Monday, July 30, 2007


Dear Spike:

We’re in a KOA campground in Vernal — “Utah’s Dinosaurland” the sign read on the way into town — getting ready to toast some s’mores and then turn in for the night.

We were going to meet some old friends here tonight and visit Dinosaur National Monument tomorrow, but as I was checking in at the main office, the woman behind the desk stopped to answer the phone.

“It’s for you,” she told me.

Our friends’ car had broken down in Colorado. They wouldn’t be making it into Utah after all.

“So just one site, then?” asked the woman behind the desk, who’d been listening in.

“I guess so,” I said.

I’ve never been to a KOA before, but it’s quite the experience — not so much camping as parking and pitching a tent, really. There’s a line of RVs across the way from us, and behind that another line of mobile homes that look anything but mobile.

Kids with way-too-deep -to-be-healthy suntans are peddling about the park on low-riding bikecars. An older man in black socks, sandals and a pair of tight cut-off shorts is wandering around with a beer in one hand and a propane tank in another. And a group of large women in tiny bathing suits are congregated near the camp bathrooms, smoking.

“It’s like we’ve been let inside the petting zoo!” your mother exclaimed as we took in our surroundings.

On our left, not more than 20 feet away, is a family of pudgy Alabamans who told us they’re on their way “Yellarstone.” On our right is shaggy bearded biker daddy and his long haired hippy mama, on the last leg of a ride that began three months ago and has taken them from their home in Tigard, Ore. down the California coastline, across to Arizona and New Mexico and back up through these parts en route back to the Beaver State.

A soccer game of migrant workers, who have pitched their tents here as they wait word on jobs further inland, just broke up. They played in jeans and chunky black workboots — some of them managing to dribble the ball downfield while simultaneously gabbing away on mobile phones with their families in Jalisco — and laughed an infectiously communal laugh as they knocked each other around the makeshift pitch.

Now as the camp has begun to settle down for the night I can barely make out a soft symphony of crickets chirping — just below the roar of nearby Highway 191.

So as it turns out, your first camping experience hasn’t at all gone the way I’d imagined — but I’ve got a philosophy that I’m hoping you’ll adopt: Things that go as planned rarely make for good storytelling later on.

A couple of years ago, your mother and I found ourselves curled up together in a sleeping bag in a courtyard next to a church cemetery on the seedy side of Victoria, B.C. We hadn’t even planned on being in Victoria that day, but that’s where the roads and rivers led us. Sure, I’ve had better nights of sleep — but I have few better stories.

And so tonight find us at a KOA in Vernal. And tomorrow will find us on the road to find our friends in Colorado.

And the next day? Who knows?

That’s just one life’s great joys.


Sunday, July 29, 2007


Dear Spike:

A lovely surprise today! Your mother called me into your bedroom and proudly presented you in the outfit in which we had intended to bring you home from the hospital.

It’s still a bit baggy on you, but you look darn good in Oregon State University orange.

Go Beavers.



Dear Spike:

You turned two months old on Friday. We celebrated with a trip to the clinic, where a nice nurse weighed you (8 pounds, 3 ounces) before sticking four needles so deep into your thighs that I thought the tips might come out the other side.

You screamed. Your mother cried. And I watched in dumbfounded awe as you gasped for breath and your face turned three different shades of purple.

Your sheer delicacy still amazes me. You’ve nearly doubled in size since you were born, but most of the newborns we meet still dwarf you.

The doctor told us you’re in the fifth percentile for height and weight. Basically, that means that in a group of 20 babies your same age, you’d be the smallest. But she seemed rather pleased with your growth and — other than the fact that your right ear is slightly larger than your left — she gave you a clean bill of health.

That’s enough for me. You’re small, but you’re healthy. Tiny but tough.

And I still love you more than anything in the world.


Thursday, July 26, 2007


Dear Spike:

Deep inside my soul, where my hope and faith in humanity exists unblemished by the common foulness of our reality, is where I’ll forever hold the story of what happened early this afternoon.

The Iraqi soccer team — a motley group of Sunni, Shia and Kurdish semipros known as the “Lions of Mesopotamia” — stunned a much more experienced South Korean side in the semifinals of the Asian Cup held in Malaysia, falling into a pile in the middle of the pitch under the flag of their wartorn nation.

Thousands of miles away in Baghdad, Basra, Najaf and Ramadi, their countrymen poured out of their homes. Iraqis have grown coldly used to eruptions in their streets, but not like this.

Not like this.

It was sheer joy. Jubilation and unity. Dancing. Singing. Crying.


On Christmas Day of 1914, British and German soldiers fighting on the western front in World War 1 emerged from their foxholes during a short ceasefire. Someone produced a football. And as Limeys and Krauts are wont to do when they’re not fighting, a game began.

The “soccer truce” may have lasted as long as an hour.

And then the War to End All Wars began anew.


Nearly a century later — in a nation carved from the wreckage of a war that only begat more wars — a new soccer truce brought pause to a bloody civil war.

But as it was in 1914, it was only a pause.

Within hours of the Iraqi victory, late this afternoon, two suicide bombers walked into separate crowds of revelers, killing 50 and wounding twice as many more.


It’s an ugly game we play, this thing called war. By far it is the most loathsome side of our humanity.

Yet deep inside my soul, my hope and faith remain. And so, short-lived though they were, I choose to embrace the truces, not the wars. I choose to embrace the joy, not the hate.

I choose to embrace the beautiful game over its ugly rival.

As you discover our humanity, I hope you do too.



Dear Spike:

It got to the point that I was afraid to take you in my arms.

I don’t know what it was with you and I this evening, but we just didn’t seem to be getting along.

Your mother would take you, rock you, soothe you and put you to sleep. Then she’d place your tiny body in my arms.

And you’d cry.

And cry.

And scream. And flail. And cough and gag and spit up and cry some more until I gave in and handed you back to your mom.

It happened first when I got home from work. Then again an hour later. And again and again.

But she finally fell asleep, about an hour ago, and as she closed her eyes, you opened yours. You took one look at me and screamed like Janet Leigh.

More crying. And flailing. And coughing and gagging and spitting up. Until finally, blessedly finally, you passed out in my arms.

You’re now curled up — legs tucked under your body like a funny little frog, arms wrapped around my chest, head tucked into my shoulder — sleeping so quietly that I keep checking to make sure you’re breathing.

And it’s getting hard to remember why I didn’t want to hold you.


Tuesday, July 24, 2007


Dear Spike:

You finally went down last night at about 11 p.m. It’s now nearly 7 a.m., and you’re still fast asleep in your cradle.

You are nearly two months old. And so it has been nearly two months since your mother and I have managed a regular night’s slumber. Lately, though, you have been sleeping for longer and longer stretches — five hours was your lengthiest rest, until now — and so I have been excitedly anticipating the moment when we could say you had slept through the night.
But the moments we most anticipate in life do not often play out in the way we expect. And this moment is no exception.

I was certain that I would meet this blessed, rested moment like a man who’d finally reached an oasis at the end of a long and thirty desert journey.

And yet at this hour, I feel a longing for the desert.

As exhausting as our all-night parties sometimes have been for me, I have really come to enjoy the hours we have shared as the rest of the world slept.

Oh, I’m certain there will be plenty of wide-eyed nights to come. I do not expect that you have suddenly grown disinterested in midnight meals and 2 a.m. tantrums.

But I also know the time is nearing when you will move out of our bedroom and into your own. And I know I will miss your presence here, so close by as I sleep and closer still when I feed you and rock with you and sing you songs and tell you stories, late into the night and early into the morning.

In the end — when the moments we anticipate have become the moments we remember — the best we can hope for are good memories.

These nights have been special times for me. I will remember them fondly. I will remember them forever.


Saturday, July 21, 2007


Dear Spike:

The final volume of the Harry Potter chronicles was released tonight. Your mother and I took you to a party at the city library — complete with a tiny lightning bolt drawn on your forehead.

There were hundreds of people there, almost all dressed in costume. There were face painters and jugglers and magicians. But the highlight of the night, for your mother and I, was signing you up for your very own library card. I hope it will become one of your most prized possessions.

You don’t have to enjoy the Harry Potter books (your mother, like millions of others, is addicted to the tales of the boy wizard, while I’m lukewarm on the series) but either way I do hope you’ll learn to love reading. It’s our goal to help foster that love by exposing you to great literature. Thus the card.

I remember speaking with a bookseller around the time of the release of the third installment of the Harry Potter series. She told me that children were coming into her shop for the first time to pick up the Harry Potter books, then returning — again and again — for others. They’d start with something familiar — another book about magic perhaps, or a story about dragons and witchcraft and wizardry — and slowly move on to other works.

Perhaps J.K. Rowling led to J.R.R. Tolken. And J.R.R. Tolken led to C.S. Lewis. And C.S. Lewis led to E.B. White. (You don’t have to go by your initials if you want to be a famous author, by the way, but it appears to help.)

The same week I spoke with that bookseller, I met an old man whose name was Harry Potter. He hadn’t learned to read until he was 19, when someone introduced him to the works of Zane Grey. The cowboy stories — tales of rugged men cutting their destinies out of the land of the old west — inspired his imagination and established a love of reading that he still had when our paths crossed, more than 60 years later.

That’s often how it works with literature. All it takes is one book to get you going. Later on, other books might become your favorites, but you’ll never forget the one.

For me it was Main Twain’s The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. For you, it might be Harry Potter, or The Edge Chronicles, or the tales of Mistmantle.

The book that chooses you may not be one that inspires people to paint lightning bolts on their children’s heads, or throw parties with face painters, jugglers and magicians.

But if it inspires you, that’s all that matters.


Wednesday, July 18, 2007


Dear Spike:

I watched a man pray to God for a good poker hand, last night.

"Come on Lord,” he cried as he waited for the dealer to act during the final table of the World Series of Poker’s Main Event. “You have a purpose for me today. I will glorify your name Lord, I will glorify your name. With the money I make I will glorify your name.”

If there is a God, and I choose to believe there is, I’d like to think she’s above this sort of obscene deal making.

Then again, gamblevangelist Jerry Yang did walk away from that table with $8.25 million. So at very least, we know that God is tolerant of buffoons.

If you choose to believe in God – and in our family, that is a choice, rather than a directive — I hope you’ll have an easier time talking to her than I have had.

I simply never know what to say. In a universe equally grand in majesty and tragedy, my praises and concerns have always seemed inconsequential. So I have little advice on how to pray, save this:

“When you pray, do not be like the hypocrites, for they love to pray standing in the churches and on the street corners... When you pray, go into your room and close the door.”

I didn’t come up with that, by the way. It came from Jesus Christ. It’s what he said right before he taught his followers the Pater Noster — the Lord’s Prayer.

You might think that a Christian’s $8.25 million effort to glorify God should begin with respecting Christ’s strikingly simple and completely unambiguous set of instructions on prayer, but our species is particularly bad at practicing what has been preached.

And when our worldly self interests contradict what we believe God wants, we don’t just throw God out. We subjugate her.

I’m not beyond the ability to believe that God might answer a prayer or two, here and there. But on her to-do list, I choose to believe that famine, genocide and pandemic disease are a little closer to the top than poker hands, football games and pay raises.

God does not care if Jerry Yang wins at poker, no matter what measly and insulting promise he’s made about the money.

She doesn’t root for the Broncos. She doesn’t care whether Barry Bonds breaks Hank Aaron’s home run record. And she’s probably bored by NASCAR, too.

She doesn’t control traffic on the interstate. She doesn’t keep the stock market from crashing. And with all due respect to our current president, who apparently believes the phone in his office rings directly to the one in her office, she doesn’t take sides in a war (much less choose to start one.)

Oh, you can pray to her for any of those things. And while you’re at it, go ahead and promise to glorify her name. And if you’re going to do that, you might as well do it while standing on a street corner.

At least then you might have someone to listen to you. Because she won't be.


Monday, July 16, 2007


Dear Spike:

I knew this was coming. After all, your mother has spent almost every waking moment with you since you were born. It was ineludible that, at some point, she would recognize all summers must end.

She cried at the thought. “Do you think she will miss me?” she asked about the time, a month from now, when she will return to work. “Do you think she’ll be sad that I am not there?”

Of course, I told her, it would be so. I’ve seen the way you sleep, cuddled against her chest as she rocks on the rocking chair. I’ve heard the way you’ve cried for her to lift you from your cradle. And I am not so foolish as to believe my bottle and her breast are the same thing, for you.

I’ve never seen two people happier to be together.

Yes, I’m certain you will miss having your mother at your beck and call. And yes, I know she will miss you, too.

Of course, the reasonable among us would recognize the futility of squandering our happiest moments by fretting over the inevitable. Then again, your mother has never made claim to membership in any gang of reason. Thank God for that, as I’m still here.

By way of trying to make her feel better about things, I reminded her that I was, in fact, not such a bad person to leave in charge of her daughter’s care as she returns to her pre-you duty of saving the world, one kindergartener at a time. I am reasonably responsible, after all. And careful, too (though you’ve taken to sudden squirms and random gyrations as you discover this wonderful thing we call “muscle control,” I’ve not yet so much as stuck you with a diaper pin or dropped you on your head.)

It was, of course, not fear of my parenting that had your mother in tears this evening but fear of how much she would long to care for you herself. And in this matter, there is little I can do to alleviate her angst. For it is simply true that all summers must end.

You’ll learn that, I reckon, at some point between kindergarten and first grade. In the first weeks of August, perhaps, we’ll get to speaking about getting you a new lunch box or purchasing a new back pack and you’ll suddenly recognize the finite nature of the lovely, long and lazy days of summer.

At some point, down the road, you’ll realize that summers not only end but are, in fact, never quite long enough. And at some point not long thereafter, summer will cease to be a vacation at all and simply be — as I am using it at this very moment — a metaphor for other joys of life.

Yes, my child, all summers must end. It is that very quality that makes them so wonderful to begin with.


Friday, July 13, 2007


Dear Spike:

I've been looking at photos from our recent trip — most of which picture you in the arms of wide-smiling family and friends from all over the western United States.

You made a lot of people happy this month. Well done.



Dear Spike:

I leave tomorrow for southern Utah, where a wildfire twice the size of New York City has made a living hell of this Earth.

I’m a bit wary of this trip. I’m still not sure I’ve recovered, entirely, from our two-week sojourn across the western United States. It was a bear of a drive and I’m still a bit worn out, but I will never forget the weeks that you, your mother and I shared on the road.

You were absolutely remarkable. Quiet and content (well, mostly anyhow) you spent more than 40 hours strapped into your car seat like a tiny little lunatic in our tiny little asylum, as we drove fro Salt Lake City to Boise and from Boise to Bend. From Bend to Portland to Salem and back to Portland again. From Portland to Corvallis to Eugene to San Francisco. From San Francisco to Salt Lake City.

In some 2,500 miles, we crossed mountain ranges and deserts. We saw the Pacific Ocean and traveled through the Redwood Forest. We saw the San Francisco Bay and passed twice through the 45th Parallel — the halfway point between the equator and the North Pole.

You met, for the first time, your maternal grandparents and great-grandmother, your paternal great grandparents, four aunts, six uncles, your God mother and an admiring public so vast that its members could fill every seat in Fenway Park.

And for the first time, you smiled — a toothless, gummy, open-mawed grin on the front steps of the home where I grew up.

You weren’t the only one smiling. Our family spent just about every waking moment together. And I never grew tired of it.

You might think, after spending just about every minute of the past two weeks together, a night or two away from home wouldn’t be such a big deal. I’ve done this plenty of times before, after all.

It’s a routine assignment. I’ll pack up early Saturday morning and be at the fire by lunchtime. Two or three hours later, I’ll file my first report. Two or three hours more and I’ll have sent another. By late Saturday night my head and clothes will be thick with smoke. And I will fall asleep on my hotel bed without so much as taking off my boots.

On Sunday, God willing, I’ll be writing this blaze’s obituary. And then I’ll turn my car north and come home.

Nothing to it.

Except, of course, that this will be my first trip away from you and your mother since you were born. You’re growing so fast. You’re doing so much. I fear I’ll miss something while I’m gone.

And I know I will miss you, and your mother, very much.


Sunday, July 1, 2007


Dear Spike:

You slept most of the way from Utah to Oregon, waking only when you needed food or wanted to be changed. Instead of the "trip from hell" we were told to expect from those who didn't think that "Spike Tour 2007" was such a wonderful idea, it has been a joy traveling with you.

Normally, when I drive long distances, the object is to get from Point A to Point B in the fastest way possible. Traveling with a baby slows things down, of course. And maybe that's why so many people thought we were crazy to take you on such a long trip.

But rather than being frustrated with the slower pace, I've found it quite rewarding. Our frequent stops have allowed me to let go of the stresses of the road. And when we're on the move, I feel like I'm seeing more of the world we're passing through.

We live in a fast world, growing ever faster every day.

But sometimes slower is better. It has been this trip.