Archive for the ‘Uncategorized’ Category

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS IS NOT JUST COW PIES

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual rights?  Or Common good?

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

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

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

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

Assuming birds matter.  Or the Sandhill Crane migration.

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

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

Perhaps there is no difference.  

PERIMETER HIKE AROUND THREE-FINGERED JACK

July 30, 2018

If I had left the house five minutes earlier, I would have been ahead of a group of too nicely dressed millennials out for a hike—or maybe a stroll, given their pace—and not listening to their chatter.  

I had a long hike ahead of me, 22 miles before me, new country to see.  

I had needed for some time to get out of the house and out of town for the day.  It had been a tough week with some animal issues, I had been alone, and I needed time for myself.  That happens occasionally, and I don’t feel guilty about leaving, only making sure when the time is available, I go.

I have a short but significant list of difficult hikes I want to do.  Last year, I hiked into Husband and Eileen Lakes through Linton Meadows, seeing a gem of a place on a 21.5 miler, most of which burned six weeks later. I was saddened, but at least I got to see it.  In September, I circumnavigated Waldo Lake, a shade over 20 miles, about the maximum distance I’ll do on a day hike, assuming there is not much elevation gain.  I’ve hiked 18 or 19 miles with 5000 feet of gain, and I was beat.  I’ve hiked the McKenzie River National Scenic Trail twice, 26.6 miles, but the trail descended 2000 feet.  The first two I did solo, in large part because of the latter hike, which had others along.  I learned that hiking long distances solo avoided the issues of…well, people.  

Anyway, I wanted to circumnavigate Three-fingered Jack, one of the high Cascade peaks, and I didn’t get to do it before the snow and the short days arrived last year.  While I had a sore knee which I should have left alone, the time I had was a Saturday, the last cool day for the foreseeable future, so I went, unfortunately at the moment in line behind a bunch of others and a loose dog on the Pacific Crest Trail, southbound, towards the west side of Three-fingered Jack, a jagged spire of rocks in the sky, not quite 8000’ high.  

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Three-fingered Jack from the Northeast, at Porcupine Peak, on the Pacific Crest Trail.

One of the hikers heard me and told everybody ahead to step aside.  I passed quietly, later admonishing myself for not thanking them.  I was focused.  During my AT (Appalachian Trail) hiking days, 20 years ago, I did nine 20 milers, including three in a row, by trying to get 10 miles done by 10, 14 by lunch.  I wouldn’t be doing that speed today, being 20 years older, but early miles on a cool morning means fewer miles later in the hot afternoon. I was carrying 3 liters of fluid and a water purifier, which I hoped not to use. 

I soon left the PCT headed east, well north of the mountain, through a large burn, which was the 2003 B and B fire, which burned 90,000 acres.  It was not coming back well, with only brushy madrone trees.  I worry that the policy of letting wilderness fires burn will lead to more of these places, since persistent drought and hotter weather is likely to change forest succession.  Ten miles to my northwest, Eight Lakes Basin was devastated by the same fire and hasn’t come back at all—almost no brush, no grass, nothing. 

Two and a half miles in, I reached Square Lake, surrounded by tree skeletons, took a picture and kept going.  For the next six miles, I went up and down in open madrone brush, by Booth Lake with decent views of what was probably once a stunningly beautiful area.  Af few trail runners were out, and  I passed a couple with backpacks.  Most of the upper mountain was hidden by steep escarpments on the east side, and I was glad I was doing this on a cool day, as well as having good sun protection and a wide-brimmed hat.  A couple of times, I wondered whether I should turn around, since it looked like the mileage was going to be significantly more than planned, but I hung in, continuing along the rocky trail, by an occasional flowing source of water, with lupines everywhere, the miles passing every 19 to 20 minutes.  Eventually, I left the wilderness at Jack Lake, entered a parking lot with kids with inner tubes and dogs.

I took a short break for fluid on the shore, then continued towards Canyon Creek Meadows.  It would have been nice to have taken the detour through it, but on a weekend, the trail would be crowded, and the extra two miles was not going to sit well with my left knee, which was already protesting.  

Crossing a rushing stream from the meadows, I approached a series of small lakes, ending in the larger Wasco Lake, where I took a trail up to a ridge at Minto Pass, back on the PCT some eleven miles from where I left it, north of Three-fingered Jack.  I stopped for lunch at a rocky outcrop with some nearby shade and splendid views of the lake below and Black Butte in the distance.  I ate, lay down, raising both legs on a nearby hemlock, enjoying the joy of not moving.

My climbing continued to Porcupine Peak, and the approach I have of reducing many things to numbers helped me immensely.  I had planned the trip with good topographical maps, one of which I had with me.  I also had a dedicated GPS unit plus another on my phone, which I recorded only occasionally.  I knew from my research that I would be climbing about 300 meters vertically, here, and with the altimeter on my watch, I knew how much I had done.  This knowledge aides me a great deal psychologically.  I passed several small ponds, views of Mt. Jefferson to my north, Marion Lake in the distance, which I had once hiked around, and the 23 mile Duffy Loop, which I had once hiked, to the south and west of Marion Lake.  

Suddenly, several familiar faces appeared on the trail, and I stopped to talk to some on a Club hike to Canyon Creek Meadows.  The leader wasn’t surprised to see me out there.  He knew I was thinking of doing the perimeter hike, and we chatted briefly.  He told me I didn’t have much more climbing left.  I told him there was a great lunch site above Wasco Lake.

The last climb to Porcupine Peak, at the north end of Three-fingered Jack, switchbacked up on rocky tread.  I glanced at my odometer.  It was going to be a longer day than I had planned, but at least it would be downhill from this point.  I passed high above a lake below, looking on the GPS at Santiam Lake, where I had hiked a year earlier.  Across from me, above the lake, was Maxwell Butte, 3 miles distant.  The more I hiked in this area, the more the wilderness areas became familiar, like old friends.  I also discovered new sights, like the large open meadow below me that I hadn’t appreciated the other time I had been up here.

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Maxwell Butte with Santiam Lake

 

I was passed by a pair of trail runners, and short time later came up on a man wearing earphones, who made some comment ending with “Buddy,” and whom I had to pass by walking off the trail.  Seemed like he wasn’t having a good day.  Down, down, down I went, out of the woods, into the old burn area again, along a long re-route of the PCT, down past a pond near the junction of where I went to Square Lake, with views of Mt. Washington, Belknap, and The Sisters to my south, back to Santiam Pass.  

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Mt. Washington (closest), North Sister left of Middle Sister, and the cone of Belknap Crater near Mt. Washington.  Broken Top is at the upper left

 

I won’t lead the hike for the Club, for it is a difficult exposed trek.  But I know what’s out there, and there are parts I do hope to see again.  I still have to get into Canyon Creek Meadows.

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Looking from the south towards Belknap Crater, left of center, Mt. Washington (pointed), Three-fingered Jack, Mt. Jefferson (snow covered), and Mt. Hood (distant, to right of Mt. Jefferson).  View from Collier Cone near the PCT and the Obsidian Loop Trail.

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The Sisters (Faith, or North Sister) on the left, Belknap Crater, the higher Mt. Washington, Big Lake, and Hayrick above it, right center.  Part of the B and B burn can be easily seen, along with the burn from the 2011 fire in Mt. Washington Wilderness in the distance.

 

NO SKIN IN THIS GAME

July 18, 2018

This year, for the first time in twenty years, I’ve been going to the gym to lift weights in order to strengthen my upper body.  Occasionally, I drive there, but it’s a short enough walk that does me good, going through Alton Baker Park, along the canoe canal, under I-5, into Springfield, through a quiet neighborhood, to the gym.  In summer, there is shade and wildflowers, and in fall there are some of the most beautiful colors in town. 

The workouts have helped me; I can do 20 push-ups now, rather than barely 12 a year ago.  It is said that the 60s are the time to build yourself up, the 70s to try to avoid damage.  I forgot what the 80s were for— probably making lists to avoid forgetting. In any case, the workouts have helped me, as a member of the High Cascade Volunteers, do the 2-man crosscut sawing of large blowdowns, some of the more difficult work I have done. Somebody has to hike into the woods with tools to clear wilderness trails, and its not like the Forest Service will be funded to do it.  It is good to be with a bunch of folks who like being in out of doors doing good work helping the land and serving people, the USFS motto.

On my way back home, I passed by some neighbors who were looking at grandchildren pictures.  I wonder what they think about how climate change will affect their grandchildren.  Do they care about it?  This is my generation’s legacy, their legacy, and I am ashamed of it.  Are they?

While I’m at it, are they worried about their own future?  What’s going to happen when Medicare is privatized (read: destroyed) and SSI disappears?  Voting mattered, you see, and well, those who didn’t vote, or played silly games with their vote, made sure the House and Senate went Republican back in 2014.  It mattered a lot at the state level, but down ballot candidates may be ignored.   Each day part of me hopes that if the country goes the wrong direction far enough, maybe many will be hurt so badly that they will finally decide that voting matters. That of course assumes that they still have the right to vote, currently in jeopardy, and they vote for the right candidates.

A guy I hike with, who voted for Jill Stein, so he could remain pure, I guess, decried the state of the country, too.  He didn’t like the fact that the Oregon congressional delegation pushes logging.  I don’t either, but they are a damn sight better than the “scientist” who runs every other year for Congress, who solicits people’s urine, because he is convinced he will cure a lot of disease with the knowledge. Or Greg Walden, who wrote the monstrous Republican health care bill. I told my friend that if he wants perfection, he should run himself. Perhaps if his VA disability check stops coming, he will realize that voting really does matter.  The perfectionism required by some Democrats is arguably as bad as any Republican.

Then I felt better when I remembered I have no skin in this game.  We have no children and no grandchildren. I volunteer at the community college, and I strongly believe in education, but if those with kids and grandkids aren’t worried about the climate, well, why should I be worried?  The country going in the wrong direction?  Yep. But my kids aren’t going to suffer, because I don’t have any.  

Since, we don’t have any daughters or grand-daughters, the fact that there will be loss of abortion rights and birth control leading to a lot of poverty, homelessness, and more stress isn’t directly going to affect me, only my email box, which gets a dozen requests daily to do something.  I’m no longer signing, marching, or calling.  Somebody else’s turn. 

I’m not a union member, nor is anybody in my family.  Not my problem. None of my small family is gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  A sixth of the gay population voted for Trump in 2016.  A sixth!! That is when I ceased worrying about their rights.   I wonder how many states that cost.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not at all friendly towards gays, which ought to be of major concern to that sixth.

Michigan can’t sell beef to China, now.  Wisconsin-based Harley is threatening to build factories in Europe, South Dakota farmers are complaining about where their soybeans will no longer go, and those are all red states.  Not my problem.  They made their bed.   Hell, the president sided with Putin against our intelligence services.  For my entire adult life—nearly half a century—I have heard how the Democrats were soft on communism.  Now the Republicans have cast their lots with the Devil so they can get a conservative agenda—except on Russia, apparently.

This administration destroys; the only thing it creates is chaos.  There’s a lot of that these days, hiding the real harm that is happening. 

My wife and I are planning on visiting Vancouver this year.  Sure, the climate is going to get worse there, too, just as it has in Oregon, but most of the predictions are for 2050 and 2080, which is a bit beyond my timeline  I don’t want to move, but if after these past eighteen months people won’t vote in Democrats, even with voter suppression and cheating that is going to require more votes than normal, then I don’t want to live in a Christian theocracy where a treasonous, morally bankrupt president gets a free pass from boorish slobs who still are fighting Hillary Clinton, blame Obama for every ill, worried about a deep state, guns, and UN conspiracies.  I don’t want to live in a place where people complain about migrants but don’t believe in the climate change that is fundamentally behind much of the reasons for the migration.  I don’t think the 4000 member attended National Prayer Breakfast, where a Russian spy found connections by the way, is something we ought to have.  I don’t want to live in a country where Christians are pushing their agenda in my local newspaper, which recently ran an ad from Hobby Lobby about “Blessed is the nation whose Lord is God.”  Hobby Lobby was a Supreme Court case basically saying that the for-profit company should not be required to provide birth control coverage to their employees, because they thought birth control is immoral. We may be headed for no Affordable Care Act, no birth control, and no abortion.  I wonder what that is going to do to the infant mortality, childhood development, and the death rate in general.  I know what will happen to bankruptcies.

I am at the age where “That was too young” won’t be said when I die.  It is always a shame when people die too young.  But so long as they weren’t aborted, then it really doesn’t appear to register to many in this “Blessed Nation” that a death is still a death.  

In short, the country I served in uniform 40+ years ago, the country in which I have lived for nearly 70, is rapidly becoming a country that doesn’t fit me.  But as I said, I’ve got no skin in this game.  I can take my marbles elsewhere, and I may do just that..

WHAT I DID TO REPLACE MY FACEBOOK TIME

June 18, 2018

     

Well, I haven’t completely left Facebook these past four months.  I still use Messenger and WhatsApp to help a few with their English, and with Messenger, I have to log on Facebook.  The two posts came from briefly—oh, so briefly—reading something before I clicked to go on Messenger.  That’s how Facebook sucks me in, and I’m not sure I’m alone in that regard.  One was a nice picture of a friend, the other a birthday.  

Still, I haven’t been on Facebook for four months. I was spending too much time there and was depressed by the news, the conspiracy theories, the religious and other Trump supporters with their double standards and terrible grammar, the requests to march, sign, donate, all the great things everybody else was doing that I wasn’t, and not liking some of the rather nasty comments I received, some of which were from friends.

It took 37 days before anybody wrote me asking if I were OK, which was heartening, longer before any of my friends whom I have actually met, noticed.  Indeed, had I not asked in person how a trip was, they might not have ever figured out I wasn’t logging on.  Messenger and WhatsApp are also Facebook owned, so I can’t say that I am boycotting the organization, much as I might like.  It reminds me of my brother’s comment about the UFW (the United Farm Workers, for those who are too young to remember) decades ago.  He said he wasn’t boycotting California produce because if he boycotted everything produced by right-wing farmers, he’d starve to death.  If I boycotted every communication corporation, I’d correspond with almost nobody.

It was nice that I hadn’t posted anything between 22 and 24 May, avoiding getting caught up in yet another of Facebook’s many data compromises that somehow keep on occurring.  

Mornings, I now spend 45 minutes reading the major articles and the online opinions in The New York Times.  I don’t agree with all of the commentators by any means, but they are far better than the comments I read on Facebook.  Besides, if I go to a news site from Facebook, I can guarantee I will start getting spam emails that same day which will require my going in, unsubscribing, and being told it will be 10 business days (read: three weeks, since Fridays and Mondays are not devoted to business other than leaving early or catching up) before the emails disappear.

In conversations with my wife and friends, I often quote one of the articles. I get facts, which I don’t need to check, add a “like” or comment.  I read interesting articles, avoid time wasting videos and the commentary below, thereby avoiding many arguments with those whom I think are wrong but will never admit it. I like the Times’ op-eds, the regular columnists, superb journalists.  I understand what is going on in the world, the problem with Tasers we don’t hear about, mindfulness meditation, differences in metabolism, why indigestible oligosaccharides are important in infants (the gut biome) and why waist size is important. 

I no longer worry about posting what I have done, a time-consuming process that led to answering comments or spending irreplaceable minutes seeing who liked it, which didn’t matter, but somehow I let myself get caught up in it. I try to do a brief meditation in the morning and evening, because the Times had a good article about it with recordings I could download and play back at my convenience.  

I spend maybe twenty minutes on weather models I have access to.  I finally have the European Medium Range Model (ECMWF) which along with the Global Forecast (GFS) gives me an excellent idea of what is coming weather-wise long before I read about it.  I’ve made significant progress as a amateur meteorologist, but there is still much I have to learn.

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GFS model for late 18 June 2018 showing cyclonic circulation (upper level low pressure) over southern Idaho with NE wind flow (blue arrows) that has already produced precipitation in western Oregon and which will will produce northern Rockies precipitation in the coming days.  The numbers are dekameters where 500 mB pressure (half the normal atmospheric pressure) is located.

I have time to get caught up on The New Yorker, Outside, Astronomy, and High Country News.  Sometimes I download books to the Kindle.  I discover books I am interested in by reading a lot; I tend to automatically turn off when somebody tells me “I should read….”  If I took everybody’s reading advice, I wouldn’t do anything else with my life.  

I’m not sure Facebook has anything to do with the fact that I am not leading as many hikes this year for the Club.  Either way, that is good for me.  I’m not taking as many group hikes, either, because I don’t know what I am getting into on a hike led by someone else unless I know the area where we are going.  Mileage can be wrong, more hiking can be added, and unplanned stops at bars or restaurants on the way home make it impossible for me to plan, and I like to plan. It’s difficult for a few who count on me to lead something so they can go outside, but they can go anytime, just like me. I’m starting to do trail work occasionally with the High Cascade Volunteers, and I have adopted a Cascade trail.  This is important, worthwhile work with good people trying to care for public land in a time of scarce resources.

I’ve become a better naturalist.  On my 4 mile walk through Alton Baker Park today, I identified  31 species of wildflowers.  So far this year, I have 109 on my list; only 18 of them I would have known last year.  That’s fun.  I saw a beautiful Spotted Towhee yesterday, instead of just hearing the zzzssst.  Today I saw crows dive bombing a hawk, a pair of Osprey high overhead, and a Steller’s Jay down at the river, an unusual place for one.  Next week I will do some trail clearing in the Three Sisters Wilderness and some trail scouting for clearing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  There’s a whole world out there to learn more about.

Inside, I keep my German alive with my daily crime video. I spend time with online bridge, where I am learning to count the hand, something not nearly as easy to do as experts think.  Counting the hand requires speed, which most experts can do automatically, but those of us slow processors require time.  By playing hands on a computer, I can swear at a partner who doesn’t exist or complain about bad suit breaks without appearing as a total ass.  If and when I can play and accept the bad with grace, I will be both a better person and ready to join others in duplicate.  I’m not ready, but I am making progress.  

Return to Facebook?  We’ll see.  Right now I am trying to help my corner of the world by keeping it beautiful, enjoying it, be it hiking, backpacking, canoeing, adopting trails, picking up litter, tutoring students in math, keeping my German alive, tipping generously, giving cats a home when we have a vacancy, and making sure I am doing those things that optimize my health as I understand the science. There’s plenty to do, and as I soon begin my eighth decade, I need to turn to.

REPORT FILED, NOT READ: “PEOPLE ARE BUSY”

June 4, 2018

My wife and I have devoted a significant portion of our lives to our many indoor cats.  We have given nineteen a home; each has taught us unconditional love—well, conditional on being fed promptly, perhaps.  We don’t expect others to understand that we need to line up good care for them should we travel:  it just can’t be “have the neighbor feed them,” which one person suggested, or “once a day stopping in,” as another thought.  The litter boxes need to be taken care of, and if one becomes ill, we need to have someone be willing to take the cat to the vet.

Veterinary care is expensive, and we don’t have insurance, because most of the conditions we would insure for are pre-existing.  Veterinary care is expensive, with key differences being usually getting called afterward to see how the animal is doing as well as being told upfront what the costs will be.  Also, people are expected to pay at the time of service.

Unfortunately, sometimes errors are made, which is something in common with human medicine.  

HC (Hors Categorie, from the cycling term of a very steep climb, “outside category”) was found abandoned in an apartment building in Tucson back in 2005 and arrived at our house a month after the sudden death of one of ours.  No cat “replaces” another, but when one dies, there is a vacancy, and there are far too many cats needing a home.  HC was a silver-gray guy, very quiet, and from day 1 never got along with Gryff, who lived to attack him.  So, he spent a decade in three different rooms, avoiding all other cats.  

After Gryff died a year ago, HC gradually started exploring the house, becoming a little more social.  He had almost no voice, so he just appeared, giving him the nickname “The Gray Ghost.”  

In 2015, he had an elevated SDMA suggesting the possibility of renal disease, and earlier this year he had an elevated creatinine of about 3.  We started giving him fluids and treating his associated hypertension.  In March, he started passing blood on the outside of his stool, which had become hard, suggesting maybe a fissure.  Then he stopped passing stool altogether.  We took him to an emergency center where an X-Ray was taken and he had a tap water enema, which didn’t do much.  We started Miralax and eventually he passed rock hard stools with some more bleeding.

He went back to emergency again, and the repeat X-Ray showed movement of the stool.  The radiologist’s report of the prior X-Ray showed was not told us. There was loss of serosal (outer membrane) detail and a suggestion of mucosal thickening consistent with possible colitis, pancreatitis, and even carcinomatosis.  An ultrasound was recommended.  We didn’t know any of this.

For the next two months, HC passed small caliber stools but was eating and comfortable.  He lost a little weight.  He again became obstipated in May and taken to our local vet, who also had received the first X-Ray report, but we didn’t know that, either.  HC received a stronger enema which led to full-blown diarrhea that night, constant leakage and exhaustion so bad that he fell asleep in his stool on the carpet.  Much later, we woke him and cleaned him with Dawn (it’s better for cats).  He then slept for another 12 hours.  He wasn’t eating.  

We were going on a trip across country which had been planned for several months.  We planned to have HC stay with a cat nurse, who had veterinary training, could board cats and give fluids and medication.  But the morning we were to leave, we were concerned enough about HC’s leakage that we took him to the emergency center.  I raised the possibility of a primary colon problem, but both the local vet and again the vet at the emergency center thought this was due to renal failure.  We thought that odd, since the creatinine elevation was modest; we have had several cats die from renal failure, and none had been obstipated.  But, we deferred to experts.  An ultrasound was not recommended, although had anyone looked at the chart they would have seen an X-Ray report from two months earlier recommending one.  HC’s colon continued to leak, and his renal function wasn’t quite as good, but he was thought to be able to be cared for at the cat nurse’s house.

We dropped HC off and left, not with a great feeling, but hoping things would gradually improve after the last enema.  They did for about three days, then he started having diarrhea again and was taken back to the emergency center.  For the next four days we had calls to the veterinary hospital.  Emails were occasional and difficult to download where we were at.  Replying was impossible.  Interspersed were cost estimates—well in four figures—as well as some frustration that each communication was with a different veterinarian.  

It wasn’t until the third day that we realized that the staff was treating HC as a renal failure cat, completely focused on that.  Only that day was an ultrasound performed that showed bowel mucosal thickening as well as pancreatitis.  A feeding tube was passed, and I was wondering how far we were going to take all of this.  It wasn’t the costs, but it was what we were doing to HC.  The final day started with a comment that he was a little better, barely eating, but HC wasn’t going to get better.  His numbers were not bad, but his condition was.  He could look forward—at best—to leaving there with a tube and tube feedings.  He would hate it and so would we.  And he would obstruct again, and that was assuming his pancreatitis could be treated. He also had a significant heart murmur.  

No, it was time to stop.  We both felt guilty about it, but not because we stopped but because we continued as long as we had. 

Perhaps had someone read the radiologist’s report—the two times we were at the hospital and the one time at the clinic—we would have realized what we were up against.  Or, I should say, they would have realized, since we felt all along that this was a primary bowel issue.

To those who know me well, it must be tiring to hear me rant about medical errors and the need to fix faulty systems.  Well, the errors have affected both me and my whole family.  I have ranted about poor communication in medicine, to stop important matters from falling through the cracks.  When my father was alive, he would tell me to calm down, saying “people are busy.”  Well, if people are busy, judging by the condition of medical care, too many are busy doing the wrong things.

I now am writing the vet hospital director, whom I know, to let her know what happened in hopes that somebody will learn from this issue without getting defensive.  I’m not optimistic. I don’t know what I will do with the veterinary clinic.  If they bring it up, I will mention it.  I just don’t want my care compromised because I spoke up.  I shouldn’t feel that way, but I do.  I’d like somebody to learn, including the young vet who got my wife’s call about the cat’s not eating and told the tech to tell her to wait another day.  That’s a recipe for Feline Hepatic Lipidosis.

I will meet HC at the Rainbow Bridge.  And he will probably wonder why I was so cruel to him in his final days.

“LET ME DO THE FEELING”

May 10, 2018

It’s a bit strange to be walking uphill alone on an empty major highway: Oregon 242 is closed most of the year except summer; in May it is open only to bicyclists, four of whom I had seen rocketing downhill in the opposite direction on the yellow, pollen-stained asphalt.  They probably started in Sisters and had just descended from the volcanic zone, where in two months I would spend time hiking and camping.  

Today, I was taking an afternoon hike after a day at the “High Cascade Volunteer Trails College” where I was camped out along with ninety others, to learn about trail maintenance, crosscut and chain saws, first aid, GPS, the Pacific Crest Trail Association, and the High Cascade Volunteers, for whom I do occasional work.  I was taking two days of trail maintenance courses and had time that afternoon to try to walk up to Proxy Falls Trailhead, three miles from the camp.  I thought I might be able to, but there wasn’t quite enough time, so I turned around on the quiet road, which cut a path deep through the Douglas fir woods, and began returning.  

A half mile later, enjoying the slight downhill grade, I saw a bicyclist riding towards me.  He had a hard climb ahead and 20 miles to go to Sisters.  He said hi and then stopped, asking if I had some water.  Wow, I thought.  Until he hits the snow level, and that’s going to be a while, he won’t be drinking at all.  I always hike with my day pack, because there always a chance I might need to spend the night out alone.  My water bottle was full, and I emptied it into his bike bottle.  The water would be gone in ten miles, but by then, the difficult part of his return would be over, too.  I was a former road biker until an accident left me with three broken ribs and a broken scapula, and I gave up riding.  I thought of how much I would enjoy trying to ride uphill on this road, but only now, when bicyclists alone could use it, not cars.

After my return, before dinner, many of us attendees were chatting on the deck outside the dining hall at the rustic White Branch church camp.  I was talking to the first aid instructor, who also had roped me into maintaining one of the wilderness trails near Willamette Pass for snowshoeing and cross-country skiing.   Additionally, my volunteering had me occasionally scouting trails for the Scorpions, a local group, meaning I looked for fallen trees that blocked the trail—blowdowns—took pictures and  obtained GPS coordinates so they knew whom to send out and with what equipment to open up the trail, calling “logging out.”  I’ve been on one of their work parties, and the hike alone to the work area was arduous enough, let alone the subsequent work, and I am well known in my hiking group for leading difficult hikes.   

 

My work this year had been good—the pictures helped one work party in Drift Creek Wilderness a great deal to avoid carrying too much equipment an extra mile and a half uphill, and they made a different approach on Mount Hardesty than planned to log out an area, based on what I had sent them.  I admired guys my age and older who did this one day a week. I sort of felt like a member, but I sort of didn’t.  While my volunteer hours, posted on a big list, put me in the upper half of the 631 volunteers, I didn’t feel like part of the group.  It was a bit strange.

The last time I had such a strange sensation was when I scouted for my high school basketball team fifty-two years ago.  After the season’s end—very successful—I was invited to the banquet by the coach.  When I said I didn’t feel like part of the team, I never forgot his reply:  “Let me do the feeling.”  I went.

While on the deck, an older man came towards us.  He called me by first name, which surprised me, because my name tag had long since disappeared after a day of trail maintenance.  I knew he was probably Ron, head of the Scorpions, a trail clearing crew, and a legend in these parts.  Actually, I was stunned he came over, since I didn’t see my role as being particularly important. Somebody must have told him who I was.  Ron obviously felt differently, thanking me for the work I had done scouting Drift Creek Wilderness, on the coast, where one very wet day I soloed in several miles and took pictures of many blowdowns.  We talked about Hardesty, where I took pictures while leading a 16 mile club hike with nearly a mile of vertical elevation gain.  

At dinner later, I ended up speaking with a man from Hood River who had fought fires.  We got into discussions about South Canyon and Thirty Mile fires, and he was interested in my visit to the Thirty Mile Fire memorial.  He thought I had fought fires, but my experience was limited to a controlled burn about twenty-five years earlier in the Minnesota wilderness.  I talked about how errors in firefighting, like errors in medicine, caused preventable deaths, injuries and misery.

After dinner, there was a brief talk by the Forest Supervisor, who thanked everybody for coming.   Then, a few other group leaders spoke.  Ron represented the Scorpions, and as he stood up, he asked all Scorpion members present to stand.  I saw four others getting up. 

This was the basketball team issue years ago, coming right back at me.  I stood up, very briefly, very self conscious, and immediately sat back down.

Ron, however, twenty feet away, was looking right at me.  He took his hands and motioned in an upward fashion.  He didn’t say anything, but I thought I could have heard, “Let me do the feeling.”  I stood up, still self-conscious, but realizing I was a member of the group.  

The guy who hikes in on a wet day—or any other day—to take pictures of, take coordinates of, and measure blowdowns saves the rest of the group unnecessary hiking and carrying of heavy equipment.  In the wilderness, 2-man crosscut saws, not chain saws, are required.  We carry Pulaskis, MacLeods, occasional rock bars, shovels, and other tools as well.  My report saved the crew having to carry a heavy saw an extra 3 miles in Drift Creek, at Hardesty on two occasions, and at Crescent Mountain.  I have hiked in with them; I have cut out blowdowns, and I have helped push, with my legs, 48 inch diameter logs off a trail.  My blue diamonds on the trees on Tait’s Loop trail guide skiers and snowshoers to the right place. I was a member of the group.  

I thought of the bicyclist a few hours earlier, now presumably across McKenzie Pass and back in  Sisters.  My water helped him. It was great I could do something for the Scorpions.  I was pleased that I had learned to carry important gear when I was on the trail, even if the trail was a two lane road not open to traffic.  It mattered that day.

I am normally not much to think about karma, but in the space of two hours, I had two significant experiences where giving mattered significantly to others, certainly more than it seemed to mean to me.  In turn, I received significant complements which I suspect mattered more to me than the giver might have thought.

It’s just that sometimes it takes me a half century to fully understand some things.

SOLO SNOWSHOE

April 30, 2018

I stood in my snowshoes on the side of a snow-covered hill, deep in the woods north of Willamette Pass, near the Pacific Crest Trail (PCT), but not sure where it was.

That was a problem.  I was 5 miles from the road, alone, glad I had a GPS.  I had two choices: retrace my steps, which were easily visible in deep snow, 8 miles back to where I started, or keep going a shorter distance, but unmarked, trusting in the GPS that I was a half mile from familiar Upper Rosary Lake.

“My best hikes are the ones I do solo,” put me in this situation.  I recently blurted those words to some hiking friends, a few of whom had been on many of the 135 hikes I have led as part of the Club.  The one person in my life who doesn’t lecture me on hiking alone is my wife.  I’m sure she would feel better if I hiked with another person.  Or not.  She knows my best hikes are solo. I would rather lead hikes than be a participant.  I’d still prefer being solo.

One of the reasons I did this snowshoe was her comment the night before, “This is the kind of hike you like doing.”  She’s right. I’ve done three 20 milers alone here in Oregon, plus more than ten others pushing 20 miles, and they were great.  I had never snowshoed more than ten.

Anyway, it was a Thursday, and I had driven southeast past Oakridge up into the Cascades.  I had snowshoed two weeks earlier with a friend in Gold Lake Sno-Park.  We got to Bechtel Shelter, having lunch at Odell Lake Overlook.  It was a good snowshoe—just under 6 miles with a modest elevation gain of about 500 feet—and my hiking partner said that was his last snowshoe of the year.

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Odell Lake Overlook

While it was April, we had continued cool weather in the mountains along with some snow.  I wanted to see Maiden Peak Shelter, one mostly for cross-country skiers, because of its distance, 11.5 miles roundtrip.  I thought it could be done on snowshoes, and with a little more effort, maybe even a loop.  Nobody was going to do it with me, and the thought messed with my mind long enough until I decided abruptly on Wednesday I was going to do it.  I told my wife my planned route, other routes I might take, the time I should be done, and the time to start making calls.  

The weather was clear, not cold, with a forecast of some snow flurries, and I arrived at Gold Lake Sno-Park before 9.  Sno-Parks are public facilities with trails for skiers and snowshoers.   Many have shelters built by volunteers, for day or overnight use.  One has to buy a winter permit ($25) or can pay $5 for a day pass.  Nobody was there in late April.  Last year, I had had my best and last snowshoe on May 2.  Nobody was out there, either.

I wasn’t going to snowshoe at the Sno-Park this time, crossing Highway 58 to get on Gold Lake Road.  The snow wasn’t too deep, but a past skier’s tracks were better for me to use.  Normally, one should not snowshoe on ski tracks, but this time of year I wasn’t going to quibble, and I doubted I would see many skiers or snowshoers.  While cool, I started without my rain jacket.  I tell people at the start of a difficult hike if they are warm, they have too much on.  I would be warm on this one.

About 1.6 miles in, the Maiden Peak trail began by a hairpin bend off the road.  Several tracks showed where people had cut the switchback in snow, and while that shouldn’t be done on bare ground, it is fine in winter.  I did that and took a brief drink break. Seven of my 8 Afib episodes have begun during or right after a hike, and I finally wondered whether dehydration and lack of food might be a trigger.  Left to my own devices, I will hike miles without drinking in Oregon.  I bought some Gatorade and have made myself drink every few miles, no more than an hour without drinking.

Fuji Mountain from Maiden Peak Trail

Fuji Mountain from Maiden Peak Trail

The trail was flat for another mile and then climbed steeply from Skyline Creek to the Pacific Crest Trail, where the ski tracks went straight and I turned south. Now at 6000’, having climbed over a thousand, the snow was deeper.  I gained more elevation, passing some tree wells on an angle, which I carefully avoided, since falling into the conical well, with the trunk at the center, was a significant risk to me.  I was in the right place, but the mileage seemed less than expected, so I wasn’t totally certain I was on the path to the shelter.  Finally, after 5.3 miles, I saw a sign pointing left to the shelter.  While it wasn’t obvious, I found it soon enough,  a nice, closed well-built structure at the edge of a meadow.  This wasn’t a three-sided open one, as many are, but a closed roomy one with even a loft.

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Maiden Peak Shelter

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Maiden Peak Shelter.  There is a stove, wood, and the ladder to the loft is visible

I entered it, snowshoes still on, sat down, and had a quick lunch.  I wasn’t tired, but I needed a break before the afternoon return.  I had two choices, return the way I came or keep heading south to the Rosary Lakes, where I had been three other times this winter.  One way, I would have my tracks to help, the other way I would probably (I hoped) pick up tracks at the Rosary Lakes, making my trip easier.  I chose the latter.

There are blue diamonds attached to trees for snowshoe trails, put high enough because one is standing on snow, well off the forest floor, the ground often covered with several feet of snow.  I have adopted one such trail in the area where it is my responsibility to see that the diamonds are up.  So far, I had done well with the diamonds showing a clear path, but a half mile after lunch, I “ran out of diamonds.”  That put me in the situation, not on the trail, becoming fatigued, toying with the idea of returning the way I came, but wanting to continue.

Even if I reached my first goal, Upper Rosary Lake, I would have 4 more miles just to get to the road, which was another mile from my car.  My GPS showed that the best route to take was along a contour, and my watch altimeter would help keep me there.  After 15 minutes of slogging, I finally saw familiar terrain and the lake ahead and below me.  To my disappointment, there were no tracks, which would have made it easier.  Snowshoeing in moderately deep untracked snow, which I had done for the past 4 miles, is difficult, and I would do it for the next four.  I thought briefly about climbing to Tait’s Loop, my adopted trail, but decided I had done enough climbing. As if to second the notion, my legs cramping, despite my hydration, and that sealed my decision. Rather than taking switchbacks to the lake, I went straight downhill to it.

I elected to walk on the snow-covered lake along the shoreline, needing something flat on which to walk for a while.  At the far end, I took the short path to Middle Rosary, did the same thing, and then left it and went over the small hill to Lower Rosary, where I had to walk in the woods, since the ice was clearly too thin.  At the far end, I left the lake and had a 3 mile snowshoe slightly downhill back to Highway 58.  I was slower, but I was no longer cramping.

I reached Highway 58 after 11.5 miles, still having a mile walk on pavement to the car.  I could deal with that.  I had done a loop, seen a shelter, three lakes, was on the PCT (at least part of it), got off trail, navigated to a familiar place, and got myself back to the car.  Great snowshoe.  Solitude is good.  I won’t be able to do this much longer in my life.

But I did it once.  

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Pulpit Rock from Upper Rosary Lake

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.

Santiam Lake

Santiam Lake and Three-fingered Jack, June 2017.