Eagle Scout projects, hidden purple boxes in the forest, psychology of personal commitments, and the number 91—I’ve got much to cover today, hence the reason for my amazingly enigmatic narrative title.
My youngest daughter and I are on an adventure, while the other two kids are fulfilling social obligations. It’s 7:00pm, banks of purple clouds obscure the sky as a light drizzle falls. With a bone-chilling temperature of 44°, I am reminded that it is—indeed, despite the recent warm days—fully Fall. My wife and poodle choose to stay home, cuddled under the warm Mexican blanket. If it weren’t for my pet-project, I would probably opt for the warm blanket as well. But the thought of commitment, more specifically of discipline, is always bouncing around in my head, even as we drive along Piney Fork Creek to our destination.
I was raised by my parents to fulfill a personal commitment, to hang in there with a failing sports teams, and to stick by the side of family and friends—obligated to notions of faithfulness and loyalty and promise. Call me crazy, but it seems that our current culture doesn’t subscribe to the same concepts any more, labeling them as merely antiquated theories. Maybe it’s a reflection of our temporal, disposable culture? Perhaps we are all too distracted to care about anything beyond the reach of our cellphone? Personally speaking, I do not make commitments that I do not intend to keep. If I say something or promise something, I choose to stick by that obligation, including those of my own projects and endeavors. I suppose that I adopted these values from my youthful career in Boy Scouts.
A Scout is…trustworthy, loyal, helpful, friendly, courteous, kind, obedient, cheerful, thrifty, brave, clean, and reverent. ~ Scout Law from Boy Scouts of America
We drive through the Green Man Tunnel, and park the van a mile further down the road near Gill Hall. We cross the road, blades of grass transfer water to my shoes, soaking into my socks. Our flashlights cut through the darkness. My daughter pauses to illustrate how the beam of light cuts through her breath which is suspended in the atmosphere around us. Ordinarily, I would be chilled with creepiness but there is a fun camaraderie that we are sharing now, nothing resembling fear or trepidation. We are in search of a geocache, hidden in the nearby campground, and who can be afraid of the dark while searching for an ammo box?
We are standing in front of a three-sided building, designed and built by the local Boy Scouts (troop named the Thunderbirds), that serves as a shelter for bicycling travelers. Paralleling the road that we traveled on to arrive here, the bicycle trail (also known as the Montour Trail) stretches for more than fifty miles. This specific campground was constructed to serve as a rest stop for two-wheeled sojourners, and to fulfill the requirement for Boy Scout’s most elite accomplishment, that of Eagle Scout. I’m reminded of my days in scouting, specifically of achieving the highest rank in the organization, and the numerous years of work required to accomplish that goal. With extensive requirements, badges, and service work completed, the badge of Eagle Scout should be renamed to the Brotherhood of Incredible Tenacity.
Picnic tables, fire pit, portable toilet, and a shadowy structure are aligned with the tree line. My daughter, faithfully following the GPS on my phone, indicates that we should be near the hidden container. She locates a spot within the shelter where the GPS is reporting a target destination of a few feet. I check the geocaching app for clues, and proceed to find the hidden box. Well, without spoiling it for others, I can tell you that we locate the container. I fetch the purple ammo box from a very clever hiding spot, designed to obscure it from Muggles—a Muggle is a term, gleamed from the Harry Potter universe, that refers to non-geocaching people.
I place the metal container on the shelter floor, crack open the lid, and check the contents: a notebook for signing your name (proof that you found the geocache), some items for trading, and a trackable object (known as Travel Bug, or TB for short). Travel Bugs are objects tagged with a tracking code that move from one geocache to another, passed along by other geocaching enthusiasts. In this case, the TB is a Major League baseball with instructions, from the owner, to sign it with a pen. I pull another TB from my pocket and drop it in the box—one that I collected in Arizona near the Grand Canyon, which I promptly forgot about upon returning from vacation.
With all of our travel completed for the year, I can safely cross #31 Find a geocache in each state that I visit from my bucket list. On the off-chance that I visit a new state in the next three months, I will locate another geocache in that state; although, that’s very unlikely.
As my daughter plays with the black glitter yo-yo acquired from the geocache, I reflect on my project and my personal commitment to fulfill it. Every 91.25 days—the quarter equivalent of a year—I place two fingers under my stubbly jawline to a check for a pulse, with previous check-ups at Three and a Half Minute Retrospective and Quixotic Quest and the Search for a Golden Snitch. I can hardly believe that my personal project is now three fourths done, so how is Project 365 shaping up? Perhaps, it’s more appropriate to use the phrase wrapping up?
Do you know that portion of a lengthy book where you want to give up, that lull and hump in the middle? Well my project feels a little like that, at times, to be honest. I enjoy the daily process of photographing and writing, although it can be tedious. But do I regret ever starting the project at all? Not one bit, not one second. I have discovered so much about myself, almost like getting reconnected with a long-lost friend, that I label the last nine months as priceless. When I write it down, I’m aware that it sounds a bit melodramatic. To use a different metaphor, my life now feels refocused. The obscured portions of myself seem less mysterious, the portions that were once hurt are now healing, the items once labeled as fear are less intimidating. Perhaps you feel that I’m rambling, or perhaps you may need to complete your own personal pet-project of introspection?
What you get by achieving your goals is not as important as what you become by achieving your goals ~ Zig Ziglar
Dialing it back from the heavy existentialism, I ponder what have I done this year. From my yearly bucket list, I’ve crossed off 55 of 100 items: from big goals to minor accomplishments, each meaningful in some way. From my lifetime bucket list, I’ve crossed off a whopping two items. From my travel bucket list, I’ve chiseled away at the goal of visiting all 50 states and all National Parks.
Likewise, I think about the remaining 45 goals. Some items are definitely out of the range for accomplishment: #42 Swim in the Pacific Ocean and #66 Run in the desert. I keep missing my window of opportunity for #1 Cliff jump into a body of water, and I’m starting to believe that it’s loosely based on fear rather than opportunity. Other goals, while possible to complete this year, seem to be best suited to postponement next year, including: #13 Go backpacking, #28 Organize my garage, and #58 Learn five songs on the ukulele and/or Telecaster.
Those that I haven’t yet been mentioned are all bucket list items that have a fragment of potential for completion. I have identified specific goals as a priority—#14 Read 50 books, #19 Lose 30 pounds, #23 Fit into my wedding ring, and #99 Mend a broken relationship—so I still have my work cut out for me. It isn’t time to sleep, not quite yet.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep. But I have promises to keep, and miles to go before I sleep ~ Robert Frost