Tuesday, May 31, 2011

Chimney Rock

This place has a natural name for a naturally formed geologic formation: Chimney Rock. 1000 years ago the Pueblo Indians lived here and now it is a San Juan National Forest Area in southern Colorado.  We stopped here, but since we were on our way to Chama, New Mexico (and happened to take a big detour, which was fun), we decided not to walk up to the ruins and the rock itself.  
vintage cars on the road - Chevrolet 1936 2-Door 5-Window Coupe 
We also ran into several early 1900s Chevrolets in the parking lot with people that were out road tripping in real old vehicles.  We saw them again later in Chama, great fun. .

Checking out Bucks County Art, part 1

The weekend before last, AREA and I participated in Elephant's Eye, a great little event put on by artists in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.  You get a map, some directions and information, and then it is up to you to find the home studios of the sculptures, painters, and other artists that are part of this.  We spent 5 hours driving around in this rural, but rather upscale, part of Pennsylvania, across the Delaware River from Lambertville, NJ, and saw some really great art, some really interesting art, and some that didn't move me much.  Just like art should be.  Here is our story (part 1).

King’s Oaks Farm, Newton, PA, 

The first artist and studio we visited was Alex Cohen at King Oaks Farm in Newton.  This turned out to be the highlight of all the studio visits, not only because of the art, but also because Alex is funny, interesting, and likes to talk.

King’s Oaks Farm, Newton, PA, USA

His studio (and apartment) is in the old carriage house (photo above) of this big estate which was owned by his grandparents.  They used to cut a meadow into a landing strip for planes in the early 1900s, and some of Alex' art is inspired by this.  What I really loved about his art was the diversity in the paintings, and they were happy (or less so, but not just depressing), interesting, alive, and varied in method, colors, and themes.  Some looked like colored-in black and white movie scenes from 1940s gangster flicks, others were more abstract and showed swaths of green in a spring forest.  Wonderful versatility, and lots of art.  Some of the studios we visited later had much less art and things around, and were therefore less interesting.  And many of the older artists seemed to have gotten stuck in a rut and only did one particular thing.  I won't mention their names here, because this is just a personal opinion, and others might love their work.

Old Dining Room sign

After a while, we got hungry. AREAs comment to this was: "Mom, you always know where the good places are, can't you take me to some little inn or something?". Well, I was in uncharted territory.  We drove and looked, drove and looked, but nothing looked good (just fast food or junk food or greasy pizza). Eventually we came to Gardenville, a tiny crossroads with a few houses with a sense of times past (the post office address is Pipersville).  A general store served sandwiches and we went in to ask if there was a place around that served sit-down food.
"Yes, you can sit outside at the garden tables," the young clerk said.
"No, like a place that serves warm food," I clarified.
"Oh, I guess the bar is open across the street," she said, "it is after noon.  Yep, it is open!"

We looked across the street, catty-corner to the general store was the Gardenville Hotel and Bar, of obvious ancient prestige (and I mean ancient here).  We weren't really sure about the whole bar-thing, but it said Dining Room on the sign too, so we crossed the street between giant GMC trucks and horse trailers.

 stuck in time, a long time ago

We went inside, and after the dark hallway with wallpaper anno 1924 or so, came into a very dark dining room of similar decor.

 lamp in the dining room of Gardenville Hotel

Tiffany-lookalike lamps in the ceiling, metal chairs with red 'galon' (the kind that sticks to your skin through your pants on a hot summer evening), and an unmistakable smell.

stuck in time, a long time ago

"This smells like a hotel in Uzbekistan", I told AREA.  That musky, moldy, and old smell brought me back to some memorable times in the old Communist Party's summer vacation places (I wasn't making that up, it was from personal experience). Nobody was around, no waiter, no guests.  We made our way around the corner and found the bar, which actually was populated and didn't smell.  Nice waitress too, extremely nice and funny.

reindeers (caribou) are allowed in the bar

We sat down, by this time weak from hunger and thirst, at the table under the reindeer (they say caribou here, but they look the same).


A couple of regulars were sitting at the bar, one watching an old movie on the TV, and everybody was eating or ordering food.  Well, the food can't be that bad I thought, not if the regulars that know the waitress eat here.  (I don't really take photos of nice people I don't know, so the photo of the bar shows it empty)

So we ordered - grilled veggie wrap for the herbivore and Corona with lime and a Gardenville burger for me.  With SPECIAL potato salad, that all the regulars told me to get because I would love it (I did, it was fantastic). The food was really, really good, and it was not just because we were hungry.  We had happened to find a food oasis in the hybrid zone between rich people's suburbia and farming play country, and old real rural communities.  It was such a great experience.  So all of you readers on this blog, go and visit Gardenville Hotel and Bar in Gardenville, PA.  Oh, I didn't tell you, there is a real modern hotel in the back of the building, without Central Asian smells :)

The waitress told everybody a story about a man who had come in the weekend before and eaten 2 dozen oysters, 1 plate of steamed clams, one Gardenville burger, and two more big dishes. How did he fit it all?  Just the burger was giant.

OK, that was half the day - the rest will be in part 2.

(And a side note - AREA passed her drivers test and got her drivers license a few days earlier, so she drove the whole day, excellent job, kiddo!)

Waiting for the monarchs...

They haven't arrived here yet from Mexico where they overwinter, but their food plants (toxic milkweeds) are growing strong and steady in our backyard so whenever they show up they can lay their eggs and make more monarchs.

Gorgeous drawing by Devon (aka firefly hunter) on Flickr (click on image for more great insect drawings)

A fantastic-looking greenhouse

Read more here, in Swedish, use Giggle translator on your own risk!

Short summary added by LS - A little greenhouse that has a massive concrete wall in the center to accumulate heat.  One one side is the greenhouse (to the south), on the other is a room for entertainment and relaxation (with nice morning and evening sun).  There is a door between the two rooms in the big wall, and the outdoorsy entertainment room has a wood stove for chilly evenings or winter days. The greenhouse part has a sink and running water, and the plants are thriving in the chilly Scandinavian climate.   

Friday, May 27, 2011

our pizza are like Yellowstone's boiling mudpots...

our pizza are like Yellowstone's boiling mudpots..., originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

Just imagine these bubbles being replaced with hot mud, that is exactly how Yellowstone can be.  Except our pizza doesnt' smell like sulfur :)

Stamp of the day: Syrenernas tid är här (Time for lilacs)

Nu är syrenernas tid här, och de sprider väldoft i varje vrå av vårt avlånga land. Vid varje liten röd stuga finns en gammal bondsyren, ibland finns inte huset kvar men bara grunden. Jag kan se framför mig hur äldre generationer njutit på samma sätt som jag med en trevlig paus invid syrenen när sommaren äntligen anlänt och de första skriken från tornseglarna hörs i skyn.

Även jag har en syren, en ungersk stamsyren som nu har en krona klädd i vitt. Den doftar ljuvligt. Hur ser din syren ut?

Translation by LS:  It is the time of the lilacs, and they spread their gorgeous scent in every corner of our long land [=Sweden]. By every little red cottage is an old heritage lilac, and sometimes the house is not there any longer, just the old foundation. I can imagine how former generations have enjoyed, just like me, to take a rest near the lilac bush when summer has finally arrived and the first swifts are crying up in the sky. 

Even I [EH] have a lilac, a Hungarian tree-like one that now is covered in white. It smells heavenly.  How does your lilac look like?

Stamp from Finland: Lilacs.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Things that are wrong: Chinese prisoner at gold farms...

... who are forced to play computer games day in and out to earn money for their guards and prison directors. Not only are computer games a waste of time, but this 'gold farming' is even worse, much worse.  Political prisoners, etc., that are forced to stare at computer screen in a virtual, non-reality world to earn fake money for points and gold in the game, that then other players around the world are willing to pay for.  Unbelievable. So wrong.

OK Snapshot: Förv(regn)d

Man kan lätt få en skev världsbild när regnet står som spön i
backen. Eller piskefløde som dansken säger... ;)

(So-so translation: You can easily get a distorted world view when it
rains like 'treelets in the soil'. Or 'whip flow', as the Dane would say.)

Tuesday, May 24, 2011

Stamp of the Day: lichens of Scandinavia

Stamps of today are two lichens, Xanthoria parietina (vägglav) and Hypogymnia physiodes (blåslav), which both are very common in Sweden. Xanthoria grows on rocks, wood, and bark, and Hypogymnia are on branches and bark of trees. The stamps are issued by the little island of Aland, between Finland and Sweden.  It belongs to Finland, but they speak Swedish, and have the right to issue their own stamps. I love lichens, they are amazing creatures (not plants), of a fungus and an algae living together permanently. 

Monday, May 23, 2011

Failed ad: cat tails

Maybe I am a stickler, one that loves things to be correct too much, but ads, news, and writings that get things botanically or scientifically really wrong bothers me tremendously.  Such as this ad for allergy medication Singulair.  Someone came up with the great idea to base an ad on 'cattails or cat tails'.  Well, if only... cattails, the plant (Typha), was allergenic (it is not or only mildly so), or looked like a grass (it does not). The photo is of a grass (timothy probably, Phleum, also sometimes called 'cat's-tail', but that is not common knowledge) spreading its pollen.  Having a common cattail plant there wouldn't have been a great design, I guess... So now, readers of this ad think that 1) cattails are allergens, and 2) look like grass, because of this miseducation from Merck.  Sorry guys, this will be one of my prime examples of lack of botanical knowledge in the advertising community. Embarrassing. 'Pinsamt', as we say in Swedish.  Would anybody put a sheep in an ad and call it a pig?  Didn't think so. But that is what happened here, but with plants.

Oh, no, it is not just this ad, I just found some more with similar issues.  They are doing the same thing with thistles (not allergens), and willows ('catkins', true, but not allergens either...).  This is like when people think they are allergic to goldenrods because they happen to flower at the same time as the ragweeds.... 

My son's allergy doctor didn't like when I asked her exactly which weeds my son was allergic too, because all she could say was 'weeds', that is what was written on the test results.  Same with 'trees', another positive allergy test.  I tried to explain to her that insect-pollinated plants didn't have large amounts of wind-dispersed pollen, so not all weeds and trees are allergenic...  Why are we letting ourselves be dumbed down in the flow of information? Isn't it better to know the truth even if it is slightly more complicated? Or am I just a cranky scientist?

Nerdy humor: A lobster in shining armor...

(if you are not a science nerd: link to exoskeleton)

Volcano alert: Grimsvötn

For our readers away from Iceland and Scandinavia, in case you haven't heard:

Large parts of Iceland are covered with ashes from the eruption at Grimsvötn on Iceland. The vulcano is located right under Europe's largest glacier, and once again nature shows its absolute power.   The ash cloud is on its way to Scandinavia and southern Europe. (some photos here)

OK snapshot: Bed, bath and beyond

OK's soap holder, can you tell what it is? (answer in the comments)

Sunday, May 22, 2011

What if.... the Change happened?

PP is listening to a book, Dies the Fire (spoiler alert about the book if you follow link), about a sudden event on Earth when technology suddenly drops back to bronze age level.  No electricity works, no engines, no telephones, no modern conveniences.  The cars, buildings, stoves, etc., are still there, but do not work.  What would you do to survive?

Money is worthless, but what is worth something is knowledge, things that can no longer be made (medicines, ball bearings...), and food.  Power too of course.  But you get power not from money but from brute force or access to things that others want.

The book is the first in a series about how two groups of people try to manage this change in northwestern USA, and what happens when you no longer has access to modern technology.  This has led to hour-long discussions here at home.  Would we manage?  What do we have that is useful?

We probably would be far better off with our knowledge and old hand tools than most people. Plus we have many books, including topics such as food preservation, homesteading, and old techniques.  I could tell people which plants are edible, which heal, and which ones that kill. PP actually has two long timber saws in the barn.  We might have more axes and hand tools than all our neighbors combined.  They love things like giant SUVs, leaf blowers and cordless phones, which would be pretty useless in a situation like this.

Which store would you raid first to get things you can barter with or need?  We settled on the pharmacy, hardware store and local farm co-op in our discussions, but how to get there and how to get things back?  They are miles away. We have three bikes, but that is nothing you can carry heavy things on.  We need chickens and some goats.  You need a way to get water up from the wells, without pumps that need electricity.  People would starve, people would kill for food, people would marauder...

How do you protect your food crops?  How do you protect yourself?  I realized that if you have a lot of important knowledge in your head, then you most valuable alive.  AREA's horse knowledge would be very useful.  Suddenly, in this perspective, so much of what we can do and want to do today seem so useless when it comes to the survival of the human species (sorry, race, :) see post below). Seriously, how many of us could really, really live off the land without modern technology if we have to?  Not many. Could you survive a week? A month? A year? Where would you go?  Who would you hook up with?

Only 100 years ago people knew so much more.  Just imagine - thrusting someone from the 1850s farming communities into this situation would not have been such a disastrous thing as dumping a New York stockbroker into it today.  Or a teenager from the local high school, or.... We are so far removed today from the real things (production of things, knowledge of nature).  If The Change ever happens, it will not be important if you know how to use Excel or make a great cappuccino (even if those things are perfectly important today in our technology-padded lives).

Today, many people can't tie a knot, read a map, plant a seed, or milk a cow.  In the perspective provided by this book, it seems like the survival of humans is really, really fragile.  We are up in Babel's tower, dependent on electricity, GPS, satellites, internet, gasoline and oil, telephones, and stores where you can buy food.  It might not be gone tomorrow permanently, but it sure could be gone temporarily after weather catastrophes.  What would you do?  Could you make it?  It is an interesting question, and we are still talking about it.... and I haven't even read this book yet.

Book review: Lost & Found by Jaqueline Sheehan

I have always loved books when people live on islands, and especially if they are suddenly there and have to create a new life for themselves.  When I was a kid it was Robinson Crusoe, later more modern day tales of people running away from something or seeking solitude or a new kind of life.  This book fits that trend as well, and takes place on an island outside the city of Portland in Maine in the US. 

A woman is suddenly widowed and decides to change her life, at least temporarily, by moving to a tiny island where nobody knows her.  She applies for, and gets, the part-time Animal Warden job, which is mostly catching the cats the summer tourists left behind when vacation is over, but also dealing with skunks and racoons. 

One day an injured dogs shows up, shot with an exquisite homemade old-fashioned arrow in the shoulder.  Nobody claims the dog, so the animal warden takes it in and fosters it back to health.  The mystery deepens and eventually the story is sorted out.  There are many wonderful characters in the book, including an older woman with synesthesia and a teenage girl with anorexia.  I won't tell you more about the story here, because then I spoil it for you.

This is a really well-written book, and it could have become a shallow, sappy, and superficial romantic story, but it is not.  The descriptions of the characters are great, and describes how people think and feel in depth.  The author is a psychologist and it shows (in a good way).  Even if part of the book is really sad, in the end it is a feel-good book that is easy and fast to read. 

Just two things bother me, and it has nothing to do with the author and her writing.  Whoever put a brown labrador on the cover hadn't read the book, or just wanted any good dog photo on the cover.  The dog in the book is a black lab.  And, the symbol at the beginning of each chapter in the book is a golden retriever, not a lab. I grew up with labradors, and there is a big difference between the two breeds. Goldens are more air-headed, and were never good hunting dogs.   Another major design flaw.  Harper Collins, shape up.  Details like this matter - I like factual accuracies, not sloppiness.

Bits and pieces from the internet: species edition

There is a bird inside this pistol.  Seriously! And it sings. Seriously wonderful things from the past. 

Why do we call it the 'human race' and not the 'human species'?  Personally I think it is because people didn't want to be thought of as on the same level as other species, such as monkeys, flowers, and sheep. Humans are supposed to be bigger, better, smarter and of higher value than other species in the world.  But we really are just a species... Wikipedia is solving this by redirection human race and human species to just 'human'.

A nice little interactive guide to endangered species of different parts of North America. (New York Times)

And don't you wonder what kind of living species might be found on the exoplanet Gliese 581d?  In our lifetime, do you think we will be able to know if there is life on other planets?  And if there is life, then there are probably different species. 

Saturday, May 21, 2011

Friday, May 20, 2011

The Gods must be crazy...

along with the people...

.. but I really think people must be crazier.  How is the rapture going in your part of the world?  It is supposedly to be 7000 years exactly, on the date, since Noah's flood and it is still raining in New Jersey.  But consider this - how many times have humanity changed the way we count years, months since 7000 years ago?  How can they know it will be tomorrow (= today in Australia, Asia and Europe)?

From the media:

"She and her twin, Faith, have a friend’s birthday party Saturday night, around the time their parents believe the rapture will occur. “So if the world doesn’t end, I’d really like to attend,” Grace said before adding, “Though I don’t know how emotionally able my family will be at that time.”"  

link to NY Times article - the parents believe the Rapture will occur, their three teenage kids do not)

 Q: Will the Earth end on May 21?
A: No. The Earth will stick around for a few more months of "chaos and awful suffering" before being obliterated Oct. 21.
Q: How many will be Raptured?
A: Campbell estimates 200 million. The remaining nearly 7 billion face a grisly fate - crushed in the quake, burned by sulfur, turned into pillars of salt, etc.
Q: Are exploding watermelons in China a sign?
A: Yes.
From the End-of-The-World Factsheet (yes, there is such a thing). 

I really wonder how the people that believe in this Rapture event feel when they wake up on Sunday morning.  Will they go on with their lives or seek counseling? I'd love to see their excuses on Sunday why the Rapture didn't happen.Or rather, I just wish there were many more sensible, logical people out there caring more about our planet, environment, and the people around them...

Stamp of the Day: Boreal Forest

This is a stamp of a typical Swedish or Finnish spruce forest (granskog).  Dark, with mushrooms (except these seem to grow a bit to high up on the stem!). Moss on the forest floor, moist air, shades, and mosquitoes. Looking at this stamp brings back many memories of hikes through trailless forests looking for chanterelles, boletus, or just a lost trail.  Sometimes a birch or aspen shows up among the spruces.  Of course a real old natural spruce forest would have been a mix of species, but these days many of the spruce forests are planted decades ago and are near monocultures as part of the forestry industry.  (Finnish stamp - Suomi is Finland in Finnish).

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Spring Sky in New Jersey

Can you see the turkey vulture in the sky? It is there! Actually it is two.

This photo is from Locktown, a tiny village with a very old (with American standards) church and cemetery with grave stones leaning in all directions, and some so old that they are just made from plain flat stones from the nearby Wickecheoke Creek (yep, that is an old Indian name). More photos of this nice place on Flickr.

Wednesday, May 18, 2011

Share and Like - maybe a profound thought or maybe just a rant....

DISLIKEWe live in times where we can share more personal things with each other than ever before because of all online tools. We can tell the world what we like and dislike, favor and unfavor, and give thumbs up and thumbs down.  We can rate movies, books, give mojo (= good) on comments on Daily Kos, and have thousands of favorites of photos on Flickr.
Some of us (not me) have many, many friends on Facebook, and maybe even more followers on Twitter.  We send out messages via e-mail with links and attachments to great articles we find, funny cat pictures, and YouTube videos.  We skype each other while doing other things, chopping up time and conversations into small, disjointed pieces. We get the same from others, click on links, laugh and send things on.  We blog, put up pictures online, and hope to be found by whoever in the internet noise.  I am all involved in this, and I think it is a great example of the me, me, me-culture that UTNE Reader highlighted a while back. It is all about us, or is it really?

facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook merger facebook mergerMedia, social and traditional, online and in print, and on FM radio are all part of this.  It is not only chopped up time and factoids, and not only distraction and lack of attention, but really, the problem is bigger.  People don't think and do not really communicate much anymore in a way that is really true to who they are.  At least I believe so, because I do not think we all only care about Youtube videos, a LOLcat or something that just went viral.  I think we care about more things, and have our own thoughts.  The problem is that those own thoughtful thoughts are never really developed in this deluge of other stuff.

And isn't the problem here that for so many of these things, most of us don't really say what we think and feel about things anymore?  It has become too easy to send and share your Likes, that nobody really know what it means to really LIKE and LOVE something, because that is never written down.  When do people have time or take the effort to send long heartfelt e-mails or letters?  When do people talk on the phone about deep things?  When do we really share the real profound thoughts we might have, and if we do, how?

I think today's communication is rather shallow, except the ones we have with close friends. Most interaction and chatter online is rather meaningless, especially when all you do is to click Like/Dislike and Rating buttons.  If you write a short review, then you tell people what you really think.... not when you give a book a 4 out of a 5. But who has time with things like that?  So much easier just to click.

Letters from FriendsFor all of you who have sent me videos, links, and photos, please keep sending them.  I love it, and I don't mean to criticize you.  I am just the same, I do all of these things.  I just got thinking about this and wanted to share it with you, readers of this blog.  And yes, there are some of you readers that send me wonderful, long letters, but I think you are a rarity. I like to write letters too, both by hand and on the computer.  The problem is lack of time. At dinnertime we have the most wonderful in-depth and convoluted conversations here at home.  But I see in society (American and Swedish) a tendency to become less and less personal, less focused on "who I am", and more about being one tiny fish going in the same direction as everybody else in the big general Gulf stream traffic on the internet.
(link to a great letter here)

The me-me-me-society is really not about ourselves, it is about trying to share something and be liked by many many people (who know very little about you) at once, so who dares to express something in a complete sentence with complete words that might be personal or honest? It could be used against you, in many different ways. Better to play it safe by just clicking on a Like button, right? But it that really fun?  Is that really that important?  Is that really liking something, for real?  I think we should all be more real. For real.

PS.  Of course this all applies to texting (SMS) too.

More knitting graffiti...

Or, as they call it now - yarn bombing. I like the 'knitting graffiti' better, because there is no need for such as violent word as 'bombing'. Let's create beautiful things, not have a war.

“Street art and graffiti are usually so male dominated,” Ms. Hemmons said. “Yarn bombing is more feminine. It’s like graffiti with grandma sweaters.” Read the article in NY Times if you like. The NYT has a slideshow of some cool images, like the Rocky statue in a pink vest.

Yarn Bomb
And here, a great photo of yarn bombing / knitting graffiti in Austin, TX, by Eric Cunningham on Flickr.

Tuesday, May 17, 2011

Bits and pieces from the internet: steam, meat, and mean edition

Interesting article in The New York Times about a car designed to run on steam, but never did, the Paxton Phoenix from 1960.

A new delicious monkey species have been reported on by the satirical magazine The Onion (funny!)

I am steaming after I discovered that someone stole my ATM card number and the pin too (how?) and have been taking out over $1700 dollars from my bank account.  The bank tells me I will get the money back.  Why are some people so MEAN? 

Apropos mean, they have started to steal human hair from salons.  What is next - cutting of a long braid or ponytail from someone's head in the subway?

In case you missed it, all three nuclear reactors in Fukushima have had nuclear meltdowns and are leaking radioactive water into the ocean.  The Japanese say a total shutdown will be done in 6-9 months (which is questionable if it is even doable).  Let's hope for no more tsunamis or big earthquakes between now and then... 

Poor world, too much is happening to it and us right now - tsunamis, earthquakes, flooding Missisippis, tornados, rain and drought....

Monday, May 16, 2011

Stamp of the Day: Frans G Bengtsson

In Swedish literature there is ONE great book about the Viking age you should all read if you like reading.  Röde Orm (Red Orm = Red Snake, but also known as The Long Ships in English).  This is a tale of vikings as traders as well as marauders, and it takes place all across Europe and is supposedly rather historically correct.  Part of it takes place when one of our (possible) ancestors Harald Bluetooth was King of Denmark.  This book has been elected as one of the top ten best books in Sweden, ever.

The author was Frans G Bengtsson, and he is depicted on this Swedish stamp together with typical Viking longships. The book, which is in several volumes, was written during World War II and Frans made a political point in the book on how the Vikings allied themselves with Jews over a thousand years earlier. He tried to simulate the language in the book after the old Nordic sagas, with their terse sentences and usually not very elaborate descriptions of people and places. 

The 1960s movie Long Ships was partly and loosely based on this book, but I haven't seen it.  But they are planning a real movie on the book now, and the director was quoted as saying "It will be like Lord of the Rings".  Except of course that Vikings did happen. And Vikings had gold rings too, and there were smart women with long fine hair (but no pointy ears) not only in Tolkien's books.  I hope they get a huge Hollywood budget to make this Viking movie. 

This was 8 days ago...

arugula seedlings, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

Our arugula seedlings are going crazy, I wonder how tall they will be after four days of real dousing rain... we will see tomorrow!

If you need a laugh

"the cat ate it", hehehe! (found by PP)

Life and love in words

This wonderful poem showed up in my e-mail inbox today:
American Life in Poetry: Column 321

For me, the most worthwhile poetry is that which reaches out and connects with a great number of people, and this one, by Joe Mills of North Carolina, does just that. Every parent gets questions like the one at the center of this poem.

 How You Know 
How do you know if it’s love? she asks,
and I think if you have to ask, it’s not,
but I know this won’t help. I want to say
you’re too young to worry about it,
as if she has questions about Medicare
or social security, but this won’t help either.
“You’ll just know” is a lie, and one truth,
“when you still want to be with them
the next morning,” would involve too
many follow-up questions. The difficulty
with love, I want to say, is sometimes
you only know afterwards that it’s arrived
or left. Love is the elephant and we
are the blind mice unable to understand
the whole. I want to say love is this
desire to help even when I know I can’t,
just as I couldn’t explain electricity, stars,
the color of the sky, baldness, tornadoes,
fingernails, coconuts, or the other things
she has asked about over the years, all
those phenomena whose daily existence
seems miraculous. Instead I shake my head.
I don’t even know how to match my socks.
Go ask your mother. She laughs and says,
I did. Mom told me to come and ask you.

American Life in Poetry is made possible by The Poetry Foundation, publisher of Poetry magazine. It is also supported by the Department of English at the University of Nebraska-Lincoln. Poem copyright ©2010 by Joe Mills, whose most recent book of poetry is Love and Other Collisions, Press 53, 2010. Poem reprinted from Rattle, Vol. 16, no. 1, Summer 2010, by permission of Joe Mills and the publisher. Introduction copyright 2011 by The Poetry Foundation.

Sunday, May 15, 2011

It runs in the family II: Harald Hårfagre (Harald Finehair)

This old possible ancestor of ours had many names, Harald Hårfagre (Harald Finehair, Harald Fairhair, Harald the Fairhaired, Harold Haarfarer), Harald Halvdansson, and Harald I of Norway. He was born in 852 and died in 933, at age 83. These old Vikings had great names, such as his father, named Halvdan Svarte (Halfdan the Black) Gudrödarson. Harald had several wives, including a 'Snøfrid' (‘Snow peace”).

His most famous claim to fame was as the winner of the battle of Hafrsfjord in 872, which united Norway as one country for the first time. There is a giant sculpture at this place in Norway commemorating this event shaped as three swords stuck in solid rock, with the tallest sword representing Harald.

The long-haired tale is that the woman that Harald wanted to marry said she would not marry him until he was king of all of Norway, so then Harald vowed not to cut his hair until this was accomplished. This took a few years, so he got known for his long, blond hair, and earned nicknames such as "Shockhead" or "Tanglehair" (I think there was a lack of shampoo back then…).

Harald left a mess after himself, with something between 11 and 20 sons with 7 mothers (one of them a maid) fighting over the inheritance and the kingdom, and sometimes the sons were killing off each other. Over half of them considered themselves kings at some point in their lives, and the son our family traces back to is Olav Haraldsson. Olav died only one year after his father, in 934, at a battle in Norwegian Tønsberg, which might be the first founded city in Scandinavia. Both Harald and his half-brother Sigrød Haraldsson are buried here, and their killer was their half-brother Eric Bloodaxe, who again united Norway under one ruler . These Vikings really have a bloody history, and we haven’t even gotten to the arrival of Christianity around 1000.

Of course Harald and Snofrid have a Norwegian stamp – but look at them, don’t you think they are arguing? Over what? And that is that man behind them doing with his finger on his nose?

Previous blog posts on this topic:
Finding your (possible) roots in deep time

It runs in the family I: Finding your (possible) roots in deep time

My mom (AnS) and her sister (MB), our aunt, have been digging deep into the genealogical online mines of Swedish historical documents and found some amazing tracks back in time.  As you go back in time you of course have more and more ancestors, and if you are lucky some of these were historically important enough to have been part of the record-keeping for centuries.  First AnS e-mailed me and told us that, in fact, we had royal blood in the family down there in the medieval 1400s.  “1400s!” That was before Christopher Columbus ‘discovered’ the Caribbean, Galileo, and da Vinci (well, Leonardo was born 1452).

A few days later and a new e-mail from mom revealed lineages even deeper in time – now back in time from a princess of Sweden in the early 1200s (Brigida Haraldsdotter).  From her, the old histories and folktales lead the genealogy of our family far back in time into Viking Age (which was approximately during years 700-1100).  Not only that, the old Icelandic sagas and other historical documents trace the family lineages of these famous Vikings all the way back to, you guessed it, the Nordic Gods. 

These mythological and folktale texts, poems, and documents (often called Sagas) provide genealogies like the Bible, but more exact with birth and death dates, which of course might be wrong.  But so far, mom and MB have traced our family back to Yngvi Frej Odinson Tyrkjekonung (year 125-214), son of Odin and Freja, two of the Gods in Nordic mythology.  How is that for amazing genealogy?  It is like being able to trace your family back to Abraham in the Bible.  Do you think the Mormons would be jealous of us?  For Mormons genealogy is very important for religious reasons, while I just think it is interesting and curious, and it roots you in a place and time.

So, we can trace our family nearly 1900 years back in time, and so can probably most Nordic people, since nearly everybody is at least distantly related to some old royal nobleman.  In our case these relationships are directly back in time, based on direct bloodlines not some 'third cousin twice removed' or anything.

In a little series here on the blog we will highlight some of the ancestral people of the family, directly related to us even if their DNA by this time is pretty diluted, maybe 25-50 generations later. This is based on historical documents and who knows who really slept with who (which undoubtedly sometimes led to pregnancies outside of marriage), and it doesn’t help that sometimes kids got adopted, two children could have the same name, cousins married cousins over and over, and so on. It is often unclear who the mother was, and that was less important since only the sons inherited the father, and mothers and daughters were less important (except as marriage material).  It is a tangled but interesting web of stories, people, and places. 

 And, for Stamp of the Day, some viking stamps from Isle of Man.

Congratulations to Finland!

You won!  We admit it, we Swedes.  In ice hockey VM tonight for those that don't know. This time you Finns didn't have to say 'if I only had more speed'. But you have only won VM once before, so you deserved it very much. For the record -  I love Finland, and especially surdegslimpa, Tove Jansson, and Arto Paasilinna. Some of my best friends are Finns. Really. :)  Nobody said it better than Monthy Python:

pizza landscape

pizza landscape, originally uploaded by Vilseskogen.

Edible gourmetic formations.

fixing up the vegetable garden, a report

The first thing to do after a sever winter and a long early spring that felt like it would never end... assess the damage. This year we also had last years horrific thirsty summer to deal with. The vegetable garden beds look fine (but only one of the two little dogwoods in the front made it). The concord grape vine (blue small tart grapes) is bursting out with buds, but the Niagara green grape vine has only two shoots this year. We will see if it recovers.

old raised beds
raised bed garden

young asparagus shoots purple asparagus is reaching high

The young asparagus plants survived the winter and last summer, despite fierce competition with some mint that is encrouching on their space.  The mint got dug up, a bed frame was added, and then they got soil, sand, and compost.  I think the asparagus will be much happier this year. Purple asparagus is much thicker than the green one, and turns (unfortunately) green when cooked. But it tastes heavenly, green or purple doesn't matter.
making a new raised bed
new raised beds

new raised beds

We installed 5 new raised bed frames made from locally grown and sawn Eastern White Pine and Swedish pallet hinges. In the bottom of the deep one we put cardboard to smother all the weeds and grass, and then added loads of dirt (thanks kids and PP).  On the lower ones, where the plants will grow into the ground itself and not just in the raised bed (for better moisture during our hot summers), I just added newspaper in the bottom so it can rot faster and kill weeds at the same time. We will see if it works for the peppers.

My garden decorations survived the winter fine, but some of our trees died after last summer's extreme drought and this winter's harsh weather with ice storms and cold.  Around here in NJ you see many big pines and spruces stand as dead brown skeletons after last summer, and I have seen such dramatic loss of trees before.  This is in addition to all the trees that fell down last year in freak storms.  The weather is really changing, and it is getting worse. (click on the photos to see larger versions on Flickr)

giant glassbeads survived the winter  shell and glass, after the winter 

dead zelkova - victim of last summer's drought  our dead zelkova tree, sniff.....

Saturday, May 14, 2011

Happy birthday, BV!

BV is one of the frequent readers of this blog, and here is a 0-6-0 for you!

If you click on the photo you get to the Flickr page where you can read a lot about this switch steam locomotive, built in 1940 in Schenectady (I know, I don't know how to pronounce that either), New York. Thanks scenectady2009 (=Schenectady County, i.e., local government) for adding this to Flickr and letting us link to it.

Congratulations, BV! In a few (20) years I hope to post a 0-8-0!

Friday, May 13, 2011

True museums mark things up properly...

...like this damage to the back of a Galloping Goose train car marked "rotary 02 Vance Junction 1949" at the Colorado Railroad Museum in Golden, CO. In February 1949, during one of the snowiest winters on record, one of the rotary snowplowers at the Rio Grande Southern Railroad exploded at Vance Junction in Colorado and destroyed some other trains cars like this one (and itself). Rotary snowplows were steam-driven plows run first in a train set, being pushed by steam locomotives behind it, The plow boiler powered a giant lamprey-shaped sucking 'mouth' at the front, working like a giant drill/snowblower through deep snowdrifts in the Rockies and the Plains.  The general model is still used today on diesel trains. Here is a great video of a steam rotary snowplow in use in this area of Colorado.

I think this is from the paper at the time, cited on the Narrow Gauge Railroad Forum:

"February 10, 1949, Thursday
Rio Grande Southern Rotary Explodes
The RGS was dealt a severe blow last week when its only rotary snow plow blew up. A crew had brought the rotary in from Ridgway Thursday, leaving it at Vance Junction while they spent the night in Telluride. About 5:30 Friday morning, they received a call that the rotary had exploded.  The plow was extensively damaged, possibly beyond repair. Holes were blown in the boiler, the grates, and chuck were blown out, and the cab was pretty well wrecked. The rotary was to have gone on toward Rico Friday. Left with only a flanger for snow equipment, it is now very uncertain when the road will be opened. "

This happened at the worst possible time:

"1949 was a particularly harsh winter, and the northern/western railroads were buried. The then-standard steam rotaries proved incapable of dealing  with the snow. The railroads looked at several possible solutions to the problem of insufficient plowing ability."(link)

And rotary snowplows are still used nowadays:

rotary snowplow
(Diesel driven old rotary snowplow at the Colorado Railroad Museum.  Doesn't the front look like either an intestinal parasite ready to burrow into some flesh, or a lamprey or leech ready to take a bite?

"Heavy snows in January 1997 hit the northern/western US very hard,  crippling BNSF operations. BNSF called out at least 6 plows (5 ex BN, 1  ex ATSF), but two plows had severe mechanical problems, so they could not  plow. [...]  In addition to the BNSF and UP plow, two SP rotaries were  called to clear Donner Pass on 23-24 Janaury 1997. This extent and  duration of rotary use has not been seen since 1949."  (link)

Proof here that rotary plows are still being used:

Numbers and words and the world of historic design.

You get different feelings from different size, colors, and fonts, don't you think?  All of these are photos from the Colorado Railroad Museum and depict typography used by the historic American railroads.

number 40

number C-22

no. 5

no. 4

W 493

boxcar rebuilt in 1925

tender #346


Keep Off


The Challenger



Denver & Rio Grande caboose, #49


I love how they took the time to handpaint these so carefully, and the thorough design and thoughts that went into all decisions before they got painted on.  Power, delicacy, boldness, luxury, efficiency, mechanics, elegance, exactness, and mechanics is all there in these numbers and letters, to varying degrees.  Check out the stencil marks on some of them; can't you imagine the hand that held up the stencil to get it all correct?