How I grew out my Fingernails

fingernails

September 2nd. I’ve been here once before and am susceptible to it being a habit by now. The waft of pungent exhaust from the generator is coming in one door and out the other, while the sharp “ting!” of Owen’s maul striking the head of his wedge echoes from uphill. Propane needs to be ordered, more wood has to be gathered, split and stacked. I can smell autumn’s approach from the must in the air and feel her sharp cut against my skin. My breath is visible again and the newness of the seasons here has finally worn.

I’ve caught myself sheepishly fantasizing about the isolated and muffled quality of winter in Scenic lately. The self-sufficiency and simple tasks. The radiant masses of white outside and the snow bombs exploding on my roof, startling me every time they landed. The creaky burn of wood in the hot stove. The dirt underneath my fingernails and the slivers beneath my skin. Wading through waist-deep snow, hauling bags of trash and laundry up and down the hill. Seeing Aida’s little body disappear into the depths of fluffy mounds. Frozen pipes and shoveling snow. Living inside the clouds and no one to have an audible conversation with for days on end. And then, of course, the anticipation mixed with anxiety of going downhill, where I would gather my socialization and community for a couple of days every week.

Don’t I know any better by now? Last winter’s isolation left behind the taste of a bit too much of my own company, I really shouldn’t hole myself up in here for another.

By the time summer had arrived, I was eager to plant myself into a hopping block of urban development. It was not a familiar desire, but I missed people and wanted their company. So, naturally, I went straight to the source: The City.

June 1st. I sat on the floor of my empty new 440-square-foot Fremont box. Wearing the shoes of the foreign kid I remember being numerous times. Crammed into a new school mid-year. The familiar but nevertheless stinging process of walking into the classroom for the first time, where all the other children were already seated and quiet. I was the outsider and they already had their cliques generously developed. I could tell that they wondered where I came from and why I was there. Whispering into each other’s ears with smiles on their faces, looking back at me. I was the new kid again.

I told myself that I wanted this. I wanted this. But at that moment, what I really wanted was to go back home.

What was I thinking? I had never actually lived in “the city” before. Everything and everyone moved so quickly. The sounds of human nature were deafening. Buses and honking car horns, dogs barking within every building that framed my existence in what I would call yet another home. Airplanes and helicopters and laughter from George and his Dragon below my window, echoing well into the morning hours. I was experiencing noise again after being accustomed to listening to a different kind of nature while living in Scenic. The sterility was claustrophobic and the city lacked the wildness that my heart had apparently grown so fond of.

It didn’t take much time to move my belongings in, in fact it still feels empty in there and I like it that way. Just the necessities to make it “home” and the tools to do my work and play. I wanted my lease to be the only anchor keeping me there, rather than my things.

I hope that all of you reading this are lucky to be nestled into your own world of habitual comforts. I really believe it is both the beauty and the curse of our being human. I’m writing this particular entry not in an effort to beautify an experience, but rather to address a few of life’s most salient characteristics. Things we often forget due to acclimatization. Things we risk to lose and could stand to be grateful for from time to time. There’s value in visiting a range of the spectrum every once in a while, and this past year has allowed me to experience both ends. Somewhere along the way I remembered, that I’m sometimes not able to discern before first reaching a void.

The Abundance of the Grid

I’ve been plugged back into it again for over four months and am continually surprised by how spoiled we are by this thing we call The Grid: A network of a support system that is designed to make us move more quickly and efficiently, ultimately leading to some form of comfort. But is this comfort really what makes us happy?

I wish that I could somehow deduce how much of it we need to be better, versus what of it buries our most basic foundation as people. Living this way certainly has its benefits because we can accomplish so much. Technology and a framework are not bad, but they’re good to be aware of and intentional with. After all, isn’t being engaged in what we’re doing ultimately what it means to live? It is to me, and it would be an awful shame to stifle it.

Think back on what it felt like to be a kid. The simplest things created so much excitement because they were still new to us and yet to be experienced for the first time. As adults, that excitement has worn down to a duller reality for many of us because convenience and efficiency tend to create habit and leave out the more elaborate experience of living. We are quicker and accomplish more, then tell each other about how fast time goes by. Does that have anything to do with the fact that we don’t let ourselves experience the essential characteristics of merely existing anymore?

It wasn’t until I made a cabin in the mountains my primary source of “home” that I learned what it means to live more deliberately. Take heating my home as an example. There is a more faithful relationship associated with building my own fire than the more common alternative of lethargically pushing a menial button on a thermostat to create an environment at my desired temperature. Or, better yet! I can just program the damn thing to get a scheduled variety of temperatures to serve my daily habits right, no manual button-pushing required.

To build a fire, it takes more time, engagement and patience. If the wood is shitty and wet, it’ll take forever and I’ll get to experience that delightful frustration while freezing my ass off. But the rewards of its radiant heat are necessary and it’s a key source of safety. If I really want it, I need to do the work to get it. The wood that fuels my fire isn’t purchased or given to me, it needs to be found and gathered in the woods. Acquiring it here meant that I had to ask for help because I didn’t have the tools or knowledge to do it myself well. It may seem a bit odd to sign up for the extra effort, but being warm never felt better.

People people people.

I’ll admit, I used to be the person who stood in line at the grocery store with a clenched jaw, impatient and wanting to get on with it.

Who am I kidding? I’m still that way sometimes. Frustrated by the hurried and fatigued frenzy of so many people, all of us ultimately in cohabitation with each other. I was somehow able to come up with the silly rationalization that “they” were “in my way” in one way or another. Or perhaps felt justified with my bitterness or offense by folks who adhered to different belief systems than my own. All while knowing damn well that I have never lived inside anyone else’s story, regardless of how well I thought I could read it with my own eyes.

In the process of last winter, I came to understand very well that we are equal. At our most basic foundation, however we individually choose to measure or separate ourselves from each other with our own self-worth, success or ideas on how to live a good life: we need each other.

I suppose this is a simple concept, but it can easily be overlooked when we spend too much time inside the spin cycle. At our core, I believe we all care about each other immensely. This binding quality is the most potent source of betterment between us. But the volume and pace of the grid require a certain level of apathy from us in order for it to thrive, and this is where we risk to lose each other.

The city where I live doesn’t necessitate a close-knit community in order to be very functional, so there is less reward for helping each other out. It’s too easy to look only straight ahead or at ourselves, rather than around us, when convenience is at the tips of our fingers.

I’ve certainly taken people for granted. Not just those that I’m closest to, but the thousands and millions around me to which I have turned a blind eye. There are few instances in which I have experienced such contradictory feelings than that of re-entering civilization every week after being mostly alone in the cabin all winter. The desire to see another person’s smile or to hear their voice, or to casually be near the movement of someone else was like needing a breath of air. Regardless of that anticipation, the moment I was reunited felt like I had to be baptized back into it.

I guess I managed to pick up the habit of forgetting how fatigued and over-civilized we can be. This quality in people is where my frustration came from in the past. But seeing it again coming out of an isolated perspective produced empathy and perhaps a bit of sorrow in my response to it. My isolated living required that I break down some of my own social walls by wanting to be closer to people. But going back to them, I saw with clarity the walls that most had around them in an effort to protect themselves. The walls we create come in the form of extreme aggression toward each other while driving. Or grimaces in public places and verbal attacks when we feel like someone has overstepped some sort of invisible boundary. It’s almost painful now to watch how quickly we fight back when we feel we have been crossed. This is the most basic form of social apathy, but as we’ve all seen or read about, it shows up in much more extreme forms.

I used to have to plant myself in a coffee shop or grocery store as my point of re-entry when I got out of the mountains. Not to consume, but rather to watch and download first before participating again. Seeing our layers show up in how we behave toward one another has made me want to be kinder and more aware of others. Knowing that I need human connection in order to thrive makes it a little easier to break down some of my own walls and live by the fact that we are the same.

Nature is home

It really doesn’t matter how sophisticated or cultured any of us think we are, or how much time we spend outside. Even by burying ourselves in massive houses or hiding behind the identities we have chosen for ourselves, we aren’t separate from nature and that is ultimately our common home. If we’re ever lost to the point of forgetting who we are or how to navigate, it only takes looking to the seasons to be reminded again that there is resurrection in all life and that this is all cyclical. We are no different.

Being close to my natural environment and having a separation from the framework that we’ve created has helped me to embrace how to give less fucks overall. We have a tendency to overcomplicate, but it’s quite simple. Being closer to nature makes it a lot easier to stop sweating the small stuff and free up the space to have patience for the things that actually matter. We only have so much capacity for our experiences, so, why not make it a priority to choose which one’s we’d like to foster? Quit worrying so much about what someone else wants you to give a fuck about, look for the courage to choose your own and try to make the best of what you have.

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