Wednesday, September 25, 2013


Friday I had surgery on my shoulder. It was only the second operation I've had, the first being wisdom tooth removal half a lifetime ago.

The doctor made four small incisions and went in arthroscopically. He cleaned up a bit of frayed tendon, but the big job was removing a bone spur. (I do have photos - let me know if you'd like to see them at your next dinner party.)

Since I wasn't put under general anesthesia, coming out was pretty easy. My arm was numb for several hours, and then I had Percocet. Contrary to what everyone told me, all it did was make me even more sleepy. I had no fun dreams or, when I stopped, withdrawal problems. I did notice that when falling asleep I tended to go into REM even before fully being asleep, but that also happens when I'm very tired, and I've been very tired ever since. The pain hasn't been much, but I've been extremely mellow and tuckered out.

My left arm was put in a sling. I am very grateful that I am right-handed, as being one-handed was a challenge. Some things, such as typing, were just slowed down. But there are things you really can't do one-handed: Dishes. Putting on a bra. Shaving the armpits. Showering was a challenge anyway, as I had to keep the dressing dry.

As of today, the dressing is off, and I don't have to wear the sling all the time. I'm supposed to start using my arm so I don't lose too much range of motion - no more trying to hit Control-Alt-Delete with one hand! Taking a shower will be so delightful!

Lots of people sent well wishes. I am especially grateful to my boss, who took me home from the surgery, and to the man, who automatically headed over to the sink to do dishes every time he came over.

Monday, September 23, 2013

To all my happily married friends

To all my happily married friends: I see you on Facebook. Some of you have been together ten years; others, 20 or 40. You have no kids or little kids or grown-up kids. You also have bad days and fights, but there is something fundamentally different about you from the unhappy couples and my fellow singletons: You count on this person to be there, and together you form the center of a new world, more important than any of the other worlds you inhabit.

As we have gotten older, we have all begun to calcify, whether we like to admit it or not. We don't plan to leave Indiana or wherever it is we live. If you love me, you have to love my cat. We have children. We have a system for doing laundry, a philosophy of breakfast, and a habit of vacations. Some of this is justifiable, like the children coming first, and some of it is arbitrary. Those of you in happy marriages are no less creatures of habit, but you have at least one other person who is growing along the same strange path as you.

Those of us who are single find that there isn't really room for someone else in our lives. They have to fit in the cracks. They can't have a different laundry system or breakfast philosophy. Their other worlds - their jobs, their family of origin, their Everest climbs - all come first for them, as ours do for us. We don't dare throw away the self we've been developing for the last twenty years to create a new world. We just wait for the near-impossible, that one other person whose puzzle piece is twisted just like ours, to come along, and then get frustrated when no one quite fits.

So happily married people, believe me when I tell you I have no idea what it is like to be in your shoes. I can imagine talking bears and mass zombification and a female president, but I can't imagine what it is to be a binary star system. I literally can't imagine someone who relies on me, compromises for me, gives things up for me, all while I do the same for them. The best I can see is one partner willing to compromise for the other, and the other willing to accept it. And I see a lot of relationships like that, too. They're not unhappy, but they're not exactly happy, either.

I don't think most of us have what it takes to enter into a successful marriage. Few enough have it when we are young, daring, and carry light baggage. We get older and build up more of everything - except nerve, which dwindles.

To my fellow single people: Are you willing to give up your house? Your city? Would you give up your job? Your career? Are you willing to be separated from your parents, to quit your favorite hobby, to stop cooking your favorite food? Are you willing to spend money on things you've derided and curtail your spending on little luxuries?

No happy relationship would require someone to give up all those things, but if we say "no" to most of these, we need to face the fact that we don't have what it takes. We will never have the successful relationship we think we want. And maybe that's okay - if we can figure out what we want live for instead.

But for those of you who are happily married, remember how lucky, and how unusual, you are.

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Inwood Hil Park

Manhattan, Jersey, Bronx by TheTurducken
Manhattan, Jersey, Bronx, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
View from a short hike at Manhattan's Inwood Hill Park. The Henry Hudson bridge connects Manhattan (left) and the Bronx (right), with New Jersey in the background. The water in the foreground is the Harlem River

Technically, that chunk of land on the right is not the Bronx, though. It's a neighborhood called Marble Hill that is politically a part of Manhattan, but geographically part of the Bronx.

And technically, the Harlem River is not a river but a tidal strait, and technically, this part of it is a canal dug to make shipping easier. It was the building of the canal that lopped poor Marble Hill off of Manhattan.

That piece of Jersey is Englewood Cliffs; the "cliffs" are the Palisades, which you can only see in this photo if you look very closely. This particular chunk of cliff is the subject of a land-use dispute; a company has been given a permit to build an enormous office building that will dramatically change the character of the scenery.

Monday, September 9, 2013

Seven Worst Day Hikes

Dirty boots

I can't tell you what the ten best hikes in the country are, but I can tell you what the worst hikes I've done are. All of these hikes were more than merely uninteresting. Some are bad hikes, even under ideal conditions. A few were just marred by unfortunate events.

Peninsula Trail or Sycamore Loop, Indiana. Okay, I did both of these the same weekend and didn't take pictures, so I can't remember which trail it was that was second-growth forest. Young forest isn't unusual, but what made this hike so dreary was that the trees had been planted in rows.

Land Between the Lakes, Tennessee. I've never been able to warm up to this area. I don't find it particularly scenic, but it is particularly ticky. Coming from Nashville, at least, there are so many other better choices that are closer.

Fall Creek Falls, Tennessee. Lovely area. Even this trip had its good parts, like playing in the waterfalls. However, our hike was cut short by angry hornets that scattered our party into two groups and left most of the group nursing stings. (This was after our close encounter with a copperhead.)

Cedars of Lebanon, Tennessee. This is a pretty nice park, and I like the cedar glades of Middle Tennessee. But I did a solo hike there one time where the trail was incredibly poorly marked and, even worse, liberally criss-crossed with spiderwebs. I had the heebie-jeebies for weeks after coming eyeball-to-eyeball with so many spiders.

Pelham Bay, New York. If you take public transit to this hike, you have a 50% chance of being run over as you walk the shoulderless road with cars blazing by just to reach the trailhead. The trail itself is in desperate need of maintenance. Even if it were cleaned up, though, there wouldn't be much "there" there.

Water Valley Overlook, Tennessee. This section of the Natchez Trace was so unpleasant we actually elected to return by the road. The biggest problem, besides few rewards, is that it is also a heavily-used horse trail, and every quarter-mile or so you have to stop to shake mud off of your unbearably heavy boots. Don't do this one barefoot. Pro tip: Leave horse trails to the horses if they get heavy use.

Pennyrile Trail, Kentucky. 13.5 miles, and only the first two or so are remotely interesting. Worse, the trail was created by one man with a vision. Cool in theory, but in practice the trail isn't properly built or maintained, so for about ten of those miles you're walking with one foot higher than the other.

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Breakneck Ridge hike

Breakneck Ridge is one of the major hikes in the NYC area. The view of Storm King from Breakneck is featured on the covers of both of my area hiking guides, and, supposedly, chose it as one of their 10 best day hikes in the country, which is a bold claim for anything around here. I finally decided to do it on my own.

My planned route would take me from the Breakneck Ridge stop on the Metro North line, up Breakneck, and back down via the Undercliff trail. Apparently, the Thing To Do if you are a Real Hiker* is to go along the ridge to the fire tower. On my first trip up there, solo, out of shape, and with a bum shoulder, I decided merely to reach the ridge.

If you take the train, you might as well hike with a group; about 20 people exited the train and started up the mountain at the same time with me. If you really want solitude, drive, be super-fast, or hang back for a half hour. However, I doubt you'll ever find true solitude anywhere on these trails.

After the short road walk, the trail starts off gentle for, oh, five feet, before turning into a scramble. It takes all four limbs to get up 700 feet in half a mile, nearly all of it pure rock. I probably shouldn't climb boulders with my shoulder, but I threw caution to the slight breeze and headed up, albeit carefully. This was the hardest part of the hike, but I imagine it would be even harder coming down if you elected to return the same way.

Breakneck is on the east side of the Hudson, and I soon had Storm King photos of my own. This area was the home base of the Hudson River School, and there are at least four HRS paintings of Storm King. This painting by Pope is probably my favorite. One thing you'll notice in any of the paintings that also depict the river: There were a lot more boats plying the Hudson back in the day.

From Breakneck you can also see Bannerman Island with its ruined mansion. Supposedly, it was destroyed by fire, but I prefer to think it was taken down by HULK SMASH.
After following the white-blazed Breakneck Ridge trail up to more or less the top, I turned down the blue trail and onto the red. This section doesn't have any amazing views, although it does have the ruins of a dairy. My brief excursion on the red trail did have a nice brook running by it. I joined the Undercliff trail (having missed the part of it that was actually under a cliff), following it to a junction with the white trail that led down to the town of Cold Spring. This photo is taken from one of the few scenic vantage points facing the Hudson on the Undercliff. For perspective, the trail started just on the other side of those tunnels. This section of trail isn't as interesting, and I was surprised to see a lot of people starting to come up it in the early afternoon.

I finished by wandering across the highway to Little Stony Point, which was almost entirely devoid of interest, and into Cold Spring. For my Oregon friends, Cold Spring is the New York version of Jacksonville. It's an hour from the city, very quaint, and not at all cheap. I couldn't afford a house, so I bought an ice cream cone instead.

The hike was undoubtedly the nicest I've done in the region so far, but one of the ten best in the country? That rating is probably due in part to its proximity to a major urban area. I doubt many people have sufficient day-hiking experience all over the country to really compare-and-contrast. One other note: My hiking guide rated a shorter version of this hike, 5.9 miles long, as taking seven hours. I went about eight miles in four hours, and I don't like to hike fast when I'm going alone. I passed a few novices and large groups, but plenty of folks were zipping by me.

*Some people use scare quotes; I go German with my capitalization.

Thursday, September 5, 2013

4th Annual John Cage Hike

Down by TheTurducken
Down, a photo by TheTurducken on Flickr.
Although this was the fourth annual for the Ramblers, it was my first. Instead of being meticulously planned, this hike was subject to the whims of coin tossing to determine which ways we would go.

At lunch, we performed John Cage's 4'33" and Imaginary Landscape #4, albeit with slightly fewer radios than the score called for.

Near the end of the hike, we may have fudged a few coin tosses to get us out in time. We passed by the Van Skyke Castle and Ramapo Lake, which were really the only scenic highlights of the day.

The hike ended up being 12.9 miles.