The Panthers Have Not Been Real: Dispatches from Autumn

With only a few remaining days before Advent begins and a whole lot to talk about, I’ve scribbled some off-the-cuff dispatches from the autumn below.

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I’ve seen a lot of deer and also several black panthers. The deer have been real, the panthers have not.

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I remember this one moment one morning in October when we were leaving for school and work and my son just stops dead in the doorway and points up at the sky. It was a flock of geese flying south in formation (or wherever they go), an ordinary sight around at this time of year – ordinary enough that even the lad of four-and-a-half had surely witnessed it several times. And yet there he was, just stopped in wonder, absolutely marveling at this event we were witnessing together.

It reminds me of a conversation I had at the secret cave in late October, during the last Sacred Mountain Climb of the season. We were talking about how it feels to be a child, experiencing everything as new (or at least somewhat new) and possible ways in which adults might recreate some or all of that state of mind, if only for a few moments or hours at a time.

I was asked if being a parent allows you to share in that sense, to return in some way to the best aspects of the child’s perspective – like that sort of unconditional, no holds barred wonder. I found myself answering yes without any hesitation.

It’s true. When my son stopped to appreciate these geese, I felt the wonder, too.
It is pretty wonderful, isn’t it? Geese? If you stop to think about it. Like only a child would.

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On Thanksgiving Eve in 2007, I won $2,000 on a scratch ticket while intoxicated in a Fitchburg dive bar, a moment that’s exactly as amazing as you might imagine. It represents, by far, my biggest winnings ever.

Unfortunately, I don’t really gamble anymore. It’s not that I’ve changed my mind about it or grew some new morals or any such garbage like that. It just doesn’t seem to come up much – like, it’s just not really a part of my experience. It doesn’t cross my path, the opportunities don’t pop up. I rarely have cash – required for lotto purchases – and the folks I run with these days don’t play much poker.

(I did have the opportunity and delight of playing Keno a few times in the last six months, which was great, but I didn’t win.)

Anyway, that’s not the point. It’s not just gambling that isn’t a palpable presence in my life these days – in fact, I don’t have Thanksgiving Eves like that anymore. Haven’t for a while. That’s not a moral statement, nor would I assign to it the kind of lame, common, cop-out excuse like “it’s because I have kids.” I mean, maybe it is because I have kids, but that can’t be the only reason. I am certainly open to the idea of engaging in such things, at least theoretically, and I am sure I could probably make it happen if I wanted to. Maybe I don’t want to — but that’s getting us into dangerous territory here, because I’ll really hate myself if I become one of those people that’s like “I’ve grown out of that.” Heaven forbid. But, shit, maybe I have. I will just try not to talk about it in mixed company.

Anyway (for real this time) I had a very different kind of Thanksgiving Eve in 2018, but one that was equally as sweet in a totally different way (and minus the cash windfall). The second snow of the year had fallen and I was out for a drive, running an errand in the far and mysterious reaches of the wooded hills surrounding comparatively developed (hell, comparatively metropolitan) Peterborough. Through the winding streets – and slowly! – I drove on my wife’s freshly swapped-in snow tires through Dublin and Harrisville and Nelson and Hancock. The trees all leaned forward, every little branch highlighted with that white brush-stroke of heavy, wet early-season snow. I don’t even really like the snow, but god damn was it pretty, and I was blasting Dvorak’s Symphony from a New World and Respighi’s ancient dances from this great lossless-quality classical app Idagio I got.

It was one of those moments – and maybe I did reap a windfall, just not a cash one.

Although, I’ll just say one last thing on this – if the universe or the god/goddess of Fortune is listening, if you want to throw me another two grand out of the blue, I promise I’ll be way smarter about the money at 34 than 23. You can bet on that.

Actually, I just want to emphasize one more time – I can still hang with the best of them. I swear.

*

Thanksgiving was extremely warm and…I don’t know, it was almost a picturebook holiday. Shoutout to my in-laws, it was pretty perfect celebrating the holiday with youse.

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I’ve got mixed feelings about this batshit early snow we have, but ultimately I seem to be much less pissed off about it than I would have expected to be. I don’t know if I should be concerned or what, but I seem to be just kind of accepting it and settling in for the long haul. Maybe I should be concerned; that really doesn’t sound like me. What have I become?

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As far as dreams coming true, we all know 2018 can’t stack up against 2017 – nobody can. That said, for a year that was largely forecast to be a bit on the grim, dramatic, and difficult side, I’ve really got some bigass blessings to my name. The fall has really coalesced much of what went down in the breakneck-speed first three-quarters of the year (I don’t know why I sound surprised, this is literally the real-world manifestation of the harvest metaphor I prattle on about every year) and produced some truly wonderful opportunities.

The biggest? You may already know about this, but since I haven’t been present enough to promote it like I should have, you may have missed it: The Wizard of Halloween. That’s what we called it. Halloween weekend, some real salt of the earth motherfuckers – proud to say, friends of mine – in this Dead cover band Winterland were doing a full-on party at this part-time venue that is an old abandoned church. I was invited to do a 25-minute spoken word opening act, backed by many of the band members, who played a little jazz intro, followed by Pink Floyd’s epic “Echoes” – which, incidentally, is the song I have tattooed on my arm, my only tattoo. And none of this was my idea, and it was amazing, and one of the biggest treats of the entire year for me. I loved the shit out of it and the band did too and perhaps even the audience. We hope to do it again – a different bit, of course, this one having been written just for the occasion.

Best part? After my opening act, Winterland just crushed it. Crushed it. Look, there’s a lot of Dead cover bands crawling around southern NH in 2018, pretty much all of them older and better known than this crew, but none of them can touch Winterland. I don’t even see this as an argument. That’s not all, though, it’s not merely that they played these songs with simultaneous respect and freshness with just the right hint of originality, they did a whole ritual. Like a real ritual, the kind I always talk about in my adventure episodes, the very reason I go to see Dead and Co at least once per tour. Winterland didn’t perform something like the ritual or almost the ritual or in a spirit of tribute to the ritual. No, no. They did the ritual. I’m still positively shocked by this an entire month later. I know damn well how talented they are, but fucking nobody does the ritual, not besides D&C anyway. Maybe Dark Star Orchestra, but they’re halfway reenactors. JRAD doesn’t do it. Phil and Friends doesn’t do it, so far as I can tell. Shit, people often don’t understand this, but it’s the ritual and the ritual alone for which I forgive Dead and Co’s often too-slow tempo.

But there, that night, in Marlborough, New Hampshire, an unknown band in costume in an abandoned church put on the ritual. I’m gonna have to talk more about this. Much more.

If you want to see the entire night of magic, go here. My portion is at the very beginning, as you might expect. I’ve also released the audio of my performance as Episode 18 of the Wizard of Monadnock Radio Hour. Check your podcast app.

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My beard is not long by long beard standards, but it’s longer than it’s ever been. I can’t comment further on this yet.

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As I shared with you yesterday, I also had the opportunity to work with another congregant and the church’s musical director to design a Service of Gratitude that was held this past Sunday. I got to write – and, obviously, deliver – a ten minute mini-sermon. This is the first time I have ever done this, although I have been interested in doing so for years. In fact, I think when I first became interested in it, it was an idea I couldn’t actually visualize as ever happening. And yet here we are. Reviews were positive – and you can check it out for yourself.

As part of the church’s worship committee, in fact, I have had the opportunity to take a much more active role in several services so far this year, and I don’t want to be shy about how clear it has seemed to me in the course of this involvement that this is truly what I belong doing. This is another topic worth exploring further at another time.

One other thing I’m getting a chuckle out of, because I hadn’t actually planned on this part – I sang into the microphone in front of everybody. Nothing crazy or anything, just backup vocals on a few lines of “Ripple”, but I actually didn’t really think I would ever sing publicly. And Kellie said I actually sang on key! (In this case, especially as she is herself an experienced singer, I do think she would tell me the truth if I’d bombed it.)

In reporting this, I’m realizing I have breezed by another major milestone, which is significant even if it’s buried a little bit by the other two: I’ve dreamed for years of getting people to sing Grateful Dead in church, because to me, it’s holy music. Now it happened, and it was definitely holy, and I was right to want this so long ago.

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The more dispatches I lay out here, the more I realize how many of them deserve pieces all their own. There’s so much to talk about! I am really kicking myself for my recent productivity stall because this is really turning into quite the backlog to catch up on. A couple dispatches ago, I mentioned a conversation held during the final sacred climb of the year. All I can say as far as that goes: that day specifically is screaming to be written about; more broadly, not nearly enough has been said about these four official climbs (and 2-3 unofficial ones) this year. They are gargantuan.

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I have a basement lair now. The original seed of an idea for this started by accident a year ago. I put it into motion in June, doing about half the work. Then I stopped and did nothing on it until circumstances really forced my hand over the last 6 weeks or so. And now it’s done. I am writing this from my lair. I can’t even believe the words on the screen – this wizard actually has a lair now. I’m really going places, guys.

I’ll probably share most or all of it publicly eventually, but I will be introducing my Builder’s Guild Patrons to the lair in a new video I’ll be posting this week.

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I really could keep going. Life is very full. But this is about twice as long as I’d originally intended, and if I ever hope to start on the full essays I’ve now seemingly backed myself into working as a backlog, I’ll have to stop here. But expect more.

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