Saturday, August 28, 2021

Cocteau Twins

 


This weird Scottish band from the 80s created some of the most beautiful music ever recorded. Unfortunately the lead singer was reticent about providing meaningful lyrics. I have no doubt she possessed the intelligence, but apparently was afraid to lay her feelings out there for everyone to see. That's a shame, but even with incoherent, stream of consciousness lyrics, the shimmering vocals put them ahead of many of their peers.


Friday, August 27, 2021

Tiki Grill

 

Probably the least healthy and most healthy items on the menu. On the left is the High Country Poutine (with pork fritters). On the right is the Fish Bites, which I had prepared blackened and is served with a remoulade dipping sauce.

One of my favorite local restaurants opened earlier this year: Tiki Grill. It's a seafood restaurant with a kitschy Tiki theme, straight out of the 1950s. I don't care for the tiki theme but the food is excellent. It's exactly the type of light seafood cuisine that fits my tastes and most of the menu is relatively healthy. Unfortunately they don't seem to be getting much business. I've visited several times and usually I'm the only customer, though one time I went in and there were perhaps a dozen customers. I hope they make it!

Thursday, August 26, 2021

Accidental Art

I found this on my phone. I'm not sure what it is, but it's actually kind of awesome. Accidental Art.

 

We find beauty in the unplanned and unexpected. Contriving beauty is deceptively difficult. I'm a terrible amateur painter and struggle to write fiction. But we find beauty in patterns of light and shadow, clouds, rain, the surface of a pond. It's difficult to exceed the beauty found in the natural world, that formed from weather, the sun, vegetation, the fundamental laws of nature. I think contrived beauty is more difficult because to achieve it, you are struggling against natural forces. The artist is a salmon, swimming upstream against the current for hundreds of miles, to bring forth new life.


Tuesday, August 24, 2021

Family Business

I guess I didn't get a great photo of the flowers I put on Dad's grave. Dad chose to live most of his life in a small/medium town, but to me he is buried in a good place: out on the Indiana prairie. Really, he was a country boy at heart.

 

I mentioned in a previous post that I spent most of my formative years in rural Indiana, but I haven't been back in a while.

I finally went back to Indiana for the first time since 2018. I had no intention of it being so long between visits. Without question that's the longest I've ever gone without setting foot inside the state. I put it off in 2019 because Dad had died the previous year and I wasn't ready to go back again soon. Visiting his grave was upsetting and I never really liked living in Indiana anyway.

I was going to go in 2020 but then COVID happened and it seemed risky, or at least irresponsible. Finally I received the vaccine earlier this year and decided to resume normal travel. I still put it off until August due to some other commitments.

My sister and I inherited my Dad's house and it definitely needed to be inspected for repairs. I found several things that need done, and only got a couple of them done, so I engaged a semi-retired contractor to act as a handyman. I hope that works out, because I do not want to go back to Indiana all the time to work on a house that I don't want to own in the first place.

For reasons I won't go into here, we can't sell the house, at least not in the immediate future, and it is inhabited. It's a frustrating situation.

If I'd had more time, I might have tried to roll in an outdoor adventure, but I usually keep trips to four nights due to my cats. This time, I decided to get a pet sitter at the last minute, so I kind of wish I had taken a longer trip.

I went to Dad's grave again, paced back and forth and talked to him as if he were literally there, then finally left, feeling guilty that I hadn't spent more time, even though I spent more time this time than the last time I visited.

I saw some aunts and cousins, some of whom I haven't seen in a good five years, so that was nice. But otherwise it was a working trip. I can imagine taking a trip to Indiana on a more relaxed pace to visit places I enjoy and visit more friends and family, but I doubt I will really do that. I'm in that phase of my life where you realize the clock is ticking and you will only get so many things done before it ticks to a stop. Regarding the passage of time . . .


“All the time you spend tryin to get back what's been took from you there's more goin out the door. After a while you just try and get a tourniquet on it.”


― Cormac McCarthy, No Country for Old Men


I hope to get back to adventure travel in October or November, if I can arrange it, and if I can get a pet sitter lined up again.

Friday, August 20, 2021

Mount Elden and Firearms

Mount Elden from Buffalo Park. So peaceful . . . oh, wait!

 

Apparently while I was out running at Buffalo Park the other day, a man with a knife was chasing people around on the lower slopes of Mount Elden not far away (photo taken of the mountain and at the approximate time of day). The police are searching for him, but I'm just saying, if law abiding citizens would carry a firearm while hiking then this problem would have been solved already. The police arrive after the crime has already occurred.

This scenario is an excellent example of why I believe individual citizens should have the freedom to carry firearms. Also there was that time someone broke into my house and I got into a confrontation with him. The guy was about 4 inches taller and 25 pounds heavier than me. What if the confrontation had been violent? What am I supposed to do, box with him? What if he'd had a gun?

It's a knee-jerk response to gun crime to just call for a ban, but it doesn't survive detailed ethical examination, the details being individual humans in individual scenarios. If you think the average citizen shouldn't be allowed to own and carry a firearm, then you need to take these examples into account and explain why to both of us. There isn't a moral justification for banning the ownership and carrying of firearms. It ensures law abiding citizens are outgunned by scofflaws.

At the very least, follow the principle of "first, do no harm." If you are trying to prevent other citizens from being able to protect themselves and their dependents, you need to ask yourself why. In practice, your position is the opposite of what you think it is.

Sunday, August 15, 2021

Chicken McTerrible

These are terrible.



I think the last time I had chicken nuggets from McDonald's, it was actually "Chicken Selects." These were breaded chicken breast strips (or chicken tenders) that were acceptable, but have been discontinued. But I wasn't clear about it, so I made the mistake of ordering Chicken McNuggets the other day. I'd pretty much given up on these back in the 90's and I was not wrong to do so. It's a little humiliating that I had to learn the lesson twice. Chicken McNuggets are really terrible. I normally try to avoid overusing adverbs but sometimes you have to go there. Bad. Really bad. Terribly bad.

Hopefully I won't make that mistake again.

Shame on you, McDonald's!

Wednesday, August 11, 2021

Predatory Instincts

Ada the Bird Catcher

 

I take my cats for a "walk" once or twice a day, weather permitting. I do not let them run free without human escort. I tell myself the lie that by supervising them I control the risk to both the cats and wildlife. Predictably, this doesn't always work.

Within just a few seconds I noticed Ada was stalking something, and just about the time I realized it was a small bird, she had it. The poor thing cried terribly. Ada evaded me when I tried to rescue it and it was probably in her mouth for at least 10 seconds before I got there. I grabbed her by the skin on the back of her neck and she let it go. The bird flew normally up into a tree with the rest of its flock. I know it is probably at least slightly injured but hopefully it will recover.

A few months ago my youngest cat Shadow caught a small lizard in his mouth. I was able to free it as well and later saw a slightly larger lizard in the same place, so I think it was saved. Of course, the cats also kill numerous insects and spiders. I admit to feeling guilty about these events.

This is why you shouldn't let your cats run free. I love my cats but they are hard on wildlife. Cats are often referred to as Felis domesticus, but they aren't really a species, but a subspecies of African wildcats (correct name Felis catus domesticus). Basically, they are an invasive species from another continent that can damage endemic ecosystems. Get them "fixed" and keep them in the house.

Monday, August 9, 2021

Worst Mountain Biker In Flagstaff

Even though I complained about there being too many mountain bikers on the Aspen Loop last Saturday, of course I am also a bicyclist. The thing is that I'm not very good. I'm neither fast nor skilled on a mountain bike.

The wildflowers are perfect right now in Flagstaff! I went out into the meadow to take this photo and realized I was standing in the middle of a prairie dog colony. They started making a racket. They carry bubonic plague around here but I don't think I got any flea bites.


For me, the problem with single track is that I get scared to hit rough areas and tricky spots with enough speed due to fear. If I ride single track frequently, then my confidence increases and I find I can ride over the average rock garden reasonably well and without anxiety. Since I focused for several weeks on my ascent of Snowbowl Road, I haven't been riding single track, but I've been feeling the urge.

On Sunday I went over to the easiest trail in town (not counting dirt roads or gravel bike paths, which are also suitable for mountain biking) - the Campbell Mesa trail system. It's technically Coconino National Forest but it kind of has a suburban feel to it since it's literally on the edge of a neighborhood with a big pond surrounded by a manicured lawn. Once you get away from the trail head you are riding through grassy meadows and sparse pines and dwarf oaks (Gambel oak). There aren't many mountain views but sometimes you can see deer and right now the wildflowers are blooming everywhere.

Campbell Mesa features mostly smooth, easy single track. Much of it is heavily trafficked and wider than average trail. The trail system consists of nested loops of different lengths, though the technical difficulty is mostly easy and consistent across the loops. Nonetheless, as I said, I haven't been riding much lately and found myself scootering over a couple of rock gardens, and pushing my way up a couple of the short rocky areas covered with fist-sized rocks.

It's a little embarrassing to walk things at Campbell Mesa, but it was as much a result of indecision and lack of speed as fear. Loose rock is difficult to ride uphill unless you carry speed. One of the walks happened due to the presence of hikers - c'est la vie. It's easy for cyclists to alienate hikers so I choose courtesy.

Nonetheless, I've been living in Flagstaff several years now and still got a PR, even though I was riding nearly as casual as possible. Some of my previous rides on that segment were done when I was not acclimated to the elevation.


A Stroll in the High Country

I took the side trail down to Alfa Fia Tank and saw this hilarious cloud, which looks like a cartoon character's "thought balloon." What are the mountains thinking?

 

For some reason, I hadn't hiked the Aspen Loop this year. It's a side hike off the Arizona Trail that can be accessed easily from either Aspen Corner or Snowbowl. I chose Aspen Corner to add length to the hike and because I like the sweeping views over the Rim country from the restored section of Hart Prairie along the AZ Trail.

A panorama of the Arizona Trail where it crosses the restored section of Hart Prairie. For orientation, the trail is actually straight here. It was gorgeous!

We had a lot of precipitation in July and the alpine meadows are green and the wildflowers are blooming. It's glorious in the Arizona high country! There were too many people, especially mountain bikers, but it was worth it. I only wish I'd gotten up a little earlier to beat the crowds from the hot desert parts of Arizona. They usually start arriving sometime after 10:00 am and peak out by noon.

I went vertical with the phone to capture the height of the trees. We don't have much "dense forest" in Arizona but if you go up high enough you'll find some. The other place to find it is along our few perennial flowing streams.


I continue having some knee issues related to overuse so I tried to take it easy, but I also noticed that I'm just not hiking very well. I could feel the elevation. The hike is generally around 9000 feet above sea level. When I'm thin and in good shape, I don't notice it. About three years ago I ran an 11 minute mile around the loop (and it's very hilly). There is no way I could do that now. I'm carrying too much weight.

I want to lose the weight but I swear I'm enjoying eating now more than any time of my life and I lack deep commitment. I keep working out but I also keep eating.


Sunday, August 8, 2021

The Various Berto's Mexican Restaurants

Carne Asada Tacos with refried beans and rice from Ralberto's on Woodlands Village Blvd in Flagstaff. The meal also came with three small salsa containers. These seemed to be salsa verde, green chili salsa, and red chili salsa. The first two were mild to medium but the red sauce set my face on fire.


Throughout America's desert southwest region, there are a bunch of Mexican restaurants that have a similar heritage and business format and only slightly different names, usually ending in -berto's. This is unusual and it has an unusual explanation. It seems the original restaurant was called Roberto's, but then the owner and some of his relatives and friends from Mexico branched out, copying the format and the food style, but didn't bother with formal franchising. This led to variations like Riliberto's,  Los Bertos, Ralberto's, Riloberto's, Poliberto's, etc.

Here is a story that explains it (the website is kind of spammy though).

https://tucson.com/news/local/tim-stellers-opinion-multiplying-mexican-restaurants-with-berto-names-derive-from-common-ancestor/article_c6663c4d-a460-5024-a731-47e272cc3668.html

Today I tried out Ralberto's, about a mile and half from my house. It's a takeout format. The restaurant has a small dining area but is really a place where you call or walk up to the counter to order, then wait for them to announce that your order is ready. I decided to try it after I read the Google reviews. Some of the white people had issues with it but there were multiple reviews from people with Spanish names that could be summarized as saying it was basic but excellent. They were right. That is exactly how I would describe it. Also, I've been to at least one other -berto's so I thought I knew what to expect.

I will be back.

[Update August 28, 2021: I went back and ordered a combination beef burrito with a cheese enchilada, rice, and refried beans. Not as good but still acceptable for takeout. My main issue with it is the enchilada sauce is plain. The burrito was good though.]

Thursday, August 5, 2021

Chaos

I keep reading where people say they lived in Arizona for decades and have never seen a rainbow. This photo has nothing to do with the content below. I just wanted to share.


When I was working on my first degree, my physics and chemistry professors disagreed on whether or not entropy had effects beyond the mundane. In other words, is the universe really trying to kill you?

My answer is yes. It's amazing how much effort it takes just to keep your everyday life from descending into utter chaos. It's even more difficult to keep an organization from becoming disorganized. I'm a big believer in teamwork, but it's also true that sometimes one or only a few people are crucial to the process.

I have previously said that I don't consider leadership potential to necessarily be a virtue, and I don't think this invalidates it, but on the other hand a single person in the correct position can prevent entropy from taking over. It isn't leadership precisely, in the sense of issuing orders, but more like an information filter, someone in the middle who can keep the organization orderly by heading off wasted or misdirected efforts or communication.

If you lose that person, things can descend into chaos.

Wednesday, August 4, 2021

Red Leaves

 


You know it's August when you see the first few leaves change color. In two months they will peak. I don't mind Autumn, it's a beautiful time of year, but I resent the gradual loss of daylight. I went running today and was reminded that there are a limited number of days left in the year when the daylight is long enough to go after work.

I need to get a bicycle trainer or stationary bike so I don't lose my fitness base this year.

Tuesday, August 3, 2021

Fitful Creativity



My creative impulses have been strong recently. I cranked out a short story the other day and then restarted work on my novel. Lying in bed last night half-lucid, I thought of a really good idea for a story starter. It wasn't a plot, merely an amusing device that would have been a unique kernel to develop one. But even as I lay there, I knew I would not remember it in the morning, and I don't. It had something to do with reversing a paradigm in a way that was funny. I feel like there is a word for that, but I can't remember that either.

Monday, August 2, 2021

Chopsticks

Phở Vietnamese Restaurant in Flagstaff. I selected pho with chicken breast. It came with the bean sprouts, a wedge of lime, and sliced chili peppers. I put two slices of chili into the soup, then took them out after 15 minutes or so as the spicy heat became intolerable.


A couple of years ago I bought a pack of chopsticks. I had a pair when I was young, back in the 1980s, and learned to use them to minimal proficiency, but eventually gave up on them. My recent intent was to relearn how to use them well enough to travel to Japan and hopefully not starve. Obviously, the Coronavirus pandemic messed up the travel plans, but I persisted with the chopsticks. I regained proficiency and have mostly used them with instant ramen, which allows the loading of a huge wad of noodles into the mouth. As an American, I have to admit it's a superior way to consume ramen, but it's a little sloppy.

I went to a Vietnamese restaurant yesterday for a bowl of pho, a soup or stew, that was imported into the United States after the Vietnam War (Phở Vietnamese on Woodlands Village Blvd in Flagstaff). The usual method in Vietnam is to use chopsticks to eat the noodles out of the bowl, then use a spoon to consume the broth. It's the first time I have used chopsticks in public. It went reasonably well, although at one point I realized I was making too much noise. After that I was more careful and managed to eat the entire bowl politely, although I honestly think the serving size was enough for two people.

I ordered pho with chicken breast. The dish consisted mostly of a large bowl of sweet and savory broth, and a great mass of very thin rice noodles, with chopped scallions, bean sprouts, a lime wedge, and three slices of a hot green chili pepper on the side. It was good, although I wouldn't consider it delicious. I think I'll go back again though, because most of the online commentary indicates that the best food at that restaurant is the Bahn Mi, a Vietnamese sandwich dating from the French colonial period. Anyway I always like to give a restaurant a second chance unless something is truly terrible.

Sunday, August 1, 2021

Hiking Goals

I hit my bicycling fitness goal for the year by climbing Snowbowl Road, but I have another goal for the second half of the year. I want to do another big hike in the Grand Canyon. Most years since I moved to Flagstaff I've hiked down into the Canyon. On a couple of occasions I made it all the way to the river and back up to the rim. Other times I've done the "intermediate" hikes such as Plateau Point or Skeleton Point. 

A Monsoon rainstorm over the Mogollon Rim region from Fort Tuthill County Park. Seen yesterday on an easy run. I gave myself three days to recover from my bicycle ride up Snowbowl Road before resuming cardio exercise.

I think I'd like to at least do Plateau Point again. It's been a few years since I've been down there, and Indian Garden is a dream, even though it's usually overcrowded. That goal might change, but either way I need more hiking fitness than I have right now. The goal is to get fit, then I can worry about the specific goal, depending on fitness. I can achieve that by spending more effort running and hiking.

I scouted some of the other trails from the South Rim earlier this year and found that the trails are rugged and exposed compared to the Bright Angel and South Kaibab Trails. There aren't many "easy" trails in the Grand Canyon so it's a matter of degree. It's difficult to train for the Canyon at the Canyon, but training in Flagstaff works well.

I'll continue cycling but probably start focusing more on getting in the runs, the hikes, the steps from now until November. That will serve the goal.