Death Valley: What’s Grandma Doing at the Dunes?

“Looks like there’s a lot you don’t know about her” is Uncle Rico’s reply to Napoleon Dynamite’s query upon finding out his grandmother had broken her coccyx whilst four-wheeling at the dunes. IMG_8969

For those of you whose only interaction with sand dunes is watching movies like Lawrence of Arabia I can now testify that what I always thought were actors trying to look heat exhausted and parched, isn’t acting at all. It is simply humans trying to walk up small mountains of sand that do everything in their power to imitate the experience of walking up the down escalator. What looks like heat exhaustion and thirst experienced by those lost for days in the Sahara is just as easily thigh burning frustration that ramps up to miserable in less than two minutes.IMG_8972

Miserable is too strong of a word, I was being dramatic. Really the dunes are beautiful (not being dramatic) and my biggest regrets are that 1. we shared the experience with hoards of other tourists, and 2. We didn’t bring a snowboard or some other device with which we could slide down the dunes, rewarding ourselves with fun for the effort it takes to scale a sand dune.IMG_9023

While crowds can be a nuisance when looking for desolation, they can also provide entertainment in the middle of what would otherwise be solitude (boredom). We saw numerous photo shoots in progress, mostly of girls in formal dresses and guys in tuxedos, and we saw this guy. This guy and his eagle were brought in as a prop for one of said formal gown wearing women photo sessions… because a sparkly dress in the middle of Death Valley really needs an eagle to make it interesting.IMG_8990 (5)

I do have to admit the eagle was pretty cool. Owning an eagle is akin to owning a tiger, just a little bit more American.IMG_9014 (7)

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Why Wouldn’t I want a Tomahawk?

Not just any sort of tomahawk and definitely not one of those modern “tactical” tomahawks. I want a northern plains or as it is called in this case, a Sioux pipe axe.____8909144

I have wanted one since I was a kid. Yes, since I was somewhere around five years old I wanted that hawk with the pipe bowl on the poll, preferably with a weeping heart cut out of the blade. I have wanted one since I was five which is when I most likely first saw one.

Single_Tomahawk_230937

I was and am no stranger to tomahawks. These early American weapon/tools were strangely enough a regular part of my youth. I had a regular throwing hawk and could regularly stick a bulls eye from 8 paces. Always 8 paces. I tried 12 once but you have to really throw it from that far whereas at 8 paces you just sort of set the thing in rotation and the weight of the axe head does all the work. I always had access to a throwing hawk, but I never got one of those fancy ones.

I don’t throw those sorts of things much these days. About the only thing I might throw would be a disc in my lower back, but none-the-less I want that stylish weapon for the wall of the study I will one day have. On a peg toward the corner will hang a long barreled flintlock with a possibles bag and powder horn slung over the stalk. hanging from the sash of the bag will be that beautiful colonial era styled pipe tomahawk.

And then if I want to upgrade to whole other level, I’ll lean one of these bad boys in the corner.

Iowa_gunstock_club_NE_1800

Why is it that horrible tools of war and gore can be so stylistically designed? Man, of which I am one, are strange animals indeed.

 

Mancation: It All Ends in Newport

They had never been to Newport. So we went.preston on rocks

We drove down America’s Cup Avenue looking out at the marina and the rows of shops. We went down Bellevue past the Breakers, Elms, and the Marble house. We took the road  till it ended and looked for a place to park. There are no places to park. We parked anyways.

Newport is salty aired luxury. Money with a splash of sea-foam. It is beautiful. Gilded, but beautiful. We climbed over the rocks with waves in front of us and mansions behind us, and we did… nothing.beard on rocks

Kaleo and I sat in this metaphor, adventure before us, wealth, responsibility and stability behind us, and we waver in between with no parking. This is what we do. We flirt with risk, dip our feet in the water, but cannot abandon the safety of the shore. We cannot inhabit the mansion, we not only can’t afford it but we have no idea who owns it. So we scamper about the lawn peaking in windows and talking to the grounds crew. We will likely never gain entry, and I think in some way we are fine with that. Envy is so much easier than ambition and we have convinced ourselves that the salt of the earth tends to lose its savor when placed on the top shelf. kaleo manshion

But not Preston. Preston scampered over rocks like he had a plan. He has always had a plan and in so doing he will soon not need a parking space because he will have a garage. Kaleo and I will one day trespass his property and he will allow it. We will all be fine with this.

We had forgotten breakfast. It was our last day and we had still not finished off our cooler full of bacon. We set up shop by the old fort, cooking bacon while the holiday crowd launched their boats. Kaleo and I sat, eating greasy things, looking stoic. We are good at looking stoic. This fog of thought and sleep was interrupted by a pasty streak that came shooting from behind the car, over the rocks, and into the water with a splash.preston with boats

Preston’s head came back up for air, and quickly the rest of him clamored over to hug a rock. His chest was bright red and he gasped with only marginal success for air. “C… huuuh… O.. huuuu… L…. huuuu… D!

Kaleo and I watched him soggily gasp for air, looked at each other, and we both sighed in disappointment.

I did not feel like swimming. I am a grown man who makes his own decisions. No one was telling me to do anything. No one had spoken a single syllable and here I was, Kaleo too, grumpily digging our trunks out of our bags. We are those special kinds of idiots called men. Preston knew what he was doing when he dove in the water. He threw down the gauntlet without warning and we had no choice.

Why did we have no choice? I have no idea. Like I said, we are idiots. Happy idiots.eating

Cold water challenges are great for the soul. We were all happy as we attempted to dry off and clean up the scraps of our breakfast. Nothing kills happiness like a ten year old.

“So have you guys been swimming?” the pudgy little guy asked as he walked past us, snorkel and mask in hand.

“We jumped in. It’s cold but we are manly.”

“I don’t mind cold. If you want something even mannisher… manner… manliest, there is a hole in the middle of the bay that no one has found the bottom of. My dad dove in it. That’s our boat over there.”

With that our manliness was trumped by a ten year old with a yacht.

How fitting.

Maple Seltzer
Maple Seltzer

Smelling a bit like a salty camp fire we sat in the car and drove south. Back toward the Bronx, the turnpike, and on to home. The conversation was mostly exhausted, we were tired, but mostly we were happy.

Above all else, happy.

On Fatherhood: Miracles

 

Let me first state that the first order of good fatherhood, and the only one on which I can claim expertise, is finding and keeping the best woman possible. In my experience this is best achieved through dumb luck, hard work, and a belief in miracles. You see, fatherhood is a series of miracles.

The first miracle of fatherhood happened in my life when my wife agreed to marry me. There is no real explanation for how or why this happened, but I can testify that it did.times square

I realized the second miracle approximately three months after the birth of my first child. It was late one evening, I was holding this small person in my arms, looking into her deep brown eyes, and I realized that this child was in fact, alive. It was true. I watched as she breathed in, then out, then in again. She spit up on my shirt. She was definitely still alive; a miracle.

This was not the miracle I expected.swingy

The child was very expected. Say what you will, it is very hard for the birth of a child to sneak up on anyone. We had two years of time to become a good team, then nine months of incubation, all followed by a very dramatic episode that resulted in a very small, very alive, little girl. Thousands of years and billions of births came before us, so none of these things were unexpected. These were very natural, very intentional, very, yes, expected. They were also very external.

The miracle I did not expect was so unexpected, and here is the strange part, that it never actually happened. That is right. The unexpected miracle was realized when the miracle I did expect didn’t happen.

Sitting there, looking at this beautiful little life, I realized I was still just me. I wasn’t different. Inside I still felt like I did three months, nine months, Two years ago. I did not feel more loving, think I was any smarter, no cosmic shift, I was still me. Just-me.

And after three months, she was still alive.

A miracle. workthebag2

That was nine years and another kid ago. The miracles keep coming.

Watching kid number one at the bar in ballet class I see an unmistakable, undeniable grace. Her mother, despite being the best woman I should have never caught, does not have that grace, and I am still just me. Watching kid number two sit on the naughty step after throwing a shoe, I see a sort of bravery, the sort that looks a person ten times her size directly, unflinchingly, in the eye. She does not cringe, she does not shrink; she is absolutely not me. But I am still me.

That is the unexpected miracle.

After all these years I still feel like me and they are not just OK, they are great.

Now sure, I have changed, I have grown, but nothing miraculous. It has all been very labored, very progressive. A natural growth that comes from repetitive actions and climatization. Remember miracle number one?IMG_0604

A large part of what makes her great is that she does not do everything. Parenting is meant to be a team sport and she is the John Stockton of motherhood. She can shoot just fine but she is great at passing. Thanks to her ability I can change any diaper at any time. I know all the words to Good Night Gorilla, can make a pony tail, and have an arguably miraculous ability to leave the house five minutes late for school yet still drop the kids off ten minutes early. All the while I am still just me and she knows it.

That is the miracle of fatherhood.

We are not granted magical powers. We do not rise in esteem through our skill or our innate qualities. We are not transformed from without, nor do we experience this huge flash from within. Most of the time I experience a sort of nothing. A sameness. Normality.

But if I try. If I show up and then show up again. I get to see miracles.

Not some form of super me. Just me.

And still; miracles.IMG_6732

Mancation: Lake Carmi

My phone thought we were in Canada. I got that warning text that any placed calls would be expensive, so I turned the phone off.IMG_5642

When we met up with Eric he came bounding through the rain to the car and with his ever present grin asked, “you guys are sure you want me to bring the boat?”

Yes.mate eric

He shrugged in agreement, grinned, and bounded back to his car. That is what Eric does. He grins and bounds, and on this occasion he towed his boat to Lake Carmi on our behalf.

This was all Eric’s doing, The lake, the lean-to, the boat, and the grin. The rain was not his doing.

As is required in any camp, a fire is the first order. I’m not sure why. We didn’t need it to cook, we would not freeze without it, and it was raining. None the less we held a tarp over the fire pit, built a log cabin, and Eric handed me a box of matches reminding me that as an eagle scout I only get one match. It took me two.steak and apples

Kaleo lit the propane stove with one match.

From our store he pulled five pounds of butcher cut tri-tip, a roll of fresh mozzarella, and a bag of apples. I produced a bottle of home brewed mint-lime soda. Soaking wet, smelling like camp fire, we ate like kings.

We slept like peasants.sleepin leanto

Maritime adventurers, professional fisherman, and fools will all launch a boat in a downpour. After a good breakfast of bacon and eggs, we honored our position as fools. We land lubbers marveled as Eric bounded from shore to dock and from dock to boat. Following his lead we lubbed from shore to dock and stumbled from dock to boat.boating preston kaleo

We zoomed about a bit, played around a little, then decided on a spot to settle and cut the engine. Mr. were-bear and I set up shop in the back and broke out the bottle of craft soda, Eric and Preston prepared to fish. We of course failed to pack fishing gear, but Eric and his grin were prepared to provide. He pulled from the deck a rod for himself, and ever the gentleman, handed a Lightning McQueen children’s fishing pole to Preston. The good Dr. Preston caught Eric’s grin like the flu, and cast his hook into the deep.boating preston fishing

Grins were all they caught.

Without fish but with frozen fingers, we eventually loaded the boat back on the trailer. Camp was broken and the four of us looked at each other blankly. “Now what?”

Ben & Jerry’s? Maple syrup farm? Apple cider factory? We were unsure and decided to first go drop off the boat at Eric’s house then just pick a road and figure it out.

We unhooked the trailer and Eric stuck his head in the door as a curtesy to his wife and kids. As is the eternal law of fathers seeking adventure, as soon as Eric poked his head in the house, one of his three children threw up on the floor. His wife encouraged him to get in the car with the mancation crew, but as is the eternal law of GOOD fathers, Eric just grinned, looked over at us, and sent us on our way without him.IMG_5823

The three of us back in the car again, looked at a clock for the first time that day.

8:30 am.

Mancation: Center for Furniture Craftsmanship

Kaleo took control of the GPS and started barking out directions. The man now had purpose. We had a destination.

The Center for Furniture Craftsmanship in Rockport Maine.school

We parked in a dirt lot and walked a gravel path and into a manicured collection of cabin like buildings.

The place appeared well cared for but deserted. The door was open but the lights were off. We went into a gallery filled with wooden works of art and started nosing around. It did not take long before a well dressed woman to welcome us and inquire as to our intentions.school display

Kaleo dropped two names and she pretty much handed us the keys to place.

Again, well done were-bear.

We wandered in and out of workshops and class rooms. Chairs half made and projects half done were littered about. Students and craftsmen nodded hello as we made our inspection. school chairsWe stopped and chatted with some.

Kaleo studied furniture design at a similar school in Tasmania. These folks here in Maine knew his folks over in Australia. Small furniture world I guess. school talkingSo small that our unplanned arrival caused us to just miss one of Kaleo’s old instructors. He had just dropped off a new piece for an upcoming show. A piece that had not yet been revealed to the public.

When we finished our rounds the well dressed woman fetched a set of keys and led us to the back of the main building. She opened the cellar and led us underground for a sneak peek. school going underUnder a blanket in a basement that looks very much like my own (messy), she pulled a blanket off a wood crafted octopus/spider that doubles as a desk.school spider desk

Kaleo touched the tentacles, pulled out the drawers, inspected the joints. Preston and I just watched Kaleo as he looked.

 school iphone

Sufficiently impressed we remounted our ride and readied for the next locale. “How long doe sit take to get to Eric’s over in Vermont?”

“Six hours.”

“We better get going.”

Mancation: Leather Head Sports

Kaleo called shotgun, climbed in and said, “My five year old told all our neighbors I’m going on a bro-trip.” We agreed that was a good moniker but we were sticking to “mancation”.

It was getting much later than we had planned, and against my own rules, the first stop was actually planned.

“I told Paul we would be up there maybe around ten, we gotta get moving.”leatherhead sewing

Around noon we pulled into a gravel parking lot and parked next to a tractor. We knew we had the right address but there was no sign, no awning, just a red brick garage and a craggy old man dragging something toward a dumpster. He told us we would find Paul inside and upstairs.

Paul makes footballs.leatherhead multi balls

He likes the idea that people will go have a catch, maybe kick the ball around, but really, mostly these footballs end up on bookshelves and in trophy cases.

He makes some in zebra stripes, some in chrome, all sorts of ways. But it isn’t just footballs. He also does medicine balls, old school basketballs, medicine balls, and these old fashioned baseballs he dubbed the “Lemon Ball”. But really, the draw isn’t really the sporting equipment. In no small way, the draw is Paul.

Paul once had one of those dream jobs. Maybe not a dream job exactly, but more the sort of job that is sidled up right next to the dream. He was a photo editor for Major League Baseball. He worked for the League! Sure he wasn’t throwing out pitches or swinging for the bleachers, but he was in the building. A reasonable man would be content.

But what does reason have to do with baseball?

Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.
Leather Head Rugby ball at the Brohammas.com headquarters.

One day Kevin Costner and James Earl Jones pulled up to Paul’s office in an old VW bus and asked him to join them in Iowa. Not really, but after talking with Paul for a couple hours you get the feeling his is a byline in the Field of Dreams story line that you might find in the special features directors cut. It has that sort of romance.

Paul left MLB to work with a company that made baseball mitts. He wasn’t making the mitts, just advising those that did. Still not satisfied watching, or standing next to those doing something tangible, Paul left again; to make footballs.

Not advise those that make footballs, not to take pictures of footballs, but make them. With his own hands… and a sewing machine.IMG_5213

Walking into Leather Head Sports is a bit like stepping into the equipment room of an old movie. There are boxes full of balls, bats leaning up against the walls, and stacks of dye cut leather strips waiting to be sewn into treasures. Paul straps on a denim apron, sits down at a workstation, picks up a hammer, and starts pounding on a stack of something that will soon be a football. As he snips thread, cuts edges and works, we get him talking. He talks about why he does what he does, talks about the ridiculous things people ask to get monogrammed on the balls, and all the while his employees stand around impatiently trying to get some business done. They look maybe a little bit annoyed, they are trying to run a business, but you can’t get too upset when watching your boss do something he obviously loves.

He isn’t the only one who loves it.

An online search of Leatherhead sports will turn up feature after feature on Paul’s products. Guys are eating this stuff up. When we visited the shop he was busy sewing up a run of special edition balls for Urban Daddy, a website that specializes in keeping men up to date on whatever is the newest and the coolest thing around. Leatherhead balls are the coolest. He has been featured or contracted by USA Basketball, an Oscar winning movie (Silver Linings Playbook), the Wall St. Journal, Fox Business Report, Men’s Journal, and on, and on.threads

It’s not almost like, but exactly like, some voice whispered “If you build it, they will come.”

And we did.

And Paul, who has been featured by the who’s who of everything, took way too much time to host three vagabonds in his shop.

Mancation: Inception

I think maybe it was the phone calls.

I get a lot of phone calls but there are these certain types that after I hang up I just sort of stare off into space for a while. In my role in church I get told things that I then have to keep. I don’t get to talk about them, its kind of like confession. So I just sit there and stare while the phone call sinks into my soul like lead. I started getting a lot of those calls.worn out

“You should call your friends and go on a trip.”

I can’t really raise one eyebrow, but if I could, I would have.

We talked. I listened. No; I think I complained and she listened. It was decided I needed a vacation.

How does one vacation? No. Wrong way to think about this. What do I want to do? Right. Thats a better way to go about it. As I sit and think I am annoyed with the need to think and plan. Thinking and planning is what I need a vacation from. Forget it. Forget planning. I’m not planning this.

I sent a text to the guys. They were in, but they weren’t going to plan it either.

I soon realized that to travel without planning I would still need to plan a little. I emailed out a spreadsheet with the supply list: tent, cooler, a canoe, ya know, just the basics. Off to one side was a list of possible destinations: Leatherheads workshop, cheese farm, Root Soda bottling plant, somewhere up north not near anyone, just the basics. Then, up top, I wrote out some ground rules:

No internet

No hotel/motel

No more than one purchased meal per day and only if it is specific to location (ie Maine lobster)

If we come upon a natural body of water 3+ feet deep, we must swim

If any of us almost die Dr. Chadwick must save them

And that was it.load up

Early Thursday morning I drove over the bridge to the Dr.s house and shortly thereafter the were-bear (half man half bear) arrived. kaleo taking pictures

The Kala Beverages boys were back together. We loaded up the rented Xterra and pointed north.