Sunday, September 07, 2014

The Last Chapter

Peter with Ally and Ajax on Fearless, Lake Geneva 2014

I learned yesterday that my cousin Peter passed away. Second cousin, technically, but his mother Jean was like an aunt to me. No one knows, yet, exactly what happened. Some hikers found him sitting beside a trail near Telluride, his pack still on his back. Likely it was peaceful for him. Maybe he didn't even know what was happening. It is comforting to think he was doing something he loved in a place he loved.

I'm always interested in learning what goes on in people's heads. Understanding what moves them, how they perceive the world. Peter, though, especially intrigued me. I saw him nearly every summer at the lake, but he was a mystery. He was ten years older than me and ran with the elusive pack of cousins that were the first in our generation. I was in the tag along group, hoping, maybe, to get a chance to water ski when everyone else was through or to get invited for late night swims.

The summer I turned 12, I started spending more time at his family's cottage when Jean's best friend's daughters started coming to the lake. We stayed up late at night playing Spades and Trivial Pursuit. Peter would never give up trying to answer the trivia questions, even if it took him half an hour to comb his brain. Somehow, the answer would always be in there! Mostly, though, he was off playing tennis or golf, and I was not part of that circle. His college years stretched into decades as he pursued graduate studies in anything that caught his interest. He traveled the world. He was a voracious reader.

So I knew about him, but I didn't really know him. I wish I'd tried harder. Instead I filled in the gaps with my imagination.

When we were all grown up, I'd sometimes be invited to his cottage for dinner. He'd sit at the head of the table while people buzzed around him, getting the meal set out or cleaning up afterward. He seemed oblivious to the activity. Was it what he expected of everyone? Or did he just let things happen? Other times, he'd track down Ally, a friend's daughter who was like his own, at our cottage to let her know he'd made her grilled cheese or hot dogs for lunch. As much as he loved surrounding himself with people, he also liked to disappear. He was notorious for being difficult to track down.

A few years ago, I caught him alone and asked him about a trek he'd taken in northern India around the time his mother died. We talked about spiritual journeys and how intangible they are, and we bonded over our mutual rejection of dogmatism. I was left hungry for more. What were his questions? Did he ever find answers? Was he driven by restlessness or curiosity? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

This summer I watched Peter as we listened to another cousin's son play the trumpet with a jazz quintet. We were in an old clubhouse that probably hadn't changed much in our lifetime. It felt timeless. I tried to read him, but couldn't really. He looked serious. Sad? Or was he just reveling in the music? Or maybe both? Or maybe neither?

It struck me in that moment that he seemed to move through life as though he were a character in an F. Scott Fitzgerald novel.

Later he told me when I asked what he remembered about my Grandpa Stuart, who died when I was six and Peter was 16.  Someone else I wish I'd known. "I admired him," he said and described him as soft spoken, intellectual, and curious about the world. He credited Grandpa's extensive slide shows for sparking his interest in traveling to far flung places.

I thought I'd have time to find out more about what was in Peter's head. Next summer, or the next. But the last chapter of his novel has ended, and as far as I know all the words I wanted to read died with him.

Sunday, August 31, 2014

Feat #22: Over the Interstate and Through the West Fields

Please forgive me. I am still on a honeymoon with my new bike.

Sometimes on Sundays, I head to work at the jail to meet with inmates who have jobs they go to during the rest of the week. Today I decided to ride my bike there. It's only about 12 miles round trip.

A bit of a Sabbath meditation.

Except for about a third of the way there when I realized I'd forgotten my ID badge (Roger rescued me by bringing it). And then about two thirds of the way there when I bounced over some railroad tracks and my chain came off and jammed between the sprocket and the guard (a nice couple in a pickup truck stopped to help and gave me a few napkins to get the grease off my hands).

There isn't a bike rack near the entrance, so I improvised. I know a bike locked up to sign post can be stolen. But I also know the place is monitored by a surveillance system. And it's full of people with authority to make an arrest. I figured I'd risk it.

My bike and I both made it home. We're a good match. I think we'll be very happy together.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

On a Roll

Today's bicycling adventure involved checking on the progress of the new reservoir Springville city is building near the mouth of Hobble Creek Canyon (beach! swimming! next summer! a mile from my house!). I decided to take the long way around through Mapleton, enjoying our unseasonably low 70-ish degree weather.

Tuesday, August 26, 2014

Il Postino

As I considered a post office run late this afternoon, I realized I had just enough time to get there by bike. I put on my matching sunglasses, wrapped the packages in plastic bags because it looked a bit like rain, put them in my basket, and headed off.

I arrived at the post office with time to spare because it was downhill and today it was also downwind! Of course, that meant the ride back was uphill and upwind.

The hair looks a little wacky, but I made it home intact!

Monday, August 25, 2014

Into the Desert of Mortification and Reward

Choosing to read last night paid off because I came across this delicious quote from Voss, set in 19th century Australia, written by Patrick White in the 1950s, and which I've got to finish by a book club meeting on Thursday.

Few people of attainments take easily to a plan of self-improvement. Some discover very early their perfection cannot endure the insult. Others find their intellectual pleasure lies in the theory, not the practice. Only a few stubborn ones will blunder on, painfully, out of the luxuriant world of their pretensions into the desert of mortification and reward.

Good timing for this college writing instructor who will be back in the classroom tomorrow, facing a new group of students who will be critiquing my performance.

I confess that I am still slightly reeling from one particular student's audacity in his final reflective essay last April after he was especially challenging in the classroom all semester. I am feeling slightly vulnerable. But I am trying to endure the insult, put theory for improving my performance into practice, and be willing to blunder on.

Sunday, August 24, 2014


I could write about one of the million things that is always running around in my brain, but there's an awesome storm tonight. I'm sitting in the living room with some windows wide open, and I'd rather curl up with a book and listen to the thunder and rain.

Saturday, August 23, 2014

My Birthday Present Came

Which was actually unexpected. A few days ago, the bike shop called to say it was lost in shipment and they had no idea when it would come. But then last night they called to say it was here and all assembled and ready to pick up! So we went to get it this morning (after stopping for waffles).

Maybe next year I'll get a proper bike rack.