I Claim We Do Pick Our Family

My brother used to be blonde. He also used to be bigger than me. Those things change but he will always be my brother.brother

He and I are connected, always have been. We are brothers and we cannot change that, nor do I want to. We aren’t all that much alike. Different temperaments, different interests, different life experiences. We disagree on a lot of things, agree on the most important things, and I love him.

He is my brother.recorders

All the other kids in my family play instruments and listen to classical music. I do not. I appreciate those things, just not enough to pursue them personally. We are not the same but I love them.mandolin

Over time I have collected in-laws, gained nieces and nephews. I have built relationships and started fires that would normally burn bridges but because it is family, the bridges remain. Because it is family and because I love them.IMG_3706Over time I have also met people who don’t share my parents or who haven’t married my siblings.cliqueMost of these people have never pinched me, called me annoying, tattled on me, or tried to burn my bridge. Those things are left to family. Yet we still love our family.

Love is not, nor has it ever been, nor does it need to be, exclusive.IMG_4832Love is not finite. Yes, there are limitations on time, resources, energy, all those things, but there is something about human affection that grows beyond those bounds. It can endure injury, increase in capacity, and stretch across boundaries. Love does not need to be held in reserve. We are capable of morebishopriccrew

We can extend the same grace we normally give family, to those who come from much more distant branches on the tree. We can endure mistreatment, give extra chances, and give aid. We can enjoy good times, share food, and endure disagreement.girltalk4I am and will be, a firm believer in friends and friendships. I will stay your friend. Even if I feel at the moment that I don’t really like you, that your politics are the worst, you owe me money, and you talk trash about my sister, we can get past it. We can endure.

Like family.

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Keeping Portland Weird: just eating doughnuts

I’ve only watched a couple episodes of Portlandia. I saw some bit about putting a bird on everything, a mayor kayaking to work, and farm to table lunacy.  I didn’t see any of that in person, but after having been to Portland, it wouldn’t have surprised me.KeepPortlandWeird

Let me state my reservations right up front. Any place that markets itself as weird makes me worry that they are going to be trying a little too hard. Weirdness seems to me something that you are or are not in any given situation. If you find yourself trying, it is an act. Hollywood is where one goes to act weird.voodooinside

So with this healthy skepticism we got in line at Voodoo Doughnuts. The line was long and I am willing to bet that no one standing in it was a local. Add extra skepticism. We eventually got to the intentionally gaudy and kitschy interior and ordered an apple fritter, some other thing that looked to be mostly chocolate, and another that was mostly chocolate plus Nutella. You cannot go wrong adding Nutella to anything so judging by that doughnut would be unfair, but my wife ate the fritter. My wife, who spends approximately 95% of her mind share thinking about dessert, said the fritter was the best she ever had. Keep in mind this is the same woman who just last week sent an egg back to the cook because the yolk wasn’t runny enough on her sunny-side-up order.

Voodoo for the win.alleyway

The street market downtown is long and crowded, as a street market should be, and we stopped by a florist that sold a large custom bouquets out of unadorned plastic five gallon buckets  for around $10. As it should be. There were booths and booths of nick knacks, snacks, and hand made whatevers that made me feel like my laptop had opened up and spilled Etsy out all over the street.diaperNow while Etsy is not in and of itself my thing, un-pretensious flower vendor, plus live Etsy… plus harp lady, equals my endorsement.

harpOne good thing about being hosted in a new location as opposed to independent exploration, is that you may catch things you would have otherwise skipped. Like what looks like a big-box bookstore.

Powell’s is more than a big box. (props to Dr. Chadwick)bigbook

In addition to rows and rows of new and used books, upstairs they have a rare books collection. Now while going in to a glass encased rare books selection lacks the adventure of a dusty corner shop in Providence, or the prestige of a Boston library, but what it does have is a giant book of Annie Liebowitz’s life work with David Byrne on the cover.

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To top that off they had a first edition of one of my all time favorite books, Seven Pillars of Wisdom, right next to a second printing of Twelve Years a Slave.

Forget you Boston.usreading

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Genius in Wood: in the woods

I’m not going to tell you Jeff’s last name or where he lives because I’m pretty sure he doesn’t want you to know. I’m pretty sure he didn’t want me to know. What I do know for sure, is that Jeff is a genius.shipshanging

Jeff takes trees and turns them into things. All sorts of things. Most recently he enjoys turning them in to machines with gears, sprockets, and spinning bobbles. He goes through phases. He used to like making trains. He would make fully articulating train engines and cars, all out of hand crafted wood.millpanorama

He went through a viking ship building phase, a large spherical planter phase, and overall an “I will build as I please” phase that I think has lasted his entire life. His desire to build as he pleases does not include a lumber yard. He was pleased to build his own saw mill behind his house. He told me he wanted to explore the entire process, which is why he bought the mill. Further into the conversation I realized that when he says he bought a mill, what he really meant was he bought the giant saw, then he built what most of us think of as “the mill” up around it. He built it himself. He said it took him an entire summer.notebook

This claim became even more fantastic, and believable, when we found a home made ladder inside the mill. He made it. He made all of it. Alone.

Jeff is very soft spoken and polite. He was quick to meet any of our requests, showing us this and explaining that, even though it was obvious, painfully obvious, that he led a life of intentionally avoiding most of humanity. You will never meet someone who treats you so nicely, despite the fact that they likely wish they never met you.tools

I asked him how he learned to do all of this. I wanted to know if someone taught him. He responded, “My father did some work with cabinetry but I’m pretty much an autodidact.” He showed me his shelf of books. Engineering, machinery, projects. He says he studies and plans things out. I asked if he networks with other woodworkers or has ever had any desire to  market his skills.

He responded that for a while he was selling his trains, he had a business, but he got tired of trains. He said he has seen and been inspired by some inventors he saw on television making large oscillating wind driven sculptures. I responded that I have seen those sculptures on YouTube and was curious if he has ever reached out to those others directly, sent them an email perhaps.train

He looked right at me and flatly said, “No. I hate computers. I really. Hate computers.” He went on to tell me that he was in high school right as personal computers were coming out. He and his best friend were excited and wanted to learn everything about them but his school didn’t have any curriculum or equipment. The two of them worked on getting a grant and special approval to get equipment and books and they dove right in. “To give you an idea how much I hate computers, my friend has gone on to become a huge computer tycoon while I don’t ever want to touch one. They aren’t for me.”

He finds them invasive.

My brother has sailed around the entire globe and now works for a Norwegian shipping company, so he had to buy one of Jeff’s ships. These ships did not come from a kit, they came from a tree and Jeff’s research on the Gokstad Ship. He reconstructed the entire thing.shipshadowheadon

Jeff was happy to sell it to him but when my brother giddily remarked that his associates were all going to want one too, Jeff politely requested that he be careful because he doesn’t want to build any more ships.

He is past that phase.

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Rifles, Guns, and Muskets

When I was 12 years old I won a dutch oven by beating a grown man in a “mountain man run”. Technically we tied in the run but I broke the tie by shooting a gong that was placed 300 yards up on the side of a mountain.dalynflintdownrange2I won with a flinch. The first time I pulled the trigger the hammer just snapped back to half-cock and I flinched so hard I almost fell over. When I reset the hammer I was shaking so bad I should never have hit anything. But I did. The gong made its noise and despite the groaning and laughing of everyone involved, I was crowned the victor.

That was the last mountain man run I ever entered.

pistolsMy Uncle Tommy was never really my uncle but my step-great grandfather. My great grandma went through multiple husbands and he was the one that lasted the longest. He was a giant man whose shoulders appeared to attach right to his ears with hands like bloated catchers mitts. He who would sit in a chair at my house and just talk at whoever crossed his path.triggerguards

He would talk about things like how he was the direct descendant of an Old West outlaw called Kid Curry that used to run with Butch Cassidy, about how he used to cook for the mob in Vegas, and how he once choked a man to death when he was in the army. That last one always kind of freaked me out because his victim was a fellow American soldier. It only sorta freaked me out because like most everything Uncle Tommy said, we didn’t believe him.pistolpointUncle Tommy owned more than a dozen hand guns, most of which he kept in velvet Crown Royal bags. My Dad tells a story of how one day he had heard enough of Tommy’s tall tales and that it was impossible for this ogre of a man to be as good a marksman as he claimed.

Tommy arranged for the two of them to go out to the desert with a Smith & Wesson revolver and a bag full of pre-school building blocks. You know, the multi colored wood blocks that have letters on their sides.

marcelfireDad would throw a hand full of blocks up in the air and while they were flying Dad would yell out a letter. Tommy would raise his pistol and shoot that letter out of the sky before the lot of them hit the ground.

He did it again and again to make sure all doubts were put to rest.dalynonehandUncle Tommy passed away before I got a chance to see this trick first hand. I could just trust my dad but he has a trophy on his shelf that is shaped like a bull. He won it for telling stories.

 

 

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Sitting Around: travelling without destination

Sometimes grown-ups make excuses in an attempt to justify childish decisions. Take for example my parents’ ATVs. We never had such things when I was a kid. Once they moved out to the middle of nowhere they suddenly “needed” them.havenammon

ATVs, all-terrain-vehicles, are mobile, fast, and can go anywhere over any terrain. Hence the name. My parents use them to haul wood, retrieve hunted animals, and to tow a large scale lawn mowing machine. Ya know, they use it to “work”.lineup

As a generally irresponsible grown-up myself, I am calling their bluff. I recognize my own kind. These are absolutely toys.kaysunburst

I know people who own tractors, real life tractors, and those people rarely, if ever, hop on the tractor to go for a joy ride. How often do construction workers say, “Hey, its Friday night, why don’t we go cruise around on my bulldozer.”momgrasstrail

My mother offered to give her grand daughter a ride and they let me follow along. First bit of childish evidence is that there was no reason to go that fast other than fun. We had no schedule, we were in no hurry, and that little old lady with the kid on back were going fast.woodshedatvSecond bit of evidence; she was able to go so fast because she knew exactly where she was going and had obviously done this before.I would guess she has done it quite a bit. This is not work.

This is not work in the most true and scientific way possible. In 11th grade my physics teacher handed me a bowling ball and instructed me to carry it up the stairs to the 3rd floor, then go down to the basement, and finally bring it back to the classroom. Upon my sweaty and tired return he lectured the class on the definition of work and how I had accomplished nothing. Though energy had been expended I had returned to my original point of departure. Not work.

I tasted clouds of dust, heard a screaming engine, felt branches and bushes whack me as I passed but at the end of that ride, and every one thereafter, we ended right back where we started.

That is not work.

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There are Other Fish in the Sea:or the lake

I have a confession. It is a hard thing to admit because though I have done nothing wrong, it still feels like a sin.

I don’t really like to fish.fishinggear

I get bored.

I think I have always known, yet it has taken me nearly my whole life to admit. I want to like fishing. Perhaps I keep giving it a chance in hopes that I have simply been doing it wrong this whole time. Maybe I have just never hooked the big one and if I do, I will be hooked too.boatlake

In the fictional story of my youth, the one I have always told myself, I loved going fishing with my Dad. We used to go semi-regularly and I always wanted to go. In retrospect, as I look close enough to sweep the fairy dust away, I realize I never really went fishing all those times.  I went exploring.elibored

Dad would fish in rivers and streams. I would cast my line a couple times, snag the spinner on a rock or branch, then look around and find the highest visible outcropping of rock and shout, “Hey Dad, can I go up there?” He would say yes and I would scramble off.

I have since realized that this is not fishing.perchsage

It took trying to teach my kids to fish to learn this lesson. When you are teaching someone else, you can’t scamper off. You are trapped. And then you just sit there staring at a bobber trying to guess if that was a wave or a bite and so you reel it in to find the fluorescent cheese is gone from your hook so you bait it again and cast out the line. Again. For hours.catchThis admission hurts my own feelings. I shouldn’t feel ashamed but I am. It feels like I have rejected my father and my youth and how I was raised. I would say it is almost a rejection of my religion, but we already have an actual religion so saying that would feel sacrilegious.

 

But then again… Mom never went fishing with us and Dad still likes her. She always stayed home and read books. I should probably get her a Kindle for Christmas.

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Algebra and Tomahawks: when will I use this in real life?

I am quite skilled at a number of things that have no practical use. Like most suburban kids, all of my time and efforts during youth were spent acquiring those abilities. But unlike those other kids, my dad never taught me how to properly throw a spiral, I don’t think we ever played a single game of catch.

But he did teach me how to throw a tomahawk.medoubleThere really isn’t much to it. The secret is all in your distance, the number of paces you are away from the target. At five and a half paces I can stick a hawk in block of wood every time. So can my little sister. At seven paces I flip the blade around backwards and the hawk sticks upside down.

meheadonI have labored to teach my daughter about things like oligarchy and the risks of confirmation bias but I was recently excited to teach her something much more important.

A young woman must be prepared to defend herself against the onslaught of tree stumps.

marleebehindI’m not exactly sure why throwing a hatchet at a tree is so satisfying but trust me when I tell you that it is. It feels primal, is only slightly challenging, and makes a nice little “thunk” sound when the blade buries itself in the wood. It also makes a disturbing “ping” when it ricochets off into the bushes.

ethanhaedonBut perhaps the most satisfying thing about the tomahawk is that I have yet to find a tournament in Brooklyn or Silver Lake. Maybe there is one in Portland but I haven’t heard about it. Not that I don’t like Silver Lake, I rather like the place, but I also like that I have something in my roots that, much like my youth, lacks any social cache’ but is packed with personal enjoyment.

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Special shout-out to my brother-in-law for pulling off the perfect tomahawk version of the “Robin Hood”. You owe my Dad a new handle.robinhood

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