Monthly Archives: May 2008

Life: City Meets Mountains

It runs in the family: an affection for beauty that cities AND mountainous places have to offer. But my sister and I are like yin and yang in this regard. She makes NYC her home and travels in high style. I’ve tended to travel on a shoestring budget, been known to stay in the desert or the mountains until I run out of money. Sometimes we come together to travel, and rip-roaring adventures ensue.

A few years ago, for example, we drove Iceland’s ring road together. I had the stopover in Iceland because I’d purchased the cheapest flight to London, and it was included. She, however, had been curious about Reykjavik and bought a ticket to join me. We camped at Eurotrash campsites along the road (my idea) and then stayed in a swanky city hotel and fine dined when we returned to civilization (her idea). After I left, she stayed another day to shop. It worked.

Last weekend, here in Vail, Colorado, we had another sisters’ weekend, this one motivated by my sister’s desire to climb Mont Blanc in August. Mont Blanc is Western Europe’s highest peak, but there is still enough snow up high on Vail mountain to provide a good training ground. So we set out in the morning sleet and walked up Golden Peak to do some ropework practice. Higher up, we strapped on the crampons and got out our ice axes to practice self-arresting in case of a fall on steep (or crevassed) terrain (click YouTube link below to view a brief dramatization).

Overall, it was a long day out that included around 3,000 feet of climbing, a fox sighting, some whimpering, and a big German dinner at Pepi’s when we returned to town.

Landscape: The Creek

“The creeks are the world with all its stimulus and beauty; I live there. But the mountains are home.” -Annie Dillard in Pilgrim at Tinker Creek

A hazy Gore CreekI can’t talk about creeks with nearly as much eloquence as Annie Dillard in her Pulitzer Prize-winning Pilgrim at Tinker Creek (1974). Even so, I know something about creeks. There’s one running through my back yard: Vail, Colorado’s Gore Creek. Just a few weeks ago, this creek was a nearly-frozen trickle. But now it looks like a dangerous beast, frothing and roaring as it runs down valley. The change took place last week in a mere forty-eight hours. Maybe this means that the snow is finally starting to melt, even though the sky spit out some snow just yesterday morning. The sound of rushing water has a rhythm to it, a certain beauty.

roaring Gore Creek

I open my window at night to hear the sound. I turn off the radio now when I write so that I can hear the water-music. I can’t explain how or why this sound has the ability to move me, but I agree with Annie Dillard, who says:

Gore Creek rocks

“Our life is a faint tracing on the surface of mystery, like the idle, curved tunnels of leaf miners on the face of a leaf. We must somehow take a wider view, look at the whole landscape, really see it, and describe what’s going on here. Then we can at least wail the right question into the swaddling band of darkness, or, if it comes to that, choir the proper praise.”

For more from “Down and Out” on Annie Dillard’s Pilgrim at Tinker Creek, click here.  

Literature: Impossible? Not So.

Kaku's Physics of the ImpossibleI’ve got a book for you science buffs out there: Michio Kaku’s Physics of Impossibility: A Scientific Exploration into the World of Phasers, Force Fields, Teleportation, and Time Travel. Theoretical physicist Kaku’s latest book was published in March and recently spent a few weeks on The New York Times Bestseller list in the nonfiction category. Kaku is a media star, of sorts, and has written several other books including Hyperspace, Parallel Worlds, and Beyond Einstein. In Physics of Impossibility, Kaku considers the likelihood that today’s impossibilities may become possibilities within our lifetime. He explains the scientific basis behind technologies such as Harry Potter’s invisibility cloak, teleportation (as in, “Beam me up, Scotty!”), and phasers (hand-held ray guns, of course). If you have a general interest in science or a specific interest in science fiction, you will enjoy this book. Otherwise, if you have no interest at all in science, this book might just be the one to open up this subject area as a new realm of possibility for your future literary explorations.

To read my more formal, feature-length review of this book in Sacramento News & Review, click here.

Life: When Summer Comes

VW van with lovely snowAs soon as it warms up, I keep saying, I will start on all of those projects that have been on hold all winter. Temps have been rising here in Vail, Colorado, but then it went and snowed four inches on Friday night. Will summer ever arrive?

If it does, in fact, stop snowing, my priority project is getting the Old Lady in better road condition. This vehicle, a 1970 VW van, has impressed me over these last few years. It chugs steadily over mountain passes and otherwise just gets me where I need to go. Of course, anything this old is way finicky and constantly threatening to explode, but I guess I’ve committed to it and am not willing to let it go, especially after all I went through in the fall:

Peace Out, Hanta

I may have mentioned it then, but when I returned to the U.S. after a prolonged absence, the van was full of mice nests, and it basically smelled like crap. I freaked out about Hantavirus and cleaned the entire thing out with bleach.

Traci\'s VW interior

My summer plan is to gut the interior, put a new floor down and build a sleeping platform with storage underneath. Currently, an unusable sink and some sort of cooler are inside, along with bench seats that fold out into a bed. Those have got to go.

1970 VW van engine

Mechanically, things are looking pretty good. I just put in new air filters, but other than that, I trust most engine issues to real mechanics. Anyhow, now I’ve written down the plan, so it must be put into action. As soon as the snow melts.

Literature: Coelho’s Warrior of the Light

“A Warrior knows that the farthest-flung star in the universe reveals itself in the things around him.”
-Paulo Coelho, in The Warrior of the Light

Desert MoonI vowed to read more Paulo Coelho this year, so when I saw his Warrior of the Light: A Manual (2004) on the bookshelf of a friend, I snatched it straightaway. I expected it to be like his other books that I have read so far: simple, but possessing some kind of deeper meaning. Coelho creates characters we can identify with because they mess up like we do or get sidetracked on the way of pursuing something bigger out of life. Warrior of the Light does these things as well, but instead of being a continuous narrative, it is more like a collection of meaningful sayings that each identifies some aspect of what it means to be a Warrior of the Light. At the beginning, Coelho says that a Warrior is “someone capable of understanding the miracle of life, of fighting to the last for something he believes in.”

For the next 130 or so pages, this idea is developed so that each reader can identify with the ways of the Warrior. By the end of the book, we see how this ideal person is similar to the person that we are striving to emulate and that a Warrior also endures failures, as we do, along the way. Some aspects of the Warrior that I liked the most are:

  • “A Warrior does not spend his days trying to play the role that others have chosen for him.”
  • “A Warrior of the Light makes decisions. His soul is as free as the clouds in the sky, but he is committed to his dream.”

  • “The true companions of a Warrior are beside him always, during the difficult times and the easy times.”
  • “A Warrior of the Light is not afraid of disappointments because he knows the power of his sword and the strength of his love.”

  • “A Warrior of the Light views life with tenderness and determination.”
  • “A Warrior of the Light has learned that God uses solitude to teach us how to live with other people.”
  • “If he thinks only of the goal, he will not be able to pay attention to the signs along the way. If he concentrates only on one question, he will miss the answers that are there beside him.”

Note: These photographs are of a full moon rising near Arches National Park, Utah. I discovered that if I moved, the image blurred all over my screen. I was frustrated, at first, that my camera could not capture the beauty of such a massive yellow moon rising over the desert landscape. But then, I just had fun playing with the light.