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Looking back down the Trail, Part Four: New Life

June 19, 2013

Continued from Part Three

011

Who put THAT GUY in charge?!?

So I had gotten caught up in my “career” as the manager of a music retail store, and was working more now than I had ever worked. “Real Life”, living in the St. Louis area and working and driving in traffic and doing typical civilized things had taken the forefront in my world, and time for getting out to the forest had been getting pretty scarce. Things were moving in the direction that they naturally should at the time, and I found myself involved with a wonderful young lady who I had known for a while already. Yeah, I wasn’t waking up to the sounds of birds chirping and the sunrise on my face that often, like I would if I was camping, but things were moving along and life was good. I didn’t even notice how domesticated I was becoming, or that the trees were off in the distance somewhere, instead of right in front of me. I was growing up.

So I was at work one unsuspecting morning after we had gotten back from visiting her sister for a week in San Diego. I was getting ready to open the store…putting cash in the drawers…checking paperwork from the night before…flipping lights and music on…re-vacuuming that one area on the stained commercial carpet that that part-timer obviously hadn’t gone over the previous night. It was a typical morning, and it was playing out like all the ones before it.

And then the phone rang.

“Thank you for calling Sam Goody. This is Gabe, can I help you?”

“Hey Gabe, it’s Vickie…y’got a minute.”

“Yeah, sure…’s everything okay?”

“…No…I don’t know…………I’m pregnant.”

…Boom…Woosh…A mental explosion, followed by all the air being sucked out of the room like an open door at 30,000 feet.

“Wow…how do you know?”

“Well I knew something was up, y’know, like how I was getting sick really easily when we were drinking the other night? Stuff like that…so I took a test…”

“Wow.”

“Yeah, I’m going to make a doctor’s appointment…get checked out.”

“Wow…yeah, that’s a good idea. Call me after you do so that I can make sure to be able to go with you.”

“I will. Sorry to start out your day with news like this…”

“It’s alright…this is a good thing. Wow.”

A week later I went and got my first tattoo. Screw it, I was gonna be somebody’s DAD…might as well really impress my parents.

020On January 20th of 2001, my son Elias James was born. A new light brought into the world to illuminate all our lives. Things would be much different from here on out.

Needless to say, we didn’t camp that much for a couple of years. Spending time in the forest had already become a rare occasion, but lots of other things were keeping us in town…odd work schedules and the like. Plus the procedures involved in camping with a baby were more immense. Not impossible…but more technical and gear dependent than normal. A trip into the woods was also exaggerated of course by the fear of taking this little guy out into big, mean, and nasty nature that was full of all sorts of places to drown, trip, fall…and be eaten. We stayed in the St. Louis area for the most part.

015 (2)There were a couple trips though, including one with my folks to Sam A. Baker, and excursions here and there out as far as half a day could take us, or to the point where he couldn’t ride in the car any longer. Most of my exposure to the forest was usually at a local park somewhere, watching this new little human learn to climb and run and interact with the world. What an astounding thing to witness. And an astounding thing also to realize that we were all at that developmental stage at one point, many years before. We start out so small and seemingly fragile…but the resiliency and ability to bounce off of things that toddlers possess is surprising. And he took full advantage of that ability, careening many times into whatever the nearest obstruction was. Even if it wasn’t a straight line, his drunken toddler walk usually homed in perfectly to what was sure to end up as a red-faced, crying episode. He didn’t do it on purpose. Like all kids, he was just drawn to clumsy accidents. That’s the best time to learn…when we can still bounce off of stuff.

012 (2)There was another incident that sticks in my mind as one of his first moments of making a connection with the animal world. I remember taking Eli over to the pond in our apartment complex one day, after carrying laundry to be done to the little building beyond the boardwalk that was on the east bank of the water. There were Canadian Geese wandering around, and I thought it would be fun for him to go see them. As we walked toward them, my little guy with his deliberate upturned-toe steps, the geese started to move toward us, hissing and spitting. A parents ability to snatch their child up in a flash must be up there on the list with hummingbird wing flapping and supersonic flight. He was in my arms, and in an instant we were back on our way to the apartment with NO intention of ever trying to make friends with geese again.

A few years passed as I settled into our domestic life, eventually moving into a house in the Affton area, where she grew up.  Affton is nice. It’s a somewhat quiet community in South St. Louis County (just “South County” if you’re from here), and the end of it we were in backed up to the River Des Peres and St. Louis City itself. Right down the street from one of the old, vast city graveyards, adjacent to a tiny urban forest area that after a couple of walks confessed itself to be the home of a handful of deer. Who could imagine that? City Deer.

002After six years of working for Sam Goody though, I was becoming weary of fighting the same battle every day in my job. The opportunity came up to pursue a career as a carpenter, and I took the steps to do it. Goodbye selling CDs…hello actually creating something, learning a skill, and having a more satisfying day at work. So I joined the Carpenters District Council here in St. Louis and went to work as an apprentice carpenter. Without going into it too much, it was a very different environment than the one I was accustomed to, but it also put me among people who were also fans of spending time outdoors, in a way that I was very much NOT familiar with. Most of these guys were hunters, and during deer and turkey season, lunches would be spent with my mouth shut and my ears open, listening to stories of prizes bagged from years past after a morning in the woods in some place not too far off. It was a new reason (for me) to head to the woods, but I have yet to navigate THAT road. The idea of harvesting meat from nature strikes me as just another aspect of the woods that makes complete sense. This is the world we live in, and given an understanding of the part responsibility takes in the practice, how could it not be how we are supposed to live? Food provided from the land. Sounds right to me. Just do it with gratitude and humility, to honor the sacrifice you have received.

008And then, on September 21st of 2003, I was blessed with one of the greatest gifts I have ever gotten. Sophia Leslie was born. I was given a daughter. As an apprentice carpenter, for two weeks out of every six months, we were required to attend the carpenter’s training center to take classes on all sorts of things, from framing to drywall to concrete to blueprint reading to forklift driving and everything in between. She was born on a Sunday, and the next day I was required to be in class. I skipped that day and stayed with my wife and our new little girl, and in the history of the St. Louis District Council’s Carpenter Training Program, it is probably one of only about five excused absences. They were pretty strict when it came to following the program’s rules, but I could see that knowing twinkle in the eyes of my rough, weather beaten instructors that following Tuesday as they looked back somewhere to a moment that THEY were greeted by a new voice in their world.

009Within a year however, my marriage was failing, due in large part to my lack of understanding what it takes to be a good husband. With reasonable discussion and very little conflict, we separated and eventually divorced. Life now was filled with scheduling as the obstacle and children as the focus, but I was lucky enough to be working it out with a woman who had the same goal as myself: make it work for the kids. Things were scattered for a while, and negativity has reared its head from time to time, but looking back it was the right choice and we are both better people for it, and I truly believe that it has been a benefit for Eli and Soph as well. The ability to see their parents make the difficult decision to part ways, because living in the pursuit of happiness in our separate live was a better choice than being miserable together. (Thank you, Victoria, for all that you do for these angels, and for working with me for all these years)

IMG_0920So here I was, eventually coming up on my 30th birthday. I had a job. I had a place to live. My kids were getting more and more independent and adventurous with every sunrise. We were getting into the fun part.

To be continued…

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