Tuesday, February 24, 2015

John West Salmon Commercial...and Ultrarunning

I recently showed this old commercial to Mister Tristan (the 7 year old human being, not the blog), I guess because it's a guy thing, and he loved it.  Of course!

So, in case you missed it the first time around, please enjoy it again.  I am continually amazed at old jokes or videos like this one, that given the passage of a few years, basically become completely new again and experience a second birth.  If the embedded video does not play, the YouTube link is here.

The (very tenuous) connection to Ultrarunning, naturally, pertains to enjoying backcountry experiences.  John West is a UK company, I believe, so the red salmon depicted may be from that neck of the woods.  But whenever I see this commercial I am reminded of Alaska, where I had the pleasure of experiencing several business trips during my working career for the Defense Department.

I was able to get away for some backcountry runs; while none were in such a pretty setting as this river, the runs nevertheless were stunning in their contrast to my everyday runs here in south-central PA.

I did find myself continually looking over my shoulder for predators, though, for man-eating critters no longer inhabit Penn's Woods (unfortunately).

Sunday, February 22, 2015

Cats in Art: Drawing Room (Balthus): 2 Versions

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  This is the 3rd of a series focusing on the art of Balthazar Klossowski de Rola--AKA Balthus.

Image credit WikiArt.  Drawing Room, 1942, Balthazar Klossowski de Rola--AKA Balthus, 45" x 58", held by Museum of Modern Art, New York.

This strange painting show two girls: one relaxing, bored, or simply asleep, while the other is reading on the floor on her hands and knees.  And of course a white cat...sitting, but with its eyes closed in a dreamy-looking state.

And now note Balthus' 1943 painting, same title, same dimensions, but without the kitty (plus a couple of other minor differences).  Just not nearly as interesting:

Image credit WikiArt.  Drawing Room, 1943, Balthazar Klossowski de Rola--AKA Balthus, 45" x 58", held by Minneapolis Institute of Arts, Minneapolis, MN.

Friday, February 20, 2015

Conococheague Creek Aqueduct to be Restored

Following on my post of yesterday, it seems that the National Park Service is planning to reconstruct the Conococheague Aqueduct in Williamsport, MD. 

I wanted to show you all a couple of photos I took yesterday near the Conococheague Aqueduct. This is basically a stone arch bridge that was filled with water--the Canal--to carry boats over a major tributary of the Potomac River, the Conococheague Creek.  

Think of a Roman aqueduct from the History Channel, only big enough to carry a long skinny boat.

Looking downstream across the aqueduct
Image credit Gary

Dozens of large wall stones, recovered from the creek
Image credit Gary

Seems that back in the early 1900s a canal boat struck the upstream wall of the aqueduct and toppled it into the creek.  The huge cut stones were recovered from the creek and placed in the dry canal bed just upstream of the aqueduct.  They've been waiting there for 100 years, now they'll get placed back where they belong.  This will be a very interesting project to follow.

The stones in the second picture convey no sense of scale.  They mostly are rectangular, about 2' x 2' x 3'.  In other words, a pretty significant chunk of stone.

Here is the long term plan, per the Herald Mail newspaper, 31 Oct 2014:

WILLIAMSPORT — The U.S. National Park Service is helping to breathe new life into an iconic national and Washington County landmark along the Chesapeake and Ohio Canal.
Park service officials on Thursday announced the award of a design contract to a Virginia firm that will create the plans for a complete restoration of the stone-arch Conococheague Aqueduct, which last carried canal boats across the creek in the early 1920s.
"While we have photographs of boats going across aqueducts, no one living has ever actually boated across one" on the canal, said Kevin D. Brandt, superintendent of the C&O Canal National Historical Park. "... It's going to be a one of a kind experience here in Williamsport.”
The aqueduct project marks the next major project and final element to reinstate full canal boat operations in Williamsport, officials said.

Once completed in conjunction with several related projects, Williamsport will be the only place in North America where boaters will be able to ride over a watered aqueduct, under a railroad lift bridge and through a working canal lock, Brandt said.

This is waaaaay cool, from a canal geek!  And to think that you can run there, actually across the aqueduct!

Thursday, February 19, 2015

"But It's a Good Kind of Crazy"...and Ultrarunning

After multiple postponements I finally made it to the C+O Canal for a run this morning.  The temperature was in the low teens and the wind was a-howling, yielding a severe wind chill figure, but I decided to program for success and go ahead anyway.

I could easily dress for the cold, and when you're running in the woods, the wind typically is not a huge deal...which is exactly what I discovered.  Nevertheless, it was a cold run under extreme conditions.

I passed a couple of runners/walkers, and to the one guy I made the comment, "You and I are crazy to be out here today...but it's a good kind of crazy."  To which he nodded, behind his scarf and face mask.

As opposed to batshit crazy, like climate change deniers and anti-vaxxers.

Here is what the Canal towpath looked like today with 2" of new powdery snow underfoot.  These were both taken upstream of Williamsport, between Milepost 102 and 103:

Looking downstream, Potomac River on right
Image credit Gary

Looking upstream, frozen Potomac River on left
Image credit Gary

Anyway, I had a WONDERFUL run.  It was pretty much a winter wonderland.

Monday, February 16, 2015

Sleeping on the Top of Your Head

During this brutal cold snap here in the northeast, we're hibernating.  Our cat Tizzy is relaxing in front of the fire. 

Image credit Gary

I just love how cats can roll up and sleep on the top of their heads.

Sunday, February 15, 2015

Cats in Art: Girl and Cat (Balthus)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I am using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  This is the second of a series focusing on the art of Balthazar Klossowski de Rola--AKA Balthus.

Image credit WikiArt.  Girl and Cat, 1937, dimensions and media not specified, held in a private collection.

The kitty is resting there in the right foreground, impassive, as though it were the Sphinx.  I wish the cat were not so dark, but it certainly is an excellent rendering.  Plus I wonder about the kitty's focus: while the girl is regarding the painter with a bored expression, the cat seems focused on something happening right in front of it, to the center, but just off-canvas.

While for me--of course--the cat is the primary object, I must note how the background of the painting is quite dark, with little detail.  Balthus bathes the girl in light to focus nearly all the attention of the viewer on her.

Though it pains me to admit it, the kitty is but an afterthought.

Friday, February 13, 2015

Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Nature...and Ultrarunning

From the site Quote of the Day (13 Jan 2015), which I access from my homepage, Refdesk:

"In nature there are neither rewards nor punishments -- there are consequences." - Robert Ingersoll

The parallel to Ultrarunning is pretty obvious.  If you are undertrained for the distance, don't carry enough water, fail to have the right gear with you...BOOM.  You blow up, figuratively.  How badly you blow up depends upon how poorly you planned.

Not in a judgmental way, but just as simple a cause-and-effect result.

Or as I recall from my early Sunday School Bible training as a kid, a phrase that I use daily:

You reap what you sow.

Uruguay's President: "The Worst Negotiation is Better than the Best War"

I've been following with some interest the presidency of Jose Mujica, the leader of Uruguay.

Via The Smirking Chimp, a great article by Medea Benjamin about Mujica's policies.  You should read the entire article at the link; below I summarize the major highlights:

1. He lives simply and rejects the perks of the presidency.

2. He supported the nation’s groundbreaking legalization of marijuana.

3. In August 2013, Mujica signed the bill making Uruguay the second nation in Latin America (after Argentina) to legalize gay marriage.

4. He’s not afraid to confront corporate abuses.

5. He supported the legalization of abortion in Uruguay (his predecessor had vetoed the bill).

6. He’s an environmentalist trying to limit needless consumption. 

7. He is focusing on redistributing his nation’s wealth, claiming that his administration has reduced poverty from 37% to 11%. “Businesses just want to increase their profits; it’s up to the government to make sure they distribute enough of those profits so workers have the money to buy the goods they produce.”

8. He has offered to take detainees cleared for release from Guantanamo. 

9. He is opposed to war and militarism. “The world spends $2 billion a minute on military spending,” he exclaimed in horror to the students at American University. “I used to think there were just, noble wars, but I don’t think that anymore,” said the former armed guerrilla. “Now I think the only solution is negotiations. The worst negotiation is better than the best war, and the only way to insure peace is to cultivate tolerance.”

Why can't we have somebody like this here in the U.S.?

Tuesday, February 10, 2015

Why We Are Reluctant to Cut Our Losses in Afghanistan...and Ultrarunning

From the always-good Boing Boing, the following from David McRaney:

The same psychological hooks that cost companies millions of dollars to produce products obviously destined to fail can also keep troops in harm’s way long past the point when the whole war effort should be brought to an end. 

It’s a universal human tendency, the same one that influences you to keep watching a bad movie instead of walking out of the theater in time to catch another or that keeps you planted in your seat at a restaurant after you’ve been waiting thirty minutes for your drinks. 

If you reach the end of the quest, you think, then you haven’t truly lost anything, and that is sometimes a motivation so strong it prolongs horrific, bloody wars and enormously expensive projects well past the point when most people involved in efforts like those have felt a strong intuition that no matter the outcome, at this point, total losses will exceed any potential gains.

Knowing when to start and when to quit are often not clear-cut.  Believe me, I am not trying to be flippant in comparing running and war, but in thinking about this post I'm wondering where the point comes when dropping out makes sense.  I've only dropped out of one race in my career (a marathon back in the 1990s) and it was because I was cold and tired, not because I was injured.

So within half an hour I was feeling just fine and kicking myself for bailing.  That incident has served as a motivating reminder for the rest of my running career.

Sunday, February 8, 2015

Cats in Art: Mediterranean Cat (Balthus)

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

Image credit WikiArt, Mediterranean Cat, Balthus, 1949, 50" x 72", oil on canvas, held in a private collection.

Zuffi's analysis?

In the art of Balthus, the cat always fosters a great sense of ambiguity and tension.  In Mediterranean Cat, this French artist of Polish origin seems to realize one of the cat's dreams: not having to make an effort to obtain food.  From a rainbow over the sea, the lavish meal that the ravenous man-cat is preparing to devour descends directly onto the set table; a gigantic lobster is already on the tray.  The crystalline purity of the geometric forms and the rarefied light that permeates the surfaces bears witness to Balthus' passion for Italian Renaissance painting....

As for me--who by nature am deferential and polite to a fault--I am somehow drawn to this man-kitty as the antithesis of all that I stand for.  This cat is demanding, impatient, privileged, and just doesn't look like a nice kitty.

Yet the art is wonderful....

Saturday, February 7, 2015

Delft Kitties

This is the second of a pair of posts on kitty art pictures in society, from our Europe trip this fall.

In Amsterdam, Delft pottery and dishes are ubiquitous, as are stores that sell same.
All image credits Gary

A cool vase for the cat lover

This dish would make a good milk saucer for your feline

Friday, February 6, 2015

Black Cat at Rudesheim Cafe

Today and tomorrow I'll post some kitty art pictures in society, from our Europe trip this fall.

This one was a cat painted on the exterior wall of a cafe in Rudesheim, Germany:

Image credit Gary

I did not go inside, but I would not be surprised if there was a black cat than hangs out there.

Thursday, February 5, 2015

Ancient Trees...and Ultrarunning

Please go view the images of ancient trees on this site, then hop back.  The photographer is Beth Moon:

Standing as the earth’s largest and oldest living monuments, I believe these symbolic trees will take on a greater significance, especially at a time when our focus is directed at finding better ways to live with the environment.

Here's one example:

Did you catch your breath yet?  The words stunning, breathtaking, gorgeous, humbling, don't begin to cut it.

The link to Ultrarunning, of course, is that my backcountry runs here in PA are always in the forest.  Trees as far as the eye can see.  And because I am by nature anal about labeling and classification, I am good at tree identification.  Really good.

So as I trot around the woods I'm always looking for the unusual tree, meaning large, or unexpected in that location.  Like native American Chestnuts that are old enough to produce nuts before succumbing to blight.  Or a huge Eastern Hemlock tucked away in a precipitous, shady ravine.  Perhaps a southern tree too far north, or a northern tree too far south.

Wednesday, February 4, 2015

Mana...and Ultrarunning

A few weeks back I posted about a dark time for our family a few years ago.

Several things helped me keep going: my family; running buddies; a great support group; and a cat.

This is the kitty that helped keep me from going crazy:

Amanda--AKA "Mana"--approx 9 years old
Image credit Gary

This cat is twitchy, meaning she'll just as soon nip at you as stand to be petted.  She was a rescue kitty that we fostered ("fostered" meaning that you raise the cat awhile for the shelter, and when she doesn't get adopted she then is pretty much yours by default!).  We bottle-fed Mana, but for all that loving contact we had with her as a tiny kitten, it still seems that the lack of a real cat mother left Mana a bit emotionally and behaviorally maladjusted.

I will say that as she gets older she is getting somewhat mellower and more loving.

Mana will leap up on my lap now a couple of times a night, until she gets too hot.  Her cutest move is when she is in a sitting position and wants petted--she'll stand up on her haunches like a meerkat or prairie dog to reach my hand coming down for the head petting action.

The connection to Ultrarunning is tenuous, but real.  Whenever I come back from a backcountry run, Mana checks me out thoroughly.  I suppose the woodsy smells on my clothing and trail shoes are simply more fascinating than when I just do a "normal" road run.

Anyway, we truly hope to have Mana for awhile yet, but when her number is finally up, her epitaph will read, "A Good Kitty."  And I'll remember and thank her for what she did for me.

Tuesday, February 3, 2015

Winter Running

I want to put in an unsolicited plug for Kevin Sayers' great site called UltRunR, where he has collected a ton of great advice and info over the years.

In today's run I faced a variety of cold and windy conditions, and I was reminded of a post  of mine to the UltraList that Kevin also copied to his site.  The point is that dressing in layers per se is only half the story--you must actively manage your microclimate by taking off/putting on those layers, using zippers, etc.

Here's what I wrote back then.  It's still all applicable except I now use an outer jacket or vest on top anytime during the winter.

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!).

Sunday, February 1, 2015

Cats in Art: The Toilet (Boucher)

Life is rearing its beautiful head today, so I will repost a piece from 3 years ago.  Enjoy!
Link is here.


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

Here for the second week in a row we have another piece from Francois Bouchet:

Image credit WikiPaintings (click to enlarge). The Toilet, Francois Boucher, 1742, oil on canvas, 21" x 30", held by Museo Thyssen-Bornemisza, Madrid, Spain. 

Zuffi's analysis:

The cat, playing slyly with the ball of thread at the lady's feet, is one of the customary amorous touches of which the artist was fond, like the love letter and the garters left absently on the mantlepiece.  It's mewing--barely hinted at--is further confirmation of its complicity, but also a delightful device to illustrate the presence of the painter who is portraying the lady and her maid. 

The cat's expression is vey realistic to me, caught in the middle of play.  Boucher obviously knew his cats.  Put a hand down there and better be prepared for a scratch or play bite.