Monday, May 31, 2010

Sassafrass River Fishing, Part 2


OK, so they can't all be whoppers. Yours truly lands the smallest fish of the day, a 4 inch shiner. I'm still not quite sure how this little guy got a size 2 hook into his mouth, but he did. This fish could best be described as bait. I should have left him on the hook and thrown him back in in the hopes that a real fish would eat him!

They weren't all tiny. This catfish was probably the biggest fish of the day, and while not overly large compared to some that we catch, it was a very nice fight on the ultralight tackle, and I was sure I was going to lose it when it started to run under the pier. I was able to keep it from wrapping the line on a piling, and coaxed it back out into open water.

I am always amazed at how Grace has taken to fishing at the tender age of 5. She scolds me when I give her too much advice; she likes to remind me that she knows what she's doing. Which I suppose is true as long as she doesn't have to touch any bait or the actual fish themselves.

Proud daddy and his girls.

Grace's largest catch of the day - a nice scrappy catfish.

Another beautiful and successful fishing day on the Sassafrass. The most recent of hundreds, if not thousands. Hopefully there will be just as many more to come in the future.

Sassafrass River Fishing, Part 1

In addition to the kayaking posted earlier, the main part of our sunday on the Sassafrass was for the first fishing expedition of the year. Well, that is if you can call sitting in a chair on the front lawn with a beer in hand as an expedition... We were fishing straight off the bulkhead in a couple feet of water because it was a nice shady spot on a sunny day. Amp caught the official first fish of the season, a small white perch.

I like to fish a variety of artificial lures when I have a few moments to myself, but when the family is fishing as a group, we keep it simple. For us this means bottom fishing with night crawlers. Using this you can catch just about anything in the river with the exception of bass. Even at that, you can catch little bass this way if you are lucky.

The kids love to be on the dock, so here is mom and the kids heading for new fishing grounds.

Fulfilling another important function, here are Dave and Lori keeping the lawn from floating away, and doing a very nice job of it.

Julia's first fish of the season, another small white perch.

After a number of little fish, mom comes up with the first real fish of the year, a medium sized channel catfish. These aren't the biggest fish in the world, but on a 4'6" or 5' ultralight rod and 4 pound test line, they give a good fight and can pop your line if you aren't careful. Most of our family fishing here is on this kind of tackle. Most of our little setups are Ugly Stick rods and small Shakespeare reels. I will use a medium sized rig when I am hoping for bigger catfish, or fishing with lures. Rig of choice these days for me is a 6'6" medium-fast action St Croix spinning rod with a Shimano 3000 FD reel using 8 lb test monofilament line. Good multi purpose stuff.

to be continued.

Sassafrass River Kayaking

The family, along with Dave and Lori, spent a nice Sunday yesterday at the River, fishing and kayaking. Dave keeps a couple of kayaks at the house, and I had never been out in one before, but yesterday after an early dinner he and I went out for a short cruise just to get me out in one.

Dave thought it best to start with a simple run along the shoreline, which made sense to me. The River at our house is about a mile wide (although it looks very deceptively narrower in some of the pictures). It seemed reasonable to keep me near the shore in case I got myself into trouble somehow. I was a little concerned as we started out as to how stable the kayaks were, because on a holiday weekend there were a lot of power boats out and the water was not very calm.

It turned out that there really wasn't anything to worry about. The boats seemed to have good initial and final stability (that initial feeling of "tippiness" versus the resistance to tipping beyond a certain point and rolling over), and even without knowing what I was doing and being on choppy water, I never felt like I was in any danger of rolling. As can be seen on the track below, we did a total of a little under a mile and a half as a simple out and back along the south shore.

Dave was in a Perception Acadia 11.5 foot and I was in a Perception Acadia 12.5 foot. The slightly longer boat means more stability, which isn't a bad thing. Paddling was fairly easy, but used almost entirely upper body. The footrests hadn't been adjusted for me and I couldn't use them. I suspect that if I were able to use them there would have been better leverage between upper and lower body and it might not feel so much like I was paddling entirely with my chest and shoulders.

The only trouble I had was in a foot of water. Much to everyone's amusement, as I nosed the boat into the shore to get out, a few big waves from passing boats washed over the stern, partially filling the cockpit and getting me soaked.

As I floundered my way out of the kayak, I managed to spin the boat sideways to the waves and filled the rest of it with water.

So here we are putting the water back where it belongs...

It was a lot of fun, and I can't wait to go out again, especially on a calmer day when we can go across the river and explore some of the smaller coves, creeks and other hidden places.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Book Review - Broken Glass Park

I have a tendency to read authors that I like over and over, so one of my reading goals for this year was to read more authors that I haven't read before. At a recent stop at the local Barnes and Noble, I picked up a couple of paperbacks by authors I had never heard of from the "Staff Picks" section. Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky is the first of the two.

Bronsky is a Russian who moved to Germany in her teens, and the story parallels this, at least in a superficial way. The novel revolves around a teenaged girl named Sascha Naimann, who is struggling in the aftermath of her mother's murder. Like Bronsky, Sascha is a Russian immigrant living in Germany. In the not too distant past, her mother was murdered by her step father, leaving behind Sascha and her two younger siblings in the care of her step father's cousin. The novel is perhaps a bit predictable in the way in which it portrays her story, but it is well written and a worthwhile read. The translation to English from the original German reads effortlessly. The novel was first published in Germany in 2008 but is new in English this year.

3.5 stars out of 5. Good but not great.

Books read in 2010: 13 [totalling 2,847 pages]
Books by new authors: 8
Books published in 2010: 5 (this counts because it first appeared in English this year)
Classics: still 3

I'm not sure what I will start next.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Geocaching - 100 Finds

I had a day off from work today, and spent part of it geocaching up and down West Chester Pike with Ellen. I found a total of 7 caches, including my 100th find, which was an ugly little park and grab behind the East Goshen shopping center. In my semi-obsessed state of mind, it has taken me 41 days to accumulate my first 100 finds. I know that people can do this in a day, but it seems like a lot to me.

I also found "Twin Towers", an easy one near home that has been on my to-do list for a while now but has not gotten done because of my fear of snakes. There are a number of pictures of the "serpent guardian" of this cache, which appears to be a (non-poisonous) black snake longer than my arm. I went by this cache once before and saw a shed snakeskin draped over one of the stone towers and it looked like the remaining skin was at least 4 feet long. Googling black snakes and seeing that they can grow longer than that wasn't helpful. But today, on a milestone day, I got it done. I'm sure that being heckled into it helped a lot. And not a snake in sight...

Monday, May 24, 2010

Grace's Big Day - The Rehearsal - May 22, 2010

This Saturday was the dress rehearsal for Grace's big end-of-year dance recital. She is part of a kindergarten age beginner ballet class. The recital is a huge event run by a large local dance school that does everything from infants to high school kids. Ballet, tap, modern, jazz, everything you can think of. The recital has dozens of numbers (the session that Grace is in has 34 different dances across all ages and types) and will last about three hours. It is usually held in the auditorium at West Chester University, but due to renovations it is going to be at Immaculata this year.
My little dancer in full stage makeup, hair and outfit.

On stage during the rehearsal. I'm no expert, but these look like pretty good lines to me...
Making Dad proud.

The ending pose.
I can't wait for next weekend. Well, at least the four minutes that has my child in it...

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Hiking Woodlawn Preserve...Again - May 23, 2010

Dave and I have been anxious for the hiking and geocaching binge to continue, so we made plans to get together at 7:30am today to do a little of both. The weather forecast was for cool overcast skies and scattered showers, but we both agreed that the chance to get out was worth it, even if the weather was less than ideal. Unless we woke to a heavy rain, Dave would meet me at my house and we would head over to a hike I had mapped out in the Woodlawn Preserve. I am still amazed at the amount of hiking trails in that area, all within a 10 minute drive of my house. Before I got involved in geocaching, I never paid any attention to that area, which turns out to have been my loss.

My job last night was to plan our hike. With all due diligence, I did my obsessive best to be prepared... Satellite image printouts, cache descriptions, trail maps, and a laminated trail plan. All of which came in very handy this morning when the day turned out to be exactly what was forecast; gray, cool and misty. And wet. Dave arrived on time, and with a quick stop for gas, coffee and Gatorade, off we went to brave the elements.

What I laid out ended up being exactly what we did, with a two-car shuttle hike of about 4 miles (it turned out to be 3.8 miles) where we could grab 5 caches along the way. We left Dave's car parked along Ramsay Road (orange dot at upper left) and took my car to the far eastern end of the track, where we could park in a hotel lot within 30 feet of a trail head (orange dot at lower right).

About 50 feet down the trail is a cache that Julia and I found yesterday afternoon, but Dave was able to grab it today. Our path took us west and north through a mixed area of stream valleys, woods and fields. The five black squares are the geocaches we found along the way. For the most part what we found today were very typical of woodland caches - ammo boxes in hollow trees, stumps, fallen logs and rock piles. It seems that I have developed a pretty good eye in a short period of time for the kind of places that people are likely to hide caches (at least in the woods).

We ended up 5 for 5 in this section of our hike, with no "did not finds". We passed Dave's car on the way west to get the final two caches, and did a small loop at the end of the western section before doubling back along our path to Dave's car. The green shaded area to the south of our track is Delaware's Brandywine Creek State Park. I am working my way south to the park as I clear the geocaches in this area.

The picture below is typical of what we hiked in today - rolling hills and woodlots scattered around horse farms.

After completing the first part of our hike, we hopped in Dave's car for a 7 or 8 minute drive to a parking area on Route 100 from which we could get a couple more caches located along a short stretch of the Mason Dixon Trail. I don't know much about this trail and want to do a little research on it. It connects the Appalachian Trail out around York with something else, but I don't remember what... I tried to get a map last night on the internet, and found a web site for the trail, but maps were $19 and only available from a few places, or via mail order, so no map was available on short notice. Oh well, I will find this someday soon. The completist in me cannot allow a local trail to be unknown to me. Hmm. I wonder what that says about me (I do love maps). Anyway...
We parked at the right end of the track (east), hiked along a side road, and found the blue-blazed trail markers to head cross-country. The small section we did started out ugly, with a fence-line walk through waist high grass alongside a farmer's field.
Once we got to the woods it got better, and the more northerly of the two caches was the nicest of the day - a wet slippery scramble up onto a huge boulder pile. Fun! The picture below shows Dave standing in front of the boulder pile for scale. The cache was at the very top. This wouldn't have been quite as difficult as it was on a drier day. As it was today, footing was treacherous and we went very deliberately and safely. It was rated a 3.5 on the 1-5 scale (with 5 being the most difficult), but today it was probably a 4 or 4+.

Another great day hiking and geocaching with Dave, and another section of practically my own backyard that I have now explored. My next hike in this area needs to be in the State park itself.
For a few last observations, it was definitely a different feel in the woods today because of the weather. It was dimly lit, everything was wet, and the footing was slippery at times. More noticeable was the difference in the sounds of the woods - normally at this time of year you would be accompanied by non-stop bird sounds, but today there were very few birds to be heard. There was also less rustling of little critters in the underbrush. The most prevalent sound by far was the dripping of water from the forest canopy, and not much else. The colors were also very muted, given the lack of sunlight. Not a bad thing necessarily, but different.

Friday, May 21, 2010

An Interview with our Author

The following, with all necessary artistic license, fairly accurately encapsulates a number of different conversations I have had with a number of different people that all revolve around the basic question of "why do you write a blog?"

So, how long have you been writing your blog?
I started in September of 2009, so that would make it about 9 months now.

What made you start one in the first place?
My brother Dave has been doing one for a few years, and pretty much the whole time he was writing his and I was reading it, I was thinking to myself "I should try that someday." I have always enjoyed writing, and it seemed like an interesting creative outlet. The thing more than anything that kept me from starting one sooner was the mistaken impression that it would be harder to do than it turned out to be. The blogger interface isn't the most sophisticated thing in the world, but it is easy. Type, add pictures, and you're done.

Has the experience been what you thought it would be?
Yes and no. Yes, in the sense that it has been a lot of fun to do, and has actually turned into another hobby in itself. No, in the sense that the content has drifted. When I first created it, my plan was to blog about one of my hobbies, wargaming with historical miniatures. The original intent was fairly narrow, and many of my early posts were on that hobby. I pretty quickly ended up straying from that path and more and more frequently just posted on whatever I felt like at the time.

Why not stick to wargaming?
I don't know that it was a conscious decision, but more a vague understanding that if my postings were going to stick to wargaming stuff, the blog was more likely to start feeling like work and less like fun. Part of that is a reflection of how my different interests fit into my life as a whole. I am very cyclical in where I spend my free time, and I think that is reflected in what I post. There are times when I am actively painting figures and playing games, during which periods I post wargaming stuff. Then I'll go through a period where I don't touch a paintbrush for a few months, but go on reading binges and post a whole bunch of little book reviews instead. Right now I'm doing a little reading but am mainly focused on hiking and geocaching with my available time. Spring time; gotta be outside! So that's what's in the blog. Plus always a generous sprinkling of family stuff and the current events of my life. Odds and ends.

Do you think that the change in subject matter has scared away your wargaming readers?
Sure, although I don't know that I ever really had any. A couple of guys are listed as followers, but that was early on and I certainly do expect that they have long since stopped popping by. Not enough wargaming going on here. Unless they like literature and hiking I guess.

And you are OK with that?
Well, I do think that the blog title ended up being a bit misleading, but as I said, I strayed from the plan. It's also not really important to me that anybody reads it anyway.

I said it's not that important to me if anyone reads what I write.

So...why write it at all then? Who are you writing for?
Me. I'm writing for me.

That sounds kind of narcissistic.
Nah, it might be narcissistic if I cared what people thought of what I was writing, or if I was writing for the attention, but I'm not. I'm writing because it's fun, and I enjoy the exercise, the process. I find it to be very relaxing. Some people do crossword puzzles, some people knit, some people play video games or watch a lot of TV. I do this, among other things. When I feel like blogging a lot, I do. When I don't, I don't. Sometimes I just don't have much to say. All that being said, I do know I have a small audience.

A few family members, a handful of friends. That's about it. Although it does seem that if you tag a post with something recognizable to the rest of the world like "Mark Knopfler concert", google will find you and some strangers will end up on your doorstep for a one-time read. Which is kind of fun.

So what's been the best thing about blogging?
When I look back over what I have written, it makes a pretty nice record of what has been going on in my life.

Like a diary?
No. No. No. That's a whole different thing. This public blog may have some opinions on certain subjects, but a diary is what's going on in your head. Very personal. This is absolutely not that. Nobody would want to read that. Well, actually they might, but I wouldn't ever dare write it. Think of it more like a chronicle. Even in the short period of four months I was blogging in 2009, when I got to the end of the year, I bought a hardcover book version of what I had written. It was maybe 75 pages, and had all the posts with all the pictures. I already love looking back through it. It's a great way to memorialize trips, events, and all the family stuff that is going on. With two small children, it is turning out to be a priceless record, with pictures. I plan on doing the book every year, and I know the books will have a better long term memory than me. Also, I think my kids will like to have them later on.

So you are writing for posterity after all?
Hmm. Yeah, I guess so.

The Thoughtfulness of Friends

I received a package in the mail from my friend Ellen today that contained a pair of Travel Bug tags for geocaching. Travel Bugs are basically ID numbers that can be attached to any little toy or item that can then be placed in a geocache and set on its way to start a journey. The movement of the Travel Bug can be tracked on the geocaching website, and will be fun for my girls. Travel Bugs can be turned loose with no particular goal, or they can be given a goal such as "see the Grand Canyon." Fun stuff... We will need to figure out what to do with theirs.

Thanks, Ellen, for your thoughtfulness. I think that maybe this falls into the category of "your first hit of crack is free...", but the girls love the idea.

Also in the little package, to fill up space, was a copy of a CD recording of the 2010 North Carolina all-state honors band performances. Ellen's daughter is in the 9/10 grade high school section, and I am absolutely blown away by the quality of the music these kids can create. Absolutely, completely, totally blown away... These are the kind of things that make parents so proud that the children squirm. Congratulations, this CD is terrific!

Beaver Valley Hike - May 21, 2010

I took a half day of vacation on this beautiful Friday afternoon to golf, but plans fell through and I ended up doing a solo hike/geocache instead. When I look at the geocache map around my house, there were still a bunch of unfound items in the Woodlawn Trustees wildlife refuge tract that I began exploring a couple weeks ago. With some time to burn today, I set out to clear as much of this as I could while having a nice hike.
I started on the far eastern edge of this map plot, and worked my way west, collecting caches as I went. The black squares are the geocache locations (the orange squares are my parking spots). There are also a couple of non-contiguous sections of walking on the western side of the map - these are the two times where I moved the car to get closer to a stray cache that needed finding.
This whole area seems much more remote than it actually is, and in the whole time I was out here in the woods, I think I saw three people and three dogs.
Along one of the paths in the woods, there were lots of signs of habitation in years gone by: old walls, springhouses, and this shell of a house. As an archaeology major in college I obviously have an interest in old things. So I can't help wondering about who lived in this house and when...
Look at the artisanship. They don't build 'em like that anymore. I love the arched fireplace opening, which would have also most likely served as the kitchen stove/oven.

3 hours and 9 caches later, having hiked 5.7 miles, I headed home. I am still loving the GPS's ability to plot all this for me...

May Days

I can't gush enough about how thrilled I am that my girls have liked my using geocaching as a means to get them out into the outdoors and do a little hiking. We've only been doing this for a month now but have been out a number of times, and have seen lots of good scenery and wildlife. So this post is nothing more than an excuse to post some pictures from May that I just downloaded from my camera.

Grace and Julia hiking the Darlington Trail along the banks of Chester Creek.
As an aside, my father and his dad, who died 20 years before I was born, used to fish in this creek when my father was a kid in the 1930's. I found out a while ago when talking to my dad that when I caught a fish standing on a huge flat boulder near where the Wawa station used to be, back when the train line through here was an active line, it was the same boulder that he had caught a fish while sitting on 60 years earlier. Kinda cool... I should go back and get a picture.

Chester Creek in the spring. We've had a wet spring and this rich green is not faked; it has looked like this all spring.
A mated pair of Canada Geese and three goslings in the creek. Well, presumably mated. Somebody obviously mated somebody sometime.

I can only hope that the level of interest they are showing now can be nurtured and maintained.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Book Review - Mississippi History (Stories)

Over the last few days I have plowed through an early story collection by Steve Yarbrough titled Mississippi History. This is his second collection, and was published in 1994, before any of his novels or later stories. It does read like a less polished incarnation of his more recent works, but the same things I like about his newer stuff are true here as well: good characters, interesting situations, an easy to read style, and stories that are very evocative of life in the deep South. Or at least what would seem like the deep South to a lifelong yankee. Maybe I should say very evocative of something very different than what I have known...

Solid at 3.5 stars. Maybe 4. Somewhere right in there.

Books read in 2010: 12 [totalling 2,626 pages]
New authors: still 7
Published in 2010: still 4
Classics: still 3

Up next, I am a couple stories into Burning Bright by Ron Rash, but I think I am also going to jump into a novel called Broken Glass Park by Alina Bronsky.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Flyers Make History

A funny thing happened on the way to the 7th seeded Philadelphia Flyers being ousted from the second round of the NHL playoffs by the 6th seed Boston Bruins - it didn't happen. I don't tend to blog too much on sports despite being a pretty big sports fan, but this was a rare and wonderful thing, and I do love my Flyers.

I must admit that after getting down three games to none in a best of seven series, I wrote my team off. When they won game 4, I said "well, at least we didn't get swept." When we won game 5, I said "well, at least we've made it somewhat competitive." When we won game 6, I said "maybe... just maybe... but now this is going to be heartbreaking when we lose."

My lack of faith was rewarded with a stunning game 7 win in Boston. The Flyers got down 3-0 in the first period.

And I wrote them off again.

Then they scored one goal. Then another. Then another. And we were tied. Then Simon Gagne gathered in a rebound and went top shelf over Tukka Rask's blocker side shoulder to take the lead. On a power play for "too many men on the ice", of all things. Next thing I knew we were celebrating the win and talking about our Eastern Conference Finals opponent, the 8th seeded Montreal Canadiens.

In the aftermath of the game, it turns out that this is only the third time in NHL history that a team has gone down 0-3 in a best of seven series and won 4-3. It has happened only once in baseball. Once. Ever. And it has never happened in basketball. Never.

So for the fourth time in American major pro sports history, a team has accomplished this feat. And to make it even better, not only are we going to the conference finals, but since we are the 7 seed and Montreal is the 8 seed, we have home ice advantage in the series.

Hard to believe...

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Book Review - Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter

It has been a while since I have finished a fiction book, having been bogged down (or more accurately distracted) by a number of other things, but the same business trip that took me to Chicago for a week, and the Cubs game, allowed me the evening time to finish a pretty good book - Weeping Underwater Looks a Lot Like Laughter. This is a 2010 first novel by Michael J. White.

The novel is touted as a coming of age story, but I'm not completely convinced of that. It is an easy read, and there are moments of fine writing and keen insight, but I don't feel like the main character ever really grows at all. In that regard it is a frustrating book. High school, while a lifetime away in some ways, is still close enough in my memory that this book is able to invoke certain memories, but at the end of it, I would like to have felt like the characters grew over the course of 342 pages, but I never got that sense.

A worthwhile read, and a new writer to keep an eye on. A slightly generous 3.5 stars out of 5.

Books read in 2010: 11 [totalling 2,471 pages]
New authors: 7
Published this year: 4
Classics: still 3

Upon finishing this, I have begun Steve Yarbrough's story collection Mississippi History. I do also have some magazines and history books on the nightstand, so I'm not sure how fast this will go...

Wrigley Field - May 11, 2010

I had the opportunity this past week to do something that I have always wanted to do someday - see a baseball game at Wrigley Field. I was in Chicago all week on business at a national meeting, and it turns out that the scheduled group activity for Tuesday night was a trip to the Cubs game at Wrigley. After a full day of meetings about 30 of us boarded a bus for the ride to the park. On the way I found out that we were not actually going to be in the stadium, but would be at one of the private roof top places across the street. I have seen these on TV, and they look pretty cool, but I was a bit disappointed that we were not actually going to be in the park.

The place we were at was called Beyond the Ivy, and was located beyond the left field wall, just inside the foul pole, across Waveland Avenue from the ballpark. It was a four or five story building with bars, food and inside viewing areas (through large plate glass windows) on the lower floors, and bleacher style rows of tables and chairs on the roof for maybe 40 people or so.

It was a damp cold night, but there were still a lot of bugs, so it was typical of the no-so-great conditions you can get at an early season night game. It was a lot of fun, and it was great to be watching a game at Wrigley, but I (and several other like-minded souls) couldn't help but feeling like it would be even better if we could be IN the ballpark.

In the fourth inning, with us having put in a good amount of face time with the group, five of us walked over to the box office, bought tickets to the game and went into Wrigley. I am still amazed that for $25, we were able to walk up, buy tickets, and sit right behind home plate. Admittedly, we were a ways back, but Philadelphia these days you couldn't get these kind of tickets unless you were a long time season ticket holder, and they would cost easily three times as much.

The game itself was alright - a low scoring affair that the Florida Marlins ended up winning 3-2, but the important thing was that I got to watch a game (or part of a game) in Wrigley field, looking out at the ivy covered walls, the center field scoreboard, and all the other historic baseball sights. We left in the 8th inning to rejoin our group across the street, but the opportunity to spend even four innings in Wrigley was...priceless.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

Beaver Valley Hike - May 8, 2010

It was a beautiful day today, and knowing that my schedule will not allow much outdoor time over the next week or so, I was anxious to get outside for a while. Knowing that I had about two hours at most, I found a local hike that would serve two purposes - a walk in the woods and the opportunity to grab a few geocaches. There is an area less than 10 minutes from my house, on the Pennsylvania/Delaware state line, called the Woodlawn Trustees Wildlife Area (or something like that...). It is a wooded area east of the Brandywine where a number of feeder streams come down through the hills to join the Brandywine, and is another one of those nice protected sections within minutes of much more densely populated areas.

Besides just a nice wooded area, there are maybe 15 geocaches in the area; more than I could do in a couple hours, but with proper planning, I could get a few. The track of my hike is shown below.

I parked in a small lot just large enough for three or four cars, just above and to the right of the "Beaver Valley" label. I was able to find one cache within 100 feet of the car. Seeing that there were a number of caches to the north and west of my position, I figured I could follow a multi-purpose trail heading off to the northwest to see where it would take me. The trail, used by hikers, bikers and horses, climbed NW up the side of a large hill, and then curved NE to follow the spine of the hill. As it turned out, my choice was a good one, and there were three more caches to be found close to the trail. If you look closely, you can see the three places where my track leaves the main trail for a short distance and then returns to it (one shortly before turning NE, one halfway along the purple part of the trail, and one at the end of the NE spur).

Having four caches in hand at this point, I retraced my steps to a point where a smaller side trail headed west from my original track. I followed this until it took me back down to the road (which shows as the darker gray line north of the dashed gray line that is the PA/DE state border). Seeing that there was one more reachable cache at the top of the hill south of the road, I bushwhacked up the hill through the open woods. This was a difficult cache to find, but eventually I got it, and from there it was a simple enough thing to have the gps point me back to my car to complete my loop.

So, it ended up a productive morning...a nice 2.5 mile hike in yet another nearby area that I had never explored at all, and 5 caches added to my total. Plus two tiny deer ticks crawling up my arms, but that is a different story...

Saturday, May 8, 2010

Mark Knopfler at the Tower Theater, May 7, 2010

Amparo, Dave, Lori and I had a chance to see one of my all-time favorites, Mark Knopfler, at the Tower Theater in Philadelphia last night. Knopfler, front man and creative force behind Dire Straits in the late 1970's and 1980's, has been operating as a solo act for about twenty years now, although since he fundamentally was Dire Straits (songwriter, singer, lead guitarist), there isn't all that much difference between the two incarnations.

We went in separate cars because of schedules, and my wife and I arrived first. One of the nice things about the Tower is that is has bars in the lobbies. So, with refreshments right outside the door to our balcony seats (left center H 102 and 104), we grabbed glasses of wine on the way in. This gave us a good laugh when we got to our seats, realizing that we were sitting at a rock concert having a glass of wine and that we appeared to be two of the younger people in the audience. Shortly after arriving, the opening act, Pieta Brown, took the stage for a 35 minute set. She sang and played acoustic guitar, and was backed by an electric guitarist. She was pretty good, but as is often the case with opening acts I have never heard of, every song kinda sounded the same, and I ended up just wanting to get to the main event. Dave and Lori arrived partway through the opening act. In fairness to Ms. Brown, and Bo Ramsey, the guitarist, I would have to say they were better than many opening acts I have seen, and I wouldn't mind taking the trouble to dig into her music a little bit.

After a very brief break, Mark and the band took the stage at 8:45 and opened with a very good track off the new album (Get Lucky) called Border Reiver. Then came What It Is and Sailing to Philadelphia, which always gets a great reaction here in Philly. What It Is is a fantastic song, and would rank as one of my favorites from the post-DS era; tonight's playing certainly did it justice. The 9 member band was very tight, as is always the case with a notorious perfectionist like Knopfler, and the approach to the music was definitely low-key, with Mark perched on a high backed stool center stage and barely moving. Somewhere at about this point, between songs, Mark apologized to the audience for staying on his stool, but explained that he had pinched something in his back and basically couldn't move at all. It didn't seem to affect his playing one bit as the show went on, but the vibe for the whole show ended up very relaxed.

The show continued with Coyote, Prairie Wedding, and Hill Farmer's Blues before moving into Dire Straits classics Romeo and Juliet and Sultans of Swing. I love Romeo and Juliet, both for the song and what it means to me, and because it causes Mark to bring out the steel acoustic, which I just love the sound of. In retrospect, I think Sultans was one of the songs that may have been affected by Mark's ailment, in the sense that it was clearly a shortened version of what he normally does, and I think the shortening came in the form of editing down the extended crescendo'ing instrumental jam that usually ends the song. The notable solo bits that everyone expects from the Alchemy days were there, but the fill was truncated, so the effect for me was like the whole song was telescoped down, if that makes sense.

The rest of the middle section was Donegan's Gone, Get Lucky, Marbletown and Speedway to Nazareth. In what I believe to be the second of three noticeable edits, Get Lucky was dropped from the set list despite being on every list posted from earlier shows on this tour. I think this shaved another 5 minutes off the show for them. Not that I am complaining, as the alternative would be "cancel the show, Mark's hurt".

The last song in the main body of the set was another Dire Straits classic, Telegraph Road. This is one of my favorites, and the version was excellent as always. The album version of this song is 14:23 in length, and when we saw Mark at the Mann Music Center in the summer of 2008, the live version was every bit as long (Alchemy had it at 13:43), with many extended periods of hauntingly beautiful instrumentals, but that isn't really what we got this time around. I think this live version was no more than 8 minutes or so, which there's nothing wrong with, but it was different. All above comments could be wrong of course, and what I am reading into them as edits to shorten the show so Mark could get through it might be nothing more than new streamlined versions of old songs he has played thousands of times. But maybe I'm right and this was the "tough it out" version...

At this point, the band normally would have left the stage for a few minutes before coming back for their three-song encore, but due to the fact that Mark apparently really couldn't move, the musicians milled around on the stage for a while, drinking water and waving at the crowd with the stage lights up. After a bit, they picked up instruments and played out the show with Brothers in Arms, So Far Away, and Piper to the End. Two DS classics and a song from the new album. Brothers in Arms has become one of my favorite DS songs, in that it is typical of everything that I love about Knopfler's better songs (which is most of them) - intelligent lyrics, tightly constructed instrumentals and hauntingly beautiful guitar work. I find there to be so much emotion wrapped up in the guitar lines in this song that it gives me the chills, perhaps more so the older I get and the more I listen. Nothing else sounds like Mark Knopfler. He has that same quality that Clapton does - you hear him and say "that's Clapton".

As always, I am amazed looking back on the show at the quality of the musicianship. Knopfler always surrounds himself with a band full of masterful players who can pick up a multitude of different instruments and create a huge range of different sounds, but his own virtuosity was hard to believe considering that after the final song had ended and the band was done waving to the crowd, Knopfler could barely stand and walk off the stage, and had to be heavily supported by a band mate. Amazing. I am always struck also by the wide range of influences that have colored Knopfler's solo work over the years - English traditional in all its forms (Celtic, Scottish, Gaelic), American country, hillbilly, rockabilly. Great stuff. He is a sponge, and I have been the beneficiary of all of it.

The Tower Theater is a nice place to see a show, with good sight lines and pretty good acoustics, but it is a bit old and rundown, and has a musty smell to it. One other thing that I did different for this show than I generally do is that I found the set list for this tour on the internet ahead of time and therefore knew exactly which songs were going to be done in which order. I don't think the lack of surprise affected my enjoyment of the show, and it gave me the opportunity to listen to a few of the songs I didn't know as well ahead of time. I think I will be doing that again; homework that's actually fun!

This is the third time I have seen Mark Knopfler live. The first time was with Dire Straits at the Mann Music Center (probably in 1985?). The second was in the summer of 2008 at the Mann with basically the same band as he had tonight. This was the third, and all three have been among the highlights of my concert going career.

I do wish he would do Tunnel of Love for me though...I would pay the ticket price for that one song...just once more in this life...