Posts Tagged ‘General writing’


March 13, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I will not return to eating potato chips, however.


January 22, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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



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).


December 8, 2017

I really should have stayed home that Tuesday evening and not gone to the German Stammtisch at Track Town Pizza.  I go there most Tuesdays to practice my German, to listen, speak, and to talk to people there.  It’s good to get out.  I only stay an hour, because the place has low ceilings, serves alcohol, and gets noisy fast, so that I have difficulty enough understanding English, let alone German.

Last Tuesday, I got into a political argument, first one in a long time.  It was my own fault.  Oh, I can blame the other individual, but I shouldn’t have taken the bait.  Unfortunately, however, a lot of things that have stewed inside me for some time came to the surface.

Normally, I try to steer clear of these arguments, with the exception of climate change, where I immediately put out my four rules: no pejorative attacks, required p-value, confidence intervals or margin of error, what happens if one side is wrong, and verifiable predictions locally, nationally, and globally.  That has always ended the discussion.  I need that approach for politics, although I admit difficulty these days in avoiding pejorative attacks, since my default mode when I get angry is a severe case of sarcasm.  It’s one of my huge flaws.

Anyway, the initial trigger was discussion about an upcoming lecture being given by a German official about immigration.  The individual with whom I was talking—an immigrant himself, I think—was saying how the speaker from Germany was lying.  I had no facts, so I let it go. I’m a grandson of an Irish immigrant, and I believe are that if more countries were problem solvers, rather than problem causers, there would be fewer immigrants. But the fundamental cause of immigration woes is overpopulation,  and unless we control population, immigration, with its attendant problems, will increase.  There are two major realities: one, we can’t grow indefinitely and two, we must control our numbers.  Unfortunately, population control is not on the agenda of The Other Side—or for much of my side, either for that matter.  A lady recently profiled in Sierra, the Sierra Club magazine, had three children.  I almost wrote a letter about it then thought better.

We then got into a discussion of weapons, after the individual mentioned a recently deceased friend of his who had several machine guns and a half million rounds of ammunition in his home.  I was shaming myself silently for being secretly glad his friend—63, massively overweight—died suddenly at home. Half a million rounds of ammo and at least one machine gun.  Wow.  Another listening to our conversation asked why the dead man—or anybody else—needed a machine gun.  We got the usual Second Amendment response, and that is where I started getting angry.  I wasn’t going to argue the wording, but I wagged my finger at him—something I inherited from my father—and said “I hope some day you feel the same kind of pain those who have lost people to gun violence feel.”

I’m not a Christian, and while I don’t have to be a jerk, I don’t have to be nice, either.

I’m not honestly sure what else was discussed, but the individual blamed Obama for the drug trade in this country. I was a bit stunned, saying that we have had a war on drugs that began when Mr. Obama was a child, and that he hardly was the person responsible.  I mentioned the Bush years, which seem to have vanished into the murky morass of 21st century history so far, the two wars and one recession have been blamed mostly on his successor, but while the man said he didn’t like Bush, he had absolutely no use for the Democrats.  Social programs, he said.  That was the reason.  So I asked him what sorts of social programs were a problem.  Unlike Mr. Obama, who is a centrist, or Ms. Clinton, who is center-right, I’m a liberal, but I can find wrong with some social programs.  I couldn’t get an answer, and as angrier I became, the quieter my voice was. I kept asking which social programs he was against.  I could have said that Social Security should have means testing.  I certainly would limit the tax deduction for children, in a somewhat feeble attempt to try to decrease population, and limit the mortgage deduction to $500,000.  This man couldn’t come up with anything, despite my quietly asking him “Which social programs?” five times.  All he could come up with was disability: “I see people getting disability who are better off than I am.”  OK.  That’s an issue, but it is hardly budget busting, and are we going to end disability payments because some cheat? The answer to some is yes. The Other Side wants to restrict voting because some cheat, which I believe was fewer than 10 in the last election, the first one’s documented being a Republican.  I am ignoring the almost certainty of one party’s involving the Russians and the definitive asking by the nominee for the Russians to publish every email they had.  That’s illegal and treason.

I didn’t mention my relief that a person with a half million rounds of ammunition was dead. When the individual stated with some outrage that the ATF (Alcohol, Tobacco, and Firearms) was in the house and planned to destroy the weapons, not give them to the dead man’s heirs, I didn’t know the law, so I kept quiet.  Destroying them sounded like a good idea, like beating swords into plowshares, but I’m no expert on Isaiah.

I remember that during a break in the arguing, the other man said that he wished the conversation hadn’t gone on because “I don’t want you to think badly of me.”

“I already do,” I replied.  And I suddenly got up and left, walking out, not turning back to look.  I cared not a whit for what he thought about me.

Several days later, it’s difficult for me to remember what it really was that pissed me off so much, and I’m ashamed I spent so much anger accomplishing almost nothing.

I should have quietly exited the conversation, rather than getting into a pissing contest with a skunk.  It’s difficult these days to read the news, see the direction of the country, and not be worried, lose sleep at night (unless this is age), and feel powerless to do much about it.  I’m frankly weary of dozens of emails clamoring for money for some candidate, promises to impeach (which doesn’t solve the problem; conviction is then necessary, and I also know who the second, third, and fourth in line people are), and the continuous surprise that things turned out the way they did. I find it stressful that I wish for bad things to happen climatically so I can say “I told you so,” and I hope those who voted for this government get hurt.  That’s petty, considering these people won’t vote Democratic even if their candidate is a pedophile or groped women.  We already know that.

I walked outside into the pouring rain.  Wonderful. I love the rain.


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.


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….


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.


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.


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,

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.


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.


September 26, 2017

I really wanted that isthmus site on Basswood Lake, an international treasure where the Canada-US border runs for 14 miles through the middle of it.  Basswood was part of the main fur trade route two hundred fifty years ago.  Spanning the border from Prairie Portage to Basswood River, its 45 square miles and 14 named bays makes it “big water” in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area.  The lake is so special that when the BWCA became one of the first wilderness designates after the Wilderness Act of 1964, there was a compromise made on the American side, allowing 25 hp motors on a large portion of it as part of the deal.

Basswood has over 150 designated campsites on both sides of the border.  When my wife and I were looking for base camps for our annual trip, we spent two autumn trips in the motorized zone, finally taking a long day trip outside the zone to find a beautiful isthmus site, a narrow strip of land between two quiet bays.  We planned to stay there in 2013, but severe illness prevented my wife from canoeing that year, so I went solo with her blessing and stayed on the site, enjoying 5 days of sunrises, sunsets and profound quiet.  When I returned with my wife in 2014, we paddled out of the motor zone, turned the corner around a wooded, rocky point, and the isthmus looked open, at least with binoculars, from a half mile.

As we got closer, however, we saw a tarp flapping in the wind, and our dreams of camping there were dashed.  Somebody else was on the site.  We turned around, went back to a site that we had just passed, and pulled in.  We had also scouted this particular site two years earlier. Neither of us thought too much of it, but we decided to take another look.

We were glad we did.

I now have the site labelled on my GPS as “Hidden Gem.”  During our five night stay in 2014, we were treated to incredibly dark skies, northern lights, wonderful sunrises, a moose, beaver swimming off the campsite every night, and wolves howling.  We would have missed almost all of that from the isthmus site.  We returned to the same site the following two years, no longer caring whether the isthmus site was open.  The beaver were no longer there, and no moose came, but the views were those that I still think of when I need to go deep into myself to get away from the world.


View to the north and Canada from the site.


Moose, from the “Hidden Gem” site, 2014

This past year, when I took a friend of mine into the area, I hoped again for the isthmus site.  It had a small beach, and he liked to swim.  We left the motor zone, turned the corner, paddled by “Hidden Gem,” where I would not stay at without my wife’s being along, and the isthmus site looked open.  I was pleased, as we paddled right up to the landing and got out, walking up from the beach a few feet to the site.  I turned and looked to my right, at the kitchen area.


The isthmus site from “Hidden Gem”

Hidden in the trees was a tent.

Oh well, I thought, we wouldn’t stay there, but there was another site down in a bay about a half mile away.  I didn’t remember the site as being too nice, with a lot of blowdown trees and not much room, but that had been three years ago.  Besides, I reasoned, I once thought “Hidden Gem” wasn’t all that great the first time I saw it, either.  We paddled along the shore of a quiet, moderate sized bay with a high cliff on the west side and two nearly bare, small islands out in the middle, rocky but interesting.  The whole place was quiet, except for a couple of nearby ravens.

We landed and walked uphill on the rocky path.  The site wasn’t large but it did have enough space for two tents.  The views were great to the north where we could see Canada. Nobody was on the lake, and I doubted we would see anyone, for we were well off the travel routes.  Most importantly, my companion said he liked it.  I did, too.  We had room, quiet, and we later explored the two islands, climbed the cliff, and in the evening had a visit from migrating geese, which landed by the islands, staying the night.  In all my years in the Boundary Waters, I had seen a lot of geese flying overhead; I never had camped with them nearby.


“Hidden Bay” campsite as viewed from the cliff

We didn’t have wildlife, other than a couple of chipmunks, which were more interested in the plants than in us, but we had clear skies one night, with some of the best dark skies in the Lower 49.  We paddled the next morning to the outlet of Basswood, where the rapids began, the international border’s being in the middle of the rushing water.  We walked on the portage a short distance to places where one could be near the roaring rapids that continued for several miles to the west, ending at Crooked Lake. Other than a pair of eagles, we had the place to ourselves.


Beginning of Upper Basswood Falls; Canada across the water


Eagle pair

I no longer go to the Boundary Waters to cover miles and quench my desire to see new country.  I have done it, enjoyed it, happy that I was so fortunate to do so. These days, a base camp in a nice place is enough.  I can get in there in a few hours, if the weather is cooperative, I have a quiet place to stay, hardly see anybody,  and I can get back out easily.  Hidden Gem is still there, should my wife be able to travel with me again.  So is the isthmus.  It’s a nice place.

I’m lucky.  I can pick among several beautiful campsites on a lake whereI have spent more than fifty-five nights on twenty-three different campsites.  I didn’t look all of these numbers up on a map; I have them all in my memory, the year I was on them, and in some instances the actual date.

I sometimes think how interesting it might be to have spent a night on every one of the 107 campsites on the US side, and the half again as many on the Canadian side.  Realistically, however, I would never do that.  Getting to know a place well means more to me these days, second only to having the ability to get there.

Isthmus, Hidden Gem, and now Hidden Bay.  Nice places.

Basswood Lake: an international treasure.


Closeup of isthmus site at sunset


Sunrise from “Hidden Gem”


Fall colors, September 2014.


Beaver, 2014



July 18, 2017

I went to the Oregon Coast recently on a backpacking trip with six other club members.  The coast is pleasant in summer with cool nights and days, an evening campfire welcome, and one sleeps comfortably, without the bugs at the higher elevations, where there might not be any wind and may be a good deal hotter.

The youngest on the trip was 50, the oldest 72.  We share a love of the woods and backpacking, but we had very different personalities.  One disappeared for most of the trip, hiking early and alone.  We saw him the second day out, hiking back from a place where we were going to.  That afternoon he disappeared into the woods reading, and he was gone the next morning when I got up.  I am a morning person, but other than that one individual, the rest were not, so I did some early morning solo walking on the beach, but I stayed in camp when the others were there, and during a lot of the campfire time, listened.


My tracks on the beach north of Blacklock Point.

It’s good to listen long and hard to others.  I ought to do more of it.  I forget people’s names, or how to pronounce some of them, so if I listen long enough, I often avoid the embarrassment of asking someone’s name, which I should have learned but didn’t, or how they say it.  If I am especially lucky, I learn how to pronounce some of the natural landmarks from long time residents, so I don’t mangle the pronunciation myself.  While others are talking, I learn about ages, past jobs, families, marriages, divorces, kids, philosophy, and a whole host of things I would never ask, because I generally don’t like to ask people about personal matters.  Listening is great: people like someone with whom they can talk, and I get a lot of free information.  I just have to keep my own mouth shut, and that often isn’t easy.

I also learn how organized people are by how they deal with campfires.  Some like to have every piece of wood in the right place, and are constantly in motion making sure such happens.  Others just let the fire burn where it burns and don’t involve themselves in it at all.  I’m in the middle, tossing an occasional pine cone in, trying to get it to one exact spot.  I need a lot of pine cones.

The woods itself teaches me much every time I go into it.  Too many in the club think all I do is hike as fast as I can without seeing anything.  I don’t try to convince them otherwise; I won’t. I’m too old to make the effort, and I’ve long known that the only person I can likely change is myself, and that hasn’t been easy. Lately, I have been interested in wildflowers, and I get to see some that I can take a picture of and look them up back home.  I watch the Moon in daytime, when it is visible.  I look at its angle with the horizon, the phase, and notice how dim it gets near the horizon, eastern horizon if it is rising before full, western if it is setting after full.

What surprised me the most this particular trip were the spider webs.  Yes, spider webs.  It was quite by accident I even noticed them.  I was making a simple breakfast and happened to look up to the east, where the morning sun sent its beams through a the forest of red pines and Sitka spruce.  That was worthy of a picture, but instead of pulling out the camera, I kept looking. What really struck me were the number of webs, complete ones,  ones with just one strand, a strand 25 feet up in the air, several at near ground level.  I realized how many I destroy when I walk through the woods.  I understand how dangerous these webs are for small flying insects.  Mind you, there have always been spider webs in the woods, and I have long noted the beautiful ones with dew on them, but I never had fully appreciated the sheer number of spiders in the woods.  At 68, that is shameful.  On the other hand, at least it wasn’t when I was 69, 79, or never.  Kind of makes me wonder briefly what else I am missing.  I’m sure someone in the club will tell me.

On the other hand, I bet they don’t know what the phase of the Moon is and why it is angled the way it is to the horizon, either.  Maybe some night I will explain it to them, by a campfire.





“Ross Light”, the special light, at sunset. It is the name Sig Olson, the great 20th century wilderness writer, gave to that time when photography was the best.


Looking south from Blacklock Point, Oregon Coast. At the far right center is the Cape Blanco Lighthouse.


Wildflowers, Blacklock Point, Oregon Coast.