Dreams Aren’t Hash Browns

Dreams aren’t hash browns. You can’t just walk into Waffle House and order your dreams “scattered, smothered, covered, topped, and chunked.” Unless you dream of hash browns. Which is understandable.

For most of us, realizing our dreams takes vision, ideas, focus, work, luck, connections, Divine Intervention, or some combination thereof. And it’s a lot easier to put them off, defer them, without even realizing it. Distractions abound. I have yet to find that dream menu.

When we drug ourselves to blot out our soul’s call, we are being good Americans and exemplary consumers. We’re doing exactly what TV commercials and pop materialist culture have been brainwashing us to do from birth. Instead of applying self-knowledge, self-discipline, delayed gratification, and hard work, we simply consume a product. – Steven Pressfield, “The War of Art”

Forgive me my soapbox. This stuff all strikes a pretty deep soul chord for me. I’m a carpe the diem guy. I try to make the most of each day and not miss opportunities to kayak, paddleboard, or catch a sunset. I try to remember, store, and appreciate those experiences in and for themselves, as well as transmute or translate them into something I can pass along.

2016 Sept TT article

Sometimes carpe’ing the diem means forgoing the sunrise to think and write. The September issue of Tidewater Times is online, and it has a book review I got to collaborate with friend and former teacher Father John Merchant to put together. Father Merchant sent me a copy of Yann Martel’s “The High Mountains of Portugal,” so it seemed fitting to turn it back around on him. Sometimes carpe’ing the diem means putting in the work (planting the seeds) to make something happen later.

Some of my dreams require trail running shoes. Coming up with fun outdoor challenges, doing them, and writing about them helped me land a cover feature story for Trail Runner Magazine in June 2008 and I’ve been looking to create more of those kind of adventures, both to experience and to write about.


The next adventure, running-hiking-walking the Appalachian Trail across Maryland with trail running friends, is in the planning phase to take place this fall (a shout out to Craig Behrin for channeling the spirit of the adventure into a cool logo). That is the kind of experience where so many of the things in life that I dig all come together.

I can dream things up all day long. Anyone can. It’s when I start to do things about them, come up with ways to make them happen, and start acting on them, that life gets interesting, and maybe God smiles.

Whom can I ask what I came to make happen in this world? – Pablo Neruda, “The Book of Questions”

2016 Feet Up OP

Delusions of Knowledge

When I look up at the stars, my response is wonder. When I watch a hummingbird hovering in the yard, I am fascinated. In neither case is my first instinct to analyze, label, figure things out.

Likewise, when I think about God, it isn’t to solve the Mystery, but to dwell in the Mystery, sit with it, let it wash over me. Not to try to pull it apart.

The mystery of creation is like the darkness of night–it is great. Delusions of knowledge are like the fog of the morning. – Rabindranath Tagore

Tagore is a writer who I have recently been drawn to more and more. He was the first non-European writer to win the Nobel Prize for Literature, in 1913. His “Stray Birds” are several, rapid fire blasts of sunlight, glimpses of illumination that cut through the shadows of unchecked rational thought. The painting at the top of the page is Tagore’s as well.

I’ve been sitting with the idea of paradox a lot lately–the notion that two things taken together are seemingly impossible, but actually true. Like when physicists say that light is made up of (behaves like) waves and particles at the same time.

Science and scripture are full of paradoxes. How can Jesus be both a Lamb and a Lion; how are the worldly poor the spiritually rich? Why do you have to let go in order to have everything? Why is surrendering the only way to victory? Jesus loved paradoxes and deep thinkers like Einstein saw them everywhere.

Why is that? One reason might be that our intellect by itself is not the right faculty to get us to the deeper truths. It would be like trying to use smell or taste to figure out the tip when you get the check from dinner–could be interesting, but ultimately not helpful.

I am never more frustrated than when I try to have all the answers; when I want to have things figured out before I move forward. I am never more at peace than when I allow myself to be in the moment, to be happy with/by/from the things and people that make me happy. And it is still hard not to want to know that I am moving in the right direction, doing the right thing, moving further up the mountain rather than backpedaling.

“One of the great constants in life is change.” That was the doctrine of Heraclitus, a Pre-Socratic Greek philosopher. A paradox and a truth. And not new information.

How we deal with change, how we deal with the mind coming up just short of what it is we want to know, those responses to life are what our lives become. There are all kinds of options: we can doubt, fear, bury our head in the sand and not give it thought, we can lose ourselves in work, we can party like it’s 1999.

I go back to a favorite Thomas Merton thought:

You do not need to know precisely what is happening, or exactly where it is all going. What you need is to recognize the possibilities and challenges offered by the present moment, and to embrace them with courage, faith, and hope.

That feels right. So when I walk outside after the storm and through the boat yard to catch the last bit of sunset and see this…

2016 Sunset Owl

And I walk back to the house and hear an owl in the top of a tree and then watch he or she take off and fly with outspread wings, I smile and sit with Tagore’s words that have been in my head on a Sunday:

That I exist is a perpetual surprise which is life.


Wonder and Wildness

Jesus was not a city slicker. Sure, he hung out and preached in towns, but when it all got to be too much, or he had stuff to work out, or just needed a break, he went for wilderness. Wilderness, both literal and figurative, was his place of transformation, of discernment, of revelation.

Over the course of my reading life, anytime I have found my peeps, ancestors to whatever aesthetic, experiential, existential tribe I belong to, it’s been the folks who hit the wilderness. Whitman, Thoreau, and the American Transcendentalists; John Muir, Edward Abbey, Gary Snyder; and the British Romanticism crew. When I read Blake, Wordsworth, Coleridge, Byron and company, it almost felt like Superman ditching his tie and collared shirt. Wordsworth in particular, had come to grips and written about his soul’s need to go to nature and finding his way:

The earth is all before me: with a heart
Joyous, nor scared of its own liberty,
I look about, and should the guide I choose
Be nothing better than a wandering cloud
I cannot miss my way. I breathe again:
Trances of thought and mountings of the mind
Come fast upon me.

Wordsworth Prelude

Wordsworth’s “Prelude” is getting back to nature. The importance and role of nature in the unfolding of our souls and minds, as individuals, was a spark for the Romantics.

One of the things about wilderness, is that it can inspire us, and reconnect us to our own wildness. I could feel that the first times I went trail running. Nothing felt so freeing as running through the woods, the mountains, in tune, in touch, heart pounding and smiling from the soul.

Delaware Trail Marathon 2008

The times I feel most lost, most disconnected, are when I realize I have lost touch with that part of myself. Going outside, way outside, helps. But it’s not the only way. I have to remember to bring something from those times back with me; to ignite that spark; turn it to flame; and keep it burning through the work week; through daily life. Not to lose touch with it.

It often seems like we live in a world where we get points for being tamed. From schools, to cubicles, the better you sit still, assimilate, regurgitate, and fill out your TPS reports, the further along you are.

Yeah… no. That’s never been my path. And anytime I’ve seemed to start down it, God has seemed to redirect and remind me… wake up, look around, is this what you want? There is so much more.

There are daily reminders in town. There is a fox who lives in our neighborhood, whose gait and speed, and coat make me smile and wake me up a bit. Paddleboarding or kayaking. The sublimity of a sunrise. The power of a storm rolling in on the water. The vastness of the stars on a clear night.

At the same time we are earnest to explore and learn all things, we require that all things be mysterious and unexplorable, that land and sea be infinitely wild, unsurveyed and unfathomed by us because unfathomable. We can never have enough of nature. – Henry David Thoreau

We lose our wildness at our own risk. We lose it in as much as we are happy to be tamed. That doesn’t make me happy.

Sparking our sense of wonder. Rekindling our wildness. Every time I do those things, God seems to show me more–about life, the world, myself.

* Featured image from Space Attraction.

Storing Up, Finding My Way

I knew it was coming. Sometimes catharsis taps you on the shoulder, sometimes you run square into it, head on. Sunday we were waiting for each other.

My runs this summer have been five to seven miles, at a quick-for-me pace. It’s felt good to push and see how I respond. Sunday morning was the first group run I had done in a while. We started out slower, so I decided to run further. It was hot. I wasn’t planning to run so far, but the reckoning was there. I ran for about eight miles with someone faster than me, until I decided to drop off.

I found my quiet spot. My longest run of the year, at a pace too fast, undertrained, on a heat advisory day. I had reached a point where I knew I needed to draw spiritual blood; to push, to suffer; to get everything out; to find that place on the other side of daily life, on the other side of sweat and tired, that only running can take me.

In that place, I found a me I had let go for a bit. We stared each other down, smiled, and then got inside out of the heat. I am a glutton, not dumb.

Herb Elliott quote

Herb Elliott is responsible for one of my favorite quotes. I have written it in notebooks, posted it on the fridge, put it on bulletin boards. Sometimes I have to go back to it. I don’t think a race has to be a race, it can be life.

It’s time to store up. I’ve been antsy for a road trip, but this isn’t the same thing. It’s a gathering in; a collecting.

The hut at the top of the page is called Fossickers Hut, in New Zealand, I found via Cabin Porn. I don’t need to go there (though I wouldn’t argue), but need to find/make that space. To feel it, so that I remember the me that running brings me back to; that writing brings me back to. Sometimes I don’t realize I’ve stepped away, then look around. And have to find my way.

It was a long day, of early morning field hockey practice and watching Anna tough out a 7am practice when feeling like crap the whole previous day, and working through it. And being impressed by her fortitude. It was scrambling home after a late meeting, grilling dinner, and laughing with the girls over mindless dinner humor. It was walking outside after cleaning the kitchen, seeing the sun setting, and color and clouds, and reading the clouds differently.

Clouds come floating into my life, no longer to carry rain or usher a storm, but to add color to my sunset sky. – Rabindranath Tagore, “Stray Birds”

Clouds add depth and shape. They shade us from the sun. They add color to sunsets and sunrises.

2016 sunset clouds

To Sit With a Dog

I lived with pets for the first 42 years of my life. I was preceded in my family by a grouchy, black cocker spaniel mix and a large Siamese cat. Dogs and cats were a part of life until separating in 2014, and rental agreements prohibiting pets.

Truth be told, at first I liked the quiet. And the clean. And not having to worry or be responsible for a pet. Daughters were enough. I was burned out.

But a funny thing happened in a quiet home. Quiet became silence. Silence became stillness. And home wasn’t home. There was a void. And the girls saw what it was before I did. They started asking to get a dog. As kids do. But I felt it. I am dense, but at some point it sank in. And our landlord agreed to allow a small dog.

2016 Harper house

We knew we wanted to rescue a dog, knew a bit what we were looking for, and through Operation Paws for Homes in northern Virginia, found Harper (named for Anna’s favorite athlete Bryce Harper and for author Harper Lee).

From someone who takes a philosophical approach to life, dogs teach us more about life and about ourselves than we ever teach them.

Dogs are our link to paradise. They don’t know evil, or jealousy, or discontent. To sit with a dog on a hillside on a glorious afternoon is to be back in Eden, where doing nothing was not boring–it was peace. – Milan Kundera

When I walk Harper through town, just the two of us, something different happens to my mind. I am slowed from running, not in a hurry, and watching what she sees. Hopefully not a squirrel.


I need more “mindful” and less “mind full” in my life. And dogs can help get us there. Harper helps me get there.

Harper was found on the streets. She is skittish around big machinery; you can see some of what she’s been through. But at eight months old, she is one of the most chilled out puppies I’ve seen. And she puts smiles on the girls’ faces and laughter in their hearts in a way I haven’t seen in my house over the past two years.

Most everyone in our neighborhood knows Harper and speaks to her by name when they walk by and she’s in the yard.

She sleeps in the bed, against the back of my legs. On nights the girls are here, she often rotates sleeping with one of them. As I write, she is crashed out on her dog bed in the sun room. She is constant, consistent, boundless, loving unconditionally. Except maybe food and walks, those might be her terms.

There are days when I come home from work, and Anna or Ava will tell me that they took Harper for a walk around the neighborhood, and detail their route and what they saw. This has quickly become one of my favorite things.

I understand Jim Harrison when he says:

Barring love I’ll take my life in large doses alone–rivers, forests, fish, grouse, mountains. Dogs.

In our case, Harper has added something to our family that we couldn’t have found any other way.

2016 Harper Ava

Living Stones

Sometimes I would like to be rock, stone, standing impermeable against the elements, against the world.

But neither rock nor stone win in the end; they get taken down; eaten away, cracked, eroded over time.

Wind and water abide. Their persistence and patience are too much for stone.

People have always sought meaning, wisdom, and strength in rocks, it seems. From building tools and weapons, to palming and rubbing a stone smooth in our hands.

I am drawn to stones.

assateague stones

Carl Jung knew something about why:

Many people cannot refrain from picking up stones of a slightly unusual color or shape and keeping them… without knowing why they do. It is as if the stone held a mystery in it that fascinates them. Men have collected stones since the beginning of time and have apparently assumed that certain ones were containers of the spirit of the life force with all its mystery. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”


The church I grew up going to is built of stone. It has the feel of something ancient, something permanent. I have to go back to Jung:

The stone symbolized something that can never be lost or dissolved, something eternal that some have compared to the mystical experience of God within one’s own soul. It symbolizes what is perhaps the simplest and deepest experience of something eternal that man can have in those moments when he feels immortal and unalterable. – Carl Jung, “Man and His Symbols”

Ah, but the hubris of man. Our audacity. We want something permanent. We want something to build on; to be that which is built on. The cool, vastness of a mountain. Let me be that. To stand like stone.

We use stones as offerings. We build. Standing stones were built, formations, as offerings to God. A temple.

But God prefers people.

You also, like living stones, are being built into a spiritual house  
– 1 Peter 2:5

People build with stone. God builds his greatest work, love, with people.

Living stones. Being built into something. Maybe I can build with words. If not my own, then Gary Snyder’s as an incantation:

Lay down these words
Before your mind like rocks.

Snyder’s words are riprap. Pick mine up like a stone to rub in your hand and carry with you. Pocket them and pull them out when you need them.

What will they say to you?

Saturday Prayer

I have not sat still well today. Solitude’s double-edged sword had me pacing, caged.

I walked Harper across town to the Oxford-Bellevue Ferry and back in the morning. I cut grass, which brings on thinking for me. I read and wrote for a book review article coming due. Changed lightbulbs. Sitting in the yard, I had to move.

I hop on my bike and cruise through town, riding down to the shoreline at the park. I pull Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island” from my pocket, in all its underlined, written in, and dog-eared grace.

I close my eyes with my face in the sun. An evening breeze brushes my ears and hair.

The waves are sharing an embrace and a conversation with the shoreline; sitting in silence, it is all I can hear–a soundtrack no less extraordinary for being commonplace.

I bend my head in prayer to listen. Language doesn’t need words to speak. No, that’s not it. God doesn’t need words to speak to those who listen.

I leaf through Snyder, who offers a “Prayer for the Great Family:”

Gratitude to Water: clouds, lakes, rivers, glaciers;
      holding or releasing; streaming through all
      our bodies salty seas
                          in our minds so be it

Gratitude to the Sun: blinding pulsing light through
      trunks of trees, through mists, warming caves where
      bears and snakes sleep–he who wakes us–
                           in our minds so be it

I don’t properly write in my pocket notebook very often, opting for a bigger one where my mind stretches more. But the pocket notebook made the bike ride, and as I scrawl these thoughts together, I see words bleeding through from the next page.

2016 Ava rehab words

They are Ava’s from the rehab hospital last year. She was working on getting her words back with a therapist–she couldn’t find the right words to say, to answer, but she could write them down. Today being a year since the seizure that landed her there, it doesn’t seem a coincidence to have her words find me here.

I close now wet eyes again to listen to the river. And God.

Riding my bike through town, life goes on. People are happy eating, walking, biking. There are kids playing in the sand and ankle deep in the water at the Strand.

Almost home, I turn up Jack’s Point Rd., and an Eastern Bluebird flies across the road in front of me, into a vacant lot. I have only seen a handful of bluebirds in town and I smile. If you read birds, happiness must be nearby.

eastern_bluebird_11 (1)

Road Trips and Rabbit Holes

I am suffering from a very specific form of road trip/wanderlust envy. For years I have told anyone that asks, daughters included, “Dad, if you could have any kind of car or truck you want, what would it be?” An old Land Cruiser. And the notion I’ve had is to take road trips; do bits and pieces of the country, with epic drives, of varying lengths and distances; from quick weekend strikes; to longer meandering treks.

And then I see Theron Humphrey, whose photography goes by This Wild Idea, doing exactly that. Granted, in my mind’s eye, my Land Cruiser is blue, though I am not that picky about color.

Part of what strikes me about his Land Cruiser camping, is that I have been feeling boxed in of late, like I need to stretch my legs and change scenery. Escape for a bit to recharge.

Travel brings power and love back into your life. – Rumi

Travel far enough, you meet yourself. – David Mitchell, “Cloud Atlas”

There are road blocks for the meandering, epic road trips. Kids, work, money, time–they all matter. But the shorter ones, whether for herons or just because, are doable, and like making time for writing, running, or anything that matters, if I want to do them, I have to make time and make them happen. I have always thought of road trips as having a soulful/spiritual aspect to them, a form of pilgrimage, and it’s time to pilgrim up.

2016 Aug rabbit hole

For those of us inhabiting our time and space, there are maybe other ways to escape: rabbit holes. Many of my favorite people are daydreamers. It’s just how we are wired. Walking through town or out on a run, my mind wanders miles and years and light years farther than my body. But my short attention span kicks in, or reality calls me back. I never make it too far down the rabbit hole.

A daydream is a meal at which images are eaten. Some of us are gourmets, some gourmands, and a good many take their images precooked out of a can, absent-mindedly and with little relish. – W. H. Auden

It’s sad that Auden is right. If you are going to take the time to daydream, give it some thought. Connect to your dreams from when you were little, but dream them big. I need to let my mind wander and follow it. There is value to seeing where our daydreams lead, and where they lead us.

Road trips and rabbit holes can both lead us to the same place in the end: to a changed perspective, new thoughts, new eyes. Whether we climb a mountain, stand in a new stream, or see a new city, it is who we are and what we return to that lasts.

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes, but in having new eyes. – Marcel Proust

2016 aug schooner

Uncovering the Path

* This was first posted at The 4-1-Run. I wanted to re-post it here, as it is an ongoing exploration/discovery, and I want to have all the various thoughts along the way collected in one place.

I pack a small backpack: water, fruit and nut trail mix, binoculars, a birding book, a notebook and pen, rain coat, pocket knife, a slim book–maybe John Muir, or Wordsworth, or Thomas Merton, or Gary Snyder’s “Turtle Island.”

I think about the movie “Empire Strikes Back,” where Luke Skywalker looks into the cave that is his test and asks, “What’s in there?” And Yoda’s response, “Only what you take with you.” Be light and free. Be open. I start up the mountain with Muir in my head:

Climb the mountains and get their good tidings. Nature’s peace will flow into you as sunshine flows into trees. The winds will blow their own freshness into you, and the storms their energy, while cares will drop away from you like the leaves of Autumn. – John Muir

Hold on, who said that, Muir or Yoda? Maybe Muir is the Yoda of the mountains.

For 20 years or more, I have used, lived, and contemplated the metaphor of life, and the life of the spirit/soul, being a journey up the mountain. I think that too many of us–speaking for myself–wear a path back and forth or around the base of the mountain and think (or tell ourselves) we are making progress upwards; that we are getting somewhere.

And that’s where Yoda comes in, we find only what we take with us. And what we take with us are our habits, our worries, our fears, our doubt, and in some cases our stuff–our material things. And those things either weigh us down so heavily that we can’t climb, or we have to wrestle with them before we get anywhere.

This past Sunday, at church our pastor put Henri Nouwen’s “The Spiritual Life,” in my hands, a tome of eight of his books brought into one. We were talking favorite spiritual writers while on a mulching expedition during the week and he couldn’t recall Nouwen’s name as we threw around Merton, Bonhoeffer, and Buechner.

“This is for you,” he said, with his best Yoda smile. What he had first mentioned about Nouwen was that he walked away from prestigious academic positions to focus on helping men and women with intellectual disabilities. I’ve been spending my morning coffee with Nouwen this week. Books and writers have a tendency to find me at the right time.


Nouwen talks about how our time and schedules are filled, how we are always busy, because being busy is a status symbol–look at how busy and productive I am–nd yet our spirit is unfulfilled because we are not filling our lives or schedules with the right things.

Only having the girls half the time, I spend a lot of time alone. That can be both good and bad for an overthinker. The only times I can really turn my brain off, or allow my thoughts to slough off are when I am running or in prayer/meditation, which can be sitting with coffee, watching the sunrise or sunset, staring at the stars, but it has to be intentional time.

For all my alone time over the past couple years, when I looked closely, I found myself circling the bottom of the mountain; pacing back and forth in a rut of my own footprints. My habits, my lack of clarity, my inertia, nothing was helping me push up. And yet, climbing the spiritual mountain, carpe’ing the diem, asking the big questions and looking for answers, and being on the move rather than one place–these are all things that make me, me.

My time alone somehow wasn’t solitude, or at least not enough of it.

Once the solitude of time and space have become a solitude of the heart, we will never have to leave that solitude. We will be able to live the spiritual life in any place and at any time. Thus the discipline of solitude enables us to live active lives in the world, while remaining always in the presence of the living God. – Henri Nouwen

There are times when it feels like you’ve just unloaded rocks out of your pockets or backpack and feel lighter and ready to climb.

I have much more to say about the mountain–maps, compasses, the virtue of discerning your true path vs. switching paths at every pass, the people you meet along the way, whose paths overlap with yours and who you walk with for a time–but let’s call this part one. Beginning again. Or uncovering a path I had let get overgrown.

As I swill some water, smile at the sunrise, and keep on up the mountain, I look into Wordsworth’s lines that are among the favorite I have ever read:

…And I have felt
A presence that disturbs me with the joy
Of elevated thoughts; a sense sublime
Of something far more deeply interfused,
Whose dwelling is the light of the setting suns,
And the round ocean, and the living air,
And the blue sky, and in the mind of man,
A motion and a spirit, that impels
All thinking things, all objects of thought,
And rolls through all things. I heretofore am I still
A lover of the meadows and the woods,
And mountains, and of all that we behold
From this green earth; of all the mighty world
Of eye and ear, both what they half-create,
And what perceive; well pleased to recognize
In nature and in the language of the sense,
The anchor of my purest thoughts, the muse,
The guide, the guardian of my heart, and soul
Of all my mortal being.
– William Wordsworth, from Lines Written a Few Miles Above Tintern Abbey


Of Herons and Intentions

Herons are personal for me. It’s not easy to explain, but they are somehow a connection, a link to nature and the broader Universe. Mary Oliver calls a Great Blue Heron a “blue preacher.” If you’ve ever watched one–methodical, thoughtful, graceful, you can see why.

My connection to Great Blue Herons deepened when I was training for my first marathon. I could be struggling on a long, low energy run, see one sitting on Papermill Pond or some cove, and instantly feel energized, recharged. It happened often enough to be weird (in a cool way). It would make me smile as I pushed on. A heron run was a good run. And that still happens.

Great Blue Herons are flighty. They take off as soon as you get close to them. Their take offs and landings are so awkward and take enough time and effort that it makes sense for self-preservation why they would be quick to bolt. Lately my interest has been equally on watching the more versatile, cagey, and dexterous Green Herons–there is a rookery on Town Creek in Oxford and they are everywhere. On a lazy evening paddle, we watched one scamper along rip rap in step with us, looking for something to eat. I’ve been thinking about a Green Heron tattoo to keep my Great Blue company.

2016 GB and Green Heron

Peter Matthiessen traveled five continents searching for 15 species of cranes. His adventures are chronicled in the book, “The Birds of Heaven: Travels with Cranes.” I’m not as ambitious as Petey, nor do I have the time or budget to spread such a wide net. But I dig the notion as a model.

Sometimes I find putting my intentions out there makes me more accountable and more likely to make them happen. I’m making my scope regional–whether Eastern Shore, or Maryland, or Mid-Atlantic, we’ll have to see how it comes together. There will be road tripping involved. The goal is to find and see as many types of herons as can be found in the area. Word went out yesterday morning that a Tricolored Heron had been spotted in Grasonville. That’s the kind of occurrence to take note of.

tri colored heron

I’m not a biologist, nor am I looking to make a documentary. I’m going to try for a more creative approach to whatever writing comes out of this, and take a carpe the diem, fun, road trip, and enjoy nature approach to looking for them.

We have a finite amount of time spinning around on the globe here. That’s a perfect reason for going after things that move us, connect us, ground us, inspire us. It’s time for me to expand on what it means to have or make a heron run.