Thoughts from Dr. Joe: Discovering who you are

If you've been reading my column right along, you should know that my words contain a subliminal message. The devil is in the details.

Somewhere I learned to appreciate the power of observation. The ability to take a few steps back and reflect on what's there is a definite adjunct to writing. A story is created, and within its confines lies the hook.

The observer is a prince, enjoying his concealed identity wherever he goes.

My story begins as a volunteer assisting five senior Girl Scout leaders. We were taking 34 sixth-grade girls on an overnight pack trip to Gould Mesa. Daisy Becker, Michelle Musso, Marissa Glidewell, Jessica Davidson and Madelyn Merchant were some of the best leaders that La Cañada Scouting has produced.

We departed from Angeles Crest Highway during the most intense heat of the day, at 2:30 p.m. Their overstuffed and oversized backpacks with jackets, mess kits and water bottles dangling and loosely tied to every conceivable available strap appeared menacing to the drivers careening by in their air-conditioned autos. Moms, bidding their children farewell, took photos as the Scouts were herded into one big blob for another group picture.

The Scouts would learn that a pack weighs more on the trail than it does in their living rooms. I'm a minimalist. I most enjoy a sojourn in the woods when I take barely what I need. It makes me feel closer to nature and more a part of the natural order of things.

The Scouts were beside themselves with excitement but they had no clue why. The lure of adventure is intoxicating; it's a catalyst leading one to the wild heart of life. Adventure is not about seeing sights, it's about the change that goes on, deep and permanent in how we live our lives.

I assumed that this was a beginning for them. Although camping at Gould Mesa is like kissing your sister, you have to start somewhere.

Finally, we were underway. There is no moment of delight in any pilgrimage like the beginning of it: The Scouts were euphoric. I've been on many adventures and, at 65, four blasts of a ship's whistle still raise the hair on the back on my neck.

We got to the mesa and the children exploded with wonder. They were finding frogs, wading in the creek, throwing rocks and playing with sticks. Feathers, flowers, birds' nests were just a few discoveries. Sometimes in the finding of objects, we find ourselves.

The weather began to change, a forecast of rain and thunderstorms loomed. Word came down from the council to abort the trip, climb out of the mesa, and head to the Scout house in Montrose, just in case.

Disappointed, some of the girls asked me why we had to leave.

“Girls, on this trip we are soldiers and it is our job to execute the will of those in charge,” I said. “You make your fun wherever you are. Besides, the Buddha is everywhere.”

We can't always pack up and leave because of danger; someday they will have to face it. I hope they will be ready. My adventures have been filled with difficulty, the prospects of sudden disaster and peril to life and limb. There is nothing like the dangers of the wilderness to breed a free and easy sort of genial, desperado philosophy. It's the way I look at the world.

Life's challenges aren't supposed to paralyze you, they're supposed to help you discover who you are. You learn to be resourceful and to be confidant in who you are, wherever you are. Regardless, I always have a million tricks up my sleeve to get through anything. Embracing the dragon makes you ingenious.

I've always been a boy playing in the woods, finding an arrowhead or a prettier flower while the great mountains of truth lay undiscovered before me.

JOE PUGLIA is a practicing counselor, a professor of education at Glendale Community College and a former officer in the Marines. Reach him at Visit his website at

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