Sunday, July 19, 2015

Vacation is a state of mind


There are cobwebs on my ceiling corners. Don't judge me; they were here when I got here, the result of a house sitting empty for a stretch. I'm getting to them as the girls and I are getting moved in, but I'm not saying you won't find some in six months.

I'm not a slob--I keep a house picked up, dishes washed, laundry put away, beds made, bathrooms clean, grass cut, bird feeders filled. But if I get a call from a friend I don't see often, who is in town and wants to go stand-up paddleboarding on a Saturday morning before I leave for vacation, those boxes can sit. I'll get to them. But that glassy paddle on Town Creek and the Tred Avon River, at that moment, with those peeps, wouldn't have happened again just that way.

Since I was little, my family has taken a summer trip to Ocean City, Md. My parents, my sister and I, my aunt, uncle and cousin. Over the years that trip has expanded, adding my girls, my sister's husband and their three kids. It's a trip that the kids look forward to like Christmas. The week is packed with more bodysurfing, sandcastle building, Ultimate Frisbee and wiffleball on the beach, miniature golf playing, amusement park riding, Candy Kitchen fudge eating, and happy hours on the back deck, than one could rightly hope to fit in. It's not exotic, not the islands, not even the Outer Banks. And Ocean City is loud, over-developed, and neon-signed, but I wouldn't trade that annual trip and that time with family.

Repetition and tradition are funny things. They invoke nostalgia and novelty at the same time. They create experiences you look forward to, recognize, but also have never been through before: a night-time walk on the beach with my daughters, who choreograph a television commercial amidst belly laughs; the girls digging up sand crabs for their cousin (my niece); seeing the difference in how they behave in the ocean as they get bigger, stronger, and more coordinated. Family traditions allow you to pay more attention to each other than to being in a new place.

Coming home yesterday, I started the beach sand removal process (laundry), and getting the girls unpacked from vacation. There were no groceries in the house, so Anna and I went up to the Oxford Market for sandwiches. Walking up the sidewalk, there was an extended family sitting on the porch and playing in the front yard, pretty much how we rolled at the beach. And that is the subtle reminder that, hey, the place I call home is a place where people go to vacation.


That is something I have never taken for granted. I am obtuse, stubborn, frequently wrong, you name it, but I have always felt blessed to grow up and live on the Eastern Shore. Last night I rode my bike around town and stopped at a dock bar for a beer and caught up with friends. This morning I went for a run around and through town. My head is on a swivel; no matter how many times I walk, run, or bike these streets, I am frequently struck by how cool some sight, some moment is. I guess vacation is a state of mind.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Returns and Beginnings


This may well be the summer of the bike. Tuesday night, the girls and I rode four miles around Oxford. They had no idea how far they'd been, just that they were exploring main roads and back alleys and learning the town. They've been to Oxford plenty, but they've just begun calling it home. It makes a difference when you get to know a place on foot and by bike and know your house is there.

[Note: I can only tell a story from my perspective; Easton is also the girls' half-the-time home, and they love it there, but I'll stick with new beginnings and such]


I love going down a side street, the girls following close, not knowing where they are going, only to watch recognition click in... "the church!!" and they have connected the grid. They ride by the field above and see grass and trees in front of Holy Trinity Episcopal Church. When I ride by the same field, I see the church lot where we played football after school, where the trees were the sidelines and end zone and it wasn't unheard of to get tackled into one.


There are the parts of town that don't seem to change. And then there is the new. I spend most of my time in the new house in the sun room where those west-facing windows are. From there, or the balcony above, the sun sets over the boat yard next door. I'm getting my bearings with what birds frequent the yard (mostly Cardinals, Blue Jays, Grackles and Chickadees), mulching gardens, cutting grass, which is a welcome return.

Moving is barely ordered chaos. Once your stuff is put mostly where you want it and you are relocated, things still don't feel settled. It's establishing a rhythm. I've walked or ridden my bike to work everyday since living here. I smile the whole way there and back in the evening. I've run and paddled and biked as workouts on some mornings. I've taken an outing or bike ride each evening, to stretch my legs and mind. There has blissfully been no television hooked up yet, though I do miss having the Washington Nationals playing in the background.


Oxford and the new house are full of familiar things. Personal and family artifacts, artwork, books, furniture; aspects and trappings of home. The move has been a return and a new beginning. I walked around the block last week, telling stories and sharing memories of what things looked like growing up, and who lived where. I dig telling stories, But I like just as much making new stories, ones that the girls and I will tell for years to come.

Wednesday, June 24, 2015

A Proper Summer


I spent my summers outside; in or on the water, on a bike or a skateboard, or blazing trails and building forts in a marsh. They were proper summers. They are still some of my favorite memories. My best summer days now closely resemble those days of being off from school and having the childhood ease of the season.

My soul frequently bottle rockets with happiness watching the girls spend similar summer days. They've got familiar settings: Oxford, the park, the beach at the Strand, the ferry dock, the yacht club, swimming in pools; Ocean City and Assateague, body surfing the waves, people watching on the boardwalk, the rides at Jolly Roger. They've got the open schedule and lack of alarm clocks, stretching their arms in the morning and contemplating what to do, or what not to do.

Summer is on its own timetable. It has its own agenda. We do well when we don't try to overschedule.

The light in summer is very young and wholly unsupervised.
No one has made it sit down to breakfast.
It's the first one up, the first one out.
- Robert Hass

Summer is a pause. For the girls, it's the end of a school year, but not the beginning of a new one. It's something in between. Eventually we lose that. A proper summer is as free from schedules and clocks as Jim Harrison strives for:

I hope to define my life, whatever is left, by migrations, south and north with the birds and far from the metallic fever of clocks, the self starting at the clock saying, "I must do this." I can't tell the time on the tongue of the river in the cool morning air, the smell of the ferment of greenery, the dust off the canyon's rock walls, the swallows swooping above the scent of raw water.

I like summer as a clean slate for the girls. The freedom of summer vanishes soon enough. Don't rush it. Breathe in the honeysuckle, the salt air, the Old Bay. Float, swim, paddle. Make your own way.

Tuesday, June 16, 2015

Memory Spirals and the Heart


Dr. Seuss's "One Fish, Two Fish, Red Fish, Blue Fish," is on the wall of the doctor's office. Ava is 10. But my memory spirals back to when she was a baby. She might have had a heart murmur, but we needed more tests. We were sitting in a heart specialist's in Annapolis. I was reading to her, a book off the shelf in the waiting room. "One Fish, Two Fish." Ten years later, sitting in the doctor's office with Ava, I in both places. Wrapped in a memory spiral.


Over the past year, I have driven or run by this lane almost everyday. Didn't give it much thought. Until a few weeks ago, on a run, I remembered standing on the lane, outside a Ford Fiesta, listening to Led Zeppelin IV all the way through for the first time. I was 15. I came to Zeppelin via Black Sabbath, Ozzy, and Iron Maiden, leading to Bad Brains, the Clash and Metallica. Zeppelin wasn't heavy enough. Until I sat and listened to IV, "Black Dog," "When the Levee Breaks," "Misty Mountain Hop." Running past, my memory spiraled; I heard Zeppelin over the Damian Marley that was in my headphones.

Cormac McCarthy wrote that, "Scars have the strange power to remind us that our past is real." Brick columns and Dr. Seuss drawings can leave mental scars, that bring our personal past spiraling back.

The thing about memory though, is that it can fade or change over time. How much does it connect or correspond to our actual past?

"You know what I think?" she says. "That people's memories are maybe the fuel they burn to stay alive. Whether those memories have any actual importance or not, it doesn't matter as far as the maintenance of life is concerned. They're all just fuel. Advertising fillers in the newspaper, philosophy books, dirty pictures in a magazine, a bundle of ten-thousand-yen-bills: when you feed 'em to the fire, they're all just paper... It's the exact same thing. Important memories, not-so-important memories, totally useless memories: there's no distinction--they're all just fuel." - Haruki Murakami

I have a hard time with that one. Not all memories are created equally. Some memories make us more who we are than others memories. Remembering the first time my 13-year-old daughter looked in the direction of my voice as a baby is more a part of me than where I first heard Zeppelin IV. I recall one far more than the other. These two memories reside in different parts of me: one stamped somewhere on the brain, the other imprinted deeply on my soul.


Memory distorts. The details we retain are ours and they are subjective, the parts that are important to us. Tennessee Williams knows why:

The scene is memory and is therefore nonrealistic. Memory takes a lot of poetic license. It omits some details; others are exaggerated, according to the emotional value of the articles it touches, for memory is seated predominantly in the heart.

Truth matters to me. I hang my hat on facts. The philosopher in me climbs toward objectivity. But at the end of the day, I don't mind the notion that memory lives closer to the heart. Cue the Rush song. A life lived closer to the heart is a life lived.

Sunday, May 31, 2015

Observations After Storms and Fire


After the storm, a watercolor washed sky. The colors were created by the storm, they didn't exist beforehand. Back out on the deck, listening to Big Bill Broonzy, a Great Blue Heron flies overhead. Clouds have stretched out lazy. Three deer are fanned across the yard.

Broonzy is singing stories. The sun stalls from dropping with the moon overhead, both wanting to hear about Joe Turner. The setting sun, the overhead moon, Broonzy, and me; we each have a part in this jam session, even if mine is just to be here to document it in some way.


I don't think anyone misses being 13. I watch a daughter trying to figure out whether to stand out or blend in. At that age, no one wants to call attention to themselves. You work hard to have friends while earning widespread anonymity.

That's the age I found skateboarding and punk music. The individualism each espoused hammered a hardcore riff in my soul. Listening to lyrics, imbibing street art, and learning to navigate a streetscape and teach a growing body and 10x30 board on wheels to ollie, railslide, powerslide, gave me something else to focus on.

For all the attitude problems that came during that period, skateboarding and what it meant helped steer me to the person I am still becoming. I have found that anytime I let myself blend in, fall in step, life intervenes, kicks my a** a bit, knocks me down, and says, "nope, that's not you." This past year has proven that all the more.


Gary Snyder is a writer I would dig meeting. He is a poet of rocks, of birds, of myths, of people, of the Earth. He includes and integrates everything into his writing. He also gets the real and symbolic cycle of death and rebirth:

"Lodgepole Pine: the wonderful reproductive power of this species on areas over which its stand has been killed by fire is dependent upon the ability of the closed cones to endure a fire which kills the tree without injuring its seed. After fire, the cones open and shed their seeds on the bared ground and a new growth springs up."

Fire. And after fire, growth. I can find that cycle over and over again looking back at my life. For me, rebirth and growth has often come through running. I find something of myself and the world on the road and trails and I'll have opportunity on both training for the Patapsco Valley 50K in October.

Storms, standing out, individualism, fire, growth, growing up. I'm not sure I ever come up with answers so much as observations. Being a father brings all kinds of stop-me-in-my-tracks observations. Especially cool are the times when I look around and notice a daughter in her element, taking everything in, completely comfortable in her own skin. And I realize that's how they all add up, the storms, the fire cycles, rebirth, trying to figure it all out, being a father--it's those moments when we're learning who we are, and we have those moments of "yep, something like this."


Wednesday, May 13, 2015

Blue Shoes, Blue Scholars


Running shoe companies don't make much money on me these days. My road running shoes are Saucony Kinvaras that I bought as a birthday present for myself at the end of March 2014. They have not been lost in a closet; they have run.

They have run me back in to shape and out of 30 pounds. They have run me through a troubled soul and a restless body. They have run me through town and onto the back roads. They have run me back into a few races, from a November half-marathon, to my daughters' first 5K.

My running shoes have introduced me to Eastern Bluebirds; to roads I'd not traveled in decades; to a self I'd not known until I met myself on the road alone. I keep thinking it is time to upgrade, to replace them, but they still feel good. Plus I'm cheap :)


My Sauconys (granted that doesn't sound as cool as "My Adidas") also re-introduced me to the Blue Scholars, a Seattle-based hip hop duo that a west coast boat builder got me hip to. The Scholars are smooth, intellectual and deeply spiritual. This past Sunday, their song "Burnt Offering" came up on the shuffled playlist. The whole song listens like a sermon, an offering of hard-won wisdom. The hook goes like this:

So I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do
I wear this skin to find the me inside of you
When I dream that I'm dreaming I feel most alive
Sacrifice nights, write to survive,
Proper hand gestures, conjure ancestors,
Drinking from the bottle that was meant
For the message that was sent from the tired and the true,
I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do.

Tapping into something larger than yourself; giving thanks to the most; getting in touch with dreams; connecting to the past.

Blue has long been my color. This past year plus it has come to the forefront of my soul and my world. Blue shoes and Blue Scholars. "I give thanks to the most, the least that I can do."

Sunday, May 10, 2015

St. Mothers Day


My girls aren't growing up the way I did. Very few kids do these days. In our house, my dad worked (and still does), he was the provider; my mom stayed home and raised my sister and me. My girls know two working parents. And parents now generally play both provider and nurturer, the luxury of someone staying home to raise kids is largely gone.

I think my father might concede that he had the easier lot. He has always worked as hard as anyone I know, during tax season he was out of the house before we woke up and we were in bed before he got home. But he could generally see his troubles coming. I don't think my mom had a clue what she was in for.

Maybe sons try to emulate their fathers more. I struggle to fill his shoes and ultimately I never will, but I've realized I wear my own shoes--his docksiders are my Sanuks, his cross-trainers are my trail-running shoes. Mothers and sons are a different matter.

My mother saved me from drowning after I fell in the river before I could swim. I yelled at her for cheating me out of my chance to ride in the ambulance. At elementary school field days, she had a line backed up across the lawn for face painting (she is a Maryland Institute College of Art graduate). I never had a store-bought Halloween costume--from a Jawa, to a Sand Person, to Boba Fett, to Ace Frehley, my mom hand-made and assembled every costume and I won first prize in the costume contest every year (during this same stretch my sister exhausted the Strawberry Shortcake character catalog and cleaned up equally well).

When it came to youth soccer, Little League Baseball, and youth lacrosse, my mom drove teammates and I to every away game. When I got into skateboarding, she endured Powell Peralta and Zorlac stickers all over her car, and carted us from Atlantic Skates and the Ocean Bowl in Ocean City to Island Dreams Surf and Skate shop in Towson where my grandparents lived. Thanks and praise is not often forthcoming from kids, I have come to realize, and it wasn't for her then.

My mom was not a church-goer, but she and my dad decided that we should grow up going to church while we were young. So my mom took us and taught Sunday School. If there is a heaven, I feel reasonably certain my mom has a spot reserved for her there. And she owes that to me more than my sister. Some kids go through a rebellious phase. Some kids go through a complete-fu**ing-idiot-with-their-head-up-their-a** phase. I fell into the latter category. My oldest daughter is 13, which is roughly when that phase started for me. She seems to have a much better head on her shoulders, thankfully. But I already have no idea why my parents didn't leave me in a pit in the back yard for days or weeks at a time. My mom's battles with my sister were of a different nature, but they were equally emotional. There is just no easy way to parent through adolescence.

These are first world problems, and I get that. My mom didn't kill dinner and carry it miles on her back to feed us. Thanks to my parents, my sister and I had a childhood that kids around the world and in this country would kill for. I don't take that for granted. And I think that is part of what it is about, now as a parent myself.

My mom has had patience where most would falter. She made her kids' passions and hobbies her own for many years. Our successes were hers, and our failures stung her worse than us. Talking to her on numerous occasions, she told me that her hope was that my sister and I "grow up to be good people." To that point, I think she succeeded.

This year my mom turned 70. Some things never change. She is active now in my daughters' lives, known now as "Grammy." She takes them to school in a pinch, goes on field trips, attends awards assemblies, and on non-dog show weekends, can be found at field hockey, lacrosse, soccer, or baseball games for her grandchildren.

Trying to make a living, I think it has always been easier to appreciate what my father and grandfather did for their families, as providers. It's maybe wired in the guy gene. But once I became a parent, and as the girls have gotten older, it has become all the more clear what my mom gave us, as nurturer, cheerleader, nurse, chauffeur, homework helper, chef, household runner. You know, all the things that come into my mind when I say, "Mom."