Saturday, July 30, 2011

On the Appalachian Trail

A week ago today, my wife and I walked a ways on the Appalachian Trail in Vermont, and I have photographs to prove it.
    I'll admit that we only realized two days ago what "AT" on the sign meant, however embarrassing that might be to anyone else but me to have to admit. Another sign said, in effect, "Go this way to head towards Georgia" (i.e., it said "AT SOUTH").
    Which meant, apparently, that the handicapped-accessible boardwalk we'd taken to get to Thundering Falls the previous day (Saturday),

My youthful trekking companion cavorting for the camera
was part of the Appalachian Trail, too—probably the easiest section of the whole however many hundreds of miles of its length.
    [According to Wikipedia, it's 2,181 miles long, from Springer Mountain in Georgia to Mount Katahdin in Maine, or vice versa. But my wife read somewhere this morning that you shouldn't start in Maine, because the trail is so rough there (and in New Hampshire) that even experienced hikers need to be extra careful. Maybe that's why Wikipedia says from Georgia to Maine. But at least one blind man has walked the whole trail (with his guide dog). I read his book a dozen or so years ago and recommend it: Blind Courage, by Bill Irwin (with David McCasland), 1992.]
    [August 2. My friend Ralph commented that "the reason people start the Appalachian trail in Georgia is that it's a 6-month, March-to-September trek, and you wouldn't want to hike it in Maine in March or in North Carolina in August."]
    The boardwalk was just up River Road from the Killington city building and the Sherburne Public Library (Killington was originally named Sherburne).

Photographic opportunities along the boardwalk:

Bog at beginning of boardwalk to Thundering Falls



Cranberries, we thought
[August 2. Ralph also said, "About the berries, I'm not sure what they are, but Vermont is not what you would call a cranberry state, having none of the lowland sandy bogs of Massachusetts or Rhode Island."]


More flowers

And more flowers

Shadow portrait of my hiking companion

Just a few more feet to Thundering Falls

Literally To Thundering Falls

Dark blue berries just before Thundering Falls

Thundering Falls!

Flowers along the boardwalk back from Thundering Falls

More cranberries
[August 2. Keep in mind Ralph's doubt that they're cranberries.]

Baby crab apples, we thought

Anyway, the next day (Sunday) we took a road above the falls. According to the map, there was a trail down to it. Immediately off the road, a creek sped down the hill toward the falls.

Hand-held (no tripod) for about 1/8 of a second
(as well as I can remember)

    I was preceded down the trail:

Definitely no boardwalk

After we viewed the falls again, I walked back up the Appalachian Trail to the car while my companion walked down it, along the boardwalk, to River Road.

Flowers, omnium

This morning I promised a friend that I'd send her a link to some of my blog articles that include flower photographs. In keeping the promise, I realized that the simplest thing to do was to send her the link, which brings up every Moristotle article labeled "flowers."
    I probably didn't include the label with literally all of my flower articles, but surely I labeled most of them so.
Note that you can reuse the web address provided above by replacing "flowers" at the end with any other label you know that I've used. A selection of my labels is provided in the sidebar (to the right, down a ways).

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Louis Wilson, Jr. remembered yet again

Louis Wilson, Jr.
at the Grand Canyon
(February 2009)
"My life has turned out pretty well, considering what I had to work with." –Louis Wilson, May 4, 2000

On November 19, 2009, eight months after his death, I remembered Louis Wilson, Jr. A telephone call from his widow the evening of July 18 brought him to mind again.
    See was diffidently unsure how a "cold call" would be received, but Joan (pronounced Jo-Ann) Wilson's call didn't seem cold at all. I didn't recognize her voice, but I realized instantly who she was and remembered visiting her and Louis in May 1990, on the occasion of the Society for Technical Communication's annual international conference in Santa Clara, California.
    She said she'd located my number through the services of "I just entered your name and North Carolina, and it didn't even cost me anything."

Before I posted my November 2009 remembrance, I had tried and failed to reach someone in Louis's family. I hoped that at least one among them would happen on the post. My first thought when Joan called was that she had finally found it.
    But no. She told me:
Your Christmas card from 1990 mentions that Louis had said he was planning to do some writing. That dream was never fulfilled. He suffered about three strokes over a period of years, and the one in 2001 was too debilitating for him to use the computer and to organize his thoughts. But he never lost his good cheer. Stories that widows have told me about cranky husbands in their last years do not apply to Louis.
    And, for my wife's sake, I hope they never apply to me either.

During my 1990 trip to California, I'd gone to my and Louis's old haunts at IBM's Santa Teresa Laboratory, where I had the first strong inkling that something might be seriously wrong with me.
    I told Joan that while attempting to summarize for my old Santa Teresa colleagues a presentation I'd given at the STC conference, I'd simply run out of steam and become unable to speak coherently. At the time, it must have been pretty embarrassing, not to mention bewildering.
    I think it was the next month, back home in North Carolina, that I'd fallen asleep driving home from IBM Cary (south of Raleigh). The bumpy but fortunately wide median on Interstate-40 woke me up to discover that I was traveling at fifty-five miles per hour toward the oncoming traffic. I managed to regain control of the car, just barely, and was lucky to be able to veer back across the ongoing lanes onto the shoulder without being rear-ended. The tire came off a front rim was all.
    A week later, my doctor diagnosed CFS, chronic fatigue syndrome, and I was prescribed aggressive rest therapy (called "ART" by Dr. Dykes), which I applied diligently during a six-month medical leave from work.

I told Joan she could google "moristotle 'louis wilson'" if she wanted to read my 2009 blog remembrance. The next morning she emailed me:
Reading your blog brought tears to my eyes. You said things about Louis that I had known, but you included vivid details, especially about that Carmel Writers' conference. Louis's two children and my three children will be very happy when I give them the copy I printed for each.
    I'm delighted to have reached several members now of that special audience I'd hoped to have for my remembrance of the unforgettable Louis Wilson, Jr.

Joan & Louis Wilson,
in front of their home in Sedona, Arizona (2006)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Content warning

Click to enlarge
It could have been for just this occasion that I set "adult content" on a couple of days ago. (You probably saw the warning when you accessed this page.)
    The occasion is my sharing with you a marginally scatological snippet from a July 10 New York Times book review (Bill Keller's review, "Sacred and Profane," of Absolute Monarchs: A History of the Papacy, by John Julius Norwich, illustrated, 512 pp., Random House, $30).

Did you know that one of the 265 popes (so far) was a woman? I didn't either.
Pope Joan, the mid-ninth-century Englishwoman, disguised herself as a man, became pope, and was caught only when she gave birth....The church, determined not to be fooled again, required subsequent papal candidates to sit on a chaise percée (pierced chair) and [here's the adult-content part] be groped from below by a junior cleric, who would shout to the multitude, "He has testicles!" Norwich tracks down just a piece of furniture in the Vatican Museum.
I think this is a picture of it (it certainly looks papal):

    You may have seen one in your grandmother's outhouse:

    Or when you were in the hospital:

The French seem particularly taken by the story of "La PAPESSE JEANNE."
    There's an article in Wikipedia, according to which the female pope may be "legendary" and may only "supposedly [have] reigned for a few years some time in the Middle Ages."
    The Catholic Guide provides several versions of the story.
    And the most recent movie version even has a Facebook page (so, of course, there's an entry in the Internet Movie Database).
    The movie's now on my Netflix "saved" DVD queue, although I don't have high hopes for it. (I wonder whether it has a scene in which the midwife says, "Hey, the Pope doesn't have testicles!")

Sunday, July 17, 2011

Cryptic quotes

This week's Cryptoquote solutions* have included the following:
We do not know what to do with this short life, yet we want another which will be eternal.  Anatole France (1844-1924)
    I suppose that Anatole France intended mainly to lampoon people who not only want—but believe that they are going to have—another, eternal life. (I could, of course, just be projecting that motive onto him.)
    Or did he, too, want that other life—but seriously doubt he'd get it? And did he himself perhaps not know, anymore than anyone else, what to do with his present, short life?
    At any rate, Anatole France seemed to believe that most people (if not all) did "not know what to do" with their lives.
    Is that true?

Walter Berglund, in the July 8 excerpt, commented that "Everybody just wants their [sic] normal life." Isn't "wanting your normal life" equivalent to "knowing what to do with your life"?
    In that case, it would seem that "wanting another which will be eternal" would be to want a whole lot of normal, for a very, very long time.
    [I don't actually believe that "wanting your normal life" is equivalent to "knowing what [you ought] to do with your life."]

But another cryptoquoted author seemed to view things differently:
Most people have never learned that one of the main aims of life is to enjoy it. –Samuel Butler (1612-1680 or 1835-1902?); the earlier Butler is credited with having said or written, "All animals, except man, know that the principal business of life is to enjoy it.")
    If Butler would have agreed with Walter that people want their normal life, he would seem to have thought that they mostly didn't enjoy it much, in which case they might not be too keen to want another, eternal life throughout which they'd have to endure a huge quantity of eventually extremely boring normality.
    Presumably Butler himself had learned to enjoy his life. Was he satisfied with its short-term enjoyment, or did he want another, eternal life to go on enjoying himself? Wouldn't eternal enjoyment of the same sort of thing eventually become excruciatingly boring?

If, as Ken supposes (for the sake of argument, I believe, in commenting on "In the sticks"), "Walter is seeing the world clearly and objectively," everybody's enjoying or not enjoying "their" normal life is leading to global disaster, in which case "they" might very well like to have another, eternal life in order to have another go at it.
    Would that normality go on literally forever, or would eternity, too, become a disaster? And would it forever remain a disaster, or somehow end and, presumably, not be eternal anymore?
    Oh, to be a theologian with some hope (however vain) of being able to figure this out!

I think, for now anyway, I'll just go about tending my garden—assuming that I have some choice in how to respond to this knowledge. But, as Sam Harris argues in his 2010 book, The Morale Landscape, such choice is a paradoxical thing, given that we are "manipulated by neurochemicals or childhood programming" [and other things]—which Ken supposes (for the sake of argument) that we aren't.
    Harris, in his blog essay, "Morality Without 'Free Will'," states that
In fact, the concept of free will is a non-starter, both philosophically and scientifically. There is simply no description of mental and physical causation that allows for this freedom that we habitually claim for ourselves and ascribe to others.
    The paradox is that, nevertheless,
Judgments of responsibility...depend upon the overall complexion of one’s mind, not on the metaphysics of mental cause and effect....Viewing human beings as forces of nature does not prevent us from thinking in terms of moral responsibility.
    That is, Harris seems to be implying, people are morally responsible for wanting their normal life, and responsible collectively for herding us toward global disaster, however un-free they may be to act otherwise.
* My wife quickly solved the Cryptoquote by recognizing the coded shape of Anatole France's name; with the codes for a, c, e, f, l, n, o, r, & t all "broken," decoding what he said was child's play—but probably not as much fun as playing around with some of the questions the quotation raises, especially in the context of Jonathan Franzen's character Walter Berglund, Samuel Butler (whichever one it was), commenter Ken, and Sam Harris.

Friday, July 15, 2011

Thistle feeding

6:30 p.m., House Finches a-thistle feeding

Continuous Shot #1

Continuous Shot #2

Continuous Shot #3

Continuous Shot #4

Continuous Shot #5 (larger)

Shot #5 filtered artistically

Rough Pastels


Dry Brush

Film Grain

In the sticks

Jonathan Franzen
Walter Berglund and his assistant Lalitha (introduced last Friday in the "Think globally, act locally" excerpt from Jonathan Franzen's 2010 novel, Freedom) are in West Virginia, where they have just presented documents needed to commence demolition to open up fourteen thousand acres of future warbler preserve. They've celebrated at a steakhouse down the road from the Day's Inn by Walter's having the very first drink of his life (he claims), a beer, and Lalitha's getting drunk on three gin martinis. They've talked perhaps a bit too loudly for rural West Virginia, and Walter has been verbally accosted in the men's room by a guy "an exact match of Walter's profile of the kind of driver who didn't believe in turn signals."
    "Like the dark meat, do you?" the guy says.
    "She's Asian," Walter protests.
    "Candy's dandy but liquor's quicker, ain't that right, pal?"
    Made better aware of where they've been conversing, Walter thinks they should leave and take their food back to their rooms.
    Lalitha topples over as soon as she is deposited on her bed and Walter tells her he's going to his room to eat.
    "No, don't," she says. "Stay and watch TV. I'll sober up and we can eat together."
In this, too, he indulged her, locating PBS on cable and watching the tail end of the NewsHour—some discussion of John Kerry's war record [it's 2004]....
    He himself had been under tremendous pressure....Walter now needed to...start work in earnest on his anti-population crusade—needed to get the intern program up and running before the nation's most liberal college kids all finalized their summer plans and went to work for the Kerry campaign instead.
    In the two and a half weeks since his meeting in Manhattan with Richard, the world population had increased by 7,500,000. A net gain of seven million human beings—the equivalent of New York City's population—to clear-cut forests and befoul streams and pave over grasslands and throw plastic garbage into the Pacific Ocean and burn gasoline and coal and exterminate other species and obey the fucking pope and pop out families of twelve. In Walter's view, there was no greater force for evil in the world, no more compelling cause for despair about humanity and the amazing planet it had been given, than the Catholic Church, although, admittedly, the Siamese-twin fundamentalisms of Bush and bin Laden were running a close second these days. He couldn't see a church or a real men love jesus sign or a fish symbol on a car without his chest tightening with anger. In a place like West Virginia, this meant that he got angry pretty much every time he ventured into daylight, which no doubt contributed to his road rage. And it wasn't just religion, and it wasn't just the jumbo everything to which his fellow Americans seemed to feel uniquely entitled, it wasn't just the Walmarts and the buckets of corn syrup and the high-clearance monster trucks; it was the feeling that nobody else in the country was giving even five seconds' thought to what it meant to be packing another 13,000,000 large primates onto the world's limited surface every month. The unclouded serenity of his countrymen's indifference made him wild with anger.
    Patty [his wife] had recently suggested, as an antidote to road rage, that he distract himself with radio whenever he was driving a car, but to Walter the message of every single radio station was that nobody else in America was thinking about the planet's ruination. The God stations and the country stations and the Limbaugh stations were all, of course, actively cheering the ruination; the classic-rock and news-network stations continually made much ado about absolutely nothing; and National Public Radio was, for Walter, even worse. Mountain Stage and A Prairie Home Companion: literally fiddling while the planet burned! And worst of all were Morning Edition and All Things Considered. The NPR news unit, once upon a time fairly liberal, had become just another voice of center-right free-market ideology, describing even the slightest slowing of the nation's economic growth rate as "bad news" and deliberately wasting precious minutes of airtime every morning and evening—minutes that could have been devoted to raising the alarm about overpopulation and mass extinctions—on fatuously earnest reviews of literary novels and quirky musical acts....
    And TV: TV was like radio, only ten times worse. The country that minutely followed every phony turn of American Idol while the world went up in flames seemed to Walter deserving of whatever nightmare future awaited it.
    He was aware, of course, that it was wrong to feel this way—if only because, for almost twenty years, in St. Paul, he hadn't. He was aware of the intimate connection between anger and depression, aware that it was mentally unhealthy to be so exclusively obsessed with apocalyptic scenarios.... [beginning at 12 hours, 14 minutes, 37 seconds in the digital recording, pp. 313-315]
I hadn't thought until the present chapter how much like Walter I might be, if not myself so comprehensively angry and sometimes depressed as this fictional character seems to be (and as his creator, perhaps, might be)....

Further discussion

Sunday, July 10, 2011

Carpodacus mexicanus welcome here

The pot hangs from the
other side of the pergolla
outside our bedroom window
I took these photos at about 3:10 p.m. today, the last half of them as fast as my Nikon could manage, set to shoot at "continuous." No tripod used, however, mea culpa.
    My wife thinks she's a House Finch—probably female because she lacks the "cheerful red head and breast of males" (according to—see photo of male at bottom). She allows, though, that it might be a young male whose colors have not yet emerged.
    An old friend of ours and fellow bird-watcher thinks the bird's a female. He asks whether she has a nest in the pot. No, she's looking for a sedum leaf to eat, says my wife.  "House Finches killed the plant by eating its leaves; maybe it'll be back next year."

Here's a male House Finch (photo from

Oh, that photo I took through the field scope in December!

A male-female pair of House Finches?