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maura @ 5:26 pm
It was a busy spring, following a busy fall. Also everything is awful and that doesn’t seem to be slowing down.
I’ve found myself thinking back lots recently to our spring break trip to Hawaii. Some of that is a “wow remember how lovely it was to be there and to relax and see neat stuff and eat good food and relax” kind of thinking. But most of it is a “wow where has the lava gone today?” kind of thinking. In mid-April volcanic activity and earthquakes started happening at Kilauea, and eruptions started in early May. It’s been super intense: fissures popped up in a subdivision east of the volcano and lava fountained up into the air and flowed down the streets and consumed a car and there’ve been ash and boulder explosions regularly out of Halema’uma’u crater and the lava flowed all the way to the ocean.
When the eruption started it was in the news regularly here on the mainland, but it’s dropped off most people’s radar I think. Except that I’m a nerd and fascinated so I check the US Geological Society website every day to see what’s happening. They have a great, active Twitter account too. (Lol, inward slumping of the crater continues. I feel ya, Halema’uma’u.) Hawaii Volcanoes National Park has also been closed in that section for the past month or so (there’s a smaller section on the southern end of the island that’s open), including the lodge where we stayed.
It’s a strange weird feeling to be watching this volcano situation. While dramatic, it’s not super fast moving or sudden, and thankfully no one has died (and I don’t even think many, if any, folx have been hurt?). There has been damage to property — houses consumed by lava in the eastern part of that subdivision as well as a few other neighborhoods — though since that area (the Lower East Rift Zone) is fairly volcanically active there’s not a lot of housing there. On the other hand, houses have been destroyed and people are displaced, which is not good.
Also destroyed were the tidepools at Kapoho, just south of Kapoho Bay, where we* snorkeled on the last day of our vacation. (* Except not me, because it turns out that for me snorkeling feels a bit like drowning. Not my jam.) The ocean entry of the fissure 8 lava flow is enormous and growing. The maps are a trip, on this one you can see the former coastline marked with a dotted line — everything east of that is new land, the earth just belching out a whole bunch of new land. It’s sad to think of the tidepools — they were beautiful (on the map they were just about where the line from the word “active” points to the shoreline). And the small neighborhood of big vacation houses just adjacent to the tidepools has been completely obliterated.
It’s sad but fascinating, such a weird feeling. I keep tuning in every evening, checking on what’s happened in the past day. The earth is amazing.
maura @ 3:31 pm
We went to the island of Hawaii over Spring Break and I left my hiking boots in Puna as we headed home. Hawaii was amazing. (This is not a post about Hawaii.)
I left the boots on purpose, it was not an accident. They were on their last legs before the trip so I’d thought I might leave them, but the rainstorm we got trapped in while hiking to the Thurston Lava Tube sealed the deal. They were so, so, so wet that little chunks of the suede even started breaking off. Luckily they lasted a few more days after that, to Lava Tree State Monument and Kapoho tidepools and back to the rental house near Pahoa where I snapped a farewell photo of them on the porch, above the backyard where a family of chickens from next door were free-ranging.
(Maybe just a little bit about Hawaii I guess. It was amazing.)
I’d had those boots since 1993 when my mom bought them for me, unaffordable on my paltry grad school stipend, before a 9 week stint on an archaeological survey in western Ireland. I knew it would be wet there, too, and while the boots were technically waterproof they weren’t completely so. Rubber boots would have been drier, but I wanted something that would give me some decent grip and ankle support as I walked through fields up and down hills and over endless limestone rocks, rain or no rain. And they were field boots after that, too: the following summer in New Jersey and a summer after that back in Ireland and 2-ish summers in Brooklyn, some time later.
They fulfilled their true role as hiking boots in between, on vacations near and far. After the kid was born my feet got bigger and they became more useful as warmish weather boots than cold, as I couldn’t wear very thick socks anymore. And the older they got the less waterproof they became as well. I wore them snowshoeing visiting family up north for years until finally my feet were just too cold and I couldn’t do it. I wore them walking to work in the snow until they just got too leaky for me to cross the gross dirty melting snow puddles that form at each intersection in the city after a storm.
I got some new hiking boots for xmas last year and wore them for snowshoeing earlier this year, and it was lovely to have warm and dry feet. But I knew I’d want to wear actual boots in Hawaii, and it’s hot in Hawaii, and the new boots are kind of heavy. The old boots were perfect, even despite the rain soaking. It felt a little sad to let them go, but they were good boots, they served me well, and no one can ever say that I didn’t get my (mom’s) money’s worth out of them. Thanks, boots.
maura @ 11:33 am
It feels oddly indulgent to have spring break while on sabbatical, but this year the kid’s spring break was 11 days long — 7 schooldays and 4 weekend days — so it was kind of hard to avoid it. We promised him several days of not doing anything in particular, and balanced that with a 3 day whirlwind trip to Washington D.C. where we did lots of things. D.C. was a frequent spring break destination for us when the kid was younger (I just spent way too much time digging up and reading about our prior trips here, here, and here). This year the alternate side parking rules aligned in such a perfect way that we didn’t have to move the car for 10 (!) days, so we decided to take the train down rather than make the drive, which was a lovely change (and only 1 hr late on the way home!).
First up was the Library of Congress, to which I’d never been (for shame!). I was glad to have the chance to remedy that and to ogle the amazing reading room in the Jefferson Building — one of these days I’ll do some research or writing there. There was a nice exhibit with maps and artifacts about initial colonial contact in the Americas, and the kid was surprisingly interested in the exhibit on World War I. But I have to say that one of my favorite parts of the visit was seeing Dr. Carla Hayden’s name engraved in gold on the marble wall listing all of the Librarians of Congress. I completely choked up — we are so lucky to to have her in that role.
We stayed in a hotel in Georgetown that was a converted apartment building which was lovely, essentially a one bedroom apartment with separate kitchen. It was convenient to be able to have normal (read: cereal for me) breakfast there but kind of odd too, since the whole thing was bigger than several apartments we’d rented in Manhattan back in the day. Which meant I spent much of the time we were in the room trying to map our various old apartments onto the layout of the hotel room (I may be somewhat spatially obsessive).
The main event on day 2 had been planned for a long time: a visit to the new National Museum of African-American History and Culture. The museum opened last Fall and has been so popular that timed (though free, like all of the Smithsonian museums) tickets are needed. Tickets for the spring were released on January 4th at 9am, so I got to work at 8:30 that day to get in the online queue for tickets. It was so very worth it: this museum is phenomenal. We were there for about 5 1/2 hours and didn’t come close to seeing everything. The history galleries are all underground and begin with colonization and slavery, and you walk upwards through the past 400+ years of history to the present day. Jonathan remarked on how dense the information was: it seemed like every surface had words, images, video, audio to take in. We spent most of the time in these galleries — in this historical moment it felt like these were the most critical for us as white people, and I appreciated the opportunity to fill in my knowledge gaps (Reconstruction, in particular, is a period I didn’t know much about).
We went faster than I would have liked through the upper galleries of the museum, the kid was dragging and the museum was pretty crowded and we were all a bit info-overloaded by then. We did linger a while in the music gallery which was terrific: Jackson 5 costumes and Public Enemy’s boombox and Prince’s tambourine and an exhibit on various genres in the format of record album covers that you flip through, plus lots of audio and video. We walked fairly quickly through a great exhibit of African-American communities through history called Power of Place that I think will be my first stop the next time we go, from the little we were able to see it looked fascinating. We finished off day 2 with a walk over to the MLK Memorial, which we’d also never seen.
Day 3 got off to a slower start (because day 2 was tiring!), as we made our way from Georgetown to the train station to stow our bags for the day. Then we headed to the National Museum of the American Indian, both for it’s delicious cafeteria lunch (tho the NMAAHC cafeteria was also amazing) and to visit, finally. We didn’t have time for the whole museum but did see several exhibits, including a neat temporary exhbit about Inka roads and engineering. And we took our time in the exhibit on expansion by Europeans into Native American lands and treaties made and broken — again filling in gaps in my knowledge that seem especially urgent right now.
And then we were back on the train heading home. With our current political situation I admit to being a little bit on edge in D.C. in ways I haven’t been in the past, though I do want to go back to both museums again in the not too distant future.
maura @ 9:56 pm
The past two weekends I took two short trips, somewhat unusual for this time of year for me since the semester is in full swing, though it was nice to have the time away. Both trips involved stays in rental houses, which is always sort of interesting.
The first was in Toronto — I’d never been there before but was there sans famille (except pas de francais, quel dommage!) to visit with 3 old friends. While we did do a bit of traipsing around the city, the main focus was catching up and hanging out. Our pal who lives there got us an Air B&B house and, while I’m not the biggest fan of the sharing economy (for a variety of reasons, like who gets left out?), this place was perfect for the occasion. A small house in what was described as a trendy neighborhood, it was in a quiet residential area very close to some commercial streets for easy access to food + transportation.
Apparently the folks who own the house are academics who are away, maybe for the year? But it was curious to see how much of their stuff was still there. No clothes in the closets or food in the cupboards, but it almost seemed like that’s all they’d taken. Lots and lots and lots of books, toys too. The house had 4 bedrooms and one was clearly a kids room, but there were a range of children’s books from picture books to YA, which made me wonder how many kids and what ages? Where did they go? When are they coming back? Why do they have two copies of Island of the Blue Dolphins? Is it weird for them to come back to having rented out their house to total strangers? We were very neat and unobtrusive, but it’s still a strange thing to be sitting eating dinner at someone else’s table (tasty pho from a place nearby, yum).
Next up was a long weekend in the Catskills, mostly a treat for the adults in the family who didn’t have a chance to get away in August, though the teen had a reasonably okay time too (barring some hiking-related crabbiness). We missed the cats, who of course don’t travel well, though as Jonathan said they could use some skills so maybe next time we should bring them?
We rented what was described as a woodlands cottage and indeed it was — almost every room was wood-paneled, with the exception of the kitchen. The wood theme was strong throughout with dressers, small shelves and cabinets, even the towel rods all made of wood. The house was sort of hunting lodge style with what amounted to a 1 bedroom apartment on the first floor — living room, eat in kitchen, bathroom, bedroom — and a spiral staircase upstairs to 2 small bedrooms and another bathroom, all tiny and with slanted ceilings tucked under the eaves of the roof. Thank goodness we are a small people since the potential for bumping your head on the ceiling was high.
This house was a bit more beach house-y in that it was clearly a vacation house for the owners. There were board games, a few books, videotapes (of course!), and a usable kitchen, but not a lot of personal effects. Again we speculated: why were there so many Pepsi-branded knick-knacks, did the owner work for Pepsi? Yes, the house was covered in wood paneling, but was it really necessary to have a fire extinguisher in every room? And why was the internet so bad? That last question is kind of facetious — we knew going in that there was no cell service so we assumed that there’d be satellite internet, which is notoriously slow. I’d kind of missed the part about no dishwasher, so it was back to hand-washing for me. But sitting on the back porch was delightful, looking out onto trees with turning + falling leaves while reading or drinking coffee.
We’ve occasionally had friends or family stay in our apartment while we’ve been away, but it’s never been anyone we don’t know. We don’t really ever go away for long enough for that to work, plus there are the cats, sweet but not always the best roommates (sigh, hairballs). I can’t imagine anyone we don’t know staying in our place, what would they think of us? Too many books, slightly shabby and/or Ikea furniture, one desk per person — is that a dead giveaway for an academic? Signs point to yes.
maura @ 10:16 pm
It was June, and then the kid’s school ended, and then we took a few trips, and now it’s nearly the end of July. Woah. The trips were to Germany and Vermont and New Hampshire and all were different and fun. I have to go back to work tomorrow so I should go to sleep, but I’m compelled to share a few holiday snaps.
We went to the part of Germany that was very castley. The castles were amazing — this is one on the banks of the Rhine that we climbed up to. It was very very high, and I chickened out of going up those stairs to the very top. I like to think that the hanging cage is for the heads of their enemies, but that’s probably not true (this was a country residence more than a fortification).
The parts that weren’t castley that we visited were like a Disney village. For serious, it was just like stepping into the set for Pinocchio. Wild.
Ice cream! The Germans are apparently mad for ice cream and the party I traveled with indulged more than daily. To be fair, it was in the mid to high 90s F the whole time we were there, and like any good Old World nation the Germans eschew air conditioning (luckily the beer was also cold and plentiful). This is the kiddie menu from one of the many eiscafes that we visited. Super creepy.
And speaking of creepy, one of the towns we visited had these marionette machines that you put a euro in and the puppets would act (and sing!) a story. It was super weird — we don’t know much German so we could only guess at most of the story. Total horror movie stuff, though.
After Germany we were home for 12 days, then once the jet lag wore off we headed up to New England for family visiting. First stop, Vermont, where there was lots of nature of the animal sort: my dad now has 3 dogs 4 cats and 8 chickens (!). Plus the undomesticated animals: frogs, froglets, newts, and crayfish in the pond. I swear they were tadpoles with little leg buds on Monday and full-fledged froglets with 4 limbs + a tail by Friday. Zoology, man.
There’s also a family of 3 garter snakes living under my dad’s front steps. We caught 2 of them sunbathing.
Next was New Hampshire for more fun with the other side of the family. There was a pool, and there was swimming, because like the Germans, the New Hampshireans don’t have air conditioning. The plastic alligator had a little too much to drink and pulled a SoCal, Less Than Zero-style sinking to the bottom of the pool.
And now we’re home (sigh). And it’s going to be hot this week (double sigh). But it’s nice to be back. Boy, the cats missed us.
maura @ 10:19 pm
We had a lovely time on our midwest vacation recently, plenty of opportunity for relaxation plus surprisingly pleasant, even coolish, weather. The adults slipped off to Chicago for a couple of days too. I’ll never turn down a visit to Chicago, though as I get older such trips tend to come with All The Feels. I still love the city as much as I ever did in college, which means nostalgia of course, but also I feel concern about recent troubles that the city’s going through. Driving in I feel like a huge nerd from that first glimpse of the Sears Tower, ogling the industry and trains in Gary, past the beautiful Chicago Vocational School building on the South Side, up the expressway next to the El and past IIT, over through McCormick Place and up Lake Shore Drive. Even with traffic it’s amazing.
I think the fact that Chicago’s probably the place that most explicitly falls into the Road Not Taken category for me adds to the emotions when I visit. There are the Actual Roads — like when I didn’t go to grad school there just after college, or didn’t apply for the Assessment Librarian job there a few years ago (still the only job I’ve even passingly considered applying for since I started at City Tech). Then there are the Possible Roads — like pretty much anytime either Jonathan or I was at a job change point, a time when we could have picked up and moved someplace new without too much disruption beyond the hassle that is moving. Chicago could have been a logical place to move for any number of reasons.
All of this means that I walk through the city feeling like there are other, ghostly versions of me hanging around as well. Of course the ghostly me wouldn’t be doing all of the touristy things that visitor me does. Really, sometimes touristy me just wants to ride the Brown Line on the El for a couple of hours (Best Views Evar), or take my laptop down to the Mansueto library reading room at UChicago (as the kids call it these days) and get some writing done. But touristy me who is not alone does other things, which is okay (and more social).
This time we did the self-guided donuts, art, and books tour. We started by taking the Brown Line to Merchandise Mart and stopping for breakfast at a donut place we’d never been to called Glazed and Infused. Flavors sampled included coffee glazed, maple glazed w/bacon, old fashioned, and chocolate frosted banana cream filled (yuck, that last not for me). I still like Do-Rite’s bacon donut best, but this one was pretty tasty. The next morning before leaving we went to Do-Rite and all they had was one gluten-free maple bacon donut, which is just not the same, I’m sorry to say, mostly because it’s a cake donut rather than a cruller. But the cinnamon sugar old fashioned was terrific.
Then it was off to the Art Institute for much of the day. We spent lots of time in the European galleries which we hadn’t seen recently, but also hit some old (and new) faves: the Chagall stained glass windows (still incredibly gorgeous despite their oddly-uninspiring new location in a dark corner near the bathrooms), the Cornell boxes in the (still) new to us modern wing, and the Ando room in the East Asian wing. On our way down to the ever-amusing Thorne Miniatures we swung through the kind of hilarious paperweight room — who knew there were so many different artistic paperweight eras?
For the books portion of our trip, we stopped by the new location of the Seminary Co-op Bookstore in Hyde Park, where we are still members despite not having purchased anything since the mid-90s (judging by the address they had on file for me). I’d forgotten how nice it is to browse a bookstore with both loads of fiction as well as scholarly books — two whole shelves of Anthropology! And the realization that I am now more familiar with the titles on the two shelves next to them, which held Education books. Course books are still in the basement, mostly empty now for the summer. We had to restrain ourselves from buying all of the new Oxford “Very Short Introduction to…” books (we got: Math, Archaeology, Probability, and Nothing [which is mostly Physics]). It was rad.
And eating, woah, did we eat. Aside from the aforementioned donuts we had dinner at Endgrain, where the sprout kimchi and pork belly appetizers were highlights. We also ate at Publican which was super meaty and delicious: harissa pate, boudin blanc, and head cheese, yum, though also tasty peas and avocado spread on toast. Then breakfast at Little Goat on our last day to top it off, with pork belly, kimchi, and eggs on a biscuit (and my realization that I can rarely resist ordering kimchi or pork belly if they’re on a menu). Then we rolled on home, all at once fat + happy + sad.
maura @ 9:37 am
By now everyone has seen the news about Amtrak’s writing residency trips, right? It’s been all over mah twitterz, though since I (unsurprisingly) follow a whole pile o’ academics* and journalists and other writerly folks perhaps that’s just me. There was this article about the joys of writing on trains,** then this one about the practicalities of the whole residency thing. Both are fascinating.
* Shocking, I know, that academics would even use twitter, because we don’t like to talk to anyone but ourselves. Nope, we don’t blog in multiple places or have websites for our research projects or send op-eds to the Times (to get rejected) or nothing, why would you think that? </Kristof rant>
** Though I have to say, her trip on the Lake Shore Limited sounded much more pleasant than when Jonathan and I took the train to Chicago many (eep, more than 15?!) years ago. That’s the sleeper car for you — 18 hrs (one-way, with delays) in the cheap seats was, at times, somewhat unpleasant.
I am, as regular readers know, a huge fan of both train travel and writing on trains. When I think about the writing I’ve done in the past almost-6 (next month!) years since I’ve been a full-time librarian + professor, what I’ve written on train trips stands out. It was on one of our 9 hour Amtrak odysseys to northern Vermont to visit family that I wrote the very first IRB application for what ended up being our huge (because we couldn’t stop collecting data, it was so interesting) research project on how commuter college students do their academic work. I took the train to DC and back a few years ago for a conference, and wrote several blog posts and other small things. And the first book proposal that emerged from the aforementioned research project was also (partially) written on the train, when I took a trip up to Saratoga Springs for another conference. Last month I took the train to Delaware for a family thing and also got lots of writing work done, this time on the theory part of chapter 1 of the book, which was particularly challenging to write. The train helped.
I love writing on trains for all of the same reasons the author of the Paris Review piece does. Travel by train is so pleasant, compared to other forms of travel, that it seems to free up more mental space to accomplish other things. Perhaps most importantly (though also perhaps most difficult to describe), there’s the suspended animation dreamtime aspect of train travel. The time component is critical: with a set amount of time to write, it’s easier to write (that’s why people use pomodoros and all of those other writing strategies). Also, on a train you are physically moving forward: if you get stuck or need to take a break it’s easy to look out the window and let the pleasant scenery rush through your brain and unstick you. On the quiet car it is even more awesome, because there tend to be other folks who are writing (and as the students who participated in our study were quick to tell us, it’s easier to work when the people around you are working too).
All of which has me wondering when my next train trip will be. Really I’d love for us never to fly or drive again when we travel anywhere east of the Mississippi river, but unfortunately train travel is still a smidge too expensive for that to happen in all cases (esp. the sleeper car, and esp. now that the kid is big enough that he’d need his own room). But it’s worth researching for sure.
maura @ 8:19 pm
The semester started over a week ago but the combination of Labor Day and Rosh Hashanah means that the public schools haven’t even started yet, not til Monday. So while things are still beginning-of-the-term nutty (enrollment is up! 3300 first year students! nearly 17K total students! CUNY’s tuition is so reasonable! 142 sections of English I! each has one session of library instruction! wheee!), the end of this week was a bit slower with no meetings, so we decided to hightail it to the Catskills for a last-couple-days-of-summer getaway.
Even though we were only going to be away for a couple of nights, we rented a small house on the recommendation of a friend (as opposed to staying in a hotel). In the summers that we’ve gone to the beach we’ve usually rented houses — with both of my sibs and all of their kids a house is by far the most practical option. Beach houses are pretty standard fare: sand-colored carpeting, VHS tapes from the 80s, dull knives in the kitchen, all manner of lighthouse/sand dollar/sailboaty knick-knacks, and leftover laundry detergent from the prior week’s renters if you’re lucky.
This house was different, and not only because it was smaller. This house most definitely seemed more lived-in. There was the usual random selection of books and board games and DVDs, but also a real kitchen with all the tools and cookware you’d expect for someone who actually cooks there. In a beach house the owners typically have one closet or a shed with their own stuff in it (often locked): the drawers are empty, and you have to bring your own sheets and towels. But in this house the owner’s stuff was right there alongside space for renters’ (our) things — two drawers in each dresser were empty, towels were on the (made) bed and extras in the wardrobe.
It was a lovely house and a nice treat to be able to actually cook dinner without having to curse our forgetting to bring some real knives. But I’ve found myself wondering how, exactly, it works with a house like that. Does the owner live there most of the time and just go somewhere else when there are renters? What if renters stay for a week? Or two weeks? And where does the owner go when she’s not in the house? To stay with friends? Does she have another house? There’s the trustworthiness issue too — how can she be sure that everything will be as she left it? There was a hefty security deposit to put down, so perhaps that’s the insurance. And we’re kind of fussy (unsurprisingly) about leaving things the way we found them so no worries there.
More than anything it seemed like this house had more stories in it than other houses we’ve rented in other places. Being surrounded by all of those belongings that clearly belonged to someone who cared about them made it impossible not to speculate about that person and her stories. I’ve also been reading Among Others by Jo Walton (intrigued by Jenna’s review), and stuff being infused with personal magic plays a big part in the book’s narrative, which I’m sure helped me think about the house in that way, too. I should have been finishing Debt; really I am almost halfway and have renewed it twice and I *do* like it, for real, but it’s just so serious and I was on vacation and wanted to read about fairies and interlibrary loan and adolescence instead. I have ’til September 26 to finish Debt, plenty of time, right?
maura @ 4:16 pm
For some reason when we were in Montreal earlier this summer I started cracking up over the number and variety of “don’t” signs. It’s not like they’re unique to the city or even to Canada — of course there are don’t signs in all places that have: 1) people, and 2) restrictions on said people’s behavior. We have them everywhere in NYC, duh. So why did I find them so funny? I think it was the specificity more than anything — some were so very narrow in their proscriptions. Also sometimes the scale of the images on the signs was…off.
The hotel we stayed in had a very neato outdoor pool on the roof, which of course requires many don’t signs because omg pools on roofs, so dangerous!
Don’t fall on this wet floor because otherwise you will turn into a bird.
Also don’t even think of bringing your sparkly ’50s glassware out here, either broken or whole.
When heading inside, kindly leave your feet outside, thanks.
Montreal is very bicycle-friendly, so don’t even think of locking your moped or motorcycle to this bike rack, yo.
We spent lots of time using the Metro to tool around the city, and of course there are lots of things you can’t do on the Metro. Wheeled recreation of many sorts is right out, especially those rollerblades that are the size of a skateboard. Also you may not smoke your skateboard-sized cigarettes in the Metro station, either.
We spent one afternoon at the Biodome, a combination zoo/aquarium/botanic garden kind of place at the old Olympic center that was just lovely (if frightfully crowded). In the Biodome it’s forbidden for you to use your giant hand to grab (or wave at!) the very small otters. You also may not climb whatever that pile of stuff is.
Adjacent to the Biodome is the botanical gardens, which were huge and amazing and in which we spent probably 4 hours on 2 afternoons and still didn’t see it all. Upon entering the gardens you’re greeted with a plethora of restrictions, including not bringing your dog-sized soccer ball (or soccer-ball sized dog?) with you on your visit, again with the humongous rollerblades (perhaps for normal-sized people with enormous feet?), and please leave your many varieties of human-powered wheeled transportation mechanisms for humans of all sizes, from tiny to giant, at home.
In the pavillion in the Japanese Garden you may not wear Adidas. You also may not consume either soft-serve ice cream or classic popsicles from the ’70s. Nikes and ice cream bars are fine, though.
I was so obsessed that it was contagious. Gus’s grandpa sent me this photo from a trip they took after we went home. As if it weren’t totally obvious, please don’t dance with your refrigerator.
maura @ 5:13 pm
We took a 5-day trip to the northlands to visit family and I’m going to go ahead and call it a vacation. There was one small thing I had to write at the beginning of the vacation, and another time when I had to pop into work email and approve timesheets, but other than that I was pretty good about staying away from work (even the book, about which I feel a little bit guilty but not too much, though I can’t decide if that’s good or bad). Also from twitter and the news: for whatever reason I’ve lately decided that tuning out from them are necessary for a vacation to feel real (not rss, though — if anything vacations offer the opportunity to catch up on nonessential stuff in my feedreader).
While I didn’t set out with it as a goal, it also turned out that this was the vacation of trying to punch my fear of heights in the face. And mostly succeeding!
One day we went to the alpine slide at the nearby ski mountain. Gus has wanted me to go on it with him for ages but I couldn’t face the chairlift, so Jonathan’s always been the slider parent. This year I decided that it was kind of silly for me to continue to be afraid of chairlifts, because alpine slides are really fun (I went on a few as a kid before the fear of heights set in) and I am a grown up. I *almost* backed out at the last minute as we were getting the tickets, but then I bucked myself up and got on the lift.
And yes, chairlifts are still scary to me, even slow low ones that don’t travel a great distance. I was mostly fine while grabbing the safety bar tightly and not looking down and talking
to at Gus; these words came out of my mouth: “No, you need to listen to my boring story from my childhood because it’s helping me to not freak out — just smile and nod.” And it was a pretty day, all sunshine and wildflowers and blue skies. But it did seem to take a long, long time to get to the top.
Once at the top there was a weirdly long backup of sliders, and then, the slide, which is still pretty fun and rad, I have to say. Gus and I raced even though you’re not supposed to and I beat him only at the very end, likely because of my superior weight. I’m not fired up to go chairlifting again, but I guess I can do it if I have to.
The next day we went to this treetop obstacle course at another nearby ski mountain (because the ski mountains need something to draw tourists in the off-season, apparently). This place also had a zipline treetop tour, but I voted that down because it still seemed too high for comfort (73 feet!). The obstacle course looked more interesting anyway, and ranged from 5-40 feet off the ground, which sounded more manageable.
The obstacle course was an absolute blast, I have to say. Jonathan totally pegged it when he called it a puzzle for your body to solve. You progress through a course made up of various things to climb, balance on, or ride on (each had a few short ziplines); the easy course was pretty linear, and the more challenging course sort of circular, climbing a bit higher on the trees with each activity. Some obstacles were fun and easy — wobbly bridges or a slack line — while others were really difficult — 5 tires hanging from ropes (the trick is to use your feet like monkey paws and grab each tire to bring it close enough to move to). With few exceptions it was just scary enough to be fun, and since you’re harnessed in and clipped onto a cable the whole time it felt reasonably safe.
Until the end. There were 3 levels on the challenging course, and the only way to get down from the medium-hard level or the hard level was a drop from a tall tree platform straight down. They used this smart belay system that’s all the rage these days — you see them whenever there’s a climbing wall set up at a fair or whathaveyou. The mechanics are similar to a seat belt: there’s a round-cased machine hanging from a tree with a line extended, you hook yourself to to the line and jump, and the line catches you and lowers you slowly to the ground. I watched several people do it and they all seemed okay, even people who were bigger than I am, and then I sort of forgot about it until I got to that platform.
And man, that tree was tall, and the drop, very far. It’s a peculiar experience to force your body to do something that your brain is so completely dead set against, but it was the only way down, so I took a deep breath and jumped. Really it was only a split second, maybe even less, before the machine caught me, and I was surprised to find that the fear evaporated instantly — a wasabi burn rather than jalapeno.
So, if you’re counting: Maura 2, fear of heights 0. In your face, irrational fear!