Sunday, January 30, 2011

Assembling Stuff (and looking for your ideas)

To understand this post, it will be helpful to know my summer plans...

Although June is still a ways away, I am slowly assembling what I plan to take with me on my around-the-world trip. This evening, sitting by a roaring fire as the temperature outdoors drops, I have been looking at hand-held phrase translators. Should I acquire myself one? Do any of you have experience with them? Simple handheld phrase translators for a dozen languages cost as little as $20. Unfortunately, most are for European markets with Mandarin Chinese as the only Asian-language option. Franklin makes a number of models that have 16-20 languages that include Thai and Vietnamese. The 16 language/$49 version looks tempting.

For $250, I can get a Lingos translator with double the number of languages, including Cambodian, Burmese and Laotian. But I’m too cheap to invest that much in something that I am not sure I’ll need. In the past, I have managed to get along well without knowing any of the language in Japan and Korea.

A low tech option is to buy a folding laminated card with stock phrases on it (there are a few phrases one needs to know such as: “Quick, where is the bathroom;” “What is this?” “Is this eatable?” and that all important phrase, “Beer, please.” These cost less than $10 a piece and are available in Chinese, Russian, Thai and Vietnamese. They also look like they’d make nice placemats.

Another thing I have pondered is an electronic reader. I haven’t yet gone the Kindle or Nook route, but knowing that I will have many days (actually weeks) on ships where I won’t have access to or to a library, I’m tempted. Furthermore, there will be lots of time on a train in which I will want to read. One option is to take a handful of books with me and drop them when finished and try to find used books to pick up along the way. But, I like to make notes in the books that I read which gives me another reason to acquire an electronic reader. I know you can take notes on e-readers, but has anyone actually done this? I’d love to hear your takes on the various options on e-readers? What brands should I consider or avoid? What features are most desirable?

In many ways, I don’t plan on buying a lot for this trip. I’m taking an old backpacking—an internal frame Kelty that has served me well on short backpacking and as ski trips (it has slits to hold skis when you don’t need them, a feature I don’t think I’ll need in Southeast Asia.) The pack has approximately 3000 cubic inches of space (compared to my regular backpacking pack that has over double that amount). The lack of space means less weight and more flexibility. Besides, I’ll be traveling in the summer and won’t need a lot of bulky clothes. And since the pack is scuffed up, I hope it will be less temptation for thieves.

I have a number of pairs of light-weight, quick drying pants for fishing that I plan to pack. I don’t think I’ll need to purchase any new clothing. I also have a lightweight silk sleeping bag liner that I’ll use in hostels and hotels where the beds look suspicious. I have a jungle hat and mosquito netting and got a small waterproof camera for Christmas.

Somewhere along the way, I will have to acquire some dress clothes for the Holland American cruise home. I don’t think my jungle attire will be well received in the formal dining room and I don’t plan to take such a ship without enjoying good food, so I’ll have to either ship such clothes to Europe or find a place to pick up a dark suit or tux along the way (I know, it’s hard to image Sage in a tux). Decisions, decisions. What items would you pack for such a trip?

Friday, January 28, 2011

An afternoon ski trip along an old railroad grade

I went out skiing this afternoon along the old Michigan Central Railroad tracks. For over a hundred years, tracks along this roadbed linked together Grand Rapids and Jackson, providing service to industries and farms along the line. In 1984, the tracks were removed, ending railroad service for many towns. Much of the track has been converted to a walking/biking path (and I have written about cycling along this section before).

It felt good to stretch my legs. Being that this is a former railroad bed and that it runs along a river, the skiing in relatively flat. With the trees naked of leaves, it wasn’t a problem seeing the river as it snakes its way through the hardwood swamp. The river is still flowing, but the backwaters are frozen. It was 30 degrees when I started, a lot warmer than last weekend when the highs were in the single digits. It was warm enough that I didn’t even need to cover my ears. But the sky was so gray that it felt colder and there was no way of knowing when the sunset. I skied down a couple of miles before turning around and making my way back to where I started.

Although I enjoy this path, it’s sad there are no longer trains running along here. But there are a few ghosts of the railroad, the trestles and some mile markers. After skiing, I stowed by skis in the back of my truck and went into Champs Bar, where I enjoyed a tall Red Sky Ale from a brewery in Frankenmuth (on the other side of the state) along with their Friday special—a fried fish platter.

Friday, January 21, 2011

A Grand Canyon Hike (October 1999)

The wind blew most of the night as I burrowed myself deep in my sleeping bag laid out under the pines, just north of Crazy Jug Point. But when I woke in the morning, the air was finally still. A few birds sang and a bee buzzed around my bag. He must be getting desperate for some nourishment this late in the fall, I muse to myself. It’s the ninth of October and up here on the ridge, winter isn’t too far off. I sit up and, not getting out of the bag, watch the sunrise over the canyon, gazing out toward the San Francisco Peaks to the south. A bit of smoke lingers in the air from prescribed burns (now known as management incited fires). When I reach for my water bottle to get a drink, I notice that a thin rim of ice has formed on the top. It had been below freezing during the night, but I know that in a few hours, it’s going to be hot. I get on up and pack up my gear. Soon Phil and Craig are stirring. Phil had slept in the camper on his pickup, and opened the door to announce that coffee was perking and he’d soon be making pancakes. We enjoyed the meal and the convenience of “car camping.” We are in no hurry as we wait for Bill and Mark, the last two of our party, to arrive.

At 10:30 AM, we’d driven over to the Bill Hall trailhead and everyone is ready. In addition to what’s in our packs, we all start out with an extra gallon jug of water. Those eight pounds will be stashed along the way so that we’ll have enough water to make the long dry climb up out of the canyon. I’m able to get the gallon jug in my pack along with three plastic quart jars for water and a pint for whiskey. Since we’re hiking down, I only fill two of my water bottles. By mid-afternoon, I’ll realize that this was a mistake.

The trail runs along the rim for a mile or so before dropping off and then climbing back up to Monument Point. From Monument Point, at 7200 feet, the trail drops quickly through Kaibab and Turweep rock formations. At one point, we shed our packs and lowered them 30 feet or so by rope, freeing us to climb down through a path that twists through the rock. The trail keeps dropping till it joins the Thunder River Trail. By this point, we've lost over 1800 feet. Taking this trail, we head south along the Esplanade, a rather wide bench with small changes in elevation. The trail is mostly over slick rock and marked with cairns. Just before we drop over the ridge and begin the steep descent to Surprise Valley, we stop under the shade of a rock ledge for a late lunch and stash our extra water for the trip back up. As most of the hike has been exposed to the sun, I've found that I’ve drained one of my quarts of water. I try not to drink too much water at lunch and enjoy and apple and an orange, savoring the moisture in the fruit.
The climb down from the Esplanade to Surprise Valley is over mostly red rock baked by the intense sun. The trail is steep and the rock wall is hot, its heat reflecting onto my body. To make it worst, when I put my hand out to stabilize myself, the rock burns. I take small sips of my water, knowing I am dangerously low and that we still have a way to go to get to Thunder Falls, the closest source for water in this barren land. At the bottom of the ridge, after dropping another 1800 feet, we enter Surprise Valley and for a while are on relatively level ground. I’ve been hiking a lot with Bill, who is a geologist. He points keeps talking about the various fossils in the rock and the type of formations through which we descend.
The trail continues south for a ways, and then turns east where it intersects the trail to Deer Creek. There is no shade. There are no trees, only small bushes and cactus. The temperature is now well into the nineties and I am lightheaded for the hiking and lack of water. It’s about two and a half miles from when we enter the valley to the falls, the next water source. To make matters worse, as we get closer to the rim and our next steep descent, we can hear water gushing. At the rim, the trail goes down steep switchbacks and we can see just to our north, Thunder River Falls. It’s inaccessible but visible. The water gushes out of the rock. Bill explains that the rock above the spring is mostly limestone and porous, allowing water to accumulate. Below the spring the rock is sandstone and less porous, causing the river of water to gush out of the rock and down the walls of the canyon. As we make our way down the switchbacks, all I can think of is water.

I quickly drink my last few ounces, knowing that at the bottom I can drink till I’m content. I find some relief in that the trail is on the west side of the canyon into which we’re descending and soon, we’re in the shade, away from the sun’s rays.
At the bottom of Thunder River Falls, I chug water, not worrying about purifying it. There is little chance of contamination here, as the water flows out from the rock and drops into the pool. I also scoop handfuls of water over my head, cooling my body. We take a long break, enjoying the roar of the falls and the relative coolness of the damp shady site. Bill and Mark are both having feet problems. I let the water settle in my stomach, having drank too much too quickly. We don’t have far to go as we plan to stop at the junction of Thunder River and Tapeats Creek, less than a mile downstream. We have only hiked nine miles so far, mostly downhill, but the intense sun combined with the feet-killing steep downhill sections, it feels like we’ve hiked many more.

By 6 PM, we’re setting up camp under the cottonwoods on a shelf high above the east side of the creek. Everyone is tried. Darkness descends quickly in the canyon. We quickly fix dinner. Bill, who’d shown us fossils of early life found near the falls (800 feet higher than we are here), notes how the rocks here are void of fossils and were formed before life began on earth. It’s amazing to think how old these rocks are. After eating dinner and a shot of whiskey, I’m ready for bed. Sleep comes easy with the sound of rushing water in the background.
I wake up early the next morning to the clucking sound of a turkey walking through camp. I have thoughts of having a Thanksgiving dinner, with this pesky domesticated wild turkey serving as the centerpiece for a feast. The sun’s rays are barely hitting the ridge and I realize it’ll be a long time before it gets to us. I roll out of bed and fire up my stove, heating water for coffee and oatmeal while packing up my gear. Our plans are to go to the river and camp, but Bill and Mark, whose feet are blistered, don’t want to walk any more than required. Phil, Craig and I decide we’ll go on to the river and camp, but we scratch the plan to cross over to Deer Creek, deciding instead to camp at where Tepeats enters the Colorado and then hike back out the same way we descended into the canyon.

The hike along the creek is relatively easy as the trail snakes a cross the creek a couple of times. The river is wide and fast, cold and beautiful. High above the river the banks are lined with rocks and boulders of various shapes, sizes and colors, making it difficult to navigate as some of them are harder to see. Next to the river, there is a narrow sandy beach. There are plenty of barrel cactus and spiny mesquite bushes. By the time we arrive, the sun is up and it’s hot. We pick out a campsite just a ways downstream from the creek and set up a tarp for shade. The only poles we have are our hiking ones, so the tarp isn’t very high, but later in the afternoon when the temperature climbs above hundred, it’s a nice place to nap and read.
Shortly after we arrive, a rafting party stops at the mouth of the creek and sets up camp. We walk down to check out the trespassers, worrying that they might spoil the neighborhood, but they’re all cool and are hauling a boatload of beer that’s chilled in the river. The group is mostly made up of river guides, taking their last trip of the season. They offer us each a beer, which does wonders to win our affection. As they’re pulling the beer bag out of the river, they tell us to help ourselves anytime we want a can. We realize that we’ve hit the jackpot, a floating bar along the Colorado. Much of the afternoon is spent under the tarp, listening to the river and reading. Mark hikes down without his pack. He is felling better, but his feet are still sore. Bill, he says, is still limping badly. We spend much of the evening with the raft crew, learning about their lives on the river and us sharing stories of our various hikes. We drink their beer and they sip on our whiskey. At 10 PM, under a starry night, we all head to bed. It’s still warm and I fall asleep on the top of my bag, only to wake up a bit chilly and crawl inside later in the night.

I wake up the next morning just as the first rays of the sun are striking the rim of the canyon. The light sky stands in contrast to the dark walls of the canyon that are still shaded from the sun. I’m stiff. All night my stomach has been in knots. Lying under the screen of my bivy tent, l’d wake and explore the stars and watch meteors speed across the sky before falling back to sleep. All I can really think about is our hike out and hoping that our water cache is safe. In the morning, I think of the seven mile hike ahead, with the 3500 feet elevation gain which mostly comes in the two steep pitches and don’t want to get up from bed. Nonetheless, we make a quick morning of it, hoping to get as many miles done as possible before the day gets too hot. Packed up, we head back up Tapeats Creek.

When we pass our first campsite, we realize Bill and Mark have gone on ahead. We continue on up Thunder River, stopping at the bottom of the falls to tank up in water. Remembering how thirsty I was two days before, I put water in everything that will hold it. This includes a small bottle that until last night had whiskey in it. I also take two ziplock backs and put water into one of them, then seal the other bag around it and place it inside my cooking pot. Knowing that I have close to five quarts, I feel better about the climb out.

Leaving Thunder River behind, we begin the switchbacks up to Surprise Valley. The biggest surprise is that we make good time up to and across the valley. As we begin the climb up the red rock, it’s still early enough that the rock isn’t as hot as when we descended. We catch up with Bill and Mark along with Becky, another hiker from San Francisco who’d camped with them the night before. Like them, she too had feet problems and decided to abort her trip before reaching the river. We reach the Esplanade around 1 PM, just 6 hours after leaving the Colorado River. I still have over three quarts of water and with just one major pitch to climb, realize that I could hike out with what I have on my back. When I’m reunited with the gallon of water I stashed, I feel like a rich man. We set up camp and find shady spots to read and nap.Photo from the afternoon of the third day, lounging around. Sage is to the right.
It’s my night for dinner and I’ve planned Mexican. I borrow pots from everyone and as the sun begins dropping in the west, I set out to make rice, using boil in a bag pouches. I have dried re-fried beans to which I add boiling water. I make two instant cheese cakes (which only kind of sets up because of the lack of refrigeration (I normally would set it in a spring or cold stream, but there is no water on the Esplanade). I lay everything out, tortillas, beans, rice, cheese, diced onions and an avocado that I’ve hauled along, along with packages of salsa that I’d accumulated from Taco Bells. We feast on burritos, drinking large quantities of water to rehydrate ourselves. Afterwards, we watch a beautiful sunset. The smoke from control burns makes the sun especially beautiful. After sunset, we are treated to the setting of a new moon. As the lunar sliver approaches the horizon it, too, turns brilliantly red.
That night, I’m still sore when I go to bed, but feel good. For a long time, I lay looking at the skies and stars. Again, I see numerous meteors. I fall asleep and dream of the backyard that I am landscaping at home. In my dream, my daughter is playing on grass and I’m setting on the new patio that planned to build when I get back. But then, in another dream, I am with Lorraine, a woman I dated a couple of times back in the mid-80s. It’s a strange dream. I liked her, but we only dated a couple of times before we both got involved with someone else. I wake up as the stars in the sky are extinguishing themselves and light begins to seep into the canyon.
The climb out, over the third steep pitch on the trail, is tough but doable. There is that one part where we lowered our packs. Going up, we kept our packs on, but we have to pull ourselves up by hands. The final mile is easy as we walked along the rim and look down at where we had been. Phil had left some beers in a cooler with a block of ice in the back of his truck. The ice had melted, but the beers are still a little cool. There was enough to go around to the six of us (Becky had hiked out with us). We drink the beer, toasting each other and talk for a few minutes. Then we got into our vehicles and head in different directions. Phil and I stop to eat Mexican in Kanab and were back in Cedar City by mid-afternoon.
Photo note: The smoke made many of the photos hazy. I used regular film instead of slides and these photos are copies of prints (which does not yield the best quality photos). The photo below, of all five of us, was taken on our last morning in the canyon.
I'm on the right.

Sunday, January 16, 2011

Birds are now dropping like flies (A Nevada Jack Special)

Nevada Jack reporting

On New Years, thousands of dead black birds were discovered in Arkansas. Nobody seemed to know what was going on. Some thought they were hit by New Year fireworks. My personal opinion is that too many Arkansas kids got shotguns for Christmas. But the carnage hasn’t stopped in the Razorback State. More and more birds are now mysteriously dropping dead out of the sky. Some scientists have suggested it could be lightning bolts frying the birds in mid-air. Or maybe it’s somehow linked to global climate change or some new pesticide. But I think the real villains are bold predators that are cutting across species. This weekend saw three such mass killing of our feathered friends. In Pittsburgh, an assembly of ravens croaked after flying into a steel curtain. And in Chicago, a flock of dead seahawks were spotted on the streets. With both of these deaths, the birds in question were away from their home turf: Baltimore for the ravens and Seattle for the seahawks. In Atlanta, another disturbance occurred with a flock of falcons were found beaten to a pulp. These birds were on their home turf. Have we seen the worst of this aviary carnage? I for one hope so, before it spreads to other members of the animal kingdom. I’m worried, for I’ve heard a rumor that ruthless predators overfed with cheese-curds now have us bears in their cross-hairs. And if we are able escape, I'm afraid we'll run right into a steel curtain.

Friday, January 14, 2011

Losing things...

Photo of Sage hiking the East Rim Trail in Zion National Park in January 2003.
I have lost a journal and a book. This is disconcerting for me. I can only think of one other book that I lost while reading and that was four years ago (I should confess that I’ve lost many books by lending them to friends, but those don’t count). The book I lost was William Phipp’s, Mark Twain’s Religion. I was about half way through the book, which I found very interesting as I had published a journal article on the topic and my work was quoted in the book. I’ve never found that book.

Back in November, I lost both a book and a black moleskin notebook that was almost filled. The book was Musical Chairs, a memoir by Jen Knox. I was almost finished with the book and was looking forward to reviewing it. Then I lost it. I had been writing in my lost journal since September 2009. The journal was probably 4/5 filled and included stories and notes from my trip to Costa Rica this fall, my trip out west this summer, several two night canoe trips, travels to North Carolina as well as notes from lectures that I attended. I also jotted down in the journal notes from books I’m reading and quotes I hear from people in town or on National Public Radio. Even names and addresses of people I met were written in those pages. Having kept a journal since college, and having an entire shelf of a book case for such writings, this is the first one I lost. I’m sure this loss has something to do with my lack of desire to write lately. I have gone to many places where I know I was at and have looked through lost-and-founds, but without success. Since my journal has my name, address and phone number, I’d hope someone would contact me, but that hasn’t happened.

In an attempt to get back to writing, I looked through many of my old journals and realize that I need to write up some more of my hikes and adventures. I have several more Appalachian Trail stories to add to the ones I’ve done over the years. These would be stories of hiking the southern part of the trail which I did in segments. There are also my journal entries from hiking on Isle Royale, in Zion Canyon and down the Grand Canyon as well as some off-the-pavement trips Ralph and I made to desolate mining camps out west. Maybe there will be such posts in the future…

Sunday, January 09, 2011

Grounded: A Down to Earth Joruney Around the World (A Book Review)

Seth Stevenson, Grounded: A Down to Earth Journey Around the World (New York: Penguin, 2010), 274 pages.

This is not the book I wanted to read. The book I want to read is the one written by Rebecca, Mr. Stevenson’s girlfriend, who had to endure him on this trip. I’m not sure her book will ever materialize, so I’m stuck reviewing this one. This was one of those books that I grabbed off the shelf because of the writer’s intention to travel around the world without getting into an airplane. I plan to do the same thing, but I hope and pray I am a lot more gracious to those around me as well as curious as to where my travels take me. Stevenson is a gifted writer. Although I often shook my head at his narcissism, he kept my attention as I quickly read the book.

Seth, a writer for Slate Magazine, and his attorney-girlfriend Rebecca quit their jobs, sold their possessions and set out to travel the world. Throughout the book, Seth returns to his familiar litany as to why he hates flying. But then, he seems to hate most forms of transportation: container ships, cruise ships, trains, ferries and bicycles. Despite his constant complaining, Seth does manage to fulfill his goal. This he achieves by ditching his girlfriend in Singapore when he finds a ship heading to Australia. The ship is leaving port, so he calls her back at the hotel where she is gathering their possessions and tells her to fly to Bali where the ship will stop in a few days. The only thing I can say about this stunt is that he should be thankful that his girlfriend didn’t fly back to the States or, once they reunited, didn’t treat him to a long distant swimming lesson off starboard somewhere in the Timor Sea. Machiavelli Seth seems only to care about achieving his goal. He wasn’t even gracious toward the ship and crew that made last minute arrangements to take him onboard as a passenger and provided him the opportunity to fulfill his goal, referring to the British cruise ship as a floating nursing home.

The young couple travels start in Washington DC. They head to Philadelphia where they board a container ship to Europe. Then they travel by rail and ferry across Europe to Moscow and take the Trans-Siberian across Russia. Next, it’s a ferry to Japan, then trains and another ferry to China, then trains and buses to Vietnam where they join up with a bicycling tour group to ride through much of the country. From Saigon, they take a bus to Cambodia and a cab into Thailand, then buses and ferries (the train crews were on strike) to Singapore. From there, he takes a small British cruise ship to Darwin, Australia. Rebecca joins up with the ship in Bali. In Darwin, they decide to leave the “floating nursing home” early (It was going to take them around Australia) and drive a car to Sydney. From Australia, they take another container ship to New Zealand where they land just hours before leaving on a plush cruise ship. Arriving back in Los Angeles, they take Amtrak across the country, back to Washington DC where they began.
Throughout the book, Stevenson refers to Jules Verne’s classic, Around the World in 80 Days. He could have titled this book, Around the World on 80 Bottles (of liquor). Drinking, along with some pills that he pops, is his way of coping with the hardships he experiences and helps him endure the discomforts (do you get the sense I don’t feel sorry for him?). Along the way there are few comments about the beauty of the land or the people and the hospitality he encounters. He seems to have little interest in the history or the culture of the area. He complains about all tourists, be they young backpackers or wealthy geezers. In fact, it seems to me that he generally dislikes people. The only person he cares for is Rebecca (and he was willing to leave her behind!).
I assume that with a lot of his complaining Stevenson thought he was being funny like Bill Bryson. However, with Bryson, I get a sense he cares about people. I know I wouldn’t want to travel with Paul Theroux, who often complains about other tourists, but I keep reading Theroux because I have a sense he cares about the cultures and the local people he encounters on his journeys and does a great job sharing what he learns. Furthermore, Theroux admits that he likes to travel alone (and on the ground) so that he can experience other cultures. Both Bryson and Therux provide insight into the world in which they travel. Stevenson gives very little of this. At best, he does have several interesting sections (a few pages to each) on the history of various forms of travel (air, rail, container ships, buses, bicycles and cruise ships). One place where I felt Stevenson’s writing did show a bit of promise for interacting with local culture was during a break from the Trans-Siberian in the city of Yekateinburg. Stevenson wrote about the murders of the Czar and his family there in 1918, noting that the people didn’t capitalize on the tragedy like many New Yorkers had on 9-11. But then, in the pages that followed, he makes two back-to-back Jewish jokes that I found distasteful. The first was referring to a popping sound that he thought could be the changing of an engine on the train or the shooting of Jews and wealthy land owners, but since neither involved him he could go back to sleep. (96) Then he noted that Siberia was “like the Catskills, minus the billboards, the gas stations, and the Jewish summer camps.” (99) Of course, tragically, many Jews (and others) were sent to “camps” in Siberia. On a positive note, Stevenson writes in a way that is easy to read, but then his writing is just not that deep.

Saturday, January 08, 2011

This and that and Facebook

It’s finally beginning to look like winter around here… We have had a mild winter so far, so the snow is welcomed. And it’s beautiful! On Thursday, I got out on cross country skis, getting my legs back into the stride. On Friday, I was back downhill skiing (they’ve been able to make plenty of snow and this hill is closer to Lake Michigan, so it picks up plenty of lake-effect snow). I was a chaperon with a bunch of middle schoolers, but had fun and the snow was wonderful and throughout the evening it kept falling. This morning, the skies are clear and it is a beautiful, yet cold, day.

And to take a page from Murf’s and Kathryn’s playbook (that is asking for Facebook advice in a blog), I ask: should I call my son regarding a comment on Facebook (from the sister of my daughter-in-law) asking my daughter-in-law if things have improved? Social media often gives us more information than we need to know…

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

The Line Between (A book review)

Mark C. Durfee, The Line Between (St. Clair Shores, MI: Motor City Burning Press, 2010), 77 pages

This is the second collection of poetry by Mark Durfee, who regularly blogs at Walking Man. His first book, Stink, had a harder edge, as it focused mostly on life in Detroit. Although there is some of the hard edge of Durfee’s earlier book, because this book mostly deals with issues of life in the line between birth and death, the edges appear to me to have been dulled a bit. Empathy and compassion shine through Durfee’s words and images. In many places I found myself in agreement with this “man without a destination, [who] wants for little but cares for much,” (16) a man who acknowledges that in a long-life, he’s unable to give the beauty of a short–lived flower. (12) “If you wish to know me,” he writes, “then you must first know the pulsing rhythm of the psalms I sing.” Many of his poems have an ironic sense of humor such as the title of a poem (written by a self-professed smoker) “The Surgeon General should warn about karaoke.” (30) Or the line, “smart as a whip, but outta strength.” (56)

My favorite was the title poem, “The Line Between” in which Durfee writes lovingly about his grandmother who “lived beyond a century,” and lost a son to the sea during the war, and a husband thirty years before her own death. (58-60) The poem is a wonderful tribute and captures the tenderness of the love between her and her deceased husband and her family and even those with whom she shares space with in a nursing facility. The hard edge returns in the last poems as Durfee writes about the state of the economy, the lost jobs and the cost of medical care. In “A Final Act of Love,” Durfee tells of a man who has lost his job to the economy and last loving thing he can do to his family is to commit suicide, knowing his kids would qualify for a “dead man’s Social Security.” (66-67) It’s heartbreaking to acknowledge that there are people feel forced into such decisions…

Don’t look for this book in your local bookstore as you won’t find it there. But for ten bucks you can purchase a copy (shipping including) from the author. Check out his website.

Monday, January 03, 2011

Reflection on New Year's Weekend...

This is the second year our town has tried to steal glory from New York by having its own ball drop. I missed it last year as I was in the Carolinas, so I made sure I was there this year to celebrate with my neighbors. The ball drop was done from one of the old three story buildings on Main Street, which has been restored into a brew pub with a ballroom upstairs. The streets were closed off and my daughter and I stood on the opposite corner, where we could see the ball and listen to the jazz band playing on a make-shift stage just off the center of the intersection. The temperature was in the mid-50s (this is Michigan, it should have been freezing). I wore only a light jacket, no gloves. (Of course, I had my Stetson, as the top of my head doesn’t have a lot of insulation.) As we waited and listened, I kept looking at the lighted four-way stop sign that hangs in the middle of the intersection, between where I stood and the ball drop. STOP is what a lot of people would like time to do, but as there is little chance of that. Maybe we should make the best of the time we’re given.
Photo of Indianapolis from the window on the north side of Lucas Oil Stadium.

On January 2, I found myself in Indianapolis. Seeking out a church in which to worship, I headed to the Episcopal Cathedral as I’m friends with a former priest from there. I had heard stories of how formal this church was and knew I might be underdressed. I wasn’t, there were a few in jeans even though most men were in suits. Being the day after a holiday, the attendance was sparse, but the folks were most welcoming. Even those who appeared homeless were gracefully received. However, the service was very pomp, as if they were attempting to out-Vatican the Vatican. Everything was planned, down to the littlest detail. It took five people to read the gospel passage. The contingent, with robes draped with fancy fabric, marched down into the middle of the nave, lead by a guy with a staff (or is it a scepter?) Following him was the holder of the Bible, who was flanked by two acolytes (or candle holders). When they stopped, the guy with the Bible did an “about face” (with military precision) and opened the book and held it for the guy behind him to read. The Gospeller (I didn’t even know that was a word, but it was in the bulletin) read from Matthew 2. When he got to the part about Herod ordering the killing of innocent children in and around Bethlehem, an infant behind me let out a scream. That couldn’t have been planned, but it was most appropriate. I do believe God often surprises us in small ways.

Yesterday afternoon, I was at Lucas Oil Stadium watching the Colts play against the Titans. I didn’t really have a dog in this hunt (and wore my Stiller’s cap), but am glad the Colts won because otherwise it would have been a long drive back north! It was a tight game; the Colts clinched victory on the last play when they kicked a field goal with 3 seconds left, winning 23-20. It was a late drive back home into the early morning hours, made later than planned because the NFL decided to move the game from 1 PM to 4:15 PM! After a day in Indy, I’ve decided that if I ever want to commit a crime there, I’ll do it on game day, wearing a blue hat and a #18 Colt’s jersey. They’ll never be able to pick me out in a line-up.

I hope your 2011 is off to a good start!