No matter how fast I run
I can never seem to get away from me
Jackson Browne – YOUR BRIGHT BABY BLUES
Teddy Roosevelt, when asked about his approach to the outdoors, said “when I go, I go hard and I go alone.” “That’s me!” I said when I read that, and then recalled that I was not alone on my last outdoors trip, that it totally kicked my ass, and that it barely winded my two trail companions, Rob Graham and Ed Mahoney. Hard is relative. You’d think “alone” would be an absolute; not really, it turns out.
I was going to head west to Guadalupe Mountains again, but, you know–shit happens. The point was sort of to “get away from it all,” but, not being able to go, I accepted that I’d just be taking “it all” with me anyway, so why not save myself all that driving and deal with that shit right here.
The older I get, the easier I find it to deal with things by ignoring them, and that usually means I metaphorically kill myself exercising. It’s a beautiful, spring-like day here in Austin, and after a quick back-of-the-envelope calculation of how far I could go between people who absolutely needed me around in the morning and people who absolutely needed me around in the evening, it turned out I just had enough time to run the Wolf Mountain Trail out at Pedernales Falls SP. “Hard and alone!” Awesome, totally badass, except for the little girl and her overweight dad I crossed pretty far out on the trail, just out for a daddy and daughter hike. From where I met them, I figured their total walk was a good ten miles, and that just offended my sense of hard-and-alone superiority. Ok, well, I swam 2,500 yards at the pool on my way out to Pedernales, because doing just one of those things wasn’t badass enough, and I better not find out that guy and his little girl were riding bikes back to town.
I don’t really believe I can run away from problems. A lot of problems are just things happening that keep you from being who you are, and the struggle to remember who you are and act accordingly is what happiness is all about.
Until recently I thought the thing I always liked most about diving (I’ve logged over 10,000 hours of some pretty awesome dives) was that it humbled me. I was always profoundly grateful just to be able to breath underwater thanks to technology, and to see such incredible things thanks to skill, experience, and luck. And every time I witnessed these incredible, often life-changing things underwater, I was fully aware of how pathetically un-adapted I was to be in that place, where what I was watching was so beautifully, perfectly suited. For lack of a better word, I felt “liberated”–everything that counted for who I was above water mattered not at all in that place. “To be dissolved into something complete and great,” as Willa Cather wrote. No longer having an ocean to work in, I understand better now what I felt underwater. The natural world is whole and sufficient unto itself; it doesn’t need me or want me. It is indifferent to my existence. All I had down there was pure me.
Here’s a story I don’t tell many people: the happiest day of my adult life occurred a few years ago. I woke up in the middle of the night, and had no idea who I was. Everybody at least once in their life might wake up and not know where they are, but I did not know who I was, which family members in the medical industry tell me is something to get looked at. Anyway, I lay there motionless in bed, trying to figure out if–wherever I was–I was safe. The room looked nice, the bed was comfortable, there was a female sleeping next to me with a slim waist and wide hips. Things looked pretty good. And during those moments of laying there, having no past, no expected future, no history to define my existence, I was completely at peace. I was truly happy, alone, with just me.