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Roald Dahl + Steven Spielberg = The BFG – book written by Dahl. Film directed by Spielberg, from Disney.

The story of a young girl, Sophie, and the Giant who introduces her to the wonders and perils of Giant Country. The BFG is a Big Friendly Giant, unlike other inhabitants of Giant Country. 24-feet tall but not like Bloodbottler and Fleshlumpeater (who are twice as big and known to eat humans).

Sophie is a 10-year-old girl from London that BFG brings to Dream Country where he collects dreams and sends them to children, teaching her all about the magic and mystery of dreams.

Disney’s The BFG comes to theaters July 1, 2016. Start reading now.


books by Roald Dahl

films by Steven Spielberg

Verona Lake bridge

Verona Park is a small, suburban park near my home. It is 54 acres (219,800 m2). It is a place I often go for a walk around the lake. I think I know it pretty well by now, so I easily can see small changes in it. I notices tress that lose branches, new signs, things in the water that don’t belong. I have watched the seasons change there many times now.

Some of my observation skills came from reading a book by Annie Dillard the year after it was published when I had just graduated college and started teaching. It had a big impact on me.

I have written before about how those stories of an anchorite by a creek changed how I taught my students writing. It also changed my ambition from understanding and exploring the world and the wilderness to wanting to know smaller, more knowable places where I lived.

Some of those places are in the small woods near my home. This is not forest or wilderness. These are places I went to a hundred times with my sons. I felt like if I could really understand a small piece of the world, I could understand myself and the larger world better.

Pilgrim at Tinker Creek is that book and it’s about a year Dillard spent in the Roanoke Valley of Virginia in close observation of a small wooded area near the creek. The book made her a Thoreau of the suburbs.

In literature, we call it close reading. Close reading is careful, sustained interpretation of a brief passage of text. Such a reading places great emphasis on the single particular over the general. You pay attention to individual words, the way Dillard spent looking very carefully and writing down what she saw in nature and the seasons.

The title of her book suggests a pilgrimage, but like the labyrinth walk, she does not have to journey far from her home near the creek. This pilgrimage is not religious, but the pilgrim does seeks to behold the sacred.

The lake at Verona Park was once a swamp, and the lake was formed in 1814 when someone dammed the Peckman River for a grist mill. The lake with its weeping willow trees and paths was a place to escape to before it became a tamed county park with landscape plans prepared by the famous Olmsted Brothers.

The Peckman River in New Jersey flows northeasterly until its confluence with the Passaic River. The Passaic River itself is the remnant of Glacial Lake Passaic.

I have followed many sections of this troubled river over my lifetime. I have followed the Lenape Trail that follows the river in some sections the way the Lenape Indians followed it long ago.

The section of woods that is my pilgrim land is called Mills Reservation.  It is 157 acres and more than I can ever understand in detail. It was also a minimalist design by the Olmsteds while they worked for Essex County, but most of it has never been developed.

On a clear day, I can see Verrazano Narrows Bridge to the south and the New York City skyline and even the Statue of Liberty to the east. From one lookout point on a cliff of this Watchung Mountain, there is Hawk Lookout atop a 500-foot basalt ledge. Basalt is a common extrusive igneous, volcanic, rock formed from the rapid cooling of lava. People join the Audubon Society birders who gather on that ancient ledge to watch the migration mixture of both coastal and ridge flights every autumn.

If you follow the trail out of the Mills Reservation to the southwest, the yellow trail blazes will lead me to a trail along an old Erie Railroad line and into Verona Park. Everything comes around.


The title of this post is from the novella by Norman Maclean, A River Runs Through It, which is collected in his book of short stories and was made into a popular film version.

After a week at home with a bad cold that had me coughing up a storm, it was good to finally get out and just take a short walk in the local woods.

While I was convalescing, I finally read Bill Bryson‘s book,  A Walk in the Woods, which had been on my bookstack for a few years.
Bill Bryson is an American who spent 20 years in England and has written  for British and American publications. I had had read earlier one of his travel memoirs – Notes from a Small Island. I had picked it up because I never got the chance to be an American in England. I had also read one of his language books, The Mother Tongue – English And How It Got That Way, because I have been an English teacher for four decades and a lover of language even longer.

A Walk in the Woods is the account of his attempts to walk the Appalachian Trail. After his years in England, Bryson (now living in New Hampshire, with his wife and his four children)  decided to reacquaint himself with his homeland by walking the 2,100-mile Appalachian Trail. (The subtitle of the book is Rediscovering America on the Appalachian Trail)

I had the same ambition when I was in my early twenties to walk the AT from Georgia to Maine. My goal was to find myself rather than America.

I read several books about the trail, bought maps, made plans. Completing the entire 2,190 miles of the Appalachian Trail in one trip is a mammoth undertaking. Each year, thousands of hikers attempt a thru-hike and only about one in four makes it all the way.

According to AppalachianTrail.org, a typical thru-hiker takes 5 to 7 months to hike the entire A.T. You can walk in either direction, but there is a lot of planning, setting resupply points, regulations, and physical and mental preparations.

I did what many sojourners do at first. I hiked sections of the trail nearest to me on day and weekend hikes. My section hikes ended with a blown-out knee. Then came the birth of my sons, and life, and my hikes became mostly walks. That is not a bad thing.

I don’t know if my thru-hike would have been as fun or funny as Bryson’s. He is joined by an out-of-shape buddy, Stephen, who is often more on a quest to find a nice restaurants than enlightenment. He and Bryson find their stride and encounter many interesting and funny characters.

A Walk in the Woods is not all laughs and you’ll learn about the AT’s history and (hopefully) come to believe in the need for the conservation of this fragile wilderness.

The book would be a good weekend armchair adventure on a cold and snowy weekend. And if you’re not even up to a weekend reading adventure quite yet, you can start with the movie version of A Walk in the Woods with Robert Redford and Nick Nolte. I haven’t seen it yet, so leave me a review.

Happy trails to you.

I saw a news story this weekend about continuing exploration in Luxor, Egypt in the tomb of Ancient Egypt’s boy-king Tutankhamun. Many people are intrigued by Tut, but what amazes me is that this tomb from seven centuries ago still has passages and hidden chambers that we haven’t discovered. The real quest there currently is to find the last resting place of the lost Queen Nefertiti.  Nefertiti, who died in the 14th century B.C. and is thought to be Tutankhamun’s stepmother.

My own explorations have been of the armchair variety, but date back to my childhood. My mom bought me many of the How and Why book series about science.

I wrote one of my ronka poems about them.

The How and Why books of childhood
took me into space and into Earth,
back in time, to lost cities, dinosaurs.
I dug in, flew high, and wondered –
and no question, thankfully, ever fully answered.

One of those books took me into the jungles of South America to find the Maya and Inca lost cities. That introduced me to the ancient Incan citadel of Machu Picchu is on the eastern slope of the Peruvian Andes.

It was built about 500 years ago, at the height of the Inca Empire. A “lost city” made up of about 200 buildings, including temples, houses, and baths, it was rediscovered by an American archaeologist in 1911.

It is a place that probably is on a lot of bucket lists. There is something about a mysterious civilization and “lost city” that intrigues us. Hundreds of thousands of people visit it every year and it is one of the largest tourist attractions in South America.

Really, the city was never “lost” to the locals, but Hiram Bingham was one of the first outsiders to see it. He was in Peru in search of the lost Incan capital, Vitcos. Locals led him to a ruined city on top of one of the nearby mountains. The explorers were surprised to see families living in the area and farming on some of the lower terraces of Machu Picchu.

The following year his team cleared vegetation and started restoring the buildings. Bingham also took artifacts back to Yale with him. In 2010, the Peruvian government successfully petitioned President Obama for the return of the artifacts.

Machu Picchu has many terraced levels connected by 3,000 steps with a sophisticated irrigation system. Like other ancient structures, the construction is a marvel, even by modern standards. The stone blocks they used to build were shaped using only hard river rocks – no steel or iron chisels – but they fit so tightly together that a knife blade can’t be slipped between them.

The terraces were a way to grow crops and also deal with heavy annual rainfall. Not unlike some modern landscaping, they used layers of stone, covered by smaller stone chips, sand and topsoil that allowed water to drain and avoided mudslides on the slopes.

The location might have also been used for defensive protection from enemies. But it is thought that it might have been built as a resort or estate for Incan nobility. It could have been a religious site. We still aren’t sure, and a little mystery makes it more interesting.

I support the theory that, as with the Maya, at least part of its use was for astronomical observations. At the highest part of the site, the Intihuatana stone was used to mark the equinoxes and other celestial events, and local shamans consider the stone as a gateway to the spirit world.

If I ever get to visit, I will want to touch the stone with my forehead to open a vision to the spirit world., and visit the temple of the Moon, the temple of the Sun, and the Room of the Three Windows.

The Inca abandoned it at the time of the Spanish conquest when it was only a hundred years old. There is no evidence that Spanish conquerors ever found the city. One theory is that an epidemic of smallpox, carried by the Spanish, wiped out the people.

 

 

taurid poland

Because of their occurrence in late October and early November, the Taurid meteor showers have gained the popular name of “Halloween fireballs.”

The Taurids are an annual meteor shower associated with the comet Encke. They are named after their radiant point in the constellation Taurus, where they are seen to come from in the sky.  Encke and the Taurids are believed to be remnants of a much larger comet, which has disintegrated over the past 20,000 to 30,000 years, breaking into several pieces.

They are rather slow-moving (from our perspective) and so often make a good show. They usually peak from November 5-12.

According to earthsky.org, they are not known for having a great number of meteors, but  “a high percentage of fireballs, or exceptionally bright meteors.”

The South Taurids should produce their greatest number of meteors – and hence their greatest number of fireballs – between midnight and dawn on November 5, 2015. Try watching on the morning of November 4.

 

Higher rates of Taurid fireballs seem to occur every 7 years and the last big display was in 2008, so 2015 should be a good year for viewing.

You may have seen some video on the news over the past Halloween weekend of some fireballs seen over Poland. The photos at top are from there and you can see the video here.

If you want to check what to look for in the sky on any day,  check out earthsky.org/tonight/

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