Saturday, January 14, 2012

In Memory of Tim Tebow's 2011 Denver Broncos

I wish I could resist chiming in on this Tebowmania business, but I can't. Not after seeing him garner the lead story on not only ESPN's, but also the New York Times' website this week. All in anticipation of a season-ending drubbing that everyone who knows football easily predicted. As I watch in my Tom Brady jersey a thousand and a half miles from New England, I can't help but take a great deal of pleasure in my hometown boys beating up on America's Most Popular Athlete (according to an ESPN poll) for the second time this season.

We're all getting a little carried away with the Tebow mystique. His David Ortiz-like knack for late-game heroics is undeniably compelling, and I honestly appreciate that such a wholesome, selfless guy has drawn some of the spotlight away from the poor role models that litter professional sports. But this “Mile-High Messiah” talk is what drives me nuts. It's one thing for religion to mix with sports on an individual level. Ballplayers are constantly pointing skyward after a home run trot, and in Tebow's case, his faith-based composure surely helps him overcome those fourth-quarter deficits. It's another to talk of divine intervention in football games or a 24-year old who happens to be very pious and pretty good at his job converting the masses. Tebow's spirituality, like the rest of ours, should be a personal matter, not a magnet for cameramen and nosy reporters (was there anything more sickening than the footage of Tebow performing his now-iconic knee-drop after last week's winning touchdown only to have an overweight cameraman scurry up and shove a huge lens within inches of his face?).

The problem is that Tebow, humble as he is, doesn't seem to want any privacy. It's hard to imagine that his version of God demands instant midfield groveling after a score or Bible verses on one's eye-black. And the John 3:16 ad which Tebow-supported Evangelical group Focus on Family unveiled to the national viewing audience tonight was more than a little sanctimonious. If he's such a good guy, shouldn't he respect our right to make our own spiritual choices rather than using his celebrity as a preaching platform? I admire the charity he performs, devoting great portions of his time to visiting the downtrodden, but let's not forget that there are countless others, both Christian and non, performing extraordinary good deeds every day. Being a playoff quarterback doesn't qualify you for sainthood last time I checked.

But now, thanks to the brutal efficiency of Belichick, Brady, & Co., our beloved Timothy won't take the field again until autumn, and his throngs of worshipers will have some time to cool off. Now, hopefully, we can get back to watching sports for the reasons we always have: for the poetry of great games (this post should really be about the instant classic between the Saints and Niners that preceded The Brady Show), and for the connections that it fosters to the people with whom we cheer and the places from which we hail.

Those are the bonds you'd find me praising in a postgame interview.

Keeping Texas Wild

Texas certainly has its redeeming moments. For every gurgling F-150 on a five-lane freeway, there seems to be an occasion like last night's, which found me sitting at the point just after sunset.

Savoring my first moments of solitude after the week's busy return to teaching, I am the lone human spectator at Lake Livingston's daily festival of dusktime beauty. A great blue heron flaps casually by. How long did it take, I wonder, to find that perfect height for flight, with wingtips stopping just millimeters above the glassy surface, giving the eyes the best possible look at what's beneath? A low, ringing croak, a rush of water on spindly feet, and it is now a rigid stalk in the shallows. Prey will not be hard for it to find. Despite the current cold spell (it might dip into the twenties tonight – gasp!), the fish are jumping like midsummer, questing with a splash for their own meals. Meanwhile, above my head comes a surprising hiss of air as a squadron of coots b-lines towards destination unknown. Marvelous sounds. There are dogs barking and trucks' muffled roars from across the lake, but for now, the choruses human and non-human strike a peaceful balance.

It's hard to imagine anything but peace prevailing in this moment, with the eyes treated to comparable wonders as the ears. The Western horizon soft and orange as a ripe peach, its light painted across the mirror of water before fading to violet and blue-black in the East. Jupiter and Venus are already standing proudly in the cooling sky, portending the kind of clear, winter night that makes Minnesotans smile and Texans gawk.

The planetary reflections bring Thoreau to mind, and Professor Mike Kowalewski, whose favorite moment of Walden came on a night like this one. Fishing under a blanket of stars, the transcendentalist loses the boundary between sky and water, starlight and reflection, descending into the depths of his own mind, “haunted by waters,” as Norman Maclean would later write in A River Runs Through It.

Myself, I'm just content soaking in the beauty around me. Of course, it's a one-sided view I'm taking tonight. I'm allowing myself a few minutes in that “sunset raving” trap that nature writers shun like a poison these days. But why not? There's a pyre-like brushfire blazing a few hundred yards away, burning the piney corpses of the summer's historic drought. There's that roar of trucks across the lake reminding me this is no wilderness. Why not celebrate the waning beauty that's still in front of me?

Water often seems to inspire optimism, especially now that the drought has passed and Lake Livingston is filling back up. After all, it's a lot harder to clearcut a lake for a stripmall than a forest. And while there is no real, protected wilderness at hand, its scrappy cousin, wildness, is filling my nostrils with vigor.

It's official: if I get Texas plates on my car, I'll pay the extra $30 to Parks & Wildlife for the ones that bear a Horned Lizard and the words “Keep Texas Wild.” I can't think of a more important phrase to take with me through this rugged and resilient place.
I'd be honored for the Silver Bullet to wear this plate.