Seth Levy: Writer and Consultant.

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I Hereby Announce the Winners of the Second Meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society.

2011 April 10
by admin

The second meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society was a complete success. We held the meeting in honor of the triumphant return of loyal Zymurgist, Chris Hale, for Columbia. The style was chosen in accordance with the preferences of Chris’ ladyfriend, Melina, who within 5 minutes of meeting me, proclaimed “I like beer with flavor, with darkness.” Who wouldn’t take that as a challenge?

The style we selected was “Porter,” a style of ale dark in color, sometimes with hints of red. This style has roasty, malty notes. Hops usually don’t predominate. Body is technically supposed to be lighter and thinner than a stout, but a lot of variation can be expected.

We tasted:

Beer Comments
Atlantic Brewing Company Coal Porter Poured deep black. Medium head. Roasty. Medium body. Pleasant, easy-drinking porter. Would go masterfully with fish and chips.
Anchor Porter Pours midnight black. Explosive, thick head. Mysterious, intriguing complex aroma with floral and banana notes (Courtesy of Chris Hale, who named it first!). Light, syrupy body, with clean finish. I wanted it to last forever.
Geary’s London Porter Poured dark red. Medium head. Slightly sour aroma, and thin body. Slight char in the initial flavor, and a slightly bitter aftertaste.

In an informal poll, a simple majority of Zymurgists preferred Anchor Porter. A competing simple majority insisted that the first majority was wrong, and that the Coal Porter was better. All agreed that the London Porter was a bit lacking.  A super-majority of Zymurgy participants voted to approve the consumption of more beer.

A special note: the Maine Zymurgy Society Congratulates Zymurgist Lord Mark Gartside, of Brunswick upon Maine, on the birth of his second son, Freddie. Of course, because Mark as unable to attend this Zymurgy, we made fun of the English porter – sipping it slowly, taunting it, mocking it, and smirking in a superior way at it when it’s back was turned.

With no further adieu:

Category Atlantic Brewing Coal Porter Anchor Porter Geary’s London Porter
Aroma


5.2 5.6 3.2
Head


4.2 6 4.8
Flavor


7.2 7.2 4.6
Body 6.8 5.5 4

Aftertaste


4.8 5 5.75
General 6.8 7 4.8

Anchor Porter won by a nose – literally. Geary’s was the clear loser, mostly due to low aroma scores.  For the next meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society we’ll be looking at a style appropriate to the spring season.  Spring Ale? Mai Bock? Imperial Stout – just cause it’s Maine and that’s how we roll?

A special note: For each meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society, we fill out “tasting sheets” and rate the different qualities of beers numerically.  Numbers certainly aren’t as expressive as words, but they allow us to compare beers over time.  Jaed felt too constrained by the linear world of numbers and letters and decided to express himself with pictures instead. What exactly he’s trying to express, I’m not sure, but even if the sentiment is as simple as “Ninja turtles are awesome, ” I’m impressed.

TMNT Front Low ResTMNT Back Low Res

The second meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society was a complete success. We held the meeting in honor of the triumphant return of loyal Zymurgist, Chris Hale, for Columbia. The style was chosen with the preferences of Chris’s ladyfriend, Melina, who within 5 minutes of meeting me, proclaimed “I like beer with flavor, with darkness.” Who wouldn’t take that as a challenge?

The style we selected was “Porter,” a style of ale dark in color, sometimes with hints of red. This style has roasty, malty notes. Hops usually don’t predominate. Body is technically supported to be lighter and thinner than a stout, but a lot of variation can be expected.

I Hereby Announce the Winners of the First Meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society

2011 January 13
by admin

I’d like to introduce you, dear reader, to ZYMURGY. Zymurgy is a roving society that has popped up wherever I’ve lived – in Ohio, Washington, DC, and now in Maine. It began long ago, when a group of beer enthusiasts in college decided to elevate their palates beyond the simple solvents consumed by the masses and experience beer that tasted like….anything! We’re an informal group with a few simple rules.

This is a report of the results of the First Meeting of the Maine Zymurgy Society. The style we tasted this week was Winter Beers, a rather murky and subjective style. While it technically could include lagers, we restricted this tasting to ales. The style is often darker, richer, and higher in alcohol than a traditional amber ale, with higher rates of spicy hops. Often, these beers are subtly (or not so subtly) dosed with traditional herbs, spices or even trees (like the annual Anchor Winter, which reputably uses spruce extract) that have warming flavors that evoke the season. (We didn’t do a spiced winter beer this time because the last Zymurgy that involved a spiced ale gave several members unpleasant ginger burps.)

This time, we tasted Peak Organic Winter Session Ale, Sebago Brewing Slick Nick, and Geary’s Winter Ale. Enough preliminaries! On with the score:

Beer 1 (Peak Organic Winter Session)

Beer 2 (Sebago Brewing Slick Nick)

Beer 3 (Geary’s Winter Ale)

Aroma

2.8

4.5

5.5

Head

2

4.25

3.8

Flavor

4.2

6.5

7.4

Body

3.2

4.2

4.75

Aftertaste

4.4

5.5

5.25

General

4.2

5.5

6.2

Geary’s was the clear ‘winner,” with winning scores in every category except “head” and “aftertaste.”

The next tasting is tentatively scheduled for late January. The style will be Imperial Stouts. A warning to the uninitiated: this style has massive alcohol and flavor, so we might consider doing half-pints to ensure that we’re all conscious at the end of the evening

The Power of Memorable Beer

2010 December 27
by admin

I had a great beer drinking experience that I feel compelled to share. Last evening, hanging out with an old friend, I brought out a large-format bottle of a new beer by a new Maine brewery. It was the Weizen Stout by Rising Tide Brewing Company. I had my suspicions, because I usually don’t like the banana/clove esters that characterize hefeweizens, but hell, it’s new beer, and new local beer at that, so, down the hatch. The beer pours dark, a shade darker than mahogany, with a healthy tan color to the dense head. The aroma is very scant, maybe a little dry roast wisp, a little sweetness. The first flavors are roasty, toasty, and for perhaps 2 milliseconds, completely unspectacular. “Great, another dry Irish stout with a creative label!” my plate groaned, and then….something happened. The flavors switched gears, and there was a brief, burnt, sugary-thing going on, and then a plunge into some deeper caramel, and a dry malty backbone. That brief, burnt sugar thing was captivating though, and strangely familiar. Now, I can be certain that I have never tasted this beer before, but the flavor dropped a rock into the well of my mind, and the ripples began to spread. Another sip, and….there it was again. This time, the feeling of deja vu was nearly overwhelming. I had certainly experienced this flavor before, and it was meaningful to me. Now – what the hell was it! This is perhaps my favorite part of beer-drinking, the attempt to use language and metaphor to describe a flavor that, in beer, is so out of context as to present a legitimate puzzle. Solving these puzzles is at once sensory (perceiving the flavor) linguistic (translating the flavor) and artistic (expressing the experience of the flavor).

Almost without trying, an image rose in my mind and the words flew out of my lips: “freshly burnt marshmallow!” The taste, so unfamiliar and beguiling, was precisely that of the first tentative bite into the freshly carbonized skin floating on the surface of a charred marshmallow. Exactly. Amazing. With each sip, I could see a campfire roar, and saw a hundred starry skies. This evocative power is one of the most challenging and rewarding aspects of drinking good beer. I can remember the first time I experienced it, long ago. A few friends and I were enjoying a black rice beer called Yinpu. Several of us northerners noticed a familiar flavor that the southerners didn’t detect at all. Half an hour later, it hit me – it tasted exactly like licking a icicle just broken off the roof. The same metallic, brisk, dirty-snow flavor.

Using the metaphor of different life experiences to describe flavors in this idiosyncratic beverage is a fundamental skill, but an odd one. We seek out patterns, familiarities, touchstones, in every aspect of our lives. After a while, something always reminds you of something else. Why should beer be any different?

That’s a Thinker.

2010 December 8
by admin

A lifetime ago, I lived in Washington, DC. Despite being the Nation’s capitol, and the object of millions of 8th grade field trip memories, much of the city is rugged, poor, and interesting in a way that the clean, white dome of the Capitol completely conceals. I lived in a Guatemalan neighborhood in the northwest quadrant of the city, and during my brief and confusing employment with the United States Senate, I would wile away evenings at a small bar called “The Raven.” Dive-bar is not an appropriate description, because it implies some self-consciousness of being run-down, or deliberately cultivating a rough image. Studio-appartment-sized-bar, or filthy-smoke-hole-cubicle is more appropriate. The wall paper hung down in strips. Plaster flaked off the ceiling. The ghosts of 10,000 cigarettes moaned, wailed and reeked, puffing out of the vinyl seats when you sat. I sat at the bar there, fiddling with my cell-phone, trying to avoid my own reflection in the bar-back mirror. Sitting alone at a bar, waiting for a friend is momentarily awkward. I wasn’t waiting for anyone, knew no one, was desperately lonely, and wanted a friend. Terminally and permanently awkward. Why was I there? I drank Yeungling beer too fast, and nervously peeled the label. An African man sat two stools away. I’m guessing he was Ethiopian. He had flat, chipped teeth, a long, pointed nose, and a jerky manner. He looked at me just then, looked through me. He moved his skinny frame over to the stool next to mine, becoming too close instantaneously, and huffed his breath across my face. “You,” he breathed, “you tink too much, you never be happy!” I thought about that, contradicting myself.

IAT Trail Work.

2010 December 2
by admin

After a long time on the road, I’ve landed in Maine. I was raised here, and it is a phenomenal state for many reasons. I’ll post more about the unique parts about Maine later. To cement and celebrate my first legal residence in more than a year, I’ve started to volunteer with the Maine Chapter of the International Appalachian Trail Association. The International Appalachian Trail is a unique and separate trail that picks up where the Appalachian Trail stops at Baxter State Park in Maine, and continues north to Cap Gaspe, Canada, and on across the oceans to Scotland, Iceland, and theoretically, down to Morocco! The IAT follows the influence (geological and cultural) of the Appalachians, joining different cultures, countries, and landscapes together into an epic pilgrimage. Can you tell I’m excited by this? Recently, Dick Anderson, president of the Maine Chapter of the IAT, gathered a little group to head up to northern Maine, to correct an issue that had been plaguing hikers along a section of trail right along the US/Canada Border. Since the trail was constructed there, a busy beaver managed to dam a small brook that ran harmlessly across the trail, turning the brook into a 4-foot deep swamp that completely obliterated the trail, and would require a 12 mile(!) detour to circumnavigate. After checking with the relevant state agencies, landowners, and politely informing the border patrol of our planned activities (this is no joke, a Maine IAT Chapter member scouting the site a few weeks ago walked out of the woods only to be circled by a helicopter, and was met at his car by a few serious, but polite, Border Patrol-ers) we headed up to Mars Hill, Maine. About 5 hours from Southern Maine, Mars Hill is a world away. Where southern Maine is relatively populous, and the climate is moderated by the ocean, Northern Maine is…..big and open. So few live up north that the land is largely divided into 10 mile by 10 mile squares called “townships,” and given numbers rather than names. Can you imagine telling someone you grew up in TW 102?

The road out of Mars Hill, ME.  Wind project visable in the distance..

The road out of Mars Hill, ME. Wind project visable in the distance..

As we zipped up the highway, the sun set, and I began to think about a moose wandering out on the road. Maine children are not told stories about “bogey men,” but about what happens to inattentive drivers that hit moose. Tales are usually embellished with details about antler impalement, for better effect. After a few hours on the road, we stopped for coffee and Dick hollered “Jesus, did you see the size of that moose? About 3 steps off the highway!” I chugged my gas-station coffee and began to pray softly. After another uneventful few hours of travel, we arrived in the hamlet of Mars Hill, which consists of a single Maine street, bordered by charming buildings that looked at least a hundred years old, including the inestimable “Al’s Diner.” Mars Hill is in Aroostook County, one of the largest and least counties populous in Maine. Referred to as simply “the county,” the area has huge open fields, towering, lonely churches, and friendly people. Canada is just a few steps away, and the border here runs through back-yards and even a few houses. After a crushing meal at Al’s, we retired for the night.  My room-mate, Don Hudson, Maine Conservation luminary and former Executive Director of the Chewonki Foundation, shared some bio-diesel tips and tricks with me (yet another future post). Bright and early found us back at Al’s, where I enjoyed some of the best blueberry pancakes I’ve had in some time (“Maine blueberries, the little sweet ones,” the waitress confided).

Breakfast at Al's Diner.

Breakfast at Al's Diner.

After a few too many cups of coffee, we set out, driving past the summit of Mars Hill itself, with it’s majestic windmills turning slowly in the 17-degree air. Leaving the main road, we dug into a few inches of fresh snow and headed onto a dirt road paralleling the  border and a farmers field. ready to head outEveryone suited up against the 17-degree morning and we headed into the woods. Walking through a narrow corridor of trees, I saw that the clearing extended as far as I could see, and that every couple thousand yards a simple stone marker stood. One side of the marker said “US,” and the other “Canada.”

The official marker of the Border

The official marker of the Border

Before

Dam before breach.

Though it was just a nice, ordinary forest, and a little boggy underfoot, being right on the border lent the morning an exciting feeling. I felt a childish curiosity, a kind of “You mean that tree over there is in Canada?”-feeling. After a quarter-mile, we reached the site of the beaver dam. Where the trail passes through a low point, beavers had long ago erected a dam more than 100 feet long, turning a small stream into a massive muck pit 3-feet deep. Despite days of sub-freezing weather, the air was rapidly warming and the ice that covered the muck cracked and sagged disturbingly as our party walked across it. As the youngest member of the party, with the least beaver-dam-removal experience, I hung back and let the group determine the the best spot to breach it. Thankfully, David Rand had come in a few weeks ago to scout the site, and found a likely spot quickly. In minutes, we were all knee-deep in frozen mud, and set to work with a number of implements of destruction (a fire rake, shovels, pick axes, loppers, hatchets, etc..). As I was wrenching handfuls of sticks, I marveled at the construction of the dam, Though it had not been occupied for several years (Dick, a seasoned trapper, determined this with certainty), it was still watertight, holding back a sizable pond. The land on the “dry” side of the dam was 3-4 feet lower than the frozen surface of the pond it had created, so when we opened a chink in the sturdy mud-and-sticks wall, a gout of muddy water poured forth with considerable force. It felt good to demolish it, I must admit, and better because I know what it’s like to walk through waist-deep mud in the middle of a 20-mile day.

Post-drainage.

Post-drainage.

Draining this segment of trail will ease the journey of hikers that come to appreciate the beauty of Maine, and hopefully motivate a few to become passionate stewards of these great lands. There aren’t many instances where those with a deep conservation ethic can gain such legitimate enjoyment from an act of destruction, so I cherish them when they happen!

As we enlarged the breech, the volume of water pouring out tripled, and the ice, no longer supported by water, started to boom and crack, collapsing and fracturing.

The Ice began to collapse.

The Ice began to collapse.

Without reliable ice to walk back on,our exit from the woods took twice as long, but it was with a self-satisfied swagger that our band emerged from the border swath.

On the way home, Dick took the occasion to purchase 200 lbs of potatoes for a shelter in Portland, Maine. I was amazed that, up in “the County” they cost about $.02 a pound! Payment too, was a novel experience. There was a little box on the counter to stuff your cash in.

It’s not often that a 24-hour period of my life occasions a trip to another country, 10 hours of driving, the purchase of 200 lbs of food for a charitable endeavor, trail maintenance, draining a pond, and taking a hike, so I thought it was worth documenting here.

Are you sentient? A little test follows.

2010 July 22
by admin

Lately, I’ve been spending a lot of time working with computers.  I’m starting a venture to help Non-Profit Organizations solve various problems with fund-raising , IT, etc…so I’ve been setting up domains, learning a new CMS, migrating all my mail around.  Like many people, I’ve always found a lot of these things vaguely threatening.  But, I’ve been keeping in mind the first advice I ever got about computers:  You can’t break it.  It’s quite true.  I’ve managed to screw things up a bit, but never caused any physical damage.

On to more pressing business: Today, in setting up a new e-mail account, I was querried by one of those annoying jumbled-letters things often called “CAPTCHA.”  What I find interesting about these is that they are practical implementations of a Turing test, a way of getting objective confirmation that the entity you are dealing with is, in fact, a sentient human.  I find it quite remarkable that private enterprise has devised a practical implementation of a philosophical question that has bothered people since the dawn of the digital revolution.  I find it even more unusual that millions of people are taking this test every day, usually in mundane contexts (purchasing new monogrammed towels, ordering Jeff Foxsworthy outtakes, sending salacious text messages, etc..) and seldom think of the implications.   It’s odd, that one can take a test for human intelligence, pass it, then order expired pork rinds on an online auction site.

More practically, these Turing tests are damn hard.  I find myself adjusting glasses, squinting and mouthing the weird koan-esque tangles of letters and numbers.  Sometimes I wonder if they aren’t inverse-Turing tests, proving that anyone willing to spend 15 minutes on the damn things are, in fact, stupid.  Today, I finally stooped as low as I could go.  I admitted defeat in the face of one of these tests, and clicked the little assistant icon helpfully depicting a wheelchair.  I mean, seriously, it isn’t enough to keep me squinting and decyphering, now I have to admin disability in order to get the damn thing straight.  The little wheelchair icon automatically downloaded a .wav file that would speak the little tangled phrase to me.

Here it is: Captcha

Listen for a minute.  Is it possible for you to distinguish anything?  What about the creepy mumbling?  It sounds like the soundtrack from a Japanese horror movie crossed with a bad psychedelic art-rock record.  It freaked me out at 10 in the morning with a cup of coffee in my system.  Imagine the effect on someone with a legitimate disability?  It’s a cruel joke.

A good birthday. No shooting. No Hypothermia.

2010 July 5
by admin

After last year’s disastrous 30th birthday experience, which included inedible food at a brewpub, canceled campsite reservations, and my sainted girlfriend being shot in the posterior by an honest-to-goodness pellet gun, I was ready for a redeeming and rejuvenating 31st birthday.   I’ve really embraced the notion of marking my birthdays with adventures, not just to mark the passage of time, but to get away from being the center of attention.   Not that I am.   Just that the idea of it being “my special day” is disturbing enough for me to want to head it off at the pass, and use my birthday license to do something adventurous instead.   This year, the plan was simple:  I would ride my bike to Mt. Washington, the highest mountain in the northeast, meet my sainted girlfriend at the base, and we’d climb it together.

So, leaving my house around 8, 2 cups too many of coffee onboard, I again marveled at the “adventure begins at the doorstep” concept. With a hike, there is that intermediate period in the car, the search for the trail head, then the adventure begins. With a bike tour, one sees the familiar in a new way- not as the neighborhood, but as the beginning of a journey. I spun up a road I’ve been on many times, took an unusual turn, and headed into a neighborhood I’d seldom visited.   Little by little, I left town and headed into the country.   After a brief country interlude, I began to enter the Lisbon region.

I can’t sugarcoat it: this area has had hard times. The mills that provided jobs and dumped poison into the rivers and air are, for better or worse, closed. The small Italian, french-Canadian and Slovak neighborhoods are still there, the old folks still linger on the porches, but one gets the feeling that this area is stuck with one foot in the 40’s, and the other foot not entirely sure where to step at all.

Sociocultural musings aside, Lisbon does have something going for it. It is the center of popularity and, dare I say culture, for Maine’s most famous beverage, Moxie.   Moxie, to the uninitiated, tastes….odd.  Some may even say “foul,” or “medicinal.”   I suppose the most apt comparison is to say that it tastes a bit like carbonated Jagermeister, or like a sweet bark tea crossed with a cough drop.  This isn’t nearly as bad as it sounds, but what can you expect of a beverage whose ingredients include “gentian root?”   Truly, this soda is a throwback to the time when carbonated drinks were medicines, and expected to have a medicinal flavor.  Imagine if Coke were to be introduced as an “historical” beverage today.  It also has a fairly unusual bitter, herbal flavor that might been seen as pretty weird, if it weren’t already so popular. So, my duty as a Mainer dictated I stop by the “Moxie” store, a flyblown old storefront in downtown Lisbon, stacked with cases of Moxie memorabilia.  A quick trip in, a brief chat with the older proprietor, a whiff of mothballs, and I was ready to venture out again.

I spun off the Maine roads, and wove a circuitous path through the pleasant neighborhoods.  The sky darkened, the light grew flat, and the houses seemed to stand out in contrast to the black clouds.   The houses faded away , and I again entered the country.  As I passed an open field, a flock off wild turkeys scuttled away from the road, gobbling in confusion, bobbing their heads and hiding in the grass.   Further on, I slowed down by an old barn, only to see a cute, inquisitive alpaca winding its neck around the corner to spy on me.   Its little mohawk and wide, wet eyes slowed me further, but it ducked out of the way before I could get a good picture.

Clouds over solitary tree

Clouds Gather Over THE ROAD

Through the village of Mechanic Falls I rode, as clouds raced overhead.  The road narrowed and the traffic accelerated, and I was glad to make a sharp turn to the right onto a narrow, hilly country road.  This road, a sign informed me, would take me to the “community” of Greenwood.  In Maine, “community” often means a town more sparsely settled and dispersed than usual, so this was a good thing. The road curved up steeply among thickly forested hills, and the traffic ceased entirely, leaving me alone with a changing sky, birdsong, and the irregular play of light across the pavement.  After perhaps an hour, I saw a small community spring beside the road, next to which someone had placed a bench.   Though I did not drink, I soaked my hat in the cooling water, felt the cold flow of air from the moist hillside, and sat awhile.

Public Spring in greenwood

I shold have drunk it. Really.

Further down the road, past cottages, between several lovely lakes, I became  overwhelmed by the beauty of the world.   I felt that I was gliding along effortlessly, the wind conspiring to aid me on my way, and I was nearly moved to tears by the beauty of the breeze rippling the waters on a small lake. Unfortunately, these feelings usually mean the onset of a severe hypoglycemic crisis, so by the time I arrived at a small country store, I was dizzy and dissipated.  Four cliff bars and a brownie set me straight, and I was ready to ride again.  A scant five miles of easy cruising beyond this refueling stop  brought me to the lovely town of Bethel, my destination for the evening.

Bethel Outdoor Adventure Campsite Field

A lovely campsite. Even with the teenage girls.

Bethel is a cute micro-town perched in the mountains of western Maine.  After a quick jaunt to the supermarket for a loaf of bread, some fruit, juice, and supplies, I turned again, heading toward my camp for the night:  a lovely family campground, still clean this early in the season, with shaded campsites all covered with thick mats of grass.   I set up my TarpTent, ate bread, chicken, fruit, and chocolate,  and settled in to read and watch the sunset. As I lay and read, a group of 11-year old girls from a neighboring summer camp wandered by, whispering and giggling. After a while, I could hear them return and, with much giggling, scream “I love you!” and “I looooove your beard!”

Still Life with Coffee and Flowers

Still Life with Coffee and Plastic Flowers

Lonley Farmhouse oon North Road

Andrew Wyeth? No. My bike ride.

th_Creative Grafitti 1

Hey, it is the Granite State after all.

th_Crossing the AT in Gorham

Crossing that pilgramage again.

th_Creative Grafitti 2

Correct! Now will that teenager identify themselves for a prize: A Dictionary!

I woke the next morning to find that the racing clouds of the previous day had evaporated, and a lovely bluebird day was at hand. Atop my bike again, I winced at the soreness left over from the previous day’s 70 miles, and was glad to get off again for a breakfast of bagels and  24 fluid ounces of Dunkin’ Donuts coffee.  Turning off the main road again, I spun off toward New Hampshire along a lovely wooded back road.  Startled deer dove deeper into the brush as I passed, and the day had begun at a small swimming hole where children splashed and parents drank coffee and gossiped.   The road wound upward and became more beautiful as woodland gave way to open fields, lovely farmhouses, horses, and farmstands.  A cool breeze moderated the hot sun, and I saw one car in two hours of blissful riding.  Stopping for water and food, I pulled over and admired some local graffiti.  New Hampshire, it appears, is honest and simple in all things, including vandalism.  The road, lovely as it was, ended too soon.  I was shunted onto a highway and, entering New Hampshire officially, crossed the Appalachian Trail, a place that I had remembered crossing years before.   Passing the AT crossing and feeling the memories of this long-ago journey, I spun into Gorham,  New Hampshire.   Coffee and pancakes down the hatch, I looked at the paper and noticed an unusual headline: “Mt. Washington Road Closed Due to Snow.”

th_Forbodeing Headlines

This would have made sense in December.

Mt. Washington is the mountain I planned to climb.  Although it is widely reputed to have the worst weather in the world, having my hike snowed out in July would be uncharacteristically bad. I even checked to see if the paper was current, as a headline like that wouldn’t be out of place in January.  Unfortunately, the paper is dated July 2nd.

I bought more supplies and headed up into the White Mountain Nation Forest to settle in at my campground for the night, a large campground right next to Mt. Washington.   Setting up the tent, drinking liters of water and eating Clif bars took a few hours, and I had barely put up my tent when Dave and Alicia, the brains behind Trailspace.com, returned from their just-completed Presidential Traverse. Twenty-three miles, more than 9000 feet of elevation gain, 2 kids, a successful website (Full Disclosure: I am a contractor for this site. More Full Disclosure: I considered Trailspace.com awesome before I was more formally affiliated.) and all they would admit to was being “a bit tired.” What an inspiring pair! I didn’t let this inspiration get in the way of a good night’s sleep though, and crashed hard, awakening to diffuse sun and birds chirping around five.   A ten-minute drive brought my lady-friend(who had arrived the night before) and I to Pinkham Notch, a visitor center operated by the Appalachian Mountain Club and the starting point of our hike.

 
This trip wasn’t just a birthday celebration, but a return to the site of my previous defeat. The last time I had attempted to ascend Mt. Washington (which features the worst weather in the world), I was turned around 2 miles shy of the summit by gale-force winds and sleet in August. I remember my father and I had started up, and the weather at the base was warm and rainy. By the time we turned the corner into Tuckermans Ravine, the wind started to gust, and deposited a thick layer of ice on us.   We were woefully unprepared, and I remember my fathering wrapping his head in a garbage bag in some futile, hypothermic effort to warm up.

th_Tight Red Pants.  Good Hiker.

Americans just cannot rock scarlet soft shell pants like this.

This time was different. As we started up, the skies cleared, and the sun began to penetrate the thick forest. We weren’t alone – there were perhaps 100 other hikers spread over the length of the trail. Ordinarily this would have made me claustrophobic, but these hikers seemed well-prepared, fit, and polite, not blaring ringtones and noisily consulting GPS devices. I began to notice other peculiarities about this large troupe, the men worse suspiciously expensive glasses, and tight pants in odd colors, with perfect self assurance. Then, their haughty laughter and musical speech clued me it. Of course, these well-behaved hikers in scarlet pants were french-Canadienne! Sharing the trail with this joyful troupe of Quebecois, we bounded up and reached the caretakers cabin and AMC cache. Here, the real climbing began as we scrabbled our way up the ravine. Halfway up the ravine, I stopped to admire a patch of snow that will likely hang here all summer.

th_Thumbs up at the Summit!

Hey, there was a line to the summit!

A lone skier perched on top to the thin stripe of snow. He said that the ride was “good, but short.”  An hour’s more scrabble and we could see the smokestacks of the summit observatory, the throngs of tourists, and the general consumer circus that is the summit of Mt. Washington. I was emotionally prepared this time, but it still leads to an odd sense of cognitive dissonance. After all, this is a dangerous mountain, having claimed more than a hundred lives in the last century, with profoundly horrible weather. Yet, there are coffee, soft-drinks, commemorative shot-glasses and stickers, women with high-heels, all the trappings of a modern shopping mall, perched atop the summit cone of an extinct volcano, more than 6,500 feet into the sky.

 
Aside from the feeling that my quadriceps were going to implode, the descent was not particularly memorable. We paused near the base to soak our feet in a mountain stream whose water was shockingly cold, likely snowmelt. As the base, I savored coffee and water, changed shirts, and hopped in the car for the long ride home. We paused briefly in North Conway, and 5 sips in to my celebratory beer, the effects of more than 100 miles of riding and our 10 mile hike caught up with me. I felt shaky and weak, with double vision. Three glasses of cold water helped, but I left happy, secure in the knowledge that I have found the secret to maximizing the effect of good stout.

The (bizarre) Bazaar

2010 June 20
by admin
Round and round, the wheel spins.

Round and round, the wheel spins.

This Saturday night found me enrobed in fried-dough vapor, absorbing the hard-rock efforts of a young-adult contemporary christian band called “LEVITICUS” (though not spelled capitol letters, it needed to be capitalized in order to do justice to the lead singers’ emphasis when revealing it), grinning in childlike wonder. Maybe I should explain myself: since my last stopover in DC, then Philadelphia, I am living in southern Maine for the summer, and summer is not summer in Maine without the local church fundraiser-event – the St. John’s Bazaar. This event is a local institution, and coming in mid-June, signifies the unofficial beginning of Summer for our small town. I’ve been to a few events like it, a few times in Ohio, in Utah and in Maryland,  so I can say that this sort of thing happens across the country every summer.   I can remember with ultimate clarity the smells and the feelings of going there when I was 14 or so.

Come children, spin untill you puke!

Come children, spin untill you puke!

I would look around, seeing friends sneak a purloined cigarette, watching girls push the boundaries of physics with their jean-shorts, looking at backpacks I was sure contained stolen beer, and watching the intrigue of young-adult faces lit with the glare of neon. It smelled of possibility, of sawdust, mechanical grease, frying dough, fresh, vegetal cigarette smoke, and night air.

Come children, tilt n' spin n'till you puke!

Come children, tilt n' spin n'till you puke!

I remember thinking: This is attended by adults, but it is not FOR adults. This is for us. This night is designed to excite teenagers, to make us feel young.   It is one of the few (perhaps the only?) things designed by adults that makes us feel truly young, truly alive.   And last night, like a passing whiff of fried batter,  I caught that feeling just for a moment, this time, alas, from the wrong side of the maturity-divide.   So, failing the youthful excitement of the fair, I had to settle for a more adult pleasure: Making fun of the ridiculousness of these small town events.

It's terrifying....it's AIRBRUSHED!

It's terrifying....it's AIRBRUSHED!

The number of completely un-ironic mullets I saw was staggering – like a clip from a bad 80’s movie played out in real life. I am used to modern youth doing shocking things and taking further all of the stuff I considered shocking in my youth. But, certain shocking things have logical limits I supposed, incorrectly. I was proven wrong last evening, however, in discovering that 14-year old girls have managed to make short jean shorts even shorter, and even tighter, than they could a mere 10 years ago. How is this possible? A revolution in textile chemistry? Changes in physics? Yoga? I’m not sure on this. The art on some of the rides was just as bad as I imagined it.

Such childish gleee!  But such a....crustache?

Such childish gleee! But such a....crustache?

Best Beard Compliment So Far.

2010 May 22
by admin

So, late last night, I’m walking through an alley-way in center city, Philadelphia. It’s a nice summer night, lively, the kind of evening where warm air presses everyone with a nearly hormonal intensity to celebrate. I see ahead of me two African-American teenagers careening through the alley, boisterous, loud, and maybe a little bit threatening. As they approach, one of them looks at me real hard, pokes his head towards me and smiles. “Damn man,” he says,”that is an incredible Ulysses S. Grant beard you’ve got there.” This ranks as the best beard compliment I have gotten so far.

More candid beard reactions.

2010 April 13
by admin

So, with summer rapidly approaching, I realize that I will eventually have to shave my beard.  I’m not looking forward to this, as I’m enjoying the reactions it produces in the citizenry.  A summary follows:

Demographic Verbal reaction to my beard Hidden Meaning
Teenage Girl “Hi Santa!” Wait – Santa has a white beard and looks benevolent, and less Semitic.  Mommy!
Islamic Practitioner “Wassup, my brother.” You are possibly a fellow member of the brotherhood of Islam.  Salaam.
Homeless Person Wordless Stare. This man obviously can’t afford to give me a dollar.  However, he smells suspiciously good.
Amish Cheese-monger at Public Market “Ahh,” followed by perplexed stare. You remind me of my brother, Hephzibah, after a godless bender involving trouser-wearing women and cheap beer.  Away!
Hipster Couple “Nice Beard Dude” Hmm, your facial hair has called into question the degree to which appropriating my girlfriend’s jeans constitutes rebellion.
Hippie Dude “Nice Beard Dude.” I would grow such a beard, if I could remember to forget to shave.
30-something Man Smoking Marihuana in his car Alone Wordless head nod. Ha!  And I was worried someone would call the police.
Female College Student Mock Horror.  Followed by Real Horror. I am glad to have studied and kept up with extracurricular activities.  I will never end up on the street.
Greek Orthodox Priest ~Gasp~ There is hope for our order!  The beard is a sign.  Bar-Keep, fetch the Ouzo!
Orthodox Jewish Man “Ahhhh,” followed by perplex stare. What are they teaching in Sunday School these days? Oy, I had assumed that ZZ Top was deceased, yes?