Tuesday we hiked up to St. Mary’s waterfall. After a 3 mile hike including 1,000 feet of vertical rise, we drank cold water pouring down the face of the granite.
That was right after Lauren and Karen startled two young men and a young woman who had built a sort of cold water mountain pool at the foot of the falls. When I bested the final boulder, this young man was pulling on his boxers. There is something about nature at 9,500 feet than makes young men lose their senses and their clothing in a sort of back-to-nature euphoria.
I looked up at the mountain to the west. My son taught me to look at the sky. Brandon is an atmospheric scientist…a meteorologist. He specializes in wind profiling and works for the National Weather Service in Norman, OK. Once when Brandon was about 10 years old, we sat on a peak in Arkansas watching a thunderstorm wrap around the mountain.
I thought of that as we made our way back down the mountain, listening to the sounds of atmospheric indigestion at 9,500 feet elevation. Lightning crackled in the pines chasing us all the way down to the parking lot just as rain hit our windshield. Karen hasn’t run that much since Sadie Hawkins date night at church camp.
Yesterday was one of those days that I kept looking up at the sky even in the midst of fear as we walked across a steel suspension bridge with lightning crackling all around.
After sharing some pictures, my son commented, “Mountain weather is the best.”
Certain languages, including French and Bulgarian, have one word for both“time” and “weather.” The French is rendered Le Temps.
One of my treasured moments as a Dad combined weather, time, and beauty. I was sitting on a peak in Arkansas with my son on a Sunday morning singing while watching a thunderstorm roll in not from above but from our flank as it wrapped itself around the mountain and we were, for just a moment, spun into a vortex of time and weather that made my heart skip a beat. The weather became time and time became weather and God seemed very near.
My son taught me to look at the sky. My daughter constantly reminds me of the beauty all around. Brandon is a meteorologist. Lauren, a budding artist and designer. I read some excerpts from this book and thought of them.
Maira Kalman and writer Daniel Handler celebrate in Weather, Weather — the idea of what I saw on that mountain with my son. I only wish I had taken a picture.
There is a picture in Weather, Weather, taken by Carl T. Gosset Jr./ The New York Times: “This Photo Was Made Just before 4 P.M. at Broadway and 43rd Street, Looking East across Times Square.” July 24, 1959
In this picture, time stands still for me even though it was 58 years ago. A man stands with a hand in his pocket looking down at the sidewalk oblivious to the torrent of rain as two women dressed vaguely like my mother dodge puddles and shrink against the elements as they run across a New York street.
I was born the day after this picture was taken. And yet it was only yesterday…
Here are some pictures from Weather, Weather by Maira Kalman and the writer Daniel Handler. Enjoy!
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Hatsuo Ikeuchi’s Snowflakes, c. 1950
László Moholy-Nagy: The Diving Board, 1931
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Man Diving, Esztergom by André Kertész, 1917
I was in my room wondering what it was like somewhere else.
What’s the weather like?
It’s like summer. It’s like doing nothing.
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Alfred Stieglitz’s Apples and Gable, Lake George, 1922
The newspaper said it would be nice today.
What does the newspaper know.
International News Photo: “The Portent of Coming Disaster: A Tornado, Photographed as It Moved across the Sky toward White, S.D., by a Cameraman Who Was the Only Person Who Did Not Take Shelter in a Cyclone Cellar. None of the Buildings Shown in the Picture Was Damaged, as They Were Not in the Direct Path of the Tornado,” 1938
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Barney Ingoglia’s photograph for the New York Times article “Rain Raises Fears of Flooding: Pedestrians in Times Square Wading through a Puddle as Heavy Rains Began Yesterday. The Rain Was Expected to Continue Today, Melting Much of the Snow and Causing Fears of Flooding,” January 25, 1978
Clarence H. White: Drops of Rain, 1903
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Children Playing in Snow by John Vachon, 1940
Illustration by Maira Kalman, based on Henri Cartier-Bresson’s Alberto Giacometti Going Out for Breakfast, Paris, 1963
I can’t even say what it’s like. It’s perfect, the whole thing. Come with me, take me with you. Let’s go out together and have poached eggs.
“We are going to Hyde Park to see King Lear,” Brandon said. Turns out he said High Park. Which is where we sat, perched high on a hill overlooking the outdoor stage at High Park in north Toronto. My expectations were low but I did carry high expectations in a picnic bag, a sub sandwich giving a measure of hope for enjoyment during the evening performance.
Shakespeare is sometimes difficult to follow. Lots of humor missed but I noticed veterans of Shakespeare in the audience chuckling so it must be funny and I’m just slow to the meaning translating Queen’s English into a slow Okie drawl. The production was performed with members of York University’s Drama and Arts School. York is the University where my son is working on his Masters Thesis on Radar Differential Measurement or something meteorologically spatial.
Anyway, it’s the shape of stuff in the atmosphere before it hits us on the head. He has developed a certain expertise in radar and was recruited to York University by the noted Atmospheric Scientist, Dr. Peter Taylor.
We also met Brandon’s buddies in the program, ZQ, Tim, Kai, and Isaac. My evaluation of Brandon’s friends: they are easy-going and smarter than I am. We are eating at a sports bar and there are several televisions tuned to street motorcycle racing, the kind where the rider turns corners with the bike leaning over sideways and Isaac (17 years old) is asking how the bike makes the turn at such high-speed. Tim, the one the guys jokingly call the savant, is studying atmospheric pollutants and has just returned from the northern Canadian woods where he is downloading data from the atmosphere. Tim pulls out a plain paper notebook and begins to sketch a model of movement at speed describing centrifugal force with mathematics, a simple graph and pencil and paper.
I don’t understand the sketch and I want to snap a picture but don’t want to appear to be a hayseed and make a big deal out of what they take as a mundane mathematical explanation for a visual and visceral sport like motorcycle racing. I wonder if this happens everyday in their world.
We’ve enjoyed the food in Toronto. One can eat at any country in the world when in Toronto. Bahn Mi from Vietnam, Pork Shoulder sandwiches from Cuba, and of course the traditional Canadian meal of Poutine, fries, gravy, cheese curds, yummy.
We’ve had a wonderful trip! We drove through Michigan after crossing the Canadian border at Sarnia, about 30 miles north of Detroit. We listened to the Audiobook version of Killers of the Flower Moon, by David Grann while driving home. It literally wore me out, but it was fascinating. A lot of King Lear in Osage County back in the 1920’s, when the Osage Indians were the richest people per capita in the world and J.Paul Getty and Sinclair and Frank Phillips gathered under the Million Dollar Elm to bid on the Osage Indians’ subterranean kingdom.
The Osage built mansions and drove Cadillacs and succumbed to the foolishness of riches just like most of us do, and then one by one, the Osage began to be killed off. The story is an indictment of the prejudice toward American Indians that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity. Utterly compelling, but also emotionally draining. The bad guys could just have easily been actors in a Shakespearean tragedy like King Lear…
A few evenings back, we sat with Brandon and Liz watching some old home movies that I had sent off to Legacy Box. They converted our home movies in 8mm and VHS format films into digital which we accessed through wi-fi. We stumbled upon this: Brandon struggling to breathe his first breath. One of the nurses was a good friend, Maresha Scarsdale, and I handed her the video camera. He is purple. Brandon thinks he looks like a purple lizard. Oxygen hasn’t coursed through his body and made him pink yet. I’ve never watched this. I was there, yes, and I held him and marveled then. I’m tearing up again watching and remembering…Brandon is struggling to breath, gurgling cries, his airways still not clear…Ello Stephney, another nurse friend of ours is working on him, clearing out his mouth and nose, and he magically begins to glow pink…he isn’t a lizard, he is human.
“When we are born, we cry that we are come to this great stage of fools.” ― William Shakespeare, King Lear
We all cry before the blood fills our veins and oxygen brightens our countenance and we nestle in the warmth of human contact, and we determine that the fools and knaves and killers of the flower moon may share the stage, but they won’t rule the story.
Thanks for showing us around Toronto Brandon and Liz. You really put on a great show!
Last summer my friend Bob and I were in Denver at a fly fishing outfitter admiring the gear and clothing. It was in that moment of idealistic longing that we decided to go trout fishing. Neither of us fish much. But the river called to us like the sirens singing to Delmar and Pete in O Brother, Where Art Thou:
Come on, brothers, let’s go down, Down in the river to pray
It was the siren call of the river that drew my friend and I into the water in search of a rising fish and a connection to a river that runs through each of us.
Scott met us in the McDonald’s parking lot and we shook hands. He was our guide for the next four hours of trout fishing in Silverhorne, Colorado. Snowmelt from the Rockies ripples over rubble wearing the gold and brown and gray stones into shapes that look like eternity. We were to fish in a Gold Medal stream, which means it has surpassed certain criteria for purity and the fishing is catch and release.
Fishing makes me aware of my duplicity. I love fishing, I hate fishing. I am compassionate, I am selfish. I give a man with a sign that reads, “Help, anything appreciated,” five bucks, but I ignore the homeless man standing on the street. Fishing is for suckers in one moment and it is transcendent in another, as Steven Wright describes, “Last year I went fishing with Salvador Dali. He was using a dotted line. He caught every other fish.”
Scott is from Seattle but has lived and guided fishing trips for over twenty years in Colorado. Scott drove Bob and me down to the edge of a dirt parking lot next to the Blue River, just below Dillon Dam. We donned our waders and boots and grabbed our fly rods and walked down the bank to the edge of the river. We encountered other fly fishermen during our time on the Blue, and the conversation was always fishing, what’s hitting, which fly, how are you setting indicators. Fly fishing seems to be more of an art than a science, more of a conversation than a lecture, more a dance than hike.
Bob, grew up, like me, on the plains of Oklahoma. Like me, he also married mysteriously well, his wife lovely and younger.
Our married children were born on the same day, and they are sometimes mistaken for twins.
We were dining together in the Lohi neighborhood of Denver and the waitress asked if Lauren and Beck were twins. No we replied, they were born within hours of one another, but they are not twins, they are alike but still very different.
Scott spends time with Bob and then with me, alternating, coaching, encouraging, sometimes talking to the fish, “Eat it!” he says as our tackle flickers just to the side of a shadow that looks to me like another rock, but to Scott’s practiced eye, is a fish. They are alike, they are different, the water pounds both fish and rock, and the shapes beneath the surface change without perception to the untrained eye.
On a trout river we are all alike but different. There are no strangers on a river, we are one with the sun and the stream and the fish. All things fade into sunlight and rippling water and the rhythm of a line and a current and as Norman Maclean says so poetically, in A River Runs Through It, “…all existence fades to a being with my soul and memories and the sounds of the Big Blackfoot River and a four-count rhythm and the hope that a fish will rise.”
The cast is more flick than muscle, and Scott has the muscle memory layered year over year compared to mine which is only a few minutes old. Yet he helps me, always saying, “Perfect,” when my tackle and indicator hits the flow of the stream near a yellow rock exactly where he has asked me to cast and as the indicator flows downstream I watch it bob and flow in the rhythm of the river waiting for a fish to strike and plunge it down and out of sight for a moment. Then I know the fly has either been caught between two rocks or a rainbow has hit it and is running. “Let it run,” Scott coaches us. “Your line is 3.5 pound test and if you resist, the fish will break the line, let it run, but keep the tip up and some tension, then when the pressure is slight reel in some line.”
My wife teaches yoga, and to her delight (no really, she loves it) I attend her sessions occasionally, and she has helped me with practices of calmness, quietness, and inner core strength, which is both spiritual and physical at the same time. And it’s helped my golf game, I more limber, able to play a game that requires violent twisting of the back and torso, with more suppleness and grace than before I started working out with her. Since we have this in common, we went together, the four of us, Bob, Sheila, Karen and me, to a tiny yoga studio in Frisco, Colorado. So the four of us are something, we are not sure what…friends-in-law? Anyway, we are traveling friends. We go places and we eat good food and enjoy God’s creation.
We fished the west bank of the Blue River heading north, holding on to the willows as we walked the stream bed edge. The worn round and oval stones in the stream bed were of varied sizes, from football size down to golf ball sizes, so the footing was uneven, and our walking required finding a firm foothold with the lead foot before following suit with the trailing foot. Bob and I both purchased wool socks the day before, but our feet were already cold by 9:00 am. And when we caught a rainbow, Scott netted the fish and told us, “Wet your hands.” And into the icy stream our hands plunged, then we grabbed the fish for a picture before it could wriggle away. After fishing the west bank for half the morning, we crossed the stream in a strong current, keeping a low secure base with our feet. Later, near the end of our time on the river, my back began to ache, and I realized how much core energy it took to stay upright in the rapids of an icy river. This was an entirely new kind of yoga pose, practice and repetition, eyes focused, body tensed against the swiftly flowing river.
There is something in the stream that we can’t define but seek anyway, hope, faith, sustenance, connection to those who have fished before us. And it isn’t just in the river that we seek that, but in the rapids of living. A few days earlier, we sat at an intersection in Denver, and a homeless man sat, gritty, ragged, begging…I was driving and saw in the corner of my eye the passenger window coming down.
Bob talks to everyone without judgement. When we dine, he always asks the waiter/waitress, “What’s your name?” And eye contact. I’ve seen Bob give money to what many of us would call bums, but he gives them much more than that, he gives the touch of another human being, eye contact, I have noticed you, and a question, “How are you?” And the money, whether for a cup of coffee or a down payment on a bottle of cheap wine, doesn’t seem to matter, because a river runs through all of us.
Bob’s rolling down the window and he has a bill crumpled up in his hand. He yells out at the man who is seated and who is now trying to get on his feet, “How ya doin’? Don’t get up…here, I’ll throw it too you.” And he tosses a $5 dollar bill at his feet.
Bob rolls up the window and I said, “What did you throw?” Bob replies, “A $100 bill.” I tell Bob, “You went to heaven and hell in one sentence.”
I’m pretty sure it wasn’t a $100 bill and Bob is kidding, but that isn’t the point is it?
Norman Maclean also writes in, A River Runs Through It, “We lived at the junction of great trout rivers in western Montana, and our father was a Presbyterian minister and a fly fisherman. He told us about Christ’s disciples being fishermen, and we were left to assume, as my brother and I did, that all first-class fishermen on the Sea of Galilee were fly fishermen and that John, the favorite, was a dry-fly fisherman…
Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river runs over rocks from peaks to valleys. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs.
It’s the day after our fishing expedition and we are in Vail, Colorado, at a LuLu Lemon shop and the girls are shopping for workout wear. The staff is friendly and they ask us where we are from. While the girls are in the dressing room, Bob and I are talking to the sales girl who is from a little town near Littleton. Bob’s son, Beck, is playing Link Larkin in the musical, “Hairspray,” at the Town Hall Arts Center in Littleton. It’s a small world. We tell her about our fly fishing trip and she says, “I love to fly fish!” and she tells about her Dad taking her fly fishing just down the road. And I think of how fly fishing makes us search for our true north, how it makes us feel that old feeling of duplicity, I am a fool, and yet sometimes, I am wise.
“Her dad would pull over to the side of a bridge, and they would watch from above, before he slipped down the bank to catch them. She was charmed by the motions of trout. How they take their forms from the pressures of another world, the cold forge of water. Their drift, their mystery, the way they turn and let the current take them, take them, with passive grace. They turn again, tumbling like leaves, then straighten with mouths pointing upstream, to better sip a mayfly, to root up nymphs, to watch for the flash of a heron’s bill. The current always trues them, like compass needles. When she watches them, she feels wise.” Matthew Neill Null, Allegheny Front
We are all fishermen, some of us fish for money by the side of the interstate, some go to work each day fishing for legal tender, for others fishing is natural, an easy way to be yourself, but for some it is the measure of what is true in each of us.
Like those rainbow trout, life forms us with pressure and we take it with passive grace until it tumbles us like leaves until we straighten pointing upstream, until eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs, but we can’t see them yet because our eyes are the eyes of novices, unlike Scott, who has practiced all his life to distinguish the shape of a rock from a fish. One day, maybe I will be able to see fish like Scott and look beneath the tumbling shining waters, to see those fish and those words underneath the rocks and that they are beautiful.
While Brandon was home this winter he was imitating a Coast Guard cutter on our frozen pond, whacking the ice from a kayak with a double-bladed oar. He broke the oar like a hobo eating a hard pretzel. Which means he really is my son. Our family has a long legacy of tearing things up. Oars, lawn mowers, houses…Dad once hit the corner of our house with the tractor…which led my brothers and I to complete the demolition, sledge hammering the stone wall creating space to add four new windows. Sometimes accidents become a serendipitous remodel to your house…other times, you just have a busted lawn mower and shin deep grass.
Which brings me to my son’s equipment legacy. I once made my son a promise, that one day, when he had a house and a lawn mower of his own, (or a kayak) I would go to his house, borrow it…and beat the crap out of it, kind of like that oar against the ice. Here is my chance…his mower is defenseless in my shed.
I opened the door to my tool shed last week and spotted his electric lawn mower which he had left for me to store away until he returns from Toronto where he is doing graduate work on the atmosphere. I’ve heard of electric lawn mowers, but had not seen one close up.
I have a running debate with Brandon about this electric lawn mower. He is a meteorologist, smart, and ecologically aware. I applaud him for caring about the environment. But, I also enjoy giving him a hard time.
His rental home in Norman had a 100 foot deep back yard and the mower had a 90 foot cord because he had to splice the original 100 foot cord when he…well, you can imagine. I asked him, “Why do you have an electric lawn mower?”
His reply is typical of twenty somethings. “The environment, you obtuse carbon-eating dinosaur.” (He actually is polite but that is the tone)
Humans have always struggled with technology as simultaneous curse and blessing.
The famous economist, Milton Friedman was touring China and came upon a team of nearly 100 workers building an earthen dam with shovels. Friedman pointed out that a single worker could create the dam in an afternoon using a bulldozer. An official replied, “Yes, but think of all the employment the shovels create.” Friedman replied, “Oh, I thought you were building a dam. If it’s jobs you want, then take away their shovels and give them spoons.”
Which got me thinking of a better way to mow my lawn. Can economic theory apply to lawn care? Utilitarian economic theory permits my use of a Bad Boy riding mower. My son prefers environmental theory and a tethered mower running on watts instead of barrels.
But in the spirit of Milton Friedman, if it is less pollution we desire, take away our mowers and give us goats. If everyone employed a herd of goats, think about the benefit to the atmosphere, notwithstanding the ancillary impact of goat flatulence. Just for the record, I do care about the environment, but I have 12 acres to mow and I can’t find a 12 acre cord.
Here is my latest argument. Brandon’s mower is powered by coal and my mower by oil.
The arrow in my argumentative quiver is courtesy of Senator James Lankford.
As a self-proclaimed political recluse, I was at first reluctant, yet still fascinated to attend a round table session with Senator Lankford, and I listened to his story of an exchange he had with a proponent of electric vehicles. The Senator said, “My vehicle is fueled by oil, yours (electric) is fueled by coal.” Meaning, power is produced from the electrical grid to power hybrids and all-electric vehicles. So, please don’t blissfully believe you are not polluting while plugging in.
Like most statements made in the political realm, one can find truth and hype. According to the U.S. Department of Energy, coal sourced power plants make up the largest percentage of electrical power plants in the United States at 33.28% followed by gas at 32.77%, nuclear at 19.57%, hydro at 6.04% and wind at 4.69%. Oklahoma is decidely more clean, with gas plants leading the way at 45.2%, coal at 32.71%, and wind at 18.43%.
So, the Senator is correct. When you plug-in your electric vehicle, there is a price of emission. But according to the Department of Energy, that cost of emission is still currently about half the pollution footprint of a gasoline powered vehicle.
The take-away is to not be fooled into believing there is no environmental cost to plugging in your electric vehicle…and it’s a much higher cost than I would have imagined…and yet, 11,435 annual pounds of CO2 equivalent is still a lot of environmental impact for a gasoline powered vehicle versus 6,258 annual pounds of CO2 for hybrid and electric vehicles.
My son is making me a better man. I’ve grown mellow and have repented of my malevolent revengeful scheme against his power equipment. I will leave his gentle grass shaper to collect dust in silent repose awaiting his return from the Canadian halls of meteorological research. Maybe I’ll even power it up and take it for a gentle spin through a meadow of clover.
I think he’s probably right. I admire my son’s tenacity dragging that ragged cord through grass clippings during a sweltering Oklahoma summer. Here’s to the spirit of my son and the younger generation who are gaining on me fast, busting down stone walls with sledge hammers, mowing gently, and building dams with 1,000 spoons.
I wonder how many goats it takes to mow my lawn? Someday my son will debate the impact of greenhouse pollution with his son and his son will win, but he’ll still promise to go over to his son’s house and beat the crap out of his goat. Legacy doesn’t die without a struggle.