Monday, July 30, 2012

Our special boat

A friend of mine has a 39+’ foot boat. That’s a big boat, just under the 40’ that requires a special license. As I like to kid him, we have about that same amount of  boat, it’s just that ours are in the form of two canoes and our peddle/paddle boat.

I take the canoes out to study sites with students and sometimes our son and I get out for a canoe float. The peddle/paddle boat is our special boat, though, because one particular member of our household is not comfortable in a canoe (too tippy) or really any small craft in deep water. (She’s plenty comfortable on that 39+’ boat as are we all when we get to enjoy what we consider a luxury cruise.) The peddle/paddle boat is not at all tippy and draws only a few inches of water, so we can take it in shallow water.

It fits right into the bed of the pickup so it makes for a nice trip to a shallow embayment on the river. Yesterday, we took it out on Ashmun Bay. With the rains in Duluth, Lake Superior is not low this summer and so Ashmun Bay has enough water to put the peddle/paddle boat in.  Ashmun Bay is also a popular power boat launch. The power boaters use the dredged channel that runs to the west of the launch to get out onto the St. Marys River. We go to the east, into the shallow bay, follow the shoreline then cut across back to the boat launch area. We spend about 45 minutes or so on the water. It is great to get out on the water and to do so without making a lot of noise and a big wake.

One party launched their powerboat when we did and returned when we did. We traveled about a kilometer. They likely traveled much farther. But I think we had a more peaceful experience and by going so slowly over a short distance got to see things in detail. I wonder if they even noticed the bald eagle carrying a fish in its talons, being mobbed by gulls? We also noticed a few sprigs of purple loosestrife. I’ll have to take some students out there this fall and get it dug up. It’s the first I’ve seen and so few plants we can stop the invasion just with hand pulling. It would be good to keep the bay free of purple loosestrife. It’s a nice bay with the vast majority of the shoreline in natural bank and a great place for canoes, kayaks and even a peddle/paddle boat.

We topped the afternoon off with some of the best burgers in town from the burger shack immediately adjacent to the bay. It made for a nice afternoon to capitalize on what this great place has to offer. 

Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Greetings from Ann Arbor

From Ann Arbor MI-
Art Fair has taken over downtown Ann Arbor as it does this time every summer. A chance to take class at U of Mich brought me here, as it has before during Art Fair.

 Earlier in the week, it was fun seeing the logistics involved in making an already walkable downtown into a two-layer town – there’s gotta be a thousand booths for artists and vendors lining the streets in front of the restaurants and store fronts. The not-for-profit row provides political, religious, charity and other groups a chance to have hundreds and hundreds of people at least walk by. For some of the fringy-ier groups, it’s got to be the only chance they have of this kind of exposure.

The vendors range from interesting clothes and food stuffs to those selling objects d’art and bric-a-brac. You can tell the artists. They’re the ones with just a few pieces with no prices, some of which leaves one saying ‘huh?’ which is better than just ‘I don’t get it.’

One can do worse than spend 30 minutes or so in a beer tent enjoying a local brew and watching the crowd go by.

On the east side of campus is the Nichols Arboretum, a slice of nature in the city, a chance to leave the hustle-bustle behind (you can still hear it, though) and appreciate what 120+ acres of nature in the form of forested hills and restored natural Huron River waterfront has to offer. The formal garden part of the Arb is immediately adjacent to the med center. I hope some of the families members with loved ones in tough health straits have a chance to be restored by the gardens and natural setting of the Arb. I couldn’t help but imagine naturalists of previous generations, including Ed Voss, walking the trails of this jewel in the urban landscape.

This morning I finally found a funky old diner to get some pancakes. I like scones and bagels but was hungry for pancakes. Franks, just off campus, fit the bill. A potential customer came in looking for bagels. The waitress said ‘we don’t have bagels, the place next door does.’ The customer said ‘but the place next door doesn’t have fried eggs.’ ‘Well they got bagels but no eggs, we got eggs but no bagels.’

It’s probably just because I’m an academic and obviously have a long, pleasant association with college campuses but I do like college campuses and this one is special in its own big, important, well-known University-with-a-long-history sort of way. Walking thru the archway onto the old campus quad is special. The old buildings recall a time when big public buildings said something about how the people who built them felt about what went on in them and not just the most utilitarian construction. The open spaces, the architecture, the activities all make for special places. When you’re walking thru the quad or sitting on a bench taking in all that positive energy, you don’t need to think of any professional rivalries that may be going on inside the buildings or the mountain of debt the students are accumulating.  

Monday, July 16, 2012

Feel the day

In our meeting, we were discussing the details of an ongoing research project. I was thoroughly engaged in the discussion, not looking our the window daydreaming. So I was not really prepared for what awaited me outside. After my meeting, I stepped outside and immediately received the kiss of a perfect summer morning. Warm, not too hot. Not too humid. Not too windy. I felt the day. And it felt wonderful.

I also felt fortunate that my options in a place to live and work included a place that offers such nice days. Luck always has something do to with it. 

Friday, July 6, 2012

a special, although fictitious, place

This blog is about how place informs our lives. I had intended it to be actual places but this week, with the death of Andy Griffith, I thought about how fictitious places can inform our lives, too. Sense-of-place is an important component of good fiction. Novelists strive to put us in a special place and time, to put us right in the scene. Sit-coms maybe not so much. Except for the Andy Griffith Show. The show had more exterior shots than most sit-coms. We saw Main Street, Andy's neighborhood, the service station, the lake. The Mayberry attitudes were featured prominently as well. An episode I saw recently was the one about the guy 'from the city' just has to get his car fixed on a Sunday. By the end of the show, the guy 'from the city' had bought into the slow pace of Mayberry. As a kid, I always wondered how Andy put up with all the incompetence around him. I understood after I had a chance to live and work in a particular areas where one did the best with the people available instead of trying to thinking one had to have the best and the brightest.

Mayberry was a pretty accepting place. Not a lot of racial diversity, but there were the 'confirmed bachelors' whose private preferences were never discussed but seemed to be tolerated just fine.

Thanks to the writers, directors, producers and actors that took us to that fun place. Let's see. 50 years later and still in re-runs. I guess that makes it classic TV. For a modern and thus somewhat snarky but still good-hearted  sit-com in which the place is a main feature, check out Corner Gas.