Wednesday, July 21, 2010

No Place Like Home -- Black Mesa, OK

I'm on the move starting tomorrow and will not be writing entries for the rest of the week.


Black Mesa is as far away from home in the state of Oklahoma as I can get. It has characteristics of the Oklahoma I have come to know, but its views hold promise for what lies just beyond the border. Black Mesa is a tease for the weary soul longing for changing terrain -- yearning for something different.

A theme of Oklahoma that I will probably harp on time after time is its vastness. Everything is big here...everything. With endless horizons and an overwhelming sky, Oklahoma is a place that reminds you very quickly how totally insignificant you are. Living here is not far from surviving. Plant life in the panhandle is sparse and tough -- painful to the touch and ugly to the lovers of forests. It is breathtaking in its harshness.

One thing I have always believed is that, most of the time, the more unlivable the conditions of a place, the more beautiful it is. The cacti of Arizona, the vast sand dunes of the Sahara, the permafrost of Alaska's North Slope, and the lonely snow of Antarctica -- all are seen as scary but beautiful places. Only the strong survive here, and we find the plants, animals, even people of these places, completely mesmerizing.

In many ways, Oklahoma is not that much different. The harsh climate, never-ending winds, insanely dry air from the deserts and the insanely moist air from the Gulf of Mexico -- combine to make Oklahoma a violently evolving terrestrial wasteland. In the panhandle, where there is more dry than moist, the plant life is unmistakably arid in origin. The animals are few and far between. Lizards and snakes crawl hurriedly across the landscape, and the brushy cactus whispers harshly in the gusts.

The sky is unrelenting. It pierces the skin quickly and furiously. Water looks strikingly beautiful here, because of its scarceness. I've never seen a sky match so beautifully with the landscape below than in the Oklahoma Panhandle.

A walk to Black Mesa in the summer of 2009 was one of my favorite memories of Oklahoma. It was hot. Very hot. The sun blasted through the high clouds and contrails as if they were not even there. The smell was of dirt and dung...cow dung, to be exact. And there were cows. Annoyingly, they were especially numerous at our destination: the highest point in Oklahoma. It has a statue and everything. Not that we'd know, since a few shall we say protective bulls were keeping it all to themselves.

It turns out, as in most things that our imaginations allow for, that the cows were a perfect metaphor for Black Mesa -- Oklahoma itself. At times, humans are not at the top. No, I wasn't worried the cows would eat us -- or even harm us. Then again, there's no reason to give them a reason to harm me. The cattle are big in Oklahoma too.

My friend Bryan and I saw the highest point in Oklahoma -- from a distance. We saw a few mesas -- another "big" thing in this state. We saw lonely windmills, mooing cows, slithering snakes, and flowers in cacti. Oklahoma isn't paradise, but then again, it doesn't have to be.


After about a week's hiatus, I'll return with stories from Bonneville, OR; Lake Tahoe; Atlanta, GA; and Silver Spring, MD.

Monday, July 19, 2010

Stories from the Road -- South Beach, FL

I've only been to Florida twice, and given my love for traveling, oceans, and thunderstorms, I find this completely embarrassing. What's worse, my two trips to Florida are most remembered for the beds I slept in. I will discuss the second trip's "bed to remember" presently.

I went with Somer to Miami in the fall of 2009, as she attended the University of Miami as an undergrad and OU was playing Miami that weekend. One view of the city at night is all you need to love this place, and it only gets better in the daytime. The palm trees are everywhere, the glorious white sand almost blinds the eyes, and the puffy cumulus clouds are a certainty by early afternoon. You can't help but catch yourself hearing the ocean, whether you're actually in sonic range or not. Even the traffic sounds like the ocean...

So, yes, I loved Miami, but I'm telling a story about a bed. Somer's college friend Chris was gracious enough to let us both stay in his apartment for the duration of our stay. It was a nice apartment -- very nice. Except for one thing, reminiscent of Martin Crane's ugly chair in the television show Frasier. The second bedroom, which basically was used as a study, had a bed that my back will remember for the rest of my days. I am convinced that this mattress is the reason there are all of these commercials promoting the absorbent impacts of a jumping child or a brick. That is, this mattress is the antithesis of the advertised no-impact bedding.

Because of the setup of the room (no carpet, little floor space), Somer and I were forced to sleep on this mattress-on-a-shingle. Any movement -- anything -- from tossing and turning to using the television remote control resulted in a shock wave on this thing. After several doses of Dramamine, the inevitable drowsiness was just enough to overcome the high surf on this non-waterbed. Several games of Sudoku were played, and the scribbling numbers made the game nearly impossible to complete after a few tiles were filled.

By the final night in town, I was a sleepless wreck. After enjoying a beautiful day in pristine South Beach, the repetitive sounds of ocean waves crashing to shore were too much for me to fight. This resulted in one of those rare instances where the position I fell asleep in was the position I remained in for the entire night. The crater that formed on the bed was a sight to behold -- my body's vengeful retaliation for the previous nights' insomnia. Never had I scorned the thought of a waterbed so much.

As much as I loathe that bed, the stay in south Florida was fantastic, despite the oppressive humidity. As I went outside for the final time in Miami, I could hear the imaginary ocean again. Roaring cars, the breeze in the palm trees -- replaced, by the smell and desire of the sea. It constantly calls you to the beach, and when you're away, it relentlessly beckons you to return. I would in an instant, even if I had to sleep on that damn thing again.