Friday, January 31, 2014

Cold Statues

The bride and I love landscaping and gardening.  Our humble abode is kind of a showplace of horticulture. 

Of late we have been selectively adding tasteful statuary as enhancements to some our our flower beds, but in roaming around the other day I was struck by how cold and forlorn some of the figures look in the midst of this cold winter.

 Image credit for all = Gary 
Bashful Betty

Granite owl

Terra cotta renard

Chilly mermaid
Kold kitty

Sammy's final resting place**
I'm always on the lookout for appropriate statuary.  High on my list is finding  just the right gargoyle....
**By the way (and I hope this does not come across as crass commercialism), I have a business on the side for people to chisel their own pet memorial markers.  It memorializes your beloved pet.  Moreover, it provides wonderful therapeutic benefits from working through your grief with your own two hands.  And--seriously--it is not difficult, and if you don't like your results I'll refund your money.
Link is here if you are interested in reading more.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

The Poor...and Ultrarunning

From Avedon Carol on 26 Jan 2014:

I'm not a Biblical scholar, but empirically speaking, Jesus said a heck of a lot more about taking care of those in need (dozens of texts) than he ever did about gays (0...nada).  So the move by conservative legislators to reduce even further the benefits available to the poor infuriates me.
Here's a truly great read about the Bible and poverty:  
It is hard for us to come to grips with just how different the Bible's assumptions about poverty are from that of the average American Christian. We tend to assume, often subconsciously, that wealth is a sign of God's blessing. In contrast, the Bible is constantly warning about how dangerous it is. We also assume, again unconsciously, that the poor are to be pitied. In contrast, God has made it blatantly clear that he is on the side of the poor, so much so that he decided to give them spiritual resources those of us who cut ourselves off from the poor know nothing about. 
It is hard to wrap my mind around these things, blinded as I am by my privilege, wealth, and unearned power. It reminds me of this: 
The rich are wise in their own eyes;  one who is poor and discerning sees how deluded they are. (Proverbs 28:11) 
It is all well and good to be charitable. It is another thing altogether to go deeper into the meanings of the Gospel and join in the sufferings of the poor, not because they need you but because you need them.

See, we keep getting back to the old guns versus butter discussion.  Surely this nation could scale back its global militarism just a tad, and instead feed poor children here and around the globe.

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that our passion is largely is a first-world issue.  We take for granted food security and free time and the affordability of our gear, all for the sake of a leisure pursuit.  Not to say that Ultrarunning is is not important to us--because it is--its just that we must keep in perspective that it is an enhancement, not a strict necessity.


Wednesday, January 29, 2014

On War, From Two Who Should Know

From displays at Gettysburg National Military Park last week:

[image credit Gary, George Armstrong Custer display]

[image credit Gary, William Tecumseh Sherman display]
The bride and I vividly recall one of those all-night college apartment discussions at the time when the Vietnam War was finally winding down.  One of her roommates took the view that the whole notion of the Geneva Convention and "rules of war" was pretty dumb.  After all, you are trying to kill the other guy, and to agree to rules for doing that, is, well, irrational at best.
War should be no-holds-barred and so terrible that no sentient being would ever contemplate it.
So in the quest for rationality, Sherman above certainly gets the nod.
Custer, well, he kinda got his wish at the end.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Why I Write History...and Ultrarunning

On the side I am an amateur historian and researcher on the American Civil war.  I've had a couple of articles published in The Gettysburg Magazine, a scholarly publication that features in-depth research strictly on that particular battle.

I am currently (slowly) working on another article now and was having some self-doubts abouts the value of doing so.  Then a couple weeks ago (10 Jan) I read this piece in The Writer's Almanac about the historian Stephen Ambrose that rekindled my desire to get cranking.  The money quote is in BLUE:

It's the birthday of best-selling historian Stephen Ambrose (books by this author), born in Lovington, Illinois (1936). Ambrose's father was a Navy doctor during World War II, and the family followed him from post to post around the country until he was shipped overseas. The war ended, Ambrose's father came home and took up a private practice in Wisconsin, and Ambrose decided he'd take over when he grew up.
A pre-med student, he was annoyed when his state university requirements compelled him to take an American history class the second semester of his sophomore year. It was called, "Representative Americans," and was based on biographies of individuals throughout the country's history; the first class focused on George Washington. The professor said that the students would be completing their own biography of an unknown Wisconsinite, which they would have to use primary research from the state historical society to write. The result, the professor promised, would add to the sum of the world's knowledge.
"And that just hit me like a sledgehammer," Ambrose later said. "It had never before occurred to me that I could add to the sum of the world's knowledge." He changed his major to history, and at the end of the term wrote a 10-page biography of a Civil War-era one-term Wisconsin Congressman named Charles Billinghurst. Ambrose marveled that he was now the world's leading expert on Charles Billinghurst. "Now what I soon learned was, the reason for that was that nobody else cared about Charles A. Billinghurst," Ambrose laughed. But his next epiphany was what transformed him from a historian to a world-class storyteller: "But I can make 'em care if I tell the story right."

The connection is Ultrarunning is about connections.  See, doing history establishes connections to the past--it's not distant history but a connected thread that leads to the present day.

Same thing is true of Ultrarunning: there's a connectedness that comes from participating in an activity that is as old as mankind.  Our ancestors ran to survive; we run to stay healthy and to somehow stay connected with that ancestral pattern. 

When I run I am acutely aware of primeval forces, of doing something now in play that formerly was deadly serious, of recreating actions that are part of our psyches and genetics.  I feel connected.

Monday, January 27, 2014

More Trail Maintence Stuff--Esp For Whitetop66

Whitetop66 left me a comment to a trail maintenance post I did back on 18 Dec.  I just posted a reply there but he/she may not see it.  So in the public interest here's a dedicated post that gets into the nitty-gritty of creating a trail sign (just in case you thought trail signs magically materialized in place on posts that dug themselves). 

This post is in the weeds, but we Ultrarunners love us some weeds, right?

[image credit  Gary]

I am sorry I did not see your email till now—I have blog comments dumped into a folder that I do not see as regularly as I should. 

1. DREMEL TIP: My Dremel tool is the Model 4000 Series, about the size of a large cucumber.  The Dremel tip I used is # 117 (on left in photo).   

2. DREMEL CUTTING GUIDE: I put on the Dremel Cutting Guide (item on right in photo) that comes with the tool, which allows the Dremel to rest vertically on the wood and you just guide it along the traced letter outline.  I think it’s much like using a router.  I set the depth of the cutting blade to be between ¼” and 1/8”. 

3. FONT: The font I used is Arial Rounded MT Bold.   

4a. CREATING THE STENCIL, EXACTO KNIFE METHOD:  In Microsoft Word, I used Insert and Word Art to create a text box with the right signage and font above.  In Word Art you can stretch the text box horizontally and vertically.  I used  1.5” high; on length I just used a gut feeling to gauge the appropriate length.  In Word Art there is an option to vary the space between letters, so I maxed that spacing out.  Then I printed the words of the sign (which will likely be individual words that you must align for the mock-up of your sign).   I then used an Exacto knife to cut the letters out into a stencil, then traced the letters onto the wood in pencil.  

4b. CREATING THE STENCIL, TRACING METHOD:  Create the printed words as above, then skip the cutting out/stencil part and use some type of carbon paper to transfer the letters to the wood.  I just bought this craft tracing paper but have not used it yet:  “Saral Transfer (Tracing) Paper blue non-photographic 12 1/2 in. x 12 ft. roll”   I got it from Amazon for about $12.00.  It should work pretty well and save the cutting-out step. 

5. PAINT: I painted the whole board, with cut letters, in basic Rustoleum Brown, then painted the cut letters in white. 
[image credit Gary]

Hey, way to go on your AT hike!  That’s not realistic for me but I’m with you thru-hikers in spirit!

Sunday, January 26, 2014

Cats in Art: Tommy (Margot)

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.

Today was to have been the 7th post in a series on German painter Franz Marc. That will resume next week. Instead, today I want to feature a cat image I just saw over at the new visitor center at Gettysburg National Military Park.

Mister Tristan (the 6 year old human being, not the blog), the bride and I took advantage of a snow day this week to drive over to Gettysburg to see the refurbished Cyclorama. It's a huge circular painting, done in the 1880s, depicting the climax of the battle (it's a mind-bending 377 feet long, 42 feet high and weighs 12.5 tons!). See this National Park Service site if you are interested in more info.

Image credit Gary (photo of NPS display board) and NPS, Tommy, Antoinette Margot, 1885, oil on canvas, 51 cm x 66 cm, held by Clara Barton National Historic Site.

And Tommy's "owner," Clara Barton
[image credit Gary (photo of NPS display board)]

In wandering around the visitor center, I came upon a a display that depicted Clara Barton, famous for her nursing of wounded and sick soldiers during the American Civil War.  Down in the corner, I suppose to lend a personal touch, was the photo above of Tommy, Clara's cat. 

Per the NPS:

“Tommy” was Clara Barton’s beloved cat, and described him as her faithful friend of 17 years. The artist, Antoinette Margot, had worked with Barton during the Franco-Prussian War. She traveled to America and worked with Barton at the American Red Cross.

Tommy looked to be one cool cat, and perhaps in a sense a therapy cat.  He must have been a real source of comfort and peace for Clara, who I think otherwise would have been tormented and perhaps destroyed by the demons of the battlefield horrors she had seen.


Saturday, January 25, 2014

Foreign Policy Explained...and Ultrarunning

Next time you are feeling cynical about the foreign policy motives of our leaders, here it is in a nutshell. 

This is an excerpt from an interview with William Blum, " American author, critic of American foreign policy and retired employee of the US State Department. He is the author of numerous books and articles discussing uncoverings of the Central Intelligence Agency and writes about our involvement in worldwide terror operations, often in the name of democracy. Blum is the author of the famous book Killing Hope: US Military and CIA Interventions since World War II (Common Courage Press)."

Q:   What do you think the people need to know who are interested in military history or the history of the Vietnam War or how American foreign policy is essentially made in the United States?

BlumThe most important lesson one can acquire about US foreign policy is the understanding that our leaders do not mean well. They do not have any noble goals of democracy and freedom and all that jazz. They aim to dominate the world by any means necessary. And as long as an American believes that the intentions are noble and honorable, it's very difficult to penetrate that wall. That wall surrounds the thinking and blocks any attempt to make them realize the harm being done by US foreign policy. That's what's in my writing and in my speaking. My main aim is usually to penetrate that wall of belief that we mean well.
Q:  How do you think people that are a part of the electorate today and participants in the two major parties differentiate President Bush from President Obama, and what are the differences between the two in approach of the office in terms of diplomacy, meaning in terms of diplomacy or foreign affairs?

Blum:  Well, in foreign policy there's no difference. I cannot name any significant difference in foreign policy between Bush and Obama. Obama is, perhaps, worse. He's invaded six nations already. I cannot think of any way to point out that Obama is less of an imperialist than Bush. The Obama supporters would love to think he's better and they would argue even - and they do argue that it's the Republicans who forced him to do what he did. It's like - it's on par with the dog ate my homework.  I get this again and again. If Obama was free to do what he wants, he would be an angel or at least much better than he is now. I don't buy that. He's the most powerful person in the world, and he's just lacking courage - he's lacking belief, too. That's even more important. I've written this several times about Obama. There's nothing really important to that man except being president of the United States. That he likes. He likes what goes with that. But there's no issue that he would not compromise on. He's willing to take any side of any issue in order to get elected. So he's no better than Bush. Bush at least believes what he says, I think. Obama doesn't even do that.

This piece expresses pretty much my disappointment over what the people want versus what the leaders want.  When Obama got elected I was in the hopey-changey camp and had such high expectations for a real change in this nation.  Now I see it's just more of the same.

So, I'd better connect this to Ultrarunning or I may do some self-harm in my cynicism.  There's no secret here: when the external pressures get to be too much, then it's time for a long trail run in the backcountry.  It's good for what ails you.

Friday, January 24, 2014

Respiratory Illness..and Ultrarunning

A couple weeks ago I ran when it was zero degrees and blogged about it here.  I've previously run in crappy, cold weather without ill effects, but this time was different.

Whether it was cause-and-effect or not, or I just was due to get sick, I came down with a bad case of bronchitis that soon morphed into an induced asthma.  I needed antibiotics, breathing treatments, inhaler, and Prednisone to help fix my airways.

Now it's some 2+ weeks later and I'm still feeling poorly.  And since bitter cold weather continues to grip the northeast, I am in no hurry to venture back out there.  Formerly bulletproof (at least in my mind), I now am feeling insecure and vulnerable.  The last thing I want to do is to experience a setback triggered by running in extreme conditions.

So, with the warmest temperature forecast for the next 7 days only expected to reach the freezing point on Saturday, that day may be my window of opportunity to try an easy, short run to see how it goes.

My impatience at losing significant training time is partially triggered by my commitment to running The Sole Challenge, a 24-hour event locally at the end of May.  In lieu of running, I have been putting in some quality time on my Bowflex machine in the basement.  It'll have to do for now.

Thursday, January 23, 2014

Unpopular, But Equally Valid per the Constitution

Courtesy of The Raw Story from a couple weeks ago:

The Satanic Temple, a religious group based in New York City, on Monday unveiled their design for a monument they hope to erect at the Oklahoma Statehouse.
The 7-foot-tall monument would include a goat-headed Baphomet figure sitting cross-legged on a stone slab, flanked by two smiling children. The monument would also include quotes from poets Lord Byron and William Blake.
“The monument has been designed to reflect the views of Satanists in Oklahoma City and beyond. The statue will serve as a beacon calling for compassion and empathy among all living creatures. The statue will also have a functional purpose as a chair where people of all ages may sit on the lap of Satan for inspiration and contemplation,” spokesman Lucien Greaves explained.
The group offered to donate a monument last month, after State Rep. Mike Ritze (R-Broken Arrow) and conservative Christians were allowed to erect a Ten Commandments monument on the statehouse grounds.
Lawmakers in Oklahoma, however, have insisted that the Satanists should not be given the same treatment as Christians.
“This is a faith-based nation and a faith-based state,” Rep. Earl Sears (R-Bartlesville) said. “I think it is very offensive they would contemplate or even have this kind of conversation.” 

But....that pesky First Amendment to the Constitution says:

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the government for a redress of grievances.
 So, the Satanists or Muslims or the Ku Klux Klan or skinheads or anybody else that may be espousing unpopular (i.e., non-majority opinions) certainly deserve equal protection to express their views. 

We just can't say that because the U.S. is historically a Christian nation we will allow Christian symbologies but none other.  Wrong, and it takes an extreme case like this one to point that out.

Tuesday, January 21, 2014

The Peer-Reviewed Science of Climate Change

From the always-good Bad Astronomy:

To me, one of the most fascinating aspects of climate change denial is how deniers essentially never publish in legitimate journals, but instead rely on talk shows, grossly error-laden op-eds, and hugely out-of-date claims (that were never right to start with).

In 2012, National Science Board member James Lawrence Powell investigated peer-reviewed literature published about climate change and found that out of 13,950 articles, 13,926 supported the reality of global warming. Despite a lot of sound and fury from the denial machine, deniers have not really been able to come up with a coherent argument against a consensus. The same is true for a somewhat different study that showed a 97 percent consensus among climate scientists supporting both the reality of global warming and the fact that human emissions are behind it.
Powell recently finished another such investigation, this time looking at peer-reviewed articles published between November 2012 and December 2013. Out of 2,258 articles (with 9,136 authors), how many do you think explicitly rejected human-driven global warming? Go on, guess!
One. Yes, one. Here’s what that looks like as a pie chart:
Huh. Here’s the thing: If you listen to Fox News, or right-wing radio, or read the denier blogs, you’d have to think climate scientists were complete idiots to miss how fake global warming is. Yet despite this incredibly obvious hoax, no one ever publishes evidence exposing it. Mind you, scientists are a contrary lot. If there were solid evidence that global warming didn’t exist, or that CO2 emissions weren’t the culprit, there would be papers in the journals about it. Lots of them.
It's called science, people.  Not decided in the court of public opinion or popularity, but in the peer-reviewed research of scientists.

Monday, January 20, 2014

Dr. Martin Luther King...and Ultrarunning

His birthday was actually 15 January, 1929, but it is recognized today as a Federal holiday.

Via The Writer's Almanac, his words on the intersection of civil rights and the peace movement still ring true after nearly 50 years:

On April 4th, 1967, King delivered a speech called "Beyond Vietnam," in which he strongly denounced America's involvement in the Vietnam War. He was concerned that the war was recruiting poor and minority soldiers, that it was draining resources from much-needed social programs at home, and that it was an unjust war anyway, targeting the poor people of Vietnam. He said, "A nation that continues year after year to spend more money on military defense than on programs of social uplift is approaching spiritual death."



If that is true, the U.S. is pretty much toast.


The link to Ultarunning is one I've made here before, pretty much annually as I look back: to me, one of the most memorable utterances of Dr. Martin Luther King is something he said when he led a civil rights march in Alabama:


We have the right to walk to Montgomery if our feet can get us there.



Something I like to recall during an Ultra when the wheels begin to feel like they are falling off, hoping my feet can get me there.

Sunday, January 19, 2014

Cats in Art: Girl With Cat (Marc)

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 my sixth post on Franz Marc (1880-1916), a key German painter whose life tragically ended early on the Western Front in 1916. This will be a multi-week series (I am still uncovering his cat works).

Image credit The Atheneum, hereGirl With Cat, Franz Marc, 1910, oil on canvas, 16" x 12", held by Kunstmuseum in der Alten Post  (Germany).
This somewhat gauzy image seems to project a warm, fuzzy love between the woman and her cat.  The relaxed kitty (that I somehow feel is female), on her back with her chest being rubbed, is enjoying the moment being snuggled by her human...although the curled tail and the poised back legs do hint at the possibility of a breakout if the petting session doesn't proceed exactly as desired.
Again, as we've seen with Marc before: simple, bold colors; emotions authentically portrayed; and realistic kitties that could only be captured by a cat lover.

Friday, January 17, 2014

You MUST Subscribe!...and Ultrarunning

Here is the cover of the Feb-Mar edition of National Wildlife.  It's obvious why you should MUST subscribe:

Lefty tree-hugger that I am, I belong to/subscribe to--among other things--to Sierra, Smithsonian, and National Wildlife Federation.  Of these, far and away, I enjoy the magazine of the National Wildlife Federation most.
I could try to enumerate the reasons, but just take one look again at the cover shot above: two fox pups just have to put a smile on your face.  And with membership, if I recall correctly, at only $15, you can't NOT sign up (and, no, I have no financial or otherwise interest in NWF, I'm just a happy member).
Plus--as if the fox photo were not enough--we have the always thoughtful editorial essay by NWF president and CEO Larry Schweiger.  This month it was "Standing at the Edge of the Known World."  Focused on the crisis of global climate change, and the total inaction by the United States of America, Schweiger says:
When did the simple concept of leaving the planet a better place for our kids become a partisan issue?

Climate change is far and away the greatest crisis facing the planet, and we do nothing but bicker, I guess because it's inconvenient to face the music and change our lifestyles. 
But in all things, from climate change to preventing gun violence (think Sandy Hook Elementary and a host of other places) we must simply think, aways, not for us.  No, not for us.
For. The. Children.
The link to Ultrarunning should be obvious.  If we treasure things wild and free and love our backcountry excursions, we owe it to our children to bequeath to them the same or better environment.  That should be a no-brainer, yet with today's "leaders" it seems too hard. 
Among the scientific community, man-made climate change is no longer a discussion point, it is settled fact.  The job now is to craft a robust enough response to solve the problem (although some scientists believe we are already beyond the tipping point of being unable to recover).  So instead of a full-court press--as though the fate of the planet hangs in the balance (it does)--we dither and delay.
For. The. Children.

Thursday, January 16, 2014

Goodbye, Bob Marley...and Ultrarunning


[image credit Gary]
Well, over the weekend the bride and I dismantled our Christmas tree and with it an ornament that we jokingly call "Bob Marley."
Of course, it's Jacob Marley from Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol, but way back when, one of our kids garbled the character with that of the reggae musician.  Thus the ornament remains Bob Marley.
The link to Ultrarunning?  Very little, of course--I mostly just like the ornament.  I suppose I could make the case for the liberating freedom of trail running...but you already know that, don't you?

Wednesday, January 15, 2014

Something Bad Must Have Happened to This Guy as a Child

From My Way new blog:

DALLAS (AP) - A permit to hunt an endangered African black rhino sold for $350,000 at a Dallas auction held to raise money for conservation efforts but criticized by wildlife advocates.
Steve Wagner, a spokesman for the Dallas Safari Club, which sponsored the closed-door event Saturday night, confirmed the sale of the permit for a hunt in the African nation of Namibia. He declined to name the buyer.
The Safari Club's executive director, Ben Carter, has defended the auction, saying all money raised will go toward protecting the species. He also said the rhino that the winner will be allowed to hunt is old, male and nonbreeding - and that the animal was likely to be targeted for removal anyway because it was becoming aggressive and threatening other wildlife.
But the auction drew howls from critics, including wildlife and animal rights groups.

...and from me.  Killing one of the world's most endangered species for sheer sport and not because it's a necessity of life--even if a legitimate game management case can be made for it--seems pretty disgusting to me.

Going along with my Aldo Leopold piece the other day, this epitomises the notion of the Abrahamic concept of land: that the earth and all that's in it have been placed here for our pleasure and dominance.  Leopold bought this into sharp focus:

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect.

I don't see much love and respect for the black rhinoceros.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

More Mary Oliver...and Ultrarunning

As I have said here more than once, I realize that when many of you see poetry, you cannot hit that DELETE key fast enough.

But...if you ever got up at daybreak for a run, you know this feeling (credit to The Writer's Almanac). 

So just give this one a try--please?

Why I Wake Early
by Mary Oliver
Hello, sun in my face.
Hello, you who make the morning
and spread it over the fields
and into the faces of the tulips
and the nodding morning glories,
and into the windows of, even, the
miserable and crotchety—

best preacher that ever was,
dear star, that just happens
to be where you are in the universe
to keep us from ever-darkness,
to ease us with warm touching,
to hold us in the great hands of light—
good morning, good morning, good morning.

Watch, now, how I start the day
in happiness, in kindness.


Monday, January 13, 2014

Happy Birthday, Aldo Leopold...and Ultrarunning

[image credit here]

Saturday (11 Jan 1887) was the birthday of the person--Aldo Leopold--who more than any other shaped my views of the natural world. 

Mr. Merritt, a prescient college professor at my alma mater, Indiana University of Pennsylvania, was my instructor for an ornithology course, and recommended the book A Sand County Almanac to us (Merritt also posed the question "Why do birds sing?" and answered it thusly: "Because they are happy.").
Anyway, I got a copy, immediately read it from cover to cover, and make it a point to read it again every single year.  For me, A Sand County Almanac still remains the single most important--and interesting--book I have ever read.
From the Writer's Almanac, which recognized Leopold's birthday: 

He defied convention in his work. Assigned to hunt livestock predators in a New Mexico national forest, Leopold began to feel that these bears, wolves, and mountain lions shouldn't necessarily be sacrificed for the sake of local ranchers, and he made the point that removing them had a broader impact on the entire ecosystem. His philosophy ultimately came to argue that humans ought not dominate the land; he popularized the term "wilderness" to mean not grounds for outdoor activity but nature in its own, untended state.

After 15 years in the southwest — during which time he developed the first management plan for the Grand Canyon, wrote the Forest Service's first game and fish handbook, and succeeded in designating the nation's first wilderness area — Leopold started and chaired Wisconsin's graduate program on game management. In 1935, Leopold formed The Wilderness Society with other conservationists.

He bought a worn out farm for $8 an acre near the Wisconsin River, barren and nearly treeless from years of overuse and degradation, in an area known as the "sand counties." With his wife and children, he set about tending a garden, splitting firewood, and eventually planting more than 40,000 pine trees. The farm came to stand as a living example of Leopold's life work and ethic, that peaceful coexistence with nature could be possible, and that the same tools used to destroy land could help to restore it.

Anyway, give yourself a late Christmas present and go get A Sand County Almanac.  In honor of Leopold, I'll rerun my very first post ever here at Mister Tristan, from Dec 2009:

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

A Sand County Almanac
This is my inaugural post for this new blog, Mister Tristan.

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 60 years, 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.


Sunday, January 12, 2014

Cats in Art: Nude With Cat (Marc)

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 my fifth post on Franz Marc (1880-1916), a key German painter whose life tragically ended early on the Western Front in 1916. This will be a multi-week series (I am still uncovering his cat works).

Image credit The Atheneum, hereNude With Cat, Franz Marc, 1910, oil on canvas, 34" x 31", held by St├Ądtische Galerie im Lenbachhaus (Germany).
Other than the fact that the naked woman may appear to be drowning the poor kitten in a saucer of milk, this is an interesting painting.  The scene is outdoors, with the nude seated on a cushion on the steps, trying to get the kitten to drink.
One may speculate that the kitty is an outdoor cat, unused to humans or milk, and needs to be persuaded that both are really OK.  Marc's choice to make the nude heavy and muscular may be a deliberate choice to contrast with the tiny size and vulnerability of the kitten.  I'd call the cat's color orange, but the bride likes to call such cats butterscotch.
I personally am struck with Marc's use of primary colors--oranges, yellows, greens, and blues, which lend an air of simplicity and innocence to the scene.  All in all, an interesting painting.

Saturday, January 11, 2014

Vega, V-Words...and Ultrarunning

Several days ago while sitting out in the hot tub shortly after sundown, I was struck by a prominent star that I did not know, high in the midwinter western sky, one of the very first stars visible as daylight faded.

[image credit Earth Sky, here]

I soon looked it up on my iPhone using the wonderful app Sky Guide (I have no financial interest in either iPhone or Sky Guide, I'm just a happy user).  In Sky Guide you just hold the phone up and the display orients itself in the direction you are holding.  Then you just tap on the on-screen object you are looking at (star, planet, comet) to get the data on it.

Turns out this cool star is Vega, which according to EarthSky, here, is quite the major star:

Vega is easily recognizable for its brilliance and blue-white color. Vega is the 5th brightest star visible from Earth, and the 3rd brightest easily visible from mid-northern latitudes, after Sirius and Arcturus. At about 25 light-years in distance, it is the 6th closest of all the bright stars.   
Vega’s constellation Lyra is said to be the harp played by the legendary Greek musician Orpheus. It’s said that when Orpheus played this harp, neither god nor moral could turn away. Vega is sometimes called the Harp Star.

Enough astronomy.  The star Vega creates for me a segue into the overarching category of words that start with the letter V.  For some reason I am utterly fascinated with words that begin with V (and to head this off at the pass right up front, no, I'm not talking about that word...this is a completely non-sexual discussion). 

I've loved V-words since I learned to read. Maybe it's my German heritage that's responsible for me loving the guttural sound of V.  Maybe it's my love of simple objects: a letter doesn't get much simpler and practical than that: two quick strokes, capital and lower case alike.  Or maybe it's the fact that to my mind, V-words create a visceral, almost palpable feeling.

Check out this short list of a few of my favs, in no particular order, and see if you don't agree:


And the link, of course to Ultrarunning is one I have made numerous times here: it gives me a great deal of satisfaction to have the ability to run VAST distances, 50 or a hundred miles in one chunk, distances that boggle the mind.  Why?  Because doing so--going to the edge, physically and mentally, takes me to places in myself that I would otherwise never know.

That's why I run vast distances.


Friday, January 10, 2014

Star Trek...and Ultrarunning

[image credit here]
We can wish for a good year of Ultrarunning in 2014...or we can actively make it happen.
I am not a saint or a poster child for New Year's resolutions, but I did just send my entry to a 24 hour event over Memorial Day in May.  I figured, life is too short not to try something new.  And I am no spring chicken, so I have only a limited number of years left to me.
I believe in the concept and practice of commitment, of forcing oneself to man- (or woman-) up.  As in the simple act of sending an entry form.
Remember, YOU are in control of your fate.  Not your spouse, not your kids, not your significant other.  And if you are propensed (see my previous blog post here from March 2011 for an explanation of this term) to stretch, to reach for the Ultrarunning stars, DO IT TODAY.
When you are in the nursing home, you will not regret the races you ran, you will regret the races you didn't run.
Make it so.

Thursday, January 9, 2014

Dressing in Layers...and Ultrarunning

The following was a short note I once posted to the Ultralist (link here) that got compiled and include on Kevin Sayers' great site of collected Ultra wisdom:

Let me jump in too, some philosophy, some how-to...
Stan's comments are right on the mark about attitude. I definitely am not a masochist, but I do confess to a warm, fuzzy--OK, smug--feeling when I'm out there and the other guys aren't. Some of my greatest runs have occurred, when by any objective standard, the weather stinks. In a certain sense, there's no such thing as bad weather, only weather for which you are unprepared.
Here in PA we get our share of cold weather, though not as severe as the upper Midwest. But regardless of the absolute temperature, we all know the standard advice is that you gotta go in layers. That's correct, but what you don't really hear emphasized much is the flip side--that you also gotta be willing to peel off those layers as you warm up and with temperature/wind changes. For example, in say 0-10 degree weather I wear a long sleeve polypro type turtleneck, another long sleeve T-shirt, and then a short sleeve T-shirt. If I sense that I'm sweating a little too much I'll stop to take off the second long sleeve T-shirt and tie it around my waist before my whole top gets real wet. Also I'm always tinkering with my knit hat, mittens, whether I push my sleeves up, etc. In other words, actively manage your personal microclimate. Sure, it's a minor hassle to peel clothes off/on. You can't avoid getting damp from sweat but you do want to avoid getting wet.
If the winds are strong, or if I'm going to be off the beaten track I'll also begin the run with a windbreaker top on, or around my waist for backup.
My wife worries about me going off into the hinterlands alone, and even though I always tell someone where I'm going and when I expect to be back, let's face it--if you keel over for any reason you're going to be out there hours until help arrives. You could freeze, literally. So in my belt pack I always carry a space blanket (virtually no weight) plus a candle/matches with which to start a fire (assuming I am conscious!).

Your mileage may vary.


Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Winter Weather...and Ultrarunning

When I ran at daybreak on Tues at 0 F it was the coldest day here in Antrim Township, Franklin County, southcentral PA, in several years:

[image credits Gary]
The run was dry and clear but colder than hell going into the wind--snotcicle cold. When not heading into the wind it was actually not too bad, but I was dressed in layers using most of the running clothes I own.  Including these:

The tights on the left are my normal winter tights (I am about 5'11" tall with a 34" waist).  The ones on the right, XL footless women's tights, are a second layer for those especially cold days.  Obviously they have to stretch a good bit, because the waist opening is--I swear--a scant 5" wide:

Anyway, the hot tub felt mighty good afterwards!
More winter dressing advice--and a caution about worshipping at the throne of the Dress in Layers god--will follow tomorrow.

Monday, January 6, 2014

Guess I Ought to Rethink the Afterlife...and Ultrarunning

[image credit Gary, mailbox/sign of conservative Mennonite church on Zarger Road, Franklin County, PA]

This church frequently changes its signage, and this new one tickled me.  Since I am prone to impure thoughts--let's face it, "prone" doesn't even come close to my propensity for a dirty mind--so I'd better rule out heaven.

Plan B would be to run Ultras here and now like there's no tomorrow, and thereby achieve heaven on earth.  That's probably a better plan.

Sunday, January 5, 2014

Cats in Art: Cats (Marc)

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 my fourth post on Franz Marc (1880-1916), a key German painter whose life tragically ended early on the Western Front in 1916. This will be a multi-week series (I am still uncovering his cat works).
Image credit The Atheneum, here.  Cats, Franz Marc, 1910, oil on canvas, 20" x 24", held in a private collection.
Again, a pair of pussycats, both of which appear simultaneously relaxed yet also watchful.  The grey and white kitty in the front doesn't quite have its head down for the full nap.  And the orange and white in the rear has its eyes open the barest of cracks, waiting for some human interaction, perhaps when the person needs to retrieve the shirt being laid upon.
After all, no self-respecting cat can pass up a garment laying on the floor or bed.
As with the previous works in this series, Marc demonstrates again his complete mastery of cat attitude, posture, and body langauge.

Saturday, January 4, 2014

Ultra Food


[image credit Gary]

For some reason, the bride is fascinated with Irish steel-cut oats.  Actually, "fascinated" doesn't begin to cut it--"obsessed" comes much closer to her actual reaction.  If she sees a can of said oats, say at a specialty store, or in a catalog, or in an on-line ad (thanks, Google, for the search-targeted adverts!), she goes on and on and on about how much she loves them, etc. 

The actual product looks much different than regular whole or quick oats: more granular or rounded, almost like barley.  I can't say whether Irish oats are a significantly different grain than the oats we see here in the U.S.

So...this year I made sure that her Christmas stocking contained the actual can of Irish steel-cut oats pictured above.  I just made us a batch for her birthday breakfast, as her birthday also falls over the holidays.

Her reaction was almost orgasmic, so I guess you could say that she enjoyed her bowl of porridge, 'cause that's what it is.

Actually, oatmeal (or porridge) is the perfect breakfast food: rich in nutrients and fiber, filling, and tasty.  A bit of brown sugar and milk makes this a great day-starter.  And since I am now officially in training for a 24 hour timed run in May, oatmeal will be one of my mainstays to get back on the right track with my eating.


Friday, January 3, 2014

THis is Why We Can't Have Nice Things

From the always insightful Digby, a chart that is at once fascinating...and profoundly depressing (click to enlarge).  This depicts the highest paid public employee in each state:

Her comment?

But we definitely have to cut back on elementary school teachers, bridges and firehouses. We just don't have the money.

Just to interpret a bit: in 40 of our 50 states, the highest paid public employee is a coach.  Not that I don't love me some sports, because I certainly do, but that sort of prioritization is screwed up.

Wednesday, January 1, 2014

Commitment: Pulling the Trigger for a Major Event

Well, I have committed to run the 24 hour Sole Challenge on 24 May 2014.  My goal will be to get as close to 100 miles as I can over repeats of the 1.5 mile macadam path near Chambersburg, PA.

I will be there with my good running buddies Jody and Keith.

The year 2013 found me eating and drinking too much and exercising too little.  So, being a believer in the power of commitment, I've entered this 24 hour race to force myself to train hard over the next 5 months.

As always, whenever I think about inspiration I turn to other people who have already said something better, stronger, more succinctly, etc., and a quote attributed** to Goethe comes to mind, one that I once had posted on my desk:

Until one is committed, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back. Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then Providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues from the decision, raising in one's favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance, which no man could have dreamed would have come his way. Whatever you can do, or dream you can do, begin it. Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it. Begin it now.

**Note: the source I cite makes a strong case that Goethe is not actually the author of this quote. Regardless, the words are inspirational and I will take them to heart.