Sunday, January 13, 2008

The View from Here

This is the view outside my window. It's beautiful any day of the year, but today it is particularly pretty, I think. The cold is returning to Vermont after a week of March-like weather, and anyone skiing today will have to wear more than a t-shirt. The forecast calls for 6-12 inches of snow tonight, but you wouldn't know that right now, as clear as things are. That's Mount Monadnock in the distance, the most-hiked mountain in the world. In between is the Connecticut River Valley, full of fog.

I've been trying to figure out, recently, whether or not I should trade this view for a different one, and I've gone back and forth again and again. The truth is, I love teaching at Putney. The kids are marvelous, I get to do whatever I want (as long as my students are learning) in the classroom, and my new boss is inspiring. As recently as yesterday, I found myself thinking: "I could do another year here."

But then I went out for a bike ride (the first of the year, beating last year's early mark by 19 days, I believe). It was warm, in the high 30s, low 40s, and I only needed to wear two pairs of shorts and leg warmers. I did one of my favorite 25 mile loops, with some rolling hills and one big climb (908 feet gained in 1.56 miles). While I was out, I realized that I've been thinking about Putney in terms of doing time. The phrase "I could do another year" is a term usually utilized in another kind of compulsory educational system. Staying here at school would mean stability for another year, financial and career-wise, but I think I would mortgage some of my soul for that stability. I've written, elsewhere, about why Cyclocross is so important to me, so much fun. People who don't do it don't understand, because mostly they hear about how much it hurts, how it "Sucks the most." But Cyclocross is not unlike cooking in a professional kitchen. You know the course, and what's most likely going to happen, so you set up as best you can for that familiar situation. But then the orders start pouring in, the gun goes off, and you do the best you can. During a 'Cross race, you're never thinking much farther down the road than the next few feet of track. You have to pay attention. Same thing in the kitchen. Sure, you have to plan ahead, keep track of the orders lining up in front of you, work with the others at the different stations, but most of your focus is on what you're doing right then. It is exciting and terrifying at the same time, with the possibility of injury or success constantly present.

I like situations like that, in which you must do for yourself or fall behind. Teaching's the same, too. You have to respond to your students, stay flexible and excited and energetic. If I were to stay at Putney, I think, I would lose some of that excitement, that sense of keeping the flaming balls aloft. So here's what I'm thinking. Trading that view for this one. Extra points if you can figure out where it is:

Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Back At It

Back to school, back to training. After about a month of unstructured training (read: skiing my brains out), I've returned to my daily regimented training. As nice as time away from running, swimming, and cycling is, I've gotta say it's good to be back, moving towards my goals for 2008. On the other hand, I ran for an hour last night and then jumped right in the pool for masters practice. To make things worse, there was a lot of kicking and butterfly in the workout. Cramped right up. Good thing the pool in Brattleboro is three feet deep for half its length. Rode the trainer for an hour and a half tonight, and I'm feeling that good trained feeling moving back into my muscles.

School's back in session, too, and my students are amazing. I'm letting them design a unit themselves this semester, and it looks like one of my classes is going to be studying science-fiction/fantasy/graphic novels/post-apocalyptic books, and how those works of literature translate to the screen. As a closeted nerd, I couldn't be happier. Sounds like we'll be reading Phillip K. Dick, watching Bladerunner, reading Calvin & Hobbes, Ghost World, and J.R.R. Tolkien. I'll keep you updated.

And while we're on the subject of total English dorkiness, here's a fun one for you. My colleague Carol tried to log onto Harper's Magazine's online archive, and found out she had to verify her subscription to do so. To verify, you have to input a number from the mailing label on your magazine. Harper's, since they're helpful folk, give you a visual:

Apparently, some intern at Harper's believes that Mark Twain is the devil but, regardless, also that he still receives Harper's in his hellish pit, which appears to be somewhere in Midtown Manhattan.

Friday, January 4, 2008

We Have A Winner!

In early December, I posted a challenge on Slowtwitch, telling people to get out there in the snow and ice and still ride their bikes. I ended up skiing like crazy instead (my new skate skis absolutely rule; thanks parents), but plenty of those on Slowtwitch took the challenge. I got some great pictures, but I think this one takes the cake:

So our winner is IRONLOBO, who put in 917 miles in December (I just hope they were all outdoors!).

And here's another picture, of me ready to hit the icy roads of Boston, MA, when the mercury dipped below freezing this week (thanks to Mark of Landry's Boston for the picture).

Tuesday, January 1, 2008

Beginning All Over Again

I drove up to Moosehead Lake on Sunday, for the penultimate night of 2007. It's odd that, for all the years spent leading trips in Maine, I'd never been to that particular lake, even though it occupies a central place in the state's identity. The lake always lingered in the outskirts of my imagined geography: a place far to the north and remote. Turns out it's only three and a half hours from Portland. After two bleak hours on Interstate 95, you take four different state routes (7, 23, 6, and 15) in a vague diagonal through Newport, Guilford, and Greenville before arriving in Rockwood, which sports a Half Dome-like geological feature rising out of an island on the lake. I've always loved how one gets from place to place in rural Maine, town-hopping via 20-30 mile stretches of two-lane.

Moosehead is also at the center of a debate which divides the state into a few camps. Plum Creek Timber Company owns over 8 million acres (!) of timberland in the U.S, of which 928,000 are found in Maine. Since timber is getting cheaper and cheaper (one of the results of globalization), timber companies have been looking around a bit furtively for ways to keep their land holdings profitable. They have, effectively, become giant real estate companies. This is not good, because the timber companies, believe it or not, were actually pretty good stewards of the land (I know clearcuts are ugly, but most TCs figured out that sustainable forestry was the way to go, and those clearcuts are mostly leftovers from an earlier period). So instead of protecting their resource (the now un-valuable timber), Plum Creek is trying to develop 20,000 acres of timberland around Moosehead. Here are the basic parameters of the plan:

20,000 acres zoned for development (nearly double the development acres of Plum Creek’s 2006 plan)
• 2,315 subdivision lots and resort units
• 975 subdivision lots
• approximately 300 shorefront lots on Moosehead Lake, Brassua Lake, Long Pond, Upper Wilson Pond
• approximately 675 lots not directly on shorelines
• 1,050 resort units and subdivision lots
• Unlimited employee subdivision lots & units (estimated at 190) and “affordable housing” (estimated at 100)
• 4,443-acre resort on Big Moose Mt., Moosehead Lake, and Burnham Pond with 800+ housing units

• 725-acre resort on Moosehead Lake at Lily Bay with 250+ housing units
• 2 remote satellite resort development zones (162 acres) on Indian Pond and Lily Bay Mt.
• 33 miles of shoreline in development zones
• 90-acre industrial/commercial development zone
• 5 development zones for commercial uses (433 acres)
• Miles of roads to access subdivision lots and miles of utility lines to service subdivision lots and resorts

Plum Creek submitted this plan to the Land Use Regulation Committee (bearer of the weird and unsettling acronym "LURC") in April 2007. An organization called Restore is fighting Plum Creek, trying to get the word out about the timber company's proposal. You can help by attending the last public hearing about PC's proposal, on January 19th in Greenville, Maine.

So where am I going with all this? On Saturday (that would be the anti-penultimate day of 2007, for those of you keeping count) I ran a volunteer swim clinic for Brunswick Multisport, a triathlon shop in Brunswick that I've talked about before. I've had a long relationship with them, and I try to give them something in return for all the help they've extended me in the past. Jim, the store's owner, wasn't sure how many people were going to show (Saturday evening, big Patriots game, lots of parties, etc...), so we were surprised when 28 people came to hear me (me!) talk about swimming. I'm not a great swimmer (it's one of my chief foci of this coming year), but I'm good enough to help out some fair to middling age group triathletes. The short of it is: I had a blast, and I think, from their response, they did too. I was reminded of how volunteering returns so much to the volunteer, that when you offer some time and expect nothing in return, you actually get more out of the act than the people who are supposedly benefiting from your "expertise." A few swimmers dropped their stroke count drastically in just an hour, and I left feeling like I'd broken some kind of record. So as I drove north to Moosehead, I thought about volunteering more often, and how, in these darker days late in 2007, the world needs this kind of assistance more than ever. I passed a Plum Creek sign on route 15, north of Greenville, and I thought about ways I could help Restore in their battle.

On the radio today, as I came back to Portland from skiing, I heard, in succession, these stories:

1) an hourlong documentary on disappearing sea ice (climate change)
2) dispiriting news from Pakistan, in the wake of Benazir Bhutto's assassination last Thursday
3) a report on obesity, which is chasing AIDS as the chief killer in Africa.

It's easy to despair, to think that we're running this world on a deficit policy. But despair is probably a good thing, if we do more than sit around and cry. Hope, in these situations, is actually worse, because it leads to complacency, as we sit around and decide that others are fighting the good fight for us. If you're reading this blog, you're probably doing alright. Having the time to dedicate to endurance sports puts you in a pretty comfortable tax bracket. And I just signed a deal with a new, sweet triathlon team that's going to give me a good amount of support in 2008. That's going to give me more time to think about training, but it's also going to constantly remind me of how good I've got it, how lucky I am to have a functional body that will do what I want it to (I'm knocking on wood right now). I rode back from Moosehead with a good friend, and we kicked around some ideas for our Life Lists. Some of her highlights:

Volunteer in the Dominican Republic for two years
Learn how to play the piano
Become fluent in some foreign language
Go WWOOFing again (World Wide Opportunities for Organic Farms)

Up near the top of mine were:

Start a writing/tutoring center for city kids who don't have the resources of my students in Vermont
Top Ten Hawaii Ironman and 70.3 World Champs
Learn how to play the piano
Stop climate change

Yeah, idealistic, but isn't this the time of year for idealism? Last night, instead of going out to bars and getting wasted and watching a silver ball slide do a pole dance almost 400 miles away, I went sledding with a bunch of people I used to work with at The Chewonki Foundation. We still hoisted a glass at midnight, and I'm still feeling happy today to see the holiday party season go its merry way for a year, but the gathering felt different, felt the way the world might, if playtime were a daily reality for everyone in the world.