Saturday, March 31, 2012

Why Ultrarunning is Banned from Standardized Tests

In meandering around the net, via Boing Boing--always a great read--we see a list of some 50 words that the New York City Department of Education wants to avoid on standardized tests.

The criteria for exclusion?  If "the topic is controversial among the adult population and might not be acceptable in a state-mandated testing situation; the topic has been overused in standardized tests or textbooks and is thus overly familiar and/or boring to students; the topic appears biased against (or toward) some group of people."

I have bolded the reasons that the sport of Ultrarunning will never be on a standardized test in the Big Apple: 
Abuse (physical, sexual, emotional, or psychological), Alcohol (beer and liquor), tobacco, or drugs, Birthday celebrations (and birthdays), Bodily functions, Cancer (and other diseases), Catastrophes/disasters (tsunamis and hurricanes), Celebrities, Children dealing with serious issues, Cigarettes (and other smoking paraphernalia), Computers in the home (acceptable in a school or library setting), Crime, Death and disease, Divorce, Evolution, Expensive gifts, vacations, and prizes, Gambling involving money, Halloween, Homelessness, Homes with swimming pools, Hunting, Junk food, In-depth discussions of sports that require prior knowledge, Loss of employment, Nuclear weapons, Occult topics (i.e. fortune-telling), Parapsychology, Politics, Pornography, Poverty, Rap Music, Religion, Religious holidays and festivals (including but not limited to Christmas, Yom Kippur, and Ramadan), Rock-and-Roll music, Running away, Sex, Slavery, Terrorism, Television and video games (excessive use), Traumatic material (including material that may be particularly upsetting such as animal shelters), Vermin (rats and roaches), Violence, War and bloodshed, Weapons (guns, knives, etc.), Witchcraft, sorcery, etc.

You may have other triggers in your personal Ultra experience.


Friday, March 30, 2012

Sexual Assault Safety Tips Ignore the Real Issue

Forget Ultrarunning, forget politics, forget love for the natural world, forget the usual stuff I blog about here. 

I just ran across a great post that you really need to see, by Erica Andrist, about "safety tips" and avoiding sexual assault.  Go read the whole post, but this excerpt really nails it.  It's not about the victim of sexual assault doing things right or doing things wrong.  It's about the role of the perp, away from whom most public discourse over the years has somehow shifted responsibility:

This is why “safety tips” are a sham. Safety tips get trotted out as an example of how people who are assaulted deserved it or did it to themselves. Safety tips are used to justify sexual assault, as though the appropriate punishment for having too much to drink is getting raped. Safety tips get held up as a kind of rape life preserver when we want to believe it won’t happen to us. Every day of spring break, there will be people who do everything “wrong” and are still not assaulted. Every day of spring break, there will be people who do everything “right” and are still assaulted. Except when we rely on “safety tips” and are assaulted anyway, there is always something that we could have, should have, and should have not done to have prevented it.

When we rely on “safety tips,” it is impossible to do everything right. So, my spring break safety guide consists of this: Don’t fucking rape people. If you have sex with a chick who is too drunk to say no, you are not “scoring,” you are not “getting lucky”: you are a rapist. If you use alcohol in order to get people to do things you think they might not do if they were sober, you are not cool or slick or clever: You are a rapist. If you don’t bother to get consent, but you figure this person would “totally want it anyway” because you are hot or an athlete or in law school or whatever, then you’re a rapist. And you suck.


Thursday, March 29, 2012

Wet Feet Training

My perimeter road running buddies think I’m nuts, but for me it is totally unremarkable during a road run to deliberately run thru a stream—when there is a perfectly good bridge RIGHT THERE—as a means of Ultra training.

Case in point: yesterday’s run over what I call my Frederick’s Mill Road 10 mile route.  About 2/3 of the way thru when I run clockwise is a crossing of the Conococheague Creek west of the village of Marion, PA.  This run is a 100% road run over little-used rural roads.  But to at least give me the semblance of Ultra training, I often ford the creek at the bridge crossing.  The Conococheague here is wide but shallow (not over knee-deep at this particular point) so to wade across is no big deal.

In the summer this crossing is quite refreshing; yesterday it was a bit cool, to say the least!

This crossing gave me 3+ miles of wet-footed running which I think helps when I encounter stream crossings in an Ultra situation.  The Capon Valley 50K (Yellow Springs, WV) is coming up in May.  Although I’m not quite certain of entering this year, I am cognizant of the fact that this is typically a wet course, with both stream crossings and standing water.


Wednesday, March 28, 2012

Eastern Redbuds...and Ultrarunning

Here in south central PA, the Eastern Redbuds have been in bloom for a week now.  This is my absolute favorite tree, probably because it's the tree that in this area is the first to put out a showy flower in the spring.

Here are some tree shots I just took, increasingly closer up:

This spring of 2012 in the northeast is the earliest one I can remember.  In the nearly three decades that my redbuds have graced my front yard, they never have flowered in March. Not one time.  And this year it was a full week prior to the end of the month.

The link to Ultrarunning is that trees are a major factor in our running.  You get to know tree habits and preferences.  The Eastern Redbud is a smallish tree, more of an edge species than the deep woods.  So while I might see some on, say, an Appalachian Trail run, it's not really a common species in the ridge top habitat.

You may want to check out my previous redbud posts here and here.  It's pretty obvious that I am smitten with this tree.


Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Flaming Boxer Shorts Used to Start Fire...and Ultrarunning

From the local paper last week on 18 March, the Chambersburg Public Opinion, we have another stupid fire story, entitled Flaming Boxer Shorts Used to Start Fire; 3 Arrested.  No, the story itself is well done; it's the crime described that is stupid.  I previously blogged about another stupid fire here, where some local dummies tried to blow up a car with flaming tampons.

In this latest stupid fire incident, 3 stooges set a couple cars afire with flaming boxer shorts:

Armstrong allegedly told police that he and the brothers had taken part in setting the vehicles on fire. He said they were "looking at scrap" when they approached the Talon and Joshua Jones pulled a pair of "boxer style" briefs out of the truck.

"Armstrong indicated that he used his lighter to ignite the briefs, which were thrown back into the trunk area of the vehicle by Joshua Jones," the affidavit states. He added that Jason Jones poured a liquid into the vehicle before the flaming underwear were thrown in.

Jason and Joshua Jones told police that they met at Armstrong's home to go to the salvage yard. They said Jason Jones had poured "tire shine" onto some clothing inside the car and they left the scene when the fire spread to the second vehicle.

All three men are charged with third-degree felony arson. They are also charged with misdemeanors including reckless endangerment, criminal trespass and criminal mischief.

This fire behavior seems like it may be a regular occurrence locally, and so may become a regular feature here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 4-year-old human being).  I will continue to scan the paper and keep you all informed.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  There seemingly are a lot of hillbillies around here, and sometimes I do think about encountering some of them on the trail.  The good news is that such "hoofties," as a friend calls them, only go into the woods to party and then only close by a trailhead.

So the chances are excellent of never seeing a hooftie in the backcountry, and if you do, you have a secret weapon: the ability to run.

Monday, March 26, 2012

The Cryptones...and Ultrarunning

I have a pet memorial business on the side (I'll get around to posting about it sometime soon), and am a member of the Pet Loss Professionals Alliance (PLPA) segment of the International Cemetery, Cremation and Funeral Association (ICCFA).

Seems that the ICCFA offers continuing education training for its members.  At a one-week session to be held at the University of Memphis this summer, I see this note in the schedule of workshops and seminars:

The Cryptones: Back by Popular Demand

The hardest-rocking band in funeral service is back for one show only, July 23 at 7:30 PM in the Holiday Inn ballroom.

Mark your calendars!

The link to Ultrarunning?  I get gallows humor, and engage in it whenever I possibly can.  I am not appalled by this 8-person band, I think it's great!  On the Ultra scene, I recall one year at the JFK 50 miler where I just could not seem to remain vertical.  I fell several times and finished somewhat bloodied and embarrassed.  I had been trying to better a previous time on the course and was seriously disappointed that my time was way slower than I expected. 

At the finish, my running buddy's only comment was, "You probably would have finished higher if you hadn't lost the cat fight."

We had a good laugh.



Sunday, March 25, 2012

Cats in Art: Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight (Wright)

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.

Image credit ABC Gallery (click to enlarge), Two Girls Dressing a Kitten by Candlelight, Joseph Wright of Derby, 1768-1770, oil on canvas, 31" x 24", held by Kenwood House, London, England.

Zuffi comments:

Joseph Wright of Derby, one of the most fascinating painters of the English Enlightenment, particularly enjoyed nighttime effects, with artificial light and deep shadows...In this painting, the two girls have decided to dress a sweet, sad-looking kitten in the clothes of a doll, which lies discarded to one side.  The painting is charming, a small wonder of virtuosity in its handling of light and subtle psychological insight.

I know why the kitten is bummed out.  The doll's dress is obviously out of style and not all smart-looking.  A cat has to look sharp, you know.

I LOVE the lighting in this painting.  As I idly paged thru Zuffi's book I was immediately arrested by this striking image and stopped to eagerly read the entire description.  I must check out Wright's other works now.


Saturday, March 24, 2012

The Conococheague Aquaduct

From the conclusion of my C+O Canal run on 1 March. 

This stonework carried the canal over a tributary stream, the Conococheague Creek (just past my feet), immediately before that stream empties into the Potomac River.  Note that the upstream side wall is missing from when a canal boat struck it wrong.

This shot shows the other (downstream) side of the 3-arch aqueduct.  This side is obviously in better shape and shows well the magnificent stonework arching over the Conococheague Creek:

NOTE: If you are having trouble following the engineering here, just imagine a deep water-filled ditch (the canal).  It's calm and placid and a pair of mules could easily tow a very large canal boat.

OK so far, but now your water-filled ditch comes to the Conococheague Creek, whose average water level is quite a ways below the ditch.  Basically, you just build a bridge to carry your ditch over the stream.  The waters do not mix or touch.

After the upstream wall of this aqueduct collapsed, it was temporarily replaced by a wooden wall, as canal operations ceased shortly thereafter.  The stones of the aqueduct wall that fell into the Conococheague were later rescued and laid out in the canal bed adjacent to the aqueduct.  Presumably the National Park Service has a plan to someday--if $$ permits--restore the Conococheague Aqueduct to its original condition.

Here's a couple of views of these large cut stones patiently waiting reuse, with my hat for scale in the 2nd shot:


Friday, March 23, 2012

A Bad Day for a Canal Boat Captain...and Ultrarunning

This large boulder fell into the canal bed sometime after active operations ceased back in 1924: 

Scale?  Look at the shelf near the top center of the rock (about 3/4 of the way up).  That small dark blue spot on the center of the shelf is my hat.

Had this boulder tumbled onto a passing canal boat, it would have kinda ruined the captain's day, doncha think?

As for Ultrarunning, I've never been menaced by a falling rock.  Rocks certain can and do fall, but getting struck is probably about as likely as being struck by lightning.  My rock problems consist mostly of trying to run on loose rocks.  Usually I am quite surefooted on fixed rocks and sometimes can scamper over them like a mountain goat.


Thursday, March 22, 2012

Impromptu Bugler Sounds "Taps"

I was touched by an article in Tuesday’s paper, the Chambersburg Public Opinion.

Recently at a military funeral for an Air Force vet who served in WWII, Korea, and Vietnam, the electronic device that was supposed to play “Taps” failed.  The device is inserted into a trumpet that was supposed to be “played” by a member of the local color guard who serve at such ceremonies (it’s analogous to lip-synching, only it’s a trumpet).

Senior Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood of the WV Air National Guard was at the ceremony.  His role was to present the folded U.S. flag to the family.  When the malfunction of the electronic “Taps” became apparent, Kirkwood asked the funeral director to have the family remain seated, telling him "We are going to offer this veteran Taps."   Kirkwood marched to the bugler and requested he remove the electronic device and pass Kirkwood the ceremonial bugle.

"I marched back into position and faced our fallen American hero and his family and sounded Taps," Kirkwood said. "I could see within the first two notes coming out of the horn the emotional reaction (from the family). Some members of the family stood and placed their hands over the heart."

"As always after the final note of Taps, we render the final salute," he said, after which he returned the bugle to the member of the veterans group and attempted to march back into place beside Smith.

He didn't get far.

"The family intercepted me as I passed the tent and shook my hand and thanked me," he said "I simply told them that that veteran deserved to have Taps sounded.”

Please know that while I love the United States and spent my whole career as a DOD employee, I am not a traditionally patriotic guy.  For example, I never recite the Pledge of Allegiance or sing The Star Spangled Banner, or God Bless America--although I always stand respectfully--because I believe that such coerced public expressions of patriotism are not appropriate.

But Senior Master Sgt. Todd Kirkwood’s heartfelt actions were wonderful.


Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Rope Burns on Rocks

Yet another post in my study of the C+O Canal. 

Years of operation of the C+O Canal produced some spots where the tow ropes that connected the mules to the canal boat happened to rub on a cut stone of one of the locks.  The next 2 photos show this:

Rope burns can occur in another situation, where the canal used river navigation immediately upstream of the dams which were built to supply water to the canal.

The mules remained on the towpath but the canal boats would actually be pulled in the river itself rather than in the water-filled ditch that is the C+O Canal. River navigation obviated the need for a separate canal waterway at that point.

If there was a sharp bend in the towpath, the long tow rope would tend to make a tangent across the arc of the bend and eventually wear a groove in the rocks of the cliff.  In this example, looking downstream, the towpath makes a gentle bend right, then in the distance turns sharply left along the cliff at Milepost 107 (the stubby post on the right side of the towpath in the center of the shot). 

The tow rope tended to rub along the cliff and cut grooves as seen in this shot:

Man, I love this historic archeology!  Especially seeing little things like this that most people would totally miss.


Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Republicans Have Morality Upside Down

Time to get political again.  Via Shakesville we get this great quote from Robert Reich:

Republicans have morality upside down. Santorum, Gingrich, and even Romney are barnstorming across the land condemning gay marriage, abortion, out-of-wedlock births, access to contraception, and the wall separating church and state. But America's problem isn't a breakdown in private morality. It's a breakdown in public morality. What Americans do in their bedrooms is their own business. What corporate executives and Wall Street financiers do in boardrooms and executive suites affects all of us.

Robert Reich, explaining where the focus really should be in the morality debate.

Monday, March 19, 2012

POSTED...or English Language Nitwits

A sign on private land adjacent to the C+O Canal:

When a landowner wishes to keep his/her property off-limits to others, he/she posts signs along the boundary that indicate that the land is private property and others may not trespass without permission. 

In common vernacular, such land is described as being "Posted."  For example, a hiker might tell a friend, "I'd like to take you there to see that rock outcrop, but the land is posted" or a hunter would say, "You can't hunt there, it's posted."  That descriptor--saying that land is posted--simply means that the owner has put up some sort of sign indicating that people should stay out.

However, somehow along the way, a clear and simple sign saying something unambiguous like "NO TRESPASSING" or "PRIVATE PROPERTY" or "KEEP OUT" has been supplanted by the "POSTED" sign as in my photo above. 

In other words, the shorthand description of a property being posted with signs (i.e., off-limits) has morphed into the sign itself.

Whenever I see such sign, I think, well, all that means is that the property has signs on it.  And the owner is an English langauge nitwit.

Sunday, March 18, 2012

Cats in Art: The Painter's Daughters with a Cat (Gainsborough)

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.

The Painter's Daughters with a Cat, Thomas Gainsborough, 1760-61, oil on canvas, 30" x 25", held by the National Gallery, London, England.

I always supply the link from which I obtained the image I reproduce, and that is the BBC.  The cat in this painting is unfinished--look in the crook of the taller girl's left arm, behind the front girl's left shoulder.  It is facing slightly to the right, as are the girls.

But I must implore you to also try this link to the owner of the piece, the National Gallery (UK), here.  Their image is zoomable and moveable and really is the only way to properly scope out the unfinished phantom cat.

Zuffi comments:

His two daughters are captured in a far from formal demeanor, in a natural pose that  surely must have been familiar to him.  The presence, barely hinted at, of the animal--which must have been reluctant to pose, judging from its angry expression--contributes to this recreation of domesticity seen through a father's eyes.

This is a fascinating painting.  Much as I love cats, I don't see how including this cat in the image improves it.  Perhaps that's why Gainsborough didn't finish it--he realized that the cat detracted, rather than added, to his daughters' portrait. 


Saturday, March 17, 2012

Silver Maples...and Ultrarunning

Here are another couple of shots I took along the C+O Canal on the first day of March, 2012.  As far as scale, the twigs shown are each about 6" long.

These are the flowers of the Silver Maple (Acer saccharinum).  In places they fairly covered the towpath on which I was running.  I was utterly astounded that a tree would put forth flowers so early.

Why?  I thought that this was mighty early for bees, then in my research I see where this tree relies heavily upon wind pollination.

So again we see various strategies being confirmed via the process of evolution.  If this early flower/early seed strategy did not work then it would have disappeared as being unsuccessful.  Trees that were genetically programmed to flower early would not produce any viable seeds, thus that characteristic would not carry forth into subsequent generations.

That, my friends, is the principle of evolution by natural selection.  It's not rocket science, it's not anti-religion, it just is.

You can read more about the silver maple here.  It is a key constituent of the C+O Canal tree fauna, being partial to stream channels and flood plains.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  Just like the silver maple's reproductive strategy is validated via the process of evolution, we, too, try out and discard running strategies.  We keep those that work and dump the ones that don't. 

The only difference is that our unsuccessful Ultrarunning efforts (usually) do not end up resulting in our failure to reproduce.


Friday, March 16, 2012

More Flowers for Janet

Over the course of the winter, Janet Christiansen got a few new neighbors. 

A short distance away from Janet's grave can be found the new graves of four elderly women: Catherine, Dorothy, Helen, and Ruth.  Of this quartet, Helen was the eldest, born in 1914, thus 97 or 98 years old; Ruth was the youngest, born in 1930, making her some 81 or 82 years old.  All were married, and three were widows: only Ruth did not outlive her husband.

Contrast that with Janet Christiansen's grave, which only bears the family headstone marked Christiansen.  There are no other inscriptions or markers that  would indicate that buried there are Janet Christiansen and a sister, Gaynelle, who died in 1982.

Janet was murdered in 2005.  Her husband, Raven, was charged with the crime in 2010.  She left behind a 6-month old, Kaiden, and was pregnant at the time of her death.

She came to my attention last summer when I read in the local newspaper that her remains were to be exhumed to gather additional forensic evidence.  Her grave is only half a mile from my home, and I frequently run through the Brown's Mill Cemetery.  Once I became aware of the circumstances, I began leaving wildflowers on her grave whenever I would run by.  Today was no exception.

Janet's life was cut short at age 25, in stark contrast to the four other ladies--Catherine, Dorothy, Helen, and Ruth--who had the good fortune to share a long life with a good man.  Janet's death serves as a reminder to me that life is short and there are no guarantees...and helps me to be a better person by not taking anything for granted.

Thursday, March 15, 2012

The Uvula Tree

[photo by Gary]

As I ended my run along the C+O Canal the other day, I snapped this shot of a tree beside the towpath that reminded me of that little dangly thingy in the back of one's throat.

My cap is included for scale.

This is one BIG uvula.


Wednesday, March 14, 2012

C+O Canal Theology: Proof of the Non-Existence of God

As I ran on the C+O Canal the other day, I was reminded of a theological thought.  See, Ultrarunning is very conducive to long, deep thinking triggered by the happy convergence of mental stimulation, physical stimulation, and sheer time to ponder.

My old good friend Marvin from St. Louis used to say that tooth decay was sufficient proof that there was no God.

To Marvin's argument I add the photographic proof below: a poison ivy vine, thicker than my arm, growing on a silver maple tree along the C+O Canal.  The muddy Potomac River oozes by in the background.

[photo by Gary]

If you have ever had a bad case of poison ivy (or for our Western Ultrarunning compadres, poison oak), you know there is nothing to compare with that special kind of torment.  Imagine thousands of mosquito bites, all erupting in weeping pustules (man, I love that word!), all over your body.

If these two examples don't blow the "loving God" theory clean out of the water, I don't know what would.

Of course, your theological mileage may vary.


Tuesday, March 13, 2012

Super Duper Ultra Food Finally Revealed

[photo by Gary]

From somewhere along the C+O Canal...the photo reveals my ultimate super duper food weapon:

Chocolate covered espresso coffee beans.

Available at many large groceries in the bulk dry foods section, or at gourmet food stores, this is a great way to get a caffeine jolt along with some concentrated sugar and fat in the chocolate.  Eating a handful of these beans has never failed to give me some zip when I was fading.  They're like peanut M+Ms, otherwise my favorite Ultrarunning food, only better.

Plus they taste good (at least to a coffee lover).

Now you all know, and the playing field is again leveled.


Monday, March 12, 2012

Spooky Place Along the C+O Canal

Here's another C+O Canal post, using some photos I took on a recent run.  The closest place for me to reach the C+O Canal from my home is Williamsport, MD.  It's some 20 miles by car, about a half hour drive door-to-door.

The Cushwa Basin is a National Park Service access point, parking area, and visitor center where many people access the canal.  It's just short of Milepost 100.

I ran upstream that day.  Around MP 102 you pass a working quarry on the right, then between MP 103 and 104 there exists in amazing profusion a sea of Virginia Bluebells, that bloom in the early April timeframe.

So far, so good.  But between MP 105 and 106, the bluffs or cliff along the right side of the canal have receded far back from the water, and a thicket of vines and scrubby trees covers the landscape.  It looks dark and foreboding.  If you've ever read the Stephen King book Pet Cematary, it is reminiscent of the thicket of tangled trees he described as being on the way to the burial grounds.

These shots do not do justice to the place, but it's as close as I can come in a 2D representation:

I always hurry by this section.  It's not at all bad during the day, but towards dusk I'd really rather not be there.


Sunday, March 11, 2012

Cats in Art: Paul Cobb Metheun and His Sister Christian (Reynolds)

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.

Image credit Great British Life, the actual full title is Paul Cobb Metheun and His Sister Christian, Later Lady Boston, Sir Paul Reynolds, 1755, oil on canvas, 85" x 71", held by Corsham Court, Wiltshire, England.

Zuffi's comment:
In Reynold's painting the serious demeanor of the little girl, comically dressed as a small princess, is counterbalanced by her brother's spontaneous smile as well as by the charming little scene of the cat that does not dare to jump because of a fear of the height, while the dog seems unaware of its presence.
Zuffi--usually spot on--is mistaken.  Cats are always right, and it is not fear of the height, it is just trying to figure out how to play with girl's flowers, or how to bite those little shoes.  Also, of course this buffoon of a dog is unaware of the cat.  Duh!  The dog is simply irrelevant to the cat.
Gotta also comment on this image--it is HUGE, about 6 feet by 7 feet.  And the title is rather pretentious: Paul Cobb Metheun and His Sister Christian, Later Lady Boston.  The kids' parents are obviously part of the 1% or whatever that number was back in 1755 England.

Saturday, March 10, 2012

A Flower...and Ultrarunning

This looks like an ordinary flower.  Pretty enough, but not particularly stunning or spectacular.

[image credit National Geographic, which I got to via Pharyngula]

What makes this plant both stunning and spectacular is that it was grown from 32,000 year old seeds!

Nat Geo tells us:

A Russian team discovered a seed cache of Silene stenophylla, a flowering plant native to Siberia, that had been buried by an Ice Age squirrel near the banks of the Kolyma River. Radiocarbon dating confirmed that the seeds were 32,000 years old.
The mature and immature seeds, which had been entirely encased in ice, were unearthed from 124 feet (38 meters) below the permafrost, surrounded by layers that included mammoth, bison, and woolly rhinoceros bones.
The mature seeds had been damaged—perhaps by the squirrel itself, to prevent them from germinating in the burrow. But some of the immature seeds retained viable plant material.
The team extracted that tissue from the frozen seeds, placed it in vials, and successfully germinated the plants, according to a new study. The plants—identical to each other but with different flower shapes from modern S. stenophylla—grew, flowered, and, after a year, created seeds of their own.

I am in awe of the remarkable powers of survival at work here.  Plus the added bonus of another proof of evolution--that the flower shapes have morphed in only 30 millenia.

Again the link to Ultrarunning is that while many of us just like the running part, the main draw for many more is the sheer amount of time we spend on our feet in the backcountry.  In our own way we are both botanist and zooloogist, observing and learning every time we hit a trail.  We are so much better connected to Nature than virtually any of our peers.  And for that I am grateful.

Friday, March 9, 2012

Four Locks...and Ultrarunning

Here's another dose of the C+O Canal, in keeping with my attention to this National Park the past week or so of blogging.  Today's focus is on the Four Locks (Locks 46 thru 49) area around Milepost 109.

The four locks in question are right in a row to enable the canal to gain some serious height in a very short distance.  Purpose was to get the canal elevated quickly to cross a narrow neck of land: the approx half mile distance plus the four locks eliminated some 4 miles of canal building around a loop of the Potomac River. 

Here are some shots of each of the four locks:

Lock 46, looking upriver, the first of the lot as you head upriver.  The debris on the left is the remains of the wooden gates and the embedded wicket gates that enabled the lockkeeper to drain or fill the lock.  Lock 47 can be seen in the distance.

Lock 47, again looking upriver.  This lock was collapsing inward so the National Park service filled it in to prevent that from happening. Lock 48 is visible beyond.

Lock 48, nicely preserved, looking upriver to Lock 49 beyond.  The "pockets" on either side show up nicely here.  This is where the open lock gates would be tucked so they would not interfere with the passage of the canal boats.  The little bridge is a modern tourist convenience--it was not there during canal operations.

Lock 49, looking upriver, with an original mule barn in the distance.  This lock is also in great state of preservation.

You can imagine why running here is such a treat.  Not only are you largely in the woods on a gravel trail, you get to see all this great historic archeology.


Thursday, March 8, 2012

Rick Santorum's Church...and Ultrarunning


Back in January 2010 I posted about a humorous or ironic road sign near my place:

Well, this morning I had the bride drop me off on her way to work (man, it's great being retired!) and I ran back home via Hades Church Road.

In view of the Rebublican primary shootout, I could not help but think that Rick Santorum's church must be along this road.  You know, the place where venom is passed off as piety, and hatred is justified by saying that he hates the sin but loves the sinner.

The bride says that if by some fluke this guy winds up being our next president, she's leaving the country.  I'd go as well.

Locally the road name is pronounced so as to rhyme with "blades" or "maids,"  I guess to distinguish it from, you know, the real Hades (courtesy of Wikipedia):

The Christian concept of hell is more akin to and communicated by the Greek concept of Tartarus, a deep, gloomy part of hades used as a dungeon of torment and suffering.

The New Testament uses the Greek word Hades to refer to the temporary abode of the dead (e.g. Acts 2:31; Revelation 20:13).  Only one passage describes hades as a place of torment, the story of Lazarus and Dives (Luke 16:19-31). Here, Jesus depicts a wicked man suffering fiery torment in hades.

Actually, the term Hades has a complex origin and meaning (i.e., both a place and a person).  It doesn't strictly equate to hell, and actually means a great deal more.  But in common vernacular, it's commonplace to say that Hades = Hell.

Oh, and the connection to Ultrarunning?  Once I got Mr. Santorum out of my head, I had a great run.  Slow, easy, alert to my surroundings.  And I did stop at a church--not Mr. Santorum's--and got a refreshing drink from an outdoor spigot.  I recalled then the parable from Matthew 25:37-40, and how it seems that the poor and needy don't factor into the Republicans' calculus, except as a source of program cuts to save money:

37 “Then the righteous will answer him, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 When did we see you a stranger and invite you in, or needing clothes and clothe you? 39 When did we see you sick or in prison and go to visit you?’
40 “The King will reply, ‘Truly I tell you, whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.’

I am grateful for this church's's humbling in a way that they are ministering to strangers without even knowing it.


Wednesday, March 7, 2012

Things Ultrarunners Don't Do

Via CBS News:

New Orleans Saints players and at least one assistant coach maintained a bounty pool of up to $50,000 the last three seasons to reward game-ending injuries inflicted on opposing players, including Brett Favre and Kurt Warner, the NFL said Friday. "Knockouts" were worth $1,500 and "cart-offs" $1,000, with payments doubled or tripled for the playoffs.  The NFL said the pool amounts reached their height in 2009, the year the Saints won the Super Bowl.

The league said between 22 and 27 defensive players were involved in the program and that it was administered by defensive coordinator Gregg Williams, with the knowledge of coach Sean Payton.   

A long suspension or ban for Williams and head coach Payton would be appropriate, as a minimum.  Also seems to me like the Saints ought to forfeit their Lombardi trophy, not just for being evil but also for being stupid.

The article goes on to say that defensive coordinator Williams apologized for his role, saying:

"It was a terrible mistake, and we knew it was wrong while we were doing it."

We have that little small voice of conscience inside us, and the world would be a lot better if we heeded it.


Tuesday, March 6, 2012

The Republican Trifecta

Haven't been political in few days, so here's a pretty succinct quote from Bob Burnett at The Smirking Chimp that resonated strongly with me:

Rather than move forward, Republicans want America to return to the fifties. They've resurrected Cold War themes: plutocracy, patriarchy and militarism. Plutocracy: Today's GOP wants America to be run by the 1 percent. Patriarchy: Republicans regard American women as second-class citizens, who should have no access to birth control. Militarism: GOP presidential candidates want a gargantuan military and believe the United States should prepare to "drop the big one" on Iran.

Burnett pretty much nails it in my book.  Any one of these three is a deal-breaker for me, but when the mainstream Republican position consists of all three, my mind is utterly boggled. 

Again I must ask: have they no children?  No grandchildren?


Monday, March 5, 2012

Primer on the C&O Canal

[View of the restored C+O Canal at Georgetown, photo credit National Park Service, here)

I posted last week about a recent run on the C+O Canal.  I am absolutely smitten with this national park--the natural surroundings, the river, the critters, the historical structures, the archeology, and above all, the engineering involved.

Before I posted any more, I figured I'd better include a primer so readers will know what the heck I am talking about. 

Essentially, the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal--C+O for short--was a ditch filled with water upon which mule-pulled canal boats operated.  It was in operation from approx 1831 until 1924, and ran all the way from Georgetown (Washington, DC) to Cumberland, Maryland, some 185 miles. The C+O Canal sits immediately beside the Potomac River, which itself was not suitable for navigation.

Here is an excerpt from National Park Service information: 

The Chesapeake and Ohio (C+O) Canal is one of the most intact and impressive survivals of the American canal-building era. The C+O Canal is unique in that it remains virtually unbroken and without substantial modification affecting its original character for its entire length of 185 miles.

The C+O Company was chartered in 1825 to construct a shipping canal connecting tidewater on the Potomac River in DC with the headwaters of the Ohio River in western Pennsylvania, thereby providing an economical trade route between the eastern seaboard and the trans-Allegheny West. The company acquired the rights of the Potomac Company, formed by George Washington and associates to improve navigation on the Potomac. That venture had attempted to achieve its objective by deepening the channel and cutting skirting canals around impassible rapids, but the flow of the river proved too erratic to make these measures successful. This experience led C+O promoters to adopt plans for a separate canal paralleling the river. President John Quincy Adams turned the first spadeful of earth in ceremonies at Little Falls, Maryland, on July 4, 1828. On the same day, construction of the Baltimore and Ohio Railroad westward from Baltimore was begun-a move that would have significant implications for the ultimate fate of the canal and the canal era generally.
The canal survives as an excellent illustration of 19th-century canal-building technology. The magnitude of the engineering achievement is exemplified by the length of the canal, its 74 lift locks to accommodate a rise of 605 feet, the 11 stone aqueducts spanning the major Potomac tributaries, 7 dams supplying water to the canal, hundreds of culverts carrying roads and streams beneath the canal, and a 3,117-foot tunnel carrying the canal through a large shale rock formation.

That's it in a nutshell.  Now my subsequent posts on the C+O may make a bit more sense.  When I talk about running there, that means running along the towpath where the mules once walked.


Sunday, March 4, 2012

Cats in Art: Paris THrough the Window (Chagall)

From my continuing Sunday series of Cats in Art, a repost from 2011 as life is interfering with fresh blogging.

Image and text credit here. [1913, Marc Chagall, Paris Through the Window, oil on canvas]

Russian painter Marc Chagall painted a dream-like vision of Paris through the open window of his studio. His cat seems to sit on the edge between dream and reality.

Cat looks a little fraught with angst. Maybe it's the whole urban scene, and he/she needs to get out to a trail to run.


Saturday, March 3, 2012

More C&O Canal

Where to start?  Well, my son tells me that it's a tradition for a retiree to take a photo of the first sunrise of their retirement.  Owing to the heavy ground for a haze, my "sunrise" took place around 8:30 AM along the Canal.

Here are a couple shots (photos by Gary, click to enlarge):

This second photo shows so well the nature of the C&O Canal.  As I head upstream along the north (right) bank on the Maryland side, the river is to the left side but just out of sight, with West Virginia across the Potomac River.  The towpath, where the mules walked to pull the canal boats, is where you walk/run/bike and is a gravel path.

The actual canal bed, once full of water but now full of trees, is down the embankment to the right. Depth is some 6' to 10'.  Further to the right and out of view here would be the other bank of the canal, often a cliff or rock wall.

This shot shows well the river to the left and the towpath in the center. The canal bed to the right is scarcely discernible through the underbrush.  In the far distance one can barely make out the beginnings of the area called Four Locks.  I'll post some close up shots of the actual locks soon.


Friday, March 2, 2012

C&O Canal Celebration Run

[Photos by Gary.]

Well, the run along the C&O Canal to celebrate retirement could not have gone any better--in a word, it was awesome.

One of ostensible purposes of the run was to check out the lock keeper's house at the Four Locks area near Milepost 109.  I was looking for a pair of purloined Mason-Dixon Line mile markers that supposedly were used in the house as door thresholds or steps.

The basement door on the east side of the house was the supposed location.  Although the stone threshold was about 3' long, all I could see on the outside of the bottom of the door was a 1'-2" strip (see photo above)--not nearly enough to determine whether this piece of stone was one of the original Mason-Dixon Line markers.

Turns out that lockhouse is available for rental, so I guess that's the next step. 

Oh, and this is why I carry my bee sting allergy Anakit, even in the winter.  This guy was on the stone threshold in question.  Never know when a stinging critter may awaken.

I took a ton of photos during this run.  Look for more C&O Canal goodness over the next few days.

Thursday, March 1, 2012

Extraction...and Ultrarunning

I thought this one was going to be about natural gas, Marcellus shale, fracking, etc.
Only it wasn't...but nonetheless true.  Via the Eschaton blog, a post called "Extraction":

I guess the evolution of the scam goes something like this: first start overpaying cronies to do stuff. So, you know, at the local level you overpay for trash removal or bus service, but at least there's trash removal or bus service. At the national level you overpay for military toys. At least military toys get made, and perhaps even some useful R&D comes out of it. Not my preferred way to spend money, but at least something's happening.

Then people realize that's all a lot of work. Best to just stop providing useful public services altogether, and instead just find ways to download taxpayer money into the bank accounts of your rich friends. So, run a big financial company into the ground. Run a company whose job it is to provide free labor to private companies. That sort of thing.

Oh, and the link to Ultrarunning?  To celebrate my first full day of official retirement, I am planning to run 20 miles on the C&O Canal (of JFK 50 Miler fame).  This'll be the longest distance I'll have run since October, and I am looking forward to it immensely.

Image credit National Park Service.  This shot of the Conococheague Aqueduct at Williamsport, MD, where I will start my run.

Will post more about the run afterwards.  One of my key plans is to scope out the lockhouse at the Four Locks area (near Milepost 109), looking for a pair of purloined Mason-Dixon Line mile markers that supposedly were used in the house as door thresholds or steps.  From my research on the Mason-Dixon Line, I noted where two of their nearby (~ 10 miles away) markers, placed in the 1760s, are missing, so this may close the loop on the story.