Monday, October 31, 2011

Halloween 2011

Every year at work, there's a huge Halloween party that involves a ridiculous amount of effort on the part of staff all focused on just getting students to figure out how to use call numbers. This tree was created by the good folks at the Art Library. You'll notice the lower left side is particularly well-barked. That's because I barked it personally and have the glue gun wounds to prove it. All I can say is, thank goodness I didn't bark the wrong tree. (If I have not yet made this joke to you in person, don't worry, because I will.)

Simon P., who was visiting, came to work with me. Here at the photo booth, she made use of excess costume parts to impersonate a crab in the ocean. I genuinely believe this to be among the best costumes I have ever seen.

When we got home, we took a walk through town to look at all the Halloween costumes and decorations. There were two adorable firefighters, and one Viking in a horned hat and a fur coat. On the corner in front of the Catholic church, there were a couple of princesses with a tent handing out candy. They had a lot of penguins. I still haven't figured out why, although I don't see why not.

The people who are always awesome were awesome again this year. Not pictured: the ghost in the coffin, the legs sticking straight out of the ground, the jack o'lantern with a pig face (and ears), and the animation of a skull opening and closing its mouth in one of the upper windows.

It is very hard to take good pictures at night with my camera, so I had to stick to houses that were well-lit. There was only one. After making a quick lap around the neighborhood, Simon P. and I went home. We were so exhausted by our exciting day that we pretty much giggled until I fell into my bed and went unconscious, possibly while still talking. I hear that I suggested morally questionable means of funding the magnificent shop that Simon P. intend someday to open, but I deny all knowledge of it. I am still very tired, which is what I will blame for the disjointed nature of this post.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

10 Awesome Things at PumpkinPalooza

PumpkinPalooza, in Lyons, is one of the most interestingly odd festivals I've ever been to, and I've been to some odd ones. It seems like a bunch of people got together and made a list of things that are awesome, and decided to do them all in one day in mid-autumn. The first thing on that list was dressing up cars.

The second thing was having literary-themed scarecrows tied to every lamp post. This is the fellow from the cover of Cloudy With a Chance of Meatballs. I was impressed.

The third thing was to have a pumpkin race in the canal.

The fourth thing was to have the little floating pumpkins miss the current, drift into the lock, and completely fail to race anywhere at all; whereupon the Fire and Rescue people spent fifteen minutes catching them all in a net so they could relaunch. This interlude was much more fun that any race could possibly have been.

The fifth thing was to leave pumpkin guts strewn about everywhere so it looked like the townspeople of Lyons go around massacring vegetables in the same way that the undead massacre brains.

I have to skip the sixth thing, which had something to do with catapulting pumpkins over the canal, and the seventh thing, which is rolling a load of pumpkins down a huge hill, because we missed both of them.

The eighth thing was to give me the strange experience of seeing the Joker and a policeman hanging around together having a good time. Suspicious.

The ninth thing was this domesticated goose. Enough said.

And the tenth this was this little train of young'uns that wove its way back and forth through town and never failed to be (1) hilarious, and (2) adorable. Each little half-barrel has a horn to honk. As Adam said, the guy driving the tractor has the best job in the world.

The end.

Friday, October 21, 2011


For many weeks I was reading this anthology of travel writing by women. I fished it out of a box at a garage sale. The box contained this booka and about 50 copies of Louis L'Amour novels, which is a combination I do not really understand. I thought it looked pretty cool, so I traded fifty cents for it, and I read the parts that were good, and skimmed the parts that were boring, and I'm very glad I did. For there were some parts that were really good.

1. Mary Kingsley
Mary Kingsley cared for her ailing parents for the first thirty years of her life. When they died, six weeks apart, she went to West Africa. It was 1892, and she did not think she was a feminist, even though it seems to me that she behaved like one. I'm quoting her not for her politics, but for her sense of humor. On her way through the jungle to collect fish, she and her group must cross a swamp by walking on a submerged log:

"All of us save one, need I say that one was myself, effected this with safety. As for me, when I was at the beginning of the submerged bridge, and busily laying about in my mind for an opinion as to whether it was better to walk on a slippery tree trunk you could see, or on one you could not, I was hurled off by that inexorable fate that demands of me a personal acquaintance with fluvial and paludal ground deposits; whereupon I took a header, and am thereby able to inform the world, that there is between fifteen and twenty feet of water on either side of that log. I conscientiously went in on one side and came up on the other. The log, I conjecture, is dum or ebony, and it is some fifty feet long; anyhow it is some sort of wood that won't float. I really cannot be expected, by the most exigent of scientific friends, to go botanising under water without a proper outfit."

2. Willa Cather
Everybody knows who Willa Cather is. I even read My Antonia, although I do not remember what it was about, except Nebraska I think. Willa Cather went to Europe with a friend in 1902, and wrote this about a French village called Lavandou:

"I am sure I do not know why a wretched fishing village, with nothing but green pines and blue sea and a sky of porcelain, should mean more than a dozen places that I have wanted to see all my life. No books have ever been written about Lavandou, no music or pictures ever came from here, but I know well enough that I shall yearn for it long after I have forgotten London and Paris. One cannot divine nor forecast the conditions that will make happiness; one only stumbles upon them by chance, in a lucky hour, at the world's end somewhere, and holds fast to the days, as to fortune or fame."

3. Kate O'Brien
Kate O'Brien was an Irish writer whose work I will have to look up, not just because some were banned in Ireland (sex! between ladies!) but because of this fantastic description of her suffering in the company of a fellow traveler on the way to Salamanca, Spain. (It makes little difference, but it was 1937, and she was 40, in case you wondered.)

"Boredom is of two kinds, passive and active. The passive kind tells on one in the end, but the active is immediate agony, and leaves a cicatrice that is liable to throb again if touched later in life. I am rather subject to active boredom -- but the scar inflicted by the Barber of Salamanca is one of my worst, and will never be completely insensitive. . . . I have sometimes believed that I could see shadows spead under people's eyes when they were being frantically bored. I have seen faces age and sag under the onslaught of amiable extrovertism -- and then I've known exactly what was happening in the victims' heads. Well, the Barber turned night into day that night. He told me the seating capacity of every restaurant and cinema in Salamanca. He told me the names of all the films which has come to those cinemas since their inception -- and his own opinion on them. He told me the names of all the cafes and hotels, of all the doctors, dentists, lawyers, chemists, and shoeblacks [this goes on] . . . And when the frantic business was over, when there had been about five sweet minutes of the silence and absence of the Barber, to be told that for two hours there could be no kind of reviving drink! Is it odd if I decided to hate Salamanca?"

4. Beryl Markham
Beryl Markham was the first person to fly east to west across the Atlantic alone. She was apparently kind of a remarkable person, admired by Hemingway even, who I don't imagine admired that many women, so I guess that's saying something. (I think it's saying Hemingway's a mysogenist.) While hunting in Africa (with Isak Dinesen/Karen Blixen's ex-husband Bror Blixen) she and "Blix" have a close encounter with a rampaging elephant. (Heavily edited for length.)

"In an open place, it might have been possible to dodge, but not here. I stood behind Blix with my hands on his waist according to his instructions. But I knew it wasn't any good. The elephant's ears were spread wide now, his trunk was up and extended toward us, and he began the elephant scream of anger which is so terrifying as to hold you silent where you stand. It occured to me that this was the instant to shoot. Blix never moved. He held his rifle steady and began to chant some of the most striking blasphemy I have ever heard. It was colorful, original, and delivered with finesse, but I felt that this was a badly chosen moment to test it on an elephant. The elephant advanced, Blix released more oaths (this time in Swedish), and I trembled. There was no rifle shot. "I may have to shoot him," Blix announced, and the remark struck me as an understatement of classic magnificence. [The elephant screams again, startling its friends, who believe there's a danger and run away; he joins them, leaving Beryl and Blix safe, but irritable.] I foreswore the historic propriety of my sex to ask a rude question: "I think you're the best hunter in Africa, Blickie, but sometimes your humor is gruesome. Why in hell didn't you shoot?" He stared upward into the leaves of the boabob tree and sighed like a poet in love. "There's an old adage," he said, "translated from the ancient Coptic, that contains all the wisdom of the ages -- 'Life is life and fun is fun, but it's all so quiet when the goldfish die.'"

Beryl did not, somehow, shoot him on the spot.

Monday, October 17, 2011

The Most Inappropriate Use of Bacon I Have Ever Encountered

List of things this is more wrong than:
1. Everything

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Lazy Acre Alpacas Open House

I want to live here.

The reason I want to live here is because 87 alpacas also live here, 
and I think we could have a good time together.

For example, I would be friends with this gal. 
In fact, I would probably start doing my hair like her,
because she obviously knows style.

The antique tractor collection is only temporary, unfortunately.

This is a part of an intake air-cleaning thingamajigger. The dirt particles get filtered out and dumped in this jar before they get to the engine and slowly destroy it. 
Also, it's photogenically rustic.

Alpaca males communing at the fence. I learned that males produce better fiber because their bodies are never busy gestating other living things or feeding them. It makes a lot of sense, but I never thought about it before. I thought it was rather interesting that you can read female alpaca fiber kind of like the rings of a tree stump.

Who says alpacas aren't romantic?

Alpaca fiber is so soft it feels like nothing.

I want to live here so much.

Alpacas are very curious and they were fascinated by this guy's beagle.

Suri alpacas are my favorite, if only because of their adorable mopheads.

Wednesday, October 05, 2011

Risk Aversity

Remember when I was going over investment plans for my [nonexistant] retirement funds five years ago and there was that question about risk aversity and I was like, "I AM VERY RISK-AVERSE. YOU CAN'T BE MORE RISK-AVERSE THAN ME WITHOUT HAVING A MENTAL CONDITION. IN FACT, I MIGHT HAVE A MENTAL CONDITION REGARDING RISK." Remember when I took that tour of the subway and it was darker than dark, darker-than-the-bowels-of-the-earth dark and Christi and I had to hold hands? Remember when I told you about that balloonist who shot up in the air very very fast and was all, "I can hear myself living," and then he never did it again? Well, these fond memories will all be relevant to this post, because in this post I shall describe what it is like when you go into this as a person who is very risk-averse:

Tunnel of doom for the risk-averse among us.

This is a drainage tunnel. To make you all feel better, it's very large. I know you're thinking of that part in that book (I don't remember what book, maybe The Princess and the Goblin), where it takes about five pages for a character to squeeze through this teeny teeny tiny passageway deep underground, and just reading it is enough to make you hyperventilate. It was not like that at all. It was several feet tall and several feet wide -- probably about the size of a subway car, or a bit bigger.

This was taken on the way out, but I can't remember if that light is the
tunnel entrance in front of me or someone's headlamp behind me.

The plan was to walk to the end and then take pictures on the way back, so my first photos are of the very end. But before we get there, let me address my risk-aversity and what it was like to watch the point of light to recede behind me and know that eventually we were going to turn, and that even the pinprick was going to disappear.

It was like this:
I'm going to have a panic attack.
I'm going to have a panic attack.
I'm going to have a panic attack.
I wonder why I'm not having a panic attack.
This place is sort of awesome.
But I'm definitely going to have a panic attack any minute now.
Hopefully not before I take this photo.

And so on, until being there actually became kind of prosaic and my main concern changed from possible death to really wanting to dump the water out of my boots. Even in my highly risk-averse state I have to admit there are not many ways to die or even be injured there unless someone specifically takes you there to murder you. But let's not dwell on that! What was scary about it was simply that it was very dark, and just plain creepy. For example:


There's something about this that kind of turns the blood cold, right? The spikes are presumably there to hold rocks up that have since fallen, which we were walking over. Comforting! Fortunately, this process seems to happen in slow motion, over fairly long periods of time. The spikes appear to be working themselves out of the rock, probably because they're rusting and getting smaller. Another slow process.

This was also creepy:

As was once spoken to me with great certitude: "Orange is the color of evil!"

It's an orange stalactite forming on some kind iron fixture that kind of looks like it once held flourescent lights. The creepy part about this is the clear passage of time, as if you were in a cave. It just feels strange.

The most spectacularly creepy part of the trek was the end of the tunnel, where all the water streams into a tall, circular, concrete room with a huge pillar in the middle of it:

There was quite a lot of water coming down; it was hard to hear.

Let's pause here, at the end of a pitch-dark, mile-long tunnel, looking at this gloomy drainage chamber a hundred feet underground, and consider some things like, for example, what is the point of this? Well, as Ben Franklin says, what is the point of babies? Urban exploration tends to be about decay, but this tunnel is defined less by its decay, which is not extreme, than by a quality of unseen-ness. Standing at the end of it is the polar opposite of waiting in a line to pass by the Mona Lisa. There is zero pretense: it isn't looked-at, cared-for, cleaned, or even visited except by teenagers and purse thieves. Its aesthetics are accidental rather than strategic; nobody is trying to make you think anything about it or see it in a particular light or context. It's a mineral-stained pillar in a pool of water far below a spectactularly unremarkable road, and that's it. It's beautiful because it's surreal; it's surreal because we're walking around on what we think is solid earth, but underneath there are strange scenes like this that you only ever get to -- normally -- through books or movies. When you're looking at it with your own eyes, you get that feeling that everyone has sometimes and later forgets about: that there's a lot going on in the world that would surprise you, even if you feel like you are pretty in touch with things. You're never as in touch as you think you are. And thank goodness for that.

Fortunately, we didn't stand there considering very long. There wasn't enough light to take good pictures, and if you can't take good pictures, there's no reason to hang out there. It may be surreal and beautiful and all that, but it isn't really pleasant. It was here that we noticed the yellow algae on the rocks, which didn't seem good. (Upon some serious Googling I've concluded that it was nothing worse than golden alga, which is totally harmless unless you breathe through gills. You could swim in it if you wanted to.)

On the way back, we stopped for pictures at a couple of interesting places. The first was this dreadful-colored waterfall that looks rather toxic but is probably orange because of iron in the limestone. Having said that with considerable certainty, I will add that I refrained from licking it just in case.

Believe it or not, the patterns made by sediment simultaneously depositing itself and being worn away (this was the concensus as to what was happening; earth science teachers, please leave corrections in the comments) were actually rather lovely, especially with a steady stream of water rippling over them.

Except for this part where the rock seems to have grown a set of intestines. (Shudder.)

There was a similar place closer to the opening, where everything was coated in pock-marked mineral drippings.

In vertical places, it had the same ripply pattern. Yes, that's a beer can at the top of the frame. For extra yuck, it has a centipede on it.

Lest you forget how dark it was when camera flashes were not going off:

It. was. so. dark.

Not long after that interlude, we reached the end, and some of us (me) were incredibly relieved that we had neither died nor embarrassed ourselves with a panic attack. When we got home and researched the brightly-colored substances we had seen, and assured ourselves we had come into contact with precisely nothing toxic, we (I) felt pretty okay.

Two explorers reach the waterfall at the end of the tunnel.

The third explorer joins them.

The fourth explorer joins them.

The fourth explorer's boots did her ZERO good and now need to be bleached.

The Tunnel of Risk turns out to be the Tunnel of Interesting Mineral Formations.

I may have exaggerated my risk-aversity for the purposes of this post. I was in no danger of having a panic attack, although I did feel significantly more comfortable when I could see the light at the end of the tunnel. However, the discovery of the yellow algae was apparently a moment of some anxiety for me. After I washed off my feet but before I researched what the algae was, one night intervened. During that night, I dreamed that I woke up and found cakes of uranium piled on my nightstand. I like the way my subconscious goes from "a worrisome shade of algae" to "certain death by uranium exposure." Once risk-averse, always risk-averse. Unless there is really really cool stuff around the bend of the tunnel.

Monday, October 03, 2011

The Macedon Lumberjack Festival

A few weeks ago I went to a lumberjack festival. I do not know exactly what a lumberjack festival is, even after having been to one, but it seems to revolve around very strong people mutilating the corpses of innocent trees for cash prizes. There was also food, Civil War reenactors, and a petting zoo. And that's what I love about events with the word "festival" in them. You really just never know.

There was a lot of heavy-duty equipment there, like this thing that cuts trees into big long planks. Here, it's just getting started on a new long and barely skimming the top off of it.  You can see the planks that are already cut in the foreground. It's pretty impressive, but the setup time sort of deflates the excitement. Why does everything cool seem to involve so much waiting? I hate waiting.

This is a log-splitter, I guess. The setup for this is less boring because the machine picks up the log itself, which is pretty sweet. Then the whatchamacallit slowly pushes the log toward the whooseywhatsit and it splits. Lazy, for sure, but very satisfying.

In my experience of what lumberjacks do for fun (yes, I do have experience of this) splitting logs while standing on them is right up there. And it is impressive. These women were amazing, especially the one who came in last, and just kept hacking and hacking at that log until she split it, even though it was quite hot and she was completely exhausted and had already lost by several minutes. I was so enthralled I forgot to take any pictures of her. This is the woman who won. She is a personal trainer. She was admirable.

Then there was a two-man saw competition, which was serious business, as you can tell from the fact that the men involved are the size of Paul Bunyan. Before competing I'm pretty sure they ate seventy-five pancakes apiece and then drank a small river dry. (In reality, I have no memory of what Paul Bunyan is supposed to have done. I think there was an ox involved. The pancakes I'm just guessing on.)

Actually, now that I look at this picture, these aren't the hugest guys. I was, again, too amazed to take pictures of the really awesome stuff, although I did at one point take video with one hand and in-focus photos with the other, for which I think I should have won money.

Somewhere in the background people were throwing axes, which is an activity I have a strong romantic attachment to on account of watching so much Dr. Quinn, Medicine Woman during my formative years. But it was hard to pay attention to that while the hot saw competition was going on, which should tell you how incredible it was. A hot saw is a chain saw that has had its motor swapped out for a ridiculously large motor from some other piece of equipment. For example, this hot saw is running on a snowmobile motor.

Years ago, when Ivan and I were watching the extras on the Lord of the Rings DVD, we laughed a lot at the part where two special effects guys recall an argument about what Nazgul should look like:

Guy one: And I told him birds don't have spines coming off their elbows like that, and their wings don't fold properly.
Guy two: And I said, "Shut up, Ben. It looks cool."

Well, it is just as wrong to put a snowmobile motor on a chain saw as it is to give birds elbow-spines. First of all, their ability to cut things is -- counterintuitively -- diminished in direct proportion to how absurdly large the motor is. Second, more money you spend on pimping out your chain saw -- once again, counterintuitively -- the less effectively it works. But, undeniably, it is cool.

The noise was incredible. I could either protect my ears or take photos, and sometimes I had to take photos. This one left me partially deaf for about five minutes. Likewise, the exhaust fumes were choking (har har). But the POWER! It seemed like any of those hot saws would cut the logs themselves if their human owners let go of them. And after they reduced their designated log to dust, they would just keep going until they had deforested Canada. If, that is, they worked. One never got past the start-em-up stage, one died in the middle, and none of the monster-saws won the competition for speed. The winner was modestly-sized and cost about seven bucks to modify.

The hot saw competition marked the end of the show, and the beginning of the petting zoo portion of the day. For some strange reason they did not have an alpaca (?!), but they did have these two adorable duckies:

which I could not stop photographing. There was also a miniature horse and a stumpy little miniature horse colt. They brought to mind my days at miniature horse camp, and my stupid horse Sweet-n-Low. To this day, when I think of her, it is with decided frosty feelings, although I do not remember why. I just remember thinking that she was not sweet. Maybe she kicked me once. Or maybe I just hated her dumb name. Left to my own devices I'm sure I would've called her Buttercup or something. Anyway. The wee little colt was adorable and obviously would never kick anyone.

I never understood what miniature horses were for or why they existed -- until the Macedon Lumberjack Festival. Now it is clear to me that although the average, unadorned miniature horse is generally useless, you could easily transform it into a valuable plowhorse with the simple addition of a pull cord and a snowmobile motor. It certainly would've improved Sweet-n-Low. She'd still be mean, but at least she'd be cool.