Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

QUIET HEROISM

September 5, 2019

There are only three fires burning in Oregon in early September, and none is anywhere near the west Cascades.  It’s been a great summer with near normal temperatures and even some rain, for the first time in six summers I have been here. Few have heard of the Eureka Ridge fire, and for good reason: no fire was called that this year.  But, had it not been for a few amateur astronomers, we would have had a nasty conflagration not far south of us.  

In late August, several from the local astronomy club were observing the night sky from a dark site, and science fiction writer-amateur astronomer-has done just about everything Jerry Oltion writes “Some rocket scientists were shooting guns down on the knob below our observing site …which has happened before, so we didn’t think much of it until we noticed they had a fire going. They seemed to be shooting into the fire, and every now and then there would be a big flare of flame, as if they were shooting explosive rounds.”

Reminded me of Arizona in April 2017, where an off duty Border Patrol person was firing explosive rounds in the desert during one of the windiest, driest months of the year, and started the 45,000 acre Sawmill Fire in eastern Pima County.  

“We saw three people milling around…so we figured they were putting it out. The first one [fire] never quite went all the way out, though. The sky got darker, and we figured these fine specimens of human intelligence were camping out…until we watched their car leave. With the fire still burning. 

We were so incredulous that we thought they must have left somebody there, and maybe one of them had driven off to get more beer or something, but the fire began to grow and eventually we saw a small tree catch fire and whoosh into flame like a torch.”

They tried to create a firebreak—with their feet—and called 911 with a GPS reading of the location.  It took two hours for a fire team to appear on the scene. In the meantime, they discovered the shooters had been firing at propane canisters. “We found  a number of them, each with a bullet hole all the way through. They had started a fire and set up propane tanks in front of it and when they burst a propane tank they would get a huge fireball. Spectacular, I must admit. And what could possibly go wrong?”

“When they did…arrive, they put out the fire in short order. They sprayed down the flames with water, then ripped apart the log pile with axes and Pulaskis (probably the single most effective firefighting tool made) and sprayed water on the smoking remains until they had a mud pit.”

This was an easy fire to extinguish.  An hour later, it would have been off to the races. By morning, there would have been a smoke plume, and a few million dollars and weeks later there would be another ugly scar on the land. 

All because of the gun culture.

Yes, the gun culture.  I know this isn’t fair to the majority of gun owners who lock their guns up when not using them, are knowledgeable in gun safety, want background checks to be universal, and obey the law.  But the few ruin it for the many, and frankly it’s time the gun culture got punished for the bad apples just the way I have for my whole life.  Just like I got sworn at or things thrown at me when I rode the bike, because of a few bad apples who ran lights, flipped off cars, and hogged the road, those who shoot up road signs, shoot early on the weekend, leave messy campsites with beer bottles, shell casings, and other trash left behind ruin it for the good guys.  Rich doctors who play golf and don’t take care of their patients? I was harangued once when I got to a consult late on a weekend day, because I had seen half a dozen others, and was greeted by, “Did we pull you off the golf course?”  A few blab about patient records and we have HIPAA.  Patient dumping occurred by some, and we got EMTALA.  Sloppy labs in offices, and we got CLIA.  Jerks in the wilderness, and I have to get a permit.  Life can be hard.  When the gun and the logging culture intersect, a lot of logging leaves slash piles that may well have been what these people used as a backdrop for propane canister shooting.  

I had to obey traffic laws on the bike or risk a ticket.  Fair enough. I had to make sure our ED did a medical evaluation on every patient or we could be sanctioned.  Fortunately, I had good professionals who did it, much as it was a big inconvenience at times. Gun owners need to obey gun laws or risk the same.  I didn’t start a 45,000 acre fire in Arizona or leave a burning fire in the Umpqua drainage in Oregon. 

I doubt these people will be caught, and if so, they aren’t likely to be punished.  They are men in the outdoors, not outdoorsmen. To me, they have just forfeited their right to own firearms.  They have the mental illness called terminal stupidity, and even the president thinks that mentally ill should not be in possession of guns.  At least today. If push came to shove, he’d cave on that, too.

Amateur astronomers were heroes.  Jerry recommended bringing more than a telescope to Eureka Ridge next time—five gallons of water, a shovel, and a Pulaski.

TIMBERLINE TRAIL BACKPACK

August 23, 2019

I took one more look across nearly three feet of rushing water at Muddy Fork to a wet rock, next to a larger one that I would grab with my hand, to stop my momentum.  

Then I led with my right foot.  

Something went badly wrong.  The next thing I knew I was thigh deep in the stream, leaning over the larger rock, backpack having moved up and over my head.  I had missed.  I slipped out of the pack, put it on the bigger rock, retrieved my walking stick, which fortunately floated, and noted that my left hand hurt. 

A guy came down the bank and asked if I were OK. I said I was.  “That’s why you undo your chest strap and belt before crossing,” I said. Had mine been attached, I probably would have fallen backward, getting everything wet, having twenty more pounds to carry, and likely ruining everything I had.

“Those your sunglasses floating over there?”  I looked downstream. They were.  I sure would need them, so I sloshed over and reached down to get them.  I felt one hearing aid.  I did not feel the other.  That’s bad. My phone was dry, amazingly, but I briefly saw my pink and full water bottle downstream before the current carried it away.  My GPS was gone, and a source of water purification, the Steri-Pen, ruined.  

I had gone from a good start to a long day—3 miles in a bit over an hour—to being in trouble.  I took stock of things.  I actually had three GPSs along on the trip, and the lost one was a backup to my new one, since the switch was iffy and one day soon it would not turn on.  I had a spare but empty water bottle in the pack, opting to go with one bottle on the trail to save weight.  My hat, which I had liked, was gone, but I had a bandana that might help. I had three other ways to purify water.

The good start was gone.  My hand was a problem, now a little swollen over the muscle between the thumb and index finger, but it wasn’t terribly tender.  I thought whether I should come out at Top Spur Trailhead, about 5 miles ahead, or go back to Timberline Lodge and abort the hike, about 15 miles behind me. I didn’t want to retrace my steps, so I thought I would wait until I got near Top Spur to decide.

I was hiking the Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood, one of the iconic hikes in the PacNW.  One can start at several places and do the loop, and I got the idea a year ago, after doing three day hikes in the area,  It’s 38.3 miles officially, with 9000 feet of vertical gain/loss.  

It’s obviously not easy. Indeed, it ranks up with Alaska as the hardest hiking I have ever done. One can hike further in a day on the Timberline; 10 or more mile days are almost unheard of in Alaska, where 6 is a good day and 4 typical.  The rivers are much more difficult to cross in Alaska, but the sheer vertical on the Timberline is far more.  Alaska has solitude; Timberline has trail runners.  

I drove to Timberline Lodge two days prior, parked and got on the trail early, heading clockwise.  There is a lot of up and down initially, then a long, steep descent into Zig Zag Canyon.  The first river crossing was straightforward, but the climb out was steep, about a thousand feet into Paradise Park. I was hiking steadily, but that would be the last time I hiked that distance uphill without taking a break. Eventually, I left the meadows full of wildflowers to drop a couple of thousand feet to the Sandy River, realizing that my legs bothered me more on the descent than ascent. I purified water at Rushing Water stream and then stayed at nearby Ramona Falls that night, camping  in the nearby cool hemlock-fir forest with other groups nearby.

Mt. Hood from Timberline Lodge parking lot
Descending into Zig Zag Canyon
From Paradise Park
Ramona Falls

After I got out of Muddy Fork, I had to purify water. My Steri-Pen turned on then turned off, and my filtration system wasn’t working.  That left boiling or a chlorine tablet, which took 4 hours for 4 ppm. I didn’t want to boil, and I didn’t want to wait four hours, so I took a chance, chlorinated, and hiked for an hour without drinking, having a relatively flat stretch of trail and reaching the junction of the McNeil Point trail in about an hour.  My hand didn’t feel too badly, and I decided to go on.  Coming out would have required finding a driver for the forty-odd road miles back to Timberline, which I didn’t want to do.  The trail, which I had been on a year ago, climbed steeply and was relentless, getting me eventually back to the altitude I was at when I began the hike.  I had lunch at Ladd’s Creek, perhaps one of the most beautiful spots I saw, with several species of wildflowers present: paintbrush, lupines, valerians, and others. I then hiked through Cairn Basin, with many open areas in a park-like area, to viewpoints of Mt Adams, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Rainier to Elk Cove, where I camped about a quarter mile from a stream, getting my filtration system to work again, and soaking my hand in the cold water. I got the tent up, got some food in me, did as little as I could and fell asleep early.

I got up once that night and saw the night sky from a dark spot—6000 feet on the north side of Mt. Hood. I got lost among the stars, because I am so used to city lights that seeing 3rd, 4th, or 5th magnitude stars as bright has become foreign.  I woke up one more time to light on the tent, so I knew the Moon was up.  

Soon, it was 5:30 and I needed to get moving, since I had to pack with mostly one hand.  My left hand was discolored, the blood underneath the skin movable. Somehow, I had to get out of there and hike out the following day.  I one-handed getting dressed; keeping my support hose on the night before made the socks and hiking shoes easier to handle. The gaiters would keep my feet dry for shallow streams, assuming I could put them on; nothing would keep me dry for the big ones.  

I was off before 7:30 headed towards Cloud Cap, crossing six downed logs on the trail, huckleberries I could swipe as I walked by, and came to Coe Creek.  This had a steep drop, and I started to go upstream looking for a log bridge.  I stepped, and WHACK! hit my head on a rock. This was not going well.  I kept putting my hand over it and didn’t see any blood, so I began the long climb out of there, which had me doing my short walks with frequent stops to breathe.  At least I forgot about the hand.  And my head. Eventually, I started to go downhill, noting Eliot Creek far below, which I would reach by a steep descent through many switchbacks to the bank of the creek, which was light gravel with little traction.  I looked upstream and down for a safe spot to cross.  The current was fast, even in morning, and I finally found aa place where I could get to mid-stream fairly easily.  I unbuckled my chest strap and hip belt and stepped in. 

This time, I talked the crossing over to myself.  OK, get to the rock.  Good, Mike.  Now check the bottom with your pole, to make sure there are no surprises.  No?  Good.  Now sidestep across.  Yes, the water is cold, but good.  Current is really strong, so bend forward facing it and go side to side.  Yep, that’s it.  Good.  The pole is fine, so one more step and yes, you are across.

It was then I had to climb half a mile and 500 feet.  But Cloud Cap had water, and I would need a drink when I got there.  I puffed up the switchbacks one at a time, taking frequent breaths.  I was no longer hiking 1000 feet vertical without a break.  Fifty to hundred trail feet was about it.

The water hadn’t been turned on in Cloud Cap.

To be continued….

FLAWED SYSTEM

July 26, 2019

I reached the junction of Deer Butte Trail with Hand Lake Trail, turned left on the latter and started ascending.  I was 3 miles into a 17 mile hike in the Mount Washington Wilderness that would reach Scott Mountain and then loop back to where I had just turned.  At least, that was the plan.

I took a break, which I try to do every hour or three to four miles, so I don’t get behind on fluids or food.  I took off my day pack and took out a sport drink with no calories but electrolytes.  It tastes good and I will drink it,  But something was funny about the pack.  Something too light funny.  Something missing.  Where was my second water bottle? 

Oh, it must be down further in the pack, I thought, but a quick check did not show it, as I re-shouldered the pack and started hiking uphill.  I felt fine, not sweating much, and I just took a couple of sips of fluid. Plenty was left.  But my mind was replaying what happened to the second bottle.  Was it in the car?  It seemed unlikely, since I had taken everything I needed from the car.  

The day was warm, a thermal trough laying over the Cascades, which would make it quite warm today. Still, the forest I had been in was cool, and I hoped I could get to the next junction, about three and a half miles away, in a little more than an hour.  Maybe I could deal with the fluid problem, although I had my concerns.

The hike entered a recent burn and the footing became more difficult  The soil is disturbed in a burn, and while the trail had been cleared last year, the blowdowns removed, there were many new trees down already, typical after a burn.  I was chronicling the number, size, and location of each for the High Cascade Forest Volunteers to log out, which could easily involve me, and the tree branches were frequently sharp, penalties for carelessness falling, which I did once, sharp points waiting on the ground.

I had done the 23.5 mile Duffy Lake Loop three years earlier through the B and B burn, hiking several miles in a moonscape and nearly half the whole hike in a burned area. 

Jorn Lake, Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, B and B fire aftermath, August 2016

There were hundreds of blowdowns, and I almost turned around eight miles in.  I should have.  Carrying two liters of water, I was bone dry when I came out after nearly eight hours.  Fortunately, I had kept some water in the car.

Mt. Washington through the burn area, Hand Lake Trail

Trail with Douglas fir blowdown blocking it

I finally reached the junction, had more water and started to hike towards Scott Mountain, but I didn’t like my pace going uphill, and I had another thousand feet of climbing to go. 

I stopped.

I’m turning around, I said to myself. I will have lunch, look at the maps, take stock of things and do this hike differently. Most of the time when I say stop, I quit.  Only on Duffy Loop did I keep going, and as mentioned, it wasn’t a great idea.

I had never forgotten water on a hike here before, and I was annoyed with myself, but I quickly put the annoyance aside to deal with the fact I had limited water and the maps showed the best way back was the way I came.  There was no sense in worrying now about what I did wrong.  I felt fine at the moment, but I needed to put in some serious miles. There were two lakes near the trail on the way back if worse came to worse.

I got up and started walking, but something didn’t feel right.  I was descending.  I took out my GPS and it showed me making new trail, rather than retracing my route.  I was going the wrong way.  I went back to the 3-way junction and still turned the wrong way.  Well, there was only  one other route, and that one was correct.  My shadow was ahead of me, so I was going north, which was what I wanted to do. It bothered me that I went the wrong way on the trail after lunch. I noted that maybe I was more tired than I should be, maybe dry, maybe not, but I was making mistakes I shouldn’t and needed to leave.  I made a similar mistake 20 years prion in Tennessee on the Appalachian Trail. I sat down to take a break and got up to walk.  When I saw a road that wasn’t supposed to be there, I realized it was a road I had crossed earlier.  At the same time, I saw some familiar brush where I had encountered a snake on the way up.  I quickly turned around and almost ran up the trail, as if running would remove my embarrassment at having messed up.  I was tired then, too. This day, I was again reminded that I can get off trail and make significant mistakes.  Fortunately, it was a gentle reminder. I had a short climb to a ridge, descent another 2 miles in the burn, get into the woods, and finally reach the trailhead.

Not having the second bottle of water turned out to be a good thing.  I think with two, I would have tried to do the whole 17 miles, and in my condition I wasn’t going to do well.  I was tired enough when I finished after fourteen.  I saw the two lakes on the route that I might have missed otherwise, because they required a walk in from the trail.  I remembered, when I got to the car, that my wife had put several liters of water in the trunk in case of an earthquake’s hitting if I were away from home.  And I realized that while I had properly placed my Steri-Pen in the pack, I needed the thicker plastic water bottle, not the thin sports drink bottle, to safely use it.   The next day I added chlorous acid pills to the pac for another means of purification.  

Another reason I forgot things is because I deal with two different packs each week, my work pack, which has gloves, my hand saw, loppers, ear and eye protection, and most of my first aid kit, and my day pack for hiking, which has more clothes.  I needed to have a checklist for both of them, rather than depend upon my memory.   I now have three different ways to deal with water on the trail, two first aid kits, sterilizers, and leave two water bottles on the hood of the car the afternoon before hiking or working trail. Spare running shoes go in the trunk so I can change footgear after a hike.  

Tomorrow and Sunday I day hike and work. This will be a good opportunity to see if I have fixed the system.

Kuitan Lake, inside the Mt. Washington Wilderness


Robinson Lake, just outside the Mt. Washington Wilderness

THE DAY I FINALLY JOINED THE CREW

July 20, 2019

We picked up our saws and started hiking steeply uphill on Waldo Trail west of Waldo Mountain.  I figured we had at least 600 feet of elevation gain ahead, so I looked at my altimeter and estimated a bit more, 200 meters. It’s difficult for me to hike an unknown trail without knowing where I am regarding elevation and distance.  Many would say I am too focused on those things.  True, but I don’t ask how far it is, how much climbing there is, and what time we will get there. I know.

I was with two others, the crew leader with our volunteer trail group, the Scorpions, and a well-known sawyer from a nearby town, who not only uses saws but is the central Oregon expert in sharpening them.  

I hadn’t done trail work in 25 years when I first started doing it in Oregon. The trail work I did in Minnesota was a very different kind where we cleaned campsites, dug latrines. checked peoples permits and instructed them how to canoe safely and care for the wilderness.

I tend to try new fields, learn new vocabulary, new skills, starting at the bottom and working my way up.  I gain competence that suits me, then I move on, not giving up what I have learned but seeking another new adventure.  I have done this with medicine, statistics, astronomy, meteorology, canoe tripping, German, leading hikes, and even writing.  I don’t leave these fields: I tutor statistics, I still observe the sky, the weather, watch German TV, write, lead hikes and canoe trip. I just don’t do as much of them.  My latest interest is trail work.

I had little experience using a 2-man crosscut saw, no experience repairing trails, and constantly needing correction and instruction. Few knew me, and I wasn’t considered much of an asset.  I did a two night trip in the wilderness last summer, helped cut a lot of logs out, hurt my knee, and stayed away from work for about three months. In the winter, a lot of low elevation trail work nearby made it easier for me to go out again for a few hours, and I started doing more.

We had a rough winter, with a lot of trees down on the nearby trails, and I was a swamper, the person who helps the chain saw cutter remove the logs and cleans up the smaller debris.  I didn’t miss a chance to go out, making about two dozen consecutive trips into the woods with the group.  People at least knew me, knew I was out there, but I still wasn’t considered too valuable, at lease in my eyes.  

Two days prior, I had worked in the Diamond Peak Wilderness clearing logs, two of which were north of 25 inches in diameter.  One had serious binding, meaning there was compression of part of the log which made the saw bind or stop cutting.  It took our threesome 3 hours to cut the log out.  We had to keep plastic wedges in the first cut to keep it open and prevent the second cut from binding as well.  I learned a lot from that day, but my arms were dead tired and I was expecting to leave early on the next outing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.

We started with a 24-inch diameter log that could be pushed downhill, except there was not a lot of room for it on that side.  I made the counterintuitive suggestion that we push it the other way, even slightly uphill a few feet, because we wouldn’t have to push it far to get it off the trail. My way worked well, and the crew leader was pleased.  He hadn’t thought of pushing it the other way.

I worked with the sawyer, also named Mike, on the first 15 incher.  He was experienced, and I expected a lot of criticism. The log was dry, my arms were not as sore as I expected, and I was careful to sight along the saw so that it was straight and not bent.  Bends make it difficult to do a straight cut.  We cut through it smoothly, made a second cut, and pushed the cut log off the trail. No corrections made. The day was going better.

About a half mile up the trail, we had another issue where the log was above the trail and we had top bind, where the top wood was under compression and the lower under tension.  I suggested we cut underneath, since tension leads to a tendency for the cut to open rather than to close.  This would be an “under buck,” and I thought of it because I had encountered this same type of problem two days prior.  We put the saw into position below the log, cut upward, and I just let the saw cut with a trace of upward pressure. It seemed right, and I could hear the saw sing, a sound that meant we were doing it right. We cut through the bottom part of the log, and it dropped, the saw remaining away from the ground, which is important to avoid damage to it.

On the next cut, the sawyer said that despite my being new to this, I was cutting well.

I was stunned,  This was the first compliment I had had ever about my sawing or trail work.  I have been out with the group forty-seven different times, over four hundred volunteer hours, into four wilderness areas, three national forests, and I had never once heard “Good job” applied to me as an individual.

I thanked him, and we moved on and under bucked a second log.  We were making good progress along the trail.  I had stopped counting how many logs I had cut out, but it was a lot.  We were finally descending, after climbing about a thousand feet, far more than the six hundred I expected.  My arms felt good; nothing was difficult.  I was careful how I cut, trying not to force the saw, and I felt confident.

On the next log, when I suggested an under buck, Mike looked up at me and the crew leader, held up a hand with three fingers, and said, “I can think of only three people I will do an under buck with.  You are doing a great job with it.”

Wow, I was not walking on the trail any more.  I was floating.  

Later on, Mike showed me how to get part of a log off the ground using wedges and a small log. On one log, I asked him where he wanted to start, and he said, “You tell me.”  I did, thrilled that my reasoning was good and I had read the log correctly. 

We finished our part of the trail, hooked up with another crew that did a nearby trail, and walked three miles out of the woods to the cars.  Sure, I was tired, I had a long drive ahead home on a lot of dirt roads, and I would be leading a 12 mile hike the next day.  But I’d do fine.  I knew the area. 

I also knew a good teacher, one who could both instruct and positively reinforce a student. Both matter a great deal.  I had long wondered whether I would ever fit in to the trail crew.  This was the day I realized my skills and work mattered.


The two Mikes under bucking a log. Author in orange hard hat. Waldo Lake Wilderness.

Two of the crew taking some pulls at a 26 inch Western hemlock. The wedges in the top of the log are keeping the cut open. Diamond Peak Wilderness.

ANOTHER ECLIPSE, ANOTHER ADVENTURE

July 12, 2019

Ten minutes before totality, and I finally realized that my planned way of viewing the solar eclipse from the air wasn’t going to work. Not at all. I needed to change all my plans, and I didn’t have a lot of time to do it.  I was dead tired from two consecutive nights of overnight flights, as we lifted off from Easter Island to view the solar eclipse at its maximum point of totality, then fly along the path to gain several more minutes of totality than possible on the ground.  This was a crazy trip, and I wondered why I still kept viewing eclipses.  But I have said those words at some point on each of the 27 eclipse trips I have taken.  Eclipse chasers are a crazy lot, going to the ends of the Earth to gain the special currency measured in seconds of totality, seconds under the umbral shadow of the Moon.

I arrived in Santiago, Chile, a day late because of weather and plane issues on the way to Dallas.  When I arrived, the person who was supposed to pick me up wasn’t there, and I paid way too much a cab, which took me to the wrong hotel (PanAmericano does not equal PanAmericana.)  I was joining a group, and I figured I would know somebody—I always do on eclipse trips—but maybe nobody I could visually recognize.

After arriving at the right hotel, I took a long walk in the city, had lunch, then took another long walk.  That helped.  We held a pre-eclipse meeting that afternoon, and nobody recognized me, but I did recognize one Japanese woman from the 2010 eclipse and four others from eclipses 15 and 20 years ago. 

We left the hotel at 10 pm, taking off at 3 am for Easter Island, arriving at 6:30.  At least I slept most of the flight, although I needed more.  I was awakened for breakfast, and I couldn’t decide if that was good or bad.  I did need the sleep, but it was getting difficult to find food, too. I ate, then fell back asleep. It was like being on call in medicine, and I couldn’t figure out how I did that for so many years.

We flew to the eclipse path, circling to let the eclipse come to us.  I had sat quietly away from the others a half hour earlier, meditating, relaxing, and telling myself I was here to see the eclipse any way I could, and I was very fortunate to be here. It helped.  I had difficulty taking pictures of the crescent Sun, because it was high above the horizon and I could barely view it through the window. I wouldn’t be able to get a picture, a video, or even my neck to let me look where I needed to.  Time was passing, totality was coming, and I finally realized I wasn’t going to take any videos, any photos of the shadow, or even use the small binoculars I brought.

Five minutes before totality, I made all the required mental changes. Because we were traveling at a quarter of the Moon’s speed, we would be in contact with the shadow twice as long as on ground—8 1/2 minutes—and for once, I would have as much time as I could want to look at an eclipse, the way I have told hundreds of first timers: “Just look and soak it up. You may never get another chance.”

I lay on my back, sprawled across 23 A, B, and C, used my foam pillow, looked up with my head extended only slightly, and I could see the crescent Sun—and, whoa, Venus too!—calling it out loud.  I take it as a point of pride if I see Venus early.  The Sun was to my left and Venus to the right, but directions made no sense, because I was upside down and below the equator as well.  Maybe everything was right side up. 

Eight minutes passed like eight seconds

The Sun became such a thin crescent that I could no longer see it through a filter.  This is the best way perhaps of looking, no binoculars, and when nothing more was visible through the filter, I removed it and saw the diamond ring, the last bit of sunlight around the now covered Sun, in the dark sky above me. It was fabulous.  The diamond ring slowly faded into totality, and I saw the black disk of the Moon with bright Venus to the right.  We were at 41,000 feet, and this was a really dark eclipse.

I looked for what I thought was 15 seconds, but it was probably two minutes, burning the image of the black disk and Venus into my mind.  Then I reached for the camera, which was right where my hand landed. I used the telephoto to look at the solar disk and the corona in more detail, then put the camera down to look some more.

I got up, as planned, crossed the plane to the starboard side and viewed the shadow stretching to the west before it became light from where the eclipse had ended far west of us.  I got pictures with the plane’s wing present, providing perspective.  I came back to my seat which someone from the press pool had invaded.  He quickly left, and the person in front of me had his reading light go on, which along with flashes from cameras, is a monstrous no-no in eclipses.  He ended up taping it over with a candy bar wrapper, because figuring out how to turn off an aircraft reading light takes a lot longer than taking tape and a wrapper and smashing the two together over the light.

Taped reading light over Row 22

I took a quick look at my watch and then flipped back over on row 23 again, knowing I had two minutes, and knowing I was done with photographs.  I saw the remarkably bright chromosphere and its lavender-orange color that I swear isn’t found anywhere else on Earth, marveled at its extent about a third of the way around the Sun, and realized we were about to see 3rd contact, the second diamond ring.  And there it was, kind of a small bubble, until WOW, the large blob of light that is exposed sunlight, became visible. Three of us commented loudly on the double Diamond Ring.  I looked way too long, 5, 10, maybe 15 seconds after the appearance, not ideal for my eyes, but ideal to remember.  Totality was over, and it was time to return to Easter Island.  

Earlier, one of the flight attendants asked what I did in real life, and I told her in Spanish. She apparently knew one of the journalists, an Argentine, a former neurologist and now a journalist, and introduced us earlier.  After totality, he came by with cameraman in tow, asking to interview me for Argentine television.  

“I am very fortunate,” I began in English, answering a few questions about how I got interested in eclipses.  He asked my why I traveled to see them.  The quick answer is that they are beautiful.  They are—they are one of the top 3 things I’ve seen in nature.  

But there is a second kind of beauty, and that is in the understanding of the resonance of the three lunar cycles: synodic, anomalistic, and draconic, how they come into line every 18 years and 10 or 11 days, 1/3 of the way west around the world.  I had last seen this family of eclipses, Saros 127, north of Lusaka, Zambia, on 21 June 2001.  

I looked at the journalist and said there was a third reason: seeing eclipses ties me to humanity and to those before me going back tens, hundreds, thousands, and yes, tens of thousands of years who have viewed the same stars, the same planets, the same Moon and Sun which occasionally come into conjunction for a spectacular show that can be as frightening as it is beautiful. 

Eclipses can charge a person up to see the next one.  I came down to Chile suspecting that this was my last international eclipse trip.  The trip down certainly didn’t dissuade me from quitting.  But I think my meditation and changing my mental focus were good things.  I looked, not for the perfect picture or video, but at viewing something I’ve seen before in a very different situation and coming away just as awestruck as ever.

787 that flew the eclipse

Sunset from Easter Island
Totality from my back over my head.

WORKING ON A WINTER TRAIL IN SUMMER

June 12, 2019

I wasn’t sure where I was.  I had left the trail, such as it was, fifteen minutes earlier, bushwhacking towards a Forest Service Road about a half mile away.  But I wasn’t making much progress, because the straight line route had large blowdowns, and I had to detour around them.  I thought the trail was to my right somewhere, but I wasn’t even sure of that. 

It was additionally buggy and warm.  I had a GPS, so I knew where I had to go, but even with that, I often found the arrow pointing direction to be pointing perpendicular to where I thought I was going.  The arrow can be very annoying, pointing where I don’t want it to. I have good direction sense on trails, but in the middle of the woods, many ways are possible, and most of them are wrong. My sense of direction was taking me about 45 degrees away from the line I needed to take.

I had gone out to work the Ikenick Sno-Park to put up blue diamonds on the trees for winter travel.  There are many such parks in the mountains, a lot of trails.  I hadn’t planned to adopt Ikenick, but in January, a snowshoe trip there that I was on was stymied by the trail’s suddenly ending with no diamonds to guide us.  We backtracked, and I and one other snowshoed to the other end of the loop and tried that way.  We got to within 100 yards of where we originally were.  Could have fooled me.  There were a lot of brown bushes and white snow.  I didn’t see a blue diamond.  

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Ikenick in winter, Isaak Nickerson Loop

Anyway, that trip was the second time an Ikenick trail had done that to me, and I swore that if nobody was going to fix the problem, I would.  I wrote the Forest Service, offering my services, the recipient being one with whom I had spent a rainy autumn day fishing tree limbs out of the hot pools at Terwilliger Hot Springs, working on rehabilitating the place after a forest fire had started there last summer.  Today was my day to take hammer, nails, blue diamonds, a hard hat, and a day pack, and I was beginning to think swearing to do this job should have come after a bit more thought.

I bushwhacked through brush, avoided a few holes, didn’t get stuck on a sharp branch, all the while thinking this was not good for being found, should I wrench a knee or keel over, although I wasn’t that far from the road.  It was far enough.  Eventually, I found the road and had to decide whether the trail was to my right or left.  Despite my thinking in the woods it was to my right, I went left, because when we snowshoed the loop, there was a significant distance to the beginning of the other end of the loop.  Sure enough, after a half mile—was I that far from the trail?—there it was.  

Going in the other direction, I got to 400 feet of where I was before, where the trail and diamonds ended, just like last winter.  I went a little further, thick forest on my left and brushy Ceanothus (lilac) plants on my right.  What a mess.  Eventually, I found the other end and then had to figure out the best way to mark a winter trail where a few feet of snow ideally covers the brush.  I worked my way along the wooded boundary, putting diamonds on both sides of those trees where the diamonds would not be hidden by branches or other obstructions.  I noted where I had left the trail to bushwhack, shaking my head at how far off I wandered, and eventually finished marking as much of the trail as I could.

There is one more trail in Ikenick that needs work.  I didn’t have my coffee mug with me that has the simple words, “Not Today,” but I thought about it.  I didn’t have any more diamonds, only a hammer and nails, along with my hard hat and fortunately long pants.  My skin has become a lot more frail with age, and every time I work in the woods, I come home with subcutaneous bruising, or frankly torn skin with blood on my shirt.  I never feel any of this happening, so it is must be adrenaline on the job.  My arm is last month’s diary of various cuts and scrapes caused by working in the woods. Three days earlier, I was helping clear trail in the Umpqua National Forest, rolling large yard-wide diameter logs, that had been cut, off the trail down an embankment.  But what really scraped my skin were the small trees that I was cutting away from the trail.  They are nasty. On the way home, I found new purple blotches.

I have become a wildflower enthusiast, even while working in the woods, noting Oregon anemones with their 5 white petals, the 4-petal bunchberries in bloom, with a plethora of red berries to follow later this summer.  The Ceanothus was fragrant, although I didn’t smell it voluntarily.  Pushing it away, it bathed me in pollen.  Walking back down the road, I saw wild strawberries and blackberry plants blooming, and Thompson’s Mist Maidens, tiny, discrete five petaled white flowers along the tire tracks. It was warm, but the heat of the summer was yet to come. Back at the car, I again noted the western buttercups and the False Solomon’s Seal in bloom here, whereas it has been gone for some time at elevations 2000 feet. 

I was up in this area last week scouting nearby Crescent Mountain for a hike next weekend.  Three weekends in a row I will be up here doing Club work or High Cascade Volunteer Work.  Last month, I was twenty miles further back towards Eugene clearing trails in the Andrews Experimental Forest.  It’s a nice way to spend time, working as a volunteer for a variety of groups.  I am in the woods, and while I don’t enjoy bushwhacking, I am in pleasant spots, seeing the various flora and trying to remember what everything is.

I also again learned how easy it is to get lost in the woods.  I left word with my wife where I would be, so with someone to ping my phone, and knowing within a mile or two where I would be, I could be found, hopefully in time, should anything happen.  I prefer the solitude.  It is quiet, although my hearing aids have allowed me to hear the birds a lot better than I once did.  Ikenick is closed for the summer, ski trails and hiking trails not being the same thing.  I will be back next winter, and I hope put the diamonds higher on the trees should there be enough snow to warrant it. I also hope to be able to walk over the buried Ceanothus bushes. My Forest Service contact tells me that can happen in a good year.

On this hot day, I am looking forward to winter and seeing where the trail really goes.

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Beargrass

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The work involved. “059” was a log where I began my bushwhack. I needed some marker to know where I had been.

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The red pin is on the bushwhack route. Notice that I wanted to go in a line between “059” and “S TH”.

SECOND SPRING

June 7, 2019

I rediscovered spring the other day.  Autumn is my favorite season, and I remember once seeing an ad for a place promising “Eternal spring,” wondering why on earth anybody would want that.  My experience in 37 years in Arizona was that spring sometimes followed fall, winter a no-show, or winter immediately transitioned into summer, like in 1989, when there was a week of high 90s in March.  I looked at spring as a brief reminder that a very hot summer was coming, with fires, probably not enough rain, and at least 5 nasty months before I could reasonably expect it would be cool again.

Even in Oregon, spring brings spells of hot weather, dryness, heralding a not as hot but far drier summer than Arizona.  Two years ago, we skipped right over spring and went from snow on the ground at 5000 feet to fires in the space of a month.  Last year, the summer dry season started in May and there was no rain for three solid months.  Early April this year was very wet, putting a dent into the several year drought plaguing us.  But the last two weeks of April and the first half of May were hot and dry.  A couple of systems moved in to cool things off, and a surprise low pressure system—surprise, because the models didn’t show anything six days prior—moved south, over water, and gave us a good soaking right before Memorial Day.  Those rains are like gold.  

As the last system started to leave, I was looking at hiking somewhere, which was a problem, because there was still too much snow in the high country to hike in, but not enough to snowshoe on, and the low elevation trails were full of blowdowns. Indeed, I had put in nearly 200 volunteer hours on trail clearing on 24 separate days out.  My trail viewing was on the hike in and close up and personal on my knees for yards at a time, throwing branches off the trail, after digging them out of the mud.  I got better upper body exercise by sawing small branches and trying to push large logs that we had cut off the trail.  

I was going to wait until the following weekend, but on Memorial Day I decided at 11am I was going to try to hike Hardesty Mountain, a 4300’ Cascade peak known for its arduous 3300 foot elevation gain, no views, and why would anybody want to do it.  

I like Hardesty.  Indeed, the reasons people give for not hiking it are the reasons I do. It’s tough, it climbs, and if it is foggy, I won’t have views anywhere I hike.  Doing it gives me a sense of accomplishment.  I have led hikes up there, once an out and back 18 miler up Hardesty across Sawtooth Ridge to Mt. June, and back, a total elevation gain of over a mile.  There is also the triangular loop that goes down from Eula Ridge and back along the not as level as one hopes South Willamette Trail, which I have been heavily involved in clearing this year.  I hoped Hardesty wouldn’t be too bad.  Eula Ridge was out of the question, because of the blowdowns. Doing trail work last week, one of the other guys told me he recently hiked down Eula Ridge and completely lost the trail at the bottom.  I’m not surprised.  He was lucky he got home that night.

Anyway, the day was cloudy with occasional drizzle, as I drove out to the trailhead, arriving at the time I usually finish a hike. It didn’t matter; sunset is late this time of year, and I wasn’t in a hurry.

I passed two women within the first quarter mile, and a half mile later, a runner came the other way downhill.  That boded well, although I knew we had cleared this part of the Hardesty trail just two weeks earlier.  I went through beautiful old growth forest, huge trees with reds and purples of an occasional rhododendron blooming nearby.  There were inside out flowers everywhere, and the false Solomon’s Seals were in full bloom.  Spring was just beginning here.  The last two flowers were going to seed in Eugene.

Inside out flowers. Their unusual geometry makes them ideal for bumblebees. Indeed, on this hike, I did see a bumblebee pollinate one.

I crossed the dirt road about a third the way up and then had a relatively flat stretch where I got wet from both the trail and the drizzle.  It didn’t matter.  I had a rain jacket if I wanted one, and I was well up the mountain.  There were only two down logs, and I kept going.  Past 3000’ elevation, I started seeing Fawn Lilies, which were in bloom about six weeks ago in Eugene.  Here, there were dozens.  I stopped for a drink at the Eula Ridge Trail junction, now only a half mile from the summit.  The last half mile is the last to lose snow in spring, and I was surprised to see it clear this year, with a multicolor pastel of purple Snow Queens and yellow Shelton Violets.  As I got higher, the yellow blooms of Oregon Grapes were evident.  They bloomed and went to seed two months ago in Eugene.  Almost before I knew it, I was on top where the old lookout was.  Now, the forest has grown up around it. Five years ago, when I first hiked up, there were some views of South Sister.  Today, it was too foggy to matter.

Fawn Lily and Shelton Violets

I came down the trail through a wavy mat on both sides of Oxalis or Wood sorrel.  There were a few Calypso Orchids, as the trail passed through the woods in moderately dense fog.  I had forgotten how lovely a “second” spring was at this elevation.  One had to wait, until the snow was nearly gone, and the first shoots of green were already pushing up.  It was wet without being very muddy, and it would only stay damp a little longer, before the heat of summer would dry everything out for another season.  

Oxalis, trail, and fog

NO, IT CAN’T BE ANYTHING

March 18, 2019

A panda walks into a bar and eats shoots and leaves.  Lynne Truss’ book with that title showed how punctuation matters in a sentence.  In both instances, the panda had a meal.  What isn’t clear is whether the meal was plant based or whether a firearm was involved.

Punctuation matters.  Words do, too. They matter greatly in science, where miscommunications occur with the public with common words.  The word “theory” in general usage means a guess.  In science, a theory is a statement of what one believes based on a compilation of facts. Gravity is a theory.  So is relativity.  So is evolution.  Our understanding may be incomplete, but we are hardly guessing at what is occurring, and a great deal of our daily lives are made easier because of theories. Newtonian mechanics got us to the Moon, but we need Einstein’s relativity to calculate Mercury’s orbit accurately.

Two or more sides to a story don’t mean all sides have equal weight. They do on a die, but not the sum on a pair of dice. The numbers 1-6 come up with equal probability for a die.  There are 11 possibilities with the sum of two dice, but the probabilities are very different for each, from 1/36 for 2 (or 12) to 1/6 for 7.

There is uncertainty in scientific results.  Unfortunately, the lay public views “uncertainty” differently.  In general usage means one isn’t sure and in fact may be guessing.  Malpractice lawyers love to misuse these words, “Were you uncertain?”  If one answers “A little,” then the next comment may be, “So, you really didn’t know what was going on, did you?” putting words in one’s mouth and treating the uncertainty of a diagnosis as a character flaw and a substandard physician.  I’ve been there. When I practiced neurology, I had many instances where I was uncertain of the diagnosis, and frequently the patients, through having been told by someone else or not listening to me, felt that I had no idea what was going on.  Neurology is one of the most difficult specialties in all of medicine, but I was usually considering several diagnoses.  Also, the fact that I could not cure a person with a severe brain injury didn’t mean I was uncertain of what was going on.  

We demand temperature predictions to the nearest degree and rainfall’s beginning to the nearest minute despite inability to correctly predict these regularly.  A temperature range would be a far better forecast.

Uncertainty in science is vastly different from how the public perceives it, and it is one reason many phenomena with a high degree of confidence (another important word) are not believed, because of such uncertainty: “they really don’t know for sure.” The difference is that uncertainty is usually quantified in science.  If we say we are 95% confident of a result, that means if we ran one hundred simulations or saw this particular phenomena one hundred times, 95 of them would contain the value we were measuring.  We wouldn’t know which 95, but it is far from the “anything can happen,” approach, and it doesn’t mean that 5% of the time we don’t have a clue.  Consider “95% certain there is a fracture in your hand,” a probability, which when studied was far less.   It doesn’t mean that there is a 95% probability the interval is right; it either is or it isn’t, and that makes no probabilistic sence.

If one tosses a fair coin four times, one would expect it to come up heads twice.  This is the expected value, 50% probability of heads each time*4=2.  But a priori, we are uncertain. It may come up heads all four times with probability 6.25%, one-half multiplied by itself four times.  Or, it may come up three heads 1/4 of the time, two heads 3/8 of the time, one head 1/4 of the time, and no heads 1/16 of the time.  

If somebody told me I would have to pay them a dollar for every time exactly two heads occurred, because that is the expected value, and I would have to pay them a dollar every time it came up some other number, I would take that bet in a heartbeat.  Am I certain of winning?  No, but the probability—future oriented—of my winning is 62.5%, and that is solid. I am uncertain what will exactly happen, but I am highly certain what the probabilities are and my expected gain. Casinos don’t take money from everybody; they occasionally lose big, but over time, they win, and furthermore, they have a very good idea of the range of their winnings.

With 10 coin tosses, there is a 1.1% probability that there will be 9 or 10 heads.  The expected number, 5, has slightly less than a quarter probability of occurring, no longer 3/8.  Notice that extreme events still occur but with much lower probability with a few more attempts.

Toss a coin 20 times and the likelihood of 90% heads or more is on the order of 1 in 5000, not 4.5%, and the probability of 50%, or 10 heads, is less, about 1 in 6.  The likelihood of exactly half, the expected value, diminishes, but the variability decreases much faster, and more and more of the outcomes cluster closely around 50%, even if they are not 50% exactly.  

It’s like weather and climate.  There are many who say if we can’t predict the weather accurately, how can we possibly predict climate?  It’s because climate is made up of many weather events over a long period of time, where exact averages are not likely to occur very often, but the variability around those averages is much less.  Indeed, extreme values will be far less likely unless the system itself changes.  The issue for science is to try to predict as accurately as possible, but science recognizes that there is always a certain degree of uncertainty—not that we have no idea what is going on, but exact predictions of many phenomena may be impossible. Instead, there is an interval, the “plus or minus,” stating the range where the true value of the parameter of concern is believed to lie.  We will never know that true, exact value, but we are very confident in its interval.

Uncertainty doesn’t mean “it can be anything.”  No, 100 consecutive heads cannot occur with any sensible probability. Indeed, even 75 or more heads has probability 0.0000002, the likelihood of guessing a second chosen at random in the past two months.  It’s only about a 1 in 6 chance there will be 55 or more heads.  

I have long argued in climate scenarios that those who believe there is no significant global warming occurring must offer a confidence interval of what they think the temperature will be in 10, 50, or 100 years.  The interval would be expected to contain zero, no change.  It is not enough to say the current data are wrong. What is the margin of error?  What is the confidence?  It can’t be 100%, for that would be saying one could look at thousands of variables and know exactly how they would behave.

Uncertainty is reality. We embrace it in science, do not consider it a sign of weakness but a strong statement of “we could be wrong, but this is how wrong we can reasonably expect to be.”  

SUMMER CAMP

March 1, 2019

I walked into the Club’s lodge shortly before the informational meeting about the annual summer camp.  There was a potluck in progress, where at least eighty were eating.  I stayed out in the foyer with a few others.  Summer camps are where the Club goes to some interesting place, camps out, hikes, and provides breakfast, lunch and catered dinners.  With luck, there are showers and pit toilets.  

Damn, there were a lot of people there, and being around crowds isn’t my thing.  I spoke to a few people while waiting, and then as everything was cleared away, I noted that I probably knew a third to half the people there through hiking.  It wasn’t like I was a stranger there.

I went to the meeting, because I wanted to see if going to Glacier National Park for summer camp was something I wanted to do.  It was planned for early September, and I canoe in late September.  I don’t like doing two trips close together. It was a two day drive, the northern Rockies can be cold at night or be on fire.  Lot of the latter these past few years.  About a third of the attendees would be staying in hotels, so actual campers would be fewer, but then again, some people I knew well might not be going to evening meals or events, opting to stay warm, dry or quieter in the hotel.  I don’t know if fewer at the evening session would enhance or detract from the camp experience, and I don’t know how I would feel either way.

The hikes themselves were good, including one that was on the “20 best” of the world.  I am leery about these sorts of recommendations, because those rating these hikes have different values from mine, and the better a hike is rated, the more people decide to take it.  I can think of a lot of great,hikes I’ve taken where there was nobody. Maybe that is why they were so enjoyable.

The camp sounded well thought out and put together.  The organization was excellent.  It usually is.

And I won’t be going.

I’ve been to two summer camps before, one in the Ruby Mountains of Nevada, the other in the North Cascades.  Both had interesting hikes, although when we were there, it was in the 90s at 7000’ in Nevada and hit 100 in the North Cascades.  The West is hot in summer.  In the Northern Cascades, we had smoke after the second day, limiting hiking to only a few places.  It burns a lot in the West in summer, too.  

Of course, the weather might be perfect, with 70s in the day, 50s at night, rain only at night, and not a lot of crowds.  That does happen occasionally.  

I don’t enjoy summer camp all that much.  The first year, I agreed to take a “Leader” job which never should have been offered to a first time attendee.  I ended up working in the kitchen doing dishes both morning and evening, since the evening guy didn’t show up until the second day and left early.  Many attendees leave camp early so they don’t have to help with breaking down the camp, which takes maybe two hours if enough people are there.

As a leader, I was late getting started on hikes, which began right after breakfast, and I was doing dishes.  I missed a lot of information at the first evening campfire, because I was doing dishes.  I arrived at camp late enough that I didn’t have a good place to pitch my tent, and was immediately waylaid by two to see if I could give them a ride home at the end of camp, before I had even figured out where I was going to be sleeping.

There were a lot of inside jokes and some inane skits, and I don’t have a great sense of humor after hiking all day and doing dishes at night.  I also didn’t need the catty remark about how my camp chair was “one to get rid of,” from one who had used and didn’t like it.  There’s no shortage of advice in the Club about gear, diet, medical issues, and a host of other things.  

I went to the North Cascades mostly because (1) I wanted to see them and (2) I wasn’t going to be a “Leader” but just one who had two one hour jobs a week (one of the organizers said it would be one.  I chuckled to myself.)

I led a couple of hikes, and one individual complained for days after how I went to a lake that wasn’t very pretty.  Mind you, these are “Explora Hikes,” meaning the leader has not hiked the area before.  If there is a trail to a lake I haven’t seen, I think it might be worth seeing.  No, we didn’t see much, because brush clogged the shore, but it was only a 15 minute detour out of a 5 hour hike, not worth the half dozen or more times I caught grief about it. I suspect a lot of people heard how I led such a crappy hike.

After the second day, the smoke and hot weather moved in and stayed. I awoke more than once at night wondering how we would get out of our dead end road if a fire started nearby.  There was a fire burning 20 miles north that would eventually consume 100,000 acres. I was happy to leave there days later.

I would see new country at Glacier, only having been there in 1970.  But I can see plenty of new hiking country near home.  I would like to hike the entire Timberline Trail around Mt. Hood or the many hikes near Crater Lake.  I would not be gone as long, and frankly—this is my biggest reason—I don’t want to be away from home all that much.  I like where I am, and I have been fortunate enough to have seen a good deal of the world.  

If I were single and had no animals, that might be different.  But I am not and do, and ties to home are strong.  I will see the eclipse in the South Pacific this year, and I will canoe in the Boundary Waters in late September, which I absolutely want to do, because the country, so familiar and so special, draws me back every year.  That’s enough big trips.

For those who go to Glacier, I hope they have a great trip, the weather cooperates, the hikes go according to plan, the leaders better than I, and they return with wonderful memories of the northern Rockies.  

I’ll have my own memories made my own way.

Goat Lake, Ruby Mountains, Nevada, August 2016

Rainy Lake, below the 12 mile Maple Pass Loop, North Cascades, August 2017

NO GOOD DEED GOES UNPUNISHED

January 26, 2019

We didn’t have a long day working at Dorris Ranch, a Springfield park by the bend of the Coast Fork of the Willamette River.  It rained a little, but not much, and we knocked off at about 1:30, after four and a half hours of trail building.

We originally went out to do drainage work on a stream and discovered a trail which was muddy, eroding, and not useful.  Instead of drainage work, we built a new trail, connecting it to two others.  Such work necessitated one’s hacking out some grasses and shrubs, another’s digging down to bare soil to make a path a couple of feet wide, followed by more of us enlarging the path, moving the dirt off the trail, trying to save as many endangered Oregon Grape plants as possible, all the while avoiding poison oak plants standing like sentinels, waiting for the unwary to brush against them and carry the poison off on their skin or clothing.

I was especially attuned to poison oak, for two weeks earlier, I neither saw see the leafless plant at another park where I worked, nor did I wipe myself with isopropyl alcohol at the trailhead to denature the toxic urushiol.  I didn’t smear Tecnu lotion on myself when I got home and missed the last chance I had when I didn’t shower with Dawn dishwashing liquid.  Four days later, I broke out with a rash and was sentenced to two weeks of a itchy rash on my arms, inner thighs, chest and neck.  For this payment, I worked hard as a volunteer. 

I was ready to stop digging when the crew leader suggested we all knock off for the day.  I walked back to the car, trying to wash the mud off my boots on the way.  I found a small stream and stood in it for a while, cleaning the shovel, the hoe, and the McLeod, a large hoe on one side, and a serrated rake on the other, created by a USFS ranger in 1905.  

Back at the car, I knew I had errands to run, and I also needed to go to the toilet.  I looked around, saw a nearby restroom and walked up a short hill to get there.  The door was blocked wide open, floor damp, meaning it had been cleaned, so I unblocked the door, closed it, did my business, telling someone who rattled the door I was in there, washed up and walked out, not thinking to block the door open again because I knew somebody was waiting.  

A young woman wearing a park hat was waiting. She did not look pleased.

“We blocked the door open because the chemicals in there need to dry,” she said.

I thought to myself: “It’s really humid today–like drizzling–nothing is going to dry.” I answered, “I was going to block the door,” not adding, “until I saw that someone was waiting.”

“No you weren’t,” she retorted. “You were walking away.” The woman had gone from retorting to severely reprimanding me, and she was coming very close to outright berating me.

My father always told me not to get into a pissing contest with a skunk.  But I was tired and had just pissed, so I continued, “Excuse me.  I  just spent four and a half hours building trail for you guys and I needed to use the toilet.  Next time, I will use the woods.”  I walked away.  

It’s better not to argue with those who won’t change their minds, be the issue climate, what you think of the president, or whether you committed a sin by using a bathroom that had just been cleaned and then deliberately walked away without re-blocking the door.  It’s easier and saves energy. 

For the record, I clean toilets—men and women restrooms—at Rowe Sanctuary every spring, and if people need to use one and the floor is wet, I tell them that.  I don’t tell them to hold it because the floor has to dry.  I even put up yellow signs on the floor.  They are in two languages.  I don’t reprimand “offenders.”

I don’t know whether the woman thought I was homeless.  I could have looked it with mud on my clothes and my hair not exactly combed.  My hard hat was in the car.  What was I supposed to do?  Wait?  I think so.  She was young, perhaps not realizing that some older men need to use the toilet and can’t wait.  I have been in that latter situation before, although I wasn’t in it today.  

Sadly, I let the incident get to me that afternoon and for the next couple of days.  I was going to write this post saying I might not go back, and if I did, I wouldn’t use the restroom but the nearby woods, and she shouldn’t be poisonous to those who deal with poison oak as a volunteer in her park.  So there.

If I were on social media, where posts are too often made without thinking, unedited, and one has the “satisfaction” of “really nailing” an issue or a person, the ending would have been catchy, but a bit childish, which is a lot of what passes on social media these days, I guess.  I am a year away from Facebook, so I’m out of date.

In any case, I process slowly. What I think a few days after an incident is different from what it is the same day.  Yes, there should have been a sign saying, “Wet Floor,” but peeing in the woods in a city park is a bit much, even for me, unless I’m off my alpha-blocker.

I did go back to work at the park the following week. We finished the trail, hauled rocks using a wheelbarrow, and built a bridge.  Before we went out, I took the park person who was supervising our work aside and dispassionately told him my experience.  I said what was relevant and factual: “I did not see a sign,” does not exclude the fact that there might have been one.  I did not mention that the incident ruined an afternoon. That had nothing to do with the matter.  The supervisor understood that restrooms need to be cleaned, yes, but also that some times people need to use them before everything is perfectly dry.

After all, maybe the woman was having a bad day.  Maybe she had problems at home.  Maybe she was ill.  Maybe she even had a poison oak rash that annoyed her.  Yes, she needed to be thinking that perhaps this person really didn’t want to wet his pants, toilets are made to be used, and I wasn’t making a mess on the floor.  

She may still think I am a jerk, but I don’t have to make threats of what I will and won’t do in the future.  Those threats will hurt me, not the parks, except for maybe a tree’s getting too much nitrogen. I had a valid point, and she felt she had one, too.  Most importantly these days of polarization, I could see her point, even if I didn’t agree with it.  That’s not weakness, despite what many think. 

Maybe the next time, there will be a sign in two languages.  Maybe the sign will say “please leave the door open when you leave.”   Or even, “We aim to please.  You aim too, please.”

McLeod, good for trail work, pulling plants, beveling the sides, moving the dirt.