Sunday, May 17, 2009

Pac-Man and the Devil

My newly-discovered interest in rock climbing that germinated on a walk to the Boulders on Moose Hill continues to grow. I've been reading, watching You-Tube videos, and I even purchased a pair of climbing shoes. I've learned that a subset of rock climbing known as "bouldering" seems well suited to my ability level and available resources. In bouldering, as the name implies, one finds a big boulder and climbs on it. This can be very easy or very difficult, depending on the size and shape of the rock. A boulder may have gently sloping sides with lots of places to place hands and feet, or it might have tall, sheer faces with nary a bump or crack to grab.

I'm discovering that there are many fine climbing boulders close to home. There may be some on Moose Hill, but the best local climbing spot could be Borderland State Park that is about a 15-minute bike ride from home. This park is said to have many good boulders and I've already visited a few of them.

Even closer to home is Devil's Rock. This huge much-visited glacial erratic is along Massapoag Brook on Sharon Town Conservation land and is easily reached via a blue-blazed side trail off the orange-blazed Massapoag Trail.

Devil's Rock is maybe 20 feet tall, has three very steep sides and one sloping side. I can make it up the sloping side with the help of an old, dead tree trunk that leans on it, providing secure hand-holds on the steeper lower half of the climb. The upper half has a slightly gentler slope I can scramble up quite easily - if slowly - with the help of the sticky rubber soles of my climbing shoes. I find getting down much more nerve-wracking than going up. It's much easier to see where I'm going while looking over my hands than when looking between my legs.

The vertical sides of Devil's Rock are way beyond anything I hope to climb in this lifetime and creeping up and down a smooth slab of granite loses it's interest pretty quickly. Luckily, the Devil has a smaller sister boulder that may well have split off the big rock millennia ago. I call this rock Pac-Man because a big chunk of it has also split off in a way that reminds me of the 80's-era video game character.
Pac-Man has four or five different routes to the top that I've been able to complete so far and a nice traverse - or sideways climb - along the "chin." I hope to complete a few more routes as my skill improves.

This is a good rock for a beginner. Some of the routes are very easy, and others are a bit more challenging, requiring long reaches for small hand-holds or reliance on single small toe-holds. The climber is never very far from the ground, so chances of injury are small.

As I hoped, I am finding that rock climbing is healthy full-body exercise combined with bike rides to the woods. After work just the other day, instead of a car trip to the gym, I rode my bike through the neighborhood and did some good stretching, reaching, pulling, gripping and climbing while listening to the calls of ovenbirds and veerys on a warm Spring evening.

Saturday, May 16, 2009

Back to the Future Again

A few months ago I bought a 12" cast iron skillet. I've been cooking more lately inspired by Michael Pollan's In Defense of Food and Mark Bittman's Food Matters. I've been trying to get back to basics, using whole foods in simple recipes. It seems appropriate to take the same approach to cookware.

I also suffer from increasing distrust of corporations and the things they tell us. I've been feeling a nagging unease while wondering what chemicals might be leaching into my food from now-ubiquitous non-stick cookware coatings. Sure, I've been frying all kinds of stuff at high temperatures on these miracle coatings for years, and it's no doubt too late to worry about it now, but what the heck.

After searching around the web, I settled on a skillet and matching lid from a major outdoor sporting goods supplier. I liked the idea that it was pre-seasoned and made in the USA.

So far, I'm very pleased with my frying pan. I use it to saute big batches of vegetables and then add heaps of beans, rice and curry powder. It's great for baking whole-wheat flatbread that quickly becomes a pizza when topped with tomato sauce and mozzarella. It bakes a wonderful corn bread and fries fresh, local eggs. It's so big, that one session in the kitchen yields enough for several meals. Many of the things I put together taste even better a day or two later.

It's about as easy to clean as any pan with a high tech coating. I simply rinse it with hot water while scouring with a copper pad. I dry it on the stove for a minute and then coat it with a little grapeseed oil to keep it seasoned. My mother would have used bacon fat, but, well, we don't have any of that around these days.

Tuesday, May 5, 2009

They're Back

Every year, in late April, I start my sky watch. My eyes are peeled for the first "cigar with wings," or chimney swift, flying over the neighborhood. They arrive around May 1st and depart on about September 1st. I saw my first one on Saturday, May 2nd. It was alone, flying high and fast. I suspect the regulars that spend every summer zooming and swooping over the house will be here soon, as soon as a nasty weather pattern clears the area.

Check out the "Spring Sightings" map on