Into the Wild
Chris McCandless went
West and north to find himself
Died, starved, alone in the woods.
What to make of the effort?
Into the Wild
Chris McCandless went
West and north to find himself
Died, starved, alone in the woods.
What to make of the effort?
Carleton College was founded on October 12, 1866 – exactly 150 years ago today. Actually, that’s not quite accurate: the institution was founded as “Northfield College” on 10/12/1866; five years later, its trustees renamed the college in honor of a key donor.
Anyhow, the college is celebrating the sesquicentennial of its founding – and its 150 years of history – in a typically low-key but fun way, with events such as a “Town-and-Gown Celebration” in downtown Northfield tomorrow, a convocation on Friday by Minnesota’s favorite humorist Garrison Keillor, a carnival and fair on Saturday, and a little birthday video featuring scores of students, faculty, and staff – including me and my cowlick. I’m talking trash to our bizarre, unofficial, worse-for-wear college symbol, a bust of the German Romantic poet Friedrich Schiller, who has also appeared with Bill Clinton and Stephen Colbert.
I’m glad I wore my sesquicentennial button that day!
Quirks like Schiller and birthday videos remind me of other ways that Carleton’s culture has bound me – and, I hope, others who love the institution – to the college. I couldn’t possibly list all the examples that have come up in the eleven years that I’ve worked at 1 North College Street (7.33% of the college’s lifetime!), but for me, the deal was sealed in summer 2006, when the college held a farewell party for a wonderful but falling-down piece of outdoor sculpture called Twigonometry. (Anyone interested in public art should check out the gallery of photos of the piece in its prime.) Twigonometry stood gorgeously and mysteriously at the north end of the Bald Spot, where kids like toddler Julia could wander through its chambers and arches, swirling in an organically alien way:
What kind of place holds a farewell party for a four-year-old sculpture made from branches and twigs? The kind of place that I hope lasts another 150 years.
It’s pretty intense, watching the girls spar at tae kwon do practice. It’s way more intense watching them spar with each other. No children were harmed in the making of this video, though two got very sweaty.
Wednesday, I watched Jumbo Wild, an accomplished and moving documentary about the ongoing fight to keep a developer from building a massive ski resort in a pristine valley in the Canadian Rockies. The place took its wonderfully odd and fitting name from a failed late-1800s mine.
The film is gorgeous, full of jaw-dropping vistas of the mountains in all four seasons. And while from the first the filmmakers are arguing against this particular project – which would, let’s be honest, ruin any wildness in the Jumbo Valley – they are also pretty good at respecting the perspective of the developer. (They are markedly less respectful of Canadian provincial and national government officials who seem weirdly eager to advance the project almost no matter what.)
Against that perspective, the film advances at least* three separate but interconnected points of opposition. White Canadian locals don’t want to see big money come in and permanently alter the valley where they live. Scientists – represented principally by a grizzly-bear researcher – think that the project would irreparably damage the region’s ecology, fragmenting one of the last big chunks of wilderness in the Canadian West. And members of First Nations oppose the project for the way it would literally profane a sacred space where they’ve lived for generations.
All of these views are woven artfully and engagingly together in a film that concludes just where you thought it would: in a vigorous call to defend wild places. Jumbo Wild a wonderful film that anyone interested in wild areas will love.
* I say “at least” because a) the film is sponsored by an outdoor-clothing company with a vested interest in wildlands recreation in places like Jumbo and b) the landscape is present in the film in such a way that the mountains, snow, and trees offers powerful opposition of their own.
I drove up to Afton, Minnesota, to see the annual release of a bison herd onto a restored prairie owned by the Belwin Conservancy. The thirty-five yearling bulls made sure that the event went quickly:
I loved watching them barrel out of the trailers and head to the far, far, far corner of the prairie, where they continued to run back and forth for a while before calming down. They’re the tiny brown-black specks off in the furthest distance here:
Yeah, you can’t see them. Imagine how hard it would have been for Indians to see them, even in the teeming herds before the Great Slaughter.
Owned by Northstar Bison in Rice Lake, Wisconsin, these buffalo spend the summer at the conservancy to fatten up before being “harvested.” I don’t have much problem with that, since a) bison is delicious and b) their eating and roaming on the Conservancy’s prairie helps accelerate the restoration of the land. And they look great doing it.
After watching the release, I daringly posed for a picture with one bison:
Today is the last day of school in Northfield, and the day that the fifth graders “graduate” from elementary school. True to form, Sibley did things perfectly by staging a short and sweet event that recognized the kids (and their teachers) and provided just the right amount of tear-jerking.
Here is Julia getting her “diploma” from her teacher, Mrs. Bargary, and shaking hands with each of the other fifth-grade teachers plus Mr. Sannes, the principal.
Now’s she’s a sixth grader!
The girls made this cool minute-long video as a Mother’s Day gift to Shannon. Vivi narrates/voice-acts.
After last weekend’s outrageously fun and successful outing with Julia to the local MTB trails, I was eager to get back there with Genevieve – through probably not more eager than the girls themselves. I tried to delay the start of our ride as long as I could, so that it would take up a good chunk of the Saturday afternoon, but by 12:30 they couldn’t wait any longer.
Sunscreen, water bottles, helmets, and away we went. I marveled at how easily and quickly we zipped past the pool, which had been a distant, hard-to-reach destination even just last summer. (It’s not quite a mile away.) The girls being older, bigger, and excited-er was already paying off. A few minutes later, we arrived at the very nondescript start to the trails. Vivi was surprised to see a simple path in the woods (I think she was expecting something grander), but she gamely followed Julia onto the trail, who had been racing ahead of us throughout the ride over.
Taking up the third spot in our little group, I was initially worried that Vivi – who’s often only tolerates bike riding, and had only ever ridden on sidewalks and streets – would hate the tight, twisty dirt trail. Worry: unfounded! She rode carefully but steadily through the first set of corners, popped up off her seat to negotiate a few short rises, and even leaned into the early downhill corners. Not to say she was a natural, but she was pretty close. She wanted to chase down Julia, too, which helped a lot.
I hung back a few yards, at first calling out a few instructions but soon just enjoying the sight of the two of them – or at least G, since J was usually out of view up front – zooming through the trees. They both stopped to walk the two trickier log obstacles and to guide their bikes through one very tight spot that I can’t even ride, but they crushed everything else. I was so happy and proud of them!
Before I knew it, we were zooming around the baseball fields and racing down the flat two-track along the river, which they found a little boring. I was surprised by this, so we headed to some of the trickier trails in the back. Julia was excited to try a fairly steep dropoff, which she rode smoothly – and over and over:
As Julia tried a few other accessible pieces of elevated trail, though, Vivi started to have a hard time, perhaps due to seeing her sister ride stuff that she herself didn’t want to attempt, and perhaps also due to needing a snack. Hangry, she starting crying and yelling about how much she hated biking, and how the trails were boring and stupid.
Trying to curtail this ugliness, I urged them back along the trials to the start, where – as I had promised in the morning – we hit the convenience store for ice cream. After the sugary treats, some water from their very own bike bottles, and a few minutes of rest, Vivi was raring to go again. We hit all of the front stuff again and tried out some of the technical sections in back, including a twenty-foot section that includes a sharp left hand turn, an off-camber descent over some roots and loose dirt, and then a sharp righthand turn away from the river.
With enthusiasm still high but energy levels waning, we spent a long time practicing – "sessioning," as they say – a short but steep little drop that, ultimately, both girls mastered. Vivi spent a good five minutes nerving herself up to try it the first time, but once she did it once, she did it again and again – taking turns with Julia, who alternately encouraged her sister ("Come on, girl! You got this!") and hit the drop at higher and higher speeds.
I wanted to the outing to end on a pretty high note like this one, so after a good number of attempts (and one little crash by the elder in which she bent her brake lever and scraped her legs – yes!), I turned them toward home again. Julia just had to see the Spine, an infamously tough obstacle that she heard about at school from her mom’s supervisor (what?!), so we checked that out. Though they couldn’t ride much of the obstacle, they were intrigued by the idea of learning how to do it over the course of the summer. Being a guy, I just had to show off for the cute girls, so I gave the Spine a go and surprised myself by cleaning it for the first time ever – right in front of the girls.
That couldn’t be topped (at least today), so we headed home from there. The girls literally rode away from me when we passed through the front singletrack section for the last time. I had to work very hard to get close enough to snap a photo!
By the time we rolled into our garage fifteen minutes later, we’d been out in the fresh air for nearly four hours, and spent a solid 2:30 riding. The girls were exhausted, ravenous, and dirty, but after resting, eating, and bathing, they both told me that they were eager to go back next weekend. I can’t wait. I don’t think I’m going to get tired of riding bikes with them anytime soon.
Julia’s fifth-grade classes are doing their “Science Rocks” musical this week: a set of songs about science, accompanied by some dialogue, a few short skits, and even a little dancing.
I went to see the big show on Wednesday morning, and found the whole production very entertaining and educational. The kids were really into it, which was funny and inspiring in its own right. Dedicating hours and hours to songs about the elements and genetics? Brilliant!
Video proof that people in cars are stupid:
1. A buffalo headbutts a car in Yellowstone NP:
2. A lioness opens a car door in South Africa:
Sabine, our beloved grandma cat, turns 20 years old this spring. Since she was a rescue, we’re not sure of her exact birthday, but the folks at the shelter where we got her in summer 1995 thought she’d started her life sometime in late winter or early spring. She looked like this back then – here with her “brother,” Snowshoe, who died very young:
Now, she looks like this, pretty much all the time:
She still does make an effort to cozy up to us every day, and – judging by her loud purring – loves to sit on or next to our legs, soaking up our warmth and enjoying gentle strokes of her back and head.
Though her appetite still strong, and she can definitely meow with surprising volume, she can’t jump quite as easily as she used to, and as this video shows, she’s apparently quite deaf – or maybe just good at ignoring the vacuum.
Julia learned how to use the iOS version of iMovie at school this week, so she and Vivi have been making “trailers” – four so far. Each is better than the last, and the girls are especially happy with these three. Amazing creativity – and no shortage of sheer weirdness.
The Diary of Fate
Attack of the Makeup Monster
Whether or not you’re okay with gun violence, I think this exceptional tune by Mark Kozelek (recording as Sun Kil Moon) will make you think again about Newtown – and other needless massacres in recent American history. Sadly beautiful, quietly angry. We’ve failed as a society in failing to act after Newtown to prevent more stupid killings.
Tuesday’s musical discovery isn’t as local or “unknown” as Monday’s, but by golly it’s a good song, as much of the western world knows: