May 2005


Now that spring has most definitely sprung here in southern New Hampshire, the area’s hot wheels are out in force. Although this isn’t the coolest-looking Harley Davidson I’ve seen in the past few weeks as area cyclists gear up (pun intended) for June’s Bike Week in Laconia, it’s the most photogenic Harley-with-sidecar I’ve seen. Can’t you picture your favorite Zen Mama zipping down the highway with her canine sidekick in tow: my trusty Dog on a Hog?

Harleys aren’t the only hot wheels that have been shaking off winter’s dust in this week’s scattered moments of sunshine. Last Friday I saw this man tooling around two separate areas of town on a Segway scooter. If you’ve never seen Dean Kamen’s famous invention in action, let me assure you that they move quite quickly, turning heads with the surprising sight of a STANDING person moving the speed of a moped. This anonymous fellow seemed to be having a great time whizzing around both the stripmall outskirts and downtown heart of Keene; although he didn’t stop to share his name or give permission for me to post this photo, he did look straight at my raised camera and smile. Do you think this motorized two-wheeler is wending his gradual way to Laconia for Bike Week? After enough beers (and perhaps a change of wardrobe), do you think the merry assembly of leather guys and biker chicks would care that that Mr. Segway’s not a motorcyclist in the usual sense of the word?

As for Yours Truly, my new-to-me bicycle has one bad inner tube that I need to fix or replace before I’ll be zipping around town on my own hot wheels. (No, I’ve no plans to head toward Laconia.) In the meantime, I wanted to assure you that as long as Mr. Segway’s in town, that trio of recumbent cyclists I recently blogged had better watch out. This town is chock-full of hot wheels, and at at least one upstanding man in Keene is literally Up Standing.

What better way to celebrate Memorial Day than with an afternoon visit to Henry David Thoreau’s grave in Concord, Massachusetts? (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Sleepy Hollow Cemetery is green and flowering this time of year, and yesterday saw a steady stream of visitors to Author’s Ridge, where Thoreau, Ralph Waldo Emerson, Nathaniel Hawthorne, and Louisa May Alcott rest within a stone’s throw of one another. On a green and flowering day, it’s easy to envy the eternal rest of a soul slumbering in such a peaceful spot.

Whereas Ralph Waldo Emerson sleeps beneath a large craggy stone that stands out from the Other Emersons, Henry David Thoreau’s headstone is humble, no larger than the other stones in his family plot. (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Indeed, the only thing that distinguishes Henry’s grave from his parents’, brother’s, or sisters’ is the perpetual pile of objects left by admirers: stones, pine cones, boughs, and handwritten notes. That Thoreau’s grave is consistently adorned with such mementos whereas Emerson’s is typically not is interesting. One oft-retold story recounts how one visitor to Author’s Ridge once saw an elderly woman placing flowers on Emerson’s, Hawthorne’s, and Alcott’s graves, but not Thoreau’s. When the visitor asked the woman why she spurned Thoreau’s grave, she answered, “I’m not leaving any flowers for that godless athiest!” I suspect that Thoreau wouldn’t want flowers from the likes of that woman…and I’d like to think that his spirit smiles at the humble objects left by readers whose lives were touched by his writing and wish to return the compliment.

These days, all the inhabitants of Sleepy Hollow Cemetery–authors and nonauthors, godly and godless alike–are visited by the swift scampering of chipmunks, whose comings and goings will continue long past Memorial Day. (Click on the image for a full-size version.) Although large ostentatious tombstones might seem a sorry waste of resources, chipmunks aren’t afraid to live, feed, and breed amongst the dearly departed. To a chipmunk, a gravemarker is no different from a stone wall, which itself is no different from any random rock: whatever sort of stone placed by whatever hand, rock is rock to a chipmunk’s eye. As they rest beneath their respective rocks, Thoreau, Emerson, and all their neighbors are sleeping with the chipmunks, their spirits showered with spring petals lovingly strewn by Nature herself.

Yes, it’s true: yesterday here in Keene, the rain stopped and the clouds parted long enough for optimistic restauranteurs to set up shop outside, just in time for the lunch rush. After a week of rain (and more precipitation forecast for next week), these and other umbrella tables were a sight for sore eyes.

After having bewailed the fact that it took forever for someone to choose me for the book stick meme, it seems that now everyone is being super-careful to invite me to the party. Mere days after I responded to Bane‘s passing of the three’s meme, both Amy and Chris tagged me for the latest book meme. I guess now everyone will be giving me Mercy Memes for months to come.

1. Total Number of Books I’ve Owned:

Who the hell knows? Right now, I have probably a couple hundred “pleasure” books in my apartment, and several dozen more in my office at school…and then there are the textbooks for my classes, and the textbooks that book reps send for review, which are scattered in both places. (Yes, that’s one perk of being an English prof: free (text)books!) This, though, is the tip of the ol’ iceberg since at various points (while facing various moves) I’ve liquidated huge portions of my personal library. I’ve blogged before about the huge downsizing my library underwent when my ex and I moved to an apartment in Keene from a house in Hillsboro: after selling several hundred dollars worth of used books on Amazon, I filled a garage wall’s worth of bookshelves with priced-to-move books…and either sold or gave away every last one. Incidentally, I still get a little emotional reading that post about weeding out books: it marked my first “between the lines” mention of my then-impending divorce, the division of a library into piles marked “his” and “hers” being one of the more emotionally difficult parts of the process.

But, to answer the question of how many books I’ve owned: more than I presently have, which is more than most.

2. Last Book I Bought:

It’s not exciting, but it’s true: the last book I bought was the Eyewitness Travel Guide to Washington, DC. I’m a sucker for travel guides, loving to plan a trip almost as much as I love taking trips. It’s been over five years since I’ve been to DC, so I’m making a mental wish list of things to do and see when I’m there visiting my aunt in June. Call me a Super-Geek, but I can’t help but love a town (district?) chock-full of free museums, a zoo designed in part by Frederick Law Olmsted, and both the Folger Shakespeare Library and the Library of Congress. (For all the times I’ve been to DC, I’ve never visited either of the latter, which means they’re at the top of this year’s agenda. I suspect I’ll have to be revived after swooning in the presence of so much Literature…see, I told you I’m a Super-Geek.)

3. Last Book I Read:

I’m doing my usual summer thing, which is to start far more books than I finish. So the last book I finished is still Alice Sebold’s The Lovely Bones, which I loved; before that, I read Ann Patchett’s Bel Canto, which I hated. (It started splendidly, became monotonous in the middle, and ended with an “okay, let’s do anything to call it a wrap” stinker of a conclusion.)

4. Five Books That Mean A Lot To Me:

Chris already tapped Robert Pirsig’s Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance in his list of five, so I’ll set that mind-altering title aside. (Let me simply remark that I’ve read the book countless times, included it in my dissertation, and have inflicted it on students. It definitely Means A Lot To Me.) Here are five other books that are significant to me:

  • Henry David Thoreau, Walden. Yeah, it’s somewhat cliched…but like countless other Weird Kids, I read Thoreau in high school and grooved on his counter-cultural, pro-Nature vibe. As fate would have it, I ended up writing a doctoral dissertation on American nature writing, nearly every chapter of which refers to Thoreau. When it comes to American nature writing and my so-called life, it all starts with HDT.

  • Annie Dillard, Pilgrim at Tinker Creek. Some have called Dillard our generation’s Thoreau. When I first read Pilgrim over a dozen years ago, it rocked my world: on nearly every page, I found myself in awe at the power of Dillard’s prose and jealous at the fact that I hadn’t written it. Dillard’s mystical view of the natural world was a spot-on match with my own sensibilities: Pilgrim is a book I could have written had Dillard not gotten there first, damnit. I actually need a new copy since I’ve literally read my old edition to pieces.
  • Jack Kerouac, The Dharma Bums. Say what you will about On the Road: The Dharma Bums will always be my favorite Kerouac novel. I love Keroauc’s free-wheeling rendition of the spiritual quest as a wild rollicking roadtrip punctuated with wine, poetry, free love Zen lunacy, and mountain climbing. Japhy Ryder, Kerouac’s semi-fictionalized portrait of the poet Gary Snyder, is one of my favorite heroes of American literature: he’s a bold and wise lover of freedom…and he hikes nearly naked. What’s not to love?
  • Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of the Senses. I’d never read Ackerman until an early reader of my Pedestrian Thoughts essays remarked that my prose, at its most descriptive, reminded me of Ackerman’s. So when I read Senses, I nearly swooned with delight. Ackerman’s prose is lush and decadent, filled to the dripping with sensory detail. Senses is an informative book, but it’s also a sensuous rush: in a book group where I’d recommended this title, one woman remarked she called her husband to “get over here, quick” because Ackerman’s description of kissing and the sense of touch got her so, uh, inspired. Like Japhy Ryder, Ackerman thinks the body is a good thing, and her prose reflects that fact. Let’s face it: smart is sexy, and big time sensuality is even sexier.
  • Elizabeth Berg, The Pull of the Moon. I don’t normally read “chick lit,” but… Last summer when I was struggling with the decision to divorce, I went to several sessions with a local therapist. In the course of talking about my unhappiness and the kind of premature midlife crisis I seemed to be having, the good doctor mentioned Berg’s book as being a retelling of the kind of angst she hears time and again from patients sitting in her office. When I read Berg’s novel of an empty-nester who hits the road after losing herself in a bland marriage, I saw parts of myself on nearly every page. Like the Doc had suggested, I was on the road to ruin if I stayed in an unhappy marriage, and Berg’s book drove that point home. We often talk about books that impacted the course of our life, and The Pull of the Moon literally changed my life: reading it gave me the courage to get out of a relationship that had outlived its usefulness.

5. Tag five people and have them do this on their blog:

  • Rach because she’s one of the students upon whom I inflicted Zen & the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance, and she lived to tell the tale.

  • Jean because I can’t recall her ever doing a meme on her site, and I’m sure she has exquisite literary taste.
  • Bane, a tag-back for that previous meme.
  • Johnny G because he shares my penchant for Library of America books.
  • John because everyone loves a seeker…and his books.

Top down for spring

Today’s Photo Friday theme is Symbol, and nothing says status symbol like a sleek spring convertible. (You’ve seen this one before, but a good ride bears repeating.)

You know I’m desperate for digicam-appropriate weather when I resort to posting dreary snapshots taken through rain-soaked car windows. If you’re familiar with either town, you know I didn’t take this photo in Keene but in Boston. This is a snapped-in-traffic shot of an MBTA B-line trolley car headed toward my Alma Mater (well, one of them). In a previous life, I spent countless hours either reading or staring out the window from one of these trolley cars. So yesterday as I sat in a car on Comm Ave waiting for a light to change, it felt strangely ironic to be on the outside of a trolley car looking in. From the years I lived in the greater Boston area, I know its streets as a pedestrian/cyclist, not a gas guzzling motorist. When I lived in and around Boston, I took it as a point of pride that I didn’t drive, so yesterday it felt odd to be cocooned against the elements in my own vehicular pod.

What in the heck was I doing driving under the watchful “eye” of the famed Citgo sign in Boston’s Kenmore Square yesterday? I was on my way to meet Adrienne (aka Theology Girl), who has been diligently scavenging piles of usable stuff left behind by college students when they moved out of their residence hall. When Adrienne issued a cattle call to Anyone and Everyone interested in salvaging stuff, I’d mentioned that I’d love to adopt an abandoned bike if she found one. And as any student of theology surely knows, the Universe follows the policy of Ask and Ye Shall Receive. So when Adrienne let me know that, yes, they’d found a slightly beat-up bike in the post-move wreckage, I made arrangements to meet Adrienne, another “virtual stranger,” at her apartment (how trusting is she?) to pickup said bicycle. Adrienne, it turns out, is entirely charming and generous even though she looks a bit intimidating wielding a battle axe. (Yes, the axe is among the booty Adrienne has scavenged…and yes, she’s the first Non-Axe-Murdering Blogger I’ve met who has had the weapon in question on her person at our meet-up.)

After not owning a bike in years, I thought it was high time I returned to the cycling masses since Keene is the most bike-friendly place I’ve ever lived. Last Friday, the sun shone on Keene’s downtown celebration of Bike and Walk to Work Day, where non-driving commuters were treated to breakfast alfresco, free T-shirts and bumper stickers, and informative literature from government and nonprofit cycling organizations. Here in Keene, bikepaths crisscross town as well as the surrounding area. Thanks to now-defunct railroad that once ran through town, Keene has level bikepaths and an active network of cyclists who use them.

I walked to last week’s Walk and Bike to Work festivities. Although I didn’t until yesterday own a bike, I regularly walk to and from work, so I’ve earned my “One Less Car” T-shirt and “Share the Road” bumper sticker. Although I’m not yet joining the ranks of recumbent cyclists, three of whom oohed and ahhed over one another’s rigs last Friday before posing for a triumphant picture, I’m itching to pump my tires and try out my new-to-me wheels…when and if the rain stops. In the meantime, my car, bike, dog, and I are all staying home.

    Thanks again to Adrienne for hooking me up with the ultimate in Earthy-Crunchy transportation, a RECYCLED bike. Somehow, saving a previously-owned, slightly rusty set of wheels from the dumpster seems Just My Speed.

You know it’s been far too rainy when you meet random mollusks strolling the streets of your hometown. Although Slugo here was sliming more than strolling, and although this paved surface is a bike path, not a street, you get the general idea: it continues to be wet here in Keene, and the slugs are loving it.

To give you a scale of reference, this slug measured about four inches long: it would have made a substantial squish had I stepped on it. I refer to this slug as an “it” because slugs, I read, are transgender hermaphrodites, starting life as male and turning female upon maturity. Curious about the round hole on the side of Slugo’s mantle, I found this illustrated guide to slug anatomy: that hole is a “pneumostome,” a breathing hole leading to a lung.

Just as you know it’s been far too rainy when slugs go cruising in broad daylight, you know it’s a slow day when a four-inch mollusk is Headline News. I guess with all this rain, my life’s been a bit sluggish.

    Update: I should have spelled Mr/Ms Slug’s name as “Sluggo,” as in Nancy’s playmate. Except in this case, “Sluggo” would be a gender-neutral name.

As Kathleen blogged yesterday, we’re weathering a week of rain here in southern New Hampshire. Although I haven’t (yet) fallen prey to the mopey blues that often accompany gray days, rainy weather is anathema for digital photographers. I shot this run-of-the-mill picture of orange construction webbing during a non-rainy moment several days ago: a softer version of my recent chainlink fetish. Now that I’m scraping the bottom of my Recent Photos barrel, I might have to start posting pictures of my refrigerator, feet, or more trips to the grocery store.

Those of you who are longtime readers of Hoarded Ordinaries might remember the gray January day when I was trashed by a troll. Although I wasn’t swayed by “Jute’s” negative judgment of my blog–any person, after all, who questions the health of my sex life based on a cursory glance at my picture is scraping the bottom of the Intellectual barrel–a bunch of readers poured out of the woodwork to defend this Drab Little Woman, which was incredibly sweet: an unforeseen Silver Lining behind “Jutes” gray cloud.

You might be interested to know that “Jute’s” blog went silent a handful of days after s/he judged my site: I guess trashing other people’s ideas is more demanding than the effort it takes to maintain an original blog. Some of us are in blogging for the long haul, and some of us aren’t. “Jute” managed to keep it up (and I have to believe s/he’s a HE, and his pronouncements about my sex life might indicate some difficulties he has in that regard) for a whopping two months. I doubt many mourned his blog’s passing, there already being ample judgment in the world without someone having to devote a blog to it.

I say all of this by way of introduction to a site that is the direct antithesis of the trashing troll. Have you encountered the Complimenting Commenter? CC (whose gender is a Mystery) travels around the blogosphere leaving anonymous compliments on other’s blogs. When CC visited my site about a month ago, I naturally returned the favor and found that folks who had been complimented were encouraged to forth and compliment in turn: an ever-lengthening chain of link-love.

Today it seems that CC has been burned by the blogosphere’s latest self-appointed critic. To those who argue that compliments from a person who says only good things are empty praise, I’d counter that finding something positive to say about people you encounter is much more difficult than finding flaws. I believe CC and his/her compliments are genuine, and I think the world needs more Rays of Sunshine to brighten gray days. Call me sappy, but I don’t mind being on the “side” (if we must choose) of someone who makes it his/her business to find the good in people and their blogs. Life’s too short to focus on flaws: why not accentuate the positive?

And so to celebrate the Art of Complimenting, I’m declaring today official Compliment a Stranger Day. Go pick a blog from my sidebar, or visit a blog you haven’t read in a while, and leave a positive comment. Smile at your doorman, tell the busdriver she looks lovely, or pick a daisy for your neighbor. It doesn’t matter what you say; what matters is that your comment is genuine. Surely everyone has something good about them you can notice and note? I bet your day will be a touch more sunny if you do.

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