Never gonna give it up

by Lorin Michel Sunday, May 22, 2016 10:46 PM

There are some days that give meaning to life, that make you glad to be alive in this time, in this moment. They don’t occur often. Sometimes these moments involve a changing event, like the birth of a child, the acquiring of a puppy, a marriage. More often, these moments are attached to nothing but the universe. It’s a feeling, and it happens without warning. You’re driving along with the top out and the windows down, the music blasting. The road is a series of curves, long and winding, easy. You downshift and then you upshift, moving up toward the sky. The sun is shining, the sky is blue, the trees impossibly green. 

And it hits you. This is joy. Unencumbered, unemotional. It simply is life defined. At its most pure. There is no one that’s responsible. Your joy isn’t contingent on another person being involved. There isn’t a situation that needs to develop. There isn’t a relationship that needs to start. It is already there. You are the person that’s involved; you are the situation. You are the relationship. And you’re here. 

I know. I’m being cryptic. I don’t mean to be. Our friend Tammy was here this weekend. She came in yesterday morning and we did nothing but hang out and enjoy. We went to this fabulous Mexican restaurant yesterday afternoon and had table-made fresh salsa and appetizers. We had dinner on the deck last night with a fire in the fireplace. It was cool, not cold, and the fire was more for ambiance than heat. It was lovely. We had wine, we talked; we laughed.

This morning, we decided to head up to Mount Lemmon for breakfast. Kevin asked Tammy if she’d like to go on the motorcycle. She grinned. I said I’d follow in the Porsche. I showed Tammy how to get up on the bike (it takes a bit of a contortionist move to do so); I helped her hook up the strap on her helmet. Off they went. I pulled the Porsche out of the garage and followed. 

It was a beautiful morning, just after 9. The sky was clear, the temperature was hovering in the upper 70s. I put both windows down; the roof still out. I grabbed my Patriots baseball hat, popped a CD into the stereo since I don’t have satellite in this car.

We climbed and climbed and climbed. I watched the bike in front of me, carrying my husband and my good friend. To either side, the green of the desert. The cactus gave way to trees which gave way to pine. Up we went, until it seemed we had entered into a forest. The temperature had dropped at least 20 degrees. The air coming in through the open windows was cool. The pine trees were dense. The greenery was heavy. The rock formations glowed. I felt complete, whole. Overjoyed. I rounded a corner and the green completely obscured any other view. Through my Maui Jim’s, the colors came alive. Deeper blues, richer greens, clearer air. I breathed it all in, I watched it all.

And it occurred to me, this is what life is all about. The clarify of beauty. The reality of nothing special and yet everything … special. 

Several weeks ago, I wrote about listening to Al Jarreau in the Porsche. I thought of his music today, of the purity of it, of how it has always made me feel. Happy and in the moment. I thought about one song: Never gonna give it up.

I'll never give it up, never gonna give it up, even when this life is over
Never give it up, never gonna give it up, even when this life is over
Never give it up, never gonna give it up, even when this life is over
I'll be content in time

I’ll never give up this feeling, this moment, this complete purity. Not now, not ever. It’s what living it out loud is all about.

Oh, catalina

by Lorin Michel Saturday, May 7, 2016 8:50 PM

Cruising up Catalina Highway today, I was in heaven. I had taken the Porsche for my Saturday errands. It won’t be long before it will be relegated to trips only to the front gate and the mail box either early in the morning or after the sun sets. It’s a beautiful car, a fun car, low to the ground and fast. But it’s metallic black and the entire back of the car is glass. Even with dark tinting, it absorbs the sun and the heat. We frequently refer to it as a fish bowl, even though it’s impossible to see into or out of, especially at night.

But I had the windows down, and the roof out. When the roof is out, it’s like a Targa. The temperature was in the low 70s and I had Al Jarreau cranking. I love Al Jarreau and have since I first saw him on the Boston Common when I was a sophomore in college. I went with Jennifer who wasn’t yet a friend but happened to have a ticket. She and I worked together. We became friends after that, bonding over Jarreau. When we had our apartment, we would often blast one of his albums, and often the pink and gray one. 

Kevin doesn’t like Al Jarreau. Won’t listen to him. So I have to listen when I’m alone, like today. So I pulled his Greatest Hits CD out of the collection, slid it into the slot and turned it up. The first song on the album is “Compared to what” and it’s a raucous ride of a song. The air was breezing through the car and the sun was pouring in onto my fresh hair color. I was loving life. 

Catalina Highway actually belies its name. It is a highway only in name. It’s just 30 miles long, starting at Tanque Verde. It’s long and flat, just two lanes. On either side, houses are tucked into the desert, most at least partially hidden by the towering saguaros that make Tucson so green and lush. The Saguaro National Forest east is not far off of Catalina Highway, and it’s a destination for many visitors wanting to see these gorgeous desert beasts. We always joke and tell people to just come to our house. We have nearly four acres of nothing but saguaros and ocotillos, mesquite and palo verde, chollas and more. 

I went through the first stop sign at Houghton. To the left, the road ends not far up; to the right, it makes its way to civilization and eventually the 10 freeway. I stopped, dropped the car into first and then hit the gas. Second, third, fourth. The turbo whined and I smiled. I got to the second stop sign, Snyder. In either direction it eventually ends. It serves mostly as a means to more of the sprawling desert homes and the people brave enough to live this far out and away from town. People who savor the desert and the creatures. And the saguaros.

As I gunned the car forward, I could see several motorcycles flying up behind me. They were on their way up to Summerhaven, the eventual ending point of the highway. It’s a beautiful drive that climbs up toward Mount Lemmon, about 6,000 feet from the point I turn off, onto Mount Lemmon Short.

The seven sport bikes roared past me as I turned. One of them nodded, I suspect because of the car. It’s a beautiful car. Fun, like I said, and in pretty good shape for something that’s nearly 30 years old. 

I left Catalina Highway behind, slowing down as I twisted along Mount Lemmon Short. There were no other cars on the road; there rarely is. Seeing traffic approaching actually warrants attention. Look, a car.

I slowed down, downshifting into second, turned on Soldier Trail and then onto Mira Vista Canyon. As the song changed to “Morning,” with the glorious piano glissando at the beginning, right and shiny and ready for the day, I could hear more motorcycles racing up Catalina. I smiled and turned up the volume, thankful for the morning, and my old car, for Al Jarreau and a life living it out loud.

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live out loud

Sitting on the couch on a Saturday morning waiting on the rain

by Lorin Michel Saturday, August 2, 2014 10:17 PM

I got a text message this morning at 7:05 in response to a text message that I sent last night. I was sound asleep. I rolled over and grabbed my ever present phone. When we went all cellular all the time, I said it was so that I could always have the phone with me. Sometimes, and especially early on a Saturday morning, I find myself rethinking that decision.

When I get an early text, it’s similar to the early phone calls of years ago. When a phone would ring in the middle of the night or in the morning, awaking me from sleep, my heart pounded. I worried. At least with a text message you can automatically see who’s contacting you and decipher whether it’s important or not. Chances are, if it’s a text message, it’s not. Though it can be a way to communicate something horrible when you just can’t talk. When we lost Maguire, I sent text messages to everyone. When Pam lost John, she sent a text. It’s instant, and it’s less stressful in a highly stressful situation.

I ignored the text this morning because it wasn’t important. I thought briefly about getting up since it was 7 and I usually get up around then in order to walk the dog before it gets too hot. I thought I’d lie there for a few more minutes. Kevin was still sleeping, having slept through the bark of my text message; Cooper was sprawled on the floor, snorting. When next I looked at the clock it was 8:27. Definitely time to get up for all of us. Kevin sat up and winced as is the new custom in the morning as he continues to heal from his recent back debacle. Cooper stretched, pushed himself up, stretched some more and shook his fur into place, rattling the tags on his collar. I swung my legs over the side, drank some water and then padded the short distance to the bathroom to drag a brush through my disastrous hair – curls and pillows and tossing and turning make for quite the ‘do in the morning – stepped into some flip flops and took Cooper for his walk.

The day was overcast, the air heavy but not impossibly hot. Both my phone and the weather I saw online said rain today. The temperature wasn’t supposed to go above 88º. Cooper and I plodded along. Traffic was quiet on Campbell. There was a guy walking a small white dog on the other side. We turned the corner onto Prince and kept going, him trotting along, ears flapping like he could take off. It’s one of my favorite things about Cooper, his ears. I love how they bounce up and down when we walk.

Kevin had made coffee while we were gone. I fed Cooper, who was done in the time it took to pour two cups of coffee. Then we all went out onto the patio to sit for a few minutes. There was a delicate breeze, nothing to keep the day cool for long but the sun was still sleeping behind the clouds, and we miss being able to sit outside. We stayed out there for about a half an hour, enough to have a cup and a half of coffee. The humidity started to become stifling so we came inside. Kevin got his laptop, I got mine and we settled onto the love seat.

That’s where we are now. The coffee cups are empty; the coffee pot has turned itself off. We have music on, Cooper is dreaming, his feet racing to absolutely nowhere but his imagination. Outside we can see the clouds getting heavier and more black. The trees are hanging, defeated by the heat. It will rain soon. When it does, the trees will spring to life, the leaves whipping, the palm fronds dancing. The sky will spark and then it will pour. Until then, we’ll wait, sitting on the couch, relaxing and enjoying the nothingness of this Saturday morning. Living it out loud.

Hoodoo you think you're foolin'

by Lorin Michel Saturday, July 5, 2014 8:32 PM

Yesterday we journeyed up to Mount Lemmon. It is the highest point in the Santa Catalina Mountains, rising just over 9100 feet above the desert floor. In the winter, they get snow. They have a small ski area called Ski Valley, three lifts and about eight runs. It’s not Mammoth or Lake Tahoe, but it’s close. We might even ski this winter.

The desert is in monsoon so while the temperatures haven’t been excruciating, the humidity is. The clouds gather every morning, thick with an incoming storm. They get blacker as the day progresses. Lightning flashes and thunder rolls. It rains. To escape the heat we jumped on the motorcycle and made our way east to Catalina Highway, then north toward the mountain. It was hot and we were in shorts and t-shirts, but as we climbed, the temperature started to drop. We felt it first right around the 5000 feet mark. It was slight but perceptible, and welcome. We continued to wind our way up the twisting road, huge clouds above us.

Catalina Highway, officially General Hitchcock Highway, was cut into the mountain in 1933. It rises 8000 feet above the desert floor before ending in Summerhaven, the tiny resort town that serves the ski area. Summerhaven has a population of 40 full time residents.

There are a number of places to pull off the highway to view the incredible vistas. The road drops off on at least one side at any given time and sometimes on both sides. As you climb, the cactus, so plentiful on the desert floor, gradually give way to pine trees. Interspersed between are some of the most thrilling rock formations we’ve seen.

Arizona has ridiculous politics but what if offers in terms of desert and landscape is stunning. It is home to the Grand Canyon and part of the painted desert. The red rocks of Sedona are positively mystical. In the canyons and mountains of the Catalinas, there are hoodoos. And they’re magical.

Hoodoos are tall, thin spires of rocks that rise out of the dry terrain bedded with softer rocks and clay soil. This type of terrain is commonly called a badland, and it’s characterized by impossibly steep slopes, little to no plant life and lots of water running through. Hoodoos can be as short as 5 feet and as tall as 150 feet, and look like someone placed rock on top of rock to create towers. They’re found all over the world, in this kind of desert. Bryce Canyon and Moab, Utah are known for their hoodoos, as is the area below Mount Lemmon. They rise up and stand at attention, and look as if the slightest push could topple them. They’ve stood for thousands of years; they will stand for thousands more.

As we wound our way up to Summerhaven, we marveled at these glorious tributes to geology. Once we got close to the top of the mountain, the hoodoos were replaced with towering pine trees and cold air. We had to buy sweatshirts. On the way back down, we had an even better view of the hoodoos. There are a number of lookouts from which to view them. Some people were even climbing the ones that were shorter in stature. I understood it but it bothered me. Somehow people standing atop a symphonic rock formation seems to diminish it somehow, removes it from its otherworldliness and brings it into our realm. I know why people do it. It’s to have the photo for posterity sake. And to post on Facebook. Still.

In places like New Orleans, where magical forces are thick, hoodoo is practiced as a spiritual influence on the physical world. Many people look down on it, believing that it has hurtful intentions, and perhaps confusing it with voodoo which can. Spells are cast and the supernatural reigns. Looking at these rocks yesterday, the first time I’d seen them other than in photographs, I could sense the magic. Something supernatural had to be responsible for this kind of beauty. Something supernatural like nature living it out loud.

Parade of lights

by Lorin Michel Monday, December 16, 2013 10:55 PM

Catalina Highway begins at Tanque Verde to the east and ascends in a straight line, north toward Mount Lemmon. From the moment you turn onto it, you’re overwhelmed by the stretch of road ahead, one where there are precious few cars, and one that appears to be headed directly into the foothills. They jut up into the sky, red rocks and cactus, an imposing feast of nature beckoning you ever forward. Cyclists love this road. It’s not uncommon to find more people on bicycles than in cars.

Along the two-lane roadway, there are houses tucked in and between saguaros and prickly pear, mesquite and other desert brush. They are almost all desert architecture, low to the ground with flat roofs. They are not too close together. Rather they’re spread out and comfortable. Rarely do you see people outside of these houses; occasionally someone will be walking a dog.

Before the climb begins to Mount Lemmon there are two stop signs, one at Houghton, the other at Snyder. Just past Snyder, about five miles up from where the road began, it begins to climb up and to the east, twisting its way through the Catalina foothills on its way to the mountain. Just before this climb, there is a road called Mount Lemmon Short road. It is back off of this road, and nestled into the hills, where our property resides. It’s quiet during the day, pitch black at night save for the twinkling stars and on this night, a full moon tucked behind a veil of clouds.

It’s a beautiful area, peaceful, serene, away from most of the city. In fact, it is outside the city limits though still within the arms of the county. On Saturday, suited up in our leathers we rode the Highway. I happened to see a fire truck parked in someone’s driveway, completely decked out for the holidays, with tinsel and Santa and his sleigh on top. Lights dripped along the metal, nearly obscuring the truck’s true identity; a wreath adorned the grill. Kevin didn’t see it. On the way back down, I pointed it out. We figured it had to be for a parade. People decorate for the holidays, some even decorate vehicles, but not like this.

There is a tractor in a field near where we live that is outlined in lights. At night, it is lit up, the lights lining the wheels appearing to turn. Smoke in the guise of blue lights pushes out the chimney. There is an old Toyota Land Cruiser Jeep, with a right hand drive, in the street across the way. It is parked in someone’s front yard, also strewn with lights. An inflatable reindeer is on top. Inside, at the wheel, an inflatable Santa.

Down the street, in an area called Winter Haven, the houses are all decorated and ready for the steady stream of visitors who walk and drive through each Christmas for two weeks. There are enormous pine trees that reach toward the stars, real smoke curls from chimneys, Christmas music plays. It’s as if moving through a film. It’s a destination for people all over the city, a chance to experience the magic of Christmas. Norman Rockwell meets Clark Griswald.

Today, I saw the fire truck again, on Facebook. It was announcing the annual Parade of Lights, an event that takes place this Saturday night. The truck will undoubtedly be part of the parade that will start with a tree lighting and will see dozens of entrants, all showcasing beauty and creativity. The parade theme is creativity in the use of lights.

Off of Catalina Highway, outside the city limits, was one entry already prepared to lead the way, from our neighborhood to downtown and beyond. It’s going to be something to see. Very festive, joyous. Colorful. It’s the spirit of the season lit up for the world, living it out loud along streets trimmed to be very merry. I can’t wait. 

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