Thursday, June 30, 2005

Housekeeping Notes

You may have noticed some tinkering going on here lately. There's the new look of course, but I've also added some links to the sidebar over there. First, there's 72hrchikdom, the blog of a friend of mine from Savannah (one night returning to IRC can lead you to some good finds apparently). I also added a link to a coworker's blog, This was fascinating reading during her recent trip to Asia.

Yesterday, I added two new blogs from some very old friends. Grande Con Carne is a blog focusing on film run by my fraternity big brother. Finally, Dilettante in Distress is a brand spanking new blog by one of my oldest friends; strangely enough, she is the indirect source for this site's title. Small world ain't it?

Go show them some love. All eight of you!

NP: "Mr. Jones" - The Psychedelic Furs

Wednesday, June 29, 2005

Newspapers of the World

All in a flash (or in Flash as the case may be). I don't have much to add here, but I've seen this a couple of places today and think it's pretty cool to see what's on the front page of many different newspapers.

Today, for example, most US papers lead with a say-nothing speech by someone I'm too tired to get worked up over anymore (I think the medical term is outrage overload).

NP: "That' When I Reach for My Revolver" - Mission of Burma

Tuesday, June 28, 2005

The Pink Bits

The sun finally set on the British Empire. And no one really noticed.

Screen grab here. Guess the source of the post title, and win a free case of Turtle Wax! (Subject to complete unavailability.)

Via Metafilter.

Now They're Messing with the National Pastime

Just when you thought the Washington Republicans couldn't get any weirder, you get this. What business do congressional Republicans have telling MLB who or who cannot buy a stake in one of their teams? Aren't they the party of free enterprise [Ed. Note: for those who have already got theirs and vote right, apparently].

Apparently demonizing George Soros as sometime kind of atheist bent on destroying Christianity--all the while hurling thinly veiled anti-semitic slurs his way--is not enough. Now they want to restrict him from making an investment in the Washington Nationals. Why? Maybe because he is better at their chief constituency's game than they are. He is richer than mammon after all.

No, that's not it "at all". It's to keep politics out of business [Ed. Note: business in politics, however, is another matter all together]. Their hypocrisy is just too much sometimes.

Update: Here's the take from Sportsfrog and the Spofi thread for some more righteous indignation (and some minor typo-fixing).

NP: "There is a Light That Never Goes Out" - Nada Surf

Saturday, June 25, 2005

A Song for St. Mary's: A Poetic MapIII. The Collect

This 10,000 acres forms a funnel
to collect rain let loose before
loaded thunderheads roll over the ridge--
Collects and brings together to make one.
Each raindrop finds its way by paths beyond
remembrance to join, taking greater homily
into the desert to live among men
until it passes into the primordial
sea, from whence it came, ascending,
evaporating to hasten yet back
across the fields to gather once again.
No water is ever truly still, but
it will collect again unto itself.

Previous Entries:
I. Prelude

II. Processional

St. Mary's: A Return

Last weekend, I returned to St. Mary's for the first time in years. Sure, I had been there in that time, but I hadn't stayed very long, just lurking around the parking lot and walking up only a couple of hundred yards into the gorge. So, last weekend was the first time that I had spent any real time there in about five years. My father and I hiked the trail for about two and a half hours, and it was pretty close to the twentieth anniversary of my first trip. There were a few others lurking about (four other cars), but we didn't encounter them until we were on our way out of the gorge and heading home for a lunch of fresh peas and new potatoes.

Once there, it didn't take me very long to notice that my mental map of the gorge didn't match the current conditions. The trail was different, and less passable in many ways. From time to time, my mental image and what I saw matched, but it was more rare than had been the case every other time I've been there.

This is one of the few places that matched what I expected. About 500 yards up the trail, the river zig-zags around some rock harder than the sandstone that comprises the riverbed. Here, I once saw a snake trying to devour a trout. The trout was struggling much as it would on a fly line, only the snake, a copperhead I think, had it by the tail and was hanging on for dear life as the trout swam downstream, surely a sign of distress on its part.

Most of the trail, however, was much changed. My father told me that Isabel had caused quite a flood last summer, seriously altering the lay of the land. This became very clear a bit further up the trail. Where once the trail had followed an intermittent stream, now the path was shoved up against the wall of Cellar Mountain and the old stream bed had become the main course of the river.

Unfortuntely, the walled in spring feeding the intermittent stream, the one that I was once so happy to find on my first trip here, no longer exists. A bit further up, we saw why the new course was necessary.

The photo doesn't really do justice to the sheer amount of river rock that had been deposited during last summer's flood. There's no way a river could find its way through this--short of another flood of course. Where the river did remain, the damage was still very noticeable: many trees, some of them very large, we torn out, their roots undercut by the raging current.

The further we progressed upstream, the more familiar things became. As the gorge narrowed, most of the damage seemed to be limited to the actual stream bed, rather than seriously altering the rest of the gorge. The first crossing still looked much as it had (only my father is a little older now than he was 20 years ago and probably in better shape).

I suppose that this kind of thing happens more often than not. I just hadn't witnessed it. The last time the gorge was altered in this way was probably in 1969 when Camille tore through the area (I was only a month old, so I have no recollection or frame of reference for it). Before then, apparently you could drive almost to the falls. In retrospect, that flood probably led directly to St. Mary's being declared a wilderness area, since the flood destroyed most of the roads in the area, leaving them barely trails in some places.

So, as time goes on, the Wilderness Act does its work. There's really no need to mourn the loss of what I had held onto for so long. It was only a mental image, a map learned by many, many trips. Now I know how my father felt on our first hike there. Everything was familiar, but a bit different. The air still smelled the same. The same trees and flowers and present. And always in the background, you could hear the rushing of the river. It just wasn't rushing exactly where you had expected it to be.

While the path is now a little harder to traverse, isn't that the case with anything that really matters. I don't want the hike to be easy. I don't want St. Mary's as a museum piece.

I want it as a living, breathing, vibrant parcel of what's left of wildness on the eastern seaboard.

Let the floods rage from time to time. Let the trees sprout, grow, and die without chainsaws. Let the trout prosper. Let wildness be.

View full photo set.

Previous Posts:
Part I - Introduction to a Place
Part II - The Beginning

NP: "Hickory Wind" - Bob Mould and Vic Chestnutt

Friday, June 24, 2005

Last Week's Top 10 Artists

A new Friday feature. Just what the heck have I been listening to? (Via Audioscrobbler.)

1. The Wedding Present
2. The Clash
3. Wilco
4. The Charlatans
5. U2
6. The Replacements
7. The Shins
8. The Church
9. Elvis Costello & the Attractions
10. ...And You Will Know Us by the Trail of Dead

That sounds about right to me, except for the U2 part. I don't recall hearing them that much over the last few months, not to mention last week. I'm sure the new White Stripes album will make this list next week.

And, just for fun, this was the most listened to track of the previous week: "Prince of Darkness" - The Mekons (3 times).

NP: "Whatever's Left" - Snow Patrol

Wednesday, June 22, 2005

Bloc Party Live

Thank God for NPR in many ways. Thanks to them, you can download an entire Bloc Party concert in D.C. on June 16. Go listen!

Monday, June 20, 2005

St. Mary's: The Beginning

It has been a few years since I had been to St. Mary’s wilderness, and even then, I only walked a few hundred yards upstream--not nearly enough to get a renewed sense of the place. Each time I only needed to reacquaint myself briefly with the map of the river and gorge that had been imprinted on my mind for many, many years. Even the briefest taste would bring the topographic lines, the blue lines of the streams, and the dotted line of the trail into fresh relief in my mind’s eye.

The first lines of this internal map began to take shape upon my first visit to the river. I can’t recall the exact year, but shortly after the St. Mary’s River Gorge was granted wilderness status (probably in the spring of 1985), my father took me hiking there for the first time. I remember waking up on a Sunday morning and my father asking me if I wanted to go hiking instead of going to church. As a 15-year old, this was all the excuse I needed, so we packed up some water and drove the ten or so miles to the head of the St. Mary’s trail.

All in all, the hike was uneventful; we proceeded up the trail noting the flora and fauna--Dad pointing out different varieties of trees mainly. He also took some close up photographs of some of the wildflowers we encountered. Unfortunately, I cannot recall what the species where, though I am sure he told me. Dad is good like that. He points out the unfamiliar, giving it a name, making it that less strange than the maples and elms in our yard. The only wildlife we saw other than the numerous birds was a small copperhead lying in a wet section of the trail that also was an intermittent stream feeding the river during wet seasons.

We proceeded up the trail, skirting the left side of the river mostly. From time to time, the trail would leave the river for a bit, and the temperature would seemingly increase as we left the sound of rushing water off to our right. The humid air of late spring would begin to press about us, making me thankful for the water that my father had thought to bring.

We also had a small map printed by the U.S. Forest Service that we referred to as we went. It provided general mileage marks on the trail and noted points of interest. I remember being excited to find the small walled in spring to the left of the trail that the map mentioned about a half mile up the trail. Eventually, we made the first crossing. Explored a bit of the main trail and made our way to the falls. The only abiding memory of first encountering the falls where I’d eventually spend so much time was the amount of trash that was left by less considerate hikers and campers. My father seemed very sad about it, saying, “A good sportsman leaves nothing but his footsteps.” I agreed wholeheartedly, a rare occurrence perhaps between a teenager and his father.

That’s all I recall about the hike itself. And there it would probably have remained if I hadn’t found myself returning to the river again and again. To hike. To camp. To fish for the native brook trout. Even to hunt grouse. As I covered more and more acreage of the wilderness area, it began to become an emblem to me, a symbol. Because I first encountered this spot that would become so important to me with my father, this effect was only enhanced. It has become a stand-in in my thinking for all the outdoor activities that I have done, both with my father and brother and on my own.

It stands in for all that I love about the natural outdoors, with all the threats that face it as well as all the opportunities for enjoyment and wonder that it provides. And all this I owe to my father, not only for the hiking trip that May 20 years ago, but also the time he spent taking me hunting, from the first time, sitting at his side with a cap gun during a dove hunt, to my first day off from school to hunt deer, when I lost my wallet and hunting license (and $5) to my first trips really hunting, where I was accepted somewhat as a man, despite my age--a coming of age of sort, especially during my trips to hunting camp in Highland County.

For all this and for all the environmental issues that I care about, the St. Mary’s Wilderness Area, threatened as it is by acid rain, has become part and parcel of the whole.

This is why I write about it. Thank you Dad.

Part 1 - Introduction to a Place.

A Song for St. Mary's: A Poetic MapII. Processional

What and where is Green Pond exactly?

Above Big Levels, the last sandstone foothill
jammed against the mountain’s toe so seamless
only geologists can differentiate
between it and the granite thrown over,
fruit of the Allegheny Orogeny:

The crest of the Blue Ridge and Green Pond.
An anomaly just above the levels,
perched water on perhaps the finest perch,
emerald jewel sunk in blue haze looking
outward to Shenandoah and downward
over long miles to Chesapeake Bay.

The bog seldom holds much water here
in this accidental aquifer lying
over a shale depression uncommon
in this range where igneous usurps
sediments with the tumult forgotten
(Only Atlantic's deep ocean knowledge
recalls Iapetus closed and plates crash).

Down a bit, orogenically tossed strata
still predominate the union of gullies
and springs into stream, the birth
of a saint.
                   Epochs of less resistant
rock carried grain by erosive grain
to seas past and present sculpted its course
even at this height. Hydrologic cycle:
it repeats and repeats anew: rain falls
and follows tracks long established--
drops cleave together to make a river
anew, for other waters are flowing on.

On the western shoulder of Flint Mountain--
elevation 3,400 feet
thereabouts--the prospects are gentle,
a good nursery for a nascent stream.

Mountain laurel and rhodedendron hem
either side, their blossomed limbs arch over
to meet just above the bed, entwined
fingers forming a newly leafy
canopy shading water, temperatures
plenty cool for brook trout fry to find home.
Before the branch is too old, while it jumps
over the smaller outcrops, Hogback Creek
leaps to join it from many feet above
cascading over outcropped charnockite,
a fall unheralded by any map,
and the river enters into the light
fully for the first time since its head.
It acquires its own flung branches; they meet
the St. Mary's in downward succession:
  Hogback Creek runs down into
                                                Chimney Branch
    Which in its turn meets another,
                                                   Bear Branch
         (at mines) then tames to marry
                                                    Mine Bank Creek
                 Joined at first crossing by
                                                  Sugartree Branch,
waters mingling with each next confluence.
And after the River has fled the gate
of Cellar Mountain's stony crest
and the grand prospect from Little Spy
a last thrall pays fluid tribute,
                                                 Spy Run
and it sneaks into the Shenandoah
shedding its name after such a journey
for a longer pilgrimage in older streams
past Buena Vista and Glasgow, Lynchburg,
Then Richmond and Williamsburg passed.
Jamestown, Portsmouth and the mouth of the James
at last steal by, and the waters parade
under and over I-64
to Chesapeake Bay only to mingle
with brethren born but one ridge north.

Previous Entries:
I. Prelude

Monday, June 06, 2005

Fair Warning

I wasn't kidding about the poetry. [Ed Note: Now you're driving away all eight readers, idiot!] For the poetry averse, a new St. Mary's prose post will soon follow. I can't decide yet between the flora or the geology (the fauna will follow at a later day... perhaps hunting season?).

A Song for St. Mary's: a Poetic MapI. Prelude

No roads lead there, they merely pass it by
ignoring a river's empire contained
by blue walls that guard a hidden fastness,
and blue blazes scream noli me tangere
with axe or saw or bags of lime.
Even the roads remember, though many
passersby forget. They are apparalled
in its stones, older than the petroleum
tar that binds them one to another.
The foresters and miners have left it
now to those few, hikers and fishermen
mostly, stumbling over the boulders,
detritus scattered by Camille's great tide
back in '69.
                         Back in the gorge,
dry leaves rattle on trees dessicated
by gypsy moths, the bells of St. Mary's.
They will only later drift to the slopes
where gravity's grip pulls them to water
jumping through quartzite, a vibrant stream.
The rivulet begins just below
granite crests to fall heedless to valley
below, to level and find its polite
name at Pkin, a mountain's untamed
last stand before agriculture prevails.
Stream and mount nurse the daughter of the stars.
Even in a dry season, water still
runs from its original granite home,
becoming the sandstone South in a minor
confluence just north of Vesuvius,
population 183--Appalachian
farmers a generation removed from
Montebello and the Tye River.


As you may have noticed, some slight tweaking has been going on here. I've increased the main content column--I was getting a little tired of moderately length posts stretching for-ev-er down the page.

I've also streamlined the comments process as an experiment. This experience has gone on long enough that I thought it time to make feedback easier [Ed Note: You'll have to post more though]. For now, anyone can leave comments, but if comment spam becomes a problem, I'll re-enable signups even if it is a bit less restrictive than before.

NP: Charlatans UK - "Title Flight"

Sunday, June 05, 2005

The Gentle Dram and Old and New Favorites

OK, so I'm a little behind here; offline deadlines and such. With that abbreviated apology for the delay, here's the report of our latest scotch tasting albeit a week late.

Before I get to the details though, I'd like to clear of the whole concept of what is going on here. Really, these tasting are not just an excuse for wannabe whisky snobs to get wasted on a Sunday afternoon. Really, I mean it. If mass drunkeness is involved, it's usually a non-compulsory activity that occurs after most of the expressions have been sampled and the gathering becomes more of a scotch drinking.

With that out of the way, on with the report. All the usual dram-o-philes where in attendence (John, Steve, Damon, and I got started just a little bit early with our own special expression). Once that was out of the way (we spent a lot of money on it, so we have to drink it sometime right?), we proceeded to the day's expressions.

First up was Tomintoul a 16 year old Speyside whisky. This whisky, used mostly in blends which makes single malts too few and far between, is nicknamed "The Gentle Dram." I'd have to say that it lives up to its nickname; it's a warm, light spicy malt with a bit of sweetness. Its short finish and presence on the front of the palate makes it a great starter scotch.

Next up was a 14 year old Scapa (from the Orkneys). Although we've tasted this before, it has been a long time, so it's return was welcomed. Being an island scotch, the dryness and slightly salty taste was expected, as was the spicy odor. It only had a hint of peatiness though (too little for my personal tastes). The reason for this? The peat actually comes from the source of water for the distilling, not smoking the malt. This one also had a very looooooong finish, in which the flavors continued to bloom.

Then, we had the return of one of our all time favorites, an Aberlour (an easy top 5). This time, we sampled a 15 year old sherry wood finish (a slightly different expression than we are used to). The smell? classically balanced Aberlour. All things considered, this is a very balanced scotch and the nuances only become clear as the taste lingers. You only get a hint of the sherry wood. It is very smooth, crisp, and clean, though it can be a bit anaesthetic at first.

The Glenmorangie 12 year old madeira finish was up next. This expression was also a bit salty and peaty with a short burst of flavor and a quick finish. All and all a good expression. Its main attraction is that it's available at many bars, whereas some of the others we sample aren't. That gives it a few extra points.

The real surprise of the afternoon was the Caol Ila 12 year old Islay (pronounced cuel weela and meaning the sound of Islay). We'd heard of this scotch in Iain Bank's book, but we had never seen it in Atlanta. As luck would have it, Green's started stocking it recently, so I rushed to pick up a bottle. It has a very peaty nose without the smokiness that can be found in the other Islay scotches. Once tasted, the peatiness carries through even though it is very dry. The taste can best be described as "chewy sweet" (thanks Christian!), and it is more creamy than bitter. The sweetness surprised us all the most. It is also very light on the brininess usually associated with Islay scotches. It has a mellow, long, smooth, and buttery finish and has a hint of a minerally taste. The consensus? A new favorite.

Finally, we tried the Dalmore Cigar Malt (no age given), and we didn't even have any cigars. The color of this was almost orange, so we were expecting a strong taste (to fight off the flavor of a cigar). It had a very earthy nose with a good dose of smoke [Ed note: did they put the cigars in the malt?] with a hint of herby, greenleafy essence such as tobacco itself [Ed Note: Way to be precise Damon]. The taste was actually very buttery and sweet and smooth with a hint of spice and clove, making for a very christmassy taste. Our only test for the cigar part was cigarettes, and it did hold its own with them.

NP: "Sometimes" by Ash

Saturday, June 04, 2005

Ted Leo + Pharmacists + Others

Another Friday show at the Variety Playhouse. This time it was Ted Leo and the Pharmacists with Baltimore's The Oranges Band and Birds of Avalon out of Raleigh, NC. We also ran into a traveling pack of regulars from The Usual: my erstwhile dartner, the lust list bartender, and the badminton boys among others. I'd say the consensus was that all of us enjoyed the show... mostly (more on that in the next paragraph so read on).

We arrived about halfway through the Birds of Avalon's set. I can't say I enjoyed it too much, so I won't. It sounded like some weird amalgam of southern rock and Led Zeppelin: dueling guitars, pompous vocals, and driving drums (and the occassional harmonica). Trust me on this. It didn't work for me, sending me scurrying out for a cigarette and another beer much earlier than would normally would happen.

Thankfully, The Oranges Band played in a genre a lot more similar to Ted Leo's, if a bit moodier at times. At the beginning of the set, there was a bit of a problem picking out the lead singer's vocals, but they became clearer throughout the show. They've made some of their songs available on their website: Around the Track and nextstopexjock from The Five Dollars EP; and All the Ghosts in Your House from Nine Hundred Miles of Fucking Hell, as well as some live tracks (check the music section of their website for these).

Ted Leo and the Pharmacists then took the stage as many of the large crowd streamed to get as close to the stage as possible. After making a couple of apologies about the state of his voice and the wound on the drummer's hand, they ripped right into their set (the voice and wound didn't seem to make any difference at all). When I say ripped, I mean ripped--hard, fast, and tight. All their songs seem to be played a little bit faster than their studio equivalents.

Ted Leo was very active, and if you didn't know he used to front a punk band, his mannerisms would easily have given it away. They played most of the songs from their latest album, as well as some from the back catalog. Perhaps my favorite part of the night was the beginning of the encore when Ted himself (without backup) covered Dirty Old Town by the Pogues. He played two songs like this, and they really had a Billy Bragg vibe in a good way.

The verdict. After a questionable first band of the evening, a great show.

Ted Leo has made some mp3s are availabe for download in the audio section of his website, though the quality isn't always that great. Some of his newer songs are available at Hug Robot Radio, an mp3 blog run by Scott, formerly of Jersey Shore, et al.

NP: "War Begun" by My Morning Jacket.