February 02, 2009

Jupiter at the Strathmore

February 2nd, 2009. George has started a new gig; volunteering for the National Philharmonic which is the orchestra-in-residence at the Music Center at Strathmore. I've been thinking, with the kids in college, now was a good time to devote time to philanthropic activities--especially given the financial crisis that is gripping the country. I eventually hope to balance contribution to the arts with equal contribution to helping the disadvantaged. I have yet to identify a charity in the latter category--but I'm looking. I don't want to enter into anything that would be too depressing, or would require a huge time commitment--maybe I'm being too picky. Anyway, last Saturday was my first day at the Strathmore. My volunteer efforts entailed setting-up and breaking-down chairs for a lecture they held before the concert--given by the back-up conductor. The lectures provide concert-goers with a better understanding of the music they're to hear that evening. However, on this night the chairs were already set-up and didn't need to be put away following the lecture, so I didn't feel particularly useful.
Regardless, the NP has an arrangement with Strathmore that volunteers receive a complimentary ticket for the evening show. Luckily, I received two complimentary tickets so that Jane and I could attend the concert. Among the selections was Mozart's last work, symphony no. 41 composed in 1788, and familiarly known as the Jupiter Symphony. I found the work mildly entertaining but agreed with Jane that similar segments sounded rather repetitive. But, neither of us are professional musicologists. I found the following description, which appeared on All Things Considered helpful in appreciating the symphony. Also I remember the movie Amadeus---which I really enjoyed--so in retrospect I liked (or should have liked) Jupiter more than I did.
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's last symphony, the Jupiter Symphony (No. 41), was written along with two other, full-length symphonies in the summer of 1788 — in just six weeks. Mozart had recently been idolized all over Europe for operas such as Don Giovanni and for his spectacular performances of his own piano concertos.

But, by most accounts, Mozart was near the bottom when he wrote it: broke and in debt. His audiences had become interested in other composers. Austria was at war with Turkey. And his newborn daughter had just died.
Still, Mozart was determined to do something revolutionary. That comes in the final movement of the Jupiter Symphony with the composer's use of counterpoint, or weaving together two or more different melodies. Mozart uses five different melodies simultaneously in the Jupiter, making it a challenge for any orchestra that takes it on.
Some have said the Jupiter sums up what had happened in symphonic music up to that point, and that it foreshadows the work of Beethoven. But more than that, it's exuberant and introspective, charming and complicated — a lot like life itself.

January 30, 2009

Bright Sun After Heavy Snow

Bright Sun after Heavy Snow
by Jane KenyonThe Boat of Quiet Hours) Copied from The Writer's Almanac.

A ledge of ice slides from the eaves,
piercing the crusted drift. Astonishing
how even a little violence
eases the mind.

In this extreme state of light
everything seems flawed: the streaked
pane, the forced bulbs on the sill
that refuse to bloom...A wad of dust
rolls like a desert weed
over the drafty floor.

Again I recall a neighbor's
small affront — it rises in my mind
like the huge banks of snow along the road:
the plow, passing up and down all day,
pushes them higher and higher...

The shadow of smoke rising from the chimney
moves abruptly over the yard.
The clothesline rises in the wind. One
wooden pin is left, solitary as a finger;
it, too, rises and falls.

January 26, 2009

January 26th. The spring semester at UMBC started today and we dropped Elroy off yesterday but before we gave him back we explored a new park we hadn't visited before, Patapsco Valley State Park. This isn't a huge park but it has an fairly extensive series of hiking trails (outlined in my previous post), some of which are also used by bikers. Since it's wintertime, the visitors center was closed which was a little irksome especially since it wasn't straightforward where we were to go to find the trailheads to the various hiking paths. But we persevered and finally hiked the Cascade Falls Trail. The central attraction of this particular hike is small falls that cascaded in wonderful frozen burbles (if that's a word) over a short precipice. The sound of trickling water underneath the icy surface was interesting. It was a sunny but rather frigid afternoon just perfect for a hike. Along one remote section, where few hikers strayed, we found numerous downy feathers and one short brown-banded feather among the leaf litter, marking a spot where a bird (I imagined a baby owl) must have fell afoul (or should I say afowl) of a forest predator. Later along this same trail Elroy spotted a shed snakeskin. Imagine, finding a snakeskin in January. How long must it have been lying on the forest floor waiting for someone to come and marvel at its scaly resilience. Anyway, here are a few pictures along the trail.

Hiking in Patapsco Valley State Park

Description (from MidAtlanaticHikes.Com): The Patapsco Valley State Park is a long narrow park that stretches from the southern part of the Baltimore Beltway and north along the river, almost to Liberty Reservoir. It extends even further up the south branch. Portions of the park are well developed with picnic pavilions, restrooms and well-maintained trail systems. The Orange Grove Area is one such section. The labyrinth of trails allows one to hike as little as 1/4 mile to view a water fall or walk more than 8 miles while hardly retracing a step. The trails are well groomed, blazed and signed, for the most part. There are one or 2 junctions that might leave you scratching your head so please take a map.

Hilton Area:
Buzzards Rock Trail (2.1 miles): This steep trail runs along the top of a ridge and provides a scenic view above the railroad tracks, especially during late fall and winter. Please note that 0.7 miles of this trail is foot-use-only. Mountain bikers must detour on to Santee Branch Trail.
Sawmill Branch Trail (0.9 miles): This trail starts at the end of the Grist Mill Trail or off the Buzzards Rock Trail. The trail's moderate grade meanders downstream, allowing hikers to view several scenic pools and glades.
Ilchester Rocks Trail (0.1 miles): This very steep trail is an offshoot of the Buzzards Rock Trail and provides a nice view of rock cliffs above the river. This area is also popular for rock climbing.
Charcoal Trail (0.7 miles): This wide-open trail, which follows the power line, connects the Sawmill Branch and Santee Branch trails.
Forest Glen Trail (0.6 miles): This foot-use-only trail has several very steep grades, and connects the end of the Grist Mill Trail to the Hilton Area complex near the recycled tire playground.
Pigs Run Trail (0.2 miles): This relatively flat trail is nicely wooded and connects Forest Glen and Santee Branch trails.
Avalon Area:
Ridge Trail (2.2 miles):
This popular hiking and mountain biking trail runs along the ridge above the river. The trail has two entrances, one at River Road and the other located just downriver of the Orange Grove Area comfort station.
Rockburn Branch Trail (1.2 miles): Access this trail from the Ridge Trail at River Road. The trail loops through woods and steepens as you head back to River Road on the Howard County side.
Valley View Trail (0.9 miles): This foot-use-only trail has a great view of the river valley and primarily runs along the ridge. Watch for a few steep sections with loose rocks.
Morning Choice Trail (1.8 miles): A relatively level trail, this route connects Cascade Falls Trail with Rockburn Branch Trail, as it winds through areas of beautiful mature trees, and passes a stand of bamboo, an exotic invasive species near Old Track Loop.
Glen Artney Area:
Vineyard Spring Trail (1.0 miles):
This is a very popular mountain bike trail and can be accessed from the Grist Mill Trail. It is narrow at points, often only two to three feet wide, as it works its way along a stream.
Santee Branch Trail (2.4 miles): The Santee is a long trail connecting the Hilton and Glen Artney Areas. The trail follows a power line several times and can be connected with the Vineyard Springs, Grist Mill and Sawmill Branch trails to make a great 4.5 mile loop.
Soapstone Branch Trail (1.7 miles): This trail has a loop below the Glen Artney Area. Several stream crossings are required as this trail connects with South Rolling Road (Rt. 166).
Grist Mill Trail (1.6 miles): This trail is wheelchair accessible, traveling from the Lost Lake parking lot to the Swinging Bridge and continuing on to the head of the Hilton Area trails. The trail follows the river and railroad bed.
Orange Grove Area:
Cascade Falls Trail (2.2 miles):
Beginning in the Orange Grove Area, this loop trail allows visitors an opportunity to view beautiful cascades and rapids. A short section of the trail is foot-use-only due to severe steepness. Please check the map available for sale at the park office before biking.
Ridge Trail (2.2 miles): This trail connects the Avalon and Orange Grove Areas and is popular for hiking and mountain biking.

Suggested 5.6 mile hike from the Orange Grove Area:

Trail Notes: Proceed up blue blazed Cascade Falls Tr. Almost immediately the trail will split. (This trail has multiple components that can be used to make short loops.) Bear to the left, following the split rail fence. Soon you'll reach Cascade Falls. Cross the stream on huge boulders and climb to the top of the falls. The Orange blazed Ridge Tr comes in on the left. (This is your return route.) Stay straight on the Cascade Falls Trail. You'll cross the stream three more times. Twice other components of the Cascade Falls Tr will come in from the right. Ignore them.
In about 0.6 miles from the falls and shortly after the last stream crossing turn left onto yellow blazed Morning Choice Tr. Cross gravel Norris Lane in 0.15 more miles. In another 0.19 miles the trail joins the red blazed Old Track Tr. Bear right here, following the dual blazes for a few yards. Where the trails separate bear to the right to stay on yellow blazed Morning Choice Tr. In another 0.18 miles come to an unsigned trail junction. The trail in all directions at this point is blazed yellow. For this hike make a sharp left turn.
Soon reconnect and, nearly as quickly, disconnect from the east end of the red Old Track Tr. In another 0.29 miles (after skirting the western boundary of the Belmont Research Conference Center arrive at the junction of the Connector Tr (Marked in both yellow and orange). Turn right to stay on yellow blazed Morning Choice Tr. You'll walk along the edge of the Belmont Research Conference Center some more before re-entering the woods. This is a good place to spot grazing deer at dusk. In 0.86 miles from the last trail junction arrive at purple blazed Rockburn Branch Trail (Right, Straight and to the left). Turn left and in a short distance come to a junction with orange blazed. Bear right, downhill on an old woods road. After passing a trail shelter bear left onto white blazed Valley View Tr. This is a narrow sidehill footpath closed to all but foot traffic. For the next 0.75 miles you need not be concerned with mountain bikers. As you weave in and out of shallow but steep coves you'll pass the ruins of some old rental cabins that were used prior to Hurricane Agnes which greatly changed to shape and functionality of the park. The Valley View Tr will temporarily "kiss" the orange blazed Ridge Tr. From this point follow the Ridge trail for about 1 mile to its terminus with the Cascade Falls Tr. Ignore any false trails or old roads. At the falls, descend, recross the stream and retrace your initial steps back to the car.

January 25, 2009

San Francisco Treat

January 24th. Jane had a business meeting to attend the second week in January in San Francisco; I had a comp ticket from United Airlines.....so I decided to take a 3 day vacation and accompany Jane. It turns out that January is a good time to visit San Francisco, the temperatures are comfortable and there aren't too many tourists. And getting around the SF Bay area using mass transit is really easy. There are so many things to do there, it was difficult to decide what sights to take in. We landed at SFO around 11:15 am and took the BART train to the Powell St. station and walked a couple of blocks to the Intercontinental Hotel where Jane's meeting was being held. After settling in we took a cable car ride to Ghiradelli Square and then to Pier 33 to go on an evening cruise to Alcatraz Island (see picture at left). The cruise left the dock around 5:30 pm with 301 passengers aboard and brought us around the island to get different views. After disembarking on Alcatraz, National Park Service guides conducted an orientation tour of the facility and started us on a self-guided audio tour of the island. It was interesting hearing the history of the island and the stories of the inmates daily routines and the less frequent, but more dire stories, of notable riots and jailbreaks. Probably the most famous inmate at Alcatraz was Robert Stroud, known to all as the Birdman of Alcatraz (see picture of Stroud'd cell at right).
Of course, as we learned on the tour, Stroud was not allowed to tend birds on Alcatraz. Stroud's scientific contributions to avian health actually occurred while he was an inmate at Leavenworth (incidentally, the same penitentiary where Michael Vick currently calls home), where he was known as........the Bird Doctor of Leavenworth. I know, not as poetic as the Birdman of Alcatraz. The other interesting misconception about Stroud was that he was a kind and caring elderly gentleman, as portrayed by Burt Lancaster in the popular 1962 MGM movie. Although possessing a high IQ, I've read that Stroud more closely resembled a homicidal and suicidal maniac. Just as a sidebar, during my career in biomedical research I've come across scientists with similar personality quirks as Stroud's, but those are stories for another post. Anyway, toward the end of our time on the island a full moon was up in the sky and the lights of the San Francisco skyline made a beautiful sight.

I also walked through Golden Gate Park, San Francisco's version of New York's Central Park. The park was nice and I went to the de Young Museum of art located there. The museum had a nice collection of early (mid 19th century) American landscape paintings by artists of the Hudson River School. Jane doesn't care for these, so I was happy to be there alone to spend some quality time just absorbing the landscapes. There was also a small but nice collection of abstract expressionists like Willem de Kooning, Mark Rothko, and a San Francisco native Richard Diebenkorn that I don't remember every having seen before who I really liked. While in that neighborhood I also visited the Haight-Ashbury district, the epicenter of the hippie movement of the 1960s. I hadn't researched what exactly I would find there but was pleasantly surprized to see a strip of about 8 blocks of really interesting shops with various street musicians performing, although I don't think there was any organized effort to entertain tourists. It reminded me of Ludlow St. in Clifton...only a lot better. I took Jane there later in the evening after her meeting ended and we made a few purchases. Jane was impressed by the quality of second-hand clothes shops we looked at. As the evening wore on, we began to sense that we'd probably stayed in the Haight too long as once the shops and boutiques closed (around 7-7:30 pm), groups of young "drifters" appeared out of nowhere and gathered in groups on the street corners. The kids didn't outright threaten us--in fact they largely ignored us, but there was a palpable feeling that we really didn't want to be here alone too much longer. There was a collective sigh of relief by us, and others waiting at the bus stop, when our bus finally rolled up to the curb so we could ride back to the hotel. Anyway, the Haight was totally cool, man.

Jane and I also ran/hiked along the Coastal Trail starting at Land's End and going underneath the Golden Gate Bridge continuing east to Ghiradelli Square. This was my favorite and most memorable part of the trip. On Tuesday, January 13th we got up early and took the MUNI #5 bus to the La Playa stop and walk a block to the ocean beach. It was still completely dark with only the full moon providing light as Jane and I walked out to the surf. From there we walked about a quater m
ile up the Great Highway, past the Cliff House and to the entrance to Coastal Trail at Land's End just above the Sutro Baths. This trail takes along the west coast with magnificent views of the Pacific Ocean to the west and the Golden Gate bridge to the North. On the way the trail leads through the exclusive Sea Cliff neighborhood (pictured at right) that is perched on the Pacific Ocean overlooking Baker Beach with a great view of the Golden Gate Bridge (see below). We started out as the sun begain to cast a reddish glow above the horizon and made it to Ghiradelli Square a couple hours later. When we back to the hotel I got to shower and rest, but Jane had to attend meetings the rest of the day. It was also nice, at this time of year when there weren't too many tourists around to walk along the Embarcadero area (basically from pier 39 to the San Francisco Giants baseball park) looking into the various shops. On Wednesday (January 14th) I headed back to SFO for the trip home; Jane followed the next day.

January 08, 2009


What a wonderful poem I heard on Garrison Keillors, A Writer's Almanac. I'm not sure I could get all the line breaks corrected but I've given up trying to edit on Blogger.

by John L. Stanizzi (taken from the Writer's Almanac)

I had seen them in the tree,

and heard they mate for life,

so I hung a bird feeder and waited.

By the third day,

sparrows and purple finches

hovered and jockeyed

like a swarm of bees

fighting over one flower.

So I hung another feeder,

but the squabbling continued

and the seed spilled

like a shower

of tiny meteors

onto the ground

where starlings

had congregated,

and blue jays,

annoyed at the world,

disrupted everyone

except the mourning doves,

who ambled around

like plump old women

poking for the firmest head of lettuce.

Then early one evening

they came,

the only ones—she stood

on the periphery

of the small galaxy of seed;

he hopped among the nuggets, calmly chose

one seed at a time, carried it to her,

placed it in her beak;

she, head tilted, accepted it.Then they fluffed,

hopped together,

did it all over again.

And filled with love,

I phoned to tell you,

over and over,

about each time

he celebrated

being there, all alone,

with her.

January 07, 2009

1982....It Was a Very Good Year

January 7, 2009. Dad gave us some old bottles of wine he had been storing in the basement. Not the really good stuff but who's complaining. We open one bottle over the weekend when Jane's brother was in town. Turned out the 1982 Chateau Laroque was pretty good. 1982 was when Jane and I started graduate school at the University of Cincinnati and Jane's brother started his job at the Daily Local in West Chester, PA. Both pretty significant events to us and I was glad the wine had aged well. It gives me hope for us. Anyway, the bottles of white wine, of around the same vintage, were all bad--evidently you're not supposed keep white wine that long. One bottle of Champagne had no fizz left. Judy looked-up the current market value for Chateau Laroque and it turned out to be somewhere in the $150.00 range. It was interesting opening these bottles. The corks were all moldy and very fragile (and now that I think about it so is mine) and there was more dregs than I would have preferred but I guess that comes with age. Oh well, next time I'm in town I'll focus on the reds and convince my dad to open the really expensive bottles.

Christmas Letter 2008

Here is the Christmas letter 2008 we sent to family and freinds (sans pictures):
Christmas 2008

We hope everyone has had a good year and this Christmas greeting finds you in good health and spirits. Highlights of the past year include attending the high school graduation ceremony for Elroy and Judy, helping them move into their college dorms, and (thanks to Uncle Michael's nagging about getting the kids registered to vote) we all voted in the presidential election. Elroy is now attending UMBC just outside of Baltimore and Judy is at Kalamazoo College (Kzoo) in Michigan. We visited Judy at Kzoo over parent’s weekend in October and look forward to spending more time touring Kalamazoo and Michigan in the future. Since Elroy is only 45 minutes away, we’ve visited him more often. Although we’re not exactly sure Elroy considers that a perk he does get free housecleaning as part of the bargain.

In May, Jane and George took a mini-vacation to Arizona to do a Rim-2-Rim-2-Rim hike of the Grand Canyon. Starting from the South Rim we ran/hiked 22 miles to the North Rim (a view from the Coconino Overlook is below) and 24 miles back the following day. The hikes out of the canyon were tough and it rained, snowed and sleeted as we approached the rims, but down in the canyon the cacti were in bloom and the temperatures were balmy. In October, we ran the Marine Corps Marathon and Jane made a new friend, Teddy Roosevelt (the mascot for the Washington Nationals baseball club who ran the entire marathon in his outfit). I won't mention our finishing times, suffice it to say we managed to beat Teddy……....I think.

As part of freshman orientation at Kzoo, Judy hiked and canoed in Killarney Provincial Park in Canada for 18 days. She came back with great stories of howling wolves at night, beautiful sunrises, lousy meals, portaging canoes and forging waist-high streams. She enjoyed it all, even the pimples and dirty hair that come with wilderness backpacking. The only mishap was the day we dropped her off at Kzoo for the program and were asked, "Do you have her passport? She'll need that to get into Canada." …Oops…we'd left her passport at home. Let's call the result, Techniques in Crisis Management 101.

Elroy worked at a veterinary clinic over the summer. He too came home with some interesting and some sad stories. However, Elroy is so allergic to most furry things that veterinary medicine may not be in his cards. At present, Elroy is focusing on Chemistry and adjusting to a challenging college curriculum but still finds time to read, re-read and re-re-read his favorite Fantasy/Fiction books.

Sadly, our faithful dog, Astro, passed away the week before Thanksgiving. Astro, like all Dalmatians, kept a close watch on his family, especially the kids, and we really miss not having him under our feet. However, our newest family member, Max the Cat, is still growing and very playful and enjoys tormenting Fresca who, at 15 years old, neither appreciates nor tolerates his attention.

Happy Holidays Everyone!

Oh yeah, the downstairs bathroom finally got finished. No, not by George, by the contractor who did our porch+bathroom. It was what …8 years? Not that anyone's complaining.

On The Fritz

January 7th, 2009. While Judy and Elroy were home over holiday break we visited the Fritz Scholder exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian (NMAI). I've always felt this museum is confusingly organized and not easy for the casual viewer to come away with much information. However, I really wanted to see this exhibit which had been reviewed favorably in the Washington Post. I thoroughly enjoyed this exhibit; Scholder's art reminds me of a cross between Frederick Remington and Andy Warhol's classic pop art. imagine that!

The NMAI exhibition, Indian/Not Indian, calls the late Fritz Scholder (1937-2005) one of the most influential American artists of the 20th century. I don't know about that but I did really enjoy the exhibit and what little of his art I was able to download online, some of which are below. Indian/Not Indian is organized around a central paradox of Scholder's life and work—his complex identity as a person of French, German, English, and American Indian ancestry. Some of his works are copied below, enjoy.

October 27, 2008

If It's October...It Must be MCM Time

October 27, 2008. This year I talked Jane into running the Marine Corps Marathon with me. We largely trained together throughout the summer and planned on being able to complete the marathon somewhere between 4:45 and 5:00 hours. Although I would have been happier had our times been closer to 4:45 we both finished at 04:53 (Jane) and 04:55 (George). The day before the race was cold and rainy. However, the rain stopped overnight and the morning was mostly clear skies but still quite humid early in the morning. The starting temperature was okay (probably somewhere in the upper 40s) and went into the mid-60s as the race unfolded. A tad warmish for me but overall not bad. Early in the race I got a nice picture of Jane running with the mascot of the Washington Nationals baseball team.....none other than Teddy Roosevelt (see picture at left). As we crossed the Key Bridge into Georgetown there was a lot of ground fog that was enveloping the buildings on the Maryland side of the bridge that looked neat but reminded me of the humidity that would sap the strength out of me if I started to sweat too much. I saw many bigger guys perspiring very heavily and this kept me focused on drinking water and taking a Succeed electrolyte caplet every hour.

The course this year was different that in past years. Of course the start was the same crush of runners slowing moving toward the starting line which took approximately 10 minutes. Later we ran by the Capital building around mile 18...right when you start feeling the Wall. However, we handled this section well enough taking a few short walk breaks. However, after I passed over the 14th street bridge I developed some unpleasant nausea around mile 21 and around mile 23 told Jane to just push on without me to the finish while I tried to manage my finish. Luckily, I met up with Jane a few yards beyond the finish line and was able to get a quick kiss before we headed-off to the finisher's area. Job well done....ooraah.

Gettyburg Trip

October 27, 2008. Earlier this month Jane and I went to a scientific meeting that was held in a hotel/convention center near the Gettysburg Battlefield. We had visited Gettysburg several times over the years but it still is interesting coming and looking over the battlefield. The last morning of the meeting Jane and I did an early morning run through the battlefield. Beginning around 6:15 am at the High water mark we ran toward and over Little Roundtop, down to Devil's Den and continue through to the peach orchard. By the time we reached the Peach orchard the sun was coming-up over Little Roundtop leading to beautiful sunrise over the battlefield. We continued the run over to the Southern side and ran the last mile over the pastured ground that was Pickett's Charge back to the High water mark. Here are some other pictures I took during the previous day when we drove and hiked around the battlefield.