Archive for June, 2009

A Walk In the Woods

June 18, 2009


Author Bill Bryson hikes the Appalachian Trail with his ridiculously out of shape buddy, Stephen Katz.  In between the story of their hike are interesting facts about the trail and its people.  A hysterical read, Bryson actually made me laugh at 7:30 in the morning, and that is quite a feat.  

One of the most interesting parts of the story was when Bryson traveled through the uninhabited mining town of Centralia, Pennsylvania.  In 1962, a dump fire spread underground and ignited the vast network of coal mines underneath the town.  The thing about mine fires is that they cannot be extinguished, they just have to burn out.  Many people didn’t realize there was fire burning underneath their feet until the 1970’s.  As the fire spread through the underground mines, the ground on the surface started caving in.  Smoke poured through people’s basements, through cracks on the sidewalks and highways.  Soon the town became unlivable – the fire caused carbon monoxide poising, decreased oxygen levels in the air, created sink holes that swallowed homes and stores, and destroying the interstate and roads.  

In 1984, Congress offered financial incentives for residents to move out of Centralia and into neighboring towns.  In 1992, the state of Pennsylvania declared eminent domain over Centralia and condemned every building in the town.  In 2002, the Postal Service revoked its zip code.  As of 2007, the town had a population of 9.  The fire is still burning and no knows when it will stop.

How crazy is that?  A ghost town in Pennsylvania?  A fire that has been burning for over 40 years?  I kind of want to drive out there and check it out for myself.  Actually, when I drive out to Michigan, I will have to drive through the entire state of Pennsylvania, perhaps I could take a detour. . .

Into the Beautiful North

June 7, 2009


This first week of summer school was really tough.  I am in class 8am to 5:10pm every day, expect Fridays.  Monday and Wednesday I only have a one hour break during the day.  Plus there’s my online calculus class to deal with when I get home.  At the end of day I trudge the 4 long avenue blocks from school towards my subway station, carrying my textbooks, computer, notebooks, and lab books; feeling tired, hungry, lonely, and worn out.  I finally get to the subway and have to juggle said textbooks and computer without dropping everything to get into my wallet for my MetroCard, then there’s always at least at 10 minute wait for the R train, even during rush hours.  Then, finally!  The train comes, and I get to sit down and read.  I was so happy to have this book to read.  A book is a friend after a long day. 

Funny how in my last entry I was worried I would not have time to read during my commute because of school, and then I finished Into the Beautiful North in 4 days.  Because really, reading about physics, chemistry or calculus at 7am while I’m in the train the morning?  Turns out that is impossible.  And reading about physics, chemistry or calculus on the train ride back home after I’ve spend 8 hours studying physics, chemistry and calculus?  Also impossible.  

Luis Alberto Urrea is one of my favorite authors.  I read his blog on a regular basis and I have the link in my side bar so all you 3 people who read this blog can also read his.  I was really looking forward to this book after reading and loving The Devil’s Highway and The Hummingbird’s Daughter, and I was not disappointed.  Into the Beautiful North is about a group of friends from a rural southern Mexican village who realize that there are no more men left in their town.  They travel to the United States to recruit a group of men and bring them back to their village. It sounds like a far-fetched idea for a book, but it works.  Urrea writes about sad and difficult situations with love, humor and optimism.  His characters are feisty, funny and likable.  This was a quick, satisfying read.  I was sad to see it end.  Here’s a YouTube clip of Urrea discussing the inspiration for this novel:

The Animal Dialogues

June 2, 2009


Craig Childs seems to be some kind of crazy mountain man who goes hiking alone through deserts and mountains for no apparent reason, lives in a tepee in Colorado, and writes essays about the animals he encounters.  It makes for a really interesting read if you’re into that sort of thing.  If you’re not, it will get boring real fast.  I really loved this book, I was able to loose myself in Child’s writing.  He really makes you feel like you’re traveling alongside him through his hikes.  While walking through the lower Rocky Mountains, Childs gets stalked by a mountain lion.  The lion has him cornered against a lake and Childs is trying to play mind games with the big cat to keep it from attacking him.  I’m reading this on subway, and all of a suddenly the train stops short with a loud screech that scared me so badly I nearly fell out of my seat.    

Childs has a lot of respect and reverence for wild places and wildlife.  He seems to detest cities.  My only criticism if this book, the one thing that bugged me, is that he never writes about the wildlife in cities.  He writes essays about coyotes, mice, raccoons, peregrine falcons and hawks, all which live and thrive in cities around the country.  Just because cities are not wild places doesn’t mean they can’t support forms of wildlife.  I would love if Childs came to New York to write about our wildlife.  Our rats, roaches, mice, red tailed hawks, owls, chipmunks, peregrine falcons, horseshoe crabs, raccoons, pigeons, snakes, and the hundreds of bird species that use our parks as their migratory pit stops.  New York is a really wild place, in terms of both wildlife and people. 

I got a bookstore gift card for my birthday last week and treated myself to a hardcover copy of Urrea’s new novel, Into the Beautiful North.  Buying hardcovers is such a splurge, it feels so luxurious to carry one around instead of a library book or paperback.  The sad news is I started my summer school classes yesterday and for the next 5 weeks I won’t be able to do much of anything besides eat, sleep (if I’m lucky) and homework.  I might have to give up my subway reading time for physics or chemistry reading instead, which makes me really sad.  We’ll see how it goes.