Posts Tagged ‘Outdoor writing’


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.


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


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.


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.


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.


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!





January 5, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Spencer Butte from Mt. Pisgah


December 22, 2017

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

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

I think summer is overrated, too.

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

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

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


Part of the Kentucky Falls area


Eating lunch by a 600 year-old Douglas fir


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

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


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


Hiking through fog.


Brown bear rolling on ice, Drain Creek, ANWR.


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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

But only for a while.


Storm coming in, Lake Insula, BWCA, 2009


After the storm, next morning.


October 27, 2017

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


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


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

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

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


Husband Lake and South Sister before the fire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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










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



September 5, 2017

“Tons of rain” was the grossest underestimate I heard of the amount of water accumulating during Hurricane Harvey.  A ton of rain is not very much, roughly about 0.02 inches on a moderate sized roof of one house.

What about 11 trillion gallons of water?  The media used the number to say how much water fell on southeast Texas.  The problem is first, too many don’t know how big a trillion is and second, a trillion is not a term often used with water.

A trillion, 1,000,000,000,000, 1 x 10 ^12, is a term used to describe both the national debt and the Gross National Product.  It is roughly the number of days the Earth has existed.  It is about the number of seconds in 31,700 years.

The term we use to describe a lot of water here is an acre-foot (1 acre covered with one foot of water), and while perhaps archaic, it is useful.  An acre-foot of water is roughly 326,000 gallons, what an average family of 4 uses in a year.  Lake Shasta, the largest reservoir in California, has a capacity of 4.5 million acre feet.  Eight Shastas would have flooded Houston, or 11 trillion gallons of water would cover all of New York State a foot deep.  If the catchment area described were 10,000 sq miles, it would have covered it to a depth of 5 feet, basically what people needed to know and could see from the pictures.


Per cent is a useful term, but often misleading.  I inadvertently misled people before the recent eclipse.  What I should have said in the talks I gave prior to the event was that there were two kinds of eclipses (there are more, but I will keep things simpler), partial and total.  They are very different experiences.  Had I said that, mentioning that where I lived was in the partial zone, I might have persuaded more people to go to see totality.

Instead, I and many others said the eclipse would be 99.4% (or 99%) and most people figured, reasonably enough, that they would see almost the full event from their house.  I have since had several people tell me that they wish they had gone to totality.  One poignant comment was that 0.6% made all the difference in the world, since it was still sunlight and not totality.  If the eclipse isn’t total, it is partial.  It may be a little darker, a little more of the Sun will be covered if it is a deeper partial, but it is not total.  Next time, if there is a next time for me, I won’t make that mistake.

Per cent shouldn’t be used when counts are a better measure.  I have said in 2001 that the per cent of domestic flights not hijacked was 99.999996%.  Counts matter, especially when the counts should be zero.  When I was medical director of a hospital, we had a surgeon operate on the wrong side of the head.  Actually, we had three wrong side cases that I knew about—one was the wrong knee, and the other was the wrong side of the colon.  With the craniotomy, the OR head said that 99.9% of the time they did it right.  No, I retorted, we did 99.99% of them right, and that wasn’t the issue. There should be zero wrong side cases;  99.9% of landings done right means a plane crash every other day at O’Hare.


Not every measurement is interval or ratio, meaning that the difference between 10 and 20 is not the same as the distance between 20 and 30.  Most of us realize that with temperature, that 110 is not twice as hot as 55.  That is because the Fahrenheit scale has an artificial zero that is 459 Fahrenheit degrees above absolute zero.  Therefore 55 degrees is 514 above absolute zero and 110 is 569 above absolute zero, a difference of 10.7%.  With Celsius, these numbers would be 273 above absolute zero, 13 and 43, respectively, making the temperatures 287 and 316, or 10.1%, really the same, given the rounding in the conversion from one to the other.  It’s important to recognize what is ratio data, meaning that multiples make sense, and what isn’t.  Money is ratio data, as are height and weight.  Others are ratio data, but they are used in ways where one has to be careful.  Height is ratio data, but the Body Mass index is a function (depends upon) the square of the height, or the height multiplied by itself.

This concept of squaring something is important in many areas, such as the energy of a moving body, which is proportional to or depends upon the square of the velocity.  With hurricanes, velocity of winds increasing from 100 mph to 120 mph, 20%, is a 44% increase in energy, (120/100)(120/100).   A car moving at 60 mph has four times the kinetic energy it had at 30 mph.

Cubing something is to the third power or multiplying it by itself 3 times.  While 1 yard is 3 feet, 1 cubic yard is 3*3*3 or 27 cubic feet.  A meter is almost 10% longer than a yard (9.4%), and a cubic meter is 31% more than a cubic yard.  Gravitational attraction is inversely proportional to the square of the distance between objects; tides are inversely proportional to the cube of the distance between objects, which is why the Moon, so much less massive than the Sun, is responsible for 45% of the tidal pull on the Earth.

Fourth power?  Yes.  The radiation from a star can be considered to be equal to the fourth power of the temperature, useful for determining the temperature of distant stars.  And closer to home, the damage large vehicles cause to roads is roughly equivalent to the fourth power of the load equivalent factor, having to do with axle number and weight.

Other relationships?  Yes, too.  the acidity of a liquid is the negative log of its hydrogen ion concentration (pH), which is a nice way to call 0.0000001 moles/liter of hydrogen ion a pH of 7.  Therefore, what seems like a minor fall in the ocean pH from 8.2 to 8.1 represents a 26% increase in acidity.

It’s not always the magnitude of a number that matters—99.99% is not always good, and a pH’s falling from 8.2 to 8.1 will see the end of most coral reefs on Earth.


August 10, 2017

The trail was dusty, the hot sun blazed, the temperature was rapidly rising and our 5 mile trail hike to Louis Lake with 2100’ elevation gain was becoming daunting.  I was the informal leader of the group and thought—correctly, as it turned out—the others would not be feeling well at the trail junction two miles in and 600 feet up.  I was doing fine, for although I do not like hot weather, I have lived in the desert many years, and the temperature was not a problem for me.

It was for the rest of the group, however, and we had a brief, mildly heated discussion whether it was wise to continue a difficult hike on a hot day.  I favored stopping by the creek that we had hiked along, for it was shady and cool there, and I felt the group would not likely to enjoy going to the end of the trail to the lake.  We went on, however, but not before I added a proviso that we would turn around at noon, regardless of where we were.  Definable turn around points are a way to remind people that one has to get home, too.

Often, at the beginning of a hike, my warm up process is slow and I feel like quitting.  Three days earlier, on a hike up Easy Pass, which wasn’t, I reached an open meadow with two thousand vertical feet of climbing ahead of me far to my right.  My spirits sank, but as I moved upward, a nice breeze removed the bugs and cooled me, and an hour later I was on top of one of the nicer places in the North Cascades.

As I ascended the trail, now thankfully in the shade of large Ponderosa pines, my pace fell into my comfortable cruising pattern.  I wasn’t hiking excessively fast, but I was ascending a 10% grade at 3 mph and then some.  I didn’t carry a lot of weight—my day pack had the 10 essentials (map, compass/GPS, sunglasses/sunscreen, extra clothing, headlamp/flashlight, first-aid supplies, fire starter, matches, knife, extra food) and a couple of liters of water—but I didn’t notice the pack, and I barely noticed the climb, over rocks, roots, branches.  It wasn’t effortless, but I had little sense of exertion.  I was one person, climbing upward, at peace with myself and the trail.  I’d wait for the others at the end.  I was comfortably cruising, a feeling I have more as I hike more.  It’s a sense of being one with the trail.

I got to the lake just fine, went back a few minutes later to encourage two others that they were almost there, one of whom told me that the fourth was feeling badly.  I realized I should have taken my pack when I went back, but I expected everybody sooner.  I took off my hat, found a small scrap of paper, and wrote a message asking the last person to stop right where I left my hat in the trail.  I returned to the lake, got my pack, and then started back, finding the individual in good shape and waiting for me.  We all ate lunch in the woods and finished two hours later.

Nearly 20 years prior, on the Appalachian Trail, I had this feeling as well, that my pack—then about 35 pounds—and I were one, inseparable.  I had forgotten that time until I heard a Pacific Crest Trail thru hiker mention it.  The concept isn’t that one is so strong that he or she doesn’t feel the weight, but that one is so accustomed to carrying a pack that he or she doesn’t see the pack as weight.  I was a person with an appendage most would call a backpack, but I’d no sooner walk without it than I would walk without my boots, hat, or left foot.

Five years before that, when I volunteered for the Forest Service in Minnesota, I had to help haul the gear out from the Boundary Waters after a person had abandoned it.  I portaged his heavy food pack over a half mile and returned for the canoe, a heavy Grumman aluminum model.  I had been portaging canoes the whole summer, and I picked this 75 pounder up, put it over my head, and was 100 feet down the trail before I realized I had done all of that without thinking, it was so automatic.

And twenty-five years prior to the BW experience, as a young man a half century removed from now, a canoe guide for Camp Pathfinder, I had to deal with an ill camper on a 6-day trip I was leading.  I had to carry his pack and my canoe, 140 pounds total, down the Tim River, rushing water and slippery rocks part of the equation.  I felt the weight, but I knew I was up to the task.  There never was a question in my mind.

I don’t have many more years of hiking the way I want to, but I have found a joie de vivre, and I enjoy every hike I do with this feeling.  If I am fortunate, as my body ages my brain will develop a new style of hiking, where I may not do as much, but will enjoy it just as much.  My canoe tripping has evolved in that manner, and with good fortune maybe my hiking will, too.


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.


June 20, 2017

“Without music, my life would be a lot less enjoyable.  Without science, my life would have ended a long time ago.”   My letter published in Newsweek, many years ago.

It’s a honor to know that I think the same way Neil deGrasse Tyson does about both the night sky and about society’s tacit approval of math illiteracy.

I have spoken to several groups about the upcoming solar eclipse.  Oddly, the largest number to whom I have spoken was not an group of adults but children at “a little school” (the teacher’s comment, not mine) in eastern Oregon.  In an hour, I spoke to all grades, about 100 students, and then in another hour spent time with about fifteen in a class, showing them how to make a solar filter on their own.  The other talks have had fewer than twenty, sometimes under ten.  Last week, I spoke at the LIONS meeting, and despite the microphone’s being near the speaker at one point, making a god-awful noise, one man was asleep right in front of me within 5 minutes after I began.

My solar eclipse talks have been short:  It’s worth seeing totality; protect your eyes and drive safely to and from the event; if you are a first timer, don’t waste precious seconds trying to take a picture.  Then I answer questions, and if the Sun is shining, have people look at it through solar filters.


Students at Prairie City school in Oregon view the Sun.  The total eclipse will last 2m6s there.


Howard Elementary 5th graders in Eugene.


Eastern Oregon, 1 hour after leaving Prairie City. My payment for the talk.

I’ve stayed away from the math explaining why a total solar eclipse occurs.  Much of it isn’t complicated, but people don’t like numbers.  On the 2006 eclipse tour to Libya, there were several eclipse talks, and I asked the editor of one of the astronomy magazines why he didn’t discuss the Saros cycle in detail.  His answer was short, “People don’t like to look at numbers.”

While perhaps readers don’t like to look at numbers, perhaps they might learn something interesting by viewing 6 of them.

223 Synodic periods (common lunar cycle we know)=6585.32 days: The Moon has to be new for a solar eclipse to occur.  That lines up the three bodies in one plane.

239 Anomalistic (from perigee, closest approach, to perigee)=6585.54 days; the Moon must be within a few days of its closest point in order to appear to have the same apparent size (we call it angular size) as the Sun. Too far away, and the Moon will appear smaller, “inside” the Sun, a ring or annular eclipse.

242 Draconic (crossing the plane of the Earth’s orbit)=6585.36 days; the Moon must cross the plane of the Earth’s orbit when new in addition to being the right distance from Earth for a total solar eclipse to occur.  Crossing the plane lines up the three bodies in a plane perpendicular to the synodic.

Divide 6585 days by 365.25 days in a year and one gets 18 years 10.3 days, meaning that eclipses repeat.  The 18 year Saros cycle means that eclipses recur, shifted a third of the way around the world, which is what the decimal 0.3 shows, but the same general path occurs on the Earth.  Ancient people without computers knew this, and they didn’t know the math we know today, an impressive feat.

While these cycles aren’t exact, they are so close that an eclipse “family” will continue for some 70 eclipses, give or take about three.  That makes a family last 1200-1400 years before the small changes in many cycles finally fail to allow an eclipse to occur.  I think the resonance of these cycles might be part of the Musica Universalis, the Music of the Spheres, an idea dating at least to Pythagoreas, yes, that guy, that music was part of the movement of the celestial bodies.  If those three cycles aren’t beautiful, one has amaurosis mathematica, math blindness.

It’s not OK to use “I’m not good at math” to explain away inability to calculate basic things in life.  When I taught statistics to adults, I once made the comment that I didn’t care for a lot of jazz, and the class hammered me.  Wow, one would think I was born with a major defect.  I think the idea of people jamming is neat, playing off each other, finding the right beat, the right chord, the right sense; that is special.  I can’t do that, but I appreciate those who can.  What bothers me about math is that people use “not being good” as proud excuses to explain away issues, rather than concerns that they might be losing money, being conned, or missing out on something special in the world.  Without jazz, my life would be less full; without math, I would not have practiced medicine or even gone to college.

If I could learn to play the piano, and I did learn, I think that it is appropriate to say that others should learn to do basic math and like it. An astronomer the other night at the Club spoke how he taught basic astronomy to students without using math.  Everybody thought that was great, including me, until I thought about it a little.  Why leave out math?  By doing that, one fails to show why math is important.  One fails to listen to the Music of the Spheres.  What’s so wrong about showing the difference between an ellipse and a circle, between a parabola and a hyperbola?  You’ve got a satellite dish, and that is a parabola. These four conics all have a square or a quadratic term present, and quadratics are essential to understand energy of motion, gravity, projectiles, tides, how the solar system works, why we should wear seat belts and not drive too quickly around curves.

Maybe if we understood math a little better, we’d realize the number e, yes, there is a number e, used in a variety of places, including continuously compounding interest.

$1 at 8% for nine years, compounded each year $1(1+.08)^9=$1.99; we make interest on interest.

Compound twice a year, it is (1+(.08/2))^18 or1.04^18= $2.025.

We can compound daily (1+(.04/365))^365*18=$2.0543.

We can continuously compound, infinitely, and 1+(.08/n)^nt=e^(.08t)=e^(0.64)=$2.0544; notice where the 0.08 goes.

This infinitely number of compounding times sadly doesn’t give us infinite riches but approaches a limit given by the number e, the exponential.  Interestingly, it is far easier to calculate continuous compounding than it is daily compounding.

Note the close resonance of the product (multiplication) of the interest rate in per cent times the number of years it takes to double money.  That product is 72. In other words, 8 per cent interest  means that debt, money, population will double in 9 years, 72/8.  At 24% credit card interest, debt doubles in 72/24=3 years.  One student once asked me why we learned the formula for compound interest.  When I explained to him how with punching 5 keys on a calculator, he could find that the tripling time of money at 8% interest was just under 14 years, he was stunned.  Divide 110 by the interest rate.

Yes, beautiful, essential, interesting numbers.  Enjoy the eclipse.  Enjoy the knowledge that three cycles are coming together in August the way they did on 20 July 1963, 54 years and 32 days from when I saw this same eclipse family, canoeing in Canada’s Algonquin Park, where I saw the reflection of the solar crescent in Dickson Lake.

Thrice 18 years 10.3 days.