Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Brucian morning

I was out before seven Sunday morning, shuffling my usual VS2, and I crossed paths with two other early morning pedestrians. Bruce 1 and I have known each other for decades. We played baseball together, and, temporarily but firmly known as Speedball, he captained my high school cross-country team when I was a junior. (Our team always arrived at away meets in style. The younger boys rode in the coach’s battered, early-’50s Buick, and we grand oldsters laughed our way along in the moving clubhouse that was Bruce’s rattletrap even-earlier-’50s Chevy hydromatic—known simply as The Bomb—urging it back up to speed with encouraging comments and body english after every stop sign or signal.) On our walks, Paul and I often pass a few semi-humorous remarks with Bruce in his front yard as he heads for his car and work. Sunday, he was out for a walk of his own, and as we passed, his question about Paul was asked and answered on the fly. (Away again, eating with Gotham sophisticates in swank New York restaurants.)

Bruce 2 I barely know, but he puts me to shame. Tall, and thin as a rail, he uses that upright, light-footed, short-striding, high turnover style you often see in ultra runners, to do his daily seven miles. He runs the same out-and-back day after day, and almost never misses. When I chatted briefly with him at the library recently, he told me he’d just taken his first two days off in almost a year. He’s vastly fitter than I am, and at least 10 years younger, but he described a familiar problem to explain his enforced rest: “I begin to feel good, I push things a little, and....” Yes, yes, I understand.

The brief encounter with Bruce 1 got me thinking about favorite running partners over the years, and I quickly defaulted to memories of running with our daughter when she was very young. She would sometimes accompany me on her first bicycle. She delighted in coasting on the hills. Down, of course, but up, too, where she giggled as I leaned in and pushed her toward the top, grunting, “Pedal! Pedal!” She began coming along on foot when she was quite small. I’d cant slightly to the right to take her little hand (a technique instituted after an unfortunate trip and fall), and away we’d go for perhaps half a mile, when she’d say, “Can we take a rest now?” and we’d walk along together chatting about one thing or another, until I’d say, “How about if we pick it up again when we get to that next telephone pole?” She’d say, “How about the one after that?” And, of course, the one after that it was. Favorite running partner? No contest, really.

Monday, July 28, 2008


Ha! Nothing like forgetting the key to the door. I meant to include this link, from the Gallup Poll, as the focus of yesterday’s post.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Vin ordinaire

We drink mostly wine here. A glass or two in the evening, more if we’re joined by friends. There’s always a bottle of something bubbly in the fridge, just in case a celebration comes in order. (We celebrate promiscuously. Why not?) After the big Friday night gathering there’s a real chiming going on when I put out the empties.

When I was a young man, I got really wrapped up in wine. I read, I kept a label book with tasting notes, and I drank as much good stuff as we could afford. (I once found a bottle of Chateau Carbonnieux in a Charlottesville, Virginia Safeway bin for a little over $3. A steal even in the mid-’70s). Then I realized that a person with an obsessive personality should probably chose a cheaper and less—what?—dizzying obsession. Nowadays, with the help of an excellent wine merchant, we concentrate on good stuff that for one reason or another is essentially under-priced, and in an effort at mental health I make an effort not to keep close track of what runs through the rack in the closet. A bottle that costs over $10-12 is a rarity at our table. A bottle that costs less isn’t. We usually avoid disaster (though they make for the best stories after the fact—one of us has learned to say “this wine is corky” in Italian), cheerfully toss down the adequate, and bend our loyalties toward the occasional exceptional discovery.

Over the years, I’ve trained myself so far from expertise and involvement that I’ve never seen Sideways, and through a series of random opportunities a while back, I thought I’d discovered all by myself that American producers, after years of marketing Pinot Noirs that were mostly just not very good, had figured out how to make really fine ones. Of course, they’re all waaay too expensive.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Hey, I was just looking for some jazz...

If you subscribe to iTunes, take a look at the feature offered in “iTunes U” by the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Arts and Sciences, “60 Second Lectures” (which, as far as I can tell are mostly 90-second lectures). There’s a puckishly amusing one by poet Charles Bernstein, called “What Makes a Poem a Poem.” (He endearingly—and I’m sure by no means innocently—pronounces the word the way most Americans do: Pome.) There’s also the possibly unintentional poetry of “Human History,” offered by intellectual historian Alan Charles Kors. And 19 other cool stretched minutes, which I’ve just discovered you can also find here and here.

Friday, July 25, 2008

The big DeSoto

I grew up in an old house that had a wonderful screened porch looking

through the remains of an eccentric apple plantation down the yard toward the drive and garage.

In the summers of my pre-teen boyhood, I often had friends spend Saturday night, and we invariably “slept” on that porch, watching fireflies and discussing the vital issues of boyhood, which in my memory seem to have centered on the key topics of baseball and whether we’d get the mean teacher or the nice one in the fall. We’d eventually conk out, and very often I was nudged awake shortly after Sunday’s dawn to answer the whispered question, “Who is that guy?”

I never needed to look. “It’s my father’s friend, Mr. Anderson.” And there in the drive would be, not just our little 1953 Hudson Jet, but a big, gray, magnificently finned DeSoto. Next to it, on the dewy grass apron in front of the left-hand garage door, would be a very long man lying on a nearly horizontal beach recliner, singing a hymn.

Mr Anderson, six-foot-six, was a generation older than my father, but a friend and mentor from work. Divorced and lonely, as even a boy could see, he lived in the city my parents had left in favor of this fixer-upper in the country. He visited fairly often, sometimes taking us for cloud-like rides that always seemed to include a stop at an ice cream stand. At some point, he’d asked my father if he could come out on Sunday mornings to commune with nature and the deity at the edge of our driveway.

Regular sleep-over guests got used to the big DeSoto and the tall man in the chaise longue vocalizing in the driveway. (The whispered comment became, “There’s Mr. Anderson.”)

He didn’t expect company or an invitation to breakfast. My dad had discovered that early on and had decided simply to leave his friend to his own sabbath devices. Eventually, the tall man would stand up, fold the recliner into the DeSoto’s cavernous trunk, and motor silently away, leaving two boys, wondering, on that big screened porch.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Pair up your animals

Weathercasters this morning were gleefully terrifying us, showing maps of a green-yellow east coast and scaring us with video of cars consumed as torrents raced down streets. This is catastrophe of the first order! Pair up your animals and launch the family ark!

Oh, what fun! It was pouring out, and my choice of a brolly rather than a rainsuit may have been a little optimistic, though Paul, well swaddled, wound up looking once again like a drowned rat while I just looked like a guy who’d forgotten to get undressed before hopping into the shower, a much more fashionable presentation.

At the bottom of the cemetery, Lake H was full up. Oblivious drivers of the dwindling number of SUVs sent up sheets of water from the puddles along the roads.

Hardrocks, orthotics, and innersoles now line the entryway bench, slowly airing themelves dry.

It stopped raining some time ago. (Oh, too bad! No houses collapsing into swept-away river banks!). I’m off over the hill to Roxbury to buy some beautiful local tomatoes.

I imagine the weather people have turned their attention elsewhere. There are always those fires in California. By the way, how warm is it supposed to get today?

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

The well is dry...

...and since I’m my own editor, I get to say, “Oh, no problem. Let’s go with this clip from The Onion.”

Study: Most Children Strongly Opposed To Children’s Healthcare

Thursday, July 17, 2008

The Sam sandal

Last summer, H, A, and I decided to do the Hancock Loop, north of the Kancamagus Highway. North and South Hancock (technically, I think, the north and south peaks of Mt. Hancock) are 4,000-footers. The trailhead is right at the hairpin curve that is so prominent toward the west end of the Kanc.

This is a wet walk, with lots of brook crossings, and at a substantial wade a few miles in, I shucked my trail runners, tied their laces together, and barefooted daintily across with them draped around my neck.

With me on the other side, H decided to toss her shoes the 20-30 feet across the swift-moving stream. As she wound up for a good overhand heave, I suggested that she make the throw underhand for better control. She, of course, always takes fatherly advice (which is to say she generally humors the old man), so she began again. Back swung her arm, then forward, and the shoe, catching oddly on the end of a finger, flew almost straight up in the air, and to the sound of three people bleating “Oh, noooo!” plunged into the churning water. It briefly caught an eddy on my side, but I couldn’t get to it because the bank was too steep. Off it went like an unruddered boat, sluicing downriver with me chasing it on one side and A on the other, while H hopped around emitting sounds of disgust and dismay. I quickly ran cursing into an impenetrable wall of underbrush, but A swiftly disappeared downstream, shadowing the runaway footwear as it plunged through minor rapids and occasionally paused tantalizingly in small eddies.

I scrambled back across the stream, and with H limping alongside, headed downriver to see what success A might have had. No joy. He returned empty-handed from the rougher water downstream. So here we were, several miles from the trailhead, with six feet and five shoes. The walking wasn’t too rough by White Mountain standards, but it wasn’t verdant greensward, either. We agreed A should continue over the peaks, while I would slowly walk H back out to the road. She began by keeping a sock on her shoeless right foot, and I thought we would switch when she needed a break—she could slip one of my shoes on, and I would go socky for a while, and so forth.

But when the time came for a change, H had a better idea. An EMT with a certain amount of experience in the woods, she always carries a Sam Splint in the bottom of her pack. She pulled it out, rummaged in her first aid kit for a triangular bandage, and with a little trial and error, created this elegant sandal that saw her comfortably out.

This does not, of course, mean that she avoided being teased mercilessly. Hey, nice arm, kid!

Wednesday, July 16, 2008

The Mid-Summer Classic

Last night was baseball’s All-Star Game, when the best players from the National League (“the Senior Circuit,” founded 1876) play the best players from the American League (“the Junior Circuit,” having claimed major league status in 1901).

I’m a Red Sox fan, so I root for the American League. And the AL is on a roll. They haven’t lost this game since the mid-’90s. (Once when we lived in England in the early ’70s, some moron on the BBC described the American League as “the second division” based on what was then an ongoing NL All-Star streak. It was several hours before I was allowed out to the pub.)

I’ve always loved this game. It marks the half-way point of the season, so many young players have had their chance to break out, and merely good veterans have embarked on their career year. It brings together players who seldom have a chance to play with or against each other. (This was much more true in my youth, when there were no inter-league games, and many fewer inter-league trades.) And it has a rich history of notable events involving famous players. (When I was a boy, it was also the day my mother and I picked the currents in the garden—while listening to what was in those days a day game.)

In the early years of the 1930s, and for perhaps 25 years afterward, both leagues took this game seriously. Then gradually, it began to slide toward desuetude as it became all too obvious that the players were only going through the motions. I stopped paying much attention. Then, a few years ago, Major League Baseball made a brilliant move. (I can’t tell you how odd it is to write that sentence.) The league that wins the All-Star Game gets home-field advantage in the World Series. This is a big deal, and all of a sudden, the players began to take the game seriously again.

As I’ve written here before, I no longer pay daily attention to baseball, and I didn’t even know the names of a lot of the truly wonderful players on exhibition last night. It didn’t matter. I enjoyed watching, regardless (even the poor kid who made three errors and struck out three times...he’ll be back). And I got my money’s worth. Instead of the usual nine, the game went 15 exciting innings. And the American League won again, 4-3. The National League is so second division.

The bad people

There’s a line uttered by a dying character, a partisan fighting the Nazis along the Eastern Front, in Alan Furst’s The Polish Officer: “The bad people want it their own way, my friend. And how badly they want it is the study of a lifetime.”

This has become the story of American politics. Broadly speaking, they used to be about a strong set of disagreements by mostly unidealistic and often venal people who were nonetheless somewhat constrained by a certain sometimes vague set of democratic principles. Both sides had their cretins, criminals, and buffoons (the Republicans inherited many when the Democrats decisively backed civil rights in the ’60s). For decades now, though, from Nixon, through Reagan through the Gingrich-led Republican takeover of Congress in 1994, it’s been more and more about the bad people wanting their own way and the rest of us not studying seriously enough how badly they want it. The dark-of-night eight years of the criminal Darth Cheney debacle have finally caused at least some Democrats to go to school. The press? With a few exceptions (gradually increasing in number, but still a small percentage), it believes that it’s such bad form, darling, to call public officials bad people. Besides, they were so charming at the party the other night.

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Unresting castles

My ignorance in areas I thought I had covered is always wandering up from behind to whack me on the side of the head. It’s been doing this since childhood, and it’s often a joy, actually. Why it still surprises me is the mystery.

A few months ago I read an entertaining mystery by Charles Finch called A Beautiful Blue Death. The author is a young man whose blurb on the flyleaf says he is a graduate of Yale and Oxford. Interested, I googled him, and eventually got to his blog, where, as a sort of token of Spring, he had posted a poem by Philip Larkin.

I wrestle a bit with poetry. (As a reader, not a writer. With Whitman and Dickinson as the foundation stones of American poetry, I find real, sweaty, grappling necessary. I sometimes actually come to grips with W, but D always defeats me.) Although I admit to only trying Larkin after the awful posthumous to-do, I thought I’d achieved my usual nearly worthless superficial familiarity with his better-known work. But I’d never seen, read, or heard of The Trees, which I gather (Google again) is not exactly obscure. I read it roughly as the myth of Sisyphus made cyclical. What do you think?

At least even those of you who know it already can begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

The trees are coming into leaf
Like something almost being said;
The recent buds relax and spread,
Their greenness is a kind of grief.

Is it that they are born again
And we grow old? No, they die too.
Their yearly trick of looking new
Is written down in rings of grain.

Yet still the unresting castles thresh
In fullgrown thickness every May.
Last year is dead, they seem to say,
Begin afresh, afresh, afresh.

Monday, July 14, 2008

More on eatin’

While I was up north, J&P introduced me to a new favorite of theirs. Stella’s is on the green in Lyme New Hampshire, in what used to be the hardware store. A very good delicatessen and take-out with a nice, reasonably priced restaurant behind. Decent pizzas, good beer. Went there twice. Be going back again.

New Englanders eat more ice cream than people in any other part of the US. This has led to a wonderful scattering of ice cream stands across the countryside, many of which have metastasized into hot dog stands as well. Thursday I would have stopped at the Rainbow, in Woodsville, NH, if it hadn’t been nearly invisible through solid sheets of rain when I passed. I pulled into the puddled lot of the Whippi Dip in Fairlee, Vermont, instead. Fat Bob’s, in Warren, NH (ice cream only...no dogs), is near Mt. Moosilauke and has long been a favorite of the Dartmouth Outing Club.

There are also a lot of good diners in this part of the world. I mentioned Isabell’s, which is not exactly a diner, but serves diner-style food. There’s also the classic Fairlee Diner in Fairlee, the very good Littleton Diner in Littleton, NH, and the P&H Truck Stop, which A introduced me to, just off I-91 in Wells River, VT, which has terrific home-made breads, cakes, and pies.

Ferreting out places like these and swapping names and locations with friends is one of the many small joys of visiting the north country.

The walkin’, day 2

The Wednesday storms—they were as advertised—partially cleared out the hot muggy weather, and Thursday was quite nice. I took the chance to climb up the back side of the Kinsmans and top out both North and South. The lower north peak, which barely pokes above treeline, is guarded by slabs that require a little scrambling. As usual, more awkward coming down than going up.

The south peak stands proud, and is marked by a fair-sized cairn, to which I added the usual good-luck stone.

Aside from a local woman who unhurriedly passed me as if I were standing still, I saw no one else until I ran into two men just below the summit of South Kinsman. They had come up the standard route from Franconia Notch. Heading back down, I met some camp groups that had made latish starts. I made a brief side trip to take in the views from Bald Peak on the way down. Up and down about 11 miles, 4,000 ft. ascent, book time about 8 hr., my time about 6 hr.

As I wrote in the post about yesterday’s walk, beating the formula-based book time is very common. My times were as quick as they were because I was carrying little weight. This trip gave me the chance to shake down the Inov8 Race Pro 18 I bought in Braemar during the Challenge.

I’d brought it along to New Hampshire for two planned short forays from Guyot Shelter up on the Bond ridge, and it worked very well as a daysack. The hydration bladder in the hipbelt is an inspired idea, and the pack carried comfortably. Good kit.

Trouble with Blogger...

...It won’t break text where I want it to. I can't control much in life, but I’m determined to control my own grafs.

Back when fixed.

Sunday, July 13, 2008

The walkin’, day 1

The weather changed my plans. I was warned off the peaks Wednesday by the excellent Vermont Public Radio, which was calling for view-obscuring haze, followed by strong thunderstorms with lightning and possibly hail. I decided to skip the Bonds and stay low. I wandered out and back on an old favorite, down Zealand Notch on a trail that was once the bed of a logging railway. Flattish and easy walking, it’s a part of the AT that is northbound, but runs almost due south.

My college’s alma mater includes the lines:
They have the still North in their hearts,
The hill-winds in their veins,
And the granite of New Hampshire
In their muscles and their brains
I have a feeling that the last sentiment meant something different in 1894 than it means today, not that many of us don’t, in fact, have rocks in our heads. But walking this trail, it’s easy to see where the obsession with the intrusive, felsic, and igneous comes from.

I walked in as far as Thoreau Falls, soaked my feet,

and strolled back out, stopping to say hello at Zealand Falls Hut

to a member of the croo who was baking bread for the evening meal. I also met a charming Brit couple on a day walk to Zealand Mountain.

Out and back about 10 miles, 1,200 ft. ascent, book time about 6 hr., my time about 4 hr. (Everybody beats book time.)

Saturday, July 12, 2008

Babe magnet...

...nah. I am that much rarer bird, a New Hampshire cop magnet. Yes, I was again stopped by a policeman while wending my way among the glorious mountains of Northern New England. This time was, I must say, the most pleasant stop I’ve ever experienced. And this time I was speeding. Driving in the mid-40s (MPH) along Rt. 117 in Sugar Hill (home of Polly’s Pancake Parlor), I cruised blithely (and, I thought, legally) past the town’s Chevy Blazer cruiser, and a little farther up the road saw the blue lights in my rear-view mirror. The center of the village, a short (one might, under other circumstances, say a speed-trap length) stretch, has a posted limit of 30.

The polite officer wished me a good morning, acquainted me with the aformentioned fact (minus the speed-trap part), asked me where I was planning to hike (my elegant clothing and grooming were the tip-off, I think), approved, collected my license and registration, and returned to his vehicle to run the check while I sat fidgeting under the raised hatch of my Outback. He emerged a few minutes later, told me with great good humor that I was apparently not a terrorist, that I was free to go, and that I should drive safely and have a good day. Not even a written warning, let alone a ticket. So I guess I won’t show up in the police blotters of small New England newspapers this time...no one will ever know.

Richard Mabey

You Brits know him, but I don’t. There was an article this morning in the Washington Post about his book, Nature Cure.

The article, by Adrian Higgins, is unusually sensitive and perceptive. He characterizes the writer’s depression as “a deep, numbing sense of despair induced by nothing in particular and everything in general,” and tells us that Mabey’s intention to make the book an investigation of depression “through an ecological prism” is “made harder by the fact that melancholy has no raison d’etre in biological terms.” He quotes Mabey as writing that depression “seems to have no connection with the biological business of living at all. And what it did to me was unearthly, in that it negated, cut dead, all the things in which I most believed: the importance of sensual engagement with the world, the link between feeling and intelligence, the inseparability of nature and culture.”

That “unearthly” cuts to the quick, doesn’t it?

Not a book I intend to let pass by.

Monday, July 7, 2008

Walkin’ and eatin’

I’m off north tomorrow morning. There is a fair chance of rain Wednesday and Thursday, with some thunder and lightning thrown in. Temps in the Fahrenheit mid-80s (35-ish Celsius). Humidity in low 60s. The famously spectacular views from West Bond and Bondcliff will probably be obscured. I’ll just have to return with H&A ... and perhaps, eventually, the little one. There’s a version of this walk that is a traverse, as opposed to my planned loop. With a jolly crew and a second car, that would be great fun.

I always eat well when I go north, where I have the use of a friend’s cottage on the west (Vermont) side of the Connecticut River. Best of all, there’s home cookin’ at J&P’s. I also often have a dinner with J&P or others at the Canoe Club in Hanover or the Norwich Inn back across the river in Vermont, where brewmaster Patrick Dakin, who with aplomb played a major role in H&A’s wedding celebration, creates small and rotating batches of his excellent beers. Mornings, I frequent comfy, friendly Isabell’s cafe in East Thetford (fresh ingrediants, homemade baked goods) or, if I’m headed that way, the previously mentioned Polly’s Pancake Parlor in Sugar Hill, New Hampshire (the plan for Wednesday morning). Before I come home, I usually stop at the Hanover Co-op to buy a few loaves of Red Hen ciabatta and, if it’s available, a big chunk of the best cheddar I’ve ever tasted, Cabot/Jasper Hill Clothbound. Maple sugar (Grade B: much tastier than that flashy, lightweight Grade A stuff) and good farm hard cider sometimes round out the shopping. When it’s open in the summer, I also often stop on the way up or back in Putney, Vermont, at the funky Curtis’ BBQ (lunch tomorrow for sure).


Sunday, July 6, 2008

Packing up

It’s pretty settled, I think. I’m declining the trip to Seattle this week, and instead, barring truly atrocious weather or another significant infelicity, will head north for the mountains. I’ll see some friends, have a breakfast at the nonpareil Polly’s Pancake Parlor, spend two days walking something close to the route I’ve written about, then wander home in time for the usual Friday evening pasta-fest.

This is shaping up as a solo, since H is eight months pregnant and in Minnesota, and nobody else I’ve approached has the time or inclination (what is with these people?). I’ll be on generally familiar ground, though, and anticipate a bit of what I’m sure will be good company near Guyot Shelter in the evening.

I mentioned in an earlier post the 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers as rough equivalents of Scotland’s Munros. I’ve never made much of an effort to complete my list, but I feel a need to get something done to compensate for my Challenge disappointment. On this stroll I’ll cross the summits of four (or maybe five) I haven’t yet checked off, which I think would put me in the mid-30s. If I’m able to steal another few days later in the month or on into fall, I have the Kinsmans (from the Rt. 116 trail head to the west) in my sights. And three or four more that have always seemed to me to be great winter goals. So one obsession may be replacing another.

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Puddle jumping

We had a lovely light rain overnight, and it was still coming tenaciously down early this morning. This is the kind of weather I most love to run in. In the cemetery, the big puddle we call Lake H covered the path and I splashed merrily through.

Every time I do this I think of a day when H was still a littlish girl and we’d been out getting damp together. The driveway of our house in those days had, off to its side, a depression that filled temptingly after every rain.

As we walked past it on this day, I jumped into it with both feet, throwing up a sheet of water that soaked her already damp legs and shoes. She, naturally, leapt in to repay me in kind, and we spend a loud and happy minute laughing and stamping and dancing and making sure the other was thoroughly wet through. The memory has been good for a smile and a chuckle ever since—a joy I can summon just by getting my feet wet.

Friday, July 4, 2008

The Onion...it makes you cry

I wonder why it doesn’t seem to register with the networks that the best journalism in America is parody.

Bush Tours America To Survey Damage Caused By His Disastrous Presidency

Thursday, July 3, 2008

Le livre d’aujourd’hui

Paul’s gone cosmopolite on me again, so I was solo for walk as well as shuffle this morning. This gave me the chance to swap iPods between events, and hook up to a book I’ve been listening to in the car, called The Apprentice: My Life in the Kitchen, by Jacques Pepin. I liked Pepin from the first time I saw him on TV, with his wonderful French accent, easy-going approach to technique, and general joy at the counter and stove. But I became a real fan when I realized that he, too, was the slightly stunned father of a beautiful, charming, and accomplished daughter.

I’m no foodie. If someone asks me for the best place to eat around here, I’m likely to recommend Blackie’s, home of the world’s best hot dogs (and conveniently between me and the nearest REI). But Pepin’s story of a classic French apprenticeship, followed by a life in the US using and modifying what he had learned, is fascinating. And he seems like a guy who’d appreciate Blackie’s, too.

I can’t start listening to this book on the Shuffle, because I could never find the spot where I left off, so I’m still searching for an appropriate replacement for what this morning began with “Come Softly to Me” and ended with “Silhouettes”. Let me take you out today with a dulcet and deeply meaningful Wa-wa-ooooooo.

Wednesday, July 2, 2008

Enough, already

Sunday: “Lean on Me”/“Sincerely”.
Monday: “Just One Look”/“Leavin’ It Up to You
Tuesday: “Bye Bye Love”/“Stand By Me
Today: “Spanish Harlem”/“Respect”

It’s been pretty hot and humid, so I’ve been shuffling early. The ankle has been fine, and all my other parts seem temporarily to be functioning as designed. Moving is still feeling good, and getting out at the crack of dawn every morning leaves me with that preening, self-satisfied glow that is so attractive to others.

It’s the music that’s starting to get to me.

I’ve never been a music man as a runner. I don’t have whatever skills it takes to properly engage the gears among brain, lungs, and muscle, and listen to tunes at the same time. That’s why I go for the sounds when it’s important those gears not be effectively engaged.

A few years ago, I consulted with friends, plumbed my own memory, made a list, and downloaded an even 100 ’50s and ’60s pop songs to iTunes for events surrounding a major twist ’n shout social event. It’s a large subset of this stuff that I loaded to the Shuffle as tunes to go slow by.

I like Oldies. They remind me of moments that the passage of time has lit with golden sun and populated with happy people doing uniquely splendid things. But with rare exceptions that’s really all they are to me: mere nostalgia, a realm that, after I thank my dance partner, wipe my brow, and tuck in my shirt, has always given me the quick willies. So piping this stuff into my ears every morning has gotten old fast.

So I’m thinking of trying a book. There’s nothing better to distract your attention, which is the point here. But books don’t work all that well on the Shuffle. Although you can suppress the shuffling, you can’t see where you are or run things back a few minutes if you want to hear that bit of wit or moment of stunning pomposity again. Perhaps I’ll give it a try all the same. Something shortish for starters. Maybe something about music.

Tuesday, July 1, 2008

The Glorious 4th

This Friday will be the 4th of July. Parades, picnics, fireworks, all that stuff. For 10 or 12 years in the ’80s and ’90s our family and a bunch of friends migrated to a nearby town for a gigantic community do. I used to steam mussels, friends brought their specialties, we drank a lot of beer and wine, and as it got dark we settled back for a long, noisy, wonderful fireworks display. For some years now, we’ve been joining friends with a swimming pool for a somewhat more genteel afternoon of paddling, tasting, and sipping. The highlight of the event isn’t fireworks, but a reading of the Declaration of Independence. Most of us are of an age to have been required to memorize parts of the Declaration in school, and as we listen we tend to recite it to ourselves as many do the Book of Common Prayer. It is one of humanity’s great documents, and it can still inspire awe—not just in Americans, I think.

Many of us forget, though, that the bulk of it—the long middle section we weren’t required to commit to memory—is a litany of complaints against George III. The signers believed that “a decent respect to the opinions of mankind” required that that the world know why they were taking such an extraordinary and dangerous step. This part of the Declaration is often considered quaint, even funny, at this distant remove. But in 2008, only the dullest listener or reader could fail to notice that many of the items enumerated to demonstrate “a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, all having in direct object the establishment of an absolute Tyranny” aren’t very different at all from what the current President of the United States, his administration, and his party in Congress have been busy with over the last seven years.

Ben Franklin once famously said, “The man who trades freedom for security doesn’t deserve either.” This is a universe away our current political standard, enunciated by the administration and its boot-lickers, who have done their craven best to make that transaction seem like common sense, rather than the cowardly surrender to terror that it is. For example, Senator Pat Roberts (R-Kansas), asserts, “I am a strong supporter of the First Amendment, the Fourth Amendment and civil liberties, but you have no civil liberties if you are dead.”

Right, Senator, and I’m sure the men who put their heads in a noose by signing the document we celebrate this week would appreciate the sentiment. Besides, it’s no big deal. The First Amendment merely guarantees freedom of religion, speech, the press, assembly, and peaceful protest. The Fourth Amendment is truly subversive … it prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures.

At the end of the Constitutional deliberations in 1789, Franklin was asked. “Well, Doctor, what have we got—a Republic or a Monarchy?”

“A Republic, if you can keep it.”

The jury’s still out. Oh, wait, do we still do juries?