Friday, August 29, 2003

Labor Day

It’s summer’s end. Astronomically, summer ends in three weeks with the autumnal equinox but every one knows that summer really ends with Labor Day. Perhaps it was because it was already on my mind but the woods seemed ready for summer’s end. Although there were deer and rabbits about, the woods were quiet and the growth had that tired end of season feel. Already, although it’s still warm, leaves are changing and dropping.

We had a Haverford Township Day meeting tonight. Good meeting. The tension picks up a bit as we get closer. Every year Labor Day seems to jump on us and suddenly it’s obvious that we (ok I) don’t have enough done. In July and even August it seemed so far away and now it’s on us. But an event like this does seem to happen all on its own. Would be easier though if I still worked in town.

Sunday, August 24, 2003

Schuylkill River Trail

Don’t be fooled by the title. This is not a trail run. The Schuylkill River Trail is a rails to trails project. This is a multi-use trail that is used mostly by bikers. My understanding is that the trail will extend for 110 miles from Philadelphia north into Berks County. I began in Conshohocken – from there to Norristown the trail is bounded by old industrial America and rail tracks still in use. Below the tracks you glimpse views of the river. A couple miles past Norristown you encounter a private community (isn’t that an oxymoron) that almost has a resort feel. About two miles from Valley Forge you enter an arbor of trees. This stretch is very pretty in the fall. Since the last time I was here a vast half mile stretch on the west side of trail has been cleared of all vegetation. Apparently some development is afoot here but just what I don’t know. Just before Valley Forge there are the remains of the Betzwood Studios where silent films were made. I ran a little further into the park along a new portion of the trail. I understand that you can continue on for at least seven more miles – I will have to try that portion soon. At the park I refilled my camel pack and started back. I have been in trouble on return journey when it was very hot and I didn’t take in enough fluid. But today, I was in good shape attributed I think to using Succeed, the camel pack to stay hydrated, and the great temps (75F) and low humidity. I estimate I got about 18 miles in. The trail has mile markers which are different from the last time I ran. Not sure what the start is, possibly the Art Museum since mile 30, is in Valley Forge Park.

Friday, August 22, 2003

Friday Trail Run

I am finding trail running addictive. Roads are ok. But it is so nice to slip off the road and into the woods. This morning it was the Rocky Run and Darlington. Hot and humid low misty clouds hung in the air. The last time I went this way the bridges were in disarray but someone has repair, righted or replaced them all. I’m not as familiar with Darlington as Rocky Run and portions of the trail aren’t clearly marked but I stayed on course. The last couple of weeks I haven’t seen much wild life but today there was a beautiful blue egret and a strange bird black and yellow and orange. A pair of deer let me get quite close before they ran off through the trees. I had a choice to run back to a bridge or cross the creek, I thought I would give the stream crossing a try. The water was about 2 feet deep but there were plenty of stones. Unfortunately midway across the stones were very small and slippery but I danced on and managed not to fall in (not that it would have much mattered since I was soaking wet by then). These aren’t classically beautiful woods, just the remains of an old dairy farm spared from the developer by some far sighted individuals and given this day to me as a wonderful gift of peace and tranquility.

Tuesday, August 19, 2003

Civil Society

The other morning while walking Max I found a driver’s license. Contacted the owner and made arrangements for him to pick it up. He was somewhat chagrined. He had stopped to get gas and left his wallet on the pump. He had only gone a short distance when he realized he had forgotten his wallet but when he went back it was already gone. He quickly cancelled the cards and it’s doubtful taking the wallet much benefited the thief. (Although he will have to worry about identity theft.) His biggest regret was the photos of his children.

Last week in the midst of the power failures we had good news. Society generally remained civil. In my own neighborhood I generally feel very safe (even to the point of not always locking cars doors, etc. – and I notice lots of the neighborhood kids don’t always bring their bikes in). Yet as the wallet incident shows you can’t depend on people’s honesty. In fact it is quite foolish to expect it. Someone had the option of doing a good deed and returning the wallet or doing evil and taking it. Yet wouldn't it be nice if only we could depend on someone returning the wallet.

Doesn’t this small incident illustrate all the issues of how we conduct ourselves in this world? Do you choose to do good or evil? Is the wallet thief just a smaller version of the murderer who entered a bus in Israel and killed children?

Philosophers, psychologists and sociologist may argue over free will but at the end of the day you have the choice to return the wallet or do evil.

But wouldn’t all the world be better if we always did return the wallet?

Sunday, August 17, 2003

Half Wit Half Marathon

As my friend Nick Price said when I asked him if he was doing this race again, “You would be a half wit to do that race twice.” The Japanese have a similar proverb anout climbing Mt. Fuji – You are a fool to never climb Mt. Fuji and a bigger fool to climb it twice.” Of course I did climb it twice. And I did the Half Wit for a second year in row.

Last year was very hot and humid and my time was awfully slow. It was the only time I have ever sat down in a race and I think I was very close to heat exhaustion.

This year was still hot and humid but about 10 degrees cooler. It had been stormy yesterday and thru the night. The morning was overcast but cleared as I headed west and north. Glad of no rain because several parts of the course seem to be stream beds, however, it was less muddy then I expected with really only two areas of shoe sucking mud. There were a lot of trees down though and by the end I was looking to go around rather then over.

About 11 miles into the run I was with a small group. One women asked what mile are we at and are we still on the right path. I had to laugh because I had asked the same question about the same place last year. She couldn’t believe her time and said it was the hardest race she had ever run much harder then a marathon. There was a chorus of agreement. Ditto for me. The good news was we were very close to the finish; the bad news is two of the steepest hills were just before us.

Because of the problems I experienced last year I ran this race very conservatively. I stopped at each water stop and made sure I got plenty of water. I used Succeed and they certainly helped – no cramping like last year (although I wish I had taken one more succeed with me as I felt on the verge of a cramp in the last mile.) Still I finished strong and comfortably.

The race director says he measures this course with a survey wheel – I wonder how he does it I can’t imagine the wheel even turning over most of this course. The trail is all rock, downhills that are vertical drops, and the infamous 120 steps from hell. At the six mile mark there is a serious of granite blocks (like the material used for curbs in some areas) laid into a hillside. The bottom blocks are askewed and jumbled and you need to climb under a tree to get to the upper portin. Here the blocks do seem like steps but with very steep risers. These “steps” are a myserty . Why are they there - they don’t seem to connect anything – when were they built and why were they abandoned?

If you looked at the application you know the race director has a devilish, sarcastic sense of humor.e He puts burma shave signs out on the course. My favorite this year was his proposed ESPN show – Runners Eye For The Sloth Guy. One suggestion to the sloth – you belt goes around your stomach not under it.

One other experience before I close out – when I picked up my number I got the number for Charles Brooks III. I wanted to meet number 32 my namesake but despite looking for him at the beginning and end I never did see him. Maybe another race.

Friday, August 15, 2003


Sometimes you know exactly when you got interested in some activity. For example I know exactly when and how I began running and in particular began running races. (The impulse to do a marathon is a little fuzzier.)

However, I don’t remember when I got interested in beer. I know it had something to do with the advent of micro breweries and the possibility to get real beer (not to be snobby) as oppose to the big commercial breweries.

Despite my wife buying me a number of beer books and having gone to a beer tasting I am still vague to all the various terminology surrounding beer. It is definitely as arcane a discipline as wine. There are beer styles, beer color, gravity, alcohol content, glass type, and on and on.

Still I am developing a taste for what I like.

Wednesday six of us went for dinner to Monk’s CafĂ©. They have hundreds of beers and a good selection on tap. If you know anything about beer you’ll know from the name that they specialize in Belgian beers. I haven’t decided about Belgian beers. The taste is very distinctive but not as robust as I come to like. On the other hand my friend Denis loves stouts. I like them occasional but they are a little much to have on a regular basis.

At Monk’s I tried Hoegaarden, a wheat beer brewed with a bit of coriander & orange peel. And later I tried triple ale. Both were light beers and good summer drinking.

Service was pleasant and we were lucky to be taken almost immediately and get a great corner table. We had a pleasant meal together. I got my friend Joe to try octopus but no one else would nibble. My wife had a wonderful bottle beer DeKonnick.
All of my favorite things - good food, good beer and especially good friends.

Monday, August 11, 2003

Weekend Running

This weekend we were house guests in Ventnor NJ. Ventnor is a seaside community that shares the same island as Atlantic City. The other towns on the island are Margate and Longport.

It had been more than 40 years since I had been in Atlantic City. My parents took us to Atlantic City for vacation many times in the late 50's, early 60's. My memories were those fuzzy kid memories of salt air, sunburns, Steel Pier, and Ripley's.

On Saturday I went for an early morning run on the boardwalk that extends from Ventnor to the end of Atlantic City. Frankly I was surprised by how ugly Atlantic City is. I'm not talking about kitsch - I expect that on the boardwalk and that can have a charm and energy but the Atlantic City boardwalk has a rather a run-down, beat up, lack of vitality feel. I don't know how the casinos are inside but the outsides add nothing to the boardwalk. In fact the lack of retail seems to rob the area of something. Ironically the Sunday Philadelphia Inquirer had a column about how casino money is renovating the town. It wasn’t visible to me on Saturday.

Once past the Showboat casino you look out on real devastation. If there is money for development what happened to this area. You finally reach a point where the boardwalk exists but is closed even to pedestrian traffic. Along the boardwalk, I noticed the remains of some tile work that show where some old building once existed. It was kind of sad to imagine what must have been there at one time.

For years I've heard that the casinos shine but go a block off the boardwalk you find ruin - I found ruin right up against the boardwalk and the exteriors of the casinos neither appealing nor interesting.

I can't imagine why the city can't look better - isn't it a win-win for everyone if that area is improved and filled with interesting, pristine attractions.

I'm glad that some good things are happening but it seems much too slow, to too little effect after so much time and wealth has been expended.

The run was great for people watching and the contrast between downtrodden AC and solidly middle class Ventnor. Ventnor feels more like a real place where people live rather than visit.

Sunday I went out the other direction. The boardwalk ends in Ventnor so I headed out on the beach. The tide was just past full so I had hard sand to run on. There were very few people out; I had the beach mostly to my self and the sand pipers. Very cute birds that follow the waves in and out in an exact mimic of the wave shape. Margate is the home of Lucy the Elephant and you get a great view from the beach.

The homes in Margate are impressive but it’s in Longport that the architecture gets really spectacular. The homes toward the end the Island really jump out at you but there’s not much beach here and I would think that a big coastal storm and these properties are gone. On my way back I tried running a couple of miles shoeless. Felt quite different – I think I prefer the support shoes give – but it was nice to splash thru the water. And it was great to finish but soaking in the chilly, salt water.

Friday, August 08, 2003


In addition to the very real possibility that soon parents will be tempted to make changes to their children's genetic code there is the increasing likelihood that humans will be part machine (cyborg). Of course we already heavily use external devices to enhance our senses. And prostheses to aid amputees have also been around for centuries with current improvements both more human (hands that look human and respond to nerve impulses) and more tech (high tech replacements that allow sprinting). Glasses have been in use for hundreds of years and it is probably only a matter of time until a blind person is permanently connected to an external device that provides vision. Hearing aids are common and cochlear implants despite controversies are commonly done. Hip replacements are done with steel. Wearable computers are frequently the subject of tech shows. There was a buzz recently about humans being implanted with the id chips already used for dogs. In what I think was a parody but maybe not there was an illustration of how a cell phone could be placed into a tooth filling. I recently met a friend in the drug store; just casually she mentioned that she would soon go in for a surgical procedure so the battery on her pacemaker could be changed. Could it even be argued that our high-tech running shoes are cyborg devices in that they change how we run? Are we already bio-mechanical beings?

Yet all these things are just parts.

But my question is how biomechanical would you be willing to be. If a chip could be planted in you head that would give always on wireless access to the web would you do it? Could your bio brain process all the information available from your silicon implant? This is kind of the flip side of the matrix. You don't enter the net it enters you. This isn't as far fetch as it might seem. Already listservs, email and googling change how I relate to the world. It is one of the big questions that still out there just waiting for the next big step.

Do you feel that you are fundamentally different than say a hunter-gatherer. Or is human nature, human nature and these externalities have barely scratched that what makes us human?

Friday Run

Because there has been so much rain and the morning looked so wet I opted to use the multi-use trail at Ridley Creek Park rather then in the woods.
The trail is a good hill workout. Usually I take the loop by going right which leads up but at what seems a more relaxed grade then the left fork which goes sharply up hill for almost a full mile. This morning I chose to do the hard uphill first. Quiet, peaceful morning. Last year when I first took to this path we were in a drought and the creek was quite low, but this morning it churns and roils noisily. A few other runners, dog walkers, and strollers but mostly I have the trail to myself. There is a field of corn that seems to in the park and I wonder who farms it and why and what happens to the produce. There's actually a little sunshine by the finish and despite the high dew point it's a very nice morning. Just above Sycamore Mills Dam the water is cover by water striders who flash like winking lights. The link is to a story published just yesterday about these fascinating insects who seem to walk on water.

Monday, August 04, 2003


Humans and dogs have a long history. Natural History did an article about pariah dogs. (No link available) While in the west dogs have become companion animals, in many parts of the world the dog/human association is more coexistence than friendship. Dogs act as scavengers tolerated in and near the village but not cared for. Yet the dogs play important role in warding off predators. It is an interesting symbiosis.

As anyone who has lived with dogs knows they relate to humans in different ways. Marty, our first dog, was a toy poodle. I’m not sure how I would fit him into the social status scale. He didn’t like other dogs but was fine with most people and while never aggressive there were a few he was cold too. He was amazing attuned to human mood and would always seek to comfort those in distress. He liked being next to you, the closer the better.

Now Max, our current companion, definitely fits the Independent description. He’s a great character, doesn’t let too much bother him, and tolerant of all. But once he has check things out he will settle down (unless food is in the offing). He also has the ability cited in the Washington Post article to expect solutions from his humans. No endless repetition for him – get the human to do it is his answer.

Max is a miniature schnauzer. He loves to root and is fascinated by moving things like squirrels, rabbits, but especially bugs. Flying insects are worthy of great attention. He will study there movements and pounce. Not too fussy (he’s a shreck) he'll eat just about anything (worms, moths, and the worst a slug). Once he leapt up and actually caught a bumblebee. I guess they don’t sting – there seemed to be no ill effects. But last night, bug world had its revenge. I noticed just before we got home from a walk that he was limping and fussing with his left paw. When I got home I told my wife that something was wrong and we examined his paw but could find nothing even using a magnifying glass. But then something interesting happened. Max who always has his place near you but separate, insisted on being right next to me. He pushed his paw right up next to me. My wife who had consulted our dog first aid book was convinced that his injury was a sting. I found on examination that there was a swelling on his paw. I got some ice but it was up to my wife to administer it since I had to go to the nursing home. When I got home Francine was triumphant. She had found a stinger – small but quite lethal looking. Max milked it a little more (I think he liked the attention) but by his night walk he was just fine and this morning there was no evidence anything had happened. But I found it interesting how he came to be comforted with the expectation we would make it better. It is an awesome responsibility we undertake when we let these creatures into our lives.

Friday, August 01, 2003

Friday Trail Run

Those of you who truly run the trails over long distances in true wilderness must get a chuckle out of my trail run accounts. As someone said if you get lost on Rocky Run just listen for the sound of traffic and go to it. Still once I leave Route 352 I am a thousand miles from civilization (or perhaps a thousand years). This time of year you enter a green tunnel. The undergrowth is dense and the canopy covers completely.

Last time the woods were lousy with deer but today none. Perhaps they have sought out dryer spaces. A light rain is falling creating its own background noise to the birdsong. Occasionally there are other creaks and groans – are the trees shifting position? No wonder our ancestors found the forest so mysterious and dangerous. As the brambles reach out and clutch at me I know why fairy tales have the trees grabbing people.

There are mysteries here. Someone has laid large block stones in a 20 foot section of the trail and covered them with a heavy wire meshed. Erosion control I suppose, but why there and nowhere else. Further on there is a stone structure about ten feet off the trail. It’s not like the abandoned houses you see in Ridley Creek Park, it looks more like an abandoned bridge but there is nothing to connect and it is near no other human construct. It’s as mysterious to me as Stonehenge.

Can humidity be more than 100% - I’m not especially hot but I am soaking wet – not from rain, the canopy keeps most of it away – but from my own sweat.

A while back I read Oliver Sack’s book about ferns and today I noticed that there is a riot of ferns all through the woods. I guess they like the damp weather. These prehistoric survivors reinforce my sense of being in an older age.

All too soon I have circled around and am back on busy Rt.352 and have burst back into the 21st Century. Well it will be nice to go in and get a nice hot shower and some coffee which I couldn’t do if I was well out in the wilderness.