Hello my wonderful friends, and thank you so much for keeping up with me here at TLGAJ!
If I didn't have such a splendid forum and handsome audience to be sharing my hectic quest for the american dream, I'm not even sure where I would be right now. Lord knows I've struggled with the blog as a literary medium, but despite my troubles, it has served me greatly as a tool to share my stories and photography, expand my audience, and give me the much needed comfort in knowing that folks are actually interested in my aim of this vagabond study of our country.
Those of you who've been following along from the beginning, have seen me live a multitude of lives since my jovial post-college departure now over two years ago. I've somehow prospered, struggled, and survived simultaneously on a slimmer budget then even I could have fathomed, and the strangest thing I have come to realize, is that my achievements have largely been earned through my experiences of failing so relentlessly. All I can say with a crooked smile, and a deep sigh, is 'what a life!'
What am I up to now?, is a question I can either invest my entire writing efforts toward today, or I can put aside for the time being. Since I have such a massive backlog of stories, experiences, and photography to catch everyone up on, I'm going to just put that inquiry to rest for now, and work on moving the blog forward since, unfortunately, I cannot seem to write at the pace of my living as-of-late.
Where did I last leave off? is perhaps a better question to focus on for the moment…
For now, I'm going to hold off on sharing the bulk of my messy, blurry, punk-infused Portland weekend of grand delusions, strip clubs, good friends, and cheap wine. I know this is likely to displease you, but I really must keep things moving along. I assure you that this meaningful weekend spent between lives will be detailed further in the book, and possibly as a short story that you might see sooner than later… Anyhow….
|Cameron and Sarah, quite literally, chillin' like villians in PDX. Don't be mad at me Sarah!!|
I was sure it would be like grade school all over again, everyone laughing at the "poor kid" who had to go shopping at Goodwill. I even had the audacity to buy an inflatable pool floating device, since I didn't have enough money to buy a real backpacking ground pad. I wish I could tell you that I was joking. (As it turned out, I didn't even have the guts to take the stupid thing out to float on the lake that summer, for fear someone might ask me why I'd had it in the first place.)
I cursed myself for assessing this scenario a week ago, and naively deciding it would somehow work out for the better in its own way. Why couldn't I just do things like everyone else and make life easier on myself for a change? I wondered to myself pitifully.
My good friend Corey- one of the people from the house I was staying at, was kind enough to offer me a ride to the airport that morning, effectively sparing me a multi-transfer bus trip across town with a bulky 60 pounds strapped to my back. What a saint! I'd met Corey through the previous summer of yard-surfing in Portland, when me and Chassy had spent a month there in his back yard.
After a frenzied series of pacing back and forth through the house, I got all my gear in one place, and decided I was as ready as I was ever going to be. With a good twenty minutes left to kill, I went to the Plaid Pantry to buy a vitamin water. I was fairly sure I was going to vomit, and I figured maybe the walk would get it out of me.
By the time I returned, I still hadn't puked. Along with the sun-induced nausea I was now feeling, my stomach began fluidly grumbling with a diarrhetic groan of despair indicative of potential catastrophe that I needn't describe further. I spent a moment in the bathroom hovering over the toilet bowl, trying to figure out which end of me was going to erupt, but nothing was happening. I gave up on it, and one last glimpse in the mirror confirmed to me that I did indeed look as bad as I felt. Like a final blow to my already smoldering confidence. I wiped my dampened brow with my sleeve, and put my neon yellow shades on. Determined to continue fighting the good fight, I left the bathroom prepared to shit myself with style.
It was time to go. Corey sipped his water casually, asking me if I was ready. Through desperate beads of sweat I said, 'giddy-up' with a meek smile, and grabbed my massive backpack. We made our way to the airport, and Corey dropped me off with my heaping bags and gave me a solemn goodbye. I told him I'd be no stranger to Portland, and assured him he'd hear from me every chance I got.
Though I was relatively unaware of it, my first steps into the terminal there signified the beginning of this next new adventure for me. I didn't really realize it till the end of that first day, but my feelings that I was about to vomit, or even shit myself- all the physical distress and anxiety I was experiencing, vanished from me as I began to simply search for the meeting point of a shuttle I was supposed to take. I suppose it was all an overwhelming crescendo of self-induced anxiousness the whole time. A tightly wound mess of emotions that I only had time to dwell upon in the stages leading up to the start. Now that I was actually there, and that this big new change was finally upon me- I only had time to react to my immediate concerns, which at that moment, were locating my new peers, and finding the place we were to wait for our shuttle to Trout Lake.
It really is incredible what we're capable of putting ourselves through as human beings. The pain we create for ourselves can be real, and the suffering can be a tangible thing. In so many ways, it explains allot.
Our shuttle ride from Portland to Trout Lake was between an hour and a half, to two hours maximum. To be honest, I always had a hard time remembering how long it took to get between the two, because it was such an absolutely gorgeous ride through the Columbia River Gorge. The twelve or so fellow NWSA members I met in the terminal were all extremely nice folks, and the ride to Trout Lake was spent holding casual conversation, and taking in the landscape.
It was a meaningful drive for me, not only because I would later become so fond of the whole Columbia River Valley, but because after spending those months cooped up in the Midwestern winter, I had become somewhat out of touch with the whole premise of my "Journey" overall. The previous summer I had spent traveling up the coast from San Francisco was idyllic, and taking in all the new scenery was a charge to my spirit that I had nearly forgotten. We ran out of money and I inevitably got a job for a few months cooking in Portland, and since I returned to Milwaukee to participate in the "2010 Performance Art Showcase," I hadn't been any further North since. The simple fact that I was taking in an entirely new landscape, and seeing something I had never seen once again, was an immediate reminder of why I was out here in the first place, and if that simple notion wasn't enough to run with- the stunning allure of the Columbia River Gorge would certainly suffice.
So, as many of my regular readers already know, a six month commitment to a volunteer Americorps position is unlike any of the other highly spontaneous endeavors I've chased around our beautiful country. For a multitude of reasons though, it has surely been one of the most influential stints I've had. I'll keep myself from focusing on the infrastructural jargon too much here, and champion the many experiential aspects of the program, but there are some details you should know in terms of understanding the simple nuts and bolts, as well as the context of the experiences within the larger scope of things.
The position I took was through the "Northwest Service Acadamy," which is referred to as the NWSA because it is both shorter, and closer sounding to the hip-hop group, NWA. Even non-profits understand that the closer you can get to Dr. Dre, the more success your going to have. Plus, the non-profit world, and the rap game are not nearly as far off as you might think. Anyhow, all fooling aside, the NWSA is funded through Americorps, which is a government program that helps fund and operate non-profits throughout the US with the aim to aid in issues such as poverty, disaster relief, education, environment, etc.
In this way, a comparable analogy would be: Americorps is to Dr. Dre, as the Northwest Service Academy is to Eminem. Though both are essentially separate entities, they still operate within a generally co-existing financial framework, and under a common set of moral and ethical guidelines that are understood and agreed upon. Put another way: one may have love for the streets, and one may have love for the forests- but in the end, they still have each others back. (If your conclusion from my analogy's is that Dr. Dre funds the Northwest Service Academy, please either re-read, or give up on analogy's all together.)
So, being that this was my first experience in any sort of government program, there was plenty of things for me to get used to. On top of just that, there was the added fact that this was also a program with the general aim of using the work experience to both facilitate, and contribute to a larger set of social goals; goals that are in line with Americorps principals. These principals tend to emphasize community involvement, team work, and the development of leadership skills. The immediate reaction in my head was: 'You mean working my ass off isn't going to just be enough?!' Well, in short, no. It isn't.
In staying true to my general tone here, I might have to be a bit cautious, or even re-iterate things, because this program really was so meaningful in so many different ways, that I want to be absolutely sure my sarcasm doesn't offset the importance of what the folks at the Northwest Service Academy were doing at the end of the day. Many different people were in the program for many different reasons, and much to my surprise, not a whole lot of them were as intrigued with the "grueling physical labor" or "trail work" portion of the job as I was. In hindsight, I'm not sure why I was surprised.
Anyhow, what it all essentially boiled down to, was that this program really made me grow a whole hell of a lot in many different respects. As socially adaptable and friendly as I really can be, I am quite an extreme personality in many different regards, and it took allot of effort, and communication on my part to make sure I was working towards a healthy team dynamic. Spending six months together living out in the woods, or on a ranger compound, on such close quarters with the same people is much more of a challenge then I'd originally assumed. I felt damn near blessed to have been surrounded with the amazing people that my team was comprised of, but as a person known to need to "do his own thing" sometimes, there was certainly many challenges I would face.
Because of the intensity of such an experience, the first week was mostly devoted to a balance between team building exercises, ice-breakers, and government paperwork. Though I can now realize how necessary that time really was, weeks like these put me to the test nearly as much as weeks later in the season where we were camping among frigid craters in endless rainfall. As much as I despised cold wet clothes, I could be just as inclined to lose my mind doing paperwork, or throwing a beach ball around and having to remember the name of the person I'm throwing to. I know that seems ridiculous, but I'm just a certain type I suppose...
The picture above, is a few of us blindly setting out toward the NAP (natural area preserve) after dinner, as recommended by one of the staff. We had no idea for the view we were in for.
In my first few days there in Trout Lake, we were lucky enough to have found out about a storied point of interest called "The Cheese Caves." The local area is known to be riddled with mysterious little caves all over the place, some well known as attractions, and others only found via bar napkin treasure maps or intricate landmarks. "The Cheese Caves," are somewhere in between the two, but are certainly only told of through locals. After a mile or so into the "back 40," a few wrong turns, and a few strange landmarks, we finally found an enormous hole in the ground with a makeshift ladder poking out that appeared to be our destination. The Cheese Caves were named as such because at one point back before efficient refrigerating methods were developed, they were used by local cheese makers to store large quantities of cheese that apparently benefited in the stable temperature. Interestingly, when we went far enough down there, we actually stumbled upon a decent amount of old rotting wood which was apparently evidence of dismantled shelving used to store the cheese way back when.
The Cheese Caves became a place to frequently return to and explore. People would have "monster wars" (I'll explain later), and once toward the end of the season, there was even a Cheese Cave Rave complete with glow sticks, i pods, bongo's, and other general implements of dance. Throughout the NWSA's history, an intense challenge eventually came about that entailed crawling back into the smallest rat-hole in the cave, turning your head lamp off, and remaining there in the absolute darkness for an entire 24 hours. I wish I could say I took the challenge, but I didn't.
One amazing thing about Trout Lake, and the NW in general, is that folks tend to know exactly where everything they are eating comes from. I can't say there wasn't a dietary transition involved on my part, but I also can't say that it wasn't entirely for the better either! I got spoiled eating out there, and now that I'm in the mid-west living on ramen noodles once again, and my only source of protein is canned tuna- I can say that I absolutely appreciate the food culture, and the emphasis on sustainability, and eating local. Don't tell my vegetarian leader, Jen- but I even secretly crave tofu once and a while to replace my hot dog intake... Shhhhh!
Anyways, The G-Store is A-okay in my book, and if it wasn't, I'd be S.O.L. anyhow, because your in for a bit of a drive if you can't buy what you need at the G Store. Since there is a no alcohol policy on NWSA grounds, it didn't take much more then a few weeks for me and my fellow collaborator in music/shenanigans to profess an efficient system of stashing beer off campus so we could have a few cold ones after work and relax at the NAP. The G Store was good enough to supply us with an affordable variety of cheap beer that usually rotated between Hamms, PBR, Raineer, or Olympia. If we were really feeling ritzy, we went with sessions, but those were special days...
Sean was also my room mate in the small two person rooms we were assigned, which worked out splendidly since we were both broke, smelly, Irish work-horses with irregular schedules and unconventional backgrounds. As close as I inevitably became with most everyone in the program, I'm frankly not sure many other people could have put up with living on such close quarters with me. I suppose I would have adapted to what other people expected, but you can only do so much. We drew a line down the middle of the room that my mess would most often times mark, and that worked pretty well for us. There was even a foul sort of undertone of amusement to the strange man cave, and the fact that the two oddest of the odd balls had been lumped together worked as a natural sort of dialogue.
I often wondered why Sean was able to put up with some of my ridiculous tendency's, but I guess with any other room mate, it would have been him in the position of having to work to meet someone else's expectations. With me, it was a constant reminder that you could be far, far worse off. Thanks for putting up with me buddy, and sorry for my ridiculous alarms, and the infamous CORE-4 sleep schedule!
Erin and Olivia hanging out with good 'ol Ollie! Ollie is Christians loyal dog, and when he's not out exploring the town, he lives at the Inn. I'm generally a cat person, but Ollie has real charm, and he's treated like royalty there at the Inn. Dogs in Trout Lake tend to have there own lives, and get to do pretty much whatever they want. It isn't uncommon at all for a dog to disappear for days in Trout Lake, and wander back on home whenever the hell it so desires... What a life!
Until then, our small team was about to have the unique experience of living in the small little town of Trout Lake, and working under the Forest Service in the beautiful Gifford Pinchot National Forest. It was an experience that certainly changed my life and my perspectives, and I'm looking forward to sharing it.
As it turned out, we all drank a bit too much wine this day, and though I suffered a bit of a pain in my head, James apparently went back to the commons and spewed red wine all over the floor. Of course this was all after getting into an overwhelmingly emotional argument about 9/11, crying a bit, and inevitably insulting each other... The next day, all was fine and dandy, and it was just another thing to laugh about, but maaan- don't mix those red and white wines, buddy.
QUICK UPDATE: WHERE I'M AT NOW
Currently, I'm in a small oil boomtown called Minot, ND, currently welding live-stock fencing on my own schedule, and looking for a good paying job. Though I have nobody to collaborate with, I've been working on several new songs that I am excited to play around with once I find some willing participants. Since this leaves me relatively isolated from music- directly at least- I've been taking a serious interest in studying folk rhythm. I've been playing the spoons for a week or two now, and I'm starting to get pretty good at 'em. I also just picked up a washboard at an antique shop to play around on, and I've been steadily playing my harmonica's a bit each day as well. Here in the frigid winds of the central plains, music has really been a necessary, and therapeutic outlet. I've also been working on allot of video, and writing some poetry as well. I'd like to get going on more visual art, but it has been difficult to do so out here.
I'll leave you off with a raw recording of the first song me and Sean managed to put together for our music project "The Whiskey Economy." Its called "Okay Enough." Since we have a handful of these crude, laptop recorded songs, I figure I'll leave one or two with my next few posts so they can be enjoyed in the context of where they were created. I had a blast bringing music back into my life, writing lyrics, and collaborating with Sean, so I hope you enjoy listening to them as much as we enjoyed making 'em!
Until We Meet Again...
Joseph R. Reeves
"Okay Enough," The Whiskey Economy w/ Joseph Reeves, and Sean O'Neill