Thursday, July 26, 2012

Invisible Man

There are novels that show up on lists of the most important books or most influential or simply best.  Ralph Ellison's Invisible Man is one that appears on them all.  It was first published in 1952, and immediately hailed as a rare novel proved forever to influence American literature and honestly to portray the Black experience in a volatile and changing political and social landscape.  While I appreciate its importance, I (somewhat surprisingly) did not particularly enjoy the book.

The book, told in the first person, spans the life of a young black man who graduates high school in the deep south as the valedictorian of his class.  He then attends a black college where he is one of the most promising men in his class.  A series of bad luck finds him temporarily moving to Harlem where he believes himself to be set up with numerous job prospects.

Of course, none of these turn out.  After some mostly unfortunate experiences, the narrator encounters a leader of the Brotherhood - a thinly veiled version of the Communist Party.  Brother Jack speaks a good game of color-blindness and a concern for Harlem, and enlists the narrator as an orator for the cause.  He plays the part brilliantly, recruiting other members and making himself a name, until the death of a "Brother" leaves him disillusioned with the party and its aims.

The invisibility of the title refers to the narrators continual experience that to Americans - particularly, but not exclusively, white Americans - he is invisible.  His name is not important, and in fact he gives his away when he becomes a Communist.  Downtown, people look past him as an embodiment of their enlightenment - they don't see color.  Uptown, he is lost, either anonymous or mistaken for a notorious local kingpin. 

Like I said, I understand why this book made a splash when it was published and for many years after that.  However, both the writing and the philosophy are dated.  I'm glad I read it for check-off-the-list purposes, but that's about it.

Next up:  A short, Russian novel called The Suitcase by Sergei Dovlotov.  With all the Russians I've read, this will be my first contemporary.  I'm looking forward to it.

Wednesday, July 25, 2012

Guns and ammunition

More senseless violence, and more resistance to a sensible dialogue. 

I don't own a gun. I don't hunt and there is no reason for me to have a gun in the house.  One need not look farther than the toddler who shot himself in the face with his grandfather's gun a couple of weeks ago to recall that more guns purchased in self-defense are used against a household member than an intruder.

But I'm not anti-gun.  I do not have a problem with hunting, and while I think the logic is flawed, I don't think that ownership for self-defense need be illegal.  I wrote about some obvious gaps in gun laws a year and a half ago, none of which have been addressed to date.  For example, that concealed weapons do not belong in schools, national parks, bars and restaurants, places of worship, public spaces or the office.  Or that assault weapons have no purpose other than to kill, and they do not belong on the streets in any capacity.  But guns won't be eliminated from American society, so there needs to be a sensible conversation about what to do about them.  While stricter gun laws may not have eliminated or reduced the death toll in Aurora last week, the concept must be discussed.

In many states, it's easy to buy guns.  It's really easy to buy military-grade body armor, ammunition, extended magazines, silencers and other accessories that simply do not belong in the hands of civilians.  There is a very direct correlation between lax gun control and the number of guns that find their way into the hands of criminals.  Violent crimes are far, far more deadly when they're committed with a gun as opposed to a knife or a club.  And the United States leads the developed world in guns - and murders - per capita.

The NRA's misguided interpretation of the second amendment has led one of the most powerful lobbies in Washington to stand by gun ownership as an absolute and unfettered right.  They've also been dangerously effective in convincing our cowardly congress to legislate as such.  But the right to bear arms is not carte blanche to own whatever you want.  A gun should never be an impulse buy.  No one with a criminal history should be able to purchase a gun.  A purchase of thousands of rounds of ammunition should trigger an alert, so that a civilian building an arsenal might be distinguished from the shooting range enthusiast. 

Rational gun owners should know that submitting to a background check and complying with local and federal laws won't change your ability to keep a gun in the house for so-called protection or to hunt.  Neither would an assault weapon ban that includes extended magazines or requiring concealed-carry permits.  Laws like these won't change the ability to collect, own or fire guns for legitimate purposes, but they very well might reduce the carnage of violent criminals.  At the very least, they merit discussion.

Tuesday, July 17, 2012

Skinny legs and all

I finally got around to taking the Bunny in for her 2 1/2-year well child visit.  Yeah, way overdue.  I wanted to change pediatricians, then kept calling when the new doctor's office was closed.  But it finally happened.  The new ped's office is much better, so thanks to Dr. Leswing's Mountain Pediatrics for providing an alternative in Evergreen.

In a nutshell, the Bunny is doing swimmingly.  Mima potty trained her last weekend (which makes her two for two with my kids), and she has been virtually accident-free!  Her vocabulary is tremendous: she uses words like "probably" and "practically" correctly, and strings together multiple sentences that (a) convey actual thoughts and (b) can be understood by other adults who aren't her parents. 

She's still a lousy sleeper at home, and the doc said we should start playing hardball.  Feel free to place your bets on who will win this showdown, but she did stay in bed last night.

She's tall for her age (90th percentile) but a little light (25th percentile), so the doctor wants us to fatten her up.  (She even suggested bacon as a great source of fat, which on its own should recommend her as a doctor.)  She also said it was time to toss the Bunny's favorite (awful) sippies, so we sent them off with the Sippy Cup Fairy on Friday night which resulted in at least two days without any milk.  The calorie-free fruit water she prefers in big-girl cups is unlikely to bulk her up too much.  But my money says the non-milk thing can't last, and I will point to her five-yogurts-for-breakfast today as evidence. 

What else?  She loves pasta and hiking and coloring and the swings.  She picks out her own clothes and prefers dresses.  She is loving and strong-willed, and does display something of a temper.  And her beautiful smile and curls keep her beloved.

Saturday, July 14, 2012

Colorado wildflowers

On our hikes last week in Rocky Mountain National Park, I took a lot of photos.  Bunches.  I took pictures of the views, the wildlife, my hiking buddies.  And I took pictures of some of the amazing flowers we saw.  I'm no professional, but a few came out pretty well, if I do say so myself.

The Rocky Mountain Columbine is Colorado's state flower.  We saw these beauties early on our Mt. Ida hike, and they were prolific on the Flattop Mountain trail. 

Indian Paintbrush is the state flower of Wyoming, and the bright red ones were the only color I'd seen.  Hiking around Lake Irene we saw some pinkish ones, and I learned that they come in all kinds of colors.  These light green with purple leaves might be my favorite.  These were in the tundra on Mt. Ida, and we saw a bunch on top of Flattop as well.

These King's Crown have a very unique, stunning red color.  They're short little guys, and they are also found in the alpine tundra.  This photo was taken on Flattop Mountain, and we saw them all over Mt. Ida and Hallett Peak, too.

Thursday, July 12, 2012

Postcards from the Park

After we left Estes Park, Aunt Jessie headed up for some hiking and relaxation.  She sent this postcard to the girls, along with her enthusiasm for their continued enjoyment of hiking and exploring Rocky Mountain National Park... and the girls can't wait to hike with her!

She then sent this one to Joker and me, apparently with the mistaken logic that this would inspire us to take up rock climbing.  In reality, it makes me slightly nauseous just to look at it.

Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Flattop Mountain and Hallett Peak

After our lovely July 4th holiday, Joker and I got to do our own big hike on Thursday.  Destination: the summit of Hallett Peak by way of the summit of Flattop Mountain.  Flattop in particular is a popular hike since it's easy to access, and a beautiful but fairly accessible climb to the top.

Hallett Peak, Tyndall Glacier, Flattop Mountain
We got an early start, but were advised by the rangers at the trail head that there was a decent chance of thundershowers before noon.  This meant we needed to get up and back as quickly as possible if we wanted to see the tops.  We hadn't gone very far when the morning clouds parted, giving us beautiful views of Longs Peak and Emerald Lake at our first couple of overlooks.
Longs Peak, from the first clearing on the Flattop Mtn. trail

Emerald Lake as seen from Flattop Mtn. trail

The sunny weather stayed with us for a while.  After timberline we still had a ways to go, but we reached the summit of Flattop with smiles on our faces, and decided the sky was looking good enough for us to continue.  The trail leaves the summit and winds around the Tyndall Glacier before turning up Hallett.  At this point, it becomes almost a scramble and less of a hike - It. Is. Steep.  But the view from the top is worth it - in every direction, the Rockies are glorious.

After a mountaintop picnic on Flattop, we made quick time down.  The clouds had been nonexistent, but suddenly they obscured the view of Longs entirely, and the thunder sounded ominous.  The wildlife, however, did its best to delay us: marmots and pikas right on and along the trail, a ptarmigan hen and her chicks, four bull elk on a slope, posing for us with their impressive racks.  And more columbine and other beautiful, beautiful flowers than you could hope for.

Aren't these fellas handsome?

One fat marmot

Ptarmigan with her chicks... right in the trail!
We were below treeline before the first raindrops hit, but we weren't yet off the trail before the hail began.  That was a bummer.  Thankfully, Mima and Boppie had lent us the ponchos I'd left at home, and we were somewhat dry, and exceedingly exhilarated, when we returned to the parking lot for our post-hike beers.  Another insanely great hike.

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

Hiking Mount Ida

On the second full day of our Rocky Mountain National Park trip, I got to do a day hike with Mima and Boppie while Joker had fun with the kids.  They wanted to do a hike on the other side of Trail Ridge Road, something they rarely get to do.  Destination for the day: the summit of Mount Ida at 12,880 feet.  I've actually never been on top of a mountain, and if I'd seen what I was in for, I may very well have chickened out.  (It's the one with the snow circle in the center of the picture below.)

Mt. Ida, far and center... looks pretty intimidating, right?
From the start, this hike was nothing short of spectacular.  It started out very steeply, quickly rising through the trees and reaching timberline.  Most of the hike was above timberline, through beautiful tundra with sweeping views of the Never Summer Range.  The wildflowers were gorgeous.  Even while hiking across the ridge you can see above (right of the summit), it was slow going: steep and riddled with boulders.

First open view on the way up

About 3 1/2 hours later, we were at the summit.  It overlooks the beautiful Azure Lake and Inkwell Lake, and the 360-degree views are phenomenal.  Never Summer behind us; Longs Peak to the right... and what a thrill to be right there on top, eating my PB&J next to a marmot.
Inkwell Lake and Azure Lake, from the summit of Mt. Ida

On the way down we saw a herd of bighorn sheep - all rams - closer than you'd imagine.  We saw numerous marmots and pikas, all of which are hilarious.  And the steep hike down was nearly as challenging as the hike up! 

Dead center - look close - is that an awesome ram or what?
We were completely exhausted and thoroughly happy when we took off our boots and enjoyed a beer by a picturesque lake near the trailhead. And on the drive back to the house, we saw several elk, including a huge bull that was so close we could see him chomping on grass.
What a view for a refreshing beer!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Rocky Mountain National Park with the kids

We spent most of last week with Mima and Boppie in Estes Park, and each day was spent enjoying the wonders of Rocky Mountain National Park.  The Bug had been in the park as an infant, but we really hadn't been back since then.  We had a fabulous week, and all got to enjoy the wonders of the park, from the small to the giant.

Longs Peak from the top of Trail Ridge Road

The first day we drove over Trail Ridge Road.  It's a spectacular drive, with sheer cliffs on either side at various times, and there are plenty of places to get out to enjoy the breathtaking views, see the wildlife and climb on rocks.  The girls enjoyed the stops, too - spotting butterflies and marmots, scrambling on rocks and getting their National Parks Passports stamped.  We also enjoyed a picnic and a short hike around the picturesque Lake Irene.

Meadow at the end of Lake Irene trail
On July 4th itself we took a very short hike on the Alluvial Fan Trail.  It is perfect for little kids - the only steep part is straight up the rocks next to the waterfall.  Which was, of course, the Bug's favorite part.  The Bunny preferred to take off her shoes and stand in the shallows of the river making mud pies or mud cakes or whatever.  We followed the hike with a picnic by the lake which featured a great deal of throwing rocks in the river.  There were, of course, no fireworks.  But we had a perfect Independence Day and a fantastic family getaway!