Saturday, January 29, 2011

Recklessly dashing through the snow

Today's technology changes everything. Now a snow day is not just a day off from school, a chance to bundle up, find a hill and let gravity entertain you.

Bring along a camera and it's an event, one to watch back at the house -- and in years to come.

Those runs down a hill in Brooklyn's Prospect Park take me back to one spring when my family visited my mom's brother in Maine. It was either an early Easter -- one of those Easter-in-late-March years -- or a late snowstorm that dumped several inches on my uncle's property.

Up the road, one of the two neighbors who lived within walking distance had a son who was a year older than me and for a couple of years, he and I would hang out during my family's visits. He came over after the snow piled up and we took a couple of sleds out into the yard.

Most of Uncle John's 200-some acres (at least, I think that's how big the property is; I asked once and that number seems to stand out in my head) is covered by forest -- including the hill. Paths through the pines lead down to the Sheepscot River and even now when I visit, one of the first things I do is walk across the lawn and down the short incline to the main path down to the river. The drop gets steeper as the pines stand taller until it opens up at the copper-brown water passing over the rocks on the river bottom. In our annual summer visits, we'd swim and fish and occasionally canoe from this spot. One year, after our cousins had reached high-school age (and I was in college), they joined my sister and me on inner tubes for a float down a mile or two of the river, to a dam downstream where my dad picked us up.

Some 200 yards to the north of that main walking path is another opening in the trees where an older and wider path leads into forest before narrowing and, in places, becoming a more difficult route to the river. I'm not sure why the path to the south became the preferred route to the water. But it was on this less-used path that the neighbor from down the road, Bobby, and I took our sleds after that Easter snowstorm. We somehow managed to steer the plastic sleds through the trees, avoiding both the steep drop to the left in one section of the run and the larger trees that stand near the thoroughfare.

I'm not sure how, exactly, we emerged from this adventure without any serious injuries. It's certainly possible that, in my memory, we only felt like we were going much faster than in reality. However, I do recall one incident in which I couldn't quite correct a drift to the right, glancing off of a tree with my right shoulder as I was spun off the sled, coming to rest along the path. I laughed it off, though there was definitely a throbbing sensation at the point of impact. I wasn't injured, but it left me sore for a few days, I'm sure. At the time, I thought how I'd narrowly missed a more serious injury, one that could have derailed my certain-to-be successful baseball career. (Turns out that my lack of ability is what derailed that job opportunity.)

On another run, when I couldn't keep the sled from drifting to the left where the forest dropped off into a shallow gorge (but with a drop steep enough and the trees close enough that you wouldn't want to ride a sled down it), I bailed safely and watched the sled careen down the slope, banging into a dozen young trees, most no thicker than my forearm.

Those runs through the Maine woods were not unlike the short trips down Breeze Hill in Brooklyn. We didn't have to contend with any gravestones, but we had a lot more trees and a narrower opening along a much-longer run.

And we had just as much fun.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Snow 2.0: This week's blizzard

Snowcapped bush

Winter's bearing down again, but I don't mind that much. I know it will mean another round of shoveling in the morning, attempts to clear the sidewalks and back porch, wipe off the car and clear out the berm the plows leave us at the driveway entrance. If it's going to be this cold, I'd rather have this precipitation with it. Give us something pretty to look at, even if it's only a day or so before it starts to get brown and yellow and slushy and gross. We've had weekly snows since Christmas, the last two -- and last week's was little more than a dusting, but enough to shovel off the sidewalk -- covering up what had not yet melted.

I thought about setting up the camera for a time-lapse project with this one, but I chose not to because there was already quite a bit of snow still left on the ground. It wouldn't have the same effect as one that starts with a snowless, colorful streetscape that, over time, gets whited out.

This is one of those muting snows, arriving after dark and carrying enough punch and prompting enough warnings to scare most people off the roads. Not that 1 a.m. is any kind of high-traffic period around here, but for the last hour or so, I've been alone with my thoughts (and the Twitterverse and other online distractions) and the background sounds of our house. Other than the gurgling of the cats' water fountain, some recessed hum of one appliance or another and the occasional hiss of the radiators (one is stirring to life right now, in fact), this night is quiet. It's as if the world has been insulated, the town and the city bundled up and tied down.

Snow in the Suburbs
--Thomas Hardy

Every branch big with it,
Bent every twig with it;
Every fork like a white web-foot;
Every street and pavement mute:
Some flakes have lost their way, and grope back upward, when
Meeting those meandering down they turn and descend again.
The palings are glued together like a wall,
And there is no waft of wind with the fleecy fall.

A sparrow enters the tree,
Whereon immediately
A snow-lump thrice his own slight size
Descends on him and showers his head and eyes,
And overturns him,
And near inurns him,
And lights on a lower twig, when its brush
Starts off a volley of other lodging lumps with a rush.

The steps are a blanched slope,
Up which, with feeble hope,
A black cat comes, wide-eyed and thin;
And we take him in.

Wednesday, January 05, 2011

Pick ME, Mazda!

I just submitted an short essay for Mazda's online "Zoom Zoom" magazine. First prize gets to take his or her proposed road trip and wins an iPod Touch to bring along. (Would be pretty nice to win a car, too, but whatever.) I'm sure I have as good a chance of winning this as I did the $330 million Mega Millions jackpot tonight. (That is, slim to none, and Slim just left the building and forgot his keys.)

Anyway, here's the itinerary I whipped up in five minutes, based on our trip last March and with some new destinations tacked on to the end.

> > >

When I think of road trips, I think of the American West. I may be a Jersey guy who went to college in the Midwest, but I feel right home in the desert or the Rockies. Though I've made several trips to Arizona, Utah and Colorado, if given the time and resources for a road trip somewhere in North America, I think I'd go right back to roads I've cruised before.

Starting in Phoenix, we'll head north to Flagstaff, taking scenic Route 89A from Sedona. After exploring parts of old Route 66 outside "Flag," we'd head north to the Grand Canyon. From there, it'd be east out of the park and down into the Painted Desert on the way up to Monument Valley. Next, it's up into Utah, past Mexican Hat and on into Moab, where a few days would be needed to see Arches and Canyonlands.

But then a decision must be made. One option is to turn west to hit Capitol Reef and then south again for Bryce Canyon and Zion. Depending on the season, a stop at the gorgeous and even more remote North Rim of the Grand Canyon would be a bonus. Finally, if time permits, I'd like to continue west and back around the Grand Canyon -- via Hoover Dam -- to get back to Phoenix and a trip-capping dinner at the famed Pizzeria Bianco.

Or perhaps we'll go east from Moab into Colorado, where the options include turning north to Dinosaur National park, south to Mesa Verde, or cruise east on the prettiest interstate in America, I-70, to Rocky Mountain National Park. If this is our route, Denver would be our finale -- some good steak and wine in LoDo.

Tuesday, January 04, 2011

Tiny Christmas tree, Route 3

Back before it was torn down to make way for a new entrance to a shopping center (even though it's still listed in a Google search), the Falls View Grill on Route 3 would light one of the tiny pine trees in its minimal patch of landscaping at Christmastime. My favorite part was how they'd leave it on all night, so that I'd see it on my rides home in the wee hours. I just enjoy Christmas lights, but not too many people leave them on through the night. There are some homes that do along Route 3, but when we're cruising by at 50 mph, it's difficult to take in an entire house or block. But one tiny little tree is easy to see on Route 3.

Saturday, January 01, 2011

A slothful New Year's Day

Before I get any more wrapped up in other internet distractions, it's time to get back to the personal blog. I've let it slide yet again, so in a last-ditch effort to bring myself back to it, I'm hoping to dedicate myself more to it in 2011.

Two years, ago, I pledged to take a photo a day and post it on my photo blog. Mission accomplished. Last year, the plan was to devote myself to more baseball blogging, and that has gone well -- though the photo blog suffered as a result, going from 418 entries in 2009 to 40 posts in 2010. This year, the goal is to update this one more frequently -- I'm not putting any requirements on it, but I'd like to shoot for at least four per month -- a once-a-week average -- while maintaining the same on the other two blogs. Maybe I'll get to it more (I could see myself jumping into this 110 percent, posting every day -- or close to it -- for the first week or so, until that pace proves to be too much and I slack off a bit), but I'd hope it's not any less than that.

I think part of the reason my visits here have waned is my use of Facebook and Twitter, where both sites allow me to post simple, quick thoughts without the need for elaboration. But what they don't provide is a journal-like record of my life, an easily read (or searched) log that I'll (presumably) someday use to look back, reflect and enjoy. Or something.

So let this stand as the record for Day 1 of 2011, when we spent the entire day lounging around Bryan's house -- Casey and me on the couch, Bryan and Lee on the air mattress on the floor -- and watched our way through six entire movies: Ghostbusters 1 and 2, Rushmore, Saved, Scrooged and The Royal Tenenbaums. Breakfast was Mickey Mouse waffle cakes (allegedly waffles, but they seemed more like pancakes to me); lunch was delivery (pizza for me) and dinner was takeout (gourmet mac and cheese with bacon).

I also spent a good part of the day with the laptop open, either watching bowl games (and Notre Dame-Syracuse basketball) online or working on my timelapse video of the New Year's Eve party. That effort follows. Happy New (blogging) Year!