Friday, May 30, 2008

Leaving the Ranch

In response to Scott McClellan's decision to leave the ranch, the defensive batteries of the right have predictably begun their volleys...

From the very podium at which McClellan in his day issued billowing clouds of lies and deceit, Dana Perino offered this venom:

Scott, we now know, is disgruntled about his experience at the White House. For those of us who fully supported him, before, during and after he was press secretary, we are puzzled. It is sad - this is not the Scott we knew.

And then, emerging from the smoldering ashes of the city on the hill, none other than Bob Dole wrote this spittle to McClellan:

There are miserable creatures like you in every administration who don't have the guts to speak up or quit if there are disagreements with the boss or colleagues. ... No, your type soaks up the benefits of power, revels in the limelight for years, then quits, and spurred on by greed, cashes in with a scathing critique. ... In my nearly 36 years of public service I've known of a few like you

Poor Scott McClellan. He got in so far over his head. How grand it must have been to play with the big boys. And what agony to learn the rules they played by.

Good for him to come clean in the end — late, alone and far from home, but able I suspect to finally sleep at night. He was not the first. He won't be the last. History will unlikely be kind to those he left behind.

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What the Experts Said

We were convinced that the taxi had delivered us to the wrong place. Certainly they were going to tell us that our reservations were for the other Radisson, a not-so-fancy one. Instead, they smiled, handed Trudy the keys, showed us to our room and got a rollaway bed for Ben.

The next day, we went to the cancer center at Johns-Hopkins. How do you feel? they asked. (Ironically, I feel very good.) Then they confessed that they don't know how to treat my case.

I guess my case has become a little complex. Testicular cancer 23 years ago. Surgery. A benign testicular tumor in 2004. Surgery. Prostate cancer last June. Surgery. (With all the removed body parts, shouldn't I weigh less than I do?) And last March, an ominous spike in my PSA that led some of my doctors to recommend radiation and chemo.

So we flew to Baltimore to see to the experts. We had sent them all the records we could find. They had absorbed all the details. We talked with them for more than an hour. And they didn't know what to do.

They did, however, recommend against radiation. And they recommended against chemo. And they agreed with the recommendations of my radiation oncologist back home to watch and wait.

Wait how long? For ever. Watch for what? For the cancer to reappear. Not exactly a victory, but consider the alternatives.

We celebrated with a big dinner at Sabatino's in Little Italy. The butter on the bread tasted very sweet.

A visit to Johns-Hopkins Kimmel Cancer Center
Baltimore, MD

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 Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Nice Shoes, Nice Pants and Socks

I shouldn't be doing this, sitting here writing this. We leave for the airport soon. Trudy will be back any moment and then I'll be in big trouble...

He was sitting on the stage. His trombone reflected the lights brightly. He was at the far right side, and we could see him well (an unexpected treat for us).

I can hear what you're thinking. You're rolling your eyes. You're waiting for the confession of tears. Maybe you've already closed the window on this message. But wait...

His trombone reflected the stage lights brightly, and its golden reflections contrasted handsomely with his blue shirt and khaki pants. As a bonus, he even had his shirt tucked in and his hair (albeit very long) looked good.

Trudy leaned toward me.

"His socks," she said. "Look at his socks."

She laughed. My jaw dropped, and then I rolled my eyes.

Although we had gone thru the clothing routine the night before, and although he had run over to his mom's to find a shirt and whatnot, evidently that whatnot did not include socks to wear with his outfit. Because there he was on stage, clearly visible to all who would see, with NO SOCKS. And it's not like you couldn't see it, because he was seated, and his nice khaki pants pulled up off his ankles in that position, and there he was with nice pants and nice shoes and BARE ANKLES.

Ok, I exaggerate. In his defense, he did have socks on: short, white sub-ankle running socks. Nice pants, nice shoes, and short white socks — you could just barely see the rim of white around the top of his black shoes.

Ok, I'm still being unfair. In his defense, he says he DID have black socks with him. ... Um, except that he didn't WEAR them.

Nice shoes, nice pants and nice black socks IN HIS LOCKER. At least he wasn't wearing overalls and combat boots, as his father did many years ago. I guess I know how my mother felt then. ... Um, except that in his defense, this wasn't the Austrian Embassy. So maybe I shouldn't be saying this in the first place!

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 Tuesday, May 20, 2008

The Magic of Boats Without Motors

If boastful this seems then boastful it might be, in which case I just ask for forgiveness. It will pass soon enough, for he has grown up so fast.

What did you think? the coach asked.

The boy and I were sitting on the deck by the lake — he putting on his shoes after having finished his rowing routine with three other boys in a quad, I stretching in a puddle of sweat after a run with the dog.

I noticed that he was in the bow of the quad when they returned. And being a parent, I confess I took some pride in that but quickly contained it and returned to my stretching. Now, evidently the coach was wanting to see how things had gone.

How things had gone?

It was good, he said.

What is this it, I wondered, keeping my nose as close to my knees as I could (which is to say, not very close). Was there something after all to where he sat in the boat?

Thanks for sitting at the bow, the coach said.

Thanks for asking me sit there, he answered.

And then they talked about the logistics of the row, about who had helped and who had hindered and how things get weird this close to the end of the semester.

Hey, can you help me over here? the coach asked as she walked down to the water.

He stood up and looked at me and pointed in that direction and mouthed some silent words, as if to say, I'm going over there. I smiled and nodded, and he walked away. I turned my head, and you know something silly happened. I got tears in my eyes.

Oh, for heaven's sake. You got tears in your eyes!?

I did, and you know I think I know why. Remember that time when he was little and wouldn't take a shower? And remember those times when he wouldn't eat his vegetables? And the kid with the glasses on the playground? And when he broke the rocking chair? And the essays he puts off until the night before? And the deadlines he forgets until you pester him about them? Remember all those little things that didn't seem so little at the time? Do you remember worrying about them and if they were data points on a trend line that you as a parent were just too blind to see? And do you remember how you thought that boats without motors, like horses, seem to work magic on people?

Sometimes when I show up at this place when the kids are coming in off the water, I wonder where that magic is, why hasn't it worked. But here I was witnessing it. He sits in the bow. The coach consults with him and looks to him for help getting the dock back in order.

That's why I got tears in my eyes.

Oh, for heaven's sake.

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 Sunday, May 11, 2008

The Dune at Boquillas Canyon

I confess that there's not much to Boquillas Canyon. On foot, you don't get much of a view, because the river turns sharply 40 yards past the canyon mouth. It's nothing like Santa Elena, and there's frankly not much to do or really anywhere to go.

I vaguely recall being underwhelmed 25 years ago, although it might have been the weather then which was a lot hotter than this time. But there was, I recalled, a huge sand dune between the American shore and the rock wall behind, and I looked forward to climbing it again. But when we rounded the last turn on the path, there was no dune to be seen. Well, there was a pile of sand blown up against the rock wall but not the dune of my memories.

We walked down the path until it stopped at the entrance to the canyon. We found a spot to sit in the shade under a tree by the water's edge. And then Trudy and Ben spotted a rock in the river.

The two of them rolled up their pants and waded out to the rock and sat down with the Cretaceous wall of Mexico as a backdrop behind them. I took photos from the American side. When they waded back, I suggested to Ben that he climb that hill of sand and investigate the small cave at the top. It was not the dune that I had told him about ... but still.

A wind blew up just then and kicked the sand along the river into our faces. A cloud of yellow dust surrounded us and drifted in the direction of the rock wall behind us. We had to hold on to our hats, and I had to cover the camera until it stopped. Ben set off barefoot in the direction of the sand. I started taking pictures of him as he made his way.

At the foot of the hill, he stopped to reconnoiter. The sand was to his right, blazing in the midday sun. A tumble of boulders was to his left. He started up the sand but quickly changed his mind. Evidently the sand was hotter than his feet could bare, which is saying something. He began scrambling over the five-foot boulders heading to the top of the dune.

As I followed him thru the viewfinder, I realized I had misjudged the distance, and the hill was much larger than I had thought. He was dwarfed by it, and the cave at the top was clearly going to be a bigger destination than it originally seemed.

Yes, this was the dune I had remembered. It had just shifted a bit in the twenty-five years since I had stood here last. I guess sand dunes have a habit of doing that, don't they?

Big Bend National Park

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 Tuesday, May 6, 2008

At Rio Grande Village

In Rio Grande Village, we bought our lunch at a little store. We had a bag of chips big enough for the three of us, so we only needed to get some sandwiches and some drinks. So equipped, we drove down the Cottonwood- and Sycamore-lined road that ran from the store to a park with three picnic tables.

But three tables are not enough for this time of year. There was a couple sitting at one, another couple and an elderly parent at another and a family with many kids at the third. We had to settle for a shady spot under the Cottonwood trees.

We made a picnic there in the shade under the trees. It was hot in the sun, which was a bit of a welcome contrast to the chilly wind that blew during our lunch on the South Rim the day before. In the shade, the breeze that rustled the leaves far above us was glorious.

We ate our sandwiches and chips. We drank our drinks. I think I saw a Tanager flitting in the branches of a tree not far away. Trudy saw a Road Runner at the far end of the grove. Woodpeckers pecked at the branches above us.

When we finished eating, Ben propped himself against the great grey trunk of one of the Cottonwood trees and took out his book to read. Trudy and I napped in the grass until the shade moved away from us and the heat of the sun woke us up.

Thus refreshed, we resumed our journey to Boquillas Canyon.

Big Bend National Park

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 Monday, May 5, 2008

Dugout Wells

On the road to Boquillas Canyon from the Basin, you descend into the desert and drive southeast. Halfway there, in the middle of the scrub and rock, off to the left as you drive, the green canopy of Cottonwoods stands out by itself.

You really can't miss something like that. The color effect is quite striking. There's all this red and brown and white and drab around you, and then BANG there's this bright green out there in the middle of nowhere.

We turned left off the main road and drove the short distance to Dugout Wells.

Here, in the middle of the desert, the Huisache trees were blooming, their yellow blossoms alive with the buzz of hundreds and hundreds of bees. Here, in the desert, water was running across the road. The desert air was already getting hot, but under the Cottonwoods, the light was filtered, the wind made the green leaves quake, and you could close your eyes and imagine yourself being somewhere far away.

I was here a quarter century ago or so, here at this very spot standing under these very trees. That large Cottonwood was certainly not as large then, and that branch had probably not fallen to the ground. But the windmill was here. And this path thru the trees was here. And I must have stood on this very spot. I wonder when the next time will be.

Dugout Wells
Big Bend National Park

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 Sunday, May 4, 2008

Time to Make the Eggs

I was sitting on the patio outside the lodge restaurant writing and periodically looking out over the Basin, thru the Window and into the desert in the west.

The morning sun was behind Casa Grande, and the shadow of the Chisos lay on the desert floor. As I wrote, it receded, and sunlight crept down the sides of the mountains on either side of the Window. The Basin would soon be warm, but sitting there in the morning shadow, my fingers were cold.

A Canyon Wren flitted in the bushes. Maxican Jays flew about. Once in a while, the wind would kick up, reminding me of my fingers, reminding me that it was time to go back to the hotel room and make the eggs.

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 Thursday, May 1, 2008

Back From the South Rim

We sat on the South Rim 2500 feet above the desert, sheltered from the wind, resting our weary bones. We set our fanny packs and Camelbak on the rocks. We drank our drinks and snacked our snacks. We laid back and closed our eyes. And soon it was time to go.

There are two trails between the Basin to the South Rim, one that winds around the west side of Emory Peak thru Laguna Meadows and a second thru Boot Canyon on the east. Since we took the first one up, we decided to take the second one down.

Of the two trails, Boot Canyon was the best. The vistas were better. The trail was more varied. And of course, we were hiking downhill. But the best part was along the canyon floor. Upper Boot Canyon Creek is usually dry, but the creek bed has been polished smooth by torrents that come infrequently but must roar when they do. The trail took us down into the middle of the dry creek. The forest climbed the slopes on either side.

In a few places, we saw pools of clear water. We interrupted a stag on his way for a drink. He watched us from a distance, slowly working his way into the underbrush as we passed. And we came to a place where a huge boulder had long ago fallen from the heights — a house-sized, flat-faced cube sitting in our way.

The hiking here was easy, as the creek was clear of debris and easy to walk on. And as we went, we saw more pools of water here and there, which made this side of the mountain seem more friendly, more gentle that the side we had ascended. But it was here that my feet began to hurt.

It didn't bother me at first, but eventually I started catching myself focusing on the pain. I would change the subject by looking into the woods or a clear pool, but as we passed the halfway point, more and more my focus would snap back to my feet.

Ben was in the lead. (Trudy had led on the way up.) He would get ahead of us regularly, just out of sight or around a bend, and then he'd sit and wait, hopping up and dashing off again just before we reached him. Trudy probably would have dashed off with him, but she knew I was lagging, and I knew there was no way my hurting feet would support a faster pace.

It was somewhere about this point that my sore feet began hurting so much that they were all I could think about. The little blooming things on the ground, the small pools of water, the song of the Canyon Wren ... these did little to distract me. The hike became a death march.

What was that guy in Austin thinking when he told us that padded socks don't really matter? What was I thinking when I listened to him? Oh my sore feet.

As we rounded the last major bend in the trail and a spectacular view of the Basin unfolded before us, the lodge buildings seemed so small. Oh my sore feet.

The path began to descend in steep switchbacks. With each step, the weight of my body pounded my feet against the rocky trail. The lodge buildings grew no closer. Our progress seemed to slow to a crawl. An endless eternity stood between us and our destination. And with that I fell into marathon mode, focused on nothing but each footstep.

But of course, that eternity passed, and we eventually found ourselves in the final stretch to our hotel room. The building was in sight. Third door on the left. Yet my feet hurt so badly that with less than 100 yards to go, I honestly didn't think I would make it.

And then we were home. I managed to wash a bit and to put on dry socks and comfortable shoes. I took some Tylenol. I got horizontal on the bed.

And that was that.

Hiking back from the South Rim
Big Bend National Park

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