Cultivate Your Garden

March 14th, 2010

It was the winter of 1988. I was a sophomore in college trying to figure out what I wanted to be when I grew up. I could write a book about the things I did not know then. But one thing I did know was that I wanted to fully experience this life and see, feel and taste all that I could. And this: I wanted to be happy. Fulfilled.


So when I was assigned to read one of the great works of the Enlightenment, Voltaire’s Candide, the theme of exploration of far-flung places and people and ways of thinking resonated.

Twenty four years later, I don’t remember much detail about the different philosophical or physical geographies Candide and his crew explored. But the somewhat simple epiphany Candide makes after seeing and experiencing much of the world has stayed with me and makes far more sense to me now than it did then.

One of my favorite cities.

One of my favorite cities.

After much philosophical debating between Candide and his crew, he declares that one must stop philosophizing and cultivate one’s garden as the only defense against boredom and dissatisfaction.

In my own time and way, I have arrived at the same conclusion. To me this has powerful meaning that is both figurative and literal. In my twenties and thirties I wanted to sample everything life had to offer (well, maybe not everything). But now I feel the need to focus on a few things that really matter to me: family, place, friends, ideas. Certainly travel and broad-ranging philosophies are still appealing. But I’ve eaten long enough from the buffet table. Now I know what I like and I prefer to order off the menu, thank you very much.

Time is short, friends. Focus.

Time is short, friends. Focus.

Putting down deep roots in one physical geography is, for me, one important way of cultivating my garden.

Oh, and of course there is the literal interpretation of that big idea. I do love, in a way I never could have predicted, to dig in the literal loam and cultivate my actual garden–or my “hippie garden” as my wife likes to call it. I grow great produce, but I don’t subscribe to the perfectly straight rows and manicured dirt approach. Too much order disagrees with my personality.

Remember Thoreau! In wildness is the preservation of the world.

If you happen to have a hankering for something a little more substantial than your average modern novel, pick up a copy of Candide. It fell off the best-sellers list about 200 years ago, so you may have to dig around a bit.


Interpreter of Dreams

February 6th, 2010

As in I need one.

It is 5:56 a.m.  on a Saturday. I woke up in a cold sweat genuinely panicked that I was about to miss a crucial flight.

I was at my current employer’s private air terminal waiting with 36 other people to get on the plane. Like I often do, I was sitting in one of the desks working; trying to get a few more things done before climbing on the plane.

Now our corporate jets are not full of leather couches and rich wood paneling. But what we lack in quality in private jet accoutrements, we make up for in quantity. We have at least four jets that are flying non-stop, five days a week, between sites in the Northwest  and the Southwest, with the primary destination being right in the middle: California. HQ. Silicon Valley.

My current employer seems almost uncomfortable with the idea of having its own private airline.  Appearing lavish or flashy is decidedly counter to our culture–a culture where even the CEO sits in a cubicle. So great pains are taken to make the experience of flying on the fleet of private jets as common and egalitarian as it can be.

Unfortunately the planners took their template for running an airline from Southwest’s playbook. You are issued a boarding pass when you arrive at the “Jet Center” terminal. Chairs are lined down a long wall and passengers who arrive earliest occupy the chairs nearest the boarding area.

Once the plane arrives and the super-nerds (this is a term of endearment and I use it with the utmost respect; these are the people who are making the most complex devices mankind has ever made, after all) disembark, the call to board goes out. Like sheep being forced through a chute, nervous and cranky travelers holding a boarding pass crowd their way through the small doorway that opens to the tarmac.

No assigned seating means that there is an incredible amount of jockeying for position on the tarmac. Those who have to drop off an overnight bag or perhaps a box holding an experimental compute device are in serious jeopardy of being passed by an aggressive engineer hoping to secure one of the handful of single seats next to a window.

But I digress.

Back to the dream. I was sitting at one of the mini-cubicles trying to dash off a final email response or something, when the call to board went out. But somehow I was not checked in online yet, so I had no boarding pass.

The 36 other passengers were clamoring for their place in line and I was struggling to get online confirmation that I had a seat.

Now this is where it gets weird.

I feverishly went from doing email to the online tool to claim my seat. But they had changed the interface of the online tool! (It’s a sign you may be spending too much time online when you start to dream about interfaces changing).

The line was thinning as more people exited the terminal and made their way across the tarmac to the plane.

“Where the hell is that confirmation button!” I was thinking. But I could not find it.

Somehow just standing up and walking over to the actual, physical Jet Center people to work things out seemed less important than getting that confirmation in the virtual world first.

Sweating. Desperate to get on that plane and move on to the next thing, I clicked wildly in hopes of securing an online confirmation.

A pilot with mirrored sunglasses and a moustache from the late seventies stood at the doorway leading to the tarmac. His eyebrows raised above the rim of his dark glasses as if to say “You joining us, or what?”

But I still could not find that damn confirmation button!

That’s when I woke up.

What does it mean?


Add to Your Abbey Collection

October 25th, 2009

When I was writing my master’s thesis on Edward Abbey and HD Thoreau, I prided myself on sleuthing around to find every book, every interview, even every audiotape Abbey had ever done. There is something special about hearing the unorthodox cadence and kindly nature of Ed’s voice reading “Dead Man at Grandview Point.”

A few years later, my mom bought me a signed copy of The Journey Home at a garage sale, which I cherish.

Hickman Natural Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park. Abbey loved this area.

Hickman Natural Bridge in Capitol Reef National Park. Abbey loved this area.

Now here’s one for the serious collector. Edward Abbey’s former home in Moab is for sale. The same home where he wrote The Monkey Wrench Gang.

The four bedroom, two bath 2,800 square foot house sits on 1.41 acres just south of town at 2240 Spanish Valley Road. You’ll need just $290,000 (hello!). Abbey bought the house for $26,000 in 1974 and later sold it for $40,000 in 1978, long before Moab was discovered by the upwardly mobile mountain biking masses.