May 1998 Archives

The power of a sunset


Yesterday evening was a blessed, warm time. The sun came out, and the only clouds followed the sun's descent below the West Hills.

From my apartment window, the sunset looked manufactured, it was so beautiful.

I climbed out onto our back fire escape, out through our kitchen window, with the portable phone.

Talking to Amy, watching the colors bleed into the sky.

At first, the sky was still blue, and the sunset was a mere pinprick.

But by the time the sun escaped toward the Pacific islands, every cloud in the sky--from the cotton-like ones huddling toward the sun for warmth to the silken wisps over my head--every cloud was painted.

It was quite a sight.

Then we went out for a beer up the street, and we all laughed a lot.

I honestly think the sunset restored some laughter to me, and without it, I would have had a good night, but not a great one.

Twenty-four isn't so bad after all.

On being twenty-four

May twenty-eight, nineteen ninety eight.

Five days into being twenty-four, I have this to say about it:

It started out beautifully.

But these last few days have revealed the simplest of truths to me--I need some rest.

Two weekends ago, the dearest person in my life graduated from college in Spokane Washington. I flew up there and spent five days with her, going through the process, almost like I was a graduate again myself.

Then she came home with me and spent a week in Portland, preparing to move here in August.

Then I took my brother hiking to celebrate our 24th birthday.

Next Saturday, I'll be rock climbing, and the weekend after that I may climb Mount Hood.

All of this is good and well, except that my house is not clean, my personal books are not balanced, and my friends are starting to wonder if I'm still kicking.

And I'm not complaining. Not everyone is givent the opportunity to live such an active outdoor life.

I guess I just miss 23. It was my golden year. Born on the 23rd, 23 years old.

There's a special magic about the golden year, whether it is when you are six or when you are thirty-one.

But there are 360 days left in this 24th year. I bet if I had a nap, they'd start to get better.


I am sore.

Saturday last was my birthday, and I decided that I would take my twin brother Douglas with me on a three-day backpacking trip to celebrate.

We drove nine hours in a van to the trailhead of the Wenaha backpacker's trail. We climbed out, shouldered our packs, and stretched our legs by hiking six miles up the Wenaha canyon, with the river on our left and the canyon walls on either side.

When we found our campsite, at the convergence of the Wenaha River and Crooked Creek, we set up our tents, settled down against some logs, and ate homemade macaroni and cheese.

We slept soundly that night, tired from the long ride and the long walk, full of dinner, and lulled downward by the constant rush of water.

In the morning, I had the first opportunity to finally appreciate the valley in which we were camping.

Because the Wenaha River curves as the Crooked Creek flows into it, the three bodies of water--the Wenaha before and after Crooked Creek, and the Creek itself--converge at perfect angles.

Roughly 120 degrees of land lie between each body of water. And the three valleys that stretch off into the distance cradle water with grace.

On Sunday, we climbed up into the Crooked Creek valley.

I saw a bright green tree frog, we stepped lightly by a rattlesnake, and we smelled nearly every wildflower we could find. All in all, we hiked four miles with the Crooked Creek winding on our left side.

When we turned to hike down to our campsite, we were facing a rainstorm. Within seconds it was pouring rain.

It was warm enough that I simply took off my t-shirt. Skin is the best water-repellent material known to man, and when it is warm, it is rather refreshing to hike with no shirt on.

My shorts were soaked, but the rain stopped, and about an hour after we arrived back at camp, they were dry.

In the evening, I played two Irish ballads on my tin whistle.

I have never been deep in the wilderness without having meaningful conversation.

Whether it is the power of the surroundings or the separation from the mechanical world, or some other force that drives us to think deeply, I always end up talking about the meaning of life or the nature of spiritual belief or some other thing.

This trip, we discussed the nature of science. We were concerned with people who blindly believe everything they read/hear/learn. Attitudes ranged from absolutely trusting to an x-files level of mistrust.

But lucky for us, in all cases, we were happy to share with each other, rarely if at all offended by what we had to say, and gracious about our differences.

In the van on the way home, we discussed marriage between people with drastically different beliefs. I submitted that it is somewhere ranging from difficult to impossible for two people with different core beliefs to marry and stay married happily.

Others were troubled by this, reasonably, suggesting that it was limiting and exclusive.

In the end, we didn't really find an answer, but we did draw closer together in the midst of our struggle to understand each other.

And just for now, that is enough.

Back from the dead

Holy cow, it has been a long week since I last posted a journal entry.

For those of you who are wondering, the trip to Spokane was wonderful.

I graduated from Whitworth in January '97, and I actually walked through the ceremony in May '96. Two years later, sitting through the 1998 commencement, I was struck by how little some things change. The faces were different, but the ceremony was basically the same.

There isn't anything particularly wrong with that. I love going back to visit my school and seeing that the place hasn't changed much. A new building here or there, which is nice, but the trees are in the same place, the dorms look like dorms always have looked, and the professors are always glad to see me.

But the one small change--the changing faces--is the part that is hard for me.

Not terrible or unbearable. Just hard.

I miss the dear friends I met while in college. At least, I miss them in heavy concentrations. I know I will see many of them again, but there are so many people I love who I am not terribly close to. People who are incredible but who only drifted through my life for a brief instant.

That's the way of the world.

And in the drifting of the dearest people, sometimes we are touched, and that's really not too bad.


Tomorrow, I am off to Spokane, Washington, my home for four years while I was filling my head with academic things and learning how to act like an adult while daily practicing childish things.

I loved college.

Spokane promises an entire weekend of glimmering celebration. I go to see my brother and sister, and to watch a dear one's rite of passage.

It is amazing how little I remember of my own commencement. We couldn't hear the speaker--a dear friend and mentor of mine, and a well respected professor. The monitor was never set up, for whatever reason, and we were left to sit on the stage in our rows, deaf to the words Leonard had carefully crafted for our sakes.

He even turned the podium around so we could see him. After all, the speech was for us, not for the hundreds of people gathered in the opera house.

One member of my row wrote "he sounds like he is speaking medieval French in a gigantic tunnel" on the sheet of paper we were passing around. We were getting hot, we were tired, we were ready to throw our mortarboards.

A friend gave me a video cassette of the ceremony, and for the first time, months later, I heard what our speakers had to say to us.

There was nothing particularly surprising about their speeches to us. They were smart and uplifting, encouraging and cautious.

But the beauty of it is this: Leonard, and the rest of the multiple speakers, didn't really have to say anything to us that day. We each spent years with them, sitting through classes, out to coffee, on trips all over the world. And in this slow and sure way, their lives were their graduation speech, and more than any graduation speech could ever hope to be.

My hope is that I will feel some of that while I am in Spokane this weekend.


I hiked up Dog Mountain on Saturday.

Every muscle below my waist aches.

The hike is brutal: a 2900 foot rise in three very short and steep miles.

It was a cloudy day, too, which was unfortunate and fortunate all at once.

Unfortunately, we couldn't see anything when we reached the top of our climb (about halfway up, we could still see beneath the clouds, and we were afforded an incredible view of the Columbia River and the Gorge, but from the top, nothing but white.)

Fortunately, the mist that settled in at about 2000 feet was uncanny and beautiful in its own way. We anticipated the appearance of gnomes or tree sprites. And it wouldn't have surprised me had King Arthur and his knights come riding by on horseback, jingling and jangling in their heavy amour.

Working our way slowly up the mountain, we soon came out of the forest.

The mist was screaming by in the wind, and we pulled up and tightened our hoods.

We were standing on the edge of a meadow growing on the side of Dog Mountain at a 45 degree angle.

Yellow flowers, part of the sunflower family, but squatting near the ground, dominated the meadow's color scheme. Here and there, white and purple flowers pronounced themselves.

Once at the top, we could see that the meadow grew on the West side of the mountain, and that the East side was still heavily forested. We stepped across the line dividing East and West, and in one moment were transported from a dry, windswept meadow into a dripping rain forest.

One step back, and we easily found a dry spot to sit and eat our PB&J sandwiches.

Come sailing

Monday, I went sailing.

My sailing partner, and coach of sorts, was my roommate's girlfriend, Anne, who, like Lars, is from Germany.

As a matter of fact, she has spent most of her life racing sailboats. One season, not long ago, she was world champion in her class.

Needless to say, she is a good sailor.

I, on the other hand, took a sailing class one summer. So I could describe a tack or a jibe to you. But I'm certainly not a sailor. I was a bit intimidated.

Anne is an old friend. She came to visit Lars last winter and ended up staying for a number of months in our commodious apartment. While she was here, she applied for an internship in the R&D department at Adidas, which (of course) she was given.

So she's back (she said it was like coming home), living in our apartment with us, and testing out all kinds of top-secret equipment.

And she's teaching us all to sail.

Lars, not about to be outdone by the woman he loves, somehow became the president of PSU Clubsport Sailing, which certainly helps. Boats are easier to come by, especially since none of us are wealthy.

So we were sailing the Clubsport boats, and my sailing partner was Anne, who is happiest when she is hanging out over the edge of the boat.

I love it, too, but my reflexes aren't honed like hers, and I spent most of the time I was hanging over the edge of the boat wondering whether the wind (which was great, but choppy) would stop, and I'd end up landing butt-first in the Willamette.

We sailed for a while, practicing mostly. My body remembers going through the motions, so I actually felt moderately comfortable after a small warm-up period.

And then at one point, Anne started talking about why she loves sailing so much.

(Lars once told me that for Anne, everything in the world is either sailing or not sailing. No in-betweens, no other form of evaluation.)

She pointed to the shore of Ross Island, which was littered with driftwood, rocks the size of bowling balls, and young trees.

"You would never see that when you are on the land."

And isn't that just the truth? Sometimes, a new location gives us a look at something we've never seen before.

Better still, something like Ross Island, which I've seen a hundred thousand times from the freeway as we pass lightening-quick over the river, changes its appearance. Suddenly it's an entirely different place.

This method works anywhere. Walk when you would normally drive. Ride a bike instead of the bus. Ride the bus instead of driving.

Visit an old friend in a new place.

Put on clothes you would never wear anywhere and go out to eat.

Say hello to people on the street as you pass them.

Have lunch in a park and watch the people who visit while you are there.

Look hard at something you've always ignored.


Make a connection

Today has been cold and cloudy. Strange, considering the last few days have been toasty warm. But it is now close to 1pm and the sun is working its way from behind the clouds.

I'm working on the copy for a newsletter I maintain (paper!). I want to write a story about the huge number of festivals that occur at Portland's Waterfront Park throughout the warm season.

Instead, it's shaping into a feature on the Rose Festival. No worries. The Rose Festival is a worthy subject.

The other day, someone sent me an email using my auto emailer. She suggested that some people are just afraid to send email to people whose pages they are reading.

And I submit: as much as possible, I reply to every email I receive. I will continue to do so.

It would be so stupid for me to continue publishing this page if no one responded to what I have to say.

It's not about a desperate need for email. It's about connecting with fellow human beings. Drop me a line. You'll begin to understand, if you don't already.

Pathetic apathy

What is the deal with our culture these days?

I have been watching closely these last few months, and I have noticed only what is blatantly obvious. We are apathetic to a fault.

It's not that we are lazy or stupid. We don't sit around and do nothing. But we're learning to specialize so completely that nothing is getting done about the general needs of our society.

And our ability to believe things strongly is dissolving slowly into a general happy mush. Which may not be bad. That's up to you. (Oh crap! Now I'm doing it, too.)

Last Thursday, I was sitting in the park near my office, with hundreds of students also sitting in the park. People were eating lunch, doing homework, reading, sunbathing, laughing, and generally enjoying the unusually rich sunshine.

The funny thing was, there were these three supra-evangelists yelling at the top of their lungs about salvation and sin and [fill in the normal crap here]. (No surprises, people. You should read my faith section before you decide what I actually believe, based on that last snippet.)

These guys were typical screamers, wearing the same old sandwich boards, yelling the same old slogans. And they were so loud! But no one paid them any attention.

In one sense, I was relieved. People like that give people like me a bad name. It's hard to stand up for what I believe when people who somehow fit into the same category as me are busy going as hard as possible against everything I know as truth. Who wants to hear a bunch of guys yelling the equivalent of "you suck, and we don't. Come join us" at the top of their lungs? I certainly don't.

In another sense, though, I was disappointed. Where did we lose the ability to stand up to people like that with sensible (or even not so sensible, but heartfelt) arguments against their foolishness? Why are we so damned apathetic?

I fit the bill, too, if you didn't notice. My response is not to stand up to them (though I may, the next time they are around). Instead, I whine about them and the rest of us in a cryptic journal entry on a young web page.

I'm beginning to wonder if we've lost the vitality that makes any culture or country great. Perhaps we are experiencing a metaphorical fattening and slowing. I hope not.

And I don't want to make the mistake of generalizing over an entire culture. Apathy is not the truth of our existence. It is merely a facet of it that has been shining a bit brighter at me these last few months.

So I'm going to give it a shot. The next time I see these guys, maybe I'll ask them to lunch, where there may be some meaningful dialog.

Anyway, that's what it's all about. I think a good portion of our apathy comes from the global understanding that people are difficult to change. When I think of these evangelists, I have serious doubts about whether I'll actually be able to have a decent conversation with them.

And I'm certain they won't stop being so stupid just because of a lunch date with me.

But maybe our cultural knee-jerk reaction is incorrect. Instead of turning away completely, perhaps we should make more time for people to share what they really believe.

A campfire circle of sorts, where people actually listen to each other. Maybe there, these guys wouldn't feel the need to scream, and maybe there, the rest of us would feel confident that our message would get heard.

Truth would begin to rear its head. I'm certain of that.

I know it happens. I just hope it can happen more.

Today is May Day.

I have not been dancing around the May pole (phallic symbol of ancient Roman origins, around which the young nubile maidens turn, holding firmly attached ribbons), which does not disappoint me much.

It has been unbearably hot here the last few days. In the eighties (which, were it August, wouldn't be too hot) every day, and stuffy and warm in my non - air - conditioned apartment.

Being naked has become the last possible way to sleep. Even then, the concern that someone will open the door before I can get up and put on some clothes keeps me tossing and turning.

I'll get used to it eventually. There is always this shy period at the beginning of the warm season.

Yesterday, I went for my first long mountain-bike ride. We sidled up the front half of Forest Park (the largest municipal city park in the country--sorry you New Yorkers, but Central Park is smaller), which can be entered within half a mile of my place.

I'm not in terrible shape, surprisingly enough. Commuting (10 minutes) every day to work helps a bit. My muscles at least have an idea what they are doing. And I think my lungs were pleased to be breathing the clear air of the thick forest instead of the carbon-monoxide nightmare air of the city. It was beautiful, to say the least.

Finished with the ride, I pulled myself a very tepid bath, poured a glass of red wine, grabbed my copy of The Brothers Karamozov, lit a candle, tore off my grimy clothes, and settled into the water.

And as the salt-coating dissolved off of my body, and as I read about the self-confessed foolishness of a Russian monestary's elder, I began to finally relax. A long day, a long ride, a long bath, and a long drink of an oxygen-mellowed merlot.

It is beginning to rain now. The heat and humidity promise thunder tonight. And naked, in my bed, I will listen to the power of air colliding with itself.

About this Archive

This page is an archive of entries from May 1998 listed from newest to oldest.

April 1998 is the previous archive.

June 1998 is the next archive.

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