The Smaller Things

M skiing into the Wapiti Cabin, Gallatin National Forest.

When discussing outdoor adventure, I do not think I am the only person who is quite likely to irritate, condescend to, and erratically yet predictably annoy my significant other.  There is an archetype, advanced by powerful forces, that the ideal romantic partnership involves and perhaps revolves around epic achievements.  Compelling though this ideal is, I have found it to be rather problematic in execution.


One day I’ll be able to write fully about why that is, but given how close to my emotive soul and thus far from all reasonable perspective the importance of outdoor adventure is, I don’t expect to achieve that wisdom for decades yet.

Rib roast with rosemary for Christmas dinner.

What I can say now is that our history of adventuring together has been quite mixed.  We’ve done a half-dozen Zion canyons in the deep freeze of calender winter, hiked around Shoshone Lake in a day, and rode across Iowa.  We’ve also had some serious disagreements out miles from the road, the details of which are for me exceedingly embarrassing to recall.

I’m not an especially patient or flexible person, some public appearances to the contrary, and it is all too often the case that the person whom I trust most in my life is privileged to see my id at it’s most unhinged.

Four days worth of home.

I have a difficult time understanding how anyone would not want to pursue outdoor adventure to the most exacting extremes.  The rewards being to me axiomatic.  I can pass over other ways of understanding the world in people with whom my relationship is casual, but in those closest to me life’s more trying moment strip away my good manners and an uncompromising core shows through, rough as the old granite rocks which hid under the snow and kept me skiing snow machine tracks only during our time in the Gallatins this past week.  Just as those rocks tore away the runner and strut from the snow machine of the party which proceeded us in the cabin, I am not very inclined to allow people to do things in any way other than the best.  Even when that best is defined and communicated only by me to me.

This often does not work well.

Boulders, sage and windslab made venturing off the beaten track unpalatable.  The two feet of snow was sugary facets, all the way to the ground.

I aspire to be more flexible, let M define and influence what and how she goes outside, but still too often fail on crucial points (making fun of snowshoing and bearanoia, for example).  It’s been sad, mainly because all too often I get to reflect on how bad I am at changing crucial aspects of my identity.  Even if those changes are minute.

But the benefit of my stumbling attempts to reform and grow has been this: I’ve learned that while easy compatability on major items holds most of the outward sizzle in a relationship, it’s the small, everyday, and mundane that make the difference.

Ribeye ready for the pan.

When the truck’s belt snapped in Butte two years ago and we were stranded for 36 hours, I cannot imagine any other person but my wife who would have made the experience not only bearable, but fulfilling.  This makes all the difference.  So when our date with the holiday cabin came closer, and no snow fell, I knew that poor skiing would be tertiary to the wonderful, plain hours we’d spend ready and playing cards.  No great, romantic stories would be generated, but we’d enjoy ourselves anyway.

When the sun went down we needed headlamps to see around the cabin by 430, an elemental state of affairs which stripped away the soft artifices of push-button, flip-a-switch entertainment, comfort, and reassurance which makes our modern life so easy and often, so distant from each other.  It’s easy to like your partner when wireless lets you both surf the web at the same time.  It was reassuring to know yet again, in the cabin, that we thrive very well without any of that.

Thrive, that is, as a couple.  Two people whose relationship is built on the daily exercise of stripping down and complicating that lie which is individuality.  It’s comforting to think that I am me, immutable, apart from those unpredictable others in my life.  It’s more difficult and more true to let go and face the extent to which your identity is not a matter under your control.

And that then is the most egregious lie of all, told by our culture of romantic comedies and voracious tabloids feeding epiparasitic on personal lives about which we should not care: that our immutable identity will given adequate exposure find another immutable identity with which it naturally fits, puzzle like, echoing the Aristophanes of the Symposium.

Plato knew enough to make light of such an account of human love.

We should know rather that the daily labor of intersubjective understanding, of seeing how you effect another and they in turn (and simulatneously) shape you is both the boring work of years skipped over by facile literature, art and entertainment as well as the substance of love itself.  Love being in this light a concentrated and extended experiment in interpersonal understanding.  A frustrating, paradoxic and perhaps absurd exercise whose reward, based on my limited understanding, only increases with time.

My poetry is so romantic.

The best cheeseburger in Montana.

So then it was good to spend four days apart from most of the world, looking at the boring things which, to follow the seasonal cliche, are what really matter.

I’d still like it to fucking snow soon, though.  Winter in Montana without feet and feet and feet of snow is just sunless, damp bullshit.  Like Oregon with worse food.

12 responses to “The Smaller Things”

  1. Sounds and looks like a giant piece of heaven. That cabin looks amazing! :D Cabins rock.

    I am going skiing for the first tie ever this Sunday. I am hoping to make it back home in two pieces at the most.

    Awesome post.

    1. Good luck with the skiing, its a tough thing to take up as an adult.

  2. you said a mouthful, doc.

    Looks like you ate one or two, too. Enjoy the NY.

  3. Excellent post Dave!

    You really need to provide dictionary links for the bigger, arcane and more obscure words. For the simpler folk, like me Dave. To think that these words come naturally to you as part of the complex discussion you have laid out is well, impressive.

    axiomatic – taken for granted

    epiparasitic – An epiparasite is one that feeds on another parasite.

    immutable – not capable of or susceptible to change.

    Aristophanes of the Symposium – oh I give up!!

    Happy New Year to you and the ever suffering M ;-)


  4. What was a ‘fun’ bushwhack for me, with only a compass bearing and vague distance calculation to guide me was a living hell of endless pain for her. I’m pretty sure it wasn’t what caused us to go our own separate ways in life but it probably didn’t help. Or it did, in proving that we weren’t compatible? I don’t know. But our times in a cabin, away from the frivolous tinsel of modern life was some of our happiest, and closest.

    Great piece again Dave. All the best in 2012.

  5. That was sweet. Is your quest for open mindedness why we went snowshoeing yesterday? Ha :).

  6. “an elemental state of affairs which stripped away the soft artifices of push-button, flip-a-switch entertainment, comfort, and reassurance which makes our modern life so easy and often, so distant from each other. It’s easy to like your partner when wireless lets you both surf the web at the same time. It was reassuring to know yet again, in the cabin, that we thrive very well without any of that.”

    Well said, I may start looking at cell phone coverage maps when trip planning. I just don’t get why my wife and friends cannot EVER put those damn iphones away.

  7. Is individuality a lie? We are born alone, we die alone, and we spend the time inbetween trying and failing to open ourselves to others of our species. Individuality seems a condition of existence forced upon us by the vagaries of consciousness. If individuality is a lie, it is one we tell ourselves to run from loneliness. But it’s hard to tell when reality and what is “true”–much less “identity”–is defined lumps of neurons we don’t really control.

  8. Great post Dave. I would almost kill, literally for four days alone with my wife. The times we get away for a weekend are great because we remember how much we like each other. Life, and especially kids will try to get you to forget.

    PS: marriage fundamentally is a death of self. If you want it to be any good, anyway. I would have done many thing differently were I single. I would not change a thing of how they are, however. I don’t think we, in our incredibly finite wisdom really know what is best for ourselves most of the time.

    Hooray for marriage!! The best thing in my life by far.

  9. […] individuality is a lie, or at least phantasmagoric, than solo backpacking must be suicidal.  Right?  In spite of, and […]

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