Thursday, June 29, 2006

i was walking in downtown new york city one day, in march, a cold and windy, gray, blustery day if i remember correctly, when i had to stop for a break because i'd been walking for a while. it was a busy intersection, lower manhattan, lots of cars and people, mostly doing business and ignoring me. across the street, though, was a small basketball court, only one hoop, with a large 8-foot fence around it. Inside two men were yelling at each other. they were huge, muscular men yelling at the top of their lungs. one, who seemed like he could be italian, had long hair held in by a sweatband at his face, but was drenched in sweat; the other, a black man, was also drenched in sweat; they clearly had been playing basketball, and were arguing over whether one of them had committed a foul. i was afraid of violence breaking out, and was aware that i was apparently the only witness, and, like being at the lion cage, was vaguely grateful for the 8-foot fence and the fact that it would be difficult for me to find a way to intervene, even if that were called for. but they never came to blows; they knew each other, probably, and were letting off some steam in the process of a "friendly" game. the city, with its traffic, its horns and sirens, competed with them; the brownstones and wall murals, high-rent district, rose up on all sides of them, and penned them in at that corner. but they were totally focused on each other. nothing mattered except whether that foul counted.

eventually i left, because i had a whole city to see, and less than a day. eventually the lower east side, traditional home of the newest immigrants, opened out into a wide paved but slanted parking lot under the brooklyn bridge. this also had been turned into a basketball court- a somewhat slanted one, with grass growing up in the cracks, and a few pillars in the way, but much longer, with hoops at either end. and here an entire game was being played out by asian immigrants of some kind- philippino? vietnamese? i couldn't tell. they were playing a wide-open game, lots of running, lots of fast breaks- but they clearly weren't hitting many baskets, and their awareness of the rules may have been less than perfect too. they were tearing up and down the court yelling some language at each other and working around the various irregularities in the pavement. above them, the bridge rumbled occasionally as huge trucks would go through their gears on their way out of town to brooklyn; the noise would echo below in the spaces between the pillars. Beyond the bridge, looking up, was the sky; we were at the river, and it had a feeling of openness, the harbor, the fresh air, the seagulls hanging around looking for a snack. it would not be a good place to be at night, but for now, in the daytime, with a crowd of players, almost all shorter than average, but enthusiastic, it was a place for exhilaration, opportunity, practice. the cracks in the pavement, that made the ball bounce off in weird directions, were just another enviornmental factor; both sides had to work around them. i wondered how long this area had been a court; whether others had also gotten their start here; or whether i should get back onto the beaten path of the lower manhattan tourist sites. these out-of-the-way places were showing me an angle of the city i hadn't really considered before- and that was good- because how else is a person supposed to know what life is really like in a place?

Saturday, June 24, 2006

the stories (below, in italics) are beginning to take over the blog, and they're a little embarrassing, because, though i have a great compulsion to tell them, i'm really not so sure there's much of advantage to having my kids, my friends, everyone in my life, to be reading them. they might belong in another blog, tucked off somewhere, but then, when i do that, i tend to lose track of them. this happened with my haiku project, which was also intended to tell the story of the travels (but leaning more toward the poetic, less toward the truth)...and several other unfinished projects, including the latest play. i'm mulling this over...don't know how it will work out. stay tuned. and, if you don't like it, just stay away from the ones in italics...or go read about the world cup....

Friday, June 23, 2006

these days i'm an illinois', i love the place. it's a lot like iowa, only more so, i like to say. or, it's a lot like iowa, only it has a city in it. but it didn't always used to be this way. back when i lived in iowa, illinois seemed like a huge state, very urbane, very crooked, very long. eastern iowa was hilly river valley, green, full of people i knew, welcoming, but the minute i crossed the river, it seemed more crowded, then it would flatten way out, into a stark, windswept, extreme-weather kind of reagan-territory, and then, worse, after a few hours you'd come to chicagoland, where everything turned six-lane, gray, diesel-fuelish. coming back west, i was always grateful to cross the river again, back into the fresh air and the uphill slope to sanity.

but one time my sister was visiting me, and missed her bus back to bloomington indiana- a trip that would take a person down the long way, through the heart of illinois, through galesburg, spoon river, peoria, and champaign, to indianapolis and beyond. i agreed to hitchhike with her down to bloomington, where i would drop her off and return, as i would not want her to hitchhike alone, and for some reason waiting an entire day for the next bus was also out of the question. i was vaguely aware that she admired my tendency to hitchhike, and, being a single woman, was unable to just pick up and do it like i did, but, being with me was somewhat of an opportunity to experience it first hand, if only for an evening, so, i let her talk me into it. she may have an entirely different take on this entire trip, you must understand, but i'm telling it from memory, as i saw it. and, besides, it didn't matter to me- i had the day to kill, but not the car or the means to get her home any other way, and she is, after all, my sister. it was about three in the afternoon when we left, and i don't even remember what the weather was like, but we figured we could make it down there by about ten in the evening if we hurried, knowing full well that such things can be out of your control when you're relying on chance and other people.

we did ok until we were way down in central illinois, down around bloomington illinois, and it was getting dark, and it occurred to me that it was a weekend, maybe a friday, and some of the traffic might be a little on the cutting-loose side. this brings out one of the dangers of hitchhiking, namely the drunk or near-drunk who seems to need to impress a person, and somehow complete strangers rank much higher in desirability in terms of needing to impress someone, than, say, someone they've known for years. and so it happened that a pickup truck stopped with three guys in it, and the driver insisted that both of us squeeze into the front with them. i'd never do this now, since it's quite dangerous, but this being the seventies, it didn't seem as bad as it does now. they scrunched up and made room for us, insisting that neither of us should have to ride in the back. but no sooner did we get in, than the driver started to make vaguely suggestive comments. i can't remember exactly what he was saying but he was kind of leering at my sister and driving at the same time, and i began to get nervous. there were three of them, and only one of me, and in a truck like this (just an old pickup, mind you) there was always the possibility that they were armed or whatever. he went on for a while, tried it several times, me getting more and more nervous. but the other two guys, between the driver and my sister, finally told him to shut up. told him he was being rude, which he was. and then they pulled over and dropped us off, and we were back on the highway.

the next incident brings out both the other major danger of hitchhiking (besides just the danger of standing by the road, being a traffic hazard, which is bad enough)- and the beauty of the midwest, where people sometimes seem to be able to just see through it when someone is ok and when they're not. a policeman stopped us, and i remember sitting in his car- i'm not sure if my sister was there too, or if she was still standing back on the road waiting. friday night was happening all around us. He was checking my id, and it was taking a while. i knew i had a warning in illinois- i had gotten it a while back, and decided to go around next time, rather than go through the state, but it just hadn't worked out that way. i had to just tell him what we were doing and hope for the best. told him i knew i shouldn't, but i couldn't let her do it by herself, so i came down this way with her, to make sure she got there all right.

finally he gave back the license and told me he was letting me go this time- because my birthday was the same as his. He didn't say anything else. He just let us go, and left.

the delay kind of did us in though. maybe it's because we were hungry and got something to eat, but in any case, when we finally got down to the last little road into bloomington indiana, it was about 2:30 in the morning, and the traffic had dried up altogether- the crickets were chirping in the forest, and there wasn't a soul around. this brought up the final hazard of hitchhiking- and my sister, if she wanted to see it, got to see it all- and that is, sometimes it's just too much to walk the last ten or fifteen miles. and it can be a long wait- though, in this case, it wasn't that bad. as it happened we got there right around daybreak, time for me to turn around and go back, after an early breakfast somewhere. it occurred to me on the way home that this time, if i were stopped, i had absolutely no excuse that anyone would believe, but it didn't happen, i sailed right through, and made it home in plenty of time, having lost only a night's sleep, which is nothing, when you're young- it just gives a kind of sheen to the cornfields, and a vague sense that, in fact, consciousness itself is but a fleeting thing- now you're here, and soon enough you might be home, sleeping right through to the next day.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

eastern iowa has this one road, highway one, that goes northeast from iowa city through hilly farm country and river valley, up through solon, across the cedar river and into mt. vernon. this stretch is beautiful- you can watch the corn slowly change color in rolling fields of dvorak's land (his relative wrote the new world symphony)- gravel roads cut off into hilly farm country where monstrous farm tractors come up over the rise and scare the living daylights out of you. but back on the highway, you have to concentrate on the narrow, curving two-lane, and a little past the hollowed-out stone house and its religious sign, warning you of hell and damnation, you come to a gravel road at ivanhoe where i used to live- and it too snakes off into the countryside, up a river bluff and to a beautiful and remote farm, surrounded by hilly woods, with a small white farmhouse and a winding dirt driveway, where my friend michael and then his girlfriend kim lived for a while.

michael, a poet and a dreamer, was very content at this place, though it was tough for people like us to really make a go of it way out in the country, miles from anywhere or decent employment. but he, i think, was really happy- i'm not so sure i could say the same for her, maybe she had some living yet to do- when one day a drunk driver smashed into them down in the lowlands near town, where the highway crosses a creek that feeds off of the dingleberry quarries and goes around a wide bend. i've driven there a million times, you have to concentrate, and i know that if i crane my neck thinking about those cool farm quarries (true swimming holes, places where you could easily pass a hot summer day, diving into and swimming in a cold spring-fed pond, with cows drinking lazily way down at the other end, closed now for insurance reasons i'm sure), i'll get into a wreck myself. the accident had been tragic, of course, but i didn't know much about it, except that all of their friends were angry because this guy had already done something like that earlier, maybe it was his third dui. such is life in the country, i guess...they can take away the licenses of people like that, but they can't keep them in jail forever, and can't seem to keep them out of their brothers' cars. i was angry about it, as everyone was, but i thought i'd put it behind me, until one day, when i was driving my kid and some other people up the road, i don't even remember who it was, and i came to that turn, and sure enough, i saw her cross the road. like all ghosts, she was in white, a gleam in another car's headlight, i couldn't tell if she was real or not, and she was out of sight the minute i could put my eyes on her. at first i'd just seen her out of the corner of my eyes, and had to begin convincing myself it was just car headlights shining, and you never want to look at those directly anyway. but my legs started shaking; i had trouble keeping a steady hand on the wheel. i couldn't say a word about it to the passengers. i just got to where we were going, and got out of the car shaking.

it was one of those times when i figured talking about it would only make it worse- and i buried it, deep in my memory. i thought i saw her again later- but by then i was aware of how it could have been, must have been, the reflection of headlights- i'd almost convinced myself it had to be- and it didn't have quite the same effect. how can we know? i drove the road often, watched the corn switch from golden autumn brown to ice silhouette- and as i'd come down around that curve, down by the bridge freezes sign, i'd get nervous and watch out for her, but then i switched my route, for other reasons, and didn't go by there much. today much of the road is being widened, the cedar rapids to dubuque part, up past stone city and anamosa, already was, when i was there. people like the dvoraks, who have been around there forever, probably didn't know michael and kim very well, and probably don't remember much about the accident, except that it happened. makes me wonder, though- when you die suddenly like that, and you have so much of life left to live, stuff yet to do- what exactly
does happen to you? i don't suppose you'd stick around, in one form or another, thinking about it, would you? and, if you had to catch someone's eye, surely you'd look for someone who'd know you were there? just a thought. i'm not saying i believe in ghosts, or anything. just trying to keep my eyes on the road.

Monday, June 19, 2006

got a great book for father's's got a plain black cover, but once you get into it you can't put it down. an investigator goes deep into the seamy underworld...places that would literally make you sick. the main character is known as PrgY- all these guys have wild names- and has a kind of identity crisis. nobody knows what he does or what he's good for. there are some bad guys hanging around - endocarditis, nosocomial infection, bacteremia- and this PrgY guy traps or sequesters pheromone that is produced in a cell. so you see, there's trouble a-brewing.

it's a dark world of pheromone-inducible conjugal plasmids. genetic information- virulence determinants and antibiotic resistance- gets exchanged prolifically, like crack in some neighborhoods. internalized pheromone bonds to PrgX, another important character (a repressive bastard - just ask Asc10), and abolishes PrgX negative regulatory functions, leading to increased expression of conjugal ability. Now it's getting hot!

but it's a dark and scary world. these characters live on Todd-Hewitt broth for days at a time, with only an occasional sandwich fusion protein. a western blot darkens the horizon. random PrgY mutants are hanging around. it's well known that "a significant problem faced by the donor cell is to detect the pheromone produced by nearby recipients while avoiding energetically wasteful self-induction of conjugation functions by its own endogenous pheromone." it's sizzlin'!

the investigator is sharp- handy with the DNA manipulation, the quaquick gel extraction kit, and a QuikChange mutagenous strategy. taking the gram-positive shuttle vector, naming the little plasmids pJRC3, pJRC101, pJRC102, and pJRC104, the darling little clones, she notices that they have an unusual dialect. they talk like this: ggc gac gaa ttc gac ctc ggt a. one of them says, and i quote, "aag tga aaa aaa tag".

other pheromone characters have these wild names: MAGLVTLVFVLSACG, AIALFSLVLACCG, etc. some are pretty bold characters. it would confuse the mailman, i'm sure, but i would guess they don't get much mail in that neighborhood anyway.

as it turns out, PrgY function is dependent on endogenous pheromone. PrgY functions independently of Eep, but there's a model in which PrgY is positioned near Eep, where lipoproteins are processed and released. so we can see them settling down in this working class neighborhood, i guess you could say. PrgY could sequester cCF10, but we don't really know how that turns out.

there's more, but i don't want to give away too much of the plot. let's just say, you won't be able to put it down. i hope i didn't plagiarize too much of it may have to send away to the univ. of minnesota for it- it's my daughter's phd thesis!

Chandler, J. R. (2006). Control of endogenous sex pheromone signalling in Enterococcus Faelis. Dissertation submitted to Univ. of Minnesota Graduate School, Minneapolis MN.
they say one reason the crime rate has gone down is that you can do so much of your killing online, you don't have to go out in the street to do it. same with travelling. i was a chronic traveller (see next post down), with hardly a nod to safety; now i wear a bicycle helmet, and can't believe the young girl who veers into traffic without one. and can't believe britney spears when she says, it's the paparazzi's fault that i didn't put my kid in a car seat. yet i myself was reckless and flaunted it. do as i say, not as i did, i have to tell my kids, yet i also have the impulse to write it down. Fortunately, the web is a lot like hitchhiking was, you can go travelling on it; so, i don't have to hitchhike any more....which is good for my future, probably, and that of the kids...i can go anywhere, i can drop into someone's space, i can find out what they're willing to reveal; i can experience their reality, get out of mine for a while. the high-traffic places (two posts down), i might breathe a little easier once i'm out of there, but hey, did you ever hear anyone say they were sorry they did it? sorry they went to a new country? sorry they reached out and met someone?

may the sunflowers bloom in your path- and have a good father's day- what's left of it. here, it's over by nine minutes...and i'm off to bed.

Sunday, June 18, 2006

lewis mumford once said, the national flower of the usa should be the interstate cloverleaf...yes, we are a car-dominated society, which one notices when one tries to get around in any other way. these days i ride my bicycle out where i cross the highway, ride next to some tall grass, some low grass cattails, a little patch of wildflowers coming out a ways over. the tall grasses have always been my friend- once at a cloverleaf i just went up on the hill, looked down at the cars using the exit ramps, the relentless flow of humanity- and slept like a baby. i suppose there are some snakes and other animals in those grasses- but if you think about it, the cloverleaf puts into the wildlife ecosystem a major barrier- do not cross me- even at night, as the cars are going in every direction, all night. joliet- where 80 and 57, or 55 come together...des moines, kansas city, st. louis, where the loop roads come back into the interstates, the major junctions in the road systems. in some places the exit ramps would be cut into granite hillsides and this would make the space rugged, rocky, natural, yet still a level road with a small shoulder, lots of cars, a few snakes in the grass to the side. sometimes i would arrive at these places and change my mind about where to go next. maybe i'll go north instead of west. whole vistas would change with a single decision. sometimes it was for no real reason, sometimes there was some kind of twisted reasoning behind it.

once, i was on the indianapolis ring-road, trying to get back onto an interstate, at a cloverleaf, hitchhiking. it was gray out, cold, cloudy, early evening. a car stopped but i could tell it was not like a usual ride. in fact the woman inside was crying. i had no idea why, it clearly had nothing to do with me. and in fact she didn't intend to give me a ride, which was ok. who knows what was going on? something in her world was clearly terrible; it had fallen apart. made me think of mine- the solitude, the cold night, the diesel exhaust, the grass, the snakes, the relentless flow. i wished her well, and walked back toward the exit sign. her red lights receded behind me; she got back on the highway. i also was out of there soon enough...but i remember her, every once in a while...
it's the real father's day (i celebrate my own a week early- for two of my boys- but can't ignore the world) - and paul mccartney's 64th birthday- this being important partly because of his song, "when i'm 64"...and will she still love him? his divorce has become official...i know this because i'm keeping my eye on the news for my class. another class is revisiting the paparazzi issue. keep your eye on students' personal weblogs (access from template)...some interesting discussion. so these days i take these as starting points and travel around the web. and here are a few things i've found:

go straight to asia and read some good weblogs...

or, read joi ito's view of the tenth anniversary of timothy leary's death...

keep up with the world cup- in harmony with my students, i say, go saudi, go ecuador, go korea, go japan, go togo, go usa!

visit some photographers...but skip the comments.

check out some movies that my son found before he skipped town for camp.

Monday, June 12, 2006

here's sarah mclachlan's video- nice!

also, This idea could save the planet, by alan tower...on a hang (hahng) drum....nice!

thanks to chris corrigan for the second one...thanks to dan, a commenter on chris's weblog, for the first.

Sunday, June 11, 2006

was hitchhiking north to alaska, but had to go through miles and miles of northern canada before i even got to the start of the alcan highway, apparently. in one area, called the peace river valley, everyone was was summer, you had to get outside now while you could; the roads were full, and i got rides easily. i met a lot of natives, but often they would be going to a lonely road that cut off the main highway and would leave me out on the highway. at dawson creek i was aware that i was at the beginning of the alcan so i stocked up a little, but again, got a ride only about five miles out of town where a road cut off into the bush.

scrub pines, various thick bush type overgrowth- there were bears all over the place. I tried to hang up my food at night so i'd smell less like a peanut butter sandwich. at one point i was hitchhiking with a guy named pierre, but he had limited english, so we played catch a little, waited for cars that were pretty rare. we were at one of these roads that cut off into the bush. also had a vague sense that weather was coming, and that the mountains were coming. but, at the moment, we weren't going anywhere. the sun was going down. it was beginning to rain.

it was one of the truisms of hitchhiking that in terms of getting anywhere, i really was better off not being with another person- much as i might like his company, at least in the short term- he was probably preventing me from getting any rides, anywhere. i considered just walking down the road, or turning around and going back to town. but i didn't. we also had little to say to each other, it being hard work to communicate, so we hung around getting wet and putting our thumb out. Finally a car stopped. It was a kind of Mercedes- fancy, yet kind of old; it wasn't clear to me how old. It had a foreign license plate, not canada, not us. the guy inside was irish. said he was going to alaska. a nervous kind of guy, somewhat impatient. As soon as we got into the car it started raining much harder. maybe this was because we had gone ten or twenty miles up the road.

rain in the north country is overpowering- it takes over everything. just like snow must be, in the winter. you just give in to it, you can't beat it. we, however, didn't know that, and kept driving as long as we could. eventually someone stopped the guy- he rolled down the window to talk to him. they told him that the road was washed out in the mountains ahead. we could either go on a short ways, to a town called fort nelson, and wait for them to repair the road, or return to dawson creek. they didn't know how long it would take to fix the road. obviously it would have to stop raining first.

at that time almost the entire alcan was gravel. many of the cars and trucks had metal screens to protect them from the flying rocks. this guy didn't have one. we just sat in this old mercedes trying to decide what to do. outside it poured. in the morning the sun came up on a flooded town of fort nelson and the guy with the mercedes, and pierre, had disappeared. having found a town, and a little rest, people were trying to decide what to do. most of the people i met were travellers. slowly i met a few people who were not too busy to wait for the road to be fixed; they'd wait in fort nelson or wherever, and continue on as soon as they could. to me it was a lifetime opportunity to get there; if i'd turn back, would i ever come this way again? i was in it for keeps, not going back, at least, not now. on the edge of town was a small, open cabin that was being occupied by travellers like myself. you can put your stuff here, someone said. i don't think anyone will steal it, but the cabin will protect it from rain. mostly there's always someone around. we're just looking for some food, so we can make a fire and maybe have something to eat.

there wasn't much to the town itself. the hockey rink dominated it; was connected to a city-center-type place, with a store nearby and a few other places. having gotten food and supplies, i returned to the cabin and we cooked up a huge dinner and shared stories. a guy was travelling with a young child. some people ran into other people that they knew and we joined a group of friends. nobody knew much about the highway, only what we heard second or third hand from other travellers. it sounded like seven to ten days. lots of people were just going back, disappearing. some people said things like, i only had a two week vacation, i'm not going to spend it all in this town.

after dinner i laid my sleeping bag out on the north country peat, not far from the cabin, and looked up. millions of stars, northern lights, a light show. this would become a common night time thing. night wasn't long up there- it didn't even start until two or three- but it was dazzling. i couldn't sleep. lights swirled around, making the million-star background fade. the canadians among us were more used to it. to me it was phenomenal.

the news in the morning was that entire trucks had just dropped their supplies at the city hall building. they were bound for alaska, but weren't going to make it- what was seven to ten days in the world of perishables? hundreds of loaves of bread, dozens of eggs, vegetables, etc. someone negotiated with whoever was in charge and got permission to cook large dinners for all takers. i didn't learn about it right away- i had gone on a walk and almost got mauled by a bear- but found out that dinner that night was a community affair- in the town hall, made of food from various trucks- and cooked by some of the stranded travellers. a can was out so that continued donations would make the next meal possible.

in the morning we made french toast- hundreds of them, because now everyone had heard of it, and there were a lot of stranded travellers. the milk, eggs, and bread came from the trucks- whole truckloads of them. the syrup came from the local store. people were friendly. even the locals had rarely seen the civic building full, without some kind of divisive issue. the money in the cans bought more supplies- they system worked pretty well. i could cook and it seemed like i had a job for a few days- i could eat, rest, sew some clothes, and work for food. and at night- the stars, and the lights. there would be a campfire, stories, music, and some people got off into recreational pursuits, but i would just back away from the fire, lie down on my sleeping bag, and look up. the stars, the northern lights- i couldn't see how people slept at all, in the northern summer, when darkness was so short, and so dazzling.

seven days flew by- or maybe it was more than that- and when the highway reopened, a guy with a kayak on a volkswagen had made room for me and we headed up the gravel road and past the washout. the volkswagen (bug) was close to the road and it seemed a little to close to the gravel. maybe i weighed too much and was wearing out the shocks; i felt like i'd eaten quite a bit of french toast. this guy liked to stop at ice-cold pristine mountain blue lakes in the yukon, push his kayak out into it and flip it around so that his head was, for a moment, facing down into the lake. he offered to let me do it too, but i declined, though i tried kayaking. rested now, i enjoyed the stark northern scenery and watched for other people we knew, while we were on the road. the incident had, in fact, made a community of travellers, which from then on knew each other-and would meet each other occasionally, at various places on the road in alaska. with a story to tell, of a week or so in a small northern town, waiting for the highway to be fixed. i guess everyone saw it differently. to me, the fact that it took nine or ten days out of my summer was not really a problem. here today, gone tomorrow, we did, at least, share a little slice of north-country summer, and now were on the road to whitehorse- a town with more bars than people. it did seem like beers and bears were the two biggest dangers- but, in the north country, you always have to keep a wary eye on the weather.

Friday, June 09, 2006

was just outside of reno, sparks to be exact, and i wasn't getting rides going east. little did i know that it was desert for maybe 800 miles, stretching into salt flats, so maybe people knew this better than me and were just afraid that i hadn't taken a bath for a while, which may have been true. anyway the western sun was setting on a nice day, the desert stretched out ahead of me, and down in the valley below a freight train came and stopped, within my sight, but down a long embankment. i went down and jumped on it. i didn't think much about food and water, bread, wine, something that could have gotten me through. as the train started i was just glad to be moving, and we were going toward a dazzling desert sunset. i could now see the cars out on the highway not too far away.

i was in a dusty boxcar, two doors open (safer that way, they told me), and the air out the doors, in the nevada desert, was incredibly fresh and invigorating. there was not a soul to share this with. the rattle of the wheels beneath me; the setting sun that we were going toward; the steadily cooler, fresh desert air were working together on me. the mountains became various shades of purple in the dusk; it seemed very otherworldly and exotic. the train veered away from the road after a while and the night got deeper though my eyes became accustomed to it. i became aware that the desert was very cold at night, even in the summer, and wrapped my sleeping bag around me; still, i couldn't sleep and was transfixed by the dark colors of the barren mountains all around.

maybe i slept for a while, but i was awakened by a loud noise: a train coming west. there was a bit of daylight ahead of us; it must have been about five or six; our train was going toward it, but this one right next to us was coming from it. loud clatters, boxcars flying past us. then, toward the end of the train, a man, riding a flatcar- much colder than my boxcar- wrapped in robes of some kind to protect him against the cold. he was as surprised to see me as i was to see him. and he was gone in a moment. vaya con dios!

the morning came up cold and clear; the mountains had flattened out, and the sun shone on the desert sand which was now looking saltier, as we were probably in the salt flats. it became hot even in the boxcar, which had an abundance of shade and breeze- but if the day was 95 and getting hotter, i was going to feel it. i was aware of a thirst developing in me, maybe a need to brush my teeth- but i had no water, no food to speak of. jumping off, at this point, wouldn't be good, even if the train were to slow down; it was desert. nothing around, nothing at all.

this situation got worse; the sun got higher, the day hotter; the scenery emptier if that was even possible. perhaps it was my naivete to think the world would always provide me with water; that i wouldn't ever be required to carry it with me. ah, but the world hadn't required me to jump on the boxcar, either.

abruptly the tracks cut right across a lake. and it was a huge lake- the great salt lake, to be exact- but it didn't look like any lake i had ever seen. for one thing, it had railroad tracks cutting right across it. these were on rocks that just came up out of the lake; there was a road next to us now, but nothing to speak of was on the road; and there was lake on both sides of the train. one side was a sickly red, and another was a sickly green. both were covered with bugs, but it wasn't clear to me if these bugs were dangerous or what. they weren't coming after me, i was pretty sure.

and now, the train stopped. it sat on those tracks in the middle of the lake for five or ten minutes, until i realized i could just get off the train and nobody would even see it, the best i could figure. now there were trucks on the road, not far from me, but nobody was in them; they were just parked, as if they were railroad workers' trucks and the workers had started here, or considered this area some kind of meeting place. the trucks made me feel better- signs of civilization, signs of life- but they were all empty. nothing was happening. the train sat some more.

across the lake, on either side, i could see nothing. just lake, as far as one could see. one side did appear to be larger than the other- judging by the mountains on the distant shores- but that wasn't much to go on. I could have begun walking- but the problem with that was, my boxcar was really the best and only car to jump on- if i got too far from it, i would lose the opportunity to jump back on when the train started.

and finally, it did. i jumped. this time, as we passed the lake, i could see that we were in a valley, a place with lots of people. cars, roads, convenience stores, the usual. i was grateful. i looked at the trees, the cars, the signs; i waited for my opportunity, and i jumped. i was outside of logan somewhere, and i took my parched mouth into a convenience store and got a large water. they were not especially happy to see me, but boy, was i glad to see them. i wasn't made to do it alone.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

the violent deer is dead...she had an interesting story, being one of the few violent female deer the nation has ever known, and she attracted national attention. my students did a very interesting study about the six (?) attacks that were right near faner hall, our home, last year at about this time; they found out that the first person who came near her actually touched her baby; from then on she attacked everyone who came near, injuring six people (?) before they even got the area cordoned off. this year she reappeared over by campus lake and the comm. building- this brought up the question of if it was the same one- and attacked two before they cordoned off the area. she has been seen with a baby again this year- but yesterday, apparently, she attacked a policeman and he killed her, and they claim there is no baby around.

a tragic story- 'bambi goes postal' by some accounts - and now, outside of reporting it, i have very little to say, except, i'm sorry; it's too bad it had to end this way; we may never know the whole story; and, maybe i'll put it in my novel.

blogger is extremely slow these days in the middle of the day, and sometimes just unmanageable. we don't have all day to publish this stuff...maybe getting our own server will help. i can hold off on the travel stories (scroll down) - they've been in my head for thirty years, after all- they seem to come out poorly written, but at least are honest, though awkward, and keep me in the habit of writing.

getting steamy outside, and i'm loving biking (bicycle) in the days; going whole days without car. gum band on the pants; certain muscles sore; an unnatural fumbling with locks. sunset concerts are coming too: watch out for blue ground under grass...

Tuesday, June 06, 2006

switched from on-foot to on-a-bike, and that's an interesting turn for certain muscles, and the time it takes to get to work. weather has been on my side. the bike is a wreck though, needs work. also need a decent helmet. arena parking lot sails by in no time.

i'm keeping on with the travel vignettes...all totally true, as i remember them, and there are millions more, though i don't know when or how i'll get it all down. this is as good a place as any. i can't always do stuff on command, like the play, which has been just sitting there. and i feel like the travel stories actually encourage people, like my children, to get out there and do something i don't necessarily approve of, namely all the stuff i did. that was not my intention. but this stuff happened. and it was kind of wild, in its own way. and time is short, life is short. i want a record of it, before it's too late. after all, some screwball english major borrowed my travel journal and then proceeded to lose it. i tried to put it into travel haiku for a while, but i started to take liberties with the truth, in order to make stuff fit into the syllable patterns, then it looked cute, but only half true. this time i'm sticking to the truth, albeit only letting out parts at a time.

the house is airy & spacious, ready to show, so we're kind of between places, ready to let go of this one, ready for new coordinates. i'm trying to make myself ready, anyway. in my old age, i've become somewhat stuck on my own windows, my own cow-dramas on the other side of them, my own back bedroom here, with the way-off clock, garish paint, wooden floor, and cd skipping inside the computer as i type. change is good, i guess, and if not good, at least necessary, most of the time. got to go with the floe, as they say on the north pole, or go with the flaw, as they say at the cut-rate discount mall. the campus is still relatively empty- the violent deer has gone back to wherever she's been hiding- and the world cup is about to start- a bit of excitement we in esl/efl experience every four years. doesn't matter who you're teaching, certain days will be taken over, taken over completely. wish i had students from tunisia, ivory coast, trinidad, or togo...i'd know a little more, would be able to mix it up a little more. but i don't believe it will be brazil in a walk, something will happen...of course, i have no idea what, being absolutely on the wrong continent. the four-year-old is in space camp. comes home with pictures of stars and such, though he's also reverted to a double-decker-bus phase... the one-year-old has his big four-tooth smile going, as he totters and walks. life is light as a feather- don't run over the turtles, and don't stop to stare at anything for too long.
these days there's an old car on a corner i use often; it's got an old quebec license plate on it, though i can barely see it since i'm busy driving, and it's a busy corner. nevertheless i always point it out to my boys, and say, je me souvien (i remember)- you don't see one of those every day.

my parents took us to montreal for expo '67, though it may have been in '68- they were surprised that my brother, who had gotten 800 on his french achievement tests, was almost useless, whereas i, who had had no french at all, was reading signs and figuring out where we were. to me the most fascinating part was not the new technology of the expo, not the working subway system, not the french-style cathedrals, but merely the process of trying to survive when the world was in code. this, to my brother, was simply not in the a-b-c-d format that he had mastered so well. it happened too quickly.

that was a rainy summer- a cold, wet, campout using the new york times for toilet paper even as it was reporting the flower children and the sexual revolution...nevertheless, when i had the chance, i went back to montreal, on my own, several times, this time trying to fend for myself without a car, without a family. people were patient with me, and i didn't try to make them admit that they knew english fluently- i'd wing it as long as i could. half the time i didn't know where i was, but would take what appeared to be navigational guidance from strangers and go where they pointed. i'd end up in some part of montreal, or some back-country road where old houses looked like rural france- though i didn't really know what that looked like...

but there were two problems...the first was that the weather was always much colder up there than it was in new england or boston, where i generally started from in those days, although in this particular story i lived in iowa...and second, when you got close to the border, people didn't want to give you a ride, because they sensed all that immigration stuff and didn't want to be associated, even remotely, with a complete stranger who could be anybody. so i'd occasionally walk the last five-six miles to a border outpost- in this case it was north of vermont- and i was in one of those french villages and it was very cold. a small little french car had an "a vendre" sign in it, and i decided to buy it on the spot. after all- it was so clearly french that it would be quite a conversation starter out in iowa, if it made it that far. second, i was tired of walking, and actually had a few hundred bucks that i could call on if it was possible. but naturally, the woman who answered the door of the house spoke very little english, in spite of living so close. she was perfectly willing to sell me the car, and also some of her rabbits, which she showed me, but explained to me that there might be some problems getting the car across the border with the paperwork and all. i wanted one of those je me souvien license plates, even if it was only for a few days, but realized that that plan also could be unrealistic- why would they give me one of them? the provincial authorities would certainly be no easier to deal with than the woman, and she at least wanted the deal to go through. but what was with the rabbits? my name meant rabbit in french...i'd never put one in a cage...and it bothered me to know that this car was complicit in anti-rabbit-perpetuation activities. if i bought them, all i could do would be to set them free...and then how would that look? is that any way for a guest to behave? there was a bit of a cultural gap there.

i walked back to the usa that day, and that warmed me up, that and the idea of still having my money waiting for whatever stupid idea i might have next...and the next time i came back, had my own car, wife and kid, and shot all the way up to the mastigouche, if i remember correctly- but still some of the cultural issues. once i wanted to get out of the car and buy some fresh sweet corn at the side of the road. practiced a sentence of french until it was perfect, then said it so well that the vendor shot back at me with an entire reply, of which i couldn't understand a word. bowled me over, humbled me. i took the corn, and the centimes, and the folded over sack, and went on my way. and here i am today, the memories flash me (there are a few not mentioned here) as i come around that corner. but i don't let my eyes linger, because it's a busy street, and i have responsibilities...

Friday, June 02, 2006

was coming back from alaska, low on money, tired of travelling, on my way home, but heard about a trail on the west coast of vancouver island, the long beach trail, that i really ought to try. travelling around? you'll love this place, way out by the sea, where the tides come up against the cliffs and the rain forest.

it wasn't easy to get to, but i went where they told me, a small town out there where the trail started into the forest. the trail was about fifty miles, and they told me it would take four or five days walking, because at every river or creek you had to come down off the cliff into the river bed and then climb back up again. on the beach, you'd notice that you could walk along the rock at the base of the cliff- but be careful, when the tides came in, they came in big, and you could get stuck there up against the cliff with nowhere to go.

on the first night i found a place to camp, but there were people around, and they told me that when the tide came in i'd want to be further up, away from the sea. that night, we stood around a driftwood fire and told stories. apparently there was always plenty of driftwood- it was all over the place. and there were also mussels- they were like clams, stuck shut, but when you tossed them in the fire they'd sizzle for a while, then pop- and they'd be delicious, fresh, slightly salty, like the sea. once i learned how to find them and cook them, i must have eaten a hundred- and thought i'd be sick in the morning, but wasn't.

i don't remember much about the people, except that there was one israeli guy who was a polished hiker, in a hurry, who was gone in the morning when i woke up. he had offered to join me, but he seemed to be going much too fast for me to try to keep up with him. the fog and the rain forest had put me in an introspective mood- and, having just enough money for the ferry back to the mainland, a five-day trip across the continent to the east in front of me- and noticing, after a year and a half of travelling, that there was a ready-made fire and delicious sea food every night, fresh air, a soft bed of sand to sleep in, the ocean waves lapping up against the embers, i was in no hurry. they said that there were some native villages up the rivers a ways - the natives had lived there forever, always having enough to eat, not bothering anyone, and it was, in fact, their land; though they let hikers come through, you wouldn't even know they were there, as they wouldn't introduce themselves. and they didn't.

one night i ran into the israeli guy again- he'd found a bottle with a note in had been dropped from a boat going to vietnam in the late sixties. we tried to figure out what it said, but he wasn't keen on letting anyone touch it. i felt a strange sense of kinship with the guy that dropped the note...wherever he i was the only american at the beach at that moment, and he had been wondering, i'm sure, if he would ever return to american shores. the israeli guy, in his haste, had, in hiking, misjudged the distance between two rivers and had actually gotten caught, with the tide coming in, up against a cliff, climbing up and losing a night's sleep trying to get away from the rising tide. this had scared him, but hadn't slowed him down much, as he was off again, ahead of me, and going much faster- i didn't see him again. i still was in no hurry- my boots in the sand, eating berries and mussels, watching out for bears, enjoying the wet, all-enveloping greenery of the rain forest, and talking very little to the people i met.

but then,i came around one corner, out on a cliff and in the open, and saw washington state off in the distance, clearly and unmistakably. it was like i'd come back to the usa by walking- though i was in fact still standing in canada- trip was over, time to go home. on the ferry i was surrounded by people again- could hardly bear to go to vancouver, though i'd heard it was a wonderful city, any city at that point was too much, and i headed straight for the plains, stopping only to pick peaches for an afternoon in the okanagan, and make enough money for a large pizza. the ocean, at that point, was already only a memory, but that's how i like to think of it, constantly bringing back the flotsam, dropping it on the shore by the cliffs, reminding us that yes, we will always come back to this lush green earth...if we're lucky....