Thursday, May 6, 2010

Beyond the Abrasive Edge

The unmistakable percussion of David Groll opens Nirvana’s You Know You’re Right as I slide my Toyota onto the highway, headed south. Outside, an epic spring storm blankets the Northwest in snow. My eyes tire in minutes trying to decipher the contrast of white on white, negotiating the roads that have left big rigs jack-knifed, Dodge Caravans abandoned and so many other autos in various states of deserted disrepair.

Outside Mt. Shasta the snows give way to rain, a pelting Cain & Able kind of rain. I slow down to take a photograph. I’m not using and controlling all the tools necessary - the f-stop, the aperature, the film speed, and thus taking, not making the photo. I’d much rather do the latter, though circumstance does not allow for making, only taking. Sometimes all you can do is put the fancy camera with all its complex programmed settings on autopilot and steal a snapshot here or there.

I pass by Monterey and do not slow down. But I can’t help thinking of what John Steinbeck wrote about it. “Cannery Row in Monterey in California is a poem, a stink, a grating noise, a quality of light, a tone, a habit, a nostalgia, a dream. Cannery Row is the gathered and scattered, tin and iron and rust and splintered wood, chipped pavement and weedy lots and junk heaps, sardine canneries of corrugated iron, honky tonks, restaurants and whore houses, and little crowded groceries, and laboratories and flophouses.” It makes me want to stop. I tell myself I will on the drive back north. I know way will lead onto way and I’ll feel the pull of the road to race on home in a week’s time. So long Monterey Bay. I missed that turn, I missed that chance. Now is not the time for regrets.

With the morning light, I stop off in Salinas, “Lettuce Capitol of the World.” I stop. At a roadside farm to buy a bundle of Swiss Chard. I also pick up some white orchids. Peeling out and onto the highway, I put on the White Stripes. The first song to play? Blue Orchid.
You’re given a flower / But I guess there’s no pleasing you / You took a white orchid, turned it blue

The miles click by until at last the Pacific comes into view. I stop, walk down to the water’s edge, jump in, feel its ebb and flow. I half notice a group of fisherman wading out. I begin to think of my grandfather and about character. I think of how he made his flies, not from following the directions in some book, but by personal experience, trial and error, the testing of his assumptions. I can see him casting his spey rod into the willows, softly telling me that it’s not fly fishing if you aren’t looking for answers to questions.

At the same time, I can see him telling me, “Look, you trained like a man possessed. You went up against the best. You laid it on the line, quite literally. And it wasn’t good enough. But that doesn’t mean it wasn’t good. One day it will be more than just good and you will be all the better for all of this. Just as you can win and not succeed at all, you can lose without failing. And to all those naysayers, giving up on you now? They were never there to help you in the first place.

“I know this is a time of self-reflection and performance assessment. But you know that Teddy Roosevelt speech you love so much? You know the one about how it’s not the critics who count? Its the man in the arena, the one covered in dust and mud, the one who strives valiantly, who errs and comes up again and again, but who, in the end, knows the triumph of high achievement? That critic - the toughest, most ruthless one, the only critic who really matters in the end - is the internal one. You’ve ridden the ups-and-downs of three consecutive Games and I know the following act does not come easy: be gentle with yourself – at least for a little bit.”

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