For A While We Were In The World

I keep a record of the books I read on the social media site Goodreads. I don’t really interact there. I essentially do it because I like the page that shows all the covers of the books I read, slowly growing, one at a time. It pleases me. In a life of very few measurable accomplishments, it’s cool to see a visual representation of the pleasure I’ve found in books.

The other night I added a recently-read book, When Things Fall Apart: Heart Advice for Difficult Times, by Pema Chödrön. It’s a Buddhist work I’ve had recommended to me many times, and I finally got around to reading it. What struck me, though, was that when the page displayed it showed references to the book by members of my Goodreads friend list. At the very top of the list was a review from my good friend, Ron Scheer. It was an odd coincidence, as he posted his review within a couple exact days of my update, only five years prior. And my post was only two weeks after the two year anniversary of Ron’s death on April 11, 2015. There is a beautiful remembrance of Ron at his website by another friend of mine, David Cranmer (the first person to ever publish my fiction, in fact). You may read it here.

This is Ron’s review of the Chödrön book, and it is spot on:

I was just finishing this book in September 2001 when the events of 9-11 turned the world upside down, and things truly fell apart. There suddenly were all the vulnerable feelings that Pema Chödrön encourages us to embrace: fear, sorrow, loneliness, groundlessness. And in the days of shock and grief that followed, there was that brief and abundant display of “maitri,” or loving kindness, which emerged in waves of generosity and compassion for one another. For a while, we were in the world that she points to as an alternative to the everyday routine of getting, spending, and constant activity.

It is nearly impossible to summarize or characterize this fine book. In some 150 pages it covers more than a person could hope to absorb in many years, if not a lifetime. We may know the Buddha’s famous insight that human pain and suffering result from desire and aversion. But few writers have been able to articulate as well as Chödrön the implications of that insight in ways that make sense to the Western mind. As just one example from this book, her discussion of the “six kinds of loneliness” (chap. 9) illustrates how our desires to achieve intimacy with others are an attempt to run away from a deep experience of ourselves. Our continuing efforts to establish security for ourselves are a denial of fundamental truths, which prevents our deep experience of the joy of living. Our reluctance to love ourselves and others shrivels our hearts.

Chödrön invites us to be fascinated, as she is, by paradox. On hopelessness and death (chap. 7) she writes: “If we’re willing to give up hope that insecurity and pain can be exterminated, then we can have the courage to relax with the groundlessness of our situation. This is the first step on the path.” She gets us to acknowledge our restlessness (even our spiritual restlessness) for what it is, something we do instead of simply paying attention to ourselves in the moment and to what happens next, without judgment or preconceptions.

In addition to this book, I recommend acquiring one or more of her audio tapes and hearing her voice as she speaks before audiences. For all the high-mindedness that may come across in descriptions like the one above, or what you might take away by reading the cover of her book, Chödrön is down to earth and unpretentious, speaking in her American accent (don’t let the appearance of her name fool you) and with a self-effacing sense of humor. Her message is in her manner, as much as it is in what she says.

This is a book to buy and read, and reread at intervals, for it is always new, always speaking to you exactly where you are, right now.

Ron was a kind and gentle man who was, in many ways, something of a mentor of mine, despite the bulk of our interactions occurring online or via email. I’m reminded of him often when I am looking something up on this site and find a comment from him on a given post. I was fortunate to have met him in person when he was in Missoula in 2011 for a conference on western fiction, a topic he was a true scholar of. I miss him, and given the wide net his kindness and curiosity cast, I’m certain I’m not alone in that.

Here we are together that October Saturday in 2011. I’m shorter of hair and much less beardy than I am now, and today’s version of that vest betrays even more mileage than my face currently does. Ron, though, looks as I will always remember him, smiling under his cowboy hat.

One-Sentence Journal, Weeks Eighty-Five — Eighty-Nine

  1. 03/05/2017:  For every hour that seems to pass in a minute, there are four — like those this afternoon — that last an eternity.
  2. 03/06/2017:  Watching this year’s favorite bird, the Oregon Junco (in the Trunco) hop, skip, and jump across the snow, prospecting for seeds on the crust below my feeders.
  3. 03/07/2017:  Leaving the house in the morning with only $1 and no packed lunch, I wondered how the day would play out . . . and then the universe provided a surprise gift card for coffee and cookies, then a soda, then pizza for lunch, elk meat nachos in the evening, and finally late dinner and drinks bestowed on me by a generous employer.
  4. 03/08/2017:  Up from little sleep in the earliest light of morning, no glasses, no contacts, I can see fresh snow has been covering the trees, my porch, and my walkway, but the street out front — dark, gray, and wet — with its irregular banks of snow, looks instead like a cold river.
  5. 03/09/2017:  It’s just fancy rain that looks like snow that falls all day and  makes everything a sock soaking mush.
  6. 03/10/2017:  The verdict on Howard’s Pizza is that while being a satisfactory option for simple dining, it’s no lateral move replacement for my beloved, much-missed Tower Pizza.
  7. 03/11/2017:  The beginning of the day was warm and sunny, and for the first time I think I began to feel that eagerness for spring.
  8. 03/12/2017:  Up half the night with a cough, today was one of lethargy and  distinct disinterest in much interaction at all with anything other than a cool breeze on my face.
  9. 03/13/2017:  It would be a lot easier to stifle my morning soda addiction if there weren’t so much compelling, passive aggressive melodrama going on every day among the employees of my usual stopping place.
  10. 03/14/2017:  A single hen in the yard yesterday and roosters crowing somewhere in the park at sunrise today is a welcome herald of, hopefully, resumed regular yard visitations from the neighborhood flock.
  11. 03/15/2017:  “One good thing about daylight savings time is that the time on the stove is correct again!” is just one example of the never-ending cavalcade of laughs around here.
  12. 03/16/2017:  When the PBR plans dinner, one ends up having frozen pizza from the convenience store more often than not.
  13. 03/17/2017:  Gates open at Council Grove and the binoculars reveal that mama owl is back and hunkered down in her nest inside the big hollow snag.
  14. 03/18/2017:  A saunter through a little mud and across a little ice to the banks of a big, swollen brown river, with a light sprinkle of rain and mist against the hillsides to make things even lovelier.
  15. 03/19/2017:  Is that the beautiful song of the Western Meadowlark, Montana’s state bird, that I hear these two days in a row now in the fields nearby?
  16. 03/26/2017:  Kid hits culvert and is bucked off quad-runner which promptly rolls over him; before I can inquire as to his alright-ness, he gets up, clutches at his ribs, then mounts back up and takes off again.
  17. 03/27/2017:  Finally made it back to yoga class after being under the weather for over a week, and getting my ass handed to me never felt better.
  18. 03/28/2017:  Tundra swans in the neighborhood; a dozen-plus glide across the sky.
  19. 03/29/2017:  So strange those first moments of spring when I emerge from windowless indoors expecting anticipated darkness, only to find daylight holding strong.
  20. 03/30/2017:  Empire building rests on deadlines of many small projects and I’ve let several pile up on me.
  21. 03/31/2017:  It’s criminal how easily the concept of “Pay Day Pizza” was sold to me.
  22. 04/01/2017:  Turns out the strange bird lurking about the yard lately is a chukar.
  23. 04/02/2017:  I made delicious BBQ chicken pizza for the first time in years, and damn it if I won’t be hard-pressed to want to make it again tomorrow.
  24. 04/03/2017:  Driving storm covers the yard and bird feeders with snow that disappears just as quickly with the return of the sun, which arrives with two male/female pairs of evening grosbeaks, the first I’ve seen this year.
  25. 04/04/2017:  Fifty years old, old, old today.
  26. 04/05/2017:  4 AM on the front porch, no avian clamor from the trees, a faint whiff of skunk on the air, and a single rooster crows way off in the distance.
  27. 04/06/2017:  Thursdays are way better when they are my Friday.
  28. 04/07/2017:  So many people out on the streets downtown for First Friday, which I love, even though I just can’t bring myself to be out among them.
  29. 04/08/2017:  Started the day with four miles or so up the Rattlesnake, which was still pretty saturated after a deluge or rain the night before, and the highlight — besides the joy of just being out — was a long moment spent watching an American dipper playing midstream on a rock from a perch on a fallen log at, arguably, my favorite spot creekside.

Wasn’t That Just Like Bill?

From the essay “The Short List” in A Fly Rod of Your Own, the new book from Fly Fishing Hall of Famer John Gierach:

Forty-eight hours later there was two feet of immaculate snow on the ground at the lower elevations and more than twice that amount in the high country to the west. And it was that dense, heavy, spring-like stuff that turns shrubs into moguls, builds precarious white hats on fence posts, and makes a snow shovel heavier than you care to lift too many times in a row. In Minnesota, where I grew up, they called this “heart-attack snow” because every winter it would spell the end for any number of elderly midwesterners. They’d trek out to shovel their driveways at age eighty-nine to avoid paying the neighbor kid a dollar and come back feetfirst. At the funerals people would say, “Wasn’t that just like Bill?”

Reviewing this one for the Indy next week. I’m halfway through, and I love it. Gierach is proof that the best fly fishing writing is barely even about fly fishing.

Another quote of his I love: “Fly-fishing is solitary, contemplative, misanthropic, scientific in some hands, poetic in others, and laced with conflicting aesthetic considerations. It’s not even clear if catching fish is actually the point.”

I took last year off from fishing. If I find my way back stream-side this year, Gierach’s book will be a big reason why.