Hold What You Love with an Open Hand

Non-attachment. Often a difficult concept to practice, it would be gauche to exclude mention of the idea on a site purportedly inspired by one western whitey’s trifling interest in ancient eastern teachings. Non-attachment represents the core of the Buddhist path, the Buddha having identified desire as the nexus of all suffering. It is only our longing for permanence in an ever-fluctuating environment which causes anguish and emotional turmoil when the inevitable occurs. Things change. Loss is imminent. Shit happens. We are all aware of such universal laws, yet often unprepared to accept their consequences, choosing instead to cling desperately to ideas of ownership and injustice.

When it comes to non-attachment and people, I fail considerably. That’s probably what these musings should be about, but I’m loathe to expose personal weakness in detail. When it comes to detachment and belongings, however, I usually do alright. The shedding of possessions can be equated with liberation, and the greater emotional satisfaction found in giving vs. receiving holds true. While I will recognize that material goods may provide access to liberating experiences—as in the case of vehicles, musical instruments, appropriately incorporated technologies, adventure gear, etc.—it is easy to lose sight of the end goal in the acquisition of more and more things. Needs, needs, and wants. Falling into this consumeristic mindset inevitably requires compromising one’s original values, and often free time and freedom, in order to acquire ever more equipment ostensibly needed to experience certain environments, or the world as a whole. And most of these technologies and goods are designed to make those experiences safer, easier, faster, warmer, drier, more sterile and less wild and not nearly as redemptive as a consequence. And once you have the things, of course, you have to hold on to them, and find space for them, and secure them, and fret about losing them somehow. In the end, I suppose, the point is determining what is essential to one’s fulfillment, and reevaluating the excess. As revered river guru Larry Firman once noted, “You don’t need much in this life.”

Truth told, I don’t own much in this life, and I’m pretty happy about that most of the time. This valuation, of course, being a relative assessment as there are billions of people on this planet with less than many of us would consider necessary for basic existence. I’m typing on a personal computer, I’ve almost always owned a vehicle. I have an abundance of clothes, and an excess of outdoor gear. But it’s good to reexamine with frequency, to keep the ever multiplying things in check. It’s important to cull the accessories from the fundamentals in a concentrated effort to simplify our worlds, to minimalize extraneous distractions from those things that truly do bring us alive. Every now and again it may also be healthy to release something you may have become too attached to. A practice in moving on and letting go.

On a less foofy note—it’s also kinda exciting to get rid of a bunch of junk so you can buy some more of the same. Anticipating an upcoming move, and also hoping to hit a reset button of sorts, I’ve been doing a lot of shuffling, selling, tossing, and donating lately. Loads of barely worn, ill-fitting clothes to the thrift stores; another boat paddled and gone; stacks of novels destined for library book sales; old photos and letters solemnly shredded; and the van, faithful companion and facilitator of adventures for the last several years, hesitantly transferred to more of the same without me. May it live to triple the miles it has now, and travel a Mobius loop of backroads till its wheels fall off. Thanks for all the good times. The rest of these words and photos are a dedication to our journeys together, as many of the stories on this site were made possible through its diligent service.

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This was the third van I’ve owned in my life, and as someone with a very transient lifestyle, I’ve spent a lot of years living out of (not in) a vehicle. Perhaps I’ll write more about all that at some point, but I had been thinking about buying another van for several years before I auspiciously found this one in Anchorage a week or so before I was scheduled to fly up to Alaska for the summer. This was 2016. It was exactly what I had been looking for off and on for a long while, a stealthy cargo van with low miles and a good engine and lots of empty space in the back for conversion. Luck and faith allowed me to sell my Civic a day before flying out, and two days later I was spending my first night on the Alaskan highway, a stellar view of the Chugach out the window. I bought some lumber and built a hasty bed to get me through the summer. My mama sent me some custom sewn blackout curtains to cover the windows against the never setting Arctic sun. At the end of the season I drove it through Canada, and then down through the PNW to California and eventually over to Texas. I spent a week at my dad’s house where we put on the roof rack and customized the inside—sturdy but simple, function with no frills other than varying shades of blue throughout. From there it was south to the Big Bend and on and on and on.

Around this time I was gifted a new road atlas, which I greatly prefer to google maps and GPS. I love the byways, the backroads, the out-of-the-way and little known attractions. While there are no more blank spots left on any maps, there’s almost always something new to see. For fun, I started highlighting all the roads and rivers traveled. It’s now been three-and-a-half years and 50,000 miles and 30+ states, many of them several times over. It’s been three times from Alaska to Texas or vice-versa, two times driving, once on the ferry. The Cassiar, the AlCan, the Top-of-the World ‘Highway’, the Inside Passage, the Yukon, British Columbia, Alberta. It’s been on a couple grocery runs into Mexico, and out to the East Coast and down to Florida and up through the North Country and across the Midwest. It’s been three canoes, three windshields, untold oil changes, new brakes, and a new set of tires. It’s been mud, snow, sand, and a few places it probably never should have ended up. It’s been good times and goodbyes and a lot of memories. It’s hard to believe it’s only been a little over three years, and it’s a bit hard to accept that it’s time to move on. But such is life, and personified vehicles may serve as sought after metaphors.

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