Thursday, December 31, 2009

Snow in the north

Home again after a whirlwind expedition in the frozen north to my other home.  Even though I frequently complain of feeling "cold as death," I truly enjoy snow and winter air.  The night sky is breathtaking in the fierce clarity of winter cold--how the stars pierce the heart!  The trees are transformed into lumbering white beasts, and the cardinal's bright spark pops against the snowy canvas: nature's haiku.

Sunday, December 20, 2009

Whistler in the snow

Driving to the airport this morning was like entering one of Whistler's Nocturnes paintings: the sky was a quiet vast blue and the snow-covered landscape blue like shadows.

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Elinor and Marianne*

Today I'm thankful for my friend Jenni.

I distinctly remember the day we realized we would be good friends.  In the college cafeteria during dinner, I was talking with Ethan, a mutual friend of ours.  At some point in the conversation, I mentioned how much I liked Pride and Prejudice.  Ethan grinned and looked down the table at Jenni, who was seated a few people down, and said, "You and Jenni have a lot in common, then."  And that's how our friendship began.

We both love reading and Jane Austen, art and cheese, the fall season and tea.  We're both very curious about a lot of things, especially anything British (Harry Potter, the Regency Era, high tea, you name it), and explore this curiosity together. We've done some silly things in the past, such as construct a fort out of blankets, chairs, and tables in the common room of our dorm.  We've dressed up for the first Lord of the Rings movie premiere, the Jane Austen Festival, and the Ladies' Historical Tea Society Halloween tea.  We've tripped our way through some Regency era dances and tried treacle tart (she made it, I helped her eat it).  And now we're sharing in the joy of planning trips to Great Britain, even if we're not going together (someday, though).

If that isn't a kindred soul, I don't know what is.

*It should be clear which one I am.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Friends through words

I'm continuing with the theme of thanksgiving, even if Thanksgiving is come and gone. 

Today I'm thankful for my friend Dwain.  I met him my freshman year in college.  I'm not really sure how our paths crossed, or why he even put up with me that year (I was still adjusting to life in college hours from home and family and rather melancholy about it), but I'm glad he did.

We share a common interest in literature and a rather ironic cynical view of life.  While we get along quite well in person, I would say that our friendship has largely been one of letters, even in this internet saturated world that we live in.  When we were first getting to know each other, we used IM a lot.  Now we keep up with each other in our blogs, responding to each other's posts and comments.  We're both writers at heart, and this is part of what has fueled our friendship: the exchange of ideas through words.

We also have one of those different kinds of friendships: the friendly agreement to disagree.  I don't always realize how nice this is: to have a friend who will listen, really listen to you, even if he may disagree with you. How else do you grow?

Some random memories:
  • staying up late on IM, when we probably should have been resting up for classes the next day, excitedly discussing the recent announcement that Lord of the Rings would soon begin filming.  We shot messages back and forth, debating Sean Connery as Gandalf or Mel Gibson as Aragorn.
  • Sitting on the green in the middle of the college grounds, hotly debating Jane Austen (I was pro and he was con, if I remember correctly), during which Dwain told me that I reminded him of Emma.  To this day, I have no idea why.  But, anyways, I very recently had the last laugh when he admitted that he liked Pride and Prejudice.
  • When I saw him a couple months ago, when he and his family were in the states, he complimented my writing, calling it organic and imbued with nature and said he enjoyed reading my blog very much.  A very nice encouragement, and one that made quite plain to me how I write, and perhaps a direction I should make sure I follow.
These memories are all rather me-centered, but illustrate how good a friend Dwain is. 

Monday, December 07, 2009

Vikings and ancestral land

I've made the executive decision* to replace Lechlade Manor with a day and a night in York instead.  For the past several weeks, I've been wondering whether one house (even if it's William Morris's house) is worth all the effort of getting there (bus from Lacock to Chippenham, train to Swindon, bus to Lechlade, walk 3 miles along the Thames River), as well as the fact that we'd be sacrificing a day to just one point of interest.  If you're unsure whether you'll ever return to a place, you want to make sure you've gotten your money's worth.  And I'm not sure one house (where we'd probably only spend 1-2 hours wandering) is worth it.

So why York?  I was swayed when I read about the Shambles, a rather well-preserved street from the medieval era, complete with leaning upper stories that look as if they're straining to kiss.

Some of my ancestors are from North Yorkshire (they emigrated from Marrick, a former lead mining village), and York is as close as I can get.  I was also intrigued to discover that, during the 9th century, Vikings actually set up house in the area during one of their repetitive invasions, establishing the Kingdom of Jorvik

I just keep finding more and more things in Great Britain that I want to see.

*J. is ambivalent about travel planning As long as we get to stay in mountains, he doesn't care one way or the other. I'm pretending this was an executive decision.

Saturday, December 05, 2009

Thanksgiving 2009

We went to Alabama to spend Thanksgiving with J.'s sister and her brood of animals (3 dogs and 2 cats).  J.'s mother and sister are excellent cooks, so the thanksgiving feast was a  pleasure to eat.  I never liked (and couldn't really stand the sight of) green bean casserole, which was usually composed of a variety of canned items (limp green beans, gelatinous cream of mushroom, sickly looking crunchy onions) until J.'s sister transformed my opinion.  She makes things from scratch, and I got to observe as she personally carmelized the onions down to sweet brown yumminess, simmered mushrooms in real cream, and combined the whole lot with fresh green beans into one pot where, under the powers of her alchemical cooking prowess, they somehow transformed into a dish with a complex, richly layered taste.

Our time in Alabama was a lazy conglomeration of sleeping in late (or, in my case, trying to), chatting, eating, cooing over Walter, J.'s sister's sweet King Charles spaniel (and the rest of the animals, of course), playing video games, eating and more eating, losing dogs and regaining them, chatting, and more eating.  The ladies tried our hand at embroidering, and the results didn't turn out too bad. J.'s mother felt inspired by this post at Posie Gets Cozy and wanted us to try it out.

A good time was had by all.

Wednesday, November 25, 2009



The year has turned its circle,
The seasons come and go.
The harvest all is gathered in
And chilly north winds blow.
Orchards have shared their treasures,
The fields, their yellow grain,
So open wide the doorway~
Thanksgiving comes again!
~Old Rhyme

May everyone have a happy Thanksgiving.

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Great Britain trip update

Based on the advice of Susan Allen Toth, who has written several enjoyable books about her travels to England, J. and I have subscribed to the "thumbprint" method of travel: set-up base in a town and plan day trips within the area.  We will be doing this for several areas in Great Britain.  I have yet to hammer out a definite itinerary, but these are the four areas we plan to visit:

Fort William area.
What we plan to do here:

hike Ben Nevis, highest point in Great Britain (that's the actual trail in the picture, in case you're wondering)

wander around Glen Coe

Cairngorms area
What we plan to do here:

poke around Kingussie

wander around the Cairngorms, where there is tundra

Hadrian's Wall
What we plan to do here:

walk a little bit along Hadrian's Wall

Visit Hexham, which has been around in some form or other since the 7th century

Lacock Village area
What we plan to do here:

get our fill of the quintessential English look at Lacock Village

go to the Bodleian Library at Oxford (one can never see too many libraries)

see Kelmscott Manor, abode of William Morris, who was part of the Arts & Crafts movement

I may possibly try to squeeze in a visit to Bath 

Thursday, November 19, 2009


Today I am thankful for tea.

Tea goes beyond just tea.  It embodies a ritual, deliberating slowing down life. Each moment is to be savored: hands wrapped round a warm mug; the first sip, and each one thereafter; the heady scent of a good brew; the whisper of steam against your cheeks as you raise the cup to your lips; even the simple pleasure of the cup itself, so practical in its construction, so pleasing in its form.

The ritual of tea extends beyond the tea itself, of course.  If it didn't, what's the point?  One of the things I always do whenever I go home to visit is sit down to a cup of tea at my grandmother's. Usually my mother and cousin Rosie are there, too.  We sit round the table and catch up after months of separation.  Cups clink; we laugh; napkins rustle as we nibble on sweets.  We share stories and listen in our turn, for tea loosens the tongue, unstops the ear. 

It's a ritual that I happily crash everytime I go home to visit.

"The first cup moistens
my lips and throat.
The second shatters
my loneliness.
The third causes the wrongs
of life to fade gently
from my recollection.
The fourth purifies my soul.
The fifth lifts me
to the realms
of the unwinking gods."

Chinese Mystic Tang Dynasty

Travel plans and the uncanny

Trip preparations for our trip to Great Britain are getting ridiculously uncanny.  First, I decided that we should setup a base camp in Kingussie, Scotland for our time in the Cairngorms.  Then I found out that it was used for some scenes in one of my all-time favorite series, Monarch of the Glen.  Okay, cool, not enough to make me absolutely have to stay in that village should a better location show up, but, still, pretty cool.

Recently, I found out about Lacock Village and decided that we would make that another base camp because I was intrigued by the thought of a village that "remains largely unchanged over the centuries."  Then I found out that it was used in the famous 1995 Pride and Prejudice series (I don't need to mention how much I love that series, too) and some Harry Potter movies (I love Harry Potter, too.)  Now I am definitely making sure that we include this stop in our itinerary!

And today, after some discussion with J. about exploring other mountainous regions of Scotland and settling on Ben Nevis and Glen Coe, I discovered that the village Glencoe was the setting for my all-time favorite shots in the movie Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban.  And I ABSOLUTELY have to go here!

Really, this is all getting a little...strange.

Tuesday, November 17, 2009

My better half

I'm not a very affectionate person, usually.  I'm rather reserved and, for all I know, it probably looks like I have the emotional range of a toad.  But I do have feelings, and they break through the wall of reserve occasionally.  It's usually through my writing, but sometimes it surges out verbally.  J. is usually the recipient of these outbursts (I'm married to him after all).

This is what I've told him: "Don't ever die."

While this might seem like obsessive neediness (depends on how you look at it), those three words encapsulate how keenly I recognized at that very moment how much he means to me.  Those moments come and go, ebbing like the tide.  The last time I told him this was during the closing credits for "The Curious Case of Benjamin Button,"  a movie about the lifelong love affair between a woman and a man with an unusual handicap.  The actors must be exceptionally good, to cause such a verbal outbreak from me.

So, obviously, I love J (and I tell him this, far more frequently than "Don't ever die," in case you're wondering). I tell people that when we met, we started talking, and we haven't stopped.  It's been eight years so far (five of those in holy matrimony).  While we have our differences (he just can't quite understand the right-brain view of things; for an example, see this post), all that's done is to ensure that we're always learning from each other.  There is no stasis in the relationship, only room to grow.

That's my ode of thankfulness for J., who is my better half.

Sunday, November 15, 2009


Today I am thankful for my cousins Rosie and Jenny.

We three take after the Nyberg side of the family: tall, big-boned, big brown eyes, long feet (you see the theme emerging here). While growing up, we were inseparable, our friendship a force to be reckoned with.  Even now, when we see each other only two to three times a year, we easily slip back into our camaraderie. I have no stories to relate from our long friendship; there are too many, and what significance do they have for my readers, who were not there with us?  Suffice to say that our bond runs deep.

My memories of our times together are tinged with woodsmoke, the sharp slice of prairie grass, whispered conversations at midnight, a ribbon of creekwater, stacks of books, bare feet on grass, afternoons lazy with sunlight, snow crunching underfoot, uncontrollable laughter, coffee cups scattered on tables, cats slinking round the door, the tickle of long hair as we hug each other farewell.

These memories are part of my talismans against forgetfulness.  When you move from the place of your upbringing, it is all too easy to forget where you came from.  Home inevitably fades once you are no longer able to see or touch it.  Memories keep the amnesia at bay.  These memories, with their tangible associations, are particularly powerful talismans against the fog of forgetfulness.

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

Dumbledore's portrait

One of the saddest passages in all of the Harry Potter books:

"And a new portrait had joined the ranks of the dead headmasters and headmistresses of Hogwarts: Dumbledore was slumbering in a golden frame over the desk, his half-moon spectacles perched upon his crooked nose, looking peaceful and untroubled."--from "Harry Potter and the Half-Blood Prince" (penultimate book in the series)

Monday, November 09, 2009


Today I am thankful for my father.

Dad and I have a lot in common.  We write really sloppy, have big heads and big bones.  We have flat feet and walk a little duck-footed.  We devour fantasy/sci-fi books and tend towards reticence (getting an opinion from us can be like pulling teeth). 

Our way of spending time together whenever I pop home for a visit is to go see a "Laura and Dad movie."  These movies are generally over-full of action-adventure stunts aided by cgi, in which the plot begs for your willing suspension of disbelief, the heroes are good-looking, and the villains villainous: what you would call bad movies.  We love them.  Ever since we saw the enjoyably stupid movie "Anaconda," we have been on a quest to find a movie even worse than it.  We're still looking.

I was poking around my computer the other day and came across this little thing I wrote during my first year in college.  We may not tell each other "I love you," very much (that's a little embarrassing), but the bond is there.  I think you'll see it in this little bit of writing.  Here it is, completely unedited:

The man of no affection hugged me today, long and hard. The barren, cold room surrounded us, hovering over our shoulders, eyeing me flat against my face as I rested my chin on my father’s shoulder and reveled in the warmth of his familiarity. Nothing else was familiar; all was strange and heartless in that room – my room for the rest of the year. The mottled brown carpet, the pasty white wall, the flimsy closet door – they all stared in solemnity at the tearing of family bond in their midst: this happened every year. How can this painful break be so commonplace? Thousands go through this every year; thousands weep and thousands shiver in nervous anticipation. Such a break is commonplace only in the statistics; it is a whole other thing for flesh and blood. Life as these thousands know it is no more, has altered dramatically. In that little room, my future home, a part of my being was being wrenched away and shut up in the vaults of memory. I could not return to the safety of childhood. And my father, the very person (and often the only person) who had been the one encouraging my departure from home, my baby steps into the real world – he was the one who held me long and hard today, on this cold and barren day.

Saturday, November 07, 2009


Today I am thankful for my cats.

I don't think we ever realize how much our pets do for us.  To them, you are absolutely normal.  They like you just the way you are, even if you sing to them in awful operatic voices and pick them up for far too frequent cuddles.  Think how serious this is, to be accepted at face value.  There is no pretense, no hiding of your true self behind the flimsy disguise you wear for work.  To be confronted by a creature that sees you, and likes what she sees, is no small thing.

Other reasons why I like cats:

Pope and Sasha rudely awakened from their nap

"I love cats.  I love their grace and their elegance.  I love their independence and their arrogance and the way they lie and look at you, summing you up, surely to your detriment, with that unnerving, unwinking, appraising stare."--Joyce Stranger.

Thursday, November 05, 2009

Pearl of great price

"The Bright Field"
I have seen the sun break through
to illuminate a small field
for a while, and gone my way
and forgotten it. But that was the pearl
of great price, the one field that had
the treasure in it. I realize now
that I must give all that I have
to possess it. Life is not hurrying

on to a receding future, nor hankering after
an imagined past. It is the turning
aside like Moses to the miracle
of the lit bush, to a brightness
that seemed as transitory as your youth
once, but is the eternity that awaits you.

-R.S. Thomas


Last week, one of the sons of the ladies I work with was suffering from a high grade fever.  They were worried that he might have meningitis.  While chatting with some colleagues who have children of their own, the subject turned to this sick boy as someone relayed the message that he was getting better.  I mentioned how relieved I was to hear that he was out of the woods, as I had gotten sick with meningitis and lost my hearing as a result. 

After this conversation, I realized what an odd situation I was in.  Here I was, a happily healthy, rather normal person who just happened to have a disability that resulted from the infection we were talking about.  And I was contemplating how awful it would be for this little boy to be afflicted by the very same thing that I had survived.  I may not be explaining very well why I found this situation a little odd.  I certainly wasn't wishing on this child what I had suffered.  But to commiserate about a terrible infection and the possibility of irreparable damage to one's hearing made me uncomfortable because I've developed a determination not to feel sorry for myself.  This determination (and it is determination because I am a introspective person) has made me a much more content person.

I still remember the throes of self-pity I threw myself into when I was a teenager.  It took a very brutal, startling retort from my father to shake me out of my melancholy.  I haven't looked back since.

What I'm thankful for today, I'm not sure.  It's a tangled web of thoughts and emotions I'm trying to sort through.  Am I thankful for being hearing impaired?  Obviously not, but then again, it's made me who I am.  I guess what I'm trying to get at is life itself.  I may have been dealt a different set of cards than many people, but, somehow, lacking a sense makes you all the more keen to seize life.  You're making up, not for lost time, but for lost experiences.  I may not know what it's like to wake up to the sound of voices in the kitchen as someone prepares coffee, or what it's like to distinguish the sounds of birds from the wind, or what it's like to carry on a conversation with someone across the room, but what I do pick up on, whether by sound, sight, smell, taste or touch, I treasure. 

"If we had a keen vision and feeling of all ordinary human life, it would be like hearing the grass grow and the squirrel's heart beat, and we should die of that roar which lies on the other side of silence."--George Eliot

Wednesday, November 04, 2009


Today I am thankful for friends and family who are constantly harping on me to keep writing.  One of the greatest bits of encouragement I got was from a friend who told me that my writing was organic, imbued with nature.  I had never really perceived that slant in my writing before, but now that it's been mentioned, I see it everywhere in these posts.

It's always been my hope that what I write inspires self-reflection in my readers.  When I share childhood memories or random stories from my day or whatever I happen to be thinking at the moment, I try to write it in such a way that it reminds people to examine their own memories and stories and thoughts.  By looking for meaning in what I experience, and writing what I discover, perhaps my readers will be able to inspired to do the same. 

"The greatest thing a human soul every does in this world is to see see is poetry, prophecy, and religion all in one."--John Ruskin

Tuesday, November 03, 2009


I'm going to challenge myself to write a post a day on things I am thankful for.  Seeing as this is the month containing Thanksgiving, I thought this would be an interesting exercise.

First up: water.

I don't think I fully appreciated water until I started hiking.  When you have to carry your water because you can't drink directly from the streams you come across (however nobly beastly a notion that is); when grit starts to accumulate on your skin and you catch unexpected whiffs of your own rich aroma; when you have to trudge through a daylong downpour--you start to appreciate water.

It's not always neatly confined to a faucet that you can turn on when you need it.  It's not always safely contained in plastic containers on the shelves of your grocery store. You can't always duck indoors when the clouds unleash their fury.  Water is a force to be reckoned with.

And yet it's so beautiful...even when I'm low on treated water while hiking and feeling like the ancient mariner from Coleridge's poem whenever I pass a burbling stream: "Water, water everywhere, and not a drop to drink.."

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Halloween Tea

This past weekend, my friend Jenni and I attended the Halloween Tea put on by the Ladies Historical Tea Society.  One of the gentle requirements of attendance was period dress from the Victorian or Edwardian era.  We wracked our brains trying to come up with convincing (but cheap) outfits that fit the bill.  Jenni, seamstress extraordinaire that she is becoming*, stitched us up some Edwardian inspired skirts with which we could wear high-necked blouses, for a sort of Anne of Green Gables look (though in the picture we rather look like Edwardian spinster sisters).

The tea itself was quite enjoyable.  The ladies were each such interesting characters, and so welcoming, that we quickly overcame our initial nervousness about our cluelessness about tea (manners, proper conversation, clinking the china too hard) and had a wonderful time.  Another gentle requirement for the Halloween Tea was a ghost story to share after the tea.  I read Charles Dickens' story, "The Lawyer and the Ghost," in which the protagonist suggests to the ghost that, of all the places on earth he can visit, why should he remain in the one place where he was most miserable? 

You can read more about the event in Rebecca's post.

*She made our gowns for the Regency Ball at the Jane Austen Festival.  Here's my post on it.

Friday, October 30, 2009

A haunting we will go

"There is no encouragement for ghosts in most of our villages, for they have scarcely had time to finish their first nap, and turn themselves in their graves before their surviving friends have travelled away from the neighborhood; so that when they turn out at night to walk their rounds, they have no acquaintance left to call upon. This is perhaps the reason why we so seldom hear of ghosts, except in our long-established Dutch communities."

--Washington Irving "The Legend of Sleepy Hollow"

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Tuesday, October 27, 2009

Cheese in the library

Going to the cheese aisle of a store is like going to the library.  There's so many different kinds cheeses, each with its own aroma, flavor, color, texture, and heft.  I have to spend time examining whatever blocks of cheese catch my eye. Like browsing the shelves of the nonfiction section, I rely on serendipity to lead me to the next type of cheese to try. 

My latest discovery is a hard goat cheese made by a Kentucky based company, Sapori d'Italia. I have no idea what it's called, as I threw away the wrapper in my eagerness to cut a slice.  It's a pungent, crumbly cheese with a rich nutty flavor and a hint of black pepper. 

My paltry description aside, I like it quite a bit.  J., on the other hand, thought it tasted "vaguely like soap."*  Which is good, as it means more cheese for me.

I love cheese.

*I have no idea where the soapy flavor comes from, and I think this is the result of J.'s tendency to devour foods without savoring them (ha!)

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Cats and their mysterious ways

This is the ritual everytime I get on the computer.  Sasha, this shy little wisp of a cat, becomes bold in her quest for affection.  Up into my lap she leaps for several rounds of petting and head scratches.  She gazes up at me in adoration while I work on the computer  She loves me.  I am the center of her universe during this time.

Then she leaves and returns to whatever secret place she has.

Thursday, October 22, 2009

Importance of research

Research for our trip to Scotland and England

Getting to know your own library

From Susan Hill’s new book Howards End Is On the Landing:

"It began like this. I went to the shelves on the landing to look for a book I knew was there. It was not. But plenty of others were and among them I noticed at least a dozen I realised I had never read.

I pursued the elusive book through several rooms and did not find it in any of them, but each time I did find at least a dozen, perhaps two dozen, perhaps two hundred, that I had never read.

And then I picked out a book I had read but had forgotten I owned. And another and another. After that came the books I had read, knew I owned and realised that I wanted to read again.

I found the book I was looking for in the end, but by then it had become far more than a book. It marked the start of a journey through my own library.

I really should do something like this. I don't think I've read even a quarter of the books I own...and yet I still check books out from the library."

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Knowledge and the wild things

I had a very strange dream a couple nights ago. It was amusing, bizarre, and beautiful in the way that only dreams can be. It illustrates how dreams can be the brain's creative way of sorting through all the information we cram into it, consciously or subconsciously.

I dreamt that the wild things were the caretakers of the trees of knowledge. All I remember of the dream is this: I am deep in the bowels of what I initially think is the earth, yet I soon realize that we are in a different place, like the Wood between the Worlds from the Narnia books. We are in a cavernous space, looking up at the giant roots of trees, pushing through the ceiling. They are unbelievably large, like mountains, beyond the scale of comprehension, and I feel impossibly small while looking up at them. This sense of scale does not bother me.

As is the way of dreams, I never see the wild things, though I know they are present. While it’s funny that the creatures from Sendak’s book “Where the Wild Things Are” should show up in my dream, as the caretakers of these ponderous trees, no less!, somehow they added a sense of gravitas to my dream. Their wildness meant they were dangerous, and I should take care in this place where the trees of knowledge reside.

I never find out what the wild things do to trespassers. All I am left with is the image of those giant roots suspended in a vast space, and the profound sense of awe I felt while gazing at those ponderous roots far above me, and a niggling sense of foreboding, an intuition that I should not tarry long in this place, no matter how heartbreakingly beautiful the trees are.

And that was the dream. There's no hidden meaning behind it, no suppressed emotions trying to get out. Just the hint of a story.

I like those kinds of dreams.

Friday, October 16, 2009

Nature abhors a vacuum

We didn't have too many "views" as the Smoky Mountains were living up to their name.

But without that fog, the light coming through the trees wouldn't be quite so charming...

And moss wouldn't grow so rampantly...

(I love moss.)

Nothing can make decay look as lovely

or interesting

as nature does.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

Importance of little things

As always, J. and I had a wonderful time in the Smoky Mountains, where we went for 3 1/2 days. We hiked a section of the Appalachian Trail, from Newfound Gap to Cosby Knob. It was roughly 36 miles.

I kept up with J. on all of those miles--even on that 15 mile day I mentioned in my previous post. No more stopping every 10 minutes on a climb to let my racing heart calm down. I just kept going and going. I was the energizer bunny. I finally understood what J. meant when he said, "It never gets easier--just less hard." My legs were working--oh, I felt it!--but that ache just faded into the background, and I was able to let my mind wander as I took in the beauty of the Smokies around me.

This is an important accomplishment, you know. If I was a hobbit in Middle Earth, this means I would be able to keep up with Aragorn.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Home again

Status for the day (because my readers really care, I know):

Laura wandered through some clouds, met the nearly tame guinea fowl of Tricorner Shelter, unleashed billions of spores, nearly flew off the side of Mount Cammerer, and for the first time in her life kept up with J., even during a 15 mile day, while hiking in the always lovely Smokies!

Friday, October 09, 2009

Climbing is hard

elevation chart for AT around Mount Rogers

When I first started hiking, I had a perverse relationship with elevation charts, those things that show you how high and low the trail goes within so many miles. I hated looking at them because it always seemed that whenever J. pulled the elevation chart out, we were at the bottom of a huge climb that the chart helpfully illustrated as a steep slash. Never at the top. At the same time, I wanted to look at them because I had to see how many more miles we had, and how many more climbs were in store.

I guess J. has toughened me enough so that I no longer want to cry when I see that we have just one more climb to make before we reach the shelter at the end of a long day. Now I can coolly assess the elevation chart and mentally prepare my legs for how much more I will ask of them.

Of course, it helps if you are hiking through open space (like the balds of Mount Rogers). There's more to distract you. I always get grumpy if we're climbing up the side of a tree-covered mountain. Trees tend to blur into one monotonous scene as you hike, so it seems as if you are watching a continuous loop of one image. It gets old if you're tired and hungry.

Wednesday, October 07, 2009

Food is never far from the hiker's mind

Low fat and low calorie is not an option when you go hiking.

I always feel slightly guilty when we go shopping for food for one of our hiking trips, since we're stockpiling on nutty, chocolate-y trail mix, Snickers and PayDay candy bars, and zeroing in on dehydrated milk that's 20% fat. Moderation is not the key during this time.

Rather than carefully regulating our caloric intake, we revel in it. You have to. I can remember times when I did not have enough food while hiking. Your brain develops a curiously keen sense of focus--the opposite of the light-headedness I feel when I've pushed my lunchtime too far. The gaping maw of your stomach is never far from your thoughts. Any food you eat during this time disappears into a black hole and you derive no satisfaction from it, no sense of your body storing anything for fuel. It's like your hunger is a separate entity that won't give your body anything until it's been satisfied.

Saturday, October 03, 2009

Have you met Mr. Edwards' wife?

It's always amusing to meet J.'s students. They always exclaim, with that profuse enthusiasm endemic to young teenagers, "You're so pretty!" and stare wide-eyed at me while J. makes chitchat. Once we move on, they start furiously whispering to each other.

While this is flattering, I think it's more to do with the surprise of encountering the outside life of a teacher, plus just some plain 'ole curiosity about who on earth would possibly want to be married to the big bad chemistry teacher. I think their exclamations of my "prettiness" is a gloss over what they're really thinking: "Wow, she's young and has no warts!" That, and the fact that I don't wear penny loafers or Mom jeans (my preferences running more towards Sauconys and dark wash jeans), combines to completely disrupt their preconceived notions of what "Mr. Edwards' wife" is like.

J. told me about an exchange between two of his students that he overheard earlier that week. One of the boys whispered something to another boy, whose face swiftly adopted a perplexed expression as he wasn't sure he heard his friend correctly, "Have I smelled Mr. Edwards' wife?"

Seeing as I thought "loan" sounded like "markers" while I was working at the reference desk the other week, it's quite plausible that "seen" could be confused with "smelled," especially considering the tendencies of young people to mumble and slur their words.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009

Scenes from a house

A typical evening at the house.

As soon as I step in the door, the cats materialize from wherever they sequester themselves during the day and wrap themselves around my legs, crying for attention and leaving great quantities of fur on my person.

Pope is like a dog--he comes when called. Sasha is more cat-like in that you never know what she's going to do next.

Sunday, September 27, 2009

Front porch guardians

We have some residents on and near our front porch. For some time now, a spider has been spinning a web between the edge of the front porch and the nearby barberry bush and growing fat and happy off the doomed insects caught in her snare. While she normally hides when we come near, I was able to get an up-close view while she caught a loopworm, deftly wrapping it in a ribbon of silk flowing out of her nether regions.

A tree-bark colored praying mantis, a little longer than my middle finger, has been hanging out on our front door. We think she is heavy with eggs. She cocks her head to gaze at me with her bulbous eyes whenever I stoop to examine her.

The other night we spied a toad hopping along the walkway leading to the front porch. We have already christened him "Mr. Toad," even though we don't know whether he has domestic leanings or was just passing through. I hope he sticks around.

Friday, September 25, 2009

The earth shrugged

Delicate Arch

Landscape Arch

Private Arch

an arch somewhere

Another arch that shall remain nameless

Sandstone fins and other outrageous features of the earth

While in Arches National Park, we hiked the Devils Garden trail, which took us past Landscape Arch and other stunningly beautiful arches, sandstone fins, and rock formations of all shapes and sizes.

At the start of the trail, when we spied the sandstone fins from afar (above), we each of us exclaimed, "Oh, I want to go over there!" and found that our wishes were granted. To give you a sense of scale, look at the sandstone fins in the picture above. Now look at the three of us on a sandstone fin below.

It was worth it, even if I had to scoot down some steep and slick sandstone at one point. The picture below does not show the the steep drop to our left into a pool of still water.

Wednesday, September 23, 2009

Joining the ancient tree hunt

Another stop on our United Kingdom trip: the Fortingall yew tree, which is somewhere between 2,000 and 5,000 years old.

More information about it, and the "Ancient Tree Hunt" can be found here.

Tuesday, September 22, 2009

"I startled a weasel who startled me, and we exchanged a long glance..."**

I had an Annie Dillard weasel moment with a sagebrush lizard in Arches National Park, outside Moab, Utah.

These lizards were everywhere, but you wouldn't know it unless you were looking (and how many of us really look at things?). These finger-length lizards blended neatly into the sandstone even as they darted to and fro within the blink of an eye. I came across one perched on a shelf of sloping red rock along the trail, and rather than fleeing, it turned and looked at me. Cocking its head, it regarded me with all the temerity it could muster, and we stared at each other.

And that was that. I stared at a lizard, and it stared right back at me. Such reciprocal acknowledgment was unnerving in a way: what was it thinking? Is that what living in the desert does to you--slough off your weak parts so all that's left is a sinewy boldness? While I enjoyed my time in the desert, the openness of the terrain and the ever-present fierce sun was overwhelming. I simultaneously felt as though I was pinned beneath a microscope and lost in a universe of sand and stars. Perhaps being bold is a way to combat this feeling of smallness that the desert imposes on you.

When I stood up, the lizard scampered a few feet away then looked back at me. It bobbed its head and did several push-ups in a display of dominance, in spite of the fact that I towered over it, a boulder to its pebble. I stepped back, respecting the boldness of its actions.

**from "Living Like Weasels," by Annie Dillard.

You can't have my ants

My facebook status for today:

Laura "scrambled up a rock fin, was postured at by numerous tiny lizards defending their territory, observed numerous gorgeous arches, poured red sand out of her shoes, and attended an absolutely lovely wedding while in Moab, Utah"

Tuesday, September 15, 2009

Walking in the footsteps of obscure TV stars

I am a fan of the BBC series Monarch of the Glen, which is about Glenbogle, a ramshackle estate in the Scottish highlands, and the bumbling efforts of the MacDonald family as they try to maintain it. Imagine my surprise when I found out that Kingussie, one of the towns that we plan on using as a base for our expeditions in Scotland, was the site of the village scenes filmed for this series.

Saturday, September 12, 2009

Art and life and what statistical probabilities have to do with it all

These are the kinds of random things J. and I debate at 6:30 in the morning at Starbucks on Saturdays.

Here's how this one started...I mentioned off-hand to J. that the book I was reading, "Age of Wonder: how the Romantic Generation Discovered the Beauty and Terror of Science," was surprisingly engrossing. He asked what exactly it was about, and when I mentioned that the Romantic Generation referred to the age in which Wordsworth and Coleridge, Byron and Shelley lived, he wondered whether Coleridge should get the credit for that strange poem of his, "Kubla Khan," which was written while he was under the influence of opium.

So J. and I started debating whether artists should get credit for the work they've done if they were under the influence (drugs, alcohol, whatever). J. said no, because the artist had no say in the making of art, it was just the drugs. In other words, they did not have the inborn talent to produce their art; it was just the byproduct of flights of fancy they undertook while under the influence. I said yes, because even if the artist was under the influence, s/he still had the talent necessary to produce art (this is not true of all people that claim to be artists). I used a Chesterton quote to back me up: "Jane Austen was not inflamed or inspired or even moved to be a genius; she simply was a genius."

I didn't come close to convincing J. until I pointed out the statistical improbability of an artist continually churning out masterpieces while high, if there was no inherent "genius" or spark of true talent to make such consistently high quality works.

J. and I have a long-standing good-natured antagonism over art.

Thursday, September 10, 2009

Psyche in the north

The mention of "arctic wilderness" on the Cairngorms inspired the title of my previous post. "East of the sun, west of the moon," is my favorite fairy tale. It tells the story of a young lady who sets off to rescue a prince who has been bewitched by trolls, who live "east of the sun, west of the moon," in the far reaches of some frozen wasteland. Similar to the tale of Cupid and Psyche, that old old story of long ago, it involves shapeshifting and insurmountable tasks and a determined protagonist who is aided by various supernatural beings. Some people may see similarities with "Beauty and the Beast," as well.

I have written about beasts and beauties and the strange tale of Cupid and Psyche before, especially as C.S. Lewis retold it in his book "Till We Have Faces," which is one of the most powerful books I have ever read and I'm still trying to think of ways to verbalize why.

Going back into the archives (is this something only a librarian enjoys?), here's what I've written before:

Till We Have Faces
Strange Dreams Haunting Us Today
Beautiful Ugly
Thinking on the Beast

Tuesday, September 08, 2009

East of the sun, west of the moon

J. and I have fallen under the spell of the Scottish Highlands. While browsing some Lonely Planet guides for Scotland, he looked at me and asked, "Are we going to want to move to Scotland?"

The latest addition to our itinerary are the Cairngorms, located southeast of Inverness. The Cairngorms are home to Scotland's only herd of reindeer, which are allowed to range freely. Much of the Cairngorms are considered an arctic wilderness (they're not that far from the Arctic Circle) and contains tundra. J. and I are very excited about seeing tundra.

Thursday, September 03, 2009

Wade in the water

It rains a lot when we go hiking. So much so that J. teases me, saying I bring storms wherever I go. My unluckiness aside, we continue to go. A little bit of rain is worth the whole experience (besides, you dry out pretty quickly). And when a little bit of rain turns in a day-long downpour, I imagine I am on a quest, like the hobbits Frodo and Sam*. Making your discomfort part of a story (or, better yet, a bildungsroman) is a great way to pass the time.

I fully expect to be rained on in England. J. and I are planning enough outdoor excursions that it would be silly of us not to be aware of the elephant in the room: England is a rainy country. I just hope that the stormclouds will forget about me now and then, and the sun will shine, and we'll have some good views of the storied isle.

*Sometimes I try to imagine myself as Aragorn, resolutely plowing on, not even breaking a sweat ("Gentlemen, we do not stop 'till nightfall"), but somehow that doesn't work as well. Even though they are hobbits, Frodo and Sam seem more, well, human.

Wednesday, September 02, 2009

Why can't I look like this while I'm hiking....

One of the reasons I like browsing catalogs and magazines is the amusement I get from seeing the occasional ludicrous setup for fashionable clothing, such as this outfit in the latest catalog from Anthropologie.

Compare this with my boringly sensible moment on top of Mount Rogers...

While the model beats me in the appearance factor, it's pretty clear which one of us would fare better in a day-long downpour (such as the one J. and I trekked through the day after the above photo was taken).