Wednesday, January 31, 2007


The pressure is on!

Julie and I have tentatively planned on leaving the Utah border on June 2 and ending our hike on the south rim of the Grand Canyon. Approximately thirty-six miles of our hike are in Grand Canyon National Park and permits are required to camp in the park.

“Each year Grand Canyon National Park receives approximately 30,000 requests for backcountry permits. The park issues 13,000 permits…”

We’ll need backcountry permits for one night on North Rim and for one night each at Cottonwood and Bright Angel campgrounds in the canyon. Assuming we get these, we plan on spending one night each in lodges on the North and South Rims and will need to make separate reservations. Tomorrow, February 1, is the earliest we can apply for permits in June.

The pressure is on – but it is not on us. If we don’t receive a permit, we’ll modify our hiking plans. The pressure is on the park service, the environment and people living in cities and urban areas.

Nature and wilderness can positively affect health issues such as obesity, wellness, stress and depression. I’ve read that children who play outside develop more creativity than children confined to buildings. We need – not just want or desire – but need nature and wilderness.

As the population grows and corporations see the opportunity to profit from wilderness areas, the danger is that we’ll lose more lands and remaining lands will be stressed beyond sustainable levels. If we choose to limit the stress on the environment through permit systems then many people will be denied an opportunity to experience what is a native right. Even with permits, the ability to find quiet, solitude and areas unscarred by human activity is almost impossible.

The pressure is on! It’s on us – you and me – to protect, preserve and bequeath a natural world.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Dreaming, Planning and Action

I feel like an impoverished kid in a candy shop. Life holds too many attractions, too many delights, too many temptations.

I’m lead on an integration project at work that I find challenging.

I’ve read the manual to my camera twice, tried every feature and read books on nature photography and digital photography. I have a copy of The Gimp and Photoshop and want to learn to edit photos. I have 29 folders stretching back six months containing 402 photos awaiting a final decision about which ones to post to our photo gallery.

In hopes of doing more than a mediocre job of recording our 100 miles hike this summer, I’ve been reading Nature Writing Handbook -- A Creative Guide and American Nature Writing 1996 For examples from some of the giants, I’ve read Aldo Leopold’s A Sand County Almanac and Edward Abbey’s Desert Solitaire.

The master gardener program begins in three weeks and the men’s group resumes in three weeks. The weather has improved some and by March I want to break ground on the greenhouse.

Blogging? Today, I wrote a post on Freedom’s Place called The Gift. I’ve commented only about a half-dozen times in the last six weeks and written sporadically. That’s frustrating! I enjoy it but I write so slowly. Each of my posts, present post excluded, takes an hour and a half.

Enough sitting and reading, planning and dreaming! I’m ready for action. In a few minutes, Julie and I are going to Sedona for lunch and a hike – hopefully, a long and strenuous hike. I need to move and breathe deeply and feel muscles complain!

Thursday, January 25, 2007

The Mouse

The noise was a distinctive flopping sound of wood, metal and flesh covered with hair making contact with un-cushioned wood. I looked and expected to see the final twitches and muscle contractions.

“Umm? Darn! That leg must be broken.”

I took trap and unwilling occupant out into the cold morning air. I walked a goodly distance from the house and stopped on the north side of a Juniper. The temperature was in the low teens and the snow was crunchy. I wondered if the shock of the cold air was noticeable or was it masked by an overwhelming pain from the leg.

“What to do? Turn it loose? End its pain? I could place it on the ground and give it one moment of additional panic and pain as I crush it with a booted foot.”

I bent over and lifted the lever that pinned his leg and watched as he ran about a yard to some thin bunch grass that protruded from the snow. His leg and foot trailed him at an oblique and unnatural angle. He stopped when he reached the grass that provided only the illusion of security and protection. With one final glance I turned and walked back toward the house. My thoughts rambled from a healthy one-footed seagull, survivor of some traumatic accident, which I saw on a wharf in San Francisco to a video of an inspiring dog walking on two hind legs without even stubs of front legs.

My thoughts continued. “It was a selfish and self-centered decision. What gives me the right to make choices for living miracles? He’s doomed as are all living creatures – non-human and human. It’s not so much when and how we die as how we live and struggle, mourn and celebrate, try and succeed and fail, love and hate and love again.”

I’ve learned more, grown more and felt more alive due to the pains and struggles I’ve experienced. I think it was Aristotle (or was it Plato?) who said “The unexamined life is not worth living”. I would parallel this with “The untried life is not worth living”. I don’t want to live free from occasional challenge and pain. I don’t want anyone making decisions for me. I want to feel my pain, attack my struggles and choose some of the details of my ultimate fate.

William Ernest Henley understood. I’ve read that Henley wrote Invictus in 1875 after the amputation of a foot due to tubercular infection. Invictus means “unconquered”.

Out of the night that covers me,
Black as the Pit from pole to pole,
I thank whatever gods may be
For my unconquerable soul.
In the fell clutch of circumstance
I have not winced nor cried aloud.
Under the bludgeonings of chance
My head is bloody but unbowed.
Beyond this place of wrath and tears
Looms but the horror of the shade,
And yet the menace of the years
Finds and shall find me unafraid.
It matters not how strait the gate,
How charged with punishments the scroll,
I am the master of my fate
I am the captain of my soul.

For me, turning the injured mouse free was an act of selfishness but, it was also an acknowledgement of the unlimited value of free will, freedom and the ability to choose for myself. I’m free. I want to live free. That’s also the way I want to die -- free and unafraid and unconquered.

This summer, I hope to see a mouse near the house; a mouse missing part of his left rear leg. I hope he stops and looks defiantly at me with a go-to-hell look. It probably won't happen but I hope it does.

Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Working to Remember

“You can’t do it. You need something more creative.”

My father said these words to me in 1972 and, though I never told him, I took them as a personal challenge. I had just accepted a job at a Ford stamping plant. I would be working production on a repetitive job. I would do the same thing over and over and over, about 700 times per hour. Pick up a piece of metal, place it in a press, punch two buttons to cycle the press, watch the automation equipment remove or eject the part and pick up another piece of metal to repeat the process. One done and only five thousand five hundred and ninety-nine more to go.

I worked in a building that covered several hundred acres without access to sun light, breezes, rain, clouds, snow or fresh air – an unnatural and deadly environment. The plant averaged one death per year and two men were crushed and died in separate accidents during the two years I worked there.

I didn’t enjoy it but I was married with two small children. I had spent four years in the Army with an ending income of about $4,600 per year and I needed a job that paid well. It was a personal challenge to endure the boredom. I could do it. I did do it.

Now, I develop software. Today, I’m finishing a project that’s a first. None of the other developers on my team has done anything similar. It required thought, research and creativity. It was fun. I enjoyed it.

I’m glad I struggled with challenging finances, lost sleep, hours of studying and determination to get the knowledge and skills that I need to do my current job. It pays well, is safe, allows creativity and supports the good cause of educating students.

I’m thankful for my current job but I’m thankful I endured the two years at Ford. Most of the world has jobs similar to what I did. These jobs are unpleasant, unrewarding, hot, sweaty, loud, dangerous, physically demanding and boring. There are many, many unemployed or under employed or under paid who would gladly accept one of these jobs.

One of my goals in life is to remember the challenges, struggles and hardships so I can empathize with others who haven’t found the good fortune that has come my way.

Saturday, January 20, 2007

This is Not a Sermon

If you’re a devout Christian, I might offend you. If you’re an Atheist (or should that be atheist), I might offend you. If you’re of some other religious belief or disbelief, I might offend you. Get over it! I'm just having fun.

I’m thinking about rewriting the story of Jonah.

Jonah, hundreds of years BCE (or BC, your choice), Middle East
The word of the LORD came to Jonah son of Amittai: "Go to the great city of Nineveh and preach against it, because its wickedness has com
e up before me."

Jonah, 1910, Chicago
The word of the LORD came to Jack, an African-American who was the grandson of a former slave. “Go to the great city of Mobile, Alabama…”

Jonah, 1947, San Diego
The word of the LORD came to Robert who had been a Japanese POW. “Go to the great city of Tokyo…”

Jonah, 2007, Mosul, Iraq
The word of the LORD came to Assam son of Jalal. “Go to the great city of Washington, DC…”

Have you read the story of Jonah and the whale? Yes, we all know it’s impossible for a whale to swallow a man and it’s impossible for a man to live in the belly of a whale. I’d like to rip that damned miracle out of the story. If I ever finish retelling the story, I’m going to do that. No miracles!

The story isn’t about a miracle. It’s the story of a man like you and me – an imperfect, self-centered, egotistical, self-righteous person filled with anger, hatred, pettiness and some deep-seated psychological problems. Why is he called a prophet? I don’t think he qualifies even as a “minor” prophet.

I wonder what happened to Jonah. As the story ends, he’s sitting in the blazing sun and scorching wind wanting to die.

But God said to Jonah, "Is it right for you to be angry about the gourd?"
“It is," he said. "And I'm so angry I wish I were dead."

Maybe the author ended it that way so he could publish a sequel – Jonah 2: The Journey Home. Personally, I like the way the story ends.

One of the things I try to do in life is look for the good, the noble and the beautiful in the midst of the imperfect. Sometimes that’s difficult. (I have yet to find the beauty in Rap noise – er, music.) However, I learn something from everyone. Sometimes, I find a good example that I want to emulate. Other times, as with Jonah, I find mistakes, failures and dangers that I want to avoid.

It might be a little easier to find the good and the beautiful in The Song of Solomon – which I haven’t read in many years.

How beautiful you are, my darling…
Your teeth are like a flock of sheep just shorn…
Your lips are like a scarlet ribbon…
Your neck is like the tower of David…
Your breasts are like…

Ummm, soft porn in the Bible? I wonder why I get a smile and a sense of pleasure from that.

Life is good when I am not easily offended, when I am myself, when I let others be themselves and when I look for the good rather than the flaws

Friday, January 19, 2007

Stop and Think

All people are born alike—except Republicans and Democrats," quipped Groucho Marx, and in fact it turns out that personality differences between liberals and conservatives are evident in early childhood. (The Ideological Animal)

Fascinating! I knew this but didn’t have the research to pull it together. Did you know …

  • “liberals are more optimistic”
  • “conservatives have less tolerance for ambiguity”
  • “Liberals are messier than conservatives”
  • “those with the greatest fear of death are the most likely to be conservative”
  • “people who study abroad become more liberal”

"We think our political stance is the product of reason, but we're easily manipulated and surprisingly malleable. Our essential political self is more a stew of childhood temperament, education, and fear of death. Call it the 9/11 effect."

The Ideological Animal presents research supporting the argument that fear causes people to vote conservative. Fear causes people to entrench and defend their world views. That’s great news if you’re running for office. Instill fear in voters and present yourself as their defender, their savior, their only hope.

However, there is a danger. If you paint a certain country or religious group or ethnic population as the enemy then that country or religious group or ethnic population will become afraid of you and become more conservative and defend their world views because you have become their enemy. Then, of course, you can point out to your voters the outrageous reaction of your manufactured enemy and the cycle can repeat itself. If we do this long enough, we can destroy the known universe!

(An interesting corollary! A terrified American becomes more conservative, a terrified Communist becomes more Communist and a terrified Muslim becomes more Muslim. Want to help spread a religion or ideology? Don't support it. Attack it viciously and you'll accomplish your goal more quickly!)

"People have two modes of thought," concludes Solomon. "There's the intuitive gut-level mode, which is what most of us are in most of the time. And then there's a rational analytic mode, which takes effort and attention."

"The solution, then, is remarkably simple. The effects of psychological terror on political decision making can be eliminated just by asking people to think rationally. Simply reminding us to use our heads, it turns out, can be enough to make us do it."

Thinking! I like that.

Tuesday, January 16, 2007


I'm having trouble keeping up with work and blogging. However, in the interim, here's a photo that I took recently.

Enlarged Bird
A mature bald eagle in the top of a dead Ponderosa.

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Now I Know

Last month, during our Christmas visit, he picked up the weights, curled them twice while talking, set them down and continued chattering non-stop.

Could I? I wasn’t certain and had to know.

When he was young, we would wrestle, laugh, huff and puff and have a good time. The older he got the stronger he got but he didn’t grow tall. I kept saying “Be patient, you’ll grow.” Finally, I knew it would never happen. He’s 35 now and about 5 feet 9. I’m 60 and 6 feet 3.

As he got into his late teens he began lifting weights and bulking up. We continued playing and wresting and I knew the day was coming when he would win. He put me in pain but I never admitted it. I was middle-aged but bigger and stronger.

He joined the Army and we never wrestled again. He spent a year in Korea and came home looking fitter and stronger than I had ever seen him.

When he set the weights down and continued talking to one of my grandsons, I said nothing but causally picked them up. I lift weights regularly and he seemed to lift them so effortlessly. I had to know.

Actually, it always disappointed me that he never beat me. A father raises a son to be strong and self-reliant. I looked forward to the day when I would lose but it never happened.

I took a breath, got prepared, gave it my all -- and couldn’t do it. Not even once!

I’d like to wrestle with him once again. I’d lose and enjoy it.

Wednesday, January 10, 2007

My Kind of People

She stood looking up into the dark sky accepting the kisses of the snowflakes. Her face carried the signs of almost 60 years but it also carried an expression of – what? Happiness? Excitement? Pleasure? Hope? Perhaps it was all of these and other good emotions.

“You’re enjoying this way too much!” I said.

“Isn’t it beautiful?” she replied, drawing out the sentence and emphasizing the word beautiful.

I agreed that it was indeed a beautiful morning – dark skies, two inches of clean white snow and large flakes floating down in the early light.

Their tracks came from the small white plain building with the large simple banner that proclaims “There is no way to peace. Peace is the way!”.

I’ve always been curious about this society – The Society of Friends.

“Do you go to church here?”

She looked at her friend with hesitation and uncertainty. “Go ahead” the friend said. “Tell him.”

“I’m a twelve-stepper and they let us hold our meetings here.”

“I understand” was my reply. “I have several in my family.”

The truth is that I don’t have any in my family at the moment. I have had some over the years and have some who should be attending AA meetings but don’t. These details weren’t important at the moment. Giving her affirmation was.

There’s something wrong in a world of quiet snowy beauty when a person is hesitant to admit they have a problem and are conquering it.

There’s something right in a world of struggling people when a group calls itself “Friends” and shuns cathedrals and advocates peace and opens its building to early morning meetings of people in need of a chance and encouragement.

I’m going to visit this group some morning, The Friends and recovering alcoholics who stop to enjoy an early morning snow are my kind of people.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007


Life definitely improves with age. At least, that’s been my experience in recent years. Each year is better than the previous year and presents the hope of good things. Here are some of the things I’m anticipating this year. Well, they aren’t thing but experiences.

Next month I begin the Master Gardener Program – 13 weeks of training and 50 hours of community service bringing new acquaintances, new knowledge, new skills and new opportunities.

By April I plan to begin construction of an attached greenhouse to provide a dining/lounge area, a solar-heated hot tub, a heat source for the house and an area to start and raise flowers and vegetables. Our house is about 750 square feet and this will add about 500 additional feet.

As I’ve mention before, I’m now on an 11 month contract. For play time I get 20 days vacation, the normal holidays and the month of June. Julie works the academic calendar and is off in the summer so I intend to take June and two weeks vacation in July so we will have six weeks of adventure. We’ve decided to hike the northern 100 miles of the Arizona Trail – the Utah border to the south rim of the Grand Canyon. After this trip, we’ll have over a month for other adventures that we’re considering.

In addition to the above, there’s Valentines Day, our anniversary and the annual rendezvous with siblings in a national park.

Julie and I make a fraction of what we did when first married and lived in Texas. Part of the fun and adventure is playing on a budget. That’s another truth I’ve learned. I enjoy most the things and experiences that I work towards and earn. Life without some struggle wouldn't be satisfying.