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Thursday, May 29, 2008

Joanne Came to Visit!

In which we take Stick Jessica around Oxford, and I wax philosophical (and wonder what exactly it means to ‘wax’)

Hey! Look at that. It’s Joanne! And (looks closer) is that Jessica? Sure is!
I got to take Joanne and Stick Jessica around Oxford. I introduced them to Amy and Samantha,

took them punting,
and explored the Natural History Museum (Stick Jessica didn’t like the crocodile).
It was really wonderful to see Joanne. I visited her in Spain over my break, and she had shown me around, so it was great to return the favour. She stayed in the extra room in my flat, and we watched a movie and knitted every night…it as almost like the good old days back in the States, except Jessica wasn’t there (N.B. Joanne and Jessica are my roommates at school).

But spending time with Joanne got me thinking about how much we have, or haven’t changed since studying abroad. Joanne, for example, now eats tomatoes and drinks tea (a real shocker for anyone who has ever shared a kitchen with her). And so I started to wonder about if, and how I’ve changed.

I’ve done a lot of things here that I’d never done before. I’ve lived with two guys who weren’t related to me, I’ve gone on a three day hike (twice!), I’ve cooked without a microwave, and I’ve even picked up a whole new vocabulary. And so much more. I’ve translated Homer and Plato, read several philosophers I’d never studied before, had to make friends all on my own, travelled to another country by myself, and found (two) home churches. I even started a secret society, but I can’t tell you about it, because then I’d have to kill you. I could keep listing all the new experiences I’ve had, but that will only distract me from my main point. Can I have had so many new experiences and not change?

Philosophy student that I am, I then start to wonder if people really do change, or just become more of themselves. I’m certainly different than I was when I was, say, in middle school (about 13 years old for my UK readers). I’m (a little) taller, I have a wider vocabulary, I’m (arguably) more mature, and I’m definitely over the whole boys-have-cooties thing. But am I really a different person, or just an older version of the younger me? Does an acorn actually change into an oak tree, or does it simply become one? In other words, does an acorn itself already possess all the qualities of an oak tree? Or perhaps more complicated, does a caterpillar, in becoming a butterfly, truly change into something entirely new, or does simply become a better caterpillar? Is a butterfly just the full realization of the potential that exists in the caterpillar?

These aren’t new questions, as anyone who has ever been dragged through an Intro to Philosophy class will know. And, at least at the moment, I’m not trying to finding the answer to them. I guess what I really am wondering is this: I know, or at least have a pretty good idea of, who the person was who went to England back in January. But will the person who goes back to the States in just over two weeks be the same one?

Saturday, May 24, 2008

Cotswold Way

The Other Half of the Fun

So, this past weekend, Samantha and I decided to finish walking the Cotswold Way (If you missed my post about walking the first half, click here). This time we had real walking sticks (technically, a pair of ski-poles that I bought for a quid at a second hand store), much lighter backpacks, and actual reservations for where we were going to sleep. Oh, and a hitchhiker.

This is Angela TheTroll, Amy’s travelling companion. We would have brought Amy, but she didn’t fit in the backpack, so we brought Angela instead.

Last time I posted about Cotswold Way I gave a day-by-day travelogue. We had a lot farther to travel (over 55 miles), and less time to do it in (3 days) than last time, so I didn’t have time to keep track of what happened day to day. So instead, I’ll just give a list of everything we learned over out 100 mile trek. But first…time spent walking each day:

Day 1: 7 hours, 25 minutes
Day 2: 7 hours, 43 minutes
Day 3: 7 hours, 17 minutes

Things we Learned:

1. Rainy weather at 5:00 AM can be very discouraging.
2. The parts of England that aren’t made of mud and sheep are made of snails and slugs (big, black, ugly slugs)
3. There is a lack of places to answer nature’s call on the Way. We would have settled for a discreet tree or wall, but most of the time we were hiking through sheep pastures.
4. You hike a lot faster when you have to pee (a lot. As in just about running. Especially when the town you thought was 1 mile away turns out to be a full 3 miles away)
5. Inns are really cool places to stay. Being in the same building as your food source is a major plus.
6. Some pubs *ahem* the ones in Dursely *ahem* do not serve food on the weekends.
7. There are a lot more hikers on Cotswold Way when it isn’t cold enough to snow.
8. Wild onions are beautiful, and make the forests look like they have white carpets.
9. Wild onions smell like…onions. Strong enough to make you sick after an hour of smelling it.
10. There is a strange plant the smells like chocolate, but we never figured out what it was.
11. It’s illegal to grab a fish and run away with it.
12. Areas with dense foliage are strangely warm and humid.
13. If you are eating an apple in a field where there are horses…you will be expected to share.
14. STILES are EVIL and should all be DISMANTLED, CHOPPED UP, and BURNED.
15. 20 miles remains, as always, a very, very, long way to walk.
16. Ski poles don’t break as easily as “grotty” wooden walking sticks.
17. Some kissing gates are too small to fit a person and a backpack.
18. Mud and thistles are strangely attracted to me. And thistles hurt…a lot.
19. Samantha likes to step in cow pies.
20. All English countryside starts to look the same after a while.
21. There is some very confusing signage along the Way.
22. Getting lost can add a lot of time to the days walking…and is especially bad if climb the wrong hill.
23. Hills are evil.
24. English Breakfasts are a great way to start a day of hiking.
25. Backpacks get heavier the longer you carry them, even if you eat all the food.
26. There are not words to describe how wonderful it feels to see the town that is your final destination.
church steeple of Painswick

27. The buses from Painswick to Stroud (next place with a train station) stop running at 5:00PM
28. A taxi from Painswick to Stroud costs about 15 quid.
29. Trains are good. Trains that have a café are even better.
30. A G&D’s brownie sundae is a perfectly acceptable dinner after hiking 50 miles.

Monday, May 19, 2008

The Continuing Adventures of the River Rats

In Which we are Rescued by Firemen…Twice

This post is a little late in coming, as the incident concerned took place last Wednesday. It started, as have all out punting expeditions, with Laura procuring a boat for us through her college. This time, instead of starting from Magdalen Bridge, we began at the Cherwell River boathouse. This meant that we would be following the river as it ran near my house. Our purpose in this was a desire to go down the punt rollers next to the University Park. The punt rollers allow one to roll the boat either up or down into a different section of the river.
Punt Rollers near my house, picture from Wikipedia.
The trip began without incident. We took turns punting, reading out loud, and snacking on the strawberries and muffins Laura had brought. The pole got stuck in the mud once while I was punting, but we were able to paddle back to it and retrieve it without much trouble. We continued peacefully along the river until we came to the punt rollers. Laura was closest to the front of the boat, so she climbed out and grabbed the tie-up rope. As she pulled the punt towards the rollers, I steered from the back. Once the punt was straight, we all climbed out and, pulling and pushing, got it out of the water and onto the rollers. Watching people go up and down the rollers is quite the spectator sport and soon a small group was watching us. There was a group of about five firemen at the park (I guess they were spending their break there) and, taking pity on the four American girls trying desperately to pull their boat down the rollers, offered to help. One of them grabbed the rope and helped us pull the boat across the top, flat part of the rollers.

Once we were near the bottom, we thanked him, put the pole back into the boat, and continued to push it down, ready to jump back in once the punt hit the water. The fireman again offered to help, and suggested we all get back into the punt and he push it off the rollers for us. We agreed, and climbed back in. I was at the front (technically the back-end of the boat), with the pole, ready to turn us around once we hit the water. The fireman pushed the boat, and we rolled down the ramp, just like we were on a small flume ride. It was then I had the quick thought that, when a flume boat hits the water, the front end always dips down and soaks the person sitting there. Sure enough, we hit the water at full speed and the front/back submerged, completely soaking me. We were going so fast that we weren’t able to control the punt, and crashed into the bank. We tried to push off, only to find that we were stuck.

The firemen, seeing this, came down and helped us to get loose, one of them commenting, “If you ever need help again, now you know not to ask the fire brigade”. After exchanging a lot of “thank yous” and laughter, we continued down the stream for a bit, before we had to turn back.

The rule with rivers, of course, is what comes down must go up, and so back up the punt rollers we must go. There were no firemen this time, so we were on our own. I got out and was helping to pull the boat around in line with the rollers when I over-balanced and fell into the river (I know—stories of me falling into rivers while punting are getting kind of old now). Samantha helped me back out, and chanting “One, two, three, PULL”, we somehow managed to get the punt back up the rollers and into the water. Being thoroughly soaked, and having a tutorial later in the day, I decided to head back home, since my house was only about a 5 minute walk away. I’ve been told the rest of the trip back upriver went uneventfully, which apparently is only possible when I’m not around. But I like to think I add a bit of entertainment to what would otherwise be a very monotonous three hours.

P.S. Samantha and I finished hiking Cotswold Way this weekend. Details to come…

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Why I Couldn’t Write my Paper

As long as I'm not getting any work done, I might as well make a list. If you can think of any others (and they must be attributed either to a philosopher or a philosophical school) put them in the comments and I'll add to the list.

1. Because there are an infinite number of halves between any two points, I was unable to traverse the distance from by bed to my desk. (Zeno)

2. I could be deceived about the existence of my paper. (Descartes)

3. Since there is no certain knowledge anyway, I figured, why bother? (Hume)

4. I was unable to ascertain the prompt nominally and hence dismissed it as an unworthy artifact of mere phenomenal experience. (Kant- submitted by Andrew)

5. What is an 'essay', anyway? Eh? Ah-ha! Too slow! Gotcha! (Socrates- submitted by Andrew)

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Remeber When?

For Mother's Day
Remember when you use to write cheesy poems for your parents, the kind they had to like no matter what? Well, I found one of those. I think I wrote it in sixth grade, but I'm not sure. Anyways, Mom, this is for you.

You Paved the Way

When I was born, you looked down the road,
Which I was to follow.
You saw many bumps that would trip me,
And holes I might fall into.

So you went before me,
And paved the way.
Yet you left some stones and ruts,
That I might pave the way one day.

When the sun came out,
You gave me shade.
I learned to give to others.
When it rained you gave me shelter,
I learned to help others.
When I cried you gave me your shoulder.
I learned to give comfort.

You went before me to test the bridge.
You went before me to clear the path.
You went down the road in front of me,
You paved the way.

Saturday, May 10, 2008

Some Introspective Thoughts on an Excursion

This thin grey rope is all that separates me from the past—but I understand. I won’t cross it. It is there for my safety, you see. Because if you get too close to the past, there is no turning back. The past is dangerous. It knows too much, and if you aren’t careful, it will teach you. Beware these lessons of the past! These standing stones might tell you something of yourself. Something you didn’t want to know—or wanted to forget. So keep your distance. Hold on to the consul of the present. And don’t cross the rope.

When you hold up a mirror to the past—
Make sure you hold it at an angle, and smooth out any wrinkles. After all, the wearing signs of time are not wanted here. Train your vines to climb the stairs of the altar of the gods—smooth altar—no bloodstains here. Don’t let your garden grow willy-nilly where it will. But make sure each petal is in place, each stem where it belongs. Then, when you hold up your mirror—hold it straight. Capture the domestic majesty of the planned wilderness. And if your mirror isn’t enough, snap a picture, take it with you, so can look more closely some other time.


“Come and dance with us,” call the stones, “come and dance.” Or maybe it’s the sheep. Either way, the pagans come and dance, come and dance, rings within these rings. And they dance and talk about why this stone is pointy-end-down and where the ley lines are and can you feel it? The mystery here. That ever-present why. The why sings out, echoes, bouncing from stone to stone. Maybe the sheep know. Somewhere, old souls are hiding and watching. Watching and laughing as the pagans dance. Laughing because they know what we have forgotten.

Thursday, May 8, 2008

River Rats

How to Punt in Oxford

This post is a little late in coming, and I apologize. I’ve been very busy lately, as my tutorial was moved from Saturday to Thursday, meaning I lost a couple of working days. But you don’t want to hear all the boring details about my life (well, actually, I suppose that’s debateable, since you are reading my blog), so onward to the real post.

Last Saturday, Laura invited Amy, Samantha and I to go punting. Laura’s college, Brasenose, owns several punts that the students can sign out, so it was free for us to go. For those who don’t know, punting is boating with a pole. I’ll try to explain it a little here, but I would highly recommend clicking on the link if you’re interested, since it also explains the different styles of punting (and the picture of the 'punt rollers' is from near my house).

The four of us met up at Magdalen Bridge and Laura signed out the punt. As the only experienced punter in the group, she got the rather difficult task of getting us going upstream and not swept under the bridge. It had been raining for about two days now, and though the weather today was clear and beautiful, the water was high and the current was very strong.

After getting us out of danger of being swept under the bridge and downstream, Laura explained the basics of punting to us. There are two ends to the boat, one that is open, and one that is covered. You punt standing in the back of the boat, which in Oxford is the open end (it’s the opposite way around in Cambridge). To punt, you drop the pole behind the boat ‘till it hits bottom, then use it to push the boat forward. You steer by using the pole as a rudder, to avoid such things as trees and river banks, both of which enjoy running into the boats. After you’ve adjusted your course (theoretically) away from any obstacles, you pull the pole back up using a hand-over-hand motion, and then drop it back down. Because of the strong current, we had to stay close to the river bank, which meant we spent a lot of time ducking as overhanging tree branches snatched at us. Its especially hard to punt when you’re under a tree because there’s no room to manoeuvre the pole.

Well, having giving us our lesson, Laura asked who would like to try punting next. I was the closest to the back of the boat, so I took over. It was hard work! The boats are very long, making them hard to steer, and I kept getting caught in trees and nearly turned the boat around backwards several times. As a result, I made very little forward process, and, in fact, we got stuck in the same tree 3 times, as immediately after escaping it, we floated back into it.

While I was struggling to free us from the tree, a rather strange thing occurred. All anyone knows for sure is that one instant I was in the boat, and the next, I was five feet away and in the water. The best theory we can come up to as to how this happened is that a tree branch must have knocked me off as the boat moved under it. At least I can stay I didn’t make the common mistake of holding onto a stuck pole while the boat went on without me.

However it happened, everyone was very surprised when I fell out (especially me) and we all had very different reactions. Being a Florida girl, I’ve basically grown up in the water, and consequently had managed to close my mouth as I went under. So though I was surprised and wet, I was really fine. My main concern was that one of my shoes had come off, and I wanted to swim out to it before it sunk. Laura, I thought at first, was trying to help me, because she was holding out her hand, but it turned out she was really trying to get the pole back. Sam, practical girl that she is, was searching for my camera, which, unfortunately for my dignity, she found. Amy gets extra friend points for being the only one concerned about my well-being, and, worried that I was drowning (I was splashing around a lot—its hard to swim in jeans), was attempting to launch a rescue mission without getting near the edges of the boat. In the end, thanks to (or despite of) everyone’s efforts, me, my shoe, and the pole all made it back in the boat.

I took a break from punting while I dried off a bit, and Sam and Laura took turns moving us up the stream. Sam proved to be a natural, and not only did she not fall in, but she managed to get the boat through some very tricky places.

Not long after I had fallen in, we crashed into another tree, and, caught in the current, the boat began to pivot around. Trying to prevent that, we pushed off the tree branches to move the punt forward. I was holding onto a branch when the boat suddenly began to move away from it. I realized I would have to pick one or the other, punt or tree, and tried to push off the branch back into the boat. This didn’t work, and as the punt and branch moved farther apart (and consequently, my hands and feet), I briefly entertained the idea of hanging off the branch until someone could get the boat back under me. Looking back, it was a rather foolish idea, so I shouldn’t have been overly surprised when “splash!” I flopped back into the water.

Since I was already wet and in the water, I helped turn the punt around and then clambered back in.

The rest of our trip was uneventful, and we spent a very relaxing afternoon floating down the river. We made friends with a pair of mallards by feeding them bits of oatmeal cookies. They must have liked the cookies a lot, because they stayed with us for almost our whole trip. Sam dubbed the female Lucy, so I decided the male was Edmund (we named another pair Susan and Peter). Lucy, bold as her namesake, actually joined us in the punt on more than one occasion, hoping to find the cookies at their source.
We all went punting again on Tuesday, this time successfully bringing everyone back dry. Laura has brought the Wind in the Willows, and we spent a wonderful after taking turns punting, reading out loud, and resting on the front of the boat.

So there is my very late blog post. On a side note, you can now read the daily Dilbert comic on my blog if you are so inclined. You might have seen it on the left as you scrolled down.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Megan, May Day, “Mark, Mark, Mark!”

So, a lot has happened since my last post…enough that you should be looking for another post either tomorrow, or very soon. But first things first….


Last Monday I got a telephone call from my cousin Megan. She was going to be London for the day and wanted to know if I wanted to meet up. I was more than willing for an excuse to head out to London, but as we talked, I realized that Megan had been to London before, but had never been to Oxford. “Megan,” I asked, “Why don’t you just come to Oxford? You can stay at my house.” And that’s what happened.

So, on Tuesday morning, after a lot of confusion trying to find the bus, Megan arrived in Oxford. I met her at the bus stop and we walked back to my house to drop off her luggage. Along the way, Megan expressed excitement about the “perfect English weather” we were having, and I laughed, remembering when I too liked the atmosphere of the cloudy skies over Oxford. I’m kinda over the whole English weather thing now, though.

After dropping off her bags at my house, Megan and I headed back into to town for lunch at Eagle and Child, and fulfilling the one requirement Megan had of the trip: Fish and chips. After lunch we went to Moo-Moos for milkshakes, and then I gave Megan the “grand tour” of Oxford (Christ Church Meadow, Radcliffe Camera, Ashmolean Museum, various colleges). We ended by exploring the Ashmolean for a while, and then went back to my house, where Megan got to experience one of our “family” dinners. When dinner was done, we went to G&D’s for desert and brought some ice cream back to Dane and Will. Then, while I did some school work, the guys introduced Megan to a card game called Blink, which I think she enjoyed (its our favorite game). We went to bed a little after midnight, and woke up early to get Megan on the bus to the airport. It was really fun to finally have a visitor, and to share a little of my life at Oxford with someone.

May Day

Thursday morning was May Day. Every May Day morning at 6:00 AM, Magdalen College’s choir sings from the top of their tower, and everyone goes to listen. Dane and I got up at 4:30 and headed out to see. We met up with Samantha, Jane, Mary Kate, and a huge crowd of mostly drunk Uni students. Traditionally, students used to jump off Magdalen Bridge, but the water is so shallow that people were getting hurt, so the police block the bridge now on May Day morning. It was too loud to hear the choir sing, though. Afterwards, Samantha and I went to breakfast at a café we found called Puccino’s. It had a really fun atmosphere, and I think we’ll be eating there again. We didn’t see much of Oxford’s other May Day traditions, though, such as Morris Dancers. Mostly, the whole point seemed to be to go to a pub at 6:00 in the morning.

“Mark, Mark, Mark!”

For the first time since 1913, Ascession Day happened to coincide with May Day. Ascession Day is 40 days after Easter and marks the day that Jesus ascended into Heaven after his resurrection. It also the day that, since 1428, the church St. Michael’s of the North Gate marks their parish boundaries in a ceremony called Beating the Bounds. They do this by walking to each of the church’s old boundary stones and beating it with a willow rod three times, shouting “Mark! Mark! Mark!”. As you can imagine, Oxford has grown a lot since 1428, and consequently some of the boundary stones have ended up in very odd places, like inside Mark’s and Spencer’s. The Cheeky Guide to Oxford tells visitors to “Come and watch loonies wander around the city hitting it with sticks”.

We definitely looked odd walking around with our sticks, like some sort of strange mob, and there were a lot of tourists taking pictures of us as we walked through the city.

The strangest moments were when we went into stores.

All in all, it was a very fun, and a great opportunity to participate in an old Oxford tradition. Plus, Lincoln College gave us free lunch.