Sunday, March 24, 2019

The Simple Art of Flying by Cory Leonardo

This is sad, happy, charming, and gently funny.  A beautiful book with a bittersweet ending.

And look at that cover! 

It reminds me a lot of The One and Only Ivan, by Katherine Applegate—another fantastic book.  But my reactions are a little different.  My only (small) issue with the One and Only Ivan is that it's a little hard to believe in parts.  Ivan seems to know or understand things he would have no way of knowing, given what we know about how he learns, and I question why he can speak to the other animal species so easily but can't understand humans.  This doesn't seem quite internally consistent, and I'm a proponent of books being internally consistent—be they strictly modern day, far-distant future, or high fantasy. 

Now, fast-forward to "The Simple Art of Flying."  Objectively, it's way more difficult to believe.  The voices of the animals are way more human than Applegate's delightful rendition of a gorilla's thought processes and inner voice in "The One and Only Ivan."  In "The Simple Art of Flying," Alastair and others use slang and cultural references they shouldn't use or understand, even if they are highly intelligent animals that can communicate amongst themselves.  But here it doesn't bother me.  And the difference?  Internal consistency.  "The Simple Art of Flying" is so fantastical (Alastair reads by eating paper—and he knows pretty much everything—and the goldfish can analyze poetry—and the guinea pig plays poker).  Because it's so fantastical, it doesn't seem out of place that they all talk like humans.  It feels more internally consistent.

These are both great books.  I love them both.  I just found my different reactions interesting.

Anyway, I love the characters in "The Simple Art of Flying."  I love the writing, the story structure, the pacing, the unusual premise, and the even more unusual theme. 

A great book.  Highly recommended.  Can't wait to read more by Cory Leonardo

Buy it on Amazon:  The Simple Art of Flying

Read my review of The One and Only Ivan

Tuesday, March 19, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park--Day 3

From my trip in mid February:

After the rains ended (see previous post), things got less "interesting" but more beautiful:

Beautiful cactus:  pencil cholla first and possibly cushion foxtail below.

 Lovely hikes:

And more wildflowers:

Great day.

Saturday, March 16, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park--Day 2

It was pretty chilly the day we arrived at Joshua Tree National Park in mid February.  But then it started getting colder.  Propane canisters on camp stoves generally get condensation on the outside at the level of the gas.  Well, our condensation froze.

It starting doing that thing that's not exactly snow, but like a fine mist of rain that freezes into little jumpy specs of white.  We hunkered in our tents.  Then it started raining.  It rained for about the next 15 hours.

This is what happened to the campground (though luckily our site was on a little rise):

This is what happened to the trails:

This is what happened to the roads (photo by Jan Maly on the way out of the park):

We played cards in the tent, ate breakfast in the truck.  Then we drove around the park.  I put on my emergency poncho and hiked around a bit here and there.  When the rain tapered off, I tested out a jacket to see how rainproof it was.  It got soaked...but kept my torso pretty dry.  My pants and shoes were another matter.  But it was all so beautiful.

When the storm finally quit, here's how much water we'd collected:

We measured.  Almost 3 inches!

What a camping trip.

But...the next day was beautiful.  More pictures to come.

Thursday, March 14, 2019

Joshua Tree National Park in February--Day 1

Mid February, I met some Czech friends in the California's Joshua Tree National Park.  It was a great trip...even though the weather didn't cooperate so well.  You'll see more about that on Day 2!

Wildflowers near the southern entrance:

Wildlife at Jumbo Rocks Campground:

Views from the Ryan Mountain Trail:

Joshua trees and pretty silver cholla, whiter and more compact than our Sonoran teddybear cholla

Friday, March 8, 2019

Packing for an Alaska Cruise

I tend to be a heavy packer (at least compared to my backpacker peers).  Don't get me wrong;  I've moved to Europe for two years with one frame backpack and a day pack.  But I'll never be one of those people who purposely takes a serious vacation with one regulation-sized carry-on and nothing else.

For an Alaskan cruise, my recommendation is this:  don't pack light; pack prepared.  If you're like me, the last thing you want to do on your dream vacation is waste time and money shopping for stupid things you didn't bring.  There are too many whales to watch and trails to hike and history to live and salmon to eat.  

Alaska cruise packing list:

Layers. Layers, layers.  In case you didn't get that, I'll repeat:  layers.  Don't take a heavy winter coat.  Instead, take 3-4 light layers you can wear all at once and take off as needed.  Sometimes you'll be cold, especially if you spend a lot of time outside on glacier days or get caught in a long rain.  Other times you'll be too warm in anything more than a light jacket.  I have a long-sleeved, hooded T-shirt that's big enough to wear on top of other things.  I also take a light fleecy jacket, a thin wool sweater, and a stupid-looking but effective emergency poncho.  But there are many other combinations.  If you get cold easily, consider long underwear or some sort of second layer you can wear over or under your pants.  I usually take thick nylons (more like tights):  small to pack, but surprisingly warm.
Rain gear. It will rain. The ideal is something fancy like Gore-Tex, which is waterproof but breathable.  However, you can do with a much more affordable alternative.  At the very least, carry an emergency poncho and just swallow your pride when you put it on.  It'll mark you as a tourist, but so will all your oohing and aahing and picture taking.

Hat and gloves. If you spend eight hours on the outside decks in Glacier Bay on a cool day, for example, you'll be glad you have a knit had and gloves.  And please, stay on the outer decks during glacier cruising, at least for a bit.  It's beautiful.  Brimmed hats are handy when the sun comes out (or when the clouds malfunction, as locals joke). 

Good walking/hiking shoes. You don't necessarily need hiking boots, even if you're doing something like Devil's Punchbowl or Deer Mountain or one of the other fantastic Alaskan hikes.  But if you plan on doing anything much active (and please do--it's Alaska!), take good walking shoes with decent tread.  I always take a second pair, since my first often get wet.  Sometimes very, very wet.

These are the most important things, in my opinion, but for more, read my book:

Wednesday, March 6, 2019

Crazy Desert Weather

We had a weird February here in the Arizona desert.  Here's an amazing sight you don't see every day...or every decade:

Yes, this is Phoenix Sonoran Preserve on the north edge of Phoenix, and those are mountains I have never seen that much snow on.  Spectacular.  

Pictures taken Feb 23, 2019.

Cholla with new growth...and snow:

And this crazy-white mountain:

And just some cholla, spring poppies...and snow:

And these little islands of green that are far too green for the desert:

And this mountain bluebird that seems rather lost:

And more flowers...and snow:

What a spectacular day!

So, this was a week and a half ago.  For several days we had to cover the plants in the garden so they wouldn't freeze  And today?  We had a high of 84.  That's a short spring even for Phoenix.