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September 29, 2008

Pearls of great price, not to be devalued
Posted by Abi Sutherland at 07:11 PM *

We are torn between anxiety and hope, wondering what that is precious today will have value tomorrow. It’s a bad time. But I am reminded of something Rilke once said: no poet would really mind going to jail, since he would at last be in a position to plunder the treasure-house of his memories unhindered. In that spirit, I think it’s time for a parlor game with a difference. Let’s plunder our memories together, and string together our favorite anecdotes like pearls.

The rules:

  1. Each person tells a true story from their own experience. (Obviously, we can’t tell if you’ve made things up. That is between you and your conscience.)
  2. Keep it brief; we’re looking for vignettes and koans, not epics
  3. Each story has to be linked to a previous anecdote by some shared concept, some common theme or element.
  4. Cite the element you’ve used as a link. Try to go for solid links: physical objects, specific words (punning encouraged).
  5. This is a multi-stranded string of pearls, like one of Elise’s necklaces. A single story can spawn more than one successor, and an anecdote can combine more than one antecedent.
  6. Poetry is, of course, encouraged
  7. Do I need to mention that this is a non-political thread? If your story is political, try not to make it partisan.

I get to start.

While walking in the woods one day, in the hills behind his monastery, my friend and I came upon a single volume of an encyclopedia lying neatly closed on the ground. I opened the front cover and found a map of the United States. As always when I look at maps, I sought and found the tiny spot in Northern California where two rivers join and a small cabin stands among the Douglas firs. I placed my finger on it. “If I could be anywhere in the whole world right now,” I said, “I would be there.”

He took the book from my hands and peered at the map. “If I could be anywhere,” he replied, “I would be right here.” And he placed his finger on the spot where the woods grew thick behind his monastery, on just the sort of hillside where a person might leave a neatly closed encyclopedia.

Tell me a story about monasteries, hiking, encyclopedias, maps, or cabins, or any other matter touched on above.

Comments on Pearls of great price, not to be devalued:
#1 ::: Sajia Kabir ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:29 PM:

Look for me in the 1967 Britannica
bindings coming undone at the touch of a fumbling
tween seeking to be not free but queen
reading of operas and ballets in a Dhakaiya living room
Denver the last dinosaur leading to western woods and mountains
where I could never belong
maybe I could be an empress, a French lady
or maybe I could be Charlotte Bronte
words about words
about novels not in my library
looking for a cure for my chronic illness
maybe I could be an empress

#2 ::: Glen Fisher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:39 PM:

Continuing the hiking:

On the last day of the trip I took to Japan with some friends last year, I decided to walk the back way from the train station to our lodging. The walk wasn't particularly long (a leisurely hour or so, I suspect), nor particularly meandering. It was, however, enough to reveal to me the marvel of a store dedicated entirely to artists' brushes, with racks filled with every size and style an artist might need, Even better, nearby I found not one, but two pigment shops, their walls filled with jars of every color you might want to use. Had they been open, I might have braved the language barrier just for the satisfaction of shopping in such places.

#3 ::: Andrew T ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:40 PM:

Following up on: hiking.

I was on a hike with about twenty kids led by my father. While we stopped for a break, my brother wandered to a spot where the ground dropped off and started throwing pine cones to watch them fall, as young men will.

I imitated him, as younger brothers will. In order to be able to see the cones fall better, I scrambled down to a little ledge.

Two minutes later, my father called my name and carefully asked me to come back up. I looked down and saw my situation clearly for the first time: the ledge was very narrow and the "drop" was a 200 foot cliff.

When people say "the young think they're immortal", I think back to that day when a seven year old boy realized how very mortal he was.

#4 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:45 PM:

On walking, from #2:

I spring from hard hot summer clay, the dusty smell of grass.
Heel and ball and toe and balancing,
inhabiting the ground in every breath.
These long white hills and roadside silences
have formed the patient pressure of my step.
The interstate walks coarse and slow and wide,
but foot by foot the miles are broad and warm.
The thorn-choked hills between the parking lots
where earth asserts her mud, and uncontrolled
I walk forbidden or forgotten, free.
My soles take root, take flight. These secret ways
where no one walks, and yet the ground is real.

#5 ::: Rob Thornton ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 07:52 PM:

Yet another hiking story:

In my youth, I was a Boy Scout. One summer, my troop decided to go to the Philmont Scout Ranch. This was the Cadillac Eldorado of Scout ranches and it had quite the national reputation.

My hiking group was feeling wild and free. We had decided that we would march as fast as we can down the trails. Mutilated versions of Led Zeppelin's "D'Yer Maker" were our marching songs.

But our adult adviser (who was from my troop) kept slowing us down and frustrating us. Eventually, I asked him why he was so slow.

"Just look around you."

Sudddenly I saw the gorgeous wilderness; tall pines reaching for an sapphire sky and faroff mountains studding the horizon.

Funny enough, I don't remember whether I slowed down or not.

#6 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:00 PM:

from Rob Thornton's gorgeous wilderness (#5):

When I was 15, my family went out to California for my grandparents' fiftieth anniversary celebration. That Sunday, the whole extended family--23 of us--went to their fancy society church service, which I suffered through politely. A few days later, my immediate family was at Yosemite Park. Walking around under those huge redwoods was like being in a cathedral. Only a few yards from the road, there was a tremendous hush. I remarked to my mother later that I felt much closer to God out under those trees than I had felt in church on Sunday. She agreed with me.

#7 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:12 PM:

50th Anniversary:

I attended my parents' 50th in 2004, in beautiful Santa Barbara, CA. They'd reserved us all hotel rooms facing the water, but it rained every day we were there. We spent the entire weekend eating beautiful food (as in, you almost hesitated to eat it because that entailed destroying the presentation on the plate in front of you).

I took a lot of pictures, mostly stormy cloudscapes. One of them is the background picture on my screen as I write this. I spent an afternoon just hanging out with my parents. (Yes. Hanging out. With my parents.) I had a great time. That was a revelation to me. And a joyful one; I've enjoyed their company on several occasions since.

#8 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:13 PM:

my favorite hiking experience: looking down from a mountain top and seeing a fireworks display on july 4

#9 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:16 PM:

Andrew's immortality, #3

It is any hot day in Miami, along the flat hard bank of one of the canals. Helmets are not yet de rigueur for riding on the flat. His ancestors were easy-gaited mountain horses; his mane is long, but his strides are short. My ancestors were subsistence farmers; at 15 I am already far too tall and heavy for dreams of riding race horses. But these are the thoughts of one who remembers, along with the recollection of just how hard and far away the ground was, and just how slippery the bare back of a horse is.

I lean forward and grab a handful of stinging mane, and he launches into memory.

#10 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:18 PM:

More hiking:

My ex-husband and his family were all great hikers and campers. I am... not. But one time, just so that no one could say I hadn't given it a fair try, I agreed to go on a trip with them to one of the state parks, where they intended to take a cabin and hike several trails over the course of a long weekend.

It wasn't awful. The cabin was nice (indoor plumbing, yay!), and the weather was lovely, and they didn't hike at a pace I couldn't keep up with because part of their enjoyment was looking at the wildflowers. But it was still a lot more walking than I was used to doing in a day, and some of it over uneven ground where I had to pay attention to where I was putting my feet. And sometimes it really did seem to be uphill every way we went!

At one point, my MIL turned to me and said something to the effect of, "Lee, I'm really glad that you seem to be having a good time doing this." And I couldn't resist -- I looked over at Tom and very quietly hummed the opening riff from Christine Lavin's "It's A Good Thing He Can't Read My Mind".

Well, we both cracked up, and his parents were confused, and we couldn't really explain. But it was a funny and memorable filkish in-joke moment, and one that I still remember with great fondness. Eventually I wrote a pastiche "hiking" verse to the song!

#11 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:23 PM:

#8 Fireworks from above:

I spent my third year of college in Tuebingen, Germany, and another American student who became a friend of mine had a room in a high-rise student residence in the student village at the top of the high ridge above town. I remember spending New Year's Eve, 1994, on their balcony, looking down at the town lights below - the rolling landscape so foreign to me, child of the Louisiana swamp and its slow black curling rivers, this crumpled folded land thick with fir trees and things for which I had no names in English and so could not look up the German, dusted with fine snow - and we drank too much beer and watched the fireworks: single shots of green and red, a volley here, a burst of sparks over there, a flash on this side and an echo in a further valley beyond, echoing and reflecting off the clouds, the fitting and most proper use of gunpowder chemistry.

#12 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:25 PM:

My name is on a CD inside Mars's Pathfinder.

#13 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:27 PM:

On pine cones (from Andrew T @3)

Two towering Douglas Firs
Shed their cones for years
Piling up deeply, slowly decaying.

A father making a garden offers
For the effort of his daughters
A penny a cone, bagged for disposing.

Which is exhausted first?
Years of cones,
or the patience of children?

#14 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:28 PM:

Race Horses @9

I have been working at the track as a groom/hotwalker for a few months now. I have figured out how to give a bath to a race-horse one handed and which ones are nutty and which ones are just dumb. It's almost noon. I've been working (and walking) since 5 and the King Nutjob decides to lose his mind on the back side of the barn, rears up and clobbers me right in the head. I estimate a 1/2 inch to the left and I wouldn't have a whole skull.

Would you believe they wanted me to go travel to a race that afternoon?

#15 ::: Alma Alexander ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:29 PM:

Concerning monasteries -

I was young, back then. My cousin and I decided to take a walk by ourselves - unsanctioned, of course, by the elders in the party - and went off into the sloping woods behind my great-uncle's summerhouse, in the opposite direction from the pastoral fields and vineyards that stretched out to the other side, deliberately choosing the 'wilderness'.

Except that it wasn't, really. Our trail led us to the edge of the woods, which were alive with birdsong, and out onto a steeper clearing from which the view broke across the hills and the green valley below. Around us were moss-overgrown ruins - an ancient abbey had stood here once, long ago. All gone, now, except for the broken walls of stone and the moss and nodding wildflowers that grew in the crevices.

But faith dwelled here once. We could feel it. The birds were singing of it in the woods at our back while the sun spilled across the valley at our feet.

#16 ::: Liza ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:31 PM:

Languages, barriered and otherwise:

I was twelve, and in Germany by special dispensation (my mother was leading a group of high school foreign exchange students and I got to come along too). We visited a walled city and did a lot of walking, at least it seemed like a lot to me at the time. I have no idea now where we were, but I remember that we walked along the Rhine. After the tour of the walled city, the group dispersed for a bit. I was left alone near a small shop. (Why was I allowed to be alone? In memory it doesn't make sense, but it felt natural at the time.) I was thirsty and they had a sign advertising Coke; I went in and asked how much it cost. The shopkeeper smiled at me and replied slowly enough that I could understand. I paid and left, immensely proud of myself for having completed the transaction in German.

#17 ::: LizT ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:37 PM:

#8, Fireworks

I was in Disneyworld with my high school band, and the well-off mother of one of our friends gave a small group of us a great gift we hadn't even known was possible - dinner in Cinderella's Castle. I remember nothing of the food, but what came during dessert lives bright in memory - fireworks through stained glass. I watched them in awe, and in that moment anything seemed possible for me.

#18 ::: annalee flower horne ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:46 PM:

Following up on: Pictures, desktop backgrounds, buildings with history:

My favorite desktop background is of a small brick enclosure on the senate side of the US Capitol's back lawn. It's called The Summer House, and it was completed in 1881 to shelter travelers from the district's oppressive summer heat.

Inside there's a fountain, and a window into a grotto where water splashes down over the rocks and under the building. Even in the middle of August, when the temperature's over a hundred and you can see the humidity rising in waves off the pavement, there's always a cool breeze coming through that window.

I used to take my lunch there when I worked on that side of the hill. I'd sit in the grotto window with my sandwich and read a book. On my plain Quaker dress days, tourists would come through and tell me I looked like something out of an Austen novel, or a costume drama, or just "something out of the past." And I would smile at them. Because everything in The Summer House looks that way.

#19 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:48 PM:

Following Lisa's post (#16):

In my first year of Spanish class (7th grade), we all got T-shirts with slogans on them in Spanish. I chose "Naci para bailar" (I was born to dance.)

That summer, my family went to Tijuana. We were wandering though a market when a poncho vendor, reading that T-shirt and seeing me sitting in a wheelchair, laughed and asked me if I spoke Spanish. When I said Yes, he asked if I knew what my shirt said. I managed to get across that yes, I did, and I'd chosen that shirt on purpose. He grinned and broke into a flood of Spanish far beyond my paltry stock of vocabulary words, even when he slowed down to...about...this...speed. But I was so proud of having had at least part of a conversation in another language-and when I realized that I was the only one in my party who'd even understood that much, it began to dawn on me that language is magic.

#20 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:48 PM:

#8 ::: Erik Nelson

my favorite hiking experience: looking down from a mountain top and seeing a fireworks display on july 4

It was July 4th, back awhile, watching the fireworks over Lake Estes [Park, CO] from the ridge above with a fair-sized crowd. It had been misting/raining lightly as we got out our deck chairs, blankets and ponchos. As the display began down below us, punctuated with our "oohs" and "aahs" and occasional applause, a huge thunderstorm moved in along the Front Range and the Divide with strikes and sheet lightning. Suddenly there was a purple-magenta pulse that circled entirely around the bowl of mountains with convulsive sequential concussions. We could feel the air vibrating in our lungs.

We exploded, clapping and cheering.

#21 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:49 PM:


Munich, 1984, a cold and rainy afternoon in the midst of a two-week American Express bus tour of Mittël Europa. I've been walking around the city for about two hours, and I'm starving. I know no German at all. I see a Wendy's burger joint on the street up ahead and think that's gonna solve my problem. So in I go and try to order a burger and fries with a Coke.

I got the Coke, but somehow got a cup of chili instead of the burger. I instantly decided that given the weather that was probably even a better idea.

Later in the trip, confronted with an Italian menu when lunching on the shores of Lake Como, I recognized the word entrecôt from an Alistair MacLean novel and was thus treated to a good steak. My parents were impressed.

#22 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:50 PM:

Hiking and monasteries, joining the strings of pearls once more:

Four of us went hiking in the Central California portion of the Coast Range, the week after we finished our freshman year of college. We were happy-go-lucky. We were carefree. We were 19. We found ourselves, at 3 PM, at the wrong trailhead... but did THAT stop us? It did not.
We identified what looked like a suitable alternate trail, whose terminus was the evocatively-titled "Tassajara Hot Springs". Hot springs! Why, we could already picture ourselves soaking in the hot springs....
The trail was all ups and downs; it required deft crossings of the rivulets that wended their ways down the hills, and sharp eyesight to avoid the bushes of poison oak festooning the whole National Park.
I mention the difficult going only because it heightened the surprise when, at the end of the trail's loop through ever-more rugged terrain, we found ourselves at a Zen Buddhist monastery. Full of yuppies, apparently there on a weekend retreat.
They wouldn't let us use the hot springs, but they DID give us tea. Which was nice of them, all things considered; not even Zen Buddhism prepares one for unexpected teenagers.

#23 ::: flynn ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:51 PM:

#7 Rain and hanging out with your parents

Once when I was very young, my parents and my sisters and I gathered in the living room to watch a storm. We moved back the coffee table and sat on the carpet in front of a bay window that looked onto the youngish maple tree in the center of our front lawn. Our neighbors, the Mastersons, lived across the street, and their trees were far enough back from the curb that above our maple you could see a whole swath of sky.

I don't remember now whether the power was out or whether we chose to turn out the lights and watch the storm, but in either case, the lightning was wonderful. I do remember that this was one of the times that my dad chose to show us how he could call thunder. He would see the lightning, raise his arms, and then shake them when the thunder came. We would squeal.

Although my parents were both big fans of us kids learning about nature, my dad never explained his miraculous powers to us. That was up to a National Geographic series of books.

#24 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:58 PM:

Monasteries... In 2003, it had been almost 9 years since I had last seen my friend from the days when I used to live in the Bay Area, a period of time during which the Internet came to be. I googled her name, found it mentionned on the site of an event of the Society for Creative Anachronism. The event was at least one year old. Still I wrote to its creator asking if he could somehow put me in touch with my friend. Nothing happened so I decided that that was that. Suddenly, one day, when things were not going well between management and me, I got an email from my friend. We've kept in touch and make it a point to meet every time I go to the Bay Area.

#25 ::: Leva Cygnet ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 08:59 PM:

I grew up backpacking, and took my first solo trip when I was about nineteen. I chose a remote canyon in N. Arizona and really wasn't that worried about the solo aspect -- like I said, I had plenty of wilderness experience. And I knew this canyon very well from many trips as a child.

It was a wild, beautiful, relatively untouched place. Despite it being three day weekend, I saw no one else, and there were no other cars at the trailhead except for a forest service work crew. It was just me and my dog once I left the parking lot.

The second night of the trip was unnaturally quiet. The air was crystal clear, and there wasn't any sort of sound. No frogs, no night birds, no deer or elk bugling, no coyotes, no crickets or cicadas, not a hint of wind ... nothing. Utter and total and complete silence.

It was unnerving. Silence in wild places makes me nervous. Usually it means bad weather.

However, over all of it, there was a moonless sky filled full of the brightest stars you could ever imagine. There was no sign of bad weather.

Sometime around midnight, I fell asleep. Uneasily.

Then, in the wee hours, the dog EXPLODED into rage-filled barks and yanked the sapling she was tied to over. The tree toppled onto me, and I heard something very large crash through the bushes and then splash through the deep, sluggish creek I'd camped next to.

The only thing I could think of was: BEAR!

And now there were noises out there: cracking branches, splashes in the water, and periodically the dog would burst out barking. Something. Was. Out. There. All night, I heard something out there and I was just sure it was a bear.

Morning showed something different: elk tracks! An elk had walked right through camp -- I could tell exactly where it had spooked and bolted -- right in the middle of the game trail next to my bivvy sack.

And that was the trip where I learned not to sleep next to a game trail.

#26 ::: Caroline ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:00 PM:

Traveling to Europe:

I am visiting my childhood best friend in Paris, during my junior year of college. We walk down to the Latin Quarter for dinner, and end up at the Cafe Latin, offering a prix fixe menu for 15 euros (then almost exactly $15). Everything is perfect. It's a quality of food I've never had in the U.S. The salmon has a skin that's crispy, dry, savory, rather than tough or burned as it often is; the fish itself is tender and luscious. My goat cheese salad tastes like it came from a dairy next door. Even the creme brulee has the perfect caramelized crust; just enough to snap, but not burned or too thick. With it we have a Cotes du Rhone, a 12 euro bottle. I am 20 years old and it is the first time I have ever drunk wine. It is utterly perfect.

I am still chasing that food, that wine, every time I eat at a restaurant. I've never recaptured it. My friend tells me that she went back to that restaurant after I left Paris, and even then she couldn't recapture it. Something magical happened there.

#27 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:00 PM:

Thunder and rain:

Years ago, my parents had the use of my grandparents' "summer cottage" north of New York City. It had a screened-in porch out back, and I was afraid of thunderstorms. My mother and I crawled into her bed, which was on the porch, and watched the trees swaying in the wind, the rain driving against the screen windows, the lightning over the whole area, all from the safety of under the covers. I have never been afraid of them since.

#28 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:01 PM:

from #16, Liza: Linguistic triumphs

No matter where I go, it seems, I get asked for directions. I guess I look competent and friendly, and I'm usually a solo female traveller, so I suspect I'm often taken as a native.

My favourite occurrence of this was in Paris, when I was asked where to find a 'carte bleue' (ATM). Not only did my laboriously learned French enable me to understand the question, but I was also able to correctly direct him to the nearest machine. I couldn't help but get a ear-to-ear grin on my face at my success, and a moment later yet another Frenchman saw me and exclaimed, 'Quelle belle sourire!' ('What a beautiful smile!')

#29 ::: Kelley Shimmin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:05 PM:

On Britannica:

The things one does
Just to prove oneself worthy
Of notice and respect
Get stranger each year.
For myself I read articles
And magazines and Wikipedia
As if my education and accomplishments
Were not enough.
My grandfather, sixth-grade education that he had
Read through every Britannica he purchased
Not to prove anything
But because he was worthy of such.

#30 ::: Traci C. ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:05 PM:

On hiking/walking and feeling closer to something greater:

I went to a writer's workshop in Taos Ski Valley last year. I drove, and stopped in Albuquerque on the way. In the Old Town part of town, I happened upon an art store that had some reasonable Native American flutes for sale, and me, being a musician, wanted one. But then the owner took me back to his "secret" room where he had professionally made flutes and lots of other expensive artwork. One was of cedar, blessed by a tribe with the name "Trail's Friend," which I thought very apt. I bought it.

Once in Taos Ski Valley, the flute and I went for a walk a few times. Near the lodge us writers were staying in was a lovely little path by a stream, so I walked and played whatever came to mind. And the coolest thing? The flute was in tune with the stream. Such an amazing, nifty feeling to be in tune with nature. So never have I felt more at one with the world than I did on those walks.

#31 ::: Katrina Stonoff ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:06 PM:

#15 Old Houses of Faith

When I was 35, I ran away from an abusive marriage. I had no money, no job, a 32-year-old car, and a toddler.

With nowhere else to go, we ended up at a shelter for abused women and children. It was an old nunnery: a two-story building with rows of narrow rooms upstairs, each with a closet just big enough for two outfits on hangers, maybe three. Downstairs housed spacious public rooms and the shelter's offices.

I was in crisis, full-on panic mode, but the stone walls exuded peace. We stayed for a weekend, sharing chores with the other women and laughing about the crazy things our partners did -- things I never dreamed I could laugh about. On Monday, the staff fed me breakfast, packed a lunch, gassed up my car, gave me enough gas money to get a day's drive down the highway toward my parents' home, and made arrangements for me to stay at a shelter that evening.

Traditionally, the stone walls of that building held a group of women who prayed from faith. For me, those same walls sheltered women who prayed from desperation - and found faith.

#32 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:09 PM:

quelle belle sourire - and languages

Last weekend, the California Avenue shopping street in Palo Alto saw not the usual farmer's market, but instead a Jewish Street Festival. I went there, to see the sights and amuse myself. At one point, I decided to go and get myself a bottle of water to keep up with the rather hot day.

As I approach the beverages stall, one of the volunteers greets me with "My, you have a BEAUTIFUL smile!". Soon thereafter, she continues to ask me where my dialect comes from. The best guesses they could produce was "Polish - because that's the only country in Europe I know."

I drank my water, went back to the stage I was waiting for, and participated for a few songs in the dance of the spontaneous Freylekhs that formed at that stage.

#33 ::: Wirelizard ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:11 PM:

Naught to do with monastaries, but a hiking one...

Went back to South Africa last year; my first visit in 13 years and my first as an adult. Among other things, we went hiking for three days in the Cedarberge, where it froze every night and was 30 C every day.

One of the younger cousins came along, nine, his first multiday hike. He did very well, carried a small pack most of the time, and had fun.

Except that we got him drunk... one of the freezing-cold evenings a few small bottles started making the rounds - Bailey's, brandy and muscatel, I think. The half-dozen adults got enough to get a bit buzzed, slightly warmed up, then went to bed.

We hadn't monitored the nine year old's drinking... he'd had "a few sips", that was all. Except that that night, at a freezing oh-dark-hundred, he woke up "not feeling well" - and promptly upchucked on his father's sleeping back.

It's going down in family history as "the time we took the kid up the mountain and got him pissed", which I'm sure he'll remember most of his life.

#34 ::: Cathy Krusberg ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:13 PM:

#9 horses

I firmly believe that one of the most important lessons I've learned in my life, I learned from a horse.

Our horse had an illness that required a few days of hypodermic injections into the big muscle in her neck -- something the vet entrusted us with after a demonstration. Lady was a very gentle horse but spooked easily. The first time we were going to give her an injection, my parents and I trooped into the woods to find Lady. Someone had to hold her while my father gave her the shot. He and my mother basically both milled around wondering just how much of a fuss Lady would make at the sudden jab into her neck, and what would we do about it? Lady had been placid enough when we arrived, but all the uneasiness among her humans clearly made her agitated. Maybe I just got impatient, but even though I was generally not assertive as a child, I stepped forward and grabbed Lady's halter. Lady immediately calmed, and when my father stuck a needle into her neck, she never quivered. Subsequent injections went uneventfully.

I'm not sure what the lesson is. Maybe that when you need to get things done, it doesn't matter who takes control, as long as somebody does. Maybe that it's OK to step forward and do what needs to be done. But even though I don't know what the lesson is, I feel I've learned it and it's bettered my life.

#35 ::: Tony Zbaraschuk ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:19 PM:

#20 fireworks

My college offered a "Civil War Bicycle Tour" one summer: get your history credit and your PE credit at the same time. Since I was a history major and needed that last PE credit, I went along. Much painful bicycle riding (though by the end of the trip I was peddling along pretty well.) We went through Virginia and Maryland and Gettysburg up in Pennsylvania, but the trip was timed to put us in Washington DC on the Fourth of July.

And when the fireworks begun to burst over the Washington Monument, the crowd on the Mall spontaneously broke into song.

A quarter-million voices lifted in the Battle Hymn of the Republic -- and many other songs, but that's the one that sticks in my mind.

Song, and fireworks, and all the voices of America one choir; the glory is still with me a quarter-century later.

#36 ::: Sherwood Smith ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:22 PM:

This darksome burn, horseback brown,
His rollrock highroad roaring down,
In coop and in comb the fleece of his foam
Flutes and low to the lake falls home.

A windpuff-bonnet of fawn-froth
Turns and twindles over the broth
Of a pool so pitchblack, fell-frowning,
It rounds and rounds Despair to drowning.

Degged with dew, dappled with dew,
Are the groins of the braes that the brook treads through,
Wiry heathpacks, flitches of fern,
And the beadbonny ash that sits over the burn.

What would the world be, once bereft
Of wet and wildness? Let them be left,
O let them be left, wildness and wet;
Long live the weeds and the wilderness yet.

(Gerard Manley Hopkins, Inversnaid)

#37 ::: AliceB ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:24 PM:

Linguistic triumphs and smiles:

I was walking to my car with a friend in Connecticut. We had spent an evening reminiscing about our childhood educations in the French system of schools abroad (she in Lebanon, me in Montreal), and we chattered away in French--we were perhaps a bit halting, but happy to have a chance to practice. We passed a group of men in their early twenties, obviously out celebrating. We grinned at their high spirits. "Come join us!" they called. "Can't," we replied. "You'll be missed." And that evening, we both felt thirty years younger.

#38 ::: Emily ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:25 PM:


Earlier this year, round about May. On a Friday morning. My partner and I rush to get ready, him for work, me for a morning of errands. He rushes out with his backpack (rain jacket tucked inside). I have me, my bike and my purse. Basket included, coz my basket is *always* included.

I trail after him (cause the alternative is I misplace him in less than a mile), and about halfway to the first stoplight... it starts to rain. By the time we make it to the light, it's pouring. No lightning, for a mercy... and I'm mistrustful, so I decide not to turn round and add on the extra yards to go back and get *my* rain jacket. It pours the whole way along the bike path. My partner really puts on the speed, because he hates rain. It pours the whole way up Mills St. It pours while I'm on Dayton, and I dawdle because he's peeled off to go to work. But not *too* much dawdling, because it's raining so hard I can barely see. It pours as I ride further into the University.

I park at the Muscle Biology building, and duck into the butcher shop. The students (who see me every week) are amused, because I'm soaked to the skin and rather drip on the floor. I'm happy as a clam, because it RAINED. My pork and beef try to freeze my t-shirt to my skin, but fail. We stuff my panniers full.

Then it rains the whole way home, and I zoom up the hill to the hospital, and coast back down. Riding a bike in the rain is *fun*.

(the rest of the summer is full of too much lightning for it to be safe to ride... *sigh*)

#39 ::: Catherynne Valente ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:27 PM:

#15 Old Houses of Faith

I visited the Hase-Dera temple in Japan, which is dedicated to Kannon (Kwan-Yin) and Jizo, the bodhisattva of children and travellers. The temple is covered with tiny statues of Jizo lovingly wrapped in red clothes: vests, hats, scarves. Each statue represents a child stillborn, miscarried, aborted, or dead before the age of two. There are thousands.

I hiked up to the main temple on a hot summer day, the sea sparkling below. It's a long walk through bushes and gnarled trees. I finally entered, grimy, sweaty, short of breath. The room was silent and dark, lit by a few candles. A massive golden statue of Kannon greeted me, 11 feet tall, camphor wood covered in gold leaf. And in that moment, I felt the a grace within me as I had never felt any religious thing, and started crying at the feet of that shadowy, golden statue.

My husband rolled his eyes and said: "What's wrong with you?"

"Nothing," I said, and wiped my eyes.

#40 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:28 PM:

On food, in France:

The host family I was staying with in Normandy in early 1987 had a family birthday party, celebrated with an enormous feast. It was the first time I'd ever tried raw oysters (didn't much like them that time, as I'd grown up accustomed to steamer clams), or encountered celeriac (that was GOOD) or the tastiest red meat I've ever put in my mouth, accompanied by a sauce which may have been Cumberland sauce or may have just been some sort of red-wine reduction -- it was reddish-purple and thick and fairly sweet, but full of flavors I couldn't describe or isolate, even as I appreciated them. But just the meat itself, without any sauce, was astonishing.

It wasn't exactly red, either. I thought that just meant that it was well-done and not rare, and perhaps was some sort of pot roast, just better than any I'd ever tasted before.

My enjoyment must have been obvious, because they asked if I knew what I was eating. I hazarded "boeuf," and they said, "Sanglier." This was not in my vocabulary. They tried to explain that there was the head of one displayed on a wall in the other room. I thought that meant I was eating venison, but they managed to convey that that wasn't it. I grew more and more confused until one little old lady (a great-aunt?) piped up from the far end of the table, "Porc sauvage!"

Wild boar. And yes, there was such a trophy.

I have tasted wild boar since (although I suspect it may have been farm-raised) and it has never truly come close to that "porc sauvage" I ate when I was seventeen.

#41 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:28 PM:

Nicole TWN at 22: Tassajara Hot Springs

One of my lovers went there fairly regularly in the summer, and one year I went with her. It's a marvelous place (especially the skinny-dipping hole about half a mile down the river). Two odd wildlife experiences: I saw a bright blue fly/hornet (big: about 3-1/2 cm long!) with fluorescent orange wings, and we ran across about a 1-1/2 meter rattlesnake sunning beside one of the paths. I've never been able to identify the bug, and I've never seen a larger rattler in the wild. Tassajara was a wonderful place to eat as well -- marvelous vegetarian food, and they'd make up lunches if one wanted to picnic. And the bread, as you should know, was marvelous.

#42 ::: Derryl Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:29 PM:

SO many hiking stories, so little time. The Christmas after I turned 18 my parents gave me a winter sleeping bag as a gift so that I could go on a back country ski trip later that winter with Dad and his friend, Randy, who at that time had lived in a teepee for several years. Our trip, in February, took us up the Tonquin Valley in Jasper National Park, and we ended up digging a snow trench and then pitching a tent instead of digging a full cave mostly due to the snow conditions. We skied and skied and skied and had a great time, more fun than I thought was possible to have with Dad (in those callow, youthful days).

The highlight, though, was meal time that first night. We had each brought only a mug and a spoon, and the first dish was a tuna and macaroni salad. We followed that with hot chocolate, which caused gales of laughter, seeing how we hadn't properly washed out the mugs, and hot chocolate tainted with tuna and macaroni flavour is not something to be enjoyed except in a maniacal, I-can't-believe-I've-done-this fashion. Scared te hell out of the chickadees and the weasel that had been coming by, I imagine.

Dad's been unwell for years, and he had the lower half of his right leg amputated early last year. He still rides his bike, and he swims, but those days are lost to me now, and so I cherish memories such as this one. Thanks for the opportunity to bring it back to the fore.


#43 ::: sisuile ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:30 PM:

Following - Germany, castles, magic moments

For a week we had traveled in Germany and this day had stopped in Heidelberg. My high school German class was slowly making our way to Cologne, where our home-stay was. It had been a scary week to be so far away from home. The day before we watched on two TVs in Munich the tanks roll over the border into Iraq, and had come up from the u-bahn from dinner into a protest.

I was sick, coming down with my usual 1-week overseas cold. I remember getting off the tour bus, calling my parents, and walking through the gates of Heidelbergschloss. I remember looking around that old, half-ruined courtyard and seeing the old glory that it had been. And I remember looking at the eastern wall of the courtyard, at the main body of the palace, and thinking, They really managed to paint that ceiling in there a stunning blue. I wonder how large that room is?

Then I realized that the room was infinite and the ceiling was the brilliant deep blue of a clear March sky.

#44 ::: Laura Anne Gilman ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:31 PM:

of monasteries:

My sister who is a Buddhist, is part of a monastery in upstate New York housed in an old 1920's-era lodge originally built to be a Young Christian Males retreat. During my first retreat there, we gathered for a communal meal, taking out plates to sit outside on the steps carved into the hill. People gathered in groups of three, four, and five, quietly talking. The sun was warm but it was cooler in the shadows, and a few dogs moved from group to group, politely begging handouts. In the garden just behind us, I noted a statue of Buddha, looking up. I followed his gaze and looked up as well. Cut into the side of the building over the door we had come out from was a more-than-life-size carving of Jesus -- the gentle teacher, not the tortured martyr, his gaze looking out and down at Buddha as though the two figures were old friends having a thoughtful conversation.

#45 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:36 PM:

On the travelling abroad/travelling with parents thread:

Ten years ago my parents and I went to St. Petersburg to visit family. It was the first time I'd been out of North America. There are a number of highlights from that trip, but the one that's been sticking in my mind recently has been taking the overnight train to Moscow.

It was my first cross country trip by train and I loved it. We were with my Russian family and we traveled the way they were accustomed to. There were four bunks in a room and we brought food with us, only buying tea. The inside of the train looked like the ones I'd seen in films (as opposed to the LIRR trains I'd grown up on) and the parts of the trip when I wasn't asleep, I spent watching the scenery out the window.

Recently I've been wondering why I never followed up on my plans to do some long train trips in the US, so I'm planning a trip to Toronto at the end of next month and seriously considering either a trip to Albuquerque to visit my parents or a more roundabout route that will also enable me to visit my brother in Sacramento for next year.

#46 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:36 PM:

fireworks: the most fireworks I ever saw in one evening was at a Westercon in San Jose, where the party suites let out on decks on both sides of the hotel so we could see several different shows. But the \best/ show I ever saw was an accident, over 30 years ago, when I was young enough to try to get close to the Boston show (not much room, and typically a third of a million people). They always end with the 1812 Overture, and add maroons to the close and the following display; this one year there was a flat calm, so the smoke from the first maroons stayed in place as more went off in it, making a giant, flickering, thundering cloud underneath the more elaborate shells.

#47 ::: Hilary Hertzoff ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:45 PM:


One year I was flying home from Fourth Street into Westchester County Airport. By the time we started to descend, it had grown dark and looking out the window we could see fireworks from all over the New York metro area. Every time the plane banked or turned we had another amazing view. By the time I got home, the village fireworks were over and the crowds had dispersed, but I didn't feel like I'd missed anything.

#48 ::: Nancy ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:51 PM:

Singing, and travelling to Europe, and houses of faith

I was in Rome with my husband. It was our first time there together, although we had both been separately as children with our families. But I had spent more time there, so I got to be tour guide, showing off my favourite places in my favourite city.

We were in St Peter's basilica, looking up at the dome, when a tour group casually standing around nearby, on some pre-arranged signal unnoticed by me, burst into song. I can't even remember what they were singing, but it was beautiful, in that beautiful place.

#49 ::: Mary Dell ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:52 PM:


When I was a kid I would help out at the stable while my friend took her riding lesson. I loved currying, combing, feeding and petting the horses.

I wouldn't even consider sitting on one, though--as friends, horses were sweet, but as vehicles they were terrifying.

#50 ::: Shannon ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:53 PM:

Concerning monasteries and hiking:

My husband and I travelled to Ireland this past year, and visited rural Mayo County as part of our trip. Although less famous and accessible than most of the rest of the country, I did my masters research there and loved its rugged, tough beauty.

We spent one day walking through the countryside, along the roads with few cars and fewer walkers. We had a map that indicated points of interest, but most of them were piles of rocks that were once castles or burial grounds. But the one that intrigued me most was labeled as an abandoned abbey. Hoping that it would be worth the effort, we detoured off of the "main" road, walking down a dirt, pothole-strewn road. On the way, we saw several abandoned buildings, never quite sure which one was the abbey. At first, we only saw a sign and a rusty gate. Then, as we went through the gate, and walked around the spit of land where the grassy land met the ocean, we saw it. It had been abandoned for untold years, yet some of the carvings seemed like they were made just recently, despite the closeness to the ocean. And for the longest time there, we were the only people, experiencing this lovely, mystical place where you could still hear the monks chanting somewhere on the wind.

The experience also resulted in this quirky photo, which we will frame someday:

#51 ::: Terry Karney ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:56 PM:

Concerning monasteries, and cities and maps.

I used to deliver pizza for Domino's (back in the say when all they sold were pizzas, and coke, with a 30 minutes, or you get a discount).

Got an address, looked it up on the wall map (nice map, gridded and labled, well indexed and almost impossible to get wrong), and hit the road.

Addess is not to be found. I mean nowhere. There are no even numbers on any of the houses

I go to Gelson's (Hayvenhurst and Ventura, for those who know the SF Valley). Get directions. They tell me to go up the block and look for the extra wide driveway and follow it up to the even numbered part of the street.

So I head back up the road (a cul de sac) and peer about (as the early autumn light is fading, in the way it does on the north side of a range of hills) and find such a driveway, which leads out of the cul de sac and winds around through open green lots; hidden in the midst of residential houses, otherwise cheek by jowl.

Finally (maybe a 1/3rd of a mile of winding road) I come to a building. I go to it, asking if this is the place. The man tells me know, and he has no idea where it is. I was at, it turns out, a monastery, hidden in a dale of the San Fernando Valley. I've not been back, though if I ever feel the need, I know the way.

But I know it's there, a little space of peace, in the bustle of the valley; where contemplation is the simple rule of the day.

#52 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 09:58 PM:

Of God and chorus and reflection:

This is my song, O God of all the Nations,
A song of peace, for lands afar and mine;
This is my home, the country where my heart is,
Here are my hopes and dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

I never heard this hymn (to the tune Finlandia) until last fall - a raw cold Sunday, the second in November, Veteran's Day weekend and as it happened that Sunday was the eleventh day of the eleventh month. We had guests that Sunday, a group of Canadian UU's down on a shopping holiday from New Brunswick, and in the commonwealth tradition they wore red poppies for Remembrance Day - the woman who sat in the pew before me had a lovely enameled brooch in the form of a red poppy pinned to her coat, and it caught my eye: bright red and gold and lacquer black against the camel tan.

Our interim minister spoke of war and peace and remembrance, her voice raw as she wove in the news that - only a few days before - her nephew had been killed in Iraq. And I could see in my mind's eye the acres of poppies in the Flanders fields, where I have never stood and likely never will.

World and time are simultaneously so wide and so small.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine,
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine;
O hear my song, Thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace, for their land and for mine.

#53 ::: B. Durbin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:00 PM:

Following thunderstorms and fireworks:

In 2006 I managed to fail to charge my camera before a friend's wedding with the result that I had no pictures from the reception. A bit disappointing for a shutterbug.

So I was apprehensive to hear that the fireworks show in Spokane might be cancelled due to the approaching storm. But half an hour before the show was to begin, it hadn't started raining, so we started walking down...

And the show started twenty-five minutes early. And fast. So I crouched down on the ground so my little pocket tripod could be steady and started taking pictures. And then the flashes began. And I got them!

Here and here and here.

#54 ::: cherish ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:04 PM:

monasteries ...

On a trip to India my companions and I had had enough of ruins and ancient statues by the time we reached Varanasi. So our guide took us to a new Tibetan Buddhist monastery outside Sarnath, where the Buddha first taught. The colorful place was non-touristed, such a relief. But it was on our ride back into Varanasi that I saw a large haystack walking down the side of the road.

Underneath it, perfectly centered, perfectly straight-backed, and moving with unstoppable purpose, was a woman ...

... wrapped in a beautiful sari, and carrying the haystack home on her head.

#55 ::: affreca ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:07 PM:

On languages and hot springs -

I spent two years in Japan, stationed there with the Navy. To my shame, I only learned a little Japanese.

One weekend, I went up to a small inn in Nagano to see a shipmate get married. Half the guests were from the ship, half were teachers at the school where her husband taught English. It was the only wedding I've been to with drinking during the ceremony.

After dinner, we all went out to a hot spring. While there, we were approached by three older ladies, curious what we were so happy about. None of us knew much Japanese, the ladies knew little English. But through mime we told them of the wedding, and they offered congratulations and luck to the unmarried girls of our party.

#56 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:08 PM:

I have to riff off the original, I think.


While working on an archaeological dig in Winchester, England, I was visited by my best friend/adopted sister, who was in Oxford for the summer, studying Shakespeare. She and I went for a walk out of town to the monastery of St. Cross, where, to this day, you can ask the porter for the wayfarer's dole, and be given a piece of bread and a small cup of beer. (We opted for water instead, being teenagers and -- even now, years later -- not inclined toward beer.)

And on the grounds of that monastery, there is a courtyard, and in the courtyard is an enormous old tree, and around that tree is the best grass in all the world: thick and soft and emerald green. My sister and I exchanged wordless looks, and half a second later we were both flat on our backs in the grass, staring at the perfect blue sky, with the tree arching above our heads, enjoying a rare, perfect, English summer day.

#57 ::: Syd ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:11 PM:

Building on youthful realizations of mortality:

I was, perhaps, ten years old, and Mom had arranged for me to attend YMCA Summer Day Camp with the children of one of her friends. On the day I'm recalling, the day trip took us to Big Bear or Lake Arrowhead...for ski instruction.

After several dismal hours that included falling down in skis on a short (but intimidating) sawdust-covered slope, and burning my hands on the rope-tow, we all headed for the ski lift to return to the bus. And I couldn't get situated on the seat of the lift. The little hop-up-and-backward wasn't getting me anywhere, and the drop was getting closer. Finally, one of the attendants raced over and SHOVED the seat under my butt, and all was well.

Until about 9:00 that night, when I realized I could have been swept off the edge and killed.

Still gives me cold chills. And is it any wonder that I'd much rather hang out by the fire in the lodge with a good book and hot toddy to hand, than ever put on a pair of skis?

#58 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:23 PM:

Wildlife on camping trips, inspired somewhat by Leva Cygnet's @ 25:

I was camping with my dad and stepmom -- nowhere particularly wild, we were just sleeping in a dome tent rather than a hotel in town when we went to see Mammoth Cave in Kentucky. We stayed up an hour or two after dark; my stepmom read several chapters from _Crewel Lye_, by Piers Anthony (my first Xanth novel). Then we went to bed.

Then there was a ... a noise, or rather a series of noises, implying strongly something huge, scary, and snuffly was, well, ransacking our camp. After ten or twenty minutes reminiscent of many monster movies you may have seen -- when he heard the brick we'd put on the cooler lid fall off -- Dad grabbed the lantern and went charging out. Some shouting, rustling, and a LOT of random other noises (and swinging shadows on the tent wall later), he came back, said brusquely, "It's gone," and unceremoniously went to sleep, as if it were nothing.

My stepmom and I blinked at each other, speculated a little, and tried to quit being freaked out.

In the morning, he told me what'd happened. It was a raccoon, apparently. And instead of doing anything RATIONAL, my dad had charged at it bellowing. It ran away, then up a tree, and dad had ... peed, around the base of the tree, and as high up it as he could hit.

It was still there in the morning, staring down at us rather as if wondering if we were going to turn into bears and come after it.

#59 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:27 PM:

There is a Benedicine Monastary in Lacey, as a matter of fact, The Abbey of St. Martin, and a University founded by the order.

The red brick three story hulk of Old Main sits on what looks like a bailey, but is actually an esker. It is a familiar landmark, but the members of the order are much less so- to the extent that I was startled, once, cutting through the grounds on my bicycle on the way to school in the last few weeks of my senior year in high school, when I encountered a very old man in long black robes, saying rosary as he walked along the path past the wrought-iron gates of the abbey cemetary.

The only thing I can compare it to is looking up at the noon-day sky and having an owl suddenly fly a few feet over my head.

#60 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:31 PM:

Traveling to Europe (Caroline, #26) and other languages (specifically from Linkmeister, #21):

On my first and only plane trip across the Atlantic Ocean eastwards -- for a family wedding in Edinburgh -- we were flying Aer Lingus. They had the cheapest flight, by several hundred dollars, but we had to change planes in Shannon, with a bit of a layover.

I managed to sleep on the plane, but was extremely groggy when waked several hours later. We came down through a thick cloudbank and I saw the greenest ground I've EVER seen; apparently it's not called 'the Emerald Isle' for nothing.

Just as I was barely starting to understand the flight attendant's question about which 'breakfast sandwich' option I wanted, the pilot came on.

We all know what they say at such times. "Hi, I'm your captain. We're landing. It's such-and-such time and temperature, locally. Thanks for flying us. Fasten your seatbelts." However, though the phonemes were all familiar, I could NOT for the life of me process the words!

Thankfully, I had a realization. I leaned over to my husband and whispered, embarrassedly, "Please reassure me he's speaking Gaelic ... and not backwards?"

He was.

#61 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Walking in Japan, from Glen Fisher, and Jizo-sama, from Catherynne Valente:

When I was studying in Kyoto I had a short walk to the train station to school. It took no more than ten minutes, but in that ten minutes I passed three shrines of Jizo-sama: A small wood shelter over a vaguely human-shaped block of rough stone with an apron tied around its neck. I wondered whether the person who had built each had built it for the travellers or for the mizu-ko, or water children.

There was also a Shinto shrine planted on a tiny plot of land, with a tiny little wooden house and a huge tree that towered over it. Beside the Shinto shrine was a house with a black BMW parked in front. The BMW's license plate number was [se] 666. Every time I walked by the car (clearly the devil's) next to the shrine, I expected a story to come, but it never did. It's okay, though. I can wait.


Another pearl from that time:

One day in spring I was walking to school. There had been snow a few weeks before--wet snow that had hardly lasted a day, which quited disappointed Alaskan-born me. More recently the cherries had blossomed, and were just starting to fall. I passed through a playground where the petals had started to gather in drifts on the ground. The wind picked up and they swirled whitely around the swings and merri-go-rounds, more like snow than the snow had been.

#62 ::: Debbie Notkin ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 10:58 PM:

On food in France:

The one night I ever spent in Paris, my traveling companion and I were too tired to stay up and get seated in the good restaurant recommended by our tiny hotel, so we picked a place at random and had a singularly unmemorable, not even good, meal. I was very sad, as I had thought Paris would be a source of fine food memories.

The next morning, we got up and went to the Gare d'Austerlitz to board a train to Madrid. On the way through the station, we spotted a stall vendor selling saucisses, and bought a bundle. Once we sat down on our train, I reached for les saucisses and took a bite.

I looked at Alan and said, "You know how you always get the extra potstickers? These sausages are payback." They were the best I'd ever tasted.

We found them again, or ones very much like them, three years later in rural France. I can taste them when I think of them.

#63 ::: Madeleine Robins ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:16 PM:

Re: linguistic triumphs

The year after I was graduated from college, I went to Europe. My six week trip turned into six months (I sold my first book while abroad, had them send me the check, and embarked on a series of weird temp jobs). At the end of my stay, I met some people in the hostel I was living in, and wound up traveling with them: six of us (two New Zealanders, two South Africans, an Australian, and me) wound up going from London to Morocco and back again, and I did the translating when translating was needed (this with three years of High School French, two years of college Spanish--I did find that it was easier when I'd had a glass of wine or two). When I finally split from my traveling companions I went to Paris on my own for a week, happy to be translating for myself alone, and in only one language.

I went to see Napoleon's tomb and the arms and armor; after, as I was leaving, a guy came up to me and asked if the building I'd just left was Napoleon's tomb. Told him yes it was, but that the entrance was on the other side of the building; told him where to get tickets, even told him how much they'd cost for the adults and the kids. He thanked me kindly and we parted friends.

It wasn't until a few minutes later that I realized that we'd carried out the whole conversation in Spanish. And I was sober, too.

#64 ::: Greg Ioannou ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:29 PM:

From #21, Linkmeister: Languages and travel

Strasbourg, 1981 I live in Canada, so am used to occasionally seeing restaurant menus with English on one side and French on the other. In Strasbourg, I'm presented for the first time with bilingual French/German menus, and am struck by how comfortable the French suddenly seems.

Sophron, western Hungary, 1992 I encounter bilingual German/Hungarian menus, and suddenly German doesn't seem so incomprehensible any more.

Pecs, Hungary, 1992 In this town in southern Hungary I'm confronted with bilingual Hungarian/Croatian menus. I order by pointing at what a man at the next table is eating.

#65 ::: Suzanne ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:31 PM:

Speaking of traveling around Europe to tombs of dead people: I spent six weeks as a student in France one summer, and went on a trip to Arles. A fellow student and I went down into the catacombs and had wandered fairly far through the tunnels, past gaping holes in the floor and dripping ceilings and all sorts of creepy little alcoves, when all of a sudden the lights all went out.

We froze where we were in the pitch dark, listening to the water drip, and discussed how there was no way in hell we felt safe moving, much less had any way of finding our way back to the entrance. I have never been anywhere so dark in my entire life.

Fortunately the lights came back on about three minutes later. It was a very looooong three minutes, though. I imagine there was some caretaker standing whose highlight of his day was waiting for all the tourists to be really far back in the catacombs before throwing the light switch.

#66 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: September 29, 2008, 11:59 PM:

#8 fireworks, #5 boy scouts:

There are places one should not
pitch tents and make your camp;
lest your scoutmaster and associates
scramble to extinguish the embers
of the fireworks holding you enrapt.

#67 ::: Anne KG Murphy ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:01 AM:

On maps...

When my sister and I went to Spain, we took the train to Cordoba, where we had a reservation to stay in a hostel in the historic quarter near the Mezquita. At the train station we stopped to get a map of the town, but though the street we were staying on was listed in the index, the area on the map the index referred us to did not show the street.

The woman at the information booth told us she could not help us, that we should go to that area, and then ask. There were many little streets too small to show on the map.

So we walked through the narrow white streets of Cordoba. We stopped at a bookstore to see about getting a bigger map, but it still did not show our street. So we walked past La Mezquita, and we were as near as we knew how to get. I stopped next to a cab and asked the driver (in Spanish) if he knew where our street was. He was not sure. He pointed in a direction away from the Mosque, and told us to go that way a few blocks, and then ask again. Baffled that a cab driver could not be more specific, this is what we did. A few blocks later, a store clerk told us which fork of the road to take (roads split off at random angles in this district) to find the road we sought.

In the end it worked, and we found the little hostel, and had a very nice stay in Cordoba. And I am secretly delighted to see that although the satellite view shows the intricate mess of narrow streets and walkways, google maps cannot report on the street names to a fine enough resolution to support the inquiry we had to this day. Even with my iPhone I would still have to go there, and ask. And maybe that's a good thing.

#68 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:24 AM:

From #63, weird temp jobs while living abroad:

I spent my junior year in college studying at the University of Munich. The money my parents sent me every month barely covered my rent and expenses, so in order to have the werewithal to travel in between semesters I spent the first chunk of the break hauling my ass every morning down to the "Schwarzarbeitsamt", where all kinds of under-the-table day labor was doled out to foreign students on a first-come, first-served basis.

The two days spent in a freezing warehouse sorting oranges pretty much sucked. The day spent standing on a street corner during the morning, noon, and evening rush hours counting cars for the city could've been ok, except the corner to which I was assigned was right along the river and it was a cold, raw, windy day. Eventually I got a steady job working at an antique coin auction house, helping them catalog coins and process advance bids for their upcoming semi-annual auction. That one was a lot of fun, and I gained enough data-entry skills that I actually put it on my resume when I got back to the States.

But by far the day I hit the jackpot was the day I was hired by a little old lady to go stand in line for her on the day the Symphony tickets went on sale. My instructions were to go straight to the Gasteig (where the Symphony box office was located) and get the best possible spot in line, then 15 minutes before the box office opened that afternoon she would meet me. I spent the entire day sitting in a hallway outside the public library, reading the books I had miraculously thought to bring with me, surrounded by other young people similarly hired by longtime Symphony-goers to save places in line. And right on time the little old lady appeared, all dressed up and ready for the box office. She thanked me for my time, slipped a banknote into my hand, and sent me off on my merry way.

It wasn't until I got to the U-bahn that I noticed that the note in my hand was DM100. More money than I had made in the past two weeks combined. I immediately went to the nearest student travel office and purchased my Eurail pass.

#69 ::: Kristen Chew ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:29 AM:

Following up on Germany, Tuebingen, and old buildings:

In November of 2005, I was visiting friends in Tuebingen with my family, and we decided to go to the Christmas market at the Schloss Hohenzollern (a real castle, rebuilt after an earthquake in the 1800s to Victorian Gothic standards), which isn't that far away. It was uncharacteristically cold, with snow on the ground, and my feet were frozen. The schloss is on top of a small mountain, and when you stand on the ramparts, you can see all around, across fields and small forests, all the way back to Tuebingen. As the cold wind whipped my hair about my face, I kept thinking of the song "All Along the Watchtower," and of how long you would have to wait, once you saw the riders racing across the fields below, until they reached you and told you what they had to say.

#70 ::: Vassilissa ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:40 AM:

When I was learning to ride, at age nine, one of the horses there was an old while pony misleadingly named Dash. She would very seldom go faster than a walk, and never faster than a trot. When the riding teacher unhitched her and led her towards a student, she would drag along behind, rolling her eyes, and I used to think "Whither thou goest, I will go."

#71 ::: Gramina ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:43 AM:

Summer, old churches, camp

I remember the Chapel of the Transfiguration at Camp Mitchell -- sweeping the leaves out before a service, taking the kneelers out of the bin, smelling the dust of them, and the cool smell of rain on the way -- watching the great vultures circle out over the cliff-edge behind the altar -- and silence, and peace, and an utter absence of division: us and the chapel and the wind and the stone and the earth and the trees and the weeds and the cliff and the birds and the wholeness, all one.

#72 ::: Chris Willrich ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:48 AM:

From #57, Syd, fear of falling:

Many years ago I went rock climbing with a friend in the Cascades. It was an easy climb, and my friend was experienced, but I'd never done a real ascent. We went up as far as he thought I could handle, which turned out to be a bit farther than *I* thought I could handle, and despite all the blue sky and gnarled grey beauty lofting us into it, I was glad to turn back.

Many frightened minutes of descent later, things got less precipitous, and I thought, "Whew -- if I fall now, I'll only break a few bones."

I try to remember how that felt, now and then, how sweet it was to only worry about being maimed.

#73 ::: Adrian ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:00 AM:

25 years ago, in early November, I was traveling across the state for a high school debate tournament. After the long drive after school, and the first rounds of competition, the usual custom was to collapse in sleeping bags on the floor. (Because the host team would have at most a dozen families, sometimes only 4-6, and needed to find room for many travelers.) But our coach's sister lived just north of the town where this tournament was being held, right next to the lake. She was very kind to us, and her house was beautiful.

I slept under a down comforter, with the window half open. As it turned out, I didn't sleep much. I wasn't uncomfortable (in those days before I lost my cold tolerance), but the cold lake smelled so interesting it was distracting. All my previous experience of great lakes had been close and warm, when they smell of fish and compost and mud. This was different, at the top of the house on the hill, with the frost in the air. I didn't want to take my glasses off until the moon went down.

(That was the first time I slept with a down comforter. I liked it so much I acquired one a few years later, and still use them in winter. Northern Lake Michigan is not so easy to take to bed with me, though.)

#74 ::: y ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:20 AM:

On menus:

When I was in college, I traveled in France one summer, and one night I was eating in a restaurant where I could understand most of the menu, except for one item that I didn't recognize. I asked the waitress, and she tried to describe it in English--she said it was a "savage rabbit". Wild hare, I think it must have been, and it was delicious, but I couldn't help thinking of Monty Python all the while I was eating it.

#75 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:29 AM:

On singing:
I miss the way music felt when I was a junior in high school, before my voice couldn't blend, before I got angry about it. I read Sharon Shinn's Archangel and Connie Willis' "All Seated on the Ground" and the posts here about Happy Birthday and cathedrals and it makes me sad that I don't know how to get that joy back.

On fiftieth anniversaries:
My mother grew up with neighbors Marge and Jim. I know them, too-- when we visit her family back in New York, there's a visit next door, too. Jim decided to throw a surprise party for their fiftieth anniversary. Got a banquet room at the hotel, invited people from all over, including my mom's family, the works. This was scheduled in July or thereabouts. Everyone was sworn to secrecy. Nobody slipped.
In November, months before it happened, Marge answered the phone. It was the hotel, calling to confirm the reservation.
Every day, she took her walk around the neighborhood and laughed to herself. She had a wonderful time-- she felt like a spy. Everyone was being so careful, and she never let on that she knew what was coming. The party was wonderful, all sorts of memories and friends come back, but the previous months were just as good.

#76 ::: Sharon M ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:31 AM:

On travel, and language, and people asking for directions.

In 1996, I was in Paris for a week, overseas for the first time, traveling alone.
A local asked me the time, a woman asked where a shop was, an American family sent their best French speaker to ask me how to buy a Metro ticket, relieved that I spoke English. I get that a lot, too. Maybe we look like we know where we're going?

I sat on park bench near my hotel, and an old man joined me. I asked him to speak more slowly, my French isn't good at speed - and he repeated himself. I got most of the words, it is very [something] today, isn't it? I repeated what I'd understood, and he repeated what I hadn't. Then he stood and waved his arms from side to side - oh! Windy! Yes, it is very windy today!

He told me about his daughter, and asked if I was Italian. (Everyone asked if I was Italian. Maybe my accent wasn't as good as I'd hoped.)

On the flight back to DFW, the women behind me talked about how rude everyone was, how they pretended not to understand English, how awful the trip had been. I remembered that quote from someone, something about wherever you travel, you still take yourself with you.

#77 ::: Tlönista ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:34 AM:

Hiking, wildlife, English summer:

Just this Sunday I took a trip to the far side of the city, to Richmond Park. It is the wildest place in London.

The great boreal forest of my home is beautiful, in a magnificent, awful, austere way. This English forest is lovely, rabbit-nibbled grass golden with sun, vast savannahs of grass and bracken, ancient oak trees, the air is sweet as flowers but with a spicy, acidic, autumnal edge -- oh God, life here could be so sweet, so easy, falling on you like leaves, not hewed out of ice and swamp and Precambrian rock.

I am tromping across a hillside near Kingston Gate through bracken as high as my head, and suddenly come out into the open, and RIGHT THERE is a deer, a full-grown buck, shaggy and hale and crowned with twelve points, so close I can see every hair on his solemn face. He freezes. I freeze: "Oh shit please don't kill me." After a long moment he turns away and grazes, and presently lays down peaceably on the hillside. Tremulously I lay down a few feet away, propping myself up on my elbow, and we watch the sun set through the oaks.

#78 ::: K. G. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:34 AM:

From #21, Greg Ioannou: Languages and travel

It's 1982, and Krakow, Poland, was still under Communist government. The pensione I was staying in with my then-husband and our Italian friend, Piero, was a non-licensed one in a private home. Friends from Warsaw had booked it for us, and the owner, a woman, turned out to be very nervous about having illegal foreigners on the premises. It didn't help that we couldn't speak any Polish, and she didn't know English, Italian, French or German.

I woke up one morning delirious with fever, and Ted and Piero (an MD) were reluctantly considering taking me to a Polish hospital, even though that would have meant waiting a day or two for admission. The pensione owner, realizing that something was wrong, was ready to put us out on the street. When I peered out of bed and said to her "Gorączka," Ted and Piero thought I was babbling nonsense. But the Polish woman hurried off and came back with a thermometer and a glass of water. Somehow, I'd remembered seeing in a guidebook the Polish word for "fever."

#79 ::: K. G. Anderson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:35 AM:

From #21, Greg Ioannou: Languages and travel

It was 1982, and Krakow, Poland, was still under Communist government. The pensione I was staying in with my then-husband and our Italian friend, Piero, was a non-licensed one in a private home. Friends from Warsaw had booked it for us, and the owner, a woman, turned out to be very nervous about having illegal foreigners on the premises. It didn't help that we couldn't speak any Polish, and she didn't know English, Italian, French or German.

I woke up one morning delirious with fever, and Ted and Piero (an MD) were reluctantly considering taking me to a Polish hospital, even though that would have meant waiting a day or two for admission. The pensione owner, realizing that something was wrong, was ready to put us out on the street. When I peered out of bed and said to her "Gorączka," Ted and Piero thought I was babbling nonsense. But the Polish woman hurried off and came back with a thermometer and a glass of water. Somehow, I'd remembered seeing in a guidebook the Polish word for "fever."

#80 ::: pat greene ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:35 AM:

On traveling in Europe, and St. Petersburg...

When my husband and I were preparing to fly back from St. Petersburg to Paris, we were detained by a series of events involving a small lacquer bowl, the Air France counter at the airport, and me being looked at by a number of Russians with submachine guns while my husband disappeared with the AF supervisor to eventually be told that we were a) stuck there another night and b) out my airfare (since it was a frequent flyer ticket). The entire story is a) long and b) depressing.

The next morning we took the opportunity to go to St. Isaacs', a Russian orthodox cathedral that had been turned into a museum. There are always two prices for everything in Russia: the Russian price and the tourist price (which is okay by me: it's their cultural heritage). St. Isaacs was no different.

The elderly Russian lady took my husband's money without comment, then looked at me. "Priest's wife* ," she said, beaming, and refused to accept payment.

"No, I'm not a priest's wife." "Yes, priest's wife."

Finally, the woman next to her pointed to the cross I was wearing. "In Russia, only priests and priests' wives wore crosses. It used to be not safe."

The first woman finally relented and allowed me to pay the Russian price for admission. I went in feeling guilty and with a new appreciation of what the First Amendment means.

*Roman Catholic priests do not marry; Orthodox priests do -- in fact, my sister is married to one.

#81 ::: Aud. ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:44 AM:

On hiking:

I moved to Washington a few months ago. I remember how new and exotic northwestern forests seemed to me after having grown up in the Midwest. They were full of ferns and bright wild flowers I'd never heard of. And the trees... egad. I had never felt small while inside of a forest until I saw the ones here.

The first time I explored one, I was with my girlfriend. We made our way up a steep hill. Near the top, I gave her a small white daisy. She tucked it behind her ear.

Somehow the image of that flower set against her red hair sticks out more in my mind than anything else I saw that day.

#82 ::: Bob Rossney ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:31 AM:

Language (sort of) and travel:

My then-wife and I were chatting with Mrs. Houlihan, who owned the little B&B in Dingle (a redundancy; there are no large B&Bs in Dingle) that we were staying at. We wanted to know more about the town, but she had two Americans in her grasp, and all she wanted to talk about was O.J.

We were kind of mortified. Here we were in this tiny, remote little town at the western tip of Ireland that looked as though it had undergone no significant changes in the last 300 years, and the O.J. trial had followed us there.

I remember Mrs. Houlihan inveighing against "that rascal Johnnie Cochran," which is how I think of him to this day, but what really stuck with me was her summation: "And he's going to go free, you know? And you know why? Liars. Because of the liars."

Then she gave me a long look, and said "You're not a liar, are you?" For a moment I stood there, transfixed.

Then it hit me. Lawyers.

#83 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:34 AM:


I was a military brat my first 17 years, and followed that, after graduating high school, with my own 4-year stint in the Air Force. From 1971-1974 we lived in Bangkok, Thailand, where I managed to learn some Thai. My parents took advantage of this by having me act as a translator with taxi drivers as they bartered over the fares.

Cut to 2003: I'm now living in Georgia, just north of Atlanta. I'm attending a new church and am in their membership class. At the beginning of the class, we're all asked to share something about ourselves. As this unfolding of tales works itself around the class, one gent mentions that he used to live in Thailand. My ears perked up, and I looked in his direction. When my turn came, I made a point to mention my own time in Thailand. We look at each other, both of us obviously making a mental note to talk to one another afterwards. After the class is over and everyone is mingling and talking, he and I get together to compare notes, to learn when each other lived in Thailand. Turns out we were not only there at the same time, but attended the same school. He was but a year ahead of me. I then turned the conversation to an old Thai Pepsi jingle that I remembered hearing on the television all the time. Next thing everyone knew, he and I were singing it together.

Cut to 2004: I'm now living in Maryland, but working in northern Virginia. One of my co-workers, I learn, is from Laos. We get to talking, and the conversation drifts to languages, and I learn for the first time that Laos and Thailand share the same language. He helps me to remember how to say 100 in Thai, and I later learn how to say 1000, which increases my knowledge of how to count in that language up to 999,999.

Cut to 2007/8: I'm still in Maryland, still working in northern Virginia, but for a different employer (thanks to a layoff, one of the wonderful benefits of working in telecom). One of my co-workers is from China. We're talking about languages one day, so I mention my meagre knowledge of Thai, and I tell him the story of how I came to relearn how to say 100 in Thai, mentioning in the process the number 99. He gives me a wide-eyed look and tells me that it's the same in Chinese. (There is a difference among the other Chinese numerals—I'm not sure where all the differences lie—but in this one instance the words are either very much the same, or sound very much alike.)

#84 ::: Becky ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:42 AM:

Hiking, fireworks (of a sort), magic moments:

The first time I went to the Big Island of Hawai'i, three friends and I drove across the saddle road from Kona and went hiking across the lava field in the middle of the night. At this time, there were a lot of surface flows about 5 miles from the end of Chain of Craters Road (well, from the current end of it). We didn't realize they were quite that far away, and we kept scrambling over rocks towards that distant glow that just wasn't getting any closer. Luckily, there was so much surface activity that a small hot spot formed near us, with lava bubbling up and flowing for a good hour or so.

We were the only ones around for miles, and there was no other life around -- the lava field was so new that there was no scrub yet, and no bugs. In front of us, there was just the earth regenerating itself, and behind us, just the moon rising over the ocean. It was like this glimpse of a prehistoric world.

#85 ::: Mikael Vejdemo Johansson ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:56 AM:

France and food.

When me and my brother were old enough to travel without parental supervision, our grandfather took us on a trip - as he did with all his grandchildren. His way of sharing his joy of travels - which were noticably intense.

We got to go with him and his wife to Paris, where we lived in a dinky little hotel close to Place Pigalle. One day, while walking up to the Métro, he told us to take a look inside one bar - and notice all the scantily clad women waiting for customers at the bar.

But the anecdote was going to involve food!
We found, one day, a small and very unassuming restaurant hidden in a back alley between our hotel and Place Pigalle. On the first day, the food was good, but not very generously served, and our requests for still water earned us the sale of a litre-bottle San Pellegrino.

But we liked the food, so we went back. On the second visit, the servings grew noticably and we got a large pitcher of tap water under eager jokes about eau du mere/mère (lake water / the mayor's water).

And on the third visit, the proprietor stormed out when we arrived to chat with us and the servings were enormous.

Progressing from "stupid tourist" to "regular" in three days!!

#86 ::: Marna Nightingale ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:02 AM:

I used to work in Roadside Assistance. Mostly the call centre I was in covered Canada, but if we had a member down in the US we'd help them.

This was before Google Maps -- actually, it was before any kind of mapping software was widespread and affordable. We had MapArt North America Road Atlases, one given out free to each employee.

For cities, we rarely needed them, but when people called late at night from remote areas, well, you had the big map over on the wall - not very detailed - and you had your atlas.

We used to get calls from people who were out of gas, in -35C, who only knew that they'd been driving a long time and were about four hours drive and forty minute's walk to a phone west of Flin Flon. There was nothing like the feeling of relief when you could tell them you'd found them and were sending a truck.

I'm pretty sure my ragged little yellow mapbook saved a life or two, during its active career.

I use Google maps with great enthusiasm, these days, and my MapArt Atlas with my name and operator number scrawled across the front in Sharpie is 15 years out of date, but I still have it, and for as long as I have a bookshelf to store it on, I mean to keep it. It's earned an honourable retirement.

#87 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:03 AM:

On hiking in Washington State (Aud, #81):

I'd been to Vancouver for Expo '86 and rented a car in Seattle to drive around the state. At one point I found myself in Olympic National Park and wandered into the Hoh Rain Forest. I don't remember which of the two main trails I took, but it was spectacular. Moss, river, 300-year-old trees; it's a wonderfully serene place.

Well, it's serene other than the very aggressive squirrels; I was bending over to read a sign in front of the Visitor Center and felt a blow to my thigh (fortunately I was wearing an overcoat over a pair of jeans). It turned out to be a squirrel which had jumped at me. After I got over my surprise I read the sign: "Squirrels Bite."

#88 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:06 AM:

Thunder, lightning, seeing fireworks (sort of) from above.

Late in the evening on a plane from Minneapolis to Portland, 36,000 feet over the North Dakota / Montana border. The captain comes on the PA system, saying, "There's a storm in front of us that we're going to have to circle around."

I look out my window as far forward as I can, and there below me, hanging down from the horizon is a mass of clouds. I can see the curvature of its edge, and I can see, every 5 or 10 seconds, a bolt of lightning leap from one part of the storm to another.

Even at 550 knots it takes a while to go around a 100 mile diameter storm. I kept my face squeezed against the window the entire time, awed by the immense light show.

#89 ::: TomB ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:34 AM:

In the middle of the winter night, my friend and I decided to go on a walk. We lived near the edge of the city, so it was a short walk to a nearby canyon and we headed up it. It was dark, but we could see a bit from the city lights reflected from the thick clouds overhead.

This canyon went for at least ten miles into the mountains. I started to get nervous that it might be raining miles away and that we would not know about it until the flash flood hit us. The canyon was V-shaped. The bottom where we were walking was only a yard wide. If a flood came there was nowhere to go but up the hillside. I started seeing things. Was that the flood? I got closer and it was a little ledge covered by snow like a wave standing still. Not coming at me. But it was hard to tell in the dark.

The further we went up the canyon, the more I felt that what we were doing was not smart. Maybe it was time to go up and out. I remember explaining this to my friend. I could see his face looking up at me twenty feet up the side of the canyon. Grudgingly, he followed. We worked our way up. The steepness of the slope was somewhat mitigated by the thick willow bushes that gave us plenty of handholds. After much climbing we came to a ridge.

It was gray and we were surrounded by snowflakes. We had ascended to the cloud layer. Then our ears popped and it was very clear and we could see all across the valley with the city below us. It should have been very quiet, but there was a big low sound, as if there were many trucks driving through the deserted streets. We watched a gray wall come at us, then we were in snowflakes, then it passed and our ears popped and it was clear again. The cloud layer was like a checkerboard with squares the size of city blocks. The gray squares were filled with snow. Between them were clear squares filled with high pressure air. I asked my friend what that noise was. He said "See that square coming at us filled with snow? Each snowflake as it moves makes a sound. It's not much of a sound, but there are a whole lot of snowflakes." I said "Cool!" and he asked "Haven't you ever heard of a roaring blizzard?"

Satisfied with our outing, we walked back, the easy way, down the ridge to the city lights and the snowy streets and our warm apartment.

#90 ::: Deirdre ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:39 AM:

Nature at large

Recently my job has moved and I've been able to get a regular lift from my husband to work on the back of his motorbike. One of our regular routes is through the Phoenix Park in Dublin. It always feels like an extra exhale as we drive through. An exhale you don't realise you need. What adds to the experience is spotting the deer that inhabit the park, brightens up even the dullest of days.

#91 ::: arkessian ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:19 AM:

Travel, candles, skinny-dipping, magic moments, holy places:

One summer -- more than half my lifetime ago, now I think about it -- I took a month-long road/ferry trip to Iceland with a bunch of strangers. (I was braver, or more foolish, or simply younger than I am now.) There are many things I remember about that trip: the scorching summer weather; the midnight sun; the awe-inspiring landscapes; the friendly local people.

But most of all, I remember the hot springs deep inside a cave in a lava field. You were not allowed to enter them clothed. The only way in (and out) was a vertical knotted rope about 15 foot long. And the only lighting inside came from the break in the lava overhead, and candles set in their own wax in nooks and crannies in the lava just above the water.

There was an under-water passage that the really intrepid could swim through, to a second chamber completely dark but for candlelight, completely silent but for your own heartbeat and the gentle lapping of the water as others came and went. I don't know how long I floated there in the warmth and the darkness and the silent peace of the holiest place that I've ever been.

#92 ::: Russ ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:55 AM:

On beautiful smiles, and Richmond park:

I lived in Richmond (London) about five years ago, and I remember walking down the street with a friend on a gorgeous summer day. A small group of youths passed us in the other direction, and a girl with them gave me this amazing, sunny smile.

Naturally, I smiled back and as they went by I heard her cried out to her friends "I got one!".

They had been walking along, smiling at everyone, and waiting to see who would smile back. I thought it was a beautiful game, and was glad I had.

#93 ::: Iain Coleman ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:08 AM:

On overheard compliments:

I used to be a councillor on Cambridge City Council, and for the last two years I was Executive Councillor for Environmental Services. Which basically meant I had cabinet-type responsibility for every refuse bin and dog turd on every street in Cambridge. Regular meetings of the Council would always involve my opposite number, the opposition spokesman for the environment, trying to get one over on me in the question-and-answer session.

After one particular meeting, where we had sparred together all night but he hadn't managed to trip me up once, one of my colleagues was late leaving the building. She observed the opposition group in a huddle, and overheard my opposite number telling his friends "Coleman's a sly bastard".

It was the greatest compliment anyone ever paid me in politics, and I remember it fondly to this day.

#94 ::: Mike McHugh ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:36 AM:

Night walking, travel, nature:
We were inter-railing, trying to get the most value out of our ticket by ensuring we took as many night trains as possible. This economising left us with some time in Luxembourg - from 2am to 5am, in fact. It was a warm, clear summer's night, and even if we'd wanted to get a bed, everywhere was shut. So, we left our rucksacks in the station, and went for a walk.

It was eerie, wandering totally deserted streets in the middle of Europe (well, compared to Ireland). We met nobody: no street cleaners, no bakers, no early shift workers or late night revellers. After a while, we took a break in a park, that seemed to be at the bottom of a cliff. Everything was still, and so quiet we could hear the trains shunting into position the other side of town. At that point, we noticed we were surrounded by lots of little lights. Lots and lots of them. They seemed to be pretty static: they'd blink out for a moment, then reappear.

It felt like forever before we realised we were surrounded by cats.

#95 ::: oliviacw ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:40 AM:

On traveling in France, languages, and linguistic triumphs

In the very late 1990s, for several years, I had the good fortune to be working on a project that took me to Switzerland for two weeks each summer, and I always added a week of vacation. My husband came with me on the vacation week to Paris the first year. He had taken high school Spanish, so he could sorta read French, and I had taken high school French, so I could read and sorta speak French - but it had been 15 years, and I was never that liguistically talented. None-the-less, we bumbled along, and after two weeks in Geneva, my accent was getting a little bit better - but my vocabulary was weak.

My husband had brought along a small immersion heater - the kind you stick in a cup of water so you can make tea in your hotel room - and it eventually burned out because of the higher voltages. We made our way to a department store and spent a while looking for a replacement, but couldn't find anything. Finally a sales clerk asked if he could help, and I summoned up my language bravado and explained (in French) that we were looking for "the thing you put in water to make it hot." That plus a little pantomime yielded a 220 volt immersion heater plus a French word that I will never forget - it's a thermoplongeur.

#96 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:28 AM:

On breathtaking sights seen from above:

I was over the Atlantic, coming home from my first solo trip to Europe a couple of years ago. Due to some incredible chance, I was in first class. Due to more chance, the AV equipment was out, so no entertainment. Everyone but me was asleep; I can neither sleep nor read even on a plane, so I was looking out the window, mostly at clouds.

Suddenly the coulds parted, I looked down, and beheld Greenland. I gasped aloud. Rocky mountains iced with glaciers directly below me; the most beautiful thing I've ever seen. Beyond the shoreline, icebergs in the ocean. And then the clouds came back, and remained until we landed.

The spectacle lasted only a few minutes, and no one around me saw it. No in-flight movie could ever compare.

#97 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:38 AM:

A jetty on a very small island, waiting for the ferry, early 1980s. Ajay's small brother, about 3 or 4 years old, is looking into the water. Uninvited, a large English lady approaches him, and, in the tone of voice used by some people to the deaf, the young, the old and the mentally ill, informs him: "Look in the water there. Can you see that? That's a jellyfish."

"Yes," replies Ajay's small brother, with perfect composure. "Aurelia aurita."

#98 ::: Bruce Cohen (SpeakerToManagers) ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:50 AM:

Unexpected creatures

I worked at the Nike World Campus for several years. The campus is almost 50 acres of land that had been protected woods in an old, first-ring suburb before they bought it. Now there's an artificial lake at the center with a ring of buildings around it, and parking lots around that. A number of copses were left surrounding walking and running trails, and the entire campus is surrounded by a high berm that blocks sight and sound of the traffic and buildings in the area.

I worked in the old buildings, the first ones put in, which are somewhat smaller than the others, and meld into te space around them in covered walks and paths. Scattered around the buildings are extremely lifelike sculputures of people enjoying the place in various ways; just for the hell of it I once spent my lunch hour with a sketchpad sitting next to the statue of the artist at her easel. I don't think the geese were fooled.

One night in late fall, in unusually dry and clear weather, I walked out of my building into a cold, breath-smokey evening just before full dark, and started walking towards the lot where my car was parked. As I rounded the corner of the building next to the playground of the daycare center I came a group of people staring at the path through the playground and talking in low but excited voices.

I looked towards the path and saw what was astonishing them: a family of four deer, young buck (3 points or so), doe, and 2 fauns. They were croppping the hedges and ornamental plants and looking back at us as if to say, "What, we're not allowed here? We were here first!" After a few minutes they wandered further in towards the lake and disappeared into the dark.

#99 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:12 AM:

#9, #34 horses (having read that far)

Brush County Fair, competitions with draft horses.

Two Belgians were being walked through a milling crowd of people when the band did a sound check for their concert that evening. There was a sudden ear-splitting burst of feedback, and the horses panicked. I don't remember much, except sitting down hard on bleachers some distance behind me as they hit the backs of my knees. About half a dozen people ran TO the horses, somehow getting past the flailing dinner-plate sized hooves, and calmed them down. "That is a conditioned response," thought I.

I wish we hadn't had to leave before the bareback barrel racing.

#100 ::: Janice in GA ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:15 AM:

Unexpected creatures:

It's always amazing to me how much wildlife lives relatively close to urban areas. A few months ago, I was walking a dog in a neighborhood that's less than a mile from major highways in the suburbs of Atlanta. At one point, something ran across the road in front of us, and up through the neighbor's yard. I had a moment of "Cat? No, too large and the tail's too big" before my brain clicked on the right description -- a fox.

I've seen a pair of deer in the same subdivision, running through people's back yards.

It never gets old.

#101 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:43 AM:

Hiking, 1978:

On Melrose Hill i count each single star,
the night is heavy but i have the time
to think about my purpose on the climb
and wonder at the passing of each car;
this morning distances did not seem far
and now i feel each little bit of grime;
still looking up the moment is sublime
and nothing can this perfect journey mar.
Each mile has put its stamp into my feet,
so much is obvious in the tropic dark
as i make game of what is still a test.
My heart must wonder at what i will meet,
the kind of future that i have to mark,
and the long hours still left before i rest.

#102 ::: Steven ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:44 AM:

Taking a breather in the hiking posts:

I'm laying on my back on some rocks. It's a beautiful blue day, but southwest of me is a black dot that flows out. Soon the sky is overcast, a cool wind hurries it along. I'm still looking up, watching the churning clouds, when they open-

inside is the purest green, glowing fiercely.

The clouds close, and I start to feel pellets hit me. I dash under cover from the hail that falls.

There were no planes in the air that day, nothing that could explain that green. It was like looking into a lightning factory.

#103 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:49 AM:

Language and travel:

Back in 2000, I took a trip to NYC with a friend of mine. He'd lived in Brooklyn for several years, and we were going to stay with an old friend of his in Williamsburg. It was only my second trip to New York, and the first time I spent any time in Brooklyn.

One night was reserved for my friend to get together and reminisce with his old buddies. I tagged along, even though I felt a bit like a fifth wheel. Anyway, the liquor was flowing freely, and there was an easy kind of male cameraderie, and I was having a fine time.

At some point in the evening, we managed to pick up a companion unknown to anyone in our group. He was a recent Polish immigrant, late 20s, who spoke very little English. Anyway, he was tagging along with our group, and seemed especially attracted to the fellow in whose apartment we were staying.

About 1:00 AM or so, we're walking down a fairly empty street in Williamsburg between a couple of bars on our list. Suddenly, a huge black Suburban with tinted windows looms up out of nowhere and comes to a stop in the middle of the street. I and the Polish stranger are kind of hanging back watching everything. The car window rolls down, and what do you know? It's another old buddy from my friend's Williamsburg days! Amid the greetings and crosstalk, this is what I hear:

"Where'd you get that freakin' tank?"

"It's my mafia car. You like it?"

"You're shitting me."

"Naw, I got it at a police auction."

"You seriously gonna drive around in a mob car like that?"

"The way I figure it, no one's going to steal the radio."

Now, I'm thinking this is hilarious, but the Polish guy, who can understand maybe every third word, is starting to look nervous.

"Hey, guess what else I got at the auction? Brand new set of clubs!" And he goes to the back of the Suburban and pulls out a complete set of golf clubs. "Check out these woods!"

Soon, five or six guys are standing in the middle of the street next to a mafia car, brandishing golf clubs and swinging them around and hitting imaginary golf balls. The immigrant's eyes look like dinner plates and he's shaking. Suddenly, he reaches into his pocket, pulls out all his money, throws it on the ground, and takes off running.

"Um, guys?" I'd been pretty quiet up 'til then. "Guys?"

My friend was the first to acknowledge me. "What's up, Howard?"

"I think we just mugged someone."

#104 ::: Mark ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:52 AM:

Fireworks and snow...yes, at the same time.

In the Berkshire foothills of Connecticut where it's hardly worth asking where hills become mountains, there's a parcel of land that belongs to the cousin of a co-worker from back when I had a temporary placement in a state office. The nearest neighbor was something like a mile off, but neighbors up in that area past Canton are easier to annoy than you might expect.

So trips to Planet Brett had to be planned carefully, scheduled for evenings when it snowed enough to muffle sound but not enough to make the dirt road up the mountainside impassible. Because there in the clearing would be a space scraped clear and heaped with the broken boards of pallets and such, set alight to impart an otherworldly glow to the falling flakes. And there too would be the bag of Brett's cousin's treasures - fireworks bought in New Hampshire and brought down for the occasion. No fireworks of any sort were legal in Connecticut at the time, so the noise-muffling quality of the snow was our protective magic, warding against the forces of banality as helicopters pinwheeled and burned away in formation, laid out carefully on the pallet we lowered onto the bonfire. As fountains and not a few still-illegal aerials bloomed their colors in the crisp, snapping cold.

It goes without saying that there would have to be alcohol involved. There was something deeply satisfying but just beyond the natural about the pleasant burn of pepper vodka, accented with the tang of gunpowder in that clean cold air.

#105 ::: lorax ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:55 AM:

On getting by with weak vocabulary, from #95:

My partner and I were in Mexico, with her small catamaran. While we were rigging it we lost a small but vital piece of the halyard rigging in the sand. We walked over to the hardware store with the other piece in hand, rehearsing what to say in our limited Spanish (amounting to "We need a thingy that we can put through here.") We walked into the store and were immediately greeted in flawless idiomatic English -- "Hi, what can I help you with?"

#106 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:22 AM:

Another unexpected critter

When I lived in downtown Ottawa a few years ago I was walking home to my apartment building at about 11:00 one evening. A lady was walking her dog, coming towards me. We were the only ones on the street. All of a sudden she stopped with a strange look on her face, and quickly crossed the street with her dog.

Now, I'm a squishy woman and, having left my blood-dripping chainsaw at home that day, as innofensive-looking as you can get, so I was fairly certain she wasn't fleeing *me*. I kept walking, looking around to see whether I should be fleeing too, when I heard a rustle in the flower beds in front of my building. I stood in amazement and watched a large porcupine gamboling in the flowers.

#107 ::: Doug K ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:23 AM:

not real poetry, mere vers libre, but on topic of monasteries..
On vacation in Greece, I was swimming or running for a couple of hours each day. My uncle Dino wanted to know if I got paid for all the running and swimming I was doing.

On Mt. Kandili

I am paid in the red coin of the sun going down,
the notes of waves, susurrus in the pebbles
which cannot be counterfeited;
the figs ripening and the wind that bears their scent
chattering of cicadas,
goat bells in the olive grove, behind the monastery,
cool sweet water from the mountain springs;
the wages are good enough.

#108 ::: Lila ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:48 AM:

Magic moments, fireworks from above: My favorite flying experience: flying over Yankee Stadium at night and seeing the fireworks far below, so tiny--the size of green peas.

(Diatryma @#75, have you considered the violin?)

Magic moments: It's the late 1970s and I'm at an SCA event, Friday night, nothing much going on, the rest of my gang hasn't yet arrived. I'm a teenager with bad skin and bad hair, skating on the edge of clinical depression, and I'm wishing I'd stayed home.

All at once a dashing young gentleman sweeps up to me and begins waltzing me around the room. "Haven't I met you somewhere before?" he asks with a dazzling smile; "Paris? Casablanca, perhaps?"

My whole weekend was transformed. I was laughing too hard to thank him then, but Frafnir, wherever you are, thanks! (And a more general thank you to cool, goodlooking, talented people who make time to be kind to those who are none of the above.)

#109 ::: Velma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:48 AM:

On horses (going way back):

I don't know if they still do it, but in the 1970s, Belmont Racetrack used to have a "Breakfast at Belmont" program, where one could see horses getting walked and curried, and sometimes meet jockeys. Myy father took the three of his younger children out once. I remember riding the bus out to the racetrack at sunrise, eating waffles with whipped cream, and eventually walking down to where the horses were being led out of their stalls, and shaking hands with Willie Shoemaker, who was walking Secretariat that day. Perhaps because we were the only children there, he let us touch Secretariat. Height, and heat, and those great dark eyes looking down at me....

#110 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:52 AM:

(And a more general thank you to cool, goodlooking, talented people who make time to be kind to those who are none of the above.)

Oh, don't mention it.

#111 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:00 PM:

Unintentionally frightening people (#103):

Some years ago (I still had hair, so it had to be a fairly long time), I was taking a train back from Philadelphia (convention? party?). This was back when AmTrak still had smoking cars; I had carefully selected a NON-smoking car for my trip.

The smell of cigarette smoke brought me out of my reading trance. I was some minutes finding the smoker by sight; I think he was trying to be unobtrusive. I finally spotted him by the door to the next car.

I got up, walked over to him, and very politely (and quietly; people were sleeping) said "Excuse me. This is a non-smoking car. Could you put that out, please?" His eyes got very wide, and he hastily put it out. I was puzzled by his reaction, but said "thank you" and went back to my seat.

Only later did I realize that my black leather jacket and dangly labrys earcuff might make me intimidating to some. Before that moment it had never occurred to me that anyone could be frightened of me under any circumstances—after all, *I* know how harmless I am!

#112 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:14 PM:

Smoking... Back when I was living in the Bay Area, someone sitting across the aisle from me decided to light up on one of the BART trains. My first reaction was "Great", but said nothing - and neither did the other passengers, but dirty sideways glances abounded. I waited to see how bad the smell and the smoke would get. It got bad. Fast. I then asked the man, politely, to stop smoking. To which he responded with rather contemptuous refusal. To that I responded in a very irate and loud manner. That was the signal for every other passenger to finally have the guts to pitch in about butting out. I'm not sure what would have happened next if a woman hadn't stood up, gone to the operator-call button and notified him of what was going on. The miscreant got off at the next station.

#113 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:16 PM:

1) In my very early teens, c. 45 years ago, going up to my father's office quite a way up in the Kaiser Building near Oakland's Lake Merritt, and watching huge blazing dandelions burst *at eye level*, all through the show.

2) This century, near our little place in the hilly north of Prescott AZ, watching fireworks at the airport well below us -- small (from our perspective), multi-colored, more imaginative than the old dandelion shapes, with distant booms and drifting smoke. Lovely.

#114 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:28 PM:

I'd always thought seeing fireworks from above might be cool. It was actually disappointing when I did.

Another odd bug story: Myself and a friend were driving along a river, and for some reason stopped and walked up a little trail that ran from the highway. About 50 meters in, we ran into a small swarm of termites. They landed on the ground, shivered a little bit, and their wings fell off. They were obviously done with their migrating, and had come to a new place to live.

#115 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:33 PM:

All this talk about fireworks reminded me (finally!) of this one time I was close to the ignition site. It was the end of the year; I was probably a junior in college and they were setting off fireworks for some reason (maybe I was a senior, as that was the college's centennial year). It was dark, I was under the trees around the back of the science building, and I was close enough to hear (and feel) the "ssss-CHUFF" of each lit firework taking off for the sky, and then I could see the brilliance above.

#116 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:51 PM:

American "culture" abroad, #82, as well as eeriness in Europe, #94, --

When I was 19, I got to go to London for a semester. On the weekends, my fellow students and I traipsed around and did all the traveling we could. I decided I really wanted to go to Wales, but no one else was interested, so I went alone, taking the train to Conwy and using the local buses to go from village to village. I arrived in one village around 7 p.m. on a Saturday evening. No one was around, it was getting dark and I heard the most ungodly wailing -- like hopeless, lost souls at the Last Judgment. It was quite a relief to find out that the racket was caused by a pen of sheep.

Later, sitting in another bus, I got into a conversation with several teenaged boys. Not that much younger than I was, actually, but enough. Of course they realized immediately that I was an American, and they asked me in all seriousness if I generally saw Starsky and Hutch in person out on the streets on a daily basis (this was the mid '70's).

What a wonderful thread. Memories unfolding like fractals, one thing leading to another...

#117 ::: Cat Meadors ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 12:52 PM:

On monasteries and unexpected critters: the story of my laptop before it became my laptop.

In the dust-dry desert of Rajasthan, saffron-clad monks with chapati tongs seize fist-sized black scorpions by their tails, glittering in the monitor's glow, and fling them over the Ashram walls.

#118 ::: pixelfish ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:02 PM:

My family made their own fireworks one year. (Obligatory disclaimer: do not try this at home. In fact, don't do a lot of things I did in my childhood. I'm occasionally not sure how we survived everything we did.)

My dad was a bit of a chemistry nut when he was a kid, and it continued into adulthood. Anyway, one Fourth of July with the blessing of the local cops, who lived two doors down from us, and another friend of my father's, we made mini-firework sparky cone things. We had a few duds, and a few that worked, although they showed a distressing tendancy to fall over and shoot around the street. We also filled a pumpkin with little black powder pockets, lit the thing, and ran like hell. It rained pumpkin chunks for about half a minute.

(Again, please do not emulate this. I'm sure Jim Macdonald has stories he can tell about Fourth of July stunts gone wrong. But at least I can always say that I once made my own fireworks.)

#119 ::: Kat ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:19 PM:

#66 where not to pitch your tent

The trip I took in 1993 with 60 other recently-former 6th graders (one from each elementary school in the district) was not the first time I'd been camping. My family had gone lots of times---I'd even pitched the tent before, and I'd practiced with this tent during the month I'd spent preparing for the trip. (The rest of the preparation involved hiking around my suburban Colorado neighborhood wearing my frame pack full of water-filled former milk jugs.)

What I hadn't done was pick tent sites. It had just started to rain when we arrived at our first location, still inside Colorado somewhere around Fruita, so my tentmate and I picked a lovely spot near a cliff, out of the worst of the wind and rain. This was great until about 2 AM, when whatever had been diverting the accumulating rainfall gave way, and an impromptu waterfall developed over and into our campsite. We were drenched, tent, campers, packs and all, but still smiling because the thunderstorm was so beautiful.

#120 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:31 PM:

Pitching tents... I went to a summer camp for the first 2 weeks of July 1969. When I was finally set free, I spent the following days glued to my TV set as I watched Armstrong, Aldrin and Collins take off.

#121 ::: Ariella ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:46 PM:

Eeriness in Europe

A few years ago I was backpacking on the cheap through Romania. One night I stayed at the Continental Hotel in Cluj-Napoca. It had obviously once been a very grand establishment, but the twentieth century had not been kind to it. The marble floors had bare concrete strips where the carpets were supposed to go, and elaborate acanthus-leaf brackets on the walls contained bare lightbulbs. Night was falling but the staff, being thrifty, had decided not to turn on the lights in the upstairs hallways. To find my attic room, I had to get out my backpacker flashlight and shine it into all the doorways and alcoves, all the while cackling "Velcome to Transylvania!" under my breath.

It was only after I had returned to Canada that I realized that the Continental Hotel, Cluj-Napoca, Romania is the former Hotel Royale, Klausenburg, Hungary which makes an appearance at the beginning of Dracula.

#122 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 01:56 PM:


When I was very small--toddler age--my grandmother owned a small farm. One of my very first memories is of her setting two or three-year-old me upon the back of her horse and leading it around. I couldn't get over how big I was, sitting up so high!

#123 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:09 PM:

Hiking in Washington State: I spent the two summers after graduating from Evergreen at an archaeological fieldschool at 45SK99, a site on the north side of one of the land-locked islands in the Skagit Delta. We camped at a dairy farm on the south side of that hill, overlooking the pea and mustard fields and under the flight paths of newly-fledged eagles and the Air Force Reserve summer camp at WINAS.

Every morning we hiked down a very old trail across the face of the basalt bluff and along a quarter-mile of boardwalk at the edge of the south fork of the Skagit, lined with old weekend cabins and ferns and rein orchids, then cut back through the icy shade of a riparian deciduous forest. People think of cedar and hemlock as the archetypical Western Washington forest, but the truth is most Puget Sound riparian zones flood too often and too violently for cedar to take hold. Red Alder and Black Cottonwood and Oregon Ash all grown fast and big and brittle in wet silt, make the soil more fertile with their big soft leaves and quickly decomposing branches, fill the air with pollen and seed in turn.

I'm an upland species, myself, used to dry Douglas Fir forests where fire and logging between them keep the succession at the first forest sere, and the understory is made up of salal and low Oregon grape and snowberry. The river forest was full of cane berries (salmon berry, thimble berry) and strange soft plants like enchanter's nightshade and silvergreen, and even the birds were different, even the light, but most especially the scent.

Two and a half miles in every morning, and two and a half miles out in the evening, laden with sample bags and artifact bags and all the photographic gear, serenaded by Swainson's thrushes fluting calls and the sussuration of leaves.

#124 ::: cyborgsuzy ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:21 PM:

On horses and pitching tents.

I was a charter student of my riding instructor. That first summer, there were no waivers, no helmet or boot requirements, and from week one, little 8-year-old me was sent out into the herd unassisted to retrieve them for saddling. In retrospect, there were major safety issues (later corrected).

But nothing will ever compare to that summer's camp-out; taking nothing but a sleeping bag out into the 40-acre pasture, curling up into the hollow between the roots of a 300-year-old oak, and falling asleep under the stars while a herd of ponies wanders by, one occasionally coming near to give your hair or feet a curious snuffle.

#125 ::: Keith ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:29 PM:

Further Eeriness in Europe:

In 2001, my wife and I spent Easter Weekend in Prague. Easter Sunday was a cold morning, with gray skies and most of Old Town was empty, except for a handful of cafes that were open. We wandered around until admiring the architecture until it started to snow. Then we went inside an 800 year old church. We stood in the back, listening the hum of the Priest's voice as he delivered a sermon in Czech, and admiring a small display of historic information about the church, which had been struck by lightning twice in it's 800 years. The last time lightning struck, it melted the bell.

#126 ::: SamChevre ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 02:30 PM:

Memories of Kolozsvar:

Walking down a street, and noticing that the posts of the fence around the public park were painted in horizontal stripes blue yellow red--a clear statement that Romanians are in charge here.

(Kolozsvar is the Hungarian name: Cluj-Napoca is the Romanian.)

#127 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:04 PM:

Carol Kimball @ 99... Two Belgians were being walked through a milling crowd

Hercules Poirot and...?

#128 ::: Khadjair ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:19 PM:

Following on fences:

Not yards from the front door lay a secret place, heavy with blackberries and the lingering scent of lilacs even in a hot New York August. Heavy humid haze did little to deter adolescent curiosity, and I crept with purloined garden shears into the thicket, consuming berries on the way. This little patch of undergrowth held treasures beyond the botanical, less than a football field's quarter.

Poking into the tangled brambles was a decaying wooden fence, marking the edge of the grave of an old blacksmith's shop, the dead and entombed heart of a forgotten village. A black pit still lay at its heart from the ash, and strewn about were the bent discarded nails and simple things, leaving iron-blood trails in the ground. A purloined handful of debris, brought home in triumph led to a search through ancient books.

In hands that had not yet seen a decade lay forgotten industry older than the nation in which they were found. 1750-1765.

(ideas: blackberries, thicket, blacksmith, archeology, summer day, old fence, old times, young explorer.)

(bonus info: 2 miles north of Weltonville, NY for the google-mapped)

#129 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:48 PM:

On realizing as a child that you were mortal, a poem I wrote one beautiful fall day when I was 10:

Life is fleeting,
Fleeting fast.
It will not last

(I didn't say it was a *good* poem.)

#130 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:55 PM:

Fireworks and critters:

One Fourth of July, we had them up in the forest (it had been an unusually damp year, so setting them off in the streambed was not going to cause a forest fire.)

All was well through the sparkler phase, the black snakes, and the first of the fountains. But then we set off the Piccolo Pete, which gives a high whistling sound as it shoots the sparks from its top.

The screeching faded into silence, and we stood with that momentary stillness you get after a firework goes off. And then, from the hillside behind us, the coyotes started replying.

We decided that we had seen enough fireworks for the time being, and repaired to the cabin.

#131 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 03:59 PM:

Emily #38:

More rain: a few weeks ago we were on a tour of inspection of houses in a new development. We came out of one house, saw that it was starting to rain, and settled down on the front porch to wait it out. It turned into a downpour, and suddenly this kid came biking down the street. As he drew even with us, he started to sing. "I'm riding in the rain, I'm riding in the rain!" I joined in. "What a glorious feeling, you're happy again!"

#132 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:09 PM:

Nancy #48

Singing, and travelling to Europe:

While I was in Italy on my research semester, I was joined for a few days by another student in my department. In Vicenza, we visited the Teatro Olimpico, one of the first theatres. It was reasonably late in the afternoon, and nobody else was in the theatre proper. I looked around, saw only my friend, and couldn't resist. I broke into song. Amazing acoustics; I'd never made Cherubino sound better. The glitter of the room and the glitter of the sound were unforgettable. It spoiled me; it was all I could do to resist singing inside La Scala a couple of months later.

#133 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:10 PM:

Serge @ 127 - Hercules Poirot and...?


#134 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:35 PM:

SylvieG @ 133... What a team of detectives these two would make.

#135 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:49 PM:

Catherynne Valente @ #39 talked about visiting Hase-dera.

We also visited Hase-dera on our trip to Japan last summer--wonderful, and enhanced by a genuinely informative English-language map and pamphlet. All of Kamakura was great, actually, despite the pouring rain in the morning.

But the thing I remember best about Hase-dera, better than the Kannon statue washed up from the sea, or the thousands of Jizo statues, or the huge racks of sutras that, if turned by hand, earn one the same amount of merit as reading the contents . . . is the koi.

Practially every ornamental body of water in Japan has koi, of course, and the ones at temples are quite used to being fed by visitors. We'd been doing heavy tourism in Japan for more than a week, and no longer remarked on seeing koi cluster near pathways. Except these koi were so thick that they were stacked vertically, only their gaping mouths visible above water.

They were my second-favorite demanding animals in Japan. My favorite was the turtle at a small, exquisite temple in Kyoto (Konchi-in) that really wanted food and was willing to stare at me expectantly for as long as it took for me to produce it. We stared at each other for a good long time, as I waited for a special tour of the temple's inner rooms--on which Chad and I were joined by another American couple, who we kept seeing at other tourist sites afterward--including with the deer at Nara, my third-favorite demanding animals in Japan (being land animals, they were a lot more demanding).

#136 ::: Marie Brennan ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:55 PM:

Following on #104's pairing of fireworks and snow:

Ski trip with the Harvard Band, to somewhere I've forgotten in New England. One night we snowshoe up the mountain (with my glasses fogging up so abominably that I was actually better off without them -- this at like nine diopters of myopia), then park our butts in the snow to watch fireworks from the top.

But the fun part comes when it's time to go down. We came up through the woods, but go down one of the ski trails, and by this point we're all human icicles, because we've been sitting in the snow. Our guide -- perhaps not thinking we would do it; certainly not expecting what he got -- suggests that we sing songs to warm ourselves up/keep ourselves moving.

This being the Harvard Band, we promptly launch into our repertoire of "raunch songs," i.e the filthiest and most offensive tunes I've personally heard (or sung) in my life. The only non-X-rated one was "The Ted Kennedy Song," which is put to the tune of "The Irish Washerwoman" and is now in poorer taste than ever given his current health problems, as it is a wholly unkind litany of all the Kennedy family tragedies. The rest degenerated from there.

What makes this funny is that our guide was ex-military, and I'm pretty sure we managed to appall him -- judging by the look on his face.

#137 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 04:58 PM:

Following on from 56 (Oxford) and all of the posts on magic moments and the sacred:

I've occasionally bored my sister, a practical businesswoman with little poetry in her soul (bless her wonderful heart), by waxing rhapsodic about archival libraries. After one of my longer monologues, my sister interrupted, "And do they have a boys' choir that starts singing every time you open a book?"

Well, several months later I was at Duke Humfrey's Library, the medieval manuscripts room at Oxford's Bodleian Library. I'd finally gotten permission to see the book I'm writing my dissertation on, but I only had two days with it, so I had to spend as much time in the library as I could over those days.

By 7:30 on the first night, I'd progressed about three quarters of the way through the manuscript. I was high on the smell of vellum and on the feeling you get when you've spent hours intensely focused on something you love passionately. At that time of night, only a few dedicated souls remain in Duke Humfrey's. Except for the rustle of the vellum and a few footfalls tapping on the floor, the silence is all-encompassing. But all at once, I thought I heard something high and clear, just at the edge of range. "I don't believe it," I said to myself. "There's the boys' choir."

I turned my eyes back to the manuscript and forgot the choir, but at nine, when I left my work for the night and walked out into the Bodleian courtyard, I could hear it again. The voices reflected, odd and faint, off the stone walls of university buildings. I couldn't tell where the music was coming from. I followed the voices in circles until I was standing outside a theatre in the Bodleian's shadow, where there seemed to be a rehearsal going on.

There I stood, on that chilly February night, in a shadowy courtyard lit by yellow lamplight. There were no other human beings in sight. The choir sang high and low, in interweaving polyphonies, and I couldn't tell what they were singing, but to this day I'm sure it was something holy. No one could sing like that without singing hallelujah.

#138 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:00 PM:

Surrounded by cats, in Europe:

On the island of San Pietro on the eastern side of Venice, on the other side from the Cathedral of the same name, is a small campo. I recall it as being made all of creamy stone, although this seems unlikely. The chief feature is the astonishing number of cats, all of whom, presumably otherwise abandoned, show up at regular times for feeding. They share their bowls equably, if distantly, and then separate, each to wash and groom. They then drift away silently, in many directions, ignoring the humans entirely. It's almost spooky, as if there were a "Peaceable Kingdom" painting inhabited entirely by cats.

#139 ::: dido ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Velma @109: Oh god. The first thing I wanted to be when I grew up was Secretariat. When my mom told me that was impossible I switched to Seattle Slew. (Yeah, a little unclear on the concept.) The last time I cried at a celebrity death was when they put him down.

Off pixelfish @118: The neighbor twins and I found a coffee can full of black sand in one of the dads' shops. We stole it and for reasons that are unclear tried throwing a pinch or two on a fire. We got about 1/4 of a can's worth of entertainment out of it before my dad discovered we tossing the black powder for his old muzzle-loader rifle on open fires to watch it flare up.

Yeah. Not sure how I survived childhood.

#140 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Travelling in Japan: this past spring while visiting Himeji, we spotted an inexplicable bronze statue of a nude saxophonist (not our picture, though).

#141 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:15 PM:

Still on the unexpected finds while hiking in the hills:

One afternoon in late July, in a foul mood, I went walking in Holyrood Park in Edinburgh.

The park consists of three hills, almost entirely free of buildings (there is one ruin), completely surrounded by the city. Arthur's Seat is the tallest of the three, and its summit is the highest spot in Edinburgh. Like all of the hills, it's part of an old volcanic plug, with plenty of rocky cliffs and drops as well as the more peaceful grassy and gorse-grown slopes.

I was just beginning the ascent up the long grassy back slope of Arthur's Seat when I heard someone shouting from a minor pinnacle below me. My first thought was that he was being awfully loud. My second was that he was shouting in iambic pentameter.

It was the opening scene of The Tempest. The Edinburgh Festival was opening in less than a week, and one of the Shakespeare companies was doing a final rehearsal of a production that ranged over the long slope up to the rocky summit. They kindly let me, and a few other people attracted by the shouting, follow along.

I was late back to our apartment, but it was worth it.

#142 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:17 PM:

Bugs, creatures of the night, and the unexpected:

When I was fifteen, my bedroom had a window right at ground level. (Don't ask, just blame my father.) One early summer night, I went to bed with the window open, screen all installed. I woke up to little lights dancing round the room. I couldn't figure out what was making the sparks, but sort of enjoyed lying there watching them, and eventually went back to sleep. The next day, I discovered that the screen was loose, and that I had been invaded by fireflies. The odd part is that once I knew what they were, I couldn't just continue to enjoy them; I started to be afraid that they'd fly into me, or crawl along me. But I still remember all the eerie flashes. (Note that I have been almost blind without some sort of corrective lenses since I was seven, so they didn't look like fireflies to me.)

#143 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 05:24 PM:

Holyrood and Arthur's Seat, and more rain:

We were in line at Holyrood, and the woman behind us and her grandson had, it developed, just been up to Arthur's Seat. It had been misting all day; my husband and I had been thinking it was, while not actively foul, not the best weather for a day of sightseeing. The woman said to her grandson, "Isn't it a beautiful day?" All we could do not to collapse laughing.

#144 ::: Glen FIsher ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:05 PM:

Featuring maps, and introducing project management!

In a company long long ago and far far away, the manager of the project I worked on was fond of describing the progress of the project as if it were an military operation. However, he didn't talk of combat, assaults, and so forth. Rather, the conceit was that work on the project corresponded to taking control of a mythical foreign territory. Each subproject was considered to be a "country" in the territory; the more progress was made, the more land was occupied. He went so far as to create a "map" of the project on blueprint paper, with suitable "country" boundaries drawn in for each subproject (and arranged so that "travel" across the map encountered the "countries" in the same order that the projects had to be completed). As progress was made, or obstacles encountered, he'd update the hatching indicating "occupied land" on the map to reflect the progress, and run off a new printing.

I still have one of those maps.

#145 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:08 PM:

On fireworks:
After the flood in Iowa City, while the water was still over City Park, they moved the fireworks to Hubbard Park, which had been a little damp but not deluged, and people sat on the Pentacrest, on and around the Old Capitol and the other big limestone buildings. There was a jazz festival beforehand, so lots of people were there. Not blanket-to-blanket, but enough. Everyone was quietly friendly, or loudly, and people compromised on where to sit so they wouldn't see this or that light, or there wasn't a tree in the way. Little kids chased fireflies and one very stressed rabbit. My friend Kate came to meet me, and once we'd connected ("Where are you?" she asked via cell phone. "I'm on the left side as you walk down, right by the sidewalk-- there you are! I'm waving!") we sat and sang the Discovery Channel boom de yada song. She insisted that she gets the 'go fast' line.
Then fireworks, loud and close. The string of aerial bombs blasted, and echoed, and echoed again, and it was like being inside a drum-- a big drum, but still.

#146 ::: pocketeer ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:13 PM:

still from #1 and the finding of things in books...

in Halifax
the Harbour waters still foul and stinking, then
in a bookstore
Guarded by an Iron knight, stacked of used treasure
maps, nautical tales, religious tracts,
works of fiction and building materials
philosophy found me a book: Voltaire
curiosity found the unexpected inside: green ink
ad-lib preface? Penned inscription? Disputation?
The beginning is unexpected, "being of sound body and mind..."
dated Year of Our Lord 1942, Edmonton.

More treasure bought than expected.
More written than listed on covers.

#147 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 06:52 PM:

Not sure how I survived childhood.

When I was seven, my friend Carolyn and I climbed out of her window onto the roof of her two-story house. Actually climbing out was a bit tricky, but it was a nice flat roof, and we stayed well away from the edge. Unfortunately, a neighbor saw us and told our parents, so we never did *that* again.

#148 ::: Kate Nepveu ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:02 PM:

Julie L @ #140: We saw the nude saxophonist statue in Himeji, too! I was going to say that you couldn't miss it if you took the train to Himeji and went to the castle, but I suppose if you didn't walk on that side of the street . . .

Chad posted a poll, whether it or the naked boy riding a carp in Takayama was more distressing.

#149 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:11 PM:

Edinburgh and magic moments:

In June of 1996 I was visiting a friend in Edinburgh and managed to walk myself up Arthur's Seat the hard way, backwards, up the steep side, because, being American and conditioned to go round public places bearing right, I'd gone up the mount counterclockwise instead of following the gentler grassy slope the other way round.

On the same trip my host and some friends of his took me through a cemetery somewhere - I don't know the name - and I stood at the close of day before a great obelisk carved with solemn words. I copied them down into my note-book and was filled with a sense of - awe, perhaps, of the smallness of myself, that Something Important Happened Here, something outside my experience and of which I had not known I knew nothing.

(Later, of course, I found the notebook during a move, and googled on the quotation I had copied, and learned what it was I saw. But the not knowing was far, far more important than the knowing.)

#150 ::: Melissa Mead ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:22 PM:

On roof-climbing:
When I was little and my sister was littler, I wanted to know what the world looked like from the roof. I couldn't climb out the window myself, so I talked my sister into doing it for me. My dad caught her halfway out, gave me the expected butt-swat for endangering her...

...and, later, took me out the window and onto the roof with him so we could both see the view.

#151 ::: Naamah Darling ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 07:53 PM:

#131, Joann, with serendipitous singing partners. I had that happen with Styx's Renegade in 1998, at a Whataburger in the deadest hour of the night.

Husband and I walked in. There were three-ish other diners, but the place was stony quiet; no music playing, nothing. Nobody was talking. We placed our order with the single cashier and were waiting for food to appear when one of the cooks in the back began to sing mournfully.

Oh mamma I'm in fear for my life from the long arm of the law. . .

I couldn't help it, and joined in on the next line.

Lawman has put an end to my running and I'm so far from my home.

Then, it happened. With each succeeding line someone else joined in, until it was me and the Husband, the two guys in back, and a couple of the diners. And someone, somewhere, was doing the harmony during the appropriate bits.

It was so freaking cool. Joyous and silly and just a little bit hair-raising.

At least, that's how I remember it.

#152 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 08:07 PM:

#140 saxophone player and various city park stories

Many years ago my husband and I missed the last train home from the movies. We walked across town at about 2am and cut across the National Mall. It was very quiet and we hadn't seen another person in quite a while. We were just exiting one tree line and starting across the grass when we heard a saxophone playing somewhere in the dark; it was a sad and lonely piece. It felt like we were in a movie version of late night in a city. The sprinklers suddenly came on and we ran through them hand in hand making it even more movielike.

#153 ::: Epacris ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 08:51 PM:

Language and Place
I heard a woman telling a story of how during her university days she was — so unusual in a student — running late to submit an essay, & hastily wrote a comparison of the differing religious symbols & customs in the holy cities of Varanasi and Benares in India. It wasn't until after submitting it she found that, like Mumbai & Bombay & many other places in India, these were two names of the one place.

Satellite Photo Maps and 'Reality'
1) My home is on a busy & important road, running straight for a mile or two along the top of a ridge next to central Sydney. On my first use of Google Street View, like everyone else looking for my place, it was in the only block along the whole length missing.
2) Walking in a new area of the city I discovered a tiny hidden oasis right off a big busy main road. Two little angled lanes of brick terrace houses lined with tubs & pots full of plants, with at least two friendly cats &, in the point of the triangle formed by the lanes, a minuscule park — lawn, flowerbeds, tables & benches. On Google Maps the park is invisible, covered by two leafy trees. Shocked, I realised since the photo was taken both have died, still standing as bare skeletons I'd barely noticed.

#154 ::: Vicki ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:05 PM:

From 63, on French and Spanish:

When I was in Paris, nine years ago, I took a sidetrip to the Museum of French Prehistory (which runs from the Paleolithic to early CE). It's in a suburb, and I carefully looked up the price and worked out the French for "one round-trip ticket to St. Germain en Laye" before walking up to the ticket counter. [I speak little French now, and had less then.] From the rail station, it's a short walk to an old castle (complete with moat, though grassy rather than watery).

I was one of only a few people visiting the museum that day: it's not a big deal tourist destination, and this was on a weekday morning in late November. There isn't a word of English in the place, but plenty of stone points and such, and significant overlap between French and English archeological terminology. When I was basically done and went back to the cloakroom, another visitor was trying to communicate with the staff. When I came along, she looked at me and hopefully asked "Habla usted español?" and, accurately and without thinking, I said "oui."

She understood that much French, or maybe my tone, and I was able to help her a little with my high school Spanish.

#155 ::: meredith ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 09:35 PM:

Language and touristing:

At the end of my aforementioned junior year in Germany, my sister came over and we spent the better part of 3 weeks touring northern Italy, France, and the Rheinland. Mostly we were able to get by on German where English wouldn't do, except for one notable exception: Ravenna. In the train station there, it was Italian or nothing.

We had a rather complicated itinerary to work out, trying to get to Cologne via Milan with a stop in Verona on the way. We managed it by my sister feeding me Latin words upon which I stuck French endings. This got us through just fine. :)

#156 ::: Lee ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:07 PM:

Language and dialects:

I was in the lobby of a mildly seedy motel in Knoxville, looking for directions to a restaurant that should have been visible from the entrance but wasn't. (It turned out to be no longer open.)

The desk clerk was Indian or Pakistani, with a thick accent. The woman who was trying to check in was black, with a very inner-city dialect. I could understand both of them quite well, but they were sure having a hell of a time communicating with each other! I considered offering to translate, but wasn't sure how the offer would be received; after all, this was not Airplane.

#157 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:27 PM:

On languages:
My father took Latin in school and may have picked up some Spanish somewhere. My mother took high school French and spent six weeks in Rome playing in the orchestra there. They met and moved to Honduras, where they had me.
Neither parent speaks Latin, French, Italian, or Spanish any more. They understand, they make themselves understood, but they speak Hybrid Romance.

#158 ::: Elliott Mason ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Precocious children, via ajay, #97:

I learned to read far before my grade school felt was reasonable, and was reading Judy Blume by the time I got to first grade and they gave us (so help me) Dick and Jane readers. I felt patronized and insulted, and have never dealt well with that, so I started getting sulky and disruptive in class.

My mom had a more helpful suggestion; following it, I carefully answered all the questions in the mini-quizzes in a single night, handed it in, and politely asked the teacher if I mightn't go to the next higher reading group.

Then, over the course of two weeks, I continued to do so until I was in the lowest reading group two grades up, where the books finally quit having print bigger than my pinky's fingernail and eighty times more pictures than words.

In my second week in that class, we got a storylet about Jean-Luc Cousteau, whom I had adored since my first viewing of his show on PBS.

I should backtrack a little, and note that the teacher of that grade (a) was brand new to the profession, and (b) didn't know I was a precocious, difficult loudmouth -- I had been reading quietly and not speaking up since I came into her class.

She asked, brightly, "Can anyone tell me what S.C.U.B.A. stands for?" I found out many years later that she'd intended it as a socratic teaching method; she was going to show us how to look information up and find good answers.

However, this one, I knew. When I saw nobody else was going to take it, I popped my hand up, waited politely to be called on, and piped precisely, "Self-contained underwater breathing apparatus, Miss O'Brien."

Fifteen years later, she was still flabbergasted enough to be telling the story. It's kind of odd finding out at a grade school reunion that you've become a legend in absentia. :->

#159 ::: heresiarch ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:45 PM:

From Kete Nepveu's turtles in Japan--

There is a pond in Nara that is now completely surrounded by a concrete walkway at least two or three feet above the surface of the water. For the many turtles that live in the pond, that might as well be the moon. In the pond there are two or three rocks or logs that break the surface of the pond, and there is an unending, desperate, and most of all slow struggle among the hundreds of turtles to occupy that space. Sometimes they stack themselves two or three turtles deep, like something from Seuss. It is comical, but also very sad--that is their entire world, edged in concrete.

#160 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 10:47 PM:

singing: late in my last term of college, after the last major concert (B-Minor Mass), somebody threw the chorus a party; in the middle of it there was a false alarm, so we all tramped down to the courtyard and stood around singing lewd madrigals until the alarm was cleared. When about half of us were on the staircase leading to the top-floor party site, somebody started singing the Dona Nobis, which is essentially a 3-minute-long crescendo. The staircase was one of those open types that in an apartment building would have had an elevator retrofitted into it; by the time we were all on the staircase and singing, the sound rang up and down the open column as if it would go on forever.
I still miss the way the students loved music; I've never found an adult chorus, even a relatively young one, that was so passionate and so awed about what they were doing.

linkmeister, squirrels: on our first trip to Minneapolis we visited a number of sites from War for the Oaks; Loring Park, site of an important meeting, was largely owned by geese and squirrels. (You've never seen human panhandlers nearly this aggressive -- the squirrels would come partway up your leg to make \sure/ that wasn't food in your hand.) We complained to the author (in the con suite that night) that she had not portrayed the park realistically; she answered "All the squirrels in Loring wear black leather jackets."

I've also seen one of the first steps in recovery from an environmental disaster: chipmunks all over the blasted area of Mt. St. Helens in 1991. Mostly begging, again, but you just knew they were in and out of the woods where they were safer from predators than in the open, and dropping seeds wherever they went.

#161 ::: Stefan Jones ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:07 PM:

Unintentionally frightening people, wine:

1989. I'm a brand new traveling sales trainer. I'd flown to SF conventions but that's about it; I'm a geek in a brand new unfamiliar world of retail. After a week at a trade show I get sent to do two trainings at Silo appliance stores in Oklahoma.

I think Tulsa was first. They put me up in the Holiday Inn. It was a special one, with a "Holidome," an enclosed courtyard with a pool, shuffleboard court, free-standing arcade games, a little putting green, and the like. After a week at the Four Seasons it strikes me as laughably quaint.

After bubbling myself in the hot tub I return to my room. I notice a hatch under the sink. Big enough to fit into. I open it up and find:

1) A secret passage.

Well, not so secret. It's a "wet wall" service area, extending up and down and ahead and to the right. I could, if I had a mind too, wander around back there and listen to people's rooms. But I also find . . .

2) Wine. Two bottles of cheap screw-top wine, balanced on the sill of the door. Unopened.

This really weirded me out at the time. On one level I knew they were probably left there by a guest who wanted to surprise a date with them, or perhaps teens hiding them from chaperons. But as a geek, and a D&D player, two bottles of wine balanced on the edge of a labyrinth behind the walls was an invitation to pleasantly twisted conjecture.

I didn't drink, so I left them be, as a surprise for someone else.

The next day I run my training session, in a meeting room in the hotel. It goes well. As I'm packing up my sample computer there's a whirl of activity in the corridor outside. The place has been taken over by The International Order of the Daughters of Job. I later found out that this was a masonic spin-off group for teenage girls, but at the time it was mysterious and a little creepy.

The rooms had signs: Dressing room. Robe check. Bethel Ceremony Completion. There were a bunch of uptight-looking Midwestern ladies (think Martin Short's Church Lady) running around, and nervous teenage girls in white robes.

Like the wine bottles, this was a cause for imaginative conjecture. I didn't see anyone dressed as a satyr enter the Bethel Ceremony room, but it wouldn't have surprised me.

#162 ::: Zora ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:37 PM:

Language triumphs:

I studied French in middle school and high school. At some point I decided that it was time to read something beyond textbooks and I acquired a copy of Les Trois Mousquetaires in French. After reading the first chapter and conscientiously looking up every word I didn't know, I decided that this was NOT FUN. Henceforth, if I didn't know a word, I would just keep reading.

Halfway through the book, after the mousquetaires had been waving their feutres, getting bullets through their feutres, etcetera, I realized that a feutre was a felt hat.

My first French word solely from context -- the way children learn. It was an illumination.

#163 ::: Singing Wren ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:41 PM:

holy places, rain, France, communicating across languages

Last summer (2007) I visited France for the first time. Mostly, we stayed in the Paris area. We spent one day in Reims. Unlike the rest of our trip, when the weather had been sunny (if unseasonably cool), it was overcast and occassionally raining in Reims. Despite the weather, after lunch a few of us decide to visit the cathedral anyway.

I separated from our group after we had seen the cathedral. I had seen a needlework shop on our way from the town square to the cathedral, and I wanted to see what I could find there that I couldn't find at home. It was a small shop, but oh, the racks of lace! Do you speak English? I asked the shopkeeper? We were in the northeast of France, and not too far from Paris, so I thought she might speak English or German as a second language. No, she told me. Do you speak Spanish? I shook my head. I speak a little French, I told her.

The shopkeeper smiled and spoke slowly. She confirmed my measurements as I pointed out pieces of lace, and told her how many centimeters I wanted. I can count in French, and I can convert between inches and centimeters in my head, but both at once was a stretch for me.

When I was done, she rang me up. The total was something like 2.35 Euros (I bought very small pieces of lace). I pulled a handful of change out of my pocket, but most of my small coins had been spent on tea that morning at Gare de l'Est. I handed her 2.25 without thinking, and she pointed to the total again. I counted my change again (more carefully this time). Three euros? I asked. I would need change, but it would cover the full total. The shopkeeper smiled at me, and said something. I didn't understand the words, but I understood the meaning - Don't worry about it.

I was very excited when I rejoined my family. The entire transaction had been in French (and a little Spanish). There was no opportunity to switch to English if things got difficult, and I don't recall ever seeing lace shopping as a sample conversation in a phrasebook. A little rain was certainly not going to dampen my enthusiasm that afternoon.

#164 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:44 PM:


We went to Oklahoma City for Christmas in 1995, to visit my husband's Aunt Betty (who, among other things, was the teacher C.J. Cherryh did her student teaching with). Aunt Betty's house was full of family, and Uncle Carl had Alzheimers and did better without unfamiliar faces around. We stayed at a Holiday Inn with Holidome, and the kids got to go swimming every night before bedtime, which made up a little for spending their days packed in an over-crowded house.

Everyone was still dealing with the Murrow Building bombing, and Aunt Betty proudly wore the rainbow ribbon pin that had been sold to raise money for the memorial (I think). She was also very ill, and wanted to show us things out in Anadarko, including the Christmas Forest light display in the city park, which included a huge version of the rainbow ribbon.

It was a nice display, all in all- Anadarko is a very small town, with an awful lot of empty storefronts- but toward the end there was a big cross with a sign in front, words picked out in old-style big bulb Christmas lights, all-caps in a square font. From a distance it looked like "JESUS SHOES" although closer up it was legible, barely, as Jesus Saves.

Aunt Betty, being Aunt Betty, thought it was hilarious.

#165 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:45 PM:

Hiking, animal encounters, and even breaking through language barriers of sorts:

I was walking in the woods late on a summer afternoon in what passes for wilderness in the middle of Iowa, heading for a spot I'd been many times before, where there is a small clearing beside a nice swimming hole. There was a raccoon in the middle of the clearing. When it saw me, it got up on its tippytoes and chattered at me.

Now if you were to plunk me down in Paris as a tourist, I would have to read the French to understand it. But in this case I could understand the raccoon across the species barrier. It was saying, "This is my home. You're the intruder here."

(The raccoon persuaded me to leave, so I can't tie this anecdote to the skinnydipping thread.)

And Abi, thanks for starting off this wonderful topic. Even those who don't versify have been very poetic.

#166 ::: HP ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:47 PM:

The particular smell of very old books (#137, et al):

When I was undergraduate at music school at Indiana University, I was vaguely aware that the library was selling off old books, but I wasn't particularly interested, because I thought it was going to be 3rd editions of Mozart, etc., whereas I was more interested in jazz and the roots of American music. After the auction was over, I was heading back home after several hours of desultory practice of scales and patterns. As I walked down a dark path outside the Music School, past the dumpsters, I picked up the unmistakable smell of ancient paper. I reached into the dumpster, and felt a small book, with a thin cover of wood veneer. I grabbed it and put it in my bag, sight unseen.

When I examined it in the light of the following day, I found that it was a first edition of The Easy Instructor, from 1784, with arrangements by William Billings. It was the absolute beginning, the Magna Carta if you will, of what we now know as American popular music.

#167 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: September 30, 2008, 11:50 PM:

Stefan Jones, I wasn't in Job's Daughters-- I was a Rainbow Girl, another Masonic spinoff. Part of me is convinced that when my heart is weighed, those broken vows will be what pull me down.

#168 ::: pedantic peasant ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 01:33 AM:

Abi, and friends and lurkers,

Thank you for this.

Today I had a master's class after teaching high school, then came home and graded for three and a half hours. I decided to treat myself to fifteen minutes of this before bed.

I haven't time to read all the entries yet, much less post, but I want you to know I am sitting in a chair in my living room, after midnight, surrounded by the silent noises of my sleeping family, crying great pearly tears of joy at memories both joyous and bittersweet which I have not thought of or considered in years.

A precious gift indeed.

May you all find such happiness, and, when appropriate to your timezones, sweet dreams.

Thank you.


#169 ::: G D Townshende ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 02:19 AM:

On travel, since my life has been (and still remains) one of constant peregrination, a poem I wrote back in January 2005, after having read Robert Browning's Home-Thoughts, From Abroad...

by G D Townshende

I'm sick for a home I've not yet found.
That's what Browning brought around:
Thoughts of a life lived overseas,
And thoughts of a light, yet travelling breeze.
For my heart is filled with a wanderlust,
To go over there! It's that,... or bust!

#170 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 04:43 AM:

On light after darkness and unexpected group experiences:

On a family jaunt through the South of France when I was a child, we went on the official tour of some of the Carcassone caves. This was a very well-organized, guided group tour with well-lit paths and many vaulted ceilings with gorgeous rock formations - no moments of terror or real darkness...but... It took several hours, all below ground, and ended in a short trip on boats on an underground river. During the tour, the group of forty-or-more tourists had developed the friendly sort of camaraderie one has on these things, but on that last leg, on the water, something special happened.

There was a small bend in the river. We were in small boats, the whole lot of us, pushing slowly through calm water driven by quiet little outboard motors. Around the bend, suddenly, there was the mouth of the cave. Beyond this curve of light and shadow there was a green river bank and blue sky and yellow sunlight, and all of us, every one, gasped at the same time.

I've never forgotten it - that intense sudden realization that we had all been in the dark, and that was the world out there. Sometimes I think that's the closest I've ever come to the feeling religious believers get through prayer.

#171 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 06:56 AM:

170: I was on a similar trip through the karst caves of Moravia, and the rest of the group was made up of members of a choir that was on tour in the area. And on the underground river, they started singing. Brrrr.

Halfway through the book, after the mousquetaires had been waving their feutres, getting bullets through their feutres, etcetera, I realized that a feutre was a felt hat.

still chuckling about that... "Were you stabbed in the fracas?" "No, sir, I was stabbed between the fracas and the navel."

#172 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 08:59 AM:

From #150, on parents helping us explore:

It is a small thing, but it is one of my favorite examples of how my parents encouraged our curiosity as children.

We were on a summer vacation in North Georgia, further north than I'd ever been. As we drove along, my mother pointed out some Queen Anne's Lace growing by the side of the road. I'd read about it but never seen it before, so my father stopped the car and my mother picked one for my sister and me to look at.

That's all, just a simple flower-picking (okay, Queen Anne's Lace has a very tough stem, and she had to uproot one) but every time I'm baffled by a lack of curiosity in others, I remember that moment and know that my parents taught me that it is okay to wonder and okay to find out.

#173 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:11 AM:

Shopping across language barriers/traveling in Japan/beautiful smiles:

After 9/11, airlines were offering massive frequent-flyer bonuses (including having the bonus miles count for elite status, which they usually don't) and crazy-low fares to get any butts in any seats they possibly could.

So we went to Tokyo over Thanksgiving weekend. ($550 per person, round trip from Boston, and double miles[1] that counted toward elite status; that trip alone was worth about 1/3 of the way to Platinum Elite.)

While we were there, H. wanted to buy a yukata. We went to one of the large department stores, found the appropriate department, and quickly discovered that the saleswoman spoke almost no English, while our Japanese was limited to a few words and phrases plus whatever we could badly pronounce out of our phrasebook.

We smiled, she smiled, we said "Yukata onegai shimasu", she looked at H. and said something which clearly meant "for you?" We said "Hai", she looked H. up and down for a couple of seconds, walked over to a shelf and picked up a yukata, pointed at the size label, and smiled again.

We found a design we liked, she added up the total and showed us the number on a calculator, we paid, and everyone smiled some more. H. still has the yukata, which makes a nice summerweight robe for wearing around the house.

[1] Those miles later came in handy in 2003, but that's a different story.

#174 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 09:36 AM:

On Queen Anne's Lace, and exploring:

My grandmother and I used to walk along the road from her house -- this was the one they'd built after the summer house, on a dead-end road, along the lake -- and all along the road were flowers, trees, the occasional brook or stream burbling gently down to the lake, frogs, small fish, brambles, skunkweed, mayflies, Queen Anne's Lace, wild irises, wild lilies, bees, interesting rocks that might have fossils, leaves of all colors, sunlight, birds, deer tracks, and other mysteries. She'd sing as we walked, and we'd hold hands, swinging them and walking in step, and laughing.

#175 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:35 AM:

ajay @ 171... I was stabbed between the fracas and the navel.

That's got to have hurt your fricassée.

#176 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 12:02 PM:

singing in the stairwell (CHip, 160):

The stairwells in my college dorm had wonderful acoustical properties. When I was absolutely certain I was alone, I would yodel to wake the echoes. Every once in a while, someone else would catch me at it, and I'd be horribly embarrassed. But I still miss the echoes.

#177 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 12:21 PM:

music in the stairwell:

No big epiphany, but my dorm room one year was right next to a stairwell that went up fourteen floors. Some Saturday afternoons, a flautist would practice a few floors up. Lovely. And creating not a wall of sound, but a many-layered column, because of all the echoes.

(Much better than the Wednesday night herd of elephants running down the hall on the floor above me.)

#178 ::: Cynthia ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 12:58 PM:

On Anbar's Falling off a horse, #9

This morning, my tongue's still a little sore from the sharp edge of a tooth, broken over the weekend by a firehouse dinner perhaps too well done.

This tooth sits next to a wide vacant space, where my first wisdom tooth decided to erupt, many decades ago, when I was still a teen. The dentist was scheduled, the day after I was to spend the afternoon with some friends.

We'd gone riding. My mount, a friendly old mare named April, who was just this side of twenty and not given to spontaneous anything, really.

Until we went past a stone fence that put April in mind of her filly days, and with a grace that belied her years, took flight, jumping headlong into nostalgia.

The memories weren't mine, which is perhaps why I slipped from the saddle. My jaw and the stone fence collided, knocking my wisdom tooth clean out of my mouth.

I was most pleased to avoid the dentist, though I can't tell you this extraction was any less painful. It did have the advantage of surprise.

#179 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 01:39 PM:

Stairwell singing (Chip 160):

I used to do harmonic singing in a fairly primitive way (drone and overtones, not the three-part Tuvan/Tibetan stuff). Naturally a very live (==echoey) space is best for that, and hotel stairwells are as good as it gets.

I remember one convention years ago when I was singing harmonics in the stairwell, and even harmonizing with my echoes as they came back. That was a truly transcendant experience.

Singing with college groups:

I sang for a term or two with my university's Men's Glee Club. As a choral singer from high school, I thought I might find kindred spirits there, and was somewhat distressed to find it populated chiefly by what I came to think of as "voice jocks."

But one wonderful thing happened there. I was having a conversation with one of the jocks, and remarked that I didn't particularly like one piece we were doing, and that in fact the entire genre was not to my liking. (I can't remember whether it was spiritual, which I appreciate more now, or gospel, which I still don't like, to put it mildly.)

"There's nothing wrong with this music!" he proclaimed, obviously ready to argue to the end.

"I didn't say there was anything wrong with it," I calmly replied. "I just said that *I* don't like it."

He got an extremely puzzled look. It only slowly dawned on me that this was his first experience of someone making the distinction between preference and judgement. I knew that when high school boys don't like something they say "that sucks," but until then I hadn't quite realized that there was an actual conceptual gap, that it wasn't just a way of speaking.

Singing in college part II:

I was a member of the Michigan State University Tolkien Fellowship, which met in the Tower Room of the Student Union on Friday nights. We were strictly required to be out of the building by eleven, on pain of dire but unspecified penalties.

One week, everyone had left the Tower Room proper, but were standing around the hallway in small groups, rather than moving to go down the stairs to exit the building. Eleven was fast approaching, but I didn't want to start shouting at them or anything; it might work, but everyone would be annoyed at me.

I started singing the Ride of the Valkyries.

Everyone dropped their conversations, joined in, and moved down the stairs in good order, good humor, and good time.

I count that as my first experience of successful leadership, and the day I learned an important lesson: to become a leader in most circumstances, the only thing you have to do is start leading.

#180 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 02:02 PM:

Xopher @ 179... I started singing the Ride of the Valkyries. Everyone dropped their conversations, joined in

I think it's Lee who recently mentionned the time she was at a con and, when she told her friend John to sit down, people around them spontenously started singing the song from 1776.

#181 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 02:17 PM:

Catherynne Valente @ 39... Welcome to ML.

#182 ::: Ingrid ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 03:06 PM:

#180: I think it's Lee who recently mentionned the time she was at a con and, when she told her friend John to sit down, people around them spontenously started singing the song from 1776.

Ha! That's wonderful. I saw a production of 1776 in Los Angeles, with Roger Rees as John Adams, mere weeks after 9/11. Such an odd collection of emotions, I haven't the words. Might not for years. It's always been one of my very favorite musicals, and Rees instantly became one of my very favorite actors. (And his Lord Marbury from The West Wing will live forever in my heart, too.)

#183 ::: Sarah S. ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 03:20 PM:

on language stuff:

Not too long ago I was driving along I-465 in Indianapolis when I came upon the sign, "Construction Next 25 Mi. 465 NB"

And I thought, "Ah yes, indeed, I *shall* nota bene! How kind of them to advise me. How clever of them to do so in Latin. How unusual to...


North Bound."

Turns out I have made myself unfit for the real world. I don't particularly mind.

#184 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 03:44 PM:

Serge 181: Catherynne Valente @ 39... Welcome to ML.

Oh my yes. I didn't notice that was someone's first post, it fit so well. Excellent first post! Had me choking up a little too.

Welcome indeed. Stick around, Catherynne!

#185 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 03:54 PM:

Ingrid @ 182... Every Fourth of July, it's the tradition for my wife and I to watch 1776, and almost every year on 9/11, we pop in our DVD of On the Town.

#186 ::: Khadjair ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 04:51 PM:

on singing:

Sometimes the joy of music carries you, even if you don't know the tune. Coming back, lubricated with a couple glasses of Momokawa Pearl after an excellent dinner, the Lion King musical soundtrack playing. Never seen, never heard, but they begin to sing, and I can't help but take the third part, the one they didn't have covered. Driving around suburban Boston, late at night, singing my heart out to a tune I'd never heard before in the company of friends, old and new.

Thank you all for bringing this one back.

#187 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 04:59 PM:

Going home from a concert at the Concord Pavilion (science-fiction music, with laser light show), very late one night (or more accurately, very early one morning) several of us in one car were singing the 'Star-Spangled Banner', a capella and in tune.

#188 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:07 PM:

Horses + Not Sure How I Survived Childhood

When I was 11 or so, the summer camp I was at had a couple days of horseback riding. Day 1, my first time on a horse, and I discover that wow, horseback riding is harder than I thought--you really have to keep your balance. Or that is what I thought, right up until the saddle pitched sideways and I fell off the horse, which was when everyone else realized that the saddle had been loose.

I still get a chuckle out of imagining myself perched precariously on the horse, thinking "Huh. Okay, balance, balance..." and then WHAM!

#189 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:07 PM:

During Denvention's ML party hosted by Kathryn from Sunnyvale, Xopher and Tim Walters serenaded Carol Kimball in the bathroom.

("Keep it clean, Serge.")

#190 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:11 PM:

Nicole @188:

Thanks for posting that. You just made me laugh out loud.

#191 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:30 PM:

Hiking (again, sorry!), and fish (a stretch from Kate's koi above):

The summer before my year abroad to Europe, I did a week's solo backpacking trip to the Lost Coast in Northern California.

On the third evening of the trip, when I was camped out near the spot where a stream flows across the beach and into the sea, I saw a man and a dog approaching. The man had a fairly small backpack, enough for a sleeping bag but not much in the way of supplies.

I was a bit anxious, of course, since I was a woman alone. But he saw me, scoped out the situation, and set up his camp across the water and a decent distance away. He approached slowly and politely, and introduced himself, while it was still light enough for one of us to relocate if we weren't going to work as neighbors. And I was not at all creeped out. We sat up by my campfire, late into the night, talking.

He was a good bit older than me, a Vietnam vet, one of the ones who left a bit more of himself behind than he could spare. But the years seemed to have beaten the anger out of him and left the gentleness. It was a good talk.

In the morning, he got up at sunrise and went fishing in the surf while his fool dog jumped in and out of the waves. I had a fire going for coffee, and he came back onshore with enough fish for two breakfasts. Some of it we cooked, and another kind was to be eaten raw. I have never had better fish, nor ever expect to.

He left at midmorning. I have forgotten his name, but not his character, his generosity, or his fish.

(The next night was another wonder. The moon, verging on full the night we talked, rose round and huge from the mountains behind me, but did not light up. It was a lunar eclipse, and I had not realized it was coming. I lay in my sleeping bag and watched the shadow slowly slide off of its surface.)

#192 ::: Andrew Plotkin ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:47 PM:

Fireworks! Also, getting fired. From *work*.

Round about 2000, in the inflationary tech epoch, my tiny little software company was bought up by a large software company that had recently IPO'd. (I shall not name it, but their corporate symbol was a red hat.)

Round about a year and a quarter later, my tiny little software group (nee company) was rattling around the large corporate headquarters like a potato that had been hot twelve months ago. I think we went through thirteen group managers (of whom we had *met* twelve). It was disspiriting, it hadn't turned out to be worth our time or the corporation's money, and none of us were remotely surprised when a higher-up manager called us in on a Friday afternoon and said we were all being let go.

We nodded, strolled outside, got into the convertible, and went to celebrate. (The founder of the tiny little company had done well enough to buy a convertible. Plus other stuff, but that's not this story.)

It was April. It was late afternoon in early April. It was the first warm evening of spring. We drove into town with the top down in the warm evening breeze. We had a getting-fired dinner that couldn't be beat. (I ate bunny.) And then, as we were driving away...

Duke won the NCAA tournament.

Well, now that I look, they had won the tournament that Monday. Maybe Friday was when they got home. Maybe Friday was the parade. I don't know. What I know is that we pulled over by the lot where the fireworks were being fired off. *Right* by it. And we popped our seats back, and lay in the convertible, and looked up into the warm dimming April sky, and watched the fireworks go off directly above our faces.

And then we drove home. (Probably to watch Farscape together.)

#193 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:47 PM:

Horses + Not sure how he survived childhood:

In 4-H fitting and showing contests in some projects, one must fit the animal in the ring- or at least that was the case when I was young. To do so meant one had to have a "holder," and that person must by definition be someone other than a parent or other adult. So it was that I was stuck out in the show ring, in the August sun, holding the halter of my friend David's fat, smelly, ancient, pied Shetland pony mare. The best I can say about the beast is that she didn't bite.

There was a lot of black-and-white hide to curry and brush, and a whole lot of tail and mane to comb, but David was fast and lazy in combination (as is the way of nine-year-old boys) and finished his fitting routine long before the time was over. He then proceeded to drape himself over the mare's back and fall asleep, leaving me out in the sun with nothing to do but hold the halter and try to avoid being leaned on or stepped on as the mare tried to shift his weight off her back. (And wish I could sink into the sawdust to get away from the amused comments from the crowd).

#194 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 05:57 PM:

abi @ 191...The next night was another wonder

I've never been much for fishing, but, in 1977, when my friend and his father-in-law asked if I wanted to come, I said yes. It was ok. I caught very few fish, took on the job of cleaning everybody else's catch. I saw a few dead moles by the side of the forest road and realized how small they are. The evening finally came to this place in the middle of nowhere and I saw something I had never seen. I looked up. The Milky Way was painted across the heavens in all its blazing glory.

#195 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 06:15 PM:

Milky Way:

While moving to California from Texas many years ago, we ended up in Tuscon about noon and got a room. At around ten or so, we started driving again. After we skirted Phoenix, where we encountered exit signs saying unlikely things like "456th St", it got very dark indeed. We pulled into a rest stop, somewhere before the California border, one of those places where you turn off your lights. I'd never bothered to put my contacts back in, and my glasses were whoknewwhere, and I just looked out the window for a while. After my eyes completely adjusted, I realized that I could see the Milky Way. Without my glasses. Ordinarily, without some sort of lenses, I can barely tell you if there's a moon, much less stars, much less a whole galaxy spread out in front of me.

#196 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 06:30 PM:

Milky Way, and other stars:

At the cabin my parents owned, halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe, on the edge of the national forest.
Outside at night, a little way from the cabin, looking up at the sky, which had so many stars it looked almost solid.

#197 ::: clew ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 08:26 PM:

I was at a marine science lab on the north coast of Jamaica one summer, and we had a largish storm or very small hurricane that knocked out the grid power. The Milky Way, in the washed tropical sky over a black sea and black hills, looked like a shelly road.

Then the resort across the way got their generator going and all was ska.

A couple things worried me about that lab, when I got there. The radioactivity hood had been cleaned, though not re-labeled, so the rats running in and out were OK; but the seemingly innocuous little concrete pier bugged me a lot, with the little boat tied up snug.

After a couple days I realized that my childhood at 45N expected the boat to drown or strangle in much higher tides. The pier didn't float and didn't need to.

#198 ::: Mara ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 08:30 PM:

On singing, and holy places

While I was studying at Messiah College in Pennsylvania, I discovered that the Jordan Science Building has this gorgeous three-storied, glass-walled vestibule with the most fantastic acoustics. During the day, the multitudes of students tromping through sound like an army.

I used to sneak in with a small group of freinds at night, after the janitors had left (if you were a student, your id card could swipe you into the building after hours--presumably to check on an experiment). We'd lay down in the middle of the floor (there was a trinity symbol patterned into the tiles) and sing, making the science hall ring with hymns, or Leonard Cohen's 'Hallelujah,' or whatever tune we fancied that night--making a harmony, the three or four of us, like an entire choir.

Another night, a whole group of us (including my visiting younger brother), slipped off campus and wandered into Harrisburg. After visiting the pub, we took a walk and wandered by St. Patrick's Cathedral. It was well after 11PM, but we found the side-door still open and slipped inside.

It was dark in the santuary, a pale bluish lights from the streetlamps outside filtering through the stained glass windows, so we all huddled at the rail before the chancel and began to sing all the hymns we could think of, singing in four- to six-part harmony. While we sat there on the carpet, none of us Catholic but all of us quietly worshipping (except, perhaps, the rabidly atheistic Allen--though he did sit quietly for once), I wondered if we would get kicked out. Suddenly, the lights in the great dome of the cathedral came on. I heard a door shut quietly somewhere in the building. We went on singing, sometimes singly, mostly all together, but no one threw us out.

Rymenhild (137)--perhaps you were hearing the choir rehearse at the University Church, across Radcliffe Square? When I was in Oxford, they often sang there evenings.

#199 ::: Arachne ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 08:33 PM:

Other stars and "falling" stars:

I never really thought about looking up at the night sky until some friends convinced me to go with them to look at a meteor shower. I didn't know what that was, so they explained it to me on the way out of the University grounds. There are many things I don't know, and that's a minor one.

We drove out to some relatively deserted and stretch of it's-a-highway-but-it's-embedded-in-the-ground-and-has-only-two-lanes and did so at a really terribly late hour. Like midnight or something. Maybe 1am?

So we looked up, and the photography-learning friend was trying to set up the camera properly, and I thought the sky looked pretty... boring. Pretty, but nothing was happening, and we couldn't see a Milky Way because there was still too much light pollution.

Fiddle, fiddle, fiddle.

Then I saw a streak in the sky. I'd actually never seen a falling star before. And then there were a couple more.

And suddenly bursting streaks filled night sky, like silver fish jumping in a black stream. Then I had eyes only for the sky (my ears being reserved for the tripod falling over in the background).

This all went on for an hour. Eventually pictures were taken, although they didn't turn out well later.

Then we ate at an iHop around 4am. I know it's not spelled like that, but my friends said that we were going to one, and I was disappointed that it was spelled IHOP. We had pancakes, and for some reason that was really awesome. Maybe because it was early in the morning and we were all a little light-headed.

Anyways, I had the most satisfactory sleep during the day afterward. There's something to be said about summer days spent in college during the limbo between August and September.

#200 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:05 PM:

On fireworks, and also on being halfway between Sacramento and Lake Tahoe (P J @ 196):

I was taking a mountain vacation over the July 4 weekend, staying in a motel in Grass Valley. I didn't have to go anywhere for a fireworks show because local brats set off all they could afford in the motel parking lot. There was nothing to see, but far more than I wanted to hear after 10 PM.

#201 ::: Allan Beatty ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:08 PM:

Sarah @ 183: If the Indiana Highway Department were honest, the sign would have said I-465 Clockwise.

#202 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:24 PM:

singing and language

My parents were missionaries in Eastern Africa in Indian communities. My parents both spoke Swahili and my mother also spoke Hindi and Gujurati and some Urdu. I had only English and a few words I picked up in school or playing in the streets. We sang together as a family group (except my tone deaf father) dressed in matching kitenge outfits or saris. My motgher and siblings played various musical instruments while I lacking any talent was given maracas or a tambourine and begged to try to keep the beat.

We sang in English, Hindi, and Gujurati. My little sister and I learned the songs phonetically with only a vague idea of what the songs meant. I can still sing all or large parts of many of the songs. Earlier this year I sang a fragment for my mother that she didn't remember (or maybe recognize at all).

Sometimes singing phonetically led to problems. My sister and I were once brought to chain giggles by a song we heard as milky jello but was probably melke chelo. My mother gave us The Look but we just kept giggling.

#203 ::: Paula Helm Murray ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 10:33 PM:

My family spent two weeks every summer going up to Jackson Hole, WY, then doing tourism stuff as we wished while up there. We always stayed at the Jackson Lake Lodge, in one of the outer cottage rooms.

Hiking incidents stand out.

The Lodge stands on a bluff or something like it about a mile from Jackson Lake, an artificially created lake. There is a marshy expanse between the Lodge and the lake, and there was a broken up road between the two.

One summer I hiked from the lodge to the lake via that road. It isn't a bad hike and if you're clever, you don't get too wet. There are lots of low willows, lots of mosquitos and lots of blue sky above, mountains ahead of me and just feeling wonderful.

Then a sneeze startled me. Mostly because it was farking HUGE and I could feel the blow of it (thankfully the willows blocked any 'blow-out").

I realized I was standing close enough to a bull moose, in velvety antlers, that I could have patted his muzzle. We both looked at one another with total surprise. The willow he was laying under was probably keeping the mosquitos off his antlers.

We both eyed one another and I said, out loud, "Okay, I mean no harm and I'm walking away. Bye!" And I did so. He did not budge from his resting place.

At some point when I was a bit older, I had a blissful day of hiking on the north side (Gros Vent) of the highway, getting to watch the Trumpeter swan family in a pond up there. I had a little notebook and wrote some poetry and notes.

It was a free and wonderful feeling until... I took a trail ride up that way the next day and we witnessed a grizzly bear strolling across the path ahead of us. It was an educational event. (as in, I could have been killled!!!! but I wasn't.)

#204 ::: debcha ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 11:12 PM:

Precocious children, via Elliott Mason (#158):

Like many of us here, I was a precocious and insatiable reader as a child. I was working my way through the family encyclopedia (near-fluorescent orange, probably from the supermarket, but nevertheless an excellent diversion for four bright young children). One day, while I was in Grade 3, we were asked to write about the circulatory system. Having recently read about it in our encyclopedia, my version mentioned arteries, as well as "arterioles, which is Latin for 'little arteries.'"

My teacher accused me of making it up.

To this day (decades later), I'm still incensed at the allegation. And, frankly, boggled that my teacher didn't at least find that plausible.

That experience taught me an important lesson about treating children as autonomous and intelligent beings.

#205 ::: Betsey Langan ::: (view all by) ::: October 01, 2008, 11:35 PM:

Seeing unexpected things in the sky:

My family has been renting a fishing cottage on a small lake in eastern Ontario for many years now. At first we only could get the cabin for one week; later two, and now three.

Because it's so far away from city lights (~3.5 hrs from Toronto, 1 hr from Kingston, 2 hrs from Ottawa), the Milky Way is visible pretty much whenever the night sky is clear. However, one of the first years we went up there (I want to say it was year 2 or 3), it was an exceptional year for the Northern Lights, and they were visible that far south.

I still remember walking out onto the dock into the lake (because the shoreline and area near the cottage is so wooded, the beach and dock make for the best view of the sky), hearing the gentle lapping of the water on the shore punctuated by the occasional loon crying out, watching these ribbons of light glowing across the sky.

We've never seen them again. But we may yet.

#206 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 12:31 AM:

Look, up in the sky!:
The Alpha Young Writer's Workshop is held at University of Pittsburgh Greensburg, way out of town. There's not a lot around. It is tradition to walk to a nearby graveyard one night, usually when stories have been written. The graveyard is one long slope to the road. People talk quietly, or look for interesting graves and groups of graves-- an entire family, a boy killed in action in France, 1918, a tile with a photograph, interesting names. There are meteors, because Alpha is in late July, and if it's clear, those who know the stars point them out. I've had the Milky Way shown to me multiple times, but like the North Star and the Big Dipper back when I was little, I can't see it. It took me until junior high to see the Dipper, and I still can't be sure of the North Star.

My stars are Scorpius, Cassiopeia, Orion-Taurus-Pleiades in a row, Jupiter when I can find it, Cygnus only I never look for the head because my Cygnus is a hawk.

My father, doing his best to pass on knowledge, once tried to point out a constellation by saying, "Okay, you see over there, those three stars that make a triangle?"

#207 ::: JESR ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 12:44 AM:

Sky watching:

When we're very lucky, we get to go stay at a friend's family place on Lake Chelan. The best luck of all came on a year when most of the children were old enough to be self-regulating yet young enough not to have jobs yet. There were no untoward insect events, no rattlesnake under the porch, and when we walked up to the waterfall the cliff face was covered with mourning cloak butterflies.

And at night, the sky was full of stars, a new moon, no forest fires, the air transparent and still. The New Orleans guests were amazed, and even more so when we all lay on the dock so we could watch the Perseids streak across the sky. Some of them were bright enough to trace their reflections on the glassy surface of the lake.

#208 ::: Mez ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:24 AM:

So many, many, memories these stories evoke! One glimpse:
May in Paris; by ourselves between tours, my partner and I went up the Eiffel Tower and slowly walked down again, watching a great round red sun gradually set. Reaching the ground in bright twilight we were amazed to find it was 10pm. We realised just how much higher a latitude than Sydney it was. Just as surprising during our walk back to the hotel was the quiet and solitude of the streets, and lack of any late-opening cafes or restaurants. Quite unlike our image of vibrant Parisian nightlife.

Serge & Ingrid: After seeing it discussed quite a bit on ML, I ordered the DVD of 1776 (probably never available in Australia, yay! for teh internets, and also for the then-high Aussie dollar and multi-region DVD players). Most enjoyable. Thanks to everyone.

#209 ::: dcb ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:00 AM:

Hiking, encounters with animals

We honeymooned in the Canadian Rockies. One day we were walking through some woods and stopped to allow a bird up ahead on the path to finish whatever it was doing (eating some invertebrate, I think). A motion near my feet caught my eye and I looked down. A red-backed vole was bumbling across the path. It came right up to my foot, stopped, sniffed my hiking sandle, apparently decided it was neither threatening nor edible, then wandered away. Just as much a highlight of the trip as seeing a black bear.

#210 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:19 AM:

Nez @ 207... Most enjoyable. Thanks to everyone.

You're welcome.

"A second flood, a simple famine, plagues of locusts everywhere, or a cataclysmic earthquake, I'd accept with some despair. But no, You sent us Congress! Good God, Sir, was that fair?"
- John Adams to God

#211 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:27 AM:

Pieces of Heaven... I think it was in 1985 that I was at a party being held in in someone's backyard. It was evening. We saw something streak across the sky before it spread out like frost on a window pane in winter, then it faded.

#212 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:06 AM:

Just last week, patrolling at night through a patch of open country, and suddenly this streak of white light shoots up from the hillside ahead. And it's big - a great smear of light, trailing bits of itself across the sky all the way up to the zenith - and bright and moving fast, and so I hiss "Flare!" and everyone goes prone very fast and freezes because we're expecting a contact to start within, oh, the next half second or so.

And nothing happens; and slowly I realise that it was just the biggest meteor I have ever seen in my life. A meteor big enough to be mistaken for a flare.

There were a few more that night, but none so big.

#213 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 07:22 AM:

clew #197: I can recall nights, coming out of my family's home about fifty miles southwest of Discovery Bay (where your marine lab was located) and looking up at the Milky Way and thinking much the same thing.

A sight that grabbed me more, though, was the full moon sinking into the Caribbean at dawn. Large and yellow, like a pale gold doubloon.

#214 ::: Kelly P ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 07:24 AM:

On fireworks, and the beautiful people who make our lives better:

Canada Day, 2008. My girlfriend of two months and I were going to watch the fireworks in the local park, with some friends. We got there in good time, which was amazing - we had to walk quite a few more blocks than we expected, since the parking in the park and the surrounding area was packed. But we got there, and found our friends, and had ice cream cones while the fireworks went off.
First, we saw a bunch of little ones, people across the river trying to compete. Then the real show started, and the explosions came, all green, and gold, and red, and white, and blue, getting bigger and bigger, the crowd "oohing" at each pop. The last few bursts were by far the biggest, patriotic colors of red and white.
And then we started walking back. We lost track of our friends in the crush, but I took her hand to keep together - the first time we had ever really held hands. And we kept holding hands all the way back to the car.
And then, when I dropped her off at her home, I whispered "I love you" for the first time, and she answered "love you too" back.
And I thought my heart would burst from happiness.

#215 ::: R. M. Koske ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:00 AM:

#200, Allan Beatty -

Seconded. Not that I know I-465, but I do know I-285 (in Atlanta.) I'm always giving directions that sound like "then get on 285. You want to go either north or west," because I'm not familiar enough with the area in question to know which one the signs say, and both are true.

#216 ::: JCarson ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:04 AM:

from post 188 - amusing falling

Junior year of college, I'm leaving the dining hall after lunch, backpack on, ready for my free afternoon. There's a flight of about 10 steps that lead up to the the dining hall doors - I'm headed down them, and on the second step, feel my foot slip.

I have the absolutely vivid sense of time slowing down as I realize I'm going to fall down a large flight of concrete stairs, stumble down two more in an attempt to regain my footing, succumb to the frantic windmilling, pray for safety, and tumble down the rest of the steps. I land flat on my back at the bottom, completely unhurt, feet on the bottom step, between two professors who'd been intensely discussing... something. They both pause, blink owlishly at me, and I pop up, cheerily say "yup, it's that kind of day!" and head off to get my mail.

I still wonder why neither of them said anything at all - whether it just happened so fast that they didn't have time, or their trains of thought had been so violently derailed by my descent into their space, or what. Or maybe my memory of that silent pause was lengthened by the adrenaline rush.

It's one of the few moments of my life I wish I had a videotape of, just to find out what really happened.

#217 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:43 AM:

Amusing falls:

I have very weak ankles. Sometimes they make me stagger; sometimes they pitch me right over.

One day, when I was an accountant, we were taking some very senior clients to lunch. I was wearing shoes with heels and no ankle support, and a very formal black skirt suit. We walked to the restaurant through the cobbled streets of Edinburgh's Old Town. A gentle mist shrouded the closes and slicked the cobbles.

My ankle gave out completely, all of a sudden. There was no saving this one. I went down, putting my hands out in front of me to cushion the fall. And somehow, I managed to transform the momentum into a sideways roll, pushing upward with my hands, and wound up back on my feet again.

The clients, walking ahead of me, were oblivious. The workmen across the road, however, broke into spontaneous applause.

#218 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:11 AM:

abi @ 216... I was an accountant(...) I managed to transform the momentum into a sideways roll, pushing upward with my hands, and wound up back on my feet again

"You loved Abi Sutherland in The Accountant without Fear. She will be back in Acrobatic Abacus."

#219 ::: cajunfj40 ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:19 AM:

Northern Lights, snow, solitude, quiet, language:

10-20 years ago (I am very poor at putting memories in chronological order...) my family and I decided to take the snowmobiles North for New Year's vacation because everyone else was going South. (My family is in Minnesota). On the drive up to Poplar Lake on the Gunflint Trail, along the two-lane (but usually unlined) blacktop road that takes it's name that goes up into the woods from Grand Marais, I fiddled with the dial on the radio until I heard French. Apparently we were far enough North that we were picking up French Canadian public radio or somesuch. I got maybe 15 minutes of that before everyone else changed it because they understood not a word.

Later, on New Year's Eve, I awoke at 11PM to the sound of the Canadians (I assume, I did not meet them) in the next cabin partying loudly. They hadn't changed their watches, so to me they were celebrating an hour early. Being bored and unable to fall asleep I got up, got dressed, went out and took off on one of the snowmobiles, remembering a particular turnoff on one of the trails that led out to a fantastic overlook. At some point, I happened to check my watch and it was exactly midnight, so I said "Happy New Year!" to myself and started off again. I reached the overlook, shut off the snowmobile and just sat there, staring at the Northern Lights (that I'd never seen before) and marveling at how quiet it was, other than some wind. Very peaceful. Once I started to cool off I decided it was time to head back, so I did. I slept much better the rest of the night.

I'd love to go back someday, but my wife thinks we were crazy to have gone North when there are perfectly good warm beaches down South at that time of year...

More snow, surviving childhood, semi-solo trip:

At the end of that same trip, my younger brother and I perused the map and noticed that there was a continuous connection of snowmobile trails that reached all the way back to Grand Marais. We convinced my parents that we could snowmobile all the way back and they could pick us up at a parking lot in Grand Marais. The ride itself was mostly uneventful, until we mis-read a marker and took a wrong turn. That wasn't too bad until we went down a long steep hill, bumped harshly over a large log laid across the trail (nearly rolled the snowmobiles!) and found that the trail basically petered out over what appeared to be frozen marsh - that wasn't completely frozen. We broke through ice into (thankfully) very shallow slushy water (not even over the tops of our boots, we were lucky kids!). We decided we'd gone the wrong way and laboriously turned the snowmobiles around on the narrow trail, not wanting to venture off onto unknown depth of not fully frozen marsh. It took us several tries to get the snowmobiles back up the steep hill, finally resorting to having my lighter brother ride each one up separately while I gave a good hefty running push, to get enough momentum to make it up. We soon found the correct trail and got down to Grand Marais a little late but otherwise fine. The snowmobiles were quite a sight with frozen muddy slush all over and at least one busted windshield (from going over the log). I don't recall my parents getting mad or anything, either. Definitely a fun adventure, and my first long-distance trek without parental supervision, though I don't relish the memory of nearly melting down when I couldn't get my snowmobile back up that hill the first few tries.

#220 ::: Mary Aileen ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:41 AM:

late sunset (Mez 207):

My most vivid memory of Edinburgh is sitting in a park with a couple of friends at 11 PM, drinking wine and watching the sun go down.

#221 ::: Rymenhild ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:55 AM:

Meteor showers:

One night in the fall of my senior year at college, my friends and I decided to stay out on a fire escape outside one of the dorms and watch for the meteor shower. I don't remember any of the meteors, actually. I do remember discussing, on that fire escape in the dark, how Isidore of Seville made a great patron saint of the Internet. I remember us all going inside at four AM or so to drink hot chocolate and tea, and I remember watching the sunrise and seeing my friends' faces all golden in the morning light.

#222 ::: Nicole TWN ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:14 AM:

abi@216: Hee. That's awesome. :) If that happens again, you should go "Ta da!"

The Milky Way:

I was quite the amateur stargazer as a lass; in high school I was an officer of the Astronomy Club and everything. I knew my constellations, is what.
The summer I spent in Paraguay ( was surreal in many ways, but one thing that stands out in my memory is the absolutely gorgeous sight of the Milky Way... with no familiar constellations. So I made up my own, none of which I still remember except one I called "The Spider".

#223 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:28 AM:

Meteor showers:
Going out with my father to the north end of the house (the end away from the yard light), both of us sitting on the walk watching meteors streak by. And inside, later on, seeing some from inside the house.

#224 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:59 AM:

Falling... Ten years ago, one morning I bicycled into the parking lot of the BART station, same as usual, except that this time I took the curve a bit too tightly. My bicycle skidded sideways, and I fell hard on my tibia, just below the knee cap. To say that it hurt was an understatement. Of course, I still went to work at the San Francisco office. Sure, I limped noticeably, but that didn't keep me from walking faster than anybody else around. No, I never went to the doctor. Things took care of themselves, probably because, foolish as I may be, I was wise enough to refrain from workout exercises that involved my legs - feeling one's bones shifting around a bit is rather disconcerting.

#225 ::: Cowboy Diva ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Of 1776:
My first introduction to the work was in a piano bar on Camac, actually in Philadephia, where my friend sang the John/Abigail duet with the pianist.
Tears everywhere.
To this day, "Saltpeter, John!" from the reprise gets me every time.

#226 ::: Cowboy Diva ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 01:25 PM:

Of 1776:
My first introduction to the work was in a piano bar on Camac, actually in Philadelphia, where my friend sang the John/Abigail duet with the pianist.
Tears everywhere.
To this day, "Saltpeter, John!" from the reprise gets me every time.

#227 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 02:01 PM:


Once while we lived in the Bat Area, we took a trip down to Asilomar on the Montery Peninsula. No conference was on, so we were able to get a room. We've always loved walking about in the dark, so after dinner we walked down to the shore, found some steps down to the beach, and sat. We admired the lights off to our left from the topping-out of the Spanish Bay resort just then a-building, and listened to the tide do ... something. It's usually very misty around there, so it was completely unexpected that we saw a few stars. What came next was totally out of our experience: several meteors, over a period of about twenty minutes, from a direction I would have sworn was out to sea, north and west. We later discovered it was some shower I've never heard of, early-mid-December.

#228 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 02:02 PM:

Correction to #226:

Bay Area. I live in the Bat Area now.

#229 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 04:14 PM:

joann @ #227, Carlsbad (The New Mexico one)?

#230 ::: Kevin Reid ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:01 PM:

If I had to pick one thread to explain the meaning of “Making Light”...


#231 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:49 PM:

Linkmeister #228

No, Austin.

#232 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 05:59 PM:

unexpected singing:

One of my quintessential San Francisco moments--

A few months ago, friends and I went to go see a touring Indian production A Midsummer Night's Dream, performed in a half-dozen South Asian languages, plus English. It was lovely, even if the acting could have been stronger. Anyway, after that slightly hallucinatory experience, we headed over to the Mission to have mojitos and eats on Valencia Street. We had a lovely time and waltzed out of the restaurant and started walking back up the street to reach the BART station.

Behind us, we could hear someone loudly playing Journey on their stereo coming up the street. We turned around, looking to see who was making all the noise and realized that it was a trio of bicyclists, who had mounted large house speakers onto their bikes, blasting their music.

The light turns red, so we're all stopped at the intersection of 17th and Valencia. All of us three dozen-or-so pedestrians on the street turn to the trio and start smiling, and then we all break out into song, following along to "Don't Stop Believing."

Eventually, the light turns green, and the trio bikes away, leaving random happiness in their wake.

#233 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:01 PM:

On solitude

A few weeks ago I took my first trip to eastern Canada. We were in Percé and I took a much-anticipated hike around Bonaventure Island to see the gannets. At one point, about half-way across the island, I stopped and sat on one of the many benches provided along the trail (for hiking-impaired tourists such as myself). And I listened. There was not another person in sight, no animals or birds or insects, no planes or vehicles. Absolute silence except for the sound of the wind in the trees. For a city girl born and bred, this was as close to paradise as I've ever been.

#234 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:03 PM:

joann @ #230, ah. I've heard about those. I was at Carlsbad Caverns once at dusk and watched the horde of bats exiting from the cave mouth. I think I was more awed than fearful.

#235 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:11 PM:

Joann at 226, I'm heading to Asilomar in early December. I'll keep an eye out for meteors.

#236 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:13 PM:

Unexpected moments in falling, re: abi #216

I was riding an (in retrospect) undertrained school horse, a Quarter Horse or some cross thereof, and we were instructed to jump the 18" crossbar. My horse decided at the last minute that jumping was not in his union contract, and stopped dead in front of the jump. I didn't get the memo in time, so I went flying over his head...

... to land on my feet with the reins in hand.

I am certain I couldn't do it again if I tried, but I sure enough did it once.

#237 ::: Ariel Segall ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 06:16 PM:

On Hungarian menus, #64:

When traveling with a friend in Europe at age 11 or so, we went through Hungary, Austria, Germany, Italy, and just a smidge of Yugoslavia. (It was right when the war started, we we avoided more than some necessary corner.) The trip was marvelous fun, although I only remember odd images here and there, like the Magyar horse-trainers who had horses that sat like dogs and whose wives sold marvelous embroidery.

My friend was an absolute American heathen, and the pickiest eater ever. She travelled with a giant sack of puffed rice cereal and several boxes of pop-tarts, and lives on those and wiener schnitzel the entire time we weren't in Italy. I, on the other hand, discovered real Bolognese sauce, goulash, gelato, and the absolute joy that is European hot chocolate for breakfast. (The apple juice there also tasted unlike anything I've ever had here, and I'm still looking for it.)

The most memorable meal moment, though, was in this Hungarian restarant that was all gray stone and sturdy wood tables. They solved the tourist-menu problem in an apparently sensible fashion by putting pictures in next to the unpronouncable Hungarian dish names. One of them appeared to be flaming beef on a sword. I, of course, didn't buy it for a sec, but figured that *whatever* it was had to be interesting.

It was, in fact, large hunks of beef, flaming bright blue with alcohol, on a primitive sword-shaped spit. I can't for the life of me remember what it tasted like, but boy did it look impressive.

#238 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:00 PM:

Amusing/fast reactions to falls, ice and snow:

My dorm in college was an old converted brownstone, with a very heavy front door that was also equipped with a pneumatic door closer. One winter day, I climbed the icy steps, firmly grasped the doorknob, turned it, and pulled it forcefully toward myself to open the door.

It then chose that moment to detach itself from the door.

I managed to keep my balance and avoid falling backwards down the front steps, mostly by lowering my center of gravity by going into a sort of M.C. Hammer crouch (completely by some combination of accident, reflex, and instinct; I can't think that fast).

I proceeded to carefully open the door (by replacing the doorknob, opening the door just a bit, then grabbing the door's edge before it could close again). After managing this, I used the doorknob as a stop to hold the door ajar, so that the next person to come along could grab the door edge rather than encountering the Amazing Detaching Doorknob for themselves. (It was the outer door of a vestibule, so the building wasn't going to try to heat all of Boston.)

I proceeded to the Resident Assistant's room to notify her so she could contact the maintenance folks, and found that another student[1] had already written on her message board: "The front doorknob is loose. I nearly fell and broke my sitting cushions area."

I couldn't beat that, so I just added a "me too" below it.

[1] Someone for whom English was not a first language.

#239 ::: Nick Kiddle ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:01 PM:

Attempts at communication:
I'd just moved to Germany and I still didn't feel at home with the language. I did all my shopping at supermarkets, but one evening I left it too late to walk all the way to the nearest one. There was a greengrocer just across the road from my flat, so I decided to give it a go.

From the layout of the shop, I couldn't immediately work out whether it was self-service or whether I needed to ask for what I wanted. I cheerfully asked the man at the counter, "Sprechen Sie Englisch?" only for my heart to plummet when he responded, "Nein." Somehow, I stumbled through a query about whether I should serve myself, and understood his response that I could do whatever suited me. I picked out a few things, took them to the counter and paid. As I was turning to leave, he said (in German), "I don't know why you wanted to speak English; you speak perfectly good German."

And another language story, specifically inspired by #154:
When I moved into that German flat, I spent an evening chatting with my prospective flatmates to make sure I was a good fit. The flatmates were happy for most of the discussion to be in English, with just a few German phrases here and there.

One thing I had in common with one of the flatmates was that we'd both studied in France, so naturally we talked about that. He switched to French, and I can only assume that baffled me beyond help, because when he said "Grenoble - dans les Alpes?" I replied, "Ja."

#240 ::: Rikibeth ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:07 PM:

Christopher Davis @237, I had Boston as soon as you said "converted brownstone," but now I'm dying to know: which school?

(My housemate assures me it wasn't 6 Arlington, her Emerson dorm, because her steps were down and there wasn't a doorknob.)

#241 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:48 PM:

Amusing Falling

In high school the freshman floor of the women's dorm was below ground. A heavy metal door closed off the hallway from the cement staircase. My roommate and I figured out that a good kick could open the door and we took to making a jogging approach with our own gawky teenage attempt at a karate kick. Mostly it worked. It failed spectacularly the time I took off the wrong foot and tried to switch in midair. My hope that it looked like a move from a martial arts movie ended even before I landed painfully. I got no gasps of sympathy; I got whoops of laughter.

Once as I came down the stairs I tripped and tumbled down a flight hitting my head on the steel handrail. I stood up on the turn landing and then fell down the next set of stairs. I got a concussion, a spectacular bump, and several weeks of a terrible headache that did not allow reading or conversation.

#242 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 09:53 PM:

Serendipitous singing (starting from 131):

mixed with family and travel: 2 parents, me (10), and sister (7) on the interurban section of the trolley that is a streetcar in Mannheim and Heidelberg. After dinner, a couple of days into a 14-month mostly-camping trip, and apparently on a method of transportation favored by natives rather than tourists; my sister starts singing "The Happy Wanderer", not particularly loudly or quietly, and by the middle of the second verse the entire car is singing. None of the artificiality of the beer halls I've been in a couple of times, just happy people at the end of the day. I haven't thought of that for a long time; thank you all for bringing back the memory.

solo: going home unaccompanied around midnight Saturday. For some reason I started singing the unison part of a duet, "Hereupon We're Both Agreed", from Yeomen of the Guard. (I was introduced early; I think there were G&S I could sing before I could read the lyrics.) I hit the alternating section -- and somebody out of sight but in earshot picks up the other part. We walked that piece, perfectly together, down the remotest side of Harvard Yard; I never saw the other person, but I've often wondered who it was.

#243 ::: sara_k ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:02 PM:

Pitching tents

The summer I was 13 I spent a lot of time at summer camp (faculty kids went free or very discounted). there were several guys I was interested in without knowing how to say it or even think about it. We went on weekly 3 day hikes and one week someone miscalculated the tenting needed for our particular mix of boys and girls. On the first night our female counselor seriously gathered the girls together, explained the problem, and asked for volunteers to share a tent with some boys. Most of the girls erupted in shrieks and giggles. In my head I said "Hell, yes!"' outloud I calmly supposed that I could handle that. Rolling my eyes at the drama, I volunteered to sleep on the boy edge of the girls (woohoo!) and then I really got lucky and ended up next to one of the interesting boys. We held hands (totally forbidden) and whispered most of the night.

#244 ::: Ariel ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:07 PM:

from #194, and the tiny size of dead moles:

When I was younger, I had a most remarkable cat. She was silver-grey, and a pound cat; she was my first real pet, though not the first in the household, and I'd picked her out myself. She was a survivor (really-- she got lost once for more than six months, and still managed to find her way home) and had been fairly poorly treated by life before we got her. She was half-blind from cataracts, half of her whiskers didn't work properly, and her tail was nothing but dead weight. She was also the best hunter I have ever seen or heard of.

This cat brought home at least one bit of prey every evening during warm months until she ran out of local rodents; and, what's more, she sorted it. Moles went on the back porch, voles on the front. Squirrels had their top halves eaten; back legs and tails went on the front walkway. Rats were laid out neat as you please on the living room rug (thankfully, only five of them made the mistake of moving into the neighborhood) and rabbits went under a dining room chair.

It could have been worse; the others didn't hunt so much, but one of *them* left a bird right next to my parents' bed to step on in the morning.

(Greta also shed enough that, when I was in high school, I decided that *something* useful had to be done with all of this hair, and started spinning cat-hair yarn. It was incredibly soft, and made a great threat for all of my allergic friends. Sadly, I wasn't coordinated enough to make anything of it before she died.)

#245 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:18 PM:

women's dorm...

My freshman year in college, I lived in a dorm on a hillside, so there was a ground-level entrance on the 1st floor and, on the other side of the building, a ground-level entrance on the 3rd floor. I came back from class one afternoon, entered on the 1st floor side, and took the elevator up toward my 5th-floor room. At the 3rd floor, the elevator stopped. Instead of the usual other students, in got a fireman in complete gear of coat, boots, hat, etc.

And he asked me, "Where's the fire?"

And I said something intelligent like, "I don't know, I just got back from class," and wondered if I should get out, or what, but there was no other sign of difficulty and he didn't tell me to, so we rode on up together. It turned out that there had been a very minor blaze on my hall, where a student had accidentally left a coffee pot on. But I still remember the surrealistic feel of the uniform and the question.

#246 ::: OtterB ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Snowmobiles, and Paula's post at 202 about unexpected meetings with large herbivores in national parks ...

20-some years ago now, I ended up on a one-day visit to Yellowstone in February (a side trip from a business meeting in Idaho Falls). I rode a snowmobile for the first and only time in my life and, though my taste usually runs to quieter means of transport, I enjoyed the ride as well as the scenery and had gotten quite comfortable with driving by the time we were headed back out of the park that afternoon. We were riding on the main roads, which are snowpacked and closed to cars in winter. The 4 or 5 of us had spread out some, so nobody else was in sight when I came around a curve and saw, ambling toward me down the exact center of the 2-lane road, an enormous buffalo.

I pulled as far to the edge of the road as I could, which wasn't very far, since there was no shoulder and it dropped off a bit into deep loose snow and scrub woods. I stopped, and I watched him approach, prepared to abandon the snowmobile and scramble down into the trees if he decided to take offense. He ignored me completely and tromped on past, perhaps 12 feet from me. What I remember most was how incredibly shaggy he was, and how "other" he seemed. It was the closest I expect to come in my lifetime to an alien encounter.

I wish I had taken a picture, but my hands weren't to be pried off of the handlebars for anything short of abandoning ship.

#247 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:40 PM:

Cats and hunting:
It was frisk-the-cat season. One of the cats (Harry, I think) came to the people door, was checked to see if she was carrying anything, and allowed in. She went over and checked the food dish, then walked over to the cat door - set to exit-only for the season - stuck her head through, and brought it back inside with a bird (dead).
Another time her littermate, Sammy, came in, yipped, and backed out through the catdoor. My mother went over to see what had happened, and discovered a small checkered garter snake where the carpet met the wall. Sammy had brought it in and it had apparently twisted around and bit her head. (Sammy and Harry were mighty hunters: they caught baby jackrabbits!)

#248 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:58 PM:

relevant to this thread: the new book What It Is, by cartoonist Lynda Barry, with stuff about the creative process and images and memoir.

#249 ::: Erik Nelson ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 10:59 PM:

also How Proust Can Change Your Life, by Alain de Botton

#250 ::: Carol Kimball ::: (view all by) ::: October 02, 2008, 11:14 PM:

#243 ::: Ariel...a most remarkable cat. She was silver-grey, and a pound cat...

1) She was from an animal shelter
2) She weighed a pound
3) She cost a pound

WAY behind here, lots of notes on images and experiences sparked, not enough time to lick them into shape (as bear mothers reputedly did to their cubs).

#251 ::: Christopher Davis ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 12:21 AM:

Rikibeth (#239) Boston U, in one of the Bay State Road dorms.

Of fire and dorms (from OtterB's #244): there was one room in my dorm that didn't have access to a fire escape, but was adjacent to a room that did. There was a door between the rooms, with one of those "alarm will sound" crash bars installed so that in an emergency the occupants of the no-fire-escape room could get out through the other least as long as nobody'd put their desk against that wall, of course. (Then there were the rooms that were built or extended into space that had previously been stairwells, resulting in some very Winchester House-esque "stairs to nowhere". At least none of those dead-ended at the bottom, only the top.)

#252 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 12:41 AM:

domestic animals hunting:

When we lived in Davis, California, I worked at the University; it was a perfect campus to have a dog* because it was surrounded by empty fields and a copse of woods along Puta Creek**. One day we were walking our German Shepherd, who loved to run and was always curious about other animals†, around the fields past the Vet School. The dog, Akira††, spotted a rabbit and took out after it. They ran all over several acres of scrub ground and gullys, and finally the rabbit ran out of breath, and found itself cornered at the end of a gully with a half-meter wall of dirt behind it. The rabbit just sat there, breathing hard, and almost visibly wishing the dog would put it out of its misery. After a minute of watching the rabbit from ten feet away, the dog walked up to it and poked it with its muzzle, as if to say, "Why'd you stop running? That was a good game!". When the rabbit just shivered and huddled away from the dog's nose, Akira turned disgustedly away and went looking for something else to play with.

* As long as the dog knew how to dodge bicycles.
** Yes, it means "Whore Creek". I never did get a believable explanation.
† The encounter with the bison is a whole other story, as is the attempt to suck up to the horse.
†† I promise I'll someday tell the story of how he got his name while I was working for a Japanese electronics company.

#253 ::: Diatryma ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 01:07 AM:

Dogs and things which are not dogs:
My family's Dane-Lab mix, Jazzdog (technically Jazz, but I like the ending better), once caught a young rabbit... and rolled it over once, then looked at it. "You chase me now!"
He, being tall, does not entirely believe in dogs that his nose cannot reach. Chihuahuas are not dogs. The woodchuck across the street, however, is a dog-- he bolted after it once, barking, then gave it a good hard sniff in the butt while it scrambled for its safe home.

#254 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 02:35 AM:

Domestic animals, hunting division:

Our half-basset/half-beagle Annie was traveling overland with Mom, Dad, my sister and I from LA to Washington DC in 1962 (in a '62 Plymouth Valiant -- the one with the push-button automatic transmission on the dashboard). We were driving along somewhere in Arizona (Route 66, maybe? I-10 wasn't completed into Phoenix until 1964) when we got flagged down and informed that there would be blasting up ahead and the road would be closed for several hours after a certain time. We went haring along the road lickety-split, but we didn't get through before they closed it for blasting. At that point, while stopped, the dratted dog jumped out the window, presumably to hunt a rabbit or coyote or something only she had seen. Naturally we were terrified she'd be caught in the explosions, so there we were, wandering around in high desert country, screaming "Annie! Annie!" at the top of our lungs.

Fortunately, within fifteen minutes or so she showed up and was greatly fussed over, and leashed up while we waited for the road to re-open.

#255 ::: SylvieG ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 06:32 AM:

Interesting elevator rides

The first (and only, so far) convention I've been to was Worldcon in Toronto in 2003. I was new to fandom and was (and still am) very shy.

The day after the Hugo ceremonies I was taking the elevator to my hotel room and realized that I actually recognized the other passenger. I congratulated Dave Langford on his award and he softly replied something that, in my shyness, I didn't quite catch. Could have been 'Thank you' or 'Piss off' or 'The Old Ones are coming for us'. Then the door opened and we went our separate ways.

It all seemed delightfully surreal and one of the reasons why I decided that this fandom was for me. (Especially after I went home and looked up this Langford character and read all the back issues of Ansible.)

#256 ::: Thena ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 07:05 AM:


Pound Cat = Pound Cake + Cat Loaf ?

(note to self, do not read Making Light before coffee. Or do, but be prepared for the consequences.)

#257 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 02:08 PM:

My neighbors' puppy was a pi-dog last week: he weighed 3.14 pounds. (At the time what I said was "he's a pi weight!" which made them laugh, because they know I buy every kitchen implement known to humankind (though not, so far, pie weights).)

#258 ::: Lydy Nickerson ::: (view all by) ::: October 03, 2008, 08:32 PM:

About cats and hunting:

When I was 12 or so, we were adopted by a very smart cat. It was cold in the winter in Pittsburgh, and my dad said, "Oh, it's too cold for her. We'll just lock her in the bathroom for the night. It'll warm up soon." We couldn't have a cat because I was deathly allergic, so we all thought. One night became three nights, became a week, and then it was clear that she was pregnant, and you can't put a pregnant cat out in the cold, now can you. (It was genuinely cold. Not sub-zero, but in the teens with a sharp wind.)

Calico had her kittens in the bathroom one night when she was locked up there, and so we had kittens as well. You saw that coming. We started letting her in the evenings and hanging out a bit before consigning her to the bathroom with her kittens. It became apparent that I was no longer deathly allergic to cats, so she started having free roam of the house. Calico understood how bills were paid. In the evening when the family was watching television, she would find the highest status person and sit in their lap for thirty minutes, then go down to the basement to mouse.

When spring came, there was practically no day that she didn't bring home something. I believe that the most distressing was the squirrel, but maybe the baby rabbit was more traumatic. There must not have been any rats in the area, because she never brought one home.

Meanwhile, I had a pet gerbil called Robby. Robby liked to taunt Calico in his cystal ball (a plastic sphere something like 8 inches in diameter). He would deliberately chase her and bump into her, clearly knowing that he was invulnerable behind his plastic force field. Calico hated that mouse with a passion. Now and again, I'd find her wrapped around the crystal ball, gnawing on it in frustration. I'd scold her, and she'd pull a "who, me?" routine.

Once, Robbie escaped his cage. We looked everywhere, but a small rodent can get anywhere. I despaired. After all, with two mousers in the house (the kitten we kept was also a keen mouser), what was the chance I was ever going to see my gerbil again?

The next day, Calico came up to me with a disgusted look on her face. She was carrying something. I reached for it and she dropped it on my hand. It was Robbie! Alive! Unharmed, even. Calico gave me another truly disgusted look as if to say, "What's so special about this mouse?" and stalked off.

I have no idea how she came to decide that this was an off-limits mouse, or even how she came to capture it with so little damage, but I remain amazed with her perspicacity.

#259 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 06:15 AM:

On Davis, and being surprised by creatures while traveling

I went to school at UCDavis in California's central valley. Davis is on the west side of the Sacramento River's floodplain, and the creek that runs through the edge of campus once supported salmon, steelhead, and sturgeon runs. The whole area had been marshlands.

Each winter the remaining marshes and post-rain humidity produce Tule fogs, where for a few weeks visibility might never go above half a mile in the day--25 feet at night--and the sun is never more than a white disk in a colorless sky.

At the end of my first quarter of college, I (and everyone else in the dorms) stayed up late studying for finals. Over the quarter I'd progressed through sources of caffeine, moving from teas to coffee to larger cups of coffee. One evening, even after all that caffeine, I still couldn't stay awake--and hadn't yet learned that learning isn't possible without sleep. Another student offered me chocolate covered espresso beans. I also hadn't learned how many espresso beans equal a cup of coffee, and I ate too many of them.

Now I was too jittery to study.

A friend suggested I go out for a bike ride to use up some of that nervous energy. I bundled up and started a ride around campus. Buildings appeared and disappeared in the fog, and there were almost no sounds other than that of my bike. For twenty or thirty minutes I glided through this indistinct greyscale landscape, and then headed back to the dorms.

The bike path went through the wide lawns by the recreation center. I could see a floodlight that lit the grounds ahead of me, with some low objects casting shadows.

I biked closer and saw animals sitting in the bright circle of green grass: rabbits, slim black cats with the one notched ear of the campus's feral population, and handspan-high burrowing owls. None of them moved away, and only the owls turned their heads to look at me. I stopped and for a few minutes the whole world was this strange silent tableau.

#260 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 07:56 AM:

Kathryn from Sunnyvale @ 258... On Davis, and being surprised by creatures while traveling

Such as the big motorcycle guy who had a teddy bear on the back seat.

#261 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 03:12 PM:

R. M. Koske #172, on parents helping us explore... and returning the favor:

My parents strongly encouraged exploration, although mostly of the close-to-hand kind; a chemistry kit, an early single-board computer, traipsing through the woods back of our house (the back yard was only 30 feet across but almost 600 feet deep, more than half of it woods), and for a couple years I received various learning toys in the mail every month from Edmund Scientific.

Many years later, my mom thanked me for teaching her how to explore: she (a secretary by title, aka administrative assistant) had had the keeping of her company's network pushed on her, which had terrified her until she thought about what I did with computers (programmer/DBA with a lot of system administration, and had my own little network going at home) and realized that (within limits) it was safe to play around... and taught herself first NetWare administration, and then later Windows NT domain administration.

#262 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 03:22 PM:

Ariel, #243, on hunting cats:

One morning the entire household was abruptly awakened by a blood-curdling shriek: my sister had half woken up, started to put her shoes on — and discovered the hard way that one of the cats had deposited a half-eaten mouse in one of them.

And segueing via P. J. Evans #246 from cats to unexpected wildlife, specifically garter snakes:

One day I was walking outside my apartment without really paying attention, and suddenly something moved under my heel. I lifted it back up quickly, looked down, and watched a black garter snake slither away into the grass.

And another in the area of unexpected wildlife: a couple months after the above, I was startled to notice a crayfish in a puddle near the parking lot. Best I can figure is someone's fishing bait got away. It was gone a couple hours later when I passed the puddle again.

#263 ::: John Houghton ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 07:09 PM:

(Bicycling in the rain):
I had browbeaten my company into giving me 6 weeks vacation, and took my bike with me on my trip to ConFiction in the Netherlands. After the convention, I cycled most of the way around the IJsselmeer. A day or two after I had crossed the Afsluitdijk, I was well on my way south on a day when it was expected to rain for a couple of hours. Sure enough, it started to rain. Dutch bike routes are well marked, but I wasn't good about picking the signs out of the background in cities and towns. In one town a pair of teens showed me the way through town, leading me to, and leaving me on, the outbound path. I pedaled for the rest of the day, but the rain never stopped. Apparently I kept pace with the rain cloud, and spent the entire day happily pedaling through the rain.

#264 ::: Julie L. ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 07:39 PM:

Random beasties: when I was a small child, my mother worked for two summers as the live-in nurse for a summer camp near the Chesapeake Bay. She brought me and my brother to stay there with her, and our dad would drive up to join us on the weekends and whenever he could take vacation from work. One of our standard family activities was to go crabbing-- my memories are imprecise by now, but iirc we'd load up the station wagon with large empty containers (trashcans, laundry baskets, washtubs etc.) and drive to the nearest pier with several pounds of raw chicken parts and some balls of twine. We'd tie each piece of chicken to a few yards of twine and drop it into the water; when the twine started to jerk around, we'd pull it up, shake the blue crab(s) off into a container, and drop the neck back into the water again. Eventually, our containers would be full and/or we'd be out of chicken, at which point we'd drive back to our camp cabin and dump all of the crabs into the big enameled cast-iron bathtub to await their execution. As the huge vat of water slowly heated up in the kitchen, my brother and I would gingerly poke at the tub full of angry snapping crabs, alive with the rich brackish scent of the bay and a tiny echoing thunder of castanets from their claws.

Much to my sorrow, I developed an allergy to blue crab in my teens; I haven't been quite brave enough to test whether Dungeness crabmeat is safe for me, but anyway it wouldn't be the same without the entire Chesapeake-style crabfeast experience: tables spread with old newspaper and the accumulating shrapnel of broken shells, the regular dull thunks of wooden mallets and click-crunches of metal nutcrackers, the fingertips tingling from the heat of Old Bay seasoning seeping into the inevitable small cuts and punctures from sharp fragments.

At some point during one of those summers, I also got to see a waterspout swirling up into the sky from what seemed like just off-shore from where we were-- or at least, it was close enough that from where I was standing outside the cabin, the surrounding winds started to make me stumble toward it to keep my balance. Someone came out and dragged me back in, away from the grey-green whorl of ozone, which intensely disappointed me at the time.

#265 ::: Kayjayoh ::: (view all by) ::: October 04, 2008, 08:57 PM:

Beaches, trips to other countries, magic moments, and shooting stars.

A very recent memory, but one that is very sweet.

This Labor Day weekend saw me traveling from Wisconsin to Nova Scotia for a friend's wedding. Another friend, who lives in Boston, had joined me to make a road trip week of it. It had been a sporadically rainy weekend, but a fun one.

The Monday, we drove to Port Hood on Cape Breton Island, where we would stay for two days in a small cottage on the coast. We immediately headed down to the beach from our cottage, just ahead of a line of rain clouds. We strolled along the beach and then settled down on a rock to stare across the water at Port Hood Island and watch the storm blow through.

As quickly as the clouds blew in, they cleared out and the rest of the afternoon passed with the two of us side-by-side on the rock, nowhere else that we would rather be. We chatted and sang and played tunes on tin whistles. It seemed as though we were the only people in the world, just us and the ocean.

Later that night, after dinner, we were sitting around chatting and I was struck with the need to go back outside. We grabbed our jackets and settled in at the tops of the stairs to the beach, staring up at an excellent view of the Milky Way across a very black sky.

Suddenly, a streak of white across the sky. After a bit, there was another. Shooting stars! We were so excited, we couldn't peel our eyes away from the heavens. There was even one that was so long and bright that I had time to gasp and point and my companion was able to turn around and catch it. It was amazing. To my knowledge, there wasn't a meteor shower in the forecast, but there it was. Magical.

<It wasn't quite apparent yet (though it should have been) but by the end of the week the two of us had fallen for each other quite hard. Sadly, we are separated by about 1,120 miles right now. Those memories are going to have to carry me through until we can see each other again.>

#266 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 02:03 AM:

It does rain a lot in Portland, but it has the unique property of often raining while the sun is out, so we get to see some spectacular rainbows. This isn't a rainbow story.
I was in Portland's Classical Chinese Garden just as the sun was starting to set. There's a tall office building with brightly mirrored windows on east side of the garden, and it was reflecting the sun, sending a beam of light in an almost flat trajectory across the pond. I was standing on the west side, looking east across the pond when it started to rain. It was one of those rains with big, fat drops, rather far apart. The pond was suddenly filled with little bursts of spreading ripples, and they caught that beam of light and sparkled so brightly that you had to squint. I've never seen anything natural glitter so vividly before. It was magic.

#267 ::: Renatus ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 08:54 AM:

Full moons:

In late June I was on a roadtrip with a friend. We'd set ourselves a (foolishly) grueling pace, and it was late in the evening that we hit hour 14 of our journey somewhere in desolate mid Wyoming, with an unknown amount of time left to go before we reached our destination for the night, a Motel 6 in Laramie.

Finally, over the rise we're ascending I see a bright glow. "That has to be the city," I remarked to my friend.

The glow grew so bright I became befuddled--surely Laramie wasn't THAT big. As we crested the rise, my heart stuttered--there in front of us was a massive, glowing dome.

A second later my heart started again as I identified the glow as the rising full moon, and not the massive geodesic dome from one of my stories. There under it was also Laramie, but it was a dim second to the great glowing disc in the sky.

#268 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 12:35 PM:

Things in the sky...

In 2000, I had just moved to Albuquerque. One early morning, I was quite alone and lonely on the 7th floor of the office building. I looked out the window. And saw, very close, a hot-air balloon go by.

#269 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 01:35 PM:

Right there on edge on mountain lip see cloud
swift move through sky, through steady clearest blue,
with every second become something new;
voices within declare you have been cowed
not knowing yet the force that is allowed
nor proper motion ready for its cue.
On neither side is the eternal view
but every sound right here is sharp and loud.
So you were eager then to find a space
just for yourself, and had so much to prove
and so much time; or so it was you thought
being a fool. Now there is little grace
for you to get into the rightful groove
and the robed judge has come into the court.

#270 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 05, 2008, 09:46 PM:

Going over to Concord (via BART) to shop - this was when it had the Trader Joe's nearest to Berkeley - and, crossing the creek on Diamond Road, looking down and seeing a very large (about 30 inches) and very ugly fish, then realizing I was looking at a young sturgeon. (Still the only one I've seen alive and not in an aquarium.)

#271 ::: Rainflame ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 12:23 AM:

Bay Area, moon, rainbows
Driving west over the Dumbarton Bridge in the early morning, with the full moon very low in the sky, somehow looking like it was closer than the foothills and resting right on the surface of the bay.
Also seen from the Dumbarton another morning, 2 complete rainbows and parts of a third -my most spectacular rainbow.

#272 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 05:06 AM:

looking down and seeing a very large (about 30 inches) and very ugly fish, then realizing I was looking at a young sturgeon. (Still the only one I've seen alive and not in an aquarium.)

Are you sure it was a real one? You were in California, after all, where there are thousands of plastic sturgeons.

(Serge: it's on.)

#273 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 05:45 AM:

ajay @ 271... thousands of plastic sturgeons

One of them named Sole Bass?

#274 ::: Ginger ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 12:42 PM:

Serge @ 272: Amur! I want Amur! (Even though I know I'll roe it later.)

#275 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 01:37 PM:

Ginger @ 273... I know I'll roe it later

All the more reason for calamari heads to prevail.

#276 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 01:51 PM:

I'm trying to think of a good riposte, but I'm floundering. I'm afraid I'll have to cede Serge first plaice.

#277 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 01:54 PM:

ajay @ 275... I'm afraid I'll have to cede Serge first plaice

When you get into a fight, always go for the krill.

#278 ::: Clifton Royston ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:15 PM:

<plaintively>Does this have to be a pun thread, like every other thread on ML?</plaintively>

#279 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:17 PM:

ajay, you didn't get properly tuna'd up?

#280 ::: Ambar ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:23 PM:


so tell us a story, or I'll be forced to drag out yet another horse anecdote. :)

#281 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:35 PM:

277: not every thread on ML ends up being about puns. There are also poetry threads, Cthulhu threads, knitting threads, Cthulhu poetry threads and (probably) Cthulhu knitting threads. And, of course, emergency medicine threads, which start out as emergency medicine threads and STAY THAT WAY DAMMIT because we are all secretly terrified of Jim Macdonald.

#282 ::: Tom Whitmore ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 02:38 PM:

Putting the entire Raiders of the Lost Basement story, originally published by Our F(l)ounders, here, would take up too much space, so I'll just use a link to point to it. And besides, you've all already heard it, right?

I could come up with a connection, I'm sure. Odd religious findings, I suppose.

#283 ::: Alberto ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 03:36 PM:

tule fog:

I grew up in California's Central Valley in a tiny rural town. Our place is at the edge of town, so the country basically starts in the backyard and keeps going from there until you hit real wilderness in the Sierra.

Anyway, as children we used to play hide-and-go-seek (what did you call it, btw?) on the foggiest days. The visibility could close down to only a couple of feet, and the world absolutely ended in a blanket of grey fog at five feet. We used to "hide" by standing still in the fog, or just crouching down. Whoever was it would have to run and cover as much of the yard as possible, trying to run into the rest of us, because there was no real way of finding us, otherwise.

The most fun part would be trying to walk as slowly as possible to base in order not to be heard or seen as motion against the grey backdrop.

#284 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 03:36 PM:

Rainbows --
On vacation in Colorado in the early '80's, we went rafting for a day. On the bus ride back to where we were staying, we saw a rainbow...AND where it ended! In the middle of a lake, in case you were wondering. Thankfully, this isn't just a memory in my mind, I also got photographic evidence.

ajay @280. Don't forget xkcd. Which also features knitting today.

#285 ::: Fragano Ledgister ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 04:00 PM:

Debbie #283: Did you row out to get the pot of gold?

#286 ::: Debbie ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 04:17 PM:

Fragano: alas, no. The bus driver had his eyes on the road and didn't stop. But it was worth it just to have come around the bend and suddenly be confronted with something that before had only been mythical.

#287 ::: abi ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 04:50 PM:


A better writer than I once wrote:

Napa valley was gone; gone were all the lower slopes and woody foothills of the range; and in their place, not a thousand feet below me, rolled a great level ocean. It was as though I had gone to bed the night before, safe in a nook of inland mountains, and had awakened in a bay upon the coast. I had seen these inundations from below; at Calistoga I had risen and gone abroad in the early morning, coughing and sneezing, under fathoms on fathoms of gray sea vapour, like a cloudy sky - a dull sight for the artist, and a painful experience for the invalid. But to sit aloft one's self in the pure air and under the unclouded dome of heaven, and thus look down on the submergence of the valley, was strangely different and even delightful to the eyes. Far away were hilltops like little islands. Nearer, a smoky surf beat about the foot of precipices and poured into all the coves of these rough mountains. The colour of that fog ocean was a thing never to be forgotten. For an instant, among the Hebrides and just about sundown, I have seen something like it on the sea itself. But the white was not so opaline; nor was there, what surprisingly increased the effect, that breathless, crystal stillness over all. Even in its gentlest moods the salt sea travails, moaning among the weeds or lisping on the sand; but that vast fog ocean lay in a trance of silence, nor did the sweet air of the morning tremble with a sound.

As I continued to sit upon the dump, I began to observe that this sea was not so level as at first sight it appeared to be. Away in the extreme south, a little hill of fog arose against the sky above the general surface, and as it had already caught the sun, it shone on the horizon like the topsails of some giant ship. There were huge waves, stationary, as it seemed, like waves in a frozen sea; and yet, as I looked again, I was not sure but they were moving after all, with a slow and august advance. And while I was yet doubting, a promontory of the some four or five miles away, conspicuous by a bouquet of tall pines, was in a single instant overtaken and swallowed up. It reappeared in a little, with its pines, but this time as an islet, and only to be swallowed up once more and then for good. This set me looking nearer, and I saw that in every cove along the line of mountains the fog was being piled in higher and higher, as though by some wind that was inaudible to me. I could trace its progress, one pine tree first growing hazy and then disappearing after another; although sometimes there was none of this fore-running haze, but the whole opaque white ocean gave a start and swallowed a piece of mountain at a gulp. It was to flee these poisonous fogs that I had left the seaboard, and climbed so high among the mountains. And now, behold, here came the fog to besiege me in my chosen altitudes, and yet came so beautifully that my first thought was of welcome.

120 years later, I too went on honeymoon to the hills near Calistoga. I was reading Stevenson, the morning after the night before, and looked out of our window into the very same sea of fog that he described.

#288 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 05:05 PM:

The Bay Area...

About 10 years ago, my wife and I drove to the top of Mount Tamalpais. Above us, the sky was blue, and the sun shone brightly. Below us, looking south, we could see the whole Bay Area, in all its beauty.

People who live there are lucky.

#289 ::: Michael I ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 06:40 PM:


You left out the threads about dinosaurs and sodomy...

#290 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 07:25 PM:

288: all right, all threads end up being about Cthulhu, poetry, knitting, emergency medicine, dinosaurs or sodomy.
-- what about parody?
-- among our threads are-- no, wait, we have many topics, numbered among which are -- oh, sod it, I'll come in again.

#291 ::: P J Evans ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 07:46 PM:

hide and seek:
We played hide and seek around a corner; sometimes people didn't hear the 'all in' call, so we had to make a rule that you couldn't go on that side any more. It was fun hiding behind a smallish bush or a parked car, and we learned not to make noise or move when we were doing it.

We also liked to play 'freeze tag' and 'red light/green light', on the lawn between my house and the one next door - it was the biggest one not in a back yard, so our mothers could tell where we were.

#292 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: October 06, 2008, 09:49 PM:

The Bay Area, and its weather:

I used to think of clouds, and even fog, as relatively static -- movement or change happening slowly. Then I approached SF on 101, on a typical summer afternoon with fog moving in. At a narrow gap between the hills that line the east side of the road, the fog was pouring in, with the same apparent speed of fog pouring off dry ice right after you pour water on it, or like pouring one liquid into another. It didn't seem real that something so insubstantial could move so vigorously.

And I've seen, once, sunset in November from the south end of the Marin headlands, with the entire city in view on one side and the hills running north on the other, both gilded by the sun. That was the first time I'd been in SF for more than a couple of hours, and possibly the best tour I've ever taken anywhere; the minibus driver got us there just at the peak effect. I've been trying to see the same thing every time I come back but never getting cooperation from the weather.

#293 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 06:13 AM:

The Bay Area, and weather, and rainbows: in March of 1987 there was a rare combination of a rain shower over the East Bay that ended in the middle of the bay, with the sun an hour or two from setting so that it shone full on the hills. It produced a full double rainbow, with some small patches of triple -- if anyone tries to tell you triple rainbows aren't possible, well, they're wrong, I've seen it. I could see the rainbow ending in the hills behind the UC Berkeley campus; some buildings were painted color by it.

#294 ::: Serge ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 07:49 AM:

CHip @ 291... And, by the time the fog is done pouring in, you finding yourself staring a the Sutro Tower sticking out of a cloud bank.

#295 ::: ajay ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 08:25 AM:

Seen the same thing in the West Highlands, looking off the Carn Mor Dearg arete very early one clear morning in summer and watching the low cloud pouring over the ridges to the south... first time on Ben Nevis. Well remembered.

#296 ::: joann ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 11:40 AM:

There's what we called a "fog factory" at the north end of the Golden Gate bridge, where you can watch it being formed, seemingly out of nothingness. We saw it so many times that it shifted from a pearl of memory to something that was expected. (And that was the trouble with the Bay Area. That sort of thing was constantly happening; my husband once started muttering something about too many rainbows.)

#297 ::: Faren Miller ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 05:46 PM:

When I get nostalgic for my views of the Bay Area (e.g. driving down the hill toward home from the Locus HQ), I look out the window by my computer here in Prescott AZ and see Mount Bill Williams on the far side of the valley (shaped a lot like Mount Tam), and off to the right the San Francisco Peaks -- Bay Area-ish in name only. After rain storms, the valley often fills in with white fog, a sea that ripples where it passes over the odd hills and hummocks out there.

Speaking of pearls, my new surroundings also have ravens, cotton tail rabbits, occasional coyotes, even less frequent road runners and tarantulas (down more toward Mom's place), and currently a gulch that's full of goldfields wildflowers in full bloom. It's enough to make the allergies quite bearable!

#298 ::: geekosaur ::: (view all by) ::: October 07, 2008, 09:18 PM:

I saw a triple rainbow several years ago. Scrambled to get my camera and take a picture, but by that time it was only barely still double. (Sadly the setting wasn't all that special either; it was, from my vantage point, arched over my bank.)

#299 ::: Bruce Cohen, SpeakerToManagers ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2008, 02:37 AM:

Portland rainbows, that janetl didn't talk about.

For several years I worked at Intel, in the suburbs west of Portland, and lived on the west side of the city itself. I commuted on Route 26, the Sunset Highway*, and so would be driving east back home, almost directly away from the sun in the spring and fall, when the sun would be low in the sky at that time of the afternoon. That road crosses the Tualitin Valley so there's a straight piece of road that's miles long with a view clear to the hills in Portland. At least 8 or 10 times I would be driving from sunlight towards a rain storm and have a view of a complete double rainbow most of the way home. At least twice there was a part of third rainbow.

* Name since changed to the Sunset Parking Lot.

#300 ::: janetl ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2008, 02:47 AM:

Bruce at #298: I also worked at Intel, driving home with the setting sun shining over my shoulder - on those occasions that I managed to leave before 8pm. The most vivid rainbow I've ever seen was one that was low in the sky, with the dark bulk of the West Hills behind it (said hills being west of Portland, but east of where I was driving). With a dark background instead of the usual sky, the colors of the rainbow were like jewels.
I now work downtown, and my 4 mile commute has fewer rainbows, but is still much preferred.

#301 ::: Linkmeister ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2008, 03:23 AM:

The Bay Area:

Back in 1969-1970 the family was stationed on Guam; I was attending the U of Arizona in Tucson. Students got two Space-Available round-trips from home to CONUS (I think that's how it was stated). In my case that was usually Travis AFB in Fairfield, N of San Francisco.

On one of those trips the flight from Tucson to SFO was diverted across the bay to the Oakland airport, from which there was no bus to Travis. I don't think there were too many buses going up there too often. We (about six of us, I think) had to figure out a way to get across the bay to SFO to catch our ground transport to the base.

I don't recall whether we chartered the thing or whether it was a scheduled commuter trip, but it was my first and so far only helicopter ride. At dawn. From Oakland to SF, with the lights of the city and the lights on the bridges sparkling below us.

We caught the bus. Had to wait about 20 hours for Space-A on a flight to Guam, but that's a different story.

#302 ::: Kathryn from Sunnyvale ::: (view all by) ::: October 08, 2008, 04:12 AM:

On fogs, pearls, and driving with fog

Did you know that the view of fog from above in the San Francisco Bay Area is called the Sea of Pearls? From above it can look like waves, sometimes iridescent with sunlight. From underneath it can be pure gloom.

Once I was driving back to Davis from the Napa Valley, sometime early in the year. For reasons I cannot remember I took highway 128 east through the Vaca mountains, rather than heading south to highway 80. (My guess is because 128 is lovely, going by hills turned rich green in the wet season. I had a big 1970's car, good for roadtrips, even if 80 miles was as long of a roadtrip I could do during school.)

The sun was low in the horizon as I got to the last hill before the Central Valley, and from there I saw a big thick bank of Tule fog a few miles distant. It covered most of the valley and was moving west. I sped up, because I still had 20 miles to go--20 minutes at normal speed, but an hour or more if driving in fog. As I neared the valley floor I knew it was going to be a slow drive, because by the time I reached the bottom of the hill I was driving into the fog.

And then I drove out of it.

The fog started about 5 feet up from ground level--right above the roof of my car. Visibility was half a mile or more in all directions but up.

I put the highbeams on and drove along the empty road as fast as was safe. It felt like driving at 60mph through a low-ceilinged parking garage. Every few seconds I'd punch through tendril of fog that reached down like ghost stalactites.

#303 ::: Patricious ::: (view all by) ::: October 19, 2008, 01:27 AM:

Camping in the Fog...
Twas 1989, year of the World Series earthquake. We were still newlyweds with a golden retriever puppy. A man I'd met at the St. Vincent de Paul Center told me about a waterfall in Mexico and for some still unexplained reason I had to go there. What's still amazing is that Annie agreed to go with me to Basaseachic Falls which she and I had never even heard of. Fergie rode in the backseat of our Trooper, from San Diego to Chihuahua, where we tasted the hottest hot sauce ever to scorch my tongue. Then we spent a night at a hostel in or around Creel. When we got to the waterfall, which is a Mexican national park, there was no one else around. We pitched our tent, cooked our dinner, and went to sleep as a heavy fog settled over the campground. In the middle of the night, Fergie woke up and sensed another animal nearby. We heard the rattling of a steel chain attached to a metal can a few hundred yards away. Scavenger in the trash, we thought. Unzipping the tent flap, I shined a flashlight in the direction of the noise. The light did not penetrate the fog. The noise continued. We were scared. What if it was a bear and what if it came after us? Fergie was fearful, like us...but maybe her bark offered some protection against the intruder. There was no park ranger and no other campers to go to for help. No one even knew we were there. We didn't sleep much that night. Prayed for morning, and the fog lifted. We continued our trip to the edge of the Copper Canyon, and saw Tarahumara Indians drinking tesguino in a cemetery on the Day of the Dead.

#304 ::: kbax ::: (view all by) ::: October 21, 2008, 12:50 PM:

Fashionably late to this party, but I'll dive in with camping, singing, and weather:

I spent a week as an assistant at a Girl Scout camp one summer in my late teens; mainly, this was to be available to my little sister, five years younger than me and born with Downs, during her camp week. I got to see firsthand what her life with her peers was like, as certain girls insisted that they didn't want to be in her group for various activities.

On our last day, a massive thunderstorm struck. We gathered in the dining hall, where the thin walls and high ceilings made the storm even louder. My sister got scared, started crying hysterically. Nothing I said would calm her.

I don't know who started the singing, me or someone nearby. It didn't matter, because soon everyone was singing, their voices rising up to drown out the storm. My sister calmed down, and by the storm's end, she was singing too.

#305 ::: Bill Stewart ::: (view all by) ::: January 17, 2009, 06:32 PM:

On driving to the end of the rainbow in Bay Area weather, and other fog stories. (Yes, I know this thread was a couple of months ago; I saw it in the year-end wrapup.)

A few years ago I was driving past Redwood City about 6pm, in the area where South 101 goes almost due east. It was a lightly rainy day, with random bits of water scattered around the sky after they'd come over the mountains and splashing up from the highway. So the rainbows were right in front of me, trying to make a perfect circle. The top was missing, but one side came down to my dashboard, and the other side reached the side mirror, and I'd obviously driven to the end of the rainbow. (This being after the late-90s boom ended, there was no longer a pot of gold at the Menlo Park exit, and the one leprechaun I know around here and his wife had probably already left on their band's long-term touring lifestyle, but it was still good to finally get there.) I've been through a circular rainbow one other time, in a small plane between the Hawaiian islands (which BTW is usually cheaper than the bigger airlines and also uses the commuter terminals which don't have the same security-theater lines.)

Other memorable bits of fog include trying to drive down I-5 one night and hitting tule fog (driving was impossible, so we pulled off at the next exit and got the last motel room), morning lake fog in a motel in Pt. Reyes, having dinner in a rotating restaurant on a radio tower in Lithuania with fog that was thick enough we usually couldn't see the ground, and looking downhill toward Ithaca in a fog that left one line of gothic-style building fronts backed by a sea of grayness, because Cornell had obviously returned to Brigadoon.

#306 ::: Benjamin Wolfe ::: (view all by) ::: July 19, 2011, 08:16 PM:

And what comes to mind here is a pearl of great price that Stephenson spent many pages discussing in his Baroque Cycle.

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