calves like cones
Friday, June 23 2006
This afternoon I loaded up the girls in the little Honda Civic hatchback and we headed out on a road trip westward through the heart of the Catskills. On the way out of town, we stopped (appropriately enough) at Catskill Mountain Coffee to get a bag of coffee as well as a cup of the pre-made stuff and a burrito for a quick little picnic at Onteora Lake. I love Catskill Mountain Coffee all to hell, but the sad little things they're selling under the burrito rubric make me want to cry.
Our destination was the village of Bainbridge on an errand to pick up a special high-tech solar panel. Bainbridge lies to the northwest of the Catskills along I-88 (the interstate connecting Binghamton to Albany). On the map it looked like a straight shot, but due to the mountainous nature of the terrain and the long drive along the deeply-incised shores of the Pepacton Reservoir, it was anything but. Bainbridge is only 100 miles away, but it takes about three hours to get there.
Along the way I had plenty of time to crank things over in my mind and take in the scenery. I noticed something for the first time today about the Catskills that gives them an eerie designed-not-happened quality, something that might normally only register in the subconscience. The thing I saw was that many of the ridges have the same shape: a steep north face, a broadly-rounded peak, and a gentle downward slope towards the south. In one place, just to the east of Boiceville, you can actually see one mountain in the background rising behind one in the foreground, but because the one in the background is larger, it sticks out past the silhouette of the one in the foreground. And since they have very similar shapes, its silhouette traces an outline, a ghostly echo, around the silhouette of the foreground mountain. I don't know why I'd never noticed this before. In case you're wondering, there is a reason for the similarity of shapes among Catskill Mountains; they were all molded by a series of continental glaciers that completely submerged them in ice flowing down from the north. If you prefer to believe that the Catskills were designed to look the way they do, you have the ice ages to thank for being the designer. Maybe that's really what people mean when they talk about God, since it was the overwhelming force that made the world suitable for agricultural humans. Too bad He's me-e-e-e-lted, and too bad His various begotten sons (the Greenland icecap, for example) are pinned to the cross of global warming.
The Pepacton Reservoir is a long drive, but it's an easy one. You can't fall asleep because the road is far too curvy for that. But it's well-engineered, so you can take those curves at surprisingly high speeds. And since there's almost no other traffic and no civilization, you're left alone with your thoughts and the rock and roll on your car stereo.
In the small village of Walton one has to slow down because it's not just a speed zone, it has all the hallmarks of a bumfuck speed trap. Climbing one of the hills, I came upon an unexpectedly disturbing vision. A scruffy guy in a wife beater was driving a lawn tractor slowly up a hill on the shoulder of the road. He was pulling a trailer behind him, and I couldn't quite make out what it contained. I thought I saw a human face, but what were those two flesh-colored traffic cones? As I approached I finally got a good look at the cargo. It was an enormously fat woman, at least 600 pounds in weight, and those traffic cones were the calves of her legs. She was completely immobile, save for the blinking of her eyes. Yet another casualty of the fat of the land! Fear not, enormously fat woman, we'll soon burn through the last of that, and perhaps then the genes that stored up that starvation suit will finally confer their survival advantage upon thee!
My destination was a big warehouse full of a wide variety of solar equipment, though the business there was somewhat disorganized, with a staff selected more for their warehouse talents than their skill with customers. The first guy I saw upon arrival was a youngish hippie dude listening to an unfamiliar jam band on the warehouse computer. He was friendly and affable, as most hippies are, but had no idea what it was that I should be picking up. The promised communication with the guy back in Texas who had sent me here hadn't yet taken place. In a few minutes, though, everything was sorted out and we all agreed on which boxes and crates should be loaded into my car. One of the crates was six feet long and made of luan plywood, resembling a poor man's casket. I looked at the boxes and my car and the dogs ("the girls") who were now running around the premises and I wondered if I was really going to be able to pull this off. But the Honda Civic hatchback is one of the most flexible cars in the world. I pushed the passenger seat as close as possible to the dashboard and was almost able to get that big casket fully into the car. All the other boxes were smaller and made of cardboard and could be fit in around it, leaving a channel in the back big enough for one or two dogs. My only concern was lashing down the hatch (which was open about a foot) and stuffing cardboard and styrofoam in the gap so a dog wouldn't fall out. Somehow I managed to get on the road this way, but it wasn't a very comfortable ride, particularly for Eleanor. Nearly until the town of Colchester, she rode in the front passenger seat, though I'd pushed it to within a foot of the dashboard. There was so little room for her that she was forced to sit up for all those miles. She'd shift her position occasionally and consider ways to spread out, but there weren't many options. She looked a little like Laika in Sputnik II, but without the aura of impending tragedy.
Once home, I brought all the new solar gear into the living room and spread it out to figure out how it all works. The panel is made by a company called Solmaxx and uses a vacuum-tube design. Supposedly it is vastly more efficient than the homebrewed conventional plate collector I'm currently using.
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