P T C E #2 (more White Rock Mountain)

Just an unimaginative follow up to the previous post. The trail up White Rock Mountain from the Middlesex side of the Worcester Range is quite easy; suitable for the unfit, the relatively unprepared and ill-dressed, very young, old, etc. It really is just a peaceful walk in the woods though it does gain 1500 feet in elevation.

The trailhead, however, is located off of North Bear Swamp Road (not E Bear Swamp Rd, and not S Bear Swamp Rd...) and to call this a 'road' is a gross libel, and an extremely generous and expansive use of the term 'road'. I didn't even drive in all the way in my little Focus because I couldn't tell if it was the road, or a logging road for use by trucks and skidders, or someone's disused driveway that would dead-end in front of a trailer with cars up on blocks in the yard and lots of mean dogs running loose.

McMansions on the hill. Two things are evident in this photo of Mt. Mansfield:

1) The almost total lack of snow (even man made snow -- it's been too warm)

2) The bare November woods show the big houses creeping up the side of the mountain, a pox upon the land. Stowe Mountain Resort is putting in a huge and expensive, very upscale development right at the base of Smugglers Notch; they are trying to position themselves as a four season resort, but still, who wants to come to Vermont to watch cold rain fall all winter... which is pretty much what happened last ski season.


Post Thanksgiving Caloric Expenditure

And now for something completely new (at least on this blog)... I bought a new camera on Labor Day, it is a Canon Powershot s3 is; it is not a dSLR but has many dSLR-like features, most of the time I am just leaving it in manual mode and finding the best settings to use by trial and error. One of the distinguishing features of this camera is that it has excellent video capablities.

After I had to drag myself to work on Friday for a few hours I managed to hike a small local mountain on Saturday. It's the end of November and there is not much snow and ice evident, even on the high peaks of the Presidential Range, more evidence of climate change. It was a great day to be out as it was nice and quiet in the woods and there was plenty of warm hazy sunshine.

Anyway I did find some ice with water running under it that looked either like a) nature's lava lamp or b) sperm (recalling old sex ed film strips of my youth) so I shot some video of this, and then a murky panorama of the summit, and when I got home I hacked around with Windows Movie Maker, and voila! The sound clip is just something that came with the pc as a sample but it sort of works. Eva has nothing to worry about...I'm sure better videos are mashed together every day in elementary schools around the country.


November Churchyard

I like November; the gray stripped down landscape is somehow appealing, and it is also something of an interruption between the traffic and congestion of foliage season and the enforced saccharine bonhomie of a ski resort town in winter.

Just some images from the graveyard in Stowe, the sun is low in the sky and consequently the light is pale, wan and watery. Lines from "Elegy written in a Country Churchyard" seem appropriate, especially as the stone carver made typos (I can empathize) and had spacing issues on many of the tombstones:

Yet ev'n these bones from insult to protect
Some frail memorial still erected nigh,
With uncouth rhymes and shapeless sculpture deck'd,
Implores the passing tribute of a sigh.

The epitath (note spacing issues) reads "Behold my friends as you pass by / As you are now so once was I / As I am now so you must be / So prepare for death & follow me.


Thanksgiving 2006

To the very far-flung (and relatively few) readers of this blog, Happy Thanksgiving. Without delving into the whole sad saga of the fate of the North American Indians, Thanksgiving is a much more wholesome holiday than Christmas, which (as many have noted, it is a very trite observation) has devolved into a grotesque festival of capitalism based on buying things (Nov. 24 is "Buy Nothing Day" -- I want a buy nothing life...).

I mention far-flung readers because I noticed that someone in Mongolia (!) spent some time here. A Peace Corps volunteer in an Internet cafe in Ulan Bator? If so, thanks for being there and I admire what you've done and who knows, perhaps I will join some day. Or perhaps a university student learning English? Who knows? This blog is becoming more pictures and less words but some people have told me that it is at least slightly interesting so thanks.

Visitor from Mongolia:

For the first time in my adult life I went all out and cooked a traditional Thanksgiving meal for myself (the fact that I wasn't alone provided some incentive). The turkey soaked in brine overnight in a sap bucket and the roasting pan set up was definitely cobbled together, the bird sat on an inverted tray from an old long-lost toaster oven. Surprisingly it all came out really well and I was happy with the outcome.

Bird skewered together, it looked bizzare but worked quite well!

Out of the oven (bird 'resting' in a different pan, Martha Stewart I am not):

Just a couple of autumnal images:


Barre: Downtown and Hope Cemetery

These are just more pictures of Barre, documenting the decline of the downtown. Wal-Mart opened a store in a nearby mall and consequently several local stores have closed, the downtown is not thriving. When I graduated college (20 years ago) I wound up working at a publishing firm located just south of here, and Barre was the nearest 'big' town, and I can remember shopping at some of the places that have now closed.

Homer Fitts was a true dinosaur; a small independent department store. It closed early this year.

Brooks just moved but no one has taken the old space:

Lash was a furniture store that closed, it's a great old building, but I can't imagine a new business moving into such a large space with conditions there as they are at present.

Elia Corti was murdered at the Labor Hall (see previous post) in 1903.

On the way home from this trip I went to the mall with the Wal-Mart (I hadn't been in this place in at least 15 years, as it is nothing special, and not very prosperous). The Wal-Mart was playing sacred music (Ave Maria!) on the PA system and was all decked out for Christmas two weeks before Thanksgiving. I know it is a cliche to comment on this but I didn't care for this experience at all (I rarely go to malls) and I soon fled the scene without spending any of my money.


Barre Images: Granite Sheds and Labor Hall

Barre is a small very working class city in central Vermont. It has kind of fallen on hard times but the granite industry remains active even as tastes change and competition from abroad threatens the domestic stone cutting industry. Unlike many places today it is a ungentrified place with a lot of history that is still evident without having to look too hard, it would be interesting to poke around the archives of the city library, they recount the waves of immigration in the city and what has changed (and has not) over time.

These photos, which don't have any particular merit, were taken on a very gloomy Sunday morning, shades of gray from sky and rock.


Eva, The Deadbeat Club, her blog, and stupid Google tricks

I have known Eva, the madly creative, very funny and ultra talented auteur behind The Deadbeat Club, (a show on Burlington's public access TV channel) for over a year now, mostly vicariously through email. One Sunday evening I was mired in job-hunting inspired despair and happened upon her program quite by accident and liked it (the program celebrates its opposition to the mundane workaday world), so I sent Eva an email saying "your show is fabulous" which she appreciated. Then I watched more of her videos and I sent her a second email "umm, how long does this project take you...?" as this program incorporates a lot of different media (film, tv, music)edited together and is quite elaborate. I think it is pretty amazing that one person can do this repeatedly, the show has been on the air for two plus years now.

We managed to keep in touch even as I moved out of Burlington and can't watch DBC on cable anymore, just segments on You Tube and even as Eva (very self depreciating person sometimes) once threatened to 'stick her head in an oven'. She recently emailed me "let's meet for coffee sometime" so we did get together at one of Burlington's many coffee shops on a rainy Saturday.

As part of this I sent her the link to my Happy Birthday post only because it includes some pictures of me, for ID purposes only... Anyway she started reading this blog, (surprisingly) liked it, and wrote about it on her own very elaborate blog, with links. Then 802Online (run by Cathy Resmer) picked it up and added a link.

The consquences of these links to this feeble and very self absorbed attempt at blogging are that a search for "a midnight modern conversation" on Google shows that my blog is now ranked #2 for this term. Google uses links as a key determinant in how it ranks sites and I guess links from two far more active blogs than this one were enough to push me close to the top. When I started this I was kind of surprised that no one had used Midnight Modern Conversation as the title of a blog (maybe Hogarth is out of fashion with the blogging set) but the name seems kind of apropos: So thanks ladies!


The vibrant nightlife of Vermont's state capital

Just a few pictures taken while waiting to pick someone up at the bus station on a balmy wet November evening in Montpelier. Images are uncropped and unretouched.


Veterans Day 2006

I have been thinking a lot about the war in Iraq lately. I know that I should be more empathetic to the suffering of the people in Iraq but frankly it's hard to care much any more when all one sees through the media is a series of barbaric acts and religious leaders grasping at secular power. If there ever were people of goodwill in that country they seem to have been murdered or have fled for their lives. And, although it is the United States that naively upset the apple cart of Iraqi society, it wasn't like Iraq under Saddam was a peaceful bucolic place where citizens had any rights at all, rather the opposite. But the whole Iraq misadventure recalls a chapter of Huckleberry Finn... 'Overreaching Don't Pay'.

What I do think about, however, is how the people in the services are making terrible sacrifices every day and how utterly normal life here at home is. I spent August in my new place without TV or Internet so NPR was always on and I remember that they had an interview with an American general who had come back from the war and had just retired, and this officer was commenting on exactly the same thing. Slap a 'yellow ribbon' magnet on the back of the SUV and life goes on unchanged.

I don't really have much respect for the way George W. Bush has conducted his presidency (although lost in all the criticism is the fact that he didn't ask to be president on Sept. 11, 2001) but I have nothing but contempt for his utter inability and unwillingness to ask for any kind of sacrifice from people at home while fighting this war. He did state something about the US being "addicted to oil" briefly but that was just a passing comment rather than an attempt to change policies.

Another thing that has crossed my mind is how unnaturally good the economy is at this juncture while all this is going on, which makes me suspect that, at least in the short term, war is good for business -- though I have little doubt that the bills will come due at some point, and that the consequences will not be pretty. So I thought I would post this quote from a famous speech of noted peacenik Dwight Eisenhower here because I think it makes some valid points today:

Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired
signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed,
those who are cold and are not clothed. This world in arms in not spending
money alone. It is spending the sweat of its laborers, the genius of its
scientists, the hopes of its children. The cost of one modern heavy bomber
is this: a modern brick school in more than 30 cities. It is two
electric power plants, each serving a town of 60,000 population. It is
two fine, fully equipped hospitals. It is some 50 miles of concrete
highway. We pay for a single fighter with a half million bushels of
wheat. We pay for a single destroyer with new homes that could have housed
more than 8,000 people. This, I repeat, is the best way of life to be found
on the road the world has been taking. This is not a way of life at all, in
any true sense. Under the cloud of threatening war, it is humanity hanging from a cross of iron.

In this day of billion dollar war toys the figures today would be even more out of wack. And, I am far from pacifist, I have no doubt that in some teeming city Pakistan or Egypt or perhaps in some ghetto in Western Europe there are group of dedicated young men plotting to kill me, not me specifically, but me in the generalized American sense -- and I don't think that their cause is in any way just.


Going nowhere

I like finding and photographing decaying things, this old bus is rotting away off of Rt 100 near where I live.

The Worst Cyclocross Racer Ever

Well, not quite. But in my decidedly inauspicious bike racing 'career' (I really need to find a better word to describe this) I had the ability to go fast in criteriums and had some small mountain bike racing successes. So, I figured that cyclocross would be a good cycling discipline for me as it seemed to require elements of both.

I couldn't have been more wrong, and it wasn't exactly from a lack of trying. Part of the problem was the impossibility of training correctly in the short days after Labor Day while working for a living but I think that there was a more fundamental problem -- lack of core strength and fitness. Cross takes a lot of brute strength and this was always a limiter for me (just like it was time trialing or climbing high mountains). Cyclocross also taught me how little I knew about riding a bike as it places a huge premium on bike handling.

Despite my lack of success cyclocross was still mostly pretty fun. It was safer than road racing (no possible car-bike interactions, and crashes were usually much less of a big deal) while being more like bike racing than mountain bike racing, which always felt like just riding around in the woods to me. I also liked racing in cold weather, there was nothing better than racing on a crisp fall day in New England, about 45 degrees, with leaves blowing in the wind and the smell of BenGay (smeared on racers legs) in the air at the start. I remember that racing at the UMass/Amherst campus was one of the highlights of my season as the course wasn't too technical and placed a premium on speed rather than power... which did favor me -- not that I ever did well there!

Velonews contributor Patrick O'Grady wrote about his affection for cyclocross despite a similar lack of success/aptitude for the sport in a column called "A Dirty Girl", it's much funnier than anything I could come up with here. O'Grady's usually ranting about the drug-addled antics of the pro scene and Byzantine cycling federation politics...very funny reading sometimes.

Just a few old snapshots that I scanned:

Snow, very cold water, mud. Racing at the "Schoolhouse Cyclocross" at U32 high school in Montpelier. Time flies, I think this is c. 1997 or so. This venue had showers which was nice as I remember racing in the snow there at least three times.
Racing at Catamount, a year or two after the above picture was taken. Vermont races tend to be small events because racers from down south don't want to make the long trip up here.
The photo at the top is the start of one of the Gloucester, MA elite races in 2003, the very tall guy is Ryan Trebon, who looks like a basketball player but really is the current dominant domestic cross racer. Marc Gullicson is next to Trebon in the Verge series leader jersey.


Election follow up: How is Rich Tarrant like a can of Campbell's Soup?

...The answer is, he's not. Campbell's soup conveys a clearly defined, positive message...something the Tarrant campaign never seemed to get around to. While I don't share most Vermonter's adulation of the shrill and humorless Bernie Sanders -- who, it must be said, apparently does know how to deliver constituent services -- like most people, I found the Tarrant campaign to be distasteful, and I'm glad it's over.

Campbell's brand message: "mmm mmm good!"

Tarrant campaign message: "umm, I have lots of money, I can buy lots of advertising, but umm, beyond that?"

I think the worst Tarrant ad was the TV spot featuring some elderly Vermonter carrying on about some vote cast by Sanders in the past, and this old guy is rattling on about how Sanders was in favor of letting child molesters loose or something... and it came across as really lecherous, creepy and dirty. [Like, it made me imagine the narrator committing unnatural acts with the cows in the barn.] Who needs that? Anyway Tarrant lost convincingly and spent over $80 per vote in a self indulgent, self financed campaign. I can think of a lot better ways to spend $7M than to fill the coffers of WCAX with a bunch of slick but content-less ads.

And what is it about Vermont Senate seats and wealthy Republicans? Tarrant followed the ignominious path first travelled by Jack McMullen... who was defeated by movie star/dairy farmer Fred Tuttle in the 1998 Republican primary.


Men at work on a Saturday in Montpelier

More mostly uninteresting pictures that are part of my learning curve with my new camera, taken on a Saturday in Montpelier, the small capital of this small state. It was the first time I had walked around here in a long time.

Montpelier is presided over by Ceres, goddess of agriculture, but perhaps a god of industry would be appropriate as well?

This was a mid October day with brilliant blue skies and no haze...truly one of the best days of the year.

Painting. I know these pictures are the very definition of 'prosaic' but I am still learning the new camera and wanted to take pictures of something other than butterflies, mushrooms, the moon, etc. -- my usual subjects.

The Langdon Street Bridge has been replaced, and the contract stipulated big penalties if the project was not completed on time, hence the weekend work.

Apparently it doesn't take much to draw a crowd in Montpelier on a Saturday.