The End of the World

El fin del mundo

On the road—in the buses, in the hostels, on the trails—we all have our Lonely Planets as our guide.  Most of us have backpacks that have been repaired multiple times.  We carry some of our indulgences whether they’re our music on our ipods, a box of our favorite chocolates, or a paperback book.  Some of us pack our memories and our dreams like bundles of laundry, only removing them every week or two until they get tossed back and buried under the heap.

I awoke early this morning, anxious to get a jump on hiking opportunities.  When I opened the door, the wind bit into my skin and a light snow fell, so I hurried across the courtyard toward the communal showers desperately hoping there would be hot water today.  I was in luck.  The warm water felt great, and I grimaced at the thought of going outside again.  Today was my last full day in Tierra del Fuego and I wanted to make the most of it.  I found a cheap flight that leaves tomorrow and makes a stopover in El Calafate before continuing on to Buenos Aires.

The manager of the hostel, who has grown to like me despite an angry outburst from my compatriot and former roommate, suggested I go to the national park, and she arranged for a shuttle to take me and a few other guests first thing in the morning.  There were no other guests in the cab.  When I arrived at the park, there were no guests at the park besides the campers who huddled together in their tents.  I was alone.  Most people did what you should do on a day with forty-mile-an-hour winds and subfreezing temperatures.  A few curious rabbits seemed amused by my presence.

There wasn’t enough snow to stick to the ground, but there was enough moisture on the lush, bent grass to soak through my tennis shoes.  But my luck had not faded.  The snow had kept away the crowds, and less than an hour into my hike, the clouds drifted away and the sun appeared.  It was perfect weather, and I was alone to enjoy its beauty.  Beautiful channels and lakes scattered over the landscape like footprints.  The scenery was dreamy with soft, pressed grass, snow-blanketed mountain tops, dwarflike trees, and countless patches of white orchids.  There is no better meditation than to be alone in nature’s glory, and I soaked it in for all it was worth.  By the time I reached the lookout point at Lapataia Bay, I was joined by a few dozen Japanese tourists in bright orange jackets who had been bused to this point at the end of Route 3.  They were all eventual passengers of the cruise ship docked at the port.  The jackets had been an added extra with the purchase of their fare.

I found a secluded spot to eat the lunch I had packed, a ham and cheese sandwich, my specialty according to my cousin Ana.  Even the most basic foods taste better in a perfect setting, and I savored each bite with unrestrained delight before moving on my way.  Beyond a grove of trees in another secluded area I discovered a familiar family—my Argentinean roommates.  They each greeted me with a kiss on the cheek and wide smiles, even the daughter.

“Would you like to hike with us?” asked the mother.  “We keep getting lost.”

We had rarely crossed paths in the room.  They were asleep when I returned to the room with Kate last night and I was up before them this morning, but out in the wilderness, it was as if we were lifelong friends.  I got them back on track and we walked and talked, climbing hills and tracing lakes.  Besides introductions, I had hardly used my Spanish since leaving Montevideo and talking to the mother and son gave me a great chance to practice.  The daughter, however, either raced far ahead or lingered way behind but wouldn’t join in the conversation.  Her reticence concerned me and I strode ahead to catch her.  “How are you enjoying the hike?”

She barely acknowledged me and gave me only a fleeting glimpse of her eyes.  Then I understood why she had shied away in previous encounters.  “I can’t hear,” she said pointing to her ears.  Her speech was rough but I understood well enough.

No problema,” I said.  “No hablo bien.”

This time she read my lips and laughed.  From then on she was more at ease.  After the park, we shared a taxi back to town and the mother invited me to join them on a catamaran in the Beagle Channel.  The boat had three levels and we chose a booth on the middle.  While we were still moored to the dock, the two teenagers explored the upper and lower levels.  My mind filled with expansive empty space.  I leaned my head against the window and gazed out at the shore as we finally drifted away.

End of the world, beginning of everything

A dark morning had turned into a perfect day.

Rainbow over the Beagle Channel


Thoughts Inspired by a Helen Frankenthaler Painting

I saw one of Helen Frankenthaler’s paintings a while back,  and while I was captured by the painting itself, it was its history that inspired this contemplation.   There’s a lot of yellow paint draped over a large, untreated canvas, the inconsistency of the texture causing the paint to bleed in volatile ways.  A subtle blue perimeter and a column of orange covered the side and bottom edges.  The painting is dated ’67-’76.  Apparently it hung in her studio, unreleased to the world, for ten years because she never felt like it was complete.  Finally, in 1976 she added an imperfect rectangle of red at the top of the ten-foot canvass.  This, she felt, completed her work.  At first glance, it seems curious that something so small and peripheral could give her such a feeling of fulfillment and completion with regards to the painting, but if you step back ten feet from the artwork, blot out the red portion with your hand, you immediately recognize its significance and see how something so small and seemingly unrelated to the core of the painting can play such a vital role in pulling all the shades together and giving the painting meaning.

It reminds me of the little stories we like to tell over and over as if they’ve gone into syndication.  There’s usually nothing too sexy about these stories, but we love to tell them much more than people like to listen to them.  What makes these stories especially interesting (and sometimes irritating) is the way people try to find any opening to insert them into conversation.  For example, I have a friend who’s a tennis coach who loves to tell the story of the day he accidentally explained something backwards to one of his students and how that student completely bought into it and said it was the best advice they’d ever received.  If that coach and I were talking about education in an America, he’d tell the story.  If we talked about politicians who flip-flopped, he’d tell the story.  If we talked about women, he’d tell the story.  Now that I reflect back, I realize there was a reason he told the story.  Our interactions with others and the way we perceive them are the nuts and bolts of our lives.  Moments that may seem insignificant are often the ones that provide the most clarity and insight into a person’s life.  It’s easy to dismiss these side stories as peripheral and meaningless, but what is in between the lines or what peeks over the top of the canvass are often more significant than what is easier to see.  What is also true is that these stories are often allegorical.  There is a reason we speak in allegory.  It’s the reason we have religion.  It penetrates a person’s essence in a way that mundane facts and details cannot.  It’s the red rectangle that punctuates the story of our life.

Dear Facebook


Dear Facebook: Please stop notifying me whenever someone or something says or does something to me or someone I know, or says something to someone who said something or did something to someone who knows someone I know or used to or might know. Please stop telling me there’s someone I might have something to say to because they know someone I know or because they “like” the same thing that I or someone I know “likes.” Please stop telling me when someone I don’t know says something about the same thing I said something about just because it was something about someone we both know. And please stop giving me “personalized ad experiences” because you think you know something about me because I “liked” or said something about something. -N. Miller

Some Thoughts on Occupy Wall Street

Pundits have tried to attach their own spin to the meaning of the Occupy Wall Street movement.  Depending on the media outlet you watch or listen to, the protesters are either a group of uninformed youngsters more interested in creating havoc than pushing a cogent agenda or a group of highly educated, underemployed who champion Michael Moore’s views on Capitalism.  As is often the case, neither of these extreme characterizations are likely accurate.

What the Occupy Wall Street movement is all about is regaining the individual’s voice.  Corporations have gained control of our government, a fear expressed by Abraham Lincoln in the quote I posted yesterday.  We live in a corporatocracy and the corporation always has the upper hand.  I’m not trying to tout a conspiracy theory but am merely pointing out the obvious.  Every candidate for public office, unless he or she is independently wealthy, needs corporate support to have a chance at winning an election.  Foreign policy is often dictated by “American interests,” which is just code for corporate interest, rather than by threats to national security or humanitarian reasons.  Corporations push for free trade agreements and have a large say in the “foreign loans” we give to other countries.  That being said, just because corporations have power doesn’t necessarily mean they will use it poorly.

Corporations have many tools at their disposal to get their way.  They’ll use lobbyists, public relations campaigns, political influence via campaign donations, and if all else fails, making the American worker an unwitting hostage, which goes something like this: if we don’t get our tax loopholes, we’re taking these jobs overseas.  Because through mergers and acquisitions, these corporations have grown so big that their profit sheets dwarf the GDP of some smaller nations, we almost have to give in to their demands because not to do so would be like letting a state leave the union.

Corporations can be very good.  In the past, we’ve followed their guidance as they’ve led us to prosperity.  We were all too willing to cede control of our say in the process, provided we were included in a share of the profits.  During the 80s and 90s, the standard of living improved for most Americans, and retirement portfolios combined with social security were enough to allow our seniors to retire in comfort.  Is it justified, that when these corporations make a few bad decisions, that we should take to the streets in protest?

In this case, I can see why.  While wages for the poor and middle class have remained stagnant for a little over a decade, we’ve seen executive pay skyrocket.  Pension plans of the average worker have been mined to enrich the kings on the throne.  Who decides on these salaries?  The board of directors.  Who serves on these board of directors?  Executives of other companies who know that if the general pay of CEOs increases, their own pay raises will be justified.  Who elects these members of the board to allow such foolishness?  Sadly, we do.  Or that is, we’re supposed to, but long gone are the days when we considered which companies we owned.  We sacrificed our voice to fund managers who manage our retirement portfolios.  While diversifying through mutual funds spread risk and basically ensured profit as long as the stock market goes up (‘the stock market has never lost value over any ten year period,’ is how my financial advisor sold it to me), it also made us less involved in the operations of the companies we own.  As long as we were making money, we didn’t make a big stink about it.

This lack of shareholder insight combined with deregulation unleashed the corporations and opened the way for ballooning executive pay.  We were doing better; so were they.  Greed begets greed.  But now we have a chance to fix this.  No single entity is entirely to blame, but what we can do is regain our voice.  We can watch companies a little more closely and if we don’t like the way a company is doing business, we don’t need to do business with the company.  Sometimes this is easier said than done, but isn’t all change?   The protestors in New York are making a stand in a collective voice, which is not common in our nation.  The free world can easily slip into becoming a “me” world where the concerns of society are quickly forgotten.  Corporations can no longer be faceless, and the people who support them can no longer be voiceless because when we are stripped of our identities, like Gollum or Gyges, we lose our humanity.

51 Useful Words to Describe Motion

As a writer, I’m always searching for the perfect word to describe motion.  Typically, simple words like “walk” suffice, so some of these should be used sparingly.  Here they are, in approximate order from slowest to quickest:

  1. Crawl
  2. Plod
  3. Trudge
  4. Tiptoe
  5. Creep
  6. Edge
  7. Worm
  8. Stagger
  9. Waddle
  10. Traipse
  11. Amble
  12. Dawdle
  13. Mosey
  14. Saunter
  15. Promenade
  16. Slink
  17. Maunder
  18. Perambulate
  19. Stroll
  20. Walk
  21. Scuttle
  22. Strut
  23. Sashay
  24. Gad
  25. Prance
  26. Roll
  27. Skip
  28. Flounce
  29. Stomp
  30. Scoot
  31. Scramble
  32. Lope
  33. Hie
  34. Bound
  35. Run
  36. Hurry
  37. Scamper
  38. Spring
  39. Rush
  40. Gambol
  41. Skitter
  42. Dart
  43. Race
  44. Sprint
  45. Streak
  46. Gallop
  47. Dash
  48. Bolt
  49. Barrel
  50. Zoom
  51. Zip

32 Useful Words to Describe Looking or Seeing