Sunday, August 25, 2013

Off on the Wrong Foot

The transition from August to September is like Rita New Year.  Rita New Year is definitely less exciting than traditional US New Year in the confetti/champagne saturated, ball dropping, Dick Clark bantering sort of way.  Well, I suppose it has some ball dropping in the sense that I do my best to drop everything I can for at least 5 days while I get my hermitage splurge in to tide me over for another 12 months filled with considerable, somewhat unavoidable social contact.  Rita New Year 2013 is actually 7 days long this year on account of I say so.  

I typically have a great sense of urgency regarding taking a break between my summer engagements and reestablishing my academic commitments.  This year is certainly no different.  In fact, I may be more desperate for a break than usual.  Last year was a less than good year for me.  My bent is to be collaborative in many, many ways and it continues to amaze me how isolating academia actually is.  I've been surprised at my reaction to the reality of my current situation; eight years of higher education completed with at least another three to go.  So basically, I'm at that point that most graduate students and established academics reach at sometime in their educational experience.  It's nothing new, and frankly, what a "problem" to have-- the chance to learn, grow, and thrive in a somewhat challenging, stimulating environment full of very cool people.  People who whine about their privilege are nauseating, and to even approach operating under the assumption that having access to and engaging in higher education is anything but a privileged existence is unenlightened and short-sighted.  I think it is possible, however, to be stressed out and enlightened at the same time.  Experience would indicate that it requires a lot more resources and effort for some individuals to maintain their privileged status than others.  The maintenance is what is taxing and isolating.  

So, who's the guy in the photos attached to this post, and what does he have to do with any of the rambling previously rambled above?  He's my dad, and he is the common thread of this post, or at least my impetus to write it.  

The photos.  These three photos capture the essence that is my father as he has been to me for the last eight years, maybe 10 depending on how you are counting.  I would like to point out that the two photos on the left were taken last year, almost to the day.  The photo on the right, however, was taken three years ago, almost to the day.  Upon inspection, these photos will tell you almost everything about my father you would ever need to know.  For example:
  • His upper body is actually just blue plaid flannel that he molts a few times a month.  Seriously, the man loves his blue plaid flannel.  It's like logger camo.  It's serious stuff.  
  • The Husqvarna hat(s) (yes, they are different hats; you can see in the photo on the right that that year's model was on it's last legs) are also a nearly permanent fixture.  Again, if making a comment about logger camo was not enough of a hint that he's a logger, the husky hat should be a big indicator.  
  • Old Golds and Coke-a-Cola.  His lungs no longer require oxygen, which is why he smokes a pack or two a day.  My father's circulatory system actually processes Coke-a-Cola, not blood.  I'm sure it seems like I'm exaggerating, but they only thing he packs in his lunchbox (it's actually a small cooler) is Coke and Old Golds.  Every once in a great while a Honey Bun might get sucked in and trapped in the void.  I'll take a picture when I'm home to prove it to you. 
  • In all of these photos my father is wearing his storytelling face.  It's a great face.  He has great the time when he was 8 years-old and rigged dynamite with electric caps to fish in a lake, or when he was in Alaska mining gold and he and his friends went over a waterfall after taking the wrong fork in the river.
  • He loves nature and the outdoors.  My father essentially lives in a shack in the middle of a national forest.  He and my mother fought very hard to curb highly damaging strip mining operations in the Black Hills and succeeded in having a portion of  the Black Hills designated "Special and Unique" which protects the land from development and mining.  
  • My father is one of the most rugged, tough as nails, people I have met.  He's been working in the woods since he was a young child.  They used skid horses back then, he hitched them and pulled brush, and ran water for my grandfather and his men.  By age 10 my father was operating heavy machinery, and he can do things on a skidder than would put many professional stunt drivers to shame.  It helps that he's an "adrenaline junkie" as he says.  One of his favorite things is to operate a skidder on a grade that requires him to lean nearly parallel with the cab floor to stay in his seat, he doesn't use seatbelts.  My father is an excellent example of how a person with a classified physical disability, he has no right leg and uses a prosthetic one, can continue to be successful despite it.  
    • His current skidder is named Henry.  His last skidder, however, was Curtis a CAT 518.  Curtis actually had a name change, he started out as Curt, which was short for "Curtains" as my father would say because he had no brakes, the roll cage had severe fracturing, and it was an open cab, one mistake and it was "curtains" for my dad (he has a pretty macabre sense of humor).  My father operated Curt for about 5 years before he decided brakes were a luxury he wanted, not needed mind you, but wanted.  Prior to replacing the brakes he stopped by using the skid blade on the front, when he wanted to slow down he would drop it and he could manage his speed by changing how far down the blade went and the pressure it exerted on the ground. 
My father's birthday is in the near future.  It helps me keep thing in perspective regarding my own life when I think about his.  When he was 17 years-old he was helping the US government fight wild-fire in the Yukon by cutting and bucking logs.  When he was in his mid-twenties he lost his leg after a terrible car accident.  The brake pedal in his van ripped right through his leg when he hit a guard rail, then the van burst into flames.  He would have died if a trucker carrying two very large fire extinguishers hadn't stopped and pulled him out.  He used to water-ski on one leg, and one of his favorite party tricks was dropping a big knife into his "foot"** on accident. When he was my age he was in the Yukon in a gold camp accessible only by plane, those are some of his best stories.  He did a lot of self-medicating through alcohol until he quit drinking in 2002.  My father has struggled to manage his mental illness over the years, but that is a separate story.  Basically, this all tells me that I think I can handle the remaining three years of grad school.

So, Rita New Year.  Perspective taking? Check. Ball dropping? Check.  Getting my act together for the next 12 months?  Give me a week.

**One of the funniest things to happen relating to my father's prosthetic foot happened a few years ago.  We were in the Big Horn mountains.  Dad is very hard on his body, his foot literally broke off so he was walking around with a peg leg.  He could sort of get the foot to go back on and stay, mostly this was for other people's comfort.  However, when we got back into town he had to stop and get gas.  Picture this as if you had no idea he had a prosthetic leg, and you were just going about your business.  As he was walking around the back of his truck, his foot fell off and rolled about two feet away.  He picked it up and chucked it into the back of the truck without a second thought.  As you can imagine, this would likely prompt a double-take.  Of course, then the store clerk comes rushing out, absolutely horrified and confused at what she just saw and spends about a minute looking from his leg to the foot in the back of the truck while desperately trying to say something.  Eventually, she managed to ask him if he was alright.  It gives a new meaning to "off on the wrong foot."        

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