Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Overnight on Mount LeConte

Last year, we hiked to the LeConte Lodge several times but, since we never had a reservation, we only ever stayed long enough to catch our breath, eat a snack and refill our water bottle before making the trek back down the mountain. It makes for a rewarding but exhausting day hike and every time we'd visit I found myself wishing we could stay the night. This past Saturday we were fortunate enough to snag a last-minute cabin reservation. We loaded up our backpacks, dropped the dog off with his sitter and set out for our overnight adventure.

alum cave trail
alum cave trail alum cave trail
The LeConte Lodge sits just below the summit of Mount LeConte. According to their website they are the highest guest lodge in the Eastern United States. Guests who stay at the lodge must do without electricity. Propane heat warms the rustic but comfortable cabins. Kerosene lanterns provide light. There are no showers but each cabin comes equipped with a bucket and hot water is available from a tap outside the dining room. The centrally located privies were recently upgraded and now feature flush-toilets; all things considered, they seem downright luxurious given the lack of other creature comforts. Not that I missed the creature comforts. At all. We actually had cell service at the lodge but I only used my phone to take photographs. I must confess I really enjoyed my brief self-imposed exile from social media. Perhaps I should exercise that kind of restraint more often.  

Time moves slowly at the lodge. That's a good thing. Guests can explore the trails, sip hot cocoa while admiring the views from the dining room porch, or visit with fellow travelers in the lodge office, which also serves as a spacious common area. Dinner and breakfast are served family style in the dining room. The dinner bell rings before each meal and guests are assigned tables. Everybody is friendly. Everybody is happy to be there.  It feels kind of like summer camp. At dinner time the staff informed us that a bear, who had been hanging around the camp for several days, had been captured in a culvert trap. Guests were encouraged to keep their distance until morning, when one of the park's bear experts would arrive to assess the situation.

leconte lodge leconte lodge leconte lodge leconte lodge leconte lodge
After dinner we stopped back in at the office and found it filled with people. Some played card and board games, others opted to sit on their own and read. We sat in rockers near the heater and observed quietly for a few minutes, then retreated to our cozy cabin and turned in for the evening. I think we both woke up every couple of hours (probably owing to the new surroundings and the strong winds that blew throughout the night) but, otherwise, we slept very well.

I had hoped to make the short hike up to Myrtle Point before breakfast to see the sunrise but the mountain top was covered in clouds so it was hardly worth the effort. The weather put a damper on our scenic views but it meant we had time to watch the bear expert perform a health check on the male black bear who'd been captured the night before. This was an entirely unexpected and incredible experience. When bears and other wildlife begin to lose their fear of humans it can be bad for us but it's especially bad for them. The captured bear was sedated, tagged, tattooed and microchipped. The idea is to make the whole experience just unpleasant enough for the bear that he'll want to steer clear of humans. In the past the lodge has had success with the health checks as a form of deterrent. I hope that's the case for this fella.

alum cave trail alum cave trail alum cave trail
This was such a satisfying experience. I can't wait until we have another opportunity to stay overnight at LeConte Lodge. I imagine each visit will be unique and wonderful and offer its own unexpected and delightful surprises.

Tuesday, November 12, 2013

November Sweeps or: An Exercise in Masochism

Here's the promo video for November Sweeps on Days of Our Lives. I tried initially to put a positive spin on this. Blake Berris was taping at Days as recently as October 1st, meaning we'll see Nick in some capacity next February. If Nick is, in fact, the major character who turns up dead later this month then why would we be seeing him next February? Is he a ghost? A figment of Gabi's imagination? Does he fake his death? Or is it something much simpler than that? One of the posters over at Daytime Royalty suggested that Blake might simply have been taping some final murder revelation scene. And then that would be it, I suppose. The sad tale of Nick Fallon would finally arrive at its heartbreaking but inevitable conclusion. Inevitable not because the character couldn't have realistically been - at least partially - redeemed but because the writers refuse to see him as anything other than the fuel that stokes the fire under other characters' storylines. He's their accelerant and they seem all too happy to burn him to the ground over and over again if it bolsters the other characters. 

I want to remain optimistic. Really, I do. I want to give the writers and producers the benefit of the doubt. I want to believe that they understand and appreciate the kind of story potential they have with a character like Nick. Not just short term, shock value potential but long term core character who is integral to the fabric of the Days of Our Lives canvas potential. But why would I expect them to see that when it feels like they've never seen the potential I have seen in Nick?

For the record I feel genuinely conflicted over this. Blake Berris does crazy like nobody's business and unstable, living in his own head Nick is truly delightful to watch. But he could be so much more than that. I don't buy the argument that Nick is a more developed and more interesting character this second go around than he was during his first stint on the show. I think he's been consistently interesting but he hasn't really evolved as a character. Prison has toughened him up, made him more ruthless, more unstable but Nick still makes exactly the same damned mistakes he's been making since he first fell for Chelsea Brady. Nick wants the girl. Nick loses sight of everything else in order to obtain the girl. Nick does something dumb, something unforgivable and winds up kicked to the curb. Or in prison. Or dead. Believable? Sure. The actions of possessive, abusive types will often escalate over time. And as much as I hate the fact that Nick, a victim of rape himself, is going to turn into an attempted rapist I can admit that that makes sense, too. Nick never sought counseling after he came clean about what happened to him in prison. He is utterly broken at this point and I guess Days figures it's time they discard him. It's believable, sure, but it's far from the most compelling story that Days could have told with this character. And it makes no sense when you consider that most of the other trouble-makers on the show get away with any and everything, time and again, year after year. Why isn't Nick afforded that luxury as well?

And so what if it's believable?  Is this really a story I want to watch on daytime television? A story that makes a character a rape victim so that he can be temporarily redeemed, then promptly drops that storyline in order to make the character wicked and dangerous again? And why, exactly, is Days of Our Lives so obsessed with rape? Is that really the only trick the writers can come up with to create drama and conflict in their storylines? The casual manner in which they've introduce rape into practically every current storyline, and the way they sweep it under the rug when it's no longer useful as a plot point, is lazy and insensitive. Just like their over-the-top depictions of mental illness. They could have given Nick a truly powerful story where he confronts the fact that he's sick and makes an actual effort to get better. Instead Days just turns up the dial on his crazy to eleven and writes him off when they they think he's too far gone to be brought back. I guess that's pretty representative of the way many people in our society view the mentally ill. They'd rather not have to deal with them. Again, it's believable. But it's depressing as hell to watch.

I can't lie. I'm angry. And hurt. And deeply disappointed. I know Blake had a blast taping this stuff but it's all becoming too much for me. I wanted shades of gray. I wanted subtlety and nuance. Blake's acting delivers that but there's only so much he can do when the writing for Nick has all the subtlety of a rock to the temple. I have no one but myself to blame for getting my hopes up, once again, that this time things would be different for Nick. And if it turns out that this whole murder story is an elaborate ruse and Nick is staying put then I will happily admit that I was wrong. But I think it's best if I expect the very worst at this point. I should probably just be thankful that Nick's been back on my screen at all (and thankful that after he's gone I will no longer have to be so slavishly devoted to this maddening show).

Andrew Saftel at Bennett Galleries

andrew saftel - where water meets land

andrew saftel - where water meets land

andrew saftel - where water meets land

andrew saftel - where water meets land
Andrew Saftel is an absolutely astounding (and remarkably prolific) artist. His new show, Where Water Meets Land, currently on view at Bennett Galleries, is comprised of several new paintings, created in his now-recognizable style. Saftel works on large pieces of wood, carving text and images into the surface of each piece, embedding found objects, affixing pieces of ephemera and covering the surface in layer after colorful layer of acrylic paint. His paintings are like visual treasure troves; bursting with warmth and life, these pieces tell stories that are both personal and universal.

Saftel is an artistic Renaissance man. In addition to his paintings he also creates sculptures and prints (and examples of each are also on view in this show). The most exciting additions to this particular exhibit, however, are the large digital photographs that are on display. The images for these pieces were collected on a visit to Bangladesh and they are the most straightforward, journalistic work that the artist has produced. Saftel layers images together, blending his subjects with their surroundings in unexpected and aesthetically pleasing ways. They remind me very much of Dan Eldon's work, which detailed the lives of his subjects but was always filtered through his own artistic vision.

I have had the pleasure of participating in two workshops taught by Andrew Saftel and he is as generous and kind-hearted as he is talented. His desire to collaborate and his genuine enthusiasm for other people's work is heartening. He is a great artist and a great man.

If you are free this Saturday (November 16) please consider attending his artist lecture at Bennett at 3:00 PM. It is sure to be a blast.

Monday, November 11, 2013

Old Sugarlands Trail

old sugarlands trail

old sugarlands trail

old sugarlands trail

old sugarlands trail
We hiked a portion of Old  Sugarlands Trail last year and I was keen to go back and complete it. Early Saturday morning we rounded up a couple of friends and did just that. This trail is just under four miles and runs the distance between Newfound Gap Road and Cherokee Orchard Road. It is a fairly easy trek though there is a portion in the middle that climbed steadily and caught us a bit off guard. But the trail is wide and fairly smooth and the return trip was all downhill, which made for a pretty easy-going experience. The LeConte Creek crossing (towards the end, just before Cherokee Orchard Road) is storybook beautiful.

This coming weekend we will hike the Alum Cave trail up to the LeConte Lodge where we were able, at the last minute, to snag a cabin for Saturday night! We visited the lodge several times last year but this will be our first time staying overnight on the mountain. It will be cold, cold, cold but I am so excited! Better invest in some new long johns before we head out!

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Happy Anniversary, Fallonator!

Seven years ago today Blake Berris debuted as Nick Fallon on Days of Our Lives. Even though we lost him to Salem's Statesville Prison for a few years I still think his anniversary date is a cause for celebration. This time last year I was on the verge of disowning Nick. That was before the amazing Smith Island Story this past May. And before I met Blake not once but twice at Days fan events. So it's safe to say that, at this point in time, I'm feeling pretty invested in the character again.

November Sweeps are upon us and things are getting nuttier in Salem by the day. Nick continues to be delusional and duplicitous and his actions will no doubt result in him hurting himself and probably a whole bunch of other people. I don't want Days to lose him but I have to consider the possibility that the show doesn't intend for Nick to be a long-term presence in Salem (and that Blake himself may want to devote more time to other projects). I'm trying not to think about that, though, and just enjoy the wild ride while it lasts. 

Nick continues to be one of the most entertaining and compelling characters on the Days canvas and Blake continues to make him more sympathetic and rootable than he really has any business being. He is such a gifted performer and I am truly thankful for every day that I get to see him on my tv screen.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Baltimore & DC Weekend Adventure

corcoran corcoran corcoran betsy's house betsy's house first baptist church of silver spring reunion first baptist church of silver spring reunion
Last weekend Mom and I took a quick road trip up to Silver Spring, MD to attend the final Sunday service (in this building, before they relocate to a new facility) at her old stomping ground, First Baptist Church of Silver Spring. We also made time to visit with friends and family, eat lots of yummy food and see cool stuff at the Corcoran. I wish we'd had more time but it was a fantastic weekend.