Monthly Archives: May 2015

On canoeing 12 miles offshore

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May 23. 2015 – This post is on what you might call a pilgrimage that happened last November, 2014.

That’s when my brother and I did an 8-day canoe trip “12 miles offshore.”  We started out on Lake Ponchartrain, then paddled through the Rigolets and on out into the Gulf of Mexico.  We paddled 12 miles out into the Gulf, then “primitive camped” at night, on places like Half-moon Island and Ship Island.  (And from time to time an occasional salt marsh.)

Which naturally brings up the question, Why?   Why would two old geezers – 63 and 69 respectively – paddle so far out, into the realm of sharks and drownings?

For one answer we can turn to John Steinbeck.  He began Part Two of Travels with Charley by noting that most men his age get told, “slow down.”  And so they “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  (They “trade their violence for a small increase in life span.”)   But that wasn’t his way:

I did not want to surrender fierceness for a small gain in yardage…  If this projected journey should prove too much then it was time to go anyway.  I see too many men delay their exits with a sickly, slow reluctance to leave the stage.  It’s bad theater as well as bad living.

That brings up what Robert Louis Stevenson said – in a similar vein – in his  Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes.   (See also my other blog, to wit: On donkey travel – and sluts.)

Briefly, my feelings about such a challenge – eight days canoeing 12  miles offshore – are pretty much reflected in what Stevenson said in Travels with a Donkey, and what Steinbeck said in Travels with Charley.  (See Wikipedia.)

Stevenson wrote of his “12-day, 120-mile solo hiking journey through the sparsely populated and impoverished areas of the Cévennes mountains in south-central France in 1878.”  The book was considered a pioneering “classic of outdoor literature,” and is said to have been the basis for Steinbeck’s Travels with Charley.

Early on in his Travels, Stevenson found himself  groping in the dark for a campsite.  (A site “black as a pit.”)  He ate a crude dinner – a “tin of bologna” and some cake, washed down with brandy – then settled in for the night.  “The wind among the trees was my lullaby.”

He woke in the morning “surprised to find how easy and pleasant it had been,” sleeping in the open, “even in this tempestuous weather.”  He then waxed poetic:

I had been after an adventure all my life, a pure dispassionate adventure, such as befell early and heroic voyagers; and thus to be found by morning in a random nook in Gevaudan – not knowing north from south, as strange to my surroundings as the first man upon the earth…

(Pages 50-56, “Upper Gevaudan.”)   Stevenson seemed to  be saying he’d experienced something that less-adventurous people – then and now – have no idea they’re missing.  That is, something of the feelings that “the explorers back in the olden days had.”  (Those “early and heroic voyagers…”)    On page 64 he expanded on that thought:

Alas, as we get up in life, and are more preoccupied with our affairs, even a holiday is a thing that must be worked for.  To hold a pack upon a pack-saddle against a gale out of the freezing north is no high industry, but it is one that serves to occupy and compose the mind.  And when the present is so exacting, who can annoy himself about the future?

In the same way – as I found out last November – “who can annoy himself about the future” when he’s immersed in the exacting task of paddling for hours on end.  When he’s 12 miles offshore, at the mercy of the elements.  When day’s end promises naught but a lukewarm meal on a soggy beach, or salt marsh.  (Which actually turned out to be quite rewarding.  The wealth of bull rushes growing out of the sloshing water gave one of the softest “beds” of the journey).

But as it turns out, that’s the nature of pilgrimages.   They give us a break from “real life,” from the rat race that consumes so many lives today.  All of which I noted in St. James the Greater. That post from my other blog noted a description of such a journey as “ritual on the move.”

In turn, through the raw experience of hunger, cold and lack of sleep, “we can quite often find a sense of our fragility as mere human beings, especially when compared with ‘the majesty and permanence of God.’”   In short, such a pilgrimage can be “‘one of the most chastening, but also one of the most liberating’ of personal experiences.”

There’s lot more to say about last November’s canoe trip.  But for now it’s enough to say that – despite the discomfort that’s part of the process – there were moments of pure bliss…

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I gleaned the foregoing from posts in my other blog, including On achieving closure, On achieving closure – Part II, and “I pity the fool!”

The original post included an upper image, a photo I took near dawn on November 10, 2014.  Captioned: “A siesta at sea, a skill you need if you want to paddle 17 miles in 11 hours.” That day we started at 3:00 in the morning, “12 miles offshore.” That’s also the day we did 17 miles in 11 hours. (Some six hours of actual canoeing.) Also, given the age of the intrepid canoeists it behooved us to learn – through “OJTthe technique of “siesta at sea.”  Near dawn there was the calm water “that is a necessity for such a siesta when you’re 10 or 12 miles out in the Gulf.

Also a lower image, a photo I took near dawn on the morning of November 10.  (Showing “clouds on the horizon, not land.”)  That day we got up and broke camp at 3:00 in the morning.  We hit the water at 5:00 a.m. and paddled the 17 miles in 11 hours, not counting an hour break on Cat Island, before proceeding to West Ship Island.  Not bad for a couple old geezers!

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On “Johnny YUMA was a rebel…”

Nick Adams The Rebel.JPG



“Nick Adams as Johnny Yuma from the television program The Rebel…”



Wikipedia:  The first episode was set in early 1867, with Johnny “returning to his hometown nearly two years after the end of the war.  His father, Ned Yuma … had been killed by a gang that took control of the town.  Dan Blocker of ‘Bonanza’ fame plays the gang leader… ”

Which is being interpreted:  Who knew?  Hoss as a gang leader?

On that note, consider this from an old Seinfeld:

KRAMER:  You go to Tor Eckman…  He’s a herbalist, a healer…   JERRY:  Eckman?  I thought he was doing time?   KRAMER:  No, no, he’s out.  He got out.  See, the medical establishment, see, they tried to frame him.  It’s all politics.  But he’s a rebel.    JERRY:   A rebel?  No.  Johnny Yuma was a rebel.  Eckman is a nut…

Heart AttackSee Seinfeld Scripts – The Heart Attack.  Which brings up another note:  The only connection between Johnny Yuma and Jerry Seinfeld is that the latter finally gave the former some long-overdue props;  “due respect; proper recognition.”  But that wasn’t the only Seinfeld homage:

In [another] episode of Seinfeld, Kramer absent-mindedly sings the theme on the phone after he’s put on hold.  It might have … been a bit of improv by Michael Richards, an actor old enough to remember when the show starring Nick Adams originally aired.

(See Hell’s Unutterable Lament: Nick Adams was a rebel, which added that the star of the series – Adams – died at the age of 36, in 1968, a mere seven years after the series ended.)

Two points.  One is that true rebels tend to die young.  (Think James Dean.)

The second is that we’re fascinated by rebels, a term defined at least two ways.  One way says a rebel is a person who “refuses allegiance to, resists, or rises in arms against the government or ruler of his or her country.”  (   The alternate definition – and by far the more popular these days – is of a “person who stands up for their own personal opinions despite what anyone else says.”  See Urban Dictionary, which added:

It’s all about being an individual and refusing to follow a crowd that forces you to think the same way they do even if it means becoming an outcast to society.  True rebels know who they are and do not compromise their individuality…

You may think all this is something new under the sun, or just the province of beatniks and other weirdos.  But consider Ralph Waldo Emerson (at left), and what he said some 174 years ago:  “Whoso would be a man, must be a nonconformist…”   (See also “I pity the fool!”)

But we digress.  (Sort of.)  We were talking about Johnny Yuma, as a rebel who finally got some due recognition from Seinfeld some 35 years after Nick Adams’ TV series ended.   And as noted in Hell’s Unutterable, above:  “It helps that the theme was sung by Johnny Cash, a bonafide music legend…”

(For a “live” performance see Johnny Cash “The Rebel” – YouTube.)

As the lyrics noted,  Johnny Yuma roamed through the west, wandering alone.   He had a dream he’d hold until “his dyin’ breath.”  He would continue on, roaming, searching his soul and gambling with death, ever restless.  He lived by his wits, and his speed handling a sidearm – he was “panther quick and leather tough.”  And finally, the key phrase:  he “figured that he’d been pushed enough.”  (See JOHNNY CASH LYRICS – The Rebel-Johnny Yuma.)

Which brings up protest songs in general.  (They’ve also been around for a long time):

The tradition of protest songs in the United States is a long one that dates back to the 18th century and colonial period, the American Revolutionary War and its aftermath.  In the 19th century topical subjects for protest in song included abolition, slavery, poverty, and the Civil War amongst other subjects.  In the 20th century civil liberties, civil rights, women’s rights, economic injustice, politics and war were among the popular subjects for protest in song.  In the 21st century the long tradition continues…

See Protest songs in the United States.  Which brings up the natural question:  What’s all this protest about?   “What’s all the hubbub, bub?”  Don’t we live in the greatest country in the world?  Shouldn’t we be happy with we have?  Shouldn’t we respect “law and order?”

Well, yeah…  But the problem seems to be that a desire for “law and order” tends to degenerate into a sense of complacence, if not arrogance.  Or maybe it’s just a matter of “getting old…”

Then there’s the fact that some political candidates – for example – “exaggerate or even manufacture a problem with law and order … to generate public support.”  And finally that law and order expression sometimes carries with it “the implication of arbitrary or unnecessary law enforcement, or excessive use of police powers.”

And speaking of arbitrary law enforcement, see The Rebel | Television Obscurities:

Yuma faced down intolerance, distrust, greed, confusion and revenge.  Despite his rebellious nature, Yuma respected law and order and despised abuse of power.  He stood up for the weak and downtrodden.  He traveled alone and was often forced to work alone because he was the only one willing to stand up to the bad guys. (E.A.)

Which brings up The Establishment.  Remember that?  Also known as The Man?  Either refers to a “dominant group or elite that holds power or authority in a nation.”  And either can also be used to describe oppression, and that seemed to be what Johnny Yuma pledged to face down.

The problem is:  We Baby-boomers who once protested the Establishment – and who so loved The Rebel TV series – are now the major portion of today’s “dominant group or elite.”  And yet – somehow – there’s more than enough intolerance, greed and injustice to go around.

So what happened?  Why are injustice, intolerance and greed still here?

Maybe the problem is that people get lazy when they get older.  Or maybe they just get tired sooner than they used to.  Or maybe – over the years – they lose the drive to correct injustice they had when they were young.  Or maybe they just get afraid to push the envelope.

As John Steinbeck put it, many men his age – he was 58 when he wrote Travels with Charley –  are constantly told to slow down.  And so they “pack their lives in cotton wool, smother their impulses, hood their passions, and gradually retire from their manhood.”  And since these older men have “retired,” they want more than anything else to maintain the status quo.

And maybe that’s why we need young people, pains-in-the-butt that they can generally be:

Although the character Adams plays, Johnny Yuma, fought for the South, the designation “reb” goes deeper than this.  He is a symbol of rebellious youth – a loner, seeking something to hang his life on, wandering through the [] West of a century ago…  I can find parallels for Johnny Yuma’s search for meaning in the slum kid heading out into the streets of the city, aimlessly walking, seeking, or in young David with his slingshot walking toward Goliath..

See The Rebel | Television Obscurities, emphasis added.  And once upon a time, we aging Baby-boomers felt the same way, when we were the rebellious youth.  See for example “Another brick in the wall,” in which Pink Floyd protested an “out-of-touch education system bent on producing compliant cogs in the societal wheel.”

And now people our age are running the educational system.   (See also irony.)

But in the end, maybe it doesn’t have to be that way.  Maybe you don’t have to lose your dreams when you get older.  And maybe you can even start something totally new under the sun.  Think of Abraham, the original patriarch.  After all, he was “75 years young” when he left the homeland that he’d lived all his life, and set off for parts unknown.

But Abraham – you see – wasn’t an old geezer


File:Molnár Ábrahám kiköltözése 1850.jpg

Abraham, leaving home and showing his “still-youthful vigor…”


The upper image and lead-in caption are courtesy of The Rebel (TV series) – Wikipedia.

The “Seinfeld” image is courtesy of The Heart Attack – WikiSein, the Seinfeld Encyclopedia.

Re: Emerson.  See also Self-Reliance – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re:  “Hubbub, bub?”  See the Falling Hare (Bugs Bunny cartoon) – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.

Re: “The Man.”  Interestingly, the American use of that term with that connotation came first in the Southern U.S. states, where it “came to be applied to any man or any group in a position of authority.”  It was only in the 1960’s that “use of this term was expanded to counterculture groups and their battles against authority, such as the Yippies.”

Re: Steinbeck on aging.  See “I pity the fool!”

Re:  “parts unknown.”  The reference is to the Glossary of professional wrestling terms – WikipediaThe phrase is found under “p,” and refers to a “vague, fictional location.  Billing a wrestler as being from ‘Parts Unknown’ (rather than from his real hometown or another actual place) is intended to add to a wrestler’s mystique.”

The lower image is courtesy of Abraham – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “A painting of Abraham’s departure by József Molnár.”