Foxhole Friends

It has been a tumultuous decade. But the tumultuous part all disappeared for me over a spaghetti dinner two weeks ago.

As the noodles wound their way around forks, bread irreverently tossed across the table, and wine spilled onto the floor, one of my pals proclaimed, while raising his glass, “It’s been 50 years!”

It never dawned on me, our tenure. There were nine of us, all friends from college, gathered around the table that night. We hadn’t changed much over the past five decades, at least from my perspective. Sure, our body forms had leaned into enjoyment, one of us had a stent, a couple tennis elbows squeaked, and hair was thinning, but we were all still very much alive, laughing, telling stories, and dreaming about the future as we always had. We certainly were of differing opinions about the outer maelstrom, the outside world that really doesn’t have much impact on our daily happiness. But it wasn’t worth mentioning. So, when it came up, it was quickly disposed of. That’s what people do when they care for each other, know each other, have the perspective only older folks like us can truly understand – nothing matters more than legacy friendships, friendships that have survived and thrived despite the passing decades. Foxhole friendships. Friends who would take a bullet for you.

The morning after we did what lots of people have discovered as especially enjoyable over the past few years – we took a walk in the park. It wasn’t just any park. It was a park filled with wild things – sprawling oaks, dense sage scrub, a flowing stream, dirt trails, boulders of tonalite, and a lone mission manzanita. Sure, the conversations and laughter flowed indoors the night before, around the long table I had built years ago to accommodate such gatherings (I’ve never quite gotten over how us kids were often delegated to a separate table from the adults during family events). But walking outdoors, breathing in fragrant terpenes, hearing water flow, seeing green, branching fractals everywhere, the conversations became more curious, free, filled with speculations about what was and what may come. In retrospect, the experience provided a kind of glue for me, pasting renewed memories of friendship onto a scaffold that had been standing alone, unattended, for quite some time. COVID had something to do with the lack of maintenance, but truth-be-told, I’d allowed my life-since-college focus pull me away from renewing our 3rd East’s vows on a regular basis. That’s what we call ourselves, the Third East Gang – third floor, eastern bank of the dorms, at Long Beach State.

One of the poignant topics we discussed was those who have walked away. People and desires change of course. But we are always amazed how irreplaceable friendships formed during pivotal years, life-changing events, through challenges and victories, can be allowed to fade and be forgotten by some, like so many tarnished pennies tossed into a jar on the kitchen counter. Fortunately, the nine of us have realized we’re like numismatic treasures – the 1856 Flying Eagle, 1877 and 1909S Indian Head, and the 1909S VDB, 1914D, 1917 double die, 1922 no D, 1931S, and the1955 double die (when several of us were born) Lincoln cents. Imagine living a life not knowing the incredible value of these coins, and spending them on groceries.

Walk-away friendships from the early years are mostly like forgotten pennies. The passage of time and forgetfulness did them in. These days, however, it seems a fair number of friendships are frequently cast aside rather quickly when hubris overwhelms the value of personal history. The behavior is an unfortunate sign of the times. As a country, we’ve suffered similar bouts of polarized friendships lost – the Civil War, the Red Scare of the 1950’s, and the Anti-war movement of the 1960’s, when the mere association with the other side meant being ostracized, or worse, overnight. It takes all the power of Olympus to resist the evolutionary imperative to support one’s tribe over the other with the thrust of a sword.

But resist we must. Seriously, what impact does their opinions have on national policy?

I’ve spent a lot of time recently reflecting on the importance of friendship and acceptance after working with a talented artist on a major project for nearly a year – a gun toting, conspiracy believing, anti-liberal craftsman who was not shy about expressing his biases; a man who also happens to be one of the most honest, trustworthy individuals I’ve ever met. He’s easily a foxhole friend, as was a neighbor who has since passed away. He was also a skilled craftsman. He built several beautiful pieces of furniture for us and was always available to help. He was a gentleman. Sadly, I let his opinions related to the racial makeup of a US President sour our friendship when the beast of American tribalism was just beginning to emerge from the abyss. I stopped enjoying his company. It’s a loss I will forever regret, but one I have forced myself to learn from.

Having suffered walk-away friendships myself, I’ve felt the emotional impacts, the terminal judgement of others to my own actions and words while defending John Muir, vaccines, supporting science over stories about Native American fire use, and calling out land planners for placing people in harm’s way. Marcus Aurelius has helped me put those impacts into perspective.

Everyone has a story. The only one we truly know is our own, and often barely that one. Consequently, understanding and acceptance, as opposed to judgement, is the only logical path to take. We can surely choose the people we prefer to spend time with, but those decisions must be made with humility. Anything less encourages and empowers the very offense we are reacting to. We saw that in the results of the 2016 Presidential election. We’re seeing it today with identity politics, such as the Sierra Club focusing on social justice issues rather than the protection of endangered species and Wilderness.

Hence the value of 50-year-old friendships. Such friendships remind us of the power of acceptance and forgiveness. They are also a tonic during times of contention, social upheaval, and chaos. Such is the value of foxhole friends. Regardless of the price, they will be there for you, with you. Nothing else has the power to make you truly appreciate how good it is to be alive.

If you haven’t celebrated with your own foxhole friends recently, get on with it. And make sure to include a walk with them in the park after an evening of irreverence.

The foxhole friends of 3rd East.

4 Comments on “Foxhole Friends

  1. You’re a good man Rick. I’m proud to call you my friend. The openness and depth of our conversations never disappoints. Nor does the whiskey! 😉 And as luck would have it, I had dinner recently with buddy I’ve considered a brother for 47 years myself. Precious moments….

  2. I remember your reluctance to embrace the stories of Native American fire use 🙂 when I listened to the last podcast you posted and you mentioned how natives used fire I thought, “ah! He didn’t used to think that!” Changing your mind with new information is wisdom and I admire your honest quest to perform maintenance on your past convictions.
    And yeah, what a decade… ❤

    • Yes indeed, the willingness to change one’s mind in the face of new information is what wisdom brings. It is a quality that is in rare supply these days. As discussed above, in these contentious times, thoughtful conversations are an endangered species.

      The Native American fire use story is a complicated one. At issue is how government agencies and other land management entities have appropriated the notion of Indigenous fire to justify massive habitat clearance operations. If one questions the validity of such justifications, the onslaught of identity politics is rained down upon the questioner. It’s discouraging because many Native Americans do not seem to realize their cultures are being used to facilitate the destruction of Nature.

      We discuss this more on our journal post here on Wisdom and Science:
      But the paragraph at the top of our website’s Myths page summarizes the issue:

      “Myths abound when it comes to chaparral. The most pervasive deal with fire. From the University of California videos on chaparral, to California State Park project documents, to news media stories, and even the textbook for the California Naturalist Program, misconceptions about chaparral are repeated over and over again.

      We have listed below the most common myths you’ll encounter from people who should know better, people with degrees, badges, and even those in charge of environmental organizations. One of the most damaging myths being promoted recently is the notion that Native Americans burned chaparral across the state of California on a regular basis, supposedly preventing large fires from occurring. Not only is this contrary to the scientific evidence, but it was (and remains) a physical/practical impossibility. Cal Fire, the US Forest Service, and California State Parks are promoting this myth as a way to justify their massive habitat clearance projects. We discuss this issue in greater detail on our Native Americans page here:”

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