Thursday, October 11, 2012

Packing and planning, cheap therapy

This past week I've been preparing for a nice two and a half day hike through the Big Thicket. More precisely I've been packing, unpacking, packing and then unpacking again in an effort to lighten my hiking pack. I'm definitely not an ultralight guy, they have weight management down to a artsy science.
I was annoyed at the idea of getting all the gear, food and other supplies together, like toilet paper — God, don't ever forget the damn TP. However, as my OCD packing abilities continued it started to become more and more enjoyable, shaving a few ounces here and a pound there. That doesn't seem like much but after 10 miles it starts to feel like someone sneaked lead into your pack.
That being said, I have shaved the weight off the pack and gathered what I'll need for a couple nights out in the woods. Bringing along an iPod as my chosen method of entertainment sitting by a crackling, flickering campfire.
I'll be sure to throw some pics up and give a rundown of my trip, assuming I'm not eaten by a feral hog or cougar... The odds are pretty stinking low.

Friday, September 28, 2012

A nation divided-ish

As a nation of diversity it is crucial that people have the right to speak their minds, exercise their rights and be given the freedom to choose how their country is governed, in principal.
What we face now though when trying to decide who to vote for is the curiosity of whose the lesser of two evils, who is going to do the least amount of damage? This is not something beneficial as we see conservatives and liberals creating a more polarized two-party system. As this polarization occurs to what could almost be considered extreme our society is turning against itself. People don't care anymore about whether someone can compromise or negotiate in order to see that their desires in the function of government are addressed. I think the ability to vote straight party should be eliminated. We don't need parties, we need issues to be considered, discussed and plans of action by candidates to be clearly known. What good is a party who's only purpose is to counteract the plans and goals of the other group?
Do away with straight ticket voting, do away with the impermeable party lines and eliminate the elitist attitudes that we are evil for working alongside the other guy. If this nation is going to be the greatest in the world then we are going to have to show that we have the greatest minds, hearts and intentions. We can't simply war with each other over everything simply because you belong to the GOP or are a Democrat. Two-party government is hurting us. There has to be a middle ground and the populace must be represented without title and ridiculous expectations.
The idea that simply getting out and voting for someone that isn't one or the other isn't going to change anything. It's actions that will change things. You can't possibly fight the parties like that, they have grown too large and too powerful. Things must be done from the inside and I have yet to see or hear a politician say anything like that and stick with it. But I guess that's just politics. I wonder if things will change or if we'll continue to spiral into out of control bi-partisanship, only time will tell.

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

There is serious drama in Kountze about the usage of Bible scripture on the front of the banners football players burst through during their game. One side claims that it isn't allowed due to separation of church and state, the other side claims it's a violation of their rights.
I can understand where both groups are coming from. People love their religion, have a great sense of pride, commitment and belief that cannot and should not be shaken by mere mortals. To not wear it like a badge of honor goes against the grain, shows that they are hiding their light under a bushel, as the children song says.
I say, if the football players and cheerleaders agree that it's appropriate then so be it, live and let live.
However, if even one football player, cheerleader or anyone else takes any level of offense, it shouldn't be done. There is a level of caution to be had to be certain faith is not elevated to levels of extremism.
"It's just a dang 'ole football banner, what's the big deal, they're just taking pride in their beliefs," is the emotion coming from supporters. That's only sort of correct. Lets say there are a couple players on the team who object, then would it be OK to coerce them into running through a banner they don't support?
Statistically the Millennial generation, born after 1981, is the most nonreligious generation yet, according to a Pew Research Centers study. Having an objecting player run through that banner is comparable to Christians running through a banner with an enormous inverted pentagram scrawled across it  in the blood of sacrificial goats, honestly that team might win from a forfeiture alone. Of course Christians will think that's a bit extreme, but non-believers view the down-your-throat actions of the "turn the other cheek crowd," a bit over the top as well.
The mustard seed parable is a prime example of what Christians typically view as ministry. Plant a small seed of love in someone's heart and it will grow into a great plant capable of sheltering fauna. It is the conundrum of whether one should flood the seed with fertilizer and water or simply let it grow that seems to find contention.
This isn't about who's beliefs are more important, it's about understanding that if something you are doing offends your neighbor, then don't do it. Is it going to actually hurt anyone to simply switch the banners to the tried and true, "Go, Fight, Win," style? The believers will still believe and the non-believers will feel like part of the team again. People of various religions have different beliefs, don't agree, that's fine but show that love is bigger than dogma. Some people believe Jesus is their savior, some that we are to repeat this life repetitiously until we reach enlightenment, others that God is a big floating pile of pasta and meatballs; look up what a pastafarian is if you don't believe me. I say just let it go, shake hands and play some football.

Friday, August 12, 2011

When time stands still

I recently took a trip to Sam Rayburn with the intentions of escaping the everyday stresses of working for the newspaper and life in general. A nice little vacation that would clear my mind and cleanse the soul; please excuse the cliches.

I came into work early knowing I wanted to  leave early and beat a majority of the traffic from everyone getting off work.
All day long was like waiting for Santa the night before Christmas; Stepping outside I would instantly see the bright orange kayak strapped down on the roof of my Jeep just aching to be placed in the water. This entire summer I had not found a single chance to drag it out of its prolonged period of exile and finally there it was, just a matter of time and I would be paddling across the waters of the lake.

Anticipating the possibility of bringing in some catfish or maybe a bass or two was daunting, I sat at my desk wishing I could speed up time, that I could somehow pull a Jedi mind trick on the clock. "It's four-thirty," I could say and the clock would respond accordingly by steadily creeping its hands forward. That of course never happened and I worked toward the end of the day minute by minute constantly casting ever-increasingly anxious glances toward the clock on the computer screen.

Finally the moment came, the clock hit four-thirty and I swiftly gathered my things and bolted into Roger's office proclaiming that I was hitting the road. He told me to have fun and stay safe while my foot was already out of the door. I couldn't wait to see those towering pine trees and leave the beastly mosquitoes behind for a lesser cousin.

The drive from Port Arthur to Pineland went great without much traffic and nothing to slow me down. I even ended up behind a large eighteen-wheeler hauling trees to the mill and it was though the hand of God sped it up for me. The second I came up on the truck it sped up to a quick pace and off we went.

The excitement grew up to the point of turning off paved road onto a gravel-laden dust dirt road. Then it became unbearable, pulling up the gate of the driveway into the camp was much like seeing the fabled gates of heaven, just with a lot less gold and pearls.

I arrived at my family's cabin and unpacked my things. Next was spending the remaining portion of my afternoon cleaning and sweeping everything in sight. We aren't up there all the time and everyone knows how dirt and dust appear out of thin air.

It was the next morning that truly made me realize that the world there seemed different than the world anywhere else. I woke up early and put my kayak in the water. Slowly I glided out, slipping through the water like a duck. I reached the first limb that seemed suitable for a line and swiftly rigged up some trot-line string and a hook with some of that wonderful smelling catfish bait. Paddling away from that limb I took a break and simply sat still in the water, enjoying the peace. There were no sounds of civilization to be heard; no boat engines could be heard, no cars, the sounds of my mind slowly melted away like a clock in a Dali painting.

That is when I realized that all of the wishing and begging I had perpetrated in my mind toward the clock, eagerly awaiting the time I would be enjoying this very minute was unnecessary. I can think of times in my day when time stands still, maybe it's when I'm enjoying a moment with my kids or when I'm out riding my motorcycle. I loved my time relaxing at the lake but I realized that I could find a way to make time stand still in my daily life as well.

Often times we let the world dictate our feelings and emotions to us with little regard to how these emotions affect us or those around us. I realized that we must contol our own emotions and feelings, we can not let time and the stresses of life force us to simply countdown our remaining minutes.

The drive home was filled with the same kind of anticipation I experienced on the way to the lake. I was so excited to get home and see my family. I had missed them more than words can do justice. It felt comforting to return to my daily life and the people associated with it. I can't wait to head back to the lake some day but for the time being I can still make time stop when I close my eyes and see the blue skies as my kayak slowly slips through glistening waters of Sam Rayburn.

Friday, July 22, 2011

When everyone gets a trophy

A while back I was talking to a co-worker, Ed Kestler, and he said something that took a little while to sink in but has since been a very interesting ongoing conversation.
“Everyone gets a trophy,” Ed said. At the time I didn’t really get where he was going with that statement and it just melted away into the place where thoughts go to die.
Then one day at school my seven-year-old, Jake, received an award for some outstanding work he had done in class. I was so proud seeing him walk up on stage and being handed a certificate of achievement by the principal while shaking his hand.
Once I returned home I saw the sheet of paper with the information about the assembly and the schedule for the rest of the day and there it was. After the students returned to the classroom from the assembly the students not awarded a certificate would receive ribbons or some other type of award.
I think it is great that people are trying to make sure no one gets their feelings hurt but what happens when these kids grow up and realize they won’t always be getting something for nothing.
Not to sound like a cruel or mean person but to give everyone an award is ridiculous. For one thing, it takes away from those students who really buckled down and did their work leading to the level of recognition they received. Second, it is telling those children that throughout life you shouldn’t have to work hard to achieve anything; that everything in life should be given to you.
That is where this society is failing our future. The kids growing up today will someday lead our community, schools and ultimately the nation. What will happen when these entitled children run into difficulties? Will they look inward and find the courage to fight? Or will they look outward, seeking a handout?
These are the things that we teach our children. They have to know that they are going to fail, that they will not always win and sometimes no matter how hard you try you will be a loser and that is OK.
Understanding failure and loss is something crucial to life, it is imperative that people reach out to their offspring and reiterate to them constantly that they can lose and when that time comes they should gather themselves and fight that much harder.
They should also know that they can’t expect things for nothing, even though our country would at times have you think differently. People have to work to get were they are going. Journeys begin with a step forward, not sitting there with your thumb out waiting for a ride.
I take pride in knowing that I’m passing that knowledge on to my children as they quickly grow up. It is now or never for this generation, we can either be the ones that turn them into a bunch of groveling sissies or be the people that teach them to hold their head high no matter what happens.
I don’t want my children to ever think that I love them any less simply because they didn’t win. In fact, if they lose graciously and I can see them have a sense of pride in their effort, then I know with all of my heart that I’ve given them something that is far more important than a cheap trophy.
I’ve given them my love, affection and most of all my respect.

Friday, July 15, 2011

When it hits the heart

There are times when the true essence of mortality hits you and hits very hard. Recently Southeast Texas lost two first responders; Steven McShan, 24, died from a fall at a friend’s home in Crystal Beach and Bryan Hebert, 36, died in the line of duty while trying to apprehend a suspect.
I look at these deaths and it saddens me to see life end at such a young age. Their deaths not only had such an impact due to their age but also that they risked their lives for people like myself everyday without asking for recognition. They didn’t ask to be labeled heroes, they just are.
I will likely never rush into a burning building to save a life or give my own protecting people that I may not even know. But this is something emergency workers do everyday and is an act of enormous care that many will never duplicate.
It is with a high level of respect and admiration that I attended the funeral of Bryan Hebert. As part of the Port Arthur News’ coverage of his funeral I waited at the grave site while talking to colleagues and friends of Hebert. It was very moving to see the massive turnout of firefighters, EMS and police officers there supporting the family of Hebert.
Reporting on a story often makes me feel like an outsider looking in but the officers and other people there made me feel different. And I could tell by the community outpouring that many felt the same way as myself, everyone I interacted with had something positive or something moving to say about Hebert.
I had never been to the funeral of a fallen officer before and I will never let the images leave my mind. There will always be memories of the vast, continuous line of emergency vehicles, there to show their respects and support in such a time of sadness. The solemn faces on the rows of officers standing in silent reverence made me wish things could be different, that these two men who had died could be brought back by a force unseen but felt very deeply by all present.
Flags waved in a slight breeze as the color guard stood silently watching over, honor guard readied their rifles and the echo of ‘taps’ could be heard drifting through the heat of the afternoon. Sweat beading on foreheads, tears welling in the eyes of those hit so very hard by the hammer of emotion.
This was not only a chance to say goodbye, this was something much more. The chance to pay respect to someone who gave more than words can quantify. The emotions I experienced that day will never leave me and I do not want them gone.
For those not attending or unable to do so, it was an experience like no other. I only wish that I could reach out and shake the hand of every man and woman who put their lives on the line. Be they a member of the police, EMS, firefighter or soldier.
As sadness fades and memories of smiles and good times take its place I can only pray that people will never forget the sacrifice made to keep us safe, that allows us to enjoy the things that we often take for granted.
Though they may be removed from our lives, they are to never be forgotten.