I’m back in Tucson this month for work. It’s my busiest time of the year. My program hosts some 19 different courses throughout the month of January on topics related to Indigenous governance. This makes for long days, and working on weekends. Lots of mitigating faculty and student concerns, and making sure that things go smoothly.
My evenings, are spent resting from the long day. I grab dinner, and then get ready for the next day. It’s a fairly monastic existence that gets broken up by saying goodnight to my Son, and watching whatever happens to be on TV. Last night it was the Cowboys game, and Dallas won so no complaints.
It actually reminds me very much of the time that I lived here before the pandemic.
As a former city-dweller, I found that I was constantly surrounded by people, but had almost no interaction with them. A part of that’s my nature. Introversion has always come pretty easily to me. But I also think it’s partly the nature of cities. Without the right support of family and friends, cities can be an isolating experience.
Life is obviously very different now. I am a remote employee and live in Indiana. I see my son regularly and am seldom lonely. I still have a lot of awesome friends here in Tucson. But now, I am with my son and this brings me a lot of joy.
I guess there are always trade offs. Sometimes the trade offs are for the good.
One of my favorite things to do during the holidays is to discover new Christmas music. Each year, I build a massive Christmas playlist that I begin listening to on approximately Nov. 1st at roughly 12am, give or take. This year’s playlist topped out at 519 songs with a total play time of 28 hours and 5 minutes.
Despite the library of Christmas music that I have accumulated over the years, I try to add new music each time Christmas rolls around. This year, I happened upon a song that I had never heard before, which is a very odd thing for yours truly.
Happily, my mind got a bit ahead of my fingers and I mistakenly typed an iteration of Mariah Carey’s perennial hit, “All I Want for Christmas is You.” Rather than typing the song title as it is, I searched instead for “You’re All I Want for Christmas.” Syntax aside (I do believe the latter reads better), I came across Bing Crosby’s 1949 release by the same name.
It’s hubris in the highest form, but I fancy myself to be a bit of a Bing Crosby connoisseur. There aren’t many songs of his that I haven’t heard, whether they be full of Yuletide cheer, or his pop releases dating back to 1939. I would even say that for any music lover, there’s really an obligation to listen to the greatest singer of all-time. And true to form, I thought that I had heard all of Bing’s music, at least his Christmas pieces, but apparently I was mistaken.
Bing’s music has always harkened back to better era by my estimation. There’s something about the style, and sound of music from the 40s, 50s, and early 60s, that just indicates a classier era to me. But a review of 1949 from the Washington Post casts some doubt upon this assumption as it pertains to life more broadly:
During Christmas of 1949, our flights of fancy didn’t run much beyond riding the streetcar, taking a school trip to the local dairy or visiting a government building. Oh, yes, and avoiding the scourge of the day–tuberculosis.
As complicated as life is today, at least visiting government buildings isn’t the thrill it once was. We’ve also got tuberculosis more or less contained, which is probably more than we can say for COVID. We’ve also made tremendous progress on a number of other fronts that would have been unthinkable back in 1949.
And that’s all fine.
But “You’re All I want for Christmas”is fundamentally a love song with a simple story: one lover, missing another at Christmas. It reminds the listener that Christmas is not about the stuff we give or get. Rather, it is the relationships in our lives that bring magic to the Christmas season. That Bing Crosby conveys this message with more meaning, and more emotion than any song Mariah Carey has ever written, only underscores that the best of Christmas traditions stand the test of time.
I do hope you enjoy the song above. And here’s wishing you and yours a very, merry Christmas.
I’ve been on a trip the past couple of weeks visiting friends in Virginia. We opted to take a roadtrip to Pigeon Forge, Tennessee to catch a dinner theater performance, and visit Dollywood. It was a fun slice of Americana, complete with over the top Christmas lights and outlet mall shopping. I did manage to snag a pretty cool pocket knife – so no complaints.
I wasn’t unfamiliar with the Great Smoky Mountains. My Grandfather’s people, the Cherokees, called the area home from time immemorial through the Indian Removal Act and the Trail of Tears in 1830. Even after, some bands of Cherokees remained, taking to the Appalachian hills and making a life among the thousands of acres forests, creeks, and valleys in the southeastern United States. Having visited, it was very easy to understand why some chose to remain. The place is nothing if not peaceful. A refuge lost to time.
The park takes its name from the natural fog that results from the park’s trees and vegetation. The fog hovers over the mountains, making them look bathed in smoke from afar and even from within the park itself.
Far from it though.
The air was fresh and crisp with a hint of November chill. It smelled of pine and growth, and of the soil that has eroded from the craggy terrain for millennia.
In all, it was a place mostly undisturbed by mankind spare the roads and few visitors taking in its wonder on a cold day. The quiet streams and rivulets ran throughout the park, paying no heed to the passing cars. The rustle of branches in the wind gave greeting as we drove, accented by the occasional warble of mischievous bird overhead.
The mountains themselves are said to be the oldest in the world. I suspect the Cherokees would agree with this sentiment. The fog and the air give the mountains a certain natural stateliness that is coupled with mystery and grace. They seem to look out over the vast Tennessee landscape toward the resort towns of Gatlinburg and Pigeon Forge with a kind of bemused wonderment at the bustle of the world going on around them. And yet, within the park reserve, life goes on as it always has. Nature’s cycle continues apace. The streams continue to bubble over the rocks that have been there since the foundations of time were set.
I think if I had my druthers and could shuck off the fetters of responsibility that anchor me to my lived reality, I would transport myself back to 1830. I would build myself a little cabin along side one of the babbling brooks and make my home from the land.
Of course, armed with no knowledge of how to do this, I probably wouldn’t last very long. As Will Ferrell said in a recent movie, January was the leading cause of death in the 1800s. But there’s something about the ancientness of the place that conjures the romantic latent even in my calloused soul. I am mindful, though, of my own, human tendency to romanticize the past. It’s easy to think that prior eras and generations were really the golden age in which to live. I suspect that sometime in many years hence, future generations will look back at this current era and yearn for it in the way that I do the pre-1830s Smoky Mountains.
So, rather than wish for a bygone era, I resolved to be grateful for the existence of such a place, and thought about how fortunate I was to set foot on the lands of my ancestors. I hope that in 2123 the waters will still meander through the park, and that the fog of the mountains will still entice visitors with mystery.
It’s a drop past 11pm here on the East Coast, and just a few minutes away from my Fortieth birthday. I usually don’t let big, decade birthdays consume too many of my thoughts – age is just a number, as the kids say.
But it’s hard not to think back on this night ten years ago and reminisce. I had just driven back to my hometown, Walters, Oklahoma. I had finished up my law school and doctoral years in Tucson. With no job and an uncertain future, I left the Old Pueblo and headed for home with my nearly one-month old newborn son, and then wife in tow.
It had been a predictably long drive. God knows the drive between Tucson and Walters is long. But we made it safely. The photo below, marked the first time that there would be four generations of Fodder men all in the same place. It was also the first time that my Grandfather would get to meet his Great-Grandson.
Now my son is ten. My Grandpa has passed on. And life seems far more complicated today than it did back then. But it’s hard not to be thankful. My baby nephew is now playing football. My Dad is well. I’d say we fared okay, all things considered. I hope that we will be so fortunate in the next ten years.
It seems like a lifetime ago, and yet it seems like yesterday. I remember how tired we were after the drive. How great it felt to be home. How excited and nervous I was at the thought of being a parent. It was all so new.
But it strikes me that each milestone year is like that. Ten years from now, I don’t know what I will be doing on this night. I don’t know who will will be by my side when the next picture is taken. For all I know, it could be my Dad holding his latest Grandson. Stranger things have happened.
What I do know is that I don’t want to take a single moment of this next decade for granted. To paraphrase Thoreau, “I want to live deeply and suck out all the marrow of life.”
If I had had this perspective ten years ago, I would have cherished each moment when that photo was taken. I would have basked in the company of family, and relished the excitement of welcoming a new life into the world. I would have been satisfied with a weary body, tired after closing an old chapter and excited to open a new one.
But the past is done.
Like the tree above, we all inexorably shed our old leaves no matter how vibrant they are in order to reset, rest, and to welcome the new.
In five minutes or so, it will be time to turn the page on my 30s and see what comes next.
I saw a gaggle of crows outside my office window this morning. They foraged in the grass, looking for food, I assume. Either that or looking for whatever crows look for on sunny fall days. With expert practice, they flipped the leaves with their long beaks and nuzzled their way into the grass underneath the leaves.
After a time they became bored, strutting about the lawn before taking flight in the direction of the sun.
This morning I read that the midterm elections are tightening with all signs pointing toward buoyed Republican prospects next Tuesday. Perhaps sensing the inevitable, President Biden and the Democrats are bemoaning the news, warning Americans that potential Republican gains are simply “dark forces that thirst for power.” Meanwhile, most Americans are simply fed up with both parties, and seem to think that no matter who wins they will do a piss-poor job of governing the country.
The crows didn’t seem to care much about who wins next week’s midterms. I suspect that they would gladly poop on whatever political party is in power, and fly off cawing to one another about the reactions from the humans on the ground far below them.
They’re also wonderfully content. They feel no need to annex another crow’s territory, or threaten their existence with nuclear weapons.
And they take sustenance from the world around them. The crows have no use for money unless it’s a paper bill that might make good lining for a nest. Grocery prices, gas prices, mortgages, credit card bills – all of the things that our more ‘sophisticated’ species takes for granted as part of every day life – have no relevance to my black-feathered friends.