I’d toil and moil with the best of them. I used to live in fear of capitalized threats of future doom. I got up every morning and I worked like hell. I was a good consumer and I bought too much stuff while ignoring my health and the general declining health of the remainder of the world.Not anymore. These days, I live life on my terms, which means I’m not motivated by cash; or getting ahead; or whatever else in the hell it was I thought I working for; but rather, I’m motivated by living a life a worth living, a life which will be worth remembering one day. This change often means swimming upstream against what prevails, these days, as common wisdom. For instance, not so long ago, and just prior to my conversion from an ant to a grasshopper, I was riding a bus, one very early Wednesday from Ottawa to Montreal. Specifically, I was coming home from an NHL game in Ottawa and trying to get back to my hotel room in Montreal. The hockey game which had brought me to Ottawa was a mid-season, relatively meaningless, albeit spirited, match between the Toronto Maple Leafs and Ottawa Senators. I was not a fan of either team, nor did I live in Canada. In fact, as some American men from southern regions are wont to say on occasion, I had no dog in that fight. Rather, I had gone to the Corel center in Ottawa, on a Wednesday night in January because I had decided some years before that it would be a very good thing to attend matches in every NHL arena. People do this. Well, some people, sometimes. Usually it’s baseball though. People who do such things normally traverse the United States in the warm sunshine of summer. They spend sunny afternoons in large urban cities, sitting in the bleachers of open air stadia, soaking in the ambiance while enjoying a hotdog and beer.
With hockey it’s a little different. The games sometimes take place in very remote locations in the dead of winter in very cold dark places. There are, many times, hockey teams in these locations because the people who own these clubs are virtually certain that their fans will offer complete fidelity to these teams, for no other reason than there’s not a whole hell of a lot else to do in Ottawa or Winnipeg between November and May.In any event, I enjoyed a long traffic choked ride out of town while sitting next to some guy with Marty Feldman eyes, halitosis and a nonstop tendency to verbalize every thought which popped into his head- relevance or appropriateness be damned. I also got a chance to sightsee- I saw downtown Ottawa, including the Parliament as well as some other fine sites. I had only one prolonged uneasy moment during the game and that’s when it occurred to me, late in the third period, just as the game was about to end, that the bus from the train station which had brought me to the match was not the bus I now needed to catch to the greyhound bus station. I had, I realized, no earthly idea how to get the thirty-five miles back into town to catch the Greyhound back to Montreal. The only thing I knew for certain was that I couldn’t afford a thirty-five mile cab ride. As it turns out, however, I learned this information easily enough. I simply asked several people in the parking lot after the game. The second person I asked pointed out the very bus out to me. Travel is often like that, the simple application of minimal effort and common sense. Turns out there wasn’t any need for anxiety, as usual. Now, I do want to point out, that I do appreciate that most sane people wouldn’t be in Ottawa in January just to watch a hockey. Or, if they went, they’d scope out the details of transportation to a greater degree of specificity; or even better, a sane person would have lined up a hotel room in Ottawa, and not Montreal; and would have avoided the whole fiasco. But, then safety and certainty are way overrated. They’re the handmaidens of a regrettable life. For if I had played it safe, I would have been in Ottawa on Wednesday night. I’ve spent enough of my life being surrounded by the safe and conservative. I want to live, I want to meet people who, as the man once said, know that it’s not a sin to be glad you’re alive. Hard won personal philosophies aside, however, I mostly undertake such simply for the joy of adventure. For a long time I ago, I learned, and was taught by some very fine people, that adventure are, cliches be damned, their own reward. And this is a wonderful, albeit dangerous, lesson to learn. Not because adventure is inherently dangerous, at least not in the typical way that people think of some act or event as being dangerous. Riding a Greyhound under vast dark winter Canadian skies is not inherently dangerous. Riding the bus to Montreal, even the cold midnight bus in winter, is not a feat of bravery. Ingesting and comprehending the lesson that adventure is preferable to living a life of safety and certainty, however, is a dangerous and perhaps revolutionary act. Dangerous, because after an indefinite, but finite and relatively small number of adventures, such outings become contagious; in a short period of time, in fact, adventure quickly ruins one for any sort of normal and/or productive life. You, my friend, are headed to the broad sunny meadows of grasshopper land. And there you will, very likely, spend the rest of your unproductive life. Unproductive, because once you have ingested the drug of adventure, and reached this critical threshold, you are doomed to live life searching only for the next fix, the next adventure. You lose your ability to be a good citizen, a dependable employee and a predictable spouse. Once afflicted, you’re done. Which isn’t to say that those of us who opt out, who have been afflicted, are necessarily bad people. Such adventurers can make perfectly fine partners and can even, from time to time, perform well in the workplace. Such people can even, sporadically, attend church and school functions. However, do not be fooled. Once pill of adventure is crushed and snorted, as it were, and once the traveler has tasted the blood of adventure, it is only a matter of time until, one day, the afflicted becomes a grasshopper. You will know when this day arrives for your beloved will become nervous, fidgety and distracted in confined spaced. You’ll find them sitting in dark corners muttering to themselves about great fish or mountains; or they won’t say anything at all, they just stare for hours at end, pensively at the wall map they’ve pinned in their study. You will walk into an outdoor store with your mate so that you can do something simple, innocuous, like buy a windbreaker. You turn away only for ten seconds, but by the time you turn around to ask, “Green or red?” you find that he, she, is already standing at the opposite end of the store, slack jawed and dead-eyed, pouring over a map of Yellowstone wondering what the lodging and transportation options are in Wyoming in mid- February. And then she's gone and the remaining spouse is left to try and explain to their children why their mother or father felt compelled to travel a thousand North in the dead of winter to see a hockey game involving two teams that he doesn’t even particularly like. Or to travel to some remote desert to sleep in a Hogan, under an oceanic mass of stars, at the edge of a vast canyon. Or why they just had to leave because they were suddently overwhelmed by a sudden burning desire to raft remote mountain rivers or swamps; or to fish for steelhead in Northern Ohio, in swift rivers, during a mid-winter snow storm, while dodging ice flows hurtling downstream. You get the idea. Or, you may not understand any of this at all. You may be a good decent person who goes to work every day and church every Sunday. You may think that but for responsible people like yourself, the world would cease to function smoothly. You may be right. The grasshopper’s life is certainly not a sane life, that is, it’s not normal. Try and understand, however, try and empathize. For those who adventure literally cannot help themselves. At the end of the day, they’ve come to believe, with the entirety of their hearts and souls, that normal not only sucks but is a death sentence. In fact, it has been scientifically demonstrated (somewhere, sometime) that at some point, early on, being subjected to such adventures causes physiological changes.
Certain chemicals are released from somewhere (I believe the technical explanation is that freedom enzymes are secreted from the liberty lobe of the brain) which cause the adventurer to believe, with their whole heart and soul, that they would rather have badgers chew off their reproductive organs than practice law or work for an insurance company.Moreover, once the disease progresses to its inevitable fatal stages, the afflicted become, utterly unable to function in normal society. They’re only good for freelance work, on their own terms. They can, say for instance, sit in a screened in gazebo in your backyard by the pool, typing by candlelight, at 3 am, about some hockey game they saw in Canada years ago; whilst everyone else in a ten mile radius sleeps soundly through the night. There is therapy, though not a lot of hope. In the most advanced stages of the affliction, suffers can sit in the dark, and recount for other adventurers, details of their exploits late into the night. Often homeopathic medicines are utilized in the process. Kentucky Bourbon and the like. This type of group therapy is, in almost all cases, palliative, analgesic, but not dispositive. Suffering is ameliorated to some degree, but the underlying condition remains.
Why? It’s one of science’s greatest mysteries. No one knows the etiology of this affliction for certain, though almost all are certain that once bitten, the slide into irresponsibility and slothfulness is inexorable.
In my own case, I was not infected by the memory of Zdeno Chara ‘s massive seven foot tall presence on the blue line, or even by the deliciousness of the Tim Horton doughnuts and coffee, but rather, I was haunted for years after that trip by that two hour bus ride. For years I wondered, what it would be like to live under those huge white stars in such a remote place. What would it be like to send ten or twenty winters in such a place? What are the people like, and how tough do you have to be to live in such a seemingly forbidden place. What do those people live for, besides hockey? I became intrigued by that place and those people because they live in a world so different from my own that they may as well, I thought, live on another planet. There were times when I sat up in the middle of the night and just thought about what it would be like to live on their planet; or times when some Judge would be chewing my ass out in a courtroom and I’d think- I wonder who the Senators are playing tonight? Try to understand. In the end, the whole adventure thing is an affliction and those afflicted deserve as much care and sympathy as those afflicted with any other mental illness. Furthermore, those afflicted should not, accordingly, be held accountable for their actions either by their spouses, parents or friends, and certainly not in a court of law. For in time, this disease, this progressive syndrome, becomes a full blown addiction; an absolute Jones. It’s simply impossible for the diseased to function in proper society. And have no doubt, for those afflicted this life is hardly a bed of pansies. Like most junkies, those unfortunate and afflicted victims lose the ability to control the most superficial and mundane areas of their life. They utterly lack the ability to do dishes, or taxes, or speak with life insurance agents. In time, those afflicted degrade and begin to ignore nearly all other aspects of their life. They are forced by their disability to forsake those things most sane people consider essential to maintaining a home cluttered with unnecessary possessions. They lose the ability to maintain any semblance of a normal twenty-first century American social life: they cannot devote entire afternoons to sitting on a couch eating third rate fast food while watching fungible and sequential four hour NFL games; they lose the ability stand around water cooler and offer an in depth exegesis of last night’s Dancing with the Stars episode. Obviously, it’s no hardship to give up the most banal trappings of American society. No one needs Appleby’s, The Olive Garden; nor fifteen dollar sodas and bad twelve dollar movies in stadium size movie theaters packed with empty heads yapping into $500.00 cell phones anyway. No, in some ways this affliction is not a hardship because no sane person needs to spend $85.00 on a NFL ticket, or 50k on a Lexus. In short, in many ways, this disease is not tragic because it’s not hard taking a pass on having your life bled dry by what Steven Pressfield sagely refers to as Bullshit Inc. But that’s not to say that there not times when we the afflicted don’t rue the day they were afflicted and forced to live as a gypsy. There are times when we miss having to go to a good concert or going out to that new, and expensive Korean restaurant because we’re broke. We do melt down when our second hand beater dies in sub-zero temperatures far from home, late at night. And then what? What does the grasshopper do when there's too little to eat? Does the Chamber of Commerce win? No. We feed on our memories while trying like hell not to impose on others. We recall what it’s like to spend 40 hours a week in a small office or cubicle listening to the drone next to you talking about last nights America’s Got Talent. We remember that both ants and grasshoppers get brain cancer, broadsided by busses and contact Alzheimer’s. We feed on the knowledge that this is America in the twentieth-first century and that it’s not only possible, but probable, that you can do everything right- get up, go to work every day, vote and floss and still get screwed. For all we know that in 2012, that in the end, those who consider themselves most just and wise are going to rob you blind; and it doesn't matter whether you’re an ant or a grasshopper. They’ll take your retirement and they’ll rob your share of the public coffers. They’ll trash the real estate market and render your home worthless, despite decades of timely mortgage payments. They’ll send your job to China or Malaysia and then publically label you a welfare queen when you ask for the benefits you need to feed your family because there aren’t any jobs anymore, even though you want to work more than anything in the world. And if that's not enough to keep your dream alive, to keep you motivated, then think about the last five years your grandmother spent in that nursing home not knowing you from a turnip. Think about the fact that one day, hopefully far, far into the future, you’ll be sick and dying and that you may find yourself needing to take a handful of painkillers in order to avoid the painful ugly prolonged death sentence that’s recently been communicated to you. These are, obviously dark thoughts, but they are also the way the world works for everyone- including you and I. And so we continue to swim upsteam, to live as grasshoppers and we swear that when those final days come that we’ll remember Paris, or that cross country train trip we took with our sons. We won’t be forced to find solace in the hollow sop that we were on time to work every day right up until the day that they fired us for no good reason. No, when times get thin, we'll live for our addiction and we will continue to prize freedom and adventure above all things. It will be hard, but then, life’s hard no matter what path you chose. Why not chose the life you love? Cherry Gerrard, concluded his stunning account of early 20th century exploration Antarctic exploration by writing the following after almost freezing to death during a 200 mile trek through blizzards to collect scientific samples, specifically, penguin eggs. Writing of his experiences, he humbly noted that: Exploration is the physical expression of the Intellectual Passion. And I tell you, if you have the desire for knowledge and the power to give it physical expression, go out and explore. If you are a brave man you will do nothing: if you are fearful you may do much, for none but cowards have need to prove their bravery. Some will tell you that you are mad, and nearly all will say, 'What is the use?' For we are a nation of shopkeepers and no shopkeeper will look at research which does not promise him a financial return within a year. And so you will sledge nearly alone, but those with whom you sledge will not be shopkeepers: that is worth a good deal. If you march your Winter Journeys you will have your reward, so long as all you want is a penguin's egg. Of course, a hockey game in Ottawa, even in January, is not an artic march. It is, however, a gateway drug; a gateway adventure- and one that you may regret someday. Or praise as the beginning of a life worth living. Either way, consider yourself forewarned and may God help you once the fuse is lit. There will be no going back.