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Journal Archives - July, 2003

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           July 4, 2003 ... AWOL ................................... (Permalink)

I apologize for my recent disappearance off the face of the web. I've been dealing with some personal matters.

The journal hasn't been a primary concern for me, and for the near future it's not going to be. I'll try to get myself back in the habit of posting, though. My motivation to write the sort of pithy stuff I'm accustomed to filling the journal with has been pretty low, unfortunately.

Meanwhile, in the spirit of playing catch-up in whatever ways I can: Two weeks ago today, I took a river rafting trip with my coworkers. It was a lovely experience, but I never got a chance to post the recap. As it turns out, the sports editor wrote a column about the experience in Thursday's newspaper -- available online here.

It's worth noting that I am one of the first two people he cites as "brave enough ... (to go) over the side to take a swim," and, additionally, one of the "adventurous" people to jump off the top of the waterfall into the swimming hole. Yep, wild and crazy me. Actually, the waterfall jump wasn't half as dangerous as some of the rock climbing I attempted -- not that it was especially risky climbing, or that I would have fallen more than two feet if I'd lost my grip; but simply because wet shoes and slick surfaces don't bode well for the odds of the sort of slip that leaves you with a nasty bruise or bloody scrape. In between the three-point rule, a healthy dose of paranoia, and one or two arm-straining saves, though, I made it back unscathed.

Plus there were salamanders in the pool at the top of the waterfall -- where only Jasper and I dared to climb. He pointed them out to me. It was a shining moment of natural beauty, and a reminder of how close the wilderness really is to us when we simply make an effort to turn our eyes from the firelight to the dark forest.

           July 15, 2003 ... Three years ............................ (Permalink)

Tomorrowlands, late last month -- while I was deeply distracted by the previously mentioned personal issues -- reached its third birthday. It's been a rocky three years for me, personally speaking; and a surprisingly stable three years for the website, all things considered.

I've been providing regular musings, stories, essays, and updates via this here journal over the course of those three years. In that time, 36 months, I have taken only six declared sabbaticals; and despite long dry spells and periods of writer's block and personal difficulty, when not in sabbatical mode I have averaged a post every two to three days. (Rarely, I'll skip a week; but I still make enough posts over the course of the month to compensate.)

Of those six sabbaticals:

  • One [July 2000] has been when I went on vacation with Erin for two weeks with essentially no Internet access.
  • Two have been for arm injuries -- first [October 2001], a repetitive stress injury that was severe enough to force me onto workers' compensation, and second [May 2002], the hiking mishap whose financial misadventures have been so exhaustively chronicled here.
  • Three [February 2001, April 2002, and now] have been sanity breaks, when journaling became too big of an obligation and too much of a drag when I needed my energy to deal with more immediate concerns.
Hardly record-setting, given that Antwon spent those three years writing daily and racking up over a thousand consecutive posts, and that above and beyond that, most bloggers consider a day with just one post to be slacking off. But still respectable. Enough to make me wonder if maybe, as a vanity item, I should try to collate the best of it and self-publish it as the sort of short-essay collection that makes wonderful bathroom reading material. Heck, it's been three years; I can't remember the memorable stuff I wrote without looking it up.

           July 23, 2003 ... Aging .................................. (Permalink)

Speaking of birthdays, mine was the 20th -- this last Sunday. It was a definite anti-climax, especially compared to last year's swimming field trip, and wasn't nearly as social as 2001's. Basically, I stumbled out of bed in order to go have a celebratory breakfast with the roommates -- the local fire station hosts a monthly Sunday all-you-can-eat brunch that just happened to be conveniently timed -- then got home, played about 16 straight hours of the video game "Grand Theft Auto: Vice City," and went to bed. By that point, I had been playing video games so solidly for so long that I was basically having GTA hallucinations. Despite that, I had a very pleasant and epic dream that had nothing whatsoever to do with hijacking cars or random violence.

Today -- Wednesday -- at the weekly staff meeting at the Journal, my coworkers chipped in and bought me a cake. It was chocolate with chocolate icing, but it was a nice gesture anyway. I ate a piece and ended up with another piece, the only leftover, which I brought home and am stowing in the refrigerator, where it is likely to go uneaten for quite some time because as of today I am officially the only member of the household who is not on a diet. Kai, Kras, Lox and Kats are eating large quantities of a vegetable soup that I am told is an Armed Forces boot camp staple, and beyond that only a pretty strictly defined menu of additions. As I would start getting into unhealthy body fat percentage numbers if I dropped too far below my current (six-foot-four) 170 pounds, we worked out a deal where I get a pantry shelf to myself and a separate food budget when we go do communal shopping.

My parents, meanwhile, outdid themselves. Last year's gift was a Tomorrowlands logo T-shirt that I still wear regularly with great pride, and it was a gift that we both knew would be hard to top. So what did they do for my 26th? They named a star after me. More accurately, they gave me free rein to uniquely name a star (I don't know which one yet, and sadly you don't get to pick which one) whatever I happen to want that will fit within the ISR's 32-character limit. I'm still deliberating.

As some feature articles caution, it's a symbolic gift and not a scientific one; the registry is not recognized by any astronomical organizations. But, like most people who give or receive such gifts, I don't particularly care whether Dr. Smith in Stuttgart or Dr. Jones in Jamestown recognize that little dot of light as "Eta Baxili" (or whatever). The point is that connection to the heavens; being able to point to a particular part of a particular constellation, brag to friends "That star right there is named after me," and be able to haul a book out of the Library of Congress in order to lend official weight to the certificate on my wall.

The question of legitimacy aside -- because it is completely irrelevant to this particular discussion except as a caveat for future purchasers -- my folks came up with not only a creative gift but a personally meaningful and thoughtful one. As I've hinted in previous entries, I keep one eye to the heavens, and have at least a passing interest in those that explore it (although it's not often I find occasion to talk about space or astronomy). For example, for slightly over four years I have been an active contributor to Seti@Home, a distributed computing initiative that processes radio telescope data to search for signals from extraterrestrials. (I've processed over 1,200 work units as of this writing, and am in the top 4 percent of their users.)

I believe humanity's hopes lie in the stars, and as such, the gift provides me not only a wonderful memory but also a strong affirmation for our future.

The one thing I intended to mention in writing this post, incidentally, is that I turned 26 this year. How am I processing it internally? "I've turned 25 plus one." Not so much because 25 is a round number -- although certainly there's that arbitrary appeal -- as because 25 seemed like a landmark. Oddly, not a quarter-century landmark. The way I think of 25 is as "one-third of my life." Yes, apparently, my brain has decided that I am going to live until I am 75, and then and exactly then I'm going to either keel over directly or else quietly bend life expectancy probability and live 1.2 lifetimes for the price of one. (Actually, statistically speaking, I'm being realistic about the average, if nothing else; perhaps even a bit optimistic, because life expectancy at birth is a hair over 74 for American males.)

So I'm not 26, I'm "25 plus one," for the simple reason that "one-third of my life plus a year" is far more elegant than "26/75 of my life."

The next major landmark will be in 2005, when I will have been an adult for a decade. (I had a very clear rite of passage, which coincidentally occurred the summer I turned 18, so my personal definition of "adult" isn't as flexible as it might be for some others.) In late '08, I'll have been "out in the real world" (a college graduate supporting myself financially) for a decade. In 2013, I'll have been an adult for as long as I was a child and/or adolescent. In 2014, I'll hit my halfway point -- assuming both that I'm still around by then, and that California hasn't fallen into the ocean in the Earth Changes that every new wave of New Agers assures us will be coming along "real soon now."

I'm still getting used to the idea of being old enough to track these landmarks and pass them and be more or less the same person on either side; adolescence was such a comparative whirlwind. Of course, on the other paw, I'm also still getting used to actually having a need to track such landmarks; when you're going to live to 75, five years makes a pretty significant difference, but when you're a dragon living into the many hundreds and perhaps thousands, what's a decade here or there?

           July 25, 2003 ... Fire ................................... (Permalink)

[Dragon in 
the flames]
-- Wedge Canyon fire, Flathead National Forest, Montana; July 19, 2003

"The fire dragon never rests. It will get you anytime."
-- Fire Station Capt. John Olson, Santa Barbara, Calif.; Oct. 8, 1996

           July 29, 2003 ... Scent .................................. (Permalink)

I walked out of the office into the balmy night air and smelled the forest.

With feet on concrete, beneath electric lights, I inhaled deeply. A gentle wind blew from the east, and I smelled the forests -- the soft scent of sap, the silence, the timelessness, the solitude.

I smelled the week-old memory of lying in a sleeping bag out on a deserted ridge -- feeling the air caress my face, refreshing but not cold, casting my eyes about for phantoms in the silver light.

A calm odor, soft and clean: wind blowing in from the hills, dusty, musty. Mosquitoes and scree slopes. Silent erosion. Life and death. Chapped lips and dry nostrils and aching legs and the feeling you could walk forever regardless. The sacred incense of the monkey's cradle.

I have lived in suburbs and cities and small, rural outposts, and they all, to some extent, smelled of people. But this pine-cone wind from the east shamelessly swept the Sierra through sleepy Auburn, reclaimed the town and whispered of the nonhuman.

I smelled the forest, listened to the silence, drunk in the moonlight -- and, for the first time since I moved here, I owned the street.

           July 31, 2003 ... Rain ................................... (Permalink)

Placer County has been facing a relatively hot summer thus far. In practical terms, what that means is this: At work, we've been putting a lot of "weather shots" on the front page.

Toddlers playing on waterslides, beating the heat; kids diving into pools, beating the heat. Teens leaping into the American River, beating the heat. A six-year-old showing her mother how to eat ice cream. Two grade-schoolers being pulled behind a boat on an inner tube. The lesson to be learned from this, apparently, is that heat spontaneously generates children.

That unfortunate detail aside, though, I like heat -- in the same sense that politicians "like" soapboxes or cats "like" the chair you're about to sit in. I'm an addict. I can't stand cold or cool, and dislike room temperature. It's only once temperatures start hitting 80 that I consider it safe to strip down to a T-shirt. True, this might have something to do with my body's general lack of insulation, but I have this weird heat fetish that seems to go beyond it.

No, really. Ask anyone I've ever shared a house with. A good way to estimate how many layers of clothing I'm wearing at any given moment is to take the number any sensible person would wear at that temperature and add two. (I kid only slightly. At a recent Chamber of Commerce mixer hosted by the Journal, where people congregated outside in the parking lot under a relentless sun and 90-degree-plus air, I walked through the crowd and mingled in a black wool overcoat. Afterward, when I went back inside to the air-conditioned office, I complained that it was too cold indoors and went back out to bake some more.)

I've previously speculated that this is my body attempting to be cold-blooded. An alternate explanation, I suppose, might have something to do with my elemental affinity -- I'm nothing if not a fire spirit. What significance this has in the greater scheme of things is far from clear, and it may well be completely arbitrary, but it does fit on many levels (far beyond the weather angle). Thea, bless her watery heart, has moderated me enormously, but there are areas where I stubbornly refuse to compromise. You can take the dragon out of the fire, but you can't take the fire out of the dragon, as they say in the back room where they go to come up with witty epigrams for my personal, exclusive citation.

Of course, none of this has anything to do with what I'm here to write about -- which is not fire but water. See, at the end of a mercifully hot and dry July, during which the thermometer crept past the century mark a total of 17 times, a storm front swept in from the southeast -- the same one that sent tropical storms hurtling through Texas a week or two ago, charging on a mad dash from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Los Angeles got rain, breaking a record (no recorded precipitation had ever fallen on that date in any previous years). The forecasters warned Auburn could see thunderstorms; I hedged my bets when writing up today's weather blurb last night for the front page, and said "Month might end with rain." It did.

A brief but fierce downpour pelted the city streets in late afternoon. Enjoying the novelty of rain that -- unlike Seattle's too-common summertime showers -- was occurring while still hot enough for me to find it T-shirt weather, I took a quick break and walked out to my car through the storm.

And, boy, was it ever rain. Real rain. Manly rain. The sort of rain that looks at hail, says "Those wimps need to freeze to do that?" and proceeds to come down in the sort of golf-ball-sized droplets that can break windows and beat the tar out of dogs and small children.

I was out in the rain for about four minutes. I could actually count the individual raindrops hitting me -- even under the leafy canopy of several trees, whose leaves just weren't strong enough to deter the Cosmic Power Drops besieging the earth. The drops were practically big enough and infrequent enough to dodge, but I was savoring the experience too much to think to try it.

Savoring? Heck, yes. I'm normally pretty indifferent to rain -- not particularly fond of it, but not squeamish enough about it to cower under umbrellas or canopies, and not peeved enough at it to whine at its existence (except in Seattle, where it gets contentious through sheer repetition). But to the extent that I do hate rain, it has to do with three factors. One, my stuff gets wet. (Me getting wet is no skin off my nose, but wet stuff, especially paperwork, tends to get ruined or damaged.) Two, the skies go a dark shade of gray that makes everything seem rotten and faded. Three, rain is cold.

Normally, even a light rain still drenches everything, because it comes down in such a thin but solid sheet that the wet gets everywhere; but this rain was so discrete and deliberate that I returned to the office mostly dry. The sky was cloudy, yes, but not dark enough to be objectionable. And in near-90-degree weather, the falling rain -- when it did hit -- felt comfortably lukewarm. I had nothing to object to. It was about as nice a rainstorm as I could ever hope to walk through.

It was quite an uplifting experience. Not for the reasons everyone else feels, of course; they were just glad to get a break from the heat, and a temporary reprieve from the foothills' high fire danger.

Me? I was enjoying enjoying rain.

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