Friday, October 15, 2010

Racing Goats

"It started out 30 years ago as a joke." That's what the announcer kept saying about the Falmouth Goat Races. Some brothers raced their goats and then found out the neighborhood was teeming with goats and here's where it is 30 years later.

And here.

Pretty awesome.

Sunday, September 26, 2010

New Zealand Part 1b: Coromandel Penninsula

Our first full free day in New Zealand--after a couple days helping our wwoof host start an enormous vegetable patch--we turned our rental car up the winding, fern-lined mountain roads to the Coromandel peninsula. As with most New Zealand roads it seems, the way was lush, beautiful, and skirted tranquil, idyllic bays. Even in winter.

We made it to Hahei (meaning the breath of Hei) and phoned a sea kayaking place and scheduled an afternoon tour, then headed out for some hiking to Cathedral Cove, a pink sand beach dominated by a large white arch diving into the deep green sea. It was lovely, but we didn't dally too long as we had to rush on back to make the same basic trip by kayak.

Which was awesome. It was only us on the tour. Our guide was great. He told us about Hei, who founded Hahei, and who became chieftain of the land because of his nose. See, there was an island in the bay which looked--if you were told to see it--like a nose. Seen from below. Kind of. A battered nose for sure, but forcing people to realize the island really looked like his nose could have become a self-fulfilling prophecy.

But for the Maori, if a geographical feature looked like someone's body part, then they could claim the gods had made it for them. In fact, everything you can see from the top of that anthropomorphic bit of land is yours too. Kind of a nice alternative to the homestead act.

We paddled between island, over shoals, through arches and finally back to Cathedral Cove where we went exploring some caves for a bit while our guide made us some nice hot chocolate.

Trying to lay claim to some land.

And then we headed back through a bay full of sting rays in time to get back in the car and leg it to Hot Water Beach. Now this place was awesome. So awesome. At low tide, you can rent a trowel and head out to this strip of beach between some cliffs and the ocean and dig out a natural hot spring. Even walking along the beach if you force your feet down much, you can reach the sometimes scalding water.

We hiked out in the darkening shade even as the sky stayed light blue until we got there. Not that it quite got dark before the colors intensified into a deep blue green. We chatted with a couple from Manchester who let us borrow their trowel while digging out our pool while waves crashed behind us and the lights all went out. Lying on our backs, a cloud of stars and the night wind came out: chilling and gorgeous.

So. Great.

Sunday, September 5, 2010

New Zealand Part 2: Becoming Maori

Before our adventures in the glow worm caverns, Heather and I took a tour of New Zealand's geothermal hot spot, Rotorua. Imagine, though, Yellowstone as occupying 5 or 6 parks all with separate entrance fees except for the smoking ground around the lake and in a couple parks, and a city close enough that you keep the taste of sulfur the whole time you're there. There we enjoyed not only some of the geothermal oddities, but some Maori culture as well.

Steamy geothermal pools

The Maori have found an interesting compromise between tradition and cashing in on modern tourism. Traditionally--because members of other tribes were usually hostile and after either your food, your women, or your naughty dog--no one could enter the marae, or village green, except members of the tribe. Rather than letting that tradition fall by the wayside, they just induct visitors into the tribe, so that they can tour the Marae and village meeting house.

Making it look easy

Still struggling and this was my best shot

We were able to tag along with one of the many school groups coming through Ohinemutu that day.

What I'm used to at churches

What I'm less used to in a church

And it was a lucky thing too because the village itself was really neat. Nearly deserted when we first got there, we were able to wander the Marae, graveyard, Christian church, and various smoking marshes. Walking into the Christian church, I was amazed that even it was covered with intricately carved grotesqueries. It surprised me because I'd assumed all the vicious-looking faces adorning every Maori building were demons or some such thing--although, if I'm being fair, Europe's cathedrals abound in grotesque demons and silly faces (gargoyles being one example which are little demons as far as I know) then the Maori style seems far more appropriate for decorating churches because the grotesque faces aren't demons, they're ancestors. And the faces are threatening because their leaders were men, and sometimes women, of war who tattooed their faces like that to intimidate enemies and keep their people safe. Anyway, it was interesting to learn how natural these really fierce faces ended up being.

Part of becoming Maori

We learned that when a school group came and we got to tag along with them inside the meeting house and see the large portraits of their chiefs going back hundreds of years. We also heard a delightful story of how they came to be in the area that started with one chief's dog digging up some Kumara (New Zealand yams) in another chief's veggie patch, that chief getting angry and then eating the dog and a Hatfield vs the McCoys-type feud ensued which resulted in the dead dog's chief bringing his tribe to the island in lake Rotorua. They stayed there until they realized they could cook and heat their homes without fire if they moved to the shores of the lake and took advantage of the geothermal activity. And they're still there today.

This guy was great. He did a thing at the beginning of the show where he showed how visitors from other tribes would come and pick up either a Wahaika (a wooden axe kind of thing) or a leaf to let the village know they were after peace or war.

That evening we went to a cultural center and had a hangi dinner--our shuttle driver to the car rental had suggested that if we try any food it be hangi--and show with some haka and poi poi and some fun singing and guitar. They also answered our questions like, is it true that Maori warriors would stop a battle if they were winning too easily, kill some of their own warriors to even the odds and then get back to the bloody business? Answer: "Pfff! That's crazy. No way. This village up the mountain from us, they came and just wiped us out. They have NO problem with that. None."

PS, the hangi was so so. I've heard they're incredible, and since they bury the food for hours and hours with blazing hot stones or lumps of iron to cook them, they're pretty dramatic, but I can't say the food's a reason to visit New Zealand. But there are plenty of others.

Haka style jump!

Monday, July 12, 2010

New Zealand Part 3: Glow Worms (Parts 2 and 1 Coming Soon)

I have no idea how many travel guides we ended up with in New Zealand. There was the Moon Guide we bought before going, the little green kiwi guide we picked up in the airport, the “arrival” magazine we also found in the airport, the map with the main tourist attractions highlighted, the AA accommodations book (that was a thick one), and who knows how many others we found and picked up at the airport, car rental agency, hostels, and actual destinations. Most were never opened after our first day in New Zealand, but they all highlighted some main high points for our South Pacific adventure, and all of them advised seeing the glow worms through some mediated semi to extremely expensive tour group.

We finally made it to Waitomo caves towards the end of our trip. Although I was thinking of it mainly as a must do, I was excited to see in person the strange green constellations glowing in the cave’s dark sky. Looking at the glossy adds of amazed tourists in boats or tubes, I thought it’d be an experience like no other. And that’s exactly what it was, but not at all in the way I expected.

Practice makes pretty.

We hadn’t booked ahead hoping for some kind of winter deal, I suppose and that’s what we found. Rap, Raft n’ Rock gave the best deal and even included a tour guide who gave us some fun impressions of various American stereotypes. He did a mean valley girl. And after jumping into wet suits, donning some head-lamp helmets, and practicing abseiling down into the caves we went.

There was an initial disappointment. Yeah, there were these little green dots glowing in the dark above me, but it seemed just like the adds. Just like them. As in, as good as being there. This sensation was kind of puzzling at first, but I think part of it was that getting up close to something you’ve only seen in pictures usually reveals a wealth of new sensory information and more nuanced impressions. But at first it was, “huh, there they are then.” Exactly as they’d looked in the magazines only now I was standing in a rushing, eel-filled river and it was really dark.

Kill joy, I know. Traveling with me’s a pain.

So, there I was in a fit of underwhelm when we got a close up look at and explanation of fate’s cruel capacity as exhibited in its unstinting persecution of the little glow worm. The disgustingly fascinating facts are these.

  • Glow worms aren’t worms but maggots.
  • Their glow lures flies into small, sticky strings which they then hoist up to suck out their insides.
  • They have no anus.
  • Their undischarged fecal matter fuels their glow.
  • They pupate into a fly with no mouth ergo they must mate before starving to death usually within a day or two.

Glow worms far away.

A bit closer: the hanging strings that come out of its mouth to catch flies.

Up close, can you see the little maggot here? Translucent with the glow
on the left and its unexpelled waste towards the right.

Vile, fascinating things. No anus, then no mouth? I feel these bugs need an entire evolutionary apology to explain how nature could miscarry such an abominable creature. The wizard behind the curtain of these lovely-seeming worms is a grotesque monster.

The bioluminescent constellations above us.

My experience with glow worms was also the exact opposite of how I came to understand Maori art which seemed grotesque at first but was actually really lovely. Stay tuned for more on that in this reverse chronological tour of New Zealand.

End of part 3 of 3... or perhaps more. It really was an awesome trip.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Senor Pinata

Heather and I made this Pinata for Diana's birthday. I asked Diana what her birthday wishes were--meaning in my mind breakfast and dinner foods--and she told me she wanted a fitted baseball cap (I forget the size), roller skates (ditto), and one other thing. Anyway, I'm sounding like a jerk who doesn't care, but I remembered at the time but ignored them to bring her, in almost her own words, 'the best present ever.' A direct quote would be more like this:

Me: Be honest. Is this the best present you have ever received?
Diana: Y--
Me: In your life?
Diana: Proba--
Me: Including the inestimably precious gift of life our sweet mother gave you?
Diana: Hmmm... yes.

Look how happy!

Before the bestowal of the gift, I was imagining all the ritual suicides that would ensue from the Pinata's sheer beauty, from the utter shock of seeing something so perfect and heavenly in this mortal realm.

Part of me realized I might have been setting myself up for disappointment. But another part of me had such faith in the glory that was the pinata, I knew it would absolutely blow their minds back to the stone age. It'd be like the opening scene in 2001 space odyssey if you replaced the monkeys with my family and the black intelligence-bestowing effigy with the pinata.

Anyway, here's what happened:

I was so happy when her petting the Pinata didn't make the fuzzy crepe paper come off.

So, I was probably the most excited. This video captures only the tiniest slice of the ecstasies I felt about the pinata which--let's remember--completely ignored the birthday wishes Diana had given me. But I guess the lesson there is that you don't always know what you want more than anything else in the world. And the lesson in me being such a freak about how awesome it was is that it is more blessed to give than to receive. And the lesson I hope to be learning from the tons of requests for our new and unimprovable Pinata kits is that sometimes doing something awesome can make you millions... millions and millions of dollars... with which you can do more awesome things... not as in something that is more awesome, but as in more things that are awesome... in their own uniquely awesome way.

Oh, and Annie would never have believed that we'd made it ourselves without some pictures to prove it, so here's one for any skeptics out there:

There, that's enough! You've seen enough of our secrets...

Little Pinata doing what he/she/it was made to do.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Oregon Trail

The plan was to fly out to Provo, pack Heather’s car and drive it back to Pennsylvania where I had a class to take and a gothic runway to walk down. But after talking to Cort about his upcoming vacation to the Oregon coast, we thought that might be a nicer way to spend a summer.

The first night at the coast, the sea was booming and furious. Boiler Bay—although named for a sunken boiler ship—was white with shaking Oregon’s coast. Later, below our balcony, white-crested waves crashed day and night: sometimes the whole lower half of the windows showed a frothy, white sprawl, sometimes the sea quieted down and we had to wait for a large crash to spread out across the rocks below us.

Then we found some last-minute, ridiculously cheap flights to New Zealand, so away we go. During it all I keep getting emails from my Dissertation Chair wondering when I’ll be back in PA to meet with my committee and get going on this PhD thing. I’ve replied with vague statements so far, but better give him a more definite window sometime soon.

And now we’re in Carson City. We visited an old Mormon fort today: Genoa, NV, the state’s oldest settlement. It got me thinking of Brigham Young and how many settlements he planned and sent people to in trying to create the mighty state of Deseret which would stretch from present day Utah down to the California coast somewhere around San Diego or Los Angeles.

Deseret didn’t quite pan out. Neither did the alphabet Brother Brigham planned out and wanted the saints to adopt (the more phonetically accurate alphabet would have made it easier for immigrants to learn English, and a similar project was funded posthumously by George Bernard Shaw in England.) He didn’t live to see the completion of the Salt Lake Temple either. Probably plenty of things didn’t quite work out for him. So, when I think of the lists and lists of things I’d like to do or write or read or see or research (i.e. accomplish) in my life, I feel (a) a bit comforted from my fears that I won’t get it all done by the realization that of course I won’t get it all done. Who does? Who can? (b) good that I have so many worthwhile projects to work on and dream about, and (c) spurred on to get working.

So plans change, classes wait, roads are and aren’t taken, and I get some things done and leave some newly-invented alphabets for another lifetime or world, and all the time keep moving from the almost violently beautiful Oregon Coast (note: highway 84 along the Columbia is a long, scenic procession of sharp slopes covered in green trees with intermitten cliff faces looking over a sometimes placid river broken by rushing waterfalls—i.e. gorgeous.), to the lovely Carson valley, to a warmer California coast and on to New Zealand which, by the way, is getting kind of close to the farthest point on earth from Hershey, PA where you can stand on land.

Friday, April 9, 2010

Sakura, 桜

This last weekend I went down to see the Cherry Blossoms in DC. The trees circling the Tidal Basin were a gift from a Japanese Emperor in the early 1912 (or thereabouts) and again a couple decades later. From my time in Japan, I gained a fondness/fascination/love/ardent desire/violence of affection for these trees which the Japanese name for the flower more than the fruit. Cherries, in Japanese, can be translated as "fruit of the cherry blossom," which sounds circular and ridiculous in English, but makes sense in Japanese... that could probably refer to a lot of things actually... quite a lot.

But I digress.

Heading down I was expecting/hoping/wanting a zen experience. Something that connected me with Japan, or my memories of it. Something transcendental. I wanted to stand in light filtered by the cherry blossoms. To have gentle winds come and blow the pink petals over me as I recalled haiku such as

Like the cherry blossoms,
let me fall
pure and radiant
(found in the jacket of a kamikaze pilot)

Watching cherry blossoms fall,
one falls up!
A butterfly.

These are my own translations and from memory, but they still illustrate what I was expecting. Silence, the sounds of petals falling on water, stealing a peek at time as air and water worked on the delicate petals. There were thousands and thousands of others who were perhaps looking for the same sort of experience, and there we were ruining it for each other.

My zen mindset eluded me while shuffling through lines and groups and hordes of visitors. Even when the wind blew and cherry blossoms fell on us all, the jean-clad photographers with cameras larger than newborns standing contrapposto in the hot spring sun scowling beneath sunglasses. But then, while doing laundry a couple days later, I was reading some Kenko, an early Japanese essayist from an anthology I used in a class but never finished. Kenko wrote about visiting a small village, making his way down "a moss-covered path until [he] reached a lonely-looking hut. Not a sound could be heard, except the dripping of a water pipe buried in fallen leaves." Enjoying the "sprays of chrysanthemum and red maple leaves" he is amazed that someone might live there and then notices a fenced tangerine tree enclosed in a forbidding fence and is immediately disillusioned by the whole scene.

Annie knows what I'm talking about...

So, my imagined ideal discomfitingly butting against the actual, is still fairly zen and Japanesey. Plus, Kenko goes on to ask "Are we to look at cherry blossoms only in full bloom, the moon only when it is cloudless?" and wonders where the poems written about "going to view the cherry blossoms only to find they had scattered" or "on being prevented from visiting the blossoms." So, perhaps I need to write the poem "on going to see the cherry blossoms and seeing everyone else going to see the cherry blossoms."

Still, the flowering trees out east here: gorgeous.

And I really like DC.