Friday, July 13, 2007

The Land of Beyond


Have ever you heard of the land of beyond,
That dreams at the gates of the day?
Alluring it lies at the skirts of the skies,
And ever so far away;
Alluring it calls: O ye the yoke galls' And ye of the trail overfond,
With saddle and pack, by paddle and track'
Let's go to the Land of Beyond!

Have ever you stood where the silences brood,
And vast the horizons begin,
The goal you would strive for and win?
Yet ah! In the night when you gain to the height,
With the vast pool of heaven star-spawned,
Afar and gleam, like a valley of dream,
Still mocks you a Land of Beyond.

Thanks God! There is always a Land of Beyond,
For us who are true to the trail;
A vision to seek, a beckoning peak,
A fairness that never will fail;
A pride in our soul that mocks at a goal'
A manhood that irks at a bond,
And try how we will, unattainable still,
Behold it, our Land of Beyond

Robert Service

Tuesday, July 10, 2007

The Things I'll Carry

In high school, my senior English teacher, the same one who had us look up f*** in the dictionary on the first day of class, taught us tai chi on the football field, and took us to see a play in Berkeley in which all the main characters turn into rhinoceroses, had us read an excerpt from Tim O'Brien's Vietnam War novel, The Things They Carried. The idea was that each man's possessions revealed his psyche. If you're willing to drag something through waist-deep mud and Viet Kong bullets, your choice must not be a haphazard one.

Beginning Friday, I'll be keeping three weeks of blog silence as I trek from Mt Whitney to the Yosemite Valley. On my back, I'll be carrying enough to sustain life (albeit a a dirty, footsore life at high altitude) for three weeks. I'm breathlessly happy about it. I have all my super-cool equipment weighed down to the gram, perfectly distributed in my trusty Crestone internal frame pack. (I am more like my father everyday) I have a day pack, full of the most essential equipment, that I can detach at a moment's notice in case of emergency. I have a large water bladder with a spout that feeds through a hole in the side of the pack directly to my mouth. I have a bear-proof canister for food and scented toiletries. Essentially, it's a giant aspirin bottle with a child-proof cap, on the theory that toddlers and black bears are alike in curiosity, temperment, and dexterity. Black bears do, it must be granted, have more hair, but this is immaterial to the design of the canister. It should also keep out marmots and chipmunks, which are apparently rather aggressive. I have pounds and pounds of home-dehydrated, high-calorie food, all of which tastes excellent but looks discouragingly like cow pies or owl pellets. I have hiking boots and water shoes, trekking poles and a bivy sack, a one-man tent, a utility knife, and a shovel. I have a topographical map, a compass, Vaseline, sunscreen, and baking soda to serve as toothpaste. I have aspirin, gauze bandages, and the generic for Diamox, an altitude sickness medication. I have a water filtration system, iodine tablets, a satellite phone, electrolyte energy mix, a miner's headlamp, and toilet paper. I have the smallest Bible you've ever seen and a locket with a picture of my dad. I have a trail journey and a throwaway camera with nineteen pictures on it (that's less that one per day), but one word is worth a thousand pictures. I have Long Johns, biodegradeable soap, waterless shampoo, and a towel the size of a table napkin. I have pepper spray, a wristwatch, prescription sunglasses, a wilderness first aid guide, and a needle and thread. I have a poncho, Hefty bags, a cold-weather jacket, and . . . lots of other stuff, weighing in nicely at 40 pounds. I'm not sure whether I'm entiring the wilderness, or only passing through with travel-size civilization behind me.

And don't worry, as soon as I come back, I'll tell you about every stinkin' tree for 220 miles.

Monday, July 9, 2007

Confessions of a Jaywalker

Since Rosie passed away in March, I've gotten everywhere on foot. While it's occasionally inconvenient, I think I actually prefer it. I never have to look for a parking spot. I never have to wait in line at the DMV or try to decide how dangerous that ping-ping-whirr-whir-galump noise is. Gas prices can shoot up to the moon if they please, and I never pay them any mind. My favorite thing, though, is the way it grows the world back to its huge, wonderful size.

Five miles is a long, long way again. There are no blurs in my life. Instead I have wide streets, webby-leaved trees, quiet homes, mothers pushing strollers at a jog in 95 degree heat. Walking is an invitation to see. Just today, I saw a midget, with long, delicate arms and almost no torso, who was trying to find her way to the Pentagon. I met a tourist from Savannah, Georgia, who marvelled that I would cross the street against a light (as though the lights in Arlington bore any correspondence to safe crossing, which they do not), and summoned all her courage to follow me. By the time she parted, I think she was about to propose to me on behalf of her oldest son. I saw a woman in the grocery store who wanted me to tell her which home pregnancy test would tell her which days were best for conception. I'm afraid I couldn't get her to understand that it was for after - not before.

It's much harder to meet people, to see things, from inside the deadening confines of steel and glass.

Sunday, July 8, 2007

Confessions of the Absent-Minded

It bothers me that I am always late, that I am forever sweeping breathless into meeting of coolly composed co-workers, showing up at the wrong airport at the wrong day, harried and unkempt, and realizing with a start that I am ten miles past my freeway exit and never even noticed. I know, far too well, the optimal elixir of contrition, pleading, urgency, and self-deprecating gratitude to coerce an unwitting ticket agent into getting me to the series of holidays, weddings, and business functions I am in constant mortal danger of missing.

Unable to account for these worrisome tendencies, I despair of ever conquering them. I am, in other repsects, a conscientious, responsible adult. I pay my bills on time. I remember to feed the cat and water my plants, I brush my teeth and stock the bathroom closet preemptorily with toilet paper and Kleenex. I return rented movies (though never library books). Why is it, then, that I never know the location of my wallet, my keys, or my glasses, that I sleep daily though four separate alarms, that I woke up yesterday morning one hour after my scheduled departure for Jacksonville?

It cannot be that I do not care enough. My overwhelming anxiety on each and every occasion is sufficient evidence to the contrary. Perhaps it is a congenital disorder, and the brain synapses necessary to recall such basic details have sworn their cellular allegiance towards other, higher functions. There is undeniable appeal in the narcissistic notion that my absent-mindedness is a fault of genius, a charming artistic waywardness. I have a hazy recollection that Einstein hard a time recognizing his own front door. But I cannot really believe I am a similar case. Nuclear physics makes me want to cry.

My mother is wont to say to me incredulously, "But you're so smart about some things . . ." Even in her perplexity, she is too generous to add the obvious succeeding clause: "but you're as perceptive as a stump about others!" Why I should sometimes have the mental presence of a mollusk, why my faculties should periodically abdicate their rightful place to go blow on dandelions, is not less baffling or irritating to me than to anyone else in my life that is inconvenienced by it. Seeing the obvious virtue and benefit in such things, I aspire to be always punctual (perhaps even early!), alert, organized, with sharp seams and crisp collars, but no sooner do I make iron-clad resolutions than I end up like I did yesterday morning.

I set three separate alarms well in advance of when I would need to leave, but after a splendidly bizarre dream that climaxed in someone shouting "Rumplestiltskin!" (that alone do I remember) I bolted upright in bed to squint at the clock hands with disbelief. My flight had taken off an hour before, with total disregard for my absence (abominable gaucherie). I spent several minutes on the phone with an agent who explained that if I arrived at the airport by 10:35 am, I could take advantage of the two-hour rule, and I would be put on the next Florida-bound flight in time for Charlotte's wedding. All I had to do what get myself bedecked in wedding finery, brush my teeth, and hail a cab. And all that I needed to get started were my glasses, wherever they might be - and here I met the morning's second obstacle. Not at the head of my bed, not on my desk, not in the bathroom closet. I investigated these usual suspects more by touch than by sight. From there, it was more or less a game of fumbling around on the floor. Alas, it is one of life's great ironies that, beyond a certain threshold of visual impairment, you cannot find your glasses without your glasses. Losing time and passing quickly to despair, I finally found them underneath the bed. They must have landed there right about the time that my traitorous synapses were orchestrating that Technicolor fairy tale variety show.

At 10:18 the cab arrived, and we squealed off to the airport. I came huffing and puffing up to the ticket agents at 10:34 am. 60 seconds to spare. I arrived in Jacksonville just in time to help make the centerpieces at the reception hall.

If you've known me for any length of time, you've heard a dozen of these stories, and they all tend to have equally felicitous endings. And while I still deplore the mental aberrations that land me there, I've grown to tolerate them, and feel a measured optimism that all will be well. It seems to be God's pet method of reminding me that I need grace, and that I ought to laugh loud and long in this pleasant chaos called life.

Monday, July 2, 2007

(Wo)manning the Ship

Connie is off to St. Thomas tomorrow. She has promised, in accordance with her generous nature, to think of us working in the office every time that she orders a pina colada on the beach. Lana is on a minutely planned automobile tour of the Southwest - Las Vegas, Los Angeles, San Francisco, Trinidad Beach, the Redwood Forest, Crater Lake, Yellowstone, Rocky Mountain National Park, Four Corners, the Grand Canyon, Hoover Dam, and Zion National Park - and I, for the moment, constitute the entire events team of International Justice Mission. I'm flexing my muscles like Popeye, or at least like Olive Oil.Today I had my very first meeting at which I got to plan the agenda (with lots of help). I stood in front of the room and made things pop up on a projector screen. Oh, the power.