Archive for December 2012

Christmas Lights   1 comment

It is traditional in the United States to decorate homes (and some businesses) with Christmas lights.  The practice grew from simple strings of lights strung around the edge of roof to all kinds of illuminated displays featuring every different Christmas trope from the Wise Men at the manger to Frosty the Snow Man.  And it has been traditonal in my family for the last 60 years to go out and appreciate those lights–no matter that it’s cold, or as cold as Arizona ever gets.

Thursday night my son James and I went out to look at some of the Christmas lights.  This is what we found.

Here's that Snowman I was talking about.

Here’s that Snowman I was talking about.

I’m going to make a wild guess and say that only in the last 20 years has America been taken over by these inflatable balloons at Christmas with a light inside them.  They are not expensive and come in every imaginable Christmas shape.  A good deal of whimsy has been lavished upon them.  They appeal to the kid in us.  It’s like having a cartoon come to life in the front yard.

Christmas posadas.

Christmas posadas.

This is the one house I saw on the trip that harks back to the older Spanish tradition of Christmas lights.  These are simply lamps meant to look like candles in glass tubes.  Once upon a time they would have been real candles, but that’s a fire hazard, and nobody uses candles in that way any more.  This is the plainest of all the homes I photographed, but the people here really do have the traditional spirit.

Candy canes!

Candy canes!

Candy canes, tiny reindeer made of light, and glowing trees make a  kind of fairy land in the night.

Reindeer, snowman, and christmas tree.  None of those things could actually live in Phoenix.

Reindeer, snowman, and christmas tree. None of those things could actually live in Phoenix.

Up on the rooftop reindeer pause . . .

Up on the rooftop reindeer pause . . .

This next house was the most elaborately decorated place that I saw.  It took several shots to even try to get it all.  The first image is of Santa’s sleigh arriving on the rooftop of a house decorated with icicles.  Strings of white lights hanging from the eaves meant to simulate ice hanging from the roof.  Only in a hot desert climate like Phoenix would such an idea seem romantic and Christmasy.

The mailbox has been turned into a miniature house all decorated for Christmas as it might have been in New England 100 years ago.

The mailbox has been turned into a miniature house all decorated for Christmas as it might have been in New England 100 years ago.

The front yard is the traditional Christmas fairlyand full of glowing reindeers, snowmen, and happy teddy bears.

The front yard is the traditional Christmas fairlyand full of glowing reindeers, snowmen, and happy teddy bears.

From a distance I first thought this was a Porky Pig version of Santa, but it turned out to be a balloon Santa inside an inflated bubble.  This health-conscious Santa is quite trim.

From a distance I first thought this was a Porky Pig version of Santa, but it turned out to be a balloon Santa inside an inflated bubble. This health-conscious Santa is quite trim.

Here's another angle on the front yard.

Here’s another angle on the front yard.

Long shot trying to get as much of it as possible.  There is probably $1000 or more worth of decoration at this house.

Long shot trying to get as much of it as possible. There is probably $1000 or more worth of decoration at this house.

Although this house is beautifully decked out in lights, there are places in Phoenix that it make it look Spartan in its simplicity.  Those places attract crowds–one has to park blocks away and walk in to see the spectacle.  I didn’t go to any of those places this year.  My focus is just on what are real people putting up to celebrate the season.

I took this shot simply because I liked the multi-colored lights in the front yard trees.  They are better in the real world where they glow softly, or maybe that's just my near-sightedness.  The camera doesn't get quite the same effect.

I took this shot simply because I liked the multi-colored lights in the front yard trees. They are better in the real world where they glow softly, or maybe that’s just my near-sightedness. The camera doesn’t get quite the same effect.

Simplicity.

Simplicity.

Christmas tree high on a hill.  It comes to a point, and that is the point, because it has been erected above a big hotel-resort called The Point.

Christmas tree high on a hill. It comes to a point, and that is the point, because it has been erected above a big hotel-resort called The Point.

I used the zoom feature in my little camera to try for a better shot of the tree.

I used the zoom feature in my little camera to try for a better shot of the tree.

The point of this is not that it’s such a fabulous display, but that it is put way up high so it can be seen as a landmark for a mile or two at least.  This tree of lights is probably 30 feet tall.

Heh!  Santa fell down.  The bear looks a little tipsy.  I think these Christmas revelers have had too much egg nog.

Heh! Santa fell down. The bear looks a little tipsy. I think these Christmas revelers have had too much egg nog.

Of all the lights, I think the cold blue ones are the prettiest.  I just liked the simple elegance of this decoartion alone in the night.

Of all the lights, I think the cold blue ones are the prettiest. I just liked the simple elegance of this decoartion alone in the night.

Trees are the focus of this yard full of lights.  And the cross remembers the man this holiday is named for.

Trees are the focus of this yard full of lights. And the cross remembers the man this holiday is named for.

It took about an hour to get all these pictures.  And was more difficult than I remembered it being–now that I have to do the driving.  My son James was with me on the trip, and he took most of the photos.  Now we come to my last stop, something I spotted right at the beginning of my journey, but went by too quickly.  This last place is only half a mile from where I live, and it’s not as rich a part of town as the other houses I have shown, but someone went to a lot of effort to celebrate Christmas.

The dark shadow of a man in front of the lights is me.  I like this picture--am thinking of making it my new Facebook profile shot.

The dark shadow of a man in front of the lights is me. I like this picture–am thinking of making it my new Facebook profile shot.

That concludes my tour of Christmas lights this year.  If you made a special effort to go out and see the Christmas lights around your home, or if  you put some up, why not leave a comment?  I tip my hat to all the thousands and thousands of people who have done their best to brighten up the winter nights and beautify our city.  Thank you, whoever you are!

end

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Thunderbird Park   2 comments

I am a lucky guy–always have been.  I have a sister and a brother who both look out for me, and help me improve my health.  A lot of this is done by walking and exercise.

Today my brother and I went out for a walk at Thunderbird Park, north of Glendale in the Phoenix area.  This is a great park for hikers, with at least 4 different hills criss-crossed with trails.  There are some steep climbs, and some gentle climbs, some varied scenery, and a whole lot of igneous rock.  As part of my continuing plan to show off the beauty of desert Arizona, I offer this photo essay of today’s walk.  I think we covered about 3.5 miles, and boy was I tired by the end of it.

When I left my apartment, I started with a coat, a sweater, and a t-shirt.  By the time we started the walk, I as down to the sweater, and the Trollgod's Hat.

When I left my apartment, I started with a coat, a sweater, and a t-shirt. By the time we started the walk, I as down to the sweater, and the Trollgod’s Hat.

Brian was taking the pictures.  I hardly ever feel better than when I'm out walking in the desert.

Brian was taking the pictures. I hardly ever feel better than when I’m out walking in the desert.

Truth in photography.  My hat is really old, and my glasses are really thick.

Truth in photography. My hat is really old, and my glasses are really thick.

This is the kind of natural staircase that I imagine the Dwarves carving in the wilds of Trollworld.

This is the kind of natural staircase that I imagine the Dwarves carving in the wilds of Trollworld.

One of the things I really like about Arizona is the mountains.  The purple range in the distance is called The White Tanks.

One of the things I really like about Arizona is the mountains. The purple range in the distance is called The White Tanks.

Here I am near the top of the  hill.  Notice the walking stick in my hand--it belongs to Brian and it saves me from many a fall and misstep on the very rough and rocky trails.

Here I am near the top of the hill. Notice the walking stick in my hand–it belongs to Brian and it saves me from many a fall and misstep on the very rough and rocky trails.

Arizona, Land of 1000 Lakes?  This northern suburban community has lakes all over the place and a golf course too.

Arizona, Land of 1000 Lakes? This northern suburban community has lakes all over the place and a golf course too.

Brian took a bunch of pictures that I don't like that much--probably because they show me as I really am, a bit haggard at the top of the hill.

Brian took a bunch of pictures that I don’t like that much–probably because they show me as I really am, a bit haggard at the top of the hill.

Starting back down the hill.  Look at that panoramic view!

Starting back down the hill. Look at that panoramic view!

Do you believe in LIttle People?  Brian really makes me look small here.

Do you believe in LIttle People? Brian really makes me look small here.

I'm still standing in the same spot, wondering why Brian is taking so many pix.  I think it was a clever ploy on his part to allow me to catch my breath.

I’m still standing in the same spot, wondering why Brian is taking so many pix. I think it was a clever ploy on his part to allow me to catch my breath.

Looking as regal as a ragged old hiker can.  True shadow of a cloud on the hillside across the highway.

Looking as regal as a ragged old hiker can. True shadow of a cloud on the hillside across the highway.

I thought the shadow of the cloud was worth recording.  It shows the true chaotic cloud shape.

I thought the shadow of the cloud was worth recording. It shows the true chaotic cloud shape.

Last photo on my camera, showing the long road back down the hill.

Last photo on my camera, showing the long road back down the hill.

It was all downhill from here.  Still about a mile back to the car.  Thunderbird Park is a great place to hike, but not one of my favorite places for scenery.  There are some good shots from the top of the hills, but not much to be seen on the way up or down.  The vegetation is not as varied as it was for the Vulture Peak hike, being mostly Palo Verde trees and scrub grass.  Nor was there much in the way of wildlife for a two hour hike.  I got a good workout this morning.  You, dear reader, got these candid shots or the Arizona desert northwest of Phoenix.

If you would go hiking with me in the Arizona desert some time, why not leave a comment?

–end

Vulture Mountain   1 comment

It’s time for another walk in the Arizona desert.  Winter is the perfect time to do that around here.  Friday, December 7, my brother Brian and I left Phoenix to try and visit the Vulture Gold Mine south of Wickenburg, Arizona.  It turned out the mine was closed–and is only open to visitors for 2 hours on Saturday mornings.  Still, it was a nice drive, and then we arrived at the Vulture Mountain trail head.

This sign doesn't exist any more.  This legendary old place is almost completely deserted these days.

This sign doesn’t exist any more. This legendary old place is almost completely deserted these days.

Like most of these desert rambles, this will be mostly a series of photos.  The beautiful Arizona desert speaks for itself.

Here I am at the trail head. Picture taken by Brian St. Andre

Here I am at the trail head. Picture taken by Brian St. Andre

Temperature was in the low 70s when we reached this part of the desert, about 60 miles northwest of Phoenix.  You couldn’t ask for nicer weather.

Vulture Mountain isn't much of a peak, and we didn't see any vultures, but there's gold in them thar hills.

Vulture Mountain isn’t much of a peak, and we didn’t see any vultures, but there’s gold in them thar hills.

This seems to be a state park.  The parking area had a restroom and an information area with maps.

This seems to be a state park. The parking area had a restroom and an information area with maps.

People bring their RVs out here and park in the desert for days or weeks at a time.  There was one in the parking lot here at Vulture Peak.

Brian says to document everything. Here I am before beginning the walk.

Brian says to document everything. Here I am before beginning the walk.

Brian has the camera.  This is the beginning of the trail.

Brian has the camera. This is the beginning of the trail.

Feeling good.

Feeling good.

The trail starts to go seriously uphill here.

The trail starts to go seriously uphill here.

Brian took a lot of pictures.  You are more likely to see his pics on Facebook.

Brian took a lot of pictures. You are more likely to see his pics on Facebook.

This is high desert, between 1000 and 2000 feet above sea level--that's Saguaro country and there is a lot of vegetation.

This is high desert, between 1000 and 2000 feet above sea level–that’s Saguaro country and there is a lot of vegetation.

The desert is essentially a forest.  Saguaro cactus and Palo Verde trees are the big vegetation.  Cholla cactus and small bushes are the undergrowth.

Watch your footing.  This is rattlesnake country, but they go underground and hibernate in the winter. We saw snake holes, but no snakes.

Watch your footing. This is rattlesnake country, but they go underground and hibernate in the winter. We saw snake holes, but no snakes.

This is as far as we went on this hike.  We have been walking for an hour.  This is what I really look like on a good day. I stopped here because if you look carefully you can see lichen growing on the shaded north face of the rock behind me.

This is as far as we went on this hike. We have been walking for an hour. This is what I really look like on a good day. I stopped here because if you look carefully you can see lichen growing on the shaded north face of the rock behind me.

Walking back to the car, I'm looking down into a classic desert wash.  The cactus in the picture is prickly pear, and it produces edible fruits in spring and early summer.  Free range cattle actually eat this stuff..

Walking back to the car, I’m looking down into a classic desert wash. The cactus in the picture is prickly pear, and it produces edible fruits in spring and early summer. Free range cattle actually eat this stuff..

Looking down that wash.  These dry desert streams are the highways of the desert--when they look like this they're great for cutting cross country.

Looking down that wash. These dry desert streams are the highways of the desert–when they look like this they’re great for cutting cross country.

Here's a close-up of the Cholla cactus.  I believe this is the nastiest form of cactus on Earth, and the only one that has ever really hurt me.

Here’s a close-up of the Cholla cactus. I believe this is the nastiest form of cactus on Earth, and the only one that has ever really hurt me.

When you see this kind of cactus in the desert, stay well away from it.  Each little bulb full of spines is precariously attached to the parent plant, and the lightest touch will dislodge them.  Cholla is also known as Jumping Cactus. Each spine has a hook on the end and is extremely sharp.  When they stick into your flesh, they are really hard to get out–I speak from experience.  Don’t touch them or you will be sorry.

That was the end of the walk.  We walked about 3 miles–almost all up and down.  Very rocky, hard on the feet–mine were pretty sore by the time I got back into my car and back to Phoenix.  I didn’t quite get my 10,000 steps for the day, but my feet were sore enough that I’m still resting them 2 days later.

If you’ve ever visited a desert gold mine, or climbed a mountain named after an animal, why not leave a comment?

–end

Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan   8 comments

The dust jacket for Jane shows her as quite the feral jungle woman herself. Failure of imagination--they could have done better.

The dust jacket for Jane shows her as quite the feral jungle woman herself. Failure of imagination–they could have done better.

Amazingly enough, in this internet age of ebooks, audiobooks, netflix, youtube, facebook, and a  million other distractions, I still find time to read old-fashioned paper books.  I don’t get as many out of the library as I used to–there are perhaps a thousand books just waiting for me to pick them up and really read them in my own home, but when I heard about this book, I did use my Phoenix Public Library to track it down, and I’m glad I did.

I discovered Tarzan when I was a boy–millions of us did.  He was everything I wasn’t and what I wanted to be.  I still idolize him, and if something that is new and tarzannish comes out, I get it.  Up to a point.  I will never go quite as ape as Bill Hillman and the Erbzine crowd.  So, I tracked down this book, read it, enjoyed it, and am about to do a brief book review as I would have done if I were reviewing it for Library Journal.  (Back when I was a librarian, I did at least one book review a month for years, and some of those reviews covered truly famous authors.  I quit reviewing in 2010.  All good things come to an end.)

Jane, the Woman Who Loved Tarzan by Robin Maxwell. New York, Tor, c2012.  illus. 320 p.  Where did Edgar Rice Burroughs get the story of Tarzan? He claimed that he got it from an unknown man whose name he could not reveal.  Robin Maxwell offers us a much more likely source.  Burroughs got his story from Jane, and things didn’t happen exactly the way he said they did.  There was an expedition to West Central Africa led by Professor Archimedes Porter and his daughter Jane.  They did encounter the ape-man and he did abduct Jane and they eventually mated.  Tarzan’s father and mother, heirs to the Greystoke title in England were marooned, did build a cabin, and were eventually killed by the great apes.  There are other similarities, but things just didn’t happen the way Burroughs told them in TARZAN OF THE APES.  First of all, Jane was not a pampered society lady from Baltimore.  Instead she was an early feminist–a scientist with training in human and primate anatomy, who thoroughly enjoyed cutting up cadavers to see how they worked.  She was smart, fit, and capable.  Early in the book she shoots down a charging bull elephant–a gun heavy enough to do that would probably break my shoulder from the recoil, but she did it–oh well. Adrenaline, I guess.  After an African expedition led by an unscrupulous villain of a guide, the Porter expedition reached the Ubuntu escarpment (that’s probably a nod to the Weismuller Tarzan movies) and found the Waziri and gold and traces of a lost civilization.  Jane got mauled by a leopard and left for dead.  Tarzan killed the leopard and nursed her back to health.  He taught her how to survive in the jungle.  She taught him how to speak English and to read.  A healthy young man and a healthy young woman eventually did what healthy young people do when they spend a lot of time together.  Tarzan killed Kerchak and was chosen as leader of the Mangani people (posited by Maxwell as a missing link between apes and Neanderthal man–an intelligent species with language and primitive culture not yet in the Stone Age).  So, there you have it, Tarzan, King of the Apes.  If you ever loved the Tarzan stories, you should read this one.  Maxwell handled her topic with finesse, respect, and intelligence.  Her focus is on Jane, and Jane really is the protagonist of the book.  Highly recommended for all fiction collections in public libraries.

Heh!  I have about 3 times too many words in that review.  I’m out of practice.

As a Tarzan fan I’m used to people taking liberties with the Tarzan legend.  The movie Tarzan is quite a different creature from Burroughs’ book version.  The Disney cartoon Tarzan is different still.  The comic book versions are also different, and there are far more than one comic book version of Tarzan.  Then there are all the Tarzan imitations–some of them quite good.  I’ll talk about one, Thun’da, in a future blog.  So, I knew I wasn’t going to get the story as Burroughs told it when I picked up the book.  And it really isn’t the same story.  Maxwell is a modern writer.  She didn’t just wander off into her daydreams the way Burroughs did.  She has done a ton of research.  As a result, although her tale is still fantastic, it seems much more plausible than Burroughs version.  (Not truly plausible, mind you, but more plausible).  Maxwell’s Tarzan is different from all of them–a bit less superhuman, but still way larger than life.  One thing that bothered me a little is that Maxwell crowded things from later in the Tarzan series into the first book, notably the Waziri and a reference to Opar.

I don’t want to give away too much about the book.  As an adventure novel, it is superb.  As a romance novel, and I’ve read quite a few romances just to see what the genre is like, and because some of my author friends write them, it is fair to good.  Although the romance is the heart of the story, Maxwell writes more like a biographer than a romance writer.  There are the requisite two passion scenes hidden in the last third of the book (as per many romances), but they are tastefully done, and not nearly juicy enough to make this a hot book. Overall, Jane is a fun book, and she’s a fine heroine, and a great role-model for young women.

There are a lot of loose ends and a cliffhanger ending, leaving room for sequels.  I wonder if Robin Maxwell plans to write one. According to her Author’s Note, it took about 2 years for her to write Jane.  At that rate it will be 2015 before we see THE RETURN OF JANE. (Somehow, that title doesn’t work quite as well as THE RETURN OF TARZAN does.)

As I get ready to return the book to the library, I’m willing to think of it as the best Tarzan novel of the 21st century.  In some ways it is a better novel than TARZAN OF THE APES.  In others, it falls short.  Burroughs has more action, and his apes are better.  Burroughs’ Tarzan is more savage than Maxwell’s.  The writing styles are different.  But, I really enjoyed reading Jane, and if I weren’t highly impressed by it, I wouldn’t have written this review.  If you ever liked Tarzan or Jane, you owe it to yourself to seek out JANE THE WOMAN WHO LOVED TARZAN and read it.

Living the fantasy.  Robin poses with her own Tarzan.

Living the fantasy. Robin poses with her own Tarzan.

If you’ve read this book, or if you’re a member of the Burroughs Bibliophiles, or if you’ve ever visited the offices of ERB Inc. in Tarzana, California, why not leave a comment?

–end