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Emily Grossman


August 15, 2011 at 8:17 AM

After the spring semester concluded, I happily shut the case on my violin and forgot about it, save the sporadic summer student appointment.  The mountains were calling, and all my attention went to my training.  In twelve weeks, I lost an unprecedented 9 pounds of fat and gained 3 pounds of muscle, which resulted in a 4  minute improvement on my race time up Mount Marathon this year.  Bumped up 20 places in the results.  I was all about mountain running, there for a while.  But then I turned in a race application one day too late and didn't get in, and my trail running buddy had to cancel the next race for a wedding, and just like that, all the wind went out of my sails.   

June proved to be rainy (again), and my weekly phone calls back to my folks in Oklahoma began to fill with repetitive drear.  They, on the other hand, were suffering from a heat wave like no one had seen before.  As the puddles splashed on the porch, I heard my dad asking, "Do you see any alpine bogs on any of your trail runs?"  I thought for a moment.  "Daddy, I'm pretty sure we live in a bog, actually."  I googled "bog" as he languished longingly over wetlands, and stumbled across this curious sentence:  "In the 19th century it was thought that the bog itself somehow 'attracted' the rain that sustained it."

I researched further and found that there are many types of bogs: sphagnum bogs like the one in my backyard (muskeg, to be more specific), valley bogs, alpine bogs, quaking bogs, and fens (differentiated from bogs by their alkaline nature).  Perhaps the most interesting feature about bogs is their uncanny ability to preserve human bodies  (and cheese).  A quick google of bog bodies revealed a curious freak show of various human sacrifices from the Iron Age that were so well preserved you could still see their 5 o'clock shadow (though by now it's a "2400-year-shadow").  You could even take their fingerprints!  Certainly the bog must have supernatural powers.  Indeed, being neither solid ground nor water, bogs captivated the ancient peoples, who viewed them as the gateway to the world of the gods.

In the kitchen, I relayed these discoveries to the others, and the plot began to build.  We named our unseen nemesis Bogman, Lord of the Rain, empowered by the will of the bog entity.  We assigned Cody G., a superhero with weather-control superpowers, to battle Bogman and his bog-zombies, who try to steal your soul by burying you in the bog to become one of them.  It was up to Cody G, with the help of Cody B, to battle Bogman and make the rain that fuels the bog go away.  We had great fun spinning the plot and fleshing out the characters.  (In the end, Cody J gets the girl.  Or does he?...) 

 It was a great distraction from my looming mid-life crisis, which has been persistently infiltrating my silent thoughts as I press out yet another pan of Rice Krispy treats. 

But don't we all want to know that what we're doing is worthwhile?  No one really wants to look back and say, "What a waste that was."  Or, "Wow, I kinda sucked."  My personal inner nemesis tells me I will never live up to my full potential while working a dead-end baking job at a summer camp.  But as I work, and our discussions revolve around good and evil and the powers that be, I think, maybe Rice Krispy Treats is just as good a transitional point as anything else to spark an idea that could change someone's life.  Who knows, maybe it's the snickerdoodles that will lure them back for more. 

I get bored.  I change the recipes and invent a few new ones.  My original molasses cookies got copied by a chef who is now making them for 500 people working up on the north slope in the oil fields.  It's not an original violin composition or a stunning performance, but it's definitely something.  Worthwhile?  Ah, vanity is just a chasing after the wind.

Every night, I sit down at the drawing desk to work on a color pencil of Juneau Falls for my granny, who wanted something to hang over her fireplace.  She had a stroke this summer, and I wanted to be sure to have it done when I visit her in Oklahoma next week.  Every night, the trees loom like taxes, waiting to be filled out, no cheating.  Such a big blank space of white left, and I can't wait to get away from it to do something simple. 

I walk around the lake again.  For the thousandth time.  Rumor has it there's carnivorous plants there in the bog.  I've never seen them.  I've always walked this same old path on the sawdust trail, mostly to burn calories and get my dog a chance to pee.  Today we will both step off the trail and try something new.  Lured into the bog by a string of ripening cloudberries, I pick my way across the spongy peat.  It's not muddy or sucking me down.  The water looks like tea.  I have to shout at Ben to keep him from pissing on the berries, but once he figures out what I'm doing, I have to shout at him for eating the berries before I get to them.  Cloudberries are sparse; one more day and they are through.  First frost came earlier than it ever has this year, which makes us wonder what the winter will bring. 

And then I spy them.  They are so small, they make the moss look big.  I'm already standing on top of them when I gasp at my discovery: they are everywhere!  Ducking down into their microcosm, I'm amazed by their sticky prongs, set to trap their prey.  In excitement, I lean in for a photo shoot as a gnat wriggles in vain.  This is something I've always wanted to see.

I haven't been this excited about something all year.

From Tom Holzman
Posted on August 15, 2011 at 1:56 PM

Very interesting blog, as usual.  Good luck with your mid-life crisis.  At my age, having seen mid-life come and go and been to busy with other things to have a crisis, I have come to appreciate the smaller things in life and to worry less about whether I have contributed something great to the world or not.  For me, the question might be, have I done or helped someone accomplish something useful today or have I made someone smile?  I am grateful to accomplish/have accomplished more substantial things in my life, but it's not crucial.  However, at your age, I hoped to be a footnote in history, so I understand.

BTW, my violin teacher has some wonderful orchids in her studio, which I spend time admiring each lesson.  Only at the last lesson did I notice that they were surrounded by a nice collection of carnivorous plants of various types.


From Randy Walton
Posted on August 15, 2011 at 6:15 PM

Verrry interestink! (roll the r's please)

Mid-life crisis.......Just how old do you plan to be when you reach your expiration date??

Mid-life?!  It's relative...........maybe overrated as a  cause of concern. :):)

It sounds like you're making an important contribution to people and what is more important than people?

To bad about missing the run:(:(

From marjory lange
Posted on August 15, 2011 at 7:38 PM

 You write lovely blogs, Emily.

Mid-life crises can become rather like a recurring creative discontent--useful for providing cleaner vision and a refreshed attitude, as long as one doesn't wallow in them.  Molasses cookies are a goodness: I use my grandmother's recipe--she died nearly 25 years ago, but she lives on in her recipes, longer than any awesome performance, unrecorded, I mean.  It's all relative.  After all, the bog bodies represent a vanishing small percentage of the ones who have gone before--useful, vibrant lives, spent and returned to the dust.  I'm glad you found your carnivorous plants. They are really spooky inside, but I bet they make 'sense' out where they belong?

From Rosalind Porter
Posted on August 16, 2011 at 2:15 PM

Emily, I love reading your blog posts and this one was no exception.  Please, please post a photo of that gorgeous drawing you are doing for your grandma when it is finished!   

I've never tasted cloudberries, are they very sweet?   What do you make with them?  The bog pictures remind me of rain-sodden holidays in Scotland, where even an umbrella and full waterproof clothing doesn't keep out the wet and most dogs are sensible enough to turn down the offer of a walk, preferring to lie in front of an open fire or warm radiator, chasing rabbits in their dreams...

From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 16, 2011 at 11:37 PM

Aw, thanks everyone!  Cloudberries go from being a bit tart to tasting almost like apples when baked, with a pretty thick consistency.  I like them with greek yogurt and museli, which is rather Scandinavian, I guess.  Eskimos like them in Agutak, with seal fat.  No thanks.

From Francesca Rizzardi
Posted on August 17, 2011 at 3:46 AM

Emily, I too would love to see a photo of the finished drawing.  After reading your blog several times, I realized what great detail there is in your close-up photos.  What kind of camera/lens do you use?  The sharpness is amazing.

From Emily Grossman
Posted on August 17, 2011 at 12:46 PM

Thank you!  This latest a Canon PowerShot D10.  Got it because it's supposedly bomb-proof indestructable.  Somehow I managed, though.  Canon honored their warranty and sent me a refurbished camera in its place, and it's been doing fine.


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