Monday, July 26, 2010

Ranger...well, not danger

This past weekend marked my first camping trip of the summer, just a three-dayer to a state park in Texas Hill Country: river, limestone bluffs, trees, a tent, a campstove. Life is good. We took a 2.5-hour nature hike which interwove history, flora, fauna, agriculture, rangeland ecology, and even natural dyes and medicinals. The best interpretative nature walk in memory.

Along the trail on the excellent interpretative nature walk given by the volunteer Friends group. Algae are responsible for the gorgeous aqua color of Hill Country rivers, we learned.

We also took time to splash in a shallow bend in the river, with a beach crowded with all manner of canopies and umbrellas. It was a nest of activity, yet relaxing.

My friend, Karen, is a seasonal worker in the park, and Saturday evening we enjoyed a wonderful visit over salmon fish tacos, with sauteed peppers and onions, and a salad of cucumbers, avocado, and apples, possibly my best outdoor-cooked meal ever. We reminisced and caught up past dark.

The state park was very strict on the rules. Even a law-and-order type like me was a bit surprised, but happy with the calm in the long run.

A respite in the nature hike.

Sunday morning, my camping companion and I took a short hike. On the return trip, we spied a  large, stern ranger walking resolutely down the camping area loop. We bid him a respectful, but brief, good morning and veered off the trail toward our campsite to avoid encountering such a forbidding presence. This park was home to no-nonsense rangers enforcing stout rules, and I did not want to run afoul of them.

Then he called out my name! Oh, no, what have I done? Our tent is within the 16 x 16 tent pad, no alcoholic beverages were consumed (or even possessed), the campsite and entry fees are paid for for both of us (by far the highest campsite fee I've ever paid), we've been quiet as church mice, we left a donation for the Friends group leading the nature hike, and we hung our food bags the raccoon-proof pole overnight.

Meekly we approach. Not to worry, though. The ranger, second-in-command at this state park, and his now-wife were my next-door neighbors during their undergraduate days. True to form, he was a serious young man even as a young student. Now he and his family live in a residence within the park, and he has the tough job of keeping order at a large state park with not only hiking trails, campsites, and interpretive areas, but river frontage for swimming, kayaking, and tubing. He saw my name on the roster, recognized the address, and took time to seek me out at my campsite. That was nice, and unexpected. All in all, a great weekend.

Tuesday, July 6, 2010

Contra dancing

Contra dancing originated in New England in the 1800s as a type of speed-dating: a fair and equitable way for people to meet each other. This dance has nothing to do with Central American dissidents; rather, the name refers the starting position of the dance, with men and women in parallel lines opposite (contra) each other.

A whimsical definition from What is Contra Dance:

"Contra dance is a form of dance that thrusts a different person of the opposite sex into your arms every 30 seconds or so. Actually, this is only true sometimes. It might be more prudent, but less whimsical, to say that contra dance is one of the few dance forms where by the end of the evening you are likely to have danced with everyone."
From the same website
"A contra dance is like an amusement park ride we make for ourselves." --Unknown

Youth now connect with contra, catching the attention of NPR's All Things Considered.

A good example from youtube

Bryan/College Station has a wonderful contra dance group. Most often, live music is provided by the fabulous ensemble, JalapeƱo Honey, and sometimes by another group called Contradiction. Many people come just to enjoy the music. Sometimes a member or two of the nationally renowned Marian Anderson String Quartet sits in with the band. The magical part of contra dancing, aside from the music, is the clever way in the dance progresses, allowing each person to dance with every other dancer of either gender. From above, I imagine it would look like a combination kaleidoscope and bicycle chain.

Friday, July 2, 2010

You'd need weapons for that!

The huge state university at which I work as a graduate academic advisor holds commencement ceremonies three times per year. For the past two or three years, several of my colleagues and I have served as graduation marshals for the College of Engineering.

Years ago, before I became an academic advisor, my neighbor, a buff black man with shaved head and huge biceps [read: intimidating] told me he was going to be a graduation marshall. In my then-ignorance I asked, "Do you help the parents find their seats?"

He: "No! You'd need weapons for that! I help the graduates line up."

Oh! Hah!

Marshals line up graduates in alphabetical order. And properly drape them in their MS hoods, find safety pins for tassels, wish them luck.

In the staging area, a basketball practice gym, marshals have only 45 minutes to get this unruly mass of more than 400 robed graduates in alphabetical order by academic degree (and, for undergraduates, major) and push them out the door. It seems as if the signs behind which they stand are randomly placed, but the head of one line follows seamlessly the tail of the next, at the direction of the hard-working people from Office of the Registrar.

The advisor from Department of Aerospace Engineering high-fives every aero undergraduate as they file onto the area floor. Ah, sweet youth!

One moment the noisy room filled with black regalia and laughing, joking, talking, hugging soon-to-be graduates. Within moments, the room is empty, leaving a vacuum and a surreal quiet. Some of the Ph.D. graduates are students I have known and advised for as long a five years. Although I'm thrilled they are about to embark on the next phase of their lives, it is bittersweet for me to see them go.

Good luck all. Vaya con Dios.