Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Happy New Year!

Today is the kids' last day of school. And they are ecstatic.

Of course. How could they not be? I get it.

I get it so much so, in fact, I have built my adult life around it.

Some background: My first insight that I, myself, can control the calendar was bestowed by a former girlfriend (who wasn't former at the time), who one day decreed that our calendar henceforth would be constructed and construed around a restructured seasonal schedule.

Fall would remain as it is -- the autumnal equinox to the winter solstice. Winter, though, became one day long: the winter solstice day. After that, when each day grew longer, was now Spring -- the day after the winter solstice until the vernal equinox. And Summer ... Summer from that day forward ran a glorious and much deserved stretch from equinox to equinox, both up and down the slopes of waxing and waning day-lengths, bisected by the apogee of the summer solstice.

Summer, in our newly devised highly personalized calendar, from that day on spanned the full half of the year when the days were longer than the nights.

The reason we did this, of course, was because at that point in our lives -- young, single, out-of-school-forever bums (until graduate school ...) -- we were living our seasons that way: half the year wandering, roaming, traveling, working outdoors, sleeping outdoors. We were explorers who migrated with the seasons, seeking variety and change and discovery. We, like when we were kids, like my teen-aged kids today, truly lived for Summer.

I never outgrew that. And so I've never outgrown that excitement and energy my kids exhibited this morning getting ready for their last day of the school year: It's the real New Year's Day!

See, in a kid's calendar, Summer is not a celestial season. It is a style. An attitude. An experience. And more than that, it's the start of a new cycle: Because they know that what happens over the next few months of freedom -- blessed, sacred Summer! -- will nourish and sustain them during the long months of educational internment they will have to endure after Summer has passed. Until summer comes again, launching a new year-long cycle.

Me too. Because that odd calendar that my old girlfriend and I conjured decades ago was, to me, more than a somewhat silly rhetorical exercise. The import of that change, I have come to realize upon further reflection, led to a rather enormous alteration in personal perception -- and even greater redirection of my life, and even my making a living.

Basically, I never got over that getting-out-of-school view of Summer that kids experience. And because of that, Summer remains a sacred space I choose to keep in my life. It, too, creates and shapes the self I will be when I return from summer to the more-indoor lifestyle and workspaces I must occupy during the non-Summer part of my annual cycle.

Doing this, still, in my late 40s, though, is not without some not-insignificant difficulties, as you can imagine. Keeping this variety and flexibility means I've had to piece together an odd assortment of odd jobs. My wife has taken a more unified approach, working in the school system, but that, of course, comes with its own challenges and difficulties.

But it's been well worth it. Because at our house Summer ... well, it's what we live for, still.

Happy New Year!

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Remembering why

I don't always remember why. I can't. It's hard to remember sometimes.

Especially when things get busy and I'm having to spend a lot of time indoors, fretting, jamming, juggling the many jobs, tasks, chores, demands, desires, and generally potentially deadening activities involved in living in our modern mechanized economic and domestic world.

Like lately. Like now. Where I have found myself pecking frantically at the keyboard all day, or else researching and reading and filling out forms, or running errands, or prepping for upcoming work, or diddling with the several other projects I tend to have spinning at the same time ...

What about ...
out there? Getting out there, in the woods, mountains, into the flowering, heating desert and rising rivers that are the reason I have chosen to cobble together this patchwork worklife? Remember those? What about getting out and staying fit and strong and alive? What about the tribe of like-minded middle-aged parenting bums that make doing all this -- the out-theres and the in-theres -- so full or joy and pleasure and imbibing? Remember??

This recent bout of business busyness has been good stuff, for sure. (If anyone's interested (BAHAHA!!), you can check out what I've been so absorbed in lately -- starting
Raven's Eye Press, and releasing my third book, The Monkey Wrench Dad.) So no regrets. At all. And I thoroughly engage with and enjoy the variety and challenge and independence -- the general buzz -- of my six-pack of jobs that get me through (teacher, free-lance writer, author, guide, karate instructor -- and now publisher!).

But it means I have to be consciously vigilant and deliberate
in my efforts at remembering why. Why I have chosen to live this way, why I put myself through making my living this way. Because of the place. The people. The life. And the me -- the Self -- that these circumstances shape.

Circumstances matter.

So what I must endeavor to remember is, not a list of those things, but the
feel of those things. I do that through little actions. By simply stepping outside -- and just being there, out there. By inserting things where they'll fit into the cracks and crevices of the day -- bike rides, walks, runs, kata outdoors, chances to work outdoors. By visiting the neighbors and talking to people I run into. By sitting in the hot tub, alone and in silence; or with Sarah or the kids, talking, sharing, just being present with each other and -- and making sure I am fully awake to this awareness -- appreciating that brief time together.

Circumstances matter. I remember that by seizing the circumstances where ever I am that remind me why.

Sure, I want to be out there more. But I need to remember to find the out there right here.

Because that's why I'm here.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lake Powell is a class issue -- for that other class

The "Neanderthal Crossing" column I wrote in the latest issue of Inside Outside Southwest deals with an old issue: Lake Powell.

And old issue -- so much so it's almost trite to write about it, and cliche to complain about it. Face it, the penstocks closed on Glen Canyon Damn 45 years ago, and since then the magical, mystical, and now-mythic place called Glen has been lost to everyone but those fortunate few old enough to have experienced first-hand what the canyon was like. I, myself, was not one of those.

My argument in the column, though, is that it doesn't matter that I never got to personally see what Lake Powell flooded: I still loathe that flooding. Because I want to.

One of the points I make on my way to explaining that stance is that the primary effect of the flooding of Glen Canyon was to make what was once difficult to reach -- yet reachable by most anyone willing to do so, and for very little expense -- into something easy to get to, as long as you have the big bucks to lay out for the watercraft (and it's transportation, storage, and fuel) to get there.

And that, to me, is an issue that lies at the heart of the true cost and loss of flooding Glen Canyon: the conversion of something challenging but free (or cheap) for something easy but expensive. That, in fact, I believe, is an issue at the heart of most development issues confronting the American West: Development is a class issue.

But I don't mean "class" in the traditional dichotomized way: poor vs. rich. Herein I refer to a third class ... a middle-path class ... What I might, in my hillbilly lexicon, call the Bum class. (I'm sure there's a more tactful, tasteful term out there, but I like "bum," and sport it proudly. I've been a ski bum, traveling bum, desert bum, and river rat (a variation on the theme) -- and now I consider myself a "parenting bum.")

The Poor. The Rich. And in between that lyeth a mostly ignored true "middle" class: The Bum. Those who live cheaply by choice. Because they choose to focus on living itself rather than making a living. They choose to pursue life with style, rather than pursue a mere lifestyle.

And those people -- we those people (sound familiar?) -- need places to do that living as much as others need places to make a living.

Glen Canyon -- remote, undeveloped, hard to access, yet accessible, and wild, and challenging -- was one of places. One it's best we remember, for the lesson it teaches.

Here are some more pics from our October 2007 day on the reservoir: