Tuesday, October 26

Winter encroaches

It's late October now, and Bozeman's Indian summer has finally passed. First frost appeared last week, the temperature hasn't broken seventy for a while and snow is forecast any day. It's all I hear people talking about. Most are not excited for this. I am.

I like winter and the snow and the long nights and the stillness imposed by the cold. I missed it in Kenya when our Christmas was very much green.

I have not, however, very often enjoyed the run up to the season. In Baudette it was rainy and wet, and the only color the leaves turned were brown. Fall was a season to muddle through before winter's wonder. Spokane was better. There was a clear fall and crispness in the air. For a couple of months it was jacket weather and the leaves went gold and orange and purple and all the rest. It was a season I could actually look forward to.

Bozeman's fall tends more toward Baudette's, but it may boast the best indicator of the coming season yet as the snow falls first on the mountains, capping them in white. The clouds pass them, and I know what will soon be coming here. It is quite excellent.

Wednesday, October 20

Calls to Kenya and Jakarta

I like to think that I know a little something of the philosophy underlying service, having written a thesis on the subject and whatnot. Reflection is one of its core tenets. There is the reflection in the midst of service, identifying where one is doing good, how one could be doing more good, what one is learning and so on and so forth. Then, perhaps even more importantly, there is the reflection that follows service that asks all of these same questions as before but tries to integrate them into the rest of our lives and not merely allow the service to exist in that one time in the past.

I haven't been doing so well with the latter. I have excuses. Preparations for weddings, weddings, weekend trips to other states and cities, settling into a new city and finding a new job have all required my attention, but I am starting to get back into it a little, staying in touch and staying involved. This week I am writing an article about my experiences in Kenya and Indonesia for a travel magazine. Last week Demetra and I hosted a fundraising dinner for IHF. I cooked rice complemented with Indian spiced beans and lentil and potato curry. She invited her friends and professors. We called the centers on Skype, so our guests could see the children, and the children could have a performance. You'd expect something culturally relevant, something traditionally Javan from the Jakarta kids. Nope. They did a dance entirely appropriate for an American talent show to Shakira's "Waka Waka (This Time For Africa)." If nothing else, I guess it was a prime demonstration of globalisation as Indonesian children danced to a Colombian's song for South Africa.

There were some problems, and we didn't manage to call Nakuru until two hours after our guests had left and dinner was cleaned up. Surprisingly, they did go for a Pokot song and dance replete with a leader and ululations and shuffle steps and everything. Afterward we talked for a while with the old director as some eight children huddled around her, watching us and their reflection in the camera.

Things continue on in Nakuru. There is bad and there is good. That was unexpected. What was less expected was how much I missed it. Life in Nakuru was some of the toughest I have known. I had about an hour of privacy a day after the kids were locked into their dorms. There was an emergency once a week. I never felt completely comfortable in Kenya. I was always exhausted, but I have been gone only a little more than half a year and can already see the children growing, becoming less round and more lanky. For almost a year Nakuru and the children were my life, and now I couldn't feel more apart from them. It shouldn't be like that. I will not go so far as to say I want to leave right now and be a director again, but I want to see the kids again and make sure they are doing well, are happy and safe.

Anyway, if you would like to help make more good than bad in Nakuru and at the rest of our centers, please consider sponsoring a child. Thanks.

Sunday, October 17

Minnesotans abroad

I consider myself Minnesotan but only marginally. My driver's license is now from Washington, and I'll be living in Montana for three of the next four years. My parents are both transplants to the state. Canada was nearer than any other Minnesotan city. All of our television stations broadcast from North Dakota, and the largest local daily newspaper was printed there as well. I prefer the Packers to the Vikings and do cheer for the Twins but not to the extent of actually watching them lose every playoff series to the Yankees.

This is rather unfortunate. If I were more involved with my homestate, I would have an instant point of conversation throughout the world. Minnesotans are everywhere. When I spent five months in Germany and was taking to regular weekend trips to other countries, the only nation I didn't find a Minnesotan in was England. Paris, Istanbul, Cork, Munich, yes but none in Oxford or London. I hear that Ithaca College has a Minnesotan student club that screens Fargo every year, and I knew plenty of Minnesotans at Gonzaga. I never met any Minnesotans while in Nakuru, but my mom tells me that some members of our parish went on safari there the same time I was abroad. In Bozeman now Minnesotan license plates are second most common to Montanan. Minimal exaggeration, I see at least one new Minnesotan car every day.

Yes, it is very possible that this is confirmation bias and that Minnesotans stick in my mind for our tribal relationship, but let's pretend that's not the case. What drives Minnesotans out and into the world? To resort to a bifurcation, the only choice appears to be whether they are escaping state fairs and Scandinavian accents or are born adventurers, gluttons for adrenaline.

I prefer the second.


Monday, October 11

Mammoth Hot Springs

Know what I like about Yellowstone National Park?  That it may be one of a handful of places on this earth where there is a higher per capita of cameras than people and not just little point-and-click jobs a few steps above being disposable but SLR's with exchangeable lenses and tripods.  Whether the people just have too much disposable income and know how to properly use these or not is another matter.  I guess the challenge then for anyone shooting pictures in Yellowstone is not to find something beautiful, because there is plenty of that, but to find something that no one else has yet captured or to capture it in a new and different way.  I'm not going to pretend that I managed that in my one-day whirlwind visit to America's first national park, but I would like to discuss taking pictures of Mammoth Hot Springs, our first stop.
In family trips to the Canadian Rockies near a decade ago I first saw hot springs.  They were little things, a spot of bubbling water or a stained line on a wall of rock.  Mammoth Hot Springs is nothing like this.  They are, in a word, mammoth.  They rise up and extend longer than most houses.  A section of the boardwalk had to be removed recently because the hot springs were still growing.  The trick in this case becomes how to best capture this immense feature.  This first picture tries to catch it all.

The pool at the bottom and the very lowest levels that have begun to dry out.  The tables, the bubbles, the steam and the everything.  I am generally of the opinion that it fails.  In trying to contain everything, it gives it all short shrift.  Nothing is emphasized, and some of the wonder is lost.

This second picture is slightly tighter, removing the pool at the bottom to focus on the rest, and emphasizes color, which is a good choice when the fine detail is lost, but again fails.  There is too much and no particular emphasis to really draw our attention.

So I tried to focus on some individual elements of the hot springs.

Steam is in emphasis here.  It seems like a safe choice.  There is a certain drama to not being able to totally see everything.  This picture is hobbled, though, by poor framing and composition.  Steam seems to lose a great deal of mystery, too, when it is pictured on a clear, sunny day.

These two pictures examine some of the other unique physical growths of the hot springs.  I'm sure they have a proper geological name somewhere, but I am content to call them tables and bubbles.  They're not bad pictures.  They are close enough to reveal details, and the composition is decent, especially with the tables in how they grow, but I must admit a preference for this final picture.

This is a microsm for the whole of the hot springs.  There is the steam.  There is the table on top.  There are the bubbles.  The wide range of colors are represented.  It captures everything that makes the hot springs so fascinating but brings it all in close enough that the detail can be seen and appreciated.

Monday, October 4


I have a job. Someday I will write the wonders of working with one's hands as a part-time hotel housekeeper and no longer being the Man, but that day is not today.

When I had my interview with the manager, she told me the hotel was around two-and-a-half stars. This fall and winter they are making the push for the third star. This entails replacing the porcelain sinks with granite, painting new accent walls and hanging more nature watercolors. Apparently hotel stars are more about ticking items off a checklist than symbols of excellence like Michelin stars.

I can live with that. Some rooms have been finished, and I admit that they look better than the rest. What continues to bug me is that we keep the same glowing red alarm clock radios and gray plastic garbage cans, exact same that every other hotel I've ever stayed in use.

I guess these just scream "cheap" to me. Granted, these are fairly minor concerns in relation to how bright a room is or how nice the sink top is, but why not use an analog clocks or something? That would be unique. I would remember that. Why not a little something to distinguish the hotel a little bit from the competition, something a far sight cheaper than about forty pounds of imported rock?

Sunday, October 3

Considering "The Social Network"

I didn't very much like Michael Chabon's "The Amazing Adventures of Kavalier and Clay." Part of this was the fault of its historical fiction genre where Chabon gleefully inserted his characters into scenes with Stan Lee and Salvador DalĂ­ and their luminous ilk. This tic reached its most egregious when the title characters attended the premiere of Citizen Kane, immediately recognized its greatness and were inspired to write the greatest adventures of the Escapist. I hated that scene and would have quit reading then if I hadn't been in Kenya and without many other novels in waiting, but I found myself in something of a real life parallel when I saw the opening of David Fincher's The Social Network this Friday past.

The movie is brilliant. Beginning with the acting and moving on through to the script and score and cinematography, there is nothing less than excellent. Some forty critics on Metacritic and another one hundred and sixty-three on Rotten Tomatoes celebrate all of these.

But a work's impact isn't always about its particular brilliance. No Country for Old Men and Das Leben der Anderen and Toy Story 3 are all equally brilliant movies, but they never captured my imagination in the same was The Social Network has. I saw it at the right time. It's a movie for me and my generation.

The Social Network is about a man who did things his own way. Inspired by arrogance, spite, challenge, Mark Zuckerberg created Facebook, a website no one asked for but now is valued in the billions of dollars. It may not have been done the best way or for the best reasons, but Zuckerberg did it without kowtowing to the elite, the privileged, the powerful, the entrenched, his seniors. As much as anything else, it was an enormous middle finger to them. He did something they couldn't and did it better. Even when he paid millions of dollars to settle lawsuits, he won.

Sean Parker tells Zuckerberg late in the film "This is our time." It is. The Baby Boomers are retiring. The Internet has created something new. The opportunity to do something, to be something important is there if we reach for it.