Sunday, May 2, 2010
Two Very Different New Things 24. Go Bird Watching and 25. An Afternoon at the (Car) Races
My experience of New Things so far has taught me the folly of making definitive predictions. But I'm still willing to go out on a limb here and say that this weekend I had what I am sure will be the two most dissonant back-to-back New Things of the year. One involved getting up very early to commune with nature; the other sitting on my butt watching more race cars than I ever imagined would convene in Vermont use fuel, spew fumes, make noise, and occasionally crash into the rails or each other at an impressive pace. Two totally different experiences, both quintessentially Vermont. On Saturday morning at 7:30 am my friends Kimberly, Valerie and I met at the Woodside trail to spend a couple hours listening and watching for birds, and Sunday afternoon my friend Paul and I went to the Thunder Road Racetrack in Barre, Vermont for the opening car races of the season.
The birdwatching had been in the works for a while. Way back when I put the list together I had written to my friend Kimberly to see if she'd help me with this one if I put it on my list and she had graciously agreed. Recently she wrote and pointed out that bird watching is easier before the trees are fully decked out in their leaves, and though last week's two days of snow helped me in my holding-off efforts, foliage in Vermont is a pretty inevitable thing, so we decided this weekend we'd better get out there.
It was an awesome morning, and one of the things that struck me most is that it made me feel like being a kid again, I guess because it reminded me of all the walks on nature trails I had done in school and Girl Scouts. This year has turned me into a listaholic, and so I feel the need to share some lists I made. Flowers we saw: Mayflowers, Jack-in-the-pulpit, violets (white, purple and yellow), trout lilies, marsh marigolds, and the hands-down favorites, trillium. We also saw red and eastern gray squirrels (several times having showdowns with the birds); a muskrat; and an animal that Kimberly decided might have been a mink or a fisher or maybe just a plain old woodchuck.
And finally, there were the stars of the show, the birds. Some were fairly mundane, and you could see them (and maybe try to get them to leave) in your own backyard, but a few were a bit more exotic, or at least had super-cool names. Here's what we saw (in alphabetical order, so as not to be species-ist or anything): American crows, black-capped chickadees, Canadian geese (at work hatching their goslings),downy woodpeckers, gnat catchers, goldfinches, kingfishers, mallard ducks, red-shouldered hawks (on their nest and mad at us for getting too close), red-winged blackbirds, robins, warbling vireos (the obvious winner of the best name award), and white-breasted nuthatches. Twelve different kinds, which I thought was not a bad haul to be back in time to still be able to beat the breakfast crowd at Penny Cluse downtown. Along the way, Kimberly taught Valerie and I lots of bits of bird wisdom. My two favorites that I must share with you are these: only nuthatches can go down trees hanging upside-down. Others, like woodpeckers, must fly to the base of the tree and climb upward. Also, in the duck world the Hatfields and the McCoys have been replaced by the divers and the dabblers. To the uninitiated a duck is pretty much a duck, but those in the know will tell you that a diver (like a loon) can completely immerse underwater and go for a swim, emerging somewhere far away whereas the hapless dabblers (like mallards) just put their head and front halves of their bodies underwater, leaving their butts poking up in the air to look a bit ridiculous. So now you know.
Unlike the bird watching excursion, which was some time in the making, Thunder Road was a bit more spontaneous. It began with a phone message on Thursday from my colleague and friend Paul, which began as most of his communication to me these days does, with a sentence like, "If you're not shaving your head today as one of your 52, I have a new idea for you." This time it was to find out the mysterious attraction of car racing by attending opening day of the races at Thunder Road. With a track that bills itself as "the nation's site of excitement" how could you possibly go wrong? So of course, I had to do it. It helped that Leah, Siham and Jamila, who were all up visiting at my place for the weekend, agreed that it was imperative that I add it to the list.
I think the thing that surprised me the most was the sheer popularity of the experience. The place was crowded. Things were supposed to start at 1pm and we got there a few minutes before that, yet the grandstand was already full. There are hills on both sides of the stands, so we sat on the grass, along with many other people. I was also not expecting there to be so many kids, but car racing is definitely a family affair for lots of people.
Trying all kinds of new things this year has driven home the point to me that every hobby has its own sub-culture and, as my friend Valerie put it in a recent conversation, it's own "reservoir of knowledge." The races were run in 15 lap heats, but the rules were a bit mysterious to me, as were the many people in the stands with headphones on who turned out to be communicating directly with specific drivers to let them know who was behind them and other important information. Should you be planning to rebuild a regular vehicle into your own race car, Chevy Impalas, Ford Fusions and Toyota Camry's are popular choices-- don't know why that surprised me, but it did.
At the end of the day, I must confess that I probably won't cry if I never hit the race track again, though I'd be up for another bird watching excursion any time. Clearly, car racing has a far larger and more avid following here in Vermont than I ever knew, but I still found myself wondering things like how much gas was being burned and carbon dioxide was being emitted, as much as who was going to be the champion of the heat. I can sort of see how the risk of accidents might appeal to adrenalin junkies as drivers and as spectators, but I'm not so sure that's a good thing. I'm still glad I went, though. I got to see a corner of the world (and particularly Vermont) I never would have otherwise, and feel like at least I have a frame of reference when people talk about this strange and mysterious realm. And it's definitely got the wheels turning, wondering about other corners and sub-cultures of my state that are hidden in plain sight because I've always looked right past them.
52 Ways to Say I Love You
...in Bahasa Indonesian (the main Indonesian language) from Kaytee, and who actually got it from her friend Sam, who is learning it. Many thanks to you both!
selamat (pagi) good (morning) or
hulo hello (Sam suggests that people just say Hulo)
sampai besok see you tomorrow (there is no "goodbye")
Aku mau dua bir.
I want two beers.
Aku cinta kamu
I love you
Finals week begins tomorrow (May 3), and the next week and a half are going to be full of grading, ceremonies, celebrations and good-bys. And then, it will be summer (though luckily it will still technically be spring, since I still have to do my spring Camel's Hump hike.) Basically, the challenge of the summer is going to be fitting in lots of fabulous new things around the great new places that I'll be travelling to this summer. Here's what things look like right now:
In the next week and a half: car maintenance -- Nigel is still willing to do a car maintenance tutorial before he leaves Vermont forever for the other winter wonderland of Minnesota. I know there are some other students interested in learning this one, so shoot me an email so I can let you know the rescheduled time and date. Camel's Hump spring hike -- I really hope to do that with graduating seniors, but the mountain may or may or not cooperate. If you want in, let me know so I can let you know if and when it's happening.
May 18-28 Saint Michael's College MOVE Service Trip to the Dominican Republic(new country).
June 8-15 Visit to Tacoma to see Tigist, Katrinka and Brian, do a road trip to Twin Falls, Idaho, and try glass blowing.
June 19-July 4 Go to Jordan and Lebanon with Siham and Connor for research, fall class preparation and to see why everyone says that Petra is a must-see destination (two new countries).
July 4-10 Fly from Amman, Jordan to Kampala, Uganda to speak at and participate in a 5-day international workshop on AIDS, religion and social movements (new country).
July 25-August 11 (approximately). Present a co-authored paper and attend a 4 day conference with my friend and colleague Jerry at Cambridge University. Prior to the conference, go hiking in Scotland (not a new country but a new experience) and after, visit Denmark (new country). So, if all goes as planned, I will be able to add 5 new countries to my life list (Dominican Republic, Lebanon, Jordan, Uganda and Denmark) between the end of spring semester and the beginning of fall semester!
In between travel plans, there are some other new things that need to get dates attached. They include: hiking Mt. Washington with my friend and colleague Kristin, go sea kayaking on the coast of Maine with friend and former student Kate, actually rock climbing OUTDOORS with friend and fellow list-maker Leah and Nicole, who introduced me to rock climbing in Nepal, but is moving back to Vermont with Jai this summer, doing the 24 hour trip without sleeping to New York City with Siham, Leah and whoever else wants to, doing the summer moonlight hike up Camel's Hump with Dan (who suggested it) and whoever else is up for it, and doing a major (for me) bike ride with Dan and other friends who are far more comfortable on bikes than me. Oh, and learning to make croissants from Dean at the Back Door Bakery, and beer brewing from Dan and Derek or John, and star gazing from John, with Valerie and anyone else who's curious. And for my two new hobbies, ice skating and rock climbing (Serendipity post is forthcoming) I'm always looking for people to come to the rink or Petra Climbing Wall with me, and SMC friends watch for the faculty night at Petra climb I want to organize soon. I know I'm forgetting some, so write if you want in on any of these, or have a reminder of others that are on tap for the summer, so I can get them on the calendar. Here's to a summer full of new things and new places.