Archive for August, 2010

Aug 26 2010

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Goofing Around

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Once a year, Judy and I gather together our grandchildren for a four-day “summer camp.”  No parents allowed.  Every gathering has a different theme.  This year it was all about the jungle so there were lots of apes, frogs, insects and other wild animals in the mix.  Imagination turned our back yard into a rain forest, and there was no shortage of fun.

Brightly colored orangutans dangled from strings stretched across doorways.  We watched part of a documentary about the rain forest canopy to see the real ones in action.  We painted lizards, opened a coconut, made tribal masks, swung from a rope like Tarzan in the movies, and hung out in the tree house that I built for the occasion.  The kids loved the tree house.  It spoke to them in ways that I, as an adult, just barely understand.

With a theme like the jungle, there are plenty of teachable moments, but for the most part it was all about goofing around.  While I was pretending to be a wild man living in the tree house, the kids stole my mascot, Peewee – a monkey carved from a coconut.  And somehow that became the driving symbol for this year’s frolic.

Peewee is silly looking and silly is good.  I was all excited a couple weeks earlier when I found Peewee in a store.  Judy thought I’d gone crazy when I showed it to her but somehow I knew the kids would love it.  Perhaps I’m more of a kid than I’m willing to admit.  Despite all the gravely serious philosophical rumination that I do when I’m alone, either at home or in deep woods, I still gravitate to silliness.  That’s for the best, I think.  It’s not healthy being serious all the time.

Kids like to jump, run, laugh, play, imagine and generally goof around.  Judy and I did our best to keep up, but we were exhausted by the last day and glad to see it all come to an end.  Now back in adult mode, a couple days after reordering the chaos, we sink into melancholy.  We miss the kids even while thoroughly enjoying the peace and quiet.  We look at the pictures taken during the gathering, amazed by how much we missed, and speculate about what we’ll do differently next year.  One thing’s for certain, though.  No matter what the theme is, silliness will abound.

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Aug 18 2010

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Seeing, Not Seeing

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The slight rustle of leaves catches my ear.  I know that sound well, so I stop and look around.  At first I see nothing.  Then looking closer, I spot a garter snake slithering beneath the ferns.

Like most wild creatures, the snake is well camouflaged in its natural environment.  But that doesn’t change the fact that I almost missed it.  For every snake I see while I’m hiking along the trail, I miss ten.  Perhaps a hundred.

While wandering through the woods, I am happy enough stretching my legs, breathing heavy and breaking a good sweat.  The green infinity soothes my eyes.  The forest quiet calms my frazzled, urban nerves.  A whiff of something dank yet vaguely sweet makes me smile.  That’s the smell of the forest itself.  And I traipse along in a daydream of sorts, only half paying attention to the world around me, enjoying the mental vacation.

Should I be paying more attention?  Should I break through that deceptive veil of forest sameness and see the myriad creatures occupying it?  Should I stop and admire the occasional flower, or is it enough just being footloose and free for the day, clearing my head?  Those who love wild nature scowl at the obliviousness of day-trippers like me.  Yet I wonder how much time they spend each day in front of a computer screen.  Isn’t it enough just being here now, detached from the cyberworld?

I shudder to think how many things I fail to see as I go about my daily affairs.  Then again, you can’t see it all.  I have lounged next to a quiet pond for a full day just trying to take it all in.  But that’s impossible.  Even in the quietest place, there is too much going on.  So what can we do but see what we can see and leave the rest unseen.

The trick, of course, is not to miss too much.  Lost in my thoughts, I often miss the better part of days . . . weeks . . . dare I say months?

Life slithers past while we’re busy daydreaming.  That’s enough to give pause to even the most hardened, non-Thoreauvian soul.  What is it that we’re so busy thinking about?  Whenever I spot a snake on the forest floor, I silently congratulate myself for having seen it, resolving to pay better attention from now on.  But the daydreams always return – a virtual reality that plays in my head without end.

Thank god for the occasional rustle of leaves.

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Aug 10 2010

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Identifying the Culprit

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About a hundred days after the Deepwater Horizon rig exploded, it became clear that the cap on the leaking wellhead would hold.  Millions of barrels of oil had spilled into the Gulf of Mexico by then, but at least we could breathe easy again, knowing that the mess wouldn’t get any bigger.

Various officials have assured us that most of the oil has been burned, collected, or otherwise disbursed, so what the heck. . .  No sense crying over spilled oil, right?

Everyone is tired of hearing about it.  Consequently, the media is slowly relegating this story to the back burners.  Soon it will slip from view altogether.  Everything but the litigation, that is.  And then it’ll be business as usual, until the next big environmental disaster captures the headlines.

Meanwhile, greenies like me traipse off to the woods to escape the madness of civilization.  How do we reach the trailheads?  By car, of course.  My car runs on fossil fuels.  How about yours?  I figure it takes a gallon of gas to reach the nearest trailhead and another to get home.  That’s about 4 or 5 gallons of crude oil.

Short of buying an electric car or living off the grid (neither one of which I can afford), I have little choice.  The socially responsible thing to do would be to carpool, but I’m not that social.  So I’ll either drive to the trailhead or stay home and hike Aldis Hill again.

How many decades have we been on this merry-go-round?  Too many.  And there’s no end in sight.  Oh sure, I could tell you about the many promising clean tech companies I’ve discovered during my research, but since I’ve lost half of my nest-egg investing in them, I probably shouldn’t go there.  Fact is, the much-touted alternatives to fossil fuels aren’t really valued.  Not yet.  I figure it’ll take a few dozen more world-class disasters before they are.  Looks like H. sapiens isn’t as sharp a thinker as he/she used to be.  Or maybe all the political rhetoric is clouding the matter.

We can blame the BP executives for their gross negligence, Transocean for operating the rig, or Haliburton for the nebulous role it played.  We can blame the government in general for their slow and ineffectual response, or blame Obama in particular for endorsing offshore drilling last year.  We can blame those who drive gas guzzlers, the greedy guys on Wall Street who trade in black gold, or OPEC for controlling the global flow of oil, thereby forcing us to desperate measures.  The list goes on.  But Pogo said it best, I think:  “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

As long as we keep pumping gas into our cars, we are screwed.

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Aug 03 2010

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Keep Moving

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Recently my friend John Woodyard and I agreed to hike a section of the Appalachian Trail this coming September.  We’ll hike about four days together, then he’ll continue hiking by himself a few days more.  I figure I can’t keep up with John much longer than that.  John’s a strong hiker in good shape.  I’m not.

A few days ago, I grabbed my pack, put my dog in the car, then headed for the hills.  Short on time, I wanted to make the hike count.  So I headed for a peak in the Green Mountains called White Face.  I knew that a round trip to the summit was a bit more than I could handle, but I’d give it a shot anyway.  I figured the more of it I did, the better.

On the way to the trailhead, I picked up a pair of twenty-ish thru hikers on their way back to the Long Trail.  During our short drive together, we talked about long distance hiking, physical endurance and growing older.  They don’t expect to continue backpacking more than another fifteen years.  I told them they could easily go another thirty years if they want.  “Keep moving,” I said, “No matter what.”  Then they headed north to finish their end-to-end hike, while I headed south just to stretch my legs.

Blue sky day.  Sunlight filtered through the leafy canopy overhead, illuminating the forest floor in places.  The trail narrowed as Matika and I charged uphill, forcing us into single file.  She wanted to be up front, of course.  We took turns.  Soon enough we reached Bear Hollow Shelter, about two and a half miles back.  Then the trail grew steep.  We kept going another hour, until the trail kissed the last feeder stream before the summit.  There we stopped and ate lunch.  I was tempted to keep going, but thought it smarter to turn around.  Nearly four miles back; 1500 feet climbed.  About two-thirds of the way.  Good enough for an 85-degree day.

It’s humbling to grow older, especially when you’re still engaging in the same activities that you enjoyed decades earlier.  I’m not nearly as strong a hiker as I was thirty years ago, but I like hiking as much now as I did then.  I like it more, actually, since every hike feels like an extension of youth.  Oh sure, I keep the ibuprofen, walking sticks and Ace bandage close at hand, and I sweat a lot more than I used to, but it’s worth it.  It’s invigorating, joyful, life-affirming.  So I keep moving, no matter what.  And if I hike hard enough this year, then maybe, just maybe I’ll be able to keep up with my old buddy John next year.  It’s worth a shot, anyhow.

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