Archive for the ‘UNPUBLISHED OUTDOOR WRITING’ Category

SAW SENSES

October 15, 2020

Steve and I looked at an 18 incher blocking the trail in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  It had been down for awhile, the bark gone, which was nice, but needed to be removed. We both looked at the log, with enough space underneath to probably have a slight sag or top bind, meaning the cut from the top might start grabbing the saw as it cut through compressed fibers.  Well, that’s what wedges are for, to keep cuts or kerfs open.  He took the sheath off the 6 foot crosscut, and each of us took a handle.

We confirmed that we wanted to cut mostly straight through, and it didn’t matter which side we started from.  We both got into position, which for me was kneeling on the ground, worked the teeth a little bit into the log so they grabbed, and started sawing, pull smooth and hard, relax for partner, smooth and hard, relax, over and over again, 20, 50, 100, 200, 150, 100,….

It went well. First, I could feel how smooth the cut was. I could hear the saw sing a little, and could see the kerf, or the line of the cut, staying open, not closing, and I noted a good pile of sawdust accumulating with a few “noodles,” thin strips of wood that occur with a good saw.  Still, about half way through the log, I was thinking we could use a wedge to keep it open a little more, and Steve suggested it aloud.  I pulled an orange hard plastic wedge from my back pocket, because I like having wedges immediately available, and with a nearby axe, pounded it into the top of the kerf.

When a wedge opens up the kerf, anyone holding the handle of a saw that is in the cut can feel a decrease of compression: the saw is loose again.  We cut further, and finally got to the end, the log’s dropping part way to the ground.  The saw was wedged in the kerf, so I took off the handle, so I could pass the rest of the blade to Steve to pull it through the narrow space.  There was a time when I took a couple of minutes taking off or putting on a saw handle. Now, it is almost automatic.  Sawing with a well-known instructor, I once removed a wedge prematurely, which was met with one of those comments, “Oh, I wish you hadn’t done that,” because getting the saw out would be more difficult. Stuck saws are bad.  Sawing into the dirt is a sin. 

We started on the other side of the log, had the same experience, and that end dropped, too.  Sometimes, when both cuts are made, the log drops and if there is a downhill, immediately rolls off the trail without assistance.  That is nice. The trail was flat, and the cut log was still held in place.  I stuck a wedge between the cut part and the rest of of the log, hit it once with the axe, and the whole cut log dropped to the ground.  That was real nice.

We still weren’t able to push it, however, and weren’t sure how stuck it was.  We both sat down on the ground, put our legs against the log and pushed. This is easier on the back and allows one to use the strength of the legs.  The log shot forward about 6 feet.  That was super nice. We finished pushing it off the trail, and Steve sheathed the saw, ready for the next one. 

There are probably thirty folks on the Crew, but each work party has somewhere between 3 and 8. The first group I ever went out with had about a dozen, but this summer it has been mostly 3 or 4.  With three, one can get relief at the saw, which can’t happen with two. With four, one can have pairs leapfrogging each other.  With more, it is possible to do serious trail clearing.  The amount of sawing can still be considerable, as it was last week, when we worked solidly for about 6 hours, excepting a short lunch break.

I’ve been on the other side of a saw with many different people.  When I started, three years ago, any time someone asked me if I wanted a break, I said yes.  This year, I stopped saying yes and began offering my services. I’ve noticed a significant drop in the number of times my technique wasn’t optimal; indeed, one of the crew members told me the other day I was “so ready” for the saw certification class coming up, for which he had recommended me. 

A month ago, in the Diamond Peak Wilderness, the two of us were cutting out a log, when he was trying to give instruction to another guy in the crew.  He started pulling the saw to his left.  I can now feel when my partner’s technique isn’t quite right, and I said to him, “Hey boss, you’re pulling left.”  

“Really?”  

“Yep.”  He was.  It was the first time I had ever told anybody, although I had seen it happen often.

Along the way, I have found people with whom I would share a saw any time and a few where I would just as soon limit my exposure.  Earlier this summer, one guy, who is a lot larger and stronger than I, told me that I needed to give him more saw, meaning that I was pulling more and not letting him pull it back. That seemed odd, since once we are done pulling, we relax, keep our hands on the handle, allowing our partner to pull the saw. With the new position, my hands were slammed into the log every time he pulled back.  I said maybe it was easier for him, but not for me, thinking that this wasn’t supposed to be a competition to see who could slam the other’s hands more.  

A couple of others tend to pull the saw to one side.  The saw has some flexibility, and if it is pulled to one side, it doesn’t cut cleanly through the log, making work harder.  One can’t simply close one’s eyes and pull-relax-pull. The saw must constantly be sight aligned with the kerf, which is the best real-time information we have as to what the bind of the log is.  If there is top bind, meaning the fibers are being compressed, as the saw cuts from the top, the fibers in the log will tend to compress or grab the saw, stopping progress.  If the kerf is opening up, we are cutting through tension, the opposite, and the cut will be easier, which one probably has already noticed.

Not only do I have more endurance, I hear, feel, see, and now beginning to sense what is going on. I can feel different types of wood as we are cutting, the difficulty caused by binding, I can see the noodles of cut log when the saw is sharp and the wood the right consistency, I can monitor sawdust, and I can see the change in color that heralds the end of the wood and cutting into bark. I can hear the cracking suggesting that the log is almost cut through.  Later that day, Steve wondered what he was feeling, looking over at my kerf.  I showed him the knot that we were too close to, apologizing for guiding us there.  I should have started the cut about an inch away.

It’s clear now what I need to take in the woods and where everything is. Indeed, my day pack has changed in part from the one I have used with the Club to one I use doing trail work, which is comfortable, and in which I have a better first aid kit, marking ribbon, extra wedges, clothing, lubricant, hand sanitizer, isopropyl alcohol, emergency supplies, a lopper, and a hand saw, food and water, and my Katana Boy 500 mm strapped to the back.

The author (back), Diamond Peak Wilderness. The wedge is keeping the kerf open, which is tending to close due to top bind or compression.

The author with one type of 2-man crosscut saw, S. Willamette Trail, March 2020.

Occasionally, it is possible for two pairs to cut simultaneously. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

CAMPFIRE STORIES, FEATURING…THE FIRE

September 7, 2020

We pulled up to the empty campsite on Knife Lake, just east of the Eddy Lake portage, and I hopped  out of the canoe to check it.  Mark and I were doing a sweep of the District during a week’s time, checking permits, people, campsites, picking up litter, digging new latrines and covering old ones, but mostly taking a long canoe trip and being paid for it.  Earlier that day, we came upon a group of seven young women and an older man leading the trip.  Mark said to the guy, “I want your job.”  When the guy heard what we were doing, he said, “I want yours.”

I saw something on the site that I still vividly remember, nearly three decades later: a fire was burning well outside the fire grate, the flames high, fed by the wind, and about to reach the grassy area nearby.  Fire inside the fire grate is almost friendly.  Fire outside the grate, burning uncontrollably, is not.  

We both used our hats to get water, shovels, and Pulaski to gradually get the fire under control and then out. Had the summer been much more drier, this fire would have been off to the races. There was no Knife Lake Fire that year, and we continued our trip uneventfully towards Fraser Lake.

Later that summer, I did a trip on the Kawishiwi River and fully a third of the sites we visited had a fire area with outright active fire or warm ashes.  

I was taught that a campfire burns itself out overnight.  We left sites that way.  Finally, one time I decided to check that proposition and burned myself on hot ashes.  I learned what has been said for a lot longer than I have practiced—put the fire dead out, drown it, and don’t leave until the ashes are cold to touch. 

Five years after the Knife Lake incident, I was on a volunteer trip with the late Mike Manlove.  We came into Good Lake, and at the first site there was a tent up but nobody there and a fire burning. I still remember the leader of the trip’s coming back to the site while we were there and apologizing. As Mike wrote him a $100 fine for an unattended fire, the man was upset and embarrassed, saying he had spent over four hundred nights in the Boundary Waters and nothing like this had ever happened. I wonder how many unintended fires he had during that time.

Back then, I was pushing 200 nights and knew clearly that on day trips, one was better off not building a morning fire. Drowning it would make it harder to start that evening.  Eat a stove heated breakfast and save the fire for evening.  I’m now over 300 days, will never hit 400, and I still canoe that way.

Three years ago, I took a backpacking trip to the coast with one of the premier leaders in the Club. The area was nice, but the trip didn’t work for me. I learned that the leader’s sleep schedule and mine must be in synch.  Ours weren’t. The leader sat around the campfire drinking whisky at night and slept until 9. By 9, I have been up for 3 hours, eaten breakfast, taken a walk on the beach and was ready to go somewhere else. 

That’s not a criticism of the leader. But when we were leaving the site, he kicked some dirt over where the campfire had been and scattered the logs.  I went over and put my hand on the ground.

It was hot.  Ouch hot. That is a criticism. Shameful. That is a criticism of the leader.

It wasn’t easy getting water, since we were on a bluff over the ocean. I did work my way down to a stream for two trips and got enough water to make the area cooler.  I had to move quickly, however, because others on the trip were leaving the camp for their cars, and I didn’t want to miss my ride home. I left the site better, but worried for a full day that maybe the fire had burned under ground and would come up somewhere.

I was stunned: how could a leader leave a fire area hot?  The prior day, we left the campsite about 10, and I realized that I had not checked the campfire, perhaps because I hadn’t sat around it and assumed the leader would have put it dead out.  Wrong assumption.

I haven’t been on trips with this leader since.  I invited a Club member on a canoe trip with me in 2017; he drank Canadian Club at night and slept in the next morning.  It spoiled the trip.  We got on the water late, and the best time of day had passed.  Paddling lakes in the early morning is special.  The wind isn’t usually up, birds and other animals are more likely to be out, and there is a stillness that won’t last but a couple of hours. 

Two weeks ago, I was with the Crew doing trail work in the Diamond Peak Wilderness when a two young women backpackers came by us, having hiked up from Corrigan Lake, one of several nice lakes on the west side of that wilderness.  They commented that they had put out an abandoned campfire that morning on their way out. They knew it was there because they saw it the prior night.

“Why anyone would have a campfire in these temperatures is a mystery to me,” one said. I thought there was a campfire ban, but it was beginning the following day. Still, talks of imminent campfire bans are a good reason not to have campfires.

We thanked them for their help and continued working our way towards the lake.  I then remembered that the Club had had a backpack into Corrigan that very week.  The same leader was leading that backpack, mentoring another, and I wondered whether it had been their campfire. 

When we returned to town, it wasn’t clear to me whether they had had a campfire.  I wrote a board member with my concern, not proof, because others could have been at Corrigan, although not many, since it is a small lake.  I mentioned my concern and the issue on the coast three years prior.  I also mentioned that I had heard that one fire almost had gotten away from that same leader up in the Cascades. That was hearsay, and I admitted that.  I got a reply that the board member had seen pictures on Facebook of the group with two different campfires.  He took that information to others and the Club now bans all campfires.  If one wants to build a campfire, we can’t stop them, but it is not allowed on a Club trip.  That may not stop people, but it protects the Club.  I can think of three other violations I’ve heard about on Facebook.  Be careful what you post.

And put the fire dead out when you leave the site. Fires start fast, and it only takes seconds for a fire to be high enough in a tree that you will never reach it.

Corrigan Lake with Diamond Peak

BECOMING A TRAIL WORKER

August 15, 2020

A few mosquitoes flew around me as I left the Hemlock Butte area parking lot and started on the trail to Vivian Lake.  I was first; the other four workers were finishing getting their gear together, bug nets on, saws and Pulaskis together for the log out of the trail, clearing the path of fallen trees and branches that had accumulated over the winter.. I was going to the first blowdown, still outside the Diamond Peak Wilderness, and would wait for the chain sawyer behind me.  We would use the chain saw to clear blowdowns outside the wilderness, the first several hundred yards of trail; two man saws would be used further along, once we entered the wilderness.

We hoped to clear the main trail to the junction of the Divide Lake Trail and then clear the latter all the way to the Pacific Crest Trail.  If we had time, we wanted to clear a few miles to Vivian Lake, although that seemed like a tall order.

I got to the first blowdown, an 8 inch hemlock across the trail, and waited for the sawyer. The other three passed by on their way to the wilderness boundary, where a few big logs awaited them. We would be there soon enough.

The sawyer cleared the first obstacle and the next, and I threw the cut logs off the trail then moved on.  When I reached the third, an easy log across the trail, I kept my pack on, since I expected the cutting to be quick.  The sawyer arrived, and he looked at the log, planning the cut standing on the opposite side from me.

I looked up above the log and stopped cold.

There was a large log perpendicular to and resting right on the one we were going to cut.  I yelled over to the sawyer, telling him he might want to move to my side of the log.  He looked up at the larger log and nodded.  He moved over to my side, started up the saw and began cutting.  It didn’t take long.

As the small blowdown was cut through, two things happened in quick succession:

  1. The small log dropped on the trail.
  2. Immediately, the larger log dropped rolled down right over the trail, bounced, went airborne, and landed 15 feet below, against a tree.  

The whole sequence took maybe 5 seconds.  

“Thank you!” The sawyer called.  I nodded.  

That was the first time in nearly eighty times out in the woods with the group I can truthfully say I called a problem before it became one.  Most of the other times I had seen as others had, or there was no need for concern.  This one would have been nasty and might well have ended the day for us. 

The sawyer’s helper is called a swamper, which doesn’t exactly convey desire or respect, but it is the noun, and the verb is “to swamp (for)” someone.  Sawyers concentrate on logs, and they depend upon swampers to keep them safe from harm. It is another pair of eyes to look above for dead trees that may come down or tension loaded spring poles—small trees bent in a U-shape— that can do a lot of damage to one’s self-image if cut improperly.

A short while and two cuts later, we stashed the chain saw and entered the wilderness, dealing with two moderate size blowdowns (16 inches, 40 cm in diameter) using 2-man, 5-foot crosscuts. There were a modest number of blowdowns needing to be cut before we reached the junction of the trail to Divide Lake and the Pacific Crest Trail, and headed towards Divide Lake. Here, we had to cut out several large downed trees. We did some leapfrogging, where two would work on one blowdown and the other two worked their way up the trail. By the end of the morning, we had cleared the lower half of the trail.

We stopped for lunch.  Trail work is a special kind of hike. We don’t usually cover a lot of distance, but we see and hear much more in the woods, because we spend so much time in the same place. High in the sunlight were spider webs. There were signs of past storms, of trees leaning broken off, or cut in two.  There were shade tolerant wildflowers on the forest floor.  On wet days, there are small pools of water on low spots of the trail. Around us, we could see new growth. 

I have a special relationship with the ground, be it the forest or a floor. I often sit on it, kneel on it, lie on it.  When I saw patients and examined their legs, I knelt on the floor to do so. I had two chairs in the exam room, and often the patient and family member sat in them and I sat on the step stool.  I was closer to the ground and had eye-to-eye horizontal contact.  I didn’t try to talk down to my patients, figuratively or literally.

We do trail work because we like doing good, and we enjoy being out in the woods with a bunch of other like-minded people.  I still do “normal” hikes, but I enjoy helping make the trails accessible for everyone.  I enjoy eating my lunch without often snide comments about what I am eating, and I enjoy a day where we aren’t talking politics, only tension and compression, the latter causing saws to bind.  We approach a log, check how it lies, whether we can move it without cutting, or with a strap, or with only one cut, or needing two.  We look above, below, and around for dangerous objects. We try to anticipate what the cut log will do, where it is going to go, how to get it off the trail, and whether there is room for it somewhere else.

Only then do we saw.  The first time I did it, I lasted about 30 seconds. Half the time, one is relaxing, allowing the saw to be pulled by his or her partner.  The other half, one is pulling. Relax, pull, relax, pull, several hundred times, dealing with the bind, which pinches the saw and unless a wedge is pounded in, stops work.  

What was a first for me this day was when asked if I wanted a break, I said no, I was fine.  And I was.  I wanted to finish the cut we were doing, and then I would rest.  It was the first time working that not only did I have more endurance than someone, I had the most endurance of the small group we had, which I hadn’t realized, until somebody said they couldn’t keep up with me.  I had never heard that before. 

That sort of stuff doesn’t come easy. It requires a lot of work, good technique, pacing oneself, and time in the woods doing this.  I will not have days like this all the time.  I would suck wind sawing the following week, and I would learn that I don’t have the legs to hike, push logs, and be out in the woods 5 days out of ten, without taking a few days off.  But two weeks later, I would have my first “second wind” while sawing, and finished a 23 incher. 

I had called a hazard that otherwise would have been unseen, and I was able to hold my own sawing. I was doing my own definition of good and enjoying it.

Underbucking a log or cutting from underneath. Notice the kerf-the cut–on top. It started coming together and binding the saw (top bind). On the bottom, the kerf will open up, allowing the cut to finish.
Author (right) using a D-handle saw to cut a small log. This is too much for a handsaw and too little for a two-man saw (Crossing Way Trail, Three Sisters Wilderness 1 Aug 20)..

Author (right) sawing a large Douglas fir. The orange wedge keeps the kerf open. I carry two in my pocket, which Ian, the other person, adopted. It saves time having to find one in a pack when one knows a log will need it. One of my modifications to the work gear. Diamond Peak Tie Trail, Diamond Peak Wilderness.
This mess will be done in a few days. Notice the extreme top bind on the large Douglas fir log. This is going to spring up when cut through and is a hazard that will need some discussion before we tackle it. The lowest log can be pulled off, the middle log may need two cuts, although if it is dry enough and short enough, one will be sufficient (Diamond Peak Wilderness).

Hiking out the Hand Trail (Mt. Washington Wilderness), on the first of what would be three days clearing the 4 mile (6.5 km) trail. Three Sisters in the distance, volcanic rock from past eruptions on the left.

“Tailgate session” before work in the Covid era. Scorpomanders (Scorpions from Eugene, Salamanders from Salem) doing a joint project at Patjens Lake Trail. The loop is about 6.5 miles (10 km), half in the Mt. Washington Wilderness. We used chain sawyers outside the wilderness and crosscut saws inside. We cleared it in 5 hours (11 Aug 20).

THE ONLY TIME IN MY LIFE I WAS A RINGER

June 12, 2020

I had forgotten about this event for a half-century.  Or I had repressed it.  Anyway, while I was doing my morning 5-mile walk through the park today, just having seen my thirtieth different wild flower species (a Golden Iris), I thought of how this would be a lost summer for the young men who were on the canoe tripping staff at Camp Pathfinder, Canada, where I learned to canoe trip, nearly 60 years ago. One only has a few years when one is strong, has time, is willing to and can work hard, get muddy, sunburned, wet, cold, bitten by bugs, and travel by pack and paddle through of the most beautiful country anywhere.  I took 25 trips all over Algonquin Park in 6 summers, paddled to South River Village one year and spent two weeks up in Temagami in 1964.

I don’t know what brought the memory deep out of my hippocampus, but this morning I thought of a canoe race I was in 54 years ago–my only canoe race, a two man one, international competition (after all, we were in Canada).  

We staff members at Pathfinder had days off, where we either had to paddle two miles to the car dock from the island camp, or if we were lucky, caught a power boat.  Once there, it was 2-3 miles to the Park Road, and then we hitchhiked into Huntsville, about 40 miles away.  We did our laundry, had ice cream, great food (although it was great at Pathfinder, too, and lots of it), then had to retrace our route back to camp. One night, I went to the local night club at Hidden Valley, a nice hangout, which was still there in 2013 when I came through.  Back then, if one went to H.V., it would be a real late night getting back to camp. Somehow, we all did.

One weekend, and my memory is obviously very flawed, considering I hadn’t thought of this event since LBJ was president, Justin W. and I were approached by I believe the mother of two boys at the camp.  She was a rich socialite.  Her name would be immediately recognized in the clothing industry if I wrote it, but she wasn’t the story.  Justin and I were.  There was to be a canoe race on a lake nearby.  It may well have been Lake Muskoka, but all I remember was a big lake with powerboats.  Justin and I were handed paddles and a canoe, and I can’t remember if we wore PFDs.  We probably didn’t, because back then we thought we were immortal, rather than teenagers.

Justin and I weren’t great friends, and that summer, he was a loose cannon, one day holding on to a rock formation along the park road, head slumped over like he had hung himself. Cars stopped and people actually got out to check on him.  He was lucky he wasn’t cited by the OPP (Ontario Provincial Police).  He was a strong guy, so he took the bow for power, and I stayed in the stern for steering.  I can’t remember the number of canoes, but there were several but probably fewer than 10.  The water was calm, and when the gun went off, we exploded into a fury of foam, power, and testosterone.  Justin was amazing. Normally, I can overcome most bow paddlers from the stern, but he was giving me everything I could handle, and I didn’t want to waste anything on steering if I didn’t have to. My arms were aching like they never had ached before or since. I think the race was about a half mile, certainly not more than a mile.  

We won comfortably, but not a blowout.  Thrilled, we headed back to shore, arms quivering from the effort, but heads held high, very proud of ourselves.

Here is the part I don’t remember.  At first, I thought the camp leaders were present on shore and we had to leave, but a day later, my memory had changed a little. It turns out that thinking about something changes it neurologically, just like observing something in nano space changes it, too.

I think Justin and I got the trophy.  I think so, because I have a vague memory of our having come back to camp with it.  

Briefly.  

Because I also remember, and this memory is fairly clear, that we were not going to keep the trophy, and I have a vague recollection of giving back the hardware.  

How I wish I could remember this, and now as an old adult, wonder what in the world had been going on with the socialite and the canoe race.  I do remember our being told that we had no business being in that race.  That was before the term “ringer,” but today someone would say that she brought in a couple of ringers to win the race.

Today, we recognize a ringer as someone who shows up for a pick up sport who played for a Division I NCAA school. In basketball, he dribbles through your legs and you wonder what happened. If you shoot, he blocks and you have a leather sandwich. 

Justin and I talked about the race only briefly afterwards.  I remember his saying that we were racing against trappers and real woodsmen, and we beat ‘em all.  Thinking back, I wonder if the competition was a bunch of middle aged guys with beer bellies who couldn’t tell a J-stroke from jaywalking, or thought the bow was something you did after a good performance.  But I like to think we beat tough competition.  Of course, today, there would be video and posting on Instagram or Facebook, but back then it was a lot better, because we could make up a better story, sort of like I am doing here.

The following year, 1967, was my last at Pathfinder, and I was head man on four canoe trips.  I thought it was only two, but years ago, Pathfinder put them all on line, and I found my name as “Mike Smith in charge” four times. I decided to check on the trip I had with Justin. I went on Pathfinder’s Web site and found the trip about a minute later. Bless the guy who did this; what a great service to past canoe trippers.  There it was, a two day 12-man trip to McIntosh and Brûlé lakes, a loop I had forgotten about, and which I had mixed up with my last trip that year. On August 7, Justin was second man to me on that trip with four staff, four canoes, 12 men, the Blackbear-Ink portage, my first time over the miler, and the 1 mile Nature Trail portage which I would carry again four days later on my last trip as a staff man, and not again for 46 years, when I carried a canoe over it on a day trip.

Without putting it down.  I texted my wife, saying something like “That mattered.”  She texted back an eyeroll icon with “if you say so.”

The trip Justin and I took was for one purpose: to get every camper still in camp out of camp for one night so the staff could have a break.  That time of year, the long trips were underway, and the camp had fewer kids present. We took the last 8, along with four trip staff.  These guys weren’t into canoeing, but we got them out and back, and Justin was superb. He made sure there was no nonsense, and he helped the third and fourth men on the trip as well.  Nobody swamped, I checked the box “No” on the return where it asked, “Was there any profanity on the trip?” (not until the first portage, anyway) and  the staff had a great night alone in camp.

I gave Justin an AAA, the top rating, for the trip.  He told me he didn’t deserve it. I assured him that his presence was valuable.  He was great. I wonder if we spoke of the canoe race. We probably didn’t.  Too bad.

I’ve got to send in a donation to the Algonquin Campership Fund for Pathfinder. And I think I will send this to the current owner.  Maybe he can give me more information on the great race. Or be glad he wasn’t around when it took place.

I’d never add that trophy to go with winning the 5-10 hp power boat race on Honeoye Lake in 1960, and a bowling trophy at Clover Lanes in 1963, which was still there, too in 2013, but closed in 2016 to make way for Whole Foods.  I got a clock for winning my age group in the 2nd Annual AAN (American Academy of Neurology) 5 km run in 1992, but that and the other two were national events.

I’m still undefeated in international canoe race competition.  

The author back again in a red canoe.. Camp Pathfinder canoe dock; August 2013. Note the red neckerchief I am wearing

Day trip to Little Island Lake (and others). Author in blue shirt in back. I camped at this site nearly a half-century earlier.

THE JOYS OF CURIOSITY AND COUNTING

April 25, 2020

I miss hiking.  I miss snowshoeing, my last one five weeks ago now, when I soloed into Arrowhead Lake in the Diamond Peak Wilderness with nobody out there.  I knew I would not be going any time soon, and I fondly remember that special day.

Snowshoe tracks on Arrowhead Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness March 2020

I am fortunate enough to be able to go out and walk, and nearby Alton Baker Park, straddling Eugene and Springfield, has miles of trails in meadow, oak savannah, and riparian zones.  I  cross Alton Baker to get to stores by the UO, and I’ve walked the entire 16 mile river bank loop on both sides.  Occasionally, I do a loop from Knickerbocker Bridge to Autzen Bridge and back through the park coming home.  It is about 4 miles and goes along the Willamette and then the canoe canal.  For the first week, I did my usual walks that I had done before.  

Then I decided to add more distance, going further downstream to the deFazio Bridge.  Because it is spring, I started counting the number of different wildflower species I saw.  I have a good app from the brother of noted trail writer William Sullivan.  For the past two years, I have used the app and a few other books to identify well over 150 species of wildflowers on my hikes over the course of the season.  I almost hit 200 last year.  In the park, I could usually hit 20, and one memorable day got near 30.  

Mind you, many of the wildflowers are weeds, but many of them are pretty, and I’m a non-native here, too.  I started by walking through a neighborhood over to the parking lot by Autzen stadium, past Cuthbert Amphitheater, where I have seen a couple of concerts, down to the duck pond, and the center of the 1 to a billion solar system model, and then upstream along the river to Knickerbocker Bridge and back home.  It is somewhat more than 5 miles and fairly quiet.  There are interesting birds, too.  Two of us are making an analemma at local noon throughout the year near where the big “Sun” is. I get to see rushing water leave the duck pond to go to the Willamette, then the Columbia, and finally the Pacific.  Or the atmosphere.  

But I couldn’t have imagined what I was going to see in the way of flowers.

With wildflowers, like birds, or stars, observing is quite simple: you look, if you don’t know what something is, you try to find it in a book or ask somebody, and eventually, if you see it a lot you know what it is, and after a while know its habitats. What you need is curiosity more than anything else, and I was lucky enough to have a lot instilled in me when I was a kid.  It ranks up there with reading as one of the greatest gifts I’ve received.  In Tucson, I did birding on my neighborhood walks, being called the Bird Man, and 20 species in a day was great.  The Christmas Bird Count included my neighborhood, and then I would push 30 species. I found that telling the difference between a pyrrhuloxia and a female cardinal was easy, whereas earlier I thought it impossible.  Verdins had different calls, depending on the time of year; we had rock wrens in the neighborhood and I heard an occasional canyon wren, in addition to the ever-present cactus wren, the state bird. I am very auditory; I remember people by their voice rather than their face, and I do birding the same way. I may not see a spotted Towhee, but I sure can tell when I hear one.  Lately, however, I have been spotting them more easily.  It’s practice and knowing what to look for.

Two weeks ago, I saw twenty species of wildflowers on a walk for the first time this year.  As I walked through the neighborhood, I saw a non-native pale blue violet growing outside someone’s yard.  By Autzen Stadium, I saw my first California poppy, and by the Science Center I saw the first camas of the year, a lovely five blue petaled plant.  I found a stretch near Frohnmeyer bridge where within 100 yards there were over 20 different species. I saw Hooker Fairy bells and realized the past couple of years I had misidentified a Woodland buttercup.  I went nearer the river and saw a Money plant, 4-pealed pink flowers. Larkspurs and Plumed Solomon seal were everywhere, along with Trilliums and Fringe cups.  Someone picked an Iris that I needed for my count, but a week later two more sprouted.  Near them were a cluster of Fawn lilies.   I learn more each year from the mistakes I have made.  Last year, I learned about salsify flowers, this year, I realized there were three kinds of geraniums with different sizes and leaves. I am picking up on grasses, too.  A few days later, I hit thirty species and ended the day with about 35. I figured that would be the top number. 

Camas

The app is great: I open it, make sure I have the right part of Oregon, the right week, and the right elevation. That decreases the flowers to about half, or 1800.  Wildflower (vs.  conifer, other tree, grasses, etc.) color, number of petals, size of blooms, whether leaves are alternate, opposite, apical or basal, the environment (Disturbed, alpine, rocky, riparian) bring the numbers down often to a dozen, sometimes to three or four. Then I can look at a map, read the description, and see if this is the plant.  

As the weather got sunnier, the counts rose.  I hit 40, then 45, and even 48, getting a sow thistle, Persian speedwell, and yellow oxalis in the last 20 yards, when I wasn’t expecting anything. That’s the other thing about observing; you have to always hope there is something there and at the same time be happy just to be looking and seeing what is there. Sort of like fishing.  I identified a Torlinga crabapple tree, then looked at my feet where I was almost standing in a patch of Lesser Periwinkle.

Today, I was musing how the single dogwood blossom I had seen for the past week had finally gone. For whatever reason, I looked up, which apparently I had not done, being more interested in ground blooms. There above me the whole tree was abloom. Fabulous.

Dogwood

A lot of times, I need to try different colors of the petals to make sure I am not missing something else.  I don’t identify everything but close to 90%.  I write them down when I get home and count them when I am out there.  I count a lot of things, always have, every day, often without thinking and often without knowing what I will do with the counts.  I watch the birds, too.  The other day, a Canada goose landed on the duck pond. As he landed, his feet extended and briefly, he was skimming the water like a water-skier, minus tow rope.  I had never seen that before.  There is a lot of interesting stuff in nature, but one has to look, and it helps if one both knows what one is looking for and at the same time, have the joy of looking for its own sake. One memorable morning in Nebraska, dancing cranes made the whole Platte River bounce for about 2 seconds.  I saw it myself.

https://michaelspinnersmith.com/2018/04/09/the-morning-the-platte-river-danced/

Canada geese young

This past week, I topped 50, then 52, reaching 56.  Some wildflowers are starting to fade. Oregon grape will be gone soon.  Someone picked the iris and the salsify, but I found another salsify near the river and two new irises have appeared.  The Wild roses are blooming now, and one of the plants I could not seem to identify turned out to be Miner’s lettuce.  That gave me 57 for today. And it was raining.

I’m looking forward to what I hope will be a chance to go back up Spencer Butte and this summer into the high country.  Trail work also means a chance to see new wildflowers.  But I am so happy I started looking where I hadn’t looked before.  

It’s remarkable what one sees.

Ladybug on English plantain
Fawn lilies
Plumed Solomon’s seal
Hooker Fairy bells
Red Columbine

DAYSRUNTOGETHER

April 7, 2020

As I began to write this, Bill de Blasio, the mayor of New York City, asked for a nationwide draft of doctors and other health care workers.

Ah, the draft.  I was number 56 in 1969; one brother was number 139; the other was a staff sergeant in the Marines at Da Nang. I ended up going to medical school, joining the reserves there, then spending two years’ active duty aboard the ‘Lou, the USS St. Louis (LKA-116), with two deployments to the western Pacific and having seen just about every country that bordered the Pacific north of the equator.  Just about.

The draft ended in 1973, so if I had not joined, I never would have had the experience of being a medical officer in an organization where medicine was not the top priority.  It had to be that way in the military, but ultimately that was the reason I left. But I never regretted my service. Not once.

In the interim, I have often wanted a draft, and we likely would have been a lot more cautious about entering conflicts if we had one.  A lot of young men—now women—need a time in their lives when they have to follow orders.  A big reason we got out of Vietnam was that everyday America was taking part in the war. People in the military weren’t heroes then, other than the real ones who got “The Medal” or one of the Stars. When I returned home, nobody spat on me, but nobody treated me any differently, either. I was just a young man in the military.  Just about everybody had to do it, unless they had bone spurs or some other often minor condition.  

It was a couple of decades later before Veterans Day actually had meaning for me.  I realized I was a veteran, not something that had often occurred to me for at least 15 years after my service. Really.  

Now we are in a pandemic, with doubling times of deaths recently in the 3 day range, starting to lengthen now to 4-5 days, having doubled 14 times total as I write this, with only four more doublings before we hit 100,000.  You can see why 200,000 (one more doubling after that) is on the table. And NYC needs help, badly.

From what I see and hear, there are times I am tempted to pull out my old bag and go to volunteer, since I doubt there will be a doctor draft any time soon.  Even as out of date as I am, I could certainly screen, talk to families, answer calls (with my upstate New York accent), help with intubations, and probably a few other things.  

But that’s more romantic—and a lot crazier—than reality.  I would likely get in the way, probably get sick, not unlikely become a ventilator candidate, which I would refuse, and die alone, my last days becoming part of the problem I wanted to help, 3000 miles from home.  I’d rather do it here, but as of this writing, we have had our 10th doubling for cases (1024) and our doubling time is about six days. That doesn’t mean we can’t have a huge outbreak by June, but the doubling time is gradually lengthening. Our growth factor (new/prior day) is often under 1, which is good.

I’ve never been a hero, and I am not about to be a martyr, either.  We need to have a solid volunteer corps where people can immediately go to where they are needed, starting close to home. I might be good talking to families who want information.  When I practiced, I did not shy away from talking to families of dying patients.  I didn’t like it a good share of the time, I certainly didn’t get paid extra for it, but that was my job, and I made sure I did it.  I’ve been on both sides of the white coat, and I know how important it is to actually speak to a doctor about an ill family member.  But I doubt anybody will be interested. I am good at knowing when care is futile and when there is no ethical reason to continue, but many others know that just as well and are current.  

That leaves me one other spot on the left coast: the USNS Mercy. After all, I once served on a ship.  I know how to enter and leave one (if not in uniform one faces aft, where the flag is, then one faces the officer of the deck and requests permission to come aboard.) I know the numbering system on board, so if something is deck 2, frame 46, I know it is two decks below the main deck, port side and up forward to frame 46.  This is not rocket science.

I would have a place to stay, no worries about commuting, would be available for all sorts of duties.  After all, that stuff is not easily forgotten.  My hair is short, I line up my buttons with my zipper, I can say “Sir” easily, and most of all, I have this skill.

The Navy wants no COVID aboard the ship. That is impossible.  It will happen. And I recognize that.  But with hundreds of thousands of retired military in southern California, my ending up on the Mercy is not going to happen.

So, the days run together. I have lengthened my morning walk from 3 miles to 5, much along the Willamette River, which is flowing well if a bit low from another dry winter.  I wear a mask now—just a balaclava, so long as the mornings are cold—and count the number of wildflower species I have seen.  I hit 23 today, which is good for this time of year in a limited habitat. The towhees are zzzzttting, the scrub jays calling, with an occasional Steller being seen, cormorants are on one of the river islands, herons are close by, and there aren’t a lot of people out there.

It’s a good time for those few of us who dislike crowds.  I feel sorry for those who can’t be in large groups, especially because life may change after Covid.  I don’t know whether I will ever tutor again in person; I won’t be carpooling to the high country for hikes or for work parties on the trails.  But I spent my first year here not carpooling, and lately, I have been hiking alone, rather than with the Club.  Those are my best hikes, my best snowshoes.

Up in the high country, it will be quieter this year. The new requirements for trail reservations at some of the busier trailheads are not going to be rolled out as soon as planned. The trails may get a rest from the crowds this summer.  I worry about fire season, but if few are in the high country, that removes a large risk.  

Coming home after my walk, I spend time checking the numbers of the epidemic, seeing if I detect any changes. I also do some algebra problems on line and go to zooniverse and pick a couple of projects to help out,  My lap is open for a couple of the lap cats.

I would love to help, and maybe I will get a chance to, but unless things hit the fan big time here, I am best suited to take care of myself and be one less problem, one less case.

Milton’s Sonnet 19:

“…“God doth not need

” Either man’s work or his own gifts; who best 

 “Bear his mild yoke, they serve him best. His state 

” Is Kingly. Thousands at his bidding speed 

 “And post o’er Land and Ocean without rest: 

 “They also serve who only stand and wait.”

English Daisies
Following the CDC (a huge disappointment overall in these times) guidelines. Elections matter.

BEING SOOOO OUT OF DATE

March 29, 2020

In my daily analysis of Covid-19 statistics, I went to a twitter feed by Marc Lipsitch of Harvard, a leading epidemiologist.  I almost became an epidemiologist rather than being a statistician.  I thought at the time that statistics was more appropriate for my math background, but epidemiology might have meshed better with my medical background. It would have been more helpful now.  I probably would have found work as an epidemiologist back then, too, although maybe I wouldn’t have written as much, and maybe I wouldn’t have gone to so many wild places in this country.

Anyway, I never used Twitter, which is my first Luddite confession. I can go online to Twitter feeds without dealing with the rest of the platform.  I haven’t missed it, either. That is sort of how I look at my past.  If I have regrets, I am sorry, I missed something.  If I have no regrets, then so be it.  I look at Twitter feeds online with meteorology, climate change, and now Covid.  Those people are smart, really smart. I wish they would be heard. 

From Lipsitch, I went to a data group about Covid, where they welcomed new people.  I was interested, since I have what I thought were a few data skills, so I clicked on and saw a list of people who gave their skills. 

OMG, I was immediately over my head. I had never heard of Python, at least the non-slithering kind, and at least two-thirds of the recipients (I count that sort of stuff, but it’s kind of low tech) had machine learning, AI (Artificial Intelligence), and a host of other skills I clearly didn’t have. I realized that I was so far out of my league that I left the site.  I then looked at python online and realized that I could probably learn it, but why would I want to at this stage?  First, I need to survive this virus, which at may age is about an 86-95% probability, maybe less because of gender, maybe more because of my current health.  Second, I have done fine the last nineteen years after grad school without doing this.  I never even learned the new statistical program “R,” which was called “old” on the python web site.

You know you are old when the things you didn’t learned when they were brand new are now considered old, and you still haven’t learned them.  

I have gone from being a guy who counts everything in his life and does mental arithmetic for kicks to a has been in the field of data analysis.  If the economy totally meteor craters I am out of luck for any data analyst job.  Nobody wants a guy who as a kid updated batting averages every Sunday from the results on Saturday, doing it by long division. Or can multiply two digit numbers by two digit numbers every time he sees them—during a conversation without missing a beat.  If you have ever talked to me, there is a good chance I once did that. Scary, isn’t it?  

On the other hand, I got back to being me.  I have the data from China, Italy, Spain, Germany, Iran, and the US, and I am checking the UK and Netherlands, too.  I was doing doubling time analysis before I read about them online.  I didn’t need the graphs; I could visualize what the data were doing. I could look at long strings of numbers and decide what ratios I needed to look at: Deaths to Cases, Deaths to Recoveries, doubling time of cases, deaths, daily changes, where a country was on its curve.  It’s not like these statistics are the final word—deaths to cases is definitely NOT a mortality percentage because of lag time—but the change in them is useful.  My watch altimeter I hike with isn’t accurate, but the absolute change is accurate and exceedingly useful.  

So, my data skills and a few bucks will buy one a medium, hot, decaf white chocolate mocha with almond milk at Dutch Brothers, where they know me at the Franklin Street kiosk, but they don’t take cash right now, and I would have to walk up to the drive-in window if I want anything these days. I go by on my 4 mile loop every day.

Italy is slowly seeing the doubling time increase. That’s easier to comprehend than the percentage rise is dropping each day.  While true, it is the first derivative of the curve, and a decrease of something that is increasing confuses people.  Lengthening doubling time doesn’t.  I read a lot, I look at good graphics, which I am not good at creating myself, I do my own poor ones, and because I lost my calculator, I am doing it with a phone calculator until I get a new one.  Heck, last week, when I was having trouble getting back to sleep, I was doing logs in my head.  I got them right.  I made a prediction of the world cases and deaths for the next day and was within 500 for both of them.  

While I can’t do data analysis that will help save the world from this pandemic, I can keep myself busy looking at the data, comparing my conclusions to others’, and when it is all over, go back to tutoring math, explaining things to people who need someone competent  who can do that.  After more than 60 years, I can qualify as that person for at least some things.  The community college has had me for six years, and they still want me.

No, I don’t have Vimeo on my computer, I tried DropBox, and it was a pain, so I don’t use it. I left Oovoo and I haven’t used Viber in years. I still use WhatsApp and Telegram, I can’t make sense out of the Safeway app, and probably a third of the apps on my phone I haven’t used in months, if ever.  

I’ve got a meeting on Zoom next week with the Cascade Volunteer board. A month ago, I had never heard of it.  Should be interesting.  

Cherry blossoms
Great Blue Heron nests

ETHICS AND OTHER THOUGHTS IN THE ERA OF SOCIAL DISTANCING

March 24, 2020

I was one of the first hike leaders in the Club to lead a group hike after the world changed, and I appear to be the last for awhile.  We normally do a Wednesday hike up Spencer Butte, meeting as a group at the bottom, and hiking up 3 miles with 1400’ elevation gain.  Several usually walk up together, although I go ahead if I can, using the hike as both conditioning time and as alone time, unless I end up being the Pied Piper with several breathing down my neck behind me but not passing.  I hate that.

Last snowshoe before I left the high country for quarantine. Arrowhead Lake, Diamond Peak Wilderness, Pacific Crest Trail.

Anyway, social distancing comes naturally to me, since I have always been one of those who stands in a corner at a party, assuming I even go to one.  As hike leader, I started by having the sign up sheet in my control, the bag for money several feet away on the ground ($1 per person), and as people came to sign in, I signed them up myself, had them drop the dollar in and start up the trail.  I went last, which worked worked well.  At the top, I had to dodge a couple of children who were running around and ask a few hikers to leave the larger group which had congregated up there. It’s difficult for many to avoid being close to another person.  I’ve seen it in camping, where people camp near me despite having a lot of area to use, and in parking lots, where they park next to me when there is more room elsewhere.

On the way down, I was last, but I saw the front group too close together following one another.  This is a bad habit on the trail, especially during this time. The Butte gets a lot of use, and somebody trying to pass a large group (it was once 18) has difficulty doing it when the front two are taking their time, and the people in the back just join in the parade.  I’ve not been able to change that. I got back to the trailhead and left.

Later, I got a text from someone telling me the coffee shop was open.  I didn’t answer.  On the trip description, I told people what they did after the hike was their business.  I should have been more forceful, recommending people not go to the coffee shop.  That seemed obvious to me, but we are in a new era: right now, get food, medicine, or exercise.  That’s it.  Not socializing. 

Pandemics have bookended both ends of my life.  I remember dimly the polio ones of summers when I was a young boy; my brother caught it. Now I am old and have another RNA virus to worry about.  

I walk daily in Alton Baker Park, where there are dirt and paved paths close together, the former for only pedestrians.  The problem is that I see pairs of pedestrians, not likely living together, walking maybe 3 feet apart, leaving no space for me. If one doesn’t move behind the other, so I can pass, I have to step off and waiting or even going to the asphalt trail. It’s one of the few times I am less annoyed about unleashed dogs.

The suddenness at which I changed surprised me. On 10 March I tutored at the community college, only wiping down the desk, with close contact with several students. The next day, I went to a meeting with the board of the Cascade Volunteers, feeling a little uncomfortable in the room, sitting about 3 feet away from anybody else.  Thursday, I did trail work, but two of us drove ourselves; others still carpooled. That day, 12 March, the world changed. Friday, I called in to the community college, saying I wouldn’t be coming. I went shopping that night, deciding not to wait another 12 hours, but I was what I would consider now “sloppy.”  Between my age and my sex, I am high risk.  I will not likely qualify for ventilator support should we run low on them. I am 14 days since the last time tutoring, 13 days since the last meeting, 4 days since I went to the UPS store. Counting to 14 matters a lot these days.

Upper Trestle Falls, Brice Creek, Umpqua National Forest. Trail work doesn’t mean one never sees anything; I had my lunch here that day repairing trail away from the group.

Counting the doubling time of cases and deaths matters, too. Increasing the doubling time is a quantitative way to see if we are flattening the curve.  The number of cases in the US is doubling a little more than two days, although some of that is on the basis of more testing finally being done. I am watching doubling times carefully, because it is easy to do, and Increase Doubling Time is a quantitative way of Flatten the Curve. 

Exponential growth doubling time per unit time is easy to learn. Divide 70 or 72 (easier to work with) by the time it takes to double, and one has the growth rate in per cent.  Doubling every two days is a growth rate of 35%; Spain is at 4 days (18%). 

Another way to look at it is that 29 consecutive doubling times are more than the US population, and right now we are between the 15th and 16th doubling times (32768 and 65536).  At a continued rate every two days, in less than a month the whole country would be infected.  If we push the doubling time back to 4 days, we would have closer to two months, same number of cases, but twice as much time to care for them, have more equipment, maybe have some anti-viral treatment.

I have a daily routine right now, and I was happy to see astronaut Scott Kelly suggest that. I learned last night that we can still exercise, so long as we stay apart from people.  My park is perfect for that.  I can walk four miles every morning, the hyacinths, Persian speedwells, wild cherries, and Oregon grape are in bloom.  The song sparrows call; the redwing blackbirds are building nests. A Great Blue heron is at the canoe canal.  Several are nesting upstream.

I just want to get through this time. My wife, the cats, a routine, math, and nature are all a big part of it.  

Riley, adopted from the Humane Society about 18 months ago. We kept the name.

OPEN SCHEDULE AND AT PEACE

March 15, 2020

Last Thursday, I went with the trail crew to work the Clark Nature Trail over in Fall Creek.  Half the crew would be doing puncheon work with the Forest Service crew; the rest of us would do grunt work on the trail.  That was fine by me. I have become more and more comfortable doing trail work, widening trails, removing rocks, closing trails, diverting them. 

We met at the Shell station south of town for our “tailgate season” where we discuss what we will be doing, specific safety hazards and review general safety behavior.  Normally, we then divide up into vehicles to carpool to the trail head, but this time I said I would be driving myself.  I had decided to do that two days before; I didn’t want to ride in close contact to several others. I wasn’t the only one doing this in a group of 60 and 70 year-olds. 

At the trailhead, we had another tailgate session with the Forest Service and a specific discussion of the job we were to do. Several of us started by each picking up a 4 by 4, about 9 feet long, and we had to carry it through the woods uphill a half mile to the work site.  That is a cubic foot of wood, and it was heavy. I hoisted mine and was last in the group heading out.  I wasn’t sure how long I could walk without having to take a break, but I found that by stretching my right arm out along the wood ahead of me, it was like carrying a canoe.  

I stayed in the back of the group, but about half way there, the person ahead of me set his 4 x 4 down to change arms.  I told him I was passing, so I wouldn’t get hit by his wood, went around him and then kept on to the top. It wasn’t a competition, but I wanted to get to the top without stopping, and I did.  I walked back down to the bottom, got a second 4 x 4, and did the same thing.  After that, we did trail work in the mud, making a new trail and closing off an old one with nearby downed branches and logs. We made a small stream diversion, filled in holes from past posts, and pulled out a fence post deep in the ground.  It was a pleasant day in the woods among the pioneer violets, trilliums, snow queens, running streams, giant trees, Pacific wrens and spotted towhees. 

Before leaving that afternoon, I talked with one of the other guys, very experienced from working years for the Park Service.  He is about my age, has had cancer, and drove alone, too.  Neither of us was scared of the coronavirus, but we both knew that we needed to be cautious.  In the woods that day, the outside world had changed.  When I left that morning, many things were still planned, I had  a schedule with some things I needed to do.  When I returned, the stock market had plummeted again, basketball was over, baseball too, my trip to Nebraska in April was cancelled, Forest Service meetings I was to go to, scheduled for next week, became virtual, It was a different country, almost the way it was after 9/11, 1/28/86, or 11/22/63.

I was asked if I were panicked.  I answered no, and I’m still not.  I am at peace. My schedule is empty. I don’t have to get up earlier for anything, although I will still do trail work if I can.  I lost money on plane reservations that I can’t keep, but I am not trapped on another continent or a cruise ship in quarantine.  Or worse, sick. At least not yet. I won’t be tutoring in person, but I can do it online. I can still snowshoe and hike. I am concerned, yes.  Three days ago I was tutoring in the math lab.  Two days ago, I was at a meeting, but I sat separately from others. A week ago, I had two long distance trips planned. Now, I have none.

I read how retired physicians might be able to help.  I am not sure what is meant by help, in that we are at high risk by age and many of us have additional risk factors for severe or fatal illness.  Aside from liability issues, it seemed obvious that prolonged close contact to sick patients led to more severe illnesses among medical workers. Now, if they wanted to have my ideas on system design, that would be fine, but only if we did it by telemetry. 

I want to be one less person who needs to be tested, brought to a hospital, given supportive treatment, and adds more stress to the medical care system. Our hospitals are not geared for this, and nor is our national system, if one can call it that. We got hit with a bad virus that was certainly predictable, if not knowing when. If not a virus, an earthquake would have stressed the system in some areas.  But when one is working to make a profit, getting the right patient mix, advertising, minimizing costs wherever possible, usually by limiting personnel, and asking first about insurance and second what is wrong with the patient, there can be no room in such a system for idle beds, idle machines, or idle people. I suspect many hospitals are near full capacity without coronavirus.  If they haven’t been, they are likely to soon go under.  When everything depends upon workers staying healthy, nothing going wrong, a pandemic is going to be a disaster.  The system is taxed with routine care; here where I live, it is overtaxed and medical issues of the population require month long waits. It is sort of like Canadian care that people complain about.  It isn’t like there is a lot of elective surgery that can be cancelled to free up beds; there is plenty of emergency and necessary surgery, requiring ventilators, every day.  

Many have resisted increased public support of medical care or public health because they aren’t affected by certain conditions.  I’ve long said that each of us is subject to a cancer, a ruptured aneurysm, a drunk driver, or a mutation.  Now, we have an example where any of us can become ill.  Each of us is subject to a virus that has a significant likelihood of killing us. Good public health helps all of us, yet public health has had its budget cut severely in the last decade.  For each dollar spent, public health delivers far more value than any other branch of medicine.

So, as I do the some of the things I like outdoors, hope I won’t be quarantined on the basis of age, or fall ill, I am at peace.  Nothing major to do tomorrow. No big trips on the horizon, no meetings, just a lot of reading, maybe a snowshoe, trail work, or even tutor math online.

I hope that out of this time we find our way to decent coverage of medical conditions, recognize we are all in this together, and make sure public health—where all the major strides in longevity are made—is funded far better than it has been.

For once, being an introvert in a land of extroverts is a blessing.  

Avoid crowds?  No problem.

Pioneer violet (yellow) with Snowqueens

Diverted trail (left), with old trail (right)
The nice thing about trail work is I can usually find time to count the tree rings. This Doug fir was 430 years old, at least.

WE ALL OWN BEAUTY, NOT JUST A FEW

November 25, 2019

                                  

I had noted the temperature was actually getting warmer as I did the weekly hike up Spencer Butte with the Club.  No, it wasn’t just that I was working hard, but it was cold at the bottom, and it wasn’t nearly as cold a thousand feet higher.  We hike up to the top from the city, 3.2 miles gaining 1400 feet of elevation.  Slower hikers leave earlier; sometimes, I decide to leave early if I am rehabbing part of me, and other times I leave early so I can hike alone.  Often, I have a line of people behind my, liking my pace, but making me feel like the Pied Piper.  I don’t like such a situation, for I tend to walk faster, when I am already at cruising mode, and I get tired sooner.  Once I stopped suddenly on a hike to take a picture and got run into by the guy behind me.  I learned that backpacking through Alaska willows and other brush. Don’t crowd the person in front. They may have to suddenly stop, and they have sharp hiking poles. That can slip. Anyway, the summit of the Butte is finally reached after a series of rock steps, about 130 altogether, not counting the occasional smaller ones, and I looked down on a foggy, cold valley from the land of blue skies and sunshine.

Off to my northeast, the mill in Springfield had a plume of smoke rising in the sky then flattening out and spreading along an invisible barrier like a river.  I could see about fifteen miles of the smoke river, coming first towards me then moving away to the northwest.  

Wow, I thought, a classic inversion.  Warm air normally rises, and it normally keeps rising as the atmosphere usually gets colder with height. Valleys during winter collect heavier cold air as it sinks, and set up an inversion, where warm air rises through the cold air until it reaches the warm air above—not below—and stops rising. I first noted it in southeastern Arizona, back when I was commuting from Tucson to Las Cruces for graduate school.  Once, on a bike, I went through a thick fog bank going up to Mt. Lemmon, breaking out at about 4000 feet into bright sunshine and a dew point temperature, where water will condense into clouds, 30 degrees fewer than just a few hundred feet below.  Those who turned around in the fog missed a sunny day, which was about five minutes’ ride further up the mountain.  

My wife and I hiked through an inversion in the Grand Canyon in February 1989, when the whole canyon was full of clouds and bright sunshine up at Yaki Point.  We hiked down the South Kaibab, entered clouds, then broke out below into overcast conditions.  It was remarkable.  

Jan at Yaki Point, South Kaibab Trail, Grand Canyon. February 1989. Microspikes are on the toes of the boots.
Coconino Sandstone (the largest vertical layer visible), viewed from South Kaibab Trail

Back on Spencer Butte, I waited for others to come up and googled the University of Wyoming’s weather sounding page.  The closest weather balloon released was from Salem, about an hour north, and indeed showed a change in temperature of 0 C (32 F) at ground level and 10 C  (50 F) at 1500 m or 5000 feet.  Classic inversion, I noted, staring at the river. I told a few people about what we were seeing, but nobody seemed interested.  

Back then, I was still posting on Facebook, and I later posted the picture and the weather sounding as a textbook example of an inversion.  Here is another example, with a link to the actual weather at that hour.

Salem, Oregon sounding from 4 am 23 Nov 19. Notice the temperature C, third column from the left, gets warmer as one ascends, from roughly 33 to 46 degrees at 923 m or roughly 3000′ above sea level. Then the “normal” cooling with elevation gain begins. The 98% humidity at ground level suggests fog was occurring. The actual weather was indeed foggy.

Facebook is not the land of people’s liking textbook examples explaining physical phenomena.  I got exactly one comment, a nerd icon, which I didn’t even know such existed. It wasn’t the reason I left the platform, but it was one of the accelerants.  I haven’t missed the sniping, arguing, or ignorance since I left it.  Nope. I try to walk in beauty the way the Navajo Prayer says.

A decade prior, I had been hiking on the South Rim Trail in Big Bend National Park up to the overlook over the Chihuahua Desert.  I was alone, and as I hiked on the rim, I saw an area that looked like smoke, then steam, a quarter mile ahead of me.  I arrived at the area and saw water vapor condensing to form a cloud, right in front of me.  I was on top of a cliff, and the humid southerly wind from deep down in Mexico, had slammed against the cliff, forcing the air upward, where it cooled, since in summer the inversions are usually shallow and break.  Cool air condensed once it reached the dew point, which is higher in summer, and a cloud formed right in front of me.  This is orographic lift, and I was absolutely enthralled at the example I was seeing. 

Condensing water vapor, Big Bend NP, June 2007.

I was naive enough to think that The Weather Channel might be interested in a picture, so I sent one to them.  I didn’t hear anything, not surprisingly, but I was disappointed.

I get great pleasure out of seeing things in nature that are not only beautiful but enhanced because I’ve been fortunate enough to be brought up curious about the world.  A total solar eclipse is beautiful not only because of the color of the chromosphere or the thin strands of the corona, but because it is the resonance of three separate lunar cycles—the synodic, the anomalistic, and the draconic—which every 18 years and 10 1/3 days are almost exactly the same, so that the eclipses repeat every 18 years and change plus 1/3 of the way west around the world. I find that fact fascinating.  

On the Libyan cruise to the 2006 eclipse, an editor of Astronomy magazine discussed eclipses to the audience.  He didn’t mention the cycles, and I suggested afterward that perhaps people might like to know that.  “Nah,” he saiid, “that’s too nerdy.”  

That came from an astronomer.  

Just after the eclipse, Libyan desert 29 March 2006. The next eclipse in this family will occur in Mexico-US-Canada 8 April 2024

Normally, I don’t write about this sort of stuff, because most people aren’t interested.  I would simply say that 

In beauty I walk…

In beauty all day long may I walk.

Through the returning seasons, may I walk.

On the trail marked with pollen may I walk.

With dew about my feet, may I walk.

With beauty before me may I walk.

With beauty behind me may I walk.

With beauty below me may I walk.

With beauty above me may I walk.

With beauty all around me may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, lively, may I walk.

In old age wandering on a trail of beauty, living again, may I walk.

My words will be beautiful…

Rim of Four in One Cone, near McKenzie Pass, 6400′ elevation. There were many views of the major northern Oregon Cascade peaks that day, but the rim of snow all along the cone was my biggest memory. In photography, especially in relationships, and likely in life, the little things are often the big things.