Saturday, December 26, 2009

R.I.P. Vic Chesnutt

I read the bad news this morning that singer/songwriter Vic Chesnutt passed away yesterday. The L.A. Times obituary says he died from an intentional overdose of muscle relaxants.

Erin and I went to his show at Hotel Congress less than a month ago. I really enjoyed the show at the time, but now I feel very lucky to have heard him play. It's an experience that means more to me now that I know it will never happen again. It's strange to think he was so near the end of his life. He sure sang his heart out.

Here are some link to more information on Chesnutt, his music, and his passing:

Monday, December 21, 2009

Southern New England Trunkline Trail

The Southern New England Trunkline Trail runs like a perferated line from Franklin, MA to the Connecticut state line. It follows the former path of the New York-New Haven-Hartford Railroad which stopped operating in 1968. It's a straight path from my in-laws house to my parents house - about 25 minutes on foot. I walked it pretty early in the morning. 17 degrees, felt like 10. My badass L.L. Bean coat kept me warm. I love Arizona, but I think my relationship with New England winters is on the mend.

It snowed Saturday into Sunday, so my wife, Erin, and I strapped on snowshoes and hiked the trail. Snowshoes are great.

My brother took this photograph. Here's his description of the photo:

"A stone arched bridge that crosses over the Southern New England Trunkline Trail on Wallum Lake Road in Douglas, Massachusetts. The trail occupies an abandoned railroad corridor. The company went bankrupt before the project could be completed, but the corridor was later designated as a trail after being purchased by the Massachusetts Department of Environmental Management. Cutting through the Douglas State Forest, it's popular among equestrians."

Friday, December 18, 2009

all things stand upon them with a weatherbeaten face

blizzard_20, originally uploaded by martin.jessica.
We're headed back home to Massachusetts in the morning and we'll get there in the evening.  It didn't take long for the desert to thin my blood and I'm not so weather-worthy as I once was...

Preach it Mr. Bradford...

"And for the season it was winter, and they know that the winters of that country know them to be sharp and violent, and subject to cruel and fierce storms, dangerous to travel to known places, much more to search an unknown coast. Besides, what could they see but a hideous and desolate wilderness, full of wild beasts and wild men--and what multitudes there might be of them they knew not. Neither could they, as it were, go up to the top of Pisgah to view from this wilderness a more goodly country to feed their hopes; for which way soever they turned their eyes (save upward to the heavens) they could have little solace or content in respect of any outward objects. For summer being done, all things stand upon them with a weatherbeaten face, and the whole country, full of woods and thickets, represented a wild and savage hue."
- William Bradford, Of Plymouth Plantation

Thursday, December 17, 2009

10 Works - List 2 - American Greats on the American Great Outdoors

A couple weeks ago I decided to periodically post lists of works of literature that could comprise the syllabus for a college literature course. It's fun and I'd really dig it if folks shared some works with me in the comments section. My first list was American Nature Writing before 1900. If you didn't read that list, check it out too.

List 2 - American Greats on the American Great Outdoors 

1. Ralph Waldo Emerson - Nature - 1835 - Emerson looms large in the New England Renaissance. He was a Unitarian minister and his combination of naturalism and spiritualism later came to be known as Transcendentalism. We may have lost some of Emerson's starry-eyed (and transparent eyeballed) idealism, but he set the tone for the nature writing that followed him. I can't read John Muir and not think about Emerson.

 2. Henry David Thoreau - Walden: of Life in the Woods - 1854  -  Emerson lent the land to Thoreau, so he gets some credit here too. I was initially disappointed when I learned how close Thoreau was to civilization. While living near Walden Pond, he'd sometimes take the short walk to downtown Concord, Massachusetts to visit his mother. I've re-read Walden several times now and I realize that it's not how far you live from people, but how close you live to nature.

3. Mark TwainLife on the Mississippi - It's not enough to say that Mark Twain loved the Mississippi River. The river appears throughout his works. I even consider it a character in The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn. When Twain became famous and moved to Hartford, Connecticut, he designed the office in his house to resemble the bridge of a steamboat.

4. Walt Whitman - Leaves of Grass - Leaves of Grass explores America in the space between nature and civilization. For example:

I WILL take an egg out of the robin’s nest in the orchard,
I will take a branch of gooseberries from the old bush in the garden, and go and preach to the world;
You shall see I will not meet a single heretic or scorner,
You shall see how I stump clergymen, and confound them,
You shall see me showing a scarlet tomato, and a white pebble from the beach.

5. John Muir - Studies in the Sierra - John Muir was Scottish, but did more for American conservation that anyone before the Roosevelts. In fact, when Theodore Roosevelt visited northern California, he requested to go camping with John Muir. He and Muir snuck away from the presidential entourage and spent a night around a campfire.

6. Jack London - The Call of the Wild - For some reason middle school teachers like to torture their students with this book; it's not for sensitive animal lovers. Though a dog is the protagonist, we're left to question if, like Buck, we could revert to something more primitive. I think we'd like to think so.

7. Ernest Hemingway - In Our Time - Includes Hemingway's Nick Adams stories, including "Big Two-Hearted River."

8. William Faulkner - Go Down, Moses - A collection of semi-interrelated short stories including "The Bear" and "Delta Autumn." Isaac McCaslin is Faulkner's Nick Adams.

9. John Steinbeck - Travels with Charlie - When Steinbeck was older and living in New York, he read a review that said he was out of touch with America. Dismayed, he built a camper out of his pickup, packed up his standard poodle, Charlie, and headed out on the road. It's a great road trip memoir.

10. Tim O'Brien - Northern Lights - One of O'Brien's earlier works, it's the story of two brothers on a snowshoe trip in Minnesota. There are some very Nick Adams-like themes going on.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Steve Kaiser

I went to ArtsEye/ Photographic Works, a photography studio and art gallery in Tucson, today to buy my wife a camera for Christmas.  One of the artists on display is Steve Kaiser, who, according to his biography, works at Photographic Works and teaches photography in Tucson. I was really impressed and I loved this photograph, entitled "Rock Island Line." It's for sale at ArtsEye, if you're in the Tucson area and looking to purchase a photograph; the exhibition, "Winter Solstice" will be on display at ArtsEye until January 30th.

Check out Steve Kaiser's portfolio here. He 's got some other great photographs, too.

Monday, December 14, 2009

Blacktone River Valley

Reverse Reads: "New Blackstone River Dam on South Main St., at Globe Bridge Woonsocket, R.I."

From the National Parks Service site:

"The Blackstone River runs from Worcester, MA to Providence, RI. Its waters powered the Slater Mill in Pawtucket, RI, America's first successful textile mill. This creative spark began the nation's transformation from Farm to Factory. Today, the Blackstone River Valley is a special type of National Park - a living landscape containing thousands of natural and historic treasures."

I grew up on the Massachusetts/Rhode Island border in a town called Uxbridge. I taught at the high school there for several years too. The Blackstone Valley National Heritage Corridor runs through Uxbridge. When I was young the river and canal were in the woods and full of garbage, but then they made it a National Heritage Corridor, cleaned it up, and made it a park.

The old tow path where the mules walked to pull barges down the canal is now a footpath. It's really pretty. I used to take my creative writing classes down there and we'd sit in a meadow between the Blackstone River and Blackstone Canal and work on sensory writing.

Here are some photos I took there several years back.
Canal Trail
Canal Trail Bridge
Stanley Woolen Mill and Canal
This is the Stanley Woolen Mill, one of many mills that got power from the Blackstone.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

N.C. Wyeth and Henry David Thoreau - "Men of Concord"

I've been thinking a lot about the books I have at home in Massachusetts. I didn't bring most of them with me to Arizona because I was afraid they'd get ruined with all the moving. For example, I have a beautiful copy of Henry David Thoreau's "Men of Concord" illustrated by N.C. Wyeth. I'd seen Wyeth's illustrations before, but only recently did I realize that he's an American icon. Every time I visit my family I end up bringing a couple books back that I miss too much to part with. I think "Men of Concord" will be coming back this time. 

Monday, December 7, 2009

Tourists + Superstition Mountains = Newspaper Articles

Siphon Draw View
A tourist from Michigan spent a lonely night in the Superstition Mountains the other day. The local Arizona newspaper reports:

"According to the Pinal County Sheriff's Office, Ian Sredersas went on a hike in the Lost Dutchman State Park and after getting in area beyond his skill level he became stranded.

He was able to get a cell signal and call 911 before his phone died Tuesday evening around 6 p.m.

PCSO activated a search and rescue posse to locate Sredersas, 20, from Michigan.

Crews located him around 10 p.m and assisted additional personnel for a rescue. Around 3 a.m. Sredersas was safely rescued."

One of the trickiest things about Arizona is how quickly you can get from the urban areas to pretty remote wilderness. It's not like other parts of the country with contiguous towns. Think of the populated areas more like islands. The Arizona Archipelago. Flagstaff, Sedona/Camp Verde, Payson, Phoenix & Maricopa, Casa Grande, Tucson, Yuma and a bunch of really little towns. What's in between? Desert, mountains, forests, canyons.

So I guess what I'm saying is that out-of-towners don't really understand that just because the Superstition Mountains are near Phoenix and featured in their travel guide, doesn't mean they're a friendly afternoon hike. The trail this poor Michigan fellow got lost on seems benign. Actually, the recognized Siphon Draw Trail in Lost Dutchman State park is benign; it's when you cross over into Tonto National Forest and the wilderness area and start the ascent up to the top of Flatiron Mountain that things get intense.

However, it's not so intense that a reasonably strong, prepared hiker can't get to the top . However, if you're not familiar with this area, it's best to stay on the trail.

Anyways, here's my daily moment of schadenfreude - here's what poor Ian would have enjoyed if he hadn't gotten lost.

This is where you start and the top of Flatiron is where you end up. It's an intense hike. Here's the Hike Arizona description.You gain 2780 feet total over 2.7 miles, but most of the gain is in about the last mile and a half. It's not technical climbing, but it's not exactly hiking either.

That's Flatiron looming in the background there.

FlatIron Sun
When you finish your scramble up, you can go to the top or stroll over to Flatiron. The way to the top is actually not that clear and I wandered about a bit before making it up there. The views are amazing.
FlatIron with Century Plant
Flatiron's profile.

And here's couple from the top...
Another View from the Flat Iron
Rock Formations on Flat Iron
Rock formations on the top.

Top of the World

Friday, December 4, 2009

Carlsbad Caverns Jumbo Postcards

"Entrance to the King's Palace" - On the reverse -
"This chamber, the second of the scenic rooms, opens a vista of highly decorated small rooms.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open everyday of the year. For complete tour information, write the superintendent, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico."
Carlsbad Jumbo Postcard  - Fairyland
"Fairyland" - On the reverse -
"A collection of small stalagmites covered with a rough, clinker-like formation, this section of the cavern appears much like an elfin forest covered with snow.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open everyday of the year. For complete tour information, write the superintendent, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico."
Carlsbad Jumbo Postcard 2
"Crystal Spring Dome" - On the reverse -
"Referred to as the fastest growing large formation in the Caverns, dripstone is added to this formation at the equivalent rate of a coat of paint each 80 years.
Carlsbad Caverns National Park is open everyday of the year. For complete tour information, write the superintendent, Carlsbad Caverns National Park, Carlsbad, New Mexico."

Check out Carlsbad Caverns National Park here.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Defensive Ominovore Bingo

My friend Jen sent this my way and I thought it was really funny. I don't mean any offense, but this is a pretty accurate representation of the things we vegans hear all the time. 

Monday, November 30, 2009

10 Works - List 1 - Nature Writing before 1900

I've been teaching English language and literature for seven years now and I noticed that my mind tends to organize things I read into potential syllabi. I thought it might be fun to share some of the lists I come up with, so here goes:

List 1 - American Nature Writing Before 1900

1. Hector St. John de Crèvecœur - Letters from an American Farmer - 1782 - Crèvecœur was a French immigrant to the America who recorded his experiences with the colonial/republican political experiments, but also his experiences with the natural world he discovered in Orange County, New York.

2. Thomas Jefferson - Notes on the State of Virginia - 1787 - One of Jefferson's best known works, "Notes" discusses cultural and natural issues. Jefferson engages in what modern readers recognize as questionable pseudo-science, particularly his remarks on Native Americans and African-Americans, but his scientific mind shines when he talks about nature.

3. Meriwether Lewis - The Journals of Lewis and Clark - 1804-1806 - though the Lewis and Clark expedition laid the way for westward expansion and the dispossession of the Native Americans, those on the expedition didn't know it at the time. Poor Lewis committed suicide in 1909, but the work he left behind paints an fascinating portrait of the American west before expansion.

4. John James Audubon - Ornithological Biography or An account of the habits of the birds of the United States of America  - 1831 - This is the accompanying text to Birds of America. Ornithological Biography tells stories of the birds Audubon depicted in Birds of America and describes his own dangerous experiences in the wilderness.

5. Ralph Waldo Emerson - Nature - 1835  - The ultimate work of Transcendentalism.

6. Susan Fenimore Cooper - Rural Hours - 1850 - Though I couldn't quite justify including her famous father, James Fenimore Cooper, in the list, Susan Fenimore Cooper's Rural Hours is a beautiful work of nature writing. Thoreau consulted it when writing Walden.

7. Henry David Thoreau - Walden: of Life in the Woods - 1854 and The Maine Woods - 1864

8. John Wesley Powell - Exploration of the Colorado River of the West and Its Tributaries. - 1875 - John Wesley Powell only had one arm, but he sure got a lot done. The parts about the Grand Canyon are amazing.

9. Walt Whitman - Specimen Days - 1882 - This is some of Whitman's prose. It's really beautiful.

10. John Muir - Just read everything you can by John Muir.

So that's what I got. I did this mostly off the top of my head, so I'm sure I missed some great stuff. I know I I also didn't really define nature writing, but I'm relying on the content to do that for me. Also, I didn't include Native American nature writing here because that deserves its own list rather than being lumped in with the Euro-American stuff. Oh, and all the links go directly to the works because it's all off copyright!

What did I miss? Fill me in. Post your own list.

Saturday, November 28, 2009

50 to 1

50 to 1 is an online journal that publishes very, very short fiction. It's "an ezine that posts only 50 word stories and first line inspirational sentences that are meant to get the reader hooked into the rest of the story." The theory is that "by limiting the readership to these conventions we hope to liberate them from the terror of writing a short story or a novel and get more stories out into the collective unconsciousness and share the experiences that make us human. Any and all kinds of good stories will be accepted."  

If you've got 50 good words or 1 solid opening line, send it over to Glen. Here are the submission guidelines.

I thought it seemed like a cool idea, so I sent them the first line to a short story I'm working on entitled "Easter." It's published it on the site. Check it out here.

Brattleboro, Vermont

"The Gulf Bridge and Connecticut River, Route 9, Near Brattleboro, Vermont"

Here are some of our pictures from Brattleboro. We'll be up that way in a month or so - in the Berkshires, not quite Vermont - and we're really looking forward to it.

Brattleboro Train Tracks

amc eagle best car ever

Brattleboro, Vermont

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Happy Thanksgiving

"They now begane to gather in ye small harvest they had, and to fitte up their houses and dwellings against winter, being all well recovered in health & strength, and had all things in good plenty; for as some were thus imployed in affairs abroad, others were excersised in fishing, aboute codd, and bass, & other fish, of which yey took good store, of which every family had their portion. All ye somer there was not wante. And now begane to come in store of foule, as winter approached, of which this place did abound when they came first (but afterward decreased by degrees). And besids water foule, ther was great stor of wild Turkies, of which they tooke many, besides venison &c. Besids they had aboute a peck a meale a weeke to a person, or now since harvest, Indean corn to yt proportion. Which made many afterwards write so largly of their plenty hear to their freinds in England, which were not fained, but true reports." 
 - William Bradford, "Of Plymouth Plantation" Chapter XII. Anno 1621

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

Protect Tonto National Forest

Tonto National Forest includes much of the desert, riparian areas, and forests around Phoenix. This volcanic plug, called Weaver's Needle, lies in the heart of the Superstition Mountains, which is part of Tonto National Forest. TNF contains some beautiful landscapes, rare desert wildlife, and wonderful hiking.

Unfortunately, the Forest Service is considering a new travel management agenda that could potentially open up areas of TNF to more motorized vehicle use. The plans are available here: http://www.fs.fed.us/r3/tonto/travelmgt/.

This is a terrible idea. This website shows what the desert suffers when exposed to unmitigated use: http://fourpeakspickup.blogspot.com/.

Every year a dedicated group of AZ residents get together for the Four Peaks Cleanup and attempt to undo some of the damage the desert suffers at the hands of irresponsible, destructive vandals. You'll see that there are a lot off-roaders at the clean-up. Of course, not all off-road vehicle enthusiasts abuse and destroy the land (though there is an inherent element of destruction in off-road vehicle use), but people are more apt to destroy and area they drive to with a vehicle loaded with guns and garbage than to pack guns and garbage on their back.

The Sierra Club has a form letter you can fill out and send to the Forest Service available here:

It would be great if you could take the time to quickly send the letter, especially if you're an AZ resident. Many of the citizens and politicians in this state are distressingly poor stewards of our unique and amazing desert environment, so we need to be more vigilant in protecting it.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

On The Origin of Species Turns 150 Today

Few works have had the cultural (indeed, the ontological) impact of Charles Darwin's On the Origin of Species by Natural Selection. The book was published on November 24, 1859 - 150 years ago today. The book revolutionized life sciences and help drive a wedge into the already-widening rift between science and theology.  Pretty impressive accomplishments for a book that primarily focuses on finches.

At the time of its publication, the book generated little controversy; in fact, Darwin sent a copy to the Rev. Charles Kingsley, who was the head of the Church of England at the time. Kingsley response? It's not what our conception of Darwin and religion would lead us to expect; Kingsley replied:  "It's just as noble a conception of God to think that he created animals and plants that then evolved, that were capable of self-development, as it is to think that God has to constantly create new forms and fill in the gaps that he's left in his own creation." Darwin included Kingsley's comment in future editions of On the Origins of Species.

You can read the full text of On the Origin of Species here.

Monday, November 23, 2009

Lorine Niedecker

"'The Brontes had their moors, I have my marshes,' Lorine Niedecker wrote of the watery, flood-prone Black Hawk Island near the town of Fort Atkinson, Wisconsin, where she lived most of her life.  Although few people endured for long the seasonal hardships of life on Black Hawk Island, Niedecker's attachments to teh place ran deep. Her life by the water could not have been further removed from the avant-garde poetry scene where she also made herself a home." - Jenny Penberthy from the her introduction to Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works.  You can read Penberthy's complete introduction here.

Lorine Niedecker was the only woman associated with the Objectivist poets, briefly, a lover of Louis Zukofsky, and she shared Thoreau's taste in real estate. Her poetry often takes folk images as its subject, though to call her a folk poet would have the academic secret police knocking at your door. Stylistically, she wrote in the condensed, direct language of the Objectivists, sharing a poetic ethos with urbanites like Zukofsky and George Oppen. She also borrowed from surrealists and eastern traditions. She wrote most of her poems from the 1940's until her death in 1970.

I'm teaching Niedecker (along with Gary Snyder - also very exciting) tomorrow to the students in my literature class, so I revisited her work today. That's what prompted this post. You can check out some of her work here at the SUNY Buffalo Electronic Poetry Center. However, they don't have a few of my favorite poems at EPC, so I'll reproduce them here. All are from "Lorine Niedecker: Collected Works" which was published by the University of California Press and edited by Jenny Penberthy. They originally appeared in either "New Goose" or the manuscripts for that book. Here goes:

A monster owl
out on the fence
flew away.What
is it the sign
of? The sign of
an owl.


O rock my baby on the tree tops
and blow me a little tin horn.
They've got us suckin the hound tit
and that's the way I was born.

O let me rise to the door-knob
and let me buy my way.
I know the owner of the store
and that's the way I was raised.


I walked
from Chicago to Big Bull Falls (Wausau),
two weeks,
little to eat.
Came night
I wrapped myself in a piece of bark
and slept beside a log.

I just found this great site, too. Check out Susan Ticky's Field Guide to the Birds of Lorine Niedecker's Collected works.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Open Road - AZ

Arizona Highway Postcard, originally uploaded by Thee E. Aldriches.
From the reverse side: "Arizona Highway -
These huge and bewildering tumbles of granite rock formations tower about the motorist as he travels through one of the many unusual beauty spots of Arizona."

I'm not sure exactly where this is, and the postcard doesn't say, but it looks like Route 10 East near Benson.

AZ 89 Entering Utah
AZ 89 near Page, AZ. Entering Utah.

84 Pontiac Dream
Route 87 - "The Beeline Highway"

Beeline Highway
Route 87 - "The Beeline Highway"

Staggered Yellow Lines
Highway 80 between Tombstone and Benson Arizona.

It's not surprising that Arizona's most popular local travel magazine is called "Arizona Highways." Here are a few shot we took of the road. I can't imagine how many photos we have FROM the road....

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Worcester Postcards

Bancroft Tower 1907

bancroft tower reverse

Worcester County Massachusetts and the city of Worcester were our homes for most of our lives. I grew up in Uxbridge and my wife is from the neighboring town of Douglas. It's a great place to live. The first postcard shows the Worcester Town Hall, which is where we got our marriage license (yesterday was our anniversary, which is what prompted me to post this) and the second is of Bancroft Tower near Salisbury Street. 

The postcard was sent on May 25 1907 to:
Miss S. W. Austin
202 Harold Street,
Roxbury, Mass

The inscription reads:
"Glad to hear from you and that you can be about again. Expect to be at home soon. Am going to Worcester today. M.A.A." 

The stamp is a really interesting and commemorates Captain John Smith who founded Jamestown in 1607.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Sir Ernest Shackleton's Stash

In 1909, polar explorer Ernest Shackleton lead a failed expedition to the South Pole. As part of the trip, he and his crew constructed a hut on an Antarctic peninsula called Cape Royds. In 2006 some visitors to Shackleton's hut discovered two cases of whiskey. This winter a group of explorers will try to break the whiskey out of the ice so it can be studied. Read more here: Whisky on (Antarctic) Ice.

Here's the layout of Shackleton's cabin. Thanks Angelo.

Monday, November 16, 2009

The Amalgamated Sons of Rest

I rediscovered this album today while I was hiking around Bear Canyon. The Amalgamated Sons of Rest was the name given to a one-time only collaboration between Jason Molina (Songs:Ohia and Magnolia Electric Co.), Will Oldham (Palace Music, Palace Brothers, and Bonnie Prince Billy), and Alisdair Roberts (Appendix Out). Galaxia released the album in 2002.  It sounds pretty much exactly as you would expect the combination of those three musicians to sound, though Oldham and Roberts might influence the sound a bit more than Molina.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Transcripts of a Troubled Mind - The Atlantic (April 29, 2004)

An article in the Atlantic Monthly about Breece D'J Pancake.

Transcripts of a Troubled Mind - The Atlantic (April 29, 2004)

New Tumblr

I created a new Tumblr. It's www.makingowlscool.tumblr.com. It will be strictly photography.

At the Grand Canyon

025, originally uploaded by Say No Go.
Galleries are the newest function on Flickr and I must admit I'm getting quite addicted to compiling them. The Favorites function has long been the means of keeping track of photos you enjoy, and it still has its place, but Galleries let you arrange photos into groups of 18 images, comment on them, and present them a set. It's a type of meta-organizing. It's not unlike what people are doing with Tumblr, but internal to Flickr and very convenient.

I added this photo my Gallery "The Grand Canyon." You really need to check out the whole gallery to get the full effect. Check it out.