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The alarm clock on the cellphone shot staccato bursts of angry awakening through my eardrums. The grey ball of fluff and claws curled above my head on his raised pillow perch stretched, pleading for clemency from the continued cacophony. An arm reached out from beneath the comforter and snatched the phone from the nightstand. Eyes opened with begrudging stinging and looked painfully upon the glowing screen. The hand fumbled with the blue-tinged keys; after some struggle the blasted thing shut off. Grumbling under my breath I set the phone back down. Four-twenty-seven in the freakin' morning. The hand refocused its energy on the eyes, scratching at the deposits of sleep-induced crust in the corners. I cast aside the blanket for the breeze of the fan circulating the air chilled by the open bathroom door. 

 

Rising from the bed, I came downstairs to the coffeepot and started the day. Grabbing the list written the previous night, I began loading coolers with groceries and throwing together clothing. There were ninety short minutes until work. In the dark, illuminated only by the eerie pall of the mostly-white FanMail screen pulled up on the laptop monitor, my legs darted around obstacles strewn about the floor -- a walking stick I would ultimately forget to grab, an Operation board game featuring Homer Simpson on the carving table, various shoes, a tennis ball...

 

One load in the car, then another. Moving fleetly through the chill warmed up tired muscles. There had been eight days since my last day off and today was finally Friday. I wanted to be completely ready to relax once I clocked out. Melanie would be there with our loaded car at three-thirty to whisk us off eastward to the forest. I needed to unwind, the entire summer having been pockmarked with one labor-intensive event after another. Since Memorial Day we have witnessed another hectic graduation, with each of the forty or so colleges on campus having their own fetes for their departing matriculators; the Olympic Track and Field Trials at Hayward Field; the off-site opening of RiverBend Hospital here in Eugene; all the summer camps which usually grace the campus pushed back one on top of another because of those Trials; and now the Duck football team has ordered a full late-night spread from our kitchen instead of their normal personal crew every night during the month of August...

 

Why do I tell you this? Because a non-traditional sports fan needs to unwind sometimes, and that's why this week's column has become a Sunday special rather than your usual Thursday rant. As you can tell, I've been at the end of my wits lately, spun and tangled in so many directions that I have to get up at ungodly hours just to pack to take a vacation. So I did...

 

The world of sports will be hectic over the next few months. The Olympics are being joined in a crowded sports calendar by the Vuelta a Espana, world championships and fall classics in cycling, the U.S. Open and late-sseason ATP and WTA action in tennis, another European soccer season on the horizon... as we advance onward into the 2008 calendar the days continue to be crammed with action and excitement like so much bully-fodder in the lockers of America's schools. I'll be recharging here in the next few weeks, trying to maintain sanity as I cover the Olympics and continue to be bombarded with work. The camping trip ended with a dive into a cool swimming pool on Winberry Creek.

 

Just like the campground there in the national forest, which is about to be decommissioned so that loggers can desecrate the old-growth forests yet again, we can too quickly become run down, neglected, cast aside. People need these forests just like the forests need sane and reasonable people to recognize their LIVING value. Who among us, when we take up the purely recreational sports of backpacking or camping or mountaineering or rock climbing or mountain bike touring, is honestly totaling up the board-feet of lumber hovering overhead? I recharged over the weekend, but I too became angry at the plight of so many...

 

A non-traditional sports fan is someone who recognizes that there is intrinsic value in wild spaces, that not all sport must take place on composite track surfaces, the concrete of superspeedways and mountain passes, or the expertly-manicured swaths of cattle feed torn asunder by the cleats of cattle-sized linemen. I don't want to fade away... and I don't want these wild spaces to be given over to the chainsaw. In our lust for raw materials, a finite resource ripped up to stave off the need to wake up and realize the productive plummet of the United States in relation to the rest of the world, we are suggesting the rape and pillage of wild spaces from Alaska to Florida and beyond. As Thoreau said in Walden, "A man is rich in proportion to the number of things which he can afford to let alone." One simple campground and its fate can serve as a microcosm for the greater degradation being wrought in the name of cosmetically clinging to superpower status even as the world changes all around. This was a farewell of sorts... I may never set a tent on this soil again...

 

Take credence, folks. Enjoy every last second of life you can while the good still exists. Even if it means the shattering of slumber by the 4:30 am alarm, these moments in commune with spaces more ancient than artificial governmental constructs serve as a recharge, a reminder that we are indeed alive and that there is life beyond the rat race. Get out there and sleep under the stars for a change... you never know, the way things are going, it could always be your last chance...

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