Sunday, April 27, 2014

Cold Spring - Easy Loops

I went hiking both days this weekend.  On Saturday, it was with folks from the Society for Ethical Culture.  We went Washburn (white) up and over Mt. Taurus [2.3 miles] to Notch (blue) [partial] to Brook (red) [partial] to Cornish (blue) [1.4 miles].  Add another 1.6 miles for the walk to and from the trailhead.  My friend's pedometer read approximately 7 miles.  

Sunday was a solo expedition.  I got too late a start to do the Cold Spring to Beacon traverse, so I did Washburn (white) [2.3 miles] to Nelsonville (green) [2.3 miles], for an easy hike.  Add another 1.8 miles for the walk to and from the trailhead - looks like approximately 6.4 miles.

The pictures here are all from Sunday.  I've taken a lot of pictures of this pool with the reflected trees:

This is where the two roads diverged in the wood, and I took the one less travelled by (i.e., Nelsonville)

I overheard someone say that a lot of folks were in the woods gathering ramps. 

Cherry tree along the walk back to town

Sunday, April 20, 2014

Getting a Clue - or Three!

The girls made Easter cards for everyone.  Lee made some clues for Clara to find some Easter treats -- I thought the artwork was really delicate and lovely:

Magnetic animals were worn as ear jewelry - move over, Paris and New York, there's a new fashion center in town!!!

On my last day, we went for a walk along the shore.  I liked the shape worn into this sandy mud flat, by a tiny stream that gushed out a little further up on the beach:

The spray painted tree trunk reminded me of Odin.

Easter Sunday: Sunrise Service

We got up super early for the sunrise service, dressing for warmth.  (There was actually an option to attend another "sunrise" service nearby, scheduled about an hour later, but that would be more like a "sunrise memorial" service in the afterglow of the fully risen sun.)  

My brother and I rallied remarkably despite the hour -- or perhaps fatigue simply loosened our tongues for light-hearted banter en route.

The setting was beautiful.  There is a quality to dawn's early light, memorialized in our national anthem.  But this was more peaceful; no bombs bursting in air.  Fortunately.

The worshipers await... 

The trees are catching fire...

I've hiked there!!!

Easter Scene: The Serious Business of Comics

Tuesday, April 15, 2014

Ender's Game III - Weighty Matters

I was struck by the physical changes to Col. Graff over the course of the story -- it seems a little unusual for a character in a novel to start at an apparently normal weight, balloon up to grossly overweight under one kind of stress, and then waste away under another kind of stress.

(By way of contrast, hobbits lose weight on strenuous adventures, and presumably fill back up again on their return, like Bilbo does -- but that feels very different.  And I think in most books, fat characters stay fat, while thin characters stay thin; this is certainly true for Harry Potter's relatives!)

I thought it was interesting to see so much emphasis on Graff's weight in a story that involves characters learning to cope with weightlessness in their battle training.

We initially see the weight gain in chapters 10 and 11 through Ender's eyes:
- Graff looks "fatter and wearier than the last time Ender had seen him" (ch 10)
- Ender thinks of him as "Fat and sour and unfeeling" (ch 10)
-Graff's "belly spilled over both armrests now, even when he sat upright.  Ender tried to remember. Graff hadn't seemed particularly fat at all when Ender first met him, only four years ago.  Time and tension were not being kind to the administrator of the Battle School." (ch 11)

It comes up again in chapter 13 (Valentine doesn't recognize the bloated Graff in civilian clothes) and chapter 14, where we are given Graff's explanation for it:
Admiral C: "A non-materialist.  And yet you are unpleasantly fat.  A gluttonous ascetic? Such a contradiction."
Graff: When I'm tense, I eat.  Whereas when you're tense, you spout solid waste." (ch. 14)
But there's an irony there - the "tension" that causes Graff to gain weight is almost certainly due to his "not being kind" to Ender.  Surely it's because Graff is not entirely "unfeeling" that he grows fat; he seems to be trying to console himself or blunt his own self-loathing with food.

Finally, in chapter 15, the stress of the trial causes Graff to lose weight:
Admiral C: "You've lost weight."
Graff: "One kind of stress puts it on, another takes it off. I am a creature of chemicals." (ch 15)
Implausibly, Graff claims that the experience of being tried was "Not really [hard].  I knew I'd be acquitted."

* * *
In any event, Graff's shifting weight seems to be, at a minimum, another example of monstrousness, a literal and physical byproduct of Graff's effort to suppress his own humanity.

Ender's Game II - Peter as Hegemon

One of the things Dr. Olsen hinted about last week (when talking about the imagery of the mind games and Ender's horror of "being like Peter"), was that we would see what we think of Peter by the end of the story.  Here are my own initial thoughts on the issue.

In Chapter 15, Valentine tells Ender that half the Hegemon's Council "does just what Peter wants," and "[t]he ones that aren't Locke's lapdogs are under his thumb in other ways."  In other words, "Earth belongs to Peter."

She also says: "I showed Peter all the evidence that I had assembled, enough to prove in the eyes of the public that he was a psychotic killer.  It included full-color pictures of tortured squirrels and some of the monitor videos of the way he treated you. ... [B]y the time he saw it, he was willing to give me what I wanted.  What I wanted was your freedom and mine."

But the fact that Peter is vulnerable to Valentine's threatened exposé of Peter's cruel and violent past suggests to me that he must have left his sadistic ways behind.  If he were currently indulging those impulses as he had in the past, he could not hope to conceal them for long.  This opens the possibility -- only a possibility at this point -- that Peter has in fact, reformed his behavior,  that he has actually "decided to be a statesman" for real.  To me, it opens the tantalizing possibility that maybe (just maybe) Ender and Valentine were not entirely correct in their assessment of Peter.

Then, we are told, after many years, the only famous name the colonists know from earth is "that of Peter Wiggin, the Hegemon of Earth; the only news that came was news of peace, of prosperity..."  And when Peter is "seventy-seven years old with a failing heart," he pours out "the story of his days and years, his crimes and his kindnesses," to Ender.

With these final pieces of information, I can't help thinking that while Peter may still be, in his heart, a psychopath, he is one who has learned to act convincingly like a human being in order to obtain and maintain power.  And if so, must we judge him by the secret desires of his heart which he has learned to control and possibly sublimate?  Or may we judge him by his actions, by the counterfeit which he has so thoroughly assimilated that he now has kindnesses, as well as crimes, to confess to his brother.

What should we think of a dictator who apparently could be brought down by Valentine's evidence of his now-abandoned childhood sadism, and who is apparently responsible for humanity's unprecedented more-than-global peace and prosperity?

And what are we to make of that comment, that Peter was "seventy-seven years old with a failing heart"?  It could mean nothing more than the literal sense: i.e., Peter is literally getting old and experiencing cardiac troubles.  But that specific phrase is evocative to me; it calls for our sympathy and forces our attention on Peter's heart as well as his failing health.  And the reference to Peter's kindnesses follows just two sentences later.

I believe these clues are deliberately ambiguous, to bring us all the way from unswerving horror at Peter's monstrousness in the initial chapters, to a place where we can ask (but not really answer) precisely these kinds of questions about the extent and nature of Peter's moral rehabilitation.  If any.

* * *

Of course, nothing is entirely straightforward here!

At the very start of chapter 15, Graff says, "even Demosthenes' mob of political cretins couldn't persuade the Hegemon to bring Ender back to Earth.  Ender is far too dangerous."

Whereas, according to Valentine, "Peter wanted Ender back on Earth, under the protection of the Hegemon's Council;" she believes that is her clever maneuvering that got her and Ender out from under Peter's control -- and I have relied on that assumption as the basis for my argument above.

If Graff is correct, however, Peter may only have pretended to be blackmailed into letting his siblings go... because he did not want them in his way. And that would have tremendously different implications for his character and conduct as Hegemon.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Ender's Game I

The latest freebie at Mythgard is a six-week course on Ender's Game, which has been a lot of fun so far.  (The first two sessions are already posted and available on iTunes in your choice of podcast or iTunes U format; links to video, audio, and lecture slides are also available at the Mythgard site.)

I'd only read Ender's Game once before, probably around 3 years ago, maybe a little more.  I remember liking it, but it didn't make a huge impression on me.  (I managed to remember just one of the two surprise elements that were included at the end of the movie when it came out.)  On this reading, I noticed a lot more intriguing details (e.g., Graff's weight changes) and found myself very curious about what kind of leader Peter is as Hegemon.  More on this later.

In Session 2, Dr. Olsen spoke about possible interpretations of the computer games that Ender obsessively plays during his free time (the Giant's Drink and the End of the World).   The imagery is certainly interesting, and provocative.  I hadn't really focused on the games, but Dr. Olsen pointed out that the story actually invites us to interpret these games, by offering the characters' interpretations of them.

This led seamlessly into a discussion which I like to call (somewhat facetiously) "Why We Don't Need to Listen to Authors."  Best quote:
"Have you ever had the experience, of reading a book that you found really interesting, and then you listen to the author talk about it, and with the kinds of things that they actually were thinking and were intending, you're like: Dude, have you even read your own book?"  
More seriously, Dr. Olsen concurs with C.S. Lewis that "It is the author who intends; the book means."  That is, the meanings of a text are not unlimited, but they are not necessarily bound by the author's own subjective intent.  Once the text is released into the wild, it is the reader's province to say what the text means.  There is a range of objectively reasonable interpretations which are actually supported by the text, and C.S. Lewis suggests that the true meaning of a book would ideally be discerned over time, essentially by consensus of fair-minded, intelligent readers (with sufficient background, if needed, in the genre or other aspects of the story that may need additional knowledge for comprehension).

I was interested to see that Dr. Olsen comes at this from a perspective of one who used to think highly of an author's intent; but this was due to his impatience with those who claimed that texts had no inherent meaning, and that readers were free to read anything they wanted into them.  (He was perhaps a literary originalist, as a means of trying to rein in agenda-oriented re-readings of literary texts?)

By contrast, I had always rejected as irrelevant any attempt to consider an author's purported intentions or biographical details in the interpretation of a text.  My position in high school and college was that the identity of the author was entirely immaterial; I didn't care whether the plays attributed to Shakespeare were written by Shakespeare, Bacon, or a team of drunken schoolgirls.  I was a purist:  It was the work itself that mattered, not the author.  (Unlike Dr. Olsen's sparring partners, however, I felt strongly that there were correct interpretations and incorrect interpretations.  I got particularly annoyed when certain teachers and students tried to read Christ allegories into everything.  Actually, that would still bug me, but it doesn't seem to be in vogue these days.  Unfortunately, there's still other symbolism that people seem to read in automatically, and reductively, without considering whether it actually enriches the story.)  I've softened quite a bit on my former authors-don't-matter stance, but I still would rather focus on analyzing the text in the first instance, rather than trying to import whatever we think we might know about the author

Saturday, April 12, 2014

Spring in Cold Spring

Today's route was no loop, lollipop, or line -- but a figure eight: Undercliff (y) to Breakneck (w) to Notch (b) to Brook (r) to Cornish (b).  Total distance, from the tourist information office up into the hills and back to Le Bouchon, was about 9 miles.  It took me about 6 hours including all rests and photo ops.  The steep bits proved quite challenging after hibernating all winter.

To start, I walked up Main Street into Nelsonville. 

These are red blossoms, not berries.  It's spring!

Easter is coming!!!!
There was not much traffic on the trail - but then it's a bit early, and the Nelsonville trailhead is probably more popular with the locals than with us weekend outdoorsfolk from the city.  Certainly, people are a bit friendlier on this side of the hills.

When you start the Undercliff trail (y) from the south east (as I usually do), you have to pay attention once it merges with the green trail; there's an unheralded 90 degree left turn to stay on yellow.  (It is easy to miss if you aren't specifically looking for it, and it can take a while before you notice that you are only seeing green blazes, and no yellow ones.  Fortunately, I learned that lesson a year or two ago and haven't forgotten it!)

Isn't it funny how sometimes, when you look at a rock,
it seems like you can almost discern a human face in it?
When I got to the intersection of Undercliff (y) and Washburn (w), I met a father and daughter who were dismayed to find that they were not nearly as far along as they'd thought.  I sympathized; the first part of Washburn is always much longer and steeper and zig-zaggier than one expects.  But I was able to help them get oriented, which felt good.  The father was guessing that maybe they would reach the top of Mount Taurus in 20 minutes (as the daughter despaired), and I didn't say anything -- figured I'd let them be pleasantly surprised that it was only 5 or 10 minutes away.

The first big intersection - I kept going on Undercliff
It's been a while since I've followed Undercliff (y) past its intersection with the Brook trail (r) and over the bridge to its terminus at the Breakneck trail (w).  And I found this section very, very hard going.  As I started the ascent, carefully following the blazes, I was surprised at a series of right turns which eventually took me downhill.  To my chagrin, I'd gone in a circle and was headed back down to the bridge!  That first section of Undercliff can be a bit confusing, because you can see the blazes marking other portions of the trail (which are not yet part of your path), and if you head toward them, you can end up all turned around like I was.  Grrr.  I almost gave up, but instead I checked my water supply, gritted my teeth, and headed back up the slope, going even more slowly and carefully than before.

This particular portion of the Undercliff trail, from the bridge crossing to trail end, is supposedly only 0.3 miles.  It took me over an hour.  (By contrast, the remaining 8.7 miles - including a short scramble up to Breakneck Ridge - took me less than 5 hours.)

At the T intersection with the white-blazed Breakneck trail,
a yellow arrow pointed me back down the slope I'd just ascended....
The Breakneck trail was far more populated than Undercliff, but fortunately not congested.

View from Breakneck Ridge

This is the only type of butterfly I saw today.  I don't know if it was just one creature that followed me
from the lowlands to the heights, or if each area has its own (identical) butterflies.
The ups and downs along Breakneck Ridge are quite enjoyable, but when I got to the intersection with Overlook (r), I got nervous and wondered if I'd missed the turn for Notch (b).    Nope - happily, Notch was still up ahead!

Really? A black cat on the ridge?

To my surprise, I saw the shape of a large black cat out of the corner of my eye.  This unfocused shot actually captures the impression quite nicely.

Once your eye is sensitized to this, you may still be able to see it even in the more focused shot below:

Lovely weather!  It was a foretaste of summer.
Once I reached the actual intersection with the Notch Trail, I realized I could never have missed it.

A message to would-be suitors

I thought this looked like a monkey clinging to a tree

Eventually, one reaches the long slow concrete ramp that winds around down, down, down to the bottom of the hill.

Bits of bark suspended in the vines.... 
I was really surprised to see a substantial snowbank as I descended the west side; there had been no sign of snow on the east side or in any of the interior areas I'd crossed over the course of the day.

It turned out there were several patches of snow peaking out from under protective leafy covers; it was actually a bit hard to see just how big they were.
Snow under the leaves!

This lawn was ethereal with the grayish grass and clumps of blue flowers.

Weeping angels?  Don't blink!!!!
 I snagged a spot on the porch at Le Bouchon, and enjoyed a glass of wine with the house salad (featuring beets, pistachios, goat cheese) and sweet potato fries, then a lovely creme brûlée for dessert.   Oh, bliss!
Almost there! Around the corner from Le Bouchon.
The moon had risen by the time I headed toward the train station...

A lovely day.