New Adventures in the Desert

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I moved back to Tucson in early November of 2016. I hadn’t spent any time to speak of here since I left shortly after Clark’s birth in 2013. But a failed marriage (June 2016), new opportunities (August 2016), and the promise of sun (Jan – Dec. 2016) – all have a way of drawing a man back to a place.

So, here I am beginning a new adventure in the desert. And if the early billing is any indication, I’m in for quite the ride.

Truth is, while I love my job (more on that in a future post), a city can still be a dreadfully lonely place. Particularly when one is in their mid-30s, newly a bachelor, a bit out of shape, and settling into the routine of life anew.

Given the predicament, this week, I did what any rationally-thinking, non-impusive, risk-averse person would do: I adopted a two-year old Cocker Spaniel.

Originally, his name was Mickey. But this was far too plebeian for so august a dog.  So, I renamed him Nigel, after the sulphur-crested cockatoo in the cartoons Rio 1 and Rio 2. (See here).

See also, exhibit A:

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Now, Nigel, is a wonderful dog in many respects. When I’m home during the day, on balance, he either lays in his bed or at my feet in a crumpled ball of fluff on the floor.

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Which was all fine until this afternoon. I came home from work per usual. The blinds were partly open just as I had left them. There was no barking or noise to speak of. And upon entering my abode, I see my pooch, bounding in my direction from the hallway, excited to see me, and even more ready to go potty downstairs.

So far, so good.

After taking him downstairs to do his business, I came back up, entered the apartment and pulled the screen door to. It was a lovely day. High 70s low 80s. And I wanted nothing more than to have some dinner and enjoy the evening breeze.

As I’m mulling about, however, I glance in the corner near my bedroom door. The carpet looked oddly pixelated – as if the real life image I had tried to see was still downloading from the servers that span the breadth of time.

It was only after I glanced again that I was able to process the magnitude of what had happened.

Whilst away for the day, it seems that young Nigel tried to dig his way to freedom through the carpet of my hallway. Cue much wailing and gnashing of teeth.

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After conversations with friends, an expletive laden evening spent cleaning up the mess, and a couple of DIY videos on youtube for dog training, as it stands now, I really have two options for Nigel.

I can:

A) try to rehome him (viz., get rid of him); it’s an option that’s easy, elegant in its simplicity, and ruthless in its execution.

Or…B) give him another chance; an option grounded in the hope that a sturdy crate and the promise of routine can mute his burrowing sensibilities. Not nearly so neat or final an option as A.

It’s a tough call.

Thinking back to last year, there were more than a couple of sleepless nights when I wish that I had had a second chance. Given the outcome, it’s especially ironic that the Christian set amongst us are so often the least forgiving. And as this applies to Nigel, do I really want to be like THEM?

On the other hand, perhaps what Nigel did is beyond the pale? He did bore a hole in my carpet after all – a surely expensive mess that I will have to sort out with my apartment company.

Nevertheless, at the end of the day, the rub seems to depend upon whether or not an ‘old’ dog can be taught new tricks. And, of course, the extent to which I am willing to entertain this fact. Funny how it is all sounding so very familiar…

One can say many things about my life in Tucson. But it hasn’t been boring.

Change and Home

Changes

Today finds me in the sterile confines of Denver International Airport en route to Oklahoma. After only a few days on the job at the University of Wyoming, I am traveling back to Walters for the annual Comanche Homecoming Celebration. 
To be sure, I realize the benefits of air travel. I’ll be reunited with friends and family from near and far in a matter or hours, traversing great distances that even a car ride would take north of 14 hrs to compete. 
And yet, flying is certainly an abominable way to travel. Just a few minutes ago, I was comfortably seated at the far end of seats near gate A49, when a middle-age woman sat uncomfortably close to me.

True to form, she immediately popped open her laptop, fired up her cell phone, and began yelling into the receiver. In the course of ten minutes, I heard every detail about the new house she and her husband are purchasing, right down to the interest rate of the mortgage, and the need for her husband, David, to be very careful in making sure that all of the paperwork gets filed in a timely manner.
Poor David. I suspect there will be hell to pay when she gets home. Seems he misplaced the documents amid the sea of folders in their home office.

When I could no longer take listening to the details of a perfect stranger’s life, (keep in mind I had no choice in the matter), I moseyed toward the restroom for a brief pit stop prior to boarding.
And even in that hallowed sanctum, I could hear a voice from the stall next to mine, barking complaints into his cell phone about the poor planning that went into the entire trip. Apparently, he wanted a direct flight to begin with and couldn’t countenance having a layover in Denver.

All of which leads me to conclude that the golden age of air travel had to have been in the 60s and 70s, when flights were cheap, the cocktails flowed freely, and cell phones weren’t yet thought of.

Even so, it’s nice to be going home. I’m enjoying my new job in Laramie and excited for our future there. But the allure of home in Walters is never far from my mind. Change is afoot in my life. But Walters, I suspect, will always be my true north – no matter how far south I have to travel to get there.

Secular Thoughts and Sacred Conclusions

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It’s a quiet morning here on the farm. My Wife, Son, and Grandfather have all made the trek down the road and up the steep hill to church. I’ve opted for a somewhat less holy morning of coffee and Emails. Not nearly as uplifting but we all have our spiritual needs I suppose. 

Despite my morning of zen, a lot has happened in the past few weeks. Most recently, my baby sister graduated from high school, thereby ensuring my parents an empty nest if they ever permit her to leave. For now, her college plans include attending the local university and commuting from home at their insistence. 

For my friends and colleagues not from Southwest Oklahoma, the graduation ceremony itself would have been somewhat of a surprise. Like the one hundred and five Walters High School Commencement ceremonies before it, my sister’s graduation was punctuated by very public references to God and Jesus with one precocious valedictorian going so far as to share the gospel from rostrum, complete with pastoral inflections and Biblical passages. Naturally, he was a preacher’s kid – the scion of the First Baptist Church minister no less. As if this weren’t enough, the baccalaureate service was also prominently advertised, directly opposite the graduation agenda on the official programs issued by the school. It was enough to make even this God-fearing agnostic’s head swirl. Suffice it to say, Jefferson’s wall of separation between church and state is in a bit of disrepair around here. 

On the other hand, such a melding of faith and state wasn’t all bad. After a spirited debate with the powers that be, my sister managed to secure permission to wear an Eagle plume feather from her mortar board. Granted, the permission didn’t not come readily or perhaps even willingly, but we were all pleased nonetheless that the situation didn’t escalate. Last year, a Native American high school senior from Alabama was fined $1000 for her exercise of religious expression. The matter would have been especially ironic given the overt displays of religious expression throughout the ceremony. Perhaps the event will mark a new era of religious pluralism here in sleepy Walters, OK?

First Amendment questions aside, being home has been rather nice in other ways. We returned to America unexpectedly at the conclusion of my contract with the University of Waikato at the end of March. Fundraising had been a perennial problem for my employer, the University Waikato’s new Indigenous Governance Centre. But as you can see in the photo above, we returned to warm temps and mild summer evenings that provide ample time for walks down the narrow lane leading to our house. I enjoyed similar walks with my Son in New Zealand, but the area around our flat didn’t have the quiet, peaceful environs we enjoy here in the country. In a way, the biggest benefit to being home is how simple it really is. 

While I poked a bit of fun earlier at the overt religiosity here in the veritable buckle of the Bible Belt, there is something to be said for the stability and simplicity of life gleaned from the faith that guides most people around here – a faith I once had. This is particularly true when one considers the relative chaos that seems to pervade everything else.

Consider that in just the past week alone, people much more tech savvy than myself have said that the security infrastructure of our computers and computer systems is “held together with the IT equivalent of baling wire.” Similarly smart people have questioned whether the crisis in the Ukraine could lead to another World War. And not long ago, closer to home, our State so thoroughly botched the execution of a man that he died of a heart-attack some twenty minutes after state officials halted the entire process.

Given such a comedy of errors, it’s nice to have a place that’s insulated from the madness – if only for a short while. But more on that to come.

Three Grains of Sand

 
We’re seaside in Raglan, New Zealand today. The air smells of salt, and the sand is warm beneath bare feet. 
 
Our hosts today are a delightful Italian couple that we’ve become friends with through the University. It’s an adventure traveling the countryside with them. We are driving an early 2000s model sedan with a manual transmission. It hasn’t always been a smooth ride, but something about the fits and starts of the tired engine make the trek to the coast seem more appropriate. 
 
We had lunch earlier at a lovely, albeit overpriced, fusion cafe. The shops of Raglan were bustling this afternoon with locals and tourists alike. In the cafe, I had a chicken roti wrap that tasted rather like a quesadilla with bacon and potatoes than a proper wrap. The local beer on tap was a bit bitter even for me. But it was cold and wet, and that made it just good enough to satisfy my thirst before our trip to the beach. 
 
The roads to the shore from the village green weren’t obvious. They tend to wind and meander along the cliffs and neighborhoods of the town, while the shore remains hidden just out of view. But after a couple of turns, we saw the sea gleaming far below the ridge. 
 
When we finally arrived on the sand not long ago, Clark immediately made a straight line for the water. Kids seem to have a fixation with water that I no longer appreciate as an adult. Still it’s a beautiful love he has for the ocean. Perhaps if we lived here longer he would learn to surf, and fish, and swim in the sea. 
 
It’s strange to consider that we’ll be returning to America in the near future, leaving New Zealand and the black sands of Raglan far behind. It’s time to go home, I think. But for Clark’s sake, I hope we visit again sometime. We have too many friends here to never return. 
 
It strikes me that so much of life is like this. The three of us in isolation are like three grains of sand taken from a vast beach. We can exist just fine on our own, but we tend to thrive when in the company of the countless others that make life worthwhile. 
 
 
 
 
 

The Solitude of a City

It’s been a while since I’ve lived in a proper city. This evening provided an unexpected reminiscence when I found myself flying solo in downtown Auckland. 
It was a steamy day here in Aotearoa. The humid air mixed with the sounds of traffic and exhaust. For a moment, I was taken by the ghost of summers past, back to long days spent in Washington, DC, beating the pavement between Union Station and the Capitol. 
When the heat became too much, I stopped at a faux Moroccan bar and grill called the Casablanca. I ordered a pilsner to spite the heat and a Moroccan-style pizza. It wasn’t a very memorable meal in all honesty. But my spot along the street was prime real estate for people watching. There was a fine breeze kicking between the buildings. 
Sipping my beer, I thought about the topics at the seminar I attended. Experts, mostly from New Zealand and Australia, gathered to discuss the plight of Indigenous peoples’ access to justice. It was all rather depressing to hear their accounts of discrimination, and abuses of discretion despite the supposedly blind  nature of lady justice. 
Which is an important lesson really. If one is ever in need of a pick-me-up, seminars sponsored by the various U.N. Expert Mechanisms are not the solution. 
As I watched people and wondered about their lives, it struck me that the city can be a damn lonely place. Not a new thought. But an important one all the same.  
When I finished my meal, I paid the waitress and left, searching for colleagues and camaraderie. All told, I think cities are best defined as bastions of solitude comprised of thousands upon thousands of souls. 
Personally, I’d rather be at home with Gwyn and Clark. Our place isn’t much. But it’s never lonely.