Christmas Day

I’m happy to be leaving the holidays behind me this year. Not that I intend to sound like a Scrooge; we all have our issues with this season, don’t we? I will spare you my rant about waste, consumption, out of control capitalism, etc. This year I am only blaming  myself for the irritation I’ve felt. I ended up working too much over the final week before Christmas, and that will continue on through New Year’s Day. It is a situation I agreed to, and I’ve done my best to “serve the task,” but I’ve come up short of being my best self as the week wound down. I all but let it ruin the holiday for me, and that is no way to be. I’ll do my best to never feel that way again.

Reflecting on this past week as night settles on Christmas Day, I realize that it is how we handle time that seems to make the holidays so stressful. So much to do, so many tasks, so many appointments and extra responsibilities. Today I didn’t have any of that. I got up when I wanted to. I puttered around in my office. I got outside. I wrote a little. It was refreshing. It is too easy to fall into a trap of starting every day in a rush from task to task just to make possible the lifestyles we’ve come to expect, meanwhile sacrificing our ability to enjoy them along the way. Our relationships suffer. We suffer. It’s too much.

In the Daily Stoic some time ago I read that, “In his Meditations — essentially his own private journal — Marcus Aurelius wrote that ‘You could leave life right now. Let that determine what you do and say and think.’” I try and remember that, but failed this past week. Thankfully, with a new week starting tomorrow, and a new year after that, all is not lost. I have ample opportunity to try again.

Besides, Christmas Day turned out to be just fine.

The Comforts of Home

I’ve spent time recently with two books which, though different, are similar in a particular theme: hardship. The books are Rainy Lake House: Twilight of Empire on the Northern Frontier by Ted Catton, which I read and reviewed for the Missoulian, and In The Kingdom of Ice: The Grand and Terrible Polar Voyage of the USS Jeannette by the always excellent Hampton Sides, which I’ve been listening to via an Audible download. Both books are excellent works of historical narrative nonfiction. Both detail groups of men facing extreme hardships in the name of exploration and, ultimately, survival.

It amazes me how much the world has changed in such a short time. How recently it’s been in overall global history that much of the world we know in minute detail now was a vast unknown, and that journeys that take hours by automobile — or, even more amazingly, via aircraft — were trips that were undertaken with little expectation of return. As Americans we have become so soft. I can’t help but scoff at people whimpering about a little change in weather, maybe some wind and rain, or a blast of arctic air … weather they are only forced to endure in the tiny space of time it takes to get from their car and through their front door, or from shop to shop. Jesus, just the idea of shopping in the first place! When I’m irritated and hungry and there’s no food in the house, it’s not like I have to go find something to kill and eat, I’m minutes away in just about any direction, at any hour of the day, from a caloric overload that could have meant life or death for people not too many generations past, in the very spot where my fat ass is currently planted.

What does it mean to our souls, the price we’ve paid for such comfort?

And yet, the other night I was awake in the wee hours of morning. I have this app that generates various sounds for “white noise,” and it was set to simulate the ocean shore, with rain falling, and wind. I was warm, comfortable, and feeling really fucking grateful I wasn’t coiled up in a soaking fur sleeping bag on some slab of ice bobbing around in the arctic sea, frostbitten and starving. It sounds romantic in a way to hear those tales of adventure, particularly from the mouths of those who survived and went back for more, but I’m sure even the best-told stories still don’t quite capture how badly it all totally sucked.

The Jeannette’s abandonment, depicted by maritime painter James Gale Tyler, courtesy of Vallejo Maritime Gallery of Newport Beach, California

Old Hearts, New Companions

It was a long time before I could go back to the river after we lost Darla back in early June, and I still get a lump in my throat when I think about her. But we have two new friends in the home disrupting our efforts to do much of anything, and they are rapidly proving that broken hearts find new ways to love, and love hard, if we allow them to.

Cheeto, aka Huerequeque, is a Chihuahua who came from a small dog rescue center in Polson, MT, via a high kill shelter in Los Angeles that they had rescued him from. He was in lockdown an entire year. He’s adjusting very well.

Bucky is a Jack Russell from Colorado we just got last week. She’s proving to be a toothy handful. Odds are she’ll outlive me, at this rate.

Finding My Way Home

The new issue of Montana Quarterly is out, and includes my feature story, “Finding My Way Home.” It is about blood quantum, and includes the subtitle, “In Indian Country, ‘Blood Quantum’ complicates families and roils communities.” I worked hard on it and I’m happy with how it turned out. I know there are copies at Fact & Fiction downtown in Missoula, but for folks outside of Montana who want it, you may order it online HERE.

Not to spoil anything, but the piece concludes with, “at the time of this writing…. ” I am happy to report that since then, my application for enrollment with the Little Shell Tribe of Chippewa Indians — filed after much research into where my father’s side of my family truly came from — has been accepted. This is only the beginning of a larger project I am working on.