Blistered Expectations

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The archetype of comfort (left) as I was nestled in between our two host brothers, Aziz (far) and Yousef (near), in the farming village of Amghas in the Middle Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Despite the smile on my face, the photo on the right documents the single hardest day of backpacking in my entire life, near Ait Merzouk, Eastern High Atlas Mountains, Morocco. Much discomfort was endured that day.

Lift, raise up high, slide hands together down the handle and swing hard downward. At the base of the pampas grass clump. Do it again, and again, until the damned things’ roots are ripped out of the ground. This is pampas grass removal, a non-native invasive species from South America that is limiting the establishment and growth of the redwood seedlings that I want to encourage. This is my work this week. This is restoration of logged over lands, clear-cut forests and old-logging roads.

Its October and here on the North Coast of California we are experiencing our first bouts of big storms coming in from out in the Pacific. I am deeply grateful for the rain and love the change in seasons. It is not comfortable swinging a Pulaski (a hand-tool with an ax head on one side and a grubbing head on the other) over and over again in the rain. Some of the pampas clumps are stubborn and big. Others are small and more yielding. I am soaked to the bone, despite my rain gear, sweating profusely and beginning to get blisters on my palms. Wet leather gloves sliding up and down on a wooden handle results in blisters. I am most definitely not comfortable but I am enjoying the physical activity, hard-work, and being outside.

The youth crew that I am working with seems used to it. We work methodically, slowly chugging along and removing the grass clumps. Are others getting blisters too? They don’t seem to mind. Is anyone else comfortable? No and they probably let go of expecting that a long time ago, at the beginning of the field season. When you let go of expectations, a lightness, an aliveness, and a freedom appear. It’s the freedom to simply be without getting stuck on conceptions such a comfortable or uncomfortable. It’s not that you don’t want to be comfortable; it’s simply that you stopped expecting it, stopped basing your happiness on achieving it. I am reminded of an Ezra Bayda quote that was passed along to me recently:

“Our capacity to understand that life itself doesn’t have an agenda, particularly our agenda, seems to be very limited. We insist on our sense of entitlement that life give us comfort, pleasure, and ease. Why can’t we understand that the fullest and richest experience of life is often the result of the difficulties that life presents, where we are forced to go deeper? Isn’t disappointment our greatest teacher?” 

Despite the discomfort to back, shoulders, arms, legs, and hands, I kept whacking and hacking at the invasive grass. When I got home at the end of a long and arduous day, I truly appreciated a hot shower, dry clothes and the warmth of my loving home. Not only is comfort not an entitlement, it is counterproductive to appreciating a vibrant and rich life. It is only through the interplay of discomfort and comfort that you can enjoy either. Working hard, getting wet and being blistered meant that I appreciated the comforts of home at the end of the day. Without that I may have simply entered the house and not realized how comfortable it is. Or even worse I may have complained mindlessly about some miniscule imperfection in the comfort of my home. How unnecessary! And knowing that I have such a home to come back to, means that I can settle in to the difficult field days and the gnarly weather, and truly appreciate both. Opposites not only define each other, they also manifest or bring forth one another into existence. Without discomfort there is no comfort; without comfort there is not discomfort.

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5 Comments on “Blistered Expectations”

  1. Don Connor says:

    Very nice and Amen!

  2. Daniel says:

    Enjoying them LaFever.

  3. Michael says:

    Love the musings. I think you captured much of why I like Northern New York… the contrast of warm and cold of the seasons, or even a single day. Makes you appreciate each and above all, the inevitability of change.

  4. I love this – the acknowledgment and importance of both – comfort and discomfort. I completely agree and understand all too well about swinging a pulaski for hours…


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