Summer Camp Redux

(Can I really have more to say about Dave Matthews? Yes, yes I can.)

The new Dave Matthews album is amazing and vital and rich and so, so beautiful. I’ve been listening to it non-stop, not ready to settle on a favorite song, still getting to know them all.

One, though, is a frontrunner. "Dive In," with its wandering melody and strong chorus, makes me tap my foot and nod my head in time. It’s about summer, or maybe a new beginning, and it nails the season as aptly as corn-on-the-cob or a sno-cone.

I love summer, even though it turns Utah into an incinerator in a coal factory, only with dirtier air. It’s gross here from, like, mid-July through August. It’s tough on me; I get cranky in the heat. It only lasts about six weeks, though, so I’m trying not to complain.

Summer in the Laurel Mountains (hills, really), where I grew up, is another story. Cool mornings and evenings anchor hot, humid days, and a house-shaking thunderstorm rolls through at least once a week. I love it all. My skin and hair respond beautifully to the humidity, making my lizard skin and light-socket hair a distant, western memory.

This morning, though, walking into my office, I caught the scent of sweetgrass in the air. It was so home, so Pennsylvania, so rural town, so childhood and high school and college. It was every summer I’ve ever experienced, right there in one breath.

My mind hurtled back to the summer camp I attended for many years—a sports-focused but curiously Christian enterprise nestled in the rolling hills of Boswell, Pennsylvania. God-talk aside, it was the greatest place in the whole world according to the 12-17 year-old me.

There was a lake that created a sweatshirt-worthy breeze in the mornings and a refreshing respite from the heat of the afternoon. We swam and kayaked and zip-lined and sailed little sunfishes and water-skied, and it was summer, as it was, as it should be.

We lived in our bathing suits, emerging shivering from the lake onto the sun-warmed dock, making water-angels, our dripping hair forming tiny puddles in the peeling paint, before running up the hill to paint flowerpots or weave friendship bracelets.

That was where I learned to rock climb, learned to kayak, learned to jog and then, eventually run. That was where I fell in love with the woods and the earth, where I decided to be a river guide, then a climber, then a writer.

It was years later—I was probably out of college—before I realized that the camp was less than an hour from my house. Despite traveling to and from Boswell every summer for six years, it was so different, so unique that I just sort of assumed, just expected it to be hours from anything else, certainly hours from home. A few years ago, though, driving through a nearby town with my mom, I saw a sign for Boswell, and commented, “Oh that’s funny, I used to go to camp in a town called Boswell, remember?”

“Yes, sweetie, that’s the same Boswell,” my mom didn’t seem concerned by my geographical shortcomings.

“What? It can’t be! We’re like an hour from home! It took FOREVER to get to camp!”

And it did. I remember hopping up and down in the backseat of the Jeep, bored out of my mind and feeling like we’d been in the car for days. When we (finally) arrived at camp, I rolled down the window and hung out, searching for familiar faces, for signs of new activities (I almost fell out of the car the summer the zip line arrived), for new girls my age.

It’s interesting, the distance I attributed to Boswell, to camp, to my experiences there. So unlike the other 50 weeks of my life, it must have been far, really far away. Like, different planet far.

And that’s it—that’s my love of summer explained. That’s why I need sweetgrass and fireflies and evocative lyrics like Dave’s (“Summer’s here to stay, and those sweet summer girls will dance forever, go down to the shore, kick off your shoes, dive in the empty ocean.”): they’re beautiful, yes, but beyond that, they remind me that right there, just over that hill, there is peace and joy and escape and an other-worldliness that provides perspective.

And there are those things, too—like music, like lakes, like rivers, like grassy fields—that will always remind me who I am, where I came from. Even if where I came from is a lot closer than I thought.


Damn you, Conrad. DAMN YOU!

I don't know Lauren Conrad, but I do know this: she's got some nerve.

Traipsing around with that long wavy hair plaited into the epitome of boho chic.

Designing (hmmm...that might be too strong a word) her own line of fab maxi dresses.

Starring in a television show wherein she alternates between staring into the middle distance and saying, "like, you know?"

And now a three-book deal. She's gone too far.

Who does she think she is, ticking off all the things on MY to-do list?

Ok, so I don't actually want to star on the Hills or the O.C. or whatever the hell her show is called. I DO want beachy hair and an ocean view and to go shopping all day--it's pretty much the same thing.

(I know my mother and Women's Studies professors are cringing at that last statement, but at least I'm being honest.)

And I suppose if I were to write a book I'd hope the most favorable reviews were more effusive than, "It's not as bad as I expected."


Golden Retriever Fridays!

I found this photo on the delightful Liberty London Girl's blog. She suggests dogs as an alternative to skinny models in fashion shows. I think it's a fabulous idea--from what I've seen, most dogs are friendlier than models, prefer rawhide to cocaine, and are content with lesser champagnes.



I don’t observe many holidays. Christmas is stressful, the 4th of July is noisy, Easter is fattening, Halloween is fattening and slutty. I love Thanksgiving, though, because its warmth, juxtaposed with what is often the first cold weather of the year, comforts me. It’s also a benchmark holiday, one that encourages reflection and an awareness of the blessings in our lives.

Birthdays and anniversaries, which I also love, are similar: they invite perspective, a step back, an objective look at what we might otherwise ignore.

I have some friends who are almost obsessively focused on goal setting. They talk about their goals as much as I talk about Arnie. It’s exhausting, and I find that I just can’t keep up; I can’t always be moving forward. Sometimes I need to be still.

And when I do set my sights on something, I seldom tell anyone, because my ego won’t let me face people if I fail.

But, ok, everyone fails sometimes, even the toughest people I know. The difference is that they move on; I dwell. They brush themselves off and try again. I avoid eye contact, get combative, give up.

Now, though, a few weeks before my birthday (a benchmark), I’m looking at the year behind me and wondering why I do that. Why am I so ashamed? Everyone makes mistakes.

On the heels of Jonny’s death, I realize this: I get another chance. I’m still here, breathing, thinking. I can try again.

Sometimes I do try again. Sometimes I face mistakes head on and move past them, smarter the second time around.

Last year at this time, I’d just left good job at a great advertising agency to take a sales position better suited for an unpaid intern. I spent my days half-heartedly asking climbing companies for money they didn’t have, to support an endeavor I wasn’t sure I believed in. It was a mistake, but rather than admitting it, I stumbled through the summer, barely able to make eye contact with Brad because I was so ashamed at the strain my actions put on our relationship.

I woke up sad every morning. Ashamed. Guilt-ridden. Depressed.

And then I decided to change it.

I’m not sure what snapped in me, but once I realized that my path wasn’t sustainable, that if I kept going, everything around me would crumble, I immediately quit my job and started looking for a new one.

People were assholes about it; I remember one night, at dinner with friends, I mentioned to someone that I was looking for work.

“AGAIN?” She shouted so loud that everyone in the restaurant turned to see what was going on.

Barely managing not to fall apart, I whispered,” yes,” and changed the subject.

It seemed very easy to be them.

It felt very hard to be me.

The year improved. I took a new job as a writer. I made friends with Brad again. I backed off climbing because it stopped making me happy. I started running again because it makes me feel good. I reconnected with my friends. I committed myself to something—Crossfit—because I just needed to see if I could.

And now, a few weeks before I turn 32, I’ve decided to set some goals and not worry about sharing them with people. In the past, I was afraid to tell people what I wanted to do, because I was afraid that my goals would seem insignificant. It’s been that way for years: my climbing projects are other peoples’ warm-ups, my long runs are other peoples’ rest days.

But I’ve finally figured out that not being a great athlete doesn’t make me a bad person. I don’t have to feel like a hippo in a roomful of china dolls every time I go to the climbing gym. I don’t have to feel bad because I only ran (insert arbitrary number here) miles today.

So hey, maybe I’ll fail. Maybe I’ll lose interest. Maybe my goals will seem small and insignificant to you. That’s how it’ll have to be, though, because the alternative wasn’t getting me anywhere.

And hell, I know there’ll be days when all this talk becomes just that—talk—and I fall apart because I can’t do sports good.

But everyone makes mistakes.

Another post that will make Brad roll his eyes

Like I needed another reason to adore Dave Matthews. Now he keeps me from getting lost.


Off the Bus

I feel a little bit sick this morning, because over the weekend I learned that an old friend of mine was killed in an avalanche in Western China. He was climbing a peak with two others (one dead, one still missing) when he was struck.

Until I heard the official statement that they’d identified Jonny’s body, I was hoping (along with the hundreds, maybe thousands, of people who are also devastated by this news) that he and his partners had sidestepped the snowslide and were holed up in a cave, waiting until it was safe to move again.

I am so sad for his girlfriend, for his parents, for the many, many people he inspired in his 35 years. Yesterday, Brad and I remembered the last time we saw Jonny, at the Med in Boulder. After a big bear hug and a typically exuberant conversation, we’d returned to our table where one of our friends asked whom we’d been talking to. “Jonny Copp,” I replied, and watched our friend crane his neck to get a better look.

“That dirty guy talking with his mouth full?”

“Yeah,” we said, not needing to turn around. That was Jonny. Wild-eyed and unshowered, hanging out at a sleek Boulder hotspot just as he was—no pretention, no show, just unrestrained psyche and love and passion and fire.

Another time, after a long day climbing (and getting off route, and getting scared, and getting back on route, and still being scared) in the Black Canyon, my partner and I topped out to find Jonny and a gallon of water waiting for us at the rim. He’d climbed a much harder, much longer, much more demanding route that day, but just then, all he wanted to talk about was how our day had been—how exciting, how awesome, how cool that we’d topped out just before dark.

You know how a good veterinarian always makes you feel like yours is the most important dog in the world? That’s sort of how Jonny was. When you talked to him, he was wholly focused on what was happening with you, what was important to you. In the nine years I knew him, I never saw him unhappy or angry. He gave such good energy; it was impossible not to feel good in his presence, not to want to try harder at life.

I’m done asking why. Too many of my friends have died too young to keep asking that. The list will only continue to grow. I’m not saying that I accept any of this, though, because I am fully enraged at the universe for taking another good one.

I suppose I could turn to pre-determination and take comfort in the belief that Jonny (and Chris and Zack and Jeff, etc.) was here exactly as long as he was supposed to be here, that his work was done, that it was time for him to go. But I just can’t believe that, not when so many people are mourning, are confused, angry. Not when he was in love, not when he still had so many plans.

No. Rather than pre-determination, it just feels like the world is spiraling out of control. Nothing seems quite right.

RIP my friend.


Uh Oh

Arnie wet the bed last night.

He's five and a half, and has never had an accident in the house (since being potty trained as a puppy). This morning, I woke up to find a huge wet spot at the foot of our bed (he always sleeps with us). Arnie seemed fine--maybe a little more cuddly than usual, but no major change in behavior....

Anyone know why he might have suddenly wet himself? Brad thinks he was caught up in a dream, but the Internet tells me it's a bladder infection or UTI.

I'm taking him to the vet tomorrow (soonest I could get him in, as I'm not sure this qualifies as an emergency...).

My poor boy.


How much can you stand?

I listen to Pandora radio all day. I love it, even though otherwise excellent stations (Dave Matthews radio, for example), still play some duds. You’d think it’d be no problem to just skip the bad songs, but Pandora is tricky, and only lets you skip six songs per day. With each workday lasting eight hours or more, one has to plan her skips accordingly. Say a Coldplay song queues up first thing in the morning. I don’t want to slit my wrists, so it’d be wise to skip The Message or Clocks or anything else by the bloody downers, but what if three John Mayer* songs follow this one? I have to skip John Mayer songs, because his music makes me want to throw things at people, but that’d make four skips in one fell swoop, leaving me with only two for the rest of the day….

Nope. Too risky. I’ll save my skips and listen to Coldplay. I can stand it.

But that conscious weighing—stick with bad or risk worse?—isn’t necessarily beneficial, I’m learning, when it comes to other things. Say I have a long run or an especially hard work out planned. If I know what’s coming, I immediately start calculating (unconsciously, I’m sure, because god knows I’d need to grab a calculator otherwise) how much to give, how hard to work, when to push it, when to coast. Some might say that’s a good thing, that pacing is healthy. But from what I can tell (for me, of course, not for everyone), pacing equals stasis, precludes improvement, keeps me down.

Sure, if I run like hell up the first big hill, I might not be able to make it up the next one, but who knows? Maybe I would. Maybe I’d discover an untapped energy resource.

The thing is, I only get to play (run or crossfit or climb or ski or bike or ride my skateboard or play in the lake with the dogs…) for about an hour or so a day. That’s not a lot of time, so why leave anything in the tank? Why not go for it when I can?

I think we all know what’s inside us, though, and I know that I just can’t. It’s not in my constitution. Not everything I have, not every time, even though when I do take the leap and try without imposing boundaries (I can’t climb that, I can’t lift that, I can’t run that fast…I will fail, so why should I try?), I usually surprise myself.

Moving from that place of known fear to unfamiliar ground is hard, but often, the abstract is far worse than the actual. To that end, I’ve been giving it a little lately, learning that I can stand far more than I give myself credit for.

And while the superstitious part of me is fighting to shout, “But I’m sure I’m setting myself up for a fall by saying something so bold,” the present, confident part of me is stifling her more than usual, responding with a calm, “Well if that happens, I’ll just have to pick myself up.”

*John Mayer has no business being on Dave Matthews radio IMO. It's akin to likening Vanilla Ice (bad) to Eminem (good).