Monday, May 21, 2012

Among the Giants with Emerson and Kiko

If you’ve been reading all along you might remember that a central preoccupation is my books and the lamentable fact that I moved from a huge house to a small house, thus much of my literary treasure house is hidden away in boxes in the garage. There remain titles that have yet to be recovered, but I believe they are out there.  Imagine, then, my distress when the hot water heater in the garage imploded, flooding the place.  Six large boxes of books had to be rescued, and I found, happily, none were damaged.  I also found all my Bruce Chatwin and all my Charles Baxter, curiously, in the same box.  And, I found my Emerson, the Riverside edition, also curiously, in a box of mountaineering books, among Bonington, Cassin, and Shipton.  I suspect it was in that particular box for a reason, but I can’t remember what it might have been.  More worrisome: this means that for four years, the years these were cloistered in the garage, I have not consulted Emerson.  Shameful, and soon to be remedied.

I was just thinking of Emerson because my friend, the poet John Mann, has used a line from Emerson as an epigraph in his book of poetry Able, Baker, Charlie (winner of the 2011 national Poetry review Book Prize, forthcoming in August 2012): 
“Now many are thought not only unexplained but inexplicable; as language, sleep, madness, dreams, beasts, sex.”
I have to ask John where he found those lines; looking for it in Emerson’s essays could take days, weeks, though there are far worse places to be lost.

Inside my Emerson book was a folded piece of paper and I recognized it immediately as a student’s work from my high school teaching days, circa about 1985.
The short essay was written by Francisco Arteseros, who signed his name Fco and liked to be called Kiko.  I remember him well because, well, because of this essay, but also because he was dropped into our school as if out of the sky with not a word of English. His father was a physicist on assignment to the Jet Propulsion Lab in Pasadena, and both he and Kiko’s mother were elegant and worldly.  She, too, knew no English and was teaching herself by watching soap operas.  I liked the parents immensely and admired the panache with which Kiko and his brother entered into high school life in America.
I will now transcribe Kiko’s essay, exactly as it appears on the page, which is the original and covered (much to my embarrassment) in teacherly red ink.

It was spring, the moust beautiful estation of the year, birds flying, everything was just wonderfull.  THE sun was bright and illuminating the scenary of my experience. That night, I had a dream my new bicycle a shiny wonderfull machine made for run as fast as the win.  When I went to buy the bicycle, in the bicycle store, I sow a lot of god bicycles of all kinds, chrome, small bigs, smalls, all kinds of excellent bicycles, I was about to buy one really good but, then in the last moment I sow one bicycle, the bicycle of my dream the special bicycle, the best and mist beautiful machine I ever seen.  So I bought it and took it home, I cleaned it and fix it. The next morning I weak up early, it was not me, I was a different person, I felt stronger than ever before, I was ready for something I did not know. I went right to the garage, and I did not know and I went straight to the bicycle, it was there, it was the most wonderful machine I ever seen.  Something made me take the bicycle and started riding, the bicycle tuck me to the park, nobody was there, it seemed like I was the only one in the world.  The park was full of roses and all kinds of flowers,  could feel the wonderful powere of nature in the air in the flowers in the trees in the birds, suddenly I saw this big jump so I ride my bicycle straight to it, I was gaining speed by the seconds, I felt how my all body was getting ready for the jump, suddently I felt my self flying in the air I was floating in the space, I could feel myself becoming part of the nature I was nature too I could smell the aroma of the roses and the fresh air in my face.  In that moment I felt that God, nature, and my soul were the same thing.

At the bottom of the page are two notes from me, yes, in the red ink:
This is very good, and Please see me about the grammar. At least I underlined the This is very good.  In the end, I know that, well, I still have the original, meaning that he never did come to see me about the grammar, and also, I hope, that I realized my corrections were absurd.

I remember when Kiko got in a motorcycle accident my wife and I visited him in the hospital, where, when his mother left the room, he lit up a cigarette. I suppose this memory, this writing, is the best illustration I can offer as proof of the ephemeral rewards of teaching.
And, just this: the reason Kiko’s essay is tucked in among Emerson’s pages must be the same reason that Emerson was tucked in among the mountaineers, giants among giants.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

Slender Currents

Good luck comes in slender currents, misfortune in a rolling tide—according to the Irish

It’s been a surreal winter for lots of reasons and I’m not going to go into the over-arching big picture here. All that feels beyond me.  But the slender currents I’ll tell you about here are local and manageable.  And the reasons for them aren’t at issue.  Good dumb luck, outside the karmic chain, so far as I can tell.
Night skiing at Alyeska with my sons.  Although we all skied a lot last season (this, if you haven’t yet given up—the snow is still out there) the three of us didn’t get out together until February.  And it was great night, with a layer of powder that kept blowing over the runs so that every run was untracked until we got on it.  Dream skiing.  And after, we got a quick meal at the Sitzmark, the classic ski resort bar at the base of the mountain.
When we got home my skis weren’t in the box on top of the car.  We racked our brains: could it be that we simply left them in the parking lot? Possible, but I almost always lean them against the car and we couldn’t have driven away without a clatter. And we had skied right to the car and I was sure I hadn’t driven over them.
Furthermore, Macklin had met us at the Sitz after taking a couple extra runs with his pals; he said he saw them in the box when he loaded his board in.  But when pressed, he couldn’t swear to it.  We never lock the box, because, with this single exception, we are always either driving the car or skiing.  I wanted to call them stolen—it felt better than saying I spaced them out.
I reversed the heinous 37 mile icey drive back down the Seward Highway to scour the parking lot: nada.  Made a call to lost and found—not hopeful.
I was heartsick, more or less.  These were new skis.  Skied on six times.  I hadn’t even mastered them yet.
Five days later I get a call from REI. Did I lose a pair of Solomon Suspects?  Some random person returned them to REI ski shop where the bindings had been mounted.  There was pink 3x5 card taped to them that read “Found at Alyeska.”
Six weeks later we are hiking up Peak Three with the plan to ski down.  It’s a perfect day, a good two feet of fresh snow, tracks to boot up, blue skies, no wind.  I’m with my son Dougal and his pals from Illinois, the Larson brothers, partners on many an adventure.
From the top of Peak Three you can see deep into the Chugach Range to the east and below us to the west, the glittering waters of Cook Inlet, to the north: Foraker, Hunter and Denali line the horizon.  Quite a vision for a couple of dudes from Illinois.  Quite view for anyone; I know I never tire of it.
The snow was so fine that I was skiing like a powder master (which I am not) slow-motion s-turns, amazing stuff.  Then suddenly I am airborne.  The good thing about powder skiing is the soft landings.  The bad thing was what I was about to find out.  One of my skis rested right on the surface, upslope, where I had ejected out of it.  The other was . . . where?  I set about searching for it like probing for an avalanche victim.  Probing every six inches with my ski pole in an ever expanding grid.  My son hucked himself up slope a hundred yards and joined me.  We blocked out an area about twenty by forty feet and went over it for a couple hours.  The thing was gone.  And worse, well not worse, but also bad: I was going to have to walk down through the best snow ever.  These skis and me, I think, were a match not made in heaven.
A few days went by and I was committed to the search.  However, even though it hadn’t snowed, the wind had swept the slope clear and cemented the surface in.  It would be spring before they emerged, like a fallen alpinist from the last century spit unexpectedly out of the glacier.  Nonetheless, that day, Macklin and I were halfway up the mountain and wanted to hit the summit.  It was windy and snowy, but we pushed on.  Once on top Macklin hit the fall line and was out of sight in a flash.  I work my way down the west ridge a couple hundred yards before entering the fall line, and have a pretty good run.  I hit the car in 18 minutes from the summit, a 2,400 foot vertical run.  
“Do you know how long it took you?” I asked Macklin. 
“Well,” he said, “the same song that I was listening to on my headphones on the summit was playing when I got to the car.  So, I’m thinking about three minutes.”
So, at the end of the season, I have another very minor surgery, minor, at least compared to the surgery that delayed the beginning of the season, and about the only thing the doctor says is, “Don’t go skiing.”   So I wait, for the stitches to come out.   And when my hiking pals ask, I say I have to sit out a week.
They call from the trailhead, “Was that a Solomon Suspect you lost?
“ Yep.” 
“We have it,” they said.
The one party that had been ahead of them that morning had brought it back and planted it like a flag in the snow next to the parking area.
So, my Suspects are returned to me.  I’m debating whether to take them out again—it’s May 6th, and I have other skis.  I’m thinking about starting out fresh with them next season.  I am knocking on wood, thankful for the slender currents of good luck, with no expectation of avoiding the rolling tide of the other.