Mumbai Moments: lessons in poignancy

I like the word poignant. Sounds sort of French and it’s fun to say – poignant. Now, it’s not my very favorite word to say; that’s Bioflavonoid. But I digress.

In considering the word poignant I mean the ‘affecting, deeply moving, leaving a lasting impression’ sense of the word and not necessarily ‘causing sorrow’. The word comes from roots that mean sharp, pointed, to prick or pierce, like a jolt that arouses your senses.

Poignancy, in the context of experiences, seems like a great way to look at your life. As we go along we may catalog or at least sit back and remember our greatest moments, …our proudest moments, happiest moments, even our most embarrassing moments. But in the context of poignancy we’re offered a different twist on thinking about the high points on the timeline of our lives. Poignant moments may be ones that caused you unique pause, instilled rapid learning or sparked a revelation. Whether you felt shock, guilt, or surprise they can leave you feeling a depth of emotion that is new. They can instill a kind of realness in your experience, leaving you with a true (or truer) feeling of your place on this earth. Or, if you’re not into so grand a pronouncement, a more solidified place in your own circle of life.

They can reveal deep meaning or shed light on your purpose. An even more sobering thought is that these moments can reorder your values. This is probably why they’re worthy to pause over.

My list of poignant life moments is not yet catalogued. And hopefully I have many more to come. However, I want to share one of my latest.

I had a chance recently to take a very short trip to Mumbai, India to be with a friend for his wedding. The wedding was fantastic but that’s a story for another day.

Today, the poignant moment.

Mumbai is a place of contrasts and extremes. The smiles and willingness to talk of the friendly people is noticed as you also witness the desperation of beggers on the street. British-influenced architecture and ornate Hindu temples contrast with rows of leaning shacks and frayed tarps stretched over sidewalks. Colorful patterned fabrics in shop windows contrast with dirt, litter and pollution. Wealth exists in very close proximity to poverty and beauty interplays with drabness everywhere.

On a muggy, 90+ degree afternoon two friends and I take off on foot from the hotel to explore the neighborhood a bit. Venturing southward from the crowded Gateway of India we make our way out of the tourist zone and into more everyday Bombay life. It doesn’t take but a couple blocks to find ourselves there.

IMG_2742

The bay’s edge

IMG_2711

Young fishermen align their nets

IMG_2720

The seawall above the Arabian Sea is immediately on our left and the bay beyond is chock full of anchored boats – colorfully-flagged passenger ferries encircled with used tires, old dinghies and sailboats, even a few yachts. Giant shipping boats and oil barges sit far off in the hazy distance. Under the seawall where the water meets the land looks like a plant-less marsh as if victim of a permanently-low tide, shiny with oil and bespeckled with rubbish. Stray dogs meander around, jumping over the puddles, noses to the ground. In a corner where the land juts out at 90 degrees a shanty village sits above the waterline so dense with trash it looks like a landfill.

On the sidewalk next to the wall young men untangle, carefully align, and fold their fishing nets. On one side of the street lies pile after pile of trash. I find out that it’s trash pickup the next morning but there is not a trashcan or dumpster to be seen. Against the curb wherever a trash pile doesn’t take the space there is a parked motorcycle. Across the street in an empty lot (a rarity in this city) some men burn trash in several piles, orange flames flickering against black smoke.

The thing that catches my eye amidst this scene, though, is the children. They play here in the middle of the street, stepping aside when a vehicle passes like you would casually step aside to let a dandelion clock pass you in the breeze. In this one area of a dead-end street there are probably two-dozen kids of all ages. Younger ones play tag. Older grade school-age boys take turns on a rusty bicycle and teenagers in sandals kick a soccer ball around in a sort of rule-less game of keep away and ball juggling skills. An adult walks by every so often but no one appears to notice the kids.

Tom, Jon and I walk up and join in what the children are doing. The little ones are fascinated by Tom’s camera and he spends most of his time taking pictures and showing them what they look like on the digital display. Jon kicks the ball around, his structured running shoes not improving his ball control over that of the boys in flip flops. I am impressed with their English and we are able to communicate plenty well in single words and phrases.

While there are many boys out at this time, there are no girls to be found who are over the age of about seven. I have a few theories as to why but I hope it’s just that they are at home.

The kids seem to smile easily and it is a joy to try to keep the smiles coming. At one point Jon walks around on his hands and the kids circle around in awe like he is a fire-breather. I ride a boy’s bicycle around one-footed on top of the frame and they clap. Tom keeps looking for new angles and combinations of kids to photograph and they giggle and follow him around like the Pied Piper.

It is one of those times you know is special but the depth of the moment does not weigh on you until later. The whole thing happens so organically like we’re part of the usual neighborhood crew meeting Saturdays at the park. They ask where we are from and why were are here. If their shirt has an American character on it or a famous soccer team they point it out to us excitedly. It is abundantly clear that they don’t get a lot of interaction with adult strangers. We talk and play for over an hour and it is difficult to make the call to walk on. They love that we are paying attention to them and ask several times if we are going to come back. How I wish we could. I wish I could be there right now.

 

IMG_2987

IMG_2728

The magnitude of this time with the Mumbai children eventually came crashing over me, first a few hours later and again after coming back home. I felt stopped in my tracks, humbled, like I’ve been fishing all this time and someone just taught me how to cast. And to use bait. I felt more human and more connected to humanity. I felt empowered and helpless at the same time. I felt a desire to do more for others and less for myself.

Here in Mumbai, a city of 12 million and one of the most population-dense places in the world it is easy to view people as populations and not as individuals with their own stories to tell. These children play in the streets shoeless near piles of trash next to a polluted bay under murky skies and are happy. Their lives may not always be joyful. They may not have fresh laundered clothes or all they food they would like but it is abundantly clear they are happy kids. They are easy-going. They are trusting and like to laugh. In their society I have learned there are a lot of rules and expectation, certainties of life from which many may never be able to break away. But on this day I witnessed them playing and acting free. It is hard to completely comprehend how the concept of Hope plays out here. I don’t have enough information to put this one scene, this one hour where my life overlapped with theirs, into the context of their future.

But I can surely link it to this: How many other thousands upon thousands of scenes like this play out across Mumbai and India and the world every day? Kids far better off or far worse off, it is the same:

These beautiful kids are not forgotten. Each and every one of them is a precious, precious child of God. He knows them. He knows all of them. He knows every hair on their head. Each one of them is unique with a face that is different from every face before and every one after. Each is special and has their own personality. Each one has an impact to make on others, a life to live, a purpose. One small bit (unbeknownst to them) was to inspire me. To be better. To appreciate. To play and hug and high five. To find the joy in situations and not what is wrong. To love more and sulk less. To fight injustice. To give. To be reminded of every single thing I have been given. To not presume upon God’s plan but to pray to be a part of it. And try to find the ‘poignant’ in any moment.

-Kenjoy

IMG_2724IMG_2723

IMG_2727

402: Steph Curry vs the legends before

Think of the greatest 3-point shooters throughout NBA history.

My mind goes to “Larry Legend”. Dale Ellis. Peja Stojakovic. Jason Terry.

The Person brothers.

All three members of Run TMC.

Reggie Miller (with most of the them seemingly against the Knicks).

There were the “pure shooters” like Kiki Vandeweghe, Jeff Hornacek, Dan Majerle, Mark Price. There’s Kyle Korver and Dana Barros and their consecutive streaks. Craig Hodges, who won 3-point contests even when he wasn’t on an NBA team. Ya gotta recall “Big Shot Rob”(ert Horry)!

How about Blazer guard Brandon Roy, including his inbounds 3 to beat the Rockets? Later, Blazer guard Damian Lillard and his identical inbounds 3 to beat the Rockets.

The career leader is Ray Allen with 2,973. He’s timely with ’em too. Remember his 3-pointer to sink the Spurs in the Finals?

You’ve got Jamal Crawford and all his 4-point plays. And it’s hard to forget Tracy McGrady and his 13 points in 35 seconds.

There’s Dumars, Porter, Walker, Ainge, Scott, Jamison, Maxwell, Houston, Nash, Rice….

Kobe, VC. AI. LBJ. MJ for crying out loud!… There are SO many great long-range shooters over the years.

While the 3-point line was instituted in 1979, well after the league was established, that is still a lot of shooters over a lot of years to make this type of play an institution.

But no one in 37 years of 3-point shooting… I’ll say it again – NO ONE even comes close (nay, not within the same stratosphere) to one Steph Curry.

Okay, we know he’s great… ESPN tells us every hour of every day. But think about the thing we have just witnessed at the close of the 2015-16 NBA season. Many of us were distracted with the Kobe retirement festivities…

To place ‘2016 Steph Curry’ in context let’s first go back a couple years to the 2012-’13 season. Curry breaks Ray Allen’s 6 year-old 3-pointers in a season record with 272. Allen took the title 10 years after Dennis Scott’s established 267 in 1996. The record progression was coming at a regular pace you could say.

The next year Curry comes close with 261, the fourth best season on record. But in 2015 he breaking the record again with 276. Now, this was history. In all the years of the NBA (and even the ABA included) no one had hit this many 3’s over 82 games. Let alone break the record twice in three years.

Then along comes the reigning MVP’s 2016 campaign. When the Warriors play the Oklahoma City Thunder, Curry drops in 12 threes. 12. Which ties the single game record. And breaks his all-time record for 3’s in a year. Oh, it’s still February. He has nearly 1/3 of the season left to sink 3-pointers. And sink 3’s he does. Fast forward to April 13th in the final game of the regular season we see the number tick past: 400. Then for good measure he hits a couple more for 402.

Yes, 402.

Let that sink in for moment. No man before had even flirted with nearing 300. Then Curry goes 400. More than twice the total of so many of those all-time greats.

This could be the greatest increase of a previous record in the history sports. Like, ALL sports. Not Bonds’ homers, not Gretsky’s goals; nothing comes close.

It’s absurd. It doesn’t even make sense. While I would argue Wilt the Stilt had an easier time breaking open his 3,033 points record in 1962 in a young, fledgling league with only 8 teams, even straight numbers to numbers it doesn’t compare. In this day and age, in an established league, with unprecedented basketball popularity and more competition than ever from both the US and around the globe, Curry puts up numbers that make everything we thought was so impressive before look like child’s play.

CurryGraphic1

Amazingly he’s not just throwing up a ton of shots to get there. He is second in the league in 3 point field goal percentage at 45.4, a number better than most of the NBA’s regular field goal percentage.

The fact that he did it leading the Warriors on a massively followed and publicized run to the all-time regular season wins record is even more ridiculous. And then there’s his fellow Splash Brother, poor Klay Thompson who shoots the second best 3-point season ever and we barely notice. Sorry Klay.

But take notice of this; we are witnessing history. The game has changed. And this guy is leading the way (like a rocket ship leads a glider plane).

ST3PH CURRY. 3-point king. Wizard. Guru. Master. Curry 4 Prez? No word seems right…

How about just that pearl of number, 402?

Ring Roads

RingRoadsHeader

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

To begin, know this: I love maps. To me, a well-done map is the pinnacle of functional graphic design. I say I like geography but I think I’m just decent at it because I like staring at maps. I say this without reservation: one of the best features of the internet is the advent of the zoom-able/scroll-able (and now 3D rotate-able) map. As an aside, it’s a move of pure advertising genius that businesses become visible upon reaching a certain zoom level on a map (and the more you pay, that higher up you will show). Nice one, Google.

Scrolling the earth and zooming in on regions is one of my favorite things to do. GoogleEarth changed the game, as did StreetView, but those are separate conversations. For today, simple road maps will do. One of the first things that struck me and continues to intrigue me is all the things you can tell about a region from seeing multiple level views of a road map. Countries, as viewed on a map, are a web of highways and freeways with an accurate tell of urbanization: the more roads, the more people.

One interesting way to quickly find a large city on a map without even looking at the names is the presence of ring roads. A ring road is like it sounds – a road (or series of connected roads) that circles back to meet itself. Also known as a beltway, beltline or a circumferential or orbital highway, ring roads provide a fascinating study on the definition of a city boundary. You get an easy, clear visual of a city’s presence compared to the surrounding landscape.

While a true city boundary is jagged and sprawling and often changing, a city’s ring road is a much more permanent, poetic and beautiful border.

Its lines flow and curve to parallel a river or encompass a neighborhood. It bends to avoid splitting a historic district or skirt a geographic feature. There is information in every angle. Every subtle weave and bend of the ring means something.

As our world becomes ever more complicated, with near infinite ways to compile and interpret data, I find comfort in discovering simple ways to slice life. Ring roads, as a visual of a city, are a simple slice. They are a link to a city’s past and can be a window into its future.

Beijing is a perfect example of this dual purpose. Its first ring road, starting in the 1920’s, was formed by tram lines that circled the city’s core. In the ’50’s the trams were removed and wider automobile ring roads were added. Even though the original ring was taken over by crossing streets, today’s innermost ring road is still called the “2nd Ring Road”. Beijing keeps adding rings in concentric fashion and even has plans for a“7th Ring Road” as an expressway outside this enormous city. It’s true: No one rings like Beijing.

Many innermost ring roads give a visual reminder of the long history of its city. In Vienna, for example, the Ringstraße encircles Old Town. The street lies where protective city walls once stood that were surrounded by a 500-meter wide protective berm or glacis. 500 meters! You can probably guess everything worth protecting in Vienna in the 13th century was inside. At the ringstraße’s perfect center stands St. Stephen’s Cathedral (Stephansdom), consecrated in 1147 and built on the ruins of two earlier churches. Further fortifications were built in the 17th century and a new, wider city wall was established. This border too still exists as the Gürtel ring road and provides a clear line between Vienna’s inner and outer districts.

In fact, if you want to find the most historic parts of many an old city, try finding its innermost ring. Case in point: the mathematical center of Moscow’s inner ring road? …Red Square.

Some ring roads serve as a traffic bypass, a faster way to the other side of the city without having to drive right through it (like you do in downtown Seattle). It becomes a necessary traffic management tool of the Urban Planner.

Many cities have both types of rings, like London and Rome. The city’s inner ring architecture surrounding its historic core has informed the city’s growth (in semi-pie-shaped districts) outward, right up to an outer ring bypass highway. The circular nature of the boundary means these cities growth can’t be tracked in any kind of nice grid.

A ring road, though, is not necessarily a good indicator of city’s size, as some cities sprawl far beyond their ring roads. Case in point, New Delhi. Dense Parisian suburbs, likewise, have sprawled well beyond its ring but nevertheless, Paris is an example of a near-perfect ring road delineation. Its 20 arrondissements (city districts) are neatly contained inside the Boulevard Périphérique, starting with Arr. number 1 in the center and spiraling out clockwise from there. The official city boundary, over time, has jutted out of the circle at a couple spots but the delineation holds true. Property values (well, at least according to an episode of House Hunters International I saw once) clearly follow this path – the most expensive rates are in the inner districts (Le Marais), and spiral outward (downward in price) from there, dropping sharply outside the ring.

Many cities have partial ring roads – ‘U’s and ‘C’s that still serve the same purpose of providing faster travel around a city center and delineating districts. Berlin’s A100 road, for example, curves around the city core in a sort of C shape and was intended as a complete ring road but was never completed. Yet locals still call it the Stadtring (City Ring).

In short, I find ring roads a compelling and unique way to identify a city. And when broken down to basic forms provides us a new visual language. That poetic and beautiful border can function as more than just a road. Each one is so unique and personal to the city, it may be to time to step out into something more.

Can you spot any cities from this ring road grid? (answers below)

RingRoadsGrid1

RING NOTES

RingRoadInfoGraphic

The above visual shows all these cities’ ring roads laid together (at close to accurate scale) making for a fairly dizzying image.

•Berlin’s Berliner Ring is the longest ring road, at 121 miles, just ahead of London’s M25 Orbital Roadway. Houston, however, has already begun construction on a proposed 170 mile loop highway, aptly named The Grand Parkway.

•The Minsk Beltway is a great example of a city border contained inside a highway. No highways go within; they all stop the ring. Does life slow down inside the ring as well?

•Bucharest’s Centura București wins the award for most perfect circular ring. Its diameter is between 13 and 14 miles nearly any direction you measure.

•Beijing is the best ringer, featuring no fewer than 5 ring roads – concentric circles that resemble a toddler-drawn bullseye.

•Washington DC’s ring road, the Capital Beltway, uses “Inner Loop” and “Outer Loop” for naming directions of travel on the same road, since compass directions don’t work when you can travel both directions of a loop.

London cleverly puts their rings to work, using their inner ring as a automobile parking tax boundary.

Madrid has a fantastically huge network of circling highways and crossing arterials that resemble a great curvy spider web.

The Indianapolis Interstate 465 ring highway is the start of many off-shooting highways, drawing comparisons to a pencil-drawn sunshine or a spider, depending on your perspective. Hmm, would that tell you something about the viewer? Can we call this Indy’s Roscharch test?

RingRoadsGrid2

 

Witness Greatness: the one and only Ashton Eaton is in our midst.

World’s Greatest Athlete. Greatest athlete of all-time. It may sound like a simple enough concept but the more you think about it the more convoluted the idea can become. How do you properly compare athletes from different eras? Can you compare across sports? It’s so subjective a topic it may seem fruitless to try. And yet we do. With our culture’s ever-increasing fascination with Sport, how can you not?! ESPN has an army of full-time analysts. NBA game attendance hit an all-time record. American High School participation for both boys and girls hit records this year. Fantasy football is just bonkers (over 33 million people play a year, dissecting athlete ability and potential in detailed minutiae). Athlete salaries are higher than ever. Sport leagues and expansion teams are popping up everywhere. So, yes, let’s debate the “best” and embolden the asterisk that will inevitably follow …

If you try to look at pure natural ability you may land on Bo Jackson or Jim Thorpe. If you value the mental aspect and clutch play you’re likely to conclude “His Airness” Michael Jordan MJ also boasts titles. But should you favor the best from the world’s most popular sport, ie Pele (or recent Champions League goal record holder, Cristiano Ronaldo)? What about those whose play “changed the face of the game” like a Wayne Gretsky or a Tiger Woods? How can you not emphasize long-term dominance over the competition (Aleksandr Karelin or Serena Williams)? And then do you need to factor in their team, their coaches, training methods, diet, make injury considerations? What about the greatest in sports that aren’t widely-followed like water polo or lacrosse?

Even within one sport it seems you can’t really be definitive. With LeBron’s mix of power, size, speed and finesse, will he be considered better than Michael? If Dez Bryant stays healthy, will we be comparing him to Jerry Rice or Randy Moss?

Factoring in stats, records, titles and even, the oft-mentioned “eye test” this task is truly daunting.

However, I’m going to admit something to you now. I actually already know who it is.

I believe we do, in fact, have one best, if not perfect, method. We can never expect all athletes to be able to toe the same line, sure. But there is one gauge for comparison of athletic ability that is:

1) consistent

2) established

3) global

4) measurable

5) multi-faceted

It is… Track & Field’s decathlon.

Connecting 10 events that include multiple iterations of running, jumping, and throwing (back-to-back over two days to incorporate stamina) can’t be topped as a singular measurement of overall athleticism and athletic versatility. The 100 meter dash measures speed and reaction time. The 110 hurdles adds flexibility, timing and acceleration. The 400 showcases sustained speed. The 1500 requires endurance. Then there is vertical jumping, horizontal jumping, and vaulting. Then strength comes to play with overhand throwing (javelin), rotational throwing (discus) and thrusting a 16-pound ball (shot put). And each of these events have been known and contested at the international level world-wide for well over 100 years.

As far back as 1912, the decathlon gold medalist has been called the “World’s Greatest Athlete”. But not everyone is willing to say it.

The biggest argument detractors have for calling a decathlon champion “the world’s greatest athlete” is that they are not “great” in any one event. Decathlon success, by design, highlights versatility. Even though they are miles ahead of regular athletes in the cumulative of all 10, compared to their peers, they are a jack of all trades, master of none. I don’t really agree with the argument but at least I understand it.

Now enter on the scene, Ashton Eaton.

The decathlon at a World Championship has been won by sprinters who can throw (Dan O’Brien), by throwers who can jump (Brian Clay), and by jumpers who can throw (Roman Šebrle).

But never before this decade have we seen a decathlete so elite in so many different events. Track fans are used to some overlapping event success in the sprints and long jump. The key aspect of success in each is acceleration and speed. Carl Lewis demonstrated this best in the 80s, adding LJ medals to his sprint medal count with regularity.

But with Eaton we are seeing this event versatility on a whole new level.

Consider that, before Eaton, rarely has a decathlete been able to compete with elite individuals in ANY single track & field event.

Eaton can compete with the best in FOUR. He has marks better than the 2016 Rio Olympic qualifying standard in each of these events:

110HH

Long Jump

400m

400H

In contrast, World champion, Olympic champion and previous world record holder, Roman Šebrle, can boast zero. None of Šebrle’s event PRs would take him to an Olympics outside of decathlon.

To add more fuel to the fire, Eaton has won professional track meets in the pole vault and his 100m time would rank him at or near the top of any country in the world outside the USA and Jamaica.

Print

Early in his career Eaton was winning heptathlons and decathlons with good individual event marks but, in his relentless pursuit of improvement and excellence, he has transcended simple athletic versatility and moved into a wholesale, widespread athletic greatness un-catalogued until now.

Eaton holds World Decathlon Bests (world records for events done within a decathlon) for three of the 10 events. No other athlete has more than one. Only thrice has a decathlon performance broken the 9,000 point barrier. He has two of them.

To put his feats in even greater context, Eaton has also proven that he can beat his competition in all conditions: He holds the world record for the men’s heptathlon, held in the calm of an indoor stadium. And his two world record-setting decathlons came in the rain of Eugene, Oregon and the searing heat of Beijing in August.

He has shown he shines in high stakes competitions too, setting his two world records in an Olympic Trials and a World Championships, while many track athletes set their PRs at lower stakes invitational meets.

To top it all off, he’s beginning to log a consistent longevity in the sport as well, winning his first NCAA decathlon title in 2008 and successively adding two more NCAA titles, followed by two World Indoor Championship Heptathlon titles, two World Championship titles, and a gold in his first Olympic Games.

Nike does a nice job highlighting Eaton’s training and mindset for decathlon training with this video that poses the question “Is Ashton Eaton the world’s most versatile athlete”?

Oh he’s that and a lot more, friends.

We are witnessing a new era of Great. Overall athletic greatness is being redefined. Eaton is the all-time greatest of all-time’s greatest athletes. And he is dominating his competition in an era of unprecedented global access to sport (ie more competition than ever).

For comparison’s sake, you can’t overlook that early athletes did not have the training methods, diet, coaching and full-time dedication today’s athletes have. But at least with Eaton we are witnessing the combination of supreme natural ability and unmatched dedication to a high level of training. The result is in front of us to enjoy. We should marvel at what is taking place. LeBron should give his Witness T-shirt to this guy.

Ashton Eaton is not only winning with utter dominance but he is winning with class, fairness in the true spirit of competition.

His interviews are legendary for their “aw shucks, I don’t know” humility. But look at how he runs the 400 meters in the Beijing WC:

Beijing ’15 Decathlon 400m

Every competitor is running the final turn on the very inside of their lane, their feet striking and inch or two from the lane line in an attempt to run the shortest possible fair distance. Eaton, in eye-popping contrast, runs in the dead center of his lane. Pumping his arms and legs with grit but in metronome-like precision he breaks the decathlon 400 world best by a whopping .68 of a second. Not only will I beat you but I will do so in dominating fashion and in the fairest way possible.

On a personal note, I believe Ashton Eaton, just by doing what he does, makes for a fantastic story of racial equality: The greatest athlete the world has produced is a mix of races. Hitler may have disliked him more than Jesse Owens…

I count myself lucky to be a track fan in this generation, able to watch Greatness on display before my very eyes. Thank you Ashton for showing us what is possible and doing it better than anyone else. As Ashton says, “Endeavor. Always.”

So who is noticing (and truly appreciating) outside the arena of track & field? Please, world, take notice. Greatness is among us.

Wonder in the detail: Nurse sharks

Anyone ever looked up close at a nurse shark? Like, really close. What you find is fascinating and beautiful. And most photos I’ve seen of nurse sharks do not highlight this. My friend, Nat, recently photographed some while snorkeling in Belize. He captured this shot of these warm water monsters:

Belizian Nurse sharks. Photo courtesy Nat Johnson

Here it is up close:

Nurse shark skin detail.

Their tough (yet soft) skin has a texture made up of a semi-squared-off dots in a random pattern but pulling from a tight color palette. It seems perfect for blending in to a sandy ocean floor although I don’t know who a 14-foot shark hides from.

I stare at this and am mesmerized.

It is like a table full of cafe latte, chocolate pudding and coconut jellybeans.

It’s pointillism pre-Georges Seurat. It could hang on a gallery wall.

Nurse shark skin is nature’s version of a cobblestone walkway. The original earthy tile floor. And they had this pattern long before Irish farmers stacked rocks from their fields into meandering walls.

People are drawn to the look: dozens of laminate floor and tile makers have copied this design, maybe without even realizing it. Subconscious biomimicry.

I’m reminded of Indian corn with the way the shapes are pushed together in imperfect rows.

Corncobs

I see it as gorgeous handmade wabi sabi art. A pattern on a loose but noticeable grid. Classic and timeless.

Replicated nurse shark pattern and nurse shark-inspired indian corn.

Many a linoleum flooring designer has (unwittingly) copied the nurse shark.

Windmill, hidden wonder

You might call it quaint. Or even cute. A rounded plump and squat tower made of imperfectly hand-laid bricks. A narrow open window at each story shows up here or there. Gently, methodically spinning round at a pace that could lull you to sleep, the rickety lattice sails dangle strips of faded and torn cloth. Yes, the old-fashioned windmill appears a relic of the old world. Part of a peaceful and serene rural farmer’s lifestyle.

Old Dutch Windmill

It stands so unassuming. The feelings you get from a seeing one may be like seeing a crude pinwheel in a European garden. Or maybe like watching a skipping girl in pigtails. Like dipping your feet in the lazy creek. Like seeing Grandma clothes-pinning the wash on the line. Innocent, honest, traditional. Homey and warm.

But unlike tulips and wooden clogs and other images of Dutch tradition… the windmill, oh yes, is more than meets the eye.

Do you even realize what’s beyond this weathered exterior?

You see, upon arriving at the farm you were charmed. You were delighted as you followed the picket fence past the house, past the meandering geese, down the winding path to the stately windmill by the stream.

But walk a little closer. Near the doorway you start to notice the hum. Nearer still you feel the vibrations deep in your gut. Opening the thick, cracked wooden door and entering the structure assaults your senses. The strong smell of grain, cornmeal and dirt fill your nose. Yet this fact is ignored as you stare at the giant primitive machine before you. Two enormous 1,000 pound stones spin in a loud agitated dance. Consistently and uniformly they turn but in such constant tension, like equal strength sumo wrestlers deadlocked in grip at the center of the ring. Grinding and biting at each other the stones never stop rotating, never declaring a winner in their cruel match. Each groove and pore of the vertical stone makes pressing intimate contact with the surface of his horizontal partner but the rocks are cold and heartless to each other.

A simple mislaid hand and your fingers would be crushed then severed off, blood and flesh exploding out the ends while the bones are turned to dust. Yes, please be careful.

How those frail sails above you could turn such enormous rocks is baffling. Whole stalks go in and in the blink of an eye, fine powder slides out.

For what you thought was merely a country road marker to help you find your way like church steeples dotting the landscape is actually one of the most powerful and useful tools in the farmer’s arsenal. It is un-exaggeratingly life-sustaining. The windmill stops and farmer starves, no way to make the feed for the cattle or flour for the bread.

The windmill disguises unrecognized power like a lion in sheep’s clothing.

In the bowels of a simple windmill is an unseen contained wonder like when you slice open the dull pomegranate revealing an array of bright, juicy, flavor-laden pearls.

It is more than meets the eye like scrawny Canadian Steve Nash with his floppy hair might look like your dungeons and dragons buddy. But don’t judge by looks; he is a baller – an 8-time all star, 2-time NBA MVP and the quickest, most cleaver passer you may ever see.

Like the Wizard of Oz hiding behind the giant head masked by smoke and lights… but the complete inverse of that.

The windmill is master of the inside/outside paradox. Better than the Chameleon XLE sedan, (from the old SNL parody commercial with Phil Hartman and David Spade) the luxury sedan on the interior that’s made to look like a rusty junker on the outside so it won’t get stolen.

Let the windmill be a reminder to you: Be open to seeing potential where you thought it may not lie. See those spinning sails and think to consider what they are turning. Wonder what lies beneath. Stop and look behind the curtain. The magician does not walk in holding the beautiful doves. He must reach into the old worn top hat first. Never judge a book by its cover and do not misjudge the mighty windmill.

Donut Sunday

Do you have memories from growing up that almost feel like they happened yesterday? Memories so emotionally-charged (either positive or negative) that they can sit untouched in your brain for years but, at recall, instantly provide full, vivid, scintillating detail?

There is one such memory from my childhood that may be special above the rest. It is one of those magical memories that can bring a smile to my face at any moment. It’s one that encapsulates childhood joy and wonder, risk and reward, matching motive with opportunity and is singular in being able to cement a feeling of a time and place in my life. With apologies to my parents, this was not a special tradition or family vacation or even a learning moment. It happened at church, in fact, but was neither confirmation nor baptism.

 It was none other than Donut Sunday.

In the later years of grade school, once a month and maybe more often for special occasions a Sunday would be deemed “Donut Sunday”. I don’t know if the organizers called it this but that was its name to us. At the far end of the downstairs of our Baptist church in front of the kitchen, folding tables would be lined up end to end to end and covered with white donut boxes. Their lids were pre-opened revealing their glazed, sprinkled, cream-filled contents…

Now these were not gourmet donuts. Nothing along the lines of Blue Star or Krispy Kreme. No pink box. No bacon maple, no blue cheese cabernet. None of them had the words, ganache or brioche or mascarpone. These were not “doughnuts”, but donuts.

We’re talking run-of-the-mill, Middle-America, policeman, served with cheap coffee DONUTS. This did not matter in the slightest to me. And it certainly doesn’t tarnish the memory’s mystique. These were God’s gift to my taste buds. Upstairs I fed my soul and downstairs I delighted my stomach.

My older brother and I took Donut Sunday very seriously. And by took I mean “took advantage of”. This was no casual opportunity. It required a plan of attack. He was the captain and mastermind of our plan, I am sure, but I was a dedicated first mate and second to none in enthusiasm for it. In our lives growing up as brothers we may never have collaborated in such close fashion and with such perfect teamwork. I imagine the aspects of the plan grew organically through trial and error but by its final (dare I say, genius?) iteration it went something like this:

Upon discovering it was a Donut Sunday the onset of giddiness turned to nervousness and (like any great championship athlete) these energies were redirected into focused attempts of a flawless execution…

Phase 1: Quick and Dirty Firsts

When the church service would end my brother and I would race downstairs and beeline for the donut tables. Donuts one and two down the hatch as quickly as possible before anyone could notice. By this time many adults including my parents had made their way to the hall and so it was on to Phase 2.

Phase 2: Our Public Allotment

We could now take our time and carefully choose our favorite two donuts to enjoy in full view. Occasionally a third Phase 2 donut could be consumed should my parents have lingered too long after service and/or my general sense was that the eyes of the small-talking adults around me or the white-haired ladies in the kitchen had not fully or consciously cataloged my donut consumption.

Phase 3: Taking it Underground

Phase 3 was where the plan got real. We were in a large open rec hall/gymnasium-type space. In the layout of this room there was alcove off to the left. It was a sort of vestibule/mud room, maybe 10’x10’ with some coat hooks on the wall. It had a door to the kitchen, a door to the parking lot and an opening to the main room. This was our secret home base and it worked perfectly to our advantage. From this locale we could, within just a few steps, grab a donut and quickly be out of sight to enjoy another delicious pastry. Two, three or more donuts were had in this way, our 5th, 6th and 7th of the morning. We could take our time between donuts and wander the room and see if anyone was noticing us. We moved past the crowd of adult legs like snakes through grass.

Phase 4: The Beg

By now folks were finishing their conversations and beginning to head home and the thinning crowd meant time to ask my parents if we could please have another donut (or two). Things were wrapping up and there were still some donuts left on the tables, we informed them. The yeses were increasingly hesitant but generally did come. And usually the begging only had to kick in with Phase 4’s second donut.

My dad was in the Air Force and we moved throughout my early childhood. If I wanted friends in a new place I had to (get on my bike and) go out and make them. I learned to be independent, fend for myself, take charge of my own destiny in a way. I don’t know if this part of my personality came into play in my attitude toward taking full advantage Donut Sunday but it came in handy.

The reason this memory is so vivid and fond for me may have been something about my inner childhood rascal getting to come out. See, I was normally a really good kid. It was the feeling of getting away with a deed quite close to the line of wrongdoing. It was something that I probably wasn’t supposed to be doing and thus I was “getting away with something” and yet was not so bad as to actually upset anyone or get me into real trouble should I be caught.

It was getting to hone and execute a plan: applying ingenuity and innovation, savvy and cunning. Playing spy and thief. Getting to feel both giddy and honery. It was a feeling a bit like Bus driver Chris Farley in the scene from the movie Billy Madison where he laughs all the way through eating a white bread PB&J from 30 stolen bag lunches.

Honestly… I don’t know how I never threw up. I don’t know how I ate lunch or dinner that day. I don’t know how my button-up shirt still fit.

I believe enough years have past that I can fully admit the extent of my donut skulduggery. Maybe this post should be titled, Donut Sunday: maple-glazed confessions of church kid. Again, very sincere apologies to my parents and a heartfelt Thank You to whatever faithful churchgoers regularly provided that endless supply of Sunday Donuts. God bless you.

On Summiting Mountains: Life in the Shadow of the Cascades

My first Mountain Top experience came at age 14. On a summer Boy Scout trip to the Philmont Ranch in New Mexico we trekked to the top of Mount Baldy, or ‘Old Baldy’ as the old gold miners called it. I recall it as a tougher-than-average hike but that was just compared to my usual Scout hikes on the Pacific Crest Trail. As a kid I didn’t appreciate the accomplishment like I do today. I didn’t even take a picture. I certainly didn’t think it was any kind of defining moment in my life. The hike that day wasn’t very long and aside from some loose rock (scree, serious climbers call it) on the final scramble, it wasn’t technical.

Another term serious mountaineers use, topographic prominence, refers to a mountain’s relative height to its surrounding landscape. Baldy’s is just 2,701’ and I believe our hike was only 3.5 miles each way. It may be the easiest summit I’ve completed despite being the second highest peak I’ve experienced. It only struck me much later, looking back, that Baldy’s 12,445’ elevation sounds fairly impressive. At least in these parts.

Cousin Dave on Mt St Helens’ crater rim.

By comparison one of the most difficult summit journeys I’ve done is Mount St. Helens whose blown-out crater rim “summit”, paltry by comparison, only measures 8K’ and change. But the elevation we gained that day was 4,500’.

A little on that trek: My hiking partners, cousins Sam and Dave, and I started out about 11pm, hiking through the night in hopes of a sunrise summit. In the dark of night and cover of snow, we ended up losing the trail. We were still heading basically for the intended crater rim spot but ended up ascending a more steep and icy route just at that time of night our bodies were tiring. And then the wind began rapidly picking up to significant speeds and the ice-frosted snow underneath thickened and stopped securely crunching under our footfalls. Thank God for good crampons. We conquered the steep slope but ended up taking an hour break pressed against an outcropping of rocks trying desperately to stay warm and keep that blasted wind off us. It was a sobering experience for a father of two, to be sure, and a good reminder of why we take the safety precautions we do. And to think I’ve started hikes at trailheads higher than this summit!

These experiences are all relative.

Now, I am definitely not a Mountain Climber. I don’t own rope you measure in meters. I don’t own carabiners rated for anything more than securing a towel to your golf bag. What I’m doing is more like ‘extreme hiking’. With an ice axe, boot crampons and a helmet we can look the part of climbers but most of the time we’re really just walking. Up steep mountains. Over snow, ice and sometimes boulders.

We start at the prescribed trailhead (usually the highest point up you can drive a car). Then we backpack a common route to the summit, sometimes with a short tent sleep somewhere in the middle. I may have some “rope up” treks in my near future but I’m not there yet.

Other mountain enthusiasts pick more difficult or longer routes up grander glaciers or rock formations. Noble and impressive. Then again, other climbers take any advantage they can get to hit the top, such as on Mount Hood, renting a ride in a SnowCat to chew up the first 2,500 feet from Timberline Lodge to the Palmer Chairlift. To each their own.

Some spend days at altitude to acclimatize and another full day to summit. Some elite athletes race up and bomb down on skis in a single morning. And I’ll never forget on a dry and warm day on South Sister watching a grade school girl in sandals begin the final ascent past grown men in technical boots who’d said they weren’t going to continue. The men changed their minds.

Pride is powerful; the body’s built-in miracle drug.

Despite differences in method and style there is a certain bond mountain summiters hold. The community you will find on dedicated Mountaineering websites and blogs out there shows as much. And on a trek when summit ascenders pass descenders, a quick friendly conversation is nearly always had.

My brother Ryan makes his way up the final chute after the Pearly Gates on Mt Hood.

View of Central Oregon Cascade peaks from Middle Sister.

There are a lot of downsides to this activity. The risk of injury or worse, for sure. But the guaranteed downside is pain. All kinds of pain. There’s the cold. The muscle ache and body fatigue. Sleep deprivation. Sore knees, feet, backs. Blisters, rashes, scrapes. Altitude headaches and nausea.

But the upsides. Oh, the upsides. For a person who loves the outdoors, loves sport and competing but also gets high on color and texture, witnessing unique shapes and ‘scapes… it is wholly ideal.

I summit:

  • To see the icy textures up close.
  • To experience the landscape changes from valley floor to forest to timberline to peak.
  • To gain unique vantage points, looking down onto the land you normally inhabit.
  • To see more stars at night than you ever thought possible.
  • To be within view of civilization but feel so, so far away.
  • To witness “mountain shadow” (a mountain peak’s sunrise shadow on its Western face or, even cooler, right in front of you on top of clouds or haze)
  • To realize in such a unique way the size and ferocity of these landscape dominators.
  • To constantly experience completely new views of mountains you thought you were pretty familiar with.
  • To take the final step and realize, after hours of toil, that you’re there. That you can now spin 360 degrees and see absolutely nothing above you and miraculous topography below.
  • To push myself mentally and push my body physically to accomplishments just not replicated in a gym.
  • To glissade down (basically the longest sled run you’ve ever taken)
  • And then there’s the simple accomplishment of it. It’s like the biggest, fastest roller coaster at the theme park. Sure the smaller rides are fun and you’d rather just do the bumper cars with the kids… But it’s there. It’s the big one. How can you say you “did” the park without hitting its main attraction?

Mountain shadow of Mt Hood.

Ice formations at sunrise on Mt Adams.

When you live near a mountain range, these are our main attractions. I live in the shadow of the Cascade Range so my bucket list looks like this (four down, six to go). There are bigger ranges in the world but these peaks are my peaks.

10HighestList

On the long slog back down the mountain (when the snow has softened too much to glissade) with our knees throbbing, quads screaming, heads aching and stomachs growling, we play a game called “How much money would it take for you to turn around at the trailhead and go right back up again”? I believe the first time we played it my figure was around $10K. Subsequent trips may have ended up five or ten times that. I honestly think on most occasions, even with iron will power, my body simply would not have been able to make that happen.

Many times the phrase “That’s the last mountain I will ever climb” is uttered by someone. But “The Pain is Temporary, the Pride is Forever”, right? Or “Time heals all wounds”, they say. Well, time also heals memories of wounds it seems…

The over/under on time passed until we start planning the next one is about three months.

-Kenjoy

You feel “on top of the world” on a clear day on Shasta.

If the effort doesn’t get you, the altitude headache will. Looking back up whence we came on Shasta.

My high-point on earth. 14,179′. Here’s to going higher.

St Helens

Hood

View from the top of Adams.

Our signature post trek photo in our matching MSR Mountain SnowShoes.

Pole Power: The white eagle flies on the gridiron

Another oddity from the world of sports happened over the weekend and I could not let it go unnoticed…  If you watched the Raiders-Patriots NFL game you would have seen every point in the contest scored by a name ending in -KOWSKI.  First a FG by Sebastian Janikowski.  Then a TD by Rob Gronkowski, followed by the PAT by Stephen Gostkowski.  Then another couple FGs from Janikowski and a pair from Gostkowski for the final score of 16-9 in favor of the Pats.  But no matter the team result, not a bad day for the Polish proud!  The noble white eagle deserves to firmly grasp an American football in its clearly capable golden talons…

Print

A Donovan Tribute

The all-time top goal scorer and assist leader for USA soccer.  Number one in MLS for career goals: regular season, playoffs AND all-star game.  This is none other than Landon Donovan.

In light of his recent announcement to retire from the LA Galaxy and Major League Soccer, I present a tribute to what many feel is his greatest goal.

By the way, the announcement comes right on the heels of Donovan scoring the game-winning goal in the MLS All-Star game versus Bayern Munich.  Anyone else think Jurgen Klinsmann, coach of goal-challenged Team USA, noticed that Donovan (whom he left off the World Cup squad) blasted a goal past German goal keeper Manuel Neuer (the man universally called the best keeper at WC14)?

This tribute is a visual of the ball path leading to Donovan’s 90th minute goal versus Algeria in the 2010 World Cup (which as we know, would end up being his last).  The significance of the goal cannot be understated, as it single-handedly took the USA from elimination to winners of Group C, advancing to the round of 16.  The last minute goal of a 0-0 game brought pandemonium to the country, as awesomely documented in dozens of fan reaction videos, garnering many millions of views online. The accomplishment was defining.  The moment was electric.

The play developed thus: a sure-handed stop of a header toward’s USA’s goal by Tim Howard, who immediately overhands an outlet to Donovan.  Donovan takes the ball in stride and streaks down the right side.  The play starts with a perfect pass to Jozy Altidore who crosses to Clint Dempsey whose point-blank shot is blocked by Algerian keeper Rais M’Bolhi. The rebounded ball sees a quick flick of the inside of Donovan’s right foot and rest is history.

Included is the delightful and historic commentary of announcing great, Ian Darke.

DonovanTribute

Darke’s commentary:

“…Distribution: brilliant.  Landon Donovan.  There are things on here for the USA… Can they do it here? Cross. Dempsey is denied again… But Donovan has scored!!  Oh, can you believe this?!  Go(al) go(al), USA! Certainly through.  Ohhh, it’s incredible!  You could not write a script like this!”

Create a free website or blog at WordPress.com.
The Esquire Theme.

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.