Joe Abbott's Weblog

Letters home to mom

  • Stuff posted on these days

    April 2018
    M T W T F S S
    « Mar   May »
  • Meta

  • Joe Abbott Musings

  • 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 →

Archive for April, 2018

Climbing in a whiteout

Posted by joeabbott on April 29, 2018

I’m not sure what’s changed, but climbing in a whiteout is pretty disconcerting and I don’t remember it always being that way. Yes, I’m out less than I used to be but yesterday messed with my head in ways that have me pondering my capabilities in the mountains. Even with the GPS and all the right gear, the day wore on me in a taxing way. But, I was out, enjoyed the beauty of Mt. Rainier on one of her moodier days, and will share a little of that day with you.

Here are some pictures just out of the parking lot … we’d just strapped on our traction footwear and were ready to head in. The picture on the left is looking up at the Mountain … in the lower elevation we had about 500’ of visibility; not enough for route finding, but enough to get one’s bearings. The picture on the right is looking back to the parking lot. On sunnier days the Tatoosh Ranges is prominent and glorious from this vantage. See my On a clear day post for a little juxtaposition.


A bit later we arrived at Panorama Point; a spot so-named because you get great views all around. On this day, it was just Tim and me, posing for posterity:


A couple things to note … first, my GPS is pretty handy, because we were using it nonstop. Because I wasn’t able to take a step without knowing if the slope was up or down, I’d just pop it on to determine if we were on the same line we’d put in last weekend. Also note that you can’t see a thing in the pictures other than us. Even looking at the snow around our feet, you quickly lose the ability to discern details beyond 10’ or so and there’s no “horizon” in a whiteout.

After getting just beyond Panorama Point, we stopped. Most other people had turned around by this time and we were breaking trail. I was questioning my ability to get us safely up and down so we broke for lunch, enjoying a few nibbles while waiting to see if the weather would lift. About that time, a group of nine folks in high spirits tromped by us, happily chatting and moving as if they had zero cares. Tim and I shrugged and after about 5 minutes, we followed.

We made it about 1000’ in elevation beyond Panorama Point, just above McCure Rock and The Sugarloaf (we were about 7800’) when I expressed concern. As long as we were right on these folks’ trail, we were doing fine, but on our own, I was reduced to looking at the GPS, taking a dozen steps, and looking again. And while I had spare batteries, I noticed the cold was sapping the lithium batteries I’d installed just the prior weekend; I was already down to the last bar.

So, we turned back.

It was a shame as we were feeling strong, the day was a joy without anyone else (within sight) on the mountain, and we were making good time: we felt like we could have easily made our objective of Camp Muir. While the weather was actually kinda bad, it wasn’t terribly uncomfortable and I’d trade a little inclement weather for solitude any day. It was cold but not so cold our hydration tubes were freezing … it was cold enough that Tim’s spare water bottle shattered, though!


After turning back, we went about 10 minutes before the trail was completely lost. In addition to being in a whiteout, there was a slow pelting of snow and a good wind, leaving the trail to fill fill with snow quickly. So, I started marching us our dozen steps, checking the GPS, and continuing on. At one point Tim became convinced we’d come from the right, which sends alarms off in my mind. Of all the dangers that people fall into on this route, heading off onto the Nisqually Glacier (which is “off to the right” as you descend this route) is the main one that gets people hurt or worse. So while the whiteout was confusing me enough to question whether he was correct, I was adamant not to head too far to the right. So we stumbled on to the left.

DSCF1812In about 15 minutes after that, our troupe of nine high-spirited climbers were descending and marched past us. It seems a ranger heading down from Camp Muir had met them and stated conditions at Muir were just as bad; no better weather up high on the mountain. Once again we were swept up in their wake.

They stopped often, which was an annoyance, as I like to find a pace and just march on, but it appears they were having trouble with navigation themselves. The price of being able to march down the hill on autopilot was to allow those piloting the time needed to find a safe path back. Fair enough.

On the way down we hit two signs that things were going well … first, an actual sign and the second was more climbers. The climbers were hard to see, but you could hear them off in the fog. The thing I liked most about seeing them, is they were the first objects we could make out that weren’t within about 10’ of us. In the below picture, the few people you can see in the lower right are our “guides” on the way down; the new climbers are in the middle of the image, faint and in the distance.


So, as our visibility was extending a bit beyond our immediate circle, we knew we were getting closer to the parking lot. Soon we saw trees … another sign we were getting lower down … but I wasn’t able to spot Paradise yet. Our group of nine had stopped and we’d marched past them, so I was hoping we were still on track; funny how quickly you can question your own confidence. But, when I heard the distance scream of children I knew we were approaching the area where families will sled and frolic in the snow … it was only minutes before we popped out at the parking lot.

It was a good day from the point of getting out, putting in about 5 miles and 3000’ of elevation, but in the four times I’ve been to Rainier this season, I have yet to get to Camp Muir. There may be another try next weekend … let’s hope for better weather.

Thanks for dropping by.


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

It’s all in the context

Posted by joeabbott on April 27, 2018

When I hear Suzy utter a “Gah!” and we’re on the streets, I look for an exceptional interaction or individual somewhere in the crowds. When she gives that same “Gah!” at home, I reach for a newspaper or magazine to usher whatever bug, beetle, or critter outside that’s somehow made its way inside.

When I heard “Gah!” earlier today, I replied with, “I’ll go get a cart.” You see, we were at a place that was selling plants and I knew my miss had espied a must-have something or other. When I asked about her current find she proclaimed, “It’s on my list,” then added, “The undersides of its leaves are fuzzy.” Reading my expression she finished with, “That’s all,” all the while sympathizing with an individual who might need more to make a plant special than the fact that it has fuzzy undersides to its leaves.

As a side note, somewhat related, we expanded the plant storage we built a few weeks back. That’s all … thanks for dropping in.

Posted in Garden, Me, Suzy | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

Quick shots from the last couple days

Posted by joeabbott on April 26, 2018

I’ve been off this week and now it’s Thursday … glorious Thursday! Temps here in Seattle should near 80°F and the day is ours to choose what to make of it. Let’s take a look at what I did yesterday and what’s gone before.


Yesterday was a weird day. I’d planned to get up early for a couple hour hike on a nearby trail but instead, found myself with a terrible night’s sleep and awakening to a miserable headache. After the hike I was going to grab a half yard of gravel and do projects in the yard. But, with my head causing me to actually take pain medication (you know it’s serious when I head to the medicine cabinet), I laid low, napped, and stayed out of the sun. By late afternoon I was feeling well enough to make good on my offer to help a buddy move some stuff and then returned home to watch a movie with Suzanne.

Today is the reset. I won’t hike the nearby trail but I will get that gravel and spread it about.


WP_20180426_07_13_02_ProThe start of our week was taking our dozen-year-old cat to the vet. He has always acted the role of an entitled cat (and when said of cats, that’s a big thing), but this was more than melodrama … a cat that stops eating for three days has issues. But, the vet checkup and subsequent analysis of various samples says, “a cat in very fine health.”

The doc suspects something to do with the pancreas and its various mechanisms. We still think there was a mechanical aspect … meaning he ate and choked or reacted to something. Neither hypothesis holds up under pointed scrutiny so we can just be happy he’s back to his princeling ways.

And, to that point, he’s even better than normal. He’s sociable, active, and almost playful. Fun to have this behavior back but not sure I’d want to trade another vet bill like the one we got in exchange for it!

Oh, and the picture to the right … that’s a cat we met at the vet. It was a surrender from a client and has a number of other issues. Our vet insists that he’s not that overweight and it’s just his body type, but from the “ooomph” Suzy uttered on picking him up and proclaiming him a “butterball … all softness and roundness”, I suspect he could stand a reduced calorie diet and still be just fine.

The Gear Rack

WP_20180424_12_03_33_ProI crowed about a gear rack I was building to take the place of a cart Suzy had purchased for (and was soon going to deliver to) her Master Gardener program. It was time to move my stuff.

WP_20180424_12_03_20_ProIf the attendant pictures show something that looks WAY overbuilt … meaning, do the sides of the trays really need to be made from 2x4s? … the fact is I built this using all scrap wood sitting around the shop.

The sides of the trays and legs are all scrap 2×4 parts … about a dozen pieces stored in various places around the shop.

The bottoms of the trays are actually some scrap the builders had left over when they enclosed the deck on our house. It’s been waiting for a project for a few years now!

And the top bar was a 2” cut-off of a 2×4 that was sitting in a corner. The original design had that bar just as long as the rack but I extended them so I could hang a few things.

I still want to sink a few nails (or, if I want to be fancy, some wooden pegs) from the top tray for additional hanging capacity. Other than that, it’ll do great!

I built it using mostly screws and no glue, this way I can reclaim the wood if I ever need to. You see, I only need this because I’m spreading out for a season of hiking\climbing; once that’s over, all of this stuff has places it can be stored in. Maybe I’ll just unscrew the trays from the legs and store it all flat, awaiting another season. Not sure but I’m happy with how this came out.

Parting shot

Gotta share one more from last weekend. While I fully intended to get back this coming weekend, Tim showed me his heels last night and both had holes burned in them from the outing … open, red, and sore-looking. We may choose another destination this coming weekend.

DSCF1780 Stitch

Thanks for dropping by!

Posted in Cats, Hiking, Home projects | Tagged: , | Leave a Comment »

On a clear day

Posted by joeabbott on April 25, 2018

imageLast Saturday a friend of mine and I planned to hike to Camp Muir high on the flanks of Mt. Rainier as our goal. We also had a 2PM turn-around time and the gates into the Park didn’t open until 9AM, so we knew it was a stretch. We managed to get to 9000’, an hour or so below Camp Muir at 10,000’, so we missed our target, but enjoyed the day all the same.

We hiked about 4000’ (Paradise, our starting location is at ~5000’) in 4+ hours, not bad, and we enjoyed some spectacular weather. The views were phenomenal and the crowds were commensurate; a lot of people were on the trail. Let’s enjoy a few pics from the outing.

From the Paradise parking lot, the day promised to be gorgeous: the mountain was clear and crisp. Our destination was just below and to the right of the big blocky exposed rock above the trees in the foreground.


I saw a lot of Tim’s back, initially. Tim joined me and went without wearing snowshoes. The snow quality was fantastic and held his weight just fine, so he was able to make better time than I was, as I was wearing snowshoes. I didn’t want to break through the crust, and as a Fatty McFat-Fat, that’s a real concern, especially with my heavy, training weight pack on.

There was one slope that reminded me of the classic Chilkoot Pass image, where gold rush prospectors are lined up to climb the Golden Stairs on a final push into the Yukon. Unfortunately, I didn’t take a picture that captured that view well enough … as there are far fewer people in my picture and the ground doesn’t nearly capture the sharp rise it felt we were heading up. But, the many footsteps and paths beaten into the snow tell the tale of a popular winter thoroughfare.


At the top of this rise, there were opportunities for the two of us to have our proper pictures taken. Tim’s picture has the Tatoosh Range and a distant Mt. Adams in the background, whereas mine shows the summit of Mt. Rainier just up there … we should be able to get to it easily!


Few times train you to just put your head down and find a slow pace than when you’re on a snowfield or glacier: the scenery doesn’t change all that much and it’s just you and your thoughts as you plod along. Heading to Muir is one of those times.

And then I got to this slope, just below an area named Moon Rocks. While the entirety of the trip is mostly even without a lot of steeper sections, this one feels steeper. Call it imagination but I cobbled together a few pics to help paint the grade:

DSCF1796 Stitch

And here I was looking up:


It holds this grade for some 300’. I’ve tried counting steps, I’ve tried finding a rhythm of breathing, and I’ve tried ignoring everything but putting one foot in front of the others, and still I find myself looking upwards, many times, wondering when I’ll be over the hump. But the reward for keeping at it is commensurate and then some for the pains:


There were far too many people about for me to revel in the silence and solitude I usually enjoy when I get out in the mountains, but they were welcome companions, kindred spirits who would stretch themselves to find a greater truth … if not of the world in which we live, than a truth of just themselves and what they might achieve if put to a test. But for Tim and I, it was 2PM and time for our return to the car. Someone in the group suggested the gate wasn’t going to be locked at 5PM but the best he could offer was “A ranger named Darby told me.” Setting that against seeing the sign at the bottom stating the contrary, we weren’t convinced and we headed down.

The trip down was far quicker (as one might imagine), but our legs were wobbly and the snow was now of a consistency that made it somewhat treacherous on the few steep places. And, before we got to the parking lot, Tim had put his snowshoes on as the snow’s crust was now sun-warmed and broke through on each step. A final looked back also suggested our fairy tale day was at an end and Mt. Rainier was calling clouds to help welcome the evening.


In many times like this, on leaving the mountains, I’ve thought, “I’ll be back,” without serious consideration for when, but with Mt. Rainier just an hour and a half south of us, I will be back and it’ll be this coming weekend. While the gate had been posted as closing at 5PM when we entered the Park, that sign was removed when we came down. Additionally, we didn’t get to Camp Muir and we’ll need to in 5 weeks or so: we have a summit window of June 4-6. So, the training continues.

Thanks for dropping by and sharing a few snippets of my time out on this hike, and I hope your time out on whatever adventure you choose has been just as grand!

Posted in Hiking | Tagged: , | 1 Comment »

I’m tired … but a good tired

Posted by joeabbott on April 24, 2018

imageWell, these past few days have reminded me of a line in the opening to David Sedaris’ Theft by Finding in which he says something like: In order to write about a life, you have to live it. The book Theft by Finding is the published Sedaris diaries where he gives a nod to the fact that in order to have something to write about, you need to be away from the desk … or, in my case, the keyboard. So what have I been doing with my time? Glad I asked myself … let’s go!

Saturday was the sort of interstitial day you have when you’re between big things; in my case it was work and a week-long vacation. So, Suzy and I went to the movie Black Panther, a Marvel comic book superhero extravaganza in which a good man becomes king and also has a snazzy cat suit that empowers him beyond imagining. Or, beyond imagining for me but the folks at Marvel had things well-in-hand as the titular king does incredible things.

While I enjoyed the movie I did so no more than any other superhero movie. It was great in all the ways a multimillion dollar affair can be great but it had a lot of heart, and that seems to have played well to audiences and critics. It was a fine way to spend an early afternoon.

After that, I came home and started building a small station for storing some climbing gear and allowing it to dry. I now need some 16”x30” plywood and my table saw is behind a bunch of stuff … so, things stopped there until I can clean up that space.

And then Suzy and I frittered away our evening and I turned in early.

On Sunday I hiked to Camp Muir on Mt. Rainier with a friend. We only got to 9000’, so we didn’t make it to Muir itself, but we put in a long day on the snow and enjoyed some spectacular weather. I can’t imagine not sharing more later, so I’ll leave it at that. And that was the day … not much left in terms of time or energy for anything else!

On Monday Suzy and I had a work day. Sort of.

For a couple days our cat, Trimble, had been acting ill, as if something was caught in his throat. He’d make a snotty *snerk* sort of sound, wretch a bit, and occasionally vomit clear liquid. It was clear because he hadn’t eaten anything in a couple days. And that’s dangerous for a cat who is so lean. The vet email over the weekend led to an early morning visit … it was the first time he’d had to be taken to a vet in years, as our vet will make house calls … and, even though he was improving, we our Trimble to the vet.

While he was acting better, he still wasn’t eating, and so our trip entailed: manual inspection, x-rays, blood and urine samples, subcutaneous fluids, syringe feeding, and a lot of TLC. It was a good vet (Island Cats on Mercer Island) but it blew the budget for veterinary services by a mile. We still haven’t heard back but we came home with a new pet. While Trimble had been sleeping a lot, spending time under the bed and looking a bit manky, he suddenly had an interest in going outside, being awake, and was generally sociable. Not sure if he’s “over” something or just had his share of adrenalin, but I awoke with him at my side and was happy for that change.

After getting back from the vet, we had lunch out and then it was chore time. While I mowed and edged, Suzy weeded. While I hauled and spread compost, Suzy weeded. And while I got out the deck furniture, umbrella, and corrected some hose situations, Suzy weeded. I think she gave me the easier tasks to avoid me learning the demoralizing labor that is weeding, and I appreciate it. But you should see the yard, folks … looking great for spring!

After that we had a little dinner: chicken Marsala with mushrooms over rice. Simple and tasty. While I cleaned up and did dishes, Suzy baked for a potluck she’ll have today and then I played some video games. A very fine day.

I’ll post more when life allows me the time to do so … but, we expect temps in the 70°s here this week and I am on vacation. Wishing you the finest of days … like the ones I’ve been enjoying!

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

A little time off

Posted by joeabbott on April 21, 2018

WP_20140627_001For a guy who doesn’t mind working one bit, I do have to say the relentlessness of routine sometimes assails me and it really feels good to have a little unstructured time. This is one of those times.

I think it’s in large part due to things that have come before, what’s in front of me, and just my busy life. You see, since breaking my elbow in December (yes … I’m still going on about that), I have some abandoned projects I’d intended to tackle; that weighs on a guy. Also, with my new found resurgence for hiking and climbing, I’m out every weekend … which leads to time away, not doing other stuff, and a garage full of drying gear most days of the week. And, there won’t be an end until later in June.

Mondays are a nice break, but Tuesday I’m up at 5:15AM and have about 15 minutes after getting home that evening to grab dinner before I head to the gym for classes … and then get back at 8PM, giving me a couple hours to do what I want, clean up for bed, and then do it again. Wednesdays I’ve been trying to hike up a local peak after work and have been fortunate this goes pretty quickly … and hour up and an hour down, getting me home around 7PM. Not bad. Thursday is a mirror of Tuesday.

This means I get Friday evening to prep gear for my weekend outing and I run run run.

So, for a guy who really does like the company he works for, likes the work he does, and likes staying busy, I’m looking forward to this coming week off. What do I have planned?

Well, Suzy and I will see a couple movies, we don’t do that enough. I’ll try to get in a small woodworking project … I’ve been using a cart Suzy bought for her Master Gardener clinics (the MG season hasn’t opened just yet) to dry and arrange my gear on so I need a replacement station. I’ll blog some more and have a number of things to organize and tidy up. Of course there’ll be a couple of days of general labor around the yard, but for a desk jockey, that seems like it’ll be fun.

In short, a little this and a little that. Of course I’ll more regularly visit my blogging duties. Sounds perfect.

Here’s hoping your coming week has a little bit of perfect in it, too. Thanks for dropping by.

Posted in Trivia | Tagged: | Leave a Comment »

One of the greatest pics of all time? You decide

Posted by joeabbott on April 15, 2018

When I want to waste time I surf Reddit … it’s great. Because I only give myself minutes to waste, I typically stay on the “front page”, where those items that are significantly ”upvoted” show up … that is, where many people who subscribe to the site “like” it. And that’s where I see things like this … one of the greatest photos of all time:


It was submitted as part of a story entitled, In many North American areas in which wolves have been reintroduced, the resident coyotes are seeing them for the first time. I’m pretty sure those coyotes are remembering an urgent appointment across the valley’ they’d forgotten about, but look at that wolf!! Terrifying! I’m sure it’s just curious and looking on, but it appears to be 10 yards beyond the coyotes and it’s massive. The fur is bristly, the head lowered, and the eyes are almost glowing.

I believe wolves are pack hunters, but this fella looks like he could have a go at being a pack of one. Beautiful animal, beautiful picture.

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

Take me away

Posted by joeabbott on April 8, 2018

WP_20180331_21_58_33_ProSuzy and I have a few places around the State of Washington that we like to run to … places we’ve stayed and will likely stay again if time and opportunity allow. To the east of the Cascades in the dry part of the state there is Cave B, a winery with fantastic oak barrel-shaped bungalows; off the Coast is Kalaloch Lodge, with the Pacific Ocean crashing at the base of the bluffs on which the cabins sit; nearby but nestled in the mossy rain forest is Quinault Lodge. And then there’s Skamania Lodge.

WP_20180331_14_56_55_ProLocated to the south off the Columbia River, we found this place back in 2001 when we were returning from a long road trip where we stayed at small motels, ate bologna and cheese sandwiches for many of our meals, and were fleeing a winter storm. We got one of Skamania Lodge’s cheaper rooms and fell in love. It was the dead of December but before the holiday crush, so we found it quiet, luxurious, and as oasis for our jangled nerves from being on icy roads. We’ve been back many times.

Just last weekend we found ourselves running there as a hideaway from our hectic lives but we made the trip in spring on the Easter weekend; and it was anything but quiet. And yet that was fine.

The trip down wasn’t quick but we didn’t try to hurry; we stopped at a few shops, found a delightful eatery in Camas, WA called Burgerville (you gotta try their rosemary infused fries!), and attempted to stop at Beacon Rock but found the crush of traffic and crowds to be too much of a dissuasion. We made it to the Lodge around 1PM, tossed our bags into the room, and our restless feet found a couple of the trails that loop around the property.

Over about 2.5 hours we ambled slowly on the roughly 4 miles of trails, not trying to make time and happy we only bumped into one other person actually on the trail. We could already tell the Lodge was a much busier place this time but didn’t mind. It was nice seeing the solo golfer working on his short game, seeing a trio natter as they took turns finishing their shots, or watched the new family delight as their child explored a small mound of wild flowers.

While there was a lot to look at on ground level, Skamania Lodge had installed a series of rope courses and zip lines since we’d last been there, giving us new things to look for aloft! Some of the shorter zips allowed me to give a modest nod at the venture without necessarily wanting to try, but as we were on the far side of the property and heard a 20-second zzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzzz as a zip-liner cruised by overhead, I thought, now that looks fun! But, we were happy for a late afternoon stroll, hand-in-hand around the lodge, past the tree house rooms, wending about the golf course holes, and under steel cables as we worked up a small appetite.

Knowing we were going to enjoy their Sunday brunch, we paid homage to our 2001 road trip and enjoyed a lunchbox meal in our room, overlooking the rear lawn of the Lodge and finding the Columbia River and bluffs off to the south. We then settled in with reading material and enjoyed a quiet evening with the fireplace cracking and when we turned in, slept a deep and comfortable sleep.

In the morning we awoke and heard a chatter on that south lawn; and looking out, we saw they’d prepared for Easter by scattering hundreds of plastic candy- and toy-filled eggs about the lawns for the visiting children to find and enjoy. While Suzy woke up more leisurely, I headed down to the common area and settled into a seat looking out at the lawn. And, when I found myself a-sea amongst the many families, excused myself with a hot beverage and rejoined my miss.WP_20180401_07_32_24_Pro

WP_20180401_08_41_17_ProAround 8:30AM we made our way to the buffet and overate. I could describe the gourmet omelet bar, the cold sea food station, the carvery selections of ham and prime rib, or maybe describe the fruits and pastries and desserts. But I’m far more modest a man than to do that … or am I? ;-)  It was very very fine.

So fine, I needed a short nap after we spent a long hour and then some at our window table looking out at the Columbia and its attendant bluffs.

And after the nap, renewed and rejuvenated, we headed north to our home and animals and the minor chores that Sunday involves. It was a very fine weekend and, should you find yourself in the Pacific Northwest and in need of a respite, the very lap of comfort and luxury awaits you on our southern border, at Skamania Lodge. Drop in and enjoy.

Posted in Travel | Tagged: | 1 Comment »

Book Review: Lightly on the Land

Posted by joeabbott on April 7, 2018

P1020391This  books is unlike the others I’ve “reviewed” in that it’s less of a story and more of a manual. The title, Lightly on the Land, The SCA Trail Building and Maintenance Manual by The Student Conservation Association has been on my book list since Suzy and I built a trail through the back of our yard back in 2011. That said, even for an interested reader like me it was a long read.

My motivation was centered on the fact that we built our trail but I never felt we did it “right”. Mostly because we just cut away the turf, edged the sides, and initially laid in some wood chips. The wood chips are long gone, as chickens kicked that out, and it’s stayed mostly weed free due to traffic, but we just dug away! No planning, no special cares … that can’t be right, can it?

So, I wanted a book that would speak to trail building and maintenance, and my long association with The Mountaineers (the organization has a publishing arm, The Mountaineers Books, that released this book) convinced me this was the right one. But, I’m not loving it.

Most of the problem with the book was a pretty long introduction and a less than clear follow-up on specifics around trail construction. In way of example, here are the first 9 chapters of the book:

  1. Trails … this is an odd one; in addition to talking about the history of trails, it has a section called “what is a trail” … it really feels like these 12 pages could be put to better use
  2. Conservation Crew Leadership … intended as tips for running your own trail crew
  3. Involving Volunteers … ten more pages of things they didn’t say in the previous chapter
  4. Camping with Work Crews … again, content for running a trail crew
  5. Risk Management … welcome to the obligatory chapter for the risk averse for our litigious world
  6. Tools … a reasonable guide with some nice illustrations
  7. Crosscut and Chain Saws … while tools, these got their own chapter
  8. Measuring Distance, Grades, and Heights … a good section
  9. Trail Survey, Design, and Estimating Work … for the few useful parts of this chapter, it could have been worked into later sections

imageAnd then, after nearly 150 pages, you were at Trail Construction likely the reason you got the book! The ensuing 150 pages are reasonably good material but nothing that captivated me. After having read it and set it aside a number of months, I have little recollection of the book with no specific memories. Also, the pages aren’t dog-eared, there are no notations in the margins, or highlights throughout … I found nothing at the time of reading that made me want to remember it.

It’s not terrible but wasn’t laid out quite the way I’d like to learn: it just feels like lots of information and not enough structure around options, why you’d use one approach vs. another, and how these considerations complement each other. It had all the parts to allow someone to be successful but didn’t speak to me.

The book covers trail construction and maintenance, drainage, working with rock, timber management (as in felling trees, bucking timber, and using that in projects), and bridge construction. All of these are topics I like and wanted to know more about but I don’t think I was the target audience for this book. It really feels like it was written and targeted at a group of individuals teaching a class on trail construction and this book was a formalized manual that had been built up around the class.

While I will likely reference it when I start another project to build a trail, shore up a sloughing slope, or even build a small bridge, I can’t say it’ll either be looked at outside those instances and I wouldn’t be surprised if I didn’t feel it was complete. Meaning, I fully expect I’ll have to dig around on the internet or reference some other resource to have enough information to complete my project.

This is a fine book but not the one I wanted, and yet it’ll “git ‘er done” or at least give me some good information. When I reference it again, I will, however, ignore the first half of the book. If you pick it up, I hope you find it more accessible and complete.

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

Book Review: Thing Explainer

Posted by joeabbott on April 7, 2018

image`I asked for the Thing Explainer, Complicated Stuff in Simple Words by Randall Munroe on the strength of two facts: it was illustrated by the artist behind xkcd (gloriously simplistic but detailed line drawing) and proposed to explain everyday things (even complex things) in simple fashion. Sign me up!

While the premise is exceptional and the drawings always superb, I tired fairly quickly of the explanations. While it’s commendable for the author to attempt to explain scientific processes, machines, and even atomic matter without using technical jargon or complicated words, doing so using just 1000 of the most common words grew tiresome. “Gasoline” became “fire water”, “Christmas trees” became “winter family trees (the kind with boxes under them)” and “ink” becomes “writing water”.

While in and of themselves, any of these re-imagined words may be clever, dozens of pages of “clever” becomes trying and I found myself just glossing over the print or groaning as a “soccer goal” became “point sticks”. While I applaud the intent behind simplifying complexities, I also believe even the youngest person … or at least one who might appreciate the details of an internal combustion engine, an oil rig, or ballpoint pen … would recognize and understand the words gasoline, Christmas tree, and ink.

But the pictures! That’s where this book shines and why I’d strongly recommend anyone even remotely curious about how things work to pick this up. While copyright considerations will keep me from sharing many of the pictures, he’s a cruddy image taken with my phone to give you an appreciation of the art style and detail:


That’s the internals of a digital SLR … Munroe illustrates helicopters, skyscrapers, bridges, batteries, laptops, bathrooms, a Saturn V rocket … he even drew the Large Hadron Collider! I mean, seriously … an atom smasher! He also covers the natural world (the sun, geological periods of the earth, life on earth’s family tree) and even the periodic table of elements.

Absolute props for having the courage to try simplifying material of that complexity, but consider using 5000 words, or make exceptions or whatever. In a few cases I found myself getting lost in “another kind of fire water” or even for things that I understand pretty well (that aerospace engineering bachelor degree wasn’t for nothing), his description of the Sky Boat Pusher (jet engine) was so obtuse it could have used a “now let’s pull all this together” sort of summary.

Ultimately, a book I’m happy to have and have pored over as part of my bedtime reading. Pick it up at the library, a used bookstore, or order your copy from a bookseller or Amazon … it’s worth paging through and discovering for yourself.

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