Sunday, May 31, 2009

Next stop: Lothlórien

Karen and me at the top
Karen and me at the top of Y Mountain
Last week my younger sister Karen and I conquered Y Mountain together. It was a beautiful May morning, and since I had nothing planned, and Camber was at work, I figured there was nothing better to do than to climb a mountain.

I invited Karen for a few reasons, but perhaps the most important is that I have heard her recently claim that she doesn't like hiking. That was insufferable, so I decided to cure her of that by taking her on an awesome hike.

And it was awesome. (OK, the part up to the Y was steep, hot, and ugly, but everything from there on to the top was wonderful.) It made me think again about why I love hiking myself. I think for me, it boils down to these three reasons:

  1. I love the excitement of conquering something. I love to start at the bottom and reach the top, knowing that my own energy got me there.

  2. I love the conversation with friends. This really ought to be number one, but I'm too lazy to copy and paste it up there. Something strange happens on a hike. Suddenly perfect strangers become fast friends. People open up to you while hiking in the woods. It's almost as if they have no choice but to reveal to you their lives. And old friends become better friends. This is what I enjoy most.

  3. Mix the first two together, then add the wonderful feeling of exercise (you know: leg muscles burning lightly, endorphins, that stuff), and the combination is potent. There's nothing like it in the world.

When we reached the top of Y Mountain, I looked into the bowl in the back and something caught my eye: amidst a huge forest of pines, a large cluster of light-green aspen trees stuck out. I've seen it before, and once again I thought to myself: I must go there! I don't know what to call it, so at the risk of being labeled a complete Lord of the Rings nerd, I've decided to call it Lothlórien. European mythology has many good names for mountains, but it is seriously lacking when it comes to naming forests. So I must turn to Lord of the Rings mythology, and be happy.

You can get a good view of it in the last picture. I'm determined to get there and see what that forest looks like. I don't know if there is a trail or not, but I think there may be. Either way, I'm going. Anyone want to come?

Karen on the big rock, just after the Y
Karen on the big rock, just after the Y

Me in a meadow.
Me in a meadow

Karen in the same meadow
Karen in the same meadow

Karen at the top. Lothlórien is the background, behind her neck.
Karen at the top. Lothlórien is the background, behind her neck.

Me at the top. That's Squaw Peak in the background.
Me at the top. That's Squaw Peak in the background.

Lothlórien. Want to come?
Lothlórien. Want to come?

Friday, May 22, 2009

My soul's mother

IMG_0901Last Friday I went with my wife Camber, Jason H., and Whitney J. to our dear alma mater, Orem High School. The trip was inspired by rumors that they would soon knock our dear school down and pave it over with a parking lot. Those rumors were heavily reinforced by the fact that the old parking lot now has a building under construction that has reached the second floor.

Happily, the new school is behind schedule, so the old school will be used next year as well. That makes me glad. I'll just take another trip there next year.

I'll always be attached to Orem High School, because in many ways, it was in the walls of that building that I became me. There's some moment in everyone's life — and that "moment" typically lasts an entire year — when you exit the amorphous blob that is adolescence and emerge with a distinct personality.

I know, I know, many of you are going to complain and tell me that your 3-year-old has a distinct personality. I say: that's true. The difference is, during childhood and through most of adolescence, our personalities change dramatically and sometimes quickly, as we try to decide who we will be. And at some moment, when we become that person (and this often happens during the course of a year in high school, but sometimes middle school), we are likely going to stay that person for the rest of our lives.

For me this happened my 10th grade year. It's the year that I became me. And it happened within the walls of Orem High School, a place I was happy to spend three years of my life.

And now they're tearing it down! My alma mater, the mother of my soul! I'll have no place to visit in the future, or to take my children, and say: "This is where I survived high school. This is where I became me."

I say, to all the Oremites out there: once the walls come down let's all go steal a brick.

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Friday, May 15, 2009

Zur zur zur

The following (slightly edited) conversation was had between David G. and myself regarding Dave's chat status message, which was: "zur zur zur."

Isaac Hess: What is "zur zur zur"?

David Gravett: More importantly, what isn't zur zur zur?

Isaac Hess: I think you'd be hard pressed to prove that that's more important.

David Gravett: I disagree, because everything is zur zur zur.

Isaac Hess: Stating what something is (as you just did) is almost always easier, and more simple, than stating what it is not.

For example: taking your statement to be true (it isn't, but I'll play along), to state what zur zur zur is not would go like this: "Nothing is not zur zur zur," which is a far more confusing statement than saying what zur zur zur is: namely "zur zur zur is everything."

Thus, it is much more important to state what it is, than what it is not.

David Gravett: You are such a snob! Since I coined the term, I can define it however I want. Further, since human knowledge as expressed through language is entirely relativistic, whether I define zur zur zur in terms of what it is or what it isn't, the set of all things that are zur zur zur will always be defined in terms of what is not in the set.

So there!

Isaac Hess: While I will happily concede the point that I am a snob, I certainly cannot concede the others. First, language is not "entirely" relativistic. To a certain degree I'm sure that it is, but I do believe that language generally does a fine job at communicating understanding; most people find that definitions greatly increase, rather than decrease, their understanding of words and terms.

Secondly, while saying that something is always defined by what is not in its set works well in the abstract, in practicality it becomes extremely problematic; because, again, most things have a definable and statable number of items within the set, and an infinite (i.e. "everything else") number of things outside the set.

Ergo, I maintain again, it is more important to state what zur zur zur is rather than what zur zur zur is not.

David Gravett: Based on improperly deduced conclusions, I cannot tell you, you could not understand.

Isaac Hess: Oh, now we're resorting to ad hominems are we?


Isaac Hess: But seriously... what is zur zur zur? I'm really curious now.

David Gravett: Well, I was typing "yup yup yup" into my instant messenger and it came out "zur zur zur." I thought it was cool.


David Gravett: I bet that disappoints.

Isaac Hess: It does, a little.

David Gravett: What were you hoping for

Isaac Hess: I don't know. Something German.

David Gravett: It's a German pastry that looks like whomever the current prime minister is. How's that?

Isaac Hess: That's much nicer. I want some zur zur zur!

Sounds delicious! Angela Merkel, baby!

David Gravett: Yum yum. Or should I say, zur zur.

Thursday, May 14, 2009

My star, Arcturus

I hate the word "favorite" in many ways because it is so superlative.

But I do have a favorite memory (in the non-superlative sense).

Two nights prior to my leaving on a mission for the LDS Church (this was July 2003), I realized to my dismay that I had only one evening — that evening — left to me as a pre-mission young adult. I had a slight moment of panic, during which I decided that I needed to go out with a bang. I jumped into my car and began driving to a friend's house, planning out the largest party of the summer with everyone I had ever known in attendance. Halfway to his house, however, I realized that that was not how I wanted to spend my final evening. I realized that more than anything, I just wanted to spend it with a few close friends, talking and laughing our way late into the night.

So I picked up Jason H. and Abby H. (no relation to each other or to me), and we drove up the canyon to stargaze late into the night. I believe we finally returned home around 2 or 3 in the morning. It was, I dare say, the most perfect way to spend one's final night before a long trip away.

That night was the perfect capstone to a summer of stargazing. Earlier that summer, one night while looking heavenward, I decided that I would pick out a star for me. A star that would be mine. My own home in the night sky. I also decided to choose a bright one; and not to be presumptuous, but so that I could find it again in the future. I looked up, and one immediately caught my eye: Arcturus.

Finding Arcturus is relatively easy, since it is one of the brightest stars in the summer skies. The process is pretty simple: first find the big dipper. Then, continue to follow the "arc" of the handle, past the end of the handle, until you find the next very bright star. That is Arcturus. The maxim goes: "Arc to Arcturus." The picture below will help.

As you can see here: "Arc to Arcturus, then spike to Spica."
As you can see here: "Arc to Arcturus, then spike to Spica."
Ever since that summer, Arcturus has been my friend in the skies. There's something comforting about having your own star, something you can see anywhere in the northern hemisphere and know that you are home. All throughout my mission, whenever I would see Arcturus, I would remember my good friends and family and know that they could see it too.

So the next time a summer evening rolls around and you happen to glance heavenward, find Arcturus for me (you can find it already pretty early in the evening). And when you do, say hello to me.

Wednesday, May 13, 2009

My Camping Dilemma

This last weekend I went on a short overnight camping trip with my beautiful wife (Hi wife!) and a few good friends: David G. and his now-fiancée Merry P., Jason H., Jared W. S., and Whitney J. (Isn't the anonymity of surname initials exciting? It's almost like I'm in some sort of crime novel, and these were my accomplices!)

We went to Hope Campground, just off Squaw Peak Road. The road was still closed, but after some initial complaining from my comrades (you know who you are!) we finally made the arduous, painful, 15-minute walk on pavement to the campground. Because the road was still closed, there was only one other group of campers in the entire campground; and they purposely chose a spot on the far side of the campground from us, allowing us to make as much noise as we would like. (They probably realized that we're the kind of people who can make as much noise as drunk campers, even when we're sober.)

Camping in May is pure delight — for the first hour or two. When you first arrive you prance around looking for dry firewood (not an easy task), attempt to get a roaring fire going, set up tents, eat dinner (unless you brought tin-foiled dinners, in which case you will not be eating for another 3 or 4 hours), and settle down for the evening.

Then the sun goes down. And in May, when the sun sets in the mountains the temperature changes faster than the dark side of the moon (100 degrees in the sun, -40 in the shade). The shivering begins. You begin to look at your tent with growing dread, as you realize that even your zero-degree bag may not provide the requisite protection from the cold. You sadly realize that your poor, frozen fingers are too cold to play the guitar you brought.

And then, as you sit around the fire, this train of thought enters your mind: Why do I do this? Why not just pack up everything I brought with me, enjoy the fire for a few more hours, and then drive home to sleep in my own warm, soft bed? Why torture myself? Why not leave now and go hot-tubbing and eat pie?

I'm not sure if I have a good answer to those questions. But we did stay, and I did sleep terribly, and I did have to get up in the middle of the night to go to the bathroom (it was cold!), and I was insanely tired the rest of the weekend, and I didn't get any pie!

The funniest part of all is, I really want to like camping. Something deep down inside of me, beneath the point of conscious and reasonable thought, wants me to be the type of person who likes to go camping just for the heck of it. Which is why, even as early as when we were walking back to our cars after a cold, terrible night of sleep, I said out loud:

"We should do this again next week!"

Ah, the irrational human mind.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Laughing gas

M~ p17ma01/11p clr/teethAs a practicing Mormon, I am afforded very few opportunities to take mind-altering drugs. Please don't read that sentence as a form of complaint — I'm actually extremely grateful for a religion that has helped me stay away from harmful substances like cocaine, marijuana, cigarettes, alcohol, and Cherry Coke (insert smiling emoticon here). However, it does mean that whenever I do take a mind-altering substance (as prescribed by a doctor), the experience is strangely . . . novel. (Is it wrong to say that?)

I love laughing gas. (It's probably wrong to say that.) I try to find some way to justify its use every time I go to the dentist. Since I do try to not be a laughing gas druggie, I typically don't ask for it if the hygienist is cleaning my teeth, or if the doctor is using that weird mirror thing and lecturing me on how I need to do better at flossing.

But, Oh! You're going to use a sharp instrument? Gas me!

For those of you who have never tried laughing gas, allow me to explain how it feels (at least to me). Laughing gas does not prevent pain, or even prevent you from noticing pain: what it does do, and very effectively I might add, is make you not care about pain (or anything, for that matter).

I remember when I had my wisdom teeth (make that my four impacted the-doctor-had-to-break-them-to-get-them-out wisdom teeth) removed, I only had two things to help me: Novocaine and laughing gas. And man, it hurt, but I didn't care. I was so doped up that at one point I thought it would be funny to bite the dentist's drill as he worked. And you know what? To the guy on laughing gas, it was!

I knew I had finally gone too far, though, during a root canal just a few months ago. My new dentist (Scott's dad, good guy) has a television above his root canal chair. When I had my root canal done I was watching a documentary about the United Kingdom. It was painfully bad, but laughing gas apparently has a way of covering up artistic pain as well as physical pain.

The drilling, yanking, cleaning, and pulling lasted about 40 minutes total — but I was happily in another world, joyously flying over various parts of England, Ireland, Scotland, and Wales, admiring the beauty, and thinking to myself, as blood spewed from my mouth, I really ought to go to Britian. It's so lovely there.

About 30 minutes into the procedure, however, I officially took it too far. The dentist seemed to be finishing up, and in my gassed-up stupor I actually thought, Please don't be done! I have to finish this movie! They haven't showed Buckingham Palace yet!

At that moment I turned to the dentist and kindly asked him to bring me back to earth.

Thursday, May 7, 2009

We are finally a real family

(The title of this post does not mean that Camber and I are expecting a baby. Sorry friends. Perhaps another time.)

About three or four months ago, NPR began a new series about the recession called "Kitchen Table Conversations."

(For those of you out there who still listen to music on the radio, NPR — which stands for National Public Radio — is a public radio station that features news, in-depth interviews, things like that. You know, the kind of things your dad listened to while you were growing up. White people love it.)

In this new series, NPR features families who have to make difficult decisions because of the economy. ("Should we take Johnny out of the private school?" "Will I be able to pay my massive Harvard Law School loans?" "How will we survive if we sell one of our three SUVs?" "How can I go out in public if I am ever forced to break down and buy a minivan!?")

They interview these families as they sit around their kitchen tables, usually married couples — sometimes along with their kids — trying to make the important adjustments required when dad loses his six-figure salary.

Now, you may think that when I first heard these conversations my thought was: "How sad: I hope these families are able to pull through."


My first thoughts immediately drifted to my kitchen table. This series put me into an instant panic, as I realized that my kitchen table would never do for such a series. And how would I ever achieve my life-long goal of public-radio stardom if NPR came by to interview Camber and me around our kitchen table? If they were to stop by, they would likely take one look at our table and say, "Oh! There's been some sort of mistake. We thought we were interviewing a real family. Real families have real kitchen tables."

Not that Camber and I don't have a kitchen table. Au contraire, we were given a kitchen table before our wedding by my fine brother Sean and his fine wife Catherine. And not that it hasn't served us well, or that we aren't grateful for it. It has, and we are. The table, though, is of that constantly-falling-apart and chairs-that-could-classify-as-torture category. (Case in point: when Sean and Catherine bought the table, there were four chairs. When they gave it to us, there were three. Now there are two. The chairs, like Republicans, are on the rapid path to extinction.)

On Saturday I simply could not take it any more. I needed to be a real family — the kind that has a real table, and real kitchen table conversations. The kind that could have four people over for dinner, and not have two people sitting on the piano bench. The kind that could have six people over for dinner, and not have two people sitting on flour bins.

And so we bought one. (I'll have to lambaste the insanely high prices of all-wood furniture in a future post.) We are finally a family now.