Saturday, November 29, 2014

A Visitor's Guide to Holiday Meals in America

We travel to see the world, but whether in spirit or in person, we also export our own stamp upon those people we visit. It's easy to forget that our hosts in different places may be just as interested in us as we are in them. Perhaps the best window into the soul of a community is through its food, and festive occasions bring out the best in a national cuisine (or the worst). And what I know best is the American standard. The five-week holiday season--Thanksgiving, Christmas or Hanukkah through to New Year's day--is a triumvirate of opportunity for large family gatherings. So may this serve as an introduction to traditional American holiday fare for those five or seven people who haven't yet been overexposed to U.S. culture outside of North Korea, who probably don't have the internet or satellite television and won't read this anyway.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Follow the Yellow Brick Road

When you come across a sign for the Yellow Brick Road, you follow it. We didn't see any munchkins, and these Oz friends are obviously disguised as homo sapiens from the "Red Green Show," but we did see a little bit of gold over the rainbow. And I discovered an affectation for show tune choreography.

Looking westward, in the far distance you can see the headframe of the David Bell gold mine. A staking rush after discovery of the Hemlo Gold Camp in the early 1980s was Canada's largest since the Klondike. Taxes from locally-derived gold bricks have paved plenty of roads in the thirty years since. I visited here in September, 1994 as a stowaway with the Queen's University Minex program's annual field trip to major ore deposits of the Canadian Shield.

While the rest of the group were busy looking at rocks, three friends and I organized an impromptu homage to a different kind of treasure. If memory and character placement serve, I'm the Scarecrow on the far left. The other two gentlemen were Best Man and a groomsman at my wedding two years later. I've only bumped into "Dorothy" once in the ensuing twenty years. The name of the poor photographer is lost to history.

The Yellow Brick Road is located near the Hemlo gold camp, about 55 km east of Marathon, off the Trans-Canada Highway (17), halfway between Thunder Bay and Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario.

Sunday, November 23, 2014

Thanks for the Memory

Bob Hope and Shirley Ross from "The Big Broadcast of 1938"

This week I passed a small milestone, eclipsing my goal of 10,000 views in the first year of this blog. Page statistics tell me it was someone from Russia or the United States, more than a month ahead of schedule. Whether it was 10,000 individual viewers who ran away screaming or a few people visiting several thousand times, I'm thankful to have been at least mildly entertaining with nearly 100 travel stories focussing mostly on life's ironies--and mediocre photography.

It's been particularly challenging in a year where I haven't really "gone anywhere." Ok, there was cottage camping in the Adirondacks, and this blog is generally about how local places can be just as meaningful and enriching as Rome, the Grand Canyon or the Sydney Opera House. And there were many trips to Costco. But I mostly had only good memories to work with as we focussed our attention on another stressful home move and navigating turbulent career headwaters. I intentionally avoid desperate site pimping on Twitter, and I'm still not exactly sure what "SEO" is, and I hope it stays that way. I'd rather just share a few stories from others who have taught me something, and a little of my own absurdity.

So thank you for visiting and sharing my memories. May you have 10,000 more pleasant diversions, or at least one more that doesn't frighten you away.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Moeraki Boulders - Crystalline Eggs Hatch Beautiful Birds?

Giant eggs that hatch fabulous women? Gourds or eel baskets washed from an ancient canoe of the gods? Marbles lost by some young giant?

The truth is even more interesting. The Moeraki Boulders--located 40 kilometers south of Oamaru on New Zealand's Otago coast--are calcite-cemented "septarian concretions" exposed through weathering of the surrounding, softer mudstone in low cliffs behind the beach, then concentrated by wave action. They are one of the top free natural landmarks in New Zealand.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Photo Essay - Champagne Pool, New Zealand

Taupo volcanic zone, New Zealand, where fresh air smells like passed wind. The Waiotapu geothermal field, near Rotorua is both a beautiful natural landmark of the North Island and a malodorous laboratory for economic geologists who want to see a mineral deposit in the making. And, it is a well-studied location for the biology of extremophile (microbial) organisms.

Algae aren't quite extremophiles, but they evince the primordial soup, where such things were the pinnacle of life on earth for billions of years.

Some baths are a little too hot for comfort. Frequently depicted in guidebooks, Champagne Pool is perhaps the most striking geothermal feature of Wai-o-tapu thermal wonderland. Alkaline springs within its explosive crater are framed by a brilliant orange, silica sinter rim that is colored by arsenic- and antimony-bearing sulfide minerals being deposited today. No wonder this area of the park is named "The Artist's Palette." But with waters hovering above 70 degrees Celsius, a quick dip in the pool would be your last.

Ironically, if the park were an industrial area, heavy metal concentrations in the water would be high enough to attract environmental protests and lawyers. People want to come here. It was possibly the place that hit the most notes for the most people on our trip to New Zealand.

This same view is essentially the cover of Fodor's New Zealand (2006).

Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Pictures of the Moment - Spiky Bridge, Tasmania

Looking north, towards Swansea

One of the quirky architectural highlights on the east coast of Tasmania, Spiky Bridge was built in 1843 by convicts from the nearby Rocky Hills Probation Station. Readily-available convict labor built much of the early 19th century infrastructure of Tasmania.

The going theory is that vertical flagstones were placed in this fashion at the top of the bridge to keep cows from tipping over the side into a drainage gully. The retaining wall is low, and this might have been a resource-saving method if the supply of flagstones was short. Every English speaking country has its rustics, and Tasmania has a reputation much similar to Newfoundland in Canada. Perhaps local cattle have the tendency to throw themselves over walls?

Another guess is it was a form of protest by the convict laborers. I prefer to think the convicts were just employing a little creativity to brighten their otherwise monotonous existence of hard work.

Looking southeast.

The odd "spiky bridge" is located 7.5 km south of Swansea, just off the western side of the Tasman Highway (A3). On the shoreward side of the road are secluded beaches overlooking Great Oyster Bay and the peninsula of magnificent Freycinet National Park. We visited here in February of 2009.

Saturday, November 8, 2014

Mirror Lakes, Fiordland, New Zealand - a haiku

Wednesday, November 5, 2014

Picture of the Moment - Lord of the Runs, New Zealand

The aptly-named Remarkables Range near Queenstown, in Otago on the South Island of New Zealand, was the backdrop for several scene's of Peter Jackson's Lord of the Rings (LOTR) movie adaptation. Unfortunately, I've since learned this perspective from the popular private game farm at Deer Park Heights was permanently closed by its ageing owners in 2009. That's too bad, because there were few local attractions as good a value as the park ($20/car). But I can understand people wanting to retire peacefully!

Luckily, we were able to barely sneak in a visit in October of 2008 and learned just how much screen time can be squeezed out of a few acres of varied landscape. In just about any cardinal direction of the compass we could turn towards a completely different view. And the rolling landscape facilitates photographic trickery (it's not immediately apparent that the low rise behind the two boys drops off steeply into a broad valley extending from the suburbs of Queenstown and terminating in massive Lake Wakatipu). Many unrelated scenes from the LOTR movies were filmed here from different viewpoints as well as scenes from other Hollywood productions.

Lords of the Run
This image of my two oldest boys racing near the top of Peninsula Hill on Deer Park summed up our own New Zealand adventure, though we were destined to find treasure in the Land of the Long White Cloud, not discard it. And, I was lucky to capture the moment without an intruding llama or deer.

I wouldn't trade this picture for a hundred by Ansel Adams. Maybe you have a similar treasure of your own?