Friday, December 29, 2006

Snowy Arizona

Greetings from the public library in downtown Tucson. After 8 straight days on the trail, I woke up to a foot of snow in the Rincons and decided to hitch into town for real food, a warm bed, laundry, and, well, rest. I'm plum tuckered out.

[Whew! The librarian gave me another hour at a sitdown computer. I started this entry standing in the lobby.]

And since I have more time, I will share a few excerpts from my journal. Sorry no photos yet. One of my goals today is put all my pictures on disc and send it home. My card is almost full. But I found the library first.

Dec. 15

May my days be spent in the moment, my nights on memories and working out the details of life. The silent moments are noisy with people, with the past. Just being back in the desert, the smell of creosote and sage, reminds me of 2 1/2 years ago on the PCT.

** I woke before dawn and saw three shooting stars.

**Saw my first illegal this morning, a back and head retreating into the brush uphill. I felt sorry he had to flee on my account. My stealth camp on a saddle off the Joe Canyon Trail was undisturbed. Why would illegals travel it when it goes to the Coronado National Memorial visitor's center?

Dec. 16

I camped last night a half mile off the trail at Bear Spring. By half a mile off the trail I really mean half a mile straight down the mountain. Bear Spring is a beautiful place -- all stately pines and mossy boulders -- but is popular with illegals and full of trash.

Yesterday's hike was a 3,000 foot elevation gain to the summit of Miller Peak. I'm not used to the altitude and had to stop every 100 paces or so to catch my breath.

There is garbage everywhere. On the half mile side trip to the summit I found an unwrapped stick of pineapple chewing gum. On the way down a bag of beef jerky. I ate them both.

I took the wrong trail down the mountain. The guidebook says take a left on the Sunnyside Canyon Trail about a mile and a half after Bear Saddle. The trail came to a T of sorts, but no sign. I went left anyhow -- down, down, down the mountain through thick brambles and menacing agave spears. By the time I think, "This ain't right," I'm too far down to turn back and fight uphill through the thickets. I kept on the trail of Enfamil jugs, Red Bull and Jumex cans.

The trail petered out at a grassy saddle. I consulted the GPS [which, at the time, I didn't really know how to use. I got it in the mail the day before I left], which told me I needed to go a mile north to rejoin the trail. I headed cross country downhill in that direction. I came to a deep thicket and bent down on my haunches to crab crawl underneath them. As I scooted, the camera bag came loose off my waistbelt and I watched it tumble downhill out of sight, and then listened to it fall some more.

I followed its path as closely as I could until I came to a dry creek bed. I took my pack off to use as a home base and spent the next 2 1/2 hours looking for the camera. I roamed up and down the creek bed, followed a closing perimeter pattern up the hillside. I even went back up to the spot where I lost it and "became the camera," walking downhill and trying to follow the natural contours to where the camera might go, but that didn't work. I eventually found it -- not 15 feet away from my pack.

I'm so proud. Not once during all of today's craziness did I lose my cool. Sure, I got pissed when I lost the camera, but looking for it forced me to pay closer attention to my surrondings.

Dec. 17

Last night I took the time to get to know my GPS. We were a little leery of each other at first, but lately have been getting along just fine. Before I left, I printed out GPS waypoint ccordinates from and gave them to Dave. He entered over 250 waypoints into the unit and sent it back to me.

I figured out how to measure the distance from and direction to a selected waypoint. My goal today was to rejoin the rrail at the Copper Glance Trail junction because it was the waypoint closest to me, about 3 miles from camp. I found a forest road and followed it and many others towards my waypoint. The last road dead-ended at a gully up a steep face. Bushwacking got infinitely more difficult.

Up I went into low, scuttling clouds, hand over hand steep at times. My pack caught on a branch and I almost fell backwards into space. I flailed to regain my balance and clung to the scree and roots for dear life. I found a small ledge to turn around and survey: steep slopes, exposed shelves of pink granite, scrub and cacti. In the distance a rolling desert floor and patches of sunlight, the sea surrounding this sky island. This was worth nearly dying to see.



More later. Much more. Long nights and a simple schedule make for many pages.

Tomorrow I hike north out of the city [the Sabino Canyon trail] and plan to take a couple days to get to Mt. Lemmon, where I have a 10-day food supply waiting. Heavy snow up high means colder nights and wet, cold feet all the time. I'm only wearing my New Balance running shows. But the fires are warm and the high desert has a brutal, magic charm that is made all the more beautiful by its inaccessibility.

Whoo hoo. I can't wait to share photos. There's a few good 'uns in dere.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

I'm off...

to the desert and mountain wilds of southern Arizona. I'll be back in about a month with many pictures and stories to tell.

Check out my itinerary at:

Check out the Arizona Trail at:

Check it!
West side, aight?


Friday, December 01, 2006

Snow day birthday!!!

I've never been big on birthdays. I don't send cards, nor expect any. And while I hope family gives me a present (or at least a cake), I expect nothing from friends nor do anything to bring attention to the date. I treat my birthday like Christmas, a day for contemplation and reflection, a time to take stock.

The weather gods agree and gave me the best birthday ever, a snow day birthday!!
Snow days rule. They're powder anarchy, a flat white plain draped over the craggy busy-ness of life. The anticipation of the snow day is almost as much fun. There's a palpable energy in the air as people talk about the coming storm and make fortifications (DVDs, snacks, hot cider) to get through it.

I walked through a blinding storm to get here. The radio said nothing about the university being closed. No matter. I need to be here to write and submit an abstract. Funny thing is the radio said nothing about NIU being closed. Everything else was announced. I figured the university was open. Of course, I doubted this on the walk over. Deserted Lincoln Highway. Thick snowfall. Light flakes. Strong winds. Drifts. Stratified layers around the corners of buildings. Visibility less than 10 feet. Good boots. Layered clothes. Dripping beard. Fleece-lined pants. Cup of coffee in one gloved hand.

Quiet world. Quiet. Quiet and wind. The wind speaks, whispers promises and threats. It's the only sound. Buildings, trees, street lights, mail boxes, and parked cars are obscured, reduced to essential, rounded, elemental forms.

For best work
you ought to put forth
some effort
to stand
in north woods
among birch
-- Lorine Niedecker

This weather reminds me of a character (I think in Rick Bass' In the Loyal Mountains) who tethered a rope from the door of his cabin to the wood shed so he could fetch wood during a storm. The natural human tendency is to walk in circles, favoring one foot over another. This can be deadly in a whiteout. People have died within spitting distance of home.
I am not in such danger, nor so at a remove from society to be so disoriented. Shucks.

The storm should abate around noon. The plows will do their work and the engine of commerce grind back into full swing. But this morning, on this, my snow day birthday, everything's suspended, all responsibilities and obligations put on hold. These are moments of grace. Angels and snow men hold sway. Tongues stick out, flatten to the sky. This is a time of fun and discovery, a red-cheeked return to warmth, hot chocolate, tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches, steaming mittens on the heat register.

Which reminds me... I see my boy Jon tonight. Esther's treating me to a birthday dinner. Later, weather permitting, I'm off to Geneva to visit my buddy Arbo at the newly-expanded Little Owl, his family's bar/restaurant downtown. Over the summer, I helped work on the expansion project in its early stages. I hauled scrap, removed nails and timbers, and spent one roasting hot mid-July day digging a hole in the floor. I can't wait to see the finished product. Plus, there's live music.

But right now it's quiet, except for the wind...

People, people--
ten dead ducks' feathers
on beer can litter...
will change all that

Saturday, November 25, 2006

Random ramblings...

It's a gray Saturday afternoon in Loves Park, IL, the weekend after Thanksgiving. And I'm at my parent's listening to Pandora. I just finished writing out my itinerary for upcoming AZ Trail hike. I have not mentioned my hike to anyone, so was pleasantly surprised when relatives asked about the trip.

Random thoughts...

After my experiences this semester, I feel even more confident about my decision to teach. After a lifetime of vocational tinkering, I am ready to settle into a career. About damn time!

Visited with Andy yesterday and recorded a couple of my new songs in his studio. But... before he could transfer the tracks to his hard drive, he tripped over a power cord and all was lost.

Andy lives in the house he grew up in. His studio is a shack his father built. It's on the corner of a large lot (the house is on a huge lot in a semi-rural neighborhood). I felt at home there because it has photos and paintings (done by Andy senior) of mountains, maps, and kitschy little knickknacks. The shack is broken up into three rooms. The rooms are so small Andy and I could only stand together in the middle room, which has the entrance and shelves with a stereo, CDs and tapes. One adjoining room has a 16-track digital recorder, microphones and keyboard. The other has a cot/bed and books. I imagine a space like this would be a good place to hunker down for a few months and write a novel.

We drank beer and I tried an herbal (non-nicotine) cigarette that made me cough, but was sweetly reminiscent of my old smoking days. We also watched 9/11 conspiracy videos done by Andy's favorite radio talk show host, Alex Jones. Earlier, while I visited with Andy's wife, Lucy, and their son, Bryant, who enjoyed my presence this time (the first time I met him he had a wicked fit), Andy called a national radio talk show (Jack Blood? I can't keep track of all this punditry).

Talk radio is one of Andy's favorite pasttimes. He played tapes from calls he's made to Rockford and national shows. One call was hilarious because Andy, speaking in a faux-old-man voice, berated the host as Unamerican because he doesn't back Bush 100 percent. This angered the host so much he cut Andy off and went on a tirade in his own defense. Funny schtuff.

Good movie seen recently: "Storytelling," written and directed by Todd Solondz. Check out anything by this guy if you like quirky, left-of-normal kind of characters and storylines.

Good book: "Zen in the Art of Writing: Essays on Creativity," by Ray Bradbury

A quote: "The Muse, to belabor the point then, is there, a fantastic storehouse, our complete being. All that is most original lies waiting for us to summon it forth. And yet we know it is not as easy as that. We know how fragile is the pattern woven by our fathers or uncles or friends, who can have their moment destroyed by a wrong word, a slammed door, or a passing fire-wagon. So, too, can embarrassment, self-consciousness, remembered criticisms, can stifle the average person so that less and less in his lifetime can he open himself out."

Good music: See sidebar. I'm a total Pandora freak these days. Also listen to my jazz and progressive rock LPs now and again with my snivelling organist friend Jim, who also knows his way around the music library at NIU.

The exterior details of my life are boring. The interior details are boring, too, but only to me...

I'm not divorced yet. All the details of the settlement agreement were figured out amicably. The lawyers are paid. But... no court date. I do not have time until after the trip.

The Packers are better than I gave them credit for at the beginning of the season. They still suck. This is the Bears' year. But an 8-8 record would be respectable for the green and gold.

"Someday I'll wear pajamas in the daytime." -- Crash Test Dummies

I crave sunshine like a cat.

My favorite college class ever was "The Renaissance," taught in the fall of 1995 by Dr. Sam Kinser. Kinser made the Italian and European renaissances come to life by quoting from arcane, obscure texts and pointing the way to more popular, accessible materials. I thought of this class recently because I felt I lacked, in my FYCOMP class, the overpowering mastery of material Kinser displayed. This class was also great because Kinser took us outside as often as possible. He also asked difficult questions about the required readings. Most of my classmates read the material, which led to cool discussions. It was the type of class I expected when I came to the university level, but is so rare these days. There was a certain amount of intellectual brinksmanship amongst the class, arguments that spilled over after class and into breaks. Where does this happen anymore?

My second favorite college classes were the bibliography and Shakespeare courses I took last year. Both were taught by Dr. William Baker, a first-order raconteur. There's never a dull moment in a Baker class.

Both Kinser and Baker are Professors Emeritus.

Strange to think next semester is more-than-likely my last in-class at NIU. Next fall I'm student teaching, so won't be on campus as much. I'm ready to move on and make some money.

I'm working on an abstract proposal for an upcoming conference at NIU. Conferences are a new thing to me. I've never been to one. From what I hear, professors and master's students read papers/ speeches and/or participate in panel discussions. I'd like to either present a paper about Lorine Niedecker, an objectivist poet from Blackhawk Island near Ft. Atkinson (I discovered her home in 2005 on my Rock River travels) or a paper about what Victorian authors did to address the social ills of empire expansion (I wrote about this already a year ago).

I'd like to participate in at least three conferences before I graduate. This gives me a leg up in case I decide to pursue a Ph.D. I WILL NOT pursue a doctorate full-time. If I get one, it will involve night classes. My number one vocational concern is middle or high school English. Conference participation at least gives me some street cred.

Most days I'm neither happy or sad. Most days are existence, punctuated by pinpoint rays of illumination and grace, like my son's smile when I first see him.

Jon has nine teeth. His mother is painfully aware of this.

I'm too old to be a prodigy. Too young to be washed-up. Too smart to work a blue collar job. Too dumb to be a genius.

Latest favorite food: tomato soup and grilled cheese sandwiches.

Food I used to love, but haven't been eating lately: hummus.

Cool hiker moment: Carrying Jon in a backpack baby carrier (a gift from the Ice Age Trail) as Esther and I explored a section of Kishwaukee River bottomlands not far from Esther's work in Sycamore. We discovered piles of tires, a moldering, rusted-out, collapsed moving van used by someone as a shelter, a retention pond someone personalized with shoreline rock work and benches, and a long stretch of woods and social trails I did not anticipate when we got there. I am amazed at how many forgotten places there are within walking/riding distance of my DeKalb home. After almost two years living in the area, I am still discovering hidden pockets of nature and even city and county parks I haven't been to yet.

Jon fell asleep and woke up with rashes on his face and top of head. Apparently, he is as allergic to vegetation as his father.

The three of us have gotten into the habit of going on Saturday hikes every other week. No big deal. And never far from home.

Two weeks ago we hiked at MacQueen and Potawatomi Woods forest preserves. They are near Kirkland, north of DeKalb, and connected together. I'd been to MacQueen before, but never Potawatomi. We hung out on a viewing platform overlooking a bog. Jon was asleep. It was a nice, quiet moment in nature.

My favorite place I've been to three times in the past month is Lowden State Forest near Oregon (and only about 35 minutes from DeKalb). One of my favorite moments was a dusk break in a clearing surrounded by tall, 100+ year old white pines. The day's last golden rays shined on the trunks, a crow cawed in the distance, but the rest was quiet and settled, a blanket of needles and a gentle breeze.

These nature-y moments keep me centered and, most importantly, aware. Most people dull their senses with overload. Each visit to nature requires a certain amount of de-stressing, deep breathing, a slowing down, to get in tune with the environment. But it's like eating food after a fast. Every detail is accentuated. Every flavor and scent takes on a greater pungency.

After I'm dead (hopefully, in some distant future), I hope people remember me for my connection to nature. I hope the vision people have of me includes a mountaintop.

More than likely I'll be remembered for some physical or character flaw. "Yeah, that Greg sure had bad psoriasis there at the end..."

Favorite song (which I can't find the lyrics for anywhere on the Internet): "Black Dirt and Clay" by Peter Case.

'nuff said for now.


AZ trail, etc.

Now that the tryptophan stupor's subsided, I am getting busy work done this weekend (grades, work on teaching portfolio projects, abstract proposal for a conference) and working out some of the logistics of my upcoming trip.

I've been through this before and know the planning that goes into a long-distance hiking trip. IT is is a lot of work. Half the battle is just getting there.

I have prepared a tentative itinerary for the trip, including a list of town stops and the my estimated times of arrival (ETA). If anyone wants to send food, letters or super-lightweight trinkets, send them to the addresses below and write on the address:

Greg Locascio c/o
General Delivery
Town, Zip code
In the left hand corner write: "Please hold for Arizona Trail hiker. ETA: (whatever date I put for that town). To assure a timely arrival, send mail AT LEAST 10 days before the ETA. Also, be sure to include a return address.
Patagonia, AZ 85624
ETA: Dec. 19
P.O. phone #: 520-394-2950
Mount Lemmon, AZ 85619
ETA: Dec. 28
Kearney AZ, 85237
ETA: Jan. 11
This is the first time I've ever listed mail drop information because I used to believe it a cheap-o move to ask for mail from friends and family. But I am going on this trip, alone, over the holidays. I imagine correspondence will be worth its weight in gold. If I come home without receiving your mail, call the post office you sent it to and have it sent back. This will expedite the 60-90 day holding period post offices put on general delivery packages before they return to sender. Any letters will be responded to in a timely manner. Maybe this could be the beginning of a lifelong correspondence...
I will also post pictures and my journal at:

Monday, November 13, 2006

nex ut proterus

Below are the library books I have, either from Founders Memorial Library or through interlibrary loan.

Sterne, Laurence, 1713-1768. Life & opinions of Tristram Shandy, gentleman. Introd. by Bergen Evans. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PR3714 .T71950
Renewed: Due 12-11-06

I've had this book since spring, when I checked it out after nearly sleeping through the movie on a trip to Chicago. Go to Amazon for my review of it. I've only got about 50 pages left to go. Its metarealistic style makes for good reading on the pot.

Parsons, Les, 1943- Grammarama! : innovative exercises, creative activities, models from reading, sentence combining, updated rules, and more! / Les Parsons. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML LB1576 .P27 2004
Checked out: Due 12-11-06

I haven't even looked at this thin tome. It's a required text for my ENGL 547 class.

Kirby, Dan. Inside out : strategies for teaching writing / Dan Kirby, Dawn Latta Kirby, Tom Liner. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML LB1631 .K572 2004
Checked out: Due 12-11-06

Yes, kiddies, if you get anything out of this entry it is that you need not buy required texts for classes. Interlibrary loan fills in the gaps your library will miss. And as a college student, most of you have access to WorldCat, an international library catalog.

Inside Out is another required text for ENGL 547. And it's a good one. Kirby provides detailed lesson ideas for a variety of writing topics, from term papers to reflection. This is a rare textbook that is written in an accessible, easy-to-understand style, with lots of voices from other students and teachers to make the lessons come to life. This is one of those books I will buy and use in my teaching.

James, Bill, 1949- New Bill James historical baseball abstract / Bill James. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML GV863.A1 J36 2001
Renewed: Due 12-14-06

I checked out this book back in the spring and haven't looked at it much since the middle of the summer. I first heard about Bill James when I read Moneyball, another baseball book about the odd general managing strategies of Oakland Athletics general manager Billy Beane, who is a James devotee.

This book lists the best 100 players at each position. While I don't agree not can even pretend to truly understand the methodology of his rankings, I enjoyed the mini-biographies about some of my favorite players and James unique assessment of their worth. James also provides a decade by decade synopsis of the major leagues, even down to the styles of uniforms and stadium attendance figures, and the style of play that predominated each era. Yet another great reference book for the pot!

From Wikipedia: Sabermetrics is the analysis of baseball through objective evidence, especially baseball statistics. The term is derived from the acronym SABR, which stands for the Society for American Baseball Research. It was coined by Bill James, who has been its most enthusiastic (and by far its most famous) proponent.

James' story is fascinating. He is an everyman. A fan's fan. He wrote his first baseball abstract in 1977 while working nights as a security guard. Now he works as a consultant for the Boston Red Sox and played a role in their 2004 pennant.

Rombauer, Irma von Starkloff, 1877-1962. Joy of cooking / Irma S. Rombauer, Marion Rombauer Becker ; illustrated by Ginnie Hofmann and Beverly Warner. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML TX715 .R75 1973
Renewed: Due 12-14-06

I first checked out Joy from the DeKalb Public Library in early 2005, and checked it out from NIU back in April or May. I will renew the book as long as I'm here and as long as they'll let me. One of my favorite recipes I've done over and over again is for risotto.

Joy is one of those essential cookbooks. Every kitchen should have it and the Better Homes and Gardens cookbook. One thing I like about Joy is it cross-references recipes that would work together well for an entire dinner presentation. Someday I'll get up the gumption to follow one of these dinner plan suggestions to the letter.

Voltaire, 1694-1778. Candide : or, Optimism / Voltaire ; edited by Norman L. Torrey. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PQ2082.C3 E51946
Checked out: Due 01-02-07

Candide is on my night stand. It's short and pithy. Each chapter is about three pages. The main character, Candide, is a wry, witty victim of worldly tumult. At the point I'm at in life, I need to read about fools who cling to optimism in spite of it all.

Know who turned me on to this book? None other than rooming house drunkard Steve.

Bass, Rick, 1958- In the Loyal Mountains / Rick Bass. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PS3552.A8213 I51995
Renewed: Due 03-02-07

The only other book I read by Bass is Winter: Notes from Montana, a non-fiction autobiographical account of Bass' move to a cabin in Yaak, an isolated village in northwest Montana. I loved that book and its lean, poetic prose. I sought out Mountains because I needed my mountain fix, and these 10 stories did not disappoint. Bass is one of the best "naturalistic" writers in America.

I finished this book back in June, but have kept it around because I want to write an Amazon review (and, yeah, maybe re-read a couple stories). It's also in my nightstand pile.

Burroughs, William S., 1914- Junky / William S. Burroughs ; with an introduction by Will Self. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PS3552.U75 J8 2002
Renewed: Due 03-02-07

This is the only Burroughs book I've read. I've never tried heroin and, after reading Junky, I never will. I thought Burroughs, based on the reputation of Naked Lunch, was a difficult read, but Junky is a straightforward narrative. Burroughs does a good job of neither aggrandizing or vilifying the junky lifestyle. He presents it matter-of-factly with a journalistic sense for detail and a thorough lexicon of 1950s-60s junkie terminology.

I finished this book on the Metra train from Zion, IL after a day at the beach. I plan to write an Amazon review before I give it back.

Eliot, George, 1819-1880. Silas Marner : the weaver of Raveloe / George Eliot ; introduction by Chris Bohjalian. Location: NIU--Main Collection--FML PR4670 .A1 2001
Renewed: Due 03-02-07
DePaul University

Silas Marner is not as good as Middlemarch, the sprawling Eliot epic that is the only other book I've read by her. Like Middlemarch, ...Marner presents a careful, nuanced portrait of village life in the story of a recluse who discovers the true worth and value of his neighbors when he has to care for an orphan infant who walks into his life. This is a great introduction to Eliot.

Clark, Irene L. Concepts in composition : theory and practice in the teaching of writing / Irene L. Clark ; with contributors, Betty Bamberg ... [et al.]. Location: Lincoln Park Stacks 808.042071 C593c2003
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Eastern Illinois University

Concepts... is required reading for my ENGL 500 class. I've read about two-thirds of it and conclude that of all the texts assigned for this class, it is the best written and most helpful to my first-year-composition instruction. It gives a good overview of the trends in teaching writing in the past 25 years.

Yancey, Kathleen Blake, 1950- Reflection in the writing classroom / Kathleen Blake Yancey. Location: Book Stacks A-H 3000; J-L 2000; P-Z 1000 Level PE1404 .Y36 1998
Book 16-4W
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Greenville College

This is also a required text for ENGL 500. This one sucks. I get a headache every time I read it. Bottom line: Reflection is a good way for students to write informally about their writing experience. Duh! Enough with the academic language and circular double-speak.

Clarke, Clinton C Pacific crest trailway, compiled by Clinton C. Clarke. Location: Stacks 917.8 P11
Checked out: Due 01-02-07
Illinois State University

I first saw this book at the Ice Age Trail headquarters in Madison a couple years ago. Drew Hanson has a copy. Published in 1945, this is probably the first book about the Pacific Crest Trail. Clarke was instrumental in the creation of the PCT as first president of the Pacific Crest Trail System Association.

I will write a separate entry about this book and cull some memorable quotes along with more details about the maps included. I found some interesting things besides maps in the sleeve at the back of the book.

Johannessen, Larry R. In case you teach English : an interactive casebook for prospective and practicing teachers / Larry R. Johannessen, Thomas M. McCann. Location: Floor 1 Shelves LB1029.C37 J64 2002
Book 16-4 wk
Checked out: Due 12-21-06
Southern Illinois University Carbondale

This is another book for my ENGL 547 class. I also used this book in ENGL 504 last fall. Johannessen was my professor for 504. This book presents debatable scenarios that English teachers may encounter.

Sutton, Ann, 1923- Pacific Crest Trail : escape to the wilderness / Ann and Myron Sutton ; photographs by the authors. Location: LC Books, Basement F851 .S97
Book 16/8/4 wk
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
Sauk Valley Community College

I like that this book examines the flora, fauna and geology of the trail, and downplays the logistical, geographic concerns. Those looking for a traditional thru-hiker memoir will be disappointed. The Suttons' style is a bit florid and effusive, but such excess is offset by the descriptive language and wonderful photography. Instead of focusing on vistas, as most trail books tend to do, the Suttons took photographs of more personal items on the trail -- a forest floor of pine cones, a close up shot of a marmot or a flower. I plan to track down my own copy of this book and share it with anybody who questions what the big deal is about the trail life.

Peters, Lisa N. James McNeill Whistler / Lisa N. Peters. Location: Stacks ND237.W6 P47
Book - Circulating
Renewed: Due 12-08-06
School of the Art Institute of Chicago

Over the summer I heard on a classical station that Ira Gershwin was inspired by Whistler to title the classic George Gershwin piece

Vandertie, Adolph, 1911- Hobo & tramp art carving : an authentic American folk tradition / Adolph Vandertie with Patrick Spielman. Location: Books - Main Stacks TT199.7 .V361995
Book 1
Checked out: Due 01-31-07
University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

Short lines : a collection of classic American railroad stories / edited by Rob Johnson ; [illustrated by Ron Hazlitt]. Location: Main Stacks 813.08 SH82
Checked out: Due 01-25-07

Wills, Robert H High trails : a guide to the Cascade Crest Trail / by Robert H. Wills. Location: Oak Street Facility [request only] 917.97 W68H
Checked out: Due 01-25-07
Western Illinois University

Green, David, 1949- Pacific Crest odyssey : walking the Trail from Mexico to Canada / David Green. Location: Main Collection - Malpass Library GV199.42.P3 G73


I've been super busy lately, hence the lack of posts.

Well... not super busy. I don't live like that. Maybe preoccupied is the word. Distracted. My attention's spread thin. Throw in a little seasonal and situational depression for good measure.

Gray, cold days ahead. Long, cold, lonely winter. Not so cold, though, after I fly to Tucson.

School is well. Many mini-projects, lessons, grading, etc. to be done, but I feel on top of things and capable. Of course, because of my upcoming trip, I am working extra hard now to make sure I have everything in order so I can just jet out of town. And then there are the logistics of the trip. I still have to put together food resupplies and get them mailed out, buy the maps, and get together with Dave Thanksgiving weekend to go over all the vagaries of his Global Positioning Satellite reader.

Why GPS? Because many parts of the Arizona Trail are not trail. I still don't need it because I know how to use a map and compass, but the GPS will save me time and guesswork. No need to adjust for magnetic declination.

The goal of the trip is to get as far away from civilization as possible. Being on the trail is one way to achieve this. Another is to spend as little time in town. I am doing this trip on the cheap (my grad school stipend doesn't go far) and plan to spend less than $100. Should I throw my hat over the fence and just bring the cash and identification, and leave the credit/debit cards at home? What would I do in an emergency? Phone home? Western Union?

More later....

Friday, October 13, 2006

Wednesday, October 11, 2006

New poem

I wrote this poem for a class, but had written about the incident it's based on in journal form a few years back. I was the first on the scene of an accident along I-90 when I was a reporter for the Beloit Daily News. I was coming back from my daily trip to the Rock County Courthouse in Janesville when my boss called and said there'd been an accident. I was there moments afterwards and beat the rescue, fire, and police crews. I saw the dead man, saw his dead gaze upon the lit up can of chili. Every time I drive by that spot I think of him, and think how indiscriminate death is, how tenuous life is, and how the smallest of decisions, such as not wearing a seatbelt, can kill you.

Post Mortem

He died on the median
His eyes open
His last vision
A lit up can of chili

Hormel (with beans)
With a red-lit frame that
Lightens on a track
Builds to red and recedes
To black

Life and color still
In his eyes
His skin
Gapers slow to see
A Hispanic face
A wisp of a mustache

Broken and bloodless
Thrown on impact
An overturned truck
So...far... away.
Bleeds fumes and waves

The workers talk
And smoke
The flares go out
Traffic unsnarls
Shards swept up
The ambulance drives away slow

And the red-lit frame
Builds and recedes
Hormel chili (with beans)

Friday, October 06, 2006

The sombrero's in the ring

The past few weeks I've been jonesing for some mountains. I have not backpacked in almost two years, since a weekend trip in Olympic National Park just after a Pacific Crest Trail thru-hike in 2004.

Since then, a whole slew of changes have occurred in my life -- school, teaching, and the double whammy of fatherhood and divorce.

But I still have the gear, the legs, the desire, and available credit.

This morning I plunked down $200 for a round trip flight to Tucson. My plan is to hike the Arizona Trail from the Mexican border at marker 102 in Coronado National Memorial as far north as I can in the time allowed. My flight leaves Dec. 14 and returns Jan. 13.

This decision is difficult for many reasons: (1) I feel bad spending this much time away from my son. He may start walking or say his first words in my absence. That would/will suck. Plus, I miss the boy dearly after only a day apart. (2) The trip, while cheap compared to most vacations (no motels and avoidance of civilization as much as possible), is still going to be deficit spending, which I hate to do. (3) I haven't backpacked alone in over four years, and have only done it once. This activity is something I strongly associate with Esther because we love to hike together, so it will be tough to do it post-divorce without her. (4) This also means I will probably spend Christmas and New Year's alone. I did this last year for the first time, to mixed results. Christmas alone was fine. It felt more true to the meaning of the holiday because I spent the day in quiet contemplation . But New Year's sucked, partly because it's my wedding anniversary too.

This decision is easy because: (1) I'm long overdue for adventure. (2) I need to get the hell out of DeKalb, especially over winter break. All that downtime without something to do or someone special to spend time with would send me into a deep, depressive funk. (3) Did I mention that I love mountains? (4) Did I mention that I love desert almost as much? (5) I will still get paid every couple weeks over break, so my finances won't be crippled from not working. I love not being an hourly employee. (6) I would probably spend more money at home because holiday obligations tend to demand that of a person.

I will use Dave Hicks' Arizona Trail ebook, available at: as a trail guide. There is an official guide available through Amazon, but one of the user comments says this book is out of date and Hicks' site is more helpful.

I also plan to get maps through the Arizona Trail Association and supplement them with USGS survey maps printed off

I may have to rent a car and cache water through particularly dry spots, but will avoid this extra expense if possible. I may also have to mail myself food, but will try to buy as I go, again to save extra expense.

My friend Dave Long has promised to give me one of his older GPS units for about a year now. I will press him for it, or buy one if he gave it away to someone else (which I doubt, Dave is good on his word). But I prefer to use a compass and maps because electronic things break.

And although I intend this to be mostly a solo journey, I am open to hike with anybody who wishes to join me for a few days. Because I am doing all the planning, it could be a good opportunity for a novice to get a taste of the backpacking life or to reunite with old trail friends. I hope Tucson resident McGruff, an old AT buddy who visited us on the PCT as well, has time during that month to join me for a stretch.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

New Robert Frost poem discovered by grad student

You never know what cool things you'll find at the library.

Jo Nathan

Jon Allen update. Stardate Oct. 5, 2006.

The lil' piker's almost 10 months old.

Crazy how time flies. Tempus fugit. Fergedaboutit?

He's a willful child. He wants what he wants and is stubborn about it. He also has major separation anxiety from his mother. If she leaves the room for even a moment he cries and whimpers. I can distract him with a song or introducing a new toy. Esther did some reading on the common phenomena and discovered it is better to say goodbye to him and let him know you're leaving. In the past, she's snuck out to avoid the drama and tears. That's not so good, she said, because then baby never learns that leaving is a normal thing. According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, separation anxiety is common in babies between 10 and 18 months, and then fades in intensity after that.

He loves to wave and point. He often curls his wrists as if he's getting ready to play the piano.

Speaking of music, he is entranced by my guitar playing and reaches out to play along. When I put the guitar in reach he strums it and tries to pluck the strings.

Jonny weights approximately 24 pounds. He likes to eat. The latest new food is potatoes. It's a little thicker in consistency than what he's used to, but he's learning to chew it a little longer than most foods. He can drink out of a sippy cup on his own, but is still more miss than hit.

He has the strength to crawl, but prefers to roll and tumble after an object placed out of reach. He loves boxes and balls, and attacks new objects by pouncing on them with both hands. He also prefers to stand up and loves to play peek-a-boo. If I throw his favorite blankie over his head, he removes it, looks at me and giggles all wide-eyed and grinning.

He plays rougher with men than women. When I hold him close to my face, he beats at it with his hands. He also likes to pull on my lips.

He is very vocal at times, and enunciates vowel sounds like ba ba da da ma ma. He also loves to purse his lips and blow. Maybe he'll be a horn player like his old man. Often he does this when he's eating and sprays food all over the place.

Jonny hates to be dressed or undressed. He squirms and cries when being changed. He even hates it when a bib is put on him. He doesn't like to lay down, and if he turns over on his belly he'll cry and complain after a while until sat upright or standing. He also hates to have his feet covered. I'm the same way.

He still loves the outdoors. A trip outside cures him of the foulest of moods. He never stays in a bad mood long, even when going through the discomfort of teething. For the most part, he has a very sunny disposition and loves to meet new people and check out (i.e. taste) new objects.

Speaking of teeth, he has six teeth, with a seventh just about to burst through.

The only illnesses he's had are thrush and a bad cold. He had one bad night where he threw up a bunch of times. I'm to blame for the thrush. It seems the lad and I are welcome hosts for fungi.

He loves to throw a ball around. One of my favorite activities is an infant-modified game of catch. Instead of throwing the ball at him, I roll it his way and let him pounce on it. He prefers to throw with his left hand (Esther and I are left-handed), but I've seen him throw with his right. He loves to watch objects get tossed and has a good eye for following them in flight.

That's about it for now. I'm sure I could say more. I'm just thankful Jonny is such a healthy, happy baby. He smiles, bounces and claps with excitement whenever I see him. That just makes me feel all golden and fuzzy inside.

To quote Billy Bob Thornton's character, Karl Childers, in "Sling Blade:" "I love that boy, mmm-hmmm."

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

A virtual tour of my new home

I moved into my south First St. digs on Aug. 12. I'm still in the process of making it homey, but took advantage of a beautiful Sunday morning (and a clean place) to get some photos.

My kitchen. All the dishes are clean. Sunny bedroom windows.
East wall of bedroom with Andrew Wyeth and Monet prints.
View looking north from south wall.
View looking south from north wall.Living room windows (notice record player and records on display above).
This is a view in my living/dining room. The table and chairs cost me $15.

A view of my bedroom windows. If you look close you can see the cactus.

Sit down... Take a load off. The south side of the building.
This is the nice little bit of greenery I can see from my back porch (north side). This is my back porch screen looking into my living room.
This is the front (west side) of the building. I think it has 12 units.
This is a view of the lawn and garage on the east side. This is what I see out of my living room windows. I love the ivy and the flowers. I'm the only one who hangs out in the deck area.
A view of my money tree plant, some cacti, Ansel Adams pic and living room window.

I love this new place. It is so much quieter than Country Acres. All I hear is the tick of the refrigerator and sometimes (though not for long) the air conditioners. It's small, but perfect for my needs. All the other residents are either retirees or professional adult types. My age was a liability in my initial search for a roommate, but was an asset in being chosen for this place.

Thursday, September 28, 2006

Emerson quotes

Caroline inspired me to re-read my Ralph Waldo Emerson anthology. I started in the middle with Nature and Self-Reliance.

From The Best of Ralph Waldo Emerson, essays, poems, addresses. Published for the Classics Club by Walter J. Black, Inc., Roslyn, NY. 1941.


All science has one aim, namely, to find a theory of nature. (74)

Nature, in the common sense, refers to essences unchanged by man: space, the air, the river, the leaf. (74)

To go into solitude, a man needs to retire as much from his chamber as from society. (74)

The lover of nature is he whose inward and outward senses are still truly adjusted to each other, who has retained the spirit of infancy even into the era of manhood... In the presence of nature a wild delight runs through the man, in spite of real sorrows. (75-6)

The tradesman, the attorney, [the English instructor] comes out of the din and craft of the street and sees the sky and the woods and is a man again. In their eternal calm he finds himself. The health of the eye seems to demand a horizon. We are never tired so long as we can see far enough. (80)

"The winds and the waves," said Gibbon, "are always on the side of the ablest navigators." (82)

As we go back in history, language becomes more picturesque, until its infancy, when it is all poetry; or all spiritual facts are represented by natural symbols. (87)

We know more from nature than we can at will communicate. (88)

Nothing in nature is exhausted in its first use. When a thing has served an end to the uttermost, it is wholly new for an ulterior service. (94)

What is a farm but a mute gospel? (95)

Words are finite organs of the infinite mind. They cannot cover the dimensions of what is in truth. They break, chop and impoverish it. An action is the perfection and publication of thought. (97)

We are strangely affected by seeing the shore from a moving ship, from a balloon, or through the tints of an unusual sky. The least change in our point of view gives the whole world a pictorial air. (100)

I expand and live in the warm day like corn and melons. (105)

The poet finds something ridiculous in his delight until he is out of the sight of men. (109)

[T]he knowledge of man is an evening knowledge, vespertina cognitio, but that of God is a morning knowledge, matutina cognitio. (114)

The reason why the world lacks unity and lies broken in heaps is because man is disunited with himself. He cannot be a naturalist, until he satisfies all the demands of the spirit. (114)

Build, therefore, your own world. As fast as you conform your life to the pure idea in your mind, that will unfold its great proportions. (116)


Trust thyself: every heart vibrates to that iron string. (121)

Infancy conforms to nobody: all conform to it, so that one babe commonly makes four or five out of the adults who prattle and play to it. (121) [This quote rings true now more than ever!!]

The virtue in most request is conformity. (122)

Whoso would be a man must be a nonconformist. (123)

I am ashamed to think how easily we capitulate to badges and names, to large societies and dead institutions. (123)

I shun father and mother and wife and brother, when my genius calls me. I would write on the lintels of the door-post, Whim. (124)

My life is for itself and not for a spectacle. I much prefer that it should be of a lower strain, so it be genuine and equal, than that it should be glittering and unsteady. (124)

What I must do is all that concerns me, not what the people think. This rule, equally arduous in actual and in intellectual life, may serve for the whole distinction between greatness and meanness. It is the harder, because you will always find those who think they know what is your duty better than you know it. It is easy in the world to live after the world's opinion; it is easy in solitude to live after our own; but the great man is he who in the midst of the crowd keeps with perfect sweetness the independence of solitude. (125)

A foolish consistency is the hobgoblin of little minds, adored by little statesmen and philosophers and divines. With consistency a great soul has simply nothing to do. He may as well concern himself with his shadow on the wall. (127)

To be great is to be misunderstood. (127)

Always scorn appearances, and you always may. The force of character is cumulative. (128)

These roses under my window make no reference to former roses or to better ones; they are for what they are; they exist with God to-day. There is no time to them. There is simply the rose; it is perfect in every moment of its existence. Before a leaf-bud has burst, its whole life acts; in the full-blown flower there is no more; in the leafless root there is no less. Its nature is satisfied, and it satisfies nature, in all moments alike. But man postpones or remembers; he does not live in the present, but with reverted eye laments the past, or, heedless of the riches that surround him, stands on tiptoe to foresee the future. He cannot be happy and strong until he too lives with nature in the present, above time. (133) [This, friends, is the essence of Transcendentalism]

I like the silent church before the service begins better than any preaching. (135)

[T]he bold sensualist will use the name of philosophy to gild his crimes. (137) [Bullshitters abound!]

Traveling is a fool's paradise. (141)

The intellect is vagabond, and our system of education fosters restlessness. (141)

Insist on yourself; never imitate. Your own gift you can present every moment with the cumulative force of a whole life's cultivation; but of the adopted talent of another, you have only an extemporaneous, half possession. (142)

And so the reliance on Property, including the reliance on governments which protect it, is the want of self-reliance. (145)

Nothing can bring you peace but yourself. (146)

You tube mountain fix

I'm a mountain addict. That's where I'm most at home. Yet I live in the Midwest to be close to family and be in school. But right now, especially right now, when the aspens are turning and there's a crispness in the air, good golly damn I long for vertical climes.

YouTube to the rescue. For those who wonder why I'm so enthralled with the thru-hiker lifestyle, check out these clips.

Tell it on the Mountain trailer

Tell it on the Mountain Billygoat segment (BG is a hiking buddy and one of the most inspirational hikers I've ever met.)

Walking the West (part 1) A longer documentary about a New Zealander and Irishman who hike the Pacific Crest Trail.

Part 2

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

Kick ass lesson plan

My first year composition class read two articles this week. One is about reality TV and lists 10 reasons university students like reality dating programs.

From "Keeping it Real: Why We Like to Watch Reality Dating Television Shows," by Robert Samuels, pgs. 193-201 in Common Culture, Reading and Writing about American Popular Culture, fifth edition.

(pgs. 194-95) Top 10 reasons why university students like to watch reality dating programs:

1. It's fun to watch other people be rejected.
2. The people on these shows are just like us.
3. There are a lot of hot guys and girls on these shows.
4. You can learn a lot by watching other people's mistakes.
5. These shows are more real than other shows.
6. It's like going on a virtual date.
7. It's fun to guess who will be chosen.
8. You can see other people in an uncomfortable situation.
9. Everyone gets their fifteen minutes of fame.
10. These shows celebrate our narcissism and voyeurism.

For today's group exercise, I broke the class up into four groups. Each group had 15 minutes to develop a "pitch" for a reality television show. Their pitch had to appeal to at least two of the top 10 reasons listed above. The show did not necessarily have to be a dating show. They then had a minute or two to present their pitches and the class voted on which pitch they liked the best.

Once again, the students really got into this activity and seemed to have a lot of fun. Also, on a subliminal (i.e. subversive) level, they maybe learned a little about writing to an audience and expressed some creativity to boot.

Voting results from group activity on 9/27/06, re: reality television pitch ideas.

The executives at NBC (NIU Broadcasting Channel) have chosen Group number two, "The Jackass Apprentice," as the best reality TV show. Once the lawyers hammer out all the liability issues, it should be inserted into the mid-winter line-up.

Voting results:

Group 2 (Abby, Katherine, Jill, Becky)-- 29 points (5-1st, 4-2nd, 6-3rd)
Group 1 (Allison, Jen, Ashley, Matt, Audrey) "Sweet" -- 25 points (6-1st, 2-2nd, 3-3rd)
Group 4 (Tanis, Jenny, Lisa, Eric, Patrick) "Jailhouse Love" -- 25 points (5-1st, 3-2nd, 4-3rd)
Group 3 (Jennifer, Maryann, Harrison, Brittany) "Beer Pong Island" -- 24 points (2-1st, 7-2nd, 4-3rd)

Group two gets a check-plus participation grade for the day. Everybody else is transported to eastern Europe. You all get a Czech. (ha, ha attempt at lame humor). Note: First place votes are worth 3 points, 2nd -2, 3rd-1.

I originally graded the rankings by check-plus, check, check-minus, and no credit for the lowest ranked group, but they groused something fierce at that set-up.

Teaching is all about adaptation, baby!

Saturday, September 23, 2006

Lesson reflection

My lab lesson went well, except for one student who couldn't log in to webboard. And a few students did not follow the directions as explicitly as I hoped. Still, most of the students were able to do the assignment in class, so my time management skills were up to par.

The "Network" clip is a powerful speech to the power of television, and it fit in nicely with the debate we've had all week about the pros and cons of the idiot box.

Today I'm off to the NIU-Indiana State football game then to Chicago to see my brother Ken. I'm not going to grade one essay or do any class-related activities or readings, so there!! But tomorrow....

Ma Beasleys

On Tuesdays I drive to Rockford to observe in the classroom for my ILAS 301 class. I have to observe 50 hours total this semester, 25 at Auburn High School and 25 at Rockford Environmental Science Academy.

I got an hour and a half lunch break and went to see an old drum corps buddy, Andy, who owns and lives in his childhood home about a minute from Auburn. I hadn't seen him in over a year and have seen him only once since being in his wedding in April 2005. He and his wife have a son, Bryant, who is just a couple months younger than Jon.

The visit with Andy was brief -- less than 15 minutes -- because he wanted to go to a union meeting, and I only saw his son for a minute because Bryant, like most babies (but not Jon) cries in the presence of strangers. But he's a cute kid, looks a lot like Andy, and has a lot of hair already. Lucy, Andy's Peruvian-born wife, stayed in another room. I never saw her.

So, I was on my own for lunch. I wanted to get some barbecue or soul food of some kind, and went to the best barbecue I remembered from when I lived in Rockford, a rib joint at the corner of Main and Springfield on the far south side of town. Alas, it was closed. I drove the main streets on the west side looking for a soul food joint. As I drove down West State Street, I saw on a side street a fish, ribs, and chicken place. The building looked like an old gas station -- sandstone bricks, a small glass front entrance with a counter, and a large corner parking lot. Three middle-aged black men stood out front. One had a huge knife in his hand that he sharpened on a dry stone pressed against his chest. Another was eating a bologna sandwich. This didn't bode well for my lunchtime plans.

The knife guy said they didn't serve lunch, but they had live fish for sale, and we was willing to clean one on the spot for me. I went inside and saw catfish, bass and carp in a tank. Where do you get these fish? I asked. Knife guy said the Rock River, Mississippi and "area waters," whatever that means.

I told them I was looking for some good soul food, but that I couldn't travel far. By this time, I only had about 45 minutes left before I had to be back at Auburn. All three of them got to talking -- jiving, disagreeing, back and forth, about what was the best soul food place in town. No no man, Box's closed a year ago. Dammit, Weezy's ain't open on Tuesdays. They only fire up the coals on the weekends.

Knife guy came to the rescue. There's this place called Ma Beasley's. It's on the right hand side on West State, just before you get to Central. I thanked them and was on my way.

Ma Beasley's was easy to find, but there is no sign out front, no welcome mat, come on in, visa stickers, or anything. It is an old storefront with a small Open sign in the window, faded curtains, and a poster of a black child that says Stop The Killing. I stepped inside to typical diner layout -- counter on the left, booths on the right. A cornrowed, beaded young man with baggy Fubu wear and spotless white Adidas shoes, stood behind the counter watching a small TV. One other customer (note this was the noon hour) sat in a booth. He never so much as looked up when I came in.

The menu is on a signboard. Some of the letters are missing. No prices listed. Below the menu and through a small window with a stainless steel counter stood a big black woman chopping celery at another steel table. Must be Ma Beasley. I asked Fubu cornrow what the lunch specials were. He said the only thing they had were chicken wings, which would take a while to fry up, hamburgers (i.e. not soul food) and oxtail with all the fixings. Bingo. He put the order in, laid out bottles of hot sauce and vinegar along with a glass of water and silverware , and within five minutes I had a steaming plate of vittles -- three ox tail segments, corn bread, collard greens, pork and red beans. The ox tail reminded me a lot of pot roast -- long, stringy pieces of meat -- but a little fattier. That didn't impress me as much as the side dishes. The greens and red beans were awesome.

I'm glad I went. I wish I could afford to explore more Rockford west side cuisine. I wonder if the Vietnamese place on 7th Street and the Laotian place nearby are still open. The Rockford Register Star has a dining/ eating out section where they review one new restaurant a week. None of these hidden, west side ethnic places, have been featured. Certainly not the non-descript soul food mecca, Ma Beasley's.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Techno wiz TV fun

The theme this week in my First Year Comp class is television. Tomorrow is computer lab day, and I devised the following lesson. Again, all this is available on my webboard at:

Watch this clip from the movie "Network" (more about this movie at

This movie was made more than 30 years ago. What parts of the message in this clip, if any, remain true? What do you agree with? Why? What do you disagree with? Why? Paraphrase specific statements and explain their significance. Post your response as a reply to this post.

Go to or your favorite search engine and do a search of your favorite current or past television show. Find a fan site that has a discussion board and post a comment on any topic that interests you. Reply to this post and put a link to the discussion board. Paste your comments below the link.

After doing this, answer the following questions:

Why did you choose to comment on this television show?

If this is your favorite show, what about it appeals to you and how faithful a viewer are you? For example, do you own any seasons on DVD? Do you Tivo or tape it if you can't be there to watch it?

What new things did you learn from this site? If you wish, cut and paste the new facts you learned, but be sure to use quotations and a link to the page.

What is the most surprising fact you learned from this site about the television show, and why is it so surprising?

Do you think you will come back to this fan site again? Explain why or why not?

What do you think of fan sites in general? What features of this site were most helpful to you?

The Douglas Hall computer lab where this lesson will take place has a projection monitor. I will show the clip from "Network" (about four minutes long) and have them do the freewrite prompt. Then they will work on their own finding the fan sites and commenting. My only concern is time management. Is it too much or too little to ask of them in a 50-minute class?

I'll post my answers to the questions (I believe a teacher should participate as much as possible in the work they assign) and give a report on how it went...

Goldangit, lesson planning can be such fun.

Friday, September 15, 2006

Webboard fun and first year composition reflection

Here's the computer lab assignment for today at my class' Webboard, available at:

"Go to and browse around the site. Find a blog that interests you and write a paragraph about why it interests you, what drew you to it, its subject matter. Or, pick a topic in the blog and write a paragraph about that topic, quoting the blog on the topic. Post this paragraph along with a link to the blog as a reply to this topic. DO NOT create a new topic. "

Here is my reply:
What I'm writing about is actually a link from the filter-style blog above. The article I read is at:

I scanned through You Tube recently at my parent's house and saw Lonelygirl15 as one of the most popular videos on the site. Though I didn't check it out, I remember seeing it. The Chicago Tribune article points out that LonelyGirl15 is a hoax, a creation of some Los Angeles production company, and LonelyGirl is neither 15 or lonely. She's really:

"Jessica Rose, a New Zealand native living in the Los Angeles area. She was outed in a cascading series of revelations, beginning with a publicly posted note from "The Creators" of LonelyGirl admitting it wasn't real and claiming they'd invented a "new art form. Our intention from the outset has been to tell a story, a story that could only be told using the medium of video blogs and the distribution power of the Internet."

I think it is fascinating how people are using video streaming technology to create their own reality-style TV shows. The article claims that this style might become as popular as the serial novels of Charles Dickens in the 19th century. It is compared to these serial novels because the video clips people post on YouTube are short, usually less than three minutes.


The instructions for this assignment were too vague for some in the classroom who desire much more specificity, i.e. handholding. Even though specificity would reduce the number of queries, I also feel it would diminish the variety of responses. My students have a difficult time with abstract thinking. They tend to focus more on grades and outcomes, rather than processes and creativity. I hope to instill in them that inquiry, debate, disagreement, vagueness, are all challenges writers face. There is no ONE way to write an essay.

In the reflection on their first essay, many of the students, after receiving my first marks on their papers, wrote something along the lines of, "Now I know what you expect in our writing." Yes, one must consider their intended audience, but, no, don't pander to teacher expectations. I want them to find their own voices as writers and in that process of discovery I will guide them through the many pitfalls of grammar and style that plague beginning writers.

The class is going really well. I do not have any discipline problems and my lesson plans, for the most part, have gone off well. My students are all freshmen, 18 or 19, and brand new to Northern Illinois University. My class meets at 9 a.m. MWF. This means that for most of them, the first class was literally their very first college class.

My teaching style is very informal and conversational. I can be their friends, unlike my experiences as a high school and middle school teacher. My authority is establlished by my mastery of the subject matter, not some artificial power trip. I spend a lot of time and energy preparing lessons, grading papers and staying a couple steps ahead on the readings. Students can tell if you're not on top of your game.

Wednesday, during the group exericse, there was a palpable energy in the classroom. The students argued, laughed, and worked together on a difficult group task. It made me feel all fuzzy inside that my lesson went off so well and they embraced it enthusiastically. Moments before, a brainstorming idea I tried backfired. I posed a question and got crickets and tumbleweeds in response. This worked out, though, because they needed the entire rest of the period to do the group exercise.

So far, this first year composition experience validates my career-changing decision to become a teacher. God, it's hard work. I'm overwhelmed. But it's worth it. My colleagues are a great support network, and many have become friends. I feel part of a community again.

Monday, September 11, 2006

Horse farm abuses

I wrote an article in 2001 about Sharon Wolfersheim and alleged abuses on her horse farm. I got an e-mail today from someone who works at another horse farm who somehow found out about this article from my blog and gave me an update on the infamous Wolfersheim.

Here is some text from the e-mail. The writer and who they are associated with remain anonymous, pending consent.

"She[Wolfersheim] is in the news again.

I was looking for information because Ms Wolfersheim is parading around the Internet as a "horse rescuer". I had seen her place back in 2001 (even signed a petition to testify against her) but nothing happened other then her $100 fine. I was hoping maybe you had some of the information/articles online and or had some connections to get this out in the news again. She is one bad apple who nobody seems willing to stop."

Here is a link to my original article:

Horse lovers have very little legal recourse for alleged abuses because so few laws protect the treatment of livestock. This reminds me of a quote:

“He who is cruel to animals becomes hard also in his dealings with men. We can judge the heart of a man by his treatment of animals.”
Immanuel Kant (German Philosopher, one of the foremost thinkers of the Enlightenment. 1724-1804)

I hope Ms. Wolfersheim is stopped, but doubtful she will be. I remember the day I visited her farm and saw horse carcasses in a pit, and live horses standing, skinny, skeletal, their haunches nothing but bone and skin. And how the people at the Humane Society said there was nothing they could do...

I love animal by staying out of their way and doing no harm. I don't believe in anthropomorphization. I don't necessarily believe in animal rights. Livestock is a commodity, but needs to be treated humanely. We've got it so ass-backwards. Our pets get better care than most people. We spend more on animal health care in this country than is spent on people health care in the majority of other countries. I stock cat breath fresheners at Jewel.

But we give no regard to the care of the food we eat. It's just tasty cuts wrapped in plastic. No thought is given to its origins. And I'm just as guilty as the next carnivore.

Monday, September 04, 2006

Faces, birds, rain drops, cool moments

Early morning along the bike path. A blue heron takes off into flight. I watch its slow rise and see its shadow ahead of me. Two ancient, stooped women turn to watch as well. I see their wizened, wrinkled, beautiful faces for just a second as they look up to follow the bird.


Sunday morning at the tracks on First Street, waiting for the train to pass. A boy runs to me, excited. He looks familiar. I've substitute taught for his class, but can't remember his name. He's maybe 9 or 10. I say good morning and he reaches out to slap me five. We go through this elaborate high five routine -- MY ROUTINE -- that I must have taught him. He is elated to see me -- it's rather embarrassing -- and he speaks so fast his words tumble over each other and he has to catch his breath to continue.

His mother appears. Her face is imploded -- nose, eyes, mouth all bunched together, an inbred, Appalachian face, ugly by conventional standards, but fascinating, durable. She's built like a man. Crewcut. Broad shoulders.

We talk. The train's slow, and another passes, also going slow, the other way. She says she remembers me. She's an aide at the school her son goes to. The boy interrupts... "Do you remember when you filled in for the music teacher? How you said you liked that song I made up?" "Yes, of course," I lie. "Do you remember the song? Let's hear it." He sings a little melody, yelling to overcome the clackity train.

He finishes just as the last car passes. The guard comes up.

"Race you to the corner," the boy yells, and takes off running. I give him a head start, but pass him just before I get to my place.


An early evening walk in the rain, a gentle rain, the rain after a furious storm. The lagoon is flooded, water up to and beyond the sidewalk and fire pit. The green forest beyond seems greener and is a cacophony of birdsong, as if the birds are checking up on each other.

When I reach Founders the sun appears below the clouds and darkness is replaced by bright, golden reflection. The change is sudden, blinding. The rain drops look like golden halos in the brilliance.

Thursday, August 31, 2006

Mo' bettah blues

Here's a picture of my abs. Not bad after just one week.

Some rubes might think I'm gay for posting a picture of some other dude's gut. Oh, and I'm the last born of four boys, which means my mother's body fought off my maleness with female hormones, according to an article in that bastion of medical journalism, Time Magazine.

So THAT'S why I'm an English grad student.

I'm not gay, but at least I'm in touch with my feelings more than most men and my dago machismo is tempered by a poetic sensibility.

My workout plan has gone well this week. On Monday I ran 4.5 miles in a light rainstorm. I felt really good, fantastic even, considering it was my first run in over a month. Wednesday's run upon first awakening was more difficult because I took benadryl the night before and was a little dry-mouthed and sluggo-headed the entire run. Still, riding out the course with my bike later, I ran almost 7 miles in an hour.

And today I worked out at the rec center for the first time. Guh. I hate lifting weights. It's SOOO boring. What can I do to liven it up? I put myself through an extreme ab workout that still has me sore this evening. One good thing about me is I never have a problem pushing myself physically. I tend to work myself to the limits of my endurance and live for that blessed fatigue that comes only after extreme exertion, that panting, heaving, lay on the floor in a totally exhausted state of bliss that no drug can duplicate.

Good news is I've already exceeded my weight goal.

I've always wanted to be like my idol, Brett Favre, 6' 2", 200 pounds, the All-American boy. Height's not a problem.

But at my heaviest, back in early 2000, I weighed almost 240 pounds. When I got off the Pacific Crest Trail in Sept. 2004, I was 183. A month ago I weighed 208. Today: 198. Last weekend on my parent's scale: 200.

I did not diet, necessarily, in the past month, but was merely conscientous of how much I ate. I try not to eat to fullness, but until I'm no longer hungry. We are biologically hard-wired to gorge when food is present. This instinct betrays us when we have an overabundance of food.

I'm lucky. It takes little effort for me to take off the pounds. No calorie counting. No carb diet. No shakes or soup diets. No dramatic changes. Just plain old awareness and exercise. And I love exercise.

My goal is to post a picture of my actual gut by the middle of October with six pack abs. If I can work through the boredom of working out, it will happen.

Then I'll shave my chest, flex my rippling muscles and call out the rest of you late-born sons for the girly men you are.

The long-promised Country Acres photo essay

For 10 months, from Oct. 19, 2005 to Aug. 12, 2006, I lived in a rooming house at 350 1/2 Augusta Ave., DeKalb, IL, misappropriately-named Country Acres. For the most part, I enjoyed living here amongst the townie drunks and crazies. I will mine, for fictive purposes, many of the stories I heard at Country Acres and the even more hard-scrabble and misappropriately named Augusta Inn next door.

Is it strange for a graduate student from a middle class background to actually love Country Acres? Not really. My hiking experiences exposed me to people from all walks of life. I don't judge people on past actions, but on how they treat me. I feel sorry for people who think they are superior to others or are disdainful of those who look or act differently. They are missing out. I know a lot of so-called Christians who would look down on the derelicts and drunks that I hung out with as equals this past summer.

Like Steve, the resident drunk and backporch philosopher. I idled away many a summer afternoon and evening with him. I learned to gauge his mood by how many empty Miller cans I saw laying about. Before he gets too drunk, Steve is a charming, intelligent man. After he crosses the line, he's just an obnoxious, obvious, repetitive, loud, and highly annoying provocateur. I think he'd like this description. "Apropo, Greg," I imagine him saying. I have many more Steve-isms I'll publish in a stand-alone blog entry.

And then there's Wade, the crazy down the hall. He was the main motivation for my departure from the place. Wade hung out in the basement, often for days at a time. His sweet/sour body grew stronger each day until I could smell him before I saw him. He sat there, head cocked to one side, a line of drool cascading to his shirt, or the couch. If I talked to him he'd get up and leave without saying a word.

Worse than the smell is the threat of violence Wade presented. More than once, coming home from Jewel at 4 a.m., I passed Wade's room, two doors down from mine, and heard him yelling, arguing, with some unseen foe. Once he asked, "Should I kill them all?" Creepy stuff. When I first met Wade he seemed quite normal. Something switched in his brain sometime late December and he locked himself in his room for two weeks. He didn't eat anything during this time. I knew he was in there because of the loud conversations he carried on with himself. I even called the Ben Gordon Center to check on him because I worried he might starve himself into a coma or something. He's never been quite the same since.

Country Acres has an international flavor. Wendy, who has since moved to Peoria to live with her boyfriend, is from Fujian Province, China, and was the subject of a Teaching English as a second language project I did last fall. Anna, who has also moved away, is from Poland. We still keep in touch. Joe, who is still there, is from Palestine. His mother gave me many middle-eastern pastries and even made a rice and meat wrap with grape leaves she picked off the fence in the parking lot. Joe also inspired my love of hummus, flat bread, and (though this is not Palestinian) fried ramen noodles. Okaka, my Ugandan friend studying at NIU on a Fullbright scholarship, moved in when I moved out.

I'll still visit Steve and the gang on Sundays if I'm in town. They're still my friends, even if they're no longer my neighbors.

COMING SOON: A photo essay of my new place!!! It's nicer, cleaner, quieter, but lacks the charm and rustic flavor of my former abode.

sometimes a cob is just a cob

Check out the photo links below for more pictures of Jon, Cornfest, a trip to Chain O' Lakes State Park and Gander Mountain forest preserve, my old Country Acres home and environs, and anything else I might have snapped between now and then.

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Swimming thoughts

Don't know what I want to write about. Me head's swimming with random thoughts.

At my parent's

Dad said I can borrow his truck as long as I want

No need to carpool for my teaching observation in Rockford
Good because my grand carpool plan backfired
At ILAS 301 orientation only a handful of people are assigned to my school and none of them live in DeKalb

Worked two double shifts this week
8 hours overnight at Jewel Monday and Tuesday night
Grad assistant orientation from 9-4 Monday through Friday
Draggin' major ass Wednesday afternoon
But new availability hours kick in now
that shouldn't happen anymore

Lots of new beginnings this week
Momentous, really
New friends gained

lost (tears and flapdoodle, sighs, campus ghosts)

Drunken phone call from a REALLY old friend

Don't know why I'm writing without punctuation

SO Booyeah pumped about teaching First Year Composition to 26 unwitting freshman
The focus of the class is on pop culture
I'm no guru, but I keep a slight tab on hipness
I am my own hipster
What I'm into is the latest, coolest thing
Or it's retro chic
Or I can listen, watch, learn from them about pop culture
Avoid too many 80s references, or to the grunge rock of the early 90s
that was the last time I felt current
anachronist anarchist
Dead Kennedys? The furrows in David Johanson's jowels?

I have a key to Reavis Hall and its classrooms (except computer labs)
Mwu ha ha

Positive feedback on my mini-lesson
"Your students are going to LOVE you!" -- Alissa

I sang the New Milford Refrigeration theme song

"Call 398-C-O-L-D, 398- (hushed whisper) "Cold!"

sing the body electric
see, anachrone? (70s reference, even, a backlit fro)

Getting to know new English friends...
Did I talk too much?
Make too many hiking references? (Shhh shhh don't let them know how obeessive you are about getting outside) (that's, like, weird and stuff)
Did I try to show off my intellectual prowess? Which, in trying, is doubt of its existence?
No pissing duels.
Thankfully, no one seems like that
Mostly, they are really chill
even the odd ones

'course I'm an all-accepting Walt Whitman conduit of human experience
Avoid no one and treat the beggar and king equally
Actually, I'm a little biased
Always take the underdog's side

Settled into my new place (pictures soon)
Soooo quiet compared to Country Acres
Central air hum
refrigerator drip and tick
Tune in radio for companionship

But there are people in my life
and Jon
who bangs on everything and tries to dismantle my face
who said "da da" for the first time last Friday
Friday, Aug. 18
Hell day
I won't go into details
Let's just say "da da" saved me
brought me back from the dark hole I'd sunk into

Through English department and semi-regular visits to Annex I'm FINALLY making some new DeKalb friends

Old friend Todd visited last Sunday
Man, has he lost weight
He's on a tour of all the disc golf courses in N. Illinois and S. Wisconsin
We played at Prairie Park
He finished one game a couple strokes below par
He carries an extra outfit for wading in the river to find discs

Used to be a visit from Todd meant getting wasted
Now he's a health nut

Todd's still loud, brash
Jon loves him
gives him a furrowed brow look
but ultimately smiles in approval at my bald friend's antics

If I were religious, I would make Todd Jon's godfather
Need a secular, less Brando term
sports guru?

Okay. Mentor works.
Let's have an official mentor ceremony/barbecue.

Next week I begin a new workout regimen
a return to running
even weightlifting
the rec center has new equipment

Lately, my exercise regimen's informal
Walk or ride my bike at least an hour a day
Go for a more strenuous ride/hike at least once a week

My formal workout plan is simple
M-W-F-Sa run at least an hour, with a long run of at least 10 miles once a week
T-Th lift weights
Goin' for the six pack abs

Got a lot of things going for me initially
Don't smoke
Don't have a problem with alcohol (I usually stop at 1 or 2 drinks, enjoy the pleasant buzz and quietude, no hangovers or sickness)
Am reasonably fit already from informal exercise and stocking shelves
I eat healthy, even though I think I eat too much meat
All organic fruits and veggies

Me love handles are small
But need to go away entirely

That's all
No preening
No body oils
Okay, maybe a little patchouli

Still a hippie at heart
Workouts are a natural high, baby

Right now is the crest of the roller coaster
The clicky clack lift
Trees and houses and water tower vista
Next week whoomph and fall and 70 mph
This ride don't end until December

Wish me luck

Thursday, August 03, 2006

Big News I

I have a new apartment. My new address is: 318 South First Street, Apt. 5, DeKalb, IL 60115

I move in after Aug. 12 and am currently shopping/dumpster diving for kitchen table and chairs, shelves and any funky wall art. The new place is an improvement over my current digs at Country Acres. The rent increase shows it. But I've got my own bathroom and kitchen, a brick deck area just outside my door with grill and chairs, a small lawn to play with Jonny on, and, for the first time in my life, a place of my own to call my own.

School picks up again starting August 21 as I begin a week-long training session for the course I'm teaching. Classes don't actually start until the 28th. So far, I am taking two graduate level English courses, 500 and 547, and ILAS 301, a pass/fail observation course at the Rockford Environment Science Academy middle school and Auburn High School, both in Rockford. And since I don't have a car, I will have to arrange a ride or carpooling pronto to get in on that.

I continue to work at least 16 hours (union minimum) a week at Jewel. When school kicks in I have to change my availability to suit my schedule, but should still be able to work those hours. In addition to teaching a class and taking three others, my schedule may allow me to substitute teach on Tuesdays and/or Thursdays, depending on my work load, etc. So, yeah. Three classes. Three jobs. One son. And a one-bedroom apartment to decorate and make all homey. Woob woob wooby warp speed ahead, keptin'!

I'm still working on a photo essay of Country Acres, and will follow it, blogger willing (photo uploads have been fussy lately), with one of my new place.