Friday, October 31, 2008

A man and his feelings.

In the middle of this, I began to feel. Yes, feel. That word that seems attached to women, like ornaments stuck on a Christmas tree. But with men, it was the opposite. Men were tough. Hard. Thick skinned. And more like motor oil, and Evian water, that didn’t mix. It hadn’t really mixed on me either. And while I was bundled and boxed full of them, I never knew it. Never knew it was part of God’s hardwiring in me. And really that I even had them.

I always saw feelings as soft and warm. Feelings were for those who could not handle life, or push through and deal with the circumstances of around them. They felt, because they could not act, or move. They cried, or were sad, because they were weak.

You could feel sitting around coffee, or with friends, which seemed to be what women loved to do. And as a struggling boy trying to make it, I got the sense, to not get too close to that world. Afraid I would get enveloped in it, and never come out a man.

For me, when something started rising up in me, some emotion, undefined, there were always two ways to handle it. Either I ran from them, tried to avoid it, by distracting myself, getting busier, or the other way. Or the other way of trying to prove them wrong. Working more, fighting more, or doing all I could to kill or defeat those giants within me. I faked it, or moved into high gear.

It came out most directly through pornography. I would be sitting on the screen, and something in me, or in God was asking, “what are you looking for?” And while at first, it seemed to obvious. The question always turned back to my heart, and what I was feeling. That I had not asked, never thought to even consider. And the thought came, “what is going on inside?”

I can remember one early evening thumbing through pics, when it hit me what I was doing. The sun was golden orange, and the evening was cool from the window near me. The sunset was just a few hundred yards up the cliff in our backyard, easily discovered and enjoyed.

I sat there, going through screens, only realizing what I wanted, what I was feeling, was my need to enjoy some beauty. Sit for a moment, and be overwhelmed by something bigger than my day today, admiring landscape and form, and having nothing required of me.

I had chosen that through these pictures on the laptop. And yet, it began to emerge just as much was the desire to go outside and take it all in with God. I sat between the two, wondering what to do. I was tired, it would take too much energy to walk up the cliff side. And have to sit, and be still, and rest. I saw that as too much work. This was so much easier. In the weirdest way, they seemed to give my heart the chance to feel. To rest, to admire, to be still, and lose myself for a little while.

Another time it was different, in looking online, and through these pictures, I found myself in a different place. I was not wanting to rest, not wanting to admire. I was angry. Frustrated over the day. Overwhelmed, and ready to take that out on someone or something else. I couldn’t feel it, and in some ways, wanted to transmit it to someone else. Here I was, playing out that anger, and feeling, through the internet again.

And so many times, just lonely. Not feeling that emotion, not realizing what was taking me there, but that I had not opened up much that week. Not with my wife, not with friends, and my whole internal world was trying to find a place to connect again. There it was, the chance, and opportunity.

All of a sudden pornography became less about my lust for women, and more about a quest to feel, and have emotions. It was the place so much of my bundled, and boxed heart took its need to release, and feel, and be alive.

I found God taking me to before the actual sin, and act. When I was tempted, the question would come, what am I wanting right now? What am I feeling? What is going on in my heart? The temptation, was almost the sign something was being triggered in me. I was needing restored. To be loved. To feel the day. To sit still. To hurt, or grieve over something in the days events.

It made sense, why did so many men struggle with feeling, and with their emotions, and their heart, and yet, so many struggle with pornography. It seemed a direct correlation. That something deep in our hearts was repressed, or locked up, or whatever you want to name it. But it desperately was looking to get out, had to find somewhere to go. No matter what the cost.

We were trying to feel. The thing we so desperately wanted to avoid.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

The Land, a moustache, and the GPS lady.

The location for our hunting trip was in Medino Pass near the Sangre de Christo mountains. It was just past Westcliffe, Colorado, a small town for farmers and ranchers. It took us about two hours to get there off I-25, and down the highway 20 miles, that ended with a five mile drive on a washed out, and washboard bumpy dirt road that jagged through some scenic backcountry, and ranches on both sides as made it up in the high elevation of Colorado wilderness.

The Colorado Department of Wildlife had marked it off as Unit 86.

We pulled up to camp passing through mile markers, and marked signs, but once in the land, that all stopped, and faded. The unit, the markers, the mileage, the names, and borders and boundaries. It was just unmarked land, wild and free. Natural wonders of meadows, and aspens, and pines that rolled, and hugged the landscape but with no marking but the places themselves.

I wanted to get the land straight. Get my bearings on it all. I was so easily prone to get lost. My topo map, which I was beginning to be able to read, had elevation gains, roads and trail markers, mileage units, and north-south coordinates which I brought to the men at camp.

In approaching Earl with this desire, he looked at me with a smirk, as his moustache moved a little up and to the left and said, “I’ve made my own map.”

Woody and Richard laughed.

I would find out what he meant by their stories. Descriptions like red gate. Upper Road. The fingers. Baldy. Buckskin. The zoo. Lower Road. And moeller were inserted in their stories as locations for events. These were not on my map. Not in the portable GPS unit. Not known by any hunters. Only known by these men. Like a secret tribal Indian language spoken by these guys.

Richard would say something to Earl commenting about the place where they shot that bull eight years ago, the 5 X 5 near the fingers, down through the meadow on the fence line. Earl would shake his head, and just agree, “that’s right, it was the same year I bought that suburban, 1985.”

I looked at them like aliens. These places were not on my map. And these memories were not within my head.

I was sitting with a map, filled with information and lines, and co-ordinates man had created to rule of and measure things for ease of use, and universality of all so we could speak a similar language, and I had never felt as lost. I had no memory, no experience, nothing to plug this terrain to understand these men. Just a red gate, and a meadow.

I asked Richard where the names came from. He looked at me a bit suspicious, wondering why I was so curious. Why I needed to know. He said he did not know. I wasn’t sure if he was lying or telling me the truth. A few hours before he said to me, “some secrets you don’t get to learn on the first trip.” I took that as my need to be careful on what questions to ask, as a young green horn hunter, but I fired this one away hoping to move into some more answers about this place. I took a risk.

He then paused, and said, “Maybe the cowboys taught us those.” I wasn’t sure who or where the cowboys came from and were. If there were ghosts, or real figures, but I looked at him, not sure what to say. And he seemed find with leaving me with that. Another que to let some of that go.

The thing about these names is that you couldn’t google “red gate” or “the fingers,” and get a nicely printed out map, with time of arrival, listed directions.

It was some place unknown to all. And I believe they wanted it that way. Whether the names either they had made up or been passed down by those they had learned the land from, the cowboys. The men they had been hunting with them, and using them for 25 years. One of those words put them right in that exact place in their head for the story, no map needed. The memories of days of walking the land, and knowing trees, and meadows, and turns in each valley. If I were a guessing man, it appeared the land had made its own markers through by their own memories of them for the last 25 years. They didn’t need the universal units made by scientists and mathematicians.

They had their own. Universal to Richard, Earl, Woody, Mike, and the Colonel. And foreign to hunting tourists like me.

It came up when I was fishing too. Ron would talk about his favorite holes in Eleven Mile Canyon. It wasn’t mile marker 5, it was called the Campbell Hole. Or the Meeker hole. Named after some very personal event, or person that had caught a fish in it, or by some image the area looked like to him. The entire Arkansas was filled with these places, only known by Ron, and his fishing buddy Vern. And whoever he decided to tell the secret too.

It seemed universal for man to name his world. In fact, God called man to rule and subdue, and name the animals at the beginning. He put that hardwired in us. And it wasn’t too long before man was doing just that. Naming and measuring away. We developed systems to count, and we laid out mileage, and borders, and boundaries, then genus and species, GPS coordinates, and before long, we had ruled and explored and named it all. We staked it off, started countries, fought over that land, and
those markers, redrew boundaries to name them and claim them as our own, again.

By the time most of us had come into the world, everything had been explored, and there was a place in the system we had created to rule over. It seemed the only remaining area in my childhood in the backyard of my neighborhood, but it was only two years before that got bulldozed for houses.

There was simply nothing more to discover or name or wonder about. We understood it all, down to the protons and neutrons from which we came. We had named and ruled it all. The world has been mapped out, with some lady now telling me what to do, where to turn, and somehow I just followed. Followed my entire life the names created for me, until I pulled into this long dirt road, and into the area called “the zoo.” I think it was the first time in my life, I was really lost in land. And it felt like one of the most freeing moments of my life.

It is one thing I came to appreciate about the men I was around. They did not abide by these rules, and others methods of measuring and naming. Those got thrown out. They found their own. Recreated them to fit their own needs. And what they saw and experienced. All of the rest of us seemed to be missing out, following some computer chip in a car, or on a map telling us where to go. For convenience sake.

Tuesday, October 28, 2008


I have spent the last year or so, writing a book. I have been adding those different sections on this blog. It has been a great joy to put them on. You can spend hours writing words out to just yourself. It is very lonely, and while rewarding, has little treats after each completed sentence. There is a great satisfaction in the labor itself. But what good is it to make something that you, yourself can only enjoy, and not let others partake in.

I dont know who reads this, but I enjoy the thought someone is, and I take delight in believing that one work, inspires another. To tell my stories for their own sake, is narcissism, but to tell them, to help and serve others stories, is more like art. and while I am probably no great artist, I do enjoy sharing the work.

With that said, I thought it would be helpful to explain that. I am hoping to put many of these essay/blogs into a manuscript do in a few months. And so this has become like my chalkboard, and rough sketch of some of that.

I had been thinking, as most authors do of how do you begin a book? which story tells it all. sums it up. awakens longing, declares the mission? It is the hardest task in the world. and up to this point, I believe that teh intro is not something you pick out, but that it picks you out. In that effort, this kinda came to me tonight in some inspiration.

as we still work on the title, the words that seem true in there would be:

oil, sweat, blood, dirt, dust, tears, and roots. not sure which, not sure which are better, but in that I kinda played with a real short opening...

They say oil does not mix with water. And that blood is red. And dirt from the earth is brown. But when blood dries, it is dark like dirt. And when my tears finally came, it came through oil and things I did not expect find it in, nor were supposed to merge.

I would have never known this. I had just listened to people, and books, and the talk of those around me. Oil, and sweat, and tears, and dirt did not get on me. I was a bit more educated. But when it was all said, and when God was done, they did come, and all bled together in color, mixing like a tray of oil paints into one textured color that I cannot describe by describing the color, but by telling you this story.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Elk camp, video.

We just posted this to our website today from our hunting trip...

A good shot of Earl in the tent, with Dwayne cooking. Then Earl and Woody talking construction.

2nd video is from the first night before our 5 am wake up call for elk. A pep rally you could say, with Dwayne and Earl as our cheerleaders.

Saturday, October 25, 2008

Elk Camp.

Life is ironic, that those who have a lot, often lack a lot, but those who have little, often possess some rich, remarkable, and puzzling things. -- Robert Coles

We pulled up to the elk camp which looked more like a village. A flat meadow of land hollowed out from the many pine trees, that for most weeks of the year, was completely uninhabited. It had become a buzzing whirl of activity and portable buildings constructed by these men. There was a cook tent made up of canvas that was the center for all the food, and stoves, and eating activities. The mess hall. It was similar looking to a circus tent, just smaller.

A pop-up trailer sat near the trees that housed the men to sleep. A bathroom had been setup in the woods with a plastic tarp to the north, the blue plastic blocking our view and the wind. A hole had been dug deep in the ground with a real toilet seat mounted on 2X4’s and some cut wood logs. There was another canvas tent for all the men’s gear and storage, along with two more tents used as they constructed it all.

In the center of it all was the fire pit raised up with rocks, and dirt, and a huge tripod with a round grill that moved up and down for food. The official name for the place we camped was “the zoo.” It was named that by Earl and Richard because of so many hunters being in the one central area. It is not that way anymore. Not these days. This day, we are left to our own. No tents, or hunters, or camps around us. A growing sign that the sport has been losing its men to death, and not picking up any to replace it. I grimace at the thought, but realize for this day, it means better hunting.

When you looked around at all the tents, and vehicles, and objects, it was for good reason.
The men at camp had been doing this for years. The items around camp were proof. The canvas tent was Richard’s which he bought at Cabelas years ago. It was originally a white canvas, but had since become brown with dirt, and smoke with the years of heavy use. The grill over the fire was also a custom piece by Richard. It was metal poles made into a tripod structure over the fire that hung a huge circular grill grate through a metal wire on a pulley system. That too, was made by Richard, along with the aluminum cooler. They had built custom trailers, and stoves too. And most of the gear, as I asked about each piece was about the age of me.

The whole camp was a fixture of their own creativity and use of materials to meet their needs. Down to the toilet seat that was screwed into some wood boards, and propped up by fresh logs they had cut with a hole in the ground. It wasn’t fancy or flashy, just practical and useful. It served its function.

Their gear was so well made, I didn’t know they made the stuff till near the end of the week hunting. No one was bragging about it, or making a big deal of any of it. It just was. And my fascination with the cooler made of aluminum and custom foam pieces and joints, and hinges had Richard looking at me like I was crazy for thinking it was such a big deal. Earl’s pants looked more like a painting than they did jeans. Spills and colors, and oil stains throughout them. They had signs of use, and function. Even the wooden folding tables looked as if they came from the civil war.

I had come from REI, and stores loaded with gear advertising about the newest, most improved, and added features to sell the next year’s gadget and clothes. Flashy signs, and stickers promising lighter, harder, you name it. These items had none of that. No logo. No design and style in them. They just worked. And served their use and came with character. Similar to the men who had made and worn them.

Everytime I walked into the brown speckled tent that was the mess hall, I found myself entering into something much larger than myself, and part of this hunting group that had been going on as long as I had been born. There was something comforting in that, it didn’t start with me, and wasn’t going to end with me either, there was tradition and rituals that continued on—passed down. The men, and the stories they had. I had joined in for a moments time. It was this moment of wondering if I was going to be the next generation to uphold the place. If I was going to someday inherit these old pieces of gear, and stoves, along with the younger men I was with.

There was no talk of that. It was my first trip. I was getting to eager as I thought about it.
You couldn’t get this feeling of the camp at Starbucks. It was old and aged, weathered. And while I thought I liked the new and flashy, the dust and dirt was starting to get inside me. I was enjoying breathing it in, and getting it on me.

I don’t know when it happened, but Richard seemed to have his eye on me. And every chance he could, he would make a little joke, or tease. I soon became his “little buddy.” Whether he was working in the kitchen, or gutting an elk, he would call to me, “Hey, little buddy, take this to the trash, or so on.” At one instant, it felt a bit shameful, or discouraging. They guys would laugh each time. But it wasn’t the name that I wanted to be called. But you could see in his eyes, there was a respect, and almost desire to engage with me when he said. It wasn’t in anger or shame, but in fun and interest. Even at one point when I was going to be in a section of the woods on my own, he wanted to make sure I was going to be safe.

I began to play into it, and fire back some comments back.

This was a way of showing affection, without saying it. While my generation was great at expressing themselves and sharing their feelings, I knew these men did not grow up in a place, or time as this. But while I would have written them off years ago for not being able to relate like this, I began to see what was happening between Richard, Woody, and Earl was just that. Love.

It took on a different form and expression, but the exchange was just that. And the teasing was
Richard’s way of drawing near to me.

While I would tease Richard of his old days of dragging whole elk out of the woods, he would fire right back. On, and on we would go.

It happened in many of the places I was in. Men loved this sport. Whether it was at work, or in the woods, men were constantly ragging, and picking.

It would be pretty easy to dismiss this stuff as unspiritual. Foolish talk. But the story of most young guys is they have never been around men at all, or related, or been in the midst of a teasing match. I felt there was something much deeper going on, when we would fire back at each other. Like elk rubbing antlers testing each other, determining the stronger elk. A young buck taking on a bigger one. I felt the feeling of rubbing against masculinity, that was old, and weathered, and as I picked, I found him rubbing back. Like a mutual experience between the two of us. Something felt right in the world as it happened.

I found that you could not expose this. I could never say Richard, do you like me? Or even think of putting the words to it. It seemed best, left as it was, and a sort of code.

Thursday, October 16, 2008

The big rack. And Goliath.

When you hang around outdoorsmen, and really men, you inevitably get into stories, and sizes of things. Half of it is catching or killing the things, the other part is telling the stories about where you were, and bragging about doing it. Actually, more like 90% of it. You experience it once, and tell it maybe 10 or 25 times, or show it through pictures, often telling the stories to the same people.

Walk into any outdoors store, and you will find pictures plastered on the walls of deer, elk, bears, and fish with a someone next to it in camo, or gear. Thousands of pics. A man and his kill. People come in to put their picture up and show the world. I always thought that as so foolish. So redneck, and ridiculous. Who would want to do that? Why?

As I hung out with Earl and Ron and the other men, I was starting to notice that I was hearing some of the same stories from them. At first they all run together, but I was starting to hear the same ones, and pick them out. At first it seemed so unusual. “Earl, I heard that story already!” I would want to blurt out. But I began to see it was part of this world, and men. There was a chance to go back, relive and talk about the time like you were there again. Feel that moment, and look at each other with smiles of joy. Let everyone take it in, and oh and awe.

You would hear, “I caught four fourteen inch brookies.” Hands would go wider than fourteen inches, and inevitably the stories, and the hands would keep getting stretched out a few inches farther each time the day went on, and the story was told. The 4 would turn to 6 by the end of the day, and grow in size too. I can remember one day at Rosemont, the fishing was hot. I had about 12 trout in the morning time while we were there, feeling proud. I watched from the other side of the lake bank, while Ron, my fishing guru, pulled in what seemed about the same amount.

I thought I was tracking with him. As we gathered for lunch, his number was 30. And when I
pressed him, he admitted he didn’t actually keep count.

The numbers and size had some important part of why we had come out there. Although I could not understand it. Meanwhile the stories once told a few times, became legends, and somehow that was ok, all part of taking part in the moment. A 6 point elk, after a few years became 8 points. A 250 yard shot across the field, becomes a 350 yard shot across a valley in the snow.

And while many of the people were actually at the place, and knew some of it was a bit off, they never said anything. It was just part of what you did, and how you told the stories.

I found it so interesting that a man had the need to measure things. It was not enough to hunt and stalk a bull, the next question is how big? What did it weigh? How big were its antlers? How many points? All things that mattered in telling the story, and helping people fill all the details in.

Look at the story of Goliath. You know a man was retelling it.

“He was over nine feet tall… wore a coat of scale armor of bronze weighing five thousand shekel (125 lbs.)…his spear shaft was like a weaver’s rod, and its iron point weighed six hundred shekels (15 lbs.)”

Now, I am not saying he was lying about it or stretching the truth, but his height is debated amongst different texts that have him from 6’7” to 9’6” tall. Again, whatever it was, you can bet as the story was told, he got bigger. I understood why the text was confusing. Whatever was true, man wanted to make him bigger. And score him on a Boone and Crockett scale.

The author, Samuel made sure to tell us the weight, and size of everything. It seems even then, we understood the importance of those things. So it should not surprise you that find most men on the river, and they have a scale, and a measuring tape. And there is an official club that does all official scoring charts and records for animals.

Here is what you measure…

· Number of points of each antler.
· Tip to tip spread
· Greatest spread
· Inside spread of wide beams.
· Total length of abnormal points
· Length of each normal points on each side

I thought it was so foolish. I would never be that kind of guy. And then I started becoming it. I was fishing. And at first I was getting excited to catch a fish. Then I wanted more, and bigger.

And before long, I was thinking more about the story, and bragging than in the fishing. I was dreaming about the big elk, and the picture. I found out how to make the fish bigger in the picture. Extend the arms, and push the fish into the camera, pulling you in the background. I took pictures like this, putting them on facebook for all to see.

A friend, Dave, who owned the local fly shop in Colorado Springs explained it this way…

When folks begin to fish all they can think about is catching that first fish.
Then as soon as they catch that first fish they have to catch another...
Then it becomes about "how many" fish and I caught 20 or 40 or 80 fish!
Then it becomes about "how big" and catching that +20 inch fish, then the +25 then the +30....
Then it becomes about "the exotic" either fishing in some exotic place or catching something unique.
Then there seems to be a shift and it becomes more about the fishing and less about the fish... just getting out and catching "a fish" becomes the only goal just to prove that you still have what it takes.
The final stage has very little to do about the fish other than they are there. Catching is just a bonus. Fishing becomes larger that any fish and more that any quantity. Being out with the smells, sights, and sounds is all that becomes important...A time to renew the soul and hear Gods voice.

It seemed there was a time to be part of that. To get caught up in size, and amount. It was part of the sport. And a natural cycle. I found myself knowing not to do it, but secretly trying to catch more fish than Timm, or Cory. Even a bigger one.

What I realized is not that I was doing it, but to let the cycles come, and go. There was a time to go for a large fish, but there was time to just enjoy the river, and the beauty, and to sit and rest, and take it all in with God. I realized the problem was when people didn’t move out of these phases. Got stuck in one of them. The old man who keeps plastering trophy animals on his walls, wanting more and more, bigger and bigger. There was something else going on with the guy.

Something deeper than I could understand.

I was starting to see that it was just about the place, and the people you are with while doing it. It seemed another one of those mysteries no one knew, because you had to go through them all first. The reason people thought, “oh you think that is what makes you a man?” Is because they hadn’t gotten past the phases. In their mind, they were stuck on the numbers or size, thinking that is what it was about. It seemed that was the great prize at the end of all of it. As Dave wrote, “A time to renew the soul and hear Gods voice.”

You seemed to discover what it was about all that time. But you couldn’t get there until you went through it all. And while all this made sense to me in my head, I was ready to go out and kill the largest biggest bull a man could find in Westcliffe. And take pictures, tell the story a thousand times, and put the picture at the hunting store and on my facebook.

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Changing my oil

Photo taken by Paul

Watching Earl teach us how to change the oil, I decided that I would give it a try. My try came today. I had the day off.

I decided that instead of paying someone to change the oil, I would do it. Earl had taken me through the whole thing at Cory’s house. I understood how to unscrew the oil screw, drain, oil filter, and done. 15 Minutes at Jiffy Lube, or 15 minutes at home, and more bucks in your pocket. I decided to check off one of the things I had never done before, change the oil.

I had spent the last some odd years having someone else do it for me. The 15-minute oil change.

It looked like this…

1 minute – Drive into the hanger with a guy in a blue jumpsuit waving me in like a Boeing 737. Get out. Give that guy my keys, tell him my phone number.

2 minute-13 minute – Walk over to the room. Drink some cheap coffee from a tiny cup, sit in a metal chair from the 80’s, and read a magazine called Motor Trend from the 90’s. Look up, with my name being called. Agree to all those add ons. Sit back down.

14- Give a guy my credit card. Walk out to my car.

15 – Driving away…

Here is how it looked this time in my garage…

1 minute – Put the jack under my car. Begin to jack.

3 minute – Realize I am jacking up the wrong place, there is a dent forming.

5 Minute – Unjack it. Jack back where the frame is, put the jackstand under it, do it on the other side, while feeling good because I learned my lesson on the other side. Got this one right on the first try.

9 Minute – Get under the hood, realize I wasn’t sure if I had put the parking break on, Check it. Few, I did. Feeling even more like a mechanic.

11 minute – Go under car, laying there in search of the oil screw. I realize I could be a pancake, hoping my jackstands hold. I unscrew the oil screw, the oil starts draining like Niagara in black gold. I rush to put the oil pan under it. My screw is dripping in my hand. I forget my towel, so put the screw in my hand and get dirty. And go find a towel.

13 Minute – Wait for the oil to drain.

19 Minute – Try and unscrew the oil filter. Not going. Call Cory, he says I am doing it right. Go back under. Can’t get the darn thing off. I start whacking the plastic wrench puller, whack it a bit more, cuss, and then realize I need a different tool

29 Minute – Drive down the road to Hardware store. Find a metal one. Wait, there are three sizes on these things. I forgot to bring the size filter, so I just guess it might be the middle wrench, hoping its right.

59 Minute – Get back to my house, check the filter, guessed right. Celebrate a second. Go under the car, start pulling with my new tool. I pull. And pull. And its not moving. I look up, and realize the circle has become a square. I yank harder, and realize my last pull I punctured a hole in the oil filter. Oil is spilling out. Its getting all over. I rush to put the oil catcher pan under. Wipe myself of, and go back from round eight and nine of the pulling. Still wondering if I am screw it off in the right direction.

67 Minute – The round can, which turned into a square can, now looks like a carved out pumpkin, dented. I yank like it’s my birthday, and it finally begins to slide. I yank more. Celebrate more. Start taking it off. Feeling again like a mechanic.

76 Minute – Put on the new oil filter, screw the plug back in. I get out my oil. Unscrew the cap that says 5W-30. I bought 10W-30. I say screw it, it’s going in. I am not going back to the store. Its only 5 numbers off. Oil is oil, right? Sure. I fill it up, test the line. I am almost done. Feeling like Dale Earnhardt mechanics.

82 Minute – Take the jack to the frame, remove both jackstands, drop the hood. Put up my jackstands, left over oil in a corner, and walk in my house so proud.

89 Minute – Realize I never pulled out the pan or tools under the car, go back outside remove them from underneath. Not sure what to do with the oil, so I shove the oil somewhere I can’t see it. Put the tools away. I just changed the oil. And I swear to you, I feel like I just won the lottery or something.

Monday, October 13, 2008

Memories of the past.

A friend sent me an email last week. His grandfather had passed a few weeks ago, and received this letter from one of his grandfathers hunting buddies. I am always trying to understand this mystery of why men hunt, and what I am drawn to in it. When you say you hunt, there are many different reactions that come up. and for many good reasons, and I have considered them good reason to search my own soul in trying to attempt to understand it, and what is in the dang thing.

This was one of those emails that reminded me of the complexities, and riches that are found there, and a bit of an inside way. I was allowed to share this with his permission...
> I was saddened to learn of your father's passing and I
> have been remiss in dropping you a line. I know from the
> tone of xxxx's email, forwarded to me by Jeff, in
> July, that your dad's passing was hard for him. I'm
> sure that is true for the whole family. That's the way
> it is in a close family, and the way it should be.
> Your Dad was certainly special to lots of people. He
> became one of my favorite people to see at camp. His
> occasionally gruff exterior was a bit intimidating to an
> unsure teenager introducing himself to a roomful of seasoned
> camp-goers. Once the ice was broken, however, it was hard
> not to like a man whose laugh was even louder and more
> genuine than his occasional bark. I was surprised to walk
> into deer camp about 10 years ago and receive a big hug from
> your dad. I appreciated that hug each and every hunting
> season I saw him after that.
> Of course, your dad's pride in you and the rest of the
> family was evident in just about every conversation. The
> Tibbit family is a smart, accomplished, bunch and he never
> missed a chance to talk about his sons and grandsons and all
> that they were up to. I, and others, really appreciated
> your efforts to get your dad to camp over the last several
> years.
> Your dad also was one of the last to carry the torch for
> many members of "the greatest generation" who have
> shared the Narrows for so many years. I wish we had more of
> their stories on paper and their escapades in pictures.
> One thing hunting in the Narrows helps us appreciate is the
> constant change around as well as the sacred, and fleeting
> nature of life here on earth. Your dad certainly had a
> great 88 years. If we can all carry our deer rifles until
> we're 84 and then enjoy a handful more seasons in a
> rocking chair, we'll have done alright. He's
> probably sitting under a tree right now with Bud Fore,
> spooking the game as they talk and laugh.

Friday, October 10, 2008


I began to ask myself, could I really kill an animal? Could I spill blood? It had not really run across my mind, till I had an elk within my scope and a trigger pull away of completing the job. The light was too low, and the elk buried within to many aspen trees, so I could not get a good shot at it. But it left me asking, could I do it? Should I do it?

I was to join the company of men as Al Capone, Jimmy Hoffa, and Charles Manson. A killer. Yes, it was an animal, but it was pre-meditated, and it was a life, and a bullet that I had aimed to take it. It was one thing to watch a friend, but to be the murderer, it brought up many more questions. Spiritual ones.

I was choosing to put something to death. A living creature was about to be destroyed because of my decision. While there was a nostalgia in much of hunting, this was different. It brought a soberness. This wasn’t a video game, or paintball. I could not change my mind, once I had taken the shot. It was a permanent decision. There were real consequences. I found myself contemplating the question, could I kill something that I have grown to see as strong, and beautiful, and the reason I had found so many thing in the wilderness, with men, and God. I was about to kill the thing that had led me here.

Would I be able to take a life?

Wednesday, October 08, 2008

Symbols of Masculinity.

I found myself deep in a jungle of some very masculine things. There was no war paint, or deep drum tribal dances happening, but it was getting pretty close. The tools, weapons, and camo in my garage was proof I was either about to start my own cult compound with some friends, or I was moving into some new and unusual territory for me that I still was confused about.

My emblems of my past were from a pretty boy lifestyle of occasional pink ties, and pink polo shirts with hair in my gel, and occasionally tanning. Looking around, it was very obvious that I had run clear in the other direction to more mountain man apparel with camo and wal-mart button up flannel shirts.

I could see my friends of old, from down south, laughing at me clad in this gear. I looked like David in Saul’s armor. And I felt like a Halloween costume on a grown man. There was something that felt so unnatural about it. It took me to thoughts of my high school friend, Sam Hotchkiss, grinning and blurting out, “Hood, what the heck are you doing!”

Even one of my buddies who learned I was hunting said, “what’s next, Graham (the most masculine dude in our fraternity) wearing pink?” It felt that extreme. And it was. I had pegged the needle to the other side. But whatever was going on, it was much deeper than a reaction, and the gear and clothes themselves. I felt that shifting deep in me. There was something I was discovering that I still had few real answers for, but it was real. As odd as it sounded, it was very spiritual.

I could not deny there was a process God had me on. God was in this. These objects representing deeply masculine and spiritual symbols that I had never found on my own, or as a growing boy.
You see, I was a late blooming teenager, which meant while most guys were hitting puberty and finding their voice, and shaving—I was handed the card that said, “not yet.” I had to wait it out, and my turn in the hormone line. I hated that. I wanted God to give me a zap of a chiseled face, with stubble to fill me in, and get me up to speed with the rest of the crowd.

The body was a symbol for something. I knew it instinctively—although not exactly what. God had designed it that way. A friend, Sam Jolman, says that the changing of our bodies during adolescence is God’s natural sign and announcement to the world, and our parents, and ourselves, that we are becoming a man. God made those as representations of something deep happening in our heart. We are changing in that time. Our voice, our hair, our bodies. We are not a boy anymore. The symbolism of this was very much God’s plan and process.

But those symbols went beyond our bodies. The next object of my desire to put around me was cigarettes, beer, and girls. The trinity of male bravado for a high school guy. The world’s form of initiation. They were really the only symbols of manhood, I saw at the time. There was certainly something about holding any of those in your hands, that brought a feeling, and sense of identity as a man.

When I turned 16, although my body was still holding out, I was given a car. And I immediately started putting bass subwoofer speakers in the back. As a teenager with a vehicle, and a small lawn mowing business, I poured it all into my system. 10 inch bass speakers, became 12 inch, then eventually 18 inch that filled up the entire back. It was loud enough to annoy parents. And turn most people’s heads. I tested the sound pressure at a shop to be as loud as a jet engine. It could be heard a good ½ mile down the road when on full volume, with amps burning juice. The bass was so deep and strong, it could shake screws lose from my vehicle.

Richard Rohr says that when a man does not feel power internally, does not carry it in him, and on him, then he begins to attach to things that have it. External things. You name it. A gun. A sport. Money. A vehicle. Success. A girl. Even a country. We look for things that contain power, because we do not feel that ourselves. We find the next best thing, and we cling to it.
It happens in sports all the time. I saw it last week at an NFL football game. My father and I sat in the crowd of Tennessee Titans while most fans had on their favorite players jersey. Screaming and shouting, not like they were just spectators, but as the players themselves. It was the same idea. The association of the strength. I am this player. Even with his short figure, pot belly stuck to high heaven, and a smell of cigarette and cheap beer. Do not tell him that, for these next few hours, he is Vince Young.
As a boy, I was looking for something deep, and male, and loud to attach myself to because I did not feel that inside of me. I knew about Jesus, and the Lord, but not in a way that I saw spoke to these deep places of my heart to be affirmed as a man. I did not see him as offering that to me. Salvation, yes. Male affirmation, not really.

I wanted, in some symbolicy and metaphorical way to feel the depth of that bass inside me, because I knew it was not there. The bass lasted a year, along with working out, playing football, and so many other things that came and went in these attempts to possess the masculine inside me. Then came college which promised the fraternity, a community of men, and initiation and brotherhood. Even the parties and beer had this sense I would find myself through it. It was symbolic of something much deeper going on inside my heart. I just had no idea at the time. Again, I thought I just liked that stuff.

It seemed these symbols were everywhere. Every man was chasing down some form of this. Money or success, or in sports. Just walking down the magazine rack. There is the gear section. Guitar. Technology. Fishing. Cars. Outdoors. Motorcycles. Model trains. Hunting. Wrestling. Cigars.

They were all saying the same thing… this is the way. These are the things that usher you into manhood.

It seemed the easy thing to do is write them off as just idols, and false and foolish forms of true strength in God. At times they were such elevated laughable stereotypes of masculinity. Steroided out forms of manhood. But there was something much more universal going on, I could not write off, nor escape in my own heart. If you looked at my garage, or over my life, I secretly wanted these masculine things.

I was your good suburban Christian guy, who grew up around malls, and strip malls. I was more domesticated, than rugged. Never spent much time in the woods, or had any desire to at the time. Never saw an interest in hunting.

But like those things as a boy, there was something deeply connected to my heart, the longing, and searching to feel and experience that strength, which these objects and men were representing. The symbols telling me something deep about all of our own hearts, and the design God made in us.

For as much as there were these masculine objects out there, there was much of the opposite. Symbols of the feminine. Associations of colors like pink, and fusia blue, or tight jeans, and rolled up jeans, perfumes, and gentleness, and love. They were generalized stereotypes, yes. But it seemed some men had been more representing those symbols, than the others.

A friend in Nebraska was telling me a story of how an old classmate he met had completely changed. He used to be the toughest guy in school, even picking on people in his grade for looking feminine. He was now wearing tight jeans, designer shirts, and people were wondering if he was gay? What had happened to the guy?

It seemed that just as we wore things to represent what we wanted to be seen as, how we want people to think of us, we also wore things that represented our shame, and insecurities. Denying
the evidence of any of it. There was the other side of masculinity.

I don’t know that guy, but he was a walking billboard with a sign that said “I am an un-initiated boy. I don’t feel masculine.” It was a denial of all male symbols, and although he was trying to act as if it didn’t matter, he was almost proving there was a case for something deeper, by how he went to the extreme to do it.

In all of them we were “wearing our hearts on our sleeves,” so to speak. Regardless of the true answer to that friend, he is telling the world how he feels about himself. Letting us know by his clothes. And his choice was rejecting some sense of masculine in him. He is searching. But not through finding a male identity. Instead of putting in on, he is trying to run from it.

I attended a men’s conference a few years back with a worship leader who wore a black shirt, with pink letters. He also had blond spiky hair with a few streaks in them. At some degree, it was no big deal, just a shirt, just some funky hair. No swat. But I was thinking, here we are in a room of men, and that was quite a selection of a shirt to pick. I wondered what it symbolized, what he was trying to say through it. As he sang and played worship for the room full of men, he seemed hesitant leading us. Something in him that felt afraid, and unqualified.

As I watched, I thought about all those pink and funky color shirts and designer things I wore, and got away with saying, “real men feel comfortable in pink. Or dressing styling, or what not” And maybe that was true, but much of my colors were telling the world was how I saw myself, and how I was running from my masculinity.

“Don’t take me to seriously.”

“Please just see me as a pretty boy, but don’t expect me to fulfill a real mans role.”

“Don’t expect to find strength here.”

I wore the question of my masculinity to the world, just as I felt the internal conflict inside. My outside, matched the world inside in my heart. I wore what I felt to be true. It was code, an outward sign, and symbol. And yet, somehow I was so clueless to it all. Never thinking twice about it. Still denying that was the truth of these colors, and things I associated myself with.

I tried the male things, and they just never seemed to fit me as a boy. They did not work. I was not athletic enough. Not confident enough. Not ultra macho enough. So I just stopped trying. And started moving to the places, and around the people where I did not have to contend with the feelings of insecurity. I almost denied the need all together, and assumed it was not there. Slowly finding myself in clothing stores like Gap, and Banana Republic. Heading to get my hair cut at a salon with a stylist. Putting in gel. Tanning my body. I was becoming a metrosexual man, not out of design, but I had just kinda ran out of options. None seemed to fit.

I think that is why stepping back into the symbols was such a good, and hard thing. I was reclaiming something I never believed was true of me. I was trying again, and wondering if they actually might be me.

Friday, October 03, 2008

Our dog.

I was just enjoying a moments rest, when our dog, Tacoma came over to me. I stood there, as he put his legs around me. He seems not able to sit near you without his paws trying to wrap themselves around you. He has to touch you. I thought... isn't that just like God. Wanting to grab me, for a moment.

Then he started humping me.

I am not sure what to do with that. Or how to relate that one to God.

It is, what it is.

Tears & Tools.

A man in Denver called me one day, to ask if I needed some extra work. His bike shop was going through a re-model, and they needed some hands to help finish the displays. He asked if I could come up with a buddy, and install the wall units for their products to hang. It was going to be a two day job.

I called my good friend, Cory, and went up the next day.

Gil explained how our job was cutting the metal sleeves to fit into the wall units for all the products to hang. We were going to take 8’ X 4’ sheets of MDF, cut it to size for the wall, and then hand saw each individual metal sleeve to fit the unit. And slide them in the long narrow slots.

He took us to the back to give us a workstation. It was the bike repair shop.

The place was immaculate, like the garage I had always wanted, every type of tool hanging off pegboards, numbered coded, organized, and neatly put into its place. It was my grandfathers workshop upgraded into the 21st century. All the men gathered around their workstations. The shop was buzzing. It was a place where things were happening. There was action, and movement. Guys talking, joking, and laughing while they were repairing spokes, re-doing chains, replacing front shocks, and building all types of bikes.

There were probably around 8 guys working on bikes, all around us. Gil grabbed the tools we needed from the bench, a (type) saw, and a few files to wear down the rough cut metal. We went to work, moving back and forth from the back, to the front, putting up pieces, and going back to do the next.

The guys mainly ignored us, and we ignored them, even though we stood right in the middle of their area. As the day dragged on, and our metal screeched, drowning out their conversations, you could feel them being upset we were in their space, this office of theirs we had come into. But their boss had put us in there, and said we would be fine. So we just ignored it.

I had spent the morning measuring, sawing, filing, and then heading out from the repair shop into the retail store, to put in a few slots, then head back to the repair shop, to do it all over again. Replacing one metal piece after another. And for the most part, I was doing ok. Cutting, measuring, sawing, sanding, and filing.

But as I went back into the shop near the end of the day, I noticed the file was missing. I looked around the bench, but it was nowhere, as if it had just disappeared. I worked awhile, cutting the pieces, but not finding the file to use for it. Where did it go? It was gone. Did I lose it? Did someone take it? I asked Gil for another one, still confused on what happened.

A minute later, one of the men came around the corner and talking on his way out the door. “That was a new file you were using. We replaced the old because people were using it like you.”
He never stopped to talk, walking around the corner, and out of the shop. The place fell silent. And I just stood there. Frozen. Looking at him, and then burying myself back at the bench. Not sure what to do with his words.

Cory came back into the shop as I stood there. He was trying to get at what was going on, why I was acting so strange. The whole shop just heard me. I didn’t even know what to say to Cory. He just looked at me confused.

I pretended I was fine. Blew the whole thing off, and kept working with the tools that I had. I went out to Gil, who brought another file over a bit later to use. I rubbed the file with my hand, trying to figure out which was to use it. I didn’t want them to see me doing it. I felt so foolish. I didn’t know how to use a file. Was it away from my body, towards me? I grabbed Cory, and asked. I felt so stupid. I am 26 year old who doesn’t know how to use a file.

After a few minutes, anger rose up. I was so ticked. So mad at this guy. The nerve of him for coming in and doing that to me. Walking off, and doing it in front of all these men.

I wanted to kick his teeth in. I thought to myself, these are 40 year old men standing around a bike shop. What do they know? There are only a bunch of 40 year old boys, playing with bikes anyways. We drove back from the job, and I just fumed, with a sense of anger, and part grief, and confusion of what it was all about, and why something like this even happened.

But that evening, I had some time on my own. Jayne was working, so I went to a park nearby, and started climbing some rocks and made it on an overlook to see part of the city. I sat there with my journal. Finally able to sit with what had really happened to me. I sat there, trying to be with God and understand what was happening, why did I feel so foolish, so mad and angry?

What was so deep about this God?

Then it came…

“You were in a world of men, working with tools, and you didn’t know what you were doing.”

I sat there. Not sure if that was God, or me saying it. But bam. It was true, wherever it came from.

I thought about it a bit. It hit something so deep.

It was my worst fear. Being in a world of men, tools in my hand, and not knowing what to do. And not only that, but instead of someone coming over to teach me, the tools will be taken from me.

“I am on my own. It is up to me to figure it out.”

Then it came. Like a great damn blocked for years, holding a reservoir of years of water. I am not trying to do this, not wanting them. But they are coming. My damn somehow collapsing.
I don’t feel anger. I feel, sad. It is all up to me. Always up to me.
If I was honest, It is how I had got by all my life. Learning on my own. Picking up things, doing my best to figure it out. The self-made man. I picked things up. Asked about things in private. Searched things online, or by just picking it up by doing it, and on my own.

It’s what I felt. Loneliness. Feeling like a boy. Shame for not knowing what to do. Sitting there on the rock. Me and God. It hurt so much to say that. It was true. My deepest fear was what happened. “I am in a world of men, and I don’t know what I am doing.” And as opposed to a man coming over to help me, I will be called out. Exposed in a group of men. And not taught how to use them, but the tools would be taken from me. “I am an orphan without a father to guide me.”

It was probably the youngest and rawest I had felt since moving to Colorado. I sat on the rock, and cried.

I asked God, in that desperate place, in that place of tears, that felt to true to where he was
leading me. TO feel and grieve this place, and not be ok with it any longer. I said the words, I had wanted to say, but felt so much shame to ever give to a man, or even God. I asked, “Would you teach me. Don’t leave me in this place.”

As I woke up in the morning to head back, there was a sense of peace. As if the tears offered me a place of rest, and my prayer to God, a relief that I was not looking for myself to do it. I had asked someone else to do the thing I had always done on my own. The pressure almost off. I was not angry, not ready to rip this dudes head off. It was unusual. Not my angry self.

As we drove, and I talked to Cory, I felt like I was supposed to talk to this guy. It was the thing I was so afraid to do, so ashamed all of my life. Approach this man who shamed me? And not only that, I felt like I was supposed to ask him to help me. It was crazy, I couldn’t believe it. But by the empty hole I felt in my gut from the thought of doing it, I knew that God probably was in it.
It felt like the greatest exposure of my life. To tell this man, I don’t know what I am doing. I need help. Gosh, how I hated those words. I need help. I need. My whole life was set up to stay far from that.

As we went back to work, I saw the guy walk in. My body sank. As my heart raced with emotion. Everything rising up, so much fear, and hesitation. I was starting to think, its not that big a deal. Just leave it alone. Do not worry about it.

But I knew what I was supposed to do.

I walked by his station. And introduced myself shaking a bit. I told him I was sorry for messing up the file, and thanks for pointing that mistake in me out. I told him, “Ya know, I really don’t know that much about tools, and I would love if you see me today doing something wrong to come over, and show me what to do. Come by, and just given me a few instructions.”

He looked at me. Almost shocked, as much as I was shocked that I was saying it. We just starred at each other. Then he took out his hand, shook mine, and told me his name. I didn’t know how to continue this conversation, I was out of breathe, and empty, and so I bolted about as fast as he did the day previous, over to my work station, to start cutting metal.

Within five minutes, as I sat cutting the pipe, he came over. Approaching me with a saw in his hand.

“I saw you working on that metal. I think this saw with the smaller blades might cut better.”

I tell you, it was the most awkward moment of my life. I was receiving what I had asked for, both God, and this man, and it just felt so weird, so unusual, so uncomfortable to receive it. I looked at him, and I wasn’t sure what was just happening, it was so awkward to feel, and to think, I had asked for this, and here he was showing me. It was the greatest and most awkward experience of my life. I took the saw, maybe thanked him, and realized this was probably the first moment in my life where I had asked for what I needed. And not only that, but God was providing it.

Wednesday, October 01, 2008

Hunting in Starbucks

I had just spent the weekend with guys in a trailer that most people who call trailers a home, would not find as an acceptable place to put their bodies in, much less eat and lay their head for the night. I spent the evenings on the deck, and ate Jeremy’s wild turkey, and venison, with potatoes and onion as a side for every meal that somehow just mixed into a goulash. I listened to Charley Daniels, David Allen Coe, and Hank Williams Jr., while trying my best at talking about UT Football (which ended when the guys giving me a quiz to name as many players as I could on the team), then came trucks, and the hunting and spray on deer pee.

I left the woods, smelling of it, and feeling a bit different. I know it hadn’t made me a man, but I can’t tell you I didn’t feel a little more coming out. My first stop was a Starbucks in Franklin. The same Starbucks that Nicole Kidman and Keith Urban frequent, along with many very trendy, and wealthy people of the area. I wanted to write about my experience, and journal about what happened. It was a weird place to immediately head towards, but I think my life and experiences brought me to a coffee shop as the first place to go. Like I was on auto-pilot.

It was weird to immediately find myself there, after what I had just gone through. I felt like a caveman emerging from a thousand year sleep. I looked around at the people, and little coffees and small tables, and nice light fixtures, and perfumes, and cute smiles of people, it just felt, well—weird.

I can promise you, it was not where the other guys were headed, but in some ways, Starbucks, and Panera Bread had been my home—my hunting cabin for many years. Heck, I had met my wife at one in Colorado a few years back. As I sat there over my journal, everything looked different in the place. I wondered for the first time if I really belonged there. If this was really me.

There was a guy next to me, a few years older than me, dressed nicely with three women around him. They sat there talking about work, and just to and fro, carelessly wandering in conversation like the wind and the coming sea tide. I wanted to journal, but I sat and listened.

Something raging inside of me at the guy. I glanced over at him, with his legs folder over. He spoke to the ladies so well, relating to them, it had me so confused.

I was mad, because in some ways maybe even 72 hours ago, I was that guy, and pretty happy with it.

But what I wanted to do next was walk over to the table, pry his legs apart with the butt of a rifle, slam him around a bit, pour out the coffee on his face, tell him he’s a man, dang it.
I wanted to throw his $5 blueberry non-fat muffin across the table and replace it with some of Jeremy’s deer jerky. Give him a pair of camo pants to replace those designer jeans, then hand the rifle to him, and give him directions to the trailer for a few nights hunting at the trailer. Tell the ladies to go find another woman to talk to. This guy, assuming there is a penis down there, well, he is going to become a man.

But as I sat there plotting, then, I started thinking about some of the guys I had been hunting with. I don’t think they would have enjoyed spending an hour over a mocha cup a joe, with a round table too small to fit anything more than a purse, or a few drinks on to chat. I don’t know if most of them knew any drink outside coffee dark. And I wasn’t sure if they could have held such a captive conversation with women talking about the lighter things of life, laughing and relating so well.

It seemed men had become polarized.

We needed to go to the place we hadn’t received, and ask God to lead us, and put some things inside of us we would not have had otherwise. I wasn’t sure where I was lining up, but I think it was the first time I saw that hunting was not going to make me a man by itself, any more than sitting at Starbucks and talking about my feelings. It seemed somewhere between the two.

By The Sweat of Thy Brow

One of the things my wealth has robbed from you and the entire family is the privilege and satisfaction that comes from doing an honest day’s work.” – Ultimate Gift

I was visiting Jayne’s family on the Pennsylvania/ Ohio border for Christmas. We had spent a few days all huddled together, and I needed to get out, and breathe from the busyness of all the activities.

I did not know it at the time, when I met my wife in a Starbucks in Colorado, but I was born just a few miles down the road, along with my entire Hood family. We had left when I was too early to even remember the place, as my father had greater opportunities down south. We had fled the north, like an exodus of sorts, leaving much of the great north to abandoned factories and operations.

I was driving on the Interstate through Youngstown, on my way to the gravesite of many of my
relatives at an old Methodist church in Ohltown that I had visited as a kid. With so much stirring in me, I wanted to go back to these roots, and being the reflecting and writer type, I thought it would be do good for my soul, and where God was leading me.
I was passing through the city of Youngstown, on my way to the grave, when I saw a sign.

Labor Museum.
Next exit.

Ok, not exactly Disneyworld, but it had my curiosity. A museum about work? I wondered if this was some sign from God, or at least I had hoped. Maybe an invitation into all of this. Ohio and my past, my grandfather, and great-grandfather had grown up, worked, and raised their families here. The gravesite I was headed towards contained a whole bunch of the Hood clan, maybe 15 or so gravesites with their name on it.

I think when we had left their as a boy, and moved to a larger city, and more influence, and affluence, in some ways, so did my appreciation or understanding of my place, and history, and roots. Like so many of our generation moving to jobs, away from family, and community, for greater opportunities, something there went missing in me. A part of me, and where I came from, that I did not know the history of. It seemed part of this journey of finding myself, was actually coming back to where I was born, and where my family had began. This was some way of moving back in that direction. God leading me into it, I think.

I got off the exit, and found my way to this rather new building, compared to the rest of the city covered in old steel, and rust. I went inside. It was a weekday, and the place was dead. I paid my entry fee, and soon found myself alone in the massive building. Not a soul in the museum but me. It felt haunting, but almost appropriate. I bought my ticket, and soon passed under the large display from which the whole museum took its inspiration.

“By the sweat of thy brow.”

The words were more symbolic, that I knew at the time. Almost a baptismal moment. I walked under it, straight into the stories of my past, and into a world I did not know or was to ever appreciate till I would leave.

It was personal because the roots of this work, and steel ran deep for America, and my own blood. My family had put their own sweat into steel mills, and the lumber industry just a few generations before me, right here in Ohio. He had told me these stories, and pushing me to work forty hours a week over the summer. Telling me of how when he was a kid, what he went through. This was like the places he worked. I was somehow connected to this foreign place, even though I avoided those work weeks, and those jobs. This was my heritage, I had been born just a few miles down the road.

The mid-size town of Youngstown had boomed in its day because of this industry. Home of many of the steel factories that produced America’s cars, machines, and rail road ties. Even the Pittsburgh “steelers” is a short drive down the interstate.A result of globalization, technology, and overseas production, Youngstown has changed. The place feels like a ghost town. 25,000 lost their jobs to overseas production in the early 80’s. The town wears this on their faces. The museum is a dismal reminder of “what used to be.” The rusted out buildings that were the place of so many men’s live, is now barren. The gray pictures seem to carry over to the city, and the people. America had moved from labor to technology and the areas of Silicon Valley and Seattle. Youngstown, just the city, is in itself a museum of the past. This place like the inner temple of that story.

It felt as if I was walking back in time as I saw the displays of miniature steel factories, and iron ore tools used in the production of steel. It seemed a similarity to that movie Field of Dreams. It was a different era of men, and their world. I was so curious. There was something wonderous about it all. As if the world has stopped, and I had been placed in this building to pause, and reflect on what was. The corn fields, which were these walls surrounding me, leading me into each exhibit—into something much deeper of a mystery than I had ever asked for when I entered. I was really enjoying it.

The black and white world of pictures told the stories of men in the steel mills, grinding away and sweating. Walking into an old locker room where they showered, and removed all their clothes covered in black ore. The images around me, were so familar from a family history photo album my father had given me of our ancestors. And in fact, this was the town some of them had worked—in this business. My father in fact, had worked a summer in a steel factory, in the summer heat, where they poured molds of steel to ship west. This place was becoming much
closer to my story than I had first realized.

The grayish walls of old pictures breathed something from the rusted metal, and iron ore factories they spoke about. There was something to this place—like a life to it. Almost magical, but to be honest, very far removed from my life, and my growing up in a suburb of a nice growing and progressive town in Nashville. Something that felt lost to my life. And story.

Something that was very connected to my heart, my fears, and why I felt so young, and afraid to step into the world, and be the man I knew I needed to become.

As I meandered through the labor museum, I was invited back into a story that helped make sense of it. It was the world of working men of the 1800’s, and the steel industry in the Youngstown Valley of Ohio. Pictures, and displays and items from a time we had come from just a few hundred or so years. The industrial revolution. The boom of steel, factories, and machines, and 70 hour work weeks. Men were tough and hard as the steel they formed, and their faces too.
As I meandered deeper, I came upon a statue of a man. Standing around six feet tall, wearing worn leather boots, and ragged overalls, dirtied by the hours of dust, and burn-off from the steel, and coal fires. He had a leather thick apron around him. His face was aged, and the lines of his labor were visible on his face, like that of a grandfather. He seemed like a relic. I stood staring, gazing from below him. The boy inside of me wondering, and admiring him. There was something in him, I respected. And wanted.

But I must admit. There was a great sense of distance of me and this man. A holy respect for his place, along with shame. There had always been. Of blue collar men. Landscapers. Painters. Mechanics. Illegal immigrants working on job sites. Working men. Men who seemed to use their bodies, and their hands to make something for a living. There was something of that world of men that felt far from my experience. What I should say is all men. A look in the eyes always was a reminder. Whether I thought it, or they showed it the message seemed, “You are not one of us.” And where I eventually took this was, “I was really not a man at all.” “You really don’t know how to work.” You are a son of privilege, entitlement, a son of Brentwood, and white collar success. I had run with it, used it to my advantage for so long, but I couldn’t help feeling this place had the thing I had longed to find. The worth of myself in even just labor.

The word I felt here was work. Men who worked. Worked long hours. Who worked to feed their familes. Who worked to pay bills. Worked because that was what a man was to do. How did I miss that? I felt the words in the book, Ultimate Gift, “One of the things my wealth has robbed from you and the entire family is the privilege and satisfaction that comes from doing an honest day’s work.”

I moved on past that man in the museum to an old black and white picture of a group of men in a steel factory all gathered together. Maybe 20 or so. Old and young men huddled around the steel factory for a group picture. It was a picture similar that my father gave me of my grandfather, and their three generation milling business (picture here, maybe?). The men in this pictures were peddlers of metal. All sitting together on an old bench outside the mill. Young and old, with tools and faces hardened by their long days of the fire. I kept looking at the boys in it.

Maybe 15 years old or so, some close to my age.

I sat, while their faces burned in my head. I couldn’t move on. There was too much in the picture. I grabbed a chair close by, and sat down in front like an art connosieuer might do with a Van Gogh, or a great masterpiece. I stood at it, starring, wide eyed, wondering, and feeling all of it, and my life. There was a quote of one of the young boys in the picture that read, “James Davis was taught the art of puddling iron at the Sharon Iron Works in Pennsylvania by his father.” The boy Davis wrote, “None of us ever when to school and learned the chemistry of it from books. We learned the trick by doing it, standing with our faces in the scorching heat while our hands puddle the metal in its glaring bath.”

This picture, and those words gripped me. I read it again. Starred at the words. Looked back at the pictures of both old, and young together, in a simple job—working. I just stopped and felt them. Let them fall over me like the black dust on these men’s faces. They spoke something deep. Men, fire, sweat, craftsmen. A place I did not know. I began to wipe my eyes, hoping no one would walk by. More tears came. As I sat in this museum, alone. On this bucket—wondering what the hell was happening to me.

God had brought me to a museum, looking at these men’s life I was assuming that I was supposed to avoid. Hard work, real sweat. And yet, something in me, staring at the men and the boys, wanted their life. I don’t know what their spiritual life was like, if they had great families, or were even good men, but something in me wanted to jump through time, and through these displays and pictures, and find myself in the mills, with men, and fire, and sweat working next to him. There was something in there, I needed. Something that all my school papers, and tracks to success and significance, and my life in America, and private school teachers, and bible leaders had not mentioned or had not told me about.

I sat a while longer. Regaining myself. I just knew, as crazy as it sounded, there was something there, something deeply spiritual, something rooted in God’s design I needed to find.

It was the thing I had been trying to avoid all my life.

I walked back under the title, “by the sweat of thy brow,” and back to the confusion of what I was going to do with it all.

Hunting with God.

My friend, Nathan Johnson, has been blogging a bit about his experience of elk hunting, and walking with God in it. Few of us ask God questions, and invite him into the big things in life, and I am encouraged to see what it means to ask him about the things like Nathan asks. I would encourage you to read some of them...

Jesus talks about being ruler over the little things... and although hunting elk is no little endeavor, it makes me wonder as we grow, what we will ask him. I was encouraged, and decided to spend this day off, not just making a list of things to do, and tracking them down. But ask God, what should I do next? I could never complete all my things. But maybe if I did the ones I felt his spirit lead me on, maybe then I could look at the day, and say, I did what I felt the Lord had for me, and not feel like such a failure in not doing the rest. Thanks, Nate.