As I write this, we are smack dab in the midst of March Madness — the NCAA basketball tournament, for those of you disinclined to the sporting life, not pollen induced insanity — and I have, oddly enough, found something about which to nitpick regarding bracket nomenclature.
The pool of contestants begins with 64 teams and, through a process of competitive attrition, is halved six times until only one remains. At the third stage of the operation an alliterative and laudatory adjective is applied to the number of teams remaining, to wit, the Sweet 16. As in, pretty sweet, dudes. Out of all the eleventy-squillion colleges, you made it to the show, and now you're the last 16 standing.
The trend continues as an octet of games reduces the number yet further, becoming the Elite 8. A fine and appropriate term for the eight scrappy, determined teams whose talent, ability, and drive has placed them in what is indeed an elite group: the eight finest college basketball teams in the nation. The glory is evanescent, though as the eight teams then do battle amongst themselves to become: the Final Four.
Wait a tick, the what? Final Four? Is this not a disruption of the pattern of praise and distinction established at 16 and ratified at 8? You're Sweet, then you're Elite, and now you're just: final. Get over yourselves, boys, this is the end. Deal with it.
The alliteration convention is observed but the word is otherwise blandly descriptive, with zero qualitative connotation. Worse yet? The four teams are in no way final! There's still three games yet to play! How is that final? It isn't. Might I suggest that the four become the Fabulous Four, followed by the Tremendous Two, and—finally—the Ultimate Uno. Bam! Another problem you didn't know you had solved by the Stony Lonesome, you're welcome.
It's a good time for sports in general. The Warriors are on an historic tear and likely to repeat as champions. Steph Curry is as likeable and accessible an MVP as we've ever seen and plays with effortless grace and generosity, backed by a squad of fast-moving, hot-shooting ball jockeys and Andrew Bogut, who's very good at getting in the other team's way.
The Giants are looking good with a potentially devastating rotation and an even-numbered year. At this time I see no barriers to them fulfilling their biennial destiny and establishing an alternating dynasty. Suck it, Dodgers.
In non-sports related insanity, the hemisphere is currently rocking with nature's finest madness, Spring. Some people are enjoying it, I should clarify; there are those, such as inhabitants of polar ice caps, ocean floors, and the thrice-damned Mojave Desert, for whom the equinox represents no more that a lengthening of the days. Me, for instance. There has been a gradual move from bearably warm to unbearably hot, but that's it as far as I can tell. Maybe the lizards have undergone a molt of some sort which improves their appearance, but not having inspected them thoroughly, I wouldn't know.
The landscape, which consists of a) dirt and b) Joshua "trees" I'm sorry, but I cannot in good conscience subscribe to the fiction that these grotesqueries are, in fact, trees. They are the product of a Seussian fever dream. The giant sequoia? That's a tree. Colorado Blue Spruce? A fine and fragrant example. Alder, hemlock, baobab, mangrove, hawthorn? All trees. That Joshua thingy? (Post-apocalyptic debris) remains as immutably drab as the very prison squatting amidst it. No buds, bees, or birds, no greenery nor grasses, it's the Land That Spring Forgot.
Living in a coastal town in the northern latitudes, viz., Fort Bragg, spring is a damp and for some, dreary affair. Which is not to say that the classical earmarks of the season are not manifested, just that they display with less frequency and intensity than your more gaudy and ostentatious spring locations, which is fine with me. To me, the sun is like a flamboyant and irrepressible relative who shows up out of the blue and disrupts the status quo with his antics several times a year. You're always glad to see him but it's a blessing that he's not there all the time. The time away from him allows you to appreciate him when he is there. Ditto Old Sol. Being relentlessly dazzling is ultimately not dazzling at all.
One spring morning several years ago, I was living on Morrow Street and beginning to get a little cabin-feverish after a long rainy spell. I got up and went outside to go get coffee at Colombi's and walked headlong into a vernal panorama of such brilliance I felt I was poolside in a Hockney painting.
The very air felt vital and enriching, redolent of chlorophyll and floral attar. As one will in so invigorating an environment, I covered the two blocks quite detached from the surly bonds of gravity, preferring to drift cloudlike through the fragrant and fecund atmosphere.
After caffeining up (the coffee was redundant, but habits are habits), I decided to go for a walk in Johnson's Park. It's dim, primeval, rain-foresty aura seemed just the ticket for a morning like that. When I arrived at the trailhead I was staggered by the tableau before me. Sunbeams lanced through the canopy, illuminating buzzing insects and brightly colored songbirds. All about me was a riot of green and a symphony of bubbling, burgeoning life, chirping, whirring, dripping, heady, vitality. I strolled down the path, marveling at what nature is capable of when she really spreads herself. If tornadoes and tsunamis are the price we must pay for moments like this, I thought, then so be it. Sorry, tornado and tsunami victims.
After making the bend at the bottom of the hill and climbing up the rise there, I decided to go off trail and cut a path through the creeping liane and beaded ferns. The humus underfoot was springy and giving and felt like walking through a dreamscape. I began to feel — me, realist, scoffer, skeptic — as if magic were afoot. I wouldn't have been a bit surprised if Tumnus the faun appeared and invited me in for tea, or Bilbo Baggins for second breakfast. The motes dancing in the sunlight seemed powered not by air currents or Brownian motion but the to-ings and fro-ings of ethereal beings just beyond perception, laughing at my earthbound plodding from their veiled super-dimensionality. I extended my arms and spun lazily around, tilting my head back and turning the forest canopy and snatches of sky into a whirling kaleidoscopic vision.
A sound from some distance ahead halted my gyrations. Voices, surely; muted and unintelligible, but definitely voices. I decided to investigate and perhaps encounter some other spring-worshipers with whom I could share my impressions of the day. I followed the sound, treading lightly so as not to startle anyone. I came eventually upon a clothesline strung between two trees, from which were pendent several pieces of ratty gray thermal underwear. Scattered about on the ground were a bunch of empty malt liquor bottles, and there were three backpacks leaning up against a large redwood. Homeless encampment, I thought. Well, maybe I'll just stop and say hello anyway. What the hell. I walked up and peered over the clothesline, and there, arrayed on a bright blue tarp spread out on the forest floor, among several dingy plaid sleeping bags, was a tableau vivant so shockingly grotesque that even today its every revolting detail lives on in sharp relief in my memory. Three people were writhing in orgiastic splendor before me — three hairy, pallid, bruised, flabby, unhealthy-looking people. Two men, one woman, grunting, moaning, sweating… I backed slowly away, unable to avert my eyes and praying to all the pagan fertility deities that they wouldn't notice me. They didn't (thank you, Pan) and I hied back to the trail, mentally berating myself for deviating from it at all. This is why they make trails, so you don't have to see things like that! Always stay on the trail, dammit!
I scurried back to the beaten path, shuddering all the while. Well, I shouldn't have been too surprised. I could personally bear witness to the awesome power of this grand confluence of equinoctial elements, I just didn't anticipate its probable effect on the baser instincts of the shall we say less restrained members of society. These folks woke up to a faceful of capital-S Spring in all its fertile, verdant glory and simply obeyed the ancient dictates transcribed in their DNA. Problem was, now every time I went a-musing under the general heading Sex, a subroutine would execute entitled Gross Homeless threesome (Alfresco). In a word, yuk. Well, there was nothing for it but to continue firing random salvos of intoxicants at my brain in hopes of scoring a lucky hit on, and eradicating, the memory. No luck yet, obviously. Damn my super-elastic and evasive brain cells!
From time to time, gentle reader, I offer words of advice based on my own missteps and misadventures, lessons learned through pain, embarrassment, and imprisonment. I fling myself headlong into the gaping maw of danger so you don't have to. You may or may not be inclined to follow my recommendations, but if ever I had a more succinct and salutary suggestion than Stay On The Trail, I don't know about it.