Wednesday, January 16, 2008

The Llama in Winter

In addition to the hiker/snowshoe issues that started the month (see post below), winter just isn’t being a sport. All the snow melted—but you can’t even go running, as the ground is a swamp. Then the temperature dropped—and turned the swamp into ice. So finally I ran down to Stoney Pond with my ice skates—not as cold or for as long as I’d like before skating on a lake, but the ice fishermen seemed to survive, so I thought I’d try.

The first problem was finding an access point—not all of the lake was frozen, and shore tended to feature a little water and some very thin ice. I found one eventually, on the far side of the lake. Next problem—an anxious, impatient husky while I lace up my skates. That done, and having successfully mounted firm ice—I haven’t been skating in a while, so it took a while to get my “ice legs” back. But I did, and one nice bonus—my husky can’t really pull on her 26’ retractable leash, as she doesn’t have much leverage on the ice! So some watching for fish holes and suspicious ice, and finally, a winter sport.

The next brought a few inches of snow, so I thought I’d skate again—I’ve done this before, just skating through the snow. Problem is that I can’t see the ice. Further, with snow on the ice, guess whose husky has good traction again? And, with a blanket of snow covering it, the ice surface was turning mushy in many places. I finally gave up.

Today, another inch of snow convinced me, desperate, to try skiing. Not great—technically possible, but really I could just barely get around, and for the most part, dead grass lined the bottom my tracks. Without more snow, that’s pretty much that. I finished the trail, though, and drove toward home.

That’s when I saw it ahead in the road. A llama. Or an alpaca—how would I know the difference? Something South American the size of a horse that keeps it’s neck straight up, has hooves like a deer and wears fur on its back that looks like a poncho made of dreadlocks.

Not wanting it to continue to the highway, I drove around it, slowly driving it down the road back to the its probable home—a farm set far off the road behind the trees that keeps at least horses and sheep that I’ve seen. I was hoping our wooly ruminant friend would head up the drive, but just stood there, the horses watching.

While wondering what to do, a man came walking down the drive. “Got loose last night,” he informed me. “Been walking all over since.”

I watched as he tried to walk close enough to secure his livestock, figuring my presence would at least keep the creature from running my way back down the road. “If I can just get him in with the horses, he’ll be fine,” explained the owner.

That gave me an idea. I went back to the car to get the bag of carrots (What? I had broccoli too, but that didn’t seem promising), hoping to lure the llama. Nope—but the horses instantly noted the carrots and crowded the fence. I obliged.

Finally our fugitive trotted up the long drive toward the house, resigned owner strolling behind. I figured I’d done all I could (OK, OK, I had hardly done anything) and headed for home.


Friday, January 11, 2008

If you could change the world...

The problem with that question is the assumption that you can’t.

Thing is, you can change the world. People do it all the time. Sure, being rich or powerful is what most think of--supernaturally powerful in many cases, but that's just impatience.

For example? Need to be a millionaire first? Fine--an astonishingly small amount of money set aside each week in a very conservative no-load mutual fund will generate millions over a normal work life. Most people don't, excuses in place. Yet you'll see stories every so often about a janitor who leaves five million to cancer research--how'd that happen?

Many people then turn to the vote. Yes, that's important--vote. Excuses quickly enter here too--there's no one worth voting for, politicians don't care anyway, it's all about money and so forth. Let's take a look:

No one worth voting for? Both major parties have fielded a dozen candidates of all different factions of their parties. Third parties are alive and well--and some are growing. All of those candidates start with "retail politics," talking to one person at a time. When they can't do this, their supporters do. I once heard an interview with the founders of Greenpeace and Earth Day. They were asked how they got such large movements going from the ground up. they both said the same thing: "talk to one person, then talk to another person, then talk to another person." And hey, you could always make a small donation to your favorite candidate--millions of those small donations mean major campaign funds.

Politicians don't care? Ever write to one? No time? Hell, how long does it take to write a letter? Or an email? People do the equivalent here all the time.. Send one a week, one a month, one a season, one a year--but you'll find (1) you will get a response and (2) they do pay attention--literally add up the pros/cons, etc--your letter marks you as a likely voter. I have even used my elected officials for help resolving business and governmental problems, quite successfully. (I can't call the Comptroller of the Currency about a bank pushing me around inappropriately--but my Senator sure can!).

I've addressed the money issue in part in two different ways already, so let's move on....

The above are some typical ways people think about changing the world. This post is about the ways they overlook.

One person can most definitely change the world. A patent clerk in Switzerland named Albert wonders what it would be like to ride a motorcycle across the universe at the speed of light, and in 1905, publishes a paper--that will in time lead to nuclear weapons and nuclear poser. James Watts wonders if the natural heating and cooling of water could help drive a pump to solve the constant drainage problem he faced--and started the Industrial Revolution. A messy scientist notices his poor housekeeping has spawned a mold--and we get antibiotics. We could go on and on in this vein, of course.

OK, we aren't all scientists--ordinary people sometimes get cool ideas too, from the safety pin (an idea worth millions) to hooking up a circuit board to a television in a garage and starting Apple Computers. But OK, we aren't all inventors either.

How about the twelve-year-old boy who saw a homeless man and organized a blanket drive that generated several thousand blankets distributed? Anyone could have done that. Anyone didn't--he did.

Granted, you can't just wave your hand and the world is magically better. You can just explain to yourself that the problems aren't solvable, that it wouldn't do any good anyway, that really those problems are somehow good or "God's" plan or Nature's plan or any other of the self-serving nonsense people use to justify doing nothing.

But bit by bit? An improvement here or there? By looking for solutions instead of complaining about problems? With a little patience?

Absolutely. One person can change the world--the only prerequisite is wanting to do so and taking action instead of creating excuses. Maybe start with just changing parts of it.


Wednesday, January 9, 2008

Horses--the Motorless ATVs

OK, I thought only the weather and thoughtless snowshoers and hikers were my nemesis to winter exercise. I figured at least I could jog along the trails. I didn’t count on horses.

A multi-use trail is a multi-use trail, of course, and equestrians are well within their rights. Thing is, just like ATVs, horses rip up the trail, leaving little but a trail of mud. I’ve never encountered this before in winter, but with the ice turning the slush, the horse folks churned it to brown soup.

Oh, and the horse shit. Why, if dog owners are expected to clean up, aren’t horse owners? Dogs find a place off the trail anyway—horses dump a pile in the middle. Nothing but laziness and unconcern for other users prevents riders from carrying at least a shovel.

That would, however, mean moving their asses off the horses and getting a bit of exercise.


Sunday, January 6, 2008

Benazir Bhutto Lives

Well, like milliions, I read the Sunday paper this morning only to find Parade magazine wondering what will happen if Benazir Bhutto wins Pakistan's election this Tuesday.

And like millions, I'm pretty sure she won't, since she was assassinated on December 27. Then again, a dead guy beat John Ashcroft for the U.S. Senate (so Bush promptly appointed Ashcroft Attorney General).

I can understand a large publication has a lead time. And I can understand that millions of dollars are involved. But if you want to be a news publication, you have to decide which is more important.

Parade has issued a statement that they felt what bhutto had to say was too important to make a change. Fine.

But they could have said so in advance--maybe even boosting newspaper sales. They didn't.

Money trumps news.

Yeah, I know--no newsflash there.


Saturday, January 5, 2008

Missing the Concept...

Hands full of grocery bags, I approached the door of my local store. A man just coming in held the door wide, waiting for me.

"Thank you!" I offered in a hearty voice.

"Why wouldn't I?" retorted my benefactor.

I left it there with no further words.


Friday, January 4, 2008

Skis, Snowshoes and Snowmen

A few weeks ago, we finally got enough snow for cross-country skiing. I was elated—especially with a husky, this is my premiere recreational/exercise activity during the winter months. So I headed out to the ski trails behind Colgate—around three miles of trails through a beautiful, wooded area.

Laying a trail is a lot of work—slow, plodding, tiring, not a lot of fun. However, once done, I and others could enjoy it for weeks. Colgate even has a large sign at the entrance to the trails, politely asking people to walk and snowshoe to the side of the ski tracks, not in them. After all, these trails are as wide as roads, so missing the ski tracks isn’t hard. Further, skiers even try to promote this by making tracks along the side of the trail, leaving plenty of room.

Well, this didn’t take long. Day two, snowshoers had ventured up part of the trail, and yep, stomped out the ski tracks. This turns a stable, smooth ski path into a flat, then icy, uncontrollable, dangerous mess. Why? Snowshoeing is difficult work under any conditions—what’s the point of ruining the ski trails?

Day three, the hikers did their due. Now, certainly walking in the ski trail is easily than hoofing through snow—and it also makes post-holes all along the track, completely destroying it.

Day four, snowmobiles. Motorized vehicles aren’t allowed on these trails, but that doesn’t stop them. Even so, with a trail the size of a road, with one narrow ski track off to the side, you’d think a snowmobile could maneuver around this. Guess not.

And for all the considerate snowshoers and hikers and snowmobilers, it takes one asshole. And so next, when the weather warmed, and when it was impossible to cut new tracks, what would have been a nice set of tracks, nice and contained, resistant to melting temperatures for a while, was now an icy mess impossible to navigate in the deeper areas, and a wet, muddy mess in the shallow areas. Wonderful. Fuck you very much.

I went running along the canal instead, but this was also an icy mess. I could have ice-skated probably, as the ice was beautifully smooth, but I’ve fallen through ice once before and don’t wish to repeat the experience—I’d rather wait for a few days of very cold weather first.

Last week we got a Nor’easter, so I went to Stoney Pond to start over. No, it’s not immune to snowshoers or hikers (although generally safe from snowmobiles), not as many people go there during the holidays—except a few other skiers and their dogs. This works well—we reinforce each other’s tracks, and while dogs will run in the tracks, they don’t weigh as much and spread that weight over four feet. Even deer, although they make deeper holes, make small ones and curiously not that many, just here and there.

Day two—a few snowshoers and hikers, but not too much damage yet. Down by the lake, though, some people had built a snowman—nice job of it, too. Shanti (my husky) saw it ¼ mile away—and barked and barked and barked and barked. This was successful—that snowman stayed right where he was, making no sudden moves and coming no closer. We made a wide circle around it. Next day, no barking—but she sniffed that thing up and down, round and round, a through examination.