At this moment, from my warm, cozy chair on this Alaska Airlines jet, I am looking down at the floor of this world. I lack for no comfort here. Hot coffee was just served right to my chair. I am not even required to throw away my own trash. When they take my trash, the attendants say “Would you like anything else?”
Soon I will land in Seattle, where my second flight departs, continuing this effortless, lofty glide. I am heading to a cold and sparse place, where none of these comforts will be offered by these uniformed angels of “nice”.
My eyes track wildly along the waterways below. I have sailed the waters below and explored the land beneath for weeks at a time. Yet I am aghast at its unfamiliarity, regardless of the fact that I’ve been there before. Somehow I have not tasted even a bite of the inside passage between Alaska and Seattle, let alone a crumb of the earth’s crust.
I dare say the wild is even wilder than it was a hundred years ago. I think that, because from childhood until now, I have happened across “Old Cabins” – settlements and orchards – most of them now grown over and thrown down in the face of time. Only logs and boards under blankets of moss are left to tell the settlers tale, making the wilderness more lonely than ever. Only a haunting of old foundations remain.
The settlers and explorers of the Alaska wild now make up very little of its population. There are islands in Southeast Alaska riddled with this history. But at some point along the way, most everyone moved to town.
We now explore for recreation, walking our known paths in a controlled setting and patting ourselves on the back for getting in a “cardio session”.
We people have herded ourselves into common pastures. We have built trails through the sky, from gathering point to gathering point… city to city…. we seem to find security in gathering.
But in our gathering, social obligations have evolved. No longer nomads, we gather “things,” as well. Why not? We have decided to stay put. We do not have to carry our stuff in search of food…. so a-gathering for things we go….
As our piles grow, we look over our shoulder to see what the neighbor has gathered. And by doing so, the perpetually rising standard of acceptable overhead cost is established. Now we have laid heavy anchors on our own shoulders. Many, many shiny, beautiful anchors, in the form of homes, cars, and electronic preoccupation devices. Our collections chain us down, in a great net of debt and obligation.
I find it quite interesting that we believe we have progressed by living in tight clusters with our things. We trade our time for paper money or digital numbers in electronic accounts. Then we trade that for food that “appears” on the shelves in front of us.
How is it we have come so far that we no longer have time for family meals? How is it that everyone assumes you will answer your cell phone at a moments notice?
Day and night we toil, in a pace keeping dash with our own inventions. Why do people have problems sleeping? Why do we see 6 year old kids who waddle down a hallway from obesity? What is this gift? We want this for our children? A synthetic world, padded in distraction? Where we “log on” to participate in life…
Not all our progression has been harmful. We have learned some amazing things. Helpful things. They have brought us closer as humans. We can communicate like never before, on a whim. But somehow, building a fire in the wilderness is a lost skill to the masses. How is that possible? It seems we have replaced fundamental health and survival skills, with get rich schemes and pills for every ailment.
A month ago, I was able to light a fire with a broken piece of quartz and a pocketknife. My son Steven lit a flint and steel fire that burned knee high in 50 seconds, on that same trip.
We were both amazed. But why? I filmed the fire practice with my iPhone. Then I uploaded the pictures to Facebook the next day. I thought nothing of pictures shooting through the sky and landing on a global screen. But I was fixated on the amazement of making fire from stone and steel…….
These moments remind me that we should look to the future, but select carefully what “improvements” we adopt.
I am not a nomad. Nor a fixed-location city dweller. I paddle the current somewhere in between. Taking in just enough lights and glitter to keep a strong presence in the lives of my boys and to pass on notes of the forgotten wild, in hope that others may discover this gift of life.
Now I shake loose of the grid once again, in pursuit of old trails in the dirt, new trails in the grass and the little-touched icy waters of the Northwest Passage.
As for this view from above, in my comfy jet seat…it lacks the scent of reality: the chill of the mist, the clarity of a footstep and the gratification of earning your way.
For all practical purposes, a commercial flight in a passenger seat may as well be a wonderful movie watched in fast forward, where the credits roll, just as you slow down the view.
Each hard earned moment, forgotten before it occurs. Leaving only a crowded pasture as the payoff.
To sum up my view on the matter. I have never seen a shopping mall that made me gasp like when I see towering waterfalls and cracking glaciers. I’ve never enjoyed a movie about adventure, with a fist full of popcorn, the way I have enjoyed swallowing the lump in my throat, with a fist full of flogging sailcloth.
And lastly, I have never, ever, stood in line to sail over the horizon, beyond cities and land, or the view thereof.
So each year I pack up my things and stow them away. The pile gets smaller. And just like last year, all my worldly possessions fit nicely in a pickup truck. Which itself was sold just hours before stepping aboard this plane.
The things I leave behind are only there to boost my restart upon returning from sea. Tools for work. Gear for camping and survival. A box of papers for the IRS and books, beyond my understanding right now, slated for absorption…my college in a box, if you will.
When Samantha and I return to Alaska this fall, I will be prepared to work, to provide and accomplish whatever may be required. My family will be cared for. They will be clothed, fed and warm. They will be supported, and backed in their own interests and discoveries. We will stay light on our feet, never saying,
“Some day: some day we will go to there… Someday we will learn this… Someday we will pay off these “anchors” and be free… Then we will go, we will do… Insert dreams here.”
My plan as a father and soon to be husband…is to provide an excellent “retirement” for my loved ones, or anyone else who is hungry to eat a crumb from this earth’s crust. By letting go of worldly possessions, these shiny anchors around our necks…
You, the reader, and I the writer are no different at all… Only effort and focus are required to leave the world we know and live a life few dream.
The life beyond your dreams awaits you. Each word in your fantastic story, lies in the footsteps you are about to press.
Your children watch you, as do your friends and loved ones. Even acquaintances will take in some of what you have to offer. Regardless of your desire to teach, someone follows you.
I challenge you to lead by example. Learn from your errors. Face your fears. Swallow the lump in your throat. Walk out of that crowded pasture where mediocrity is mutually encouraged. And go for it.
In doing so, you will pass on a gift more powerful then riches. You will pass on life to the lifeless. Light to the darkness, and vigor to the tired and heavy laden.
Capt. Jesse Osborn