Doug Bruns

In The Mountains, Again.

In Camping, Memoir on August 11, 2019 at 8:00 am
Dillon

The view of Peak One Campground from uptop mountainside.

We’ve been in the mountains only two weeks. My lungs are trying to figure out what’s going on. The morning run-walk up the mountainside is a bit more run than walk recently, but the difference is hardly discernable.  Lucy too is lagging, but occasionally gets a surge and charges ahead during our morning outing. A couple of days ago she streamed past me and disappeared down the trail. That’s what we do, leap frog one another on our morning runs. But on this morning, with her out of sight, I heard barking off in the woods where the trail empties out into a clearing. The bark was not Lucy’s. I know her voice. Then I heard that distinct whine of a coyote. Then the barking again, raspy and hoarse, but from a different direction. My heart raced. Lucy had either been loured into or stumbled upon a coyote den. Last year I encountered coyotes in the same area but had forgotten about it until this moment. I picked up my pace, calling for her. She’s a good dog and always returns to my call, though sometimes it takes a while. I reached the clearing.  She wasn’t there. I called again and moved toward where I thought I heard commotion. Then she appeared. Her tongue was bloodied, but she was intact and seemed relieved to see me. I checked her, ran my hands over her little body–no wound, no puncture. The bloodied tongue was–and remains–a mystery.

The next day I put her on leash just before entering the clearing. I surveyed the area and we continued. Suddenly she stopped and sniffed the air. I looked to the edge of the woods. The coyote was watching us, perched behind some scrub brush. It was big, as coyotes go, and looked well fed. I was taken aback, frankly, at how healthy she appeared. Coyote life must be good in the mountains. We continued on, Lucy none the wiser.

The Morning Run_edited

The morning run starts and stops at the lake.

* * *

We are back in Colorado, hosting a campground in the White River National Forest. We will be here until the beginning of October, unless weather drives us out earlier. Last year three feet of snow dropped the day after we pulled out. Nights are already dropping into the low 40s. There is snow still holding on the peaks and ridges around us. (We’re a little over 9000 el.) People are already looking into the mountains to see if the aspens are changing. Unlike the drought of last year, we get rain almost every day. It is welcome, as it keeps the dust down and nourishes the wild flowers.

Our trailer is simple and comfortable. We don’t need much and this style of living underscores our commitment to simple living. Minimalism is the word of common currency and we are minimalists, though I tend to avoid labels that are suspiciously popular. My personal goal of simplicity has most recently included my online life as well as my analogue life. It is one thing to get rid of clothes that are too much in abundance; something else altogether when you attempt to exercise the same philosophy in your online life. I’ve been off Facebook for over two years. I have not missed it one day, even one hour, especially now knowing that it is a data mine for marketers and scammers and Russians. I quit Twitter a year ago. I found it of interest, but burdensome. It started to feel like a puppy, always crying for attention. My Instagram account is still up, but stagnant. It’s there simply as a visual record of the last several years. I work to resist surfing the net and keep a book or two at my elbow to counter the urge to open my laptop. You have to work at important things that are contrary.  We exist in a time that is noisy, foggy, and traffic-bound. Compliance is the motivation of the herd and if you lean in that direction eventually you’ll be grazing mindlessly on consumption, waste, and time squandered. Then you die. I can’t avoid dying but the rest of it is something I can work with.

 

My Philosophy Journal

In Philosophy, The Examined Life, Writing on July 28, 2019 at 8:00 am
My "Philosophy Journal"

My “Philosophy Journal”

A little over a year ago I started keeping what I call a philosophy journal. It’s an idea that I encountered in my study of the Stoics. The ancient Stoic teachers suggested that their students keep a journal as a way to enhance the philosophical teachings. The best surviving example of this is what has come to be known as The Meditations of Marcus Aurelius.  The Meditations remains in print and I suggest you read the new translation by Gregory Hays, if you’re interested. I will touch on these writings in a future post. The point here, however, is that Marcus Aurelius, as a Stoic practice, wrote his ideas and thoughts down, not for publication, but as a personal journal. Fortunately, for us, his notebook survived the ages. Seneca and his Letters to Lucilius is another example of the practice.  These writings lasted because they have been valued as sources of wisdom and insight for quite literally thousands of years.

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Old Journals, Diaries, Notebooks

I have, for as long as I can recall, kept a journal. This iteration, my philosophy journal, is a little different from what I’ve done previously. In the past, my journals were places where I put down quick thoughts, quotes, a brief sketch, a record or a musing. Paging through them now is rewarding and still provides me with insight and pleasure. My philosophy journal is different in the following way: It is less random and more purposeful. I begin with a quote drawn from my readings of philosophy. I keep it brief, as it is more a vehicle by which to explore my own thoughts than a specific philosophical teaching. I follow the quote with a paragraph or two fleshing it out in my own words, making it my own, as it were. Lastly, I attempt to distill the quote and my thoughts about it into a short pithy notation I call my Daily Focus. The Daily Focus is no more than a sentence or two and is something I can keep present in mind throughout the day. It is a practice, an attempt to distill wisdom and put it to work. Here is an example from my current journal–a quote, my thoughts about it, and my daily focus.

June 10, 2019

“Whenever you are about to find fault with someone, ask yourself the following question: What fault of mine most nearly resembles the one I am about to criticize?” ~ Marcus Aurelius. 

I try not to speak ill of others. For the most part I am successful. I’ve weaned myself away from the vice of speaking badly of others pretty well. I recall years ago observing my friend Greg in a conversation simply grow quiet when the talk turned to gossip. That made a lasting impression and compelled me toward the same habit of civility. Yet, I still occasionally fall into the trap, which brings me to the second point of Aurelius’s quote above: the reflection of one’s own short-comings. To consider one’s deficits honestly, not as a way of self-flagellation, but as a habit of improvement, is a worthy practice. One’s shortcomings are never so noticeable as when we observe them in others.

Daily Focus: Be attentive to opportunities for improvement. 

You needn’t be of a philosophical bent to put these ideas to work for you. Perhaps you are religious and would turn to a sacred text for your quote and ideas. Or, maybe you read poetry and find it inspiring and motivational. I trust you get the idea. Similarly, I don’t just draw on ancient thinkers for inspiration. My journal includes quotes from William James, and Susan Sontag, Nietzsche and Sartre, and many others. The point is to find a text that is meaningful for you, to work with it and distill it, then employ it as a method to greater insight, improvement, and self knowledge. It is a practice, and what is life but a repeating effort of how to be?

On Making Bread

In Life, The Examined Life on June 5, 2019 at 7:01 pm

A recent loaf.

I’ve been making bread, off and on, all my life. I distinctly remember making bread for my grandmother over five decades ago. I can even recall that it was a dark bread and it didn’t rise and she was kind in accepting it, this woman who really knew what baking bread was about. I made bread two days ago. It was a better bread than that I made for my grandmother.

The night before I make bread, I take my sourdough starter out of the refrigerator and feed it. I leave it on the counter overnight and I wake up excited that it is a baking day. Every baking day is a day that holds the opportunity for improvement. Will today’s bread rise better? Will it have a good chewy crust? I’m always experimenting. As with everything in my life, I’m always wondering if it can be better.

I took bread to a dinner recently. I was asked what kind of bread maker I had. I raised my hands, my bread makers. That is the way I like things. Simple.

Recently I’ve taken to folding the dough after kneading. You stretch out the dough and fold it, turn it, fold it again, give it a push or two, then let it rest.

I’m at a place in life recently where it seems I’m sort of folding and pushing, folding and resting. Seeing what happens. Always an experiment. In his great poem, September 1, 1939, Auden has the line: “All I have is a voice / To undo the folded lie,” I like to think that I am folding truth. I like to think that my life is rich and full–which it is–and that a simple fold, a little tug here and a little stretch there, then a rest, and the fabric of life, its true essence, will rise a bit, be a bit stronger, a bit richer, and a bit tastier. Always experimenting.

When I get up in the morning, I can sometimes taste the excitement of a new day. Will it rise better? Be tastier? Will life’s true essence be revealed today?