Saturday, August 29, 2015

A Sand County Almanac...and Ultrarunning





Earlier this week, whilst the bride was away with her ladyfriends, I spent a couple of days up at "my" shelter, the Reese Hollow Shelter, a backpacker's shelter which supports the Tuscarora Trail.

Typically when I go there it's all about chain saws, weeedwhackers, trail work and maintenance.  But last year and now this, I have resolved to just go there, perhaps putter a bit on a  couple of minor projects, but basically just chill with a good book, an adult beverage, and solitude.

I didn't see another human for two days.  All trail maintainers should be required to do this annually.

Anyway, the good book was A Sand County Almanac by Aldo Leopold.  Here's what I have previously written about it back in 2009, actually the first post I did here at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 7 year old human being), upon which I cannot improve:


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 60years, 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.

Anyway, just go read the book.  I guarantee you will a better person for doing so.


Thursday, August 27, 2015

"When the Truth is Found to be Lies"

I'm already tired of the 2016 presidential race.  As John Oliver said the other night, there will babies born before the election whose parents have not even met yet.

And when these candidate open their mouths, all I can think is that they are saying what they need to say to get elected, not necessarily what the truth is.

Which brings to mind one of the earliest performances by Jefferson Airplane, whose opening line is prophetic:

When the truth is found...to be lies...




If the embedded video playeth not, here's the link.


Tuesday, August 25, 2015

My Work Boots

I normally hike and work in lightweight, meshy boots made of some synthetic material.

But around power equipment I recognize the need for leather; in fact, when I was scheduled for a chain saw certification class for PATC (Potomac Appalachian Trail Club, my volunteer trail maintenance organization), I was required to wear high-top leather boots...which I did not then have.

So, in the spirit of reuse and recycle, I had the brainy idea to check out eBay for used boots, which is where I scored these $20 size 12 beauties:

[image credit Gary]

The bride harassed me no end, saying "Who buys used boots on eBay?  Who even has the balls to try to sell used boots on eBay?"  The word "appalled" doesn't even come close to capturing her outrage.

But I wear them well...and these were cheap boots (in the sense of inexpensive, not poorly made).  So with that in mind, I can truthfully say that your best boot is your cheap boot.

Monday, August 24, 2015

Bobblehead Post...and Ultrarunning (the JFK 50 Miler)

This is a bobblehead unlike any I have ever seen before:


Image credit Gary, of bobblehead George Alfred Townsend

And who is George Alfred Townsend, as you might be prone to inquire?


First off, the bobblehead was a fan giveaway at this past Saturday night's Class A minor league baseball game between the hometown Hagerstown Suns (affiliate of the Washington Nationals) and the Lexington Legends (affiliate of the Houston Astros).  Mister Tristan (the 7 year old human being, not the blog) and I enjoyed a great summer night of baseball.

But rather than feature a bobblehead figure from the world of sports, entertainment, or politics, the team turned to local history.  American Civil War history, to be specific.

Good on them!  This was a very cool promotion, for anyone, not just history buffs.


See, George Alfred Townsend was a member of the press, and considered to have been the youngest war correspondent of that conflict.  After the war he purchased a tract of land at Crampton's Gap, atop South Mountain near Burkittsville, MD (remember the spooky movie The Blair Witch Project, which was set nearby?).  The site was part of the Battle of South Mountain, 3 days before and a prelude to Antietam, where the Confederates held three mountain passes and delayed the Union army by at least a day, enabling General Lee to consolidate his scattered army and manage a drawn battle at Antietam.


Townsend later built on his property a memorial arch to War Correspondents, billed as the first monument to the free press in the world:

Image credit here.  

OK, you've all, I'm sure, been waiting with bated breath for the connection to Ultrarunning.  Well, the fabled JFK 50 Miler goes right past the arch (too bad they don't have you actually run through it, which would be waaaay cool...but probably not looked favorably upon my the National Park Service).

I've run the JFK 5 times and each time when you pop out of the woods and into this park early in the race, see the arch and the hundred of spectators assembled there for the race, it is quite uplifting.  


Sunday, August 23, 2015

Cats in Art: Netherlandish Proverbs (Bruegel the Elder)

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 credits Web Gallery of Art, Netehrlandish Proverbs, Pieter Bruegel the Elder, 1559, oil on wood, 46" x 64", held by Gemalddegalerie, Staatliche Museum, Berlin, GE.


See the kitty to the left middle foreground?  Didn't think so, thus the detail:


Zuffi's comments:

On the wall by the house on the left, a man is engaged in a foolish attempt to "put a bell on a cat."  There are several reasons why such an undertaking makes no sense, notably the difficulty of soothing the animal, although this cat seems rather docile and the man in armor has amply protected himself from its claws.  Once fitted with a bell, and therefore advertising its presence from a distance, the cat is no longer able to perform its chief function, that of catching mice, thus bringing loss and misfortune to its owners.  With this episode Bruegel seems to be urging us to refrain from risky and essentially vain undertakings, while at the same time censuring those cowards who need to arm themselves to acquire courage.

I'm not sure of Zuffi's analysis there at the end, because I'm thinking about using armor for the next time I need to put flea meds on my cat Amanda.  Guess I'm a wuss.


Saturday, August 22, 2015

A Howl of Delight....and Ultrarunning

....because wolves have returned to California!!

Image and article credit here.  

From the article:
California’s first gray wolf pack since wild wolves disappeared from the state nearly a century ago was spotted in the woods in the northern part of the state, wildlife officials said on Thursday.
The pack appears to include a wolf photographed by state fish and wildlife experts last month, then believed to be alone.
“This news is exciting for California,” Charlton H. Bonham, director of the Department of Fish and Wildlife, said in a statement. “We knew wolves would eventually return home to the state, and it appears now is the time.”
Pictures of the wolves – five pups and two adults – posted on the department’s website show the family in a meadow with tall trees behind them.
Officials said the pups appear to be a few months old. Officials learned of their existence thanks to cameras posted in remote parts of Siskiyou County near Mount Shasta, which snapped images of the pups and adults, the statement said. Officials have named the group the Shasta Pack.

I view it as good news--great news, actually--but some folks disagree, thinking the wolves will pose a danger to humans and their animals.  I've seen wild wolves at Yellowstone in the winter and it was one of the most thrilling days of my life.  To encounter one in the backcountry while running would be amazing. 


Tuesday, August 18, 2015

Donors Vs. Constituents

The most likely reason that ordinary people think politicians are out of touch with regular people and represent the fat cats and not them...is that it is true.

Donald Trump, who says many stupid things, revaleed the secret at the recent debate (courtesy of Talking Points Memo, from  a piece entitled "The Real reason Donald Trump Embarrasses the GOP"):

So why is Trump the enemy, really? The GOP will say it’s because he’s a clown, he has no experience, he can't win, he’s more a celebrity than a politician. This might all be true. But there’s another big reason they’d rather not talk about.
At the debate and numerous public appearances, Trump has matter-of-factly stated that he is an equal opportunity donor to Republican and Democratic candidates—not for the purpose of civic duty or altruism, but in exchange for influence. He has openly deemed his gifts to politicians a business expense. He went so far as to declare, before 24 million viewers at the debate, that he uses his donations to obtain favors from legislators who are all too eager to bow to his requests. He not-so-subtly implies that politicians are bought and paid for by him and other financial moguls. And he expects a fair return for those dollars, measured in policy rewards like zoning adjustments, subsidies for building projects and long-term tax relief. 
In short, he lets the cat out of the bag about something the political system has spent more than a century to disguise.
Representative democracy can only remain legitimate in the eyes of its citizens if they believe that those who seek and hold public office are independent actors. We have tolerated well-funded lobbying organizations, most of which get their money from rich donors and corporate investments. Hillary Clinton admits she receives huge contributions to her campaign from Wall Street titans. But she adamantly denies that these millions of dollars influence her political decisions.

Sunday, August 16, 2015

Cats in Art: Turnip (Bednar)

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.  

I have a loved one who lives in Eureka, CA, and works at the Humboldt Arts Council in the Morris Graves Museum of Art.  So...I have previously highlighted several works from The Graves Museum, but thanks to the loved one, have a couple more to share. 


Here's what the museum website says about their mission:


Museum art collections represent the nation’s patrimony and heritage, and the Humboldt Arts Council is conscious that we are entrusted with a resource that essentially belongs to the whole community— it’s yours to enjoy!

Collecting works of art is one of the most basic undertakings of an art museum. Moreover, what the museum collects strongly determines its overall character and influence in the art community at large. As a consequence, the Humboldt Arts Council in the Morris Graves Museum of Art is founded upon the principles of ethical art collecting and stewardship. The Museum recognizes that it holds for posterity a significant portion of our cultural wealth.  The Morris Graves Museum of Art is dedicated to the arts and artists of the Pacific Northwest with the highest priority given to the works of our patron artist, Morris Graves. Emphasis is placed on collecting art which builds on the evolving strengths of the collection and which also have a significant potential for long-term usefulness. 

Image credit Humboldt Arts Council in the Morris Graves Museum of Art, Turnip, Julia Bednar, size and media information unavailable.

So, this fine pussycat must be Turnip.  I wish that the genesis of his name (I assume this kitty is a male but I don't actually know that) was known to me, for that's the kind of human interest (or kitty interest) story that truly appeals to me.

Of course, the bride and I tend to name our cats using human names--Sam, Charlotte, Amanda, Sammy, Molly-- but that's our choice.  Turnip might well be the best of all possible names for this beauty.

At any rate, Turnip is a fine looking cat who seems to be boring into your mind with those eyes.  Julia Bednar captures so well that intense kitty gaze just won't quit; I just knew she surely must know and live with cats.  from the museum website:

Julia maintains an art studio at her home where she lives with several cats, strays who came from the gully to live with her and who often become subjects of her paintings. Her studio is open by appointment during the year. According to ancient Chinese philosophy...to make art good enough to enter people's hearts is called "making stone into gold". That has become Julia's mission and her mantra.

On the artistic side, the eyes are simply perfect, the progressive shadowing from left to right is spot-on, and the layering of the fur is so realistic.  And the whiskers are to die for.

But it's the eyes, always the eyes, that keep drawing me back to Turnip's face.  I'd love to see more!