Wednesday, January 30, 2008

Five Things...Number 2

As hard as it may be to believe, especially for those who know me better, I have never broken a bone. I had an ankle problem as a kid; countless sprains, strains and bruises; three knee surgeries; cancer; was run over by a pickup truck while riding my bicycle; and survived being raised by an Irish mother (my friend, Eric, will probably attest to the fact that this was the greatest threat to my streak), all without a single bone being broken.

I've played football, baseball, soccer, run track, played basketball (rolled ankles...ouch), skateboarded, cycled, done triathlons, all without cracking anything. I look back after 41 years and am pretty amazed. I hesitate in even printing this because it is surely the kiss of death for a clavicle or something similar. We'll see.

Sunday, January 27, 2008

Sir Edmund Hillary

I had to put my kitty, Eddie down tonight. After 14 years, words can't express how I feel. He had been acting sluggish, but we chalked it up to old age. Yesterday he started going downhill a bit faster, so I called the vet and made an appointment for this week. Today it became apparent something was very wrong. I called the vet and made an emergency appointment; it turns out Eddie had complete kidney failure. We made the decision and Sir Edmund went to sleep, lying on my hand. I could never have asked for a better cat.

Arctic Rider

My (Original) friend Eric turned me on to Arctic Glass, the Alaskan riding adventures of Jill Homer. She rides in temperatures and conditions that would keep most people from rolling out of bed, much less going for a ride on a bicylce. All the while, she is learning how to do it better, through a series of trial and error, guessing, and assumptive reasoning. Somehow, she manages not just to learn, but to excel.

I love this blog. Jill's writing style is easy to read, but what really strikes me is the beauty of the North Country. After reading Into The Wild, I believed Alaska to be the last wild place in America, as we continue to build, develop and tame the west. Jill's photographs (see above) and descriptions confirm it. Far from the madness of tourists, her rides take us into the wild beauty of Alaska, and I am better for it.

Friday, January 25, 2008

Five Things...Number 1

A while ago, my friend Lou Schuler challenged a bunch of bloggers to "Tell Us Five Things We Don't Know About You." Here, the beginnings of my list. Number One: I am very, VERY afraid of clowns. Give me cancer and gettig run over on my bike by a pickup truck any day. It seems so much easier to face than the terror that lies beneath 1/8 inch greasepaint and a painted on smile. Look, if they were really that happy, would they really need to PAINT on a freaking smile?

I recently had yet another terrifying encounter with a series of clowns. I really like changing things up. A lot. Sometimes I change things just for change's sake. One of the places I do that most often is in the background of my computer, altering it to suit my fickle whims.

I wanted something that would make me laugh, so I did a search on Google for "Evil Clowns" and it did not go well. I was going for something funny, but what I found confirmed my absolute worst nightmares: Clowns are out there, and they want to kill me. If they can, they will follow that up with eating me, the way you and I enjoy hot dogs after a sporting event.

Then, I remembered the t-shirt my daughter got me, so I Googled "Fact: Clowns Eat People"...again, this did NOT go very well. It continued for what seemed an eternity, until I finally settled on this one:

Sure, it's just the Intarwebz, and they were just assorted and sundry images that are out there floating around, but I am still putting bells on all the doors and windows tonight, and setting the bear trap at the entrance to my bedroom.

Wednesday, January 23, 2008

What I Saw...

Went for another early morning run today (4.00 start). I saw the blue glow of televisions behind drawn curtains, and wondered if the denizens within were waking up or getting ready to go to bed. I saw two cars. That's it. I saw what used to be a bag of Quik-crete concrete holding down a basketball backboard. The bag had probably been sprayed with water, then allowed to set, forming a concrete block in the shape the bag held. We used to do those in when I worked construction many moons ago, but I hadn't seen one since. I saw a Christmas tree out for the trash, and tried to decide just what had taken them so long, whether it was a religious decision, a desire to hold onto Christmas just a little longer, or simple laziness. I saw a full moon, or nearly full, glinting on silver snow; the funny thing about the snow was that it was only on one side of the road. Still, it's been on the ground since last Monday, and we have had nothing but sun since then. The amount of snow that remains is a testament to just how cold it has been. Today was a balmy-feeling (in comparison to what it's been) 28 degrees, though the wind made it feel a little cooler. I saw my home, and when I finished my run, I was thankful for the ability to turn the handle and head inside, into the warmth. I see a Clementine and a large glass of water...and a cup of hot coffee.

Tuesday, January 22, 2008


...can't say I didn't tell you so.

Sunday, January 20, 2008

Into the Wild

I just finished Into the Wild, Jon Krakauer's telling of the story of Chris McCandless, a young man from a well-to-do family in Virgina who graduated from college, donated $24,000 savings fund to charity, burned his wallet and wandered out into the American West. He starts out as an idealistic young man, full of the innocent zeal that only a life of privilege and the abandon of youth can foster; a steady diet of Henry David Thoreau, Jack London and an assortment of Russian authors feeds his desire to seek raw adventure. Four months after trekking into the Alaskan wilderness, his body was found decomposing in a bus.

Krakauer does a great job of piecing together the events of McCandless's life and untimely death. It is a well-researched, well-written, brilliant piece of story writing. The problem I had with the book was not in the telling of the story, but the subject himself. I started out really wanting to read about this young man who set out to travel the west in search of adventure; I thought he would be interesting, his adventures would be arresting. I found, instead, a kid who had too much, took it all for granted, and pissed on just about everyone around him, especially those closest to him. When he left home, he never looked back, never told his family where he was or that he was okay, and didn't even communicate with friends. I came to really dislike Chris McCandless.

As he traveled, he came upon person after person who befriended him, remembered him for the bright young man he was, and for his fervor for adventure. Time after time, he would approach intimacy with these people, then set out on the road again to avoid that next step of actually sharing his life with them, of allowing them close to the fortress of his heart, his soul. When he departed for Alaska, though, something changed for him, and also for me as I read his story. It's hard to put a finger on it, really, but it was like he began to be more introspective, to contemplate things. He wrote a couple of postcards to people he had met on the road, those people he had approached intimacy with. I think maybe this is the true heart of McCandless's adventure. It was not the obvious walk in the woods, but the adventure of a man who begins, if too late, to regard himself in relation to others, and with the understanding that these relationships have power and responsibility. It is the understanding that the most meaningful part of an adventure is not in bravely facing nature, but in facing ourselves.

Through a series of mishaps and blunders, Chris McCandless dies in an abandoned bus in Alaska, alone. This is not, perhaps, surprising when one contemplates the harshness of living in Alaska, the thin line one has to walk to forage and hunt for food daily. The surprise is really not that he died, but that he survived so long on his wits, instincts and raw determination. I came to admire and respect him. Further, there was evidence that McCandless himself was on his way toward reconciliation with some of the people around him, noting in one of his journal entries that happiness is only true when it can be shared with someone else. This NEVER would have occurred to him before his tenure in Alaska, and the solitude seems to have triggered a stirring within his soul to get back in touch with others.

Krakauer's book is a brilliantly written epitaph to the brief, complex life of Chris McCandless. He doesn't shy away from McCandless's obvious shortcomings, but does a masterful job of trailing and retelling the story of McCandless's life and death. Read it.

Saturday, January 19, 2008

Saturday Morning...

I had the job of getting Mrs. Fish's car to the garage for repairs this morning. I also had Bible Study group at 7.00 am. My plan was a pretty simple one, and I executed it well. I put my bicycle in the back of the car and drove it to the church. I stashed it in some bushes in the front of the building. I was thinking there is NO WAY a thief would steal a bike from in front of a church at 6.00 in the morning on a Saturday with the temperature hovering at 12 degrees. I drove the car to the garage and dropped the key in the box.

Then I started my run back to the church. It was a weird run. I think it was in part due to the cold, teh hour, the day, and the unfamiliar terrain. Mix all those things together and it just seemed almost eerie, especially when you throw in teh ever-present bunniez. It was a feeling I couldn't shake, and it seemed worse as I contemplated how many times I have driven this exact route...hundreds, to be sure. I am glad I ran with Mango, as I could see when the reflective properties of the jacket signal the driver and they make that swerve out to toward the other lane. It's ever so reassuring.

So I ran to Bible Study, got my cup of coffee and some solid fellowship with my brothers. We tore into Colossians 3:1-17 today, and I think we could have spent another week or two discussing it.
1 If then you have been raised with Christ, seek the things that are above, where Christ is, seated at the right hand of God. 2 Set your minds on things that are above, not on things that are on earth. 3 For you have died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. 4 When Christ who is your life appears, then you also will appear with him in glory.

5 Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. 6 On account of these the wrath of God is coming. 7 In these you too once walked, when you were living in them. 8 But now you must put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander, and obscene talk from your mouth. 9 Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old self with its practices 10 and have put on the new self, which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. 11 Here there is not Greek and Jew, circumcised and uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave, free; but Christ is all, and in all.

12 Put on then, as God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, compassionate hearts, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience, 13 bearing with one another and, if one has a complaint against another, forgiving each other; as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. 14 And above all these put on love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. 15 And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in one body. And be thankful. 16 Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly, teaching and admonishing one another in all wisdom, singing psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, with thankfulness in your hearts to God. 17 And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.

After that, I re-bundled up so I could ride my bike home. One of the things I failed to realize is that my bag didn't have an over-the-shoulder strap. I took a pair of sweat pants out of the bag and fashioned one, MacGyver-style. I thought it was rather ingenious.

I rode home, and though it was COLD at first, the pedaling quickly warmed me, except for my fingers and my nose. I was wearing a balaclava (not to be confused with a baklava) and pulling it up caused my glasses to fog over. Pulling it down made my nose a little chilly. I decided that seeing was a little more important.

So I rode home in the weather and even chose to stretch it out a little, making a right where I could have gone straight to shorten the ride. All told, it was a four-mile run which is long for me, and a six-mile ride which is waaaay short for me. Ironically, my run felt really strong, while my bike, having been neglected for several months, really taxed me. I consoled myself with the belief that everyone else was reading the paper, sleeping, or eating donuts in front of the television...

Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Couldn't sleep.... I did what any reasonable person would do: I woke up and went for a run. At two in the morning. There comes a point where you realize you're just NOT going back to sleep. You can try, but the best thing that will happen is you'll lie there and your thoughts will finally leave you alone. Mine wouldn't even do me that kindness, so I decided to take them outside behind the proverbial woodshed.

I pull on the stretch knit shirt, noting that it's stretching a little bit more. Have to lay off the ice cream. Then a short sleeved shirt, then one of my long-sleeved cycling jerseys. I know it's going to be cold. I feel around in the darkness for my sneakers, crawling around the floor like a lost penitent until I find them. I clod downstairs, but with a sense of purpose that lying sleepless in bed never allows. I pull on the cap Mrs. Fish bought me, zip up mango, throw on my full-fingered cycling gloves (they're JUST warm enough for this weather) and head out the door.

It's cold, but not as cold as I thought it would be. According to the local station, it's 25 degrees with a 10-15 mph wind. I start out, my legs churning slowly, Jack Haley coming to life. I loop up around the cul-de-sac of our neighborhood, feeling the blood moving through my legs now. I glide down the long, shallow incline, thinking about the kids I saw Sunday pushing their bikes up. I can't remember, but I'm pretty sure I never pushed my bike up a hill as a kid--it was a matter of pride. At the bottom of the hill I bank right and begin the first long, steep climb. It's an easy one because I am sufficiently warmed up now. Something scatters to my right--bunniez!

I have this thing about bunniez on my runs. They watch me with their baleful glares, often failing to move at my approach. It's a little disconcerting, the thought of pernicious rabbits, especially when one is out on a run. Alone. At two in the morning. I'm hoping they haven't gone tharn, but if there are tharn rabbits, this would be the kind of neighborhood where it would happen. I pick up the pace a little.

I loop down past where Little Fish's friends live and used to live. I wonder about how transient we've become. People drift in and out of our lives all the time. Where do they go? I get a tailwind and things go unusually quiet. The only sound now is the swish-swish of mango (not to be confused with the swish-swish of Mango) and the sound of my feet as they touch down on the asphalt. I sound lighter. I feel lighter. Up the hill and past where the babysitter used to live before she went on to college. I hope she is doing well. I'm gliding now.

I head down the street I use to come home to my girls every night. I like this part of the run because I step up onto a long stretch of grass that is no-man's land, running for a different feeling, a different sound. It forces me to concentrate on the actual running more, watching my footfall, making sure I am in the middle of the grass where is is flat, not on the sides where it is pocked with dimples, holes, disaster. It's a busier road, so it's not unusual to see cars at all hours of the day or night. At 2 am, this thought brings concerns, but thankfully I see no one. I am completely, utterly, blessedly alone. I cross the pedestrian walk, running across the Abbey-Road marks and up onto the grass on the other side, passing by the Catholic church. I still have over a mile to go, but I consider this the beginning of the home stretch.

A left brings me off the "busy" street and back into the neighborhood. Another long, slow incline (commonly called a false flat in running circles because to look at it you would think it was flat, until you run it and wonder why you're breathing hard) precedes the second steep climb on my run. I like this hill. It's not a big hill, but it tests me. Mentally and physically. This morning is no different. But I am looking forward to home, so I power up the hill, volant now. After three knee surgeries, I find I prefer climbing uphill to going downhill. Cycling remains, of course, the opposite.

I make the right into the newest section of our development, then coast through it, quickly and easily. Coming out the other side, I face the hill upon which the neighborhood boys walked their bikes on Sunday. I am feeling good and flow up the hill, like an MC Escher river, defiant of gravity. I pass my house on the right. I have set up my run so that I have to pass my house to return to it. Just one more mental test, to see if I want to go on, or just quit there. I've only done it a couple of times, and those were call-of-nature related.

Once more around the neighborhood cul-de-sac, past my sleeping neighbors and friends. I stretch out a bit, but not much on the straightaway to home. My legs are tired, but they feel good. I feel good. My head is clear. My breathing is even. I run through the finish line, the lamp post that casts its light on my front lawn. This morning it has a rainbow halo around it, the kind the Farmer's Almanac says portends snow. I bend at the waist, grab my knees and catch my breath, then go for my cool down, knowing I will return to an angel's halo about the lamp that watches over my home, opening my front door to the warmth and quiet stillness that awaits.

Wednesday, January 09, 2008

Broadening and Improving One's Vocabulary....

It's football season for real now. Yes, my beloved Eagles are out of it, but that doesn't mean there isn't going to be some incredible games happening. That having been said, I can't help but notice some things about my favorite game, and more specifically, the people calling it. A couple of thoughts.

1) Eem is not a word. It's "him" as in "they gave HIM the ball" NOT "they gave eem the ball". I'm really not sure when or where this started, but I suspect it's the same linguistic charlatans that continue to try to pawn off tigers as "taggers".

2) Special. Thank you John Madden for this one. "He's going to be a SPECIAL player." "Brett Favre is really a special football player." You've beaten, trampled and dragged that poor word through town on a rope attached to seven horses so many times that whenever I hear the word special I realize we are quickly coming to the point where EVERYONE will be special, which of course will mean no one is.

3) It's a football game. We get it. You can stop inserting the word "football" (and for that matter the phrase "this league") into your conversations. When a guy makes a great play, you don't need to say, "That's going to be a turning point in this football game." We know what freakin' sport we're watching, if for no other reason than the announcer didn't say, "What a magnificent golf shot." Just stop it. Seriously.

4) Bryant Gumbel.

Listen, I realize John Madden and the other clones who call the NFL, and sports in general, probably don't read my blog, but if anyone out there can get them this message, I'd really appreciate it.

Now, since I'm a positive-thinking glass-is-half-full kind of guy, I leave you with this (the hit at :29 is special!):

Saturday, January 05, 2008


"...not a disability at all."

Wednesday, January 02, 2008