Your leaking thatched hut during the restoration of a pre-Enlightenment state.


Hello, my name is Judas Gutenberg and this is my blaag (pronounced as you would the vomit noise "hyroop-bleuach").


decay & ruin
Biosphere II
dead malls
Irving housing

got that wrong

appropriate tech
Arduino μcontrollers
Backwoods Home
Fractal antenna

fun social media stuff

(nobody does!)

Like my brownhouse:
   café on the rail trail
Saturday, June 6 2015
After our Saturday morning coffee, Gretchen and I loaded our bikes into the back of the Subaru, left the dogs at home, and drove down into Old Hurley. Gretchen wanted to donate a book to the Hurley Library and also check out all the yardsales that had been scheduled for the village. We parked at the Hurley Mountain Inn and then walked on Hurley Avenue to the stretch featuring the oldest collection of continuously-inhabited houses in the United States. The street had been closed by fire trucks with flashing lights, and initially we thought this was because of a desire to make the street into a temporary pedestrian mall, but it turned out that a powerful storm had blown through Old Hurley this morning and knocked down a power line. (It had avoided our place, only two miles to the west.)
There was a booksale at the Hurley Library (where free coffee was available for the taking), and there was a youngish redheaded woman there named Caitlyn who seemed nearly almost as over-the-top as Gretchen in her aggressive extrovertism. Also present was the treasurer for the library, and he gave us a quick tour of the new site being gut-remodeled next door, a stone house that for many years has been home to a series of banks. Any time a bank is being repurposed for some other use, the question becomes: what does one do with the vault? In the case of this particular building, the expense of removing the 6000 pound vault door was too great to be considered, so it will have to be accommodated in the new design. As for the vault itself, its concrete walls, ceiling, and floor are all comprised of foot-thick reinforced concrete, so it will be the place to go (as I put it) "when the Ruskies attack." For now, though, it's the place where the contractors secure their most expensive equipment.
Because of the absence of motor traffic, the yard sales along this stretch of street were starved of customers, and for once it felt like we'd arrived before all the good stuff had been taken. If I hadn't been with Gretchen, maybe I would have bought that $2 battery-powered vacuum cleaner or taken that paint air compressor ("free to a good home"), but Gretchen doesn't like my hoarding, so the only things we got were bits of kitchen equipment she wanted: a silver bowl, a collander, and some sort of potato masher. Gretchen did, however, suggest that I get some monofilament line for "projects." That stuff is always useful and I didn't happen to have any, so that was also added to the things we were carrying around. Later on, we also added a $5 cat carrier.
Though I wasn't too excited about it, Gretchen wanted to check out the Hurley museum. Not unexpectedly, we were the first visitors of the day, and the old ladies running the place lavished us with attention. To me, the most interesting thing was an old map of Hurley township from before the building of the Ashokan Reservoir. It showed the old West Hurley street grid (now submerged), the bowling-alley-narrow firewood tracts in the forest in the days before Catskill State Park, and a Dug Hill Road that petered out not far to the northwest of the site where our house would one day be built. We also checked out a garage in the back that featured a wooden cart for transporting slabs of bluestone, as well as a loom, and tools used for bluestone mining and ice harvesting.

From Hurley, we drove to Cottekill and then, after some wrong turns, south down Binnewater Road. Just north of Rosendale on Binnewater is a large parking space for people wanting to use the rail trail. At this point, we brought out our bicycles and started biking southward on the rail trail. This part of the rail trail hasn't been in operation all that long; the last time Gretchen and I had come here (ten years ago), one could only go about half way across the Rosendale railroad trestle from the south. Since then, the trestle has been made into a sturdy pedestrian walkway, allowing the rail trail to continue from where it starts north of Old Hurley all the way past New Paltz down to Gardiner. The trestle wasn't far south of the place where we parked, and crossing it was spectacular and exhilarating in a way that tends to be rare in the East. I suspect the lack of trees in the West makes the landscape more visible, particularly up in the mountains. But on the rail trail trestle, you're above the trees and buildings and have a commanding view of the beautiful village of Rosendale, crowded the way it is along the Rondout. South of the trestle, you cross a street in residential Rosendale and then you're in the forest, bounded on one or the other side by stagnant pools of water. Occasionally there are hikers or other bikers, but not that many, even on a cool sunny Saturday in early June.
Our destination was a mile and a half south of Rosendale on the rail trail. As part of the large farm that includes the "Center for Symbolic Studies," there is now also a café that was recently opened by our friends Tara and Brian (they're the ones with the off-grid house that they built for themselves on that same farm). The café, called the Rail Trail Café, is the result of a successful Kickstarter campaign to which Gretchen contributed. Indeed, one of the items on the café's vegetarian (though not vegan) menu is a nutloaf named in Gretchen's honor. When we arrived, nearly every seat in the seating area was occupied by people who had come (mostly by car or perhaps on foot) to dine. There was a largish parking area nearby and port-a-potties, and the café itself featured a small building for making transactions and preparing small food items. But there was also a larger "building" without walls containing a sink with running water and a full-size wood-fired oven for making pizzas. On this particular day, Tara was home sick[REDACTED], and Brian was manning the café, though he had the assistance another woman hired to handle dish washing and operating the pizza oven. Based on a number of technical fumbles, she appeared to be a relatively new hire.
In keeping with the spirit of everything in and around the Center for Symbolic Studies, the café was operated at a leisurely pace; it's not the sort of place you go when you're in a hurry. Gretchen had the kale lemonade (it had kale blended into it) and I got regular. And then we sat there and waited. And waited. Mosquitoes came and bit me about the ankles, and frass rained down from the inchworm infestation overhead. Though this part of the world is part of that infestation, it seems it might be part of a different periodic cicada brood; I found a red-eyed bugger near the shack where Brian works and the thing that told me it wasn't just a solitary freak who'd come out of the ground a couple years late was that I could hear the roar of others in the nearby forest. Eventually our pizza came out, and though the toppings were good, the homemade vegan cheese was sort of a fail, and the crust needed improvement. Gretchen thought the problem might be that this item had been poorly translated from the non-vegan version, which depended on very salty cheeses. Without those, the pizza desperately needed salt, not just on the toppings, but baked into the crust.
Most puzzling of all was the slow speed with which the dumplings were produced. Brian explained the technical problems, which were rooted in the fact that the dumplings had been hand-made and then frozen, which meant that they couldn't be steamed as quickly as they otherwise would have been. Still, waiting an hour for them seemed like a bit of a deal breaker. I will say that once they arrived, they were really good. Another winner on the menu is the salad, which features the large sprouts of sunflower seeds that Brian perfected as a sprout wholesaler. Somehow the two pizzas, two lemonades, and an order of dumplings came to nearly $40, though Brian gave Gretchen 50% off as a perk for having contributed to the Kickstarter campaign.
Everytime I come to the Center for Symbolic Studies, some weirdo shows up and starts talking about free energy and the conspiracy to suppress it. I thought we'd somehow avoided all that this afternoon at the Rail Trail Café. But then, as we were getting ready to leave, a guy showed up with a music stand (seemingly in preparation for a performance of live music, which also happens there at the Café) and got to talking to us about something that caused me to sardonically quote Mitt Romney. This caused the guy with music stand to take us into his confidence, suggesting we look up a guy named Dr. Stephen Greer on the internet and learn about a device he is promoting that is the size of a toaster but can supply the electricity needed for a whole house. The only reason nobody was using it was that it was being suppressed by the government. I bit my lip and didn't say anything.
But later as we were biking back northward toward the trestle, I said something derogatory to Gretchen about our latest encounter with a free energy kook, which I indicated as being one of the negatives of visiting Tara and Brian. Gretchen agreed that the guy with the music stand had seemed like a kook from the very beginning, but she then said that she was open to theories about the government and big corporations suppressing inventions and technologies that would ease the transition away from fossil fuels. She said that her experience with the way governments and industries prop up the cruel, disgusting, and unhealthy system of factory farms has made her cynical about their intentions. But she also admitted that she didn't know enough about the underlying science to know what was and what was not impossible. I said that the science for any radical improvements in efficiencies or any vastly improved energy technology just wasn't there. Thermodynamically, you can't get something for nothing, and there is never going to be a toaster-sized device that powers a whole house. And if there is any dramatic technological breakthrough, it's going to be an impossible thing to suppress. The overwhelming economic advantages of a painless replacement for burning fossil fuels are so great that there would be no way to contain it.
As we were having this conversation, we came upon a pair of happy dogs from a nearby house who were out having free-range fun on the rail trail. The smaller of the two dogs sniffed me when I offered a hand, but they had better things on their agenda than interacting with humans.
As we crossed the trestle, a young couple saw us struggling to take a dual selfie and offered to take it for us. That was nice, and we reciprocated.

(Click to enlarge.)

Just north of the trestle, as the rail trail passes along the base of steep rocky cliff, I suddenly felt a pocket of cold clammy air. I immediately stopped and went to investigate. What I found was deep hole in the ground between the trail and the cliff, and down in that hole, beyond any place I could possible get to, was a chunk of snow leftover from the winter.

After some downtime, Gretchen and I went to KMOCA for the big first-Saturday-of-the-month opening. We haven't been going to KMOCA much since it changed ownership, but our friend Michæl (of Carrie and Michæl) would be featured in this month's show. Also, Michæl used to be a co-owner of the gallery back when we regularly attended its openings. The day had been a cool one, and I expected the evening to be cooler still, so I came to the gallery dressed in my brown sports coat, which is a bit fancier than my usual look. We'd stopped at the beer cave at the Citgo on Broadway and bought a sixer of Little Sumpin' Sumpin' Ale, the only beer they stocked that was good enough for the occasion.
The exhibit we'd come to see was a collaboration between Michæl and an artist named Phil Sigunick who does incredible portraits using pastels. He achieves incredible color saturation in this medium, and his drawing skills are superb (if a bit antiquated by contemporary standards). While Phil had done a series of gorgeous portraits, Michæl had taken photos from inside his cluttered house and built an installation with walls wallpapered with those photos. Here and there, he'd cut out windows to expose walls beyond the installation, where other portraits would be hung. It was an impressive three-dimensional wunderkammer.

Me in the installation at KMOCA today. That's a likeness of Michæl over my left shoulder and a likeness of Phil over my right shoulder in a pastel drawn by Phil. (Click to enlarge.)

Of course, even when the art was done by your friend, KMOCA openings are all about socializing. So for a time I hung out in front with Susan & David, and then later I was back at the wine table in the backyard talking to another artist named Keiko about Arduino (she'd been to the Onteora High School mentee show — her daughter had been a jewelry mentee — and seen that Arduino-controlled robot I'd commented on). As I was explaining all the possibilities opened up by Arduino, an older man named Peter insinuated himself into the conversation and said that he too had worked with Arduino, making a system that opened a door on a chicken coop every morning. He then went on to tell Keiko and me all about what the public school system had been like before Onteora High School opened. Before that, the Catskills had traditionally been the poorest part of New York State, and its school system still consisted of one-room schoolhouses where all ages were taught by a single teacher. In those days (lasting as recently as the 1950s), children walked to and from school, which was always nearby. While a classroom of multiple ages might seem like an impossible environment for teaching, evidently it had advantages. Smart kids could learn at their own rate, paying attention when older students received their education. And older students could serve as teaching assistants for younger students, solidifying their knowledge in the process. After telling us about that part of his life, Peter told us how, in the early 1980s, he'd gotten a junior computer job and then rapidly advanced up the chain, eventually deploying a very advanced piece of banking software.
By this point Gretchen wanted to leave, but on my way out, I had to stop and talk to Deborah, who is still shunning Gretchen on the advice of her stupid therapist.
For dinner, Gretchen and I went out to India Garden on Albany Avenue with Eva and Sandor. The food wasn't as good as usual; it needed salt, and they seemed to ignore my request to make my aloo gobi spicy. I noticed that there weren't as many diners there as one would expect on a Saturday night, suggesting that perhaps it is a restaurant in decline. It would be unfortunate for Kingston to lose its only Indian restaurant, though I suspect there are enough Indians in the area to support even a mediocre Indian restaurant.

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