January 28, 2008

Traveling has provided ample opportunity for thoughts about life, family, death and beauty. Yesterday I finished reading Michel Houellebecq’s Platform and finally watched Darren Aronofsky’s The Fountain, both beautiful and somber works on love, death and loss. The former deals with sex tourism, Islam, western morals and the suffocation of the capitalist rat race, and the latter a modern reentrant triptych on immortality, the inquisition, medicine, Mayan and Judeo-Christian creation myths. Both revolve around the brief span of time their respective protagonists have a clutch on true love before the respective machinery of the stories obliterate it.

I’ve always believed that someone’s death should be cause for celebration of their life, reflection rather than mourning. A few weeks ago, my grandmother’s passing provided a catalyst for bringing my father and his brothers together. It was not unexpected—the family had been prepared for this event for a while.

She was a schoolteacher, musician, a writer of letters, a virtuoso in the kitchen, the wife of a hard-scrabble farmer, orator and sculptor, and a mother of four boys who lived—in a certain sense—a very difficult life on a farm in North Dakota. My father and his brothers live spread uniformly across the country, pursuing their own lives with careers, hardships, successes and their own families. Dad shared some of their experience in the wintry north on my uncle’s ranch.

In this video, my uncle Mark describes the ongoing war of attrition with beavers and their epic civil engineering on the ranch:

The last time the brothers and their families got together on the ranch, it was summer. Clear of the enveloping winter snow, it is a vastly different place, simultaneously monumental and desolate. The land is plied by cattle, horses, coyote and beaver under a sky that stretches to infinity.

I’ve been reminded of that trip, almost four years ago. It was a short departure from my home, abutting a few transitions, professional and personal. I visited hard right-wing evangelical Christian friends in Denver, made a pilgrimage to Colorado Springs for burgers and a velodrome, and learned to ride a horse again in North Dakota. If I were to characterize it, it was travels around fantastically beautiful landscapes punctuated by intensely evocative conversations and serendipitous moments, not unlike now.

I suppose this is indicative of life being cyclical, a series of iterative improvements, sometimes failures, sometimes successes. I’m optimistic.