Sunday, March 1, 2015

Hiking Balsam Mountain

Up

Balsam is one of the four peaks that the Catskills 3500 club requires members to hike twice, at least once in the winter. I had not yet hiked it in any weather, so I took an opportunity to get another winter peak out of the way before March 21, when the club declares winter to be over.

Mileage-wise, it is fairly short - 2.55 miles by the shortest route. Like all the Catskills peaks, it's steep, and we went at a fairly brisk pace in our snowshoes. (Part of the climb up we opted for microspikes; the trail was mostly compacted in places.)

The weather was gorgeous - in the 20s, but brilliantly sunny. From the viewpoint near the summit we had a great view, and all the way up the sky was intensely blue.

We came back down a different trail than we went up. After coming down the hill, there are several stream crossings that proved to be much easier than foretold, although in spring snowmelt they would be tougher. The steepness was the biggest challenge on this hike, as it was much less rocky than some of the other peaks. Even considering that snow may have covered some smaller rocks, there was no scrambling required.

Wednesday, February 25, 2015

Poetry reading

I went to a poetry reading, not because a former poet laureate was reading - how could I, when I had never heard of him, having given up on poetry years ago? - but because one of my professors was, from twenty years earlier when I thought I too would be a professor of English one day, and she was one of the professors we all admired and called by their first names behind their backs. Claudia, and Molly, and Tom - the young and gossiped-about and furtively crushed-on faculty in the department of English - as if calling them by their first names would make us closer to them. They weren’t the only professors we thought highly of, but I never would have dared called Gary Stonum simply “Gary”; not because he gave me my only B I earned in the the department, but because he was too much older, and wore matching socks. But Claudia always wore brown and black, as if to match her skin and her hair, and on at least one occasion I wore khaki and off-white hoping for the same effect. It did not work. And at this reading now, two decades later, she was wearing red.

The room was moderately full, although it should have been fuller, being as it was an event with a former poet laureate and a poet whose most recent work is having what we can only call a moment; I haven’t heard as much talk about one work since our president’s first inauguration. All the characters present I recognized in spite of having met none of them before: the graduate students who hope to look avant-garde but don’t have the taste to pull it off; the elderly professors who who have been dressing that way for over forty years and no longer care whether they can. And I was hiding there, the management professor who hasn’t even read Seamus Heaney’s translation of Beowulf, among a sea of hand-crafted earrings.

I took only one class with Claudia, introduction to creative writing, in which we wrote a poem every week except one week in which we also had a choice to write fiction. My story was a unfunny comedy about a guy who accidentally killed the goldfish he was pet-sitting. The other students were a Sigma Chi who smoked a lot of weed, a girl named Dori, a pale and chubby nerd, and a girl who explained her poems every week. There were more of us than that, but if there were people I knew well in the class I have forgotten them. Of Claudia I remember two events from that semester. One, she patiently told the explainer each week that it was all well and good that her poem meant something other than what we had all thought, but that she wouldn’t be present to tell that to her readers, so it had to be on the page. Two, she almost lost her patience when telling the pale nerd that it was very dubious that the dream girl he had just described in verse was, as he had placed her, merely sitting under a tree, waiting for him to come along.

After the readings - first Claudia, than the laureate - crowds queued up for signatures and to buy books. Supposedly there were refreshments, as there always are, but I didn’t make an effort to find the cheese and crackers. Many of the people genuinely knew one or both the poets, as people they would actually remember. Some of them had become English professors, and others still believed they could be. Instead, I slipped out and walked home, breathing in the halal carts, although I have long since given up meat, and looking at the Lenten candles in the open church, although I have long since given up religion.

Monday, February 23, 2015

Woes

My body has been falling apart the past few weeks. That is, my shoulder has been moderately sore, and in a HIIT class I tweaked my IT band, and then I got a cold. All in all, I felt quite useless for over a week. My cold has since cleared up, although I am now playing catch-up due to lowered productivity. 

Neither my shoulder nor my knee are really preventing me from doing anything, but they're both frustrating. Every time I feel like I'm back in good shape, it seems like an injury comes along. 

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Decluttering

My ongoing quest to improve my life has been, of late, focused on paring things down. Paring down my debt, of course, but also objects, unhelpful relationships, and dumb ideas.

It’s surprising how much stuff I own but I don’t need, even living in a small studio apartment. I’ve started looking at things and deciding if I haven’t used them in years, I’m probably not going to, and out they go. Exceptions can be made for items of sentimental value, but that anthology I haven’t looked at in 15 years? Gone. The martini glasses that ended up in my possession after the bacon party five years ago? Gone.

(I realize that you are supposed to be alarmed when people start giving away their possessions, because maybe they are suicidal or something, but trust me - I’m getting rid of cheap glassware, not heirlooms.)

I’ve stopped putting energy into friendships where most of the effort is on my side, not that I had a lot of them. I’ve dumped Facebook friends who post nasty rants. Now, I don’t want to live in a liberal echo chamber, at least not most days, and I do have friends with differing political views. For example, among my Facebook friends are two college classmates, one a professional libertarian (I mean that in the most literal sense) and the other a conservative Catholic. Do we disagree on a lot? Yes. Does that include not only fiscal policy but also highly charged issues? Yes. I’m sure the Catholic and I would agree that abortion is a human rights issue - we’d just disagree about whose rights are at stake. That said, I respect that their arguments are internally consistent and expressed in a polite and respectful way. I just don’t have the energy to deal with people whose posts read like a Dr. Bronner’s bottle.

As far as ideas, that’s a little harder. They cling, persistently. One recent realization is that I tend to hold on to mediocre things in my life too long. Things that are bad? Gone. But things that are just okay - jobs, relationships - I tend to stick with and not aggressively pursue alternatives. I mean, if my soulmate (which I don’t believe in) came along but I had to move to Greenland to be with him … you know, I am pretty sure my landlord would let me break my lease. Not that I want to, but my landlord could fill this place easily enough; I wouldn’t be on the hook for over a year of rent. But I think of my lease as an absolute obstacle. It really isn’t, not in the way that, say, having a liver transplant next week would be.

(I am not having a liver transplant.)

So that’s where I’m at: Getting rid of stuff, and saving money. I have several financial goals, but the next major one I'm likely to achieve is finally having a $0 net worth. Not impressive, maybe, except that I have a negative net worth now. I'm looking forward to my assets outweighing my debts.

Just monetary assets, mind. No useless martini glasses here.

Monday, February 9, 2015

Bear Mountain trail hike

Uphill in the snow

Sunday’s hike with the Ramblers started and ended at Bear Mountain as planned, although we didn’t entirely follow the planned route.

The Ramblers' schedule is put out months in advance - in this case, in October - which means that, especially in winter, there is some guesswork as to whether the hike will be appropriate for conditions. In this case, the hike as written was to follow some old roads and unmarked trails, but the snowy conditions made those hard to find and even harder to posthole through. We adjusted slightly, including cutting off a planned loop to save time: going was a little slower in in the snow.

Adding to the challenge, we had some snowfall in the early afternoon. Its principal effect was to whiteout the views we ought to have had on the Appalachian Trail mid-hike.

Now, that doesn't mean we didn't have a good time. It just means we didn't hike quite as far as planned. But one thing I do like about hiking at Bear Mountain is that we come back to the lodge, with proper bathrooms, hot chocolate, and a warm place to wait for the bus.