Thursday, October 31, 2013

A Halloween Camping Tale

Duffy and Mike on the national forest trail

Dear George,
I always think of Halloween as marking the end of the camping season.  Years ago I read on the Internet that you shouldn’t take your dogs camping if the temperature falls below thirty-five degrees, and I follow that advice faithfully.  Our nighttime temperatures in November usually dip into the low thirties or below, so I store away my gear for the duration.  All those things were on my mind on a recent Halloween when I decided to take the sheepdogs on an overnight outing to the national forest campground.  We arrived just before noon.  By late October practically nobody’s there on weekdays, so we had our choice of campsites.  I picked my favorite spot which is at the end of the loop, set back from the road, spacious, and separated from other sites.  I needn’t have worried.  There were only two RVs at the campground when we arrived, and both had left by the time I’d set up my tent.  I normally prefer to have at least a few other people on the campground, but it was exciting to be by ourselves – like really being out in the wilderness.

Mike, Duffy, and I enjoyed a relaxing afternoon.  We went for a hike, and I took some photos of the autumn foliage.  The dogs napped in their playpen while I turned on the radio and listened to country music.  I wrote a couple of drafts for my blog and read some chapters from a Lewis Grizzard book that I’d bought at the library used book sale.  For dinner I had cheeseburgers and spinach and topped it off with two glasses of Charles Shaw merlot.  It gets dark very early, of course.  I’d just barely washed the dishes as the sun finished setting.  I made a rousing campfire in the fire pit.  The damp pine branches spit off lots of sparks.  The minute it gets dark Mike and Duffy are eager to go in the tent, and so after half an hour I took a sleeping pill and we retired.  I’d brought along a queen-sized air mattress for the dogs, and I got into my own down sleeping bag.  I put on a wool knit cap to help keep warm in the chilly night air.

It took a while to get to sleep, but I finally managed. It must have been about midnight when I was wakened by a loud roaring noise that seemed to be getting closer to us.  At first it sounded like jet airplanes, but then I realized it was motorcycle engines.  I slipped on my shoes, got out of the tent, and zipped the door shut with the dogs inside.  There were three guys on Harley Davidsons, apparently out cruising around on Halloween night.  They’d gotten off their cycles right in front of my campsite.  They wore black leather jackets and had long greasy hair and beards.  One sported an ugly tattoo on his neck.  They’d definitely been drinking.  The most heavyset guy, who I took to be the leader, said something in a surly voice, but I couldn’t make out what he was saying.  “What?” I asked.  He stepped forward and shoved me in the chest.  It dawned on me that they wanted money.  My wallet was in the tent, and frankly I was scared out of my wits for the dogs and for myself.  I told the guy I would get my wallet.

Just as I was going back to the tent, I saw out of the corner of my eye a cluster of blurry figures walking slowly toward us on the road.  The motorcycle guys saw them too, and, as the figures got closer, it became clear that it was a group of women.  They were all dressed in identical black ankle-length costumes of some sort.  One of the women, taller than the others, said something to the motorcycle gang leader.  I couldn’t hear what she said, but the motorcycle guy looked intimidated.  He beckoned to his companions, and, within seconds, they’d gotten back on their bikes and were heading out of the campground.

I didn’t know it at that moment, but it turns out that a coven of witches from the surrounding rural area hold their annual sacred rites in the national forest every Halloween eve.  They’d just completed a ritual in which they’d used ancient incantations to call forth dead corpses from the old cemetery outside the park.  A troop of zombies and ghouls had been following them on the campground road, and now this horde of monsters had caught up with the witches at my campsite.  Dozens and dozens.  They were dressed in tattered, bedraggled clothing, with flesh hanging off their faces and limbs and their tongues hanging out the sides of their mouths.  The zombies were awkwardly shuffling along in unison, holding their arms out in front of them.  The ones in front were looking straight at me.  It dawned on me that they were searching for flesh to eat, probably human flesh, maybe humans and dogs.  The first zombies were only yards away when I got a sudden, desperate idea.  I took a few steps to my campground table and flicked on my radio.  Reba McEntire was singing “The Night the Lights Went Out in Georgia.”  I stared the zombies in the eye, then launched into my best Electric Slide line dance routine.   It was just intuition on my part, but it turned out to be inspired.  In no time at all, the zombies started following my lead and doing the Electric Slide.  They did it perfectly.  I don’t know whether they’d learned it during their previous human lives, or whether it’s just something that comes naturally to zombies.  After the Electric Slide, we went on and on. We did Swamp Thang, the Watermelon Crawl,  Cajun Cross, Tush Push, the Mambo Shuffle, Booty Call, Cotton Eyed Joe, and a host of other dances.  The witches joined in too, and everyone seemed to be having the time of their lives.  The hours passed quickly until the first glimmer of sunrise appeared on the horizon.  All of the zombies abruptly turned around and began shuffling back to the cemetery.  We’d made it through the long dark night. 

Zombies doing the Electric Slide

By then the witches and I were on a first name basis.  My impression is they’d had their most enjoyable satanic get-together of the new millenium.  In fact, they invited me to be an honorary member and line-dancing captain in their coven.  I said I was honored and that I would be back again next Halloween. Then the witches melted away into the forest.  I went back to the tent.  Mike and Duffy had slept through everything.  I didn’t mention anything about the night’s events.  I made some breakfast, packed up our gear, and we headed back for the city.  I couldn’t wait to tell Katja about our amazing Halloween adventure.  She would be happy that we’d gotten back safely. 
P.S.  You might be wondering if this is a true story.  It’s definitely true in some number of the details, and I found that, in the process of revising it, it got truer and truer as I went along.  What I know for sure is that it’s also what popped into mind when I thought about taking the dogs camping by myself this very Halloween night.  

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

Cincinnati Election Endorsements

Mayoral candidates John Cranley and Roxanne Qualls debate

Dear George,
This is an important election year in Cincinnati.  The city is picking a new mayor at the end of Mark Mallory’s eight years in office.  All of the nine City Council seats are up for grabs, and this year council terms are changing from two years to four years, so the election has more enduring consequences than usual.  Also there are important local issues.

For the first time that I can remember there isn’t any Republican candidate running for mayor.  Instead two Democrats are running against one another: Roxanne Qualls and John Cranley.  Both have long records of public service in Cincinnati, and both have served on City Council in the past.  Additionally, Roxanne Qualls was mayor of Cincinnati from 1993 to 1999.  Their past voting records are very similar.  This year, however, they have taken opposite positions on two issues: building a downtown streetcar and leasing city parking to a private firm.  Qualls supports both; Cranley opposes both.  By and large, Qualls tends to be seen as a more liberal Democrat; Cranley as a more conservative Democrat.  It appears to be a very close race.  Cranley has a lead in fund raising by about $300,000.  In past elections both have received very similar numbers of votes.  Cranley won this year’s mayoral primary handily, though only 6% of the electorate voted.

In picking among candidates I pay lots of attention to endorsements.  Below are the two mayoral candidates, with occupation and party affiliation given in parentheses, followed by endorsements, mainly as reported by the League of Women Voters (   Cincinnati Enquirer endorsements ( are from the city’s major, Republican-oriented newspaper, while City Beat ( is a more progressive, alternative weekly paper.  A candidate’s total number of endorsements is reported at the end of their list in parentheses.  In calculating totals here and below I’ve assigned a single point for one or more labor union endorsements, one point for one or more women’s group endorsements, and one for one or more gay rights group endorsements.        

Candidates for the Mayor of Cincinnati:
  • Roxanne Qualls (Vice Mayor and realtor; Democrat): City Beat, Sierra Club, Equality Ohio (gay rights organization), Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus, NOW Cincinnati, Emily's List (supports pro-choice Democratic women), 5 labor unions, and 4 former NAACP Presidents  (6)
  • John Cranley (attorney; Democrat): Cincinnati Enquirer, Cincinnati Area Board of Realtors; former Mayor Charlie Luken; State Representative Alicia Reese, COAST (anti-tax, anti-spending group)  (5)

Cincinnati City Council
When we moved to Cincinnati, it seemed like there was often a Republican majority on the nine-member City Council.  That’s changed dramatically over the decades, and for the last two years there’s only been a single Republican councilman. Cincinnati politics are also interesting because of the presence of the Charter Party, a minority third party which began as a reform movement in the 1920’s.  The Charterites are usually allied with liberal Democrats.  The Charter Party reached its peak in the 1950s, but has had only one or two members on Council over the last couple of decades.  This year there are ten Council candidates endorsed by the Democrats, four by Republicans, two by the Charter Party (as well as their endorsement of two Democrats), and four running as independents.  The council candidates are listed below by party and ordered within each party by number of endorsements.   

Candidates for City Council (9 to be elected)

  • Chris Seelbach (Council incumbent; president, financial services org.): Dem. Party, City Beat, Equality Cincinnati & Equality Ohio, David Crowley Legacy Fund, Sierra Club, Cinc. Federation of Teachers, AFL-CIO, 10 other unions  (7)
  • Michelle Dillingham (previous legislative aide): Dem. Party, City Beat, Nat. Assoc. of Social Workers, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers, AFL-CIO, 11 other unions, Cinc. Women's Political Caucus, Equality Cincinnati & Equality Ohio  (7)
  • P.G. Sittenfeld (incumbent; Asst. Dir., Community Learning Center Institute): Dem. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, City Beat, Sierra Club, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers, Equality Cincinnati (6)
  • Greg Landsman (executive director of educational consortium): Dem. Party, Charter Party, Cinc. Enquirer, City Beat, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers, Equality Cincinnati & Equality Ohio (6)
  • Wendell Young (incumbent; police officer): Dem. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, City Beat, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers,  AFL-CIO, Equality Cincinnati (6)
  • Laure Quinlivan (incumbent; former news reporter): Dem. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, City Beat, Sierra Club, Equality PAC  (5) 
  • Pam Thomas(incumbent; previous court bailiff, manager, school ombudsman): Dem. Party, Cinc. Women's Political Caucus, Sierra Club, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers, AFL-CIO, 8 other unions (5)
  • David Mann (lawyer; prior mayor, congressman): Dem. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers,  AFL-CIO, 9 other unions, Equality Cincinnati  (5)
  • Yvette Simpson (incumbent; lawyer): Dem. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, City Beat, Cinc. Fed. of Teachers  (4)
  • Shawn Butler (director of community affairs, Cincy): Dem. Party  (1)
Charter Party
  • Kevin Flynn (real estate attorney and law professor): Charter Party, Cinc. Enquirer, Cinc. Board of Realtors, Home Builders Assoc., Cinc. Firefighters, Cinc. Police (6)
  • Vanessa White (Cinc. Board of Education): Charter Party, Cinc. Enquirer, Cincinnati Women's Political Caucus, Sierra Club (4)
  • Charlie Winburn (incumbent: government and business management): Rep. Party, Fraternal Order of Police, Cinc. Fire Fighters, Cinc. Area Board of Realtors, COAST (5)
  • Amy Murray (former Council member, small business owner): Rep. Party, Cinc. Enquirer, COAST (3)
  • Sam Malone (former Council member, President of Urban Strategies and Solutions): Rep. Party
  • Melissa Wegman (businesswoman): Rep. Party
  • Chris Smitherman (independent) (incumbent; NAACP President): Fraternal Order of Police, IBEW Local 212, Hamilton County Green Party, COAST (4)
  • Mike Moroski (independent) (school administration): City Beat, 2 unions, Equality Cincinnati (3)
  • Angela Beamon (independent) (financial adviser): no endorsements located
  • Tim Dornbusch (independent) (head of plumbing and electrical co.): no endorsements located
  • Kevin Johnson (independent) (cleaning co. owner): no endorsements located

Member of the Cincinnati Board of Education (4 to be elected)
The Cincinnati school board election is important this year because there are four positions open on the nine-member board, and only one incumbent (Melanie Bates) is running for re-election.  Most of the candidates are Democrats or Charterites, and I didn't run across anybody identified as a Republican.  One observer notes that this is a particularly well-qualified slate, and, contrary to other recent elections, nobody running is an opponent of the public schools.   The candidates here are listed in order by number of endorsements. 
  • Melanie Bates (incumbent; hospital development liaison): Dem. Party, Charter Committee, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cinc. Federation of Teachers, Cinc. AFL-CIO, Equality Cincinnati (6)
  • Betsy Shank (retired teacher): Dem. Party, City Beat, Cinc. Federation of Teachers, Cinc. AFL-CIO, Cinc. Women’s Political Caucus, Equality Cincinnati (6)
  • Marcial A. Futel (financial services professional): Dem. Party, Cincinnati Enquirer, Cinc. Federation of Teachers, Cinc. AFL-CIO (4)
  • Daniel Minera (Pastor, Amigo Ministries): Dem. Party, Cinc. Federation of Teachers, Cinc. AFL-CIO, Cinc. Federation of Office Professionals (4)
  • Elisa Hoffman (Director, education nonprofit; recruiter, Teach for America): Charter Committee, Cincinnati Enquirer, Equality Cincinnati  (3)
  • Martha Good (attorney and adjunct law professor): City Beat, Cinc. Women’s Political Caucus, Progressive Majority (national PAC that supports progressive politicians)  (3)
  • Ericka Copeland-Dansby (Development Director for Boys and Girls Clubs of Cinc.): Charter Committee, Cincinnati Enquirer, Equality Cincinnati (3)
  • Sally O’Callaghan (former teacher): Charter Committee, City Beat  (2)
  • Victoria Straughn (clinical studies assistant, UC): no endorsements located

Local Issues
There are three local issues of import for the city of Cincinnati.  Seemingly almost all media sources, political groups, and public figures endorse Issues 1 and 2, renewal of levies for the public library and the Cincinnati Zoo respectively (neither of which would result in a tax increase).  Conversely, most parties call for a NO vote on Issue 4 (described below):

  • Issue 1: Renewal of a ten-year levy for the Cincinnati and Hamlton County Library
  • Issue 2: Renewal of a five-year levy for the Cincinati Zoo
  • Issue 4: "Pension reform"

Issue 4 proposes a city charter amendment that would semi-privatize Cincinnati's pension system.  It's backed by Tea Party groups, and their campaign is funded almost entirely by groups outside the Cincinnati metro area and occasionally outside the state.  Despite a troubled pension system, all of the credible source that I've run across, including Republican, Democratic, Charter, and independent City Council candidates, urge voting AGAINST issue 4, saying that it would result in massive service cuts in the city and/or significant tax increases.

When we first came to Cincinnati, almost nobody we voted for would ever get elected.  Now I anticipate that most candidates I vote for will get elected.  I guess that means either that I’ve changed or the city has changed.  I think it’s the latter.  That’s pleasing to me.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Dancing Ups and Downs*

Dear George,
I’m just crazy about line dancing.  This week is the four-year anniversary of my joining my Tuesday night class at the fitness center.  Only one other person, Evelyn, has been there that long.  Katja and our friend Donna started out with me.  However, Katja discontinued to have knee surgery, and Donna, who’s an excellent dancer, decided line dancing was too repetitive and stopped going too.  I myself, though, become more infatuated with line dancing every week.  The music is really good, from country to boogie woogie to hip hop.  We’ve learned over a hundred different dance numbers since the class began.  While each routine is distinctive, they tend to be different combinations of the same basic set of steps.  So, while learning new dances is always demanding mentally, you can become proficient in a short time.  When things are going well I find myself “in the zone”, merging with the music without having to think about the dance steps at all.  That’s the best.  

Recently I signed up for a second line dancing class that’s held on Monday nights at a school out in the suburbs.  With sixty or seventy students, it’s about four times as large as my Tuesday night class.  About 90% of the participants are women.   I don’t know why line dancing draws more women than men, but it seems to do so.  Maybe women like dancing by themselves in a group situation more.  Sometimes I feel a little odd about being a token male.  Last week I was the only man there for the first ten minutes.  Finally one other guy arrived, and I relaxed.  I do like this big class a lot.  There’s so many people that you can get lost in the crowd, and you feel like you’re part of a big, anonymous, cohesive conglomeration.

Thinking I should expand my repertoire, I suggested to Katja that we enroll in a ballroom dance class that a local dance studio was advertising.  We’d taken lessons there once before and enjoyed them, so she readily agreed.  Two male students (a guy named Rex and myself) and fifteen women showed up for the first class, not an ideal gender balance for couple dancing. The head instructor, Jean Ann, took the male role in dancing with female class members, and her assistant Richard also participated.  Nonetheless, ten of the women dropped out by the time of the second class, so we were down to more balanced numbers.

I was doing o.k. until we began learning the rumba in session two.  The class operates by switching partners every few minutes.  Shortly into the class period I got paired with a petite, red-haired woman named Arlene.  I’d already decided Arlene was the best dancer in the class, especially on the rumba.  We’d danced for about ten seconds when she told me in a stern voice that I wasn’t holding her hand firmly enough.  I think I’d been being timid, trying to avoid contact with female strangers.  I tried to correct my grip but she admonished me again and said she was going to push hard on my hand if I couldn’t push on hers.  She did push hard, and then it was time to change partners.  Fifteen minutes later Arlene and I were about to be paired up again.  However, she turned to the woman next to her and said, “I don’t want to dance with him.  You dance with him.”  The other woman, Sally, gave her a strange look but did join me.  Sally smiled throughout and I thought we were doing better.  Near the end of class Arlene and I got paired together one more time.  When the song reached its conclusion, I said, “That was good.”  Arlene looked me dead in the eye and said, “That was not good.  There wasn’t a single thing about that that was good.”  Taken aback, I thanked Arlene and moved away.  Jean Ann came up and said that sometimes men can have trouble with rhythm.  She asked me two times if I was able to hear the music.  I said I heard it all right, though, given my less than perfect hearing, I was suddenly not so sure.   Jean Ann danced with me for a minute or two, repeating “Slow quick-quick, slow quick-quick” until I finally started moving to the beat.  Even though Katja told me as we left that I was doing fine, I felt terrible all the way home.  My new dancer self-image was wobbly, to say the least.   

At the beginning of the next week’s class Arlene went out of her way to be pleasant, apparently trying to make up for her prior abruptness.  I, on the other hand, responded by groveling.  I said that I was a beginner, I’d never danced before, and I didn’t know anything.  I said that I would appreciate any tips Arlene might have and that I would try to do my best.  Arlene commented that Rex, the other male student, was taking the class for the fourth time, implying that I shouldn’t feel bad about being so much worse than him.  Jean Ann began teaching us some still more complicated rumba steps, and, flustered and self-conscious from the outset, I struggled the whole time.  At the end of the class Jean Ann asked how we all were doing, and I said, “I got a C minus at best.” Jean Ann said, “Oh no, you are definitely improving.”  However, we both knew that wasn’t true. 

Despite my fantasies and dreams, it looks like I’m not cut out for a professional dance career.  When Donna discontinued line dancing, she said ballroom dancing is a lot more fun because coordinating with a partner is more challenging.  I believe the challenging part, for sure.  Katja and I will stick with our ballroom dancing class for another month, but now I’m clear where my heart lies.  In line dancing you can be as awkward as you like, and nobody every criticizes anybody.  I don’t think anybody even notices.  That seems like an ideal arrangement.  I’m eager for Monday night to roll around.
*Pseudonyms used in this story.  

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (10-27):  Wow!  Arlene is taking this way too seriously.  Hey Arlene, try to have some fun.
-JML (10-25):  K*** says: tell your dad that it doesn't matter that Arlene tried to make it up to you. She is a b....h and if I ever meet her I'm gonna kick her ass.  I have nothing to add to this except that I really enjoyed this blog 

Thursday, October 17, 2013

My (Un-)Funny Camping Trip

At the Wynton Woods campground

Dear George,
On my recent camping trip I woke up briefly in the chilly early morning hours.  It was still dark.  I’d been dreaming that I was writing about the day’s events for my blog, and I’d been laughing out loud in my sleep.  When I got up in the morning, I was still in good humor. However, when I tried to remember just what was so funny about my camping trip so far, I couldn’t remember a single example.  I decided it was just funny in my dreams. 

Originally I’d been thinking about making a two-night trip to Yellow Springs, the home of Katja’s and my alma mater. I couldn’t persuade Katja to come along though, and I scaled back my plans to an overnight trip to nearby Wynton Woods.  If you think of camping as a foray into the wilderness, Wynton Woods barely qualifies.  The campground is about ten miles from our house in a big county park.  The campsites are spread out in a large pine grove near the banks of Wynton Woods Lake, and, while certainly attractive, the campground has a neatly manicured, almost suburban feel about it.

I like to fiddle around with my camping gear, and so I started getting organized two days in advance.  It’s amazing how much stuff you can bring along for a 28-hour trip.  Over the years I’ve made a list of all the possible camping gear anybody might ever want to own.  My list now contains about 200 items, and I bring along at least 198 of them.  This approach is the opposite of what I learned as a Boy Scout.  In the Scouts, we limited ourselves to the minimal equipment we could pack in a knapsack.  Now I am constrained only by the expansive space limits of our SUV which I fill to capacity.  Among many other items, my gear for this trip included: ten large nails (in case the ground is too frozen for regular tent stakes), two corkscrews, two air pumps, a whisk broom, a rain poncho, at least two dozen bungee cords, a Sudoku book, four large candles, twelve books of matches, a can of Three in One oil, flip flops (for leaving the tent at night), dog I.D. tags (though I’d left the dogs at home), and phone numbers and addresses for the park ranger, the county sheriff, a veterinary clinic, a nearby hospital, and the nearest Wal-Mart (in case my air mattress were to deflate).  

Lake view from my campsite

October is a prime time for camping in Southwest Ohio because the weather is more pleasant than our hot and humid summers.  Weekdays aren’t filled up though, and I was lucky enough to get my first choice among Wynton Woods’ 100 camping sites (site #49).  It’s located on a bluff overlooking Wynton Woods lake and is relatively separate from neighboring sites.  There was a small RV parked across the road from me, and it was occupied by a middle-aged man who spent most of his time reading in his deck chair.  It’s unusual to see a solo RV camper because you nearly always see couples camping in RVs.  At first I wondered if he had lost his wife through death or divorce.  That was sad.  Then I decided that his wife had probably not wanted to go camping, so he’d gone by himself.  That wasn’t as sad but sort of lonely nonetheless, and I felt sorry for him.  Of course, I was camping by myself too, but it’s a different matter for tent campers than for RV campers.  Or so it seemed to me.  

My Buckeye Family tent

There’s a real divide between tenters and RVers.  In my opinion, tent campers are more rugged and authentic, while RV travellers simply use the campground as a place to park their air-conditioned, TV-equipped vehicles while they go about their business.  I’m attached to my tent, both ideologically and emotionally. I got it at St. Vincent de Paul about eight years ago.  The list price was $5.00, but I bought it at a Monday half-price sale, so it cost $2.50.  It probably is the best bargain I ever got.  Tents are great.  It’s like having a home away from home, one that you can pick up and set down practically anywhere you please.  It’s especially mysterious and comforting at night when you hear strange sounds in the forest but are safely ensconced within the tent’s four walls.  This trip I spent a couple of hours trying to write poetic odes to tents.  This is harder than you’d think.  Writing poetry about love and angst are difficult enough, but it’s particularly challenging to find the words to express the depth of your feelings about tents.  I’ve yet to complete even one satisfying tent poem.   Here’s an example of one quatrain that I’m still struggling with:

My tent protects me from wind and rain
And bears and wolves and deer
Sleeping in my tent, I’d never complain
If I have my six-pack of beer

Unintentional self-portrait at the lake (see shadow at lower left)

When I wasn’t writing tent poems, I took a couple of hikes around the lake and the marina area.  I used to come here with my dad when he moved to Cincinnati and lived a mile or two from Wynton Woods.  You can see what a boon the park is to the community.  Along the way I saw fishermen and women, joggers, couples strolling hand in hand, kids on bikes, baby buggies, big and little dogs and their walkers, people feeding ducks, families on excursions, children throwing a baseball, teenagers texting one another, rollerbladers, etc.  The best sight though was when I got back to my campsite and sat down with a glass of wine.  A little kid – he looked like he was three, but maybe he was four – came riding down the road by himself on his two-wheeler bicycle. I was surprised what a good rider he was, given his tender age (also that his parents let him go riding on the road by himself).  The road dipped down about ten feet in front of my campsite, then promptly rose back up about ten feet.  The kid sped up as he went down the hill, then stood up on the pedals as he pumped his way back up to the top of the hill, just barely making it.  Then he turned around, came back down the hill from the opposite direction, and again struggled to make his way back up to the top.  When that kid grows up, I thought to myself, he’s going to compete in the Tour de France.  He came back to practice on the hill two or three more times during the day.  He seemed to do a little better each time.

My New Hibachi

I’d brought along my new hibachi on this trip.  I’d gotten it for $3.50 at a community yard sale in Fort Thomas a few weeks ago.  The seller wanted $5, I offered 3, she said 4, and we settled on $3.50.  Though I had my Coleman gas stove available, cooking by hibachi seemed like a special treat.  I’d brought some charcoal and some hickory chips, both in bags that I’ve had for twenty years or more.  I soaked a handful of chips in water for an hour beforehand.  The charcoal briquettes wouldn’t light with a match as they were supposed to, but I had a can of charcoal lighter fluid among my exhaustive supplies.  I think the hickory chips had lost their zest over the decades, since they gave off a lot of smoke but no hickory scent that I could detect. When my burger was done, I topped it off with Cheez Whiz, and it was very tasty.  It had taken me an hour and a half to soak the hickory chips, get the charcoal white hot, and finally cook my one ground chuck patty, but the end-product was definitely worth it. 

Campfire and candles

When I spoke to Katja by phone after supper, I asked her to check the time for sunset, and she said it would be 7:04 p.m.  For somebody who normally stays up till midnight, that seemed very early to retire.  Fortunately I had my new battery-powered lantern that Katja gave me last Xmas to use in the tent.  I’d gathered up a bunch of pine branches from the forest, and I got a roaring campfire going about 7:30.  It’s clearly the most relaxing time of day.  I sat back and thought about campfires in the past, being with friends from times long gone, and the excitement of being on one’s own in the woods.  

My tent interior at 8 a.m.

I went into the tent about 8:30.  To my disappointment, the batteries in my new lantern were dead, and so I had to cancel my plan to do some reading.  The weather forecast was for a low of 47 degrees.  Though chilly, I’d come well prepared with a sweatshirt, sweatpants, and a Menominee Maroons wool knit cap that I’d bought at the Marinette Goodwill.  I took a sleeping pill and drifted off, sleeping soundly till 1:46 a.m.  Then it was sort of on and off, interspersed with dreams about friends, family members, and, of course, camping and blog writing.  In the morning I heard a succession of honking noises passing by outside my tent.  When I looked out, there was a lone goose flying steadily across the lake from north to south, going honk-honk-honk-honk to no one in particular.  Where he was going and who he was talking to were unclear to me, but he seemed very steadfast in his intent.  I felt some personal identification with the honking goose, but I couldn’t tell you exactly why. 

I had a good breakfast – burnt bacon, burnt French toast, and orange diet soda (in lieu of fruit juice).  I made some instant coffee, but when I took my first sip my mouth was full of undissolved coffee grounds.  I stirred up the cup once more and took a second sip, but still nothing but grounds.  I spit them out and read the label on the instant coffee jar.  It wasn’t instant coffee at all – it was regular ground coffee for our French press. This sometimes happens when I don’t double-check with Katja in picking out food from the cupboard to bring.

There’s a noon checkout time at Winston Woods, so I washed the dishes, took a short hike, then started breaking camp.  On an overnight trip you spend the first part of your trip unloading the car and setting up.  Then, before you know it, you’re taking the tent down, repacking your gear, and loading the car back up.  It goes by very quickly.  That’s all right with me though.  I’m happy doing anything with my camping equipment.  I’d planned to eat lunch at the campground before I left, but I ran out of time.  Instead I stopped at a fast food restaurant on the way home and got a grilled chicken sandwich and a large chocolate shake.  I didn’t like the dressing on the grilled chicken, and the chocolate shake wasn’t as tasty as I’d expected.  In fact, compared to my burnt French toast breakfast, lunch back in civilization was anti-climactic.  But that’s the trouble with returning from a camping trip.  Re-entry is never an easy matter.

G-Mail Comments
-Gayle C-L (10-18):  David,  Great views'  You certainly captured the peace and calmness of the lake.  Looks like a wonderful adventure.  Very brave. 
Hope all's well.  Give my love to the family.  Take care.   G;) 

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

It's Normal to Sleep Like an Aardvark

Dear George,
Lately I’ve been sleeping sort of fitfully.  I usually fall asleep fairly quickly, but then I wake up around 3 a.m.  I can’t believe how wide awake I am; I can lay there for an hour or more before I start feeling drowsy again.   I was going to ask the doctor if I’m suffering from a sleep disorder.  However, then I ran across some sleep research by a psychiatrist named Thomas Wehr.  In a month-long experiment Wehr kept individuals in a completely dark room for 14 hours a day (the length of a midwinter night in the Great White North).   Instead of sleeping for the 8-hour stretch that we’re accustomed to thinking of as normal, individuals’ sleep patterns changed dramatically by the end of the month.  Typically they lay quietly in bed for an hour or two.  Then they fell asleep for a three to five hour period.  They then woke up for an hour or two. And finally they went back to sleep for another three to five-hour segment.  Thus, their sleep pattern was bimodal.  Instead of a single uninterrupted stretch, individuals typically had a "first sleep", followed by a fairly lengthy wakened state, and then a "second sleep".  Interestingly, this sort of bimodal sleep is the pattern normally shown by a wide range of other mammals, as well as birds and reptiles.   (I’m not really positive if aardvarks sleep this way, but I imagine they do.)

A historian named Roger Ekirch concluded that the belief that a continuous eight-hour stretch of sleep is normal is a peculiarly modern phenomena, an apparent product of the industrial age.  Using diaries, medical books, religious papers, etc., Ekirch established that before the nineteenth century people in Western Europe regarded waking in the middle of the night as commonplace and to be expected. People normally got up at this time, read a book, wrote in their diaries, interpreted their dreams, did chores, smoked, prayed, visited neighbors, even engaged in petty crime. He suggests that the invention of electric lighting made late night hours much more feasible and helps explain the waning of bimodal sleep in modern times.  Anthropologists have further documented interrupted sleep patterns in a variety of non-Western populations, e.g., hunter-gatherers in Africa, herding tribes in Pakistan.  Scientists speculate that there may be an evolutionary advantage to interrupted sleep since it leave people and animals less vulnerable to predators.

Age has been connected to bimodal sleep too.  Sleep researchers find that deep sleep is much less common in people in their seventies and beyond, and bimodal sleep tends to become increasingly frequent.  Ever since I found that out, I’ve been working on embracing bimodal sleep.  Now that I’m retired and don’t have to worry about a work schedule, I look forward to being up and around for in the early morning hours.  I go to the computer, check my e-mail, play a couple of games of computer solitaire, maybe work on a draft for my blog.  By 4:30 or so my eyes start drooping again and it’s back to bed.  The sheepdogs wake me promptly at 9, and it’s time to start the new day.  This seems like a pretty good use of time.  There’s a lot we can learn from the aardvarks.

SOURCES:, "Awakening to Sleep" (V. Klinkenborg, 1997);, "Sleep Disorder?  Wake Up and Smell the Savanna" (R. Friedman, 2006);, "The No Wake Zone: Can't sleep through the night?  You're not supposed to."  (M. Wylie, Psychotherapy Networker, 2009);, "Segmented sleep" 

G-mail Comments
-Phyllis S-S (10-11):  Dave,  Interesting:  Matt is more like you but I sleep soundly for 9 hours;  I do not even hear terrible thunder storms;  We are in a cute village in Provence…  Best  Phyllis