On the road…again!
Afghanistan to Zambia
Chronicles of a Footloose Forester
By Dick Pellek
Cap And Gown Are Not For Me
"What did you go out into the wilderness to see? A reed shaken by the wind? [Luke: 7:24]. But what did you go to see? A man dressed in fine clothing? No, those who wear expensive clothes and indulge in luxury are in palaces. [Luke 7:25.] Those bible verses were as evocative as any in those growing up years when the Footloose Forester was attempting to read into scripture what the bible was about; and to understand the thought processes of the main characters in those bible passages.
Jesus often spoke in parables so that others could better understand his messages. In his more contemplative moments, Jesus of Nazareth often sought out peaceful, quiet places where he could be alone with his own thoughts. On a high mountain, in a grove of olives, in the vast serenity of the desert wilderness. But what did he go into the desert to see?
Why does anyone wish to be alone? Moreover, why does the wishing to be alone with our thoughts become more imperative when we become troubled? These are not rhetorical questions; they really should be answered if we ever wish to understand ourselves and our motivations. Not that we will eventually or fully understand the need or desire to be alone.
If leaving a written legacy is at all important, we all should understand that it is primarily our own responsibility to provide the raw materials, to be crafted into a recognizable finished product. We may not be the ones who craft it into its final, finished form, but we alone provide the raw materials.
The recent death in February 2015 of Bob Simon, noted CBS News journalist who spent his career traveling and reporting in 130 countries is a perfect example of someone who left a rich legacy of accomplishment. Someone else will be assembling the tales and stories about his life that was remarkable for its depth, its world-wide scope, and in its richness in human understanding. He saw many things that other people simply did not see, in ways most people did not grasp; and he shared those stories with the world. Bob Simon was my kind of man.
Bob Simon was my kind of man because he was on the road….again and again, during his long career; and because he wanted to be there, anywhere but in a tiny cubicle in an office in Washington D.C. In a televised interview, he admitted that he hated every minute of one past assignment behind such a desk in a small cubicle in Washington.
Inasmuch as we all would like to be understood on our own terms, the Footloose Forester reluctantly concludes that he alone is going to write his legacy. Nobody else in his life has shown a willingness to contribute to the family legacy in any recognizable way. Oh, after he is gone there will be stories told about him. Many of them may be pleasant ones, uplifting ones, and fond ones. But the Footloose Forester hopes that those stories will also be about HOW he was, not about WHO he was or WHAT he was.
At this stage in the crafting of this very personal chronicle, the Footloose Forester will try, once again, to understand himself when it comes to a few of his personality traits that informed and influenced some of his beliefs and past actions. Because he believed that happiness is found, not at the end of the road, but along the way; he made it an imperative to see the good side of people, circumstances, and events. Furthermore, he lectured himself about ways to become happy with himself and his circumstances; to stay cheerful, despite dark clouds overhead. Although there are lots of self-help books in print, the individual responsibility of building or fixing anything ultimately rests with the individual reading the book or seeking guidance from others. We alone have to decide who we are and who we want to be.
In an effort to understand himself regarding his attitude and curious aversion about pomp and circumstance, the Footloose Forester is still searching for reasons why he has always eschewed ceremonies and laudatory celebrations. He is admittedly self-effacing and, as a result, never equated honor status with perfection. In the past, he may have been on the Honor Roll in school, but never took that as a sign that such status entitled him to brag about it. Nobody on the Honor Roll had perfect marks, and nobody was a perfect human being. Thus, while being on the Honor Roll was an achievement to strive toward, there was never any point to patting oneself on the back. Perhaps that is one reason why the Footloose Forester grew up eschewing the pomp that went with graduation ceremonies, in general. The phrase “Pomp and Circumstance” itself, somehow clings to the imagery of graduation with cap and gown; and that specific topic is an unsolved puzzle which the Footloose Forester could never understand. A puzzle without readily comprehensible meaning was always going to be a puzzle he could never understand.
How does wearing a cap and gown for a few hours change anything?
Only once in his life did the Footloose Forester don a cap and gown at a graduation ceremony. At the completion of grammar school, the ceremony consisted of dress up with Sunday clothes; and with his father and mother in attendance. Curiously, the graduation ceremony that he remembers took place in St. Michael’s Roman Catholic Church in Netcong, New Jersey, and not in St. Michael’s School where he attended for eight years. No cap and gown in those days.
The cap and the gown, and the pomp and circumstance came four years later upon graduation from Netcong High School. The Footloose Forester was on crutches at the time, following a short bout in the hospital and after he had fallen over a fence while playing center field during a physical education class. As the memory unfolds in this “stream of consciousness” bout of writing, he recalls being among the honor graduates, but not even in the top three. And that day was the last time in his life that he thought that he was smart and knew most everything. It would not be too long until he entered college as a freshman and discovered how ignorant he really was.
Fast forward to and through the 4 ½ years of struggling and striving at Rutgers. When he finally qualified for a degree and the privilege of attending graduation with cap and gown ceremonies, the Footloose Forester was already on the road, in California. He was happy to be working in the field as a forester and saw little purpose in attending a graduation ceremony in which he would be just a mediocre and inconspicuous bit actor. Rutgers mailed the diploma bearing a B.S. degree to him in Placerville, California.
The brief 2 ½ years at the University of Florida was almost enjoyable, by comparison with Rutgers. A large part of the contentment resulted from his participation in a two-month study course in Costa Rica, followed by a stint of field research in Trinidad. On the road….again! The decision to major in tropical forestry at Florida went according to his wishes, and he was honored to be selected to attend a class in tropical studies in Costa Rica with a Fellowship from the Organization for Tropical Studies. But by the time graduation from the University of Florida came around, he was already “On the road….again!” …in Hawaii. No cap and gown, no pomp and circumstance. Florida mailed the diploma with M.S. degree in Forestry, to him in Honolulu.
Fast forward, again. Five or six very short years in Hawaii went by in a blur because the Footloose Forester was happily along the way of a life he had chosen. He got to feel the rocks and trees, breathe in the skies and seas, and hear the birds and bees of many distant lands. As a journeyman forester and struggling student, he was content in knowing that he could succeed if he gave it his best. By then, he also knew that if he succeeded in earning the Ph.D., he would probably pass on the graduation ceremonies. He already believed that by just listening to the strains of Sir Edward Elgar’s traditional Pomp and Circumstance music at the cap and gown ceremony was not in keeping with his belief that his happiness was along the way, and not on the dais where degrees were conferred. He believed that his accomplishments were in climbing the ladder, one rung at a time; but that it was also possible to fall off at any time. There was no special payday on graduation day. Nor was there a need or desire to announce to the world that, on graduation day, he finally could turn to the camera and join in with others to say "I am somebody." But what was it that they came to see? Young people in caps and gowns?
On the contrary, the Footloose Forester has always respected those who show you who they are by HOW they are, how they act, and not by the clothes they wear. He has a perverse disdain for those who seek to gain respect by letting you know who they are; or what they are, by virtue of their college degree, family name, or job title. Thus, he was content to receive his terminal degree by mail from the University of Hawaii. He was already "On the road...again!" in West Africa. After more than 40 years, he is still content to be judged by how he relates to others, and not by who he is or what title he may have earned. Bob Simon would understand.