Stompin' on the Terra

"And he said, 'Stomp upon the Terra.'" – Lord Buckley (via Hunter Thompson)

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Location: Plum Island, Massachusetts

28 May 2012

Memorial Day, One Generation Removed

Last night, PBS televised the national Memorial Day Concert/Celebration from Washington, D.C. It's an annual event and is a deeply moving tribute to those who serve in our armed forces. I watched the show for a few minutes after Sunday dinner with my parents, watching with one person who served in those armed forces: my father, an infantry veteran of World War II.

Those of you who know my father know what a big, tough guy he's always been. At the peak of his power, he was a solid 6-foot-2, 200-pound man with broad shoulders and a sheer size and force of will that, even though I'm physically bigger than he was, I never had and never will.

You may also know that, deep down, my father is a marshmallow: he cries whenever some young athlete wins an Olympic medal and his voice breaks at the sight of sappy commercials. He especially chokes up at any news involving our troops -- past or present -- so it's not surprising that the made-for-TV event in Washington, D.C., got to him so deeply. And it's at times like those, when I watch this formerly fierce, powerful man break down, that I realize where my hippie, anti-war sentiment comes from.

And that realization happens more often than just the final Monday in May each year. Unlike many Americans, my father observes not just Memorial Day but also Veteran's Day (which was Armistice Day to his father, who'd served in World War I) in the fall; the anniversary of D-Day, and V-E and V-J Days in the summer; and other dates that don't get mentioned in the news: the day he shipped out from the East Coast for Europe, the day he and his platoon crossed the Rhine, the night around Christmas 1944 when he and a few mates ran into a German patrol and both groups turned and walked away, and other such dates that mark those days in the Ardennes -- days he went through as a 20-year-old.

Twenty years old. I can't comprehend going through something like at any age, let alone as someone just out of his teens. Whenever I try to imagine those times -- and I do, often, in my quest to understand my father just a little bit better -- I shudder. I physically shudder. Mentally, well, let's just say it's a frightening place to be, and I don't know what it was really like. I like to think I could have withstood such horror as well as my father did, but I highly doubt it. And it's when I come to such realizations that I get angry. Not at myself and certainly not at my father, but at a society that glorifies war and combat so easily and lightly.

Rather than listen to Selma Blair tearfully recite the story of a young father whose death in Afghanistan left his two young children fatherless and his young bride a widow, I want to hear that we really do support our troops -- so much so that we're bringing them home. Rather than hear Joe Mantegna tell us that the American Idol finalist who sang the national anthem has a father stationed in Singapore who's so proud of her, I want to hear that he's actually stationed in Seattle...or some other place here on this continent where he's closer to his loved ones and here to protect our country, not the interests of some far-flung corporate tax haven. Rather than hear about the eleventh year of hell our troops in Afghanistan are entering, I want to hear that they're being brought home, and that the chicken-hawks of both political parties who sent and keep them there aren't doing so just to prop up the bottom lines of Lockheed-Martin and other military-industrial complex corporations.

Yes, I'm angry. Watching what my father goes through on all of these dates of infamy is painful for me, and they must be infinitely more painful for him. Not only can I not imagine what it was like to be there on the front in 1944, I can't imagine what it's like to carry that with you every single day of your life since.

So when I see my father break down as he did last night, in a lot of ways I wonder if he isn't still in the Ardennes, alongside Red Lynch and the other two guys -- all three now gone -- in his band of brothers.

Certainly, as my father has gotten older, the memory of those days has moved more to the forefront of his mind and soul than probably any other images he carries -- more than the sad memories of the deaths of a wife or a son or other family members, more than the joyous present of a multi-generational family living a broad range of lives, and more than the hopeful thought of the future embodied by four granddaughters. And I find that heartbreakingly tragic.

Yes, my father is proud of his service in World War II, as well he should be. But when I see him breaking down over the plight of others who have shared his experiences, I wonder if he didn't pay too high a price. And I want us, as a society, to stop paying that price. For my father's sake. For the sake of all servicemen and women. And for the sake of all the rest of us who know and love them.

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24 May 2012

Ride the Wild Surf? Umm...not quite.

After a dismal winter surf-wise, northern New England has had a much better run of waves this spring. We've enjoyed a series of small swells every week-and-a-half or so, with the most recent impulse showing up over the past few days. It was, to be sure, small. I mean: really small. I'd call it knee- to thigh-high, with occasional waist-high sets. But here in New England, we takes what we gets...

This recent swell coincided with some spectacularly sunny weather and with ocean water that has warmed dramatically. One source put the sea temperature at 62; that seems a bit optimistic, but the water has definitely reached the mid- to high-50s. Throw in warm sunshine and light winds (before the afternoon sea breeze comes up) and it's been really comfortable out in the surf. I was wearing a full-on winter wetsuit -- 6- and 7-millimeter thickness -- with hood, boots and mittens as recently as late April. I made the transition to my 4-millimeter suit with boots and thin gloves in early May. But for this past swell, I got down to my 3-millimeter suit with no gloves at all -- and I was toasty.

I also made it out with my GoPro camera for the first time. I bought the camera for last summer's sailing adventure on Polar Bear, but I'd been looking forward to trying it out IN the water rather than just near it. So on Wednesday, 23 May, I finally mounted the the GoPro to my 9'8" longboard and paddled out for a morning session. And here's what resulted:

What a blast! Riding the longboard is always such a joyous occasion. Something about the laid-back nature of cruising around on that canoe, casually catching pretty much any wave, and then walking the nose whenever possible always puts a smile on my face that is in stark contrast to the more aggro shortboard riding. I love riding my shortboard -- it is very much my preferred method for surfing -- but maybe it's because I'm still (at 46 years of age) trying for somewhat high-performance surfing that I don't chill out like I do on the longboard. Putting this new gadget into the mix -- and being able to see the results -- only added to the experience.

Whatever the reason, it was a successful first GoPro mission -- right down to the strategically placed water droplet that appears for every wave. Seriously...could that thing have been any better placed?! No, I didn't do that on purpose, though I do point out frequently that I have a good face for radio and always prefer to be BEHIND the camera. I'm not sure why that water drop was so persistent but I'll see what I can do next time.

And there will be a next time. I had that much fun messing about on my longboard with a waterproof camera.

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18 May 2012


The Luke 2012 Resurgence Tour continues. Today I played golf for the first time in just under seven years. Seven years.

The last time I played golf was the first week of June 2005. I had flown to Park City, Utah, from Alaska for the high-school graduation of my niece. That niece's father, my brother, Eric, and my best buddy, T Mac, gathered for 18 holes at the Park City Golf Course (it has some hoidy-toidy name now, just like so many other things in the new Park City) and we got through 11 holes before a summer thunderstorm chased us off the links…and that was it. Until today.

Which is kinda crazy when you consider where I've been in the intervening years. I spent three years living in Solana Beach, California. I was six, seven, maybe eight miles from Torrey Pines, that glorious course on the cliffs overlooking the Pacific Ocean in La Jolla, California, and site of Tiger Woods' great triumph in the U.S. Open. In the other direction, I was maybe 15 miles from La Costa. And in all that time in San Diego County, I never played once. Didn't take my clubs off their hanger in my garage, even to go to the driving range about a quarter-mile away. What the HELL was I thinking?

I have no idea. But T Mac and I got out on the Ould Newbury Golf Course this morning…a course we last played "back in 1988, '89, when we were both highly intoxicated," as he put it this morning when we were walking to the pro shop. I can remember playing Ould Newbury a few times back in those college years: playing with my brother, who was visiting from Utah, and with my father's late friend, Doug Cray. I even have the impression my father tagged along with us one time though he didn't play. (Aside: I remember seeing Air Force One fly overhead, surrounded by four F-16s, taking then-President George Bush (senior) to Kennebunkport, Maine.)

Anyway, T Mac and I made the rounds today over the nine-hole course and I have to say: I wasn't displeased. The first hole? OK, we can skip that. But starting with the second hole, I drilled most of my drives. My iron play absolutely sucked, to put it bluntly. And my putting wasn't very good. But you know what? After seven years off, I expected all of it to suck a whole lot more than it did.

No, I'm not a good golfer. I'll never be a good golfer. As I mentioned to T Mac today on the fifth hole: I know I'll never, ever, be a good golfer…and I'm OK with that. I'd be stoked if I didn't suck quite so bad but I'm not going to lose any sleep over it if I stay at this level.

It's in keeping with my belief that golf is a very Zen pursuit. To be good at golf, you have to be focused on the present, not the future…the shot, not the results. If you make a good shot -- if you're here, now -- the end result will be what you seek. But if you're focused on where the ball is going to go and not how you hit the ball, well, then you'll screw it up, for sure.

I screwed up plenty of shots today. I also nailed a few. More importantly, I had a great time. The resurgence continues.

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16 May 2012

Gettin' Back Into the Saddle

When Gene Autry sang his famous tune, "Back in the Saddle Again," he was already comfortably atop his trusty steed. Me, well, I decided it was time to get my foot into the stirrup and start hoisting my ass back to where I need to be.

"Climb the mountains and get their good tidings," wrote John Muir. Unfortunately, mountains are in short supply here on the New England coastline. But there IS wilderness to be found hereabouts. And one such wilderness spot is a place has been special to me since I was a kid.

The Parker River National Wildlife Refuge occupies three-quarters of my home turf of Plum Island, Massachusetts. It's a haven for waterfowl and other critters, and this animal craves the same peace and solitude that makes those animals love the refuge.

I used to wander around the refuge when I was kid: walking the trails, exploring the tidepools at low tide, picking beach plums right off the bush. I even got to know one of the employees when I was 8 or 9 and he took me to band ducks with him a couple of times (I later found the guy working for the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service up in Alaska...small freakin' world).

A lot of the stuff we used to do is no longer allowed, but the refuge still offers up tranquility and bonafide wild nature -- even among the hordes of birdwatchers for whom Parker River is a major destination. And it was in search of that tranquility and nature that I made the short drive onto the refuge this afternoon.

I sought that wildness because it occurred to me that I needed to get back to ME. In my life, I've been able to do that best when I've been able to focus -- and that focus has always been sharpest when I've been out on adventure or driven by a (usually job-created) goal.

I like to believe I had that focus in spades last summer aboard Polar Bear; the evidence for that is contained in this blog. And I had that focus back when I was part of the team building Citysearch way back in the 1990s, and again when we were trying to improve the content side of Active a few years ago.

But it's been two years since I punched the clock in San Diego, and just about eight months since Polar Bear returned to Newcastle. And I've been missing having that focus in my life. The fault is mine, I realize, but my point is just that when order is imposed on you externally, focus is easier to find. I've been working on some fiction lately, and that's helped create focus in my life, but I've longed for some of that adventure- and job-created focus over the past two years.

So today I went for a small taste of the adventure-driven focus. I haven't shot many photos since the Polar Bear journey ended so I thought that going for a photo safari would be a good kick in the ass. Rather than take several lens and go for a bunch of targets -- scenics, wildlife, emotional scenes -- I opted for one simple and likely goal: critters. So I grabbed my camera and my 300-millimeter lens and hit a couple of the refuge's trails.

What resulted won't win any awards but it did jump-start my psyche. Not surprisingly, I saw a ton of birds: herons, robins, jays, ducks, geese, crows...and a lot of red-winged blackbirds -- including this one belting out a tune.

No mega-fauna, but then this is the East Coast; there isn't much in the way of mega-fauna around here anymore. On the refuge, there are some deer, some red fox...and this muskrat, who stayed well hidden behind the reeds he and his mate were using to build a lodge in the marsh. But I got a critter eyeball in the shot so I'm puttin' it here in this post.

It was mid-afternoon so I didn't expect much, but just being out in the refuge was enough. To wander over trails and through ecosystems that go back to my earliest memories, well, that was adventure enough for this first day. Muir sought mountains for good tidings. I went for a barrier-beach island and it delivered good tidings...and a good dose of focus.

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