The Mighty Viking

Conquering those things we must, one story at a time

Category : portraits of a moment

Morning Cafe

The dawn streamed through the glass door of a quiet cafe, guiding my fuzzy mind to the row of perches set before the supporting breakfast counter. By memory, I stumbled along the beam of daylight until there were no more stools, and then shifted myself mechanically back one index, to the last spot.

It may have been comfortable. But most importantly at this sketchy part of the morning, it was solid.

And so was the counter.

And after some hazy conversation with the chirpy waitress, the warmth and aroma of steaming coffee slid in between my hands, and I wrapped myself around its aura.

Gradually, the cafe’s sights and sounds came into focus. First the counter, worn wood-grain with scuffs, and cuts that rendered it precisely perfect for its function. Only one small flaw, a chip where the glue had failed way over there in the corner disturbed this perfection. I reached and slid the bowl of sugar packets over it. But it didn’t help. I knew it was there now, and covering it up just made me think about it. I uncovered it to let it breathe with the rest of us.

The waitress suddenly was standing before me on one hip, pad and pen in hand, as if she’d just spoken and was waiting for my response. My response was a raised eyebrow. From that, and memory, she scribbled a copy of the last three days’ breakfast order, and punched the slip of paper into the order-wheel and spun it around to the kitchen.

The CLUMPCLUMPCLUMP of the bussing cart with a bad wheel lumbered its way behind my over the tile, punctuated by the sudden, eager sizzle of meat and potatoes on the griddle from behind the window to the kitchen. The exhaust fan droned tirelessly pulling air out and spreading the aromas of breakfast around the neighborhood in a smoky rain of onion, and bacon flavor. A disheveled head raised itself from his bed of trash bags in the alley out back,  taking it all in with the quiet joy of a desert landscape drinking in the rain as if a drought was over – until the pangs from his belly reminded him that his money had gone to a bottle. He reached fearfully into his breast pocket to make sure it was still there, and to refresh his hazy wall of protection from the world of pain around him.

Inside, oblivious to this conflict, I opened the gates to my mind, and took in this fresh new day, sorting and placing and knowing the things around me, listening to the patter of a half-dozen conversations around me, listening to the sounds of life, feeling the stream of daylight still casting sideways from the horizon. Life took its place in this new day all around me.

And only that one, virtually imperceptible hole where one man had sealed himself out from it, so near to me in the alley behind, disturbed the perfection of worn, used people and things serving their purpose. One dot of silence poked through where there should have been a voice niggled unrecognized in the back of my mind.

– The Mighty Viking

A Word About Art

If I may wax a little philosophical about Art:
I’ve taken this photo from my trip last week, and removed the color. I then brushed it back in selectively as I saw fit.

It gave the photo some extra meaning to me to do it, and more importantly, the task at hand gave me a chance to ruminate on the meaning I was seeing.

It was a fairly simple process, I wouldn’t say much skill was required. You’ll see that I’ve only re-colorized some of the flags. This was done with intent that I discovered as I worked. I originally intended to recolor all of the flags. But it struck me that the story of our country is far from ended, and those who come after us are still coloring the purpose and meaning of America.

The inspiration for that came in the action. And what I want to say about Art is this: That it is the process of finding meaning – maybe for others, but maybe only for yourself. It is a way of learning, a dynamic process that can only really be taught within the construct of action. It is a very specific, unique method of learning about meaning in life.

And this is why it is important for Art to be included in schools, and deserves a higher degree of deliberate inclusion.

I find it harder and harder to accept that the gradual disappearance of Art from curriculum to be a simple lack of understanding of its value. The more I know about the process of Art – real art that is – the more it feels like it has been intentionally repressed and/or perverted into something with the same name, but without the same power to define ourselves. I don’t entirely know why, all the scenarios I can come up with are very, very dark with implication.  I hope I’m wrong.

But one thing I’m sure of: Art is a part of being Human. Parents, encourage your children to think – not just about a proper end product, but to FEEL the process of creating, to understand it’s effect in them, and to give it its proper place in their makeup. We can’t rely on schools to do it.  We can’t rely on our fractured society to do it.  Art WILL be created.  Whether it nourishes us or bleeds us of our strength depends on both the Artist’s dedication to awareness of inspiration, and the vision of us all to perceive meaning.

There. I don’t think that was too bad, was it?

Now go color something.

Drinking in the Moment

So there I was, rolling along through the Van Duzer Corridor between the Oregon Coast and the Big City – Portland. The curves were tight, the pace was low, and I was driving a 40hp 1965 VW. It was a nice crisp autumn morning, and I was feeling fine.

There was a decent line developing behind me, but I wasn’t worried. I knew I could go no faster, and that quite frankly, no one else should be going faster either. I decided to just bask in the day, drink it in, enjoy the scenery, and not worry about the angst-ridden drivers behind me. The car count behind me got up to 5. then 7, 9, 12 cars. But still, I wasn’t worried.

As we exited the tightest curves, and approached the first of a couple brief passing lanes, I could see a 1990 Dodge Shelby about 4 cars back, jockeying into the oncoming lane. He was in a fine kettle, flashing his lights, blaring the horn, weaving out aggressively as if he were going to pass anyway. I smiled. I knew his kind. None too smart, driving a lame car with stuck on effects to make would-be purchasers think they were getting the full Shelby Treatment, when in fact it was nothing but a K-car underneath.

But I understood his angst too. It was a great road to go blasting down, living one’s fantasies of Nascar, or Formula 1 racing, imagining his name in lights beside the greatest racers of our time. And here was this little Beetle – my Beetle – slowing him down. I understood.

But I answered to a higher power. I drove the speed limit, and just drank in the moment.

The moment we hit the straight stretch – even before the solid yellow line disappeared, he did what I knew he would do. He did his best to light up his tires, jerked his car out into the oncoming lane, and bore down on me. Don’t get me wrong, I’m a competitive guy, and this car closing on me in the rear-view mirror sparked an instinct in me. But still…I smiled. I even chortled a little inside. It was a beautiful day. And it was about to get even more beautiful.

Shelby Sam went flying past me – had to be doing at least 80 as he scream past, arm extended over the car, violently flipping the bird at me with one hand, working the horn with the other, looking more at me than the road. I have to admit that there was, at that moment, just a twinge of sympathy. Not much, just a hint of it. I recovered quickly.

As he roared past, and reached the point where he wanted to pull back in front of me, his car suddenly jerked back and forth. It had been exactly at the moment that he realized that in front of me was a motorcycle cop, and that he was about to overtake that cop going 90mph. He lit the tires with his brakes, skidding a little back and forth, and then just froze. He couldn’t pass. He didn’t know, suddenly, how to slow back and pull in behind. He was just stuck, mentally, out there in the oncoming lane, doing precisely 55mph.

The motorcycle cop gesticulated to him. With a gracious sweep of his hand he invited the Shelby guy to pull in front of him, and then over. It was such beautiful gesture, kind, understanding, magnanimous. They slowed on the shoulder as one, lights blinking, horn silent.

And as I overtook them on that beautiful fall morning, I offered the best I had, a double tap of a Volkswagen horn. It’s chirpy perkiness brightened up an already glorious morning. And behind me, every car that had just witnessed the moment double-tapped their horns in succession. It was a Noble Moment of solidarity from we drivers.

19 years later, I’m still chuckling.Scan10002

The Dreariest Day of the Year

I notice that some people make a tradition of wishing others a happy New Year,and fill the ether

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 with resolutions about weight, conditioning, removal of bad habits, attainment of good ones,

And wealth. It always seems to come up that we hope wealth for ourselves and each other.

Well, this just doesn’t make sense to me. I personally have never been wealthy in the traditional sense, and the sense that I did believe myself to be wealthy usually revolved around the beginnings of relationships – marriage, the birth of children, etc., not so much annual observation of the single most dreary day of the year.

Dreariest day of the year?” you challenge, most incredulous, thinking of all the parades, and fireworks, and football, and honeyed hams and confetti. Mounds of confetti.

Ayup. Dreariest. Day. Of… the… year

Granted, I love sitting around eating deviled eggs, and lolling on the sofa chatting it up on the internet, watching two football games at once, texting my kids stupid football jokes in cities far away from myself. But this day, here in the Northern Hemisphere, long has a reputation of being – if you happen to be one of the 3 people in the hemisphere without children, wife, cell phone service and satellite hookup, or tickets to a parade and/or bowl game – a traditional day one week after the festive familial joy of Christmas, the last fervent strains of the Hallelujah Chorus finally fading into wallowing echo in your head, the shrieks of children and grandchildren getting EXACTLY the useless gizmo they so desperately wanted – (take a breath here) This day, finally clear of all the hoopla, the cleanup and recovery after the hoopla, sitting quietly in your chair sensing the sudden vacuum of noise and bustle.

Is the first moment you wake up and realize with a chilled foreboding, “It is winter”. No, not the Charles Dickens Christmas winter, not the Currier and Ives sleigh-bell-festooned joyful celebration – no – just winter. Cold. Pale. Heatless, lifeless, devoid of the things we warm-blooded creatures have managed to learn to live without, but not to live without pining for. The sky is a pale blue, the sun barely mustering into what should have been a mid-morning azimuth before stalling, barrel-rolling over backwards and diving for airspeed just to make sure it can make sunrise tomorrow. That distant, cold orb that in summer sucks the sweat out of our brow, browns our skin, fries eggs on the sidewalk, begs to be let back down in its bed and sucks the life from our marrow by the gloom of an ice-clouded sky. There is no hope for tomorrow, it will be dreary too. If you’re lucky, the excitement will be how much snow piles up during the next storm, or how high the river might crest. But we are old now, and do not get out of school for snow.

And so on this dreariest day of the year I cannot bring myself to lie to you, to pretend that I can wish with any hope a happy New Year. The best I can offer is that you have an entire year. Yes, that’s it. May you have a 2014, in its full entireness.

Live it.

Pace yourself.

Take this festivity that we’ll make tomorrow, and squirrel some away, that you can pay it out over the next few months, while the dreary season lasts.

When Spring comes to us, sit on the grass, and feel it growing beneath you.  Spend a cold morning curled up over a bulb of crocus, or hyacinth (heck, both if you were smart) and watch it come creeping out of the half-frozen ground into life, ahead of everything else in your garden.  Make friends with it, even if it leaves your knees stiff, and your insides shivering.  It is good form as a host to welcome the first comers of a journey.

And when the Plum trees bloom, and the dogwood springs overnight into a dazzling white explosion, stand beneath that tree, even if it is but a small one, and look up through the blooms at the sky beyond, be it a brilliant spring morning, or soaking your face with the showers that must come – look up, and let the growing power of the sun, filtered by the dogwood’s testament, caress your face in its promises, in its tears of joy at return, and it’s beaming face of a friend well-met again. That is it’s only job. Let it fulfill it’s destiny by bringing you hope in the wake of this dreary season.

And when you look out on your lawn, and realize it once again needs a trim, go quickly before you get your mower, and roll in the grass like a week-old foal. Your old, tired legs are no worse that that foals gangly, uncooperative underpinnings – go get in the grass. And then call your son or daughter from across town, or across the state, to help you get up again. Stay there until they arrive, and feel in their arms the strength that once was yours. Relish the passing of this strength. And hold the wee grandchild’s ears to your lips and whisper to them that someday they too will be strong – because grandma is making them oatmeal cookies this very moment.

When the rains have slowed for a few days in mid-spring, go into your garden with a spade, and turn over one shovel-full of earth. Drop that shovel-full onto the paving stones beside the garden, and with the help of someone very small, get down there and count the worms. crumble the earth – find all you can, and put them in a plastic cottage cheese container you cleaned out and set in a cupboard for sealing leftovers. Let this one go. fill it with worms, and a little soil, and count them all out of that shovel-full. When you’ve finished, put the dirt back, put the worms on top, and together count how long it takes them to disappear again. Count loudly enough for the neighbors to hear. It’s important to let your gardening competitors hear how lively your worms are, and how smart your grandchildren are. And…It is one more thing for you to know.

When the rains of June come, and the wildflower patch you planted in a box alongside your house has gone wild with color, call your daughter and see if she’s had any contractions. If she even hesitates to answer, put your wife in her car with the bag you’ve packed for her, and launch her like a torpedo, to answer the hesitation before it becomes fear. Take the wee ones to the river, and play in the rocky river bed, letting your bottom bounce with the current over the rocks while they ride you like a fishermen’s dory, screaming “Shark, Shark!” in high-pitched fear of such magnitude that they squeal with laughter. Wade beside them on your hands in the shallows against the rushes, and point out the frogs, staying close to make sure no one actually eats a pollywog.

In the heat of July, and not a moment before, haul yourself out of those shallows, and let your drenched body dry from beginning to end in the midday sun. Call out the shapes of clouds out loud, even if the grandkids have long since gone home to their mommies and daddies, pick up your cell phone and text your kids the pictures of the clouds, and tell them to pass along what you see. Make sure and do it while they are at work, late morning, when they are fully aware of just exactly how much longer they have to spend indoors today. And don’t feel guilty for a second.

As the golden hues of August begin to emerge, drive to the nearest wheat field – especially if it takes several hours. Step into the stalks along its edge, and feel for a moment the solidarity of the whole field’s worth of individual plants whenever a breeze rushes by. Sway with that wheat, and remember to yourself how to bend – remember to do it amongst friends. Text one or two of them a picture of where you’re standing, and explain why. And thank them.

The fruit harvest of late summer will soon come. Begin to visit orchards just to see how they are being tended. If they’ll let you, lie in the shade of a peach tree, and spy for yourself a nicely developing fruit, and contemplate that fruit. Think of it, sliced and in a bowl with cream. Listen to its succulence. Make sure you know how to make a good crumb crust for the cobbler. Quietly, and vividly, remember the feel of your grandmother’s hands holding yours, teaching you to pare and slice a fruit into a bowl – remember how she smelled, and how her voice warbled in those last years as she told you that you could have another cookie from the counter. Remember where she lies, and go pay your respects.

Go far away in September. Wherever you are – don’t get caught there in September. Go, feel the road beneath your wheels, and the hot wind in your face.  Chase the line between earth and sky until you fully grasp the magnitude of the horizon. Aim for it. You’ll know when you’ve gotten where you’re going when you don’t know where you are, exactly, and realize you no longer want your phone to tell you. Oh…and find a different way home.

When October starts to whisper in ominous tones the impending winter, take its warnings seriously. Let the instinct to gather, to harvest, to make sure you know your neighbors, fill you. Visit your neighbors, especially if they are much older than you. If they are well, they will fill your arms with blackberry jam, and apple butter, sealed with wax and love that no longer has children to be sealed for. You are now that child. Be the child, and bring whole-wheat toast you made yourself, pop it into their toaster, and share the first jar of jam right then and there. If they are not well, they will have no jam. Bring your own. Tell them about how much you loved your own grandparents, and let them be yours for the moment. And leave the rest of the loaf of bread when you go.

When the first real storm of the fall hits, go out into it, and feel its madness. Let the wild winds foment around you, tug at your spirit, try to take you away from where you are, to places they can only whisper promises to. Hold the wind in your hands, wrap your grip around its hard pull, knowing you can’t hold it, knowing it can’t take you. Strive that futile challenge to its limit – and then with all your heart release it – letting it ascend again back into the heavens, but bearing your scent, your struggle, your mark upon it.

And as, once again, the Christmas music starts again, and families gather, and remind each other they still belong, let whatever familiarity you have be lent out freely.  Push, pull, or drag the joy of Christmas with you through the next holiday, and in it’s afterglow, look back again.

If you can remember its’ beginning, you either did very well, or very poorly. Whichever you did, rejoice, because in the end, what matters is not your wealth, nor your happiness. It is enough to have had a complete year, One Full Turn around the sun, and in that turn, to be able to say, “I lived it”.

Breakfast Symphony

It isn’t much, this writing I do in the early morning.  I sit in a small, hometown restaurant, sometimes filled with locals and truckers.  They tell local stories that don’t mean to say much, but in the end, says everything that needs saying.  Other times, like today, I’m in before the regulars, to say my good mornings the the cook, who has my order memorized but politely asks me anyway.  With a click of her pen and a swoosh I find myself in muted solitude, as the waitress doesn’t come in for another half hour.  The morning itself sees a break, and strikes up a conversation.

This morning begins with a low, soft song of the reefers, an exhaust fan over the griddle, and eggs, potatoes, and meat frying and crackling in the grill.
Like every good song, it is also a story.  I hear the punctuation with the metallic scrape of the spatula across the griddle, the staccato rapping of its hard edge chopping, another long scrap, and the sudden flourish of freshly sizzling food.
The coffee pot begins its morning crescendo, a light but powerful chatter of drops.  At first there is nothing more than the thin tinkling of drops against the naked glass, and I find myself leaning in just a little, to catch the delicate trill.  slowly though with the patience and timing of a Master, it broadens and deepens into a torrent of hot liquid pools.  The humble Pyrex is transformed, as I sit across from it, to a full throated percussion piece, and I close my eyes as the movement pulls together in powerful finale.
And there, in time with the sweeping crest of my own emotions, the music quiets, and allows my imaginations a space to be, to reflect, and to allow my joy at its beauty bask, and cure in its own light for a moment.
 The plate’s gentle clunk onto my table, and the swirl of coffee into my cup bring me to the next movement of this extraordinary symphony: The Aromas.

Requiem for a marmot:

The red-brown rodent held his body in tense anticipation on the edge of a wide, flat rock. To the left and right he could not see it’s end, but 50 feet straight ahead was a high spot, perfect for basking in the midmorning sun.

He prepared for this scamper across open ground with the same ritual he always did, its refined tradition having kept him safe for three seasons. He saw no reason to change his habits now. He held stone-still, he listened for the foxes and weasels, and watched for the shadow of the hawks that had taken so many of his family. The only shadows were of the behemoths swirling past with such mind-numbing speed that he couldn’t comprehend their arrival or departure, only that fleeting moment when they were just suddenly there. But they seemed a benign species, never taking predatory interest in him. And so he worried not at all about them.

He focused even more sharply on his objective, and on his awareness of his enemies. They were crafty, and his only defenses were stillness and speed. The time for stillness had come to an end. Now, his body taut and ready, he brought forth every ounce of speed he could muster to reach the wall and return to invisible stillness in the warmth of the sun. He burst into motion.

Julia Cartwright fumed at the wheel of her ancient brown Datsun station wagon. It’s sides suggested wood paneling, but closer inspection revealed that it was an illusion created by a combination of rust, sun-fading, and a million tiny scratches. Her angst, always compounded by the stress of driving this dilapidated car, was fanned by the prospects of the afternoon shopping invitation from her sister. Her sister’s life was perfect, from the new car, to the trim lawn surrounding the pristine driveway that her own car would have to infest while they drove The Perfect Car to the mall. She loved her sister, really she did. But she always felt this internal animosity towards her success, with an undertone of cynicism at the compromises in principles she always assumed must have accompanied them. Her own stance of eschewing fashion, luxury, and comfort had not given her the sense of satisfied peace she’d always believed it would. And now she drove – not to the mall but to her sisters Perfect Driveway, where they would stash her car while they went out in public together. Just once, she thought, she’d like for her sister to say, “hey, your car is a classic, and it has such cool bumper stickers. It gives off such an aura.”

But the only aura it gave off caused the mechanic to furrow his brow, when she could afford him. Its rusting body’s return to its natural state would have been better to allow to happen in a deserted field. But her chosen profession and ideals didn’t allow for a better option. so instead she drove it onward anyway, in sullen compromise. Usually she avoided the thoughts that came when she thought too hard about it. But visiting her sister had a way of digging up the emotions out if the compost bed they sat in to rot. The atmosphere in her head was rank with its volatile aroma as she sped as best she could down the highway.

20 scampering steps into his dash, the marmot suddenly felt an unseen weight, pinching and then smashing his tiny body into the strange, black rock. In an instant his body exploded, his guts bursting through a a widening hole rent in his abdomen by the inconceivable weight of the speeding behemoth. His body rolled five times in that one second, his bulgingl eyes fixed on its rear bumper. A faded sticker was the only witness to his passing, his squashed lungs quivered in vain to breathe just once more. It spoke its ceaseless Utopian message as an impromptu eulogy and benediction as the light faded from his eyes.

“Visualize World Peace” it intoned.

And bowed an amen as it disappeared over the horizon toward a Perfect Driveway, to hide its social shame.

Where the Rubber Goes

Usually what you see here is a story, and today is no exception.  Except today, there are no words , just photos and music, a look back at the life of one simple part of a machine, and its significance.

i do a bit of riding my motorbike, and this weekend, my rear tire came to its noble end.  Installed a year ago, it has gone above and beyond the call of duty.  So I put together a slideshow with music, to celebrate its passing.

 

Does it sound strange to eulogized a mere tire?  Perhaps, but our mourning and melancholy, our celebration of life, death, and re-birth, is not for the fallen, or the departed, but for ourselves, who remain to find new life, and new meaning as the world around us changes.  relax, let go, and embrace the next, yet unknown adventure

.http://youtu.be/KlGUWf6Qi54

 

 

 

 

This Sunday morning began, as do many of the weekend mornings around here – slowly, with my wife and I bringing online our various faculties – awareness of our children’s status and location, the reason for the Odd Gait on the way to the bathroom, the most appropriate contortion required to correct said Odd Gait, and creating the illusion of presentable appearance. The latter generally comes in stages, as we come to grips with the level required. On a Sunday, “Functional and decently enrobed in Fuzzy Things and comical T-shirts” is the norm. “Functional” generally means glasses, coffee, and something to keep the hair out of our eyes.

From my entry to the Submarine Service in 1983 until a few years ago, I had maintained short hair, but a few years ago I woke up on my normal haircut day wondering to myself, “Why am I going for a haircut? I don’t even like haircuts”. And so, on that brisk December morning 5 years ago, I stopped. It has created endless mirth and/or derision with the kids and wife, but it’s my hair, and it’s length is my choice. My wife threatens to cut my hair in my sleep sometimes. I threaten to beat up her relatives with the jawbone of an ass. And thus…the hair grows.

This morning I had the early morning duty, and so was well ahead of her in the process of coming to grips with Sunday. Fuzzy things: check. Comical shirt: check. Coffee: double-check. Hair-thingy: check. And I was well on my way to my Sunday morning station, waffle-making in the kitchen.

This week was Strawberry Waffle week, and so I headed to the basement freezer to retrieve a bag of berry sweetness. Alas, I found the stack of ruined food in a bucket, barring the opening of the freezer door. My wife told me about this bucket two days ago, and asked me to take out to the trash. Seems one of the kids had raided the basement, and left the freezer door open long enough to created a frost-laden tomb for most of our stores as the freezer had valiantly tried in vain to freeze an extra 1200 square feet of space, and a path to melted freedom for that which rolled out of the freezer during the invasion, which then marched on in the great circle of life to “rotted food” status.

I shoved the offending bucket aside with a fuzzy-cloaked foot, and came up against the Tomb of Ice. Fortunately for me, right next to the freezer is an area I use for working, and a crowbar happened to be sitting there. I snatched up the tool with biblical flare, and applied what turned out to be the only appropriate tool for the Philistonian strawberry freezer bag. The usual butter-knife-as-a-lever approach would have never worked, the strength of the foe was too great. As it was, my hands spent long enough inside the freezer to go nearly numb – completely numb on the right side. When the top bag sprang free of its frozen bonds and bounced its brick-like weight onto my foot I was so proud of myself. I started back up the stairs with crowbar and strawberries in hand, and the bucket of rotting food went quietly back to forlorn decomposition.

It was in this state that I first met my wife for the morning. She had gotten as far as the coffee pot, but no further. She took one glance at her battle-weary husband ascending from the basement with the crowbar gripped victoriously in his left hand, and her eyebrows shot up in a way incongruent with her level of awareness. The poetic “first waft of coffee in the morning” moment made ubiquitous by endless coffee commercials…they never show these moments. These are the harsh reality – that wisdom is truly bought by moments when your shocked and overwhelming response is slowed by a mouthful of hot coffee, and the physical restraint required to contain that coffee gives you an aire of wisdom and tolerance.

There was one other area that I was ahead of her on this lazy Sunday morning. My hair was safely out of the way, held by my own, non-glittery plain brown hair-thingy. She realized this as I walked past her to put the crowbar on the counter, and the frozen berries in the microwave. As the microwave set busily to warming the berries, I sauntered into the living room, and she apparently launched a covert attack, tracking down and grasping to steal the hair-thingy from the back of my head. By all accounts, her pre-caffeinated state caused three misses before she finally grasped the swinging ponytail.

At this point, caught totally unaware, all my submarine training came to bear fully on the attack at hand. I wheeled around to pull my hair from her grasp, and simultaneously pulled her close by circling my right arm behind her. The sudden movement floated her fuzzy things just enough that my hand slipped under the comical t-shirt and met her bare back. This was, you may recall, the hand that spent the most time in the freezer just moments ago, and was still numb.

Her reaction to my hand caused the hair-thingy she had managed to slide off my hair to become immediately available for my retrieval. Also available was the munition of a non-verbal acoustic assault that defied several laws of physics, and made me blink. But I held tight, basking in the sudden warmth my numb hand felt, and the unexpected intimacy of we two, in our fuzzy things and comical t-shirts. The desperate panic of a moment ago was punctuated with an intensely quiet, focused moment between us, and our lips clung to each other until the cold in her back sent her kidneys into cryogenic stasis. And then, looking deeply into each other’s eyes, we watched…to see which of us would flinch first…which would make the dive for the hair-thingy lying on the floor four feet from us.

Her eyes darted first, and I let her go. It has long been an accepted fact in our relationship that she is quicker than I. I never really had a chance. I threatened her relatives, but she pointed out that the ascribed Ass’s jawbone was already flailing the air in a futile soliloquy, and the matter was dropped in uncontrolled mirth. She had her hair-thingy. She had her strawberries. And, she had the last laugh.

And I? I had a tub of decomposing food in the basement, a free-flowing mane of hair, a warm hand,

…And a coffee-flavored kiss from a queen wearing fuzzy things and a comical t-shirt.

I win.

 

 

A friend of mine’s brief description of her morning reminded me of things I love about Autumn, and inspired the following.  It’s still early in the season, but never too early to write about coffee!

The cold grey gloom of the dawn sky matched perfectly with the tarmac and smooth steel beams reflecting in the tungsten lights, to create a cloud of gloom over a small group of people huddled around the airport coffee shop. They stood, mindless, still dazed by the bustle of the early morning security gate check, vaguely hoping to collect themselves with a cup of something warm. The gigantic windows opening to the twin terminal wings presumed to give patrons something to look at. On this morning, grey planes on a dark grey tarmac with a weeping grey sky backdrop was more than any human wanted to endure.

She arrived on this gloomy scene with the stoic anticipation of a traveler embarking to tropical places. The anticipation that had fueled her excitement for a week now slowed, like a semi toiling over a final grade before the descent into the big city. She was fleeing the gloom, but it stood there, in her path, weaving it’s coils around her mind. Her last thought as she stepped up to the entirely-too-perky-for-this-morning-can-I-get-something-started-for-you-does-it-show-that-I’ve-already-had-six-cups-of-my-own-brewed-to-perfection-coffee Barista was that surely they must have something to help. Her foggy mind deflected most of the Barista’s assault, but she realized she could now read the menu. Or at least one line of the menu. Pumpkin Spice Latte. That would do.

The bustle behind the counter swirled, in stark contrast to the rest of the coffee lounge. Wide padded benches under a fifty-foot ceiling invited people to take in the airport experience in three-dimensional grandeur, to forget about the world and become part of it all at the same time. People sat, lost in their paper, in slow conversation, in gripping determination to make it out of there. Others, who were further into their morning coffee rituals, talked in small pockets of conversation, becoming aware and then trying to distract themselves from the growing dreariness outside. She found a seat open between two of these groups, conversation on one side, sullen silence on the other, and dropped down just long enough to unload her bags, and to hear her number from behind the counter. The dissonance between the sudden relief of unloading and having to get right back up again made her forget herself. She left her bags momentarily unattended, realizing this with a pang of angst as she reached out to the counter for her coffee. The sudden fear of non-compliance disrupted her so badly she nearly abandoned her reach to rush back to her bags, and fought down the panic by focusing on the warmth of the cup. She sat back in her seat again, sighing with relief that no one called security, and tucked her purse and travel bag close against her left hip, nesting them between herself and the end of the bench. She checked the time, mentally gauged just how relaxed she had time to get, and then settled in to her coffee and surroundings. Her awareness of the gloom outside returned.

 

Her internal commentary slowly turned to the irony of traveling to the tropics on a cold autumn day like this, and she inhaled deeply of the aroma curling from the cup. She found herself transported through a magic portal, suddenly thinking about the things yet undone for winter – the next leaf-raking, the turning of her garden, and draining her garden hose and packing it into its winter place in the garage. Another sip of her coffee enveloped her mind, flavoring her thoughts with notions of how things should be in this season. She thought about November, and how things would be when she returned. Slush on the night streets, lights glaring off the wet pavement. She thought about the blanket of leaves that would lay overher small yard, covering it up to its chin for its winter’s sleep. The bustle of costumed children trampling up to her door on Halloween echoed in the back of her mind. Her cat’s warmth as she sat in the evening reading, and being with this companion, while the winds of November howled in vain outside. Her favorite chair and side-table, with books she liked, called to her from through that portal. She found herself hoping she wouldn’t miss it.

She inhaled deeply of the thick spice steam that lingered in the cup after the last was gone. The grey of the morning brightened from its predawn gloom , she could begin to see the pattern of the rain outside on the tarmac. And with the smell of autumn still swirling around her head, almost…almost she turned back to the exit, to hail a cab, and to go check on the sleeping bulbs in her garden.

Spit-shake promises

 

When I was a young boy at summer camp, I had a friend who, upon our parting at the end of a week’s friendship, invoked the spit-on-your-hands oath on me to seal a promise between us. The oath required each of us to go home execute a feat of daring and adventure on a bicycle that we had dreamt up. We both thought it was just plain crazy, so crazy in fact that we must, absolutely must do it. Since we each lived in separate cities, we would have to be satisfied with individual achievement. But the hilarity, the glory if we succeeded, the pride of accomplishment – required that we return with proof of our deed. We swore a spit-shake oath that we would come back the next summer to share the epic story of adventure and triumph.

 

But by the next year, my family had moved to a different state, and I remember that moment when I realized that our move meant I couldn’t go back to that same summer camp again. I was bitterly disappointed, because I had already kept my side of the bargain, and was eager to get back to summer camp and exult in my triumph. Half of the deal was the doing, the other half was the telling. The story itself was a story of hilarity, pride, and drama, because of the consternation I had caused adults, and for the pluck, physical pain, and daring it took to achieve that feat. The dream was big, the achievement even bigger. And never once for a moment did I ever doubt that my friend had also triumphed, or that it had cost him any less than it cost me to achieve it. It has been a long time since I have thought of that story, but for many years through childhood and young adulthood I imagined what his version of the story must be, wished I could hear it, and wished I could tell mine.

 

The challenge of that experience got something started in me. I began to add like-minded accomplishments that would fit with the eventual story-telling should we meet again. I once fought a fierce headwind riding to Garibaldi northbound, pumping as hard as my long, skinny adolescent legs could pump just to keep moving forward, feeling the thrill of speed when I turned around and headed home at 45 miles per hour with tailwind. I rode an 85 mile ride through the wheat fields of Walla Walla on the spur of the moment one Sunday afternoon, wearing out a friend who hitched a ride, but still had the decency to have the guy pick me up too when he caught up to me a few miles up ( I hadn’t realized the route I chose was over 100 miles). I got a speeding ticket on the bicycle in my small college town, something even the judge who fined me thought I should hang on the wall with pride. I learned to ride a tandem, and to ride a friend’s Honda CBX, a motorcycle with a monstrous 6-cylinder engine, and rode that thing all over the county whenever I could borrow it. All these small stories were added to the list of epic tales we would have to tell if I ever ran across my friend again, hoping that the extra escapades might make up for having missed our first rendezvous.

 

At some point in my childhood, bicycles and motorcycles had already begun to merge in my dreams of freedom. My dad and I would ride through the back roads together on his motorcycle on weekends, I sitting on the back, learning to feel the movement and balance of the motorized bike’s faster speed, learning to be aware of the passing world that was finally in sync with my short attention span. Weekend rides weren’t for me to catch up with the world, it was for the world to catch up with me. I developed a strong attachment for the out of the way places, spots I could only imagine might exist until we got there. And I imagined! I dreamt of wild places, wide open places, and places I could get lost in for as long as I wanted.

 

It wasn’t as if this penchant for adventure came to me out of the blue. In addition to my dad, my grandpa was a motorcyclist, two of my uncles rode, and even my great-grandpa had had his day in the saddle in his youth. But the person that fueled my thirst for the open highway the most was someone I never knew. It was in the same autumn that followed my summer camp experience. As my dad and I were out riding, we saw a biker at an out-of-the-way gas station as we rode past. He was loaded with pack and bedroll, and was heading into the high desert. The roar of his open exhaust as he pulled onto the road overwhelmed all the other sensations I had of that moment. The sound of those pipes, roaring past and then fading into the distance, pulled at my imagination so hard I have never recovered. And the only moment’s contact I had with him was a quick nod and wave he cast my way as he saw father and young son together. I wanted to wave. I tried to wave. But the moment was too fast, and I was too busy savoring it to raise my hand until it was too late. I waved at his shrinking figure behind us disappearing into the horizon’s heat mirage a quarter mile back. And I have never stopped.

 

Today, with the sun well into the morning sky, I pulled onto the roadway rested and ready for the short two-hour ride to my meeting. Behind lay nearly a thousand miles of mountain, sea, and forest highway between me and home. The mid-morning sun shone through and around an armada of billowing clouds that drifted across the sky like silent glider-bombers, navigating their way to a secret target beyond the horizon. The road turned and twisted gracefully, a welcome relief from the dramatic and challenging mountain pass yesterday. The bike beneath me rumbled comfortably through rolling hills, sometimes covered with boreal woodland, and other times open to farmland carved out of the midst of this vast forest that stretched as far as I could see.

 

Clusters of houses emerged occasionally on plots that left room for men to build shops with tin siding. Nearly every one of these clusters had at least one sign hanging next to the road: “Welder for Hire”, “Hay, Delivered”, or “Walt’s Welding and Repair”. Ranches proudly announced that they raised draft horses, cattle, farms that sold hay, and that they had been doing so since 1959. And so the communities announced to the passing travelers not just that goods or services were to be had, but that they were done by real people, doing what they loved, and what they excelled at. Workman’s pride were written on these highway signs. I wanted to know these folk, to hear about their stories.

 

But I knew that to experience these stories, I also had to learn about how Aunt Marabel had got the shingles last winter, and was still in an awful way, and that Roy up on Winter Hill Road had driven his pickup into the ditch last week, drunk off his gourd, and it served him right that the tow truck had pulled off a fender and possibly twisted the frame getting him out. Heck, it was his sixth accident in the last two years. This is how those stories come. They never sound proud of themselves or their work. But the signs don’t lie.

 

And so through this country I rode towards a business meeting. You might think that having a business that allows me to ride a motorcycle to the ends of the earth, to ride through country like this, sounds like a dream job. Well – it is, and more than you know. I’ve never been especially good at sitting in one place. Having a place to be every day – even the thought is excruciating. But being able to spend time on lonely highways, sorting out the millions of thoughts that constantly flood through my head – yes, it’s the kind of dream someone who lives in mortal fear of being stuck inside on any given day lives for.

 

I like to think I’ve paid my dues. I’ve knelt on the aft deck of a submarine in January, covered in salt-spray and rain, chipping paint. I’ve sat in a noisy, stifling sonar room in the tropics trying to resurrect equipment that had succumbed to the humidity. I’ve worked through the night pursuing the answers to defiant technical problems that absolutely, positively had to be fixed, overnight. I’ve had more than my share of dreams come to nothing. Many times I’ve failed myself and others. And tomorrow? Tomorrow I’m liable to make a mistake due to laziness, loss of focus, or inexperience. But not today. Today I’m following my dream. Today I ride the open highway, adding another story to a spit-shake promise from my childhood.

 

Today’s ride took me through a small city, and then worked the grade upward and northward out of town. When I reached the top and the road leveled off and resumed its meandering turns, I saw to my left a cluster of homes. A pair of boys played, with their dog cavorting beside them, in the summer sun. The dog was jumping and spinning while one of the boys whirled a stick over his head. Both boys, and presumably the dog, were laughing and leaping through the grass in a crazy dance of hilarity. The boys stopped when they heard my bike rumble from down the hill and around the bend, leaving the dog dizzy and still spinning, chasing a stick that was no longer there. They both looked up at me, cresting the hill and beginning down towards them through a long, sloping corner that curled around their field, and one boy started to wave. It was a self-conscious half-wave from the hip, as if hoping I didn’t see him staring at me, but wanting to look ready if I did. The other, smaller boy, dropped the stick and stared in with reckless abandon, leaping up and down in a frantic exaggerated over-the-head wave that destroyed the first boy’s hope of not being seen. They continued to wave, turning with my passing, following my progress through the sweeping turn that encircled them. There was something about the first boy’s gaze that I recognized. This boy was in awe. It was not for me personally that he was transfixed – he saw a dream. He thought of possibilities, the idea that two wheels could take him somewhere so far no one else knew about it. It was the same dream I had, staring after an unknown biker, wondering what road he would take, what compelled him to ride it, wondering what it was like to be free, dreaming of the unknown down that highway I had never been, waiting for my chance to find out what was over the horizon. I knew the power of that dream to shape an entire life.

 

Curiously, just a little while earlier I had come across the phrase, “Seize the Day” lying there in my head as one of my random thoughts. I had rolled it around in my mind like a fine wine, and had enjoyed the small afterthoughts that come along with such mindless internal banter that bikers that have ridden a long highway know. But now, it suddenly seemed serious, and more than an accident that I should have had thought it just now. In the space of a couple short seconds I remembered, as if was yesterday, my friend’s spit shake, and the solemnity to which we bound ourselves to take action to accomplish a daredevil feat of such epic magnitude that it would require a retelling a year later. I remembered how it was the beginning of a dream of the open road. I remembered how another biker’s wave of acceptance had stuck with me for so long. I realized how far that oath had driven me. In a sudden gesture to compensate for that long-lost moment and the importance of its promise, I mentally took hold of the dream I was seizing this day, and squeezed it hard, until its juices spilled into my gloved hand, and through my fingers. I raised my hand, dripping with the joy and freedom I held now, and waved to those two boys a spit-shake, a promise that through all the heartache of failure that might come to them, a boy’s dream can still come true. Dare big. Do the things you must. Find the furthest horizon you can find and chase after it. Get on a bike and ride into the darkest storm you can find. What you seek will show up when you least expect it.