Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

11 July 2013

Calling Gumby

Some of the other participants in this morning's
yoga class.
I could have stayed in Happy Baby pose the rest of the class. Fortunately, there were only a couple more hip openers to go before my favorite part of any yoga session: Savasana, or Corpse pose.

In Happy Baby, I lay on my back with my legs off the floor above me, knees bent, while my hands grabbed the outside of my feet. I also rolled around a bit on the base of my spine, which felt wonderful after the contortions in which I'd spent the previous 50 or so minutes. Like I said: I could have stayed there for a long time but in short order the instructor had us grab a belt and extend our legs (one at a time) out to the side then over to the other side. That felt good too, and the Savasana that immediately followed was very peaceful. But most of the session had been a torture-fest, a struggle to bend and twist this 47-year-old frame into rejuvenating positions. I did it, but it wasn't easy.

Which is a bummer because I was good at yoga a while back. I did it quite frequently and I have no doubt it was yoga that enabled me to play full-check hockey well into my 40s.

I took up yoga in the fall of 1992. I'd returned home to Park City, Utah, after my first trip to Alaska. On that trip I had several revelations, and they all conspired to get me back into proper form. I went vegetarian and gave up alcohol for almost a year, I started working out in the gym and doing cardio work regularly, and I took up yoga.

Yoga made sense because of a book I'd read by Ram Dass, in which the guru of the '60s pointed out that if you were an active person, seated meditation was going against your nature. Better to try active meditation: whirling, tai chi or yoga, things like that.

My first teacher was an ex-Army guy who taught in the gym in Park City. He was super nice and super laid-back, and he was very helpful to a rank beginner like me. In later years I worked with some pretty high-profile teachers, including one who studied with B.K.S. Iyengar, THE yoga dude in the world. But C.J. remains my favorite, largely because of his cheerful, happy-go-lucky approach to the practice.

And the practice paid off right away. I felt healthier and more capable on the slopes, on the ice, everywhere. Several years later, while playing for the Sun Valley Suns, I'd get shit from younger teammates as I'd go through my 10-minute pre-game routine. The funny thing was: they were the ones getting hurt, not this old-fart yogi. That was what clinched the value of yoga to me: that health and strength and suppleness that practicing yoga gave me.

But as with every healthy discipline in my life, I've wandered off the path in recent years. I haven't vegged since I started eating meat again in '93, and heaven knows I don't lead a teetotaling life. In recent months I at least kept up a gym practice (abandoned since May) and a regular yoga practice? Well, that's been years. So this morning's class -- a slow-flow class, no less -- was humbling.

There weren't any of the Gumby-like rubber-band practitioners in this morning's class, but there were plenty of people -- male and female alike, older and younger than me -- who made me feel like the out-of-shape blob I've become. Poses that were once easy for me are now challenging -- some so challenging I can't do them other than at the complete beginner level. I came out of the class feeling it in every muscle of my body. Which, I suppose, is the point, right?

"Seek freedom and become captive of your desires, seek discipline and find your liberty," wrote Frank Herbert in Dune. I've let that discipline go over the past months and years, but I'm confident that a slow-flow yoga class this morning represents the first step on the road back to where I was not so long ago. "Begin again and again and again and…" was the mantra of an old trainer of mine years ago. Sound wisdom. Maybe I can even get back to Gumby status someday.

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05 July 2013

Live and Learn

The perks of learning to fly fish: king salmon in Alaska.
I learned to fly fish in the summer of my 16th year. My father taught me while we were in Utah for my older brother's wedding. We used a private, stocked pond that had no trees or anything else to interfere with my neophyte casts, and I was spoiled by catching huge, western trout well before I had any right to believe I had even the slightest inkling of what I was doing.

My father taught me as well as he was able given that it had been a good 20 years or more since he'd last been fly fishing. Prior to the invasion into his life of three kids in three years starting just prior to his 42nd birthday, my father had fished all over the world, according to stories I heard in my youth. He'd even turned down a PR gig with a fishing company that would have enabled him to get paid to enjoy the best fishing on Earth. "Don't let your avocation be your vocation," was the reason he gave for staying in newspaper journalism. That truism became ingrained in me as a result, and now that I'm older I find myself disagreeing with the sentiment.

In any case, I got a couple of hours of tuition in fly casting that August in Utah and returned home to figure out the rest of the art on the small New England trout found in the tree-lined ponds on my prep school campus.

So while there was none of that "In my family there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing" sentiment that opens Norman Maclean's classic A River Runs Through It, there was at least a lineage that was handed down from one generation to the next. In later years, my father would join me on a couple of fishing trips on the Green River in northeastern Utah, one of America's premier fly fishing waters. The trips were my attempt in adult life to find a common ground on which we could exist as individuals and yet share a deeply rooted experience between father and son. Because beyond fly fishing all we really ever had in common was hockey, and once I was no longer in the running for a life in that sport my father and I drifted ever farther apart.

Which is why I found it so poignant reading the writings of Dana Lamb, an outdoors writer from the mid-20th century. A friend shared a book of Lamb's with me recently and I was transfixed by some of the short columns I read. The theme of finding continuity in the face of changing times ran through all the pieces, and Lamb's evocation of the universality of a river despite irrestible outside forces was both comforting and upsetting at the same time. Lamb's writing provided living examples of the philosophy from Heraclitus that no one steps into the same river twice.

Particularly strong among Lamb's stories were those highlighting that changing of hands between generations that John Mellencamp called "so sad and glorious." It was while getting choked up reading those stories of multiple generations encountering the same river -- in name at least -- that I realized that other than location and DNA, my father and I might as well be from different planets. Which is ironic since we attended the same college, we worked in the same profession and we fanatically played the same sport. But in reality, my father and I share almost nothing.

Maybe if I'd had a family of my own my father and I would have that most elemental of experiences over which to bond. But that didn't happen and it didn't happen in large part because I didn't want to continue that disconnected and impersonal family life in which my father raised his kids. And now he and I find ourselves where we are now: sharing a house while living a million miles apart and having essentially zero contact.

As I read Lamb's collection, I was jealous of fathers and sons fishing together, of guides passing on their knowledge to their sons who became guides themselves. And that made me jealous of those friends of mine who have strong family bonds and powerful relationships with their fathers.

Ironically, the book was given to me by a friend whose father died when my friend was just a boy. Mike joined my father and me on one of those Green River trips, and the two of them really connected over their common experience in newspapering. At the time I felt blessed that I'd had my father beyond my 12th or 13th year, and was honored that I could give my friend a taste of the kind of father-son fishing trip that Lamb wrote about. But today, looking at the father-son relationships that some friends of mine are now passing on to their boys, I realize that my upbringing was more like Mike's, I just didn't realize it. And though I tried with those fishing trips in the '90s, and again in the past year or so as my father has been infirm, no connection was ever really possible.

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