Friday, July 30, 2010

Cedar City and the Utah Shakespearean Festival

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt started by Winds of Change. This feature is a great way to write about favorite places you’ve visited and to share the experience with others. My tip for this week is the Utah Shakespearean Festival in Cedar City, Utah. Of course, I'm posting this a day late (but I didn't have good internet access yesterday). I'm still on vacation and not getting around to many blogs, so hang in there. I'll be back home on Tuesday and sometime thereafter will catch up with everyone.

In addition to being in a gorgeous setting, just north of Zion National Park and below Cedar Breaks National Monument and within three hours or so of six other national parks and monuments (Bryce Canyon, Capital Reef, Great Basin, North Rim of the Grand Canyon, Pipestem and the Grand Staircase), Cedar City is at 5800 feet in elevation, giving it very pleasant summer weather. It’s warm in the day but cools off in the evening. The city is located in Southwestern Utah, only 170 miles north of Las Vegas (2 ½ hour drive up Interstate 15), making it a perfect place to stop during a trip of the Utah parks. The city is also home of Southern Utah University and the wonderful Utah Shakespearean Festival which is held every summer on its campus. And for those who can’t get enough of Shakespeare, there is also a Neil Simon festival that is held off campus.

Fred Adams, a drama teacher at what was Southern Utah College, began the festival nearly fifty years ago. In time, the festival grew into a professionally staffed production that features actors from all over the United States. The festival has three stages, the Randall Jones Theatre where non-Shakespearean plays are performed; the Adam’s Theatre, which is an outdoor replica of Shakespeare’s own Globe Theater which hosts the summer production of Shakespeare’s plays; and a backup inside theater which is used in case of rain. (photo is of the Adam Theatre.) The regular shows begin at 8 PM, Monday through Saturday (these theaters are black on Sunday as this is Utah and the Mormon Church’s influence is still strong, which helps keep Sunday sacred). There are two shows each evening (one in the Randall Jones and the other in the Adam’s Theatre) and one matinee a day which is held in the Randall Jones.

This week I attended the Festival’s production of "Merchant of Venice," a play I’ve loved since high school, when I took a Shakespeare class. In general, boys weren’t drawn to Shakespeare, which was the point. Another guy named David and I found ourselves in a class that consisted of twenty girls and a teacher that seemed to be going on seventy at the time (but probably not as her daughter was my age). Mrs. Cobb relished telling us the raunchy parts of Shakespeare’s plays. With a 10-1 girl to boy ratio and lots of sexual innuendos, I’m not sure why more guys didn’t flock to her Shakespeare’s class, but I was glad to have the experience and the ratio of boys to girls gave me a fighting chance.

The Merchant of Venice is a play that explores themes of justice and mercy, economics, racial and religious bias all while providing laughs along the way. The play is about the wooing of the lovely Portia. Bassanio is in love with her, but deeply in debt. He borrows money from his friend Antonio so he can be a proper suitor of Portia. But Antonio (the Merchant of Venice) is cash poor. His wealth is tied up in ships sailing to various ports around the world. Knowing when one of the ships returns, he can easily repay the debt, he borrows money from his enemy Shylock, a Jewish moneylender who demands that if he is unable to pay the debt, that Antonio forfeit a pound of his flesh. Bassannio successfully woos Portia, but then learns that Antonio’s ships are delayed and he can repay his debt. Bassannio quickly goes back to Venice to help his friend. Portia and Nerissa (her woman in waiting that has fallen for Bassanio’s friend Gratiano) follow Bassanio back to Venice. Bassanio, with Portia’s help, is able to pay off Antonio, but Shylock doesn’t want the money, only the flesh. Portia and Nerissa dress as if judges and they come in to review Shylock’s case against Antonio. After failing to get Shylock to show mercy, she (dressed as a male judge) rules that Shylock can have his pound of flesh, but that he is not allowed to take a drop of blood. Shylock realizes he’s been had. Furthermore, she reveals another law that finds Shylock guilty of attempted murder. Under this law, Shylock will lose all his property and face execution, but mercy is shown and Shylock is allowed to live (but he must become a Christian) and upon his death, his wealth will go to Lorenzo (his son-in-law who ran off with his daughter Jessica).

There are other twists to the play, but this isn’t to be a review. Instead, let me give two lines that have to do with economics… One of Lorenzo’s friends says this about the conversion of Jessica: “The problem of Jews becoming Christians is that it raises the price of pork.” Shylock on Antonio’s lending without interest: “He lends money gratis, and brings down the rate of usance here with us in Venice.” The play does have an economic streak in it.

Each season, the Shakespearean festival features six plays in the summer and three in the fall. Three of the summer and one of the plays in the fall season are Shakespeare plays, the rest being plays by contemporary playwrites of Shakespeare or modern plays and musicals. In addition to “Merchant,” this summer’s lineup includes: “Much Ado about Nothing,” “Macbeth,” “Great Expectations,” “Pride and Prejudice,” and “Alfred Hitchcock’s The 39 Steps.” In addition to the plays, the festival offers backstage tours, workshops on costumes, literary discussions and the Greenshow, a free outdoor program that starts an hour before the evening play and includes music and other “Shakespeare era” talents. (See photo of the Greenshow, they will let you photograph the Greenshows, but not the plays.)

If you visit Cedar City, be sure to take a walk up the canyon. A three mile walking trail starts in the middle of the town and follows Cedar Creek up into the beautiful red rock. In the evening, the light on the rock is stunning.

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Catching UP (Coming home early and the death of a blog-friend)

Last Friday night…

There is nothing sadder than coming home to a house that you’d left earlier in the day, all closed up for a ten day trip. The dog that’s normally at the front door, wagging his tail, so happy to see you, is at the kennel. The air inside is already stuffy as the air conditioning is off. There’s no ice tea made as the last was poured down the drain, knowing that it would only stain the pitcher if left that long. Furthermore, nothing good left in the fridge as what little was left had been given to a neighbor. I’m thirsty and thankfully there are still a few bottles of beer. This is an all too familiar situation when flying out of a Midwest airport late on a hot summer afternoon. I should have known as much when I got up in the morning and took the dog out. It was already warm and the air still and very heavy. We’d had violent weather Thursday afternoon, under a tornado watch for a short while in the late afternoon with a watch that extended till 3 AM. I was hopefully that we were going to be heading out west, but that’ll have to wait till tomorrow…

Tuesday morning…

We finally made it to Las Vegas late Saturday afternoon, a day later than planned, but also late enough that required a change in plans. Instead of going to Virginia City, we went to Death Valley. I had to get out of Vegas ASAP. That’s right, my daughter wanted to go to Death Valley and although I've been in the valley six times, all my trips have been between December and April. So, why not. It was only in the low 120s (for those on the Celsius scale, that’s around 46 or 47 degrees, which sounds cooler, until you realize that’s almost ½ way to the boiling point). The experience will give me some more stories to write about as we travel around the west and see friends. As I don’t write about family stuff here, I’ll also get to spare you the details of the wedding we’re attending next Saturday in Las Vegas.

As we haven't always had cell phone service, I haven’t been reading blogs while traveling. (I'll catch up this weekend when parked in a Vegas hotel), but one headline caught my attention this morning and I clicked over and learned of the unexpected death of guy who often commented here and on some of your blogs. Richard (Buffalodick) had a food blog and I’d enjoyed a number of his recipes. I was hoping we’d be at one of the same chili cookoffs, but I was never able to make any. Condolences to his family. Although I never got to meet him, I’ll miss his comments and insights.

Friday, July 23, 2010

Au Sable River Trip

Back in late June, I wrote about one night I spent on the Au Sable River and promised more pictures and information… For today’s “Travel Tip Thursday,” a writing prompt in which you are encouraged to share a tip on a favorite place to travel, I’m going to take you to the Au Sable, a river in the upper part of the lower peninsula of Michigan… I would have had this up on Thursday, but last night, we had violent thunderstorms with the potential of tornadoes roll through and I disconnected the all electronic devices except for one television by which to watch the weather. And just to let everyone know, I am flying out of here later today as I have a wedding to attend out west and am not going that far without taking a week of vacation. So don't expect me to be around a lot over the next eight or so days, but when I come back, I expect to be settled for a while! I still don't know how I'm going to get all my vacation in this year.

I paddled the river with a friend. On a Wednesday, we drove up to Grayling, where there are several outfitters. I took my canoe and at the outfitter’s livery, which was on the river, we unloaded the boat and gear. Then I drove my truck to the river access in Parmalee, where I left it so it would be waiting when we came of the river on Friday. It cost $40 for the shuttle, which is much less than the gas it would have taken for Jim to have driven his truck up and for us to have fiddled with the logistics of shuttling vehicles, especially since the take out point was nearly 30 miles away. It was fairly late Wednesday afternoon by the time we’d dropped my truck and was able to into the river. We paddled only about five miles to a canoe campsite a bit west of Burton’s Landing. The campsite (which cost $12, if I remember correctly), was on a high bluff and had a fire rings (which we didn’t use), an old-fashion pitcher pump and a outhouse. That night, we tried fishing, hoping to catch brown trout, but had no luck. Fishing was not a high point of this trip as we each only caught a trout a piece.

I’d heard a lot about the Au Sable and it is a beautiful river, but I don’t think it is nearly as nice as the Pine or Pere Marquette, as this river has been overly developed (in my opinion). Sable is the French word for sandy and the Au Sable has either sandy or gravel bottoms, which with the cold water make it a great river for trout. The river is shallow and fast, with an average flow of 4 miles an hour. One doesn’t have to paddle too hard and we covered nearly 40 miles on our trip.

We saw lots of families of ducks and geese along the way.

There are many beautiful homes and lodges along the river, but there is also some “river trash.” There are more pink flamingos than in the Everglades and one house, which had a beautifully crafted Au Sable River boat moored in front, also featured the rather tacky “bra tree.” The owner had a sign that he was accepting donations and had one bra around the trunk of the tree that was supposedly a 54dd (see photo). I didn’t see anyone on the river that I would have wanted to encourage to make a donation.

Just moments after the trashy bra tree, we began to hear the Guess Who come through loud and clear. At a rusty old trailer, someone doing some work with an electric saw, was blasting the wilds with the likes of “American Woman.” For a good ½ mile of river, all birds and insects and rippling sounds of water were drowned out by someone’s boom box, which was obviously turned up enough so he could hear it over his saw’s buzz (see photo of the trailer). Just so my Canadian friends won’t feel picked on, let me say that I like the music of the Guess Who, but I didn’t need to hear them during what I’d hoped to be a wilderness experience.

I should say a bit about the Au Sable river boat. These boats were designed during the logging day as a means to haul gear and supplies in and out of camps along the river. They are long and narrow and have a shallow draft, making them suitable for poling along the river. On the Pere Marquette and other rivers around, folks often us a more traditional dory type river boat for fishing, but on the Au Sable, the long boats take preference and we saw many beautifully crafted boats on our trip.

Our second night on the river, we camped at Rainbow Bend, another state sponsored primitive campsite and another twelve bucks for a pump and outhouse. On Friday, we continued on east, reaching the bridge at Parmalee around noon. After stopping for lunch, we rushed back home as I had to be back in time to catch my daughter’s stage debut in “Willy Wanka and the Chocolate Factory.”

The Au Sable is a nice river, but over rated in my opinion. Next, I hope to paddle the Manistee.

Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Last week's project

Last week I returned from a nine day road trip from which I made some post. The trip took me all around Lake Michigan. My first stop was Minneapolis where I got to sit in meetings for several days (the stories of which I’ll not bore you with). I did post about some of the meals I had in the big city. It was enjoyable because I got to see a lot of old friends and former colleagues. After Minneapolis (which I would have normally flown to or even taken the train), I drove up north and spent some time around the Keneenaw Peninsula. I’ve also wrote about that lovely area. The reason fI drove was to meet up on Sunday night with a group from church and to help them with a Habitat project in the Upper Peninsula. I spent three days there, working on a house and, as I often do, preparing a Dutch oven meal for the group. It is amazing what a group of 10 adults, 4 college students and 20-some high school students can do in a few days. This first photo is of the building site when we arrive. There is only a foundation and stacks of lumber.

By quitin' time on Monday we had the box on the foundation down and all the walls built and set. Two of the adults are contractors and they are able to keep everyone busy, always looking ahead to what will need to be done next.

As Right before lunch on Tuesday, the trusses had been set. I stayed back at the church where we were staying Tuesday afternoon to prepare dinner, so there are no photos of from that time.

The final picture is late morning on Wednesday morning, as I was getting ready to leave. The shingles are going down on and the outside insulation being added to the walls. By the time the crew left on Friday, the house was roofed,the windows and doors were in, and the siding was on the outside and the insulation was also added on the inside. After the electrician and plumbers do their work, another crew will finish up with the drywall, floor covering, etc. But by the time the crew I had been working with left the site on Friday at noon, the house was closed in. The local Habitat for Humanity group will see to it that this house, which is built for a single mother and her 3 year old son, will be ready for occpancy by early fall.

Monday, July 19, 2010

A Poem from the Road

Hitchhiker on I-94

Her name must be Susan;
regardless, they're all Susans
and I'd like to have picked her up
but she has so many black-eyes
and I'm not sure what's up with that.
Maybe she'd rather fight than switch,
or is it just one abusive relationship after another?
Whatever, she's still beautiful in the sun,
a bit dusty in the breeze of that 18 Wheeler
who blew past her on the side of the road
leaver her shaking in his wake.

Next time, I'll stop,
and indulge in her fading beauty.

I scribbled this out last week while traveling. I don't know why, but this time of the year, I always seem to write poems about flowers. Check out some of my older posts: 2009 Chicory and Lace, 2007 Queen Anne's Revenge. The flower is a Black-eyed Susan.

Sunday, July 18, 2010

Talk Less, Say More (a book review)

Connie Dieken, Talk Less, Say More 3 Habits to Influence Others and Make Things Happen (Hoboken, NJ: John Wiley and Sons, 2009), 168 pages.

I’m sure my staff gets tired of hearing my mantra that when it comes to writing, less is often more. No one reads long memos. Press releases and newsletter articles that are more than a few hundred words are, more often than not, ignored. When you have something to say to me, tell me; get to the point. Long stories are best shared over a cup of coffee or a pint of beer. There is no need for me to follow you down the rabbit’s trail when you can just tell me where the bunny is. That said, I was excited when I picked up this simple little book. Not only did I find myself wanting to have others read it, I also found that I learned there were a few areas that I needed to sharpen my skills.

Connie Dieken, a former television news anchor, is now a communication coach and the founder and president of onPoint Communication. In this book, she uses the “3 C’s” of communication: “connect, convey and convince.” The three C’s feeds into one of her points, the “mind craves information in multiples of threes.” (83) Dieken explains how “triplets” are deep-rooted within our psyche, making it an efficient way to dispense information and one that she follows throughout the book.

Connecting is the first C and one that has become harder in our current age of information overload. Today, when there is so much information around us, we must sharpen our message in order to insure we connect with those we want to hear us. We begin this by focusing on the needs of those listening, for only by doing so will they tune us in long enough to hear us out. With so much information around us, the power is no longer with the one who has the information but the one receiving it. As she points out, it’s as if the listener has the remote control in his or her hands. (13) Much of this section of the book centers on face-to-face communication where we must learn the “habits” of being a good connector. Such habits include focusing on the other, getting straight to the point, using an appropriate medium of communication, and understanding how the recipient is responding to your message.

Conveying skills involves getting our message across clearly. Because of information overload, we now ignore the vast majority of information available. (66) This means the communicator has to be more aware of how his or her message comes across to others and develop strategies to insure that it’s heard. Crafting such messages include understanding how the eyes are more powerful than the ears. Yet, one must use visuals successfully. She is critical of the way many use powerpoint and argues for a simpler approach, one that highlights the point being made or provides a contrast to drive the point home. She also speaks of the important of the newer forms of social media (Facebook, etc) and how such tools can sharpen one’s message, while providing warnings of how they can be misused. In this section, she develops the importance of threes in presentations and also discusses how one can use stories to hold the attention of the listener. She even provides tools to help develop and use stories to convey important information about the groups and organizations we represent.

Convince is the final “C,” the one that makes the sale. She speaks of how this is not manipulation, for such “success is short-lived.” (110) The successful communicator seeks commitment, not compliance. Keys to gaining commitment include being seen as sincere and decisive, transferring ownership of the ideas to the other party so that they “buy into it” and don’t feel forced into action, and using appropriate energy levels that attracts but doesn’t repel others. She ends this section with a helpful list of gestures and mannerisms the communicator can work on to be more effective when making presentations.

This book is easy to read. In her writing and presentation, Ms. Dieken successfully uses the Connect-Convey-Convince® method (yes, she even has it trademarked) to get across her message. Although the book mostly focuses on face-to-face presentations, some of what she writes about can also be applied to the written word.

Thursday, July 15, 2010

Travel Tip Thursday: The Keneenaw Peninsula

Travel Tip Thursday is a writing prompt by Pseudonymous High School Teacher. Those participating are encouraged to write about a special place to travel. This is my entry for this week… I found a new favorite place this past Sunday, a place that seems to have it all. Surrounded by water, this land has more lighthouses than my home state of North Carolina (10 to NC’s 6). There’s a rough coastline akin to Northern California and like my home state, there are plenty of shipwrecks. There are plenty of trees and, like some of my favorite areas out West, the place is steeped in mining history. And its right here in Michigan (although to get there from the southern part of the Lower Peninsula will take you all day). I’m speaking of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

This past weekend, as I was in transition from a meeting in Minneapolis to catching up with folks for a Habitat project in the Upper Peninsula, I had Sunday to spend exploring the peninsula. I’d only been to this area once before, back in 2004, and then I only went to Houghton, a town in the southern part of the peninsula, where I caught the ferry to Isle Royale (one of these days I will have to write up the story of my eight days hiking there).

This area is known for lots of snow (wet snow)

The Keweenaw Peninsula is copper country and the metal has been mined here for thousands of years. What makes Keweenaw copper unique is its purity. It’s almost 100% pure copper which makes it easy to work. Native Americans began copper production here long before Columbus and even the Vikings arrival in the new world. In the 1840s the copper production was taken over by the Europeans and the area began a copper boom that lasted for over a hundred years and produced billions of pounds of the metal.

I began my trip with a stop at the Keleva Café, waiting out a thunderstorm. The establishment was originally a saloon that took its name from Kalevak, a Finnish epic poem. After coffee and partly clearing skies, I drove the fifty miles through the heart of the peninsula, taking US 41 to Copper Harbor, enjoying the scenery of the birch forest. I would love to take this drive early in the fall, when the trees are turning. Copper Harbor is the northern-most town in the Upper Peninsula and is perched on a rock ledge that juts far out into Lake Superior. Exposed to winds and with a lake that is so deep that it never freezes, the town is one of the snowiest places on earth. I came back down the peninsula taking MI 26, a road that runs along the shoreline.

I stopped in Eagle Harbor, touring the lighthouse and museums there. In former days, there was also a lifesaving station in Eagle Harbor in which the forerunner of our modern Coast Guard would brave the weather in attempts to save those in peril upon the lake. I also walked around Eagle River, a town that is the county seat with a beautiful courthouse. Both of these towns had harbors that were used for shipping ore and as a base for a fishing industry. Today, many of the harbors are used by pleasure boats.

My next stop was the city of Calamet. There are many beautiful buildings in this city and it also serves as the headquarters for the Keweenaw National Historic Park. Steeples dot the downtown. In their day, there were a large number of churches, divided not only by denomination (many are Catholic), but also language. There were many different ethnic groups here, each speaking their own language. Mining continued in the Calamet area till 1968, when during a strike, the company shut down operations.

The long abandoned train station in Calumet. Notice the spires for one of the Catholic Churches in the background.

The library in Calumet

My final stop was at the Quincy Mine which overlooks the towns of Houghton and Hancock. The Quincy was another jackpot, producing over a billion pounds of copper. The Quincy Mine shaft, which stills stands, was built in 1907-8 and eventually descended 9360 feet below surface. Deep mining was abandoned in 1931, but other parts of the Quincy Mine continue to produce until just after the end of the Second World War. The towns of Houghton (named for Michigan’s first state geologist) and Hancock sit on opposite sides of the Keweenaw Waterway. For thousands of years, Native Americans would portage over the land here, using the large lake in the center to allow them to cross the peninsula without having to travel around it. In 1859, work began on connecting two rivers to this lake, allowing ships to avoid the more treacherous waters around the tip of the peninsula. However, few ships travel the canal these days and the waterway is mostly used by pleasure boats.

One last view of the shoreline.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Rambling along...

I am posting this in a McDonalds (the only place I’ve found today with working wifi). I’m still not getting around to reading everyone blogs, except to congratulation Leni and her native land of Spain for winning the World Cup. When I get home, I’ll get around to catching up, but now I'm on the road. When I get home, I'll also take out my Guinness World Cup beer mug and offer a toast. Here is a post about where I spent last night—next to Pike Lake, way north in Michigan.

Yesterday I traded up my four star room in Minneapolis for one with four thousand stars. This far from the electrical grid, the stars really shine at night. Of course, my new room lacked things like hot and cold running water, but I didn’t hear a single siren all night. The only neighbors were a pair of loons across the lake. Their call is one of the most beautiful sounds given to any animal on the planet and that includes Grace Slick and Stevie Nicks. My new accommodation included a kitchenette where I could fix my morning coffee and oatmeal. Notice the mattress in the bed of the truck (I'd alrady stuff my sleeping bag).

Before bed, I waded out into bed with a fly rod and caught four bluegills in about 5 minutes. I’d brought my smallest fly rod thinking I’d be stream fishing for brook trout, but it worked okay in the lake. After tormenting the bluegills, I changed to a spinning rod with a jitterbug, hoping to hook up with one of the bass I kept hearing in the grass, but that wasn’t to be. I caught a few more bluegills in the morning.

Right before I left, one of the loons paid me a visit. They are beautiful birds.

In my last post, I forgot one restaurant I ate at one evening. It was Brit’s Pub and I had their Shephard’s Pie (with lamb, potatoes, carrots and some other stuff) along with a pint of Newcastle. Even though I’d forgotten about the place, it was good and so was the company as I was with about 15 friends and colleagues. The last photo is of Pike Lake this morning. Notice the building clouds. In about 15 minutes, I was driving out in a downpour. We’ve had numerous thunderstorms today. Catch everyone later!

Saturday, July 10, 2010

Big City Eats

Okay, I haven’t been online as much as I thought I'd be these past five days. Actually, I’ve left the computer mostly in my room and what writing I’ve done has been in a notebook. As I’m heading north in a few minutes, I thought I’d do a quick “food post” on my time in the big city. By the way, I like Minneapolis. I’ve only passed through it in the past, but it’s a nice city and I have enjoyed my stay here… But these are some of the more memorable eats I’ve had the past few days. Sorry for the quality of the photos, they were taken on my blackberry which takes the crappiest photos, in my opinion. Or maybe it’s just because I’m comparing them to what I get with a digital SLR that I didn’t feel like hauling around with me.

The Normandy Kitchen… I met some friends from Utah here and when I saw Potato-Horseradish Crusted Walleye on the minute, my mouth began to water. It was delicious, but a bit small for walleye. The fish chucks were about the size of a panfish fillet and there were only two. The walleye was served over a Spinach rice pilaf and drizzled with a herb butter sauce. I supplemented the lack of volume with some liquid grain.

Bar-b-que Market… I only ate lunch here and they had a good pulled pork sandwich. Their meat had a great smoky taste with a sweeter-than-I-like sauce. The sandwich came with fries and cole slaw. After being served, I started shoveling cole slaw on the sandwich and the owner came over and asked if I was from North Carolina. The guys I was with were amazed, not knowing that most North Carolina barbecue sandwiches are served with cole slaw between the buns.

The Local… This place has great burgers and sandwiches and I had a sausage and mash potato dinner that was wonderful. They also had the cheapest pints around which is probably why they were always so busy and I didn’t eat there as often as I’d like. But they had a wonderful waiter who was very friendly and helpful and one night, after another guy and I commented on beer glasses, he presented us with two Guinness World Cup glasses. He got a good tip that night!

The News Room… This place had a bar that was designed as a wooden sailing ship (mixing metaphors, as the rest of the place had old type writers and newsprint wallapaper). As it was across from the local and often not as busy, I ate there several times. They have a good sandwiches and a great salad with a wonderfully balsamic vinegar dressing. They also have a good Jambalaya, very spicy and the sauce for their calamari had a wonderful tang to it.

Most of the other meals were in banquet settings… Have fun. I'm sorry that I haven't been keeping up with blogs this week because I know you all had great things to say. I’m heading up into Lake Superior County and across the Upper Peninsula and will have limited internet connection. I hope to catch up with everyone later next week.

Monday, July 05, 2010

Wild Comfort: A Book Review

I am going to be traveling a lot over the next two weeks. I should be able to post and get around to reading folks blogs the first part of this week, but next week, I will have limited (at best) internet access. But hopefully, I'll have some stories to tell from my travels.

Additional Note: I'm not sure what's happening to your comments--I'm getting them via email, but they are not showing up here... I'm stopping for lunch, maybe tonight I can figure out what's happening. Tuesday at 12:15 EDT.

Kathleen Dean Moore, Wild Comfort: The Solace of Nature (Boston: Trumpeter, 2010), 195 pages.

Two weeks ago, when on the Au Sable River, I began reading this book. I’d kept it for just such an occasion and read about two-thirds of it while on the river. It’s the perfect book to read next to flowing water. This is my second book I’ve read by Moore. The first was Riverwalking, which were essays all centered around walks along the banks of rivers. Her voice is calming and you can hear the rippling of the water and the singing of the birds and insects as you imagine the fog rise or an encounter with wildlife. In her newest collection of essays, she often goes out onto the water, encountering whales off Oregon, bears in Alaska, and gulls along the Mexican coast. Along the way Moore, who is a philosophy professor at Oregon State University, reflects not only on the natural world, but on the philosophical. Quotes and thoughts from Plato, Aristotle, Epictetus, Hobbes and Camus pop up in her essays.

Moore is a master essayist. She has the ability to weave together various and diverse themes. In one essay, she writes about finding pottery shards along the Green River in Utah and her desire to put the pieces back together again. She reflects on a woman’s need to mend, on our need to mend our lives and on her son-in-law who an archeologist in Arizona specializes in mending ancient pots. (121-129) In another essay, she weaves her thoughts around the Christmas Carol, “Joy to the World.” Playing with the line, “While fields and floods, rocks, hills, and plains repeat the sounding joy,” she explores each place and event. Toward the end of the essay, she comes back to the repeating of the sounding joy and notes that “the more hollow a heart, the more resonant it can become” which she concludes brings “compassion for all the world.” (139)

I met Dr. Moore at Calvin College this past spring and in the two lectures I attended, I was amazed that her presentation is every bit as gentle and insightful as her writing. I recommend this book. In it, through her encounter with nature, Moore ponders the loss of good friends and family members over the past few years. But this is not a sad book, but a joyous one in which she finds solace in natural world.

Let me leave you with two quotes:

To be worthy of the astonishing world, a sense of wonder will be a way of life, in every place and time, no matter how familiar: to listen in the dark of every night, to praise the mystery of every returning day, to be astonished again and again, to be grateful with an intensity that cannot be distinguished from joy. (36)

When you live, make it all. Don't wait for the rain to stop. Climb out of your tent with your mind engaged and your senses ablazed and let rain pour into you. Remember: you are not who you think you are. You are what you do. Be the kindness of soft rain. Be the beauty of light behind a tall fir. Be gratitude. Be gladness." (168)

I have also recently done a book reivew of Charles Partee's The Theology of John Calvin. As it is primarily an academic book, I decided not to post the review here, but if you are interested, you can click on the title and drop over to Shelfari and read my reivew there.

Friday, July 02, 2010

Monson, ME (More stories from my 1987 hike on the Appalachian Trail)

Travel Tip Thursday is brought to us by Pseudonymous High School Teacher. As I like to travel and write about interesting places, I encourage others to pick up this weekly writing prompt. This week, I'm going after two birds with the same stone as we visit Monson, Maine (allowing me to do a TTT post and also another of my Appalachian Trail posts). Again, I'm posting on Friday, which is in keeping with my life-long habit of being a day late and a dollar short. Stay tuned for more cliches. As for a travel tip, Monson Maine would make a great get-away!

“How many eggs can I start you with? Six?”

“How about three,” I said a little stunned. “Do many hikers eat six eggs?”

“Some eat a lot more than that,” Mr. Shaw explained. He went on to tell about rushing a hiker to the hospital in a distant town after he’d over-dosed with twenty-four eggs. Like most hikers, I could eat a pile of food, but the thought of six eggs at one sitting was just too much and the thought of twenty-four made me sick.

Slim Jim and I made our way into the dining room for breakfast. Several other hikers were already eating. Eggs, pancakes, sausage and bacon, hash browns, toast and biscuits, fruit and juice were all available. It was a wonderful buffet provided at Shaw’s Boarding House for only 7 dollars. I certainly got my share of food for my greenbacks, but I saw no reason to overload on eggs.

The next morning, right before Jim and I left Monson, we ate bagels and fruit at the local diner, “the Appalachian Station,” thinking there would be no way we could hike after eating another breakfast fixed by Mr. Shaw. Like a good Southern mother, he just kept pushing the food on us.

Monson is a small logging and slate mining town in Central Maine. For the Appalachian Trail hiker, it is the last town before reaching the end of the trail on Mount Katadhin. Once one leaves Monson, there is a section of trail known as the 100 mile wilderness in which the trail passes over no public roads (there are a few logging roads that one crosses, but the next road open to the public is just south of Katadhin, at the entrance to Baxter State Park). Jim and I decided to take a full layover day in Monson, resting and stocking up on food for our hike north. As with most hikers, we stayed in the bunk room at Shaw’s Boarding House (I later learned there was an American Youth Hostel there in the old Swedish Lutheran Church). We’d arrived in town early in the afternoon on August 20th and meet up with the Brits, along with Ben, who’d I’d hiked with back in Connecticut. Ben and the Brits were all under the shade trees out in front of Shaw’s and we sat down and joined them and were treated with cold beers. Ben had just completed his last section of the Appalachian Trail, by hiking into Monson and was waiting for his girlfriend to pick him up.

In talking to everyone, I learned that the town did not have a regular bank. I was running low on cash and down to one $50 traveler’s check and knew not many places in rural Maine took credit cards. But luck was on my side as they had a mobile bank that came to town once a week and it happened to be the day, so before they left, I ran down and got an extra couple hundred dollars to get me through the rest of the trip, figuring I could use a credit card once I started my travels back home. I also checked out the town, which consisted of a hardware store, a very small grocery store, a diner, a bar and a few other shops.

The bank was in a town hall, down from the Post Office and I got my mail which included a letter from a friend and several letters from my mother. Mom told me that Lawerence Bowers, a man who’d been a strong financial supporter of the scouting program where I used to live, had died. I also got my box of stuff that I’d mailed to myself. The next day, after packing up everything, I would send the box home as there were no other post offices between here and Katadhin, 116 miles to the north.

A few of us ate dinner in the diner and then headed back to Shaw’s Boarding House. There, in the bunk room were two hikers who’d just come in from having hiked down from Katadhin. Both were college kids from New York State, in an ROTC program. Their snobbish attitude turned me off. They were both toting guns, a small break-apart 22 rifle and, I think, a 410 shotgun. Seeing the guns, I was nervous and asked why they thought they needed them on the trail. One of the kids spoke about the respect they gained when they showed their guns and how they’d been living off the land, taking only rice with them; they’d killed everything else they needed, mentioning six grouse, squirrels and chipmunks. I’d heard enough and asked Jim if he wanted to go get a beer. He was feeling the same way I did and we walked down into town, getting a beer and also calling home. I wanted to turn these yahoos in but at the same time wondering if that was wise. After all, we’d learned, the county was larger than Connecticut and had only a few sheriff deputies. We decided that we were strangers and would just keep our mouths shut and if they didn’t head out in the morning, we’d move on and put in some distance between us and them.

Luck was again on our side, for when we came back to Shaw’s, there was two wildlife officer vehicles parked out front. In one vehicle, the officer was talking to the one of the kids. We went inside and there, in our bunk room, the other officer was interrogating the other kid. I was relived to see that he’d already taken the guy’s gun. He asked permission to look through his pack and the guy gave it. Digging down, he pulled out a baggy of pot and showed it to the kid. The guy cussed the Officer and said “I reckon you can now take me in, can’t you.” The rest of us in the room were shocked and the officer said, “Yes, this gives me the right to hold you, but you're in a lot more trouble than this.” He read him his rights, handcuffed him and led him out to the car. Later, one of the officers came back in to talk to us and asked if we knew anything about them. We told them what we’d heard during the afternoon. The officer told us that they’d numerous reports of the two kids, who had shot at everything that moved (included a report of them killing a hawk), and they had also been threatening to other hikers. Mr. Shaw was aware of their impending arrival and had given a call to the authorities as soon as they showed up on his doorstep. I felt good to know that I wouldn’t have to be sleeping in the same room as these guys as they headed off to a distant jail.
The next day, after that heavy breakfast, we took Mr. Shaw up on his offer to ride in to Newport and see some of Maine’s countryside. Another hiker, “Grayhound,” who’d been drinking heavily for several days, had decided to call it quit and I got the feeling Mr. Shaw wanted to get him out of town as soon as possible. I think he also liked the idea of having us along with him in case Grayhound became a problem. We dropped the guy off at the bus station and then he took us to a larger grocery store where we were able to stock up with food at a cheaper price than in Monson, as Shaw did his shopping.

That afternoon, two other hikers who’d been doing the Maine section of the trail, came in. Chainsaw, who’s name came from his infamous snoring, had retired from the Air Force and the year before had to get off the trail at Gorham. He’d meet “Offshore Steve,” who’d hike the trail the previous year and agreed to hike the Maine section again. Offshore Steve was from Boston and worked on a fishing boat.
That evening, I walked around town and stopped by the Youth Hostel at what had formerly been the Swedish Lutheran Church. The church’s owner, Mimi, who’d hiked the trail in 1985, had purchased the building. She offered to show me around and I was mesmerized at both the craftsmanship of a building built in 1890, and at Mimi’s passion for the building. She took me into the rafters to show me the handiwork We talked late into the night, and I could have stayed listening to her talk later, but it was past time for bed. I headed back to Shaw’s, where I got to learn the meaning of Chainsaw’s name.

Then next morning, August 22, we left Shaw’s at 6:30 AM, had a light breakfast in which we talked to a bunch of loggers, some who were friendly and a couple who were not and referred to us as “damn environmentalists.” We then headed out of town. Coming into towns had been such a highlight of hiking the trail and it was sad to know that we were leaving the last of the towns behind. Eight days later, Jim, Chainsaw, Offshore Steve and I climbed Katadhin.