Thursday, December 20, 2012

To Build A Fire

We're having a party tomorrow (mainly to celebrate Christmas, but for our theme we jumped on that Mayan "end of the world," bandwagon); Emmi will be here with a friend or two, and Ben and Jaime, and some other friends and their families. We've already got two batches of beer brewed -- one brown ale in bottles, and a keg of imperial porter -- and we have plans to cook a turducken for the party, and of course there will also be bread, and pizza, and all sorts of other things cooked in both the inside and outside ovens.

Anne plans to bake bread today too, and we want to have ribs tomorrow as well, so we had to fire up the oven this morning for the party's first day of baking (and overnight slow cooking of the ribs).  Since she has to meet a deadline with some work, and I'm on vacation, the fire job fell to me.

So it not quite first thing in the morning, but not long after my breakfast and shower, that I went out and split a bunch of (already cut, split and somewhat seasoned) wood into not-quite-kindling pieces, maybe an inch or so on a side. I then put two bigger logs inside the oven as sort of side walls, piled my sticks crosswise on top, then another layer crosswise on top of that. In the little cubby hole below the crosswise sticks I build a pyramid of twigs on top of newspaper, then I hit the pyramid with the blowtorch. The result, after a minute or so, was this:

The Start of the Burn

The fire is still a bit cold in this picture, still smoky and dirty. In a few minutes it had warmed up enough that the smoke mostly disappeared; now it's hot enough that I've got the bigger logs on, and it's burning clear. (I'm on stoker duty, and I'm watching it from my blogging perch in the dining room.) The wood is a mix of miscellaneous hardwoods, I have no idea what but it smells awesome.

Wednesday, December 19, 2012

Old School

I can remember riding the American Standard back in the day, in what was the original preferred direction (clockwise), starting across from the first Game Lands parking lot, back behind the truck turnoff where the abandoned Red Road ended: you'd go down some singletrack and up that notch of rock, then across the weird area behind the rifle range (sort of like "the blocks," for any Pocono guys following along here), down that always-muddy jeep road and across the stream, and eventually the trail tees and you make a left.
I didn't really think about what was to the right at the time, we all just went left at the tee onto another ATV trail, which eventually became a steep drop -- there always seemed to be a tree down on that trail too, causing the inevitable pileup when the lead guy hit the brakes, or crashed, but since we had to make a right turn somewhere on the steep part, into barely visible singletrack and the lead guy was always taken by surprise, we crashed here a lot even without the tree. That singletrack would take us to another trail, the actual trail with the urinal, at a point midway between where the old urinal was and where the new one now is, and we'd turn left again, on to the urinal ("NO DANCING"), the roller-coaster trail, and the rest of the ride. (If I remember it correctly, that surprise right turn was our first modification to the route, which originally kept us us on the steep downhill and down to to the dam for the Broad Run reservoir; from there we had a hike-a-bike up to the old urinal's location.)
Years go by, the trail evolved... We changed our "approved direction" to counterclockwise and added some more stuff we found up there, , and more stuff, and we eventually ended up approaching that tee from the right, this time making a left turn and heading towards the swampy jeep road. It was a sort of "A-Ha!" moment, seeing that tee and realizing we were now coming from what was once the mystery direction.
More years go by, and the stuff to the left at the tee gets neglected, forgotten, and it slowly becomes the Mystery Direction...
This fall I did several rides, almost sentimental journeys on some of those old trails. One took me the usual direction, but when I got to the old tee I kept going straight. It was pretty wide like a jeep road or ATV trail, and started descending -- and completely unfamiliar to me, as if I'd never been on it. I stopped by the remains of an old tree that had fallen across the trail years ago, consulted my Garmin and decided that the official trail was close by, off to my right -- I didn't have to bushwhack, there was the ghost of an old trail right there, and it took me to where I'd broken my dérailleur only a few weeks before, near the location of the new urinal -- I'd rediscovered the trail that was our first modification to the route, a trail I'd probably not ridden in ten years. It was still there, but barely. I continued on that loop and returned to the tee, this time taking the left, but towards the end I made another left, to go behind the gun range on a trail I literally hadn't been on since maybe 1995, when I rode it with my friend Joe and his then-girlfriend.

A few weeks later we were up there, a big ride that Jay put together to ride some new stuff called "Young American," to access which we did the trail "backwards," ie the original direction, so even with the new stuff it was a nostalgic ride, especially since the ride contingent was huge, just like the big big rides of the olden days.

A Walk In The Woods: Sals

Hi it's me. I've been off work (from last week through the end of the year), but I just haven't got around to writing anything here -- nothing especially noteworthy has happened, but that's never stopped me before; there were a few things I could have written about, but I just didn't have the motivation...

Then this morning I saw something on Facebook about the Nurture Nature Center having a multi-week workshop in "nature journaling." It sounded interesting, so I Googled "nature journaling" and became even more interested. I may sign up for the workshop, but in the meantime I decided to just dive right in, based on the things I saw online.

I had to run a few errands (Christmas shopping, etc), so as part of the trip I finished at Tulum and got a burrito to go. With that and the coffee I got earlier, I drove up to Dodson Park, and after eating my burrito I took a little walk on the hiking trails east of the "Yellow Trail."

The Start of the Yellow Trail at Dodson Park
First impression -- it was a pleasant day, warm for December but breezy and brisk, maybe 50 degrees: sweater weather, and I was comfortable in my sweater, either sitting in the sun or burning calories hiking in the woods. The sky was deep blue, with a few not-puffy white clouds. The trees were swaying a bit, but it was not all that blustery.
Dodson Park: Ball Field and the Start of the Woods

The colors were mostly the ones you'd associate with late winter or early spring, rather than late fall: yellowish-green wet grass on the playing fields, the gray of the tree trunks and the brown of old leaf cover on the ground. Not much seemed to be going on, unless you knew what to look for in terms of leaf decay or whatnot, and in the woods my eyes were drawn to the few green spots I saw. One of the first things I saw was this half buried, mossy piece of wood.

Mossy Wood At Sals

Just a bit further in, the woods seemed to thin out quite a bit, possibly because so many trees had fallen in the recent hurricanes, but also likely because of attack from vines. These vines are everywhere in some places up there; some are wild grapes and some are poison ivy, and there may even be other kinds, but they all grow and cover the trees and eventually kill them. There didn't seem to be any Japanese stiltgrass (an invasive) in the area, but other places I've seen that growing among the down trees and it contributes to the sense of winter dissolution.

Downed Trees and Branches at Sals
Thin Woods

There was also a sticker bush which I though might have been multiflora rosa, another nightmare of an invasive plant.

Sals: A Sticker Bush in Winter

Eventually I was back in a section where there seemed to be a lot of healthy mature trees. The picture doesn't do this justice, this was a really big and nice looking tree.
Sals: Winter Trees
I wasn't familiar with the trail I followed, since it was not one of the official bike trails, but it was wide and well-kept, and easy to follow, so I could let my eyes wander without fear of tripping on roots or rocks as I walked. I saw a few bouts of color (ie green) here and there.

Sals: Scallions in Winter
Sals: Greenery in the Leaf Litter
The plant in the first photo looked like clump of scallions or wild onions; there were a bunch of these clumps scattered in the general area I took that photo. The second plant was nearby, and looked like it might have been wild ginger except the leaves looked crinklier on the tops. These grew a little more spread out, but it seemed to me clustered as if all the leaves in an area were part of the same plant. These plants also seemed to be fairly common in that area.

The trail eventually headed towards the reservoir, so I took a left onto a side trail, which led to an impressive rock.

Sals: The Trail Led to a Rock

Not much further past this, my trail approached the bike trail, and I saw two riders conferring. One continued on, while the other seemed to be having mechanical difficulties. I took a connector over to the bike trail, and the rider turned out to be my buddy Joe, taking his new hardtail out for a shakedown cruise, and he'd just got one pinch flat more than he had spare inner tubes... I walked with him back to the parking lot, and that was my hike.

Postmortem: There were two things, that I saw in that online advice for nature journaling, and that I didn't do, and now I see why they might be important. The first was the advice to take a notebook (they usually had a description of the best kinds to bring), and make notes and drawings of observations in real time. This mainly frees you from trying to remember what happened afterward. The other piece of advice I didn't follow is to budget a big chunk of time for journaling -- I'd been out for about an hour rather than the recommended full day.

I can see both of their importance or practical usefulness, but these, or at least the notebook one, are going to be hard to follow: my plan is to do more of a nature photo-blog when I do this, and if I'm on foot the notebook is fine as a recorder of first impressions, but I also intend to do a lot of this from the bike, stopping now and then; a pocket camera could be handy, but a notebook might be a luxury.