Monday, December 6, 2010

On the Rarity of Familiarity

I spent most of the day yesterday blessed by an uncommonly beautiful merging of two worlds, introducing new family to old friends without ever once really worrying about what either would think of the other, taking for granted that the things I loved in each would make them equally dear one to the other.  Only in retrospect does the magnitude of that assumption, and even more so the miracle of having been right in it, seem clear to me.  And so, this evening, as I sat to pen a brief thank you, I found myself wanting to capture the essence of the day in a way that would convey my gratitude for so much more than mere hospitality.  I found myself wanting to say thank you for a friendship that has spanned more than thirty-four years thus far, a full two-thirds of my life.

And so, as I was writing a "thank you" note tonight--not the obligatory kind required by social custom, but the kind you write for relief when your soul is full to overflowing and needs spill itself or burst--I found myself returning to that favorite phrase of mine from Robert Penn Warren, "the friend of your youth."  And coming to my own blog where I knew I could find the quote I was looking for, I found not only Warren's words, but my own, already echoing the very thoughts I'd penned tonight, and I was reminded that this was not the first time I'd felt this gratitude.  And therein lies one of the greatest benefits of blogging, or of journaling (which, blogging really is, just more publicly)--it gives us the opportunity to see our own thoughts return to us like kites upon the wind.

What I wrote tonight was this: "There are fewer than a half dozen people still in my life of whom I would use Warren's term and call 'friends of my youth.'  But when I think back to some of the very best times of my life, you are there.  And here you are again.  There are those for whom we don this or that persona, seeking acceptance, and there are those rarest few with whom there is no such thing as a persona; rather, we find our truest selves, our better and even best selves, drawn out, restored, presented to us again, whole and untarnished, as a gift."

What I wrote almost three years ago was this: "Because what such friends see in us, celebrate in us, treasure in us is that thing which is inscrutable to others, but which they see clearly, without needing to strike through any mask. And that thing is unchanging, even when we ourselves lose touch with it or forget its nature. The joy that we feel in the company of our true friends originates in the role they play in facilitating the emergence of that best self. And the overwhelming joy we feel in reunion with those friends after lengthy separation is, in some ways, as much a joy at reunion with ourselves as with them."

And so, to my friends, those friends of my youth in far better ways than Warren meant, thank you.  Thank you for welcoming introductions and for making a gift of re-introductions.  Thank you.  And thank you.

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Ahh, but this . . .

Yeah, unlike my friend Connelly, I still want nothing to do with free climbing radio towers unless intentionally "falling" off is part of the plan.  But this?  This I would so love to do.

Last Walk Around Mirror Lake - Boom Bip (Boards of Canada Remix) from FroschYankee on Vimeo.

Friday, September 17, 2010

And they say I'm crazy . . .

I'm afraid of heights.  There.  I said it up front.

Yeah, I've summitted three Fourteeners, and I teach skydiving almost every weekend now, but that's different.  I'll crawl all over the outside of an aircraft as long as it's above 1,000 feet and I'm wearing a parachute.  Mountains?  Well, the first one I did, the north Maroon Bell, in Colorado, back in 1978, I was feeling pretty sick at the top.  "That's just altitude sickness," said the lead climber in our group.  "Yeah," I thought, "The kind of sickness you get in the top of a tree that you weren't all that sure you could make your way back down."  We finished that descent by moonlight, by the way.

Anyway, I said all that to say this:  These guys are crazy.  This looks fun under only one circumstance: wearing a B.A.S.E. rig the entire time.  Under that condition, sure, I'd do this.  But otherwise, unclipped, unrigged, unenclosed?  Not on your life.  Nuts.  Plain and simple.

So, without further ado, here's the video.  If you can start it and watch one minute and not watch the entire seven plus, then you're a better man (or woman) than I.  And that's all I have to say about that.

Tuesday, September 7, 2010

Where Did Everyone Go?

I began blogging in earnest in 2007, inspired, largely, by my cousin, Barry, over at Enrevanche. Blogging was, in some ways my most important intellectual outlet.  Through 2008 and the first half of 2009, it was also the place where I hung out with friends.

Then, in 2009, marriage, a new job, a new city, and the blogging didn't so much taper off as simply stop, precipitously.  It dwindled to a short post every couple of months, if that.  Not writing, I was also not reading.  But that watershed year is behind us now.  A custody suit is over (in our favor), a SACS accreditation visit to the new campus I've spent a year getting off the ground is complete (with an unheard of single recommendation about something no one could have anticipated, and the visiting team's single word summation of the inspection was, "Wow!").

In many ways, I've begun to live again.  I no longer work every weekend.  Late days at the school still occur, but they are no longer the rule.

Eventually, I might even begin to write again.  And more importantly, read.  But whom shall I read?  There was a small group of us, who followed one another's words and lives with regularity.  For over a year, I've shared little and read little, and the ether world that I knew has changed.  It's like returning to your hometown after a year or more deployed.  People will have moved on, gotten married, taken up new hobbies.  So it is here.  Barry, my original inspiration, hasn't posted to Enrevanche since July.  Jay, over at The Extended Table, whose beautiful family I met in Colorado, and whose fine gift of spirits I enjoyed some remainder of with my new father-in-law/old friend last night, not since June.  Phil, whose perspective I always enjoyed at The Archer Pelican, hasn't been heard from since April.  And Lex, of Neptunus Lex, I'm sure is still blogging somewhere, but not at the address I used to visit.  Only Buck, whom I'm convinced is a reincarnation of Addison or Steele, seems to have kept the torch burning over at Exile in Portales.

The world can change a lot in a year.  The real world or the digital one.  I hope my friends are out there still, and well.  It won't be the first time I've come back to a place and had to spend time searching for the friends I left behind.

Monday, September 6, 2010

"They'd Trade Labor Day for Days of Labor" -Scott Simon

"Any one of us who is lucky enough to have a job today must worry about losing it. This Labor Day, we might salute the millions of Americans who don’t have jobs, but who in many ways work harder than ever."
On the way to the drop zone on Saturday morning, lucky enough not just to have "a day job," but to have an extracurricular activity that's sometimes better than break even as well, I heard a short piece on NPR that moved me.  NPR is my normal accompaniment on the way to work during the week, but on a weekend, I start out tuned into something a little more designed to get the blood flowing.  I was grateful this past Saturday was different.

You can read or listen to Scott Simon's reflection here.

This Labor Day, I hope you will.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

At Least Somebody's Writing

And really, really well at that.  Of course I knew this when I married her. :-)  It's quiet here at They Rode On, but if you like reading for the beauty of the stories and the words, check out the last few days work over at Cafe Catiche.  You won't be sorry.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Humanities Degrees and Jobs

Reflections on the reality of searching for a job with a degree in the humanities:

Something my better half is struggling with at the moment.  The writer’s response to a solicitation for donation from her alma mater will make you smile:

“As all of the benefits you gave me were intangible, I assume you understand and appreciate the value of my sincere gratitude, in lieu of a financial contribution.”
--"Isn't it pretty to think so." --EH

Friday, April 30, 2010

Three Mile Platform

I cannot believe no one has yet compared the growing ecological disaster in the gulf to Three Mile Island.  Different energy source, yes, but the near meltdown in Pennsylvania set back the development of nuclear power in this country in ways from which it is still recovering.

For the case of offshore drilling, BP's sunken platform still spewing crude into the Gulf of Mexico is going to do the same.  Mark my words.

And perhaps not wrongly so.

This is the first shrimp season in Prince William Sound since the Exxon Valdez ran aground.  Herring have yet to recover.  This disaster promises to dwarf that.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Saturday, March 13, 2010

Recharging Our Batteries and Our Worldview

As we age, I think we sometimes tend to devalue the philosophers that shaped us.  Having found them in our youth, we may think of them as something we should have outgrown.  We shouldn't.

I could do worse than making a habit of using the shift to and from Daylight Saving Time as a reminder to change the batteries in the smoke alarms and re-read The Prophet.

Here's a thought for today, courtesy of Kahlil Gibran:

You talk when you cease to be at peace with your thoughts;
And when you can no longer dwell in the solitude of your heart you live in your lips, and sound is a diversion and a pastime.
And in much of your talking, thinking is half murdered.
For thought is a bird of space, that in a cage of words may indeed unfold its wings but cannot fly.

There are those among you who seek the talkative through fear of being alone.
The silence of aloneness reveals to their eyes their naked selves and they would escape.
And there are those who talk, and without knowledge or forethought reveal a truth which they themselves do not understand.
And there are those who have the truth within them, but they tell it not in words.
In the bosom of such as these the spirit dwells in rhythmic silence.

When you meet your friend on the roadside or in the market place, let the spirit in you move your lips and direct your tongue.
Let the voice within your voice speak to the ear of his ear;
For his soul will keep the truth of your heart as the taste of the wine is remembered
When the colour is forgotten and the vessel is no more.

Thursday, March 11, 2010

Tiger: The Price of Fame

Okay.  I should be above this, I know.  And I have to say that Tiger's public apology--while hardly worthy of monopolizing the evening news as it did--was as gracefully done as such a thing can be.

That said, this is still funny.

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Nothing Less than a Wonder

Nothing less than a wonder
To embrace the spoken word again
As recognition of an undeniable is
Rather than wilting wish
For what will not be.

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Life with a "Foodie"

Being married to a self-proclaimed "foodie" is a beautiful thing.  I hardly know where to begin.

Eating Out
It's a given that we overfeed ourselves in America.  If I were up to full blogging speed, I'd attach one or two links to that statement as proof.  But I flash-blog these days, so you're on your own.  You know it's true though.  As did the authors of The 9-Inch Diet, (which I pretty much read cover-to-cover standing in Barnes & Noble one evening).

Anyway, the beauty of life married to a carnivorous foodie, is that we can split almost anything when we're eating out.  I can't think of anything that one of us loves that the other doesn't as well--with the possible exception of blue cheese, for which I've yet to develop any sort of real enthusiasm.  So, knowing that most restaurants tend to overdo portions, we split a lot of main courses.  Result: we enjoy more food in the long run.  We start with two appetizers instead of one, and almost always have room for dessert.

But eating out isn't what inspired tonight's post.

Eating In
We both love to cook.  And on occasion, we even collaborate.  Take tonight for instance.  Take the turnips.  Yes, turnips.  At least two months ago, my better half introduced me to a vegetable that I'd never actually seen on the table.  Sure, I used to pluck one fresh from the field now and then, out quail hunting with Dad and my Uncle Floyd or Cousin Roy, and bite into it raw like an apple, but I don't recall turnips ever making an appearance on the dining room table when I was growing up--growing up smack dab in the middle of fields of turnips, I might add.

I would reach the half-century mark before first seeing them at the dinner table.  Oddly enough, the turnips in question would come from my father's garden.

Whole Foods
I should take a moment here to note how lucky we are to live close enough to my Mom and Dad to see them once a month or so, and to carry back to Richmond, on a regular basis, the fruits of their labor.  In the summer it was tomatoes, peppers, cucumbers, potatoes, and some of the sweetest watermelon I've ever eaten.  With the advent of fall, it became pecans and turnips.  Back in late December or early January, I brought home a larger bag of turnips than I thought we could possibly eat, in part because not having grown up eating them, I couldn't imagine exactly how we would eat them.  But Laura does a better job of using everything in the pantry or fridge than anyone I've ever known, myself included--and that's saying something.

She had no more idea what to do with turnips than I, but that didn't stop her from preparing an absolutely delicious dish of them the first week we had them.  I think she baked them.  I say, I think, because by the time tonight rolled around, she could no longer remember.  We just both remembered that we really liked them.

So tonight, two months later, after a really great day of getting things done around the house and in the study--a day that began with an almost three-mile walk with Sydni and finished with a hour at the park with the kids--we tackled dinner.  I say we, but really, I was just the sous-chef.  She'd been thawing chicken most of the day and was busy prepping it for the oven when, digging through the vegetable drawer for a lime I needed for the margaritas I was about to concoct, I came upon the second half of that bag of turnips.  Sure they were two months old, but turnips are one of those foods you can store in the ground itself through the winter months if need be.  These had been in our fridge since their arrival from Mom and Dad's garden, and the elapsed time from ground to veggie drawer, as if it mattered, was probably less than six hours.

From Red Clay to Tawny Port and Cream
"Shall I slice up the turnips for dinner?" I asked.  "Sure."  So I sliced while she tried to remember how she'd made that dish we loved so much, now more than two months into the past.  Drawing a blank, she'd settled on sauteing them.  One Google search later, I confirmed that she was on the right track, and so she started them with a little butter, a little olive oil, some salt and a lid, and set them to simmer.

Now I'm more than a little bit sensitive about anything I'm cooking, and figuring that she is too, I didn't want to mess with what she had going, but as everything neared readiness (there was a pan of green beans simmering in just a little water and a lot of vinegar to round out the colors of the meal) I couldn't resist a little experimentation with a small portion of the turnips.  So I spooned a few of the now tender slices into a smaller omelet pan and added a splash of Tawny Port and another of half-and-half and a little more salt and waited to see what would result.  (I'd have used Madeira if I'd had it, but this was the first time I'd missed it since our arrival here, and the Port seemed a near enough substitute.)  After it had simmered enough to reduce the cream and port to a mere hint of something clinging to the turnip slices, I took the chef de cuisine a bite to sample.  From that bite came blissful blessing to dress the rest of the turnips in the same fashion.

The result will be a staple around here, and the next time we're offered a whole armload of turnips from the overflow of Mom and Dad's garden, instead of taking just half because of not wanting to waste food we're not sure how to prepare, you can bet we'll find room for all the turnips they can spare.

Life with a foodie
The baked chicken was mouth-watering and the green beans, well, let's just say that thanks to me, they had enough vinegar in them to keep the mosquitoes at bay well into July, but I liked them.  All in all, that mirror over the dining room table makes more sense every day. ;-)

So much for flash blogging. ;-)

Monday, February 22, 2010

Cafe Catiche: New in the Blog Roll

I may not have time to write these days, but my better half does.

And she's the better writer to boot.

Pay her a visit at Cafe Catiche.

Sunday, February 21, 2010

Guest Post: Roots

I have so little time to write these days that even this gift languished for days in my inbox. If you can read it and wonder why I married the author, then you haven't been reading the blog long enough to understand me yet. Enjoy. Doc
Today, a friend of mine sent me a letter about a conversation she had with a taxi cab driver. He had asked her about her country of origin and she had proudly replied, “I am from Haiti.” His surprising response to this, in light of recent news about the earthquake, was not one of compassion. Instead, he berated Haiti for its social and political difficulties. He asked her why the poverty level was so high and why Haitians were lazy. She said he was haughty and disdainful in his ignorance. My friend is a highly educated, extremely accomplished woman. She said she found herself without words for this man, who was in fact, not of American birth either. He was Indian, coming from a country with a reputation for severe poverty itself. I can understand her frustration, her shock, and her impulse to defend her homeland. She wrote to my family and I because we are from New Orleans. My parents survived Katrina, but their home did not. I was lucky enough to have moved years prior to the storm, but we are all still rebuilding emotionally.

My husband, who hosts this blog today, commented on William Faulkner’s Absalom, Absalom as a parallel to the concept of others not understanding why we live where we do, why we are who we are. He discussed Shreve, a character not of southern descent, who says to Mississippi-born Quentin, “Tell about the South. What’s it like there. What do they do there. Why do they live there. Why do they live at all.” Quentin’s response is that one has to be from there in order to understand it fully, but I think it is like breathing—being from a place is like breathing. It comes so naturally, how could I ever explain it to someone that cannot? And why is it that others enjoy ridiculing and finding fault with each gardenia-infused breath?

Below is my response to my friend’s letter today, with only minor details tweaked:

I will never forget when New Orleans flooded-- the impact on its people who lived there and elsewhere. I was at the gym one day and the television was running footage of the city and newsmen were discussing the looting and crime that was taking place. Two men behind me said to each other that New Orleans was as worthless as Sodom Gomorrah and that this was a deserved punishment. They commented that God was "cleaning out the trash" or something like that. I was so upset, I couldn't speak. Even to this day, here in Virginia, only an hour and a half from the Atlantic Ocean, I am asked why New Orleanians choose to live so close to the water in a flood zone. I have been asked for years why race and poverty is the way it is there.

Haiti is home for you the way New Orleans is home for me. I do not live there physically any more, and my accent is gone, but psychologically, I am as much a New Orleanian as ever. I think that way, eat that way, live that way. For those of us who grew up in this unique city, we know the jewel that our hometown makes us-- we are aware of our contribution to American culture. We were New Orleanians before we were Americans, and I think in many respects, still are.

New Orleans is riddled with crime, terrible poverty, prostitution, and corrupt politics. The men who rise to lead us are often trapped in a cycle of deceit, bribery, and selfishness. Were politicians not friends with the policemen who shut blind eyes to crime in certain districts, the city would be a different place. We are sadly accustomed to crime and poverty. We enable it by tolerating it. That cycle continues.

Why do people stay there? Like Haiti for you, it's home. It's where Mama is, where your first steps were taken, where the neighbors brought you wine when you bought your first house. It's where life is celebrated in parades and festivals year round. It's where you can find the best food and coffee in the world. It's where the air smells of salt and humidity and flowers and spice-- sometimes in parts, sometimes all at once. Louisiana is the cradle for New Orleans. It's where my father's family settled generations ago. His grandmother was born there after her European parents quit the Jenny Lind orchestra to marry. Dad's paternal grandfather's family had been there before that. I have cousins affiliated with the original families that settled the city. And I attended a school established by Ursuline nuns, who ministered to the original families and emigrated with them from France.

Leaving home was hard. Choosing not to live there after my divorce was hard. Staying away is hard. Going back, New Orleans is the missing piece of the puzzle inside me, but life has sent me elsewhere.

I hate when people make rash judgments about our home. You would never hear me ask a New Yorker why he chooses to remain in an urban jungle, why someone from Montana chooses to stay living on his hundred acre tract of "poverty with a view" (as a rancher once told me), or why someone from even the Appalachians chooses to remain remotely located in a mountain shanty. We know who we are.

My hope for Haiti is that it is resurrected as a stronger country. Tragedy draws attention to need-- perhaps that is the strangely divine purpose in this horror and loss. Haiti will need years of rebuilding, like New Orleans. And I hope it finds good, strong souls to lead the way.

Best wishes to you, readers, in wherever you choose to call home. May compassion be yours in your own time of trouble there, and may your own sense of place be as natural as breathing.

Laura V. Bonner

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Josh's on Union Square

This one is for Jay, a brother foodie.

My wife and I took some time this weekend to just kick around san enfants. Lunch on Sunday was nothing short of exquisite. In fact, unless I'm ever treated to a five-star brunch for free, there's little danger of the exquisite-to-price ratio of Sunday's brunch ever being exceeded.

We stumbled onto Josh's on Union Square entirely by accident. I've never had a better brunch, and I never expect to have one half so incredible for twice the price.

Check out the brunch menu: I started with a Bloody Mary and the Smoked Salmon, moved on to the Eggs Benedict, and finished with the Bourbon Pecan Pie and coffee. Across the table, she had a Mimosa and Fried Green Tomatoes, followed by Shrimp and Grits, and finishing with the Creme Brulee.

If you ever make it through Hickory, NC, at mealtime, GO HERE. I promise you won't be sorry.