The Okanogan HighlandsKettle Falls, WashingtonDay 107: Sept. 18, 2002
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Between 9:15 AM and 3:00 PM I climb over 3,000 feet. At 5,600 feet above sea level Sherman Pass is not a bad day's work. To get from Kettle Falls to Republic I had to endure a tortuous and winding ascent. Even with all the previous miles and mountains behind me, my legs simmered from lactic acid. It is only about eight miles of sadomasochism, the pain of which is enough for me to indulge in the old leatherneck trick of detaching the mind from the body, instilled into my psyche at boot camp by a drill instructor whose face I'll never forget, but whose name lies dormant in some disconnected neuron, one whose maxim, "Mind over matter, if you don't mind-it don't matter," washed over me like the white noise of endlessly tossing waves upon the shore. It is one of those times while journeying that I think of other things, things of which clash with the present, as if the present agony and discomfort are anchors of reality.
Things like, why am I doing this? And, why do I write? Perhaps the two things are related. Back in the day some dude had said something about the unexamined life is not worth living-or was it, the examined life is worth living? Writing helped me examine life, and writing made me feel alive. Writing meant that I had something to write about. In order to write about something one must live deliberately. Active participation with life was the chief goal. Whether you were just taking a walk or waiting for a prof to show up for class, one must be alert, attuned, and awake to everything going on around him. I wanted to live, therefore I wrote. But there were those writers who said that in order to be a good one you had to write for yourself. This had always seemed selfish to me. That was not true for me. I needed an audience. I had first noticed this when I was in the Marine Corps writing letters home from overseas.
This revelation had really hit me when I was in Monrovia, Liberia. I had been keeping a journal of our deployment to the Mediterranean. Boredom was the real enemy in Liberia. We were all causalities of boredom. Everybody in the platoon got to know each other all too well. Yes, we had a few exciting days of getting sniped at, and witnessing third world street politics, but for the most part we spent our days talking about home, making fun of each other, mixing up MRE (meals ready to eat) cool aid packets into concoctions of jungle juice and "grog", and even making horderves out of saltine crackers, spam-like meat product, and orange processed cheese you squirted out of a packet-this is what happens when you get bored.
Then one day soon after monsoon season began, I returned from sentry duty to find someone had pilfered my journal. Now, I realized that it was boredom that made them do it. While I was gone Marines from my squad found my journal and read it. I came back to find the office supply room (we had commandeered as living quarters) to find the rest of the squad trying to stifle laughs and maintain a camouflage of innocence. I pretended I was pissed. But that veneer didn't last; I was too pleased by their positive reactions. They thought my descriptions of other Marines and life in the Corps funny and entertaining. For a while I allowed them to read my journal-though I found that I was writing for them-but I was censoring what I wrote-but it was still for them. I felt like I was fulfilling my destiny of becoming the writer had I always wanted to be.