Closer to Goal

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Been a few days, friends, but I could explain if I felt compelled too.  I don’t, but will anyway, because if you are here, we are probably to some degree simpatico.  You already understand.  Life, in the modern world, is busy, and we have things to do and people to meet and deadlines to appease.  I’m not claiming any additional hardship here, things just are what they are, and here on the Figure 8 we are working hard in the pursuit of  some goals that are finally yielding some results.

For example:  tonight’s meal will consist largely of food we have acquired for ourselves.  That’s elk meat, onions, spinach, and the bulk of ingredients Miss Wendy is presently putting together downstairs.  It smells so good I am drooling on the keyboard.

That is the result of hard work and vision and commitment.  And  it’s also a big deal, for us, given that we are trying to to divorce ourselves from the larger dependency situation, in whatever ways we can.

I  have no interest in some weird survivalist ideology.  Most of those people are nuts, brewing up weird scenarios without legitimate experience or a grounded philosophy to underwrite the nuttiness.   Who has time for that?

Still, I think there are portions of the larger discussion that are important.  None of which, importantly, is new.  This kind of thing has been happening for a thousand years.  The only thing new is that we can communicate it instantly—until Al Gore’s internet goes down.

Our grandparents, and certainly our great-grandparents, would think Wendy and I are bizarre, and maybe even “touched” for our choices and commitments, because what we are trying to do by choice barely reaches back to the every-day realities that informed their lives.

Which makes those choices all the more important.

We aren’t trying to prove anything to the larger world.  We have already accepted that the empire is in decline.  We are moving, in our small way, forward in the acceptance of that reality, and making the adjustments necessary to guarantee that we will have some means to combat what we see as an inevitable decline.  Read your history.  200-250 years, is about all that any empire can expect to enjoy.

Do the math yourself, I’m not making this up.   This American experiment is approaching the finish line.  Read your Facebook memes, and daily headlines in your news feeds, and tell me what the sum total of your understanding of them amounts too.

Also, we don’t believe in candidates.  If “your guy” gets elected, we don’t believe anything will ever get better.

History supports us.

What happens after that?  Not sure, but I know for certain the experiment is on its last lap.  What will define the experiment we are conducting, moving forward, is how small groups of people decide to send out the values that once made us great.

The America that your great-grandchildren are raised in will not resemble, to any degree, the America that you once enjoyed.

That’s a hard fact of history.  I don’t like it any more than  you do.

But tonight we have achieved our humble first goals.  We have started to assemble meals that we hunted, or raised, or worked for, outside of the grocery store.  That’s on goal, and it actually matters.  We know where it came from, how we fed it, how we acquired it, how we stored it, and how we cooked it.  Basic stuff, but entirely important in the larger context of an empire losing its mind.

It’s called responsibility, which the larger world is trying to divorce you from, each and every day.  Pay attention.  You might be surprised how they come at you.

That’s not a judgment.  I don’t have time for that, even if I wanted to indulge in the exercise.  But it is fact.  Undeniable fact, which any 30 minute television show will prove, given the artful pastiche of ads for the religion of prescription medications, the unrelenting attack on ambulatory white male adults, and any other upturning of established norms that have secured a healthy, peaceful, and largely prosperous, two centuries.

And so, what we are trying to pull off here in the woods, seems probably healthier, or at the very least, grounded in considered thinking about the modern world, and resembling a true resistance to the slowly crumbling reality of a dream.

So.  That’s my update.  I’ll be back soon, with a Spring Roundup report on the nature of our little empire in the woods, the Figure 8 Ranch, and some personal touches in-re moving the idea forward.

Godspeed.

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Coming in Ugly

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Pain is Discipline.  Camp Pendleton.  Photo by the author.

“The Road March is the crucible in which the soul is refined. Pulling a trigger is easy. Humping the load over the distance is where you find out who will be on the ambush site to pull the trigger with you.  The Road March defines you.  Never quit.  Come in ugly if you have to, but come in.”  

–from Leadership and Training for the Fight, by MSG Paul Howe.

In the Marine Corps, it’s called humping.  The word fits because it isn’t hiking.  Hiking is fun.  Hiking is for exercise and fresh air and enjoying nature.  Humping is hard work.  Humping is a deathmatch.  It’s you against gravity.  It’s you against the earth.  It’s you against pain.  It’s you against time and distance and unbearable weight.  It’s you against pride, and that’s the thing:  it’s you against yourself, the hardest work of all.

Humping conjures up memories, mostly bad, of notorious firebreaks with names like Iron Mike, The Reaper, and Sheepshit, the hills of Camp Pendleton, where generations of young Marines have been broken, have fallen out of humps and been swallowed up by the “shame train,” or “the loser cruiser,” those dark and forbidding trucks that follow along behind every road march like wolves behind the caribou, looking for the sick and the weak and the old.

Only, falling out of a hump is worse than dying.  Falling out of a hump brings a jacket of shame and humiliation.  Falling out means weakness.  Mental weakness.  It means something is wrong with you.  Breaking your ankle and being flagged by a Corpsman is understandable–though I’ve seen Marines finish humps with broken ankles–but quitting because your brain has gone to jello is unacceptable.

Humps come in all sizes.  There are short humps and long humps, workup humps and conditioning humps.  They are all humps.  Once, there was a 100 mile hump, which I was doomed to participate in, and 100 miles of workup humps before the actual 100 miles of the Official 100 Mile Hump.  The official hump began somewhere near Hemet.  I can’t remember precisely where.  It was a cow pasture.  There were some trees.  I remember it was cold and the water in my canteens was frozen on the first morning.  By noon it was blazing hot and we were powering through some National Forest, the jokes all told, the laughter dead, the back gates of Pendleton a mental mirage, leaving only miles of personal suffering in the offing.

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“It’s twenty-five marches to Narbo, It’s forty-five more up the Rhone, And the end may be death in the heather, Or life on an Emperor’s throne.”  Kipling 

I can’t be entirely certain why the horrors of humping–though they are precisely necessary and serve their purpose perfectly, have revisited me lately.  It might well be my recent foray into Facebook, where I have reconnected with many of those with whom I suffered countless numbers of humping horrors.  It might be that.  It might be that I sometimes wonder what happened to all of that energy and mental toughness.  I think I had both of those things then.

It might be because I have been thinking a lot about what leadership looks like lately–given the strange somnambulant paralysis that seems to have overcome those who are supposed to be preserving, protecting, and defending our nation.  And that’s as true on the local level as it is on the national level.  It leaves many of us just scratching our heads, thinking that something is strangely, and inarticulately, wrong.

Retired Army MSG Paul Howe, in his excellent book “Leadership and Training for the Fight,” talks at length on the benefits of the road march for developing leaders.  Says he:

  • It allows you to challenge your soul.
  • It teaches you the importance of teamwork.
  • It provides a mirror reflecting who you are.
  • It exposes all good and bad in yourself.
  • There’s no way to hide on a road march.
  • It strengthens trust in your leaders.
  • It toughens you mentally.
  • It beats complaining right out of you.
  • It orients you to authority.
  • It makes you think about others.
  • It matures you.
  • It makes you more objective.
  • It provides a frame of reference for suffering.

By the end of the Official 100 Mile Hump my feet had been warped from useful appendages into searing patties of burger.  The entire bottom of my left foot was an enormous blister, and the bottom of my right foot was an unrecognizable scramble of blood, benzoin, strips of flesh congealed with wadded moleskin, and remnants of sock.

I can remember the last halt we enjoyed before clunking through Fallbrook and into the back gates of Pendleton–which still left several miles, but at least we were inside the gates–and crawling on my hands and knees to refill my canteens.  I wasn’t alone.  We crawled around in the bush, a company of us, eyeballing each other like lunatics, our feet throbbing as if someone had pounded nails into them.  But there was never a thought about falling out, about quitting.  The quitters were long gone, trucked away so that their shame wouldn’t infect the survivors.

I guess what I’m getting too, ultimately, is that we have absolutely no idea who we are electing anymore.  When the First Marines finally marched into Camp Horno, singing the hymn, the hump complete, we had a fair estimation of who we were.  We had sized ourselves and we had learned our weakest points, as individuals and as a team, and we set about to fix the problems.  But who are these people seducing us for our vote?  What do we really know about them?

I’d like to find out.  I’d like to saddle up and go on a road march with the candidates.  I’d like to haul them up old Iron Mike at a Fleet Marine pace and see how they perform wearing boots made by the lowest bidder, a pack that cuts into their shoulders and numbs their hands, and a rifle that just won’t get out of the way.  I’d like to see how they carry that tremendous load of hubris up to the top.  I’d like to get that window into their soul, out there, on some dusty firebreak in the heat of summer, where there is no place to hide.

I’d like to see if they come in ugly, or if they come in at all.