Category Archives: travel

The lies inherent in my nature films, Part 1

I like to make nature films. Anyone who subscribes to my Youtube channel understands this. I like to think of myself as a modern-day Steve the Crocodile Hantah mixed with a bit of old PBS nature shows. Then when you combine these two bits, you throw in a dash of WHAT-THE-HELL and blend thoroughly. My fans have accused me of misrepresenting the natural world. I accuse them of nothing. Watch these three videos and tell me what you think. Do I lie? I’ll be posting a companion video series tomorrow.

Here I am explaining an African elephant:

Here I am hunting Bigfoot:

Here I am explaining the history of Glenwood Canyon:

What do you think?

How Highway 101 and Highway 280 explain (almost) everything

In late May of this year, I wrapped up my work as a Faiths Act Fellow with the Interfaith Youth Core and Tony Blair Faith Foundation. My site-partner Hafsa (you can read Hafsa’s wondrous blog here) and I lived in the South Bay, and we used office space provided by Islamic Networks Group. Our interfaith/malaria work (strategy here) invariably had us driving to San Francisco two or three times a week. It’s a little over 100 miles roundtrip. We did a lot of driving.

highway 101For the first chunk of the year, our regular route had us traveling Highway 101 up the east side of the peninsula and right into downtown San Francisco. Highway 101 is a big, grey piece of road with too many big billboards and not nearly enough lanes. For this reason, I sort of dreaded each drive. It often meant getting stuck in traffic, both on the way up (for morning meetings) and on the way back (for afternoon meetings). Hafsa brought along a small speaker for her iPod so that we could listen to something instead of each other’s voices on the days when traffic brought tension. :)

While mapping directions for an unrelated event one day, I found that many times our travel time could be shortened by about ten or even fifteen minutes by traveling Highway 280, which runs up the west side of the peninsula and empties on the west side of San Francisco. Our meetings were very often smack-dab in the center of the city, so it made sense to take the less-trafficked route up there. After that, we very, very rarely took Highway 101.

highway 280280 is a beautiful highway. No billboards, thousands of lanes, and huge, lazy hills full of cows and trees and lakes. It’s a beautiful drive. When the fog rises up over the hills, it can be downright breathtaking. It’s also faster than 101. We looked forward to that drive. It was a natural paradise between two urban centers. So how do the differences between 101 and 280 explain (almost) everything?

Highway 101 represents the overcrowded, overworked pathways of our world, digital and otherwise. When you’re driving along it up the peninsula, you’ve got to keep your eyes super-active – the lanes are tight and there are lots of cars. The billboards and advertisements, many of which are big and distracting, are a non-stop feature. It’s tense!

Highway 280, on the other hand, is the open space. I mean that literally and figuratively. There’s still too much to take in visually, but it’s all so smooth and evenly-placed that it has a real calming effect. The lanes are big, and even when it’s packed, it’s not really packed. It doesn’t feel like a commute, it feels like a vacation from the city.

As it just so happens, taking the smooth, open, and relaxing path ends up being easier on both my car and myself, not to mention my passengers. It is also faster, I think, precisely because it doesn’t attempt to do too much with itself. It’s a road that acts as a road should – a path from A to B. I think that’s the important part of the explanation.

Highway 101 is a road masquerading as many different things that tries to get too much done at once. Highway 280 knows what it is and what it can do and does it well. There you have it. Whew. Those of you familiar with these highways might agree or disagree. I really didn’t think that this post would come together, and you can certainly argue that it actually hasn’t, in which case I can totally agree. I hammered this out on a lark and it made me smile.

Photos by Flickr users richardmasoner and Our Hero.

*** This post is part of the “Blog Every Day Challenge“, which I have undertaken in homage to John Haydon, a captain of social media and inbound marketing for non-profits. A few months back he did the same thing. Granted, all of his posts imparted some kind of value to his readers (and he has many). I’m blogging about the same old stuff. Don’t call it “general interest”, because I think that it goes without saying that humans should generally be interested in what I’m doing. :) ***

How I drink wine

By the gallon.

Har har.

Wine is a splendid beast

I’ve been a fan of it for years, but for the longest time the most I could say was that my drink was either definitely white or definitely red. I bought wine because the label looked cool or because I had seen it in a magazine, and always because the bottle was less than $12.

Like many folks new to the game, my impression of “wine people” was that they held long-stemmed glasses quite gingerly and delicately sniffed with the same noses with which they looked down on the peasantry. We can all crack jokes about high-class tasters: “I detect odors of cherry, leather, and the bleeding forehead of a Dutchman recently accused of adultery by a drunken Welsh sailor in London. Exquisite!”

Tongue and nose

Once I became a wine person, though, and began consorting with other wine people, these stereotypes disappeared. Wine people are simply regular people who happen to have a great time with grapes. I drink wine carefully because I think that there is a lot to deal with in each glass. Smells, tastes, and textures all swirl together to create something that delights the brain.

I visited the St. Supery Winery in Napa Valley some months back with Mark Mann of Denvelopers fame. We were touring with Rick Bakas, who handles St. Supery’s social media bits. He poured out some merlot, gave it a sniff, and remarked:

“Notes of cherry, black pepper [another swirl], vanilla, and…rabbit poop.”

We all laughed out loud. He meant it as a joke, of course, but it highlights an important thing that I’ve learned about tasting wine: There are hundreds of little chemical compounds and shadows of the terroir that can impart interesting nuances in each bottle; we can interpret these tastes and smells quite differently from each other. All of those little pieces of a given wine can make it great, but it can also drive us away from a wine that other folks thing quite highly of.

Am I eccentric, or am I actually getting better at this?

I sometimes get strange looks when describing wines. One that sticks out in my memory was when I described a particular chardonnay as:

“A Scottish grandmother carrying a cart full of oranges, grapefruits, and nickels up a hill. On her back.”

I think the assembled guests believed me to suffer from a rare form of synesthesia. My description was honestly the first thing that leaped into my skull when I tasted the wine. I happen to think that really amazing wines should move beyond simple descriptors like “red fruit”, “leather”, and “spice”, to form real pictures in our heads, like “My oldest uncle sitting in a tall-backed chair in front of a roaring fireplace with a warm brandy in his hand.” Maybe I’m new-fashioned.

In the past three years, though, I really have found myself better able to parse out particular aromas and flavors in my wine. I think the first time that I smelled “licorice” in my glass was super-exciting for me. I’m training myself to detect what’s happening in my drink. And in doing so, I am coming to appreciate and enjoy wine even more. It’s like a fabulous little game.

Location, location, location

I’d like to think that part of my wine-tasting Renaissance is due to my relative proximity to northern California’s wine country. I won’t deny my desire to drive up there every weekend and taste the day away. Luckily, fiscal responsibility prevents such behavior. The cool thing about wine, though, is that you don’t have to be anywhere near where the grapes were produced to enjoy it. You don’t even have to be on the same continent!

I’ve found that all I need to enjoy wine is a clean palate, an open mind (and nose and mouth), and hopefully some good friends. In vino veritas…

Mountain biking

I’ve been a road biker, albeit on a little hybrid bike, for some years now. Earlier today I took the plunge with Jackie and went mountain biking. I have to say, I can understand the attraction. I’ve always been a fan of great speed while on two wheels – combining that with amazing deep-nature trails and avoiding big rocks makes for an excellent afternoon. Even with an increasingly bothersome right knee, I found myself getting uncomfortably excited about zooming around the Lower Lower Loop and Upper Lower Loop Trails in the Paradise Divide outside Crested Butte.

Unfortunately, I now have a mountain biking bug. :) Check below the picture of me being extreme for a video of the extreme adventure.

Mountain biking champ