John Michael

Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise XLV: The Goal, I Guess

(Photo by John Michael)

John Michael continues his series Life Is a Sweet, Tender Bruise, reflecting on life and people encountered, takes a detour down the river trail and shares fresh insights. 


I started out hiking an hour or so earlier tonight. I wanted to get further down the river trail than I had been. I had plenty of vigor. As I came down off the bench, the trail starts to hug the river as the other side is basalt rock and cliffs.

It feels like my youth is returning some and the urge to climb and explore the cliffs was a new sensation within me. If I hadn’t already set a course or had someone else with me, I might have done so.

Out beyond the cliffs and on up the river, the canyon is steeper and without the wide benches that mark the early trail.

I was a little tense in the new territory. I like adventure but also the comfort of the familiar when the adventure is solo. I am prone to panic and used to treating my body with big jolts of adrenaline at the passing thought of getting lost or injured or trapped someplace unfamiliar.

I was rewarded early in the new section with the sight of two large mule deer bucks and then a third even larger buck sneaking out of a small canyon I was approaching. I took some pictures of their bed down area and then a doe I saw shortly afterward. She was up the hill and across the canyon in no time. The area where they bedded down was near a tiny creek slowly moving into the river. It was the only water coming out of the canyon in that five- or six-mile stretch.

The goal, I guess, if there is one, is to be at home and at peace wherever I am at. I tend to take too much comfort in my routines and familiar places. As with anything in life, those things can disappear overnight.


The goal, I guess, if there is one, is to be at home and at peace wherever I am at.


Different animals and birds grab my attention on different nights, and on the new section of trail there seemed to be an abundance of doves. They were not used to humans, I guess, as my adrenals squealed after nearly stepping on one before it took flight.

The plan was to swim at a familiar beach on the way back. But I ended up getting in at my turnaround point. It was odd and refreshing to take that small risk and I was rewarded when a great blue heron flew up river and landed on a small strip of sand not far beyond me. They are such a long, lovely bird.

Coming back down the trail, my energy was a little low and the scenery went away for a minute and I just concentrated on walking. I didn’t really feel comfortable until I was beyond the cliffs and had the more expansive view from the benches.

I did hear a rattler and spotted him about ten feet off the trail. He kept rattling longer than I thought he should. Like when I was homeless walking away from some loudmouth calling me a bum. At times, they just kept rattling on and there was often an impulse to turn and say, “Alright, tough guy, show me what you got.” I may be a Biblical snake handler after all.

It’s been a long time since I have had a massive panic attack, but panic is still a part of my everyday life in small ways and I believe it can be fully removed over time.

As darkness approached, I paused while climbing a hill. An image of me in sixth grade flashed through my mind. I was sad and lonely and anxious. My mom went back to work after my parents’ divorce as a social worker. She was gone and on call a lot. I felt defeated somehow, wanting her to be there and incapable of the responsibility of caring for myself and my family. I have been on the run from responsibility ever since.

However, as I heal that panicked, sad kid and look at myself through today’s eyes, I am doing just fine.


John Michael

Hello, good people. I am rarely sure how to describe myself. If I say I am a Christian, many things may arise in your mind that ain't necessarily so. I was homeless for seven years and learned more about myself in that stretch of time than in any other segment of my life. I read the Bible a lot out there and came across a passage in Proverbs that has shaped my approach to life: "A man's pursuit is his kindness." I am well educated with a Master of Social Work degree and have worked a wide variety of jobs in my 52 years. None have lasted too long however. When I was homeless, the beauty of Texas wildflowers made me decide to want to live again. Along with kindness, beauty, play, and self-expression are life-guiding ideas. My shadow contains things like feeling sorry for myself, a truckload of defiance, a desperate need to please women, and no small amount of cruelty. A quote from Luke also has had a lasting effect on me: "For God is kind to the ungrateful and the evil." When I read that I thought, "Hell, I have got a fighting chance." I am here to tell you, you have a fighting chance as well. Besides Christianity, practicing Buddhist and Shamanic techniques inform my relationship to God and the world.

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