06 December 2007

John Wesley Powell I am Not, But Still...

Get this: if you're a boater-- I mean a real boater, not someone who hires raft guides-- it's next to impossible to get on the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon. To do it, you have to get a permit from the National Park Service- and the vast majority of permits go to the commercial outfitters, which charge thousands of bucks for the 15-day trip. The demand for the remaining "private boater" permits is so huge that the park service can charge applicants $25 just to have the chance to enter the lottery in hopes that they MIGHT get a permit that year.

I've never gotten a permit. Until yesterday. (That sound you heard was all my kayaking buddies scrambling for the cellphones to see if I might have space for one more. Of course I do. It's a full permit.)

It's a terrific opportunity, of course. A once-in-a-lifetime deal. And considering the academic work I'm doing on Powell's journals, it's right in line with my studies as well.

But here's the problem: I got the permit in the secondary lottery, which raffles off the slots that others have canceled on. I have to tell the park service by Dec. 10 if I want my launch date-- which entails dropping a deposit of $400. And the launch date is Jan. 14.

The first day of class for the spring semester at LSU.

I've committed to teach World Lit (1650-present) in the spring. (Not exciting to everyone, I know, but I'm pretty psyched about it. My syllabus rocks, if I do say so myself-- devised over a pious beer or two with my buddy Tom, who is teaching a section of the same course for the English department.) So, yes, I could beg someone (most likely Tom) to cover my class for the first two weeks-- after all the first week is just adding and dropping-- and MLK day accounts for one of the classes, so I wouldn't be missing much.

I could do this. Maybe. It would be kind of a rush and a stretch, but I could do it.

Except that the first couple of classes are crucial for setting the tone for the rest of the semester. And if I bail on the first two weeks, it's not a great way to get started. It's not exactly a display of commitment to my current line of work. My track record for making any kind of commitment at all over the past five years or so has not been so hot. I'd like to remedy that when I can.

Except that it's the GRAND CANYON. And just this once. Maybe. My department chair/committee chair (also a bit of an outdoor devotee) said he would understand...

I hate when "outdoor guy Richmond" decides to tangle with "academic guy Richmond." I like both of those guys and want them to get along. (And besides, Academic Richmond is kind of a wuss...)

So I have three days or so to figure this out and get a team together.

That's if I go.

If I don't, back into the lottery I go, to wait for another chance.

And wait.

And wait.

And wait.

20 April 2007

Steady Now

In June of 2005 I was in the Salt Lake City airport en route to a summer guiding job in Wyoming. Out of some odd impulse, I picked up The New Yorker. It was odd, in that I tend to stay away from The New Yorker. Whenever I have had a subscription, the issues pile up and keep coming until they form a paper testament to everything I will never accomplish in my life-- chief among them, keeping up with the damn New Yorker.

So I stay away from it. In general. Except for that time. That time I found a poem in it by Eamon Grennan. I liked the poem so much I tore out the little corner it ran on, folded it up into quadrants, and jammed it into the handy pocket in the back of the Moleskine notebook I use as journal and wallet.

I carried it around all summer, vaguely aware it was there. Then I found it again one morning in early September 2005, when I was exhausted and sad about what had happenen to my city and to my friends and family and neighbors.

I saw the words differently then. But I still thought it was a good poem. And reading it this morning, I still think it's a very good poem. So here it is.
Steady Now

Although things vanish, are what mark our vanishing,
we still hold on to them-ballast against the updraft
of oblivion-as I hold on to this umbrella in a world of rain,

of heavy wet greens and grays dissolving into a new
atmosphere, a sort of underwater dulled electric glow
off everything, the air itself drowning in it, breath

thickening, growing mold. Yesterday I felt the smell
of grass greeting me as across a great distance, trying
to tell me some good thing in an underglaze of memory,

some forgotten summer trying to speak its piece. It is
the way of things and it never stops, never calls a halt-
this knocking and dismantling, this uprooting, cutting out

and digging down, so tall oaks and honey locusts are
laid low and drop to earth like felled cattle, shaking
the ground we've taken a stand on as if it were a steady

establishment, a rock of ages to outface ruin itself, not
the provisional slippery dissolving dissolute thing it is-
which we have against all evidence set our hearts on.