I Know You Are, But What Am I?

Credit Wikipedia.org


I’m an unapologetic Pee-wee Herman fan and especially enjoyed the comedic search for his beloved bike in Pee-wee’s Big Adventure.  In an exchange over the whether his bike was for sale, Pee-wee resorts to the juvenile phrase “I know you are, but what am I?” as a come-back line while trading insults with his nemesis Francis.

Sadly, it seems to me that our national political debate has degenerated to the level of Pee-wee’s argument with Francis.  As a Democrat who most closely identifies with the Blue Dog Coalition and moderate Republicans (labeled RINOs by some in their own party), I am vexed by the hyper-partisan politics that dominate our country today.  I strongly believe that the solution to any challenge is rarely (or never) found at either end of the political spectrum.

However, I have also fallen into a trap.  Like the gradual, inexorable descent into an abyss, I have gravitated toward news outlets and political commentary that supported my world view and ignored or trivialized all others.  Like millions of others (on both sides), I was caught off-guard by the results of our national election and left wondering how my country could have gone so far off the rails of common sense and decency.  How could a man who, in my view, represents and caters to all the very worst traits of American culture rise to the most powerful office in land?

I’ve watched corporate media of all political bends as they spent hours and hours spinning the results this way and that, justifying their positions (and their very existence), and pointing accusing fingers in all directions.  But these machinations are little more than junk food for political junkies – and I want more.  I want to understand and challenge my own world views to better understand and appreciate the world views of those with whom I disagree.  Without better understanding myself, I can I possibly understand them?

So it begins today.  A quest to find myself.  I going to start with an article in The Guardian entitled “Burst your bubble: five conservative articles to read this week“.

I’ll let you know how it goes.


A Long Time Ago


It was about three years ago when I was walking along this small lake in West Virginia, really no more than a pond fed from an old surface coal mine, that I decided to further my education and pursue a Master’s degree.  Shear folly, of course, since I was well past the age that anyone should be entering graduate school, but still…..

After several weeks of web browsing and soul searching, I found a program in Environmental Policy and Management at American Public University and enrolled the same day.  My first class started in June 2014 and, since then, I have read thousands of pages and written hundreds more on topics ranging from environmental law and ethics to restoration ecology and landscape planning.  Nearly every weekend for the past 2 1/2 years has been consumed with reading government reports, scientific studies, and course textbooks while writing an 8 to 10 page paper on any number of topics.

Now I am nearing the end of my program.  I have submitted my capstone thesis and, on Christmas day no less, I’ll receive my final grade.  It’s been an amazing and thought-provoking experience that left me very little time to do other things, like writing this blog.  Now that it’s over, I can’t wait to get back to exploring nature, bird watching, hiking and photography, and dropping by here from time to time to share my experiences.

One question I have been pondering is whether to stick with this old blog or construct a new one.  For now, I think I’ll stay here.  I have to prove to myself that I am willing to make the time to read and write.  With so many false starts over the past couple years, it seems the prudent thing to do.

Oh yeah…the pond.  It’s called Rockhouse Lake and has a Facebook page (where I found the photo).  I sometimes go for walks there when I’m visiting my family.


A Recommendation or Two

The stir created by my lunar eclipse photos landed me on the Freshly Pressed page and I have been remiss in thanking WordPress.  I want to correct that oversight today –  Thank You!   For those who missed it, here’s an image of the Freshly Pressed page shortly after my photos went global – at one point I was receiving almost 3000 hits per day, a thrilling experience for me.

Through this experience I was introduced to several bloggers, literally from around the world, and re-established links with others who have stuck with me through my erstwhile blogging attempts.  Over the last few days I have been re-designing my blog and (slowly) putting links to the blogs I now read on a daily basis, even if I don’t always leave a quick comment – and I’m working on that part too!  I hope you find them as interesting and enjoyable to read as I do:

Danudin’s 2011 Challenge – Ron is always quick with a comment or a joke, in true Aussie style, and maintains a cool photo challenge website. 

This Moment Exactly –  My first attempts at photo blogging led me to Julie, who was one of the administrators of the 2009 challenge.  Like me, she has move away from the photo challenge format and has created this new blog.

A Slice of Life 2011 – Photo blogger extrodinare, Tammy is into her third year of photo blogging and never fails to delight and surprise!

Recycled Photons – Steve is a fellow New Jersey resident, birder, and photographer (and friend) who maintains this great blog.

Somewhere in NJ – Through Steve, I met Laura and discovered that she’s also a photographer, birder, and another great New Jersey blogger. 

The Slowvelder –  Jackie is a South African and blogger I met during the response to my lunar photos.  She blogs about her adventures of moving back home, from Europe, to start a new “slow life” in rural South Africa.  Since I plan to visit South Africa in March, Jackie has been wonderful about answering all my questions, large and small, about her incredible homeland.

2Summers – I’ve just started reading this blog, which I found through a link on Jackie’s blog, and I really like it.  Another South Africa blog, 2Summers is the “adventures of an American suburbanite in quirky Johannesburg“.  Give it a try!

I plan to add other blogs as time permits – of course, if it keeps snowing here in New Jersey I may have more time for blogging than any of my other pursuits.  Thank you for stopping by!

What Day Is It Again? Thursday?

South Africa

I started a draft of this post Monday morning.  Honestly, I sometimes wonder how I get so busy that the better part of a week slips by before I get back to my favorite pursuits.   Well, enough of that.

I took another big step toward planning for my South Africa trip today – shots!  Yep, shots.  Now, most of them had little to do specifically with my trip to South Africa.  However, during a travel planning visit with the wonderful folks at the University’s clinic I discovered that some of the vaccines I had received as a child needed to be boosted.  Apparently, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) here in the States determined that many of these vaccines don’t provide lifetime protection as originally expected.  And, because recommendations have changed over the years, there were some vaccines I had never received.  Not any more.  I am (mostly) up-to-date and have the achy arms to prove it.
In a stroke of good fortune, it turns out that the clinician had also been to South Africa on safari with her partner and had wonderful things to say about her experience, the people, and the wine.  We agreed to stop after work one evening, along with her partner and my wife, for a glass or two of wine and stories from their trip.  I can’t wait.
I picked up a copy of Frommer’s South Africa and have been thumbing through the pages.  The more I read, the more excited I get.  Working with the travel agent, we’re deciding on our flight plans, whether to spend an extra day or two on either (or both) ends of the trip, and options for some of the side trips.  Having done a driving vacation before, I am leaning toward building in a little downtime (or at least not having every day packed with scheduled trips).  I really want to have time to just walk around and soak up the experience.  Otherwise, like this week, it’ll be over before I realize it and I’ll be back on a 17 hour flight for home.

Beginning A New Year


January 2nd, 2011.  Another holiday season, Hanukkah, Christmas, New Year’s Eve, New Year’s Day, have come and gone.  The house is quiet today, the first day without guests or grandchildren in almost two weeks.  I miss it already.

Today we begin the “de-holiday-fication” of the house.  Empty containers will be brought down from the attic, filled with singing Santa dolls, holiday plates and glasses, leftover wrapping paper, and returned to waiting for another year.  Holiday photos, chronicling the passing of my grandchildren’s years through annual visits with Santa, are carefully wrapped and stored away.
And then the decorations will be removed the tree, along with needles that seem to fall at the very slightest touch.  After the decorations, and  many of the needles, have been removed, I’ll drag our Christmas tree through the snow to a collection point.  There it will wait, with several other discarded trees, for the township’s recycling truck.
The passing of the holiday season is always somewhat melancholy for me, more so this year I think because this was the first since my father’s passing.  His birthday fell in the middle of the holidays; something he loathed because he felt that it somehow diminished the significance or importance of his special day.  As a child, he was often given a single gift, we were told, for both Christmas and his birthday.  Feeling cheated for all those years, he made sure that we, his children, knew the importance of celebrating both events individually and separately.  For years, I would wait a couple of days between mailing cards and packages, to ensure that his Christmas gift would arrive on a different day that his birthday gift.  It was a little thing, but important.  He never mentioned it, but I think he noticed the effort. 
So now we face this new year with hope and expectation.  My wife and I, through her great fortune and good luck at contests, are planning a trip to South Africa for late Winter (their late Summer).  It is the trip of a lifetime for us and we are diving headfirst into the planning – picking flights, examining the itinerary and (optional) side trips, and reading over travel guides and websites.  The trip will consist of two weeks traveling from town to town in a 12 passenger bus, and the weight restrictions on baggage are quite severe.  My camera gear alone weighs the allowable limit for one bag.  Decisions, decisions.  Do I take photos or do I want to be able to change clothes, bathe and shave while I’m there?  No doubt, you can sense my dilemma!  Many, many more decisions, large and small, await us during the planning of our trip and I am savoring each of them.  Trying to go slow is, in many ways, like asking a child to slowly unwrap a long-awaited gift from Santa.  But I will try! 
May your New Year bring you good health, happiness, and fortune and the time to enjoy family, friends, and (perhaps) a glass or two of wine!