Lately, what with a sometimes-mundane job and more of a routine life than what I experienced working on Raisin’ Roots Farm, I have felt the closing of possibilities. I have felt the rising of an old inner voice telling me I have hit a dead end, that I never should have quit my job in Kansas City and moved to Colorado on some sense of deep intuition. That’s why I’ve been posting less here. This blog started as an embrace of limitless possibilities; living in relative routine, I feel I have abandoned those possibilities.
But nothing is stuck.
I work at the front desk of a gym in Loveland, CO. I clean equipment, do laundry, fold towels, and address all arising needs of members. I make $10.20 an hour. I spend my ample spare time studying as much as possible for my personal training certification, which I hope to achieve by the end of February. The paradigm has begun to feel closed. But a fellow named Dave has helped change that.
Dave is in his mid-60s and comes to the gym almost every day. He does light rehab work for a recurring leg injury. Somehow, my writing ambitions came up, and he got to telling me about his past.
Dave made a career as a sports photographer. His predominant clients were Time and Sports Illustrated. He has photographed athletes in a huge diversity of sports, including diverse Olympic athletes competing during the Olympic Games. His career has taken him all across the world to encounter countless larger-than-life athletes and an incredible assortment of wild tales along the way.
When he shares his stories, no shred of ego is present. Dave tells me his stories with exuberance and conviction not to impress, but rather to teach. He communicates from a perspective of love and gratitude, He says his path fell into place too perfectly to be an accident. He says it’s part of a larger plan, God’s plan, that he followed by listening and trusting. Nothing about it has been expected. He’s so happy for the life he’s lived and continues to live through teaching seminars and serving as a Nikon ambassador—aka trying out cool new photographic technology and reporting back details of performance.
As much as he shares stories of his past, Dave inquires into my interests. He engages the possibilities of writing. When I told him I’m being drawn to “Gonzo-style writing,” his eyes lit up as he said, “Like Hunter S. Thompson?!” He then went on to tell me about the time he saw Hunter S. at a bar Aspen; out of respect, Dave did not approach. Instead of seeing why my writerly ambitions wouldn’t work, as my thoughts have lately dictated, Dave engages a stream of imagination about how I might use writing to travel and experience the world. He tells me to pitch everyone. He encourages me to imagine as broadly as I can what I might do on behalf of a magazine or company. And most importantly, he reminds me not to think of what I might get. He says, “Think about what you might give.”
As excited as I am to learn about the body and train clients, my spirit is far more energized at the prospect of experiencing the world and reporting back. Maybe I’ll hitchhike Route 66 and report on its contemporary condition for Outside magazine. Maybe I’ll join a conservationist trek through the Amazon for National Geographic. Or Time. Or some place I’ve never heard of. What do I have to lose in pitching ideas? Far, far less than I have to gain.
Dave recommended I go to a Barnes & Noble, scan the magazine section, and find editors to contact. He told me to get imaginative and specific with my pitches. Yesterday, I decided to do just that. I’ve desired for some time now to interview Rolf Potts, my favorite contemporary travel writer and seemingly all-around good guy, and so with Dave’s spirit, I figured, Why not pitch the interview to some magazines? I found about seven. I’ve since gotten in contact with Rolf, who has been enthusiastic and remarkably helpful in getting a pitch off the ground. I’ve pitched one magazine so far; should it not pan out, I will continue sending the pitch around until it does. Rest assured, I will update this blog to reflect this development.
Dave’s authenticity and spirit have done wonders to revitalize my energy about possibilities in life and writing. Anything can happen, should one pursue the vision with confidence and determination. There’s so much happening in this country that Donald-Trump-reality obscures. I want to shine a light on those things. Any street corner, or any seemingly-mundane day on the job, can alter the unfolding of a life.
Every day, driving to and from work, I get to look at these incredible mountains. Every time I start work at 4:45AM, I get to see the sun rising over distant I-25 and sweeping across the sky to reflect the clouds in fuchsia over the snowy peaks. Each time, I am reminded of the possibilities they promise, the possibilities that drew me out here without any solid game plan. I am so glad for the unexpected ways it’s all continuing to develop.
*Check out Dave’s Instagram page, where many of his incredible photos are displayed.
A few weeks back, I attended the slaughtering of the pigs raised on the farm where I worked for two months. For those two months, I fed these pigs most days and referred to all three of them by name. Then I found myself cutting off their skin with a knife.
There were about fifteen people in attendance. Most people had very defined roles, including two guys who clearly did this for a living. They were the pros. The plan was to shoot the pigs in the head with a gun, one at a time. The pros did this by laying out a harness/lasso-like rope amidst a pile of food, and when the pig chewed the rope into its mouth (since pigs eat literally everything), the pros yanked back. For some reason, when this occurs, pigs purportedly stand entirely still, feeling no pain, only a moment of confusion, allowing for a clean shot to the head to ensure no mishaps.
Though many people undoubtedly would read this as ‘inhumane’, in reality, it’s the quickest way to kill the pigs, the way to make them suffer the least amount possible.
The buildup to the first kill was eerily quiet, anticipation hovering in the air. Stations were set up–the shooting station, a tarp across the lot to receive the blood, a skid-loader to eventually raise the carcass, and a station with chains and hooks to hold the cut meat. Tables were covered with aprons, guns, and a thirty-pack of Pabst Blue Ribbon. I figured I’d watch from a distance so as not to screw anything up. My intention was to see more clearly what it takes to bring meat to my plate, as I have eaten meat my entire life. If it disturbed my depths, perhaps vegetarianism was in order.
Several people sat around a fire, and one woman lit Palo Santo and offered up gratitude for the pigs’ giving their lives. One of the pros was talking enthusiastically about how much he loves Arby’s sandwiches. A friend of mine in attendance took me aside and showed me his gun and taught me how to use it, should the situation arise. The other pro was showing off his own gun and delineating the difference between two types of bullets. “This one is used to wound a human,” he said of the bullets with lead. Of the bullets without lead, he said, “These are for killing a human.” I thought, Aren’t we just killing pigs?
Out of nowhere, Ben indicated the time had come. We all traveled to the pig pen, where the three pigs lazily grazed, as they always do, seemingly unaware of anything out of the ordinary. We all just stared at them a while. One girl pet the closest pig, while another guy, a chef, said, “This is the closest to God we will ever get.”
The Arby’s-loving butcher addressed us all seriously. No more jokes. No more laughing. “Heads on a swivel,” he said. “Anything that can happen will happen. There’s gonna be a lot of blood. Be prepared.”
The big pink pig, pictured above, was the first one chosen. The two pros and Ben, the resident farmer and owner/raiser of the pigs, remained at the pig pen, while the rest of us were instructed to remain at a distance, prepared to act in any way necessary. We could hardly see what they were doing, but it seemed they were trying to move the pig to a place it did not want to go. In the end, they had to do the shooting in the pen, which meant they then would have to drag the body about a hundred yards to the tarp.
There was a great silence, and then the pop! of a round fired.
An instant later, Ben and the two pros were dragging the pig across the dirt. Several people ran over and assisted. The pig’s body was convulsing. Blood spurted from a hole in the center of its head. It was laid on the tarp, and while four men held down its flailing body with all their weight, one of the pros cut its jugular with a serrated blade. Then he got to hacking at its neck with a butchers knife, raising and slamming the blade over and over until the pig’s head was completely severed. Before I realized what was happening, I was staring into the pig’s billowing bloody innards along with the stunned people beside me.
The woman who had lit the Palo Santo held a sauce pan beneath the severed jugular, receiving quarts of streaming blood and mixing it with a wooden spoon to prevent coagulation. She was collecting it for making the freshest blood sausage possible.
The pros started cutting the skin around the hooves and instructed others to do the same. Several times, the Arby’s-lover said, “It smells delicious!” For fifteen minutes they, along with a few others, cut the skin and peeled it back from the fat and muscle, removing it like a tarp. I was amazed at how this layer of flesh was so familiar, yet what it contained was so unfamiliar. The pro said, “Let’s take a look at our anus.” They peeled back the rest of the skin. It looked like a costume being removed.
As I watched them go through these incredibly complex steps, I realized how little I knew about the meat I buy at the stores. I had known it conceptually before, but now, it was a reality. If it came down to it, I would have no idea how to prepare this meat myself. I would be helpless. For years now I had assumed the conviction that the closer one gets to the source of meat, the more moral the act of meat consumption becomes. Though that may seem ludicrous for the implications of engaging in such bloody actions many would deem ‘savage’, the conviction solidified with each passing moment.
As the chef and his brother treated the skin, the others raised the carcass on the skid loader, hanging it by the legs from chains. As they cut into its belly and removed its intestines with meticulous precision, I spoke with a fellow about yoga and mindfulness and the strange developments of this spiritual journey. Once the intestines were removed and no fluids released to harm the meat, the chef sawed the carcass in half down the center. I helped a few guys carry the heavy cuts across the farm to the hanging station, where we fed the slick legs through hooks that fit perfectly between two bones.
Then it was time to move on to the next pig. This time, I watched from right up close. Even after all we had just done, she gave no indication it was afraid or uncomfortable. She bundled over to the pile of food with equal enthusiasm as she always had. When they guys yanked back on the lasso-device, she squealed a few times. Then, the bullet fired, and she collapsed to the ground.
I helped cut off her skin. I did not feel emotional attachment, despite that I had fed her and called her by name for months. I did not want to watch her suffer, and I am glad I did not have to. This was clearly the most ‘humane’ way to raise and kill pigs possible. They lived peaceful lives, were regularly fed farm fresh food, and felt little to no pain through their lives. As I cut the skin, searching for the fine fibers to release the connection, I realized this was no longer the living pig I had known. No longer was this pig ‘she’; this carcass was ‘it’. As a farmer in the group pointed out, “Within a few minutes, it’s just meat.”
As we removed the skin, the chef cooked up the fat that had clung to the first pig’s skin on an outdoor disk cooker. Garnishing the sizzling meat with fresh sage, he served it for everyone to try. It was undoubtedly the most delicious meat I have ever tasted.
After they cut out the intestines of the second pig, I decided it was time for me to go. As I left, I glanced over at the third pig, who lay in a pile of mud, content as could be.
I have continued eating meat. However, I have decreased my meat intake, for I have realized it has been unnecessarily excessive. I have made more conscious efforts to purchase meat from animals raised in quality conditions. I will continue doing this. It matters for my health, for the health of animals, and for the health of the planet. I am tremendously grateful for the lengths to which Ben and his crew went in order to provide their CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) members the most humanely raised meat possible. I’m thankful I had this opportunity to form a more intimate relationship with what I am supporting each time I choose to consume meat.
I must admit, it has been difficult thinking of ways to continue this blog lately. It started on this great adventurous spirit as I moved to Colorado with few plans, prepared to work two months on an organic farm while living in an RV with worlds of possibility open beyond. Now that I am beyond that experience and have committed to a path, things feel less exciting. I enjoy my job at a local gym, though there aren’t many wild stories to relate, as I spend most of the time studying for my personal training certification. Writing time and time again about hikes grows tedious fast, as I’m sure it would for any reader. I can offer life updates, like how I’m practicing archery at an outdoor range and how I’m now rock climbing about five days a week, but still, these aren’t gripping enough to to warrant a post.
I’m realizing, however, that even if the events of my life aren’t quite as ‘exciting’ to report as the drastically-new farming experiences were, the lessons I am learning are equally or more profound. As I recently mentioned, reality has given me a good kicking in the arse of late. I was revealed how limited I am, how often my dreams grow outside the boundaries of what I can readily attain, how getting from here to some there is a continual issue of mine.
Amidst the many lessons I have been learning, I would say the primary lessons center on my ego. Thus, I’ve decided to elaborate on that for this piece.
Here’s a scenario often faced at my job at the gym.
As I stand at the front desk, poring over my NASM CPT textbook, I am approached by an individual, typically over the age of fifty, who says, “Ooooh. Finals time?!”
I smile and say, “No. I am not a student.”
They look at me baffled, and I inform them I am pursuing a certification at a self-guided pace. Typically, they nod in confusion and walk away.
Each time this happens, my ego flares up. My ego, which often speaks in the voice of a standard “bro”, says stuff like, “They don’t understand! They don’t get it! I’ve got world experience. I was a teacher. And you think I’m some CSU student? Me?!”
It can get pretty absurd.
Fortunately, at this point in my life, I can more often than not recognize this ‘bro’ voice as one not worth listening to.
I’m not sure I can accurately define ‘ego’, especially as it’s used in such diverse contexts, but I’ve come to relate to it as an internalized amalgamation of distorted thoughts and selfish perceptions that inevitably distance from experiencing virtues of humility, patience, and gratitude.
My ego is the side of me that feels like it has something to prove, something to defend. It’s the side of me that seeks attention and recognition. It’s the side of me that has caused problems when I’ve believed it in the past.
Here’s an example. Time and time again I find myself trying to rush my novel and bring it to completion by force. I tell myself, “You’ve been working on this for five years. Finish it already and move on!” I ask myself where this impulse comes from, and I recognize it’s due to this desire to prove, to shout to the world, Look! I did it! This is a manifestation of ego; thus, I focus on letting it pass. I must remain patient. I must remain calm. I must put in the work while allowing the process to continue at its proper pace.
To proceed in this ego-analysis, I have to point out that in a sense, this blog has not been honest, because from the start, I have left out a crucial life development out of fear of misrepresenting it. That development is my relationship with my girlfriend, Diana.
For the first time since we met in Guatemala in 2012, we came together this past summer through an incredibly unexpected and synchronistic state of affairs. Much to our surprise, our feelings for each other were even stronger than they were many years ago, despite such distance and little communication. So we decided to endeavor upon a long-distance relationship. Through all these adventures and insights recounted in “Alternate Pathways”, she has been a guiding energy, challenging my egoic beliefs while continually offering abundant love. I have tried to write at length about her for this blog, but it always ends up being thousands of words, and so I thought instead I’ll just bring her into the ongoing narrative, for she plays such a central role in my life and I love her tremendously.
I bring up Diana because I have noticed how often my ego manifests in our relationship. During times of conflict, I have seen a tendency in myself to defend, a tendency to view the situation like a battle. This mentality feeds separation. It occludes the possible presence of love. Sometimes, due to her strength and willingness to break these walls as they arise in me, I reach a point where I realize I no longer know what I am trying to defend. It’s like the final door of illusion opens, and I am grasping at nothing. I recognize this as another manifestation of this distorted competitiveness, this side of myself always seeking to prove.
The lessons Diana teaches me are numerous and ongoing. This example is but a drop in the ocean she’s taught me since August. But because I desire always to be a better partner for her, I have tremendous motivation to embed the necessary habits to change these patterns of ego that serve neither me nor the world.
Ultimately, through this process of leaving everything behind to start anew, I have realized how essential it is to give up control. So much of my aforementioned “arse-kicking” of late has resulted from listening to my ego’s unyielding desire to maintain order. If I’m trying to rush around in an ongoing attempt to control everything of this unfolding, I’m going to be a neurotic, dissatisfied mess. If instead I focus on putting good intentions into practice and patiently allowing the process to unfold at a pace I don’t control, I open my heart far more to the multitudes of things to feel grateful for each moment.
I am not suggesting I have no control over my life. But there is always a limited apparatus of variables over which I can exert influence. Though I cannot control how others perceive me, always I can control my relationship to my own desires, my relationship to my ego, and the effort I put in to make the changes I know to be beneficial.
What does that effort look like?
You know, all the classics. Yoga. Meditation. Tai chi. Martial arts. Weightlifting. Healthy diet. Intimacy. Prayer. Gratitude. That which connects to God, to Spirit. And showing up every single day.
Things have become challenging.
It was easy to perceive a perfect reality for my first couple months here in Fort Collins. Expenses were little to none, work was hard but enjoyable, and great company surrounded me. Now, on the other side of WWOOFing for two months, it’s back to the realities of being a person in today’s world. These past couple days, I’ve gotten my butt whooped.
Bills are coming in. Expenses are piling up. I am watching my bank account go the direction I do not want it to go. I am having to make big lifestyle adjustments — no more coffee shops, no more eating out, little to no entertainment outings. I have to keep my overhead low at the moment. It’s a struggle. Food is expensive. Health care is expensive. One of my roommates left one day for an Indian Reservation in Arizona and has not come back, and so rent has gone up. The apartment gets quite cold. Loud cars drive by the busy road right out my window all day and night. A large dog upstairs barks quite often, including right now. Several burners on the stove don’t work. The shower drain is clogged and will not seem to unclog, despite my roommate’s noble efforts.
The job I landed is at a gym in town. It’s a gym with many fantastic amenities. No need to mention the name. It is an extremely laid back gig at the moment; as a result, I am making very little money. I realize that having a consistent paycheck to cover all expenses and supply surplus for saving is very nice. It alleviates a lot of stress. I feel financial stress creeping back. I hear voices in my head saying, “What are you doing? How dumb were you to leave your job? Did you think everything was just going to fall magically into place?”
I have let worries get the best of me lately. Today, they took me to a dark place of despair. I ran up a trail to Horsetooth Reservoir in order to circumvent them, and the majesty of the mountains reminded me to be humble, loving, and grateful. This is the reality I chose. These are the consequences.
But still, that’s consenting to the negative. That is not the only way to see these realities.
The truth is, I do not plan to sit sedentary at this low-paying gym job, where my primary responsibilities are to check in guests, maintain cleanliness in the facility, and answer questions as they arise. That affords a lot of open time on the job. Those who trained me said they typically read or just sit there bored. I saw this as an opportunity. Thus, I have made a career decision. I am going to pursue my personal training certification.
It’s an idea I had at the outset that I allowed to settle into the background. I convinced myself I did not want to do it. I saw myself in a gym for 40 hours a week and felt sad. But lately I realized this need not be the case. Lately I realized that my being in the gym environment gives me a tremendous opportunity. I will be able to do most of my studying while on the clock, thus maximizing the efficiency of my time.
I spent the better part of the last four weeks picking the brains of trainers and colleagues about the best certification agency, as there are at least ten different paths one can go in becoming a CPT, each offering something different and bearing a unique reputation. I listened to the trends, read as much as I could online, and ultimately recognized that the best program for me was NASM (National Academy of Sports Medicine), which the head trainer at my gym described as “the gold standard in the industry.” This is not an absolute. But it’s consistently highly regarded, and it’s good for people with no exercise science background like myself. Further, I have decided to do a supplementary accreditation through NASM for Group Fitness Training, for I feel this opens many possibilities that I will explain shortly.
On top of the gym gig, I have landed some freelance writing gigs. They do not pay a lot, but they pay, and they are very fun. Being able to study for my NASM CPT while working opens so much more time for writing. I am extremely excited about a relationship I am forming with a magazine out of Boulder—I will elaborate more once the first piece I am writing for them goes live. Thanks to good ole Fort Collins, this all got started with beer writing through a beer blog called HopCulture, which published this piece I wrote about attending the Great American Beer Festival in Denver. I never would have been able to establish these contacts on my own. So many great people of my past and present have helped me, and I am extremely grateful for them.
Ultimately, I see writing and training coming together. I see each of them as energized with infinite potential. I am currently serving as the Health/Wellness editor for Entropy Magazine, and I intend to channel the knowledge I gain into many pieces. (By the way, if you have interest in doing any Health/Wellness writing [purposely vague], please send me pitches/content at email@example.com.) While I see myself beginning my personal training journey in the gym setting, I envision it expanding a great deal. I am investing in the Group Fitness Training accreditation because I want to guide groups outside. I want to engage with the elements in dynamic workouts that promote functional fitness and general wellness. I want to run into the woods and find boulders to lift and logs to press overhead. I want to help form communities around such activities in exuberant life embrace, doing all I can to help people out of ruts in their life. Ultimately, this has always been the goal behind Alternate Pathways. Though things are a bit of a struggle at the moment, I trust still in this inner voice, this higher self, this presence of the divine guiding me on this unexpected path.
Struggles abound, and struggles will continue to abound. All along, this endeavor has been about sacrifice for the sake of living a more purposeful, honest life. I am being drawn to greater honesty every day. I don’t want to sugar coat this for you. It’s difficult. There are many fears and doubts that grow as the path continues. But still, more often than not, I look at the mountains in the distance, and I think, “There is no other place in the world I would rather be.”
All kinds of smart people converge on the thought that life is ours to create. Of course that is true. We build our reality. We are responsible for its effects.
One problem I had with studying philosophy was that there was a lot of thinking, talking, and sitting around. Things that become self-evident through practice–i.e. The point that began this post–are hotly debated inside rooms. Often, the arguments get lost in the rationality. Philosophy doesn’t always recognize that the rational paradigm is but one of many. I often felt sad for folks like Kant who were so trapped inside of it. (Then again, seeing as he has subjected many generations to torturously boring required reading, can’t feel too bad for the ole German virgin.)
These days, tons of people are pointing out the seemingly-endless chain of flaws of today’s world. Social media erupts with posts about doomsday through nuclear war, climate and weather change, horrific storms, mass shootings, food scarcity, overpopulation, prescription drugs and more. These posts tend to get a lot of engagement. (Which also means someone is making lots of money on them.) Someone who posts something like, “This world we live in is really beautiful,” won’t just get little engagement, he may get backlash. The mainstream, news-fueled consciousness does not respond well to proclamations that the world is still an incredible place to experience.
But there’s no denying the harm we’ve done to it. There’s no overlooking the harm we are causing one another. Fear dominates the national landscape. We see our impermanence all around us, predicting our widespread death in many ways.
That is the reality we are creating: a big fear bubble that convinces us everything is horribly wrong.
The problem is this collective dream prevents us from seeing and feeling what endures through the eons. Plants still grow from the earth and provide nutrients and medicine for our healing. Landscapes too vast for the eye to see stand like beacons of passing epochs. Beneath the fear, we have access to incredible energy within ourselves that the Buddhists and the Hindus and the Jews and the Egyptians and many more have so long pointed toward. We still have the ability to be intimate with one another, an intimacy that can grow alongside our evolution as we intend to become stronger and wiser and more compassionate people.
We create the dream of the world, now more than ever in this age of connectivity. Right now, we are expanding this ancient energy to create a nightmare. If we don’t dream of something better, we will convince ourselves this nightmare is the only way to see it.
And if the End is actually coming, I’d much rather go out on the dream of a blissful, energetic world of happiness and fellowship and intimacy and love than one of chaos and destruction.