Foot Fiction–Hiking with Hemingway in Pictured Rocks

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I’ve just returned from a second trek through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore’s 42-mile stretch of the North Country Trail, where I swatted mosquitoes and schlepped through boot-devouring stretches of muddy trail in search of some incredible lakeside views, primal, almost pleistocene vistas of glaciers that appear just recently melted into great, cold lakes. We listened to creatures creeping around our tent one night and to a thunderstorm sweeping off Lake Superior the next. We startled a family of ruffed grouse near Chapel Rock, and a bald eagle soared over our heads just after Au Sable Light House. Loon calls tinted eerie twilights, punctuated by the cracks of twigs breaking under heavier (likely scarier) beasts. We marveled at the biodiversity of ticks, slugs, and beetles crawling into pretty much everything. On Thursday, pestered by thick clouds of mosquitoes that don’t respect DEET let alone personal space, we hiked the final five miles out and promptly ordered a pizza. There is no better ending to a 5-day communion with Nature than half a pizza. (If you hike Pictured Rocks, call Main Street Pizza in Munising–they deliver to the Munising Falls Visitor Center upon request!)

There is plenty to say about Pictured Rocks, but I think I covered the nuts and bolts pretty thoroughly in my earlier write-up; you can read about that misadventure here.  Aside from finishing the distance from Grand Marais to Munising which made this trip significantly more fulfilling, my hike was also colored with the memory of Ernest Hemingway’s The Nick Adams Stories, a collection of short stories based in part on Hemingway’s boyhood rambles in our state’s northern forests. I taught the book last semester for the first time, and despite its cool reception among my sophomore students, the book continues to enchant me. Hemingway’s characters often bristle with machismo as a means of covering up paralytic anxieties (and especially gerontophobia), and Nick is no exception; Hemingway’s Nick is a less likeable Peter Pan, who, when not bumming along train tracks or seeking glory in European armies, hunts and fishes (often illegally) in the Michigan woods. Nick jet-sets across the world, to war and back, always with a big, two-hearted river in mind. “I would think of a trout stream I had fished along when I was a boy and fish its whole length very carefully in my mind, fishing very carefully under all the logs, all the turns of the bank, the deep holes and the clear shallow stretches, sometimes catching trout and sometimes losing them,” Nick says, lulling himself to sleep in the middle of the ocean, aboard a steamer headed for war (“Now I Lay Me” 144).

In this, Nick is like most Michiganders, whose lives and livelihoods are always shaped by the water that carves out the Mitten and the UP. While we often forget about the wealth of water in southeastern Michigan–this part of the state long ago buried its networks of creeks, streams, and eddies in tile culverts to create arable farmland–it is impossible to miss the sheer tonnage of water trickling through everything up North. You can see and hear, taste and feel the water moving beneath and around you here, turning solid cliffs into shifting dunes. On stormy days, including three of our five days during this early June hike, water envelops the entire landscape in trickles and crashes and squelches, defying efforts to keep it at bay. Immersed in rushing streams, pounding waves, and still, silent shorelines, hikers in Pictured Rocks are mesmerized by the lake, spirited by its spell.

This passage from “Big Two-Hearted River,” one of the first in the “Soldier Home” section of The Nick Adams Stories, captures the fluidity of our landscape and especially the magnetism that binds us to it (rather perfectly, I think):

He came down a hillside covered with stumps into a meadow. At the edge of the meadow flowed the river. Nick was glad to get to the river. He walked upstream through the meadow. His trousers were soaked with the dew as he walked. After the hot day, the dew had come quickly and heavily. The river made no sound. It was so fast and smooth. At the edge of the meadow, before he mounted to a piece of high ground to make his camp, Nick looked down the river at the trout rising. They were rising to insects come from the swamp on the other side of the stream when the sun went down. The trout jumped out of water to take them. While Nick walked through the little stretch of meadow alongside the stream, trout had jumped high out of water. Now as he looked down the river, the insects must be settling on the surface, for the trout were feeding steadily all down the stream. As far down the long stretch as he could see, the trout were rising, making circles all down the surface of the water, as though it were starting to rain (182).

Many readers often find Hemingway to be a bit boring, lost in the mundanity of his clean-cut style. But here, Hemingway lulls his readers into the magic of this scene with his repetitive, simple syntax, inviting us to follow Nick’s eyes and ears as he watches and listens to the river; the trout keep leaping, and we keep watching, mesmerized by the iridescent patterns they trace on the surface of the water. I’m especially struck by the quiet of this passage; the river slides by making no sound, fish feeding silently as day slips into night. I see swarms of floating insects, backlit like snowflakes, settling on the surface of the water. The river centers the scene, and our eyes–Nick’s eyes–watch its ecosystem perform a soundless symphony in a windless calm. It extends as far as we can see. Half-fantasy, half-reality, Nick’s perspective produces a landscape that threatens to drown us in its immersive beauty, sweeping us along in its quiet current. We aren’t sure whether to stay in this pleasant, perhaps dangerous stillness, or to struggle against it like fish caught on the line. Left in Hemingway’s hands, surrendering our imaginations to his slow description, we wait for him to start reeling in the line. When will this pastoral loveliness fracture? What ugliness follows? I’m not bored while reading this passage; I’m hooked. And I feel the same way about the Upper Peninsula’s quiet gorgeousness, centered by a lake from which I don’t want to look away.

Foot Fiction posts chronicle the stories that feed my wanderlust and shape my experiences of the places I visit; when I’m not on the road, I am at home in the library, reading. I’ll keep my literary thoughts short and purposeful, and I’ll include images from my camera, taken on the trail, in every Foot Fiction post. The photographs in this gallery are, like Hemingway’s Nick Adams Stories, centered by Michigan’s endless lakes, flowing though everything, human and animal, stony and sandy. The camera, despite my mechanical ignorance, managed to capture the surreal loveliness of the UP in Hemingway-esque terms, highlighting water features both large and small, liquid and solid, in each shot. I hope they draw you to the UP next summer or even later this season, like a mosquito to bare skin, eager to jump into Michigan.

Ernest Hemingway, The Nick Adams Stories. New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1972. Print.

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Foot Fiction: Hiking With Hemingway in Pictured Rocks by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NoDerivatives 4.0 International License.
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The Breath of Boston

The Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street

The Massachusetts State House, Beacon Street

For many runners, the road to a marathon ends in Boston, toeing the starting line in Hopkinton, dreaming of the finish on Boylston Street. Running the Boston marathon is the amatuer runner’s loftiest goal, often requiring years of training and several marathons to qualify for the race, thousands of hours on feet, pounding pavement. Last April, I watched my sister battle out some of her toughest hours on the Boston marathon course, cheering her on silently in the shared graduate student office in East Lansing as she raced towards Heartbreak Hill. Two Aprils ago, while running a Girls on the Run practice, I received a breaking news alert on my phone, a notification that there had been explosions at the marathon finish line.  Our own 5k event was just a few weeks away, so in order to keep our team of 3rd-5th grade runners working happily towards their first road race, my co-coach and I waited until after practice to grieve and worry for those runners who lost life and limb on that course. After those Boston marathons, I woke up the next morning, bundled up, and headed out for a run, thankful for the ability to breathe and to move.

The Boston Marathon Route, set in the corner of Copley Square

The Boston Marathon Route, set in the corner of Copley Square

It has become somewhat cliché to write running memoirs inspired by the incomparable Boston marathon, and I am aware of the fact that I am veering into that overwritten territory. But I have no intention of making the Boston Marathon my ultimate goal; in fact, I know I won’t likely qualify for the race, and even I draw the line at running those sadistic hills for 26 miles. On the contrary, my training began in Boston last week, as I toured the city in between sessions of the American Literature Association Annual Conference. Held in Copley Square, the conference overlooked the Boston Marathon seal affixed obliquely across the street from the magnificent public library. On my runs from the impossibly narrow streets of North End through downtown and the waterfront, I tread over the seal several times before I stopped, looked, and smiled at the serendipity of starting marathon training where many, many runners have finished theirs. There is something about Boston that makes you want to get up and do things, to reach for goals, to run faster and farther. The Boston marathon is part of that story. But the city itself breathes that spirit and that life, and would do so, I think, if the marathon were not world-famous.

George Washington, like a boss, Boston Public Garden

George Washington, like a boss, Boston Public Garden

For the first-time visitor, Boston is packed with reminders of greatness, surprising you as you wander through its old-world streets. It’s hard not to be inspired here, under the watchful gaze of our founding fathers; while I may have had Taylor Swift playing on my headphones, my heart sang sweet lands of liberty all the way down Beacon Street. I was arrested by treasures like Sam Adam’s gravestone flashing through my peripheral vision as I bounced up hills; Paul Revere Mall was an especially lovely surprise, my favorite Boston spot. Statues of patriots bring to life the spirit of the city; these bronze statues seldom depict our founding fathers as stationary; on the contrary, they are often on horse, moving towards a new future, our grand experiment. The buildings too, towering edifices that in photos appear like ghosts of the past, take on new life when you come upon them on foot, surprising you with their beauty and their kinetics. Creaking and settling their way into the cityscape, these buildings make room for life, new and old, to settle into their centers. However you happen to feel about American exceptionalism and the mythology of our country’s founding, Boston’s architecture and artwork make you feel something, bringing to life ideas, emotions, and dreams you may not have known were there.

The courtyard of the Boston Public Library

The courtyard of the Boston Public Library

Although there were many moments from my Boston trip that reinforced my experience of the city’s spirit, one memory in particular brought Boston to life. I heard and presented papers on the embodiment of poetry, and I took in the Boston Pops playing the music of John Williams, quite literally making art from the breath of life. These were magical and fascinating encounters with the line between body and art, but it was Sunday service at Old North Church in North End, the church that features the signal tower where Paul Revere lit the signal at the start of Lexington and Concord, where the city’s spirit came to life for me.  The church is like other buildings in Boston–bafflingly old, and yet surprisingly alive–a maze of partitioned cubicles with doors that congregates share, little cells of believers in the body of the church. Uncharacteristically for an Episcopalian Church, the pulpit towers above the pews, backlit with sunshine and white washed, a central nervous system from which blessings flow. I listened to the rector deliver a homily about the Holy Spirit as the breath of life (with a sailing metaphor, as is appropriate in New England) as a morning breeze shifted through the open windows, carrying voices from tourist groups outside. From the choir loft, both the church choir and the visiting Southeastern Michigan Madrigal Chorale (another serendipitous moment!) sent breath into vibration, bringing Palestrina and Schubert and the 1982 Hymnal to life again. When we sang the final verse of “My Country ‘Tis of Thee” after the offertory, I couldn’t help but feel both happy and alive, patriotic and inspired, connected to everything old, everything new.

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Old North Church, North End

This blog is not about religion, but it is often about spirituality, something that I think sits just below the surface of skin, in breath, voices, hands and feet. One need not run a marathon to feel it, and undoubtedly, there will be moments in training where I certainly won’t feel it. I know that there will be points in the journey when I will need to readjust the sheets, pull myself back around to the point of sail, and let my sails fill with wind. Beginning my training in Boston set me on course with full sails, inspired by the beauty, history, and life of a city that is full of runners on foot–and in spirit.

As I stepped out for my first long run of training Tuesday morning–an easy 6 miler– the sublimity of my Boston trip had already begun to fade, most likely deadened by the delayed, late-night flight home on the ironically named Spirit airlines (upon which I always feel my spirit bruised a bit, if not demonstrably crushed). But I laced up my shoes anyway, running into the wind at my 9:30/mile long run pace, listening to a Fresh Air interview with Tom Brokaw. I plugged through four miles of my usual route, a path through our tiny town of Chelsea and into the countryside beyond, picking up steam as I turned towards home, the wind shifting behind me. Buoyed by the wind at my back, I floated through the last two miles with the memory of my last Boston run to carry me into Week Two, a run marked by this magnificent sunset, and the bracing New England gusts that took my breath away.

North End sunset

Sunset run, North End

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The Breath of Boston by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial 4.0 International License.
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At Any Rate, At Last, Spring is Here!


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Back in February, I wrote the following post, intending to return to my blog after a long graduate-school induced hiatus. I thought it was pretty good, but also, I love the sheer delusion that emerges here, as I sat in my house counting down days till Spring:

In The Bleak Midwinter

Here in Michigan, the first day of February is bringing us 10-14 inches of snow, and I have been snuggling up inside our house, baking cherry oatmeal muffins and simmering a pot of lemony carrot-cauliflower soup on the stove, reveling in the fact that the stars have aligned to bring me both snow and a serendipitous, if short lived, afternoon free from reading all the things that graduate school requires. My thoughts turned to this blog, long forsaken and ill-attended; today, finally, I am sitting and writing, watching snow fall, listening to soup bubble. And watching my pug take laps around the coffee table.

Usually, this time of year makes me crave summer rambles in the woods, and fall road races. Normally, I am riding the fine line between the winter blues and full-blown seasonal affective disorder, waiting for a trip to somewhere sunny to get me through the jokes-on-you Spring that we call March and April. But today, I’m so happy to see snow. Maybe I’m just getting used to Michigan, at long last. Maybe I now understand that things could be worse, that it could be -40 without the windchill, and that I could be walking around MSU’s vast campus, playing fast and loose with frostbite risk. Maybe, God forbid, I am starting to like winter, but you have to be careful with statements like that here. Weather juju is real, and it is vindictive.

At the heart of this unexpected (and probably ill-considered) happiness towards winter is the post-snow run. Dan and I moved to Chelsea, MI over the summer, a quiet tiny town outside of Ann Arbor. Our streets have that perfect silence after snow that only exists in small towns where no one needs to go out, because there isn’t much to do anyway. You run on the streets, after the plow shuffles by, because the sidewalks are still covered and that’s ok. Trees frosted thickly with snow drop funnels of flakes off their branches as you run past, drifting in wind. The town smells like clean laundry, fresh from the dryer, and cold. Your footfalls deaden in the stillness. Once in awhile, a cranky black squirrel cackles at you from his tree house, or a neighborhood dog joins you for a block or two, but otherwise, its just you and your legs, running up and over the train tracks. If you’re smart, you’re wearing something like yak-tracks, or maybe even trail running shoes, but if you’re like me and you run in your super-snazzy but poorly tread Nikes, you’ll feel like you’re running on a sandy beach. You may get lost in the daydream of sun and surf for a moment, remembering the run on the Mexican beach from two spring breaks ago, the last time you felt the ground shift under your feet. You were barefoot then, clad in shorts, and jumped in the ocean after your three miles. Rum drinks and guacamole ensued. It’s a post-traumatic reverie, to be sure; last winter taught you about the sheer power of cold. Bone-cracking, heart-stopping, fear-inducing cold. Tomorrow, after the snow ends, you may feel the cold snap you again, threatening to freeze your pipes, kill your car battery, make your run end before it begins. But today, you run silently, quickly, through snow banks, reaching home just as your lungs begin to ache from cold air, and you feel a part of winter.


It’s Spring now, friends, and I’m no longer (sickly) celebrating the promise of heavy snowfall. This summer, I’m reading for my comps exams, training for a marathon to benefit Girls on the Run of Southeastern Michigan, returning to Pictured Rocks, and doing quite a bit of traveling. Join me on my travels, and join the conversation.

It’s light till 9pm. It’s balmy, if drizzly. Our bodies are making vitamin D again. It’s time to get back out there, on foot.


A Savannah Sestina

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Savannah Sestina–

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

my husband, Dan, sings gleefully, passing a porch

on which a lone hipster, pierced, holds church.

Her tattoos echo the form of draping Spanish moss,

her stare admonishes the white polka dots, clean

against the background of my red anorak. She sips udon.

In search of sushi, we settle for udon.

Spring feels less like Georgia, more like Portland.

Dan questions how clean

the divey vinyl upholstery feels. We dream of porch

sitting in southern towns, watching moss

grow on menus, knowing almost everyone here is at church.

Impatient, I jump when a church

bell strikes noon. I slurp my udon

quickly, and push afternoon sluggish like moss

out of my ears. “The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

I whistle, walking past soaked columns and porches.

I am attempting to arrive at my reading both dry and clean.

Two hours later, I become aware, again, that the minds of English majors are less than clean.

It is good that the conference is not held in a church;

the walls would surely burn. I think about porch-

sitting conversations akin to conference proceedings, perverse as eating udon

for lunch in the South. More appropriate for Portland,

my lunch begins to squirm in my stomach like worms in moss.

Dan finds me under hanging moss,

both ill and worried, red and white polka dots looking scrubbed clean.

I feel conspicuous in the flood of flannel, a staple style of Portland,

adopted by hipsters and hippies alike. They sit on benches by churches;

none of them ate udon for lunch.

They can’t afford a porch

Or pretend not to be able to. Who needs a porch

when you can have mochas and moss

and skinny jeans? Moss, like udon

dangling from chopsticks, dripping fish on your clean

flannel, loose and messy against rigid church

columns. The dream of retirement at age twenty-two

is alive and healthy in Savannah, as in Portland.

“The dream of the 90s is alive in Portland,”

Dan laments, longing for a sports bar, finding a church

reincarnated as a brewery, not quite dirty, but not real clean.

Foot Fiction: School Days…And Wilkie Collins

Readers, life has gotten away from me like always, and I find myself longing to post about my running, hiking, and jaunting about in the beautiful fall weather.  The only problem is that all of this foot travel is happening on MSU’s campus, where I rush hurriedly from one place to the next, followed by hours upon hours of reading in my guest bedroom, which I now call the library (because libraries are fun, and offices are not). But my thoughts are not far away from this blog, even if I am far away from the trails and adventures of summer, and I found myself writing two different short projects last week that I think my readers might like to see.  Might is, of course, the operative word.

The first of them is below; if you are into detective fiction, nineteenth century novels, or crime dramas, then you might find my thoughts on fancy footwork in Wilkie Collins’s Armadale interesting. I hope the select group of readers who happens to care about these ideas enjoy my analysis.  If you haven’t read Armadale, I highly recommend it for the self-conscious absurdity of the plot, Collins’s masterful, tongue-in-cheekiness, and his shockingly bad–perhaps mad–villianess, Lydia Gwilt.

For the rest of you readers who are not willing to devote three 8-hour days to reading Armadale, stay tuned for a full report of the Manestee River Trail, soon to be conquered by two Greulichs, and written about here.

Happy Fall!

“A Movement A Foot”

Peripatetic and Verbal Dexterity in Armadale

In John Sutherland’s introduction to the Penguin Edition of Armadale, he states “Lydia Gwilt uses the machinery of the modern metropolis with the expertise of a Victorian James Bond,” comparing her criminal acumen with those of the twentieth century’s most enduring heroes (ix).  His statement brings up interesting questions about the longevity of the text in society; he claims that she coins several clichéd criminal moves, including “throwing the tail,” the “drop dead” routine, and the use of high-tech “stylish” tools to accomplish her murderous ends (ix).  I found this observation interesting in its acuity in reading her character and in thinking about the mechanics of the novel and its cultural potential. If we take Sutherland at his word and assume that Lydia’s character is the genre-setter of modern criminal modus operandi, then we can begin to look at Armadale as a novel that accomplishes the very kind of cultural infection that it meditates upon.

While there are many ways that we could think about how Armadale obsesses about the cultural reiteration of the criminal, I want to focus on dexterity—verbal and physical—as it applies to the novel’s characters. The extent to which characters are identified as hero, victim, and villain is questionable throughout the novel, and describing the dexterity of each is one way to help readers identify their role in the machinery of the text. Characters who exhibit dexterity on foot drive or complicate the plot in interesting ways, while characters who are not so light on their feet appear to become their victims.

Allan is a primary case in point. For most of the first three books of the novel, Allan could be read as the hero of the story, utilizing his Bond-esque confidence to dictate his life on the estate. His confident, athletic movements become superimposed on his athletic prose; his response to Darch is an especially self-aware moment of his verbal prowess: “As for your casting my invitation back in my teeth, I beg to inform you my teeth are none the worse for it.  I am equally glad to have nothing to say to you, either in capacity of a friend or a tenant” (193).  Allan’s boxing metaphor, denoting the quick footwork of argumentative parry, places the agency of the story in his possession, and for a moment, the day is his.

However, Allan’s verbal prowess is self-inflated, and readers (at least this reader) find his continual loss of verbal and physical dexterity disappointing throughout the rest of the novel. We cheer for Allan to win the day, but as the novel progresses, it becomes clear that his forceful, thoughtless rhetoric, like his impulsive actions, set him up as a victim who cannot save himself. Lydia’s diary chastises his flummoxed interpretation of verbal rules, conflating his verbal and physical clumsiness: “Armadale was present, and flourished his well-filled purse in his usual insufferable way. ‘I’m rich enough, old boy, and it comes to the same thing.  With those words he took up his hat, and trampled out on his great elephant’s feet to get the box. I looked after him from the window as he went down the street.  ‘Your widow, with her twelve hundred a year,’ I thought to myself, ‘might take a box at the San Carlo whenever she pleased, without being beholden to anybody.’” (555). In this diary entry, Lydia bemoans Allan’s clumsiness on foot and in word, and then plots his death shortly after, during a walk along the seafront (567). The passage implies the kind of street smarts that must be possessed in order to thwart our villainess, and Allan has neither the light foot nor the sly tongue to save himself. If we read Lydia’s diary as a moment of genre-definition, then it certainly seems that Allan is cast (perhaps coined?) as the archetypal bumbling victim.

Dexterity also defines our villainess, as Sutherland suggests, and although we could certainly argue whether Lydia is a victim of fate, industrial society, Mrs. Milroy, or perhaps even her diary, it seems evident that linguistic and literal footwork lie at the heart of Lydia’s villainy. In earlier sections of the novel, events are narrated through the vague phrase, “there was a movement afoot;” it is one of the novel’s many reiterated phrases and denotes both physical hustle and bustle, but also the rhetorical velocity of words and ideas, planted, overheard, and spread. At moments, it is difficult to tell the impetus of that movement, as in Brock’s letter to Midwinter in “The Plot Thickens;” “At any rate, she confirmed me in the suspicion that some underhand proceeding is on foot, of which Allan is destined to be the victim”(238).  As readers discover in the reading of her diary, Lydia herself is the “underhand proceeding on foot,” darting between alleys, walking deserted streets, and manipulating with words as quickly as she vacates her residences, always via foot, to avoid being traced in London’s urban jungle (539).

There is one other character that develops the dexterity that Lydia masters in the novel: Midwinter.  I use the word develop here purposefully; Collins does not always frame Midwinter as the possible hero of this tale, and his identity as the hero is questionable from his introduction as the taciturn minstrel of fate to his verbal and physical abandonment of Allan, to his love affair with the enemy.  Indeed, it is his ability to develop the dexterity of criminality that draws Lydia to him; she is impressed by his ability to handoff in passing notes between them, commenting that “I couldn’t help thinking at the time how that brute and booby Armadale would have spoiled everything in the same situation”(415). This passage occurs at the height of the plot, when it isn’t clear if Midwinter will devoutly protect Allan, or blindly follow Lydia.  And his dexterity in accomplishing the moves of the criminal infects his character with that evil potential.

But perhaps more importantly, Midwinter also possesses a persuasive force over Lydia, encouraging her to “trample” her “wickedness underfoot” (514). That ability to manipulate her character via his dexterity leaves the story without a centered hero-villain-victim triangulation.  In protecting Allan from poisoning via his midnight sleuthing, Midwinter becomes Allan’s hero and Lydia’s victim.  But in appealing to Lydia’s love, she becomes his hero as well as his tormentor, saving him despite herself. And Lydia becomes the instrument of her own torment and salvation, as she removes herself from the equation entirely, like the most compelling of Bond villains (who are also sometimes Bond girls, e.g. Vesper Lynde). Midwinter’s dexterity places him in a liminal space somewhere between hero and villain and victim—and blurs the generic lines among other characters as well.

In reading these characters through the scope of dexterity, we can return to Sutherland’s observations about the generic innovations of Collin’s sensation novels to ask some further questions. In what ways does the deconstruction of the hero/villain/victim relationship in this novel perpetuate further iterations of fictitious criminality? What traits survive the evolving characterization of heroes, villains and victims? Can we trace generic pathways among the sensation novel and crime fiction of later eras? What are the implications of this generic infection on the cultural consciousness of badness?  Of madness?  Armadale’s characters defy categorization, but whether the novel forecasts postmodernism’s anti-heroes by traversing the footpaths and alleys that exist between these archetypes is up for debate. My analysis begins to suggest that the footsteps of Lydia and Midwinter may precede James Bond’s complex and domineering heroism, but it certainly leaves open that possibility for exploration.

Works Cited:

Collins, Wilkie, Armadale. Ed. John Sutherland. New York; Penguin Books, 2004. Print.

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What We Missed While Hiking in the Dark…

You miss a lot of scenery when you hike in the dark, as I mentioned in yesterday’s post. Dan wanted me to write more about the descent of that hike, which was one of his favorite parts of our trip to Colorado, so I promised that I would share more with my readers in a gallery.  In hindsight, I wish I knew more about my camera so that I could have captured some dark shots in the first part of the hike.  But, alas, readers will have to stay tuned while I learn how to use my camera just a little bit better.  All shots are taken with my Cannon PowerShot S110, a point-and-shoot with a lot of room for customization in both the shutter speed and the lens (not that I know how to do either; I just play around with things to see what happens).  Imagine our surprise at finding these postcard-ready shots on the trip down the mountain; we couldn’t stop talking about the whistling marmots, the hawks and falcons flying overhead, and of course, the incredible length of the trail we had just climbed.  We even heard a rattlesnake–and took off down the trail soon after.  Sorry, folks; I have no desire to capture images of dangerous animals.

Next up? A review of Estes Park and Rocky Mountain National Park, and some tips on what to do and where to go when you plan your Colorado summer vacation.

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Such Great Heights: Long’s Peak, Colorado

Morning at the Keyhole, Long's Peak, Colorado

Morning at the Keyhole, Long’s Peak, Colorado

When I was starting kindergarten, I remember driving by the school with my mom, staring with not a little terror at the tornado slide sitting front and center in the middle of the gravel playground.  From my little kid perspective, the slide was massive, towering above me at 9 feet tall, slipping and sliding in twists and curls around an axis that didn’t seem like it was as sturdy as it should be.  Tumbleweeds and dust devils swirled past it, making the whole playground look less like a happy place of childhood fun and more like a gunfight scene in Tombstone–this is not too much of a stretch because I lived in Southeastern Colorado and everything looks like a scene from Tombstone.   Its presence in the playground was not encouraging to me when I jumped on the bus for the first day of kindergarten.

My mom dutifully took me to the school playground when no one was around (except for my little sister, who was not helpful),  cheering me on as I climbed the slide and climbed back down, over and over again, never descending via the gleeful, twisting slide.  She made a valiant attempt to ensure that I started my school years both well-adjusted and fearless, as a five-year-old should.  I remember her sliding down with me after several failed ascents, and I also remember vowing to never slide without her again.  I didn’t, not until the second grade when the whole situation was just getting embarrassing.  Then I held on white-knuckled and closed my eyes, sliding into the gravel, screaming. It was not graceful.

Besides, in Southeastern Colorado, you don’t need to be high up in a tree or on a slide to see the world.  With the whole countryside sweeping out before you, you can see what needs to be seen from a safe spot, feet firmly planted on the ground.

This is a big deal for me, who can barely see anything due to a severe astigmatism that continues to baffle my ophthalmologist, making my contact lenses swim around on my eyes. It was inherited from my father and exacerbated by reading in the dark under the covers. I often feel like my eyes are playing tricks on me, messing with perception in decidedly unsafe ways.  When I moved to Kentucky, with its hilly alcoves and winding roadways, hiding houses and deer and tractor-trailers,  I think I developed a new phobia: a feeling of suffocation distinctly tied to my mistrust of vision.  I started climbing things, just to get to a good view.  Seeing became survival.

5:00 am, in the Keyhole Hut

5:00 am, in the Keyhole Hut

I have been hiking since, summiting several peaks and taking in many, many panoramic views. Each time, I feel elation and peace, rather than the irrational fright of my kindergarten days. Last weekend, Dan and I visited Estes Park, Colorado with the intention of climbing something tall.  We chose Long’s Peak, a 14er with a “hard” difficulty rating, made more difficult by limited acclimatization time and dodgy weather patterns.  The hike is a long one, 14 miles total, and requires hikers to depart the trailhead no later than 2:00am if they wish to summit that day.  Ironically for me, most of the ascent is done in the darkness of early morning, which makes it more dangerous because you can’t see the edges of the boulders and you often lose parts of the trail, especially in the Boulder Field.  And it kind of defeats the purpose of climbing something to get a magnificent view if the only part of the trail that you can see are the rocks and scrub two feet ahead of you, illuminated by your head lamp.  We climbed for several hours through that forest, reaching 11,000 feet by the time we broke through the tree line.  The more we climbed into that darkness, the more I felt at home in the air, even as my discomfort with the darkness grew.  It was a challenge for me to feel safe without sight.  But I tried to focus on smelling the dry, piney woods at night, listening for rustles and rattles along the narrow trail, bordering on blind.

Several hikers on the trail forwent the use of headlamps entirely, relying on night vision to get them safely up and down the trail.  Hats off to you, guys.  A couple of days later, an Estes Park resident told us the story of Enos Mills, one of Rocky Mountain National Park’s founders, who had to descend the mountain after becoming completely snow blind, feeling and hearing the trail he had blazed the day before. For the marmots who scuttle across the tundra or sure-footed big-horns, falling off the mountain is a rarity.  But for humans, with our imperfect balance and our weak constitutions, Long’s Peak can be as dangerous as it is beautiful; most of the yearly death count on Long’s Peak is attributable to falls.  Seeing the trail is necessary.  As one of Barbara Kingsolver’s characters states in her new book Flight Behavior, “Vanity was one thing, but out here in the damn wilderness, one needs to be able to see.” I had been reading her book on the plane the day before, and I couldn’t agree more.  My anxiety grew as we climbed further and further past tree line, a nervous little tweak at the base of my spine, and I couldn’t wait for the sun to begin its show on the other side of the range.

The air is thin up there, and our bodies were working hard.  We stopped every twenty minutes to breathe, acclimate, and gaze up at the stars peeking through the lodge pole pines, and then as we climbed higher, down at the lights of sleeping Estes Park below us.  Aside from those lights, the trail on either side lay in darkness, holding its beauty for us to see upon our descent.

We climbed higher, taking a short stop in twenty-mile per hour wind gusts at the foot of the Boulder Field.  This is where the base camp lies for overnight backpackers, and the buzz on the mountain was all about clouds and wind, and the low possibility of making a summit that day.  It takes an hour to cross the Boulder Field in the dark, finishing with a short climb to the Keyhole, a low spot on top of the ridge, about 1,200 feet below the summit. We arrived there  just before 5:00am.  We huddled in the tiny hut built below the Keyhole, discussing the choice to continue to climb despite the clouds and the altitude or to head down.  I wanted to continue.  I was breathing well, and strong, and feeling stronger with every step, even though I had climbed 4,000 feet that morning.  I wanted to get at the top, and I wanted to see the summit view, looking across all of Eastern Colorado and past the Continental Divide to the west.  I knew it would be spectacular to look at all of that space below me, stretched out for miles, all for me to see.  I knew the sun would be up soon, to warm the rock face and light the narrow, slippery trail along the Narrows and the Homestretch.

The Summit of Long's Peak, just after daybreak.

The Summit of Long’s Peak, just after daybreak.

I felt the adrenaline of the hike–and the hope of sunrise–pushing me onwards and upwards, when all of a sudden, an urgency in my gut pulled my butt back to the stone seat.  And yes it was both the urge to pee (a symptom of hypoxia) and the urge to get down.  I can only explain it as instinct.  “Get down,” it said, “now.  Take Dan down.  Take yourself down. See the sunrise on the trail below, and marvel at the views and take pictures of this hike.  Look for bear and bighorns and falcons in the light below.  Don’t risk the Narrows, where one or both of you will fall.”  It seemed certain, up there, where the air is thin, that one of us would fall, or get sick, or panic in a tight spot, or get struck by lightning from one of the storm clouds rolling in.  It wasn’t worry that was causing my hesitancy; it was certainty. I looked at Dan’s pale face and goofy grin, elated to be sitting at the top of the highest ridge he had ever seen, and decided that we had had enough high altitude for one day.

I have read enough Jon Krakauer books to know not to ignore that gut instinct when it is truthful; worry is its tattling little sister, but instinct is stronger and forceful, and impossible to ignore if you are a sane person (and many of the individuals characterized in Krakauer’s works are not sane). I have never felt instinct so keenly before.  It was not the panic of the tornado slide or the aching anxiety knot that I always feel in my spine, although it certainly grew from those seeds.  It was calm, clear, and definite. So as the sun rose on Long’s Peak in that early morning air, 13,000 feet above sea level, Dan and I watched the sun peek over the tops of the Rockies.  And then we headed down into a world full of light.

He looked at me: “Now I can tell people that I haven’t just seen the Rocky Mountains; I have been on a Rocky Mountain.”  I laughed and agreed, and started taking pictures of the trail below.

Sunrise at the Boulder Field

Sunrise at the Boulder Field

Want to see more pictures of what we missed in the darkness of the trail? Come back this week for a full gallery of Long’s Peak and Rocky Mountain National Park photos.

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Such Great Heights: Long’s Peak by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Got Elk?

I do!

This elk from Twin Owls Steakhouse was the best meal I had in Estes Park this weekend, where Dan and I have been testing the limits of our VO2 capacity and continuing our 2013 summer quest: seeing a bear. Read the blog this week for a full review of Estes Park and a short essay on overcoming my fear of heights via excessive worrying survival instinct.


Colorado Elk Medallions with Sweet Potato Mash and Veggies. Paired with Alta Vista Classic Malbec, 2011–we recognized this vino from our Argentine winery tour!

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Got Elk? by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Foot Fuel: Grandma Jeanette’s Saturday Morning Pancakes

Let’s be clear about something. I am no master chef, and I don’t proclaim to be an avid foodie. But as I hike and run and swim and sail (yes, sail–more on this later), I work up an appetite. And the more I travel, the more I love good food. I don’t follow any particular eating plan; I have dabbled in vegetarianism and the Paleo lifestyle, I have gone gluten-free and dairy-free, only to return to my favorite yummy staples. My food philosophy is simple: eat what makes you happy and fuels your passions. Most importantly, when traveling, eat what the locals eat, the way they eat it.

Welcome to a new feature on à pied: Foot Fuel.

Most of the time, plan to see reviews of others’ cooking here, including descriptions of thick Colorado steaks, Northeastern lobster rolls and sweet Michigan cherry wine. But there are a few dishes on which I have been masterfully trained, recipes that are tried and true and foolproof. I come from a long line of excellent bakers and I make a mean strawberry rhubarb pie. My chili is fiery and addictive. And when I need to refuel after a long run or a weekend of hiking, I make my Grandma Jeanette’s Saturday Morning Pancakes.

Pancakes with Berry Compote

Pancakes with Berry Compote

I hope my family doesn’t mind that I am sharing this recipe; like our pie crust recipe, it has been passed down through my mom to my siblings and me. It is a well-kept secret among the Piper-Martin clan, but I do feel like my cousins and uncles and the rest of my readership should be allowed to share in the wealth. There is a special lady behind this recipe too, one to which I owe much of the tenuous courage that keeps me seeking out new places. I didn’t know my Grandmother Jeanette. The only picture I have seen of her is when she was young, probably about my age, with my dashing Grandpa B. They are smiling; her pale skin contrasts sharply with my Grandpa’s swarthy hair and eyebrows, and she looks just like my mom. I know she was kind and sweet and strong. She met my Grandpa after he moved west from Detroit, and together they made homes out of the frontiers of Alaska, Colorado and California. I see her intrepid spirit in my mom and my uncles, especially my Uncle Brian, an avid Colorado hiker, biker and runner. I see that same spirit in my siblings and cousins too. She died of cancer before I was born, and that picture and this recipe are two of the few ways that I know her. But I have some of her genes, even if I don’t know which ones, and I know that they move me towards my next adventures. I love that her cooking fuels them too.

These are no thin, flimsy Bisquick pancakes. They are made from scratch with stone-ground flour, eggs, milk and lots of baking powder. If you beat the eggs right and fold them in gently, the batter can rise an inch in the pan. They are fluffy and tender. You need to eat them with milk and coffee, and plenty of real maple syrup (using Mrs. Butterworth’s or Log Cabin on these is a travesty) or berry compote. And they can be adapted for various tastes and dietary needs, with a few exceptions. The original recipe is an excellent base for fresh berries in spring, and replacing half the milk with pumpkin puree can yield a delicious post-run treat in the fall. Add cinnamon, nutmeg, allspice as you see fit, or don’t–the original batter is delicious on its own. They can be made with gluten-free flour of any kind, although if you want buckwheat pancakes, use half buckwheat flour and half of some other gluten-free flour. The sugar can be replaced with honey or stevia. I always use olive oil in the batter, but canola oil or liquefied coconut oil work too. If you need dairy-free pancakes, use coconut milk instead of almond milk for a better taste and texture. The eggs are essential and can’t be subbed, nor should you try to make this a Paleo-friendly recipe. I have never understood the desire to eat pancakes made without grains and syrup anyway. Personally, the original recipe is the best, either on the skillet or in the waffle maker.

Use real butter to fry them! Skipping this step is not an acceptable way to cut calories. These are lumberjack flapjacks and are not intended to be low-calorie. I don’t know how many calories are in a serving. Nor do I care. They are filling, so stop when you get full and your diet plan should remain intact.

You can be sure that I will be making many batches of these pancakes as I train for my next half marathon, at a secret destination to be revealed in September. Until then, look for clues about that destination in my blog posts; if you can guess the race, I will bake you a pie. Seriously. One of these beauties could be yours:

Read the blog, guess my next race destination, and win a pie!

Read the blog, guess my next race destination, and win a pie!

Grandma Jeanette’s Saturday Morning Pancakes

serves several–I usually double the batch

1 cup whole wheat flour

1 Tablespoon of sugar

4 teaspoons baking powder

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 cup milk

2 egg yolks

2 egg whites

2 Tablespoons oil

You will need three bowls for this recipe. Mix the dry ingredients with a fork in the largest bowl. In the second-largest bowl, measure the milk. Separate the eggs and add the yolks to the milk; put the whites in the smallest bowl. Beat the yolks and the milk until just bubbly and add them to the dry ingredients.

Beat the egg whites until bubbly, but not stiff. Gently fold them into the batter, followed by the oil.

Finished batter, gently folded.

Finished batter, gently folded.

Fry on a hot griddle, skillet or waffle iron coated with melted butter. You know you have good pancakes when you can watch the batter bubble and pop, growing as the bottom of the pancakes cook. Flip them when the cake holds up enough to turn.

Look at those bubbles!

Look at those bubbles! Time to flip.

Top with warm maple syrup or fresh berry compote and serve immediately. Sip your coffee, troll the internet for your next vacation inspiration, and ice your aching joints and muscles. Bask in happiness.

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Grandmother Jeanette’s Saturday Morning Pancakes by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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Chicken Broccoli Cheese (Some Potato): What To Pack For The North Country Trail

There is something innately masochistic about foot travel, especially backpacking. There will be physical discomfort involved, even when you are your most prepared. Unless you happen to be a barefoot runner, with thick, asphalt-denying soles, chances are strong that you will get blisters.  Unless you consistently carry 20-30 lbs of backpack throughout your daily activities, you will have sore, aching shoulders.  Hip flexors will tighten up and it won’t feel great to get up and hike after a short night sleeping on the ground.  You can, however, be a little more prepared and be a lot more comfortable–and it will make the beauty of the trail that much easier to enjoy.

Pictured Rocks is one of the loveliest national parks I have ever seen, and I should know; I didn’t see the inside of an Embassy Suites on a family vacation until I was 12 years old.  I just assumed that “vacation” meant tent camping in Colorado’s San Jose National Forest, where I would spend the week fishing with Grandpa B and losing all of my Jolly Ranchers in poker tournaments with my brother.  I haven’t been to Yellowstone or the Grand Canyon, but Pictured Rocks is a primal geological wonder of sand, forest and water. The grandeur of Lake Superior contrasts sharply with the minutiae of the forest trail.  I marveled at feeling both very large and very small as we trekked through 35 miles of the 42 mile North Country Trail. Enjoy this gallery, and read further to hear about how we packed our bags.

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Dan and I are backpacking newbies.  We have often spent entire days on the trails, especially in Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, but after covering 14 miles, we are happy to return to a soft bed and pizza,–and wine.  Nothing makes a long day of hiking better than a good glass of red wine, which is perhaps why I loved Argentina so much. The next day, we usually sleep in, drink coffee, and re-fuel with pancakes.  Backpacking has none of these comforts–and it has torturous potential.  It is physically and mentally grueling, and you can make it even more so if you are like us and packed 3 lbs of canned soup and no cook stove.   When you find yourself salivating at the prospect of half-heated chicken broccoli cheese soup, turned a pallid grey color from ash, or eating a packet of tuna salad for dinner, you know that you should reevaluate your nutrition plans.

Readers who are advanced backpackers will surely make fun of us greenhorns, as you should.  I worried about this trip incessantly for two weeks, trying to figure what to bring and how to use it.  I was afraid of getting sick from drinking lake water (we didn’t; we filtered it).  I was afraid of a bear or two taking all of our food (as my mom says, bears are more afraid of us than we are of them).  I was most afraid of reaching that mental state when hunger turns into anger and attacking the bear trying to take my food. I did reach that point a couple of times, but the bears wisely avoided us, so nothing worse happened than my having a short panic attack–and that was at the beginning of the trail. And it turned out that we were prepared for some things, but not for others.  Especially eating.  Lesson learned: buy and pack a small backpacking stove and freeze-dried food.  The stove is important at Pictured Rocks; not all campsites allow fires, and a packet of tuna for dinner is not really that appetizing.

Lesson Two: Sleeping pads.  We slept on the hard ground, inside warm, comfy sub-zero sleeping bags.  But sleep can’t ease soreness away if  a tree root is lodged so deeply into your shoulder that you can’t tell where the root ends and your bones begin.  A yoga mat would have been well worth the extra weight in the pack, and the Cliffs at Pictured Rocks are the perfect location for a scenic sunset vinyasa.

We were prepared for contingencies that we were lucky not to experience, namely, picnicking with bears.  In recent months, Pictured Rocks National Park has started cracking down on bear preparedness, mostly because rangers have reported multiple instances of campers giving their food to bears.  It is a bad day when bears associate people with food–your chicken broccoli cheese could be quickly snatched and you might have to use your bear spray (a frightening device that looks like an air horn and sprays a capsaicin spray that you must not in any way get on your person). We strung our food up in odor-proof bags inside a bear canister in a high branch or one of the park-provided bear poles. Don’t leave food or toothpaste or other toiletries in your tent–put them in the canister and hang them up. Bonus: Wolves will be less interested in your camp too. Nothing scarier than a herd of rabbits paraded through our campsite. I think avoiding a bear run-in boosted our backpacking confidence.

We were also prepared for injury, bugs and hygiene. Blisters were disinfected and bandaged nightly, making the next day’s hiking much easier.  Two ACE bandages helped me limp through the last 11 miles of the trail. Pain killers take some of the ache out of your sore shoulders and hip flexors.  And wet-wipes.  Wet-wipes are essential for boosting hygiene and morale; there is nothing better than a fresh wet-wipe to make the trail look a bit rosier.  They are even better paired with an industrial-strength mosquito repellent on skin and sprayed on tents, backpacks and a couple of outfits.  You want something with 30% DEET or above. I’m sure it is highly carcinogenic.  But I left Pictured Rocks, Land of the Thumb-Sized Mosquitoes, with three bites total.

When you hike Pictured Rocks–and you should, especially if you are a Michigander, a Buckeye or a Cheesehead (it is so close to home!)–don’t bother to take these things with you:

1. Canned soup. Or canned food of any kind.

2. 6 lighters.  Bring 2 lighters, and some matches.  6 lighters, in the immortal words of Larry David, “are a bit much.”

3. A dozen AA batteries, unless you are actually carrying a device that requires said batteries.  We weren’t.

4. Four changes of clothes.  One or two is plenty.

5. 4 lbs of trail mix.  Your tummy will not thank you later.

6. A bikini?!? Not sure why I brought that.  The lake is way too cold for swimming in early June.

And definitely bring:

1. A well-stocked first aid kit.

2. Enough food to replace the thousands of calories that you burn; Dan and I roughly estimated that we ran a calorie deficit of at least 6000-9000 calories throughout the entire trip.  That is more than enough to bring on hanger; I get grumpy when I have to give up chocolate for a week.

3. Insect-repellent.

4. Bear canister and odor-proof, water-proof bags. And bear spray. Use the former; know how to use the latter.

5. A water filter, or at least some water filtration tabs. Rangers suggest a filter, but the lake water is clear and perfect for chlorine tabs if you don’t have anything better.

6. Your camera, and an extra battery. Because there is nothing better than waking up in the woods when the sun begins to peek through the canopy.  The mosquitoes stare at you disconcertingly from their position under the rain flap of your tent, and you feel righteous, reveling in the fact that you are heavily bug-sprayed and that they are probably dying from the fumes.  Outside, you eat your Cliff bar and saunter down to the lake to refill your water bottle.  The water is so clear that you can see the fish feeding five, ten, fifteen feet below. You will want to capture that morning feeling, as your ankles and arches start to warm up on the trail after breaking camp.  Your body feels better than it did last night, and for now, your muscles are fueled and you are full.  You know that the rest of the day is nothing but moving and breathing.  Happy trails indeed.

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Chicken Broccoli Cheese by Katie Piper Greulich is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.
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