Sunday, March 28, 2010

Lake Louise

I stumbled across E.J. Pieker's Alberta page last night. As a lover of mountain photography, this was right up my alley. But the picture above was the one I kept coming back to and I wasn't really sure why. The darkness, the light, the reflections, the warmth of the light inside, all of these things draw me instinctively, but there was something more going on that I couldn't quite put my finger on. Then I realized that cabin is on the shores of Lake Louise. (There are, in fact, a number of photographs on the page of the same area, so it must have been a combination of things that captured me.)

Lake Louise, for me, is the site of my first near-death experience. It was 1981 and the Saltsmans were on a long awaited vacation to Banff National and Alberta, Canada in general, including a visit with some of our oldest friends, the Shinpaughs. By oldest, I mean this:

That's me in the pool and Marian in her mom's arms. First friends.

So the vacation plan was to tour the upper Rockies of Banff before finishing off the trip with a stay at their home.

Lake Louise is a spectacular ski resort in the winter, but this was mid-June and the highlight of the trip was, for me, a half day horseback ride from the resort high up into the mountains where we would stop for hot cocoa and snacks before riding back down. It was a Sunday, the air was cool and crisp, and mom and dad had bought me new boots for the grand occasion. Yes, that's a horse t-shirt. I was smitten with all things horse at that age. I also seem to be prepared for high water, but I digress.

Before the ride we'd perused the gift shop and, inexplicably, they let me pick out what I thought was just the cutest shirt ever. Part of the trip had been photographing the beavers and their dams, after all. I am not sure how much older I was before I realized the suggestive nature of this shirt or the insanity of my VERY conservative parents buying it for me. Suffice to say, two beavers are getting bus-ay under the words Made in Canada.

I remember our guide was exceptionally cute and looking a lot like John Schneider. (I watched Dukes of Hazzard religiously.) So, being all of almost 11, I managed to skip the line a bit and end up riding almost right behind him the whole way up. See?

The scenery was gorgeous (including the mountains, wink wink) and I arrived at our peak anxious to dismount and see the falls I could only just hear from the trail. This is where those new boots come into play. New boots are beautiful. They are also slick as ice on the bottom until you've broken them in a bit, and I had saved these beauties for the ride. The minute my feet hit the ground beside the horse, they were out from under me. My memories of the fall are very first-person, looking upward at the line of horses and people disappearing in the distance. My dismount was at the edge of a very narrow trail, the left side of which was nearest the source of the waterfalls. In other words, straight down. I came to rest at a slight ledge, feet dangling over what would have been a drop to my death. As a kid in shock, pretty much out of sight of the people above, face planted on the earth rising up above the ledge, it took me a minute to realize that my left arm from behind the wrist and before the elbow was, in fact, at a complete 90° from its rightful place. At this moment, from up above, my hero comes scoochting down the incline, John Schneider II, ten shades of pale. It isn't until he's getting help lifting me back up to the trail that I look down at the drop. My arm hurts. (Ya think?!?) But more than that, it's freakishly hideous. And we're at the top of a mountain where no vehicle can possibly drive. The only way down is to ride. This is when, had I not been in excruciating pain, I would have reveled in the fact that I would be riding down in John's lap.

The picture above shows Mom right behind me in line. But by the time we'd reached the summit, I'd stayed close to John while the parental units had fallen further back. So at least they weren't subjected to watching their only child appear to fall to her death, as the trail curved around a bit. By the time John had returned me to the horses, they were there, white as sheets. They followed John, Dad leading my horse, while the rest of the party stayed on for the next group leader who would lead them back down.

When we arrived at the base, another 2 hours ride, I was brought to the resort which, it turned out, did not keep a doctor around on Sunday, nor was the medical clinic open. The nearest hospital was an hour away. At this point I've gone into shock, not feeling much of anything, but not particularly responsive either. It felt like forever and no time before I was popping through the emergency doors and getting an IV which magically did make me perfectly happy to keep my right-angled arm in place for as long as they liked. I have just one clear memory of that night: telling the doctor in the operating room that he was messing with the wrong arm; they were adjusting the IV in my right arm at the time.

The next thing I know, it's morning and I'm in this pink room and mom is peeking through some glass to my left and smiling that I am finally waking up.

The vacation rolled on once I was discharged from the hospital, me sporting my canoodling beavers shirt and a cast up to my armpit with a sticker of Lake Louise at the top. Near-death wasn't too bad, as it turned out. I just hope I didn't scar my poor John Schneider lookalike for life.

And we did finally get to the Shinpaugh's, only to find the house empty because they were stranded themselves from car trouble. When they finally made it home a day later, we picked wild blueberries by the side of the road and made muffins out of them. How's that for a happy ending?

Thursday, March 18, 2010


A man staring at his equations
said that the universe had a beginning.
There had been an explosion, he said.
A bang of bangs, and the universe was born.
And it is expanding, he said.
He had even calculated the length of its life:
ten billion revolutions of the earth around the sun.
The entire globe cheered;
They found his calculations to be science.
None thought that by proposing that the universe began,
the man had merely mirrored the syntax of his mother tongue;
a syntax which demands beginnings, like birth,
and developments, like maturation,
and ends, like death, as statements of facts.
The universe began,
and it is getting old, the man assured us,
and it will die, like all things die,
like he himself died after confirming mathematically
the syntax of his mother tongue.


The Other Syntax

Did the universe really begin?
Is the theory of the big bang true?
These are not questions, though they sound like they are.
Is the syntax that requires beginnings, developments
and ends as statements of fact the only syntax that exists?
That's the real question.
There are other syntaxes.
There is one, for example, which demands that varieties
of intensity be taken as facts.
In that syntax nothing begins and nothing ends;
thus birth is not a clean, clear-cut event,
but a specific type of intensity,
and so is maturation, and so is death.
A man of that syntax, looking over his equations, finds that
he has calculated enough varieties of intensity
to say with authority
that the universe never began
and will never end,
but that it has gone, and is going now, and will go
through endless fluctuations of intensity.
That man could very well conclude that the universe itself
is the chariot of intensity
and that one can board it
to journey through changes without end.
He will conclude all that, and much more,
perhaps without ever realizing
that he is merely confirming
the syntax of his mother tongue.

~from The Active Side of Infinity by Carlos Castaneda

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Alice in Burtonland

I knew going in that the conceit of the film was to push Alice 13 years into the future from her childhood visits to Wonderland so that Tim Burton could take as much license as he wanted in creating his own dreamscape with the place.

So why didn't he?

Here's the most damning criticism I can offer: I was so terribly bored.

The film starts with what I imagine to be a wink at the London treasure, Peter Pan, with an entrance into the film across the rooftops and through the upper shutters of the windows. But Burton has completely lost his touch with whimsy and neverlands.

The first question I had, about 2 minutes into the film, is why does he make up his 20 year old Alice to appear to be an opium addict? Is she so sleep deprived from her "dreams" of Wonderland that she needs the darkest circles under her milk white skin? Burton has a thing for the white undead look, but why?

One cute line, "Charles was a man of vision" was welcomed as a nod to the true master of Wonderland, but then why not try to learn from him instead of departing so radically from his world of logic and nonsense to create yet another great battle between bland and evil so that the boring, useless, ethereal blandness can rule the world? especially if the point of the film (reiterated multiple times) is that crazy people are the best? (My apologies for that terrible sentence. It does mirror the film quite well.))

They call it Underland this time around, which is at least honest.

Burton loves sleep, loves dreaming, embraces nightmares. But what he brings to Underland is nothing new or exciting. We've been here before, with the black and white swirling checkerboard patterns in tow. Alice is nothing special, even visually. The Hatter is a saving grace, but he's not enough. Neither was the voice of Alan Rickman, as Absalom (yes, you read that right) the hookah-smoking blue caterpillar.

Was that a nod to Avatar, a better visually conceived film, with the dandelion spores following Alice into the Red Queen's lair after the odd crossing of the moat? That crossing, over floating heads, had enough surrealism to be interesting, at least.

The Red Queen's card soldiers' uselessness reaches stormtrooper incompetence almost immediately and their soulessness is mirrored in almost every other character in the film. I was never engaged or cared about any of them. Pack of cards, indeed.

George McFly is the Red Queen's right hand man and I kept waiting for Biff to come in and flick him on the head. Oddness is not synonymous with interesting.

The Red Queen's lair was the best conceived, with all those meaningless hearts everywhere, while the White Queen and everything about her and her kingdom was simply insipid.

Alice, brandish your Vorpal sword and put the White Queen out of her tedious mind-numbing misery and then plant a big wet one on the Hatter and ride off with him on the back of that Bandersnatch into the sunset, girl. And even that couldn't have saved this film.
Thursday, March 4, 2010

You are Beautiful

I first stumbled upon one of these little pictures when I was perusing the "Photography" category and have found quite a few more over the past months. I don't know why this simple little message resonates with me, but it makes me smile every time I see it.

If I, nearly 40, still need to hear this more frequently that I do, what chance does my 8th grade daughter have of really knowing it? So this campaign ( is one I want to support. I've started eyeing unsuspecting spots to tuck this little message, the more banal (and therefore more delightful to find) the better.

Here are some of my favorites from the site's reader submitted collection:

(Pass it on.)