Saturday, September 29, 2007

A working weekend

The picture above will likely be the cover of the next issue of the Rangeley Highlander. It was taken on a river about 12 miles out of town, some 70 or 80 miles into a Saturday in which I just drove around looking for what in our business are called "grab shots" -- random photos you can use to show the weather or things people were up to on a particular day. For those who want to follow along, though the photos are in conceptual rather than chronological or geographic order, I went up through Kingfield on Route 27 to Stratton, then over on Route 16 to Rangeley and back home on Route 4, a total of about 130 miles or so.

I'll be working in the office tomorrow -- interspersed with some time to walk dogs and a break to catch a football game. But today was more of the opposite -- driving around enjoying the weather broken up by a few moments of taking pictures for work. It averages out in the end.

Moose are more dangerous at night because, while deer are light brown, moose are black and people really don't see them in time. The fact that they are also considerably larger than deer means that hitting them is no joke and there are a few fatalities each year among people who run into one, or (as often) who run into someone who had just run into one. People don't hit them as often during the day, though it does happen.

However, I didn't even see one, much less run into one today. Having a camera at the ready is probably a jinx.

Here are the dogs at the Wire Bridge, which was built in 1866 and is a local tourist attraction, though it's a bit off the main highway, on a piece of road that isn't necessary unless you actually live on it or want to go see the Wire Bridge. But there were a few of us who wanted to do just that, though not enough to get in each other's way.

Speaking of which, I am quite pleased at the way Mainers become rapturous over this time of year -- no matter how many years they've been here, they seem just as pleased to see the leaves turning as any one "from away" and they go to see the leaves just as enthusiastically as the tourists.

I blogged a photo of this stretch of the Carrabassett River a few weeks ago. It hasn't become any less attractive with the loss of chorophyll along its banks.

This is part of a set of falls just south of Rangeley called "Small's Falls" that are just off the road. There is a picnic area, trails, a few interpretative signs, etc., and it's quite popular. There were probably a dozen cars there, and people of every age.

Walking up to the falls, I came across this "stairway" of exposed roots. With all my clambering down river banks and so forth, it was about the best footing I had all day. Not sure it's good for the trees, but they've been around for years, so I suppose it isn't too bad for them, either.

I was struck by the "grooves" in the rocks towards the top of the falls. You can see the texture, and I assume this is some kind of an uplift, so that the layers are facing up rather than laying horizontally, and that there is enough variation in the minerals of the various layers that some are worn down by the water more rapidly than others. To give a sense of scale, while I didn't bother to count the needles in each bundle, these are either red or white pine needles and so about three inches long. Note also the curve and smoothly worn edge where the water runs next to the rock. Just beyond the edge, where you see the water disappear, is a fall of 30 feet or so.

Two sisters and the daughter of one of them were taking their own picture by the edge of the falls. The dark-haired sister had just set the timer and run back -- you can possibly make out their camera delicately perched in a tiny finger-thickness sapling -- quite ingenious. This is probably going to run on the front page of the Franklin Journal Tuesday, unless Sheila comes in tomorrow with something brilliant. After I took this, I went down and took a couple of shots of them with their camera, too. However, since the little girl was refusing to look straight at the scary man, the one they took with the tree stuck up in the sapling may be the best anyway.

Finally, here is something you may never have seen before, but how on earth can you do without it now? It's a 1952 Bombardier ... well, it's not a Ski-doo, but that's the company. They invented snowmobiles but wouldn't market the first of the small runabouts for another seven years. I would suspect this particular one transported skiers and other tourists, but they were used in Quebec for more mundane things like taking kids to school -- the back has two built-in facing benches, the front is a bench seat like a bus.

This was at a place that restores snowmobiles, and the first of the snowmobiles beyond this big one is more like what I was used to see running around the woods when I was a kid. But I want this one. It's only $7,500 and, according to the sign, "runs good." It even comes with an extra set of skis.

But that's for the next season. I'm going to enjoy autumn while it lasts.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

This was two weeks ago.

This was last weekend.

Autumn arrived in a week. These two pictures were taken along the same stretch of the trail where the dogs and I walk. The one on top shows green leaves just showing a bit of yellow tone. A week later, you can see how much the leaves have changed.

Things are getting beautiful here and I wish I had more reasons to just drive around and marvel at it all. I have asked people if I'm wrong about the speed of the change, but most agree -- It's as if the leaves were holding back and then, pow, just took off. What everyone is hoping is that they'll stay on the trees until most of them have changed. They are starting to fall, but slowly.

Incidentally, I'm finding that apples are not nearly as big a part of the local economy as they are in the Champlain Valley of New York, but the people who do grow them seem to grow more varieties -- Galas and Honey Crisps and new types like that. There are some pretty good apples at the roadside stands here.

This is the time of year I missed most when I lived out west. The weather has been a little too warm, but we'll have some nice crisp days soon enough. Meanwhile, the scenery still blows my mind, 20 autumns after I came back to the Northeast.

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Life imitates comics

The Speed Bump comic above ran in 2000. The story story below ran last week. Pity the poor cartoonists: The world is becoming ridiculous at a pace that makes it very difficult for them to keep ahead.

YONKERS - The spooked cat that was stuck 60-feet high in a willow for a week was at last blasted out of the tree last night by a high pressure water hose and landed - soaked but perfectly safe - into an outstretched sheet.

"It was so exciting," says Yonkers artist and animal rescuer Greg Speirs, who was among the crowd of 50 people assembled at the foot of the tree on Rockledge Place. "Everyone was cheering."

Before the cat came down, a crew from the Yonkers Fire Fepartment took a shot into the tree with the water hose and missed the furry target.

The volunteers watched where the water fell on the other side of the tree and adjusted the location of the outstretched sheet, Speirs said.

Good thing, because the next shot knocked the orange and white kitty clear out of the tree and perfectly into the safety blanket.

"As soon as the cat landed it jumped out and ran into the woods," said Speirs this morning, still animated about the dramatic dinner-time rescue. "Some kids helped us bring the cat back, and a man said he would adopt the cat right on the spot."

The cat seemed to be more hungry than anything else, chomping handful after handful of cat food, Speirs said.

"You can't come up with a nicer ending than that," he said.

Saturday, September 22, 2007

(Thursday's "Lio" by Mark Tatulli, reminded me of this column I wrote nearly 10 years ago. The granddaughter, now in sixth grade, has turned out to be well able to see through
commercial hype and comment perceptively about it.)

Poohaphernalia just another storybook sell-out

My granddaughter loves Pooh.
"Pooh!" she says, as we walk through the mall together, and there are many opportunities for her to point him out.
Pooh is everywhere, selling everything.
She's not old enough for the original books, for "Winnie the Pooh" or "House at Pooh Corners," but there are a lot of Pooh picture books, videos, clothing, toys and so forth geared for someone about to turn two, and, like every other toddler in America, she has been showered with Poohaphernalia by all her friends and relations.
In fact, by the time she's old enough for the A.A. Milne books, she'll probably know so much about Pooh that she won't want to bother with slower-paced, less hilarious versions of the bear. We can probably skip those gentle, wise witty sources of make-believe and go straight to, oh, I don't know, maybe Snoopy or Garfield.
The rich, wonderful stories that once warmed our children's hearts and fired their imaginations have been glitzed up, dumbed down and turned into profit centers.
It's certainly not just Pooh. When NBC sought to turn Laura Ingalls Wilder's "Little House" books into a TV series, producer Ed Friendly approached Roger McBride, the adopted son of Laura's daughter, Rose Wilder Lane, and current holder of the rights.
McBride was reportedly afraid of seeing his grandmother's stories turned into Hollywood glitz, but Friendly assured him of the respect he had for the originals, and persuaded him to allow the project to proceed.
The pilot was a made-for-TV movie that followed the first book faithfully, and the first few episodes of the series picked up the storyline of "On the Banks of Plum Creek."
Then Michael Landon took over creative control of the program, and Laura Ingalls Wilder's version of her own life was thrown on the trash heap along with her champion, Ed Friendly. The resulting TV series was politically correct, historically ridiculous and immensely popular.
Now we're seeing the television ads that came from Maurice Sendak's sale to Bell Atlantic of his 1963 classic children's book, "Where the Wild Things Are."
A December, 1997 press release from Bell Atlantic crowed over the Wild Things "first appearance in mass media advertising:"
"The book is a fitting metaphor for the current state of the communications industry. This campaign will remind Bell Atlantic's customers - and reassure them, too - that we are there for them through this figurative jungle of communications choices."
Well, maybe. It reminds me that nothing is sacred when it comes to making a buck. I am reassured that the most precious moments of childhood are available for the right price.
More often, the kids sell out. It was the heirs of A.A. Milne and Laura Ingalls Wilder who let those wonderful visions be sold for a mess of pottage.
Christopher Robin Milne was an unhappy child who hated being identified with the Pooh stories, so it's hardly surprising he was willing to cash in his inheritance.
And, if McBride didn't mean to betray Laura, her innocent pioneer memoirs had already been edited and shaped by her politically minded daughter to emphasize the hardy independence of orthodox Libertarian ideology.
Sendak's business decision is like those bumperstickers that say, "We're spending our children's inheritance." He sold out so he could enjoy the profits himself.
But why not? After all, he wrote the books to make a living, and kid's authors are under no obligation to be idealists.
Nor are they, often. For instance, Danny Kaye's movie and the Central Park statue notwithstanding, Hans Christian Anderson was no child-cuddling storyteller. He didn't even like writing children's stories, but he could make a living writing that stuff, and, apparently, couldn't make one writing what he preferred.
Generations of kids didn't know any of that, though. Whatever flaws their authors possessed were irrelevant, whatever motivations lurked behind their writing were invisible. You couldn't tell from the outside. None of it was inherent in the stories.
The stories were sweet and imaginative, and they created dreams, they inspired make-believe, they made children think about things beyond the specific images contained in them. They were part of a fading world of imagination and storytelling.
Today, our children grow up in a world of commercialism, little more than a target demographic to which simplified, shallow, market-tested images are spoonfed.
Theirs is a world in which Pooh is a cartoon character, the Wild Things sell telephones, Laura is in syndication and the only time storytelling involves a rocking chair is when you pull it over in front of the VCR.

copyright 1998, Press-Republican, Plattsburgh NY

Monday, September 10, 2007

A Young Man's Game

A while ago, I wrote about how the Houston Texans' new runningback Ahman Green and long-time defender Jason Simmons worked out a conflict over uniform numbers, with Green, at Simmons' suggestion, buying the rights to Number 30 by helping a single mother purchase a home.

Well, no good deed goes unpunished. Yesterday, having proved his off-field class, Simmons finally got a chance to ramp up his on-field status as well. Here, from the Houston Chronicle, is how it went:

Texans safety Jason Simmons had waited 10 NFL seasons before he was named a starter heading into opening day.

When the special day finally came Sunday, it turned into a nightmare.

Simmons' season came to a premature end in the second quarter of the Texans' 20-3 victory over the Kansas City Chiefs after the strong safety tore his left patellar tendon.

"I just was going to avoid a lineman and put my foot in the ground, and it just gave way," Simmons said. "Nothing more to it, just a freak accident. I was so upset. You finally get your chance — I wait to start my whole career — but I never could question God's timing. I'm fine."

Still a pretty classy guy, but this is the kind of injury that would be better happening to a 21-year-old rookie than a 31-year-old veteran.

At this stage of life, 31 seems awfully young, but it's not young when your body is your instrument, and it reminded me of a conversation I had back when a friend from college, Austin Carr, was playing in the NBA and his team came to Denver. I was going to say I was just about 31, but looking him up, I see that he had his jersey retired about four weeks before I hit that age, and, poking around a little more, I see that he and I were 27 and 28 respectively at the time.

Another friend from the college team was living in Denver then, so the two of us met Austin after the game for a beer, and Fatty Taylor, one of the Denver Nuggets, came over and sat with us. He and Carr started talking about Bobby Jones, the young Nuggets phenom who was the talk of the league that year -- and who was only 5 years younger than Taylor, 3 years younger than Austin and 2 years younger than me.

Austin had attracted some media attention at the time for being a vegetarian, which in 1977 was pretty unusual for a professional athlete, but he was serious about tuning the instrument. I mentioned to him that Kathy and I had gone veggie until she got pregnant, at which point her OB/GYN told her there were certain amino acids necessary for fetal brain development that you could only get in meat. Austin nodded, but then named three things you could add to a vegetarian diet that would fill that gap -- one was watercress, I can't remember the others. I was pretty impressed, considering that he was a young single guy with no kids at that stage.

How young? When Bobby Jones's name came up, Fatty Taylor started laughing about how this kid had an enormous contract and the team had a very, very generous per diem when they went on the road, but Jones would eat at Red Barn, a burger joint of the time, and pocket the rest of the money.

"Well, he can do that," Taylor chuckled, "he's young yet." And Austin nodded his agreement, and it was the first intimation I had that we weren't kids anymore.

Austin played until he was 30 and Fatty Taylor left the court at 31. Bobby Jones, despite his penny-pinching penchant for Barnbusters, played to the ripe old age of 34.

Jason Simmons may well rehab that knee and come back next season, but, if it isn't the end of his career, it's a sad end to what was shaping up as a year that would be a nice payoff for ten long years of hard work. (And I note that he is actually three months younger than my younger son, who probably doesn't think of himself as an old man yet.)

Saturday, September 01, 2007

Study: Editors sometimes don't quite get it

I was going through some things and came across this clipping, which I wanted to scan before it got any more yellowed and wrinkled. It's a favorite, and it still makes me laugh, even now that I am in a position to come up with equally perceptive headlines of my own. (If you click on it, you can make out the story, but the basic point is that the average college athlete drinks more than the average non-athlete student.)