You don’t know what you have until it’s gone

I’m sitting in my quiet office on the second floor of Louisiana State University’s Coast and Environment building. The hum of the A/C saturates sound in the background and is only disturbed by the occasional patter of feet along the hallway outside my door.

A quick glance out the window is met with green leafy trees rustling in the wind. Two squirrels chase each other across the branches of a near tree.

The other day I read a book from a hammock strung along the banks of the mighty Mississippi, watching the turbid water lap at the roots of maple, ash, and oak trees.

A friend and I took our bikes down the levee to Baton Rouge’s city center and grabbed some delicious beignets.

A slackline session along the lakes bordering campus brought some great discussion with a close buddy.

To be honest, I’ll miss Baton Rouge.

Inside the old state capitol building

These past six months have been a struggle to stifle the desire to simply move on. I often try fruitlessly to see what lies around the coming corner, rather than absorb the things on my doorstep. Right here. Right now.

Much of my time in Louisiana has been spent missing Colorado. The mountains. The friends. The family. But, the more I think about it, the more I realize I do have family here in Baton Rouge now. I’m just sad it took this long to realize it.

Goofing off with some climbing friends

Take a second and soak in where you are in this moment. You’re better off than you think.

The field outside of the Coast and Environment building

The Cup that Gives Back

Where is your identity when an unexpected twist in the road brings calamity? How phased are you? Do you have enough to weather the storm?

So many empty golden cups surround you, vying for even just a portion of your very self. They seem to offer so much. A respite in the midst of crushing anxiety. Importance in the eyes of your friends and family. A quick laugh at the expense of another. You pour some of your portion into each cup, to find out that moments later it is empty again.

Fight that urge. Pour your portion into something that truly gives back. It is a small cup, not covered in jewels or diamonds, not forcing its way upon you. You pour your portion into this cup, to find yours more full than it was before. You’ll soon find you can take the next unknown bend in the road with confidence, because this unassuming portion is the cup of Christ.

I was the Hare

In the wee days following that famous ball drop in Times Square, a long-time buddy and I, inspired by the prospect of new beginnings, decided to hike up a snowfield in the mountains west of Denver.

The morning of the hike started slowly, and after a tall coffee from McDonald’s (yes, we gave in to the beast), we parked our car and started the ascent. Ice crunched beneath our feet as we trekked through a stunning snow-encrusted forest that gave way to a vast frozen lake. To the left, a large couloir (Fun term: A steep, narrow gully between two mountain faces) separated the forest from a prominent cliff that overhung the lake. We strapped on our shoes, took one step, and were immediately blasted with gale-force winds. I felt like the tortoise in the famous moral tale, and given the rate we were trudging up the snowfield, I knew plans for a summit were slipping from view. We soon found shelter at the base of a rocky outcrop, where we strapped on our heavy skis and began the descent. The wind was at our back now, and all we had to do was stand, put our arms out, and fly like a kite as gravity shot us down the mountain.

Minutes later, our ski tips reached the edge of the familiar lake as we wiped the tears from our faces and stared yet again at that majestic couloir.

“Let’s send it.”

So, we took off our skis, put on our snowshoes, and began another intense effort up the south slope. At this point in the day, the sun’s growing heat was magnified by the reflectance of the snow, and I was burning up. I couldn’t force enough air into my lungs and would take breaks of sucking precious O2 before climbing up the next section of snow. After what seemed like ages, we made it, yet again to a clump of trees and lay in the snow. I looked down. Several tourists (or shall I say fellow hikers) now fringed the lake and I could tell they were staring up at us. I suddenly switched roles in that famous tale and wanted to become the hare. I saw myself flying down the couloir to the oohs and aahs of the growing crowd at the lake. “Let’s take it up a notch”, I thought, and, partly due to the heat, took my shirt off for an even more epic run.

Skis. Check. Stoke. Check.

I pick up my poles and immediately went into hyperdrive. Before I knew it I looked down and saw that my skis had sunk beneath the top layer of snow and were now dragging close to the ground while my body was still picking up speed. Physics works in interesting ways. Before I could blink I faceplanted, rolled, lost a ski, and found myself freezing in a blanket of snow. All my pride leading up to that moment was gone. I’m pretty sure I heard an, “Ooouuuccchhhhhh” from the lake as the shocked faces of the audience winced. GoPros, cameras, and phones were lowered, and I’m pretty sure people were shaking their heads saying what I usually say, “Damn tourist is in above their heads.”

So next time you want to do something crazy, just remember, pride comes before the fall.

A Book and a Puzzle

I got COVID back in February. Two weeks holed up in an apartment for an extrovert can be tough, but hey, given the situation it was the least I could do to help stop the spread.

Day 1 was spent doing schoolwork, cleaning the house, and catching up on the typical things that had slipped through the cracks in previous weeks.

Day 2 shifted to workouts, calling friends, schoolwork, Netflix, and playing the floor is lava… I was getting antsy. At this rate, 12 more days was like gazing up at the summit of Everest from base camp.

On day 3, though, something happened that I didn’t expect. Out of the blue, a friend stopped by and dropped off a book and a puzzle, both of which she knew would ease my boredom. Not only had she taken time out of her day, but she was thoughtful enough to choose gifts she knew I liked. I was shocked!

If you have some free time, think about how you can make someone else’s day today. Thoughtfulness in our modern era goes such a long way. Below are some ideas for you to get started:

  1. Write a friend a birthday card.
  2. If you find something at the store you think a pal would like, spend the extra dollars and buy it for them as a surprise.
  3. If someone you know is going through a tough time, spend some extra time with them to show them you care.
The “Mineralogy” puzzle from Jenna

“There is hunger for ordinary bread, and there is hunger for love, for kindness, for thoughtfulness, and this is the great poverty that makes people suffer so much.Mother Theresa

Give it a Break

You wake up and check the time on your phone. 6:30 AM. Thoughts of the busy day ahead begin to snake their way into your mind as you shower. You blink. You’re at work typing up another two reports for your boss while you sip on the black gold keeping you awake (coffee). After two meetings and a quick pottery class, you zip over to the dog shelter for your weekly volunteering. You don’t make it home until 9:30 PM. You’re exhausted, but at least you can sneak in an episode of that Netflix show you’ve been bingeing. Shoot. You told your friend you would get coffee with her this morning before work and completely spaced. You stop, shake your head, and chuckle, ruminating on Bilbo’s classic line, “I feel thin, sort of stretched, like butter scraped over too much bread.”

We all need time to step back from our routines. We have to realize it’s an issue when we can’t commit WELL to all we’ve said yes to. It takes some of the fun out of what we’re doing too. When you feel like this, just take a break. Don’t schedule anything. Even if it’s for a weekend, plan a little excursion to somewhere you haven’t been before! Try a doable camping trip, or if you have the bandwidth, do something fun, like drive to a nearby town and stay for a mini-vacation. If you do this enough, you’ll see the slice of bread you’re spread over begin to get smaller. And who doesn’t like well-buttered toast?

Lessons from a forest

The distant hiss of rubber on concrete drifts over the treetops and into my balcony. As droopy as some of the limbs are, their green leaves stand as markers of how resilient southern woods can be, even in the wake of a hurricane.
It was amazing to see the leafy branches of a nearby Sugarberry tree stand against Ida’s relentless wind. The reason it persevered so well through the storm is mostly due to several smaller species that have grown in close proximity. Those trees provided a buffer to the wind, and without them, I am sure the Sugarberry would have been next year’s firewood. Many isolated trees did not fare so well.
The winds of life can blow strongly, which is why we need each other when they do. Try and find a way to help lessen the impact of a friend hearing hard news this week, or provide encouragement to someone who could use it. You just might be the buffer they need.

In a Pickle

Lately, I’ve grown rather tired of having to convey the hushed statement, “Yeah… I’ve never been to Florida before.” I recently moved to Baton Rouge, and now had no excuse to continue this lifelong streak, so my brother and I decided to take a four-day road trip to the panhandle in May, old school style.

No smartphones, no google maps, no social media. Just us, the open road, some CDs from the library (that we had to dust off), and a few books to keep us company.

The first destination? A glassy lake in Blackwater State Forest. To two sweat-drenched dudes forced to sit in a wheeled box of metal careening down the highway for hours, this was not a far cry from an oasis in the desert (the desert being the heat of the southern summer). The unpaved roads took us into the heart of a lush forest, but lack of elevation made navigation rather difficult, and it took quite a while to find our spot (several locals showed us the way).

After we parked our car at a pristine “primitive” campground furnished with a metal fire pit and two picnic tables, we quickly ran down to the lake and soaked our feet.

“What about a quick swim to the other side?” I asked Ben.

“So down.”

We popped our goggles on and began the 300m swim to the other side of the lake. Soon the shoreline behind us began to obscure, mimicking the weed-covered lakebed that receded into the murky depths out of sight.

I couldn’t help but wonder, what was down there? After all, we weren’t in Colorado anymore. I had heard stories of gators attacking people who encroached upon their territories, such as the infamous “Florida Man” who claimed he saw the inside of one’s mouth while fighting to stay alive (check out the story here).

I quickly steeled my nerves and continued to put one arm in front of the next for what seemed like an eternity. Finally, texture once again graced the bottom of the lake and I knew we were close to the other side.

Ben and I stood up once we saw the depth was no more than waist height and looked around. Locals at the far side of the lake must have been either in awe or simply laughing at two goggled, scared non-Floridians standing near the reeds, like some bewildered aliens on foreign soil.

As our eyes adjusted we noticed several black blotches contrasting the glistening water in the middle of the lake. They vanished several seconds later, only to pop up nearer than before. Thoughts ran through my mind of getting bit by a passing water moccasin (a deadly snake endemic to the south), losing a finger to a snapping turtle, or getting pulled under by the Florida version of the Loch Ness monster. To this day I have no idea what those creatures were.

We now had two options.

  1. Swim back and risk the above.
  2. Wade through the reeds and if we survive suffer through the long trek back around the lake to our campground half naked with no shoes.

We sighed, cried, high-fived, and chose option #1.

An eternity later and I was never so excited to see that olive green lake bed materialize from the depths. We clambered up onto the shore and swore never to swim in a swamp again.

I’m sure many of you have had encounters with the unknown before. It’s always a learning experience, isn’t it?

Exciting, thrilling adventures await you if you step into the waters of adventure, but be prepared for what may lie beneath its shimmering surface.

Bear Lake at Blackwater State Park in Florida. This was taken after survival.

Gone Light

Calibri-esque font spread across a surprisingly airy cardboard box.

“Light II”

I excitedly opened the package and found a small encouraging note underneath the front flap: “The Light Phone is for going light. It is a choice. How will you experience your life today? Appreciate your time, life is right now.”

And there it was. The small device that would inevitably change the way I interacted with the world for at least the foreseeable future.

So what is the Light Phone II?

It’s essentially a fully functional phone dipped in the nostalgia of simplicity. No internet, no infinite feeds, and no apps. Just text, phone calls, music (which you have to upload from an mp3 file), podcasts, and basic tools such as an alarm and calculator. The display is e-ink, so think baby Kindle.

I am now one month into “going light”. Below are some reflections of my experience:

What I enjoy

  1. The freedom! The first week was spent battling the PTSD of constantly checking my phone for notifications. On several occasions I literally felt the buzz in my pocket just to realize it was in my head. This jerk reaction faded around the two week mark and I began to notice how little I reached for my phone. Ahhh. I do feel more present and less distracted than I have in a long time.
  2. The size. The Light Phone II is almost half as big as my previous iphone. It’s less noticeable, doesn’t jut into my leg when I ride my bike (slightly exaggerating, but you get the point), and feels sleek in my hand. Not to mention the fun e-ink display tends to turn heads. I feel like a modern rebel when I use it in public. Fight the system of distraction!
  3. The catalyst to good conversation. Lately I have been able to have quite a few discussions with friends who are considering limiting their phone’s grip on their attention. This has enabled me to provide insight to the possibility of limiting phone use and offer a potential solution to their dilemma.
  4. The lack of Google Maps. Why is this in the enjoy section? Maybe this comment is lost and can’t find its way to the section below… But no, it is here for a reason. I must say I do enjoy getting to know the area around where I live. I can now get to more friends’ houses on the fly, know the quickest route to stores and restaurants, and have even had to ASK a fellow human to figure out where some places are. Imagine that.

What I miss

  1. The fast texting. As beautiful as the e-ink display is, when it comes to texting the Light Phone II feels like an old VW Beetle puttering down the road as Ferraris zoom past in the fast lane. It’s simply archaic. I really am starting to miss the quick messages I could send my friends.
  2. The music. Although there are murmurs of The Light Phone II partnering with Spotify, the current mess of downloading songs from YouTube and converting them to .mp3 files made me nostalgic for about a day. Laziness of not updating the phone has caught up to me and listening to the same four songs is giving me more sympathy for Bill Murray’s character in Groundhog Day. If you want diversity in your music, you have to fight for it.
  3. The pictures, memes, and GIFs. I went on a vacation with my brother two weeks ago. We had a blast and returned with loads of stories, but alas, no pictures for our more visually inclined friends and family. I also miss the convenience of using the iPhone’s camera to capture great moments. Caveat: Moments must be worth capturing to use your camera…
    I also used to send and receive the occasional hilarious Lord of The Rings related meme or GIF with friends (you’ll get the gist here) and also have to wait to get to my laptop to receive pictures sent to my phone (it forwards pics to my email). Not fun.
  4. WhatsApp and Groupme. As connected as I feel in the present moment, I have noticed my lack of correspondence with some of the more physically remote friendships in my life. This is unfortunate and I don’t want some of these conversations to go by the wayside.

Recommendation

If you’re looking to really minimize your social media footprint, don’t care much for cameras, and want to simply disconnect for a while, get this phone. It has definitely taught me a lot about how I spend my time and what I prioritize. If you do have a lot of friends or family members around the world, travel a lot for work or pleasure, or enjoy jamming out to that “Discover Weekly” playlist on Spotify, I would shy away from The Light Phone II.

My takeaways and advice

Will I have this phone forever? Probably not. The Light Phone II is a cool concept, but they need to work out some kinks before I will consider this a longer term phone. Get rid of the lag, offer music options, and provide solid maps, and I might switch permanently.

My advice?

  1. Disconnecting IS possible. Please do it more often! Try to engage in good conversation on a daily basis without your phone. You’ll thank yourself for it.
  2. Learn to listen well. Many people can’t or don’t try to truly listen to each other. This will heal many wounds and solve many problems.
  3. Keep your phone out of your room. Charge it in the living room and leave your room as a space to read, process the day, and reflect.

I’m staying with the phone until August as a dual commitment with my brother, then will most likely return to my familiar Apple product. Though I like slowing down to enjoy the view from my horse drawn wagon, I’m excited to return to many of my friends in the modern era. I just hope to do it with a newfound perspective on digital minimalism.