Friday, March 27, 2015

A Brave Little Beast

A couple birds carried-on a noisy aerial dogfight over my trailer. It's not unusual for a couple small birds to get after a large raptor, but here a single small bird held forth, valiantly. The fight went on for half an hour. My dog was annoyed the entire time.

But isn't it amazing what inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras can do these days! Those two birds were up there, say, 300 feet. I took the optical zoom way out there, so far that it was hard to keep them in the frame. And yet the box turned green -- focus was achieved. And even after digital zoom was added, the photo is still pretty clear:


I am now reading Jack London's "The Sea Wolf," so my mind takes to "wind sports". I wonder if London ever wrote a couple paragraphs on something like what is in this photo, and what meaning he read into it.

Wednesday, March 25, 2015

Balanced Scenery

'Balance' is a subtle form of beauty in a landscape, but it is a real one. It is also a rare one in the West. When people show postcards of western scenery and describe it as 'breathtakingly beautiful', they are being narrow and philistine. What they mean is that something in landscape -- hopefully reddish -- is freakishly large and vertical.

The truth is that much more balanced scenery exists in the East and the South, and a little bit in the Great Lakes region. Imagine a place that actually has pretty forests full of a variety of trees that have leaves (!),  a creek, a barn, and some productive fields. In most of the West (other than the Willamette Valley in Oregon) forests are nothing but dreary monocultures of some species of needle-tree.

The lack of balance and variety in the West just means that I have learned to appreciate those rare places where it can be found. One of those places is southeastern Arizona. That is the theme of today's postcard.


Friday, March 20, 2015

Are Extreme Sports an Answer to Shackleton?

Is it crazy to read about Ernest Shackleton's adventures when our modern world lacks real adventure? Everything on earth has been seen. If you were to sign up for XYZ Adventure Tours, they would have you sign legal disclaimers, despite nothing genuinely dangerous being permitted. And you would be encased in safety equipment.

In the world of travel, people who might see themselves as "adventurers" are actually like a lazy student who looks up the answers in the back of the book, rather than attempting to work the problem out on his own. With Benchmark and DeLorme atlases, Wikipedia, websites, blogs, and Google Earth, everything is known.

So are we just looking back at the good old days of Shackleton, when men were made of iron and ships were made of wood, with romantic nostalgia?

But there is still this thing called extreme sports in the modern world; marathon running, peak bagging, bicycle racing, etc. These don't offer the glamor of the unknown, nor are they particularly dangerous. But, as with Shackleton, they do give people a chance to climb way out of their comfort zone.

Actually, when you go outside the comfort zone, you are going into an 'undiscovered country', in a sense. It isn't "undiscovered" in the same sense as it was for Magellan or Shackleton, but it still counts.

I experience "extreme" sports a little bit, when acting like a pseudo-racer in the winter bicycle club in Yuma. There is something of value there. Ordinarily, I would be repelled by the repetition needed to get physically fit. Recall my standard stump speech in favor of not going past the point of diminishing marginal utility. Endurance athletes and racers go way beyond this point.

Perhaps that is the real value of a snowbird winter: to take a vacation from our usual way of thinking even if we like our usual way of thinking.