Wednesday, July 30, 2008

Whiffle Ball Wound

Day one. Slid into home on a foul ball. . .

Day .... 5? The scab thickens...

Just a couple days ago. Now Liz is obsessed with looking at it, and it's peeling like a snake.


Karen and me and Liz in our getups for the Thursday Cruise.

A fine example of the bikes and riders...

We rode to another park across the city and had a dance party!

Karen and Emma on the trail to Isabel glacier.

Lunch time!

This is where we camped outside of Aspen. It was surprisingly easy.

Colorado's Finest Natural Moments

Coming in from the north. This is one of about 1,274 pictures that Liz took as she marveled-- her first real Rocky Mountain high.

Highest point in Rocky Mountain National Park.

This is what's known as a tourist trap. See the tourist in action.

Columbines, the state flower.

Snow and ice in July?? You better believe it. On the trail to Isabel glacier.

Hello Bierstadt my old friend. This is the fourteener I hiked when I was 17. It's still there.

Is this your Windows desktop background??

Sweet thunderhead.

This is perhaps the only sunset-ish picture I'll put up, just to spare everybody the awe.

Blurry Wildlife In Colorado

A herd of elk-- musta been 50 of 'em.

Nice marmot!

Elk on a hill in Rocky Mountain National Park.

My first moose!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Whiffle Ball And Other Extremities

So what has Lost In America been up to? If you care to know, we spent a whole week in Boulder at our most gracious and hospitable friend Karen's apartment. Boulder has a lot going on if you know where to look; on the outside it's become very upscale commercial, especially along Pearl Street, the pedestrian mall. One relief from this comes on Thursday nights, where informed people gather at a park with their bicycles and ride all around the city yelling "Happy Thursday!" to everyone they pass. Liz and I were fortunate to participate in this. The theme was "80's Prom Night." So, borrowing from Karen's more extensive wardrobe, we got dolled up and rolled out with the largest Happy Thursday crowd yet-- well over 400 people, many of them, er, happier than usual, and dressed to the glittery nines. Not just the people, mind you, but their vehicles as well; Boulder folks are obsessed with bikes. The coolest I think, besides the ones trailing stereo systems blasting Bon Jovi, was one which had two stems; one in the regular part at the handlebars, and another below the seat so that the front of the bike can swivel independently of the rear, and so can be on the street and the sidewalk at the same time.

Another diversion that I have not enjoyed since I was about 8 is whiffle ball. You know, the plastic yellow bat and the hollow plastic ball; what a modern invention! That game is dangerous, even when the participants are mostly math majors (I will say, they can throw a mean curveball... well, one of them can). You can check the blog for a couple pictures of my great wound.

Boulder is a beer town, and I could bore you to drunkenness with my account of all the great ones I tried. The best was probably Collaboration Not Litigation by Avery/Russian River (that's right, it's a blend...). That's all I'll tell you here. Of more interest are our plans for the future that have maintained only one part of their original form:

So we joined WWOOF, which is a great acronym for WorldWide Opportunities on Organic Farms. Basically you can go anywhere in the world where there is something called "organic" and work a set amount of hours per week, typically 25, in exchange for room & board, which can be anything from, "we have a cabin on a mountain and supply food for you to cook," to, "you can camp under a tree by the wilderness, and eat meals from the restaurant that your work will supply." This last option is the one that we have chosen and will begin this weekend, duration to be anywhere from two weeks to x number of months... probably not that many though.

But where are you now?!?!? you may be asking. If you're that curious, we're about 5 miles south of Santa Fe, New Mexico. A variety of factors contributed to our arrival:

1) We were going to help a woman build a cob house (that's sand, mud, and straw, not corn skeletons), but she was a major flake and too busy to give us any reasonable response to our queries. We even went to her town to try to find her. It was a small town (about 2,000 people) and even her coworkers could not locate her. I presume her to be an internet ghost.

2) We were going to hike to Conundrum hot springs in Colorado, the highest public hot springs in the U.S., but the 9 mile path was washed out in parts and inadvisable according to the Forest Service. The night before we spent in Aspen, the stomping grounds of the late Hunter S. Thompson. That town in no way represents him. It is a richass ski town, where nothing costs fewer than ten dollars (even a sandwich).

3) After these two things fell through, we went to Mesa Verde, recommended by our friend Emma with whom we stayed in Denver. Mesa Verde is the geological beginning of what is inaccurately deemed the Southwest in spaghetti Westerns, which are actually set in Italy. Though we saw some Italian tourists, we also saw some old American Indian dwellings that date back to 1300 A.D.

4) To continue our tour of the Southwest, we chose Chaco Canyon, another abandoned ancestral Pueblo abode. We ran into a problem: the unfortunate combination of Hurricane Dolly's long, wet fingers and a 20 mile dirt road, meant to deter random tourists from eroding the already rickety stone foundations of the kivas and pueblos. We didn't make it, to say the least. Luckily, just 120 miles away was a great, cheap hostel with free food.

And now I sitting in a bed in a real house owned by Liz's Mom's friend Jill and her partner Richard. We have used this house as a jumping off point for the local tourist attractions, just to give them a chance. A few days ago in down town Santa Fe, which is 97% artists shops (also known as "galleries," but really, they're stores), Liz and I walked into the Spanish Market, where there was a stage set up for musical acts. We caught most of a Latin pop/rock act where the singer/guitarist had basically his entire family as guests. They weren't half bad either. For his last act, he said, "my last guest has just gotten back from a tour in China. He's an up and coming musician, just amazing, blah blah blah, sweeping the ocean. . . Please welcome . . . Esteban!"

I don't know if you've ever been flipping channels and seen an infomercial where a full-bodied man wearing all black is playing a classical guitar, Flamenco style, and has fingernails on his right hand that would make a voguing drag queen ashamed. If you've seen this, then you know who Esteban is. I didn't think he was real until a few days ago, but now I believe.

Esteban is about 6'2". He wears all black and a flat brimmed hat with a band of silver dots going around it. He has a barrel chest, skinny legs, and biceps that used to be big but are not aging gracefully. His voice recalls Johnny Cash's singing voice: deep, rich, ballsy. When he talks, he talks about himself, and says things like, "OKAY, I'm gonna get goin' in a few minutes here, and I'm gonna tear you up!" or, "My band's gonna be ready in a few minutes and we're gonna destroy you. But first, I'm gonna play this love song, do a solo song here, it's an arrangement of one of the greatest love songs ever written, it's called Besame Mucho." Only he doesn't say, "Besame Mucho," he says, "Bess amay moocho," without any hint of Spanish inflection. With a name like Esteban, you'd expect that Esteban would have some Spanish in him. Nope, he's from Pittsburgh, and he announces this freely along with his life story as a guitarist, which is as believable as his voice. Apparently he pestered Andres Segovia ("Maestro") with anonymous notes until confronting him and being accepted into the Master level classes at Segovia's school in Spain. Then he got hit by a drunk driver and couldn't use his left hand. After ten years and losing sight in one eye, he's back. Oh yes, he's back, and with more covers of old pop tunes than ever, done up in twiddling guitar intros that last 5 minutes. He has his family as a band, too. One of his daughters is a fine violinist who has also mastered dancing while playing. Only, when she dances, she moves her upper body on an axis that is not connected to her legs, which Newton's laws say should be holding her upright. It's a strange sight, especially as she's the only one wearing a tight Flamenco dress.

Apart from that, it's been driving around this gigantic old quarry that is New Mexico. Actually it's been formed mostly by volcanic activity that took place a million years ago, covering the area in up to 1,000 feet of ash that then compressed into rock and worn away to form high desert plateaus and low, blankety green valleys edged by red and ochre cliff faces.

Tomorrow, Wednesday, we head north and west yet again. You'd think that with this much northing and westing we'd have hit Alaska by now, if not the West Coast, but this is a big place full of uncertain destiny. When shall I write again? From where? Who knows?

Best of all your worlds,

Tuesday, July 22, 2008

South Dakota is Corn and Rocks

This could be the Corn Palace... you decide!

The retail floor of the Corn Palace.... and you could watch the shoppers from a safe distance! All of those emblems along the top are made of corn. And the outside of the picture above.

Liz says, "we're going over there!"

Over there.

Here's our crib!

Here's looking down from our crib. That path at the bottom's how we got there. Notice the red layer-- that's a different mineral deposit from some geological change many hundreds of thousands of years ago. All of the layers are at about the same height. There's your lesson for the day.

Here's looking out from our crib when we got there.

Me singing loudly. No echo. Those spikes behind me and to the left are what we tried to get past the next morning.

Note the moon.

Lost In America: The Midwest Eats And Goes On A Stroll

Last thing you knew I was headed west, straight and to the south, aimed for a state with a reputation for large expanses of desolation and not much else but a couple monuments. Interstate 90 draws a straight line across South Dakota like a well-handled etch-a-sketch; the state is bookended by two towns: Mitchell in the east and Wall in the west (though perhaps bookended isn't apt here; I doubt there are many books anywhere in the state). The latter two towns get their expendable revenue from one source each: tourists.

Thousands of corn-addled minivan families pull into the diagonally aligned parking spaces surrounding the Corn Palace in Mitchell and Wall Drug in Wall; the latter you may have heard of, as there are signs for it all around the world, or perhaps you got lost in the Midwest and took the road that had the most signs to one place. Though the themes of these monoliths of Americana are different, the atmosphere is the same: BUY. The Corn Palace has murals covering the inside and outside of the building that are made entirely out of (you guessed it) corn. It has glass cases with various decaying elements of the history of the building itself and pitcures of famous country singers who visited the building in its past iterations (corn murals, unlike strawbale, decompose over time and must be rebuilt to reflect, umm, America at its corniest). The main room in the Corn Palace is an arena where I assume some sort of sporting event or beauty contest takes place, but on off days it is converted into a giant retail floor with a labyrinth of aisles and shelves holding items that would have been appealing to Wally Cleaver. (On a side note, I have been told that I look like Wally. Do not assume that I have his taste in kitsch.) We bought postcards and left.

Our previous host, Beth, and her family had warned Liz and I about South Dakota: "It's so flat, you'll be bored out of your _____ [insert plural body part here]," or something like that. I didn't believe it, having driven across flat places before without issue.

Flat. Flat South Dakota, the flat part of the shallow inland sea that covered that part of the country so many eons ago. Flat. I guess. I don't actually remember. We drove several hundred miles with the anticipation of something called Badlands. Before our initial departure, my uncle Tony had told me about an encounter with a lone buffalo on a 115 degree day in the Badlands. The way he told it I was sweating at the end, and it was decided that we should go. They're on the western end of South Dakota, just east of Wall, and they're very earth toned.

I have to stay subdued here to avoid giving a maudlin account of "the toothlike pinnacles and unearthly, savage landscapes that come at you before you're prepared to take it all in." I can't freak out the way we did when the road started twisting and undulating between all these... badlands. I don't know how else to call them. They're not really rocks, I think, they're like really hard mud that used to be rock. They're not mountains, I think, because they're only a couple hundred feet tall. They're badlands, I don't know how else to explain it. It's like a microcosmic mountain range.

We drove through the park first, agog at every turn, then gathered some water and other supplies and went to the visitor's center to ask about trails. It turns out the actual trails are short and few. The woman we inquired to looked at us with a cheery face and said, "you can hike anywhere! Just watch out for buffalo." Our response was that of skeptical shoppers: "So we don't need a path or anything?"


That's it. You can go anywhere in the park. She didn't even tell us that we should know how to get back. We left the building feeling so liberated that our own dreams of hiking in the park seemed restrictive. We trucked back to this picnic spot that had a backcountry log, so we could write our names in the book and put a note saying where we were headed in case we didn't come back. Not that we knew where we were going. The rules were that you had to camp 1/2 mile or more from any road or trail or trace of humanity. We parked at the base of some badlands, loaded our packs with water, food, tent, and sleeping bags, and walked around a bend.

It was getting on evening, and we were walking along the small valleys between the slopes, on dry stream beds and the few feet at the base where no plants grow. At first it was fairly open space, but gradually got slimmer until we rounded one bend and realized that soon there would be no flat space to pitch a tent. My instinct said "go up," so I clambered up the side of one of these slopes to the top, maybe 60 feet, and found a little ridge with some flat spots and a good view. Liz followed shortly, using all four limbs, as had I, grasping at the lightly rooted scrub plants that must live on imaginary water reserves; the mud/rock I've described is so because there is absolutely no moisture to be found, on land or in the air. The slopes are cracked, dessicated, and tend to give way with little incentive, so an even center of gravity is important on the steep parts.

Safely atop the ridge, walking along and looking for a good place to camp, the silence rose as the sun descended and revealed on the horizon a swath of deep plum colors, the aura of the earth. No city light pollution, no traffic smell, nearly nothing at all around us but badlands to the north and west, prairie to the south and east, and the moon above. We made chili from a mix and some fresh onions and garlic, burned some of it to the bottom of the camp-stove pot, ate, and got in the tent, still agog. It was cool enough, the moon was bright enough to cast a shadow and blot out many of the stars. I put my head down and closed my eyes.

They opened seconds later, wide, and my torso convulsed with my heartbeat. "What was that noise?!" I knew there were no bears around (I am afraid of bears), but there could be mountain lions, right? We definitely saw coyote tracks on the way in. This was my thinking for the next hour or so as I imagined how I would fend off a large mammalian intruder. Eventually I settled down and slept a bit, until something else woke me up. It was Liz. She said, "the stars!"

Even through the tent screen the skyscape was more intense than I was prepared for. When I stuck my head outside of the tent and looked up my lungs were emptied, literally. To describe how it looked is impossible, but suffice it to say that I saw numerous shooting stars and four satellites within ten minutes; to spot a satellite under normal rural circumstances is rare, even if you know what to look for. I'd never seen more than one at a time, but there they were, little dots of white shimmying around the sky like they were trying to connect the dots.

Our morning routine, breakfast, was accompanied by the flutey bays of some coyotes chiming in the 5:30 hour, and after we scrambled down the least steep slope to the ground, we started following a dry stream bed that had been recently traveled by the audible-but-invisible animals. Liz's sense of adventure took us across some prairie towards the pinnacles in hopes of finding our own little Northwest Passage. Prairie grass may look short from the road, but it is waist high and full of burrs and seeds that want nothing more than a ride on your socks.

This is where it got tougher; I'll give you the highlights:

We followed a streambed, figuring it had to come from up and had perhaps worn something down to "passable" status. Along this stream we saw, in several bushes, the leg bones, spine, and skull of a deer (way cool, just like in the cartoons). After taking several impassible turns, we reached the end of the line; had we tried to scale the side of our obstable (which I took a stab at), it's possible that we might still be there. Only light creatures with specifically designed claws should climb those things.

That's it. We made it back to the truck at 10:30 am, after 4.5 hours of adventuring, and went to Wall Drug for their famous 5 cent cups of coffee and to experience a shocking recalibration to the ways of human living.

We are now in Boulder, Colorado, which you will be able to read about on the blog fairly soon (once the memories are all recovered/organized-- I gotta write more often). Boulder is great and says HELLO and HAPPY THURSDAY. Perhaps I'll make it a choose-your-own-adventure.... the next episode has actually been in the works since before this installment, and contains a surprise. It's like a Tarantino movie...

Hot but dry, sore but happy,

Lost In America

And I have to include a call for support, this time not for a ride-buddy, but for prayers and donations. Our friend Padma lost nearly her entire family in a car accident in India and has been shouldered with the immense burden that comes with this sort of tragedy. I've been asked to spread the word, and I'm already impressed at the amount of support that has been sent in every way. For more information: . You can also check out the Facebook group "Support for Padma," if that's how you prefer. Thanks for your time! --A

Tuesday, July 15, 2008

Princeton, WI, in random order 'cause it's all so great!

This is the cover for the next album by The Brussats (they're sweeping the nation!) L to R: Sherry, me, Mary

An ok picture of the fine timber framing job done by Glen.

Wood stove/bread & pizza oven, and major incentive for my return.

Nice big kitchen! Nice cork floors, dudes!

The house, snapped hastily while being sucked dry by mosquitoes.
Master bedroom & ceiling fan-- we installed the one in Claire's room.

window and exposed straw bale truth window-- that's what the walls are really made of!
Bathroom sink

Claire's new bedroom
In full anti-deerfly garb...

We loooooove the new cork floor!

Clockwise from top left: Glen, head-sized turnip, Claire, Mary, Sam, Spencer

Claire in the middle, as Martina Josefina Catalina Cucaracha at the Green Lake Public Library and Odeon.
Floodwaters receding from downtown Princeton

clockwise from top left: plain, olive, cardamom loaves fresh outta the oven

Friday, July 11, 2008


Lunch prepared in Glencoe: Gazpacho with cilantro and avocado, grilled cheese with my bread, mustard, pickles, goat and cow cheddar cheeses.

Millenium Park in Chicago, watching Orchestra Baobab- most danceable!

Statue of King Lear in Chicago

I think he took the David Bowie thing just a little too far...


What a great way to spend a day!

The craziest float of them all!