Monthly Archives: June 2008

Landscape: Clear Creek Canyon

The site of recent outdoor adventuring: Golden, Colorado’s Clear Creek Canyon. Golden is a way-cool little town on the west side of Denver. It still has a slight Old West feel in its downtown area, which is also the location of a kayak park and the Coors brewery. Dip into Clear Creek Canyon, just west outside of Golden on Highway 6, and the towering rock walls will quickly put you in your place. The canyon is only thirteen miles long, but there is something to climb at every pullout. And while you’re out there rock climbing, kayakers and rafters will be yahoo-ing through the rapids below. This has been the experience, at least, in the last two weekends, as I’ve been meeting up with friends to climb there. Last weekend, we checked out the Tunnel 2 area for some sport climbing along the River Wall and High Wire areas (pictured right and below).

I always get super-excited to see wildlife in its element, and while we didn’t stumble upon any mountain goats or rattlesnakes, we found some spring (or is it summer now?) flowers instead. This yellow cactus bloom stuck out beautifully against its dusty brown background:

Back in Vail, the creek continues to churn powerfully outside my window, and yellow pollen grains are scattering themselves all over the place. Summer is perhaps just starting in the mountains: cool blue skies in the mornings and threatening black clouds rolling over the peaks in the afternoons.

Literature: Arnold’s Beach

What—exactly—makes a good beach read? I pondered this question with gal pal Arika (pictured right) on a recent weekend jaunt that included a trip to her local beach near Holland, Michigan. At this time of the year, the “beach reads” lists are cropping up all over the place (i.e.’s This Summer’s Best Beach Reads List!!!!). Some of these lists are more sympathetic to those of us living in landlocked states, substituting the word “summer” for “beach,” such as the LA Times 2008 Summer Reading List. Lists aside, Arika and I decided that the best beach book depends a lot on the person doing the reading. “Theology is pretty much the only thing I don’t bring to the beach,” she says, which is understandable since she works editing theological texts for an academic publisher.

I happened to be equipped with a book that I was reading for an upcoming review, but when I really thought about it, I would have rather been reading an anthology of Victorian poetry. Yep. That’s my pick for this summer’s eager readers. Victorian poetry. A lot of the subject matter in Victorian poetry seems perfectly suited for beach landscapes; the Victorians aren’t as hopeful as the Romantics, and they seem to have a more realistic respect for nature. Victorian poetry is at once beautiful and powerful, like the ocean in many ways.

If I were to pick one, just one, Victorian poem that illustrates this idea, I’d choose Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach” (1867). Click here to read the entire poem (it’s only 37 lines long), or have a moment with its final two stanzas:

The Sea of Faith
Was once, too, at the full, and round earth’s shore
Lay like the folds of a bright girdle furl’d.
But now I only hear
Its melancholy, long, withdrawing roar,
Retreating, to the breath
Of the night-winds, down the vast edges drear
And naked shingles of the world.

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confus’d alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Thanks to for the online text of Matthew Arnold’s “Dover Beach,” as it appears in:
Stedman, Edmund Clarence, ed. A Victorian Anthology, 1837–1895. Cambridge: Riverside Press, 1895;, 2003.

Life: Sex and City Chairs

On a recent trip to GRAND RAPIDS, MICHIGAN (answer to previous post), I encountered more than my fair share of sexy city lines. As has been previously documented on Down and Out, my fascination with sexy lines ranges from those found in natural settings to those found in urban spaces. It might sound strange, but I’m especially a sucker for good chairs. Actually, I am currently writing this from a run-down West Vail laundromat, and the fact that I’m sitting in smooth-lined molded plastic chairs makes the wait more enjoyable. They’re the bright-blue-retro-cool kind, but these white rows of modern chairs inside an auditorium in Grand Rapids caught my eye. The butterfly style of the chairs (pictured below) became popular in the 1950s, when around five million chairs in this style alone were produced:

More sexy city chairs were to be found at the GRAM (Grand Rapids Art Museum). The GRAM has a great Sunday bunch, and these Philippe Starck chairs (below and above, right) were positioned by the coffee bar, much to my delight. Starck is an amazing designer, and you can click here to check out more of his work.

Finally, outside the GRAM, my friend Arika and I hung out around these lime green leaf-looking chairs. I might guess that this design came out of Japan, but they’re from Arper, an Italian design company.

Inside of the museum, of course, there were some sexy chairs on display, such as the Herman Miller lounge chairs designed by Charles and Ray Eames. But you couldn’t just jump the rope and take a rest on those. Sometimes you want to sit on art, and it was a good thing that the GRAM had other artfully designed chairs scattered around for that purpose.

Landscape: Guess This City

Anyone out there want to guess what American city has been photographed here? I’ll try to give a few hints, as the photos are a bit nonspecific. Let’s see. This city is in a state that most people say is shaped like your right hand (when you look at it with your palm turned towards your eyes).

The state produces berries like crazy in the summer, and it can be wickedly cold and windy during the winter months. That narrows it down a tad. Now, this city is the second largest one in the state, and it is on the banks of a river. The river allowed the area’s first European inhabitants to trade fur and textiles, but the Ottawa Indians had already been establishing settlements along the river since around 1700 A.D.

Being a non-city person, I especially appreciated its open spaces and parks, such as this one in the downtown area:

And, of course, I had to make a trip to the city’s art museum, which currently has a fantastic Andy Warhol exhibit on display:

Most of Down and Out’s landscape posts focus on natural beauty in some way, and being in this city reminded me how cities, too, can be naturally beautiful. This photo is a detail of the waterfall outside at the art museum:

Any guesses what this city might be?? I’ll follow up with an answer in the next post.

Literature: Burroughs’ Wolf at the Table

“Where there is nothing, absolutely anything is possible, and this thrilled me. It gave me hope.”
-Augusten Burroughs in A Wolf at the Table

Augusten Burroughs’ newest book, A Wolf at the Table: A Memoir of My Father –St. Martin’s Press, 2008–is probably not the best book to give your dad this Father’s Day. But it may make you feel thankful if your father does not resemble the one in this story. In A Wolf at the Table, Burroughs tells yet another story of his family’s history, and in this one, his father takes center stage. A man whose offenses include starving a pet to death, being calculatingly cold, and skipping out on family vacations, Burroughs’ father is this book’s villain. This memoir will likely inspire more sympathy than rage in its readers, however, as they come to see the sadness that permeates Burroughs’ childhood and continues into his adult life. Burroughs may be best known for the tales of his darkly comic upbringing, as they are told in Running with Scissors (2002). Little of that comedy is found in his latest book; this one takes a deeper, darker turn into the subject matter that Burroughs has proven he already knows so well.

CLICK HERE for a link to my review of this book’s audio version on the Contemporary Literature site.