Thursday, August 25, 2016

Tracing a Victorian Woman's Hokkaido Journey

In the summer of 1878, Isabella Bird sailed from Aomori in the north of Honshu to Hakodate in Hokkaido, Japan's northernmost island of any size.

She then sought undeveloped places beyond Hakodate.

When she returned home to Edinburgh, Scotland, she published a book of her letters, Unbeaten Tracks in Japan. It's still in print and available as an ebook. It's a good read, full of intense and detailed observations.

She was the first Western woman to explore beyond Hakodate. She traveled on horseback, accompanied by a native-Japanese interpreter, and stayed in the homes of the indigenous Ainu people.

Thursday, August 18, 2016

Japan's First ESL (English as a Second Language) Teacher

September 2016: I'll land in Wakkanai, Japan's northernmost airport capable of handling commercial jets. If the plane were to fly 30 miles further, I'd be in the Russian Federation.

I'll then take a boat to Rishiri Island.

July 1848: Ranald MacDonald, 24 years old, half native American, half Scottish, landed on Rishiri Island. He represented himself as a castaway to the Ainu, the local, indigenous people.

But MacDonald was not a castaway. Driven by curiosity, he was risking death by entering a society that was closed to outsiders. He had boarded a whaler in Lahaina, Maui, and persuaded the captain to set him adrift in a small boat in the Sea of Japan.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Trek to Tiny Tim's Tomb

In 1968 Tiny Tim released his first album, God Bless Tiny Tim, and his falsetto Tiptoe Through the Tulips became a worldwide phenomenon. In 1996 he had a heart attack on stage at the Minneapolis Women's Club, and was pronounced dead at the nearby Hennepin County Medical Center.

It seemed strangely appropriate to start my hike to Tiny Tim's tomb outside a factory that makes jingle machines for ice cream trucks. On the way, I would pick out other points of interest, including the former home of a pathologist whose name is known to millions of men around the world, the home of an elf, and a former fast-food outlet which is now on the National Register of Historical Places.

Thursday, July 28, 2016

My Shortest Urban Hike Ever

Around the turn of the nineteenth century, movers and shakers built some standout homes on Lowry Hill, Minneapolis.

Last week I decided to get to know part of the neighborhood a little better. I'd had surgery the previous week, and the chosen day promised to be the hottest in four years. This would be my shortest urban hike, ever.

I walked from our home to the 1925 Elizabeth C. Quinlan House (pictured above). Quinlan operated a successful department store in the Young-Quinlan Building, a gracious structure that still adds heart to downtown Minneapolis.

Monday, July 18, 2016

Lego Technic Therapy

My mind goes to a different place when I build models with Lego Technic and Mindstorms. This week, as I recover from surgery, a dose of Technic seemed like a good idea.

I decided to work on my Lego Technic design aesthetic. Yoshihito Isogawa produces wonderful Technic books that demonstrate a pleasing balance of form and function. He presents each model as a series of pictures: there are no words to explain the thinking behind the design.

I love to stare at the pictures and figure out why a model looks good.

I decided to build one of Isogawa's models, a "gripping fingers" mechanism. While building it, I would ask myself questions about the design choices.

Monday, July 11, 2016

Steps to Fitness After Prostate Cancer Surgery

This week I'll walk into a hospital feeling fit, with no symptoms.

Dr. "Zap" will sit at a console at the side of an operating room. Across the room, a da Vinci robot will carry out his instructions via five small incisions.

Good riddance to my prostate, a ticking time bomb. (I'll miss it, though.)

Next day I'll leave the hospital, feeling pretty weak.

Monday, July 4, 2016

Small Experiences on a Big Journey

We stood behind a crowd at Edinburgh Castle waiting for the one-o'clock cannon to fire. Many eyes were fixed on cell phones to catch the moment to share on Facebook. Bodies in Edinburgh, minds in other places.

Meanwhile, my nephews were determined to climb up rocks where climbing was not allowed.

Last month's trip to the UK with our nephews (7 and 8) and their parents was a series of small experiences. We saw some big sights, but the time spent between those sights, living in the moment, gave meaning to my journey.

A metal drain cover extending the length of the sidewalk outside our hotel in Edinburgh is a case in point. (See the picture at the top of this post.) On a rainy day it became a slide, made all the more dangerous by the higher center of gravity imposed by the boys' backpacks. Our protestations fell on deaf ears as they giggled and slid.

The previous evening they enjoyed the attention of the hotel bartender. She was from Catalonia, the boys chatted with her in Spanish, and I barely understood a word.