On the Hook


On May 21, 2011, I got engaged. I wanted to follow up the question with a nice, solid, Jean-Luc Piccard affirmation but Kristine isn’t enough of a Star Trek nerd to get the joke. In retrospect, this video would have been a great fire-up moment, if only my name had been “Helm,” and “Warp 1” had been the cut of the diamond on the ring.

Our official engagement was celebrated in a preliminary honeymoon of sorts, and on the trip I began thinking of great opportunities for storytelling. I wanted people to be able to share the adventure that we were having, even though I didn’t want any of them to be there with us. After touchdown in Portland and the appropriate lag time for procrastination, I put the story together in a single email to friends and family.

The writing was well-received. It was forwarded on to more parties–even those who had never met me–and I was glad to hear that it was as touching a story to your average romantic as it was to me and Kristine. I began to think about writing more. The topics would be harder to come by–only one engagement story and then you move on to tales of picking up the farm share or watching So You Think You Can Dance or having slightly too much to drink and stumbling home, choosing to piss in the front yard instead of making the extra twenty-second trip inside to the toilet (these are the three things I did last night).

So here, in seven parts, is the story of my engagement.

ian fisher
On the Hook

Directions for reading: start in the top left and move your eyes across the screen, converting letters into words and words into phrases and sentences. There is one photo for each of the seven sections of the email. Look at them as you go, if you like.

Immediate family: Read each word, soak in each sentence, and re-read those of particular poignance. Know that your excitement is the product of evolution: your genes are now more likely to be passed on to future generations than before. Take joy! (Disclaimer: this sounds like she’s pregnant. She’s not, yet.)
More distant family: A very small percentage of the genes that you share are at stake in this union, so you’re probably less likely to care from an evolutionary perspective. But, when I see you at our next family reunion and start telling you this story, you can say that you’ve read the email and won’t have to hear the less-edited version.
Close friends with a romantic heart: Start at ONE and read through to the end. If you tire of talk of hikes, skip SIX. Share in the celebration of love! Admit to yourself that you never thought I’d find anyone who could tolerate me. Scratch your head. Laugh, for our senses of humor are similar or we wouldn’t like each other.
Close, sardonic friends: Dear Rami, Shane, and Russell. Enjoy the following. Maybe skip the second paragraph of ONE and the first paragraph of TWO. Imagine my dad in paragraph two of TWO. Imagine me being like that someday. Laugh. Make fun of me in your head, but smile when you think about it.*
All: Read the last two paragraphs of THREE. That guy was a riot.
Reed Frisbee players: Check out that safety reference.

ONE – About this Girl
TWO – Elven Rings and Dead Chickens
THREE – Denise, Fred, and Ron
FOUR – That Kid Was So Excited
FIVE – Power Crystals and Vortexes
SIX – The Other
SEVEN – The Number

ONE – About this Girl

Growing up, I wasn’t quite sure what a proposal might entail, but always kind of felt end-of-the-world to me. Asking Kristine to marry me on the apocalypse was a great way to cover all my bases: a “no” and the world ends–Christians sucked up to the heavens and me stuck on Earth to burn for eternity (is that how it goes?). But a yes and we’d have a whole new world together without any of that to worry about. Next time you see her, you can thank Kristine for staving off the fire and brimstone last month.

For those of you that don’t know Kristine, it’s not sufficient to say she’s wonderful. She’s enthusiastic, full of creativity and curiosity. She challenges me to think about things from new perspectives and she supports me when I just need someone to tell me I was right. She loves dogs and cats and mules and conejos and all kinds of baby-versions of otherwise ugly animals. She’s not a big fan of horses and downright hates spiders. Kristine is tall and beautiful with dark hair and piercing eyes that change with the seasons, and I’ve always loved that she can run a mile and look like an athlete while she’s doing it. She’s got the kind of sense of humor that sneaks up on you and the kind of heart that lets the whole world in. She’s a wonderful friend.

For those of you that do know Kristine, you’ll know that all I’ve said is true and that I left out so much more. In short, I never feel like I have to apologize for her or keep an eye on her or ask her to be anything other than who she is. I’m very much in love.

TWO – Elven Rings and Dead Chickens

I asked her in the Arizona backyard where I grew up, surrounded by gravel and cacti. I cooked a breakfast for the two of us (the only meal I can make reliably), and went for it. I wasn’t nervous because I wasn’t expecting a no, but it was hard not to feel the butterflies. I gave her a ring with some mild elf-inspiration. When I told the jeweler that my girlfriend was a huge nerd, and that a Lord of the Rings-style ring would be perfect, she laughed like I was joking. I wasn’t.

The hours that followed the proposal brought all kinds of drama. My dad caught a local chicken in a trap that he’d placed in the front yard. In our neighborhood, chickens run wild and peck away at your plants when you’re not looking, and so the only logical(?) solution is to trap ’em and throw ’em to the dogs. Literally. So as Kristine looked at me with a “is he really doing this right now?” look, my dad brought the chicken to the backyard and made a real-live squeak toy for the dog. I can at least report that the execution was quick. Sometimes you just don’t miss Arizona all that much.

Orion came over with Madison and brought a bottle of champagne to celebrate. They arrived around 1pm, so I know he got up awfully early to make the drive over from LA. We went out to the local ultra-spicy Mexican restaurant and ate our fill, returning for a tequila nap in the afternoon. It was pretty special for me to have my brother come and celebrate. It made for the sort of silent endorsement that you can only get from a younger sibling–one that says you’ve made the absolute right choice in a partner without having to be too vocal about it.

THREE – Denise, Fred, and Ron

We drove north to the Grand Canyon after a quick popover in the Portland-in-Tempe coffee shop with more hipsters than menu items. My dad recommended the North Rim for fewer tourists and an equally gorgeous view: “It pretty much looks the same from all sides,” he’d say. Driving through Arizona was a great way to get reacquainted with my home state, and with significantly fewer guns than I’ve been reading about in the paper. We went through at least five distinct ecosystems on our way up to the GC, first with saguaro cacti, then with pale grey rock and paloverde trees, barren dirt with sulphur and other chemicals, beautiful towering cliffs of red rock, and finally vast forests and fields of grass. The Navajo reservation was a smattering of trailers and pickup trucks that had somehow made it through twenty or thirty years of use, but were now covered in weeds and dust. We later learned about the nomadic character of the Navajo tribe–the largest tribe in the US at 10,000 people!–and the way that their settlements are strewn across the reservation.

The GC was grand and then some. We took photos, but it doesn’t do any sort of justice to the enormity of the place. It’s 277 miles long! The canyon is literally everywhere! It’s 10 miles across! 8000 feet deep! Carved by the mighty Colorado River! Coconino sandstone! Six million years old! You could feel the exclamation points swirling through your head.

We did what any newly-betrothed couple would do on a first visit to the GC: we rode mules down the North Kaibab trail to Supai Tunnel. I rode Fred and Kristine rode Denise. We’ve agreed to name our first child Fred Denise Mule Fisher in their homage. Led by a trusty guide named Ron, “not Ronnie, not Ronald, but Ron,” we were instructed that the most important part of the mule ride was safety. (Shit, I left mine at home.)

Ron has been riding mules in the GC since the 70’s. He was part of early blasting crews back in the day, and has ridden rim to rim dozens of times. He’s never walked, though. “If the good lord wanted me to walk, I believe he’d have given me four legs.” A real live rancher, this one. He had all the makings of old-school Arizona: a combination of classic chivalry and a tinge of an accent that belied subtle sexism: “Mules are like women. Stubborn. Dependable. No two have a personality alike.” He liked to tell passing hikers that “Bill Gates may make more money than me, but I have a better office.” I heard this joke about seventeen times, but each group of hikers liked it as if he’d come up with it on the spot. Ron put his hand right on Kristine’s ass (not the mule, the butt) as he helped her mount up, saying to the rancher he was training, “I don’t care if they’re 18 or 80, I put my hand right here to make sure they don’t tumble down the trail.” Sly. The only moment of less than full confidence was when Kristine gave him an excited hug at the end of the trip (she was literally beaming the entire ride. She loved the mules). She knocked off his black cowboy hat and we all caught a glimpse of the last remains of a full head of hair, and for a moment Ron had all the humility of a boy who has just come upon puberty in the middle of gym class.

FOUR – That Kid Was So Excited

On dad’s recommendation, we made reservations at the GC lodge for dinner. They do a pretty good job considering they’re a world away from any reasonable culinary supplies. Kristine let slip that we’d recently been engaged and our hostess spent acouple of minutes trying to convince me to re-ask her here, at the lodge. “We could place it in the cake! Or no, let’s put it in a glass of champagne! You have to do it, I want to see it!” Not a lot happens at the GC lodge, and the sea of white hair in the restaurant suggested these people were celebrating forty years of marriage instead of beginning one. Despite some awkwardness, we did reap the benefits of our newfound celebrity status among the seventy diners in GC National Park. A 12 oz bottle of champagne was brought over, compliments of the restaurant. The next table over offered to buy our dessert. An elderly couple smiled at us, and a kind old woman said she “made it 45 years in my marriage, so it’s definitely possible.” She “could tell I was a good guy,” and opined that we were starting things off right, with a trip to the canyon.

Kristine’s favorite moment was when a family of four came over and congratulated us. The father extended his hand to me and I shook it. Mom was warm in her smiles. And the older of the two boys–perhaps ten or so–jumped up and down while clapping with glee. As they walked away, dad said “best of luck. Hopefully you get two kids better’n these.” I think they’re doing okay.

FIVE – Power Crystals and Vortexes

We left the canyon for Sedona and its red rock renown, but not before a stop at Walnut Canyon National Monument. In this picturesque canyon just off I-17 are 800-year-old ruins from Hopi Indian clans who literally built their homes in caves above cliff walls. We were blown away by the opportunism of the clans and the importance of community in their settlements. A Hopi native who works for the forest service told us all about the migratory nature of the tribe, and their eventual settlement in northeastern Arizona. Pretty stark contrast to the Navajo.

The road from Flagstaff to Sedona is stunning, and I highly recommend it if you ever get a chance to go. Eighteen years in Phoenix and I had never been to Sedona–it was truly amazing. The trees crept right up to the tops of the rock formations, which were everywhere we looked. Uptown Sedona is a ridiculous strip mall of Made in Arizona products: a metal outline of Kokopeli, a jar of prickly pear jam, a shirt made from dirt. Cowboy boots and hats and the occasional bolo tie. We didn’t stay anywhere near there. Instead, we got two nights at a great bed ‘n’ breakfast south of town with a three-course breakfast and a concierge with a crystal around his neck, an orange hue and carefully gelled blond hair. He was certainly a believer in the mythical Sedona vortexes. We never found much there in the way of mythical energy, but we did take some beautiful hikes.

Cathedral Rock was the first of three stops–and the top of the list from our crystal dude. After a mild two-mile approach, we found ourselves at the base of a steep red rock incline, marked with wire baskets of rocks to point the way. The second stop was incredible: the west fork of Oak Creek. We were worn down near the end of the trail, but pressed on to a promised “abrupt end.” And then we hit it: a beautiful canyon surrounding a few inches of water. Energy renewed, we waded through pools, took photos, shared a soda, and enjoyed the beautiful Arizona weather. Photos are the only way to really do this hike any justice. The last stop was Devil’s Bridge, a rickety old natural bridge over a hundred-foot freefall. Trees on the crossing took on the feel of bonzai, and we soaked in the last bit of the evening sun before heading home for the night, and then back to Phoenix.

SIX – The Other

After our official Arizona swing, Kristine and I capped our vacation week with a trip to the San Juan Islands, complete with sea-kayaking, handfuls of bald eagles, biking, fudge, crepes, and camping. We went with three other terrific couples and another friend whose little girl is 8 months and the poster-child for adorable. It’s been great to feel welcomed into a community of new friends–I can call them “ours” instead of just “Kristine’s.”

The two of us are looking forward to an August trip to the east coast where we’ll celebrate my grandmother’s 90th birthday and then shoot over to Vermont for the wedding of a close friend of Kristine’s. She’ll have a chance to meet the whole Grimm clan on Otisco Lake, learn her way around our traditional card games, and share in impressions and memories of Grandpa.

The rest of the summer will be filled with adventures with our dog Arwen (told you Kristine was a nerd), barbecues, good books, and lots and lots of ultimate Frisbee on my part. We hope for much family these winter holidays–perhaps the opportunity to finally meet Kristine’s younger sister over Thanksgiving, and an opportunity for her to meet my older sister, at Christmas. I’m also hoping Caitlin will come out to Arizona this year so that we can all be together. Our great friends Eric and Katie are getting married on December 31 and we’ll be taking all sorts of notes on wedding planning in between sips of champagne and renditions of auld lang syne.

I’ve missed those of you that I haven’t seen of late, and I look forward to spending even more time with those of you who live in Portland and nearby. I’m glad to be able to share such exciting news with each of you, and I hope for more exciting news of your lives, conversation about the world, and a sharing in positive energy.

SEVEN – The Number


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