This week 2014, vol 8

Ah Spring, how we’ve longed for you months and months on end, through snow, ice, and cold temperatures. All those days we had to strap on our heavy snow boots. All those opportunities to go out outside, because we didn’t want to need a hot shower or three cups of hot chocolate to bring us out of a hypothermic attack. We’ve bellyached and complained, we’ve fortified ourselves with central heat and flannel sheets. But, now you come, oh Spring, and give us hope that we might return to something freer, something that feels more human.

Yes, these are the days of equal day and night. It’s a time of balance. Balance sounds good, because that means warm and sunlight return, but it’s easy to forget that balance means more than just the one thing we want. There is also something on the other side, hence the balance. These are the days you dress for winter in the morning and summer in the afternoon. One day it is dry and sunny, drawing us out into the world and the next drops torrential rain driving us back into cover. This balance can easily frustrate us, because more often than we like to admit, we crave consistency. Spring is not that time of the year.

Saint Patrick’s Day came early this week, and the day has taken on an unusual meaning for me since 12 years ago my good friend Mark drowned in the Gulf of Mexico on the day. When my close friends and I ask each other what we’re doing for Saint Patrick’s we’re talking about what green ensemble piece we have laid out in the closet or which brand of green beer we plan to partake in. Since Mark death, we try to do something special. It’s varied over the years—one year I watched the sunset over the rim of the Grand Canyon, one year I got a tattoo, many years I’ve gotten together with loved ones and went bowling, which we often did when Mark was alive. It’s certainly a day I try to remember my friend and search for any traces of his spirit out there in the world, and, for me, it’s also as my friend Steven said, “a day I try to do something out of the ordinary, something I think Mark would approve of.”

I’ve recently taken a morning job at Murray’s local public radio station, and I’ve been training for several weeks. I’d love someday to host a show and be the next Ira Glass, Jad Abumrad, or Al Letson. I have a lot to learn before that, though. This week I had done enough practice breaks to earn the trust of my bosses to actually go on the air. What I’m doing is that voice that comes in about every 20 minutes and tells you the weather forecast, our underwriters, what show is up next, the time, the station call letters, and some sort of pleasantry if there’s time. I know it doesn’t sound like much, but it feels like one of the coolest things I’ve done in the past year.

The first day I was to be on the radio, was also the first day of Spring Break for Murray State faculty. Of course, the radio doesn’t go off the air, so we still came into work. But, Murray State had a planned outage for maintenance, so we were operating by lantern light, the absolutely necessary electronic equipment plugged into a generator. I was to tape my breaks onto a radio database that would automatically play them at the right time. I started almost an hour before the first break was slotted to air, so there was no pressure to turn it out fast.

I taped the first break without making any mistakes. I listened to it, though, and found something in my voice I didn’t quite like. “Hey I’ve got 40 minutes, this is my first ever time on the radio. Let’s get it perfect.” So I taped over it and tried again. Thirty-five minutes later, I was still trying to get it right and starting to get nervous. My boss, Chad, came in and asked how it was going. I said I was still working on the first one. He nervously looked at his watch and said, “Are you going to be able to get it.” And I said, “I’m going to do it right this time.” He told me to do it quick and exited in a hurry. I learned later that he rushed off to his office to record the break just in case I couldn’t pull it together. I did get it right that time like I said I would, but the pressure of the moment hit my body, and I could feel my heartbeat faster as I got further in the break. As I got to the underwriter which was a very difficult one to do (lots of tongue twisting words and last names that are hard to pronounce). I could feel my breaths getting shorter, I wasn’t breathing as deep into my lungs, which, if you’re wondering, doesn’t do any favors to your radio voice. I got it out, got my bearings and continued on. I’m proud to say that each day since, I’ve gotten all my breaks finished in the time it took me to get that one on the first day.

I’m looking forward to that time when I feel comfortable enough with the routine to focus more on that smooth, conversational radio voice that just sounds like I’m talking to everyone. As small as it is, what I’m doing right now, I want people to hear my voice and feel like I’m genuinely telling them about these things, not just reading off a sheet in a smug, super cool sounding voice. I imagine someday making people feel more at ease or helping people connect to something more compelling, because they heard this voice coming out of the speakers that just said it that well. I’m working on that voice, but, in the meantime, I also have to find a balance for the technical stuff. If I don’t feel good about that, it’s all I’ll be thinking about. That’s not good for the voice.

On Saint Patrick’s Day, I finished up at the radio station in the early afternoon and went to Land Between the Lakes to spend some time in wilder places, looking for Mark, remembering him. I ended up at the South Bison Prairie, which is basically just a big pasture with Buffalo instead of cows. I parked my car and walked to a place near them but at a respectful distance. This is a wire fence that I think a motivated buffalo could easily plow through, and I wouldn’t be much of an obstacle then either. Certain members of this group of about 40 would turn and look at me. I would get close enough that they didn’t seem bothered. Eventually, though, they all moved away from me towards the middle of the field.

LAND-BETWEEN-THE-LAKES-bisonI don’t know why, but I find a great comfort among wild things. I thought about life and death and where we go and where those bison will go and what even happens to the grass and trees when they pass on. I found a poem by Whitman about time and passing and how he believes that every living thing has an immortal soul. Good God, I am constantly hopeful of the truth of that. I thought again about Mark and about myself, and I noticed a few Bison looking at me. This isn’t unusual, they generally seem to have a look-out for the group. But, then more began to look at me. Then the lookers began walking back towards me. Then the whole herd began walking towards me.

Again, I’m behind a wire fence that the Buffalo seem to respect, but that I don’t have much faith in if they are motivated enough. I back away in the way they tell you to back off from an angry dog. The buffalo continue to approach, coming all the way up to the fence. I walk on, rounding a corner of the fence, going back towards the road. They continue to follow. I walk slowly down the road, because I feel like I’m disturbing them, but the whole herd begins to walk in sync with my steps, as if I’m leading the whole herd or as if they are accompanying me. It gets overwhelming, and I start to cry, I don’t even know why. Logically, it’s probably some defensive behavior or they’ve gotten used to humans bringing them hay in the winter. But, at that moment, the balance shifted from logic, and I just felt this intense connection with this other life form. A herd of 40 huge, wild animals walking next to me. I don’t know what it said to me specifically, but it was something powerful.

I’ve been listening to Vampire Weekend’s Modern Vampires of the City this weekend—it’s one of my favorite albums from last year. The album, overall, I think struggles a lot with faith and doubt in it, but those feelings that still compel one towards it. I’m not sure where they come out ultimately, but they are talking about it, and that conversation really draws me in. The song, “Hannah Hunt,” I think is about traveling to new places and how it’s this jumble of exciting new things and mourning over the things we miss. There is a somber sad feel to the song, but there’s also something very comfortable and relaxing to it as well. The music of the song changes at the end and picks up, in the same way our emotions are this wave of quiet and calm then suddenly more forceful and full of energy. It pulls in faith and faithlessness to this as well. Because, in the end, no matter where we are, it’s tough to be all one thing.

We are complex in a way we can’t even understand. I am so happy with this life I find myself in today, but I miss so many things from before. I’m happy to see the trees and animals wake up again, and there are times I feel my lost friends in that. In the next moment, I wonder if that’s just something I do to feel better. I think I’ll struggle with this for a long time. But, I won’t stop seeking, I won’t stop my travels. I will continue to recognize when something is full of power, even if I can’t explain it. And, buffalo, radio, Mark, even you God, I’m not sure what is to come or what you say to me. But I love you. I will do my best for you.

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