The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Archive for July, 2012

Not Free Yet

Departing the I-5 corridor in Olympia to the west in favor of Highway 101 to Port Angeles is much more than just an exit from the freeway when traveling on the bike. A gradual but gratifying process begins to empty me of the chaff of life. From the very first sweeping right turn at exit 104 that slings me under the interstate and onto the side highway, I feel something leaving me, some palpable entity whose inertia has prodded me like an unwilling goat for the last hundred miles, leaving me with an illogical sense of haste I cannot understand. I can sense it, still moving northward on the freeway I just left, every moment an ever-widening gap between that thing and I as it searches first for me, and then for some other easy victim. I have shaken it from my path. But I’m not free yet.

Three exits on this short burst of new freeway, and then the busy intersections and traffic of the city fade, extra lanes disappear, and after a few short miles are nearly completely gone.  Rural scenery replaces strip malls, and as the buildings disappear, so does an entire level of stress. My mind begins to slow. But I’m not free yet.

For the next half hour a greenway rolls past. In the open air of the saddle of the motorbike, a full azimuth of the arching foliage welcomes me through a kind of gateway. In autumn, this stretch of road is brilliant orange, red, and yellow, interspersed with the deep green of spruce, fir, and cedar. It has been nine months since I last traveled this path. If you’ve experienced it, if you know that autumn display, it stays with you forever, even here in the height of summer, and it colors your view with anticipation of another season. The road continues like this, passing through a couple towns, skirting one using a bypass, and then leading into the wilder country. But I’m not free yet.

After passing Shelton, the road shrinks to two lanes, and I feel like I’m stepping out of one world into a different one, that seems at once smaller, and larger, than the confined domineering existence of the city. Every mile I travel, another pound of tension drops off of me, like loosened shackles. The narrow road weaves beneath my wheels like a tightrope walker’s line, I push the bike along it, balancing and dancing its path as if a rebirth awaits me at the other end. The Olympic mountain range drives upward powerfully to my left, into snow capped jagged peaks which from this close range I only glimpse occasionally through the dense forest, but I can feel their presence. The smooth, soothing waters of Puget Sound rest gently just to my right, the road wending along its shores squeezing in between water and mountains. Vacation homes line the shores in some places, in others old bridges span across marshes, where the rivers caroming from the heights of the mountains finally spread out into individual streams so numerous and dense in places that the land becomes a marshland network of creeks. Fishermen work this shallow delta, and I smile to myself to see them again, as if they were cousins I’ve known all my life, and am returning to. But I’ve never met them. The bike reminds me to ride on. I’m not free yet.

Soon, all that’s left is the occasional house, with long-forgotten equipment in and around rotting barns, shoulder-high grasses hiding clumps of iron that used to be a crane, or a water truck, or an old sawmill bandsaw, waiting for someone to stop long enough to listen to the tales of long ago. So many tales to be told. I want to stop, someday, and listen to their stories, because I feel that I’m among friends again, but I am fleeing today, and cannot stop to ask for cover in their undisturbed appearance. Not yet.

The road leaves the shore, and winds its way up through a pass. The road peaks, drops through a series of blind curves through a wide ravine that suddenly opens into a new valley, yet another distance from the city. This place feels so removed from the city that it cannot be felt at all. Small farms here grow their hay and crops with the wild abandon that the rain forest climate provides. Soon, just like the replanted clear-cuts that cover over completely in two seasons on the vast mountainsides above, the last traces of my having been in the city have been cleared from my mind, and overgrown with fond memories of these places. But I’m not free yet. Not quite.

I turn aside from the highway, and ride a short distance up a road I only know for its penchant for going nowhere particular. It is a secret road, and I’ve only traveled a mile up its length, ever. And that is precisely the distance I travel now, to a wide turnout that commands a view of the valley and the mountains beyond. I stop the bike on the roadside, kill the engine, and wait. I look up to the craggy peaks that I can just see, knowing what is there, waiting for it to come. The wind whispers in the trees. A bird busies itself in some discussion at the bottom of the ravine beside me. The gravel crunches as I turn my foot for balance, still sitting on the bike, waiting. And then it begins. A commanding, colossal silence that is more than an absence of sound washes down the mountain, crossing the narrow valley, roiling towards me as if it will tear me apart. And it will. I relax, and take the wave head on – it thunders over me like a collapsing wave. I drink it in, this deep quiet, letting it fill me up, push out every hint of the chaos and insignificant chatter that has been raging in my head, until the separation between the silence and me no longer exists. I am no longer just myself. I am free.

Somewhere in me a smile forms, and a joy without words flows out of me with a force greater than myself. Here, on this back road to nowhere with nothing but a motorcycle, I am at home again.

Sense of Home

Inspiration seems to find me in the oddest times and the strangest places. This morning it was on the stairway, following my son up the stairway. Sean is severely mentally handicapped. This means that while he is capable of doing many things physically, sometimes he gets lost in the doing, forgets what comes next. He has a seizure disorder to go along with his other issues, which takes away his ability to hang on to new things he learns. He leans heavily on things he learned long ago, when he was young.


One of our big struggles in his daily routine is getting him up the stairway to the shower. It’s not that he lacks the physical capacity to get himself up, though it does test his endurance, but that he forgets how to do it. He is well over 6 feet tall, and almost 250lbs, so carrying him upstairs is usually out of the question. I am somewhat bigger than him, but even so, on the stairway, that size doesn’t make the trip upstairs much easier.

This morning I was trying to think of a way to explain to someone how to get Sean up the stairway safely. I was watching and listening to myself do what I do every day, to see what key element in it makes the whole thing work for Sean and I. It became clear after a little bit that I start by accepting that I can’t force him to do much. Well, I could simply push him up the stairs, being bigger than he, but when I start doing things for him, he stops trying to do them himself and focuses on hanging on to what he knows. Then we both wind up exhausted halfway up.


So what I focus on is his initial position. He’s pretty good at following repetitive things once he’s started, so I make sure he gets to a “home” position that then leads to him remembering the next steps (no pun intended) to moving up. I put his left hand on the rail, despite the fact that he doesn’t want to reach out. I put his right hand on the wall, against the strain of him trying to pull his hand back to his chest. Once each hand touches the holding-point, he relaxes that arm and grips it like he remembers how to do it again. When he’s all positioned, I tap on the back of his right hamstring which makes him instinctively draw up his leg, and then suddenly he’s in his groove, he has remembered what to do. He slowly takes over, lifts that leg, puts his foot on the next step, and shifts upward. As we go up, if he forgets what he’s doing, I tap that hamstring again. It’s always the same foot, he seldom alternates feet. Once he gets into position, and gets started, then step by step he makes his way up until he reaches the top. On good days, he does a little happy dance to celebrate making it up and then charges into the shower room. On bad days, I have to repeat the process for the next task, walking through the door, with its own “home position” and reminders that makes it ok for him to let go of the door jamb.

As we went, step by step up the stairway this morning, I got to thinking of other situations where this method is important to him. He has a certain way of getting into the car, one foot has to be in just the right spot or nothing else works for him. He forgets how to get in, so I take him by the hand, walk him in a short loop away from the car, and approach it again. Once his approach is right, usually he gets the rest of it right.

It didn’t take long for this thought process of mine to spill over into my own life, and thoughts about raising the many other children we’ve had, that have come through our home as foster kids, or been adopted. We often think of home as that safe place where we can hide from the world. It has come to mean, in our modern lexicon, a place to step out of the world entirely, to be ourselves without the world’s intrusion. And of course, it is that. But home is not somewhere we can stay, or even want to stay. I thought of Sean, and the “home position” there at the bottom of the stairway.  Many of our kids have come home again for a spell, to get their head back together, or to just remember where it is they come from.  Home is a starting place, a place to figure out where we’re at when we’re lost, so that we can get started toward the goal we remember again. “Home”, for our children, is not “Mom and Dad and a house”, but the collection of growing up experiences that gave them their sense of values, and goals. For each child it is different. But for all of them, Home is not a destination, but a good beginning.


And then my thinking spread to spiritual life. God has not spent a lot of time forcing me to do things, forcing things upon me that I could not handle. But He created me, and knows what I was created to do and what to be, in ways I only vaguely understand most of the time. He has spent some time over the course of my life sending me back to home, walking me in a little loop so I can figure out where to start, and orienting myself, remembering where I want to go, when I become hopelessly lost in the milieu of life.

For my children, most of whom have grown, I don’t hope to keep them here forever, though I love them and their company. But I do hope that when they become lost, they remember to come home, and that in that thought they figure out where it was they need to be, and which direction that was.  Maybe it’s as simple as “left-hand bannister, right hand wall, right leg up”.  Sometimes it is for me.

As for me – I realized, by the time I got to the top of the stairway this morning with Sean, that I have two homes: the one that I was born to, that gives me an awareness of who I am now, and where to start in pursuit of my life’s purpose, and the other that I am created to be, that for now is my destination, but when I get there, will again be my starting point.


This dying campfire huddles before me in front of my stool and beneath my poker, here in this late night hour. It burns a deep, deep red, its chest expanding and contracting erratically across the unmoving chunks of wood it has possessed for these last few hours. In this final stage of its life, it is larger than hours ago when it cooked our dinner. It now occupies my very soul, burning and scorching every other thought from me.

Drawing me in across the hours, it has faded from rampant yellow flames into subdued orange, slowly cooking down to a stately blue. The few flames remaining merely whisper now, just a ragged gasping flow of deep red color inside the coals of dead wood. The sticks and marshmallows, my night’s sacred meditation, is now done. Its final weakness, this melancholy shadow of the strength and fury that made me step back from the eager flames of its youth, has turned out to be its greatest strength, a ragged whisper that has the power to change me like no conquering shout could ever do.

I sparked this fire with a match just a few short hours ago, as I stood feeling the chill of the evening woods. It now sparks a fire within me with its final breath, and that fire will burn in me for days, or maybe weeks, until again I stand in the woods, eagerly anticipating another evening chill, waiting to meet my familiar friend again, waiting to have this quiet, intimate sacred dance again, and for my mind to be kindled again.