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).

Tuesday, September 01, 2009

Glorious it is when wandering time is come*

We're planning a trip to England/United Kingdom next summer. When J. and I realized, with ice-cold startling clarity, that our timeline for wee ones was about up, we decided to take the plunge and make the voyage I've dreamed of for so long.

On the tentative agenda so far, focusing mainly on the northeastern part of England:
*Eskimo proverb