Thursday, September 18, 2014

The Salad Days of Secession

It improves your life to pay little attention to the "News," but not for the reason usually offered: that it is too negative.  At the moment there are Baja-hurricane-related flash flood warnings in southern Arizona. That's certainly negative, but it is worth knowing about if you live near an arroyo down there.

A better reason for ignoring news is that most of it is trivial entertainment, spin, and government propaganda. But I certainly admit that some of it has been interesting lately.

Consider the Scottish Independence vote. Incredible news actually. Isn't there an old proverb on Wall Street that a stock market adviser can give the price of a stock OR a date, but should never give both. In defiance of that I am here to make a fool of myself, on the day of the Scottish vote, and predict that they will vote 'No' to independence.

Perhaps it will be close, but the whole thing is redolent of Quebec versus the rest of Canada. Threatening to secede is just a bargaining chip that gives the minority more power than mere numbers give it. It makes sense that the majority of the country would get sick of the extortion eventually and tell the secession-threateners to put up or shut up. There must be many 'undecideds' who get cold feet about disrupting their lives with independence.

In the case of Scotland, the issue must be oil in the North Sea. It is too easy for the majority of a country to cave in on something and give the secessionists more autonomy or more free goodies, and keep them in the country.

But I hope I'm wrong. The world would benefit from more secession, be it Basque, Catalunya, Venice, eastern Ukraine, Kurdistan, etc. The USA should split into at least two or three countries.

Isn't it strange how we are all brainwashed with the holiness of democracy, but it seems dangerous or extreme to talk of secession. Consider how Thomas Jefferson put it: 'government derives its powers from the consent of the governed.' And that means of course that the governed can withdraw that consent, and secede. 

There have been worrisome but still peaceful secessions. One of them was the Norwegian secession from Sweden in 1905. It helped send my grandfather to the USA. If he had stayed in Sweden he wouldn't have been sent as cannon fodder to fight Germany 12 years later.

The country that mismanaged secession worst of all was the last country that should have. The USA completely failed as a nation when it used the secession of the southern states as grounds for an invasion. Americans still think there is something evil about secession, even though their whole over-rated country owes its existence to a secession from the UK in 1776.

If Scotland votes 'Yes' to independence, what would happen if things proceed relatively smoothly, and it all works out rather well? Would anyone even point out how ridiculous it makes the USA look for the disaster of 1861? Perhaps the Brits aren't as civilized as they look. Maybe they only offered the Scots a vote because they thought that the vote would be against independence. That lesson will be learned from the "mother" countries elsewhere, who won't even offer a vote to Catalunya, Basque, Flanders, Venice, etc.

I wonder if it will be 1861 all over again if any European country tries to withdraw from the suffocating bureaucracy of the European "Union."

Tuesday, September 16, 2014

Walking off Trail

I love the geology and topography of this spot, on the eastern edge of the San Juan's, near Little Mexico, CO. It's a land of decomposed laccoliths, with just the perfect balance of the Horizontal and the Vertical; of partly cloudy September skies; and of cliffs and ridgelines in the foreground, and big mountains in the distance. Even the vegetation is balanced between grass, small cactus, and junipers. 

My dog was picking up stickers the first day or two, but then she learned how to avoid them. How is that even possible? Dogs are gifted animals when it comes to any kind of motion.

As is often the case, I imitated my dog. There are no hiking trails as such around here, and the mountain bike was in the shop getting new brakes, so I decided to go bushwhacking across the grass/cactus fields. It was cool enough on these September mornings that I wasn't too worried about rattlesnakes. Over 80 F they are a consideration around here.

Dogs know they don't need no stinkin' trails, so why should their humans?

There is something liberating about walking off trail, walking free over the landscape. Walking a trail seems so arbitrary, unnatural, and confining. Of course, to bushwhack like this you need to be on -- not "in" -- a grassland or desert, rather than in one of the National Thickets, managed by the US Forest Disservice. (But sometimes you can bushwhack in ponderosa forests.)

Let's see now, you step out the door of your little house on this prickly prairie and wonder where to go. Well, that's easy enough. If this were the lower desert you would choose a walkable arroyo, but it is too high altitude for that, so something else is needed.

The exposed volcanic layer is in the upper right of the photo.

Here the best choice was to see if it is possible to climb over the exposed volcanic cliff edge that was visible for miles. It was horizontally grand, but vertically humble. It only took a couple minutes to be at the exposed cliff face. It was only 20-30 feet tall, but too vertical to climb. So I walked along it, probing for weak spots in its defenses. 

Notice how I was not walking along, mushing and gushing about how pretty something was. The whole thing was more of a problem to be solved. Military metaphors popped up. I had turned into a type of predator.

I finally found a spot for the final assault. My dog had to be lifted over a couple spots. She hates that. Geezer though I be, I was feeling like a boy playing "king of the mountain", or fantasizing about some medieval romance where the knight takes the castle. At the top of the cliff it seemed wise to build a rock cairn so that I could retreat gracefully, if that were needed. 

I walked along the top of the laccolith. It was glorious. There is always a breeze near a cliff-line, always birds playing with ridge-lift. But how was I going to get off this thing? I finally found a spot. 

Halfway through the descent I noticed that my dog was missing. I called to her and blew my whistle. And there she was, at the top of the volcanic cliff, backlit by the morning sun, looking down at her Pops. Dogs seem to dislike excessive verticality. I had to climb back to the top to coax her down. On the descent I offered to lift her down at places, but dogs prefer to jump free, even if that means risking a sprain.

Off the top of my head I don't remember if the poet Wordsworth or the Yankee blockhead, Thoreau, went on their daily walks on trails or "overland," or even if they made the distinction. Maybe one of the readers knows.

At any rate I am almost glad that I have partially overlooked the pleasure and importance of bushwhacking because it gives me a "new" sport to play with in my senescence. Recently I wrote about different techniques for making hiking more interesting. It's embarrassing to have neglected bushwhacking.

Hiking off trail is to hiking trails what dispersed camping is to campgrounds. It is real life: an intelligent and competent predator, exercising all of its senses and shrewdness to solve problems, spot opportunities, and avoid risks. 

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

Recidivism on a Pit Bull's Rap Sheet

The weekend finally over, the animal shelter opened up today.  I dreaded taking "Tipper", our self-invited weekend guest, to the shelter. I imagined the volunteer taking one look at Tipper and saying, "Oh that's just great, just what we need, another uncastrated pit bull! And this one requiring veterinary expenses on top of that!" Oh geez, would that mean 'the back room' for this sweet monster?

I had to lift Tipper into the van because of his sore foot. He was lighter than I thought. He just sat there. Not a squirm out of him. I rubbed his head all the way to the shelter. There was a stoic resignation that was disturbing. Did he know something that I didn't?

It was the opening of the work week at the animal shelter, and the dogs were acting out their anarcho-libertarian political leanings. They were running loose and barking their heads off. The place stunk. Apparently they don't like being ignored all weekend.

The volunteer opened the door of my van and immediately said, "I know this dog. He's been here before." The volunteer looped a leash over Tipper's head and led him through "processing." In fact, there was even a grim humor to ol' Tipper's behavior. He seemed to know the route.

Perhaps the reader remembers the Coen Brothers' classic hit movie from the 1980s, "Raising Arizona". Recall Nicholas Cage's low-key, routine response to being re-processed and re-incarcerated in the same ol' prison for his same ol' crime of knocking off convenience stores.

Remember him appearing one more time in front of the committee for his parole review. "There's a name for people like you: recidivism. REEpeat OAF-fender."

The volunteer gave me Tipper's rap sheet. But it was good news actually. He was born across the street from the animal shelter. These days he was owned by a guy with an actual job, which is no small luxury in this impoverished part of Colorado. The owner was prone to hiking in my camping area. In fact he worked for the forest service. So why had Tipper run away? The volunteer suggested thunder. Also there is some gun fire up there.

The volunteer said that they would get the bad boy over to the vet, who was right next door to the animal shelter. I gave a small donation. The volunteer mentioned that the law had recently been changed in Colorado so that animal abuse was now a felony. That didn't really have anything to do with the case in question, it was just an aside.

Or maybe it did. I learned that Tipper's real name was "Sponge Bob." Good grief. 


The animal shelter took my name and phone number. I'm not asking to be fawned over, like I'm some mighty hero or something. But it would be nice to get a simple 'Thank you' call from the pit bull's owner. But past experience has shown me that the System does not work like that. 

Since I was in the animal shelter why not have the fun of checking out their "inventory?" Along the way I stopped back at "Sponge Bob's" cage and put my fingers through the chain link fence. That mighty maw was waiting just on the other side. He gave my fingers a soft lick. 

What is that famous quote by Mark Twain that ends in the punchline 'and that is the difference between a man and a dog?'