Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor writing’

ASTRONOMICAL MOOD SWING

October 24, 2018

“And this is the Silver Coin Galaxy, NGC 253, in the constellation Sculptor.” The speaker at the Eugene Astronomical Society, the new president, continued his fascinating talk about lesser known deep sky objects in the autumn night sky.

I was initially amazed at what he was showing, then became a bit depressed, because I used to be a lot more familiar with virtually everything he was discussing. I’ve seen NGC (New General Catalogue) 253, although I never knew it as the Silver Dollar Galaxy. I used to look at the variable star TX Piscium, which the speaker discussed, and I knew about NGC 404, the galaxy near the star Mirach in the constellation Andromeda. If I were at a star party in the autumn, and somebody wanted to see a galaxy, I could show them Andromeda, but this galaxy was even easier to find, because it was right next to a bright star.

I hadn’t forgotten everything I had learned, but it had been years—20 to be exact—since I last did serious observing of the night sky. I went to grad school in Las Cruces in 1998 and had little time to observe. During the 15 or so years prior that I was a diligent, active observer, I saw over 2000 double stars and at least 800 galaxies. I tracked 80 variable stars, often getting up in the middle of the night to observe a nova for the American Association of Variable Star Observers. Most of the variable stars I tracked I could find without using star charts. That’s good.

It’s not, however, as good as the Reverend Robert Evans, an Australian, who holds the record for the most supernovae discovered, 42. He could find his way without charts through the Virgo Cluster of galaxies, hundreds of them in a small area, that looks empty to the naked eye observer, in the constellation Virgo. He knew the appearance of the galaxies well enough to know whether or not they had changed since the last time he looked. That’s beyond good. His record is likely to stand, for in the age of computer driven telescopes and built in star maps, robotic telescopes are discovering many supernovae.

While no longer actively observing, I can still find my way around the night sky quite well. In 2016, at sea in Indonesia, I gave a Vancouver astrophysicist a tour of the night sky, without charts, and did a credible job. We both learned something.

My time in astronomy is like a lot of other things in my life. I study it until I am as good as I think I want to be, and then I move on to something else. I started learning German and did little else for about 3 years, then moved on, although I still watch about an hour of German videos daily on the Internet. I’m not likely to go back to Europe, although I won’t rule out the possibility, and I am not going to become fluent in German or Spanish, which I also spent time studying.

In the hiking club, I have led nearly 150 hikes and taken another 300, but I am not hiking with the group as much as I did, nor am I leading as much. I won’t give it up, but it isn’t the main focus of my life right now.

In all areas of life where I am reasonably competent—mathematics, statistics, neurology, astronomy, canoeing, writing, teaching, learning a language, traveling, leading hikes, predicting the weather, sawing logs in the wilderness—I have started at the bottom as a totally green know nothing and have worked my way up to some degree of competence. It’s not enjoyable being at the bottom, and learning provides the way upward.

Periodically, some of my past areas of competence are called upon unexpectedly. My mathematics skills, put aside for so much of my life, became my career for a while, then a source of worth for me by volunteering in high schools during the time I was neither employed nor retired. I didn’t do much, but I learned more, which I parlayed into a substitute teaching job and into my fifth year as a useful volunteer today at the community college. Writing became a way for me to relax and discuss life as I lived it and as I saw it. I am a decent writer, but not great, and never will be, but that’s fine with me. Writing is a way I express my creativity, just as the husband of a friend of mine composes and plays music that will never make him stand in front of thousands or appear on CC40, but gives him and the people with whom he is around pleasure.

Giving back to the community matters to me. Online, it is the nearly 10,000 problems I have solved on algebra.com. It’s a hope that some of the 28,000 hits my blog has had in 9 years will have helped somebody in some way. By giving, one gets back a lot more.

Several weeks ago, I went to the new SUN-day showing of the Sun by the astronomy club in a nearby park. There were three solar scopes set up and several Club members discussing the views with a few members of the public. I brought my binoculars with solar filters, but they weren’t needed. I didn’t know what my role there would be. For some reason, however, I mentioned sundials, many types of which I have built. Jerry, the Club secretary, is a remarkable person. He writes sci-fi books, columns for Sky and Telescope, has a telescope making class at his house, can make almost anything, and knows the night sky well. We starting chatting about sundials, and I explained the four corrections that needed to be made: Daylight Savings Time, correcting for one’s watch time, correcting for the longitude east or west of the time zone, which in the US is 75/90/105/120 degrees west for the contiguous states, and finally the Equation of Time, the delay or advancement of Sun time, depending upon the date. The Equation of Time deals with the Earth’s day length, which is fixed by our clocks, with the speed the Earth travels around the Sun, which changes depending upon our distance from the latter. It explains why the earliest/latest sunrise and the latest/earliest sunset do not occur on the solstice but a few days on one side or the other.

Jerry was interested and I enjoyed feeling somewhat useful. I gave him a book on sundials I had, and he returned the following week with two beautiful equatorial sundials that he made. A week after, he had business cards with a corner one could cut off and glue on the card itself to make the gnomon, or shadow caster, of a sundial. What an remarkable person.

Last week, the two of us found a place nearby to make an analemma, where if one measures a specific shadow at the same time of day over a year’s time, the shadow will trace out a Figure of 8. I once made a partial one in a math class at a high school in Arizona. There is a nearby sign with the park map where we will put a long pole to cast the shadow. Jerry now wants to make a vertical sundial on the back side of the sign. I know he can do it. I’m in awe of people like him—so creative, so full of ideas.

That’s not at all depressing to me, for while I’ve forgotten so much, I decided one day to show up in the park without any preconceived notions what would happen.

Sometimes, that’s the best way to live.

.

My log book from an observation of the variable star TX Piscium and two neighbors. I observed it from 1989-99.

Analemma:  The shadow caster is at the bottom, where the shortest shadow will be (summer in the Northern Hemisphere.)  The areas to the right are where the Sun “runs fast” relative to clock time, especially in autumn, which gives rise to the very early sunsets we notice.  In January and February, the Sun “runs slow,” and we see that as late sunrises but relatively late sunsets, too.  We notice by Christmas that the Sun is setting later.  The vertical line is neutral.  Four times a year, Sun and clock time are the same.

MY LOST METER

September 12, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

*                                 *                                 *

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

IMG_7732.JPG

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

MR. KILLJOY

August 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prevailed.  

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

I did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign me,

Mr. Killjoy

DIALING UP TIME

August 26, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Got that?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

PERIMETER HIKE AROUND THREE-FINGERED JACK

July 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Maxwell Butte with Santiam Lake

 

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

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

 

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

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

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

 

“LET ME DO THE FEELING”

May 10, 2018

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

SOLO SNOWSHOE

April 30, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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Odell Lake Overlook

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

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

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

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

Fuji Mountain from Maiden Peak Trail

Fuji Mountain from Maiden Peak Trail

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

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Maiden Peak Shelter

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

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

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

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

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

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

But I did it once.  

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Pulpit Rock from Upper Rosary Lake

THE MORNING THE PLATTE RIVER DANCED

April 9, 2018

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

It only hurt when we warmed up afterwards.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Pure copper

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

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

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

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

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THE DAY I BECAME A TRAIL ANGEL

March 1, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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Lower Rosary Lake in winter

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

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

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

Santiam Lake

Santiam Lake and Three-fingered Jack, June 2017.

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!