30 apr 10 climbing hills with strength

On Friday my road bike made the commute home from work for the first time this year. I felt strong until I hit the hills in the last few miles. As I often do on those long hills, I remembered a co-worker of mine from Colorado. I sat next to him at my first job out of college. He was about 8 years older than me, good-looking (though married), and very nice and supportive. At our desks he introduced me to jazz through a public radio station in Denver. He was a road biker and once gave me some tips when we rode together on Bike to Work Day.

Eight years later when Paul and I returned from our first sojourn in Alaska, I worked for Chris at a small satellite office the firm had opened. I was depressed about leaving Alaska, and Paul and I were living separately during the week because our house was still rented and we had jobs 80 miles apart. Along with my family, Chris was a rock in those first months, someone to remind me that I'd had a life there that I had enjoyed even though so much of it felt foreign at the time.

Two years later we moved back to Alaska. I thought about Chris a little over the next five years, but mostly when I received newsletters from my old company or when Bob the president of the firm visited Alaska. I was shocked when Bob called me late one December and said that Chris had died of a massive heart attack right at Christmas. Ever since, I've thought of him and his family often, wondering how someone can be here one day, happy and healthy, and gone the next.

As I pedaled up Abbott Road on Friday, I remembered Chris' hill-climbing advice: "10 revolutions pushing the pedals down, 10 revolutions pulling up, and 10 standing up ... then do it again until you reach the top of the hill."

As I followed Chris' advice up the last hill to home, I wondered if he's somewhere looking down on me, seeing me take his advice. Does he exist somewhere, knowing that the advice he gave me almost 20 years ago still guides me when I hit a long hill on my bike? I wasn't really contemplating the after life as much as I was thinking about the small legacies that we can each leave in this life. Almost any encounter with another person is an opportunity to do or say something that could help them in life, whether it's getting up a literal or figurative hill.

Recently I was talking with a friend who is undergoing an incredibly difficult time. One of the hardships of her life is a family who doesn't sympathize with her very real health issues, and consequently, they add to her stress. The medical community hasn't always been compassionate either and don't get me started on her health and disability insurance providers. So in this conversation when she expressed more despair than she's ever confided before, she surprised me by saying how this experience has made her want to be more compassionate to others in need. Bitterness would be the more likely sentiment from many of us, but she was excusing her siblings and seeking how she could treat others as she wanted to be treated. I was chastened for my inability to forgive others for small slights and wondered if I could be so graceful and generous if I were in a similar situation.
These are just two examples of the many words and deeds that have hopefully helped me to be a better person every day. I'll be looking and listening for more and hoping that I'm passing along some of this wisdom.
* The photo is of my friend Rose on an afternoon ski in the mountains a couple of weeks ago. Our two hour skied turned into four because the day and conditions were too perfect to go back down to the parking lot.

4 apr 10 practice resurrection

Manifesto: The Mad Farmer Liberation Front

Love the quick profit, the annual raise,
vacation with pay. Want more
of everything ready-made. Be afraid
to know your neighbors and to die.
And you will have a window in your head.
Not even your future will be a mystery
any more. Your mind will be punched in a card
and shut away in a little drawer.
When they want you to buy something
they will call you. When they want you
to die for profit they will let you know.

So, friends, every day do something
that won’t compute. Love the Lord.
Love the world. Work for nothing.
Take all that you have and be poor.
Love someone who does not deserve it.
Denounce the government and embrace
the flag. Hope to live in that free
republic for which it stands.
Give your approval to all you cannot
understand. Praise ignorance, for what man
has not encountered he has not destroyed.

Ask the questions that have no answers.
Invest in the millennium. Plant sequoias.
Say that your main crop is the forest
that you did not plant,
that you will not live to harvest.
Say that the leaves are harvested
when they have rotted into the mold.
Call that profit. Prophesy such returns.
Put your faith in the two inches of humus
that will build under the trees
every thousand years.

Listen to carrion—put your ear
close, and hear the faint chattering
of the songs that are to come.
Expect the end of the world. Laugh.
Laughter is immeasurable. Be joyful
though you have considered all the facts.
So long as women do not go cheap
for power, please women more than men.
Ask yourself: Will this satisfy
a woman satisfied to bear a child?
Will this disturb the sleep
of a woman near to giving birth?

Go with your love to the fields.
Lie down in the shade. Rest your head
in her lap. Swear allegiance
to what is nighest your thoughts.
As soon as the generals and the politicos
can predict the motions of your mind,
lose it. Leave it as a sign
to mark the false trail, the way
you didn’t go. Be like the fox
who makes more tracks than necessary,
some in the wrong direction.

Practice resurrection.

Wendell Berry
Collected Poems, 1957-1982

27 mar 2010 dalteli

My Alaska* is brilliant blue skies, snowy mountains, and good friends. We were blessed with all that plus great food and good skiing last weekend. Our friends Pam and Roger invited a houseful of people to their cabin on Dalteli Lake. Paul and I hadn't been there in several years and were excited to be in the shadow of Denali again. The cabin, which Roger built and lived in for 5 years, is on the southern boundary of Denali State Park, five miles off the Parks Highway. On Friday we met them at a parking area and loaded our gear onto the sled of their snow machine. Pam hauled the gear to the cabin while the rest of us skied in.

The terrain is mostly flat so the skiing is easy. Pam even set a ski track with a special sled that one of their neighbors made. Despite the ease, it took us almost two hours to ski in because we stopped so often to enjoy the sun and photograph the beautiful day.

On Saturday, Roger led us on a tour north to the Tokositna River valley. We circled back along the giant muskeg on the north end of Swan Lake. The skiing was a little more difficult than the day before, and the weather not as sunny, but our slow speed was more due to totally enjoying the day than rough going. The cabin is on a plateau so the most challenging skiing was getting down the steep, crusty hillside. Some took their skis off to get off the plateau, and we all walked back up near the end of the outing.

I've posted a few more photos on my Picasa gallery.

*Another Alaskan, she-who-must-not-be-named, is going to host a TV show about Alaska. I won't be watching to see what she chooses to highlight, but I suspect that it will be similar to the episode that my friend Rose envisions. Only not so funny and sadly, too real. The gist of the story that Rose relays is true - the state shot collared wolves that the National Park Service was studying, after they had promised they wouldn't.