Friday, December 31, 2010

A little Billie for the holidays

I’ve posted this song before, but only its simply sophisticated Edgar Leslie lyrics. Here’s the definitive performance (music by Joe Burke). The easy swing behind Billie is from superb Count Basie players. Drummer Jo Jones, guitarist Freddie Green and bass player Walter Page were, with the Count himself on piano, the great rhythm section of the swing era. (Here, the very hip Claude Thornhill, who had a great band of his own, is on piano.) The sax is the nonpareil Lester Young. Trumpeter Buck Clayton (at first muted behind the singer, then on an open horn in his breaks and between her phrases) and clarinetist Buster Bailey were pre-eminent Basie standouts. Together, they all catch exactly the right mood.

The song isn’t really about a holiday—Billie, after all, sings, “When we want to work, we work”—but about a state of being, an attitude.

Maybe we do the right things
Maybe we do the wrong
Spending each day
Just wending our way along

For me, uptight New Englander, it’s aspirational.

Happy New Year! And hopes that, in a happy setting, you’re getting, some fun out of life.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Boxing Day

We’ve had some snow! A fairly good Nor’easter blew through the day after Christmas and laid a cold and viciously windy foot of white on us. Officially, it was a Severe Winter Storm, but areas not far away suffered the technical Blizzard experience. It was pretty nasty out during our annual Open House. Police warnings to stay home, and all that. Only two dozen or so deeply committed scofflaws showed up, as opposed to the usual cast of thousands. A totally different dynamic, of course, and quite pleasant, because we were all able to hold real conversations rather than circulating through the din. (On the other hand, I’ve always rather enjoyed the circulating, and the din, too.)

Special perks: Lots of left-over beer and wine, which Paul, A, and I began to make a dent in yesterday evening. And bags of uneaten potato chips, which I reserve unto myself.

Saturday, December 25, 2010

Christmas musick

Christmas day is beginning gently here this year. Listening lazily to the Bach Christmas Oratorio reminded me that sweet B got her first taste of it last weekend. She especially liked the rousing opening Chorus, and asked to hear it over and over. She called it “The Parade Drum Song.”

A nearly complete non sequitur: I was reading something last week in which an Oxford personage of the 18th century was quoted as complaining that “Handel and his lousy musicians” were coming to town. I think he was using “lousy” literally.

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Boots redux

A decade or so ago, I bought a pair of non-GoreTex Brasher Hillmasters at Tiso’s in Edinburgh. (For my American reader, long A in Brasher.) I used them quite a bit for a while, and had them on my feet during my worst-ever fall, in the Lakes. I was then seduced by the lightness of trail runners, and tucked the stodgy old Brashers away.

I literally stumbled over them last week, as I was hauling out my ’70s-vintage Sorel boots in preparation for a snowstorm that never materialized. Tried ’em on. Swapped out destroyed old footbeds for Superfeet, ongoing experiments with sock combos. Not bad. Possibly New Zealand bound.*

I’ve always had a weak spot for Brashers, because of Chris Brasher, who was, well, Chris Brasher, an amazing and admirable man. I especially cherish this semi-famous story from the linked obit. Brasher won the 1956 Olympic Steeplechase Gold Medal in Melbourne, but:
was initially disqualified for interfering with another runner as he made his burst for home, and he had to wait three agonising hours for the judges’ decision to be overturned—so long that his medal ceremony was postponed to the following day. The much relieved Brasher, and a dozen British sportswriters, celebrated through the night, ensuring that he entered the annals as one of the few Olympic champions to have received their gold medal “blind drunk, totally blotto, with an asinine grin on my face.”

*Which will be in 44 days, 8 hours, 25 minutes, and 27 seconds. If anybody’s counting.

Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Search and rescue

I found my Dartmouth Green longjohns today. They had been lurking in the bottom of a laundry basket otherwise full of sheets and pillowcases that had been leering, unfolded, at me for way too long. This morning I wiped those smirks off their faces, snapped ’em and wrapped ’em...and there were my undies!

As a special bonus, I found something else, which I hadn’t yet realized I’d lost: the red Baggies shorts I intend to wear for morning hakas during February. (52 days, 10 hours, 22 minutes, 30 seconds.)

Still can’t find that darned Peruvian hat, though. Maddening, because I remember folding it with unusual care and thoughtfully tucking it away...somewhere. Maybe I should go fold some more laundry.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Have a dood day, yadies

When H was a little girl, the letter she had the hardest time coming to pronounce was “L”. Our favorite iteration of this was in the title of the Sandra Boynton book, Moo, Baa, La La La!, which in our family will forever be known as, “Moo, Baa, Ya Ya Ya!”

Sweet B’s most adorable issue is with the hard expression of the letter “G”. For many years to come, we will all delight every Thanksgiving in making that well-known turkey sound: “dobble-dobble.”

B might characteristically say to that, “Why you laffing?” Which would put her one yaff up on her mom.

Monday, December 13, 2010


A little test-blogging from my iPhone.

A photo:

Now let's see what happens.

[Later: I originally inserted a video, too, and it worked fine after it loaded properly to YouTube, which took a few minutes. I took it down to preserve the privacy of some of the people who were in it. The line spacing isn’t good, but that might have been my fault.. I can’t find a way (I think there is one) to control the sizing of the photo. The iPod app BlogPress looks pretty good, and I’ll keep fiddling with it to get used to it. I’m hoping to be able to blog from NZ ... but it has to be with no hassle!]

Saturday, December 11, 2010

I’m losing things again

Sun glasses. OR Peruvian hat. Capilene 1 longjohns. What is this? Well, I know what it is, but I wish it could have waited til I was 80.

On the other hand, the little Photon flashlight I ordered in September and which never arrived and finally had to be replaced by the sender, showed up about 10 days ago in the mail. Battered packaging, slightly damaged snap-link, but usable. So I’ll have an extra when I lose the one that arrived first. Which replaced the one I lost so that I had to order the one that arrived second.

Good system, huh?

Friday, December 10, 2010


It was 9°F (-13°C) this morning. No run scheduled, and for the walk I was solo (Paul cosmopolizing again). Bulked up in multiple layers and big old double Chouinard mitts. Desperately trying to separate my eyelashes, welded together by ice formed from watering eyes. Delighted to finish up and get home to some hot tea. This first really cold day always hits me the same way. Later in the winter? Water off a duck’s back. Actually, later in this winter? New Zealand summer! (57 Days, 11 hours, 13 minutes, 8 seconds, but who’s counting.)

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Das Boot

Torpedoed and returned.

But I did just pull this old but essentially unused pair of Merrills out of the oblivion of The Back Room Under Lots Of Other Stuff. I had decided against them for the 2008 TGO, but never taken them back. (Hmm...think almost three years is too late?) I’m giving them another whirl. They feel...soft. Bad for training flats but maybe okay for mountain booties? (Is there a Mountain Booties Association I could check with?)

The much-missed H and sweet B checked in this morning by iChat. Aside from the automatic clothes washing machine, the world’s greatest invention.

Wednesday, December 8, 2010

Quinzhee memories

PTC* had a sweet photo on his post the other day that reminded me of something I haven’t thought of in ages. Twenty years ago when they were eight or nine, H and her best friend L used to cross the road from our house on winter weekends and mine into and through the piles of snow tossed up by the plows clearing the elementary school parking lot. They had a great time. One Saturday, though, a pretty good snow got H and me talking about igloos. We had neither enough nor the right type of snow for that, but I thought we did have enough for a go at a quinzhee, a show shelter excavated out of a mound of snow that you pile up and let settle into reasonable compactness.

Out we went with a couple of shovels. Rough circle inscribed in snow, then the hard work of ferrying more white stuff from farther and farther away to build up the mound. A lunch break to let it set up, then back out to create an entry and burrow our way in to expand the space. I think we inserted some sticks or something through the snow so we’d know we were getting close to the surface. We managed to hollow out a cozy little dome for ourselves before fatigue and the chill took us back inside.

Sometime later, L appeared, and the two girls headed back out to enlarge and improve upon the shelter. I was working in the kitchen, which had a window overlooking the back yard and the quinzhee. I’d look out occasionally to see how things were going, usually to see just the structure itself with the occasional puff of snow emitting from the entrance/exit. Then, coming back from the stove to the sink, I peeked again. Utter disaster. Snow rubble. Avalanche run-out zone. Thinking the worst (asphyxiating children panicking under hardpack), I sprinted out the find both girls emerging casually from the destruction and laughing. We spent the next few minutes dancing wildly about, happily reducing the remains to snowdust.

The girls are still best friends and were maid of honor and best woman at each others weddings (the term “matron” is absolutely not countenanced). H, of course, now has sweet B, and L is due with her first in a few months. So I’ll soon have two more little people to build faulty structures with so we can celebrate their destruction before some wiser person calls us all in for hot chocolate.

Monday, December 6, 2010

First snow

Nothing much, but atmospheric on this morning’s walk through New North and along our loops of roads.

Lake H was white, not wet.

I’m paying no attention whatsoever, but it’s 61 days, 9 hours, 40 minutes, 40 seconds until the plane leaves Los Angeles for New Zealand.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Glug glug

It wasn’t all mud on the floor and unflushed toilets at our elegant weekend plumbing party. I’m told dinner was excellent, and I can personally vouch for the fact that we had some very nice wines, especially a Toquade, a Napa Sauvignon Blanc that couldn’t have been more different from the famous New Zealanders I’m looking forward to sampling in situ soon. It was utterly, breathtakingly dry, and so elegantly refined I think it probably plays croquet in whites. At the suggestion of my wine merchant, I actually chose it over a long-time favorite, Grgch Hills Fumé Blanc (a Sauvignon Blanc in all but name), which is, simply, a great wine. And I’m glad I did, though I may go back to Grgch next time. It will be a while, either way. At $30 a bottle, this sort of stuff is once-a-year drinking around here. (Yesterday, my father, returning us all to the family’s normal level, brought around a $5 California Merlot. Not bad.)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

System failure

Saturday, a delayed Thanksgiving. A house full of family, with a friend or two tossed in for seasoning. Great  smells in the kitchen as every pot and pan in the battery is brought into play for the grandest meal of the year. Dueling cooks bumping into each other. (Sips of this and that, of course.) Serving platters and bowls being rolled into service as mouths water and we gather ourselves to make the gradual move to the end-to-end tables set up in the dining room.

Then, from a wandering soul interested in the underpinnings of 18th Century New England houses, “Hey, there’s a leak down here.” And indeed there is. A waste pipe is cracked, and water is flowing over boxes full of old financial records, onto the floor of the cellar. Urgent call to plumber, and the water slows to a trickle as faucets are closed and most of us sit for the meal. I consult below with Wayne, who does his best for nearly an hour but admits defeat. The problem isn’t just that the very old pipe is cracked, it’s that the line is plugged, and his snake is too small to handle the job. We need stronger medicine. As he packs up, he hands me the phone number for American Rooter.

Short break at the table before Rooter Man appears, to bump his magic mechanism laboriously down the long stone stairway and we begin again. Rootings, interspersed with two more brief moments attacking my plate, and increasingly earnest chats with Justin as he begins to realize he isn’t the answer either. “I’m pretty sure your septic tank is full and it’s just backing up,” he says. Magic words on Thanksgiving, with a dining room full of banqueting house guests.

I am befuddled. The tank is serviced on a conservative schedule.* Nonetheless, an urgent call goes out to the septic company. But it’s Saturday evening by now, and we get no callback from their emergency contact system. (I learn Monday that “sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn’t.”) We’re left high and dry. Very dry: No showers. No dish washing. No flushing. We’re lucky to have one toilet and small bathroom sink that drain into a different tank, but that’s it for eight adults and a two-year-old.

A, clearly understanding the priorities of the situation, washes the wine glasses in the bathroom sink, thereby confirming yet again that my daughter married the right man. Paul carries what seems like dozens of laundry-basket loads of dirty dishes and greasy pots and pans across the yard to wash in his kitchen. Everyone acts with heroic aplomb.

Much to my surprise, people don’t bolt first thing Sunday morning, leaving  just a streak of rubber and a whiff of exhaust smoke in our driveway, and we have a remarkably cheery few hours through breakfast and lunch before they have to depart. I’m grateful for this kindness, but can repay it only weakly as they leave: Kiss, kiss. Hug, hug. Shake, shake. Wonderful to have seen you all. Come back when we can offer you a shower and a place to pee.

* And this turns out not actually have been the problem. The old cast iron pipes carrying material out of the tank and into the septic field had lived their useful life and chose the Saturday of Thanksgiving weekend as their end date. As I sit here writing this on Tuesday, I can see that the septic guys are just finishing up with their backhoe, which has cleared, not only the system but, inevitably, much of the garden. (They actually moved and replanted a holly bush for us—twice, since my first idea was not so hot.) And Wayne’s back in the cellar, replacing that cracked pipe. So be assured that when you visit I now can offer you a shower and a place to pee. Wine glasses are never an issue.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Happy days

Thanksgiving week. H and sweet B are here, much more family to follow, with the prospect of fine times. Lots of hugs and snuggles with B today, and a nice run with H (and, of course, Jasper the Wonderdog) to kick things off this warm morning.

I suppose things could be better, but you’d have to be really picky to sort that out.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

My fortune is made

Two evenings ago I discovered there was no white wine chilled in the fridge. Quelle catastrophe! I did the usual: two bottles of a nice Rueda into the freezer for 20 minutes or so. Then, distraction. Tonight, the inevitable: “Where did those two bottles of Las Brisas go? Ohhh.” Quick dive to recover the bottles, completely frozen, of course, with the corks pushed out and held in place only by the foil. Not-so-deft application of a series of tools: slender knife, ice pick, handle of spatula. Where are those kebab skewers? Shakings. Thumpings. Impatient waiting. Reapplication of tools and slightly improved technique. Et voilà!

Wine slushies, they’re the next big thing, I’m telling you.



Technica Wasp Mid.
No Gore-Tex.
Home run?

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Maybe I could just hire a sedan chair

Paul and I were out walking in fairly foul conditions a week ago Monday. Cold, windy, and raining pretty hard on and off, it was another of those drowned-rat mornings—and I discovered that my boots are no longer waterproof. Bigtime. My socks, when I peeled them off, were a pair of dead fish.

I bought these Keene Targhee* Mids a couple of years ago, and used them on my abortive walk across Scotland (where, in extremis, they demonstrated a lack of ankle support I couldn’t really hold against them). I’ve used them since in the Whites and during the colder months on our morning walks. But they can’t have more than a few hundred miles on them. They still have good tread. They’re still comfortable, now that I’ve found the right innersole/orthotic/sock combo (pretty simple: Green Superfeet and Darn Tough Vermont Cushion). Even the original laces are still sound. But the Gore-Tex inner is seemingly shot.

These were my first pair of “waterproof” boots. It’s definitely nice to have dry feet after slogging through wet grass, sucking mud, or moderate puddles, but, from the beginning, like many other things made with the stuff, the Targhees didn’t live up to the other side of the Gore-Tex bargain: They’ve not been “breathable.” I haven’t enjoyed the sweating and the concomitant softening and potential blistering of my skin (though the socks I’m now using have ameliorated that a little).

I used to wear beautifully traditional Limmers, excellent for the rough and rocky White Mountains and “waterproof” the old fashioned way: superbly constructed of high-quality leather, properly treated.

My feet never got wet, nor did they drown in their own sweat. But my Limmers weigh over four pounds a pair, which is definitely overkill for the Great Tracks.

These days, I hike most often in non-Gore-Tex trail runners, accepting (though not especially cheerfully) the occasional soaking in return for lightness and relatively quick drying. They worked fine, for example, in the Alps. But we’re being asked to wear boots in New Zealand, and experienced friends have reinforced that advice.


I won’t say I’m stymied. But I’m pondering.

* I’m predisposed to love these boots. Two decades ago, we skied at Grand Targhee on “the sunny side of the Tetons” from the vastly more famous Jackson Hole. Fabulous skiing, great atmosphere, terrific in every way. So anything called “Targhee” gets my attention.

Monday, November 15, 2010

High times

Despite this run’s title, the Age Before Beauty 5K Cross-Country Run, lots of fit, young, fast runners lined up at the start, and not a single one of them stepped aside to wave me through or paid any attention to me whatsoever. (Well, they may have snickered out of the sides of their extremely fit mouths, with their slim little lips and their slender white teeth, beneath their thin moustaches.)

As we gathered at the start on this gorgeous, sunny, unseasonably warm morning a woman (maybe it was she who was gorgeous, sunny, and unseasonably warm ... no, probably not) took a quick look at me, did a double-take, and in one of those “eeew” voices, said, “You’re all sweaty already!” Sounding altogether more cranky than I felt (which was quite the opposite on this fantastic day), I replied, “I worked for this.” And I had, indeed, had an excellent warm-up. The plan was to go out easy, stay comfortable up the hill to the 1.5 mile mark, then press gently in from there, taking advantage of the downhill and the easy terrain at the bottom. This didn’t exactly work out as planned. The going out easy part was...easy; but the incline really stung, and I lost my cool coming home.

Here I am at the start, making my pudgy obeisance to the hill goddess in the hopes she would allow me to pass in peace. It didn’t work. Ten minutes later I found myself crawling up a virtual Matterhorn on my hands and knees, whimpering, leaking precious bodily fluids, and bemoaning my fate. Tiny children and ancient couples with picnic baskets were dancing lightly past me chirping, “Hang in there!” and “Not far to the top!” I would have snarled at them if I’d had any remaining oxygen, and in a fit of pique at the summit, I signed a secret pact with my tormentor, Gravity, bringing her over to my side and putting her to serious work. Utterly misjudging the distance home, I rolled downhill and found myself, with more than a mile to go, committed to a long slog surge at a faster pace than I’d anticipated. I passed those happy hill people, who were paying the price for wasting breath trying to be nice. My only “racing” of the morning, though, was in the last 100 yards.

I lost.

My 5K time was 23:45, and I won a platter of cranberry cookies. I think it was a prize for not spraining my ankle.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

The world turned upside down

Using ice on injuries is no longer quite the thing. A poster on the VFTT forum I frequent passes this along:

Ice Delays Recovery from Injuries
More than 30 years ago I coined the term RICE (Rest, Ice, Compression, Elevation) for the acute treatment of athletic injuries. Now a study from the Cleveland Clinic shows that one of these recommendations, applying ice to reduce swelling, actually delays healing by preventing the body from releasing IGF-1 (Insulin-like Growth Factor-1), a hormone that helps heal damaged tissue (Federation of American Societies for experimental Biology, November 2010).

So the familiar RICE has now become RCE. Non-vegetative in more ways than one: I can now toss all those decade-old packages of green peas collected in my special part of the freezer.

Friday, November 12, 2010

Coming up: A stagger in the woods

I’ve just discovered that there is a 5K cross-country race not far up the road Sunday morning, and I’m thinking of wandering a few towns north to jump in. There are lots more divisions than I remember from my last serious racing period decades ago: Open (through 29), Submaster (30-39), Master (40-49), Grandmaster (50-59), Senior (60-69—this is me), and...may I eventually make it this far...Exalted (70 and up). (Too bad you can’t be both Exalted and a Grandmaster...that would be true glory.)

For this event, there are none of what I remember as the usual youth divisions—probably because it’s billed as the “Age Before Beauty” run. Does this mean that the perfect bods in the Open category have to stand aside and bow us saggy people through? Will I be the only saggy person, despite running with others of my age, not to mention Exalteds? Will there be beards to pull?

I’ve coached and raced over this ground, but not for eons. Here’s pretty much the entire course description:

“...a hill at 1.5 mile mark with an elevation rise of 134’. Then it drops 134’ in elevation! There are plenty of leaves, roots, rocks, mud, and possibly snow. There are several outhouses. 100% Cross-Country!!!”

Since cross-country, with its smell of liniment at the line, its chilly, crowded starts, and its inescapable touch of anarchy, is the world's greatest sport, this sounds perfect to me. And this particular Senior particularly appreciates the outhouses.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010


I had a wonderful run Tuesday morning, the best in months and months. I’d taken the weekend off, and Monday, too, so I had no excuse not to feel fresh. But I was surprised at how light and smooth it felt, with a touch of that wonderful lifting feeling that’s rare for us creaky old guys. Today wasn’t too bad, either. Maybe it’s just being able to run in the light now, thanks to the reversion to Standard Time. Maybe it’s listening to Ivan Doig’s This House of Sky. Maybe I’m actually 30 years old and this feeling of being decrepit is just a dream. (Yes, I think that’s definitely it.) Regardless,  if I can keep this going, slow and steady,  20-25 miles a week, I should really be ready to roll in New Zealand—which trip begins in 88 days, 7 hours,  53 minutes, and 12 seconds, though nobody would be so lame as to actually be counting.

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

“Me done walking now”

Heading off from her house toward downtown Concord a mile or so away, sweet B was given a choice: stroller or walk? She chose self locomotion, and off we went...for about a hundred yards, after which she looked up and announced, “Me done walking now.” So, not having the wit or will to turn back for wheels, I had an armful of two-year-old into town and back. (“Not on shoulders. You carry.”) Naturally, I took advantage of the situation to load up on kisses.

It was a terrific weekend with the B, while her parents were away without her for the first time. (“Mama and Dada climb up up mountain?” “That’s right, Sweetness. Can you say Jefferson?”) All parties seemed to come through without undue angst. (Though Mama and Dada, who have been working too hard to get out all that much, report very sore quads.)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Slow and easy, good so far

Paul was again away cosmopolizing a few weeks ago (can’t keep him away from the bright lights and high living), and instead of walking every morning and running every other, I ran every day. Very gently. Daintily. Full of fear and trepidation, expecting the worst. But all went well, and I had a couple of 20-mile weeks for the first time in over a year. So when he got back, I thought I should keep this up, levering myself creakily out of bed at 6:15 and out the door by 6:30 (Hey! It’s dark out here!) to get in an ever-so-gentle four miles in time to get home, cool down, change into dry clothes, chuckle at Doonesbury, and head back out for our walk at 7:30. Even though (because?) I’m hardly raising my heart rate on these shuffles, I’m shedding a little flab and gaining a little fitness, and I felt strong and light on the New Zealand crew’s shakedown in the Whites last weekend. This may sound like no big deal, but, as Bing might sing, it’s been a long, long time.

Excuse me while I go search out some wood to touch.

95 days, 9 hours, 51 minutes, 32 seconds, if Air New Zealand is running their railroad on time. But who’s counting.

Monday, October 25, 2010

A cool warm-up

It was in the low ’30s with chill winds when the New Zealand crew began its shakedown cruise Saturday morning. We climbed out of Crawford Notch on the Avalon Trail, warming up and getting to know each other as best we could, rock-hopping uphill in single file. We were two from Connecticut, three from Rhode island, one from New Hampshire, seven from Massachusetts. A New England crew, not unexpected on an AMC trip. The trail was slippery in places, and as we climbed we hit the snow line. At the Mt. Tom spur, after picking up the A-Z Trail, we took a break for a snack and chat.

Having gained 1,700 feet or so, the walk heads generally downward  from here, eventually into Zealand Notch. From its  junction with the Zealand Trail, it’s just a few flat minutes to the Twinway and the final, notorious, steep bit up to Zealand Hut. On this weekend evening, the place was ringing to the cries of a dozen or so very young, very active Boy Scouts (absent in this photo, using one of the bunkrooms as a sound stage), who had walked in down the notch. Cooking, eating, and cleaning up together gave us NZ-ers a chance to get better acquainted. We are, if I say so myself, a mighty fine group. We will rock the Antipodes.

Ready for the off next morning, we found it warmer and much less windy.

We headed south on the Ethan Pond Trail (which is actually, if weirdly, north on the Appalachian Trail), to Thoreau Falls,

then headed on toward Ethan Pond over thin ice, frozen mud, and puncheons. Those aren’t ripples on the water. Well, they are—but the water is frozen. Not a good surface for skating.

Lunch at Ethan Pond Shelter...

then onward and downward to the trailhead on Rte. 302, 13 or 14 miles by trail and four or five miles by road south of where we started. We re-shuttled cars and all said goodbye until we meet again at Los Angeles International in February.

I came away feeling reasonably fit—we all seem to be—much more comfortable with the idea of hiking in a group—this group, at least—and more enthusiastic than ever to get this show well and truly on the road. And I learned a new term: “Bio-break.” I like it. It might even make me smile on my nightly 3 am excursion.

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Why we call it “Fall”

Two days ago, I cut the grass and got rid of all the leaves.

I just read an article that claims it’s better for the lawn to mulch the leaves and let the particles remain. Sounds good to me, though I’m not so sure about the mow-once-a week-deal. Let’s not get silly about this.

Wednesday, October 20, 2010

Up North

I’ll be seeing our Concordians this weekend, if all too briefly, before and after my Saturday-Sunday stroll in the woods.

Earlier this week, it was iChat to the rescue, during which A came home from his run and B joined in to stretch with Dada.

It won’t be all that long before we’re all shuffling along together. Sweet B’s already beginning to do a little interesting motoring on her own. She took her parents on a walk into Lonesome Lake Hut a few weeks ago—here (purloined from their blog) she is with her Mama overlooking the lake (that’s Mt. Lafayette between them),

and enjoying lunch.

Especially on the way out, she managed selected sections of the round trip under her own power, if under Dada’s watchful eyes.

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

Say, have you seen...?

I’ve been collecting my small kit for this weekend’s walk to and from Zealand Hut with the NZ crew. I’ve been using the same list for hut-based walks for a long time, and it can easily be made to coincide pretty well with the one prescribed by our leaders. My problem at the moment is that I can’t find one of my favorite pieces: an old Patagonia Zephur jacket. The Z is very light, very compact, and it takes the place of a windbreaker, a medium fleece and, on its better days, a rain-resistant layer. It works very well over a light baselayer, and I rely on it for walks in the Fahrenheit 30s and low 40s, which is what we’ll likely find in the Whites in a few days. I haven’t needed it since last spring, and I obviously stored it somewhere I thought was very clever indeed. I can get along without it, of course—God knows I’ve got enough stuff—but I’d be both functionally and sentimentally sorry to have to.

I lose things all the time. Significant things. Last week, it was my iPod Classic, which eventually turned up being used as a bookmark in an novel I had set out for someone else to read. A month or so ago, it was a tiny Photon LED pocket flashlight with some important keys attached. That one’s still gone.

This would all be fine, and even funny, if I were an absent-minded professor with better things to think about. But it’s actually infuriating, because I am in fact just an inattentive guy with a lazy habit of mind. In other words, I have no excuse.

And no Zephur.

Monday, October 18, 2010

An effulgent review

The lead review in yesterday’s New York Times Book Review is of Nicole Krauss’s Hearts Full of Sorrow, which I probably won’t read, despite the fact that the reviewer, Rebecca Newberger Goldstein gives it a rave.

Goldstein at one point compares it to Krauss’s previous book, and says, “The History of Love, despite its tragic underpinnings, is anything but solemn. Its sorrow is rambunctious, its anguish rollicking. Its fulgerating pain comes out in shrieks of unlikely laughter.”

To which my chastened response, peering around guiltily to make sure nobody could hear me was, “What does ‘fulgerating’ mean?”

Well, to merely literate people (not including me, obviously) it means to emit flashes of lightning, or to emit light in flashes. So perhaps I am fulgerating my Photon when I’m stuck high on El Capitan  and sending SOS signals to rescuers in the valley. Or maybe not.

But, aha!, to a doctor, “fulgerating” refers to pain that is lightning-like, electric, sharp.

Which, combined with that rollicking anguish and rambunctious sorrow, actually makes me want to read The History of Love.

110 days, 8 hours, 10 minutes, 33 seconds to wheels up out of LAX, bound for NZ. But the trip? I can take it or leave it.

Friday, October 15, 2010

Weather grump

Well, that was underwhelming.

By the time I was up and out early in the morning, it was dry and merely breezy. We had some strong winds overnight, and supposedly a few inches of rain (though Lake H was dry, so it couldn’t have been all that much). We certainly could have had a decent day out on the hills. Anyway, I ran in a lightweight baselayer top and left the Airflyte hanging on its hook. So more info on its characteristics will just have to wait a while.

Relying on weather predictions to plan outings can be mighty both directions.

Thursday, October 14, 2010

A little follow-up

It was just above freezing when I went out for my shuffle this morning. We barely escaped the frost that had apparently descended on more northerly parts of Litchfield County. I stretched a point in my eagerness to try out the Airflyte. A sleeveless techie tee, a midweight baselayer, and the jacket were predictably too warm. (Though, as usual in barely chilly temps, I was happy to  have the Buff protecting my manly jaw.) I started sweating hard about a mile out, and although I unzipped and flapped about a bit, I managed to wet out my shirts by the time I was through. Under normal circumstances, I would have simply taken the jacket off and tied it around my waist, but I was using the iPod pocket (which worked very well), and didn't want to fiddle.

Basically not a fair test, because a calm 35°F (2°C) is simply not quite cold enough to be wearing a jacket of any kind on a run. I'll be out in the rain and wind tomorrow morning, I'll wear only a light shirt under the jacket, and we’ll see how things go then.

The Aiflyte is also pretty stiff, apparently a characteristic of eVent that moderates with washing, so I expect I’ll have a very clean rain jacket.

(I’ve just checked the little countdown widget I’ve got going. As of right this moment, I’ve got 113 days, 13 hours, 14 minutes, 30 seconds before Air New Zealand whisks me off to the antipodes. I remain, of course, blasé about the whole thing.)

Wednesday, October 13, 2010

Reaching for the sunny side

Bummer. Big rains and wind predicted for Friday have squelched a walk we had planned along the South Taconic Trail, across Alander Mountain, to Bash Bish Falls.  (Too bad we hadn’t planned on it’s been one of those glorious, perfect New England fall days than which there is nothing more lovely—I’ve been out for a run and three short walks.)

The sunny side (and this is a real reach) is that I’ll get to try out my new shuffling shell in “conditions.” It’s an REI OXT Airflyte

my first-ever garment of eVent, a waterproof/breathable fabric many people whose opinions I value rave about (and, even at half-price, the most expensive running item I’ve ever bought, barring shoes). The deal is that the stuff is supposed to be truly waterproof, truly breathable, and lightweight—a nice combo that would obviously be great in the mountains, too. Here’s a review from Backpacker. And here’s a cool little demo:

The Airflyte has no hood, which is fine with me, because I don’t like running in one, and does have a little iPod pocket high on the left breast, with a way to run the ear bud cord up inside the jacket. This might be nice or a pain. I’ll find out Friday morning, when I try to make the lemonade of discovery out of the lemons of disappointment. I’ll be humming as I splash along.
Keep on the sunny side, always on the sunny side,
Keep on the sunny side of life
It will help us ev’ry day, it will brighten all the way
If we’ll keep on the sunny side of life

Thursday, October 7, 2010


October 1 (I’ve been away) would have been my mom and dad’s 65th wedding anniversary. We lost Mom far too early, but I still see Dad almost every day. This Hoagy Carmichael hit was “their” song (they weren’t alone). My dad still keeps a little music box, a wedding present, that plays the tune. There are lots of good versions of this old standard. But I think to most people of my parents’ era, this Artie Shaw version was the definitive Stardust. The trumpet is Billy Butterfield. The clarinet, of course, is Shaw. Here’s to wonderful memories, Dad.

(And let’s steer clear of the bad ones. That 1931 Bing Crosby record of it qualifies as execrable, and the best-known Glen Miller version is pretty awful.)

Friday, September 24, 2010


I need to decide what do with this little pile of run-out running shoes.

I’ve stripped them of my Spencos (those green innersoles on the bench) and my LockLaces, and replaced their original inners and laces, and have been hoping to find someone who will see that they are put to good use. The problem is that, although they don’t especially look it the photo, they are utterly clapped out inside, especially around the heel counter. I can’t even walk in them without a little discomfort. In other words, they would only be useful to people with a great need and no other solution. There are people in that awful condition in the world, but I don’t know how to reach them. Most collecting agencies specify “gently used.” I know I could give them to Nike to turn into running track surfaces and such, but I’m not all that fond of Nike, and I’d rather find another solution.


I used to keep all my old shoes in a box, which became a series of boxes, and I remember bringing representative samples to a talk I was once asked to give about running. I was able to present the development of the running flat from the early ’60s to 1980 or so when the event took place. (Riveting stuff, huh? I’ve always known how to hold an audience.)

I eventually realized the absurdity of maintaining a personal museum of historic footwear and trashed the dozens of pairs that had accumulated. I wish now that I’d held out a pair of each type. It’s hard for even me to believe the things we ran in.

The Trackster in the linked article is actually an updated version of this ripple-soled beauty, which didn’t come out until the late ’60s, and was definitely the best cross-country shoe available at that time. I started out in something much more like the shoe above it, and passed through some essentially throw-away Pumas before upgrading. I also had some of those Lydiards, which were actually made in Germany and were very good for early-’70s shoes; a few pairs of those Tigers (and an earlier version with a less structured heel); three pairs of the New Balance 320s before moving on to Nike LDVs; and a single pair of those god-awful Nike Air Huaraches, for the design, production, and marketing of which someone should have been prosecuted.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Jail(break) bait

I may not be young enough for an iPhone. I like to think that it’s just that my paradigms are out of date, but I’m afraid it’s more likely to be the desiccating mind. Only a moron, for example, could take an afternoon’s worth of photos and come home with ... no photos, but a single ten-second video of what looks a lot like colonoscopy footage.

And only an ignoramus would have bought an app machine for travel abroad that doesn’t work as an app machine for travel abroad unless you’re willing to drop large money on one of AT&T’s data plans: $25 for 20 MB, $60 for 50 MB, $120 for 100 MB, or $200 for 200 MB. (And things aren’t even that clear cut. A number of AT&T customers report huge charges regardless, along with the incorrect billing of mass data—and huge fights with the maddeningly faceless and arrogant telecom.) I knew all this, but neglected to extrapolate it to include myself. I’m so exceptional.

Yes, I know all about Airplane Mode (not to mention the power button), but the magic of the iPhone is its apps, many of which are perfect for a traveler outside his own country: wiki guides, interactive maps, specialized camera apps (well, let’s not go there right now), not to mention star charts and lots of other neat things. Do I need this stuff? Of course not. I’ve traveled for decades without it. But they’re helpful and they’re fun. And they really are one major reason I got the phone in the first place.

I’m a pretty weak techie, but years ago I had no qualms about opening up my cutting-edge IBM-PC clone to replace its 10 MB hard drive with a massive 80 MB upgrade, and I matter-of-factly upgraded memory, installed cards, and generally fiddled around in the guts of lots of small computers. So I’m pondering the possibilities of downloading Cydiajailbreaking my iPhone, and using foreign SIMs. I won’t be able to do it for this trip, because I want to hear more about the jailbreak software out there for iOS 4.1, but next time? Likely, I’d say.

Actually, there should be an app for that.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010


I’ve been experimenting with this app lately. I can’t compare it to the several similar programs out there, because I haven’t used them, but I like it.

Its stopwatch function, above, includes pace (velocity over the previous 400 meters), average mile time, distance covered, distance remaining (on a pre-stored course) and elevation climbed. It also includes a map function,

a routes function, which you build up by running and naming your workouts,

a calendar function, which lets you track runs by date if you want to,

and a graphic function (pace over distance and elevation over distance).

It will also send you an email synopsis of your run (handy as a sort of skeletal training diary), or show the world how your training is going with direct connections to Twitter or Facebook (over my dead body). You can set it to “speak” to you at specific distances, times, and/or locations, with information on pace and, if you choose, speed relative to earlier runs over the same course.

I was confused at first about the “pace” function, because it was giving me readings too fast to be believable. An email to the developer resulted in a pleasant, almost instant reply, with good information. (Descent and special motivation, with a distant nod toward GPS inaccuracy—I’ve had enough experience with the first two to believe strongly in the third here.) Excellent support.

Using Runmeter is fiddly, not in its actual use but in the sense that I have to stuff the iPhone into an arm holder while I run, and keep the !@#$ earbud cord under control. It’s the nature of an app, and as I get used to it, no big deal.

I’d never been especially interested in the actual times of training runs, just the distances and effort involved. But now my running isn’t really training, and what I’m actually trying to do is get and stay moderately fit while controlling the pace so I don’t face more awkward conversations with my achilles tendons. Since I don’t have the native wit to do this on my own (no luck trying to emulate the ladies), Runmeter metaphorically tapping me on the shoulder at mile marks helps do it for me, and the collected information, especially looked at over time, will be interesting.

Monday, September 20, 2010

A B update

I’ve spent much of the last few weeks in New Hampshire communing with our two-year-old. The family agrees it’s a perfect match of people with simple needs and short attention spans, though one is charming and the other is, mmm, not.

This is the B a couple of weeks ago, picking blueberries with her mother and father on the beautiful Vermont farm where they were married. They had some rare family time and made the most of it.

The north country is beautiful right now—cooler, dryer, and with that distinctive autumn light making frequent appearances. Even a little rain! The leaves are just beginning to turn. Oddly, they seem to be a few days farther along down here in Connecticut. It’s beginning to smell like cross-country season.

A crew of us including sweet B, her mama, and I took in the huge New Hampshire Highland Games in Lincoln Saturday. Pipes, drums, and more kilts than I’ve ever seen in one place. Participants from Ontario, Nova Scotia, North Carolina, and, of course, Scotland. B loved it, though mostly because she got to ride on a school bus (parking lots were miles away), and was given a Tootsie Roll Pop by the driver. (It was Orange, thank goodness. I am a lifelong enthusiast of Grape, so we avoided an awkward moment.)

B is rolling out astonishingly long sentences these days. (“You come right over here and sit by me.”) She knows her letters and colors cold, and her numbers one to ten. Her favorite song is still “Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star,” though she asked for Norah Jones on the way to the Games. She required me to sing my version of “Yellow Submarine” (still known to her as “WeWaWeWa”) in the car the other day, so her taste remains questionable. (Though she can identify both Ray Charles—“Way Tow!”—and B.B. King—“BeeBeeTing!”—so we’re making progress.)

For breakfast, B at 25 months prefers raisins and Animal Crackers.

(No, not this one.)

Animal Crackers both is and are out at 7:30 am, and raisins are limited due to rash complications, so she usually settles on a different dish: mine. We invariably wind up sharing my standard Wheaties with a little Grape Nuts (neither grape nor nut), topped with fruit. Guess who gets the fruit.

Ah, little B, I’ll miss you for the next three weeks. I’ll be looking forward to coming right over there and sitting by you. Even if you eat all my raspberries.

Friday, September 3, 2010

A day in the hills

We had just a great walk this past Tuesday. In my continuing embarrassing quest to finish my New Hampshire 48, I had penciled in Whiteface and Passaconaway, the southernmost of the White Mountain 4,000-footers, for this week. H took a day of her precious week’s vacation to join me, and BB and KC, who we don’t see anywhere near often enough, drove over from Vermont to make up a foursome.

BB and I are old college teammates, and he’s still in superb shape, as is K. H has made a strong comeback from her operation, and had been training and competing in triathlons. That left pudgy me, but I turned out to be up to the fine trails superbly maintained by the Wonalancet Out Door Club (WODC).

Temps were in the 90s F as we headed off.

We took the Blueberry Ledge Trail, which is beautiful and ... ledgy.

On the way up, we got a single good at Whiteface, which displays the reason for its name. This is actually the south summit, not the true highpoint.

After lunch on those very ledges, we pressed on to the true top, a mere hump in the trail, where we engaged in a little horseplay ...

... and I posed for a photo of supreme triumph, before pushing on toward Passaconaway.

In the Whites, even when you’re quite high you’re often below treeline, and you take advantage of any ledge or viewpoint to check out your surroundings.

One of the other hikers we met claimed it was the hottest day of the year (I don’t think that’s right, but I suppose it was close), so was a treat a little later to find a small icy stream crossing the trail. We all splashed our faces, and I dipped my Bandanna in and wrapped it around my neck. I imagine I looked quite jaunty.

The eventual summit of Passaconaway was as disappointing as Whiteface’s ...  just a bump in a small clearing. Everyone evinced dismay.

Three of us completed our loops by descending the gentle Dicey’s Mill Trail, while BB stretched himself a bit on a different route. Indeed, not everything in the area is gentle ...

... or genteel.

We got back to the cars about eight hours after starting out. After saying goodbye to BB and KC, H and I headed home, stopping at a country store in Tamworth for our traditional Snapple and Cape Cod Potato Chips. Time like this together, formerly so common, is rare and precious to me now.

It was a terrific, wonderful, splendiferous day. A great walk, great company, just fantastic all around.

I’ve got 11 summits left. Cabot and Waumbek; Moriah, North Carter and Middle Carter; Isolation; North Twin, West Bond, Bond, and Bondcliff; and Carrigain. It’s a mystery to me how in 45 years I’ve never slogged over Moriah and the Carters or North Twin and the Bonds, but there you are. I’m hoping for a chance this month or next to do something like this to pick off North Twin and the Bonds, but regardless, completion will have to wait for 2011.

Mono audio

I just noticed that Apple is offering this feature with its new offerings, so I looked into the Accessibility settings in my iPhone and found the same thing. This may have been available for some time, but not on my elderly Classic or clip-on Shuffle. For a company that offers so many special accommodations, it drove me gently nuts for years that whenever I talked to people at the Genius Bar about whether they’d yet come up with a way to pipe both sound channels into a single ear, the best I ever got was, “Gee, that’s an interesting idea,” even though being deaf in one ear is actually fairly common. (I once sat on a three-man board on which one of us couldn’t hear out of his left ear [me], one of us couldn’t hear out of his right, and the other was hard of hearing in both...we always felt like a comedy sketch waiting to happen. Eh?)

I long ago went out and had a special ear bud made for me through a hearing aid specialist, but I’m delighted Apple is now addressing the issue.

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Signs of life

We walk by a homemade “Deer Crossing” sign every morning.

We’ve recently noticed an addition of benefit to our web-footed friends.

The road here skirts a small glacial kettle, now overseen by our excellent local land trust. Lots of animals are attracted to its small pond and its shelter from everyday human activity. (Today, we saw what we think was a fox in there, so the ducks may have more to worry about than a passing Mini Cooper.)

When H was little we lived in a sweet little house on the far side, whose back yard sloped steeply down to the pond, and I used to walk her down in the winter so she could skate. When I was a boy (oh, brother, here we go again...), the area was still privately owned and the water was known as “Martin’s Pond.” Now I think everyone just calls it “The Kettle.” We never skated there, instead gracing four or five other local ponds, and one huge and annually reliable puddle, with our raucous and profoundly unskilled pond hockey. (The only time I’ve ever been knocked cold was chasing a puck in one of these games.) In the age of indoor rinks and formalized teams for kids, I don’t think pond hockey exists around here any more. If you get knocked out now, it’s in controlled conditions.