Wednesday, June 28, 2006

A Compendium of Randomness to Shock and Amaze

Well, everyone watched as she torched the university
With pan flares and rockets and fluids,
And it was widely reported that Catherine Dupree
Had sought some revenge for her faulty degree.

--Will Johnson, "Catherine Dupree"

Been on a Will Johnson kick the past few days. Don't know why.

The Texans were promised, but never delivered. The more I thought about them, the less I liked the way they fit into the narrative of "A Very Long Story," so, ultimately, I left them out. However, as a sneak preview of one of the special features that will be available on the DVD release of "A Very Long Story, The Musical Based on a True Story," here is the never-before-seen-treatment of the Texans.

The Texans (A Very Long Story, Part Unpublished)

Upon our arrival at the Cove Farm Inn, a strange little man greeted us in the sitting room. A slowly dying fire struggled to keep up appearances in the large hearth as he approached us, his head cocked to one side like an uncomprehending dog.

"Hello." His greeting was firm. He seemed comfortable in his surroundings.

Could this be MuffinMan's caretaker?

From behind us, through the kitchen, a child approached, shuffling her feet. Thin, scraggly curls shook on her head. She held a blue toothbrush to her chest like a shield. As she neared, it was clear to me that this was a woman, not a child, perhaps anywhere from 28 to 45. But so small. I half expected her to put on a curly-peaked cap, take first position, and begin singing in a scratchy falsetto, "We represent The Lullaby League."

"Um, yeah. Where's MuffinMan?" Obviously, Monkey did not ask for MuffinMan, but, I need to be consistent here.

"He's down at the house." Which was about forty yards across a sopping wet field.

"I'm George."

"Yeah, hi."

We left our bags and went to get MuffinMan.

Did you ever meet one of those people who, from the second you laid eyes on him or her, you were sure that something was just not right about him or her? Monkey and I had just met two.

They were guests at the inn, like us. They were married, like us. But, that's where the similarities ended. They were from Texas (as was previously reported). We ate breakfast with them four days in a row. They had two tow-headed kids, who, really, have absolute no chance to live a normal life. Oh, the wicked curse of odd parents.

They forgot maps, they got lost, they misremembered directions, she was too short to reach the rungs on a ladder trail. One of the boys kept playing some annoying handheld video game while MuffinMan was trying to explain something one morning. I was about this close from snatching the thing right out of the kid's hand and yelling, "Knock it off, Freakchild!" But, I was cool.

One morning, Monkey and I tried to break into their rental car's trunk. We were convinced there was a body in there, be it man or beast. They just struck us as your typical body-carting family, you know.

I don't think being from Texas had anything to do with it.

This is my 100th post. I imagine that this has no significance whatsoever.

Worked on updating my resume, today. Monkey and I are heading up to Lincoln, NE, for the weekend. I am meeting the English department head from one of the high schools up there on Friday. It's not really a job interview, but I thought it would be best to have a resume on hand, in case she asks for one. As a matter of fact, I am going to make her take one, whether she asks for one or not!

Whistle pig status: no recent sightings. Did the close brush with dog jaws scare him/her off? Don't know, but I have seen a smaller marmot hanging out by the bridge around the corner. Relatives? Our resident groundhog in disguise? No idea, but the fact is, I have seen no large, slow mammals in my backyard since the day before yesterday.

Due to the travelling, don't expect to hear from me until Sunday night at the latest.

Tuesday, June 27, 2006

Don't Make Me Go All Chester Crabtree on Your Ass

As many of you may already know, I have a special place in my heart for Groundhog Day. A recent discovery has brought me face to face with a dilemma, however. Living under my house (and having recently taken up residence--two weeks ago or less) is a large, slow groundhog. Contrary to popular belief, a groundhog is not a gopher (which immediately renders my Moose Miller title reference innacurate, but, whatever). It is, according to sources the same animal as a woodchuck (and is also known as a whistle pig). It's a marmot (which reminds me, as does many things, of The Big Lebowski--"Nice marmot").

Regardless of what it is or isn't classified as, the main point of emphasis for me is that this particular whistle pig is living under my house, tearing up dirt and insulation to make a cozy little woodchuck nest (and not, as far as I can tell, chucking one freaking piece of wood (but there is a conditional in there: "IF a woodchuck COULD chuck wood", so I guess I shouldn't expect to see that), and driving Ripken Ozark crazy. The squirrels, in there attempts to raid every last bird feeder in creation, have been scaling the walls and roof of the house to leap, with no regard for their own personal safety, onto nearby feeders, and driving Ripken "up a wall", so to speak, with their clatter. The marmot offers new torment for Ripken, since he knows now that this particular rodent is pretty easy prey. Yesterday, when we went out back, dog was about two inches from clamping down hard on some whistle pig spine. I yelled, "No!" That may have slowed the dog up just enough to save the groundhog. Now, I sort of wish I would have just let the dog do what he was about to do, but then I would have had to get a dead marmot away from my dog--gross and difficult, I am sure.

Let me tell you this: the whistle pig is a slow micky ficky. I guess, with its short legs and its ponderous girth, it is relatively impossible for it to get any speed, but I have never seen an animal move so slowly that wasn't a turtle. As a matter of fact, I may have seen a turtle or two with a faster time in the forty than Monsieur (or Madame) Marmot. It makes me wonder how they have managed to live so long (evolutionarily speaking). With such slow times, one would think that any fox or bobcat or coyote could have snatched up every last one of these slow-mo mammals that ever lived. I guess not. They must be crafty, these groundhogs.

So, my dilemma is this: the marmot must go, and Landlord is responsible for that. But, what if Landlord's brilliant plan for removing the groundhog involves poison, or squirrel-shaped plastic explosives, or a slug from a .22? I am pretty sure he's not the type to lay out a Havahart trap and drive the captured whistle pig off to the nearest groundhog refuge. So, what to do? Landlord has already been called, so I guess my dilemma is no dilemma at all anymore, but I still hope that Woody has a chance to carry on his slow, herbivorous life somewhere else. How would they treat Punxatawney Phil, after all?

Now, If I could just figure out how to get these damn squirrels to stop crawling all over my house, Ripken could live in peace.

Note to JPB: I never did get around to the Texans, did I? Stay tuned.

Monday, June 26, 2006

Lawrence Obi Wants You

You are LAWRENCE OBI. You are Bank Manager of Zenith Bank Lagos, Nigeria. You will share with me 30% of the $26.5 million that BARRY KELLY who died with a WILL left in your bank.  You put the money in two trunks and want me to claim the money.
Which Nigerian spammer are You?

Found some more silliness by randomly floating in the Internet ether. This one struck me as funny, since, at work, I get at least two of these emails a week (from the Nigerian spammers, that is, fishing for a mark). I imagine it is wrong to assume that they are Nigerian. I mean, they claim to be in the email, but they could easily be Canadian, Australian, Tahitian, Paraguayan, from anywhere. How on earth I wound up on this spam list, I'll never know, since I don't do a lot of random website visiting at work (hey, I am all business when it's business time...well, mostly...when anyone's looking...usually...well, anyway). I think Lawrence Obi is an attractive pseudonym. I still like Pedro, that will never change, but, now I have Lawrence Obi in my back pocket, you know, if I ever need it.

You know, the one thing about this fishing scheme that really is a cause for concren for me is how will I know when someone who is completely unrelated to me dies and leaves behind tens of millions of dollars, and someone else who is completely unrelated to me, who is a bank manager thousands of miles away, across an ocean and the equator, on another continent, tracks me down to offer me a portion of the money, since he has nowhere else to turn for help in dispersing the money, how will I know when this is legitimate, now? I am assuming that all of these offers are a scam, but what about that one time when it actually is true? I'll never know.

Well, I am going to stop worrying about that and go buy my fifty dollars in Power Ball tickets for the week.

Friday, June 23, 2006

Prelude to an Epilogue

One has to wonder what it's all about. Each day goes by. Each life goes on. Decisions are made: the blue shirt over the yellow, the expressway over the boulevard, the salad over the sandwich, the semicolon over the period; a million little choices are made throughout each day. What does it add up to, when (if?) it's added up? Is there a value system that weighs one choice over another? Is the decision to have coffee over tea with breakfast of the same value as the decision to return the wallet with the money still in it?

At first blush, the answer, of course, is no. Whether to leave the money in the wallet or not is a form of ethical dilemma. There is no ethical or moral element to the choice of beverage, is there? There could be. Where and how is the coffee or tea grown? Who has toiled (or even suffered) to prepare the means of your morning cup?

And here is where my reverie takes me. This steaming cup of brown liquid, this coffee (that, at this point in my life, is no decision at all), comes to me from five thousand miles away. In the planting, growing, harvesting, roasting, packaging, shipping of this coffee, in the swirl of life around this commodity, someone had an idea that made them stop what he/she was doing for a moment. Someone had a memory that made her smile. Someone recalled something that made him frown. Someone had a bad day. Someone had a good day. Someone whistled. Someone sang. Someone made a mistake. Someone made a discovery. Someone had a phone call. Someone worked distracted by something that was happening at home. Someone flirted with a coworker, a stranger. Someone ate. The sun shone. It rained.

What am I getting at? So much of our time is spent taking things for granted, not realizing the story of how things come to us, not keeping in mind that a billion or more other worlds are being lived in beyond our own. I guess, today, I'm deciding not to ignore these things.

Thursday, June 22, 2006

The Other Side of the River

I spent yesterday driving along the southern/western bank of the Big Muddy (that's the Missouri River, folks), visiting several National Wildlife Refuge's and Conservation Areas.

My first stop was Overton Bottoms North Unit, which is part of the Big Muddy National Fish and Wildlife Refuge. Overton Bottoms is a large area of flood plain that was purchased from farmers after the disastrous flooding of 1993. It is currently being "managed" in a manner that helps to promote a healthier river system. Having undeveloped flood plains helps to alleviate downriver flooding and avails native fish and other wildlife natural places too spawn or breed. Pallid sturgeon and interior least terns are only two endangered species that need a more natural Missouri River system in order to maintain viable populations. Anyway, the bottoms were flat, hot, and brimming with birds (and turtles). Two lark sparrows were the highlight of the stop for me.

From there, it was south on MO 179 to Marion Bottoms Conservation Area. This was another floodplain, located, in a southward bend of the east flowing river, near the confluence of Moniteau Creek. The floodplain, with its rich, black bottomland soil, is thick with stands of willow trees and cottonwoods. Typical Missouri River riparian habitat. A dirt field road meanders through the conservation area, squeezing through the willows, and it is covered in many spots (and closed) during periods of high water. It has been relatively dry this spring, so most of the road was easily passable, but one section was pretty muddy (and bottomland mud is some sticky, slippery mud, let me tell you); the Penguin, not equipped with legitimate mudding tires, did a little slipping and sliding, but made it through. Not knowing the road ahead, I decided to turn it around. I was not looking forward to getting stuck (even with the four wheel drive, the clearance on the Penguin is not that high). We (the vehicle and I) made it back easily. We didn't see much through the thick stands of willows, but the highlight of this spot was certainly the Baltimore oriole glimpsed in one of the few clearings.

I swung back north from there, looking for Plowboy Bend Conservation Area. I found it at the end of County Road Y, on the other side of the railroad crossing, after waiting for a train full of empty livestock cars to pass by. Plowboy Bend was basically just a lot of cornfields. I couldn't find a map anywhere (except on the posted signs (and one that I should have printed out before hand at the MO Dept. of Conservation website, but who knew?)), and I couldn't find any access to the levees or trails (but, obviously, it's there). It was really not much to look at from the access road: flat land with corn, white gravel raods intersecting under a hot, bright midday sun, a couple of turkey vultures wheeling on the thermals above. I think a return visit might reveal much more, especially if I can find the trails that lead down to the river, itself. I hung a right and headed back to Y, and, from there, home. Highlight of this stop, while technically occuring on the other side of the area's borders, was a male orchard oriole in an oak tree.

Back home, Joby, who was in town (from Lexington, KY) to defend his dissertation, called to say he had successfully defended. I met him for a couple of celebratory beverages. A little evening softball (Deadliners 10, High Flyers 5), and Monkey, Osculator, Timmy Ocean, and I met up with Joby again at the team clubhouse. It was good to see my old poker buddy again. He has a job lined up in Terre Haute, working as a staff psychologist at a Federal prison. It's work that he likes, but I don't know if I could do it. Congratulations, Dr. Joby!

Wednesday, June 21, 2006

The End of a Very Long Story

Day Eight

As we rode out of Bar Harbor, beginning the four and a half hour trip to the Manchester airport, we paused under still cloudy skies for two photos. A few shots of the cove near the Cove Farm Inn was our first photo op. A little ways down the road, an odd (yet to open for the season) miniature golf course featured Joliet Jake and Elwood Blues. I found that worth a shot.

The weather cleared as we drove west, and the sun was shining bright as we pulled into Manchester, NH. A quick flight to BWI, a short layover there (called Mom to say hello), a longer flight to St. Louis, and the usual two hour drive home, and it was 11:00 pm. Where did the day go?

And that about wraps it up. Next blog entry: almost real time!

Tuesday, June 20, 2006

Scouting the Territory (A Very Long Story, Part Eight)

Day Seven

The rain hunkered down over the coast of Maine on Saturday and would not budge. Monkey and I had been discussing with MuffinMan, our host, the possibilities of finding some property on which we could build (or on which something was already built), that would serve as a sort of summer house for us. Since we had been to Maine in 98, we have entertained the possibility of buying land/a house Down East. The market is full of property, and it seems that, depending on where you look, buyers are relatively scarce. We saw some real bargains while we were there. MuffinMan suggested that we look at the area near Machias, which is northeast of Bar Harbor. We decided that the weather made it a perfect day to do just that.

We scouted the territory and saw that MuffinMan was right. This area, truly Down East, was beautiful, sparsely populated, and far less developed than the more often visited Midland area (Bar Harbor, Rockland, Rockport, and such). We think this might be the place. Of course, first we have to move to Lincoln and buy a primary residence there, but, it is never to early to start on your homework!

We also visited a few spots along the way. First, we stopped in Columbia Falls to see the Ruggles house, a National Historic House originally built in 1815. The Ruggles House has a flying staircase. We didn't know what a flying staircase was, so we stopped to see it. Do you know what a flying staircase is? If you don't, go to the Ruggles House, they'll tell you. But they won't let you take any pictures of it. They will, however, let you use the staff restroom and make you pay five dollars when they are done giving you the tour. Even if you don't want the tour, you just want to ask what a flying staircase is and use the bathroom. Next, we stopped at West Quoddy Head Lighthouse, the easternmost point in the US. We also stopped for lunch at the Atlantic House, a little luncheonette in the town of Lubec, just this side of the bridge to Campobello Island. A sign in Lubec proclaimed that FDR and Eleanor Roosevelt once walked the streets of Lubec, talking to the residents. If they did, I hope they held their noses. It smelled a bit fishy, the day we visited. After Lubec, we headed to Prescott (I think), to find the Reversing Falls, a place where the tide runs in and out with such force (we were near the southern part of the world-famous Bay of Fundy) that the water churns and swirls and splashes, and it's supposed to be spectacular. We didn't find it to be spectacular. As a matter of fact, for a while, we didn't think we were going to find it at all. We had to stop at a gas station and ask for directions (and use the bathroom--it happens when you ride around all day in a car, drinking coffee), and we finally found it. Alas, it was near the slack of the low tide, so, it just wasn't much to look at. I mean it was pretty, water features always are, to me, but it was just, sort of, regular-water-feature-looking. Except for the big broken tree. That was cool.

We headed back to Bar Harbor, and, to be honest, all the driving was catching up to me. I started to feel like shit. We decided to have a traditional lobster dinner, so I rallied as Monkey drove to Union River for dinner. Along the way, we spied this sign for a soon-to-be hot dog stand. We were devastated. I mean lobster is great, but we could have had hot dogs. On a picnic table. Damn. We ate copious amounts of cruelly prepared crustaceans and mollusks, but the hot dogs kept invading our thoughts and our conversation. The lobster dinner was spectacular. Ethically, it was a two; gastronomically, it was a nine. The hot dogs, though, they could have been a ten.

The end, however, was near. Tomorrow, we headed home. Each of us sat at our table, beyond sated by the bounty of the sea, watching the rain-swollen Union River dash under the US 1 bridge. Each of us thinking the same thing. Why couldn't we have been here in time for the hot dogs?

Monday, June 19, 2006

A Break in the Rain (A Very Long Story, Part Seven)

Day Six

Friday dawned with cloudy skies, but no rain. We were determined to use the "dry" weather to the best of our abilities, even if a few showers might intervene. Not wishing to put ourselves in a precarious situation, such as being in the middle of a hike on wet rocks, miles from shelter in the middle of a storm blowing in from the ocean (or from anywhere), we decided to choose a less "back country" hike for the day. But we didn't skimp on the length, let me tell you.

We chose to hike a carriage road, part of a grand network of gravel roads that snakes through the park and traverses several rugged stone bridges, called Around the Mountain Road. It was 10+ miles that did, indeed, go around several mountains, Sargent, Parkman, and Penobscot being the three largest.

When we started our hike, we were elated to see the sun peek out from behind the clouds. Minutes later, actual blue filled the sky, accompanied by a few innocuous white clouds. The day was really shaping up, but we knew that storms were forecast for the afternoon, so we tried not to get too excited.

The loop around the mountain brought us to many of the stone bridges in the park. They are really amazing structures. Built in the 1920's, the bridges are cobbled from stone that was gathered on-site, and cut by hand as they built the roads. They are beautiful and solid, and they make for great photo ops. I'll bet they look even more spectacular in the fall, with all the leaves changing colors, and winter, in the snow.

Of course, the road is not just a single loop, it joins and intersects and twists around with a hundred other roads, so we had to make sure we were headed in the right direction often. It was a pretty good hike, covering some altitude (gradually) and giving us some nice views of the park in several directions.

After about one o'clock, the skies started to get a bit more ominous, which was okay, since we were very near the end of our loop. The last mile was a bit of a slog, since we were really now just interested in beating the weather, but the last leg of the hike was probably the best in terms of visual enjoyment, we were up around eight hundred feet, and right along a ridge, so the views down into the valleys, coves, and fjords below were really quite spectacular. This shot was obviously taken just as the sky started to cloud up and darken, you can still see a bit of blue in the sky.

We shuffled in to the parking lot and decided to find this deli we had heard of in the town of Northeast Harbor. Too bad for us, at 2:30, the sign on the door said "Closing at 1 Today." Oh well, that's what happens when you visit before the real "season" starts. We went to some not-bad sandwich place in Bar Habor, and then headed back toward Ship Habor (where we were on Wednesday) to walk the flat, ocean-side Wonderland Trail. Between the end of the hike and the end of lunch, the weather had deteriorated quite a bit.

The atmosphere at Wonderland (don't know why it's called that) was very much like Wednesday's, only a bit colder and a bit foggier. We scanned the rocky beaches, looked out into the fog for ghost ships (a la the Marie Celeste or the Flying Dutchman), and talked about what we would do with the weather tomorrow. It was not looking good. Not looking good at all.

Saturday, June 17, 2006

The Wyeths and the Trinitarians (A Very Long Story, Part Six)

Day Five

A rainy Thursday sent us driving south to Rockland, ME (and all points in between, via US 1) to visit the Farnsworth Museum of Art. The Farnsworth, started in Rockland by Lucy Farnsworth, upon her death, in memory of her father and brother, prominent members of Rockland's eighteenth century citizenry, generally tries to keep the spotlight on Maine artists (those that were born there, live or lived there, or painted there at some point in their careers). They have a rather large collection of, and a good relationship with, the Wyeth family, three of whom, NC, Andrew, and Jaimie, comprise successive generations of renowned American artists.

The museum was greatly changed (for the good) from the last time we were in Rockland. They are still connected to the Olson House, sight of some of Andrew Wyeth's most famous paintings ("Christina's World," for one), but in town, they have expanded their physical space as well as their holdings. We, once again, did not have enough time to make it out to the Olson House (it's in Cushing, not too far way), but we had to leave a few things for future visits. Some highlights included some early water colors by Andrew Wyeth, some oil book illustrations by NC Wyeth, a very early Thomas Cole, and a really spectacular exhibit of banners and flags sewn by hand by the late Jamien Morehouse (who also has a wing named after her). I was not expecting to find the banners and flags very interesting, but they were amazingly whimsical, masterfully made, and clearly one-of-a-kind. Good stuff.

The town of Rockland was also greatly changed (for the worse). Coming into town on US 1 South, the traveller is greeted with all the accoutrements of the thriving American city simulacrum: Wal-Mart, Walgreens, Best Buy, Ruby Tuesday's. It was just like not leaving home. We hated it. None of that was there eight years ago, but, inexorably, time marches on.

In some places, however, time marches a hell of alot slower. On the way back, we stopped in a little town, Castine, that was touted by a tour book as an archiutectural marvel. It was quaint, and much of the architecture was, it appeared, original eighteenth century structures. The central part of town was very small. At the top of one of the streets we found this red-doored Trinitarian Congregational church. Subsequent research has not uncovered exactly what the difference between the Unitarians and the Trinitarians may be, but it seems reasonable to assume that the Trinitarians have at least two more of whatever the Unitarians have. And what about the Duotarians? Whatever happened to them? Perhaps they worshiped in Atlantis.

After returning home and getting some grub, Monkey started to show the effects of too much rain on vacation. I was beginning to worry, too. What would tomorrow bring? More rain? We might be looking for a place to rent some Scrabble if the rain kept up.

That night, I dreamed I was a character in one of Jaimie Wyeth's Moneghan Island paintings. A fisherman, mending a net on the wharf, I looked up in the late afternoon and saw the sun filling the western sky with a reddish glow. Under my breath, with my Meerschaum stuck firmly in my teeth, I nodded my head and muttered to myself, "Red sky at night; sailors delight."

Friday, June 16, 2006

Says Monkey: "Wet, Sweaty, Sandy Kids Equal Funk" (A Very Long Story, Part Five)

Day Four

The rain returned on Wednesday, but it was a showery day, leaving ocassional breaks in the precipitation. We decided to do some level walking, rather than climbing. The wet weather made it too risky. As a matter of fact, we did no more climbing the rest of the week. But, we made the best of what we had. After all, you can't stop the weather, you can only hope to contain it.

Our first stop on Wednesday's wet weather tour of Acadia was Ship Harbor Nature Trail, on the southwest part of the island. The walk here was misty and kind of windy in spots, but we were rewarded with close up views of yellow-rumped warblers, black-throated green warblers, and we spied a new life bird for me, common eider (a sea duck). The eider were hanging out on a rocky point just on the west side of the mouth of Ship Harbor, and a few were bobbing around in the ocean just off the east side of the harbor. It was great to get a new lifer, and dramatic to see these spectacular white and black ducks bobbing amongst the lobster buoys off the point. We followed the loop around, getting some great fog-bound-rocky-island views of the point and the cove. We got back to the car and decided the outgoing tide was a great opportunity to head north to Indian Point. Seals regularly rest at low tide on the rocks there.

The last time we were on Mount Desert Island, we went to see the seals, whose rocks are accesible through a portion of the Blagden Preserve, a Nature Conservancy property. That time, Monkey had a hard time seeing the seals. They were, admittedly, a long way off, but they were there. This time, either a) they were a lot closer, b) our binoculars were better, or c) we just knew where to look. It could have been a combination of all three. Who knows. Whatever the reason, finding the seals was easy this time. There, off about a hundred hundred yards to the left, two dozen or so seals were curled up on three different rocky islets. A couple leapt and swam in the water. The clouds hung low in the sky, and off to the right of the point we spotted one common loon.

It was still early, so we decided to travel the Park Loop Road and see what we could see. Our first stop was Sand Beach, which was part of the view from our first hike, The Beehive. In the rain, it was a bit melancholy, but as we approached the beach from the parking lot, a bus tour full of middle school kids were coming up off of the beach, looking like most middle school kids do after recess, their shirts sticking to them, their hair damp on their foreheads. In this case, they had the added details of rain-dampened pants and shoes, and Down East Maine sand clinging to them everywhere. The sight prompted the quote from Monkey from which the title comes, her point being, "I am glad I am not getting on THAT bus."

From there, we travelled a little ways down the road to Little Hunter's Beach, or, as our host MuffinMan, calls it, The Magical, Musical Beach. He's a little like Doug Henning that way. Any way, it is referred to as such, because, at high tide (which it wasn't, and wouldn't be for many hours), the waves over the smoothly rounded rocks produces a musical, wind-chimey effect. It is really quite cool, but we missed out on it this time around. We were just happy to see these amazingly smooth rocks. Monk took some pictures of them.

By now, it was near five o'clock. We went back to the inn and read for a little while, then, as we had been doing, went out and ate more fresh fish, crustacean, and mollusk. And some bread and veggies, too. And we drank some pretty good local beer. If you're ever in the area, try the Cadillac Mountain Stout--it's a winner. Literally. No, really, it won some beer contest. It said so on the label.

The rain was expected in earnest on Thursday, so we planned a drive down to Rockland to see the Farnsworth Museum. I slept like a smoothly rounded rock and dreamed of nothing, as far as I can remember.

Thursday, June 15, 2006

Spying on the Rich and Famous (A Very Long Story, Part Four)

Day Three (cont'd)

If slope=rise / run, then the slope of Pemetic's descent is approximately 8/25. That's a 32% grade. (Check my math, Jersey Girl.) It was a challenge coming down, especially after Monkey's slipping problems earlier in the day. There were some points when she was crab walking down the mountian (I spared her the ignominy of photographs). Most of our hike down, after the first couple hundred yards (which was relatively smooth rock) was down a rock fall/creek. At any rate, it was a rock fall with a good deal of the recent rain running through it. We had a couple of moments where we were unclear just where the trail was. The most dramatic instance was a point where the trail appeared to simply fall off the edge of a twenty foot cliff. The trail scooted off to one side, and in order to get down you just sort of wedged yourself in between two rocks and shuffled your way through. Pretty exciting, and we managed to stay on the trail the whole way down. As a side note, the photo does no justice to the trail. In a comical bit of irony, after making the arduous descent without incident, Monkey slipped in the wet grass in the parking lot.

After a lunch break, we headed off to the west side of the park to tackle the 284 foot challenge of Flying Mountain. We'd heard it was an easy hike and that it provided good views of Sommes Sound, upon which shores it was situated. It was an easy hike, but there was a collection of folks in front of us with some smallish children (one looked like it had just started walking) and they were definitely in no hurry to get up the mountain. As a result, Monkey and I spent as much time sitting on our asses halfway through the hike as we did actually walking.

When we finally reached the top (in about 15 minutes of actual walking), we looked at each other , like, that's it? But the views were pretty nice. On the shores of the sound (the only true fjord in North America--what do you think about that?), there are quite a few exquisitely large houses. Monkey, having heard that Martha Stewart had recently moved to the island, and that she was having some arts and crafts demonstration the following week, was desperate to track her down. She whipped out the binoculars and started scanning the opposite shore, to no avail. All she could spy were a few hired men mowing wet lawns.

After our fruitless espionage, we trekked north, down Flying Mountain to Valley Cove, where we were greeted with a reassuring sign, telling us the trail was closed any further in order to allow the peregrine falcons nesting on the cliffs ahead to breed and raise their young undisturbed. Breeding peregrines was great news to me. I never saw one while I was there, but the fact that they were breeding is a great sign for a threatened species. Also of note at Valley Cove: I picked up a life bird. A chestnut-sided warbler. How cool is that!

We expected to take a turn here anyway, and headed south down a truck road that ran along the base of the mountain, and back to the car.

Another dinner of fruits de mer, more walking around town, and some reading, and it was dream time. I was finishing The Wind-up Bird Chronicle, and it was getting stranger and stranger. The plans for tomorrow were up in the air, since the forecast was sketchy. I dreamed I was stuck at the bottom of a dry well, and a cold rain was pelting me without mercy.

Wednesday, June 14, 2006

A Beautiful Morning (A Very Long Story, Part Three)

It's a beautiful morning
Think I'll go outside for a while
--The O'Jays, "It's a Beautiful Morning"

Day Three

Tuesday was a beautiful day. Sunshine and cool temps. A perfect day for a walk in the park. Which is exactly what we came there to do (among other things). Our first hike of the day was planned as a loop, first to the sister peaks of the North and South Bubbles (I call them peaks, but the highest point on the island is 1500 feet), then down to Jordan Pond and up Mount Pemetic, before returning to our starting point.

We headed first to the South Bubble, to see Balance Rock, a huge boulder left sitting on the edge of the South Bubble when the glaciers of the last Ice Age receded. It looks pretty precariously set, but it has been there for 10,000 years or so (I assume), so it must be as stable as anything else in nature (refer to the second law of thermodynamics). The hike to the rock was pretty easy and very pleasant, with juncos and a few warblers calling in the cool morning air. In some places the sun peaked through the trees, in other places, the trees cleared and allowed the sun to fill the clearing. It was a welcomed change from the gray skies of the previous two days. At the peak, the views were as good as they get from 500 feet. At the rock, Monkey gave it a push to ensure that it was indeed stable (what if it had fallen, I wonder--we would have skulked home as quickly as a pair of Monkeys can skulk, I imagine). From the top, we could see a bus stop on the road below--a bus tour of the park. We waved, not expecting the driver to see us, or care, if he did; to our surprise, he honked his horn. What fun, to be a part of someone's Acadia National Park bus tour. It probably happens all the time!

From the South Bubble, we backtracked up to the North Bubble. Three hundred additional feet of altitude made the views all the better! Looking south onto Jordan Pond, with the sunshine and wispy clouds, the scene was postcard-perfect. We lingered here for a while, just soaking up the sights (and some water).

Backtracking just a bit more, we headed south to Jordan Pond. Here, the rocks were still a bit wet from the rain and mist of the days before, and we found the footing ocassionally treacherous. Monkey fell once and for a few moments, she was an unhappy little Monkey, but we pushed on.

As a side note, I gotta tell you, between her falling down and my getting us lost half the time, it's a wonder we survive some of these back country excursions. But survive we do, and we really do love every minute of it (well, almost every minute of it).

The flat land around Jordan Pond was easy and pretty. This mile of our hike was the quickest and least strenuous, but (unbeknownst to us) we were about to put in some serious work!

The hike up Pemetic was long, and portions of it were steep and relatively technical (no iron rungs here). At points, the views were spectacular (we were ascending to over 1200 feet), and the hike was ocassionally halted so I could chase birds (most of which I never caught up with--birding in evergreen is a dicey proposition, I learned in Oregon). At the peak of Pemetic, however, the view was not quite as good as some of the other portions of the hike up the mountain. Because of the terrain at the top, you don't get the same panoramic view as on other mountains, and the long plateau doesn't allow for spectacular "drop off"-type scenes. But it was a good hike, nonetheless.

According to the map, it looked like our trip down was to be a tough one. We were about to descend about 800 feet in a half a mile. That is a pretty quick slope. And, guess what. Maps don't lie.

Tuesday, June 13, 2006

Blue Skies Ahead (A Very Long Story, Part Two)

Day Two (cont'd)

After lunch, Monkey and I searched the island for two gardens that were supposedly open to visitors, but hard to find. They were. The first, Asticou Gardens, was right on a major road, but the sign for them was about a foot square and the letters were an inch high and were the same color as the sign. We drove by twice before we saw the entrance.

The Asticou Gardens were pretty. They were put together to showcase the rhododendrons and azaleas collected by some renowned botanist woman who used to live on Mount Desert Island. Many were in bloom when we visited, and the pond and sand garden were impressive, too. While we were there, the sky was misting, so, I'm sure the blooms are even more impressive in the sunshine, but we enjoyed them anyway.

From there, we headed a little further down the road to find the Thuya Gardens. They were also hard to find. Thuya is an inn that the Park Service operates, but it was still closed for the off-season. The gardens, however, and the Eliot Mountain Trail are still accessible if you can find your way to them. And the view from the terrace on the trail to the gardens is a nice overlook of Northeast Harbor below.

The hike up Eliot (not very strenuous) got Monkey a little overheated for some reason, but by the time we got to the top, she was feeling fine. The mist and the mossy conditions, a little different from the rockiness of The Beehive and Mount Champlain, gave this hike a Pacific Northwest feel. At times, Monkey and I felt like we were back in Oregon. Until we came back down to the views of lobster boats in the harbor--very un-Pacific Northwest-like!

After Thuya, it was back to the inn for showers and then off to dinner. Glorious seafood! And fresh! We were in hogfish heaven. A walk around the town of Bar Harbor and it was off to bed for us. The weather forecast was a good one for Tuesday. I dreamed I was a lobsterman, and all the mermaids were throwing me drops of sunshine....

Monday, June 12, 2006

The Beginning of a Very Long Story

We are back in the flatland after a week plus on the rocky coast of Maine. Much occurred, and, with a nod to those with less stamina than some, I will dole out the doings in installments.

Day One

A rainy travel day. We rose at 5am, did a few last minute checks of the bags and such, and hit the road for Lambert-St. Louis International. Our bags checked, we had a less than stellar eggwich at the airport and boarded our plane to Chicago. A short layover in Chi-town and we were off to Manchester, NH. In NH, we rented a Kia Spectrum (a red coupe, with four no-pick-up-cylinders and good mileage). A short drive on 101 through eastern NH, and then we were on I-95, barrelling up the coast for Bangor, ME. At Bangor, we hung a right on Route 3 and drifted into Bar Harbor after changing pilots halfway through. The time change didn't help. At 9pm, we checked into the well-moistened Cove Farm Inn. It didn't take long, despite the as-old-as-the-farm-house mattresses, for the Monkeys to be dozing and dreaming of glorious blue Maine skies.

Day Two

Unfortunately, our dreams were not completely fulfilled. The skies remained gray and foggy throughout Monday. Monkey and I, however, were hardly discouraged. After a breakfast (which became de riguer) of scrambled eggs, bacon, home made muffins and bread (with coffee, of course), we asked a few questions of our host and hit the trail. Our fellow inn patrons were quite interesting folks (who, coincidentally were from a town in Texas just north of where we had gone for the wedding last week--go figure), but I will save my description of them for later. Our first stop after obtaining a seven day pass to Acadia National Park was the first hike we did the last time we were in Acadia--The Beehive. A strenuous hike, involving some relatively sheer rock faces that are scaled with the help of iron rungs and bars fastened into the rock. Not for those afraid of heights. The views of the only sand beach on the island and the ocean beyond are unparalleled. It is claimed that one can see whales from The Beehive (with the aid of binoculars), but Monkey and I have yet to be that fortunate.

From the peak of The Beehive, we proceeded down to The Bowl, a lake formed from (according to sources) the caldera of an extinct volcano. This is another place that the Monkeys had visited before, and we tried to recreate a photo we took eight years ago, but we didn't have the photo with us, and we took the photo in the wrong place. It was still a good one, though.

Not finished walking, we headed south for the 1000+ foot peak of Mt. Champlain. This hike was far less strenuous than The Beehive, yet the peak is more than two hundred feet higher than The Beehive. The views from Champlain of the island and the Atlantic to the south and all around were excellent, even with the low clouds and dim light. From there we hiked back around (in a circular fashion) to the car.

But we weren't done yet. Hell, it was only lunch time.

Saturday, June 03, 2006

Going Down East

You might as well give up
I'm gonna make my move
We can honeymoon in Paris
hangout at the Louvre
We can winter in the city, summer up in Maine
And all of this will happen
just as soon as I learn your name
--Bill Morrissey, "Morrissey Falls in Love at First Sight"

The traveling monkey train rolls east tomorrow: a drive to St. Louis, a flight to Manchester, NH, and then a drive to Bar Harbor, ME. I will be incommunicado until Monday next, and shall duly report ASAP after that.

Monkey and I have been looking forward to this trip for a long time, now. We honeymooned there (not Paris) in '98. First, however, we have to get through my school's graduation (mandatory "attendance" (we work security, believe it or not) for all teachers) and a wedding today.

Ripken Ozark will be happily spending more time with Aunt James and Uncle Joe and Ms. London Belle. They had a great time last weekend, and Monkey and I are fortunate that they are such good friends and dog-lovers that they would watch our dog so frequently. Thanks Aunt James and Uncle Joe!

Until you hear from me again.

Thursday, June 01, 2006

Rain as Drama (Or Clutching the Steering Wheel and Squinting into the Mist)

Rain greets them as they start their journey north on I-45. The huge statue of Sam Houston appears out of the woods like a devotional figure for trail blazers. Alabaster and thirty feet tall, the shape emerges from the forest land as the road curves gently to the west. There is a park and information center, but he and Monkey carry on. The rain is beginning to increase in intensity, and few of the other drivers have on their headlights. It is a precarious situation.

Just south of Dallas, the skies clear. They stop at a McDonald's (the first time in years) and temper Monkey's hangover with a double cheeseburger. He is happy enough with a Big Mac, but all he is allaying is his perpetual sense of hunger. Back on the road, they listen to John Krakauer's Under the Banner of Heaven. He contemplates plural marriage. She contemplates plural proper nouns.

Lake Eufaula, almost yellow with clay and mud, reflects the midday sun and shadows the clouds in the late-May sky. She dozes. He shakes his legs, rubs his face, and sings quietly along to Centro-Matic. The cruise control is set to 78--eight miles over the posted speed. It's a two lane highway (they're now on US 75), and the traffic is well-behaved. Passing is easy, since few cars are riding the left lane. They are making good time.

Through Oklahoma and into Joplin (I-44, now), all is well. Monkey rouses. She feels good. He senses home and has his second wind. The skies begin to darken ahead.

He turns on the radio to catch a severe thunderstorm report. They roll into Springfield and the heavens open up. Over the interstate and to the south, the sky is black and the rain is pelting the earth and everything on it with heavy droplets of late-afternoon rain. To the north, the sun shines fiercely through the driver's-side window. The wipers silently clear his line of vision for split seconds at a time.

In Lebanon, the rain has stopped. The sky is looking dramatic, and north of the Kum and Go at the Route 5 turn off, a double rainbow arches up to the blue-grey couds. They gas up. The wind is frisky. They head north to the Lake.

More rain in Camdenton, but nothing like before. The sun has marked the horizon and night is falling. Each mile they travel feels less like a mile than the one before. Home seems to be receding with the daylight. His eyes feel weak and itchy.

After over fifteen hundred miles without incident, he is pulled over at the lake for speeding. Tired and longing for an end to the journey, he is not upset. He was speeding. Not by much, but he was. Oh, well, he thinks, as the officer decides to ticket him, let's just get this over with so we can get home.

Which they do, at ten that evening. They wearily pick up Ripken from Aunt James and Uncle Joe, unpack (a little), and descend, slowly and fully, into sleep.