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THE MORNING THE PLATTE RIVER DANCED

April 9, 2018

It had been a good week on the Platte River during the spring migration of Sandhill cranes. The numbers were remarkably large for the date, probably in no small part due to unfavorable weather preventing the birds from continuing their migration north; instead of warm southerly winds, central Nebraska was getting strong northerly blasts from Manitoba.  The price I and the clients were paying for viewing were exceptionally cold mornings and evenings in the open viewing blinds, with single digit wind chills requiring five layers of clothing in order to stand for over 2 hours.

It only hurt when we warmed up afterwards.

The only issue I had was when I seemed to be the only person present who hadn’t seen a Whooping crane.  Granted, the numbers of these birds are small, under 400 worldwide in the wild, and they were usually in Kansas this time of year, but many had seen them on the Sanctuary, and some who came into the Visitor’s Center were saying they had seen some nearby in the fields as well.

One night, I operated the Crane Cam, which involved my using an iPad to run a camera a mile upriver.  There was a lot of delay from the instruction to move the camera and its subsequent position, but despite that, I was able to put the camera on three Whooping cranes in the river at dusk.  That was nice, but it was still virtual seeing; anybody in the world could have seen it, or at least the 1973 people who had logged on.  

I try to be philosophical in that rare sightings in nature are just that: rare.  I believe that if one is in the right place at the right time often enough, something good will happen.  And if it doesn’t, I prefer not to hear about it from those who were successful.  I waited.

The morning after the Crane Cam, I was back out in a real blind and was fairly sure there were still whoopers in the river.  I set up a spotting scope and within 30 seconds saw three white dots—nearly a mile distant—moving, and in one instance dancing.  I was happy, finally seeing them.  I had never seen whoopers closeup, and I hoped maybe that might happen, although I wasn’t really expecting it.  Low expectations are a good philosophical approach to viewing wildlife.

The next morning, as I drove into the Visitor’s Center at about 10, another volunteer flagged me down.  She was an expert birder, one who frequently had seen whoopers, in no small part because she was often in the right place at the right time.  Experts find a way to do that.  She came to the driver’s window and whispered somewhat conspiratorially to me:

“Mike, a half mile east of the Lowell Bridge, on the river.”  I didn’t have to ask what.

I did what she later said one had to do in those instances.  Go.  Don’t wait. I drove forward, did a U turn, all while computing exactly where a half mile east of the Lowell Bridge was.  Three miles later, driving along the Platte, I spotted four large white birds ahead in the river, obvious that they were whoopers given their size and color, along with two parked cars along the road, a sign in Crane Country in spring that whoopers are nearby.  The rules for viewing cranes are to be quiet, stay in the car, and don’t do anything stupid.  The birds are protected by law from harassment, and they burn needed calories unnecessarily should they have an unplanned flight.

I was amazed.  They were huge.  The head was black on the crown, red on the sides, the legs black, the birds a foot taller than Sandhills, with an absolutely striking white body.  I took some pictures, stared, told myself this might never happen again, rolled up the window, backed up, and quietly drove away.  

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I got to the right place at the right time by knowing the right person and being at the parking lot at exactly the right time.  Five minutes earlier or later, I would have not known about the cranes.  I would later see two more on the Sanctuary, and a man running the gate at night, making sure only people booked for tours came on the Sanctuary, saw a whooper land in a field about 50 yards from him.  It was a good year for us in Nebraska.

The second to last day in the morning viewing blinds I was still looking for those cranes.  I didn’t expect to see any, but I enjoyed observing more than ten thousand Sandhills on the river in front of me, open to looking at whatever the river offered.  I was watching right at the special moment when there is perfect light; sunlight’s reflection off the cranes turned them into flying copper and the browns of the prairie grasses became pure gold.  I was watching the birds dancing across the river, out in front of me, bowing, hopping over each other, everywhere, running towards each other and away, circling each other, pairs and groups dancing, when I suddenly saw, both out of the corner of my eyes and in front of me, the entire river’s appearing to be rising and falling as if it were one big living wave of birds.  The wave was there—so remarkable, so beautiful, so unexpected—and then it was gone, lasting perhaps two seconds.

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Pure copper

I’m analytical, but it would be 24 hours before I tried to figure out what exactly happened, and frankly, the spiritual explanation seemed better at the time and right now, if you really want to know. The river rose and fell for a couple of seconds.  I saw it happen, even if nobody else in the blind commented on it.  Maybe I saw it because I was looking from the right window, or maybe I needed to have had a lot of time looking at cranes: I’ve been in the blinds over one hundred thirty times over 10 years.

Whatever happened, I was clearly at the right place at the right time.  Paul Johnsgard, the famous crane researcher and writer, wrote eloquently of a magical time when the season (spring), the river (Platte) and the bird (Lesser Sandhill crane) came into conjunction.  To his words, I would add a brief conjunction of cranes dancing in so many places that at some point all the dancing would briefly—if only for two seconds—be in unison.  One could be at the right place at the right time, but one additionally had to be ready for what was going to happen.  It was a matter of knowing what was likely to happen at the same time keeping one’s mind open to anything else that might be unexpected.

I left the Platte this, my tenth season, thrilled to having seen several Whooping cranes close up. It was a “finally” moment, and I told myself I may never see this again.  But I saw it once.

I expected that my most vivid memory of the trip would be seeing whoopers close up.  But it wasn’t.  My most memorable moment was two seconds one morning when I saw the Platte River dance.   

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FACEBOOK ABOUT FACE

March 13, 2018

I stopped going on Facebook during Lent, not that I observe it.  It was sheer coincidence, plus the New York Times.

A day or two prior, I hadn’t even considered such a possibility, but a concatenation of events led to my decision.  I had been having significant insomnia—middle of the night awakenings during the darkest hours of both life and the position of the Earth.  Admittedly, I haven’t slept all that well since medical school, when I was on call every other night, every third, or in my subsequent practice, 581 times, where if I woke up and gave clear advice I wouldn’t easily get back to sleep.  Or, if I hadn’t fully awoken, I would learn the next day what I had said that I had no idea left my lips.  Neither is healthy for a doctor, or his patients, a fact I futilely bemoaned until I finally left medicine for good.

After that, I did sleep better, until the run-up to the 2016 election and subsequently.  I may not be alone in this latter experience, but in any case, I realized I needed to do something about my sleep hygiene.  One issue was clear: between my recent subscription to the online Times and my nine year sojourn on Facebook, I was constantly bombarded by bad news and dozens of daily requests to support causes, sign multiple petitions, read “must reads” (a term I come close to using the word despise) demonstrate for or against issues, and of course donate money to every 4+ emergency on Earth, with the expectation I’d carry the banner for every Tom, Dick, and Harry.  I wasted ample time watching videos I didn’t need to watch, reading conspiracy theories that astounded me, and deleting cookies from sites I went to, after I discovered they increased my spam.

I liked the concept of Facebook, because I could be in better contact with my brother and nieces. But Facebook can be like eating potato chips. It’s easy to take a little bite (log on), and have another one (look at one more post) and eventually eat the whole package (spend a whole hour).  One is a problem of consuming excessive calories; the other a problem with consuming precious minutes.  Neither potato chips nor Facebook is healthy in large doses, junk food and junk news.  When I comment, which isn’t often, my grammar and spelling matter, at least to me, so they take time. And for what?  Getting 100 likes, a rarity, doesn’t change the world, or even a small part of it, compared to spending a day out in the real world trying not to be a jerk.  I’m not Nicholas Kristof, Eugene Robinson, Gail Collins, or Thomas Friedman, whose words provoke thought and change many minds.  I wondered how much of what I read was true. One can get news from Facebook, but the Times, The Washington Post, or Reuters are far better.  It wasn’t just right wing posts that bothered me; many left wing posts had for months spoke about an imminent end to Trump’s presidency.  It wasn’t going to happen.  My comments that the man had been and still was grossly underestimated, were mostly ignored.  (Read: no “likes”.)

Facebook is more than politics and religion, although those are two dominant subjects.  Much on Facebook are highlight reels of people’s lives.  It is almost competitive, I think, regarding who has done the most interesting thing, gotten the most likes, posted the best pictures, received the greatest compliments, or had the most shares.  I didn’t need this.  Competition is toxic. I didn’t think Facebook was improving my life, and I decided to act. I said nothing online about my decision, I just disappeared.

For a couple of days, I occasionally found myself automatically opening the bookmark, quickly closing it, as if seeing the blue border would somehow would be like a blue computer screen at night, adversely affecting my circadian rhythm.  There were comments about me, posts of hikes I went on, conversations showing up temporarily on the banner in the upper right corner of my computer screen, but I didn’t bite.  I didn’t have to know the details about the best snowshoe trip of the year I missed or see pictures of my friends having a great time.  I was freed from reading comments or wanting to argue with those who with online anonymity have helped make the Internet a stew of hateful, ignorant, false, poorly written missives.

There was more.  A picture of me a while back had someone ask why I wasn’t smiling.  A friend of mine—in real life, too—wrote, “Mike never smiles.”  That hurt.  When one has only words to go on, no ability to see body language or hear intonation, words alone are insufficient.  I do smile, of course, but many pictures of me were taken during hikes I led, where I had responsibility for several others and couldn’t be a happy-go-lucky hiker.  No, I may not smile when I am asked to pose for a silly ass picture when I’m concerned about why some people are lagging or wonder why so many seem to be directionally challenged. I had been pilloried on Facebook the year before after leading a difficult 26 mile hike (called by the individual posting a death march) that I said at the outset would be long and hard. The hike was 20 minutes longer–a huge issue in a 9 hour hike–because the individual videoed the first part, solely because of wanting to post it.  We paid dearly later, when it was much hotter and we were more tired.

I hadn’t thought much about the competitive aspect of Facebook until I went off it and suddenly didn’t feel I had to make my hiking posts sound like the greatest thing this side of Eden.  Indeed, when I came home from a hike, I now had free time.  I discovered quickly that I could read more books and magazines.  I had more time in the morning for the New York Times, good, accurate news, opinion, with useful links and still have time left over to do other things.  I even started listening to podcasts again.  My life was simpler, less cluttered.  I could please myself, rather than try to be erudite to those who could care less about my comments, or the small few who might actually read them.

I watched the number of Facebook notifications increase on my phone screen to 10, 20, then 50, 60.  I got two emails from Facebook listing the number of pokes, likes, comments.  I deleted them and in my second week away, went snowshoeing in the Mt. Hood area.  When I got home, a friend posted a bunch of pictures apparently, because my email had links to the post.  My iPhone Facebook app read “99,” which maxes out the number of comments I have waiting for me. Nearly all are a “like”, and it really isn’t important.

Let the posts wait.  I don’t need the constant hounding that I “must” do something for the sake of the world.  No, I’m not going to give my opinion about the President so I can be asked for money, and should I donate it, be asked to give a “tip” to the organization asking.  I won’t be emotionally blackmailed by someone who says “I’ll know who my real friends are because they will share this post.” I don’t fight cancer by sharing a post but by supporting sound science.   I won’t see the requests for donations to some medical charity in somebody’s name.  I won’t read about people’s detailed medical problems or see pictures of “friends” or their elderly parents in some hospital looking absolutely blank.  I’m not seeing any of that.  And you know what?  The world still turns, and while country has indeed become worse, it was going to anyway.  After a fortnight, nobody with my email address has contacted me asking where I am. I’m not surprised.

I’m sleeping better, too, although it is probably bedtime restriction and phototherapy rather than being off Facebook, although the positive changes have been in the last two weeks.

I don’t usually give advice to people because they neither want it nor take it.  I just report on things in my life that I find interesting and if others do, too, great.  I thought it would be difficult to stop logging on.  Nah.  The real world is better.

Will I go back?  Yes.  But I will declutter my news feed, post far less often, and have strict time limits.

I will not return to eating potato chips, however.

THE DAY I BECAME A TRAIL ANGEL

March 1, 2018

This is the twentieth anniversary of my first section hike on the Appalachian Trail (AT).  I never finished the trail; indeed, I hiked only the southern quarter of it in two section hikes, 528 miles total, with another couple of miles in Hanover, New Hampshire, where I went to college, for the AT went right through town.  I have another couple of miles on Mount Moosilauke in the White Mountains of New Hampshire, the tenth highest of the 4000 foot summits in the Whites.  I climbed it my freshman year in 1966.

The AT was something that I put on The List and eventually took off.  I have no plans to hike the remaining 1600-odd miles, although I have no regrets having done my two section hikes, one in 1998, the other the following year.  The first one was painful, learning the hard way how to do a long distance backpack; the second was done properly, and I have fond memories of the three weeks I was in the woods, making over three hundred miles good with no blisters and little pain.

I had many “AT moments,” the shelters, the white blazes, the bears, the camping out in the middle of nowhere, “starlight. moonlight and firefly light,” but perhaps one of the classic moments was when I became a recipient of the kindness of a trail angel.  I never thought I would some day become one, and indeed, I didn’t even think of the fact until recently, nineteen years later and on the other side of the continent.

Somewhere in northern Georgia, when I descended one of the many mountains of the AT, I saw a man standing near the road that I would be crossing before ascending the mountain on the opposite side.  The AT was down, down, down to a road and up, up, and still more up on the other side.  My pack that summer day was lighter, after I had dumped 10 pounds of gear I didn’t need at a store that specialized in shipping unwanted gear home.  I also bought a Pepsi, which gave me the energy to get to my camp that night.

Anyway, back to further north in Georgia: next to that somebody was a cooler, and as I approached, the somebody asked if I wanted a can of Dr. Pepper.

A free Dr. Pepper out here.  You’ve got to be kidding.

One has to understand that after a few days on the Trail, a hiker is in a state of borderline biological red alert when it comes to food.  I was additionally dry, hot, a bit hypoglycemic, and totally beat that afternoon, so I initially didn’t process his words.  I looked up, and no, it was not a mirage, it was a man holding a can of Dr. Pepper.

A free, cold Dr. Pepper out here.  You’ve got to be kidding.

I took the can, swallowed the liquid in about two gulps, and thanked him, in that order.  It was wonderful—sweet, cold, and wet, with a bit of caffeine to boot.  I think I can still taste it twenty years later.  Thanking the man profusely, I crossed the road, thinking that maybe the other side wouldn’t be so difficult after all.

That’s a trail angel, and the AT is famous for them.

Across the miles, 19 years, and a continent, on the West Coast trail, AKA PCNST, or the Pacific Crest National Scenic Trail, three of us were dayhiking south right by Lower Rosary Lake, headed back towards Willamette Pass.  We had taken a loop off the PCT up to Tait’s Loop, which two of us would adopt during the coming winter, making sure the trail markers, blue diamonds, were in place.  We had intersected the PCT and were returning on it. Ahead, we saw an elderly couple with good sized backpacks cross the outlet stream of the lake, and as we approached, they started up a conversation.  They were early 60s, retired, and didn’t bother to shed their packs while talking to us.  Long distance hikers are part of their pack, and one has to have been such a hiker to truly appreciate that fact.  After a week of high mileage days, I was my pack.  My pack was another appendage, a home, a lifeline.  They looked strong, with not one bit of unessential gear with them.  Thru-hikers.

Anyway, last summer a good share of the Three Sisters and Mt. Jefferson Wildernesses were burning, and there had been some trail closures, including many miles of the PCT.  The couple, from Alaska and sporting “Alaska Flour” shirts, knew that, so they were going to take some rest days in Bend around the 21st to see what was going to happen.

August 21, 2017 was a big day.  That was the solar eclipse, and these folks, if they continued, would walk right into the path of totality.  I asked them if they knew about the eclipse.  They knew a little and figured Bend would be suitable. It wasn’t.  Before they got to Bend, they would walk into the path of totality, but if they weren’t careful, they could walk right out of the path, too.

Normally, I don’t usually tell people what to do.  I offer an opinion, make some suggestions and expect them do what they want.  Most people do that and aren’t interested in my advice.  I accept that and usually stay quiet.

But, neither quiet nor Bend was suitable, and this was a total friggin’ solar eclipse, for crying out loud.  One of my hiking companions, who would adopt the trail with me, a good friend, would end up staying in Eugene, outside the path, for the eclipse, although he had heard me give a talk to 80 charged up people about it back in June at the Obsidian Lodge and came away less than impressed.  I wasn’t going to change his mind, and he would one day tell me he regretted his choice, but these people deserved to know more.  I mentioned that they would be close to totality, and if they could get north of Bend, they would be able to see it.  I further added that I had seen sixteen of the things (I don’t think I used “friggin’) and they were incredible sights.  I gave it my strongest recommendation: “It’s worth seeing.”  They had a few more miles to go that night and we needed to get back to our vehicle, so we parted ways, we went south, they north.

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Interview by KEZI-TV anchor Renee McCullough in the Eugene Science Center, April 2017.

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Lower Rosary Lake in winter

I had quite forgotten about the couple until sometime in September, when I got one of those strange emails, where the sender is a weird name that makes no sense, except the message line is somehow very relevant.  The couple had seen the total eclipse by Santiam Lake, somehow able to get far enough into the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness near Three-fingered Jack.  I was thanked in capital letters for having suggested they go to the eclipse track.  They hiked in to one of the more beautiful spots I could think of—I had been to Santiam Lake on a hike the past June—and had clear skies, no smoke, and a beautiful view.  Someone even took a raft out on the lake—which is a tough 6 miles in from US20 and about eight in from Duffy Lake—and saw the eclipse from the middle.  Wow. That was better than my experience in eastern Oregon.  The couple was back in Alaska, but they were planning to come down again next year and finish off the PCT.

I was thrilled.  I didn’t have a cooler, and I didn’t have Dr. Pepper, but this Doctor had a cool idea for them, and it worked out just fine.

Trail Angel.  Nice term.  I can now apply it to myself for a very uncommon reason.

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Santiam Lake and Three-fingered Jack, June 2017.

JUST IN TIME. JUST RAN OUT.

February 8, 2018

The other day, I went to REI to buy some rain pants. There was one salesman upstairs helping a 30ish guy, although the two were mostly chatting about other issues, while nearby the customer’s female companion sat on the floor, looking a little bored. For at least 15 minutes, while I was the only other person up there, I went back and forth into the changing room three separate times to try on pants, replacing them each time on the rack, once standing right next to the clerk.  Not once was I asked if I needed help.  As a matter of fact, I wasn’t even greeted. Neither the selection nor the price appealed to me, and when I remembered that Backcountry Gear was not far away, and I did, after all, have a choice, I decided to leave. I wondered if my age might have been a factor, too.  Hard to say, but I am a grumpy old guy these days, although experiences like this are a cause of grumpiness.  I left REI, drove over to Backcountry Gear, was greeted, waited on by a real person, had three to four rain pants from which to choose, all at a decent price as well. REI’s were double of what I wanted to pay.  I bought something. Yeah, I’m old, but my money’s still good. I now understand what my mother told me years ago how advertisers targeted the young—“your generation”—she said.  They still do, except on the evening news, of course, when they target those few of us old folks who still watch the evening news with ads for laxatives, COPD, DVT and Afib (yep, that’s me) anticoagulants, or chemo.

I don’t shop at Wal-Mart unless it is an absolute emergency.  I did want to get an eclipse shirt when I was in Ontario, Oregon for the eclipse last summer, and Wal-Mart was the only place that had them.  I took pictures of the eclipse; I wish I had taken a few of the display in Wal-Mart, boxes of picked through shirts by the front door.  Still, I get greeted there.  At Safeway, I can’t walk by an employee without his or her asking me if I am finding what I am looking for.  A lot of businesses would do well to station people in critical places who are good at reading body language and aren’t afraid to ask customers “Did you find/Are you finding what you wanted?” look customers in the eye, and discern if the response “yes” really means yes or means “no, but I’m not going to bother anybody.” There is also HappyOrNot, the smiley button survey, like the one posted outside of Sea-Tacs restrooms, where one just pushes a button to grade the experience on a 4 point smiley scale.  It’s quick, easy, non-intrusive, and difficult to game, because businesses usually track the most negative results and the button has a certain lag time between pushes. True, it is not a random sample, and the smilies aren’t exactly defined, but it’s a great survey technique.  Frankly, most surveys would do well by asking simply, “What should we be doing better?” instead of pages of paper or inches of screen asking inanities.  The worst are the ones that force you to answer before you can move on to the next screen.  I then move to the red dot in the upper left corner of my screen and delete the whole thing.  Perfection has its price.

Continuing, REI lost another purchase from me when I couldn’t find a micro-SD card with Washington-Oregon topographical maps on it.  They had Utah, and they had Colorado, but I neither hike there nor plan to.  Most of their Eugene customers probably don’t, either, which is why they had the chip in stock.  I actually did ask a living, breathing being if they had a Washington-Oregon map, but the response was, “No, I guess we don’t,” without telling me whether they could order one from Portland to be there the next day, in which case I might have ordered it.  Instead, I left, and leaning against their outside wall, ordered it online from Amazon.  I want to buy locally, but I’m not going to “bother busy people” in an effort to do so, especially when I can get it delivered quickly, and in this instance $15 cheaper.  At the very least, REI should track what they don’t have, and I could tell them instances of summer hiking gaiters, gloves my size, socks my size, hiking boots, and a Thermarest, none of which they had in stock when I wanted them. When certain items, often containing an “M” on the size, disappear quickly, that should tell someone somewhere that the ordering process needs to change.

It’s not just REI, it was stores during the holiday period that ran out of common sizes of pants, shirts, shoes, and many other articles of clothing.

“Just in time inventory” (JIT) was developed by the Japanese in the 1970s and adopted not only in manufacturing but in sales.  It requires accurate forecasting of demand.  Toyota lost $15 billion in car revenue (70,000 cars) when a supplier of a key part had a fire and production was stopped for two days, because the whole assembly line has to stop until the part is again available.  Dependence upon no failure in the supply chain is a potential flaw in JIT. A quick Google search did not mention the disadvantage that keeping less inventory means it is more likely for the store to be out of stock sooner and lose sales as well as customers, who will go elsewhere where either the inventory is either correctly forecasted or JIT was not adopted.  In my non-statistical experience, which as a statistician is being a bit hypocritical, I agree, JIT inventory is an easy way to save money by not having to store anything and having a smaller “Cost of Inventory” on the balance sheet.  Like so many things nowadays, the customer is a necessary inconvenience, the king (or these days queen, except the latter word has changed meaning) notion long since having been abandoned.

I like my new rain pants.  Now, if it would only rain again.  Maybe next autumn.

IT’S A TOTAL LUNAR ECLIPSE. PERIOD.

February 4, 2018

The recent lunar eclipse made me wonder what has happened to sensibility. I’m all for people learning about the night sky, but the comments I saw on social media were disheartening. Worse, many in the astronomical community were guilty of overhyping what shouldn’t need to be hyped in the first place.

The recent total lunar eclipse was one of eighteen occurring in the 20 year period 2001-20, so while these aren’t common, they aren’t rare, either.  The total minutes of all these eclipses is nearly 1300, so if one happens to see a total eclipse, one will see it for a period of many minutes, sometimes more than an hour, unlike total solar eclipses which last fewer than 7 1/2 minutes, and in all of our lifetimes under six minutes, assuming one is in exactly the right place, and I mean exactly.  For a lunar eclipse, being in the right place is on the night side of the Earth, which has a probability about one half.  For a total solar eclipse, the probability is 0.5% just to be on the track, let alone in the right place.  The Europeans and Asians will see a total lunar eclipse in July, and all of North America next January.

What bothered me was the blue, super, and blood appellation, along with “the first in 150 years.”

Some background: back on June 5, 2012, when there was a transit of Venus across the Sun, I showed it to a small group of people at the Pima County Medical Society’s office in Tucson.  One individual commented that it was not very interesting, seeing the small dot of Venus against the background of the Sun, 30 times the diameter of Venus, viewed from the Earth.  To me, this was an exceptionally rare event, which last occurred in 2004, and before then in 1882. The next will be in 2117.  The rarity,  the history of those who traveled great distances to see one, the fact that I was following in their footsteps were all important to me.  Others don’t see the world (or other worlds) the way I do, however, and I accept that.  The total solar eclipse last summer was a yawner for a few of my friends, although I actually convinced my brother to take the effort to see it, and he was not at all disappointed.  The next solar eclipse to touch Oregon will be October 5, 2108, and barely reaches the Pacific coast. This past lunar eclipse lasted 76 minutes, which was worth mentioning; I’ve spent fewer than fifty minutes under the Moon’s shadow during the 17 total solar eclipses I have seen.

A blue Moon is when a full Moon occurs twice in one month.  It’s a calendar phenomenon only. Between 2001 and 2020, nine occur.  The exact dates differ, because of time zones, where the full Moon may occur a calendar day later in the eastern hemisphere.  We have two blue moons this year, which is unusual, and yes, it is interesting, but it isn’t the stuff of which “I have to see this or I am missing out on something special and not likely to happen again.”

Supermoons are when the full Moon is relatively close to the Earth.  Because of the shape of the Moon’s orbit and the behavior of the Moon, our satellite can be full and be within 360,000 km of us, one definition of a supermoon, at least twice and maybe three times a year.  That’s like giving an gold star for attending class.  The full Moon of New Years’ Day was actually 2500 km closer to us than this one.  “Supermoon” is a recent term, dating only about three decades.  Before then, we just admired full moons and did just fine.  In part, the “horizon effect,” where seeing a full Moon rise against the horizon, something to compare it with, makes the moon appear large.  It actually appears larger six hours later, when highest in the sky, because we are no longer looking at the Moon across the radius of the Earth but directly at it, 6500 km closer, give or take. I have had almost no success, either as an astronomy columnist or as an amateur astronomer, convincing people that rising full Moons are not unusually bright.

Then again, once I failed to convince a couple that the large red object that was a lunar eclipse wasn’t Mars.  And when I was a kid, I called the crescent Moon “Venus,” because I had recently learned Venus can show phases.  But unlike the couple I learned to change my mind in the face of convincing evidence–and appropriate public shaming.

A supermoon is about 0.28 magnitude brighter than a regular full Moon.  Magnitudes are listed where negative means brighter; every 5 magnitudes is 100-fold difference in brightness.  This translates into a supermoon being  a quarter brighter than average, but brightness is relative.  We don’t compare full moons that we see with other full moons unless we use a light meter.  We usually compare them to what we have recently seen, like how the Moon appeared the night or two before full, also bright.

Still, full moons are special, 11 times brighter than a half moon and 10% brighter than the Moon the day before or day after.  The apparent size of the Moon is larger, but again, without comparison to other full moons, such as photographically or in an eyepiece of a telescope in which one can calibrate size, is not appreciably different.  One way to prove this is to look at a rising full Moon through a cardboard tube and then look at it high overhead.  The size is the same to one’s eye.

The blood moon is a reference to the red color of the eclipsed Moon, because the only light that can reach the eclipsed Moon is from the red sunrises and sunsets around the eclipsing Earth.  As Fred Espenak, “Mr. Eclipse,” put it, “people have been calling these lunar eclipses for two thousand years.”  Of the three terms, replacing blood moon with “eclipse” would have been the most helpful.

There are many astronomical events every year.  In my opinion, they don’t need to be hyped.  There are many beautiful things above, on, and below the Earth, and they are there for those who want to look.

Next time around, my self-improvement goal will be to discuss the phenomenon without raising my voice.  THAT would be a rare event.

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Total lunar eclipse 27 September 2015, White Bear Lake, MN. The darkest part is the Moon that is deepest in the Earth’s shadow; the lighter is in the outer shadow.

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Transit of Venus beginning, 5 June 2012, Tucson, AZ

 

PREPOSITIONAL OBJECT AND EQUAL PAY

January 22, 2018

I try not to get into too many arguments online.  It’s not possible to convince some that contrails are just condensate from aircraft exhaust and that yes, we really did land on the Moon.  I stopped arguing online about global climate change a few years ago.  I wasn’t going to change anybody, and I got tired of hitting my head against a wall.  I’m rooting for Mother Nature.

The other day, however, I perhaps influenced two men.  I should probably quit, and I probably will remain silent.  The first was an individual whose arguments were basically contrary to most things I believe in.  He is not stupid, but he certainly is on The Other Side. Yesterday, he and a friend of mine had about as nasty an exchange as I can think of.

I read where he used “whom” following “to,” which is acceptable, if whom is an object, like “To whom it may concern.”  In this instance, however, the “whom” should have been “who,” for the personal pronoun was the subject of an objective prepositional phrase.  Here’s an example: “I will give this to whoever can clearly explain the difference.” The last six words are the object of the preposition to, and it is an independent clause, the whole object.  “Who” is used for the subject.  “I will give this to whomever you recommend.”  Here, it is whomever, because the subject is “you” and the phrase “you recommend whomever” has whomever as an object.  I later deleted the comment, because it wasn’t necessary, but the individual saw it before deleting and agreed with the grammar.  OK, he leaned something, which is good, and so did I, along with the fact that the individual could be wrong.

Being wrong, and admitting the possibility one could be wrong is important to me before I engage in arguments.  Otherwise, I either remain silent or do a monologue. Silence makes me wish I had done something; a monologue makes me wish I hadn’t.   The woman’s march had just occurred, and another individual was in a Facebook Fight with a few women about unequal pay between the sexes.  He didn’t believe in the gap, and demanded evidence.  I went ahead and Googled an article about unequal pay and read it.  That led me to an American Enterprise Institute article, from the conservative think tank, and I read it, too.  While perhaps two or three points were reasonable, they were drowned out to me because of all the pejorative language against liberals and Obama’s statement in the Lilly Ledbetter case. I really expect more professionalism from AEI writers.  Frankly, I write better.  The title, referring to the evidence “as elusive as Bigfoot,” turned me off.  I suggested in my post that I would review the AEI article in detail if he would review another article in support of the claim.  I also mentioned that willingness to admit one might be in error (which I did in the post) leads to a lot more fruitful discussions.  Three hours later, with no comment, I just wrote, “I’m still waiting.”

To his credit, the individual answered, and so I went to the AEI article about unequal pay. It led me to a fact checking site, along with a few others, and in about 30 minutes I had a considerably more information about unequal pay between men and women.  This is the post I put out.

“It’s actually very interesting.  If one controls for the same job title, employer, and location, there is a gap—about 4-6%.  This is considerably less than the 23% (or 21%) often quoted, although over a career, it amounts to maybe a half million dollars both in earnings and benefits.

The AEI article has a point here, although one of their unanswered questions—have you ever heard of a female real estate agent making less than a man?—should have been answered by them, for it is one of the largest discrepancies of all, as is the female personal financial advisor, both cases showing that women make half as much as men or even less.  For cashiers, it is 92%, computer programmers 95%.

“The 21% comes from definitions of full time and comparing across all jobs.  Seniority has typically gone to men, which explains some of the gap.  It’s fair to examine seniority, but not in the context of equal pay for equal work.  This is not appropriate, although it has been used.  On the other hand, it is equally inappropriate to disparage all the data, because here and in all developed countries their is a gap, just not as large as is often stated.  Still, I chastise the latter (My Side) for saying it will be 70 years (or 170 for another measure) for full equality.  Yes, at the current rate, but that is not a sensible extrapolation in my view.

“I think the AEI would have done better to have admitted that equal pay for equal work is not present, what the number is, and dispensed with the statement referring to “Bigfoot sightings,” which given my propensity to hike in the Pac NW wilderness might actually occur (!)

“What I hope comes out of this argument is some learning by both sides as to the scope of the problem.  I certainly learned something from this, how the statistic is calculated, what should be measured, the fact that there is a gap, and in some professions very significant.  I’d like to think that most of us will look at some of the “sacred cows” in society and find the truth.

“Not that I want to discuss the following in detail, but other examples include that most gun deaths are suicides and the number of deaths per 100,000 is flat.  I’m not saying that is good, but it is factual.

“I’m just tired of spending my days arguing and decided it was time to get both sides to look at an example of the other, and find where the grains of truth are.”

With some trepidation, I read the reply:  “That is truly beautiful.  Thank you.”

I tend to delete most of my posts on Facebook.  I try not to read too much, because it’s depressing what my friends post, it’s depressing what some believe, and it’s depressing to spend a day arguing with people who dig in and aren’t going to be swayed.  For some reason, I rightly picked a misplaced personal pronoun written by one who was not only intelligent enough to know what one was but also likely the type who would not want to have his post contain an error, I gently corrected his grammar, leaving the argument alone.  That action may have led me to decide not to assume the equal pay issue was what I had been told until I first fact-checked it, surprising me when I found that some data was misconstrued, even as the argument, if not quite as strong, was still valid.

I still remember a debate in junior high school about paving all dirt roads.  Back then, I was adamantly against it.  I had a wise teacher who made me argue in favor of it.  I hadn’t thought of that in years.

 

BLESSED NERD

January 13, 2018

I didn’t know there was a “nerd” icon, but I sure recognized it on my post.  I wasn’t surprised.  I’m blessed, really.  Blessed that I can see not only the beauty in nature that others see, but additionally another way, too, that most others don’t. I see it in understanding what is happening and why it is happening.

The post was a picture I had taken from the top of Spencer Butte showing the clouds rising from the valley floor.  A week prior, we had an inversion, where a cold air mass filled the valley floor, and as one ascended, it became warmer, not colder.  The normal pattern is cooling with height, as anybody knows who has traveled into the mountains on a hot summer day.  I took a picture of the scene below, then I googled the Salem weather sounding, which was the closest sounding to me.  It’s easy to find these things online for those who are curious.  I just typed in uwyo sounding, and two taps later, a map of the US appeared, with a bunch of three letters all over the US, airport call signs for various cities.  People know many if they fly regularly.  Salem (SLE) is one of two in Oregon; the other is MFD (Medford).

Salem’s temperature was about 7 C (45 F) at the valley floor, and it became progressively colder up to the freezing level of about 1900 m (6000 feet), a normal pattern, although I didn’t bother to look at the “Lifted Index,” which is a description of how strong the tendency is for warm air to rise.  We can determine that, too.  A week earlier, Salem was 0 C, and at 800 m or 2600 feet, it was 13 C or 55 F.  That’s a classic inversion.  I posted the picture and the weather sounding.

Inversion

Fog layer in Springfield, Oregon with smoke rising and then reaching warm layer where the temperature of the smoke is less than the temperature of the layer, and it can no longer rise any further. Mt. Jefferson in the distance.

It earned me “nerd of the day,” to which I simply say, “I’m blessed to find things fascinating that are lost on nearly everybody else.”  The individual who placed the icon knows I am a weather junkie but has never expressed any interest in much more detailed forecasts than he gets from his Weather Channel app, which he broadcasts to everybody near him.  It’s taken me a while, but I now just stay silent.  He’s not interested in weather models or much else I say.  Seeing a Rex Block (a high pressure system north of a low pressure system, which blocks normal flow of west to east air) or an Omega Block, and knowing the weather is going to be very unchangeable days before it is announced, is interesting.  It’s also good practice to learn to curb my tongue.

Omega block over SW US. Low pressure systems force upper level winds northward, producing a stable high pressure system in the SW US.  Numbers represent the dekameters above sea level where half the atmosphere is above and half below.  Higher numbers mean higher pressure and more stable, dry, warm air.

Rex Block over the eastern Pacific.  High pressure (notice the barbs moving clockwise) is over Vancouver Island with low pressure (counterclockwise flow) is off the southern California coast.  The upper level winds from the Pacific are directed northward to SE Alaska and then turn southward and enter the US in Montana.  These last for several days and produce often stagnant weather.

I’ve had a lot of these moments.  I understand why solar eclipses occur, and indeed, I think the mathematics of an eclipse is every bit as beautiful as the eclipse itself.  Most would disagree, and I feel a little sorry for them, because I get to appreciate both the natural beauty and the mathematical music of the spheres.  The two interact; they are not mutually exclusive.  Before the Libyan eclipse in 2006, a senior editor at one of the astronomy magazines gave a talk about eclipses, not mentioning a word about the Saros Cycle. I asked him later, alone, why he didn’t bring it up.

“Nobody is going to be interested in that.”  Maybe he needed to make it interesting.  He was the editor, after all, not me.  Maybe nobody knew that such beauty existed.

In 2007, at Big Bend National Park in Texas, I was hiking on the South Rim Trail, when out near the edge of a steep cliff, 2500 feet above the valley floor, I looked ahead to see something that looked like smoke.  I got closer and realized it was water vapor, condensing, right in front of me, as south winds from the North American Monsoon brought moisture-rich air up against the walls, where the air was forced to rise and in doing so cooled and condensed into clouds (for the Lifted Index was negative and hot air was going to rise, not layer out) right in front of me.  This is called orographic lift.  I have seen orographic lift from a distance, watching cloud tops develop on mountains, eventually leading to thunderstorms, but I had never before seen it right in front of me.

I sent a picture to the Weather Channel, but this wasn’t a powerful storm, a great sunset, or any one of a number of non-nerdy things.  I never heard back.

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Orographic Lift, Big Bend National Park, June 2007. The moist air is condensing right in front of me.

When I was a first year medical student, I was allowed to see a C-Section in a Denver hospital.  When asked afterwards what my impression was, I said it was interesting, and all I could think of were the enzymatic reactions that were closing the ductus arteriosus, the shunt between the pulmonary artery and the aorta, that needs to close so that de-oxygenated blood can go directly to the lungs for the baby’s initial breaths.  Knowing this stuff to me makes life more interesting.  I am able to appreciate both the sheer beauty of what I am seeing with the knowledge of knowing why it is.  Or, in the case of orographic lift, I find beauty where most would not.  That’s being blessed.

I don’t think too many amateur astronomers saw the Saturn-24 Sgr occultation in 1989. That’s nerdy stuff.  Saturn passed in front of a star (Saturn’s being closer to us, so it is possible), and as it did so, the star appeared to pass through Saturn’s rings.  That was remarkable.  From the Earth, with a moderate size telescope, I was treated to an hour long show of exactly how thick Saturn’s rings were, and believe me, they are very different for each layer.  Finally, the star was visible between the globe of Saturn and the rings, very odd appearing, before it gradually blinked out behind the globe, the gradual loss being proof of Saturn’s atmosphere. (When the Moon occults a star, it happens suddenly, because there is no lunar atmosphere).  This was a top 5 astronomical event for me, and I’ve spent a lot of time observing.

I get made fun off a lot, and when I taught, whether it was my being enthusiastic about the Rule of 72 for doubling time of money or population*, proving why the quadratic formula is what it is*^, understanding the age of a tree by its diameter**, the distance of an object if I know its height, or why the Sun sets earliest in early December rather than on the solstice, where the full Moon is going to rise*** and why or how to tell clock time using the Big Dipper.****

It’s a remarkable world around us, worth exploring, worth understanding, worth finding answers to the many questions we have about it. Nerds are blessed.  So there.

*Rule of 72: The doubling time of money in years is 72/interest rate in per cent.  9% rate doubles in 72/9 or 8 years.  It has to do with P=Poe^rt. P is twice Po so 2=e^rt.  ln both sides is ln 2=rt, so t=ln2/r, and if we use per cent, this is 69.3/r, close enough to 72, which is evenly divisible by 2,3,4,6,8,9,12,18,24, and 36.

*^ax^2+bx+c=0; x^2+(b/a)x=-(c/a); complete the square, x^2+(b/2a)x+b^2/4a^2=-(c/a)+(b^2/4a^2); [x+(b/2a)]^2=(1/2a)(b^2-4ac), and x=(1/2a)(-b+/- sqrt(b^2-4ac)

**For a Douglas fir, about 5 years per inch of diameter at breast height (DBH).

***Directly behind where the Sun set, basically.

****Let the pointer stars be the hour hand and Polaris the center.  Every two hours, the clock moves counterclockwise 1 hour.  Over a month, this changes, but for typical outdoor camping experiences, it works well.  A quarter turn is 6 hours, and American cowboys knew this and when it was time to relieve or be relieved. If one is Down Under, sorry!

 

 

 

KEIN SCHÖNER TOD (Not a good death)

January 11, 2018

A recent op-ed in the New York Times (“This was not the good death we were promised”)  was a poignant piece written by a woman whose father recently died from pancreatic cancer.  Note: I use die and death here, not pass, pass on, pass away, cross to the other side or expire.  There is a reason to use die and death, finality.  Pass on and crossing over have the sense of traveling somewhere; when I die, someone else is going to be moving my lifeless body.  I’d like to believe I will travel to the Rainbow Bridge, but I will cease to exist.

The elderly man developed severe pain the night before, as it would happen, he died.  There was an hour delay reaching a nurse (not the physician) who told the family to give the man an extra oxycodone, the only pain medicine he had received.  The family became desperate and found some lorazepam and morphine from a prior hospitalization of another family member and gave them, too.  When the nurse came at midnight, she had no analgesics with her.  Eventually the morphine wore off and the crisis nurse who was supposed to come by in the morning didn’t because she was ill. The morphine pump that the patient needed, and one of the nurses was surprised that he never had one, came at 4 p.m., 8 hours after it was expected.  By then, the man was comatose and died shortly thereafter.

He died at home, in pain, although realistically, his last few hours were spent comatose. That doesn’t matter.  He became comatose while the family was trying to get help, they didn’t say their good-byes, and from their view, his last hours were spent in pain.  The author I suspect felt guilty that she failed her father, that she didn’t say good-bye, and that his last hours were so difficult.  That I can relate to.  My parents both died quickly and not in pain, but I still felt guilty about what I did and did not do.

This death should have been easier, recognizing that dying is not easy for any loved one.  The man should have had plenty of pain medicine available and the family needed to know how to give it.  We have a major problem with pain in this country: on one hand, we allowed an opioid epidemic to occur based on the idea that pain was a 5th vital sign, which it never should have become.  Chronic pain, especially “failed back syndrome,” should not be treated with narcotics, because they don’t work and risk addiction. I still am astounded the medical community and accrediting companies once felt that no patient should suffer pain.

On the other hand, we often under treat cancer pain, thinking, inappropriately, that patients will become addicted.  They won’t. This sort of pain does not lead to addiction; the patients will soon die. They should receive whatever necessary for their pain, even if it suppresses their breathing so that they may get pneumonia or even die.  I thought we had dealt with this issue forty years ago.  Palliative medicine specialists have told me that it is possible to deal with end of life pain without using Death With (DWD) laws, such as in Oregon and four other states.

I disagree, know of those who saw the deterioration of their body, felt the pain, and did not want to go through the long, difficult natural process of death.  I respect that; much of medicine is determining where nature should and should not take her course.

Nobody from palliative care physician saw this man in his final hours. The author wrote that she was never aware that 24/7 care was based on staffing, not a promise, as she had been led to believe.  Hospices self-evaluate their pain management, and this hospice weighed in at 56 per cent.  The head of the National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization was quoted as saying that “good hospice experiences ‘far outweigh’ bad ones.”  Their organization should remain silent on DWD until they have their act fully together on the “bad ones.”

End-of-life care is difficult, although there is lack of pressure of finding a cure or healing. The problems here were lack of planning, limited staffing, lack of follow-up, and lack of family education, to name four.  This man was close to death, since with virtually no care, he survived 22 hours after the crisis started.  It wasn’t like he would require many resources.

Am I being too hard on my colleagues?  No.  Do I have a bone to pick with some?  Yes.  Stories like this are likely to increase as more hospices become for profit, for staffing cuts are easier to make than system fixes that can address problems.  I know such, because I bet my latter medical career on helping medical personnel fix bad systems, and I lost. With family education and a morphine pump, this man would likely have had a peaceful death.

Back to DWD:  at their time of choosing, alone or with others, those who have been suitably screened want to be able to say “no more” and take something that puts them into a coma where they will die. This has been vigorously resisted as “assisted suicide,” but such  is pejorative, because the word “suicide” is interpreted to mean an otherwise healthy (but depressed, perhaps) individual ends their life and would not be expected to die soon. Instead of allowing someone to choose their peaceful end surrounded by family, we admit some terminally ill patients to hospitals, pump on their chests, do heroics, ignore Durable Power of Attorney papers, leading some, as the husband of a patient I once consulted upon to commit murder-suicide, dying alone.

I read about the double death weeks after I saw the woman.  She had a metastatic brain tumor, the treatment was minimal, other than radiation, which was going to buy her a short period of time. Her husband challenged me that if I couldn’t do anything, he would take care of the matter. They both survived the concentration camps but not cancer. Yes, we all have to die, but there are good deaths and bad deaths.  Theirs were bad.

DWD is for those who want control over the end of their days and don’t want to take their chances with hospices, whose care has more variability than it should, especially with the rise of for profits.  DWD has many safeguards, with two physicians—one not a treating one—certifying that the patient qualifies, and then having a prescription written for usually a barbiturate.  The patients are followed by volunteers, on call, who will be there if desired if the patient is ready to die.  Since 1997, since the law was passed, 1250 people have died using it.  One-third of the people who get the drug never use it, dying naturally.  The “thousands who would die” took twenty years to reach 1000, and every year in the state, 32,000 natural deaths occur.  Those are the facts.  DWD is fewer than 0.02% of the natural deaths in Oregon.

Richard Rettig, a medical historian, wrote, “the moral cost of failing to provide lifesaving care was deemed to be greater than the financial cost of doing so.”  He was referring to ESRD (End Stage Renal Disease), why dialysis is covered by Medicare.

The moral cost of failing to provide end of life care is greater than the financial cost of doing it.

I’ve looked at the Hospice Data Collection, and I don’t see anywhere how anyone determines the patient died a “good death.”  A German movie I know defined ein Schöner Tod (a good death) as not dying alone. I would add adequate control of pain, patient and family’s questions answered, no system failures in the final week of the patient’s life, and not dying alone.

ENDING TALK, BEGINNING ACTION

January 5, 2018

“When are you going to stop talking about the hike and actually do it?”  Dave, one of the hiking club’s officers, was ribbing me about a hike I was planning to do in Eugene.  We have two major mountains of sorts, Spencer Butte in South Eugene, which rises 1700 feet from the valley floor to about 2200 feet, and Mt. Pisgah to the east, rising 1000 feet to about 1500.  Most people in Eugene are either Pisgah lovers or Spencer Butte lovers.  I am firmly in the latter camp.  The Butte has better woods, more significant climbing, and better views of the Cascade and Coast Ranges.

The Butte also is part of the Ridgeline Trail System, which is about 6+ miles east to west, with three spur trails leading to city roads for easy access.  Pisgah has more trails but more difficult access.  I can take the bus to trails that lead to Spencer Butte and the Ridgeline system; I have to drive to Pisgah to hike its savannah-like trails.  Or do I?

Dave had recently led a hike from the Ridgeline into Suzanne Arlie Park, an area that has some power lines and buried natural gas lines, but also a 1920s ruin of a homestead, and a nice oak forest, too.  More importantly, during that hike, I saw Pisgah many times, and when we exited at Lane Community College (LCC), much closer to Pisgah, I got the germ of an idea. We usually hiked one mountain or the other.  Sometimes, the full Moon evening hike up Pisgah coincided with our conditioning hike up the Butte in the morning, so we hiked both, several hours apart.

I had something larger in mind: I wanted to hike both the same day without driving between them.  It’s part of a grander scheme I have of seeing the Eugene to the Pacific Crest Trail completed, so one can hike from Eugene to the PCT.  There is a sign in Eugene: “Waldo Lake, 94 miles,” but there is no trail between Eugene and Lowell, about 14 miles to the east.  Mt. Pisgah is far enough outside of Eugene to allow one to see to Lowell, and if one could walk in town to a trailhead to the Ridgeline, then to Pisgah, well, there might be hope for other trail segments.  Dave, who does a lot of trail maintenance in the Cascades, has an interest in this trail as well, and kept asking me when I was going to do both summits in one day in one hike.

I figured I would do it eventually, climbing Pisgah, descending, walking the busy country road back to a frontage road, crossing I-5, going through LCC, picking up the trail through Suzanne Arlie Park to the Ridgeline, and eventually finishing.

One night, lying awake at 2 am, the idea hit me.  I was leading two hikes on New Years’ Day, maybe a Club first.  I would lead the hike up Spencer Butte from the west side, split off from the group going back to the cars, and then hike the Ridgeline west, the opposite direction to what I had planned, to Mt. Pisgah, then lead the hike up it in the afternoon.  The more I thought about the idea, the better I liked it.  I figured the mileage between 16 and 17, the starting time was later than usual, which was good, and the full Moon’s rising that night was early, since it was New Years’ Day, and winter full Moons rise earlier. I thought I had enough time to walk from one to the other but not so much time so that I would wait long.  I had been through Suzanne Arlie Park only once, so I took my GPS, mostly to let me know where I was in relation to LCC.

Two days before, I led a difficult conditioning hike up the Butte, and the day prior, I was on my feet 3 hours leading a walk through the riverwalk’s 1:1 billion solar system model.  I had been standing and walking more than I had wanted, but I was still planning to go.  The night before, Steve, one of the newer members, wanted to know if he could join me.  I wanted to do the hike myself, but Steve was a solid hiker and it would be good to have a second person along.

At 8 am on New Years’ Day, I left my car at Pisgah, and a friend drove me to the other side of town to start the hike up the Butte in foggy conditions.  We summited at 10, joining 30 other Club members, and after 15 minutes in bright sunshine, Steve and I left the group, hiked down to the Ridgeline Trail, and arrived an hour later at the poorly marked trail into Suzanne Arlie Park.  We hiked downhill in deep fog, through the woods, breaking out in an oak savannah.  With a little effort, we found our way through the park, and after 3 miles, reached LCC.  I had some food and we then walked out of the college’s parking lot, across I-5, stopping at a Shell station.  It was cold, foggy, and windy.  Ahead of schedule, we spent about an hour there, off our feet, getting warm, then left and walked the road to the Pisgah trailhead.  After 13 miles of hiking, we were at the base of the second mountain, needing only to wait for the group hiking Pisgah to arrive.

After they did, we started up.  Climbing again after climbing, descending, walking, and sitting, is not easy, but Steve and I both felt remarkably good.  Pisgah is a steeper but shorter hike than the Butte, and we were at the fog line on top, where I could see across to Spencer Butte, over a line of thick clouds.

Right on cue, the full Moon rose near Middle Sister far to the east, then everything was obscured by fog.  Our group of 20 had enough, and we headed down to the cars.  We had done the hike between the mountains and up both.  It was 16.3 miles, had 3000’ vertical, not difficult, and showed that it was possible to cross Eugene mostly on trails, and safely well off a road.

I’m not sure how we’re going to get to Lowell and to do the other hikes necessary to connect to the PCT, but I’m going to start looking.

Spencer Butte from Mt. Pisgah

LIFE EXPERIMENTS

December 27, 2017

“Experimentation is an act of humility, an acknowledgment that there is simply no way of knowing without trying something different.”  Sendhil Mullainathan

I read this in the New York Times, somewhat surprised by that Mr. Mullainathan had yet to perform the experiment that he said would be an act of humility.  The experiment was whether or not to change the diet soda he was drinking, that’s all.  He did mention an example of a brief tube strike in London; when it ended, about one in 20 riders had found different means to get to work and got there faster.  The others resumed their old ways.  I don’t consider changing diet soda’s being a significant life experiment, but then again, I’ve kept shirts for 25 years.

Experimenting is a life style choice, not necessarily a virtue: my wife has had two major interests, aside from me and our cats.  The first is horses, which has been as close to lifelong as could be possible; the second, radiology, she spent 40 years doing before retiring.  Many of the new things she tried were through me, but horses and films are her world, where she has been content and extremely competent in both.  She is exceedingly good at considering new alternatives when I bring up issues in my life, priorities, or time.  Her father took up hobbies of carpentry, gardening, sailing and golf.  He tried them long enough until he was comfortable with his competence, and then he did something new.

I’m the same way.  I admit it takes me a while to change computers, morning habits, or routes to places I commonly go.  Habits are an efficient way to get things done, and most of my life I have had to be efficient.

When it comes to experimentation, however, I go far beyond what kind of diet soda I drink (none, for I gave it up years ago).  I even go beyond the experimentation with becoming vegetarian, which was a big change in my life 27 years ago, but hardly the biggest.  Or doing without caffeine and even alcohol.

In 1984, I saw three bright planets in the sky, thought others probably saw them as well and might wonder what they were. I wrote the newspaper, asking if they were interested in an astronomy column.  Not hearing back, which didn’t surprise me, I wrote again and finally called, reaching a staff member who asked for 3 different length columns, which I submitted for consideration.  I ended up writing 750 columns, self-illustrated, over a 20 year period.  I had no formal training in astronomy, but I knew how to observe, write, and find answers to questions, even before the Internet.

A few years later, at 43, I decided, not on a whim, that I was going to take a 6 month leave of absence from a busy neurology-neurosurgery group to go volunteer for the US Forest Service as a wilderness ranger in the Boundary Waters of Minnesota.  I was going to be away from home, in a place where I had no reputation, nobody I knew, and a job I wasn’t at all sure I could do but thought I could and would like.  I suspect more than one of my colleagues thought I would be back at the office in a month, but I found I could do the work, loved it, became competent, stronger than ever before in my life, and left somewhat sad, because I knew I had a very special experience, one I would never repeat.

I then did another experiment after I returned when I changed jobs at the peak of my earning power.  I left practice to become medical director of a hospital, a hybrid individual neither physician nor administrator, distrusted by both groups.  I stayed in the role 5 1/2 years, grew, became interested in quality improvement, rising to vice president in both state and local medical societies, respected for the analytical knowledge and approach I brought to my job.

Lest one think that I went from one high powered job to another, without any risk of failure, I then undertook, at 49, one of the biggest “experiments” of all.  I bet my career on being able to become a Masters trained statistician who was also a physician.  To do that, I had to apply and get accepted at an out of state university, review calculus I hadn’t seen for 30 years, and then commute nearly 300 miles one way, every week, to be a graduate student, about as lowly as a medical student, for two years.

Somehow, I got through the first semester of Mathematical Statistics, my happening to know (in class) one day the integral of log (x) dx*, which the professor, later my advisor, told me, “I realized then you were for real.”  School wasn’t easy, and every night I cussed at integrals, matrices, computer programs, at the same time as I was teaching two days a week and caring for my class.

When I got my Masters, alas, I had not taken a course in marketing.  I found minimal work discovering I could understand “no” by the sound of the disinterested voice on the other end.  I failed economically, but by then, despite my bitterness at the medical community, which took me 5 years to get through, I looked for new opportunities and found them in several other fields.

I became interested in medical errors, their similarity to aviation with the exception that aviation had a system where one could learn from them, and back then medicine did not.  I wrote two bills for the Arizona legislature creating a reporting system for medical errors.  The bills died, but from that failure, I was asked to write a monthly column for the medical society.  I became a writer.  I wrote three different monthly columns at one point: astronomy and reasons we make errors being the two others.  I won the Creative Expression Award for Human Values in Neurology in 2003 and my article “Astronomy for Writers and Editors” was a finalist in the Writer’s Digest Competition.

I brought my math to bear in the public schools as a ten year volunteer, before becoming a substitute teacher for four years in one district, my statistical and real world knowledge of math helping me immensely with the students.

In 2008, I became a volunteer at Rowe Sanctuary in Nebraska, and two years later, after seeing my eleventh total solar eclipse with a German tour group, I decided to learn German. I had no idea I would teach people about cranes, see as many (17) total solar eclipses as I have, all over the world, and could learn, if only to the intermediate level, a foreign language.  I watch German Krimis (crime movies) for relaxation.

Life is to be lived.  I sometimes envy my wife, who is satisfied with a deep knowledge and love of horses. I have never been able to stick with an interest as long.  On the other hand, to any who might envy my interest in so many facets of the world, I say simply to keep your eyes and ears open, for opportunities are common but are not often announced.  Failure is a big, often recognized, opportunity. It is your life to live, and it is your decision—nobody else’s, unless you cede authority—to choose.  Finding yourself truly content is a sign you are probably living properly, regardless of whether you run “experiments.”

*log(x) dx is integrated by parts

u=log x; dv=dx

du=dx/x; v=x

From this, the result is uv-int(v*int(du))=xlog(x)-int(x*dx/x)=xlog(x)-x or x(log(x)-1) (+C).