Trypod

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I listen to a podcasts quite a bit, typically when I am driving. I hook up the Bluetooth to the car audio system and read with my ears. I learn a lot. I laugh sometimes. I say things aloud like “No way!” or “Seriously?” This March is the month to share podcasts we love. You can join in by posting the ones you like with the hashtag #trypod.

I never listen to the radio. Well, I rarely listen to the radio. If I do, it is to catch the news on National Public Radio, on my local station. But in general I like to listen to what I want when I choose. Podcasts let me do that. I found the native podcast app on my phone to be a bit clumsy so I even researched other options to download. I settled on iCatcher and listen to my podcasts through that.

Here are some of my favorites:

Planet Money

This NPR program offers this: “Imagine you could call up a friend and say, ‘Meet me at the bar and tell me what’s going on with the economy.’ Now imagine that’s actually a fun evening.” That’s what we’re going for at Planet Money.” And they nail it. They take sometimes obscure and sometimes everyday financial topics and make them interesting. One recent episode featured a professor who tried to make filing taxes easier, and came up with a system that everyone loved, but got stymied by politicians who valued businesses over people who actually file their taxes. Another featured the creation of a Blackberry manufacturing plant in Argentina.

Work in Progress

This is put out there by a for-profit company, Slack, which makes communication tools for businesses. I was slightly skeptical at first because of this but that skepticism vanished quickly. It is one of my favorites. They say it is about “the meaning and identity we find in work.” They tell stories about all kinds of work, from a professional cuddler to a prison warden who has to perform executions to a professional Santa Claus. It is always interesting with well-told stories.

Radio Diaries

This is one of the best audio story podcasts I have found. There is little narration. Radio Diaries takes audio content and lets the people who are part of the story tell the story.  Interviews and personal recordings are woven together to create an always riveting tale. I try to listen to this one only when I can hear the episode in its entirety; if I have a short drive I save it for later. Two recent episodes include the story of a man who lived in the United States since he was a small child but got permanently deported to Guatemala; and the recording of a Vietnam War soldier.

Gastropod

Gastropod takes a “look at the hidden history and surprising science behind a different food and/or farming-related topic.” It is funny and almost always offers a wow insight. Recent topics include honey, seltzer, chocolate and oysters. I can’t wait for each new episode and bi-weekly seems too infrequent. Plus the name is clever.

Brave Little State

This is a local podcast from Vermont Public Radio. They take suggestions from listeners, who also get to vote, on what topics to cover. The theme is “Vermont, our region or its people.” The latest episode was “Why is Vermont so Overwhelmingly White?” It offers a perspective on Vermont that is not just from postcards.

Do you listen to podcasts? I have more than I can handle, but still, I always am on the hunt for interesting stories.

Mountain Birdwatch 2009 Take Two

View from Burnt Rock Mountain

View from Burnt Rock Mountain

Looking South-ish

Looking South-ish

A couple of weeks ago I went up Ricker Peak for my annual volunteer effort to help the Mountain Birdwatch high elevation bird survey.  After I had completed that survey route I noticed that several routes were available still.  So I signed up to do another one, on Burnt Rock Mountain.  I had been up there a couple times before, the first time when hiking the Long Trail from Massachusetts.  I love that mountain, so I figured it was time to volunteer for a second route.

Last week I took a day off and did a scouting trip.  Since the survey requires observing at specific points, I wanted to make sure I found those points during the day.  The survey requires observing birds before the sun rises, so I wouldn’t be able to find them the day I hiked for the real deal.  That scouting mission was mostly successful.  I found four out of five points, although it took me a while.  The first point was “just south of the summit.”  I had a description and a photo.  The point description sheet noted “all photos looking north,” so busted out the compass to make sure I was looking the right way and tried to match the photo.  It was a fine clear day so it should have been no problem.  But I couldn’t figure it out.

I hiked all over the top of that mountain looking for point one.  I finally gave up and headed down the trail to find point two.  Couldn’t find that one either.  Point three was an obvious one, with definite landmarks–steep rocky slope, big fat root hanging over it, tall leaning dead tree–and I thought at first that the photo was backwards.  No wonder I was having trouble.  Then I realized the photo wasn’t looking north.  It was looking south.  It turns out they all were looking south.  After that I found all but point two.  That one would have to wait to be found in the wee hours of survey day.  I ran out of time that day.

I did a repeat hike this morning, but instead of heading down the trail just behind a group of a dozen women in their sixties, all with hiking poles and long pants and sleeves, I was alone.  It was dark, and it was 2:30 AM when I started hiking, so that wasn’t a big surprise or anything.  I walked slowly with my headlamp showing me the way.  No moonlight hiking on this trip.  Aside from the idea that I might meet a sleepy and therefore grumpy bear, I was afraid only of slipping and hurting myself.  It would be a long wait before someone might come to help.

And it was slippery.  It had rained more since my first hike so the streams were higher, the trail had more water on it, the rocks were wetter.  I slipped more than once, drawing blood on my hand in almost the same spot I had on the scouting hike.  I got to the top of the mountain about 4:00.  Right on time.  The survey needs to happen between 4:00 and 6:00 so I sat down, drank some water, pulled out my notebook, and waited.

I had to wait a while.  It was foggy, socked in in fact, so the birds rose later than they might have on a clear morning.  I lay back on my pack, looking into the wet dark air, feeling the drops on my face and reaching out into the morning for any sound.  It was peaceful.  I was afraid I might fall asleep.   And then hermit thrushes started to sing.  Lots of hermit thrushes.

I started my ten-minute observation at that first point at 4:30.  I was lucky.  I heard a Bicknell’s thrush, which is one of the major reasons for the survey.  No matter how many times I hear it, it fills me with joy and gives me hope that the world still is filled with wonders.  It is.  We humans are working hard, it sometimes seems, to trash the place.  But the world is resilient and powerful and beautiful and downright amazing.  I felt that deeply again this morning.

I did find point two, and the rest of them, and I completed the survey on time.  I got to spend a good chunk of time up on a mountain by myself.  That was a treat.  Back at the summit, after my notebook was stowed in my pack, I sat and looked and listened for what I might discover.  There was nothing new, and that was what I sought.  Back at the car, after a slidey hike down, I donned some dry clothes.  I stopped for gas (the low fuel light was on and I was afraid I might not make it; not only did I get gas but free coffee with a fill up) and headed up the twisting road through the gap on Route 17.  I was home by 9:00.

I did take a short nap this afternoon, but I will need to retire early this evening.  It was great experience and I hope to do it again next year.  At the moment, however, I am a bit tuckered.  That is fine with me.  I know that up high, Bicknell’s thrushes still sing.

Flowers Talking to Each Other

Leaning Left

Leaning Left

Leaning Right

Leaning Right

Gathered Round the Tulip

Gathered Round the Tulip

I look over and see the daffodils, beautiful in their fleeting spring display.  They seem to be leaning in and listening.  They are circled, with open petals.  It turns out they are gathered round a lonely tulip.  The tulip is battered, its leaves and petals chewed by some critter.  It has a war story.  It survived the rodent and lived to tell about it.  It blooms several years in a row with no help from any daft gardener.  It is a tough bulb, a hardy flower, the rough character in the flower bed.  It is a leader.  So the daffodils lean in to listen.