Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Year in Review

Karen and I often sit down this time of year and list the year in review, as if we were editors of a newspaper or magazine.  I never really thought about where this tradition came from, perhaps our experiences with Citicorp back when we had to prepare weekly and monthly reports.  Some day maybe I'll tell you about those weeklies and sitting down with Carl Levinson and his other direct reports to review them on Monday morning, afternoon, sometimes into evening.  No, I don't think I will.  I understand he's retired, so maybe he deserves to be let alone.  In case you're wondering, that was 17 years ago, before what's now called Citigroup got into its current mess (and after it had worked its way out of the last one -- it had almost failed before, more than once or twice, did you know?).

Anyway, this year's list would include adding on to the goat barn for turkeys, which joined our herd for a while until we put the "tur" in the freezer and replaced them with "don".  Which reminds me Adam lost a "key" to our Volvo wagon.  He thinks it may be hiding in the bottom of our famous local swimming hole, the "Straw Pond."  We haven't bought eggs in a year and a half.  Yesterday, Karen bought milk for the first time in almost a year.  That skim milk tasted almost like water on my oatmeal this morning.  Come on girls, have your babies!  "Maybe that's why you got sick," Karen suggested this morning.

Yes, I need the healing, anti-bacterial life force of goat mammary emissions, which brings me to Hellgate, an important lesson for me this year.  That "race" helped destroy my running regimen for December.  Having rested the week before, which basically eliminated any mileage at the beginning of the month, the 46 miles I finished battered me down and probably yielded my immune systems to this cough/cold I've been fighting for a week and a half when I haven't been running because a little exertion sets me into a coughing spree and we've pert near run out of goat milk.  So, after 11 months of fantastic running that put me on track to complete my first 2000-mile year in years, I'm ending up shy with 1940.  Shy, did I say Chy?  That's our jenny (a new word for me in 2010).  Or "chi," pain-free running, which I did experience all year until my falls during Hellgate.

"What's the lesson?" says Virginia. 

Relax, run for the joy of it, and don't complicate it with visions of heroics, award jackets or age division trophies.

Gosh, I only barely got started on the list, didn't I?  My musical highlight had to have been playing the first movement of Schumann's Piano Concerto in A minor with the local orchestra in early March.  Thanks, folks, for that opportunity.  People who play like me don't often get to do something like that.  The monster concert holiday singalong wasn't too shabby either, plain clean fun (not counting "Santa Baby," unless we agree it was sung by Mrs. Santa and not that other girl).  Meanwhile, banks have been buying the "Practical Guide to the Wall Street Reform & Consumer Protection Act," released during the summer after a mad dash.  Thank you, readers.

More later, maybe -- greenhouse, court appearance, visits with friends and family, just read through old blog entries.  The next step for Karen and me, according to custom, is to try to predict 2011.

Tuesday, December 28, 2010

Lettuce Sprouts and Greenhouse Heat

"You should have posted photos yesterday," says Virginia.

 There's still time.  Here's some baby lettuce.
Here's where the lettuce is planted:
I set up two of these beds side-by-side in the center of the greenhouse.

I'm blaming a cough and a cold for the fact that the compost bin isn't full yet.  When it's full, it may be steaming....

I haven't put all my eggs in one basket.  I'm also using some water storage, hoping it helps regulate temperatures.  Here are two walls of water, donated by Susan, one wrapped in black.

Monday, December 27, 2010

Tomorrow

Little rows of tiny green plants reach toward the plastic roof of my greenhouse, jeering at my absence of faith.  It's too early to discount the possibility of miscarriages, but we just might be picking lettuce near the end of January.

"How's the compost bin?" says Virginia.

I still have high hopes for the warming effect of the compost and manure cage, but I'd better not forget to soak it now and then, as I did until a week ago.  All it was doing was drying out, snow everywhere and none inside the box, the christening of an indoor gardener.  I'm sure Will Allen, the man who said he uses manure in each corner of his 100-foot "Growing Power" greenhouses in Milwaukee, figured others would be smart enough to remember it rarely rains inside most greenhouses.  For more on manure-heated greenhouses, check out http://forums2.gardenweb.com/forums/load/strucs/msg1015481727287.html.

Note the naysayer who says "if manure worked, commercial greenhouses would use it," implying it doesn't work.  Nonsense.  White roofs help keep cities cooler, but painting roofs white has only recently begun to catch on.  Others say that before modern heaters, commercial greenhouses used "HM" (horse manure).  How did they do it?  We'll find out, and we'll do it better.  We're going to rediscover all sorts of things in the next 10 years -- despite the efforts of firms over-invested in products they want us to wastefully consume, such as oil heaters for greenhouses and black shingles.  More and more people are going to raise their own chickens and goats, gather eggs and make their own cheese.  Bet on it!

Thursday, December 23, 2010

Back-Seat Rider

Headed for Pennsylvania and some home-made pumpkin pie, I plunked myself in the backseat and stayed there.  I've sometimes said that if I win a lottery, I'll hire a driver.  I guess I won.  Two-thirds of our family love to drive, allowing me to work and take a nap.

So here we are in William Penn country, full of old stone houses and a lot of wind, but no snow.  Virginia's getting the white stuff this year instead.

Tonight I caught the evening news on ABC, one of the features being criticism of Kate Middleton's likeness on a British coin.  Newsworthy, certainly.  I learned how difficult it is to represent a human face 10 years ago when I hired a sculptor to catch our son, Adam, in bronze.  The poor artist had to put up with repeated objections, "something's not quite right; I can't put my finger on it."  (Actually I could, but that didn't help.)  Seldom can I recognize the real-life version of what I've seen in a photograph, much less a human's attempt to mold a ball of clay.  I remember the brouhaha about Peter Hurd's Lyndon Johnson portrait.  So yes, we need to be reminded every 40 years or so that a coin or portrait isn't a person.  Big news.

"Sometime you should ask Virginia about this," says Virginia.

Or Dennis.  I think I will.

Wednesday, December 22, 2010

King for a Day

Back at the castle, one day between trips to Ohio and Pennsylvania, the Lady of the Manor, a/k/a the Queen, greeted the King and Prince with venison lasagna.  Several of the subjects quacked, a few whined welcomes, and the Boxers begged for belly pats.  The egg layers couldn't care less. 

Or were the whines expressions of suspicion?  My day began with unfinished business, a return trip to the abattoir.  When I arrived home with two full coolers, I glanced at the goat paddock with a twinge of guilt, not yet a full-fledged farmer.  Tonight's dinner plays out the deal I mentioned in an earlier blog -- continuing carnivore versus virgin vegetarian.  We sort of agreed that if we could not eat Shasta and Dodger, then meat markets would become off-limits.  Unlike the protein most of you eat, I like to think they were happy from birth to death.  In fact, not too many birds, butterflies, rabbits and other creatures suffered as they traveled from farm to table -- which is not the case with the out-of-season produce that graces grocery shelves throughout the year.  Tears have been shed, something that most likely can't be said for most of the hamburger and green beans (look at them under a microscope sometime) devoured here and around the world.  We, kings and queens, sit on the top of many pyramids.

My trip to Bluffton often reminded me that big rocks to little children are simply stones to adults.  On the morning I ran past the Community Market to buy a couple "expensive" navel oranges for my mother, the house that guards the entrance to the skilled nursing facility surprised me.  Not only could I see it from the town hall, it was merely blocks away.  My 4-mile trudge through waist-high sludge to elementary school had shrunk to less than a mile. Today I ran to our post office and local bank before launching my 8-mile round-trip to Arrowhead Lodge, reminding me that we live near a small town, too.

"You smell like gasoline," says Virginia.

She's right.  This afternoon I cranked up my Stihl and divided a few logs into firewood.  Welcome home, King!

Monday, December 20, 2010

Time Machine

When I was a kid, we referred to "old folks,'" "nursing" or "rest" homes.  Now sixty-, seventy- and eighty-somethings often settle into "retirement communities." I kind of like the term "autumn" care.  Too soon my name will be eligible for waiting lists.  I find myself visiting these places more and more often.

Kendal at Lexington, with its very nice little concert hall, repeatedly invites the Arrowhead Trio to test our repertoire of music composed in the past 100 years.  My own mother, about a year ago, questioned whether "anyone really wants to hear that kind of music." They seem to enjoy our explanations of what we're about to play.  On the other hand, I must admit I've been known to smile and nod while struggling to hear someone in the middle of a crowd.

Speaking of Mother, she frightened her children -- we will always be her children -- two weeks ago when she entered St. Rita's after fracturing a few vertebrae.  While at the hospital, her heart rate slowed perilously and persuaded her to accept a doctor's recommendation that she abandon independent living, at least for a while.  After a few days in a skilled nursing facility (SNF), tomorrow she's scheduled to claim an assisted living unit.  So we children have been exploring retirement living with new interest.  Reality therapy, I guess.

As I walked with her through the floors of the SNF, I found myself stepping back in time.  Name plates on doors returned me to 4th grade and junior high math (Mrs. Steiner), City Savings and Loan (Mr. Bauman), typing class (not mine, Miss Duffield), music history and choir (Mr. Lehman), and other venues.  When I accompanied her to the home's beauty salon, my brain frantically searched and finally connected the wet head under a hair dryer to the mother of a childhood friend (Mrs. Vercler).  If all these good people have made this place home, it can't be too bad.

"It's hard getting old," says Virginia.

Several other people have recently told me that.  My mother, now approaching 89, said, "I guess this must be what it feels like to get old."

I couldn't say.  I don't know.  I imagine I may entertain that thought before I'm 88.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Dream On

I love to dream of different tomorrows even when I'm content with today.  I think it was Jay McDaniel, somewhere in Living from the Center: Spirituality in an Age of Consumerism, who suggested that contentment is dangerous, a sign of stagnation and laziness. 

I don't mean dreaming of more of this and that, things I might find in a store like WalMart or Bloomingdales. Rather, I'm dreaming of different experiences, such as living in a "tiny home" (see http://books.google.com/books?id=ctbIIwjjnCMC&printsec=frontcover&dq=Tny+home,+pat+foreman&source=bl&ots=VQ-VCT_6-6&sig=UmA59AThAnVOzbez4An9HgOtDKg&hl=en&ei=v9sOTefQD4Sclgf1vqTYCw&sa=X&oi=book_result&ct=result&resnum=1&ved=0CBUQ6AEwAA#v=onepage&q&f=false), in New Zealand, in New York City or a small town.  Or trying to get along without a car.  Or growing trout in my greenhouse.  Or building a round barn in our field, with living quarters above the livestock.  Or filling the field with vegetables and sitting at a roadside stand in my eighties, offering free produce to passersby.  Or traveling here and there to give a few dollars to people in need.

I liked the name "DREAM Act" (the Development, Relief and Education to Alien Minors Act) given to the proposed federal legislation that would have allowed illegal immigrants to earn permanent residency status and eventually citizenship after high school graduation by completing military service or college education.  Unfortunately, yesterday the U.S. Senate dashed the dreams of students who had hoped the Act would help them. 

"You're spoiled by foolish dreams," says Virginia. "So am I."

So what?  And I don't believe they're foolish or useless, or we wouldn't be living on Elk Cliff Farm. Maybe it's time for a national (or international) campaign to spread dreamfulness.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

Jingle Jog

A few days ago, my sister invited my oldest brother and me to join her this morning at the Jingle Jog in Pandora, Ohio.  It sounded like a plan to me, except for one thing.  She predicted a temperature of 17 degrees (F) at the 9:30 start.  She may have been right, but a stiff breeze sank the real feel much lower.

"Who cares?" says Virginia.  "You guys are plain nuts anyway."

I guess she's right, carrying us back to an old theme.  Half the world, or more, probably always thinks the other half is crazy, so when we start talking about things we don't have to do, even more think we're off our rockers.  In this case, we're talking about a short road race, with a cop car in the lead, another following, and 50 or 60 people in between, covered with layers of high-tech fibers.  Although nothing was unusual, other than the temps and occasional snow drifts, most people would prefer to stay home and watch the nincompoops through glazed windows.

"Totally useless," says Virginia.

Some day I'm going to define that term, "useless," and rant about the usefulness of uselessness.  Not now.  We, three, crossed the finish line holding hands, after 25 minutes of conversation and no interruptions by text messages, phone calls, television sidebars, or page-turning.  Probably not useless.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

"Let It Snow"

"Let It Snow, Let It Snow, Let It Snow" found its way onto our set list for last night's "Monster Concert Holiday Singalong" and became a reality show today.  I wore a GPS watch as I shoveled our driveway twice, a little over 2 miles in 3 hours.  To be honest, I "swept" the driveway with a wide janitor's broom, finding it more convenient than a shovel for pushing away 2-3 inches of light snow at a time.

"How'd it go?" asks Virginia.

If the Singalong -- 4 pianists playing 4 pianos, with perhaps 90 people singing -- were on my bucket list, I'd circle it in red and refuse to cross it off.  Based on the number of people asking for it to become the "First Annual," I may not be alone in rating it as more fun than any other musical event I've attended. To say people sang is an understatement.  According to Linda Krantz, hostess and co-impresario, something about four pianos going at once ran shyness out of style even better than too many drinks.  Too much alcohol would have broken the silence at the "Silent Night" conclusion, and that didn't happen.
This picture shows the quartet warming up beforehand, with Susanne Fitzgerald (on the left) getting ready to practice "Santa Baby."  Perhaps you can picture the seats full of warbling revelers.
From right to left:  Tim Gaylard, Betty Bond Nichols, Kirk Luder, and Santa.

Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Bit by Bit

As I watch my solar electric fence, disconnected for the winter, shivering madly to brisk winds, I'm thinking what to try with the field garden weed patch next season.  I'd like to fill it with grains for the farm animals and sweet corn for the human animals.  Before that can work, the ubiquitous Johnsongrass rhizomes must be conquered.  I could arrange several 2-3 week passes by a tractor or I could gradually cover it with cardboard, topsoil and manure.  I'm inclined toward the latter, which I could start any time and would nudge it toward a rich organic environment.

"That would take forever," says Virginia.

Forever is a very long word.  It's true that gardening is forever, at least the kind I have in mind, but like anything worth doing in life, bit by bit eventually gets the job done.  By late spring, that 10,000 square foot patch could be a neighborhood attraction, for humans as well as deer and ground hogs.

"Bit by bit" -- a lasting slogan, motivator of the mighty.  "How do you run 50 miles?"  "Bit by bit."  "How can you read a book as long as "Les Miserables?"  "Bit by bit."  How did you make it through college/law/vet/med school?"  "Bit by bit."  "And how do you write a book?"

"Bit by bit."

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Confession of a Quitter

Hellgate handed me my first "DNF" (did not finish).  I ran according to plan, with a conservative start that brought me to the first cut-off with 10 minutes to spare -- 12:20, 25 miles, Headforemost Mountain.  Staying upright had proved to be difficult.  By then, I was ahead of Dave Moore, my running partner, in falls, 2 to 1.  In the darkness, headlamps sometimes changed rocks into leaves and leaves into rocks, and snow on top of both completed the disguise.  My first trip was slow, gentle and leafy.  My second was not, but I bounced into forward progress and urged everything to return where it belonged.

The weather was almost perfect, other than the evidence left by its past.  The midnight start, at 23 degrees (F), felt comfortable in the midst of 130 bodies.  Even at the high elevations, the air was relatively still.  Fingers that stiffened on downhills quickly warmed when we headed up.  The inevitably wet feet from "Hellgate Creek" (the race nickname; its actual name is Elk Creek, the same creek that borders our farm) never felt cold, although whoever said "they'll quickly dry" was wrong.

"So why did you quit?" says Virginia.

I missed the second cut-off is the easy answer.  I arrived at aid station 7, Bearwallow Gap, mile 46, after 12:30 p.m.  My third fall had taken its toll.  I hit my right shin pretty hard.  I rested for thirty seconds or so, then rose and resumed running.  Forget the details.  How much is weak mind over matter is anyone's guess.  I'm sure someone like David Horton, race director, or David Goggins, top ultraman-plus who ran and finished the race 3 months after heart surgery (see http://triathlete-europe.competitor.com/2010/05/14/david-goggins-toughest-athlete-planet/), might say it's no guess; it's clearly mind over matter.  I might protest in a high, whiny voice, pointing at the swelling in my right leg.  In a way they would be right -- I probably could have finished, maybe not by the 18-hour deadline.  My wimpy wish had been to beat the second cut-off by an hour or so and walk, if I had to, the rest of the way, maybe even enjoying the scenery.  With that wish ditched, so went my motivation.

I like to think that at age 57 I'm finally man enough to figure out and admit when I've had enough.  In 1992, at mile 24 in Chicago, I found myself "cruising" to a sub-3 marathon.  Then I hit the proverbial wall.  I was very disappointed and Karen, having seen me giving a thumbs up shortly before the wall, worried like crazy until I finally finished in 3:09.  The year before, in Toledo, less than six miles into the Glass City Marathon, my stomach wouldn't cooperate.  I finished the race by running until I felt like throwing up, walking until I didn't, repeating, ad nauseam.  As it turned out, I had the flu.  This time Karen didn't have to worry.  I had a cellphone and it worked.

Hey, 46 miles still looks pretty good in my running log.  I suppose it even counts as a marathon (almost two of them).

Friday, December 10, 2010

Day of Hellgate

Weather predictions anticipate a pretty day tomorrow, real feel at midnight of 25 degrees, gradually rising to 46, with a high chance of rain late in the day after Hellgate is over.  According to David Horton, the race director, the southern section of the Blue Ridge Parkway is likely to remain closed because of 2 inches of packed snow at the high elevations (aid stations 2, 3 and 4).  Maybe the conditions will be almost perfect, except for the risks presented by snow and ice.   Perhaps the melt queen will slip in and clear all that away, please do, dear.

Karen provided an awesome dinner last night, with salad and calzones, preceded by 3 cheeses courtesy of our goats and her hand-made rosemary crackers, all shared by a few friends who kindly asked a few questions about running 66 miles.  As it turned out, at least two of our guests hold record "firsts."  When I asked if they were in the Guinness Book of World Records, they suggested that firsts don't get into that book -- what get in are the successes in beating the firsts.  Bob and a colleague were the first to spend 24 hours underwater below 7 feet of Arctic ice.  Bob and Gerri and a friend were the first to spend 7 days at full nitrogen saturation 50 feet underwater.  Dennis took multi-month bicycle rides by himself, traveling up to 120 miles per day. No one accused anyone of being crazy. 

All boded well for a rich sleep, which ended at 9 this morning and may complicate my hopes for a couple good naps before midnight.  I hunted down an old blue Citicorp gym bag and filled it with things this runner might want after the sun rises -- shoes, clothes and a pair of new contacts.  Called a "drop bag," the Hellgate volunteers will make it available at aid stations 4 (Mile 22: Headforemost Mountain) and 7 (Mile 43: Bearwallow Gap).  I'll rely on the 9 aid stations for food and water refills.  According to the race director, the first aid station open to "crews" (i.e., friends of runners who want to offer support) will be aid station 5 (Mile 28: Jennings Creek) -- unless the Forest Service reopens that portion of the Parkway.  A forest ranger said the Parkway may be opened south of Bearwallow Gap (Mile 43: aid station 7).  So, crews might as well sleep in and forget about driving around in the dark.

Karen called me out to the greenhouse, thinking I might like a diversion from whatever I'm thinking about.  "Hmmm, what could that be?" asks Virginia.  She's adding fuel to my hoped-for greenhouse heater, the compost/manure bin, which so far I don't think has raised the temperature very much.  I should get a thermometer with a probe and figure out what's happening under that pile of crap.

See, her ploy worked.  Now I get to label this blog posting "Gardening" and "Greenhouse" as well as "Running" and "Hellgate."

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Day Before Hellgate

"What does a runner feel like the day before the day of a race?"  asks Virginia.

It's not a race, I tell others and I tell myself.  As usual, it depends on what you mean by "race."  By the first definition in my 1981 version of Webster's New Collegiate Dictionary -- "the act of running" -- it is a race, although most of us will be doing a lot of walking, especially on the uphills, which are many, with an estimated total elevation change of over 13,500 feet.  As for the verb form -- "to compete in a race," "to go or move at top speed or out of control" -- for me, it's not a race.  I'm sure some of the fellows far ahead of me will be competing.  I won't be, and I hope not to be "out of control."

At this point, "being out of control" is my biggest concern.  I like to be comfortable when I run, not too warm and not too cool, cruising along, enjoying the scenery and sometimes the company of other runners.  The biggest challenge on Saturday will be finding that comfort zone, despite the possibility of snow, ice and cold.  And darkness at the midnight start!  I have never run a marathon at night.  Even if I cover the first third of this course as slowly as I hope, I'll nearly finish the 26.2-mile marathon distance by sunrise.  In light of the snowfall that probably remains on the highlands, "slowly" will be a key to not falling "out of control."

More directly on point regarding Virginia's question, today is my 7th consecutive day not running, except for a 3/4-mile test last night of my headlamp and flashlight.  I haven't gone this long without running in years.  It's all because of my former running buddy and 60-plus ultra veteran, John Zerger, who suggested I rest the last week.  Anticipating the objections of a compulsive recordkeeper, he said, "Don't worry.  You'll be able to log 66 miles on Saturday, very good total miles for a week."  On one hand, I understand the psychology of the racehorse waiting for the starting gate to rise and the physiology of resting after months of hard training.  On the other, a certain insecurity arises from not having used my legs for a week.  "Will they still work?"

It's been many years since I've slept as fitfully as I have this week, which probably results from muscles that aren't used to resting so much and nervousness about the physical challenge of running farther than I have ever run in one day.  Last night I dreamed I missed the starting gun, began running an hour or more late then realized I'd forgotten about packet pickup (i.e., getting my bib number and other paraphernalia), suddenly remembered I'd have to run like crazy to make the first cut-off which I then missed by far, got lost on a trail leading to Roanoke, where some crazy old coot in a big Cadillac almost hit me, stopped his car in the middle of the road, and chased after me.  A nice young couple came to my rescue and drove me part way home.

Speaking of sleep, remember that the race starts at 12:01 a.m.  I'm usually in bed before then.  I imagine anticipation and adrenaline will keep me alert at the beginning.  Will I be running with my eyes closed by 6 a.m?  I hope to head that off by catching some shut-eye tomorrow afternoon and evening.  I'm sure you can imagine how restful those cat naps may be. Meow!

This morning when I retrieved my usual 3 armloads of firewood, I smiled at 25 degrees, a clear blue sky, and bright sunshine.  At 12:01 a.m., Saturday morning, I intend to smile at the black night, near-freezing temperatures, and the sounds of 120 people running together into the night.

Monday, December 6, 2010

What the Law and Gardening Have in Common

The last couple days have done a number on the arugula.  I should have covered it with a little hoop house.  Mark it up as another gardening lesson.  I can read all sorts of stuff about gardening, but it doesn't sink in until a live, visual, and tactile memory accompanies my recollection of the written word.  Here's a secret:  don't tell the wilted arugula, but if it had been a thriving colony of buttercrunch lettuce, it would have been hooped or cold-framed.

Every day I wander out to the greenhouse for two reasons.  One, to see what the thermometer says early in the morning.  This morning I tapped it in disbelief.  Sixty degrees (F)?  Two, to see what's happened in the raised bed I planted late last week.  I keep imagining a few little green leaves.  Oh, a third reason lately has been to retrieve the stapler to refasten the yellow plastic fence that keeps getting dislodged by our ambitious winds.  Karen informed me this morning that one whole side had blown off the winter wheat garden around the older greenhouse, the one the chickens love to visit.  A hundred feet away, sheltered by hundred-plus-year-old American boxwoods, my more expansive wheat planting is proving much more successful, knock on wood.

Other than trips to the woodshed and mailbox, that's been about it for outdoor recreation this week.  Resting before a "race" is like trying to resist a fresh batch of chocolate chip cookies. To keep my mind cluttered with other things, I'm wending my way through court decisions and helping Virginia grow up.

Today I came across a robo-signer opinion by Judge Arthur Shack of New York, sort of a hero of mine.  If you've been following the foreclosure crisis, you've probably heard of robo-signers, a vocabulary word invented this year to refer to the people hired by mortgage servicers to sign 750 or more loans' worth of mortgage-related documents per day, certifying their accuracy in 30 seconds (about enough time for me to grab a stack and sign one "J").  Speed-reading is not an employment requirement.  In this case, the judge was very frustrated with Ms. Johnson-Seck, her employer (OneWest), and the handful, maybe more, of firms that supposedly had endowed her with the authority to sign their names.  Embarrassed by nationwide publicity, OneWest asked the court to allow the withdrawal of its request for an order of reference (to allow foreclosure).  Judge Shack granted the request, but went a bit further than OneWest wanted -- dismissing the entire case while allowing renewal of the request for an order of reference within 90 days ONLY IF: (1) Ms. Johnson-Seck explained how she happened to be a "vice president" of 4 or 5 different firms; (2) OneWest provided proof of authority from the original lender to MERS (Mortgage Electronic Registration System, Inc.) to IndyMac to OneWest; and (3) OneWest's attorney provided an affirmation that he had personally reviewed the documents and records and confirmed their factual accuracy and the notarizations on the documents.  I imagine that's a tougher row to hoe than a few miles of winter wheat.

Saturday, December 4, 2010

Black and White Day

Today was tough for this pseudo-ultramarathoner, thankfully today instead of a week from today.  This morning I tried to imagine running 25 miles by the time I woke and couldn't.  My stomach felt as if someone had kicked it.  I couldn't find enough handy blankets to get warm.  After 3 frigid trips to the bathroom, I felt better, but far from good.  Now, near the end of the afternoon, I've enjoyed a 9 a.m. rise and two long naps. For the first time in months, maybe years, I haven't been outside.  Wait a minute...there, cancel that!  I just let a few snowflakes melt on my tongue.

When Karen slammed the back door this morning to fetch firewood -- you must slam it or it won't latch --  I found comfort both in her willingness to pinch hit for me and Chy's foghorn.  Also, it must have been almost first thing, Karen put my overalls in the wash.  A few hours later, she delivered them to me, toasty warm from the drier.  Finally, there might be sweat somewhere on my body.  No hanging out the laundry today.  See why?
Lately, I've been thinking about how fortunate we are to live in this home, especially on a day like today. All but one of our walls, interior as well as exterior, are at least a foot thick, made of brick from clay harvested and fired on-site.  According to a neighbor, his grandfather lived for a while in a train car and walked across our field every day to bake bricks.  More than 140 years ago, someone knew a little something about passive solar construction, facing this house north and south with tall, wide windows that allow the sun to warm much of our living space, including the walls.  Nevertheless, on a cloudy day like today, it might be nice to build lofts up under our 9 1/2 foot ceilings.

"So what?" says Virginia.

Just being thankful.  No one other than perhaps me is going to be terribly disappointed if more snow and ice coats the Blue Ridge next weekend and I choose to stay in our little castle.

"Certainly not me," says Virginia.  "You might work on my life, as you did today.  Thanks."

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Farm Music

Do you hear what I hear? Loud snorting, like a giant pig.  Maybe soon it will develop into a foghorn.  Chy, our jenny, just like me, gets very excited when Karen comes near.  Maybe she's bringing something special, some arugula (for Chy) or some freshly baked chocolate chip cookies (for me).

If you think roosters only crow early in the morning, come for a visit and you'll learn the truth.  Which reminds me -- since the rooster born last Spring spent a few hours at a slow bake, the barnyard has sounded different.  I sort of miss the crowing duets, back and forth, back and forth, usually in the afternoon.  Lately, too, the change in seasons has caused most of our hens to abandon their egg-laying squawks, taking us down to two eggs per day.

Each time either of us slams the back door on our way out, a chorus of baas calls from the goat paddocks.  I must admit it's great to feel loved.  Don't tell me they only want me for food because even after they know I'm carrying none, at least one of them crowds me and massages my glutes.

Today and yesterday, underneath everything, inside or outside, is a low rushing sound.  Not like the random rumblings of motor vehicles or aircraft passing, it's constant, continually up and over and down.  Sometimes when I step outside, my first thought is it's raining, then I remember it's not, it's Elk Creek after rain.  I'm reminded of Opossum Run, up by Arrowhead Lodge, which happens to feed into Elk Creek -- we moved downstream -- after a hurricane, rushing so fast we heard it rolling huge boulders.

Even seeds talk to me, as you already know if you read my blog posting two days ago.  Thanks to Susan, I no longer feel self-conscious talking back to the plants that schedule much of my life.  More accurately, perhaps, it's not the plants scheduling me, it's the result of me tracking my holodynes.  Lord knows, I do not, what this is all about, but sometimes I think there may be something to it.

"Listen," says Virginia.  "Do you hear what I hear?"

I hear her, too, but probably not what she hears.  I always hear.  Pillows pressed against my ears, I cannot escape chirping, sizzling, humming and pulsing.  Just now I heard a mouse trying to slip unnoticed through our heating ducts.

Oh, how could I forget?  The chattery quacks of our rambling ducks rarely fail to draw a chuckle.  

I loved the movie, "August Rush," always music everywhere.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Zero Day

Zero day.  I don't mean nothing happened.  Appalachian Trail through-hikers sometimes visit us as they pass through this area and refer to their stays with us as zero days.  Likewise, runners have zero days.  If they're like me, they often glance through the glass, half-wishing they were traipsing a mountain trail.  Our back windows offered choice views of Elk Creek turbulence, following the robust rains of yesterday. No champion kayaker here, the moment wasn't wasted.

Instead, I turned to a January deadline.  I also worked on the song sheets I'm preparing for the Monster Concert Holiday Singalong on December 15, when four pianists on four pianos will accompany a roomful of winter warblers.  After years of soloing with party guests, it will be fun for pianists to party, too.

By the way, our winter wheat is coming up nicely, despite a few interrupted attacks by chickens who, before we clipped their wings, sailed right in, and afterward crossed droopy fences felled by strong winds.  I'm developing a habit of circling the two garden beds with a stapler to make repairs.

"How about the greenhouse garden you planted yesterday?" asks Virginia.

She knows me too well.  Of course, I checked it even though 24 hours is too soon for sprouts.  Good gardeners do things like that, to stay on top of troubles.  Yesterday's overwhelming smell of ammonia, from recent goat and donkey deposits in the compost bin, had dissipated. 

Some days I enter your aura expecting
invaders, fingers itching for a fight,
other times on the verge of surrender
to the villain I will challenge
through the end of my time, blaming you
before I remember it is like exercise,
showering, brushing teeth, trimming fingernails,
to me endless as the end comes nearer.

I kick myself. "Don’t be a fool."
What are you and I, but an endless
cycle of same-ness, if we so choose?
No, I refuse, we are much, much more.
I brush my teeth and clip my nails
because tomorrows are different.
Let another crowd take euthanasia;
we shall insist on life support.

--from "Conversations with a Garden"

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Gardening in the Rain

Falling water has been my sign for knocking off writing deadlines.  "You can't garden in the rain!"  Wrong!  A little bit of stretched plastic has shifted my paradigm.  What's a greenhouse for, if not to garden?

When I walked into my "study" this morning, yesterday's fat envelope of seeds called me on the carpet, "Plant me!"  I sat there in my running clothes, to do my early morning routine -- search the Federal Register, skim news headlines, digest a few op ed pieces, and check banking agency web sites.  "Plant me!"

What's the point?  How could I concentrate over talking seeds, especially when their future home lies within view outside the window?  Hold on, sweethearts, while I change into jeans and worn shoes.  Now, who goes first?  I sorted the embryos into a small cardboard box, carried them through the rain, raked the soil fine, and set them free.  Bibb, crisphead, leaf and romaine lettuces.  Broccolis, cabbages, Greek oregano, parsleys and peppermint.  Will they grow in this experiment?

"And your running clothes?" asks Virginia.

They called me from a pile on the bedroom floor.  A little water can't keep them inside for long.  What's the difference between sweat and rain, after 4 slow miles?

Monday, November 29, 2010

Planning A Trip to Hawaii

On our coldest day so far this season, a seed order arrived.  Exercising remarkable restraint, I quickly checked it over and returned to work on my last book update scheduled for 2010.  I'll plant seeds tomorrow.  Instead, I turned my mind to things like overdraft protection plans and Community Reinvestment Act credit for low-income education loans.

Before all that, I put on a killer blue running outfit -- long-sleeve shirt and loose-fitting tights -- and a GPS watch a neighbor loaned me for Hellgate.  I was able to join men in tights because I finally went through my closet yesterday and moved my summer clothing where my winter stuff has been hiding.  Happy Christmas in November!  In December, I'll say "Merry."

I'd been toying with the watch for several days because the instruction booklet covers many interesting features but fails to explain how to set the watch back to zero for a new running session.  Perhaps it's self-evident to everyone but me.  Looking out the den window, Karen saw me standing halfway down our lane.  Ring-a-dingy-ding.  "Would you leave the gate open when you leave?"  Sure.  "You okay, standing there?"  Yeh, just waiting to home in on a satellite.  After a minute, I jogged to the gate, fussing with button after button.  A tenth of a mile down the road I smiled, master of the GPS, which showed a running pace of 22:00 and a hundredth covered.  Before long I was cruising at 9:20 and tempted to speed up.  Whoa, I said.  Don't let the gadget mess up your training less than two weeks before Hellgate.  "Would you like one of those?" Karen asked me later.  Yes, but I'm afraid I might return to what I'm tempted to call my compulsive running past, full of watches, running logs, schedules and fretting about minutes and meters.

"So, no cross-training today?" asks Virginia.

Not unless sitting on a couch using my brain and fingers to write counts.  I did poke through my old seeds to pick out some broccoli, cauliflower, carrots and cabbage.  And, guess what?  I borrowed a chair to decorate the greenhouse.  A little table would make a nice addition.  I understand a cold winter's day, when the garden is covered with snow, is a perfect time to pretend a greenhouse is Hawaii.

Sunday, November 28, 2010

Cleansing Day

I started the day with what I think of as a cleansing run.  After a long run, like my 21-miler yesterday, I find it useful to stumble out the door the next morning.  I picture my blood coursing through my muscles, washing away the lactic acid and waste, and assisting the repair of yesterday's beating.  A cloudless sky greeted me, warming the twenty-five degree air, not at all windy like yesterday.  I felt so good after a couple miles, I changed my plans and turned 4 miles into 6, toying with more but deciding not to be stupid.

I lied.  I didn't start with a run.  I started by writing, working on an idea that came to me overnight.  Maybe I'll fill you in if it gels.

"What about me?" asks Virginia.  "I'm waiting, like a pubescent girl, to develop, and you keep branching off into other things."

Right.  Sorry about that, Virginia.  Tell me what you want to become and we'll go there.

As I ran, I remembered that at Aid Station 5, Jennings Creek, the Hellgate workers offer breakfast, including pancakes.  That stuck in my mind, so when I got home I mixed up a batch.  We have this awful set of measuring spoons that includes a 1 1/2 teaspoon measure.  Not for the first time, I thought it was the teaspoon measure and added too much baking powder to the brew.  I tried to remove some, but most of it had already gotten wet.  I think that's why the darn things rose too high and required flipping over and over again before the wet batter cooked.  As they turned darker and darker, I found more and more smoke in my eyes.  I'd bet this evening the house still smells like burned pancakes.  I have a notion to break off the 1 1/2 teaspoon and toss it in the trash.  Of what use is it anyway?

Next, I decided to recycle some old locust fence posts, given to us by the same folks who donated the fence rails we used for the greenhouse compost box.  I cut eight of them into edges for two beds in the center of the greenhouse, staked them in, and filled them with a mix of aged manure and topsoil.  Now I'm ready for the seeds I've ordered from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange, shipped last Friday.

Saturday, November 27, 2010

Countdown to Hellgate

The thermometer's above-freezing reading this morning was misleading, as became abundantly clear up on the ripples of the Blue Ridge.  Fortunately, I was ready, thanks to my son's suggestion that I wear one of his Under Armour shirts.  I thought I'd be too warm with long-sleeved Under Armour under a Nike wick fit shirt.  If so, off would come Nike and on another light shirt that had been keeping my cellphone from bouncing in my bottle belt.  At times, nestled in a hollow with the sun shining, I was too warm, but as we climbed up to its ridge a howling wind made me grateful for the thicker layer.  At one point, we heard what sounded like a semi-trailer grinding down a winding double-track road and saw it smoking circles.  Then we realized it was a windstorm spinning dust and leaves.

Eleven runners showed up to experience the third and final leg of the Hellgate 100, now only two weeks away.  While we waited for someone to say, "I'm getting cold; let's go," I noticed an oval sticker on the back window of race director David Horton's car -- "Hellgate 66.6."  "Aha," I said, "so you admit it's over 100K."  Horton smiled and nodded, "in fact, if you finish the run, you'll get one of those stickers."  "I'm cold," said someone, and off we went for the day's 21 miles.

I've written this before; the best part of any race is the training runs.  Today all of us stayed together (except for the two speedsters who hurried ahead to hang yellow streamers along the course; after the first two minutes, we never saw them again).  If someone lagged behind, we waited at the next big turn.  If someone got ahead, he'd wait or regret, as happened once, just after Bobblets Gap, "whoa Scott, you missed the turn."  Because we were close, we could check each other.  Our leader kept up a running commentary.  We should have given him a microphone and hung a speaker on his back because he was hard to hear over the leaves swooshing around our feet and wind whistling through the trees.

"There's Purgatory Mountain," the leader pointed.  "What?" yelled someone near the rear.  "Purgatory Mountain," "Purgatory Mountain," passed by, as if we were playing a parlor game.  Most us fell once or twice.  "You okay?"  "You okay?"  Now and then we'd stop to clear fallen limbs off the trail.  "Better today than trip over them two weeks from now after running 50 miles."  "Look at that," and we'd slow down while we moved our eyes from the rocky trail to a stunning overlook.

"What did you think of the 'forever section?'" asks Virginia.

Which one?

Friday, November 26, 2010

Greenhouse Compost

My cross-training for Hellgate continued today with a short (6-mile) run followed by composting.  I finished building the compost box for the greenhouse yesterday, after Karen helped the day before.  Here it sits like an altar at the far end of the greenhouse.

If you were sitting in the compost, here's what you might see.
Or lying down, looking up.
Today I covered the walls with plastic and made our first deposits.
"I'd say that's enough about goat poop," says Virginia. "What ever happened to that wheat you planted?"

I thought she'd never ask about our November babies, the green tinge in this photo.
Here's a close-up.  Aren't they just the sweetest ever?
Finally, here's a photo for my mother and anyone else who's been wondering exactly where we put the new greenhouse.

Tuesday, November 23, 2010

Greenhouse Plastic

Today, with some assistance, we installed the plastic on our greenhouse.
As Susan drove away, she yelled, "It looks like a Conestoga wagon!"
I almost called this blog entry, "Greenhouse Construction Complete," but it's not.  At the far end (West), I'm going to build a big compost box and fill it with kitchen scraps, fresh manure and other goodies.  I'm hoping that will add heat in the winter and carbon dioxide for the plants. Around the bottom, on the outside, I plan to add planters -- to keep air from rushing under the greenhouse "crawl space." 

"So when are you going to plant something?" asks Virginia.

Maybe tomorrow -- winter greens and lettuces.

Monday, November 22, 2010

Pooville

Undercover, content, here is Pooville West, then East.
Twenty truckloads have been loaded, disbursed and spread.  If I can summon up the energy, I'll gradually cover the aged manure with mulch.  First, I must squirrel away more firewood for winter and stretch plastic over the greenhouse.  Then we'll begin to discover what we can grow this time of year.

"Do you still have plans for a pile of droppings on the West side of the greenhouse?" asks Virginia.

Can't hurt, except my back.  It would have been nice to install it before the plastic. 

Sunday, November 21, 2010

Fire in the Window

Do you see what I see?  Is it a man stretched across a diamond?
Maybe it's Senator Miles Poindexter, the ghost who used to live in our house.
"Now I see the photographer," says Virginia.  "You."
Here's what was on the other side of the window.  It's fun trying out a new camera.

Saturday, November 20, 2010

Why Run Hellgate?

Why run Hellgate? I know some folks think it's crazy and can't imagine why someone would. One answer is the perennial "I guess you've got to be there" to understand.

I haven't done it yet, so I don't really know the answer. A previous winner of the run, Jason Schwartzbard, has written: "...those reasons that we share with acquaintances over cocktails at holiday parties only skim the edges of our reasoning....Just as the painter, dancer, mathematician or corporate executive creates, so does the runner. But while the painter, dancer, mathematician or corporate executive feel[s] both the joy of meeting the human need to create, and the pleasure of seeing some final product, the runner only has the former....So at those cocktail parties, the reasons that come out for running long distances in the woods tend toward values that are meaningful after the fact. But as I ran down that grassy road, a little more than half way through the race, a few minutes before sunrise, what drove me forward had nothing to do with pushing myself to new heights or being able to eat more pie the following week. What drove me forward was the transcendent satisfaction of creating my experience."

I touched on a similar idea in an earlier blog posting ("Ordinary People," December 26, 2009) -- the idea that artists, writers, dancers, and other creators must find satisfaction in the act of creation and not in the "final product."

"Oh, what I'd give to re-experience the event, itself," says Virginia. "Second, give me the memory, not the sterility of a recording."

Well, Virginia is a pro, one of the few who peaked in her profession, however briefly. As an amateur musician who enjoys performing, I hesitate to focus on the moment of performance. Musicians, like athletes, train for weeks, years, for their performances, and then can stumble because something takes a wrong turn -- maybe another musician's error, a broken string, a memory lapse, or an overheated room. I don't want my satisfaction to depend on the performance. The performance means little if I'm miserable practicing by myself or working with other musicians.

Likewise, Hellgate. I'd be disappointed if I didn't run the race. The moment when I cross the finish line will be a special moment. But -- race director, you may stop reading now -- I have already experienced an incredible amount of satisfaction before toeing the starting line, running alone in the forest in Fall colors and sunshine, dry leaves swishing at my feet, spying a white tail bouncing through the trees or a flock of turkeys lifting off, and being grateful my body parts are able to complain. The creative process can feel very good, good, not-so-good, not-so-bad, bad and very bad, but most of all creation feels.

Friday, November 19, 2010

Let the Children Play

This morning I ran past an elementary school playground. Little bodies scurried up the ladder of a slide. No one yelled, "One at a time!" I expected them to hurry back to climb the ladder again, but as soon as they slid off the metal they raced to the nearest swingset. Memory tugged. I found myself on the playground of Bluffton Elementary, about 50 years ago. Rushing to the swing instead of the ladder felt exactly right.

We gathered in a circle to choose teams for kickball. I forget how we designated team captains. Maybe we remembered whose turn or birthday it was. Some of us knew we'd be picked first and who would be last. Selection happened fast because we wanted to play. The next day, if Jimmy remembered his bag, we might shoot marbles.

"Where are the teachers?" I wondered this morning. They were where they should be, gathered under a tree, visiting. The children, like 50 years ago, didn't need someone telling them what to do or worrying about being a few feet away in case they fell off the ladder or bumped heads running to the next attraction.

I hope this playground is not unusual, with its old-fashioned equipment and laissez faire attitude. It reminds me of our 2000 trip to New Zealand, when we showed up to sea-kayak Milford Sound. I asked, "do you want us to sign a waiver?" Our guide laughed, "no need, you'd be thrown out of court if you sued us." We need that -- a culture of knowing risk-taking, of taking responsibility for our choices. If you drink coffee, you know it's hot, so don't spill it.

"Too many rules spoil the broth," says Virginia.

Wednesday, November 17, 2010

Sweet Carrotissimi

Almost nothing beats fresh sweet carrots direct from a home garden. I picked a few amazing samples this evening. They're very small, having been planted in August, and may need to be covered with straw as the mercury drops lower and lower -- or maybe they won't last that long if I can't resist the little twerps.

What else waits in my garden? Small plantings of many vegetables, including onions, kale, spinach, parsnips, Chinese cabbage, chives, peas, lettuces, garlic. And lots of arugula. Want some? Across the way are ducks, chickens and goats. I've been putting off calling the goat abattoir, as one of our friends insists on calling it. The very local chicken abattoir has been called into service recently, though.

"Was that you working in the garden today?" asks Virginia.

Right, as if she doesn't know. Yes, I was a triathlete again -- 10 miles running, 2 1/2 hours holding a chainsaw, and 3 hours loading and unloading aged manure. Only 2 more garden beds await their application.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Today's Triathlon

A friend finished her first marathon on Saturday while we were trying out the Hellgate course. Today, according to Karen, she was struggling down stairways, full of good feelings overcoming the bad (pain). She said she loved the experience, had planned on doing only one, and now wants to do the same course next year. Meanwhile, someone reminded us that the "first marathoner" died after his run. If my facts are right, that's true, but he didn't run only 26.2 miles; he ran 153 miles from Athens to Sparta and then back again and he probably wasn't wearing fancy running shoes. Today's "Spartathlon" attempts to replicate his run, one-way only. To qualify for the race, you must first: (1) finish a 100K race in less than 10 hours, 30 minutes; (2) compete and complete a 200K race; and (3) compete in the Spartathlon and reach the Nestani 172K checkpoint in less than 24 hours, 30 minutes. You thought Hellgate was crazy?

I decided today was time for a triathlon. After running 10 miles, I cut firewood for 2 1/2 hours, then used 2 1/2 more hours to load and unload my pickup with aged manure. I'd include a picture of our garden beds, but our camera's broken so I'll wait until the other three of ten are ready for winter. I'm hoping to be able to walk out in the spring, rake over some mulch, wait a day or two for the soil to dry, and drop the seeds in.

I hear rain falling, so my timing was good. If it rains often enough, maybe I can return to my preferred schedule of working on my legal writing when it's raining and the garden, greenhouse or firewood when it's not.

"You're a slough-off," says Virginia.

Oh, and my illegal writing everyday.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

Names

In final preparation for the Hellgate 100, we've invited a few friends to help me carbo-load two nights before the event. Most of them laughed and said they've been carbo-loading for quite awhile, and for me, they'd be glad to keep it up. I'm fortunate to have friends willing to make the sacrifice.

Karen noticed something unusual about our dinner guests. We've invited three married couples. Not one of those six people has the same last name. What's the chance of that? Karen said, "I think I'll change my name."

What's in a name? Do you think these folks are likely to be Republicans or Democrats, feminists or male chauvinists, foodies or McDonald's fanatics, urban or rural dwellers, Unitarian or Catholic, readers or couch potatoes? Look at your answers. What do they say about you?

[Break time, to clip the chickens' wings. The fences I bragged about recently are useless unless the chickens can't fly. It's hard to catch them during the day, but now, after dusk, they've returned to their pens and tranced into laziness. Done.]

"So is carbo-loading a good idea?" asks Virginia.

Hey yes, as an excuse to pull some friends together. Maybe not for the running. I've read that so-called expert marathon physicians say carbo-loading has been dropped by most serious marathoners in favor of eating a balanced diet with 60-70% carbohydrates and no increase in calories the week before a race. I've also read that carbo-loading is good so long as you don't put on extra weight to carry around. Who really knows? It's probably like eating eggs -- one year they're bad for you and the next year they're good.

Saturday, November 13, 2010

Hellgate Official Training Run # 1

Knowing I had to be on the road by 5:45 this morning to meet other Hellgate crazies at Blue Ridge Parkway milepost 80.4, I crawled into bed about 8:30 last night with 1491, a slow-going but very interesting guesstimated history that would probably destroy most readers' (certainly my) paradigms about native Americans. I read a few pages before letting the book fall onto our heavy bedspread. I suppose I lacked confidence in my cellphone's alarms -- I had set number one for 5:15 and number two for 5:16 -- because I began squinting through my curled forefinger when the digits flicked 4:00, nodding on and off until 5:00 when I slid onto the floor to do my good morning crunches. I then pulled on the running gear I had carefully selected the night before, cancelled the alarms, drank my daily apple cider vinegar tea, and ate a piece of toast with grape juice. After brushing my teeth, I hugged and kissed Karen goodbye only to hear her laughing like a hyena. I suddenly realized the fur wasn't hers. Rosie (one of our two boxers) had claimed my spot as soon as I left. This required a re-kiss. I grabbed my readied bottle belt, which contained banana goo, a peanut butter sandwich, an orange vest, a tee shirt, and two water bottles.

I had included an extra ten minutes for contingencies, so thickly frosted car windows didn't bother me. 24 degrees did. I headed South and then skyward on Petites Gap Road. The drive affected me more than usual, probably because the darkness allowed my mind's eye to vividly picture the steep cliffs a couple yards to the right of my tires. With the Blue Ridge Parkway making me even more nervous than usual, I tried to admire the beginning sunrise and what looked like city lights 3,000 feet below. The reading on the car's thermometer surprised me, showing at least 12 degrees warmer than our house.

A cluster of cars waited at Floyd's Field (mile 80.4) when I arrived at 6:25. We waited 10 minutes for possible late-comers, consolidated into two cars, and headed back down to Big Hellgate Lane, the start of our run, a little over a mile from where Karen and Rosie rested. At 7:30 we headed into the forest. I'd guessed right. I knew the beginning of the course quite well, up to aid station two, except -- I suppose I should have anticipated this from the Mountain Masochist Trail Run -- the same race director's insistence on making the course as difficult as possible. For example, ignoring a convenient footbridge that crosses Elk Creek at the Belfast trailhead, David Horton takes his course directly across the creek less than a hundred yards West and then, instead of stepping up onto the nearby paved road, he first requires us to trek a few hundred yards across rocks sometimes hidden under fallen leaves. Not a big deal? Remember, Hellgate begins at 12:01 December 11th, so we'll be running this part of the course in the dark.

After Belfast (this trail leads to the Devil's Marbleyard), Petites Gap Road took us steeply up to the Parkway. Along the way, Horton longingly eyed the Glenwood Horse Trail to the South. "I'd love to take this course up that even steeper trail," he said, "but we aren't allowed to take a group this large into that wilderness area." I guess I'll "run" that another day.

Rather than bore you with the entire first third of the Hellgate course, let me simply mention that today's pack quickly divided into two groups -- under 30 and over 49 (perhaps this suggests that the 30-49 age group is uniformly sane) -- and we older guys, after crossing the Parkway and heading down the other side of the mountain, quite promptly made a wrong turn. Here's how we discovered our mistake. "Look there," says one, "two more tractors like the first two." "Ummm, those are the very same tractors," say I. "Damn," says runner number 3. "This means, instead of finishing 45 minutes behind the faster group," says the first one, "they'll be waiting an additional hour for us." Slow to understand the implications of that comment, I tap the top of my head, "Oh, are you saying our three cars are the only ones at the end?" "Exactly," says he, "someone should have planned that a little better."

"How thoughtful and considerate," says Virginia. "What did you do?"

We pulled out a map and hunted for a solution. I believe the older group ended up running a little farther, while the younger guys ran harder. We completed two thirds of the Horton course and then gradually found our way to mile marker 76 on the Parkway and finished with an easy 4.5 mile downhill to Floyd's Field. I forgot to ask how long they'd been waiting.

Thursday, November 11, 2010

A Little Kindness

Perhaps you read or heard about the "missile" sighting off the coast of California. It reminds me of the tendency of some people to hear bits and pieces and jump to a conclusion that bears no resemblance to reality. I'm not exempt, although I try to be. Sometimes my nosiness gets the better of me.

If inclinations had DNA, they would share DNA with worrying. At its worst in the middle of the night, when some sound has awakened me and my sluggishness isn't dull enough to return to sleep, my mind catches a random factoid and begins to spin a yarn that begins to feel more and more factual until I become almost certain disaster is about to happen or already has.

Similarly, but in a more positive sense, this sort of thing can happen on a long run. The mind takes off on a tangent, blindly darting this way and that until it lands on a brilliant solution, invention, story, or approach to the future. Perhaps this exemplifies "the runner's high." Inevitably, return to reality exposes flaws in the masterpiece.

"What on earth are you talking about?" says Virginia.

Oh, mindfulness, or mindlessness, I guess. Recognizing the way minds work, and that minds work differently, might bring a bit of tolerance to our lives -- a sympathetic reluctance to accept an utterance as a true expression of what someone else thinks. If I said, or described, every worry or runner's high thought, a person might think me crazy, demented, stupid, inconsiderate or foolish. Sometimes I do say those things, with immediate regret. When I hear others say them, I'd be much better off to ignore them or wait a while to find out if they really meant them or were just reeling out the working of their minds.

I'm often grateful I'm not famous, a politician or newscaster or reality show participant, always on camera. As hard as I'd try to bite my tongue, eventually I'd forget and say something unfortunate. Let's try harder to be kind.

Wednesday, November 10, 2010

Plastic Fence Protection; Monster Concert Holiday Singalong

Our winter wheat and garlic are now resting comfortably under sun-drenched November soil, preparing to spread their roots in a head-start on Spring.  This slow-learner took no chance that free-range chickens or ducks would attack new wheat seedlings.  I constructed an 18-inch high yellow plastic fence, made of STO mesh left over from Karen's outdoor kitchen stucco job. 

"You're over-stating your case," says Virginia.

She's right.  I didn't take no chance.  But I think the chance is slim, based on my trial with my latest planting of green beans.  The birds didn't pester them.  I managed to land a first picking last week, just before our first hard killing frost.  I would have liked the beans to ripen sooner and yield a bountiful harvest, but I knew the risk I was taking.  It's great having a few fresh tender green beans in November, and no fault of the birds that we won't have any more until next year.

By the way, for nearby readers, or anyone who wants to risk a cold stay in Arrowhead Lodge, I'm pretty excited about an event scheduled for Wednesday, December 15.  The news release follows:

Monster Concert Holiday Singalong

Four pianos and four pianists invite the Rockbridge community to join them in holiday singing for the benefit of the Rockbridge Symphony, Wednesday, December 15, at 7:30 p.m., at the David and Linda Krantz residence.  Tim Gaylard, Kirk Luder, Betty Bond Nichols, and James Pannabecker will tickle the ivories while encouraging the audience to sing familiar tunes such as Chestnuts Roasting on an Open Fire, Blue Christmas, Frosty the Snow Man, (There’s No Place Like) Home for the Holidays, Jingle-Bell Rock, Let It Snow, Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer, and many more.

The idea of bringing together an “orchestra” of keyboards is centuries’ old. J.S. Bach gathered friends in the 1730s for midweek concerts of the Collegium Musicum at Zimmermann's coffeehouse in Leipzig. These were casual events, where the players and audience relaxed while playing and hearing the latest music. More recently, multiple pianos and pianists on stage became known as "monster concerts." The December 15 get-together at the Krantzes will be a relaxed affair, encouraging singing for fun by everyone. Light refreshments will be available and participants are invited to add their favorite holiday treats to the tables.

Reservations are required; email lkrantz@cfw.com or call 463-3333. A minimum $15 contribution per participant is requested, to be collected at the event. The Rockbridge Symphony is supported by Fine Arts in Rockbridge (FAIR).

Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Cut the Budget!

It's been a whole week already and I haven't heard any announcements about how we're going to reduce the federal budget -- but then I've been out getting my garden ready for Spring.  A few legislators did say they aren't going to cut military funds.  Oh, and a couple (Boehner and McConnell) have said we have the best health system in the world -- even though we're way down the list when it comes to infant mortality (children who live to their first birthday) and 49th in life expectancy.

"I suppose some leftist think tank provided those statistics?" says Virginia.

Actually it was the CIA (Central Intelligence Agency), probably not very leftist.

It's easy to understand why Boehner and McConnell think our health care is so great.  They can go to places like the Bethesda Naval Hospital, run by the government -- socialism at its finest.

I can't wait to see the hypocrites "take our country back."  To 1791, perhaps.

"Look who's calling the kettle black," says Virginia.

Yep. Or white.

Monday, November 8, 2010

The Consumption Assumption

As the G-20 nations plan their get-together to gang up on China for its high savings rate and low currency policies, no one wants to face the real issues.  Almost everyone seems to think the only answer to our economic woes is spending.  If we can't spend, then get the Chinese to spend (on our much finer quality merchandise, of course).  Their savings rate is 50%, ours is 15%, which by the way is an improvement over past years when we headed toward a negative savings rate.

No, they tell us, it's not an improvement.  We must get out and buy Ninja blenders, hot tubs, greenhouses, knick-knacks at jewelry and cosmetics parties, whatever we can think of to use for a few months, then toss into our next garage/yard sale.  Better yet, buy a brand new car to gobble more mid-East petroleum.  Oh, if only we would spend, spend, spend, our troubles would end, end, end.

Ours would.  But only if we're selfish in our definition of "ours."  Only if we forget the generations to come, which don't matter much because they'll be smarter than we are and able to figure out how to make something of almost nothing, we hope, we think, well, maybe not.

"God will provide," says Virginia.

Right, or take all of us to our heavenly homes, where life is better forever.  I think we can do better.  I think we have the talents to do better.  Are we on the right track, saving more, or are we simply waiting to resume our historically high consumption?

If we put our minds together, I'm sure we can do better than spend, spend, spend.

Sunday, November 7, 2010

The Greenhouse Vision

Welcome to my future greenhouse.  It waits for walls.
"It's not too early to imagine," says Virgina.
I need to trim the top of this orange tree.

"Fat chance," she says.  "Be reasonable."
All right.  These shelves are loaded with flowers for Valentine's Day, maybe including a cold-loving Lady's Slipper (Cypripedioideae, thanks to Wikipedia). 
At the West end, beyond these shelves, is a big bin holding a ton of fresh manure.  It's keeping the place warm, at least above freezing.
On the shelves to the left (South), and on the ground, greens are growing for winter-long salads.
Here, hanging from heavy baskets, are ripe red tomatoes.

Saturday, November 6, 2010

Pie

Our house smells as if a low of 28 is approaching.  A hint of oak wood smoke accompanies a freshly baked turkey pie.  After a day mostly occupied with sawing firewood, I'm looking forward to a healthy helping of pastry.  I could handle an apple pie for dessert, but decided to bake that another day.
Maybe the lattice top will satisfy me -- for now.

"I don't see you cooking very often," says Virginia.

My gourmet chef, the reason I generally stay away from the stove, left early this morning for her annual trek to Seagrove, North Carolina.  Within the hour she'll be opening bags to show me this year's additions to our pottery collection, or maybe nothing caught her eye.

Friday, November 5, 2010

Cross-Training

Having met my deadlines for the moment, today was an outdoors day.  My body still feels like summer, pampered by months of tee shirts and shorts without shivering.  Three months from now, I will delight in Indian summer and shed my long sleeves and sweat pants.  For the moment, I'm one of those well-wrapped souls I found remarkable when we showed up at our first road race after moving from St. Louis to North Carolina, back when an empty golf course on a sunny, fifty-degree morning had me wondering if we were in the midst of a depression or an air raid.

First thing, I pulled on a couple shirts, a sweatshirt, warm jeans and a pair of gloves and attacked a weed-patch.  With our son heading home for the weekend anxious to earn a few bucks, I wanted to get a head-start on the agenda -- weeding, manuring, mulching, maybe planting some wheat and garlic, and gathering supplies for our nearly empty woodshed.  Weeding was so much fun lunchtime surprised me.

Lunch was part of my plan for today's run.  My training for Hellgate must include "eat and run" because it's not a good idea to run 66 miles on an empty stomach.  In turn, my run was part of a landlord's chore, having received word that the roof of our cottage had leaked during the last rain and one of the floor registers was delivering no heat from the furnace.  After running 4 miles, I changed into a dry shirt, climbed onto the roof, swept off a large collection of leaves and pine needles, then squeezed into the crawl space underneath the house to check the furnace ducts.  I welcomed the 4-mile downhill return to Elk Cliff (home).

"Nice cross-training regimen," says Virginia.  "Why didn't you mention the bear that attacked you on the way home?"

I guess it slipped my mind.

Thursday, November 4, 2010

November Garden

Dahlia, dahling.

I'd better pick our green beans tomorrow or Saturday, before our first hard frost.
I doubt these Wandos will fill out any more, so we'll probably eat them like snow peas.
The Chinese cabbage doesn't worry me.  I planted cabbage in the spring but they did so poorly we snared none of them.  They seeded themselves and now we can enjoy the offspring.
Swiss chard will be just fine, too.  This is going on its fourth year.  I should pick some for Kitty Tilson.  She considers it candy.
"I think your arugula is out of control," says Virginia.  "See how it grew outside the garden bed?"

Yes, I'm told we could sell it for big bucks in a city.  There's cilantro, too.  They both volunteered like crazy this Fall.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Will I Run Hellgate?

"Will you run Hellgate?" Virginia asks.

I ask myself that at least every other day.  The past 3 or 4 days my legs didn't loosen up until they'd beaten out 4 miles or so.  Overtraining?  Not really, unless you count the 20 hilly miles on Thursday, followed by 8 on Friday plus a hike to Apple Orchard Falls, and then about 6 hours standing or walking on Saturday.  Oh, and distributing a load of manure on Sunday after running 4 miles, 8 miles on Monday, and 4 miles up Thunder Ridge Tuesday followed by several hours of cutting firewood and hauling a load of 6-8 foot logs a couple hundred feet to my Dodge Ram.  Maybe those log lifts helped make my feet so heavy today.

I hear your miniature violins playing.  Cut them off, conductor!  I'm not asking for sympathy.  Some of the Hellgate registrants may be plodding away their 120-mile weeks.  This dabbler refuses.  Call me a cross-trainer if you wish.  I'd rather write a poem I like, plant a few square feet of winter wheat, and prepare for the Arrowhead's January concert than run another 65 miles.

I'm putting my trust in an old friend, veteran of more than 100 ultramarathons, who insists you don't need to run more than 20 miles at once to prepare for an ultra.  So John, may I stop?  I now have three 18-milers, a 22-miler, a 20-miler and a 28-miler notched in my belt.  And seven 50+ mile weeks.

No, not quite ready.  Still almost a month of training to go.  And I've got to try out a miner's light in the dark.  December 11 is a week after the new moon.  I hope it's a very bright sliver, with no clouds in the sky.  Who will talk to me to keep me sane?  That's the big question.

Monday, November 1, 2010

More Rally4Sanity

If you look closely after clicking on this photo, you might see the stage where Jon Stewart briefly kicked off his comedian's shoes. His feet didn't stink.
We discovered we'd driven from horse country to horse city.  I found myself wondering:  If these mounted policemen were called into action, what would they do?  Trample the crowd?
 Unlike these people, I didn't get around to making a sign.
"You should have," says Virginia.  "How about 'Invest in the Future' with a picture of one of your manure piles?'"

Maybe "Organiculture" or "Organic Sanitocracy."  One of my libertarian friends might have been willing to hoist these signs.

Saturday, October 30, 2010

Rally4Sanity

Our 3-hour drive to the Vienna Metro Stop ended with a half-hour cruise through exit 62, past a parking lot with no room left, up to section 3-3 of a scissored building we feared would have no spots left.  Were we imagining things or did a thick line of people stretch a couple hundred yards outside the subway terminal? 
Check out those two hats.  That's what today was all about -- at the Jon Stewart/Stephen Colbert Rally for Sanity on the National Mall in Washington, D.C.  You may have to click on the picture to see that the "E" has been crossed out.

Here's the reason I joined the crowds that came from everywhere to express their interest in restoring sanity to the anger we hear and read about.  The sunglassed man in blue emailed me a couple months ago, "let's go."

I wonder if the Washington subway has ever been this full of people.
I think this woman must have been busy before today.
"Is that Dorothy?" asks Virginia.
We arrived home in time to greet our first trick-or-treater.

Thursday, October 28, 2010

Leaf Collection

After our visitors left this morning, I couldn't resist the blue sky, sixty degree temperature and changing colors. I laced my shoes, loaded my bottle belt, and aimed at Wildcat Mountain.  This jogger almost tripped when he traded waves with some loggers he recognized.  For a while after, I kept my eyes on the ground. (Be sure to click on each photo if you want to see the entire view.)
I noticed many colorful maples, tulip poplars, Virginia creepers and sassafras, but only brown oaks.  Ah, here's one.
Then it was time to raise my eyes.  Here's the Devil's Marbleyard.
Today, as I approached the top of Wildcat Mountain, I chose Cave Mountain Lake instead of the Blue Ridge Parkway.
Having reached a smoother surface, my eyes gazed higher...
and higher.
"I'd bet there was a lot of traffic up there," says Virginia.

Not a single car.  Just me and the leaves.