Thursday, May 26, 2011
I was late to the whole Harry Potter gig. The series was already quite popular when I dove into it; enough to warrant a large-budget movie. So, sometime back in 2001, I decided to read the book, at least the first one, before the movie came out. That tradition stuck.
The truth is, this has been a journey that Anna and I have been taking together. A lot of the time, we would get the books on tape, and plow through several chapters on our various road trips. In fact, it will feel strange to hit the road this summer and not have ANY Harry Potter to listen to.
It took me a long time to get through book seven--"The Deathly Hallows." We bought the audio book back in March of 2010. We got through a good chunk of it at that time, then lost the momentum. But we got far enough that we covered *almost* everything in Part One of the "Hallows" movie. The last 10-20 minutes of that movie was stuff I hadn't read yet, and that was the first time I had watched any Harry Potter and not known what was about to happen. It was kind of nice.
Still, the remainder of book seven sat unread. I got restless. I started to see some early promotion of the final movie and decided to finish it on my own, not waiting to listen to it with Anna. Boo me. Oh well.
But it's done now, and I actually really liked the finish. In all of my Harry Potter fatigue, I started to feel like no ending would befit the long road to get there. I was pleasantly surprised to be wrong. I thought Rowling paced the conclusion of the book nicely.
Now, a word about Rowling herself. I've heard some folks be critical of her as a writer. Looking back on the whole series, I have to hand it to here. I think she's a better writer and storyteller than she gets credit for. As her complete Harry Potter series starts to age on people's bookshelves like fine wine, I do think the books will be looked at as not only entertaining stories, but solid literature. She was writing for young adults, so she doesn't go crazy with adult vocabulary, but I didn't feel like I was reading "See Spot Run" either.
Her characters were rich. Her universe was interesting and blended realism seamlessly with fantasy. The overall story arc played out elegantly, and there were good sub-plots along the way.
All in all, I'm glad I'm done. While I really enjoyed the series, I do still have the aforementioned Potter exhaustion that may take another decade to erase.
But, as with the seven times before, I'm really looking forward to the movie this summer.
Wednesday, May 11, 2011
I love the red rock of southern Utah. It's in my blood. I've been heading down there since I was a little kid on family vacations for fall and spring break, and in high school and college, started exploring the back country on backpacking trips with my friends. I love all the beautiful scenery down there, but I have a particular fondness for Arches National Park.
But, as the saying goes, plans go out the window once the bullets fly...
En route to Moab/Arches our group of 6 (Me, Matt, his brother Mike, their two bro-in-laws Alan and Kevin, and Matt's college friend Jeff) made a pit stop in Green River. To that point, I had been crammed in the very back seat of the van with Mike. As we pull in to the Subway for a bite, Mike says he's not feeling so well. He sits down with us but doesn't eat. I've only seen the shade of gray his face was on two types of people: zombies, and dudes about to blow major chunks. Thankfully, he was the latter; (that's the best spin I can put on it).
By the first-hand accounts of those among our party who were in the restroom at the time of the incident, Mike purged everything including his left leg into the porcelain throne. As luck would have it, Mike is an M. D. as is Jeff, so Jeff called a Moab Pharmacy on Mike's behalf. (Incidentally, my professional training as a writer and editor didn't come in handy at that time, but I'm putting it to good use now.)
We got to Moab, and got Mike the meds. At that point we drove to Arches, dropped Mike off at the visitor's center to write his name in vomit in the parking lot while we went for a short hike atop Courthouse Towers. (Mike insisted we go. And like insensitive, instant-gratification-desiring males, we took his offer to leave him behind for an hour or two.)
Courthouse Towers is beautiful. As the name suggests, it's a series of high, sheer-cliff bordered formations of rock. The view from on top was majestic. We climbed it at dusk and got some amazing sundown vistas.
We picked up what was left of Mike sitting in the dark of the visitors center.
At that point, there was little debate that he needed a hotel room rather than the camping site we were scheduled to use, an hour-and-a-half drive away near Canyonlands. We found a room at one of the motels in Moab. As luck would have it, they only had ONE LAST ROOM. We booked it.
Mike puked spectacularly one more time outside the motel, then retired for the night. Matt kept vigil with him. The four of us who remained behind debated our options which, at 10pm, were pretty limited. We drove to a neighboring motel and asked their rates. They were $40 more than where we left Mike. We decided to send one from our party back to Mike's motel and see if a different person could get a different answer. I was our representative. It turns out, they had ONE LAST ROOM! How convenient, since we got their other ONE LAST ROOM just 30 minutes prior...
With Mike on his death bed, we debated altering our plans and finishing up our trip in Arches, staying near the relative civilization of Moab, and foregoing Canyonlands. We slept on it and reconnoitered at the continental breakfast dining room the next morning. Mike was on the phone with his wife and looking like a new man. Over a meal of powdered eggs and muffins, we decided Canyonlands was back on!
We were a little behind schedule but after a couple hours of driving, an hour topping off water supplies and getting instructions from the Park ranger, we hit the trail of Elephant Canyon. We had about three miles to go to our campsite.
The first quarter mile was a beast. Basically it was straight up. It didn't take long for this trail to start taking its toll on Mike who had left his significant mark, and half his body weight, in Moab the prior 12 hours.
Many times, when your heading out on a trail, the trail itself is marginal in beauty, but your goal is to end in some spectacular place. Not so in Elephant Canyon. It was awesome all the way along. Beautiful pink, orange and red rock formations that look like petrified play dough. After a couple hours, we made our stop. Mike looked like he was about to die, so we set up a tent, left him there and head out for Chelser Park--another 2-3 miles from our site.
The trail to Chelser Park didn't get any less amazing.
And the Park itself was a unique scene. A virtual ring of sandstone formations surrounding a grassy plain. Ranchers used to bring their herds there to graze and the animals were penned in by the natural corral of the rock fins.
We were losing daylight, but ventured into the Joint part of the trail where you're walking through narrow fissures of rock with sheer rock walls going up 20-60 feet above your head.
Due to our delays, we didn't have time to hike the whole Chesler Park loop, but turned around and head back to the camp to see if Mike was still alive. He was. We ate our packed-in dinners, chatted on the sandstone, did our best impersonations of Aaron Neville singing just about any song we could come up with, farted a several times each, then turned in for the night.
In the morning, we were up at an ungodly early hour, but the sun was up, the tent was hot, and it was time to hit the trail again. We ate breakfast, belched, left our camp and head off toward Druid Arch about two miles from camp.
The trail followed a dry river bed then head up into a sandstone canyon. The last quarter mile, or so, was a lot of rock hopping and scrambling, but once at the end of the trail, the view was sublime. Druid Arch is actually a series of three arches in one formation.
More magnificent than the arch was the view down Elephant Canyon. There are no words to describe it.
At that point, we headed back, and each step was a step closer to home and the end of the trip. We broke camp, put on our packs and head back to the van.
The night before, I had felt some blisters starting to form. They weren't there yet, but I can recognize the heat-like pain of a spot on the foot that is getting too much wear. I had brought some medical tape, and taped up the balls of both feet that morning. My problem was, I had forgotten to bring any gauze, so I was applying the tape right to the skin. It did a great job stopping the blisters from progressing on the bottom of my feet, but made some beautiful ones on the tops of my feet where the end of the tape pushed against my skin. As I removed the tape, it efficiently removed my skin with it. It didn't feel good, nor was it pretty to watch. But I scored some band aids from my hike mates and put that life lesson behind me.
At that point the rest of the trip was driving, stopping in Moab for dinner, and smelling Mike's stomach flu-laced flatulence all the way back to the Wasatch Front. It smelled like rotten eggs mixed with Meatloaf's sweaty arm pit. Power windows were our friend.
We got home no worse for the wear. I saw some beautiful country and had a good time with old friends, and some new ones.
As part of the intra-marriage book club Anna and I have, the next book on my stack was one of Anna's choices: "Major Pettigrew's Last Stand" by Helen Simonson.
It took me two months to get through this book. It's was more like a couple weeks once I diligently picked up the book. I don't know why I struggled with this one.
I'll be honest, once I actually finished the book, I realized that I enjoyed it. I had grown an affection for the characters. I think I was unprepared for the journey and it took me a few chapters to realize how to smell the roses in this one. Maybe it was a jolt to the system to leave the sci-fi, adventure novels I had been plowing through just prior.
"Pettigrew" is a story about love and self realization. The title character, Major Pettigrew, is the consummate Englishman. He's a widower entering his golden years. His only son is grown and mixed up in the fast-paced business world of London. The story begins with the death of the Major's brother, and the battle over a pair of antique pistols given to the brothers from their father upon his death. The Major feels that the pistols belong together and resents that his brother's family wants to sell the pair to the highest bidder.
Meanwhile, the Major strikes up a friendship with the widowed Muslim shop owner--Jasmina Ali--in his little English countryside town. As he becomes familiar with her world, he's introduced to her nephew, a devout Muslim who resents his Aunt's unorthodox ways, and his ex-girlfriend who we find out later the nephew fathered a child with.
As the book unfolds the Major, his son, his son's girlfriend, Jasmina, the nephew, the ex-girlfriend and her son get wrapped up together into a fun, wild, silly, emotional, and unsteady ride.
I'm embarrassed it took me so long to read it. After putting a little more effort into it, I liked the story. Give it a read if you get a chance.
Monday, May 2, 2011
I was watching "Celebrity Apprentice" with Anna last night when the news broke that Osama bin Laden had been found and killed.
What an accomplishment. After "9/11," once we had Mr. bin Laden in our sights, I didn't think it would take this long to get him. While the USA is not perfect, our history of accomplishment speaks for itself. So, I thought finding this madman in the rocky labyrinths of the Middle East was, while difficult, just a matter of time.
I suppose it was, just a longer span of time than I anticipated. It was almost a decade--and what a decade.
Since the hunt began, I've moved states, moved back, had four jobs, bought and sold a house, lived in seven different homes, and had four kids.
It struck me that my kids have no idea who Osama bin Laden is. My older two kids might get a lesson on the significance of this day in their elementary school classes, but otherwise, it was odd to me that this man who completely changed how the world functioned after September 10, 2001 doesn't even register on my kids' radar. How nice, and yet how sad at the same time. They don't know who he is, but they'll feel the influence of his hate and fear mongering the rest of their lives.
My mom talks about how simple the 1950s seemed when she was a child. I have similar sentiments for the 1980s when I did a lot of my formative growing. It wasn't a perfect time, but for me, it was a peaceful time. All my kids will ever know is a post-9/11 world--and they didn't even experience 9/11 itself.
While I'm proud of the hard work, diligence and bravery it took to find and kill Bin Laden, I'll be honest that there's a measure of cold comfort in it. Exterminating covert bands of thieves and murderers like this is like fighting the Hydra. For every Osama bin Laden we kill, there are two more guys who think he was a hero murdered in cold blood, and they take up his cause with more blood, hate and fervor than he.
Evil, like al Qaeda, will continue to exist. That's the reality of the world we live in; a world full of terrorists, murderers, rapists, pedophiles, thieves, slave masters, connivers, abusers and liars. But there is also a lot of goodness. There are loving fathers, mothers, children, grandparents, neighbors, friends, churches, community groups, all that have it in their hearts to love, do good, and build us up collectively.
In times like these, I have to lean on my religious beliefs that ultimately all will be made right. God has given all his earthly children the right to choose for themselves how to act and treat others until things are made right. Some choose to act with love, others choose to inflict pain for whatever motivation they have. God's son, Jesus Christ, is aware of all the evil and suffering. He sacrificed, suffered, and died for it all and knows exactly what each individual is suffering, no matter the age, race, gender, religion, issue, problem or pain. He will make it all better. In the meantime, let's show as much love, tolerance, and understanding to each other as we can.