Monday, April 16, 2012


This weekend, local sailors participated in a race around the Farallones, islands off the coast north of San Francisco. This water is known to be difficult - windy with large swells. On Saturday, one boat did not make it - three people were rescued, one was found dead, and four are missing. The Coast Guard called off their search Sunday night, saying the window of survivability had closed.

One of those missing is my co-worker. He sits in a cube catty-corner from mine. I do not know him well, other than to smile or say hi as we pass, but he is close with others here. His cube remains with his belongings strewn about, just as he left it, although someone has laid flowers at his keyboard. It is hard to comprehend that he will not be returning; that we will not hear his Irish brogue.

I think it is the suddenness that is baffling. I have been lucky enough to not have been touched my too many deaths in my life, particularly unexpected ones. In college, a friend went on a solo-backpacking trip in Zion and was found dead. It was hard to comprehend that I would not see him at the next party or adventure.

These two young men were doing things they loved - enjoying the outdoors. One could say, "Life is short, do what you love," but that context seems perplexing here. Perhaps you would not choose to do what you love if you knew it would be your last time to do anything at all.

Obviously we accept risk in many of our daily activities. I have to constantly remind myself that driving is more dangerous than most things I do. It is probably more dangerous than sailing or backpacking. And still most of us choose to drive on a regular basis, primarily for the convenience. Here, the risk is accepted; why not in the other areas of our lives too? Are the rewards for driving greater than the rewards for things we love?

Perhaps the aphorism that applies more appropriately here is, "Life is short, love hard."

UPDATE: After I wrote this I went back and looked at the news from my college buddy's death and realized that I totally mis-remembered it. What I wrote about is what I imagined had happened when I first heard he had died, but it was not true. The memory is a strange thing.

Tuesday, April 10, 2012

The Great Abandon (Part II)

It has now come to the time of hanging, stagnant heat.  Approaching mid April, the temperatures are surpassing 90 degrees, but the air conditioning in our apartment is not yet on.  The screen door gapes, all three windows are open, and two fans spin languidly.  Today is the first day a pleasant breeze has not been blowing.  So the heat settles.  Mid-afternoon was like a long summer day in the Midwest; it seemed noise had stopped.  The stillness surrounding me was surreal, and the heat drew me into a restless sleep on my bed, waking only to the phone, a pierce to the not-quite-summer day. 
It is past six o’clock now and the sun still hangs in the sky like a child refusing bed.  Birds cheep-cheep, children laugh and chase outside, cars rumble down the road.  The world has awakened from the oppression.  It is only early April. 
The heat of the desert is sometimes agreeable, like being wrapped in a warm blanket with a cup of hot cocoa.  Spending a summer in the high desert of Utah accustomed me to 85 degree days and 30 degree nights, but a trip to St. George brought back the pleasantries of home.
            “That thermometer just said it is 108 degrees.  This is stifling.”
            “I love it; it isn’t too hot yet.”
            “Let’s get back into the car and the air conditioning; my feet are sticking to the asphalt.”
I could not put into words how the heat made me feel alive again, the sun testing my skin to see if it still functioned properly.  Somehow, for that moment, I was happily hot.  A few days now and I have had enough.  But every so often, it feels just right.

Monday, April 9, 2012

The Great Abandon (Part I)

I think I have figured it out. That is, the reason Phoenix holds no place in my heart. I always feel I am a stranger here, though I’ve been a resident for four years. I love the Sonoran Desert; I am attracted to this land. The desert lies naked, quivering with heat, calling to me. The wide, embracing skies and rocky mountain walls stand testament. To something. I am drawn to the starkness, the great abandon. I cannot take water for granted, but rather search it out, pleadingly. A tinaja hidden among the rocks. A spring daring to rise above ground, filtering quickly back into the land. I felt it for a moment, just now, the reason I love the desert.

Tucson was my home for eight years, my middle childhood, played out in the foothills of the Santa Catalinas. I sprawled outside on our concrete pool deck/backyard and watched the monsoon roll in over the mountaintop nearly every summer afternoon around four. I transferred to the front porch to watch the lightning show from under the relative safety of an overhang. The rain came down and turned our perfectly landscaped yard into verdant fields of Texas Ranger, bougainvillea, birds of paradise. The natural desert portion of our land heaved with saguaro, palo verde, mesquite, cholla, prickly pear. If only the lightning came and the rain forgot to make an appearance, I watched the side of the mountain turn orange with flame, slithering like a snake, while the Forest Service decided whether or not to let it burn.

The mountains near Phoenix are far off in the distance; here I can never watch the storm come rolling in. The Valley of the Sun is not like the Old Pueblo, filled with native plants and visibly surrounded on all sides by mountain ranges, though development there is spilling out the passes, striving, always striving to become a second Phoenix. The desert here hides at the edge of town and sulks somewhere beyond the grass and shade trees. Here the desert is the enemy. Native cacti are ousted by plants from around the world, a usurpation of the native ecosystem, known as the ASU Arboretum. Snowbirds and displaced Midwesterners plant the vegetation of their childhood. Green grass is good memories brought to life again. Phoenix is not the Sonoran desert.

Tom's Race

This past Sunday, two of my TNT XC Ski teammates and I headed up to Bear Valley to participate in Tom's Race, a 10k striding-only event. Four of our other teammates head up as well, but they just skied for fun, partly because the race involved a rather crazy hill.

This race was totally low key and showcased everything that is great about Bear Valley. There were only 30 participants, yet the course was amazingly groomed and marked with care. After the first loop and at the finish, the race organizers cheered all the skiers by name. They didn't care how slow we were, and I managed not to finish last! At the awards lunch, they provided us with a free drink (beer!), food, and door prizes enough for everyone. Erin and I won matching hats filled with Clif product, and Ron won a great Mountain Hardwear backpack. Paul, the proprietor, even thought to mention our adventures in Anchorage and our fundraising for blood cancer. There he is handing out hot buttered bread:

In an interesting ski race phenomenon, Erin and I finished first and second in our division - because we were the only two people in it. Most of the participants were middle-aged men. I managed to fall on my butt twice - on the same steep hill on both loops of the course. But the butt-fall choice worked out better than our other teammate who fell on his face on the same hill and knocked some teeth loose...

We skied in 50 degree temperatures and drove home through the even hotter places where we actually had to turn on the air conditioning. Next weekend will be the last weekend of the ski season for Bear Valley and most other XC venues. We had an amazing experience with Bear Valley this season. The first time we went up, Paul found a softball field with enough snow on it for us to learn how to ski. Another time when it rained over night and prevented grooming the trails, he worked with the Sheriff's Department to groom a town parking lot for us. And when we finally got to ski on trails, they were busy grooming and pumping out water to try to make the best of a not so good situation. Have I mentioned there was hardly any snow this winter?

If you're in California and looking for places to XC Ski next year, I highly recommend visiting Paul at Bear Valley.

[Photos courtesy of Peggy. Thanks!]

Sunday, April 8, 2012

Mexican Vignettes

It was easy to go to Mexico, to the big flowery city, to the Orozcos, to the beaches where an ocean view costs change.  It was easy to love from the beginning.  

It was the frogs on the curvy mountain road in the midst of the storm.  It was La Ciudad de Dios, mini-Rio, where El Cristo Rey and los apostolicos watch over Ejutla.  It was seduction in Spanish, because everything sounds better in a language that is not your own.  It was the late night, the rain, and the fuzz in my head.  It was the songs in the streetlight and the supportive adobe wall. It was okay to say nothing in the morning. 

It was riding in the back of a truck, jostling out of town onto the cobblestones of Puerte in the obscurity of 1 am.  It was drunkenness off good tequila that remembered me in the morning.  It was the mariachi sitting next to me, picking la guitarra.  It was the low slung brick house and the night-time serenade.  
I emailed no one, called no one, missed no one.  Perhaps you would say I did not love enough.  But it was only that I loved Mexico too much.

Saturday, April 7, 2012


My mother stands in front of a mirror and says,
“I hate to look at my face.”
It’s the wrinkles she fears – those subtle
            lines of wisdom, experience, life itself
Fifty-five, looking barely forty-six
Her worries are needless
Yet she compares her face to mine
            And I am green in the world, young in life
            My face like a baby’s – two eyes peering out unknowing

My face is my mother’s a few years ago
But she faces the mirror and says,
“I look so old.”
She does not understand she looks like life treated well
            I want to age like her
            An imprint of a good life to show the world
            Lines of age, but mostly beauty

Friday, April 6, 2012


We were sitting in the lobby of the optometrist, arguing about some hangers. 
After she was called into the office, a gentleman near me leaned over and said, "She sure is a firecracker!"

When was it that the fire started ebbing? 
When was it finally gone? 
Like a “fierce green fire dying in her eyes,” we let it, she let it, slip away.

“I’ll see you later,” I said, knowing there was no later. 
I couldn’t bring myself to say goodbye. 

I wish I’d known her when I was older and she was younger. 
I think I would have learned more, understood more. 
Maybe I wouldn’t have given her up so easily.

Thursday, April 5, 2012

Bryce Canyon Collection (Part II)


I walk over rocks;
I walk through time,
through space, through beauty,
through true amazement.
My shoes grow white, and orange, and yellow;
dust coats my pants; eroded limestone.
I am part of the landscape, of the rock, of the spell of the hoodoos.
The wind blows as I traverse the ridge,
trying to conquer my harsh environment
while it threatens to conquer me.
Just pick me up and toss me off like a feather in the wind.

But I will still be with the land and it will be with me
as I fade into purple and pink and red,
the color of hoodoo in the setting sun.
You cannot separate me from this place,
for it is a part of us all.
The Legend People watch over me, serene in their eternal beauty;
inviting almost to join them as they cast their spell.

I walk through trees, a part of the rocks,
an inspiration in their survival in a land
of streams without water.
I walk through history
and the fears and happiness and awe and power
that are extracted from all who pass by.
I am a Fremont, a Paiute, a Mormon, a geologist.
I am everyone who has gone before and all who will follow me.
I was history,
I am history,
I make history
with every step I take in this awesome place
and every breath that takes in the dust of the hoodoos
and the scent of the ponderosa pine.

I walk through would-be camera snapshots
but I have left my camera;
it will not tell the story that my mind can tell
of the hoodoos’ color in the cloudy light when shadows
fell through the Amphitheater
and each minute was a different picture
and story within itself.

I walk like a cloud,
a hoodoo,
an ever-changing shape
for no emotion is ever the same, nor I’m sure is the look on my face.
I walk through people who are utterly impressed
slowly seeing the beauty which passes so fast
and can’t be described with words.
I walk in the rocks
and the dust
and the years
and I become a legend as well.

Wednesday, April 4, 2012

Bryce Canyon Collection

Once I wanted to be a writer. Once I even got paid to write. I started digging through old writing, looking for something. I might as well self-publish on my blog. Beware: a series of writing from my early twenties.


soft rock, crumbly to the touch,
completely unfit for climbing,
but rather good at falling.
Prime substance for erosion,
ice-wedging, geological processes
before my very eyes.

Limestone welcomes; it lets the water into its pores
in the warmth,
but the water remains indebted to no one
and will freeze as the day turns to night,
popping apart its host
but surely
until suddenly

the rock falls.
Two hundred nights a year,
freeze thaw freeze thaw.
Fin, window, arch, hoodoo.
(Like holding up your hand
and slowly splitting the fingers apart.)

Pinnacle like voodoo.
To cast a spell.
Hoodoo, like a cloud ever changing
and not looking the same to two people with eyes
side by side but different minds to process.
Like a cloud, no two hoodoos look the same.
Hoodoo, like a cloud, changing,
the limestone does not stop welcoming.
Is it voodoo?

Coyote the demigod once welcomed,
but his guests were rude and raucous at his party, 
all of them,
snake, prairie dog, mountain lion,
sometimes looking like people
but all rude and now stone. 
They wore out the welcome and
Coyote turned them into stone. 
The Paiute’s Legend People of the limestone,
lurking in the Amphitheater. 

Reflections on 40 Days of Writing

It feels weird to be done with 40 days of something before Easter. For someone reason Lent really lasts more than 40 days because Sundays don't count. Anyway...

I don't think I fully committed to this project, and for that reason, it rang a little hollow. I did not set aside time for writing. It was often an afterthought, a burden when I really wanted to go to sleep. Some days I had exciting things I wanted to write about; some days I eked out a half-a**ed poem or some boring prose. I only posted things I actually liked on Facebook, and that did not amount to very many of the 40 days.

I do hope that the project gave me the impetus to actually write blogs when I have something interesting to say. I had been slacking on my blog before this project with the exception of posting photos from trips and adventures. So I hope to get to a place where I am not writing boring posts but I am writing worthwhile posts. And I truly appreciate all of you who came with me on this journey.

Sunday, April 1, 2012

April Showers Bring Gorgeous Bike Rides (Day 40)

Yesterday it poured sideways. Today I stepped outside early in the morning to hang my laundry and found a beautiful day in the garden. My landlady was outside too, and she noted that it is always gorgeous after the rain.

I headed to Marin to meet two friends for a bike ride, and not surprisingly we were greeted by strong winds but gorgeous sunshine. I set out with a vest, arm warmers, and leg warmers, and I never took them off. We headed out from San Rafael over to Point Reyes Station, along beautiful cycling roads and lovely scenery with green hills and churning water in creeks, reservoirs, and even water falls.

We stopped at Bovine Bakery, along with about 40 other cyclists, all outside enjoying pastries in the sunshine amidst a hodgepodge of bikes. Since we started so late in the day, we were starved, and actually had pizza while there. Although it was from a bakery, it did not disappoint in the least. While in line, a man behind me asked if there was a bike event going on. No, I responded, cyclists just like to hang out here.

The way back was gorgeous and with no head wind. A few times I was by myself with no cars passing, and the soft whirring of my bike in the beautiful scenery just made me happy. We did 43 miles with 2000 feet of climbing, which I figure is not bad for my first time on a bike (outside of a trainer) since December. And we had a lovely time.

On my way home I stopped at the bike shop to have my new saddle put on, so between that and my upcoming duathlon and metric century, I better get out riding more. (I have 30 days to decide if I like the saddle.)

I am looking forward to more rides with my cycle buddies from last season, and I am already looking forward to the upcoming season. It will be a double header - Moab Century Ride followed by the Gran Fondo the following week. I am also contemplating the Tour de Tucson if I can get any Arizona people interested. (And pending me figuring out how much it costs to ship a bike...) I am not often motivated to ride by myself because of how much effort it takes to get ready, but I love having people to hold me accountable. Yet another benefit of the Team! Now if it would just warm up a touch.