Didn’t See That Coming

A Little Biography and Thoughts on the Unforseeable

I have no digital photos for the timeframe recounted here. These are from recent adventures.

I turned forty-four earlier this week, finally reaching a point that just recently seemed far off: Middle-age. It seems a good time for a few moments of retrospection. And there’s a point to all this that we’ll get around to a little later.

When I was ten I saw a world of vast possibility when I thought of the future. Potential seemed limitless for investigating the things I wanted to investigate and for my own conquests. I was probably indistinguishable from other kids my age there in the Halifax, Nova Scotia suburbs to anyone but my own parents. I went to school but wanted to spend as little time there as possible. I rode stunt bikes, played marbles and caught snakes. If anything set me apart, it was my unusual passion for  living things.

We were on the verge of moving to the mountains of western Maine and things were about to get interesting. Over the next decade some opportunities would open, others would close for me but it was certainly all unforeseeable as I packed things in boxes at our home on Rogers Drive and got ready for the big truck. I wanted to start my own zoo and I wanted to read books and make books about all the kinds of animals out there but life would steer me in ways that were not of my own making and my own decisions would shape my life at forty four in ways I couldn’t have imagined at ten.

In Jackman, Maine I suddenly found it difficult to make friends and easier to fight. I wasn’t from around there, talked funny and wasn’t interested in the same things other pre-teens were. I found myself very isolated but didn’t really mind staying this way. As I’d left Nova Scotia, I couldn’t have foreseen this.

Nature became all important to me as people became less important and then fish became all important to me as other types of animals diminished in importance. I thought that the very best thing was to know everything about fish and didn’t understand why other people didn’t think so. I was captivated by swimming things year-round, even in the low-diversity waters I had at hand in Maine’s glacial lakes.

I slowly became aware that I really liked a girl named Donna who was in my class – the first time I could really say that I felt anything for a female. I really couldn’t have seen this coming at the age of ten.

While vacationing in my mother’s homeland of Newfoundland, Canada, I was hit by a car while playing on a remote and unfrequented section of highway with my cousin Travis. The injuries were severe and during the first 24 hours I wasn’t expected to live. My brain had bounced around in concussive fashion and I’d never be quite the same after this. Outwardly, I returned to Maine with scars, healing bones and a cast on my right arm. My mood was constantly dark; I didn’t smile for years. This changed everything.

While still in the cast, I started trying to run for the first time in my life. I can’t at all remember the reason – I never thought I’d like this and couldn’t have imagined impulsively putting on running shoes and hitting the road when still a carefree child in Nova Scotia. This would eventually impel me to strange places and adventures.

Suddenly, Dad announced that we’d be moving to central New York. Dad was a pastor and had found a new church that he needed to move on to for reasons that were between him and God.  I was thrust into a far more metropolitan environment where I simply went to work finding and cataloging new fish species.

I made one friend quickly at the new school, William, who sounded like he liked all the same things I did though this was only because he lied habitually. Like me, he was generally picked on and intimidated by the school bullies and I began to stand up for him because no one else would. This led to a spiral of worsening social prospects and growing violence for me until I was finally chased off the school grounds by a mob one afternoon. Later, I’d learn that there were good reasons William wasn’t well liked and he wasn’t at all a good person to become friends with.

I landed at Cortland Christian Academy where I didn’t have to fight anymore. School wasn’t oppressive now though it remained something I had to just get through to get on with the things I wanted to do. I did make a couple of good friends here and it was a stable jumping off point from which to contemplate greater adventures.

Eventually, I went out looking for a job and landed one of the first positions for which I applied. This was work as a trail builder for a nature center, Lime Hollow Nature Center, which was a young organization just getting off the ground near where I lived. My enthusiasm was undiminished by the fact that there was no paycheck – it was all volunteer work. My tenure at the nature center would lead me on to the adjacent Tunison Laboratory of Fish Nutrition where I’d collide with real science in the making for the first time, radically re-shaping my view of nature and exposing me to methodology. These were certainly first jobs I could not have envisioned myself holding just a few years earlier.

While in New York I did something else significant: I made a stick shelter in the back yard, took a pillow and blanket and slept out in it overnight. This was surely a portentous moment for me.

In New York, I moved beyond the few coldwater fishes of western Maine to a panoply of species starting with a whale-like minnow, the common carp. I spent time reading up on each of my catches and radically expanded my fish knowledge. I also fished a much wider range of fish habitats here from ditches to Lake Ontario.

After moving to Florida and settling into a new high school in the Ft. Myers area, I strangely became almost popular; still nerdy but popular. At the very least, I didn’t have to fight anymore. Everyone knew me and I got invited to things, though I never went. I ran on the track sometimes with the school’s biggest “jock,” Ryan. In no way had I seen this social turn-around coming.

Dad again had trouble with the church, church board and church government and decided to leave the largest church he’d ever preached at after only a year or so, moving us all to rural Tennessee in the middle of my senior year. We had very little in the way of prospects in Tennessee and knew no-one. This too blindsided me. I couldn’t have imagined it in advance.

About the time I graduated high school, I used the money I’d made at my grocery store job to make a down-payment on a rusting old blue Ford Ranger pickup. I worked at the Piggly Wiggly and drove my pickup around rural Tennessee at night going off to fish for catfish somewhere on the Cumberland River. I’d never imagined this lifestyle while growing up in northern Maine or Canada.

I took an overnight grocery stocking job in an inner-city neighborhood of Nashville where I mingled with racially diverse people and took to a nocturnal way of life, suddenly driving my own truck, bringing in my own paychecks and making my first independent life decisions. It was all so much different than I’d imagined the world beyond high school. Even by the age of 18, life had changed so radically again and again and was about to take me on a ride beyond anything I could have possibly prepared for. How could I have planned for all this?

Nowadays I live in semi-rural western Pennsylvania, a bit outside of Pittsburgh. I write freely about the wild things that interest me most though I still make a living from menial jobs. I’ve enjoyed an incredibly interesting life so far both because of the things that have befallen me and because of the things I’ve chosen for myself, little of which I could have known in advance. My life has held more adventure than most people can ever hope for, I think.

All of which brings us around to this point: Why do we put so much stock in the prognostications of the modern augurs who tell us what the future holds for us? Look at your own life and think about how little of what’s befallen you could have been forecast. Multiply all this uncertainty by the 330 million people living in the United States. There’s a lot of uncertainty and chaos to be accounted for out there. These lives of uncertainty interact, swelling the unpredictability by orders of magnitude.

Yet our media and ruling class tell us how many lives will be lost to corona virus, how many new “pandemics” will come ashore here and how many lives will be lost, the temperature of the planet a hundred years out, where the current economic trends will take us, how many species will be lost in the next decade, when we’ll run out of fossil fuels and what the racial makeup of our country will be in twenty years. If possible, they’ll also apend the term “inevitable” after making reference to a large number of “experts” who have all reached consensus on your future and mine.

Well, what if things happen that couldn’t have possibly been foreseen? What if we each respond to unforeseeable events in unique ways?

There’s too much uncertainty for any of us to be at all confident about the shape of even our own lives a decade from now; why do we imagine there’s a benighted class who can tell us what we need to brace for and fear in the next year or next decade? And why do we still listen to prognosticators whose credibility has long since been sacrificed?

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