Historical Events

My grandfather was many things but a storyteller he was not. He was in the navy for 25 years but it was only at his funeral that I found out he was at the Battle of Midway. The man would give the most excruciating, verbose driving directions to the supermarket but he never once mentioned being at the battle that turned the war in the Pacific.

That’s the difference between me and my grandfather. If I had been at Midway or some event of equal historical significance, I would have spun that tale to everyone around me every hour of every day for the remainder of my life. Maybe it’s better it was him and not me.

Last year my mother unearthed grandpa’s old navy log book and turns out he saw a lot of action – Guadacanal, the Solomon Islands, a Japanese dive bombing attack. That’s a photo of it above. He served on a destroyer, the U.S.S. Ellet, which is a smaller gunboat screening an aircraft carrier, in his case the U.S.S. Enterprise.

Last year I did a little research and found there was a Facebook page for grandpa’s ship. On it a man was interviewed who was one of the last living members of the crew. I sent him email and asked him if he knew my grandfather.

I damn near cried when he wrote back, “When I knew your grandfather aboard The Ellet he was the Chief Boatwains Mate. I remember him very well because he was one of the kindest gentleman I met during my four years on the Ellet.”

Class Size

Malcolm Gladwell wrote about an interesting interview with a teacher in his book “David and Goliath”:

Did she want twenty-nine children in every classroom at Shepaugh? Of course not. Debrito knew that she was a bit unusual and that the ideal number for most teaches was lower than that. Her point was simply that on the question of class size, we have become obsessed with what is good about small classrooms and oblivious of what can also be good about large classes.

It is a strange thing, isn’t it, to have an educational philosophy that thinks of the other students in the classroom with your child as competitors for the attention of the teacher and not allies in the adventure of learning?

As a parent of two girls, this makes sense to me. Yes, in our home two kids are competing for my attention. Dinner conversations can be difficult with them both talking at the same time.

But there are advantages to having multiple kids. Often I sit back and watch them play together for hours. This could be called lazy but I think they get more out of interacting and exploring the world together than having me dictate life lessons to them.

Moscow

As I was walking my daughter to school this morning I was talking with another parent. He asked me if anything was new and I said, “I’m going to Moscow.” There were a couple of other parents nearby and my statement made them turn to see who I was. For one fleeting moment, I felt cool.

I should have run with it and said, “My people need me to handle the situation in the Crimea.” But no, it’s nothing that James Bond-ish. I work for a Russian company and I’m expecting to sit in a lot of meetings.

But going to Moscow has been a dream of mine for a long time. I have a hard time explaining it, I don’t even understand it myself. There’s something about Russia’s tortured history that fascinates me. I once read a description of Russia as a giant that wakens, throws all its might into taking two steps forward and then collapses in a heap and falls three steps behind. As Russian dash-cams and “Only In Russia” image searches show us, it is a very peculiar country.

Part of my interest in Russia is because I grew up in the shadow of the Cold War when the Soviet Union was the enemy. When I was a little kid I looked at a map, saw how big Russia was and thought, “We’re doomed!”

Memories of the Cold War make us laugh now but no one was laughing when they aired “The Day After.” Information back then was in short supply and there was no bigger mystery than what lay behind the Iron Curtain. How did they live? What did they want? What was their story? So that, I suppose, was the trigger.

No one reads books any more but I strongly recommend all of Robert Massie’s Russian history books. History that is so well written, I used to read “Catherine the Great” to my wife in bed as we went to sleep. I’m looking forward to this trip. It will be good to get away.

Mount Jackson is Cold


Last Sunday, Mark, Brian McGuirk and I hiked Mount Jackson. Here we are in New England, three or four days away from the official start of spring and it was one of the coldest winter days I’ve experienced. It was eleven degrees with a howling wind in the parking lot.

Despite my hat-less self in the photo above, this was taken about halfway up when I had already worked up a major sweat. The cool thing about my dog is he’s always ready to fall to the ground for a photo. I could not think of a better dog for winter hikes.

The photo above gives a better representation of the conditions. Again, we’re three or four days from the start of spring and there is three feet of snow on the ground in the mountains.

The cool thing about Mount Jackson are the gray jays near the summit. Specifically adapted for living in extreme cold, these fat little guys are so intent on getting all the food they can they will eat seeds right out of your hand. Mark got a picture of one of them on McGuirk’s head but didn’t post it.

It was beautiful at the top. The blue and white was overwhelming.

It was also so windy you could barely stand up. Temperature was five degrees with a 25-30 mph wind. This was definitely our coldest hike.

It’s hard for me to explain why I do these hikes. Part of it is a test of my toughness. Another part of me loves the cold that keeps everyone else away. Sometimes when a gust of wind nearly knocks me off my feet, I’ll think “I’m alive!”

It takes work to get to the summit and the reward is an alien landscape featuring brutal conditions that few people experience in their lifetime. I love that. Sometimes I fantasize about doing a big expedition to K2 or in Nepal but for now this is the closest I’m going to get.

Click on any of the photos in this entry for a better quality version. The complete set is on Flickr.