Posts Tagged ‘Philosophy’

RETURNING TO JERK JUNCTION

November 20, 2018

“In War: Resolution, In Defeat: Defiance, In Victory: Magnanimity In Peace: Good Will.” Winston S. Churchill

Last month, while in Safeway, I encountered a lady in the bread aisle, carefully examining a loaf, right where I wanted to go. I mean carefully.  I could not get to the loaf I wanted, and she seemed oblivious to everything else but that loaf of bread.

Rather than disturb her, I took Suck it Up Lane to the next aisle to get some yogurt and then returned, figuring she might be gone.  Nope, she was still checking out that same loaf of bread.  

I had enough of Suck it Up Lane, so I turned on Excuse Me Way, reached around her leg, got the loaf I wanted, and left.  She never moved, and I think, although I couldn’t swear to it at a Senate hearing, that she gave me a dirty look.  So be it.  If she wanted to be on Jerk Road, I wasn’t going to follow her, although jerk is usually a masculine noun.  In any case, shoppers usually excuse themselves a lot at the store; if not, well, one probably owns property on Jerk Road. 

Suck it Up Lane is for wanting to yell at people but not doing it.  There is also Winston Churchill Boulevard: “In victory, “Magnanimity.”  That means when the winner doesn’t lord it over the loser.  You don’t brag, you don’t rub their nose in it, you don’t laugh at them, and you don’t become a jerk.  Instead, you try to be generous, hoping one day that when you lose, which you will, that you may be treated the same way.  In other words, jerks put up Trump/Pence signs before the midterm elections, since neither of the two was running.  A jerk will drive his pickup slowly through the neighborhood with a big American flag flying from the bed, proclaiming patriotism, as if the rest of us were somehow deficient.  Blatantly showing the flag doesn’t make one patriotic any more than singing the Star Spangled Banner makes one a diva or knowing the difference between its and it’s—or your and you’re— makes one a published author.  Only jerks keep obsessing about Hillary Clinton, yelling, “Lock her up”  at rallies designed to stoke the base, where they also scream obscenities. Only jerks keep harping on her emails when the president’s own daughter did the same thing.  Only jerks keep harping on chain migration when the president’s in-laws got citizenship that way.

That’s a tall order.  I thought of the jerks who put up the sign east of Walterville for the Republican congressional candidate and another set of jerks who did the same out by Dexter, on the way up to Willamette Pass.  I found I could drive by without looking at those signs, since they are for only a month every two years, the perennial congressional candidate is a hypocrite, and I have discussed him before.  I wish he would go away, but he won’t. 

It was the signs for the president and vice president placed near the congressman sign that made those doing it jerks. Yes, they were on Jerk Road, near Highway 126 or 58.  They were lording over the fact they won.  Yes, they did win the electoral college, at least in the votes counted if perhaps not all the ones actually cast.  They are glad, not only that they got the kind of country they seem to think it should be, but really glad that My Side is upset.  They take delight in knowing we lost.  That’s right down the centerline of Jerk Road.

But in My Side’s defeat, there is Defiance Avenue, defiance of bullies, who live in the past, with a vision of an America that never existed the way they think it did. They want to take America back to a time of (old) white men’s ruling most everything, segregation, women’s place in society, few or no regulations, no abortion under any circumstances, no birth control, pregnancy and raising the child a woman’s problem.  

Lack of adequate, known, safety and other regulations has led to several million’s dying from lung cancer, transportation-related accidents, firearms, bad food, water, and air, suboptimal medical and mental health care.

The Other Side too often disparages and ignores science, even as they enjoy the electronic and much healthier world it helped develop.  Without proof, they say, “It’ll (the climate) will change back.” When? Why? How?

Here in Lane County, The Other Side’s incumbent  wanted to define a county commissioner’s race by who was better for the timber industry.  He discussed timber and so-called Oregon values in his ads.  He was funded by the timber industry, and after listening to his commercial, I realized he was out of touch with both the electorate and the time. I’m not an expert on body language, but he sure looked and sounded angry.  He was only three years younger than I, which is no compliment.  His opponent, a woman 25 years younger, runs a property management service that my wife and I used for two years with total satisfaction.  Timber is still important here, but it doesn’t define Oregon. Many of us resent being called environmental extremists for being upset at aerial spraying, clear cuts that leave slash and later burn (accelerating at least two major fires in 2017), polluted waterways, a forest management timeline of only 10 years, rather than 100, or even 200, the idea that we can cut again in 40 years, rather than 100, the unsightly scars that are replaced by monoculture forests, and the assumption that the soil will be just as good for second and third growth as it was for the original old growth.  He lost by 12%.  We flipped the commissioners from 4-1 Other Side to 3-2 My Side.  This is the kind of change we need locally that is going to directly help my life.  I’m not jeering at the ex-incumbent.  I’m hoping we can have a county more suited to the 2020s than the 1920s, when timber workers truly thought our forests were infinite.

Jerks cheer when the president thinks body slamming a reporter is a good thing, rather than Jerk Expressway behavior and should end, especially given the number of close associates to the president who have actually been charged, are in jail, or face prison time.  The new Supreme Court justice once said about being a good judge: “In short, don’t be a jerk.”  And a few days later, he was a jerk, still being confirmed, not surprisingly.    

I have traveled Jerk Road more than I care to admit, but I try to take the first exit I find. That requires a JerkMeter, called self-awareness, and a JPS, Jerk Positioning System, otherwise known as compassion or a conscience, so that one can quickly find his way off.  

Yes, his way off.

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.

NINE LESSONS

September 7, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MR. KILLJOY

August 29, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I prevailed.  

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

I did. 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sign me,

Mr. Killjoy

THE TRAGEDY OF THE COMMONS IS NOT JUST COW PIES

August 4, 2018

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Individual rights?  Or Common good?

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

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

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

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

Assuming birds matter.  Or the Sandhill Crane migration.

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

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

Perhaps there is no difference.  

NO SKIN IN THIS GAME

July 18, 2018

This year, for the first time in twenty years, I’ve been going to the gym to lift weights in order to strengthen my upper body.  Occasionally, I drive there, but it’s a short enough walk that does me good, going through Alton Baker Park, along the canoe canal, under I-5, into Springfield, through a quiet neighborhood, to the gym.  In summer, there is shade and wildflowers, and in fall there are some of the most beautiful colors in town. 

The workouts have helped me; I can do 20 push-ups now, rather than barely 12 a year ago.  It is said that the 60s are the time to build yourself up, the 70s to try to avoid damage.  I forgot what the 80s were for— probably making lists to avoid forgetting. In any case, the workouts have helped me, as a member of the High Cascade Volunteers, do the 2-man crosscut sawing of large blowdowns, some of the more difficult work I have done. Somebody has to hike into the woods with tools to clear wilderness trails, and its not like the Forest Service will be funded to do it.  It is good to be with a bunch of folks who like being in out of doors doing good work helping the land and serving people, the USFS motto.

On my way back home, I passed by some neighbors who were looking at grandchildren pictures.  I wonder what they think about how climate change will affect their grandchildren.  Do they care about it?  This is my generation’s legacy, their legacy, and I am ashamed of it.  Are they?

While I’m at it, are they worried about their own future?  What’s going to happen when Medicare is privatized (read: destroyed) and SSI disappears?  Voting mattered, you see, and well, those who didn’t vote, or played silly games with their vote, made sure the House and Senate went Republican back in 2014.  It mattered a lot at the state level, but down ballot candidates may be ignored.   Each day part of me hopes that if the country goes the wrong direction far enough, maybe many will be hurt so badly that they will finally decide that voting matters. That of course assumes that they still have the right to vote, currently in jeopardy, and they vote for the right candidates.

A guy I hike with, who voted for Jill Stein, so he could remain pure, I guess, decried the state of the country, too.  He didn’t like the fact that the Oregon congressional delegation pushes logging.  I don’t either, but they are a damn sight better than the “scientist” who runs every other year for Congress, who solicits people’s urine, because he is convinced he will cure a lot of disease with the knowledge. Or Greg Walden, who wrote the monstrous Republican health care bill. I told my friend that if he wants perfection, he should run himself. Perhaps if his VA disability check stops coming, he will realize that voting really does matter.  The perfectionism required by some Democrats is arguably as bad as any Republican.

Then I felt better when I remembered I have no skin in this game.  We have no children and no grandchildren. I volunteer at the community college, and I strongly believe in education, but if those with kids and grandkids aren’t worried about the climate, well, why should I be worried?  The country going in the wrong direction?  Yep. But my kids aren’t going to suffer, because I don’t have any.  

Since, we don’t have any daughters or grand-daughters, the fact that there will be loss of abortion rights and birth control leading to a lot of poverty, homelessness, and more stress isn’t directly going to affect me, only my email box, which gets a dozen requests daily to do something.  I’m no longer signing, marching, or calling.  Somebody else’s turn. 

I’m not a union member, nor is anybody in my family.  Not my problem. None of my small family is gay, queer, lesbian, bisexual or transgender.  A sixth of the gay population voted for Trump in 2016.  A sixth!! That is when I ceased worrying about their rights.   I wonder how many states that cost.  Vladimir Putin’s Russia is not at all friendly towards gays, which ought to be of major concern to that sixth.

Michigan can’t sell beef to China, now.  Wisconsin-based Harley is threatening to build factories in Europe, South Dakota farmers are complaining about where their soybeans will no longer go, and those are all red states.  Not my problem.  They made their bed.   Hell, the president sided with Putin against our intelligence services.  For my entire adult life—nearly half a century—I have heard how the Democrats were soft on communism.  Now the Republicans have cast their lots with the Devil so they can get a conservative agenda—except on Russia, apparently.

This administration destroys; the only thing it creates is chaos.  There’s a lot of that these days, hiding the real harm that is happening. 

My wife and I are planning on visiting Vancouver this year.  Sure, the climate is going to get worse there, too, just as it has in Oregon, but most of the predictions are for 2050 and 2080, which is a bit beyond my timeline  I don’t want to move, but if after these past eighteen months people won’t vote in Democrats, even with voter suppression and cheating that is going to require more votes than normal, then I don’t want to live in a Christian theocracy where a treasonous, morally bankrupt president gets a free pass from boorish slobs who still are fighting Hillary Clinton, blame Obama for every ill, worried about a deep state, guns, and UN conspiracies.  I don’t want to live in a place where people complain about migrants but don’t believe in the climate change that is fundamentally behind much of the reasons for the migration.  I don’t think the 4000 member attended National Prayer Breakfast, where a Russian spy found connections by the way, is something we ought to have.  I don’t want to live in a country where Christians are pushing their agenda in my local newspaper, which recently ran an ad from Hobby Lobby about “Blessed is the nation whose Lord is God.”  Hobby Lobby was a Supreme Court case basically saying that the for-profit company should not be required to provide birth control coverage to their employees, because they thought birth control is immoral. We may be headed for no Affordable Care Act, no birth control, and no abortion.  I wonder what that is going to do to the infant mortality, childhood development, and the death rate in general.  I know what will happen to bankruptcies.

I am at the age where “That was too young” won’t be said when I die.  It is always a shame when people die too young.  But so long as they weren’t aborted, then it really doesn’t appear to register to many in this “Blessed Nation” that a death is still a death.  

In short, the country I served in uniform 40+ years ago, the country in which I have lived for nearly 70, is rapidly becoming a country that doesn’t fit me.  But as I said, I’ve got no skin in this game.  I can take my marbles elsewhere, and I may do just that..

WHAT I DID TO REPLACE MY FACEBOOK TIME

June 18, 2018

     

Well, I haven’t completely left Facebook these past four months.  I still use Messenger and WhatsApp to help a few with their English, and with Messenger, I have to log on Facebook.  The two posts came from briefly—oh, so briefly—reading something before I clicked to go on Messenger.  That’s how Facebook sucks me in, and I’m not sure I’m alone in that regard.  One was a nice picture of a friend, the other a birthday.  

Still, I haven’t been on Facebook for four months. I was spending too much time there and was depressed by the news, the conspiracy theories, the religious and other Trump supporters with their double standards and terrible grammar, the requests to march, sign, donate, all the great things everybody else was doing that I wasn’t, and not liking some of the rather nasty comments I received, some of which were from friends.

It took 37 days before anybody wrote me asking if I were OK, which was heartening, longer before any of my friends whom I have actually met, noticed.  Indeed, had I not asked in person how a trip was, they might not have ever figured out I wasn’t logging on.  Messenger and WhatsApp are also Facebook owned, so I can’t say that I am boycotting the organization, much as I might like.  It reminds me of my brother’s comment about the UFW (the United Farm Workers, for those who are too young to remember) decades ago.  He said he wasn’t boycotting California produce because if he boycotted everything produced by right-wing farmers, he’d starve to death.  If I boycotted every communication corporation, I’d correspond with almost nobody.

It was nice that I hadn’t posted anything between 22 and 24 May, avoiding getting caught up in yet another of Facebook’s many data compromises that somehow keep on occurring.  

Mornings, I now spend 45 minutes reading the major articles and the online opinions in The New York Times.  I don’t agree with all of the commentators by any means, but they are far better than the comments I read on Facebook.  Besides, if I go to a news site from Facebook, I can guarantee I will start getting spam emails that same day which will require my going in, unsubscribing, and being told it will be 10 business days (read: three weeks, since Fridays and Mondays are not devoted to business other than leaving early or catching up) before the emails disappear.

In conversations with my wife and friends, I often quote one of the articles. I get facts, which I don’t need to check, add a “like” or comment.  I read interesting articles, avoid time wasting videos and the commentary below, thereby avoiding many arguments with those whom I think are wrong but will never admit it. I like the Times’ op-eds, the regular columnists, superb journalists.  I understand what is going on in the world, the problem with Tasers we don’t hear about, mindfulness meditation, differences in metabolism, why indigestible oligosaccharides are important in infants (the gut biome) and why waist size is important. 

I no longer worry about posting what I have done, a time-consuming process that led to answering comments or spending irreplaceable minutes seeing who liked it, which didn’t matter, but somehow I let myself get caught up in it. I try to do a brief meditation in the morning and evening, because the Times had a good article about it with recordings I could download and play back at my convenience.  

I spend maybe twenty minutes on weather models I have access to.  I finally have the European Medium Range Model (ECMWF) which along with the Global Forecast (GFS) gives me an excellent idea of what is coming weather-wise long before I read about it.  I’ve made significant progress as a amateur meteorologist, but there is still much I have to learn.

Screen Shot 2018-06-18 at 7.48.54 PM

GFS model for late 18 June 2018 showing cyclonic circulation (upper level low pressure) over southern Idaho with NE wind flow (blue arrows) that has already produced precipitation in western Oregon and which will will produce northern Rockies precipitation in the coming days.  The numbers are dekameters where 500 mB pressure (half the normal atmospheric pressure) is located.

I have time to get caught up on The New Yorker, Outside, Astronomy, and High Country News.  Sometimes I download books to the Kindle.  I discover books I am interested in by reading a lot; I tend to automatically turn off when somebody tells me “I should read….”  If I took everybody’s reading advice, I wouldn’t do anything else with my life.  

I’m not sure Facebook has anything to do with the fact that I am not leading as many hikes this year for the Club.  Either way, that is good for me.  I’m not taking as many group hikes, either, because I don’t know what I am getting into on a hike led by someone else unless I know the area where we are going.  Mileage can be wrong, more hiking can be added, and unplanned stops at bars or restaurants on the way home make it impossible for me to plan, and I like to plan. It’s difficult for a few who count on me to lead something so they can go outside, but they can go anytime, just like me. I’m starting to do trail work occasionally with the High Cascade Volunteers, and I have adopted a Cascade trail.  This is important, worthwhile work with good people trying to care for public land in a time of scarce resources.

I’ve become a better naturalist.  On my 4 mile walk through Alton Baker Park today, I identified  31 species of wildflowers.  So far this year, I have 109 on my list; only 18 of them I would have known last year.  That’s fun.  I saw a beautiful Spotted Towhee yesterday, instead of just hearing the zzzssst.  Today I saw crows dive bombing a hawk, a pair of Osprey high overhead, and a Steller’s Jay down at the river, an unusual place for one.  Next week I will do some trail clearing in the Three Sisters Wilderness and some trail scouting for clearing in the Waldo Lake Wilderness.  There’s a whole world out there to learn more about.

Inside, I keep my German alive with my daily crime video. I spend time with online bridge, where I am learning to count the hand, something not nearly as easy to do as experts think.  Counting the hand requires speed, which most experts can do automatically, but those of us slow processors require time.  By playing hands on a computer, I can swear at a partner who doesn’t exist or complain about bad suit breaks without appearing as a total ass.  If and when I can play and accept the bad with grace, I will be both a better person and ready to join others in duplicate.  I’m not ready, but I am making progress.  

Return to Facebook?  We’ll see.  Right now I am trying to help my corner of the world by keeping it beautiful, enjoying it, be it hiking, backpacking, canoeing, adopting trails, picking up litter, tutoring students in math, keeping my German alive, tipping generously, giving cats a home when we have a vacancy, and making sure I am doing those things that optimize my health as I understand the science. There’s plenty to do, and as I soon begin my eighth decade, I need to turn to.

“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.

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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