January 29, 2010

#306 (mostly)

May your trails be crooked, winding, lonesome,
dangerous, leading to the most amazing view.
May your mountains rise into and above the clouds.

- Edward Abbey
(from Earth Apples: The Poetry of Edward Abbey)
I spent my last evening in Phoenix, sitting at the bar of the Pointe in Tyme Grille drinking a margarita and listening to a group of locals talk about accidents their wives got into with their pick-up trucks, "those Chinese" and "those Mexicans," and the Barrett-Jackson Collector Car Auction

The auction, held in neighboring Scottsdale, was on most of the televisions in the bar and seemed to have held the attention of the tourists and the locals alike.  One particular group of locals, a bit overserved at this point, tried to include me in their conversations about the cars being showcased.  It started by me asking if this auction was a "big deal" (I got some blank, "well, duh" stares on that one) and ended with everyone trying to guess the final bid on each vehicle.  The drunkest/friendliest of the group kept over-guessing by about 50-thousand dollars, which immediately brought to mind those people on The Price Is Right who would inexplicably guess the price of a toaster to be ridiculously more than any reasonable person would expect.  Maybe they were drunk, too.

I left after my second margarita, to the dismay of the over-guesser who seemed to have taken a liking to me, as I needed to get up early to take advantage the first sunny day in a week and my last in Phoenix.

Hoping to get caught up in the desert spirit, I brought an Edward Abbey book with me on this trip.  After two rainy days stuck on a mostly unoccupied resort complex, I was ready for the desert.  It was a crisp, cool morning and had a few hours to kill before I needed to head to the airport. 

At the edge of the resort was a gate.  On the other side of the gate (which was locked at dusk "to protect hotel guests" according to a sign"--I imagined packs of coyotes invading the resort after dark and carrying off small tourists) was the North Mountain Preserve, a large area of protected land in metro-Phoenix with several hiking trails. 

I took the Shaw Butte Trail, or #306, as it was listed as moderate to difficult and 4 miles seemed easy enough to finish with enough time to make my flight home.  The trail was nice--not too rugged, not too easy--but it certainly wasn't Abbey's desert.  Every scenic view was of civilization, the endless sprawl that is Phoenix, though there was usually a big cactus in the foreground.  We don't see many of those in Boston.

The trail system in this little park is simple enough, yet somehow I got a little confused at the top of the butte and then ended up going the wrong way on trail #100 at the bottom.  Nevertheless, I eventually found my way back to the hotel with enough time to grab lunch and a beer at the bar by the pool before heading to the airport.     

Self-portrait with cactus and sprawl
(hair made awesome by desert wind and hat)

January 28, 2010

January 26, 2010

Constant Drizzle in the Valley of the Sun

I came to Phoenix for the sun and heat.  Okay, that's not exactly true: I came for a conference for "Advanced Graduate Admissions Professionals," but I was especially looking forward to the sun and the heat.  This is the Great American Desert, after all, in a state that borders Mexico, for crying out loud. 

Alas, Mother Nature had other plans and decided to dump 50-60% of the average annual rainfall for the area, all in one week.  She even sent in high winds that forced officials to close the airport temporarily and caused local news teams to endanger their carefully styled news-hair by scattering throughout the area to investigate potential tornado sightings. 

Thus, I spent most of my time gazing out of the conference room windows at the many vacant hotel pools (in addition to the rain, it was also pretty cold) and sandbags stacked throughout the resort to keep the water from flooding the lobby, gift shop, and workout center.
In spite of the conditions, I did manage to pass a pleasant half hour in the hot tub (I wasn't quite brave enough to attempt a swim in the unoccupied pools) and wander off the resort where I encountered many wet cacti and vestages of the Old West.

Cheer up, Dear Reader (that's you, LSB), the rain eventually stopped and the sun came out.  The temperature even made into the mid-50s. 

January 22, 2010

The Overhead Bins Were Full, Too.

"We are 30 minutes outside of Phoenix and...uh...that's a good thing as our lavatories have reached their capacity and are no longer flushing.  So, if you can refrain from using them, except in the case of an extreme emergency, we would appreciate it."

- Announcement by a flight attendent on US Airways Flight #94 (BOS-PHX)

January 10, 2010

Books vs. Wild

From the center of Potsdam, NY, drive South, then east. Continue on snow-covered country roads and follow the brown wooden signs with "books" written in white paint nailed to telephone poles along the way. After a few miles, provided you don't miss a turn, you'll eventually end up at this place.


The BirchBark Bookshop, on the edge of the woods in Parishville, NY, is a sight to behold for a used book lover--a weathered old building (a converted barn, perhaps?) filled with 50,000 books (according to the sign by the road) neatly stacked on bookshelves held up by birch tree beams. It is a warm and cozy place, with antique chairs placed in snug corners, next to windows, and beside woodburning stoves; rough, unpainted wood paneled walls with old articles and advertisements afixed with thumbtacks; and creaky old floors.

In spite of the fact that the rate at which I buy books greatly exceeds the rate at which I read them--which means evergrowing clutter in our small apartment--for some reason, LSB tolerates my used book problem. I still don't know why she not only allows me to go to these places, but is an active participant in these excursions. She doesn't even like used books.  They don't have that new book smell she enjoys and she feels like a voyeur if she sees something that a previous owner may have written inside the cover (i.e. "Carl, may this book remind you of our trek through Lapland so many years ago..."). 

I've had good luck at the BirchBark. In the past, I've picked up a copy of an interesting, and beat up, Paul Theroux book, and a rare book from my favorite Polish writer (doesn't everyone have a favorite Polish writer?) Tadeusz Konwicki. On this trip, I found Walking Words, by Eduardo Galleano. LSB was even tempted to buy a hefty and worn, leatherbound copy of A History of St. Lawrence County from a period in the 1800's, but the $150 price tag gave her pause, even though the stories of 19th century life in the NoCo were so compelling.

While Progress may have consumed my sand pit, I'm thankful that, for now at least, this little anomally has been spared by our modern world. In fact, it has even expanded: BirchBark books now fill the top floor of a hardware store in Potsdam and a odd little cafe/travel center in Canton even has a few shelves.
Long live the North Country!

January 04, 2010

Walmart Ate My Sand Pit

"W" stands for evil, again.

My hometown of Victor, NY has been rapidly engulfed by "progress." It started with the McMansion housing developments with their requisite private golf courses, and continued with the expanding Eastview Mall, which has grown like some non-lethal, invasive bacteria over the past 10-15 years. The Thruway got wider and the natural habitat got smaller. Now there are churches and retirement communities where there used to be fields and forests.

We observed the latest encroachment on our post-Christmas walk to the Sand Pit. This has become somewhat of a holiday tradition to get some fresh air; burn off some calories from all of the food, beer, wine, and cookies; and escape the chaos of Inside. We walk down our (much busier) street, past the historic marker indicating a famous battle between the French and the local Seneca tribe in 1687 (which is placed in someone's front yard), continue past the Old Trailer Park--just an overgrown, swampy lot when I was a kid, the trailers gone soon after I was born, now the site of a new house with another on the way. From there we leave the road and wander up a dirt path through trees and brush. The path takes you up a hill and over a ridge where you can see the NYS Thruway (I-90) on your left and an occasional house on your right, partially obscured by trees and thorn bushes.

The path used to end at a sand pit; a childhood wonderland. It was full of enormous dirt piles that we used to ride our bikes up, down, and sometimes over. It was a parents worst nightmare--a secluded spot with ample opportunities for someone to wreck their bike or break a leg. It was so cool.

In spite of an epic battle familiar to other small towns fighting the good fight, the end of the trail looks a bit different today. Now, there's a giant parking lot, a Kohls, and a Walmart Supercenter (Opening Soon!).

Sigh. I wonder where the children of Victor, NY practice their daring bike stunts these days. And what did Walmart do with all of that sand? Maybe Progress eats dirt.