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August 31, 2007

New Ways to Waste Your Money!

It's been a while since I posted anything Idiots'Books related.

To catch you up: we finished and sent out Volume 9, The Contented between returning home from Alaska and leaving for England. We have been pleased by the volume of positive responses to The Contented, Robbi especially. As those of you who have read The Contented know well, it contains only six words. And while they are very powerful words, thoughtfully conceived, and eloquently crafted, Robbi feels quite smug about the success of a book of mostly pictures. We have received several really excellent essays in response to the Volume 9 essay competition. These will, of course, be published when we send out Volume 10 sometime in September.

Volume 10 is an experiment of sorts. Our usual approach is to start with a text of mine, discuss it in depth, figure out what we want to do with it, and then return to opposite sides of the barn: Robbi to illustrate and I to revise. For Volume 10, we thought it might be interesting to let Robbi take the first stab. She is in the process of creating a series of illustrations from which I will construct a story. Though she has not yet finished her drawings, there are a number of very interesting characters emerging, and a world is being defined. I have no idea if I'll be able to wrap a satisfying narrative around her visual skeleton, but I am looking forward to giving it a try.

But onward to money wasting, the subject of this entry. Robbi has spent the entire day updating the Idiots'Books Web site. Perhaps it will not look much different when you click here and have a look, but that's because you have no idea just how taxing and horrible it is to try to do anything with a Web site. I'd post a picture of Robbi's current state of rage and high dander, but it would haunt your dreams for weeks to come. Needless to say, she was successful, but at quite a price. I now must speak to her in calming tones and give her sedatives if she is to have any hope of getting to sleep tonight.

Come to think of it, those things are not going to work. Not this time. It might be time for the stake, garlic, and silver bullet,

In spite of the trauma suffered by Robbi, I do suggest that you have a look at the site, if only to see how the eyeballs of the terrified British captain dance back and forth when you touch him with your mouse.

The real point of all this is, of course, that our very first hardcover, professionally printed book is now available for purchase by you. Yes you. St. Michaels: the Town that (Somehow) Fooled the British is here.

If you happen to be on our mailing list, you will receive a glossy oversized postcard drawing your attention to the availability of St. Michaels, but bleeding-edge blog reader that you are, you have the power to order it right now. Without even stopping to consider whether your money might be better spent on bread or antibiotics.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:03 PM

August 29, 2007

British Food

It is a well-known fact that British food is bad. In fact, many famous people have been quoted making statements to this effect. For example,

"I'll bet what motivated the British to colonize so much of the world is that they were just looking for a decent meal."
-Martha Harrison

"Britain is the only country in the world where the food is more dangerous than the sex."
-Jackie Mason

and

"You cannot trust people who have such bad cuisine. It is the country [Great Britain] with the worst food after Finland."
-French President Jacques Chirac in a remark on the eve of the G8 summit in 2005

Being the gastronome that I am, I was hoping to prove the critics wrong and thoroughly enjoy eating my way through the British countryside. Alas, my report cannot acquit the British culinary offerings. In the two weeks we were there, I had only two really good meals. The first was fish and chips, which we picked up from a hole-in-the-wall place and brought back to our boat to consume. The second was an Indian buffet in Manchester where we ate on the night before we returned to the states. I argue that the fish and chips, though delicious, provide no evidence that the British know how to cook. Name me something that is not delicious when fried in fat and covered in ketchup. And I hardly think the British can take credit for excellent Indian food. Claim by colonization does not count in this contest.

I have already talked about the meal at Toby Carvery that culminated in the endless custard bucket. That meal was notable for the novelty but not otherwise satisfying.

We ate a meal early in the trip at a pub that was advertising as a special Yorkshire pudding filled with steak or sausage. Now Yorkshire pudding is a favorite Swanson family holiday dish, and so I was eager to see how those who originated the recipe prepared it. Five of us ordered the pudding and only two remained in the kitchen. We drew straws and I was not one of the lucky two.

Here is the pudding. You must admit that it looks delicious.

As a rebound option, I chose the "mixed grill," a medley of steak, lamb, sausage, liver, blood pudding, tomato, egg, and something called "gammon." Gammon turned out to mean pork chop, but I did feel most adventurous when placing the order.

Everything was palatable except the liver. One day when I was five my dad made liver and onions for dinner. I ate one bite and refused to continue. My father insisted that I eat what had been prepared for dinner. There was a standoff that lasted quite some time. I don't remember the details. But I have always hated liver. For the sake of adventure, I tried it again. I hated it again. I told everyone how hideous the liver tasted and no one believed that it could be quite as awful as I described. So each person took a taste, and each, in turn, affirmed the awfulness of the liver. Yet somehow the growing consensus did not deter each of us from tasting the liver and casting a vote. Seiko, I think, refused to be conned into trying the liver. Good for her, I say.

Robbi ordered a plate of steamed mussels.

I'm not sure why she was so surprised when they arrived.

For dessert we shared some thing with a name right out of Willy Wonka. It was a cream-soaked, caramel-infused something or other, and the name hooked us. It was good, but I really didn't have room for it in my stomach after all the gammon.

It rained like gangbusters throughout the meal, and then at one point it started to hail. Very exciting. But it's never a good sign when the weather upstages the food on the table.

The fact that I returned from England with so few pictures of food is the most damning indictment of the British edibles. As you who have read this blog know, I take pictures of the food I admire, of the food I respect. I'll end this entry with a little tribute to my favorite meals.

Carnitas burrito with rice, black beans, corn and tomato salsa, sour cream, cheese, and guacamole.

Footlong cold cut combo with spicy mustard, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes, black olives, pickles, onions, banana peppers, oil, vinegar, salt, pepper, oregano, parmesean cheese.

And that's it. I could live happily for a very long time alternating between these two fine meals if I happened to be stuck on an island somewhere . . . say England perhaps.

Posted by bogenamp at 10:37 PM

August 28, 2007

Bad Girls of the North

You diligent readers will note that the original Bad Girl of the North is our friend Emily, who was, appropriately, given a pink shirt featuring these words as a gift upon our return from Alaska this year. So I can see how the search string "Bad Girls of the North" led some (likely disappointed) Web surfer to our site.

"Oh no!" you might be saying, "Is this another one of those entries in which Matthew goes on and on about search strings, the discussion eventually devolving into how funny and strange it is that mention of peeing contests led people to the blog, etc, etc?"

It is indeed one of those days. I'll get the peeing contests out of the way straight off. This time, we had a few variations on the theme. For example.

japanese hold pee contest
japan hold pee contest

Now the peeing contests are internationally themed! Is this progress or its opposite?

I also like:

flowers on the side of the road in southern ohio that are purple

That's what I call a Web surfer who really knows what he's looking for. I mean, what specificity. I'm really sorry that we didn't have the answer for whatever question was rattling around in his head.

I was delighted to see this one:

driving with a medical boot

Spending as much time as I have with the medical boot of late, I am in a good position to say that driving with a medical boot is not a good idea. Operating locks and jumping over stiles with a medical boot is treacherous enough.

Sorry, I thought we were done with these, but I must report that the peeing contest seekers are now looking for pictorial thrills.

holding pee contest pictures

And what do we make of this?

old barnstorming 23 patch

And I'd like to say I don't know what this is all about:

toss two balls connected around 3 horizontal cross bars

I mean, the phrase brings some fairly interesting scenarios to mind. But, alas, the browser who keyed in this seemingly cryptic phrase was merely looking for information about frisbee golf, a really outstanding game, fun for the whole family, that sort of thing. I think you can get it at Target.

I'm trying to decide whether the following represents a typo or someone looking for pictures of unusual caves with electricity. I prefer the latter option.

strange & wired caves wonders photos

Ditto the following in terms of the spelling.

native gathererings for 2007 in ohio

In other news, as the one-year anniversary of our tenure in the barn approaches, we have been contemplating ways in with to make our lives here more comfortable. First there was the washer/dryer combo, which disappointed those of you who like to think of us living a Walden-style hardscrabble existence. Then there was the DirecTV satellite, cleverly positioned on the back of the barn so as not to offend the lurking ambassadors of the Historical Committee, who prowl the streets in search of even minor violations. And now, there is the Dyson Animal, Robbi's dream vacuum, the only machine capable, apparently, of really removing pet dander from one's rugs.

Here is the beast.

Don't be fooled by the purple plastic casing. The thing is a real beast.

I am not one to be easily moved by household appliances, but I must say the Animal lives up to its colorful name. Seeing the sheer volume of filth the Animal removed from our carpets in 10 minutes of work made me somewhat queasy. And so we have a fancy vacuum. The myth of our spartan existence is slowly coming undone.

In what might be the final straw, as far as your respect for us is concerned, I will tell you that a gentleman came by to day to take a look at the space for the purpose of giving us an estimate for an air conditioning system. I am almost ashamed to say it. The mind scaldingly hot days of wandering around the barn as if in a humid armpit might soon be behind us. There is a new kind of system that heats and cools, can be mounted subtly inside the room to be cooled, with a tiny compressor and apparently, a very efficient use of electricity. I will post more details if and when we decide to make the plunge.

Lordy, this got boring. Sorry about that. Here's a little something by way of apology:

That's right, it's the Hot Brown, perhaps the most delicious looking thing I never got the chance to try. Oh, Hot Brown, I long for thee.


Posted by bogenamp at 06:49 PM

August 27, 2007

Names of Boats

The substance of this entry is exactly as the title implies. The various canal boats we encountered all had a few things in common. One, each was six feet wide. Two, each was no longer than 70 feet long. And three, each had a name. And almost to a one, a decidedly British name. The sort of name that reeks of fish and chips and Buckingham palace. The kind of name that no one but the British would ever name a boat. I'll include some examples below. Those of you who think me longwinded and tiresome (Rich Flynn) will enjoy this entry, for I intend to say very little from here on.

Perhaps my favorite:

And we had to take a picture of this boat, if only for the enjoyment of Robbi's college roommate of the same name (if slightly different spelling).

And lastly, a boat for my mother and Pete Everett, who both happen to share my exquisite taste in college basketball teams.

Soon I will stop dwelling on the past and start posting, once more, on the present. But right now the present is too hot to enjoy, and so I take some pleasure in remembering those cool days on the canal. We did not know how good we had it.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:14 PM

August 18, 2007

Rain

We have returned from England and are presently attending to the duties of our lives. Since our mundane obligations bear none of the excitement of our days on the canals. Therefore, I shall return to the midpoint of our trip, notable for the sudden shift in weather.


The first week of our trip was uncommonly pleasant, weather-wise. The British folk we met along the canal kept commenting on the surprise of so many consecutive days of sunshine. Throughout much of England, this summer's rains have been the worst in many years. The southern part of the country, in particular, experienced severe flooding. So it was all the more surprising that the clouds stayed at bay for the first seven days of our trip. Our good luck was not to last. We were warned that the stormy weather was on the horizon, and sure enough, last Saturday morning, we woke to rain.

One must stand outside the longboat in order to pilot it. Roji was good enough to brave the elements and man the tiller.

On the evening of the first rains, we decided to head to the Toby Carvery for dinner.

The Toby Carvery, we found out, is the British equivalent to Applebee's or Friday's. The walls were littered with homespun antiques intermixed with a large number of offensive cartoons. It was great. We all ordered "the Carvery", which was basically an all-you-can-eat extravaganza of gluttony. We ate a lot and felt awful. I was certain that I would be sick and certainly had no intention of ordering dessert. Until I saw the challenge. Beneath the list of deserts was an icon and an accompanying explanation: desserts featuring this icon, it said, would be accompanied by an "endless pitcher of custard."

"Endless?" I said to myself. "Why that sounds lovely."

Robbi and I ordered the cherry pie. Sure enough, with the pie came our pitcher of custard.

Roji bet me two pounds that I could not finish the custard. I am never one to shy from a food-related dare, and so I did my best.

Drinking the custard was a bittersweet experience. Sweet because custard is sweet. Bitter, because I had just had my fill of beef, pork, turkey, yorkshire pudding, potatoes, broccoli, perfectly round balls of stuffing, and any number of sauces, gravies, and garnishes. And three plates of each. The bottom line: I could not finish that custard.

Robbi, however, sensed a golden opportunity to show me up.

Roji pointed out that the two-pound bet would not apply to Robbi, since I had already consumed some of the custard. Did this argument dissuade her?

It did not.

In fact, it was with some sadness that Robbi encountered the bottom of the pitcher.

"Would you like another then?" said the cheerful waitress, noticing the empty pitcher. The rest of us hustled Robbi out of the Toby Carvery before she could do herself further damage.

As we traveled further, we came upon a number of drawbridges too low for the boat to pass beneath. By use of the "windlass", the same crank we used to operate the locks, we could raise and lower the bridge.



As shown:

Now that the rains had come, the late afternoon sky was often dramatic, the foreground lit by breaks in the clouds, the background gloomy and dark.

Or the opposite:

One day we came to a new kind of lock opening mechanism. This is the kind of variation which becomes rather exciting when you're traveling at 4 miles per hour.

This was a very British looking little brick house.

As the rain fell, we passed several dogs in raincoats.

Reading in our canal guide, we learned that one of the small towns we passed through had ostriches that could be viewed. We had no choice but to investigate.

There were also emus. Tracy admitted that she is terrified of emus and worries sometimes about being chased by them.

We also encountered pigs:

And goats:


And geese:

And Robbi, who was, as usual, cantankerous and impossible to abide.

Ah, England. How we already miss ye.


Posted by bogenamp at 06:20 PM

August 17, 2007

And Another Thing...

It turns out I posted prematurely on the hot indignation I feel in response to England's signs. Here are a few more offenders that have caught my eye in recent days:

I was wandering through a pub to find the restroom when I came upon this sign, which in America, might have been written "Don't Sit on Posts." We would have written these words in bold, black, strident capital letters against a white background and would have surrounded them with a bold red band to indicate that we meant business. The sign might have been triangular, to connote an air of warning.

Instead, we get this:

Now I understand the importance of politeness, but I would argue this sign goes too far. We don't need the whole story of why we are not to sit on the posts, just that we're not supposed to sit there. Further, if the bit about the two beer gardens was important enough to mention at all, why is it buried down there beneath the long-winded "post" rationalization (if you will forgive me) instead of set apart with bold or italics or some wild font appropriate to a new stream of thought.

Continuing...

As we plotted our course through the canals, we were intrigued by the "obstruction" mentioned on the map in one place. No more description of said "obstruction" was provided, but it was clear that we were to be on the lookout, that we not collide with it. Our minds were filled with vivid images of what the obstruction might be. Did a bridge collapse into the canal, depositing tons of dangerous stones beneath the surface? Did an ancient oak, impossible to remove, block part of the waterway?

We reached the appointed location to find...

...this. Which looks to me like something out of Super Mario Brothers. My question is this, though I was much amused by the yellow triangular exclamation point (very American, by the definition I offered above), why not just remove whatever unnamed menace lurks below the surface. Why is this cheerful declamation of the obstacle a superior option to removing it. I mean, the thing has been there long enough to be listed on our rather dated canal guide.

Further, I would suggest that one of the roles of signage is to communicate essential information while preserving people's confidence in the viability of the roadway, canal, etc. Therefore, I question the motives of this sign, the role of which is surely to alert heavy trucks that a particular bridge might be best avoided.

Might not, if you were a British trucker, say, have no interest in driving across a bridge described as "weak", even if you knew your truck to be below the designated maximum weight?

I cannot argue with the message of this sign, but wonder about whether it is necessary. I mean, would you go near that thing?

And then we return to the subject of dogs and the fact that the English ones must have champion GI tracts. The number of landmines we encounter walking along these canals is nothing short of astonishing. Thus, I can sympathize with the pervasive campaign to stamp out "fouling." But I can also understand the confusion of the dog owners, if signs like this are posted in the parks.

Is it just me, or does the logic here imply that the "serious health hazard", already underway, will be disrupted by the cessation of "fouling". Talk about mixed messages.

If you're not willing to follow me down this path of argument, will you at least accept that this sign is not going to solve the problem either?

I mean, what is going on in that drawing? The implied message seems to be that if you carry a jug behind your dog, and aim very carefully, perhaps we can solve this "fouling" problem once and for all.

Fine, I can accept this, but argue then that there should be an accompanying sign extolling the virtues of handwashing.

I'll leave you with an advertisement that needs no supplemental commentary.

We leave this land Sunday morning. If I make it out alive, I'll count my blessings.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:31 AM

August 16, 2007

The Past Few Days

For a number of days we have been in small towns and cowfields, away from wireless for the most part. But we have continued to take pictures, so I'll share a few while this signal lasts.

The other day we moored for a few hours in a small town along the canal. Its name is Brewood, which is pronounced BROOD by the locals. We stopped, in part, to partake of the "filled baps" listed in the canal guide. Arriving at the bakery (it was early afternoon), we learned, to our dismay, that the baps had all been sold. We wandered down the road to a little antique/junk shop where I bought a souvenir thimble for my anglophile grandmother.

Afterward, we wandered to see the local site: a church of some age. As an ecological nod, the churchyard was not mowed at all times of year, in order to preserve a meadow ecosystem for local critters. It gave the graveyard a haunted look.

Following a narrow road out the far end of the churchyard, Robbi and I came to a public footpath, which we followed.

It was an odd corridor, threading first between houses and then between fences separating people's yards. Eventually we found ourselves outside the town, threading a narrow pathway between farmers' fields. We came to a stile.

While no problem for Robbi, the stile was not easily accessed with the medical boot.

Later that day we stopped at a small town to mail some letters. Along the way, I stopped to photograph some graffiti on the sidewalk.

This roused the curiosity of some local youth, who demanded to know why I was taking pictures.

I explained that I was a tourist, that taking pictures was the tourist's primary occupation. This seemed to appease them. Then one of them asked if I'd ever seen a crocodile. I allowed that I had seen one in the zoo. To which the same young man replied by saying that I reminded him of "that crocodile guy."

"Crocodile Dundee?" I asked, incredulously.

"No" he said, "the other one...Steve...Steve..."

"Steve Irwin?" I asked.

"That's right," he said, "Steve Irwin." Then the others joined in "Yeah, Steve Irwin, you sound just like him."

I accepted this because it seemed unsporting to spoil their good earnest fun. I did not want to tell them that my accent was not even marginally similar to Irwin's. Further, if they were aware of Irwin's passing, it did not mute their glee at comparing me to him. They begged to be photographed, with assurances that they would be posted on the blog. "On the internet!" they said together. "On the internet!" they chanted. Here they are, the little blokes.

Back on the boat, I played Leonardo in Titanic, taking advantage of the dramatic gushings of water that transpire when the sluices open and the boat starts to rise from the bottom of the lock to the top. This pose is not as grand at the base of a slimy lock, but it's the best I could do, considering the circumstances.

I did not sing the Celine Dion song, though now I wish I had.

For many days, every time we got to a lock, we went up. For about a week, this was so. Eventually though, once we rounded the southern tip of the Four Counties Loop near Atherton Junction, we reached a summit of sorts and had to go down. We had been worried about the "down" locks for some time, on account of their being somewhat more tricky. When the boat goes up, water rushes into the chamber, causing the boat to rise. When the boat goes down, the water is evacuated. However, one must be careful that the boat's back edge (including the delicate rudder) not get caught on the cill (pronounced "sill"), a wide ledge that keeps the boat from smashing against the lock doors.

The down lock:

We slide in:

Roji keeps the front of the boat pressed against the front doors of the lock so that we do not get caught on the cill (see the carefully painted indicators).

The boat safely lowered, we carry on.

Since this first "down" lock, we have been through many more and have become old hands. We have gone up and down well over 100 locks in the past two weeks. Not that I'm bragging.

England is not as different as is, say Tokyo, but there are subtle differences that make the place delightful. For example, the pringles vending machine we found in a pub the other night.

And another that vended various things in cans: olives, cashews, jelly beans, and ravioli, to name a few.

And how about these boaters, whose only excuse for their costumes was that "Saturday is dress-up day, mate."

It's my opinion that Sponge Bob looks much better with a beer and cigarette:

As we've made our way through England, there have been more than a few encounters with cows. They are sometimes in the canal itself.

They are sometimes brooding in the twilight, gathered in an angry line, looking ruefully at us across the fields.

When we need entertainment, we practice at drinking tea like British people do.

Or occasionally, try our hand at lassoing Bob. (If you're curious, Daryl was not successful in the attempt pictured here).

More to come. Much more to come. For now, I'm running out of battery.

Posted by bogenamp at 02:20 PM

Iggy on the Tundra

As I've said before, Iggy had the time of her life in Alaska. She was at liberty to do many of her favorite things: eating, running around like a lunatic, and sleeping.

As for sleeping, she had two primary locations. Either in a cardboard box in the detached palace, where she spent her nights.

Or in a proper dog bed in the main house, where she snoozed away many rainy afternoon.

Occasionally she would get restless and request to be let outside.

Where she would engage in such antics as trying to drive the trucks.

But eventually, usually fairly quickly, she would tire of the great outdoors and wish to be let back inside. Lacking the ability to knock on the door, she developed a fairly effective alternative method for expressing her wishes. She would circle around to the back of the house, stand on the back deck, and peer through the window.

Not infrequently she would thus discover Bob, napping in his favorite spot.

This is one of my favorite images of the summer.


Posted by bogenamp at 01:40 PM

August 12, 2007

Signs

England is trying to tell us something. Sometimes we understand and other times we do not. See if you are any more successful than we in interpreting its mysterious messages.

For example, walking to dinner the other night, we came upon this sign. The meaning was not confounding, but I question the need for such specificity.

Next we stumbled upon this one.

I am uncertain what to think. Is the man digging? Is he poking something with a pike? Is he whaling, perhaps? I do not know what response this sign wants me to have, what behavior change it hopes to elicit. Theories are welcome.

The next sign is not confusing, but I include it lest you think I am engaged in a smear campaign against British signs. I freely acknowledge that the meanings of some are quite transparent.

I can see the utility of the following sign.

If the default assumption is that one has the right of way over oncoming traffic, then it is appropriate to have a sign that suggests the beginning of the opposite condition

But why then, exactly, is this sign necessary?

In our fine country we have a stop sign, but don't also have a "go." We have a yield, but don't have a "free to merge with less care." Do you get my meaning?

For those who have been paying attention, this sign must provide assurance that the appropriate number of hump-laden yards have been so far traversed.

This sign is perfectly clear, right?

But wait a second, wasn't that supposed to mean "school?" Get it straight, Britain. Do you lack the budget for new sign development?

While fuming over this parsimony, take some comfort in the fact that we've nearly cleared the bloody humps.

And if you're not yet feeling dizzied, take a cue and spin around a bit.

And ask yourself the following:

If the answer is "no," you could be in dire straits:

Perhaps the most abundant signs in England are ones that prohibit the owners of dogs from leaving dog droppings on the public byways.

The abundance of dog droppings on the public byways suggests that the signs are more indication of wishful thinking than successful civic campaign.

Concerned citizens are doing their part to stamp out this smelly problem.

Coming upon this sign, Robbi on her Harley and I on Old Patch were shamed by the suggestion of moral failing as we contemplated walking on the public footpath.

As we putted along the canal, we came upon this sign, which gave us little comfort as we contemplated the times when we had thrust our arms up to our elbows in the selfsame water mentioned in the sign, pulling leaves and such from the propeller.

We were pleased by the following sign, which cut through the haze of bewildering difference and helped us feel at home.

A closer look reveals that...

...yes, the Brits have a cookie called Maryland.

We purchased two packages but have not yet tried them, terrified as we are that they are somehow contaminated with Blue Green Algae.

I'll leave you with the following sign, no anomaly, I assure you.

The puzzling concept of "dead slow" is pervasive in this land. While I readily understand the sentiment, that one is requested to slow down, I question the implied degree of deceleration. In my experience, that which is dead moves not at all. A condition which would, before long, create quite a traffic problem. But perhaps I do not understand. If not, I fear I never will.

Posted by bogenamp at 12:07 PM

Smoked Salmon

Of the fish we caught this year, we sold roughly 83,000 pounds on the beach. Another 500 or so pounds we filleted, vacuum packed, and froze for the trip home. Another 100 or so pounds we smoked to bring home. Over the years, Seiko's smoked salmon cream cheese dip has found its way onto many tables and has created many enthusiasts. Summers when the fishing schedule, weather, or fatigue dictates that we cannot smoke fish create great consternation among those who, dependent on Seiko's dip, get cranky at the idea of being denied satisfaction. I thought it appropriate to document the origin of the smoked fish, to give those among you who so admire the product an even greater sense of what goes into its creation.

First of all we catch the fish.

Then we bring the fish to the block to butcher. Usually we butcher fish near the water tower so that we can easily clean up after the bloody mess. But since our water tower broke early in the season, we took to butchering down by the spring, again to be near to flowing water for the purposes of cleanup.

Once on the block, the fish are filleted,

then cut into strips.

We keep repeating this process until we have a tub full of strips.

The filleting yields fish carcasses, which must be disposed of far from the compound on account of the bears' fondness for them. We load the carcasses into buckets,

get on a four wheeler,

and head into the tundra. Where we dump the guts for the bears to enjoy.

Back at the compound, the strips of fish are heavily salted.

The fish are then hung on a rack to dry.

Once the strips are dried, we put them in the smoke house, at the bottom of which we build a smoldering fire with green alder branches.

The fish smokes at low heat all day. At night, we bring the strips inside so that the bears will not eat them.

In the morning, the fish is hung in the smoke house again. And so on for a few days. Until it is done.

The color of the meat is just gorgeous.

But it tastes even better.

Posted by bogenamp at 03:16 AM

August 09, 2007

When Things Go Wrong

Today we woke at a decent hour and began climbing the "ladder" of 13 locks just north of the small town in which we had moored for the night. The "ladder" is nothing more than a series of locks in close succession, such that one reaches the top of one lock only to drive directly into the next. Here is the best picture I could get of the ladder. Had I a helicopter, I could probably get a more satisfying picture of the multitude of the locks.

The distance between locks was so small that it was sometimes easier to pull the boat than to turn on our engine. This job fell to me, so I executed it with enthusiasm and in the long tradition of the pack mules that used to perform the important duty.

We made it through the series of 13 locks in not too much time, but just after reaching the top, broke down. Roji indicated that the engine had been losing power over the past few locks, and suddenly the engine all but stopped. Some kindly Brits at the end of a long queue of boats heading in the opposite direction helped pull us to the bank.

This man and his dog, ventured an opinion on our troubles, something along the lines of, "Your engine's shot, and further, you've probably stripped it by gunning the motor for the past few moments of flailing desperation."

His voice was clipped and severe, and there was an implied, "Stupid Yankees" to his manner. Of course, I am usually game to back such a sentiment, being an avid Red Sox fan, but given the present context, was less disposed to feel cheerful.

We thanked him heartily and went about the business of attending to our troubles. Using Maiko's rented phone, we called for help. Roji, Tracy, Seiko, and Mimi headed for the Market Drayton, some 4-5 miles up the canal, Robbi and I took a nap, and Maiko, Daryl, and Bob waited for the help to come. An hour and a half to two hours later, two guys showed up with a few tools and a bucket of oil. One watched while the other (who sported a stylish mohawk) spent five minutes tinkering with the engine.

Apparently, we had an oil leak. It was easily fixed, and we were on our way. Five locks and four miles or so later, we pulled into Market Drayton, where we reconnected with the others. Robbi, Maiko, Daryl, and I walked into town to buy milk and other groceries. As Daryl and I waited in line at the Netto supermarket,
Robbi and Maiko proceded to the "chemist" to get some cough drops. As Daryl and I left the store, a "police accident" occurred.

Apparently, a woman hit a parked car, which caused pedestrians to worry "I hope I don't blow up."

The road back from the chemist blocked by police tape and men in yellow helmets, Robbi and Maiko managed to find another route back to the main road. Reunited, the four of us headed back to the boat.

We drove through some lush wooded areas today where the shade was thick and the foliage hung close to the boat. One area was said to be haunted by "shrieking specters," which we were not lucky enough to encounter.

Looking up, there was still no shrieking.

Another was graced with two spectacular high bridges that seemed ancient and mysterious.

First Roji and I felt compelled to act like obnoxious American tourists.

But then were struck dumb with wonder in the presence of such ancient mystery.

The country refuses to free me from its bewitching spell. It is possible that I will not return.

Posted by bogenamp at 04:58 AM

The Compound

For the confused: this is another entry about our time in Alaska, authored in Chicago O'Hare Airport on our way to England. These buildings that follow are not, as it might seem, in England.


Here are the various buildings that make up the Behr Compound on Coffee Point, in no particular order.

This is the main house where we spend most of our time. There is a main room where we cook, eat, and play cards, and three bedrooms. It was built about 10 years ago now in a group effort led by our good friend Uncle Ken, who was instrumental in the renovations of our barn. It is widely considered one of the swankiest houses on Coffee Point. We call it the "new house."

Here is the "old house". Originally built 30+ years ago, and expanded several times thereafter, it now serves as storage for canned goods, rain gear, tools, our deep freeze, and old mattresses. The adjoining garage is where we keep the ropes and four-wheelers in the winter.

The "detached palace", home of Robbi, Iggy, and me this summer. It is nestled in a thicket of alders not far from the bluff. To reach the detached palace, one must walk a narrow path flanked by overgrowth. Since bears could be lurking anywhere, Robbi sings a purposefully loud and grating song whenever going to or from the detached palace. The theme of the song is. "Go away bears." Grizzly bears have no interest in people unless provoked. Robbi's song provides ample warning that they had best be on their way.

One of the most important buildings is the outhouse. And isn't it attractive?

In order to indicate that one is in the outhouse (that others might not inadvertently try to enter), one places this white board across the path that leads from the "new house" to the outhouse. It's a fairly reliable system.

Here is the "kumijo" (pronounced KOO MA JOE), where we store our nets, waders, and life jackets, and which has a second-story sleeping room for overflow guests. The Kumijo used to be red but then we ran out of red paint. It's difficult to get new paint in Coffee Point, and so we used the gray. The boat in front is Roji's boat. It is fast and holds about 12,000 pounds of salmon.

This is the steam bath, a structure created long ago by our neighbor Vern for the purposes of bathing. Now that we have a proper shower, the steam bath is most often used for drying wet fishing gear.

Here is our smoke house, not to be mistaken for the outhouse. Even though they bear some similarity, they have very different purposes. Keep this in mind if you want to avoid the wrath of Seiko.

And this is the previous home of our neighbor Vern, who was squatting on the Behr property when Bob and Seiko first arrived 30 years ago. Now Vern (who will be the subject of his own entry in days to come) lives about a quarter mile down the tundra road from us, but his house remains. It is a marvelous structure.

The stairs lead up to the living quarters. The ground level is a garage/tool shop. On the side is a small house designed for guinea hens Vern raised long ago. The guinea house backs up against the oil stove inside, so that the hens would have heat throughout the winter. Vern is a master carpenter and genius in many ways. He can fix anything with any assortment of materials. He has rescued us repeatedly over the years. Things break in Alaska. And they are difficult to replace. Having a friend like Vern is incredibly helpful.

But more on Vern to come. This entry is about buildings.

Here is Roji's house.

A few years ago we moved Roji's house from it's original location, several miles down the beach and placed it here at the edge of the bluff with a nice view of the water. Last winter a tremendous wind came and knocked Roji's house from its foundation. It took some doing, but Bob and Roji righted the house and moved it back into place. Here you see the house restored to equilibrium. Another entry will properly document the trials that led to its being once again on solid ground.

Here is our tiny herb and vegetable garden, planted in the liner of a pickup truck. Seiko planted the seeds in early June, and six weeks later, just as we were leaving, the first turnips were reaching maturity. The garden is less about providing nourishment and more an object lesson in perseverance. The garden pleases us, reminding us of spring on days when the winds blow and the rain drives in from the river.

Here are our storage containers. Basically, they are the long rectangular containers that you see on the back of 18-wheeled trucks or on the beds of railroad cars. They are durable metal and cannot be entered by a bear, no matter how motivated or enterprising. We use the containers for storage and for hanging nets (the process in which the net is carefully strung between the cork lines (which make the top of the net float) and the lead lines (which make the bottom of the net sink). More on this process to come.

Here is our water tower. We pump water from a spring a few hundred yards from the compound to this water tower. The pressure thus created by the elevated water serves our faucets and shower. It's a great system. Until the pump breaks like it did this year. This year, we had to fill enormous plastic totes with water at the spring and drive them in the back of a pickup to the compound. Vern has promised to fix the broken pump over the winter. Do you see why we value the man so highly?

Here, then, is a long view of the compound from the roof of Roji's house.

And looking east across the water at the town of Egegik.

So this is where we sleep and eat. We fish about two miles up the beach. More on that to come.


Posted by bogenamp at 03:28 AM

August 07, 2007

Locks and Then Some

I awoke yesterday long after everyone else. It took some stiff coffee to set me right.

Though I did not know it then, the day would come to be defined by locks. I had heard of locks and knew in some vague way that we would come in contact with them, but I had never really pondered locks, nor had I tried to understand them. Yesterday would change all that. Locks are a way of life on the canals, pervasive as the change in elevation, which happens, it turns out, quite frequently in England. All the time, in fact.

The fact of locks was introduced to me not long after waking. We came upon Big Lock.

As shown, a lock is best described as a chute into which the canal boat fits, usually more snugly than in the case of Big Lock, as will be seen in later pictures. The lock is bordered in front and back by gates, which open and close by means of large levers. We floated into Big Lock, the gates closest to us open and the gates furthest from us closed.

Because Big Lock is so...big...it was possible for another boat to slide in beside us.

Once we both were in, we closed the rear gates behind us by pushing on this large lever.

Then this helpful, clever British man turned this crank, using a removable handle called a "windlass."

The crank, when turned, causes unseen sluices to open, through which torrents of water are allowed to rush from the water at the higher elevation (the upper canal) down to the water at the lower elevation (the lower canal). The boat (in the case of Big Canal, boats) rose with amazing speed. With no other power than that of gravity, tons of bulky material and all of us rose into the air.

Once the water in the lock and the water in the upper canal were at the same level (and the pressure on either side of the upper gate was equalized), we were able to open the upper gate and move forward into the upper canal.

No sooner had we cleared Big Lock, that we arrived on the first of many much Smaller Locks.

The smaller locks are just barely wide enough to accommodate the six-feet width of our boats (which is why all of the boats on the canal are uncannily similar in width) and just barely long enough to accommodate our 70 foot length. In fact, there are only a few extra feet behind our boat when we drive into the lock, suggesting that we have just about the longest possible boat for these canals, a fact which makes us feel fairly special, but which has not yet entirely gone to our heads.

Another lock. Note the narrow, slimy walls.

At this point, we had to turn right.

For the most part, we are traveling in a long, unambiguous circle, but there is the occasional intersection. Being 70 feet long, we made the following 90-degree right turn with some difficulty. But triumph was ours in the end.

Throughout the day, we encountered many locks. 10 or 11, I think. Over the next two weeks, we will go through 94.

Each one fills Robbi with astonishing glee.

Here's another view of the lifting process from another angle, with Robbi's Aunt Mimi providing scale and proportion.

At the level of the lower canal.

Rear gate closed, sluices open, the boat rises.

Before long, it is at the level of the upper canal. Redundant, yes, but still amazing.

The day brought still more wonders, such as Robbi's run-in with an eyeless Ronald McDonald (or his British surrogate) in the attic of a canal-side antique shop.

The late afternoon sunshine treated us to beautiful landscapes illuminated in low-angled light.

I've always had a thing for haybales.

But look how neatly wrapped. Britain is damp, to be sure, but this seems excessive.

Last night we moored in Nantwich and supped at the Nantwich Arms. I ordered the "mixed grill", a medley of meats that included steak, gammon, liver, lamb, sausage, blood pudding, peas, tomatoes, and an egg. I took a photo, of course, but it is still lodged in the belly of my camera and will have to be shared at a later date. In the middle of our meal, there was a hail storm.

The mystery of this ancient land persists. I shall, as access allows, continue to report.

Posted by bogenamp at 06:51 AM

August 05, 2007

Then and Now

We are in Chicago, about halfway through a six-hour layover en route to Manchester. I am the fidgety type, not predisposed to gracefully weather six hours in an airport. I tried reading for a while, then pacing, then did some eating before going back to reading. On the brink of losing my mind, I remembered that I had promised to post more on Alaska when I had the time. Today, I have the time.

We fish in Brisol Bay, which feeds many of the richest fishing districts on Alaskan Peninsula, the arm of land that leads to the Aleutian Islands in Southwest Alaska.

The Behr compound is in Coffee Point, a nontown with some ramshackle buildings where people fish in the summer. The closest real town is Egegik , which has a year-round population of 30 or so people. If you go to Google Maps any type in Egegik, AK, the bump of land just to the west and on the opposite side of the river from Egegik is Coffee Point.

Bob and Seiko first went up there 30 years ago, following an entrepreneurial spirit and a sense of adventure. Here is a picture of the compound taken near the end of the first season, when Robbi was two.

The folks in the picture are Roji, Seiko, Robbi, Maiko, and a beloved dog long deceased the name of which I cannot now remember. The building in the background is what we now call the "old house," currently used for storage. Back then it was the only house, used for everything.

In commemoration of the 30-year anniversary, we decided to recreate the pose this summer, with limited success.

The cast of characters is the same, except that Iggy was good enough to stand in for the deceased. The "old house" has expanded greatly, and a bunch of new buildings have transformed the tiny house on the bluff into a full-blown compound. More on that to come.

Posted by bogenamp at 11:07 PM

Mother England

Well, bust my buttons. Here we are in England in some small town along the canal and lo and behold, there is a faint, but workable wireless signal. The trip was uneventful. We left Chicago at 6:00pm and arrived here at 7:00am. Maiko was there to pick Robbi and me up, and the three of us took a funny British taxi to Acton Bridge, near Manchester, from which we embarked in the longboat.

The taxi.

The longboat.

The roof of the long boat.

In other words, it is long. About 70 feet long. And six feet wide. Which means that, even though we do have a bedroom of sorts, the central walkway runs right through it.

There are nine of us on board. Robbi and me, Maiko and Daryl, Roji and Tracy, Robbi's Aunt Mimi, Seiko...

...and Captain Bob.

Under his careful stewardship, we embarked some hours ago. Since then we have been moving at more or less 3 miles per hour through the canals.

I say "more or less" because, although the boat's top speed is 4 miles an hour, we did a lot of crashing into the bulkheads that flank the edges as we got a feel for how to drive the thing. The canals are narrow and the boat is difficult to maneuver. Add to this the fact that there are other boats, equally long and narrow, driven by confident, experienced British people, and we are left with a lumbering speed not quite equal to full bore.

Captain Bob and First Mate Roji quickly mastered the controls, navigating us successfully through such treacherous obstacles as this very long tunnel.

Toward the light at the end of it.

And under this lovely bridge.


Although we have not yet gone through any locks on our young journey, we did stop to witness a rather grand "lift" lock. A large and elaborate series of impressive gears literally lifts these boats hundreds of feet into the air from a lower canal to one at a higher elevation (or lowers them from the higher to the lower).

Once they reach the top, they are released into the new canal as this gate lifts.

As shown.

The canal is full of swans. I communed with one, feeling firmly in touch with my heritage.

As we were walking to the grocery store just now, I was disappointed to learn that "fouling" is off limits in England.

But was glad to know that old people are permitted.

They string wires differently here.

It is in many ways a strange and shadowy land. In days to come, I will try to understand it.


Posted by bogenamp at 11:37 AM

August 04, 2007

Gone but not Gone

Friends, I have just spent a good part of the six-hour layover we are currently enduring in Chicago O'Hare writing some entries about our time in Alaska. Which is to say, even though I am likely to be out of internet contact for the next two weeks, the Barnstorming will go on. So keep checking in. Entries will post each Monday and Thursday for the next two weeks. The miracles of technology.

Now we must board the plane to Manchester. Perhaps England will surprise me. Perhaps we will be able to catch a stray WiFi signal as we chug through tiny towns. But most likely not. So long for now.


Posted by bogenamp at 05:50 PM

August 03, 2007

The Contented

You may be pleased to hear that Idiots'Books Volume 9, titled The Contented, hit the post office today following a marathon day and night of production. (Or you might be wholly indifferent to the news.)

We set up the white table and made books. It was about 90 degrees in the barn yesterday, so we also sweat a lot.

I'll spare you the long-winded nitty gritty.

Eventually there were books.

Volume 9 is a complex thing from the production standpoint. All four sides of each page bleed and so must be trimmed. The book is bound with wire. And it is very long. Which means more time printing and trimming. But we're happy with the way it turned out. Though it is decidedly different than its predecessors.

It was some time in the wee hours when we finished stuffing all the envelopes. There are now 193 subscribers. It's a lot of envelopes to lick.

Today we rushed around like fools, doing errands in anticipation with our departure for England early tomorrow morning.

It is highly unlikely that we'll be able to access the internet while on the longboat, so this may be the last posting for a while.

I wish I had something more inspiring to share.

How about another picture of Connecticut on fire? It always warms the heart.


Posted by bogenamp at 06:33 PM