Thursday, August 28, 2008

Balance: Hard Work Needs Frivolous Play

After a long stretch of hard work and hard play, I am taking the weekend off and heading to a party with a large group of friends. For this weekend, it is all about the beer. Or more to the point, the bier. At this party no bier will be served unless it passes the reinheitsgebot, or the former German bier purity act. (Aside: Of course the German's had a purity act for their bier!). The headcount at the party is about 100. One cannot come to the party if not invited, and you cannot invite someone if you have not attended at least four times, and even then it is discouraged. So what the party ends up with is 100 or so hand picked attendees. Since there is a lot of bier on hand, we end up with people who, when they drink, do not get mad, get maudlin, get unconscious, or get in your partner's pants. We get happy drunks who want to talk, dance, and make food for all their friends.

Calling Bacchus!

I'm really looking forward to the Rest and Relaxation. Work has piled on the stress, and while I am pretty good at coping with it, this last stretch of time has been a bit much. And while it is true that the conditions causing the stress will still be there when I return to work on Tuesday after the Labor Day holiday weekend, I will have had time to slow down, hang out with friends of beautiful spirit, indulge safely in plentiful bier, and dance to the fantastic music of Collective Unconscious until I have had my fill.

Disco in the Pavilion
Ready for the dancers

I just took a look at the extended weather forecast for the area, and it looks about as perfect as I could ask for. Sunny days in the mid-80's and cool nights in the mid-50's are ahead. How rare to have perfect weather for a holiday weekend!

My only hope is that among all those revelers, I can find someone willing to spend some time working out the major knot in my left shoulder. I am pretty sure that hope will be fulfilled, so my task will be to make myself available to receive the help. Of course, I first have to get through the next day and a half at work! Receiving help, even asking for it, can be more difficult than helping someone else. There is that feeling of being a burdon, an intrusion. In this case, I need to ask for the help.

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Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Segmented Segmentilia

It seems the transitions cast members of the recent Cycropia performance at the Orton Park Festival are feeling a bit of post-show blues. We have spent so much time together over the past weeks that it feels weird not seeing them several times since the weekend. I have been experiencing phantom 'rehearsal' anxiety. Much like the panic moments I would have in the weeks after I quit carrying a pager ("Oh crap! I forgot the pager...Oh, never mind."), I have had these anxious moments every night this week wondering if I had a rehearsal.

So to myself, the rest of the segments of the caterpillar from Segmentilia, and anyone having a bit of anxiety about moving on, I pass on some words of comfort paraphrased from author Richard Bach:

That which the caterpillar calls the End, we call the Butterfly.

Monarch Time

Bach has one other quote that I think is applicable in this particular case. "Rarely do members of the same family grow up under the same roof." Last week I had seven extra sisters. Why does that need to change?

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Post-Show Party

After months of rehearsals, planning, organizing, grant-writing, costume creation and fitting, the Orton Park Festival performance is done. Friday's show was good, with some problems, but Saturday's was about as good as it gets. The music, lights, and timing were all fine, the weather was absolutely perfect, and the crowd was large and engaged. The performers had fun, and the audience knew it. A hearty congratulations to all involved, especially the audience.

With the hard work behind us, it was time for a little R&R. A post-show party on Sunday was just the ticket. Another beautiful day allowed relaxation and fond recollections of the weekend. A bounty of scrumptious food was laid out, a quarter barrel of beer was iced, and coolers filled with sodas and waters made the day deliciously decadent.

Raspberry Mousse Cake

Being the sort of multi-talented people that this extended group is, hanging around basking in the sun is an option, but once someone pulls out an instrument, there is music to be made! The garage provided a nicely shaded location, and the sound of the accoustic instruments washed out into the driveway and back yard where the relaxers were.

Pickin' and grinnin' on guitar were Jonathan Zarov and John Click,

Jonathan Z. on Guitar
Jonathan Z.

Johnny C. on Guitar
Johnny C.

Violin duty was covered by Daithi Wolf of Yid Viscious.

Daithi W. on Violin

Various other players and singers wandered in and out, including Raka on vocals, Jenn on broom, Rand on shaker and improvized percussion (it was a garage...there were many things to bang on!), Reena of Pagee Go Go spicing it up on the Brazilian tonton, and yours truly on tonton, shakers, claps, and improvized percussion. More of that self-made entertainment that to my soul is like cool water to a parched tongue.

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Friday, August 22, 2008

Segmentillia Horribilous

What manner of strangeness is this then? At a local park last night I witnessed a swarm of gigantic midges, swarming and buzzing, terrorizing visitors to the park. I tried to get a photo of them, but they were moving too quickly. I was able to get a shot of their shadows as a small gang of them paused for a moment.

Attracted to Light
The Light Draws Them

Frustrated by my inability to get close to them, and wanting photographic evidence, I decided to rig a trap of sorts. I put up a light source, and then added a mirror in hopes that I could at least get a shot of one attracted by the light. Much to my surprise, one of the midges seemed particularly vain. When it (he?) discovered the mirror, it paused to admire itself and even spent a moment grooming. It had something in one set of its hands and I wondered if it was taking a photo of itself. Haha! Of course not. I mean, why would a bug take a photo of itself? Regardless of the intent, here is the best shot that I was able to get before I startled it.

Vanity, vanity, all is vanity!

I intend to return to Orton Park tonight in hopes of getting another look at this insectoid phenomenon. What other sorts of creatures does it consort with? At dusk, all will be revealed!

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Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Final Push to the Orton Show

Cycropia is completing all the preparations needed to put on a dynamic aerial dance show at the Orton Park Festival. There are a million details that need to be handled, and many volunteers assist the dancers. Costumes need to be completed and fit. Music selections need to be finalized and delivered to the sound crew. Videographers need to be coordinated. The ground under the oak tree needs to be raked, and raked, and raked, and raked again to remove as many acorns, twigs, bark, and other things unpleasant to hit with a bare foot while running. The tree needs to be rigged to accept the apparatuses that will be used. Lighting needs to be erected and power run to each light. A "back stage" tent needs to be setup so dancers can change, do makeup, store costumes and props. And since not all these things can be done day-of-show, we need volunteers to park-sit to protect all the things that are in place. It is a LOT of work.

Rigging the Tree
Rigging the Tree

Kristi's Hair Prep
Finalizing Costume Ideas

Around all the work though, there are some benefits. Not the least of which is that we get to have our class in the park, in the tree the week prior to the show. For those dancer/students who are not performing in the show itself, it is a great opportunity to experiment with the differences between a trapeeze mounted to a static ceiling and one mounted to a swaying tree limb.

Class in the Tree
Class in the Tree

All throughout the week dancers get to set up their apparatus and get in some rehearsal time in the tree. It is needed for fine tuning the rigging as well as reacquainting the dancer to the dynamics of the tree.

Billy Rehearsing

Patrick and Linda
Patrick and Linda Rehearsing
Much better Viewed Large On Black

The show will be great (providing we do not get rained out!), so come and watch. Much like the Concerts On The Square, the best spots get staked out early, with blankets holding space in the front row by noon for the 8:45 PM shows.

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Monday, August 18, 2008

Image Problem Resolved

I noticed after buying the Sigma f/1.4 30mm lens a few weeks ago that while I was shooting night or low light shots with a strong light source, that I had a problem. I noticed that each one had an extra image of the light source in it. In the night shot at La Fete de Marquette there was an extra moon (quite clear, which was kind of neat). In the fire-spinning shots last week, there was a smear of light somewhere in the photo that didn't belong. In this image, it is right above the subject's head.

Katie Spinning Fire
Undesirable Light Image

I was hoping that it was not a function of the lens. I had read a lot of reviews of Sigma lenses before I bought, and for every good review there was a bad one. It seemed like it was something of a crap shoot when you buy a Sigma, and the recommendation was to Try Before You Buy. Strangely, or tellingly, there are no Sigma dealers in Madison. There are three large photographic supply stores plus the usual big-box guys, yet no one carries Sigma. Why? I ended up ordering the lens from Amazon (great price, by the way). At first all was well, though my shots were all daytime initially. A mentor of sorts had suggested putting a UV filter on every lens. His reasoning is that it is inexpensive protection for an expensive lens, so I had done that with this Sigma. Was the reflected light caused by some bounce between the filter and the lens? I had not encountered that with my Nikon lenses, but this was a significantly larger piece of glass (62mm rather that 52mm for the Nikon lenses).

This weekend I had an opportunity to take some low light shots of the sort that would cause the reflection problem. I took two, and sure enough, there was a ghost of light that could not be edited out post camera. I unscrewed the prophylactic UV lens and re-shot the same image. Voila!

Tiki Smoke
Tiki Smoke

I got a nice, clean image of the tiki torch flame and wisps of smoke with no trace of relected light spoiling it. It seems the Sigma is fine - very fine - and I simply need to remember to take off the UV filter when I'm shooting in low light. I will have to pay attention to see if the same problem occurs during daytime hours when the UV filter would be desirable, but is causing a light problem at the same time. Regardless, I am relieved that the issue is so simple to resolve. I am sure I will forget to remove the filter now and then, but I think I am getting a large enough base of practical experience that this will be simply one of those things that I check automatically. There is so much to learn!

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Friday, August 15, 2008

Fog Hollow

Riding in to work yesterday was interesting. When I left my house on the motorcycle it was a bit hazy, the remnants of a morning fog that had not yet burned off entirely. My commute takes me out of Madison to the next city, Sun Prairie, separated by about 2 miles of marginally undeveloped - yet - land. I would love to call it green space, but these two cities are too dumb to preserve such space. ANYway, as the highway leaves Madison it dips down to a low spot, once a lush wetland, but rampant stupidity has instead converted it to farm fields and developed land with one dredged pond. (Can you say 'flood plane' boys and girls? Sure, I thought you could.) ANYway, said low spot holds fog like you wouldn't believe. The light haze turned into a dense fog; a wet misty cloud limiting visibility to no more that 1/10 of a mile.

Socked In
Socked In

Madison car drivers are all waaaay above average, and seldom let anything so trivial as reality intrude on their God-given right to go 75 miles an hour (in a 65 zone) while talking on their cell phone. They are such superior drivers that many felt they didn't even need headlights. The rationale goes something like this: I can see fine. Okaaay. The fact that others possibly cannot see them is not a factor. Theirs is the superior skill.

Being only an average driver I decided that it was prudent to let them have that bit of road, so I took the first available exit. I paused to take the above photo (I actually had to do some editing of it because the fog was so misty that I had droplets on my lens), and while stopped took a look around me. I noticed this tree mostly because the light was rapidly changing, getting brighter. This shot was taken facing almost due east into the rising sun.

Misty Tree
Misty Tree

It was apparent that the sun was getting a grip on the fog and would burn through it in short order. As I clambered back up out of the rain ditch to the road where my bike was, I paused to grab one more shot. Taken only a few seconds after the tree shot, already the light was brighter. The dewey thistle looked really pretty, and the ant on the center top leaf adds a dash of spice.

Dewey Thistle
Dewey Thistle

With the fog lifting and visibility significantly improved, I opted to simply return to the highway and continue my ride. Not more than a mile later the highway climbs a few dozen feet, and at the top of that rise the sun blazed through. In another minute I was under mostly clear blue skies. I would guess that the low spot still had the last holdout of fog, but even that would soon be just a memory.

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Thursday, August 14, 2008

Do Blondes Have More Fun?

Do Blondes Have More Fun?, originally uploaded by alleenski.

Stilt walkers and transition characters practice in Orton Park for the "Segmentillia" show by Cycropia Aerial Dance coming as part of the 2008 Orton Park Fest August 22nd and 23rd. The show is free, and absolutely worth seeing. There are bands playing all day, and when the last one finishes around 8:45 PM, all eyes turn towards the big spreading oak in which Cycropia hangs their apparatus.

Yep, that is me. I am part of the transitions cast of performers who have small vignettes between pieces that help tie the show together. Consider this a sneak peak at costuming. Thanks to Alleen for taking the photo!

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Monday, August 11, 2008

Studio Self Portrait

Self Portrait
Self Portrait #1

I have decided to try my hand at portrait photography. One of my basement rooms has undergone a subtle transformation. Originally set up as a small practice studio for dance, with mirrors on the wall, it is now being modified to be a simple portrait studio as well. My camera does not control slave flashes without me spending a bunch of moolah on a master flash, so lights will be fixed, and rudimentary for now. I have one reversible backdrop: Black or Gold Metalic Dot (why? Because I could! What will I use gold metallic dot as a backdrop for? I dunno, yet. But it will be FUN when I do use it!)

This endeavor is not to earn a living mind you, but an opportunity to help friends with posed and costumed promo shots, as well as allowing me to explore a bit more in the way of artistic images. So, if you are interested in being my guinea pig and sitting still for a while as I learn to apply effective lighting, let me know. I am especially interested in dancers or other costumed performers, but also people willing to have photographic "studies" done of tattoos or piercings using soft or otherwise dramatic lighting. In exchange, you will receive an 8x10 or two of images you might like. I will be asking people to sign a general model release, but have NO intention to use these images to sell unrelated product. That means the image may be sold as a print, but it will not be used to sell a car (for example). I hope this is a win-win. I get to experiment and learn some new things and try to work around my colorblindness, and hopefully, the models get a couple of good images of themselves.

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Sunday, August 10, 2008

Leo's Like Fire

There is just something compelling about watching a woman spin fire. Yeah, yeah, I know. It's hot. But there is more to it than that, I think.

Katie Spinning Fire
Katie Spinning Poi

I see a lot of people spin fire, be it on poi, staves, whips, finger torches, fans, swords, and even hoops. For now, and maybe in the circles that I move, spinners tend to fall into the 17-30 age range in sort of a bell curve. I would guess that the gender split is about 50-50.

Katie Spinning Fire
Hitting Her Groove

Part of what appeals to me when I see a woman spinning is that it requires all the grace and agility of a dancer, coupled with a complete willingness to stink like fuel, get dirty, wear sturdy flame-resistant clothing, and become the center of attention. Starting down the road of spinning fire is to embrace a yang presentation of femininity. It is the manifestation of the strong woman; the woman who is comfortable with her self and does not care that she is not wearing makeup and (flammable) hair spray to attempt some Cosmo version of beauty.

Katie Spinning Fire
Fire Burns Down

Rather, the fire spinning women seem to simply accept that people find them attractive just as they are. There is little pretense or artifice. It is an attractive presentation to a Leo - those who in astrological terms are the reckless teenagers of the fire signs. This fire spinning was performed at a 4-Leo birthday party. It was Katie's present to our birthday-boy host. Thank you, Katie, and happy August birthday's to Chris, Marko, Theresa, and me.

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Friday, August 8, 2008

Pleased To Meet You. Hope You Guess My Name!

Any shred of respect I had remaining for John McCain went right out the window today. John McCain's campaign makes broad hints that Obama is the anti-Christ in an ad called "The One" that was recently released online. At first glance the ad - by McCain - makes no sense. But the ad is steeped in references and symbology from the Christian Conservative "Left Behind" novels.

According to an article from, the ad "taps into a conversation that has been gaining urgency on Christian radio, political blogs, and in widely-circulated email messages that accuse Obama of being the Antichrist." This might be funny if there were not a bunch of loonies out there ready to let this crap worm into their psyche. A quick Google search using 'obama antichrist' serves up 764,000 hits. Searching on 'obama nicolae carpathia' (Nicolae Carpathia is the anti-Christ character in the Left Behind books) yielded 3,100 hits.

Ponder that, folks.

McCain is pandering, directly, to a group for whom those books are wildly popular. The symbology in that ad is no mistake. It won't fool me though. I know that Dick Cheney is the anti-Christ.

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I have a pretty boring commute to work. It is all straight highway, and other than some good Big Wheel racing photos (1, 2) I do not get much in the way of interesting photos. Yet there is this one lone tree standing in a field about two blocks from the distribution center where I work. There seems to be something compelling about it and I drive past it every so often to see what it is up to. It is off my route a little bit, so it is always a conscious choice to drive past it.

Recently it was hiding, my view of it obscured by six to seven foot tall corn. I liked that it was not the dominant feature, but rather the food crop was.

The Sun Prairie Tree - Full Summer

During the spring that was not the case. It was all by itself, standing solid in the middle of the field. The crops are transient, but it remains. We were at the start of a cool, delightful spring. There was a LOT of snow melt - we shattered the record for snowfall this winter - and the overheard concern of the farmers was that maybe the fields would be too wet to plant. That's seldom a real concern, but in this case there was a lot of water to go away. The mud and some standing water is clearly evident in this photo.

Too wet to plant
The Sun Prairie Tree - Mid Spring

In January we were having a series of evenings with spectacular sunsets, and I went searching for a location to capture one. It was cold, cold, cold, with a howling wind when I took this shot. I was out of my warm car no more than 30 seconds but it was long enough to make my exposed ears ache. Nevertheless, I like the peachy color of the sky quite a lot in this photo, and I consider it worth the small discomfort required to get it. This was my first encounter with the Sun Prairie Tree, and I had no idea it would keep drawing me back.

Winter sunset 1/22
The Sun Prairie Tree - Midwinter

Who knows what the autumn will bring? I have a feeling I will be checking in again to see how it is doing.

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Thursday, August 7, 2008

The Malt House

I finally got a chance to check out the new bar in the neighborhood. The Malt House opened about eight weeks ago at the intersection of East Washington Avenue and Milwaukee Street, and I have been meaning to get in there. Formerly the Union Tap, along with a hotel, there has been beer served at this location for 150 years. The hotel and original bar buildings were razed sometime around 1950 to make way for a crappy gas station. The bar itself - the wood structure from which beer is served - was preserved and remains in the new pub. While the interior is still in a state of flux decor-wise, I understand some photos of the historic site, and Camp Randall (the army camp, not the stadium) are being installed this week. that will help give it a sense of identity. For now, it is all about the beer.

Malt House Tappers
Malt House Tappers

And what a selection of beer they have! There are 18 taps, grouped in three themes: Belgian Ales, Wisconsin/Regional craft beers (Ale Asylum, Bells, Capital right now), and a selection of beers from around the world. Additionally there are approximately 150 selections in bottles. A beer drinkers paradise, with pints of local running $3.50, and $3.00 during happy hour. I also noted at least thirty varieties of whiskey: Rye, Bourbon, and Scotch.

On a plus note for me: There are NO televisions in the bar! Yea!! I hope they keep it that way. It is a pub. The focus ought to be on conversation. As owner Bill said in a post on the Isthmus Forum, "BTW, I saw another thread by someone lameting the lack of intellectual discussion in taverns lately. I hope all you smarty-pants out there will come to my fancy-pants beer bar and help us solve all the world's problems on the back of my cocktail napkins. "

I would not mind seeing an actual bristle dart board going up, so folks could play real darts as opposed to "hey I threw this 2-gram plastic dart-like thingy at that plastic board and it stuck so I got some points!" dart machines. (Yeah, I know those machines really score Cricket, but if I'm throwing for twenties and I accidentally hit a triple eighteen, I would not score it and the machine will. Why reward slop?)

The Malt House could be a perfect neighborhood watering hole, as well as a draw for beer enthusiasts from around the area. Good on ya, Bill! Anyone care to meet me there for a pint and conversation? Imagine being able to have a drink and talk without shouting...

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Wednesday, August 6, 2008

Dancers of Many Stripes

What goes with a music festival? Dancers!

At the Wisteria Cornstalk Festival, in addition to two awesome contact improv dancers, there were bellydancers...


...and hoop dancers...
Lighted Hoop Dancing
Nova, dancing with a lighted hoop

...Fire dancers...
Zack Spinning Fire
Zack spinning fire

...Rain dancers...
Hippie Chick in the Rain
Dancing in the rain

of Kan'Nal
from Kan'Nal

...and dead-from-the-heat dancers!
Cruciform Megan
Megan...out hot

All-in-all, there was a lot of dancing going on at the Wisteria Cornstalk Festival. (They just didn't come to workshops.)

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Madison World Music Festival

The fifth annual Madison World Music Festival will be held Sept. 12-20. Again this year, all events are free and open to the public. Most of the performances are at the UW Union Theater or the Terrace. The tentative schedule:
Caravan - World Music Radio: Madison World Music Festival Lineup Announced

Friday, 9/12/2008
Prasanna (India),
Mamak Khadem (Iran),
Nation Beat (Brazil/USA),

Saturday, 9/13/2008
Little Cow (Hungary),
Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Republic),
Reelroad (Russia),
Maraca (Cuba),

Sunday, 9/14/2008
Kumar Sambav (India, dance), presented by the Indian Grad Students Association
Little Cow (Hungary)
Plastic People of the Universe (Czech Republic)

Thursday, 9/18/2008
Kabile (Bulgaria),

Friday, 9/19/2008
Gaida Hinnawi (Syria),
Dya Singh (India),
Baba Zula (Turkey),

Saturday, 9/20/2008
Chiwoniso (Zimbabwe),
Zazhil (Mexico),
Etran Finatawa (Niger),
17 Hippies (Germany),

Sunday, 9/21/2008
A journey in Hindustani music: Vocal concert by Rajan and Sajan Mishra

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Tuesday, August 5, 2008

Siren Call

I am still thinking about the music festival at Wisteria. While my portion may not have gone well, there were lots of things about the festival itself that were fun and entertaining. It is often the small, people centric things that capture me at a gathering like this (because I expect the music to be entertaining) and make me smile after the fact.

One hot, muggy afternoon I had dragged myself into the shade to read and wait for Megan. I read for ten minutes or so, then A~ walked over and asked if I would mind if she spun poi there too. Naturally I said that was fine. Spinning poi leads to spinning fire, which is always good, and well, just look at her. Why would I mind?

Amber Spinning Poi
A~ Spinning Poi

A few minutes later her dad, Eric, walked over to join us. It seems he was working on his own poi technique and wanted to get some pointers from A~. She was pretty good at breaking down the motions he was trying to get, and was able to demonstrate them in a way that he was able to learn.

Eric Spinning Poi
Eric Spinning Poi

During that same time, a pack of young men sniffed over to hang out and, more to the point, strut for A~. It was pretty entertaining. There was fencing with sticks, some feeble attempts at spinning (though one of them was actually pretty good at spinning fire), and other feats of derring-do accompanied by sidelong glances at A~ to see if she was noticing. I am sure she did, but not with any significant interest. At least one of the guys was going to great lengths to show off!

Pretty Girls Attract...
Pretty Girls Attract...

He was very strong and agile, and had all the requisite skills: Spinning fire, saggin', and studied nonchalance. With a bit more maturity under his belt he will be devastating. But then, so will she. In a funny bit of closure, when the feats quit being backflips they went to things like one-handed cartwheels and moves born of capoeira and break dancing. Things that are the stock in trade of a contact improv dancer. I dusted myself off and joined him, move for move for about a minute. And then without a word, all the young dudes wandered off. I am guessing that when a geezer busts the same moves, it's time for the posse to beat feet. Leaving me with A~.

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Monday, August 4, 2008

1,200 Miles For A Walk In The Woods

The Wisteria Cornstalk gig was a bust. Megan and I drove 600 miles each way, 20+ hours in the car, to teach contact improv dance to three people. That totally sucks. Our workshop time slot was 10:00-11:30 AM. In general I would say that most of the festival attendees were just getting moving by then since each night the music went until midnight or later, and there were drum/dance jams from then til dawn. Add to that a location that was essentially invisible, a program guide that no one seemed to read, and rain the first morning, and you have, well, nothing.

I went for a walk the first afternoon, after having one die hard dancer show up for our workshop. I was bummed, and the presenters in the later time slot did not really interest me (the Mayan Prophecy, or The Next Group To Hitch A Ride On A Comet). So I grabbed my camera and set off to explore some of the 600 acres that make up Wisteria. It is an old strip mine that the group bought from the state of Ohio to be established as a nature preserve. The area for the festival is 99% open ground with a gravel road running through it, and the rest is new growth forest with leftover dangerous shafts and ravines. Staying on the established trails is strongly encouraged. Having just rained, and with the sun playing peek-a-boo, it was pretty sweet in the woods. While warm, it wasn't nearly as bad as it was out in the meadow where the sun was baking the moisture out of the ground.

Wisteria Woods I
Wisteria Woods I

I have been to this land a number of times, and I do not always make time to take a hike when I am here. I forget that it is quite lush and beautiful. The first time I was on this land was in 1996, and what I remember most from that first experience is that there were no animals. There were frogs in the pond, but we heard nothing at night, we saw no birds or chitter critters like mice or gophers, and saw no evidence of deer or larger mammals. It was weird, and disheartening.

Wisteria Woods II
Wisteria Woods II

It is clear that the twelve years that the land has been under the care and love of the Wisteria folks has been productive and restorative. Not only are hawks and other large birds routinely present, there is an abundance of night sound: Peepers, crickets, cicadas (periodically), and so on. While on my hike this year, I saw several sets of deer tracks, fresh that morning. There were piles of scat too, but I did not recognize it. It was not deer or rabbit, didn't seem like a wild cat or fox, and I am certain it was not porcupine. At any rate, it was uplifting to find so much evidence of beings returning to the land.

Sandstone Wall
Sandstone Wall

The bare wall scars left by the mining - which I think ended in the 1950's - are slowly fading as new growth takes hold. Some of that progress is due to the intervention of the humans tending the land as they attempt to reduce erosion and re-introduce appropriate native species while keeping out destructive interlopers like the Emerald Ash Borer. They are in it for the long haul at Wisteria, and it is wonderful to see the progress they are making. Their goal is to live and play in harmony with the land, and such thinking guides all their choices.

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Sunday, August 3, 2008

Greener Thinking

Over the weekend, actually Wed-Sat night, I was at the Wisteria Cornstalk Festival, a 5-day music event. I had been hired to teach contact improv dance. In addition to music and a handful of workshops, there were a few vendors selling the typical hippie offerings of recycled clothes and tie dyed shirts with Faeries (I did buy a shirt with a woodcut that reads, "Make Art Not War"), as well as stuff for the new hippie phenom, fire spinning. Additionally there were a couple of booths or exhibits that provided environmentally friendly info. This fellow had brought along his experimental fuel car. I asked him for the story about his conversion and will do my best to relate it here.

The car was a garden variety American car - too big and thirsty to be considered fuel efficient in any way. It got about 17 MPG highway before he started working on it. (Aside to the US auto manufacturers: 17 MPG? For a 5-passenger car? You deserve to suffer.) I should also note that 17 MPG thrilled this guy initially because it was replacing a car that got 12 MPG. (WTF? Chevelle SS or some Mopar Hemi like a Challenger or 'Cuda?) ANYway, he did a bit of research and decided to convert his car to run on a mixture of both gasoline and hydrogen. They tell you that hydrogen is hard to come by, but in my high school science class we made it out of water with some sort of electrode in it and an electrical current.

What he did was build a three stage setup that fit easily in the trunk. Looking at the image below, I don't see any reason why this couldn't be compartmentalized at one end of the trunk, leaving actual storage space to make a practical car. Looking from right to left, there is an air filter, and two hydrogen generators. The generators are basically PVC tubes with a specially made electrode suspended in it. To the water he added two tablespoons of common baking soda to act as an accelerant to the generation process. Two ordinary car batteries power the generators. You don't see it in these photos but there is a photovoltaic cell mounted to the top of the trunk to charge the batteries. So he hits a switch inside the car to turn on the generators. In just a second or two a bunch of bubbles start flowing off the electrode. The hydrogen gas that is being peeled off the H2O is pulled via vacuum from the gasoline engine out of the generators up to the engine compartment. The hydrogen gas is channelled straight into the air intake, after the filter and before the carburetor or fuel injectors. To fool the fuel sensor, he added an electronic device that convinces the car's computer to add less gasoline to the air-fuel mixture, leaning out the gasoline part of the combustion mix. This is compensated for by the highly combustible hydrogen gas that is coming in with the air that is mixed with the gasoline in the carb/injectors.

The end result is pretty impressive. His big ol' American pig now gets 32 MPG. A sweet little 88% increase in fuel economy in exchange for about $300 in parts and a weekend of his time. A Toyota Corolla with the same setup would get around 60 MPG! One of the concerns about hydrogen fuel cell cars is that they can be a bit volatile. I didn't ask directly, but since this car is generating only small amounts of hydrogen, and using it as it's produced, I suspect that this minimizes the risk pretty significantly. Making it safe - as safe as having a tank of gasoline in your trunk for example - seems like a solvable problem. Might I also add at this point that Big Oil in America posted record profits this past quarter. Are you mad yet? What's it gonna take to make you quit playing along?

I don't have an experimental fuel car, but I do make a conscious choice to use a motorcycle to commute (40+ MPG) and a bicycle to get me to and from my dance classes as often as possible (10 MPC* on average). I have no special right to lecture you, I'm just as caught up in the cycle of stupidity as most Americans. On my desk in front of me as I type is my computer, digital camera and two lenses, a current PDA, good computer speakers (with subwoofer) and a homemade latte. Yeah, I'm part of the problem. But I am thinking about it, and taking small, easy steps to tread a little lighter and consume a little less. I am firmly resolved that when my current VW Bug dies, whatever replaces it will get a minimum of 40 MPG. My next motorcycle will get over 60, and I'm pondering selling my Honda 919 to fund a bike that gets closer to 90 MPG. I could commute for a week on about 1.25 gallons, or $5.00. Now that's starting to look a little greener. What can you do?

(*MPC = Miles Per Cookie)

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