Thursday, July 31, 2014

Where I Run: The Pig Farm 10 Miler...and Ultrarunning

I have blogged frequently about one of my all-time favorite runs, what I call the Pig Farm 10 Miler.  Seems that years ago, in the early 80s, there was a pig farm along this route, now long gone, but from back then till now, whenever I run that route, I leave a note for the bride saying "Pig Farm."  And she knows exactly where I am.

[image credit Gary]

This particular spot is around Mile 4 of the route (or Mile 6 if you tend to run counterclockwise as I usually do, to take advantage of this great, long gradual downhill).  We are looking west along the Marion Road, which in the far distance of this shot, just past the tidy white farm, intersects Swamp Fox Road.

These place names have to be among the coolest ever.  I posted a lengthy, nostalgic piece about the whole Francis Marion/Swamp Fox/Leslie Nielson thingy here for you baby boomers (I may be biased, but I think it's worth reading!).

Every runner or Ultrarunner needs a Pig Farm 10 Miler...or your local equivalent.  You gotta have a convenient, medium distance, go-to run, something beyond a mere 5 miles, but still doable in under 2 hours (see, since I'm old my pace has deteriorated to be in the 10-11 minute per mile zone, and I'm quite OK with that sort of pace).  The route has to be friendly, meaning that it's not arduous, yet still be interesting enough to stand up to many runs over the years.

What's your Pig Farm 10 Miler?

Wednesday, July 30, 2014

A WWII Milestone

The last surviving member of the air crew that dropped the atomic bomb on Hiroshima has died.  Theodore "Dutch" VanKirk passed way in Georgia this week at the age of 93 (AP link here).

I found what he had to say about the bomb and war in general quite interesting, given his unique perspective:

Whether the United States should have used the atomic bomb has been debated endlessly.
"I honestly believe the use of the atomic bomb saved lives in the long run," VanKirk told The Associated Press in a 2005 interview. "There were a lot of lives saved. Most of the lives saved were Japanese."
But VanKirk said the experience of World War II also showed him "that wars don't settle anything."
"And atomic weapons don't settle anything," he said. "I personally think there shouldn't be any atomic bombs in the world - I'd like to see them all abolished.

So far, so good.  But VanKirk then added the following, which kinda negates the observations above:

"But if anyone has one," he added, "I want to have one more than my enemy."

Monday, July 28, 2014

Nothing Happened

Saw this recently as I was running home from the car body shop, where I had dropped off my minivan to get the rear window replaced.  The sign was alongside the road, bolted onto the base of what looked to be an old lime kiln:

[image credit Gary]

Now that's a historic marker!

I should comment that the broken window occurred when I was taking Mister Tristan (the 6 year old human being, not the blog) on a hike.  I was attempting to park alongside a wooded dirt road, and in backing up to get suitably off the road I failed to see the tree that must have jumped out behind me.

BOOM!  The window shattered with a loud noise as though it had been shot out.  Needless to say, the hike was over before it even started.

No good deed goes unpunished, I guess.

Sunday, July 27, 2014

Cats in Art: A Book of Cats (Foujita)...and Ultrarunning

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 the fourth in a series of posts of the cat art of Leonard Foujita.

Image credit WikiArt, here.  

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, A Book of Cats, 1929, media and size unspecified, held in a private collection.

What a nifty little piece, and with such an enigmatic title.  First off, the kitty's pose is perfectly captured: utterly relaxed, dead to the world, and with that one outstretched paw....Foujita certainly knew his cats.  Moreover, he knew how to capture their essence.

But the title--A Book of Cats--I still don't get.  Was the kitty asleep on an open book (seems not)?  Did the image represent a compilation, book if you will, of various cats, all painted into a single kitty (perhaps)?

Or is this just one of those art mysteries that Foujita took with him to his grave?  I can answer that: "Yes."  

I don't often mix my Cats in Art posts with Ultrarunning, but today I'll make an exception.  I was running my beloved Pig Farm 10 mile route this morning and I came across a dead juvenile kitty on the road near a farm.  It was quite dead, but newly so, as it was still warm and pliable.  I knew that if it remained on the road it'd be destroyed by cars, so I lovingly picked the cat up and carefully laid it at the base of a tree in the yard of the farmhouse.  

I've often seen kids at this farm, and I hope that the kitty was not a special pet.

Friday, July 25, 2014

Blue Mouse Ear Hosta

The bride and I have a pretty good collection of Hostas scattered among our many flower beds, and in fact we even have an entire bed devoted to the species.

Here is one variety, called the Blue Mouse Ear hosta, that I just fell in love with last year.  It resprouted this spring vigorously, and bloomed last week:

[image credit Gary]

What I love about this plant is the strong blueish hue coupled with the small, delicate leaves, which are about the size a playing card...cut in half.

I have this one planted in my tiny "moss garden" as it seems to be a perfect fit.

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Where I Run: A Very Angular Shady Cow

As I ran near my home a couple days ago, I was struck by the near-perfect right angles found on this cow:

[image credit Gary]

That's it, no hidden meanings or philosophical insights.

Wednesday, July 23, 2014

A Democrat I Could Believe In

Courtesy of the great science blog Pharyngula, we find the list of points that Elizabeth Warren made when she recently spoke at the progressive bloggers' conference Netroots Nation.

I would LOVE to see her challenge the presumptive Democratic nominee, Hillary Clinton:

We have to talk about what does it mean to be a progressive, an American.
We believe Wall Street needs stronger rules and tougher enforcement, and we’re willing to fight for it.
We believe in science, and that means that we have a responsibility to protect this Earth, and we’re willing to fight for it.
We believe that the Internet shouldn’t be rigged to benefit big corporations, and that means real net neutrality, and we will fight for it.
We believe that no one should work full-time and still live in poverty, and that means raising the minimum wage, and we will fight for it.
We believe that fast-food workers deserve a livable wage, and that means that when they take to the picket line, we are proud to fight alongside them.
We believe that students are entitled to get an education without being crushed by debt, and we will fight for it.
We believe that after a lifetime of work, people are entitled to retire with dignity, and that means protecting Social Security, Medicare, and pensions, and we will fight for it.
We believe — and I can’t believe I have to say this in 2014 — we believe in equal pay for equal work, and we will fight for it.
We believe that equal means equal, and that’s true in marriage, it’s true in the workplace, it’s true in all of America, and we will fight for it.
We believe that immigration has made this country strong and vibrant, and that means reform, and we will fight for it.
And we believe that corporations are not people, that women have a right to their bodies. We will overturn Hobby Lobby and we will fight for it. We will fight for it!

Monday, July 21, 2014

45 Years Years Ago...

I'll let Phil Plait from Bad Astronomy tell you this story:
45 years ago today — and for the first time in human history — human beings set foot upon another world.
It was one of the proudest moments in America’s history, arguably the proudest. Despite being initially motivated by small-minded territoriality, it ironically brought our planet together, with people all over the world watching breathlessly as Neil Armstrong placed his boot on the desolate surface of the Moon.

And yet here we are. It’s been 45 years since we put men on the Moon and 42 years since the last men left it. We’ve not gone back since, at least, not with humans. Sure, we’ve made a lot of progress about living and working in space: We’ve launched several space stations, put over 500 people into space, and built countless satellites and space probes. I’m fully aware of the awe-inspiring achievements we’ve made, and how much they mean.

Phil, and I, lament that those first halting steps have never been followed by other human tracks.
But still, there is a hole in that picture. All of those people we’ve launched into orbit haven’t gone more than a few hundred kilometers above the Earth’s surface. The yawning chasm between the Earth and Moon hasn’t seen a human in it for over four decades.
When I look back over the time that’s elapsed since 1969, I wonder what we’re doing. I remember the dreams of NASA, and they were too the dreams of a nation: Huge space stations, mighty rockets plying the solar system, bases and colonies on the Moon, Mars, and asteroids. Those weren’t just the fantasies of science fiction. We could’ve done them. Right now, today, those dreams could have been reality.                                                                 
Instead, we let those small-minded human traits flourish. We’ve let politics, greed, bureaucracy, and short-sightedness rule our actions, and we’ve let them trap us here on the surface of our planet.

You should read the entire post, here.  That night in 1969 as a 17 year old kid, I was at my girlfriend's house watching those grainy black and white images on the TV.  I recall needing to beat feet to get home by my curfew but not wanting to miss a moment of the coverage.  That night I fell in love with astronomy.

Today, looking up at night at the moon and beyond inspires me to dream about space travel and what it would represent for our species.  

Instead, we remain here on an increasingly overcrowded planet that we are poisoning to death while politicians pretty much are sticking their fingers in their ears and saying "La la la la..."  

Just think about last week's main news stories--Malaysia Airlines Flight 17, and Israel's invasion of Gaza--and tell me that we humans are getting it  right.

Sunday, July 20, 2014

Cats in Art: Cat Fight (Foujita)

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 the third in a series of posts of the cat art of Leonard Foujita.

Image credit WikiArt, here.  

Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Cat Fight, 1940, media and size unspecified, held in a private collection.

As we saw last week, WikiArt calls this genre of painting "Magic Realism."  To me, the true magic of this painting is that some 15 cats--plus or minus--are to be found therein, all in one place.  

That's more than magic; some would call it a miracle. Along those lines, note that the cats are gravity-defying (truly a potential miracle) and largely following a clockwise fighting pattern (another potential miracle...will they never cease?).

Another observation: none of the kitties are solid colored.  In my home, 2 of our 3 cats are solid (a gray and a black), so that's a bit unusual, but likely not miraculous.

That's it for Foujita this week, but the whole discussion of miracles, conveniently, reminds me of one of my very favorite posts.  From the fall of 2013, I called this post A Miracle at my House: Should I Call the "Miracle Commission"?  (you really should click over and come back).  

When it comes to miracles, thank goodness, it seems that the Vatican has this area under control, as I previously posted in the link above:

I have a call in to the Vatican.  But it turns out that while they are on top of this type of thing, and actually have a "Miracle Commission," it only investigates healing type miracles.  They do not, unfortunately, investigate physical phenomena such as mine since it is NOT medically-related. 
The miracle commission only investigates miracles associated with healing.  The Vatican does not study phenomena such as weeping Madonna statues and bleeding palms. These phenomena are only studied by the Church’s local people. If they don’t find any evidence of cheating, they can believe in the phenomena if they wish.

Maybe I should call the local priest instead.  Provided he is comfortable dealing with cats in art.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Snake Gourds...and Ultrarunning

Last summer we planted a package of Snake Gourds, and grew the vining plants up on a trellis.

We harvested 4 or 5 gourds, and let them dry over the winter in the attic, where they were protected from wet weather but were subject to temperature extremes.  The gourds all dried and you could hear the seeds inside when you shook  them; the outsides dried and got a mottled,  almost moldy appearance.

Following advice on the Internet, I scrubbed the gourds in the shower using a stainless steel Brillo-Pad-like product, let them dry, then applied paint.  Results:

[image credit Gary]

This guy is about 30" long.  For the paint, first I spray painted it black color.  Then I slipped a nylon mesh bag over the gourd and spray painted it with a tan or clay colored paint, which left the appearance of scales where the underlying black paint was not covered.  Next I sprayed a darker brown through a diamond-shaped stencil to create the diamond shaped splotches.  Finally, with a brush, I painted the face and rattles.

It is not artistic and almost looks a tad cartoonish, but our guests on the patio certainly do a double-take when they see it.

I'm thinking of leaving one on the picnic table of the Reese Hollow Shelter (where I am the overseer), but the bride think that'd be cruel.  However, I think it'd be obvious that it's NOT alive and would engender the "Oh, how cute!" reaction.

Besides, to get to "my" shelter any hiker or Ultrarunner has to pass through prime Timber Rattlesnake territory, so they oughta be prepared, right?

Thursday, July 17, 2014

What a Vile Human Being

Saw this on the news earlier this week, and here's a link from the Huffington Post.

WASHINGTON -- Former Vice President Dick Cheney said Monday that President Barack Obama is "devastating" the U.S. military and needs to divert more resources away from domestic priorities such as rebuilding roads and making sure low-income people can get food.
"That ought to be our top priority for spending. Not food stamps, not highways or anything else," Cheney said. "Your No. 1 responsibility as president is to support and defend the Constitution of the United States. [Obama] is the commander-in-chief and he's absolutely devastating the United States military today.”

Disclaimer: in my title for this post I'm using the term "human being" advisedly.

I haven't used or seen the phrase "guns versus butter" of late. It's time to bust it back out, I suppose.

Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Destroying Ferns Just Seems Wrong

I was up at Reese Hollow Trail and Shelter, where I am the volunteer overseer for the Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, to do some routine maintenance today.  It was not supper hot--about 80F--but the humidity was killer.  Within  half an hour I was as soaked from sweat as if I had jumped into a swimming pool.  See, I have to wear long pants, long sleeves, and gloves, which kinda runs counter to the whole coolness thing.

The shelter was fine, no issues there, so I turned my attention to weedwhacking the mile-long Reese Hollow Trail.  It connects the ridge-top Tuscarora Trail with the shelter down off the ridge where hikers can camp overnight and have good water access.

Here's a shot I took:

[image credit Gary]

Imagine waist-high ferns...indeed, the entire area is a veritable sea of ferns...and the trail running smack dab through the middle.  To keep the trail open I must destroy a ton of ferns.  Sure, there are many tons of ferns there, but somehow it just doesn't feel right to wipe out even a single fern.

Another one of life's trade-offs, I guess.

Sunday, July 13, 2014

Cats in Art: Couturier Cat (Foujita)

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 the second in a series of posts of the cat art of Leonard Foujita.

Image credit WikiArt, here.  Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Couturier Cat, 1927, medium and size unspecified, held in a private collection.

WikiArt calls this genre of painting "Magic Realism."  I'm not sure what that means--having never taken any art courses--but upon reflection, I guess it fits.  This particular kitty seems obsessed with the objects on the table, especially the thready thing in the center (a bobbin?) that kinda looks like a mouse.

As an aside, the term "couturier" comes from "couture," meaning dressmaker.  So Foujita, tongue-in-check, refers to the kitty as a dressmaker.

The cat may well stare at the "mouse" for some time, then, all of a sudden, the kitty will move on to something else as though the whole table episode had never happened...and without any acknowledgment that it had been faked out.

See, cats never get faked out, they only change their minds.

Saturday, July 12, 2014

Losing Part of a Finger...and Ultrarunning

Back in February....

[image credit Gary]

...I was careless with my snowblower. A heavy, slushy snow clogged the discharge chute. Of course, the first remedy is to clear the blockage with a stick or probe, but if you use a snowblower for any length of time, eventually you'll be sticking your hand in there to pull out the slush because the stick can't do it. 

Which I proceeded to do, as I have tens of dozens of times before. Only this time I didn't wait quite long enough for the moving augers to wind down to a full stop...and CRUNCH!  The last joint of my ring finger on my dominant hand was gone. It didn't hurt--and in fact did not hurt for some hours--and only felt like a strong blow to my hand. 

Anyway, I knew at the time that it was a non-trivial event, but it has proven to be a big deal. Some 5 months afterwards, progress is slow: the finger is still swollen and thus doesn't bend well. It does not hurt per se, but often tingles when touched, feeling much like a low grade electric shock. 

The tingling and lack of hand strength/mobility are the worst effects, but as long as I am complaining, here are a few examples of some things that are affected for me:

  • Using chopsticks--cannot do
  • Catching a Frisbee or a ball--avoid, too afraid of jamming the stump
  • I now clap like a wussy, because it hurts
  • Sticking my right hand into my pocket is always a gingerly-undertaken adventure, as is retrieving the desired object
  • Bowling--cannot hold the ball
  • The near constant defensiveness with which I guard my sensitive finger

OK, by now you're thinking, this clown feels sorry for himself. After all, it's just one joint on one finger.  And time will continue the healing process. So this post is a cautionary tale, and the point you should take away is that every part of your body is precious, and the loss of a seemingly minor chunk is in fact a big deal.  AND: don't get complacent around machines!

My takeaway is that I have a huge respect for the perseverance of lower extremity amputees who somehow regain their running abilities,  managing to push through the pain and all the other stuff to make a prosthesis work.  At best, it's a tenuous body-contraption partnership that has to require vast amounts of gumption and will to function.

I am acquainted with the loss of a piece of a finger; I cannot fathom what it must take to make a replacement leg work.  My hat's off to you folks!

Thursday, July 10, 2014

Are You an Exercise Addict?

My on-line acquaintance Ella M (who provided me with some Ridiculous Laws fodder for this post from a couple weeks back), also did a good piece about Exercise Addiction, here

You should read the whole article, but here were a couple of paragraphs early on that resonated with me:

There are several signs and symptoms of exercise addiction. One of the strongest signs that someone has an exercise addiction is an inability to concentrate on other things because he or she is always thinking about exercise. Some people with this disorder skip classes or take unpaid time off from work to exercise, which interferes with their education and reduces their income. Exercise addiction makes it difficult to carry on a satisfying social life, as people with this disorder often skip special events and activities in order to exercise. Even exercising with other people is difficult, as compulsive exercisers do not like to have their routines disturbed. They would rather exercise on their own so they can control the components and timing of the exercise session.

Exercise addiction stirs several emotions when a person is unable to exercise. Without exercising, a person may feel angry, guilty, or anxious. These feelings may also occur when a compulsive exerciser experiences a disruption in his or her exercise routine. Exercise addiction sometimes accompanies obsessive behaviors surrounding the issues of food and weight, as some exercise addicts work out excessively as a way to control their weight or body fat percentages. They may exercise to punish themselves for eating high-calorie or high-fat foods. When an exercise addict is unable to exercise, he or she may purge calories or implement excessive calorie restrictions.

My personal experiences with Ultrarunning have been largely positive, or at the worst, benign. However...I know some long distance runners who collectively embody virtually every negative effect that Ella mentions in her article. They may be physically fit (or not, depending on how much they overdo the sport, because we Ultrarunners tend to be overdoers), but mentally and emotionally they are not much fun to be around. They tend to hijack very conversation and make it about them and their experiences. 

Sounds like chronic exercise addicts may well need professional help to get their compulsions under control. No shame here, I've sought professional help for other issues and highly endorse it. You just can't be an expert on everything, and especially in the realm of mental health, I figure you may as well try getting help from a pro. 

Wednesday, July 9, 2014

George Carlin

A few weeks back (22 June, I'm a bit behind the time curve here) was the anniversary of comedian George Carlin's death back in 2008.

Which provides me with a convenient excuse to resurrect a post I did about a year ago, of one of Carlin's best comedic observations EVER,  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.”

It's funny on a superficial level...but absolutely tragic on the primary level.

Tuesday, July 8, 2014

Last Weekend on the Appalachian Trail...

Last weekend my friend Jody and I did 15 miles from Caledonia State Park in Franklin Co., PA, south to PA Rt. 16.

It'd been a number of months since I did that stretch, and frankly, I was bit intimidated by what I recalled of the route.  Turns out my fears were unfounded, as my recollection was that this section of the AT was rougher than it actually was.  I found the trail less steep and more runnable that I recalled, so chalk that up to a plus for failing memory.

Here are a couple of shots taken by Jody of me along this absolutely superb section of the Appalachian Trail:

Under a massive chestnut oak, perhaps the only horizontally blazed tree on the AT

The view from Chimney Rocks

The run was great, the company was great, and I hope to hit this section again real soon.  At about 25 minutes from my home, it's the closest place I can reach the AT.

Monday, July 7, 2014

This is Something ANY of Us Would Do

Ran across this story a few days ago about a race in Dec 2012, and I thought, "Duh!"  Of course that's what any decent runner would do."

image credit Huffington Post

The Huffington Post article pointed me back to this article in the 18 Jan 2013 Vancouver Sun:

The story of long distance runner Iván Fernández Anaya may serve as a welcome antidote. The Spanish runner, who trains in the Basque capital of Vitoria-Gasteiz, has become something of a cult hero for a kind gesture that helped an opponent win a race.
Fernández Anaya was trailing behind Olympic bronze medallist Abel Mutai during a cross-country race in Burlada, Navarra. Mutai was leading comfortably until he pulled up 10 to 20 metres short of the finish line thinking the race was already over. Instead of passing Mutai, Fernández Anaya slowed down and told Mutai to keep running. Since they didn't speak a common language, the Basque runner gestured frantically at Mutai who went on to win the race.
"I didn't deserve to win it," Fernández Anaya told El País. "I did what I had to do. He was the rightful winner. He created a gap that I couldn't have closed if he hadn't made a mistake. As soon as I saw he was stopping, I knew I wasn't going to pass him."

Not to get all sentimental here, but it kinda warms the cockles of my heart.

Sunday, July 6, 2014

Cats in Art: Petite Fille au Chat (Little Girl with Cat) (Foujita)

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.

Thanks for bearing with me while Cats in Art was dark last Sunday.

Image credit Artnet, here.  Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita, Petite Fille au Chat, 1925, oil on canvas, 14" x 9", held in a private collection....but up for auction by SBI Art Auction Co., Ltd., on 26 July 2014.

So, you could own this piece, but be prepared to pay 7,000,000 to 9,000,000 yen.

Seems that the Japanese-French artist Léonard Tsuguharu Foujita lived and worked in Paris in the interwar period.  

Zuffi tells us:

One of the modern artists renowned for his images of cats, Foujita followed in the footsteps of the great Oriental drawing tradition, which has always attributed a fundamental importance to depicting nature. With is meticulous, impeccable style, this artist drew a vast number of cats, spending long periods of time observing those he owned to study there positions they adopted and their behavior.

I love this simple image, with the striking eyes of both the girl and the kitty.  Maybe I better figure out how much 7,000,000 yen is?