Thursday, December 31, 2009

The 100 best last lines of novels

Berthe Morisot, La lecture

This, from the American Book Review, by way of the Utne Reader, (click through for the .pdf) is old, but I just found it. Of course, lists like this are all gimmicks, and you can think of five objections in 10 seconds to the basic concept of this one—beginning with the concept of Best. But it’s a reasonable list, I enjoyed it, and it at least has the merit of showing off some arresting writing that can remind you of something you should read or re-read. (Actually, any list that includes both The Invisible Man and Tristram Shandy is probably going to be OK with me.)

So, leaving aside Best as the cataloguers here mean it:

As far as American novels are concerned, the two best known last lines are almost certainly No. 3, from Gatsby (“So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past.”) and No. 5, from Huck Finn (“But I reckon I got to light out for the Territory ahead of the rest, because Aunt Sally she’s going to adopt me and sivilize me and I can’t stand it. I been there before.”)—probably in opposite order.

Forced to include the Brits (sigh), the best known of all 100 has to be No. 8, from Tale of Two Cities (“It is a far, far better thing that I do, than I have ever done; it is a far, far better rest that I go to than I have ever known.”)

And the most beloved must be No. 66, from Pooh Corner (“But wherever they go, and whatever happens to them on the way, in that enchanted place on the top of the Forest, a little boy and his Bear will always be playing.”), don’t you think?

On the personal side:

The one that helped send me as a young reader off in the most radically different direction: No. 9, from Heart of Darkness.

The one I was happiest to see because I didn’t expect it to make the list (about as unfashionable as possible right now): No. 54, from My Antonia.

A few special favorites delightedly discovered (rediscovered?) here: Nos. 2, 6, 7, 19, 21, 26, 95: from Invisible Man, The Sun Also Rises, 1984, Tristram Shandy, Cat’s Cradle, Catch-22, and Bang the Drum Slowly (pretty good advice: “From here on in I rag nobody.”).

Of course, an uncounted number of these last lines that I never got to because I never read the first ones. (And a few I never got to because I did.)

Wednesday, December 30, 2009


A few weeks ago, I took a length of coiled decorative evergreen roping out of the back of my car, tossed it onto a small patch of lawn near the driveway, and forgot about it. A few days before Christmas, I was called upon to produce same. Unfortunately, it had snowed, the driveway had been plowed, and the roping was now under a small glacier-like feature—two or three feet of dirty, compressed, frozen snow, hard as a Republican’s heart. A shovel didn’t make a dent. So I had an unanticipated, and I must say unappreciated, chance to put my seldom-used ice axe (an old Chouinard 70 cm.) to work. A little avalanche rescue practice right here at home. Found the victim, too, and dug him out in perfect condition.

Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Cold layers

With one or two exceptions, it’s been cold the last week or more, and windy with it, so wind chills in the morning have often been in the Fahrenheit teens and single digits. Not quite Iditarod cold (that’s not me above), but for both runs and walks I had to break out the winter stuff.

Shuffling’s really not that big a deal. Winter runners know that the trick is to be cold when you start so you'll be warm—but not too warm—in a mile. (Even so, we often come home unzipped and de-pantsed. How racey.)

Until fairly recently I went out in mostly cotton, which was fine since cotton doen’t kill if you can go home after an hour, take a shower, and change. The added benefit: cheap, cheap, cheap.

Now, though, I’ve upgraded to old, well-used “technical” stuff. In temps like the ones we’ve had lately, I’m fine with a GoLite DriMove baselayer on top,

covered by the favorite EMS Bergelene midweight that was a gift from H, and then one of two aging, ratty SportHill jackets, depending on whether wind protection or warmth is more important.

When I’m running, despite my lousy finger circulation, a simple pair of cotton gardening gloves does the trick unless it’s raining or below Farenheit zero. They get wet fast in near-freezing precip, but they block the wind very well. And: cheap, cheap, cheap.

On the bottom, until the temps go lower or the wind gets even stronger, I go with running shorts (sufficient by themselves down to about 40°F (4.5°C) under old, crotch-sprung SportHills similar to these, which I like because they have pockets (though these newer models unfortunately seem to be a bit baggier). When things head toward Fahrenheit zero, I change to these, which I originally bought for cross-country skiing and which are also my standard winter mountain wear. (Mine are old enough to have been called “Koch” pants, after our great cross-country ski champ of the 1970s, Bill Koch.) This stuff is so old that it has become cheap, cheap, cheap through prorating. Per run? A penny? Less?

The real problem for me is staying comfortable from the neck up. I have a thing about keeping my jaw and chin warm, so I often start with a Buff around my neck even in temps above freezing. In colder weather, I go to a heavier Turtle Fur neck gaiter, which I pull down over my head after I have my OR Peruvian hat on. It’s easier to get off that way, and keeps the earflaps more

effectively in play. Most days, a lot of this—sometimes all of it—quickly winds up in pockets or hands or tucked in waistbands or wound around my wrists. It’s my sissy layer.

A couple of weeks ago, with temps in the teens F., I tried replacing the EMS top with my new Patagonia R1 Hoody (mine’s light blue), which I bought on sale last year, but which was still a long way from cheap, cheap, cheap. Too warm.
But great for winter walking in this weather, about which more in some future post.

Monday, December 28, 2009

Christmas pies

Well before Christmas, I brought a bag of heirloom apples home to eat. Life intervened, and they remained tucked cooly away gently softening. I rescued them on the 24th and used them for one of the two pies I baked for Christmas dinner. Hudson Golden Gems, Golden Russets, Ashmead’s Kernels, and Hubbardston Nonesuches. The apples had lost some of their natural tartness, but the pie was not bad at all.

I’m chuffed that I am beginning to create really good, light, flaky crust. I’ve learned that the amount of liquid required varies tremendously depending, I suppose, on the amount of moisture in the air. This time, I used twice the usual amount. Also, after deep study and experimentation, I’m finally developing a good edge-crimping technique. Brain surgery isn’t in it.

The other pie was mince, very much not a favorite of mine. The guest for whom it was created, though, called the best he’d ever had (thanks, Dad, sorry about the memory loss).

As my late mother-in-law used to say in joking self-deprecation, “Pin a rose on me.”

Sunday, December 27, 2009

Go for Baroque

This, from today’s New York Times, is very cool. I’ve always been repelled by that “Phantom of the Opera”-style organ music, played on those huge, bellowing, late-19th Century monstrosities. But great Baroque music played on a great Baroque organ...that’s something else altogether. Our local Episcopal church had a much smaller Baroque organ installed a few years back, and its crispness and precision are wonderful. The one in the Times article is in Rochester, NY, A’s home town, so there’s a decent chance I might someday get to hear it.

Wednesday, December 16, 2009


I’m finally back on the roads after a commercial break sponsored by my left achilles. Very slow, very short, and begun with a careful warm-up walk of a quarter-mile or so, but back. And with my return to shuffling, I return also the the area of my life most affected by juju.

I’m a mostly rational person, but I operate as a runner within a cloud of dogmatic unreason. It’s never okay, for example, to cut a corner (speaking literally here) in a training run. Always square it off or run the longer way around rather than the shorter. On the other hand, it’s absolutely prohibited to do that little jog-in-place dance at corners waiting for traffic to pass or lights to change. Just stand there. Never use the stopwatch function of your wristwatch to time your aerobic runs. If you really have to know your splits and total, use the regular watch function and do the math in your head. Regardless of speed or oxygen requirements, sync inhaling with your left-foot strikes, never your right.

Along these lines, five miles is a meaningless distance. In my cosmology, four miles is the shortest distance that really counts. Six miles is the minimum distance that actually does you any good (this is personal voodoo, remember, not science). If I’ve been running a regular four mile loop, and want to increase the distance now and then, five miles would be the natural next step. But it’s existentially nonexistent. So I go to six.

This all may sound silly, but it’s nothing compared to my baseball fetishes. No, no, no! Don’t cross those bats!!

Stevie has his own take on this:

When you believe in things
That you don't understand,
Then you suffer.
Superstition ain't the way.
No, no, no

Clearly, this won’t be my last dinged tendon.

Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Hello, Central. Get me Google.

I signed up for Google Voice a month or so ago, but hadn’t used it until the other day. I gave out the number to someone I knew I was going to to be setting up schedules with, and I thought the value would be that her calls would ring through to my mobile and both my home/office phones, and we wouldn’t miss connections and have to be going back and forth.

It’s actually much better than that.

We did miss connections, because she called me twice today when I was away from home but couldn’t reach my mobile. And when I got home there were two emails in my box with quite accurate transcriptions of her voice messages (although the family name came out as “Hall Verizon”). There’s also an option to play the message itself. Superb. If you’re a texter (I’m not), it leaves messages there, too. And you have a Voice homepage where all messages appear (with aural option appended). You can instantly see who called, you can immediately see which messages are worth spending time on, and you can check them in any order. Wonderful.

Tuesday, December 8, 2009


This guy is really good.

This is really good on race in America.

And this is really good on journalism of a certain kind.

And this is about beer. (Well, it’s just a link. But it’s still about beer, so it’s really good.)

All in one day! Blogchamp. Really.

Monday, December 7, 2009

December 7

I haven’t exactly covered the waterfront, but the only notice of Pearl Harbor I’ve seen today is on Turner Classic Movies (TCM), which is running Frank Capra’s seven sequential “Why We Fight” films, made in 1942-45. Frank propaganda in the best possible cause. To modern viewers they look yawningly like hundreds of war documentaries that followed, but they were in fact the first that used what became the now-familiar standard elements: actual footage, good editing, sharp cuts, dramatic voice-over, and music to shape emotion. They knocked people out when they arrived in wartime theaters.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

A good morning

H called fairly early because sweet B was pointing at the laptop and saying, “M.” And she seemed quite happy when her M actually appeared on the other side of the iChat. Fortunately, I’m made of stern stuff and she cannot turn my head with calls for my presence, beautiful smiles, cheerful play, and general sweetness.

She went on to display newly-acquired language skills (among other things, she can make monkey noises, a key to popularity in this family). We won’t be seeing B, A, and H in person until next weekend, but this morning’s touch was a joy.

Afterwards, I geared up and headed out to test the strained left achilles with something beyond the standard morning stroll. A little walk to warm up, a gentle and gingerly eight-tenths of a mile, and things were feeling okay, which was not the case last week. It wasn’t the jungle sound of a cheerful small primate, but it was pretty good.

Friday, December 4, 2009


This is me with H, a long, long time ago, herringboning her back up a little hill we’d just skimmed down together. You can’t see it in this resolution, but she’s got her little tongue out, tasting snowflakes.

My father just found those very skis, in all their 70 cm. glory, tucked away in his garage, cleaned them up, and brought them down. This winter may be a bit early, but surely next year a somewhat less svelte me will be wandering around in the snow with sweet B on her new-old skis.

(I bought that supercool hat in Jackson Hole in the early ’80s. Still got it. Still wear it. Still, obviously, supercool.)

Wednesday, December 2, 2009

Tommy Henrich, RIP

Tommy Henrich (he told me he actually preferred to be called Tom) was the hard-hitting right fielder of the New York Yankees from the late 1930s through 1950 (with time out for Coast Guard service during the war). A pro’s pro, the left-handed Henrich was an excellent fielder with a terrific arm and great baseball sense. He was known as “Old Reliable” for the steadiness and coolness under pressure that made him a feared clutch hitter. Oddly, he’s most famous for striking out against the Brooklyn Dodgers’ Hugh Casey in the the fourth game of the 1941 World Series. With Brooklyn leading 4-3 with two outs in the ninth, Casey broke off a sharp curve that Henrich swung at and missed for strike three. But catcher Mickey Owen couldn’t handle the pitch either, and it rolled to the fence as Henrich ran to first, leading to a Yankee rally and victory.

Tom Henrich was also a fine, fine man. Here’s the final paragraph of the New York Times obit:

Henrich’s dedication on the field was matched by a reputation for strength of character. As [Yankees manager Casey] Stengel put it in a 1949 profile of Henrich in The New Yorker: “He’s a fine judge of a fly ball. He fields grounders like an infielder. He never makes a wrong throw, and if he comes back to the hotel at 3 in the morning when we’re on the road and says he’s been sitting up with a sick friend, he’s been sitting up with a sick friend.”

Saturday, November 28, 2009


North to Concord this year (last year was in Rochester, Minnesota), to find that sweet B has a veritable Stonehenge of new teeth supplementing the two earlybirds we’d become so fond of. Eight in all! Thankfully, they don’t seem to be giving her much pain.

B decided on a more elegant self-presentation as the meal began.

...and was soon toasting around the table.

I wasn’t quite sure what this reaction to my pie meant...

...but since she kept eating, I guess all was well.

B is now saying lots of words. To her, I am “M”, which she enunciates with insouciant aplomb. She can say Mama, Dada (sometimes), Dickie (her great-grandfather). She can moo, baa, quack, meow, and arf. She can stick out her tongue to emulate a frog. She can, of course, manipulate a Fastex buckle. With a daddy-ride to help her with the very top, she can stack blocks...

...which she then knocks down with a series of karate-like chops and cries.

Before we left Friday, we met H for lunch at the hospital caf, where mommy and daughter spent a little time together appreciating the pretty fish in the aquarium.

We miss them all already. Because of H’s schedule, we won’t see them on Christmas Day, but Boxing Day will be a special treat this year.

Friday, November 20, 2009

Getting a grip

I’ve written a few times about the relationship between me and my new Pacer Poles.

I used them on my Galehead walk with Paul, and liked them. I used them on my Wildcat Ridge walk with A, and had a problem that I’ve characterized as user error. Multiple user errors, really. The first one is simple: parts of White Mountain trails are simply too steep and rough for walking poles. I knew this already, of course, but now I know it, if not in my bones, then in my sinews. Not being a confirmed user, I’m still annoyed by the necessity to stop and stow/stop and redeploy. But I’ll get used to it.

The second one is both simple and complicated. Let’s start here: My former backcountry ski poles (and seldom-used de facto hiking poles) were Black Diamond Expeditions. I love the FlickLock mechanism, which is simple to use and essentially bombproof. (On the other hand, one of the Expeditions is now hanging, bent and broken, on my office wall as a trophy of a spill on the Tour du Mont Blanc.)

Like almost all other poles, Pacers use the more common (and to my mind, vastly inferior), twistlock mechanism, and they are very clear about the proper technique: turn the shafts, not the mechanisms, and tighten “steadily and firmly (not fast and abruptly).” But—perhaps it’s my general old age and decrepitude—I often had problems loosening these twisters once I’d steadily and firmly tightened them. So I started twisting them just a touch less firmly and tightly. The result was that, coming off Wildcat Ridge, gravity took a hand and loosened them for me. Fast.

But—ta-da—I now carry a small tool to handle these problems. It is this:

a jar-opener—one of those thin little rubber pads that allow you to get a good grip on a bottle top. Works a treat on pole twists, too. So now I’ll be carrying this little floppy disk with me.

My bottom line? Pacer Poles are mighty fine. They’d be slightly better if they supplied either jar openers or strong-armed walking partners—and perfect if they used FlickLocks.

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Bushbaby Mini pack

Some time back, Darren posted on his site an interview with the people at Bushbaby, makers of child carriers and related items. I got a squint at the Bushbaby Mini pack, which incorporates a huge “haul loop” and a baby leash (“lead” to good Brits everywhere, “rein” to Bushbaby) into a small knapsack for children.

Over the years, I’ve run into some strong distaste for baby leashes here. People seem to feel that they are dehumanizing, as if you were treating your child like a dog. Leaving aside the tragic fact that that would be a vast behavioral improvement for far too many people, my reaction has always been “take a hike,”—in both the literal and figurative meanings of the phrase. In places where it’s unsafe or inappropriate for the little one to run free, a lead is a much surer and happier (and less wiggly and sweaty) solution than hand-holding or carrying. My mother had a leash for me, and I don’t think it made me turn out especially canine. We had a leash for H (if you have sharp eyes, you can see it below—I’m not sure who that guy is), and she barks, bites, and drinks water from a bowl on the floor only in extreme situations.

That old yellow cotton harness is still around. H, in fact, was using it for B. But the Bushbaby Mini has not only a useful little pack (good for a diaper/nappy, a snack, or a small toy or doll) but a Fastex-type waist-belt buckle, B’s current obsession. So I made a phone call, spoke to Kath, confirmed that Bushbaby has no distribution in the States, and arranged for a Mini to be sent direct to Concord. (Thanks, Darren!)

Two weekends ago, we motored sedately north (no traffic stops!). Poor B had a miserable cold, H is working the 80-hour weeks of a resident, and A is sinking his teeth into a major project at work while simultaneously putting in much of the effort of getting the new house squared away. To top it off, shortly after we arrived the peripatetic B took a spill against a milk-crate storage bin that resulted in a bruise and parallel cuts beneath her left eye. (After registering her objections, and briefly resisting a necessary bit of attention from her mommy the doctor, she was fine).

For all of that, we managed a nice evening meal together on Friday, tried to help at least slightly more than hinder in the house-arranging, and—with the brand new Mini on B’s back, took a fine afternoon walk on Sunday. (Not that B required the excuse of heading outdoors.)

The lead is a good way to give B some freedom of movement but also keep her out of the middle of the street and safe from traffic.

It’s also good for yoga.

(You can see that big grab loop here—so handy, under certain circumstances, to wildly lunging adults.)

But, of course, even B knows that leashes are really for dogs.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Pluck your magic twanger, Froggy

The phrase is from a 1950s kiddie show sponsored by Buster Brown shoes and hosted first by Smilin’ Ed McConnell and then, more famously, by Andy Devine. At some point in every program Ed or Andy would wander over to a box on a table and chant the magic words, bringing forth the sound of a broken guitar string, a puff of smoke and Froggy, a malicious spirit who would croak, “Hi ya kids, hi ya, hi ya!”, before going on to say or do (or to get someone else to say or do) something devilish.

“Pluck your magic twanger” passes through my mind much more often than I’d like it to, because it’s the first non-expletive that presents itself when I tweak some once-reliable body part. The magic twanger that was plucked last week was my left achilles, which actually hasn’t been reliable for decades, but of which I am always deeply solicitous. My only explanation is that Froggy did it, the little bastard. I’m back to walking now, but won’t be able to shuffle for a few weeks, at best.

Which leads me to this recent article in the New York Times about running in the lousy winter weather that’s on the horizon: how to make yourself do it and why you should. (I love the Times. “My coach, Tom Fleming...” was one of the best American marathoners of the ’70s, and a two-time winner of the New York Marathon, back when it was run around and around Central Park. Like many runners in those days, we trained in the same shoes, New Balance 320s.)

Unlike some of those quoted in the article, I’ve never thought of any of my winter runs as “epic,” merely &^%$#@! cold and slippery, but I have always enjoyed running in slop for two reasons: it makes me feel deliciously smug, and it feels so great to finish, pull off the wet sweaties, climb into a hot shower, and eventually emerge into the world clean, warm, and virtuous. Unless Froggy has made me forget to tape my nipples.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Dave Frishberg

Frishberg, who wrote “Peel Me a Grape” (yesterday’s post), also wrote “Van Lingle Mungo,” a song beloved by many of us older baseball fans. You can tell by the key it begins in that we’re headed for autumnal nostalgia here. My favorite moment, though, comes near the end when Frishberg climbs up into a kind of faux Irish tenor to sing “Hughie Mulcahy.”

Mungo was a standout pitcher for some bad Brooklyn teams during the 1930s, and was something of a wild man both on and off the field. He has perhaps the greatest of many irresistibly evocative baseball names. (Let’s not even get into nicknames. Oh, okay, let’s do.) Let’s also not mention hard-bitten Al Dente, the utility infielder for the Cubs in the early ’50s. (Not really—just a bad joke for pasta Friday nights.)

For fans with sharp eyes, yes, the first picture of Hal Trosky is actually the great fireballer Bob Feller, who came up to the majors at age 17 and was 91 yesterday. The second picture of Hal Trosky is...Hal Trosky, a fine first baseman for the Indians who was lost in the Lou Gehrig–Jimmy Foxx–Hank Greenberg shuffle of the late 1930s.

Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Champagne me

Diana Krall being definitive. She’s especially wonderful with a small group like this behind her own sophisticated piano playing, rather than in front of a bigger orchestra. Peel her a grape? Who wouldn’t?

Peel me a grape, crush me some ice
Skin me a peach, save the fuzz for my pillow
Talk to me nice, talk to me nice
You’ve got to wine me and dine me

Don’t try to fool me, bejewel me
Either amuse me or lose me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Pop me a cork, french me a fry
Crack me a nut, bring a bowl full of bon-bons
Chill me some wine, keep standing by
Just entertain me, champagne me
Show me you love me, kid glove me
Best way to cheer me, cashmere me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Here’s how to be an agreeable chap
Love me and leave me in luxury’s lap
Hop when I holler, skip when I snap
When I say, “do it,” jump to it

Send out for scotch, boil me a crab
Cut me a rose, and make my tea with the petals
Just hang around, pick up the tab
Never out think me, just mink me
Polar bear rug me, don’t bug me
New Thunderbird me, you heard me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

Here’s how to be an agreeable chap
Love me and leave me in luxury’s lap
Hop when I holler, skip when I snap
When I say, “do it,” jump to it

Send out for scotch, boil me a crab
Cut me a rose, and make my tea with the petals
Just hang around, pick up the tab
Never out think me, just mink me
Polar bear rug me, don’t bug me
New Thunderbird me, you heard me
I’m getting hungry, peel me a grape

—Dave Frishberg

Friday, October 30, 2009

It has been brought to my attention that I am an idiot

The return of Standard Time makes it lighter in the early morning, not darker. So Woodbury’s early risers will not be spared the terrible sight of me grunting and drooling my lumpish and creaky way around town. They’ll either have to avert their eyes or get used to the assault on their senses. Or they can sleep later, which would probably be best for everybody.

Wrist watch

I’m trying to get back to regular running. Our morning walks are really, really good (though Paul’s gone off cosmopolizing again), but I need more if I want to remain merely moderately chubby, and a shuffle every-other day before the walk pretty much does the trick.

I have, however, been stymied.

Over the decades, I’ve been kept from regular running in all the usual ways, from sheer laziness to back spasms. My recent problem, though, has been one of those “who’da thunk it” deals. I sprained my right wrist a few weeks ago coming down off Wildcat D, when I fell on one of the slabs. I think my right Pacer Pole collapsed, throwing me off balance at the wrong moment. (If this is so, it was user error for sure, not a problem with the sticks). Since then, I’ve progressed from not being able to shift the car to (triumph!) being able to pour my wine right-handed (though using the corkscrew is still a bit dicey). During most of that time, though, I couldn’t run because my wrist hurt too much, a new and embarrassingly dainty state of affairs. *

I’m ready to roll now, though. Just in time for the return of Standard Time to ensure that it will be pitch dark at 6:30. Woodbury’s early risers will be spared the terrible sight of me grunting and drooling my lumpish and creaky way around town. In the spring, I will emerge from my chrysalis of darkness lithe, smooth, quick, and supple. Or perhaps merely moderately chubby. Either way, I’ll be down with that corkscrew.

* But not as embarrassing as this: Once when I was, I think, a junior in college, my coach sent me to the infirmary to be tested for mono because I was running so poorly. I was actually hoping I was sick. Test negative. I just stunk.

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Friday jaunt

We had only a few light sprinkles as we drove the hour or so up to the trailhead Friday morning. I wasn’t sure if I really wanted to walk in decent weather, after the fine times I’d had recently hiking in downpours. P and M, however, who had endured some drenched Scottish walking and camping in August, seemed okay with it, so I decided to join the end of the line (P, R, and M) as we headed into the woods just north of the Connecticut-Massachusetts state line.

Our route was a six-mile loop that encompassed Mount Everett (2,624 ft.), a tall peak in this part of the world. Our path took us up Race Brook Trail, steep, rocky and beautiful next to its cascading brook.

The view from the first outlook showed that the New England autumn wasn’t quite over. The flame of maple leaves was gone, but the oaks hadn’t all put on their dull brown winter coats.

It took us a strenuous three hours (stretched a bit by our losing the trail and scratching around for a while before finding it again—on the other side of the brook) to reach the Appalachian Trail, turn north, slab up Everett’s shoulder, and eventually achieve the remains of the old fire tower atop the mountain.

A little further on, we stopped at a shelter for lunch. A snappy dresser with impeccable standards, R decided it was a good time to dry his laundry.

I, secure in my sartorial perfection, simply enjoyed an apple.

A little farther on, we passed this tree. At first I thought some thru-hiking vandal had carved a message, but’s just ink.

We made good time down the gentle Elbow Trail off the ridge, debouched onto the attractive campus of the the Berkshire School, did a little car shuttling, and headed for home to clean up, collect some random hangers-on, and get over to R and MJ’s to enjoy some comfortable lolling about, a spectacular meal of veggie lasagna, and great good-humored conversation—accompanied, of course, by one or two swallows of terrific wine.

Hard to imagine a more enjoyable day.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Not barefoot in the park

Finally, an intelligent article on this whole running shoes-don’t-really-help thing. It’s very true that when you’re fit and light and biomechanically adequate—let’s just say when you’re young and genetically fortunate—that running barefoot is wonderful. As a kid, when I had to run short and fast, I always stripped off my shoes. Picnic and schoolyard sprints, touch football, that kind of stuff. Oh, that wonderful lifting fleetness I now experience only in memory.

But the idea that modern, urban, middle-aged fitness runners—creaky, heavy, biomechanically inefficient—would be better off slogging their miles in naked tootsies is bizarrely absurd. “Three to five miles on the streets of Cambridge, completely barefoot,” might work out for a particular Harvard professor, but would pretty much guarantee a sudden epidemic of strained achilles tendons if the rest of us took it up, not to mention wonky knees and hips and the inevitable cuts, scrapes, and bruises. (Barefoot on city streets? I’m tempted to say, “are you insane?”—but this is a Harvard professor.)

The article, in this morning’s New York Times, finally talks sense and gets it right, I think.

Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Music At Twilight

Before I lost the hearing in one ear in the mid-’80s, I listened primarily to what’s commonly called classical music. My special love was the chamber music of the late 18th and early 19th centuries—roughly Hayden to Schubert. We used to go to a lot of live performances, the memories of which still give me pleasure many years later. Two of the most wonderful were given at Sprague Hall at Yale: a deep and intense Death and the Maiden by the Alban Berg Quartet, and a joyfully friendly reading of the Mendelssohn Octet by a group of superb local players.

After a multi-decade hiatus, we headed for Sprague again Sunday to hear a long-time favorite (and probably the only performer who could have gotten me to New Haven through what has become this autumn’s habitual rain, wind, and low temps), the splendid Emma Kirkby who, with Lutenist Jakob Lindberg, presented a program of “Songs and Solos from Early 17th Century Europe.” Lindberg is no mere accompanist. He took four or five solos, and plays his 500-year-old instrument with immaculate technique and great musicality.

I prefer Emma Kirkby in later music—the Handel and such that I’m more familiar with—but she certainly sold me on Dowland, Purcell, et al. What a voice! As the program said, she “values ensemble, clarity and stillness alongside the more usual factors of volume and display.” “Stillness” in a soprano—a miracle! It is this restraint in the service of the music, along with the remarkable purity and accuracy of her voice that made me a Kirkby groupie long ago.

I remember in the late ’70s listening to the long-time, long-gone, morning classical radio fixture Robert J. Lurtzema (I so miss Robert J.) interviewing Kirkby. On air, he exclaimed that he noticed she was wearing a band on her ring finger. He asked, in evident distress, if she was married. She was. He immediately, on air, went into a little public spiral of mourning. He’d obviously had a terrific crush on her. Surely, he wasn’t alone in that.

Friday, October 16, 2009

An almost walk, a short walk, and a non-walk

The almost walk:
Last Wednesday was flu-shot morning for sweet B, H had a cold, and it was also wet in New Hampshire. Rain came down most of the day, and when it slackened, H and I packed the baby up and bolted for the McLane Audubon Preserve, hoping to get in at least a little stroll in the fresh air before it resumed. Mais non, mes amis. Open car door, pull out Kelty, begin to slide B into it, and—presto!—downpour resumes. We wandered around the indoor exhibits and the cool eyrie (a tower for watching raptors) for a while, but the rain never ceased, and we headed home to Jasper the Wonderdog, who we’d thought wouldn’t be welcome at a bird sanctuary.

The short walk:
Thursday we motored northwest to Mount Cardigan. But poor B seemed to be feeling the effects of yesterday’s shot. She was uncharacteristically unhappy, and cried on and off in her Kelty as we started up the trail. After about half an hour, H and I realized things weren’t going to get any better, and we turned around and brought the miserable sweetie back to the car.

The non-walk:
On Friday, H’s cold was worse, she had scheduled responsibilities at the new house, I knew my creaky knees were facing the haul over the Wildcats on Saturday, and we decided discretion was the better part of valor.

All in all, though, we had a wonderful week together, H and I got out a bit with B, and the New Hampshire wing of the family finally set up housekeeping at their new address.

Which is how sweet B, again under her dad’s CamelBak, discovered that banging these things together makes NOISE!

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Winter pokes its nose through the curtains

It’s snowing here in Woodbury...and this during what is usually the crispest, brightest, best time of year. Goody.

Wednesday, October 14, 2009

Last week’s walk #2

The plan last week was for H and me to get out and walk as much as we could. And we did, but a little less than we had hoped. One day was a washout—we decided not to take sweet B out in a downpour—and one was shorter than planned because of B’s general unhappiness on the trail—probably a reaction to the previous day’s flue shot.

And the new house was ready for occupancy. Last Tuesday was primarily a moving day. H and A were determined to sleep the night in the new house rather than the apartment, so H picked up the U-Haul, the hired muscle appeared, and by noon most of the really heavy stuff was in the South End.

H, sweet B, Jasper the Wonderdog, and I couldn’t head for the hills until about 2:30, so we chose a short daunder on a relatively nearby target. Belknap Mountain in Gilford is close to Lake Winnipesaukee and lots of other water in what’s accurately called the Lakes Region here in the land of Live Free or Die. When you get away from the tourist traps and strip malls that natural beauty attracts like ticks to a moose, it is—especially at this time of year and on such a gorgeous day—indescribably beautiful. And Belknap—or, more accurately, Belknap’s fire tower—

—lets you see it all: Vast expanses of Winnipesaukee and other lakes as a foreground; then waves of ridges and peaks north to Washington and many of the other great mountains of the Whites (below); off to Maine; Killington, Pico, and others in Vermont; Monadnock in Southern New Hampshire; and even beyond to Massachusetts.

As the book says, awesome.

Our stay at the top of the tower was a little more fraught than it might have been, because B seemed to want to take flight, and restraining her became a nerve-racking chore for whoever wasn’t using Scudder’s to ID the distant peaks (H was much better at this last than I).

We took the slabby Green Trail down, with one slip but no problems. Sweet B was happy and animated from start—

to finish.

The gate at the bottom of the access road closes at 6. We were out by 5:30. At home, B, fascinated by her father’s CamelBak (especially the fastex buckle on the sternum strap) decided she wanted to do some climbing on her own.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

95 percent

Almost. A great day in the hills, regardless. Maybe we’ll try it again in 2109.

The last time my picture was in The D was in 1968, and it was for a much sillier reason.

Monday, October 12, 2009

Sweet B and B.B.

More delighted than I can say that, introduced by Sandra Boynton, acclaimed by children, parents, grandparents, and right-thinking people everywhere as one of the giants of American literature, sweet B has become an enthusiastic, dancing, vocalizing fan of the great, great, supremely great, B.B.King.*

“One Shoe Blues”: hit it!

* In the early 1970s. I attended a concert at Smith College in Northampton, Massachusetts, at which B.B. opened for Sha Na Na. He opened for a group that was doing ironic do-wop. A travesty. But in front of a young crowd that thought the blues was (were?) passé, not to mention déclassé, he (and his then-battered guitar, Lucille) brought down the house. We wouldn’t let him go. Sha Na Na? Take a hike. With B. B. in the house, really doing his thing, any other talent can take a hike.

So now sweet B and I are of one mind on this.

Thanks, Boynton.

AT in a Day

Well, we did our bit. Saturday was the Dartmouth Outing Club’s 100th Anniversary attempt to walk the entire Appalachian Trail in a single day. I had originally planned to take one of the sections here in Connecticut, but realized that there were others among the many Connecticut alums who would take care of that. I thought I would simply join A and H on their New Hampshire section. They had signed up for a short, B-friendly walk from Franconia notch to Lonesome Lake. The DOC, however, had other thoughts and requirements. Short, easy strolls were out. A and H were instead assigned the Wildcat Ridge traverse, just east across Pinkham Notch from Mt. Washington.

Much discussion about the best way to handle this with a baby. Simply bring her along? Take her up from the south as far as the ski gondola, with one of us riding her down while the others continue? Someone simply riding up with her at an appropriate time to meet the others crossing the ridge for a rest a a good look at the beautiful fall foliage likely to be at its peak? All of these, and several variations, were eventually rejected for a variety of reasons, and A and I headed for the mountains without H or B, who made their way south to Connecticut instead.

Sad choice.

Good choice.

Heading north to south, as we decided to do, requires a 3.6-mile walk in on the Nineteen-Mile Brook Trail to meet the AT. Counting that, we were looking at total of a little over 9 miles, with 3,949 feet of elevation gain, followed by the precipitous, slabby, loss of most of that back to the notch. We’d walked much of the ridge before, and knew it was challenging (attested to also by the standard guide-book time of 7:19), but we thought we’d probably finish it in six hours or so.

We started at about 9:30, in decent if chilly weather, predicted to become pretty good.

It didn’t, and at the junction of Nineteen-Mile Brook and the Wildcat Ridge Trail, we donned rain gear to head up the steep climb to Wildcat Mountain, crossing the slide, which usually offers terrific views, we were utterly socked in.

We topped Wildcat (a rock on a hump in a clump of underbrush at 4,422 ft, and scuffled along the narrow, rocky, brushy path laconically described in the White Mountain Guide as “fairly steep drops interspersed with level sections”—

—over Wildcats A, B, and C on our way to D, the southern anchor of the ridge at 4,062 ft.

We arrived there, just above the creaking machinery of the running but unused ski-lift gondola, to truly awful weather: rain, fog, and high winds that pushed the wind-chill well below freezing. I stopped in the lee of the ski-patrol shack for a quick exchange of wet base layer for dry. There was a trio of other hikers on the mountain, celebrating the fact that one of them had just—there and then on this nasty, viewless day—completed his full round of all 48 New Hampshire 4,000-footers. They obliged with a photo.

Shortly after we left the summit of D, we had our first views of the day, as the mist lifted and the sun peeked out.

The section down off the ridge’s south end is well-known as one of the roughest of the routinely rough White Mountain trails, pretty close to 2,000 ft., pretty much straight down over slabs, broken slabs, and rubble—

—including this short stretch of some artificial aid of a type neither A nor I had ever seen before.

Remember that six hours we thought it would take instead of the Guide’s 7:19? Not even close (though A would have been if he hadn’t had me as his sea-anchor). We finished in almost exactly...7:19.

Late afternoon in the notch, it was brighter than it had been most of the day, but it was still 43°F with a very stiff breeze. We’d had a great day despite the lousy weather and a few slips and dings, but the entire walk and every possible permutation we had considered to bring the baby along at least a part of it had proven to be absolutely not B-appropriate, or BA, as we started calling it.

So we’ve done our bit, and we are waiting to hear how other Dartmouth walkers, stretching from Georgia to Maine along the 2,175 miles of the Appalachian Trail, managed. We hope most of them had better weather.