Tail tucked firmly between my legs

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Filled with fear? Possibly just ignorance.

Don’t know how else to explain it.

Usually once a week, on Wednesdays I take my pooch, Henry to a dog park in El Segundo as it is much larger than his usual spot in Manhattan Beach and it gives him a chance to play with other buddies he otherwise does not see. It’s a real pain with all the morning traffic and takes a while but he loves it so I just do it begrudgingly.

Each time I go I have noticed that there is always a car parked along side the park with a man sitting in it with his dog. Pretty sure he is listening to music and the dog just stares longingly at the dogs playing in the park. I find myself glancing over form time to time and he’s constantly there. In fact he’s never not been there. The site of that little face staring with the fog spot on the window where she breaths on deflates me each time and my heart always goes out to her.

Many times when I leave the park, I walk right by them with Henry and the dog just sadly stares at us. It leaves me with such a crummy and empty feeling each time. My ride home is ultimately consumed with the plight of this poor dog and how his owner could be so cruel.

After several more time to the dog park, I noticed my resentment for this man growing. As this anger inside me continued to snowball, I decided I simply could not take it anymore and decided to go over.

To say what? Do what? Had no idea. If nothing else maybe just ask the guy if it would be okay if I watched over the dog in the park while he sat in his car listening to his music. There was no real plan. But I had to do or say something.

While I was headed there one of Henry’s best friends came in and distracted the situation. It did so long enough for me to ask the other dogs owner, who lives close by what the story was with this guy. Pretty sure I asked in a snarky tone as well.

She proceeded to tell me the man lives in the tree section of Manhattan Beach. His dog has a rare bone condition that does not allow it to play with others. So he sits there with her for as long as it takes until all the dogs are gone so he can take her into the park and allow her to run around and sniff stuff to her heart delight.

The woman basically saved me form myself. I was speechless and confused how I never considered that possibility. I pride myself in placing myself in another shoes and trying to see a situation form their perspective. Not only did I not do this, but felt like such an indignant jerk.

Suddenly my complaining about the traffic one day a week to make my dog happy was insignificant. I was embarrassed for myself. This man does it every day, and waits for as long as it takes to give his pooch one shot each day to be a dog in a safe place.

I needed to do something or tell someone as I know I could not be the only one who had the same line of thinking. I am sure this initial reaction was to undo a wrong I had done as fast as possible. Even if that wrong was never manifested itself outside my own confused brain.

Talk about serendipity; a woman of another dog I know and whom I just photographed for her store, came to me and asked what the deal was with the man in the car with the dog.

And talk about a chance to confess to someone what a buffoon I was!

It was as if she was directly sent to me to shed some light; a very warm and heart touching light on such a heartbreaking situation (or heartwarming, depending on your view.) The weight was lifted.

The impact however will never be. Lesson learned, again.

Zion

Two carefully chosen words Merriam-Webster Dictionary uses to define Zion are “Heaven and Utopia.” Although, these references represent more of a symbolic idealism based from Judaism, after hiking for the second time through the grand cathedrals of colored sandstone walls, I think it is safe to say, this reference can easily be shared amongst many faiths.

Morning greeted us with shades of blue in the sky we simply don’t get in Los Angeles. With the absence of clouds, thoughts of flash floods quickly evaporate in the 110 degree heat as did the residual stiffness left from the seven or so hour long drive from Los Angeles.zion

Another colorful greeting came to us riding the warm current of air above the river on the wings of Monarch Butterfly’s as they fluttered about through out the hike. They lead us down into the winding torrent of small rapids, springs, waterfalls and golden reflected pools of surrounded by hanging gardens of shooting stars, evening primrose, larkspurs, monkey flowers even orchids to name a few which sprung from seeping water from the confluence of the canyon walls. The contrast is stunning for an otherwise hot and arid desert terrain and is highlighted with colorful oasis blooms throughout the canyon.

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Entering the shade provided by the Narrows combined by soaking in the cool Virgin River away from the dry, skin cracking heat of the surrounding Valley, was very much Heaven. In fact, it was the word that popped into my mind first as the temperature dropped immediately. The word utopia was not far behind it either. In an instant, sore legs and toes began to tingle with life once again. Suddenly I’m prepared to continue through the next leg of the 16 mile journey as the chilled water swirls around my calves in a soft massage easing the burden of the pack pulling from my shoulders as well.

The river leads us into the cool cover of shadows cast by breathtaking walls as high as 2000 feet and with widths of only 20 feet in some parts. It becomes increasingly hard to move swiftly into the winding corridor as the footings is anything but sure with moss covered rocks underwater and the views that are mostly above.

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It is truly a feast for the senses and the eyes are continually seduced away from the next footprint I will leave as they are constantly scanning the expansive rock formations etched by flash floods, runoff and snowmelt.

Screen Shot 2015-02-01 at 12.40.52 PMSpring fed waterfalls, outlined with local flowers

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It’s easy to look around and see how millions of years shaped this place into what it is, but the canyon is still being sculpted as I walk through it even today. The river carries sediment and large rocks as well as small grains of sand which make their way down the river, grinding and carving new formations all the time. Add wind, ice and rain to the mixture and the result is a living, evolving creation which goes straight through your eyes into the depths of your soul.

Below, ghost like formations serve as a reminder of what the elements and father time does to us all. In this case though, turns solid rock into an art form.

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No matter what journey brings you to Zion or how you feel before you enter the Narrows, one thing for sure; you will feel closer to whatever your particular notion of Heaven or Utopia is long before you leave it.

To me Zion is a slice of Heaven

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Thanks to my Three Amigos for enhancing this experience as it is always better to share paradise amongst the special ones in our lives.

Insignificant; or NOT

From a scribbling I put together a few yrs back with a few small changes. But the spirit of thankfulness, perspective and inspiration remains. I thank God every day for the gifts I have to use at my disposal and why perspective, inspiration and gratitude will always be a theme that dominates my writing.

Like most of my longer training rides on the bike, the goals are simple. Ride until eventually my body learns to the art of minimizing my muscles demands for oxygen to metabolize an increase in blood lactate and increase overall aerobic thresholds. Usually my journey begins with pain in the legs but usually ends up taxing everything from between one ear to the next and back. Tonight’s ride should be no exception.

As turmoil has been a steady companion of late I guess I should have known better. After 2 hours plus of burning the quads with several climbs, I suddenly noticed one of my favorite things in life. The sky was turning all shades of red and blue and the South Bay was preparing for a spectacular show as the sun fell behind the sea. I glided to the end of Hermosa Beach pier and just sat there in a now cold sweat, watching the sky and the water try to outdo each other as if it were a duel of master painters. It was chilly and I was wearing nothing more than swim-bike shots, lycra form fitting vest and arm warmers. But the cold never affected me as I stared at the show like a kid at a first circus waiting for the next thing to happen.

Then the inevitable began to happen….I began to think…Shit; too late now as this ball had already started to roll. For those who can’t sleep at night due to a restless mind know what I am talking about. I stared deep into and beyond the swirls of color mixing the waters currents and then upwards beyond the colors of the sky until the colors were all but gone. Suddenly I could see a star shining over the horizon and it did not appear to be a planet. My astrology is lacking so I can’t tell which star it was, but it caused me to do what most of us have done one time or another; feel really, really small..

I began to think about time and space and my place in it. And in the end how do my problems even matter? How could they? But to me they freeze me in my tracks; every time.

A “first down” in football is ten yards. It takes light to travel that far in about 30 nano-seconds and light can go 300 million yards (or 30 million first downs) in ONE second.

The same little beam of misguided light would take 1 1/4 seconds to get to the moon and to the sun (which is BTW 109 times the size of the Earth) and would take little Mr light beam 8 minutes to arrive.. Hang with me, there is a point.

Jupiter is further out and would take 40 light-minutes to feel the love and Pluto is a whopping 5 ½ hours away for the train to reach its station and far too many first downs for me to figure out.

Now for the amazing part.. That twinkling and insignificant wobble in the sky is no less than 4 ½ years away for that wayward beam of light to arrive. Beyond that, my head just really begins to hurt. It must be from slamming it into that brick wall they built at the very end of the Universe back when the UFO’s also build the Pyramids of Ghiza. It’s enough to imagine our little hub of insignificance in all of this expanse too large to wrap my mind fully around.

But if I were to try…..

The nearest cluster of Galaxy (the Virgo Cluster~only remembered because I am one) is
50 million light years away and to totally blow the top of your head off, the visible edge of the universe is 13,700,000,000 (yes, billion) light years away. Or as Cal Sagan would have said “beillionn.”

So back to our little flickering and dim light in an otherwise endless forest full of Sequoia Christmas trees we have to ask ourselves the same question. Do we count? Do we matter at all in the end?

From events unfolding form warring nations, all the way down to even the little kid crying because Santa’s gift this year wasn’t what was wished for and everything else in between, it’s just a pimple on a pimples ass in the end of a flea no less. That is if fleas actually could get a pimple of course. One day it will be dead silent here and really dark and cold. Somewhere zillions of first downs away and even more zillions of years something will be crawling out of the mud to choke on it’s first breath. Or two overzealous leaf bearing zealots will hook it up again,…But life will come to be. Somewhere out there..

Whatever happens, will they eventually stand at the end of a pier one year and look out to the sky and begin to feel just as small and even insignificant?

As I turned my bike around to ride several, but not too many first downs back to my home, a father and son ( I presumed he was his son) approached me for a picture. I said sure and suggested we use the faded light of the ocean for the background as I reached for the camera. The father said no, it was his son who wanted the picture with me. I just stood there and didn’t know what to say. I was sure they thought I was someone else. It’s happened plenty of times before. So I kept on saying nothing and smiled for the photo with my arm around the kid.

The smile on the teen aged kid was enough to answer my question with out a word being spoken. I was not about to discourage that amazing smile.

Hell yes, I mattered, I mumbled to myself under my breath.. Or at least the guy they thought I was did…It really didn’t matter. I connected with someone the very second I asked this silent question and it was evident.

If this was not significant in any big pictures and about my place in it, then what does that say about me?

I glided back down the pier with my bike toward home.

He glided back down the pier in his wheelchair..

It’s Free! And it doesn’t hurt at all

I still clearly and fondly remember a trip I took Ecuador a few years back. The country had the most spectacular scenery from miles up in the sky, framed by the Andes to the cool blue-green pools deep under the Pacific Ocean, exploring the depths of the Galapagos. There was never a shortage of breathtaking scenery and great photo ops at each turn. However, the most profound memory I brought home and one that still remains with me even to this day was one the simplest of gestures and the easiest one to pass along with out breaking your stride in the least bit.  It may seem simple and a bit trivial, but the unsolicited smiles from the locals really made a real impact on me. It really opened my eyes to where I live full time and how much I can acclimate to any environment; even one full of grumpy people.

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The cost is of course absolutely nothing, except for the brief acknowledgement that someone outside our own little World is relevant, even if only for a brief moment. Yet for some reason it ‘s such a rare commodity here back at home, and one rarely given with out pretension.  It’s amazing what a simple yet, genuine and warm smile can do when it comes from out of the blue. I reference Ecuador and can easily add China, Thailand, Ireland as well in my attempt to describe why or how Peru is had the same affect on me. Even though they share borders with Ecuador and it would seem possible for these borders to be more transparent, they do not do so with the far east and in Europe..So obviously is not  a geographical phenomenon, it become more increasingly a larger perspective which coincidently enough comes from the people who in social circles possess less. Less material things, that is and by no means less emphasis of enjoying life.

This kind of basic and genuine form of communication breaks so many boundaries and is universally understood no matter how terrible the foreign language skills are from a particular location. In China, I went with out a single word in my language-bank so even to say a simple greeting was a challenge at first. However, when armed with enough enthusiasm, confidence in my ability to act out on the spot charades, or draw a quick picture; ultimately I managed just fine with a very open mind and a self defacing, yet genuine smile. Every time it was returned to me and usually with the help or direction I needed. I was forced to interact with people at every turn, which s not a strong point of mine. But for some reason, (possible desperation,) I did so just fine. I think it had more to do with the fact that the people were so accommodating towards helping me.

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One of my little guardian angels “Sunny” who helped me find my place after a 22 hr train ride and a 2 hour bus trip only to get completely turned around.

So much like Ecuador and China, Peru offered a better base for my ability to communicate with my 2nd grade level spanish, but once again the thing I take home with me, more than the beautiful coastline of Miraflores, the greenness and grandeur of the Sacred Valley and of course the jaw dropping spectacle that is Machu Pichu, is once again the warmth of the people and the brightness and sincerity of their smiles.

Whether it be the smallest child, or the oldest person we met, there is an acknowledgement that you are in their realm and more than that are welcome there. Even the taut’s or any number of people selling a number of items on the street are polite and have a thank you followed by a genuine smile even if there is no sale made. It just seems to be in their DNA to be gracious and polite. Weird, huh?

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This man rode into town every day to sell Sugar Cane..Every day, I saw him he wore this smile with out fail

I guess, the main reason I really continue to run out to parts of the World that especially more provincial is to get a sense of hope and perspective that there’s still places where the pace of life is just slow enough to understand how quick this ride we’re on truly is. It kind of validates the struggle I have wanting this life to go on longer so I can experience more of it and simply expand my horizons intellectually, empathetically and of course spiritually. A place where complete strangers can pass you on a street you have never been on, look you dead in our eyes, extend a big smile simply to say hello and have a nice day. There is no other meaning behind it, yet it warms the heart completely and connects us all. It also makes me wonder why its not like this back home where I live in a beach town, full of people who have life by the literal balls and don’t deal with the day to day life and death struggles simply to to stay fed that I see and meet every time I jump on or off a plane.

It also makes me wonder who the truly rich and blessed people are and who are really the less fortunate ones. Generalizing does nothing in this country except make people crazy and force them to pick out the 1 or 2 people they know or heard of to dispel that particular “myth.” This is also not anywhere close to a commentary on a truly capitalistic vs social conservative perspective. I can easily separate the facts that one has nothing to do with the other and ease the ideas that begin from the top down. It appears to me that many of us have lost the idea that begins at the the bottom and grows up and then out. Maybe we all forget where we came from, or where our parents and how their parents have struggled to get us to where we are. Although we are now living in a society that does stress a sense of self entitlement, I’m still not buying the fact that we can not rediscover our foundations we once embraced and get back to being the best country in the World’s history to live in. I am constantly reminded that with a little humility, hard work and servitude to the family and neighborhoods we live in, I won’t constantly be coming home to a place that has lost its warm smile.

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Quechan woman with her Llama in the Sacred Valley, Peru

I am always packing my bags before every trip with the intent of finding extremes of emotions and experiences in usually remote and hard to reach places.  I usually find what I’m looking for as I remain intrepid in that task, but what strikes me the most is the people I meet along the way and how someone who I meet for a total of a minute or two can impact my life as profoundly as many people I have known for years.

Coming home is always a mixture of excitement and a bit of contrition. Most times I come home and spend days in the house trying to acclimate to seeing all the same old robotic and lifeless faces in the cars to my left and right. Sometimes a little walk around the neighborhood, can be a good ice breaker.

I believe to truly understand why we are all in this place in our hearts and souls we simply need to look in the mirror. It starts each day and the second we get out of bed, whether we do just our little part to make someone else feel present, welcome, loved, wanted or just acknowledged. If we are waiting for a larger Leviathan (the kind Thomas Hobbs once described) to tell us what and how to do it, then it’s just going to be too late.

So here is a little photographic tribute of thanks to so many of those beautiful and warm smiles I was on the lucky end of and that continue to help me understand that we are all indeed connected, for better or worse.

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Definition of two old wise men, who also happened to be genuinely nice. By the Gold Mount Temple in Bangkok, Thailand

Peru 2012

The front desk clerks at our hotel in Lima who we actually spent some quality personal time with their families during our stay, including diner at their house

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One of my favorite Inn Keepers in Yanghsuo, China..Was actually hard leaving this guy when it came time to go

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Fresh fruit vendor in Thailand..Met this woman every am helping her pull a cart that a water buffalo may struggle with to her spot over a huge hill

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