Category Archives: Yarns ‘a Spun

I Hope It’s Like Gravity

I could taste the salt as I bit through the line to free my reel from the rats-nest of knots surrounding it. It has been five months since I tossed the bit of fishing gear into my car in late June after a trip to the North Carolina coast. My whole time spent in the south lasted just five months too; looking back it feels like a whole life was lived in such a short time and that another one has passed by since leaving.

Yet, I’m just now cleaning out my car again.

Mt. Starr King - Yosemite NP (May, 2011) | Clinton Begley

Mt. Starr King - Yosemite NP (May, 2011)

As I placed the reel on the shelf of my Montana garage and tossed the marine flavored fish-floss in the garbage, I realized how wonderfully different the months of my life have been this year. After all, there I was tasting saltwater from the Atlantic while standing in the middle of the rocky mountains. The day after my parents left Missoula in an empty pickup-truck on a 1500 mile journey back to the Midwest, I joined some friends in the Bitterroot mountains (here, affectionately referred to as “The Root”… it rhymes with “foot”) and humped some cans of Hamm’s a couple-thousand feet up a mountain-side to spend a few days yanking cuthroat’s out of an alpine lake and shooting a pistol at the aluminum corpses of beers passed on. After returning to civilization three days later, on the one-week anniversary of my arrival, I went to an event at the local art museum. Walking in a stranger I left with a position on the event planning committee and a free lunch.

Clinton Begley Upper Rattlesnake

The Upper Rattlesnake Recreation Area - Outskirts of Missoula, MT

As my early weeks here continued to pass by I scored a position with a local environmental education non-profit, shared a remote lake in the Mission Mountains with two good friends, hung out with Austin Lucas for a few moments at his basement show and hiked to the top of Lolo peak for lunch, a nap and a superb view of my new home. Matt and I ran the Blackfoot river (made famous by “shooting the chutes” in a River Runs Through It) three times in two weeks, and I also spent plenty of days learning to hold my own surfing a world class freestyle kayaking wave on the Clark Fork river. Mind you all of this took place over the span of barely four weeks between the start of my classes at the University of Montana and arriving to the northcountry after a knock-down-drag out summer in the south full of non-stop hiking, rafting and kayaking.

Tamarack Lake Clinton Begley

Skeletons of Tamarack Lake - Bitterroot Mountains, MT

Yet more-so than the places I’ve been or the ridiculously awesome jobs I’ve landed, the uniqueness of each passing month is symptomatic of a change in the tenor of my understanding of people.

Because dammit, people really are pretty awesome most of the time.

I’m increasingly finding it unfathomable that some find it so hard to meet quality, thoughtful and insightful individuals. In my experience, the world really seems to be lousy with them; so long as you’re open to finding them just about anywhere. Despite my excitement to get to Montana after nearly a decade of the idea floating around in my mind, it was really a bit harder to leave Georgia than I’d anticipated. Sure I’d expected to feel reluctance about saying goodbye to my great friend Carson with whom I’d lived and worked throughout the summer; but then just as now, I found myself missing some really great people I’d come to know, respect and appreciate over my short time there. Inexplicably, I even find myself missing some altogether unsettling and just plain weird folks as well (If you’ve got an “RW” on your helmet, I’m talking to you.)

And even in my short time as a Missoulian, I’ve been bowled over almost weekly by the quality of people I’ve come to know here. Of course, go figure that I’d meet a great group of people all of whom are shipping off to the Peace Corps in six months; however I can already feel that I’ll be keeping in touch with these folks for years to come.

Reflections in Tamarack Lake - Bitterrots, MT | Clinton Begley

Reflections in Tamarack Lake - Bitterrots, MT

But you know, I’ve never really had a shortage of awesome people in my life. I’ve tried never to take this for granted, but sometimes it’s still pretty unbelievable even to me.

This summer, while Carson was out of town,p robably in the Carribean, or Florida Keys or something, I decided to try and replace the rear brake rotors and pads on my Passat. Without going into too much detail I very quickly produced a puddle of brake fluid and a jammed wheel cylinder piston. With unreliable internet access and my phone’s connectivity waning, I decided that since I was unable to research how to remedy the situation on my own, I’d just borrow Carson’s jeep and head to Autozone for a new wheel cylinder; or maybe just a crowbar with which to beat myself senseless. Upon arriving to the neighborhood Autozone with glistening wheel cylinder in hand I immediately set to work trying to locate a replacement one with the help of the marginally helpful guy behind the counter. Just a few feet away at another terminal was an older black gentleman rattling off a list of makes, models and part numbers to another attendant who frantically keyed them into the computer.
After a few moments, my guy behind the desk delivered the sobering news that either I could order a new one through this store and have it in 3-5 business days for just $130, or I could drive to the other side of Atlanta to pick one up myself at the same price. My frustration must have been palpable; only a beat of silence passed before the gentleman next to me hollered over, “What are you need’n brotha?” He asks in a perfectly pleasant and soft southern drawl.

After explaining the situation and showing him the problem in my hands, the man gestures to my attendant behind the counter and points to the image of a tool kit illustrated on a table-top mat next to the computer. “Let Anthony take a look at this,” says the man as he uses a rag from his pocket to take the fluid covered part from me. The attendant dug around behind the counter for a few moments before opening and presenting a plastic case on the counter-top the way a waiter might present a box of fine cigars in a hotel lobby. As Anthony went to work repairing and resetting the cylinder’s piston, he began to tell me of his life in Florida before being displaced by hurricane Andrew, and how he chose Atlanta to start his new life because of a girl there he once knew. He told me about living in Stone Mountain, his wife, her kids, and how he demanded the same respect that he gave from each of them.  I could tell by the way he looked at me while he talked more than at his own hands that I wouldn’t need to buy a new part; I could tell that I was being taken care of.

I was thanking him well before he was finished repairing my foolishly bumbled wheel cylinder, and long before he walked me through how I’d re-install it safely and precisely once I got back home with it. But as I expressed my appreciation, he stopped me in mid-thank you. “There is a lot of wickedness in the world son.” He said as he paused the work in his hands to look me directly in the eye. “But there is a lot of good in the world too,” he continued, “and we of good heart have a way of finding each other.”

Without skipping a beat he put the finishing touches on resetting the cylinder’s piston and plopped the hunk of metal in my hands without even a pause to make sure I’d catch it.

We all have doubts from time to time about our paths through life, and whether or not the choices that we make are as selfless as we’d like to believe. Despite the joy that I’ve experienced over the past year, I often wonder whether the cost of time lost with friends and family is worth it. I’d like to think that I may someday know if what I’ve gained to share with those close to me can ever offset the time I’ve missed with them to acquire that wisdom; but the truth is that I probably never will. But, if Anthony’s words continue to ring as true to me as they did on that hot day in Georgia, then perhaps I can find some comfort in knowing the profound goodness in the hearts of those who have always been close to me and have faith that maybe my choices and actions are a product of the goodness in their hearts if less so my own.


“I do believe it’s a Chrysler.”

A two thwart raft weighs over one hundred pounds. I found that out a day earlier while loading five of them onto a trailer at the Georgia State University garage. I’d been there five minutes and had already met two of my new co-workers, loaded the trailer (improperly) and pissed off a parking attendant. I’d later find out that the skirmish was just another battle in the ongoing war between my department and theirs. It’s best to let them know I mean business early on I suspect.

Stock Photo of Nantahala National Forest Sign

As we unpacked the rafts (properly) the next day and learned to inflate them beside Nantahala lake in West-Central North Carolina, a bass boat pulled up to the dock . A middle aged man in cutoff blue-jean shorts sporting yellowed white velcro sneakers, a ten-thirty shadow and a handlebar mustache hopped ashore with bow-line in hand and tied his vessel to the dock. As we continued our work preparing the rafts for some flatwater training exercises, the man fired up his pickup and backed the trailer into the lake to unlaunch his craft. A few minutes later, when our paths crossed his as he finished winching the boat the last few inches onto the trailer, I asked him how the fish had been biting. Instead of answering, he turned to point into the water just a few yards out from the bank.

“Theys a car in ‘da water.” He drawls… index finger extended fully toward a dark shape in the water.

I and a few others strained our eyes to peer through the glare and ripples on the water’s surface. Soon we were pointing too as the taillights come into view and the dark shape comes into focus.

“We cawled nine-wun-wun and tode em bout it this moanin.” he continues.

“I do believe it’s a Chrysler.”

A trail of lake water and dust was following him out of the gravel parking lot by the time the absurdity of this last phrase sunk in. Chains, webbing and logic became clearer as we stared into the clear but rippled Appalachian water and we soon realized the vehicle was part of some dive training exercise. Even so, the poignant words of our piedmont poet were not diminished as the phrase has now entered the lexicons of those present to hear them.

Fleur de sel

Clues were scarce.
As I scanned through the hundreds of pictures and videos with the tiny left-right arrows, there were only a few hints at who the camera’s owner might be. The face at the end of an outstretched arm, framing itself from a distance was that of a young sandy haired man. The first few photos appeared to be of a military academy graduation, but my knowledge of the armed services did not equip me with the ability to identify the branch. The last few photos, hauntingly,  showed the beach along the great Salt Lake where I’d found it. Snapped just moments before I’d arrived there with my friends Matt and Mark to test whether the rumors of supreme buoyancy were true, those pictures chronicled a similar experiment shared between people I suspected would always be strangers to me.

The Great Salt Lake Sunset

Matt and Mark on The Great Salt Lake at Sunset- Photo By Clinton Begley

It was day thirteen going on fourteen of a vacation across the American west on July 31st, 2009 and I was due to fly thirteen-hundred miles back to the Midwest the following day. A week earlier, while descending 3200 feet from Stony Indian pass in Glacier National Park my own point-and-shoot camera had slipped from my hands and exploded like a soda can full of glitter upon a slab of granite at my feet.

Granite :1 | Camera: 0

Though I felt blessed holding it’s cosmically bequeathed replacement in my hands, I couldn’t help but sympathize with the unknown smiles captured in each photo I flipped through on it’s tiny screen.

It was obvious that what I held in my hands was a chronicle of a summer of celebration. Over 200 pictures and videos of travels beginning with a graduation. Family trips. Exploration. Memories.

My search for the camera’s owner started logically and simply. A call to the Antelope Island headquarters yielded no reports of a lost camera. Once I returned home, I reviewed the catalog of pictures on my computer and meticulously poured over the images looking for clues. No license plates, no diploma pictures. There was a brief moment of hope when I spotted a last name on the front of some BDU’s worn by what appeared to be the owner’s father. But without a first name, there was no way to know for sure. I googled phrases like ” lost my camera at the great salt+lake” and “lost camera at antelope+island”  I signed up on a couple of lost camera websites and shared salient points about the details of the camera’s discovery in hopes that the owner would go-a-googling too. Although a year and a half passed without a clue surfacing, I’d stubbornly resolved to some-day find the owner. Over the past few months, as I’ve prepared to embark on another journey, the camera resurfaced amongst my belongings. At last, begrudgingly, I resigned myself to put it to use.

A quick visit to ebay yielded a new battery and charger for slightly more than the cost of postage. Upon the arrival of my new accessories, I decided to browse the photos one last time before deleting them forever and claiming the camera as my own with which to capture my own archive of travels. In this last viewing, something new caught my eye. A box, mostly out of frame, upon a table at what looked to be a graduation dinner.

My fingers moved fast: Right Click>Open With> Photoshop CS3

As the pixelated image of the box at the table’s edge filled the screen, I realized I was within reach of finding the camera’s owner. It was a Josten’s box. Probably containing a class ring, or graduation announcement or other such milestone marking memorabilia, the box was exactly the clue I’d been looking for to link all the pieces together. Visible barely within frame was part of a shipping label, the most important parts: Last name. Zip code.
It was enough to deduce the graduating academy.

Within moments I was on the phone speaking consecutively with several employees of Josten’s customer service department as I was put on hold and transferred up the chain of command after each before them had been regaled with a story of my attempt to reunite a 2009 Colorado Springs Air Force Academy graduate with his camera, and how I’d come to posses it. Less than 45 minutes after an abridged account of the whole saga had been left on customer service manager “Dawn’s” voice mail, I received a phone call from an incredulous and appreciative guy now living in Logan, Utah.

Salt Lake Horizon Photo By Clinton Begley

As Above So Below on The Great Salt Lake - Photo By Clinton Begley

I just returned home from the post office a few moments ago, shipping receipt in hand. It would be easy for me to concede that this receipt is all I have to show for my hours of playing Horatio Caine and the year of self restraint that kept me from deleting the pictures outright and hawking the camera on ebay. But in truth, I’ve been given an opportunity to appreciate a perspective wholly unique to the clockwork of the universe.

Dozens of times throughout my life I’ve received the metaphorical phone call from a Josten’s employee informing me that someone found my camera and wanted to return it. I’ve always passively accepted the gifts and blessings handed to me without much understanding of the intricacies and details that needed to exist in order for that final connection to be made. I’ve always trusted that what had fallen into my lap had done so for a reason, and I’ve accepted it without questioning the myriad factors required to get it there. What strikes me now is that over the year or so of periodically holding out hope that I’d find the camera’s owner, I never once felt like I was on a mission to execute some higher purpose.  After-all, it’s just a camera… not a kidney.

Truth be told, my motives were mostly selfish. I enjoyed the puzzle of it… the mystery to be solved. Yet in the end, something wholly implausible yet altogether positive resulted for a guy in Utah who had but to answer the phone and recieve. Not to wrap this whole thing up into a cute and quotable bundle, but it really makes me pause to consider what blessings each of us are blindly and unflatteringly executing everyday by indulging what motivates us in the ways we were created to be.