Thursday, March 30, 2006

And Listened to Cicadas Sing
I've been recently listening to the On Demand Bluegrass music channel a lot. I ended up buying this tune from Rhonda Vincent off of iTunes after hearing it first on the TV. I like the way her voice dovetails with the fiddle and the banjo. And pretty much anything from Alison Krauss & Union Station that comes on is excellent. I listen to the music and I imagine myself soaking in the alpenglow of a early evening Appalachia sunset. The air is heavy with perspiration and the aroma of rhododendrons. The buzz of insects hangs in the background as fireflies flare in the descending night. People have gathered for a barn party - where the intensity of music, food, and strong mountain brew nourish the heart. A warm breeze picks up from the valley hollows and crests over the surrounding peaks and mountain balds. The music plays on, each song more bittersweet than the last as the conclusion of night nears and the illuminating bonfires dwindle.

I don't know if such a place exists, but it is where I am carried to as I listen.

Saturday, March 25, 2006

Drop the Phone and Back Away from the TV
I'm real tempted one of these weekend mornings to call up C-SPAN and give America a piece of my mind. Most weekends I have real trouble sleeping in, either because I'm so used to waking up early every morning anyways, or the cat meows like crazy to be let outside, or I'm suffering a shamespiral or thinking about work, etc etc. Anyways, I get up early on the weekends and I find myself watching the call-in news discussion show that's on C-SPAN. All sorts of nuts from around the country (especially weirdos from the West coast - where it must be like 4:30AM for them - who watches C-SPAN at that time???) call in and give their $0.02 worth. One morning the topic was about baby boomers and one author's belief that they are truly the greater of all "Greatest Generations". Feeling my Gen X nerves rankling at the very thought of such an assertion I sallied forth to get the phone and dial. Funny though, I thought my wife would get a kick out of me telling her that I called C-SPAN, so I turned on the VCR too to record the moment (in the event that I got through and on the air).

Funnily enough, she woke up at this time and came downstairs, only to witness me standing there by the living room window, with phone & VCR remote in hand, attempting to get through the line.
"Uh, I was just uh...calling C-SPAN, honey..."

Someday I will be successful. And then all of America will be talking.

Would She Rather That I Get Twelve Pumps?"
Mrs. Rants was amazed that I ate six strips of bacon and a fried egg for breakfast a few days ago. Six strips! Six strips!!!

Sunday, March 19, 2006

On Frozen Pond
 The Rants headed out into the Whites again this weekend. Given last week's difficulty in ascending higher elevations, we decided to try something different and keep to a lower elevation by hiking to a mountain pond rather than go for a summit. We figured this would lessen our chances of encountering problems with ice. Our goal this time was to hike to Flat Mountain Pond, a nice secluded spot tucked away in the Sandwich Range Wilderness. The benefit of altering our hiking approach was that it encouraged us to hike to a location that we wouldn't normally seek out. Virtually every time we hike, the goal is to reach a summit for the far-reaching views. This time, by seeking out a secluded pond, we'd be treated to a different perspective on the Whites.

Again, like last week the drive to the trailhead was an exercise in expert navigation along roads plagued with ferocious frost heaves. At one point I was forced to slow down to 20MPH to give me a better ability to spot and dodge suspension crunching dips in the road. The trailhead is located in what I believe to be one of the more intriguing corners of New Hampshire - the Wonalancet / Sandwich region. From the Mass / NH border, civilization creeps northward up the major river valleys and into the Lakes region. Historically speaking, with only low lying hills as obstacles, towns and villages were established along productive river and valley corridors and connected by a network of roads. The northern reach of this mass of development ends at the foot of the Sandwich Range. Thus, the towns of this area, including Sandwich, North Sandwich, Tamworth, and Wonalancet have a frontier feel about them. They mark a dividing line in New Hampshire between the broadly populated South and the sparsely populated Whites and Great North Woods region. One gets a sense when visiting these towns that neither region claims them. It is an untouched corner of the state that hints of a past and yet disguises a future. One cannot ignore the isolation of these communities - a condition I find strangely appealing. There is a timelessness here that demands further discovery. Finally, having arrived at the trailhead (at the end of a lonely gravel road leading past large farmhouse retreats), we booted up for the trek.

The trail follows an old longer road for much of its way. We made a detour to follow an alternate route (the Bennett Street Trail) that meanders streamside past attractive frozen pools and rapids. Some sections along the trail required care, but for the most part we breezed through this section. The trail then made a brief but steep ascent to rejoin the main logging road trail that we used to gain further access into the backcountry. The grade was quite easy and gradual. Along the way we encountered progressively deepening snows and abundant animal tracks, including wild turkey, rabbit, deer, and moose. In fact, some of the mooseprints were absolutely enormous. I could only imagine the size of the animal that happened to trudge along before us this same stretch of trail.

The logging road meandered along and eventually brought us to our objective: Flat Mountain Pond. I was surprised by the size of the pond and also the great (but partially obscured) panoramic views that greeted us here at this site. Helpful to us, a wooden camp shelter provided us some respite from the cold temps and biting winds. We used the rest stop to fill up on pretzels and energy bars and take a few photos. The location of the camp greatly suggested to us that a repeat visit be made sometime later during warmer weather. I could only imagine how peaceful and inviting the experience would be relaxing along the shore during summer, watching the sun descend behind the surrounding mountains. Indeed, we both felt the place was attractive enough to warrant a return visit.

We cinched and hefted up our packs and made the return journey back to the car. The gradual descending grade made for an easy (but long) 5 mile return hike. The last 2 miles or so saw our energy wane and our feet get a bit clumsy but in time we made it back to the car and the drive home. Both of us looked forward to getting back to the house to chow on a good old boiled dinner (in celebration of St. Patrick) and hoist a few cold ones. Even in the waning days of winter one can still find a good hike.  Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 11, 2006

Mrs. Rants and I took advantage of the warm Saturday and went for a hike up Mt. Cardigan. The drive to the mountain was a minor ordeal. All but the major roads are riddled with potholes and frost heaves. I scraped the undercarriage a few times and the last few miles to the trailhead was on a muddy dirt road that was pretty rutted.

We parked at the Caridgan Mountain AMC lodge parking lot and shared the area with a pack of excited dogs waiting for their owners to quit wasting time checking their packs and equipment (lets hike already!). We ascended the Manning Trail which was pretty easy going for the most part. The lower trail was slushy with decent footing and as we ascended we got into icier spots that required more care (neither of us own crampons). The ledgy, rocky summit of Mt. Cardigan loomed up ahead; sunlight sparkling off of pockets of snow. The Manning trail takes an indirect route to Cardigan - you have to summit Mt. Firescrew first (so named due to an intense forest fire decades ago where witnesses saw cyclones of smoke swirling from the engulfed peak). Footing became treacherous as steepness increased. We had to go off-trail several times to avoid stretches of sheer ice. At last we broke out from the forest onto the first few open ledges. The wind was pretty strong but the views were good. A great feature of Mt. Cardigan is that it is situated away from the bigger peaks of the White Mountains. The benefit of being removed from those peaks when climbing Cardigan is that you get a chance to see the range in its entirety. You see all the various subranges in relation to each other - a view you don't often get when hiking directly in the Whites (where neighboring peaks can sometimes block you from taking in the long view).

After the first ledge we pushed further on. The trail dipped back into the woods where significant snow and ice had to be contended with. It became apparent that to continue any further (safely) required equipment we did not have. We really didn't want to slip and fall for the sake of going further, so we accepted the fact that our first view would also be our last. Not a big deal. It was great to be out in the woods again and with Spring dropping hints of its imminence we figured we got what we came for and more will be available in a few more months. Posted by Picasa

Saturday, March 04, 2006

New Paradigm
I have to say I'm sympathetic to those sorts who "go off the grid". There's just something appealing about that - the decision to live a radically different kind of life. Take the recent Winter Olympics for instance. The news couldn't help but focus in on Bode Miller's unique childhood circumstances - growing up in a shack deep in the New Hampshire forest. His family cultivated their own food and pulled water from a nearby stream. Hey, that's Live Free or Die as far as I'm concerned. I suppose the Off-Grid living and home schooling shaped to his personality and maverick behavior (humorously revealed at these Torino games). I have no problem with that. And take Tim Treadwell, the subject of the documentary Grizzly Man. Here's a guy who lives out in the Alaskan wild for months on end, living out of a tent and hanging out with grizzly bears and befriended foxes. The guy certainly had his issues (which are clearly revealed when watching the footage), but one can't help but notice the pure joy of living that the guy embraces at times. How many people can claim that kind of happiness? I can't help but be sympathetic to a guy who has decided to cash out from some elements of today's way of living.

I've just finished Allan Bloom's The Closing of the American Mind. Bloom's argument is that we as moderns have become completely unmoored from our traditions - and as a side argument he notes the result that we cannot even really contemplate the philosophical ideas that led to our nation's founding because our way of thinking now is alien to the ways of thinking that led to the creation of American democracy. It's not an excuse to say our way of thinking is better simply because we have come afterwards (and that anything that comes afterwards is an improvement on that which came before).

Indeed, as one commenter in the link writes: "We Americans mouth the words of Jefferson, but really believe Nietzsche. We do not believe in the primacy of reason. Equality and liberty are nothing more than prejudices for most of us. They are merely "values," and if pressed, most of us would not be able to explain why we like those values better than other ones.".

Bloom's book got me thinking about what life would be like today if modern philosophy hadn't made the complete break from the traditions and understandings of ancient philosophy (as Bloom suggests has happened). What would our "values" be like today? Would a guy like Dr. Phil even exist? Would questions in White House press briefings be grounded in altogether different premises than those that are used today? Would we have concerns such as why Johnny has bloodshot eyes when he comes home from school; or why Suzie needs access to Plan B? I don't know the answer to that. I don't know if these things are dependent on the underlying philosophy that guides us. But the notion that it indeed does have an influence is interesting. And it makes you wonder how different things would be if our philosophical tradition took a different direction. It's like living off the grid through thoughts. And one can only imagine.

Heading off to Neverland
I really hate when grown men announce that they are "heading off to the Little Boy's Room" aka the toilet. There's a guy at work who feels compelled to let us know that he's going to the bathroom and calls it as such. Man, grow one buddy. You're not a toddler.