Friday, February 12, 2016


This week has been tough.  I'm half way through life with a peg leg--in another three weeks, if all has gone well with my tendon, I'll be allowed to once again bend my knee (just a bit to start).  I'm getting a bit of cabin fever.  I'm reading, putting together puzzles and doing a lot of work (much of it from a recliner!  I wish I was more mobile as this weekend is the Savannah Book Festival.  I'm going to have to skip most of the events although I will go with friends this evening to hear Erik Larson (author of Deadwake) this evening.  Here is another book review: 

Gary Paulsen, Winterdance: The Fine Madness of Running the Iditarod (San Diego: Harvest Books, 1994), 256 pages plus 8 pages of color photographs.

The Iditarod is a 1000 mile long dog sled race across the heart of Alaska, from Anchorage to Nome.  The men and women and dogs that run the race must endure incredible hardships: mountains, incredibly cold weather, wild animals, dog fights, lack of sleep, and a run across frozen salt water in Norton Sound.  As one of his relatives told him, “Read people don’t do those kind of things.”(54) 

In Winterdance, a book filled with humor, Paulsen takes us along with him and fifteen dogs to prove otherwise.  The book is fast paced, a little unbelievable at times, and often funny.  The scene of Paulsen trying to run dogs during training, without snow, by riding behind on a bicycle pulled by a dozen wild dogs, left me wondering how survived to arrive alive in Alaska.  Paulsen later tied to the dogs to a car body, from where he sat as they pulled him across the barren ground.  The dogs love to pull and in time, Paulsen found himself essentially living with the dogs as his life centered on carrying for the dogs.  In training and in running the race, one primarily focuses on the dogs need.  Food, feet care, medical needs and rest for the animals all come before the musher’s needs.

Paulsen openly makes fun of his amateur status as a dog musher.  When he decided to run the Iditarod, the longest run he’d done with dogs was 150 miles running a trap line in Minnesota.  When the race started in downtown Anchorage, he and his dogs took a wrong turn and ran through the crowds.  This, however, was the “show start” as the dogs only run a few blocks before being trucked to the real start of the race (outside of the freeways that circle the city).   The race involves stopping at a number of checkpoints, where food is cached and the dogs are checked.  If anything, the focus is all on the dogs.   With the exception of a few occasions, such as being caught in a storm and having to wait it out, you wonder if Paulsen ever slept during the race.  At the checkpoints, he’d have to check each dog’s paws as well as cook dog food which was placed in a cooler on the sleds for the next run. 

Two of Paulsen’s dogs stand out: Cookie and Devil.  Cookie is the fun loving led dog, whose instinct saves the team on Norton Sound where the ice is breaking up.  Devil, lives up to his name, as he is always trying to eat other dogs and even attacks Paulsen (they eventually reach an uneasy truce).  But Devil can pull and that’s why Paulsen keeps him as a part of the team. (I wondered if dogs live up to their names…)  Paulsen also speaks of the dogs of other mushers.  Getting teams of dogs together in tight places can be a problem as there is always the possibility of a dog fight.  And then there are the problems with the bitches going into heat, and the mushers who attempt to mask the dog’s scent by spreading Vicks vapor rub on her.  The trick works until the male dogs learn to associate Vicks with sex, at which time the musher is in danger by opening the jar.  The dogs appear to get into the excitement of the race and I come away with a sense that they enjoyed the challenge.  

A race such as this brings out the best and the worst of people, sometimes from the same person.  Paulsen tells of a musher who brought donuts to share with other mushers, but then in rage at his team, he kicked and killed a dog.  This was a serious violation and as Paulsen and another musher witnessed and reported it, the man was banned for ever racing again. 

Paulsen finished the race, even though at times he hallucinated from the lack of sleep.  He vows to come back and win it.  He did run the race twice, but heart problems kept him returning again and he never did win the race. 

I read this book for a men’s book club of which I’m a member.  I enjoyed it and would recommend it to those interested in dogs or the outdoors.  Years ago, when my son was a teenager, we’d read together some other Paulsen books.  Although this book wasn’t necessarily written for middle school students, it is an easy (and enjoyable) read.

Friday, February 05, 2016

An Ode to My Backpack

A week before I was injured, I realized my backpacks, which were stored on shelving in the garage, were mildewing.  I decided to make room in the top of a closet to store them where it would be drier, but first the needed a bath.  Upon cleaning up my old Kelty D4 and why it was drying in the sun, I did a little reminiscing.  

My first backpack was a Kilimanjaro that I purchased at a department store.  With an exotic name like that, I expected more.  I took it on a couple of backpacking trips and the contraption nearly killed me.  On the last trip, a freezing two-night trek on the Uwharrie Trail in early January 1976, which the nightly temperature dropped to zero, the cold didn’t compare to the anguish that came from the pack.  It didn’t come with a waist belt and my makeshift one didn’t work well and the shoulder straps pulled tight and dug into my shoulders.  It was misery.  I’m amazed that I continued to hike.

Kelty D4
Notice reserve pins hanging
and the 2000 miler AT patch
Shortly afterwards that fateful trip, I brought a Kelty D4 pack from REI.  For the next twenty-five years it would be my main overnight backpack and it is still in remarkably good condition.  I have replaced the shoulder straps a couple of times and am now on my third waistbelt (the original one was eaten by a conveyor at an airport and the second one wasn’t a Kelty and didn’t last).  Even when I changed the waist belts, I kept the old stainless  steel cam lock on the waist belt which is one of the best buckles ever made (a  lot better than the plastic ones that seem to break when it most inconvenient).   I also added an extension bar to the pack which can be extended six inches and allows one to carry a lot of extra material.  This bar enabled me to use this pack on extended backpacking trips along the Appalachian and John Muir trails.  I later purchased a Kelty internal frame pack that was set up for skiing and snowshoeing and held about 3000 cubic inches.  It was a great pack for heading into the backcountry, but also for one and two night backpacking trips and was the pack I took around the world.  I have also used a larger a large internal frame Kelty Redcloud 5400 for backpacking, but it hauls more than I need.  My favorite pack is still the old D4. 

I wonder how many miles this pack has hauled whatever I need on my back.  It has been the full length of the Appalachian Trail (and a few sections we’d done more than once).  It has also hiked the John Muir Trail, Laurel Highlands Trail, Ruby Crest Trail and did miles on a number of other trails in places including Bryce Canon, Zion Canyon, the Grand Canyon, Point Reyes National Seashore, Great Basin National Park, along with the the Sawtooth and Beartooth Mountains.  This pack and I have done well over 3000 miles together.  God-willing, I’ll put some more miles on this pack before I’m done with it.  

Wednesday, February 03, 2016

A New Poet (at least to me)

An oldie of mine--
a shrimp trawler working off Carolina Beach
During the Australian Open this year, there was a commercial advertising Melbourne as a travel destination.  The commercial showed scenes from around that part of the island continent, as a woman read from a poem by E. J. Brady titled: “Far and Wide.”  I’d never heard of Brady, but I liked the poem and though the advertisement was wonderful (except that they over played it, as it seemed to run several times every set).  Wanting to know more, I goggled E. J. Brady and learned that he was an Australian, the son of Irish immigrants, who was born in New South Wales.  He started to work as a clerk on the wharves in Sydney, but lost his job in a strike due to his labor activities.  But it was there, as he encountered seamen from all over the world, that he developed a love for the sea.  After leaving the wharf, he held a variety of positions writing and editing for newspapers, many that supported labor politics.  His poetry captures the love of the ocean and the challenge of the seas as he utilizes the slang of the seamen.  He is also known for his love for the Land Down Under.  

In “With Coal to Calloa,” he writes about a young seaman leaving his lover on the docks, but a fire breaks out in the ship and it burns and is destroyed just ten days from its destination.  In “The Blazing Star,” he writes about a solid brigantine sailing the seas out of Boston, around the horn, to the North Pacific whaling waters and makes good time like the Flying Dutchman.  But probably my favorite song is “Coast of Dreams,” as it speaks to me in my current condition.  Brady died in 1952.

Here are some excerpts of “Coast of Dreams.”  The poem begins:

The window of my sick room fronts
                A screw-tormented bay,
When porcine Commerce squeals and grunts,   
                And wallows day by day.

Fat, vulgar tramps, in moving cloud
                Of smoke, encircled round,
With bull-voiced sirens bellow loud
                For pilots-outward bound.

Lately, I know what it is like to be in a “sick room” and long to be on the water, or to be free to travel and explore.  A few verses later, these lines really caught my attention.

The lusts of travel, like a net,
                My sick-bed fancies snare;
My thoughts on outward currents set
                To glories otherwhere.

The liner’s but a huge hotel;
                She holds no charm for me;
My Soul demands the heave and swell
                Of decks that lip the Sea.

Even while laid up, I have thoughts of glories around the globe waiting to be experienced…  and a desire for the heave and swell.  The poem closes:

Aye! Surely as all flesh is grass,
                The far lands fairer seem,
So roving hearts for e’er must past

                Adown the Coasts of Dream.

Friday, January 29, 2016

Update and "you're never too old to publish a book"

Waiting for surgery
I’m slowly coming to grips with the understanding that I can’t bend my knee for the next six weeks…  Post about sailing or kayaking or hiking will have to be drawn from past adventures….  I feel as if I have a peg leg and am not very mobile.  Thankfully, the pain has subsided and I am taking about a 1/3 of the pain medicine as I was before.  Because of drug allergies with many traditional pain killers, I was given a morphine product which might explain some weird dreams that I had (it also might explain why I have been sleeping 10-12 hours a day).  But I am doing well and life is getting to be somewhat normal.  

I hope I don't gross you out with the photos!  I am going to end up with a zipper look on the front of my leg with the staples that have been put into the wound.  Also, for the first time in my life, part of that leg was shaved!  I didn't finish the job.

my wound
I have been watching a lot of movies as I sit around with my leg up: Cider House Rules, The Way, The Quiet American, Safelight, Night Train to Lisbon, Female Agents, Jackie & Ryan, Mansfield Park, World of Tomorrow, NLL: Yeonpyeong Haejeon, Chocolat.  Netflix streaming has been good!  

Last summer I was given a book by a ninety year old friend and I finally got around to reading it.  This isn’t normally the type of reading I do, but I the Maritime history of the world (which I was reading pre-surgery, is just too complicated).  I found the book delightful.  My review is below. 

Lucy Barrett, Salad Days in the Golden Years: Introducing Virginia and Matilda (Cleveland TN: Penman Publishing, 2015), 182 page 

This is a delightful novel written by a friend on the island.  This past year, she turned 90 and celebrated by publishing her first book.  Salad Days in the Golden Years is a delightful book about Virginia, who decides she is not going to live with her only child, but is going to move to a Continuing Care Retirement Community (CCRC).  There, she meets Matilda and the two of them become a dynamic duo—catching criminals, planning weddings, and seeking their own late-life lovers.  Virginia is a bit naïve, having moved to the facility as a widow, having been married to the same man for over fifty years.  She was used to having people (her husband, then her son) make decisions for her.  But she wants to be independent and slowly learns how to accomplish this.  Matilda tests her, as she is the type that likes to run the lives of others, but Virginia learns how they might be friends but without Matilda’s control.  Barrett weaves in a number of other characters including a young waitress at the CCRC whose boyfriend is shot.  This sets the scene for Virginia and Matilda to catch a fugitive.  In the background, with connections primarily through letters and voice mail, is her son’s family along with the trust fund manager.  As a mother-in-law, Virginia she has questions about her daughter-in-law who doesn’t like to cook, but is able to keep them to herself by moving to Magnolia Village.  Yet, Virginia is fearful of what would happen to her grandchildren if Pot Tarts were no longer manufactured.  By the end of the story, Virginia is content with her new life and even has a new boyfriend.  Another couple there is married and he has discovered he has a grandson.  Virginia’s own son has accepted that his mother can care for herself, while Virginia understands more about how his family is a bit different, but also works.  Although there are no “happy ever-after” stories in life, at last those at Magnolia Village will make the most of the journey.  This is a well-told story and I recommend it.

Friday, January 22, 2016

Wrigley Field

I will come back and edit this again as I wrote it while taking a synthetic morphine as I recover from the surgery on my quad tendon.  Yesterday was tough--once the block wore off, I was in pain.  Today hasn't been quite as bad, but every time I try to back off on meds, the pain goes up...  between the meds and an ice machine that keeps cool water on my leg, I am making it.  


George F. Will, A Nice Little Place on the North Side: Wrigley Field at One Hundred (New York: Crown Archetype, 2014), 223 pages including a bibliography, index and a few photos.

Baseball is as encrusted with clichés as old ships are with barnacles.
                                                        -George Will (page 105)

         Watching a baseball game at Wrigley’s Field is a delight.  In 2011, I took the train from Michigan to Chicago, then took the Red Line out to Wrigley Field to watch the Houston Astros beat the Chicago Cubs.  I was rooting for the Cubs and would have liked to have seen them win, but those who go to watch baseball at Wrigley’s attend mostly for the experience. “People go to museums of fine art to see the paintings, not the frames that display them,” Will writes.  “Many people do, however, decide to go to Chicago Cubs games because they are played within this lovely frame… It is frequently noted that Wrigley’s Field is lovelier than the baseball that is played on the field.” (13).   This leads to all kinds of jokes about the Cubs:  “What does a female bear taking birth control pills have in common with the World Series,” someone will ask.  “No Cubs.”  Or, “for most teams, 0-30 is called a calamity.  For the Cubs, it is called April. (29)  The old ballpark turned 100 years old in 2014 and George Will, who grew up in Illinois and is a Cub fan, wrote a history of the park to celebrate the event and to explore why people love the Cubs and Wrigley’s Field.  As Will notes early in the book, "Reason rarely regulates love." (11)  And with the Cubs, it’s all about love as their attendance is the least sensitive to performance in all baseball. (134)  People come whether or not they are winning.  Ironically, their attendance is four times more sensitive to beer prices than performance which is why only two teams (the Pirates and Diamondbacks) have cheaper beer.  (136)
            The Cubs are an old organization and at one time (pre-Wrigley’s Field) they were a powerhouse.  In the 1880s, with Cap Anson, they had many championships.  It’s just that they’ve had a bad century, winning their last World Series in 1908.  Will gives the history of the team that was first known as the Chicago White Stockings and under the leadership of Albert Goodwill Spaulding (baseball’s first entrepreneur) helped invent Major League Baseball. (31). Goodyear published yearly “Spalding Guides” to Major League Baseball.  In his 1908 edition,   Goodyear (who Will noted “was not always fastidious about facts”) created the myth of Abner Doubleday inventing baseball in the summer of 1939 in Farmer Finney’s pasture in Cooperstown, NY. (33)  After being known as the White Stockings, the team went by a number of names (Colts, Orphans and Spuds).  In 1902, after the creation of the American League, there was another team in Chicago that was using the name “White Sox’s,” so they looked for a new name and decided on Cubs as it represented bear-like strength with a playful disposition. (36)  Another interesting fact that Will provides:  The American League was founded in 1882 and its main difference at the time was it allowed beer sale at ball games. (34)
            In 1914, the Cubs built their new stadium with the home plate at the corner of Addison and Clark Streets at the site of a former Lutheran Seminary.  (20)  Ironically, Addison Street was named for Dr. Thomas Addison, who identified "Addison anemia," providing more comic material for the Cubs. (15)  Two years later, William Wrigley, who had made his fortune with chewing gum, brought into the Cub organization. (45). Wrigley was a promoter who was fond of saying, "Baseball is too much of a sport to be a business and too much of a business to be a sport. (46)  His was the first club to allow people to keep balls that were hit into the stands and unlike other teams, who saw radio broadcast as a threat, he allowed stations to broadcast the games free of charge.  (47-48).  He reached out to women and built a strong female fan base.  Under his family leadership, the motto was if the team was bad, “strive mightily to improve the ballpark.” (87)  The Wrigley’s tried to create a ballpark for the whole family and would advertise for people to come out and have a picnic.  The joke was that the other team often did.  (83)
            Will goes into detail about the Cub’s 1932 World Series loss to the Yankees and the game when Babe Ruth “called the shot” before he hit a home run over center field.  As he notes, it probably didn’t happen the way it has been portrayed.  Ruth, and the Yankees, were upset with the Cubs over a player (Mark Koenig) they’d traded from the Yankees late in the season.  The team decided that Koenig would only get ½ of a share of the World’s Series proceeds for the team since he didn’t play all year for them.  This increased the tension between the teams and most likely Ruth’s pointing the bat at the Cub’s dugout.  The game was also interesting because of who were in the stands.  Franklin Roosevelt was there (just 38 days before being elected President along with a 12 year old boy (John Paul Stevens) who would go on to be a Supreme Court Justice. (55-6)
            Will tells many other stories about the Cubs and the field.  This includes providing the background to the book and movie, The Natural. (65-67); how Jack Ruby was a vendor at Wrigley’s before moving to Texas where he shot Lee Harvey Oswald (90); of Ray Kroc selling paper cups to Wrigley’s before starting McDonalds (91); and Ronald Reagan broadcasting Cub games in Iowa via teletype. (93).
            Wrigley’s field was the last major league ballpark to install lights.  Will notes that one of the reason was the local bars, who liked day games so that the fans would stop off at the bar for drinks and food after the game was over.  It is also one of the few stadiums to hold on to the organ and to shun more electronic means of music and scoreboards.  Other topics that Will covered included race relations and baseball in Chicago.  Some of the earlier leaders of the team were racists, which is ironic since the most famous Cub was Ernie Banks, an African-American.  Another famous Cub was Manager Leo Durocher, known for saying “nice guys finish last.”  This is another myth that Will shatters, noting that Durocher was speaking of the Giants and said, “All nice guys.  They’ll finish last” and journals “improved on his quote.” (108)  He also noted that Durocher didn’t like Ernie Banks.  “You could say about Ernie that he never remembered a sign or forgot a newspaperman’s name,” Durocher said. (112)
            The last part of the book is mostly philosophical as Will explores the role tribalism plays into our love of sports, the beauty of which “is its absence of meaning.” (188)

            I don’t always agree with George Will’s politics, but I share a love of baseball and enjoyed reading this book.  I had picked it up a few months ago and it was just what I needed as my concentration was greatly reduced due to my torn quad tendon.  If you don’t mind Will’s myth-busting, you’ll find this book to be a gem.