Tuesday, November 30, 2021

Return from Vacation II: Costa Rica

 Thanks for your patience while I was away (again).  Where were we?

Costa Rica!  Land of green vegetation and agriculture


Cloud Forests and Coffee (and sloths!):

And just stunning views:

We had a wonderful time.  And I am excited to share it with you.

Monday, November 29, 2021

On Focus

One of the great things about hiking down into the Grand Canyon was how absolutely focused one becomes.

The great dissembler and attention grabber of our age, The InterWeb, is cut off essentially as soon as you descend beneath the Canyon Rim.  I suppose one could bring a radio into the Canyon if desired, but I have no idea if there would be any reception and frankly, those that descend to the Canyon floor are not those likely to be concerned with such things.

On the hike - down, across, up - one's attention is 100% consumed by the here and now.  Partially, of course, this is due to the fact that one is engaging in an activity that requires all of one's attention.  It is not like just walking down the sidewalk at home; a mis-step is a potential risk and could result in serious outcomes.  It also due to the fact that when one takes the time to stop, one just drinks in the amazing natural wonder of what is all around one, 360 degrees of amazement.

One is completely lost in the moment.  There are no distractions.  There is no "breaking news" or text or e-mail notifications that demand immediate attention or 1001 siren calls of interest to divert us.  There is only the trail and the beauty and the meal at the end of the evening and the stars at night.

There is focus.  There is engagement.  There is 100% being in the now, without any distractions to attention or involvement.

Contrast this with the way I go through life normally:  I am constantly focused hither and yon of incoming bits of information.  I turn from e-mail to text, from text to chat, veering over to news or to something that demands my immediate attention.  I am not here; I am not really anywhere.  I am merely bouncing from incident to incident, an information and task responder without focus.

I have included the Yamaoka Tesshu quote before; I included here again now as a reminder, mostly to myself.  I want to find if the water is hot or cold; I must accept that my focus on nothing else but drinking the water at hand to find out if it is hot or cold.

Friday, November 26, 2021

Black Friday?

 Although I am not the purveyor of media - social or otherwise - as I used to be, I have to confess that I have been singularly struck by the lack of discussion or even advertisement about Black Friday.

Black Friday, in years past, has been a largely advertised and proclaimed shopping holiday, perhaps the biggest one of the year (the Day after Christmas being a solid runner up).  Big deals - BIG BIG DEALS - were to be had.   And it slowly backed up as it went, of course, from opening at 0800 to 0600 to opening on Thanksgiving Day.  

This was the Opening Day of the Shopping Season, that run from Thanksgiving to the day before Christmas that would make businesses flush in a way that the previous 11 months did not always do. It was the tide in the Bay of Fundy, raising the level of businesses to make it through another year.

This year, I have scarcely heard a whisper.

I suppose there could be many things driving it:  supply chains that have left businesses unsure if they will have product to sell, a labor market that may make opening at such times difficult, or simply the fact that given the last 18 months, there are really no good deals to be had as businesses need the money.  It could even be that, with the increased us of the InterWeb which has continued to move forward, companies are simply moving to Cyber Monday as their "Black Friday" - although all of the issues listed above apply equally, with the added caveat that with increased fuel prices, delivery prices may make deals less attractive.

I do not mind the absence of the advertising of course, and would be perfectly happy if Black Friday died a a quiet, unknown death.  It is a monument built to consumerism and consumerism alone, a monument which I suspect would not be missed by many if it simply migrated online.  Not that I would notice, of course: I have slept through the good deals for years.

Perhaps - if the trajectory is true and real - Black Friday will be one of those things remembered as a "thing" by my generation:   a practice and event that simply no longer makes sense in the modern world, for which pictures and videos of people standing in long lines in the pre-dawn darkness or flooding stores for deals will appear as mysterious and confusing as payphones and home phones appear to the generation of my children.

Thursday, November 25, 2021

Thanksgiving Day 2021

George Washington's 1789

Thanksgiving Proclamation

Whereas it is the duty of all nations to acknowledge the providence of Almighty God, to obey His will, to be grateful for His benefits, and humbly to implore His protection and favor; and Whereas both Houses of Congress have, by their joint committee, requested me to "recommend to the people of the United States a day of public thanksgiving and prayer, to be observed by acknowledging with grateful hearts the many and signal favors of Almighty God, especially by affording them an opportunity peaceably to establish a form of government for their safety and happiness:"
Now, therefore, I do recommend and assign Thursday, the 26th day of November next, to be devoted by the people of these States to the service of that great and glorious Being who is the beneficent author of all the good that was, that is, or that will be; that we may then all unite in rendering unto Him our sincere and humble thanks for His kind care and protection of the people of this country previous to their becoming a nation; for the signal and manifold mercies and the favorable interpositions of His providence in the course and conclusion of the late war; for the great degree of tranquility, union, and plenty which we have since enjoyed; for the peaceable and rational manner in which we have been enable to establish constitutions of government for our safety and happiness, and particularly the national one now lately instituted for the civil and religious liberty with which we are blessed, and the means we have of acquiring and diffusing useful knowledge; and, in general, for all the great and various favors which He has been pleased to confer upon us.
And also that we may then unite in most humbly offering our prayers and supplications to the great Lord and Ruler of Nations and beseech Him to pardon our national and other transgressions; to enable us all, whether in public or private stations, to perform our several and relative duties properly and punctually; to render our National Government a blessing to all the people by constantly being a Government of wise, just, and constitutional laws, discreetly and faithfully executed and obeyed; to protect and guide all sovereigns and nations (especially such as have shown kindness to us), and to bless them with good governments, peace, and concord; to promote the knowledge and practice of true religion and virtue, and the increase of science among them and us; and, generally to grant unto all mankind such a degree of temporal prosperity as He alone knows to be best.

Given under my hand, at the city of New York, the 3d day of October, A.D. 1789.

- http://www.wilstar.com/holidays/wash_thanks.htm

Wednesday, November 24, 2021

Disrespect And Difficult


One of the most difficult things for the shy among us - and by "us", I mean me - is standing up for one's self.

There are any number of reasons why this becomes a thing, I suppose:  fear of reprisals, figures of authority that treated any sort of attempt to defend or speak for one's self harshly, a crippling fear of being rejected for expressing an unwelcome thought or opinion, or simply being shy and wanting to "go along to get along".  Or all of these.

But at some point - I suspect, as it seems to be coming true for me - one finds that one simply cannot continue to just "go along to get along".  One begins to express opposition to being shut down, ignored, or - as the above picture suggests - "disrespected". 

It is remarkable how swiftly things will change.

The first or second time that it happens, people will simply cock their head and look at you oddly.  They may try to paper it over - "What I think you meant was X" - or simply just ignore what you have said and try to carry on.  When you express your opinion or thoughts again, they may try the same thing.

When they realize you are serious, things become a bit more...difficult.

Somehow, they say, you have changed.  You were not like this before - what happened to you?  Why did suddenly become so wrong about things?  Why are you being difficult about them - these are things that you had always done/gone along with/believed/allowed in the past - what changed now?

In other words, suddenly you have become "difficult".

It is difficult if you try this and you are an extrovert - but it is literally a living form of punishment if you are an introvert.  Expressing yourself in public at all can be hard, let alone if you are trying to buck established patterns of behavior and interactions that have existed for years or even decades.

But even with your introverted fears, you quietly raise your wavering voice and express yourself.

Over time, your voice may become less wavering. I am not sure that your fears ever go away.

Tuesday, November 23, 2021

On Vacation II


Yes, I know what you are thinking:  What? Two vacations in a month?  Has Toirdhealbheach Beucail finally taken leave of his senses?"

Well, I suppose that is always a possibility.   Of course, if I had gone mad, would I really know?

Actually, this is a much deferred (2 year) family vacation that we were supposed to take in 2020 before The Plague ruined that opportunity.  And really, it is the first time in 6 years that we - myself, The Ravishing Mrs. TB, and Na Clann, all five of us - have been able to go on vacation as a family. What with college and away and school and work and all, things have never really fallen into line.

We will be gone for a little under a week to an exciting destination quite different from the one I just returned from, so hopefully I will have another round of exciting adventures to share with you (Again, presuming I do not die).

In the meantime, I have left you (yet) another smattering of this and that for your consideration, and of course the lovely folks over on the right that undoubtedly will continue to write and post while I am away.

So read away, have a wonderful (American) Thanksgiving Holiday, and I shall see you on the backside.

Monday, November 22, 2021

Down And Up Again: A Grand Canyon Holiday - Postscript

Thanks for coming along on my trip into the Grand Canyon. I have enjoyed sharing it with you and hope you have enjoyed seeing a part of it that a great many people never have the opportunity to view.

When we perform an Iai training with our Soke (the head of our sword school), we must submit a report of the experience with what we have learned during the training. This seems a worthy endeavor for an experience which changes one’s life; I therefore present my Rule Of Five for Down and Up Again (Rule of Five of course, because I have five fingers on my hand. It makes it easy to remember):

1) We can do more than we think: Prior to this hike, I had never hiked anything like the distance we went, nor had I done anything like descended a canyon or climbing up a rock slide or the 50 other things I did that was completely new to me on this trip. Had you asked me before the hike, I would that, not knowing better, I just went and did them.

2) The reasons we do not live our dreams is us more than our circumstances: On this tour, I met guides who have made a life out of what the love. But in reality, I also made an experience where none had previously existed. I could have come up with any number of reasons not to make this commitment: money, time, commitment to training, physical ability. But I managed those in such a way that I accomplished this trip and its goals, which were simple ones: 1) Do not die; 2) Get out of the canyon. How many other things are dependent far less on my circumstances and far more on what I am willing to do?

3) To get anywhere worth going requires effort: The views I have been able to share with you happened because I went down into the Canyon. If I did not go down, the pictures I would give you are the ones of the Canyon Rim, the same that many others share as their total view of the Grand Canyon. There is nothing wrong with those pictures of course; but the better ones are only found by going to where the rocks and river are, not standing on the edge with a telephoto lens.

4) Guides in unfamiliar territory make all the difference in the world:
One of the questions that came up in our descent was “How many people have died here?” There are numbers of course, and one can look them up, but one of our guides – Storyteller – said that no-one has died that has been on a guided tour or hike. That makes sense: a guide knows the trail, knows the needs, knows the dangers. At some point perhaps we can make our own way, but to do so in the beginning without a guide carries a much higher degree of risk.

5) Adventure really is (still) out there, but we do have to go and get it
: If I were to liken myself to a literary character on this hike, I would compare myself to Bilbo Baggins (he of The Hobbit): a middle-aged man with his books and his home and his comfortable life, reading about adventure all the time but never really thinking he could or would go on one. The reality is that one can still go on adventures, but one has to take a very important first step: one simply has to say “yes” to going on them at all. Once that happens, a world of possibilities becomes available.

This experience has been encouraging to me in a way that I had not expected. Yes, I have signed up for another one next year – not to the Grand Canyon, but to somewhere different. Training started last week and I have 9 months to get ready.

But that is okay. Because now, I know I can do it.

Sunday, November 21, 2021

Down And Up Again: A Grand Canyon Holiday – Up

I wake up early – 0300 – far earlier than I need to. I am not really sure why, whether it is others getting ready or my own anticipation of reaching the top of the Canyon, something I both long for and loathe at this point.

We leave in two waves: the first leave somewhere around 0415; the rest of us – after a “leisurely” breakfast and packing, leaving at 0515 in the morning pre-darkness. Only the stars mark our passing as we move out. We have 9 miles and 4650 feet in elevation gain to cover today.

We hike for the first 90 minutes or so with headlamps, something I have never done before. It does not seem to slow us down much, although one does not have a real sense of what the landscape is like around us. We know, of course – we have seen it for the past three days and know that canyon walls are dropping on either side of us as we continue on – but this is only hinted at in the pre-sunrise.

By the time we can pull the headlamps off, we have made considerable progress up the Tanner Trail. The wind blows coldly when we stop for breaks, but we press on without putting on more clothing – 2 minutes into the climb leaves everyone heated and with sweat.

We stop for an early lunch of leftovers: beef jerky, almonds, craisins, Fritos, carrots, and anything else that we need to consume. Craisins and Fritos, it turns out, make for an excellent combination of salty and sweetness something to bear in mind.

The Desert Tower has continued to draw closer as we have continued to make progress up the Canyon. We begin to execute a flanking move as we turn to the right and continue to traverse in a roughly eastern direction. We are headed for and cross over the saddle (between two canyons) of the 75 Mile Canyon we visited two days before.

Which brings us to the Red Wall ascent.

We descended the Red Wall 3 days ago. Now, we have to go up. Our guides have prepared us for this verbally: it is a two mile climb out of the Canyon. It has switchbacks, but is more or less up and up and up. The time of traversing has ended.

There are two light piles of rock that sit at the top of the Red Wall ascent. These are essentially the Canyon Rim, the target we are shooting for.

We start up.

We fairly quickly break into smaller groups, those that can go faster do so, while the slower ones (of which I am one) fall into a second group. It can be discouraging to look up and see how much higher and farther others are ahead of you; when they all finally disappear I am strangely relieved.

The hike becomes an endurance course: switchback, switchback. Stop to look at the scenery, which turns into to a rest break. Switchback, climb, stop. As I continue up, the breaks get closer and closer together.

Finally, I begin to hit the trees. This means topsoil, which means the Rim must be fairly close – although not too close, as I cannot see it.

Switchback, rest, switchback, climb.

Then, suddenly, the path largely levels out and there is no more “up” to be had, just a path leading out to the trail head. My time, as I find out later, was 7.5 hours from the Colorado to the trail head. That number surprises me.

As we come out and cheer each other, we go back to the van which one of the earlier members out had gone and procured. We celebrate with a cold beer (cold just by the outside weather) and additional snacks. I figure I have burned a million calories or some other ridiculous number, and have more snacks.

We stop and rest and flip our phones on to notify folks that we have arrived and the edge of the parking lot. I observe several cars of people pull up to park, get out, look at the sign or maybe over the edge, then get back in and drive away. There is no conversation, no apparent drinking in of the Canyon’s beauty. It is a tick mark to check on the “I have seen” list.

Do not judge too deeply, my brother in law suggests. When I came here in February, I did exactly the same thing.

Two groups were at the same lookout. One group saw the Grand Canyon; the other group experienced the Grand Canyon. The gulf between the two is immeasurable.

Saturday, November 20, 2021

Down And Up Again: A Grand Canyon Holiday - Across II

I cannot remember the last time I woke up to a river or stream or really any body of water. It is an overwhelming sense of both peace and activity, quite different from the usual wake up call I experience.

Today is another day undulating back and forth between the River bank and the Canyon Walls. We go up and down, rising and descending the different color rock strata

Two days of doing this has begun to equip me with the ability to see the trail on the canyon walls – not instinctively of course, like an actual guide, but at least in the contours of what is coming up. This is a hopeful improvement.

We hit a high point and overlook Unkar Delta, which looks much more like a sand spit. Humans dwelt here 1,000 years ago, planting corn and beans. It is somewhat hard for me to believe that people lived in the Grand Canyon most of the time. What a different existence that must have been.

We descend from that overlook to Unkar Beach, which is a much smaller version of Escalante Beach. We take a lunch break here; some people soak their feet. I watch the River.

After lunch, we head up again out onto the Canyon walls. The walking is more straight and level now and the air has heated up (the hottest it will be during our hike). The rocks here are red, a deep red that seems to support very little at all. I am reminded of Sam and Frodo as the trudge through the rubble in front of Mt Doom.

It is quiet today – as it has been every day of this hike. There are only occasional grasshoppers and scarcely a bird to be seen or heard, let alone any wildlife which is larger. The Canyon runs with a deep silence, where the River does not run.

Our hike ends tonight at Tanner Beach, both the terminus of the Escalante Trail which we have been following as well as the terminus of the Tanner Trail, which we will take tomorrow to get out of the Canyon. Far in the distance I can see the Desert Tower, a 1930’s building that was in the parking lot where we last used the restroom. That will become our North Star for the first part of the hike tomorrow.

Tanner Beach is more like the river beaches I have known, rocks mixed in with sand. There is wind and the potential of rain, so we all put our rain flys up on the off chance of a little moisture. I set mine in a small grove surrounded by trees.

That night after dinner (jambalaya) and our roses and thorns accounts (and there are no thorns tonight), we are each given a trail name by The Commissioner. They are all strangely applicable to us and we laugh as they are given – The Commissioner has an astute eye for personal characteristics and mannerism.

Of me, he notes that I did not have any idea what I was getting into (I did not) and he appreciated my comment every night, including this one, that “I did not die”. My trail name hereafter when I hike with his company will be “Survivor”.

Survivor. I like it.

The wind is not nearly as strong as the previous nights and no rain comes – although as it turns out the trees I am surround by is the home to some kind of insect or small animals, which chirp and crick through the night. The night is cloudy so there would be no stars, but the rain fly keeps the nature of my besiegers a mystery.

Which is, perhaps, as well. We all still need a little mystery in our lives.