distance to the southeast. Turn now to the north and move straight into the badlands. Note how the wind suddenly stops here. Where did this silence come from? And suddenly the fear is gone, or nearly gone. Maybe it will soon be replaced by something else.

Wander a bit to the north into the hard and irregular landscape here. Attempt to get lost a little and perhaps forget the reason you came. Within a few minutes the land will dip down and to the left at what is the start of a small drainage. Go down into the drainage and follow it as the water would flow, back in the direction of Siberia. You’ve just passed the furthest point of this journey and will now be making a roundabout course on your way back to Siberia.

The little watercourse you’re on will grow slightly larger with each step. When I came this way the anxiety I felt up there on the Windy Point was vanished by this point, and was replaced instead with a confidence which grew in proportion to the erosion of the landscape where I now walked. I believe that the cause of this change was due to the cessation of the wind, which blew hard up on the ridge, unsettling my nerves with a reminder of these fierce natural circumstances, and the implicit threat of such solitude, and disconnect from the comforting fellowship of my own species. The quiet now of this meandering dry gully hushed my nerves, but perhaps only as much as any illusion of security the mind can invent in dangerous places and compromised circumstance.

Soon your little course will merge into a larger gully with steeper sides and a sandy bottom. How much water and rain were required to make this sand from solid volcanic rock and granite? Was this done during this current epoch of desert? Or perhaps during an earlier period of geologic time, when the landscape wasn’t desert, and rain fell and flowed here sufficient to produce a perennial stream, with fish, and insects, and birds, brush, trees and an entire green ecosystem? Was this small stream basin carved from stone then by the constant attention of a bursting biome of purpose and action? Am I seeing this now in the absence of such seeming purposeful force? Is this thing which is lacking in fact the cause of the Indifference I sense all around me? The vacuum absence at the cessation of activity? Is this why I can only best comprehend such Indifference in deserts? And only after I’ve wandered far from somewhere into a nowhere, where memory remains visible only upon the face of stones and the piles and swirls of sand. My steps begin to slow and falter here. The sandman’s spell begins with comfort and deep wonder.

After a short distance the larger gully will widen and then turn gently to the right. The Black Mountain is now near at hand, directly to the southeast. It blocks and protects us from discovery. To the east, west and north there’s only vast waste and empty. This place is nearly as good as you could hope to find for quiet introspection, though you may need to bring such peace with you. I recommend stopping somewhere here in the sand. Take off your pack. Lay in aside. Sit down in the sand. Pull off your shoes. Then your socks. Lay these aside to let them dry a bit in the still, sunny air. Take off your shirt. Lay down in the sand. Close your eyes now with your head facing upstream, and your feet towards the somewhere where you are headed. Your feet should always face in the direction of your somewhere.

Close your eyes and let the sun blaze. Warmth rises now on your exposed limbs. Feel your skin beginning to heat. Does the sand feel good under your back? It should be soft and surprisingly comfortable. Let your mind wander. Note how it doesn’t wander far. There’s anxiety again now as you lay exposed and vulnerable in the wilderness. What danger might come of this? What animal could be watching you now from above the gully? What might come padding up or down the wash towards us? What small things might now be crawling across the sand towards us? Did I stay too long out here? Do I have enough water to make it back to Siberia safely? Can I remember the way? I’m already on a path which is different than the one I used to get here? Do I have enough time to make it back? Will I die today or tonight here in the desert? Have I already made some fatal mistake?

Note how the thoughts above are different from those on the Windy Ridge? Did you have any such practical thoughts on the ridge? Looking out at the impossible landscape, feeling and hearing the wind, tracing your mortality across some few decades of your life to this moment? Asking yourself how much more to come, and what–if anything–might follow? These were the impressions on the hill. Not fear, but frightful awe, and an awesome comprehension of irrelevance to the lack of any comprehensible meaning, intent or purpose in the greater scheme of nature. This is the difference between the naked and raw exposure to Indifference and the mere fear of being alone someplace far and alien.

When you’ve had your rest at the Sandman’s Bed put your shirt and shoes back on, hoist your pack and continue walking downstream until you spill out into a larger wash. Turn right and go up this wash a short distance–maybe a quarter mile–before turning sharply to the left and heading up and over the ridge. Now you cross the badlands. You might cross through another couple of washes now as you move steady west. Now’s the time to get lost and lose your way to the next stop in our journey. If you do get lost then don’t panic. Just head downstream with the next dry wash you encounter. Go back to the last wash if you must. Following any wash or watercourse now towards the south will eventually take you out into the open desert where you should be able to regain your orientation. And even if you don’t, if you continue south now you will certainly encounter the railroad and route 66 eventually. But again, don’t come here or follow this course unless you can accept the chance that you might make a mistake and find yourself truly lost, with night coming soon, little water left, and absolutely no idea where to go. This risk is one of the reasons to come.

“Campo #1”
At this point in the hike I’ve rather left you on your own and am now providing only rough guidance to get you from one place to another. This is both deliberate, and a consequence of the fact that as I type these words I can’t really think of a good way to guide you along a route that is largely trackless and without good landmarks. All I can say is that you need to continue west through the badlands until you again encounter the Siberia Wash. But don’t let the fact of your journey now distract you from the much worthwhile value of each step through the badlands. In hindsight now, if there’s any place I wish I’d lingered more on this hike, it’s here. There isn’t much to be found in this waste which is precisely its attraction. And the uneven up and down of the landscape, somewhat slippery underfoot, gives good traction to the type of reflection my dead muse does so often engender. In fact, I’m a little suspicious that these badlands are where the corpse-like inspiration I call my muse first found me, and then followed me back home.

When you reach the eastern edge of the Siberia Wash then stop. Look across the wash for a dark line of rock stretching across the far edge of the wash. This is a dyke of lava which stands in the midst of the wash very close to the far edge. There are two additional lava chunks in the wash here, closer islets of stone. Move now towards these rocks, visit each if you can, though your destination is the larger dyke. When you arrive note the fact of shade here. Something you can’t easily find out here. Use it if you need to, though beware black widow spiders in the crevasses of the black stone.

Maybe you’ve already noticed now that you are at the dyke, but there’s a wooden structure standing alone just a few dozen yards to the west of the dyke. This is “Campo #1” which is a long-abandoned mining camp. The site of Campo #1 is an outstanding desert camp site on the south end of an island in the wash, protected from the floods and protected from the winds. It’s a good place to overnight. I’ll leave the rest for you to discover on your own, as there’s not much here that isn’t worth finding any other way than alone.

Dangerous abandoned mine shaft
When you are finished at Campo #1 you can head south down the Siberia Wash. Do you feel that subtle relief of being homeward bound? Are you tempted as you walk through the sand by the sight of deep and long canyons extending off to your right? Do you see the colors in those hills? Do you want to go and see? I did the same thing, though I resisted for a while which was a good thing, as the first few of those canyons will take you too far out of your way, up and into a place I call Deep Water. I recommend saving your swim into Deep Water for another hike. I’ve been there. That place deserves a fresh start, and more importantly, fresh reconnaissance and an understanding of the area that comes from first successfully completing the Anxiety Hike.

Do you sing? I found the walk along the wash from Campo #1 to the abandoned mine shaft a good place to sing. Just about the time you’re starting to get into it you should see a large pile of dirt atop a small embankment to the right. This pile marks the site of a vertical shaft dug straight down into the Earth. Approach carefully as falling in would be very bad. There’s a large wooden beam across the hole. Throw a rock in and wonder at the depth.

This hike is almost over. At least in terms of what I can tell you. The last part is a bit of a risk as it consists of a freeform walk into the near edge of deep water and a somewhat challenging push out through the edge of deep water, up and over a landscape which is truly a bit dangerous, will likely provoke some panic, and may lead you to become truly lost if you are not careful. Perhaps it’s better you skip the edge of deep water and just continue down the Siberia Wash towards the railroad. You’ll find your way back. It’s the smart thing to do.

The edge of deep water
As I type these words I feel like I’m being overly melodramatic at this point in the story. However, I’ve been to the edge of deep water three times, and every time I felt the same. It’s a scary place, largely due to the fact of exposure, and heat, and distance, and the sense that time is running out. It’s not like the Indifference I sensed on the Windy Ridge, or the unseen threat I pondered at the Sandman’s Bed. There’s something more real about what I feel every time I go to the Edge of Deep Water. A sense that the clock is ticking. A mild panic that arises as I begin to race back to safety.

From the abandoned mine shaft, continue past the hole and into the small canyon which cuts into the place I call Deep Water. Walk and walk. To the left, and then the right, as the canyon twists and turns. Admire the color in the walls. Admire the plants. After a bit, things will open up to the right, revealing a very interesting and different type of badlands. Rolling hills and deeply faulted canyons. On your extreme right side, a small mountain rises to a high point. About halfway up there’s an “Old Miner” squatting and watching, taking over your surveillance where the watcher of Siberia Wash left off.

Some distance further you’ll need to make a sharp left and strike for the low and very near hills to the south. Though the climb isn’t too difficult, I do think it’s dangerous. The ground here consists of slippery rhyolite and very narrow channels in the crevices where feet could easily slip, get caught or meet a rattlesnake. Take care now. Make your way safely to the top.

When you arrive at the summit you’ve reached the edge of deep water, from which you’ve also just emerged. Though in fact your encounter with the deep water wilderness was only passing and fleeting. Turn now and look back. Take in that view. Don’t you want to go deeper? Take off your pack and sit down for a bit. Let the wind press from behind. Look over your shoulder towards Siberia. You’re almost safe again. All you need to do is make it down through the hills, out over the tongues of rock, onto the alluvium, and out across the open.


MY GOD IS A LITTLE GOD

I’ve come to realize that the muse I so often speak of, and which is the source and inspiration for so many of my thoughts, must be the same muse which heralds and inspires the words, music, thought and motivation of the religious. A distinction though, is that I apply and attribute no animating force to this contrived agency beyond the scope, breadth, force and power of my own weak intellect and imagination. It’s no wonder then that I neither trust my god’s wisdom, guidance, or even its mere existence.

~

I told my little god of the desert today. He’d never heard of such a place. I admired his honesty in fessing up his ignorance. This may be one of his stronger traits. He seemed afraid to learn of the solitude in the desert, and he asked me if any gods or spirits might be found there. I told him it seemed there are none in the wastes. I didn’t bother explaining it’s all wastes.

~

Caring for a very small god isn’t unlike tending a young child. Both are convinced of their omnipotence and immortality, and each at times rails at the world with an impressive wrath and fury. The difference being, the child possesses an anger they can truly inflict upon the world, while my little god relies on my belief to achieve even the slightest destructive end.

~

My little god begged me today to believe in him. I think he’s become suspicious his immortality is dependent upon my belief and patronage. Did someone tell him of his contingent existence? Has he learned the root cause of his being? How very afraid he must be.

~

I told my little god that we’re going to the desert tomorrow. He seemed unsure after I explained the place, carefully, so as to not offend his growing sense of omniscience. I told him the desert was a place for losing what we cherish, and for gaining what we fear. He nodded slowly, muttering something about the need of a temple. I suspect he’ll soon be very disappointed.

~

My little god has no sense of his ignorance, which I reckon the greater measure of omniscience.

~

I told my little god about the helpful muse we might meet in the desert tonight and tomorrow. He wasn’t at all pleased, and complained of my holding any other before him. It didn’t help that I explained my muse is dead, and not even real. Such threats he leveled at me then! Maybe when he meets the nothing himself he’ll realize how little there is to fear.

~

I’ve reached the near edge of the deep desert and oh my, it’s cold! I didn’t come prepared for this, and I’ve still 100 miles to go before I reach Siberia, and the safety of my desert camp. The sun’s just now gone away, and I know the deeper cold is coming. This is scary, just like the summer heat which has now passed was scary. Only this scary burns in a way that brings on shivers and chattering teeth rather than delirium and fatigue. I’ll bundle up now as best I can, and turn on the motorcycle’s heated handgrips which are a peripheral comfort. My small god is noticeably absent now. Have I perhaps been forsaken? He’s been pestering me for prayer. Maybe he thinks I’ll relent in the wild?

~

I’ve discovered my little god is afraid of the new horizon which I uncovered this weekend. Such irony that I’ve been hooked up with a domestic god. A deity of home and hearth. A god more comfortable behind a walled garden or a locked door than amidst the frontiers of creation. My little god wants nothing of the larger world, and covers his ears when I speak of The Great Indifference. It’s no wonder he’s so jealous of others. His wrath now is no surprise. I wonder how we can reconcile our difference? Find peace between his small heaven and the greater universe of reality. I suspect I’ll simply need to leave him at home when I go out. Let him alone with his certitude and finality. Deny and protect him from the vast ignorance and reality which looms like a giant before us both whenever we step foot outside our door.

~

My little god’s insistence on immortality is striking given his additional claim to know everything. Shouldn’t he understand his immortality cannot possibly survive my death unless I can find another to believe after I am gone?

~

My little god came to me tonight trembling, and asking after eternity. I told him I hadn’t a clue, and could offer no suggestions along these lines. He went away wide-eyed and perplexed. I’ll bet he’s gonna make something up.

~

A benefit of not believing in ghosts is that ghosts never come to scare me. Likewise monsters, demons, and poltergeist. They all keep their distance. The supernatural seems to only haunt the willing; the skeptical mind offering seemingly infertile soil for what is not really there.

~

My god is small because he has no ample space to live within my mind. He’d probably be a great God if I’d only believe. He resides on a dusty and neglected mental shelf where I keep my credulity and faith, a place well illuminated with doubt to keep out the vermin. He’d be much happier on a shelf with certitude or belief, though it seems I’ve only enough to sustain the slightest of gods.

~

I awoke past midnight to walk barefoot through the dark. Not far from the tent, just enough distance to unsettle whatever comfort had seeped in from the warmth of my sleeping bag, and the safety of my shelter. I so enjoy the feeling of letting go the rope to anything sound and settled. To drift for a distance naked and shivering in the cold. To stand vulnerable beneath a vast and seemingly eternal canopy of stars. That’s why I reject my muse, those ghosts and my little god, less for the fact that they aren’t real, and more for the desire to do without the false comfort their non-existence could never honestly provide.

END


RECOMMENDED READING

This section contains a list of my favorite books and titles worth reading as a foundation to good thought and the pursuit of your own philosophy. Some books are enough, as suggested by Seneca: “You must linger among a limited number of master thinkers, and digest their works, if you would derive ideas which shall win firm hold in your mind.”

  • Walden by Henry David Thoreau
  • Cosmos by Carl Sagan
  • Essays by Ralph Waldo Emerson (particularly Self Reliance)
  • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius (George Long translation recommended)
  • The Enchiridion by Epictetus
  • On the Shortness of Life by Seneca
  • Moral Letters to Lucilius by Seneca
  • The House of the Seven Gables by Nathanial Hawthorn
  • The Scarlet Letter by Nathanial Hawthorn
  • Moby Dick by Herman Melville
  • The Grapes of Wrath by John Steinbeck
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