The distinctiveness of amateurs

In each successive year of my life, I pay less attention to sports than the one before it. But still, sport–especially professional sports–has to be one of those foundational categories of “content” on the web, accounting for a sizable percentage of all information stored and exchanged. There must be some internet law to the effect that the more there is written about some topic, the more likely that content is to be automatically generated in the future–or to read like it is. In the case of sports the problem is overdetermined; it was plagued by clichés long before the internet. And so it’s exciting to come across an article on sport that doesn’t look like it was written by a bot or a human working from a template–even better if it’s about a “sport” that is near-impossible to professionalize.

I loved this article about a long-distance hiker, Will ‘Akuna’ Robinson, who has dedicated the current phase of his life to hiking–in part because of what he experienced as a veteran in the most recent Iraq War–and who stands out because he is one of a few Black “thru-hikers” on any American trail.

To my knowledge there is no niche on the internet, no website or forum, dedicated exclusively to true amateur sports. And no, I don’t mean “amateur” as in “you haven’t gotten paid yet,” or “if you were good enough you could get paid.” I mean a site dedicated to people who pursue sport for some other reason. I could imagine it drawing in a completely different type of audience, one that had little in common with that for professional sports. Maybe the pressure to cross-subsidize articles like this one, on hiking, with pro sports journalism that makes $$$, is too great. Then again, it’s not like that business model is doing all that well, either.


Tags sports hiking cliche business models

Permalink - about

I created this site because I wanted a place for quick impressions: what I’d seen, read and heard.

The idea goes back a few years, when I pulled together a simple website to draft new ideas. That became my “long” site,, a place for informal, but complete, essayistic and blog-type writing. What gets written on the long site takes from a few days to weeks to complete, and I can develop only a fraction of what interests me. I wanted the option to produce quick posts more often, if only to see in a single sentence or two whether I was onto something, or to get something out there–a passage, an image, a sound–that was worth noting in granular form, for its own sake.

Social media is always an option for this type of need, but I dislike the default “push” model of most big social networks. I can think of no friend, acquaintance or passerby who needs to get every last update on this site ;). If you want that, there is always the RSS feed.

tl;dr: this is an at attempt at a personal feed: a little like Twitter, with more flexibility in format, greater independence from the everyday, just as much spontaneity–and a lot more fun. Let me know what you think.


Transition season clouds

A cloudscape, including altostratus clouds in the middle layer, from Chicago, October 2021
“Altostratus may look more extensive toward the horizon than overhead, but the apparent compression of cloud cover toward the horizon may be more a function of perspective than of a real increase in clouds” (David Ludlum, Field Guide to North American Weather, 456). Chicago, mid-October 2021.

Winter isn’t here yet, but the weather in Chicago is showing real signs of its existence. Nights below freezing; unforeseen bursts of snow; and the most characteristic of all: dull, uniform overcast skies, which appear featureless from the ground.

Looking at clouds is usually associated with boredom, but I would argue that one’s boredom is better assessed by what kind of clouds you are looking at.

One of the things I miss during the colder months are the complex cloudscapes. Not that these can’t appear in winter; if you see something like the picture above in January, you should pay attention and savor it, for it’s less likely to happen the next day. This is because there is simply less heat thrown into the atmosphere in winter, and heat is the scarce ingredient that churns with the more plentiful cool air. These thermal fault lines in the sky are the cause of the most interesting clouds.

And clouds, in keeping with their reputation for the ephemeral, are at their most interesting when the air is moving, and when their formations are short-lived, a transitional state.

Mixed clouds in early November 2021, Chicago
“Altocumulus clouds produce the most dramatic and beautiful cloudscapes, especially in the rays of a low sun.” (Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook, 18). Chicago, early November 2021.


David Ludlum, The National Audobon Society Field Guide to North American Weather. Knopf, 1991.

Gavin Pretor-Pinney, The Cloud Collector’s Handbook. Chronicle Books, 2011.

Tags meteorology weather fall winter


On walking and structure

I live in a very walkable neighborhood in Chicago, and have walked almost everywhere I need to go daily for more than a decade. I’ve been thinking more about the meaning of all this walking in the last few years, mostly by building a reading list on the topic and informally going through it. One of the best I’ve read is Rebecca Solnit’s Wanderlust: A History of Walking.

The book came out more than twenty years ago, in 2000, but I see no evidence that advances in technology or changes in society have dated it. Walking has had the status of a gratuitously simple, stubbornly un-innovative way of getting around for at least 100 years. Because it is so obvious that walking is behind the times, whenever there is a desire to return to basics, or a burst of nostalgia for simple things–at that point the topic of walking will be due for a revival. I think we had one last year, during the pandemic.

What I have taken from Solnit’s book is that walking is one of those subtle, mostly deniable ways in which people express a disdain for hierarchy, routine and structure. The authorities that offer an alternative to walking–businesses, governments–do it because they think everyone wants to eliminate downtime between the appointed parts of that day; people insist on that time. The walker is neither here nor there, in a liminal state (51), dropped off the official record. Walking remains one of the best ways to disguise doing nothing (5). Walking “connects different interiors” which would otherwise remain unconnected (9). The spaces between, for example, the gym and the workplace, can have meaning if a person is in a position to look at them. And finally, because walking is too ordinary to be interesting, it has no true experts (ix), only amateurs who use it for their own reasons.


Rebecca Solnit, Wanderlust: A History of Walking. New York: Penguin, 2000.

Tags hierarchy authority imagination freedom


A tree that shines on its way out


The Honey Locusts outside my front window are turning yellow. These trees can be found on many city streets in Chicago. And they are hardy: lines of them thrive a few feet from the lakefront on the South Side. For most of the year I find them less than attractive; something about their long rows of small leaves give me the impression of a tree-sized weed.

And some have thorns.

W.J. Bean was more enthusiastic about the species, Gleditsia triacanthos. It’s native to North America, and the Englishman wrote approvingly of the prospect of importing it to the U.K. It has “beautiful fern-like foliage,” he noted, “which turns a clear bright yellow in autumn. (291, Trees and Shrubs, Volume II)”

On this I can agree. The tree is more beautiful when it’s shutting down for the season, cycling through a predictable, cascading bright yellow phase for a final few weeks.


W.J. Bean and George Taylor, Trees and Shrubs Hardy in the British Isles, 8th Edition, Volume II. J. Murray, 1970-1980

Tags plants naturalist city tree


Fear ecology

I was riveted by this long-form article in the New York Times about the rise of white sharks (aka great white sharks) off the coast of Cape Cod. It may seem like a sensational topic, but that wasn’t how I took it. One has to understand that white sharks were basically unknown in the area until 15-20 years ago. Now they are so numerous during the warm season that, if you know where and how to look, they are everywhere. So the piece is really about how dread creeps onto the surface of a beautiful place, changing how people experience it. Chivers writes that

Risk of attack remains low. But the quantity of large sharks, and fears that have accompanied them, have caused a cultural trauma, reshaping how people experience the ocean and forcing coastal communities into a period of reckoning and adaptation.

I think about fear every day while out in public during this pandemic that is rapidly sliding into status quo. The article discusses what scientists call “fear ecology, a “concept describing the effects predators have on members of a prey species that do not get eaten but whose predator-avoidance strategies carry costs.” That mindset of avoidance, says a doctor who tried unsuccessfully to save a Cape Cod shark attack victim, “hovers over the region: the fear that sharks are going to ruin this idyllic place.”

I don’t avoid some places, people, or situations–bars, for example–because I fear them. It’s more simple than that: I just don’t go to those places. I spare myself the psychic costs of even fear. But what might be worse than fear is forgetting what a place looked like before the fear set in.


C.J. Chivers, “Fear on Cape Cod as Sharks Hunt Again.” The New York Times Magazine. October 21, 2021.

Tags danger uncertainty dread pandemic