Category: society

Duck Duck Goose

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The summer birds are starting to arrive and they’ve got one thing on their mind; raising a family—and that means staking out territory. The Canada geese and the Mallards arrive first. In fact, in years past, when the winter wasn’t so mild, Mister and Missus Goose have arrived when the pond was still frozen over. I have watched Mister Goose carefully stepping along the ice toward the nesting spot that he had no doubt been regaling about to the missus all winter. She, for her part, seemed to be saying with each deliberate irritated step, “Another fine idea you’ve got, Mr. Goose.”

This year the geese and the ducks decided to swap nesting sites. The geese are now nesting in the tiny island where the ducks nested last year, and the ducks are in the slightly bigger island. I tell them it probably won’t end well, no matter what. There’s a mink that’s savvy to both nesting spots.

But be that as it may, they’re going ahead with it. I know this because I see the husbands hanging out together in the pond—one duck, one goose floating near each other. The Missus’s leave the nests only once a day for a small bit. They eat, they splash around, and then it’s back to incubating. The husbands continue their floating and their fraternity. It’s all very archetypal—the female nurtures, the male protects.

If another goose should show up, Mister Goose lets him know in no uncertain terms with a great deal of honking, that this pond is taken. However, he doesn’t do this with the smaller waterfowl. The mallard male seems to be a friend and there’s a pie-billed grebe in the pond that dives to eat fish. I often see it three or four feet from the feeding goose, diving with gusto, no doubt because the dabbling goose stirs up all sorts of goodies.

It’s an elaborate dance of harmony that seems to be how nature operates. And watching it, I wonder, what happened to our species?

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Peeves: Three A Words for the First of April

Absolutely.

How many times have you heard someone say “absolutely” when what they really mean is “yes” or “maybe” or even “no.” Absolutely has become the “I only have the tiniest clue, but prevarication or anything less than complete confidence is regarded as weakness so I am using this word.” In our one-upmanship culture, hesitation or thoughtfulness is considered a sign of weakness, apparently.

Awesome.

A picture of your lunch on Facebook is not awesome. Awesome really means something extremely impressive, whether of the apprehensive or inspiring variety. Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony is awesome, actually.

Amazing.

Means to be filled with astonishment. I’m not astonished that easily, so my days are not filled with amazing events. Maybe yours are. Or maybe you’d be more accurate to use, in its place, the British “quite”—that polite neutral dismissal, alas.

I think it’s time to be amazed and awed by the layers of nuance in language and the close attention demanded to select just the right word. And to that end, I think this photo is Adorable.

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The Buddha’s Hand, a cocktail post

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Recently on the radio, I listened to a program on the resurgence of the cocktail in American society. Perfect timing. Weary of the wrestling spectacle of politics and anticipating the green of spring, it brought to mind my own favorite cocktail to offset dreary—the Buddha’s Hand.

To make a Buddha’s hand you need to start with the citron called…the Buddha’s Hand (citrus medica var. sarcodactyllis). Related to the lemon, but much older, a Buddha’s Hand fruit contains no juice, only pulp. When its “fingers” are closed, it resembles the hand of Buddha in prayer. In China, its characters mean long life and happiness. But what you’re going to do with it is infuse it in good vodka for a month. So slice in up and stick it into the vodka. After a month, it’s ready. Smell it, and revel in the complex and generally uplifting aroma. Next get yourself a bottle of Green Chartreuse liqueur. Chartreuse is no ordinary liqueur. It is made by the monks of the Chartreuse Order in France–contemplative monks who spend their lives in silence (a documentary, “Into Great Silence” filmed in the monastery brings this home viscerally—there’s no speaking at all in the entire movie.) The green color of the liqueur comes exclusively from the one hundred and thirty plants and flowers that are infused to make the liqueur. Which one hundred and thirty, and in what proportion, is a nearly three hundred year old secret held and passed down to only two monks each generation.

To make this auspicious cocktail, take two ounces of your lovely Buddha’s Hand vodka and one-half ounce of Green Chartreuse. Add one-half ounce of freshly squeezed lemon juice and shake with ice. Strain into your very favorite glass. Garnish, if you wish, with a thin lemon slice.

Now, admire the green-lemon color and know that no dyes were used to achieve it. Take a sip and savor the complex herb and citron infusions, redolent of the the natural world, of silence, and of meditation.

And if this doesn’t help you through the testing times, nothing will.

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A Little Something Called Self-Responsibility

Image converted using ifftoany

 

There is something weird going on this week. Nothing is running smoothly. The propane company, after 8 years of filling up the propane tanks on schedule, now can’t seem to fill up the correct tanks. They have filled up the shop tank twice now, and left the house tanks unfilled. Not a good thing in the middle of winter. I even put a big sign on the shop tank that said “NOT this tank, the tanks at the HOUSE” with a big arrow pointing toward the house, and they STILL filled up the shop tank.

Then just this morning, a whole passel of ice fisherman glibly trespassed across our property sliding their sleds 10 feet from our house and when Richie told them it was a private pond, they said, “So call the police.”

What is going on here? Is the repugnant presidential campaign persuading people that incivility and incompetence are acceptable ways of behaving?

There is a little something called self-responsibility. We all have power and that power is the power to behave decently. Let’s try that for a while and see where it gets us.

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Alrighty then. Supercross Cup

The Good, The Bad, and The Pitiful

The Bad.

Apparently Richie and I are slow learners. I don’t know how many times it’s going to take us finally realize that there are other people in the world trying to get somewhere on a Friday afternoon, especially in the major metropolitan areas we seem to travel on a regular basis. In any event, we didn’t learn it this time, either. Stuck in traffic. But only for an hour or so and at this point in ‘cross season, a four hour trip that was supposed to be a three hour trip isn’t much at all; it’s when the trips ease their way into eight-nine hours that we start to whine. All three of us.

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The Good.

Excellent food trucks! Wafles. Waffles! Latte. Wafles .Coffee! Waffles, wafles, waffles. And the sunset.

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The Pit-iful.

What on earth was going on with the pits?

Let me enumerate:

  1. The pit entrance is. . .where? Hint. As race goes right, you go straight, then take a sharp right (avoid the spectators in the pit lane, they are just as lost as you are) swerve around the tree, then straight ahead. I think.
  2. Trees without hay bales standing like bouncers on all four corners of the pit. Ouch.
  3. Tree roots. If by some slim chance of fate, your rider had found the entrance to the pit and has entered, s/he then makes the bike switch and, adrenaline pumping, takes off like a shot, only to encounter serious root-age while still in the pit. Unless said rider has a firm grip on handlebars, it is likely the bike will go careening away, nullifying the whole point of pitting.
  4. Really, really fast entrances. Imagine, for a moment, that you are racing downhill on pavement. Whoosh. You are going really fast. Then imagine that you must navigate your way to the pit while going really fast. Then picture hopping an asphalt curb at a challenging angle all the while going—yes—really, really fast. That was the entrance to Pit Two on Saturday.
  5. Curbs on both entrance and exits. See 4 above.
  6. So you’ve found the entrance to the pit (probably you had to go around a lap longer than you wanted to accomplish this) you’ve gotten in! Congratulations! You switch bikes! Yay! Whoops, you slide out on the pile of oak leaves that are strewn picturesquely in the lane. Oh well, two out of three.
  7. On Saturday, Pit One and Pit Two were in the first third of the race. Woe betide you if you need a pit after you’ve passed Pit Two, because there’s two-thirds more race to get through.

And on Sunday, the pits were, just to put a little more spice into things, backwards. But by now, we, the pit people, had no expectations of pit-sanity and so we just shrugged our shoulders and good-naturedly helped each other out, as we do.

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Alrighty Then, Week Off

A few weeks ago, at our team dinner, the kids attempted to school Richie in # v. @ and other twitter niceties. Fair warning: The following could be construed as a grumpy old person post. #grumpyoldperson

Sometimes, when I’m sitting in bed in the morning, drinking my cup of tea and I cast my mental net #thinkinrealhard out into the social media web, I can sort of understand it #notquiteclueless. I see that it is a community of sorts: someone types something out on their little device #widescreentviphone6 and it is instantly seen by everyone following #lemmingstothesea that person. You get to know what that person is thinking right then, as if you were there! #butyou’renotsodon’tkidyourself.

So I get that part—it’s communication—which is probably where the word community comes from #toolazytogoogleit and it is all about connecting via communication. But wait: What are we actually communicating?

I’m a polymath #lookitup and so I like to connect at a deep and real level #D&R#sosanctimonious about lots of different things and this trend of more and more sprightly communication leaves me shaking my head, just as the tortoise must have shaken its head as the hare sprinted past, leaving a cloud of dust in its wake. #aparableyouareprobablytooyoungtoknowabout #andprobablyhaslostitsrelavenceanyway

I suppose it’s an age thing #grumpyoldperson and if you’ve grown up communicating by actually talking to someone #actuallytalkingtosomeone or by writing a letter on a piece of paper and mailing it, #whatsthiswhitethingwithmarksonit then the instant and brief communication offered by certain aspects of social media isn’t going to resonate, because the need has not been created in your psyche.

Ha! #lightbulb#!!! Since I, as middle-aged person, have not spent my formative years in a world filled by social media #alternateuniverse my communication needs #darkages have been filled with what I’ve already got. #whatsthiswhitethingwithmarksonit #actuallytalkingtosomeone

Good. That’s solved. #alrightythen Now onto other conundrums of modern living #passwordmanagerpasswordiswhat?#whydon’tihaveanyfollowers?

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Alrighty then, Highland Park

Week 6 of being on the road and all that denotes

There comes a time in the ‘cross calendar when the weather stops being perfect and turns cold. Or, god forbid, rainy and cold. This past weekend at Highland Park was cold. Not the numbing cold of NBX (that wind off the water in the shady pit…) but in the low 30’s at 9:00 am when Richie likes to arrive at the venue for his 12:00 start. Brrrr.

I set up the tent-thingie near the lake, but quickly realized that we really wanted sun, not shade, and so I angled the new camp chairs outside of the tent, in the sun. I bought the chairs last week, thinking that as long as we have a tent-thingie now, we may as well have a few chairs to sit on too. Where this dissipation will end, I cannot say. Will a Hibachi be next?

Highland Park is a racer’s race. The spread-out course seems designed, not for spectators, but for the racers. The loudspeaker pretty much only reached the finish line area and nowhere else. These are not complaints. It was nice to just work in the pits, sit in the sun in between, and tend to the needs of our racers. I needed a low- key weekend. Because at this point, I have to admit I am weary. All the driving and packing and unpacking and trying to get work done in between grinds down the sparkle, so low-key was a respite. And another respite was that my order from The Feed arrived just before we left for Highland Park.

The Feed is a company that sells energy food for athletes. You go to their website, select what you want from a billion choices and then they box it up and send it to you. They are, hallelujah, a sponsor and so every month during the season everyone on the RS team gets a coupon.

I avoid wheat, so when I get my coupon, I activate the gluten-free filter on the website and go to town. Epic bars are my all-time favorite so far. For me it’s not about energy before the race, it’s about lunch. When I’m working in the pits, I often don’t have time to go find food, but with Epic bars, that’s not a problem. I pull one out of my back pocket (where I have tucked it for just such an occasion, and it also warms up nicely—oh don’t give me that look) and tear in. Epic bars are essentially pemmican—dried meat and nuts and berries—which may sound like Little House On The Prairie-subsistence-food-awful, but I’m here to tell you that pemmican is really good and I don’t feel a bit sorry for the early explorers anymore.

Having The Feed food makes things so much simpler on the road. So much so that when my first order (for September) was miscued and didn’t arrive until the middle of October, I felt very put out and had to remind myself that this is a gift and be grateful, you ninny. But that’s how much I depend on it.

Yes, week 6 is a grind, but with the right food and the right company (oh, and a little whiskey, thanks to the lovely foresight of Dan Chabanov) it ends up just fine.

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Alrighty then, Charm City

‘Cross done right.

Richie and I live in the country. Not the suburban-we-have-a-big-yard-with-some-woods-behind country, but real country. Our town encompasses a little over 37 square miles, with a population of 780. Doing the math, that makes 21 people per square mile. By contrast Amherst, a nice medium-sized town, has 1400 people per square mile. All this is to say that we mostly have no idea what day it is or when there is a holiday or anything. We work for ourselves and at home. Calendars are not really part of our lives, except for ‘cross racing season and even then we just block out the days we’re gone and I use that info to set things up with my neighbors, who take care of the birds.

Charm City race is on Columbus Day weekend—a three-day holiday that completely eluded us. Until that is, we started driving. We figured, oh about seven hours of driving, and so we decided to start about 11:00 or so on Friday. (I can see you rolling your eyes…yes, I can.) We’re not prompt, so we actually left at about noon. Perfect timing, as we found out, to hit New York City right at 5:00. I was okay with the New York thing, thinking we were stupid to leave so late, but when the traffic snarl extended past New York and through New Jersey, pokey, pokey, pokey, it finally dawned on me that something else was going on—and that something was a holiday weekend. So, it took us eleven hours instead of the planned seven. And then we had to drive home on Sunday. (But that took only nine.)

Even with the god-awful drive, though, Charm City charmed me. Yes, it’s true the team did really well, and that helps with the bonhomie—BrittLee was on the podium both days and Dan and Sam either in the top ten or close. A racing team thrives on these kinds of results—it is like pouring oil on the machinery. But I saw something else happen, something important, that these excellent results were the place-markers of. I saw a determination in those kids that I’ve never seen before. I saw them grab confidence and never let it go. I saw them believe in what they were capable of—and act on that belief. It made my heart swell with pride.

It reminded me of a conversation I had with Joe Pugliese when he was at our house photographing Richie for Bicycling magazine this summer. Joe has photographed bazillions of famous and successful people, people like Steve Jobs and Oprah Winfrey, so during lunch I asked him if he noticed any particular quality these people had in common. He said, “confidence, they have a lot of confidence.” We went on to speculate whether they have confidence because they are successful or their confidence made them successful. Either way, we decided, the confidence was fundamental. And that’s what I saw happen this weekend: the kids seized confidence.

But the charm of Charm City was more than successful results. Charm City has a vibe—perhaps it’s the MAC series—that made it a real pleasure to attend. It lacked the feeling of hype, of frantic-pushy commercialism, of bigger, bigger, bigger, that I have felt at other races. In addition, the course was laid out so that we pit-people could see plenty of it, and let me just say that is a big perk when you spend most of your day in the pit. There were gobs of relaxed families and dogs (Buddy appreciated that) soaking up the perfect weather, and really good ethnic truck food. The little kids’ racecourse was set up in the infield, so it was easy to observe as I trudged to and fro from the pits. Watching tiny tots haul their bikes over the six-inch barrier, determined and inspired (and hilarious) makes you realize what these race days really should be, and are here—a celebration. And parking. Was not a problem. At all.

Charm-ing City.

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photo by Erik Annis

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Alrighty then, Providence

Cha-Ching

While biggish with crowds and busy with vendors and billed as the crescendo of “holy week”–the self-congratulatory label given to the racing week bookended by Gloucester and Providence–Providence is also a very expensive race for participants. You pay to park in club row. You pay more to park in the UCI section. You pay lots to race. But not to worry, there’s a race for nearly everyone (“Caucasians with Webbed Feet”) which is why the elite men’s race doesn’t start until 5:05 pm. By 6:10, when this final race of the day ends, the other race is on to try to pack up before it is pitch dark.

I do hope that whoever is raking in all this money is using it for good and not just exploiting the popularity of ‘cross to line their own pockets. At the vendors’ row and conspicuous at the Builder’s Ball was the presence of the East Coast Greenway Alliance, and I’m all for getting them some funds. Having been hit by cars twice, Richie being hit twice, and a friend killed, I am a big proponent of safe places to ride bikes.

Late morning Saturday, we pulled into the venue, where we informed the person guarding club row that we had paid for two spaces. “Oh,” said the person, “there aren’t any left.” They shrugged. “But you can try.” It was then, with sinking heart, that I realized this was a replay of last week’s event at Gloucester when we were shuffled around for 40 minutes because our paid spaces in club row were non-existent.

Ever since the fairly recent advent of charging race-goers to pay for parking if they don’t want to be stuck in the North Forty has become standard procedure, there has been a quick slide down that slippery slope. Just because you can charge for parking doesn’t mean you have unlimited parking to sell. Obviously what is happening is that these spaces are being oversold.

How to prevent this? Here’s a suggestion.

Measure out how much actual space you have to sell for parking. How many linear feet is it? I think using one of the line-thingies that you wheel along would work well. Or even a pedometer—an average person’s stride is two and one-half feet.

Divide this number by the average largest length of the vehicles you expect to occupy those spaces. Add eight or so feet to accommodate maneuverability. This is the number of spaces you have to sell.

When you send out the information wherein people start to reserve parking spaces, include on that form a space where the name of the club/team is indicated and how many spaces they want. Make a spreadsheet with this same information on it.

On the weekend of the race, give a copy of the spreadsheet to the person(s) responsible for policing the paid parking areas. Have this person stop each car and ask for the team name. Check off the team name and one parking space on the spreadsheet. If the club has bought more than one space, there will still be a blank space showing until that next team car comes and claims it. If a third car comes along and says they are from that team, the person will look at their spreadsheet and see that both spaces the team has paid for have been claimed. Ergo, no space for car three and so it must go to Siberia to park.

Yes, organizing an event like a big bike race is complicated, but surely the paid parking can become just one more integer added to the equation and not the random hope-for-the-best scenario it seems to be now.

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The Red-eyed Vireo and the Pope

Not eight feet outside my studio window, a red-eyed vireo has built a nest. It is a wondrous thing of fine birch bark, pine needles and spider silk. The spider silk not only holds it together, but also holds it suspended on the twigs. I have been watching the vireo daily and I’m impressed with the quiet, most decidedly non-instant gratification life she leads. She sits on the nest, sometimes with eyes closed, for hours on end. During thunderstorms and driving rainstorms (the little basket-nest tossing, but holding) she sits. Once or twice a day, her mate visits the tree next to her and sings out a few lines of his song to say “this place is taken.” I’m flattered they have chosen to build their nest so close to our nest, as it were. I feel like I’ve been accepted as a part of nature.

Observing this ordinary, but still wondrous, natural event brings Pope Francis’s recent Encyclical to mind. He knows what he’s talking about. We are from, of, and nurtured by nature, whether we know it or not. Our culture of instant gratification—the way we try to fill the holes in our souls with things—is a direct consequence of our emotional and physical separation from the natural world.

The closer we nest ourselves into the natural world–noticing it, living in it, absorbing it–the closer we are to the small rhythms that nurture our well-being.

Because what is well-being after all but simply a sense of belonging?

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