Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Drowning? Try Hot Air

I have a number of friends who are, for a number of reasons are swamped in work, school, family responsibilities, or some combination thereof. Many would like to simply get away. Perhaps they can for a few minutes. While the below appeals more to the young, they do not exclude the young at heart, the adventuresome, or those that enjoy a good story. They are all light and appealing, however shallow, short and inconsequential. They’re air, you see. Hot air.

-If you long for sun, sand and solitude, read #1.
-If you ache for the stillness of winter without and a fire within (and are preferably a girl), read #2.
-If you’re single and wouldn’t mind some encouragement, read #3.
-If you crave good company, read #4.
-If you’re really, really bored and have nothing better to do with your time, read them all.

#1. You're in the Bahamas, sipping a chilled beer or fruity drink (ordered only for the cool little umbrella), and reclining on the west side of the tiny island. The palm fronds overhead rustle every few minutes, but it’s quickly lost in the gentle white-capping of the surf. The atoll and reef reduce otherwise pounding waves to the calm shores of a large lake.
It's evening, but you’re still wearing your shades, as the setting sun dips into the ocean and doubles its brilliance. It's beautiful, but still early in the evening. When it dims a bit, you'll drop your shades, set down your drink, and wade into the surf for photographs. It's breathtaking. You'll also back into the palm trees up the beach a few paces and take a few shots through the fronds. It’s amazing this happens every day like this.

It's still warm, and the breeze is remarkably dry, steady, they'll light the fires soon and you'll all circle the flames and continue sitting, bare toes in the sand, and discuss what will be done tomorrow: nothing. You'll stay up late talking, and you'll sleep late and get up to a light brunch and read the paper on the deck. There's nowhere pressing to be right now. This is a vacation. There aren't appointments. It’s your hiatus.

That book that's laid untouched beside your bed for six months - you'll finish it tomorrow, and start another. The paper's crossword puzzle is also enticing. Coffee will be nice, with lots of cream and sugar. And not too hot. The sun is warming. The coffee needn't. You set your cup on the corner of the paper to keep it from fluttering as your work the crossword.

It's not forever, but only a few days. Yet they were needed. Other responsibilities will await when you get back. But for now... kick up your feet. Relax. These are your days, and you're only young once.

#2. It's snowing outside, on top of the two feet already on the ground. But it’s warm in the cabin. The wood is stacked high, the fireplace is roaring, and a profusion of animal fur rugs keep your bare toes warm. The floors are wood plank, the walls of log, and the loft a half-open upper story that capitalizes on the late night heat from the fire and the delicate touch of woodsmoke always moving through the rafters.

It's Montana, it's late fall, and the elk have started running. They’re rutting, actually, and you caught a glimpse of a medium-sized herd earlier that evening as they began their slow descent from the high country into the plains for the winter. They're huge, lumbering, and potentially dangerous, but gorgeous from afar. They move silently through the snow.

In fact, elk was also what each of you ate for dinner, and the rest hangs high in the barn to keep it from the grizzlies. Aside from the fire and a few low-key chats, it is quiet. The snow muffles everything. As you step out and watch it heavily bury the last step on the front porch, you prepare for an evening inside, pleasant conversations, and a couple glasses of wine while you stare into the fire. There is no electricity, but oil lamps, ambient light from the fire, and subdued laughter. It's all quieter when it's snowing. It’s peaceful.

Tomorrow you're hiking in snowshoes, but it's okay, because it's more of a stroll, and you're just heading to the ridge to get a view into the valley where the elk where be. The sunset will be tremendous from up there. And so would the sunrise be, if you get up that early. But better a good breakfast than a good sunrise. The sun will always be there. Eggs Benedict, bacon, and toast may not be. That first cup of coffee is amazing, especially when accompanied by a book of your own choosing, and a friend's large friendly dog resting her head in your lap. Tonight, sleep will come quickly.

There are no distractions, because a crackling fireplace isn't a racket, it's a lullaby. And the goose down blanket is a comfortable embrace, improved all the more by the fact his arms are around you and you're both on the couch. Friends are there to keep you all in check. It's just nice, and he's even warmer than the comforter. And he’ll cook breakfast in the morning; or at least try, which is commendable. Does he even need a name right now? No.

An uninterrupted nine hours later, you slowly drift awake. It's still acceptable. The other couches are similarly occupied. You’re the first up, so you gently lift his arms off of you and tiptoe to the fire to rustle the coals and throw on a log to hold back the chill slowly creeping through the windows.

It’s serenely quiet, and rested as you are, the coffee will still be nice. The sort of savory, roasted taste you always experience when you percolated over a fire. It isn’t necessarily better, but it’s memorable, and certainly suited to the occasion. Not sweet and over crowded with additives, but savory. The percolator lid lightly tings as you hang the pot on the fire, and the others stirring a bit, but they quiet quickly. You have time for you. And God. And it’s better that way. It’s effortlessly given because you’re rested, and you learn something.

Looking out the window with an amen, you SEE His amen: "see? I'm the best artist here. You like it? Stick around. I'll do it again sometime soon."

It’s time to wake the others; you've had your date. Now it’s time for your day, and everybody in it. There are views to see, and the arctic chill on your nose as you begin your hike to the ridge. Keep the camera warm, because this will be a perfect photograph, and you want to remember it. You already will, but this sweetens it.

Others are with you, and HE is with you, and you will all reminisce about this timelessly. It was yesterday. It was forever ago. It was good, and you’ll all remember, and dream about it. And for the moment, you’ll live it. You’ll write your story this evening, with each breath. And in the evening, his arms will be there again under the goose down comforter.

#3. “________ loves me, and I love _________! ________’s the ONE!” (Pardon my poor attempt at humor)

#4. When you drove away, you had no idea your destination. In fact, you’d mouthed the words, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I hope it’s nice when I get there.” But more than this, you’re starting to enjoy the journey itself. The terminus is decreasing in importance. Fixating on it causes you to forget the drive, and there’s much to see out here. It’s been years since you last left the coast, and an inundation of flip flops, sun dresses and warm air grows wearisome, as would Eden itself in time. Somewhere else would be nice, with something different to see.

Inland seemed like a good direction, and it propels you quickly from city racket and chaos to slow, narrow roads lined with fences and fields. Old barbed wire and derelict posts make better art than you realized. They’re all different. Mailboxes, too. You pass one a good ten feet off the ground. As you slow to stare at it, you can barely make out the faded, hand-painted lettering on the sides: “Air Mail.” It’s refreshing, and not loaded with innuendo, and simple. It’s just funny.

Endless miles of fields and patchworks of fences give way to hills, and sharper curves in the road, and old oaks leaning wearily into the ditches. Houses and other buildings are now limited to occasional crossroads. Small boxes with low roofs and sagging porches and old gas pumps in front of the town’s one station. In one small town, Belle's diner beckons to you. You forgot to eat that morning.

It is amazing that a profusion of grease and butter and gravy doesn’t kill all who eat here, but most of them are farmers and they labor long hours and burn it off quickly. You will too, today. They claim to have the best burger in town (though they’re the ONLY restaurant in town, that you can observe). Best or not, it’s delicious. So are the fries. And the Coke somehow always tasted better in a bottle.

Fighting the urge for a nap, you get back on the road. There’s still more to see, and more curves to navigate, and in the distance, something you long forgot your state had: mountains. The highest peaks still have snow. You’ll go there, and you’ll hike, and stop, and admire the view, and meet a nice couple from Minnesota who talk funny and who have been traveling since their last son left for college two years ago. They drove 90,000 miles last year, and this year will be about the same.

As you hike down the mountain with them, they invite you to dinner, which they promise won’t taste like it was cooked in an RV, and they prove it by serving the best Calamari Genovese you’ve ever tasted. They’re both 2nd generation Italian immigrants and their mothers taught them well. It’s all the more humorous with their Minnesota accents.

You’re welcome to stay the night, but there’s still more to see. It’s warm out now. You’ll drive some distance and admire the stars and see a few meteorites, and pull over to sleep on the back seat. There is MUCH more to see, a million miles to travel, and many interesting strangers to meet. And you’ve just set out.

Copyright © 2009, Ben Shaw
All Rights Reserved


  1. Uncle Caesar, are you out there? I haven't seen a comment from you in quite some time! Has Ben's blog really had that little substance? Ben get on it...

  2. Still here. I have decided that I could best comment on the writing off line. My main concern was the quality of the writing and not the content. In fact, I mostly didn't care if he wrote about popcicles, if he did it really well.

  3. You guys can all debate over debating. I just had a great time doing a little travel. And I love calamari!

    Reading is supposed to take you to other places. And currently that was a good break from my computer screen.

    Thanks Ben.

  4. I wasn't debating... I was simply trying to drum up a little bit of blog interaction, and apparently it WORKED!!!!

  5. Well, indeed it did. Which one did you read?

    I read 2&4.

  6. I read them all, and liked 2 the best, with 1 a close second. :)

  7. I read them all and like them all. Of course, I'm supposed to have a favorite, but Ben's writing is so great... sigh...

  8. Oh, gag me with a spoon.

    I read the short ones.

  9. I've been getting some weird word verification prompts when I post my comments; the most recent was "asshinger."