Monday, April 27, 2009

New Tent

The day was warm. We were camped in the Grand Canyon at Indian Gardens under shade trees. The afternoon temperature peaked at 112 degrees. The previous day by the river the temperature had been 115 degrees and the night had cooled down to about 95 so we anticipated a warm but tolerable night.

The trees and the cliffs to our south blocked any breeze that might have been moving through or over the canyon. After the sun set the night was hot, still and muggy. The cliffs radiated the day's heat. The trees that had been welcomed to block the afternoon sun became sources of increased humidity and discomfort.

I dozed off to sleep but was awakened by Julie as she climbed over me and crawled out of the tent. For a short while she lay on the ground unable to sleep. Earlier in the day we had see a rattlesnake not far from where we were camped but that wasn't a concern. Her mind wandered to scorpions. The canyon has no shortage of small scorpions. In a few minutes she opted to climb back into the tent.

Our plan was to be packed up and hiking out of the canyon by 4:30 AM to avoid the mid-day heat. At about 3:00 we decided to use headlamps and leave early.

Good memories in spite of the heat!

We have a good four season tent that I bought many years ago. The top unzips to allowing venting through the roof. However, it's not the best for hot weather.

We have a 50 miles, four nights backpacking trip planned in two weeks. The temperatures in the canyon won't be as hot as they were in July two years ago but Julie suggested we purchase a new tent. She researched tents that maximise netting and have two doors. I suggested we add ultralight as one of the characteristics. We settled on a Marmot Aura 2P.

We're looking forward to our trip!

Tent without rain fly.
Tent without rain fly.

Tent with rain fly closed.
Tent with rain fly closed.

Tent with one vestibule flap folded back.
Tent with one vestibule flap folded back.

Tent with both vestibule flaps folded back on both sides.
Tent with both vestibule flaps folded back on both sides.

Tuesday, April 21, 2009

Reading Together

I once asked Julie "Suppose you could go back in time one thousand years and you could take only one modern thing with you. What would it be?" I had my answer ready. Books! A whole library of books that would take a lifetime to read. After sharing my answer Julie thought only a moment. "Glasses! Without my glasses I wouldn't be able to read."

Hmmm? I hadn't thought of that. I guess I could change my one thing to a whole library of giant print books.

One of my greatest joys is reading a book with Julie. Over the years we've read several together: The Gift of Fear, The Happiness Hypothesis and some whose titles I no longer remember; like the psychology book about second order change. Reading together and discussing a book is a shared joy.

Yesterday we picked up a copy of The Blue Zones: Lessons for Living Longer From the People Who've Lived the Longest. Last week Julie sent me a link to a video entitled The Happiest Place in North America. After watching the video I browsed the website, got interested and decided to check out the book.

I'm not interested in living to be 100 but I am interested in living an independent, rich, full life. I took an online test that's designed to estimate life expectancy. My results surprised me.

Test Results.
Test Results.

The book may provide some useful knowledge to improve my chances for a healthy life. Regardless, reading it with Julie is certain to be enjoyable.

(PS: I'm not 52. Let's not start that rumor. I passed that age a decade ago. The test is trying to flatter me by telling me I'm as healthy as if I was 52 again.)

Sunday, April 19, 2009

A Beautiful Weekend

Only one thing would have made this weekend better -- a fourth day.

On Friday, my normal day off from work, I drove to the University for a conference call, worked about three and one-half hours, dropped off recycling, picked up a few groceries, mailed a package to my daughter and stoped by a house to get a load of retaining wall block. That may not sound like a good start to a weekend but it was all done at a lazy, peaceful pace. I enjoyed it.

Last fall I bought over 200 retaining wall blocks from a family and told them I would take the four or five hundred blocks in another wall when they were ready to sell them. The phoned recently so I scheduled the first load. I grabbed a cap block and it wouldn't budge. I tried several others without success. I tried prying one lose with the only tool I had that might work. I gave up and opted to stop by a lumber yard and buy a roll of fencing for the garden

Julie and I returned for the blocks and found the family working in the yard. I took a shovel, pick, crow bar, hammer and mason's chisel. The man who owns the house didn't know the cap block had been installed with an adhesive. The hammer and chisel did the trick and we soon discovered that one hole in each block had been grouted with cement and some had rebar driven into the ground before the grout was poured. After more than an hour of work we left with about 75 cap stones. The family gave us the block due to the work involved. Rather than making a few hundred dollars, the family will have to get a backhoe to remove the wall. I have no immediate need for the block so I'm not disappointed.

On Saturday morning I decided it was time to get out the hummingbird feeders. As I sat on the font steps tying my boots I heard a bird. Talk about coincidence and timing! It checked the two locations were we have feeders each summer and flew off. I immediately got the feeders and fixed nectar. Within a few minutes the bird returned. We now have two hummingbirds. Soon the orioles will return so I put out an oriole feeder also.

Julie had invited a friend for supper on Saturday evening. This young lady lost her husband two years ago in an unfortunately accident while scuba diving. We check one another's house when needed. She had taken care of our plants while we were in North Carolina last month. She mentioned she did not have phone service and had taken part of her equipment to a business in town. They replaced two cables which seemed to fix the problem. Her phone worked for two days and failed again. I volunteered to check the system for her. Since there is no phone service in our area we rely on cell phones, antennas, boosters and other devices. I checked everything and couldn't identify a problem. As a last check I took the antenna mast down, removed the tape around the connector, unscrewed the connection, looked for signs of corrosion and reinstalled the antenna. The phone began working. The problem was a bad connection.

This weekend was the scheduled road pickup that occurs every six months. While getting a reflective vest and trash bags I met an elderly gentleman that I didn't know. I introduced myself and asked him about his cap which read "John Muir College Alumni". The college had been both a high school and a junior college. He had been associated with the school from 1946 until 1954. The college closed many years ago but he returned in 2004 for a fiftieth reunion. That's one of the nice things about meeting for the road pickup. We see people we haven't seen in a while and meet new people.

The weather was perfect. Earlier in the week we had snow showers and cold, windy weather. This weekend the temperatures were about 70 degrees with cloudless skies and a slight breeze. It was ideal weather to work in the garden. I finished filling the garden beds and placed both cisterns where I can gravity feed the beds. The winds had been so strong lately that one cistern had moved over 50 feet from where I unloaded them. They weigh 336 pounds empty but are eight feet in diameter and seven and one half feet tall so the wind has a large surface. As soon as possible I want to get at least 50 gallons of water in each of them to make sure another wind storm doesn't move them.

We watched two episodes of a BBC production of Charles Dicken's "Our Mutual Friend". Quite enjoyable. Two other enjoyable items were Julie's creations. She made falafels for one meal and brownies -- black bean brownies. I would never have guessed the brownies had no flour but were made with beans. Next weekend we have two couples coming for supper. She's planning on making the brownies again, serving them and asking for opinions. Afterwards she'll tell them the ingredients.

Actually, a fourth day wouldn't have made this weekend better but it would have made it longer. I would have liked that.

Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Breaking the Code

I Love You, Man is a “bromance that’s out and proud,” said Ty Burr in The Boston Globe. In the past few years, buddy comedies have nervously danced around the taboo love of “one straight guy for another.” Paul Rudd and Jason Segel fearlessly confront the intricacies of male friendship in this hilarious comedy. Rudd plays a slightly effeminate man about to get married; needing a best man, he realizes he has no male friends. That’s when Segel walks into his life, and the two bond over a mutual love for the band Rush. I Love You, Man doesn’t just acknowledge male friendships, but “exalts” in their awkwardness, said Stephanie Zacharek in Director and co-writer John Hamburg “focuses on the unspoken codes of male friendship that few people think about.” Grasping guy-speak and perfecting the fist bump turn out to be surprisingly tough, said Christy Lemire in the Associated Press. But I Love You, Man isn’t afraid to show its “sensitive side,” and that makes Rudd and Segel’s friendship an affair to remember. -- from The Week magzine
Men are cowards when it comes to friendship.

Male friendship isn't an easy thing. It must focus on activities -- baseball, fishing or some other shared activity -- and it must abide by an unspoken fuzzy code of behavior. Feelings and personal issues are kept hidden. We learn at an early age that if expose ourselves to a group of men we will be assaulted like a wounded gazelle captured by a pack of hyenas.

On the rare occasion that a man breaks the code in what he considers a safe one-on-one conversation he may not get the response he's seeking. Many years ago on a warm Friday evening a friend and I were sitting on a bluff below a grove of cedar trees. We had checked his cattle and were talking and winding down after a week of work. As we talked he somehow steered the conversation around to personal things and the forbidden topic of sex. He made some statement that ended with a laugh and the words "it might help my wife's sex life". Being young, stupid and not willing to break the code I ignored his comments and turned the conversation in another direction.

Over the years I've thought about that evening and other small comments that he made at other times. Looking back I realize he was dealing with some marital struggles and both needed and wanted to talk. I was a rotten friend.

I like getting older. I wish I had gotten old earlier. I'm at the age when I can break the code and enjoy doing so. After seeing the movie last weekend I was talking with a co-worker about my age. He seemed open to talking so I brought up the movie and made a few comments about male friendship. His response was "I'm glad to hear you say that. For a long time I've felt...". This morning I received an instant message from him: "Morning - Thanks for the man conversation yesterday."

I'm anticipating tonight's meeting of the Men's Group. We break the code weekly!

Sunday, April 12, 2009

A Moment of Cautious Hope

I have little hope for the future of our world. I see no evidence that merits hope. We humans will destroy ourselves and the earth. However, occasionally I discover a perspective that gives me a sense of comfort which makes hope possible. Today I read an article that offers neither solutions nor new knowledge but I found it comforting. It was simply a statement of one man's experiences, opinions, personal growth and touching humanity. The article was Uri Avnery's “Rest has Come to the Weary…”.

If there is cause for hope, it comes not from technology, not from religion, not from political diplomacy but from people with compassion and a reverence for life that enables them to see others not as enemies but as persons.

(I discovered Uri Avnery's articles several months back while reading Malcom's blogs entitled THE WORD OF SINNA LUVVA. and MAL's FACTORY - Poetry & Prose Poems . Thank you, Malcom.)

Friday, April 10, 2009

Lingering Influence

(This is a rambling, unbalanced, pointless first draft that I began a few weeks ago but haven't had the time to finish and make semi-presentable. Since I haven't posted anything in a while, I'm publishing this as it stands and heading out to work in the garden.)

I was born and lived the formative years of my life among the coal mines on the state line between Virginia and West Virginia. Early experiences continue to affect my attitudes and my values.

Among my oldest memories are those of handicapped miners begging and trying to sell small items on the streets of Bluefield. One man stood outside a department store with a sign and a cup. He was blind. Embedded in his speckled face was black debris from the explosion that took his sight. Nearby another man sat in a cart similar to a child's peddle car but without the front end. Above the stumps of his legs was a small shelf which held pencils, combs and a few other items for sale.

My father as a miner.
My father preparing to leave home for a shift in a coal mine in the 1930s. (Larger version)

I remember the day my maternal grandfather took ill and was carried from a mine to die two years later. My paternal grandfather died in a mining accident as did one of his sons. My father had a lung removed due to cancer and the biopsy report indicated the presence of black lung from working in the mines.

As we drove from our house to my grandmother's house we passed through a small dirty depressing town named Pocahontas in which the whites lived on one side of the tracks and the blacks lived on the other. My family lived low on the economic scale but I remember the poverty in the black community as horrific, as something that I never wanted to experience.

Memories of my childhood and my home are positive. I had the important things, the things that contribute to happiness, the things that aren't material and the things that can't be given a monetary value.

These and other experiences that were part of my childhood exert an influence on me today. I make a good salary, an excellent salary, but I carry my learned childhood suspicion of government, corporations, wealth and being less than frugal. Money beyond the necessities of life doesn't contribute to -- or contributes little -- to happiness.

(I wonder where I was going with these thoughts. Was I simply reminiscing?)