Thursday, July 31, 2008

County Fair

The long awaited Union County Fair opened last night. Tess and Colm could not contain their glee. Animals large and small (see the little baby bunny getting his toenails clipped),

rides fast and not so fast, funnel cakes, ribbons - it was all there.

Tess displayed a new found courage for the high wire and high velocity rides.

Colm finally grew tall enough to join her on most of them.

Both kids contributed drawings to the art booth. They were pleased to see ribbons on their work.

Beth's parents bought the kids bracelets allowing them unlimited rides.

We stayed till nearly ten.

Monday, July 28, 2008

One last time: The Final Lecture as performance art

Beth and I watched the video of Randy Pausch's strange and unsettling final lecture delivered at Carnegie Mellon Institute last year. Pausch who was 43 at the time, had just been diagnosed with terminal cancer and had been given only a few short months to live. By all accounts he was an immensely popular and influential teacher whose personal energy seemed boundless and forever upbeat. Pausch died this week. This news of his death was what prompted us to finally watch his lecture (a little over an hour in length) on YouTube. Carnegie Mellon sponsored a lecture series titled the "Final Lecture". The idea was for professors to deliver a talk on the topic(s) most dear and most important to them, as if it were indeed their final lecture. Before Pausch was invited to speak the series was retitled "Journeys". With characteristic humor Pausch quipped, "I finally nailed the venue, and they went and changed the name!"

I want to write about the experience of watching the video because as I said at the outset I found it to be strange and unsettling. I feel a tiny bit of trepidation in view of how enormously popular this lecture, and the subsequent book it inspired, has become. It isn't my intention to speak ill of the dead; rather, I want to interrogate my own experience, an experience that was played quite self consciously I would argue by Pausch.
To begin, it is painfully obvious from the very beginning that what we are witnessing is in no small part, a grand gesture by a dying man. Pausch himself starts off by referring to the white elephant, cancer, and he pretends to unveil this beast by displaying a powerpoint slide showing tumors (ten of them) in his inner organs. He proceeds rapidly and matter-of-factly to disclose the doctor's bleak diagnosis - three to six months of good health. He then assures his audience that he is in fine health (dropping to the floor for some pushups to illustrate the point), that he feels no self pity, that he seeks no pity and that he has no time for anything but to extract the full measure of fun available to him in his final days. Briefly he speaks of being dealt cards, cards not of his choosing. The only choice we have, he says in so many words, is to play them or to fold.

Indeed, as I watched Pausch, I was struck by nothing so much as his fierce attachment to this pose, this brand of gamesmanship, this determination to play out the string. If life could be thought of as a gymnasium, you might think of Pausch as the ultimate gym rat, always game, always in there and at home.

It wasn't so much what he said; in fact, I found my mind wandering occasionally during his lecture which, not withstanding his Jim Careyesque smile and his endearing habit of self deprecation, was in so many ways a run of the mill powerpoint presentation, rambling, diffuse, anchored to bulleted slides and amateurish photos. His words seldom brought me up short, they seldom pulled me down into deeper waters, or triggered any soul searching; to the contrary, they burbled along garrulously, conventionally and in good humor. As long as I glanced at the bulleted items on the screen I was never in any danger of losing track of the main themes which were conveniently and repeatedly reiterated in large font. As far as his words went, there was almost less there than met the ear. I might boil them down thusly: dream, encourage others to dream, help one another, listen to feedback, don't give up, be playful and have fun... all of it unarguably useful advice but useful in the same way that items on the shelves of WalMart can be unarguably useful and yet inert and seemingly surplus.

It's not that Pausch wasn't earnest or authentic (however frequently he might have wavered between extolling the virtues of selflessness and assiduously engaging in self promotion); it's simply that his lecture was unremarkable as a lecture, the animating thrust of which seemed to be that he is a clever, brilliant, and compassionate man who has been blessed with great friends and colleagues and remarkable opportunities. Anecdote after anecdote was enlisted to illustrate these points. Individually they were curious, sometimes funny, and even revelatory. Serially, his anecdotes did not quite cohere as they did sort of fly about in the same air space; they didn't lend weight or gravity to his message as much as they festooned it. I would argue that this might well be a result of him having been given cruelly short notice to speak on an inherently unwieldy topic, namely how to sum up and make sense of his life experience. What he came up with was not a lecture in the final analysis; it was a performance piece.

At the root of this remarkableness lay a brute fact - we were watching a dying man deliver his dying words. This circumstance is so fleeting, so terrible and so compelling that few among us can witness it without being moved in some way. Pausch gives a performance that is almost novelesque. He is surrounded by friends and admirers, colleagues and students, and family, most visibly and poignantly his wife. Pausch may not be literally in his deathbed, but figuratively speaking he might as well be. Everyone is gathered to hear his parting words. Pausch responds by commanding the room; indeed, he seems viscerally to entertain the notion of not dying, to play on, almost like a character breaking loose from the novelist's grip. But only almost. We, all of us, know how the story must end, and so, even as we watch his miraculous embodiment of Life itself, we struggle to reconcile the dissonance in the room and in our own hearts. We watch Pausch plowing onward like a thoroughbred that cannot bring himself to break his gait even as he begins to break down. It is a riveting spectacle.

Spectacles (at least man made ones) are usually massive contrivances. Pausch's discipline, virtual reality, is of course dedicated in no small way to the spectacular. I was struck by persistently the name Disney popped up in his remarks and by how the landscape of popular virutual entertainment seemed like hallowed ground to him. in a carefully framed moment, Pausch recounts how he used his credentials as a someone invited to brief the Pentagon on virtual reality developments as a means to secure an interview with a legendary project leader at Disney. Pausch is both clever and glib here, but also, it seems, either naive or disingenuous. What he wants to talk about is his childhood dream of being an imagineer with Disney, but why not at least open the window a tiny bit and allow us to glimpse that other realm that like Disney trades in the talents and imaginations of people like Pausch? I'm not suggesting something sinister at work here, only that Pausch's focus seems almost adolescent to me, as if he is suppressing the adult inside him.

In the end Pausch claims to have "head faked" his audience by pretending to be talking to us when in fact he's been talking to his children. It is a swift sleight of hand moment that brings the lecture to an abrupt end. Here the Victorian deathbed scene is finally made complete with the inclusion of the children, discreetly kept in the rear of the scene but present nonetheless. His concluding claim (the head fake), if true, is thoroughly understandable. Perhaps the lecture is a final grand gesture towards his children, an artifact to stand the test of time that will both represent him and speak to them as they grow up without a father.

It's understandable- I can't imagine myself not wanting to make a gesture of some sort myself, but I don't quite believe the head fake bit. In the beginning he warns his audience that one topic he will not talk about will be his wife and children, for fear of becoming too tearful. Yet he does talk about both, bringing a birthday cake out in a surprise for wife, a surprise that not surprisingly reduces her to tears. Interestingly the cake is meant to illustrate for us how sincere Pausch is about not focusing on himself but on focusing on others. It does nothing of the sort of course, which is not to say that it isn't a touching gesture nonethess, just that perhaps Pausch is being disingenuous here. But he is doing so in the honorable fashion of stage performers. We are his audience.

It's not that he's lying. The best stage performances trade on truth. It seems likely that Pausch would, if he could, make a gift to his kids of everything he's done, everything he is, in order that they would never have to feel as though they no longer had a dad. The film "Life Without Me" offers a glimpse of how such a desire might be realized, and how tenuous and fragile such a project must needs be.

Ultimately I find the head fake bit and the lecture-as-gesture to his kids to be more convincing as the final twist of his performance piece. It gives the audience the release it has been waiting for. We are all relieved in a way at the end to be absolved from having had to pay too close attention, for having daydreamed a little, for perhaps even making critical mental notes because it really wasn't for us after all. The standing ovation that follows this moment helps alleviate any need we might feel to interrogate a bit more closely the way in which we have just been diverted for a little over an hour.

I am surprised by something at the end. What I feel is a glint of recognition. I've seen his type before; I've even aspired to be this type, perhaps I still do. He is the teacher/performer. His venue is the lecture hall or the classroom or the lab or the field trip. He is adept, articulate, engaging, well schooled, incredibly equipped to improvise, and he is consumed by enthusiasm for what he does. It is barely an exaggeration to say that teaching/performing is his life.

Pausch unapologetically labels himself a salesman. Academia, more specifically, his discipline of virtual reality, has provide him with a perfect environment in which to practice and nourish his art and to connect with an audience hungry for his art. Saying goodbye to all that is on some level terribly hard to contemplate. It's easy for me imagine that Pausch gave his final lecture for one simple reason - it's what he loves to do and he couldn't say no to doing it one last time. Watching Pausch at the end, during the ovation is most poignant for me. He seems unsure where to stand, what to do next, as if he hadn't thought of this part. He tries sitting with his wife, then takes her by the hand, gets her up and improvises a bow while everyone stands and applauds warmly. People are weeping. That's when it hits me. It really is over now.

Sunday, July 27, 2008




cherry picking

A couple of friends of ours own a cherry orchard in Cove. This year they offered some of their friends the option of having their own tree to harvest. Their cherry trees yield dark, sweet cherries that are great for eating but which don't hang around very long once they're ripe. Once the cherries are ready you have to act.

We paid them a nominal fee, chose a tree, and then we went out there the day before yesterday and today to collect our cherries. The kids love going out to Jim and Donna's.
Today they each grabbed a bucket and jumped in the car without any need of further prompting.

Once there they mostly run all about, jump on the trampoline, and occasionally venture up the ladders to help with the cherry picking.

Using the long three legged fruit picking ladders we picked about 60 pounds of fruit which we pitted, laid out on cookie sheets and wax paper and froze. We also dried a few to make cherry raisins.

This winter we'll be able to go to our freezer get a little taste of summer whenever we need it.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

To drill or not to drill?

On the domestic front I can't think of a subject that is more on people's minds these days than the price of oil.

Everyone is impacted but not everyone reacts the same way to the impact, nor does everyone draw the same conclusions about what those impacts signify or portend. Lately there has been renewed debate on what to do with American oil and natural gas reserves in areas currently off limits to development...ANWR and the Pacific coastal shelf being the two highest profile examples. It seems to me that this debate is critical but that it is complicated by different ways of framing the question, different agendas, and differing sets of "factual" assumptions.

Here's an essay written by Robert Rapier writing in an energy blog R-Squared that attempts to frame a rational approach to this burning question. Read the whole thing.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008

Knock knockin' on heaven's door

We left at 2:30 am. The plan was to put miles on while the kids and the pup slept in the back and to beat the 100 degree daytime temps in central Washington. Destination: the San Juan Island ferries at Anacortes. In a normal car, we might make the whole trip in about 7 hours, but in our 1982 Westfalia every incline and every head wind sends you shifting down to third gear. Just going the speed limit on the freeway (downhill with a tailwind) can seem like an exhilarating experience.

We arrived at the ferry docks at 1:30 pm - eleven hours all told. To quote the Melanie pop song, "I don't go too fast but I go pretty far." We had lunch while waiting for the ferry.

We boarded the ferry at 2:30. Riding on the ferry is always a magical transition from the the "off island" world into a world where people move at a different pace, marking time by the tides and by the ferry schedule.

An hour later we pulled into our campsite at Odlin Park on Lopez Island. It's a campground like any other except for its location. The campsites necklace a small cove. They begin on the beach and continue up into forested bluffs overlooking the sea.

Odlin Park attracts crabbers, cyclists, kayak enthusiasts, in addition to the normal range of summer vacationers. Locals come to the picnic grounds and the beach to watch the sun set as the ferries glide by. We had the first campsite on the beach; it also happened to have the only tree among the beach sites. Our friend Tanya and her two girls, Ariel and Piper, showed up a couple of hours later from Portland. They set up camp right next to us.

Just to give an idea of how in demand this place is, Beth tried to reserve sites thirteen weeks before our target date but was told that reservations could not be made earlier than three months in advance. She had to wait a week before trying again.
Our time in Odlin was idyllic. We had campfires where we sang and told stories and watched bats pick flying beetles out of the air;

we paddled a sea kaya, a three seater that allowed us to take the kids for an up close experience with the water and at night allowed us to slip through the calm waters and see the bioluminescence sparkle that fairy dust in the wake of our paddles;

we combed the beaches for sundry treasures and secret places in which to bury them, and

we met lots friendly people everywhere we went.
Sammy was instrumental in this last category. Lopez is probably one of the most dog friendly places you could find (leashes are required in the park). Having said that, it was absurdly comical how often perfect strangers would approach us and inquire into Sammy's breeding. Since our campsite was near the access to the beach everyone passed by us and soon it seemed the whole campground knew Sammy by name. Mothers brought their children to come pet him. One woman stopped me in the parking lot of the local market. She beamed at me and gestured first at Sammy who I had on a leash and then at her van parked nearby.
"You have to see this," she said.
My arms were full of groceries but I did as she asked. She opened up her van and out jumped a chocolate colored dog, a mixed breed like Sammy. It was like looking into the crystal ball and getting a glimpse of the near future. Her dog was two months older, maybe a hand taller. Their whiskered faces and their sunny dispositions were identical however. The two of us regarded each other with satisfaction. We weren't the only ones after all, and that did nothing to dispel the charm we each attributed to our own "special" dog. Kind of wierd, I'll admit it. Sometimes I felt as if I was the appendage on the end of Sammy's leash. Best of all, Sammy proved himself to be a good camp dog, quiet and well behaved.
As I mentioned above, we rented a three seat ocean kayak. Beth and Tanya paddled it around the island to our campsite - about 90 minutes. The kids and I scoured a local beach known for the presence of sea glass. We collected rounded and polished glass, clear, white, blue, green, and brown. This became a daily routine. Another ritual was to visit the famous bakery Holly Bee's for her sinfully sweet and sticky cinnamon rolls.

One afternoon I was picking out some songs on my guitar when I heard another guitar being strummed. I stood up and noticed a little blond-haired boy playing while an elderly woman, a passerby, stood nearby and was his audience. I sat back down and overheard her praise the boy before leaving. An hour later, the boy walked into our camp. He looked at me and said, "I heard that you have a guitar."
"Yeah. I heard you have one too."
He nodded, a bit flustered, as if I'd thrown him off the script he had prepared.
"How old are you?"
"Seven and a half," he said.
"That was some nice playing."
He nodded again and then gathered himself. "My dad said I could. I was wondering if I... if you could...I was wondering if you and I could play guitars together later."
I looked at the boy not a little amazed by his precociousness. "I'd love to. Why don't you bring your guitar over this evening when we have a fire. You can teach me one of your songs."
"You can play me one too."
"Deal," I said.
He seemed satisfied and turned to leave.
"What's you name?"
That night Dylan showed up right on time. The fire was crackling; the night ferries glided by like floating mansions on fire. Tess and Colm regarded Dylan like he was some kind of magical being, an elf or something. In truth he looked like a seven year old Jack Johnson, the mop hair, the easy unassuming smile, the clear bright eyes and the way he cradled the guitar as he sand, the surf lapping up on the sand just behind him. He only played three chords, G,C, and D and he only knew one basic right hand rhythm, but he was completely comfortable there and, most impressive, he improvised lyrics as he laid down his guitar accompaniment. He mostly riffed about things like finding someone, or being lost, or losing something, or someone trying to find him, themes and phrases derived no doubt from music he's heard. I suggested that we take turns improvising verses. He was more than game. I tried to counter his seven year old preternatural ennuie with my fifty something John Prine salt of the earth humor. Tess and Colm leaned in and listened and watched completely enthralled. I don't think they had never seen one of their own kind hang with an adult in this fashion. When we finally folded up our session and said goodnight, Tess and Colm were dying to take guitar lessons, at least that's what they said that evening. It was striking how much younger our kids seemed than this Dylan.
A sweet postscript to this episode.
The following day, our last one before going home, Tess and Colm went over and coaxed Dylan into joining them in some kid play. In a matter of a few short minutes they were chasing each other around the field, first just playing tag. They ran till their tongues hung out, and then they broke to come in for some water. A few seconds later they reunited and we overheard Dylan say to Tess, "Is this fun or what?" Colm and Tess then proposed a game of cheetah tag - vintage Colm and Tess stuff. One person pretends to be the cheetah and goes into camp for awhile. The other two pretend to be deer and they melt into the tall grass and trees surrounding the campground. Then the cheetah decides to go hunting for deer. Tess was the first one to come into our campsite. She admonished us not to tell her where the boys were. She was a cheetah, and she would find them herself. Just then all three of us happened to look out and way across the field we saw a blond head floating just above the tall grass suddenly drop out of sight. Tess looked at us and we all laughed out loud at the same time. She was off, running fast, her tanned legs eating up distance at a rapid clip. Out there in the grass somewhere were a couple of towheads. It was a beautiful thing to watch.
The day came to return the kayak which meant a retracing the trip Taanya and Beth had down days earlier. I prevailed on Tess and Colm to accompany me; okay, I bribed them with the promise of cinnamon rolls. What was supposed to be a short 90 minute paddle turned into a two hour plus ordeal. I misunderstood the map, overshot our entry to bay, and ended up having to buck a fairly strong current out in deeper water than I had intended to paddle in. By the time I got us safely ashore both my arms were burned out.
The kids weathered the experience much better than I did thankfully, their main concerns being boredom and hunger. We entertained ourselves for a surprisingly long time by telling knock knock jokes making endless variations of the following:
Knock knock.
Who's there?
Interrupting cow (substitutie animal here).
Interrupting cow....
Our kayak glided across the water emanating calls and shrieks from all manner of beast and fowl. Only later did it occur to me that someone on an otherwise peaceful beach might very well have misconstrued our animal calls for cries of distress which on some level was actually close to what I was beginning to feel.

To bring it all to a close. We made it home, all the way.

Friday, July 11, 2008


It's midnight. We've just finished a satisfying dinner on our first night in Cancun. The rain was fallen steadily all night long pausing only briefly here and there and then suddenly breaking loose in long ropes filling up the streets and turning puddles on street corners into ankle deep traps of murky water. We strike off on foot during one of the pauses. Both of us are feeling recovered from the flight, the airport ordeal, the disappointing weather. We're together in a strange place with only one ambition, to look around.
Together we attempt to reassemble the information we have that will enable us to get back to our hotel, a 25 minute bus ride. Here's what we think we know: the guide book says that buses run 24 x 7 to the hotels; the concierge said the same thing; a kind stranger who told us where to get off the bus and gave us directions to the restaurant said something about making a loop to get back to the place where we could catch a bus to the Zona Hotelera. Finally, both of us vaguely remember a giant sculpted clam shell on the median strip of the four lane highway coming into Cancun.
Armed with that intelligence we set off. We're wet but the air is warm. The streets are pretty deserted, in retrospect something of a clue, and as we near what we hope is the same four lane road we started on, we notice only a few buses going by and their signs are no longer lit up. We keep walking. Nothing seems familiar; rather, everything sort of looks the same. We are on a main road, there even some local Cancun hotels along this route. Here and there we see people standing in the middle of a lane hailing taxis. We decide to cross to the other side thinking that is the direction the buses to the hotel zone will be traveling. We continue walking in the same direction as before, against traffic, looking for a bus stop. We come to a decrepit looking bus stop with a bench that sits under a shelter that once had a rooftop but no longer. Beth eyes it suspiciously and seems to want to continue walking. It is our first moment of divergence.
"Where you going?" I say.
"To find a bus stop," she says.
"This is a bus stop."
"I don't think so."
"Look," I say pointing at the sign which is nearly completely obscured by darkness. I also point a bit more confindently to the bench and the skeleton of the shelter.
She lingers a few feet away, holding steady at that distance I think of as her tractor beam range. "Maybe we should look for a stop that's more..."
"More what?"
"I don't know...valid."
I feel dangerously close to becoming disputational when a bus rumbles up. It's sign is also darkened, but I thrust my hand out to flag him down. He stops and opens the door. I can see passengers inside looking blankly through the windows. "Zona Hotelera?"
The driver shakes his head and points across the road. "Otro lado." The door swings shut and the bus roars away.
We cross the street once more but we can't seem to find a bus stop. Worse, not a single bus goes past us while we walk. Neither of us has to say it. We're lost. Still despite the minor hiccup over the bus stop, we're both in good spirits. And then we see the giant clam shell. We walk quickly toward it. Our first view of the clam shell had been rather fleeting. As we look at it now we are confronted by a kind of clover leaf of merging roads, none of them with sidewalks. It's impossible to judge which one goes to the hotel zone. We spot a Pemex station on the far side so we make our way toward it.
Crossing these streets is a bit dicey since the lanes are curved and it is hard to see traffic coming from any distance. Cars come around the curves at breakneck speeds and what with the darkness and the rain and our distinctly different perceptions of risk Beth and I find ourselves struggling to cross the roads together, sometimes going hands clasped together, other times halting or releasing the other to make a break for it. It almost seems more dangerous going together than simply taking it at our own pace and meeting up at the other side.
Finally we are at the station. There is a taxi fueling up there and as we trudge by he says, "Where are you going?"
"The Zone Hotelera," I say.
"We're catching a bus," Beth adds.
We keep walking through the lights of the station and into the shadows beyond. The road extends into the night bounded on both sides by grass medians by no sidewalks. I am skeptical that this is a good place to catch a bus; I'm also worried that it may be the wrong direction. Beth is similarly worried. We stand on the grass together and collect our thoughts. The road is practically deserted.
Suddenly the taxi pulls up and stops at the curb. The cabbie rolls down the passenger window and leans out, "I take you there, ten dollars."
"We're taking a bus," declares Beth.
The taxi driver shakes his head. "No bus. I take you there, ten dollars."
Even though I'm sympathetic to idea of taking this taxi, I want to get to the bottom of this bus idea too. "They told us there are buses to the hotel zone."
Again he shakes his head, "Si, but now it is too late. It's after midnight. No buses from Cancun. You must take taxi."
Beth presents another piece of our precious intelligence, "They told us the buses run all day and all night."
The taxi driver drops his head. All we can see is his wavy dark hair. When he looks up again he addresses Beth directly. "Lady, there are no buses from Cancun after midnight. In the Zona Hotelera si, but it is long from here."
I look at Beth and say, "He may be right. Maybe they meant in the hotel zone." I can see that she already grasps this. She is thinking of something else.
Beth regards the taxi driver and smiles, " Five dollars."
This causes the taxi driver to laugh out loud. "Lady, it's long!"
"The bus only costs 85 cents!"
"Lady, there is no bus."
Beth pauses. I watch. I've seen Beth in this mode before, ten years ago when we traveled and lived in Chiapas. It's a side of her that her American friends probably never imagined.
"Seven dollars, the two of us."
As I watch this negotiation I'm struck by two things. First, how untenable our situation is. We had no leverage out here on this deserted and dark road in the rain with no buses running and literally no idea where we are. Second, the smiles on both their faces, Beth and the driver. Beth's smile is, I know, kindled by a kind of innocent relish for haggling. The driver's smile strikes me as indulgent and good humored.
The driver looks at Beth, then at me, then at Beth again. He speaks more slowly this time. "Lady. It's long."
"Let's take it sweetie." She nods still smiling.
"OK!" I say barely able to contain my joy.
"Where are you staying?" the driver says as he gets out to help us.
Beth laughs and waves him back in the car. "The Ritz. We haven't got any bags."
"I am Enrique," he says as he gets behind the wheel.
In a few seconds we're rattling around the cloverleaf and hurtling off into the night. I've completely lost my bearings and am completely happy to be wherever I am. Beth strikes up a friendly chat with the driver in Spanish. He, not surprisingly, turns out to be a thoroughly amiable and engaging man. Beth and the driver sort through finally the bus situation. We have a good laugh about it.
"We were lost and in the rain," says Beth.
"You are lucky you met me. I'm a nice guy," he says earnestly.
Beth regards the passing hotels and discos and shopping malls. "It is far."
"Normally, to the Ritz it's 16 dollars. I told you lady; it's long."
"Tell me Enrique, will it rain tomorrow."
"It rain this morning and tonight. Tomorrow it no rain. Not tomorrow." We cling to his words as if they are oracles.
He pulls up the gate blocking entry to the Ritz. An attendant peeks inside and requests our room number. As the gate lifts up in the air, Beth laughs and says to Enrique, "Aqui es muy seguro." (Here it is very safe.)
Enrique chuckles and adds, "Si, no qualqien gente puede entrar." (Not just anyone can get in here.)
I wish I could speak Spanish well enough to tell Enrique how happy I am to have spent twenty minutes in his cab, to have been delivered from an uncertain and unraveling night to the very lap of luxury, and to have been captivated by his personal charisma even to the point of believing that tomorrow the sun would chase the clouds away.
It was a lovely end to a thoroughly unscripted first day in Cancun.
The next morning, when I parted the curtains and looked from our terrace out over the Carribean I couldn't help but laugh.
It was pouring rain.

Thursday, July 10, 2008

Summer with Sammy

Last year a sleek white cat named Sugar showed up and moved in. I never thought I'd see Beth fall so hard for another critter.

Then he showed up. This is the summer of Sammy the schnabrador (backed up ably by four chickens). The kids love Sammy when he's not chewing their toys.

Sammy may actually think his name is Sammy-no!
The best thing from my point of view is that Sammy shadows Tess and Colm. They get up; he gets up. They leave the room; he does likewise. They run; he runs.

The only "person" Sammy enjoys hanging out with more is Sugar. Sugar and now Sammy. Good two years.

Getting it down; writing it out

I noticed this lying on top of Tess' desk this morning. Aside from the cute factor, I'm struck by how instinctively Tess now turns to journaling when she's got something on her mind. I don't know if she really has any intention of giving this to anyone or if she plans on posting it on her bedroom door.
She writes about Colm in the third person rather than addressing him directly - it's true that he can't read yet, but I could easily imagine Tess reading something aloud to her brother a la the town crier.
The process of getting it down on paper seems cathartic for her. She clearly understands the notion of emphasis what with the underlining and the bolding and the different font styles and, of course, the exclamation points!
I do wonder about number six. Maybe she got interrupted, maybe she got ahead of herself, maybe she sees this as a long term project and is laying the groundwork for her next inevitable entry.
In any case, it seems pretty clear to me that we've got a girl who values private moments at a desk, pen poised, emotions spilling out, and a drive to write it out of her system, to get it down. Tess' truth..."he doesn't know about me."
Feeling aggrieved and misunderstood is perhaps just the flip side of feeling mysterious and unfathomable. Hopefully, writing will help Tess to moderate the passages back and forth across these internal landscapes.
She's something to behold.

Sunday, July 06, 2008

Iguanas, sea turtles and a few things in between

I was bringing a lunch order home to the Ritz from a nearby taco stand (ten bucks for lunch for both of us) when I encountered this critter right outside the hotel entrance. I asked the valet what it was.

"That's Jorge," he said not quite answering my question.
Even the iguanas are treated like somebody at the Ritz.
Puerto Juarez. The jumping off point to Isla Mujeres.

Breakfast at Cafe Cito...watching the other tourists get soaked on Isla Mujeres.

Dinner at La Parilla, a local favorite, very theatrical and fun in that distinctly devil may care Mexican manner. Good food too. Our grilled platter of seafood, chicken and beef would have fed a small army.

On our way to the boat to go snorkeling off Cozumel. Guess which boat is ours.

I swam by this boat which at first glance looked something out of the Rime of the Ancient Mariner what with the sails down, the boat adrift, and people sprawled about looking half dead.
Turned out they were just taking a siesta between dives.

Complimentary drinks at the French Bistro in Isla Mujeres (followed by an excellent plate of shrimp in garlic butter sauce).

Chilling at our hotel...not bad for a default option. After awhile the Ritz went from being home base to just home period. We even ate there on the last night braving a menu that listed hamburgers at $18. Moises, our waitor, launched a full scale charm offensive. In the end our entire weeks fee at the Ritz consisted of this single meal. It was a nice way to finish off our stay.

Entertainment that night was seeing a sea turtle lug herself out of the surf and up onto the sand between the fancy palapa dinner tables, right up against the concrete wall that separates the Ritz from the beach which according to law is public land. We watched her dig for over an hour, sending showers of sand behind her with her powerful flippers. Occasionally we could hear one flipper scrape the concrete wall. Then she went still. We waited along with a small handful of others, mostly employees of the Ritz, waiters, a cook, three maids, and also two members of a conservation group that try to protect the turtles by collecting eggs and seeing that they hatch properly and that the hatchlings get back to the sea. The smiles of the maids who had no doublt seen this sort of thing before, seemed almost familial, as if they were welcoming a new member of the family. Lights were extinguished around her and everything was done to keep her from being disturbed.
When she began dropping eggs, the men invited Beth and I to help collect the eggs. She dropped two or three at a time into the deep hole she had dug so laboriously. Each egg was round, wet and somewhat soft, a bit smaller than a billiard ball. We collected about 120 eggs in all. No pictures since it was dark and we didn't want to disturb her with a flash. It was amazing to think about how far she had come and how little room there is here waiting for her. Twenty five years ago these beaches were empty, nobody lived here. Very likely she is old enough to have laid eggs on those pristine beaches. How much does a turtle remember of such things, I wonder. How surprised was she by that concrete wall, how close did the surf behind her seem when she gave up trying to advance and started digging? An hour later she would be gone, her tracks covered by wind and surf, her purpose swung toward another point on the compass.
Perhaps all she knows is a mysterious prompting that compels her to traverse the seas and visit and revisit these ancestral grounds. Our own promptings for traveling here were certainly not ancestral; in fact they were fleeting and superficial to say the least,and they hardly served any biological purpose that I can see, but perhaps they are instinctive insofar as human beings predisposed to be restless.
I came away from that evening mindful of how long journeys can be and of the myriad ways in which they can be interrupted, hijacked, constrained and terminated by sundry forces and circumstances, yet there are also currents that bear us along and there are yet places one can land and put down a seed. It is heartless and heroic at the same time. Theodore Roethke says it better than I can:
who being no bird yet beats his wings
against the immense immeasurable emptiness of things