Jesse’s Musings
Reflections of a consious mind

My Dad…

July 10th, 2016

Why does it always seem like death brings such clarity to those who remain behind?

I am sorry Dad, that I didn’t have more time with you; more importantly that I was not physically present to witness the man you became in the last two years of your life. Was it the miles between us, or just typical father/son awkwardness that prevented us from connecting on some off the finer points? I guess I’ll never know!

What I do know and treasure however, are the great memories I have from farm and logging days, so on those I will dwell.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.43.49 PMYou were a teacher Dad, one whom sometimes struggled to connect with your own, yet could skillfully ease alongside a floundering youth and offer words of wisdom or practical life skills. Your own curiosity and penchant for creative learning, inspired many young men, not the least of whom was, me.

The Sawmill

Our early travels took us up and down the west coast of Canada. Ditch-Witch operator, horse logger, snow shoe traveler, trapper, and stand in nurses assistant are all roles that Dad filled cheerfully throughout the early years. Finally, we ended up on a farm in central British Columbia. Here is where my memories began. Filling wood boxes, chasing cows and playing in the snow was some of the daily lite menu fare. The activity that brought me the most joy in my early boyhood was going with Dad to the sawmill.

All of our houses and additional structures were log construction, and since we were self sufficient, the materials were all homemade. The sawmill was about 7 miles farm. The logs were harvested and brought to the mill yard where they were laid out and cut to length. From here they were loaded onto the “deck” which adjoined the sawmill carriage. A gas powered motor laboriously turned the conveyor, which removed the sawdust from under the large whirring blade and carried it out to the “pile”. Next to the mill was a shack which was heated with an old wood stove and always smelled of spruce needles, bark and sap – a delicious odor.

My job, with my friends, was to keep the sawdust cleared away from the elevated end of the conveyor.  This was so much fun. We would cavort around in the huge pile of soft, tiny chips and scoop the offending material away with boyish importance. At lunchtime we would all crowd into the shack and soak up the wood heat, which felt unspeakably delightful on cold winter days….our primary season of operation.

Dad was one of the sawyers….unquestionably the alpha position on the crew. I remember watching him roll the large frosty logs onto the carriage from the deck with “kant hooks” (basically a sharpened steel tong with a long wooden handle). He was at one end and the “dogger” was at the other. The “dogs” were sharp steel jaws that secured the log as it was cut. Once dogged, the carriage was adjusted to produce a certain size cut, and run though the blade.  Powering the mill was a large tractor which belched black smoke and growled in protest as the knotty wood was forced through the large blade.

To a young boy, this whole process was fascinating and manly.

At the end of the day, the “kants” or three sided logs were loaded onto a wagon which was pulled by another tractor. Once the days produce had been loaded and strapped, the long cold journey home commenced. These timbers were stacked and allowed to dry for a time and them assembled and insulated to form the walls of the next building.

Niteal – the ultimate logging experience

 

Since his time was mainly consumed with running a logging and grading business, other men stepped into my life and filled some of the gaps in my daily upbringing. As a result, the next significant period of time spent with  Dad were in the aforementioned logging business.The most special ones came from my time working in a area called Niteal (a Native American word I believe).

This remote region was only accessible by rail and plane, and only in the winter. Consequently, the pressure was intense in the winter to meet the volume quota that the mill specified. Problem was, most of the ground was muskeg – basically water and moss with a little dirt mixed in. This meant that lots of ice road had to be built to smooth and fortify the ground to accommodate the heavy trucks pounding over it many times per day. This is where my first contribution came into play. For the first winter I ran the water truck and spread thousands of loads over the road. For a 15 ish year old boy, there wasn’t anything I’d rather have been doing.

Dad was the glue that held all this together. From his camp trailer, where he worked, stressed and slept, he kept this multimillion dollar operation humming. In retrospect, I’m not sure what I revered more; the cacophony of noise and equipment activity around me, or that my Dad was the one making it all happen. He had help obviously, but the ball stopped with him, and I don’t know if even now I can fully appreciate his contribution.

It should be mentioned that from a young age I have had a proclivity towards anything metal. Welding, fabricating and creating things with steel made me unusually happy. In this pursuit, an opportunity opened up for me to work with the mechanics on the logging equipment, both in the shop and in the field. During this time, I spent many difficult yet meaningful hours working side by side with Dad, freezing our asses off and cursing and throwing wrenches, but it was awesome! Working on equipment under a parachute in -35, often with bare fingers, will test even the most stalwart soul.

The list of stories goes on and on from this time period. Later when I was 18 I got my commercial license and drove a semi- truck, hauling huge loads of logs along slippery ice roads and down steep hills where if I lost control I would probably die; not surprisingly, I loved it. Sometimes, Dad would step away from his stressful responsibilities and come ride with me for a trip so we could talk and catch up. I really enjoyed that, and am truly grateful for those times.

The later years

 

Throughout his life, Dad was tormented by some personal demons and wounds that stemmed from an extremely difficult childhood, and I was affected by this turmoil. Work had always been a point of keen connection for us, but that  was stripped away the last 10 or so years of his life because I moved to the southern states, and face to face interaction became scarce. Also, during this period, he embarked on a journey that would test his resolve and character to the limit. Our interactions became more infrequent, and the camaraderie waned, to both of our dismays.

A dreamer and visionary, he was creative, loyal, determined and unwavering in his work ethic. While it frustrated me often, that he seemed incapable of “letting his hair down”, as I reflect on our lives together, I realize that he just expressed himself in different ways than I did, but they were nonetheless very meaningful to him. Grouse hunting trips, family fishing/camping outings, and nightly readings of Patrick McManus books while eating popcorn and drinking old school Arizona “ice tea”, were all ways that he cared.

Screen Shot 2016-07-10 at 2.45.06 PMDad, though I know you would have trouble believing this, your life was a legacy of a father’s heart. You were a man driven…mostly by your own pain and the desire to overcome it, I believe.  But, out of that crucible came love, compassion, talent, creativity, loyalty, leadership and the ability to mentor young people, that was uncanny.

Though we drifted apart somewhat in the later years, I will always remember and cherish the times we did have – your wisdom and reassuring words during our phone calls – even when you yourself were being pushed to the limit by your own circumstances. Thank you for the ways you loved our family. Thank you for being a provider, protector, mentor, father, counselor, and a loyal example of what it means to persevere through pain and set backs!

I love you Dad, I will miss you!

 

Steve: the brother I barely knew – A Tribute

January 5th, 2015

 

Stephen was quiet, unassuming. Funny and gregarious in the right circumstances, he was also easily overshadowed and marginalized by larger personalities. I was one of those personalities!

always a good sport

always a good sport

Not graceful nor silver tongued, a cursory assessment might pass him over as bumbling and lacking some essential qualities necessary for greatness.

Sadly, nothing could be further from the truth.

He was misunderstood by many, including members of his own family.

His Mom wasn’t fooled though! She saw Steve’s heart and felt his compassionate love.

If he were a dog, I imagine a Saint Bernard. Big and burly, not the winner of any shows, never first in the pack for skill, mental acumen or cunning wit. But if you were hurting, lost or in need, Steve was your guy.

His ability to connect with others on a deep level was an attribute often unrecognized.

I never understood my brother, although the exact reasons elude me.

Was it his weight or the fact he didn’t seem to “catch on” quickly enough? Perhaps a combination of things. I was a high flyer, motivated, inquisitive and energetic. He was a plodder, specific in action, prone to detail and sometimes painfully ponderous. When he took action however, he was deliberate, determined, unwavering and reliable.

I often disregarded his opinions, either because he couldn’t articulate them clearly enough or simply because I felt like they were  irrelevant. Unfortunately, my impetuousness prevented me from seeing the incredible person that he was. To see the heart full of love and unconditional acceptance for people, in spite of their shortcomings. Particularly his ability to connect with children was uncanny. Kids adored him for his impartial appreciation of their existence.

butcheringAll Steve humbly asked for in return was equal acceptance. Just to be loved for who he was. Why was this so difficult, I have many times asked myself since his passing? Was it my own inadequacies that prevented closeness? To love and not judge, is this possible? It seems that he knew the secrets to this kind of love while I did not.

I remember the summer when I worked closely with Stephen. He wanted to be on the farming crew, meaning I would be his boss. This seemed like an exceptional idea as I would finally be able to teach him some practical life skills, I thought.

But he really didn’t want to be taught “life skills”. Rather, he hoped that his older brother might finally recognize him as a young man with potential and destiny. Maybe he could finally crack the code, offer enough, be enough! Sadly, this was not the outcome. For whatever reasons, we seemed to be sabotaged from the beginning. Machinery was broken, frustrations mounted and ultimately I had to send him to work in another area.

 

Steve's passion

Steve’s passion

There were good times too – Steve and I chuckled over hunting stories and did some fun things together. We both shared a mutual appreciation for hockey and machinery.  I suppose you could say ours was a paradoxical relationship, most often characterized by our differences.

Eventually Steve moved away from the area to find his niche in California working with troubled youth. This was what he was born for. Caring, kindness and long suffering – the cornerstones of his character – were a perfect fit for this career choice.

In spite of the acceptance he found in this family, he was still deeply troubled that his own family, particularly his Dad and brother couldn’t see the real value in him. We stayed in contact, every couple months chatting on the phone and catching up. He regaled me with antics from the center where he worked and we talked of trucks and tractors, a mutual passion.

Still, under the surface was something amiss. Thankfully Steve wasn’t too far away from extended family who loved him and took him in. Specifically his cousin Jason (who is himself an exceptional person) treated him like royalty.

One fateful decision altered the course of Steve’s short life. While attempting to help one of the young girls who had been through the group home in the past, things became distorted. Although his intentions were altruistic, he ended up being arrested and charged with a felony relating to her children. After only a short time in jail, physical complications set in and he passed away couple months later, mainly from kidney failure.

Our family was in shock, relieved that his suffering had ended, but indignant at his treatment and struggling to comprehend this senseless tragedy. But in this midst of the tumult and ensuing memorials came the moments of greatest clarity for me. Only then did the truth begin to seep out.  People all around the area began to speak out, confirming stories of Stephens selflessness. His ability to love when others turned their back or resorted to judgement. The long drives he would make at his own expense to bring food to a friend, or comfort to the hurting.

SteveThis man, overweight, slow to act and somewhat indecisive. Could he be the one whose remembrance service had to be held in two countries because he had touched so many lives?

Was it really him?

Yes, it was him!

The magnitude of this began to sink  in when I returned to Canada for his hometown memorial. Humbled and ashamed for my “holier than thou” attitude, I witnessed the tears from grateful attendees whose memories of this gracious young man differed greatly from mine.

How did I miss it, I reflected, sitting there in awe and disbelief?

I was his brother, his kin, his blood. I guess it’s true: the ones closest to us often suffer the most. A man who lived a truly altruistic life, asking for no more than he gave. He loved uncompromisingly, gave cheerfully, offered willingly and trusted fully.

What more can be asked of a human being, what more is there to give? A life of love given without regard for creed, status, body style or religious background.

steve head shotA gentle giant, mellow and genuine to his core. A tortured soul which begged for his family’s understanding and acceptance. A mentor to countless children, a beacon of guidance for troubled youth, a genuine friend to all  whom he encountered.

Is there a greater legacy? A more noble existence?

This was Stephen, the brother I barely knew but now greatly respect and admire!

The Dangers of Dogma

January 4th, 2015

What is the motive for dogma –  religious, social, fiscal?

Is it the perceived mental security, or the fear of the unknown?

Vulnerability isn’t easy. It’s scary. It’s uncertain – but it’s worth it!

Rules and regulations, while a necessary evil, are just guidelines.  They help to curtail impetuous and destructive human tendencies, but they aren’t intended to be a used as weapon against all those whose opinions may differ from yours.

For instance, I recently watched a movie with a girl who was much more “straight laced” than myself. This movie was called “Wild”, starring one of my  celebrity crushes, Reece Witherspoon.  It is, in my opinion, a story of redemption, a raw and real account of the hardships life can bring! After reading the book I couldn’t wait to see the movie.

wild 2

I wasn’t disappointed, it was emotional, engaging and heart wrenching.

Of course we all handle pain and disappointment in different ways, but is there really a “right way”?

Well, according to my date, there most assuredly is.

 

And it most certainly isn’t to become a “whore” – a way fairing, drug using, sex crazed woman…who had seemingly  lost her way.

Obviously if she had known Jesus, a more ladylike path would have chosen, right? I mean, c’mon!

But was Cheryl (Reece) a whore?

I would say she was a young lady whose father was an abusive, bi-polar, alcoholic who ruled through fear and manipulation. Consequently, her mother – a consummate example of love and forgiveness – became Cheryl’s rock and centerpiece.

When her Mom died at 45, the world came crashing down.

How should a young daughter respond?

She could have gone to church…sat in a comfortable pew, soaking in grief while the choir swayed predictably and sang: “Love lifted me”.

But she didn’t. She ran…wracked by guilt, anger – feeling cheated and alone.

She lost herself in sex, drugs and any other form of distraction that would numb the pain even for a moment.

So she is a whore, right? A druggie, one of “those people”!

Well…

wild imageHere is the rest of the story:

She found her way back. In an act of passion, courage and unusual willpower, she made the “journey” back to herself. A journey of 1100 miles or so.

So, is there really only ONE WAY back?

Isn’t is possible that what works for one, may not work for all?

Confronting our beliefs is one of the most unsettling pursuits. To acknowledge that everything we believe and hold as truth is subject to interpretation will frighten even the most stalwart soul. But I would argue that this is preferable to cowering behind rigid ideals, and brandishing them as a club.

I am finding that very few things in life are linear. We are emotional creatures, and emotions are messy.

But nevertheless, I champion the pursuit of happiness, by whatever means necessary to achieve authenticity. This kind of happiness, I believe, is born from struggle and failure, and the knowing that you faced the pain,  felt it, lived it, cursed it. Ultimately though, you conquered it.

This is genuine, tangible. Long lasting and uniquely yours.

Anything less is cowardly and narrow minded, leading to judgment and criticism without understanding.

This isn’t the life I choose.