Winding down 2021

Cumberland Gap National Historical Park

It has been quite a year. We were born this year. The Original Neanderthal LLC was conceived as a concept in the Spring of the year and the first slogan was rolled out in April of 2021. When I took a moment for contemplation at the end of 2020 to look back and look ahead, I didn’t see any hint of The Original Neanderthal. It is cliche to say that we never know what lies ahead, but here it is, we do not.

Life is a fluid thing and it often finds its way to places a body never anticipated or even imagined. This is a good thing, flowing water is never stagnant. With all the pressure put on the population over 2020 and 2021, so much of it negative, trying to develop a positive concept has been like swimming upstream. We have struggled, and that is OK. One benefit of swimming against the current is a total physical, spiritual and mental workout and like all exercise it strengthens the targeted areas. I am not the same person I was when we started this, I am not the person I will be as we continue this journey.

The response to our efforts has been encouraging. We would like to take a moment to say a heart felt thank you to all those who supported us. Our family first and foremost, followed by close friends, and co-workers. We also want to acknowledge those who took the time to learn about us, to buy our products and converse with us online and follow our Facebook page, read our blog and listen to our new podcast. We enjoyed meeting those folks who checked us out at craft and vendor events this past year. One thing I have noticed is that the folks who get what we are trying to do, are enthusiastic. Those who don’t aren’t.

We have plans to continue growing, look for more content and look for more of a social media footprint as we have joined instagram and are looking at other social media outlets to get our content out to you. We have more slogans to pair with our Neanderthal figure guaranteed to make you smile, make you think, and encourage you to find and be the best you, you can be.

Looking back over the past few months, I am amazed at what we have accomplished. The ghost of Covid is haunting the turning of the year, it is not as big or overwhelming as it was last year. The things that we worry about are very real concerns, but I firmly believe that we are more than able to overcome the hardships facing us. The future has not been written yet, despite what the media would have you believe. As proved over this past year none of us really has any idea what the true plot will be. We will write it one day at a time by our actions and deeds. Hold your heads high. Be original, live free, be legendary and chase your future with determination. Be the hunter not the hunted!.We will persevere. There is no other option.

Tis the Season

And here it is, the week leading into Christmas Day, 2021. And here I am cruising along at warp speed, a strained smile on my face, hurtling through the most wonderful time of the year. There are not enough hours in the day. There are too many hours to fill. I have so many things I would like to do and I have so many things I won’t be able to do. I feel like I am being pulled this way and that. After all that has happened these past 2 years and what we have been through as a collective, I can’t seem to find a happy medium this year.

So, I am taking a step back from it all and refocusing. Maybe many of you recognize what I am feeling. We want to go back to normalcy. We want to wake up and step out into a world we recognize, and day after day we wake up and step out into a world where things seem to be spinning off into a dark direction. Prices are rising, store shelves are not full, and the fear of extreme shortages of food and fuel whisper on the wind. Politically, things seem to be going in a direction that is counter to our best interests and none of us are really sure who is going to benefit. All we know is it’s not going to be us. The fear mongering is constant on the main stream media. What can we do?

Growing up, Christmas had a magical feel to it, the sheer expectancy of good things headed our way made us giddy with delight. We decorated, we sang Christmas songs, we gave and we received gifts. We reached out to the needy in our community and we found joy in simple things. It wasn’t perfect, but it didn’t have to be for us to be happy.

Today, the pressure to create the perfect Christmas makes it impossible to reach the level of joy we aspire to. In seeking perfection we refuse to be satisfied with anything less and we set ourselves up for disappointment. They sold out of the gift we had to have. People are so rude, how can you enjoy anything? Someone in the family is ill, someone in the family has dependence issues, someone in the family is a little bit out there…those people are conservatives…those people are woke….these people expect everything to be handed to them on a silver platter….those people will just steal the platter…and it goes on and on….there is always something isn’t there?

‘Tis the Season that we make it. Somewhere within each of us is the desire for something better. We know we fall far short of perfection and that there is much more to this life than cowering in fear of the latest virus iteration, or the climate change, or racism, or any of the other current fears du jour. We know that we were made for greater things than paying the bills and struggling to make ends meet.

‘Tis the Season to step away from the narrative and greet your neighbor, to shop at the local small businesses, to reach out to those in the community in need. Time to step up and be a positive force in your little corner of the world. It is time to jerk up the boot straps and take a deep breath and make a difference, even if it is a small difference. It is hard to be depressed and pursue a purpose. We were never meant to sit around and wait to be saved, we were created to strive, to be, to become.

‘Tis the Season when all things become possible. Embrace it!

Hunter Not Hunted

Our path forward from this day is ours to map, despite the pressure on us to fall in line with the plans of others. There are some things we must take care of in order to survive. At the top of the list is food, followed closely by clothing and shelter. We usually don’t need to stress about these things. We live in a wealthy country and for most of us these are readily available, so available that “what do you want to eat?” is a cliched meme. How many times has your spouse or significant other asked, and forced you to choose among the many available options? Sometimes, it even goes into the I don’t know, what do you want? back and forth until finally a body just pulls in somewhere.

Neanderthals lived in an environment where survival looked a lot different than it does for us. The Hunt was central to their lives. Scientists have discovered many things about Neanderthal hunting techniques and technology. From the discovery of a centralized staging area where family groups or clans met to organize hunts for prey we can only view as replicas in museums, to the discovery of hearths where meat was prepared and bones with traces of stone blade work were left in refuse piles, we are gaining a greater appreciation for these peoples.

I kid my friends that I need to create a meme saying you may be a 2A gun toting bad ass but are you a run up to a wooly rhinoceros and stab it with a short spear bad ass? For the Neanderthal to successfully hunt the game that roamed the earth during their tenure on the planet they had to be strong, cunning, cooperative, and lucky. All evidence indicates they did not always leave these hunts in the same shape they entered them. Most Neanderthal fossils show evidence of trauma in the form of broken and healed bones and disfiguring injuries to extremities.

Hunting was essential for their survival and hunting Wooly Mammoths, Rhinos, Red Deer and other extinct game defined their society. They were nomads, some roamed limited territories and others ventured further afield. There have been killing fields identified where it appears that big game was run off cliffs and the corpses harvested for the needs of the groups involved, which indicates that communication and interaction with neighboring family groups was a thing. The idea that these peoples were subhuman brutes is being shattered with each excavation of identified Neanderthal occupied sites.

Hunting has been a human activity throughout the history of the planet. Today in our society it has been mostly relegated to a sporting activity. My own sons are prolific hunters. When they were young and showed an interest in hunting, I found them a mentor who would teach them respect for the environment and the game they hunted. We would eat what they hunted and they would be responsible for field dressing and caring for the game. Now, I look forward to a venison roast and deer jerky each fall and winter.

Hunting is a proactive state, going out into the wilds and procuring meat for the family involves skill, patience and persistence. In our society today too many have let themselves get caught up in a reactive state. When constantly reacting to the slings and arrows of a world that really doesn’t have your best interest in heart it is hard to get any traction or make any forward progress. It is easy to get beat down and depressed. Victimization is a big thing. But it’s important to realize that in the long run it is a losing proposition. With the Hunter Not Hunted collection, we at the Original Neanderthal LLC want to encourage people to be proactive. To take charge and to plan and engage their future. To be the pursuer of their dreams and the marshal of their lives. Our very survival as a people is going to be on the shoulders of those who step into the breach and act, to those who step boldly into the fray. It won’t be the spoken word, it will be the actions of those who refuse to settle that will define these perilous times.

Gratitude

Gratitude seems to be one of those things folks struggle with anymore. What is gratitude and where does it come from? Just how important is it? What effects does it have on our daily life and our general outlook? Where does it lead? I believe that gratitude is one of the biggest determiners of happiness in a person’s life.

Most folks if you ask them have different definitions for what happiness looks like. They live in the pursuit of something that is always just out of reach. If only I could get a job, a better job, a promotion…if only I had enough money to do what I want to do…if only I had a this or a that I could be happy…They look at social media and compare themselves to the stories of the people on the little screens and look at their own circumstances and come up short. They follow the media and swing from panic state to panic state as crisis after crisis bombards them with the same message just packaged a little differently. Be afraid…be very afraid…

Happiness is a construct we create to define what we consider to be a good place to be. It is so important to our individual well being that our constitution even says that in this great land we have the right to pursue happiness. My vision of happiness is mine alone, each one of us has an idea of what happiness should look like and what it should feel like when we stumble across it on our trip across time and space. Some of us have made the mistake of giving other people the key to our happiness, looking for someone to fill the void and create for us that space where we feel most content. We wait for someone else to take care of us giving them a power over us that they should not possess.

I have discovered that one of the keys to that elusive state of happiness lies in gratitude. This Thanksgiving Holiday, a uniquely American Holiday, has historically been a time to reflect on our lives and the things in it that we appreciate, the things that lift us up, support us and make us better people. From the very basics of life, Food, clothes and shelter to the extraordinary happenstances that occur; we have many things to be grateful for. Gratitude is one of the least practiced graces I’ve seen lately. Our society is a short tempered, demanding and complaining lot by and large. We have plenty of time to list all that is wrong in the world. Every sling and slight is recorded on a score card and the score is always overbalanced on the side of all that is wrong in the world. When a body is so busy cataloging all the negative things they encounter they don’t have the eyes to see their blessings; they don’t have the mindset to appreciate the little things that are so precious, and they miss out on so much beauty in the world. There is not room in the psyche for complaining and gratitude to co-exist.

I would encourage everyone to stop, turn off the narrative, and take a long, hard look at their life. Get out a piece of paper and list everything good, everything positive, and all that has gone right, from the smallest to the largest of blessings, they are there waiting to be counted and acknowledged. Gratitude, a heart full of thanksgiving, will light up a dark world. It will change your very countenance. People will respond to your positive attitude and like a virus…it just might catch and spread.

In the Spirit of the Long Hunters

In the mid 1700’s this area I call home was wilderness. It was a fertile, wooded hunting grounds for indigenous peoples. Restless, adventurous men seeking hunting grounds made their way down the Holston River. Rivers were the thoroughfares of the day. One of these men was Elisha, or Elijah Wallen. Elisha Wallen is 7 or 8 generations back in our family line. Most Wallens with roots around Sneedville, Kyle’s Ford and Rogersville, Tn. have ancestral ties to Elisha Wallen. The coming of the Long Hunters to the area predated the arrival of settlers. The Long Hunters were peculiar to Virginia, Tennessee and Kentucky. The Long Hunter was a man of many skills, he was an explorer, adventurer, and survivalist. He knew medicinal plants and edible plants, he knew how to hunt and live off a harsh land. Most long Hunts were carried out in mountainous terrain over winter months. They often left for their hunts in October and returned in March or April with the treasured hides that provided funds for their families.

The Long Hunter was skilled with his weapons and able to navigate unfamiliar terrain. He kept pushing further and further afield. The Long Hunters were the first to follow the native American’s trails through the Cumberland Gap, in effect prefacing the opening of the western frontier for colonization.

The best known of the Long Hunters was Daniel Boone, but 7 years before Daniel Boone made his way through the Gap and officially mapped out the Wilderness Trail, one Elisha Wallen walked that path. Elisha Wallen is considered one of the founders of the fraternity of Long Hunters. He led the first recorded Long Hunt into Tennessee and his footprints were all along the Wilderness Trail. The Long Hunters hunted in small groups along the Holston and Clinch Rivers. They named many a land mark in passing.

As we continue this adventure that is The Original Neanderthal LLC, we honor the traits that made the Long Hunters successful. They were courageous, heading off into the unknown. They took with them the tools to make their efforts a success and they knew how to use them. They could adapt to circumstances they had no way of predicting ahead of time. They were resilient, pitting their skills against a harsh unforgiving environment. If you have ever weathered the winter in the mountains, its not easy with modern conveniences; just imagine how it was when you had to stay mobile and create your own shelter to survive the elements.

They chose not to follow the expectations of society, they set out and made their own way, doing their own thing and were successful; often making more money off their hunts than others made working their farms year round. They were rugged individualists. And I believe they were restless spirits, never satisfied where they were, always seeking the next great hunt. For the most part their stories have been carried down in the family traditions of their kin folk. Their names have been honored in the landmarks around the Gap. From Wallen Creek to Powell Mountain, you can find traces of those who walked there.

It is time for us to embrace some of these traits and step away from the Narrative that would have us spin off into oblivion. It will take courage to step off the train and into the unknown. We should seek to master the tools of our time and use them to establish our presence in our world. We should be resilient, honest, and rugged as we make our own way forward. Let us not be satisfied, let us seek that which will make our world a better place.

Changing of the Seasons

The linear flow of time is irrevocable. It moves forward without our input or say. Greater sages than I have written on the march of time. I don’t know that I have much to add. What I do propose is a gentle reminder that what is temporal fades with the march of time. The hours pass, the seasons change. We sleep, we wake, we do our thing and repeat.

I stood outside in the sun as the wind blew and the leaves fell all around me, the splendor of their color falling on the ground all about me, it was a magical moment stolen out of time and imprinted on my memory for me to savor again and again. I felt like laughing and chasing the leaves as the wind carried them on their journey towards the ground beneath my feet. All things have a time and a purpose under heaven. This is our time, we are here after all. What is our purpose?

It is a deep philosophical question asked and answered in a myriad of ways. In the end the only one who can answer this question for us is the person we greet in the mirror at the beginning of each day. It is a fluid question, the answer today may be different on the morrow as events transpire and circumstances change.

As the seasons change, the days will get shorter and the temperatures colder. The landscape will take on a bleak shadowy appearance. Often the skies will be a dull grey as weather fronts roll through the atmosphere bringing with them rain, sleet and snow. Winter is a time of closing rank, of pulling together and surviving a hostile environment. The season this year brings with it some difficulties we have never really had to deal with.

I walk through the grocery stores and I see empty shelves. Some favorite products just are not available. Prices for the things that are left are rising even as our incomes do not. A lot of us have made an art out of living pay check to pay check and it is telling on us now as our paychecks have to stretch farther just to break even. We are a mobile people, many of us driving distances to work. As fuel prices rise and the word shortage looms we wonder what the winter will hold for us. I drive an average of 50+ miles a day to and from my work. Living in a rural community, I must drive to the grocery store and other places to take care of my business.

The political unrest and the shenanigans going on on a National and even international scale leave most of us scratching our heads. What is going on? Much of the policy generated lately doesn’t seem to be working and has contributed to our troubles now. We just want to live our lives, go about our business unimpeded and let others do the same. When did it become a thing to mandate this and that and something else? I am not comfortable with this whole idea that the party in power gets all the power, it’s what our forefathers warned us about when they set up our republic.

We have our constitution, we have our rights, but do we have the wherewithal to secure them in the face of forces that seek to deny them to us. Who do we listen to and why do we listen to them? Who gave them the authority they wield with wild abandon if it wasn’t us? The Seasons change, time marches on. We cannot affect that but we can make a difference in the direction we take going forward. Winter will come. We will batten the hatches and weather the storms and then this winter will end as do all seasons. A lot of things will be revealed to us over the next little bit. It does not promise to be an easy winter, but we are not a people who are easily defeated.

Be Still

Life can get terribly crazy at times. Over the last couple of years it has totally gone off the rails for many of us. Some have faced devastating changes to their circumstances and others have made choices to change the direction of their lives. Still others have been faced with unexpected challenges amongst the greatest challenge to face us in all the years of my short life. In my case, I was considered an essential worker and my work schedule never changed, my ‘routine’ never wavered around my employment. I am one of those who changed the direction of my life outside my job responsibilities. I started a small business. When I look at it in hind site I can see how contradictory that decision was in the face of all that was transpiring around me. I have been accused more than once of being contrary. Some of my loved ones considering it extremely exasperating, I consider it one of my finer points.

No matter how I consider my choices of the last year or so, the consequences of those decisions in my life have been considerable. The effort and energy and financial investment in my little LLC has been significant. My days off from my ‘regular’ job are dedicated now to building up our LLC. My partner is the best, but she has many irons in many fires and keeping things moving in a positive direction can feel like a tremendous burden, one gladly taken on but heavy at times. The support of my daughter-in-law has been tremendous as well and my sons pitch in when needed. It seems like there is always something that needs to be done. And frankly, sometimes I feel overwhelmed and tired.

We have been going to local vendor shows for a few months now, getting our brand out in the public eye. Due to scheduling limitations I can only do a couple of weekend shows a month, and my short weekend when I am coming off my graveyard rotation is especially difficult as I try to get my body turned around to go in on day shift and put in the physical, mental and emotional energy needed to be a successful vendor. I enjoy meeting the public and when people get The Original Neanderthal it is really exciting for me. However, we are new, so brand recognition is not something we have yet. We are building and excited about the possibilities going forward, but the day to day trudge through this venture has its ups and downs.

I was sitting at one of the early vendor shows and feeling the effects of little sleep and disappointment as folks glanced at us and kept walking. I wondered what I was doing there, and what I thought I was accomplishing. Despair peeked in the door to my soul. I didn’t like the feel of that and I pushed back and in that moment that soft voice spoke to me from within that door to my soul. It whispered those epic words…”Be Still!”

I am a trifold being. I am physical, I am mental and I am a spiritual being. I have a relationship with my creator. I am not on this crazy life journey alone. Sometimes, in the heat of the moment I forget this. In that moment I remembered. What is it to be still in the midst of all this movement? What is it to calm the inner being and find peace while the world swirls around you in chaos?

We can all take a deep breath and turn our backs on despair. It may haunt our footfalls but know that whatever comes of it, we do not have to be broken. The beauty of personal responsibility and choice is that whenever we feel overwhelmed by all that we are trying to accomplish we do not have to wait for that still soft voice…we can stop. We can take a moment and just Be Still. We can speak positive affirmations to push back the darkness. It is is all going to be OK. It is all going to be what it is going to be and if we continue to put positive energy into our lives, we will reap the benefits of that energy.

Community

A community is defined as a group of people living in the same place. It is also defined as groups of people who have things in common. We are members of several communities. I can think of several I belong to, my Isshinryu community, my church community, my workplace community, and my hiking community are just a few I invest my time and energies into. I bet you can name several you are invested in.

We are social animals and we do better when we engage in our communities. One of the things brought to relevance with the pandemic has been the importance of our communities to each of us as individuals. Lockdowns and forced isolation actually caused many of us to take a long hard look at our priorities. Some of us looked out our window and realized we didn’t really ‘know’ our neighbors and we decided to do something about it.

I have always worked a job and engaged in hobbies and activities that kept me very busy. I knew my neighbor’s names and would wave at them going up and down the driveway in our rural community. Over the past year or so, I have slowed down and taken time to have actual conversations with my neighbors. I have stopped being so focused on being so busy and I have tried to bring my priorities in line with what is really important. Life is a linear journey, we cannot go back and do over the things that are already done. We must embrace the present and change directions if we are not happy with where we are going.

A community is stronger than an individual. We seek like-minded souls to commune with. It is important to support what supports you. Our near future is going to depend greatly on what kind of a community we find ourselves in.

The Neanderthals tended to live in small family groups and didn’t appear to interact with one another regularly. They came together to exchange goods and coordinate group hunts and portion out the meat. They were only as successful as their community. Many fossil records indicate that traumatic injuries were very common with some adult fossils having evidence of multiple healed fractures. Without a strong community with a cohesive goal of survival, these injuries would have been catastrophic for the individuals.

Today, it would behoove us to consider our communities. Making efforts to step up and engage our neighbors might make the difference in how well we are able to survive. Supporting local farmers and small businesses as they try to rebound from the catastrophic effects of the lockdowns might be what separates a thriving community from one that does not do so well. Involving ourselves in community activities like local elections and school board meetings will steer our localities forward. Our future is going to depend more on our communities than what is playing out on the National stage.

We are becoming a divided nation as the political landscape polarizes the nation and seeks to define us often without our consent. When the tensions reach a certain point things will happen that will force us to take a stand. It will be much better for us if we are surrounded by our neighbors when that time comes.

Live in the Day

It is so very easy to get caught up in the noise of modern day life. The Information Age is living up to its moniker. We are being bombarded with so much information. Much of the information coming our way is contradictory and polarizing. Shades of grey have faded and the world is being presented as an either/or. This black and white or red and blue view of a complex world is boxing people in. The whole ‘if you are not with us then you are against us’ mindset is being presented to us relentlessly for our consumption.

Nothing is that simple. There are layers within layers making up the everyday circumstances of our lives. It is very concerning that this complexity is not being taken into consideration as we make our way forward. The harbingers of fear scream at us. The cacophony of sound is inescapable. Do this or else! And this is a moving target. We are being herded towards a very bleak future. The Pandemic is never ending! Global Climate Change is going to harm millions. The world is not going to be fit for habitation. There are too many people for the Earth to sustain. Our energy supplies are finite. We are doomed!!!

Step back, my friends, and hit pause here. We do not live in the future. We live in the day. We inhabit the moment. No matter the predictions, we really cannot know the future. By the time we get there it will be the now.

So here we are in the day and in reality it is all we have. There are no guarantees of the future. There are no predictions that have been hardwired into the fabric of the universe. After all, who knew 2 years ago where we would find ourselves today?

Today, right now, is the only time within your purview. It is the only time over which you have any definitive influence. So, how are you spending it? Is it wise to waste such precious time worrying? Fear will not make things better. What is within your influence? And the big question is; what can you do to make it better, not only for yourself, but for others?

Step back from the edge of hysteria and look around you. Stop staring towards the darkness the harbingers of doom are trying to sell you. The sun rose. You rose. You inhaled and you exhaled. It is that simple. Life is precious and you own yours and it is yours to expend wherever and however you choose on this day. Seek joy. I promise you it is all around you. It is all about perspective.

The smile of a child, the warmth of the autumn sun, nature’s glory as the seasons change, a good book, the company of good friends, good music, laughter among companions, there are so many positive alternatives to what we are being fed by media. Become an advocate for alternatives. Speak words of encouragement. Gently steer folks towards excellence. Step out of the shadows and Live free. Be original, be you, defy the peddlers of doom. Don’t limit yourself to the expectations of others, Be Legendary.

Strive for Excellence

There are some things that just come without much effort. And then there are those things that just won’t come no matter how much we want them to. For many years, I wanted to learn Martial Arts. I was a high school athlete, then I was a young mother who worked full time, then I was a single mother of 3 who worked full time. I took a class on self defense and decided that I wanted to learn more. It was not easy to work it into my busy schedule, but I did. And on my journey over the next several years a spark ignited and I drove myself beyond mere competence.

For some reason, the push for excellence has been shoved out of the lexicon of our culture. We are more interested in inclusion and not leaving anyone behind than we are in pushing folks to exceed expectations and rise above mediocrity. When did it become a thing that one person’s drive for excellence insulted another’s self-esteem? When we decided that self-esteem was more important than excellence we ham-strung one another. Self-esteem never accomplished anything. Self-esteem, or feeling good about one’s self no matter what, leeched motivation right out of our culture. Why be motivated to excel when just being you and doing what you do was good enough?

Excellence doesn’t just happen. What a wonderful world it would be if it did! Excellence in anything requires hard work, sacrifice and determination. Sometimes no matter the determination and sacrifice, excellence remains out of reach. It is not an easy goal and not everyone will achieve it.

Excellence is defined as the fact or state of excelling…that implies an active state. It implies superiority or eminence and in that implication lies its detriment. In our current dominant culture, it is not acceptable to be “better than anyone else.” In fact Victimization is celebrated, which is about as opposite as one can get from excellence. It is OK to be a victim of circumstance, of systemic wrongs, of racism, of any number of real or made up wrongs. It is not OK to “set yourself above others”, which is implied in striving for excellence.

The problem with this is that victimization is a passive state, where things are happening to someone. A person cannot be in both a passive state and an active state at the same time. Light and darkness cannot co-exist in the same space. Noise and silence are opposites. Joy and complaining cannot co-exist in the same space. A passive state does not create anything, it does not move anything, it does not lift up anything. Think about it. How does anyone create anything in a passive state?

It is about time for us to step away from this passive state. No one is going to ride in on a white steed and rescue us from ourselves. We must rise up and take a deep breath. We must look at where we are and what we are doing and we must decide to do something else. We must become active. It must be OK once again to strive for Excellence. It must be OK again to create, to dig down deep and discover what is best and what is good and pursue it despite the odds against us.

The payout for achieving excellence in any pursuit is beyond any recompense for victimhood. Earning something or being given something? It’s not even a contest. What I have earned is mine, it cannot be taken away. What I have been given, well, its mine on loan, what is given can always be taken away.

Strive for excellence. Rise above the cacophony of noise and Be Legendary.