Blooded on the Appalachian Trail – Lemon Squeezer hike

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Anybody want, nay, need a VCR with a VHS tape stuck inside it? I discovered this sweet treasure a few weeks back tucked snug behind a book of CDs. Flipping through our CD books is a pre-hike ritual. Usually it happens before dawn because we like to be out of the city and starting on the trailhead as the sun comes up, especially when hiking in Harriman park. Close to NYC, this park gets very crowded on weekends and weekend hikes are our only option lately.

Nobody’s ever accused me of being a people person, but I like seeing other hikers on the trail. I just don’t want them directly in front of me, behind me or close enough for me to hear them. It sort of ruins the illusion of being one wrong step away from being lost and hunted in the woods by a crafty witch.

I guess it could’ve sufficed to say we woke up early for our Lemon Squeezer hike. This isn’t the same pricey climb by the Mohonk Mountain House. This is a free 7+-mile hike with more than 10 trail switches. It’s very easy to get lost in the spider web of intersecting trails huddled up in this section of the park. We brought a map and printed directions from HiketheHudsonValley, a thorough site which hasn’t steered us wrong yet.

The route begins on the Appalachian Trail through a frosted misty meadow. The AT takes you up and then down to Island Pond.

Shortly after, you hit the Lemon Squeezer, a fun rock formation for those who enjoy a modest scramble and squeezing themselves through some not-too-tiny spots.

After the squeeze we said good-bye to the AT and backtracked to pick up our next of many rolling trails. Again, we lucked into going in the opposite direction of the crowd.

My favorite section came near the end on the White Trail as we made our way through the Valley of Boulders. Maybe you can’t guess from the cryptic name, but there are boulders everywhere. Traveling through calls for hopping from rock to rock. We ate lunch by a cascading stream, enjoying what felt like the aftermath of that scene in The Hobbit when misty mountains battle each other.

Little did I know what awaited.

This year we’ve bagged a handful of peaks towards our 35er goal, climbing the 35 Catskills peaks over 3500 ft. We’ve ascended, scrambled, tried some beginners’ bouldering, crossed streams, peeked over cliffs and out from fire towers, and even got to hike along a ridge. All without incurring much in the way of injury other than some sore muscles.

The many trail switches along this route form a rough loop, bringing you back to the meadow along the AT. This is a strait trail with a flat hard-packed dirt surface. Easy as la la la. I look over at this ghostly tree with green vines up one side and orange vines woven through the other. Then I’m on the ground with a bloody knee because a straight, flat walk to the car was just too much. I’m happy to report my favorite pants for hiking didn’t rip. Just my flesh.

My true scar stories are no fun. How’d I get the crescent on my left knee? Well, I bumped it while washing the car when I was 8 and there was so much blood I wasn’t allowed to go inside until hosing off and I probably needed stitches but we don’t roll that way.

So this post gets a makeover if my papery knee scars yet again. The revision will include misty mountains fighting, me saving a puppy and flying boulders. Technically, this day did include mist, there were puppies on the trail, Raj does have a charming habit of kicking back rocks when he leads and I am kind of a hero to animals who don’t need saving. So that’s the story if it scars.

The Hobbit

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Net Neutrality vote December 14th

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Have you called congress yet to defend Net Neutrality? As someone using the Internet right now, why not?

Congress votes on Ajit Pai’s, known around these parts as The Tool, proposal to gut the Internet in 14 days. The FCC released it’s final plans to repeal Net Neutrality over Thanksgiving. If this is for our benefit, why did they sneak in this future-changing proposal during a major national holiday when constituents are conveniently distracted?

We’ve learned again and again that we cannot count on congress to act in the public interest. The front page of Reddit today shows what some members of congress, mostly republicans, are up to. Guess what? It involves accepting large sums of money from the telecom lobby so they can do what congress does best: fund re-election campaigns.

What is Net Neutrality?

Save Net Neutrality.

What’s wrong with repealing Net Neutrality?

From SaveTheInternet:

What is Net Neutrality?

Net Neutrality is the internet’s guiding principle: It preserves our right to communicate freely online.

Call congress.

Send emails to congress.

Don’t be distracted by the many distraction stories they’ll throw our way until December 14th. On December 14th members of congress, many of whom are already bought by telecom companies and/or are being mislead by the FCC, will vote on whether to repeal Net Neutrality.

A repeal of Net Neutrality hands over full control of our Internet to telecom companies.  They will control which voices are heard and which ones aren’t.

Control the medium, Control the message.

Repealing Net Neutrality will transform the Internet from this ocean of ideas, creativity and entrepreneurship to sliced and diced plastic packages of products stuffed with 90% crap you don’t want and 10% sites and apps you now have to pay to access and if you access them too much you can go ahead and pay some more and even then the information you’re looking for can be buried or blocked or drowned in molasses.

If you’re glancing at this, and you’re not one of the bots or deceased people used to corrupt the “comment period” over the repeal  of Net Neutrality, then hopefully you’re a human who values freedom, pure freedom, knowledge, ideas, information. The ability to work and live without companies putting a price on what we can and cannot do.

Let’s back up. Find out if your identity or the identity of someone you care about was misused to support the repeal of Net Neutrality.  Check and report it.

The argument in favor of repealing Net Neutrality is that it will spur investment. Investment in power and control, not in us.

The way we live, earn a living, connect with people, share opinions, ideas and creativity, and learn, is for sale. Our freedom is for sale.

If you support Net Neutrality, make today one of those days where you do something you feel good about. Put your phone on speaker and let your kids hear you use your voice to fight back. Defend the freedom of the Internet.

It only takes a few minutes.

Call congress.

Send emails to congress.

 

Extreme scare experience by me, for me

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A frankenstorm converged in my head the other day. Several are to blame and I’m not one of them. It started long before I needed an afternoon break and called my sister, let’s call her Sister X, to wish her an early happy birthday. The phone rang and rang and eventually went to voicemail, adding to a series of dots about to form a fist punching the panic button.

An hour passes and I email, text and call a few more times. No answer. Why is Sister X doing this to me? Every lucky soul on my contacts list knows that sometimes, out of nowhere, I get a little fidgety about unreturned phone calls.

Work is done for the day because now the only thing I can think about is why won’t Sister X call me back? What happened? What’s happening right now? I call my boyfriend, the calming source of reason. He’s going out on a work function, but assures me Sister X is just running errands or one of the girls put her phone on silent again.

Sure. But he’s not around to neutralize and soon I’m not buying it.

I go for a run, which usually helps, but because I’m running alone my brain begins to mine. When was the last time I heard from Sister X? It’s the first question movie coppers ask and I don’t know. Back from the run and still nothing. I call our other sisters, leave a few messages with mutual friends. They say Sister X hasn’t posted on Facebook in a week, unusual for her. Suspicious.

Over the course of an hour worried me morphs into Sister X’s only hope. Must find the car keys. Now it’s clear I need to drive the 2.5 hours to their house. If all the lights are out I need to enter, start looking for clues and assemble a search posse.  My oldest sister says to wait a day. My little sister plans to drive up later, but I can’t wait. I find the keys and do what I loathe, drive in NYC at rush hour because I’m totally convinced something bad happened. It’s the only possible explanation. It’s the only explanation I can believe in the moment.

Meanwhile, at a cozy resort, Sister X returns from dinner and story time with her hubs and kids to find dozens of messages ranging from ‘call me back‘ and ‘where r you?‘ to ‘R u guys ok?’ and ‘remember the plan‘. (When we were kids we had a plan covertly called What To Do In A Home Invasion. It entailed mastering karate.) I’m driving to their house wishing I mastered Karate or some deceptively complex survival trapping skills just in case and now I’m pretty sure I’ll need to take down some evil. Stupid adrenaline jacked on caffeine will have to do. I pull into WaWa for more coffee.

My phone is on silent, a maddening habit considering, but because of the circumstances I check my phone. The first text is from my empathetic brother-in-law:

I murdered her, jackass. What do you think? Translation: He took them on a surprise getaway. I was not to bust into their house.

So I spent a night in extreme overdrive. This time of year, people pay good money to be kidnapped, restrained and tormented all in the name of extreme. My experience was for free, assuming Sister X doesn’t send me a bill for my troubles.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Song of Kali by Dan Simmons

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Dan Simmons is one of my go-to authors when I want meaty horror. The subject doesn’t matter. Reading him is like getting in a car with a friend and knowing you’re going to have a good time no matter where you go. It’s watching a Hitchcock film or putting on the Misfits. He’s one of my favorite authors. That said, the substantial heft of his books calls for some commitment.

Song of Kali, published in 1985, was his first published novel. It’s delightfully short, but in no way is this an easy read. If you’re in the mood for something dark and bone-chillingly nasty, here you go.

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The story is set in Kolkata, Calcutta at the time it was written. Aside from Rabindranath Tagore’s stories, I’ve never read anything set in this city but my boyfriend’s family is from there so I’m basically an expert. He actually grabbed the book from my pile when I told him where it was set, but I got it back the next day as he took quick offense to the way Kolkata’s depicted. I don’t blame him. This is a fascinating book, though were it written by any other author I probably would’ve put it down, too.

Poet and publisher Robert Luczak is sent to Calcutta on a magazine assignment to retrieve a supposedly new manuscript from a supposedly dead poet. He brings along his Indian-American wife and their baby girl. It all seems very simple and they expect to fly back in a few short days, manuscript in hand.

Luczak’s efforts to gain possession of the manuscript and gather fodder for his article lead him on a convoluted trail from the company of an uppity writing society to members of the secret cult of Kali, goddess of death and destruction. Soon we find ourselves trapped in a story within a story. If you put yourself in Luczak’s shoes, listening to a stranger’s horrifying, seemingly irrelevant account of a secret barbaric cult in a sweltering city flanked by extreme poverty in the midst of monsoon season, you understand why he retreats to a presumably safe place of utter disbelief and thanks but this has nothing to do with me reaction.

This story just keeps getting darker and never went where I expected it to. The source of the horror lingers. Ghosts and monsters are fun and slashers are good times because they’re all absurd. The good ones come from a real place, but on the surface they roll around in bloody absurdity. You know it and the author knows it and so the ride can go anywhere. In Song of Kali, the true horror isn’t what moves in the shadows or a city’s continuous assault on the senses. It’s what people do to people, our capacity for violence.

Simmons wrote a novel in which a sprawling city and a fearful deity are characters, but the monsters are human. Where I anticipated a more heightened reality, the story remains grounded in every dirty minute. The actions Luczak takes to achieve his purpose dig him deeper and deeper. Normally, I want more awareness from a smart protagonist, but Simmons cleverly immerses him in the haze of being in a foreign land. There’s not a full moment of lucid orientation until suddenly there is and then you don’t want it but it hammers you anyway.

I’m glad I didn’t put this book down, but it is not a good time. It’s nothing like Stephen King or even the other Dan Simmons books I’ve read. One of the reasons I love horror is for it the breadth of its scope. This one goes to the dark corners and pulls out the things that scare us so much we don’t want to think about them let alone spend hours holding them close to our faces, reading every detail in teeny tiny text – my copy is old.

Unfortunately, Simmons disregards the nuances of Kali’s dual nature – death and rebirth, fierceness and compassion. Things we naturally think about this time of year as the trees fade so beautifully around us and lifelong traditions feed the urge to do something new.

I meant to write about this book sooner, but we were busy last week making food and having people over to celebrate Kali Puja and Diwali along with millions or others around the world. Pray, eat, party.

You’re all doomed

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I’m practicing for my future as a harbinger. It may end after Halloween. We shall see. Once you begin to foresee doom it’s hard to stop. Right now it’s effortless. Why not cash in? Something like harbinger fortune cookies only doughnuts or bottle caps with sweet little FYIs.

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Go to a doctor before you lose health insurance for 3 years…

Harbinger horoscopes with guest cameos.

They’re all gonna laugh at you. -Carrie’s mom

Harbingers don’t need bedside manners or charm. Just a willingness to pull up the boot straps, point a crooked finger and let the fools know they won’t be coming back. Our annual retreat will be a blast.

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This could be my calling. Please let this be my calling. I used to want to be a nun because the lifestyle sounds peaceful, but the religion stuff was a nonstarter. My childhood cowgirl thing never had a chance – a horse threw me off, ran a loop around the barn and then jumped over me. Harbingers don’t ride horses. We pump gas, wander or sometimes check you in at roadside motels. Your’s is the room at the end right by the office. That’s not a peephole it’s an eyeball-sized ventilation vent.

Bury the TV before every rich bozo inside it becomes president

A fun way to alienate people.

Turn back before the bridge collapses.

and do something useful with the news.

Breathe while the air’s still breathable!

A harbinger advice column by me for me followed by a harbinger fashion line with helmets, full body armor and jet packs to give you a fighting chance. All of my survival products will be free because they won’t really exist and that is how you do business.

Hunter Mountain chairlift – 1 more week to ride

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Two weekends ago I saw a black rat snake on my way to the Big Hill shelter in Harriman Park. My brain decided it was a long forgotten section of hose until it lifted its head and shifted for a better look at the lumbering oaf wandering off trail in its territory – the stone foundation of some mansion. It had no interest in getting to know me, but you have to wonder what it’s fellow black rats did to earn such a pleasant name.

This past weekend we drove up to Hunter Mountain. Every single fall we make plans to take the skyride chairlift up to see reds and golds spread over the Catskills and every year we miss it, forgetting that they close mid-October, next weekend. This year we only put it off to the second to last weekend.

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It’s an 11-minute ride to the top, about 3,000 feet. Fall up here is not quite at peak color, but it’s already more vivid and varied than fall in NYC ever gets. Hop off to see this overlook

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along with ski trails,

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zip lining

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and a lot of confusingly labeled hiking trails. We followed the yellow trail 1 mile, hello, finger roots,

then a boring blue bridle trail another mile to reach the fire tower at the top.

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You can always climb the tower, but usually the compartment at the top is locked. Between Memorial Day and about now, volunteers usually spend the weekend in a cabin beside the tower. When we arrived a volunteer was up there so we were able to enjoy the views without gripping the rails on this windy day. Thanks, volunteers.

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The world turns green again at the top.

I’d love to go back in winter when snow piles up between branches.

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Going down we passed a number of people drinking beer from glass boots on their way up. We took the chairlift up when it opened at 10. A few hours later we went down to a different day entirely. Hunter Mountain’s October Fest is the best one we’ve been to in the area and definitely the busiest. We missed the steinholding competition, but caught the keg obstacle roll. Raj enjoyed a post-hike plate of Schnitzel while we sat on a hill listening to Polka music.

Hiking the Franconia Ridge Loop

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On our first of 2 September days in New Hampshire, we did a quick hike up Bald Mountain for a peek at the peaks ahead. It was a cool day. While snacking on an overlook we watched a dark grey cloud pass over Mount Lafayette in the distance, leaving behind a white hat on this 5,249-foot mountain, our first summit the next day.

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The 8.9ish-mile ridge loops takes you up over “The Agonies” to the summit of Mount Lafayette. From there a stone-framed ridge trail leads to the summits of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack before the loop descends for what felt to my calves like eternity. On our first part of the loop we got a good look at The Agonies and first ascent.

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I’ve never hiked a loop where you can basically see the full trail with its ups and downs from a single lookout. The picture below shows Little Haystack in the center with a sloped treeline showing the gradual descent that is the Falling Waters trail leading back to the parking lot.

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This trail is listed among the best in the world and right away you get why. Everything is right. The alpine views begin unfolding as the trail flirts with the treeline for a bit.

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Four trails seamlessly connect to form this loop. The majority of hikers went up the Falling Waters trail while we took the Old Bridle trail up, hiking clockwise while most did it counter. Going this way, we shared this stunning trail with only a handful of hikers. The Bridle trail offers a scenic, gentle ascent at first with a few fun scrambles higher up. The best part was that after a few miles, before the final push to the summit of Mount Lafayette, you reach the glorious AMC Greenleaf hut. These huts welcome hikers with clean restrooms and drinking water refills. They also sell homemade sweets and bowls of soup for $2. We stopped here and chatted with the same hikers we had leapfrogged with all the way up.

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Cairns mark the rest  of the way up through piney shrubs and some loose rocks. At this point hikers were descending from the other direction. A lot of them were hiking with happy dogs.

Here’s from the summit of Mount Lafayette.

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Which way to go? The ridge trail continues in both directions, overlapping with the AT. A few years ago I met a southbound thru hiker on the AT. Over popsicles on a steamy summer’s day her told me about his journey thus far. Granted he was only in NY, but at that point he said his favorite part of the trail was the section in New Hampshire’s White Mountains. I finally see what he was talking about.

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The summit was quite crowded and covered in biting black flies. One guy was meditating and there were the handful of girls striking obligatory yoga poses. I just wanted to take it in, the majesty of these mountains, but the flies vied hard for attention. Bug spray was no match.

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Don’t take my word for it, but I thiiiink that highest peak in the distance is Mount Washington, another adventure on the to-hike list, but more than an hour’s drive from where we were. Maybe next time.

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The ridge trail isn’t nearly as narrow as I expected. Squint and you see they’re not ants but humans coming from the other direction.

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For about 1.8 miles you’re hiking on a ridge, stopping at the peaks of Mount Lincoln and Little Haystack along the way. Mountains in every direction. It’s a dream.

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It’s very freeing to hike to the top of a mountain and stay up there on a ridge. Usually we hike up and then after taking it in from the one lookout we go back down. What a treat to not only go above the treeline but to stay there while continuing onward.

Here’s Mount Lincoln.

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Then up to Little Haystack.

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After this peak, we descended on the Falling Waters trail. It felt like a long long way down before we hit the waterfalls. I don’t understand why so many hikers choose to go up this way. It was brutal enough going down.

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Waterfalls are a nice way to conclude a long, spectacular hike. This took us about 7 hours and my feet were pretty sore after.

We went back to our motel, which after a summer of stormy camping trips, felt luxurious. A bed! We get a bed! And there aren’t spiders in the shower! We even had a minifridge and a microwave and a TV. Best of all, we caught a marathon, maybe it was on the History channel. We ate weird tacos and drank Pinot Evil from plastic cups while learning all about how the moon is hollow and really an alien station. Our hiking chats often drift to aliens and monsters so this was a fitting refuel.

For dessert we drove to a convenience store down the street. What kind of mural did they have on the outside? I’m glad you asked. On the outside of this convenience store is a mural for Betty and Barney Hill, abducted from just up the street in the White Mountains in 1961.

We were advised to read The Blue Planet Project, a book of dubious origins also referenced in the new Twin Peaks season. I’ve already read the book. You can find it online. When I need a break from the news and this world, I read about aliens. Carl Saga’s The Demon-Haunted World is coming on my next trip.

The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth

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In my heart it’s always October. The night is full of terrors and we don’t know what we’re supposed to do. October is Harvest Moon, Ray Bradbury and unsolicited confessions. Here you go: When I’m running and hear footsteps from behind, I almost always suspect it’s someone running with a sword and I’m about to lose my head. Yet I never duck.

September’s good, too. September will forever be my month to shake off summeritus with deep thoughts about what to be for Halloween even though I never follow through. My little pumpkin already liquefied. It’s a sign. Of what who knows, but it’s a sign. Maybe death to my pumpkin was the universe’s way of saying Read more horror or else.

Fine.

Let’s begin our dive into the darkness with nonfiction. The Midnight Assassin by Skip Hollandsworth tells the true story of how an anonymous murderer terrorized Austin, Texas in the late 19th century just as it began to grow into a city. Whether he then moved on to forever haunt the Whitechapel district of London remains a mystery, which means yes it’s him Jack the Ripper was a Texan. Or maybe not. Regardless, an extensive amount of research went into this seamless narrative history.

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From 1884 to 1885, a brutal murderer unleashed a mad storm of violence and corruption on the burgeoning city of Austin, Texas. The author grounds us in time and place through introductions to major players in both the city’s growth and the murder cases’ mishandling as both exploded concurrently. We don’t get to know much about the first victims. Where the sheriff and deputies, mayor and other political climbers were often prominent white men with paper trails the author was able to reference, the first victims were black female servants. We learn their names, who they lived with in the shacks behind the nice houses they worked in and where they were buried.

Hollandsworth reconstructs the murders in some detail, which is solid, based on the substantial bibliography. Can’t lie here, it feels wrong to know so much about the deaths of these women and next to nothing of their lives, but the same can be said for the victims of the most notorious serial killers.

I’m not generally a reader of true crime. While I love horror, reading about real murders doesn’t appeal. The exception is true crime that occurred prior to forensic science, before fingerprinting and, you know, protecting crime scenes and preserving evidence. Mistakes were plentiful. This insanely intelligent killer knew exactly how to exploit the utter lack of methodology in crime solving of the time. The police should have done better, but what seems like basic common sense now was unheard of then. They were in the dark. Before forensic science, police had no idea how much they didn’t know.

As the author explains, murders weren’t really crimes that required much in terms of solving. Murders were public shootouts. Shooters often bragged. Outlaws wrote books of their crimes. Let’s call them Idunnits.

Enter into this world an anonymous someone who kills for pleasure, moving silently through the night, striking quick and bloody then disappearing without a trace. This was the beginning of a new nightmare and Austin police responded nightmarishly. When they believed the killer was a black man, suddenly all black men were guilty until beaten and tortured.

People in town were disturbed by the servant murders, but it wasn’t until two white women were murdered in the same night that panic hit home for everyone. The next victim could be anyone. The author focuses on Austin, the murders, the accused and the many many mistakes made along the way. And then there’s the big maybe – maybe the next victims were London women.

This isn’t Jack The Ripper, the early days. Near the end Hollandsworth briefly goes into the speculation. At the time, some London police believed the murders in Whitechapel and Austin may have been committed by the same hand.

The possibility that Jack the Ripper was an American is so strange it almost must be true. Then again, every theory sounds plausible to me. Perhaps that’s why I’m not a Pinkerton. Even more surprising is that, as far as I know, this was an untold story until Hollandsworth poured himself into the task. He handles the subject with integrity. Crimes and bodies are described not gratuitously, but in graphic detail. Squeamish readers may want to read from a distance.

I really enjoyed this book. It’s hard to believe this dark slice of our country’s history is so little known.

Hiking to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain

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Hiking to Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain was a summer highlight. I can’t wait to do it again in a few weeks when we can make clever observations like Aren’t the leaves so pretty? 

The night before, we slept through rain and lightning at the Woodland Valley campground. Our site was hard to leave. By far the best campsite I’ve ever stayed at. We ate breakfast and drank percolated coffee while watching fog roll off the creek as hummingbirds drank nectar from a patch of yellow wildflowers. It’s true. You gotta believe me.

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You can hike to Giant Ledge from Woodland Valley campground. That was the original intention, but then we considered other options. Rather than hiking 8 miles out and back to Giant Ledge right from Woodland, we drove 20-ish minutes to the other trailhead on County Road 47. From here the trail to Giant Ledge is only about 3.2 miles out and back, which gave us time and energy to hike to Panther Mountain too. The total mileage for both from the other trailhead was about 6.9 miles. Why not add another peak to our bag?

Directions are simple: Take the yellow trail .75 miles to the blue trail. It’s blue all the way to Panther. Then come back. Every time the hike starts to feel monotonous the trail changes. Rocky to gentle flattish paths to large stepping stones then a few easy scrambles up.

Last time we camped, after racing to the car in the middle of the night with a stack of books because it was raining and I’d left the flap open and everything inside our tent was starting to get wet, I finally learned to limit myself to one book on these short hiking/camping trips. For Woodland Valley I chose Ursula Le Guin’s Words Are my Matter. The night before this hike I read “The Beast in the Book” a talk she gave in 2014 about relationships between animals and human characters. It made me think of bears and snakes and all the possibly threatening animals we might see on the hike ahead. How dangerous a worst-case-scenario can be, but also how necessary it feels to go into the wilderness anyway, to respect, savor and envy their home.

“People and animals are supposed to be together. We spent quite a long time evolving together, and we used to be partners,” writes Temple Grandin in Animals in Translation.

We human beings have made a world reduced to ourselves and our artifacts, but we weren’t made for it, and we have to teach our children to live in it. Physically and mentally equipped to be at home in a richly various and unpredictable environment, competing and coexisting with creatures of all kinds, our children must learn poverty and exile: to live on concrete among endless human beings, seeing a beast now and then through bars.

On the yellow trail, I saw a mouse crouched under a large stone in the middle of the footpath. I made eye contact with the little guy expecting it to scurry away but he just stayed there looking at me so I just kept looking into his brown beady eyes, feeling like his equal, thanks to Le Guin.

You know you’re close when the trail flattens. You’re surrounded by trees, stone and dirt and then there’s a side trail and you take it, looking down at each rocky step. Then the world opens up and it’s breathtaking. The view from Giant Ledge is special. It’s what wow looks like.

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We sat at the first ledge eating our first pj of the day before pushing on to the other ledges and Panther Mountain. The section between Giant Ledge and Panther Mountain was my favorite to hike. There’s a steep descent of about 200 feet, then its more than 700 feet uphill over about a mile. We took our time, glad for the peace and quiet we didn’t find on the crowded ledges.

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We saw all sorts of strange colorful mushrooms on our Slide Mountain hike earlier this summer. It’s neighbor Panther surprised us with patches of wildflowers and bright berries. The highest in the Catskills, Slide Mountain rises to 4,190′. While Panther’s elevation is 3,720′, this summit felt much higher, perhaps there aren’t as many false peaks. Like on Slide, the forest changes from the beech-birch-maple hardwoods of the lower slopes to conifer forest. That pure pine smell lifts you to the top. Legs and feet take all the credit, but the air works some magic.

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The view from Panther is similar the one you get on Giant Ledge, perhaps a touch sweeter. You’re on top of a mountain. Not only that, geologists believe Panther is on the site of an ancient meteorite impact crater. 

This is not a place to complain. Not in the moment. Now, after the fact, I’m still wishing there was a post or star or something to mark the summit. We didn’t want to hike to almost-the-peak so we kept going and going, looking for a sign or something. Then the trail began to descend down the other side. We turned back and ran into a couple who had a gadget that marked a small ledge with the above overlook as the highest point. It was a bit anticlimactic, but nothing to do about it. It’s not like the people responsible for maintaining the trail could possibly find a little piece of wood and paint a few strokes noting the top.

The gadget couple made themselves at home on the small ledge at the peak, so we went to another large rock near the top for a food break. Pjs taste best at higher elevations after being squished in a backpack for a few hours. That’s a fact. For dessert I nearly choked on a chocolate covered espresso bean. Between popping it in my mouth and crunching, the rock we were sitting on began to move between my feet. I was focused on the vista. It took my eyes a second to zoom in on the snake right in front of me, it’s open jaw about an inch from my ankle. Luckily I was tired. The edge of a mountaintop rock isn’t a place to get jumpy. It wasn’t a rattler anyway. I’m not sure what kind it was, but once we were standing we saw three other snakes slithering around the rock. Maybe they enjoy peanut butter and raspberry preserves at high elevation, too.

That was our signal to head back, enjoying the views from Giant Ledge one more time.

My dad asked why Raj and I rarely take pictures of ourselves. Neither of us are picture people. I broke it to him as gently as I could. I said, Dad, Raj doesn’t know how to smile when a camera is pointed at him and I look like a doozer. 

See the resemblance? That’s me building again.

Vision may exceed know-how here

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My little sister’s birthday is coming up. Turns out I’m really bad at keeping my gift ideas a secret. Over our chat, my evil fingers told her all about what I’m making for her. Well, sort of making. Aspiring to create. I think she’ll still be surprised. Provided I learn robotics posthaste.

While my sister and I were chatting on gmail, my boyfriend asked what I was doing. My evil mouth told him I was writing a poem. I don’t know why I said that. I don’t write poems. Now he wants to read my poem and that’s fine. A chat is a chat is a poem.

 

Is there a Joannes near you?

acmoore only has small bits of fabric
 
there’s a joanne’s around here.

 
what do you need?

i want to make something

Ok

something special

something you’ll cherish forever

i will make you a pillow that is a life size me!

 
Cool

and i’ll put a voice box in her

and powerful remote control
and make her move

That’s just creepy

 
Please 

 
Don’t

she’ll only speak in singsong

Noooooooo

and she’ll always have different clothes on. Your clothes.

Yikes.

and sometimes she’ll sleep under your bed

sometimes you won’t see her for days

then she’ll just be there in your fridge

in your car

at your cubicle

I’m going to have nightmares

 

cool

oh and pillow hailey will age

and you’ll need to feed her

Is pillow Hailey real Hailey

you’ll never know

Ahhhhhhhh

 
Happy Birthday