The broken Spork, the zipper-borked fleece jacket, and the I-can’t-bear-to-say-good-bye

“While anyone would look at this multi-use piece of cutlery and see nothing more than that, I am reminded of so many memories from my travels where this simple little thing saved the day.”

“My Spork has broken,” said Backpack with Brock recently. His Spork has been with him for country after country, from India to New Zealand. And yes, it’s a bit of plastic. Yes, it’s easily replaceable. It’s just a Spork. But it’s not just a Spork.

All I can say is, I hear you, mate, I hear you. His Spork is as my old black fleece jacket, a travel companion in Tibet, only we have not yet had to say good-bye. Yet.

The thing about Brock’s Spork and my fleece is that they’re not just objects. They’re tools. That Spork is a compact, lightweight tool that helped Brock make sure he could always easily get his chow on. Before going to Asia in 2004, I remember finding my fleece in the kids section at the outdoor store REI (small stature can mean damn good buys on travel clothes). My fleece has kept me warm on travels from Asia to the Pacific Northwest.

A couple of years ago, the zipper started getting borked. Then my in-laws gave me a new fleece jacket for Christmas. With its black-faded-to-plum and its increasingly difficult zippiness, the old fleece was consigned to the garage. Now I wear it when doing winter work in the garden or wood pile.

After reading Brock’s post, I needed to split some firewood. Gingerly zipping my fleece, I went outside. With each thunk of the ax, I thought about my fleece, and all the travels it’s gone on with me.

Mostly, I think about Tibet. That’s where I needed it most, and it was there for me every frosty morning and cloud-blowing night. I don’t care how many times that jacket’s been washed over the years. As far as I’m concerned, the mountain dirt and yak dung of Tibet is still ground into the fleece’s fibers, spliced into its polyester molecular structure.

When I wear that fleece jacket, for a moment I walk through the Potala Palace in Lhasa, Tibet. I stand on a small rock precipice, stare down and out over miles of brown rock and blue-green lakes near a pass in the southwestern Tibetan hills.

Most of all, in my mind, the moon rises over Mt. Everest one bone-chilling, oxygen-starved night. I’m wrapped in my fleece as I watch this.

Nowadays I have snazzier jackets. But none of them have been in the presence of the world’s tallest mountain.

I know that sooner or later the fleece will be completely borked, threadbare and useless. From garment to shop rag, I’ll have to say good-bye. But the memories will still be vivid, alive and part of me.

And when I travel, I’ll always have a fleece jacket.

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