Saturday, February 28, 2009

The Shortest Month

Before the summer, before the spring
When the snows had blown and gone
I sat at your bedside, listening
To winter rain's whisper song

"It's nearly planting time," wistfully
You sighed with a crooked grin
You lay there in bed so peacefully
Worn body so frail and thin

A man is more than his bone and blood
Without it, he ain't a man
A clue you'd wished that I'd understood
A riddle you'd learned from the land

But I don't understand your passing
The finitude of your breath
Your body bent low like a sapling
Before the grim gale of death

So before the summer, before the spring
Each year in the shortest month
I'll lay at your graveside, listening
For whispers of spring to come

Friday, February 27, 2009

Postcards Without Postage, pt. 6

Dear Martina,

You were subdued that Wednesday night, when we said goodbye for the last time in that half-lit parking lot. Had I known it was the last time, I might have said some things. Things deep from the heart that while probably understood are better expressed.

So, as always, I listened. There was always something to say, something just beneath the surface that I couldn't position on my tongue. But the time for talking never came for me. I gladly listened, thinking that the bothersome parts of me could disappear, that my misplaced passion could be silent.

Now that you're gone, my tongue is loosed but so are you. I've heard rumors of a new town, a new last name. I would love to hear it directly from you but I scared you away, didn't I? You were subdued because somehow in my listening, the silent was spoken. I didn't know it that night, but a half decade of nights later with no word from you, I'm putting the pieces together.

I found a snapshot of us in the picture box last night. We are in Chicago, bright city lights crowning your windblown hair. We are arm in arm, and it looks easy. If only things had remained that black and white.

I hope you are well in your new life. Know that you are missed by an old friend,


Tuesday, February 24, 2009

Adam Hamilton, pt. 2

Her classmates were even less attuned to her story. The very few with whom she felt safe sharing would often respond with a momentary blank stare before admitting, “I’m not sure I get it.” Disappointed, Vanessa would love them just as much, but she mentally adjusted the safety she felt with them. She wondered if she was really the only one who got it.

Jenny, however, responded to her story with an easily detectable false comprehension. Vanessa had expected nothing different from her best friend. She’d always believed that best friends came in categories and Jenny was a situational best friend. She had been there from the beginning in every situation imaginable, and that meant a lot. But, Vanessa never felt a soul level connection with her, never felt completely safe sharing everything. Sure, she would confess her crushes and vent her frustrations with her family, and Jenny was always marvelous at fielding those types of interactions. To her, that’s exactly what a best friend did, and she only felt her disconnect with her best friend in the occasional awkward silences of mutual estrangement.

Jenny was as surprised as everyone else when after all the unrequited love declared for Vanessa by the hapless lot of Maple Ridge adolescent boys, it was Adam who managed to get to her. He did it without fanfare, and seemingly without effort. Jenny did not realize that the secret to his success was his questions. From the first time he called her on a Wednesday night and asked if she had ever noticed the calm sound of rain just before sunrise, a unique bond had formed between them. Neither one thought of it as attraction at first. Even Adam’s sleepless night waiting to call was less a romantic agitation than it was a compelling, inexorable wave of curiosity. In Vanessa, he’d found someone worth discovering.

She felt the same about him. Watching him sculpt a place for himself among the crowds when he first arrived in Maple Ridge, she was sure that most of what he was offering to people were masks. Disarming smiles marked an easygoing affability that quickly opened up doors for him in many different circles. She saw in him the ability to become a multitude of Adams, none of which had real substance. She wanted to crack the façade, and she knew she had to draw him in. So, she ignored him.

They watched each other for weeks, fascinated by the ease of their respective presence among their adolescent peers. They saw an echo of themselves in the other, a complimentary insight. And as they watched, they weighed the possibility of a kindred spirit suddenly appearing. They watched and weighed until Vanessa steered her and Jenny’s after school walk home through the hallway where she’d seen him at his locker earlier in the day. She had no intentions other than observing him in yet one more environment.

But Adam had finished weighing, and when he saw them approaching, he was laden with intentions and expectations. Jenny was surprised and slightly appalled to see him turn his attention toward them, and could not hide the agitation on her face. On the periphery he saw her immediately tense, but he was looking for Vanessa’s reaction. He smiled inwardly at a false neutrality he knew very intimately.

“Are you two coming to the track meet this Friday? We need some fans!” He sensed Jenny relax slightly as he broached the trivial and continued. “What else is going on? A baseball game? How boring is that?”

It was an easy out. All they had to do was make a false promise to be there and walk away, and that’s what Jenny expected her best friend to do. Instead she replied, “Well, we’re not really the sports types," to which Adam smiled inwardly.

Jenny quickly scuttled their conversation in the hallway, claiming some prior engagement. Adam’s curiosity was further piqued by the complete absence of annoyance on Vanessa’s face at this interference. Jenny was Vanessa's best friend, but Adam was pretty sure he had a much better idea of what was going on in Vanessa’s head than she had.

Friday, February 20, 2009

Slippery Slope

The hiking time is upon us once more in Portland, Oregon. At least it has been the last few days. Gorgeous weather with clear skies and temperatures flirting with the mid-50s. Today I hiked up to Council Crest on a trail that gains 700 ft. elevation by way of gentle switchbacks stretched over 1.7 miles. Very relaxing hike with a great payoff. The clear day afforded perfect views of the snow-capped splendor of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, Mt. Adams, and even Mt. Ranier! It was glorious.

The trail was almost in perfect condition, unlike Eagle Creek yesterday. The snow melt had made the beginning of the trail a complete sludgefest. Nothing like starting an 8 mile hike in 3 inches of mud! But, my friend Ron and I made it through that early patch of muddiness and enjoyed the spectacular views of Eagle Creek (and due to the season, the spectacular silence too). That is until we began hitting the ice.

There's a strange exhilaration when hiking gets that little hint of difficulty. Though most of the trails I've hiked on are very much so groomed and laid out to avoid severe injury by hikers, there are the moments when our attempts to tame and defang nature fall short. Ice is one of those moments for me.

I feel out of control when there is ice on the trail and I probably hike three times as carefully as I need to. It's not so much fear as it is a very vivid imagination of what would happen should I fall :o) So, we took our time and we made it four miles in to High Bridge before we decided to turn back until less icy conditions prevailed. As we backtracked, I remembered another hike where I felt out of control.

My friend Jon Mesh came to visit me from St. Louis and we hit up the coast at Oswald West State Park. Since we arrived late in the day, we forwent Mt. Neahkahnie and headed out Cape Falcon. After enjoying the beauty of the sun sinking slowly toward the Pacific Ocean, we decided to book it back the 2.5 miles to camp before darkness fell completely.

Our plan was slightly ill-conceived. See, if you watch the sun sink into the ocean, light leaves the sky very quickly. In addition, when the trail is mostly through forest, the faint light of post sunset sky is no use to you. And, though we are usually more prepared than this, we did not bring flashlights. Yeah...

As we were getting ready to plunge beneath the tree cover, Jon pointed out a tiny path through the underbrush that seemed to head down toward the beach. "Shortcut?" he asked with his eyebrows. I shrugged and he went down to explore further. After a short while, he called back up to me and said it would work. So, I followed the path to where Jon was standing and looked around.

"Where's the rest of the path?" I asked. I asked this because there was brush to the left, brush to the right, and in front of us, a slick wall of stone leading down to a small sliver of sand which was slowly shrinking with the incoming tide. It wasn't a vertical drop, but it wasn't walkable, especially with the water splashed all over it.

"We can climb down to there," he said as he pointed to a ridiculously small ledge. "Then it looks like we can slide down." I shook my head in disbelief and looked back toward the path we had come down. With the rapid darkening and the steep ascent to return to the main trail, I knew there was no going back.

I couldn't look at Jon, because he seemed disgustingly pleased with the idea. I think he is an Eagle Scout or something, because I would never look at the same terrain that he did and think, "We can slide down this." I believe groomed trails are good. I like a little exploration now and again, but usually only to the extent that I can return when I get uncomfortable. See, I have mild control issues.

Control is elusive, both in its unfulfilled promise and its fickle availability. So why do I strive for it so much? I've tried so many times to put together long range plans for my life, and they never stick, never have time to put down roots and grow. I've tried to make every minute happenstance fit together into some kind of cohesive map to guide me through the unknown. But in the end, life keeps reminding me that control is ultimately an illusion when I try to extend it outside of myself.

I am being reminded of that right now. I have in the past made extensive, detailed plans on how it was supposed to work for me to move overseas. None of them worked out. Yet, here I am, knowing that I have to bounce back. It keeps beckoning to me, singing its sweet siren song into the turmoil of the storm. It's time that I untie myself from the mast and jump in.

Jon proceeded before me and made it look so easy and graceful. Then he stood on the sand, pointed out the roots I could use as handholds, and encouraged me to ease my way down. I grabbed the last root, faced outward, and put my body in a position for a controlled slide. The last step was to let go. Let go of that root and slide.

It was impossible to let go. I kept trying to will my hand to let go, but my brain could only seem to process the fact that height + gravity = falling. So I stayed there, hanging on to this tiny root until a mixture of fatigue and inevitability overwhelmed me and a released my grip.

I was fine. Less graceful than Jon, to be sure, but I arrived at the bottom with minimal scratches and bruises. We then trotted across the beach before the tide rolled in, and voila!, we had a new adventure story to tell.

I feel like the last year and a half have been similar to me hanging onto that root for dear life. There are some things, some people, that I have been unwilling to release, and I am tired. I see glimpses of what is below me on this pathless journey, but all I have control over is when I let go and how I fall. The rest is up to gravity.

My New Year's resolution was that 2009 would be a year of action and I think I'm ready at last to step out into the ambiguity of trying to move overseas, trying to sort out what in the heck the word "missions" might mean. I think I'm ready to see where gravity takes me.

The best thing about it is that I don't have to figure it out. I just have to let go.

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

Kate Davis

Ladies and gentlemen of the music jury,

I present to you a performance from bassist/vocalist (in that order) Kate Davis. This phenom lives in my very own Portland, Oregon and already has garnered numerous accolades in the jazz community. Remember this name, as I am quite confident that it will soon extend beyond strictly jazz circles.

Did I mention she is only 17?

So, give a listen and cast your vote. If you live in PDX, you can cast your approving vote by attending her show (part of the Portland Jazz Festival) at Wilf's this Saturday night at 8pm, $5 cover.

The following clip is from Jimmy Mak's this past September, with Tom Grant on piano and Todd Strait (Karrin Allyson) on drums.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Adam Hamilton, pt. 1

Today, Adam was going to ask Vanessa to leave Maple Ridge with him. He was going to ask her to leave behind her security blanket, leave behind the bullshit, and prove everybody wrong. Prove themselves wrong. From day one there was a slightly forlorn quality to their love, a quiet melancholy. Whenever people challenged their relationship, they would nod grimly, as if they had been expecting this all along. And they had. Interracial dating was just not done in Maple Ridge, and especially not by the crown princess of the Hitchinson family.

Of course, no one was indelicate enough to say that race was the problem directly. But they had their ways of communicating disapproval, their euphemisms designated for polite company. “His family doesn’t have any roots here. No history,” they would point out with concern. “What’s to keep him here?”

The assumption, of course, was that Vanessa would never dream of leaving Maple Ridge. After all, her family did have history here—over 200 years of it. They’d been pillars of the community from the days of the Revolution. Their family’s names dotted the headstones in the local graveyard. The high school football field was named after Vanessa’s grandfather, an All-American halfback.

To the denizens of Maple Ridge, there was nothing more odd, more frighteningly compelling, than the scandal of a Hitchinson daughter beginning a romance with a “transplant”, as they called them. Not only a transplant, but “an…unusual transplant.” Such incidences in the past had been quickly resolved, though not as quickly forgotten. Scandal had a way of lingering unpleasantly in Maple Ridge.

How does one describe the Hitchinsons? They were not particularly wealthy, though certainly not poor. They were well educated, smartly dressed, confident without exuding an aura of pretension, and all without that ultimate mark of the upper class – boredom. They were noticeably involved in the community, but never at the expense of time spent together as a family. They were the paragons of the expression, “Everything in moderation.”

Where the Hitchinsons were admirable in their balance and vigorous spirit, Vanessa was more so. From an early age her teachers and dance instructors remarked upon her special blend of grace and fortitude. Neighbors would delight in telling her parents about her acts of kindness and generosity, smiling fondly and finishing with, “That Vanessa sure is something else.”

She was not the most popular in school according to social currency. Very rarely do teenagers adhere to the same standards of societal status as adults, and her family name meant little to her classmates when it came to forming in-crowds and outsiders. In line with her usual measure of grace, this did not bother Vanessa at all, and so it was that she floated effortlessly between the various groups, soliciting smiles and defusing confrontations. Had she so desired, Vanessa Hitchinson could have claimed the distinction of getting to know more people at Hitchinson High than any other person. She just never thought of it.

That’s not to say she was naive. She recognized from early on that she was a beautiful girl, and the guys paid a lot of attention to her, ranging from wholesome to unsavory. She also recognized that many of her classmates struggled to attain the ease with which she traversed social circles and yet never achieved their goal. She was not the type to host a party and invite people from different cliques without considering the ramifications. She was extraordinarily intuitive about social interactions, and this was one of the things that set her apart from both her family and her classmates.

She would sometimes half jokingly tell the story of the night when she was nine years old and she lay in bed frustrated that her parents had not let her stay up and watch some television show. She lay on that bed and told herself, “I’m done being a kid. I’m ready to be a grownup now.” With that she closed her eyes and imagined all the freedom she would have as an adult, the rules that would not apply to her, the secrets that would not be hidden from her.

But as she imagined these things, something strange happened. She began to see much less whimsical images—broken marriages, financial anxiety, premature death. It scared her to be sure, but as she would tell it, she knew that choosing the one meant accepting the other. So, she lay there on her bed, nine year old brain swirling, until she fell asleep.

She would always laugh self-consciously before continuing. “When I woke up, something had changed. The world looked different.” She would pause thoughtfully. “But I knew the world was really the same, I was just seeing it differently. Does that make sense?”

Adults never knew how to respond to this question. It made sense in the natural flow of maturation and coming into adulthood, but it seemed shockingly out of place being explained by a 14 year-old, much less a 14 year-old recounting the realization of her nine year-old self. She would give them a genuine, slightly sad smile as they gently dismissed her claims with bravos and encores. After all, adults wanted to be entertained by children, not educated.

Postcards Without Postage, pt. 5

Dear Amelia,

I will never forget the look on your face when I picked you up at the airport and spoke the unspoken. You were looking at me, eyebrows raised, as if to say, "But, how do you know?"

The question caught me off-guard and I had no answer for you. I wish I had said,

I know the same as anyone else knows, I suppose.

I know that when we are together, I don't ever want to say goodbye. But I must.

I know that when something amazing or exciting happens, you're the first person I want to call. But I can't.

I know that when I hear a great jazz recording, you're the first person I want to hear it. But you're not listening.

I know when we are with our friends, I never want to leave your side; never want to miss your smile; never want your laughter to subside. But, I mingle.

I know when you are full of grief I want you to find relief in my embrace. I want to hold all of you -- your shaking shoulders and shuddering breaths, your darkest fears that there is no one left to cry with. But I am there.

I know I want you to know me, in all my weakness and ego and confidence and joy. But you don't really know, do you?

How do I know, you wanted to ask. I don't know. No one does. But with all that I am, I choose you.

What do you know about that?

DASH: First lap

Looking back, there are several variables that could have contributed to such a high blood pressure reading in January. I am convinced that the changes I've been making in diet and exercise have in fact been beneficial in a short time. Leaving aside blood pressure, I've lost nearly 10 pounds in a month, so that's saying something.

But, the blood pressure was the motivating factor here, and on Friday I went in to see a doctor for the first time in a long time. He took my blood pressure--twice--and it turned out normal. How normal, you ask? 125/76. Better than it's been in a long time. Interestingly enough, there was a nearly ten point differential between the first and second reading, which my doctor attributed to the stress of anticipation during the first reading. Who knew stress was such a factor?

While the changes I've made are good and I plan to keep them around, it is stress that I will focus on mitigating in this next phase of DASH. We'll see how that goes...

My doctor told me to relax and to feel free to practice moderation instead of abstinence when it comes to the stricter parts of my regimen. In his words, "Celebrate your health with a beer sometime". Doctor's orders.

Thursday, February 12, 2009

Laughter is medicine

Need a good belly laugh? Proceed immediately to Trevor's blog. When you stop laughing long enough to type again, leave some comment love.