Friday, May 30, 2008

Today's photos

Instead of being lazy and spending the day reading and napping (as I'm on vacation), I spent the day hiking along Kennesaw Mountain and train watching. Although there were a number of overlooks, the haze and humidity prevented decent photos.

Up along the ridge of Pigeon Hill, just south of Little Kennesaw, there were beautiful prickly pears in bloom. Here, on June 27, 1864, Southern units from Missouri repelled an attack led by northern units that were also from Missouri. The South held the high ground but had to withdraw when Sherman's larger army threatened to flank around their positions. These prickly pears were spaced over an acre or so. There were a few other flowers in bloom (varieties of sunflowers and spiderworts), but the pears were most beautiful.
The definition of heaven for a bee!
A train heading toward Tennessee along the former Western and Atlantic Railroad (now CSX). In the Spring of 1864, General Sherman moved his army down this line in his approach to Atlanta. This was also the line on which the great railroad chase, between the General (carrying Union spies) and the Texas, took place. Last month, I wrote about watching Buster Keaton in "The General," one of the great silent movies.

Thursday, May 29, 2008

A 3 Word Wednesday and a Southern Haiku

The last two days have been great--sleeping in and taking my time and not having to worry about too much... It's nice to be on vacation. I played around a bit with poetry this afternoon. Yesterday’s Three-Word Wednesday assignment was to write something using the following three words (match, illegal, blurred). I don’t know why these words brought the mind Bonnie and Clyde… There have been enough poems and lyrics written about the two and now here is my attempt.

A match made in heaven,
theirs were not.

Petite and refined,
a lover of words and a desire for fame,
Bonnie fell for Clyde and together they ran,
leaving behind a string of illegal deeds
and a winding trail of spent shells
from Clyde’s Browning Automatics
till one day in late May
on a dirt road in Louisiana
the law caught up.

Deafened by exploding gunpowder
and vision blurred by the flying lead
their match were broken with their lives
eternally separating
the two.

As part of Maggie’s Southern Summer Reading Challenge, she’s sponsoring several mini-contests. One is to write a haiku to describe one of the books you’re reading. The winner of her contest receives an autographed copy of Mudbound, donated by the author, Hillary Jordan. My haiku describes Ecology of a Cracker Childhood by Janisse Ray.

Crazy ancestors
Cars in Longleaf, wiregrass yard
Rusting, a childhood

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Everything Must Change: A book review

I’m down south on vacation and won’t be able to keep you very well with my readings of blogs. I’ll get around some, but a lot depends on where I am at (and for much of next week on the coast, I won't have regular internet access). But I will try to occasional post. I committed myself to read five non-fiction books for Joy’s challenge (and I’ve read three to date). This is my second review. I need to get around to reading some of my Southern Challenge books (I started my first yesterday).

Brian D. McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crises, and a Revolution of Hope (Nashville: Thomas Nelson, 2007), 327 pages, endnotes, some graphs and discussion questions for each chapter.

As anyone who has spent time in American churches knows (and as those who haven’t spent time there probably suspects), the problems our world faces and the issues that seem to command the most attention and interest within churches are not the same. Having observed this disconnect, McLaren sets out to answer two questions: “What are the biggest problems in the world?” and “What would Jesus have to say about these global problems?” McLaren’s hope is to begin a discussion that will get the church addressing the serious problems faced by our planet.

McLaren, in Everything Must Change, draws from hosts of fields and disciplines to make his case. At points, he’s a theologian and biblical scholar. Other times he writes like a politician, an environmentalist, a scientist, a historian, peacenik and an economist. It is impossible for one individual to master all these disciplines; therefore specialists in each field may find chinks within McLaren’s armor. But by focusing too much on small chinks, one will overlook McLaren’s important message.

This book makes a compelling case that the world is a mess (that’s not hard to do!) and that the church needs to change in order to address the problems our planet faces. He is especially critical of the western “prosperity” system that is not sustainable and creates not only environmental problems but also security and equity problems with the rest of the planet. As one portion of society becomes more affluent, they spend more on security to protect their affluence, a loop that becomes an insane trap. McLaren refers to this as a suicidal system.

Drawing on the work of other scholars, McLaren goes to great length to explain the “framing story” of the Roman Empire (into which Jesus was born) and to allow parallels to the modern world be made within the mind of the reader. The pax Romana, which was in place in the early 1st Century, wasn’t enjoyed by all. Slaves, servants, small farmers, women, and those living in the border lands suffered. In order to enforce the peace, the cross was utilized to make sure those disenfranchised towed the party line. Within this world, McLaren identifies four viewpoints. The imperial or dominant view was enforced by the cross. Not only did this view include the Roman soldiers and officials, but also the Herodians and Sadducces, many of whom profited from the Roman system. Defying the official world view were the zealots, the revolutionaries of the day who advocated forceful removal of the Romans. Then there were those like the Pharisees who adopted a “dual narrative” and lived under the Roman rule, but challenged it by their strict religious rule in domestic matters. Finally, there was a fourth group, the Essenes, who fled into the wilderness. Jesus socialized with all, but he provided an “emergent narrative” framed around the “kingdom of God.”

McLaren critiques each of the counter-narrative to the dominate culture, applies them to our lives, and then calls for followers of Jesus not to let the “framing stories” of our age reframe the gospel to support their positions, but to allow Jesus’ teachings to challenge the status quo that is destroying the world. Knowing that the present system isn’t working, this should be obvious, but as McLaren points out, there are ways people have adapted the gospel in order to support the existing system. McLaren is highly critical (and for this I praise him!) of the modern eschatology as appears in popular literature such a the Left Behind series, Such belief supports a dangerous myth that there is no way to keep the world from going from bad to worse, but we don’t have to worry because Jesus is going to come back as a conquering king (they type he refused to be in the first century) and kill all the bad guys.

At the end of the book, McLaren lays out potential solutions. However, this is not a self-help book and he only has broad ideas about possible solutions. His main concern is to get people to question our current “dominate system” (a technique he suggests is similar to what Jesus did to the Roman system) and look for alternatives. Quoting from economists, he makes suggestions of ways we can help address the inequality within the world and help the desperately poor to improve their lives. He calls on believers to embrace Jesus “kingdom narrative” and to involve themselves in personal, community, public and global action.

I am still pondering much of what McLaren has said here. On one level, this book is important as it gets us to think about the church in a new way. The church is not just about saving souls, it’s about exhibiting God’s kingdom to the world (something we have a hard time doing when we’re wedded to the dominate system). McLaren criticizes the Protestant emphasis on grace (page 208), and runs the risk of over emphasizing works (I think the two—grace and works—need to be in tension and perhaps McLaren would agree with such a scenario). I didn’t really hear McLaren cite the traditional Protestant view that from our gratitude (for what God has done for us), we are to do God’s work. It seemed more like he made the case that we better get our butts busy because we’re in deep trouble. From my point of view, such a message lacks grace.

McLaren criticizes traditional economic thinking that growth is the answer. Although I don’t remember him using this analogy, the idea is that instead of cutting a pie more equally, a better way to help the poor is to get a bigger pie. Of course, such strategies don’t work (30 years of trickle-down economics has shown us that the economy isn’t necessarily tied to the laws of gravity and doesn’t trickle-down!) I think McLaren is right in that we need to consider what the limits of growth are and what a sustainable economy might look like. Finally, McLaren doesn’t emphasizes the resurrection nearly enough. He does mention it, but it’s seems to be an after thought-tacked on as a way to provide hope. Instead, the resurrection is the central theme of the Christian faith, a theme that allowed the early church to take the empire’s symbol of domination (the cross) and recreate it into a symbol of liberation. .

I recommend this book. It’s easy reading; I’d love to know what others might think. For more information about Brian McLaren's ideas, check out his website.

For my summer travels and reading plans, click here.

Friday, May 23, 2008

An afternoon in the canoe

Today is the last day of school and only half a day at that. So it was a good day to take off and we headed to some new water.
This lake is very shallow and there are lots of weeds, but also lots of waterfowl. Here some geese are taking to the skies. There must have been three or four pair of great blue heron's on the lake. There were some huge tadpoles (compare this guy to the blade of my paddle). The smaller ones were darting around, the larger fellows were sluggish as they made the transition to the frog world.
Not only was the lake pretty (even though in another month, the lily pads will be thick enough to walk across the water), the drive was also nice
Driving home, I spotted two young sandhill cranes being attacked by a redwing blackbird! They must have been too close to the redwing's nest. I wish I had my 300mm lens with me!

I've got to work a lot this weekend, but on Tuesday I'll be heading south for a week at the beach, the first of my summer trips.

Wednesday, May 21, 2008

Banana Pudding and Politicking

I've been busy lately and haven't done a good job of keeping up with blogs, etc... This is a quick catch-all post.

Several of you asked for my recipe for banana pudding after I confessed to making a half dozen last Thursday. I have to be honest and admit that I learned how to make banana pudding from the back of a Nabisco Vanilla Wafer box. Here are my directions.


6-7 ripe bananas (pick ones that have brown spots, but about a day from becoming soft)
3 eggs
¾ cups sugar
1/3 cup flour
2 cups mile


Separate three eggs, set aside the whites

In a double boiler, add three beaten yokes, ½ cup of sugar and 1/3 cup of flour and two cups of milk. Stir constantly (I use a wire egg beater and beat the yokes into the rest of the ingredients). When the pudding gets thick (8-10 minutes), remove from heat and add a good squirt (around a tablespoon) of vanilla. Mix well.

Turn the oven on at 350 degrees.

In a glass 2 quart casserole bowl, spread a layer of pudding. Then place a layer of vanilla wafers and a layer of banana slices (1/3 of an inch thick). Add 1/3 of the pudding. Do this three times, till you have filled the casserole bowl.

Take the eggs whites and begin to mix on high, slowly adding ¼ cup of sugar. Mix for 3-5 minutes, till peaks form, and then coat the top of the pudding.
Bake for 15 minutes. It’s okay warm, but I like mine cold so as soon as it’s cool, I put it into the refrigerator.


On an unrelated topic, did you see Hillary this weekend the Marker’s Mark distillery… Did you see all those oak barrels behind her? Now that’s what I call real politicking! I wanted to find a picture off the net so Nevada Jack could write a post, but I couldn’t find the picture shown on TV.

Saturday, May 17, 2008

Preparing dinner, watching "Loney Are the Brave" & complaining about foreign birds

I’ve been busy the past few days, preparing for a dinner of 40 some folks last night. It turned out great and everyone had a good time. I just wish I’d taken the time to buy the beer. We had Leinenkugel's, which ar from an old brewery in Chippewa Falls, Wisconsin. They generally makes a pretty good beer, and their wheat beers were good, but I could do without the Summer Shandy (think "wine cooler" with beer and lemonade) and Berry Weiss (think Grape Nehi). Either one of those drinks are enough to make me want to take the temperance pledge.

I began on Thursday night, preparing the meat, chopping vegetables and making a half-dozen banana puddings. Turning on the TV while doing this work, I was pleasantly surprised to discover TMC playing “Lonely Are the Brave.” This 1962 black and white film is one of my favorite and is based upon one of Edward Abbey’s early novels, The Brave Cowboy. The film had an all star cast. Kirk Douglas plays Jack Burns, a cowpoke who just can’t fit into the modern world. He comes down off the mountain to check in on Paul, a friend sent to prison for helping illegal Mexican aliens get work (Interesting topic for the time!). Jack gets in a bar fight and ends up in jail, where he’s reunited with Paul and tries to talk him into breaking out with him. His friend refuses and Jack leaves, heading to the mountains on his house. The movie then involves a modern chase scene that involves jeeps and a helicopter with Jack and his horse (he’d left he horse with his friend’s wife). Jack gets away, makes it over the ridge of the mountain and tells his horse that he’s got a pine carpeted trail all the way to Old Mexico. But then, with one last highway to cross (in the pouring rain), Jack and his horse are hit by a tractor/trailer hauling privies to Mexico, driven by Carroll O’Conner.

The movie has great symbolism. At the beginning of the movie, Jack comes into civilization by crossing a busy highway and having trouble with his horse being spooked by the cars. The movie ends in the same manner, with him crossing a highway (only he doesn’t make it). Jack cuts barbwire and complains about it. He tries to avoid the bar fight and even in his escape, refuses to do more harm than necessary to protect himself. He shoots the back rooter of the helicopter to “let down easy,” and when he encounters a cruel deputy who had knocked a tooth out of his mouth when he was in prison, he returns the favor and throws his weapons off a cliff, but doesn’t kill him even though he has a chance. He considers himself a true individual. Paul won’t break jail for he doesn’t want another five years tacked on to his two year term. Paul has a wife and son to consider. Jack, without a family or any other ties, is free. The Sherriff, played by Walter Matthau, seems to sympathize with Jack’s plight, but others like the cruel deputy played by George Kennedy are willing to do anything to get the “cowboy.” What a great movie to watch while slicing bananas and peeling potatoes.

Speaking of illegal aliens and at the risk of sounding like Lou Dobbs, I’m in my own fight against aliens. Those “blankety-blanket” European Starlings are back. They’re ugly and chase away my favorite birds from the feeders.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Lost in the Wild: A "Non-fiction Challenge Book Review"

This is the first book I plan to read and review this summer for the Non-fiction Five Challenge. Click here for more about my summer plans (including my reading plans).

Cary J. Griffith, Lost in the Wild: Danger and Survival in the North Woods (St. Paul, MN: Borealis Books, 2006), 302 pages, some photographs and 4 maps.

In August, I’m going with five other guys on a seven day canoe/fishing trip in the Quetico, a wild area of Western Ontario, just north of the Boundary Waters in Minnesota. As we discussed this trip, I’d lobbied for another location, in northern Ontario, quipping that the Quetico isn’t that remote. A few days later, one of the guys gave me this book. Of course, remoteness is a matter of degree and the Boundary Waters and the Quento are vast wilderness areas. It’s hard to traverse this country without a canoe and it’s a place where the mastery of outdoor skills and the ability to read maps are essential. Yet, even with such skills, there will always be dangers as Griffith demonstrates as he tells of two skilled outdoorsmen who were lost in this region.

Jason Rasmussen was a medical student. With some time off, he planned a backpacking trip on the Pow Wow Trail in the Boundary Waters. It was late October 2001. He was well supplied, but got confused as the area he was hiking in wasn’t well marked and there were many blow-downs and old trails left over from the logging days. He made a wrong turn and spent his first night camping off the main trail. Thinking he was somewhere he wasn’t, he continued on the wrong path the next day. He also took out his map and, putting it inside his jacket, where it fell out. On his third day, without a good map, he took some snacks and went out scouting, trying to find his way back to the main trail with plans to head immediately to the trailhead. This time, he lost his way and the weather changed, the rain turning to snow. Unable to find his tent, he sought shelter in a hollowed trunk of a dead tree, where he spent the next seven nights. Although he had an orange tent, the snow covered it up, keeping rescue planes from spotting it. After a bit of warmer weather, the tent appeared and dogs were dispatched, and Jason was found, less than a mile from his tent.

Dan Sommers was a 22 year old guide for the Charles L. Sommers Boy Scout Canoe Base in Ely. In August 1988, he was leading a group of scouts and two adult leaders on a wilderness trip north into Canada and the Quetico. Looking for a portage, he went into the woods and never came out. The scouts and their leaders waited for a long time. When he never came out or returned their call, they moved on to find the portage and to set up camp. They kept going back and looking for Dan, but he never appeared. Dan, it turned out, had fell and hit his head. When he got up, he was confused and wandered around. As he gained his senses, he realized his problem. He started navigating by the stars and the sun—placing sticks in order to determine the way south, which was the way he knew offered his best chance for rescue. Along the way, Dan built shelters by stripping bark from trees. While he was fighting his way through the woods and against the mosquitoes, the scouts (whose radio wasn’t working), headed toward a remote ranger station where they were able to summon help. A search was just beginning to get underway when Dan ran into another scout group. He had spent three nights in the wilderness.

Griffith adds details to make you feel as if you’re with both Jason and Dan as well as with the rescue parties and the scout unit that had lost their guide. He alternates chapters, jumping back and forth from Dan to Jason. After a few chapters, I felt like I was watching a tennis match and gave up and read Jason’s story (skipping over Dan’s), then went back and read Dan’s straight through. The writing is engaging and the book is exciting. I read this book in just a couple of days. Wanting to finish it and know how things worked out, I put all other books aside. I recommend this book, especially to those who like wilderness travel, but I still think that Deep Survival (I reviewed it late last year), is a better all around book.
For other book reviews by Sage, click here.
For Semicolon's Saturday's list of book reviews in blogs, click here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Mother's Day

My mother taught her children to think about other people first… We never left home on an overnight trip without making sure the house was spotless and that our beds were made. “What if we were in a wreck?” she’d ask. “We wouldn’t want someone else to have to clean up our mess.” “But Mom,” I’d once pled, “someone’s going to have to clean my guts up off the side of the road…” That was not a proper response.

Mom always thought about other people and their feelings. When I was in the third grade and we were living in Petersburg, she scolded my bother and me for calling a kid in the neighborhood “Tommy Two-names.” I think Bubba, who lived next door and was two years older than me, came up with the name when he realized that Tommy’s last name was different than the name that was on his mailbox. We didn’t know too many kids from divorced parents in 1966; that would all change before I got out of high school. Mom also scolded us neighborhood kids for picking on Bubba and Denise’s older sister, who was mentally challenged. “How would you feel if that was you?” she’d ask us.

Shortly after moving to Wilmington at the beginning of my fourth year in school, I came home acting tough repeating what all my friends were saying about a young African-American girl in our class. She was the only one of her race in the class. It had been raining that day and instead of going out for PE, they’d taught us how to square dance. No one wanted to be her partner. Referring to her as my friends did, using the N word; Mom got angry and told me that I better never use that word in her house again. I can assure you I abided by her command. She also told me that I had better be willing to dance with the girl the next time around. Then the question came, “How would you feel if you were her?” “How would you feel if you were the only white boy in the class?”

And there was the time another kid and I got into an argument. I don’t remember what it was about, but I can remember where we were in the backyard. David had wanted a chemistry set for Christmas and didn’t get it. Now, that little fact had nothing to do with our argument. Going for the jugular and not knowing anything about ad hominem fallacies, I threw this at David and struck a nerve. My mother, who was hanging out clothes, heard me and immediately called me into the house for a lecture. I started to defend myself, saying I was only telling the truth. She started off with the question, “how would you feel.” Then she went on to point out that whether or not it was the truth, the truth had nothing to do with my motives, that I was just being mean! I think it was then that I learned that when someone says, “I’m just telling the truth,” you better get ready to pull the dagger out of your back. When my mom was finally done with me, she sent me back out to apologize.

Of course, there was another question my mother would often ask, “why couldn’t be like so and so.” Generally this was an attempt prod me into doing better. I can’t say it worked and instead it did what I suppose most mothers do well, caused guilt. Most often, she’d compare me to one of my cousins, all of whom seemed to do well in high school. On other occasions it was Homer, a member of my scout troop who seemed to want to get every merit badge in the book (when I was in my 20s, I told my mom that it was through the generosity of Homer that I had my first encounter with girlie magazines and marijuana). At other times, generally when I was acting up, she would want to know if I’d committed my deed if the “preacher’s daughters” were watching (sometimes they were). Even though I made it to adulthood with a boat load of guilt, I know my mother was just at her wits-end, wondering how to raise us kids.

A few days after graduating from high school, I discovered a letter my mom had placed for me in a book that I was reading. It was handwritten and six pages long . She'd written it right after my graduation, while I was out partying. Mom recalled holding me as a baby and about how proud she was of me. This was a message I’d hear more of as I entered adulthood. My mom became my greatest cheerleader and encourager. She’d copy articles that I had published and disturb them to friends. She’d also call and discuss my work at great lengths. But then, the phone conversations became shorter and she’d start repeating herself over and over again. She stopped bragging about things I’ve done and would be surprised if I mentioned an accomplishment… It’s becoming more evident that there are times she’s doesn’t even know to whom she’s talking.

It’ll be three years this summer since my mother was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s. I miss my Mom…. I know she won’t remember that I called earlier, but then she seemed surprised to learn it was Mother’s Day and has probably already forgotten that too.

Friday, May 09, 2008

Hiking in Great Basin National Park: 3 Word Wednesday Exercise

I’ve used this week’s 3-Word Wednesday writing exercise to tell about another solo backpack trip. This week’s words are: cautious, human, maybe. A few weeks ago I wrote about a trip where I did a foolish thing while hiking. In this post, I tell about deciding not to go through with my original plans. The digital photos were copied from prints.

Descending the switchbacks toward Johnson Lake, I think about how I wouldn’t have been so cautious when younger. But now, with kids to consider, the thought of an accident while alone in a wilderness area was too much. I had abandoned my attempt to cross over from Pyramid Peak to Mt. Washington. The knife-edged ridge was covered with a bed of broken chips of limestone. The rocks shifted under each step and to both sides dropped off preciously. It wouldn’t take much, maybe a fall or just sliding rocks, to dispatch me into a fatal fall of 100s if not a 1000 feet. I pondered it long and hard, sitting on the edge of the saddle for a good thirty minutes, considering options and looking for a way around. At nearly 12,000, I was well above tree line and a good 7000 feet above the desert floor surrounding the Snake Range. The views were incredible, but this was not a place for a mistake.

I had wanted to visit the two large groves of Bristlecone Pines that flank the northwest and south sides of Mount Washington. These ancient trees eke out a living in the most rugged terrain, at the edge of tree line, where there is little competition from other trees or plants. Just north of here, on the slope of Wheeler Peak, a Bristlecone was cut down in 1964. A controversy ensued at it was learned the tree was nearly 5,000 years old, perhaps the oldest living thing on earth.
Before arriving at Johnson Lake, I come upon an overhead tram, the remains of a mining operation. This would have been a harsh environment to have worked in. It’s a long ways from anything and the winters are bitterly cold. Ore was discovered in these parts in the late 1860s, but it wasn’t until the early 20th century that any serious mining occurred. In the teens, the town of Bonita existed here, deep in the Snake Range, with two saloons to serve a population of 25. The town was abandoned after the mine went bankrupt in 1919. I drop my pack and explore the relics around the lake. It’s hard to imagine those working here, for today I’m the only one around. There had only been one other vehicle at the parking lot and I assumed that belonged to a fisherman I’d seen the day before on Baker Creek. I hike a little further down a trail along Snake Creek, stopping for lunch of crackers and cheese and an apple. I fix lemonade and force myself to drink a quart. At t his elevation, you can get seriously dehydrated with knowing it. At a fork in the trail, I hike northeast, crossing over a bare ridge of sage, with great vies of the desert to the southeast. Then I take a rough trail that breaks off to the right and follows Timber Creek, back to my car at the Baker Creek trailhead.
The trailhead is at 7900 feet. I’d begun my hike here, 26 hours earlier. I’d taken the Baker Creek trail, which followed the creek for maybe a quarter mile, jumping it twice, before leaving the creek and making a series of steep switchbacks in an open field of sage. After gaining several hundred feet, the trail and creek reunited and for the next couple miles, the sound of running water could be heard if not seen just to my left. The climb continued to be steep and I thought I’d never get to Baker Lake. As the sun was dropping behind the Snake Range, I passed an old cabin, and then began another steep set of switchbacks. After gaining another couple hundred feet in elevation, I arrive at the top of a glacier moraine. I still had another good quarter mile to make it to the lake nestled into a basin, with steep cliffs all around. It was a six mile hike, with an elevation gain of approximately 2800 feet. It took me a little over four hours, an hour longer than I’d planned.
With night approaching, I dropped my pack on a small level area of sand, set up my bivy tent and got out my stove and a pot. I walked over to the lake to fill the pot and notice the trout rising. For a moment, I wish I had a fly rod with me for the lakes and rivers of the park contain Great Basin Cutthroats. Then I realize that light is fading fast and I fill my pot and walk back to camp, starting the stove to get water to boil. The meal this evening is easy, an MRE delicacy. I’ll boil the pouch in water and then use a bit of the boiling water for tea. The air has become chilly and as I wait for the water to boil, I pulled out a fleece jacket and pants. After eating and storing my gear, I realize that I’m the only human in miles, so I crawl in my bag and watch my old friends, the stars. The tail of Scorpius hangs just over the ridge to the south and in the sky, high above, are the two dippers. I fall asleep. When I awake, several hours later, Pegasus and Cygnus, the northern cross, are flying high overhead. I wonder if I’ll see Orion rise in the east at dawn, but when I wake again, the stars have faded away with the coming of the dawn.

It’s chilly in the morning. There’s enough water in my pot, so I start the stove without getting out of my bag, waiting for the water to boil. When it was just about ready, I pulled on my fleece and retrieve my food bag suspended from a small tree. This wouldn’t have deterred a bear, but it kept the small critters out of it. From the bag, I pull a flow-through bag of coffee and drop it into an insulated cup. In a bowl, I add oatmeal, and then add boiling water to both. The coffee and oatmeal warms me, but so does the sun as its rays reach the bottom of the basin and fill it with light. After packing up, I head south, to where an old trail leads over a saddle and into Johnson Lake. I’m sore from having climbed so much the day before, but with no one to complain to, I keep going and after thirty minutes, I’m on the ridge, where I head off southwest, toward Mount Washington. There, all alone, I come to the knife-edged ridge, where is where I decided to turn back.

Wednesday, May 07, 2008

An afternoon on the river

My brother and his daughter came into town yesterday. His daughter is going to be doing an internship for a nearby company this summer and he drove her up here. We spent yesterday afternoon on the river. In our teens and early 20s, he and I did a lot of paddling. This was our first trip together in more than two decades.
In addition to my daughter, Mr. Trisket also rode in my boat. The mutt doesn’t like cameras.
The trees are budding out; the paddling was beautiful.
I shot this photo of a pair of Sandhill Cranes this afternoon. You should have heard them!

Tuesday, May 06, 2008

The Burmese Harp: A Movie Review

Ironically, as we are now learning about the horrors of the typhoon in Myanmar, this past weekend I watched a film set in that country (formerly known as Burma), during a time of another disaster there—World War Two. Interestingly, this Japanese film came out at approximately the same time as the western World War Two film, The Bridge on the River Kwai, which is also set in Burma.
The Burmese Harp, Directed by Kon Ichikawa, 1957, B&W, Japanese with English subtitles.

The war is almost over and a Japanese unit is on the run in the hills of Burma. Captain Inouye (Rentaro Mikuni), a former music teacher, has instilled a love of music into his troops. When feeling down, they lift their spirits in song, accompanied by a harp played by Mizushima (Shoji Yasui). At the war’s end, they sing with the British troops to whom they’ve surrendered. Mizushima is a special soldier. He looks Burmese and without his uniform, is able to pass as a native. The unit uses this for its advantage, as Mizushima is sent out ahead as a scout. As a POW, Mizushima is asked to go into the mountains to encourage another Japanese unit dug in there to surrender. His captain tells him not to let anyone die needlessly and he takes his orders seriously, but the troops refuse to surrender. He begs them to save themselves and to surrender so they can help rebuild Japan, but they vote to continue to fight and abuse Mizushima, calling him a coward. The British shell and mortar their position, killing and wounding all the soldiers. Only Mizushima survives. He begins his walk back to Mudon, where his unit is being held. Along the way, he sees the horrors of war, bodies decomposed and being eaten by birds. Taking the dress of a Buddhist monk, he takes time to bury the dead, always honoring them with a salute. Mizushima under goes a transformation and decides to stay in Burma as a monk, for there are too many Japanese bodies that need to be buried. His unit, at first thinks he’s dead. Then they recognize him as a local monk, but they are unable to talk him into returning to Japan. On the ship back to Japan, the Captain reads Mizushima’s letter to the unit, where he writes fondly of his comrades and vows to wander through Burma honoring the dead.
The soldiers in this film are portrayed as sensitive and caring. They long to go home and rebuild Japan and look forward seeing their families, to taking a nap on the veranda and even to listen to the machines in a factory. This is an antiwar film; it shows the unity of comrades who are presented, not as killers, but as additional victims of war. It’s interesting seeing such a film from the perspective of the defeated. Unlike The Human Condition, a trilogy of Japanese War films that deal with atrocities committed by the military and one man’s fight against the system, The Burmese Harp focuses on bond between the men. In this way, the movie reminds me of the German film, “Das Boot,” which centers on the experiences a U-boat crew during the Second World War, without getting into the larger political issues of whether their fight was right or wrong.
Although filmed in Black and White, the film shows the beauty of Burma, the land of the many Buddhas. In the interview with the film maker on the DVD, he pointed out that the shots of Mizushima wandering Burma were filmed on location. They could take one actor to Burma, but not the whole crew. The rest of the film was shot in Japan where he had the challenge of making his homeland look tropical. I enjoyed this film and recommend it.

Sunday, May 04, 2008

Summer Travels and Reading Plans

Summer always takes me back South… I took this photo of Wilmington, NC, from across the Cape Fear River, in the late '70s. The large steeple is First Presbyterian Church. This is a copy from a slide.

Summer is coming fast. The dogwoods are blooming, leaves on the maples are unfurling and the oaks are beginning to bud. Reviewing my calendar, I can’t believe how busy the summer already looks… In late May, I’ll be heading south for ten days, digging my toes into the sand along the Carolina coast and checking up on my mother and grandmother and others in the family. In late June, I’ll be flying out to San Francisco for a convention. I’ve already booked my ticket, tagging on a few (4) extra days so I can head up into the Sierras and maybe check in on my old stomping grounds around Virginia City, Nevada. Unfortunately, the Giants are out of town when I’m there, but I hope to catch a game in Oakland. Then in late July, I will volunteer at a camp where my daughter will be spending a week (my daughter insisted, she really did). Then in August, I’m taking off with a few other guys for a week of wilderness canoeing and fishing in the Quetico of Western Ontario. Counting travel, I’ll be gone another ten days then. They’ll also be a few shorter trips…

With the onslaught of summer, comes the onslaught of summer reading challenges… Last summer I enjoyed Maggie’s Southern Reading Challenge and I’m signing up again. This year, for some reason, her summer is running from May 15 to August 15. Is that because down there in Mississippi, it’s so hot and sweaty in late August, one’s perspiration will ruin the pages of a book. Whatever the reason, I’ll abide by the rules.

Although I hold the right to change, these are the books I’m proposing for my Southern Reading Challenge:

Michael Malone, Handling Sin. This is not a “how-to” book! It’s a novel. Supposedly it’s funny and from the reviews sound a lot like the Martin Clark books I read last summer. I’m waiting on Clark’s next book, but it’s not due out till sometime in July.

Janisse Ray, Ecology of a Cracker Childhood. This memoir is set in rural Georgia.

Greg Bottoms, Sentimental Heartbroken Redneck: Stories. These short stories are set in Virginia. Wonder if any of these stories are about rednecks ironing their own shirts?

I’m also going to try a second reading challenge, Thoughts of Joy’s “Five Non-fiction Challenge. This challenge runs from May 1 through September. These are the books I’m planning on reading in this challenge:

Cary J. Griffith, Lost in the Wild. I finished this book yesterday and will review it shortly. It’s about two different individuals lost in the remote wilderness of the Boundary Waters and the Quetico in northern Minnesota and western Ontario. One of the guys I’m canoeing with later this summer recommended it. I think it had to do with me arguing for us to go into Northern Ontario and making a quip that the Quetico wasn’t “that remote.” I hope I don’t have to eat my words…

Joseph M. Marshall III, The Journey of Crazy Horse. At Diane’s recommendation, I started listening to this book on my ipod on Thursday. I like what I’ve heard so far; I’m an hour into a 12 hour book.

Brian McLaren, Everything Must Change: Jesus, Global Crisis and the Revolution of Hope. A few years ago, I enjoyed McLaren’s A Generous Orthodoxy. He’s thought provoking about the role the church should be playing in the world.

Paul Theroux, Dark Star Safari: Overland from Cairo to Cape Town. This book has been on my nightstand for nearly two years…. I need to read it. Besides, I like Theroux’s writings even if I would never want to travel with him.

Robert Quinn, Deep Change: Discovering the Leader Within. This is a business book written by a University of Michigan professor. I’ll see what he has to say.

As of now, I’m not planning on running a DamnYankee Reading Challenge this summer… Last year, it started as a parody and ended up with a life of its own. As a southerner in exile up here, I figure a Yankee Reading Challenge is best left to the Yankees… (Murf or Ed, either of you up for the hosting?)

What’s your summer plans and what books will you be totting along?

Friday, May 02, 2008

3 Word Wednesday: Another Idaho Tale

Things happen for a reason, or so they say. This is such a story that took place in the Sawtooth Mountains of Idaho in the summer of ’88. Unfortunately, I must not have taken a journal on this trip (I just have a few notes I jotted down afterwards). And years ago I lent out my Idaho maps, on which I’d marked all my campsites. I never got those maps back! I copied the photos from slides (which is how I recalled the names of the lakes).

This week’s 3-Word Wednesday got me thinking about this story. The words for this writing assignment are: Empty, Highway and Ignored. As usual, I’m posting my 3-Word Wednesday writing assignment on Friday.

A car approaches from the north. I turn around and stick out my thumb. “Was this a good idea?” I question. I need to hitch back to my car at a trailhead. It’s going to be a long exposed walk if someone doesn’t pick me up. They’re few cars in this lonely country. The car rushes by, its wind providing a moment’s relief from the heat. The sun is burning brightly overhead. With no clouds and no wind, it’s hot, even at this elevation. Heat can be seen rising from the asphalt, its waves blurring the scenery down the highway. I turn back and resume walking along the shoulder of Highway 75, south of Stanley.

I hear another vehicle crest the hill behind me. It sounds like a truck. I turn around and stick out thumb. It’s an old jeep; this will be my ride, I’m sure. Jeeps always pick up hitchhikers.

I remember an autumn day on the beach, five or six years earlier. I’d been on a conference. A hurricane was offshore and we had to leave the island. When I got in my car, I realized that I my gas gauze was on “E.” Shortly after cross the waterway bridge, the car sputtered and quit. My gas tank was empty. Getting out, I hoofed it a couple of miles to a gas station. They lent me a can and I purchased some gas and when I started back when one of those bands of blinding rain hit. About that time a jeep came by, without a top. He shouted for me to jump in and I did. His windshield wipers worked overtime, but it didn’t make much difference for there was as much water inside the glass as out. I began to wonder if riding in his jeep was such a good idea. The rain was so hard; I could hardly see my car park on the other side of the road. I put the gas in and headed home. The hurricane turned and went out to sea.

This jeep didn’t stop. “Son of a…” I started, and then thought better. I couldn’t believe he ignored me. I turned and started walking south. A few other vehicles came by, but none of them stopped. I continued to walk. Another vehicle approached. It was a mini-van, a family wagon. I didn’t expect much, but stuck out my thumb. She flew by, but then hit her brakes, pulled over to the side and began to back up. I ran up and noticed that there were kids in the back waving at me. This wasn’t who I’d expected to have given me a ride, but I was thankful for not having to walk all the way to my car.

“I don’t normally pick up hitch-hikers,” she confesses, “but the kids recognized you as the hiker on the ferry when we came back across Redfish Lake. I look back at them and smiled, remembering playing games with her kids, the oldest of whom was probably eight or nine. I thanked her for the ride and told her my car was at Hell Roaring Creek trailhead, just off the highway. She asked about the trip.

“I started out four days ago, spending the first night at Hell Roaring Lake,” I began, “camping under the ominous “finger of fate” peak. It’s a lone bent rock pinnacle that could have served as a model for Michelangelo’s “Finger of God.” The lake was surrounded by dead tree trunks from winter avalanches. Many of those trunks were waterlogged, but the ones not provided plenty of firewood. Although open fires had been banned for the summer (Yellowstone and Hells Canyon were being consumed with flames while I was hiking) I counted four campfires along the lake. I was invited over to one’s family campfire. I joined them and was shocked to learn that one of men was a Forest Service employee.”

“The next day I continued hiking deeper into the Sawtooth Wilderness area, climbing over a steep pass. There were so many lakes, I can’t recall them all,” I confessed. “Imogene, Virginia and Hidden were some of them, each surrounded by rocky peaks sparsely covered with gnarly trees. After leaving Hell Roaring Lake, I was alone with only the pikas keeping me company at night. I ran into a group of smoke jumpers, hoofing it out after having extinguished a small lightning fire deep into wilderness. We talked for a few minutes, but they were hiking much faster and moved down the trail toward their pickup point.”
“It’s all beautiful,” I said, “but my favorite had been the Cramer Lakes, each with a waterfall outlet that spilled into the next lake.”

“We were there,” she said. “We took the ferry across Redfish Lake, and hiked up to Lower Cramer for a picnic.”

It had been on the ferry on the way back, which saved miles of hiking along the shoreline, that I’d met her children.
“Oh my God,” she muttered. I looked up and there was a jeep, lying on its back out in the edge of a field. A small fire had started. A couple other cars had also stopped and people were getting out of their cars, but no one had gone over to the jeep, where the driver stood stunned.

“I’ll check it out,” I said. “Park down the road a ways.” Jumping out as she slowed down, I ran over toward the jeep yelling, “Is everyone okay?” Another car pulled up. The driver, shaken and with tears in his eyes, said that he’s okay but was begging for a fire extinguisher. Drops of gas were dripping onto the ground and the fire was beginning to burn across the field. Without a fire extinguisher or other equipment, there wasn’t anything we could do. I told them I’d get a ranger and ran back to the awaiting minivan. I knew a ranger’s station was across from the trailhead from where I’d left my car. We flew down the highway, turning off and leaving a trail of dust on the dirt road up to the station. I reported the accident and the fire. The ranger called it in and got into his truck. The lady in the mini-van drove me over to my car and I dropped my pack in the trunk and headed back to the accident site where I helped the ranger and several other men dig a line around the fire. Luckily, as dry as it was, there was no wind and the fire didn’t get out of hand. With everything under control and after the arrival of a regular fire truck that hosed the jeep down and put out the grass fire, I got back in my car and headed back to camp. By the time I left, the jeep that I had seen as a possible savior less than an hour earlier was a charred pile of metal.

All photos shot with a Pentax MX on Kodachrome 25, using either a 28 or a 100 mm lens, digitally copied from slides:
1. Hell Roaring Lake at Dawn (notice the finger of fate peak in the center)
2. Trail in the Sawtooth Wilderness
3. From a pass, overlooking Virginia and an unnamed lake
4. Cramer Lakes (notice the smoke in the sky)
5 Falls into Lower Cramer Lake

Thursday, May 01, 2008

This just in...

I had to go to court this morning… Sorry for those who wish otherwise, but the law didn’t finally catch up with me. I went voluntarily in order to watch my daughter try her first case as a lawyer (I thought I’d raised her better!). The good news is that she won. The bad news is that she won and took away the child from her mother and gave the child to some dwarf that practices magic and witchcraft. Yes, this all happened in our local county courthouse. My daughter represented Rumpelstiltskin in his complaint against the queen. It was all a play put on by her fourth grade class (however, the voting of the jury wasn’t in the script, they had to make up their own minds). May 1 is Law Day and this was part of the celebrations.