Wednesday, August 29, 2007


Dear Spike:

The alumni magazine from Oregon State University came in the mail today. It’s typically a pretty skimpy publication, but I usually flip through it to see if any of my college friends are featured.

This edition included a story about the Beavers’ storied run to the 2007 College World Series baseball championship, another article about an OSU grad who produces the records of a rock band I like and a third feature about a new assistant football coach, Jay Locey, whom I covered when he was running the legendary Divison 3 program at Linfield College.

And so it was that, having spent quite a bit more time leafing through the pages than I normally would have, I ended up in the back of the magazine, reading the obituaries.

The first entry was a graduate from the Class of ‘23, Christmas Jean Tuttle Gaily, who boarded a train for Corvallis at the age of 16 and didn’t return until she’d graduated. At the time of her death, she was the oldest living graduate of OSU. She lived to be 105 years old.

One of the last names on the list was Sommer Nicole Chambers, from the Class of ‘02. She lived to be 29.

Sommer was my friend and, for a short time (right around the time your mother and I started dating) my housemate. We met for the first time on a snowy winter day, when she and two other animal rights protesters had locked themselves into small cages in front of the Memorial Union to protest the use of animal test subjects in the university’s science labs. I penned the story for the student newspaper.

Needless to say, we didn’t have a lot in common. She was a heavily tattooed anarchist who worked at a local animal shelter and was raising orphan raccoons in her garage. I was a midshipman in the U.S. Navy Reserve with a part-time job at the school paper.

Over the months, we got to know each other better as she tended the bar at the local coffee shop I frequented — mostly late at night — to read, study and write. After a while, she stopped kicking me out at closing time, I think because she felt better having someone around as she closed out the register, mopped the floors, cleaned out the sinks and locked the doors. I suppose that’s how I ended up in her rather limited circle of trust.

But as things often go, we fell out of contact shortly after graduation. I got married and began a career in the papers. She traveled the globe teaching English and working to promote western ideas about animal welfare, most recently in South Korea.

I didn’t feel surprised when I saw Sommer’s name in the back of the magazine tonight. She always seemed to be a shooting star. And I suppose that one condition of having a lot of friends and acquaintances in the military, in a time of war, is that you grow used to seeing familiar names in the obituaries — even those who would never have the first thing to do with the military.

But I did feel sad. And regretful. And guilty. In an era in which it has become so easy to keep in contact with far away friends, I’ve made a pitiful effort at doing so.

You’ll cross paths with many people in this life. And you can’t keep in touch with all of them — not in any sort of meaningful way, at least.

But do not allow those who are important to you to slip away. Like Sommer Chambers and Christmas Gaily, life is both fragile and resilient.

And so is friendship.


Monday, August 27, 2007


Dear Spike:

Three months have passed since the day you arrived. It’s amazing to me how life can seem to move so fast and so slow at once. It’s hard to remember what life was like without you. I feel like I’ve lived a lifetime in your short lifetime. And at the same time, I feel like it’s gone by so quickly.

You’re still so very small — people mistake you for a newborn — but to me you seem so big. You are, after all, twice the size you were when you were born, with beautiful chubby cheeks and ever-fattening legs. You’ve long since grown out of your premie clothes. And with every passing day, it seems, we find another outfit no longer fits you.

Your first act, every morning, is a smile. And lately, you’ve been finishing the day with an hour-long screamfest that your mother and I have come to call the “9 o’clock freak out.” It’s OK, though, we love you still.

You no longer need us to support your head. And I can’t help but think you’re practicing to meet this world with your head held high. You look so confident, I feel like I could send you off to college tomorrow.

And, at the same time, I worry that I’ll be sending you off to college tomorrow. Everyone tells us: “It goes so fast — enjoy it while you can.”

So this month, at least, you and I are going to slow things down. Today was my first day of paternity leave, and we celebrated with a morning stroll through the aviary. As usual, you perked up when you heard the peacocks, the cuckaburra and the cranes call out. And I think I saw you following one particular scarlet ibis as it dashed back and forth about its cage.

Tomorrow, maybe, we’ll go too the zoo. Or perhaps we’ll just sit in the backyard, in the hammock, and swing and swing and swing.

I’ll read you a book. Maybe we’ll take a nap together. Maybe I’ll bring out my guitar and play you a song or two or three. And maybe I’ll write you a new one.

And we’ll live another lifetime together.


Tuesday, August 21, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother stopped going to her weekly banjo practices when she was eight months pregnant. Lately, I’ve been trying to get her to pick it up again. She keeps saying she will — some time later.

But after what happened Saturday evening, I’m pretty sure she’ll be playing again very soon.

You were crying. She was rocking you. I was fiddling with a music sampling program on my computer, trying to find a tune for a video, when I came across a few short banjo riffs.

And just like that, you were silent.

We weren’t sure at first. It might have been a simple coincidence. So I turned the music off.

And you started to cry.

And I turned the music on.

And you were quiet again.

The only plausable explanation, of course, is that you could remember the sounds of the banjo from when you were inside your mother’s womb. And that brings me great joy, because if you can remember music from before you were born, it makes it easier for me to believe that the things we do together now — walking through the park, singing, rocking and reading — might just stick to your psyche in the years to come.

Who knew you’d be a banjo girl?


Thursday, August 16, 2007


Dear Spike:

We spent our first day of “Daddy Daycare” together.

I’m still alive. So are you, for that matter.

Yeah us!



Dear Spike:

We had a lovely visit with your grandparents this week. When it was over, we all crammed into the car to see them off at the airport. They kissed you and kissed you and kissed you again, and then, finally, turned and walked toward the terminal.

As we drove away, your mother looked out the passenger window and watched them as they gathered up their suitcases in front of a sliding glass door.

“They’re crying,” she said. “They love her so much that they’re crying.”

The depth of love you will feel from all sides of your family will be oceanic. Perhaps you know this already. Or sense it, at least.

I am often saddened when I think of how far we live from everyone in our family. But as I’ve told you before, we are a family that finds family wherever we go. Already, you are finding family here in a growing group of people who know you and love you and would go to the ends of this Earth for you. And I find some consolation in the knowledge that your concepts of “family” and “community” will be little different.

As for those special family members with whom we share blood? We will speak frequently. We will write and exchange photos. As the years and technology allow, we will find new ways to tell each other that we love each other.

And we will wait, eagerly, for our next visit.


Wednesday, August 15, 2007


Dear Spike:

Your mother goes back to work this week.

I was greatly looking forward to beginning my paternity leave this coming Monday. But with half of my colleagues still hunkered down, down south, waiting for what is almost certainly going to be bad news in regards to the lost miners, my boss has asked me to stay on for a few more days.

I like feeling wanted, so I agreed — though I made him promise not to send me back down to the mines, since your mom’s going to be working and we have no real daycare plan.

Finding someone to care for you is going to be part of my job when my shortly delayed leave finally begins, on the 27th of this month. I’ve already asked around and visited a few places, but I’m having trouble finding the right mix of attributes for our family.

I’ve whittled down what we’re looking for to three things:

• We need to be able to afford it.
• We need to be able to trust it.
• And it needs to be available.

And in this situation, best two-out-of-three ain’t gonna cut it.

For the most part, of course, I’m going to be your daily caregiver. The way I work is particularly conducive to being an ‘at-home daddy,’ and I’m excited and eager to begin this part of my life. But there are going to be times (like last week when I was called to the mines) when we’re going to need to have someone we trust to care for you.

Most of my friends who have children have family nearby. But our closest relative, your Great Uncle Dave, lives five hours away. And though we’d love for Dave to be your nanny (as it happens, he was the first person you ever smiled at) I just don’t think you’re quite ready to smoke, drink and gamble that much.

This much I know for sure: We will never leave you in the care of anyone who doesn’t feel like family to us. You are too valuable and your company is too precious to simply give to anyone.


Monday, August 6, 2007


Dear Spike:

I’ll make camp tonight on a cliffside in the Uinta Mountains, overlooking a freeway on which a small army of reporters has surrounded the entrance to Crandall Canyon.

We’re all waiting for word on six men who were trapped when the coal mine they were in collapsed early this morning. It’s been more than 16 hours now with no word from the miners. The mine owner says it may be three days before rescuers can get to where the men are trapped.

And so we wait.

I’ve only just begun to understand how fathers feel about their children. Many of the men trapped in this mountain are fathers. All of them have fathers.

I cannot imagine the depth of their fear, longing and dread this evening.

I’ll miss you tonight. And I will think of you all night long.


Wednesday, August 1, 2007


Dear Spike:

You awoke last night in your mother’s arms to the shrill songs of an legion of crickets, the gurgling of the Green River and — barely audible behind it all — a nightingale calling for moon to rise. Fainter still, the wind rustled through the stickly trees and bushes, making a sound like sandpaper on soft wood.

We’d spent the day with our friends in a tiny town across the Colorado border, before seeing them off in a tow truck this afternoon. We then pointed our wagon back to Dinosaur National Monument, where we were met by ancient petroglyphs, primeval fossils, jagged mountain peaks, rainbow-painted rocksides and this glorious desert symphony.

Yes, I thought, this is how camping should be. This is what camping should sound like.

And then, as if in reply, you began to cry.

And cry.

And cry.

And scream and wail and squeal and moan and shriek.

Innately, I wanted to soothe you. But quickly, I simply wanted to quiet you. It wasn’t a full campground — but it wasn’t empty, either.

No, I thought, this is now how camping should be. This is not what camping should sound like.

If there was ever a time in which I fully understood how much our lives have changed, it was in those moments, when your tears washed away the sounds of nature like the Green River washes through these sandstone mountains.

Yes, I was frustrated. But not for a moment did I wish it were not so. Just as the river has brought beauty to this desert range, so to have you brought such beauty to our lives.

The crickets, the nightingale, the wind against the trees — those sounds were here when the ancients painted these caverns walls. Those sounds will be here tomorrow. And the next day. And the next.

We broke camp this morning exhausted and eager to return home. And as you slept, the whole ride back, we laughed at how contentedly you seemed to be slumbering.

Yes, I thought, this is how life should be. This is what camping life sound like.