Left Unsaid

It’s July 30 and that old familiar feeling is back–that something has been lost and that time has gotten away. The shadows, creeping slowly toward longer, remind me that these things too fall apart, even when they do so with love and care.

We spent the weekend in San Francisco with friends we’ve known many years. We go every year toward the middle or later part of summer and it’s always a joy. This time, the trip included the surprise of sailing out on San Francisco Bay while the America’s cup trials were going on. The Oracle boat, nearly an alien space ship by design, whizzed by us at unimaginable speed–soundless but for the wind and the calls of crew members to each other. The water and air were split seconds later by the chase power-boats with giant throaty engines.


Sunlight flitted away mostly as thick gray folds of summer fog blanketed the bay, but as we made our way north of Alcatraz, a few brief glints of golden rays shone through. The warmth was welcome. And apparently-no, Mark Twain didn’t say that.


When we made fast at the dock on Pier 39, the roar and bark of the sea lions greeted us and we walked through the throngs to Ghirradelli Square for a hot chocolate and a quiet seat on the patio people watching.

Lisa and David and their daughter, Shannon’s friend, Karina, are the epitome of great hosts. They saw to it that a short weekend vacation was every bit of it a chance to decompress, reconnect and enjoy the time. Perfect. Later, sitting on the patio by a fire pit table, sipping wine and talking late into the summer night as the breeze brought in cool night air, softening the hard hot edges of a day in the East Bay.

Of all the powerful moments, meeting again with my good friend Father Ron Culmer was high on the list.. Ron and I were friends in college and we haven’t seen each other for that long. He’s an Episcopal priest now, married with two kids, one of whom graduated from our alma mater two years ago. Time has indeed marched on and shadows are indeed getting longer. We didn’t have much time, but we promised to connect again soon and spend more of it together.

Ron introduced me to wine lo these many years ago. He was the first guy to tell me that there was something more here than alcohol–something more than just a cheap thrill. There was story and there was art. I have a photograph of Ron and me by the side of a road in Los Olivos near a cow pasture. It remains one of my favorite pictures and I got to see Ron again. We’ve both changed a great deal–and not at all.

At the heart of it is just another moment in a summer that has reacquainted me with people I love, living different lives and moving through life in ways that are beautiful and evanescent. It’s an enjoyable time.

And it’s going by too fast.





July July…

Ineffably, then-summer wanes right before my eyes. The last full week of July upon us and I’m left feeling that sense of…what’s next? Another school year about to start and in another couple of weeks, I’ll begin to set up lessons, put together a few Powerpoint or Prezi slide shows and build up the calendars for my 23rd year of teaching. This summer has been filled with a kind of emotional riptide, some feelings being swept away as, for example, Conni had to leave and go home-and others rushing right back in, when Shannon had an extraordinary experience at a camp program run by the Exotic Animal and Training Management school at Moorpark College.

Both were powerful moments for all of us. We’ve been able to keep in contact with Conni through free-texting and Skype and those are both blessings in their own way-but it’s not the same. So, we plan for a trip to Europe next summer and begin saving to see how quickly we can manage to do it.

Shannon’s week-long camp experience was a revelation, too. She’s done all kinds of camp programs in summer, some more successful than others. But she’s young and so what she wanted, how she expressed herself, wasn’t quite clear yet and though she is still a young person, her voice came through with clarity and refinement this past week. Her passion is animals, all kinds, not just the horses she dreams about nightly and rides weekly thanks to the kindness of our friends who own a couple of them. The camp was a pure expression of learning about critters of all kinds.

When she’s at school, I’ll ask how her day was and the answers are usually no longer than a short sentence. I have to pry to get anything to come out, unless it’s dramatic, in which case, she’ll begin her sentences with, “I have to tell you something.” But when we picked her up last Monday, her first day of camp, she ran to Sue and said, “can I stay all day until afternoon?” We originally signed her up to go from morning until noon. Her first morning let her know that wasn’t going to be nearly enough time to spend with the animals and she wanted more. There was room, said the counselors, so, we let her stay all day starting Tuesday.

Then the conversations went on as long as the 20 minute car-ride. “How was your day?” became an exercise in regurgitating all she’d learned from what Hyenas in captivity eat to why monkeys make the sounds they do. She would talk incessantly about everything she’d learned. When Friday came and she was to give a presentation on her animal, an opossum named Virginia, she looked at the audience, not her note cards, and talked about North America’s only marsupial, its nocturnal habits, its omnivorous appetite, its ability to “play possum” and its prehensile¬† tail.

The mornings were clear and bright, a light breeze moving down through the college and Sue and I would go for walks around the campus after we dropped her off, watching the rabbits on the lawn and the hawks soaring above, wondering which was going to move faster. We’d go home and go about our day, I too my interviews, stories and deadlines and Sue to her consulting work–and we’d gather together for lunch, then to go get Shannon. It was a great week.

July moves at great speeds, the bridge between one school year and the next. Sure, August is mostly a summer month, but within 10 days or so of its opening, it becomes preparation time, back to school shopping, lengthening shadows and last minute efforts to revive a feeling of vacation and golden summer. Small treats become large objects to be admired-an evening run to the ice-cream shop, a last minute plan to go to the beach, a drive up the coastline, a meal out and a glass of wine as the sun sets.

Here, then, is summer 2013-in the middle of it, stopping to look around and pinpoint it. Last summer was a revelation, a homecoming trip to my childhood and sharing it with my wife, daughter and sister-in-law. This summer, it seems, is the one to build memories of our own, not to relive them. This summer is one where Shannon will come and bring her children to see where she learned to love animals, to become little-sister to an Austrian-girl who is permanently tattooed on her heart and to sit and talk with her mom and dad about her own hopes for the future.



Reality Television Check

When did reality television, as it is known, become less real than drama? It didn’t take long. It smacks of the same argument we teachers have with kids as to why fiction is more authentic and can be more “real” than non-fiction. But if my daughter watches one more “Love it or List it,” or “House Hunters,” or even “BBQ Pit Masters,” in which drama is created out of contrived and artificial circumstances, I may blow a gasket.

I’m in danger of producing a “this society is going to hell” rant, but I’ll attempt to avoid it, lest I fall into the same pit these wastes of digital code have done. All economic periods create culture in a society like ours, though it is worth pointing out that as we lose more liberty, economics will be more about politics than ever before. We’re being redefined again as we narrow down our economy where jobs are harder to find, upward mobility is a thing of the past and healthcare is such a wildcard, nobody knows what to think. One of the casualties has been the way television is packaged and sold.

Television was always bad, always. There are no two ways about it. Edward R. Murrow’s speech about the choices we make in television is so prophetic and it bears referencing here: To those who say people wouldn’t look; they wouldn’t be interested; they’re too complacent, indifferent and insulated, I can only reply: There is, in one reporter’s opinion, considerable evidence against that contention. But even if they are right, what have they got to lose? Because if they are right, and this instrument is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate, then the tube is flickering now and we will soon see that the whole struggle is lost. This instrument can teach, it can illuminate; yes, and it can even inspire. But it can do so only to the extent that humans are determined to use it to those ends. Otherwise it is merely wires and lights in a box. Good night, and good luck.

Let’s not mince words. Murrow was right-and he was hopeful. But Murrow has gone into history books and so has his hope. Television is good for nothing but to entertain, amuse and insulate. Oh, it doesn’t have to be. And on the odd occasion that producers allow history, the arts, literature, science, technology, faith and other noble pursuits to integrate with our flat panels (as opposed to little black boxes, as they used to be called), television has inspired. Think of Ken Burns’ The Civil War or HBO’s John Adams or Game of Thrones or more commercially Mad Men or Top Gear or even Downton Abbey (note: As a man, I cannot admit to ever having watched that show. But, I’ve heard that it’s really good). But mostly, it does the other-and it’s painful.

Now, I’m a dad–and that means that my daughter is rather consistently mad at me for the limitations I put on her. My asking her to change channels away from the claptrap that is reality television is merely another in the long list of complaints she’s building against me. One day, it will blow. I’ll have to be ready to absorb that.

But it also means I have to somehow be comfortable-at least comfortable enough to be in the same room while she is watching. And I cannot do that when most reality television is on. Heck, most reality television is actually so profane or so obscene, she isn’t allowed to watch it. But these shows that thrive on contrived drama and make-believe conflict, that give the dimwit producers a reason to turn their cameras on, are nothing more than lights and wires in a box.

I’ve had enough.


My Daughter’s Laughter

Sunshine glints on the water faintly in the photograph. It was a dream, a sliver of a Monday that was so unique, it warranted remembering. Forever. And I cannot get her giggle out of my head.

Our original plan to go to Bryce and Zion Canyons was thwarted by temperatures in excess of 115 degrees Fahrenheit in those places. Not much point in going hiking when conservative National Park warnings call for carrying a gallon of water, minimum, so you don’t die of dehydration. We reworked the plan late last week and by Sunday night, we were aboard the Queen Mary in Long Beach Harbor, spending the night on the old girl’s hotel quarters and preparing for an early morning wake-up call to catch the Catalina Express out of San Pedro.

When we drove down to Long Beach, we went through temperatures as high as 111 degrees in the San Fernando Valley. Over the hill along the 405 freeway and into West Los Angeles, the temperature dropped to the 70’s and in Long Beach, never got above 74 degrees. Over the ocean on Monday morning on the boat, the sea breeze, calm seas and misty summer clouds brought more relaxation.

Santa Catalina Island came into view and we were there, the four of us, my family, playing. We rented a golf cart, drove around the island, visited the nature conservancy, looked out on spectacular and impossible views of a Pacific ocean blue with depth, an island oasis-part Southern California, and part wild west.

Then we rented a small boat. It had 15 horsepower and the four of us got aboard, donned our life vests and motored out of the harbor, north along the island shoreline, flitting in and out of boat traffic, watching Garibaldi fish swim beneath us out of sight into the deep blue.

And Shannon started laughing. She laughed uncontrollably and gloriously. She said she liked the feel of the waves as I sped into their wake and the boat bounced, slapped, rocked and splashed. Clouds parted, sunlight poured down and the sound of a revving motor and the foamy spray was split by a gorgeous, uninhibited laugh. She couldn’t help herself. It went on for a long time and I found myself laughing with her, we all did.

For the one night on board the Queen Mary and the boat trip out to the island, the food, the entertainment, rentals of various slow transportation, we paid too much. We paid most of it up front, but we’ll be paying for parts of it for a couple of months to come.

But that doesn’t matter. Not at all.

The sound of that laughter and the look on my daughter’s face, the sheer childhood joy and the innocence of that moment are so ingrained, that it is as if they cost thousands and thousands of dollars.

She is away tonight, sleeping over at a friend’s house-the summertime reckless abandon continues. While she was gone, Sue, Aunt Laurie and I watched Into the Wild, Sean Penn’s film about Jon Krakauer’s book, a true story based on the life of Chris McCandless. At the end of the film, as Chris realizes some basic truths about what he’s missed in his life, he scribbles a note in a book he was reading. “Happiness only real when shared.