Tuesday, August 28, 2012


Their voices were a broken record, spouting the same lyrics day after day.




Andy wove his way through a jungle of legs and feet, his view of the bustling hallway. From his bowed state, looking straight ahead would be like an upright person watching the sky all day.

He frowned at the sight of his locker. After four months he expected it, but could never get used to it. A single word shouted at him in fat, black letters: FREAK. His heart hurt for them, his persecutors. With such potential to do good, why choose cruelty? He opened the locker and a dozen small copies of the Hunchback of Notre Dame movie poster fell to the floor, mocking the hump covering his back. He dropped the flyers in the bin on his way to class.






“Prethent.” He heard the kids around him chuckle. Along with the hunched back, a strong lisp never ceased to bring amusement to his peers. A hint of a smirk crossed the teacher’s face as he called roll.

Sitting two rows back, Allison felt sorry for him, but would never admit she was glad he moved to the school. She was overweight, had buck teeth and hair that couldn’t be tamed. All her life, she had been a target.

Four months ago, Allison decided to kill herself. That same day, Andy started school. Her tormentors ignored her from the moment he walked through the door. Classmates that were hesitant to befriend her in the past, for fear of being ridiculed, started talking to her. Now she had friends, people she sat with at lunch and went out with on the weekends. She was happy.

Andy saw Allison grow from the quiet introvert to the girl who walked with friends in the hallway and kept a perpetual smile. Despite the torture he endured, she warmed his soul.

Today was special. School let out and three hours and miles of trails later, Andy entered a clearing. He crossed it and stopped inches from a two hundred foot drop. Pebbles skittered off the precipice and into the open air before falling to the rocks below.

He stepped to the edge, closed his eyes, and took a deep breath before standing to his full height, just short of six feet, and rolled his neck and his shoulders—they got stiff bending over all day. He let the jacket slide from his shoulders and fall to the ground and stretched his brilliant, white wings to their full length, more than fifteen feet and stiff from being tucked in tight so long. His muscles stood out under his tight shirt, with a large hole cut into the back, as he flexed and twisted, loosening up.

Eyes closed, wings tucked, Andy leapt from the cliff in a swan dive, falling a hundred feet before catching himself. His powerful wings beat the air as he flew towards the horizon, a silhouette against the sun. 

Saturday, August 25, 2012

Appreciating Every Moment

When I was in high school, I went through a rough stretch in which I remember my mother once saying that for me, good luck was simply the absence of bad things happening. Things have changed a bit since then and now I’m one of the luckiest men in the world. I have a wonderful wife and a beautiful, healthy baby girl. Norah Grace had a tough start, an account of which I opened this blog with. I thought I knew how lucky I was but, just in case I had any doubts, two months after my daughter’s birth the universe felt the need to remind me.

I remember the exact day I brought a cold home. Two boys had been acting up at school and I, the most convenient yes-man, ended up with both of them in my office while their classes sat through an assembly. One boy was being a pain, doing everything he could to get a laugh from the other and a rise out of me. The other boy, however, mostly just sat in his chair. The one exception, though, was when he got up to get a tissue. He got up a lot. By the time they left, my tissue box was empty and his sneezes contaminated the air with germs.

Had I known then what I do now, I would have spent the night at a hotel, washing my entire body with antibacterial soap and tossing my clothes in the trash. Instead, I brought his cold home.

It started with small sneezes and coughs, things that could have been mistaken for allergies. We brought Norah Grace to the doctor anyway, who said she had a cold. He told us to give her cough medicine. The next day, things were worse. We could hear some fluid in her lungs, now, and brought her to a second doctor who also told us she just had a cold and gave us a different cough medicine. Luckily, our city keeps an updated calendar online of all the pediatricians and when they take turns being open on the weekends. It is an amazing service. That night, I propped up Norah’s bed with books so she could sleep at an angle, which made it easier for her to breathe. She coughed less. I spent a long time holding her in the bathroom, a hot shower filling the room with steam. She breathed easier.

The next morning, a Sunday, I held Norah Grace in the bathroom once more and her coughing eased but I heard wheezing coming from her lungs. I left the bathroom and spoke to Amy about going to the doctor once more. In the middle of our conversation, Norah began to cough and ended up vomiting the entire contents of her stomach in one solid stream, like nothing we had ever seen happen. We dropped everything, cleaned the mess (I changed my clothes) and left for the doctor.

We didn’t wait long for the doctor, a woman who spoke very little English, to see us. She listened to Norah Grace’s lungs as best she could, for Norah was screaming and squirming. She told us our baby could have pneumonia and needed to go straight to the hospital, where she would probably spend a few days in intensive care. She asked us if we had a car and we told her no, so she called an ambulance. We waited what seemed like an eternity. I held Norah Grace in my arms and paced. She looked at me, screaming like she never had before, with eyes that said “When I cry you fix what’s wrong. Why won’t you help me?” She cried her first tears in that office and I cried with her.

The ambulance took an eternity to reach us and yet another to get to the hospital. There was no way to strap a baby in, so I held her the entire time while Amy took public transportation to meet us there. Norah fell asleep against my chest and I leaned in close every few minutes to make sure she was still breathing.

At the hospital, the doctor told me she didn’t need to go to intensive care, that she didn’t have pneumonia. She was diagnosed with acute bronchitis and shortness of breath and was taken to the pediatric wing, where she was put on oxygen and given an IV through her scalp. For days, she would not take a bottle, nor could she keep it down when she did finally drink. She stayed like this for days, struggling to breathe, arching her back in the attempt to get enough air into her little lungs. She was lethargic and our bubbly little girl went days without smiling. I slept in her hospital room nearly every night for a week, rocking her to sleep each evening and singing to her when she cried. I left the hospital every day with tears in my eyes, hoping with all my heart for her to get better. 

She had a virus, so there was nothing to do but treat the symptoms and hope for the best. Norah was given breathing treatments every four hours round the clock. She had cough medicine regularly and a physical therapist came by every day to loosen up the mucous in her lungs and help her breathe easier. Norah enjoyed the daily massage and the therapist told her she was sunshine on a cloudy day.

We had some scares, like when her temperature got high enough for the doctor to rush into the room in the middle of the night (the only night Amy slept there--she was sick all week, too) or when her oxygen absorption level dropped low enough to have us all worried.  Slowly but surely, her strength returned. Her coughing lessened and her breathing became smoother. Her energy came back and she smiled again.

With Norah being sick, plus having…interesting…roommates (that’s a whole other story), the week took a long time to pass. We had help, however, in the form of wonderful friends who filled our refrigerator and counter space with food ready to be warmed up and walked our dogs when we couldn’t.

Norah Grace was finally deemed healthy enough to head home the same morning her grandparents arrived in Leipzig. Meeting their first grandchild in the hospital two and a half months after her birth was not how we had planned it. But at least they got to meet her, especially now that she was on the up-and-up.

She came home that morning with an inhaler to continue her breathing treatments and an antibiotic to fight an infection she picked up. In time, I took away the books that had propped up her bed. She had a snotty nose for months but that, too, came to pass.

Last night Norah Grace and I spent an hour in the park, nearly all the way to her bed time. We played on a blanket together and she alternated between watching her border collie run around the field and pulling up grass by the roots, getting dirt under her fingernails. She laughed every time her puppy dog sprinted past after a stick. I treasure every one of those moments and hope she never stops enjoying spending time with her dad.

I love how excited she gets when she sees me and the funny faces she makes to make me laugh. I love how much she laughs when I tickle her and how excited she gets when she sees me, even if it’s only been after her hour-long nap. I love how much she smiles and how determined she is to be best friends with the dogs. She never ceases to astound me with something new, whether it’s figuring out how to go forwards with her walker or learning to stand holding on to something without any support from us. I am amazed every day by this little girl.

Most of all, I love that her lungs are strong, that she’s a happy, healthy baby girl. 

Friday, August 24, 2012

Khufu's Revenge, part I

          The secret is out: I live vicariously through Indiana Jones. Adventures that involve beating booby traps, discovering long-lost treasure, fighting bad guys, and saving the day (not to mention surviving to tell the tale) sounds like my kind of school break.  Thus, fantasy and reality kind of ran parallel last spring when I visited the great pyramid of Giza, the last remaining wonder of the ancient world. 

Part of the story is what I actually saw and the other is how it was playing out in my mind. I imagine it will be pretty obvious which is which.

I entered the pyramid through the Thieves’ Tunnel (so named because it was made by people burrowing into the pyramid to steal what was inside) and, despite the crowds of photo-snapping tourists outside, I was alone. The rough tunnel ended when it intersected an original passageway planned by the architects themselves. I stepped inside.

As opposed to the Thieves’ Tunnel, the walls here were smooth and straight. The ceiling was high, maybe twenty feet, and the passage was wide enough for three people to stand shoulder to shoulder. Arrow-straight grooves, about two inches deep and three tall, ran the length of the wall, parallel to the ascending floor. The grooves were spaced evenly, about three feet apart, from the floor to the ceiling.
It was a very simple passageway, with steps and handrails bolted into the smooth stone to help the tourists walk up the ramp, but my imagination made it much more…
I held a torch in one hand and eyed the grooves with suspicion as I ascended the tunnel. Who knew what dangers they held? Boiling mud to cook me alive? Razor-sharp blades waiting to cut me into pieces? I watched my step, careful to avoid any stones that looked different from the others--they could set the trap in motion.
I made my way upwards, using the steps. The tunnel narrowed and I got stuck behind a family with small children. The little ones tired quickly and needed a rest, so they let me pass. I reached the top of the ramp and stood inside the Antechamber. The horizontal grooves were gone, replaced by vertical ones.
I stepped carefully into the Antechamber, ever mindful of the grooves on the walls and the immense blocks of sandstone above my head. Another step. Click. The stone depressed no more than an inch, but the sound gave it away. Half a moment later, the massive block fell and I dove forward, escaping certain death by a hair. I was in the King’s Chamber.
I had to get on my hands and knees to make my way from the Antechamber to the King’s Chamber. Overhead was a stone block the size of a car. On the other side of the block I stood up. The first thing that surprised me was the heat. When I think of stone rooms, I always think cool air. This wasn’t so in the King’s Chamber. The constant sun beating down on the rocks brought the temperature of the room up to about eighty degrees. The room was also surprisingly bare. From a king’s chamber I had expected elaborate stone carvings and colorful hieroglyphs. The reality of the room was much less extravagant. The walls were pink granite, smooth and bare, with just two exceptions: one hole on each the north and south walls, both about four inches around and four feet up.
The light of the torch burnt through the darkness and I saw the room in its stark plainness. There were two fist-sized holes in the walls, one just next to me and the other across the room. They looked ominously like the ends of gun barrels. I walked in with careful steps, seeing no other entrance. I was trapped. Regardless, I had to get what I came for. The exit could wait.
I began to sweat right away from the heat. Besides being bare of all extravagances, the King’s Chamber was also unimpressive in construction, depending on how you think of it. On one hand, it was like a plain box: thirty foot by fifteen foot room with fifteen foot ceilings and all the lines meeting at right angles. On the other hand, it’s a thirty foot by fifteen foot room with fifteen foot ceilings built out of pink granite blocks the size of cars, all meeting at exact right angles in the middle of a massive pyramid. The ceiling also supports the four hundred tons of stone that rest upon it.
The Pharaoh's sarcophagus sat at the end of the room opposite from the little door I had crawled through, about two feet out from the wall. It seemed to have been made from the same stone as the walls, but did not have the same smooth finish. It was rough, as well as damaged. A large chunk was missing from a top corner. The cover was nowhere to be seen. I walked up to the big stone box and leaned over to look inside.
Right away I saw it: the stone coffin of Khufu, pharaoh of Egypt thousands of years ago. At about three feet wide, four tall and seven long, it cast an imposing figure in the bare room. What I came for, the object of my search, lay inside. I put my shoulder into the stone cover, braced myself against the wall and pushed. For a moment nothing happened. Then it moved. No more than an inch, but it moved. I stopped, took a breath, and pushed again, as hard as I could. The stone block slid further. I could see inside. I pushed again with all my strength and a moment later the top to Khufu’s coffin fell to the floor with a crash, splitting down the middle and taking a corner of the sarcophagus off with it. I brought my torch overhead so I could see inside. If the legends were true, I was about to become a very famous man. 
Too be continued...

Tuesday, August 21, 2012


Skinny legs and scabbed knees blur as he dashes through fields to his tree. Up he goes, leaving a world of pain and disappointment, anger and hurt. Higher he climbs til there is nothing above but heaven. The boy’s sigh joins the wind’s song as he rides the breeze, sailing high above the fields below. 

Sunday, August 19, 2012

Inspiration Point

“You could try Inspiration Point, ‘bout three and a half miles one way. Good view from the top.” The park ranger in Creede, Colorado sat back in his chair, belly hiding his belt buckle. “Though, you’ll want to get back before the smoke comes in. Fires ‘s ‘bout forty miles away.” I had asked for a challenging hike I could get in before lunch but remained a bit skeptical whether the big ranger was a reliable source. With a groan, the man pulled himself from his chair and walked to the map.

“The trail starts here, kitty-corner to the gas station. You’ll want to stay right when the path splits.”

I decided to go for it, knowing a storm was on its way, forecast to arrive after four. I aimed to return by 12:30.

“Sounds good.” I picked up a mountain lion pamphlet. “Hey, do I need to be worried about them?”

“Naw, not really. No one’s seen a cougar yet this year. Just keep an eye out.” He sure knew how to instill confidence.

“Well, thanks.” I, along with a handful of friends, left the ranger station with full water bottles, ready for a quick hike. I was the only one planning on hiking up a mountain and back in two hours; they were taking the more sensible route and heading up to an overlook above town. Although it was a longer route, I expected nothing more than a short jaunt up and back. What I got was an adventure like none I’ve ever had.

We found the trailhead easy enough and I walked ahead, pressed for time. The way was smooth and steep and I kept a strong pace. After a half hour or so, I stood at the edge of a cliff overlooking the town to my left and a beautiful, wild valley to my right. I drank some water and pressed on. The trail turned stony and uneven but it didn’t slow me down much. Well into the second half of my ascent, the tree cover gave way and what I saw kicked me into high gear. 

There, bearing down the valley, was a cloud of smoke.

I was determined to make it to the top and the smoke made it even more important that I hurried. With my asthma, trying to hike in the smoke would be like going for a run while breathing through a dish towel. It would be dangerous. I figured there was enough time left, so I pressed on.

The trail ended at the top of a cliff after a quarter mile straightaway on the ridge. Partway through this section, I realized how wrong I had been about the loose, gray cloud creeping through the valley. I don’t know if it came from living at a lower elevation (more than a mile and a half below Creede), but I was used to storm clouds generally being dark and menacing, high above the ground. The sound of thunder reached my ears and I knew it wasn’t the same in the Rockies. Then I made a foolish choice that may have saved my life: instead of turning around and heading back as fast as I could, I kept going.

Minutes later I made it to the cliff and took some pictures. My goal of summiting achieved, I turned around, tightened my sandals, and hauled my butt out of there. Most important was to get off the ridge before the storm hit the mountain.

The trail turned right and I began my descent at a run. Fat raindrops began to fall, but the thunder was still a ways away. I kept going, getting lower and lower. I entered a gap in the trees, forced to slow to a walk over the smooth, wet stones lest I break my ankle, and was pelted by marble-sized hail.

The storm was on top of me. I ran to tree cover, took anything metal from my pockets and stuffed it all into my bag. I shoved the bag under a tree and walked twenty feet down the trail, away from the tallest of the trees, to wait out the storm. I sat down next to the trail, but soon realized I made a mistake. A wet rear end resting on the wet ground made for a great conductor for electricity, something that made me a more likely candidate for a lightning strike. I squatted on my feet, keeping the rubber soles of my sandals between my wet body and the ground.

And that was how I stayed for the next half hour as lightning split the sky and thunder shook my bones. I had never heard thunder that loud—I was in the storm, not below it. The hail let up and a cold rain carried on a cold wind blew in. My clothes were soon soaked through and drew the heat from me. I began to shiver. My hands started to shake and I put them in my armpits to keep them warm.

It was an intense half hour, not knowing what would happen. Lightning could have struck any one of the trees around me, starting yet another forest fire in a state already aflame. Or I could have been hit. My life depended on luck and whether the rubber soles of my sandals were thick enough.

The thunderclaps started to space further and further apart and the sky lightened. The rain eased and the wind died. It had passed. I stretched my legs out in front of me. All feeling in my feet had been lost from crouching so long. Sensation gradually, painfully returned and I stood. I retrieved my bag from under the tree and was surprised to find all my electronics still dry.

I took to the trail again, leaving the trees behind. Had I turned around sooner, I may have found myself here, out in the open, unprotected. Instead, I now walked beneath the sun, my clothes drying in the warm summer air. I watched in awe as the storm continued down the valley, leaving sunshine in its wake. Circumstance had forced me to release control of the world and succumb to the will of nature, a breathtaking, freeing sensation. I was caught in a thunderstorm above on the side of a mountain, 10,000 feet above sea level. While it is not something I hope to relive, the experience was extraordinary, one to remember.  

Creede, Colorado (2012)

Thursday, August 16, 2012

Living Life in Awe

Awe (noun): 
-an overwhelming feeling of reverence, admiration, fearetc.,
 produced by that which is grand, sublime, extremely powerful, or the like.

Awe finds us in the biggest and smallest of things. People gaze in awe at mountains and whales and pyramids, as well as four leaf clovers, pretty sea shells and the fireflies that dance in twilight shadows on warm summer evenings. Whether we are aware of it or not, we crave these moments and remember them for a long time. I'm certainly one of those people that sits on their front porch during thunderstorms, staring at black clouds, waiting for lightening to split the sky. I'm always waiting--yearning--for that moment of awe. I've stood above the clouds on mountaintops, wiggled my feet in the sand while watching a majestic Fijian sunrise and saw the Milky Way arc from horizon to horizon like a brilliant cosmic rainbow, but nothing I have seen, no song I have heard and no event I've ever experienced can compare to a little girl named Norah Grace--my daughter, my princess, my baby girl. 

I am forever astounded by the way she has been able to turn our life upside down, yet make it so much better, more worthwhile. What fills my soul most about this little girl is that she is here; that she's laughing and crying and pulling out the dog's hair and worrying me crazy because she almost wasn't.

It was a difficult birth, the worst moment of my life. When she came, she was silent and limp and whisked out of the room before we could even see her face. I tried to follow, but the doctors wouldn't let me. It was only for a few minutes, but those minutes were the longest, hardest of my life. I didn't know whether I would I get to meet my daughter. It was if the world had fallen out from under me and I was falling into darkness right with it.

The midwife came in and said I could come with her to see Norah Grace. Full of both hope and dread, I crossed the hall into the small emergency room and there she was, beet-red, a full head of hair and a heart racing like a hummingbird's. She was the most beautiful thing I had ever seen. Putting my hand on her chest, feeling her heart beating so strong was the best moment of my life. They needed to take her to the infant intensive care unit, so I went back to my wife, who was unable to get up. I told her how beautiful our daughter was and how very alive she was and we were relieved.

45 minutes later, I got to see her again.

She was hooked up to oxygen, an IV and had a tube running down her throat into her stomach. My wife, Amy, was able to come see Norah Grace about two hours after the birth. Even at a few hours old, we saw that our daughter was tough: she pulled the tube to her stomach completely out on her own. Amy needed to rest a bit, so we went to her room and came back shortly thereafter. The doctor had removed the tubes and we got to really see our baby girl.

The doctor did an ultrasound of her internal organs to make sure everything was okay and, during the whole process, she gripped my finger and looked me in the eye, never making a sound. This picture may be my absolute favorite and never fails to remind me of the gift we have in this little girl. Today we have a feisty, strong and healthy baby girl on our hands. Norah Grace truly fills my heart, my soul and my mind with awe every day.

This blog will be my venue for self-expression. I will share those things that awe people, things that make them feel amazed, happy, sad, intrigued. I'll post about my life, my travels and my writings, fiction and nonfiction, from both the present and the past. I welcome you to follow along and to share those things that bring awe to your own life.