Wednesday, August 17, 2011


One day of school (Freshmen Day doesn't really count), and already a few challenges. Apparently, my yearbook staff will be expected to gather a grand photographic record of the 2011-2012 school year with a total of four cameras (all of various models, with various degrees of quality, wear, etc.). That isn't going to cut it. So, what do I do, having no money in the budget and probably not having anything available from the district (their money is already spent resupplying after the fire)? Well, for one, I am hoping several students will be able to use personal cameras. The digital interfaces would be the same (i.e., USB), so we could still upload them to the server. But, I am curious as to how the situation came to be as dire as this. No finger-pointing, here, however.

My second challenge came when my editor, a highly reliable girl who is a good writer and a conscientious worker had to resign. Her class schedule forced her to drop the yearbook class in order to take an honors anatomy class. If she can't be in class, she can't be the editor. I understand why she has to step down, but it still stinks. As a result, I need to switch editors. This is not so big a deal this early in the year (and we haven't gotten a whole lot done yet, anyway), but I don't like having to switch editors, at all. There are too many issues to go into here, but it is not an easy process, especially in a class where I am only familiar with about three of the kids.

Oh, well. I expected this year to be a challenge. However, like most challenges, I didn't expect these. And, also like most challenges, I didn't expect them now. I guess that's why they are challenges.

Tuesday, August 16, 2011

Already Busy

And so here is how it most likely will be for a while: dashed off communiques between work and sleep.

First day for freshmen today, followed by open house meant getting home at eight. Currently, I am sitting on the sofa waiting for Monkey to bring me some leftover pizza. In an hour it's off to bed so I can get ready for tomorrow.

I will let you know about anything exciting. Currently number one on the excitement meter is this bit of news: CLICK ME!

Until next time...

Monday, August 08, 2011

The Magic Comes to an End

It turns me upside down
Summer, summer, summer
It's like a merry-go-round.
--The Cars, "Magic"

This is always a bittersweet time of year for me. Tomorrow is the first official day that teachers are to report for duty. Students will not arrive until next Tuesday, and I have actually been doing some form of "work" or another since last Tuesday, but tomorrow it is official.

On one hand, I am, as I am every year, excited to get back to teaching. I am eager to get to know my new classes and eager to meet all the challenges that a school year brings (some more than others, of course). I am also looking forward to some new challenges, as this year marks my first as yearbook adviser and I have been asked to mentor a new teacher. Every school year seems to bring something new: a new standardized test, a new policy, a new appraisal process, a new administrator, a new class to much new.

But, as I look ahead upon the challenges that await, I also look back on the freedom that I will lose, again, for nine months. No more sleeping until seven or eight (or later, if I wanted to). No more travel (not much, anyway). No more choosing to do anything without thinking of the five AM wake up on the other end, or the stack of papers to grade, or the lesson to tweak.

In the long run, that's okay. After all, it is a luxury few people have, an eight week layoff with pay. So, I am sad to see it go, but appreciative that I had it.

I didn't really do much professional work this summer, which is fine by me, but that is a rarity. Almost always, I have a workshop or a class to attend, or I read something directly related to my field (besides journals). This year, I did nothing like that. In some way, as an English teacher, every book I read is some small form of professional development, but my choices this summer were selfish. Nothing I might teach as a whole class novel (but plenty I would recommend as personal reading).

So, this summer, perhaps more than any summer since Monkey and I went to Italy, has been a treasure and a joy. It didn't go exactly as I wanted it. My peppers and tomatoes are still lagging behind; I didn't fish as much as I might have liked; I didn't write enough. However, except for the tomatoes, I can say that about every summer.

I'll miss you, my good friend, Summer. I have enjoyed every sweat bead and sun burn, every glass of iced tea and cold beer, every tomato cheese sandwich. I enjoyed crabbing with my nephews and helping them master the techniques of boogie boarding. I enjoyed getting obliterated by post-storm waves in the cool surf of the Atlantic. I enjoyed hiking the Rockies and going toe-to-toe with belligerent rodents. I enjoyed a few lazy days reading with Monkey. I enjoyed the occasional ice cream cone. I enjoyed sporadically interrupted fireworks and a trip to Fenway Park on the fourth of July. I enjoyed it all.

Until Saturday night, but, Summer, I will forgive you a ferocious thunderstorm that breaks my trees and cuts off my power for twenty four hours every now and again. Especially since I also enjoyed a ferocious looking light show after the storm.

Now, it's time to get serious (but not too serious) and get to work. Bring it!

Friday, August 05, 2011

Unexpected Visitors (Another in an Irregular Series of Very Long Stories), Part The Last: Fairly Treacherous Snow

As evening drew to a close the night before, the batteries died in the camera, so, while others were able to snap pics with their new-fangled iPhones, I was left with nothing to offer in the way of visual accoutrement.

We arose later than I anticipated from our tents along Fern Lake, but, after breakfast and discussion, Laura decided to stay at the campsite, while Mike, Monkey and I trekked the three-quarters of a mile or so up to Odessa Lake. More altitude gain on this hike, but, with a base camp, we were able to walk unencumbered. It was a nice change of pace.

As we made our way, we continued to look back for satisfying views of Fern Lake below. We neared Odessa Lake and passed an older gentleman on his way back down. We hailed him. His report: "There's some fairly treacherous snow up ahead."

Inside, we all laughed. It seemed that at every turn someone was warning us of snow. Not only did it seem ridiculous in late July, but each report turned out to sound worse than it actually was. And this case was no different.

Arriving at the lake, we did have to cross a wide stream on a snow bank under cut by rushing water. It was a large patch of snow, maybe a couple hundred yards, maybe less, but it was solid and only as slippery as any snow one might encounter. So, we conquered that little obstacle and came upon another poster-worthy alpine lake. And more trout (definitely fishing next year). And a couple of better behaved ground squirrel.

We walked around the lake for a little while, then turned and made our way back to camp. We packed up, not forgetting to fetch our food out of the woods, and slung our burdens back up. Of course, most of this hike would be down hill, so a little easier to haul. We made it back to the car in good time and drove back to the brown cabin, where we all had well-deserved showers and porch front cocktails.

And another unexpected visitor: an elderly woman, out for an evening stroll, who promptly invited herself up to the porch to converse with us. After Laura fetched her a chair, she stayed for a lengthy spell. Honestly, not my favorite part of the trip, but she was harmless, and she told a few interesting stories. After she left, we ate, then turned in, trying not to think that tomorrow was the end of our trip.

Of course, Monkey was kind of looking forward to a visit to Chic-fil-a in Loveland on the drive back, so, there was a slight silver lining, I guess.

Thursday, August 04, 2011

Unexpected Visitors (Another in an Irregular Series of Very Long Stories), Part Four: Fairly Aggressive Ground Squirrels, or It Goes in the Bear Can

As these things sometimes happen, yesterday’s debacle of the “lighter” backpack was not to occur today or tomorrow, since we were planning an overnighter, and I was encumbered with far more than just an extra jacket or two. We had purchased a new pack, with a much larger capacity, allowing me to carry tents, sleeping bags, food, and other gear, along with my normal “bare necessities.”

Our destination on today’s hike was Fern Lake, another beautiful destination that required a good deal of “vertical” hiking. The trail was only about three or four miles, so we didn’t head out until mid-day, but that gave us plenty of time to take an unhurried hike and set up camp before any weather might hit.

You might recall our last overnight hike involved a two-stage ascent of Longs Peak, and that the weather overnight at our campsite was pretty horrendous. We spent the bulk of that night huddled in our tents, listening to thunder crash all around us, as rain pelted our fabric roofs without cease. We hoped for better weather this time, and even expected it, since our campsite this year was still well below the timberline and, thus, less exposed to the mercurial thunderstorms of the alpine region.

Regardless of the weather, this year’s hike included a guaranteed new experience: we had to carry a bear can. A bear can, you might think, is a can full of bear. After all, a beer can is a can full of beer. You would be mistaken. A bear can is a container that is theoretically bear-proof, into which backcountry hikers place their food. The bear can is then placed in the woods, far from camp. The can is supposed to contain the smell of the food, keeping the bears from being attracted to it; however, if a bear does smell the food, the can will a) lure it away from camp and b) prevent it from eating your food (but not from a) carrying off your food or b) throwing your food off the nearest cliff or c) coming to look for the joker who put the food in a bear-proof can). I volunteered to carry the bear can, since, you know, I love bears.

We left from the dusty Fern Lake trail head and, for the first two miles or so, enjoyed a pretty easy walk along Big Thompson River. Then, at a trail junction by a place known as The Pool, the trail inclines steeply, gaining over 500 feet in about three-quarters of a mile. With about thirty pounds on one’s back, such a climb can be a sweaty, leg-wearying affair; however, this slog leads to Fern Falls, where the mist cools you and the falling water wows you. We paused here, taking a snack break and temporarily removing our burden.

Back on the trail, it is another mile and a quarter and another 800 feet in elevation. Just when I thought I might have to call a halt, the trail levels off, and the last fifteen minutes of the trail treated me gently. We came to a ranger’s station, which was not manned at the time, and, on the other side, the calmly beautiful Fern Lake appeared. Our campsite was on the other side of the lake.

Crossing the outlet of the lake on a small timber bridge, we could see the poetic form and motion of mountain trout swimming in the current. The water was so clear and the fish so attractively colorful, I thought for a moment I could just reach out and grab one of those piscine treats, but I soon realized that leaning out over the bridge with all that weight would signal a cold wake up to my system—not to mention that those trout are fast and slippery fish-types. Across the bridge and to the campsite we walked.

We set up our tents and took some beef jerky and trail mix down to the lake for a little afternoon snack. Sitting on a large tree fall, gazing out at the few fly fishermen making their last casts of the day, we noticed a ground squirrel come from behind us to survey not only us, but the delectables we had with us. He jumped right and left, forward and back, trying to get as close as he dared, but we shooed him and tried to be as gently belligerent as we could. After several minutes in which we felt that Mr. G Squirrel was overstepping our comfort zone, I playfully stood up and approached him, placing my feet and raising my hands in a Jack Johnson (not the “Banana Pancakes” guy), nineteenth century-style boxing pose. We all fell out when the squirrel appeared to raise his own little mitts and waved them at me in response before he bolted for the safety of his burrow under a nearby stump. Of course, this amusement would not last long, as we were soon visited by other rodents with designs on our goodies.

We unpacked our food, preparing for dinner and packing into the bear can, but, as we continued to develop our campsite, the clouds rolled in and it began to rain. We retreated to our tents, hoping that the storms would be short-lived. They were. About twenty minutes later, the skies cleared. Monkey and I looked out our tent screen and saw a ground squirrel approach our bagged nuts and jerky. Neither of us had shoes on, and, as I groped for footwear, Monkey thought it would be wise to frighten the invader.


She screamed from the tent, hoping that the ground squirrel would not notice that she thought she was yelling at a chipmunk of great size. He froze for a second and then crept closer to his quarry.

By now, I was coming out of the tent. I was just in time, too. The squirrel had reached the piled provisions and had his mitts around a bag of trail mix, I saw the bag slide an inch down the log on which it sat just as I reached it, stomping to ward off the camp pilferer. He dropped his booty and headed for shelter. After that incident, we were more concerned with ground squirrels than bears, and we made a concerted effort to always keep everything clamped down in the bear can.

Everyone else joined me outside our tents, and we boiled up some water for hot soup to enjoy along with various other “cold” foods. I had brought along a pre-packed slice of Spam, and my only regret was that I only brought one. It was an exquisite camp hors d’ouvre.

After dinner, we took another walk around the lake, spied many more trout (next year, we’re fishing!), and returned to camp to wind down and eventually settle in. The mosquitoes soon became too much for every one but me (I don’t know why they don’t seem that interested in me sometimes), and I sat on a stump and watched the sun set. Just before I retired, myself, on a final check around camp, I saw what I thought was a domestic cat creeping through the underbrush behind our tents. On close inspection, it turned out to be a snowshoe hare, its brown fur and white boots giving me a distinctly cat-like initial impression. I watched it hop and feed for a few minutes, until it got almost too dark to see. I had never seen a snowshoe hare in the wild. It was no moose, and it was no bear (thank goodness), but for me, it was a highlight of the trip. So, satisfied, I settled in for some fitful sleep in the strangely silent mountain forest. Monkey tossed and turned beside me, and we waited patiently for a new day and a new adventure.

Wednesday, August 03, 2011

Unexpected Visitors (Another in an Irregular Series of Very Long Stories), Part Three: The Mountain Doesn’t Care About You

When she's on her best behavior

Don't be tempted by her favors

Never turn your back on mother earth.

--"Never Turn Your Back on Mother Earth," Neko Case

After the previous day’s hike to the glorious Lake of Glass, I made a disastrous miscalculation that had a detrimental effect on our mid-week hike. I normally take even the shortest ramble with essential gear that might be needed in an emergency. The minimum amount of gear I usually hike with includes: matches, compass, map, fishing line and hook, multi-tool, rain coat, fleece jacket, water, food, and some small piece of rubberized material that could be used for shelter. It is usually a heavier pack than most would carry, but I like to be prepared for at least a chance to survive should the worst occur. Most survivalists suggest you carry more than this, but, to me, this is the bare minimum. Unfortunately, after two great hikes with balmy temperatures and few clouds, let alone rain, I decided to lighten my load and leave my fleece at the cabin.

The lighter pack was a welcome change. Every pound makes a difference when you are carrying it on your back, and today’s hike to the summit of Flattop Mountain featured more altitude gain that our previous hikes. We left early from the Bear Lake trail head, avoiding the cramped shuttle bus this time, and the start of our hike was morning cool. However, from the start, we were on the ascent, and the lighter pack put a little spring in my step.

After about a mile and a half of “upping” through predominantly aspen forest, our first stop was a gorgeous overlook that provided a bird’s eye view of Dream Lake. From this vantage point, we could also look along Glacier Gorge where we had hiked yesterday. The river’s white water, bursting with runoff from the surrounding heights, looked like a line of snow through the middle of the valley.

We continued on, climbing higher still, until, at about 11000 feet, we reached the timberline, where trees became shorter and sparser. Soon, we passed out of the trees. Above, the skies began to darken, and the wind whipped along the ridge. Behind us, I watched as the moist air rose up the windward side of a peak and began forming a cloud on the leeward side. It was an amazing sight, but it made me a bit nervous about the weather.

After a few switchbacks, we came to another overlook, which provided perilous views of Emerald Lake, which seemed to be directly below us. I imagined that, were one inclined, a person could leap from the overlook and do a perfect swan dive into the lake’s dark waters. Of course, that perfect swan dive would be the last dive of that person’s life, but it would be a wild last ride.

Needless to say, there was no diving from our party. But, the wind was picking up in intensity, and the temperature felt like it was dropping quickly. I pulled on my rain jacket, hoping it would act as a sort of wind breaker, but it only provided momentary relief.

We plodded on, through the alpine tundra, reaching heights of about 12000 feet. At one point in the trail, there was a sign, informing hikers of weather dangers above the treeline (lightning and white outs in all seasons). The eye-catching bold print at the top of the sign: “THE MOUNTAIN DOESN’T CARE ABOUT YOU.” No kidding, I thought, blowing on my frigid fingers. The mountain-side view was awe-inspiring, and, as I kept a watchful eye for a possible ptarmigan (an alpine bird) I enjoyed a few peeks at the ever-present, ever-squeaky pikas that frequent the rocks at this altitude. But, boy, was I getting cold.

We continued along the rocky trail, and could see, over at least one more ridge, the summit (which is more like a really flat plain (i.e., the mountain’s name, I guess). As I walked along, I noticed a young girl, maybe 14, huddled in a little rock cave at the side of the trail.

“You okay,” I asked her.

“Yeah. I’m just waiting for my dad. He’s really slow.”

“Okay. Stay warm.”

Which was exactly what I was trying to do.

As we rounded one more bend in the trail, and I saw how much farther we had to go, I had to surrender. I knew now (I had seen it in print) that the mountain did not care about me. I also knew that I had made the worst possible decision by not bringing the proper gear. After consulting with the rest of the party, we decided to chalk this one up to Flattop, and try to tackle the old man on another day.

On the way back, the young girl was still huddled in the cave, looking less than comfortable. I noticed that she only had one glove. I decided to give her some advice. Yes, me, the bone head who didn’t bring a jacket, but still. I suggested that she get up and start walking back toward her dad, since sitting on the side of a mountain in the freezing wind was probably not going to keep her warm. She took my advice, and, after she’d walked about thirty yards, her dad came around the bend. So, its not like I saved a life or anything.

We headed back down the trail, desperate to get back below the timber line and out of the wind. Once we did, it took a while to get the blood moving, but we eventually warmed up. I was pretty angry at myself for being unprepared. Were we disappointed that we hadn’t reached the summit? Absolutely. Were we glad we’d followed the old cliché of discretion being the better part of valor? I was.

Tuesday, August 02, 2011

Unexpected Visitors (Another in an Irregular Series of Very Long Stories), Part Two: Keeping Your Junk Dry (8/2/2011)

Our Tuesday hike was planned to Sky Pond, approximately 10,000 feet in the mountains, and about five miles from the Glacier Gorge trail head. Glacier Gorge has been the site of some beautiful hikes over the past few years--to Mills Lake and Black Lake to name a few. It is also a major view from the north side of Longs Peak, where you can look down from 13000 feet and see an entire valley of shimmering alpine pools.

The day itself started well, as the ranger who greeted us at the park gate gave us a detailed forecast (unlike a different ranger a few days later), but then turned on an admittedly sour note, as we arrived at the park far too late to get a parking spot at the trail head. We had to park at a satellite lot and take the shuttle. By the time we got to the park, that meant an overcrowded park bus with more than one screaming child on it. This was not my idea of a pleasant ride; however, we survived, and were soon making our way under clear blue skies along the raging torrent of snow melt that filled the gorge and turned Alberta Falls into a most impressive spectacle.

The trail rose, along with the river, and then rose above the river. We trekked along to a trail split, with Mills Lake hikers (not us) heading one way, and Sky Pond hikers (that’s us) heading another.

Our first extremely beautiful spot was the Loch, a gorgeous lake, where we stopped and had a snack and snapped some pics from an awesome lakeside rock perch. Monkey and the rest of us were able to eat our snacks without being accosted by any birds, but I did spy a Clark’s Nutcracker in the trees across from our rock keeping a watchful eye on us.

After a snack and a breather, we were off for Sky Pond. We wended our way along the banks of the rushing creek, spying the occasional fly fisherman and taking in the constantly picturesque setting. After a while of hiking along wet trails, we began to encounter sporadic banks of snow. As we passed a few out-bound hikers, they told us that ahead of us the snow was too treacherous to continue much farther. Undaunted, however, we continued on.

But soon, we did come to longer stretches of snow-covered trail, and soon, an expanse of ascending white stretched before us. At this point, two of the party settled in to wait, while the other half splay-stepped up the snow. At a halfway point, I (being one of the thru-hikers) consulted with my partner, and, thinking we had decided to climb some rocks to out right, headed off that way. But, I was mistaken, and my partner headed off to the left. I had some great views back down the gorge from atop the rocks, but I soon realized that I had misunderstood, and I scrambled down the rocks and headed back across the snow to meet up with my climbing partner.

We shuffled along a snow ridge and found ourselves at the base of a scramble from which a chilly waterfall descended. We paused to consider our options and consult with another hiker returning from the top of the scramble. He told us it was not too hard and completely worth it. We followed his advice.

The snow was cold, and we had to climb through most of it on hands and knees, so, after a few minutes, the palms of my hands were burning with that “I have been making snowballs without my mittens” kind of cold. Soon, however, the snow bank ended, and we scrambled over twenty yards of rocks to reach the plateau on which we found the wind-blown (and totally misnamed) Lake of Glass.

From here, the view down into the valley was even more vista-riffic. And beyond was Sky Pool. The skies were starting to turn a bit, and it was getting later in the afternoon. Also, half of our party was waiting a few hundred feet below for us to return. We decided to make Lake of Glass our turn-around point for the day.

On our descent, we watched a marmot (one of my favorite animals, you may know), as he made his own way up the snow bank to the rocks above. As he walked he had a peculiar gait, his front end low, and his tail high in the air. His back legs were spread wide, and his bottom was lifted as high off of the icy surface of the rock face as he could get it. At first, I thought he was mooning me or showing me some other form of whistle pig disdain. I soon realized, however, that he was merely trying to keep his junk dry. Another unexpected visitor teaching another unexpected lesson: yesterday’s gray jay teaching us not to wave our apples around; today’s groundhog demonstrating the most effective high-altitude method to avoid shrinkage. Emerson and Thoreau were correct: nature is this planet’s greatest teacher.

Back below, reunited with the rest of the group, I enjoyed a PB and J, and a few minutes of relaxation as I sat on a dry spot, with my back against a rock. I said a little prayer hoping that if I died at exactly that moment no one would ever move me from that spot, and that my junk would stay perpetually dry.

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Unexpected Visitors (Another in an Irregular Series of Very Long Stories), Part One: Fairly Aggressive Birds

You may have noticed that I haven’t posted in a while. As I write this, it is Sunday, July 24. Depending on whether or not I can cadge some connectivity in the next several days, this may not be posted until next Monday or Tuesday. But, I have not forsaken you.

On Saturday last, Monkey and I headed west on our now-annual pilgrimage to the Rockies. Our first full day (Sunday) was spent in Boulder. Monkey was meeting some friends she knew in the area, and The Ambassadors and I wandered around the Pearl District, shopping, having lunch, and being called “home dwellers” by one of the myriad homeless ragamuffins that sometimes makes me think that Boulder is the slightly older, American version of Oliver Twist. The highlight of the trip to Boulder, for me, was my now-annual visit to the Boulder Bookstore. I picked up a copy of The Inner Life of Numbers, Oryx and Crake, Chasing the White Dog, and a couple of other titles that caught my eye. Monkey might think I have a compulsion when it comes to buying books from independent bookstores…she’s right.

But not only did we visit with friends while in Colorado, but we were visited frequently, and unexpectedly, on several occasions.

Our first hike of the week was a reprise of a hike that we were forced to abandon two years ago due to inclement weather. If you recall, a hike to Finch Lake was curtailed by persistent rain and hail that drenched us to the bone. This year’s hike was much drier.

After a breakfast of Meadow Mountain eggs and sausage, we trucked up to the Allenspark Trailhead, where we started our nine mile round trip to Finch. Over all, the hike is not terribly interesting. There are a few moments along a ridge, where the once burned-over forest is open enough to provide some pretty views of neighboring peaks, but the hike saves its treasure until the end, really.

We arrived at Finch Lake just in time to enjoy a traditional PB and J lunch by the rocky and grassy shore. The air danced with freshly hatched mayflies, the water teemed with water striders and diving bugs. I sat on a boulder and gazed into the shallows of the lake, on each side of me, The Ambassadors enjoyed their sandwiches. In the periphery of my vision, I saw a flash. Behind me, Monkey let out a muffled, “Ah!” and jumped up from her perch. I turned around to see a gray flash flutter up into the trees.

“What happened,” an Ambassador asked.

“That bird just tried to take my apple!”

A gray jay had swooped from its perch and tried to pilfer Monkey’s lunchtime desert. And so, we had the first of several unexpected visitors. Lucky for Monkey, she was unscathed by the sortie, but she was clearly shaken, and no wonder, since the gray jay was still waiting in the trees above her to make another attack. However, after a few minutes, the bird began moving off, leaving Monkey to finish her apple in relative peace.

After twenty tense minutes, in which Monkey ate her apple with one eye on the trees, we hitched our packs back up and headed down to the trail head. The sky stayed dry. We made it back to the trail head in good time, headed back to the Brown Cabin, and began discussions to decide our next day’s hike.

(Posted from the Wicomico County Public Library. Odds of another post before Sunday: slim.)

Friday, July 15, 2011

Where I Can Be

So I’m packing my bags for the Misty Mountains

Where the spirits go, now.

Over the hills where the spirits fly.

--Led Zeppelin, “Misty Mountain Hop”

Early Saturday morning, Monkey and I are packing the Penguin and heading west for the Rocky Mountains. I look forward to this trip every year. Nothing brings me peace like being in or near the mountains.

Growing up, my family vacation was always to the east: the ocean. And, every year, I looked forward to that trip. I loved nothing more than rising before dawn, packing the car and taking a three hour (if we were lucky) drive to the Atlantic shore. I loved the roar of the surf, the smell of the ocean, the heat of the sun, the feel of the sand under foot. I loved to hear the cry of gulls. I loved the nightly trips to the crowded boardwalk, the ice cream, the vinegar-coated fries. I loved steamed crabs and fried chicken. I loved walking the beach and swimming in the breakers. But, as I recall those trips, there was very little peace. Of course, a ten year-old boy usually isn’t looking for peace, is he?

Once I moved from Maryland, trips to the ocean became less frequent. I did not miss them as much as I thought I would. And, once we made it out here to Nebraska, we discovered the Rockies an eight hour drive away. And here, I found a place that I may have always been looking for.

I feel a sense of happiness in the mountains. I feel clean, alive, refreshed; I feel like I am where I ought to be. I don’t have a clue why that is the way this place makes me feel, and I feel like questioning it is pointless. I just love being there.

There is indeed something about these mountains that other mountains I have experienced, namely the Appalachians, do not possess. The Cascades have a bit of it, but it is not the same. There is an awe and a majesty to the Rockies that other ranges that I have experienced (and granted, that is a limited sample) do not possess.

I feel, at this point, that this is about to descend into an even more random ramble than usual, so let me bring this to an I-have-to-go-to-bed-so-I-can-get-up-at-six-and-drive-eight-hours-tomorrow close. I am off for the mountains tomorrow, and I am going to love every minute I am there, and leaving in a week will be one of the hardest things I have to do this year.

Ironically, the following week, I will be heading back east to hit the beach. Don’t expect me to wax poetic about that (but I will have a damn good time, anyway).

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Yankee Arrogance

Where have you gone Joe DiMaggio?

A nation turns its lonely eyes to you.

--Simon and Garfunkle, "Mrs. Robinson"

Last night’s MLB All-Star game was a bore. It started with a “titans of baseball” worthy pitcher’s duel, as Roy Halladay, Jered Weaver, Cliff Lee, and Dave Robertson twirled against each league’s starting line-up, and then became just another game as “big” names like Tyler Clippard and Miguel Montero entered the field. In the end, the NL beat the AL 5-1 and I was in bed by 10:30. Who is complaining?

Well, I guess I am. It has become standard the past few days to gripe about the number of ball players who declined their invitation to play in the game. Many were injured, Alex Rodriguez and David Price, for instance, and were unable to play. Some had pitched too recently to pitch again on Tuesday (but don’t tell Cy Young that), such as Justin Verlander, and CC Sabathia. Still others were simply overwhelmed by the day-to-day pressure of their job and needed a break, like Derek Jeter.

I am no fan of the Yankees, you may know, but I have always had a healthy amount of respect for team captain Jeter. He always seemed to play the game the right way, he always seemed to be in the mix during the biggest moments of the biggest games, he always seemed like a winner, but, more importantly, he always seemed like a winner who won with integrity. No cheating, no scandal, no negativity seemed to touch this apparent paragon of America’s game. Until now.

Just this past week, Derek Jeter reached a milestone in the career of any great hitter. He reached 3000 career hits, a feat only 25 or so other ballplayers have done in the more than 100-year history of the game. And he did it in spectacular fashion, going 5 for 5 on the day, driving in his team’s winning run, and hitting a home run for number 3000 (something that only he and Wade Boggs have ever done). He was voted onto the AL roster despite his less-than-stellar .270 average, his meager three home runs, and his paltry 24 RBI. But, no matter. He’s Derek Jeter, and that alone qualifies him for the All-Star team. He is, and always will be, a star. After all, one of my own baseball gods, Cal Ripken, made plenty of All-Star teams during years when he was not performing at his best. It is the nature of the fan vote. Often name recognition is enough to get one elected, even when one is flirting with the Mendoza line.

However, Mr. Jeter, citing the mental and physical toll of his quest for three thousand hits, declined to play in the game. He even declined to show up in Arizona for the festivities. Wow. I guess, when you reach a certain age, and you’re coming off of a calf injury, and you just went through the struggle to reach a milestone in your sport under the watchful eye of the voracious New York media, you might feel a bit spent. Sure, take the game off. But, come on, at least show up for the introductions. The people love you. Give them some love back. Very disappointing, team captain, very disappointing.

Yet, there is more. Many players, as I mentioned, could not or did not play. I believe there were roughly sixteen. Of those sixteen who bowed out of the game, four followed D. Jeter’s lead and neglected to show up for the game at all. Of those five (Jeter included), four were members of the New York Yankees. Is that a mere coincidence? Or is it indicative of an organizational sense of superiority? Was it an indication of personal integrity that the dugout was full of players who were not going to play but still appeared (it is an honor to be selected, isn’t it?), but that eighty percent of the no shows held roster spots on perhaps the most arrogant organization, not just in sports, but, perhaps, all the world?

Again, I have no love for the Yankees…and I probably have less now than I did yesterday morning. But, to be fair, I am probably looking for reasons to hate them. I suspect one day, when my perfect nightmare comes to pass, that the Yankees will merge with the New England Patriots to form the most loathsome, despicable, arrogant franchise in the entire universe. Hell, they might even ask Man U to join them. But, for now, I can despise them separately, and continue to take every small piece of mildly negative news about them and turn it into a significant indication of how awful they are, not just as a franchise, but as people. Okay, maybe I have crossed a line, there. Strike that last bit. Except for…no, no, just forget it.

If I may get back to my main point here, so I can conclude this rambling screed: would the game last night have been better if Derek Jeter and CC Sabathia and Alex Rodriguez were sitting in the dug out? No. But, does the lack of appearance by multiple members of the team with the largest fan base in the entire nation indicate yet another disconnect between players and fans, between baseball and the sad sacks like me who love the game? Yes, it does. Yes, indeed.

Monday, July 11, 2011

Cashed Checks and Imperfect Balances

Should we talk about the weather?

Should we talk about the government?

--REM, “Pop Song 89”

The sweltering of the plains has begun in earnest for the summer. Saturday was steamy hot--which did not preclude us from several beverages out on some friends’ deck; yesterday was slightly more brutal (except we are not sure just how brutal, since, according to the paper this morning, an equipment malfunction made it impossible to read the temperature and humidity…they couldn’t run to the nearest bank to read the sign out front?)—which did not preclude us from mowing the lawn and doing a bit of yard work in the AM; today portends to be more of the same. I planned on a fishing excursion to a nearby lake this morning, but the forecast, along with the fact that I stayed up late watching the rebroadcast of the US Women’s World Cup rousing victory over Brazil, convinced me to stay in this morning. I plan on taking the fishing trip tomorrow. The weather will most likely remain, but I will have had a bit more sleep.

In other news, I have been thinking lately about the current difficulties that we are in as a nation, specifically, that slippery eel that is the economy, which is sluggish to say the least. Here in Nebraska, we have been pretty lucky compared to many other places, but things are still far from perfect. The mayor proposed last week a hike in property taxes and wheel taxes, in order to raise revenue for roadwork and other operating costs. That still apparently will not save the jobs of some city workers.

I don’t mind paying a bit more to keep things running smoothly, to have parks and street lights, paved roads and a fire department. It is worth the extra fifty bucks a year (or so) it will cost us to maintain those services that I find important for my quality of life. And that money is collected and used by the city that I live in. Every day I can see my taxes being necessary when there is a pot-holed road, a broken water main, a darkened street lamp, or an overgrown park field.

On the federal level, however, things are a bit more complicated. I don’t see the money I send to Washington being directly spent…except on things like war, war, and war. Oh, right, we did give all those banks and car companies all that money…and we gave all those folks cash for their push-pull-drag-or-drive clunkers, so I know that money was well spent. But, it appears that the Feds are in a tougher spot than my town is. The deficit rises; revenues are stagnant. Current natural disasters will cost billions; expensive military actions are still being waged on multiple fronts. The promised jobs created by the wealthy are not materializing; some corporations are not paying any taxes. And Congress and the president can’t seem to see eye to eye on any solution.

And here is where our wonderfully balanced form of government is perhaps making things worse when it should be making things better. For, while the Senate has a Democrat majority, which (one would think) would cooperate with a president from its own party, the House is GOP-controlled. And, do you think that maybe the House majority might feel that they have an interest in keeping the economy in the tank until 2012? Wouldn't that be better for their party?

Am I a conspiracy theorist? No. Do I understand politics? Yes, I do. In that respect—the “I understand the gamesmanship of the political arena” respect—I completely understand why the House might be doing what I think it’s doing. But, I don’t like it. But, I am not going to start lobbing “evil Republican” bombs around. I am not going to point some naïve finger and say, “Hey, you red state bozos, quit holding this country hostage and fix the problem.” Nope. I am not going to do that. Because I know a few things: I know that the situation we find ourselves in is the end result of many years of (and both parties’) myopia, avarice, and lack of wisdom. I know that, were the situation reversed, the Dems would do the same thing ( not as effectively…probably more like ineffectively). I know that, most likely, even if the two sides come to a compromise, it will be, like most compromises, well, compromised, and any policy they agree upon will sound great in the paper, but will generally be toothless, useless, and maybe even more detrimental than helpful.

That does not mean I am not fired up at yet another example of party politics taking precedence over the common good. But, what do we do? We do what we always do. We pay our taxes, we try to keep calm, we carry on, we pick cucumbers, we keep the lawn trimmed, we open a beverage, we fill up the kiddie pool, and we hope that the weather breaks soon.

So it goes….

Wednesday, July 06, 2011

I Hate Boston, But I Love Boston

Monkey and I spent the past weekend visiting our friends from the Long Haul Project in Boston. I was not only looking forward to spending time with our “new” friends but never having been to Boston made me look forward to the impending travel even more. The fact that our excursion would occur over the July 4th weekend made it even more exciting. After all, Boston (and its environs) is the epicenter of the Revolutionary War.

Now, some of you that are close to me, and even those of you who are not particularly close to me, but just happen to be around when I am in a sufficiently grumpy mood, might be a bit confused here, thinking, “Boston? I thought ATR hated Boston.” No. You misunderstand me. Let me clear that up. I do hate Boston…the band. I do not hate Boston, the city.

And, of course, now those of you not familiar with my hatred of Boston are curious to know why I hate said band (again: NOT the city). Well, it’s more than a feeling, I will tell you that. It’s a difficult loathing to describe, or even justify, but there is something about the style that they managed to carefully develop and hew to forever that just doesn’t sit well with me. Their sound is so clean, so clear, so “wah-wah without the wah,” if you will. It just always seemed so produced. And the pitch of the late Brad Delp’s voice was like Cartman’s “brown noise”—it just does bad things to me inside.

However, I stress, once again, that the city of Boston, despite its very, very close ties to the band Boston, is the object of no animosity on my part. Now that we have cleared that up, let’s move on.

There are many things that I expected to see in Boston, the famous Liberty Bell, the Washington Monument, a host of Celtics jerseys. Strangely enough, beside the jerseys, none of that other “patriotic” stuff was there. Our hosts calmly explained to me that those things are located in other cities, I think one of them was Atlanta, I don’t remember, but I still enjoyed some of the patriotic sites that we did see, like a bronze sculpture of ducks (which was being sorely abused by an army of three year-olds) and a veritable host of soldiers in His Majesty’s Dragoons, or something. I was confused; really, I thought we won the war. Apparently, nobody in Boston was told. Does that make Tom Scholz and Brad Delp the founders of a British band? Do they have more in common with The Who and Pink Floyd than .38 Special (WARNING: link plays "music") and Toto? But, I digress.

What I loved about our trip, aside from the company (both the expected and unexpected kind), was that we enjoyed such a range of experiences. We went to some lovely restaurants, where Monkey and I enjoyed plenty of (but not exclusively) seafood. We miss our seafood out here in the middle of the giant North American continent. We sometimes brave a fish dinner, but not often. It just isn’t the same as having it on the coast. For instance, at our first dinner, at a groovy South End place called the Beehive (where I had my recent smooth jazz experience corrected by the trio that played while we ate), I had a scallop dish that was so fresh and tasty that I nearly cried. It was so nice to have that kind of dining experience.

We also enjoyed Boston’s Museum of Fine Arts (for free—hooray for Friday!) and an exquisite sculpture garden, the de Cordova, where my highlight was Steven Seigel’s “Big with Rift,” which consists of newspaper and whatever happens to come along and grow on it. I give it no justice in the description, but I told Monkey that if I lived nearby, I would visit that piece everyday.

A visit to nearby Walden Pond was also part of the itinerary. The weather held just long enough for us to make our way around the shore to see the site of Thoreau's cabin, to watch a young man release a pretty big fish, and to overhear snippets of every conversation being had. Water is quite a carrier of sound!

While we did experience a wide range of historical, cultural, and gustatory delights, we did not enjoy any musicals. I believe someone did propose we try to get tickets to West Side Story, which was playing nearby. Lucky for everyone, we decided not to.

On the fourth, we headed to the venerable Fenway Park to watch the Red Sox play the Toronto Blue Jays. There were a number of Blue Jay fans there. I think they came south from Canada, although it is possible they are simply part of the Boston population that still thinks they are British subjects. I don’t know what Canada’s status is vis a vis the Crown, but I think they are still more closely aligned than Boston is supposed to be. At any rate, the result of the ball game was favorable to the home crowd (the Red Sox lost—God Save the Queen).

After the game, we had another great dinner near MIT (I think my arctic char raised my IQ five to ten points), and then walked to a nearby bridge to watch the fireworks over the harbor. The evening’s show was great, despite the occasional T train that blocked our view momentarily. It did confuse me, however, when one of the nearby spectators told his son that the fireworks were to signal the Queen that all was still well in her most loyal of colonies. I thought to correct this historical misunderstanding, but the child’s beaming face in the glow of the rosettes and showers of flaming metal through which he waved his Union Jack was so precious, I thought, “Who am I to interfere?”

We walked home along with a mass of people who literally filled the streets. It made me wish we could just get rid of cars altogether, so that everyday bikes and shoes could ride and wander wherever they desired without fear of being run down, backed into, or blasted in the face with exhaust. This is a dream that may never be realized, but, even as it was suggested that this is what the zombie apocalypse might look like, I continued in my reverie undaunted.

And what did this fabulous trip to Boston leave me with? What is my final thought? I have learned that I love Boston, the city, far more than I hate Boston, the band. Rock on!

Wednesday, June 29, 2011

Even Sugar Free Jazz Couldn't Mess Up The Night

And it's cool and clean as
Sugar free jazz
--Soul Coughing, "Sugar Free Jazz"

A beautiful summer night, the end of June. Monkey and I decided, with no real premeditation to head down to the Sheldon Museum's sculpture garden for the final performance of the Jazz in June concert series. Monkey was going to be out visiting a friend, but she was going to be downtown, so I biked down and met her.

The bike ride was a bit convoluted, as several trail closures resulting from on-going construction and renovation sent me on a few short, unintended detours, but, all in all, it was good to be riding. I haven't done much lately, what with the increased work commute and other physical ailments of the last few months. This evening was a perfect one to be in the saddle. We've had some massive storms lately, and the forecast is for temperatures to push the three-digit mark, so this might be the last pleasant night for a while.

The weather being what it was, the concert was almost an excuse just to sit outside. Neither Monkey nor I knew anything of the performer, so that was not what drew us. It was just a reason to be downtown and to experience a communal civic event.

Long ago, in a city far away, summer meant festivals. Mostly ethnic or cultural festivals. Baltimore was the place to be for the Polish festival, the Lithuanian festival, Afram, the Greek festival, and on and on. There were (and are) other festivals, mostly focusing more on neighborhoods than ethnicity or culture, but the ethnic festivals were the ones that got my family out of the house. It was wonderful to be out amongst people enjoying the heat, the smells, the sounds, the tastes, of all of these civic parties. I loved them. It seems that time is wearing down this tradition back in my old hometown, but some festivals are apparently still hanging on.

Later, in CoMo, a spring/summer tradition was the Twilight Festival, which was a sort of downtown hodgepodge of music, merchants, horses, and kettle corn. I don't think Monkey and I missed many of those Thursday evenings, strolling the streets of downtown Columbia (uh...I mean, "The District"), running into people, listening to this bit of bluegrass here and this patch of folky strumming there. Again, a tradition that died while we were still in CoMo, but it was fun while it lasted.

So, here in Lincoln, Jazz in June seems to have picked up the communal experience slack where time and distance have intervened in my life. So, it made no difference that the music I listened to this evening, in my opinion, basically sucked. It made no difference that the "jazz" that I heard tonight was sort of soulless, clean, simple (syncopated, but simply so). The performance was spirited, as the sax man wandered the crowd with his cordless microphone, bouncing around like some smooth Pied Piper, enticing young and old to embrace the faux-funk that he was spewing. But, for Pete's sake, the crowd was clapping along in 4/4 time...that's not jazz. Not to me, anyway. But, you know what? There were kids bopping around to the funky groove, and people smiling and clapping along. There were people just chatting with their friends, or munching on the ubiquitous Midwestern delicacy...yes, kettle corn. And, even I, a man who takes his music rather seriously, who likes his jazz to swing or bop (neither of which this music was doing), even I had a wonderful time.

And after, as Monkey and I walked my bike to the car so she could drive us home, as the sun was settling in for the night, and as the chimney swifts were fluttering off to hang from there stone-walled perches, I couldn't recall a single lick, one tiny riff I had heard all night, but, at least I got out with the people.

Monday, June 27, 2011

Pleased to Meet Me

"Melissa wants to talk to you about blogging," she said after swallowing her first bite of the evening's meal.

"What about?" He tears another bite from his cheeseburger.

Dipping her burger into a small lake of ketchup on her plate: "She was curious why you don't do it anymore. She hasn't gotten to know you this past year."

Through a mouthful of food: "It's all there."

"What's all there?"

"Me. It's in the archives." He waves his burger like he doesn't even know it is in his hand. At his right side, the old dog watches the food intently. In the kitchen, the young dog rests on the floor.

"But she doesn't know what you're up to."

"What I'm up to? Well, not blogging, for one." He remembers the burger and takes another bite.

"Why not?"


That's a good question. Why not? I have a few answers there: I got bored, I had too much else to do, I didn't think anything I had to say was worth hearing, I had a general weariness with the world of social media. I sometimes feel like we're all out here shouting our own statuses and updates, but not really listening to anyone else. As a general rule, that is. I know that many of you will claim to having made a wealth of connections (and deep ones, too) out here in the wilds of the worldwide web, but, mostly, I just feel like I am standing in the mall food court and two hundred people (that I know) are yelling at me and handing me photographs as they pass by. But, after a short conversation about it last night with Monkey, in which I basically made it clear that I was not going to revive the practice, here I am. Go figure. And I don't know if this will be the first post of a continued Renaissance of Central Standard or if it is the sole post of 2011, but here it is.

It's funny how your mind changes, when you let it. Really, last night, this was the last thing I thought I would be doing this morning. Hell, even as I sat down and opened the lap top, I was not preparing to write. But, here I am. And it is good. Good to write, good to think, good to build one word from another--one sentence from another--to put something together. It is also good to change one's mind, to do something even you didn't expect. This is, as most of our acts are, a small thing, but all of those small things add up to the big thing we call our life (which in many ways isn't that big a thing, either--like Emily Saliers says, "it's only life, after all"). Do I feel like I have found significance? No. Hell, if I need a blog to find significance, I think I have bigger problems. Do I feel like I am no longer shouting in the wilderness? No, I completely do feel like I am shouting in the wilderness (an even larger, denser, and darker wilderness), but, right now, I think I want to. Do I feel like I finally have something important to say that everyone wants to hear? Do you know me? But, I realize, if you don't want to hear it, you don't have to.

So, hello , again. I don't know how long I'll be staying. I don't know what I'll be saying. But, I'm raising my small voice, again.