Monday, June 29, 2009

Day three of AAW symposium

The last day of the symposium always feels a bit rushed. You want to get it all in and make sure you don't forget anything. I had the first rotation at 8 am, which is normally not a problem for me. However, I had stayed up way too late the previous evening - socializing with some of the other demonstrators and professional turners. I was so buzzed from the discussions that when I got back to my room I couldn't sleep. I think I fell asleep at 4 am and then awoke at 5 am with two really cool ideas to try to move my work in a slightly different direction. That's what these symposia are for - to percolate some ideas and to get excited about trying new directions.

I managed to get through the day without too much trouble, despite the lack of sleep. My demonstration on surface enhancement techniques went very well and I had a good crowd to keep me company. After it finished, I packed everything and got it moved over to my hotel room. Then I had time to go to the instant gallery critique.

I have to applaud Kevin Wallace, Merryll Saylan and Garry Knox Bennett on the critique. This is the first one I've attended since I started going in 2001 that was actually and truly a critique. The three of them didn't always agree on the merits of a piece and there was quite a bit of discussion regarding particular design elements for each one that was selected for the critique.

They started with the purchase awards and then the excellence awards. I was really interested to hear what they would say about my sphere "When I let go of what I am, I become what I might be" - Lao Tzu, No. 5. Kevin and Merryll both spoke about the organic feel of the piece; how they wouldn't be surprised to find it on a forest floor somewhere. They liked the form and the effect of the wings swirling around the sphere. Garry didn't have any comments to add. It was nice that they picked up on what I was trying to express in the piece without me having talked to them about it.

There was a flurry of activities for the noon hour - the auction from the PoP exhibit, picking up stuff from the instant gallery, trying to get a look at the trade show. I didn't do any of those things because my friend was at the paramedic station and I dropped everything to help him get things sorted for the transport to the hospital. He'll be alright, but he gave us a bit of a scare there for while.

I popped into a couple of different things in the early afternoon, including a final walk through of the trade show. I did get to see the last half hour of John Wessel's demonstration on metal inlay. He's a fun demonstrator - cheeky as they come. I hope I have a chance to sit through his rotations sometime when I'm not a demonstrator myself. It will be well worth watching.

Dinner with friends, packing, saying goodbye to the Wessels, and then a wee bit of sleep finished off the symposium. I'm waiting for my flight right now, and having a bite to eat before I get on the plane for home. It was a fantastic weekend and the AAW, together with the local club (thanks John Ellis!), did a great job on keeping things on track and organized. I'm looking forward to next year's symposium in Hartford, CT.

Sunday, June 28, 2009

Second day of AAW symposium

My demonstration today was the last rotation, so that gave me plenty of time to walkabout the trade show and instant gallery plus to take in a panel discussion. I attended the one moderated by Michael Mocho (Betty Scarpino, Joe Seltzer and Jack Slentz on the panel) titled "Whose turn is it anyway?" It was about the breadth of woodturning from "conventional" brown and round to sculptural forms. I thought the presentation and discussion were interesting, but I was disheartened to note that the audience consisted of collectors, gallery directors, and artists who do the surface enhancement, texturing, carving, coloring and sculpting that is so controversial to the brown and rounders. This panel discussion is the kind of thing that needs to be heard by turners who feel that we've gone too far in the artsy/fartsy direction. I got a kick out of Michael Mocho when he said that "artsy" is ok, but we definitely want to discourage "fartsy."

I enjoyed walking through the trade show. There are a lot of cool toys to oggle. I wish I had an unlimited budget so that I could sample the wares. I'll walk through tomorrow and see if there is anything I can't live without.

The instant gallery had a pretty steady flow of people. There are a lot of interesting pieces on display and I'll post pictures sometime in the near future. I've taken way too many photos - enough that I keep thinking about the rest of my Nepal trek photos that are waiting for processing.

The banquet and auction were tonight. The food was pretty decent - surprise, surprise! Some highlights at the banquet: Phil Brennion gave a short speech to thank the members of AAW for supporting him this past year in his physical therapy and rehabilitation from his spinal injury; Merryl Saylon received the AAW merit award; chapter collaboration awards - the Dallas Area Woodturners are to be congratulated; and Giles Gilson was acknowledged as this year's lifetime achievement award. He wasn't able to be with us at the symposium, but I'm really glad he's received this recognition for his career of innovation.

The auction yielded a good return on the amazing pieces donated by the luminaries of woodturning. I thought the bidding was very low, though. Again, I wish my bank account had a healthier balance because this would have been a fantastic opportunity to get some beautiful artwork. Alas!

I stayed up way too late tonight, but it was great to visit with everyone after the auction ended. I'll be paying for it tomorrow because I have the first rotation beginning at 8 am.

Saturday, June 27, 2009

A totally awesome day

I love days like this - everything seems to work the way it's supposed to and you get some good news to top it off.  My two demonstrations went very well this morning (after a bit of work to get the LCD projector to use the correct color spectrum) and I had some good feedback from the sessions.  I also had a good time talking to people I've not seen since last year's symposium.  The icing on the cake was that my sphere sculpture on display in the instant gallery was selected for an Award for Excellence.  That really made my day. 

After lunch, Paul and Judy Fennel and I went to Rio Grande Jewelry.  I picked up a couple of catalogs and purchased a few bits and pieces for making earrings.  I'm looking forward to playing with some ideas that have been percolating on the back burner.  The folks there are very nice and are so knowledgeable about making jewelry.  It was a fun side trip.

After dinner (Thai food), I went to the Collectors of Wood Art session.  There were some good ideas presented about promoting woodturning as art and it will be interesting to see what develops from this evening.  I'll be a bit more connected after receiving a complementary membership for the coming year.

I've not yet had a chance to walk through the trade show, but I'm hoping to remedy that tomorrow morning.  I did have the time to look through the exhibit space.  There are four concurrent AAW exhibits going on - the work of Merryl Saylan, the work of Garry Knox Bennett, the Professional Outreach Program show on spindles (very loosely interpreted), and the AAW juried show on the theme of "Southwest."  I particularly enjoyed seeing the work of Merryl Saylan and Garry Knox Bennett.  The other two exhibits were also great, but one rarely has a chance to see Garry's work, and Merryl's work is always a pleasure to see in person.

I have a rotation to do tomorrow afternoon, but the rest of the day is open for walking through the trade show and taking a closer look at the instant gallery.  I've been taking a lot of pictures, but I don't have my card reader for my SLR camera so it will be a while before I post any images.

Thursday, June 25, 2009

Arrived in Albuquerque for the AAW symposium

This year's theme for the symposium is the southwest - fitting for the setting here at the heart of Albuquerque. I had a pretty easy travel sched this morning, but I managed to leave my small digital camera on the plane. Fortunately, I had just taken all my photos (from Nepal) off the chip and loaded them onto my laptop. I'm really bummed about losing the camera, though. It's a Lumix and it takes wonderful pictures.

I spent an hour on the phone calling Northwest Airlines, the Albuquerque Airport lost and found and everyone else I could reach. No one cares about lost items on planes and I have to say that NWA was less than helpful. Bummer.

On a happier note, I've enjoyed seeing my woodturning friends and colleagues. I put my stuff into the instant gallery, dropped off some of my gear in my demonstration room, had some liquid refreshments with friends, attended the demonstrators dinner and then went to a hilarious presentation by Terry Martin and Jacques Vesery. The title was "embarrassing moments" and it featured funny photos of well-known turners. Terry and Jacques made up "interesting" stories and scenarios to go along with the photos. Mostly, these were of some of the French symposia and Emma Lake collaborations, featuring Jean Francois Escoulen, Allain Mailland, Bonnie Klein, Jacques Vesery, Michael Hosaluk, David Ellsworth and Mark Sfirri.

Everything gets rolling tomorrow morning. I have the first two rotations and then one on Saturday afternoon and the last one on Sunday morning. I'll try to post updates each night, but that will depend on how tired I am when I get back to my hotel room.

Monday, June 22, 2009

Just in time for the AAW symposium

The American Association of Woodturners symposium starts this Friday. I just finished the three new pieces I'll have in the instant gallery, so I'm posting them here.

This first one is called "Parturition No. 2." It's 6.5 X 5 inches, made from Afzelia burl. This was a huge challenge to carve because the wood is so hard and dense. Parturition is a term in biology that means "the process of giving birth." This form reminds me of gymnosperm cones combined with shelf fungi. Both motifs focus on reproduction, so the title seems very appropriate to me.

My second new piece is the fifth in my sphere series. This one is "When I let go of what I am, I can become what I might be - Lao Tzu. No. 5."

It's redwood burl, has eight delicate wings, and is 5 inches in diameter. I also sandblasted the surface. This was another huge challenge for me.

This is an alternate view.

Here's a detail pic to show the sandblasting.

My third new piece is called, "Bowl anatomy 101." It's cherry, 2.75 X 1.75 inches.

A fun little piece that, again, was a big challenge.

Should be fun to see if these pieces get any reaction in the instant gallery this year.

Sunday, June 21, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 8, Namche Bazar

On the morning after our intense day of climbing Namche hill we were greeted by such a beautiful scene. We really didn't have a good idea of what we were to expect from our challenges in getting up the hill the previous night, simply because the concentration was on Steve and not the surroundings. Plus, it was dark when we walked the rest of the way into camp.

Steve was feeling so much better by morning, that this sight of blue skies and mountain scenery was doubly welcomed.

Namche Bazar is built onto the side of the mountain and we camped above the village; thus, our scenery was absolutely stunning. For the first time during our trek, it really seemed as if we were in the Himalayas.

Later during the trek the mornings were cold enough that everyone took tea inside their tents. But this morning, although on the cool side, the scenery drew everyone out to take it all in.

After breakfast we walked a bit farther up the hill to a conservation area that yielded our first look at Mount Everest (the peak coming up in the back on the left). In front of Everest is Nuptse and to the right is Lhotse. These three peaks became our constant companions for the rest of the trek until we went below Namche Bazar on our way back to Lukla.

Jon Miller (left) getting some video footage of Chris Marquardt for his podcast (The Rest of Everest).

We all spent quite a bit of time taking photos and videos at this site.

I'm not sure what mountain this is on the right, but it was beautiful. All of the high peaks are beautiful and it was a privilege to see them.

We spent two nights at Namche Bazar for acclimatization. The elevation is just under 12,000 feet here.

The extra time gave us a good opportunity for a photography workshop with Chris. He covered the zone system, which means that you set your camera to capture the optimal amount of information for the lighting. I had never used my digital SLR on manual mode before, but, after learning the zone system I switched entirely to manual mode for the rest of the trek.

This photo is an example of optimizing using the zone system. I didn't want to blow out the highlights of the chicken in the sunlight nor lose the information in the shade, so I set my camera to be just slightly below the optimal setting for exposing the lightest area in the frame.

Next door to our campsite was a hotel/museum/stupa. There was also an internet cafe there, so I spent a bit of time exploring.

This particular stupa was photogenic with the fresh coat of white wash and the mountain as a back drop.

Prayer wheels lined the path on either side of the entry way.

After lunch we did an acclimatization hike above Namche Bazar to visit a small stupa. I liked how the clouds framed the stupa and the rock it was on.

I also liked the khata on the ground that was next to the stupa. This view gives you the layout of Namche Bazar, which is the largest village in the Solukhumbu region. It follows the contour of the mountain and that drop off is the beginning of the 3000 ft drop down to the river - definitely a challenge going up, but a knee buster going down.

This is one of my favorite photos. I set the shutter speed to be a bit on the slow side so that I could capture the motion of the prayer flags in the wind.

My last photo of the day was a night exposure of Namche Bazar from a rock next to my tent. Steve took a stunning photo of the mountain across the valley. I'll have to link to that after he posts it on Flickr.

To see the rest of my photos from this day, click on this link for my Namche Bazar album.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

Everest Trek 2009 Teaser Podcast

Jon Miller just posted a "teaser" podcast of our trek to Nepal. It's about 35 minutes long and shows highlights of the 3 weeks we were there. It's great and it makes me want to go back to Nepal right now.

Check it out!

The Rest of Everest - Trek teaser episode

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 7, Phakding to Namche Bazar

The second day of our trek dawned with clear skies. Our routine for each morning was a wake-up call in the form of tea being brought to our tent at 6 a.m, followed 20 minutes later with two bowls of hot water for washing, and then breakfast at 7 a.m. We were supposed to get on the trail at 8 a.m., but that never seemed to work out the way it was supposed to. We were lucky to be moving by 8:30 a.m. I'm not sure why it took us so long to get organized each morning other than it was comfortable to be inside a tea house.

This is one of the yaks that we had as part of our support staff. We had nine yaks and a herder to take care of the heavy gear. Porters carried our duffels and the kitchen staff moved all the pots and pans and gear for cooking up the trail.

Aside from the yak dung bombs left all over the trail and the yards where we camped, I thoroughly enjoyed having the yaks along. The sound of their bells will always characterize Nepal for me.

Yak herders are constantly vocalizing or whistling at their charges. Occasionally a stubborn yak has to be moved through the encouragement of a pebble or two, but I didn't see that happen very often. Sometimes the yaks run away from the herder when it's time for loading and it was always entertaining to watch the struggle of wills between human and yak.

The other good thing about yaks on the trail is that when you were stuck behind a yak train, your pace was much more relaxed. To pass yaks on the trail you have to run ahead where there is space. At high elevation, this is a real chore!

Oh yeah, just to set the record straight, there is no such thing as yak butter tea. The Sherpas told us that yaks are male and you can't milk a yak. Naks are the females of the breed, so you eat nak cheese and drink nak butter tea. That seems a bit literal to me and perhaps they were having fun with us, but I'll stick with nak cheese. . .

All through the lower elevations we encountered groups of uniformed kids on their way to school in the mornings. Sir Edmund Hillary built a system of schools throughout the Sherpa settlements, and it was so heartwarming to see his legacy in action.

The biome of the lower elevation - 9,000 to 11,000 feet or so - is dominated by pine forest. The earthy smell of the trail combined with the scent of pines was so utterly refreshing that I'll always be drawn back to this landscape whenever I get a whiff of pine.

The shade of these trees was very welcome on the trail as well. The sun was hot even though the air temperatures were refreshingly cool.

A special treat for me was spotting this jack-in-the pulpit plant along the trail. I was the only one of our group to have seen this, but I do have a different search engine than most of my fellow trekkers. Botanists are always looking around for interesting plants and this one was certainly a highlight for me.

As we climbed higher in elevation, the scenery became much more interesting. We followed a branch of the Khumbu river, Dudh Koshi, during this part of the trek. Eventually we would be on the main branch and then at the source, the Khumbu glacier over the next couple of weeks.

This view shows Thamserku, a mountain we were in sight of most of the day until we headed up the Namche Bazar hill.

The trail crosses the river numerous times and we had the fun of traversing some interesting suspension bridges. Some of them were pretty high over the river. The wind is usually pretty strong and the bridges are in constant motion from other trekkers and yaks. Walking down toward the middle is pretty easy, but going uphill on the other side can be a bit challenging with all the motion going on.

The villages in this region are built along the trail. They're very picturesque and I enjoyed watching the people going about their daily routines. The women were usually gathered around the water supply - mostly doing laundry in the mornings. Kids were playing nearby and stray dogs were scattered around, just laying in the middle of the path or off on a step somewhere. Yaks and ponies were often wandering about as well, as were chickens.

This is the entry point to Sagarmatha National Park. Mount Everest is called Sagarmatha in Nepal, so this is the entrance to the Everest region.

You have to have a permit to enter this area. Our trekking permits were handled by Mountain Tribes, so our rest break here was while Karma, our sidhar was taking care of details.

I posed my Woodcentral hat on Jon Miller's camera. It's going to be fun to watch The Rest of Everest podcast when our trek is featured.

Our lunch stop was about another hour's walk past the park entrance. This is part of our kitchen staff packing up all the gear after lunch. Chirri Sherpa is at the front, Mingmar Sherpa at the left. These guys were up first in the morning, up last in the evening, and they had to hurry ahead of our group after breakfast clean-up to be able to set up for lunch, and then after lunch to get to our evening stop in time for tea. They kept us supplied in boiled water and took care of all of our comfort needs in terms of hot drinks, food, and washing the miscellaneous bottle that was dropped on the trail (or, in my case, in a toilet- that's another story altogether). Thanks, guys! You're the best!

Old and new technologies for trekking.

This lady was observing all of our doings after lunch while she was using her prayer beads. Aside from the down jacket, she's wearing traditional Sherpa clothing.

The last bridge before tackling Namche Bazar hill - a 3,000 foot climb. It's about 100 ft over the river and the wind is pretty strong coming through that gorge.

The khatas and prayer flags give you an idea of the wind on the bridge.

This was my last photo on the trail for the day because Steve became very ill on the climb up Namche hill. He had a bad case of diarrhea, a bit of altitude sickness and then he got too cold. He could take about 10 steps and then had to rest. It was pretty slow going, obviously, and it was after dark when we finally arrived at the base of Namche Bazar.

We had to stop at the first tea house to get Steve warm again before continuing the trek. We probably should have spent the night here, but Steve and I both wanted to make it to our campsite.

While Steve was resting and warming up, I had a chance to get a good look at the tea house.

The family who runs it was very kind. I had some hot tea and some very spicy noodle soup. The place filled up with people who camped out on the benches lining the wall.

After a long rest for Steve in a down sleeping bag, and the delivery of his down coat (one of the Sherpas ran ahead to camp to get it out of his duffel bag), we were able to slowly walk the rest of the way up the hill to our campsite.

Fortunately, we had a two night stay there for acclimatization. Steve felt much better the next day and recovered sufficiently that he was able to do the acclimatization hike we did in the afternoon.

As usual, the rest of the pictures are here: FB album for May 7th

Thursday, June 11, 2009

Nepal Trek 2009 - May 6, Lukla to Phakding

At last, the day of departure arrived and we loaded all our gear and ourselves into a bus for the ride to the airport. Once we got there it was sheer chaos as the porters all wanted to grab our gear for the transfer into the terminal. Everyone wants a tip - the outside porters and the inside porters.

Even though Babu Sherpa had organized everything, we were still hit up for tips by everyone and his brother.

After getting our boarding passes, we went through a security screening where the guys went in one line and the ladies in another. It's very different from TSA procedures - a bit of questioning, a thorough search of carry on, a pat down. However, they don't care about you carrying on a water bottle that's full. Duct tape, however, is a no-no. We had some last-second reorganization to do. . .

The planes that fly to Lukla are small turboprops that seat about 16 passengers. There are weight limitations on gear and it's a pretty wild ride. It seems so strange to just be standing around the plane, waiting for the previous passengers to disembark and for the transfer of gear and supplies. I have other pics posted - you'll have to follow the link to my "Lukla to Phakding" album to see them.

Eggs that were loaded onto the plane - for us to eat during the trek? Maybe they were heading to Lukla to be used in one of the tea houses.

This is our sardine can, I mean airplane. There were no restrictions on using electronic devices and you had to put your gear on your lap. I think you can discern that it was pretty cozy in there, not to mention very LOUD! The flight attendant passed a basket with cotton balls that you were to put into your ears. I had some of my shop earplugs to wear - 90 db reduction in noise, and it was still LOUD!

I had a window seat right under the wing. I had to crouch down to see anything on the horizon, but I was rewarded with my first glimpse of Mount Everest shortly before we landed in Lukla. Everest is the tallest peak there on the right, flanked by Lhotse and Nuptse. These would become familiar friends during our trek.

This was the sight that greeted us upon arrival at the Lukla airport. It's hard to describe the arrival except to say it's quite an experience.

Here's a link to a YouTube video that shows the landing and take-off of four different planes within the span of four minutes. The runway is uphill and very short. It takes about 10 seconds to travel the distance of the runway before the plane makes a sharp right turn. Once you're there you have to get off the plane and your gear is unloaded very quickly so the next group can load up and take off.

As soon as we got through the airport terminal, our trek was underway. We walked through the first part of the village, regrouped at a guest house for tea while the Sherpa staff was being organized, and then we headed up the trail toward the Solukhumbu region and Sagarmatha National Park.

The first lesson I learned about trekking is to watch your step! This is yak dung and you'll find it everywhere - especially on the easiest track up or down a steep slope. Sometimes it's accompanied by horse dung.

Lukla is stretched out along the trail for quite a ways. Near the airport you'll find all the tourist shops. As you get farther away from the airport you start to encounter village life at a less frantic pace.

The lower elevations of this trail are where you'll find the agricultural regions. It's beautiful. The whole region is breathtakingly stunning. I couldn't absorb it all, there was just so much to see.

The one constant throughout the trek, aside from yak dung on the trail, was the heavy traffic of porters, yak caravans, trekkers, and locals walking. Porters have to be amongst the hardest working and strongest people in the world. I'm totally amazed at the loads they carried. The T-shaped walking sticks are used for balance and for resting the packs on while they take a break.

Yaks wear bells that became our ambient sound while trekking.

The path is sprinkled with stupas, prayer wheels, mounds of prayer stones, and prayer wheels. These are sacred sites and you should always pass them in a clockwise direction, so passing the site on the left (with the item to your right) is the correct way to proceed.

Prayer wheels are inscribed with prayers and are spun in a clockwise direction.

Some of them are very colorful and some have a chime or bell that rings as the wheel completes a turn. This is Pasang Sherpa, one of our trail sherpas, showing me how to properly spin a prayer wheel. There's usually a handle at the base that can be used for leverage.

I spent a lot of time taking photographs of plants along the trail - this is wild strawberry.

Primroses were a pretty constant companion, even up into the alpine zone. I read somewhere that there are 48 species of primrose in the Solukhumbu region.

Our first major break of the day was at lunchtime. Our kitchen staff arrived to a tea house early and prepared our lunch. Trail sherpas and kitchen staff worked together to serve out the food.

From day one of the trek it became obvious that we were in good hands. Mountain Tribes was our trekking outfitters and the staff they provided was absolutely amazing.

Lunch was a refreshing break, but we still had another three or four hours of walking ahead of us to our evening stop.

I got a kick out of the juxtaposition of traditional Sherpa buildings with the satellite dish there in the background.

This particular porter's pack had Steve's and my duffel bags. I felt sorry for the guy who was carrying this load. Our duffels collectively weighed about 100 lbs at the beginning of the trek. We had packed a lot of energy bars, cough drops, and other food stuff for later in the trek when we knew we would lose our appetites.

This was one of many suspension bridges we crossed over the next two weeks. Some were long and high above the river, very windy with lots of motion.

Clouds started to gather over the valley in the late afternoon and, eventually, we were in the rain just before we finished walking for the day.

Our rest stops were usually where we collected everyone together again. Our lead trail sherpa was Tendi Sherpa. He carried a backpack with an orange rain fly and you were not to get in front of him.

We had another couple of staff members walking in the middle and Pasang Sherpa usually was the one at the back to make sure no one was left behind. The first couple of days we stayed together pretty well, but after that we usually had a fast group, a middle group, and the "slow" group. That usually included me since I was stopping to take pictures of plants along the way. A couple of days it included me because I was ill and was having a very difficult time with an upper respiratory infection in thin air (I'm still trying to get over it three weeks after the end of the trek).

We followed the Khumbu river all the way to its source, the Khumbu glacier. The pictures from the higher reaches show an awesome landscape and I'm looking forward to sharing those pictures on my blog.

Our first campsite was at a tea house in Phakding. I think you can tell from the faces of some of my fellow trekkers that the first day's walk was a bit tiring. However, it's worth noting that we had a net loss of elevation from Lukla and the next day's trekking would include a climb of about 3,000 feet - all in one hill up to Namche Bazar. That will be my next post to the blog.

More pics from this day can be found by following this link to my "Lukla to Phakding" album.