Friday, May 31, 2013

We Can Be Heroes, Just for One Day...and Ultrarunning

After several years--indeed, the love affair has only intensified--I rely mightily on my Sirius XM Radio for musical enjoyment and inspiration.

Just today I heard a David Bowie song--Heroes--that I had not heard for some time. The passage of time enabled me to hear it from an Ultrarunner's perspective.

I think it probably hits on one of the key precepts of why we run these vast distances: we can be heroes.  We have our everyday lives, but for one day, when we don the mantle of an Ultrarunner--we can be heroes.  We could be set apart from every other human being on the planet.

This tune is so not at all about athletic achievement, but I think of it in that way anyway.  The music and the main lyric are so catchy:
     We can be heroes
     Just for one day.

If that day is our day, the day when "suddenly it is all as easy as a bird in flight," then we can achieve distances or times that were formerly unimaginable.

Like when I cracked the 24 hour barrier for 100 miles at Umstead in 2010, when--seriously--all I was hoping for was to finish.

You all have your stories, I am sure, of the day when you were a hero, if just for one day.


Thursday, May 30, 2013

The Slow Erosion of our Freedoms

As usual, security expert Bruce Schneier gets it right on the question of why "It's smart politics to exaggerate terrorist threats."

He lists 3 reasons.  Here's the first one:

Terrorism causes fear, and we overreact to that fear. Our brains aren't very good at probability and risk analysis. We tend to exaggerate spectacular, strange and rare events, and downplay ordinary, familiar and common ones. We think rare risks are more common than they are, and we fear them more than probability indicates we should.
Our leaders are just as prone to this overreaction as we are. But aside from basic psychology, there are other reasons that it's smart politics to exaggerate terrorist threats, and security threats in general.
The first is that we respond to a strong leader. Bill Clinton famously said: "When people feel uncertain, they'd rather have somebody that's strong and wrong than somebody who's weak and right." He's right. 
The second is that doing something -- anything -- is good politics. A politician wants to be seen as taking charge, demanding answers, fixing things. It just doesn't look as good to sit back and claim that there's nothing to do. The logic is along the lines of: "Something must be done. This is something. Therefore, we must do it."
The third is that....

You'll have to click over here for the last reason and some more fascinating analysis.  

Wednesday, May 29, 2013

Bike Pretty...and Ultrarunning

Ever get tired of all that Spandex in glaring colors when you bike?  The site Bike Pretty may give you some good alternatives.
Of course, Ultrarunners are immune to fashion and pretense.  We are rooted in the earth and have no place in our lives for infernal machines such as bicycles, much less the associated clothing.
Many runner, of course, also bike.  And a few of them also might favor the outfits espoused on Bike Pretty.  But as for me I don't bike much and when I do it's usually in shorts and a tee-shirt, as I own no biking Spandex garments.
When I run I also dress simply and in muted colors.  The bride tells me that among her co-workers there is a color they call "Gary Gray'" meaning the color of athletic tee-shirts.  Happens to be my favorite color.
This might be a good place to again comment upon my oldest and favorite garment, which I posted about here some 3 years ago.  It still exits, barely.

[image credit Gary]

I use this thin cotton shirt on hot summer days.  Unfortunately, the seams at the shoulders are simply falling apart from age and wear, so I fear that this summer may see the end of this shirt.  I will probably do a ceremonial burning to dispose if it, much like old flags are destroyed.

Then I can go to Bike Pretty to replace it.


Tuesday, May 28, 2013

"Three Planets Dance in the West After Sunset"

Here I go again: if you are not already a follower of Bad Astronomy, you should be (see my blogroll on the right).  Author Phil Plait combines just the right blend of interesting science fact mixed with the real world mixed with a touch of geekiness.

If that doesn't entice you, what will?

I stole Phil's title for mine, in his post from Monday called "Three Planets Dance in the West After Sunset."

Seems that this week Mercury, Jupiter, and Venus are fairly close together in the low western sky just after sunset.  Here is a shot that Phil used from a photographer named Ken Griggs, who posted it to Flickr:

As I write this Monday PM locally it is cloudy, so have not seen this so-called triple planetary conjunction.  I am hoping for better luck Tues or Wed.


Monday, May 27, 2013

Sole Challemge 24 Hour Run

Ultarrunners are a strange breed.  Well, crazy might even be a better word.  For of all the activities and pursuits that are available to us in this world, we choose to run vast distances.

And within the Ultrarunning world, we have a split between those who like to run distance-oriented events on trails, and those who prefer to run timed events over fixed course.  An example of the former would be a 100 mile trail race in which you have 30 hours to complete the course; an example of the latter would be a 24 hour run over a short measured course (or a track) to see how far you can go in that time.

Of course, there are crossovers.  While I prefer trails, I once did a 24 hour run on a 400 meter track.  While I truly did enjoy that challenge I have not been motivated to repeat it...but anything's possible.

All of this is background to a local timed event just completed this weekend, The Sole Challenge, which consisted of 6, 12, and 24 hour timed runs around a pleasant 1.547 mile paved walking trail in a township park. 

I showed up--as a spectator--at about 15 hours into the 24 hour race (1:00 am) to cheer on a close running buddy.  In the dark it was a bit problematical to locate the course, then my friend, but soon I settled in under the full moon to observe the widely scattered runners coming thru the start/finish line area. I must have just missed him, as it was a good 20+ minutes before he appeared, running up the slight incline to where his wife was settled under a million blankets on a chair in the crew area. 

My friend was around the 70 mile mark, and although he was slowing down and dealing with some issues, he was still moving well.  He was on pace to reach 100 miles within the 24 hour limit, which I believe was his A-list goal.  Looks like 7 of the 28 runners made it at least to 100 miles, so making that milestone distance is indeed a tough challenge.

I remained only about an hour, as no pacers were permitted on the course, and left, wishing him well.

I just checked out the results and see where he finished in the 80s, so it'll be interesting to get the firsthand account of how the final hours of the race played out.  My hat is certainly off to him for a great effort--to stay on course and keep moving continuously for 24 hours is no easy feat.

Well done!

Sunday, May 26, 2013

Cats in Art: The White Cat (Bonnard)

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

This is part 3 of 8 of a multiweek study of the cat art of Pierre Bonnard, a French painter (1867-1947). In this series I've moved beyond the two pieces featured by Zuffi and am now studying the rest of Bonnard's cat paintings in chronological order.


Image credit WikiPaintings, The White Cat, Pierre Bonnard, 1894, oil on canvas, held by Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France.

Since I have no comments from Zuffi, I get to be the analyst/critic here.  Basically we have a disturbed cat, arching its back, almost rearing up, with flattened ears, and one can almost hear the "Hissssss!"
Although the muted yellows and browns are usually soothing, in this image they seem a bit foreboding in their role as a stark contrast to the highly agitated kitty. 
Bonnard captures quite well the agitation and anxiety of the poor cat.  One hopes that whatever riled it up soon passes. 

Saturday, May 25, 2013

How to Survive an Elephant Charge...and Ultrarunning

Courtesy of the way cool site Boing Boing, we learn what to do and what not to do when faced with a charging elephant:

Your choices are:

  1. Run between its legs
  2. Turn and run away
  3. Scream and yell

Were you correct?

This is especially for our Ultrarunning buddies in Africa and southeast Asia.  As for me, living as I do in North American where elephants are not endemic, I doubt I'll need this specific advice...although it's also appropriate strategy for dogs, bears and mountain lions, etc. 

In short, any menacing critter.


Friday, May 24, 2013

Flagstone Step Project

This has absolutely nothing to do with Ultrarunning--much of what I post here doesn't--but I was proud of this step project in a new flower bed and wanted to brag.

Below is the finished project. The stone at the bottom is a large natural slab of limestone from my property. The others are purchased natural flagstone (origin unknown).


Below is the "before" shot, showing the behind-the-scenes landscape timber framework to support the stone steps.  The main key was leveling the cut timbers front-to-back and side-to-side.  Then it was like stacking Legos.


Thursday, May 23, 2013

Southbound...and Ultrarunning

Photos by Gary, Washington Co., MD

Seems like in music and culture there's a mystique about being southbound (think Allman Brothers, here).

Maybe it's images like the lure of warm weather, barbecue on a hot summer day, fireworks on the 4th of July, relaxed lifestyle, the Gulf, whatever, if you say "Northbound" it just doesn't work.

When I ran the other day I just HAD to take a shot of this glorified address rock at somebody's retreat.

But on the road just behind me as I took this picture was something that had also headed south, permanently.  The odor of skunk combined with the odor of decaying roadkill, was, well, pretty pungent:

The connection to Ultrarunning?  Once while running at night I stepped right on a dead skunk.  After that I usually kept my flashlight on.


Wednesday, May 22, 2013

More C+O Canal...and Ultrarunning

Lock by Gary
Remains of downstream gate of Lock 41, abandoned here since 1924

This national treasure is a 184 mile long National Park corridor along the Potomac River from Washington, DC to Cumberland, MD.

Quick history lesson:  In the 1830s folks wanted to move freight cheaply.  Railroads weren't around yet, and the Potomac River was not deep enough along its entire length to support large boats.  So someone had the brainy idea to basically dig a ditch right beside the river, fill it with water and engineer a remarkable system of lift locks, dams, aqueducts, etc., to keep the Canal watered and navigable.  Large boats carrying tons of freight proved to be a viable venture for some 90 years.

The towpath where the mules walked to pull the canal boats has been restored along its entire 184 mile length, so that's where you actually run.  It's like a flat gravel road through the woods.

The link to Ultrarunning is this: the venerable JFK 50 Miler uses some 26 miles of the Canal towpath.  I hear many runners say things like "The towpath is SO boring, totally flat, seems like forever, blah blah blah..."

I think, "You're nuts.  You're running in the woods beside a major scenic river.  You see remarkable examples of historic engineering architecture.  Plus the wildlife and plant life." 

I go to the Canal when I need my running batteries recharged, when I need a dose of long slow running pleasure. 

We all have those special spots that work for us.  Go to yours real soon.


Tuesday, May 21, 2013

Miracle at Milepost 93

Yesterday I took a long run on the C+O Canal towpath.  Starting from Williamsport, MD, I first navigated some 10 miles of roads, then intersected the Canal at Dam # 4 (Milepost 84).  From there I ran upstream to investigate the section of towpath that was repaired and opened in 2012.

I had my camera along, but kept getting bogged down with stopping for shots.  There were just too many interesting things to shoot: canal historical artifacts, flowers, critters.  I finally got a running rhythm going and told myself that unless God himself came down and appeared to me right there on the Canal, I was going to park the camera and keep on running.

Well, a very short distance later I encountered this black racer snake.  God, being omniscient, must have known that seeing this critter would of course cause me to stop and take some photos.  Ergo, this snake must have been God incarnate.

[Photo of God...all photos by Gary]
I'm thinking about reporting this occurrence to the Vatican.  I seem to recall recently where the new Pope created a lot of saints and recognized a number of miracles.
Here's why I LOVE running on the Canal:
A typical scene
The newly opened section Milepost 84-88
More tomorrow....

Monday, May 20, 2013

One Relaxed Cat

Meet Amanda (photo by Gary), who is a cat we bottle-fed from a small kitten. One would think that she would be sweet and loving and totally enjoyed being handled.

One would be wrong, but I like to think she loves us as much as she can.

More on running soon.


Sunday, May 19, 2013

Cats in Art: Woman With a Cat (Bonnard)

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

This is part 2 of 8 of a multiweek study of the cat art of Pierre Bonnard, a French painter (1867-1947). In this series I will feature Bonnard's cat art both before and after this painting, which is one of his better known pieces.

This image is the second of two published by Zuffi, and dates from 1912:

Image credit National Gallery of Australia, Woman With a Cat, Pierre Bonnard, 1912, oil on canvas, 30" x 30", held by Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France

Zuffi comments:

The twentieth century boasts, right from its start, a large number of great artists who sincerely loved cats, but perhaps none had as much sensitivity and discretion as Bonnard.  For the French master, a delicate artist who took his cue from Impressionism, which he reinterpreted with lyrical intimacy, the cat is the animal to whom one confides the secrets of the heart: the cat is not a mysterious symbol or an elegant arabesque, nor a slightly disturbing presence, but a tender, discreet companion.  This painting, which in its balanced simplicity is rightly considered one of the painter's masterpieces, offers a subtle psychological interpretation of the relationship between a solitary young woman and a cat that appears at her side like a mute witness to her inner secrets.

Or in the case of one of our cats, a not-so-mute witness.  Ca Beere is a talker, as well as being a "face kitty" (fascinated with your face), and is alone among our felines in liking to have her belly rubbed.

Back to Bonnard--to me this painting is kinda haunting but in a non-threatening way.  I wonder what the girl is thinking, what the cat is thinking, what their lives were like, and what is really happening in this image.  The girl is looking straight out at the viewer, but the cat seems to be studying something off to its left.

The National Gallery of Australia site points out the usage of both circular and angular lines, and comments that the

...angle of the cat’s body, straightened foreleg and flattened ears suggests an animation lacking in the stillness of the woman’s body. Her slight lean towards the table and her steadying hand suggest she is waiting for something to happen.

So I guess that Bonnard succeeded in creating a lasting image that meaningfully persists in our world a hundred years later.


Saturday, May 18, 2013

Dehydration, Revisited

A few weeks back I did a post I called "Dehydration: Think 7-Up, Not Mountain Dew" wherein the color of your urine during and after an athletic endeavor is probably the best clue to whether you are drinking enough fluids.

A run earlier this week and daily life brought that home again, and I wanted to point out how dehydration is not always obvious in the sense of causation.

That run was undertaken during cooler weather, so I had no particular impression of copious sweating.  But when I got home my short, shoes and sox were all pretty damp.

Clue 1 ignored.

That morning I had run early and only had drunk a single cup of coffee prior to the run.  Then afterwards I had another cup of coffee, not a big glass or two of water. 

Clues 2 and 3 ignored.

Then I set out to working on some stone steps in a new flower bed (I'll post separately on that cool project, with photos, when it's done).  At this point I did sweat a bit.  Yet I still did not drink much.

Clue 4 ignored.

Gradually I felt a strong headache coming on.  I went to the bathroom to pop some Ibuprofen and figured I might as well pee while I was there.

Think Mountain Dew, not Seven Up--heavy yellow and not much volume.

I finally realized that I was dehydrated, and it'd had been creeping and building up throughout the day.  Not the result of a major athletic effort but more or less a cumulative result of not paying enough attention to the clues that were obvious. 

As an athlete I should have known better.

Friday, May 17, 2013

More Golf Ball Coverage...and Ultrarunning

[photo by Gary]

In yesterday's run along my beloved Pig Farm 10 mile route, I found a golf ball in a corn field (the corn is barely up and visibility is good).

This one was in a field beside the road, at least 1500' from the nearest house, with a scrubby woodlot on the other side of the road.  Certainly NOT a result where someone was practicing in their backyard and one got away.

Then a mile later I found the golf tee laying on the road.

Thus my incisive golf-ball-while-running coverage continues.  Last previous post was here where I postulated:

The ubiquitousness of finding golf balls in unlikely places now leads me to consider some formerly outlandish theories. I'm beginning to suspect that they are alien eggs, prepositioned, awaiting a hidden signal, and when they all hatch en masse there will be hell to pay for mankind.

The link to Ultrarunning?  None, other than I was running when I found these artifacts.  Plus Ultrarunning is a sport; golf is not.  Case closed.


Thursday, May 16, 2013

This is Why Blogging is Tough

The cats lay all over the computer area...when they're not laying on me, walking in front of the monitor, or stepping on the keyboard.

Ca Beere


Wednesday, May 15, 2013

"Animal Spirits"...and Ultrarunning

     The need passed as I grew;
     the mind took over, devising
     paths for that force in me, and the body curled up,
     sedentary, glad to be quiet and read and read,
     save once in a while, when it demanded
     to leap about or to whirl—or later still
     to walk swiftly in wind and rain
     long and far and into the dusk,
     wanting some absolute, some exhaustion.

Source: Excerpt from "Animal Spirits" by Denise Levertov, via The Writer's Almanac for 14 May 2013.

As I always note whenever I post a bit of poetry, mots of you can't hit that DELETE key fast enough, the moment you see the verse format.

But this poem is about being an active child, then a largely sedentary adult, except for those times when the body demanded to be used.

People who are active as adults (such as Ultrarunners) know they joy of motion, for the sheer animal pleasure of it.  We know the pains and the pleasures, and the sheer exuberance that comes from going to the edge in an extreme athletic endeavor.

And the beauty is that you get to define what "the edge" is, and how close you care to come to it:

     to walk swiftly in wind and rain
     long and far and into the dusk,
     wanting some absolute, some exhaustion.


Tuesday, May 14, 2013

Mount Vesuvius...and Ultrarunning

[image credit NASA and Slate]

Sorry to shout but YOU REALLY OUGHT TO READ THE BLOG BAD ASTRONOMY.  You don't even have to have an astronomical bent to appreciate it--author Phil Plait makes it of interest to laymen and scientists alike.

The photo above  was taken by astronaut Chris Hadfield from the International Space Station and is of Italy.  Phil Plait commented:

I love this picture: Looking down the throat of Mt. Vesuvius, surrounded by towns and cities. Over a half million people live in the “red zone” of the volcano’s blast region. 

I find the photo almost mesmerizing.  The connection to Ultrarunning is pretty tenuous: just the fact that where I run I do not have to worry much about natural disasters or dangers.  Weather would be the only real concern; certainly not volcanic eruptions.


Monday, May 13, 2013

(Rail) Road-Killed Animals: Maybe not so Dumb?

Today, as she often does, the bride dropped me off on her way to work so I could do a run back to the house.  Today's route was from the village of Waynecastle (PA) north and west via the village of Clay Hill.

At the beginning of the run I explored a short section of the CSX branch rail line that goes through Waynecastle.  In fact, in a case where the real world meets the play world, the tracks are immediately adjacent to the Waynesboro Model Railroad Club building, wherein they have a set of great model train layouts in various gauges.  Mister Tristan (the 5-year-old human being, not the blog) and I have spent some fun time there.

Anyway...along this section I encountered a dead deer, apparently killed by a train, as it was pretty far from any road access point or crossing.  My first thought was, "Now that was one DUMB deer!", then I realized there were mitigating circumstances.  First, the deer could have been killed at night when it was dazzled by the engine's headlights.  But moreover, deer did not evolve in a world where trains were a natural selection hazard, so to call a deer dumb for mis-reacting to an unknown threat is patently unfair.

Ironically, a neighbor's farm dog was recently struck and killed on the Norfolk Southern tracks across the fields from my place.  This dog--well used to trains as the line cuts right through the farm--was exuberant and playful; it seems that he just zigged when he should have zagged.  I heard a train horn that morning when and where there should be no horns as the engineer tried unsuccessfully to warn the dog.

Again, not dumb: just not prepared by evolution for that hazard.

My last experience with train-killed animals came years ago with an armadillo.  I posted about it here a few weeks back where I wrote:

The most interesting roadkill I ever saw was in Texas. While on a business trip I made an unfortunate choice of routes to get from Texarkana to see the Red River. I was running along a 4-lane highway that had an adequate but not very generous shoulder, and the incessant lumber trucks were making me crazy.
So I opted to run along the adjacent railroad tracks. There between the tracks I saw a roadkilled armadillo--the first armadillo I had ever seen, dead or alive, outside a zoo. I figured that this must have been one dumb critter and one dumb species to have been killed by a train.

I've since reconsidered the "dumb" label.  The poor armadillo was just unprepared to deal with a train.


Sunday, May 12, 2013

Cats in Art: Bourgeois Afternoon (Bonnard)

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

This is part 1 of 8 of a multiweek study of the cat art of Pierre Bonnard, a French painter (1867-1947).  In this series I will feature Bonnard's cat art both before and after this painting, which is one of his better known pieces.

This image is the first of two published by Zuffi, and dates from 1900.  I'll show the other (from 1912) next week: 

Image credit WikiPaintings, The Bourgeois Afternoon (or The Terrasse Family), Pierre Bonnard, 1900, oil on canvas, 54" x 83", held by Musee d'Orsay, Paris, France
Zuffi comments:
...three cats and a dog brighten the Terrasse family's country house; in their own way, they enjoy the sunshine and peace of  a Sunday afternoon in the company of members of the family, including numerous children, spanning three generations....One of these is certainly the cat, which unquestionably feels--and behaves--as if it were the true master of the house.  Fat, sated, and satisfied, ensconced on the cool grass, the cat is the only living thing in the painting that looks in our direction, establishing with the viewer a surprising and effective mode of communication.
All I can is, "Duh!"  Or in other words, Zuffi knows his cats: the gray and white feline truly owns the show here.
One other comment: from this image, it appears that Zuffi, or his editor, or translator, has made a mistake in counting animals: there are three dogs and one cat, not the other way around.
Note that I had previously done this Bonnard piece back in 2010, but I'm redoing it as part of my series study.  In that earlier post, I provided this quote:
In this detail from The Terrasse Family, the family cat enjoys a social afternoon with his humans.
Followed by my comment:
Actually, the humans are enjoying a social afternoon entertaining their cat.

Saturday, May 11, 2013

The Race NOT Run

Today, even as I am writing this, runners are slogging around the course of the Capon Valley 50K in Yellow Springs, WV (you'll have to Google it, don't have the link handy).

I have run this race twice and I love it.  I came very close to sending in my app to run it again this spring, but my weekends looked pretty jammed up, so I passed.

Now I am glad I did.  It is an especially ugly and rainy day today.  The stream crossings, indeed the whole course, must be a swollen, soggy mess.  On a different day I would consider it to be a great adventure. Today I'm just glad I passed.  Must be getting old, I guess.

Friday, May 10, 2013

The Wisdom of George Carlin...and Ultrarunning

[image credit diggerhistory]

Sunday, 12 May, would be the 76th birthday of comedian George Carlin, who died in 2008.

Every time I read something about him, or by him, I am struck by his awareness and ability to say what everyone was thinking but were afraid to articulate.

On war, his comment on flamethrowers takes the cake:

The very existence of flamethrowers proves that sometime, somewhere, someone said to themselves, “You know, I want to set those people over there on fire, but I’m just not close enough to get the job done.”

And of course I cannot ignore the cat.  Mr. Carlin must have been a dog lover:

“Meow” means “woof” in cat.
The connection to Ultrarunning?  When you are out in the backcountry and you hear some strange, unfamiliar animal noise, ponder this notion of animal communication.  Once in Shenandoah National Park I encountered a mama black bear and two cubs.

She obviously thought I was a suspicious character, so she said something like "Woof" and quick as a wink those two cubs were 30' high in an oak tree.  I backed a safe distance away and within a couple minutes she again went "Woof" and they cubs were back down with her.

Now that's what I like in a child--instant obedience in the face of an urgent parental command.


Thursday, May 9, 2013

They're Back!

The house wrens, that is.  Here's what I posted three years ago at the blessed event.

Emily Dickinson had it exactly right when she wrote some 150 years ago:

“I hope you love birds too. It is economical. It saves going to heaven.” 


Friday, April 23, 2010
Pappy's License Plate

I built this wren house from old chestnut boards from my grandfather-in-law's farm, and used his 1958 Pennsylvania license plate as the roof. (photo by Gary)

The house wrens (Troglodytes aedon) should be arriving any day now from their winter stay. They are a critter of edges, so I will encounter them along my typical rural road runs, along the C+O Canal, but not usually along the Appalachian Trail. They are not a deep woods critter.

One of the reasons I love this tiny dynamo of feathers is that the males and the females are indistinguishable from one another, and share nest duties equally. And can they ever sing—a sweet, melodic burst of sound that seems too large to come from this tiny little bird. My Audubon Society field guide calls it “…a gurgling, bubbling, exuberant song….”

The bride and I eagerly await this time of year, to see who will be the first to say, "The wrens are back." Then we know that the earth, and us upon it, have sucessfully turned another year.

[Photo credit here]

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Banjos...and Ultrarunning

During today's run along the C+O Canal I had banjos on my mind.

Just before I parked at Cushwa Basin in Williamsport, MD, my XM radio (on channel 28, The Spectrum) delivered a rousing rendition of Ho Hey by The Lumineers.

And shortly before that, Mumford and Sons' I Will Wait

Now these songs are both sing-along, foot-stomping, banjo-featuring tunes that are perfect accompanyment for the my head.  I still don't and never plan to run with any listening device.  It just seems, well, wrong to me, when I'm in the midst of nature.  But that's just me, because it appears from my personal observation that listening devices are probably more common than not; i.e., a majority of runners I encounter are using one.

But I digress.  The point of this post is that I love the banjo and both of these groups and the tunes mentioned are excellent examples of how the banjo is making a real comeback in the world of contemporary music.

Which takes me back to the Kinks in the early 70s, who were one of the first rock groups to feature the banjo in rock music, with the iconic Lola, some 40 years ago:

[Video credit YouTube, here.  Note: what I find interesting is that the banjo is unmistakably there in the opening chords, yet I can't detect it in the video]

And for your further enjoyment here is a list of the best played banjo in a rock song, from Keno's Classic Rock n Roll.  See # 4:

Anyway, enjoy the trails, and if you're lucky, the banjos will be playing in your head.


Tuesday, May 7, 2013

Getting "Lost" Pays Dividends

While running a couple weeks ago near "my" trail and shelter over near the Tuscarora Trail (southern PA), I attempted a loop that wound up involving a poorly marked and maintained trail.  That trail also was affected by recent logging operations that obliterated some of it.

Bottom line was that I had to do some bushwhacking to reach the road that I knew was downhill, so no real problem, just an inconvenience.

But along the way I found this treasure.  It's interesting to speculate when this place was last lived in and by whom....

[photos by Gary]

Monday, May 6, 2013

Lost Cargo of the Titanic

This post, an annual ritual, should have run yesterday, but around here cats get priority.

Even dead cats. 



Lost Cargo of the Titanic

In honor of the day....I send this out each year as a sort of annual ritual.

Image credit here

Most people don't know that back in 1912, Hellmann's mayonnaise was manufactured in England. In fact, the Titanic was carrying 12,000 jars of the condiment scheduled for delivery in Vera Cruz, Mexico, which was to be the next port of call for the great ship after its stop in New York.

This would have been the largest single shipment of mayonnaise ever delivered to Mexico. But as we know, the great ship did not make it to New York. The ship hit an iceberg and sank, and the cargo was forever lost.

The people of Mexico, who were crazy about mayonnaise, and were eagerly awaiting its delivery, were disconsolate at the loss. Their anguish was so great, that they declared a National Day of Mourning, which they still observe to this day.

The National Day of Mourning occurs each year on May 5th and is known, of course, as Sinko de Mayo.

Sunday, May 5, 2013

Cats in Art: The Dead Cat (Gericault)

Sorry, but life has interfered with blogging.

This is a repost from last summer of one of the most popular posts in my series, Cats in Art.


Sunday, June 3, 2012

Cats in Art: The Dead Cat (Gericault)
From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.

Click image for larger, ESC to return. Image credit Wikipaintings, here. The Dead Cat, Theodore Gericault, 1821, oil on canvas, held by Musee du Louvre, Paris, France.

We previously saw Gericault's Portrait of Louise Vernet as a Child in this space back in Dec 2011, where a young girl--Louise Vernet--was holding one enormous cat. With respect to this dead cat painting, Zuffi comments:

Rarely has the death of an animal been depicted in a more dignified way. On a bare bench, the cat's pale body is analyzed in all its stark reality, in the stiffness of death--its face contorted in a tragic grimace, its paws limp. It is true that whoever has seen his or her cat die cannot be happy with a replacement, so important is the individuality and character of the one that has passed away.

So sad, so realistic. Gericault gets it right.

Friday, May 3, 2013

"The Sadness of the Short Obituary"...Part 2

A year and a half ago I wrote about an obituary for one Caleb Christiansen, of California, whose obituary I happened upon accidentally via his mother and another Janet Christiansen sharing the same name.

See, I have a Google Alert set up for "Janet Christiansen--of North Carolina--who was murdered and is interred in a cemetery about half a a mile from my home.  Although she is a stranger to me, I pause there from time to time to bring flowers, and have previously blogged about reflections on her death, most recently here.

Anyway, turns out I was right about the short obituary for Caleb, not that it gives me any satisfaction.  He apparently struggled with drug abuse and died of an overdose (the link is to a story of the criminal prosecution of the dealer who sold Caleb the drugs).

The empty, senseless hole left in that family will never quite heal.  The death of a child, regardless of age (Caleb was 21) is an event that no parent ever wants to face.  My heart again goes out to that family that they may find peace.

When I run tomorrow I'll place an extra flower in the cemetery--one for Janet, and one for Caleb.  I have some mighty fine daffodils right now that are simply beautiful.



Thursday, May 2, 2013

Walking is SO Inefficient

Or, "5 Miles of Walking Vs. 5 Miles of Running"....

Recently (say the past year or so) as I do my beloved Harshman Road loop, I have been occasionally encountering a young lady who walks with a pair of dogs.  The dogs are large--setters of some sort--and she is a brisk walker.  She and the dogs are friendly but focused on their mission of covering ground quickly.

As I run the route I have encountered the young lady and the dogs at various point around the loop.  Because the route has no opportunities for short-cutting, I have concluded that the woman and the dogs walk the whole 5-mile loop.

Which must take them 1:15 or so at 15 minute brisk walking pace.  In the big scheme of things, an hour and fifteen minutes is certainly very doable, but I cannot personally imagine walking that route.  Not that it's dangerous or ugly, it's just that walking that far seem to be SO inefficient.

But I must acknowledge that in my 100 milers, I wind up walking at least 20 miles...but that usually comes in short chunks of a mile or less at a time.  Not 5 miles in a row.  Walking.

I guess the young lady may be looking at me and thinking, "I can't imagine running this loop!"

Obviously, YMMV.


Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Syria is a Mess...and Ultrarunning

Some pretty good analysis below about why we should be careful in dealing with Syria.

Also, my particular question is why should we--meaning the United States--be the one to get all concerned about Syria?  This should be a conundrum for the United Nations, of which we are a member, not a unilateral response by one country.

Anyway, an excerpt via Hullabaloo.  You should go read the whole thing, it's short:

You see he gassed his own people with WMD and they might get into the hands of terrorists. We can't let the smoking gun come in the form of a mushroom cloud. We must disarm the tyrant because if we don't the terrorists will win. You know the drill. Very well. Too well.

The world is an ugly place full of injustice. If it were up to me, and I could pick countries to liberate, I can think of a half dozen off the top of my head, starting with Burma. But sometime in the last half century I learned that war is very rarely a good way to "help" people and that the motivations for waging it are always far more complicated than that. Moreover, I just don't think the US is a very good "humanitarian" empire. Even if you assume we have the best of intentions, the US just doesn't have the right political structure to be a benevolent hegemon. I'm not sure any nation state does.

It's a horrible, bloody mess in Syria and it's terrible to feel impotent in the face of horrible bloody messes. But considering the huge risk we take of making things even worse, there is no doubt that we must be extremely skeptical of calls for intervention. The US has a bad hubris habit and considering our hot war success rate of the past 50 years or so, we really should take a good look in the mirror before we act.
And, of course the (however tenuous) link to Ultrarunning?  Just a recognition or acknowledgement that we too often take our running freedom for granted here.  We can run any public trail we want and we don't have to be afraid of land mines or armed militias or regular troops or drones or Scud missiles.  We have rules and laws and a functional government, and by and large, things work rather well here.

Not so in Syria or any number of other places on the planet.