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.