Wisconsin – Kettle Moraine Forest

We’re back, after an unexplained 13 week absence. During that time we had the pleasure of enduring work, more work, a visit with a self-described crypt-keeper-leprechaun, some more work, and we fought a dragon. Now we’re back to mindlessly telling stories and share the breadth of humanity’s experiences. Because it’s what we do. Side note: don’t ever fight a dragon. This was a bad choice.

Anyways, as part of their desire to endlessly prove their incompetence, I ended up in Milwaukee again for work a whole day early. Rather than tool around downtown again I decided to venture out away from the concrete. So I planned a hike through Kettle Moraine Forest, Lapham Peak Unit. It’s about a half hour drive west of Milwaukee via I-94.

I hiked the Moraine Ridge trail which they clock at 6.6 miles. I broke with my usual practice and didn’t carry any weight. I even left the boots aside and just used my running shoes. I was just too tired to get crazy with anything.

I saw something new in that all the trails are actually made for cross country skiing. In most places the paths are cut through the woods with a very wide diameter. It’s weird. Though they probably don’t have any choice for skiing.

When I was there it was still the end of winter, only the very barest of green saplings were beginning to appear.

The various trails constantly cross each other at multiple points.  Accordingly, the park unit labels each intersection and provides an updated map.  Beyond that they don’t really label the trails at all.  I had to check multiple times to ensure I didn’t take a wrong turn.  Even so, I did actually take the wrong way once and had to backtrack.

Dude is glad winter is ending.

There were many other folks on the trails, but I would not call them crowded.  Like a dummy I dropped my gloves and had to go back and get them at one point.  A couple put them where I could see them after finding them on the ground.  I passed them later and they were happy to see I’d found them.  I thanked them, though was a bit embarrassed.  I was a nice human moment.  I think they were Quebecois.

According to the trail marker, the Native Americans that used to inhabit the park grounds bent these trees on purpose as their own markers.  This one marked the way to a water source.  Here is another example.

Note the difference between the trees just emerging from winter, and the pine trees who laugh at winter.

I didn’t time myself, I stopped here and there.  Again, I was tired to begin with so it didn’t matter.  But I had a great time.  It was a good release from paperwork and all the stuff that doesn’t actually matter.  So nature did it’s job.  Hail nature.

why is CNN on everywhere?

You get to the airport and CNN is on at the gate. You go hide in the bar and CNN is above the drinks. You check into the hotel and they’ve got CNN on the wall.

All last week I was strapped to four work colleagues for travel. Everywhere we went there’s CNN on some screen. I suppose I normally don’t notice it when I travel. I don’t pay attention. But the four of them were all into this political craziness. I’m seated at some hotel bar with them and CNN is literally on a screen at the table. There was no escape.

I wanted to run and hide under some coats. I don’t get cable news. It’s like some kind of putrid disease. Everything is breaking news. Every station is biased. The talking heads shout at each other even though they’re so dumb they likely forget where their chauffer put their car keys.

But people drink this stuff in to their detriment. I think if you strapped a live human to a chair and forced him/her to watch four hours of CNN and four hours of Fox News a day for a month, they’d come out the back end of the process as a truly demented person.

Why does everybody choose CNN for their airport/hotel/bar? Why can’t they put sports on? Or a channel about cats? I think it’s because CNN was one of the original cable channels and the original news channel. It’s the glory days of 1993 when television was just starting to dominate our lives. One upon a time there wasn’t television at every single darn airport/hotel/bar. And CNN actually used to attempt to be serious and even somewhat classy. Remember Vader’s, “This is CNN”?   No more.

Well, we at TAP are here to help. Instead of harming people’s brains, we want to improve the quality of all our lives. So we propose that CNN be replaced on all travel screens with The Arcturus Channel.

The Arcturus Channel will have content fit for the brain of a five year old for most of the day. It’ll show nature videos of giraffes, and tigers, and whales and all kinds of Earth stuff. We’ll do a whole three hour special about how awesome volcanoes are. It’ll be like all those nature channels were before every cable channel became the same generic stuff with different channel names.

And from 9pm on, we’ll have The Arcturus Channel (After Dark), for us adults, after the kiddies have stopped traveling. So when you’re exhausting waiting for a connection at Houston Bush at 10pm you have something decent to watch. It’ll show monkey’s copulating, gazelles getting ripped apart by predators, and snow bears devouring baby seals.

Overall, The Arcturus Channel shall focus upon nature topics that are meant to calm your brain rather than disturb it. No politics, no controversy, just something to make you happy while you grind through your journey on the way to a hopeful happy destination. What a novel concept.

Mount Fuji, Part Two – Fuji stick

You’re supposed to bring home at least one item from every country if you can, or at least every trip.  How does one do this though if you’re constrained to one backpack?  For this reason and many others, I don’t really have too many corporeal possessions from my travels.

But sometimes you pick up an item that you find a way home any darn way you can.  I think I shipped my Fuji stick home via 1912 British Imperial tramp steamer.  I made it happen.  It cost me 13 pounds, 6 shillings, and a bottle of my finest barley swill.

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If you ascend Fuji, you have the option to take the wooden Fuji stick.  Not everybody does so.  Those who’ve been up multiple times have no need.  Some folks consider it a vicious tourist trap kind of thing.  But I just think it’s too cool.

The idea is you start out with this bare piece of wood.  At various way stations on your journey up, they use a hot brand to burn logos into the stick.  Here’s a shot of mine of a local carrying one up where he’s taken the flag off.

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Of note, whereas I left my Japanese flag on my stick, see how the local has taken his off.  I attribute this to the difference in patriotism between your average Japanese and say an American.

For example, my Parents have always had the Stars & Stripes flying outside their front door.  Always.  You would not see this type of behavior from almost any normal Japanese family.  Patriotism is a very different mindset between the two countries.

The Fuji stick takes this concept into overdrive as the flag that adorns it is not just any flag, but the older Rising Sun Flag of Imperial Japan.  I don’t know why Fuji chooses this over the modern and less controversial single red circle?  But anyways, a lot of locals took their flags off their stick.  Don’t get me wrong, it doesn’t matter to me either way, I just find the concept interesting.

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Here’s a close up of one of the stamps.  A torii gate with the year I climbed, 2005.  Man, I’m getting freaking old.

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A few more stamps, one with 3,400 for 3,400 meters.  Then, above it again the year 2005, and 11,000 feet.  Note feet, not meters.  I think that guy must have had two stamps.  One that did meters, and one that did 11,000 feet for the gaijin.

My Fuji stick sits right next to my home desk, always.  You can actually catch it in the background of an old shot I had for a previous post where I talked about beer.  Win.

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Mount Fuji – only once?

It is said that a wise person will climb Fuji once, but only a fool will do it twice.  Well, what if you’re not wise to begin with?  And what do you do when you climb it the first time, and it’s a fog filled mess?

I think the answer is you have to climb it again.  Even if that throws my soul out of alignment and curses me.  Then I’d need to enlist the services of Shōki The Demon Queller to cleanse my spirit.  But I’m down with that.

Shōki only takes payment in fine sake.  So he and I can get ripped on it after he’s done slaying the cursed demon that’s bugging my dogs while they troll around the basement looking for crickets.

So I’ll be climbing Fuji again someday.  Just to do it again.  And because I couldn’t see anything when I reached the summit because of all the fog.

Besides, when climbing Fuji I constantly got passed by folks who were probably 73 years old.  They were kicking my ass.  I’m betting (other than the fact that these people are awesome) that this was not their first dance with Fuji.  If they can do it multiple times, so can I.

IMG_1018This shot is actually in the early afternoon at the end of my climb.  It’s the only decent shot I have of Fuji that day.  Note the clouds that still owned the summit.

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Nobody should climb Fuji unless they’re in decent shape.  There are no training wheels.  You get a stick, you get the assist lines, and that’s it.  In some cases the path is a total mess.  You’re walking directly on volcanic rock.  I loved it.

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The climb is a series of switchbacks.  At the choke points it can get a bit crowded, but I suppose there is room to slide by if you’re in a hurry or are timing yourself.

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Foooggg.  I did somehwat regret the fog, but honestly, since I know I’m going up again it was actually a lot of fun.  It added to the mystery of Fuji.  It’s like walking on a mystical moon.

Looking Up4Unrelated photo of climbers who are better than I.

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I don’t have any shots of the summit.  There some shops and such.  But we couldn’t see anything up there.  Here is a shot right below the summit upon beginning descent.

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Descent is just as much a challenge as ascent.  You’re using different muscles and the switchbacks are over different ground which is looser.  Note in this shot the slow descent from volcanic wasteland until it’s ultimately the greenery of lower altitudes.

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Nature begins to return with some green here and there.

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One of my ubiquitous random forest shots at the end of the descent.  I’ll also go back to hike the forests around Fuji itself.  They’re beautiful, and a sharp delightful change from the overwhelming concrete of urban Japan.

 

 

first the circus, then the zoo

When I was a young lad I looked forward to many things, Christmas cheer, birthday presents, sports games, Sicilian thug poker, and my ability to selfishly find ways to fold space and time. But I only ever kept a calendar checklists for one thing, the circus.

In retrospect I have no idea why. I mean, I love the circus, but it wasn’t like I was going to visit the Moon in a spaceship filled with supermodels. But for whatever reason, I would X off those days until I got to the O and got to go see the elephants and all those lunatic performers.

Well, so much for passing down that tradition. With the circus set to close, millions of children everywhere will have to find some other cool event to count down to on their smartphone’s calendar application powered by Google Android Colossus (your kiddy’s calendar schedule is privacy ad fodder for Google’s maw).

Could Ringling Brothers have survived in our Internets era?  Gee for all our sakes I sure hope so.  I really hope modern entertainment entails something other than freaking VR hooked directly to our brain stems while we foam at the mouth.

But what I do know is the circus’ death was accelerated by the animal rights folks.  Even the elephants were already scheduled to go away, well before Ringling Brothers threw in the whole towel.  What’s a circus without the elephants?

Reading the animal rights folks coo over their victory makes me sad.  Wow, that circus sure was a lot of fun.  No more.  For you see, taking an animal from the wild (where nature is a vicious wheat thresher) and giving an elephant a longer life expectancy and quality of life while brining young children joy and knowledge of nature is barbaric.

I might be (am) a lunatic.  But I’ll just go say this right now: first the circus, then the zoo.  Every animal rights argument that you can apply to the circus, equally applies to the zoo.  Now that the haters have claimed one scalp, why would they stop?  I’ll just say (roughly) that within three decades or so zoos will be severely curtailed and/or closed.

And kids will only get to see a tiger or lion in a book, on their smartphone app, or on a safari for the ultra-rich.  To the activists I would say, think folks don’t care about nature now?  Wait until they close the zoo and kiddies can only see apes in books.

Turkey – Mount Koressos, House of Mary

When you travel in groups compromises are always necessary. When the group disagrees you can sometimes divide up or sneak off on your own for a while. Other times you just have to deal with it. When you share hotels, cars, buses, trains, and meals with your companions, it’s generally not a good idea to fight all the time. I’ve been on trips where this happens and it truly kills everything.

Being in Turkey I had about five-hundred things I wanted to do, history being at the top of my list. So when we were headed to Ephesus I was fired up. We only had one day there. I could spend six days in Ephesus and not get bored. But then, other members of the group wanted to take most of that one morning and visit the supposed House of Mary which is near Ephesus. I hear this and I’m like, “Oh, uh, …” [checks watch] (I did indeed wear a watch then, which seems strange now.)

I was raised Irish / English / Sicilian Catholic, so you know it’s seriously in my blood. But I was also raised with a light touch of it. My own Grandmother would frequently talk with us about this or that doctrine, Pope, etc, that she disagreed with, alongside her own take on life. It’s a very liberating American take on religion. Nowadays, depending on the barometric pressure outside, I can either truly believe or am an atheist or whatever. A lot of it depends on my mood. So basically I would not consider myself very religious, but I really do try. In this Turkey travel group though were several ultra-hyper religious types. So they wanted to go see the House of Mary and were very set upon it.

Given how much of Ephesus was on my brain I could have protested. I let it go in the name of cohesion. This was the right choice. I figured it would be nice to see the mountains, maybe say a prayer, and generally just enjoy the ride. This was exactly what happened. I don’t regret it.

The full titled House of the Virgin Mary sits atop Mount Koressos which is a few miles from Ephesus. It’s a small house and religious shrine. By which I mean it’s a religious shrine that reminded me a lot of the shrines in Asia, specially Japan. As in, it’s a commercial tourist destination. There’s very little religion about it. In say Japan, sometimes you’ll be walking around temple grounds and there’ll be these people hocking Hello Kitty fascism toys from stalls. I always found this odd, to me a dead quiet church is my pinnacle of prayer. But in many cultures it’s not a big deal to meld commercial and religious ideas on the same site. This is the case with Mount Koressos.

It’s like going to the Mary exhibit at Disneyland. There are several cafes, a wishing wall, tourist buses everywhere, magic water, it’s quite the atmosphere. And this place has quite the crazy tale as well. My first thought was, “There’s no way Mary was there.” I mean, what do I know? But still, it didn’t seem quite likely to me. I get it, Popes have visited this place, but still. Feast your brains upon this tale of discovery:

– Anne Catherine Emmerich, German nun, mystic, and later saint, has a bunch of visions which she imparts to the brains of others.

– Clemens Brentano, author, writes books based upon her visions about Jesus, etc, etc.

– In 1852, Brentano provides a rough description from a vision of a house near Ephesus that John supposedly built for Mary where she lived out her days.

– In 1881, French priest, Indiana Jones copycat, and lunatic Julien Gouyet uses this book’s description to find and identify the house on top of Mount Koressos. Nobody believes him.

– But by 1891 at the urgings of Sister Marie de Mandat-Grancey, folks get onboard with this idea and the house is made a shrine and taken under management. The first Pope shows up within a decade. Half-a-dozen other Popes have also visited.

So is one to believe this tale of visions, translated through a kook author, and a bunch of people wandering around the 19th century Ottoman countryside with a book in their hand? I’d have to say I don’t. I’m pretty sure that whatever Mary was that she died close to her birthplace and is buried out there. But whatever, it’s all good, people can pray anywhere. That’s the cool part about prayer.

And whatever the house is, it is indeed neat to visit. It’s very old and probably a good example of the style and architecture of ancient dwellings in this part of the planet.

 

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Side of the House of the Virgin Mary

 

When there, I kind of separated myself from the group and puttered around. When you go inside the house it’s a converted chapel, very small. I didn’t take a picture inside as it didn’t seem right. I prayed for a short bit and then was on my way. It was a nice moment, but not what I would call any kind of religious experience.

 

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Not my shot, taken from Wikipedia. Note the very ancient hallowed c-grade velvet rope, two Apostle endorsed codex plastic information placards, and Papal holy water blessed exit sign

 

Outside there is a wishing / prayer wall that folks can leave notes on. There are thousands of notes. There is also a water source that is said to heal or grant wishes or whatever. I did not drink the water

For me, the ground was the better experience. This was my chapel visit.  This was my Mount Koressos:

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I’ve got dozens of various shots of nothing but the woods from all across the world. Two of my favorites are on my desk, one from American and one from Japan. I’m always struck by the differences and similarities between them. Wherever you are, the woods are always similar enough that you can recognize ideas, feelings, trends that join you to that remote location. In the sense that the woods near your own home and country do much the same. It’s that spark of fellowship and belonging that most closely identifies us as part of one human race and planet. It’s only there for a moment, but it’s a good feeling. Nature, God, whatever, does that to you. Amen.

never talk to strangers

I’m kind of an introvert, and go on my merry way.  But nobody can know this if they’ve never met me.  So when somebody gets in my face out of the blue I kind of wonder what planet they’re living on.  They could be talking to anybody.  Why would anybody want to talk to me anyways?

What if I had a medical condition?  What if I turned out to be a salesman and wasted a half-hour of their day hocking ties to them?  What if I was a closet serial killer?  What if I could care less what these people had to say?  What if I let them in on the gig that Santa isn’t real?

I guess they don’t care.  It’s like they’ve got this ‘on’ switch inside their brains.  They can’t help themselves.  They instinctively interact with their fellow human without any coherent thought.  This can be a neat thing sometimes, I guess, but it can also get very weird very quick.

Today as I’m getting in my walk during lunch (I take my lunch break for exercise and eat at my desk) a guy steps in front of me and stops me.  He then proceeds to ask me a bizarre obscure question about why a downtown building is located in one place instead of the other.  Like why the builders chose that one spot.  Eh?

I’ve got no idea what he’s talking about.  He doesn’t look like he’s criminally insane, he appears a perfectly normal person.  But him stopping me like that, and the weird question were rather off the charts.  So I told him I didn’t know and was on my way swiftly.

And what was it, some day earlier this week, I can’t remember which.  I’m walking through the grocery store parking lot.  I’ve got my one big reusable bag.  I’ve also got a fist full of plastic bags which had reached end of service life.

Once upon a time you could put those old plastic bags in the local curbside recycling.  They banned that in my town, so you have to put them in the plastic bag recycling bin at the grocery stores.  I mostly use the reusable bags at the grocery store.  But will occasionally get plastic bags because they have oh so many uses other than carrying groceries (eat it bag tax politicians).

So I’ll use the plastic bags until they are unserviceable and then recycle those at the grocery.  I suppose the grocery store could just put them in the trash later, for all I know, but it’s all I can do.  Recycling is such a crap shoot.  If you doubt this, just do some reading online to find out how much of that glass you recycle is actually not currently recycled today.  This is why you should get canned beer and box wine.  They’ve fixed the can / box quality issues folks, it’s cheaper, and cans and boxes are 100% recyclable.

Anyways, so I’m strolling through the grocery parking lot with both types of bags.  A car viciously pulls right up next to me on the passenger side.  This guy is shouting at me from behind the steering wheel.  In the 1.5 seconds of mental processing time, I’m wondering where I can run, hide, or fight.

But eventually I determine that he’s shouting at me about how awesome it is that I’m recycling.  I guess he saw me carrying the old plastic bags, I guess?  I keep walking, all I offer in response is my most deadpan, “Okay.”

Then he peels out like he was escaping a robbed bank.  There was no mocking or irony in this dude’s voice.  He was dead serious.  Guy actually did an aggressive drive by on his fellow man just to voice his approval of supposed recycling.

If a brick had been at my feet, I’d have picked it up and chucked it at his car.  You can’t recycle broken rear windshields, the planet is worse off now, and it’s all your fault.  That would’ve been my robotic / lame 1986 action movie line to this idiot.

There’s a reason you tell kids not to talk to strangers.  Even us adults end up dealing with folks who in one way or another, just don’t seem wound right.  I mean, I’m a lunatic, but I’m pretty sure if I stop somebody on the street cold, my reasons and demeanor are legit.