Through that Haze of Wild Fires

Canoeing thru the haze of smoke

This time last year Mahsa and I were fully ensconced in canoe trip preparations. Our nights were filled with pouring over maps and gear lists; our days filled with practicing canoe strokes and building up endurance. All this planning got us through the Northern Forest Canoe Trail – a 750 mile water way trail from New York to Northern Maine. It was epic. It was amazing. It was life changing. It was all the cliche things that such adventures can be. You can read about the trip and see pictures on our blog – Flora Burn.

The last time Mahsa and I canoed was that wonderful day almost a year ago when we paddled into Fort Kent, Maine after 35 days on the water ways of the great norther forests. It seems silly to think that we hadn’t paddled even a few hours since that day. Life it seems interceded. Snapping us out of our romantic wilderness adventure dreams into the reality of the hustle and bustle work, school and everyday life.

Today though, we found the time to be on the water. We loaded the Flora Burn on the little car and with a cooler full of snacks headed for the Rio Carlos (Charles River). Putting in by the Newton Boat house we paddled upstream for a few hours into the watershed preserve. It was lovely. The large forest fires in northern New England and Quebec made for some very hazing skies, but down on the water, one could barely notice. The banks were lush with green stuff and birds abounded. We stopped for picnic on the way back down stream. Ate way to much fruit salad though. But it was lovely to once again be enjoying river side lunch.

The current isn’t too strong for most of the Charles, so paddling up-stream isn’t hard. But some places, where the river bottoms out the current definitely picks up a bit. One tricky spot found us maneuvering around what we took to be a rather sharp rock. Upon closer examination, however, we found it to be an office chair. Ha! Welcome to the Charles River.

For most of the day we reminisced about our canoe adventure. We recounted the plethora of ridiculous stories that at the time were horrible and heartbreaking. But now, months later have taken on a splendid hilarity of hindsight.

There was the time Mahsa awoke suddenly in the middle of the night afraid that little aliens were trying to collapse our tent. There was the time I sank knee-deep in mud. There was the time that we had to lower our canoe down cliff and the time we only ate walnuts and sardines for dinner.

There were also countless days of beauty like we’ve never seen before. We met amazing locals along they way that taught us about hospitality in a way that was both unexpected and most welcome (especially when caught in a storm on a lake and at risk of capsizing). We learned about rural life in the northern woods, spent time talking with locals about their troubles and what keeps them living the lives they live.

It was phenomenal, despite that time I stepped on a wasp’s nest and got 13 bites and wanted to pass out. There was also the joy of being able to live through it all with your best friend. To spend each day living in the moment with a pal, trying to figure out how the hell you’re going to slog a 16 foot canoe through a bog, up a hill, over an embankment and back down into the water…five times a day.

With all the school and work I’ve got to wallow through this summer and all the work it takes me to muster the energy needed to live in the city I am wistful for the canoe adventure. It would be nice to be in the throws of planning a great water way expedition rather than outlining my next research project or wading through a 150  – 300 pages of reading a week for class, which wouldn’t be that much if it wasn’t for my need to read roughly as many pages if not more in my library of sci-fi and fantasy books. Plus there is work, where I get to not only witness the triumph of truly down trodden people as they overcome illness, addiction and homelessness but I also get to be present with them in their despair. This is not easy – these highs and lows. So, yes. I’d very much like to be preparing for a canoe adventure.

Alas, it is not to be this summer. With the exception of a few trips to here and there I’m staying put. Ah well. It is what it is. There’s always the adventure that comes with ridding my bike to and from work and school each day.

Behold! Beach Weekend 2010

Team Beach Weekend

In my working life I have had the (un)fortunate experience of having to run a number of silent auctions. But bid in a silent auction? Never. That is until the organization my housemate works for held a silent auction, which included a weekend stay at a house on Cape Cod. Pooling our resources that gang rallied and won the house. Four whole days of beach time, bike time, grilling out time, lounging about time and eating too much food time.

I had never been to the Cape, only the North Shore. The Cape is quite the destination and its good to have a place out there if you are trying to be taken seriously in Boston’s elite set. Thank goodness that is not among my goals in the life.

the porch at our beach house

The house looked out over the amazing salt marshes and First Encounter Beach. Only a 10 minute bike ride away, the beach was amazing. The Cape is the body of water within the narrow and long curving pieces of land that divides main land Massachusetts from the Atlantic ocean. To use proper Cape terms, our hose was on the Cape side, meaning it looked into the Cape. Some houses are on the Atlantic side, meaning they look out into the Atlantic Ocean. On the cape side, when the tide goes out it leaves about a half mile of wet sandy expanse to walk out on and tide pools to investigate. The most

The beach, Cape side at low, low tide.

common thing we happened upon were horseshoe crabs. These barnacle encrusted creatures are older then dinosaurs and look it. When the tide was at its lowest you couldn’t properly make out where the open water began. We spent many an hour at this beach, playing Frisbee and generally enjoying the sun shine and company of friends.

But don’t think that all we did was lounge about! We hiked and walked and investigated as best we could.

The best adventure I would say was the day we spent

Team Dune!

in the Dunes. Paul was intent on seeing what all the dune fuss was about. Mahsa, Daveaux, Paul and I took it upon ourselves to find out. Some many hours later and after must traipsing about in the dunes (destroying native bird habitat I’m sure) we emerged with quite a tale to tell.

Team Dune: The official Path

Not the sort to be confined to paths we quickly got ourselves lost enough to have to start inventing paths to follow. I stand by my assertion that we were indeed on paths. Whether they were animal paths or very seldom human made paths I don’t know. But they were paths.

This journey turned into quite the traipse as we found our way to the Atlantic Ocean. It was to say the least quite fun. Most of the time was spent convincing Paul that we were going to be ok and to keep going. I don’t think he often takes to having such adventures and being so unaccustomed needed some gentle prodding.

I sware, the ocean is just over that Dune

Having just re-read the book Dune I was quite nearly caught up in my imagination thinking about being on Arrakis and cracking jokes no one lese got about wishing I’d brought my sand worm riding hooks.

We wondered through the low lands between the lofty dunes. Winding our way through the stunted and brittle plant life we crested one dune after another, each time saying “this is it, the Atlantic will be just on the other side…”

It. Must. Be. Over. This. Dune. Gasp!

Thank goodness it wasn’t too hot or the adventure would have quickly turned miserable. Instead it was a joy. We managed to piece together enough “trails” to reach the base of what was possibly the largest dune I’d ever seen. “We have to go up that?” Mahsa asked, where voice absolutely dripping with termination. Not only would it be hard to climb such a steep hill made of sand, but she is also quite afraid of heights.

Yes! Behold the Atlantic ocean!

With a running start, however we each made it to the top to Behold the glory of the Atlantic Ocean (cue dramatic music).

We rummaged about on the beach for some time before setting to the task of finding our way back. Not wanting to spend to large a portion of his day rule braking, Paul suggested we take a more official looking trail/road back. This proved to be mostly boring. But still beautiful.

Overall beach weekend 2010 was a success. A feat to be repeated in the years to come. What with the glorious game of Put-Put in the sun and the donuts to the fried lobster and the hole we dug to China what’s not to like about repeating? All the pictures from the weekend are here

The Hole: Began so small

The hole: It got bigger

the Hole: And bigger

Two Years Ago Today

Some two years ago yesterday a dreadful movie version of C.S. Lewis’ Prince Caspian opened. In Adherence with tradition I traipsed down to the theater for opening night. Meeting up with pals for a light dinner of sushi, I complained endlessly about how itchy I had been. I was itchy all over all the time. Over sushi and Sake we all developed a dozen or so itch explanations, each more outlandish than the next. The evening would have been a right success if it hadn’t been for the deplorable nature of the film. Yes, the acting was minimal, yes the editing was scattered and the script nearly non-existent but it was the barely there story line that presented itself in the first few minutes of the film that really ruined the experience.That and the overt and somewhat overbearing Christianity.

This is, of course, a shame. The book Prince Caspian is not a badly written book. In fact, it has a well structured story, which is both interesting and compelling. The characters are each engaging and well developed. After all C.S. Lewis was no unskilled at writing. He was a christian and very deliberately worked the story of Jesus and the bible into his writing. But in the realm of fantasy fiction this is not unusual.  The messiah, the savior, the sacrifice – are all  themes, which various ways find their way into works of fantasy and science fiction. Not to mention that the Bible and the story of Jesus have always been alluring to fiction writers as an example of these themes and worthy of at the minimum influencing story development and at most worthy of being retold in new contexts and on new worlds.

C.S. Lewis was a friend and colleague of J.R.R Tolkien. The two were part of a writers group, the Inklings. The friends often wrote letters to one another and differed greatly in their thoughts of how to work religion and Christianity in particular, into their writing. C.S. Lewis took a much more direct route. But Tolkien too, had elements of Christian theology in his writing.

I am not offended by C.S. Lewis for incorporating Christianity into his books. I enjoyed them well enough when I was younger and would recommended them to other young people to read. The ideas aren’t inherently offensive to me, perhaps outdated and too conservative. But the ideas of faithfulness to cause, loyalty and kinship are not deplorable, just easily used to also convey to the reader that Christ deserves your undying devotion.

But the film. The film. It was so over the top proselytizing that it made me feel pity for the long dead C.S. Lewis. A gifted writer, he used his talent to eloquently write his Christian faith into his work in a manner that while sometimes obnoxious, was at least well done. This film version just packed together a cheap Sunday sermon with bad acting and over-the-top special effects.

My friends were all in agreement upon leaving the theater. The film was a dud.

My bike ride home was uneventful. My mind was preoccupied with the lengthy list of things I had to do the following day. I was in the midst of planing a move to Boston and a summer of traveling. I was scheduled to leave DC in just a couple of days for a direct action training camp in Montana, followed by some time with my mom in Washington state, a train trip to California to spend a good two months with my dad and then a bike ride to St. Paul for the Republican National Convention where I was going to be helping with legal support for the protesters. My little basement room was mostly packed and ready to be moved into storage for the summer before being moved to my new home in Boston. The flurry of activity required of me to accomplish my many tasks had taken a great deal too much energy.

I went to bed among the boxes with the thought that my friend would very well make good on her threat to wake me up at 7:30 in the morning for breakfast with another friend from out-of-town. So when my phone rang in the wee hours of the morning I rolled over and didn’t get up. I knew it would be her too chipper for that early hour voice willing me to go to breakfast. Eventually I did get up though and listened to a voice mail message. It was not, in fact my friend, but my step mom. She sounded upset and told me to call home right away. My father had been quite sick for some time. This was the reason I was going to spend the summer with him in California. My heart sank. He must have been put back in the hospital.

The story from here on is not new to most. My father was not being readmitted to the hospital  but had in fact passed away in his sleep.

My dear friends surrounded me with such love and support on that day. They guided me through the steps of getting my things in order enough to leave on a plane that afternoon. They sat with me as I talked to my family. They held my hand as I told my brother that our dad had passed away. In those tendered moments I so cherished having friends to lean on.

Today it is two years since that horrible day. Sometime I wish I could go back and do it all again. This sounds awful but from my position it would mean being able to live in the moment of such raw emotion that seems neither misplaced or confusing. Two years out from that day I find the emotions to muddled in time to clearly feel and I can hardly say that I live in the moment.

Two years is some substantial amount of time. But when compared to the 27 some years that my dad was a part of my life and I a part of his, two years is a blink. I have perhaps processed a teaspoons worth of the grief I feel. I keep myself from crying because I imagine that if I started what good reason would I have to stop? There isn’t a starting point really and there is no real end point that can be reached through a clear and easily navigable process. Some large part of me feels like I would have to entirely give myself over completely to the effort or not at all. I’ve, for the most part, chosen the not at all option.

The analogy that I have used so many times is to compare my living to being in a vast and unknown wilderness. I entered on the day my father passed away and have yet to emerge, let alone find a path. It seems to me that I may be to wounded to make much progress. I must spend a great deal of time tending to myself in order to simply maintain my course through this wilderness. A path would nice, but there is also something to be said for having to wonder a bit. Getting scraped up, having to double back and sometimes slog through unpleasant things is not horrible. It’s just terribly hard sometimes.

Two years and I would have thought I’d be more capable of understanding what it is I have to due to mend myself a bit more. But maybe its just something that time heals and sometimes like with other things it gets worse for a bit before it gets better.

I do know that the omnipresent feeling I have of missing my dad will not abate soon. And perhaps if I live a little more in the present – in and among my thoughts and feelings – I will be able to settle more comfortably into knowing that I can’t simply call him up but rather must take time from my day to sit with him in memory.

30 Ruminations on Turning 30

The carnage of three birthday desserts for my thirtieth b-day party

April 29th was my thirtieth birthday. Never one to put much stock in age I didn’t do much preparing. But on the eve of my birthday, as I lay in bed I began to think more about the act of turning thirty. I don’t think thirty is terribly old, but it does somehow feel different than other birthdays. The past 30 years of my life involved being  born, an enormous amount of cognitive development, learning to walk, run, read, write, talk, schooling, college, jobs….the list goes on and on. So much of the last thirty years involved growing up – from a baby to an adult. That is a hell of a lot of activity! Now I’m thirty, I’m not done grown and changing, but now I’m me, making my own choices and really living my life. I’m not bothered by having to learn to walk and talk and read – I’ve got all those things down (most of the time). So I view turning thirty as reaching a moment where I can harness all the powers I’ve gained in the past thirty years for adventures untold.

Here is a list of thoughts I made about turning 30:

  1. I thought I would have learned to put my clothes away by now

    My chair is always draped in an assortment of clothes...

  2. Thought I’d learned to make my bed by now
  3. Thought I would actually be able to wake up when my alarm clock goes off
  4. Thought I wouldn’t care about what happens on 90210
  5. Thought I’d know how to manage my time better
  6. Oh how I thought I would have been able to keep my room clean by now
  7. Thought I’d not be as jealous person
  8. thought I’d be able to let go of grudges from high school

    My bed continues to be a depository for disgarded items

  9. Totally thought I’d be able to spell “necessary” and “unfortunately” without spell check
  10. learned the lyrics to every song in Les Miserables
  11. I would have thought I could finally have concurred the banjo and fiddle
  12. I definitely thought I would have managed a short story by now instead of finishing 2/3’s of 100 short stories
  13. It would have been nice to have been able to actually finished Watership Down
  14. By now, I thought I would have been able to admit to myself that I’m the worlds worst vegetarian
  15. I’d always thought that I’d still be a rock climber
  16. No seriously, I really thought I’d have stopped caring about what happens on 90210
  17. I’m flummoxed as to why I am not a wildly popular internet star by now…
  18. Well I was sure that by now I’d own a sequined dress damn it!
  19. seems like I should have outgrown jelly bracelets by now
  20. When I was young I thought I’d have five kids by now…
  21. Honestly I’d hoped that by age thirty I’d have figured out how to drive a stick shift
  22. Thirty is an age at which I think I need to stop eating so much sugar and up my fiber intake…or is that age 40?
  23. Now that I’m thirty I plan to start wearing mascara…that’s right. Don’t judge.
  24. By thirty I thought I’d have been able to break myself of my nail-biting habit
  25. One thing I’ve done by age thirty is managed to read the Lord of the Rings once a year for about 15 years.
  26. My thirtieth birthday marks 23 years of Harry Potter books as a part of my life. I’d have thought their importance to me would have faded by now, but quite the opposite has been true.
  27. Oh how I wish that I had a cat. By age thirty it seems that I should have my very own cat – an orange tabby cat named Carl or Frank.
  28. Oh and by age thirty I would have thought I wouldn’t still own clothes I owned in high school. Ha!
  29. I’ll admit it, by age thirty I thought I’d be living back in my hometown of Spokane
  30. I think that by age thirty I would feel more like I’ve got it all figured out…