Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Cave Creek / Skunk Tank Loop

It started off badly. In defiance of the meteorologists the sun and clouds never collaborated to make "partly sunny" accurate. The dull gray sky remained throughout the day putting a damper on spirits and a curse on photos.

As we drove to the trail head Julie read a news magazine article about the decline associated with aging. I kept waiting for the positives like "older people enjoy life more than forty-somethings" but the article ended without a sunny paragraph after heaping gloom on our future.

At the trail head I studied the map and committed it to my failing memory. There were only six segments that totaled 9.2 miles. Last weekend we had done a seven miles trail in less than three hours with ample time for a leisurely break and several photos. We had late afternoon plans and we didn't think starting at 11:30 would be a problem. However, I was curious about the scale and accuracy of the map. One section of three-tenths mile was almost twice the length of another section annotated as four-tenths. Neither section was in an area with switchbacks to explain the discrepancy.

We set out to stretch our legs, enjoy enjoy whatever we might encounter and to find a crested suguaro that stood somewhere along the trail.

Crested Suguaro. (Larger version)

Things continued to go badly. Julie developed a pain in one knee. We pushed on until we came to a second stream crossing where we decided to eat and turn back. I assumed we were about half way around the loop but we hadn't found a second trail. Something wasn't right. We had come more than four miles and the intersecting trail, according to the trail head map, was at 3.7 miles.

After eating I left Julie, crossed the stream and began exploring around a bend in he canyon. There it was! I went back for Julie to show her the crested suguaro before turning back.

23 Arms and a Few Nubbins. (Larger version)

At that moment, it didn't seem to be going badly. We had eaten and rested and the canyon seemed more beautiful ahead. Standing in front of the suguaro we decided to continue the loop. In retrospect that was a mistake like throwing good money after bad.

We found the intersecting trail. A sign indicated the distance back to the trail head was 5.5 miles and not the 3.7 we had expected. But, if the entire length was 9.2 miles then we had only 3.7 miles to go. We started the thousand feet climb out of the canyon with optimism.

Skeletons. (Larger version)

OK, you probably see where this is leading. Much later we arrived at a sign that indicated the trail head was three-quarters mile away. I know that wasn't correct. I had marked it on our GPS. Standing by the sign the GPS told us it was .89 miles straight line!

I don't know how many hundreds of miles I've hiked but I've learned to allow two miles per hour for hiking. That seems to allow ample time for beaks, taking photos, investigating discoveries and exploring side canyons. Our anticipated nine mile stroll which we estimated at five hours maximum took six hours and forty-five minutes.

I'll remember this day and this hike with fondness and I'd do it again, preferrably on a sunny day. I guess I'd better do it soon. If the magazine article was correct I may not have much time left.

Hmmpf! I know better than to believe what I read.

Headless. (Larger version)

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Snowy Campus

This morning I took these photos on campus in front of the building where I work.

McMullen Circle. (Larger version)

Old Main. (Larger version)

Here's some interesting history.
In 1893, the Seventeenth Arizon Territorial Legislature authorized a "Reform School" to be built to instruct boys (the Territory's "viscious youth") from the ages of eight to sixteen in the trades and in general education. The Nineteenth Territorial Legislature then decided to use the building, constructed by this time, as a ward for Arizona's mentally ill. However, an insane asylum had opened in Phoenix in 1887. Phoenix did not want a competing facility in Flagstaff. According to the Phoenix Enterprise, "[A]ll physicians were agreed that Phoenix was the proper place for all the insane people, and that no sane men would permit any of them to be sent to Flagstaff." Accordingly, in 1895, Governor Hughes recommended that the federal government should assist in creating a National Summer School of Science, with the empty building serving as its headquarters. The first summer session was in 1896, with Lowell Observatory serving as the major drawing card in attracting academics from around the country. Concurrently, Prescott, spurred on by the Territorial Normal School in Tempe, agitated for a normal school of its own. Amidst this parochial bickering, a Phoenix editorial suggested using Flagstaff's now-infamous building as a summer school or college, or, better yet, "sell[ing] it to some speculators to be used as a hotel; [it is] better to dispose of the structure as a sleep house than to keep it where it cannot be used profitably [by] the territory." Gortunately, and to Flagstaff's delight, Henry F. Ashurst, on February 9, 1899, introduced House Bill 41 allowing for the establishment of Northern Arizona Normal School. And the rest, they say, is history! (Source: Arizona Highways, vol.XLII, no. 3, May 1966, pp. 10-31.)
Here's an historical photo of Old Main.

For clarification, I work in Bury Hall and not Old Main. Bury Hall is an historical building from the era of Old Main and was constructed of similar stone.

The Reason

Do you wonder why I published the last two posts and why I tell things about myself that aren't flattering? There are multiple reasons. One is that I don't want to project a facade of always being happy, content and full of answers. I have few answers and much frustration at times.

Another reason is due to my basic belief that we learn from others and are encouraged by the experiences of others. This morning I received an email as confirmation of that belief. Here's an edited portion of the email.

I read your blog and began to wonder who you could be talking about. The thought ran through my head that it could possibly be (name). But after talking to (him/her) this morning, I am sure that it was.

I was miserable for years but I sure tried to not let it run into other peoples lives by complaining all the time. I just had to get myself to where I needed to be and enough was enough. I think about how life was all those years and some days I regret it took me this long. Other days I don't because I don't think I would be who I am right now.
I received other emails that express feelings like "I'm on cloud nine", "I can't imagine being anybody else than who I am." and "I don't mind that I'm 38 because I sure wouldn't want to be who I was 15 years ago."

I went through 25 years of hell. Looking back with the knowledge I have at this point, I realize how easy it would have been to have made other choices. But, life is about learning, growing, changing and adapting. My learning was slow and painful. I hope you learn from the experiences I share. Don't be the dumb ass I was -- and sometimes am.

Tuesday, February 19, 2008

I Can!

I’m irritated, angry, perturbed, wrathful, irate and just generally pissed off. In my last post I alluded to being a witness and minor player in another person’s experience. My patience is weakening and my anger is ballooning.

There are two things that push my buttons.

First is the phrase “I can’t!” My father made the statement “a hero is just someone who does what he has to do”. That definition stuck with me because he was an example of its truth. Whatever needed to be done, he did it without fear or complaint. I try to follow his example and tackle any problem. I have an immediate negative reaction to someone who says “I can’t”.

Years ago I saw a PBS program that interviewed men who were out of work. One man was in tears because he has lost a union supported job. He had to take his children out of private school. He had no money for gas to take his motorhome on vacation. When asked about taking a job at a lower wage he replied “I can’t”. But he could sit home earning nothing and cry for the camera. Bullshit! No job is beneath me. I can do anything that needs to be done. Rationally, I know that’s not literally true but it’s the only attitude I’m willing to accept.

My second button concerns criticizing potential solutions without offering other solutions. When trying to solve a problem I like to list several possible solutions and evaluate each one to pick the best. If none are viable solutions then I search for other possibilities. I don’t appreciate coworkers or others who immediately discount possible solutions, tell why they won’t work but never offer positive criticism or other ideas. My reaction is to tell people who do this to go away and come back after the problem is solved. Every problem has multiple solutions and my task is to find one. Once again, rationally I know this is not true literally but it’s the only attitude I’m willing to accept.

OK, now you know my buttons. Don’t push them!

I don’t like feeling angry so I’m doing something about it. Remember I can do anything and every problem has a solution.

I’ve written this which has taken my anger down a few notches. I’m listening to some soothing music, drinking coffee and having an excellent scone baked last night by my loving and calming wife. Finally, I’m thinking about boundaries, responsibilities and the gift of life. I know my boundaries and they don’t encompass changing other people. My responsibility is to be and become the person I choose to be. Life is a gift. I’m not going to waste it by being angry.

Last time I wrote “Life is a series of self management choices”. To that I’ll add “Life is 99% attitude. I can and I will!”

Saturday, February 16, 2008


We – you and I – are managers. We’re professionals in the management business. Lately I’ve been on the periphery of an experience in another person’s life and have been watching what I evaluate as “gross mismanagement” which has lead to thoughts about personal management.

Let me tell you about my management experience to illustrate the thoughts rolling around in my head. I manage money, health, knowledge, relationships, time and attitude.

I find managing money the easiest and the least rewarding. The principles are simple. Spend less than one earns. Don’t make impulse purchases. Read the fine print. Etc, etc, etc, boring, boring. Money is simply a necessary tool.

Managing physical health is more interesting, takes more effort and is more rewarding. Eat right, get at least seven hours of sleep and move. That’s a simple formula with opportunity for personal creativity in eating and moving. I enjoy trying new recipes and foods. Moving involves using steps rather than elevators, walking rather than riding, doing daily chores, going to the weight room, hiking and a multitude of other options. The rewards are immediate and pleasant.

I am required to manage knowledge. I remember my fear when trying to cross the first four-lane street I confronted at the age of 7, my curiosity at the first doorbell I discovered at the age of eight and my amazement at my first escalator ride at the age of 10. When young I learned the knowledge and skills required to cross streets and operate simple equipment. Now, I live in a highly technical computerized world but I find the technology uninteresting and the knowledge easy to acquire. However, I’m gaining knowledge about more complex issues with more serious consequences -- global warming, my impact on the universe, changing an outdated and flawed political system, seeking accurate knowledge now that the news media have transformed into marketing and entertainment. Life is always evolving and learning new skills and knowledge are mandatory.

Managing social relationships with family, friends and coworkers is difficult. Each of us is a complex creation with different genetics, varying experiences and dissonant values. I find I tend to prefer solitude and short interactions with people other than my wife. This can be a formula for disaster and I struggle to stay connected in healthy relationships in constructive ways.

Time management is a function of values. What do I value and therefore want to devote time? In my later years I’m less productive in some areas because, more and more, I value simplicity, a slow pace, marriage and self. Years ago I started the day with a list of tasks. Now I prefer to start the day with bird feeders, breakfast with Julie and a walk.

The most difficult and challenging management responsibility is attitude. Benjamin Franklin said “He that best understands the world, least likes it.” I can consume the media, focus on the negative and put myself into a dark mood. I can but I choose not. I read books and watch movies that lift my spirits. I mask an unhappy vocal coworker with music. I get a dose of endorphins with exercise. I participate in a men’s group to draw myself out of my innate tendency toward disconnect. I avoid reading rants that don't offer hope. Managing my attitude is the most important thing I do. It’s the basis for everything above.

Here’s my bottom line. Life is a series of self management choices. Bad choices have bad results. Good choices don’t necessarily have good results but they maximize the probability for good results.

Friday, February 08, 2008

Master Gardener Column

I submitted the following for the local master gardener column. I knew it was a little long but thought it might pass. Not so. The coordinator is going to edit it to shorten it and send it back for my approval. It will be interesting to see his edited version.

Let’s plant an herb garden! Herbs are plants considered useful. In the past they were used for fragrance, medicine, seasoning and other purposes but today their main use is seasoning food. Popular culinary herbs include parsley, sage, chives, thyme, savory, marjoram, mint, basil, oregano, rosemary and tarragon.

There are several things to consider when planning an herb garden. We’ll begin with a garden site. What are our options? This area will be shaded, that one is too far from water and that one has extremely poor soil. Herbs want a warm sunny well-drained area with good soil. Our perfect site will be close to the kitchen so we can tend our garden and easily harvest herbs when making a delicious meal. How about this area? Good soil, well drained, sunny several hours each day with a little shade in the afternoon on that corner, protected from winds, not in a low area where cold air will settle. We’ve found our garden site!

What do we want to grow in our garden? We should do some research before we decide. We need to interview each potential resident of our garden. Will our herb become invasive? We don’t want it taking over the garden. Is our herb a perennial? If so, we need to be prepared to care for it year-round. How tall is the herb? We’ll need to know when planning the layout of our garden. Will it need plenty of room because it puts out runners? How much water does it require?

OK, we’ve selected a variety of herbs that will do well in our environment and it’s time to plan our layout using the gardener’s first tools -- pencil and paper. Chives, fennel, marjoram and thyme are perennials that will live for several seasons and will be grouped together on a side of the garden so we won’t disturb them next year when planting new annuals. Caraway and sage are biennials that will live for two seasons. Anise, basil, coriander and dill are annuals that will grow one season and die. Tall herbs will be placed on the north so as not to shade short plants. The thyme will prefer an area with full sun but the basil will be content with the corner that gets a little late afternoon shade. Mint can spread rapidly and needs a location were we can limit its spread.

It’s too early to prepare our garden site but when we do we’ll work the soil at least eight inches deep and amend the soil with organic matter to provide nutrients and to aid in moisture retention. This is important. We need good soil and amending it is critical to the success of our garden. Also, we’ll need a mulch to assist with water retention. While we’re waiting for the snow to melt and planting time to arrive we’ll put organic matter, mulch and fertilizer on the list of items to acquire.

For now, we want to purchase or order seeds. Basil, anise, chervil, coriander, fennel and dill do not transplant well and will need to be sown in the garden. Dill, chervil and coriander are cool season crops so we’ll plant them early when the soil warms enough. The biennials will be sown in late spring directly in the garden. An important question is what seeds should not be planted in the garden but should be started indoors and the young herbs transplanted? We’ll start perennials ten to twelve weeks before the last frost which generally occurs in . . . When is the last frost for our microclimate? We’ll have to check that date for our location. In Flagstaff, according to the National Weather Service, it’s June 13.

Sowing early indoors will give the seeds plenty of time to germinate and allow the plants to grow to a suitable size for transplanting. Our annuals tend to germinate and grow more quickly so starting them six to eight weeks before the last frost should be sufficient.
When we sow the seed we’ll prepare a fine texture in the soil surface. Let’s be cautious not to sow the seeds too deeply. Because some seeds are fine, we’ll mix them with sand to spread them more evenly. Examples are marjoram, savory and thyme. When watering, we’ll use a fine spray, which will not disturb the soil, and we’ll keep the soil moist during germination. Oops, let’s not forget to label everything we’ve sown.

Well, we’re to the point where our seeds are germinating. In a few weeks, we’ll be hardening our young plants before moving them to the garden. However, there’s more to be done now. I suggest we create a notebook with information about each plant that will aid us in caring for our garden. We can include information about water, fertilizer, plant spacing and pruning requirements. What about pests and diseases? We want to be prepared to recognize early signs of disease and know how to respond if pests are attracted to a plant. In the front of our notebook we’ll include the phone number of the Master Gardener Hotline – 774-1868, extension 19. If we encounter a problem that challenges our knowledge and experience, then we’ll phone and ask for help.

Once we have everything completed, let’s enjoy a little anticipation by finding a few new recipes that call for herbs from our garden.

Tuesday, February 05, 2008

An Excellent Idea

It wasn’t my idea. In fact, at first I didn’t think much of it but I agreed to consider it. Julie is always coming up with excellent ideas. Julie suggested we rent an RV site for the month of February at the resort near Phoenix where we store our motor home. She proposed we leave after work on Thursday, spend three days in the valley and return for work on Monday morning. Normally we go down one or two weekends a month during the winter and spend one night. A portion of our visit is devoted to moving the RV and set up when we arrive and close up and moving it to a storage area before we leave. By renting a site we can leave it set up and arrive after the office is closed. A few minutes of consideration and I was in agreement.

Last Friday we packed a few things, drove south, set up the motor home, had a bite of lunch and thawed out in the hot tub. Saturday was sunny and warm. I put on a short sleeved tee shirt and felt comfortable. She chose a restaurant for lunch in town to celebrate her birthday and we had an enjoyable day. On Saturday evening we finished the last three of fifteen episodes of the BBC production of Charles Dicken’s Bleak House”.

We would have preferred to stay until Monday morning but heavy snow was in the forecast for Flagstaff and it seemed wise to head home on Sunday afternoon. The forecast was correct. I counted four cars abandoned in the median just south of Flagstaff and the snow was building up.

On Monday morning we were dressed for work and ready to sit down to breakfast when I decided to check the University’s website. We had about an inch of snow but town had more and there was the remote possibility that classes were cancelled. We got an unexpected day off because the University was closed due to snow. I spent a good part of the day cleaning my work shed and organizing tools.

But, all is not fun, games and playing. Last week the left turn signal on our car stopped working. I took a quick look in the cold twilight and couldn’t find the problem so I left it for the warm weekend. After checking the easiest items I decided to remove the lower dash so I could get to the flasher and check wiring under the dash. After checking the flasher with a meter I reinstalled it and the turn signal began working. There was no obvious sign of corrosion but I disconnected it again and spayed it with a cleaner. It’s worked consistently since.

We’ve planned some work for the remaining three weekends. This weekend we’ll work on some projects on Friday, spend the day at a Renaissance Fair on Saturday and spend part of the day by the pool on Sunday.

Since we had a snow day on Monday, this is going to be a short week of only three work days. On Thursday evening we’ll head south again.