Monday, April 29, 2013

Appalachian Trail monogram art - Part 4 of 7

Paint on ground embedded stone along Schuylkill River, Port Clinton, PA

Part 4 of this journey along the Appalachian Trail features another eleven of my favorite versions of the iconic AT logo/monogram as interpreted in various media by local artists and seen right along the trail.

Etched in 1934 granite Shanaman memorial stone near Showers' Steps, PA
Old Chain Saw marking on log end below Camp Creek Bald, TN
Marker on White Blaze, Grayson Highlands Park, VA
Paint on rock, rocky trail just N of Knife Edge, PA
On pamphlet box, High Street and Gulf Rd., Dalton, MA
Timber Logo with signs, parking entrance US 201, Caratunk, ME
Private driveway AT follows beside Mass. Ave., yard with pretty garden, N. Adams, MA
Privy door, Glen Brook Shelter, MA
Register Box at NY/NJ state line
Register Box, Harmon Hill, VT

Friday, April 26, 2013

Appalachian Trail monogram art - Part 3 of 7

Paint on cut log, Lower S slopes, Bemis Mtn, ME

Here come eleven more of my favorite AT monogram 'signatures' along the trail, featuring a wide variety of sizes, shapes and media.  There's even one here that is totally nature-made that I found on a rock right on the trail in (where else?) Pennsylvania.  Enjoy.

Detail of sign in front of Scott Farm, ATC work center, Cumberland Valley, PA
Stitching on ball cap, purchased in Duncannon, PA
Hole punched metal plate, N gate of Zoo, Bear Mountain Park, NY

Naturally occurring rock monogram right on the AT, quartz veins, near Ashfield Rd, PA
Hollow tree with stick, my work, near Thayer Brook, CT
Galvanized metal plate, rusting, pine pitch stained, near US 201, Caratunk, ME
Decorative welding on steel, painted register box, Dan's Pulpit, PA
Official ATC Trail community sign, Franklin, NC
Common plastic trail marker, weathered and battered, Garenflo Gap, NC
Etched and painted on trail register box, beside NY 301

Tuesday, April 23, 2013

Appalachian Trail monogram art - Part 2 of 7

Life size free standing monogram made of 4x4 lumber, Grafton Notch, ME

Continuing the journey with eleven more of my favorites, highlighting the various media on which the iconic AT monogram/logo appears along the trail.

One of many AT Conservancy membership stickers, on vehicle at Hot Springs, NC
Stripped birch bark near Jones Meadow, TN
Trail marker with duct tape, Brink Rd. Shelter Trail jct, NJ
Student art, fired clay tile, kiosk, VT 12 near Woodstock, VT
Survey marker, property corner just N of PA Turnpike crossing, Cumberland Valley PA
Detail, hiker's walking stick, City Mural, Duncannon, PA
On fallen log, somewhere in SW VA
Fourteen foot trail marker, built by yours truly, near Street Gap, TN
Detail from the George Noble bronze plaque, Unicoi Gap, GA
Naturally polished 1938 vintage plank, edge of sleeping surface, Deer Park Shelter, NC

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Appalachian Trail monogram art - Part 1 of 7

On a sign at the AT-Long Path junction, NY

Soon after I started my double thru-hike of the Appalachian Trail last year, I came across a remarkable poster by Sara Jones, in which she assembled 444 different photos of AT monograms/logos and initials during her 2008 thru-hike.

That poster inspired me to begin 'photo-collecting' them myself as I hiked.  Here's a sampling of a handful of my favorites, selected for variety--examples of the various 'media' on which the logo/monogram appears.  There will be more to come in coming posts.  Enjoy.

On outside wall of Walasi-Yi center, Neels Gap, GA
On post just N of downtown Boiling Springs, PA
Carved in picnic table, Clyde Smith Shelter, TN
On ceramic tile, Denton Shelter, Northern VA
On commercial sign, near Stecoah Pass, NC
On privy door, Upper Goose Pond cabin, MA
Caretakers cabin, front screen door, Eckville Shelter, PA
Ad-hoc art I did myself, No Business Ridge, TN
Very old carving on birch, just S of VA 603
Art by school kids, kiosk beside VA 7 side trail to park-n-ride lot

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Walking - cornerstone of a healthy lifestyle

The biggest life lesson I gained from walking 4,300 miles on the Appalachian Trail in 2012 is the simplest one: walking makes you healthy.

By 'healthy' I mean 'feeling good' - nothing more complex than that.

There are plenty of studies that prove that regular exercise reduces risk of heart disease and stroke, lowers levels of bad cholesterol, reduces risk of diabetes, etc. etc.  If you exercise you're likely to live longer.  Wonderful.

But if you're like me, these abstract studies aren't motivation enough to get up off the couch.  My daily life does not revolve around worrying about my life expectancy--that's not a healthy attitude.  Far better to be living today to the fullest regardless--as if there are no guarantees about tomorrow.  And I expect most people agree.  Give me something that enhances today's experience and I'm all in.

Well, that's what walking the AT showed me.  For 270 days I walked an average of about sixteen miles per day at barely over two miles per hour--on the low end of what's considered 'moderate exercise'.  That's about the pace normal people walk doing normal things like walking their dog.

Before I started my AT hike I had suffered from chronic back pain for eight years--almost continuous daily discomfort.  When I finished my hike I suddenly realized that all that back pain was gone--completely gone.  Not diminished, gone.

For me, that alone was enough.  But I also felt a general increased sense of well-being.  I felt clear-headed, sharper of mind.  These daily 'quality of life' metrics are hard to pin down in any concrete way, and they can be affected by plenty of non-exercise related factors that enter one's daily life style.  Maybe I felt happier because I had just taken a ten-month 'vacation' in a beautiful natural environment.  Well, maybe that's part of the point.

I recently ran across a comprehensive article on 'Forest Therapy' at that shows that a serene walk in the woods has enormous health benefits that have nothing to do with the exercise but seem, instead, to be derived from exposure to a simple natural environment.

So start there.  No sweat or heavy breathing, just go out and take a mini-vacation in the woods or in a park and unwind.

Next, consider the relative benefits of being on the move rather than being a couch potato.  Again no sweat or heavy breathing, just toodling around in the park or the mall, or cleaning out the closet--whatever keeps you from that deadly sedentary position.  It's called N.E.A.T. (Non-exercise activity thermogenesis) and we all do it anyhow.  The link above discusses the very real benefits of simply adjusting your life style a little--again no real exercise involved.

Now if you add a true walk into this mix--preferably several times a week, you'll get closer to the full 'inoculation' against all those nasty cardiovascular problems.  Here's a good comprehensive discussion of how just plain walking is all you really need for a healthy lifestyle.

And then there's this recent study that confirms the benefits of walking and puts it on par with the full aerobic workouts that running provides, but without the body-pounding injury risks of running.

Now, finally, if you want to go the whole way, try doing just ONE MINUTE of high intensity exercise three times a week.  You can do this by just running up a single flight of stairs a few times each day during the course of your every day activities--no jogging suit, no gyms, nothing.  Recent revolutionary studies show that this H.I.T. (High intensity training) regimen gives you all the benefits of prolonged aerobic exercise.  The key is to really go all-out for just 20 or 30 seconds.  Don't try this unless you're limbered up, though--don't want any pulled muscles, etc.  In a recent PBS documentary, physician Michael Mosley discusses and tries the HIT regimen, and finds that it does what it claims.

Now here's the bottom line--the take-away point:  Nothing I've recommended above, with the possible exception of taking a long walk, needs to change the way you live your exercise-averse lifestyle.  Just try to find an excuse to spend more time doing the active things you already like to do.  Stand up and pace around while talking on the phone.  Get out and walk at lunchtime rather than spending the entire lunch break in a chair.  Take the steps rather than the elevator.  Park a little further away from the grocery store and walk the extra few dozen yards.  It all adds up.  Then try a few walks in the woods--get out and smell the flowers.  If it feels good, keep it up!  Here's to your health.

Sunday, April 7, 2013

45 years ago today ...

45-year-old photo of me (Luke) and 'Perfid Sam'

... was also a Sunday.  And Sunday April 7th, 1968 was a beautiful warm spring day in central Pennsylvania.  I had spent all night partying and then working on my 'epic' poem about 'the future of man' that would eventually become the novel 'Eden's Womb'.  So I had already been up for nearly 24 hours when my good friend 'Perfid Sam' convinced me that we should seize the day and head out for a hike.  It turned out to be a 25 miler, lasting all day.  Neither of us had a car back then, so we left the campus of Penn State University on foot and eventually found ourselves trekking north along railroad tracks somewhere near Bellefonte, PA.

And there, up in the woods, far from any signs of civilization (except for the track) we came upon a girl wending her way up a hillside.  We never got close enough to speak with her or even to get a good look at her.  And I don't think she even noticed us.  Yet I'll never forget that moment because Sam, with his usual off-beat wit, dubbed her 'Wendy', and we began to concoct outrageous stories about how she came to be there and where she was going -- surely a wood sprite, I thought.  Surely not a mortal, Sam agreed.

After all these years this little incident has stuck in my mind.  And Wendy has wended her way into my novel.  She is introduced as an old woman, her travels now long past, in the early part of Book II.

Perfid Sam, of course, is also in 'Eden's Womb' as Adam's noble side-kick.

There are very few other characters in 'Eden's Womb' that are consciously based on real people. So this 'crop' drawn from a walk in the woods so long ago seems worthy of special mention on its anniversary.

I'm posting more chapters of 'Eden's Womb' here all the time.  I hope you'll find the time to read them.  Meanwhile spring weather is finally coming to the eastern US, so get out there and take a walk.  Wend your way through the woods for a few hours--there's no telling what mythical beings you might run across.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Review of 'West of Eden' by Harry Harrison

West of Eden is one of Harry Harrison’s more notable works of science fiction.  I gravitated to it because of its extensive world building.  West of Eden was first published in 1984, just a few years after Jean Auel’s ‘Clan of the Cave Bear’, and there are similarities in the ‘feel’ of the two books. Both carry the reader into hypothetical worlds occupied by stone-age humans and a significant antagonist species.   In the case of Auel, the species is the Neanderthal.  In the case of West of Eden, it’s a much bolder premise:  What if the dinosaurs didn’t go extinct, but instead evolved into intelligent beings?

West of Eden takes place at the onset of an ice age.  The cold blooded intelligent dinosaurs are looking for a new place to establish one of their organic mega-cities because one of the established cities, built all of living, bio-engineered trees and other plants, is dying as the climate cools.  The location they choose is across the ocean from all their previous cities.  Yes, somehow the dinosaurs had never colonized North America.  That’s one of several plot devices that, for me, required a suspension of disbelief.  How could a species that originates in the ocean, has ocean-going capabilities, and has a multi-million-year history of intelligence not have previously populated every corner of their world?  Yet even more difficult to swallow is the fact that these intelligent dinosaurs do not use fire in any form and barely seem to understand or appreciate how it works.  This despite the fact that they have capability in medicine, bio-engineering and many other disciplines comparable to or exceeding those of 21st century real world humans.

Okay, so suspending my disbelief, I plunged into the story and thoroughly enjoyed it.  Almost as soon as the dinosaur colonists arrive in the ‘New World’ they have a bloody encounter with the stone age humans, who apparently evolved from new world apes and do not live on any other part of this world.  The dinosaurs capture a human boy, Kerrick, who becomes the focal point of the story.  After years of captivity during which he learns much about Yilanè (dinosaur) culture, Kerrick escapes and returns to his own people.  The remainder of the tale centers on the efforts by both sides to eradicate the other, utterly and completely.  Harrison chooses to entirely dismiss the possibility of co-existence.

The human culture is reasonably familiar—taking many cues from Native American cultures.  But the effort spent by the author to create a rich Yilanè culture and language is a true tour de force.  So although the conflict and resolution of the plot are not particularly compelling or original, it is this exquisite example of the Sci-Fi author’s craft of world building that earns ‘West of Eden’ a solid 4.5 out of a possible 5 stars.  Highly recommended.