Mar 24

An important story of diving strength and grace and power

We held our first backyard activity of the new year this weekend. We put a fire in the fire pit.

As ever, the order is tender, kindling, firewood.


It took a while, because someone put wet wood — and not the kindling and firewood I’ve been storing out of the elements for just this purpose — in the fire pit, but pine straw is eager to burn and when I got enough of that in there you could hear the water sizzling away until, finally, we got those relaxing looking coals to stare at.

It was a good way to mark the weekend, a great way to start the outdoor season, which should run right up until December if last year was any indication. March to December? I’d take that, happily. It was sunny again today, but rainy or damp, and cool, for the rest of the week. We’re just waiting for the mercury to climb a few degrees higher.

OK, here’s the last photo from our recent trip to Cozumel. I’ve rationed these out for two months, and that’s better than I expected. (Don’t worry, we’re going to be able to stretch out the remaining videos for a good long while, too.)

This is the photo where I once again thank our trip planner and my dive buddy. Dive buddies serve a lot of roles. They point out stuff you might have overlooked. They help verify the stories you come back with. They also help ensure your safety. (Or whatever.)

In Cozumel, you do a lot of drift diving. You drop off the boat, go to the depth of the dive profile and just let the current take you … that way. The boat above follows your bubbles and picks up in another place. When you do it right, this is peaceful, easy, diving. You learn quickly that, even with a light current, the water is in control and you make your peace with it. You’re going this direction. You’ll see some great things. You’ll miss some things. C’est la plongĂ©e. Or, I guess, eso es bucear.

You don’t swim against the current.

So we’re going along on one of our last dives, the six divers and the dive master, Max, who has worked and dove all over the world. We’re all stretched out in a line, lingering here, drifting there. I’m about the fourth one back. My lovely bride is one or two people ahead of me.

Coming the other direction is a beautiful eagle ray, which migrates through that region in January and February. You see it, you admire it, you drift on. My dive buddy turns around and swims after it to capture video footage. Max and the other four divers are impressed. She’s swimming against the current, probably 100 yards, closing the distance on a creature designed for this environment.

Max this worldly, long-professional, very cool ciao Italian man, looks at me, his eyes as wide as his mask allows. The expression for “What?” works in any language, under any body of water. I shrugged and nodded.

A little while later, we happen upon a turtle, and that tortuga is also swimming opposite us. The Yankee again turns, closes the distance, passes the turtle, and gets in front of it to take another photo. We’re at the front of the group this time, and so she swims upstream past the other five people, who are in disbelief. When she finally turned to join us once more, they were still watching. I gestured to her to show the muscles. Everybody else needed to see the gun show.

And, look, she wasn’t even breathing hard.

After the dive, Max and I are the last ones in the water, waiting to climb on the boat. He said to me that he’d never seen anyone do that, and certainly not twice. I guess he’d never been diving with a varsity athlete, a three-time Ironman, a five-time USA National Championship triathlete, who is also a FINA world championship swimmer.

It was, without a doubt, impressive, but not surprising. Not to me. I’ve been surprised by all of it before. And I need all of the air in my tank just to keep up with her.

We’re still working on her fire-building skills.

Feb 24

Just some more miles

Grading. Forever grading. What I’m poring over is a basic hard news story assignment. There’s only about 40 of these, and most of them from various school board and town council meetings. There are a few people who went to the same meetings, and that’s fine. The students found different angles to report on. But what’s most interesting, to me anyway, is the news they found.

Sadly, a lot of these meetings aren’t getting covered in the small towns because of the spiral the news industry is presently in. Some of the stories my students are writing about are absolutely worth the reporting. Some of the stories are quite good. I know I’ve learned a lot about some of the regional goings on from these stories. I hope my students are getting something out of the feedback. It’s a treat to write all of that feedback, but it can be time intensive — sometimes, I think they, are longer than the stories —

Me? Write long? Never.

Today’s bike ride was interesting. Let’s set the stage. A week ago, this month became my most productive bike riding month, in terms of miles. I’d put in more miles in 22 days than I have in any single month in the last 15 years. (This probably helps explain some aches and pains.)

Somewhere in this area on today’s ride, I eclipsed my first thousand miles of the year.

Definitely helps explain some of the aches and pains. And also the parts that feel pretty good. That’s probably not a lot, 1,000 miles in two months, but I’ve never even had one month with 500 miles or more, until this month.

Which is where this gets silly. I have a spreadsheet with all of these little cycling tidbits on it, you see. Because of that, I knew I could get over 1,000 miles today. And that seemed a great winter goal. Soon I’ll be riding outside again, but to have 1,000 miles as a base, in the basement? It was appealing.

So, when I opened the spreadsheet to add today’s totals to the ride, I looked at the page where I keep the month numbers and realized, if I did just 1.5 more miles, I would have a 600 mile February. Again, not that much, but it’s a lot to me.

So there I was, after dinner, getting back on the bike, just to get that extra 1.5 miles. I did this in jeans, and slowly, because this is silly. But it’s a goal to hit, even if I only just became aware of it.

So I did three miles.

February 2024 is a month that’ll be hard to top. And, since we’re at the end of the month, here’s the big chart.

The green line is a simple projection of where I’d be riding 10 miles per day. The red line reflects my 2023 mileage. The blue line is what I’ve done so far this year.

It’s been a big offseason. And, sometime soon, I’ll be back to riding outside once again.

There are a lot of roads to explore!

OK, I’m out of photographs. I’m going to share one more photograph next week, because it comes with one of my favorite stories of our New Year’s trip. I still have a lot of video to share, but I’m running low on the still images.

Here’s one of me with some grunts and other reef fish in the background. I can minimize my bubbles too!

And this is the saddest site in diving, when you’re back to being just below the surface, and the dive is over.

So, Monday, one fun story, and then a lot more videos in the days to follow.

I suppose I should get back to the Re-Listening project. This is the one where I’m listening to all of my old CDs in the car, in the order in which I acquired them. I’ve been (intermittently) writing about them here to pad things out. These aren’t reviews, because who cares, but usually just memories and excuses to post some music. The problem is, where I am in my collection right now, there aren’t a lot of big, prominent memories attached to any of these.

I was in a burning discs phase, you see. A lot of fairly interesting things were getting slipped into my CD books, but none stayed in the stereo so long that I could tie a lot of experiences to them. This installment sees us in November of 2004. A colleague — who also left the newsroom and returned to a university campus, as a social media manager, where he seems to be doing well for himself — made a copy of U2’s “How to Dismantle An Atomic Bomb” for me. I can’t recall what I made for him in return. Hopefully it was decent. This is decent.

And so there’s the whole album, if you want to hear it. Nothing quite as iconic, perhaps, as their early stuff, but when I listen to it now, it sounds like U2, and that’s never a bad thing.

Except for the catorce in “Vertigo.” You can still roll your eyes at that.

Feb 24

An officially unofficial day

We generally observe today as the anniversary of us being a couple.

It was a friend group, you see. There were about six of us who were all in the same grad school cohort and within the group there were the two of us palling around all the time. Nineteen years ago we were at a small dinner party and playing board games. The next day we were hanging out again and somewhere in there realized that people thought of us as an us. People, in our group and in the larger cohort and some of our professors too, thought of us as a couple within the group. Where there was the one there was the other. So we celebrate today.

Tonight we marked the occasion with a late dinner at an empty local little restaurant. I also commemorated the evening by teaching myself to hand-fold envelopes, in which I put two little love notes.

Last month, of course, we were celebrating under water. It’s amazing how much material I can get out of a few days worth of dives, no? You should see how many of my dive buddy I’ve not included

And I’ve only added a few of my lovely dive buddy’s photos to the collection. Here’s one now, and that’s me in the middle distance!

I love that wide composition. Like it’s just you in the water, all by yourself. It’s a nice feeling, especially since you’re not. There’s a handful of people not too far away, but you spread out, juuuuust enough.

Here’s some young yellow tube sponge growing on this coral covered outcropping.

And I got lucky floating directly over this nice bowl sponge.

Tomorrow, I’ll show you something else I was lucky to see: a giant turtle.

Last night I had class where we talked about the Super Bowl, and the Huxleyan dystopia. The readings and the schedule lines up perfectly. Also I had the chance to make fun of myself and one of the students absolutely nailed the punchline. I should have dismissed class right there. It was perfect.

One element of some of the readings in this particular class is to help create a healthy skepticism of the media around them. So we also talked about Edward Bernays. And then, as a palette cleanser, I offered them astornaut and author, Ron Garan.

On the way out I saw this on a bulletin board.

Imagine that! They’re publicizing their scholars’ work to the student body. Novel concept! I’ll be sure to attend some of those.

Tomorrow, a giant turtle, and more from under the sea. I’ll put some flowers here and we’ll see one of the oldest courthouses in the land. Be sure you’re here for it all!

Feb 24

A former student, the yard and dive photos

I had a lovely chat with a former student today. I had her in a class when she was a freshman and knew her all four years of her time in college and, today, I have the great good fortune to call her a friend. She is, and was, a talented human being. She sat in the back of the classroom, quiet as could be, but she took in everything. Everything.

One of her classmates and friends was loud and over the top and could command and intimidate anyone in a room. She was funny, but Sydney just sat in the back and soaked in everything.

Outside of the classroom she became a staff writer and then a section editor for the campus paper I advised. Her senior year, she was the editor-in-chief of her campus paper. She was also the section editor of two local community papers her senior year. She also carried a 4.0 GPA. She also was honored as one of the top journalists in the south that year. I’m telling you, this woman is talented.

Two years ago now she was on a New York Times team that won a Pulitzer Prize, and if you think I don’t find ways to insert that into conversation you haven’t been paying attention. She’s a book editor and still writes for The Times. Even better than all of that, she does all of these other things. In the last few years she’s taught herself to sew and knit and cross stitch. She has taken up, as an adult and just to try it, aerial gymnastics, and she’s getting quite good at it. She has discovered a green thumb. Late last year she and her husband moved to New England. They are way up there, and enjoying their first real winter.

I was telling her how much I admire all of the things she does. As is typical, I laid it on pretty thick. As is typical, she downplayed everything. She said, “My life is full of more things that bring me satisfaction and make me look forward to the future than I’ve ever had before, and that’s not nothing.”

Something about this young woman, her freshmen year in the back of my class, I knew she’d figure it all out. And now here we are.

There isn’t a term for it, short of the greeting card cliche, but it is so heartening to watch people you like thrive. And to watch them discover the things that make them thrive. Oh! It comes from years of mentally cheering for people daily, and then getting semi-regular dispatches. To see people, who I knew best as students, continue to find ways to learn and challenge themselves well into adulthood, it’s really something.

In my teaching philosophy, I’ve always written that I hope to help teach the value of a true education: the joy of learning.

Best part is, Sydney isn’t the only person I know who has embodied that. Maybe that means I’m on to something. I hope so.

A quick spin through the side yard, just to share some different photos. I got lucky with the light on this shrub, which enjoys a nice golden tint in the late afternoon sun.

This stone path doesn’t go anywhere magical, but it seems like it should, doesn’t it?

We have two-and-a-half stone paths, and one of them does seem like it should go to Narnia. Not this one, though, it just takes you to the utilities. But look! There between the stones!

Is that a periwinkle? An euonymus? Whatever it is, the ground cover is emerging in early February! I am heartened once again!

Maybe I’ll get to the backyard tomorrow.

But, today, we must return to our underwater lair. And if we can’t actually do it, we’ll do it with some photographs from last month. To the deep! And before you do it, I’ve already done. I was humming the opening bars to “Baracuda” at about 65 feet here.

This was our dive master on one of our boats. He was serious until he realized he didn’t have to be. And then he was hysterical. Big laugh. I think his laugh amuses him, too. He reminded me of Carlos Mencia, a little bit. Apparently, in his day job, he’s some sort of underwater welder. So he takes strangers diving as a side hustle.

Imagine that. You get on a boat and that’s where you meet people and, to some degree, you’re kind of responsible for them. Now do that and make great jokes that grizzled vacation veterans haven’t heard before. This is the life of a dive master.

Also, he took this photograph for us.

He was very gracious with his time to do that. We wound up getting quite a few photographs. One day I’ll put that on social media and see if the university will share it. And if they do, this will be a new thing, taking that flag to interesting places and so on.

Also, he wanted to take a photo with the flag, too.

But he never asked what a Rowan was, or what that owl was about. He just wanted a photo, which was cool.

I think I can get about two more weeks of photos out of that trip. And, of course, there are quite a few more videos to upload, too. I may be able to pad this out to spring yet!

Jan 24

Not exactly quotidian, but close

Saturday morning meant a continuation in the granola experiment. This is flavor two of this brand, and also my third granola ever. I believe this one is the basic offering from Bob’s Red Mill. Last week I tried their maple sea salt variety. On its own, it was a bit over-sweet. I tried it with some raisins and that was much better. But, Saturday, and today, I gave this one a shot.

It’s a bit cleaner, a bit simpler. And quite tasty. But it is missing something. And while I’m no taste expert and even less of a granola connoisseur, that might be as precise as I can get.

Today, I put a box of raisins — the generic store brand of raisins, which is always the preferred dried grape — in the bowl. And today, this tasted like a favorite cereal of my youth.

Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins was introduced in the late seventies. It found its way in our cereal cabinet, the low one to the left of the oven, alongside the Froot Loops and Cookie Crisp and Rice Krispies and Apple Jacks. Only one of those I ate so much of I can’t consider eating today. It seemed like Apple Jacks got stuck on the grocery list every day. But despite all of those hyper cereals, Crispy Wheats ‘n Raisins was the best. Sales plummeted somewhere near the turn of the century and General Mills discontinued the brand. But it was good stuff, and definitely the best raisin-based cereal. This bowl this morning is the closest thing I’ve had to that taste. I’ll have to remember this combination.

Phoebe likes it too. She’s in danger of ruining her good girl reputation with her aggression for milk. She’ll sit and stare and if you get distracted by things like putting the milk cartoon back in the refrigerator, she’s over in a flash.

You’ll note that she’s not on the countertop, which is against the rules. She’s on the box which is on the countertop. We don’t have a rule against that.

And when she gets down, Poseidon is ready for his shift.

Buncha jailhouse lawyer cats around here.

Poe is much better about milk. It’s one of the few times when he isn’t an active bother. When I’m done, I’ll give Phoebe a tiny bit. Poseidon sits patiently and watches. This is the only time he will allow her to do a thing when he doesn’t insert himself. I’ll give him a tiny little sip of what’s left, just so he can have a taste. But not too much.

This big bad cat can’t handle his milk.

This weekend I finished Studs Terkel’s Hard Times. It’s an oral history of The Great Depression, with interviews all conducted in the late 1960s. Terkel worked for the WPA’s Federal Writers Project during the depression, particularly in radio. He spent a significant part of his career keeping the craft of oral history alive. A few decades after this book, he would win the Pulitzer Prize for another oral history series. That book is in my queue, as well. But, today, The Great Depression!

He traveled all over the country talking to people from all different walks of life, and different generations, about life in the 30s. And some of these stories are tough, but just as many of them are comically funny. I don’t think any one anecdote can explain the time to the rest of us, but it’s pretty obvious that one person’s experiences can inform us about them. And so, in this book, you get dozens and dozens and dozens of people’s experiences.

In this collection, at least, I think you can group people into one of three broad categories. You had people who lost everything, of course. And some of them learned to survive, and some learned how to thrive. Among them, you’d see people have a wide array of reactions to what the U.S. government did, or didn’t, do to solve the problems of the day. Among them, you find a certain group of people, particularly those that were young and previously of some means, that had a eye-opening experience when their parents lost it all.

In the second, smaller group, you’ve got people who weren’t directly impacted by the depression, or at least, a generation later, wouldn’t admit to anything of the sort. Throughout, people talk about how people who lost everything reacted, how they felt it was a personal failure, how that informed everything about them for a time, if not forever. But in this second group, you would have some people who weren’t touched by the Depression. People who thought others who were down on their luck deserved to be there. Or they just didn’t see it at all. No soup lines in my town, no apple sellers on my corner, this sort of thing. No direct exposure makes denial that much easier. And this second group would be people full of people in this general condition.

The third group of people would be the youth. The children of people who experienced The Depression. Teens and twenty-somethings in the 1960s. Unless Terkel was cherry picking, these young people were almost entirely ignorant of the Depression. At best, you’re left with the impression that people didn’t want their kids to know about their struggles. And sometimes bliss looks dumb.

Last night I started a new book, something I picked up for the Kindle. It starts with the death of Terry Tempest Williams’ mother. And it grows from there.

Mother tells the daughter that all of her journals are hers, but don’t read them until she’s gone. And soon after, she dies. Later, the daughter feels ready to look in those journals. They’re all neatly arranged, waiting. They’re all empty. And, from this, the author has put together 53 other essays on womanhood, memorializing her mother, musing on her faith and filling the empty places.

It’s lyrical in its own way, and it feels like a journal. I’ll probably be through it in a few sittings. I didn’t really know what I was getting into with this one. The title and the blurb were intriguing, good reviews on Amazon and sometimes that’s how you uncover something you wouldn’t otherwise happen upon. It’s a fast read, When Women Were Birds. I bet, by the end, the already accomplished writer will find her true voice.

And if you don’t want to read, we can always go diving. Let’s go!

Here are a few more shots from our recent trip to Cozumel. Here’s one of me. My dive buddy took this one.

I think it’ll eventually wind up as one of the rotating banners here on the blog.

And if you think that a photo of me means I’m running out of other fish of the sea, nope.

In this one we have three or four different species, including grunts and a stoplight parrotfish and an angelfish.

Also, the classic pufferfish flyover.

But, for my money, this is still the best fish in the sea.

Tomorrow, more underwater scenes, something on the bike and something about campus — where I must go to right now — ya know, the usual Tuesday stuff.