Monday, April 7, 2008

Home, home on the Wasatch Range

Salt Lake City is a very easy city to navigate through, unless you grew up on the front range of Colorado. The streets of the city are based upon a grid system with the Mormon Temple at the middle and then streets spreading out into each of the four cardinal directions. The only problem with this system, from a Coloradan standpoint, is that the mountains are to the East. To see the sun rise above the mountains in the morning is very disturbing since I always perceived the mountains silhouetted against the backdrop of the setting sun. Due to this one pertinent aspect it took a couple weeks for me to get my bearings.

Almost immediately after I arrived in the city the one pair of pants I owned began to show signs of extreme wear. This was probably due to the fact that I spent a lot of time on my hands and knees following a two year-old around the house. Rough-housing with a six year-old takes its toll as well. I decided it was time for a new pair and went out on a search for them. After searching several stores and not finding any hemp clothing I looked into one last store, the Dancing Crane. They were out of stock on their hemp clothing, I was out of luck. While at the Dancing Crane I did find out that there was a Tibetan Buddhist monastery in town and decided to check it out. I went to the monastery and attended an hour long meditation session. Some people may not consider sitting for an hour not thinking about thinking to be a lot of fun but I highly enjoyed it. I have been meditating for about two years now and find it very beneficial. After meditating I returned home and ordered a pair of hemp pants online. About a week later I bent over to pick up a pencil off the floor and the pants I was wearing split completely in half revealing to Kim and Ruth the brightness of my white ass. Averting their eyes they prayed that my new pants came quickly. As it so happens, the pants arrived that day just in time for Ruth, the boys and I to head out to the small town of Roosevelt to visit Ruth’s family.

Meeting the Hackford clan is an outrageous event for even the strongest of individuals. Ruth’s mother, like many grandmothers, is affectionately labeled Nana. Nana greeted us as we entered the house with her thick southwestern accent. Ruth’s dad, Papa, came out to say hello then retreated to his office to continue his spider solitaire game on the computer. Soon after cousins and sisters and other family members arrived at the house and the noise level quickly rose to an uproar. Riley spent his time with his cousin’s playing with electric circuit sets and learning obscene songs that only six year-olds have the audacity to perform for their grandparents. Casey and I were content to read pop-up books and play with puzzles while everybody else went about their normal family behavior. A casual observer might have thought that everybody was upset and constantly yelling at each other but the weekend progressed without the slightest decrease in volume so I concluded that this was just the voice this family used to speak to each other.

For months now Riley had been very interested in two things often synonymous with each other: guns, and church. These are probably the two main subjects the Hackford-Peer household just does not associate with. Other than Ruth though, the entire Hackford family members are avid hunters. When Riley was given the option of going out shooting with Papa on Sunday morning or going to the Mormon Church with his cousins he chose the latter. Since I had never been to a Mormon service before I decided to join them as well. First, we sat through the hour long Sacrament in which the High Council spoke of topics so irrelevant I was lost before they even started speaking and then we all partook of some bread and water. At least in the Catholic church we get alcohol. After the Sacrament was a scripture class in which we were taught from the book of Mormon. Following the class, the men and women separated to discuss other aspects of the religion. After three hours of Church we finally headed back home. When asked what he thought about church Riley said that he loved it. I’m sure I would have too if I got to sing fun songs and eat cupcakes. We packed up the car and Ruth, Riley, Casey and I made our way back to SLC.

That next week I began volunteering at Riley’s school. Riley is in a duel-immersion school in which half the students are native Spanish speakers. Right now Riley spends about 25 percent of his time in a Spanish speaking classroom and the other 75 percent with other English speaking students. After my wanderings through Spain I decided I wanted to learn Spanish so I started volunteering in the Spanish speaking Kindergarten class. The children are amazing and I love when they call me Señor Will. I began reading books to the children who don’t get read to very often and though my vocabulary leaves something to be desired I am able to read books that I know well enough in English to pick up the other words in Spanish. I read books like La Pequeña Locamotora que si Pudo (The Little Engine that could) and Si Le Das Una Galletita a un Raton (If You Give a Mouse a Cookie). My Spanish has improved significantly and I am grateful for this practice.

A friend of mine from college in Alamosa had moved out here to the Salt Lake area almost a year ago to be near the Hackford-Peer family as well. Vee offered to take me snowboarding if I would teach her some things. She had only been twice before and was hoping to get some pointers. We went up to the mountains, strapped on our gear and headed up the lift. As so often happens with beginner snowboarders she fell immediately after dismounting from the chairlift. She got up, strapped in, and we took off down the mountain. The first run took approximately half and hour but by the end of the day she was getting down the run in about ten minutes. We took a little break during the middle of the day and I was able to go off on my own exploring Utah’s self-proclaimed “Greatest Snow on Earth”. I have to say that although I have been in situations that have had better conditions, the Utah snow did impress me. I had a blast flowing through the powder among great tree runs. By the end of the day, I’ll say I was very satisfied.

With spring around the corner the weather off and on became better and better. On one particularly nice Sunday afternoon Vee, the family and I went to the Hogle Zoo. Casey, being particularly interested in elephants, wanted to see the pachyderms first so we headed that way. As soon as we arrived at the elephant enclosure the elephant closest to us let loose a giant load. Riley saw it and yelled out “Mama! That elephant just took a huge shit!” Suppressing a laugh Ruth turned to him and said, “We are in a public place; use the word ‘poop’.” After that we saw the usual suspects, lions, tigers, bears; Dorothy would have been proud. At the end of the day we took a ride on the train that wound around the play park through the buffalo pen and past the bald eagles. By then we were zoo’d out.

I kept going to the Tibetan monastery and even took Vee with me once. It was apparent though that this wasn’t really doing anything for me. Perhaps it was the weird chanting or the extreme ritualism but it just wasn’t my thing. I talked a bit with the Lama’s wife who recommended I check out the Zen center here in town. Vee and I decided to check it out together. The trip to the Zen center would have to wait though as we had other adventures forthcoming. The following weekend we all went to the beautiful city of Moab.

With its red painted cliffs and desert scenery Moab is a city photographers love to capture. Yet even photographs do not do the area justice. Moab is surrounded by a couple of National parks including Canyonlands and Arches. We decided to do some hiking through Arches National Monument. With Riley clambering over rocks and Casey in tow we made the 1.5 mile hike up to Delicate Arch, the signature landmark of the park. Snowcapped peaks in the background provided a striking contrast to the crimson colored rock that made the hike especially beautiful. After seeing a few more arches it was time to head back to the rented condo. That evening some other friends from Alamosa, Teri and Tim, managed to join us in Moab. Beer and wine flowed all evening while tequila shots were consumed. Needless to say, the night quickly became a blur. Awaking the next morning to a horrible hangover we ate breakfast and packed up our things. Vee and I decided to take another little hike through Arches before getting out of Moab. We walked up a trail to see beautiful formations including the landscape arch and wall arch. On our way back down to the car we were hit by a cold front which started dropping snow the minute we entered the parking lot.

Once we got to the car we had to hurry so I could catch a bus out of Green River, Utah. My parents were on their way to Las Vegas because my dad had a conference there and I decided to join them. We arrived in Green River just minutes before the bus showed up but I was able to hop on. The bus rolled along through the hills of southern Utah in inclement weather with no real problems. After six hours we arrived in Las Vegas and my parents showed up at the bus station to pick me up. It had only been about two and half months since I saw them last but it was wonderful to see them again. While dad spent his days in meetings mom and I sunbathed by the pool or went on adventures. The first day we were there mom and I went in search of a wooden flute, the kind used in Native American music. We found one that was perfect for me and we bought it. I started playing and discovered just how easy it was to play.

The following day mom and I went to check out the Hoover Dam. We came within two miles of it to find that traffic had slowed to a crawl. When we finally arrived at the dam there were so many people we just decided to continue on. A few miles later we saw a sign that pointed to a road saying there was a beach in that direction. We thought we’d check it out. After driving another couple miles down a steep and curvy road we found ourselves at the foot of Mohave Lake, a 27 mile long lake with canyon walls running up either side. We disembarked and started walking along the water’s edge. After climbing over an outcropping we reached a secluded beach. We sat down and listened to the water lapping against the small rocks on the shore. I pulled out my flute and began to play. Melodic notes echoed through the canyon bouncing off the wall and skimming the water. The echo provided the harmony to the melody I played. Several minutes later I stopped and was absorbed in silence. All of a sudden, within feet of the shoreline, a loon popped to the surface of the water. To see this beautiful waterfowl in a desert environment during the middle of the day is so unlikely that I would have thought it impossible had I not seen it with my own eyes and had someone there to confirm the sighting.

This was an incredible experience for both my mother and I as it related us to our summers spent in Canada upon the lakes of Muskoka. At dawn or dusk one could often hear the call of the loon and would be moved by the eerie yet beautiful sound. Then we would see the loons pop up in the middle of the lake for a few seconds before diving back under the glassy surface for minutes at a time. As I said, to see a loon at a lake in the middle of the desert during the middle of the day was quite and extraordinary experience. It remained on the surface just long enough to get a good look at us before it disappeared again beneath the water. Returning to our room at the Flamingo hotel we were ecstatic and couldn’t wait to tell my dad about it. While in Vegas we were able to catch a few shows including Monty Python’s Spamalot and the Cirque de Soleil: Ka. After a week spent with my parents it was time to head back to Salt Lake.

I hung out with Vee that weekend and we did some hiking in the area. Easter Sunday we decided to check out the Zen Center. We arrived and did a half hour of meditating before listening to a talk given by one of the Senseis. The talk was very profound and enlightening about the nature of Karma. The Sensei mentioned that many people see Karma as a reward and punishment system yet the true nature of it is more in tune with the laws of physics. For every action there is a reaction. Simply put, Karma is physics, a common law throughout the universe, nothing more. Although what he talked about was something I already believed I felt intrigued by his speech. I decided to return to the Zen center the following Wednesday for Zazen, or sitting meditation. I found that this was much more in tune with what I was looking for than anything else I had previously found. I have since been attending the Sunday morning workshops and Wednesday Zazen and feel confident that this is where I am supposed to be right now.

The week after I returned from Vegas was Riley’s Spring Break. Although the weather was not wonderful there were a few days that we were able to get outside and do some things. One of the outdoor activities Riley and I undertook was learning how to ride a bike. That is, I was helping him learn. For a couple days we took his little purple bike to the elementary school parking lot. He put on all his gear including knee and elbow pads, a helmet, and a biker jacket. Once prepared he got on the bike and raced off. After several attempts at finding balance and falling over he finally started to get the hang of it. After three days of riding he was already riding without assistance all around the school. He still has trouble taking off and landing, as he says, but he is so close to being independent. Before starting out he and I made a bet. I bet that Casey would be potty-trained before he could completely ride on his own. Right now Riley is so close and Casey has no interest what so ever in pooping on the toilet. It looks like I may have lost this bet. I will be spending a whole day playing whatever games Riley wants to play. I guess it could be worse.

The Hackford-Peers have truly become my family and I love them dearly. Life here has become as normal as life can be and I feel grateful to be who I am in this place. I am surrounded by people who really care about me and offer so much support. I know that I am influencing their lives as positively as they are mine and that wherever I go in this life I will always have another family to come home to.

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