Thursday, March 26, 2015

Basketball and Beyond

A shout out to the Princeton University women's basketball team, which won 31 straight this season before falling to Maryland Monday night. Even though the University of Maryland is five times larger than PU, has completely dominated the Big Ten conference, and was playing at home, Princeton held its own. If not for the stunning long-range accuracy of Maryland's guards, Princeton might well have pulled it out.

I'm not the usual basketball fan. If Jadwin Gym was really trying to recycle, and fans were slam dunking their empty bottles into the right receptacle, I'd be cheering for that as much as for the team. But there's something about seeing a full tilt team effort, well conceived and well executed, with crowd cheering them on. Well, in Princeton, the cheering is not exactly exhuberant, but you know everyone's at least cheering really loudly in their thoughts. I'm as reticent as most everyone else, though lately I've taken to shouting "VanESSaaaaa" every time sophomore Vanessa Smith makes a basket--something that's happening with increasing frequency of late.

I get the same good feeling watching the PU soccer games in the fall--women's and men's--framed by the boundaries like a pretty picture of what it could be like if America took on its problems with the same sense of spirit and people pulling in the same direction. Collective action is celebrated in sports, but sabotaged at every turn in real life, where most people, for instance, mix trash and recyclables with complete indifference to the notion of team ethic or shared goal.

Watching women's basketball evolve in intensity and skill in recent years, I have to think that the psychology and mechanics of the game have largely been solved. Might similar advances be possible in the greater human arena? The Princeton women have given us a season for the history books, and an inspiration to carry far beyond the boundaries of a basketball court.

Monday, March 23, 2015

The Walking Revolution Coming to a Town Near You

The Princeton Environmental Film Festival is in full swing (kicked off some ten days ago by our Climate Change Cabaret) at the public library. This Tuesday, March 24, is looking to be a big day, with The Walking Revolution at 4pm. What was that catchy phrase I heard on the radio the other day, that sitting is the new smoking? And that if exercise could be bottled, it would make some pharmaceutical company billions? Something like that. You can actually watch the half hour movie online while slouching on the couch. Much better to walk on down to the local library and see it on the relatively big screen, followed by a panel of experts:
  • Kathy Smith, Program Officer at 'Partners for Health' (Montclair, NJ) and Board Chair of 'America Walks'.
  • Janet Heroux, Former chair of the Princeton Sidewalk and Bikeway Advisory Committee, and  Physical Activity Specialist at the New Jersey Department of Health.
  • Jim Constantine, Principal, Looney Ricks Kiss Architecture, a planner in Metuchen, and an expert in walkable and transit-friendly land use.
  • Jerry Foster, Greater Mercer Transportation Managment Association, who is helping to coordinate 'Safe Routes To School here in Princeton.
At 7pm comes Antarctic Edge, a dramatic film about climate change that's showing in Princeton prior to its theatrical debut next month in New York. It will show simultaneously at the Garden Theater (sold out) and the library community room. 

Saturday, March 21, 2015

Remembered Joys of Biking and Golfing in Snow

Fond memories of snow, golf and bicycling may run against the norms and general mood of the populace this time of year, which is growing rebellion against winter's snow and cold. But here goes:

This snowbound winter has brought back memories of childhood winters in Wisconsin, where the snow came and stayed through to spring. If there was any interruption, it would have come during a "January thaw"--words that stick in memory with no images attached. Sometime around March, the snow would slowly release its grip on the sprawling lawns of the Ohmsted landscape I grew up in (designed by John, brother of Central Park designer Frederick), bringing revelations of green.

Drawn outdoors by the warming breeze, golf club in hand, I would practice hitting a golf ball from one green patch to another. When my aim was off and the ball landed in a distant snowdrift, I might get lucky and find the hole in the drift where the ball had entered, then follow the tunnel to retrieve the ball. Otherwise, it was one more ball lost, at least until the snow melted further. A colored ball would have helped, but those hadn't been invented yet.

It may seem strange that a nature lover--particularly one who cheers the digging up of lawn to plant a wildflower garden--had a passion for golf early on, since golf is predicated on avoiding anything botanically interesting. On a golf course, there is an inverse relationship between the height of the vegetation you find your ball in, and your degree of happiness. One aims for the green, which has the shortest, least diverse grass of all, and ultimately for the hole, which has no vegetation whatsoever. But it did get me outdoors, under a big sky with endless variations of clouds drifting by. The wondrous capacity of my body to invent new variations on slices and hooks often landed me in the rough, where I learned to scrutinize the foliage closely, even if the object being sought was a Titleist rather than a wildflower.

The golf course where I played, next to the observatory where my father worked, would not measure up to anything in the present day. The fairways were a patchwork of different grass species with scrubby trees dotting the edges. If you were lucky, your ball would land on a short, tightly knit kind of grass that grew in flat, even patches, like brain corral on a reef, surrounded by much more scraggly species. If my slice was acting up, my drive might fly over the fence into a field of alfalfa, risking the wrath of the farmer if we went in search of the ball. All this made it easier to understand how the great early golfer Sam Snead might have started out with a knotty piece of wood for a club and a hickory nut for a ball.

Though I pursued a low score, with just enough success to keep at it, there were peripheral joys, like the feel of contacting the ball just right, or the beauty of the arc a well-hit ball made, cutting through the air. Even though trees were intended primarily as obstructions, theirs was a sporting presence that added to the meaning and challenge of the game. The ball's flight was all the more pleasurable if it just barely cleared the top of a tree standing between me and the green.

And that may be one reason why I bear less resentment towards a lingering winter, perhaps seeing winter less as a dreary presence than an obstacle that requires some sport to overcome. Which finally brings me, or you, to the picture at the top of this post, intended to illustrate another sport associated with the spring thaw--bicycling in the snow. There was the look of the bike tire's tread in the snow and mud, which was satisfying for some reason--maybe because the imprint in the softening snow marked another winter outlasted--and the slippery, slidy sport of staying upright while plowing through drifts of snow with my red, 3-speed Schwinn on the dirt road that led to school.

It takes a real winter to get that special feeling when the snow finally begins to melt.

Thursday, March 05, 2015

World Premier: Climate Change Cabaret, Friday, March 13, 7pm

It's time to forge comedy out of angst, to take carbon and make carbonation, to have some serious fun with a subject that people feel so strongly about yet talk about so little. Attend the premier of the 

*** Climate Change Cabaret ***

to gain fresh perspectives on Carbon (a seductive renaissance atom, but beware--not all carbons are the same!). Meet the new, improved, and highly lovable Mr. SustainableWitness a man's tragicomic breakup with his car. Take an Ironic Ride to the Dinky, and explore Earth Logic in Space. These theatrical sketches were born and raised in Princeton by writer/director Steve Hiltner, better known as me.

The music portion of the evening will be provided by members of the Sustainable Jazz Ensemble, featuring a wind-powered saxophone and an incredibly acoustic piano, with a special appearance by Princeton High School's fabulous a cappella group Around 8. There may even be a Special Delivery at the end--a surprise solution to all our earthly problems--followed by light refreshments. The event is free! (We're all working on the carbon-free part.)

This trail-blazing, consciousness-raising event is being hosted by the 2015 Princeton Environmental Film Festival, Friday, March 13, 7-9pm, in the Princeton Public Library Community Room.