I Need a Good Read

Sunday, September 28, 2008 2 comments

I'm in a bit of a panic because I need something good to read. I'm leaving on a bus trip to Kansas City in a week, and a week after that I'm taking the train to Kalamazoo. My Shuffle will only get me so far, so I need to have something with substance that I'm eager to dig into and pass the time.

When I went to New York recently I brought along The Time Traveler's Wife by Audrey Niffeneger. On the flight out I noticed that a woman in the seat in front of me was reading the same book. When I commented, she stated that she hoped I was enjoying it as much as she was. I had only just begun reading it, but Margaret loved it and recommended it to her friends. The book got me through the trip, but when I passed the half-way mark I gave up. I found it too sappy with romance and too plodding with the story line.

I picked up another book called Merle's Door that doesn't hold much promise either. I loved The Story of Edgar Sawtelle, and thought this would be a good followup. But the first few pages put me off. I found it condescending and self-important that the author described how he and his companions smelled when a stray dog wandered into their lives (garlic, onions, tomato sauce, basil, oregano, and anchovies from the pizza they ate), and then pointed out that he was describing their smells because that's what a dog would notice. Anybody that observes dogs knows that they are good at smelling things. He goes on to mention the dogs brow, and corrects himself by saying that dogs don't have brows because they don't need them. He says they only sweat through their paws and therefor don't need a brow to keep sweat out of their eyes. Humans, on the other hand, need brows he says because their foreheads sweat. This seems like a  really far fetched idea to me. A quick search tells me I'm not the only one to think so. I closed the book and closed my mind to the treasures it might offer.

I need to start looking at books by authors I've liked in the past. I've read everything by Anne Patchett, and loved it all. Actually, I haven't read her latest novel called Run. I saw it in an airport a year or so ago and didn't buy it. I already had something to read and besides, I didn't want to ruin a good streak if the novel didn't live up to her others. I guess I can put it on my list now though.

I liked The Secret History and The Little Friend by Donna Tart, but she hasn't written anything else, so I guess her work is out.

I was on a good streak with stories by Mark Jenkins. He writes great pieces for Outside Magazine, and has compiled some of his stories into books. I got a couple of them from the library, but had to request them via interlibrary loan. I didn't have time to finish the last one before returning it. Unfortunately I can't request it again because I returned it without the little pink slip they tape to the cover to mark its library of origin. The tape they use isn't secure enough to withstand daily use, and it had fallen off before I returned the book and it turns out that the pink slip is critical. Now they think I never returned the book at all and it is lost forever.

Annie Proulx is a great author. I love her Shipping News and thought Close Range: Wyoming Stories was a perfect collection of short stories. Either of those would be worth a second read. But she's got others I haven't touched yet, including a new one called Fine Just The Way It Is: Wyoming Stories 3

OK, I'll stop panicking. Surely I can find one of these at the library or the bookstore in the next week. Feel free to send me more ideas though, you never know in a small town.

Pictures From Our Week


Backcountry clinic

Saturday, September 20, 2008 1 comments

Cool link

Friday, September 12, 2008 0 comments

Check out these cool portraits:
Tim Kolin Photography

Summer Camp

Wednesday, September 10, 2008 0 comments

“Are you scared,” I asked?

“No,” came the shouted reply from behind a granite bulge at the far end of my rope.

“I am,” I admitted. “Belay On.” When you’re feeling breathless at nearly 14,000 feet, economy of speech is easy to master.

I had just improvised an anchor by jamming wedges of aluminum into cracks in the rock while trying too keep my grip on the wet, slippery, lichen-covered surface. I tied myself into the anchor and wondered if I was still on route. The small patch of western sky that I could see over my left shoulder looked menacing and we had nearly 1000 feet of climbing left to reach the summit of Longs Peak. Much of it would be easy, unroped scrambling, but a thunderstorm could make things much more dangerous and slow. It looked like we were in for some more suffering.

For the past few years I’ve indulged my passion for climbing mountains. Each summer my daughters go to their respective camps – acting camp, music camp, dance camp – and I take a trip I consider my own camp, a climbing camp.

I prepare for my camp all year, just like my daughters do, with long hours of practice. And there are a lot of skills to practice for traveling over steep mountain terrain. I’ve learned through guided instruction how to traverse glaciers, how to arrest a slide down a snow slope and how to use a rope to protect steep terrain on rock, snow and ice.

Day trips and weekend outings to Devil’s Lake, Taylors Falls, Luverne, Sandstone, St. Paul and The North Shore help me prepare for the bigger trips. But when the climbs get longer, so does the list of required skills. Decisions that are unimportant at home can make the difference between success and failure on a bigger climb. Judgement becomes paramount for safety. And when you aren’t yet adjusted to the altitude, it becomes hard to move skillfully with good judgement. So that’s what summer camp is all about, practice.

Practice and suffering.

Before the engine cooled from our long road trip to Colorado in August, we already felt nauseated and lightheaded from the 5000 foot gain in altitude. The first day we pushed up the 1000-foot east face of the Third Flatiron in Boulder, surprised at our lack of stamina. On the summit we felt sun-baked and exhausted, but victorious. We easily managed the rappels, hiked back to the car and completed our first day, by driving further up the mountains, finding a place to camp, setting up the tent, cooking dinner which we choked down against our continuing nausea, and finally collapsing into our sleeping bags for a fitful night of sleep. It was a good day!

The rest of the week was more of the same with victories, failures and more suffering. Each day we’d call home with our report: “Today we couldn’t finish the last pitch of The Owl because it was too hard and we got too dehydrated and we had to escape off the route.” “Today we carried our climbing gear 15 miles along the continental divide and never got to rope up because we got hit by a lightning storm and had to bail out by hiking across a broken train trestle.”

There are lessons to be learned through suffering, though. Especially when the suffering comes voluntarily. Suffering unlocks the secrets of your soul. Suffering unlocks the secrets of the world. Suffer, and you learn you can run a marathon. Suffer, and you can master a violin passage or make a pirouette look graceful. Suffer in small, regular doses and you begin to accept it, to embrace it, to need it. Eventually you realize you haven’t been suffering at all and your mind is transformed to see beauty where you once felt pain. You begin to see opportunity where you once were blinded by fear. Accept a small amount of suffering and your mind will open and allow your creativity to flourish.

When my partner reached my belay 6 pitches up the Keyhole Ridge on Longs Peak, we decided to go down instead of up. For the next hour and-a-half we escaped the route by a combination of lowering, downclimbing and rapelling. When we unroped, still high on the Keyhole Route, the sky opened, pelting us with sleet. We finally reached the trailhead with open minds and happy hearts, despite our failed summit attempt, at 7pm. We had climbed for 16 hours. We had suffered, but more importantly we had discovered; we discovered new abilities and new emotions. For the small price of some voluntary physical suffering, we discovered that the soul can grow larger than the body. We had discovered another great day in the mountains.

Pictures From Our Week

, Sunday, September 7, 2008 3 comments

Time Capsule

, Friday, September 5, 2008 0 comments

We have a couple of big rubbermaid bins under our bed for collecting artwork and other papers that the girls bring home. They act as time capsules, of sorts. I'm sure we're not alone in storing memories this way. In fact, my mom had something like this, too.

When Margaret and I visited Mom in St. Louis 15 years ago she got out one of these time capsules, which included a vocabulary assignment that Dave completed. He had to create a sentence for each word, and for the word "slow" he wrote: "Why am I so slow?"

Well, I personally believe that people should slow down a little more. Here's a case in point. On Sunday we drove to Minneapolis to pick Claire up from her trip to China. On the way out of town we stopped to get some gas, and we were being efficient with our little stop. While I pumped the gas, Margaret and Elizabeth put up the rear seat in our van so the Sorvaags could ride with us. The seat was up before the tank was full, so they went inside to pick up drinks. When I came inside to serve myself some decaf, they were already in line to pay. "Are you just getting a coffee," Margaret shouted to me from the line? "Yes," I replied, "but the creamer is empty." The gal running the cash register was nice enough to come right over to refill the creamer dispenser, allowing me to make my coffee all sweet and fru-fru the way I like it.

I was surprised that Margaret was already done in the line when I finished with my creamer because I didn't take that long to fill it up. But she thought I was taking too long and prodded me by saying, "Come on Juan Valdez, what's taking so long? Are you harvesting the beans? Get your donkey and let's go!" With that she shooed me out of the store, ran ahead of me, climbed into the van and closed the door.

As I approached the van, a Kwik Trip employee came running out yelling, "Sir! Sir! We rang you out, but you never paid!" It seams Mrs. Valdez was in too much of a hurry to ever finish paying for our gas and food.

I think she could take a lesson from Dave.