Thursday, August 27, 2009

England on my mind

Some things I want to see in England:

Hadrian's Wall, which the Roman Emperor built in the 2th century as barrier against the barbarians of the North (I seem to be married to one, by the way)

Ravens residing at the Tower of London (legend goes that should the ravens ever leave the Tower of London, then it, the British crown, and the British kingdom will fall)

Lindisfarne Priory on Lindisfarne, or Holy Island, off the far northeast coast of England

Durham, home of the Norman cathedral built around 1100 AD

Tolkien's home in Oxford

and more, much more!

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

All the futures before us

“The problem of meaning is created by limits, by being just this, by being merely this. The young feel this less strongly. Although they would agree, if they thought about it, that they will realize only some of the (feasible) possibilities before them, none of these various possibilities is yet excluded in their minds. The young live in each of the futures open to them. The poignancy of growing older does not lie in one’s particular path being less satisfying or good than it promised earlier to be — the path may turn out to be all one thought. It lies in traveling only one (or two, or three) of those paths. Economists speak of the opportunity cost of something as the value of the best alternative foregone for it. For adults, strangely, the opportunity cost of our lives appears to us to be the value of all the foregone alternatives summed together, not merely the best other one. When all the possibilities were yet still before us, it felt as if we would do them all.”

— Robert Nozick, Philosophical Explanations (1981)

Found through the blog "more than 95 theses"

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Keeping the earth populated

Congratulations to my dear friend and cousin and her husband, who had a baby boy this past Thursday.

When I was home this past weekend for a wedding and this potential arrival, my cousin and I went to Lowe's and walked up and down the aisles in an effort to get the labor going. While all the employees eyed her belly nervously, we admired the tiles and woodwork. I think perhaps the baby grew tired of this (he's a boy, after all), and decided to get out of there. Hence, he joined the fold.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Why we speak

Another quote from "Albion":

"The mark or symbol of the hawthorn tree is to be found in the runic alphabet of the ancient British tribes, as if the landscape propelled them into speech."--p. 3

To speak is to name. To name is to know--to make known. Alternatively, to be spoken to is to be known. I never feel like I know a child until she begins to talk to me. From the moment my friend's little girl called me by name and began to chatter away, it was like a door opening into a hallway filled with more doors into more rooms. She was like a seed planted in the earth, and when I returned to check on it, I found a tree antlered with many branches and crowned with many leaves.

If you were mute, and saw a tree--one of those remarkably old trees, like the redwoods in California or the squat dreaming oaks in England--would you be compelled to speak?

Roots and fingers

I knew that I would like "Albion: the Origins of the English Imagination" when I opened the book to the first chapter and saw that it was titled, simply, "Tree." As is obvious from the subtitle, the book seeks to investigate the varied and rich history of the English imagination. The following quote illustrates why the ever important first chapter of this hefty, door-stopper of a book is devoted to trees:

"The tree encloses a communal memory--'beyond the memory of anyone now living', as the medieval rubric was later to express it--and from it derives that sense of place, of literal rootedness, which is one of the great themes of the English imagination."--p. 5-6

It never fails to amaze me how language boosts our understanding of the world. It's one thing to flatly state that the English have a sense of place; it's another to use the image of a tree to illustrate how strong that sense of place is. As you contemplate the image of the tree, your fingers feel the grip of the roots on the soil as they work their way deeper in, ever deeper.

Monday, August 10, 2009

That deep and inscrutable singular name

One of the things that people do while thru-hiking the AT is adopt a trail name--your alternate name, if you will (not unlike the multiple names that each of T.S. Eliot's cats meditate on while in their various cat trances). These names usually reflect the person's personality or appearance in some way, or refer to an inside joke they share with their friends. J.'s was "Argon," a reference to the inert gas that doesn't react to much of anything at all. For a while on the trail, he hiked with another guy who also had a red beard. They were known as the "Hiking Vikings."

People sometimes will name the pets they bring along with them. One unforgetable name is "Worthless Bert, the Emergency Stew," and I pity the poor dog that got this name, even though I crack up laughing every time I think about it. This past weekend on the trail, J. and I saw a few dogs that warranted this name. One of them was a bichon frise that had to be carried.

Sunday, August 09, 2009

Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Road goes ever on and on

J. and I went back to Mount Rogers this past weekend. We can't stop returning to that gorgeous place. It has rhododendron, balds, a trail always rounding a bend, even ponies--what more can you ask for?

We pulled into Damascus, Virginia late Friday night and had a hard time finding the Hiker's Inn, even though Main Street is not that long. The room was cozy, and the bed was charmed for deep slumber. I thought of it often while laying on the wooden floor of the shelters.

Saturday morning, Damascus Dave shuttled us up to the Fox Creek trailhead where we began our ascent up the side of Mount Rogers. During the 40 minute shuttle, he told us that he had retired from Mt. Rogers Outfitters and spent most of his time in a cabin on Whitetop Mountain, where he has no electricity or running water. Would you spend your retirement like that? He also has an awesome thick, white beard. I told Jon he will grow one like that when he is older.

Saturday was a great day for hiking: sunny and clear. We went to Rhododendron Gap and saw some ponies. Two of them were following the trail, scouting out the next good spot for grass. When one of them heard Jon unzipping his camera bag, he darted up in a flash, begging for treats. When he saw that we didn't have anything, he resorted to licking my arm. I guess my salty sweat tasted good.

We got to Thomas Knob Shelter, which is near the top of Mount Rogers, in good time. We spent time on the rock outcroppings in the back watching a thunderstorm roll in.

Sunday morning we awoke within a cloud: wind shuttled mist back and forth in front of the shelter. It was a portent of the day to come: rain. It started out as misty rain, then transformed into a steady onslaught of water that soaked every inch of us to the bone. J. said it was the third wettest hiking day he has ever had--remember that he's hiked 500 miles of the AT, not to mention all the other hiking trips he's done. We arrived at Lost Mountain Shelter, where we met a 71 year old lady who was planning to hike the entire AT (a little late for that, but no mind). She was a tiny slip of a thing, dwarfed by her backpack, but cheerful nonetheless.

Monday morning, I had the joyous experience of putting on wet socks and shoes. The first few seconds of pulling on a wet, cold sock, then sliding your recoiling foot into a shoe heavy with water and mud, are always memorable. After a few seconds, sock and shoe warm up to the temperature of your foot and you're left instead with the oddly pleasant sensation of a foot bath.

We saw lots of Indian Pipes, or monotropa uniflora, a very rare type of plant that does not produce chlorophyll. It pokes up through the duff like skeletal fingers. It may not be much fun hiking in the rain, but it certainly brings out a host of odd organisms that you wouldn't see on a beautiful day. We saw lots of mushrooms, including the stereotypical kind associated with hippies, and adorning plenty of retro kitchen linens: the squat, pleasantly plump 'shroom with a red cap.

As the trail started following a creek in its descent, we came across very fresh bear tracks. The bear had followed the trail for quite a ways, so we were able to pretend that we were trackers and guess what it was after. As you can see from the picture, it was quite a sizable bear. It was probably growing fat and happy from all the wild blueberries and blackberries along the trail (as were we).

We reached the Virginia Creeper trail and joined the line of cyclists making their way back to Damascus. With all the recent rain, the Creeper was a chortling, fast running creek with plenty of waterfalls to admire.When we stopped to stretch, I pulled out my short sleeve shirt to change into, only to find that the Lost Mountain Shelter mouse* had raided it for its nest. The back was riddled with several holes. I had hung it up to dry after rainy Sunday, and that made it fair game. It was time to retire that shirt anyways. Hiking is hard on clothes.

And there you have it, a typical hiking adventure for us. Here's more pictures from this trip.

*Shelter mice are a legend unto themselves on the AT. No one worries about bears or serial killers or feral dogs along the trail: it's the mice! Why? Because they will do anything they can to get your food, and if you're a hiker who needs her calories, that's a pretty serious threat. All the trail registers we read included warnings about the mice, and exclamations at what they were capable of. The register at Thomas Knob Shelter (top left) warned us about the "acrobatic and kung fu mice." One of the things hikers use to deter mice is hang their packs on anti-mice devices, usually constructed of a can, string, and a stick. See the picture to the right for an example. It works...sometimes.

Tuesday, August 04, 2009

Oh! the trials we endure

This is my facebook status for today:

"Laura Edwards was used as a salt lick by a pony, got thoroughly drenched, donated part of her shirt to a mouse nest in Lost Mtn shelter, sauntered thru fields of bee balm, and strolled along 30+ miles of watery trails while on Mount Rogers, Virginia"

More to come later...