Snakes, Ditches, Mud, and Ticks

Each summer for the last few I’ve hosted a small adventure club for a group of my running friends. We call them Adventure Runs, though running occasionally turns out to be only a minor component of the adventure.

So…. once again it is summer, and once again yesterday morning I posted our secret meetup location in our chat server, anticipated all day long, then finally after work ended for the day drove to the secluded parking spot and waited to see who else showed up.

Adventure Journal

It had rained all afternoon.

Not just rained. It had poured, complete with thunder and lightning, clacks of huge rain droplets batting against the windows and sending coworkers on our video meetings running off camera to close windows and comfort pets.

At 5pm we were texting back and forth about whether to delay our running plans.

But by 6pm the sunshine was back and I was lacing up my trail shoes and trying to remember exactly how to navigate the city streets to where I’d agreed to meet up for a local adventure.

The thing about trying to find interesting and unique places to run in the suburbs of a big city is that we really have just two choices for trails that are not of the well-maintained asphalt or crushed shale-surfaced accessible recreational locales: we either need to drop into the river valley or we need to find a bit of wilderness trapped between the cultivated corridors of roads, housing and shopping malls.

A dozen years ago a major infrastructure project resulted in the city building a ring road encircling a major part of the established city-proper. The road itself is almost eighty kilometers long with access points into and out of town every three to five klicks, and while in most places it snakes by the clusters of houses with naught but a bit of grassy ditch to separate the two, there are huge swaths of road anchored inside what’s called a transportation utility corridor (TUC) where clearance has been maintained to build roads, power transmission lines, and oil pipelines.

I was also acutely aware of a spot not too far (but not easily accessible) where a particularly interesting swath of TUC had been combined with some natural preserve, an old, blocked off access road, and an interesting destination at the end of the connected trail.

Into the Woods

On any given summer day, the trail that led from the quasi-parking lot to the east access of the locally famous “graffiti tunnelwould have been a moderately challenging bit of dirt-based single track weaving through and around eclectic landscapes crushed between a busy highway to the south and a winding high-watered creek to the north.

An hour after our quadrant of the city had been doused in an afternoon summer storm, those same trails were glistening and muddy, the tall grasses were hung heavy with rainwater, and the protruding heaps of clay silts that marked the marshy landscape near to the creek were more slippery than had we been running on our familiar winter ice slicks.

As we descended into this twisting, wet, and perilous collection of intersecting trails, each of the seven of us often veering off course to find a bit of path we were individually more comfortable with, a mix of caution and excitement bubbled through the group.

At one point I stopped abruptly with two of my companions close on my heels, slamming on my brakes in the wet mud and barely avoiding stepping on a medium-sized garter snake soaking up the sun on the middle of the path. I shooed it away and “stood guard” as one of my ophidiophobic running mates inched by and squealed in fear.

Familiar Destinations

More tall grass (hiding nasty ticks!)

A scramble hand-over-hand up a small, nearly impassible hill.

A leap of faith over an ant hill the size of a small car.

And wet feet all around, even though we never did get very close to the creek at all.

While the west side of the graffiti tunnel is accessible from a gentle gravel path connected to some of our local neighbourhood running routes, the east side (separated by a muddy creek) is only found on foot by following the two-and-a-half klick route through the trees and grass and wilderness-laden ditch through which we had just run.

We ogled the years of overlapping graffiti that covered the old pedestrian underpass (yet to be connected to the trail system-proper even eighteen years after it’s installation), took a bunch of photos and selfies, and then contemplated our alternate routes back to the cars… ultimately deciding to face the known perils of retracing our steps back rather than trying to find a simpler (but far longer) route home.

It is almost a rite of passage for a guy who plans crazy running routes to listen to the grumbles and complaints, cursing and swearing of those silly enough to follow him into the wilderness.

And it is certainly rewarding to lead all of those people full circle to their cars and to realize that every single one of them just experienced something they’ll remember for long after we’ve all gone home and washed the mud from our ankles.

Rainstorm Mushrooms

Climate and other outdoor factors converge and create a landscape where mushrooms rarely thrive. When they do, I’m always fascinated by the fungal structures that peek from the suburban landscape before shriveling up and disappearing again.

dormant spores
lurking
hiding
biding
hidden in cool crevices
desiccated
down among nooks of decay
undaunted by days of
dark
arid
chill
but a reprieve
water
rain
moisture
soaking the soil
lingering showers
thoroughly wetting
nooks and crevices
calling
waking
beckoning
caps to peek into the sun
a moment
a day
brief appearances
reminders that
dormant is not dead
only waiting for
chance opportunity
and spring rains.

– bardo

I am not a poet, but a friend has inspired me to read more of it and think more critically about its place in the constellation of my creative pursuits. Occasionally, Iโ€™d like to post a poem here when inspiration strikes.

Cast Iron Convinced-ish

After nearly nineteen years of marriage, I’d like to think I’ve learned something about not just my own spouse, but about being married in general. One of those lessons is that a good spouse is one who can keep the other in check, balanced, and grounded. And vice versa, of course.

Introvert and extrovert. Left and right. Yin and yang.

I can’t tell you when exactly I became a die hard fan of cast iron cooking. It came on gradually and evolved proof-wise from an ever-growing, ever-expanding collection of pieces and recipes that validated my obsession.

I can tell you that my wife has been — tho largely supportive — mostly skeptical of the effort and has never fully jumped into the crucible of molten iron that is my cast iron fandom.

Insomuch as she has enjoyed the results of my cooking efforts, there have been a wave of negs from the gallery, commenting on their weight, or the space they occupy in our cupboards, trotted out like a curious exhibit for visitors who get a peek into the cast iron cupboard.

Then last week I found her cooking dinner having unearthed a Teflon frying pan from the depths of our pantry.

Betrayed!?

Or, yin and yang.

“You’re using an old frying pan?” I asked.

“I wasn’t in the mood for a heavy one.” She replied.

Don’t get me wrong. She knows very well that there are jobs for which a cast iron pan is just a pan and others for which cast iron is king. This past weekend she led the charge for Father’s day, frying up a sizzling pan of smoked pork chops fried to a crispy finish in my ten and quarter inch Lodge.

But her convinced quotient still leans the “sorta” column whereas mine is camped in the “fully convinced” lot.

Her caution is the balance to my obsession.

And for any stray reader who stumbles upon this website or post, perhaps googling a query like of “how to convince my wife to switch to cast iron” or “great reasons to buy your first cast iron pan” the advice I would offer is simple: maybe you never will. Maybe you never should. Maybe you only need to convince yourself and then just cook. The proof is in the pudding… or pancakes. And anyway, who cares if no one else does. Do you and find joy where you need to.

We have a cupboard full of cast iron and I use it almost daily to prepare our meals, bake our bread, or grill up interesting things to share. Years on, my spouse still doesn’t quite get it… and maybe she never will.

Maybe that balance is a good thing.

It reminds me to enjoy and use the pieces I have, to keep learning new skills as to bring her closer to team “fully convinced” and overthink it all to maintain that balanced yin and yang of a good marriage cast in something probably much stronger than iron.

Monday Zen: Pulling Weeds

In a previous post I mentioned that my vegetable garden has been sprouting through the spring in a particular state of ambiguity. 

As all the little seeds I deliberately planted in May began to germinate and grow, so did the variety of weeds and volunteer plants begin to emerge from the soil.

In many cases it was difficult to tell them all apart, good from bad, wanted from unwanted.

In one particular case, the case of the neat rows of deliberately planted carrots versus the scattering of rogue dill weed, the new shoots looked virtually identical in their one and two leaf stages.

Unable to tell the guests from the squatters, I left them all to be — carrots, dill, and a small assortment of other little plants turning the raw soil into a lush gardenscape of green sprouts.

Then this past weekend something interesting (though not unexpected) happened.

The dill began to mature into delicate, blue-green thread of delicate feathery leaves, while the carrots began to mature into paler green wisping fronds.

In the matter of a couple days I could suddenly tell one from the other. Amazing! At last! And I knelt at the edge of the garden box and acutely began to pluck the invading dill from those neat rows of young carrots.

Pulling weeds is not particularly interesting, but gardens, weeds, and all that sprouts in the spaces of those efforts makes for a well worn analogy for many aspects of living a well-cultivated life — pun intended.

Being able to pluck the weeds from your own life, be that from the emotional or physical or whatever spaces of your day-to-day seems simple enough advice.

But then again, just like the frustrating ambiguity I encountered with my carrots versus dill problem, sometimes deciding which bits are the weeds and which are the germinating seeds that you’ve planted deliberately is not always one hundred percent clear.

The mind, the heart and the soul are fertile soil for ideas and thoughts and emotions, some purposefully cultivated with care and attention, while others drift in with the wind and grow of their own accord.

Either can flourish, but it’s up to us with patience and practice to weed the gardens of beings and ensure what grows inside us is meant to be there and will yield the fruits (or veggies) that we want to harvest at the end of the process.

I’ve been thinking a lot about this process lately, both literally as a gardening practice and metaphorically as an act of self-care — and somehow coincidentally both tend to lead me to be on the ground on my knees in my backyard, hands covered in wet soil.