I spent the last few days alone in the woods.
I was camping on a rise of conifers in northern Wisconsin, a spot I discovered years ago while grouse hunting. It's an area I call the Cathedral. I borrowed the name from one of my favorite writers, Gordon MacQuarrie. He called a rise of conifers that he discovered in northern Wisconsin while grouse hunting the same.
If you're making your way by foot this time of year, snowshoes are required. As are a good amount of resolve and a layering system that allows for the quick ditching of clothes. Put simply, pulling a sled through heavily crusted snow is a bitch. The progress I made was largely thanks to increments and incentives of my own invention: Counting my steps in groups of 17, for example, seemed to speed things along, as did "Make it to that next birch tree, Johnny, and it's Snickers bars for everybody!"
Well, I made it to that next birch tree. And the one after that. And so on. Until finally it was time to turn off-trail and push through a rolling pincushion of sled-snagging maples. Eventually, they gave way to the rise of fir and balsam and pine. To borrow again from MacQuarrie, the Cathedral took me in.
Camp sets up quickly in the winter; meaning your tent, your situation, your supplies. For the first few hours, anyway, there's little time for dicking around. Stomp out a spot for the tent, get it up, get your gear inside. You do it as quickly as you can so you can move on to a more important matter: the business of fire. Although actually, the busy-ness of fire might be a more accurate description.
They say you should gather three times more wood than you think you'll need before striking a spark. I say that's cutting it close. I collected some dry birch and cedar bark from fallen trees on the trek in, so getting the fire started wasn't a concern. But man, keeping it fed! A new fire, especially in the winter, is a hungry fire.
Before enlightenment, chop wood, carry water. After enlightenment, chop wood, carry water.
But eventually. Eventually. You'll find yourself with a good bed of coals. You'll have dried your gloves. You'll have a pile of wood and a place to sit and a single bottle of Dogfish Head 90-minute IPA that you sledded in, weight be damned.
On the edge of the fire's glow, you'll see your tent protecting the barest of necessities: a tiny camp stove, tomorrow's breakfast, an embarrassment of goose down. You have tropicalia music that you'll play through your phone speaker at dawn like a transistor radio. You have a candle lantern and a bag of jerky and the solitude of the outdoors.
Everything you have with you has a purpose. Everything earned its spot on the sled.
As we move into a new year, I'm hoping to carry that mindset forward. I don't need more things – I just need the right things. I don't need more undertakings, more accomplishments, more checks added to my list – I just need the right ones.
Taking a look over my shoulder, I've come to realize that I've been pulling an unnecessarily clumsy load. It's time to tip the sled and start over. It's time to think in terms of fewer, but righter, things.
Happy New Year everyone.
2016 was a full year. Much in the same way that a diaper might be described as full.
Over the past 12 months, I've lost faith in more people and more principles than I can count. I've come to learn that much of my country hates those that I love – because of how they worship, or who they screw, or the shade of their skin. I've watched the overriding principles of our nation grow mean and loud and dumb.
On a daily basis, I find myself surrounded by kind people. People full of love and respect and, even still, full of hope. They've brought me into their fold, and I've brought them into mine. And together, even still, we're strong.
For the next week, anyway, that's what I'm going to focus on. The strength of my children, my family, my friends. The strength of the sun and the moon. The strength of what I know is inside my heart, even still.
The earth is 71 percent water.
The human body is 60 percent water.
For the next several months, in my neck of the woods anyway, both of these things will be frozen solid.
Before I get going here, let me just say that I'm a big fan of ice. Ice is one of the few things I like in my cocktail (other than the cocktail itself). I appreciate what ice has done for hockey. I enjoy cutting holes in ice and extracting fish. But goddamnit anyway. In the end, I prefer water when it's moving around. When it's pushing me this way and that. I prefer water when it's alive.
Case in point is the work of photographer Sarah Lee. She's born and based on the Big Island of Hawaii and her love of moving water comes through in every image. Her still photos are amazing.
And the video at the top of this post? Yowza. It's a teaser for a short film she collaborated on called Kainos which, as far as I can tell, hasn't been released. But oh man I'd love to see it.
Earlier this year I wrote about freediving photographer Daan Verhoeven. His work, to me, carries serious weight. There's a stillness to what he does – an almost religious sense of gravity. It's stunning.
Sarah's work is stunning too, but in an entirely different way. It's an outright celebration of moving water – swirls of slivering beauty and brute force and the lucky ones that have found their place comfortably within it.
Sarah was kind enough to let me share her images. Not only that, she signed off her note with "mahalo nui." Some people are just cool like that.
Check out more of her work, underwater and alongside it, on her site.
Ladies and gentlemen, I present our camp facilities.
Passed down from generation to generation.
But the tube socks get replaced every seven years whether they need it or not.
I know what you've been thinking...
"Bring Limes" is okay I guess, but it could really use a few more Friedrich Nietzsche quotes.
Well, have I got just the thing for you!
“Those who were seen dancing were thought to be insane by those who could not hear the music.” - Friedrich Nietzsche
So with no further ado, I present Matt Bray, this perfectly silly dancing guy that will make you happier than Nietzsche ever did, even during your angsty freshman year of college when all you did was quote him and Kierkegaard and Morrissey, like some goof-ass, when you could have been dancing instead.
I love people that love something. I mean people who really really love something. Every day. For all their days.
The age of the person shouldn't matter I suppose. Passion is passion. But, for me anyway, somehow age does matter. Which probably explains why I've done more than a few posts featuring old people who are still committed to doing their thing. This includes one of my favorite things that I've shared here: A skier named Snowflake who advocates loving something so much that you forget to go to the toilet.
With all that said, here we are again. This time we're being invited into the life of Bruce Gold who surfs Jeffreys Bay in South Africa. What's most impressive about Bruce isn't just his passion for surfing, but the extreme life decisions he's made as a result of that passion. As Bruce puts it, "It's hard to be a hobo. But it has it's rewards."
Last week a friend told me about a little cafe.
It's the kind of place you always hope to find when you're traveling. A place to quietly start the day. A place to circle back around to in the evening for a sip and a bite as evening slides into night. It's one of those little neighborhood spots that, for whatever reason, don't seem to exist back home.
Except this one does exist back home. Turns out it's a block and a half from my office. I walk past it almost every day, on my way to grab lunch at the place I always grab lunch. I've never once even poked my head in the door. And that's dumb.
When I'm traveling, I'm a head-poker-inner. I'm a how's-it-going? guy. I'm curious. I converse. I do whatever I can to connect to wherever I am. At home, though, it's a different mode. I'm a get-shit-done-er. I'm a furtive-glancer. I'm still a how's-it-going? guy, but the question is largely rhetorical.
The same evening as the cafe conversion, my wife and I went and saw a band. It was an early show and the follow-up event was Madison's Nerd Nite. As close as I could surmise from the description, it's a monthly gathering of Beer Geeks and, well, plain old Geek Geeks. An unholy union of Ballast Point and PowerPoint.
After the band wrapped up, I was halfway out the door when I changed my mind and decided to stay for Nerd Night. It's the exact kind of thing I would seek out if I was in New York or Detroit or San Francisco. (Even though every night is nerd night in San Francisco. Heyo!!!). It's the exact kind of thing that happens right here at home all the time. But I forget to look.
I'm surrounded by museums and poetry slams and ukulele jams. Gallery wine tastings and film nights in the back of scuba shops. I'm surrounded by a lot of cool shit! But I forget to look.
The traveler/explorer in me usually leads my mind (and my body) to far away places. But the fact is that I'm "here" much more than I'm "there." And there's a lot around here that I've been missing. This winter, I'm going to make a point of finding them. Of discovering the place I've lived in all these years.
Trust me, until you've seen a PowerPoint slide that reads "TRANSCRIPTION CELLS ARE FUCKING AWESOME!!!" in 180 pt yellow type with a purple drop shadow, lighting up a bar full of people who are cheering and hanging out and happy, you don't know what you've been missing.
Nerd Nite is happening in cities all over the country. But there's lots of cool stuff wherever you are. Snoop around a bit and report back. I'll do the same.
A life well lived indeed...
Jim Whittaker is the first American to summit Mt. Everest. He did it in 1963. As you'll quickly see, thanks to this pretty stunning archival footage, they had to do things a little differently back then.
But it's Jim's take on nature, adventure, and existence that really rings the bell for me. He's lived a pretty awesome life. I'd say getting a sense of it might be worth 3 minutes and 42 seconds of yours.
I haven't been writing much lately, for reasons both specific and global. For those who have asked, yes, thank you, I'm okay. And yes, Bring Limes is still open for business. Which is to say there's still a corner of my brain looking upward and outward. Despite the recent goings on, I'm still full of hope.
I realize hope, these days, could be construed as a deliberate act of obstinance or maybe even ignorance. In my case, though, it's neither. Optimism isn't a choice I've made (that would be giving my decision-making abilities way too much credit). Instead, for me anyway, hope is like a factory-installed airbag: it's just there when the trees get unnervingly close.
I do have to say, it's been deploying like a mofo lately.
In the days following the election, I wrote a lengthy piece which, I don't know, I just ended up losing interest in. Hitting "delete" on the whole wordpile was the highlight of my week.
At the time, my Facebook newsfeed was, and still is, a weirdly sputtering gurgle of nervous energy, bold proclamations, and attempts at "perspective." I'll be honest, I can hardly stand to look at it. Of course I know I brought it on myself. Over time I shaped my social media stream into a recirculating flow of my own worldview: a gentle rivulet of rum recipes, island destinations, left-leaning bon mots, and general carpe diem feel-goodery.
And then, over the course of a Tuesday evening, things changed. My feed shifted into just two types of posts:
- Fellow liberals, with their shit understandably freaked, trying to recombobulate their entire sense of reality – while at the same time unfriending with abandon, staying strong for others, and planning their escape.
- A barrage of links to every "Best Islands To Live On" article that's been written in the last decade.
Obviously these two veins weren't a coincidence. For half the country, it was fight or flight time. And, as many were quick to point out, one-way flights are cheap.
I'm guessing, though, that not too many of those flights ever got booked. Since then, many people I know have chosen to fight instead: against the racism, the sexism, the nationalism – all the ism's in the ism schism game. For others, there's been a gradual return to normal, or at least a jittery facsimile thereof.
For others still, myself included, we're somewhere in between. Wondering what facsimile of normal we might be able to muster in these strange days. Figuring out how we can fight, while at the same time looking forward. And upward. And outward.
For me, at least, that's brought me back here.
Sorry, we're open!
It's the bee girl.
I'm sorry, but if you're not down with the bee girl we just can't hang out together anymore.
You might know Mike Doughty as "the guy from Soul Coughing." Or, if you're like Mike Doughty (and me), you might know Soul Coughing as the band that Mike Doughty was in before he became Mike Doughty.
Don't get me wrong, I LOVE Soul Coughing. Their first album, Ruby Vroom, changed the way I listen to music. Take a slam poet, a sampler, an upright bass and a random crate of vinyl and throw them in a washing machine. Set the switches for heavy soil and hot rinse. Kick one of the legs out from under the machine and press start. When the door finally flies off, and it will, what spills out all over your floor is Ruby Vroom.
That album came out in 1994 which was a big one in music: Pavement and Green Day and Cake were born. Nirvana died. Nine Inch Nails, Soundgarden, Aphex Twin, and Biggie released massive albums. Things were changing and, to me, Soul Coughing was a huge part of it.
Mike Doughty was the band's singer and main songwriter. I was, and still am, a big fan of Soul Coughing. Mike Doughty, however, is not. He and I will have to disagree on that point. But put aside the sample-heavy sonics for a minute (which he was never on board with). Mike was still dropping lines this:
"Brooklyn like a sea in the asphalt stalks
Push out dead air from a parking garage
Where you stand with the keys and your cool hat of silence
Where you grip her love like a driver's license"
He writes awesome, awesome lyrics. Which brings us to Mike Doughty the solo artist. After the band exploded in 2000 (acrimony, drugs, etc.), Mike was dropped by the record label and he toured the country in a rental car with an acoustic guitar, selling CD-R copies of his first solo album Skittish. Eventually Dave Matthews signed him to his ATO label and released Haughy Melodic which is a wonderful record. Overall, Mike's released 17 solo studio albums, live albums, and EPs since 2000. He also wrote a memoir called The Book of Drugs about the years he spent under the influence of drugs and Soul Coughing, as well as the years he spent recovering from both.
His solo works features same killer lyrics I've come to love, but they're center stage now. His vocals, which have a piercing quality anyway, are up top in the mix: often syncopated and skittering. For songs that are mostly built around an acoustic guitar, he manages to pack plenty of funk in the trunk.
He's lived a rough life, Mike has. But he came out the other side with these wonderful songs. Here are five to get you started:
A while ago I wrote about finding the perfect island to live on. One of the assumptions I made is that the perfect island actually needs to exist in order for you to live on it. Wrongo!
In 2013 we spent some time on Union Island which is part of St. Vincent and the Grenadines. Union Island is an island that actually exists. But out in the Clinton harbor sits Happy Island which didn't exists until one guy, Janti, decided to build it. He started in 2002 with a pile of conch shells, a couple small palm trees, and a cooler full of beers that he'd sell to passing dinghies. Today, Happy Island is considered one of the classic Caribbean beach bars and a must-stop destination for anyone in the area. It's really a helluva story.
But it's the kind of story I assumed could only happen in a distant corner of a distant sea. The Caribbean consists of 28 different nations and more than 7,000 islands. I figure nobody's going to get too worked up about a guy building one more.
But surely, building my own island in North America would be frowned upon and/or wildly illegal. Then I came across this video and now I'm not so sure! Freedom Cove is a Wonka-esque island/compound/sustainable-living garden built by artists Catherine King and Wayne Adams in a cove on Vancouver Island. One main difference between Happy Island and Freedom Cove, besides latitude, is the fact that it's entirely afloat. I'm assuming there's some legal reasoning for that. I'll definitely need to look into it before I officially unveil my island nation of Limeland.
You can read more about Freedom Cove here. But start with this video!
If you were like me in high school, you were kind of a shithead. Too worried about being cool, too afraid to let all the wonderful things inside you out, too busy maintaining facades.
Then there's this kid Apollos Hester. I saw the following interview a couple years ago. My friend Katie reposted it today and, yeah...
If you're not familiar with NPR Tiny Desk concerts, you should get familiar!
The premise is simple. NPR invites musicians to play in a cramped corner of their office. Fair enough, lots of places are doing that kind of thing these days. "Generating Content" as we call it in the biz.
But whoever's in charge of selecting the musicians for the Tiny Desk Concerts is like a genius. I assume it's Bob Boilen who hosts "All Songs Considered," especially since the bands are playing at his desk, he's introducing the bands, he's shooting the video, and he's doing the edit. But the real star is whoever's running sound because, despite the setting and regardless of the nature of the band, the sound is consistently stellar.
I've discovered a lot of new bands here. And I've fallen in love with a few older bands all over again. I've you're looking for a musical rabbit hole to fall into, seriously kid, you gotta check out the Tiny Desk Concerts.
I included a few favorites below to getcha started.
They just released a session with Anderson Paak last week. I love me my Anderson Paak and this one is stellar, although NSFW. Good thing today is Sunday and you're not working today right? Right?
And here's an old favorite with Phoenix. Thomas Mars looks like a shy 11-year-old who's been asked to sing for his grandparents after Thanksgiving dinner. Adorable! I want to adopt him. Since he's 39, I figure there won't be much paperwork required.
And finally... Madison's own Phox! Alright, technically Baraboo's own Phox! At a lake party late one night last summer, a friend and I stole some french vanilla custard from the freezer. We snuck down to the lake and poured a mason jar's worth of homemade black-plum-infused brandy right on top of the custard and shared a spoon slurping it down. The way that tasted? And the way that night felt? That's what Phox sounds like to me.
You know what's almost gone? August! And it's taking summer with it!
A few months ago there was something new you were thinking about trying this summer. Stand up paddle boarding perhaps? Chess? That green stuff in jars that yoga people seem to enjoy drinking or eating or whatever they do with it?
Well, it's now late August. Did you do take on something new? Summer isn't over, friend, but you can see the end of it from here. You better get cracking.
For what it's worth, I'd suggest something that's completely new and an entirely different than anything you've tried before. Sure, trying tenor saxophone when you already play alto saxophone puts you ahead on the learning curve. But do you really need two goddamn saxophones? When you could have a saxophone and a unicycle instead?
Of course, this isn't about "having." It's about "doing." And for me at least, doing something completely new puts me onto the fastest funnest part of the learning curve.
The part where every single thing you do is learning something new.
The part where you have zero ego attached to the activity.
The part where you can revel in your ineptitude and be a child again.
Last summer, when I was learning to play the ukulele, I came across this Ted Talk video. It's about how to learn anything in 20 hours. The rumored 10,000 hours it takes to be an expert at something? You probably don't have that kind of time this weekend. But 20 hours? You could get a good jump on that.
Hm. Here I've been messing around with all this Bring Limes gibberish when I could have just played this Alan Watts video and called it a day!
"We missed the point the whole way along. It was a musical thing and you were supposed to sing, or to dance, while the music was being played."
You never know what you'll find on the river. Although details are hazy, on July 18th, 2014, I evidently found this little fella.
Over the years I've done just about every goofy thing you can do on an island. Some may have been illegal. Others just ill-advised. I've also done a few things that I regret. But the one thing I've never done on an island? I've never lived on one.
Some (slash many slash most) would say living on an island is a cliche. But in the words of Prime Minister Pete Nice, of seminal '90s hip hop trio 3rd Bass: "I beg to diffa." The real cliche isn't living on an island. The real cliche is thinking about living on an island while you're driving your pale ass through another Lansing or Lincoln or Lafayette winter with one of those grinning Life Is Good hammock dudes on your ice-encrusted Jeep Wrangler spare tire cover.
But we've probably all thought about living on an island. And I suspect with this year's election cycle, some of us are thinking about it more than usual. This inkling usually leads to researching what different islands might be like. Which inevitably leads to watching those horrible island real estate reality shows on tv. A guilty pleasure? From my perspective I'd say no because "guilty pleasure" implies that there's some sort of pleasure involved. For me anyway, "guilty anguish" would be more accurate. Although some of my distress is rooted in "oh man that looks nice," most of it comes from a much darker place.
For starters, the Americanization of faraway places drives me crazy. And yet that seems to be the measuring stick for every home buyer on these shows. Is the location convenient to beaches, mountains, rainforests, yoga studios and Whole Foods? I love the house but can we "open up" the kitchen? Is there a photogenic palm tree nearby that will help me boost my Instagram following? You know what though? In this regard, reality shows are pretty accurately capturing the reality of many Americans abroad. So I'll let it go.
Beyond that though, there ain't much reality in those real estate shows. I've been to more than a few of the islands they've featured and they were damn near unrecognizable. Although the production crew must be going to these different places to shoot footage, by the time they cut it together and lay in that same damn steel drum song, they all seem exactly alike: wide beach shot, our home-buying couple trying out standup paddle boards (or kayaks when clumsy), some local flavor via woman selling sarongs, cocktails with comically oversized hunks of pineapple jammed in 'em, a walk along the beach, awkward backlit kiss, steel drum crescendo, cut to commercial.
I'd say the travel magazines give a better sense of a place than the tv shows. But they're travel magazines, not "live there" magazines. So you're going to get plenty of "While on St. Whatever, be sure to visit Quaint But Clean Beach Bar and ask Bar Owner for their special Rum Drink With Fruit Juice!" News you can use if you're just visiting. But not much help if you're really trying to get a handle on a place.
Of course ultimately, and obviously, you're going to need to put sandals in the sand to really understand an island and the people who live there. But since you can't visit them all, it takes some narrowing down.
Google is fine for the officially sanctioned tourism stuff, and a click on Image results gives you a quick sense of an island's purtiest places and/or most convenient scenic overviews. But to start digging in properly, I'd suggest a Wikipedia search. It's the perfect dashboard for the factual underpinnings of a place.
If everything checks on the Wiki page, then I do a blog search. If there's one thing ex-pats love more than being ex-pats, it's blogging about being ex-pats. Every island I've ever looked into has at least a few people living on it who are blogging their every move. Throw in an additional mix of transient yachties, backpackers, and "digital nomads" (maniacal bloggers all!) and you'll have more first-hand information on a place than you'll know what to do with.
I can also recommend this: My favorite "one-stop-shop" site for island investigation is Women Who Live On Rocks. It's run by Chrissann Nickel, a Californian who's been living the island life since 2006. While she writes a lot of posts (really well), the beauty of the site is that it also features living-on-rocks wisdom from women all over the world. And they're organized by island (click HERE, then go to "Meet The Women" in the upper menu, then scroll down.)
Given the name of the site, you'll gather it's got a female perspective. Which means, yeah, I'm the pervy dude in the corner eavesdropping on girls' night. But the posts are consistently real, occasionally raw, and always well written. It's the best perspective I've found yet on what it's really like to live on a particular island. The ups, the downs, and the in-betweens.
Once you've got your prospective islands narrowed down, of course, the final step (and the finest step!) is to start investigating your short list in person. I've been fortunate to visit quite a few islands over the years. As ongoing research projects go, it doesn't get much better: a mix of cultural investigation, historical education, spiritual adventure, and high grade rum.
I still have no idea whether I'll ever actually pull the trigger and make a move (if I'm being completely honest with myself). But I know I won't stop looking either way.
Cue steel drums. Dramatic sunset. Awkward backlit kiss. Cut to commercial.