Monday, November 24, 2014

Praying for Gold...and Ultrarunning

I admit that I like to watch Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel (although why that's discovery, I'm not sure, other than a long tradition of pillaging the earth for minerals).

I guess I'm kinda obsessed with the show, cause here's what I wrote back in 2012, and again in 2013:

Another example--I've been watching Gold Rush on the Discovery Channel.  There's something arresting and compelling about these naive miners trying to strike it rich in Alaska.  Anyway, what really strikes me is how they literally have to excavate and wash TONS of gravel just to get a couple of flakes of gold.  The scale of rape-and-pillage-the-environment is absolutely stunning.
I've quite familiar with strip mining sites here in my home state of Pennsylvania, and it's awful.  What is happening in Alaska to extract gold is worse.
And the link to Ultrarunning?  Better enjoy the back country now, because when push comes to shove in a few years or decades, when wilderness is weighed against the precious minerals or oil or gas it contains, guess what'll  come out second best?

But anyway, what gets my goat today about Gold Rush is this: the kindly grandfather, who reminds me of a cross between Popeye and Santa Claus, is quite religious.  In fact, the guys in the mining operation wear shirts with 316 on the back, a biblical reference.  I suppose they are taking literally the Old Testament mantra, what Also Leopold called the "Abrahamic concept of land":

Conservation is getting nowhere because it is incompatible with our Abrahamic concept of land. We abuse land because we regard it as a commodity belonging to us. When we see land as a community to which we belong, we may begin to use it with love and respect. 

So...after that very long-winded intro, here's what the kindly grandfather actually said in 2014 Episode 5, in praying for this season's success:

Heavenly Father,
We ask that the gold will just pop out of the ground.
Lord that you would show us the good spots.
Bless us and we pray it in your name.

All said without even a trace of irony.  If God really cared enough about gold mining to entertain a prayer about it, He would smite these jokers.  Just because.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Cats in Art: Last Supper (Rosselli)

From my continuing weekly Sunday series of cats in art. I'm using some ideas from the coffee table book, The Cat in Art, by Stefano Zuffi.  

The bride and I recently returned from a couple weeks in Europe, the trip of a lifetime.  We first took a Rhine River cruise downstream from Basel, Switzerland to Amsterdam, Netherlands.  Then we remained 3 more days each in Amsterdam and Rome.  While in Europe, my Cats in Art became a sort of quest for us and the others of our group, so the next few weeks here on Sundays will be focused on our kitty discoveries in the Old World.

Today's subject is from the Sistine Chapel in the Vatican, a place that figuratively knocked my artistic socks off.  
Of the large crew of artists who were commissioned to liven up the place with their art, Michaelangelo's frescos on the ceiling get a lot of attention. deservedly so, but the wall art also is mind-numbing beautiful.  That's where you'll find Last Supper by Rosselli.

In the image below I cropped out some of the edges that were painted to look like the framing of a traditional painting, just to focus on the core image:

Image credit WikipediaThe Last Supper, Cosimo Rosselli, 1482, fresco (oil on plaster), 11' x 18', held by the Vatican as part of the Sistine Chapel.  The cat is in the right center foreground, scrapping with a dog, but pretty small in this huge fresco, so here's the close-up of the kitty:

Wiki explains the symbology:

The scene is part of the Stories of Jesus cycle and, like the others, shows more than an episode at the same time. The frieze has the inscription REPLICATIO LEGISEVANGELICAEA CHRISTO. The supper is set in a semi-circular apse, with a horseshoe-shaped table at whose center sits Jesus, sided by the apostles. Judas, as usual, is depicted on the side, from behind: the fighting cat and dog are elements which further stress his negative connotation. The scene shows the moment immediately after Jesus' annunciation that one apostle would betray him. His hearers' reactions include touching their own chest, or mumbling one with each other.

I wonder if Rosselli had a particular cat that served as the model for this painting, or if it was just a compilation of felines?  I like to think that there was this one kitty, who hung out at the Vatican, and who Rosselli befriended and painted into art immortality.

Note: I posted about this piece previously back in 2011, here.  But now I've seen it with my own eyes....

Saturday, November 22, 2014

Owls...and Ultrarunning

Of all the critters Ive seen over the years along trails and roads, surely the most fascinating has been the owl.

Perhaps because they are quite elusive, I just have a fascination with this bird family, and have blogged about owls before at Mister Tristan (the blog, not the 6 year old human being) here and here.

Image credit Gary

This owl statue above, among several which grace our humble property, is our latest acquisition and marks the occasion of our 40th anniversary in August.  It is a beast of a carved river stone, standing about 24" high, and is just past the limit of what I can lift in terms of weight.  I had help loading it and was able to let it down from the seat in my minivan to the ground...barely.  Thence I wheeled it around the yard on a hand dolly.

I hope to run down on the C+O Canal here in a few days and would like nothing more than to repeat the owl experience I had there in which I stopped to pee at a tree--unbeknownst to me--that just happened to have a pair of large owls resting in it.  They, of course, took off and I was treated to a rare sight.

One final owl tale.  A couple of weeks ago, the bride and I attended an evening owl walk at Renfrew Park in nearby Waynesboro, PA.  The leader gave us a talk first, then we headed out into the woods where she played owl calls to try to lure in a live owl.  Things were simply not happening that night--perhaps due to a persistent wind--until all of a sudden a tiny screech owl showed up in response to the recorded call.

This owl landed nearly directly above the bride's head, only some 20' away, and oblivious to the 30 some people standing quietly there in the dark, proceeded to answer the recorded call.  The screech owl has an array of calls, and this one sounded most like a horse's whinny.

Wow!  So if you ever get a chance to go on a naturalist-led owl walk, by all means do it.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Introverts...and Ultrarunning

I am an introvert.

I prefer the company of myself to that of others.

And I run Ultras, meaning any race beyond the traditional marathon distance of 26.2 miles.  And while I have run with others, including official pacers at the Umstead 100 Mile Endurance Run, I really am OK with running alone.

I am married, to a woman whom for the purposes of this blog I call "the bride," for some 40 years.  She is compatible with me, and I with her.  Actually, I am happy to accommodate my idiosyncrasies with her, and she with me.  We are a very good couple.

So....on with the post after this background.  I postulate that the default personality of Ultrarunners is Introvert.  Sure, there are Ultrarunners who are social animals, but my default position is that Ultrarunners are--by and large--introverts.

My evidence?  I can think of nothing so exciting as running 100 miles alone.  Alone.  In my lifetime I have attempted this a grand total of 3 times, with 3 finishes.  Just me and my thoughts.  Starting before daybreak on a Saturday, seeing the sun come up, running all day, seeing the sun go down, running all night, seeing the sun come up on the second day (Sunday), and finishing sometime that second morning.  Now that's a good time!

I have no empirical data, just my gut feelings after 35 years of running Ultras.

Talk amongst yourselves.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

An Interesting Fiscal Proposal

Ran across this by the always-good David Swanson.  You should read the whole piece, but here's an excerpt:

What would our lives be like if college were as free and unquestionable as military spending is now, but military spending arrived as an optional bill?

Those who didn't want it could choose not to pay. Those who wanted a coast guard, a national guard, and some anti-aircraft weapons could chip in a few bucks. Those who wanted a bit more than that could pay a bit more.

And those who wanted troops in 175 nations, aircraft carriers in every sea, enough nuclear weapons to destroy life on several planets, and fleets of drones with which to traumatize and antagonize several nations at once -- well, they could pay their $3,822, plus of course another $3,822 for anybody opting out.

What a naive proposal! Left to individual choice, the commons would be destroyed, and our national defense would crumble!

Really? People in the United States give over $300 billion to charity each year. Nobody forces them to. If they believed weapons and wars were the most important cause to donate their dollars to, they'd do it. No nation on earth spends $300 billion or anywhere close to it on its military, other than the United States.

And with the government no longer funding the military in its socialistic manner, it might choose instead to fund many of the humanitarian causes to which private charity is now largely devoted. Private giving could take care of the Pentagon.

But if wisdom about the counter-productive results of militarism spread, if nonviolent alternatives were learned, if free college had a positive impact on our collective intellect, and if the fact that we could end global poverty or halt global warming for a fraction of current military spending leaked out, who knows? Maybe militarism would fail in the free market.

I just love the last statement.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Another Post About the Dead

If you are a history sort of person--and I think that most people of sound mind surely must be--then this tale may be familiar.

Seems that a number of years ago, a certain country was involved in a war.  Now, having a long history of being a warlike people in that country, I suppose this is not especially remarkable.  

This particular war (indeed, all wars) certainly could and should have been avoided, yet it began like most wars do.  There was macho posturing on both sides by politicians who should have known better, and agitation for war by the young men who, frankly, wanted a glorious, heroic adventure.   

These young men thought they were indestructible, invincible, and bulletproof...until the real bullets began flying.  Then they died or were maimed forever by the tens of thousands.  And the politicians hardened their hearts and their political positions and the war dragged on.

During this time period most people died at home and were soon buried nearby.  But the scale of deaths in this war, and the lack of funeral practices such as we know today dictated that the dead soldiers, by the thousands, needed to be buried essentially where they fell.  There was no practical alternative.

Now, the politicians of this country were not totally insensitive.  Perhaps, knowing how royally they had screwed up, they wanted to memorialize the dead from a particularly grisly battle that had occurred a few months previous.  The remains of dead had been disinterred from their hastily dug battlefield graves, collected, and reburied about a mile away in what would become a national cemetery.

The politicians wanted to say a few flowery words over the dead when then cemetery was dedicated; this, I suspect, was more to assuage their hearts than those of the dead.  The chief politician was invited to speak, and he spoke for only a couple of minutes.

But in those couple of minutes, he ceased being a mere politician and became a human being.  One who knew, finally, the vast toll that the war was costing the very soul of the nation.  And so he said:

Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal. 

Now we are engaged in a great civil war, testing whether that nation, or any nation so conceived and so dedicated, can long endure. We are met on a great battle-field of that war. We have come to dedicate a portion of that field, as a final resting place for those who here gave their lives that that nation might live. It is altogether fitting and proper that we should do this. 

But, in a larger sense, we can not dedicate -- we can not consecrate -- we can not hallow -- this ground. The brave men, living and dead, who struggled here, have consecrated it, far above our poor power to add or detract. The world will little note, nor long remember what we say here, but it can never forget what they did here. It is for us the living, rather, to be dedicated here to the unfinished work which they who fought here have thus far so nobly advanced. It is rather for us to be here dedicated to the great task remaining before us -- that from these honored dead we take increased devotion to that cause for which they gave the last full measure of devotion -- that we here highly resolve that these dead shall not have died in vain -- that this nation, under God, shall have a new birth of freedom -- and that government of the people, by the people, for the people, shall not perish from the earth.

Abraham Lincoln
November 19, 1863

If you are like me, you learned this speech in elementary school and have seen it countless times since.  But I ask something of you right now as your eyes rest on this page: today, don't blow by it.  Scroll back up and take 2 minutes to actually read it as though you were seeing it for the first time.  Assume you will be tested on it, or whatever it takes, to focus on what Mr. Lincoln actually said...but in context.

See, the war had begun as a sectional war, but Mr. Lincoln was among the first, being President and all, to steer the rationale away from the vague principle of "state's rights" and hone in on the ultimate cause: slavery.  No slavery, no American Civil War.  

So, while the speech above does not mention human bondage, Mr. Lincoln somehow knew that"these honored dead" would in fact have died in vain...unless a higher order principle was at stake that would be decided by the war.  

In other words, after a couple years of war, if the Confederate States of America and the United States of America had made peace, in which either the rebels would come back into the fold or split off to form a new country--but slavery still persisted--then those thousands of deaths were absolutely meaningless.  

And you realize that Mr. Lincoln got it right.

Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Trail Work in the Black Forest of Germany

While on our recent European adventure we paused in Germany's fabled Black Forest, site of fairy tales, legends, and lore.

Perhaps it's the brothers Grimm tales, maybe it's life living up to expectations, or whatever, but the forest really is, well, black is really the only word that comes to mind. It truly seems "deep and dark and dangerous," to borrow the title from a Mary Downing Hahn book.

I peered down the trail, and the bride and I even ventured a few hundred meters in.  I wanted nothing so badly as to gulp hard, lace up my running shoes, and head into the forest to face the demons that I felt sure would be there...abut alas, the tour bus beckoned.

I did take a photo of this trail sign, and felt comforted that over in Germany, right this moment, there are volunteers just like us who look out for their beloved trails:

Image credit Gary

Monday, November 17, 2014

Another Armistice Day Post

The bride and I stopped at her dad's gravesite last week and took some photos. The cemetery was decorated with many flags for Armistice Day.

If by the phrase "his was a life well lived" you mean that Charlie was a regular guy who worked, paid his dues to his country, loved and provided for his family, and had a positive effect on everyone he touched, then yes, his WAS a life well lived.

We miss him.

All image credits Gary