3.30.2010

Vermont Maple Sugaring, 2010

This past weekend sugarhouses around Vermont were open to the public. It's a statewide promotion effort to publicize where real maple syrup comes from... as opposed to the brown-colored corn syrup solutions sold in plastic bottles in the grocery store (Aunt Jemima, etc.)

These images are from Morse Farm, Montpelier, Vermont.

The parking lot was full on a cool and blustery Sunday afternoon.

Visitors watching the sap boil. One thing I learned, was that Morse Farm does not use a reverse osmosis system, which concentrates the sap prior to boiling, because they feel that it affects the taste of the finished product.

If the sugarmaker has a giddy, sugary smile, it's because he told us that he drank a large glass of fresh syrup every day during sugaring season: If did that, I would end up asleep in a corner, curled up in a diabetic coma. I was once at an event where maple syrup was flowing freely... and I remember crashing very hard afterward as the sugar spike worked itself out of my system.

Even though the weekend was cold and rather bleak (typical mud season weather), Vermont had an early and very warm spring. The sugarmaker did say that the very early warm spell did not make for great sugaring and that the 2010 sap had a weaker than ideal concentration of sugar for syrup production.

If the trend of climate change (aka 'global warming') continues as predicted, sugaring may be something that disappears from Vermont in my lifetime. This graphic is from a website, Climate Change and Farming, published by the rather apolitical USDA and UVM Extension service.

3.22.2010

The Kali Gandaki valley, Nepal

The New York Times recently ran an article about trekking the Annapurna circuit in Nepal and the impact that building new roads will have on the area.

Prior to the roads being built, the area was not really accessible by motor vehicle, which meant it was very quiet -- no motorcycles, cars, buses, trucks, etc -- only foot traffic or mule trains. Given that Nepalis tend use the horns in the vehicles pretty much continuously, the quiet of the landscape is likely to be permanently disturbed.

As usual for a New York Times 'lifestyle' piece the article's tone is slightly pretentious:

"Many walks lay claim to the title of World’s Greatest Trek, but none of those are epics through valleys surrounded by five-mile-high peaks, staying every night in teahouses run by local villagers and stocked with good kitchens, cold beer and Snickers bars. The Annapurna Circuit marries natural grandeur, cultural immersion and relative luxury in a union found nowhere else."

Despite its slightly off-putting tone, it was interesting for me to read this article because I trekked in the Annapurna in the autumn of 2007, and the writer recounts visiting some of the same places I visited.

These images are basically in reverse chronological order.

My trekking group at the top of Thorung La pass, 17,700 feet. I'm dead center in the blue jacket and am violently ill at this point, everything was reeling in circles around me. Right after this photo was taken it was time to head down the pass to thicker air.

Look down into the deep valley.

Climbing towards Thorung La.

The Kali Gandaki is one of the deepest river gorges in the world. However, the writer of the Times article found it to be a drab and rather unappealing landscape:

"Walking down through the Kali Gandaki was a very different experience from the one we had on the way up. Then, we could barely go a hundred yards without bumping into another group of trekkers. Now the only human companions our group found on the road were Nepalis hauling goods too bulky and cheap to be worth transporting by vehicle, usually in giant wire-frame cargo containers cantilevered on their foreheads. The days were long and dusty in a dry landscape of mountainsides and fields rendered in a monochromatic palette of tan, beige and taupe. The towns were more developed and less charming."

In October 2007 the new road was being built up the valley. We walked past the construction crews, who worked with shovels and chisels to carve the road out of the mountainside. Nepal is a very poor country and labor is cheap, and machinery is comparatively rare.

Near the start of the trek, things were more lush and green.

I found trekking to be a somewhat jarring experience, as I did not fly halfway around the world to mingle with English-speaking westerners like myself:

"At the table with us sat three other young English-speaking travelers, and we settled into the same slow dance of smiles and pleasantries that in previous days had led to enjoyable evenings of conversation and beer followed by exchanges of e-mail addresses."

I may return to Nepal some day but if I do it may be to seek out the areas off the beaten track, far removed from encounters with others like myself. Of course, this could amount to a kind of 'poverty tourism' which is another subject altogether.

I wrote about my experience in Nepal pretty extensively on this blog, searching for 'Nepal' or 'trekking' should bring up the posts.

3.20.2010

Things change

Daffodils opening (indoors) on a blustery spring day.

Posted without comment, I'm completely bereft of ideas at this point in time.

3.14.2010

February Montreal trip, or the re-assertion of the private self

I find that I am becoming profoundly disinterested in all forms of 'social networking' and the constant barrage of personal minutiae from various online sources. It's tiresome and wearing, I have plenty to think about these days, but I am less and less interested in sharing my thoughts here or anywhere else online.

This disinterest is demonstrated by the fact that I've had these snapshots kicking around for more than three weeks and, short of sharing them on Facebook, haven't done anything with them.

In late February we made a quick trip to Montreal, it was fairly inexpensive because someone was selling a weekend package in the city (won in a radio call-in contest) at a big discount.

Looking down on Rue Sherbrooke from the hotel room. The hotel wasn't anything special but parking was available close by for $7CDN per day -- a great price -- and there was an amazing bakery just down the street for coffee and pastries in the morning.

We had tickets to a show by Quebecois-Inouk (Indian) singer Elisapie Isaac. It was entertaining and the sro crowd ate it up, however I felt like a monolingual rube as usual because she spoke solely in French throughout the show, telling funny stories -- I guess --and getting a big sound out of a very small band (two guys each playing multiple instruments).

The "Ambiosphere", an inflatable theater hosting some sort of multimedia event. Due to long lines we didn't go in.

The city was lit up for a midwinter Festival of Lights, kind of like a supersized First Night event. It was hard for out-of-towners like ourselves to make sense of the event due to its size.

Back to the USA.

A souvenir: The hotel was in the gallery district (near the Musee de beaux-arts) and so we picked this up. The image is not to scale... the painting measures 5x7 inches, about the size of a postcard. But the gallery owner was nice to chat with and treated us like important customers although we were not interested in some of his more impresive and expensive canvases (some costing in the many tens of thousands of dollars).

3.12.2010

2010: Random Photo Content #6: Looking south on the Long Trail

Looking south on the Long Trail, approaching Camels Hump, from January 2005: Another shot taken with my first digital camera, a Canon A60. Mad River Glen and Sugarbush North are visible in the distance.

Winter is winding down fast in Vermont, it proved to be a season of relative inactivity for me: I was never once out on my skis, and only used snowshoes a couple of times. This sloth was caused both by it being a relatively poor year for snow here, and, perhaps even more significantly, by grinding economic uncertainty, which is something that can have a pronounced paralyzing effect on me. As the days get longer, the remaining snow disappears and the sun rises higher in the sky I'm now slightly optimistic that some money may start flowing my way.

3.08.2010

Scoop: Burlington Telecom in the news again

At the risk of sounding like a tired, middle-aged, Glen Beck-watching crank, I return once more to this worn subject.

So, Seven Days made the Burlington Telecom situation the cover story last week, an in-depth, well-sourced expose that covers much of the ins and outs of the situation engulfing Burlington and its ill-starred and grossly mismanaged municipal telecommunications utility. WCAX also produced a story that contained some analysis why things are happening, as opposed to just reporting the facts ($50M in debt, default looming, credit rating downgrades, etc.).

As usual, however, I've been walking a lonely road with this mostly unread and extremely uninfluential blog, living and writing on the bleeding edge, far ahead of the curve, prescient and yet ignored.... these stories reach conclusions similar to what I've been saying here all along: Burlington Telecom is a poorly implemented example of a disastrously bad idea.

In an attempt to escape from this swampy mire of negativity, I now offer my attempt to make a positive contribution to the well-being of the citizens of Burlington.

Here's a small thought-experiment: If I had $50M to spend on making Burlington a better place, here's a smorgasbord of options that don't involve building a city-wide fiber optic network:
  1. Get rid of any other (non-Burlington Telecom related) hidden financial time bombs lurking on the city's books (ie, pension shortfalls), and offer property tax relief to homeowners. In this era of doing less with less, this would contribute to making Burlington an isle of prosperity in a rising sea of despond. Seriously.
  2. Fix crumbling physical infrastructure.
  3. Start a health care cooperative to make it easier for small businesses to offer benefits to employees.
  4. Set up a homestead program so that more of the thousands of college students educated in the area stick around post-graduation.
  5. Develop programs to better integrate the city's varied immigrant communities into the greater social and economic fabric of the community.
What I wouldn't do, is engage in a long-running, futile, catastrophically expensive attempt to compete in a rapidly evolving technology business with established commercial providers.

And, I wouldn't let Messrs. Nulty, Burns, Kiss & Leopold anywhere near the money, given their track record to date. This scenario isn't likely to happen (I don't play Powerball, or work with exotic financial instruments -- if I did, I'd be busy shorting US government debt) but this is almost my last word on the subject.