Friday, September 30, 2022

The Moment Of Missing The Target

The moment comes - with almost everything - that you suddenly realize that some things are simply not going to happen.

Sometimes it comes after a short period of time.  Sometimes, it takes a while for the realization to make its way to the surface.  And sometimes, it can literally take years and hours of effort only to realize that a thing - the THING - is simply not going to happen.

The fact is, this moment always comes.  The real question is what one does right after that moment.

My reaction - my ordinary reaction - is to simply give up.  Sigh, settle my shoulders down, and somehow simply accept the fact.  

Which is probably a very human reaction.  Also, probably not a very useful one.  Which means I am trying to work on how to have a better secondary action.

I have never taken defeat well.  Why,  I am not sure.  It certainly is something I have had plenty of experience with it.  Maybe at one point I took it differently - fought back harder, tried to be more nimble and agile - but a lifetime of "Well, not this time either" can wear down at the soul.

Which is fine, of course - but frankly, I am on a clock now (We all are really; most of us never truly appreciate it until we are faced directly with our mortality) and cannot afford myself the luxury of just shrugging my shoulders and "settling" for next time.  Frankly, I may not have the time to generate a "next time", nor the energy to put a whole new structure in place.

So instead, I am trying to face those moments head on.  And adjust in flight to continue on to reach the thing.

It is hard - much harder than I imagined.  It is also not very emotionally satisfying, as most of this is an internal battle and argument with one's self:  "You can completely do this" - "Really, we have been down this path before and it did not work out well last time" - "Yes, but we are not giving up this time".
These discussion can rage, especially as I walk with Poppy The Brave around our urban neighborhood, undoubtedly getting looks in the early morning as I outright talk back and forth with myself.

There is no promise that I will do any better this time than any of the last ones.  What I can hold onto is this:  as long as I am still trying, I have not failed.  I have just found 1,000 ways not to do a thing.  And that, perhaps, is a target of sorts.

Thursday, September 29, 2022

Orange Gourd Spice Season - Guinea Pig edition

 In the spirt of the Orange Gourd Spice season, I present here - for the first time since 2017 - two guinea pigs discuss the merits of the Orange Gourd Spice. This remains one of the most topical and meaningful discussions of the subject in my lifetime.  Run time 1:04.

Wednesday, September 28, 2022

A Passing Moment Of Cake

The main reason for going Downtown for a brunch this weekend was to celebrate Nighean Bhan's 21st birthday.  Perhaps somewhat strangely, she wanted to go to dinner with her friends rather than spend it with her family. 

I know.  Shocking.

After brunch, when we had driven home and gotten out the cake - which she made but to fair, she likes to bake - and opened gifts and were eating away, she randomly made the comment that this was likely the last birthday we would all spend together for a very long time.

There was a start in the room, and then we started doing math.  

Nighean Gheal leaves for The Big City and adult job responsibilities this weekend and, barring a cataclysmic event or just bad job luck, will likely not be back except for visits.  Nighean Bhan  has about 1.5 years of graduate school after graduating this December, and it is unknown where she will be next year in school, let alone after that.  And Nighean Dhonn will head off to college next August.

Have we not spent all the girls' birthdays together?  Of course - Nighean Gheal was gone for two years away to college before The Plague and so the last two years have been a sort of bonus round.  But indeed, the chances that something like this just "happens" again is almost nil.  Any future such events will have to be carefully planned.

They all laughed about it, talked to about flying out (or taking the train) to see each other, then carried on with birthday plans for the evening.  I, on the other hand, just ate my cake and thought.

Here it was - another one of those moments that almost always creeps past us because it has become so expected, so ordinary, that we take it for granted.  And then suddenly - usually after the fact - we realize that the moment was really the last moment, the last time that thing would happen.  There may be other things like it, but they will never rise to the level of being an ordinary event, something that just organically happens. They become extraordinary events, things that do not happen except with careful scripting and planning.

The cake was finished fairly quickly of course, and we were already on to presents and talking about where she was going to dinner.  One can only stand around awkwardly with an empty cake plate in one's hand, so after a suitable interval I excused myself to get ready for the rabbit shelter.  My presence was ancillary at best to the moment, not a requirement at that point.

Sometimes this moments simply get away from us.  I am grateful that I was given the eyes to see it for what it truly was:  the end of an era.

Tuesday, September 27, 2022

On Apartments Going Up

 This weekend due to a birthday brunch, we had to drive "downtown".

I do not drive "downtown" much - in fact, I do not drive down there at all if I can help it.  We are comfortably ensconced in the nearby suburbs and really, my world has shrunk to a radius of about 5 miles (except for Iai class, which is farther out).  I do not enjoy the traffic, I do not enjoy the masses of people, I do not enjoy urban sprawl or urban renewal (which are often the same in my mind).

That said, my trips down there are so infrequent that it is at least interesting to see the changes.

What I noticed is how many apartments are being thrown up.

Houses (actual houses) do still get built this close in (although most of that development happens far beyond these environs), but they are running out of room to put them on.  A ten acre plot seems to now hold fifteen to twenty houses, all smashed together in the now ubiquitous California "Zero Clearance" style (so named because in California, the spacing between new houses in the 2000s came to be a little less than one person wide on each side of the fence). 

As a result of the land diminishing, it simply is more valuable to build apartments.

These are not the ten or twenty units I knew growing up.  These are hundreds of units spread out over large acres, three to five stories up in the sky (or more, if you are downtown).  Banks of empty sockets that will become windows and possibly decks stare back as you drive by.

I shudder when I see them.

Let us assume a three hundred unit apartment complex, with three people average per apartment.  That is 900 people crammed into a space less than some small towns that have less populations.

The units, of course, are totally dependent on local utilities for electricity, gas, and water.  No "pull out a generator" or "borrow your neighbor's" when the power goes out in Winter (or worse here, in Summer where there is nothing but the face of the Sun).  Minimal ability if any exists to do something like provide some element of food for one's self in any way.  

Then multiply all of this.  By tens easily, but one could probably find 50 such projects going on right now. 

We lived in apartments the first seven to eight years of our marriage.  We moved after that into a house, and have been in a house ever since. Beyond just the fact that I have some level of space from my neighbors, there are any number of things I can do even on my limited piece of property, should I choose to.  But for those that will inhabit these towering hives, there is little if anything they can do.

It all works well of course - utilities, groceries, water - until something bad happens.  Something that takes down the power that heats and cools and powers the cooking and refrigeration units and drives the city pumps that move the water.  Then, things get a bit more dicey.

This is what truly terrifies me as I see these edifices going up.

Compact urban planning, like many things, depends on a number of factors to make it effective.  And it is not just space and willingness of people to live that way.  It depends on reliable food, fuel, and water to always be available, to always be delivered, and to only fail in the most limited of circumstances.  It relies on an economic system and supply chain that always functions and always prioritizes making sure supplies are delivered to the city.

Many probably drive by and marvel at the newness and sheen of the building.  I drive by and wonder "What happens when something goes wrong?"

Monday, September 26, 2022


It is beginning to feel like Autumn.

The temperatures, although still almost still "Face of The Sun" hot, are starting to drop down into a reasonably cool zone (high 50's - low 60's) at night, which makes for a pleasant morning walk, even if it does not really make the day any less heated.  The sunlight is beginning to acquire that slant which it only seems to hit in Autumn (Oddly enough, there is not a similar slant of light when we transition from Winter to Spring.  I have no idea why that is).

Commercially, of course, everything has already lurched to "Orange Gourd Spiced Everything".  This amuses me as it always does; growing up, there was no "taste of Autumn" and pumpkins were something we had as pie only.  Now, everything gets the "Orange Gourd Spice" moniker: for some things that works and many things that do not (as a whole, pumpkin spiced beer does not, although there is a delightful pumpkin beer that is often available at this time of year and is enjoyable - in small doses).  More importantly, of course, Mallow Pumpkins from Brach's now fill the seasonal candy section of store shelves.   A bag will eventually make it way to Taigh na Thoirdhealbheach Beucail where the amount of pumpkins will be rationed (two a day) and a second bag hidden somewhere else for consumption while the decoy bag is left out as a distraction.

I am feeling a bit Autumn-ish myself as well.

I have a sense - and I can give you no really meaningful reason for it - that things are winding down, somehow.  That crossroads or decision point I keep hinting at and gesturing to seems to now be encompassing me, even though I cannot fully understand what they are asking me to decide or which road to take.   Like Autumn, they are not "telling" me anything, but the leaves of my soul seem to start changing color anyway.

Is it some odd sense of needing to prepare, like the squirrels in my yard seeking to hide acorns for later in the season?  Yes, partially.  In that way, perhaps, Autumn is driving me to turn inward to look after those things that need to be attended to.

At the same time, it is not just as simply as "I need more Orange Gourd Spice supplies".

Preparedness for any emergency can take many forms, not simply the need to store more physical things.  It is also the mental and philosophical preparation of the mind and sometimes the body; the fastening of memory and thoughts and learning into the mind to be referred to in the dark of Winter. It is this sort of thing that weighs on my mind equally as heavily; perhaps even more so than just the collection of things.

It is one thing to prepare in Autumn for a mild Winter that one overprepares for.  It is a different thing entirely to not prepare in Autumn for the Long Winter no-one expected to come.

Sunday, September 25, 2022

Clothed With Our Nature

"That God should have clothed himself with our nature is a fact that should not seem strange or extravagant to minds that do not form too paltry an idea of reality.  Who, looking at the universe, would be so feeble-minded as not to believe that God is all in all; that he clothes himself with the universe, and at the same time contains it and dwells in it?  What exists depends on Him who exists, and nothing can exist except in the bosom of Him who is.

If then all is in him, and he is in all, why blush for the faith that teaches us that one day God was born in the human condition, God who still today exists in humanity?

Indeed, if the presence of God in us does not take the same form now as it did then, we can at least agree in recognizing that he is in us today no less than he was then.  Today, he is involved with us as much as he maintains creation in existence.  Then, he mingled himself with our being to deify it by contact with him, after he snatched it from death...For his resurrection became for mortals the promise of their return to immortal life."

Gregory of Nyssa (330-395 A.D.), Catechetical Orations 25, quoted in The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Oliver Clement

Saturday, September 24, 2022

A Simple Luxury

 Although on the whole I try to be economical and thrifty (often fancy words for "cheap"), there are a few luxuries I purchase for myself that literally make no logical sense.  Books are one of these, of course - not that books are illogical of course, only the rather sheer quantity I own and continue to procure.

Another is shaving cream.

Many many years ago - good heavens, looking back I see it was 11! - I wrote a post on A Good Shave.  I had converted over to using soap in a bowl and a bristle brush years before that, mostly originally out of an obstinate need to be different and vaguely British (while everyone uses the same cream, for some reason I associate it with 19th Century Britain).  And then at some point, I took a risk (most likely based on some article I read) and bought shaving cream.

I purchase my shaving cream from Truefitt and Hill, a British company specializing in Men's grooming (So, the British motif is still working for me).  It is certainly not the least expensive such thing on the market, but it has become one of my personal justifiable luxuries.  

On one hand of course, it makes no sense.  I could get the same thing much more cheaply in vast quantities at my local grocery store for what a single bowl costs (although to be fair, a bowl lasts a long time).   And yet, there is something about opening up the lid, working the brush in a little, and then putting the full-bodied thick soap onto your face, letting it sit there for a bit, and then shaving. It makes it more of a production, something to look forward to, rather than just something I have to get out of they way.

The original scent I purchase was Trafalgar, which was delightful.  My current scent above is 1805, which I think I like a trifle better. Also - because I got a gift card for Father's Day - I purchased a smaller tube of the West Indian Limes shaving soap.  This in particular has an amazing scent.

It can be said - and righteously so - that in an age of increasing expenses and instability, the concept of spending a rather foolish amount of money on something that can be procured more cheaply is silly at best and foolish at worst.  

If practiced for every item we buy, I agree.  If practiced in small ways, I do not.

We can always purchase things that are effectively the cheapest and the lowest common denominator, and if practiced over time, we will save money.  What we will not save and sometimes sacrifice is the enjoyment of very simple pleasures.  Something like whipping up a shave in the morning that is from a bowl and brush instead of a can is indeed a very simple pleasure for a practice millions do anyway; the difference is that something simple like shaving cream turns a daily task into something of a pleasure.

Arguably this sort of thing does nothing for my shave.  It does, however, do a great deal my larger life.  And if it is somehow improving that, it not just a justified expense - it is a bargain.

Friday, September 23, 2022

On Commitment

During the last of of Iai practice, I was confronted with the fact that although I know forms, I do not know them well enough.  

This is a bit problematic in that I am, by far, the longest student in the dojo at 13 years.  I should have a high degree of familiarity with the entire curriculum and the various other portions of training exercises that we do. Sadly, I do not.

It is one thing to leave class tired and exhausted. It is another to leave class questioning your knowledge of the subject matter.

As I mulled the facts over as I drove home (and then again, when I drove home again), what came to my mind is that there was a certain level of commitment lacking in my training.  I knew "enough", but I was not going beyond that to a deeper level.  And as I reflected on that, I realized that it is far too true in many aspects of my life.

It is an odd thing, as commitment to action is something we talk a lot about in Iai - one of the first things I memorized when I started all those years ago is the phrase "What is the meaning of drawn the sword quickly?  When you have made a decision, act immediately and without hesitation".  In other words, commit to the action when you have decided.  And swordsmanship, if nothing else, is all about committing.

So why is it, that I have this reluctance to commit fully to the things I am doing?

Part of it seems to stem from my never ending struggle to make a decision.  In so many ways, I act now like I acted 30 years ago:  making a decision is hard because it rules out other options (and, by the way, you may make the wrong decision).  That was fine at that time, when there was still a long way to go and many options existed.  The way is not so long now, and if I am truly honest with myself, many of those options do not exist in the same form or fashion as they once did.

Committing to a decision - truly committing to a decision to study this or that or practice this or that - is by default a restrictive, dividing activity.  It is not saying that one will not do anything else, but it is admitting that due to the time and effort of the commitment, one may not be doing many other things.  Add on a series of commitments - true commitments - and if one is honest, the circle becomes very small indeed.

Reflecting on it, it is a great deal like marriage.  One has consciously put aside everyone else for one's spouse, and has promised to do so until one ceases to live.  It is not that there are not other relationships that  enrich and enlighten, but the main commitment and focus and energy is there.

And this, in the other areas of my life, I have been fooling myself one.

It has prompted a review of all the things I am "doing", to see exactly 1) What it actually is; 2) What an actual commitment to it would mean; and 3) How much time that entails.  Just an initial high level pass already means that if I truly want to commit, the list drops off rather precipitously.

There is nothing wrong with being a Jack of All Trades - I am one, and it as a handy thing to be - but I do not think that should be substituted as a commitment to a few activities or things.  Without that commitment, one never gets to the deeper levels of understanding and expertise that one needs to truly excel in a field or activity.  

On the bright side, I suppose, one will also go home feeling not as quite a poor long term student.

Thursday, September 22, 2022

Dead Tree Walking

One of the most amazing of the trees we saw was almost as we ended the hike.

Closer up, it did look like a dead tree walking!


Wednesday, September 21, 2022

One Morning, Two Realities

 Every morning when I get up, there are two realities.

The inner reality is right around me.  Poppy the Brave almost taking a nap, waiting for the sign we will take her morning walk. walk.  A The Cat in his awkward pre-morning "I missed you and all from the night, but I am a little angry and will be until breakfast".  The Rabbits, patiently eating away at last night's hay until breakfast.  The Guinea pigs, not so patiently waiting for breakfast ("Hey!  You!  Over there behind the couch where we cannot see you!  What are the chances that you can break out food a little early?").  

My coffee is warm, the Bible and whatever book I am reading - in this case, The Ladder of Perfection by Walter Hilton (14th Century meditation from England) - on the table.  My journal is there as well, ready to record the morning's thoughts; most recently a sort of diatribe about how I am either not using my time effectively or am not focusing the way I should.

The outer reality is right beyond that, not even beyond the walls but as close as the soft unheard click of a power button, reminding me that the world is - at best - unsettled in any number of ways.  If I make the same click on my work computer, I can find the same thing - unsettled in any number of ways, questions and comments and concerns and "Where are we?" and "Why is this not done?" almost as prominent as the actual e-mails that contain information.

Of the two worlds, I know where I fit in better.  The books and animals are far more of interest to me than almost anything that occurs beyond these four walls and as I am finding, the victories of the outer world are as fleeting as the philosophers and poets of old suggested, even if we ignored them when we were younger (as the young ever do).

And so I sit, think about things, then work to push the soft silent clicks away for a little longer.   The quiet sounds of life, the books with their wisdom, the coffee with its steaming warmth, are far more of life than "real life" seems to be.

Tuesday, September 20, 2022

September 2022 Grab Bag

If March in traditional Western culture "Comes in like a lion and leaves like a lamb", September this year seems to have stumbled in a bit like  Drunken Sailor; hopefully it will leave the same way without too much damage to the store or its surroundings.  There are a lot of small moving parts going on that somehow made it seem easier to just do a general update (while my mind and writing were still on the summit of Mt. Whitney, events continue to move right along.

1)  Fire Update:  Thankfully due to a very unseasonable rain, the fire fighting has made amazing progress. The mandatory evacuation requirement for The Ranch has moved back to an evacuation warning, and Uisdean Ruadh and his mother are safely back in the home.  The Cowboy and the Young Cowboy are still under evacuation notice, but hopefully that will clear up  in the next few days or so. The fire still continues to burn of course, and will do so for quite a while - initially estimates were containment (not putting it out) to the middle of October; we will see how much this weather improved things.

2) Nighean Gheal, the oldest, is about two weeks away from packing up and heading out to The Big City for her first official post-college career job.  You may remember that she graduated last year after one of the most ridiculous college careers in history (the first two years were okay, but then The Plague) and so took the post-graduation year as a gap year (she had a job offer, so it was all good) doing on-line tutoring, traveling a lot (internally in the U.S., to Morocco, to Costa Rica, to Europe, and to Africa), doing on-line courses to help her in her career, and teaching herself things like electronic music making and Adobe Suite.  It has been nice to have her around for the extra year (after all, she was gone for almost all of the four previous ones), but all things must end - and really, after all, this is why we raise them to be independent, right?

3)  Nighean Bhan, the middle child, is close to having a "Significant Birthday Which May Or May Not Involve The Legal Drinking of Certain Substances".  She is almost at the end of her college career (a mere two classes away!), graduating a semester early in December, after which she will start applying for graduate school (her chosen career field, Speech Pathology, requires it).  Thankfully she has moved home and college rent (for her, anyway) is now a thing of the past.  I would feel flush with cash, except...

4)  Nighean Dhonn , the youngest is in her final year of secondary education and starting to make her own set of schooling decisions (good, flush with cash feeling...).  

5)  All of this has culminated in the fact that for the first time in almost 3 years, I will not be making a monthly visit to the Ranch this week.

Part of it is simply that "evacuation warning" is not the same as "evacuation free", and there is always the chance that something could turn for the worst.  And thanks to the fact that the House is there, my sister and I have been able to offer it to The Cowboy and Young Cowboy and their families during their evacuation (because let us be frank: the house is sitting there empty and completely furnished and my father would have wanted it used as such).  I do not want to show up and crowd their lives if they have to wait it out longer - or worse, return.

Plus, given all of the factors listed above, it seems reasonable that I should be here right now with my family, instead of somewhere else.  And after all - given the last two weeks, it is not like anyone has not been checking on the property.

There is plenty to keep me busy here of course.  The Summer garden is pretty much done and needs to be ripped out and there is that big dead patch of grass in the backyard from this Summer that needs to be dealt with somehow.  I have Iai and weight training and the rabbits to take care of.

I will head out in early October to do my picture selection for TB The Elder's funeral, which was one of the activities I was going to do this week.  It will be shorter - but I will just take the time off completely from work instead of having to not work and then work.

Given the pace of the last two months, I would welcome a small break.

Monday, September 19, 2022

Free Falling (From A Plane)

 So there I was, falling from 10,000 feet....

This makes for either 1)  The worst writing prompt ever ; 2) An actual emergency; or 3) A skydiving event this weekend.

Thankfully, it was the third.

The genesis of this lies in my current employer's spot rewards program.  They have contracted with a company to give employees "experiences", from something as simple as a beer tasting or art lesson to something as complex as a helicopter ride.  One receives them at certain work anniversaries - I received one last year as part of my X work anniversary, which after careful deliberation was the two hour massage - and for certain noteworthy recognitions.  In my case, I got another one.  I had thought about skydiving the first time, but a massage to kick off the Christmas vacation sounded too good to be true.  When the second reward arrived, it was as if the universe was saying "Go do it".

Okay Universe, you win.

This was the second attempt that I had made - our first attempt two weeks ago was canceled by inclement weather after we reached about 7,000 feet.  To that extent I was already prepared as I had been through the pre-flight training and even going up before.

The jump team consisted of three:  myself, M - my tandem jumper (he described himself as an ex-army paratrooper with a degree in Computer Engineering that realized he would rather make a living jumping -, and C, who was acting as our camera person (yes, I paid for the pictures and the video. Who knows if I am going to do this again).  We pack into a small Cesna after the pre-flight video and up we go. C is next to pilot facing backwards, M sits across from her with his back the tail, and I my back is planted against the pilot's seat.

Prior to two weeks ago, it had been years since I had been up in a small plane.  One forgets the noise and the fact that a small plane moves around a lot more than a jetliner.  We climb up over the checkboard pattern of fields and small homes.  Once or twice the video goes on and I wave and give thumbs up, otherwise I am watching us go up and up and up over about 15 minutes. We start to not only go through the clouds, but top over them.

Probably two minutes prior to the jump I kneel before M and he attaches the harness - four connections points I remember, any one of which can hold 5,000 lbs.  I lean back against him.  He gets closer and, yelling, reminds me that we are completely attached and he is completely in control and has me and just to enjoy the ride.  I have a minute or so to digest this, then C moves to the door under the wing, pops it up and open, and then crawls out on the step above the wheel, grabbing the strut.

We move to the door, with me firmly planting my feet on the step above the wheel to prevent my feet from blowing away.  I feel M get in position behind me.  Am I ready, comes the call.

This was the only moment I projected I would have fear:  sitting on the edge of the plane, 10,000 feet up with nothing below me.  I give the thumbs up.  I feel M rocking behind me. One, two...

And we are out.

We are suddenly hurtling through the air as we the plane simply slips by us - or more correctly, we slip by it.  We do a complete flip over and suddenly I am upside down, looking up at the plane's fuselage as it passes over, then flipped back over facing the ground.   I can hear M shouting through his helmet, bellowing celebratory hoots.  I go to shout as well; not only is the sound ripped away before it can come out but my mouth becomes instantly drier than if I was sleeping with two plugged nostrils all night.  I am in the initial jump position:  Head back, legs curled under like a banana, both hands gripping my harness pretty tightly

The drogue chute - that little parachute you often see - deploys; we are now falling at the relatively "steady" speed of 120 mph/193 kmh.  C is now besides us and extends her arms; belatedly I realize she setting up for a fist bump.  I return it with the awkwardness of any 50+ year old, trying to be cool and failing miserably.  She falls away as we continue to drop down, ploughing through clouds like a knife.  M prompts me to release my harness and get my arms out; another round of pictures with me giving thumbs up and "Shout At The Devil" hands.  

We are only about 45 seconds into the jump.

There is a moment where suddenly I feel myself falling with M.  The main chute has deployed; with a start I am pulled back in.

The rush of noise has suddenly disappeared; we are floating above the mosaic we saw going up. To the North and East I can see small squalls of in the distance.  The silence is  complete, except for the vague blowing of air and the whistling of the folds of the parachute.  The weather, hot and humid below, is pleasantly cool.

M controls our descent with two handles, one on the left and one on the right.  Do I like roller coasters, he asks.  When I respond in the affirmative, he pulls down hard on the right handle - suddenly we are corkscrewing wildly down to put the speed of a roller coaster  to shame. I scream my lungs out, laughing all the way.

He passes the handles to me.  Now I am in control of the descent.  I am much less of a hurry; I slightly turn to one side and then to the other for the view.  The silence continues to amaze me.  I comment to M that I understand how this could be addictive.  He just laughs.

At some point he asks to take back control to land us.  I give the handles back; as he continues to guide us down, I just stick my arms out wide and float above the landscape.

Our landing is almost un-noteworthy:  I pull my legs up and out straight in from of me as M flares the parachute; we sit down on our butts and slide about two feet.   We are less than 10 feet from where we boarded.

Like that, it is over.

There is another round of pictures and quick video and then, apologizing, C and M run off as they have a line of customers eager to have their own experiences. I stroll back a little more slowly and disengage from my harness.  Almost like that, the experience over - beyond the wait, the experience was perhaps 20 minutes in total, and 15 of that was climbing into the sky.

I am asked, on the video and afterwards, would I do it again.  I answer yes - I am sure most people do - but I think I mean it this time.  It is not because of the adrenaline rush - which is palpable, and which I feel again even as I write this.  It is not for bragging rights - but those are real as well.  

It is for the simple reason that, knowing that I would have that moment of fear, I went ahead and jumped anyway.

There is a philosophy of thought that states that one reason we grow old and fearful is not just because our bodies find they can no longer do certain things.  It is that we reach the point that we no longer put ourselves in the position to challenge ourselves, to  put ourselves in uncomfortable situations and make ourselves adapt to the circumstances.  It does not have to be dangerous of course - and while skydiving is likely not for everyone, at no time did I feel that I was ever in any danger - but it does have to make us stretch.  To the extent that skydiving, or any other activity makes me confront a fear or discomfort, I will do it.

Growing old, as they say, is given.  Growing up to fit into that skin of growing old is completely optional.  Sometimes it is just as simple as putting your feet onto the step and rolling out.

Sunday, September 18, 2022

Mt. Whitney 2022: Rule Of Five

 So likely this will be the last post on Whitney for awhile.

It is certainly not that I have exhausted my picture store - oh, there are still plenty of pictures! - as I have my immediate thoughts on it.  It is almost a month in the rearview mirror now, and while the changes are there in me, life is clicking along at a pretty good pace.  Smelling the roses is important, but smelling them only to the exclusion of other things does not move the needle in other areas.

With that said, here are the Mt. Whitney Rule of Five.

1)  You really can do more than you think.

This is probably self evident to my readers, but not always to me:  simply put, I often do not believe myself capable of things and so, do not attempt them. It is remarkable what one can do when effectively one has shut off all other avenues of escape - like, for example, being three days away from civilization and having no other choice but to go up.

2)  Tuning out is really a rather good thing.

Among all the things I did miss during my hike, the world was not one of them.  7.5 days of being "unavailable" to the world and current events was a blessing that I did not fully appreciate until it was forced on me.  True, having beautiful scenery and no other worries helps, but sometimes the world really is too much with us.

3)  We underrate the value of simplicity but forget it is built on complexity.

On one hand, we can get so trapped in the complexities of our lives and our stuff that we cannot accomplish much.  On the other hand, we can so simplify our life that suddenly we do not have the things we need to accomplish much.  All of us carried our homes on our backs for eight days - but that was because it was limited hike and we all had clothing and supplies that made having those few useful things possible.

There is a balance between simplicity and complexity, of having too much and not enough, that we need to keep in mind.

4) Isolating people from their environments makes things work better.

One of the noticeable things on the hike is that - by and large - we all got along pleasantly enough.  When we would interact with other hikers, they were pleasant interactions:  "Hi?  How are you doing?  Where are you headed?  How long have you been on the trail?"  The fact of doing an activity that was enjoyable combined with the fact that almost no-one actually had any idea what was going on "out there"  made for truly enjoyable interactions.  And there was almost an unspoken rule - at least in our group - that the outside world was not to be discussed, at least except for personal adventures.  Yes, once or twice it was violated (it always somehow is), but it really just died there, if for no other reason than no-one else engaged.

I wonder:  Is part of the problem of why in general we so often clash with people because of the fact that all that is around us is telling us how to react instead of ourselves?

5)  The world is big, we are small.

No mystery to most people that think or read those blogs to right, but the world is much bigger - and resilient - than we can possibly imagine.  We get caught up in our small views of world, trapped in cities or urban areas, and come to believe that Nature "out there" is just like Nature "here".  It is in kind, but not in grandeur or size or space.  I hiked 83 miles in a wilderness and still likely saw a very small portion of it, a far smaller portion than I would likely see if I drove 83 miles between one city and another.  Likely in that drive, I would become depressed by the similarity of all the urban centers I passed.  In hiking, I was continually amazed by the variety and scope of the landscape.

Saturday, September 17, 2022

Seasons And Letting Go

 (Fire Update:  No specific update.  The fire has continued to grow but again, mostly in the opposite direction.  An unseasonable rain is expected this weekend, which is actually about one month early from what we usually see.  There is some hope that this will be significant enough to be a real boon to the fire fighting attempt).

Friend of this blog Leigh Tate at Five Acres and Dream has written eloquently and often about the traditional concept of the Agricultural Year - different than our traditional Western Julian Calendar or even the Asian Lunar Calendar - that follows the seasons rather than the dates on the calendar (her most recent writing on the subject is here).  To anyone that follows a more "traditional" lifestyle, there is a lot of sense to this - after all, life advances at the speed of Nature and its seasons, not the other way around.  This was a concept that Masanobu Fukuoka was also a great proponent of in his book One Straw Revolution - in fact, he has designed a whole calendar which allowed one to eat local foods all year based on their ripening and availability.

When I had commented on Leigh's post last week, I had noted that in New Home, it did not at all feel like Autumn was coming - it was still hot and humid.  This week, I am not so sure.

The gauging of seasons in Old Home and At The Ranch is somewhat more straightforward: Summer slowly winds down in September, followed by a brief return (usually) right at the end of September.  October cools and if one does not have one's garden in by the end of October, it is a gamble if one can get it in at all, as the rains start in October and the ground will rapidly become too wet.  From there, it is typically wet and cold with rain/snow through the end of February to early March.

Here in New Home, our Summer just sort of lingers - or the heat does, anyway - until sometime in late October or early November, at which point we will get the most glorious sort of enjoyable weather - for about two weeks.  Then, we roll right on into either the Arctic or mild weather that makes us the envy of everyone North of us.  That said, my garden will need to be ready about the same time, although certain things - sweet potatoes, for example - may well be harvested through the end of November or until the killing frost returns.

The odd thing this year - and the reason that Leigh's post gave me more than my usual pause and agreement - is that it feels like my own seasons are changing as well.

Part of it is the way of life, I suppose:  Nighean Gheal, the oldest, is about 3 weeks away from actually starting her adult life in The Big Big City - the sort of start where visits home are just that - visits - not longer stays.  Nighean Bhan will finish her college degree and work while applying to graduate school.  Nighean Dhonn is in her senior year of high school; next year she will likely be away as well.  

It is not quite an empty next, but it is clearing out quickly.

But even for myself, I can feel the change.

It is not a physical thing (well, mostly not - although my body has its own set of seemingly new complaints) as it is a mental thing.  My interest in a great many issues has waned in the last few years, much more quickly than I had anticipated.  The need to "be out" is almost completely gone, although the few times I do it makes it all the more enjoyable.  I find myself much preparing for a Winter that I do not quite understand what it will look like, other than the sense that I will come out on the other side of it into Spring.

It is odd, this almost sudden letting go of things into the wind where before they were clung to so tightly.  Perhaps in some small way, this is what the trees feel when they cast their leaves away:  no pain or regret, just a gentle release knowing that Spring is coming.

Friday, September 16, 2022

Thursday, September 15, 2022

Additional Fire Update 15 September 2022

 Friends - Apologies, this is a late evening post due to work effectively going over the top.

The news from Old Home, as I indicated in some earlier direct responses today, is not great.  The fire hopped the river and fire breaks and started a second blaze one what is effectively the wrong side of the Canyon.  From what I see online, by the time it was brought under control over 1,000 acres burned.  It is now eating into residential areas. By my estimates the fire is somewhere between 2.5 and 2.7 miles straight line from The Ranch.

I got a message from The Young Cowboy this afternoon. They are still there onsite with their livestock and with power and water (fortunately, the main power line for the area runs right through the Upper And Middle Meadows so there is almost always power if power is to be had. The Forest Service threw up a bulldozed dirt line to protect them.  He said that it is smoky and they are eating a ton of vegetables from the garden, but otherwise okay.

The first is almost 1/5th contained now, but a random event like the fire hopping the river - wind driven embers, for example - could still turn a relatively settled fire line into yet issue.

Wednesday, September 14, 2022

Time and Value

(Fire update:  Not as nearly good news today.  The fire jumped the River and fire lines and started a second fire working its way up the canyon, about linear miles from my parents' house.  The fire has actually gotten into some of the structures of the nearest town as well.)

This week  I had need to talk to a lawyer - nothing alarming, just the fact that given all we have been through over the last two years, a will and certain directives (Power of Attorney, Do Not Resuscitate, etcetera) are in order . We had a pleasant initial conversation and later in the day I received the letter of engagement  along with fees for service.  There is a ranking of fees, based on whether one is an attorney, a law student, a paralegal, or a clerk (the caveat, of course, is that none of them "get" all that money; some always goes to firm).  It a helpful tool in terms of speaking with them going forward; knowing the going rate, one can ask the question "Do I really need to talk to them?"

Time and value of course, time and value.

I have a value as defined by my current position, as I have for my previous positions.  It is not just my salary (as our Personnel departments are always quick to tell us), but a combination of salary, benefits, and the other sorts of "extras" that may accrue.  In my daily work life, I do not consider this as much as I should - often I am too eager to do something or get involved when the real question should be "Is this truly worth my time?"  The value of my time gets lost in such a thing of course, because in point of fact I am employed by the company and so at some level, I need to do the work - there is no method for me to "make people use my time wisely" by charging them more.  But neither is there value in doing the sorts of things that - literally - are not worth my time.

That said, how do I measure time and value in the real world?

On our hike, we consumed days covering up to 15 miles a day.  The only value we realized is the value that we derived internally - and I suppose what is more ridiculous, we were paying for the experience so in that sense, we were not accruing financial value, we were expending it.  Most of us were likely on PTO; were we not, not only would we be paying for the privilege, we would be losing money every day we were on the trail.  Even our guides, bless them, likely made not a great deal of money - but if I asked them, they would  tell me this is exactly what they wanted to do.  

And yet, I suspect not one of us regrets going.

Friend of this blog Leigh Tate at Five Acres And A Dream will often comment how, during the high days of the harvest season, her time is almost completely spent in gathering and preserving the harvest.  There is no "cash" value to be realized for such an event, except for the inherent value of knowing where every scrap of food came from and having a larder full for the coming season that is not dependent on delivers making it to the grocery store or supply chains getting snarled.  

But Leigh herself has often said that she does put a value on this - not just the cash value realized from their own independent living, but the value that it contributes to their own life, a value in a lifestyle of their choosing and how they are spending their time - a value, like that of our hiking guides, that is not purely realized on the basis of how much money is coming in for the time spent.

I do not suppose there is a clear answer here, as everyone will ultimately have a different understanding of this issue - for some, time and value should always be monetary and directly linked, for others one weighs more heavily than the other, and for others, they can easily shift back and forth based on the circumstances.  But what struck me as I looked at this list of costing was really the meaningful question to myself:  Not "Am I spending my time wisely?", but rather "Am I valuing what I do based on the time I spend doing it?"

Or asked a different way, do I truly understand the value of the things I am doing and the answer is a clear "No", why am I doing them?  And if that is true, would attaching a per hour cost of such things help me to see more clearly?

Tuesday, September 13, 2022

Forest Fires (And An Update)

 (Fire Update:  The fire has continued its growth, but fortunately not significantly in the direction of The Ranch.  The potential weather which was a possibility was south of the fire and thus, potential winds and lightning strikes which could have worsened things did not appear.  Grateful for the prayers.  I will say it is jarring to see the fire lines basically outlining the outskirts of the nearby town).

One of the things that we saw evidence of on our hike were previous forest fires.

Forest fires are a reality of lots of places, including Old Home (New Home has had its share as well, which was somewhat surprising to me when I moved here as it was not the sort of place I thought these things happened).  We had seen evidence on our previous hikes and saw some driving in to the Mt. Whitney hike as well as some stands early in the hike on canyons to the west of us.

That I can see, this is only picture I took that perhaps shows fire damage:

I suppose it is understandable of course:  The view of forests after burns are depressing at best.  Sticks raised to the sky with branches stuck out like bare arms on the hillsides that are bare themselves.  Blackened wood that is dead although it fakes the appearance of living.

And that is far away.  They can be even more jarring up close.

Such fires are a tragedy, or so we consider them.  

Part of the tragedy remains purely on us, of course.  We stopped fires from occurring all together and so the more frequent fires that would clear out underbrush and smaller trees were allowed to grow, creating conditions for far more hot, intense fires.  And we actively discouraged any sort of active thinning or logging which might have had some of the same impact (do not read into this that completely logging everything is a solution either; it is just as destructive).

Still, for all of that, the fires would have likely still occurred at some level. And that would also be a necessary thing for the renewal of the forest and the ecosystem.

The forest will recover - but its recovery will be measured in decades, not seasons (see the above paragraph for how we helped extend this period by poor choices).  This is not a tragedy for the forest - it can wait 50 or 100 years to re-establish itself.  

It is a tragedy for us, of course, because most of us will never live to see the forests regrown.  In that sense, we have likely deprived ourselves and at least our children.

I may sound a bit aggravated about this - because I am aggravated.  My father spent almost 10 years clearing brush and cleaning up The Ranch to prevent this sort of thing from happening there, and The Cowboy and The Young Cowboy have continued this work.  You cannot completely eliminate forest fires, but things can be done to lessen their impact.  For many years we did precisely nothing and even now, we are easing our way slowly back into active forest management.  It takes time and effort and appreciation of the land, something too often missing in those that get their view of Nature from streaming media and carefully controlled and managed experiences.

At some point - hopefully September, but it truly may be October or November - I will be able to get back up to The Ranch and hopefully beyond.  I know I am going to be saddened and shocked by what I will see - not just from the destruction, which I predict will be awful, but from the long term impact on the area.  This was an area who depended to a great extent upon some level of logging and tourism due to outdoor recreation.  Both of this will be almost completely gone.

Hopefully not gone in the long term sense of the forest, just gone in the sense of my own lifetime.

One wonders, if we would think in these terms, how much differently we would manage the forests.

A Final Note:  It with sadness that I read Reverend Paul of Way Up North has decided to stop posting.  He has been a long time friend of this blog and I will miss his posts (and his Iditarod updates every year!).  If you have benefitted from his wisdom, you might drop by and let him know.

Monday, September 12, 2022

Trees (Unknown Trees)

 Originally I was going to call this post "Trees", but realized I have posted plenty of pictures of pine and oak and cedars that I knew.  Not so much these.

Frankly, I am not sure what these are.  Lodgepole pines?  Jeffrey Pines?  The altitude seems right and they do not fit the other trees they might be - but I am not sure.

No matter what they are, they were weird and foreign and novel to me.

Even in their deaths, they were unique and beautiful.

Many times I saw a semi dead tree with life still clinging onto it.

Or sometimes, just death.

The bark up close.  Some of it smelled like vanilla.

Their starkness rising from the landscape was noticeable.

Especially at the higher elevations - 10,000 to 12,000 feet - they were almost the only plant.

They made a splendid backdrop to the vistas.

Sunday, September 11, 2022


Water was quite plentiful on our hike, and we crossed streams every day.


Saturday, September 10, 2022

Excurses: Fire

 As I write this (Friday evening) The Ranch is in some measure of peril.

The peril is a fire, which went from a fairly small blaze into a rather large on in a short period of time.

The main part of the fire - the threatening part - is about 5 miles from The Ranch as the crow flies.  The area is under mandatory evacuation, and Uisdean Ruadh and his mother have safely relocated for the nonce. 

It is inconvenient for me, as I am halfway across the country watching this and getting updates via the InterWeb and from friends.  It is far more real to everyone that has evacuated and will likely continue to evacuate over the coming days.  

If something changes - or nothing changes - I will certainly let you know.

Friday, September 09, 2022

View(s) From The Top

 Four views from the top, actually:

The first is of the Kern River Valley.  Of note to geography enthusiasts, this is where the water flows east on the Sierra Nevadas, not west;

On the way up Mt. Whitney.  Literally above the clouds:

From the top of Mt. Whitney. Pardon the background noise:

This is as we hiked up towards High Desert:

This is on the last day of the hike, as we worked our way along the side of the mountains to Cottonwood Pass:

Thursday, September 08, 2022

The Elegance Of Decay

One of the things that confronts one when out in the wilderness is decay.

Decay is everywhere on the trail:  trees that have fallen and are in the process of breaking down, vegetation browning and or decaying, fungi and mushrooms signaling the recycling of nutrients from the soil.

Especially at the higher elevations, decay becomes more noticeable simply because there is less decay.  There is a prohibition that there are to be no campfires beyond 10,500 feet elevation - not so much because of the risk of fire (although it is there), as much as consuming the available deadfall would destroy the soil building process.   Except for the trees, there is very little to create humus.

Interestingly enough, we are not as a species one that sees such decay for what it is:  the re-creation and renewal of life.  We like our scenery vibrant and alive.  Our cities and our yards are filled with organized growth and life; any scene or evidence of decay is quickly moved away by the ubiquitous landscape teams or the Saturday Home Yard Warrior.

Which is a shame, really.  The decay that happens there is no different than the decay that happens here in the mountains, with the same outcome: renewal.

Scattered about in the wilderness, there is a certain elegance in the fallen trees and recycling vegetation.  It is not ugly or unsightly or even out of context:  it blends in beautifully with the scenery around it.  Not once did anyone cry out "Oh look, a dead tree".  Instead, they became part of the overall picture - and in some cases were marveled at.

Trees break down in ways I had not appreciated until I saw them up close.  They break down almost into block like units; one can grab one in one's hand.  The angularity and regularity of the pieces are an odd contrast to the round, smooth bole we see in the trees while living.

Even dead and standing up, the trees remain as sentinels, leaning into each other in a vain attempt to continue to remain above the ground, defying the decay that awaits them.

Fallen, the trees, assume other, fantastical shapes, shapes of animals and mythical creatures that they would never have achieved in their living state.

Sequoias were especially amazing; even in death they continue to change their appearance into unique items of beauty.

Below:  A tree literally growing out of a part that has fallen.  Out of death, life.

It troubles me that we take such things for granted in the real world.  So far removed from nature, we have forgotten the natural processes that make life possible.

But forgetful or not, beyond most of our view and vision, the process continues.

Wednesday, September 07, 2022

A Friendly Marmot

As I was descending from Mt. Whitney (You can see Guitar Lake in the background), I saw a flash of movement. It was a marmot, the first one I had seen since we started hiking 5 days prior.  I took a picture from far away, hoping I would not disturb him:

I moved in closer, and he still seemed uninterested in me:

This is less than 6 feet away.  Apparently he was hoping I would be a potential food handout.  When I was clear I was just there for the picture, he went on his way.