Weekly Rundown

A Valentine’s Day rundown. Mostly worked this week. But, some things:

Reading: The Ballad of Black Tom by Victor LaValle. This had been on my to-read list for a couple of years, and I couldn’t remember why I originally put it on. What started as a novella on a Harlem street-hustler (in a moderately magic-filled world) spiraled into Lovecraftian horror. I enjoyed it – a fun, quick read – though I still can’t recall what was it that made me jot it down originally…

Listening: Bach’s Cello Suites. My favorite is 1, which is a ubiquitous piece, but all of them are lovely. I’ve always enjoyed cello music. I’ve been told it’s because the cello makes a sound closest to the human voice of all the instruments. I don’t know if that’s true, but I wanted to revisit some cello music, particularly Bach.

Learning: About Alaska. Currently looking over some information regarding the 1899 Harriman Expedition. Apparently, Teddy Roosevelt was an admirer of the reports of flora and fauna being assembled by the team of the expedition, but it didn’t stop Roosevelt from dismantling Harriman’s railroad company in 1904 in antitrust litigation.

And more on personal libraries, following up from the earlier post:

The benefits of wilderness

“Only by going alone in silence, without baggage, can one truly get into the heart of the wilderness. All other travel is mere dust and hotels and baggage and chatter.”

– John Muir

The wild places are where we found the heart of humanity. Man was not born of the city, but rather of woods, and plains, and mountains. We expect so much from our modern life that it’s easy to overlook the simple pleasures of walking through the woods or tending your own garden.

As children, we knew the woods just up the street to be wilderness. We played in those trees, rummaged through the low underbrush, and identified insects, reptiles, and amphibians best we could. As we grow older, we stray off the sidewalk less and less.

This isn’t universal. In fact, there is a push for reentering nature the likes of which probably haven’t been seen since the sixties. People are in need of more wilderness if merely to combat that rampant modernization.

So it’s important to be outside. To forest bathe, or sit under the stars. Away from light pollution, and outside of walls. It’s where we found our heart once, and it can show us the way again.

What I’ve Read

Time frame…?

Books Bought:

  • Plato: Complete Works – Edited by John M. Cooper
  • NORTH: Finding Place in Alaska – Julie Decker, editor
  • Raven Steals the Light – Bill Reid & Robert Bringhurst
  • Travels in Alaska – John Muir
  • Nature Writing – John Muir (Library of America edition)
  • 100 Tough Questions for Japan – Itasaka Gen

Books Read:

  • Tools of Titans – Tim Ferriss (unfinished)
  • Wilderness Essays – John Muir (unfinished)
  • How to Watch a Movie – David Thomson (unfinished)
  • On National Parks – John Muir (unfinished)
  • Lycanthia; or The Children of Wolves  – Tanith Lee (unfinished)
  • The Brief, Wondrous Life of Oscar Wao – Junot Diaz
  • The Eye Never Sleeps: Striking to the Heart of Zen – Dennis Genpo Merzel
  • Emerson: Essays and Lectures – Ralph Waldo Emerson (unfinished)
  • The Name of the Rose – Umberto Eco

Well, who knows. It seems like April was the last time I wrote about my book purchases and reading. So… Here’s a list. It is probably incomplete. I look at a lot of books.

During the months of May-July, my work was highly demanding. But not the real work. Just the work for a paycheck. And the pay wasn’t even that good. Sometimes it’s about trying things – picking them up, seeing if you like them. If not, you put it down and walk away.

Highlights – Alaska was the big one. I purchased two books in Alaska: Raven and NORTH. The latter was published by collaboration with the Anchorage Museum and University of Washington Press. It includes works of art in the museum collection and essays about the Last Frontier.

To say that I was moved by Alaska would be an understatement. It was magnificent, and I cannot wait to go back.

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I like to pick up books when I travel. They’re not the lightest souvenir, but I’ve always had a connection with books. In Ireland, I purchased a used copy of On the Road. In Germany, a Lutheran hymnal. While in Prague, I got a handmade notebook.

Raven Steals the Light is a collection of Native myths from the Haida people. The Raven is a trickster, and a spirit, and a god. “The Raven, who of course existed at that time, because he had always existed and always would…” It recounts many native tales of the beginnings of things, and reasons for things.

I had a lot of false starts with books. Oscar Wao, for one. I tried, but couldn’t quite bring myself to read it. Same with Emerson. Same with Lycanthia. With Muir and Thomson. I just could not bring myself to read much.

Partly I think it’s owed to my having a lot on my mind. Hence I’ve been reworking my routines. I have now been reading each night before bed, settling into Name of the Rose for about 30-45 minutes a night. Sometimes less, if I’m really tired. Umberto Eco is interesting. I remember trying to read this book shortly after graduating high school, while sitting in a wing backed cushioned chair at Barnes & Noble. I didn’t get all that far into it.

It throws you Latin, and Italian, and maybe a splattering of French. Monastic terms I’m only vaguely familiar with, and some that I’ve never heard. Under all of that though, there is mystery and intrigue. A young monk has died mysteriously. If suicide, how did the window close behind him? If murder, is the assailant man (and thereby monk?), or something infernal? The Sherlockian monk William of Baskerville will use all his reasoning to get to the bottom of it.

It led me to discover the Italian mini-series, so I’m trying to find somewhere to watch that – with subtitles, preferably.

I added the two Muir books to my collection – I had been reading some essays by him before going to Alaska. I hope to finish at least one collection of his this year. Also the writings of Plato. I found this book used, and the fact that it was edited by Edith Hamilton caught my attention. I had done some myth research two years, reading over Hamilton as well as Joseph Campbell, and I wanted to see what sort of commentary was included in this book. I haven’t gotten around to opening it though.

I did just pop open Tools of Titans. I had picked it up on sale in December, and was just reading about Ferriss’s compulsion to record data.

I’m a compulsive note-taker. To wit, I have recorded nearly every workout since age 18 or so. Roughly 8 feet of shelf space in my home is occupied by spine upon spine of notebook upon notebook. That, mind you, is one subject. It extend to dozens. Some people would call this OCD, and many would consider it a manic wild goose chase. I view it simply: It is the collection of my life’s recipes.

I too take many notes, and have amassed a pile of notebooks. Not like Ferriss – not to that extent – but I’ve been jotting things down since I was in high school, and I’ve got notebooks with varying degrees of use on my shelves, in the garage, and in storage. If I had my way, this is what my house would look like:

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Maybe my next house…

Alaska-bound

And we’re off. I’ve been planning for this trip for nearly a year. Now, finally, it’s here. I know that it won’t disappoint.

There are many people I’ve spoken with who’ve told me how amazing of a trip this is. There are internet sites, and people posting on that annoying Instagram app… All about Alaska. And I wonder, would John Muir recognize it, with all this notoriety? This land that’s been called simply: “Great.”

“Never before this had I been embosomed in scenery so hopelessly beyond description.” – John Muir

Perhaps I attract those who like to travel. Perhaps it’s a similar feeling in myself that allows those to open up to me – like attracts like.

But perhaps it’s that the tourism trade has done a number on exploring. What is exploration anymore? What is the journey vs. the destination? What is vacation vs. life?

These are things that I will ponder looking out upon the expanse of this wonderful State.

Alaska

Starting in 2016, I’ve made excursions out of the US. Ireland and Scotland, then 8 countries through Western and Central Europe in 2017. Last year was Costa Rica.

One funny thing about traveling out of the country is that you meet many locals there (or fellow travelers) amazed you haven’t seen all of your own country. So, this year I’m seeing Alaska – somewhere I’ve wanted to go for a long time.

Flights are now booked, and in two months I’ll be exploring what John Muir has called “one of the most wonderful countries in the world.”