Sunday, October 30, 2011

The Anti-Hike

I figured this weekend was my big chance to see fall foliage at its peak.  Initially the weather was supposed to be nice Saturday.  (Really!)  And so even when my friends started directing my attention to the weather report, I pooh-poohed it.  But at 4 a.m. Saturday I checked one last time and despaired.  After dawn, I would have almost two hours of clouds at near-freezing temperatures before the rain started.   And the high would be nearly 40 degrees Fahrenheit.  The winds would steadily increase all day leading up to a big snow storm at 4 pm.  Let's face it, I'm not a hard-core hiker; this was too much for me.  

So I stayed in the city.  I worked out for an hour in the gym, interval setting on the treadmill, while watching the end of a free teaser for Lost (a TV show I've never seen), followed by the start of the pilot for Grimm (which I'd purchased on iTunes, since for some inexplicable reason the iPad does not let you watch TV episodes for free on hulu).    I did a few bits of chores, skived off the service projects I'd been thinking about joining, and then ventured out to Union Square to buy my first ever Vibram Five Fingers shoes.  The guy at Paragon Sports was super-nice and very helpful.  He owns two pairs of the toe shoes so far.  

The weather in NYC was kind of icky, alternating between mere clouds, rain, sleet, and wet snow.  Your basic wintry mix.  But I loved this view of Union Square from the north side; it looks like the city is rising out of the jungle:

Somewhat less cool to me - but probably of greater interest to Warhol fans - is this view, in which the statue of Andy Warhol overlooks the fog:

(Incidentally, I think the statue has been up for more than 15 minutes.  Isn't it time to take it down?)

Throughout the day, I tried to capture images of our pre-Halloween snowfall.  This one, from the south side of Union Square, is my favorite:

I also discovered that Whole Foods sells organic popcorn in bulk.   This is wonderful news, because I've been having some trouble finding non-microwave popcorn.

Meanwhile, further downtown (on Broad Street & Wall Street), there was filming for "Magnus Rex" a/k/a Dark Knight Rising.  Most of what I could see was Gotham Police Department vehicles, lined up and down the streets with their lights flashing:

Sunday was beautiful, but I am glad I stuck to my original plan and stayed in town for a talk on biblical translations (in honor of  400th anniversary of the King James bible) and - more importantly - the installation of the Rev. Kate Dunn as associate pastor in charge of pastoral care and outreach at my church.  It was a lovely service, with some very moving elements involving her family and her childhood pastor.  So cool.  Congratulations Kate!

Tuesday, October 25, 2011


Over my extended birthday weekend, two friends independently organized two "rival" birthday celebrations.  This suited me fine, of course, since they were on separate days ... and I like to celebrate throughout my Birthday Month.

My friend Emi hosted a lovely dinner party with mostly small dishes (delicious kebabs, corn on the half cob, edamame, etc.) so that we could also play mahjong.  It was so much fun!  Although surprisingly, we scratched maybe 3 out of 5 games.  I'm not sure if there was something about our configuration (who was upstream from whom) that stymied us.  (Carolyn was upstream from Emi, who was upstream from U-chan, who was upstream from me.  Although I must confess Carolyn is the only one of us who has a real strategy; if any of the rest of us block someone, it's a matter of sheer luck!)  It was so wonderful to spend time with good friends and relax with good food, wine and cake.

On my birthday itself, G-san treated me to reflexology / foot massage in Chinatown, which was such bliss!  I didn't let the guy do full-out proper reflexology (which hurts like heck even under the best of circumstances) since my right big toe still feels a little sensitive.  But I could have stayed there for ages, it felt so wonderful to have my feet treated right.

Right after that, I walked over to a local restaurant where Patricia had organized a celebratory dinner. I'd only ever been there for brunch before (their vanilla bean french toast is to die for), but it proved to be a nice place for dinner as well.  It was a lovely evening with some dear friends - filled with laughter and merriment.

I am so grateful for the friends who make life in NYC worthwhile.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Word-Frequency Images

I was mucking about with the wordle program two weeks ago, and created some images based on prior blog posts.  The program allows you to choose the colors and orientation of the words, as well as the desired degree of smoothness.

In one of my first efforts, I allowed the program to select words that frequently appeared in my most recent posts (I chose the option to automatically exclude very common words), I selected my own color scheme and random word orientation (rather than horizontal/vertical), and voila:

Later, I generated this one using only posts from my trip to Wales, and I deliberately excluded some specific words that didn't evoke the particular experience, to try to make Words such as "Cardiff" and "Wales" more prominent:

The customization options are certainly very addictive.  For example, you can design your own color scheme (choosing how many colors to choose, and which ones) and then decide how much variation to allow.  Then - even after selecting your desired option - you can click through repeatedly to see how it turns out....

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Beacon Redux (Solo #2)

For this solo trek, I got up early and took the train to the start of the Wilkinson Memorial trail.  The goal was to follow the yellow blazes all the way up to Fishkill Ridge for a more challenging walk to Beacon.

On the way up, I chatted with my seatmate, who is just one assignment away from earning a marketing degree from Phoenix University.  I was very curious to hear about the nuts and bolts of it, since I'm thinking about taking a class at the new (and not yet accredited) Mythgard Institute.  I think MI is intended to provide a very different experience than PU (i.e., to simulate a more traditional grad school experience even though everyone's accessing it remotely - as opposed to a feeling of semi-isolated self-study).  My seatmate noted that PU required a great deal of organization and self-discipline; it's also a bit of a financial investment, so I really hope that it pays off for her.   Of course, regardless of what doors the degree itself opens for her, I think the determination and ambition that led her to seek and attain the degree will probably open doors, whether in her current job or elsewhere.  In any event, she and her dog seemed very nice, and I wish them the best.  

It was a beautiful day.

I liked taking the yellow blazed trail instead of the Breakneck Bypass.  It seemed more scenic, and the steeps were more moderated.

Look carefully here, and you may see the yellow blazes on not one, but two downed trees to the left of the path:

There were bits of scramble, of course, which I thoroughly enjoyed:

The first viewpoint featured a bit of fall foliage:

The leaves are still in early stages of turning, and the colors are not as vibrant as they could be - it's mostly green mottled with yellow:

I remember this tree stump from an outing with the NEXT Ministries small group:

Cloud shadows cast patterns on the Hudson:

In the  woods, the yellow leaves bring you into the heart of Faerie:

I liked the fungi on this tree:

Although the individual leaves do not create that feeling.  You can't see the forest from the leaves, as they say.

The mushrooms here were not as bountiful and exotic as in New Hampshire, but I loved the way they dotted this tree trunk:

Darkish clouds with a white border: 

An island of moss on a sea of rock?  Or clouds of rock floating in a sky of moss?

At 1:30, I reached last week's turn-around point on the Wilkinson Memorial trail - the fourth scenic overlook in a row, with a big yellow X marking the spot for a nice view.  I relaxed and ate an apple.

Then I continued down the slope, following the yellow blazes up, down and around until I hit the blue Crossover Trail.

An amazing fungus ecosystem on a downed tree trunk:

This 0.8 mile blue-blazed trail is also known as "Dozer Junction" due to the rusting bulldozer carcass at the intersection with Fishkill Ridge (white trail).  I did not take a picture of the bulldozer, however.

Once I made it to Fishkill Ridge, the white blazes led me out to some rocky ledges.

The air grew noticeably cooler, but it was not dark (despite the appearance of this photo!).

I watched a raptor circling overhead for a while:

The urban landscape visible from Fishkill Ridge is not as attractive as the views further south Breakneck Ridge, but the walk was very enjoyable.

Fortunately, if you're selective about where you look (i.e., if you don't look at Beacon or the fire tower), you can still enjoy unspoiled landscape from the Fishkill Ridge trail:

Lovely tree silhouette looking back up the trail:

Taking the white-blazed trail down toward Beacon was a lot of fun, with waterfalls and multiple crossings of little brooks.

Eventually, I cut over onto the Yellow Trail -- 0.8 miles with a moderate climb through the woods to merge with the last bit of the Casino Trail (red blazes).  You miss all the zigzagging switchbacks of Casino, but you catch the three flights of metal stairs to the end of the trail.  Not particularly efficient, but it spits you out on Wolcott Avenue for the easy 1.6 miles to the Beacon train station.

This time, I didn't find the stairs to be a strain.  In fact, I didn't start feeling the aches in my muscles until  after I stopped walking.  Oooh.  Now, I feel it when I stand up!

I noticed this "Rec Cling Center" at one of the stations on the way back to the city:

All in all, I think this was about 12 miles with plenty of climbing, and it took me 7 hours including photo and other breaks.  My first few ascents were fairly slow, and I took a long photo break at the first scenic overlook to delete 108 pictures on my camera, but I didn't really stop for much (including lunch) once I really got going.  I really loved this route - it seemed just the right mix of challenge and beauty, very motivating, and not at all crowded (unlike certain other trails I could mention).  

The trains come once an hour and I had just missed one, unfortunately, so I had to go to Tamra's gig with the Park Ave Chamber Symphony straight from the station when I arrived.  Lovely music though.  Stayed through the whole thing, though it got increasingly difficult - I was very tired.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Interview with a Four-Year-Old

Over the summer, I participated in the following dramatic interview.

Interviewer: That's a pretty ring.
Me: Thank you!
Interviewer: Is it your marriage ring?
Me (after a beat, brightly): No, I'm not married.  Your Grammie and Gramps gave me this ring.  Isn't it nice?
(Interviewer's brow furrows as she puzzles this out.)
Interviewer: But I thought you were old enough to get married. 
(Slight pause; thou too, Brutus?)
Me: I am old enough to get married. But I haven't found the right guy yet.
(Interviewer thinks a few moments, clearly flipping through her mental rolodex of unmarried grown-up men with whom I might be compatible.)
Interviewer: What about Great-Gramps?

Saturday, October 15, 2011

Hudson Highlands: Breakneck to Beacon

This was a hike I've been meaning to take for a while, from Breakneck train station to Beacon train station.  My friend Kat joined me (yay!) and we chose a route that turned out to be about 9 miles total and took us about 5 hours.  

We started up Wilkinson Memorial Trail, and quickly switched over to the Breakneck Bypass, on the theory that a "bypass" is probably the easier way.  It was tough going.

We stopped for lunch at a platform overlook, which was nice.  I shared my hand sanitizer, Kat shared her extra peach.  I think I got the better end of that deal.

After lunch, we started missing the blazes more often.  I think we were getting tired.  We usually were able to realize pretty quickly that we didn't see the next blaze, so we would just backtrack 10-20 feet and find our way.

However, we also missed some trail crossings, which was a little more disconcerting.  We missed the turnoff for the white-blazed trail.  On the one hand, that was fine because that's the steeper way and I wanted to stay on the yellow trail (which is what we did).  But because we missed that turnoff, and also the turnoff for the red-blazed Casino trail, I was surprised when we suddenly found ourselves at a scenic overlook.  It almost seemed like we had to be a lot further along than I'd thought we were - and sure enough, a British gentleman hiking in the opposite direction confirmed where we were on the map.    He suggested we could keep going and see another 3 great vistas along the ridge, but commented that after the final vista - the one overlooking a reservoir - there would be a lot of ups and downs and another 2 hours of hiking if we wanted to continue on.  So we decided to see the ridge views over the next quarter-mile and then turn around and come back on the Casino trail as we'd originally planned.

As we followed the yellow blazes, the views popped like fireworks BLAM! BLAM! BLAM! one right after the other.  Just before the final one, there was a little sign on a rock, with yellow arrow, saying "VIEW".  I thought that was pretty awesome.

Here is the final genuine accept-no-substitutes Official View:

You have to look at it from this specific point, helpfully marked with a big yellow X:

Hikers go a little crazy for a good view, it just can't be helped:

Yes, it's a good view 360 degrees:

We backtracked to the Casino trail, which was embarrassingly well marked.  And we found ruins of what I assume is a former cog railway to take wealthy patrons up to the casino.  Or at least presumably they were wealthy on the way up the mountain.

The Casino trail descends steeply with a lot of loose stones on the path.  This made the footing a bit tricky in places, but we saw a guy and girl doing some trail running (it seemed like he was teaching her; who knows if the relationship survived that particular adventure).   Then it gets more typically woodsy and goes into a long series of switchbacks before terminating in an unexpectedly modern metal staircase with several flights of stairs and a viewing platform that has all the modern conveniences except for a view.  At the very bottom, we see the terminus of the railway:

The walk through Beacon to the train station was longer than I'd thought.  I checked on google maps afterward, and it is apparently 1.6 miles.

Some political signs on the square (they were all gone the following weekend, but signs on private property remained):

We stopped for French onion soup and a glass of wine at the River Terrace Cafe.  This bar/restaurant was pretty much the only dining option en route (if you don't count Bob's Sandwich Shop / Convenience Store and a pizza place and chinese take-out in a strip mall).  But the French onion soup was delicious, the server was friendly, and it's hard to beat the view.

We timed it just right to rest and relax before our train home.

Thursday, October 13, 2011

Birthday Celebrations

We got together to celebrate two birthdays.  What bliss!  It was so good to see everyone, and I felt so connected.  In fact, we were even more connected than usual, since the girls had walkie-talkies.  We gave each other code names.  Mine was "Ebb" (or at least I hope it was "Ebb" as in tides, rather than "Eb" as in Ebenezer -- hmm, well, better not to ask is my motto).

I was thrilled to learn that Ruth had read Sir Gawain and the Green Knight with the girls.  I had told them an off-the-cuff version of the story (unfortunately bowlderized to omit anything that might possibly be controversial since I hadn't cleared it with their parents first).  I'd love to see the edition they read -- I'm imagining perhaps a kids' version, since the original Middle English can be a bit rough going -- and see how the material was adapted.  

Ruth made a scrumptious birthday cake, and all the birthday celebrants were plied with wonderful cards and gifts.  I gave the girls an articulated skeleton for a pre-Halloween surprise, and stalled on my mom's gift while waiting for inspiration to strike.  (Good news: Inspiration has now struck, and I will be able to give my mom a present less than two months late, and basically just in time to run out of ideas for Christmas.)

While R+B went on a steep 9-mile hike up to the top of Mt. Liberty (I think), my parents and I hung out with the girls. 

In our family, everyone has a job - even on holiday.

"Eleanor" was tasked with the hard labor of moving stones in a culvert.

Keep stirring - don't let it stick.

"Tiger", by contrast, only had to stir the river:

Victory at last!

The girls went barefoot on the icy rocks and in the water (their choice - we totally provided shoes for them to wear).

Even when the water is very, very cold, bathing suits are de rigeur.  At least, if you are under 30.  

The Chef

Others of us found fleece vests over long sleeve shirts were very comfortable.

The Eraser Queen

Indoors, we played some games, like Pillow, in which I try to relax quietly on the couch, only to be surprised that the wonderfully soft "pillow" on which I hoped to rest has a mind and will of its own.

Outdoors, we played Bear, in which I as a perennially hungry Bear chase a Snow Leopard and a Tiger who - in this particular instance - are able to coordinate with walkie-talkies to escape (how is this fair?!), thus repeatedly thwarting my last hope of a tender and juicy meal.

The Chef

In addition to feasting on birthday cake and unwrapping presents, the whole gang went out for dinner, watched a video about dams, put together a puzzle, and just generally enjoyed each other's company.   It was a wonderful time, accept no substitutes! (I think maybe that will be my new motto.)