Monday, September 26, 2005
This past month has been a seemingly endless assault on our senses by the media as hurricane corpses rot by the road and sideshow opportunists seek profit from the misery of others. A month like every other month where it is the bad news that compels people to watch, to buy, to stay glued to the set. What is it about human tragedy that fascinates us? Do we feel better in comparison to those who are suffering? Or do we use it as an opportunity to realize how fragile life's thread is, and to seek enjoyment in each day?
I don't watch TV and haven't in about 10 years but I read the paper and on-line news sources and try to stay educated about what is going on in the world. Actually, that's not completely true as last year I began to watch House with Kerri every week, our one hour of television as a guilty pleasure for "date night". We had to commandeer our daughter's bedroom to watch as that was where the cable was, leaving the living room "pure". In our new place, we haven't even bothered to contact the cable company and pay the $20 a month for basic cable, and amazingly there seems to be no resistance to continuing like this. I do miss our House night, and it is a pain to see my Patriots play, but I'd like to think my life is richer for saying no to television. Even so - even though I have not seen a single second of footage of hurricane Katrina or Rita - I can't escape the media.
There are alternatives out there. Happy News is an on-line news source that focuses on the positive in life, and it is interesting to see the same news stories covered with a more uplifting spin. Choices can be made. I would encourage everyone to find the good in each day as they journey along the road to their apex!
Friday, September 23, 2005
Fall Foliage, Alaska Style
I have a funny story about Mirror Lake. About 10 or 12 years ago, my Dad was standing by the side of the road about where this photo was taken filming the scene with a camcorder. The lake was completely still, reflecting a perfect image of the opposite hillside. We were stretching our legs on the way down to do some salmon fishing and it was still early in the day. Reviewing the footage later, you see these concentric circles spreading from the shoreline off to my Dad's left, and you can hear me snicker as I paid my ultimate complement to the scene before me. Fading to black you hear the zipper . . . .
The one place that does rival the fall colors is the arctic tundra where the whole kaleidoscope of color is played out on a miniature scale. I'll post some pictures some time taken in Denali National Park in September to show the enormous palette possible from nature's paintbrush in the far north.
Thursday, September 22, 2005
Tuesday, September 20, 2005
Ahhhhh Yes . . . .
Okay, the canoe swamps instantly, knocking me backwards off my seat and putting the both of us into the 40 degree water. My Dad is yelling for me to "Stay With The Boat!" - this must be a Navy thing, or perhaps from his years as a Scout Master. Either way, as we shot the canyon I noticed the waves were even more impressive at eye level and I envied Dad that float coat as I was not wearing a life preserver and was swallowing a fair amount of water. I did find out later that as he was bobbing along beside the stern, the canoe was twisting and tumbling below the water, thrashing his legs badly - he had the most amazing bruises that continued to surface weeks after our day in the water.
As the cold sapped my strength, my efforts to stay with the boat (and more importantly stay with my Dad to ensure his safety) became a question of survival - it occurred to me with vivid clarity that if I continued with the present course of action I was going to die, most likely in the next 60 seconds. My decision to leave the boat and my Dad and angle towards shore is surely among the toughest choices of my life. I crawled onto the rocky shoreline and watched helplessly as my Dad was swept around the bend (but still staying with the boat - did I mention my Dad is a wee bit stubborn?). I got up and began running along the shore, but the alders were thick and progress was slow. After maybe 10 minutes of frantic thrashing through the underbrush, running every worse case scenario through my head, a boat pulled alongside and brought me to where my Dad was, safe and sound and wrapped in a blanket courtesy of Sterling Emergency Services. Besides a case of mild hypothermia and the major bruising the canoe administered to my Dad's legs, we were fine. The borrowed canoe was even recovered, with both paddles, by some good-hearted fishermen downstream. The only casualties were our pride, my camcorder, and a gear bag full of clothes.
So, this is one case of my Dad always being right . . . . another great example was a couple weeks ago when we were discussing something on the phone and I mentioned something about there only being around 650,000 people in Alaska. My Dad assured me that the population of Alaska was over a million. I ventured that maybe after 17 years residency, I knew a bit about the state, and I was pretty sure it was between 6 and 700,000. My Dad calmly and with great conviction again assured me the population was over a million - where does he get this amazing confidence from? Anyways, I mumbled something about maybe him being right and left it at that.
Now, the coolest part - my Dad mentioned something that I think will change my life and will certainly become a large puzzle piece in my trail to my apex. He said I should become a pharmacist . . . . and he's absolutely right! I've been searching for something I could do where Kerri and I could travel and be assured of getting a job where ever she worked as a nurse. A pharmacist is perfect - it is a huge goal, as it is a true doctorate program requiring 6 plus years of schooling; it will always be challenging as there will always be more to learn; and it will require a move to somewhere in the United States as there are only 80 colleges offering the Pharm D degree, none of which are in Alaska, so it will be exciting choosing an state to move to after the girls graduate high school. Dad, I'm 42 years old, and you just gave me the best advice ever . . . . thank you, for always (mostly) being right . . . . I love you.
Monday, September 19, 2005
Here is a photo of No Bad Days from this weekend. I'm posting it here because I was in the military with the boat owner, we are peers and roughly the same age - has he hit his apex early? Or just different priorities? Either way, it is a gorgeous vessel and a great way to blow 150K if you've got it to burn.
While I had tremendous fun on this boat, I can also remember spending days on the same body of water with the same guy in a $500 inflatable with a rented motor on the back. Porpoises came along side as we plowed through the water and we were able to reach over and touch them. They wave-surfed on our wake for probably 15 minutes and we laughed until our sides ached with the sheer joy of the day. We caught ling cod and rock fish that we grilled on a wood fire built on a remote beach. There was no DVD after the meal, just the waves lapping the shore and good conversation. We forged our friendship with outings like that, a friendship we rekindled last fall and have enjoyed tremendously, even though he and I have grown in different ways in the last 10 years.
I don't know if there will be a boat for me along the path to my apex, but if there is, it's great to know I've got a great friend to help me pick one out . . . .
Sunday, September 18, 2005
Sorry So Long Between Posts
Thursday, September 15, 2005
Too Late To Blog . . . .
So kids, more stories tommorow when you can hear the exciting conclusion to the canoe tale, the newest proof that Dad is never wrong, and perhaps the best free advice I've ever gotten. I spent the evening on housework, helping one daughter with an essay, and being interviewed by the other daughter for a school project. No rest on the journey to the apex!
Cheers and good night!
Wednesday, September 14, 2005
Sometimes the best information comes from the most unexpected places! In this case, the unexpected place was . . . . my Dad!
A little background - for those of you that don't know my Dad, the man (to his knowledge) has never been wrong - about anything. Let me give you a couple examples, one from the past and one from a few days ago, to illustrate my point.
My Dad and I launched a borrowed 14 foot canoe in Skilak Lake just about ten years ago, with the intention of floating a portion of the Kenai River. Now this was not a sturdy Old Town canoe, wide of beam and generous of free board - this was was the boating equivalent of about 4 cases of aluminum Coke cans, pounded into a vaguely canoe-like shape. The rivets all leaked, the seats were split and slowly separating from the sides, and with two grown (okay, overgrown) men loaded with their gear, it was a delicate balancing act to keep the lake water from eagerly slopping over the gunnels to join the growing puddles seeping up through the floor.
Never-the-less, my Dad and I gamely paddled towards the river outlet. It was a gorgeous morning but clouds in the distance promised a change in the weather before the day was out. It being the first week of September, huge red chinook and sockeye salmon porpoised by the boat, exhausted from their journey from the ocean and perhaps already spawned out and soon to die. Bald eagles observed the struggling salmon from treetops as the outlet narrowed and grew shallow, gently sucking the canoe into the river channel with just an occasional corrective paddle stroke. Dad and I spoke little as we enjoyed the day, the scenery and each other's company.
We continued on like this for perhaps a couple hours, paddling just enough to keep the canoe centered in the river and unwrapping the camcorder from a garbage bag to take some footage here and there as the mood struck us. We were paddling what is known to anglers as the Middle Kenai River (the area shaded in red on this web link) at the perfect time of year when quiet is the goal as we saw only a boat or two the whole time. We covered about 11 river miles with very little effort on our part and I noticed a caution sign on the right side of the river just as we were passing it. As I was in the bow and Dad was in the stern, I called over my shoulder, asking him what the sign said and he replied he didn't know exactly but it wasn't anything to worry about.
Another 200 yards down the river and not only was the second sign very plain in outlining the danger ahead, we could hear the water tumbling through the canyon of what we later learned was Naptown Rapids, a Class III and sometimes Class IV section of white water. A quick note on Alaskan river hydraulics - glacier fed rivers like the Kenai rise when the weather is warm, and slow down when the weather cools, as it is the melting glacier that determines the flow, not snowmelt or rainfall. This warm, sunny September day after a hot August had the river at Naptown moving briskly, an easy Class III, and Dad and I steered the canoe to the river bank to talk it over. The talk did not go quite how I expected . . . . .
It seems that Dad felt we should run the rapids, and briefly outlined his plan for doing so, calmly explaining at what point I should "pull hard on the right" and how we would "shoot by right to the left of that big rock" then "whip to the left bank to avoid that overhanging tree". Well. Let me tell you that at this time in my life I was still commercial fishing in the inlet, and I was very comfortable around water, and was fairly handy with a canoe paddle. But I KNEW there was no way that would work - any of it. In an equally calm voice (my Dad and I don't yell at each other - never have - because I'd like to think we've never needed to), I explained to Dad that there was no way that would work, and that we needed to walk along the bank, holding onto the rope on the bow of the canoe, and get back in when we were below the rapids.
Well. As I said, my Dad has never been wrong, and he was not going to concede to being wrong for the first time in his life on the bank of some river in Alaska. So . . . I said okay. Not because I thought it was remotely possible, but because he was wearing my Stormy Seas float coat (a jacket with a built-in life preserver inflated by pulling a cord and activating a small carbon dioxide cartridge), and I had a fairly confident view that even though the next 2 minutes weren't going to be pleasant, the situation was survivable. With dawning understanding of how this was going to play out, I told him to inflate the jacket, as we would definintely be going in the water.
We pushed off from the bank and I began "pulling hard on the right" as instructed, and for about 5 seconds I had this brief glimmer of hope that by golly, the old man was right as usual, and we were going to be fine. And we were - right until the first real wave, when we took about 24 inches of blue glacial melt right over the bow of the canoe, knocking me backwards off my seat and completely swamping us instantly.
Okay, this has gone long and I need to close for tonight and get some sleep. I'll finish the story tomorrow, and go on to tell you the recent incidence of Dad being right, and the good information he gave me that I realized was going to become a new addition to my apex journey, perhaps one of the biggest.
Oh, the picture at the beginning of the post you ask? That is a picture of the mailbox at the end of my driveway - photographed from space! Tommorow, I will post another view of the same thing, from a little higher up. These images were taken from Google Earth, a free download which is just amazing if your computer graphics card is up to the chore. I've had a blast with it, using it to study Alaskan terrain, both new and familiar, to plan adventures and relive old ones. Like a Dad's advice, sometimes the best things in life ARE free.
Sunday, September 11, 2005
Northern lights have a compelling magic about them - some say you can actually hear an especially active display and I have always been susceptible to seeing divine influence in the aurora, a sort of large scale ever-changing painting by God. On a frigid December night 10 years ago, I pulled my car into a side road and stood under the aurora and cried, begging for guidance and direction, desperate to be heard. A week later, on the day after Christmas, my house and all my worldly possessions burned to the ground with my sons and I narrowly escaping with the clothes on our backs. I guess that period of my life perhaps demonstrates better than any how stubborn I can be because the easiest thing would have been to move back in with my ex-wife - instead, I spent the rest of that Alaskan winter in an unheated 16 foot travel trailer in the driveway of my former house, bringing endless loads of rubble to the dump each day after work in the bed of my Ford Ranger.
In my mind, that night spent standing along side the road talking to the northern lights, tears freezing in my beard, will always be linked to the fire a week later and I am reminded of that every time I see the aurora. In God At The Edge, Jewish Rabbi Niles Goldstein does a great job exploring the idea that faith is often found and grows best in times of hardship. I know from experience that years I spent alone and often challenged by life's circumstances have taught me valuable lessons about myself and society that could probably not be learned any other way.
Today is the 11th anniversary of my Mom's death and I miss her very much. I'd like to think she is proud of me and most of the choices I have made and the paths I have chosen along the road to my apex.
Wednesday, September 07, 2005
GOOOOOAAAAALLLLL! ! ! !
On the physical side in the last month I have lost five pounds and just last night purchased a recumbent stationary bike which I'm sure will require most of this evening to transform into a bike from a 130 pound box of parts. The idea with the bike is that I'll have a routine over the winter to stay active - and hey, the thing has a magazine rack on the back of the seat and a holder in front of the display, so the plan might just work!
On the intellectual quest, I have little to report except that I have gotten my guitar out and tuned, and I have been making an effort to read more. The local library is my friend again and I have been making book choices with my apex journey in mind. Spiritually, I have been spending more time with my Bible and have focused some of my other readings in this area as well, currently reading What God Wants by Neale Walsh. I have also been making an effort to be more "aware" - of what is going on outside my window, in my town, with my family, and in my heart.
As an aside, Fish and Game officers tripped the moose, sat on it while they cut the soccer net off, and the moose got up and went back to calmly feeding afterwards like nothing happened - great attitude!
Sunday, September 04, 2005
So why is intelligence over-rated? Well, to start with, let me acknowledge some of the cool things about being smart . . . for starters, intelligence means you are never out of work, unless you want to be, and you can be fantastically successful at your job, especially if you are like me and chronically underemployed. Come to think of it, my whole intelligent family is underemployed . . . .
If intelligence is nicely spread out among several different areas (as outlined by Howard Gardner), then it has the benefit of making a guy all-around interesting, able to converse at length on many different topics, able to build a deck, tune a motorcycle, and promote teamwork and harmony among his co-workers. Intelligence also tends to minimize fear, as most fear arises from the unknown and the unknown is just a book waiting to be read when no subject is considered unknowable. I'm serious, that's the kind of parents I had growing up - it didn't matter what the project was, it only took the right book and a free weekend and they were happily making stained glass, or making jewelry, or building a harpsichord, or making lampshades, or learning about the Egyptian Pyramids, or identifying new bird species. My brother built the gorgeous house he lives in, my sister just got done remodeling a house she bought as a repo, my Dad is sharp as ever and is limited only by the physical as to what project he tackles. I have my own bag of tricks I've accumulated over the years with a dab of welding, engine rebuilding, carpentry, EMT training, electrical, and an odd assortment of arcane knowledge accumulated from a couple hundred college credits in the areas of anthropology, chemical engineering, life science and teaching culminating in a sort of intellectual arrogance that I could build a fighter plane from scratch if I just had the right book and a free weekend . . . .
So what's not to love about intelligence? Well this is my view (and just my view, open to debate):
- Intelligence can take some of the spontaneity out of life. When you can see and calculate the ramifications of what an action will have on one's self and those around you, five years down the road, then you are less able to just do something out of the sheer joy of it, without thinking. "Just doing something without thinking" actually becomes a bit of an impossibility, and over-analysis becomes not just a danger but a way of life.
- Intelligence means you expect the world to be fair, and are amazed and hurt when that is not the case. How can people not see the other side of what they are doing? This applies to the world in general, and to small daily interactions with loved ones.
- Intelligence means you are almost always a bit disappointed in one's place in the world. After all, if I'm so smart then why am I underemployed? It also hurts when an employer exploits the talent but does not reward the accomplishment. My brother is amazing at what he does each day but does not engage in the requisite brown-nosing to advance. My sister is equally amazing and I want to cry at what she brings home with her Masters degree.
- Intelligence in my experience results in a thin skin - like a sponge I absorb, store and analyze what does on around me, but a sponge has very little protection from harm from the environment. I believe what people tell me, and hurt deeply when they lie. Surely there are arrogant insensitive intelligent people out there, but I don't know how they do that, I only know my own world and the tie I feel that binds intelligence and sensitivity. For me, the floodgates I open to the world in my thirst for knowledge is the same pathway that hurt enters my life.
These are just a few downsides to intelligence - I'll add more as time goes on. As I strive towards my apex I will still be working towards improving my intelligence - but it will definitely be more in the areas of mastering the guitar or building a canoe than improving my vocabulary or re-visiting calculus.