While the mad scientist himself has been attending to various family matters and getting ready for the beginning of our winter sailing season, incremental progress has been made on the Everglades Challenge boat, Frankenscot. And by "incremental progress," I mean small, nearly invisible steps toward the full-blown beastie.
He painted the epoxy knees, for instance, and rigged up a pair of running backstays to help stabilize the mast. He pondered long and deep about the placement of the sliding rowing seat. Which sent us back to Denny Antram at the Steward's Foundation.
Four Books: Style to burn
Trying to keep a lid on my enthusiasm for recommending books by theme: this time it's all about style.
My mother and I used to stroll through her neighborhood when I visited. Walking and talking and discussing at the way people paint their shutters, how some people put in gardens and others let things run wild, we always looked into the windows as the daylight faded. Endlessly curious about the notion of home, she sometimes speculated about how the looks of a house might change the lives inside of it.
"If I lived there," she'd say, "I'd be much neater."
"Yes," I'd say. "And you'd have four perfect children."
"No, I'd still have you two, but we would all be different."
And that's how stories and style seem to me: the same plot goes very differently depending on the architecture and how the building is maintained. Here are a few of the more striking novel dwellings:
Self-Help is an early collection of Lorrie Moore's stories. Full disclosure: she was one of my writing teachers, and I still have a bit of a crush on her. She is so smart. So funny. She can make you laugh out loud even as she breaks your heart. Her use of second person (the "you" of self-help books) make these seem like stories shared person-to-person. If this is a house, it's a split-level ranch, and you are at the kitchen table sipping coffee from a heavy avocado-green mug while the owner confides something important and strange.
Later I found out that The Last Unicorn is a beloved underground classic, but when I was twelve, I stood in a bookshop in Rockland, Maine, and weighed it against The Worm Ouroboros. Lucky choice. I gobbled up this paperback with an uncomplicated and uncritical love, re-reading it countless times. And why not? Beagle pitches everything -- including a Lear-quoting butterfly and a magician named Schmendrick -- in beautiful, mock-high-heroic language. This book is not so much a house as a garden where you hear an old-fashioned ballad performed with perfect pitch, as, say Celia Pavey.
I picked up Nocturnes for the King of Naples on a whim. I liked the cover. It was published in 1978, and I read it around the time I was also first hearing about AIDS. It's a novel about lost love told in an unwavering fever-pitch of metaphor and beautiful language. Not homey, not cozy, this house, but astonishing: "A wind said incantations and hypnotized a match flame out of someone's cupped hands. Now the flame went out and only the cigarette pulsed, each draw molding gold leaf to cheekbones."
And that sprawling Victorian Gothic revival mansion behind the fence? The one that nearly lured me back to grad school at least twice? That's Possession, a novel that follows two parallel stories: a pair of modern-day English scholars and a pair of Victorian poets. The former are investigating the latter, racing against a crass American and others to discover the mystery behind the poets. Byatt created a body of work for both of the Victorians (poetry and stories and letters and diary entries galore) and the way she shifts between the modern and the Victorian has made me by turns envious, greedy, and swoony with admiration.
As a reader, it's like one open-house after another, with realtors offering bowls of candy while perspective buyers stroll around and admire or not. You can even try out a stint in that stark modern minimalist place on the hill, or spend a week or so at that the lakeside cottage.
For a writer, the view can be a lot more daunting. Yeah, sure, you think, I can make me a stout little log cabin, but whoa -- the Great Camp Sagamore? Um, well. But you close the book, stop blogging, and try to get some work done.
Puzzle: Visual Pun #5
Crashing waves, hidden undertow? The theme from Jaws? Naw, just beachcombing through the piles of photos that I've taken in recent years.
First correct answer below earns a fabulous* prize.
*And by "fabulous," I mean potentially amusing, possibly plastic, and very likely quite small.
Farming 101: Webinar
There's the usual shuffling and resharpening of pencils, as the students give one another sidelong glances and wonder about what got all 50 of us into this. And then, with a little hum and feedback from the microphone, the lesson begins.
Class is starting on Monday evening for most of us, since we are scattered across the Eastern half of the US. But for the woman from the UK, it's past midnight. And for the guy from Japan, this web-broadcast class is taking place tomorrow morning. We are all in front of our computer screens, having downloaded some software and signed in to the Cornell Beginning Farmer network.
50 of us with farm dreams, and we have all plunked down some cash in exchange for some learning.
The two teachers -- one in Ithaca NY, the other just north of New York City -- walk us all through the details of distance learning: the software, the homeworks, the polls, the discussion forums that seem so much like passing notes during class, the links and features, and the goals of the class.
This Beginning Farming class does not cover how to start the tractor (that long stomp on the clutch and the fiddly thing with the choke). No exploration of how to to use a power take-off unit, or how much seed is needed per acre. It's not about the nature of cows or chickens or corn or rain.
Instead, this is a sort of taking stock of dreams. An enumeration of hopes, a tally of resources, a gauging of determination and hardiness.
This kind of assessment is easy in the form of an idle daydream. It's much more challenging exercise when shared with 49 other dreamers on a Monday night (local time).
It's all well and good to wish for a clucking raft of hens, or a field of black-and-white cows munching on emerald-green grass, but to write it down? As homework? ...And then start analyzing what stands between here and there?
People volunteer things like: "At least a tiny piece of land." Or, "Experience with a single live chicken." Or, "A different life, including a family who might be interested in growing something."
So while at least one of the 50 would-be farmers is frozen in place -- flummoxed by the variety and passion of people's longing for a farm -- the webinar continues to churn through a series of basic and tough questions.
If the blade can hold an edge, this class will be honing the wishfulness for a farm.
When Jeff (TwoBeers) started planning the modifications to a Flying Scot that would make it fit for the Everglades Challenge race, I didn't think it would take very long.
Especially since more and more, Time seems to be flying like a tether-ball around the pole of the New Year.
Still, the process of building and assembling comes in waves: just now, three separate Frankenscot components are equally half-finished with only a few working days left in the month.
However, a most excellent set of breakers (they were, one might say, tubular) rolled through and dropped TwoBeers and me in on the front side of some unexpected treasure.
The 330 miles of the Everglades Challenge will most likely include some windless moments and narrow channels. Possibly both at once. Consequently, the sail plan needs a back-up.
Luckily, we have a connection to The Stewards Foundation, Inc. Thanks to Cal Reed (aka, the Godfather of Frankenscot), we met with Denny Antram, the VP of Stewards at the Julian Lane Waterfront Park near the University of Tampa to talk about what might work.
There are rowing shells and kayaks and canoes -- sleek, narrow little vessels that can be paddled or rowed at tremendous velocity. And there is a Flying Scot.
It's a question of an order of magnitude, like... oh, I know, it's like an Italian greyhound versus...
Like a plump Butterball Turkey and a... No wait. Let me try again.
Like a 1958 Caddy and a... hmmm. Well, yes.
Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?
Turns out it's a bit of a metaphorical challenge to compare boats in a way that wouldn't insult the spirit of the Frankenscot.
If we have learned NOTHING else from the hours in front of the Saturday Creature Feature, it's that one must never irritate the monster.
Besides, comparisons are odious.*
Thinking about the work in propelling the Frankenscot by means of oars...The Chief of the WaterTribe, the man who organizes the Everglades Challenge and other adventure races, recently sent a message about the Everglades Challenge Derby. This Derby allows participants to indulge their every competitive instinct and log their miles of running, paddling, sailing, and generally exercising outside in the months before the event -- for A PRIZE!
*Who says comparisons are odious? John Donne, for one, Miguel Cervantes for another, as well as Jonathan Swift and Mary Wollstonecraft.
Odious (or "odorous," as Shakespeare gave us, the sly dog) as they may be, comparisons are central to understanding -- like air is to breathing. Or oars to rowing.
Puzzle: Visual Pun 4
"For my part I think no innocent species of wit or pleasantry should be suppressed; and that a good pun may be admitted among the smaller excellencies of lively conversation."
James Boswell, Life of Dr. Johnson, June 19, 1784.
Synonym for natty, neat, dapper.
First correct (or entertaining) answer appearing below as a comment on this page will win a prize*.
*of dubious value and uncertain provenance, but still.
TwoBeers addresses the bright autumnal Saturday by putting on anti-itch clothing and raiding the closet for a cardboard box. He gives a faint, mad-scientist chortle as he heads for the Frankenscot.
While it's not the most glamorous or innovative of days in the lab, it IS time for some beefing up of our Everglades Challenge project boat. Given the potential for twist and the amount of force that 330 miles of sailing could offer, the question of strength has been nagging at TwoBeers' collective attention.
Which is to say, Ensign RumDown (spoken with a note of terror), Rod the Roadie, the gang at Masthead, Mike Gable of Gable Enterprises, Inc., and the rest of the peanut gallery have been bringing the topic up frequently as we stand around kicking tires and theorizing.
We lob bad scenerios back and forth and think about what might unfold: like, okay, what if...the mosquitoes find us when it's dead calm? Or on a full stretch, there's a big wave and POW, the racks pop loose? Post-millenial anxiety put to good use: we are brainstorming our own little zombie apocalypse.
The Challenge begins with a LeMans start:
Of course, in the Everglades Challenge race the crew runs to the high-tide mark and then shoves his/her vessel down the beach and into the water. Rarely with a squealing of tires.
Clearly, in the interest of speed, NOT busting a gut, and actually getting to the water -- it's important that the portly and wide-bodied Frankenscot avoids impersonating a beached whale.
So whatever strengthening measures are to be taken, they ought to be clever, lightweight ones.
Such as knees.
In this setting, a knee is an architectural element that braces two surfaces. It's similar to a wall-shelf bracket.
And we hope this elegant solution will serve to help the racks hold firm, because nobody likes to go swimming unexpectedly offshore.
The Farm. Sigh.
Thoughts of the farm have carried me through various rough patches over time. Despite my first-hand knowledge of the filth, stench, back-break, and wholesale death involved in genuine agriculture, I've longed idly for a farm of my own -- The Farm -- pretty much since I went to college.
I won't deny the escapism. I've sunk into the nerdy mechanics of daydream. Sometimes, it was about sketching the economics of a small-scale sheep operation, or reviewing the seasonal efforts one takes to improve the yield and quality of hay. Or perhaps a rethinking of opinion on the topic of chickens, or plotting how one might parlay an orchard of apple-trees into a living. The Farm. Sigh.
It's as harmless as any daydream, I suppose. Some people play Farmville.
The landscape of the North Country is all about farming -- at least it is to me. Whenever I visit my 4-H, Jefferson County Dairy Princess, General Brown Day, Shore Dinner roots, I have the impulse to locate The Farm within that real geography. Especially given how at every turn there's an example of the de-evolution of a family farm.
And so many of them for sale.
There's no call to point out that gap between reals and imaginary. It's one thing to while away fifteen minutes in voluptuous thought, another to muck out the barn. The difference is quite present to me: some aches and pains serve as souvenirs; and each winter, someone or another mentions that it has been a very long time since l had to scrape ice from the windshield or lift a shovel full of snow.
Choices have been made. I moved away and left the farm.
Still and all, gap or no gap, snow or no snow, I signed up for a distance-learning class this fall.
Ironically enough, it's an offering from Cornell, "Beginning Farming 101." The New York State Cooperative Extension and Cornell's Small Farm Program bill the class as "Creating a Farm to Match your Values, Goals, Skills, and Resources."
It starts on Monday.
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