20 October 2011


I just went through security at the Seattle airport.  I didn't get the TSA treatment, but just watching one of my fellow-travelers get the FULL pat-down made me uncomfortable.  I can't imagine what it would have been like for her, but her expression conveyed shame and helplessness.

Much has been written about this, and much more eloquently than I can, but I just felt like I needed to say something.  In the ongoing see-saw between liberty and safety, this was a turning point for me.

18 October 2011

Landscapes: Volume Two

Another timelapse for those of us who like this sort of thing. This one is shot in Arizona and good ol' Utah.

11 October 2011


I used to have the first two lines of this poem by Arthur O'Shaughnessy over my desk at school.  It seemed a fitting tribute to the minds of tomorrow.

We are the music-makers,
And we are the dreamers of dreams,
Wandering by lone sea-breakers,
And sitting by desolate streams;
World-losers and world-forsakers,
On whom the pale moon gleams:
Yet we are the movers and shakers
Of the world for ever, it seems

With wonderful deathless ditties
We build up the world's great cities.
And out of a fabulous story
We fashion art empire's glory:
One man with a dream, at pleasure,
Shall go forth and conquer a crown;
And three with a new song's measure
Can trample an empire down. 

We, in the ages lying
In the buried past of the earth.
Built Nineveh with our sighing,
And Babel itself with our mirth;
And o'erthrew them with prophesying
To the old of the new world's worth;
For each age is a dream that is dying,
Or one that is coming to birth.

...Great hail! we cry to the corners
From the dazzling unknown shore;
Bring us hither your sun and your summers,
And renew our world as of yore;
You shall teach us your song's new numbers,
And things that we dreamt not before;
Yea, in spite of a dreamer who slumbers,
And a singer who sings no more.

06 October 2011

Apple of Our Eye

A self-made tribute:

Thoughts on Thirty

While in most aspects today is not that different from yesterday or tomorrow, it does mark the end of my 30th voyage around the sun, that cosmic roller coaster ride which seems to paint the trees a little redder and my hair a little whiter each time around.  I suppose it calls for a little extra reflection.

Several years ago, I wrote the following declaration:

I teach because a long time ago I decided that I wanted to lead a life of purpose, that I had been given talents for which I was to one day be held accountable and that I was expected to use these talents to improve lives around me. I teach because I believe that there are a precious few ways to spend your time without wasting it: feeding the hungry, clothing the naked, healing the sick, comforting the lonely, liberating the captive, spreading truth and beauty, and that teaching— in its own unique way—encompasses each of these. I teach because I believe that there are two things you CAN take with you after this life—knowledge and relationships—and I intend on working for things that last.

It’s illuminating to look back on statements like this one, to see what has held true and what has changed (and hopefully some things have changed—progress is marked by change over time and flat-lining usually means only one thing.  I trust that five or ten years from now an improved version of me will pause to reflect on what Russ 30.0 had to say today).  One thing that jumps out at me is that while I am still pursuing those same “precious few ways,” I am no longer teaching professionally.  That’s an obvious change.  But maybe the most fundamental shift has been in the way I view change itself.  

Old Me (my younger version…that’s confusing!) used to think that almost nothing lasts, that knowledge and relationships constitute the entirety of the eternal short list.  I have come to believe the opposite: almost everything lasts.  God is not a god of dissolution.  He is eternal, and makes durable things.  

In observing the world around us, scientists have long grasped this concept: from the water cycle to the conservation of matter to Mufasa’s great circle of life, science teaches us the immutability of God’s creations.  Just as things were not created ex nihilo, neither do they dissolve into nothing.  We are, so to speak, in a closed system.

And so our sojourn on this planet is perhaps a mission of taking matter unorganized and using it to shape a better world, of sticking it to the 2nd law of thermodynamics by expending our allotted energy in the creation of something greater than ourselves.  I once read a philosopher who stated that the bulk of a person’s life ought to be spent in building two towers: a family and an institution.  These form the legacy that he will bequeath to the world when he is gone.  While not exactly a bequest, I would add a third tower to the list: our own character.

As a boy, my forester father taught me about tree rings.  Looking at a tree’s rings can tell you not only how old it was, but also all about the floods and droughts and fires and seasons of plenty.  I think our characters are like that too, keeping an internal record of the high times and dry times of our lives.  We may not remember everything we’ve read or done or all the people we’ve met or interacted with, but it all leaves an impression on us, and we are at some level a sum total of all of these seemingly insignificant moments.  As the closing narration from one of my favorite movies, Stranger than Fiction, says it:

“As Harold took a bite of Bavarian sugar cookie, he finally felt as if everything was going to be ok. Sometimes, when we lose ourselves in fear and despair, in routine and constancy, in hopelessness and tragedy, we can thank God for Bavarian sugar cookies. And, fortunately, when there aren't any cookies, we can still find reassurance in a familiar hand on our skin, or a kind and loving gesture, or subtle encouragement, or a loving embrace, or an offer of comfort, not to mention hospital gurneys and nose plugs, an uneaten Danish, soft-spoken secrets, and Fender Stratocasters, and maybe the occasional piece of fiction.  And we must remember that all these things, the nuances, the anomalies, the subtleties, which we assume only accessorize our days, are effective for a much larger and nobler cause. They are here to save our lives.” 

In days of personal flood or drought or fire, we may sometimes wonder if it’s all worth it.  Robert Frost, asking that Question, wrote:   

A voice said, Look me in the stars
And tell me truly, men of earth,
If all the soul-and-body scars
Were not too much to pay for birth.

Indeed, they were not.  Happy birthday, future me.

05 October 2011

Knight Light

Intercollegiate Knights--Lighting the Y

It's Homecoming Week out at BYU this week, which means the Y is all lit up.  Apparently in yon olden dayes, the lighting of the Y was accomplished by soaking hunks of mattresses in oil.  This was carried out by (no joke) the Intercollegiate Knights, a service fraternity based on the Arthurian legends.  In addition to the glowing Y, the Knights are also responsible for such BYU landmarks as the Victory Bell and the statue of Massasoit (AKA "The Naked Indian"--which coincidentally was the site of the best flash mob I've ever witnessed, a "modest is hottest" protest of gratuitous half-nakedness).  Huzzah!

In related news, there is a U on the mountain in Salt Lake, a G in Pleasant Grove, and a Y in Provo.  We just need Lindon to get with the program for a north-to-south statement to Nevada, who don't got no alibi.

03 October 2011

2011 Bez-Boll

When my teams are out of the playoffs, I root for the worst-remaining teams, as determined by number of championships and time since last championship.  Here's looking at you, Brew Crew.  (Doing that two-handed monster gesture.)

02 October 2011

The "Phoenix" Temple

Almost a year ago, I posted the following comments:

My favorite building in Provo burned down early this morning.  Is it weird to have a favorite building?  Is it weird to feel sad, almost mournful, about a building fire?  Because that's kind of how I feel right now.
I attended services at the Provo Tabernacle maybe a half dozen times--that's all--but I still have a sense of loss.  One Easter morning I went to an early morning concert there.  As usual I sat in the balcony, climbing the spiraling stairs to the narrow wooden pews.  As the choir belted out "Come Thou Fount" the sun crested the mountains and streamed through the stained glass windows; it was truly triumphant.  That moment taught me something about God, and I think that's the Tabernacle's legacy-- it was a place to experience the Divine.  I'll miss it.
Yesterday, President Monson announced that the Tabernacle will be rebuilt as a temple. Amen, and amen.

It may be melodramatic, but I want to one day look back at my life and see the Provo Tabernacle: having become meaningful to those around me through a lifetime of useful service, and having faced life's vicissitudes great and small, being able to rise triumphant as a better version of myself.

The refiner's fire, indeed.

Utah, October 1st

For this one week, Utah is the prettiest place on God's green--and yellow, and orange, and red--earth.

Photos courtesy of my favorite photographer, John Scanlan (with apologies to you, Ansel).