Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Chalky artifacts

I’ve been shuffling the roads and sidewalks of Concord a bit, once—wonderfully—with H. The other day I was running near a park and saw that a crew was grooming the baseball diamond. Concord seems to have a lot of good, public, full-sized baseball diamonds (as distinct from softball or little league fields, which it also has), and the city maintains them very nicely.

I’ve always been a sucker for that green, fresh-chalked look, and I thought I might head over for a closer squint. (From home plate you can look down either line toward...infinity. This ain’t no basketball court.) And maybe even a chat with the crew about their work and the Sawx.

But I was distracted from my purpose by another line that’s less resonant but just as close to my heart. Entering the park I ran across this:

It’s a chalked arrow of the kind I followed more times than I can count as a cross-country runner in high school and college, and that I laid down later as a coach and meet director. This one takes a wicked 90° turn through a narrow granite gateway, tough enough solo but it must be murder at speed with an opponent on your shoulder. You’d better have the inside position.

I quartered the park, but came across only a few yards of x-c markings here and there. On the street beyond, though, I picked up more arrows and the course’s 1-mile mark. (We now run meters here, but tend to mark the miles as well.) There was a middle school nearby, so this is perhaps a short course for young runners, which would also account for the possibility of that brutal turn.

Come fall, those beautiful white foul lines will be faded into browning grass, but the arrows will be freshened up bright. Perfect for me. I’ve always felt that baseball was the greatest game, and running the greatest sport.

Monday, April 26, 2010

B at 21 months

I’ve been up in Concord for just a week now, while H does her two-weeks of night float (6 pm to 7 am) at the hospital and A tries to keep to a good working schedule in Manchester. My job is to ease the strain by covering the shoulder hours in the morning and late afternoon, getting sweet B to the wonderful Annie, her daytime caregiver, and bringing her home. This, of course, is a terrible imposition upon me that I bitterly resent.

The weather’s been quite nice most of the time, but yesterday, B apparently felt nostalgic for the New Hampshire winter, and briefly went back to her eggplant hat and woolly mitts

We’ve actually been outside (“Out Dide!”) quite a bit, walking, and playing in the backyard.

Over the weekend, we all spent a lot of time back there, along with the freshly-clipped Jasper the Wonderdog.

 B actually had a chance to spend some time with her beautiful mama. Lots of swingings and climbings and chasings, along with frequent cuddle interludes and a chance to share a few sounds.

All week, she and I have been spending a lot of time looking over the back fence at the fire station, where she has already made friends with the men and been shown around the beep-beeps—the trucks—which enthrall her. (This morning, though, we had only to walk out the front door. A garbage truck was making pickups. Nirvana.)

B’s vocabulary is exploding, she’s singing a lot (The ABC song and its alter-ego, Twinkle, Twinkle, are current favs); she’s dancing (I would say her hokey-pokey is more Gene Kelly than Fred Astaire); she’s developing a devilish sense of humor; she’s got her colors down cold; she can count to 11 (with occasional detours around six and seven); and she’s beginning to be able tell one foot (“wite!”) from the other (“det!”). All this physical and mental activity usually wears her out by evening. The other night she got hold of her pacifier and huggle puppy before her bath rather than after.

No matter what, though, she remains...Supercool!

Friday, April 16, 2010

Carpe diem

Very short and very slow, but no sneak attack from rebellious achilles tendons, and that tweak in the gastrocnemius-soleus slot seems—finally—to have given way before ice, elevation, and serious, non-stop whining.

So after a few infuriating weeks off, I think I’m back on the roads. Bubbly tonight.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

History matters

A couple of weeks ago, the Republican governor of Virginia revived the state’s Confederate History Month, and issued a proclamation to that effect in which he left out any mention of slavery. After being hammered for a few days, he eventually apologized and issued an addenda.

This has by no means ended the brouhaha, and arguments continue to fly back and forth across the Mason-Dixon line. Broadly speaking, Northerners see slavery as the clear cause of the war. Southerners have often been taught that it was gloriously fought over the high constitutional issue of states’ rights. 

I think the most interesting writing and thinking on this subject has come from Ta-Nehisi Coates. His blog-post-essay, “The Ghost of Bobby Lee,” is superb, and it looks as though he’s not done yet. Wednesday morning he posted this:

“It occurs to me that we’ve been honoring Confederate History Month on this blog since last week. I think we should continue with that. I can’t promise a big, long post like yesterday. But we should take a moment, each day, to observe some aspect of the Confederacy—but through a lens darkly.

“My sole aim is, come May, to have fools begging for February, sepia photos, and those “Black History Month Moments.””

— — —

The David Blight that Coates mentions in “Bobby Lee” is a history professor at Yale. The superb set of lectures from his 2008 undergraduate course, “Civil War and Reconstruction 1845-1877” is available free on line. He thinks Americans have “an obligation to understand” this period. Here’s a moment I jotted down from Lecture 23—“Black Reconstruction in the South: The Freedpeople and the Economics of Land and Labor”:

“So what is the engine of history? I beg your attention. There’s a simple question for you. What is the engine of history? Don’t you like unanswerable questions?

“Is the engine of history politics—the inherent, natural, eternal quest of people to bend other people’s wills and take power? Or is the engine of history economics—the grinding, on-the-ground process by which people carve out livelihoods over against other people’s competition for the same livelihoods?

“It doesn’t seem to matter what history you study, or where you look, history always somehow comes around to this nexus, this collision, between forces of political power and forces of economics, and our job is always somehow to discern between them and how they mix. Now often, of course, the answer is that it’s all one and the same thing.”

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

ooh-ah says sweet b

ooh-ah says sweet b
which means “open”
or “closed”
(context is everything)
she pushes the door then
wanders in
to make our day
just beginning
already perfect

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

Book learning

I was perusing my old edition of Arthur Lydiard’s book—my running bible—this morning. I wanted a refresher on a particular style of shoe-lacing (sometimes called “Lydiard Lacing,”) but wound up reading whole sections of running gospel. The great Arthur—who coached Snell, Halberg, and other gods of my youth—was very much opposed to the type of training I (and most young runners of my time) did most of during high school and college—so-called interval training. (Technically, the running parts are repeats…the intervals are the jogs in between.) Lydiard maintained that repeats are good primarily for gaining a sense of pace, but that the basis for all successful training should be high-mileage weeks full of long running at what he called the “aerobic threshold”—a good strong pace just a tick slower than a speed that would put you in oxygen debt.

This hadn’t yet penetrated our understandings. We seldom ran long, and did intervals largely, I think, because they seemed like the toughest way to train (we weren’t lazy, just ignorant). At college three or four of us at a time would run a dozen or so quarters at perhaps 61 or 62 seconds. One of us would use a little rubber finger loop to carry the stopwatch—the old fashioned kind, with the face and moving arm—and set the pace. The others would tuck in closely and offer occasional advice— “too quick,” or “too slow”—until we were headed down the straight to the line, when we would fan out across the track, even with the pacemaker. The etiquette was that we would honor his pace except in the very rare cases we thought he was way slow. So we’d all come across the line together, the pacemaker would click the watch, and as we began our interval jog around the track, he’d announce the time before handing the responsibility off to the next guy. Training this way does automatically develop a good sense of pace. We were seldom off by more than a few tenths. This didn’t make us great runners, of course, just another bunch of guys who could run a training quarter mile accurately at any given pace between, say, 58 and 66. (Faster added too much stress after a few repeats, and slower…why bother?) This skill sometimes translated to racing, and sometimes got lost in the heat of the moment. (At that age, I was truly lousy at running steady-paced races. Too undisciplined and too stupid.)

It was a decade later that I came to understand that repeats are far less important than building an aerobic base by going long strong. Learned it from the Lydiard bible. I learned that pacing trick, too, and that running hills is a sort of magic, and that you can’t train hard and race hard in the same period. The result was that I was a much, much better runner and racer at 30 than I’d been at 20.

Now, of course, I’m thrilled if I can go short weak.

Thursday, April 8, 2010

UConn wins it all

I popped the cork on a bottle of bubbly a little before 11 Tuesday night (and woke up on Wednesday with a minor version of those precision-drill-between-the-eyes Champagne reminders).

Our girls had done it again. Undefeated national champs for the second year in a row. Seventy-eight straight games without a loss, all but this last ugly grinder by 10 points or more. It was a bizarre game between the two best teams in the country, and the only good thing to say about it is that our team won.

Women’s college basketball is big here. Here’s David Wharton, reporting for the LA Times last week on the beginning of the love affair:

“The road to Storrs runs through small towns and stretches of wooded countryside where the trees are still mostly bare. On a drizzly afternoon with few cars around, it is hard to imagine that day in 1995 when the people of Connecticut lined this route for miles on end, waving flags, cheering as their college basketball team came home with a championship trophy.

“Their women’s college basketball team.”

We’ve gotten a little blasé since then, as championships have piled up—seven of them now—but every game is carried on Connecticut Public Television (except the ones being broadcast nationally), and they’re all covered by the state’s largest radio station as well. Traveling Nutmeggers bless both CPTV’s Hoopstreams and WTIC’s internet simulcasts.

On Tuesday night, the Yankees also beat the Red Sox. This is the only time this year I simply don’t care.

Tuesday, April 6, 2010

The Stihl brothers and their idiot keeper

We’re having gorgeous weather here right now.

This led over the weekend to an unfortunately characteristic comedy of errors in the back-back. My job this spring is to hack away all of the messy brush and saplings from the three sides I couldn’t finish last summer, before everything leafs out and it gets harder to batter my way through the undergrowth. Fine.

But my newish little chainsaw, the Stihl MS 180C shown here, is just enough different from my ancient bigger chainsaw, an old 1970s Stihl Farm Boss, to confuse me, with the result that after a half-hour or so, I could neither turn it off (!) nor get its chain to move. It finally dawned on me to stop the thing by choking it out. Then I puttered. I’m not a good putterer, but I’ve found that talking to myself helps, and I eventually came up with a muttered diagnosis. I think I damaged the clutch and did something unpleasant to the carburetor by revving the engine with the chain brake in the wrong position. (The other chainsaw—the one I actually know how to run—is so old it laughs sneeringly at the idea of having a chain brake. What kind of a wuss do you think it is, anyway?)

 Putting things back together (it worked, but still doesn’t switch off normally and clearly needs service), I managed to get the chain on backwards, a rookie mistake if ever there was one. Looking furtively around to see if anyone had noticed, I flipped things around, reinstalled the bar, and started to tighten things up. But the new machine has a new system for tensioning the chain. It’s a terrific system, but since last fall I’d forgotten how to use it. A quick look for the owner’s manual almost instantly turned up the 30-year-old instructions for the bigger saw, which naturally was of no help whatsoever. The new manual? I’m sure it’s sitting safely in the place I put it so that I’d be able to find it quickly when I needed it. A Google search and a download allowed me to take care of business, and as an extra bonus my office picked up the delicate odor of my oily hands and work clothes and still retains the slowly-fading smell of the backroom of a seedy repair shop. Ah, I love the smell of a two-stroke fuel mixture in the morning.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Geez Louise

I treat my achilles tendons like a gently failing elderly aunt and uncle. We’ve had our issues, but I worry and cosset. I’m tender and thoughtful. I make an effort to see they get enough appropriate exercise, but try not to let them overdo it. I do this even though both stringy old birds are recalcitrant and untrustworthy. And not because I hope to be named in the will. It’s just the right thing to do. It makes me feel much better about myself.

I’m good to other doddering relatives, as well, and lately things have gone well in the family. But over the past week, I’ve been entertaining an unwelcome new guest, either an unusually intractable cramp or a strain or pull in my right calf. And as one of my boyhood friends would wail as he scampered wide-eyed away from his belt-wielding father, “I didn’t dooo nuttin’!

And I guess I won’t be doin’ nuttin’ but walking for a while. Grr.

It’s enough to make me want to learn to swim.

Sunday, April 4, 2010

Easter B

I had a terrific Easter-morning iChat with sweet B and her dada this morning. She’s wearing her mama’s hat here, though she doesn’t need it. New England is wonderfully balmy this weekend.

B can count to 10 now, and has her colors and shapes pretty reliably down. There’s occasionally some confusion, though. She was here last weekend, and was counting up some animals in a book: “Un, two, tee, four, fie, boo (it was a blue creature, after all), seba, eight.”

Since then she’s learned to climb up on the kitchen stools, and to scale play structures, either by ladder or by reascending the slides themselves. This, obviously, is one of those good-news/bad-news situations. Maybe I should buy her a harness and some mini-biners, and teach her little friends to belay.

A tells me that she is often mistaken for a boy these days. I’ve never understood why dressing a very small child in anything but pink or bright purple makes people assume “boy,” but the same thing used to happen all the time to H, too. Can’t they tell from the high voice and lack of whiskers?

Friday, April 2, 2010

American Classic

Opening Day Sunday. Sox v. Yanks at Fenway. Oh, joy!