Wednesday, August 31, 2011

Mississippi, Solo

I know.  You're thinking, "These may be nice books, but I want to know what paddling you're doing."  We've been hibernating through the NW Oklahoma drought and bake.  It was 106 degrees again today, and there's more on tap for tomorrow.  With any luck, maybe we can even avoid being in Oklahoma next summer.  But the heat dome is still overhead, eventhough it is supposed to break up soon, and we'll be heading for the water.  I have a couple projects on tap right now to get ready, and I'll write on those soon.  In the meanwhile, join me in living vicariously.

  Credit: Jacket photo from Eddy Harris

Mississippi Solo: A River Quest,was written by Eddy L. Harris (250 pp., 1988, Nick Lyons Books). Starting at Lake Itasca, the True Head of the Mississippi, Mr. Harris began with little canoeing experience and little confidence in his ability to finish what he had started. A few times he even pulled out and called it quits, until he convinced himself each time that quitting wasn’t an option he could live with. If the adventure was to leave him with priceless memories that would live in him the rest of his life, he didn’t want the overriding memory to be that he had wimped out.
He grew up in St. Louis and had spent a lifetime watching the river, but was to find he had never known the river. He was not only to learn its moods, challenges, and hazards, but over time would begin to feel at one with the river, and through it actually find himself. Except for the night his camp was invaded by a couple rednecks waving shotguns, he found people surprisingly helpful and friendly. Many identified with his quest and envied his determination to keep pushing for 2,300 miles. This is a very readable book.

Thursday, August 25, 2011

The Arctic Grail

Credit: Jacket cover photo by Amazon
I don’t know how this book made it onto a paddlers’ reading list. There is little paddling involved. In the first few trips into the North, the expeditions were indeed equipped with canoes because they had been used by fur traders further south, but therein lies one of a thousand follies. None of the members of the expeditions had any experience with canoes or how to use them. However, The Arctic Grail: The Quest for the Northwest Passage and the North Pole, 1818-1909, (by Pierre Berton, 630 pp., Viking Press, 1988) is a fascinating and thorough book. The book is held in high enough regard that it was picked up by Franklin Press and published in a leather-bound 22-karat gold gilded edition for the collector series. It could easily serve as a text for a semester-long course in Northern geography, Arctic exploration, survival in the frigid North, and the men that ventured into areas where many failed to ever return. Paddling book or not, I’m glad I had the chance to read it, and you most likely would be too.

Here are a few peeks into the book that may excite your interest in reading it yourself.

(1) Water in the Arctic us as scarce as in the desert. To eat snow was forbidden by both Eskimos and explorers alike. It would lower the body temperature and prove fatal. Fuel to melt snow or ice was too scarce. Extreme thirst and water shortage was common.

(2) One of the biggest killers, whether at sea or on an Arctic exploration, was scurvy. When Edward Perry provisioned for the expedition of 1819, canning had just been invented, so Parry loaded the ship with canned vegetables and fruit. Canning was so new that the can opener hadn’t been invented yet. The ships’ cooks used axes to open the cans.

(3) Maps had remained blank much above Hudson Bay for hundreds of years. Why the sudden rush of exploration? The War of 1812 and the Napoleonic Wars all ended in 1815. Great Britain had one of the largest fighting forces on earth, and was suddenly plagued with peace. Most soldiers and sailors were paid off and were suddenly unemployed, but to keep the upper class and officers on the payrolls, voyages of exploration were devised to map, survey, and seek the fabled Northwest Passage.

(4) Navigation was both difficult and often heartbreaking. The ice is in constant motion. It rotates west around the top of the earth at the same time that it is constantly driven south. Traveling is like walking the wrong way on an airport moving sidewalk. On one day a team spent the entire day making their way north over eleven miles of ice only to find at day’s end that they were three miles south of where they started. Tremendous forces would drive the ice vertically, stacking huge blocks of ice one on top of another, until they would rise up to a hundred or more feet high. When the ice encountered a land mass, it would be driven a half-mile inland. These pressure ridges would have to be attacked with picks to break a way through, or long distances would have to be traveled to circumvent them. In addition to trying to gain miles, a lot of time was spent shuttling fuel, food, and supplies to sustain life itself. The statistics of one party was enough to break their spirit---they had clocked 978 miles over the ice, but had only made good 178 miles from their starting point.

In short, you may really want to read this. You may be shocked at what you never knew.

Wednesday, August 24, 2011

Marland Mansion, Pt. 3

Half-way through doing Part 2, the internet went out, so we'll try to finish it here.
Marland gathered artisans from all over the world. There were so many that a huge studio was built on the grounds to give them a place to work and live. There were ornately painted ceilings, arches, domes, Italian murals, works of art like landscapes and life-sized portraits and statues, tapestries, custom cast bronze light fixtures weighing 250 lbs. each, stone carvings, and then Waterford crystal chandeliers and gold leaf that would run a couple million dollars. The artists would lie on their backs on scaffolds to paint the ceilings just as Michelangelo did in the Sistine Chapel of Rome. The sheer scantlings of the construction are mind warping. The floors are six inches of terrazzo over nine inches of concrete. The still-functional elevator is lined with buffalo leather. The walk-in closets are the size of bedrooms in many homes, are cedar-lined throughout, and a couple include wall safes for jewelry.

The Main Ballroom with Waterford crystal chandelier
and portraits of E.W. and Lydie Marland.
Hand-painted arched ceiling of
loggia or hallway.

Mr. and Mrs. Marland had not just separate beds, but separate suites, separate dressing rooms, carved fire places, and each distinctly decorated and furnished to the individual’s taste. Mr. Marland’s suite was done in a soothing soft green with a walnut-lined dressing room. The suite included an office he used for his oil business as well as work for the state while he served as congressman and Oklahoma’s tenth governor. If the labor made him a little tense and tired, his bath included one of the country’s first saunas and a shower with 11 ceramic nozzles in the dinner-plate-sized showerhead. His personal library immediately caught my attention, and included a full-set, first-edition of the complete works of Mark Twain.

Marland's private study.

Mr. Marland's bedroom.

Lydie's bedroom in limewood and rose.

The tour of the estate would take at least a half-day, and to list all the attractions here would make this the Marland Mansion blog. This is only a taste, or enticement to see this wonderful creation for yourself. The saddest part of the whole legacy for me was that between his oil business, serving in Washington and the Oklahoma State Capital, the Marlands only lived in their new home a bit over two years.

Marland Mansion, Pt.2

Next to the formal dining room in the Marland Mansion is the breakfast room. It was said to be E.W.’s favorite room in the house, octagon-shaped, with wall plaster-relief representing the tree of life, and English hunting scenes.

The service kitchen with the "every day" silver and table settings.

Behind the breakfast room is the service kitchen. When the mansion was built, the very latest and most modern wonders were incorporated. The counters are monel, the next highest grade above stainless steel, and had ammonia-powered refrigeration, a steam dishwasher, and a huge safe to protect the highest-grade silver services. There was no cooking done in the service kitchen. That was all done in the large kitchen on the floor below so no heat or cooking odors entered the living or entertaining areas, and was then sent up in a dumbwaiter. The dumbwaiter also continued to the top floor so meals could also be served in their private suites. The entire house was wired with a lighted communicator panel and intercom system so servants were always only a finger-touch away.
Ceiling panels hand-painted and gold-leafed around
250-lb. light fixtures.

Ceiling of the Main Ballroom patterned after Versailles.

Sunday, August 21, 2011

SUP Mississippi, 2011

I had heard about some crazy guy paddling the Mississippi on a stand-up paddleboard (SUP), but didn’t find out until today on Facebook who he is, and that it was part of an organized effort. The reason for the SUP is it would qualify as a Guinness record for the longest SUP trip. The who in the equation is David Cornthwaite, of London, England. The most interesting part is that the Mississippi trip is the fourth trip of what he calls Expedition 1000. He is planning to do 25 trips of a minimum of 1,000 miles each, and doing each trip by a different form of non-motorized transportation. So far he has skateboarded across Australia for 3,638 miles, kayaked Australia’s Murray River for 1,479 miles, rode a tandem bike from Vancouver to Las Vegas for 1,396 miles, and now should log about 2,400 miles on the Mississippi River by paddleboard. I’ll attach a link to his blog in the Favorite Blogs section on the right margin. Check him out.

Friday, August 19, 2011

Marland Estate Mansion

This is non-paddling, but I think you’ll find it interesting. The day after the storm went through that I described below, we took the grand-daughters for a trip to Ponca City to visit a few museums. We were headed for the Standing Bear Museum, the Pioneer Woman Museum, and the Marland Estate Mansion. We were surprised by the amount of storm damage we were about to encounter.

We arrived at the Standing Bear Museum to find all the wires down and the broken electric poles in the parking lot. Sure enough, the museum was closed due to lack of electrical power.

From there we moved on to the Pioneer Woman Museum, and it was also closed and locked.

It was lunchtime and the girls were hungry, but none of the restaurants in the area had power. Then we learned that power was being restored a block or two at a time, and the work had started from the north end of town, so we moved north until we found a Pizza Hut with its doors open. They were short of staff, and were flooded with people, so there was no ordering from the menu. They were working to keep the buffet table stocked, and it was buffet or nothing. We had traveled 292 miles round-trip to take the girls on an outing, but thanks to the storm, our efforts were not going to plan. We had one more shot, so we headed for the Marland Mansion.

We parked and were walking leisurely about when a man came out and asked if we were interested in a tour of the mansion. The electrical power had just come back on about ten minutes earlier, and he was going to be doing the one and only tour of the day. I said, “Count us in,” and we were off.

The mansion is one of the most popular tourist sites in Oklahoma, and if you visit the area, I’d highly recommend it. The mansion can be toured with a guide, or on your own with a self-guided tour pamphlet. I’d recommend the guided tour, which provides much greater detail, and then you are free to wander through the mansion to inspect areas of interest in greater detail.

The mansion is Italian Renaissance, but has rooms with touches of French, English, Chinese, Arabian, American Indian, and American Southwest. It was constructed between 1925 and 1928 to be the home of Ernest W. Marland and his wife, Lydie. Marland was the founder of Marland Oils, which eventually became Conoco-Phillips Petroleum. It contains 55 rooms, including 10 bedrooms, 10 baths, 7 fireplaces, and three kitchens, all totaling 43,561 square feet. I don’t know if the roughly 300 feet of underground tunnels, solid concrete panic room, concealed wine and whiskey room (since it was used during prohibition) and concealed poker room were included in that total or not. Here’s the choker. Marland spent $5.5 million on the house. Inflating the dollar to today, building it now would run well over $67,346,000. Actually, it would probably be substantially more than that, as many of the skills needed for such construction either don’t exist, or would be extremely costly to replicate. Brass work, wrought iron, milling, stone cutting and stone carving, glass blowing, ceiling painting, wood carving, etc., were mostly done on site.

The heavy wood entrance doors were built in New York. Just inside, in the lobby, are white French limestone statues of both Mr. and Mrs. Marland.

The formal dining room is made of hand-cut wood panels of rare English Pollard Oak. Marland received special permission from King George V to cut the trees from Sherwood Forest. The cast vaulted ceiling was built at bench level and then hoisted in place and attached to steel beams. The specially cast wall sconces are of Sheffield silver and copper.

Friday, August 12, 2011

A Puddle!!! Really!!!

Credit: Google pictures

Every time I go outside, I think of the years I was manager of a floor covering business. Women would drive me crazy matching color tones. It could have been so much easier here, especially if the shopper was into earth-tones. They could have more easily described the exact shade they sought. The lawn is earth-tone. The trees are earth-tone. The tall grasses are a lighter shade earth-tone than the short grasses. Each shrub is a different earth-tone. And evergreens are everbrowns.

But I found something in the backyard yesterday morning called a puddle. It’s the first one we’ve had since March, definitely, and it may be the first one this year. Northwest Oklahoma, like much of Texas, is in extreme draught, and while this little shower is welcome, it will do nothing to change the shortage. I doubt it will even run into the streams and creeks for the wildlife, but will most likely all be absorbed where it landed.

We almost never get normal systemic rain in this part of the county where a system comes in and brings saturating rain that lasts for a couple days. All of our rain is the byproduct of storms, often violent and damaging. Locally, even such rain will most often never reach the ground, but is evaporated into the air as it falls.  The other day we had storms come through that brought high straight-line hurricane-force winds, the highest being clocked at 98 mph. Trees were broken and toppled, power lines taken down, commercial signs and billboards destroyed, tractor-trailers flipped, roofs pealed off, and restaurants like Sonic and gas stations with covered islands had their steel awnings crumpled into rubble. The power lines near Lahoma, OK, were taken down, leaving us with no lights, refrigeration, air conditioning or fans well into the night, and most of the highway signs along Rt. 412 were bent over about 40-degrees. While this was going on, we looked at the radar. We were in a severe thunderstorm warning box, and our area was covered with bright red, orange and yellow indicating a heavy downpour. We got a few large drops that gave the street a reflective sheen for about ten minutes before it too was evaporated. Everything else disappeared before it reached the ground. All it did was temporarily raise our humidity from a mid-twenty to low-fifty percentage level, but yesterday morning, the ground was actually wet.

This shower was welcome, but was only symbolic unless we get a lot more rain to follow. The loss just in our local area has to run into the millions of dollars. We feel bad having lost hundreds of dollars in killed landscaping shrubs and our broken house foundation, but farmers cattle ranchers have faired much worse, as have many others. Ranchers have had to sell off most or all of their herds because there is not water for them, and no grass for them to graze on. One rancher we saw interviewed basically lost his life’s work when he had to auction off a herd of cattle that had taken him forty years to build. Bottom line? An extreme draught can cause a lot more problems than not being able to go paddling.

Friday, August 5, 2011

Water Wars

I’m sorry I haven’t had much (anything) going on the water lately. There isn’t any water around to speak of, and we continue to sit at ground zero directly under the heat dome. We’re breaking heat records every day.

I’ve poked fun at the Cimarron being called a river, because it is usually nothing more than a creek. It’s now just a trickle, but the bed does serve to bring a small amount of water down from Kansas and Colorado. There are deer tracks all around the banks, as it’s the only water to be found. We’ve been religious about putting water out twice a day in the birdbath and putting a misting hose on Jean’s pet birds outside each day as soon as the temperature tops 100. In the evening, when the temperature drops to 104, she turns the mist off and puts their food back in their cages so they have a chance to eat before it gets totally dark. Until now, the stream behind our house has never dried up, and it’s the only water around here for birds or wildlife. However, it went dry several weeks ago. We’ve had birds at the bath drinking, bathing, and just congregating and standing in the water. Even bees come to drink. Many of the things we usually see in the summer, like butterflies and hummingbirds, have just disappeared. The squirrels went to the birdbath a couple times, but then took a liking to the watering hose and irrigation system. So far they’ve chewed seven holes in the hoses, which I have to keep splicing. We even put a watering bowl and bath behind the air conditioner for them, but they continue chewing holes in the hoses a foot away. I spent one morning burying the hose, which they dug up the next morning and chomped another hole in. Here in a few minutes I’m going out to take the hose apart and run it through PVC pipe. We’ll see if that slows them down any.