Saturday, May 26, 2012

Blog Theme

Am taking suggestions on my blog design. I like the background picture/theme, but am not entirely satisfied with readability, especially of the sidebar. Am likely to go to something simpler, one of their standard themes. Or not. But feel free to throw some ideas at me; just don't aim for the face or crotch, please.

Saturday, May 19, 2012

Grand Canyon Misadventures

Well, adventure is what you get when everything goes terribly wrong.

That said, things have been going alright, though not as good as hoped. I made it to the Grand Canyon on the 15th, but I fell quite ill a couple days before that while in Dallas visiting my sister, and was still very fatigued. I attribute it to the long days of driving, hardly moving my body, not sleeping great, not eating great, and the stress of a major life change. So it goes. But it meant I had to drastically scale back my plans at the Canyon. I'd wanted to hike the Thunder River Trail, or failing that, the North Bass Trail. Both lead down to the Colorado River. Both are pretty challenging trails, especially the latter, and I knew I was nowhere near up to it. The climb out would have killed me. So, that was a pretty big let down.

I feel like to really appreciate the canyon, you need to hike below the rim, it can't just be a distant visual. Truly, the scale of it baffles both eye and mind; even at Marble Canyon, the very beginning of the Grand Canyon where the road crosses on a bridge (it's still that narrow), the depth is crazy, you get dizzy looking at it, trying to comprehend, to focus, and you have to step back from the rail. It is important to make it a full body experience, to touch, hear, see, smell, uh, taste? So for my case, I was limited to day hikes on the Kaibab Plateau, still nice, but not the same. 

I did try to do an overnighter out at Francois Matthes Point. I say "try" for a reason. It was about 5 miles or so, almost no elevation gain, so I felt I could do it. I drove to the trailhead, sorted out my gear and rations and headed out. It was a pretty hike, starting out through a burn area, still patchy with live trees, but exploding in wildflowers where it had burned, it was like a yellow carpet, beautiful. The trail is unmaintained, though, just an old logging road, and the blowdowns were annoying. But there was the unburned forest areas, shady and cool, dry yet green and alive, and I love me some pine woods. I got almost to the end of the trail when I stopped dead in my tracks, suddenly full of the knowledge that I hadn't packed my sleeping bag. Un-fucking-believable. Insanely stupid, for someone who has as much experience as I do.  

I decided to walk on, contemplating whether I could survive the night with the clothes and such that I had with me. This was depressing, because at 8000' in mid-May, it was still getting down to the 40s at night, and had been windy since I'd gotten to the Canyon. I went to the Point, which was a pretty decent view (duh), and decided to try to tough it out. The whole point was to be out on the rim for sunset and sunrise, away from the crowds (not that they are too bad at all on the North Rim anyway), to enjoy the moments in solitude and full-on nature. 

But then the wind kicked up like crazy, and feeling drained already, knew I could not deal with another night of no sleep. I hiked back, exhausted at a suddenly 10 mile day on a pretty uninteresting trail, just to camp at the damn trailhead. Glad I did though, because the wind was the worst I'd seen it yet that night, gusts had to have been 40 mph. I would have frozen to death, or blown off the rim, or something. There were more than a few moments, laying in my sleeping bag, that I was sure a tree was going to fall on me and my truck; in fact I had to clear a sizable downed tree from the road just to get out the next morning. Yet I slept pretty well that night. Needed it. 

Am feeling better these last two days, and am now in Kanab, UT, just chilling out, letting myself really rest, and waiting for the eclipse tomorrow. Plan to head out to the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument to view it, if the place I found on Google Earth is indeed accessible. Looks like a dirt road there, hard to tell. Then gonna check out a few slot canyons and Ancient Puebloan/Indian ruins as I make my way to Moab. 

Google Earth

I don't know about you, but I am a huge fan of that Google Earth. Ever since I can remember I've loved maps, and for as long as I've had the internet I've looked for good interactive maps. Google Earth is certainly the best that I've found. You can see terrain, interact with other users via placemarks and Panoramio pictures, and there's a ton of different layers you can add. I've been known to waste much time playing around with it.

So I figured, since I'm out interacting with the real Earth, here's some screenshots of various locations I've found on Google Earth that I think are pretty freakin' awesome. What I've done is take screenshots with none of the toolbars, pasted it into Microsoft Paint. Then I crop it so that the menubar, "Google" logo and other writings are not included, shifting the desired image into the top left corner. Then make the image attributes such that the image ends at the coordinates of the bottom right corner of the desired image, thereby deleting the Google logo and such. I end up with just the pure image. They are pieces of art in and of themselves. I hope you enjoy.

The braided Koyukuk River, Alaska

Dendritic pattern in the Colorado Delta

Another dendritic pattern in the Colorado Delta

A third, and my favorite, dendritic pattern in the Delta.

Dunes in the Sahara

Dune field in Lybia
Mackenzie River Delta, Northwest Territories

White Canyon, southeast Utah

Saving the best for last, the Yukon Delta, Alaska

Tuesday, May 15, 2012

Purpose of Life

Just what is the point of life, what is the meaning, why go on? Well, every nature program I ever saw seemed to take the stance that the point of life was reproduction. You know, bagging the hottest doe in the herd, passing the ol' genes on, the circle of life. I can see the logic behind that, but, well, it rings rather hollow, just not all the way there. Certainly it is a requirement of higher life; no sex, no more species. I follow that far.

But so little of an animal's life is actually about mating. I mean, the act itself for most creatures is ridiculously brief; though even then, there may be marathon sessions. Tigers are quick in bed, but will mate every five or ten minutes for days. Craziness. That bastard must be freakin' exhausted, and the female? Tore up. Especially considering the tiger's penis has barbs on it. So much for sex evolving to be pleasurable, so as to encourage the continuation of the line....

But what about the courtship process, the wooing, the fighting between males? True, take that into consideration and the time involved increases. But mating season is what, a month, six weeks at most for a deer? Far less for most other creatures; a dog or lion comes into heat, and pretty quick she has a mate. The actual percentage of their life involved in this is minimal. We humans are different of course, taking things to new levels of sexual involvement, but I'm trying for perspective here.

(You can try to factor in the time it takes a buck to grow his engery and nutrient intensive antlers, but that is somewhat of a stretch, and a thing largely unique to the deer family. Other ungulates don't shed their headgear yearly. And of course most animals don't have any such anatomical analogue.)

So, sex isn't the main focus of the day to day. What is? Eating. Nature, red in tooth and claw, the battle for survival, that's what it's all about. Well, we run into problems here too. Sure, a weasel will starve to death on a cold night if it doesn't get up and eat, thanks to its ridiculous metabolism, and yeah, herbivores do spend most of their time grazing, but what about the predators? Let's face it, the struggles of the hunter are few, and very brief, over quite quickly. Dogs, lions, these creatures spend most of their time doing... nothing. The social ones play and socialize, all of them sleep a lot, or just stare contentedly into space.

And what about plants, and the other kingdoms? Life is not limited to Animalia. A tree spends half of its life in the dark, and in cold regions, months in dormancy. Or this-- I read an article years ago, about these chemosynthetic bacteria (archaea, actually) living in the mud on the continental shelves. Chemosynthesis is vastly less energy efficient than photosynthesis, leading to a far less productive metapolic process. Thus, these bacteria sit there in the deep muck, slowly turning the sulfates into methane hydrates. So inefficient is their metabolism that it may take a thousand years for them to store enough energy to divide once. And there's enough methane down there that if it all defrosted and bubbled up at once, the atmosphere would catch fire, and that'd be the end of life on Earth. So they've been down there some time.

Tell me, what is the point in this? I can see none. None of these explanations really get to any meaning, they simply say, one survives in order to survive, one has children that one's children may have children. This is not meaning, this is description (thus, never look to science for meaning). I mean, one could say that life is about reproduction, even if it's not the daily focus: creatures eat so they can eventually reproduce. But you could just as easily say they reproduce just so they can eat for longer, via the generations.  It all feels so empty. Like the wheel of samsara, after many lives, the sex, the food, the power, and the thrills eventually become tiresome; so too do these circular explanations leave one unsatisfied.  And the end, it doesn't make sense to live for any one thing, right? To go about eating, sleeping, fighting, all so you can mate and pass on genes. So really, my parameter of "whatever a things spends most of its time doing" doesn't really relate to the purpose of their life.

I'm reminded by the movie Dead Poets Society, a specific scene where Mr. Keating, played by Robin Williams is instructing his class as to the purpose of learning poetry. He says, "We don't read and write poetry because it's cute. We read and write poetry because we are members of the human race. And the human race is filled with passion. And medicine, law, business, engineering-- these are noble pursuits and necessary to sustain life. But poetry, beauty, romance, love, these are what we stay alive for." A great scene from a great movie. But here I am, in agreement with that, yet also looking for a deeper perspective, an evolutionary perspective. Certainly life didn't just go on with circular logic of surviving to survive for 4 billion years, waiting for humans to evolve so meaning could finally be found... did it?

But, wait, let's go back; just what are those bacteria doing down there in the ocean's mud? What about those lions staring at the horizon, or the trees dreaming in the winter's night? It's hard not to see them as the original meditators. Whatever the point of life is, it's found in the present moment, whatever moment that happens to be. And does a dog have Buddha-nature? How can it be doubted?

Thursday, May 10, 2012

So Long, And Thanks For All The Fish

Well, loyal readers, I have decided to move to Utah. I have had enough of this miserable state of Florida: the old people, the terrible drivers (but I repeat myself), the ungodly heat and humidity, and the ridiculous lack of mountains. I'm heading off to places where I can do the things I enjoy doing-- hiking and backpacking, namely-- and where I can maybe learn to do some other things (such as skiing and rock climbing). I want to live in a place where vacations are generally unnecessary, because the sorts of places I would visit on vacation are all right there in my backyard. Perhaps it will help me stay in one place longer than 9 or 10 months, which I haven't really done for several years, but would like to.

The trick will be to find a job. Ideally, I'm heading for Moab, Utah, nestled as it is against the Colorado River, smack dab between Arches and Canyonlands National Parks, with the La Sal Mountains beckoning just beyond the town limits, and endless other spectacular places to explore all around. I've spent some time in the town itself, as well, and enjoyed it quite a bit. Of course, it's a very small town, and finding work will be iffy. So, I may end up elsewhere: Durango, Farmington, Flagstaff, etc. I'd like to stay in the area of the Colorado Plateau if possible, great country, that. Though I also hear good things about Santa Fe.

Anyways, I'm leaving today (am on the road even as you read this) and probably won't be posting for a while, aside from a few I have scheduled. I plan to stop for several days at the Grand Canyon, which I have never seen, save from 30,000 ft on a flight to San Diego-- even from that vantage, it seemed endless, and I am determined to get down into that vastness for a while. A few days there, then up to southern Utah to view an annular solar eclipse, then... who knows? I might take a few weeks to myself, visit some places I once knew, and others I missed last time I was there. Eventually I'll try to find a place for me in Moab, yes, but it will be an unsettled life for a while, and I cannot guarantee regular posting.

I'm not shutting this blog down, though. I love to write, and will probably still have things to say, if not more so than I already do. Even these last few days, I notice my dreams are already becoming more vivid and memorable, a good omen to my mind, especially after the last several months of quite the opposite. It's like a period of stagnation and standby is ending, and I can start moving forward again. Toward what, I have no idea. But there are sure to be thoughts that need writing and sharing. Getting online, though, will certainly be happening less frequently.

So I guess this is just a heads up. I hate to lose readers, especially those who comment, because those comments mean a lot to me. They challenge my thinking, show me new angles on things, and at the very least, it's nice to have the feeling of a conversation on the things I write about, rather than me just shouting into the dark void of the blogosphere. I'm sure all my spammers will be hanging around, though, so I know I'll never be quite alone here in this space ::sniff::

That's all for now. Stick around, if you can; I plan to start a photo blog, and am sure to have some good stuff to post on it, considering where I'm going. Or maybe I'll keep it all on this blog, not sure, haven't decided.

Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Sunset (sonnet)

A sunset's fire-red will never last
nor will the orange or the pink glow cast
shine out for long, it is a fickle thing,
this perfect moment when the robins sing
farewell to day, or else to greet the night.
And so you mourn the briefness of the light
that burns perfection till it pains your soul
to watch it fade so fast into night's hole.

But I would ease your mind and calm your heart:
the sunset which both you and I are part
as watchers does indeed fade fast from sight;
but Earth is wide-- this moment's colored lights
that charge together both the soul and sky
are always somewhere painting widened eyes.

Saturday, May 5, 2012

Review (of sorts): A New Earth by Eckhart Tolle

I picked up Eckhart Tolle's book A New Earth the other day at the library. I didn't find it to be anything too surprising, but I wanted to read it, if only because Tolle's book The Power of Now was extremely surprising; it was what opened my mind up to all the spiritual stuff I write about on this blog. For pop spirituality, it had quite an impact; maybe in the way a little falling rock can start an avalanche.

The thing is, when I was in my late teens, I was 1) a strict atheist, and 2) had a very shallow view on religion-- two things that I find tend to go together. Atheists act like because they've exposed all these contradictions and ridiculous notions from the Bible, that they've not only disproved God, but all spirituality; I don't see that they've necessarily done either. All they've done is shown how unsatisfactory a few specific positions on one specific sort of God and spirituality are; they usually have about as much depth to their opinions as the fundamentalists they so abhor. They are too literal, ignoring the poetry and metaphor inherent to spirituality.

So of course, I was reluctant to read The Power of Now-- thought it was just more religious B.S. my dad was pushing on me; but he was pretty jazzed up about it, and I guess the timing was right for me. Not far into the book, my mind was officially blown. I saw that my atheist viewpoint had no depth. To someone already versed in spirituality, especially Eastern religions, it would probably seem simplistic and wouldn't have much impact; but for me it was a totally new way to look at spirituality. I knew from my minimal knowledge that Buddhism was where to look for more on this, and from there a whole world opened up to me.

One thing that struck me from his new book was when he talked about when he observed a woman on the subway talking angrily to herself about some perceived slight. It's funny to me that the only difference between a raving derelict and us sane people is that we keep our mouths shut when we rave while she doesn't. If, instead of silently thinking it, we actually spoke aloud our running internal monologue, we'd all have to be committed. He pretty much nailed that observation. Identification with the ego is literally a form of insanity.

I also liked some of his instruction, all of which boils down to "be Present." One method is to "feel the life within your body," an energy, almost a tingling, immediately available to be apprehended, similar to a heartbeat meditation. I've always liked heartbeat meditations, feeling the heart from within, and/or feeling the pulse (from within) in specific parts of the body, for its own sake, as well as to increase vitality and even to heal. He also talks about listening without comment to your surroundings, which I later learned is a common eastern form of meditation. In the end, this includes listening detachedly (is that a word?) to your thoughts.

On the other hand, I think he takes his notion of the "pain body" a bit too seriously, making it almost into some sort of demon possession. At one point he even says that people under the influence of the pain body aren't responsible for their actions. His example, believe it or not, was murder. That's a lot of bullshit. Seems to me that the pain body is just another manifestation of ego, on a more emotional level. And however unconscious one is, however wrapped up in ego, one is always responsible for one's actions.

I also don't agree with his concept of spiritual evolution, as I've written about previously (see here). I'm not convinced that this is some special time in human history that's allowing more people to be receptive to all these ideas. Awareness is always there, and always has been. Which isn't to negate historical movements that bring certain notions to the forefront: sure, we're getting away from dogmatism more these days, Buddhism, especially Zen, has arrived in the West, and it and the hippie spirituality have caused some changes, at some level (what that level is is debatable). But the Evangelical movements here in the US, plus the fundamentalist Islam that's spreading in many places, seems to discount that it's a magic moment. Tolle says that the new rabid fundamentalism is the collective ego's reaction to the new rise in consciousness, but it just seems too convenient an interpretation. I think, as always, it comes down to the individual. We all get glimpses of our insanity, and we're always free to break out of it. Usually, we run away from the cracks of light coming through the chinks in the ego's shell, fleeing into new shadows, new illusions. But awareness is always there.