Dragon Chasers

Dragons are notorious teases. It is well known that dragons can recognize someone that they have only met once, and one meeting with a dragon is all you ever get. They are creatures of novelty. At best they are bored if you attempt to find them again, and their lairs are strewn with the bones of the victims of obsession.

The ones who don’t waste away on their quest to find the dragon they once met; well it is hard to tell if they are lucky or not. The only people who find the dragon a second time are killed by him. See, the dragon doesn’t care about anyone. The only reason he doesn’t kill at first contact is the dragon’s interest in a new obsessor.

Personally, I never cared to see a dragon. While it is rare he kills someone who sees him for the first time, the thought of being that close to a two-ton fire breathing monster terrifies me. And then suppose I become obsessed? Lots of people think they can just find the dragon once and be done, but there’s a dark magic in dragons that we don’t completely understand.

When I first met Akamu, I didn’t know he had ever met a dragon. He had a job and a hut, and seemed to be just a normal island boy. But Akamu didn’t want to hide anything from me. One day I met him at his hut, and we walked back to mine. I could tell he was nervous, and finally he spoke up.

“I should probably just turn around now,” Akamu said, “You won’t want to hang out with me when I tell you, but… I’ve met a dragon.”

I was surprised. Akamu didn’t look like the typical dragon chaser. They tended to become so obsessed with catching their dragon that they forgot to eat. And most of them had scars and burns from close calls with dragons.

“I haven’t gone on an expedition in six months,” he explained. “All the same, most people don’t want to associate with dragon chasers.”

“Everyone makes mistakes,” I said. “If you’re done with dragons, I want to stay friends. But if you ever decide to chase the dragon again, I won’t hang around.”

I had known others who were killed by a dragon after trying to catch him, and didn’t want to watch that happen to someone I cared about.

Everything was fine for a while; Akamu and I swam in the ocean, and hiked up mountains. Akamu heard that a friend of his had been killed by a dragon, and this was tough for him.

We laid under palm trees, we basked in the sun. Akamu found out that another friend of his had been eaten by a dragon, which made him very sad.

I had to go out fishing on a boat for a week. Akamu and I knew we would miss each other, but it was only a week. When I got back on the island I ran to Akamu’s hut to say hello.

Akamu was staring at a chart of the island, eyes darting back and forth across it. His hair was longer and messy, and he was much skinnier, more skinny than it would seem possible to become in only a week. He didn’t look like he had gotten much sleep either. He just furiously scribbled notes. He was planning another expedition to catch the dragon he once met.

“Just go,” Akamu said to me, “I can’t stop now. Hearing about my friends… it was too much to think about. But when I am chasing the dragon, I don’t think about anything else.”

I didn’t understand. How could he be comforted by his quest for the dragon, when his friends had died engulfed in the dragon’s flames?

Another lonely week passed, but island wisdom says there is not much we can do for dragon chasers; they have to abandon their obsession on their own. Then, when I was walking in the woods, I saw flames shoot into the sky. I ran towards the fire to find Akamu huddling crouched outside his hut, while it burnt to the ground. Akamu had a burn on his arm.

“He was so close!” Akamu said. “The dragon was so close I could almost touch him.” He started to cry. “I can’t do this! I don’t want to chase him anymore, I wish I had never met that dragon!”

I helped Akamu up, and we started walking back to my hut. He wanted to take a different path, so we walked up a hill, and over a cascading river. Around the corner he stopped and looked toward some rocks.

“There’s a cave in there.” Akamu said. “That’s where I first met him. Sometimes he returns here, and you can see him flying over the valley”.

His eyes were glazed over, and he seemed to forget the world around him as he stared into the cave. A song about dragons came to him, and he smiled as he hummed it. But I didn’t smile. I saw the cave drawing him in.

“Let’s go Akamu. This is the last time you should come here,” I said, and he agreed.

After spending the night in my hut, Akamu and I walked down the island until we came to the beach where small but well built huts were kept. The island people all chipped in to build these huts as far away from the mountainous dragon lairs as possible. Dragon chasers could come to this beach, and rest easy, knowing that they would not spot a dragon in the skies.

I let Akamu be, and after a few weeks, he was looking and acting like his normal self again. Akamu was grateful to me that I helped him abandon his dragon chasing quest. Since his hut had burned down, Akamu came to stay with me while he figured out the best way to move on, and not again catch the obsession with dragons.

One day, I heard Akamu get up early and leave the hut. I hoped that he was going to find another job. When he returned he seemed distracted and aloof. I was suspicious but didn’t want to jump to any conclusions.

But then in the middle of the night, I heard a rustling. I got up and found Akamu at the table, pouring over a map. It was labeled with the movements of his dragon, and the most likely places the dragon was to be found.

Akamu was surprisingly efficient at chasing the dragon. He was capable of organizing a fruitful expedition on a moments notice, with hardly any supplies. In fact he was so adept at chasing the dragon, it would have been a marketable skill… if there was a market for chasing dragons.

Akamu’s initial defensiveness quickly turned into sadness and shame.

“I don’t want this obsession,” he cried, “But I just can’t get away from it! I wish I never saw a dragon, it ruined my life.”

“But your life isn’t over, Akamu,” I said. “You are so young!”

“How can I get away from dragon chasing though? Everywhere I go I am reminded of him–his breath is in the camp fire; the glisten of the sun on the waves, becomes the shimmer of his scales. There is nowhere I can go, it is all I think about!”

“When we swam together you didn’t seem distracted. When we ran through the hilly trails, were you thinking about the dragon then?” I asked this dejected.

All the time spent with Akamu had been the best time for me.

“No,” Akamu said, “I didn’t think about dragons then.”

“I know I can’t replace what chasing the dragon gives you,” I said. “But can’t I be your reason to stop looking?”

“It’s not fair to you!” Akamu said. “Dragon chasers are playing with fire, we wrestle with a two ton monster! We can’t have people that we care about.”

“I care about you Akamu, I don’t have a choice in that.” I said. “If you can try to forget about dragons, I can be here for you”.

Akamu shook his head, “But this is what happens to dragon chasers! I can’t promise you I will never pick up another map and start another quest, all I can do is take it day by day.”

“Well, let’s start today,” I said, and walked with Akamu back to the huts on the other side of the island.

As I left and walked back to my hut alone with the setting sun on my back, I started thinking. This was the second time since I had known Akamu that he once again started chasing dragons. I told him that I couldn’t be around him if he continued, but then I didn’t follow through with my ultimatum.

Each time that Akamu went back to chasing dragons, I went back to chasing Akamu. But there was a relief in it. Something in me told me that I could make progress. Something told me if I kept chasing Akamu, then I could get back to the place where we happily began.

Was Akamu as elusive as the dragon he sought? Was I caught up in my own kind of obsession, desiring love from Akamu?

Akamu told me that if I’m involved with a dragon chaser, I can’t expect him to forget his obsession forever.

I told Akamu that if he’s involved with me, he can’t expect me to remember my obsession forever.

Prime People Watching on Mount Chocorua

I felt like a scientist studying different sample groups of humans, as a dozen or so people stormed into Liberty Cabin where Eric and I were brewing some coffee. We had already been to the clear summit of Mount Chocorua, trudged through the snow, taken the wrong trail, fell a couple times, backtracked, and finally arrived at the cabin all by around 1pm. That meant we were happily inside the basic structure with wooden platforms as beds, sipping hot coffee, when the dark clouds rolled in.

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Lightening streaked across the sky. First came the downpour, then came the hail, and the wind. It would have been quite scary to be on the peak in such weather, and we would soon hear first hand accounts. It was hard to distinguish who was with who as three different groups of people and a lone hiker came streaming in. With only 9 platform beds in the cabin, Eric and I were glancing at each other and thinking the same thing, “Are they all staying here tonight?”

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The answer was no, two groups were just out for a day hike, and had not anticipated how snowy it would be at 3,500 feet. Compared to them, I felt so very prepared for this camping trip, but I must admit that I had not expected the snow either, for some reason. It melted around my house, so snow was out of sight and out of mind; it is springtime!

I lucked out that my hiking partner Eric was much more prepared than I. He even brought extra hiking poles, which I don’t generally use, but proved invaluable on the snowy and icy trails. He also had a lighter, which I had forgot to pack. If I was alone, that could have been a disastrous mistake, being unable to light my camp stove to heat water. I still had enough other food, but it would have made the overnight uncomfortable.

I also lucked out with the temperatures. I brought many layers of clothing, but nothing extremely warm. This ended up being fine, but had it been ten degrees colder, which it easily could have been, I probably would have froze all day and night. So I am not trying to act like I was all set to hike Everest, but I at least brought plenty of extra socks, a map, flashlights, etc.

Party at Liberty Cabin!

As I stood in the cabin, trying to discern who was staying, a girl with booty shorts and a tank top walked in, bleeding from both shins. She was in good spirits, which could have been her disposition, or shock, or perhaps she had more than the two beers she admitted to earlier. See, it was her 21st birthday! And it was either hike a mountain, or go to clubs in Boston. Apparently she decided to dress for the clubs, but go hike the mountain.

I assumed the girl patching up her legs was in the same group as the bloody birthday girl, but I soon learned the healer was with another female friend. The bleeding girl’s two male friends (I use the term lightly) seemed more interested in getting back on the trail. One added that maybe they could stop at a liquor store on the way home. It seemed a hospital might be more appropriate, since the now patched up girl (no thanks to her hiking partners) had removed her wet socks, and put her unlaced Tims back on her numb red feet.

Since more important matters pressed, that group of three got back on the trail, at least taking a picture of my map with the phone that had 9% battery left. That is when we realized the other two girls were not with them, and only slightly more prepared. They seemed equally caught off guard by the conditions and weather, but at least possessed mental toughness.

They had pants on, but their thin canvass, flat bottom vans were not helping in the ice and, I kid you not, over 3 feet of snow in some places. Luckily their phones had more battery, and they took pictures of our maps. We offered them a map to take, but they declined. However when we heard at 3:30pm they didn’t have flashlights for the 4ish hour hike back over the summit, and down to their parking lot, I insisted they take an extra flashlight (I had two plus a headlamp), and the father of two from the third group also sent a flashlight with them. And they were off.

The Overnight Crew

Now the smoke cleared, and everyone who was left exhaled. We had a few jokes at the booty-short-wearing-birthday-girl’s expense, and situated ourselves in the cabin. It was me and Eric, the lone woman hiker, and Brian, his 11 and 13 year old sons, and an 18 year old girl he had adopted at some point in the last few years.

We really had such a good time, getting to know each other, laughing, joking, and commiserating. See, the family wasn’t super physically prepared either, but they were chalk full of mental preparedness. Not to criticize too much, but taking extra socks is like hiking 101. But Brian had only been hiking with his sons for a year, and it was great to see the enthusiasm. They had plenty of water, which was a lesson learned the previous year. Next camping trip, I am confident they will have plenty of socks.

So even though it was technically against the rules to start a camp fire that close to the cabin, we all looked the other way while Brian got one going to dry their socks and shoes. Rules are made to be broken, and this seemed to fall into the survival category. We certainly weren’t going to start a fire, but that didn’t mean we weren’t going to enjoy one that someone else lit.

Brian seemed like a really great, fun dad. They discovered hiking sort of by accident last year, and fell in love with it. There is a big learning curve with camping that I take for granted. My dad was a seasoned camper before I ever went with him, so from an early age I learned all the do’s and do nots of camping and hiking. And even then so much is unforeseen, and new experiences every trip teach you more.

I give Brian tons of credit for getting his family out for camping trips, and enthusiastically making the best of everything, even when they were a bit cold and unprepared. Plus, his kids enjoyed the whole experience, and didn’t complain at all, which is probably more than could be said of me at the same age.

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Liberty Cabin with Mt. Chorua peak

Over the course of the night, we learned more about what transpired on the mountain in the hours and minutes leading up to the storming of the cabin. Brian was already feeling guilty that his family was on top of a mountain in a lightening storm, but weather is unpredictable, especially on mountains, and I don’t think it was negligence on his part.

His group, the group of two girls, and the birthday girl’s group all came together in the storm on the mountain, counting on strength in numbers to get them to safety. Birthday girl apparently panicked when lightening cracked nearby, and running in hysterics fell in some icy snow, lost a boot (but reclaimed it), and cut her shins on the ice when her feet punched through the top layer of snow.

The lone woman camper followed the trail of blood from the birthday girl’s shins, and arrived at the cabin minutes after the rest of them. She was a 31 year old seasoned camper who was the most prepared of anyone (and even she got her foot stuck in the snow at one point), except perhaps Eric who I was with, and probably made me look more prepared than I was. I have a habit of packing and planning last minute, which makes things harder when your phone dies, and you didn’t bring a charger. But that is when it actually helps that I don’t have a smart phone. I have a phone for texts and calls, a tablet for everything internet, and a GPS for the car. All these would have been on the same device if I had a smart phone. What is normally an inconvenience therefore proved to be an asset.

Brian’s sons were fine that night, since they shared a double sleeping bag that kept them warm. But Brian froze all night, with just a thin blanket, and the clothes he was wearing—sweatpants and a light jacket. He joined Eric and me for the sun rise, which was amazing. I decided not to take a picture of the sun rise since it would not have done the view justice. You’ll have to stay at Liberty Cabin for that image. But maybe wait a few more weeks if you don’t want to have to deal with the snow.

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Letting the Spring Weather Set the Tone for Positive Energy and Good Vibes!

Weather Induced Positivity

Finally, there is warm weather in Massachusetts as spring arrives, and with it comes long awaited hope. All my worries and doubts seem to have melted away with the snow, and now it feels like nothing can hold me back. The winter is behind me, and if all goes to plan, it will have been my last full winter in New England.

The winter definitely makes me appreciate warm weather, but I think the same appreciation would be felt from a week of bad weather, versus six months. And the appreciation doesn’t seem to last much longer. You will NEVER hear me complaining about the heat up here, but others seem to quickly forget what we just went through!

I wanted to capture this optimism before I go out to spend the entire day outside. It is so much easier to do the Pollyanna thing, and play the glad game, when you can just get outside, and run through the fields like Julie Andrews. (Yea I know, different movies.)

Left Brain Right Brain Skirmishes

I’ll be making an announcement soon about a book I’ve been working on for over a year. I am the type to over-think things, so naturally, my brain is back and forth between pessimism and optimism about the prospects of this next project. But something about warm weather and sunshine just burns away the negatives! I find my confidence solidifying as I put more days between me and the winter of despair.

The Future of the Mind, by Michio Kaku actually has some insight into the balance in our brains of pessimism versus optimism. Obviously it is great to be optimistic, but unbridled optimism could spell disaster if it makes you take risks that put you in danger. On the other hand, uncontrollable pessimism can paralyze you with fear or apathy since, “everything always goes wrong anyway”.

In order to run proper simulations of our future, which is basically all our brains do, pessimism and optimism need to be balanced. They say the left brain tends to be more analytical, and the right brain more creative. The tendency is that the left brain brings optimism, and the right brain pessimism. I thought this was interesting, as it conjured up images of troubled artists and writers like Picasso, Hemingway, and Poe. On the other hand we don’t tend to think of Einstein as emotional, and the image of a scientist is that they are giddy with excitement about their analytical feats.

Balance

So I don’t want to go into this next endeavor with blind optimism as it may be a huge letdown, especially if the optimism stops me from taking steps to increase the chances of success. But if I start with too much pessimism, the defeatist attitude will invade with the, “why even bother” thoughts.

Yes, success is going to be hard fought, certain things might be disappointing, and not everything is going to go exactly according to plan. No, my book doesn’t suck, people will buy it, and there will be plenty of opportunities for promotion.

I need to balance the positive and negative energy, making sure to keep the negatives in check. There is no point in letting the “what if’s” dominate; just consider the most likely scenarios.

Can I do anything about it? No? Stop dwelling on it. Yes? Prepare for the worst, hope for the best.

As for the positive feelings, let them run wild! But make sure you know the brain is throwing in more than a couple grains of salt. Will I be nationally recognized by August? Probably not. But as long as I know that it is a long shot, why not dream, and set a high goal to strive for?

They say that the people who imagine themselves successful, and daydream about achieving accomplishments and reaching goals are more likely to realize those dreams. Now if I had never written a book, being a famous author would simply not come to fruition, no matter how much I planned and dreamed. But I have written a book, and it is just the first of many.

Happy springtime! Let the sunshine guide your energy.

“The Greater Good”, Individual Good, and the Collective: What it means to be an individualist in a group

I wrote this for my other blog, but I figured it was philosophical enough for this one too!

Joe Jarvis

Collective: One Word, Two Meanings

Today, we can see the strategy of doublespeak from the novel 1984 being employed. Language is intentionally ill-defined so that people discuss semantics, and never get to the point of a substantive debate. I see this when collectivism versus individualism is discussed.

Coercion has been folded into the definition of collectivism, because most examples of collectivist philosophy have been implemented by force through government (with terrible consequences for both the individual and the group). So individualists, who believe the good of the group does not supersede the good of the individual, tend to shy away from collectivist philosophy.

But I don’t think coercion was ever meant to be part of the definition of collectivism. It was more of an ideal, that the individual might want to, or see value in, subverting his will to the will of the majority. But in order for any actual…

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