Tuesday, August 15, 2017

School Daze

I miss teaching every fall when school supply displays dominate every store and I see kids walking past my house loaded down with backpacks, sporting new clothes, on their way to Deer Creek Middle School or the elementary just on the other side of the park.  I loved the first day of kids, the getting-to-know-you activities, the inevitable explanations of rules, the feel of new groups of kids in my classroom.  I also miss school on the last day before Christmas vacation and the last day before the freedom of summer.  All the other times?  You can have them.

There are some things I don't miss about the beginning of the school year, especially now that I am a slave to social media.  I hate the inevitable articles and special reports every fall about our failing school system.  I hate the yearly push to take funding away from underperforming schools and divert it to charter schools that haven't even had time  to underperform.  Now that I'm retired and my only vested interest in schools is my grandchildren, I have found myself gathered outside of schools with parents who gossip about teachers, who threaten to go to the principal for the slightest transgression, who generally act like they have some idea about what it is like to be in a classroom.

Case in point:  My youngest grandchild, Jaydee, is starting preschool this year with Miss Karen.  As soon as Franny and Ken discovered that Miss Karen was the teacher, a friend and neighbor started telling them horror stories.  Miss Karen doesn't let kids talk!  Miss Karen isn't as warm and friendly as Miss Barb.  The thing is that after Jaydee's first day, they discovered that Miss Karen is in fact a sweetheart.  She lets kids talk.  She loves her job.  Jaydee can't wait to go back to school tomorrow.  I hate the gossip, the rumors, the stupidity.

But that isn't the main object of my loathing.  The thing I really hate is the rash of aphoristic sayings about the difficulties and sacrifices of teaching that litter Facebook every fall.  They always have the same messages:

"If you can read this, thank a teacher."
"I'm a teacher and I spend an inordinate amount of time grading papers at home."
"I stopped being a teacher because I had to lesson plan and call parents on my own time."
"I know a teacher who spends money out of his own pocket on extra pencils and pens, extra notebooks, boxes of Kleenex, drawers full of snacks for his students.  Isn't that noble?"
"I quit teaching, even though I loved it, because I could make more money as a waiter, or a waitress, or an Uber driver."

Whenever I see something like that on my feed, I quickly ignore it.  If I responded to it, all those teacher lovers out there would hate me.

Those messages, well-intentioned as they might be, demean my profession.  They make teachers out to be chronic whiners.  If we expect to be treated like professionals, we should try acting professional.  A lot of my former students are lawyers and doctors (probably due to the excellent instruction they received in high school) and as yet none of them have posted lamentations about all the travails facing them in their day to day work.

Someone, probably someone who has posted all those "lets love our teachers" screeds, will be quick to jump in now and remind me that lawyers and doctors make more money than teachers.  They have more security,  more respect from the community, etc.  Well, yeah.  What's your point?  Did you really become a teacher for the remuneration and the love pouring out from the community?  Is it possible that you are that stupid?

I went into teaching with my eyes wide open.  My professors all let me know that my pay would doom me to the middle class IF I was clever enough to marry someone who was also a teacher.  They let me know that I would be working 60 hour weeks, sometimes more.  They let me know that I would have to make troubling phone calls, deal with dull witted bosses and all the rest.  I didn't let that dissuade me.  Neither did any of my friends who ended up in the profession.  When I got my first job at Marycrest High School, my starting salary was $6,300 per year.  I chose to get paid on the ten month plan, $630 a month.  I worked driving trucks during the summer to augment my income.  That was 1972 and I thought it was all the money in the world.

Two years later, Jeffco hired me for a whopping $8,500.  My ship had come in.  I was lucky about buying school supplies.  I taught high school, so I didn't have to buy extra pencils and pens (although I did), extra notebooks (Big Chiefs--although I did), boxes of Kleenex (although boxes were stationed all around the room).  It wasn't a big deal.  Buying extra school supplies, putting up posters purchased out of my own pocket, bringing in spare furniture taking up space in my basement, that is what I did. That is what all teachers did.  I suppose we could have refused.  Could have marched on the ad building.  Could have written nasty letters to the editor.  But nobody did that.  We were all too busy working with kids to worry about how unfair every thing was.  For the most part, we loved every minute of it.

Looking back on my career through the prism of outrage that seems to be in vogue nowadays, I still can't see the problem.  I signed up to be a teacher.  The rewards continue to come in the form of Facebook friends who are former students, lifelong friends who are former teachers.  The sacrifices, the hassles, the parent complaints, the patronizing attitude of politicians and the media, none of that compares to the good stuff.

Please stop whining.  To my way of thinking, I had the best job in the world.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

Old People at the Opera

Cosi fan tutti

My first live opera was Benjamin Britton's "Midsummer Night's Dream" at Central City.  I had somehow managed to get a "job" at "Cervi's Rocky Mountain Journal" writing drama reviews when I was fresh out of college.  It wasn't a job in the sense that I got paid or anything like that.  I wrote the reviews for free theater tickets and the pleasure of seeing my name in print twice a week.  I wasn't worried about the money, because I didn't really deserve to get paid.  I didn't know what I was doing, but the editor, a funny and mercurial drunkard, liked my voice.  So, I ended up going to all the local dinner theaters where the performances frequently matched my unenlightened 750 word reactions.  It was a kick to walk into, say, Country Dinner Playhouse and see one of my pieces stapled to the wall.

I was a little over my head, but when I went up to Central City to review the opera, I was completely at sea.  I was a good student, however, and I prepared by reading everything I could get my hands on about Britton's opera.  I did have one advantage; I knew Shakespeare's play quite well, so I could at least talk about the ideas underlying the production.

The production changed my life, just like four years earlier a Regis production of "A Man for all Seasons" changed my life, made me look at theater in an entirely new way.  I started crying half way through the first act.  The music was ethereal which seemed appropriate.  The unamplified voices were transcendent.  The director managed to ring every piece of business he could out of the libretto. At intermission I got to go out into the courtyard and drink champagne and pretend that I knew what I was talking about.  After it was over, I didn't so much drive as float home where I immediately got out my IBM Selectric (yes, it was a long time ago) and dashed off my review.  It was published two days later and the day after that, the paper got a lot of letters praising the production and by extension, my review.  A red letter day.

Since then, I've seen a number of operas at Central City.  Their production of "La Boheme" had me weeping from the first aria to the last.  Of course, all productions of "La Boheme" do that to me.  The only other production of note up there was "The Three Penny Opera."  It is of note, because it was barely mediocre and compelled me to get my opera fixes elsewhere, like Santa Fe.

Kathie and I saw "Cosi fan tutti" up there last night.  I'm not going to write a review here, because it was the last performance, but if I did I would urge everyone to postpone all future activities and make it up to The Teller House at their earliest opportunity.  Mozart's music was light, and tinkly (don't you love technical opera talk?) and perfect for a summer afternoon.  All the voices were excellent, especially Despina's (the chambermaid).  She stole the show.  Of course, Despina's part was written to steal the show.

Quickly, Mozart's light opera is nothing more than an extended episode of "Three's Company" with characters telling white lies to one another, parading around in disguise, all trying to catch the others in some transgression.  At the end, everyone's identity is restored, they all get married and presumably live happily ever after.  Yes, just like most sit-coms, the plot is stupid, but you don't go to the opera for plot.  You go to the opera to marvel at the music, the voices, the ambience, and the thrilling idea that you are a member of a species that could create something that enormous.

And there was champagne in the courtyard.  Kathie and I didn't avail ourselves of that because we were too busy standing in line for the bathroom.  My bladder isn't what it once was.

The main thing I want to talk about though, is the whole idea of age.  I don't like being a month away from 69.  I don't like the way my body looks and acts.  I don't like always being the oldest person in a room, or feeling like the oldest person in the room.  For that reason, the opera is the perfect place for someone nearing 70 to hang out.  We were decidedly not the oldest people in the theater.  With only a couple of exceptions (the youngish woman sitting in front of me looking at her iPhone during the entire production comes to mind), the audience was filled with gray haired, stoop-shouldered, old people and the aisles were littered with walkers and those cute little electric chairs that old people ride through the aisles of King Soopers.  It took almost as long for those old codgers to filter out of the theater at the end of the production as it took for the orchestra to tune up.

The scarcity of young people is worrying.  Whenever I go out at night, the chances are good that I will run into a former student or two.  I see them at baseball games, concerts, and the like.  The other night at Michelle Obama's speech to the Colorado Women's Foundation, there were at least a dozen former students in attendance.  I didn't see any of them at Central City last night.  I worry about what is going to happen to grand opera when my generation dies.  It will be replaced by things even worse than "American Idol" and "Dancing with the Stars."  Horrible.  Most horrible.

We are leaving for Santa Fe tomorrow morning.  We have great tickets to "Lucia Lammermoor" and "Die Fledermaus."  The opera at Santa Fe is beyond beautiful with the sun going down behind the stage just as the opening chords are hit.  Old people dressed to the nines get there early and tailgate in the parking lot with crystal glasses and plates of foie gras.  The next morning the opera goers congregate at some great place like The Compound or Cafe Pasqual and talk about their evenings at the opera.  I can't wait.  But I'm not going to see very many young people there.

I don't think this all means the end of Western Civilization (Trump has already initiated that), but it does mean the end of one little slice of beauty.  We have precious few slices to waste.

Wednesday, July 26, 2017


Michelle Obama looked slim and rested at the Pepsi Center last night where over 9000 men and women, mostly women, gathered to celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Women's Foundation of Colorado.

Here is some insider info.  Mrs. Obama had just finished spending some time at a "boot camp" in California where she hiked ten miles a day, ate a purely vegan diet, and ended up losing an aggregate of 12 inches off various body parts.  Franny filled us in on that little scoop over cocktails and truffled french fries at The Four Seasons before we walked over to the Pepsi Center to meet Mario and his wife (Laura?  Lori?).  Even though I am not completely sure of her name, Mario's partner is a middle school English teacher in Dougco.  We hit it off immediately.

It was interesting being one of the relatively few males at the gathering.  I was able to experience first hand the frustration women must feel when  there aren't enough restrooms to go around.  Since the event was ostensibly about empowering women, the organizers (Franny led the Obama team) designated most of the men's rooms in the place for women.  The long lines that persisted for ladies was probably attributable to their unwillingness to use the plethora of urinals in the erstwhile men's rooms.  As far as I could determine, there was only one men's room left on the third tier.  When I finally located the place, I was pleased to discover that, since men are able to use a variety of porcelain receptacles for their needs, there were no lines.  See, even in that female dominated situation, men still seem to have the upper hand.  I did keep looking over my shoulder just in case a group of hard core feminists tried to invade that solitary bastion of male dominance.

I couldn't help but think what some of my FoxNews Republican friends would have to say about the whole night, especially some of Obama's comments.  The whole evening was an ode to the accomplishments of women.  The entertainers were all women.  Except for a local DJ and Mayor Hancock, all the speakers were women.  The hallways circling the floor were filled with women taking selfies, women ordering beers, women laughing and slapping each other on backs.  They acted as if they didn't need menfolk at all.  My FoxNews friends would undoubtedly notch it all off to reverse sexism, just like Black Lives Matter was about reverse racism.

When the first lady spoke, she even had the temerity to suggest that women were tougher than men.  That men were unevolved.  That if a man (like her husband) ever found himself bleeding from wherever, he would sit down and not move until the bleeding stopped.  I thought she overstated her case there.  I remember I smashed my middle finger a few weeks ago while installing Ellie Leinaweaver's deck.  Did I stop?  No way.  I wrapped a bandage (several) around the gushing wound and soldiered on.  So there!  I bleed.  I'm a bleeder.

Obama mentioned the numbers of women who gave up on their power, presumably by voting for Trump, or not voting at all.  I know a number of women who voted for Boss Tweet.  Those same women probably didn't show up at the Pepsi Center because they resent being tied to "Women's Issues."  They voted for Trump because they thought he would shake up the system, reinvigorate businesses, and reassert American power.  They voted as Americans, not women.  Of course, that position seems less impressive when you take into consideration that Trump has done none of those things.

However, I understand their point about women's issues, but for different reasons.  Birth control, free pre-school and kindergarten, sexual abuse, sexual predators, universal pre- and post-natal care, all those things and more are typically designated "women's issues" and I take exception to that.  Those are issues that should concern everyone.

Ted Cruz, for example, is going to vote against Republican Obamacare replacements that mandate maternity care because "why should a man have to pay for some woman's maternity bill?"  Does that position rankle only women,  or does it fly in the face of what all decent human beings ought to believe?

When Donald Trump brags about his ability to grab pussy, is that a woman's issue, or is it everyone's?

I don't think we should have women's issues, or men's issues, or children's issues, or senior' issues.  These are American issues.  Michelle Obama certainly understands that.  So does her husband.  I hope all of us gathered at the Pepsi Center last night will come to understand that as well.

Tuesday, July 25, 2017

Big Mac Lessons

There is a moment in "My Dinner With Andre" when Andre Gregory invites Wallace Shawn to think about that moment of forgetting that is so integral to the act of sex.  After the sex, however, "the world comes rushing back in quite quickly."  You're there in bed next to your lover and you're on your back looking up at the ceiling, wondering if it is time to repaint.

Spending two weeks at Jenny Lake Lodge is kind of like that.  Like being up on Carol King's roof, "all my cares just drift off into space."  The pleasures of Jenny are so huge, the sensory bombardment so immediate that nothing else matters.  When I get up in the morning, shower, and walk over to the lodge to get Katherine her morning tea, the only thing I care about is the blazing fire place and the morning sun turning the cathedral group pink.  There is a stack of New York Times by the door when I walk in, but I never look at them.  If I did, I might see a headline that might bring me crushingly back to the world and I just can't allow that to happen.  Instead, I sit by the fire and read a book.

Katherine comes over right before they start serving breakfast and she fills me in on the latest Facebook scuttlebutt and any news from the kids.  I listen and I care about all that, but all I really  think about is that day's impending hike or kayak excursion.

The waitstaff filters in during those morning hours and always offer warm greetings.  Jim, the head waiter and twenty year member of the Jenny crew always stops by to say good morning and check up on what we're gonna do on any particular day.  On the last day of our stay, Jim makes his special bloody mary recipe for us so we can have our traditional final day ritual.  Most of the staff make it a point to give us hugs and assure us they will see us the next year.  More often than not, they do.  Thanks to Rachel and Connor and Jim and Maria and Jane and Luke and so many more, we are made to feel like the most beloved folks in the world for fourteen days and nights.  Many of my friends and family wonder why we keep going back there (We could be taking cruises all over the place for what Jenny costs us.).  We have to go back each year.  It keeps us sane.

Today it has been one week since we left Jenny and arrived home and just like Andre suggested in that first paragraph, the world has rushed in.  There was the traffic jam on I-25 on our way back into town.  Then there was the (always) dreaded moment when I look toward our neighborhood for the first time in two weeks convinced that I will spot a pillar of smoke over the spot where our house used to stand.  I'm pleased to report that the place looked just like it looked when we left.

After we pull into the driveway, I always go into the house to check for any disasters that I'm sure must have happened while we were away.  Pleased that the air conditioner still seems to be working, I run into the kitchen to see if the water comes out of the tap.  Check.  Then I do the same in our bathroom upstairs.  Check.  Next, I run down to the laundry room to make sure that the pipes haven't burst and flooded our newly carpeted lower level with water.  Check.

After a half an hour or so of unpacking (basically throwing everything in the dirty clothes), I go outside to see how decimated our yard has been by the string of 100 degree days in Denver while we were cooling off in the Tetons.  I am alway relieved to note that Rene, our next door neighbor, has done a better job watering and mowing than we would have done had we stayed home.

At the end of this last trip, Kathie, who by virtue of her ability to actually hear on the telephone, started making calls to all the various contractors who have to come and fix our kitchen walls and replace our hard wood floors and replace the skylight window that leaked and ruined everything a few months ago.

While she was doing that, I ran out to Virgilios for pizza and salad.  This, our first dinner back, would represent a rather startling departure from the five course meals we eat every night at Jenny.  You know how folks on vacation always say they are looking forward to getting some ordinary food after all the rich stuff they've been eating on vacation?  They look forward to a beef combination at some Mexican joint, or some pizza at their local Italian joint.  Well, people who say that are crazy.  The pizza was a poor substitute for the meals at Jenny.

We went to bed that night after watching some television for the first time in a fortnight.  That was kind of nice, but the next morning we woke up and the bed was a mess and there were towels hanging from the shower and even though we waited patiently most of the morning, Maria never showed up to change our sheets and get us a new set of towels.  Oh the drudgery!

Of course, part of the world rushing back in is us seeing our kids and grandkids again.  They all came over for a family dinner on Saturday.  Katherine made her wonderful fried chicken and I have to admit it tasted better than anything I had at Jenny (Well maybe).  And we all gathered around the table and had a great time laughing, catching up, marveling at our grandchildren.  But then my oldest child said something that brought me quickly out of my reverie.

Before I explain, I have to say that one of the greatest joys about being a parent of our three children is that when I tell people what my kids do, most folks are kind of amazed and invariably ask what we did to raise such impressive children.  I always shrug my shoulders and suggest that they were pretty much planted on me.  Of course, I'm really thinking about all those Andy Griffith moments when Kathie and I had long heart felt talks with our kids that of course set them all on the right path.  The point is that I feel rather smug about my parenting.  It is the only thing in my life, other than my choice of wife and partner, that I feel smug about.

Chris talked about such a moment at our family dinner.  Somehow we were talking about how his kids, Brooklyn in particular, are irritatingly picky eaters, even at McDonalds.  That reminded Chris of the day when I told him that he could order two Big Macs instead of his usual one.  It was obviously a red letter day for him because the memory had to be at least forty years old and I think his eyes were getting a little misty.

"You can't be serious," I said right before I leaned over to Sammi, Chris' oldest girl, and whispered in her ear, "You're dad is full of it."  She laughed and nodded her agreement.

"No, Dad.  It really happened and I remember Nate was really mad that he couldn't have two."

"Wait a minute.  You're telling me that we had a father-son moment where I said you could have two Big Macs?  It was kind of a rite of passage?  Tell me, did I shake your hand and start crying a little?"

The whole thing was kind of depressing.  There must have been some other big moments, some other pieces of sage advice I gave while Chris was growing up.  I'm sure I remember some.

"Always do your best."

"Care more about others than you care about yourself."

"Avoid the clap."

All of those were important lessons, but no, he remembered the one about Big Macs!

The world has rushed back; I'm officially home.


Sunday, June 18, 2017

Father's Day

I have major father issues.  My parents divorced when I was six or seven, right after I recovered from a year spent in bed with rheumatic fever.  My mom packed us up and we--my two sisters, little brother, grandmother, and aunt--moved from Freeport, Illinois to Estes Park, Colorado.  I vaguely remember my father coming to visit in the summers, but I have no memory of any details.

I do remember that, even as a seven year old kid in second grade, I was deeply embarrassed by the fact of my parents' divorce.  I explained my father's absence to my new friends by telling them that he was an assistant football coach at Notre Dame and had to stay in South Bend for his work.

Mostly, I have almost no concrete memories of my father and the few I do have I have already shared in these pages.  Therefore, I have always been surprised when I hear men talking about their father issues.  I have heard and read reports of men my age with their eyes brimming talking about going to ball games with their old man, going fishing with their old man, learning to use tools with their old man, getting disciplined by their old man.  I have nothing like that in my memory bank.

I know that when I watch a movie like "Field of Dreams," I'm supposed to cry when Kevin Costner "has a catch" with his father's apparition at the end of the movie.  I know I'm supposed to read father/son memoirs that inevitably crop up on days like this and be moved.  I'm not.  I'm also supposed to worry that, since I don't have any of these feelings, I am avoiding my problems by not facing up to them.

That might be so.  But I developed my own coping mechanisms when I was a kid trying to grow up in a house with one little brother and five older women.  Instead of having one father, I had an endless supply of father figures.  I never much gravitated toward any of my mother's dates and subsequent husbands, although Stewart, a salesman from England, taught me about poetry, John Donne in particular.  My Aunt Annie's husband, Carl, acted like my friend.  We talked about politics and business and sports.  He taught me--tried to teach me--to play baseball.  I spent a summer with him in Oklahoma City helping him put in a yard in his new home.  My sister Mary Jo's husband, Dick, taught me how to drive a tractor and a back hoe and generally how to act like a man.  My sister Jeri's succession of husbands combined to teach me how to smoke a pipe while driving a Mustang convertible, play basketball, read Joseph Heller, play guitar, and drink.  I was like a little pack rat and I took something from every man who came along.

The bottom line here is that no one really taught me how to be a father first hand.  I had Jim Anderson, Andy Taylor, Ward Cleaver, and Fred McMurray for that.  All those guys handled fatherhood with aplomb.  They never felt overwhelmed, or when they did it was always a funny kind of overwhelmed, something to laugh about in retrospect.

But being a father is in fact overwhelming.  Sure, one can still find things to laugh about, but not necessarily at the end of every episode.

That's how I feel today.  That's why I'm writing this even though I smashed the hell out of my right middle finger while working on a deck the other day and it hurts every time I hit the letter I or K.  Everybody says that when you get older, your worries get fewer.  That just hasn't been my experience.  When I was a young man, I had the same worries and concerns and dreams as all the other young men I knew.  When I had children, those worries doubled.  When those children had children, those worries tripled.  I don't think my worries are going to quadruple because I will be too old to remember who anyone is once I have great grandchildren.

Without going into gruesome detail, there are many things weighing me down today.  A leak developed in our kitchen while we were in Puerto Vallarta and now we are in a construction site with plastic sheets covering up our kitchen while folks get rid of mold, redo floors, and replace dry wall.  I feel like my house is being slowly raped.  That's the first thing I think about at night when I can't sleep.   I also lie awake worrying about Nate and Ashley in Los Angeles.  I worry about Chris and Christine's latest business venture.  I worry about Franny and Ken and their long term goals.  And of course, I rotate through the grandkids and all the worry that entails.

I just want everybody I love to be happy and wildly successful.  Whenever one of them gets sick, or frustrated, or angry, or sad, I get sick, frustrated, angry, and sad too.  So tell me again, why do we celebrate this day?

Please don't!   You're thinking about all the rewards of fatherhood.  The cute moments.  All the nights watching the kids perform.  The warm memories.  The laughter around the table.  The grandchildren shivering with excitement over new possibilities.  You don't have to tell me about all that.  Those rewards happen all the time.  I can't stop them.  I celebrate them daily, hourly.  So, tell me again, why do we celebrate this particular day?

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

The Yellow Kayak

That is Sammi in the front of our kayak paddling around one of the ponds at Chatfield.  You can't tell here, but Sammi and I are singing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" and Sammi is about to do her big finish:  "Gently down the STREEEEEAM."  We time it so she gets to that final note just as the kayak lands.  It will be Brooklyn's turn next, then Willa, and then Jaydee.  Meanwhile, the rest of the family is up on the beach commandeering a picnic table which is home base for our impromptu picnic.

Kathie and I bought the kayak around twenty years ago for four hundred bucks so we could have it to play around with in the Tetons.  It was the best money we've ever spent.

I should add here that neither one of us likes getting wet and we are not particularly eager about shooting the rapids on the Snake.  We just like to paddle around the lakes near Jenny Lake Lodge as a way to rest from the other days we spend hiking.  The second day of our stay we always put in at the boat launch at Jenny Lake right after breakfast.  We do one lap alternating between a gentle float while looking for critters and RAMMING SPEED when we are trying to impress the tourists looking out at the lake from the trail.  Our Jenny lap takes about two hours.  Then we pull the thing out of the freezing mountain lake, hoist it on top of the car, and head back to the lodge to hang out on our porch with good books and a bottle of wine.

After our kayak break, we try to head up to Lake Solitude the next day.  The day after that we generally take our kayak to String Lake.  String Lake is actually more like a river that connects Leigh Lake to Jenny Lake, so it has a light current and killer views of the Cathedral Range.  When we get to the top of String, we take a two hundred yard portage over to Leigh and put in there.  Leigh is our favorite kayak destination because once we get past the portage, we have the lake pretty much to ourselves.  Occasionally there will be a fisherman in a canoe and the buggy campsites along the shore will be filled, but that is the extent of human traffic.  Leigh is a gold mine for critter spotting.  We have seen otters playing on an outcropping of rocks, an eagle stripping a fish, two eagles having sex in the sky just off shore (If we had been Native Americans conceiving a child at that moment, we would have named the kid "Two Eagles Fucking"), and once a moose was rude enough to impede our progress by wading across the lake directly in front of us.  The lap around Leigh is almost always a thing of wonder; however, the weather does roll in with alarming speed and we have been caught in the middle of the lake as the whitecaps swamped our little craft.  Those times are always Jack London moments.

We used to put in at Two Ocean Lake on the continental divide, but the put in there is swampy and leech-ridden.  We don't go there anymore.  We did have one memorable morning where we somehow got between two trumpeter swans and one of their babies.  No sooner had we noticed our mistake then one of the big birds stood up on the water, wings flapping, and ran toward us, coming to a skidding stop right next the kayak.  Then the other swan attacked and skidded to a stop in front of us. It was more than a little terrifying.  Mostly, I was trying to figure out how we would explain to the rangers that we just killed two trumpeter swans with kayak paddles.  Luckily, we extricated ourselves from the situation and made a bee line back to shore.

We always spend two days paddling along the south shore of Jackson Lake from Spaulding Bay all the way up to Moran Bay.  Great eagle spotting along this stretch and a whole new view of the mountains.  Once, we paddled up the north shore from Colter Bay to Leek's Marina.  We put our kayak up on shore about the same time a busload of Japanese tourists (I don't mean to sound racist, but the bus was in fact filled with Japanese tourists all armed with cameras) emptied into the parking lot.  When we came back for our vessel, two of the tourists were in the boat, holding our paddles, pretending to row, while one of their friends took pictures.  We politely told them that our kayak was not part of their tour and quickly got back on the lake.

We also put in on the Snake right below the dam.  Sometimes we team up with Jim Friend and his red canoe and go all the way to the Pacific Creek access.  One time Kathie and I floated down to Oxbow Bend, played around, and paddled all the way upstream back to the dam.  Paddling upstream on the Snake gave us both a more reverent regard for Lewis and Clark paddling and portaging all the way upstream to the Columbia River and their boats were probably heavier than our yellow kayak.

We don't use the kayak for family picnics at Chatfield any more.  It got to be such a drag hauling the thing on the top of our car with the Wyoming winds buffeting us all the way, that we asked the folks at Jenny if they would let us store the kayak there over the winter.  They were nice enough to say yes.  The nine hour drive to the Tetons became a lot more pleasant.  I'm sorry that Sammi and I won't get to sing "Row, Row, Row Your Boat" at Chatfield anymore, but I'm hoping that sometime in the not to distant future we can all go to the Tetons together.  Her big finish would echo off the canyon walls impressively.

Here's what I'm hoping will happen when we arrive at Jenny next month.  We will be greeted with smiles and hugs like always.  I will ask for a bottle of Veuve Cliquot on ice for our porch and when we drive into Bluebell's driveway, some enterprising bellman (Connor are you reading this?) will have already put our little yellow kayak along the side of the cabin.  I can't imagine a better welcome than that.

Tuesday, June 6, 2017

You know what our motto is here at camp. Hubris or Ennui, take your pick.

The Two Great Greek Sins

Since Trump has pulled us out of the Paris Accord, I've read at least two analyses of why the GOP has abandoned its once firm belief in climate change.  The articles attributed the position change to massive amounts of money coming from fossil fuel champions like the Koch brothers and also to "Democratic hubris."

According to these articles, it was hubris that led President Obama to issue a flurry of executive orders that recognized the threat of climate change to our planet and future generations and attempted to put in place policies that would ameliorate that threat.  So what happened was that even though the majority of Republicans are aware of man's role in climate change, they reflexively blocked any legislative attempt to get it under control because those attempts were Obama initiatives.  Voting for ANYTHING Obama wanted was, in effect, treason against Republicanism.

So, in his second term and saddled with a Congress completely under Republican control, Obama abandoned any hopes for partisan consensus in the legislature and started issuing orders.  Now the Republicans had another reason to block any attempts at climate change mitigation:  They were standing firm against Obama's hubris and by extension the arrogance of the Democratic Party on all issues relating to the environment.

We can take that a step further and look at the plethora of Trump's executive orders as a "Fuck You" to anything Obama accomplished.  It makes no difference, for instance,  that Obama's recent detente with Cuba has injected billions of extra dollars into our economy--dollars that mostly help out farmers mind you--has helped normalize relations with one of our neighbors, and has helped the living conditions of Cubans.  Forget all that.  Detente with Cuba was an Obama thing.  Let's dismantle it.  Paris was an Obama thing.  Let's dismantle it.  Clean air and water is an Obama thing.  Let's get some good old American brown clouds back, just like the good old days when America was great.  Obama pissed off middle eastern powers by pointing out their records on human rights, let's stop that right now and assure Saudi Arabia that they can do whatever they want to their people because we won't lecture them anymore, especially if they give tons of money to Trump's going concerns.  We will, however, lecture our allies in NATO.  We will, however, be horrified at Cuba's human rights violations (of course, we have to find some first).  Let's make sure everything we do teaches Obama a lesson for having hubris.

My question is that in the face of the GOP's inflexible position on every issue, is there anything Obama, or any Democrat, could say or do that would not have FoxNews yelling "hubris?"  When confronted with an individual or a group willing to reject fact, logic, and the underpinnings of western civilization if they get paid enough, shouldn't we attempt to fight back?  Climate change is real.  Fully 95% of the scientific community understand it is real.  They have the data to prove that it is real.  And because they have that data, that proof, they tend to scoff at the notion that climate change is a hoax perpetrated on the world by the Chinese in order to get an economic advantage over the US.  That doesn't strike me as hubris.  It seems more like realism.

I've got two YMCA stories to illustrate this point.

A few years ago, right after Al Gore stormed the country with "An Inconvenient Truth," Dennis, a FoxNews Republican and small time entrepreneur, walked up to me as I was getting dressed after my shower, and told me that Al Gore and his push for climate change awareness was the biggest threat to American sovereignty.  It was undermining a healthy business community, costing jobs, making us less competitive with China, etc.  He further said that "An Inconvenient Truth," both the book and the film, were examples of communism at work.  I, of course, asked him if he had read or seen either version.  Guess what his answer was?  He certainly was not going to waste his time reading liberal spin.

"C'mon, Jim, don't you know you can spin anything?"  His tone was almost fatherly.

"Yes.  All I have to do is watch FoxNews to know that," I answered.  That was the end of our conversation for that day.  We would have more.  Was my flippant dismissal of a FoxNews speaking point an example of my hubris?  I don't think so.  It was almost nothing like Oedipus' refusal to give way at the place where three roads meet.

Another time.  Dennis again.  He came up to me while I was getting dressed (I can only assume that FoxNews Republicans like confronting people just when they're stepping into their shorts.) and asked me if I wanted Socialism (insert Gasp).  I laughed and said no.  I think capitalism works, but like the Pope, I think the excesses of capitalism, something that our (ahem) exceptional country is so good at, are evil.  Yes.  Evil.  I then asked him to give me an example of something, anything, that Obama had instituted that constituted Socialism.

"Well, everything," he fired back.

"That's no answer," I said.  "Give me one thing that in your opinion is creeping Socialism."

"Opening the borders," he instantly responded.

I finished up packing my stuff and slung my backpack over my shoulder and started walking out of the locker room.  Just as I was about to turn the corner, I went back (I couldn't help myself) and said to Dennis and the other FoxNews types gathered there in various stages of undress, "That's why I envy conservatives.  You get to believe anything you want.  You never let facts and logic get in the way.  Oh, and have a nice day."

I'll bet Dennis and the rest checked my comment off as just another elite liberal arrogantly telling everyone else what to believe.  If I had pointed out that Obama had not, in fact, opened borders and furthermore, opening borders has at best a tenuous link to Socialism, would I have been even more arrogant, more filled with hubris?

The alternative to hubris is ennui, a listlessness bred by indifference.  The constant lies, the misinformed certainties, the worship of the bottom line over anything else, all those things are designed to create indifference, ennui.  Everything is so up in the air that any reaction other than indifference is too depressing, too infuriating.  I can see the whole country slowly settling in for the "banality of evil" that Hannah Arendt described so eloquently.

If Obama's executive orders, if things like the recent Women's Marches all over the country, if our shared outrage is hubris, thank god for it.

It might be our only hope.