Monday, September 12, 2011


From what I've heard, Texas is all about two things. 1)Barbecue, 2)Not being messed with. So, being uncertain about my ability to do the second one of those things, I came to Texas with two goals in mind. One, as usual, was to find and sample local beer. The other, which has taken precedence, to eat authentic Texas Barbecue. So imagine my pleasure, upon arriving at the hotel, to see this right next to where we'll be staying.
Two neon pigs playing guitars? How can it NOT be good?!
Here, I thought, surely here I will find real Texas Barbecue (yes, in Texas, the B is always capitalized in Barbecue. It's the law.). I will find someone from Texas who can explain to me, with the passion I've been lead to believe all Texans have for the subject, why Texas Barbecue is the best in the world... what special trick or treat they have that makes their smoked and fire cooked meat better than any other. I will be able to know, first-hand, the alleged wonder of the Lone Star State's official form of cooking. And, who knows? I might even find some delicious local beer in the process.

This did not seem like an insurmountable task, and indeed still doesn't, considering that my coworker was actually born in Houston, where his father still lives.

We went to Red Hot & Blue and sat at the bar. I immediately noticed a lack of Armadillo's in cowboy hats, Cactus' wearing sun-glasses, and cow skulls on the wall, and thought there was something not quite right. The jazz posters and brass instruments adorning the place made it feel more like Tennessee or Louisiana. The waiter pointed out the specials. Ribs, pulled pork, cornbread, pulled chicken... Memphis style. This is not Texas Barbecue. It's Memphis barbecue, in Texas. I wish I had taken a picture of the disappointment on my face so you could all share in it. However, being too lazy to find somewhere else to eat, we stayed. The waiter suggested a beer called "Zinger Bock", which he said was made by the same people as Shiner Bock, from Shiner Texas. I thought, if I can't get real Texas Barbecue, I should at least get real Texas beer.

I also ordered some Bacon Cheese Fries.
I even intentionally ate one or two of those chives.

The beer was a basic brown ale. Nothing particularly notable about it, other than it's blandness... which would have been a big problem if not for the fact that my meal was kind of bland too. Also, a search of the Spoetzl website has not yielded anything called Zinger Bock... so I'm not sure what I was drinking exactly.

Chopped beef brisket with mojo mild sauce, Grandma's potato salad, and cole slaw.
I find that there is an idea, among unskilled meat-smiths, that barbecue is all about the sauce. The theory behind it being that low quality meat can be compensated for by a generous helping of sauce. I, on the other hand, believe that meat is not a vessel by which the sauce is carried, but that well barbecued meat is flavorful enough that any use of sauce is purely optional. Maybe my taste-buds were over-loaded by the bacon cheddar french fries with ranch, or maybe this was purely mediocre barbecue... but if I can't tell whether I'm eating beef, pork, or chicken, there is a problem somewhere in the line. I was tempted to add some of their "Sufferin' Sweet" sauce, but was determined to actually taste the meat somewhere in my sandwich. Despite my determination, I was unsuccessful. However, since I still have Dallas, Killeen, Austin, and perhaps Houston to visit, there is still hope that I will taste the glory of Texas at some point during my time here. I pray to John Deere that I do.

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Continuing Saga of a Wandering Beer Hound: Flights

The last time I was in the Denver airport, I noticed a certain restaurant I would have liked to try… however, I also noticed that I was about 100 miles away from my gate, and only had about Forty-five minutes before the plane left. Today, however, was a slightly different story. Because I was a little bit late to the airport in the morning, I was unable to check in for my scheduled flight. Forty-four minutes, apparently, is not enough time to get from the ticket counter, through a very short line at security, and onto the plane. So, instead, I had to be put on a flight that took off for Denver at just about the same time my co-workers would be landing in Arizona… which is to say, with no transportation at my disposal, and no way to check in for a mid-day flight so early in the morning, I got to find a secluded area of the baggage claim, and lay down with my head on my duffle-bag to catch up on sleep I had lost having to wake up so early. Or at least I would have, if not for the “BING! Security is everyone’s responsibility. Please make sure that all luggage and personal items are kept in view at all times, or they will be confiscated by TSA.” alert going off every five minutes. So, I got to lay there wishing I was asleep for the next three hours until I could check in… then I got to sit around for another two hours before my first flight showed up.

Due to the fact that Page Arizona is not exactly an international city, I’ll be taking one of the two little “bring your own ear plugs” style flights from here… and have to wait four hours between landing and taking off from Denver. This, as you might have guessed, allowed me more than ample time to go to Denver Chophouse Brewery.

It was a really nice place, for being in an airport food court. It was small, but had the feel of an upscale steak house, only with reasonable prices (I’m still angry at you, Ruth’s Chris). The selection of beers was not substantial… but what do you really expect from a brewery inside of an airport? The four beers they offered (aside from mass produced swill) were as follows:

From left to right, Dortmunder Lager, Red Ale, Pale Ale, and Dark Munich Lager

Dortmunder Lager 
this is a blonde lager made in the style from Dortmund Germany. Dortmund is German for Dirt Mound [citation needed]. Featuring German Pilsen, Light Munich, and Cara Helles malts, it smells like Miller High Life mixed with honey apple cider, and has sort of a breakfast cereal taste. However, the Nugget and Mt. Hood hops add a mild bitterness that evens out the over-all flavor. It was very good, as Lagers go, and would perhaps be of good use in converting a Budweiser fan to a craft beer fan.

At this point, I noticed a couple of young women a few tables away watching as I took pictures and notes and I said hi with a dry hopped bitterness and mild hint of roasted malts. The responded with two thumbs up, and I considered going over and giving them my blog address and telling them to read all about it… but then I remembered that there was untasted beer in front of me, and I had more important things to attend to.

Red Ale 
This Irish style ale, while not fantastic or complex, was smooth and had a subtle toffee sweetness. While it may not have been the best of the lot, nor the best red ale I’ve had, it was actually more enjoyable than certain Scottish and Irish red ales I tasted at the San Diego International Beer Festival.

 Pale Ale
This had a very hoppy nose, but was not so strong as to smell bitter. The Simcoe and Amarillo hops were the main elements of the flavor, but were kept well in check by the caramel malt accent. This is not a novice beer drinker’s ale, but should be enjoyable for those with more experience.

Dark Munich Lager 

Though, in the picture, it looks to be the color of the table, that’s really just because of the low lighting. Really, it was more along the lines of a medium strength Jack & Coke. It had virtually no scent, as far as I could detect, and was somewhat creamy on the tongue and to the taste, with a predominantly toasted malt flavor, and not much hops. Made in the modern Munich Dunkel style, they used European Munich, Crystal, and Chocolate malts, and a small amount of hops for flavor.

To wash it all down, I had a bison burger on a toasted brioche bun, with hickory smoked bacon and cheddar cheese. It was soft, tender, and smoky. In fact, it tasted more like beef than beef does, and is better for you. It was excellent with all four beers, but the Pale Ale most of all.

Next time I have four hours to waste in the Denver airport, I am definitely stopping by Denver Chophouse Brewery again. I think it was a much better choice than the McDonald’s and Panda Express that are across the way.

Saturday, July 30, 2011

The Continuing Saga of a Wandering Beer Hound: The Mountain Goat Weed.

It’s very strange, being away from home, and away from San Diego, but still being so close. With all the out of state travel lately, I’ve started to think of being Californian as a novelty. When asking locals what there is to do, or where I might find good local beer, they ask where I’m from. Lately, the response has been “Oh, I’m from California.”… but this week finds me in Mount Shasta, California, and my response now has to be more specific. It’s strange to feel like a foreigner in your home state. I’m not quite accustomed to moving around so much, but it has presented me with an enjoyable opportunity. I don’t care to find the local night-life, or find and talk to the natives… but I do like tasting local beer and barbecue. Which is why I was excited when one of my co-workers (whom I had not worked with before) said he liked, “I don’t know… all kinds of beer. Blue Moon, Fat Tire, Stella, I like dark beers, strong beers, light beers… just not Budweiser, Miller, Coors, or any of that kind of crap”.

But I’m getting ahead of myself. Our first day in Mount Shasta was long and tiring, as most of them tend to be, so we asked the employees of the store that we were working on, “Is there anywhere around here where we can get really good local beer?” “Well… there aren’t really any bars around here… It’s a pretty small town.” I told them I had heard there was a place called Mount Shasta Brewing Company, and asked if they knew anything about it. “Oh, Yeah… well that’s not right here in town. If you go about fifteen minutes North you’ll get to Mount Shasta Brewing, if you go about fifteen minutes South you’ll get to Dunsmuir Brewery Works. They’re both really good. But if you’re talking about stuff here in town, your best bet is The Billy Goat Tavern.”

The co-worker I just met (who is snoring in the next bed as I type this) had to leave early, to take care of some prescriptions or something, so Jared and I decided to go to the tavern without him. It was a nice little place, but I won’t waste too much time on it because the real beer adventure comes later. I started out with a glass of Boont Amber Ale, by Anderson Valley Brewing, in Mendocino county, and a carnitas style pulled pork sandwich with sweet spicy mustard and bacon on top.

The ale was decent, and had some sweetness from the malt and wheat, but the flavor and mouth feel were slightly watery to me. I moved on to Raging Rapids ale, by Feather River in the foothills of the Sierra Nevada mountains. It was a dark golden color, and clear. It tasted like sweet, delicate, flowers dipped in honey. The taste hung around in my mouth for a long time, and I was not at all upset about that. It made my sandwich taste better. The ceiling was covered with over 200 decorative taps, which are put there when they’re not in use.

The whole “vibe” (to steal a work from these mountain hippies) of the place was comfortable and relaxed… but it would not have suffered from the use of an Air Conditioner or a fan.

So, the next day, when our other co-worker rejoined us, it was settled. We would be going to Mount Shasta Brewing Company after work for a couple of drinks, and maybe some food if they had it.

Mount Shasta Brewing Company operates out of what had been the abandoned Medo-Bel Creamery, and doesn’t seem to have changed much about the building as far as appearance. The Brewery itself inhabits a large room adjacent to the bar, and can be seen through a set of large windows.

I would like to come back some time when they’re brewing to get the full experience, and maybe meet the brewers.

I was honestly a little surprised by the beer selection. Since it’s kind of a small operation, I expected they might have two or three varieties on tap, and then perhaps a sampling of other relatively local beers, since it’s not just a brewery, but an Alehouse and restaurant. However, when I looked at the eight taps behind the bar, I found that every one had a different Mount Shasta beer, and no other Brewery was represented. Faced with such a spectrum of potential delights, all made locally, I really only had one option: Try them all.
Challenge accepted
The Tour de Weed. Clockwise, from the front: We have their Seasonal “Stout of Jefferson”, “Skip and Go Naked” specialty lager, “Lemurian” golden lager, “ Weed” golden ale, “Shastafarian” porter, “Abner Weed” amber ale,  “Mountain High” IPA, and Jalapeno ale. I’m sure you can guess which one I was least excited about trying.

Oh, and I also got a ham and swiss panini with sliced black olives, and honey dijon mustard and tortilla chips. Though I didn’t think it warranted a picture, it still deserves mention because it was delicious. I had to work at not eating it all before I finished my beer, because I wanted to not only see how good their beer is, but how well it pairs with their food.

I decided on the order in which I would taste them, lightest to darkest, leaving the jalapeno ale for last for fear of it being so spicy that it would ruin the flavor of everything else. However, for the purposes of simplicity, I will tell you about them in the order they were listed above.

Stout of Jefferson: As you can see, and should assume, because it’s a stout, this was a thick dark colored beer. Since I decided not to look at their descriptions on the menu, so my impression wouldn’t be tainted, I expected this to be like Guinness, or Murphy’s, and feel like a dark beer… I expected it to have a sort of roasted coffee bean taste… so I was surprised when it tasted kind of like a cone of soft-serve ice cream where the vanilla and chocolate are swirled together. I was impressed with how it managed to be sweet and dark without being syrupy or cloying. I think it would go well with blueberry scones, or raspberry lemon tarts. It’s sweetness, apparently, comes from the use of local apples and pears.

Skip and Go Naked specialty lager: When the bar tender (who kind of looked like if Ed McMahon had a baby with the bar tender from Boondock Saints, complete with sporadic and random facial twitches) brought my tray over and told me which was which, he simply called this “Skip and Go Naked”. When I asked him what kind of beer it was he looked at me for a moment with a surprised expression… as if no one had ever asked him about beer styles before, and he’d never thought to wonder. Then he said, “Well, I think it’s a lager. I don’t know… I don’t really like that one.” If you ever go, and he’s there, you should ask for his opinion on what to order, and then get something other than what he tells you. This was, perhaps, the best lager I’ve ever tasted. It smelled like cinnamon and honey, and had a slightly spicy taste. While it was crisp, like you’d expect a lager to be, it was by no means weak or watery, but did not err in the other direction by being too flavorful. I would enjoy this with honey-baked ham, Christmas cookies, or a cold juicy apple while laying in a hammock under a shady tree on a warm day.

Lemurian golden lager: This was the first one I tasted, and it’s a good thing too, since it would have tasted weak after the Skip and Go Naked (I’m interested to see what Google AdSense does, with me saying “Naked” so many times in this entry). I’m not sure why, but this pilsner is named for Lemuria, a theoretical continent (which never actually existed) that people used to believe had sunk into either the Indian or Pacific ocean, depending on who you talk to. It had a very warm flavor from the yeast. I would drink it before getting to the main course at a barbecue… with sweet corn on the cob, potato salad, hawaiian rolls, fruit salad, or baked beans. More than that, however, I would like to drink this while eating a ham sandwich, sitting atop Mount Shasta in spring time, looking out over this whole beautiful landscape.

Weed golden ale: Named after Weed, California, which you probably remember best from the first chapter of John Steinbeck’s “Of Mice and Men”, where it’s mentioned that George and Lenny had recently worked on a farm there, but had been chased off because Lenny was accused of rape. This ale was nothing like that, and really doesn’t have anything to do with that though… but it does bring to mind images of vast golden wheat fields surrounded by rolling hills which steadily grow greener as they climb up into the sky and become tree covered mountain spires and rocky snow covered peaks. It had a zesty scent, and a crisp, delicate flavor. Perhaps I should have started with this one. This would go well with a cold turkey club, or something of the like.

Shastafarian porter: Named after Ras Trent, this had a predictably coffee-like scent, and a subtle chocolate malt flavor. It would probably pair well with special brownies, Bob Marley, and/or The Dark Side of Oz.

Abner Weed amber ale: Contrary to popular opinion, the town of Weed is not named after weeds, or marijuana, or even Jeremiah Weed (the alcoholic beverages)… it is actually named after Abner Weed, once California Governor and founder of the town. This ale, which bears his name, honors him more than the actual town does, I believe. It had a sweet, hoppy scent, and a caramel flavor. It tasted a bit like an Irish red ale mixed with Newcastle brown ale. This is a good backbone drink for the brewery. It’s a good representation of its type, which they could produce in large quantities, to fund some of their more experimental beers. I would pair this with the panini I was eating, or maybe some baked beans, or a beef burrito.

Mountain High IPA: So named because the town is surrounded by mountains… and since it is in Weed, they like making drug references. It was deceptively light tasting for being 7%abv. the hoppy flavor was somewhat muted at first, but had a pleasant tangy kick afterward, and the flavor stuck around for a while, which made my sandwich even more enjoyable. I would have this with pizza, or chicken wings, or garlic bread… or all three of those things.

And finally…..

Jalapeno ale: It smelled exactly like you’d expect it to… like tabasco sauce. Yet (and if you knew either of the guys I was there with, you could ask them), I actually did try it. At first, it tasted like tomato vines smell… but that quickly gave way to something more like flamin’ hot cheeto’s with a slight hint of beer flavor. It burned my throat a bit, but was not actually entirely intolerable. I think that anyone who likes spicy food and beer would actually really like this. This was the only one I didn’t finish. I would have this with milk.

I finished my sandwich, finally, and went back to the bar for a pint of Abner Weed, which I enjoyed while briefly talking to my girlfriend before my piece of crap phone died for the second time that day, then went out to the parking lot and talked to a guy from Michigan who had ridden his bike out to Oregon, and was on his way down California to ride back across the southern part of the country before heading back up to Michigan. I told him he needed to go see some giant sequoias while he’s out here, because there’s nothing else quite like them in the world. Sadly, he said, he didn’t have the time… Hopefully, he’ll see some on his way south. It would be a shame to make that kind of a treck and not see them.

I do hope to come back here some day, in the not too distant future, when I’m not working. A leisurely trip up though these mountains, without a schedule, would be damn near perfect.

Picture dump

Thursday, July 28, 2011

Tapped Out

I had the good fortune, this week, of being in town for a special event at Stone Brewery, which, given my recent work/travel schedule, was surprising. They were having something called a "Fresh Tap Night", which means they were pouring a variety of local beers (not just their own) which had been kegged that very day. In addition to this (and, perhaps, most importantly) they were offering the chance to drink a glass of their 15th Anniversary Imperial Black IPA.... which may be the longest name for a beer that I've yet encountered. The way it works is you buy a token at the bar, which you then redeem in the store before being led through the brewery to the IPA. We bought our tokens, I took the picture you see above, and we went to the store, and started the line for the first group of the night. I was in front, my beautiful girlfriend was behind me, and some woman who insisted on trying to make conversation with the backs of our heads was behind her, followed by two other men. We were led through the gleaming towering brewing equipment, and down an aisle that the tour we'd taken before had not brought us down, actually between all of the fermentors. When my liver dies and goes to Heaven, it will find itself somewhere like this. We were met by a man with a rack full of glasses who, when asked how long he'd been working there, said, "Oh, about five minutes.... oh, you mean years?".

I was the first person in line, in the first group of people to taste the first batch of this beer.... straight out of the fermentor.
Other than the people who actually made the beer, and probably tasted it to make sure it was suitable for sale, I was in line to be the first person to taste it. However, I am a gentleman, and let the two ladies behind me get their glasses filled first.

Despite being called a Black IPA, it was more of a dark chocolaty brown. In fact, the color and the feel of it (since it had not even been carbonated yet) reminded me of the river of chocolate in Willy Wonka's chocolate factory. I took a sniff, and then a sip, and imagined myself as Augustus Gloop, falling head first into the river... a fate I don't think I'd be bothered by. It was, almost needless to say, strong. It's Stone Brewery after all. It was intense, though not over-powering, hoppy and malty in turns.

We took our glasses out to the patio while another lucky group was led in. I wanted to savor my drink, so I sipped on it while we waited for a waiter to come around. Besides, I thought, this is much too heavy of a drink for someone to just guzzle down.

Or so I thought, Erika.
We ordered some tacos (I got barbecued duck) and chips, and spud buds. And Erika, not content with the strong beer she'd just chugged down, ordered two glasses of Cali Belgique (though she will tell you an entirely different version of the story which will include some nonsense about the waiter taking too long, and the bartender giving her an extra one or something)

The girl in the background is whispering to her friend about Erika being an alcoholic.
The Food and beer were all delicious, and you should all be very jealous. The thing about Stone is this. This is the thing: Their beer is very strong, and their food is very spicy. I've heard Stone accused, a number of times, of relying too heavily on hops for character, and I believe the same could be said of their use of spice in the food. It's almost as if they designed their food so you could still taste it over their taste-bud numbing beers... or they designed their beer so that it could over-power the intense burning sensation nearly every item on their menu causes.

Pictured: Just your ordinary, run-of-the-mill, fire chili death chips.
The moral of the story, though, is that no one should ever let Erika near their brewing equipment, because she will drink those tanks dry.

Monday, July 25, 2011

The truth revealed

Many people have probably wondered, at some point, why Kirsten Dunst is such a terrible actress. Admit it. You don't understand why anyone puts her in movies, do you? You may also have wondered why she has such a weird face and voice. If you haven't, you should have... because she's absolutely terrible. However, I have the answer to those questions, so you don't have to wonder any more. The reason that Kirsten Dunst looks and sounds so bad, and is so terrible at acting.... is......

Please, spread the word.

Tuesday, July 12, 2011

Colorado Springs Eternal

Hope springs eternal in the human breast;
Man never Is, but always To be blest:
The soul, uneasy and confin'd from home,
Rests and expatiates in a life to come. - Alexander Pope
I am now in Colorado Springs, as you may have guessed by the title of this installment. While it has only been a few days, it does feel like it's been longer (though not actually eternal. That is exaggeration). I would like, very much, to be done here and get back to my girlfriend, and/or see my family, but I can't do either yet. There is still work to be done. However... instead of boring you with information about work (since I basically do the same thing every day... except that I got to do some painting today), I will devote this particular blog entry to my experience at the bar tonight.
Across the street from the hotel we are staying in here, is a grill and bar called Buffalo Wild Wings, which my roommate (we'll call him Jared, for legal reasons) said was "a pretty chill bar. They've got a decent beer selection, and basic bar food"... which is really all that I need. Raymondo decided to stay back at the hotel for the most part (he stopped by the bar for about 30 seconds, and miraculously vanished.), so it was me, Jared, and Rick (which, I imagine, is short for Ricardo) whose beer horizons I am intent on broadening. I was confident I could convert him from Bud Light and Corona until the other day when I ordered a Fat Tire with my lunch and he cringed. CRINGED! literally winced, and pulled back, as if the thought of Fat Tire was so repulsive that his body could not stand to be near the words. After that, my confidence in his likelihood to change has waned, and I am less determined, though I will still, whenever possible, show him how much I am enjoying my delicious beer for it's taste first, and it's inebriating properties second.
Today, after work, we stopped by Wal*Mart. I bought a six pack of Shock Top to bring back to the hotel. Perhaps my fan in Maryland will understand my aggravation here... and perhaps have even felt it to a stronger degree... though most others may not. I got back to the van and looked at the label, and found that this particular variety (though otherwise marked the same as any other) was only 3.2% abv. I was told at this point, since the rest of the crew has been here before, about a difference between Colorado and California. Whereas California Grocery Stores and Liquor Stores sell the same alcohol (though not always the same brands or varieties necessarily), Colorado Grocery Stores and Gas Stations cannot sell beer that is higher than around 3.5% abv. For those of you who don't know what that means, in California, an average beer will be around 5.5% abv (alcohol by volume), wine tends to hover around 14%, though both can often be found in higher percentages. This means that Colorado Grocery Store beer is less potent than cough syrup, which is often around 4-5%.
Knowing that we would be going out, I wasn't too upset about the beer. Besides, it would be a good experiment. Does changing the alcohol percentage in a beer effect the flavor of the beer in any noticeable way? They don't water it down (I'm guessing) to change the alcohol percent, so the recipe should be about the same... yet, and I can't exactly place what it was, the flavor was different. It was, somehow, less interesting, less flavorful. Fortunately, as I finished the bottle, I was on my way out.
The bar section of Buffalo Wild Wings wasn't exceptionally large (though it had an inordinate number of tv screens, all of which were showing sports of some kind), and didn't have an unusually vast beer selection, but it did have a surprising number of beers I had never heard of, let alone tasted. I ordered a plate of ribs and popcorn shrimp, and a 16 ounce glass of Agave Wheat beer. I chose 16 ounces instead of 20, because I wanted to make sure I had room for everything I wanted to try. Agave Wheat is made by Breckenridge Brewery, here in Colorado, and is an American Hefeweizen. It was cloudy all the way through, and about the color of good honey. Rick, who was drinking a bud light, said, "what is that?! Look, you can see through my beer all the way, but I can't even see through any of yours." That, Rick, is because your beer is crap, and mine is delicious.... though there's probably a more scientific reason for it. Honestly though, if I ever went to a bar that only had three beers to choose from, and those three were Widmer Hefeweizen, Franziskaner weisbier (the two great beers of which it most reminded me) and Agave Wheat... I would choose Agave Wheat all night. The only thing that kept me from revisiting it was the number of beers I'd never tried.
So, I reluctantly soldiered forth... and had an IPA from Compass. In my time as an amateur beer connoisseur (an expensive thing to be an amateur at, admittedly), I have tasted a fair number of great IPA's... but I may have found my favorite. Maybe it was the way it complimented the honey barbecue sauce on my ribs, or maybe it was the fact that it was powerful enough to distract from the burning sensation from the peppercorn and garlic on my popcorn shrimp... or maybe it was the fact that it could pair with the sweet tangy sauce, and be strong enough for the spicy shrimp... but this hoppy beer would prove a hard act to follow. It had a floral aroma, was roughly as intense as any California IPA I've had, and followed with a very distinct lemon and lime zest after-taste.
Moving down the line, and still snacking on french fries and popcorn shrimp (having sucked every bit of sauce and flesh off of the bones of the ribs), I ordered a Barrel 5 Pale Ale. Not as strong as an IPA (since IPA's originally had to be strong and bitter to last through the voyage from India to England), this was, certainly out of order. Had it gone between the hef and the IPA, I'm sure this would have been more than acceptable... but following the IPA left the flavor of the Pale Ale wanting desperately.
At Jared's suggestion, I tried the 1554 Black Ale from New Belgium, another Colorado company. This, at the risk of sounding like an alcoholic, is definitely a beer I would suggest you drink with breakfast. Or, breakfast-for-dinner. It was like Fat Tire, Guinness, and a little bit of coffee got mixed together. Very smooth, not thick or syrupy and it kept it's head.
Intrigued by the tap design (it had a picture of a dog on it), my next order was a glass of Laughing Lab. This Dark Scottish Ale is not only local in that it's brewed in Colorado, but it's local in that it's brewed by Bristol Brewing, here in Colorado Springs. It was not exceptional, but was an extremely fair representation of Scottish Ale. It is dark red in color, both bitter and sweet... but it lost it's head faster than any subject of the Queen of Hearts. At this point, I thought I'd order a glass of water, since I have work in the morning, and it is (apparently) a good idea to be hang-over free while doing construction.
At this point, a young black woman came in and sat up at the bar, and ordered take-out, and a Blue Moon. She and my co-workers made conversation which caused me to think about how little I envy single people. Granted, I'm not married, but I'm also not looking for love (or whatever people look for) in all the wrong places. She wanted to get home, because she had a bag of food, which her room-mate was waiting for her to bring back, but Rick said, "You don't have to rush home to bed.", "Well, my bed's pretty cold, so I'm not rushing." She said, looking at Jared. I can't even imagine how demoralizing, degrading, and depressing it must be to go out looking for a cheap hook-up, for someone to show you some kind of affection... and it makes me even more glad to have the meaningful, committed, and respectful love that I have with my girlfriend, even if I am far away from her.
Since I was still working on my water, and my Laughing Lab, but wanted to know more about the one remaining untested beer on tap, I asked the bartender, "What is that one with the Bison head?" Oh, that's Buffalo Sweat. "Which is?...." It''s made by Tall Grass Brewing Company, and is ridiculously dark. Like... if Guinness had a baby with Emperor Palpatine... and very smooth. Like a real ale. It had a very promising thick head, but that faded to a thin film within a minute. It reminded me of Mikkeler, and a Stone beer (the name of which I can't remember)... the one they serve with the ice cream on people's birthdays, only not as heavy and with a slight caramel flavor. It would make a fantastic beer float if you dropped some French Vanilla ice cream in it.
I've been reluctant to refer to myself as a "Craft Beer Enthusiast". Partly because I find the idea of enthusiasm somewhat laughable, and partly because it kind of sounds like a self aggrandizing way of saying I like to drink beer, and have instead just referred to myself as a beer drinker... But I have realized there is a difference. A craft beer enthusiast has a love and appreciation for the art, and science, and variety of beer. A beer drinker wants to get drunk, but doesn't like hard liquor. I spent a few hours drinking seven different beers, and never intended to get drunk. I didn't get drunk. By the time I paid my bill I wasn't even buzzed. I don't know whether to thank or curse my genetics and BMI. I am not a beer drinker. I.... am a craft beer enthusiast.

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Rocky Mountain High Hopes

As many of you know, I recently started working for a company that specializes in retail construction. Our clients are corporations with a multitude of locations, which they pay us to make presentable.

 As soon as I filled out the paperwork and accepted the job offer, I was nervous. I've never done retail construction... I've mostly worked within an hour of home. Now, I have a job where I never actually meet the client (hell, I have yet to actually meet my boss), and am states away from home. My preparation for this first venture out was one day of work an hour and a half away from where I'm living, with two guys I'd never met, one of whom had to leave halfway through the day for a company meeting about how to deal with new hires who are having trouble keeping pace with people who've been working there for a while. It seems that almost everyone I'm working with specializes in painting... which kind of sucks for me because I, allegedly, specialize in finish carpentry, but painting is easier. So, while I'm building framing for store signs and figuring out how to fit these signs over pre-existing shelving units without leaving any of the mounting visible, the guys who have been working here longer will be rolling paint on the walls and helping me while it dries.
This is not to say I'm the only carpenter. Actually, I've been, for the past few days, sort of assigned to follow one of the guys who everyone seems to go to for answers. A Mexican Wizard of Oz of retail construction, if you will. But this brings me back to my first day of work. Actually, it brings me back to a few days before my first day of work. To protect the (possibly) innocent, I will slightly change his name. When I turned in my paperwork, and was given my work assignments for the coming weeks, the women in the office told me I would be working under this guy, and that I would have to pay attention (which, if you know me well, you will know is my strong suit.... getting distracted and thinking about how awesome it would be if I could shoot spider webs out of my wrists is not), because he would just do his work and expect me to learn. The guys in Hemet, where I spent my first sweat drenched day told me, "Oh, you're working with Raymondo? Haha... watch out, he will work right over you. He doesn't stop to explain what he's doing."... so... I was obviously excited to chase after Raymondo trying to figure out what he was doing and why, so I could duplicate it on the next job. Add to this the fact that Raymondo tells me, "Every job is different, so you have to always figure things out as you go, but do it the same way.", and perhaps understand how desperately I am trying to convince everyone (including myself) that I know what I'm doing.
I admit, this all sounds more dramatic than it actually is. The work is really not as stressful as it seems, and it's not like the work that I'm used to, where (if I do something wrong) people could perhaps die, or be injured, or have their house flooded or burned down. Basically, what we do is fix as many things as the corporate office (of whichever store we're working in) thinks necessary in order to please as many customers as possible, while spending as little money as they can. "Oh, a thousand linoleum tiles are cracked or severely stained and need replaced, and it will take a week to get that all done?... well, how about you replace the cracked ones with whatever color tile you have as long as it's close enough and we call it good?". My work is to what needs done as lipstick is to pig.
They had told me, also, when I was turning in my paperwork, that there was the option of going to either Colorado or Arizona. Having been to Arizona, I knew two things: 1) It's July, Arizona is going to be somewhere near the temperature of 95% of a Hot Pocket fresh out of the microwave (but not the 5% in the middle which is somehow still frozen after two minutes on high), and 2) going somewhere I've already been won't give me the chance to shade in another state on my map of America. I told them I'd take Colorado, and began researching Colorado breweries that weren't Coors as soon as I got back to my computer. I decided that I would go to at least two breweries while I was here, possibly three if time allowed. 1) Great Divide Brewery whose Yeti Imperial Stout is ranked #44 on the American Home Brewer's Association's list of the best beers in America for 2011, 2) Breckenridge Brewery, which I have heard very good things about ( here), and possibly 3) Oskar Blue's brewery whose Dale's IPa and Ten Fiddy Imperial Stout ranked 16th and 31st, respectively. I also thought, time permitting, I would like to get close enough at least to touch part of the rocky mountains. While I do not care to taste the Rockies (if they taste anything like that bland, fizzy, yellow beer that defiles their image), I would very much like to see and feel and smell them.
The first day we were here was spent at two different stores, and we did not get back to the hotel until after nine. Just enough time to heat up some dinner (purchased at Walmart), take a shower, call some people (you know who you are), and go to bed. After having flown out here at 6:35 am, I was all too eager to get to bed. Today, the second day, we stayed in one store, trying to finish as much of it as possible. What with waking (alliteration is fun) up at 6 to get the free hotel breakfast and get to home depot, and all the rain flooding the streets... oh, and the fact that I don't actually have my own transportation... today turned out to be a bad day to try out any of those breweries. And, since I've found out that tonight is our last night in Denver before moving on to Fountain, and Colorado Springs, I'm guessing that I won't be able to try those beers in the brewery where they were made, and cross them off of my list. All is not lost, however, in my quest to taste good beer in Colorado. After getting to the hotel at a decent hour tonight, we decided to go to a little bar across the street for dinner and much deserved drinks. Though it's close enough to walk, we chose to drive because none of us counted on all of this rain, and failed to bring anything waterproof. Raylondo doesn't drink, so he stayed at the hotel and watched futbol while the other three of us went out. The guy I'm rooming with is young... and white (since I know you're all wondering if I only work with Mexicans)... and appreciates craft beer. The other guy likes Bud Light, and Corona; and as my room-mate for the weeks said, "People who like that stuff.... they'll never learn what good beer is.". At the bar, I had a bacon cheeseburger calzone (so damn good), a pint of some beer called "hazed and infused", which the bartender told me was "a really nice ale which is dry hopped, so it's more like an IPA", a pint of O'Dell's IPA, and a pint of "Colorado Native" Lager. The bartender told me that Colorado Native is brewed by Coors (which is not entirely true. It's brewed by AC Golden Brewing, a micro-brewery owned by Coors which operates out of Coors' headquarters). With the knowledge that Colorado Native is brewed by Coors, I immediately decided not to drink it. That is until my room mate had one and said it was really good. I had one. Then another. It's a lager, which I generally don't like... but somehow it tastes more like an amber ale got mixed with a honey wheat ale. It's really very delicious. I kind of wish that Coors would stop making it's signature lager and just start making this, but then I would have to like Coors, and I'm not ready to do that. Afterward, when my co-workers wanted to go out to another place, I (being the party animal that I am) opted instead to go next door to the liquor store to see if they had any interesting Colorado beers, and walk back to my hotel room... where I am now blogging. The liquor store had cans of Oskar Blue's Dale's IPA, which I bought and plan to share with my co-workers (it is my mission to convert the Corona Drinker to a Craft Beer drinker). While I have not been able to do all of the things I would like to do here in Denver, I am content in the fact that I was able to taste O'Dell's IPA (22nd on the top beer list), buy a pack of the 16th best beer in America in the state where it was made, and find a good beer made by a bad beer company. Perhaps the rest of the week in Colorado will bring more excitement. And maybe, if they ever have me come back out here (as I'm told is likely), I will have enough time beforehand to drive here myself and camp in the Rocky Mountains, and go experience these breweries which are trying to redeem Colorado's name in the beer drinking world.

Thursday, May 19, 2011

Anti-Gun nuts take aim

I am not what most people would call political. I generally believe that political discussions and debates among common people are fruitless and unnecessary, and I do my best to avoid them. While I also believe that the Government serves the people better as it inserts itself into their lives less, I am no conspiracy theorist. I don't believe that vapor trails from airplanes are the result of the Government spraying drugs into the atmosphere to make us docile (if they are, they need stronger drugs because these ones aren't working), or that every person who runs for office does so with villainous intent (It's probably only about 75% of them)... but I do believe that something needs to be said about what certain politicians are doing to actively and intentionally strip American citizens of their freedoms. Specifically, the restrictions being placed of people's ability to carry guns in this state.

I am not a gun nut, I am not a member of the NRA (though that is mostly because I have other things to spend my money on). I am not some asshole who likes guns because he thinks it means he's bad-ass, nor am I paranoid or afraid that I might be attacked by criminals at any moment.
I didn't own a gun at all until I was 28, unless you count the b.b. gun I had as a kid, and still don't own a pistol (yet). I am just a man who likes the idea of self reliance and believes, as the authors of the Constitution did, that the Government should be ruled by the people, not the other way around.

The United States Constitution says, in no uncertain terms (or so I would think if not for the fact that so many people seem uncertain about them), "A well regulated militia being necessary to the security of a free State, the right to keep and bear arms shall not be infringed." Now, there seems to be some confusion about what this means, so I will attempt to break it down. The translation, if not into plain English then at least into more specifically defined terms, is this:
Because a thoroughly, and carefully, maintained and ordered group of citizen soldiers is essential for the protection and defense of an undominated and self directed political organization or group of people of a specific character or occupying a certain territory, the just claim of every person to be able and allowed to retain possession of and bring, carry, convey, transport, or have weapons on or with them will not and must not be violated or encroached upon.
So, to simplify... because freedom belongs, by right, to every human being, no person or group can (nor should) force another person to go unarmed, nor hinder them from doings so if they choose.

What is interesting to me about this is that they didn't say, "...being necessary, at this time,...", they said it is necessary... That self government can not exist if people are not equipped to protect themselves.

Yet, just the other day, Assembly members in California voted in favor of a bill to ban open carry of an unloaded fire arm in public (not their first infringement either, by the way). What that means, for those unfamiliar with the terms, is that they would make it illegal for otherwise law abiding citizens to have, carry, or transport a clearly visible gun, even without bullets in it, anywhere except in the privacy of their own homes. Now, if that doesn't count as infringement, I don't know what does.

Proponents of the bill say it's not a second amendment issue, but a public safety issue, or a peace of mind issue, or an economic issue. They say that people shouldn't carry guns in public because things will end badly if armed people lose their tempers (because this is the old west and we all believe the best way to win an argument is with gunfire), They say that people shouldn't carry guns in public because seeing them makes other people scared. They say that people shouldn't carry guns in public because those scared people call the police, and it is a waste of time and money for officers to investigate.
I agree. These are problems, the danger posed by people with guns, the fear in common people who just wanted to go out for coffee, the wasted time and tax payer money spent on investigating non-crimes... but the problem is not that people carry guns in public. The problem is that people are too easily frightened, and don't think logically.

*A criminal is going to carry their gun where you can't see it so you don't know they're a criminal, and you don't know they have a gun (a fair number of law abiding citizens would do this too, and save you the needless fear, if it was really possible to get a concealed weapons permit in California). So, the man with a pistol on one hip and a magazine with bullets on the other means you no harm. You are not in danger from him.
* If you ever have the courage and opportunity to speak with a convicted violent criminal, ask them when they would be more likely to commit a crime... when there are people around who have guns, or when there are not? Actually, don't bother. Just think about it. Would you get violent if you knew someone in the area had a gun and was willing to use it to subdue you? You are, theoretically, safer in the presence of openly armed citizens than you are anywhere else, short of a meeting of the Justice League.
* Police resources and tax payer dollars are wasted every time someone ignores the previous two points and calls 911... It's not because someone has a gun. It's because someone else doesn't think clearly.

To make it illegal for people to carry guns in public is a bit like saying people are allowed to say whatever they want, as long as no one else can hear them. It is stealing from them their fundamental rights, given to them not by the founding fathers but by the simple merit of having been born human.

And somehow, a room full of supposedly well educated State Assembly members failed or neglected to see this, and voted the bill through to the senate... which will hopefully see the tyranny, fear mongering, and flawed logic behind it and vote it down.
Though, if it passes in the senate, and and the governor signs it into law, they will have to issue concealed a weapons permit to any law abiding citizen who wants one, in order to pretend the law is constitutional. So, just try not to think about all the people who will be carrying guns you can't see.

This rare political rant (rare in that I don't often make them, and also in that it was founded on and filled with sound reasoning as political rants almost never are) really didn't even need to be made, I suppose. Even if nothing else I said were true... even if the second amendment didn't promise and defend the human right to protect ourselves, and to carry a gun if we choose to, one statement (the origin of which I am uncertain) is all that should be necessary to stop all of this "gun control" nonsense. Even if you take nothing else away from this blog post, consider the truth of this, "If you make it a crime to carry a gun, the only people carrying guns will be criminals."

I encourage your comments.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Walden Weekends: Wine and Dine

This weekend’s story all started a few months ago, when I went up to my family’s cabin in Twain Hart to drop off some firewood and clear out some brush. I cut up a bunch of Manzanita from the property and took it home, hoping it would be good to use for smoking. After I got home, I did research… by which I mean I typed “smoking with manzanita” into google. As with just about everything I try to research online, most of the results that came back were links to various blogs, message boards, and forums related to the subject, all of which are filled with the smartest people the world has ever known, who have the only opinion on any subject that is worth having. Anyone who disagrees with them is obviously inexperienced, or a moron. What I did, however, learn from researching manzanita on it’s own, without regard to smoking, is that it (and it’s big brother, Madrone) are in the same family as Mesquite… which, as roughly ¼ of the people in internet forums and anyone from the great country of Texas will tell you, is the only wood worth using in your smoker. I would like to get some of these people, smoke one meal with apple, one with mesquite, and see if they can tell which is which.

So it was, with this fresh supply of free hard wood, that I started thinking of a meal to smoke it with. Having made a previous foray into the world of smoking ( ) and emerged victorious, but realizing that the only thing which had been missing was my girlfriend, I began working on a recipe of sorts, and decided to try it out the first time that she would be in town during warm weather.

To keep with the theme of my weekends lately, and to really show her how beautiful it is up in the mountains around here, I planned a rvery nice day for us, starting with a walk through Big Basin, wine tasting with my mom, older brother, and brother-out-law at Savannah Chanelle winery,

then more wine at Mountain Winery,
Mountain Winery: Now with more Douchey-ness

and capping it off with chicken smoked over free manzanita (and madrone that I may or may not have stolen from a turn out along the road inside the state park).

The chicken, as I’m sure you’d remember was the case with the pork even if I hadn’t linked it for you to read about up there, was entirely experimental, and I had my family bring other dishes to go along with it just in case it turned out horribly. They were my guinea pigs. I figured I’d try it out on them before I bring some to a guy I know who competes in barbecue contests every year, and another guy I know who owns Blue Rock BBQ and judges barbecue contests. If my family liked it/didn’t get sick, that would be good, but if two barbecue experts like it, that’s a horse of a different color. (I have since given them each half of a chicken, and am awaiting their responses).

If you don’t care about the ingredients or smoking method, skip until just after the picture of the chickens where I’ll tell you how it turned out. Or, if you’re one of those weirdo’s who reads the end of the book first, skip down there and then come back. It’s ok. I’ll wait.

Ok, ready?

On Tuesday, I went to Los Gatos Meats (because I like the idea of buying meat from an old fashioned butcher shop, instead of a big super-market chain. Safeway’s good and all, but Los Gatos Meats is just a little more local, so……) and bought three whole chickens (plucked, beheaded, gutted, sans feet. It’s a butcher shop, not an asian market), and brought them home to marinate. The recipe, which I hope you won’t steal and make money off of, because I plan to use it at my pub some day is as follows:

*Put chickens in a bag or other air-tight/water-tight container
*Peel the skin away as much as you can without tearing it, rub between skin and meat with crushed rosemary, garlic salt, lemon pepper, onion powder, mint, and paprika to taste.
*Douse in extra virgin olive oil, but not to the point where they’re swimming. You don’t need as much if they’re in a bag.
*Smash up a handful of mint leaves and throw them in, under the skin, inside the body. All over.
* Cut open and juice a lemon and an orange, pour in juice, and throw the rest in the bag for good measure.
That was Tuesday. I let it sit in the bag, in the refrigerator, til Saturday, making sure to flip the bag over twice a day so the olive oil mixture would soak in evenly. Meanwhile, because I had planned for the day to be so full, and knew I wouldn’t have much time to smoke the birds slowly, I soaked some of the manzanita in a bucket of water. That way, after I have the heat going, and some of the wood smoking, the wet wood would be making steam, which would help keep the chicken from drying out. Instead of 12 to 18 hours at 140 to 200 degrees, I would be doing about 4 hours at 250 to 300.

On saturday, I prepared the chickens for glory by rubbing their skin with non-iodized salt (because I was afraid the iodine would turn them pink) to help the skin crisp without burning, tying the wings down (and sticking in some sprigs of rosemary) and filled two soda cans with ShockTop (a Belgian style wheat beer with hints of citrus and coriander), and another with water mixed with more lemon and orange juice (because, believe it or not, there are people in this world who don’t like the taste of beer, even if it’s just a minor element among a multitude of others in their food). This not only added a hint of flavor, but helped keep the chicken moist (I’m sorry. I know, you probably hate that word as much as I do) and tender. But this was all in theory. Again, I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was merely going off of what I guessed would work, and hoped for the best.

Here they are, ready to fly or fail.


It would, perhaps, serve you better to talk to the other people who were there, if you know them, to find out if the experiment was a success. The consensus was overwhelmingly positive on both the beer-butt and orange-lemon-water-butt chicken, and I agree that it was good, but I didn’t fully enjoy it because I was concentrating on what I would add more of, or take away a bit of from the recipe. I think that more mint and lemon pepper are in order next time, as are lower heat and longer cooking time. However, nobody threw up that I know of, and everyone seemed to enjoy it. Even Lucky said it was the best chicken she’d had all day… but, considering that the only other chicken she’d had was frozen solid, and she licks her own privates on a regular basis, I don’t tend to take her advice on culinary matters. I prefer to listen to the human guests who said things like, “this is really delicious” or “I think this is actually the best chicken I’ve ever had” or better yet, nothing at all because they were too busy enjoying the meal.

Monday, April 25, 2011

Walden Weekends: Boulder and bolder

First, a few notes on last weekend. On Saturday, I went hiking again at Castle Rock, and went farther than I usually do… which, unfortunately, means I had to hike farther on my way back. I found the back-packing camp that’s out there, and kept going further still.
Sunday, I took Silas up to the rocks for which Castle Rock park is named. Let me tell you (or don’t, I don’t care. I’m mostly doing this for my own sake anyway), if I thought hiking with a three year old was difficult, I had obviously never taken one rock climbing. He was a bit scared at first to go up on top of some of the smaller rocks (roughly the size of a VW Bug stacked on top of another), but gradually I got him up on top of rocks that were more than 35 feet tall. Granted, most of the time I would climb to somewhere stable, grab him, and stick him higher up, then climb ahead and repeat the process. It was difficult, and tiring, but totally worth it. There’s a life lesson in there somewhere but I don’t really care to root it out at the moment. You may do so if you choose.

This weekend:

As I stood atop a small tree stump, at the outset of my hike, I was reminded of the Lorax, as he climbed out of a hole in a freshly chopped trufula stump. I thought how adorable it would be to dress my kid up as the Lorax for Halloween some day. This, by the way, is just about the only kind of planning for the future I ever do. Then I thought, “What if the kid doesn’t want to dress as the Lorax? Eh, who cares what the kid wants? I’ll be the parent, they’ll dress as what I tell them to dress as because I’m in charge, gosh darn it!”.
I thought about environmentalists, and all manner of extremists, who force their children to do things the child doesn’t understand, or teach them what to think instead of how to use logic and reasoning. It is, I believe, a desire common to all people throughout history (if not every person) to impose their own will. We seek to subjugate, to form the world around us into a shape that fits our use for it. We try to force others to view things the way we do, to believe as we believe. I’m speaking of the human race in general… You may feel free to say to me, “I don’t seek to impose my will on anyone or anything.”, but it would obviously be your will that I believe it, and arguing your point would prove it invalid. We put roads where there once were prairies, train tunnels where mountains had been living for a thousand years before. This is not a condemnation, but a statement: Humans attempt to rule. And, in fact, why shouldn’t we? God gave us dominion over all the animals. He told us that it would be our duty to work the land. We are the middle-management of Earth. In creating us, He placed us at the top of the hierarchy of the material world. It is not only our duty, but our divine right to hold power over the world. (I know this because the lady of the lake, her arm clad in the purest shimmering samite told me so)

But what does that mean, power? Power can mean a lot of things, and have a lot of implications, depending on who you ask. What I mean by power is not control, but the ability to cause action, to inflict a result… but I believe it comes with the responsibility to do so with wisdom and prudence. Somewhat like Peter Parker’s uncle Ben said, power and responsibility are directly relational. If a person is placed in a position of power, like the President of the United States, they have a much greater responsibility to the people than someone who is elected treasurer of the homecoming committee. But that power doesn’t mean domination. He’s called the leader of the free world, not the ruler. His job is not to tell people what to do, or make them do what he wants them to, but to influence people’s thinking, and act based on their demands.

And so it is with the relationship between every person and the world around them. We, as humans, have the power to impact the world greatly, but the responsibility to do what is right, and to do it in the right way. It seems we have always had this idea that there is an eternal struggle between man and nature. It’s one of the great themes of fiction. One small person battling against the elements, straining for victory over the wild. We aim to conquer the wilderness, and bring it under our control. We’ve done a decent job of it too in most places. Huge expanses of paved roads stretching from coast to coast protect us from the perils and inconveniences of trying to make our way on foot; we have structures built to keep the sun, wind, rain, animals, and dirt out, and insulate ourselves from even the mildest displeasure this big scary planet of ours might be waiting to unleash on us… but, as anyone who’s ever tried to take a decent picture of a small lizard will tell you (I know, there are thousands of such people. Small lizard photography is very popular), nature doesn’t do what you want it to… it merely lets you do what you want until it’s tired of you. We can build walls to keep the ocean back, but nature doesn’t pay attention to “keep out” signs. We put in sidewalks, but weeds break through. We put up manicured hedgerows and a squirrel plants an oak tree in the middle of them. We plant a lawn, and a mole builds a subway. Our control is only an illusion. The world is wild, and can’t be held back forever. To quote Dr. Ian Malcolm, “Life finds a way”.

This is God’s wild kingdom, we’re just looking after it.

This leads me to a question which, perhaps, one of you out there can answer for me. Who owns the state and national parks? Who says I’m not allowed to go off the trails, or stay there after sunset? Whose land is this? Because it seems to me that if these parks belong to “the government”, and this is a government of the people, by the people, and for the people… the people have a right to use their communal property whenever they want. Right? Honestly, correct me if I’m wrong. I’d like to hear your take on this. The people in power have the responsibility to make sure we (the people) use it responsibly, but it doesn’t seem they have the right to tell us when we can be there, or where we can go. They’re not the President’s parks, Congress’s parks, the government’s parks, or the ranger’s parks. They are the National and State parks, and belong to the people of the nation and the state, to use and care for.

I don’t know about you, but I’ve noticed a theme running through human history… real change is not usually accomplished by force. Sure, there are a great number of times when force in the form of violence has been and is necessary, and used to accomplish a goal of ridding the world of one villain or another, but nobody ever says, “well, you are obviously stronger than I am, I now understand that what I was doing was wrong.”, they say, “You beat me, I’ll do what you want me to do.”. My point is that we have the power to cause change… to impact the future of this world and this planet, but we need to be smart about how we use that power. We cannot force people to change. In my experience, the more you force something, the more likely it is to break. To cause change we cannot use might, but our minds.

Now, if you’re thinking that I’m going to go join the Sierra Club, I’m a little offended. If I was going to join a conservation society, it would not be the Sierra Club, but the NRA. I don’t exactly ascribe to the “Take only memories, leave only footprints” philosophy. I don’t think that every rock, stick, and plant is a leaveitright (as they called it at the science camp I went to in elementary school. “You find a stick, rock, or plant, leaveitright where you found it”). If you’re out in the wild and find a flower you want to press, or put in a vase, go ahead. More will still grow. Just don’t pick all of them because I want to see them too. But I think everyone could benefit from a little more nature in their lives.
Still, anyone can enjoy the beauty of God’s green earth on a screen in their living room, but that’s not good enough for me. For me… this is my living room. This is my church, my library, my theater. This is life, and it’s being stamped out by progress. I wish every person would take advantage of it and fill themselves with it’s beauty… as long as they don’t try to do it at the same time, and in the same place that I am. It amazes me how hard it is to hear the voice of the almighty God over the voices of those created in His image. (there’s another lesson there which I’ll let you find for yourself)

It strikes me that life as a flower would be much easier. Every little flower, as it opens up and turns it’s face toward the sun every day, is fulfilling it’s God-given calling. It is doing exactly what it’s Creator asks of it, and every remote little one of them would keep on doing so for all of its days even if no human eye ever noticed… Nature relentlessly serves and glorifies God just by being what it is, and we should consider ourselves blessed to be part of that worship service. But how much easier it is for flowers, to not have to wonder if they’re doing what they’re supposed to… to not ask God what His greater plan for them is… They simply exist, and that’s enough. But, I suppose there is some consolation in knowing that responsibility and reward are directly relational like power and responsibility are. The greater your responsibility, the greater your reward will be if you live up to what is required of you. While a butterfly fulfills it’s calling by drinking from any flower it chooses, it also doesn’t gain much by doing so.

Perhaps our calling as God’s children isn’t so different from that of flowers. Turn your face toward the light, and Glorify God every day of your life.
I wish everyone prayed in this chapel of mine.

This is me trying to impose my will.

Post Script: I’m sorry for this being so disjointed. These were the thoughts going through my head while I hiked. I had a brilliant essay written in my head, but when I got to the camp ground and sat down to write it, I found I had neglected to pack a note pad… by the time I got to my computer, I had forgotten how it went.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Walden Weekends: Busier Than Usual and My Philosophy of Hiking.

The first weekend was hard, not using the internet, not checking facebook… I found myself having to make conscious efforts to stay disconnected. I kept wanting to know what the people I know were up to, if anyone had commented on my status, or left a comment on my wall. But, in an effort to be present, I resisted. I decided that every time I thought about going online, I would instead pray for guidance, or for a job in San Diego, and that distracted me well enough until the desire passed for the time. That was last weekend. This is week two.

Yesterday I drove Benjamin and Jaason to the airport, drove to south San Jose in search of a free barbecue smoker I’d seen an ad for on Craigslist on Friday (without an exact address). I found the place, but no barbecue. “Someone else got that this morning. We’ve sold a bunch of stuff for really good prices… and then somebody stole our money box.” “Wow, I’m sorry about that. That really sucks.” I said, secretly cursing them for putting “12 to 3” on their ad when they obviously intended on opening things up much earlier. So I went home, sad about not having a smoker that I would not have any space for when I move anyway, and continued working on my pipe. The pipe has turned out well so far… though it’s a little rough. You can see some places where the chisel gouged into it, so I might go back over it with a sander and smooth it out. It should look really nice if the warmth from the bowl, and the oils from my hand, give the wood a slight red tint like I believe they will. It was a lengthy process though. If I were selling it, and only charging for it what my normal hourly wage would be, the pipe would cost roughly $130… but it was a Saturday, so I’d be charging time and a half.

Today was hiking up at Castle Rock, and helping Joseph and Laurel get a new couch (which I learned after I got home was located between here and Castle Rock).

There are a few things about hiking (and, I suppose, the wilderness in general) which I’m less than happy about… but there is one thing, especially problematic in spring and summer, which is enough of a problem that it causes me to question whether I want to go out anymore. More than the possibility of sunburn, insect bites, poison oak rashes, pain, injury, animal attack, and getting lost (which are, at best, irritating and inconvenient, and at worst… deadly, in the case of animal attacks. Though… death is really only a mild inconvenience for the person it comes to), people are the one thing that makes me consider not hiking. During spring and summer, there are entirely too many other people hiking. I imagine this will only be the case until I fall and hurt myself, and need help… then there will not be a person for a hundred miles of course.

My philosophy (if we’re using the word in the typical sense, where “philosophy” is not the art of thinking, or the method by which we come to a conclusion, but rather the conclusion which that thinking has lead us to) on hiking is two-fold. First: Show some respect. Second: Eyes and ears open, mouth shut. I wonder what it is that causes a person to go hiking when they have so little respect for nature that they just drop their garbage wherever they lost use for it. Why, if you don’t care about any of the beautiful things around you, would you deign to be there?

I wonder what causes a person with so little reverence for this great open cathedral that they would spoil it with their complaintive and selfish conversations to choose this out of all the peaceful places to disturb.

On the way, I passed a couple of young women who had stopped to take a picture. As it is my custom when hiking to not say hello unless someone else has said it (because I know that, for many people, hiking is meditative, and I don’t want to break someone else’s concentration), they said hello and I replied as I passed by. I increased my pace to make sure I had enough space to stop occasionally without being overtaken, because I want to be able to look around and observe the beauty before me without interruption. But it seemed that every time I stopped they were behind me, complaining about colleagues, or classes, or God knows what... in reality, they were a hundred feet or more behind me, but that’s the nature of open places and shrill voices. I came to a fork in the road. One way said “ridge trail” the other “to camp grounds”. Guessing that the ridge trail would offer more scenic views, I bet my pursuers would take that, and I opted for the camp trail. I chose poorly. After about twenty more minutes of trying in vain to get out of ear shot, I decided that it was close enough to the time I would need to turn back, and stopped and waited for them to pass. I was tempted to stop them as they went by, to ask if they had noticed the hawks soaring a couple hundred feet above the tree tops and a hundred feet below us, or if they’d seen what an amazing living patchwork quilt the world is in places like this where groves of madrone and oak and pine and redwood wrap around and through one another… but they were far too busy talking about coworkers and Stanford to be bothered, so I let them go by in peace.

In the fall and winter these trails are much like the thick grove in the Degoba swamp (I know you nerds know what I’m talking about). Luke asks, “What’s in there?”, and Yoda replies, “Only what you bring with you.”. But now that it’s warming up, it’s hard to find ten seconds where you can’t hear another person, or see a discarded bag of sunflower seeds. What is drawing these people out here instead of to a public park, or coffee shop, or any number of places with trash cans and conversational atmosphere provided? Why, when I try to escape from the aggravations of what is allegedly the civilized world does all the worst of it insist on following me? I’m considering making a patch to put on my backpack (and would have stickers made if putting them on trail signs wasn’t considered defacing public property) that say “Eyes and ears open. Mouth shut.”… also, I’ll be looking for less populous trails.