Thursday, December 29, 2005

Geographic Existentialism: Prologue

It seems to me that you can measure the innocence of a place by the number of stars you can see there in the night sky. When I see the stars – and not just the really bright ones, but all the little tiny ones that make you feel that you’re looking into a milky cloud of dust – I feel the freedom to live life a litter slower. In Central Kansas, you can really see the stars.

During my college years, I realized and embraced the profound connections I feel toward places. I’ve described to various people that I feel about places – landscapes particularly – the way people feel about other people. I realize that this concept, these feelings toward places, seems awkward to some, and downright silly to others; and yet, I surmise that this attachment to place is universal, felt by, and affecting everyone, everywhere. Unfortunately, in my estimation, too few people take the time to really contemplate the matter. Most people do not sit around late at night, as I am now, delving into the complexities of geographical existentialism. And so I shall, because I believe it matters. Because we cannot escape the places in which we find ourselves, or the places from which we come.

Places become part of who I am. Now, I often define myself by what I do: I am a student. I am an intern. I am a bum in need of a job. Just as often, I describe myself by where I am from, where I have been, or where I am: I am from a little town in Central Kansas. I’ve roadtripped to Alaska and back. I’m now living in Colorado Springs.

Because place is so engrained in who I am, I am always considering its effect on me. Right now, its effect is very pronounced. I admit that I am in a struggle right now, a struggle to reconcile where I am from with where I find myself going – geographically, and in many other respects.

I am from Central Kansas. I have always wanted to leave. Now that I have spent a semester in Colorado, and have made plans to live in Colorado indefinitely, I find myself being drawn to this landscape, to this place, here on the eastern edge of the High Plains. And I want to be able to explain why.

Always having wanted to leave (to “get the hell out of Dodge,” as it were), I am confounded by this peculiar desire within me to absorb and truly understand the strange and quiet and simple beauty that now surrounds me. I have decided that I shall investigate this relationship – between myself and places – beginning with this place I call home, the place I am from.

In forthcoming posts, I am going to explore facets of what I referred to earlier as “geographic existentialism.” I shall expound upon my understanding of my connections to places, as those connections play a part in determining the quality of my existence in and with those places. Though I will talk often of landscape, I will often discuss culture, and it’s effect on me, for each greatly affects the other, and they are nearly inseparable for me, the geographer. I know that probably makes little sense. Perhaps, as I submit my posts, my thoughts will become more lucid and my observations a bit comprehensible.

Meanwhile, do a little exploring of your own.

Another beautiful winter sunset in Central Kansas.

Sunday, December 25, 2005

Guns & Roses

So this is what we do in Central Kansas on Christmas Eve. We shoot things. Seriously. Those of you who know me know that I'm more likely to hug a tree than join the NRA, but my cousins convinced me to shoot clay pigeons with them. I know, it confused me too. I checked, and they're not pigeons, so PETA's not going to come knocking on my door. But they are clay. And orange and round.

I've always avoided things like guns. I convinced myself that it just wasn't my "thing". The one time I tried trap shooting - 10 years ago, I think - I didn't hit a thing. So I was a bit apprehensive about trying it yesterday. Apparently, at some point over the past 10 years, I acquired the ability to shoot pretty well. I'm great. I'm not gonna lie. I was good for about two out of every three. Okay, so that's not amazing, but it's definitely better than nothing. There's just something about being able to work a gun. It's empowering. Maybe I'll hone this nascent talent.

I'm actually a gangsta. Did you know that? I'm recruiting a posse. Apply, if you dare.

Sunday, December 18, 2005

I didn't realize I am prone to fanaticism.

I know this looks like a nice picture of some friends and I camping in cold weather. But that's not the full story. The complete version of this tale is much more surreal than even I would like to admit.

Have you ever heard the slogan, "Eat More Chikin"? I am now all too familiar.

This past Thursday was an auspicious day for northern Colorado Springs. Not more than one half mile from my apartment, a new Chick-fil-A restaurant opened its doors, and with a bang. And a cow bell, but that comes later.

Chick-fil-A has a little tradition with its grand openings. The first 100 patrons inside the restaurant get one free value meal per week for an entire year. That's worth $249.08. I just calculated it. So that's a lot of money. You can imagine the demand for one of those first 100 spots.

Some friends and I are still here in Colorado Springs, after our semester at Focus on the Family Institute. We decided that we would make ourselves corporate publicity whores for an evening and wait in line. We arrived at 10:15pm. And we waited...

Did I mention it was ridiculously cold? Yeah, it was about 5°F for a low. We tried sitting outside in chairs, bundled up in sleeping bags, but that just wasn't feasible. So about 10 of us packed ourselves into a six-person tent. Ah, sweet relief. I was quite amazed at the thermal effectiveness of spooning (Thank you, Caroline). I'd never done it before, but I can tell you now that it works. It'll do in a pinch. Or in a Chick-fil-A parking lot.

At 2:30am, I thought I had voluntarily checked myself into a concentraction camp. Perhaps a Russian gulag. Okay, so that's a bit historically insensitive, but humor me. They woke us from our peaceful slumber, and made us line up in the order that we registered. And they counted us. It took far too long. We had to stay until they made it to the end of the list. Did I mention the temperature? It was still teeth-chattering cold.

We were then allowed to return to our sleeping bags. Slumber is sweet relief from the cold. As I drifted in and out of sleep, I was serenaded by the thrice-repeated playing of the Braveheart soundtrack. It created a very ethereal ambience for the whole evening. Maybe they wanted us to feel like conquerers or something - William Wallaces, each of us. I've always wondered what it would have felt like to trip out to those psychedelic drugs from the '60s and '70s. Probably not unlike spooning in a parking lot to Braveheart. Probably not.

Finally, at 6am, we lined up again, and were given our official number. I ended up being #58. Slowly, the line began to move. I passed by the restaurant chain's mascot - a uniquely bipedal cow, who was, at one point during the night, in our tent. I gave him a high-five. There's just something weird about high-fiving a cleft hooved creature.

Before I knew it, I was in. The restaurant's employees were making quite a racket. They were banging pots and pans. One man was even making a joyful noise with a cow bell. You know how Japanese people go crazy over American pop icons? Walking into the restaurant, I felt Japanese. Only I was freezing my bum and wearing a funky paper hat for a chance at 52 chicken sandwiches (Did I tell you they made us put on T-shirts and wear those fold-out paper hats?). I think I might have felt better if I had been waiting in line to take a picture of Justin Timberlake or Paris Hilton on my camera phone. Actually I'm lying. I'd rather have the sandwiches. And I don't have a camera phone. At least there wasn't a stampede.

I think I learned something about myself that evening. Actually, no, I didn't. I just felt silly. But I have the last laugh. Because I have 52 coupons to Chick-fil-A sitting in my dresser drawer right now. Well, actually, I only have 50, because I ate Chick-fil-A for lunch on Friday and yesterday. (You can use the coupons whenever you want, actually. I suppose you could eat at Chick-fil-A for 52 consecutive meals. I wouldn't recommend it. You might die of peanut oil overdose.)

So, if you come to visit me, I just might treat you to a value meal at Chick-fil-A.