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BLESSED NERD

January 13, 2018

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

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

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

Inversion

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

 

 

KEIN SCHÖNER TOD (Not a good death)

January 11, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDING TALK, BEGINNING ACTION

January 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Butte from Mt. Pisgah

LIFE EXPERIMENTS

December 27, 2017

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

*log(x) dx is integrated by parts

u=log x; dv=dx

du=dx/x; v=x

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

RAIN GETS A BAD RAP

December 22, 2017

I arrived home from the hardware store just in time for the rain.  Note: I didn’t say I just beat the rain home, but rather I arrived home in time to enjoy the rain.

Rain has a bad rap, and since I like rain, it means that once again I am on the wrong side of  conventional likes and dislikes in society.  I live in the city but love the wilderness, but I don’t fully belong in either.  I am an introvert in a society that extols extroverts.  I don’t like the idea that everything has to be set to music, which puts me at odds with conventional likes. The other day, I was sent a YouTube video of the Geminid meteor shower, which was a collage of pictures set to music.  I commented:  “Nice.  Nicer without music.”

I think summer is overrated, too.

I’ve felt this way most of my life about rain.  I enjoy being inside reading a book, while listening to the rain.  But lest one think that being indoors is somehow cheating, I love nothing better than being warm in my sleeping bag and listening to the rain on the roof of the tent.  Oh, I’m sure I will have to get up in the middle of the night and go out in it, but then it’s that enjoyable to be able to go back inside and hear it as I again get warm.

I led a hike to Heckletooth Mountain outside of Oakridge, Oregon, last October, when we had an atmospheric river hit us the night before.  An AR is a plume of moisture spreading from places like Hawai’i, Saipan, or Japan all the way in a continuous feed to the Northwest US.  Recipients can get several inches of rain.  I had some cancel that morning, calling me to say how they were staying home and not coming.  I initially envied them a little, but when we started hiking, the rain gear worked just fine (October hikes are great for testing rain gear), fall colors were beautiful, and while we were wet on the outside, we were warm.  Sure, we had to be careful about hypothermia, but hiking uphill helps warm one up, and so long as one hikes back down steadily, cold is not a problem.  Great hike.

Several of us hiked into to Kentucky Falls last January on what has been the wettest hike I’ve been on in Oregon.  We ate lunch standing up, in rain that managed to get to the forest floor through 600 year-old Douglas fir trees.  Hiking back out, we were totally soaked, and I loved it.  I knew I would dry off eventually, I wasn’t going to get hypothermia, and we were getting what we needed in winter—a long, cold rain.

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Part of the Kentucky Falls area

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Eating lunch by a 600 year-old Douglas fir

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Kentucky Falls, one branch.  I stayed so long that when I turned to leave, the rest of the group was long gone.  Rain makes for beautiful waterfalls.

I’ve backpacked during a 6 day rainy spell in Alaska’s ANWR when the temperature never went past 40, our boots were completely wet, our tents, too, but we stayed warm by hiking, then pitched those wet tents and got into our mostly dry clothes.  The cook tent we set up had enough shelter for eating.  We saw snow on Bathtub Ridge in Drain Creek in June.  Yes, I had to put on wet wool socks first thing, but it was only cold for a few minutes, then my feet were warm.

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Alaska’s North Slope, ANWR, shortly after being dropped off to hike south through the Brooks Range (2009).

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Hiking through fog.

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Brown bear rolling on ice, Drain Creek, ANWR.

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Snow on distant Bathtub Ridge, after climbing out over a pass.  The prior picture was taken far down the valley and to the right.  

Years ago in the Boundary Waters, out on the waters of Crooked Lake, just south of the Canadian border, I got packed up, while everything was dry, then on the lake got hit with a downpour  I had to pull ashore on an island to empty water from the canoe, and I was really wet, but since I was paddling and portaging the whole day I stayed warm enough.  Once I reached my campsite, I had a dry tent—at least briefly—and dry clothes awaited me.  I had a quick dinner and got into bed, staying warm, listening to the gentle, steady rain.

I remember rainy days on the trail better than sunny ones.  I remember the cold rain in Temegami, when rain gear wasn’t as good, but our young bodies were able to deal with cold. I wasn’t as happy with it back then.  A quarter century later, and ago, I remember the Fourth of July week on Basswood Lake with the Forest Service, where it rained every day, and I worked to have dry socks each morning.  The woods were empty that weekend, the lakes were beautiful, and we patrolled a vast wilderness alone. That was the weekend I learned how to stay fairly dry during days of rain.

I missed the rain when I lived in Arizona.  We had summer thunderstorms, and if I were lucky, we had at least one nighttime boomer, where I could watch the lightning, hear the thunder, and hope the desert would soak up the water.  I hate droughts, and the 22 year one in Arizona was something I complained about often.  The few times it did rain, I heard weathermen and newscasters say that it was a “bad day,” as if we could live our lives with no water at all.

Before I moved to Oregon, I was at a party talking to somebody who heard I was moving.  He began berating me about its climate.  “It rains all the time up there!” he said.

“Yeah,” I replied.  “Great, isn’t it?”

After I moved, we were in a drought for 18 months.  I heard how it would rain all winter, but we got a third of what we needed.  When it was 80 in the mountains in January, an acquaintance told me how “spectacular” the weather was. I stayed quiet. I was told that March could be rainy, but it wasn’t, and that spring could be very wet, which it wasn’t, either. I was told that hot weather was not common, but that summer we broke the record for number of days over 90.  In October, my neighbor asked me how I was, and I replied, “nothing that 10 inches of rain can’t fix.”  In December, the “fix” came, not all at once, and never for 24 consecutive hours.

In November, a woman said on the radio that soon it would be cold, but it wouldn’t last long, and before we knew it March would be back, then spring, and then summer.  We had just gone through a summer with multiple days over 100, no rain for three months, wildfires that burned a quarter of the huge Three Sisters Wilderness and the Gorge, 20 days of bad air quality in Eugene, requiring special masks.  No thanks.  I can wait a long time for summer.  It’s overrated, at least in the American West, where it starts a month or two sooner than formerly, lasts a month or two longer, drier, and with more fires.  Arizona and southern California now have 12 month a year fire seasons.

I like rain.  I know it’s possible to get too much of it, but I have not had that experience in decades.  I had forgotten how many different shades of green there are in the Pacific Northwest.  In the desert, green is washed out by comparison.  I like flowing water, just to watch it, in the wild, not in some fountain.  I like the Sun when it comes out after a good long rain.  Then it is nice.  I enjoy it.

But only for a while.

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Storm coming in, Lake Insula, BWCA, 2009

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After the storm, next morning.

OH WOW, I CAN’T BELIEVE I DID THAT. THANKS.

November 24, 2017

I’ve probably written about this before; if so, I apologize.  I happened to think about the incident when I awoke this morning.  I slept well, which is a blessing as I approach the last year of my sixties.  Most of us my age and older don’t sleep as well as we’d like: through the night without awakening, and awakening refreshed.  It’s a good night if I’m up once, fall back asleep, and awaken on my own, without one of the cats standing on me, yowling (that was this morning, at 4:47), or barfing up a hair ball.

Anyway, for some reason, a dream maybe, I awoke thinking of one day when I volunteered  in the calculus class at Sabino High School in Tucson.  I occasionally helped out there, if for some reason the college algebra or geometry classes where I usually worked didn’t require my presence.  I liked Dave, who taught calculus; indeed, years ago, when email was new, Dave was the only faculty member with one, which is how I contacted him and began to help.

Anyway, that particular day he began by discussing the behavior of the function y=x^2, a parabola, near where x=1 and y=1.  Specifically, he was looking at the rate of change or the slope of the function as it approached the point.

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What we learn by the slope is how fast the curve is changing at that point.  People get this concept wrong all the time.  If we hear the rate of growth of population is slowing, some people think the actual number is going down.  It isn’t.  It is still rising, not just as fast.  This is extremely important to know, and worth repeating: If the rate of increase is slowing, the actual number is still increasing, not falling.

Dave started by showing the slope where x=0.99 and y=0.99*0.99, or 0.9801.  The slope then was (1-0.9801)/(1-0.99), 1.99/0.01, or 1.99.  No problem. Then he let x=0.999 and, with a calculator, squared it, 0.999^2, which was 0.998001. The slope was now 0.001999/0.001, or 1.999.  He continued, saying that as x got closer and closer to 1, y would get closer and closer to 2, and the limit; that is, if we could take take x as 0.99999999— to an infinite number of 9s—and here he paused….

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Notice the pattern for y—first is .81 then .9801, then .998001,then .99980001.

“You’d need a big calculator to calculate y, but the slope would be 2 at the limit.”  he stated.

I sort of blurted out without thinking, “You don’t need a calculator to get y.”  The words just appeared, I swear.  Everyone in the class turned towards me.

Dave looked at me, held the marker out in one hand, and said, “come up and write it down.”   He wasn’t at all angry.  We had known each other for several years at this point. As I walked up to the board, I asked, “How many 9s are there in your number?” I have bad astigmatism.

“Eight.”  So, I am multiplying 0.99999999 by 0.99999999.

Without a calculator.

“It is one less 9, followed by an 8, followed by the same number of 0s as you have nines, followed by 1.”  That would be 0.9999999800000001.  Take that, Texas Instruments.

I then turned to the class.  “Last year, I was here when this problem was discussed. You”—-I pointed to Dave—-“said that there was probably a pattern, and you were absolutely right.  I found it in a few minutes. The pattern is one fewer nine, an 8, the same number of 0s, and a one,” repeating myself.

Dave is good: he knows what he has taught, what a student should know, makes the student think and find answers to his questions, because they have all the information available.

I could have added that Dave, as a good teacher, didn’t take my coming to the board as showing him up; indeed, he knew that I was modeling exactly the behavior he wanted in his students.

I’ve been down that road before.  A dozen years earlier, I was in grad school getting my Masters in Statistics.  I had several professors.  One was absolutely brilliant, able to teach an entire difficult upper level graduate course in linear models without consulting notes.  There may have been one time where she made an error that another student caught, but that was it.  She was brilliant.  I’m sure I mentioned that in my post-course evaluation.

What I didn’t mention, because there were only 7 of us in the class, and I knew I would be identified, is that had she more patience with those students like me (it was the only B I got in grad school, and I worked hard to get it) who were not as brilliant, she would have been a life-changing teacher, the top of the heap.  The best teachers have patience with those who don’t have their skills.  Occasionally, I approach that.  Dave was there. So was my advisor.

My advisor didn’t need notes when he taught, either.  But he had patience with me, and that mattered a lot.  He got me out of New Mexico in 2 years, which I deeply appreciated. I haven’t seen him in about 15 years, but when I emailed him asking if he could help a friend of a friend–a free favor– he replied immediately.   He knew—damn it, I was pissed so many times when he did it, but he was dead right to do so—when I had exactly enough information to find the answer of a problem I asked him about.  He either knew the answer outright, or knew how to get it, but he was not going to tell me, but rather would give me what I needed to know—and not one hint more— to solve it.  I would then struggle for hours in some instances before having an epiphany among the papers strewn on my desk, on the floor, some crumpled and near a wall where I had thrown them in anger.

By doing that, my advisor forced me to use the new tools I had learned, to make mistakes, to figure everything out, and learn that way.  It was painful, but it was learning.  It was education, and it worked.

I’ve never gotten to my advisor’s or Dave’s level: substitutes don’t have a close relationship in one meeting, and in my brief for-profit so-called university teaching experience, students wanted everything handed to them.  But when I tutor today in the advanced math room at the community college, I occasionally encounter material far beyond what I know.  Sometimes, I try to help anyway.  And as I go through the problem with the student, asking him or her at each step how they got there, there is often a pause.  The student suddenly says, “Oh, I see what I did wrong. Oh wow, I can’t believe I did that.  Thanks.”  And walks away.  I’m still wondering what the answer was.

It just dawned on me that maybe my advisor sometimes didn’t know the answer, either, at least when I asked the question.  But he knew me well enough to know that I was capable of finding it.

Oh wow.  I can’t believe I did that. Thanks.

PROFILE IN COURAGE MOMENTS

November 13, 2017

I was medical director at a hospital back when medical directors/physicians in management were relatively new.  There were two Catholic hospitals in town, each with a medical director, and at the time there was a loose arrangement of the two hospitals with one overall medical director, my boss.

I went to a meeting one day at the other hospital about the roll out of an integrated medical delivery system, which I assumed wouldn’t involve me too much, but would start integrating practitioners in both hospitals and add a third hospital in a rural city to the network.

That night, I failed to show a major Profile in Courage moment: to stand up for what is right when one has absolutely nothing to gain and a great deal to lose.  My boss, whom I respected and liked, was passed over for the job of medical director, for which she was perfectly qualified, in favor of a family practitioner who was an EEG tech when I was a resident. I didn’t speak up against this outrage.  I can still remember hearing the name of the new network medical director. No, I didn’t stand up to the elderly nun, an institution in the hospital and community, to say, “Sister, this is wrong. Unless you reconsider, I am resigning.”

Yeah, I was making good money, but my wife and I could have swung it had I quit. Maybe I was so stunned that the doctor chosen didn’t have the qualifications. Maybe I was afraid.  But I certainly failed to speak up, that is quite clear, and I should have.  I might not have changed the decision, and I might have been fired had I not resigned, but the chance to do the first and risk the second was a risk I should have taken.  My boss resigned, the family practitioner had a very uncomfortable first meeting with me and was gone from his job within a year.

I subsequently worked under a new senior medical director, part of the executive team (I was never allowed into that sphere) before I had enough and finally left for graduate school, two years later.

My failure to speak up remains a big regret, and I can date it, because there was a total lunar eclipse that night, and I still remember standing outside looking at it and wondering why I hadn’t said something.

Profile in Courage moments may be more minor, but they are clearly speaking out against injustice when staying silent is easier and safer.  At one medical conference, the organizer commented on work that had been done on lymphapheresis for multiple sclerosis.  He quoted a study I happened to know quite well.  Not sure what I was doing, I suddenly found myself standing up.

“I disagree with you, sir.”  That turned everybody’s gaze on the 31 year-old nobody well back in the room.  “I was one of the physicians involved in the study, and while as an academic I want publications on my resume, I asked to be removed from this one, because I thought the study was poorly designed, biased, the data incorrect, and the conclusions unwarranted.”  Shaking, as I do when I speak passionately in public, I sat down amid a lot of murmuring.  The organizer mumbled a few words, and I simply shook my head no.

I can think of another time when I suddenly stood up, which I knew enhanced my words, the shaking, and the passionate comments.  The chief of staff at the hospital had lambasted me in front of the Medical Executive Committee, saying that I was examining patients, and I had no business doing so.

“I was called by the nursing staff because the patient was admitted to cardiology, and no doctor the nurses called wanted to accept the patient.” (Yes, those sorts of things happened.)  “I examined the patient, wrote some covering orders, then called an internist I knew who took over the patient’s care.”  At this point, I was winding up, so I let go with one more.

“I have also taken over the care of a Parkinson’s patient whose family fired the doctor, so he just quit, which is unethical behavior.  It is incumbent upon the physician to transfer the care, and this one just walked away.”

If I remember correctly, I walked out of the room down the hall and outside and cried for a few minutes.  One of the better things I learned—too late in life but better late than not at all—was how to cry.

Like perfect squelches, words one says that are absolutely perfect in time, place, and content, Profiles in Courage are one—two—three—five in a lifetime events. I can date every one of the four perfect squelches in my life. I blew my big Profile in Courage moment.

We need more Profile in Courage moments in Washington.  We need elected representatives to speak out against a president who doesn’t belong in office.  Many are apparently saying this in private.  Mr. Flake did a decent job, but he limited his Profile in Courage moment.  He could have done what few politicians are willing to do: quit his party and caucus with the other, stay in office, and let the voters decide whether he was adequately representing them. Mr. Flake would have rocked the country in doing so. While he would have taken a huge amount of heat, maybe a recall election, he would have earned the respect of millions, including me.

We need someone in the halls of power to speak up and say the emperor has no clothes (the visualization of which is abhorrent), that Congress is co-equal and will act accordingly, with both sides of the aisle having a say in legislation, even if one side is outvoted.  We need someone to say that much as they like the chance to put through a conservative agenda, that to do so without addressing the dysfunction in the Executive Branch is wrong, and Congress can and must do something about it.

The irony to me is that before #metoo many Profile in Courage moments I’ve seen have come from Iranian women who don white every Wednesday to protest the forced hijab.  For years, many have removed the cover altogether and shown videos of themselves walking without it.  These women are very courageous.  Many are insulted. Some have acid thrown in their faces.  Others are beaten, arrested, even killed.  They are putting their lives on the line for something they believe in, and if the running of the United States of America is less important than whether an Iranian woman should cover her hair, then we would do well to open immigration to those women, should any actually want to come here, in hopes they might light a fire under our lawmakers.

We now have American women speaking out against sexual abuse, which has involved my own alma mater, which really hurts.  Many of these women never spoke up, but when the time came, they took their Profile in Courage moment and ran with it. Some won elected office.

In these days of Roy Moore, Michelle Bachmann, clean air is unhealthy, more guns makes us safer, $1000 savings in taxes allows one to buy a car, adding $1.5 trillion to the debt is a good thing, grabbing them by the pussy does not disqualify one from becoming President, taking off the clothes of a 14 year-old girl doesn’t disqualify one for the US Senate, each of us needs to be on the lookout for a Profile in Courage moment.

It’s fine to shake, to sweat, to speak passionately.  Don’t be afraid to pause.  Mr. Obama often paused when he spoke.  He did it for effect, but he also did it to think about what he was going to say next.  We need a lot of thinking these days.

THE ONES YOU DON’T HEAR ABOUT 

November 2, 2017

“Westerners don’t fear these restrictions (on fishing), even when their right to bear fishing poles isn’t secured for eternity in the Constitution.  But when it comes to the right to bear arms, the reasonable limitations of fishing are swept downstream with sanity.”  

Marty Jones, Writers on the Range, hcn.org/wotr

Every time there is a mass shooting or some other a significant deadly event, I look at the number “critically wounded,” for many of them will not survive.  It won’t make the news when some family member has to give permission to pull the plug to some doctor who doesn’t like pulling it, but needs to do it, in order to allow someone with irreversible brain injury to die, maybe after some organs are taken for transplant, maybe not.

“Saves” out in the field that get much news coverage may not be saves. If the rescue were too late, the individual would be irreversibly brain damaged, and some guy like me eventually would tell the family the person would end up in a persistent vegetative state. At best, the family would agree on removing life support, because “(the victim) wouldn’t want to be like this.”  At worst, the family would be divided, shattered, occasionally because well-meaning people in or out of the medical field would offer up platitudes like “you never know,”(we do), “hearing is the last thing to go,”(proof?) or “someone once woke up after 5 years,” (and was quadriplegic with limited cognition).  I did get news coverage once, in 1983, after recommending discontinuing life support on a woman who failed to wake up after cardiac surgery. The husband agreed, but the sister did not.  It went to court, and my name was in the public eye for a couple of days.  I guess I said some good words, because people didn’t lambaste me (that was before anonymity of online comments), the judge agreed with me, and the woman was allowed to quietly, with dignity, die.

Two years after Roseburg, there was a brief article about a young woman who received a major brain injury and could not speak.  She survived, but the hell she and the family went through, as well as the costs, born by them, those who cared for them, and society in general, were not publicized.  They can’t be.  There are too many—73,000 gunshot wounds a year— and I’m not even discussing auto accidents, falls, and other often preventable tragedies.

I’m not convinced the death toll from Las Vegas will remain at 58; we may not hear about the others. In the New York Times, there was an article about a woman 15 years younger than I who is now quadriplegic.  When I heard “500 wounded,” I wondered how many were going to be like her.  I still don’t know.

The woman probably has a C5-6 injury, got her elbow flexors partially back, but won’t get her hands or her legs back.  Not at this stage.  She ran a company once.  Now she runs a wheelchair courtesy of Go Fund Me.  I’d rather national health insurance pay for national medical costs.  Then, we could see  where our tax dollars are going, and ask why we aren’t trying to control firearms.  I don’t know the size of her medical bills in Nevada or now in California, where she is getting rehab not far from where the San Bernardino mass shooting took place.  These days, it’s not difficult to be close to a past mass shooting.  I am within 10 miles of the Springfield, Oregon high school, where four died 20 years ago, an hour from Roseburg, and two hours from Portland.  I lived 4 miles from where Gabby Giffords was shot, and six people died.  I came within a whisker of being at that Safeway that morning.

It’s ugly.  If the pain, suffering, and destroyed lives doesn’t bother The Other Side, they as taxpayers ought to be outraged as I am at paying for preventable medical and disability costs. Eight died in New York City on Halloween, and that day the president wanted to end the diversity lottery program. Fifty-eight died in Las Vegas a month ago, and he offered no suggestions.  The next night, three died in Thornton, Colorado by a shooter who walked into Wal-Mart, fired, and walked out.  One tragedy gets a snap judgment, and the other is ignored: Americans have a right to as many guns as they want with absolutely no restriction. It is time right now to discuss control of terrorists in our cities. NYPD had already contacted 147 businesses who rented trucks to be on the look out for potential misuse.  It’s also time to discuss some form of gun control, like repealing the second amendment, which would not prevent sane people from owning a firearm. It won’t happen, of course.

The statement that we don’t remember what happened to those who were injured is not new.  Many in World War II had shell shock and were never the same.  After Korea and Vietnam, we changed the name to TBI or PTSD.  After Iraq and Afghanistan we started seeing people with no limbs and more PTSD that couldn’t be treated well, because we don’t have a good treatment for it.  That alone should be enough to think long and hard about going to war, because in war not only do people die but at least ten times as many get PTSD.  We should have more diplomats and fewer tweets, instead of the opposite.

War is so bad that people repress it. My brother never spoke about Vietnam other than a vague memory about being on a helicopter going somewhere.   I hike with a Vietnam combat vet who once made the comment, “after I was blown up….”  which is the most he ever said about his service other than the single word, “Hué,” which told me enough.  When we go to war, we ought to realize that the cost in lives will be far more than we anticipate. That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t go to war.  Not at all.  But we ought to ask why we are fighting, what we want to achieve, and at what point it’s time to leave—totally leave.   Like PTSD or vegetative states, there are political states that just can’t be fixed, and trying to fix them is like trying to fix a vegetative state by physical therapy.  It accomplishes nothing and costs a lot of heartache and money.

I end with another form of PTSD and abuse, eloquently put in a letter in The New Yorker. The writer was raped, weekly, for four years, beginning at age 10, by one of the elders in her church.  She actually complained and was told she was crazy.  Who, after all, believes a ten year-old? She repressed her feelings for years, because nobody would take the word of a girl over a good Christian man who was a pedophile (something else not treatable, other than mandatory avoidance of children).  The fact that the woman’s own daughter is now ten brought back unpleasant memories.  What stuck with me were her comments, “Others had to have known, but they didn’t think he’d do it to one so young.”

Those who have managed to make a decent life for themselves in spite of horrors they have suffered speaks volumes about the human spirit and to those individuals themselves. It also speaks to the need for each us who is able to try to prevent such harm from occurring in the first place.  While it is reassuring to know that many obstacles may be overcome, it would be a lot better not to have such obstacles at all.

FILLING HOLES IN THE PERSONAL MAP

October 27, 2017

I spend far too much time looking at wilderness maps, hours looking at places I haven’t been, wondering what’s out there, and whether I have the health and the years left to get into those places.  Mind you, I’m not complaining.  I’ve been blessed far beyond most in what I’ve seen.  But I long to see more.  I always will.  I have large maps of the Oakridge, Oregon area, which include both the Diamond Peak and the Waldo Lake Wildernesses.  I have one of The Three Sisters Wilderness, others of the Mt. Washington, Drift Creek, Rock Creek, and Cummins Creek Wildernesses.  These are in addition to the Sullivan books I have which describe every major hike in Oregon, most of which I haven’t done or will do.  I bought a map of Olympic National Park the other day at REI.  I backpacked Olympic in the late ‘80s but haven’t been back since ’92. I’ve been staring at the map a lot this past week, deciding that I’ve got to go back there next summer for a few days.

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Oakridge area map: the town is upper left, Waldo Lake upper right

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A selection of books and maps.  Other than the Coast book, I’ve done maybe three hikes in the other three books.  Terrible.

A couple of years ago, I found places like Moon Point/Young’s Rock, which I got in my craw until I finally drove out there and hiked nearly 3000 vertical feet, past Young’s Rock but not to Moon Point, being stopped by snow.  I found that the bottom part of the hike was too long to lead, additionally with a really nasty climb out in the open,  so six weeks later, I went out there, drove 3 miles up a Forest Service Road and found a way to the trail, taking it to the top and seeing Moon Point.  I led the hike about a month after that, so others could see it, without having to hike more than about 2000 vertical feet.  Such a deal.

A friend told me about Foley Ridge, not far from Eugene, so I went in there twice this past year, the first time to Substitute Point, which is the closest spot to Eugene over 6000 feet.  Beautiful place.  Then, a few weeks later, I did a solo 21.5 miler in to the Three Sisters Wilderness to see some of the most beautiful Cascade scenery imaginable.  The whole area burned a month later.  I’m so glad I went when I did.

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Husband Lake and South Sister before the fire

I looked for a long time at walking around Waldo Lake, Oregon’s second largest, starting not long after I arrived here in 2014.  I never got around to doing it, but I never forgot it, either.  Finally, I said the what the hell, I was going to do it.  I went mid-week and had a great hike—20.3 miles, nobody out there, nice lake, and 4 miles of trail with ripe huckleberries alongside that I could grab without stopping.  Did the hike in just over 6 hours and tried to lead it last week, but it rained too hard, and there was snow, too, up there.  I have limits.

Because of wanting to do something the day I couldn’t do Waldo, I had looked at the map and found a couple of trails that were used mostly used by mountain bikers.  One looked interesting, Heckletooth Mountain, a low elevation foothill.  I figured since the Club hadn’t had hikes here, it might not be very interesting.  On the other hand, I kept looking at the mileage and the fact it was close to Eugene, and thought why not?  I put it on the schedule to see if others wanted to come along, and I got three takers.  I later learned a fourth person was packed and ready to show up, then woke up to heavy rain and went back to sleep.  Couldn’t say I blamed him.

That morning, we were getting pounded by an atmospheric river event, a nice term, where there is a stream of moisture extending—in this case from Japan— to the Pacific Northwest.  We didn’t bear the brunt of it, but we got plenty of rain.  It hit the night before and was coming down hard when we four met at the local community college parking lot—Randy, the most experienced, Steve, the strongest, and Lynn, the fastest. I provided the idea.  And the car.

What the heck, we all had rain gear, and I wanted to see how good—or bad—my waterproofing was.  It wasn’t a cold rain for autumn and predicted to end by noon.  So off we went, 42 miles later almost missing the trailhead outside of Oakridge.  We started off with the trail’s having flowing water, a good sign in autumn, and when we took our second break about 3 miles in, I mentioned that the hike to Heckletooth might be a mile more each way than I anticipated.  I set a turn around time for 10:45.

Lynn piped up, “Well, if we are within a half mile, I want to do it.”  Liked her attitude.

We hiked through absolutely stunning yellows of Big Leaf maples and oranges of Vine maples.  It was great.  At times, I thought the sun was coming out, because it was so bright with yellow. Everybody was doing fine, and we climbed steadily the last two miles to Heckletooth, where the map showed the trail would go by the summit, not up.  Turned out the map was wrong.  We climbed to the top of the 3670 foot mountain, about a half mile vertical above Highway 58 below us, and looked out on dense fog.  You can’t have everything, but I liked the rain and loved the colors, even if I couldn’t see too much.

Each of us had been up Highway 58 probably three dozen or more times and never once knew this mountain was so close.  Nobody knew what a Heckletooth was, which turned out to be an implement for cutting grass last century—or maybe THAT last century, since I tend to think of the 19th century as last.

It was chilly on top, as our sweat plus the wind quickly cooling us.  We moved back down the trail a little for shelter and maybe a 5 minute lunch.  Randy wasn’t feeling well and didn’t eat, which explained why he was lagging 50 yards back when he can usually out climb me.  Steve had a big breakfast, not that it seemed to slow him down any.  Lynn ate faster than I, so I grabbed a protein bar and started eating it on the way down.  Everything I had on was wet with rain or sweat, but I was warm, and we were moving.

The colors were fabulous.  We stopped to take pictures, or I should say I did.  Lynn had one of those fingerprint locks, which is a great idea unless one is hiking in pouring rain and has a wet thumb.  I took what pictures I could easily take without drenching the electronics.  We came back down the way we came, 5.5 miles instead of 4, and went by a trail junction to Aubrey Mountain, which is a bit lower but reportedly has good views.  Not wishing to hike an extra 5 miles, we kept going back to the car.  Normally, I might have done Aubrey, but this day was enough.

Near the bottom, Lynn said that that Heckletooth ought to be a regular fall hike on the schedule.  I agreed, so much so that I put Aubrey Mountain on this weekend and figured I would go alone if nobody else were interested.  Got one taker so far, and Lynn is really upset that she had something else scheduled.  It’s going to be sunny and dry.

 

 

 

 

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THIN VENEER

October 11, 2017

In 1992, I spent six months as a volunteer wilderness ranger for the US Forest Service in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area (BWCA). For the next eight summers, I spent a week n the BWCA with the late Mike Manlove, a remarkably wise woodsman, father, husband, and friend.  One raw, late summer day, Mike and I were on large, oval-shaped Alice Lake, with only a few small islands at the northeast corner.  As we were checking out all 11 campsites on the lake, we pulled up on one sandy site, lovely, I suppose, if it were a hot summer day,  but then wet, cold, and with a lot of recently abandoned gear.  Mike shook his head as we cleaned the site, knowing we would have to haul a lot of trash out. “These people got out of their comfort zone,” Mike said, folding a wet shirt and picking up some wet food containers. “Once that happens, all the good thoughts about Leave No Trace get left behind. All people want is to get out of here.” The idea of treating the wilderness properly is a thin veneer of behavior, which under adverse circumstances may melt away like ice off a boreal lake in spring, leaving one hell-bent for whatever leather they have on their boots to leave the woods.

I’ve been out of my comfort zone, and I know what Mike was referring to.  One doesn’t want to consider Leave No Trace if facing head winds, rain, cold, 3 days’ travel from town and 15 miles to travel that day.  The best defense against such conditions is to be adequately equipped to travel in inclement weather. There was a time when we had only our eyes, ears, and nose to make weather forecasts, and every night in the North Woods one put things under cover, because it might rain, even if the evening were clear.

Today, technology allows us in the wilderness to get accurate weather forecasts and radar.  We can move further than planned on sunny days if we know the next day is likely to be wet.  Before a recent trip with a friend, he was almost obsessed with the weather forecasts, at one point texting me “Rain+Cold= Misery”.  I’ve canoed in a lot of rain and cold; it’s challenging, but it need not be miserable. I’ve paddled 15 miles in heavy rain more than once, put up a tent, changed my clothes, found dry wood, and started a fire. Yes, I was wet, but once I changed my clothes and sat by the fire, I was warm. I gave my friend a chance to not go; while he didn’t take me up on it, I think he might have been happier had he stayed.

On the first part of the trip, my friend was far more neat than I, his tent meticulously placed and his cook gear, food, and gear neatly stacked near the fireplace. I was impressed and in fact a little jealous.

The penultimate night, we had a strong thunderstorm move through.  Fortunately, it was at night, and yes, I had the camp saw in the tent with me, in order to saw any tree that fell on my tent, assuming I survived the impact.  I stayed safe and dry, but my friend’s tent was pitched in a small depression so that his sleeping bag and some gear got wet.

We needed to move a few miles the next day so that we would be close enough to the take out point to exit the woods on time.  The next morning, after the rain stopped, I started packing and taking my gear down to the canoe.  My friend was not only concerned about his sleeping bag’s being wet but his tent.  To me, packing a wet tent is not enjoyable, but something I’ve done many times. It usually dries shortly after I pitch it the next day, and if not, I have a plastic sheet that lines the floor.  My friend was clearly uncomfortable with his wet gear, folding the tent so quickly it barely fit into the sack.  The tent fly, which is normally folded with the tent, wasn’t, and we ended up carrying it and the tent separately over the portages.  I realized that he was out of his comfort zone. When we reached the lake where we were staying, I found a west-facing campsite where the late afternoon sun could dry everything. It did.

Being outside of one’s comfort zone is of course part of war.  Part VII of Ken Burns’s recent Vietnam documentary was “The Veneer of Civilization,” how some young American men, decent people in civilian life, became the ugliest side of mankind during war.  Burns’s documentary took the wraps off, hearing from brave men, taken out of their comfort zone, who were forever changed.  War strips the veneer “civil” from civilization. We saw how Germany, so strong in the sciences that my father-in-law, a physician, had to learn German in the 1930s, because the best medical research was written in German.  These same people murdered people in places called Auschwitz or Thereseinstadt; I saw the signs in Mauthausen referring to parachutists without parachutes, where one had a choice to jump down on to granite 50 feet below or be shot.  Many committed suicide by trying to escape over electrified fences, to avoid places called “Gaskammer” or slowly starving to death.

The veneer has been badly scraped here in America since 20 January, and it was completely removed in Charlottesville and Las Vegas.  Congress used to be civil; the civility has been stretched and broken.  The veneer has disappeared in the halls of power, when one party has pushed legislation that was written in secret, not taken through the committee process, and brought for a vote within a few days of its having been written.  There isn’t even the pretense that there is respect.  Instead, it is push it through, even if the rules have to be changed.

There was a time when letters to the editor were the only way most of us could express an opinion. Editors filtered the letters, and there was a decent layer of veneer in public media. The Internet has spawned anonymity in which people spew vitriol without consequences. Much of what appears is poorly written, not factual, illogical, difficult to understand, hateful, adding nothing to public discourse.  There is seldom a simple “I disagree” without an ad hominem attack.  Covey’s Fifth Law: “Seek first to Understand then to be Understood,” one of the most powerful rules I used in management, is absent. I can’t write a letter to the editor or a blog post without letting it sit at least 24 hours, often longer, so that I have time to see if my original thoughts still seem right.  Often, they have significantly moderated.  On social media, much of what I write I delete before posting.

Just as astronauts can see the thin veneer of an atmosphere that allows us to breathe; just as a thin veneer of topsoil allows us to grow things; just as a thin veneer of pollinators allows flowering plants to produce food, so is there a thin veneer of civilized behavior that keeps us from descending into a hell that will destroy us.  In the woods, my veneer is experience and proper gear. In society, it is politeness, respect, listening, measured speech, and filtering one’s thoughts before expression.

We need every last bit of veneer today.