December 8, 2003

Chain Link Fence

Some people seem to be confused about the redesign. This is understandable, as change can be a traumatic experience not unlike winding up a plastic dinosaur that shoots sparks and sticking its mouth in your eye.

First: Yes, there is one entry on this page. Yes, this is intentional. As time has progressed we’ve realized we’re not so much a weblog as we are a collection of memoirs that people can print out, keep in the smallest room of their house and eventually put behind them. To keep things clean and tidy (for the time being) we’ve limited the main page to one entry.

Second: Yes, the words are bigger and the columns are static. This is to benefit our non-sighted customers who read the site by drawing their pudgy fingers across the computer screen.

Third: Yes, you can still access all the recent entries in one digestible space. See the link at the bottom of the page? The one labeled, Recenty…? You get one guess as to where it takes you. It doesn’t take you into the crawl space, behind the washing machine or to the front of the line. Where, then? WHERE?

Fourth: The search function has moved and we have a new listing of archives. They are both harbored in intuitive locations. If you are having difficulty finding them, please drive out to Bend so I can jam a screwdriver into your skull. That way you will always have a handle, so if your thoughts ever get out of hand you can hang on tight until things calm down in there.

Fifth: I don’t really care if you like the new design or not. If you want to comment on cool pictures of typewriters that you have seen recently, feel free.

Yesterday I taught my first beginner snowboarding lesson, and I must say it was wildly exhausting, stressful and successful. My ten kids spent the morning session getting used to the gear and working on their turns, and after lunch I took them up the chairlift. Well, half of them went up the lift by themselves, and I eventually coerced the other half to follow suit. Five kids were convinced they would die if they didn’t ride up the chairlift with me, but since the lift only holds four people at a time and we haven’t figured out how to stack small children on the lift like cans of soup, I had to trick a few of them to head up on their own. My technique was morally dubious, but it worked like crazy and by the time they reached the top of the hill they forgot they hated me.

The three remaining kids were really sketched out. I had one little girl who, just waiting in the lift line, already had huge fat tears running down her cheeks. Seeing that wrenched my heart. She was convinced that everything horrible that could possibly happen would happen, that she would fall off the chair or get minced in the gears or spontaneously combust in fear. I assured her that I would sit right next to her on the lift and so long as I remained alive would never let anything bad happen.

Soon enough we were at the top, and all the fears of riding the chairlift up the mountain were replaced with the fears of snowboarding down the mountain. It took a lot of time, hard work and patience, but we made it down with nary an injury to the body or spirit. All the kids crowded around me at the base of the lift, asking, begging, pleading to go up again. We didn’t have time to make another lift run so we spent a few minutes learning new skills in the flats, and ended the afternoon with a resounding "SNOWBOARDING RULES!" from an eleven-piece choir.

But god, those tears. I’ll never forget those tears.

In other news, I’ve been figuring out what makes the Northwest tick. People here are super laid-back. People here are nice. People here tell you that people here are nice, but you realize it’s a different nice than a Midwest nice. It’s a laid-back nice, a lazy nice, as though Pacific Northwesterners just can’t muster up the energy to be nasty. It’s pretty groovy I suppose, but it’s not what I’m used to.

I mean, let’s say you’ve got twin uncles visiting for Christmas. One loves telling stories with a deep barrel voice and always keeps a stash of sweets in his shirt pocket. The other grumbles slowly around the house, complaining about his back, death and taxes. Now, if each uncle was stinking drunk on eggnog and slouched in front of the television growling at football, you wouldn’t be able to tell them apart. There is no difference between them in action, in personality. There’s just eggnog and football. But you know, you know that as soon as the mental fog clears and they’re back to their usual selves, only one is going to make an effort to be amiable.

I hope you enjoyed that nice little anectdote. It was a nice little anectdote and I don’t think it cleared up a dang thing, but I hope you enjoyed it.

I miss the Midwest. I really do. At the same time, there’s nothing quite like living out here, whether I’m exploring Mount Hood, sailing the Gorge, riding the Cascades, or freezing in the desert. There is so much to do out here, so many outdoor pursuits, it’s like I’m jacking off 24 hours a day. I’ve been rock climbing, camping, windsurfing, kiteboarding, snowboarding and mountaineering, and if I wasn’t stinking poor I could go kayaking, mountain biking, rafting, snowmobiling and snowshoeing.

On clear days in Bend you look to the west and see Mount Bachelor, Broken Top, South Sister, Middle Sister, North Sister, Mount Jefferson and more, all lined up like a dysfunctional family and caked with fresh snow. In every direction, too, mountains dominate the horizon. They command your attention, give you focus. Every time you see them you get that twang of desire, that thirst for adventure, and you start planning. What should I do next? you ask yourself. Mountains encourage you to dream. Their bright white peaks become the focal point of your every desire, and you channel your energies into them. You know what must be done.

Living around mountains, you become intimate with them. You trace their contours, memorize their complexions, share their moods. You recognize the subtle changes they undergo as they carry out the seasons of their lives. They are at once friends, guardians, lovers and prospects. You speak to them and they speak to you, and you share stories. When you feel distant they open a yearning deep within your breast.

And this, this is what the Midwest is lacking. We don’t have mountains. We have horizons of corn. We don’t drive twenty miles to find snow at 6,000 feet, but step out our front doors and curse the heavens. Generally, there is little in the landscape of the Midwest to flatten you with awe and inspiration. There are beautiful places, certainly, lovely places in the Midwest, but nothing on the scale of the Pacific Northwest. The Midwest is small, cozy, sensible. The Pacific Northwest is huge, sprawling, borderline obscene.

Whence comes the strength of the Midwest. Without grandoise inspiration that drags our eyes across the landscape, we need to channel our energy from somewhere else. Where do we get the power to suffer through 20-below cold snaps, hot and humid summers, swarms of mosquitoes and a hopeless flatness?

Within. Stir-crazy with boredom over the cold, dark winters, Midwesterners turn inside and find ways to entertain themselves. Instead of glancing at the mountains for motivation, we look into the limitless ingenuity of the human mind to keep ourselves busy. For chrissakes, we pull fish up from holes in the ice, we carve things out of butter, we build boats out of milk cartons. No one with a mountain fixation would ever be able to come up with this stuff.

When we look at the horizon we don’t see mountains. We spin around and see an entire three hundred and sixty degrees of possibility. There is an intense creativity that is specific to the Midwest, an other-worldly resourcefulness that insists that nothing is made of such sacred stone that it cannot be recast in a million new forms. Our strength flows from our lack of stimulation and our inability to deal with it. In the middle of July, Midwesterners will buy blocks of ice and ride them down the local sledding hill. In the middle of January, Midwesterners will take a tractor to build a 10-foot kicker at the family farm, and hit it all day with a pair of skis, a snowmobile and a tow rope.

Seriously. The World’s Largest Ball of Twine. The Voyager With No Pants. The Sandpaper Museum. More cheese than you can shake a cheese-on-a-stick at. It’s all crazy, it’s all genius, and none of it would work without a penchant for humility and a strong sense of identity. The Midwest loves its kooky damn self, as evidenced by any Vikings/Packers game and as codified by the Minnesota State Fair. No mountains? No problem. We can entertain ourselves pretty darned well.

And lest we forget those hot summer days with the chain link fence.

It snowed yesterday on campus. A warm, wet, heavy snow…perfect for making snowballs and whitewashing the kids from florida. Was the campus buzzing with spontaneous snowball wars? Anyone sliding down hills with trays stolen from the dinning center? Nope, nothing. I doubt this campus even has to decree it to be against policy to throw snowballs. I dont think it occurs to very many people out here that snow can be fun. When it snows here, all the skiers and snowboarders head up to the mountains, and campus is left with individuals that just cant have fun with snow. Its definately something special to be able to be entertained with winter in the midwest. The people here would never survive without heavy drinking.
oh well. Its sunny today and supposed to be 50 degrees

and then i look to the horizon on lake superior, and find myself in a wanting awe, stun-struck and dropped low, drenched in an aura i’ve yet to find a match too.
we survive here at the pole on heavy drinking, grand insults, debaucherous dancing, and snowballs.
still, i’m with ya on missing the midwest. there’s an enclave of us down here. for some reason the south pole calls to minnesotans. perhaps because it’s flat, white, and cold no matter where you go.