The Right Kind of Regret

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAOne of the gifts of age is to know when you’re going to regret something the next day. Another gift is the recognition that there are different forms of regret, and that “Hell yeah, that was totally worth it” is a perfectly acceptable mantra with which to meditate upon the foreseen aftermath.



In this particular case, the opportunity for regret revolved around question of how to spend my last day in Port Townsend. I’d dropped Devon off at SeaTac to take the kids up to a LARP campout and had a couple of days on my own, ostensibly to get some writing done. What is, after all, the point of a scoping out a writer’s retreat if you don’t do any writing there, right? Er…

I’d spent the previous day lolling about the lawn of the Uptown farmers market, taking unconvincing jabs at a new story while distracting myself by chatting up passing dog walking strangers (and – this being Port Townsend – goat walking strangers). And I’ll admit to having poked my head across the property lines behind more than one “For Sale” sign. Also had some damned fine coffee. Have I mentioned the coffee yet?

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAAnyhow. As the sun popped its overeager midsummer smile over the horizon Sunday morning, I found myself faced with one of the most tormentingly blissful questions a man can face: what to do today?

Sure, I ought to be writing. But mountains. And there were a couple of places I’d found on Zillow that I wanted to scope out in person. But mountains. And the dayhike book listed a lovely beach walk along Diamond Point. But…mountains.


So, four hours and 3000′ of vertical later, lungs gasping, legs burning and eyes popping, I found myself gazing across the unmatched panorama at the top of (the coincidentally-named) Mount Townsend. Mount Rainier and Seattle to the south, the Cascades and Mount Baker to the east, and to the north, Canada – Victoria and Vancouver Island. On the way I’d climbed through stately, silent forest, tumbling alpine fields of firework wildflowers and rocky windswept ridges.

Sure, I knew that the next morning, when I needed to drag myself upright and get myself back to the airport to get home – I knew that was going to be painful, awful. But some things in life (hi kids!) are worth the pain. It was going to be the right kind of regret.

In the end, I think it was Doug who helped me make that decision. Those of you who frequent Greenwood Musicmakings remember Doug: wonderful big teddy bear of a guy, bursting with joy and wonder at the world. Always brought his little Baby Taylor guitar to the musicmakings and was always fearless about trying something new, pitching in on some song we’d never tried before.

I’d met Doug Landauer about seven years ago, when we were both at Google. For some reason, management had decided that in lieu of the traditional company-wide ski trip, they were going to send everyone for a weekend at Disneyland. Almost as an afterthought (no, it clearly was an afterthought), they offered that folks who didn’t cotton to the Happiest Place on Earth could go, uh…, camping. Yes, that’s right: they’d organize a camping trip.

Frost on a hat left out overnight

First morning at Pinnacles, 2008

I think there were about 50 of us who signed up for the camping option, pending further information. The further information, as we discovered, was that the original Plan B consisted of renting out a bunch of camping spots at the Pinnacles National Park, packing the buses with a bunch bacon, granola and camp chili fixings and sending us south. Sure – why not?

The “why not” became vividly clear when, on the bus down, I noticed that many of my fellow campers seemed equipped with gear that was more appropriate for a suburban sleepover than mountain camping in early February.

Happy Camper, circa 2008

Happy Camper, circa 2008

Fortunately, the Powers That Be adapted with Google-worthy speed, coming up with Plans B.2 and B.3, sending a van into the nearest town the next morning with a corporate credit card and instructions to clean the local sporting goods store out of heavy duty sleeping bags, pads and tents. A canopy with professional chefs materialized to produce a fabulous, steaming hot breakfast spread to defrost hypothermic campers, along with lovely little “to go” bag lunches and promises of three kinds of chili, fresh cornbread and other gastronomic delights for dinner.

The day that followed was filled with spectacular explorations of the Pinnacles with new friends, but that first night was a long, cold one for a lot of people.

Breakfast. Hot breakfast. What's not to like?

Breakfast. Hot breakfast. What’s not to like?

One of those new friends was Doug; we’d met by the roaring campfire he’d helped build in a fire pit the previous night to try and help the less fortunate stay warm. We passed the guitar around and all huddled near the blaze, trying to stay close enough to defrost but not so close as to ignite our clothes. I’m sure I was not the only camper to fail on both fronts.

It was too cold to play properly that night, and the guitar kept going out of tune, but Doug and I went the distance, singing badly but with enthusiasm, sometimes just falling back to a cappella crooning when the Carter and Grammer chords got too intricate or our frozen fingers refused to cooperate.

Not a word about the moustache. I mean it.

Pinnacles, 2008. Not a word about the mustache. I mean it.

Taken with a different mindset, it could have been a miserable, miserable night.Tim Cahill claimed that “‘Adventure’ is simply physical and emotional discomfort recalled in tranquility,” but even then we knew we were having an adventure: instead of sitting around freezing and bitching about the cold, bitching about company’s lack of planning, we were embracing the spirit of the out of doors, singing at the top of our lungs. And occasionally putting out smoldering patches on each other’s clothing.

I think that’s how things always were with Doug; he had a way of reminding you that filling your life with love, joy and wonder was not a matter of circumstance; it was a matter deliberate choice in how you looked at the world. And it was astounding how much love, joy and wonder seemed to just fall into your lap when you hung around Doug.

Those of you who frequent Greenwood Musicmakings probably also remember the email I forwarded a couple of months ago: out of nowhere, it seemed, Doug had been felled by a massive heart attack. I’d never known it, but heart disease ran in the family and he’d battled it his whole life.

At the memorial service – fittingly held in a redwood circle in the Santa Cruz Mountains – friends and family shared stories of how Doug had taught them to camp, to backpack. How he introduced them to the magnificence of alpine skyscapes, and the quiet wonder of forest streams. How he helped them see the beauty in the world around them, helped them find joy and peace in the simple process of putting one foot ahead of the other along a mountain path.

That morning in Port Townsend, I knew I’d promised myself that I’d get some writing done. And I really did want to have another look at that house on Cook Avenue. But, to paraphrase John Muir, the mountains were calling. And somewhere beyond their peaks, it felt like Doug was, too. “Hey, come on – it’ll be worth it. Totally worth it.” And you know? He was absolutely right.


One response to “The Right Kind of Regret

  1. Dear David,

    Well, well, well. This is quite a post, beginning innocent, moving to laughter and then the blow that reduces one to tears and then, well, you make it all worth it. Thank you for this, for introducing Doug, for writing so brilliantly, and for reminding us/me of the opportunity to find and give love, Joy, and wonder.

    I close wiith all three – love, joy, and wonder,


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