Got my furry fuzzy felted slippers on this morning. I’m back up at the Willard cabin. I’m facing east, looking out that small window I stuck in that wall a couple years back. To my right, the south, is that big 3 x 4 window, with the view of the ever changing moods dancing in the broken sky over the snow-covered morning mountains.
The shape of the clouds dressed in their many shades of gray, mimic the shape of the mountains below them. The actual mountains transform into cloud mountains, and only higher up become clouds. Soft turquoise and sky-blue patches decorate the valleys and the peaks of the cloud mountains, giving the illusion of sky glaciers.
“if you don’t like the color of the mountain range
Stick around for a while and it’s bound to change
Little bit of drama in the morning skies
Three by four sunrise” – ATZ
Well we have the stage fairly well set here this morning. But I do need to mention, and always will, the warm wood stove to my back. Built by Limey, married to Bruce Willard’s sister Joanne. Bruce and Joanne’s dad, old Jess, was a nicknamer. He would give you a nickname whether you needed one or not, whether you liked it or not. When Limey, a young man back then, first visited the Willard family out at Caribou Lake a couple of things happened. One was he met and fell in love with Joanne, the other was that he got a nickname that stuck for life. He was from England, need I say more. And yes it stuck. Limey is well on his way to meeting the eight decade landmark. I don’t believe he even knows his real name anymore.
And something I have talked and sung about before but also need to mention again, are the names welded on the top of the woodstove: Bruce, and his two sons, Doug, and Jess (named after his grandfather). I’m sure his grandfather Jess had some nicknames for him as well, none of which can probably be repeated here.
Don’t even get me started down the rabbit trail of the Willard family and their long history in this area. Don’t even get me started on the years spent in this cabin, the experiences, and and the songs and stories. Like the hub of the giant wagon wheel this old cabin, from here I have begun many a journey, ‘cross the river and into my soul.’ But it is of manly things I wish to talk about this morning, manly trails are the trails I need to travel.
Just felt the warm slippers on my feet and realize that I began with them and then ignored them. My wife Bonnie knitted and then felted them and then, moccasin style, she sewed on soles so they would not wear out. I have crocs and other camp shoes here as well, but this morning I need on my furry fuzzy felted slippers to venture down these manly trails. “Feelings”- remember that oldies song- from just a couple of days back? Just heard it on the oldies station as I went to sleep last night, if coming up to this cabin doesn’t take me back to the old days, then my little camp radio and the oldies station does.
Yep, my manly morning meandering men, it’s feelings we are going to explore today. Perhaps it is not accurate to say feelings- this morning is more about that which resides within us of which we seldom speak.
I hope I have not offended any of my faithful female followers of my morning meandering crowd. My intention was not to leave you out. My thesis this morning is that you already know everything of which I am going to profusely pontificate upon. But in thinking about it, you may get pleasure just listening in and chuckling at this deep male conversation.
How much of what goes on inside of us do we really talk about? And if we do, to whom? Are we more comfortable talking to the partner we have been intimate with all these years, or is it easier to share all that inner stuff with Billy Bob out sitting in the duck blind for hours? It struck me this morning just before I jumped out of my bunk, that the very reason I love to write, has to do with letting out some of that inner stuff. Guys, I got to tell you about the one main problem we have here this morning, I tend to meander down more rabbit trails when I am out with a group of men. With women I feel more of a need to get right to the cabin. To build that fire in the stove, to bring up some river water and put on the tea kettle. But with guys I’m a little more apt to take my time. You can see we’re in trouble.
Quick side story about the bunk I jumped out of this morning. Done a lot of writing sitting in that bunk, in the summer to the light of the midnight sun, in the winter to the warmth of the wood stove and rays of my headlamp. The code of cabins in remote areas of Alaska is simple- you leave them open. They are for anyone to use who needs them. No questions asked. One late autumn evening, Bruce Willard was up here at the head of the bay checking his cattle. When he rode up to the cabin he saw that it was occupied, he figured it must be duck hunters caught by the tide, or lack of it, up to the proverbial river. He walked in and “howdies” were said all the way around. No names were mentioned right then. Bruce noticed that there was a young duck hunter camped out on his bunk. His bunk! The lower bunk right next to the door. That bunk is were Bruce always slept all those 20 years he had been coming up here. He asked the man quite politely to get off his bunk. The men all laughed, especially that bottom “Bruce bunk” camper.
The young camper said something very rude to Bruce which I will choose not to write, for fear it would interrupt the manly spiritual flow of our conversation. But his profane sentence ended with the question, “and who the hell do you think you are telling me me to get off your bunk?”
You would have to know Bruce Willard to fully appreciate what he then had to say in reply. After calling the young man several names that would make even a seasoned Alaskan fisherman blush, he then calmly added, “and if you need to know, my name, it’s Bruce Willard! I brought the building materials for this cabin up here by barge, and then I built the cabin, and then I built the bunks, and now I want to go to sleep! GET THE BLANKETY BLANK OFF MY BLANKING BUNK, NOW!” I loved that story when I first heard it and I love it still. May it live on for ever. May it grow ever larger and bolder.
What got me started down this trail this morning was thinking about how I felt as I got out of that bunk, and how hard it would be to put that into words. And then of course I wondered why that was. And then of course I wondered if other men have the same dilemma. And here we are talking about it. All cozy and soft and fuzzy just like the slippers I’m wearing.
This thought process began with the following thought. I was recently out camping with a friend who drinks. I don’t know if he drinks as much every evening when he is at home as he does when he is out camping, because I am not around him in his home in the evening. But out there camping he drank quite a few beers. He chose to stay outside moseying around and puttering around the cabin while he was drinking. You see he was doing that for a reason, and it was not because he did not want me to see him drinking. He did it for the same reason that I used to do it. Just as someone’s cigarette smoke out in a cool damp forest sends ripples of memories through my body, so does evening outdoor drinking. No, I cannot say for sure why he was doing it, but I can conjecture that it was for the same reason I used to do it. There was nothing I loved more.
I drank in general because of how it made me feel, or made me not feel. What I recall so vividly is that perfect zone. That zone when there is a damper on everything unpleasant, and everything that is wonderful about you is it lit up, is colored brightly, is warm and fuzzy like the slippers I am wearing. That feeling combined with a mood of the evening, and every nuance that the wilderness outdoors offered, is an unbeatable combination. For me it was such a wonderful combination, that even though I knew I was taking years off my life, and harming my body, I was not about to trade it in. Talking about my years of drinking is not a rabbit trail it’s a major highway that we will go down another day.
So as the above thoughts flitted through my brain as my feet hit the cabin floor this morning, I thought about all those feelings I never share. And the next thought was a sad one. It did not ‘flit’. It landed smack dab in the middle of my brain with the big thud. And that was this, how much more often I shared my negative emotions, readily and easily without even thinking, without even trying. The grouchiness. The irritability. The impatience. The anger. Whether or not I used words, the feelings on that spectrum were nonetheless clearly communicated.
I thought about all the hours I had wasted, talking to death about my fear and anxiety. So what was it about that whole realm of being in touch with thoughts and feelings and not being able to talk about them.
Here’s the problem. Instead of telling you the problem I will show you. I get out of my morning bunk where I have been reading, writing and drinking coffee. Bubba, my weekend cabin mate is already sitting at the table having his coffee. He is reading a western and cutting his fingernails with his hunting knife. He is a little embarrassed and wonders what I have been doing in bed so long.
I say,“you know Bubba, I was just thinking, no, actually I was also feeling. I feel so deeply satisfied, my sense of self-worth as a man and a human human is really overwhelming right now. I feel such abundant gratitude at times like this. Towards my parents, towards this land of plenty. You know what I mean Bubba? It’s more than an emotional feeling, it’s actually physical. And it’s not just from the warm coffee I have been consuming in great quantities. It’s like an overwhelming sense of well-being, like those killer painkillers I was on a couple years back when I had my hand surgery. Are you picking up what I’m laying down Bubba? I feel like I’m in church! I feel like I want to wave my arms and hands in the air and sing praises to the Lord! It’s that kind of feeling Bubba. Yep, I got it this morning, or maybe it’s got me.”
At this point, Bubba has his bags packed and is out by the riverbank were he gets good cell reception, he is calling a 911 helicopter to come and take me away to the funny farm.
That’s why us men don’t talk about things like this. That’s why some of us men go to church, so that we fit in and look normal when we jump up and wave our arms and hands around. You see, maybe I’ve been all wrong. Maybe us guys have such sophisticated ways of feeling, and communicating, and sensing what our male friends are going through, that we need very few words. We’re not guessing. We are not assuming. We know. Because we are there ourselves. So our morning conversations go something like this.
“Hey Bubba what’s up man?”
“Not much dude”.
“What a morning huh?”
“Yup it’s a good’n”
“Makes a man plum glad to be alive.”
“Yeah, you can sure say that again.”
Not only do they understand each other’s
words, but it’s the inflection of the voice, it’s a look in their face, it’s the way their eyes don’t look directly at each other, nor directly away, but somewhere very subtly in between. An extremely intimate nuance. They are both feeling it. They know what they are talking about even if no one else does. That’s it. Pretty damn simple being a guy. But I’ll keep writing anyway. Just cause it feels so damn good. And it beats drinking.