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Welcome to PenHead.org, an oasis of uninformed analysis in a desert of educated guesswork. What is a Penhead? Do you fancy yourself a writer? Enjoy a good read? Then you may already be a Penhead yourself!

We are your source for original stories, the occasional interview with our favorite authors, book and play reviews, recommendations (of current and forgotten finds), and more. Our Goal: World domination through the written word via the vast network of the internet. Until then, we'll be found risking what's left of our reputations here, at PenHead.org.

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America's National Park system is vast. As a collection of properties, it encompasses more than 52 million acres. At the time of its inception, with Yellowstone National Park in 1872, the concept of national parks - lands designated
for protection from development - was unique in the world. Since then, however, the idea has grown in popularity and scope, resulting in more than 6,000 national parks worldwide, in nearly 100 countries, offering opportunities for sightseeing, wildlife observation, and recreation to the some 8 billion park visitors they attract each year.

The Organic Act of 1916 created The National Park Service with the purposeful directive:

    [T]o conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and wildlife therein, and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for . . . more >
Climb every mountain / Search high and low / Follow every byway / Every path you know.-Rodgers and Hammerstein

Mt. Rainier, due to its close proximity to major urban areas (Seattle and Portland), is a popular training ground for trekkers with higher sights in mind. Sporting twenty-seven glaciers, Mt. Rainier is the most glaciated peak in the Lower 48.

The massive volcano was first circumnavigated in 1967 by a climbing party organized by Hal Foss. Called the "High-Level Orbit," there are three routes climbers can follow. The route of 1967 circumnavigated the mountain in a counter-clockwise fashion, but in June 1969 - inspired by the Foss party - an expedition led by Bill Boulton successfully completed the High-Level Orbit in a clockwise direction which inspired the first guided "orbit" in 1990 by Rainier Mountaineering. That expedition traversed the slopes counter-clockwise on skis, following the original route for the most part, with some . . . more >

In 1899, Mount Rainier became America's fourth national park. Rising to a height of 14,411 feet, the mountain is the second tallest peak in the contiguous United States, but the largest in terms of vertical gain from base to summit.

The first recorded climb of Rainier was accomplished in 1884 along the Liberty Ridge Route. A 50 degree glacial climb, you can go up, but you can't go down as descending on the route is extremely dangerous and discouraged. Instead, climbers use the Emmons-Winthrop Glacier Route with its gentler 30 degree slopes for their ascent.

Mt. Rainier Climbing Guide: Profiling 2 Routes, by Brian Sperry, contains detailed descriptions of both the Liberty Ridge and Emmons-Winthrop Glacier routes. Like its sister publication Mt. Rainier Glacier Travel Guide: Adventures on The High Traverse Routes, edited by Dee Molenaar and Stanley Friedman (Stanley Maps, $24.95), it's made of a paper/polymer material that is water and tear resistant, and includes a 1:24,000 scale topographical . . . more >

As we settle into a new year, for much of the world - those living in the Northern Hemisphere at least - our thoughts turn to gardening. Americans will spend an estimated $127 billion on gardens and other yard improvements in 2024 alone, representing roughly .45 percent of the nation's GDP. Whether pursuing an annual vegetable garden, or making improvements to the existing landscape, when it comes to neighborhood bragging rights, the garden's the thang, bar none.

Meet the Eldridges. He's looking to transition out of a state department job into the private sector. She's the photogenic up-and-coming host of a popular gardening show. Together they have two children, Janie, the youngest, and Martha the first-born. Janie fancies herself an amateur sleuth. Martha is a college student looking to leave her mark on the world. The Eldridges are in effect a flesh and bones version of that crime-fighting cartoon family of Disney fame, The Incredibles . . . more >

In my experience, few books live up to their titles. Once in a while, however, a volume comes along that bucks the trend. Ortho's All About Bulbs, by Alvin Horton and James McNair, is one such book.

Horton and McNair have done their homework. They bring their expertise to the pages of Bulbs in easy-to-understand instructions that even the novice will feel confident in. Sharing their knowledge in a layout that's logical makes it easy to follow, which in turn enhances the clarity of their instruction. And to be clear, DIY books are nothing without clarity.

All the expected basics of bulb biology are covered, including the various root structures that constitute the broad definition of "bulb". These include tubers, true bulbs, corms, tuberous roots and rhizomes, with clear procedures on dividing and planting each type. They also cover forcing blooms, wintering over (not all bulbs need to be dug up in the fall), and handling bulbs according to climatic zone. Fortunately, according to Bulbs, I live in a temperate zone that requires little to no special . . . more >

Sunset's Introduction to Basic Gardening does for yard care what Ortho's All About Bulbs does for corms, tubers, rhizomes and the like. While expanding our knowledge of gardening, our vocabulary and imagination are also enhanced.

To me, basic gardening covers digging, spreading soil, burying seeds (or roots), and watering. To Zimmerman, it's that, and a whole lot more. Just about anything one can think of regarding the yard is included in Basic Gardening. It covers topics from location selection to soil amendment; proper planting depth to how to tell when it's time to harvest, and all topics in between.

In America - at least my neck of the woods - everybody has a lawn. Some cities and HMOs even have codes requiring them. Hip to the game, Zimmerman devotes a good chunk of time on lawns, from seed selection to installation to care, and like other advice in Basic Gardening, provides a bottom-up approach: match the plant to the soil. Although she does cover soil amendment - without leaning heavily on chemicals - she suggests planting according to your natural soil conditions, rather than trying to . . . more >

Travel, out of necessity or for pleasure, is a human activity as old as the ancients. Whether done out of a backpack, or with all the amenities of first-class lodgings, somehow, somewhere inside of us, a need is met that's as basic to the human condition as oxygen: the need to roam.

A Field Companion For Wandering: A Book For Being Lost on Real and Imagined Borders is a unique creation by Conner Bouchard-Roberts. It offers thoughts on travel from multiple perspectives by the same man. The result is an ethereal journey on the subject with ample food for thought.

This, the third iteration of Wandering, gives the sense the author's finally gotten it right. It's filled with essays and musings that read like poetry masquerading as prose; prose disguised as poems. In its previous lives, Wandering was shorter, less fleshed out, and - more to the point - an indictment of the travel industry. The original . . . more >

Yellow highlighter and dog-eared pages are the hallmarks (after-the-fact) of a good travel guide. My copy of Lonely Planet's Thailand's Islands & Beaches is no exception. Between its covers there's hardly a page that doesn't contain some highlighting. Whether it be instructions on how to avoid getting ripped off when catching a cab from the airport (the authors advise not to jump in the car of the first driver that approaches you; you're being approached for a reason) or how to respectfully haggle the price of a room, I've highlighted the entries. (However, once off the plane after a long, sleepless international flight, I proceeded to ignore Lonely Planet's advice and overpaid for both the cab and the room. Welcome to Bangkok.)

Talking the Talk
Joe Cummings and Nicko Goncharoff, like all the authors of Lonely Planet publications, talk the talk and walk the walk. They've done the footwork, so all we have to do is pick up the guidebook and set off with the confidence of knowing the authors have already made our mistakes for us so we won't have to. Thus is the beauty . . . more >

With art, as with literature, first impressions can be deceptive. Who hasn't chosen a book for its cover, and then been disappointed by its contents? Or, attending an art show, been struck by an artist's style and falsely assumed it representative of all his output? Labels are easy. That's why we use them. But, just as you can't judge a book by its cover, neither can you judge a piece of art (or its artist) on first impressions alone.

I first met Jacques Drapeau in 2019. He was wearing a hat and shoes he painted himself. I pegged him for an old hippy folk artist. Over the next couple of years, navigating COVID shutdowns, protocols and social distancing, I had the good fortune of running into him at various local shows and events in the Stilly and Skagit Valleys of western Washington. Gradually, I began to realize Drapeau was more than a folk artist. He creates, always with an eye out for whimsy. Whether he's . . . more >

Abbeville Press' Chefs-d'Ceuvre L'impressionnisme is a collection of the world's renowned Impressionists. Over its 268 pages it catalogs the works of familiar names such as van Gogh, Monet and Renoir, among others. More than 220 full-color reproductions in all.

As not all painters are on equal footing, L'impressionnisme devotes entire sections to those that moved Impressionism forward in some distinct way (Edouard Manet; Claude Monet; Pierre-Auguste Renoir; Edgar Degas and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec), while ignoring those deemed less influential. Although, it does contain a history on Impressionism along with reproductions which include many lesser known artists from the movement's halcyon days of the . . . more >


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