Archive for August, 2018

MR. KILLJOY

August 29, 2018

We had just finished sawing a 24 inch log in two places, dropping it on the trail.  Then, we sat on the ground and pushed it off with our legs.  Another section of the trail up from Patjens Lakes in the Mount Washington Wilderness was clear, just as one of our group returned from scouting what lay ahead.

“There are at least 30 logs between us and the wilderness boundary.”  My heart sank.  About an hour earlier, 10-15 cuts ago, a mile further back, a lady hiked by, telling us that we had “at most” twenty more to do to the wilderness boundary.  She obviously was wrong.

I have gone out ten times with the Scorpions, part of the High Cascade Volunteers, an amalgam of thirty volunteer groups taking care of the Central Oregon wilderness and the national forests, because the Forest Service doesn’t have the resources to hire enough personnel to clear the trails.  Elections matter.  A few folks started doing this 14 years ago, and now there are crews of volunteers going out at 7 am every Thursday and in summer on Tuesday as well. It is a two hour drive to the trailhead in many instances, the last part often on washboard roads, another hour—or more— spent hiking into where the work needs to be done, carrying saws, Pulaskis, pruning saws for the small stuff, a pry bar, doing the work, and hiking out.  

Then driving back to the meet up place.  Then driving home, hopefully before 7.  

The first time I did this, carrying a Pulaski, wearing a hardhat and other protective gear, we hiked 8 miles with an elevation gain of 2700 feet.  That’s a significant hike without gear and without having to work.  Chainsaws are not allowed in wilderness areas, so a log that might take a minute or two to cut with a chain saw takes a half hour or even longer to cut out with a two man crosscut.  Saws bind (we use wedges to keep the cut open), we sometimes have to under buck (do cuts underneath), and then we try to see if we can move the log after only cutting it once.  It’s difficult work.

Back to Patjens: The crew chief said, “Well, we’re obviously going to have to come back since we can’t finish.  Does anybody want to keep going?”

There were three others besides me, and all three nodded assent.  

“No,” I blurted out.  “I’m beat.”  I was.  It was hot, my knee bothered me, the last cut was a bitch, and I knew we had a 3 mile hike out of there before we could even start the drive home.  No, I did not want to continue, when I knew a crew would have to come back here to finish.

I prevailed.  

An hour and a quarter later, back on the road, one of the others told me that she was glad I spoke up.  “I didn’t realize how tired I was.”  

I did. 

A person willing to say no is valuable in these situations.  I was discussing my experience with a person yesterday on a drive to a hike.  He said that people need to speak up.  I replied that the leader shouldn’t put others in that situation, because many don’t want to be the one to speak up, to be the killjoy who says “no,” when asked to cut more, hike more, bushwhack more, climb to the next ridge, go on just a little longer, say they aren’t too tired, too cold, too hot, or something else I liken to a “contributing factor” to a accident report, which it may well become.

My wife once got suckered into climbing a short, but rather steep climb on an urban hike that didn’t mention the climb.  I was along and should have spoken up in her place.  She doesn’t like being the one who says no.  A few months later, on a long beach hike, we were part of the group that would turn around early.  When we arrived at that spot for lunch, the hike leader suggested we go “a little further” to another landmark.  I said no, that this was the hike we were going to do.  The leader was upset, but I realized—as did my wife, who didn’t want to say anything but who also wanted to return—that we still had to get back.  We turned around.  She stopped hiking with the Club.

I said no on a snowshoe loop hike up by Maxwell Butte when after a couple of miles of deep, unbroken snow, only three of us in the group, including me, breaking trail, we reached a junction: a steep hill was ahead, continuing to a shelter and a long loop back to the car, and a gentle downhill area was to our right, leading a much shorter 2 miles to the car.  The leader wanted to go up the hill.  Mr. Killjoy said NO.  “I’ve been pulling a lot (I should have said “breaking trail,” but the ex-cyclist in me used pulling), and I am not going up that hill with unbroken snow.”  What I didn’t add was that the hike was put on the schedule at 5 miles, and I knew already it would be over 6.  A mile extra snowshoeing breaking trail is like 3 more miles hiking.  At least.  We went right. 

A year prior, on another snowshoe uphill in waist deep snow, a person who had done this particular snowshoe kept saying, “around this bend.”  Finally, I put my foot down figuratively as well as literally.  “One more bend,” I said, and when the top didn’t appear, we turned around.  Later, in better conditions, I discovered it was another 3/4 mile.

One can’t depend upon having a Mr. Killjoy along.  As a result, many end up doing things that they assented to, but didn’t really want to do because they didn’t speak up.  I have discussed this issue in this blog before, (The Abilene Paradox) courtesy of the late Dr. Jerry Harvey, which convinced me of the need to speak up when I don’t like a situation.  

Having been burned on unscheduled food/drink stops (“it will only be ten minutes” but took an hour),  I know now that I either have to lead the hike or be one of the drivers.  I don’t want unscheduled stops or hike surprises: 

  • “hmmm, there used to be a trail here” (there was never a trail there, the leader took a wrong turn);
  • “we couldn’t find the lake” (nobody along had a GPS);
  • “We spent an hour looking for the lake, but I couldn’t find it” (the contours showed the lake above, not below);
  • “I know there is water here (a hiker who had the PCT trail update said there wasn’t, but the leader insisted and wasted well over an hour’s time);
  • “I left an arrow in the snow where I was going” (which I didn’t see), from one on my hike who continued without the group after a trail junction, something one does not do. and only by luck (which I don’t want to depend upon in the outdoors) was he at the lunch spot.  

I complain too much, and as one posted about me on Facebook (back when I used to read it), “Mike never smiles.”  That may not be far off, because when I get in the woods, I stay focused, know that early miles are like gold, knowing where I am in time and in location matter, if I don’t know where I am, I stop until I figure it out, and I keep counting people. Trail memory, recognizing when something is and isn’t familiar, and a keen sense of time are my virtues, although many consider them nerdy and too analytical.  I worry a lot, because it doesn’t take much for things to go south in a hurry.  Bad stuff happens, and I want to minimize it, not smile for somebody’s desire to get likes or shares.

As a New Zealand friend told me three years ago on Black Crater, “You don’t want to have to explain things to the coroner.”

Sign me,

Mr. Killjoy

DIALING UP TIME

August 26, 2018

Last Sunday, I didn’t hike because of a knee injury.  I remembered that at noon the Eugene Astronomical Society sponsored a weekly solar viewing in Alton Baker Park, appropriately near the 1:1 billion scale model of the Sun, part of the solar system which runs for 2 1/2 miles west along the Willamette River.  I lead a New Years’ Eve Day walk through the solar system for the hiking club and know it well.  I decided to go over and see what it was all about.

I do my solar viewing during eclipses, so viewing the “normal” Sun is strange for me.  When I arrived, three members had telescopes set up, two with Hydrogen Alpha filters and a Dobsonian with a nice solar filter.  A Hydrogen Alpha filter removes all light except the wave length emitted caused by an electron’s jumping from one specific orbit to another.  They allow prominences on the edge of the Sun to be seen well, and I saw one such prominence far larger than the Earth.  

After my look, I settled on the cool grass to look for Venus in daytime, more difficult to do here in Oregon, at lower elevation, more humidity, and in summer more smoke.  I never did find it.  Jerry, who is the EAS’s spokesman, runs the show. He has written 15 science fiction books and remarkably well-versed in all areas of astronomy.  He recognized me by name when I showed up, speaking volumes to his skills at facial recognition as well, since after the eclipse a year ago, we have seen each other twice.  After chiding myself for my laziness, I finally went to the last monthly meeting.

Somewhere in all of this, we started talking about sundials.

Jerry brought the shell of one that had been thrown out, where the shadow caster, or gnomon, was put on wrong and had the wrong latitude as well.  He was interested in bringing the dial back to life, so we started chatting about various dials.  I have built several horizontal and vertical ones, plus a 20-footer on a concrete slab, an analemmatic, in Sonoita, Arizona, where one could stand on the date with the shadow’s reading the time.  I’m not much of a builder, but math is integral to making a sundial, and I like math.   

I was able to help Jerry when I reminded him of a correction we need to make is where we are in the time zone, in addition to the correction of our watches to exact time.  We are a bit more than 123 degrees west longitude, and our clocks, plus daylight savings time, are set for local noon at 1 p.m. at 120 degrees west, 8 time zones (a time zone is 15 degrees latitude) from Greenwich.  The extra 3 degrees and change delays local noon by 12 minutes and 46 seconds, so Sun’s culmination, or furthest south, is after 1 o’clock.  There is yet a third correction that must be made for the “Equation of time,” which takes into account the difference of “Sun time” to clock time.  

These two ways of measuring time are slightly different: clock time is 86,400 seconds per day, where each second is “the duration of 9 192 631 770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the cesium 133 atom.”

Got that?

The Earth’s orbit marking the day’s length—measured from noon to noon—is not quite 86,400 seconds or a bit more.  If the Sun is running “fast,” which it does especially in September and October, we note an earlier sunset, which is why October evenings (at least in the Northern Hemisphere) become so dark so soon.  The mornings don’t change much, because while the Sun is moving south, delaying sunrise, the Sun runs “fast,” speeding up sunrise, and the two effects tend to cancel each other.

When the Sun is running “slow,” especially in January and February, it is slow to rise, giving rise to the dark mornings of January.  The slowness works the same way in setting, however, which is why by New Years’ Day most people know that the Sun is setting later than it did at the beginning of the month.

It is not a good reflection on me that I tried to convey all of the above information in words during a time when nobody was viewing through the telescopes.  I left out the making of an analemma, the path the Sun takes through the sky at the same clock time, during the year.  It is the odd-shaped Figure of 8 on the globe.  If one can understand what the analemma means, one is well on the way to understanding the rhythms of the Sun and the changes in sunrise and sunset times.  I’ve made analemmas, and it is a great project for elementary school students, for it teaches how the Sun takes the same path across the sky in fall and spring but doesn’t rise and set at the same time.

Probably a better lesson is that an analemma takes a year to make, and one can’t speed up the process.  All is needed is an object that casts a decent shadow on the ground and the ability to mark the shadow periodically over a year, which helps develop delayed gratification skills.

I’ve made sundials to keep track of time of meetings I’ve attended, throwing people a little off balance, setting a different tone for the meeting.  I’ve made many noon marks, too, where the Sun is highest in the sky for a given day, demarcating the change from morning to afternoon.  These were part of the pioneer homes in our history, and some still have them today.  Noon marks are along a straight line, but they occur at different clock times.

With fast and slow Suns, hydrogen Alpha filters, and Dobsonian telescopes, I again re-learned one of life’s lessons:  when one does something new, out of the ordinary, one may predict what will happen, but one will likely have a very different experience than what was predicted.  I went over to look at the Sun and to support the local society.  I didn’t expect anything special.  

Instead, I found my knowledge of an area of the Sun useful, connected with a couple of people and made a difference by my presence.  That’s not a bad way to spend time, whether Sun time or clock time.

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS IS NOT JUST COW PIES

August 4, 2018

It was minor, really, and I shouldn’t have gotten upset.  The bicyclist rode past me on the river path, waving.  The problem was that no bicycles were allowed on this quarter mile path.  None.  There was a sign and a gate, although there was a tire mark in a rut in the ground by the gate.  I liked the path, because if I didn’t have to worry about a bicyclist, I could walk on either side and not have to look behind me before crossing, unlike in the rest of the park where it was paved.  The park also had dirt paths where it seemed clear bicycles were not allowed, but they appeared there, too.

And it wasn’t just bikes.  I had a loose dog snap at me once, and another time a couple let their dog loose, as if the whole 413 acre park was for their dog alone.  In 3 minutes, the dog urinated twice, defecated, and chased some ducks off a small area of water.  I was incensed.  Dogs were supposed to be on a leash.  There was a sign.

Leashes are often treated as optional in other local parks, too, and I shudder to think how much urine and feces are in the woods near the trail. On the last 75 yards to the freeway-paralleling sidewalk near my home, there were 4 dog poops in the first twenty feet.  The Club once picked up 100 different poops in about 2 miles’ trail.  Sometimes, the stuff is bagged, and the bag left “for pickup,” as if absolving the owner from any further duty. I suggested to the Club members who wanted “dog hikes” that maybe they do periodic trail poop pick-ups on a monthly hike.  That got a stony silence.  

Don’t get me wrong.  It’s not the dog’s fault—a dog is being a dog.  I have issues with bad owners.  And bicyclists who flout rules.  I used to ride, but I got off at a crosswalk, because pedestrians have right of way and on my bike I was a vehicle.  

This brings me to a basic problem in the country today, a key debate, really, that often divides along party lines:  the right of the individual to do what he/she wants vs. the common good.  

Many want to be able to go where they wish, take whatever animals they wish with them, do what they want, be it camping, shooting a firearm, hunting whatever they choose, driving at whatever speed they want to, running an outboard motor where they wish, taking up as much space on a campground, or an Appalachian Trail shelter as they wish, playing whatever music they want at whatever volume they wish, and consume whatever they feel like consuming, food or resources.

And not pick up after themselves….Or their dog.

The problem is the tragedy of the commons:  if everybody grazes cows on the commons, pretty soon, there is no grass left (and a lot of cow pies.)  If we cut down all the trees we can for “jobs,” pretty soon there won’t be any more cuttable trees.  We can, of course, say that there are the same number of trees, assuming replanting, but Weyerhaeuser doesn’t hire loggers on the basis of “tree counts,” even if some in Washington use the term.

We hunted the Passenger Pigeon to extinction.  We fished out the Grand Banks.  We almost exterminated bison.  We are in danger of losing all coral, and well on our way, given ocean acidification and warming, to losing all fish.  All of this has been due to no effective regulation.

Individual rights?  Or Common good?

I practiced medicine for years dealing with this dichotomy, which I called autonomy vs. accountability.  Many of my colleagues wanted to be left alone to practice the way they chose, regardless of whether it was out of date, not supported by science, or outright dangerous to patients.  Some crossed over to the accountability side only when their turf was invaded by others practicing outside their range of expertise.  When that happened, I was told to “do something about this.”  

The country is facing an environmental crisis by ignoring climate change, opening up formerly protected areas for resource extraction, relaxing rules regarding what is a poison, what is an allowable level of a dangerous compound, and who controls the land.  There are too many people having too many children, but I’ve given up on that one.  The irony is that the individual rights group believes they have a right to access, at any time, all land in their area (except their own private property, of course.)  Eliminating public land will shut everyone out of that land as the wealthy buy it and make it their own private property.  Normally, I would be glad to see the individual rights group get their comeuppance, but locked up land, unless it is wilderness, is unable to be accessed, so there is neither individual rights nor a common good operating here.

Head to southeast Arizona and one reads about mega-farms, many foreign owned, where nut trees were planted, incredible users of water, obtained by wells drilled far below the depth of current ones, which are drying up as the water table falls.  There are road signs saying to drive slowly and watch for earth fissures, as excessive groundwater pumping has caused land shifts. Eventually, the entire aquifer will be depleted, and the only life will be that which can survive the harsh climate with what little rain falls.  Oaks in the Chiricahua Mountains can no longer send roots deep enough.  They are dying. Many large agricultural concerns moved to southeast Arizona because there were no regulations.  Even some die-hard local Republicans want “withdrawal (of water) fees,” (it’s really a tax, but nobody wants to use the word) and some even admit there is a case for governmental involvement.  It’s so bad that rural Arizonans are actually using the words “climate change”.  Funny how when one is affected, belief comes quickly.

The Ogallala Aquifer in the Great Plains is a third depleted, this information coming from space, using a pair of satellites to compare gravity.  One may not understand gravitational comparisons, but all should understand quite well what will happen when mid-continent agriculture runs out of water.  The hundredth meridian “dry line” has shifted two degrees of longitude to the east, which may not seem much, but a 140 mile shift  involves 38 million acres of Cornhusker land.  Both Grand Island and Kearney are now on the wrong side of the line, the Platte is in real trouble, as is a lot of land in the region that requires a lot of water for agriculture, let alone wetlands for the Central Flyway.  

Assuming birds matter.  Or the Sandhill Crane migration.

The common good is not just for those who are currently alive but for humanity’s future.  We alive today are the individual; those who are yet to be born are the common good.  We are leaving to those unborn generations a planet where it will be impossible to find cold adapted species except at the highest of altitudes. There will be far fewer large mammals, birds, reptiles and fish, far less arable land and clean water.  The common good—future generations— will share excessive heat, dryness, and crowding, because too many individuals—who had skin in the game—failed to act.

We are not dissimilar to bacteria on a Petri dish kept in a warm room.  The difference is the latter mindlessly grow, increasing their numbers, until they run out of nutrients.  Then they die.

Perhaps there is no difference.