Thursday, August 18, 2011

True Confessions and Sore Feet

So, the rumors that have been flying around are true.
I cheated on my wife.

With this guy.

Ben. The other man.

But not my real wife. I cheated on my hiking wife, Julie.
I'm sorry, Julie. I truly am. And I hope that, in time, the hurt will heal and you and I will one day be able to move past this and go hiking again. Like maybe next Friday? I have Monday free, too. Let me know.

Yesterday's hike with Ben, who has been my best friend since we were 10 years old, started, as so many hikes seem to, at an unpleasantly early hour.

Ben arrived at my house at 6:00 a.m. and, after a cup of coffee, we headed up north to spend the day tripping over the roots, rocks, and small children that litter the trails of The White Mountains. Our destination was called Falling Waters Trail and encompassed not one, not two, but three mountain summits. Our friend Ryan suggested this hike as a "very nice hike".

I think that Ryan does not actually like us very much.

While it was, undoubtedly "a very nice hike", it was also "a very long hike" that begins with "a very long drive".  The drive up north was actually quite pleasant. Ben and I have been friends for so long that we always have lots to talk about, but even if we didn't, long silences are never uncomfortable.

There was little chance for silence on our ride, however. Early in the trip, Ben had pulled his iPod out of his pocket and plugged it into the stereo so we could listen to some music. The music and conversation was then punctuated by Ben's iPod alarm going off. He fiddled with the iPod and conversation resumed. Then the alarm went off again. And again. And again. Every 5 minutes, Ben's alarm reminded us that it was 5 minutes later. He fiddled and fooled with it. "I've turned off everything on it!" he cried, "There's nothing left to make any noise at all! Was one of my kids messing with this as a joke?!"

Ben and I have both worked as teachers and are well practiced in tuning out annoying noises, however. We continued on our way, Ben cursing his iPod every 5 minutes. When we finally arrived at the trailhead and turned off the car and the iPod, the alarm went off one final time. Ben reached into his pocket and removed his cellphone. He pressed a button on the phone and the alarm stopped. "Hunh. I guess it wasn't my iPod."

We were still happy, in spite of Ben's alarm mishap; but that's because we hadn't started hiking yet. A brief stop at the trailhead bathrooms was made even briefer by the toxic cloud of death that hung about the buildings. We opted for more rustic facilities along the trail and we were off.

The trail starts with a delightful stroll along a heavily wooded path before turning a corner where a guy with an ax appears out of nowhere.
I'm not saying that Ben and I screamed like little girls, but I'd just like to state, for the record, that nowhere in any of the guide books was this guy with the ax mentioned. It's just not something that you expect to see on this sort of hike and it may have startled us a bit. But, I repeat, we did not scream like little girls.

It turns out that, as far as we know, the guy was not a homicidal maniac. Or at least if he was, he was not wielding the ax in that capacity. They were deep in the middle of major trail maintenance, so we would occasionally round corners and discover scenes that look like they belonged on the cover of romance novels. Or in a Diet Coke commercial.

"Oh. Who's the sweaty, shirtless fellow leaning on his shovel along that sun-dappled path deep in the woods?"

And then somebody opens a cool, refreshing Diet Coke and everyone is suddenly dancing around in a spray of cool, refreshing mountain spring water.

But it wasn't a Diet Coke commercial.  And nobody was dancing around in sprays of cool, refreshing mountain spring water, despite the fact that Falling Waters Trail is the most appropriately named thing on the face of the planet. There was water falling everywhere. The place was silly with waterfalls.

Wow! A waterfall!
Ooh. Look! A waterfall.

More of a watertrickle, but okay.

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Hey! Another waterfall!

Okay. We get the point.

Lots of waterfalls. Not many sweaty construction guys prancing about in the water. And for that, we were truly thankful. Because we had enough sweat of our own. Ben developed a delightful pattern of sweat across his front that began to resemble a smiling face.

Sadly, it had lost some of its smiling cheerfulness by the time I took a picture of it. I believed that Ben's sweat may be revealing secret messages to us, but I simply couldn't decode them.

We eventually made it to the summit of the first mountain, Little Haystack, and Ben had an opportunity to change his shirt. It is unfortunate, however,  that he had managed to sweat all the way through his backpack and on to his clean shirt.

I, of course, was still clean, dry, and shower-fresh. And I don't think that Ben has any photos that will prove otherwise. Because he killed the battery in his iPod trying to shut off the alarm a hundred times.

We wound our way along the ridge line for a mile and a quarter, drinking in the breath-taking views and breathing in the breath-taking stink that we were creating.

We made our way to the final summit where we were greeted with the majestic, awe-inspiring view that we had hiked so far to witness: a random kid on the top of a mountain playing a hand-held video game.

We ate lunch and surveyed our surroundings, ignoring the kid with the video game.

The sight of a plane soaring hundreds of yards below us and our car, six-thousand miles away did little to dampen our spirits because Ben's wife, Ann had packed cookies for both of us and they gave us a reason to live. (And, yes, I swear, that little speck in the photo is really, seriously, honestly a plane.)

We headed off down the mountain toward Greenleaf Hut, one of the many AMC facilities that punctuate the mountains, offering $100/night bunks and, no matter how hot it is outside, bowls of nourishing, hot soup.

We passed on the lodging and the hot soup, opting instead to refill our water bottles and make room for more water by taking advantage of the hut's composting toilets.

I don't wish to dwell on the scatological elements of our hike, but I must mention that the toilets at the huts are composting toilets and, while standing at it and making use of it, I was aware of an unexpected and unsettling cool breeze blowing up from the depths and into my face, exactly the part of my body where I would least wish such a breeze to go.

The signs posted in the bathroom offered an explanation, describing the methods by which the toilet works, including "a circulator vent fan that moves the air upward and out through the top of the toilet". This was, evidently, an achievement that they were proud of. It seemed, at least, a certain way to guarantee that nobody makes an extended stay in the bathroom.

Freshly watered, we headed off again toward the car, trailing behind us our own personal combination of delightful odors, now enhanced by the auxiliary back-up stink blown on to us by the hut's composting toilet fans.

The trip down was full of spectacular views and unexpected oddities. We saw the natural terrarium rock:

(I am reluctantly forced to point out its resemblance to a toilet seat, an unfortunate theme that seems to be developing.)

The wily and elusive Benfoot, viewing us curiously from his den:

And our last view of the entire hike before we descended below tree-line:

A few hundred years later, we arrived at my car and, despite how tired we were, we were kept awake for the ride home by Ben's cellphone alarm chirping cheerfully at us every 5 minutes.

Saturday, August 6, 2011

Learning How To Draw - Week One

This is the way it was supposed to go:
The kids go camping with Kerri's parents for the week.
I take a Master's Class in portrait drawing with Tony Ryder for the week.
Kerri spends the week floating around in the pool, sipping drinks with little umbrellas in them.
I come home from class each night and join Kerri briefly in the pool before we cook a delicious meal, eat leisurely on the porch as we chat of this and that, and then spend the evening doing a bit of work in the garden, going for a walk, and updating my daily blog with all my wacky, zany adventures in Tony’s class. Then we would settle down for the night with a good book and a restful night's sleep.

But then:
Small bathroom repair job from a couple weeks ago exploded into horrifying total bathroom gut job.
Muffler dropped off my car.
My car began making a non-muffler-related strange noise and, in the course of removing a tire to look at the brakes, I sheared off one of the lug bolts that hold the tires on and noticed that my brake pads were weirdly corroded necessitating a multi-day series of repairs for me to perform in the driveway.

So, this is the way it actually went:

I went to class each day and suffered at the hands of Tony Ryder, a cruel, tyrannical artist who seeks only to emotionally abuse his students and cripple their wills to create art, thus leaving him the only artist on the planet and, therefor, in complete control of all the art in the world.
Kerri spent each day in our hot, poorly ventilated bathroom huffing paint fumes and regretting the dreadful purple paint she picked out.
We staggered into each other's presence in the evenings, gagged down some form of sustenance, flopped on the couch for an hour or two, staring off into the distance, and then dragged ourselves to bed so we could each spend the night privately contemplating the horrors that awaited us upon awakening.

About the bathroom and the car, I will likely have more to say at some distant point in time, after the paint and brake cleaner fumes have cleared from my head. Possibly sometime in the next decade.

About the class I am taking, I have much to say. First, and most importantly, I was totally lying about the teacher being a tyrannical artist, etc., etc. I only said that to Kerri, so she would feel that we had suffered equally throughout the day.

We had not.

Tony Ryder is, in addition to being one of the most amazingly talented artists alive, a really, really, really nice guy.

This is how Tony's drawings start out.

When I first saw this class advertised, I squealed with joy and did a very macho Tippy-Toe Dance of Exceeding Joy about my house. Even the price of the class (roughly the equivalent of the GNP of a mid-sized European country) did little to dampen my joy.

I spent many idle moments in the months leading up to the class imagining what a class with Tony might be like. I assumed, naturally, that he would swoop into the room wearing a cape and calf-high black boots. In his gloved hands, I imagined a riding crop, used to redirect students whose line quality may be sub-standard.

Frankly, this was not a situation I was looking forward to, but there is no personal growth without some suffering. Minor suffering, of course.

On the first day of class, I wandered into the small art supply store housed on the ground floor of the building where class was to be held. I asked the mild-mannered clerk where the classrooms were. He lead me through a rear door and was even kind enough to push the elevator button for me, lest I strain my finger before class.

This is the result, 9 seconds later. Kidding. This is a 5 day demo.

I thanked him and soon found the classroom. I was milling around with the other students awaiting Tony's imminent arrival when the clerk from the art store quietly slipped into the room and introduced himself as Tony Ryder.

Tony did not, as he might have been entitled to do, wear a cape. He did not require us to refer to him as: The Great and Powerful Anthony Ryder, Lord Over All He Surveys. We were not required to genuflect or even avert our gaze from his.

He began class by announcing, “Okay. It’s 9:30 and 45 seconds. Let’s get going.”

Every minute of this class costs me just over 36 cents, so I appreciate his punctuality.  I’m still debating whether I should approach the registrar’s office for a refund for that missing 45 seconds.

Each day was structured so that Tony would do a demonstration in the morning, allowing us to witness the graceful perfection of every mark he puts on the paper, and giving each of the students the opportunity to silently reconsider alternate careers that do not, in any way, involve art.

He is soft-spoken and extremely self-deprecating, most likely so that students, upon witnessing his mad, crazy ninja drawing skills, do not hurl themselves out the nearest window in a fit of overwhelming, jealousy-driven despair.

He is quick to offer compliments and has yet to bring forth the riding crop.

I asked him if I might be able to bring in some of my work to have him cast his learned eye over it. He deigned that I may.

I was so nervous that I lost sleep the night before bringing my work in to show him.

Because I am a dork.

Then, I made a tragic mistake. About 20 minutes before he was going to check out my work, I slid up next to him and began some idle chatter about my long distant art school days. I mentioned the first drawing teacher I ever had and referred to him, if I recall correctly, as “a vicious bastard”. This teacher seemed to get his twisted jollies by eviscerating students during class critiques. Helpful comments like, “Whose piece of crap drawing is this?” and “This sucks because…” did little to help my already fragile artistic self-confidence.

I realized as soon as this amusing anecdote was out of my mouth that I had done myself in as far as an honest critique from Tony was concerned. I had just whined and moaned about a vicious art teacher from 20 years ago and now I was asking Tony to please give me his honest opinion. Tony probably thought I’d crumple up in a ball and wet myself if he said anything bad.

“”I’m much tougher now,” I promised, “Please. Give it to me straight. What do you think?”

He looked at the pieces I had brought in and contemplated them for a moment. Time stopped briefly as he opened his moth to deliver his verdict. My heart pounded. My face sweat. I think my lips even sweat. My hands shook and trembled. And then he cleared his throat and spoke.

“Your work sucks because…”

Not really, of course.

He said he thought my work was great and that he really liked the way I draw hair.

I offered to give him lessons on drawing hair for 36 cents per minute. He politely declined.

Maybe I’ll try dropping my price next week.