Thursday, November 21, 2013

Wind along the Waste

                                                                                                        Nov 19 2013

Carderock, over the water. Late afternoon sun in a blue sky, filtered through the bare trees of Vaso Island. Temperature about 50, with a fitful breeze coming down the shallow channel. 

T-shirt: Captain Jack's Alligator Farm

Song of the day: Crystal Ship

                              I drove in early, about two o'clock, knowing what I wanted to climb. Down over the water, out beyond Trudy's, I set up two anchors: one, directly over Crystal Ship, from a group of nuts set in the curious incipient crack that runs tight-closed, arguably from the very base, until at the lip it opens up, then jumps the summit ledge and splits the tall backstop stone; and the other end of my long anchor over to an oak and its companion cedar, to serve the rightward of Sterling's Twin cracks, and the short hard move called the Iron Cross.


“The crystal ship
is being tossed,
a thousand dreams,
a million schemes,
a million ways to die,
I'll never lie.”

                               These are the lyrics, roughly, stuck in my head for forty years or so; they are wrong of course, as I had never heard the song clearly, nor read the lyrics; I had constructed a romantically sad portrait of doomed love from the feeling of the music, and kept it in my emotional scrapbook as one of ten thousand other emotional touchstones of youth. Finding the true lyrics on YouTube was, inevitably, a letdown, as they have the jejune flaw, the shallowness, that runs through most of Morrison's work. Yet he was in fact a nascent poet, who might have matured well, I think, had he not sabotaged himself, caught in his own tragic/romantic melodrama like so many others.

                                              I dropped the old red rope on Crystal Ship, but threw it far to one side, onto the huge sloping ledge, so that it would not fall into the water; I could not see the base and just how wet it might be. I walked over and very slowly and carefully downclimbed the ramp. All this ramp and face was once my private solo playground; I would regularly walk past the base of Trudy's, boulder around the corner and up right, to the top of the ramp, downclimb the ramp, and solo the Cracks and the Ship, and if the water was as low as this day, do one or two hard overhang starts off the big rock in the river, and almost never feel a moment of fear. But now I tested my anchor, four nuts or no, and rapped to the base. Soon John showed up and bouldered across over the water to me.

“Riders on the storm
Riders on the storm
Into this house we're born
Into this world we're thrown
Like a dog without a bone
An actor out alone
Riders on the storm.”

                                               This lyric I do know properly. His last song; it perfectly captures the bleakness of romantic existentialism, an oxymoron I understood very well, but which failed to convince my youthful self. I found too much meaning, too much beauty in my world, to feel that death invalidates it. Now I have come around to the opposite opinion: that death, change, ending and beginning, are necessary for meaning to be real for us. But as a starting point - into this world we're thrown – it is inarguable.

“Into this Universe, and Why not knowing
Nor Whence, like Water willy-nilly flowing;
And out of it, as Wind along the Waste,
I know not Whither, willy-nilly blowing.”
                                                              - Khayyam/Fitzgerald

                                               A rescue helicopter appeared and began making numerous runs fairly low, directly overhead and all along the shores of Vaso Island. Sometimes we felt the wash of the rotors. A random head appeared over us at the anchor and asked if we had heard any calls for help, which we had not. The swarms of shouting preteens that had been running around earlier had disappeared; the afternoon would have been silent and paralyzingly beautiful if the copter had not been there. It occurred to me that a team of thirty men and several rubber rafts would have been both cheaper and more effective than the helicopter. But there was nowhere to lose a person; the trees were bare and the river slow and clear.

                                                In spite of the meaningless din we climbed well. Curiously, the climbs seemed easier than I remembered, even though I had to work harder physically, and push my stiff ankle. I did the direct finish to Crystal Ship which involves trusting a very sharp small right handhold and a small mild right foothold, and rising on them while fudging the lack of anything real for the left foot, and getting a good left hand higher, though still on fresh-broken crockery half sunk in the rock. John went and looked at the Iron Cross, and was optimistic that he could do it on a warmer day.

. . . Near them, on the sand,
Half sunk, a shattered visage lies...

                                              For me, any fragment of Ozymandias, such as 'half sunk', will tug on my brain to reform the rest of it, so perfectly unified is the poem; like heart cells meeting in a petri dish and starting to beat again in tandem.

...the hand that mocked them, and the heart that fed:

...the lone and level sands stretch far away.

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Four Fierce Brass Lions!

Four Brass Lions                                                                                         Sept. 4, 2013

                           Two days ago, Labor Day, Hannah and I rode our bikes the six easy miles to Vienna on errands, and to shop the junk stores for Christmas presents. It was a warm day, and we stopped where the trail crosses Maple and went to the nice little junk store on the corner there. In front, sitting in a chair and smoking a cigarette, was a short, fat, middle aged woman of vaguely Middle Eastern origin dressed in a loud shirt and black capri pants, and she welcomed us in with much bonhomie. 

                            Perhaps it is not fair to call it a junk store per se, for the objects varied widely in quality and taste, and most were overpriced and then impressively discounted; and we soon found that the price would appear to drop even more precipitously when we showed interest and then hesitated. I am a haggler of no skill whatsoever, but sometimes just dithering gets me discounts I had not expected. The objects offered were a chaotic hash of cheap art, decorative objects, rugs and furniture, with glassware and ceramics in precarious standing cases. All prices had been 'slashed' for Labor Day. We stopped in front of a very nice carved Chinese folding desk and opened it up, noting the asking price of $1400, and the lady instantly rushed up and bargained herself down to $700 in quick decrements. We didn't feel that prosperous right now though it is the kind of thing we have liked in the past.

                            While wandering I was intrigued by a grimy brass vase, of the kind of general style I remembered from living in Lahore several years in my grade-school days. On its sides was a frieze of animals, clearly handmade, in bas-relief, jamming the whole bulging middle section. There were two lions, fierce and terrible, and a number of ruminants – goats, antelope and so forth, all seeming to writhe and run on the black background. I walked around holding it and browsing, and I realized that this object, unlike anything else in the store, possessed, at least for me, the Japanese qualities they call wabi – a 'loneliness in nature', a bleakness – and also sabi – the quality of being aged and worn, rusty or covered with the patina of time. There was no attempt, in this frieze, to ingratiate the onlooker with anything indicating man's dominion, or symbolic of civilization, except for a small set of arched buildings, crowded into the trees and mountains briefly sketched near the top, which could perhaps indicate hunting lodges of Mughal emperors, or possible the huts of Buddhist hermits.

                            When the lady saw me holding the vase, she said, “There's another one!” and she hunted around until she found it. I wondered if it would be a nearly identical unit, and was amazed to see that it was clearly meant to be a companion piece, by the same artist and with the exact same motif – two lions and several fleeing ruminants, and the little buildings and so forth – and yet every animal was unique and different in posture and placement. The artist had repeated his work of art, but had carefully varied every part of it, so that the viewer's eye wanders endlessly among the details of wildness and wilderness, searching for the abstract, for identities and correspondences, and never finding them. 

                             So I bought them without arguing, at the Labor Day discount price, (still not cheap, in my scale – but, Hannah said, “You never ask for anything, so you must have them) and took them home. Soon I found, using a magnet, that they were real brass, not plated, and I cleaned them with white vinegar and a stiff plastic brush, and a mild scrubby-sponge. They emerged after a couple of hours with most of the sabi-patina and considerable dirt washed off; the black areas between the animals turned out to be completely stippled with extremely fine textured details. And here are the four brass lions for you to admire:

                                  Now perhaps I should try to find out something of their country of origin; but it hardly matters to me; they've taken their place as totemic objects around the house. Most of my other totems are just pretty stones I found in the mountains, or odd little things from my youth. I still have a poor-quality “bowie knife” that I had to have when I was about 13, and I still keep it sharp and useful, battered and beat-up though it is. It is clearly both wabi and sabi; it might as well be the the blade Tarzan found in the cottage with his parents' bones, that he kept ever afterward. (The knife, not the bones!)

                                  At that same time we bought, as part of a package deal, a weirdly elegant 3-ball light fixture that Hannah liked, which the lady devalued several times as we hemmed and hawed. It is neither wabi nor sabi, but it may serve very well as the Sign of the Three Balls Tavern in Brackney.

Thursday, June 27, 2013

The Pendulum Pauses

Kayaking Taylor's Island Estuary                                                                             June 22nd, 2013

Some families on the Bay live in modest bungalows with a nice view of the water. Others reside in spacious and elegant towers, with plenty of furniture and the latest communication equipment.

One hot afternoon a cruising catamaran dropped anchor near a low highway bridge, its further progress blocked. Three hard-bitten, grizzled specimens emerged into the burning sunlight, and launched a rubber raft, towing three kayaks under the bridge and into the trackless wetlands that form an ever-shifting maze in one small part of the brackish waters of the Chesapeake. They were all seasoned veterans of the endless struggle that is the essence of being male. Married men.

After a false start or two, down blind alleys and into narrow leads between the stiff brush walls, they regroup and tow farther east into more complex and open waters. Breezes are slight and erratic, and the tide, near its height, carries them onward. They tie the raft to a stick in an open location, hoping it will be there when they return.

An early design effort by Ludwig Mies van der Rohe, after his duck-hunting buddies complained that their blinds were always little more than a heap of sticks with a few tired, hackneyed Neoclassical elements tacked on, which no longer fooled the ducks because of the sense of alienation or distance from the landscape itself.

The sheaves surrounding this stunning presentation by Le Corbusier (who felt impelled to get into the game or be left in the mud) were criticized by Mies as an effete reference or homage to the goddess Demeter, detracting from the pure expression of space by the structure itself. Reportedly, when Le Corbusier heard of this he just squinted, turned his head to spit his tobacco juice into the bay, and grunted, “Bullshit.” In this way are the priceless native customs and morays diffused into new populations. No – not eels.

This iconic glass brick by which we all so fondly remember Mies, has, tucked away on the roof, a faux-straw-and-plywood duck blind (mainly constructed of stainless steel) as a tribute to his humble beginnings. Legend has it that he used, in his later years, to sit for hours up there at dawn with a shotgun, waiting for the ducks that would never come.

This magnificent duck-blind sculpture by Philip Johnson represents a peak in the art. It has a boat-stall capable of hiding a sixteen-foot skiff, and enough room in the blind for six hunters and all the beer that that entails. Negotiations into the middle seven figures with MOMA and competing European museums to purchase the structure and move it to an indoor artificial wetland complete with mallards, have run aground and stuck fast in the mud of international high-art politics.  Notice if you will, the superbly casual irregularity of the rectangular panels.  The result of exacting calculation or the simple brilliance of sheer laziness?

A side view, showing the spare yet lush natural landscaping.

van der Rohe's Farnsworth House, built on a flood plain and clearly influenced by duck-blind principles. We may judge its success by the Wiki blather as follows:
                        “The highly-crafted pristine white structural frame and all-glass walls define a simple rectilinear interior space, allowing nature and light to envelop the interior space. A wood-panelled fireplace (also housing mechanical equipment, kitchen, and toilets) is positioned within the open space to suggest living, dining and sleeping spaces without using walls. No partitions touch the surrounding all-glass enclosure. Without solid exterior walls, full-height draperies on a perimeter track allow freedom to provide full or partial privacy when and where desired. The house has been described as sublime, a temple hovering between heaven and earth, a poem, a work of art.
                         The Farnsworth House and its 60-acre wooded site was purchased at auction for US$7.5 million by preservation groups in 2004 and is now owned and operated by the National Trust for Historic Preservation as a public museum.”

I've heard it's hell to heat and cool – but who the hell cares – it's art.  What's that you say?  It looks like some old iron trusswork found abandoned out behind the rail yard, painted white?

A latecomer to the scene, Frank L. Wright, professed to be saddened by all the squabbling around the duck-blind aesthetics, and put up this beautifully spare and gaunt framework, allegedly to restore the art to its roots in pure Euclidean geometry, and inject some honesty and forthrightness into the scene. Of course he was immediately savaged and ridiculed, the others saying that he had simply stopped work and left when he realized that he didn't know one end of a shotgun from the other, and disliked the bitter beers so popular in the marsh. Also he kept bending nails and hitting his thumb.

The periwinkles cling to their arcane geometries. They stubbornly refuse to entertain any notion of rationalist, rectilinear architecture, and they openly sneer at the theories of Walter Gropius and all his intellectual and aesthetic spawn.

Returning, we saw a huge pile of sticks high in a pine tree, and shortly thereafter saw a huge old bald eagle perched a hundred yards away; soon it flew. Not long after we saw another one; my impression was that it was smaller and younger. It dived once or twice and then soared up in larger and larger circles, widening its search field high into the bright, clear sky. We drifted on our boats, letting the paddles drip; time seemed to flow slower and slower; the afternoon approaching a still point, when the everlasting pendulum of life seems to rest in balance, and in that moment opening the illusion of eternity. One forgot just for a while the ridiculous sight seen earlier: a small biplane put-putting across the sky in the distance like an idling lawnmower; in the binoculars it was seen to be purple.

"During the Middle Ages the communal clock extended by the bell permitted high coordination of the energies of small communities.  In the Renaissance the clock combined with the uniform respectability of the new typography to extend the power of social organization almost to a national scale.  By the nineteenth century it had provided a technology of cohesion that was inseparable from industry and transport, enabling an entire metropolis to act almost as an automaton.  Now in the electric age of decentralized power and information we begin to chafe under the uniformity of clock-time.  In this age of space-time we seek multiplicity, rather than repeatability, of rhythms.  This is the difference between marching soldiers and ballet."

- Marshall McLuhan, Understanding Media: the Extensions of Man,  2nd. ed. chapter 15. 1964.

So that's why we're out here in these boats, goofing off for all we're worth. 

Almost everything seems funny to this simpleton.

East of the sun;

West of the moon.

And the great eyelid of the day slowly closing.

Returning across the bay the next morning in mediocre winds, we watched a front come in, and rain, but without any violence or drama, except visually. Then for a while all we could see in any direction was a hundred yards of rain. I snoozed on the dining room bench, the boat rocking gently through the quiet rain.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Rites of Spring

Reflections, miscellany, marginalia.                                                                     

April 28th, 2013

                  I went out to perform the rites of Spring: carrying a short shovel and a hand clipper, equipped with good boots and gloves, I walked out in a mild rising breeze to look at the cistern above the pond. Some rain is due tomorrow after four perfect sunny spring days.

                  Every winter the cistern clogs with silt and the clamps on the supply pipe joints come apart. It is necessary to cut through brambles to reach the source, where from a northern spring the clean water comes through the low stone wall marking the edge of the property and meanders through a neglected meadow, soggy most of the summer, full of odd trees and mock-orange brambles. On this preliminary expedition I forgot my screwdriver for the clamps, but it was moot, as the pipe coming out of the cistern refused to flow when I cleared enough silt to feel it. So tomorrow I'll bring a snake as well, unless the rain is heavy.

                   I walked back to the house by a different route, examining the various curiosities in the meadow. There are two or three black-ant cities: raised mounds the size of footstools surrounding a dead pine tree in each case, the land in an eight-foot circle drier and greener, grassy islands in the soggy meadow full of every kind of marsh-loving plant. Looking closely, I see the black ants walking around in leisurely fashion, some carrying grains of earth, some not. They don't project the usual frenetic ant energy more typical of summer. I realize that these mounds are just middling-size towns in the black ant worldwide civilization; not New York or Sao Paulo, they more resemble Binghamton, Johnson City, Endicott. 

                   Approaching the border of civilization, I notice, as I have often before, the scattered ancient apple trees still hanging on stubbornly after these many decades of neglect and overgrowth. My grandfather only tended the three trees in the groomed areas near the house, but three fields on the north side had been orchards once; the easternmost has been entirely filled with maples, and even the fallen trunks of the old apples have rotted away; but in the other two fields they hang on like grim death, flowering and producing a few small sour apples in the upper branches, wherever sunlight comes to them through the limbs of the invading barbarians – the ash, the red pine, spruce, and of course maple. I admire their gnarled and flinty endurance, and among my obligations to the land will be aiding and abetting them against their enemies.

                    Stewardship of the land is much on my mind. Traditionally it has meant nothing more than arranging matters to suit us. An old friend of mine, nine years older than myself, loves squirrels amd chipmunks on his suburban lot, and they come to him to be hand-fed. He told me he found them hiding and refusing to descend their trees one day recently, and in the backyard he found the reason: a black snake had emerged to sun himself, like all of us in the spring. He killed the snake; I asked him why he wouldn't want the snake around to control mice, and of course he said that the snake would wipe out his chipmunks. An example in miniature of the constant destruction of the balance that we practice. This is not my idea of stewardship. But I didn't say that to him, as it would achieve nothing.

                     As I walked out with the shovel my father called down to me to check the island for goose eggs. We have a pond with a tiny island on it, and every year a pair of Canada geese stakes it out for their nest, forgetting (if it is the same pair) that last year, like every year, my father destroyed their eggs as soon as he could. He and my mother are sure that just a few years of multiplying geese will bury us in goose shit. Currently he still mows more than four acres of meadow that my grandfather had laid out as lawn and tiny golf course; fortunately my grandfather was not so rich or golf-obsessed that he had the land treated professionally with all the chemicals legal for use in the fifties and sixties. In vain I have argued that the geese improve the meadow to some degree, as do all grazing herds when they are not forced to stay and strip the land bare.

                      I may have made some progress regarding squirrels, though. My parents have had a fixed hatred for greys, because they “steal” birdseed bought for the songbirds that my grandmother loved so much, and they feared the reds, thinking that they will get into the attic, chew on wires and burn the house down. My dad would go out and shoot them with a pellet gun on a regular basis. But I pointed out (avoiding the appearance of any emotional appeal for the animals) that his shooting had little or no effect on their population density, which is limited by habitat and food supply; when he thins them here, more gladly move in from the surrounding woodlands. And now he doesn't bother them; but perhaps that is just because he can't shoot quite as well as he used to. There is a certain accidental forbearance that seems to seep into their lifelong policies, perhaps due as much to forgetfulness and debility as to any spiritual growth.

                       As for me I am a great admirer of squirrels as well; especially the reds, whose ability to race among the bare branches of the locusts in the late fall surpasses in athleticism anything I've seen from any other mammal. I once saw one miss a tiny branch and fall at least thirty feet; it ran back up the tree immediately. So I intend to treat the squirrels as honored guests, though I'll try to escort them out gently should they enter the house.

                       Which leads directly to another anecdote I'm recorded in passing elsewhere. Last year at some time my wife entered an upstairs bedroom in my parent's house to find a bat circling the room. She came and got me, and I went into the room with a towel to throw over it, as we had no butterfly net; but my first approach was to open the window all the way,and wave my arms gently to create better odds that it would find the way out into the night. But the word had spread in the house that there was a bat, and my mother reverted to her childhood, in a sort of a panic, and began yelling, kill it, kill it! Get the tennis racquet! Kill it! I said there would be no tennis racquet, and in a few minutes the bat found the window and left. But I remembered so clearly at least one incident of this same kind from my own childhood, when we got a racquet and eventually killed the panicked animal, all of us in a laughing panic ourselves, participating in the primitive patterns of our own evolution, which mandate killing as the default response to any odd situation involving animals. In my adult years I have a different attitude toward this, that is very much at odds with most of humanity. I especially dislike the killing of snakes, poisonous or not.

“Arms are instruments of ill-omen. Using arms is like cutting wood on behalf of the Master Carpenter. When one cuts wood on behalf of the Master Carpenter one can rarely avoid cutting oneself.”

                      Or words to that effect, said the old man.

                     One might think that humans would have a special affinity to a species as impressive and successful as the Canada goose. They thrive in the absence of most their predators, of course, and also due to the clearing of forests that we love to replace with manicured golf courses and lawns, and pretty water features. But we dislike their noise, their aggressiveness, their manure, regardless of the organic benefits thereof. They are inconvenient; they compete with us to a small degree, and so, as stewards of the land, we discourage them. They also compete for airspace, menacing our great flying dragons. If we were to continue expanding the great world-machine that has allowed our current so-called civilization, the geese will have to go, along with most other natural creatures. But to imagine this landscape without their legions cruising north and south each year, without their distant clamor, strikes horror in me. On my sixtieth-birthday extravaganza, cabin-camping at Ricketts State Park, we began hearing skeins of north-going geese overhead, and I began counting them; I counted groups I could see and those I could just hear. I think I stopped counting in a half hour at about 25, and my best estimate was that each skein had perhaps 150 birds.

                      Luckily for everybody, we almost certainly won't be able to do that – to eliminate geese and every other natural creature. We will reach limits and be forced to cut back, either rationally and humanely, or (more likely) in a disorganized, bloody mess of decline and loss. We might resemble my weakening parents, who must soon relinquish their iron grip on the land to my very different approach, and are already softening to some small degree.

April 29th, 2013

                      I went out this morning in a very light rain and trudged up to the cistern with a bucket, a screwdriver and a plumber's snake, to complete the rite and bring water to the pond. It was unusually arduous; three joints all needed careful readjustment, as the person fixing it last year (probably me) did not properly center the clamps; the cistern had a lot of muck to dip out with the bucket, and the snake encountered considerable packed silt deep in the pipe, and even when when I got the water flowing, it was temporarily stemmed by one of the improvised repairs at one joint, which mandated much squelching back and forth in my excellent boots to locate and lance the clot. But water is now entering the pond as per ancient custom. The unattractive little windmill is turning, bubbling air into the center of the pond. The two giant grass-eating carp are drifting about majestically among the floating wrack of vegetation; the geese are complaining overhead after I put bird netting all over their proposed nesting site, so that perhaps they will use their generative energy elsewhere and my Dad will not have to trudge down and smash their eggs this year; and I heard some spring peepers close up, in the shallows, with their piercing call. And I have seen the yellow-bellied salamanders drifting among the water weed.

May 3rd, 2013

                     Since I filled the bird feeders two days ago, the bird life has picked up immensely. Pairs of goldfinch, house finch, cardinal, and blue jay compete for space on the pegs, as well as individual nuthatch, redwing blackbird, and chickadee. They sit in the apple tree, jockeying and waiting to dive-bomb whoever is currently filling his beak. Once a raven, grim and huge, came and sat in the topmost branch of the apple, and everybody scrammed or froze, especially the chipmunk in the grass. Finally he became bored and pushed off, and the party resumed. Unrelated sighting: a pileated woodpecker on the huge eroded old willow, still alive at the top, which I hope houses many creatures.

                     It is currently spring turkey season, and we have talked twice with Todd Peters, walking through in full camo, even to his gun and boots; he is an experienced woodsman and has the wide useful knowledge of the born and bred northern Pennsylvania countryman. He has not got a turkey yet apparently; I told him that I had seen one fly from a treetop at the pond as I stood below not far away; it calmly sailed down the wooded ravine toward Rinne Creek. I also (today) saw a foot-long bass and a turtle in the pond, so all is well. Dad and I installed four trees in large pots on the terrace: two Italian plums, one Stella cherry, and one combo apple with red delicious, Gala and yellow delicious on different limbs; next spring after the last frost we'll plant them on the southern lawns if they live. I insisted on paying for them; it is my symbolic assertion of investment and commitment to the land going forward. Perhaps not coincidentally, today we saw our first deer and rabbit of the season.

                     According to Tsunetomo Yamamoto, negligence is an extreme thing. One my first morning of this trip, after a rainy night, I went out in cool sunlight, well armored, and ripped, cut, tore and uprooted a massive blackberry colony surrounding and choking a still-living juniper bush. The diameter of the colony was about twenty feet. The roots pulled easily out of the black, soft earth along with earthworms, centipedes and beetles. I trimmed and pruned the juniper of twenty years of neglect; it took us another two days to finish hauling off all the debris. We took two dozen of the biggest, nastiest blackberry roots and replanted them in a prime spot across the way, and later did the same for a number of long-forgotten raspberry plants, replanting them along the crumbling fences of the barnyard. The list of repairs, cleanups and minor projects has been satisfyingly long, right down to this evening when I convinced the folks not to keep plastic dinner trays on top of the refrigerator, whence they inevitably fall to the kitchen floor and break, if they don't hit one's arm or head. We threw away the half of the trays which were cracked and badly chipped. We checked smoke detectors and fire extinguishers; we relocated one extinguisher from where it was totally hidden behind a phalanx of coffee-table books to a spot near the fireplace, which has an ancient heat exchanger and fan which is much used every winter. And so the endless List goes ever on.

Thursday, February 21, 2013

Snapshots of Beethoven

My snapshots of Ludwig van Beethoven

Hi-ho, Silver! Away!                                                                                            August 13, 2009

I like this one: Ludwig on his white stallion
galloping across a great field
toward a higher country;
the sun is loud and the clouds are piled high
in that marvelously meaningful complexity of structure
that can never be explained
and on the brink of the higher plateau,
seeing ahead more sun, more clouds, bigger mountains,
he pulls up, rears the great white horse against the blue,
and brimming over with electric exuberance
he waves his white Stetson
three times in a circle, high above his head;
and then he turns the stallion's mighty head,
and thunders furiously up into the far hills.
You know that place, in the Fifth.

In order to avoid sadness,
I imagine him simply never coming back. 

How many times                                                    February 16, 2000

in your life will you hear the Pathétique?
asks the classical disk jockey as I
drive my great rusty wagon
from the supermarket to the gas station
under a cold impartial moon

and this seems to me an important question
as the piano fills the car with almost
harshly clear thought
Beethoven pounding out the truth once again
from long ago and far away and
filtered, interpreted, enhanced and digitized
and sent to me through the miracle of
frequency modulation to ponder one more time
as I drive my great rusty wagon to get gasoline.

My mother was so bold as to try, all her life,
to play the Pathétique, even though
she knew she would never so much as
crack its massive, ornate iron gates.
Every note of the Pathétique is written
somewhere in my childish soul;
and every thought of the Pathétique
makes inescapable sense to me now.
And so it does not matter how many more times
I will hear it.

At the Exxon station the pavilion arches spaciously
over the nearly deserted pumps.
I turn the radio up
set the gas to pump itself
and listen carefully to Emil Gilels
think through the Pathétique
at times with an extraordinary eloquence
that seems wrong to me; yet perhaps he
just grew weary of his master’s unshakable confidence,
Ludwig walking the tightrope down through the
centuries, never to fall or even tremble on the wire.
I lean against the mighty flank of the wagon
filling itself with the acrid life’s blood
of our civilization
and eat a perfect glazed doughnut, quite slowly.
The fallen, the ruined pavilions, gleaming in the moonlight.

Monday, January 21, 2013

Eternal Archive of All That Is

January 4th 2013

Some miscellany for the new year -

Random beauty in the moment.  Save it forever... uh huh.

It has come to my attention that the Library of Congress is archiving all of Twitter – some 400 million tweets per day. Why? You might very well ask, just as I did, and as did my wife when I informed her of this. Our mouths hung open, our perplexity unattractive. We are not young tyros; we have seen our government do many inexplicable, weird and even randomly horrible things, because, as we all know, it is not a conscious or even marginally rational entity, and therefore such actions are inevitable. If the Library of Congress considers the random, fleeting thoughts of each and every human that uses this medium to be worthy of examination by posterity (the article mentioned the difficulty of welding this mass of words into a searchable, useful resource of some kind) then I would think the entirety of human existence, regardless of meaning or quality, is also of inestimable value and should somehow be recorded and saved forever. To the mind, our physical world is just a quicksand of change and transformation, and hence far less solid and real than our thoughts, which exist in a medium that encompasses, surrounds, creates, the idea of time, and hence feel eternal to us. Memory, and everything that enhances it or preserves it, feels more important than the maddeningly elusive, theoretical single moment of now, when physical and mental worlds intersect and merge.

 Blue chairs!  Everlasting grey!  Worlds collide!

Later in the same section of the W. Post there was an article regarding a large cache of Jewish documents roughly a thousand years old found in a cave in Afghanistan. Written in several languages and scripts, it testifies to the enduring addiction we all have to the products of our minds. At least the ancient Jews had a criterion for saving documents, in that anything mentioning God in any way was considered too sacred to discard. Going back much farther in time and in our human psychical development, we find the first writing, cuneiform, in large quantities in the Sumerian civilization, and there apparently most of the writing was used just to facilitate commerce and ordinary life – laundry lists, bills and receipts and similar mental detritus, which probably only survived because baked clay is a very stable material, and tax returns must be kept at least seven years. I've got tax returns twenty years old mouldering in my basement somewhere, but I lost last year's altogether when my computers fried in a storm, and I had been too lazy to back up or print them.

Which reminds me: File, Save As. The hopeful, pathetic little gesture trying to conjure some sort of 
immortality for our thoughts.

 Don't forget me.

Liquid Plumber Double Action Snake! The commercial I just saw was entirely pornographic in style and intent, lacking only some wildly gyrating genitals and screaming, spouting orgasms. So what, Pops? Your impertinent question is valid; one should no longer expect, in our sophisticated modern milieu, some vapid, sexless cartoon figure to sell household cleaning products in a way that will not make Auntie Mildred shake with the vapors. But then I saw a commercial for some auto-repair-and-tire outfit that must have been written and directed by one of our great modern absurdist provocateurs; the intent is no longer sexual but darkly psychotic. A nearly nude bearded fat man embraces a stone-faced mother figure in a staid outfit, and a masked, nearly nude midget utters a feral cry and leaps from a tall bookcase upon a nude fat man (the same one? we don't know.) in a towel, who is expecting a back massage. The technique, I assume, is to link the advertiser's name to strange images as a mnemonic, and this effect is assumed to be stronger if the images are disturbing and repellent, though lightly smeared with weak humor so as to deflect outraged criticisms from superannuated, fossilized, fallen Freudians such as myself. Freud would roll up his sleeves and flail endlessly but entertainingly, could he but see modern advertising. More and more, that imp he called the Id is dominating all human consciousness. Just read those Tweets for as long as you can stand it, if you really need confirmation. In any case, I can't remember the name of the car repair outfit, though I've seen the commercial many times, and will never be able to completely dump those fetid, hyper-banal images from my brain. What's wrong with me, Doc? Have I fallen down a metaphorical manhole, or a psychedelic rabbit hole, or a wormhole-in-the-time/space-continuum? Or has the Zeitgeist just passed me by like a Ferrari passing a donkey?

 Surrealistic Cookie Factory

I see on the web that today is the day Marty McFly was to arrive at in his headlong drive through time in the battered DeLorean. A perfect example of the same thing: as cool as that movie was, it now seems quaint in every way, especially in its earnest optimism. Nevertheless, we are not required to jump on the Cynical Juggernaut; if we wish we can stay in a decent mental space of our own, like the Professor hiding in the past, and perhaps be happy as our culture crumbles around us.

 Ride, Captain, ride, upon your mystery ship...

Monday, January 14, 2013

Joshua Tree, Phoenix.


Joshua Tree, Phoenix edition. October 10-20, 2012

with John Ely and Todd Bradley. Weather: virtually perfect every single day.

From The Odyssey, trans. E.V. Rieu, rev. D.C.H. Rieu 1991 Ed., Penguin Classics:

Book 5, line 269:

            It was with a happy heart that the noble Odysseus spread his sail to catch the wind and skilfully kept the raft on course with the rudder. There he sat and never closed his eyes in sleep, but kept them on the Pleiades, or watched the late-setting Boötes slowly fade, or the Great Bear, sometimes called the Wain, which always wheels round in the same place and looks across at Orion the Hunter with a wary eye. It was this constellation, the only one which never sinks below the horizon to bathe in Ocean's stream, that the wise goddess Calypso had told him to keep on his left hand as he sailed across the sea. So for seventeen days he sailed on his course, and on the eighteenth there came into view the shadowy mountains of the Phaeacians' country, which jutted out to meet him. The land looked like a shield laid on the misty sea.

            So everything was going right for once. Odysseus had lost all his companions and all his ships, and been to the land of the dead and came back alive, and was now sailing his raft on a true course for home. Incidentally, another translation specifies Arcturus, the brightest star in the constellation Boötes, rather than the constellation itself; I don't know why. The original apparently specifies the Ox-Driver, or Plowman. But anyway, you really can't relax on these epics until you've actually taken your horribly filthy boots off by the fireside in your own home, and sometimes not even then. The tale continues:

            But now Poseidon, Lord of the Earthquake, who was on his way back from his visit to the Ethiopians, observed him from the distant mountains of the Solymi. The sight of Odysseus sailing over the sea enraged him. He shook his head and said to himself, “Damnation! I had only to go to Ethiopia for the gods to change their minds about Odysseus! And there he is, close to the Phaeacians' land, where he is destined to bring his long ordeal to an end. Nevertheless I mean to let him have a bellyful of trouble yet.” 

 I must go down to the rocks again,
to the lonely rocks and sky
and all I ask is a stout rope
and a star to steer her by. 

           And all because Odysseus had made the perfectly reasonable mistake of defending his life against the cannibal giant Polyphemus, one of Poseidon's numerous unpleasant progeny. I see Odysseus muttering to himself, “You can't win for losing,” as he saw the wind begin to howl, and the giant waves rise up. The gods knew he'd make it home, but would they tip him off? No. He cursed his fate many times as the epic dragged on, but he never quite lay down and declared he'd had enough. He always crawled naked off the beach, looking for a stick, a stone, a pretty girl – anything he could use to keep going.

There it is - the Crack of Weirdness that runs through Reality, from here to the bitter end.

           So: here I stand again in Hidden Valley campground, looking up at Orion and his companions through the crystal midnight of the desert. It has been a long two years since my last visit, with terrible events chronicled elsewhere. I went briefly to the land of the dead, though not long enough to talk to Achilles, and I came back and walked again on this earth. The mountains and the rivers look the same, but they are not. My eyes are different. But I came back to the desert to tell myself that I am still a climber, changed though I may be; and the granite still flows under my fingertips. If poetic language offends your ear, I am sorry, but there is no other language that can do this job.

 I got your Tabula Rasa right here, baby.

From my notes:

Orientation – walked to bathroom by starlight; returning, I knew the position of the stub of iron post sticking out of the ground an inch and a quarter, having hit my bad foot on it last night.
Galaxy overhead – to the east, one stream, but overhead it is apparently bifurcated by interstellar dust clouds – as if an illustration for primitive cosmogony: life begins as one unified stream of infinite force, then splits into yin and yang, consciousness and non-consciousness.

           Returning to Joshua Tree is, for me, returning home, to a place where I know my orientation, from the micro- to the macrocosmos. At the very center is the Eye of the Cyclops, from whence spews the electrifying, all-embracing torrent of consciousness itself. Looking outward at sunset one may see great mazes of granite ridges in the west, and the bowl of desert surrounding in the other three directions; the walls of of the bowl are a pale pink, often. Above is the Galaxy, around whose center we revolve, out near the rim. Providentially we are able to see far in all directions, not buried in monstrous dust clouds, nor blinded by infinite brilliance near the galactic center. We can see far back in time – not to the instant of Beginning, but near enough to imagine it, to see it in the mind's eye, which is an infinite field, looking inward.

 The Cyclops Dihedral, looking almost straight up.  The Eye is at the top, of course.

           Of course, my home – house, family, books – is also home and an orientation equally valid and potent; the interface to the human world. But that interface can swamp all else – the people we know, the work we must do, the potent stream of culture, the rich stew of friendship, love, pleasure and pain - they blot out the silence and the stars, the slow breeze drifting through sagebrush, the expressionless eye of the raven.

  A nice spot to shelter from the glare.  Or is it?

           Memorable incident from this trip: the almost obligatory Dave Almost Steps on a Rattlesnake trope. This would have been completely unmemorable, given how remarkably common this type of incident has been in my life, except that, for the first time, I exhibited a 'normal' autonomic survival reaction. Ordinarily when I walk obliviously past a rattlesnake, and have it pointed out to me by a companion, or see one in the trail nearby, I observe it with pleasure and take the appropriate action to avoid it, perhaps snap a picture, and pass by. Once at Old Rag I was walking through dense ground cover and cautiously parting the vegetation with a stick as I went, and I saw a black timber rattler about two feet away, awake and moving slowly, and I calmly let the foliage fall back into place and walked smoothly backwards in my tracks, feeling no special excitement. On this occasion, however, as I was walking through some brush between large boulders out behind the Headstone, I heard and briefly saw a rattlesnake immediately at my feet. The snake warned me, and the reptile annex deep in my medulla oblongata instantly exerted total control over my body, like a savage dictator suddenly seizing control over a country in times of extreme danger. My body lunged away from the snake far faster than the sluggish conscious brain, overloaded with useless garbage like Shakespeare, algebra and Oingo-Boingo tunes, could have made it go. Still tracking, but unable to influence the body, the cerebrum got taken for a ride as the body slammed over a low boulder and dashed the big-brained head into a low-hanging Joshua tree arm, whose ends resemble the medieval mace with more spikes. A gash on my left shin proved to be not the work of the snake; he just wanted to express the quintessentially American sentiment which is in fact the motto of all rattlesnakes: “Don't tread on me, motherfucker.”
           It is oddly reassuring to know that our little old reptile brain is still back there, never sleeping, always alert for reptiles and loaded for T-Rex. The millions of years of ancient programming endure, and the Dude abides.

Not long after my Rattlesnake Depantsing, John led this small unnamed climb; after placing the first piece, he somehow left the ground without the rest of the rack, so we tossed it up to him.  Somewhat funnier because his personal style of leading requires that he take at least twice as much gear as I would, on any one climb.

Pinhead Boulder and Crack at sunset.  No snakes nearby, probably.

           Just for posterity I should set down The Terrifying Incident of the Rattlesnake Under the Pigpen Boulder, as told by Drew Frye. We visited Jtree some ten or twelve years ago for a couple of weeks or so, and one afternoon we were pursuing separate avenues of leisure or indolence, and Drew went bouldering by himself, looking up some of the well-known problems. He found the hand crack in the ceiling of the cave-like space under the Pigpen boulder and decided to jam it as far as his strength might hold out; very difficult though it is, even an unexpected fall will only result in one's ass getting dusty as one drops to the gritty granite sand. A worse danger is pulling a shoulder or tweaking an elbow. You can guess the rest: halfway through as he was getting tired and about to let his legs drop to the ground, he heard the warning rattle immediately under his ass. His body filled instantly with high-octane adrenalin, but instead of panicking and spasmodically thrashing out of the cave, which would have certainly resulted in an unpleasant fanging, he experienced the best of what his body and mind could do: he jammed with rock-crushing, atomic force in his hands and finished the problem, his brain still in control as his body climbed into overdrive, beyond all normal limits. One can almost never summon up motivation on that order of magnitude at will, but under real pressure it sometimes does appear.

 On the Horns of the Minotaur

Q.: is “existence” a worthy philosophical topic? Or just take it for granite. Is “consciousness” a more interesting question, or equally tautological? John: universe has inherent moral dimension. Me: why? Or is it just a property or aspect or component of consciousness, just an emotion, essentially?
Me: consciousness could have arisen as a purely mechanical consequence of life/evolution. Morality just one expression, not an objective law [like law of gravity] - no evidence.

The Gates of Valhalla?  Landing zone of the Mothership?  Or just some of that good old Cosmic Debris?

           As we had the great luxury of free time, we sometimes took to arguing for the sheer pleasure of it, while at the Saloon or just sitting around the concrete picnic table. I can no longer reconstruct in any detail the discussion indicated by these brief notes; nor is there any point in doing so; the iterations and arabesques of thought intertwine and then fade away like breath-mist on a cold morning. I think I maintained that the “problem” of “existence” is not worth pursuing. Why is there something rather than nothing? The question is a massive red herring, given that any philosopher worth his stones can question whether there is in fact anything. Without our accepting as givens the basic ground conditions to our argumentation, we cannot meaningfully assert anything at all; we are just waggling our jaws and causing the air to vibrate a bit, just as it does when the proverbial Joshua Tree gently falls to the sand. John of course pointed out that people have been considering our “existence” a problem for all of recorded history, or thereabouts. (I must put words in his mouth, and I am quite sure that he would dispute every one of them; but this is “now” and that was Zen, as the saying goes.)

John in deep contemplation or perhaps just a snooze.  Or both!

           He asked me what I thought would be an important problem to consider, and I said I was interested in consciousness itself. At least it has apparent qualities that one can examine, however tautologically, and in considering it one might, or might not, be able to pin down a tiny portion of “existence” to our experience as self-regarding beings. Naturally, nothing of it can be proven in the same sense that a scientific proposition can be examined, tested and proven to a certain standard of likelihood; but we can elaborate a framework of hypotheses that gives the appearance of plausibility, and that is not obviously lacking in internal consistency. The moment one demands a more solid and dependable structure of explanation, one is thrown against conflicting but equally solid conjectures-masquerading-as-certainties.

We dance on a ridiculous, invisible knife-edge, every second of every day.  The odds against us assure us that we simply aren't here at all.  So: dance!

           Somehow we segued to the idea of morality; John asserted that the universe possesses a moral dimension or structure, one that would exist independent of human consciousness; I demanded actual evidence of some sort. I made an loose analogy to the existence of gravitational force: although we do not know how gravity actually exerts force across space (or even if that is a correct way to express what it does), we have powerful physical evidence that allows us to measure it with extreme precision, and the mysteriously opaque nature of it leads inevitably to the inarguable T-shirt slogan, GRAVITY DON'T HAVE NO MERCY (see Delaware Water Gap, the climb Death Don't Have no Mercy). Morality, by contrast, seems to vary immensely depending on who you ask, or what you want, or whose ox is being gored, and so forth. To me it seems like merely one of many dimensions or characteristics of consciousness, and hence of little larger interest. But John was quick to dismiss my purely mechanical view of the universe, as starting at the wrong viewpoint altogether, and thus depressingly limited. And I probably shouted au contraire, mon ami! in my riposte, wherein I asserted that there is no proven obstacle to the possibility that life and then consciousness have arisen purely as a statistically necessary consequence of basic physics, and the mathematical probabilities inherent in a universe of this size and age, with this many elemental particles whizzing around in it and sticking together in gravity wells of various sizes. If you break a rack of balls on a pool table, using your cosmic cue and your special magical tip-chalk, over and over andoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandover andoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandoverandover-----

Hey - who "carved" this granite?

...until even your Godlike arm is tired and all the beer is gone, a time will come when all the balls go into the pockets on the break, and you're in business. Anders Osbourne, the bluesman, has a nice line, from another context: “Never is a real long time.” And in that real long time the universe did emerge (I think) and after another real long time the Promethean fire of consciousness ignited, and here we are (apparently), thinking long thoughts and climbing tall rocks, to equal (that is, unknown) purpose. I have no complaint! 

From the Wikipedia page on cosmogony:

One problem in cosmogony is that there is currently no theoretical model that explains the earliest moments of the universe's existence (during the Planck time) because of a lack of a testable theory of quantum gravity. Researchers in string theory and its extensions (for example, M theory), and of loop quantum cosmology, have nevertheless proposed solutions of the type just discussed.
Another issue facing the field of particle physics is a need for more expensive and technologically advanced particle accelerators to test proposed theories (for example, that the universe was caused by colliding membranes).
Developing a complete theoretical model has implications in both the philosophy of science and epistemology. For example, it would clarify the meaningful ways in which people can ask the question "why do we exist?".

Needless to say, I did not take this photo.  Galileo took it, and everyone who came after him; it took our whole civilization to realize this image.

           This brings up more questions – in fact an endless string or loop of vibrating questions. Just the fact that we, like the children we are, can continue to ask a series of questions indefinitely, seems to indicate that no final answer can exist. But, more specifically:  What would an explanation of the earliest moments of the universe's existence look like? In what terms would it have meaning? If we have to invent a theoretical model full of infinitely complex and arcane involutions, will the result have meaning in a way comparable, for example, to the current scientific explanation of the formation of the earth, and the evolution of life upon it? All explanations build upon some foundation of assumed existing elements which combine to produce the new thing that needs the explanation. We are here instead searching for the foundation cause of existence itself – the very definition of a tautology, ain't it? Only a particle accelerator big and strong enough to spark the creation of a new universe would really satisfy this scientific quest, but we'd have no time to enjoy our triumph, would we?

 Shadow-dancing with the Weird Interior Spirit.

           In this one extreme case I recommend that we adopt the wisdom of one T. Geisel, whose brilliant fable regarding the mysterious generation of 500 hats, each a little more splendid than the last, ends with no pat explanation, simple or arcane: it just “happened to happen”, and that was enough. In all post-Bang investigations, however, I am in favor of untrammeled reason rampant, and science unchained (tempered, one devoutly hopes, with wisdom, humanity, compassion and so forth as might be feasible).

The Aguille de Josh - an excellent soap-box from which to hurl your abuse at the gods.

           I mean, really – if the universe began because of a collision between some membranes – then where did those 'membranes' come from? What were they made of? Why did it set off a Bang? And so forth. No matter what explanation is given, I can always ask another question about it. And to give an arbitrary Name for the First Cause is just a cowardly flinch, turning a blind mind's eye on it.

 Hey - we're here.  We exist.  And not only that: don't tread on us, motherfucker.

           The Joshua Tree Saloon is a friendly dive on the corner with ten beers on tap, one pool table, three or four moderately sized screens generally tuned to football and baseball, a long bar and a few tables and booths, and a tiny little stage at the end of the bar, nothing more than a small raised section, for the karaoke club to wail from. And of course there is a jukebox. The standard burger lineup was well done and generous in portion size, and between that and Santana's, the all-night Mexican drive-through, we failed to lose any weight on this trip. Todd of course is already as lean as a stick from mountaineering all over the West, and cannot eat gluten in any case; but John and I are at risk for the predictable middle-aged spread, and must run very fast just to stay where we are.

 The gear manager, constantly struggling to tame the chaos of John's rack.

Todd leads a nice hand crack somewhere way out back of beyond.

           One night we went to the Saloon to watch the Nationals in the final game of their season, losing a heartbreaker in the last inning to a more experienced team; one could see their beaten body language as they took their last three at-bats, flailing at phantoms and staring at strikes. The beautiful dream had ended early, and waking, we all grimaced and stretched, trying to recall, just for a few more moments, the glorious story line, the girl just now turning toward us with a rising smile, the last few feet of the wonderful rocky trail in the hills... evaporating into the null state between stories. Though I love the beauty of the game, I am no fan; I shift my shallow allegiances shamelessly, and have only sketchy knowledge of the characters and teams and history.

John leads the right edge of Headstone.

And Todd leads the left edge.  The Headstone floats magically just above a coarse pile of large rubble.

           On another night it happened to be karaoke night. We watched, mesmerized, as four or five wildly mismatched individuals took turns crooning, belting and mumbling various random country-western standards, to near-complete indifference from the room; the performers were not a bit discouraged, any more than they were ever even in the same state as being on key. A sort of wispy wannabe cowpoke in his late eighties mumbled happily through every verse of “I am my own Grampaw”; the others were females, difficult to describe and even harder to watch, trying hard to summon up a tiny spark of Patsy Cline's ghost, and failing. I would describe this far more vividly, but I had to drink ever more Fat Tire to endure it at all, and so much grandeur is lost forever. But you could go there; you could wander in on some fateful Thursday night (or was it a Wednesday? Only the ghosts can say...) and see them all still there, trying their best to sing, summoning the courage to stand up in front of God and his lowly Bar Patrons, and gently waving their arms to the music. Todd did his best to get John and me to put together a song for the next week, but we were too old and crafty to fall for that. It would have taken superhuman efforts by the superb blond waitress to convince me that I am like unto a young Elvis, a demigod who can mesmerize with his gaze and his perfect voice – that and so much beer that I would fall down after the first chorus of “Hurried Romance, Low-Rent Rendezvous”.

 The leader dwindles into an illusion of distance.  The climb is a very easy 5.8 called "Parental Guidance Suggested", located not too far from the edges of...  the Twilight Zone.

Finishing "Fun Stuff", another easy 5.8.

My three leads:
           Poodlsby is a pretty nice 5.6 a little right of White Lightning; it is a fairly long pitch with a lot of variety, reasonable protection and not much strain. It was my first lead since my fall almost 18 months before. I felt ready in a purely physical sense, but I was completely unwilling to fall, and therefore my protocol for the climb was very much like a soloing protocol: test everything, trust nothing, overprotect, think all moves through in advance; plan and execute with total deliberation. And doing that, I finished out with very little fear and much satisfaction.

 Right up the center is the well-known 5.7 called White Lightning, which offers a rather stiff offwidth start, to electrify your day.  Poodlsby is to the right, starting in the large shallow chimney.

           Spaghetti and Chili is a fine 5.7 of perhaps 80 or a hundred feet, that I have led before and recommend as a fine practice lead, with a genuine, though straightforward, lead move – the type of thing that you must force yourself to initiate, because while your reason tells you it is simple and safe, and well within your proven ability, your hindbrain, the one that (usually) prevents babies from crawling off tables, is telling you in no uncertain terms that, no, it ain't. The name refers to the two very different, mismatched cruxes. The first is a classic traversing, then rising layback on friction footholds, right at the true start about 20 feet off the ground; you have all the time you want to place as much pro as you want in the undercling crack, and when you're finally unable to pretend any longer that the placements there could be improved by further dithering, you have to launch out and up, on your arms. Weak as my left arm is, I still felt that this move should not intimidate me, and yet I did hesitate longer, and protect more, than I had done two years ago. The other crux is right at the top, a short, somewhat overhanging crack that requires nothing more than a couple of simple hand jams and a pinch of determination; the entire middle section is trivial. But it felt really good to pull it off.

 First, the spaghetti...

and later, the chili.

Ranger Danger, 5.8 smooth.  These 3 shots by John Ely.

           Ranger Danger is a short 5.8 slab climb, on the joint formed with a vertical dihedral wall. Short as it is (maybe 30 feet of actual climbing), it presents a real problem. The start is tricky friction; about 12 or 15 feet up one finds a narrow, short crack next to the wall which can take a little pink tri-cam and a .25 black one as well, which Todd lent to me for this purpose. And that's all you get. Two years ago Chris led this and we all followed, and I thought it remarkably easy, which just illustrates the great mental gulf between leading and following. Here on lead, frictioning above my two little pieces and missing an obvious bucket on the left wall, I had a moment or two of real leader tension, but, regardless of my physical ailments, I knew that a slab like this must yield to me, as they always do, when met with the proper mixture of patience and intensity. As the slab ended I put a nice big blue tri-cam into a hand crack on the left and went on up to the belay with ease. And I felt good belaying on a magnificent 3-piece equalized anchor, idly watching the endless mare's tails spin out across the sky, west to east.

 If Aeolus lends you the West Wind, be careful, don't let some numbskull in the crew fool with it.

Book 21, line 404:
           While they were talking Odysseus, master of stratagems, had picked up the great bow and checked it all over. As a minstrel skilled at the lyre and in song easily stretches a string round a new leather strap, fixing the twisted sheep-gut at both ends, so he strung the great bow without effort or haste. Then with his right hand he tested the string, and it sang as he plucked it with a sound like a swallow's note. The suitors were utterly mortified; the color faded from their cheeks; and to mark the moment there came a thunderclap from Zeus, and Odysseus' long-suffering heart leapt up for joy at this sign of favor from the Son of Chronos of the devious ways.
            One arrow lay loose on the table beside him; the rest, which the Achaean lords were soon to experience, were still inside their hollow quiver. He picked up this shaft, set it against the bridge of the bow, drew back the grooved end and the string together, all without rising from his stool, and, with a straight aim, shot. Not a single axe did he miss. From the first handle-ring, right through them all and out at the last the arrow sped with its burden of bronze.

 There is order in the universe.  Some, anyway.  One draw is missing, I think.

           That's when he finally knew he was home and safe. All that remained was to take out the trash and mop the bloody floor, and get straight with the wife for being out so late. One of those stories that never really ends.



About Me

My photo
He clasps the crag with crooked hands; Close to the sun in lonely lands, Ring'd with the azure world, he stands. The wrinkled sea beneath him crawls; He watches from his mountain walls, And like a thunderbolt he falls.