I try to take advantage of this nice little fact, so I keep a ‘gratitude journal’ next to my bed - I start every day by taking two minutes to write down three things I am grateful for.
Items on my gratitude lists this year include:
my awesome family,
Danielle who is a little kid at heart and is the best girlfriend ever,
my mom who is the best mom ever in the world
Springs and Colorado for being the best otters / spirit animals in the world
a place to lay my head every night,
Springs not being mad that I was sleeping on top of him
opensource knowledge to learn with
Leaves and trees and streams and groves
the fact that that squirrel at our backcountry campsite didn’t eat our bacon that one morning
the ability to chase my passions
the chance to do something meaningful in life
my body which is in perfect working condition
delicious food that provides life and health
plants in my house
Fall time of year
birds who sing
a shot at changing the world
This year, though, seems markedly different from years past; I find only one consistent theme from year to year: freedom.
In my youngest of years I had a lot to be thankful for, but not that much that I was aware of. I should have been most thankful for my mom and dad’s love and guidance, but I was more thankful for the freedom they gave me on Thanksgiving Day to eat as much as I wanted. I would usually head straight for my Gran’s famous cherry coke salad - a wonderously sugary cherry jello made with coke instead of water, and topped with pecans and real cherries. Well, they were real from a can, but hey, I was 8 so I thought they were delicious.
As I reached High School, I continued to treasure the freedom of eating without reserve on Thanksgiving Day, which is probably why I became a football player to begin with. But it was always a different freedom that stood out - football season was over come Thanksgiving. The whole world seemed to open up and possibilities felt limitless - time sprang from nowhere and I could play pickup football on Thanksgiving Day with my buddies - actually getting to throw and catch the ball for once, and being able to run without fear of getting injured for the season in a stupid way.
In college, that same freedom was defining, but at a new level as football was no longer a game or even a sport, but a cut-throat business. To have the stress lifted from my shoulders and to see my family and home for the first time in months, to play with our dog, to return to everything that was normal for me was absolute freedom.
In the post-college world, freedom seemed as if it would be easy to find as the weight of football - both metaphorically and literally - was gone. But it’s not quite so. Job logistics, financial concerns, family obligations and physical distances all do their part to try to hold you back. As I was trying to figure out how to make my freedom work, I met a great friend and mentor, Peter.
At 58 years old, Peter has followed his passions, his obsessions, for a lifetime. He loves to teach, and he loves to ‘go home’. Home, to the Grand Canyon. Since getting home to my family was proving to be challenging, he wondered, did I want to have Thanksgiving with him in his home?
The idea was intriguing, but it was different than my classic view of Thanksgiving. I wanted it to be just the same as it had always been - the same food, the same pickup football game, the same home.
I guess I had a lot to learn.
A greek philosopher said: "You can never step into the same river; for new waters are always flowing on you.
No man ever steps into the same river twice, for it's not the same river and he is not the same man."
Peter didn’t tell me this so explicitly, but after so many dips in the cold waters of the Colorado River in his home, he conveyed the message subliminally. A few weeks later, we headed down the New Hance Trail into Red Canyon. The rest is kind of details - we camped by Hance Rapid on Thanksgiving Eve, met a River Trip taking a burn day on their 21-day rafting trip who were all-too-happy to provide us with beer and paint our faces in order to match their pilgrim and indian costumes. We brought dehydrated potatoes, real cranberry sauce, real butter, and yes, two real pumpkin pies in our backpacks with us down a vertical mile of backcountry trails to consume happily on Thanksgiving Day. We created a new song - a spin off of Mulenburg County - “Daddy won’t you take me to the Grandest of Canyons,”
It was different than anything I had ever experienced, and it was freedom in the fullest. There is nothing like taking a poop on top of a giant spire in the biggest, most beautifully intricately carved hole in the world. Just remember to respect the place and leave no trace - yes, pack out your poop, people!
I have been thinking about this idea of freedom a lot lately. I have made a deliberate effort in recent years to design my life around service to humanity, and around doing the things that excite me. It’s the ultimate blend of meaning to my life, and freedom. But living this way takes deliberate work. It’s not easy to give up old ideas and accept change, not easy to change the way you view the world or directly fly in the face of what society is telling you you should do. There is an adage from the Wild West: “When freedom is outlawed, only outlaws will be free.” Freedom isn’t outlawed in the U.S., it’s what we should be most grateful for, yet I still think about that old adage. In many ways, society’s preconceptions have caused chasing your own freedom to be unconventional. Rolf Potts notes in his excellent work Vagabonding that “The more we associate experience with cash value, the more we think that money is what we need to live. And the more we associate money with life, the more we convince ourselves that we’re too poor to buy our own freedom. With this kind of mind-set, it’s no wonder so many Americans think extended overseas travel is the exclusive realm of students, counterculture dropouts, and the idle rich.” When freedom is unconventional, only those living an uncommon life will be free.
Just as the United States has to work and fight and lay everything on the line at times, for it’s freedom, so do we as people living in the United States. For me, it’s hard to accept change, to lay everything on the line for a dream, for freedom. It’s easy to give in to social pressures or a path of ease and not chase my passions, chase those things that excite me, chase my freedom from a life of ease and drudgery. But every time I do the work to chase it, I realize it’s worth it.
Through the Brave Monkeys Speak Podcast, I am finding out that there is a huge group of people who feel the same way - they work for what they are passionate about, what they see as a life of service to humanity, and when they get tired they renew themselves by chasing freedom through adventure, through getting out of the comfort zone and learning about themselves. We are the people who are alright with redefining ourselves, who are going to redefine the world in the process.
Thanks for joining me y’all. Until next time, be well and have happy journeys.
If you have a story of inspiration, of chasing your own freedom to share with the community, head over to adventuroushabits.com and share it with us. You can find my email in the top right corner of the site and you can sign up for the newsletter on the page that says ‘free stuff’. We can’t wait to get you on board.
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