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How (Not) to Give a Wedding Gift

Dear Lois and Clark,

Congratulations on your most recent adventure: marriage!

Like any other grand expedition, marriage requires arduous ascents, and struggles with perilous downclimbing; explorers encounter breathtaking moments of exhilarating joy and persist through harrowing and perilous conditions.  Marriage is an epic, requiring fortitude, courage, deeds of derring-do and the occasional act of divine or supernatural intervention.  Don’t listen to naysayers who tell you it’s only a piece of paper.  The paper is not the marriage, merely a contingency.  Those who are “just” couples do not invite loved ones, family, friends, to witness a public profession of their love and commitment to each other.  Whatever marriage is, it is more than just a piece of paper. 

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Lois, you have probably learned by now that—being the lawyer that he is—you will often have to explain things to Clark, simple things, like, how ink comes out of pens.  Be sure to use precise definitions and avoid metaphors.  Clark, this letter is full of metaphors; if you’re reading this, please hand it to Lois now; let her read it to you… Slowly. 

These aren’t traditional wedding gifts; nonetheless, I hope you find them useful, and a helpmate for your journey, to make the road more comfortable.  Following is the inventory of the box, and why those items matter.  Get the fuck out… Side.

Item, the first: SPF 50. 

What poets have known for ages—Whitman, Wordsworth, Shakespeare, Frost—science is just learning to explain: Nature is good for you.  Science has finally caught up with the minds and hearts of the poets and can now tell us why and how Nature affects our bodies.  For instance, smelling an alpine forest drops the blood pressure and lowers cortisol, the hormone associated with stress.  That’s right, just inhaling the scent of a forest has physical benefits.  Add a little exercise and the body will thank you for it.  But make sure when you’re out there you take care of your skin, so that it will take care of you.  You probably know that a sunburn is just that, a first-degree burn on the upper layers of the skin damaging the tissue, possibly permanent and irreparable damage, including cancer.  Put the lotion on the skin; don’t get fucking cancer.  That would suck.  Die young, as late in life as possible.  Go ahead, read that again. 

Item, the second; bug spray. 

‘Deep Woods’ Off is seriously the best shit on the market for keeping away woodland pests.  Apply generously to clothing and shoes when out in the woods for maximum comfort.  It helps to have head-wear such as a hat or bandana, so you can spray that instead of your face and hair.  Don’t get it on your sunglasses though, it melts plastic.  And don’t get too much of that shit on your skin, either; it’ll fucking give you cancer.  (According to the FDA it won’t, but I thought it was funny given item, the first.  Unless cancer is not funny.  Is cancer funny?  I’m not sure what the rules are regarding cancer jokes and I often rely on my wife to let me know when I’m being inappropriate.  It will definitely melt plastic, though.  I’ve sprayed it, forgetting my sunglasses were on my head, and ruined lenses—cheap ones, to be sure.  And my Nalgene bottles bear DEET scars.  Still worth not having insects fly into your goddamned ears while hiking!  Bleck!) 

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 Here’s some shit I didn’t include

Wool socks.  Even in Summer: buy thinner or thicker ones depending on season.  They are the best.  Buy Merino wool.  Take care of your feet and they will take you everywhere you need to go.  And remember, “Everywhere is walking distance if you have the time”. 

Sunglasses.  Life is too short; buy them.  The world is fucking amaze-balls and vision is one of the most important evolutionary developments we have been gifted with.  Take care of your eyes.

Skin care is more than just “ess-pee-effin’” it. 

Item, the third: Body Glide.  I can’t tell you how many times this shit has saved my ass on a hike—uh, literally.  Do you guys have issues with chapped inner-thighs or that fleshy area where you butt-crack ends?  You’re welcome for the visuals.  Maybe it’s a fat guy thing; maybe you skinny bitches don’t get chub-rub.  Anyway, you can put it on your feet too, or any part of your body that may chafe.  Use it on longer bike rides, when your bib or spandex start to irritate your chest or legs.  The truth is, though, this shit works miracles in your, ahem, more delicate areas.  Generously slather its soothing ointment on at the slightest hint of discomfort.  Nothing looks more pitiful and invites awkward stares like waddling back to the car looking as if you’re trying to walk while pretending to squeeze a yoga ball between your knees.  Pitiful.

The world is a brilliant, beautiful place; it can also be dark.  Be prepared.

Item, the fourth: headlamps.  It gets dark and scary at night, and while night-hikes can be lots of fun, that’s only true when we intend it to be so.  Sometimes, we get lost, the night comes unexpectedly.  It’s easy to lose the trail.  In the dark it’s easy to stumble, fall, get separated, and you can’t always see the blazes on the path; if this happens, stop, don’t keep going.  Find the light and take inventory.  Where have you been?  Where do you need to go?  Get on the same page and don’t wander alone.    Always take a map and compass with you, learn how to read them and find your true north.  Check it from time to time to make sure the direction you are heading is the direction you both want to go.  The compass always points north and can help you find your way.

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Item, the fifth: a backpack. 

These little 35L packs are great.  They hold so much.  You can fit everything I’ve included in this package inside and then some.  I have two 40oz Nalgene water bottles that I carry with me when I ride or hike and the side pockets hold them no problem.  Also, the bags fold up to and weigh practically nothing.  The little compartment-in-a-compartment in the front is a great feature where I usually stick my keys and wallet; it has an extra little zipper for those smaller valuables just in case the main pocket somehow comes undone.  Additionally, the pouch inside the main compartment holds a first aid kit perfectly; like, I don’t know if that’s what it was specifically designed for, but it might as well be.  They also have that little clip to go across your chest for stability and, just in case, you know, like, someone can grab the pack from behind without ripping it off your body because you’re sliding uncontrollably down a mountain at fifteen miles/hour ass-on-ground feetfirst aiming for a tree hoping for the best.  I mean, hypothetically. 

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Communication, self-reflection and mindfulness.

Item, the sixth: a journal.  Write in this regularly.  Do it together or take turns.  Write about the little things, because, for the most part you’ll remember the big stuff, like your honeymoon and the amazing adventures you’re going to have moving forward.  Write down plans and dates.  Write down what you had for supper or where you ate and what you ordered.  (When we were dating, Heather used to make these little origami hearts with the napkins at restaurants and put the dates on them.  We don’t do that anymore.)  Remember why to write: not so much for the memories, but rather for the reason that Annie Dillard tells us she kept a journal in The Writing Life, because it helps us remember who we were, who we are, and can show us who and what we are becoming.  Clark, write down Lois’s favorite color, her favorite flavor of ice cream; write down that funny face she made when she tried something new that she didn’t like.  Lois, write down Clark’s weird habits, like how he doesn’t drink coffee but prefers Coke and Sour Patch Kids for breakfast—fucking weirdo J.  (Psst, Lois!  Here is a secret about Clark that you may not know: he is one of the roughly 50% of people who can’t smell the horrible odor in his urine after eating asparagus.  It’s caused by a genetic mutation is his genes that prevents this.  So, you married a mutant, and that is his super power.  Exciting, huh?  That could be your first entry, write that down!)  Write about the bad stuff as well as the good.  You want to know the secret to a happy marriage?  There are no secrets.  Write about the fights and what they were about.  Keep it all in the open; bring it into the light—you can use your headlamps.  Use the journal to communicate.  Fighting sometimes leads to lack of communication and passive-aggressive behavior.  The journal will help with that.  A journal allows us to say how we feel without “saying” it.  And remember to use “I”, not “You”.  You is for blaming; I is for sharing. 

See beyond the surface of things and understand that the journey undulates. 

The journal has the tree of life on its cover.  Not for nothing.  The tree represents renewal and fertility, but also death.  We understand joy because we know disappointment.  However, life and time are not linear, but circular.  Think of them like this.  Deciduous trees shed their leaves, or die, in the fall, only to cover themselves with new growth again in the spring.  The tree also represents all three aspects of life: the underworld, with its vast and complex system of roots, the earthly with its trunk, and the divine, its branches reaching towards the heavens.  And, in one symbol it harmonizes the vast complexity of the universe: water flows through its veins, earth becomes its bark, air feeds its leaves, and when the cycle is finished it provides us with fire for warmth and food.  Happiness is nothing more than understanding that every thing in this world is connected to every other thing.  In a world full of people, be a tree.

Perspective.

Item, the seventh: Cash. The final item.  Use it for gas to go on an adventure.  Head to the White Mountains, a small town in Western MA, or upstate NY.  Ithaca is “Gorges” any time of year.  That’s a thing; trust me, I’m a professor.  The Northeast Kingdom of Vermont, specifically, Lake Willoughby, makes quite an impression.  Remember to take joy and wonder in the little things.  Get out into the woods or an open meadow, far away from the city at night and look up at the stars; climb a mountain; stand by the ocean; let their magnitude flow into you.  The universe in which we live is quite an amazing place.  Did you know the Sun contains over 99% of ALL the mass in our solar system?  Or that if you took all the microbes on earth, and lined them up end to end, they would stretch over 100,000,000 light years into space!?  (If you read my blog you do; I plagiarized myself.)  That’s farther than even the most distant visible star in the night sky!  That’s perspective.  In the grand scheme of things, we are nothing.  And yet, to my knowledge, we are the only species able to willfully and consciously alter our environment to suit our specific needs and desires.  Do so mindfully, with care and respect. 

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Treat Nature with respect. 

We are Nature.  Forget the stupid phrase “happy wife, happy life”.  Instead, think “happy spouse, happy house”.  One-way streets too frequently come to dead ends. 

Thus ends my sermon.  Good luck you two!

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