Thursday, July 27, 2006

Catfish and Corn

Two things that recommend the Midwest in the thick of a summer's doggiest of days are fresh sweet corn and catfishing. Around the middle of July you start to see the pickups parked in scattered parking lots and along roadsides, a big wooden carefully spray painted sign entices the buyer, "FRESH SWEET CORN."

The window for the good stuff remains open for a scant few weeks each year. Peaches and Cream straight out of the field or garden, shucked and boiled, buttered kernels that pop off the cob into your mouth. I'm not talking the canned or even full ear supermarket varieties that somehow just don't have the that snap and toil in their over-moist, soggy mediocrity, but the gen-u-ine article, tenderly planted and nurtured throughout the season, a slice of heaven for $3.50 a dozen.

I consider myself lucky to be the inherited owner of a two acre farm pond just outside of town in which to fish in unencumbered by crowds. It is July and July is the height of catfishing season. The hotter and more humid the better. The mantra is simple yet elegant:

1. Ball up a nice chunk of pungent cheese bait (I use B's brand, or make your own) onto a #3 treble hook.

2. Cast gingerly so as to not throw off said cheese bait.

3. Nurse a beer or two and watch the sunset while you wait for a run.

4. If you've said your prayers and sacrificed to Ra, you just might look down from your Newcastle Ale, or if you're a true river rat, Bud Light, to see your line spinning out.

5. Be Zenlike. Don't freak on me here and set the hook right away. Patience is the way. Let it run for a minute then discretely lock the reel, when then the line tugs, set it hard.

6. Enjoy the battle, but don't break your line.

7. Admire the beauty of your channel or bullhead.

8. Repeat

We netted three channel the other night, perfect eating size of between 1 1/2 and 3 lbs. Bank fishing for channel is truly one of the season's sweetest rituals.

Wednesday, July 26, 2006


I was leafing through John Jerome's Elements of Effort last night, a book every runner should own. Jerome had the gift of being able to articulate the subtle complexities of a seemingly simple activity in the most impactful of ways. I was thinking about running goals--"racing" yourself and others and such--here's a tidbit:

"There's a benefit to be gained from racing that is not often mentioned. It gives you an easy familiarity with your own capacities, also known as limits. You develop the ability to discern, subjectively, not only the level of effort at which improvement starts but also the level at which it starts to turn sour. A feel for that subtle switchover point from gain to loss.

Racing, and the training for it, gives you a comfortable sense of the size of the room within which your efforts are reasonable and effective. It shows you where the walls are."

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Yearning To Howl

The Howl at the Moon 8 hour is a mere month away and I need miles and need them badly. Long runs have been hard to come by this summer for a variety of reasons. My last long trail run was just 3 1/2 hours back in late June. Somehow I've managed to drop six pounds in this time, a fact I was mulling over while putting away a good half of a Monical's veggie pizza last night with the family. Smoke em' if ya got em'.

Despite Sunday being the hottest day of the year so far just about everywhere in the country, I managed to get in a 4 hour run out at Farmdale. Starting temp at 7:30 a.m. was around 84 degrees, and the car thermometer read 93 degrees four hours later. There was some kind of horse ride at the reservoir and I bet I had to stop 10 or 12 times to step off the trail. No big deal, I'm all about "sharing the trail," like the strategically posted signs say, although I'd rather not share it with their sizable piles of horse crap. Despite the crazy heat, managed to stay hydrated with a Gatorade Rain (more tolerable than the regular stuff) and water mix, only took one Succeed! cap, as the rest fell out of my replacement belt pack, which is actually a small binocular case, since I lost my real one.

I'm planning one more long run in two weeks before Howl, then I reckon I'll taper. As for the event, I'm looking forward to it. Being a timed event there's no pressure to complete a set distance. My hope is to get between 26 and 30 and see how things feel.

Soundtrack: Rocker T and Version City Rockers, "Nicer by the Hour"

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

West of Jesus

Two friends who happened to be surfers drove their rusted out old car into the outback to chase the rumor of perfect waves on an isolated beach. They rumbled over the bumpy road, turning left, then right, winding around, finally driving off the pavement down pockmarked, dusty lanes, eventually stalling out in a thick muck field just a quarter mile from the ocean. From here they did what any reasonable surfer would do, they untied their boards and started to hike into the beach. Things changed not more than ten feet away from their abandoned car. A blinding light flash and -zap!- a lightning bold charred the car, frying engine and all associated parts.

Miles from civilization, knowing nothing about engines and out of supplies, they did the only sensible thing--they went surfing. When they reached the water they found the surface to be completely flat, no waves to be had. Waiting out most of the afternoon with no change in conditions, they were ready to bail, when again -zap!- another bolt hit the reef and *poof* instant waves. Beautiful surf for hours, they caught waves all day, until suddenly, just as rapidly as they had begun, the waves shut off. Just like that, as sometimes happens.

That's when they saw him. Several hundred yards out was an old man sitting on a surfboard. In his hand was a long white bone. The story is that with this bone he could control the weather, could summon waves, and who knows what other magical stuff.

This is the story of the Conductor. It is the myth who's elusive origins author Steven Kotler seeks in his book "West of Jesus: Surfing, Science, and the Origins of Belief." After hearing the tale of the Conductor years apart in similarly dire circumstances while surfing in Indonesia and later Mexico, Kotler embarks on a journey of the exploration of belief and spirituality. The "logos and "mythos" of human understanding. This is not your average surf book.

Weaving his own personal tale of a struggle with Lyme's Disease and his transformation through a surfing session, he gives us a peepshow look at current scientific thought about the causal reasons behind our spiritual experiences. This is a magical narrative that touches on areas that those of us who explore recognize as familiar. It is a complex, yet simple tale that uses surfing simply as a backdrop, but has relevance to anyone, especially those in love with action sports. Social scientists, psychologists, evolutionary biologists, and many other scientific sorts weigh in on numerous aspects of belief. We are ushered to all corners of the globe, from California to New Zealand to Hawaii on this quest.

Much is revealed. On the marriage of brain evolution and the construction of mythologies:

"Humans often encounter illness, death, odd coincidences, mysterious circumstances--things that do not allow for easy understanding. Yet human evolution designed the human brain to detect meaning, and this mechanism doesn't just shut down when easy answers aren't readily forthcoming. Hence the need to invent meaning--gods, demons, supernatural forces--mythos is how humankind resolves the irresolvable." It is the how and why of this phenomenon, it is the mystery, that Kotler delves deeply into.

And yet there is a more tactile mystery that can be tasted through physical experience, through exertion, through being "in the zone."--surfing, being in animate motion in whatever form. Mythos has its place, emotions are said to be believed to be constantly filtering our reality--meaning quite literally that what we believe may be what we actually see. The question is then begged: What happens to our reality and to a society's reality when belief in the mythological ceases?

While this is heady stuff and the science fascinating, the author makes his words dance; the interplay being tremendously fun to behold. For those of us runners there is much to be gleaned. Kotler does bring running into the fray, looking at the old idea of the "endorphin high" and relegating it to a "total fantasy of pop culture." The beauty for the runner is in the mystery: "something's happening here; what it is ain't exactly clear."

What is clear is that for those of us who enjoy our laymanly romps with the logos, but whose souls are irretrievably lost to the mythos, this is book is a worthwhile and fantastical journey.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Chasing My Inner Kenyan or I'm a Rhino, Not a Cheetah

Trying to run fast on pavement just isn't something I do often anymore. Most of my long miles are on trails, but I admit my shorter weekday runs are on streets around town. My last 5k was year ago at 8,000 feet with a group of Hopi Indians in Flagstaff, AZ. ( is to say, it was more of adventure run than an inquiry into foot speed. My last 5k before that was in 2003. Training for the long trail runs has taken me away from the short stuff.

In recognition that three years is a fair chunk of time, I thought it time to go back and run the Dog Days 5k at Lake Bloomington again. Dog Days is an evening race, starting at 6:00 pm, thus avoiding the peak heat of the day. Got there at 5:30 to find that the RD hadn't ordered XL shirts, and these are really great coolmax shirts; he was astounded by my good humor at not bitching about the snafu and taking the 2 XL, of course with the obligatory, "I'm sure I can gain the weight comment."

Went out at a conservative pace (come to think of it, I finished at a conservative pace, too) chatting with and cheering on other runners. In the last mile I struck up a conversation with a nice young man, maybe 12 or 13, whom I promised to race the last half mile with at 5:00/mile pace; we pushed each other to the finish and into the chute. My time: an extremely pedestrian 25:30, 8:15/mi. pace. Not bad for being overweight and not training for speed, save for a few fartlek workouts, and not running for four days previous due to knee tendonitis. By the way, I ran a 22:47 at this race in 2002 and 21:58 in '03. But, I'm happy with the time, considering everything. I had a blast doing this race, proving that even slow 5k's can sometimes be fun. Variety is a spice.

The knee is a bit of a concern. Howl at the Moon 8 Hour is in a month and I need a few more long runs. Hopefully it will improve and allow them. Stay tuned.

Well, Dave encountered trouble with the heat and aborted his run across the state on Friday. It was an exceedingly tough goal to pull of in July, and I credit him for even starting it.

Soundtrack: Monobloco "Ao Vivo" Unbelievably good Brazilian music. Thanks, Snyd!!

Tuesday, July 04, 2006

To Write

I've been delving back into a great book, Brenda Ueland's If You Want to Write, written in 1938, it is a work about finding your muse, art, independence and spirit. Ueland uses one of my favorite iconoclasts, William Blake, as a template for creative spirit. Interestingly, Blake conceived of God as the brunt of imaginary force within all of us, feeding on that energy for spiritual sustenance, often to the risk of ridicule and monetary loss--yet screaming the maxim that answering the voice is the m0st important thing we can do as humans. Imagination and creativity as pillars of glory.

Van Gogh painted not from obligation but only because he saw something beautiful and wanted to convey his vision and feelings to others. Poetry is the same--recognition of the value of and beauty within things natural, and transforming the sensation into personal expression. Having your eyes open enough to want to bask in beautiful things, to express them to others, or simply to celebrate for its own sake.

"Writing--there is something necessary and life-giving about it. A state of excitement. And it is like a faucet: Nothing comes out unless you turn it on, and the more you turn it on, the more it comes. Do these things for internal gratification and enlightenment, not materialistic reward."

Ueland reminds me that there is magic also in contemplative idleness, letting the imagination ooze out of your pores. My experience is that not all inspiration is a spark of feverish scribbling. Solitude can facilitate my creativity, stripping away the often pointless burdens of daily static and just letting the spirit be. The holiness of spirit, it is that which is always searching, searching and trying to sift what we really think and feel from all the excess that school or society or poisonous relationships place on us.

The thoughts and visions that I write today are actually the result of some other days' idle solitude. As Blake so delicately puts it: "Sooner strangle an infant in its cradle than nurse unacted desires."

As I sit today on the banks of this creek, I feel some level of insight into my Imagination. The importance of the present. Embracing the imaginative. What do we have? Sitting and hearing the birds, murmuring of the water-- I saw three of the most vibrant bluebirds on the trail here, almost a turqoise, translucent blue. This, and the reading and the writing, has edified my soul.

On another note, Dave's run across Illinois is this coming weekend. I'll be crewing Friday night, camping out at a lock on the Hennepin Canal, crewing through Saturday, driving down to run the Dog Days 5k, driving back to camp at Buffalo Rock State Park, then crewing through Sunday. Report to follow sometime, contingent upon survival, of course.

Soundtrack: Avail, "Over the James"