Monday, September 25, 2006

The Sky is a Painful Blue

So I was out biking along the Willamette River yesterday, a stiff breeze behind my back and a beautiful panorama of water, trees and blue sky flashing past, and I thought: "I like Portland. It's a good place to be."

Today being a perfect example of the why. Seeger, "K"risty and I drove the 1.5 hours out to Mount Hood and spent five hours hiking the "Heather Canyon" portion of the "Timberline Trail."

The views were stunning and the air was so fresh it made you feel high! I was also elated to have an encounter with the creatures of the wild that far eclipses my squirrel rendevous of the other week.

As we rounded a switchback on our return hike, a group of five deer stepped out of the woods above the trail to the right - two does and three fawns, if appearance did not betray.

Over the next twenty minutes or so we were blessed with these beautiful creatures as hiking companions of a sort - as we wound our way along the meandering trail, our friends moved in and out of the foliage above, tracking our progress until at last they came prancing down a ravine as if to come and share a moment.

And then they vanished back into their forest home, leaving me wondering at the peaceful bliss that must make up their entire understanding of the world.

All told, my only lament is that I have finally gotten onto the mountain maybe one or two weeks before the rumoured rains of winter decend.

For now all I can do is marvel at the rugged beauty of it all.

"Where the earth shows its bones
Of wind broken stones
And the sea and the sky are one
I'm caught out of time
My blood sings of wine
And i'm running naked in the sun
There's God in the trees
I'm weak in the knees
And the sky is a painful blue."


Thursday, September 21, 2006

Nooks and Crannies

I have a catalog of your smiles and laughs
A history of your thoughts, ideas and deeds
A reflection of the life that we lived
An image of me mirrored in your mind's eye

You are still there in every day of my life
In books full of you on my shelves
And boxes full in my cupboards
There are cards for birthdays and just because

I choose to sift through the albums and parcels
And I balance the smiles with the tears
That inevitably fall to blur your face
My fingers reach out to brush your cheek

But it is from the nooks and crannies of my life
That you jump like a playful lover
It's the smile that falls from between pages
That catches me unaware and unprepared

It's a life preserved, vibrant and virtually real
But always coming to the same tragic close
Ending with the magic moments
Truely past

Monday, September 18, 2006

Live Evil

According to a recent speech by George W, "Underestimating the words of evil and ambitious men is a terrible mistake....Bin Laden and his terrorist allies have made their intentions as clear as Lenin and Hitler before them."

I can't shake these words - and maybe it is just my ignorance, as I am far from conversant in many of the ideas and ideologies of of history. However, this doesn't seem right to me.

Despite personal opinions on Iraq, Afghanistan or the US position on the Israeli/Palestinian situation, it is hard to argue with an association of Osama bin Laden and terrorism - which makes the tie to evil far from tenuous to say the least. Having the blood of 3000 US citizens and untold numbers of other nationalities on your hands pretty much makes this a moot point.

And who but the "Christ child for the hopelessly naive" could argue against the assertion that Adolph Hitler is as close to a pure embodiment of evil as is possible to find in history - this may be a socio-cultural judgment to some degree, as I am aware that some cultures are less versed in the sins of the Third Reich than they are in the sins of the oppressors that their nations have suffered under directly.

Yet the third stymies me - and I would love to be educated on the matter if I am only showing my ignorance here. Karl Marx was an economic philosopher who espoused a theory of class struggle that underpinned a complex social and political ethos that included as one of its key tenets the idea of an oppressed people rising up and throwing off the chains of their oppressors.

From the French revolution to the American revolution to every struggle for liberation and freedom by any group that has felt oppressed, there have been thinkers and writers that have captured the feelings and ideas of the people and expressed them in a codified state via essays, poems, editorials, songs or even novels. Many of these writings have gone on to be the documents that are identified as the purest distillations of the wishes of the people.

In the case of the Soviet Union, the writings of Karl Marx formed a framework for the political and social struggle spearheaded by Vladimir Lenin. This struggle ultimately led to the Russian revolution, and the toppling of Tsarist Russia in the name of creating a socialist system in which the working man contributed what he was able and was rewarded with what he needed - a system in which there was an equitable distribution of wealth.

However, we all know that things did not work out quite as nicely as this sounds. We know that the theories of socialism that informed the birth of the communist state in the Soviet Union - as we know it by the virtue of hindsight - were warped and twisted almost beyond recognition by Stalin, and ended up being the instruments of oppression of those same working classes Lenin proposed to emancipate.

The fact that communist Russia ended up a totalitarian state of repression, however, does not seem to me to me to be a reason to impugn Vladimir Lenin as evil and a man of hatred - judge Stalin as evil for using the ideas of Lenin for nefarious ends.

Bush's comments strike me as the "victor" in the struggle between capitalism and communism choosing to make blanket statements that ignore the subtleties of the true situation.

Was Lenin in favor of a revolution again the established order? Yes. So were the Americans who set out to gain independence from the British crown. If Lenin was advocating the overthrow of a corrupt or repugnant government, he cannot be judged as evil if the state that arose from the ashes betrayed his vision.

Remember, Lenin was not arguing that the democracy that Bush trumpets was evil, he was merely stating that the contemporary system of governance in Russia was untenable and that it had to be replaced. He posited his ideas for a new system.

He is not, however, responsible for those who came after him and twisted his legacy for nefarious purposes. He is far from a prophet of evil - and far from a Hitler or a bin Laden.


I am a poster child for needing some form of mental dicipline, which is something that I know I am far from alone in not possessing. In our instant gratification culture I am, like so many of my fellow citizens, fully versed in the art of being a glutton in the moment and not thinking about the bigger picture of my life or the world at large.

When you look at people who are "successful", there are certain attributes that often stick out. There is, of course, a certain level of intelligence. There is usually confidence in one's ability and what one has to contribute. But these traits are worth nothing in and of themselves in the absence of dicipline. What good is intelligence alone, for example, if you don't have the dicipline to focus it and harness it for your own greater good and that of your community.

But we are not taught dicipline anymore in the western world, and, unfortunately, it does not seem innate. In fact, even if it proved innate, we would probably still medicate to override the natural impulse.

When I was young, I saved my allowance weekly for items that I really wanted and resisted the temptation to blow it on candy or knickknacks. If I got a chocolate bar from a visiting relative I would hide it away and savor it slowly over days and days until it was all gone.

Where is that kind of dicipline in my life now? Where is the dicipline that would allow me to:

  • Come home from work, put some music on instead of the television and prepare a nice to dinner to eat while reading a book or a magazine
  • Keep my house in clean order so that my environment mirrors the state of mind I want to foster
  • Write e-mails to my friends and loved ones so that they will know what is happening in my heart and my head and will be an active part of my life
  • Study skills that will make my job easier and more efficient and increase my value to my employer and advance me in the field of my choosing
  • Read books that will give me enjoyment and will make me a richer person.

So what does this have to do with meditation? Meditation is mental dicipline - which is the basis of what I am talking about. It is being able to control your impulses and urges - or if not to control them, at least to recognize them without being blown this way and that by every caprice that flits into your mind.

And it relates, because here I sit after an hour of trying to sleep. Having worked myself into a total panic and a cold sweat over the things that I have to do at work tomorrow, the things I have to do to prepare for my younger brother's wedding, the things I have to do to care for myself (including a dentist appointment, a doctor's appointment and a othamologist appointment), the things I have to do to put my finances in order. And the list goes on...

It relates because this panic will in no way make these things easier or better, and I should be able to recognixe this and exercise the dicipline to not allow these thoughts to drive me into hopelessness and sleeplessness.

It relates in a larger way to the general lack of spirituality in my life and a lack of awareness of the connection between my mind and body, and my mind and body and the larger world that I inhabit.

Does that make some sense? I am going to go and try to sleep again...

Saturday, September 16, 2006

Oregon Liquid Sunshine

A good morning to hit the ol' blog site and shower some random thoughts and feelings on the world - its your choice whether to give this randomness a few moments of your life!

I got up at 7 this morning, prepared a bowl of cereal with nuts and raisins, realized that I had no milk, and quickly shifted gears. In the absence of eggs, I turned to some leftover rice and stir fried it with kimchi, onions and some sam-gyup-sal (maybe pork bellies?). Breakfast of champions!

I then hopped on my Gary Fisher Montare and headed up Thurman Street and into Forest Park. This is the US's largest metropolitan forest park, and I am loving it - there are about 26 miles of bike trails, if I remember correctly - and the views are stunning. On the google map below (click to view it larger), my house is the green arrow in the bottom right, and the huge green expanse to the left is a portion of Forest Park. My path covers most of what you see below, and has some stunning views!

I headed up Lief Ericson Drive, an old abandoned logging road, and climbed fairly steadily for ~5.5 miles. There is a look off at this point, where I pulled up for a few gulps of water and a handful of peanuts and almonds. The clean air, the trees, and the view are so rewarding the climb is worth it - and really it is so gradual that you are in your seat most of the time.

And at this lookoff I made a new friend. Coming from the urban jungle of Seoul to the true forests of Oregon, I still consider squirrels to be "wildlife" rather than the local opinion that they are pests.

This little guy was on the top of a post a little less than a meter away - and he was scared. Beady eyes on me at every moment as he jittered back and forth around the rim of the post to size up the situation. My heart was pumping from the climb - and his whole body was thumping along with the panicked beats of his own. After half a minute or so he turned to face me square on, stood on hind legs and dramatically clasped his left hand to his pounding heart - I almost laughed out loud at the tragi-comic idea of this poor fellow having a heart attack right there (I really would have felt like shit!).

Another 20 seconds or so of dancing around, and a few more heart clasps, and the little guy finally got up the courage to turn his back and run. Sure, its just a squirrel, but this was a beautiful meeting with the great wild for this city boy!

Back to the trail. Its another mile or so to Saltzman Dr, thankfully most of it is downhill in the lead up to the slogging climb up Saltzman to the head of firelane #5, which at points is wild enough to become barely single-track. This was an exploration for me, since I hadn't ventured off the main trails before. It was sweet to cruise down the hard pack instead of the gravel surface of Lief or Saltzman - but it ended too soon at an intersection with Lief again.

Another ~7 miles back along Saltzman - mostly downhill - took me back to Thurman, and into town, where I stopped in at my regular Starbucks for a well-deserved tall non-fat latte. (Yes, I have added an adjective to my coffee order, but am not yet at the point of rattling off a desire for a "tall non-fat, extra-hot, half-decaf soy latte with whip.")

And home to write to y'all before heading out to a barbecue in the sun that has miraculously peaked through despite the dire forecasts of the past few days!

You see, the season of Oregon Liquid Sunshine is upon us - which translates into rain.

It is interesting being in a new part of the world and not having a clear idea of climate - every day is a revelation, and I don't know what the winter or spring will be like yet. So far I have been blessed with bright sunshine virtually every day, and temperatures bordering on too hot. I think it is not a stretch to say that Portland averages around 28 or 30 degrees celsius in June/July - and I suppose a quick Google search could prove me right or wrong.

But allow me a moment of relaxed laziness as I write this and sip my latte.

Back to the point, such as it is, the rain is not a problem so far, but I am a little trepidatious about what is to come in terms of drizzle and gloom. I need sunshine if I am not to slump into sadness and lethargy! Both Korea and Nova Scotia, being peninsulas, had bright, sunny winters that are the kind that keep your spirit buoyant.

Apparently Portland gets 6 inches of rainin December! That would be fine if it was Korea-style, and poured straight down on you for a few days and then returned to clear skies - but apparently this is 6 inches that drizzles and mists slowly and steadily through the month.

And that's today's weather report my friends. Drop in to Portland anytime and if we are blessed with sunshine instead of showers I will show you the slowly expanding boundaries of my life and world here.


Wednesday, September 13, 2006

Home Base: Who A U

In Korea, one of the jokes that followed me for 9 years was the more than a little long-winded dissection of my international character - and its no joke. I have a Russian first name (Yuri), a Greek middle name (Alexis), and a Dutch last name (van der Leest). I was born in Canada (English), but in the French part of the country (Quebec), and I lived in Korea for almost 9 years (Korean).

Add to this the fact that I have a Dutch passport in addition to my Canadian one - if I can add a green card, all the better - and you really do end up with a quintessentially international character.

But what am I really?

I guess I could spend my life answering that question (actually, I guess I have spent my whole life to date poking and prodding at that particular query).

In Korea I was asked often whether I felt Canadian or not. And, of course, I just assumed that I did feel Canadian despite the melange that my life path and moniker suggest.

Well, here I am in the USA adding one more spice to the flavour of my character, and that question has taken on more meaning as some of the last near-decade in Korea starts to percolate in hindsight rather :).

The fact of the matter is that Korea really was my home - and is the place that I call to mind now when I think of where my comfort-zone is. I learned the language fairly well, I know the city like the back of my hand, and it is the country where I learned the pleasures and pains of opening my mind and heart fully to the woman that I believed to be my life partner.

Now I have left Korea behind. For the first few weeks I wandered the streets of my favorite neighbourhoods in my mind, I searched the Internet for photos of vistas that I had viewed often in the routines of my life, and I reached out to friends and colleagues online to comfort my unsettled mind. I also listened to (and am still listening to) Korean pop music and watched (and am still watching) Korean movies. Just the sounds of the songs and the cadence of the language in the films calms me and makes me feel more at home.

And in the meantime I have watched the slow process of Korean words and phrases slipping from memory and making me feel I am losing a part of myself.

So tonight I had my first Korean language class in the USA - and I stayed after the class for more than an hour chatting with my teacher about my life in Korea and her life in the USA. It felt like I was on top of the world, conversing more or less freely in the language that not only defines part of my life, but also part of what I am as a person.

You see, Korea was almost 30% of my time on earth, and is really some unfathomable percentage of my character and identity. And it always will be. I don't know if I have the discipline to continue studying this language while here in this world of English speakers, but I hope that I do and that it grows to fluency and remains an integral part of my life.

Speaking the language enriched my life in Korea a great amount, and there is no reason why it can't continue to make life - and self - more rich, full and intriguing to me and the world at large.