Tuesday, October 31, 2006

Catching Up

Halloween is over; at least the ‘trick-or-treat” part; there’s no telling what adolescent boys might be doing for the rest of the evening. Hopefully whatever it is, it won’t involve eggs, pumpkins, poop or fire. I’m now sitting my the fireplace, warming up with a drink and for the first time in two days have time to get down my thoughts on this night of legal extortion. But I don’t feel like writing that, so maybe it’ll have to wait till next year.

From newspaper reports, it appears that St. Louis has beat out Detroit again. This time, the river city is designated the most dangerous city in the country. Detroit is number two. I wouldn’t want to live in either one.

Tomorrow night, my colleague from India will be helping a group of us prepare food for 80 or so people. I’m looking forward to learning his “herb and spices” secrets. Tonight, someone lent him a superman outfit to wear trick-or-treating. He’s pretty interested in this unique American holiday. My daughter’s outfit was the Statue of Liberty. I didn’t wear anything special except to put on my Stetson for the first time this season (it’s white and is easy to see and I only wear it in winter).

I'm tired and ready for bed.

Sunday, October 29, 2006

Quotes from Sage’s weekly readings and a photo from the archives


The photo to the right taken in Michigan's UP

Back there in the river I may have been signaling him with part of one hand.
-McPhee discusses an encounter with a jetskier at a boat launch as he was taking his canoe out of the water after trying to fish for shad amongst the jetskiers on the St. John’s River in Florida, John McPhee, The Founding Fish

Sometimes I have forgotten to take an extra paddle, a bad decision if you are dumb enough to rest your one paddle across the thwarts
-John McPhee, The Founding Fish

This is proof there is a God… [A God who] enjoys making decisions on why one catches a fish and another doesn’t.
-After his friend has caught several fish and he none and they’re both fishing in the same place using the same flies and techniques. John McPhee, The Founding Fish

In Sherpa-country every trail is marked with cairns and prayer-flags, reminding you that Man’s real home is not a house, but the Road, and that life itself is a journey to be walked on foot.
-Bruce Chatwin, What Am I Doing Here

I saw then that being willing to die, prepared to die, was not the same as being prepared for death.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off

A mutual acquaintance of both myself and Abbey once remarked, in reference to the modeling of Hayduke on Peacock: “Friends don’t do that to each other.” The only thing worse than reading your own press was becoming someone else’s fiction.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off (what does this say about blogging about others?)

[A]s a ranger, a lawman of the federal government, I was a dismal failure… Anarchists tend to make poor law enforcement agents.
-Doug Peacock, Walking It Off

There once was a pious young priest
who lived almost wholly on yeast.
'For', he said, 'it is plain
we must all rise again,
and I want to get started at least.'
-From “A Thousand and One Limericks,” quoted by Danny at http://rumoursofangels.blogspot.com/ when doing the below meme--this reminds me that I need to finish my memories of working in the bakery.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Nearest Book Meme


The photo to the left is looking down toward Ashdown Gorge, a hike I wrote about in a previous post.

Since the wind is blowing too strong to rake leaves (if it keeps blowing in the same direction, it'll blow them all away) and since there is no need to get things done so that I'll be free to watch a world series game this evening, I thought I'd do this meme from Lauire (who has now changed her URL from the one you see in my sidebar right after I updated it!). Doing this meme is in keeping with my general principle of only doing meme's from southern women.

1. Grab the nearest book.
2. Open the book to page 123.
3. Find the fifth sentence.
4. Post the text of the next 4 sentences on your blog along with these instructions.
5. Don’t you dare dig for that “cool” or “intellectual” book in your closet!

This is interesting. I hope this book doesn't have any bad sections... Let's see:

This process continued well into the twentieth century. The result was further withdrawl of the Indians into the rugged canyons and mesas, and a deep rooted distrust of all things European. The cycles of conquest were repeated throughout the New World. In the case of the northern Mexican tribs, such as the Tarahumara and Sere, Spanish colonialists saw themselves as civilized people dispensing civilization to barbarians and savages for the good of all.
Now isn't that just what you needed to know! This comes from Doug Peacock's, Walking It Off: A Veteran's Chronicle of War an Wilderness. I doubt that quote will make you want to go out and read the book, but maybe I'll ahve more quotes tomorrow in my weekly reading quote posts.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers


  • It’s been a long time since I’ve been in a political gathering, but last night I subjected myself to one in order to watch the movie I’ve heard so much about, “Iraq for Sale: The War Profiteers. A local Democratic group offered a free showing. Over all, I think the film was about what I expected as most of the indictments and accusations have been in the news. As for the meeting itself, I felt uncomfortable. Although most in the audience seemed to be level headed, the woman in charge seemed at times over the top in her rhetoric (to her credit, she did apologize at the end for being rude). However, being there reminded me of how I prefer to disassociate with those on either political extreme, left and right.

    As anyone who has read my blog knows, I have been a critic of the Iraqi War since it began. In my opinion, we had no choice but to go into Afghanistan. Iraq is another story. But we’re now there and how can someone not know that the Iraqi War has created tremendous profits for a few large corporations that hold non-bid contracts? Furthermore, I can’t see how anyone can’t know that certain key people in our government—including the Vice President—have been instrumental in funneling business to firms in which they hold significant investments. So that part of the film, showing how certain corporations (and their CEOs) are making fortunes wasn’t a surprise. But it did reinforce in my mind that people like Cheney need to be held accountable (which won’t happen as long as Congress is filled with his friends). Enough ranting…

    This film puts a personal touch on the profits and those who are paying the price: families whose sons were killed while working for contractors in Iraq, truck drivers who lost friends in the country, soldiers who have had to deal with substandard services. Although some of this could be blamed on disgruntled former employees and soldiers, one can’t totally dismiss the numbers and the evidence against these corporations. And also, as we go into an election campaign, we need to remember that by outsourcing much of this war, Congress has failed to provide oversight and to protect American tax revenues!

    I tend to be a fiscal conservative. And I find disturbing is that, with a few exceptions, fiscal conservatives in leadership roles, who should be concerned with things like government spending, have been quiet on this issue. Why isn’t our “conservative congress” doing more to investigate these allegations? As the old journalistic adage goes, “follow the money trail.”

Some of the interesting tidbits from the film:

  • If you put together all the private contractors working as body guards and security forces in Iraq, they’d make up the second largest coalition army in Iraq, with more soldiers than the British.
  • Why should American soldiers reenlist, when they can get six times the salary by working for a private contractor?
  • 50% of all interrogators are private contractors. As these contractors are exempt from military justice, their abuses are mostly going unpunished, unlike their military counterparts who have been court-martialed for abuses.
  • The Cost-Plus method of reimbursing corporations like KBR/Halliburton has created widespread fraud and the creation of expenses which allows the corporation to bill the federal government even more for their “services.”
  • No competition in the bidding has created a climate of indifference and has led to fraud and abuses.

After the movie, a local soldier in the reserves who recently spent 13 months in Iraq spoke. Although he tempered his comments, noting there were things he couldn’t talk about as he’s still in the reserves, he did agree that there is a lot of waste, fraud and abuse in Iraq. He also said that the contractors in Iraq are now mostly being guarded by American soldiers. This creates a morale problem, to have a soldier who is making $25,000 a year guarding a contractor (who often does the same job the soldier has been trained to do), yet draws $135,000 a year.

Do those CEOs who make $40+ million a year off Iraq and the Congress who refuses to provide oversight have any ethics or morality? And whatever happened to the American concept of checks and balances? Again, enough ranting, but since I can’t brag about the Tigers, there’s little else I can do…

Wednesday, October 25, 2006

Cedar Breaks and Ashdown Gorge


This is about a second overnight hike I took last month when in Utah.


They’ve been here. Dropping down from Stud Flat, the switchbacks cross again and again a rock slide, mostly black lava rock mixed with a little quartz. The further we descend the more flakes we find. It appears they’ve been here mining quartz. When we arrive at the confluence of Rattlesnake Creek and a small branch flowing out of Tri Story Canyon, there’s a high bench between the two creeks. Walking around, examining the ground, we find several areas with quartz flakes. B finds what appears to be a broken knife. I find a small arrowhead, the point broken off. It must have been tedious work, a slip of the rock hammer and the point breaks, rending one’s labor useless. This site must have been a high summer camp, when natives moved into the mountains to hunt as well as to produce knives and arrowheads. I doubt we’ll find any whole arrowheads, as they would have been taken up the canyon in search of deer and elk. I muse that down in the valley, a hundreds of years after these camps were last used, folks still work with quartz. Now they’re high tech, working in clean rooms under a microscope, etching quartz crystals for computers and cell phones and other electronic equipment.

B and I started out early in the morning, at the trailhead on the north side of Cedar Breaks National Monument. It’s a clear day and at 10,000 feet, the air is cool. We hike due east, passing ancient bristlecone pines and stopping for spectacular views of the red rock breaks with strange shaped hoodoos. Up high, the spruce and fir have been hit hard by pine bark beetles. As they die off, aspen will come back. In other areas, we walk through aspen groves, which transition into forest of fir and spruce as the aspen mature and die off. The forest is always in flux. In addition to the transitional forest, meadows such as Stud Flat are dispersed throughout the high country, providing grazing for animals as well as sweeping views of the red sandstone breaks and the black basalt of Brian Head, a former volcano.

We follow Rattlesnake Creek for a ways, stopping for a break at the place where we cross it the final time. We’ve dropped a couple thousand feet. Huge Ponderosa Pines now dominate the forest. You can tell what elevation you’re at by the vegetation. Without packs, we walk down to where the creek drops some 50 feet into a slot canyon. Tomorrow, I tell B, we’ll be down there, at the bottom of the falls. We leave Rattlesnake Creek and climb up and cross another meadow and walk along a steep south-facing slope that gradually drops down into Ashdown Creek. The cottonwood leaves along the creek bank have mostly turned yellow. Here we set up camp, pack a few essentials and head westward up Ashdown Creek into the vast amphitheatre of Cedar Breaks.

At times, we walk in the creek bed, trying to keep our boots dry. Other times, we get up on the high ground and follow and an old two track road bed, probably from the era of wagons when the residents of Cedar City came up here to cut timber and stones in order to build the first building of Branch Agricultural College (now Southern Utah University). The road continually crossed windy creek in an attempt to stay on the high ground. Large sections of it have been washed away. We pass an old sawmill that cut the huge Ponderosa Pines. After covering a few miles, we enter into the amphitheatre, with the huge red rock cliffs rising two thousand feet above us. We want to go further, but realize we’ll have to hurry to get back to our camp before dark, so we turn around and make it back to camp as the first stars appear in the sky. B has brought dinner, dehydrated Pah Thai. I get out my stove. Using flashlights, I boil water and prepare tea while B builds a fire. We eat by the fire, washing it down with some brandy. Afterwards, we spend an hour or two catching up on what’s happen to each of us over the past couple of years, ever since I moved from the area. A little after 10 PM, we turn in. For a while, I leave the top of my bivy open, looking at the stars, but as the temperature drops, I close the door and fall asleep in the warmth of my bag.


In the morning, the flap on the bivy has frozen with condensation. A water bottle I left outside is half frozen. It’s a cold morning for late September. I crawl out, pulling on long pants and a fleece jacket. B prepares a fire as I get the stove going and heat water for oatmeal and coffee and watch the sun slowly rise above the breaks and fill the canyon with light. We leave our camp, hiking up the Potato Hollow trail, where we explore another large meadow. They’ve been here too. There are hundreds of chips and we find a number of damaged arrowheads and knives that were discarded when they broke during the construction process. B tells me about a perfect quartz knife he once found, further up in Potato Hollow. It was probably dropped on a hunt only to be discovered a thousand years later.

The sun has warmed the air enough that by the time we get back to camp. Our shelters have dried out. We pack stuff up and I change into shorts and a tee shirt, storing my warmer clothes in my pack. Our hike out through Ashdown Gouge will be a wet one. We’ll have to ford the creek time and time again. I try to keep my feet dry as long as possible, jumping from rock to rock which probably is more of a risk than we should take. But soon, a rock moves and I slid into the water, wetting my boots, preparing me for wading ahead. At the junction of Rattlesnake Creek, we stow our packs and with a camera, tripod and some snacks, hike upwards into the tight slot canyon, crossing some small waterfalls before we come to large falls at the end. We also head off from Rattlesnake Creek, going another side tributary called Lake Creek, where the creek drops into the slot between five huge boulders that straddle the tope of the canyon creating a cave like room in which the water flows down the walls.


Both B and I have hiked this canyon numerous times. B tells me about a time he was down here when a flood came out of Rattlesnake Creek. They had to go back upstream and take Potato Hollow out. Being caught in canyons such as these during a flood would be suicide. Mud marks along the canyon walls show that at places the water rises 30 feet. When the water is that high and flowing fast, filled with logs and debris, a person would unlucky enough to be caught in the flood would be crushed against the canyon walls.

As we get to the end of the canyon, we pause and look at Flanigan Arch, high above us. A few hundred yards later, Crystal Creek flows into Ashdown, forming Cedar Creek. High above us is Highway 14, a road that has to be continually rebuilt here every few years as mudslides often wash parts of it away. But today, the road is in good shape and we find B’s jeep where we left it. We exchange our wet and heavy boots for sandals and drive safely home in time for dinner.

Most of the area we hiked in is a part of the Ashdown Gorge Wilderness Area. But in the middle of this Wilderness Area, there is a small private holding owned by descendents of the Ashdown’s. Talking to the ranger after our trip, I learned that there is an attempt for the government to buy this holding and to add the Ashdown Wilderness to the Cedar Breaks Monument, creating a new national park. Both ways, most of the area is already protected and that which isn’t protected only has limited development opportunities due to the nature of the creek flooding on a regular basis. The winters are bitter, the springs and summer brings floods. It’s good country to savor on short visits, like it was with the natives who came here before us. This isn’t the type of country that lends itself to settlement.

Other Stories from my recent Utah trip
Kolob Arch
Hiking Kolob with my son
Washing my hat
Hole in the Wall Road
Back West again

Monday, October 23, 2006

3-Iron, A Movie Review


Written and directed by Kim Ki-Duk, 3 Iron is a Korean movie with minimal dialogue and extensive symbolism. Tae-Suk (Jae Hee) is a homeless man (with an incredibly expensive motorcycle). He spends his days hanging advertisements on doorknobs and then goes back over this territory at night to find homes where the owners have not picked up his advertisements. Picking the lock, he goes in, checks the phone message to get an idea as to how long they’ll be gone and then makes himself comfortable for the evening. He fixes dinner, watches TV, looks at the family photos and always takes a picture of himself in front of a family portrait, then cleans up the house, fixes broken appliances, and even washes clothes left laying around. His routine is changed after he breaks into the home of Sun-hwa (played by the beautiful Lee Seung-yun), a former model and battered woman hiding in her home. She shadows Tae-Suk, then he shadows her and witnesses her being beaten by her husband. He later goes back and using her husband’s 3 iron and golf balls, extracts revenge upon the women’s husband. Sun-hwa then leaves, riding on the back of the bike. She develops the same style, taking care of the home and even the body of a man found dead. They are both arrested, but it is discovered that they didn’t kill the man, that he died from lung cancer. Sun-hwa’s husband then extracts revenge on Tae-Suk, who ends up in prison. While there, despite many beatings, he learns to hide and to become a shadow. The movie ends with him being reunited with Sun-hwa, as a shadow of her husband. The movie leaves a lot open for interpretation. There are many reoccurring themes, golf clubs and balls, photographs of women models, bathroom scales and clocks. The movie ends with the line, “It’s hard to tell if the world you live in is a reality of a dream.”

Although this movie is more surreal than my taste, I enjoyed it. The limited dialogue made it easier to follow and keep up with the subscripts. The movie is only 90 minutes long, and its pacing was fast enough that it seemed even shorter. Check out more reviews at Rotten Tomatoes.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Quotes from Sage's readings and a photo from the archives


Photo: Virginia City, Nevada. Winter 1988-89

“Fly rods are like Cornish pasties—both are best made for love rather than for money.”
-“Morris the Rodmaker,” Robert Traver (A while back there was quite a discussion in my blog about Cornish pasties and there’s been off and on discussions about fly fishing, so I had to include this quote that ties the two together.)

“If you look at the general overall situation, they’re doing remarkably well.”
-“Dead-Eye” Dick Cheney on the Rush Limbaugh show, commenting on the war in Iraq.

When Dick Cheney told Rush Limbaugh that things in Iraq are going "remarkably well," he must have been speaking not as the vice president (not even Cheney is that delusional) but as a man with an ongoing financial interest in Halliburton, which continues to profit from the otherwise disastrous war.
Arianna Huffington in response to Cheney’s comments

…to purchase peace at home by sowing chaos abroad…
-Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here (and he wasn’t talking about our current administration)

Men of action have a habit of consigning past loves and indiscretions to oblivion in the hope of better things to come.
-Writing about Andre’ Malraux, Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

"The secret divinity of the twentieth century is Science. But Science is incapable of forming character. The more people talk of human sciences, the less effect human sciences have on man. You know as well as I do that psychoanalysis has never made a man.”
-Andre’ Malraux, as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

“There is the positive hero and the negative hero, and the two do not mix. The negative hero usually has far greater poetic power. Lawrence and Che’ Guevara were negative heroes. Alexander the Great was a positive hero. De Gaulle, all things considered, was a positive hero; he certainly lacked the masochism of a Lawrence. But the negative heor is a victim. If Guevara today were President of Bolivia it would never have worked. A hero like that requires the crucifixion.”
-Andre’ Malraux, as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

It’s far easier to become a star again than become one.”
-Andre’ Malraux as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

In France intellectuals are usually incapable of opening an umbrella.
-Andre’ Malraux (a Frenchman) as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

“Walking is virtue, tourism deadly sin”
Werner Herzog as quoted by Bruce Chatwin in What Am I Doing Here

“When the pulpit becomes an echo of the pew, it loses, I think, almost all of its reason for existence.”
-Gardner C, Taylor in The Christian Century

Time was one of Gandhi’s obsessions. Each minute, he held, was a gift of God to be used in the service of man… He used each pencil right down to an ungrippable stub, because he held that it represented the work of a fellow human being and to waste it would indicate indifference to his labors.”
-Freedom at Midnight, “Larry Collins and Dominique Lapierre

The implications of a dam exceeds it true level in the scale of environmental catastrophes. Conservationists who can hold themselves in reasonable check before new oil spills and fresh metropolises, mysteriously go insane at even the thought of a dam… possibly the reaction is so violent because rivers as the ultimate metaphor of existence and dams destroys rivers, humiliating nature...
John McPhee, The Founding Fish (I thought I’d give dams equal time after my Abbey post).

Why shouldn't I be Governor?

There was some brightness in the World Series last night. This dialogue took place during a commercial break, right after watching Dick DeVos' beautiful daughter endorse her silver spooned father for Governor of Michigan.

"Gee, He now wants us to vote for him because he has a beautiful daughter. If that’s the only requirement, I should be running for governor," I say. Then turning toward my daughter, I ask, "C, would you do a TV commercial for me?"

“Dad,” my daughter C draws the word out as she rolls her eyes, “I think you better stay with your present job.”

Friday, October 20, 2006

What goes around, comes around. Well, almost.


The World Series starts tomorrow—Detroit verses St. Louis. The two teams have met a few times in the World Series, the last time in 1968, when I was a student at Bradley Creek Elementary School. At that time, I was a diehard Cardinal fan. At that time, just about everyone in the South was a Cardinal fans and their radio network covered Dixie. The Braves had just moved to Atlanta, but didn’t yet have much of a following. Ted Turner hadn’t made a fortune which would allow him to buy the best players in the National League. So we rooted for St. Louis. It was the days of nine volt transistor radios and a group of us would listen to the game as we rode Bus #6, a large snub-nosed vehicle, down Greenville Sound and Masonboro Loop Roads, getting off at our subdivision where we all ran to someone’s home and watched the final innings of the game. I cherish those memories even though we were all crushed when Detroit beat St. Louis in the 7th game. The World Series starts tomorrow. This time, due to geography, I’ll be a diehard Tiger fan.

Click here for more of my memories of 1968. We were also in a war back then!

Wednesday, October 18, 2006

Remembering Edward Abbey


I'm not sure where the picture to the right originially came from, but it's found all over the internet and I borrowed it from his biography in "biocrawler." The link also has a good yet brief bio of Abbey.

Back in the late 70s, while loitering around bridges over the Haw River in Chatham County, I’d BS with other boaters about how we might blow up the B. Everett Jordan Dam. At that time, the Haw River was still flowing unrestricted and contained the best whitewater in Central North Carolina (and some of the best in the state). When the river gauge was at three feet, there was a ten foot standing wave at the first big rapid; I believe it was called "Gabriel’s Trumpet." If the water was that high, open boats foolish enough to run the river got in trouble at this point. Afterwards, the river continued to be exciting, ending up with a magnificent pipeline, a continual drop that was a thrill to shoot in a kayak. By the time I started paddling, it was known our little piece of heaven was going to be short-lived. The lawsuits that had blocked the closing of the dam were ending and soon the lower Haw would become a lake.

A decade after those talks about blowing up the dam, I began reading Edward Abbey. His fast paced novel, The Monkey Wrench Gang, is about a collective group of misfits trying to save the West and always having in the back of their mind the idea of blowing up the Glen Canyon dam and draining Lake Powell. Upon reading my first Abbey book, I knew I’d met a kindred soul and in the late 80s and early 90s, I read almost all of his books. Abbey died in 1989. But seventeen years after his death, his words still haunt and criticize.

This month’s issue of The Sun has a collection of letters from the philosophical desert redneck. He was contrary man and these letters confirms it. “A writer must be hard to live with,” he acknowledged. “When not working he is miserable and when working he is obsessed… I write mainly for the fun of it, the hell of it, duty of it, I enjoy writing and will probably be a scribbler till my dying day, sprawled on some stony trail halfway between two dry watering holes.” Although contrary, Abbey maintained that to be honest, he had to be a critic of the society in which he lived.

These letters are show Abbey’s long term optimism for the world (after we humans destroy nature, Abbey felt nature would regenerate itself). However, he was really concerned about the world his children and grandchildren would inherit. He felt the next few generations are going to horrible. Although a critic of Western religions, he drew from Scripture in his writings and noted that the book of Ecclesiastes was a favorite. Yet, in these letters he makes sure that its understood that just because he’s critical of Western religions doesn’t mean he thinks we can find the answer in Eastern Religions. He condemned “Orientalizers,” those who think that we can find an ecological answer in Eastern practices. In typical “redneck fashion,” he notes that the countries from where these practices arise are the most polluted and hopeless places on the globe. Although Abbey may disagree with me, I’ve pondered if he wasn’t influenced like Mark Twain, with a Calvinistic cynicism toward the human race.

It's hard to know how to peg Abbey. He didn't fit nearly into boxes and reconigized this. In a letter to the Tucson Weekly, he lashed out at both conservatives and liberals, noting that some think he's "right winged" because he opposes immigration and massive taxpayer funding for nursing the terminally sick. But then he admits that those on the "right-wing" think he's "left-winged" because he opposes "Washington's muderous polices in Latin America and planetary war on Nature. "What neither wig can grasp is that the bird of truth--like the falcon! the eagle! the yellow-bellied sapsucker!--flies on two wings. Not one. Two," he wrote.

Abbey’s writings often inspire and encourage people to get up and moving. “Action, there’s the thing. Action! When I grow sick with the buzzing of the brain, I like to go climb a rock. Cut down a billboard. Disable a bulldozer (Eine kleine Nachtwerek) Climb a mountain. Run a rapid. Pursue a woman. Etc,” he wrote. To a woman who asked him for a suggestion of a good place to go 4-wheeling, he responded with a sharp critique: “What’s wrong with the horse? Or the burro? Or the bicycle? Or even, God help us, the human foot? Why should not Americans learn to walk again? There is this to be said for walking: it is the one method of human locomotion by which a man or a woman proceed erect, upright, proud and independent, not squatting on our haunches like a frog.”

Abbey even managed to give native Michigander Jim Harrison a backhand compliment when he responded to his book, Sun Dog. “I admire more than ever, the power and grace of your style, the vivid rendering of the physical scene—you manage to make even Michigan sound like a land of splendor and mystery.” But then Abbey sharpened his criticism, “But why for god sake why did you have to make the hero of your book this goddamn Bechtel Corporation type, this sleazy asshole of a construction engineer who flies (first class always) around the world building more and more useless, destructive, ugly and wasteful dams. Why?” He even attacked another of my favorite authors, Wendell Berry, for being a farmer whose idea of wilderness is"a weedy fencerow between plowed fields." (Berry has a favorable essay on Abbey in What are People FOR?)

If you are a fan of Edward Abbey’s, check these letters out. However, if you’ve never read him, pick up the Monkey Wrench Gang or Desert Solitaire or A Fool’s Progress. According to one of his letters, Abbey considered his last novel that was published before his death, A Fool’s Progress,” to be his best. Perhaps more telling, his personal favorites were Black Sun (a gem, yet the closest thing he wrote to Chic Lit) and Fire on the Mountain (a futuristic novel and one I haven't read).

Sunday, October 15, 2006

Weekly Reading Quotes and other stuff


Photo of the Hole in the Rock Road, Utah

I haven’t done much reading this week. I'm just too darn busy! Therefore I don’t have as many quotes as normal, so I’ll comment on a few other things in life. This afternoon I took my colleague from India to a local operating mill (it’s now a museum). On the mill grounds, a Civil War reenactment was being conducted. My daughter and I did our best to explain to J what the Civil War was about and I had to explain to both of them why they grown men want to wear wool outfits and pretend to shoot each other with muskets. We got there a little late for the reenactment of the first battle of Manassas or Bull Run. I suppose the South still won. If you’ve read Tony Horwitz’s, Confederates in the Attic: Dispatches from the Unfinished Civil War (A good and often funny book), you might have the idea this reenactment stuff happens only down South. That’s not case. Even here in Michigan, they're those who dress up and play army.

After talking with the make-believe soldiers, we headed over to the mill and got there right after they pressed their last batch of cider. Although we didn’t get to see it in operation, we did get to drink a cup of the apple’s nectar. Then we went into the mill and watched a demostration of grinding corn in the large mill. The miller gave an interesting presentation as to the operation of the mill and even demonstrated a small hand turned stoned mill. J informed us that such mills are still in use in rural areas of India.

The snow has melted, leaving behind a bunch of leaves that need to be raked. Any volunteers?

And finally, I must ask one question of you, my dear readers: “What about them Tigers?” Did you see Ordonez’s slap that game winning homer in the bottom of the 9th? (His second of the night). Suppose next week will be a light reading week too as I watch the World Series.

Here are my quotes of the week:

Don’t give into cynicism.
-This was on a fortune cookie I received in a Chinese restaurant. What a quote for a cynic!

The bee shrieked away, leaving me only with the sound of wind, Land Maker’s irresistible song.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere

If we didn’t have a place like this, we’d die without ever knowing we were dead.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere

When I came down to the core of my life and found there nothing but desire, the truth of the land.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere

George Orwell once wrote, "in times of universal deceit, telling the truth is a revolutionary act."
-Joseph Wilson addressing the “People for the American Way”

the Japanese proverb deru kugi wa utareru - the nail which sticks out will get hammered
-http://verniciousknids.blogspot.com (maybe this explains my headache)

I wish every day was the weekend.
-My daughter getting ready for bed tonight knowing that tomorrow is Monday

‘If you reflect bad chih onto your neighbors,’ Mr. Lung said, ‘You cannot prosper either.’
-A Chinese Geomancer quoted in Bruce Chatwin, What Am I Doing Here

Friday, October 13, 2006

Friday the 13th, Snow Update

The picture was taken yesterday afternoon, during a break in the snow. It's still snowing.

Bad things are suppose to happen on Friday the 13th. I normally make it through these days without a problem, but this Friday the 13th is living up to its name. It started with no electricity (the power went off about 9:30 last night and came back on sometime after midnight). This was followed by waking up and learning from the radio (for the cable TV was out) that school was closed for the day. And it’s still snowing, even though it’s supposed to be in the low 40s today. Yesterday we got 8 inches of snow, a record for this early in the year (most of it melted due to the ground being warm). The dogwood outside the kitchen window is ruined and a huge branch from a maple tree was blocking the driveway. With leaves still on the trees, limbs are down all over town, which is why there have been so many power failures and why they closed schools. From what I’ve heard, there are still several thousand people without power in the county. The roads are still clear and this will melt soon, I’m sure.

On another note, I recently leaned through Kevin’s blog about a Florida woman who was awarded a $11.3 million dollar judgment, an outrageous settlement from a court down there in a liable suit involving another blogger. The other blogger didn’t even show up in court. Makes you wonder, doesn’t it. I suppose the lesson here is to be nice, tell the truth, and stay away from Florida bloggers whose names being with an “S”! (to understand this inside joke, look up my January 12, 2006 post in my archives)

Enough complaining, for I am really happy with the snow which, at this time of the year, I receive as a gift! Time to put a fire in the fireplace.

Thursday, October 12, 2006

Weird things are happening

I'm working with an Indian guy at work for the next six weeks. When he arrived last week, he asked about snow (he has never seen snow and it never even gets to freezing in his part of India). I told him he may see a flurry before he leaves... I would love to see his face when he looks out this morning! The ground is covered with white stuff, but it won't last long as its only 32 degrees.

And what about the Tigers! Wow! They are up two games against Oakland for the National League Championship. Snowing this early, the Tigers winning, is hell freezing over?

Of course, the snow isn't going to help out with the fall colors. The leaves were not quite at their peak and I'm sure there color will now quickly fade away.

Tuesday, October 10, 2006

Book Review: The Johnstown Flood

David G. McCullough, The Johnstown Flood (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1968)

The weather was ugly in Pennsylvania on Memorial Day 1889. It had been a wet spring and the rains had periodically been extremely hard. The rivers were running high, but Johnstown was use to flooding in the lower areas of the city, down by the rivers. But this Memorial Day, unbeknownst to most of the citizens of the city, the caretaker and other others at the South Fork Fishing and Hunting Club were worried. The water was rising fast on the earthen dam located fifteen miles above the city. Around 3 PM, the water began running over the top of the dam, quickly eroding it away and sending a mass of water downstream that would wipe out towns and buildings and flood the city of Johnstown. Over 2200 people died. Up to this point, it was the worst disaster in the history of the United States.

David McCullough, author of many books on American history (Adams, 1776, Truman, The Great Bridge, etc), is known for his wonderful storytelling. This early work of his is no exception. He places the flood in the context of regional history, telling the story of the fated dam from it’s beginning as means to supply water to a canal across the Alleghenies, a canal made obsolete almost as soon as it was finished by the coming of the Pennsylvania Railroad. The dam changed hands many times, finally being controlled by a private hunting and fishing camp that existed behind the dam along the shores of Lake Conemaugh. The membership list of the club read like a “who’s who” of Pittsburgh, including steel giants Andrew Carnegie and Henry Clay Frick, Andrew Mellon from the banking family, and Robert Pitcairn of the Pennsylvania Railroad. Their private retreat was a place to get away from the industrial world of Pittsburgh.

There had been questions about the dam for years, especially in Johnstown. McCullough details studies of the dam’s safety and how it was compromised. As the property was “off limits” for those living downstream, there were hard feelings concerning how the dam was maintained. After the flood, rumors abound about how the caretakers were more interested in keeping trout from going over the spillway than they were in saving the dam and those downstream. But as McCullough points out, the problems with the dam was more than a net across the spillway that would get clogged with debris. In addition to the amount of water the dam was holding, probably the most damning thing were that pipes under the dam designed to release more water when the lake was full, had been removed years earlier. There was no good way to save the dam once water started pouring over the top.

McCullough gives great stories into the events downriver, as a wall of water pushes forth, leveling towns and finally Johnstown itself. Heroic deeds are recalled as well as horrific scenes. Once the water got to Johnstown, a stone bridge collected all the debris, creating another dam. With rail cars of fuel, burning coal stoves and lumber from homes swept away, the mass of debris caught fire. Many who died were burned to death in a frightening conflagration than burned throughout the night following the flood. McCullough goes on after the flood to tell about how it was reported around the country. Reports started getting out about the horrors of Hungarian gangs going around and cutting fingers off victims in order to get their rings. Most of these reports were unfounded (sounds like some of the reports from New Orleans after Katrina). One of the funny stories of the flood was how it got out that brothels were washed away and how preachers around the country took it as a sign that God was taking out his anger, washing away iniquity. The only problem was that Johnstown red-light district was high on a hill and survived. As one resident noted, “If this was God’s purpose, he sure has bad aim.” He also talks about the lawsuit against the South Creek Hunting and Fishing Club. Although some of the richest men in America were members, the club itself was barely solvent and the people below the dam who suffered loss were never compensated.

The nation responded generously to Johnstown. Trains from across the country hauled goods into the city and the residents themselves quickly organized into committees that took care of the living and the burial of the dead. It was a massive task; bodies from the flood would continue to be found into the 20th century.

Although the subject matter is horrific, this is a great read. McCullough does a wonderful job of telling the story. It’s also available in an audio format (I listened to it on my ipod at the gym). I recommend it.

Sunday, October 08, 2006

Quotes from Sage's recent reading and a new picture

I thought I needed a new photo. This one was taken after a few days in the bush. Also, what about those Tigers! They beat the best team money can buy, the Yankees. It's always like Christmas in my home when the Yankees get beat! Anyway, here are some quotes from this week's readings.

The Achilles’ heel of consumer society is that it hasn’t made us happy as it promised it would. Although Americans have tripled their prosperity since the mid 1950s, the percentage who say they’re “very satisfied” with their lives has declined. In face, only about a quarter of Americans now say that they’re “very satisfied,” When you think about it, this is pretty sad considering the unbelievable amount of resources and energy that we have consumed—and waste we have produced—in the last fifty years. “We’ve pursued the American Dream to no real apparent end.
- Bill McKibben in an interview by Alexis Adams, “Dream A Little Dream” The Sun (October 2006)

Community is as endangered by surplus as it is by deficit. There is too much money floating around it enables people to have no need of each other.
-Bill McKibben in an interview by Alexis Adams, “Dream A Little Dream” The Sun (October 2006)

Their schooling is more than mass hysteria. It has hydro-dynamic advantages. Like geese in their V formations, like bikers in a pack, the schools get along with less energy than if they were swimming alone… their individual oxygen consumption is lower when they are in school.
-John McPhee, The Founding Fish

My hypothesis is that what keeps these guys going further and further, when there are clear disadvantages of doing so has to be advantages for their progeny… to put your offering at the head of the food chain.
-John McPhee, The Founding Fish (On shad migration)

The very word canyon suggested to me protection, a dramatically confined place under the guard of impenetrable cliffs; walls drawn narrowly inward on both sides and a ribbon of sky above. It was a place that would hold me.
-Craig Child, Soul of Nowhere

If the rest of the Grand Canyon is made of rock, then the canyon of the Redwall are made of seduction.
-Craig Childs, Soul of Nowhere

I admire more than ever, the power and grace of your style, the vivid rendering of the physical scene—you manage to make even Michigan sound like a land of splendor and mystery.
-Edward Abbey in a letter to Jim Harrison (an author from Michigan) after reading his book Sun Dog. Abbey goes on to chastise Harrison for creating a hero out of an engineer/dam builder who works for a company like “Bechtel.” He follows this up with a rant on the damning impact of dams around the globe. Letter in The Sun, October 2006.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Kolob Arch


This picture goes with the story below that I posted yesterday. This arch is huge, I don't remember the exact measurement, but 200+ feet across. The arch is found in the Kolob section of Zion National Park and is a 6.5 mile (one way) hike in from Lee's Pass. Taken with an 85 mm lens.

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Hiking Kolob with my son


Coming out is always hard. Leaving Timber Creek, the trail steeply climbs the back of the ridge with few switchbacks. The ground is baked clay. What little shade is found under the twisted branches of junipers and pinion pines. I pant hard and slow down. I’m not use to the altitude or carrying a pack. “One foot in front of another,” I tell myself, over and over again until the trail reaches the crest. Occasionally I pause and gaze at the red cliffs to my left, sticking out like fingers and rising upward of 3000 feet above Timber Creek. 3000 feet of sheer red rock; the sight is even more breath-taking than the climb. Finally the path levels out; I pick up my stride, cross a small saddle and scramble up one last short climb up to the parking lot at Lee’s Pass. T. is waiting, sitting on the curb by the truck.

John Doyle Lee, from whom the pass is named, lived in the small community of New Harmony, nestled up on the east side of the Pine Valley Mountains with full view of Kolob fingers. In 1857, as the head of the Mormon militia, he guided an attack by Mormons and Paiutes on the Fancher Party, a wagon train traveling from Arkansas to California. They were attacked at Mountain Meadows, on the west side of the Pine Valleys. The wagon train, thinking they’d been attacked by hostile Indians, held the attackers at bay for several days. At this time, Lee rode in under a white flag and offered to broker a truce. Running low on ammunition, the party agreed to be taken into custody of the Mormons who promised they would safely lead them back to Cedar City. Having surrendering their guns to the Mormon militia, every man, woman and child in the party over the age of six were killed. It’s estimated that 120 died in the bloodiest massacre of “white settlers” in the American West. For twenty years, Lee laid low. Whenever the heat was close to him, he’d leave his wives in New Harmony, cross over this pass and head to safety in the Virgin River Country. Later he operated at ferry on the Colorado River, at another spot that bears his name. Although he’d certainly had not acted alone and many think he was taking orders from his adopted father, Brigham Young, Lee became the scapegoat for the crime. In 1877, twenty years later and on the spot of the massacre, Lee became the only man punished for the murders, executed by firing squad while sitting on his casket.


I’ve made this hike so many times I can’t remember, but this is the first time with my son. We hiked into this area yesterday, dropping down this same ridge to Timber Creek and hiking a couple miles along the creek before climbing a knoll and then dropping into LaVerkin Creek. At the point where the trail joined the creek, we stopped and rested, leaning our packs up against the cottonwoods and reclining against them. T lit up a cigarette. I hadn’t said anything yet, but had noticed that this has become a routine for him. Every time we’d stop, he’d light up. It was probably against park regulations, but I see that he’s picking up his butts and hasn’t littered, so I cut him some slack. But this time he’s puffing away upwind and I tell him that I’d appreciate not to have to breathe the smoke. T apologies and moves to the other side of me, downwind. A few minutes later, I’m out taking pictures as the wind begins to howl, catching my hat and tossing it into the creek. It runs down between rocks, in and out of eddies, till I’m finally able to retrieve it at the bottom of a series of falls. T thinks this is funny and snaps a picture of me “half- nekked,” with my wet hat on. When my hat washed out of the last hole, I was stripping and getting ready to dive into the water and retrieve it.
From this point, the trail follows LaVerkin Creek into the canyon. We travel on up the canyon and into Willis Creek where we set up camp. T tells me that he’s been in here twice before, once with the scouts and again, about a year earlier, with some friends who hiked from Lee’s Pass, through Kolob and Hop Valley, across the Wildcat Canyon Trail and then down the West Rim Trail into Zion Canyon. I’ve done all these trails at one time or another, but have always wanted to do them in one hike of four or five day. I’m glad he’s had the opportunity. Before dinner, we hike up into the narrows of Willis Creek. Having hiked over ten miles that afternoon, I’m tired and we’re in our bags shortly after dark. Lying there, I listen to the wind howl through the canyons and watch the stars appear overhead, between the tall Ponderosa pines up on the bench and the cottonwoods down by the creek. For a couple hours, I doze off and on, scanning the skies when awake. At first the bright cross of Cygnus, the summer swan, is prominently displayed. As the evening progressed, it drops toward the west and Pegasus, the great square in the sky, the legendary winged horse, rises and fills the spot between the trees. Then I fell asleep and don’t wake until early morning when the stars are fading from sight.

The sun doesn’t get into the canyons until late in the morning, so we slept in. Or at least T sleeps, I don’t sleep much; I, mostly laid in my bag reading a book and watching the sun slowly descend the canyon walls. Then I got up and fixed oatmeal and coffee. Afterwards, we explored a little more around Willis Creek and slowly make out way back to LaVerkin Creek. There we dropped our packs and climbed ½ mile up a side trail to the base of the Kolob Arch, believed to be the largest arch in the world. Although I’ve seen it many times, I’m always surprised when I come around the bend and look up and behold again the arch, a thousand feet above me.

According to Mormon mythology, Kolob means “the first creation,” and is also the name of the planet nearest to the celestial, or the home of God the Father. These ancient yet magnificent cliffs could easily be God’s first act in creation and if I believed that the divine had only one place to dwell, I would think a place such as this would be tempting. Once when hiking out of the canyon alone, I heard what sounded like a rifle shot. I turned around to see a small section of rocks crack and give way from the top and fall below, creating a huge dust cloud that took fifteen minutes to clear. It was amazing to experience such power and a reminder that although the rocks seem to be eternal, they are constantly changing.

As we head out of the canyon, we stop at the knoll between LaVerkin and Timber Creeks, taking a last look into the canyon where we’d spent the night. I sit my pack up against a rock and sit down and lean back. This has always been my favorite recliner. T hasn’t been talking much this trip. But he seems glad that I asked him to join me. Sitting downwind, he lights up a cigarette. I fall asleep and am awakened a bit later as he’s shouldering his pack on. “I’ll meet you back at the truck,” he says, and heads off. A few minutes later I follow, knowing he’s got his own path to travel and can’t always stay behind in my footsteps.

Sunday, October 01, 2006

Quotes from Sage's recent readings...

Hopefully this week I’ll be able to get another of my “hiking stories” posted and another book review up. Until then, here are some gems from my recent reading so that the first thing you see coming to this blog isn't that "half-nekked" picture of me.

"[H]e was trying to hurt God, and if he was trying to hurt God he must believe in Him. He had experienced the truth of what he had been taught long ago, that blasphemy proved one’s belief in God."
-Lydia Davis, “The Center of the Story” in Almost No Memory

"I like the West for its difficulties."
-Lydia Davis, “The Professor, in Almost No Memory

"Travel is sort of a revenge for having been put on hold."
-Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari

“This is wrong. It is unconstitutional. It is un-American."
-Senator Leahy on the Senate passing legislation denying constitutional rights for suspected terrorist detainees as quoted in the Huffington Post.

"This was The Great American Flood; it had been a sign unto all men, the preachers said, and woe unto the land if it were not heeded. The steel town had been a sin town and so the Lord had destroyed it… It was a line of reasoning which many people were quick to accept, for at least it made some sense of the disaster. But it was a line of reasoning which met with much amusement in Johnstown, where, as anyone who knew his way about could readily see, Lizzie Thompson’s house and several rival establishments on Green Hill had not only survived the disaster, but were going stronger than ever before. 'If punishment was God’s purpose,' said on survivor, 'He sure had bad aim.'"
-David McCullough, The Johnstown Flood

"We think we know what struck us, and it was not the hand of Providence. Our misery is the work of man.”
-George Swank as quoted by David McCullough in The Johnstown Flood

“Modern industries are handling the forces of nature on a stupendous scale… Woe to the people who trust those powers to the hands of fools.”
-John Wesley Powell as quoted by David McCullough in The Johnstown Flood

"If you’re not electing Christians, then in essence you are going to legislate sin."
- An outrageous comment that I'm not even sure what it means, made by Representative Katherine Harris who is running for the Senate as a Republican in Florida, as quoted in Christianity Today

When out-of-town visitors would compliment us on our town’s cleanliness, we would swell with pride as if we ourselves had swept up the trash the dogs had scattered. Doc did what all good people do—made the rest of us look better than we really were.
-Philip Gulley, Front Porch Tales