Tuesday, December 20, 2011

Our Town

A lot has been said, written and done about protecting what we've got. Whether it's our borders, homes, families or way of life. We've come to think whatever it is, is worth keeping, and we don't want it changed. Yet change is inevitable. Sometimes we do it ourselves, and sometimes we get help.

In the film Unforgiven Clint Eastwood said: "It's a hell of a thing killin' a man. Take away all he's got, and all he's ever gonna have." And yet, we go on "protecting". It seems to be one of our strongest survival skills.

I've been spending a lot of dork-time watching this series on the Science channel. Not only are the graphics fantastic, but the show has an interesting way of putting these things in perspective. For example, I grew up in that magical era where we actually practiced ducking under our elementary school desks as our first line of defense should someone throw down a nuclear war.

So I've learned to accept the notion of impending doom since childhood. Only the form of the Destructor has morphed a little since then.

Take the potential comet-strike. Apparently for this our defense is to look deep into space just so we can see it coming. Kind of like ducking under the desk, isn't it? Or the fact that some day, 500 billion years or so in the future, our Sun is going supernova and taking us with it. Grab the SPF 30 trillion.

OK I can live with all that! What the show got me PISSED about was learning that OUR GALAXY, the Milky Way, is in a veritable "Death Dance" with OUR NEIGHBOR, Andromeda. Maybe its going to take several trillion years, but it's going to happen. But hey, relax. They already have a plan. We will become "Milkomeda" (Seriously? That was the best they could come up with?)

I guess what's got me most upset was that I DIDN'T KNOW until a few days ago. I've got some errands to run! And it's not to go get a bigger desk dammit!

I don't know about you, but I'm not going peacefully. Look out Andromeda! Get off the damn shed! Stay the hell out of my galaxy!

Which is a roundabout way of saying - we're all in this together.
Peace on Earth. Good will toward men.

~ Happy 21st Birthday, Princess Stefani ~

Saturday, December 17, 2011

Proper Dress Required

The day began much as they always do. The sun rose, a general plan was forged and in the offing was one to be discerned. Your Humble Narrator was obliged to participate somewhat unwillingly, for inside it was warm and safe and the outside seemed cold and harsh.

Accordingly one waits for the proper moment to begin. Maybe it will warm up. Try to remember the adage "dress for the second mile", but be prepared for complications. But it turned out I was ill-prepared. I left my extra top at home - so much for layering. I brought tire levers and a spare tube, but no pump or CO2 inflator. I only had 1 bottle of water and no cell phone. This was no way to embark on a long day's journey into night.

OK it wasn't that cold.

The start of the trail is difficult to navigate, but the rider is fresh. Much effort is expended avoiding the obstacles and soggy ruts or when unavoidable, selecting the least muddy option. One hopes to get through with a minimum of contamination and in a position to reach a more clear path.

The path requires one to constantly pedal. It may seem uphill in both directions. But you see, the grade is quite mild. The peaceful, upper Potomac gives way to roiling rapids. The path conversely becomes more predictable. The rider generally makes headway according to his internal gearing but can be easily pulled into the vortex of both Id and Ego in the process.

Fortunately I was able to step off and assess my journey. Great Falls lied but 2 miles ahead. But 22 miles out, 90 minutes of daylight remaining, no water and the upper trail at the inevitable end of the ride - this was not something I wanted to navigate in the dark. So I chose to turn back.

The ghosts of the forest loomed in the lengthening shadows.

As I was chasing daylight, a great brown owl passed over the trail. Fortunately I was not on the menu.

There was a time when I would have pressed on to my destination. But fortunately for me I turned back, within sight of the Great Falls. I was able to see the path before me more clearly. And when I reach the second mile, I will not see the sign "No Shoes, No Shirt, No Service", but I hope nonetheless to be dressed appropriately.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Going Home

"When I want to go home, I'm goin' mobile" - Roger Daltrey.

So it was with a head full of chaff on a mid-November Saturday that Your Humble Narrator veered the Batmobile onto the General Jubal Early and ventured  across the mighty Potomac into rural Maryland. It was a fine day and the wayback machine dial whirred to a stop at the year: 1965.

I thought of my childhood as I drove toward the house my father built and I (arguably) grew up in. In his mind, it was to become an eternal family compound. A place where one could go and find respite in the forest.
A place of substance.

I'll always remember the crickets on summer nights as we slept with the windows open. The balloon races across the screened porch as the storm front roared through, the balloons carefully weighted to drift between floor and ceiling. Building - model cars, basements. Fixing things. Learning to paint and draw. Bike riding. Playing in the creek. Sledding and Christmas caroling.

Sure, a lot of bad stuff went down there. But time has a funny way of pushing those things to the back of your mind if you're lucky. Sure, it became less of a home as my Dad accumulated and ruminated over 30 years of bachelorhood. Nothing a few hundred hours of effort and 4 rolloff dumpsters couldn't cure.

After his death the house was sold and sat vacant for over a year. And then, as I rounded the curve in the road, there it was:

The trees I know my Dad hugged had been cleared.
But I noticed with some satisfaction - the foundation was still there.

It is said that Home is where the heart is. Close your eyes, and remember the good times. And if you're lucky enough to still have family around, let them know you don't take them for granted. Happy holidays.

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Running Plays

Alas it has been some time since Your Humble Narrator has emerged from the Garden of Forking Paths. While meditating on the concepts of Fatalism and Determinism, the classic song from the Godfathers came to mind.

Come on. You know it.

That's right. BIRTH. SCHOOL. WORK. DEATH. And in between, what? Surely there must be time to run a few plays. Spin the wheel. So off we go, down the Garden Path.

We run plays all the time in our day-to-day existence, between the ominous milestones set forth by the Godfathers. It's what gets us by. It helps us to think we have control over the Outcome, at least in the short term. But not all plays can be run with confidence. And if all the outcomes were certain, what fun would that be? Sometimes, you have to take a leap of faith. Run the play.

Adjustments are made. Coincidence? Perhaps. Or was that God winking at you? I was struck by this quote from An American Tragedy, which I'm sure can be traced to other literature somewhere:

"Rest in the strength of Him that holds the world in the hollow of His hand".

That sure does make it easier to run plays.

Monday, October 17, 2011

Presto Change-o

If I look, I can see the change. Because of course it is always happening even when it seems imperceptible. Time can't be bottled and it waits for no one. Even standing in a long, seemingly endless line. People often ask "Is this where the line ends?" And my usual reply is - "For you, this is where it starts."

The other day a friend commented, "when you are hit by the train, it's not the caboose that kills you." I'm not exactly sure what it means, but I've been thinking about it. And looking out.

How is it exactly, that we can change from this:

To this:

The answer: Transmogrification. It doesn't happen overnight. But we've all probably had a shopping-cart ride (or two).

As I've spent a lot of time in railroading, I have often marveled that shopping carts seem to go to the right-of-way to die. They start with trying to run away at the local supermarket.

Perhaps they seek a higher calling - to be transformed into the chariot of your dreams. But is that the ride you really want? Because if you don't get out in time, the ride ends here:

And it can happen right in front of your eyes. Look out.

Saturday, October 8, 2011

The Shadow Knows

The other day I turned the XM dial to Classical Radio Broadcasts and listened to several episodes of The Shadow. As the hero, Lamont Cranston, foiled the plans of Murder, Inc. wholesome lessons of life, work ethic and moral code were dispensed in a folksy, Andy of Mayberry kind of way. But one never forgets the opening line:
[diabolical echoing tone]:
"Who knows...what EVIL...lurks...in the hearts of men?    The Shadow Knows! bahahahaha".

As I rode my bike through the filtered light from the canopy above, an idea occurred to me. We all have secrets, things we've done that we'd rather not share. They live in our shadows.

When I expose these secrets to the light of day, examine them and make amends where I can, the chains I have forged in life are lightened, and I feel like my shadow is less dark.

And the more I follow the right path, the less evil lurks in my shadow. For I can't outrun it, yet I cast a new one each day.

Monday, September 26, 2011

Between The Lines

The majority of my efforts as an illustrator have been hindered by an overbearing left brain. Early efforts were influenced by comic artists mostly, and later, M.C. Escher. I find the best work to be that of the impressionists, whose images translate to the sense and feeling of the subject, rather than defining it.

It is the most difficult to capture - the essence of life itself. I once tried to explain this to Miss B in her work - to unfocus and draw what is not there. Whether it is line work, painting or sculpture, the work of my children, and children in general, has always seemed to capture this for me. A simplicity, the adumbration of the subject, that which non-artistic adult minds are too cluttered to see frequently.

In D.H. Lawrence's Sons and Lovers, the artist provides this wonderful explanation as he helps an admirer understand why they like a particular work so well:

“It’s because there is scarcely any shadow in it; it’s more shimmery, as if I’d painted the shimmering protoplasm in the leaves and everywhere, and not the stiffness of the shape. That seems dead to me. Only this shimmeriness is the real living. The shape is dead crust. The shimmer is inside really.”

And thus we live between the lines, but it's OK when we color outside of them.

Sunday, September 18, 2011

Over The Top

During the cross-country adventure with my son I shared a recurring dream that I have occasionally. No, not the one where I forgot to wear pants, study for the test, or my locker combination (shouldn't those have run their course by now?) or flying, breathing underwater, trying to run with feet in molasses or dunking a basketball. But the one where I am coming over the top of a hill, in a vehicle of some kind usually, and instead of a really steep downhill side, it actually goes past vertical.

Although Goya suggested that the sleep of reason produces monsters, I rarely get concerned over what unfolds. The ability to dream lucidly helps. Especially when you are underwater at the point where you need to take a breath and simply do it, or if your ability to fly suddenly leaves you, or when going past vertical.

I'm convinced that most dreams are random playback of some kind, and perhaps there are some underlying psychiatric issues being played out, but I've long since passed the point of trying to assign any reason or psychoanalysis to them. Best to leave that to the professionals I say, and don't go asking questions where you either don't want to know, or can't understand the answers.

When I was 9 my brother and I had just finished cleaning our bikes and it was time for the 5 mile ride to the nearest store. I had this bitching 5-speed Stingray with Butterfly handlebars which put me at a significant disadvantage to my brother's 10-speed. He informed me wouldn't stop for 2 miles, and so I knew I'd better keep up from the start. The beginning of the ride was a climb to the top of Mt. Krumpet (at Route 28 and Blackrock Rd for locals) followed by a 1/2 mile sheer descent. Speed could be had there, Oh My Brothers.

So as I pedaled my ass off going downhill, I got the 2nd worst case of speed wobbles ever and quickly found myself flying over the top of the handlebars without a helmet. I woke up in the middle of the hot, semi-deserted asphalt road and an oncoming car. The rest of the summer I nursed stitches in the head, and road rash removed most of the skin off my right arm, hand and fingers. We didn't have helmets then.

The worst case of speed wobbles came at the age of 19 when I decided it would be a good idea to see how fast I could go on my skateboard when towing on the side of the car. When I let go at 37 mph, I shot past the car and was instantly unstable. Although I wore gloves that time, still no helmet and no shirt. For the rest of the summer I couldn't sit in a car until the skin on my back returned.

But helmets weren't available then I don't think, or at least I didn't know anyone who had one. Now I always wear one even though I have a hard time imagining how I would get into an accident. And then.

Accident Scene

Not 1/4 mile from my house it happened. Riding the Green Goblin I shifted onto the middle chainring on the front sprocket moving through the intersection, preparing for the hill. As I stood up on the pedals the gear shifted again and threw the chain. In a crunch of chain, sprocket, and my teeth, my head bounced off the pavement. There were witnesses. "Are you all right?" they kept asking, probably due to my geezing. As I dusted off my dignity and tapped my helmet, I was able to say "I'm OK", thanks to my helmet. Ride safe. You never know.

And for the stuff dreams are made of, check this out:


Sunday, September 11, 2011

Rain Man

Back in the day there was a commercial about a margarine-type of spread which through some miracle of modern technology lacked all of the bad attributes of butter. It closed with a thunderclap and strike of lightning, and the statement "It's not nice to fool Mother Nature."

And thus, I must take responsibility for mocking Hurricane Irene (not Stella) in my last post. Perhaps this contributed to the next 7 days of continuous downpouring, the likes of which hasn't been seen here in 50 years. The damage done by Irene was nothing short of catastrophic for many. I only hope they can recover, and I am glad it was not worse in my area after all.

The next 7 days was due to Lee I think. I don't know if it was a hurricane or a tropical storm, but it rained like hell for most of the east coast. I don't mind the rain so much. But I didn't park in this Reston commuter lot either.

The W&OD Trail is just to the left of this picture. I ride by this lot frequently and have parked here on occasion. Note to self: Pick one of the upper spaces.

It calls to mind the words of Longfellow, who certainly had more than his share of rain to ponder in the old home of Portland:

THE day is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
  And the day is dark and dreary.

My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
It rains,and the wind is never weary;
My thoughts still cling to the mouldering past,
But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
  And the days are dark and dreary.

Be still, sad heart, and cease repining;
Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
Thy fate is the common fate of all,
Into each life some rain must fall,
  Some days must be dark and dreary.

My father used to quote the second to the last line as his way of dismissing whatever the problem was. For indeed in each life some rain must fall. So unless you prefer to be miserable, and want to view life as dark and dreary, learn to dance in it. For the rain will stop eventually and you will have missed the opportunity.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

Romancing the Storm

It appears the latest Armageddon, Hurricane Irene, has safely passed over our home. Is it because I smeared goat blood over my doorway to avoid the pestilence? No. We just happened to be far enough away that it never really materialized into anything but a fairly light but continuous 24-hr rain. I imagine folks along the coast may have taken a pretty good beatdown. Like the guy's credibility below. Oooh. Scary hurricane. Manly and daring reporter.

Boy the media loves to whip us into a storm-fearing, apocalypse-looming, dogs-and-cats-living together, disaster-of-biblical-proportions fearing frenzy, doesn't it? No AA batteries, water, bread, milk or TP at the store! 30+ miles from the bay for AN EFFING RAINSTORM.

The amygdala is the part of the brain that decides "fight or flight" among other things. And we love to tickle it apparently, so let's get the machine rolling and start with prophecies 4 days ahead of landfall just to be sure all stocks are depleted! Give people something to fear!  Then let's go out in the horror and fan the flames!

Now I actually was watching this guy at one point and the wind was really tearing at him. I thought it was pretty impressive until I saw the video, which brings me to today's point.

Behavioral modification is a funny thing. Now I have been exposed (in Dilbert space) to a model known as the P-I-C, N-I-C model of behavioral influence that I have found to be revealing. Yes my sheep, we are trying to influence your behavior! Just as you suspected!

As it turns out, people are most likely to modify their behavior when conditions are either Positive, Immediate and Certain or Negative, Immediate and Certain. This means that you tend to modify your beahvior either toward a positive outcome, or away from a negative one, when the consequences are both immediate and certain. If the consequences are neither immediate nor certain, we tend to just keep on doing whatever we feel like.

Meteorological events offer a great laboratory for this phenomenon, and they tickle the amygdala. What a great opportunity!  Apparently everyone likes to toy with risk to determine where they are with the whole PICNIC thing.

Until now I've always thought that only those seeking risk are getting the dopamine payoff in acting out. But it could be that those staying home, tucked in their comfy bomb shelter, hoarding all the batteries and water while rearranging their sock drawers, are getting a similar payoff. And the payoff is what it is all about, make no mistake about it, even when you are paying it forward and not telling anyone else. We are only human after all.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Holiday Road

The title of this post should have already triggered the chorus of the theme from National Lampoon's Vaction running in the background of your mind. You're welcome. If not, click the link to YouTube and come on back for the rest of the post.

My quest to find America started with a flight into Los Angeles. An evening arrival made for a cosmic landing. The darkness of the mountains was severed by a few golden strands of traffic connected to hubs of light. It was an electrified neural network without any local connections. Crossing the mountains, the fog roiled on a single plane below the flight. Beneath the churning clouds were glowing centers of activity that illuminated the blanket from below. As I looked across the night, I saw another flight, as if fishing the blanket from above.

My son and I left the next day to cross the Mojave without AC and the windows up. After loss of nearly 8-10 lbs of body weight and consciousness, we unrolled the windows to take in the air of America. It was hot.

Thanks to Jack Kerouac, we had our mantra for the road trip. Yes, we were balling the jack. I think Neal Cassady used the term most thoroughly, combining his love for jazz, fast driving and railroad background.

We made the Rasor Road service station, paid top dollar for gas and got ice cream. We got out and walked across the O'Callaghan bridge to view the Hoover Dam from above.

On to Bryce Canyon. I learned National Parks remain open 24 hours. When you arrive after midnight, you pretty much have the park to yourself.

Under a full moon and a cloudless night, we conducted our surreal tour of the Canyon Rim trail in solitude. The full moon provided stark shadows and a night vision goggles effect. We balled the jack and arrived in Green River, UT at 230 AM. The Super 8 motel awaited.

After a fine Continental Breakfast we collected the cheesiest postcards we could find, and returned to the road for a day of hiking at Arches National Park. After a brisk ascent across an 800 meter sandstone incline, the Delicate Arch (above) revealed itself in a natural amphitheater. People like to get their pictures taken underneath it, as you can see. Worth the hike.

We checked out the Wolf Ranch and the Petroglyphs. Then on to the Landscape Arch and the Primitive Trail to the "Double-O" arch. They rocked. We balled that jack into Moab then on to Aspen, across the Continental Divide at Independence Pass, and finally landed in CO Springs and another Super 8 at 230 AM. Brand loyalty was starting to set in.

At Colorado Springs we hung out with Grandpa for a day, rode the tram to the top of Pike's Peak and tasted the famous high-altitude donuts. The rain dampened our tour of Manitou Springs so we pressed on to the Cliff Dwellings. Pretty cool place if you leave out the fractured skull from standing up under the low balcony. Max got to ride Old Paint.

The next day we balled that jack all the way through Kansas with a stop for gas in Kanorado. We learned not to trust the GPS at Branson Missouri when looking for hotels, for you might end up in the Port-O-Call. Complete darkness didn't help, but there was a definite similarity to the Bates Motel. We ended up in a really nice Comfort Inn, that had this fine, anatomically correct elk statue out front that I'm sure my friends the Texagermanadian and Eden will appreciate.

Well enough travelogue I'm sure you've said to yourself. After all Shoji Tabuchi was not having any shows in Branson until September 12th, so we balled the jack the hell out of there for the final 19 hours to home. We bounced to ShamaLamaDingDong more than once, and I observed that the majority of the Recovery Dollars seem to be getting spent deploying traffic barrels and little else.

In the 1984 film Repo Man, Tracey Walter commented "the more you drive, the less intelligent you are". And while I have never doubted a single truism uttered in this classic film, I now have to say, it depends on the company.

Monday, August 1, 2011

Great Expectations

Great Expectations is not on the Modern Library's list of top 100 novels. Not that I think it should be. But at least I don't have to read it. Again. I did have to read it in High School. Chris Bailey and I turned it into a contest to see who could finish first. Other than that, I didn't find it that great.

I did however have Great Expectations for my drive back from Kansas. Kind of a dry run for my upcoming x-country road trip with my son. I got a nice new U-Haul 30-foot truck. It's always a surprise to see what picture you get on the side. And I got...

Ghost Orchids! Pretty freaky right? They grow in the Florida swamps. And they never touch the ground! This you could read on the side of the van as I motored my way across America's heartland, enlightening all who happened to be stuck next to me for 20+ hours of nonstop driving fun.

OK I did stop for about a 4 hour nap in a Dollar Inn. $29.95! Free HBO!

I chose to ball that jack across 9 states entirely without the radio. Or CD. Or iPod. Just me and the committee in my head, doing a filibuster. Were the great questions of the universe answered? The riddle of the Sphinx solved? Hardly. But I do have quite a playlist in my head, it seems. More like an 8-track unfortunately, for those of you who remember them, and it turns out I don't know too many lyrics. So it was kind of like 20 hours of the Kingsmen doing Louie Louie.

I was prepared for boring Oh My Brothers, but the road had other plans. 20 hours of no calls or text messages (to speak of), no email, and no trying to figure out what people are saying to me. Just the road and the whine of an underpowered engine. Suddenly I realized I could do an awful lot of that.

I thought of my Dad. Sitting alone in his shop in the basement. Hours and days. Then weeks and months and years. Thinking up new experiments and bad jokes. There is no doubt he enjoyed that time, but I think he was happier among other people. When he could stand it. It helped him get outside of his head.

Isolation in moderation is probably a good thing. It gives one time to take inventory. Make adjustments. Weigh values. But we are not solitary animals. We need each other, if for no other purpose than to restore balance. To share our lives and our jokes with one another. And get out of our heads.

"With great power, comes great responsibility." - Peter Parker's Uncle Ben
"To give anything less than your best, is to sacrifice the gift." - Steve Prefontaine

In this life I have shirked responsibility, and given less than my best at times. It seemed like there was a good reason at the time. Which just proves what can happen if you listen to yourself too much.

Sunday, July 24, 2011

Unintended Consequences

The law of unintended consequences may be related to Dominoes of Revenge. In this particular tale of woe, however, it's hard to say where kharma gets off sometimes.

Following the many blizzards of 2009 and 2010, the shrubbery on the side of my house had suffered some serious beatdowns. I ventured out with broom and hand - Nanook of the North, trudging across the tundra, mile after mile, mindful of the yellow snow while I labored to save a well tended 15 year-old hedge.

Spring came. It became apparent that the hedge had fought its last battle. No amount of propping, cropping or staking was going to save my fine english boxwoods that I had carefully elevated to a serene yet towering bonzai effect. They had to go.
As a lifelong student of the school of hard pruning yet a dedicated conservationist of sorts, I decided to give the stumps a fighting chance. After all, Boxwoods are like American Holly, requiring purposeful eradication or they always come back, a veritable Lernaean Hydra of shrubbery.

I have also been known as "Mr. 90%" for a good part of my existence. When the deed was done the heaps of pruned hedges lay suffocating the lawn below. Well that's alright, I said as I stood back to marvel at my work. I proceeded to go inside and let the lawn fend for itself.

The following weekend the grass needed to be cut. So I decided to make Mrs. Incredible proud and clear the heaps of offending brush, tossing them just beyond the path and into the woods. Mind you, I tend the forest, so in my mind this was a temporary condition allowing me to mow the lawn. But apparently, Mr. 90% was only pushing 93%.

I left for an hour and returned to discover in my absence that Mrs. Incredible felt the need to rectify the situation. There she was, sprawled on the couch, having suffered some indescribable trauma.

(They think this about everyone, by the way)

It seemed the brush needed to be further in the woods. Who knew just beyond where I tossed them was a massive, soon-to-be-pissed-off ground nest of the meanest, nastiest yellow jackets east of the Pecos? Now, having had this experience myself in the past (and also having 6 white-faced hornets stuck under my shirt at the tender age of 6) I knew it was no laughing matter.
At least right away.

Yes, she stepped in it alright. Stung no less than 30 times. She had never been stung in her entire life, so this was pretty serious. But not so serious she would go to the doctor. After all, we had expired Benadryl in the cabinet! And surprisingly, she didn't find it interesting that the yellow jacket can just keep on stingin' till you squash 'em!

Well, it took no less than 2 weeks for the swelling to go down. I'm thinking she's satisfied with the location of the brush now. I know I am.

Sunday, July 17, 2011

The Greatest Show on Earth

Recently I learned that if one watches much more than 2 hours of television a day, there is a much greater likelihood of being depressed. Not too surprising given the general fare being thrown to the masses, but I suspect even if one is selective in what is being watched, the tendency remains.

Consider also that people that do watch TV probably underestimate the amount they watch. Let's face it - the Jersey Shore here, the Secret Life there, and there you go! Everything after that - Spongebob, educational or otherwise, is adding to the old depression scale...tipping, tipping, and for what? The meter's running.

But we like to live dangerously. After all, the consequences are negative, but neither immediate nor certain, so we roll them bones. And what of those that just leave the TV running in the background? That's gotta count somewhere (like on your electric meter for one place, and for this reason alone one should report to the disintegration chamber).

Lately I have been consciously reducing the amount of television I am exposed to. And the result is surprisingly a lot like what happened when I was no longer exposed to cigarette smoke - I am a lot more sensitive to it and can only take so much. That's telling me something.

"My" Forest in the Fall Sunset. Too involved to take a picture tonight.

So tonight I decided to take in the sunset. In the shade of the house the temperature was perfect. I watched the setting sun paint the oak and sycamore tree leaves golden-green and the breeze danced through the forest. The treetops swayed randomly and the leaves fluttered.

I turned into the sun and watched the ballet of the clouds. There were two distinct levels. Each had its own activity, and the levels moved relative to each other. One level filtered the sun's rays and occasionally the levels would collide. The silver linings would dissipate with the clouds as they expanded and glowed from within.

For those that extract, a lively set of clouds can be quite revealing. A natural Rohrshach test of sorts. I thought how the clouds at sunset create images like dreams - creating space, light and color and their absence. Never really there and the closer examined, the more difficult to define. And then - changed.

Next time you catch yourself mindlessly turning on the TV, or see the sunset streaming color and light, or the clouds rolling gently above or with violence before a storm - watch the show that never reruns. The Greatest Show on Earth.

Saturday, July 9, 2011

It's not the Heat, it's the Humility

The Fourth of July came as it always does, only this year Your Humble Narrator was scheduled to run the Go Fourth 8k, the 3rd in a series of 5 embarrasments races this year. The World War I Flying Ace was up with the morning sun and checked the horizon. The skies were an ominous red (you know the rhyme) following a violent thunderstorm the night before.

The morning was...sultry. The air thick with humidity, and the temperature - 83F and rising. YHN was undaunted. He would fly this day. How bad could it be?

The Ship of the Desert lazily backed out of the hangar. The course was set for the Custis Trail in Falls Church, VA. Loyal readers may recall my telling of the second race in the Ed Barron series. It was here that I marveled at the methodical and relentless race-walkers and at more than one point, struggled to overtake them.

"Pace Yourself" the voice in my head kept saying (as it also said 2 weeks ago but nobody was listening then either Oh My Brothers.)  Convinced however that I had found enlightenment, I hoped to successfully apply this mantra to the 8k before me, despite the weather, and despite a completely sedentary existence since my last conquest.

(Possibly Alex DeGroot, 1 of only 58 private detectives in the free world in an iron lung. I can't be sure).

The contest opened with the National Anthem bravely played by an asthmatic trumpet player in an iron lung. Props had to be paid for the courage alone, and he did manage to rally the final few bars.

The WWI Flying Ace did not let the exhilaration of the anthem carry him away. He knew it was to be a long campaign, so he went easy on the throttle. He searched in vain for his nemesis - The Red Baron. But the Baron had apparently chosen to fly other theaters, for he was nowhere to be seen. At least he would not avenge his defeat this day.

The marshals had sounded 'FAIR WARNING' - the 4k out was uphill, and at the turn, steep dips. Pace yourself.  The temperature and the humidity continued to rise. Count the paces...you will get to the turn easily.  The course climbed through the canopy, the clouds and into the blazing sun. 2k next to a metal sound barrier. No wind. At the 3k pylon, there was to be a water stop...where the hell is the water???

A guy standing in the shade of a bridge advises 'you can turn around here'. THANK YOU. Wait - if that's 4k, there should have been water...where the hell is the water??? That means...it won't be at the 5k either! The World War I Flying Ace checked the gauges. He was not going to make it. And then. I did what you are never supposed to do. I turned to look over my shoulder.

Wait a minute! Is that MY spare tire I'm dragging? Ah the chains forged in life...The steep dips in reverse. Followed by the ascent in reverse.  The chutes were out. Walking began to outnumber "running" as the paces were counted. Perservere. And suddenly, there he was.

The Black Squirrel. He scampered around and eyed me, crossing my path. Now it so happens that I have associated sightings of the Black Squirrel with the memory of my father, just as I associate an overhead plane with that of my mother. I recalled some of his last words to me were "Hang in there, friend."

Renewed, I pushed on. I resumed that "pseudo-jog" pace, just nominally faster than walking and certainly not running. And then. I was PASSED BY A RACE-WALKER. Oh HELL NO I said. Just stay right behind him until the finish line I said. But I couldn't hang in there any longer. 400m to go and I let him get away as I fell to a walk again. I swear he turned on the jets.

When I got to the pavilion, there was no effing water. Then I learned they screwed up the course. It was a 9k. Certain that the race-walker had been dispatched by the Red Baron and was gleefully reporting the massacre, I was left only to rationalize: I just wasn't mentally prepared. I had him through 8k. I'm still hanging in there.