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  • RSS Cat Cartoon w/o the Cartoon

    • Coda
      Posting these cat-cartoons-without-the-cartoon was a long journey that I don’t know if I’ll repeat soon again. A daily blog is tough … even when you have your material handed to you! But, I couldn’t have done it without the artwork … Continue reading →
    • December 31, 2011
      Father Time is riding out his last few minutes of being the temporal keeper for 2011; he sits in an easy chair with a calendar showing “Dec 31” behind him and a grandfather clock pointing to the time of 11:53. … Continue reading →
    • December 30, 2011
      A happy young lady shares a table at a tony restaurant with her cat; they both wear festive, cone-shaped party hats. The woman gaily says to the tuxedoed server, “One martini and one glass of milk.” The cat does not … Continue reading →

Bridges of the Green River Trail

Posted by joeabbott on July 18, 2018

imageOK, the title may prepare you for a comprehensive review but these are just a few of the bridges spanning the Green River that Suzy and I saw while on a recent biking excursion.

Last Sunday, before the heat of a 95°F day set in, we tossed our bikes into the back of my truck, drove down to a parking spot just off the Green River Trail, and headed south. Our destination was somewhere around “where we turned around last time”, but we’re always game to learn some new things so we went just a bit further.

We were on the east bank of the Green River on the way down, but crossed to the west on a pedestrian\cycling bridge just south of the Green River Natural Resources Area (the brown splotch on the map to the right). From there we continued south on Frager Road until that thoroughfare ended, at Foster Park at the extreme south … probably 15 miles from where we started.

Along the way I was taking pictures of anything that caught my attention: a tree that had been curiously pruned, wildflowers, sculptures, and even a bird watcher (Julene Bailie, an author of a number of books about a local family of eagles … see her photography work here). I also found myself snapping pics of a number of bridges.

Some of the bridges were cool, others attractive, and some just utilitarian; but all caught my eye. Unfortunately, I can’t remember and didn’t write down the names or locations of the bridges, so, for now, you’ll just get snaps of a few bridges, my guess at where it is, and maybe word or two of why they caught my eye.

First Bridge

While we navigate under South 180th St bridge before we get to this walking\biking trestle, I’m considering this one the First Bridge. Mainly because we actually used it to cross to the east side of Green River, but also because it’s attractive.

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Utilitarian Bridge

I think this is the South 200th Street bridge but I only caught a portion of the span … the rest is the same: concrete and straight lines.

Not a “bad” bridge, but nothing to set it apart or recommend it as a destination.

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Copper Dome Rounds Bridge

This bridge always catches my attention. When I first saw the copper-colored sphere decorations on it, I thought they were copper … upon closer inspection it’s just colored concrete, but it’s a neat feature and makes for an eye-catching motif. While it’s mostly just another big, concrete bridge, the exposed aggregate upper portion does lend a break from the otherwise smooth surfaces.

I’m guessing this bridge takes Veteran’s Drive over the Green River, but I am (again) guessing. It seems right but even with a map (both Bing and Google), I can’t tell exactly where this might be.

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Green Truss Trestle

We had just turned around and were coming back when we were directed beneath the West Meeker Street Bridge. This fella is a throwback to the past, with little more to see than industrial-green iron beams riveted together. While it’s a bit ugly, the large open areas attempt to make this trestle light and airy; I’ll let you decide if you think it succeeded.

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Bridge Under a Bridge!

This one has got to be my fave … not because it’s beautiful or well-kept (and maybe a bit of the opposite in both cases), but because it surprised me and gave me a smile. This was the Hwy 516 (also known as the South Kent Des Moines Road) Bridge over the Green River, and beneath the solid car overpass, a bridge for pedestrians and bikers is hung! There’s even a little nook with a bench for sitting down and watching the river.

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And you can file this under the “why can’t we ever have anything nice”, the seating area was rife with litter, graffiti, and grime … neither Suzanne nor I wanted to sit there. But, she gave me a nice smile as she posed for a pic mid-span!

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Coda

That’s it … it’s not all the bridges but a lot of them. Some were fun, some were nice to look at, and others just got you to the other side of the river. Thanks for touring along with me!

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Posted in Hiking, Suzy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Another weekend, another outing

Posted by joeabbott on July 15, 2018

Yesterday I got out on a hike that went a bit awry. We’d intended on taking a seldom-traveled path to a local, small summit but got high on a rock band and didn’t like our options for reconnecting with the trail. So, we made the most of stretching our legs and seeing some of the untrammeled beauty in Washington near Snoqualmie Pass. It was a good day.

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Our intent was to bag Lundin Peak from the west; as you can see in the above map, somewhere around SPOT Track 6, we got off course, heading up a shoulder that we never felt good descending. I’m a little annoyed we didn’t turn around immediately after noting our error, but we thought we could easily reconnect after traversing high. We may have been able to, but we never felt good about the transition from our high route back to the trail.

Now, I really applaud our decision making and staying safe, but it’s disappointing to have missed a summit because we didn’t want to lose 200’ of elevation gain, hard-won though it was. And yet, our rewards for going off-trail were marvelous: pristine blue skies above high alpine forests, Mount Rainier in all her glory to the south, and some beautiful terrain all to ourselves. Now that I think about it, maybe I should do more of that … the rewards for abandoning a goal in favor of enjoying the moments are pretty significant. Here are a few pics from the day‘

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I need to make this quick as I have a bike ride with Suzy scheduled to start in just a few minutes. Later today it’ll get to be over 90°, so we’re getting out early to beat the heat! Hope you’re enjoying summer!

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Game Pass gaming

Posted by joeabbott on July 7, 2018

While all my climbing and plans around the house have been landing, one thing has been consistent: a near-nightly dose of video gaming. I game for a lot of reasons but I’ve covered that sort of thing before; today let’s take a look at what I’ve been playing since looking into the Game Pass collection.

Game Pass is a program launched on the Xbox earlier this (or late last) year and considered “the Netflix of video games”; it includes about 200 games and you can play any of them whenever you want, all for one low monthly price. While it includes a few blockbusters, I was interested in some of the lesser-played games … typically those I can get all the achievements on. Let’s take a look at some of the games I’ve played in the last couple months.

Hue

Hue is a really fun game that uses color as the main game mechanic. You control a little boy looking for his mother; on his adventures he comes across special <insert name of thing I forget or don’t know> allowing him to change the background color of his world. In the below image, the boy is to the left of the orange wall and the background is light blue. By changing the background to orange, the wall between the boy and the black crate will disappear, enabling him to grab the box and pull it to the left hand wall.

However, when he changes the background to purple a lot of things will happen … not all of them good: the niche in the wall to the left will be open, the doorways will disappear, the tall wall will disappear, and the boulders suspended above his head will suddenly come crashing down. Additionally, anything that was light blue will suddenly appear when contrasted with the new background color.

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If the little boy was smart and quick, he would have solved this puzzle like this: change the background color to orange, drag the now-accessible crate to the left (he’d have to change the background yet again to light blue to avoid the now apparent light blue wall), hop on the crate, jump up and while in mid-air change the background color to purple, enter the now-vacant niche … and avoiding the falling boulders. He could then jump onto the boulders, navigate to the niche in the right hand wall and leave the room. On the way to the exit door, he’ll have to change the background color a few times to get past the colored walls, but you quickly get used to swapping colors as you move through this world.

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Hue was a lot of fun and required just the right amount of puzzle solving and platforming to keep me entertained and interested the entire game.

The Swapper

Another clever game similar to Hue in that it uses a gimmicky mechanic to navigate the world. In The Swapper you’ve docked your craft on a deserted space ship in which nearly all the inhabitants are dead. You have to discover what happened and make your way out to safety. In the first minutes of the game you’re introduced to a “gun” which allows you to create up to four clones of yourself at a distance: the clones will identically mimic your movements and you can either transfer to one of them … leaving your original position as one of the clones .. or dispel them. Using this device you need to solve a number of puzzles to navigate the ship.

I rated this slightly below Hue in that it became a bit tedious (there are a LOT of puzzles, all seemingly very similar), the ship you need to navigate is both big and confusing, and you have to find certain hidden rooms in the game that are nearly impossible to find without using some sort of game guide. You get a map but both viewing and identifying where you are and need to be is more difficult than you’d imagine it should be; and it certainly doesn’t show the hidden rooms. That said, it was both clever and entertaining and I was happy the game is included in the Game Pass … I hope more people enjoy this novel game.

imageAbove you can see one of the puzzles you need to solve. The room on the far right contains an “orb” you need (they power generators which open other doors and transportation areas), but it’s blocked by a doorway. The player, the man on the bottom right, is placing one of his clones on an upper shelf containing a platform which, when stood upon, will open the doorway. The player has already placed a couple other clones about the area.

The game includes of the most imaginative endings I’ve seen in a game in a long time, and I’d love to spoil the secret with you … but I won’t. Play the game and find out!

Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons

Brothers is a remarkable bit of storytelling but it’s a lot less Disney and a lot more Old World fable in which there are equal amounts sorrow and victory.

In the game you simultaneously control the titular brothers, each controlled by a different thumbstick. It’s a bit of a trick and takes a little getting used to doing, but you either get used to the controls and manage OK, or surrender and move one brother at a time. I did fairly well until the level where the ogre chases you and then died a lot as panic set in and I found myself confused and running into walls at best or directly to the ogre more than I’d like to admit!

Throughout the game you leverage either boys traits: the smaller, agile younger brother for getting into tight spots or being lifted to higher ledges, or his stronger sibling doing the bulk of the muscular puzzle solving. These qualities are needed as they run through their village while the town bully blocks their way, maneuver a grisly battlefield with the remains of the giant warriors and their weapons, climb into the deteriorated remains of a castle, and navigate a frozen tundra near the sea.image

In the image above, the boys are showing the reason for their journeys: their ailing father is in need of a magical cure only available in a far-distant land. This clip is from the introductory chapter, introducing you to the controls as you use both boys to push their father on a cart, and then have one of them throw the switch that moves the bridge.

Clever controls play backseat to a tremendous, touching story that I’d go into detail on, but this is another game where uncovering that tale is a big part of the enjoyment.

Costume Quest 2

I played this 100% for the achievements but ended up having a really enjoyable time with Costume Quest 2. The story won’t win awards (a brother-sister duo need to save Halloween from an evil dentist who used time travel and control of a monster race to abolish Halloween and costume wearing), the art is close to South Park quality, and the gameplay offers little in the way of novelty, but it pulls all those things together well enough that I had a lot of fun.

In the game you control one of the characters (either the brother or the sister … your choice) and the remaining sibling just tags along. Along your way you uncover different costumes, allowing you the powers associated with it as you do battle with monsters, robots, and ultimately the evil dentist. You chose which costume your characters wear and throughout the game use them to solve small puzzles (bird blocking the path? Don your pteranodon costume and use the wing-swipe power to blow them away) and upon detection by the wandering monster or robot patrols, enter a turn-based combat mode.

The battles are where your costumes really come into play: your clown costume has a horn that stuns enemies and a special power that heals the team, your superhero costume has a power punch, wolfman has slash attacks and so on. You can also find or buy collectible cards which, during combat, can be played to change an aspect of the game: healing can return hit points, attacks can be modified, etc.image

In the above image, your character is in the turn-based battle mode where Reynold, in a superhero costume has the choice of doing a Flying Fist Attack on one of the monsters or play a card. Each of your characters has a chance to strike one of the enemies using their own attack or play a card from your collected deck; after your attacks complete, the enemies get a chance to attack you.

Overall, I enjoyed Costume Quest 2 far more than I thought I would; the simplistic combat, cute art, and those easy achievements all played into me having fun … and that’s what gaming should be about.

Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter

In this game you play either Sherlock or (very occasionally) his trusty aide, Dr. Watson, as they untangle a set of four crimes. This game had a lot to offer in terms of different styles: some sections had you in first-person mode, dodging bullets and eluding a chase; others had you solving point-and-click puzzles as you searched for clues; and in a new game mechanic, after uncovering all the various things that might have happened during the crime, you use your deductive skills to piece together the order in which they occurred. Oh, there was even a section in which you have to prove out your lawn bowling skills.

While I enjoyed the breadth of activities this game offered, I did find the long load times to be seriously detracting from the enjoyment and the fiddling details to solve some puzzles (to navigate a foundry I had to throw switches or move some 17 different things … I may not have been efficient, but I didn’t seem to have a lot of wasted moves here) wore on my patience. But the balance was one of enjoyment as you negotiate London in this period piece set in the late 1800s.image

The above image shows one of the “what order did things occur” puzzles (the events have already been numbered by the player), and with many variables, was a lot of fun to put together. In this scenario, horse carriage #1 came to an abrupt stop which triggered carriage #2 to collide, etc. etc. It was a contrived scenario with thrown hammers dislodging banners, horses crashing into things, fires starting, and electric lamp posts arcing. As I said, there’s a lot of fun and enjoyment to be had putting all the pieces together.

Late Shift

Late Shift is a game utilizing live actors in QuickTime video clips to tell a story. You’re a late night parking lot attendant, Matt, who gets taken hostage which leads you into a small crime ring involving an art dealer, a Chinese mob, and a potential romance. At each major decision you’re given a choice and, depending on what you choose and how that plays out, the story progresses down one of seven major endings. Does your character take the loot and run? Save the damsel? Squeal to the mafia? Or become a thug and beat your way to the end you want? It’s all up to you.

While the novel game style kept me captivated for a while, I found myself growing tired of Late Shift as I tried to elicit each of the seven different endings from the game. But, the acting was well done, I remained guessing at how my actions might play out, and found myself nodding as I saw how the game wove the parts into an efficient production. Meaning, if I went along with the robbers on the heist, I departed with them. When I decided to bug out and leave the robbers in the lurch, well, they came looking for me and dragged me along with them so I was at the pl4ace I needed to be in the next scene: the car crash.

It made for a fun meta-gaming experience, so, I guess I found understanding how the game designers built the game to be an enjoyable aspect of playing the game.image

In the above frame, Matt, has just decided to run from the hostage taking assailant who has fired a couple warning shots over his shoulder? Does Matt cow and submit? Or keep running? You decide.

Super Lucky’s Tale

I started this game on the advice of a friend who called it a “chill little platformer where you can spend a half hour or two getting through a level”. Unfortunately, I find myself to be less of a “chill” gamer and the game brought me a lot of angst. You see, I’m pretty bad at platformer games … games where your character jumps from platform to platform, dodging various environmental hazards and collecting coins\gems along the way to a puzzle’s end. But, I’m a sucker for Gamerscore so I saw this one through.

You use the same skills to get through all levels … jumping, double-jumping, spinning (to kick things), and burrowing (to avoid some dangers) … and you play several levels in various “worlds” before you meet the world boss and fight him to progress to the next world. Throughout each level you’re tasked with four objectives: get to the end of the platforms\maze, find the mystery section and beat it, pick up 300 coins in the level, and find all the hidden letters to the name “Lucky” in the level. By doing this, you gain clovers, which can then be exchanged for unlocking doors leading to additional levels.image

In the above image, Lucky (lower level, just about to capture a coin and needing to move fast to avoid being hit by a fireball) has just moved beyond a checkpoint (the fox statue), and is clearing out coins from the lower level … all the while avoiding this level’s environmental damage: fireballs.

On the whole, Super Lucky’s Take is extremely well-done and for those who like this sort of game, I could imagine it being a lot of fun. Me, I’ll give it a “meh” and be happy I completed it.

Coda

That’s about it for games I’ve been playing from the Game Pass library. I’d have a tough time rating these games from one to seven, as I would have a hard time ordering, say, Late Shift above or below Sherlock Holmes … both were fun and I was happy to have had the time and opportunity to play both of them. But, for recommendation’s sake, I’ll say:

  • Absolutely play Brothers – A Tale of Two Sons
  • You should make time for Costume Quest 2 and Hue
  • You can have a lot of fun with The Swapper, Sherlock Holmes: The Devil’s Daughter, Late Shift, and Super Lucky’s Tale.

That last grouping isn’t necessarily in any particular order.

I play a bunch of games, I like doing it, and these have been some of the pastimes I’ve enjoyed these past few months. Thanks for dropping in and I hope your diversions are equally pleasurable.

Posted in Gaming | Tagged: , , , | Leave a Comment »

Stick a pin in the map (local edition)

Posted by joeabbott on July 3, 2018

Suzanne and I plan on moving at some point in the next year or two, but we’ve enjoyed living in the south end of Seattle. While not the most desirous of zip codes, SeaTac has been our home and launching point for many adventures, both local and not so local. As we consider leaving a place that’s become comfortable, we decided to spend an afternoon looking for smaller gems in these parts.

Upon heading to bed the other night, we agreed to head to “a park” and I offered to find one. The next morning I offered her a map and, rather than just visit one park, we headed out to try a bunch!

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Kent Memorial Park

This would have been our first stop, had we stopped, but Suzanne recalled this place as we neared it and it was comprised of a set of three baseball diamonds. Interesting for ballgames, less so for leisurely walks. And so we passed without stopping.

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Kiabara Park

We continued on to Kiabara Park but had a hard time finding it; so hard we were actually at the park before we knew we were there. The Park lies along the west side of a railroad track, roughly a block long and half that in width. It contains a koi pond and some statuary, along with lots of trees, paths, and benches for those looking for a rest. As the Kent area has built up around it, the Park appears to be home to those with a bit more time and a bit less house than they’d probably like.

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We didn’t get out here, but parked alongside it and recollected a time a few years back when we’d walked this area and enjoyed a small, local fair that was going on. Suzanne tried to spot the bakery we’d visited, while I counted the cars on a passing train (65, including 2 engines). When the train passed and the crossing guards lifted, we headed east to our next objective.

Mill Creek Earthworks Park

While neither Suzanne or I had heard of this park before, it’s well-known enough to have its own Wikipedia page! We parked at the west end and started our walking tour, wondering if it was a bad omen that the QR code on one of the informational plaques resulted in a 404 … page not found. But, soon enough, in spite of a background of traffic noises, the spell a well-designed park can have was cast upon us. We walked past a few minor hills created for the sake of visual interest, noted the flood control vault created to weather a 10,000 year flood/storm, past the circular retention pond and through the split-mounds, and onto a pond where a mallard duck shook her tail feathers at us in anticipation of a crust of bread … that never came. She was interested enough, however, to follow us to the far side of the little pond where we rested on a bench and took in the views.

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From there we wandered farther east to the end of the paved trail and looked down the damp earth trail in its tumble of trees and vines. We didn’t have the shoes for a wet trek and the mosquitoes were already letting us know our short sleeved shirts were just what they were looking for. So, we walked back to look over the earthworks from atop a small building housing the restrooms, then over a bridge to inspect a now-defunct set of stairs leading up to the roadway above us, and then we spent a few minutes watching a man playing with a boomerang as he launched his toy into the circular retention pond. I tried to determine if, with my help he could retrieve his boomerang, but it would be a wet endeavor for someone and it didn’t appear that he had an interest in wading in. And so it was back to our car and on to the next park.

Morrill Meadows Park

We arrived at Morrill Meadows Park and were immediately deterred by an orange, plastic fenced blocking us from the park proper. A family had already setup for a picnic at the shelter but there was an unwelcome look to a place under construction. image

And so, we circled the lot, noted nothing on the west side that looked like trails, and continued on to our next venue. On inspection of a map (at higher resolution), there would have been a bit of trail-walking opportunities beyond the orange mesh barrier, but we passed this time.

Gary Grant Park / Arbor Heights Park 360

Noted as Gary Grant Park on our map, it was labeled Arbor Heights Park 360 on the signage at the actual location and Suzanne and I immediately recognized this location from when we drove past earlier in the week: it’s a skateboard park! Nope, we didn’t stop as we didn’t have our boards but we continued on to the nearby next location …

Clark Lake Park

Our final destination was a good one. We pulled in to see an animal control vehicle at the entrance but were relieved to see the driver was just stopping there for a bit of a break. A sign told us the dock at the lake was under reconstruction but we headed in using the “left hand rule”.

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As we didn’t have a map I chose to always take the left hand option or path, reasoning that if we got lost, we could turn around and take only right hand paths to return to our car. Suzy immediately recognized this as the strategy I use for finding my way through a dungeon maze in video games and proceeded to taunt me. It was all in good fun and our paths led us across fields, past disused barns, to the quiet end of the lake where more ducks approached us, and back until we finally found the out-of-commission dock. A young couple must not have read the sign … and didn’t find the barrier a deterrent … and were sitting on the dock; we took in the views from the end and then made our way down the west side paths.

Before getting too far, about where the paths turned south, we turned around and walked back to the cars; the day was getting on and dark clouds announced potential rain. Upon passing the lake on the way out, we heard a tremendous “whoosh” … sounding like an airplane was ditching into the lake! A quick peek noted it was only a large flock of ducks alighting into the water. We both smiled as we’d never heard so big a sound from some ducks.

Coda

And that was our day. While there are plenty more parks to discover and enjoy in the South End, we found a couple we’ll likely visit again when opportunity presents itself. It was a good afternoon of toodling lazily about.

Thanks for following along on our afternoon of strolling!

Posted in General stuff, Hiking, Suzy | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

Book Chat: Flora of Middle-earth; Plans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium

Posted by joeabbott on July 2, 2018

imageOK, first off, this isn’t a “review” … just my thoughts on a book I’d read. I realize I’d been calling these sort of posts “reviews” and they’re not proper analyses of books, just me babbling on a bit. I had two choices: change how I was writing about books or set expectations appropriately. So here I am … this is not a review, just me talking about various parts of a book I recently finished. And that book today is Flora of Middle-earth; Plans of J.R.R. Tolkien’s Legendarium by Walter S. Judd & Graham A. Judd.

A true Tolkien nerd would have recognized my last post having the same title as used to describe Bilbo’s 111th birthday party in The Lord of the Rings (LoTR). Perhaps inspired by my recent reading of Flora of Middle-earth, but it’s my opinion this book should be reserved to be read and kept by only that same sort of person: someone so completely rapt by J.R.R. Tolkien’s writing and worlds that she or he would collect every little thing they might find on it.

Don’t get me wrong, the book is expertly written, is decorated with over 100 woodcut-style illustrations, and contains exceptional and scholarly botanical information … but it’s a pretty dry read containing a wealth of material unassociated with Tolkien’s world. Again, there’s plenty of merit to this work, but rather than carrying me away to Middle-earth, it roots me firmly in the here and now. As it does that well, let’s take a look.

The father-son team split responsibilities on the book with the father, Walter, a Professor Emeritus in the Botany Department at the University of Florida, wrote the text and the son, Graham, an instructor at Augsburg College and the Minneapolis College of Fine Art and Design, providing the illustrations in the style of a woodcut print.

The book itself is broken into 8 chapters, but Chapter 7 is the reason most anyone would crack this book: the description of the flora found in Middle-earth. Chapters 1-6 (~72 pages) cover introductions, overview of plant communities in Middle-earth, a long breakdown of botanical classification and identification, and a handful of pages on two singular trees: the Two Trees of Valinor. After that, Chapter 7 (~270 pages) covers over 120 different plants named in one of Tolkien’s Middle-earth-based works (which includes the Silmarillion, The Adventures of Tom Bombadill and the HoME series written by Christopher Tolkien). Chapter 8 (~4 pages), by Graham, touches on the illustrations and alludes to Tolkien’s own artistic talents.

The first chapters had me chomping at the bit for more, to get into the meat of the book and didn’t do a lot for me. Chapter 2, for instance, Plant Communities of Middle-earth included a diagram showing Middle-earth at the time of the LoTR in silhouette with a line somewhere north of The Shire separating the northern portion from everything in the south. These were the two areas of distinction … accurate (I guess) but hardly telling.

Judd does this a couple other times, pointing out mountainous regions and desert areas but he didn’t really need the dozen or so maps to make this point. Curiously he includes maps and discussion of the Isle of Numenor but doesn’t include Beleriand even though he notes flora from this area, and it’s vastly larger than Numenor. He whets your appetite without really expanding a lot of your knowledge of this chapter.

Chapters 3-5 were really beyond me. For someone who got the book to learn about flora in Tolkien’s Middle-earth, these chapters are a speed bump on the way to learning about that. Judd discusses the importance of green plants (The Diversity of life, with a Focus on the Green Plants), takes you through botanical distinction (Introduction to Plant Morphology: Learning the Language of Plant Descriptions), and then a lengthy identification chapter (Identification of the Plants of Middle-earth). It’d be one thing to learn this before a walk through a field, but when the plants are presented readily identified and named, it’s connected but unnecessary detail.

Chapter 6, Telperion and Laurelin: The Two Trees of Valinor, starts the engine, however, and brings you into a discussion of Middle-earth botany: a treatment of the Two Trees. It’s a brief chapter but nicely done, discussing what Tolkien created, which trees he may have based these imaginary specimens on, touches on their story, and treats the reader to an etymological discussion. It sets the stage for what follows.

And so Chapter 7, The Plants of Middle-earth, then takes you alphabetically (by common name) through the flora of Middle-earth. Each plant is introduced and includes a quote that addressed it from one of Tolkien’s sources; as an example:

OAKS (QUERCUS SPP.)

(The Beech or Oak family [Fagaceae].)

In a great hall with pillars hewn out of the living stone sat the Elvenking [Thanduil] on a chair of carven wood. On his head was a crown of berries and red leaves, for the autumn was come again. In the spring he wore a crown of woodland flowers. In his hand he held a carven staff of oak.

(Hobbit, IX)

These quotes are a lot of fun, as, after reading the plant name introducing the section, I continually found myself thinking back to the stories and wondering if Judd would use the quote from the part of the books I’d remembered. As often as not he didn’t, and I found those times more entertaining as he reminded me of another great part of a great literary work.

Judd then treats us to a discussion on the plant at hand; sometimes noting how often they were mentioned in the books, often mentioning the many other places the subject was found, or the appropriateness of the plant in that place and time. It was marvelous to appreciate just how well Tolkien knew his botany and placement of the plants in his world. It was clear he didn’t just say, “I need a new tree here … maybe I’ll toss in a Linden” … no, he understood the environment a species would like and made sure it was apt for the placement in his world. He also nailed the right seasons and the state of his plants at those times. I grew to respect Tolkien immensely for his diligence in this aspect of his works.

After a short discussion Judd included sections on Etymology, Distribution and Ecology, Economic Uses, and Description … but, truth be told, I scanned much of this and skipped some altogether.

Etymology was a mixed bag, with some parts dealing with aspects I was interested in, the Quenya or Sindarin treatments, and others less so, as it dealt with the common name and English and Latin etymology.

Distribution and Ecology was similar to Economic Uses in that it abandoned Middle-earth as a whole and addressed real-world details. While I got the book to know where and when plants were noted in Tolkien’s world, I care much less that Horse-Chestnuts, for instance, are a group of 12 species with distribution throughout our Northern Hemisphere; or that the Rowan, again, for instance, are widely used as ornamentals due to their showy white flowers and bright orange or red fruits (often held through winter).

After these sections, a Description follows, that focuses on the details laid out in the distribution and identification sections above. I admit to skipping many of these parts as it was dry for me and felt antiseptic alongside ents, hobbits, and elves. A short portion of the description of Hart’s Tongue:

Description: Herbaceous, evergreen fern, with short, erect, unbranched stem that bears brown scales. Leaves (or fronds), alternate, clustered, simple (and rarely apically divided, cleft) linear to oblong or slightly obovate, with a prominent midvein but the other veins obscure; the apex acuminate to acute , the base cordate, the margins entire and sometimes slightly undulate; the blade with a few scales on the lower surface or nearly glabrous; the petiole elongate, grooved on the upper surface, with scales toward the base.

Yeah … entire pages of this sort of stuff. Again, scholarly and associated, but hardly the stuff of fantasy storytelling.

The illustrations in the book, while distinct aren’t always enjoyable; either the artists style or the woodcut capabilities lead to distorted faces, or squat and hunched over figures. This is a shame because when Graham focused on the flora, the effect was quite nice. Or, when he kept the characters in silhouette (looking at you Sorrel) or when the characters looked normally proportioned (as in Niphredil) the result was rather pleasing.

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While I’m not wholly taken by the result to Flora of Middle-earth, I can’t be anything but avid for the effort behind this work. The approach, to its ultimate detriment, is scholarly, the references and bibliography vast, and the commitment to the topic is nothing short of fantastic. I often imagined the Judd’s poring over the thousands of pages of texts and associated works by Tolkien and other authors, tracking quotes and references. Impressive.

I was genuinely surprised at how many plants were noted throughout the Tolkien legendarium and how well they were appropriately placed in his Middle-earth. It was interesting that, of all the plants noted, only potatoes and tomatoes were inappropriate (due less to being agricultural products than not being available as historical English cultivars … both being native to the New World); well, maybe tobacco, too, although Tolkien referred to it as “pipe-weed”, to avoid direct disassociation.

The book as a whole has a place in my library, as I’m a true Tolkien nerd, and I’m happy I’ve read it and learned a bit. However, I can’t recommend it without being super-clear that this is not a whimsical look at the flora of Middle-earth, but a treatise and scientific approach to plant-life in Tolkien’s universe. And to you, the reader of this blog: apologies for the length here and, as always, thanks for reading.

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A party of special magnificence

Posted by joeabbott on July 1, 2018

Suzanne had a birthday and it celebrated a milestone: 50 years. And it was done right.

We catered food, had simply perfect weather, and opened our home to some close friends and family as well as a few goats. Yup, actual goats; and to be more precise, four 2-week old baby goats. It was great. Suzy’s blog covers the event better than I could, so please check out her So I never had ponies post. My contribution was building the enclosure for the goats!

We had planned on getting a few cattle panels, that are just 4’x8’ heavy duty wire sections that we’d zip-tie together to build an area the goats weren’t able to escape; however, Barbara (the lady who manages the Puget Sound Goat Rescue) didn’t appear to have enough sections so I offered to build a few “simple sections” that we’d attach together to create something suitable. Suzy and I discussed the height requirements, mapped out roughly where they’d go, and then I sat down with my friend SketchUp to mock up an option using standard 2×4 and 4×4 lumber. It came out pretty good.

Here was my stab … five 4×8 sections and two 4×4 sections, with one of the 4×4 portions only attached at one side, allowing it to swing open and act as a gate. As we were planning for this to be on our “plateau”, a graveled area in the backyard, it was going to be on an uneven surface and the section attachments required some flexibility.

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I planned for this to only take a few hours to build, but during the construction we decided we needed to cover the faces with plastic fencing mesh, so it took a lot longer … two four-hour sessions or so. Also, after getting the basic three-slat sections completed, we realized we didn’t need to angled stabilizer, which saved us almost $40 in lumber! Nice!

As always, our garage doubles as my workshop and this time we didn’t even pull out her car! It was a pretty simple construction job.

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After the build, we hauled them to the rough location in the backyard. Suzy moved the fire pit, allowing us to use the seating stones as a place for guests to sit, as well as a fun little something for the goat-lings to climb on. Then we had to determine how to put it together.

I considered metal stitch plates (a construction item that’s simply a thin sheet of metal with a bunch of holes in it … you can drive screws through the plate, into two wooden pieces butted together) and even actual hinges. I discarded both as potentially dangerous (sharp edges on the stitch plates) or costly (hinges!!) and decided to just pull out some 3/4” tubular webbing I had in my climbing gear boxes.

Using the webbing, I’d attach the free end of a piece to one of the posts with a screw, circle the post with the webbing (pulling tight), and then fasten the other end to the other post. I did that a couple times on each connection and it held perfectly tight.

I am including a bonus cat picture as a gift to those who have read this far into my post!

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And here’s an action shot … yes, I simply stole a pic from Suzy’s blog post. I (sadly) never took any pictures on her actual birthday.

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And that was it … a bit of lumber, some creativity and time, and you get a little corral that delighted both goats and guests. And the hosts.

That was a pretty fun afternoon: a party celebrating a person of special magnificence … Suzanne.

Thanks for sharing a bit of our party.

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Disturb us, lord

Posted by joeabbott on June 22, 2018

I’m a sucker for a quote and while I like a pithy turn of phrase, I was recently introduced to a longer “prayerful poem” attributed to Sir Francis Drake (1577) and I thought I’d share it here:

stormy_sea_by_alexlinde-d3y6mgd.jpegDisturb us, Lord, when
We are too well pleased with ourselves,
When our dreams have come true
Because we have dreamed too little,
When we arrived safely
Because we sailed too close to the shore.

Disturb us, Lord, when
With the abundance of things we possess
We have lost our thirst
For the waters of life;

Having fallen in love with life,
We have ceased to dream of eternity
And in our efforts to build a new earth,
We have allowed our vision
Of the new Heaven to dim.

Disturb us, Lord, to dare more boldly,
To venture on wider seas
Where storms will show your mastery;
Where losing sight of land,
We shall find the stars.

We ask You to push back
The horizons of our hopes;
And to push into the future
In strength, courage, hope, and love.

I’ll admit it’s a big challenge to live up to those words in their entirety, but they give me inspiration and help me remember to set a high bar for what I hope to accomplish.

Here’s wishing your disturbances are in measure with your capabilities, your future is full of strength and courage, and you find both hope and love along the way.

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A final Mt. Rainier post

Posted by joeabbott on June 10, 2018

I carry three devices with me when I travel most mountains: my SPOT, a camera, and my GPS.

My SPOT is almost exclusively an insurance policy; I like to go alone and in places that might require someone looking for me … on Rainier, I was told that unless our aid was needed between 7AM and 4PM, the Rangers would not be staffed to assist. Ummm … OK.

My camera is for the obvious; I’ll sometimes carry my phone and use that, but only when hiking. I typically avoid using a phone (something I consider an emergency device) for entertainment purposes while on the trail.

My GPS is a unique tool that I use far less for navigation, than I do for the breadcrumbs.

When enabled, most GPS units will constantly track where you are and have been. Upon getting home, I like to upload this data into my computer to see where my trails have taken me. Sadly, on my most recent trip, I failed to turn my GPS on until after I arrived at the top of Mount Rainier. While typically not a terrible thing, on this trip my route up was different than my route down … and so in the image below I approximated my route along the Disappointment Cleaver.

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Again, you’ll note the trip appears to “end” at the crater rim, but it actually started there … it was then I remembered to turn on my GPS. I’m a bit sad, but I love seeing the route through the broken up glacier around Gibraltar Rock, above Cadaver Gap. You can also see the distance going up the Cleaver put on our trip.

Here’s what the Ingraham Direct route looked like from camp … not an obvious way through!IMG_0022

And finally, two faces of mountaineering … one on the summit (yes, I should have been wearing my glacier glasses) and one while back at camp taking a much needed sit-down after the summit:

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As always, thanks for hiking along with me on my journeys.

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A summit bid: Mt. Rainier, 2018

Posted by joeabbott on June 9, 2018

A lot of factors go into a successful summit of a big mountain, and I realize now just how lucky we were. Yeah, there was a lot of preparation to offset the need for luck, but in any final analysis you rely on good weather, the team performing, and the routes being in good condition. Things lined up pretty good on our trip to the top of Mount Rainier this past Wednesday.

Earlier

imageLeading up to the climb, Seattle enjoyed an unseasonably warm and dry end-of-May. This led me to a lot of excitement for that weather holding together for the start of June and during our trip. Unfortunately, the end of week and weekend just prior to our outing, Seattle started getting a lot of low clouds and rains returned. That spelled a bit of danger for the clear views you wish to enjoy when up top.

Additionally, in what I can only call a freak accident, I managed to kick a stone step in our backyard with such force, my toenail on my big toe immediately flooded with blood (I’ll lose the toenail) and I was unable to put on a shoe for two days. We actually went to the store to buy me a pair of sneakers that I could walk in. By the third day I could walk OK and on the fourth, our departure day, I was willing to put on my boots and walk uphill. It was still painful, but I managed.

The plan

Our plan was to take three days: first day to Camp Muir (a standard destination), a second day to Ingraham Flats (a camp setup in a compression zone on the Ingraham Glacier about 1000’ in elevation higher than Camp Muir), and on the third day we’d touch the summit and head home.

We chose to leave from Ingraham Flats (rather than the usual Camp Muir) to give everyone an extra day at altitude and to cut off 1000’ of climbing on our final day.

Departure Day

As we left for the mountain, the clouds were still present but rain was out of the forecast;conditions were improving over the days we were on the mountain before rains were expected to return later in the week. This was good weather for us, allowing us the majority of the “hard” climbing (heavy packs, most elevation gain) without being in the hot sun and gave us a window for favorable weather while on the way to the top. Unfortunately, weather forecasts seldom hold.DSCF2076

But, true to the forecast, we were in clouds from the start of the trip and didn’t emerge from them until shortly before getting to Camp Muir.

At Camp Muir we had planned to setup tents and re-pack them for the trip to Ingraham Flats, however, high winds and available space in the shelter at Muir made for easy change of plans as we crammed into the small, stone hut. I’d never stayed in the shelter, but it’s a bunkhouse style affair with a small shelf for cooking, flat bunk areas (top and bottom) for sleeping, and small cubbies to stow packs and organize gear. It also looked reasonably snug and didn’t show any signs of critters being about. A rare and welcome situation.

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While it’s not suited for “sensitive sleepers”, I’d had very poor nights’ sleep the three prior evenings and after dinner, fell into a (mostly) restful sleep.

Travel to high camp

I continue to refer to Ingraham Flats as “high camp” for the simple reason that (to me) it sounds pretty cool. High camp evokes distant and remote corners of the world at altitude and out of touch by normal folks. There’s a sense of adventure to it. But, in reality, it’s just over a ridgeline from Camp Muir.

imageOn Mount Rainier the exposed ridges between glaciers are regularly referred to as “cleavers”, with Camp Muir at the bottom of the Cowlitz Cleaver and our route heading up Disappointment Cleaver. To position ourselves for the summit run, we’d pass over a feature called Cathedral Rocks, using the Cathedral Gap as our entrance to the Ingraham Glacier.

DSCF2085We weren’t in a hurry so our morning was leisurely, getting out of the shelter sometime around 10AM and arriving at our camp at noon. It seemed to take us a while to get harness and ropes sorted out. I forget how little experience some of my fellow teammates have until we participate in any sort of rope work. Seeing them, my early climbing days comes back to me: my fumbling with the rope, the questions about what is right and what isn’t, just getting your gear squared. Happily, I felt solid after so much time without being on a glacier and found myself waiting on my team.

It was a good first-glacier experience for some at least one of our team, as we headed across the high bowl of the Cowlitz Glacier, up the rocky flank of Cathedral Rock and onto the awaiting Ingraham Glacier.

DSCF2092 Stitch

Our camp was a couple of snow bunkers, shallow depressions with high built-up walls between where we’d put the tents and the prevailing winds coming off the summit. One of the shelters was big enough for two tents (Ron and Cy in one, Tim and I in another) and Heath and Dan shared the other shelter. With the shovel I brought we had camp setup quickly then went about “making water” (melting snow and then filtering it just as it got to a liquid state … which saves fuel), and finally preparing our dinners.

After the meal, we had a quick discussion and refresher on setting in a boot-axe belay, a common way of providing a secure and quick anchor on the glacier. Happily everyone remembered or picked up the skill quickly and we were ready for bedtime around 5PM. DSCF2115

We set our alarms for midnight.

Which lends itself to a quick word about getting up at midnight: it’s hard to just doze off at 5PM!

For the most part, you just rest. Those who can still their minds and get real, restful sleep prior to a big summit are few, and I’m not one of them. Additionally, I was going up with a hydration bladder and wanted the water in it to be as warm as possible, so I was cradling 2.5L of water next to me. First, it was cold; second, I was worried I’d roll over on it and burst it if I wasn’t careful. So I spent about 7 hours in the hazy, drifty sort of rest that’s not sleep but not a bad substitute.

Heath had used melatonin to get a good night’s rest previously and did so again this trip. It’s a natural substance that the body produces to put oneself to sleep but, not having used it previously, I was reluctant to experiment.

And then midnight came.

Summit day

We’d targeted departing camp around 1AM but I was hoping for better; in the end, we did just a bit worse, leaving around 1:15AM.

imageI will note, a bit sadly, that my training partner Tim chose not to continue on from high camp. He was feeling OK but didn’t believe he was up to the rigors of the final push and he didn’t want to jeopardize the success of the team. While we had talked about bringing warm gear and leaving someone anchored in at a safe point if they couldn’t go on, he didn’t want to be “that guy” either, and so we changed our formation from two three-man ropes to a single five-man rope: me, Cy, Dan, Ron, and Heath as the anchor.

The beta we got from nearly everyone was: the Ingraham Direct route was coming apart and should be avoided. So we stayed to plan and ascended Disappointment Cleaver.

The Ingraham Direct (ID) route is essentially a line from the Ingraham Camps to the near crater rim, lending itself to threading through a broken up glacier. It’s more direct but relies on a series of early season snow bridges.

The Disappointment Cleaver (DC) route heads up a rocky rib, so it’s reliable in late season, but hadn’t been much traveled, as the longer route.

In the picture below, the approximate path for the DC route is in green, the ID route is in red.

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I was on the pointy end of the rope … as the lead is sometimes called … and found it more than a little off-putting to be traveling a route I wasn’t sure of, in the dark, and up steep terrain. A lotta work and more than a little confusion.

DSCF2134Typically the DC route heads up the Cleaver, and then ambles along up the glaciers to the summit, taking a circuitous route to the north to avoid a crevasse before coming back southward and then to the crater rim. I was surprised then, upon getting to the top of the Cleaver, to find the route immediately headed south to intersect with the ID route, just atop the crevasse maze (avoiding objective hazards).

But let me talk a bit about the Cleaver. The route stays on snow and ice when possible, but crosses a number of rocky sections, even doing minor scrambling on the rock. The route isn’t well marked and because you’re looking for crampon marks on rock and ice, you don’t have a lot to go on. A team typically short-ropes (ensuring only a small section of loose rope between climbers) on this part to avoid rock being dislodged and damaging people or the rope. As you can see from the close-spaced SPOT track marks, it took a while to get through this section.

It was surprising that, either because my eyes aren’t what they used to be or because I’d slept in my contacts, I was unable to readily find a couple of the flags when we got to the top of the Cleaver. Both Cy and Dan helped me to locate my next mark and we quickly were on our way. I did note that nearly every other climbing party headed up the ID route. I’m not sure if they purposefully misled us in which route they were taking but as the first team out we went to the DC and yet very few others did.

We intersected the ID route just before a few other teams and so felt pressured to stay in the lead. Mostly because there’s no place to pass on the narrow, steeply sloping trail. And so, doggedly, we marched to the top, hitting the rim around 5:45AM.

It’s hard to remember the sapped feeling I had, but the time it took to go just that 3000’ tells the tale. The weather was so cold, all water bladders froze, regardless of whether you’d warmed them to body temperature. Even my Nalgene bottle held slushy-like liquid, as it had started to freeze, too. The winds that were forecast to gust in the mid-teens, felt to be well over 20 mph and were constant, making for wearying travel.

But, we were the first to top out and took our time getting across the crater to the true summit. We offered Ron the chance to touch the top first, but he demurred and Heath marched up and was that day’s First. Unfortunately, due to exceptionally vexing weather, we chose to head down without many pictures or enjoying the view. Surprisingly, the long string of headlamps we saw earlier didn’t materialize as an equal number of people summiting, Either because of weather or team conditions, many didn’t head to the top, stopping around 13,600’ or so.

On the way down, I offered Heath a chance to lead. We had decided to go down the ID route as the DC had many treacherous sections that gave serious consideration for safety. That meant, however, we’d be trying the route that we’d been warned against … in spite of the fact that nearly every other team took it up. It seemed like a safe choice.

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And so Heath led us down, being (in my opinion) a fine route that had potential to come apart under a few days of warm weather, but perfectly safe that day. I’m actually surprised people were concerned but we each have our own measures of what might be “risky”.

For me the greater concern was my toes! While the one I’d bruised earlier was screaming, I was also having trouble with the big toe on my other foot…misery loves company? The result was a very painful walk down, to the point that I was “walking differently” and that ultimately gave me a number of other blisters.

At camp we celebrated our measured success (I wish Tim had been able to top-out with us), tore down camp, and roped up a final time. As I was fairly spent, Tim offered to take all the tent … and more if I needed it. While I might have wanted it, I should fairly shoulder my own load, but I did appreciate him taking all the tent. We all got to Camp Muir, took a nice long rest, and then ambled down to Paradise, with Heath and Dan (the youngest) marching out front and the “over 50 crowd” picking up the rear.

Coda

I’m surprised at how pained I was from that outing. While I expected to be fatigued, my legs felt real discomfort in the day after and the one following that. I’m better today, but honestly surprised after all the training and our three-day approach. It’s perplexing. But, I have another summit under my belt, my family, friends and coworkers all generously applauded my success, and I can get on with a Seattle summer. It’s been a heckuva journey and surprising how challenging it can be to get in shape with you have a little grey in your hair. Perhaps a reminder to avoid falling out of shape.

And, just the day after we got down, the weather turned again and it’s been raining the last couple days. While the weather wasn’t prefect on the mountain, we got pretty lucky.image

Thanks for reading this far, your company is appreciated. Safe travels to you.

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And now to return to my normally scheduled life

Posted by joeabbott on June 7, 2018

Sometimes you invest yourself so fully in something you lose sight and perspective on all else; I’ve just returned from one of those journeys. I’ll post more about my successful summit of Mount Rainier but for now, I’m happy to have done it … and to be done with it.

Here I am just a dozen steps or so from the true summit with Liberty Cap in the background.

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Hoping your adventures are less cold and windy!

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