Saturday, November 27, 2010

Longwood Gardens - Nutcracker 1776

After the events of the previous week, everyone in the family was looking for something to do to take our minds off of things, and Amparo found something that she knew the kids would enjoy - a ballet show at Longwood Gardens. We had not been yet this year since they set up the Christmas displays, so this would be a perfect time to go and check out all the usual decorations in addition to seeing the dance.

The dance show was comprised of a number of individual routines selected from a performance of the Nutcracker 1776 by the students of the Rock School, a local school of dance. Nutcracker 1776 is apparently a version of the Nutcracker set in Philadelphia during the Revolution. I'm not quite sure why there needs to be a version of the Nutcracker set in Philadelphia, but... ok. The performances were highlights taken from the complete show, with maybe 12 different numbers of 2 to 3 minutes in length. Many of these students were very talented, and the girls did enjoy it a lot. At approximately 40 minutes in total, it was just enough for them to enjoy without getting bored, so in that respect it was perfect.

No visit to Longwood is complete without a general stroll around, but on this particular Saturday, there wasn't too much strolling around outside that anyone wanted to do. It was cold to begin with, and the wind was once again whipping across the hilltop between the entrance and the Conservatory, as it often does.

Before heading home after a relatively brief but satisfying visit, we did wander the main Conservatory building, which was as impressive as ever. My only quibble was that this year the main pointsettia displays were mostly of that pale whitish-pink variety that I am seeing everywhere this year. Call me a tradionalist, but give me the red any day.

This is one of the great things about having a season pass for the family - single visits to Longwood aren't the cheapest thing in the world for a family, but when you aren't paying every time you go, you can be content to go for just an hour or two and don't feel like you need to stay all day to get your money's worth. Pricey or not though, anybody who hasn't seen Longwood at Christmas is missing something special.

Friday, November 26, 2010

Laying Dad to Rest

Friday November 26, 2010

Today we did one of the hardest things I have ever done; we laid my father to rest in Arlington Cemetery in Drexel Hill.

Fittingly I suppose, it was a cold and dreary day, with a threat of morning rain which thankfully never materialized. Amparo, our girls and I arrived at the chapel on the grounds of the cemetery a little bit after 11:00 am, and joined the rest of the family in remembering Dad and preparing for the day to come. The public viewing was scheduled for noon, followed by a service in the chapel at 1:00 pm, with interment to follow.

The chapel was starkly beautiful in its simple elegance. Dad, as a combat veteran of World War II, was entitled to full military honors, and the first of many times today that I lost my composure was entering the chapel and seeing his flag-draped coffin. As I write this two weeks to the day after the fact, the tears are streaming down my face as I look at the picture and remember the strange mix of anguish and pride I felt on seeing that sight. I am humbled at the thought of a time when a 17 year old boy would lie about his age to enlist in the army and go to fight in a war half a world away because he, and everyone else, had no doubt that it was the necessary and right thing to do.

The viewing seems somewhat surreal to me, and I have few concrete memories of it, other than gratitude to the people who came to pay their respects.

At some point, the viewing turned into a memorial service, but once again I am a bit fuzzy on the details of how and when that happened. As a part of the service, Dave, myself, and our friend John (our other brother) were all going to say a few words. I had agonized over what to say, writing and rewriting, and worried about how I would get through it. Sitting in the front pew, I was pretty sure that I would be able to get through my remarks with some semblance of composure. I was wrong. Dave had shared the draft of his remarks with me, so I knew what he was going to say, which was a very nice overview of Dad's life. As I sat there listening to his words, the weight of the moment collapsed on me. When my time came to take the podium, I had a hard time even beginning. I ended up completely losing my composure on numerous occasions, and only managed to hit a few of the highlights of what I had written, skipping much of it. I wish I could have gotten through it better. Nobody got to hear what I intended to say, although family would get to read it afterwards.

After attempting to speak, I'm not sure I remember much of anything of the rest of the service other than the moving and heartfelt words that John spoke. Thank you, my friend.

As I have mentioned, Dad was a veteran and as such was entitled to military honors. I wasn't exactly sure what that meant, but in discussing preparations with the funeral director, she had mentioned that she had put in a request to the local veterans organization to see if someone could come out to the grave site on that day. Knowing that the funeral was to be on the Friday after Thanksgiving, she wasn't sure whether anyone would be able to come, but she would hope for the best.

As a military history buff, I think perhaps I may have more of an appreciation for the pomp and ceremony attending military ritual than most people. But I can honestly say that nothing could have prepared me for what I saw when we arrived at my father's graveside. Despite the cold blustery Friday on a holiday weekend, local veteran volunteers had turned out to provide a 7 man honor guard, a bugler to play taps, and 3 other men to perform the flag-folding ceremony and recite the poem "In Flanders Fields". There were a few moments available before it was time to carry Dad's casket to the grave, and I was so moved by the presence of these aging veterans (many seeming to be near Dad's age themselves) that I walked down the line of them, one by one, mumbling my thanks for their presence. I cannot describe the pride I felt when each and every one of them replied with the same simple comment: "It's our honor". I can barely type through the tears...

I remember carrying Dad's casket to his grave. Dave, me, Chris, Ryan, John and Ted. Six men who I think, and hope, would have made him proud to carry him to his final rest. I remember thinking how heavy the casket was for a man who had wasted away to nothing. I remember the veterans performing the flag-folding ceremony and presenting the folded flag to Mom. I remember 7 veterans firing 3 times each for a 21 gun salute. I remember completely losing it at that point. I remember one veteran collecting the spent shell casings from the 21 gun salute and tucking 3 of them into the folded flag. I remember taps. I remember a veteran reciting "In Flanders Fields". I remember feeling everything... and nothing.

"On behalf of a grateful nation..."

"...honoring our deceased comrade Fred B. Lyons..."

There are no words...

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Thanksgiving 2010

The family gathered at our house today to celebrate Thanksgiving, and despite Dad's passing, it was a very nice day. Mom and Chris were here, as well as Dave, Lori, Sarah, Greta and Ryan. I can't honestly say that I felt much like cooking, but Amparo and I have gotten proficient enough at doing the traditional meal that we can turn out an almost entirely homemade one pretty quickly and efficiently. Once we got settled into the routine of cooking, it was a nice distraction, and it was especially nice once family started to arrive and we could all be together. Or almost all.

I know that there will be many moments, sights, sounds and events that will trigger memories of Dad in the coming days and weeks. Two of them happened today. The first was looking down at the far end of the dining room table when sitting down to the meal and realizing that Dad wasn't sitting at the head of the table. The other was not having Dad's little ritual of slipping whoever would be hosting a holiday dinner like this a little cash to "help with the expenses." This has always been an eye-rolling moment for me, but I did miss it today.

Most of all though, I have not lost sight of the fact that this is Thanksgiving, and I have much to be thankful for. Family. Friends. A very comfortable life.

I am truly blessed.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Dad, 1926 - 2010

Tuesday November 23, 2010, 7:30am

My father died early this morning at the age of 84. He passed away peacefully in his sleep in hospice care at Delaware County Memorial Hospital after having been seriously ill for the last several months, and having battled a number of health concerns over much of the last decade.

I am actually writing this post a couple of weeks later and backdating it. I haven't been able to put some of this down earlier, and I haven't been sure that I wanted to. But now that some time has passed, I think that this blog is first and foremost about my family and my life, not so much just about books and geocaching and wargaming, and not to recognize such a monumental event in my life would be too glaring an omission. And where the thought of sharing some of this earlier caused me great pain, I think I have gotten to the point where sharing it may bring me comfort. I know that my brother Dave on his blog has been telling some stories of his memories of Dad, and they have been a joy for me to read. Perhaps my doing the same here will help ease my sadness.

So today I lost my father.

Dave called me at about 7:20am to say that he had just gotten to the hospital, things didn't look good, and that I should come as soon as I could. I was in the car and on my way within 10 minutes, but had to fight my way through rush hour traffic. It was almost 8:30am when I arrived. When I got up to the room, Dave, Mom and Chris were already there, and Dad was already gone.

I feel guilty that after all the dozens of hours spent at his bedside over the last couple of weeks that I wasn't there at the end, but I am not sure that Dad was really there either. He had been in a deep sleep and non-responsive for the last day or more and I am not convinced that his body wasn't just carrying on without him for a little while.

I feel guilty that one of my first emotions was gladness and relief for him that his ordeal was over. There is a part of me that didn't want to let go and would have been willing to do whatever necessary to keep him here with us, but that part of me is only a small piece. That is not what he wanted, and not what any of us would have wanted for him. His life had become very difficult, his world had become very small, and if there is such a thing as it being someone's time, then I can believe that this was his.

I am heartbroken for what Mom must be going through. I have been married for 20 years, and that seems like a very long time, so I cannot imagine losing a spouse of 47 years. I hope I can be the son she needs me to be in the coming months and years, and do whatever I can to help her and Chris.

But today feels like a selfish day, I am sorry to admit. More than anything, I feel overwhelming grief and sadness for myself. They say that no amount of time to prepare for something like this will ever make you ready for it when it does happen. I believe that. I am not prepared. And I am not ready.

Sunday, November 21, 2010

French Creek State Park - 11/21/10

Amparo and the girls went to northern New Jersey for the weekend to stay with family and visit her mother, who was in from out of town (the Philippines - waaaay out of town), so I had some time between hospital visits to do something for me. Dave was available today as well, so we decided to go to French Creek State Park and do some hiking. Dave has hiked (and geocached some) here in the past, but it was a completely new park for me. I was looking forward to this very much; days at Dad's bedside have been draining, and anything other than the cycle of work-hospital-sleep, work-hospital-sleep... is nice.

We met at Dave's house at 8am, left my car, and got to the park by 8:45. The hike he had selected for the day was one he had done before but liked a lot and didn't mind doing again. As a bonus for me, there were two geocaches that he had found before but would be new for me, so we would try to get those as well. Finding something today would be 89 days on my quest for a 100-day streak, so that was pretty much a necessity for me.
It was a beautiful late fall day; sunny with temperatures in the high 40's. The hike itself was not particularly strenuous, just a nice path through open woods with some moderate up and downs, but nothing difficult compared to our Port Clinton hike a few weeks ago. Only one climb out of a stream valley to the top of a hill really got my heart rate up. It was very nice though, and similar in landscape to most other Pennsylvania hiking I have done; nice woodlands with some rocky patches. Sort of like upstate Pennsylvania but on a smaller scale. We also had some of the same rhododendron patches, which are one of the few things holding their leaves at this time of year. At several points, we crossed small streams, which are always a scenic highlight for me (I love water), and there were a couple of instances of a feature that I especially like - streams running under rock fields that you can hear below you but cannot see. My first experience with this as an adult was at Hawk Mountain last fall, and I have really liked stumbling on other such places ever since. It is apparently more common in this area than I would have thought. When passing by the streams, a few times I went out of my way to dip my toes in the water, a habit I have noted before, and Dave chuckled and remarked on one of these instances, commenting that Leo and I have been getting wet in streams since maybe 1969. True enough... and good memories. I think maybe I am at my happiest when wet.
The caches we found were perhaps my favorite kind of caches - regular sized containers (nothing ridiculously small) hidden out in the woods. Not very difficult to find if you are willing to invest the walking time in getting to them. The only unfortunate part of the day was that our good family camera went to north Jersey with the rest of the gang, so I was left with the 3 mega pixel camera on my phone to try to commemorate the day with. It's funny how we have gotten spoiled with advances in digital photography over the last couple of years. A few years ago, a 3 mega pixel camera would have been at least decent, but these days you can probably get a 12 mega pixel name brand point-and-shoot for less than $200, making the pictures shot from my camera and emailed to myself seem extremely inadequate.
After our main loop of 6.1 miles, we got back to the car and drove to another parking spot so that we could get a cache that Dave wanted to get. This was another ammo box hidden in the woods, but one that would have been much harder to get in the summer months. Leaving the car in one of the newer parking areas, we set off for 1.1 miles roundtrip of pure bushwhacking, with no trails anywhere. We got to the cache and made the find easily, but I wouldn't have wanted to do this in the summer.
We were back in the car and on the way home before 1:00 pm, so the whole little trip took only about 4 hours on site. It did exactly what I hoped it would; it recharged my batteries a bit for the week ahead. Things will get worse with my Dad in the coming days, and anything that takes my mind off of this for a while is a blessing. And spending time with my brother out in the woods is a good thing no matter what the circumstances.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Indian Orchard Park

In an effort to clear my head of all the things that have been going on over the last few days and weeks, I took an hour and a half this afternoon to get out and do a little walking in a park that I had never been to before. My destination was Indian Orchard Park, a nice little one in Middletown Township off 352 adjacent to Linvilla Orchards. Shockingly enough, there were also 7 geocaches in and around this park. OK, maybe not so shocking...

There was only one other car and a couple of dog walkers when I arrived, and I was happy to find a sign board at the trail head that showed the different trails within the park and how they connected to the larger Middletown Trails system, specifically the Linvill Trail that winds behind the orchards and then into the park.

I parked at the blue dot, got the cache to the NE first, then the farthest north, then south/southeast, ending with the one to the SW. None of the caches were overly memorable or difficult, but that wasn't the point of my being there. A 2.2 mile hike in a little over an hour, with something else to occupy my mind was exactly what the doctor ordered. On second thought, let's keep the doctors out of this.

I was pleased to be able to get out by myself for a little while, and this is yet another example of exploring a hidden gem of a park that I never would have known about otherwise. At this time of year, with all the leaves down, there were a pretty good number of places where you were able to see how close you were to the surrounding houses. I would be very interested to walk this again in the summer and see how much more isolated it would feel. It is often amazing what a few leaves can do to whisk you away from civilization.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Book Review - Something to be Desired

Another day another Thomas McGuane book. I didn't have as much time yesterday at the hospital as I have had other days recently, but I still had time to get through most of Something to be Desired (173 pages, 1984), and finished it last night before bed.

This is the story of Lucien Taylor, a Montana native who moves away, gets a job with the state department working in various Latin American and Caribbean countries, gets married, has a son, and then decides that he needs a change and leaves both his job and his family. Part of the impetus for leaving things is the siren call of an old girlfriend in trouble back in Montana. He bails her out of jail (murder charges), she puts up a ranch she owns as collateral, and when she skips bail and flees, Lucien ends up owning the ranch. He begins to understand what he has given up and begins working to try to get his family back. Turning a hot spring on his new property into a successful spa, he tries to use his success to win back his family, and ultimately we are left unsure as to whether he will be able to succeed or not.

This is a shorter work than any of his later novels and is a little bit more plot driven, but is ultimately a character study of what is turning out to be a very typical McGuane hero/anti-hero. A man and his relationship to the land, fathers and sons, women, the consequences of our actions, and the inability to stop from doing that which you know is probably the wrong thing. Emily, the old girlfriend character, is strongly symbolic of the lure of temptation, while Suzanne, the estranged wife, represents the wholesome side of life. In that sense, this novel is much more straightforward than some of his later ones, where everything has become a gray area, but for that reason perhaps has left me a little ambivalent about the story. I found it a less compelling story to have someone who had something good and ruined it, rather than someone who was struggling to determine what they wanted in the first place. Like the title says, this book left something to be desired.

3.5 stars out of 5. A good book, but not great.

Books read this year: 30 [totalling 6,877 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
New authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I'm not sure if I will read the next McGuane novel going back in time or not at this point. While it has been a fascinating experience thus far, I might be getting a little weary of reading very similar books over and over again.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Book Review - Keep the Change

The hospital book of the day for yesterday is Thomas McGuane's Keep the Change (230 pages, 1989). It is fascinating reading back through this author's novels one after another. As much as I do read, I don't think I have ever read this much by one author in such quick succession. It provides an interesting perspective.

Keep the Change is the story of Joe Starling, an erstwhile painter living in Key West who abandons his girlfriend and makes his way back to his Montana roots. Seeking meaning in his life, he decides to try to work the rundown ranch that his parents left to his spinster aunt with the intent that it be passed down to him. Things get complicated when he reconnects with an old sweetheart, now married to an old rival, and his Key West girlfriend follows him to Montana.

Thematically we are dealing with what is very typical McGuane stuff here. Loneliness, love-hate relationships, difficult family bonds, and a faded dream of the American West. He paints his usual bleak picture of ranching, with rundown farms, an uncertain future and financial disaster looming in the distance. Starling is also fairly typical of McGuane's lead characters - simultaneously struggling with his past, present and future. As Starling's tale spins to a somewhat deflating ending, we are at least left with some hope that he has learned something along the way and has a more certain future ahead of him.

4 stars out of 5. Very good, but similar to his other works. If you like McGuane's other books you will like this. If you don't, you won't.

Books read this year: 29 [totalling 6,704 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
New authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I guess I should keep going and read Something to be Desired next...

Tuesday, November 16, 2010

Book Review - Nothing But Blue Skies

The Thomas McGuane novel binge continues with Nothing But Blue Skies (349 pages, 1992). This is the story of Frank Copenhaver, a middle aged Montana business and rancher whose wife leaves him, precipitating a downward spiral as Frank's life begins to come apart at the seams.

It's typical McGuane, from the small town Montana setting to the larger than life comic bumblings of a man losing control. Once his wife is gone, everything else good seems to start to go as well. Business deals go sour, he loses his business savvy, friendships are strained, and his interest in life wanes. As his interest wanes, the vicious cycle continues. A work like this can bog down into typical mid-life crisis and male angst, but I thought that this one rose above that. Perhaps I am more willing to overlook the formulaic nature of this story because I like McGuane in general and find him to be a very entertaining read. And in this specific instance, as infuriating it was for me to watch Frank careen around out of control, I kept hoping that he would get his act together in the end. He wasn't the most likable character in the world, but I felt for him, and that kept me fully engaged.

4 stars out of 5. Very good. Funny, poignant and entertaining.

Books read this year: 28 [totalling 6,474 pages]
Published in 2010: still 17
By new authors: still 16
Classics: still 3

I think I will continue working my way backwards through his novels and read Keep the Change next.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Book Review - Comedy in a Minor Key

Today's book is a novella titled Comedy in a Minor Key, written in 1947 by Hans Keilson, but published in English for the first time this year. This small format 135 page work tells the story of Dutch couple who hide a Jew in their house during World War 2. Nico is with the couple for almost a year before dying of pneumonia and needing to be disposed of, which creates its own set of issues.

I found the work to be an amiable enough read, but never felt like it delved too deeply into the characters, of which there were only the three with any significant amount of "on stage" time. I never felt like I knew why the Dutch couple would risk what they did to hide this man other than a vague notion of patriotism in defying the Nazis. I also never got to know the hidden man other than at a superficial level. Perhaps most importantly of all, in a situation that could be fraught with tension, that tension was never really developed. Not that I would necessarily expect this to be written as if it were a thriller, but the nameless faceless entity that Nico was being hidden from never put in an appearance in any form. These factors taken together made this a fairly two dimensional read for me.

3 stars out of 5. Good enough, but nothing worth going too far out of your way to read.

Books read this year: 27 [totalling 6,125 pages]
Published in 2010: 17 [including this in a first English translation]
New authors: 16 [including this]
Classics: still 3

Book Review - The Cadence of Grass

Long hours at my father's hospital bedside provides many hours to read, and after reading the newest Thomas McGuane novel recently, I went back and read his previous one in its entirety yesterday.

The Cadence of Grass (238 pages, 2002), is the story of a dysfunctional Montana family who are forced to deal with each other more than they would like based on the unusual conditions of the patriarch's last will and testament. The jacket blurb notes "McGuane's trademark combination of high wit, low behavior, and hard-won wisdom." There certainly is plenty of low behavior, and this darkly comic novel delves pretty deeply into the uglier side of peoples' motivations and behavior. All of this is set against the usual Montana ranching backdrop and a supporting cast of well-drawn characters.

So my streak of books with hopeful happy endings ends at one. But this was an engrossing read. 3.5 stars out of 5, maybe closer to 4.

"As she said this, she felt the room grow distant and time awkwardly slow. She couldn't for the moment understand why saying her own name aloud made her loneliness so evident that it nearly choked her. Now all funny thoughts had fled. She looked at her young dance partner and wondered if he yet understood that all the cures for loneliness failed, that it was a chronic state and that anything used to anesthetize it turned into its own problem." [p. 78]

"She was silent for a long moment, then added with searing conviction, "I may be the wrong person for my own life." [p. 210]

Books read this year: 26 [totalling 5,990 pages]
Published in 2010: still 16
New authors: still 15
Classics: still 3

I may read another McGuane next; I'm on a roll...

Thursday, November 11, 2010

Book Review - Driving on the Rim

Thomas McGuane is one of the earliest "serious" novelists that I read back in high school outside of assigned school reading. I was reminded of that when thinking about 15 authors for the list I noted a little while back. Coincidently enough, within a day or so of writing that list, I was in the local Barnes & Noble, and saw McGuane's new novel, Driving on the Rim (306 pages, 2010). You can't fight a coincidence like that, so I bought the book and read it.

The cover flap notes this as the "dark comic journey" of Irving Berlin "Berl" Pickett, MD, a small town Montana doctor. Berl's is the story of an unusual childhood having grown into an equally unusual adulthood. Despite having come from modest beginnings and having gotten himself through medical school to be a practicing physician, Berl is a maladjusted socially inept guy struggling to find his way. I found the book to be both intricately detailed and carefully constructed, although it can probably give the false impression of meandering around. It does wander, but not aimlessly. It seemed to mirror the way in which Berl is buffeted along by the currents of his life, sometimes able to steer himself around the snags, and sometimes not. He is infuriating, endearing, aggravating, perplexing, hopeless and hopeful. I felt for him. And perhaps best of all, despite all that he goes through (and in contrast to much of what I have read recently), there is a happy ending...

As is typical of McGuane's works, Berl is surrounded by a large cast of supporting characters, many of whom are constructed around typical western archetypes, but convincingly so. These people, even those putting in brief appearances, seemed very real to me.

A very good book. 4 stars out of 5 and recommended.

"I seemed to be a bachelor. For years I wondered whenever the phone rang late at night if it might be Debbie. It never was. I realized now that it never would be. There were quite a few things like that." [p. 240]

"She might have been too smart for me at that stage of my life. Now that I was somewhat shriven by circumstances and Jinx had begun to accept me as an unadulterated friend - someone to go birding with or share a ride to racquetball - I saw more in her. My mistakes seemed to accumulate like channel markers behind a boat. But at least I had a friend; I was sure of that." [p. 244]

"I'm quite aware of how abject I must have seemed, but one look at Jocelyn would clear that up for anyone. She was a such gorgeous woman, and the fact that she administered her beauty with coolness and perhaps calculation didn't seem to detract from it. I don't think anyone has quite understood the merciless power of women at their apogee. We are reduced to worship - and I do mean reduced. I wasn't sure brains and character added much at all." [p. 275]

Books read this year: 25 [totalling 5,752 pages]
Published in 2010: 16 [including this]
New authors: 15
Classics: still 3

Friday, November 5, 2010

Geocaching by the Numbers - 11/4/10

My geocaching obsession should be obvious by now. One of the things that I find interesting to look at is some of the statistical tracking that can be done in conjunction with the geocaching website and related support sites. I use a program called Geocaching Swiss Army Knife (GSAK) to track what I have done. Since these numbers change every time you find a new cache, I have decided to periodically take a snapshot of some of the more interesting bits and post them here, just so I can go back and look at them later if I want to.

As my geocaching mentor and I repeatedly tell each other, "it's not about the numbers"... and then we laugh ourselves silly. It may not be entirely about the numbers, but it is a hobby for which some degree of stats watching is almost unavoidable. Completely unavoidable in my particular case.

"Personal Best" type stats. A miscellaneous bunch of numbers where the goal is to better your previous accomplishments. More finds in a day than you have ever done before, or a week, or a month. More states in a day, or counties, or different types of caches. Farthest from home. Furthest north/south/east/west.
Difficulty/Terrain combinations and the Calendar. The long term goal is to find a cache in every combination, and on every calendar date. My current "consecutive days with a find" streak of 72 days is filling up the back half of the year nicely.
States in which I have found caches. The goal here, obviously, is to find a cache in every state in the country. Business travel can help immensely with this. When on a business trip to Utah earlier this year, I took a rental car an hour out of my way on some down time just to get some caches in the corner of Wyoming. Chances like that to get states far from home don't come along every day, and I now find myself looking at all of my occasional business trips in light of "do I have that state yet, and are there any other states right nearby?"
Pennsylvania counties - Much like the US state map, the goal here is to find a cache in every county in my home state. Living way down in the corner and not in the middle of the state makes this a bit harder, but I'm working on it. Some day I am going to sucker Dave into a 2-3 day barnstorming tour of the state, out to Erie and back, to bag as many of these as possible. In the meantime, wherever possible, I like to see if family day trips or hiking days can be in nice places where I also don't happen to have a cache find yet. My family is... mostly understanding.
So is it entirely about the numbers? Of course not, but they do play a part in it. Geocaching is a "collecting" sport in a way, and the numbers reflect how many different kinds of things you were able to accomplish. Ultimately though, the numbers are just an abstract way of capturing all the great little adventures and experiences along the way.
At the moment, the main thing I am concentrating on is trying to get my consecutive days streak to 100. One of the only nice things about a one hour commute to work is that it gives me many options of which roads to take so that I can find simple "park and grabs" on the way to work with only slight detours, and get the daily find out of the way. If I can complete my streak, then I'll figure out if there is something else I want to concentrate on next. I'm sure there will be.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

Book Review - Alone With You

My latest completed book is another in a long line of solid recommendations from Amazon readers, Alone With You (Stories), by Marisa Silver (2010). There are eight stories in this brief 164 page collection, and all are solid. Silver has an easy style, and it was a breeze getting through this in a few evenings. Her characters include a wide range of people such as a woman being left by her husband, a woman caring for her very ill mother, a woman dealing with mental illness, and a mentally retarded woman who gets pregnant and has a baby boy who turns out to be normal developing. "Pond", the story of the handicapped mother, could be the basis of a novel, yet as it is the story covers a remarkable range of time and circumstance in only 19 pages. Silver is an author I will definitely read more from.

"Vivian's mother sat in her chair and smiled shyly, like a girl watching a boy approach across a dance floor and realizing that he has singled her out from all the girls around her." [p. 13]

"His face relaxed and opened up, and Vivian saw how great the barriers were between a person and his happiness, and how little it took to make him think they were small." [p. 15]

"In Julia's darker moments, she wondered whether Burton's endless supply of optimism was a ruse, a screen he erected that made it impossible for Julia to express what each one knew to be true: that Burton not only found intellectual solace outside of the house, but on more than one occasion had found physical escape as well. She had learned that his cheerful intimacy was a disguise worn by a remote man who waved at his own life as if from a distant shore." [p. 78]

"She was not sure why she hadn't kicked him out in the end, except that she had begun to look forward to the outsized emotions of his entreaties, the late-night talks, the tears. She knew that the high drama was silly, but it reminded her of the kind of person she had once been - a girl who would weep when her rendition of a Beethoven adagio did not live up to the version that played in her imagination, a girl who would mourn that perfection was too difficult a goal to aim for and too crushing to fall short of." [pp. 104-105]

"...and Helen was sent hurtling back to the time when she herself had been unable to make her music perfect, when she had been filled with sadness and rage and hope and the aching sense of being close, but not close enough, to beauty." [p. 119]

Read this year: 24 [totalling 5,446 pages]
Published in 2010: 15 [including this]
New authors: 15 [including this]
Classics: still 3

Monday, November 1, 2010

A Day in the Woods - 11/1/10 - Part 2

Appalachian Trail - Port Clinton, PA - West side of gap

After the morning's hike on the east side of the gap, Dave and I drove around a little bit to grab a few geocaches (we ended the day with 10, or at least I did - I found a couple that he already had from a prior hike).

Finishing that, we parked at the trail head near the scenic railroad behind Port Clinton, and headed into the woods for a cache called Hooties Cubby that was located about 1.5 miles west on the Appalachian Trail. We parked at the blue dot, made our away to the Schuylkill River Trail, headed south a tenth of a mile or two to grab a cache, and then backtracked to get the AT and head up the hill. And I do mean up the hill.

Unlike the east side of the gap, where the AT tackles the slope by switch-backing across the grain of the slope, the west side pretty much goes straight up. As Dave has pointed out to me, the AT sign should AT pointing up and to the right, not just to the right. The first part that climbs away from the SRT is steep enough that rock stairs have been built into the hillside. The stairs soon end, but the climb doesn't level out much for maybe the first half mile.

Pictures of steep slopes never seem to do them justice, but in the photo from above the scenic railroad, you can get some idea of how far above the train cars we have gotten in a pretty short distance. The east slope we hiked in the morning is in the background of that photo. The morning's hike had us gain about 650 feet of elevation. This had us gain about 950 feet, and it was steeper getting there. In the shape I am in, it was a bit of a thigh-burner, but not too horrible. Dave let me set a fairly leisurely pace, and that coupled with a short stop to grab a cache halfway up the slope allowed us to get over the brow of the slope and onto the milder slope in good shape. It felt wonderful, and was probably the steepest slope I have hiked as an adult.

Once we achieved the ridge top, it was a nice easy hike, with a somewhat different feel to it than the morning. The ridge top was much broader, so that sense of ground sloping sharply away to both sides was missing. This also made the ridge top much less exposed to the wind, and so this part of our walk was not nearly as cold. At the end of our walk, we easily found Hooties Cubby, which was in a rock covered hollow at the base of a tree. Finding this cache was very very simple, but getting there certainly wasn't. The terrain rating on this was 3.5 on a 1-5 scale (higher being harder), and we felt like we earned this one. I have done caches with higher terrain ratings that required a lot less effort than this. Another nice thing about this cache was that it was placed in March 2003, which makes it a pretty old cache. Geocaching first came into existence when the military gps network was opened for broad public use, and the first cache was published soon after this happened (May 3, 2000 near Portland Oregon - thus a hobby was born). The oldest cache I have found at this point is from April 2001. So seeing the signatures in this one dating all the way back to 2003 is cool (only 23 of my 449 cache finds at this point are 2003 or earlier).

The hike back was easier, as it was downhill all the way. At the really steep part, I could feel the usual different kind of burn - your knees, shins and quads are your brakes on a down slope, and this was a heck of a down slope. I'm not sure how much fun this would be with a 30 pound backpack, but maybe I'll find out someday.

Back at the car, we finished up the day with a few more easy geocaches (park n grabs), and made the obligatory stop at Cabela's, a huge outdoors store just south of Port Clinton. Then home in time for dinner.
Thanks to Dave for taking the day and coming out for a nice day in the outdoors.

A Day in the Woods - 11/1/10 - Part 1

Appalachian Trail - Port Clinton, PA - East side of gap

Dave and I had the opportunity to take a day off from work today and get outside and do something. We generally do a better job of planning ahead, but this jaunt came together fairly quickly, and with all the family stuff going on around Halloween, our planning amounted to something along the lines of: I'll load a bunch of caches on my GPS, take a few notes, and pick you up at around 7:45am. We can figure out what to do while we are driving. We knew we were headed to Port Clinton, PA, which is an old standby for us, with ready access to Hawk Mountain, the Appalachian Trail, part of the Schuylkill Trail, and a bunch of geocaches. The day would end up being some combination of hiking and geocaching, with a stronger emphasis on hiking.

We talked as we drove, and decided that we would tackle the east side of the Port Clinton gap on the AT, where there is a geocache about a mile away from parking. As can be seen from the picture below (taken from a few miles away, east is to the right), the ridge that the AT follows has a gap at Port Clinton, and getting back up onto the ridgeline that the AT follows necessitates a fairly steep climb out of the gap, followed by a gradual ascent the rest of the way. From prior experience, Dave knew that the slope on the west side of town was significantly steeper than the one on the east, so we planned to do the east side as a warm up, and then the west side later in the day if we felt like it.

We parked the car right next to an Appalachian Trail sign, and right next to that, Pennsylvania State Game Lands signs with all sorts of warnings. We knew that it was hunting season when we set out, and also knew that much of this whole area is hunting land. So here I am doing my best to impersonate a pumpkin. It's not much of a fashion statement I will admit, but it is very Haloween-ish, and it sure beats acquiring some extra ventilation.

It was a beautiful fall day, but a little colder than I had anticipated. When we parked the car at the foot of the ridge at about 9:30am, it was still only 37 degrees, and a persistent breeze made it feel cooler than that. We set off up the trail, which begins with a long switchback to take some of the steepness out of the slope. Still, it was uphill beginning right from the parking lot, so we didn't get a warm up, and I am glad it wasn't any steeper than it was so that my legs had a chance to get loosened up. What took a little more getting used to than the legs was the lungs. My wind isn't what it should be due to many years of sitting at a desk all day, and the cold air stung quite a bit as I huffed and puffed through the first uphill section. Fortunately, both the legs and the lungs got acclimated pretty quickly and I felt great.

This section of the AT was very typical of this part of Pennsylvania; rocky ground and deciduous forest. Once we had climbed to the top of the ridge, we were on a narrow path that really was the knife edge of the ridge. As can be seen in this picture the ridge drops off fairly steeply to both sides. There were terrific views both north and south, and one advantage of hiking at this time of the year after most of the leaves are down is that you get much better views off into the distance than you would with full foliage.

At the end of a 1.1 mile hike out - success! Dave digs out the ammo can and signs the log of the geocache that gave us a flimsy excuse to come up here in the first place (not that we needed an excuse...).

This little hike was a simple out-and-back on the same trail, so the track of our route looks like a line. This is one of the disadvantages of the AT, if you consider it a disadvantage; there is no such thing as a loop. Either you use two cars and do a shuttle hike, or you retrace your steps. Which isn't a bad thing. I have now hiked this 1.1 mile section of the AT twice, once northbound and once southbound.
Next...Part 2, Port Clinton gap west.