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SEVENTY BEFORE SEVENTY

September 28, 2018

“He is thirty-three years old. He’d like to think the next thirty-three years will be like the last ones.… Besides, he can count on the fingers of one hand the number of sixty-six year-olds he’s seen in the woods.” from Sam Cook

I stood on a large area of granite and quartz that I last visited 26 years ago, the summer I was a volunteer Wilderness Canoe Ranger in the Boundary Waters. I even remember calling this the “purple panty site,” finding a broken bottle of wine and a pair of purple panties at the base of the cliff. The old fire grate had been set on the granite, when rangers used to fly in and use air drills to fix the metal grate in place. There were now four small pieces of metal protruding from the rock marking its former location, the new grate set in soil a few yards away. We had picked up a literal boat load of trash from the 51 campsites we visited on West Basswood, using a boat with an 8 hp Yamaha motor to patrol the large area. The Fourth of July that cool, rainy summer, nobody was out here, and we camped half mile to the southeast of where I camped this year. We even were able to float the creek from Jackfish to Pipestone Bays, saving 8 miles of motoring and felt really good about doing it. That creek hasn’t been navigable for years and must be portaged around.

Twenty-six years ago, I could paddle all day long, pitch camp in an hour and break camp in the morning, including breakfast, in 40 minutes. I could hit shore, have my back pack on, the canoe on my head in a half minute and load the canoe at the other end in half that time. I wanted to see all that country, and I did pretty well at doing so, more than three hundred lakes and an equal number of nights spent out there.

This year, I was solo, like many times back then, but now needing two trips across the portage, not one, using more care to unload and load, but doing it wearing rubber boots, which allow me to stand in water to load and unload. I wore more clothing, too, not only because it was cold, but I get colder more easily. I stopped single carrying portages in my fifties, stopped wearing shorts in my sixties, My seventies may be when I lose the battle, for even as I age, and the gear gets lighter, I am going to eventually lose. Just not this year. I took my father in the woods when he was 78. Maybe someone will take me. Or maybe I’ll be extraordinarily lucky and go solo.

I like to think I’m more sensible. I wanted to go to places further up the lake, where I had camped the prior 5 years. They mean a lot to me. One is a place I take myself to mentally when the world seems too much. But I looked at the weather maps before I left, as well as watched the sky often when I left the jumping off point at Fall Lake. The forecast was for rain, cold, and wind, a difficult triad to deal with. My reality was a canoe with 8 inches of freeboard and real tippy, and after a few thousand miles in a canoe, I don’t use “tippy” lightly. If I paddled as far in as I wanted to go, I might face a headwind and rain on the return, and that was a significant possibility. The day I was to come out, I would be 70 before 70, days before years, and I felt damn lucky and blessed to just still be able to come out here. Retired Duluth Herald-Tribune columnist Sam Cook wrote the words above, and I’ve been coming out here since 1981, the year I turned 33. I am not as fast, not as strong, but far more experienced, use my gear more efficiently, and know very well that things can go south in a big hurry. I’ve never tipped over on a canoe trip, but I’ve literally been thrown out of a canoe on small rapids, and that was extremely sobering as to the power of moving water.

The solo canoe I rented had a sticker about safety, the sixth bullet point’s being “Never canoe alone,” which seemed odd on a solo canoe. I know what was meant, but I hike alone, and I have canoed alone many times. My wife isn’t coming out here with me any more, although she would love to if all the preparations and travel weren’t so difficult. I understand that. I’m going to reach a point where I can’t do this, but my goal is to be like the guy we saw lying back in his canoe floating down the Nina Moose River towards Lake Agnes, back in 2004. My wife said, “that’s you twenty years from now,” and while I laughed at the old guy back then, I kind of got a bee in my bonnet and turned the laughter into a 2024 goal. That guy was doing it right.

This trip, I made it a point to canoe along shorelines I had often eschewed for the straight shot down the middle of the lake to get up on the border. Exploring a small bay this year, I encountered a pair of tundra swans and a raft of mergansers. I hadn’t noted tundra swans here before, and I saw five more the next day. They were magnificent white painted against the gray sky when they took off. Coming around a point on Newton Lake, I saw an otter come out of the water, head profiled against the background light, one of those moments where I was looking in the right place with the right frame of mind. That happens a lot when one stops eschewing stuff. The first morning’s sunrise was spectacular, even if the red sky in morning was warning this canoe man to stay in camp the next day. A leaf with a few drops of rainwater was worth a picture, as well as the nearby asters, the lovely end of summer flower.

Sunrise from the first campsite.

Leaf with water droplets

Asters

My camp had a path to the next campsite, unusual in this country, but the two sites were not visible from one another, which is the norm. On the windbound day, I walked laps between the two sites, noting the 3 inch depth of white pine needles and also noting, for the first time, how the adult bark starts to appear, from ground level up a meter or two, rather than immediately on the tree as it grows. I had a lot of time to think about the past thirty-seven years I have been coming up here, and how fortunate I have been to have seen the country far beyond where I can now physically go—or wish to go—for that matter. I know what’s out there; I have good trail and lake memory. My last Quetico trip, in Canada, was in 2005. I said goodby to Kawnipi Lake back then, occasionally hoping maybe I’d get another chance—but knowing that I will not.

The trip had all the challenges—wind, rain, cold, thunderstorms. I packed wet and I set up camp in a pouring rain. I didn’t talk to a soul for four days, and I had a day when I didn’t see a boat anywhere. I wasn’t sure if solo tripping would still appeal to me. It does. I looked at things without judgment, only interest.

Maybe 2024.

Wearing High Cascade Volunteer “Scorpions” hat. Pipestone Bay, 2018

Below, leaves on a trail

Leaves along the shoreline

MY LOST METER

September 12, 2018

Many years ago, I paddled out one September afternoon from Wolf Creek on Burntside Lake, headed into the Boundary Waters at Crab Lake, back when a mile portage seemed like a good idea.  I didn’t have a map for my entry, but I did have the next map north, where I expected to soon be within 2 miles.  Error in judgment.  After an hour and easily those two miles, none of the landmarks I saw was quite right for the map I thought I was now on.  I then “moved landmarks,” or made distant islands fit my map, but a half hour later it was obvious nothing fit, and I admitted defeat.  That was better judgment.  Far in the distance behind me, I could see where I had started, and that became my goal.  I returned to shore, put the canoe back on the car, drove into Ely, stopping at an outfitting store to take a look at a map where I had been.  I was miles from where I thought I was.  Better prepared, I headed out on the same lake the next day and had a good 4-day solo into the Burntside Unit.  

I’ve been significantly off course a few times since, which embarrassed me, because I consider myself as having good directional sense.  I do, but one or more minor mistakes can throw me a curve. On the Appalachian Trail, I was so fatigued one day that after I got up from a rest stop, I retraced a mile of my prior route.  When I saw a road that shouldn’t have been there—a road I had crossed a few hours earlier— I realized that the proper question was not “What is that road doing here?” but rather “What am I doing here?”

On Isle Royale, first boat out to the island in 2006, I realized I had a Lost Meter: it wasn’t in my pack, it was in my brain.  Hiking in the dark with a flashlight I hoped kept on working, I encountered a huge blowdown.  I went around it, and around it…, and continued, soon having a disquieting sense I was going back the way I had come.  I took out my compass, something I almost never have to do, confirmed that my basic direction was indeed southwest rather than the desired northeast, and turned around.  That disquieting sense was my Lost Meter’s kicking in.  The flashlight got me through the night until I reached Windigo, ten miles later.

I have seldom ignored my Lost Meter, the last time being on my first hike in Oregon, when I “moved the trail,” because if I had been where I thought I was, I shouldn’t have seen the Sun where it was.  I convinced myself the trail would soon turn in the direction I thought it should.  It didn’t.  The Sun didn’t move, either.  I arrived at another trailhead, clearly not where I had started, and started walking to town on an unfamiliar road.  The road refused to go north, only south, and the Lost Meter got so loud that I turned around, backtracked to the trailhead, and followed a river downstream back to the car.  I was embarrassed and tired, the error costing me at least 2 hours and six miles.  On my current hikes, I plan ahead, usually have a paper map, always carry a GPS with spare batteries, and the Gaia app on my phone to use if necessary.  If one has to move hills, mountains, islands, or the Sun to match a map, one needs to admit being lost and deal with matters accordingly.  

I became a convert to GPS technology on Obsidian Loop, solo in early July with the trail buried under feet of snow. My sense told me to go downhill, the arrow on the GPS pointed elsewhere to a ridge above me.  I went up, and life became a lot easier.  GPS arrows can’t be moved without physical motion on the holder’s part.

*                                 *                                 *

My healing knee survived the first of three days’ hiking in the Mt. Hood Wilderness, 2100 feet elevation gain on a 12 mile out-and-back to McNeil Point.  I was in front and told to stop at some ponds, the leader saying, “We wandered through there last time I was here and weren’t sure where we were.”  When I reached the ponds, there were two trails, one going towards a pond, which I assumed was a user trail, not the main trail we wanted to be on.  I went a little further on the other and stopped, since on Club hikes we stop at trail junctions, to keep people together. A few minutes later, I saw the leader below me on the user trail.  It was not a big deal, really.  We could see each other.  But the Lost Meter sounded just a little, as I realized I might need to be in charge of navigation this trip.  This was an area I felt that one should not have had trouble negotiating.  

We got off to a inauspicious start the next day when the leader said the trailhead had changed from the last time she was there. This bothered me, because trailheads usually don’t change, so I started going through my mind what I knew about her navigational skills. She’s experienced, but three weeks prior, on a hike where I shuttled the car, since I couldn’t hike, she failed to find a lake in the Mt. Jefferson Wilderness, looking below her when the contours clearly showed it was above her. Last winter, she took a group into Fawn Lake on a snowshoe.  Nobody had a GPS, and they never found the lake.  That’s a problem.  I am a good navigator, and I wouldn’t go without a GPS.  She’s seen a lot, but I ask questions when my Lost Meter goes off.  A claim that a trailhead was moved moves the needle on my Lost Meter.  Or a trail’s being moved: a leader on a snowshoe hike complained that the trail had been moved, when he was frankly lost and took the whole group on a mile bushwhack in snow. I was glad to have missed that one.  I didn’t miss the snowshoe in heavy, deep snow to the top of Willamette Pass Ski Area.  After one too many “around the next bend,” I said “one more.”  When we went around it, and nothing changed, we turned around.  Later, we discovered we had 3/4 mile still to go.  In heavy snow.

Trails can change, and part of the Castle Rock Trail actually was moved a year ago by mountain bikers. I knew it had, because my trail memory and the GPS showed me where it used to be. Somewhat a Doubting Thomas, I walked on the unfamiliar trail, watching the GPS carefully, until I was convinced we were going  to where we had planned. I wrote Oregon trail guide author Bill Sullivan about the change, got a thanks and a free book of one of the nearly two dozen he has written. 

Anyway, we started on the Umbrella Falls trail, a familiar landmark to the leader, but not somewhere where we were supposed to go.  I was new here and didn’t know better, so I made myself the sweep, last on the hike. I quickly didn’t like what I was seeing on the GPS.  We should have been going east northeast, not north.  I called out to her whether we were going in the right direction.  She assured me we were, and we arrived at Umbrella Falls a short time later.  

This was neither our destination nor part of the hike.  It was pretty, but we didn’t want to be there.  A comment was made that perhaps this falls was unnamed, “moving landmarks.”  No way.  Smaller waterfalls in the state are named, and the trail sign said, “Umbrella Falls.”  We were at a falls.  We were not where we wanted to be, and another look at the map showed we hadn’t driven far enough on Highway 35 to the trailhead. 

My Time on Trail meter is also listed below, along with my Danger Meter.  Know where you are going, keep an eye on the sky, the trail, the clock, the altitude, and if at any time things don’t make sense, stop until they do, or turn around to the last place where they did.  It’s only a hike, and it is not worth risking one’s life to do it. 

LOST METER  (“Something changed since the last time I was here,” Frequent use of the verb “to hope.”)

One should be able to answer the following questions unequivocally yes:

  1. Do I have a clear idea of the mileage I am attempting to within 10%?  
  2. Do I know exactly where I am now?  Does the altitude match?
  3. Can I truly say that no landmarks are out of place?
  4. Assuming one has walked the trail before, are landmarks on the trail familiar?
  5. Are trail junctions where they should be?
  6. Do I have a GPS?
  7. Do the maps and the GPS agree?

DANGER  METER (“Come on, you can do it,” Frequent use of “hope”)

  1. Am I lost?  BE HONEST.
  2. Is part of me saying “I don’t like this” or “This isn’t safe.”?  Is somebody saying, “Come on, you can do it?” 
  3. Are there problems with the trail, like blowdowns, unexpected snow, stream crossings?  If an out and back, and in glacier country, will a stream be crossable in the afternoon on the return?  Glacier meltwater increases in the afternoon.
  4. If with a group, is anybody uncomfortable with the situation?  Have you asked?  Really asked by saying, “If you are at all uncomfortable, please speak up.” ?  Has somebody mentioned a significant medical condition?
  5. Is anybody lagging behind or doesn’t look good?
  6. Is the environment safe for somebody to say NO? Yes, this is repeated, because nobody wants to be a wet blanket or a Killjoy.  Except me.
  7. Does the sky bother you?  Have you looked? Storms don’t suddenly occur.  There are warnings, even if only an hour or two.
  8. What are the consequences to a river, snowfield, or scree crossing in front of you if someone falls?
  9. What is the current windchill?
  10. What time is sunset, and if applicable, the next high tide?
  11. Any sign of recent bear or mountain lion scat?
  12. Are you hearing or saying, “Let’s go a little bit longer,” without “little bit” being defined? “Around the next curve=little bit.” Use “we go 5 more minutes by the clock before turning back.” And stick to it.

TIME ON TRAIL METER  “Oh, I didn’t realize how late it was.”

  1. Did you start late?  How late?
  2. What time do you expect to return (1 p.m., 3, p.m., 5 p.m., 7 p.m., 9 p.m.)? 
  3. Was there unexpected traffic or other problems driving to the trailhead?
  4. Is everybody getting ready quickly, or does somebody seem to be constantly fixing or adjusting something?
  5. Does anybody appear to lag, especially early, or is taking long breaks?
  6. Are you where you want to be at this time?  If not, what are your plans?
  7. When, where, and how long do you plan to have lunch? 
  8. Are there unusual requests, like napping, long meditation, frequent breaks?

 

IMG_7732.JPG

A turnaround point on an out and back exploration.  It is worth learning to say STOP, I’m not going further.  The trail will be there another day.  And so will you.  Ruby Mountains, Nevada; August 2016.

NINE LESSONS

September 7, 2018

I didn’t think I would ever financially support a Republican candidate in my lifetime, but life is full of surprises.  The husband of my wife’s best friend is a sheriff’s deputy in a rural county and ran for Justice of the Peace.  He was a great candidate, knowing the vast land, larger than many states, the people, and the law, but the first and most important requirement, my wife told him, was he had to run as a Republican in that county. 

He did in 2014, but made the decision too late to get on the ballot, so ran as a write-in candidate and still got 30% of the vote.  But he lost.  That is Lesson #1 for the Democrats this fall: please stop rejoicing about the “almosts.” A year ago, doing better than expected was encouraging.  But the winner still voted to repeal the ACA.  The situation is dire enough that nothing less than winning matters.  

Our friend stayed in his day job, did well, and bided his time.  Four years passed, 2018 arrived, and he filed to run against the incumbent, who had a lot of problems, including a rumored federal investigation into corruption.  Lesson #2: don’t underestimate the power of incumbency; Lesson #3R: only results from the investigation may matter, not the fact there is an investigation. (Lesson #3D: any investigation matters, and if the result isn’t guilty, there needs to be another investigation.)

My wife’s best friend became a skilled, creative campaign manager, making a great video of her husband’s telling why he was qualified for JP, and what the position entailed, which was educational.  She got the message out every possible way, even by a horse-drawn float at the county fair.  Her husband looked right for the job, which shouldn’t matter but does, he was available for questions and was a straight shooter, figuratively and literally.

It was a three way race, and one of the other candidates was member of a certain religious group.  Lesson #4: that’s a problem in the rural West. I’ll leave it there.

We had a chance to win:  Lesson #5: You don’t really know what will happen.  Do not, under any circumstances, become overconfident:  2016s happen, and we had no idea what the voters would do.  Or how many would not vote at all.  

The days before the primary, the candidate’s wife called many, trying to get out the vote.  One of the county election commissioners thanked her for calling people and informing them.  The commissioner herself hadn’t been doing that. Lesson #6: don’t assume the electorate will show up. Primary elections are arguably the most important elections of all.  In this particular one, the Republican winner was going to be the JP.  The general election was a formality. The primary is a hurdle that has to be crossed.  Fail to get by the primary, if you are Eric Cantor, majority leader in the House, or Joe Crowley, headed for a possible speakership in November, your career is over.  Lee Bight, one Republican who believed in global warming and attendant climate change, was ousted by Trey Gowdy in a primary, the Gowdy who kept investigating Hillary Clinton. See Lesson #3D above.

The primary turnout in Arizona this year was 30%.  And that was a record.  Seventy per cent of the electorate, for whatever reason, didn’t vote. In the county where our race occurred, turnout was 25%.  A quarter.  In 2016, 81% of Republicans voted, 74% of Democrats. There’s your 77,000 votes in three states. In 2014, 21% of millennials voted.  In California, 8.2% of 18-24 year-olds voted, and the youth, who were 14.5% of the voting population, cast 4% of the ballots.  If the millennials continue to be relative no-shows in elections, they are going to be dictated to by the conservatives in my generation.  Just sayin.’  The problem we have in the Senate, where the Affordable Care Act narrowly survived, if one can call what has happened to it survival, where we have two conservative supreme court justices so far in this term (and a possibility of as many as three more), where Republican-leaning judges for federal courts have been approved in record numbers, can be directly laid to poor turnout in elections.  I am beyond angry at those who didn’t vote in 2014.  Lesson #7: Not voting because nothing ever changes is wrong.  Things can change for the worse, and the country has seen that in spades since the last election.  Or am I the only one who hasn’t slept well since then? 

A single vote does matter:  Florida in 2000, Virginia in 2017 (a tie occurred), and some House race virtually every year. If perfection is desired in a candidate, move to Mars.

What happened to our candidate was predictable, although we didn’t predict it: the results of the investigation into the incumbent would come after the election, enough of the certain religious group voters turned out, and there were too many no-shows.  He lost, finishing again with 30%.  

I was upset, not at the campaign, which I thought was wonderfully run, in the spirit of America, or at least the America I once knew and served, but at the selfishness of those who can’t be bothered to vote, the religious turnout for someone whose qualification is the right religion but nothing else, and how people in power can delay investigations until a convenient time, read “after the election.”  

Lesson #8:  gerrymandering and a profound war on voting rights were aided by state legislatures, the Supreme Court AND by those too busy to vote, still stuck in the mindset that both parties are the same AND by those who threw their vote to a fringe candidate who ran only for their ego and had NO chance of winning. The single best weapon is convincing every possible person on one’s side to vote. What swung Alabama a year ago was the black vote, black women in particular, who increased their turnout from 25 to 30%.  That still is paltry, but it mattered.  There were six thousand people who didn’t vote in the primary for JP3. True, it’s better sometimes that some of them vote.  We will never know what would happen if they all showed up and voted, but in this race, like every other race in the country, would at least be truly decided by the people, not a few.  It’s a different world when everybody votes, and I think a lot fairer one, too, usually. 

Ayanna Pressley (and yes, spell check, better allow the second “s”) had no chance to win, but the voters turned out and she won by 18%.  There might have been a different JP in that county come November, despite Lessons #3R and #4. Arguably, the JP is going to affect one’s life in that district far more than a single representative.  

In the low moments after I failed big time in my career change nearly two decades ago, I always knew the answer to, “If only I had resigned and gone back to school.” I knew the answer, and besides, one career of mine suffered but another one did well.  My wife’s best friend will never have to say, “If only I had…”  That might be Lesson #9.

MR. KILLJOY

August 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prevailed.  

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

I did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign me,

Mr. Killjoy

DIALING UP TIME

August 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS IS NOT JUST COW PIES

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual rights?  Or Common good?

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

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

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

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

Assuming birds matter.  Or the Sandhill Crane migration.

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

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

Perhaps there is no difference.  

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.