Sunday, September 22, 2013

My Denali

Mt. Denali - Reflection Pond, Denali National Park, Alaska, #Denali, #MtDenali, #MtMckinley, #ReflectionPond
Mt. Denali - Reflection Pond
It's September 22nd and, as I wrote in yesterday's post, Wiggling My Toes, I've been home recuperating from surgery on my arthritic left toe since last Friday.  The whole experience has given me new respect for the "bionic" women and men in my life.  No, not Lee Majors (showing my age here) but rather my mother, with her two hip replacements, one knee replacement, and a hip repair.  My brother-in-law with his knee replacement and my friend Linda with her double knee replacement.  These surgeries are not fun.

Fireweed, Denali National Park, Alaska, #Fireweed, #Denali #Alaska
Today started off well.  I finally figured out how to wrap my foot so I could take a real shower (as opposed to my previous foray).  I am more clean and my bathroom is less wet.  And, I got dressed!  More progress.

But I am digressing here in this post that is about the vast wilderness that is Denali National Park.  First, a shout out to my wonderful travel agent, Michelle Glass of Entree Alaska, who put together a fabulous trip for my niece Kristen (#thetravelingkristen) and me.  Not only does Michelle know her stuff, she is very fun to work with when planning a trip like this.  For the Denali leg of our trip, she had us staying in the North Face Lodge which I've reviewed in Deep in Denali on Trip Advisor.   Despite my critique, I'd definitely go back to North Face.  I'd just be hoping that they had listened and we'd get out into the park a bit earlier in the morning.

I am not a backpacker or camper so staying at North Face or one of the other lodges at the end of 92 mile road is pretty much the option for someone like me if you want to get away from the hordes that grace the entrance of the park.  I should say that "hordes" is a relative term as we spent a morning poking around that entrance on our way out of the park and it did not seem all that crowded.  Some 400,000 people visit the park during the summer season (late May to early December).  My guess is that you would be hard-pressed to find a spot to be alone in the vast wilderness but it's not like Times Square on a summer Saturday.

92-Mile Road, Denali National Park, Alaska, #Denali #Alaska #92MileRoad
92-Mile Road
Driving 92-mile road in a converted school bus is definitely an adventure.  The North Face guides all go through a rigorous training before they can take the buses -- and us -- out for a spin.  It's pretty amazing that they can drive, spot animals, and talk about the park -- multi-tasking at its best.  Be forewarned, it can be a little vertigo inducing if you happen to be on the side of the bus that overlooks a cliff -- particularly when two buses are passing each other on this very narrow road.  Private vehicles are only allowed on the park road through Mile 15.  After that, you can use the park bus system (also converted school buses) to get where you want to go in Denali.   If you're a professional photographer (of which I am not one), the Professional Photography Program offers permits that will allow you to access the park for up to 12 days in your own vehicle.   Qualifying for one of these is strict and there is a lottery for "peak" days -- I am pretty sure there is no permit in my future.

Moose Mama, Denali National Park, Alaska, #Denali, #MooseandCalf, #Alaska
Moose Mama

Denali is six million acres big with one road.  That's big.  It's home to all sorts of wild life.  Our closest spotting was actually just outside the train station as we were about to board our buses.  A mother and her calf were grazing just across the road -- giving us quite the show as they wandered off together down the road after posing for a photo shoot for the North Face Lodge guests.  I had hoped that this would be a harbinger of things to come but, alas, that was not to be.  The thing about vast wilderness is that it leaves a lot of room for grizzlies, moose, caribou, and other assorted beasts to roam.  Unlike Africa, there is no off-road driving in search of wildlife here in Denali.  There is the road and then there is the wilderness.  On our ride in from the park entrance, we spotted a grizzly bear off in the distance, lots of caribou, and some Dall Sheep.  We even saw a moose silhouetted against the sky towards the end of the road.  Over the course of the next two days, we saw lots of birds, a hare, a Moose butt (but not the moose), more caribou, and either a couple of voles or a couple of shrews.  We also saw lots of baby birds -- including several sightings of Alaska's state bird -- the Willow Ptarmigan -- with chicks!
Willow Ptarmagin, Denali National Park, Alaska, #willowptarmagin #ptarmagin #denali #alaska
Willow Ptarmagin

Because the season was a bit late, we saw a goodly number of wildflowers dotting the Arctic tundra as we tromped around.  The most beautiful (and prolific) was fireweed.  This beautiful pink flower blooms from the bottom up and the last flower blooming signifies the end of the short summer for Alaskans.  Aside from the fireweed, most of the tundra flowers were quite small -- requiring some close up inspection (demonstrated by my niece Kristen below) to get the "money" shot.  By the by, somewhere on her memory card is a nice shot of my butt as I was lying down on my tummy when i captured this shot of her.  Let's hope that does not see the light of day!

I had never seen rivers like those that wind their way through Denali. They are braided -- many small streams that add up to one big river.  Crossing one can add miles to a hike as they vary in depth and strength of current -- particularly in the summer when they are fed by melting glaciers.   The braiding does not make for a classically pretty river (you know the kind with water lapping up against banks covered with flowers and grasses).  Rather, they have their own haunting beauty as they carve their way through their river beds and meander through the mountains.

Braided River Bed, Denali National Park, Alaska, #braidedriver #denali #alaska
Braided River - Denali
Braided River Bed, Denali National Park, Alaska, #braidedriver #denali #alaska
Braided River Bed - Denali

The Photographer at Work, Denali National Park, #Denali, #Alaska
The Photographer at Work
A vast wilderness is made up of many small things and this is no less true of a place like Denali.  That said, there is one rather large mountain -- McKinley (the tallest in North America) -- that dominates the landscape.  This is true whether it is shrouded in clouds (as is most often the case) or shimmering in the distance under the seemingly endless sunlight that marks Alaskan summers.  A bit of lore -- Alaskans have changed McKinley's name to Denali but a lone Senator from Ohio has blocked a change at the national level.  You see, President McKinley hailed from Ohio.  As Shakespeare once said, what's in a name?  On this, our first trip to Denali, Kristen and I were lucky that the mountain was out in all of its glory -- with wondrous reflections in Reflection Pond and Wonder Lake (the bookend photos for this post).  Heavenly.

There were other glorious views of the mountains ringing the tundra with perhaps my favorite being the many varied colors that came into play as we wound our way around the curves and switch backs that mark the drive into Denali with "Alaskan Colors" off to our left.  I also loved the ways the clouds would roll around the mountain tops as in "And the Clouds Came Rolling In".  It was endlessly changing scenery that I could have watched forever.

Alaskan Colors, Mountain Range in Denali National Park, Alaska, #Denali #Alaska
Alaskan Colors
And the Clouds Came Rolling In, Mountains in Denali National Park, Alaska, #Denali #Mountains #clouds #Alaska
And the Clouds Came Rolling In
No trip to Denali, at least in my niece Kristen's view, would be complete without a glimpse of the Into the Wild bus where Chris McCandless' body was found.  The bus is something of an attraction these days -- following the release of the movie version of the Krakauer book that chronicled McCandless' adventures.  There had already been two rescues of wayward hikers by the time we hit Denali in early July.  Seeing the bus was our consolation prize for the mountain being socked in by clouds on the morning of our departure.  I have to agree with Kristen that it was a pretty good consolation prize.  Seeing Denali from the air was even cooler.  Being up in the sky in a small plane gives you a perspective on the landscape that just punctuates how big of a wilderness Alaska is.  Almost too big for the mind to take in.

Into the Wild Bus - Denali National Park
Birds Eye View, Denali National Park from a Plane, Alaska, #Denali #Alaska
Birds Eye View - Denali National Park
In My Patagonia, I blogged about twirling alone in the wilderness that is Patagonia.  We were never really alone on the arctic tundra yet I had that same feeling in Denali.  It is a special place -- one that we should cherish for it represents the us of old.  The adventurers and explorers that set out on expeditions of discovery and found a vast open space teeming with life and scenery so beautiful it captivates you in a way that nothing else can.   For me, places like Denali and Patagonia are like drinking from a magical well -- they remind me of how small I am and how big the world really is.  They make me giddy.  They make me want to twirl.

Mt. Denali - Wonder Lake, Denali National Park, Alaska, #MtDenali, #MtMcKinley, #Denali, #Alaska, #WonderLake
Mt. Denali - Wonder Lake

Saturday, September 21, 2013

Wiggling My Toes

#publicart, John M. Erianne, A Frolicking Stray, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
A Frolicking Stray by John M. Erianne
I've been off my feet for almost a week now as I recuperate from a Cheilectomy -- a surgical procedure to fix my really rigid and very painful big toe (in medical terms, Hallux Rigidus).  In addition to removing all the bony spurs, my podiatrist also removed the debris from an old fracture of that toe.  One has to wonder when I fractured it.  My guess is Seattle 2007 when I stubbed it really hard on a luggage rack in the middle of the night.  The rack was in the normal path I would take to my home bathroom but not on the way to the bathroom in my hotel room.  Jet lag, it's a dangerous thing!

#publicart, Anna Kuchel Rabinowitz - Preservation Part 1 AND Ringo by Reina Kubota, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
Preservation Part 1 by Anna Kuchel Rabinowitz AND
Ringo by Reina Kubota
The surgery was an outpatient procedure and the intrepid Nancy B (aka the B)  picked me up from the hospital about two hours post-op.  The B is a regular traveling companions -- our most recent adventure was a road trip from CA to AZ and back to CA (Junk Yard HeavenSedona SunsetsCoyotes Howling, and Along the Baldwin Trail).    She's out and about today visiting relatives in White Plains because I can now wander around my apartment using a single crutch which is huge when it comes to doing things like getting a cup of coffee!
#publicart, Anna Kuchel Rabinowitz - Preservation Part 2, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
Preservations Part 2 by
Anna Kuchel Rabinowitz

So, why the surgery?  Well, we had been managing my toe conservatively -- including a round of physical therapy, gait training, and an orthotic for about a year and the joint actually got worse.  In addition, it was limiting how far I could walk and starting to factor into my travel choices.  In other words, having a negative impact on my life.  Not good.

I knew I had made the right choice about surgery when my first steps onto the Alaskan tundra this past July produced a fall (tundra is soft by the way) that included a pretty good jar to the problematic joint.  I walked in pain for the rest of the day.  And my niece (#thetravelingkristen) served as a spotter for the errant tree roots and pot holes that lay beneath the tundra for me and the rest of our merry band of travelers.  That day alone we had Tina with the re-engineered ankle and a woman with a re-engineered knee.  We were adventurers with limitations.

My goals for the surgery are to be able to walk without pain as well as prevent future bone and joint problems by regaining a more normal gait.  Not falling would also be a bonus.  Small goals, I know, but goals none the less.

If you stumble upon this blog post because you are looking for an epic story of post-operative recovery that has me not taking any pain meds and up and running within a week, you should stop reading here. For the past seven days, pain meds have been my friend and I've been staying off the foot as much as possible.  At my first post-op visit on Thursday, my incision was well on the way to healing albeit a little red.  My podiatrist, the wonderful Dr. Elisa Kavanaugh, sent me on my way with a new dressing, a  prescription for an antibiotic, admonitions to continue to keep my weight off the ball of my foot, and to continue to ice my ankle.  She also said I should start wiggling my toes and could do gentle stretching of my big toe joint.  Progress.

#publicart, Sherwin Banfield, Transitions through Triathlon, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
Transitions through Triathlon by Sherwin Banfield
So, what does one do while mildly sedated and with one's foot on ice?  Not much of anything productive -- that's for sure but here's a short summary of my past week.
  • Candy Crush Saga.  What can I say?  It's a terribly addictive game that does not require too much brain power.  Perfect game for post-op recovery.
    #publicart, Yasumitsu Morito, Spirit, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
    Spirit by Yasumitsu Morito
  • Words with Friends.  WWF actually made me sleepy -- it was a like an intellectual sophorific on top of the chemical influence of the pain relievers.  Can't say that I had very high scoring words this past week.  
  • Netflix.  I have studiously avoided Netflix and now I am seriously hooked.  So far, I've watched 22 episodes of Once Upon a Time, five of  Breaking Bad, and one of Orange is the New Black.  The reason Once Upon a Time is so far ahead is because I am watching the other two with the B who isn't sitting around as much as I am.  
  • Shopped (Online).  The B's arrival necessitated the need for me to replenish my dishes (hey, it's been 13 years!) and so I finally pulled the trigger on buying four place settings of Fiesta ware -- in flamingo, lapis, peacock, and tangerine.  Some day in the far distant future, it will be considered vintage.  The piece de resistance of my shopping was buying the iPhone 5s online during a bout of insomnia.  The question there is which finger should I use for activation.  Gotta pay attention to what I do currently to get that one right.
  • Iced. Elevated. Re-Iced. Re-Elevated.  
  • Slept.  'nuf said?
There were a few other activities interspersed in between these.  Thanks to the B, I ate well including cannolis and pasta with bolognese sauce from little Italy.  I was able to catch up on WassDoc's blog.  He has been in quite writing frenzy as he tapers for Iron Man Lake Tahoe.  I'll be rooting for him tomorrow.  On Tuesday I washed my hair and on Thursday I attempted a shower (let's just say the bathroom got very wet during the latter).

Last Tuesday also brought a mental victory dance as the Department of Labor finally released a rule that ensures that home health aides have overtime and wage protection.  This workforce is some 2 million strong and expected to grow in the coming decades as the US population ages. They deserve the same protections that most of us enjoy.  I am hoping the next chapter will bring better benefits and wages as well as real career ladders for the direct care workforce.  They are our front line providers and we need these workers to prosper and flourish.

#publicart, Benos Iglesias Lopez, The Bathers, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
The Bathers by Benas Iglesias Lopez
A small confession, I also did about 10 hours of work over the course of this past week.  I mostly took care of those things that didn't require much deep thinking because I couldn't really muster much focus for anything deeper.  

Mostly, I rested and took care of my toe.  I have no proof (yet) that that resting was a good thing in terms of shortening length of recovery.  Based on my experience with past surgeries, I think it was.  I am starting to think about my next destination and looking forward to longer walks in the park and more adventurous forays into the wilderness on my next journey.   First, I am going to have to wiggle my toes a bit more.  I'll keep you posted on how that goes.

#publicart, Anne Stanner, Wave, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M #modelstomonuments
Wave by Anne Stanner

About the Photos
The photos in this post are from a walk I took a few weeks ago in Riverside Park.  It's one of my favorite walks in New York City and I wrote about it last July in Along the Hudson.   I had been meaning to get over that way for the 2013 version of the Model to Monument Show (M2M) which is brought to us by the Art Students League of New York.  The sculptures were delightful but my favorite moments were spent catching photos of Max from CA posing with John N. Erianne's A Frolicking Stray.  Click here for a map of the sculptures.  This exhibition runs through 2014 and I'm looking forward to visiting it again on my re-engineered toe and hopefully when the park is bedecked with snow.

#publicart, John M. Erianne, A Frolicking Stray, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M, #modelstomonuments
Max:  Ready for a Starring Role
#publicart, John M. Erianne, A Frolicking Stray, Riverside Park, New York City, #M2M, #modelstomonuments
No Longer Frolicking Alone

Sunday, September 8, 2013

Broken Art

Logs, Central Park, the Mount, New York City
Logs at the Mount in Central Park
Central Park's Mount (home to the park's chief composting station) is one of my favorite places.  Typically, it is filled with mountains of wood chips and logs that have not, as of yet, been chopped up.  It's a haunting place particularly when some of the park's older trees find their way there as has been happening all too frequently of late.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
“Hiding your motives is despicable / the only way to be pure is to stay by yourself” (Jenny Holzer)
Today, the Mount was home to something that was a bit more of a mystery -- a massive piece of broken marble inscribed on all visible sides with words.   There it rested a top a pile of assorted debris with its broken corners carefully pieced together on top.  Unexpected and strangely evocative of a gravestone.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Money Creates Taste" (Jenny Holzer)
Upon arriving home, I did a bit of googling.  As it turns out, the Public Art Fund had staged a showing of Jenny Holzer’s work -- Benches – in Central Park back in 1989.  Holzer is a conceptual artist who is best known for her “truisms”.  Some examples from the broken slab:  “Money Creates Taste” and “Charisma can be fatal.”  The first line of my find matches up to Bench 1 from that long ago exhibit  -- "a man can not know what it’s like to be a mother."

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Charisma Can Be Fatal" (Jenny Holzer)
A bit of further searching on the Web revealed that two of Holzer’s benches were a part of the Common Ground installation at City Hall Park at the time Super Storm Sandy hit New York City last fall.  The text on this slab does not match up to those nor does it match up with the text of a bench that was recently donated to Barnard College.  Further Web searches revealed no record of other Holzer benches on display in New York City in recent months.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Your Oldest Fears are the Worst Ones" (Jenny Holzer)

So, it's a bit of a mystery as to how the bench came to reside at the Mount.  There's a symmetry to its fate that I kind of like -- a broken piece of public art from a long ago Central Park exhibit now graces a corner of Central Park that is off the beaten path and a home to logs, wood chips, sand piles, and new paving stones for the park's many paths.

This hefty slab of broken marble fits its new exhibit space -- surrounded as it is by broken trees and other bits of debris from around the park.  I, for one, am hoping it stays for a while.

The walk -- and find -- in this post occurred back in March.  I submitted a shorter version of this piece to the New York Times for Metropolitan Diary (little slices of NY life by readers) and was contacted by Michael Pollak of the Times a couple of weeks later with the back story and a request to publish it in    Answers to Questions about New York.  Once I said yes, I had a seres of email exchanges with the photo editors asking for all my photos given that the Parks Department had removed the piece with the plan of returning it to Ms. Holzer.  Much excitement ensued (of the be still my beating heart kind that is) as I thought about having a photo published in the Times!  That would make up for not having a piece in Metropolitan Diary.  So I convinced myself that all the "sighing" about the small size of my image files would be just that -- sighing that is -- and I'd have a photo in the Times.  How cool would that be?  Alas, that was not to be as it appears that the Times finally got its professional photo in the story that was posted online a couple of days ago.  

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"Decency is a Relative Thing" (Jenny Holzer)
Although it is nice to know that I was right about the work's provenance (thank you Michael Pollak), I am sad that my submission lead to Broken Art disappearing from the park.  As much as I would have liked having a photo in the Times, the Mount was such a fitting final resting spot for Holzer's damaged work.   Serendipity had produced the best kind of site-specific art -- a piece that melded seamlessly into its setting yet still provoked thought.

Broken Art, Central Park, New York City (Jenny Holzer broken bench from 1989 exhibit)
"If You Live Simply" (Jenny Holzer)