Family land

Wednesday night my girlfriend Jackie and I drove over to western Pennsylvania to attend the Cramer family reunion, a gathering at the Fredonia, PA home of my Uncle Ed, who worked a cattle farm in the area for fifty years. There surrounded by cousins of all degrees and plates overburdened with delicious family recipies, I recorded hours of stories told about my father's family. Many of the tales recalled my great-grandfather Frank Austen Cramer--known to all as 'grandpap'--who was a man of tremendous strength and a skillfull axeman who ran a saw mill to put his three daughters (including my grandmother Martha) through school in the height of the Depression.
On Thursday we went driving with my Uncle Ed, who is now 91 years old, to visit several local cemeteries and sites like the one-room school house where my grandmother taught, and barns that my great-grandfather built. We also visited Ed's old farm, once a 120-acre cattle farm called Anterra where as a child I spent many holidays tromping the fields and plinking away with a .22 rifle , and now a rodeo and barrel-riding showplace with an 140,000 sq-ft arena.
Much of the history of my ancestors in this place is as weathered as the family gravestones and the caved-in barns, but I hope by writing that I can bring some of it back for the future generations.


Second leg

I'm ready for the next destination of my winter travels today -- my homeland of northeast, Ohio. For this trip I'm loaded down with Christmas booty from New Jersey, including a ski bag in which the requisite skis make up about 2% of the bag's cargo. My family celebrated the first night of Hanukkah last night, and a shortened Christmas (literally, as our tree was 3 and 1/2 feet tall) and dangled with only a few of our kid-made ornaments. Now my whole family hits the skies for a day of international comings and goings, and one (mine) return to home.


Packing magazines

My ammo for a circuitous flight home today is two New Yorkers, the latest Economist, and a Vanity Fair. I decided not to bring the book I am reading, The Path to Power, volume 1 of Robert Caro's biography of Lyndon Johnson, because a) it's heavy, and b) magazines make for better airplane reading than dense non-fiction. I'm enjoying the book, however, and gaining even more respect for Robert Caro's interview skills. The first few chapters are chock full of Johnson family anecdotes from the 1920s Texas Hill Country--stories that Caro pulled from now-elderly aquaintances of LBJ some fifty or sixty years later. Caro does seem to be attracted to the fault of egomania--first Robert Moses, now LBJ.


Post holiday-party holiday

Isolation is actually a good thing about living in Santa Fe. All the New York City-based magazines get their holiday party fandangos broadcast the morning after on Gawker or in the NY Observer (Jann Wenner's roped-off table, etc). Our party, small but stylish at the Inn of the Anasazi last night, gets nary a nip in the local papers. Are we too boring? Perhaps. But I think it also shows that news can be created about anything--as long as there is a willing, reading, audience.


Three homes in three different places

On Friday I go home to New Jersey for a quick day and a half with my parents before we all hit the skies again on Christmas day. I go to Akron, Ohio to stay with my girlfriend Jackie's family, while my folks head over the ocean to Australia. Since I was born and raised in Akron, my week in northeast Ohio will be like a second homecoming, including a visit to Hudson to see old high school friends. And then between Christmas and New Year's , Jackie and I will drive over to Pennsylvania for a family reunion in Greenville, the town where my father grew up and a place that imprinted strongly on me during numerous childhood trips to my Uncle Ed and Aunt June's farm. This part of western Pennsylvania is like a third home, including the rows of my ancestors laid out in Stevenson Cemetery, and the still-standing barns built by Grand'pap Cramer, my great-grandfather. I will be writing a story about my aunt and uncle's farm for Pennsylvania Magazine, trying to describe how strong foundations and a sense of place can make a home, and even many homes, possible.


Going skiing this weekend

Real snow has finally come to Santa Fe, dusting the mountains above the city. But I am behaving like a spurned suitor and driving to Colorado for a weekend of skiing at Copper Mountain resort. Last night I found the right parts to fix my car-top ski carrier, so now my Subaru looks like the other 10,000 ski-equipped Subys in this town. I'll be back Sunday evening--a little wind-burned and hopefully in one piece.


Chevron wants me to drive less.... huh?

Sitting down at breakfast this morning to read my latest issue of the Economist, I came across a full-page Chevron advertisement with an accusatory claim in bold: "You use 25 barrels of oil a year." and then the question, "So are you ready to do something about it?" The ad puzzled me, as why should Chevron care about energy conservation. The more gas I buy, the more money they make.
But since Chevron made a $3.6 billion profit in the third quarter of 2005, maybe they are getting sensitive about their image. These days I can't avoid these contradictory messages from Exxon-Mobil, ADM, Pharma, and Wal-Mart when I tune into NPR, PBS, or crack open a fresh New Yorker or Economist--these elite media outlets are bombarded with soothing Iago-like messages of corporate responsibility and good stewardship. If a person got all their information from these advertisements, they'd believe that Exxon-Mobil loves baby seals, Pharma cared about the uninsured, and Wal-Mart is the best thing for low-wage workers since the weekend.
Chevron has the best spin yet -- turn the responsibility for conservation back on us, the consumers. And they are partially right--resource conservation doesn't happen unless a critical mass of people buy into it. But the people who want to save the world are already doing it. To get the rest of the crowd to do it, you need leadership, innovation, and some dramatic steps by industry. A full-page ad in the Economist costs about $30,000 -- a small price for Chevron to pay to offset the billions it rakes in by doing business as usual.


Added new blog feature to the site

I'm now importing a full-fledged blog into this Website--a nifty trick of the Internet that I don't fully understand, but am pleased that it works. If you want to add this capability to your Website, check out this informational site, and then go to this feed site to create the right script.

The good thing about novels

Finished a novel last night, Swimming in the Volcano, by Outside correspondent Bob Shacochis. He gave it to me when I visited him at his northern NM off-the-grid writing cabin. I read fiction rarely, about one in every five or six books I pick up. It takes me a lot longer to read novels--those big purple passages, mind-bending flashbacks, and entourage of characters to keep track of. My mind is better wired for historical non-fiction, tying old facts onto new ones to create a stronger knot of events. But history books never supply the same satisfaction as a novel when the final page turns over--a World War II book has a known ending, but a novel can curve into something so surprising that it can take a day to absorb even after the last words are read. That's what it was like with Swimming in the Volcano, a part of me is still marooned on the fictional Caribbean island of St. Catherine, wondering what will happen next.

Future of media revealed

Listening to the podcast of WNYC's On the Media last weekend I caught an interview with one of the makers of a fascinating look at the future of media. The eight-minute flick "EPIC 2014" starts with the rise of Google and Amazon, and then leaps off into 2006 and beyond with a plausible timeline detailing how these Internet-based companies will bury the mainstream media by 2014. If you like those slighly dystopian scenarios with ominous voiceovers (aka. William Gibson novels), check out Epic 2014.