A collection of essays, outdoor adventure stories, ruminations, wordplay, parental angst, and blatant omphaloskepsis, generated in all seasons and for many reasons at 64.8 degrees north latitude

Sunday, December 22, 2019

2019 (Basic Recipe)

Pre-heat winter solstice to thirty-four below zero.  Using vegetable shorting or softened butter, grease the dry skin that is cracking open on your heels. Dust all surfaces with several feet of snow.

2 children (plus additional children as needed)
1 supportive spouse
1 supportive sister
Mother, father, and other relations, assorted
Long-lost friends, to taste
Not-lost friends, to taste (all friends should be hand-picked and of the highest quality)
140 acres of cacti
1 tent
2 dogs (plus 3 extra dogs)
1 cat (plus 4 extra cats)
2 baby squirrels (extra baby squirrels not recommended)
17,489,393,939,393 mosquitoes
2,681,140.8 acres of baked Alaska
15.2 terabytes of data
76 sub-folders
1888 unanswered emails

Combine children and spouse in medium-sized winter holiday break.  Whisk briskly through TSA in Fairbanks, New York, and, Boston, and Phoenix, using two crutches, an immobilization boot, and a metal pirate leg, [Note: whisking may not be quite as brisk as desired.] 

Add cacti and tent.

Gently mix memories with mother, father, sister, and other family members.  [Note: memories may be more mixed than expected, and may fail to rise]  Fold in compassion and empathy, and season with complicated logistics. 

Stir.  Continue to stir as much as possible, to avoid congealing and/or crankiness.  Stir using the crutches, the pirate leg, and a highly questioned combination of the immobilization boot and a snow bike.  Stirring for the entire length of the White Mountains 100 is not too much stirring, so long as your doctor doesn’t catch you.  [Note: She’s right behind you, on her bike.] 

Sift terabytes of data.  Sprinkle liberally through reports, papers, and gray literature.  Set aside in sub-folders, possibly forever. Spice up the mix with a dash of online publication and a spritz of All Things Considered on the baked Alaska.

Age children gently but continuously until they become teenagers.  Allow mixture to rise and develop freely in order to encourage bold flavors.  Season with rock climbing, horseback riding, MathCounts, snow forts, log forts, additional children (assorted), and dirt.

Place long-lost friends in large hallowed red-brick institution.  Shake vigorously with music from the early ‘90s.  Mixture will become light, bubbly, and warm, with the aroma of nostalgia and a sweet yet complex flavor.

Set spouse and children on two tandem bicycles.  Bake at moderate heat for approximately 230 miles from Delta to Paxson and across the Denali highway.  Be careful not to burn.  There’s way too much burning going on already.

Mix together children, dogs (including one fresh-picked pup with minimal damage), cats, mosquitoes, and baby squirrels.  Use extreme caution.  High-speed mixing is not recommended.  Retain squirrels until they are large and fluffy, then skim off into surrounding woods.  [Note: cats and dogs are already large and fluffy, and do not require skimming.]

Resulting mixture of two children plus one extra child will be very strong.  Allow mixture to mellow over 26.2 miles of the Equinox marathon.  Stir yourself enough to stay ahead of them. 

Gently fold in lectures on statistics, a climate adaptation plan for Igiugig, and an analysis of agricultural climate change impacts for the USDA.  Do not over-mix; results should be complex, but not utterly confusing.

Separate church and state.  Set aside governor and president.  Chill, but don’t chill too much.  Too much chilling suggests that you are not paying attention.

Coat with two pairs of longjohns, two pairs of socks, insulated pants, shirt, sweater, neck warmer, hat, mittens, and jacket.

Leave the emails for next year.

Add more friends and family, and warm.

Serves: the purpose

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

You Gave Me Words

You gave me words. You spoke them with the soft, refined vowels and inaudible r’s of Kent, near the English channel.  Up, no, more, eat, drink, sleep.  Baby.  You read aloud Beatrix Potter to the three-year-old at your side to prevent her from being jealous of her new sister.  She wanted to hear Mrs. Tiggywinkle.  Again.  Again. Again. The words flowed over me.  Pinafore, plaited, hedgehog, starch, stout, damask, goffered. 
You lose words, now.  Over the phone, your words wobble and falter.  This place where I am… your place, where you live… Four thousand miles away, I gently find the words you once gave me.  I pass them back to you.  Massachusetts.  Alaska.
You gave me whole sentences.  When I left your side to enter school, my sentences were so much yours that I spoke them in your voice, a little British child in New York.  I can already read.  I read my books in the rotunda while the other kindergartners are learning phonics.  I shed the accent, but I still sat in the rotunda with my books, my words, my sentences.
Now, your sentences sometimes turn on themselves and unravel.  Their endings become unwound from their beginnings.  The edges fray.   It’s like… that author, you know, but nobody reads him the way they used to, I suppose he did go on a bit, paid by the word, but such brilliant characters…  I rebuild sentences for you.  Oh, yes – you always loved Mr. McCawber, Mrs. Malaprop, Mr. Fezziwig.  I rewind the yarn of your thoughts until you catch up the needles again, and find your pattern.  And what about Miss Havisham, forever in her wedding dress?  Two plain, one purl. 
You gave me stories.  I loved the impossible ones: Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, The Black Riders.  I loved the might-have-been-real stories, too: The Picts and the Martyrs, The Hill War, The Railway Children.  You took me to the library.  Again.  Again.  You spent so much time at the library with your children that the library offered you a job.  You worked at that library for thirty years. You were never a librarian.  You’d never even gone to college.  Everyone thought you had.  You had so many words.
Over the phone, I offer you your stories back.  Remember the Amazon pirates in their red caps?  Faraway Moses?  Wild, Fiona, stalking the Scottish highlands in a beautiful, righteous snit with her brother Ninian?  Roger sliding downhill in his knickerbockers?  I’ve passed these stories on to your grandchildren, I tell you. The hard-bound editions, dark-green covers discolored by time, are stacked in Molly’s bunk.  Lizzy will use anything as a bookmark.  I hear the smile in your voice.    Nesbit’s time-traveling children have survived the test of time.  The harbour lights are shining on Wildcat Island.
You gave me your own true tales, the wispy-distant ones you could barely remember even before the sands began to shift.  You hid under the table, listening to the doodle-bombs overhead.  If the engine of the unmanned planes cut out, it meant they’d run out of fuel.  If the engines died, the bombs would fall.  They fell somewhere.  Not on you, though – not on you. There were ration cards and victory gardens.  The beaches were covered with barbed wire.   There were no oranges. 
I pass your childhood back to you, and you reweave it with me, joyfully.  You picked berries and rosehips in the hedgerows.  When you were naughty, you threw partially dried cow pies. You do not question the paradox, the intrinsic anachronism of my recalling a time a quarter century before myself.  Your big brother John and his friends collected fascinating bits of broken planes from the hills.  John is gone now.  John let you play too, even though you were little. Your daddy had a job that was secret, but special.  He was allowed a petrol ration.  Later, you learned that he helped develop radar.  His name was James.  He was quiet and gentle, brilliant and kind.  He died when you were still a teenager.  I never met him, but you gave him to me.  I give him back.  James.  Daddy.
You gave me the stories you wrote yourself, as an earnest nine-year-old sitting down with pen and ink and a blank notebook.  Margaret wrote stories, too.  She lived just down the road. The four volumes are perfect in their utterly precocious imperfections. You penned highly derivative British boarding school books -- fan-fiction for a genre that was already a parody of itself, from fifty years before Harry Potter.  Angela did the illustrations for both of you. 
When your granddaughters reached the age you were when you began your first ambitious opus, I read aloud all four of the volumes you produced before puberty.  Angela grew up to be a real artist.  I cannot draw nearly as well as your friend could when she was not yet ten.  You named your fictional boarding school Saint Margaret’s.  I tell you about Lizzy’s writing.  I tell you that she asks me, anxiously, if her highly derivative cat-warrior fan-fiction is as good as your books.  Your young heroines discovered a Nazi hideout in a cave.  Lizzy’s fearless cats find and raise an orphaned puppy, and win a war against a rival clan.
You gave me your adventures, from that mysterious grown-up-but-before-I-was-born time.  They were rich and improbable, historical, other-worldly.  All those A-level exams, but you saw no point in University.  You didn’t want to be a spinster teacher or a spinster nurse.  You learned to touch-type more than sixty words a minute.  On a manual typewriter.  You were fluent in French.  You worked in Switzerland.  You joined the Foreign Service as a secretary, but before long you were in Cambodia transporting secret mail bags and translating codes. Sihanouk was in power.  The Vietnam War was raging. The Khmer Rouge were rising.  Your embassy was sacked.  Almost everyone fled.  You stayed.  And after that, after three years of that, you were immediately posted to Turkey.
No, you tell me, they didn’t send me right away.  I had a bit of time in London.  A few months.  A summer.  I helped with… that tunnel.  You know.  The Channel Tunnel?  The tunnel to France?  But that wasn’t built until years later, I don’t think?  Wouldn’t this have been the mid-sixties?  Yes, yes the tunnel… there were just two chaps, and me.  They were working on getting that agreed, all worked out.  I carried all sorts of papers back and forth for them, to the French, at their, their… the French Embassy, in London?  Yes, the French. 
I Google it later.  The Chunnel didn’t open until 1994, but England and France officially agreed to build the tunnel in 1964, and carried out the initial extensive geological survey.  It was faster than the post, so I offered to carry the papers.  We got it all worked out about the tunnel.  The Channel Tunnel.  I never knew.  You still have stories to give me.  I will tuck that one away and give it back to you, too – next week, next year, whenever you need it.
You gave me my own details, the ones I was too little to remember.  You had an argument on the way to the hospital about what you were going to name the boy you were sure you were going to have.  You would have gotten your way.  I would have been James.  Like your father.  The engineer I never knew.  He was a lot like me.
The details snarl and snag, so I untangle them for you.  Remember the trip we took in the Rocky Mountains?  I was three months old. I had no words then.  But you granted them to me later, more vibrant than all the dusty carousels of slides.   A tour bus pulled in right next to your Volkswagen Beetle and its occupants stared down as you tried to nurse me discreetly. In 1972, breast-feeding was not in vogue.  I was eighteen months old when you took me in for testing on my blind eye, to see if anything could be done to repair it.  I had to be lightly anesthetized, and I developed acute separation anxiety for a while afterward.  You’re sorry, you say.  The eye was useless anyhow.  I got over it, I tell you. 
But, you say, your voice a four-thousand-mile, forty-seven-year echo, you still worry.  You still worry about my having only the one eye.  You always have.  I remember.  We remember. We remember that you always worried.
I’ve done just fine without that eye, I tell you.  Pretty well, in fact.  I laugh.
Yes, you say, laughing with me, winding forward, fast-forward across the blurring calendar of years, I guess you have done pretty well. 
Your voice still sounds like Kent.  Like the English Channel. 
You give me words: I love you.
I give them back: I love you, too, Mum.

Tuesday, October 15, 2019

The Birds and the Bees

[Sample personal ads from those who benefited from a more traditionally-minded health class curriculum during their impressionable youth]
(F seeking M) Do you love snowy winters, long walks, dark starry skies, swimming, and fishing?  Are you hoping for children, and willing to commit to being a dedicated father?  Do you agree that relationships should include long-distance travel and plenty of time apart?  Do you enjoy long nights spent hanging out with the guys and watching the Aurora Australis?  You’re in luck!  Heavy/chubby strongly preferred. Densely feathered underbelly a must. 
(M seeking F)  Are you a connoisseur of the arts? I’d love the opportunity to show you some of my dance moves and sing you my signature song.  I know you’ll love it.  You’re into bright colors, I’m guessing.  Who isn’t?  I mean, not on you, of course.  Only on me.  My colors are very bright.  The brightest.  And did I mention my dance moves?  I want to wow you when I shake my tail.  But I will stop dancing once there are eggs.  Obviously.  I’m great with eggs.
(F seeking M) Looking for that one special guy to share my busy and fulfilling life.  I recently took over the family business from my mom, and I’m looking to settle down and start a large family.  If you enjoy luxurious and spacious apartment living, plenty of female company, hexagonal architecture, and organic locally-sourced honey, you might be my match.  Employment is not necessary.  Getting along with my hard-working sisters is crucial.
(M and M seeking F)  The two of us have been bros for a while, and we agree it’s time to find the right lovely lady to raise twins with.  He’ll piggyback one and I’ll carry the other one, natch -- and you’ll be free to enjoy as much fruit as you need to produce milk for those fast-growing kiddos!  Heck, we can even help you find some tasty arthropods to snack on – all while staying on alert for snakes!  If the thought fluffs your cottontop, just give us a wave with those cute little hands of yours.
(M seeking M)  Are you fond of strolling through fields of wildflowers and lush grass, with occasional adventures to windswept crags and mountaintops?  Are you a vegetarian who is into cuddling up in warm natural wool on cold winter days?  I’m a down-to-earth outdoorsy guy, but I get a haircut once a year, whether I need it or not!  If you, too, are among the 8-10%, then you understand why I’d prefer you to ewe.
(F seeking M)  My hobbies include hunting, napping, rending the limbs from zebras with my massive jaws, more napping, and having sex every twenty minutes for three solid days.  You don’t have to come along for the hunting part.
(F seeking M) There’s no time like the present!  And by the present I mean right now.  Immediately.  As soon as possible. Extra-fluffy tail a plus, but not required.  Must be willing to return to own territory before nightfall without even thinking about touching my collection of spruce cones.  Seeking up to 16 guys for leaping, running, acrobatics, loud chittering, and hot NSA action.
(F or M seeking M or F)  I’m a bonobo.  You’re a bonobo.  Enough said.