Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Garden Spiders are Back

It's late summer, so the late season garden spiders are making their appearance.  Wonder if that makes them a harbinger, although I only ever hear of harbingers of spring?

[image credit Gary, plus a spider who refused to give his name]

When I was a kid we'd catch bugs and toss them into the webs of these guys.  The spider would instantly pounce, bite the victim, and roll it up in a bundle of silk in what seemed to be only the blink of an eye.

Seems pretty gruesome to think about now, but that what kids did then (and still do).  Part of that whole "nature red in tooth and claw" thingy.

Monday, August 31, 2015

On the Importance of High-Altitude Bogs

This is kinda a continuation of Saturday's post on A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.  This is adapted from an email that I just sent to my brother out on the left coast.

Along these lines of the importance of things wild and free, I am reminded of a thought I had waaaaay back in college in the early 70s when I was young and idealistic, and had just for the first time read the ecological classic A Sand County Almanac (Aldo Leopold). The bride and I had been backpacking at Otter Creek WV, northeast of Elkins, WV. Otter Creek, which has since been granted wilderness status, is a pristine watershed about 5 x 12 miles, and empties into a fork of the Cheat River a short way downriver from Blackwater Falls. 

[Gary's note: I was trying to insert an Otter Creek image here but the Blogger 
software seems to be hosed at the moment.  Click here to see some cool photos!]

Anyway, by around 1920, the entire state had been logged, including Otter Creek. But the old logging railroad grades still remain and are perfect for hiking even today. We had hiked one of the old grades up to a "hanging valley" within the watershed, wherein are found several high altitude bogs. These bogs contain more boreal plants and animals, ecological islands if you will, left behind when the last glacier retreated. 

In pondering the screwed up state of the world at that time (which, unfortunately, has not improved), I distinctly remember then having and writing down the thought, something like "If more people truly understood the significance of high altitude bogs, we would have no more wars."

I still kinda believe that today. If, say, the U.S. neocons who gave us the Iraq war, or ISIS, or the Boko Haram kidnappers in Nigeria, knew about and truly realized what gem this planet is--as exemplified by the small treasures of high altitude bogs--voila!  No more wars. 

The return of gray wolves to CA is another such treasure. And one that if fully understood in the context of a stressed and overpopulated Earth, should halt all of us in our destructive tracks and unite us in a full court press to literally and figuratively swap our swords for plowshares and stop our planet-destroying madness. 

These wolves and high altitude bogs should be sufficient wake up call, were we only to listen.  So that's why I still need to believe in the importance of high altitude bogs...and wolves. 

I'm sure that's more than you bargained for but we all need a bit of naive idealism, don't we?  We get it, and are wondering why the rest of the world doesn't.

Sunday, August 30, 2015

Waves in Art: Images by Aivazovsky

Sundays here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the seven year old human being) have been devoted to Cats in Art for several years now. I will take a 1-week detour and instead do Waves in Art.  This week I ran across some absolutely stunning images of the sea, paintings by the Russian artist Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky.

These images come from the site Bored Panda, in whose debt I will forever be.  I'll show just 2 images; you should go to Bored Panda to see an additional selection.  Here's BP's intro:

Ivan Konstantinovich Aivazovsky loved painting the sea. A Crimean native, he was born in Feodosia, a port town, and thus had great waters as a constant companion. This 19th century Russian Armenian painter had real knack for depicting waves. Light and translucent, they perfectly capture the essence of the real thing. Many of these paintings featured a human element, too, with ships showing the struggle between man and nature.

Cats, the ocean...what's not to like?

Cats in Art: Cats Being Instructed in the Art of Mouse-Catching by an Owl (unknown artist)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

This week's Cats in Art post and next week's will feature a couple of bizarre paintings that would both seem to spring from the same unknown Flemish artist, circa 1700.

Image credit here.  Cats Being Instructed in the Art of Mouse-Catching by an Owl, unknown artist, circa 1700, oil on canvas, within a painted lunette, 33" x 44".

What's not to like: cats and an owl?  But then it gets stranger...whatever is that perched on the top right side of the music book?  From the detail blow-up it looks like a quasi-human form bent over and playing a musical instrument out of its butt:

Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Sand County Almanac...and Ultrarunning

Earlier this week, whilst the bride was away with her ladyfriends, I spent a couple of days up at "my" shelter, the Reese Hollow Shelter, a backpacker's shelter which supports the Tuscarora Trail.

Typically when I go there it's all about chain saws, weeedwhackers, trail work and maintenance.  But last year and now this, I have resolved to just go there, perhaps putter a bit on a  couple of minor projects, but basically just chill with a good book, an adult beverage, and solitude.

I didn't see another human for two days.  All trail maintainers should be required to do this annually.

Anyway, the good book was A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.  Here's what I have previously written about it back in 2009, actually the first post I did here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 7 year old human being), upon which I cannot improve:

Like a recurring pilgrimage, I have just completed my annual re-reading of the ecological classic, "A Sand County Almanac" by Aldo Leopold. My initial reading was prompted some years ago by a college biology professor who recommended it. I became hooked, and for each of the last 30+ years, Leopold, who has been in his grave for 60years, speaks to me and touches me with new and different insights into the nature of things wild and free. I now see Leopold's writings in a way which he never anticipated, but would certainly have approved of--from an ultrarunner's slant.

I continually examine my motives for endurance running (since I spend so much time doing it), and have for some time held the belief that we as a "civilized" species are now so far removed from the moment-by-moment struggle for survival that formerly ruled virtually every waking minute, that we now create for ourselves various means to simulate that intensity. I presume we do this because of some deep-seated need to experience life on the edge, to grab for that gusto and intensity. Thus I run ultras, to physically and mentally go to the edge and see what I can learn there about myself. And I like best to do this running in areas that are preferably wild and remote because there I somehow feel more connected. Simplistic, perhaps, but I suspect not far off the mark for many of us.

The tie-in with Leopold? Here are a couple nuggets: "Physical combat for the means of subsistence was, for unnumbered centuries, an economic fact. When it disappeared as such, a sound instinct led us to preserve it in the form of athletic sports and games...reviving, in play, a drama formerly inherent in daily life." Also, writing about outdoor recreation: "Recreation is valuable in proportion to the degree to which it differs from and contrasts with workaday life."

And on wilderness, Leopold wrote: "Ability to see the cultural value of wilderness boils down, in the last analysis, to a question of intellectual humility. The shallow-minded modern who has lost his rootage in the land assumes that he has already discovered what is important; it is such who prate of empires, political or economic, that will last a thousand years. It is only the scholar who appreciates that all history consists of successive excursions from a single starting point, to which man returns again and again to organize yet another search for a durable scale of values. It is only the scholar who understands why the raw wilderness gives definition and meaning to the human enterprise."

Anyone who values the notions of wilderness, solitude, self-reliance, and of communion with nature that many of us ultrarunners seek, as we use the backcountry as a route to our psyches or souls, should check out Leopold's book. It's commonly available in paperback in bookstores in the Natural History section.

Anyway, just go read the book.  I guarantee you will a better person for doing so.

Thursday, August 27, 2015

"When the Truth is Found to be Lies"

I'm already tired of the 2016 presidential race.  As John Oliver said the other night, there will babies born before the election whose parents have not even met yet.

And when these candidate open their mouths, all I can think is that they are saying what they need to say to get elected, not necessarily what the truth is.

Which brings to mind one of the earliest performances by Jefferson Airplane, whose opening line is prophetic:

When the truth is be lies...

If the embedded video playeth not, here's the link.

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Work Boots

I normally hike and work in lightweight, meshy boots made of some synthetic material.

But around power equipment I recognize the need for leather; in fact, when I was scheduled for a chain saw certification class for PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, my volunteer trail maintenance organization), I was required to wear high-top leather boots...which I did not then have.

So, in the spirit of reuse and recycle, I had the brainy idea to check out eBay for used boots, which is where I scored these $20 size 12 beauties:

[image credit Gary]

The bride harassed me no end, saying "Who buys used boots on eBay?  Who even has the balls to try to sell used boots on eBay?"  The word "appalled" doesn't even come close to capturing her outrage.

But I wear them well...and these were cheap boots (in the sense of inexpensive, not poorly made).  So with that in mind, I can truthfully say that your best boot is your cheap boot.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bobblehead Post...and Ultrarunning (the JFK 50 Miler)

This is a bobblehead unlike any I have ever seen before:

Image credit Gary, of bobblehead George Alfred Townsend

And who is George Alfred Townsend, as you might be prone to inquire?

First off, the bobblehead was a fan giveaway at this past Saturday night's Class A minor league baseball game between the hometown Hagerstown Suns (affiliate of the Washington Nationals) and the Lexington Legends (affiliate of the Houston Astros).  Mister Tristan (the 7 year old human being, not the blog) and I enjoyed a great summer night of baseball.

But rather than feature a bobblehead figure from the world of sports, entertainment, or politics, the team turned to local history.  American Civil War history, to be specific.

Good on them!  This was a very cool promotion, for anyone, not just history buffs.

See, George Alfred Townsend was a member of the press, and considered to have been the youngest war correspondent of that conflict.  After the war he purchased a tract of land at Crampton's Gap, atop South Mountain near Burkittsville, MD (remember the spooky movie The Blair Witch Project, which was set nearby?).  The site was part of the Battle of South Mountain, 3 days before and a prelude to Antietam, where the Confederates held three mountain passes and delayed the Union army by at least a day, enabling General Lee to consolidate his scattered army and manage a drawn battle at Antietam.

Townsend later built on his property a memorial arch to War Correspondents, billed as the first monument to the free press in the world:

Image credit here.  

OK, you've all, I'm sure, been waiting with bated breath for the connection to Ultrarunning.  Well, the fabled JFK 50 Miler goes right past the arch (too bad they don't have you actually run through it, which would be waaaay cool...but probably not looked favorably upon my the National Park Service).

I've run the JFK 5 times and each time when you pop out of the woods and into this park early in the race, see the arch and the hundred of spectators assembled there for the race, it is quite uplifting.