Friday, July 26, 2013

Summiting Through Ideals and Suffering

...So there I was, pushing my mountain bike up a mountain, with little hope of ever being able to pedal it, except downhill where it might be dangerous. I'd never deliberately injected myself into a situation like this, before. But I simply had to make the San Juans a bigger success for my favorite sport of mountain biking. Defeatism had become disgusting. Although Anger was useful at the beginning to getting me going, it soon wore off. Now what?

The aerobic buzz was great, but it's not enough: the mind needs something to chew on.  Few things lend themselves to metaphor-mining like mountain climbing. The choice seemed obvious: Christ carrying his own cross up Mt. Calvary. So my mind stayed occupied all the way up the mountain by visualizing the awkward and uncomfortable (and weird) ascent as a type of Noble (voluntary) Suffering.

No doubt, the most metaphorical and non-literal allusion to religious tradition is sufficient to send many priggish atheist readers running for cover. But now that they've left the room, we are free to talk about them behind their backs. What metaphor would they find from their bland, modern, utilitarian, uni-sex, PC, "Whig Interpretation of History" worldview? If their worldview does not provide valuable myths and metaphors, perhaps they should reassess how superior it is to "old-fashioned superstitions," and how "intelligent" they are for believing it.

I was astonished how well my chosen metaphor worked as I kept pushing the bike -- despite the fact that I'm no more of a Christian than the priggish atheists who just walked out of the room. Normally my "brilliant" ideas don't work out as expected. I've learned to laugh it off. So when an idea works better than expected, it's time to wonder why. 

It was 3000 feet to the top, but it was the same effort as a 4000-5000 foot hike of the regular kind. I had to rest frequently because of the extra effort of twisting over and pushing the mountain bike. On the other hand, I felt no sharp pain. Although I expected to be sore the next day, that didn't happen.

Chiaroscuro of Hope and Suffering in the High Country

But, still, why was this silly thing working so well? The frequent resting, occasional slipping, bumping the tires into rocks -- the more miserable it was, the happier I felt. The best that I could do was ask the mountaineering guide that I had hired down in Lake City, William James:
Wherever a process of life communicates an eagerness to him who lives it, there the life becomes genuinely significant. Sometimes the eagerness is more knit up with the motor activities, sometimes with the perceptions, sometimes with the imagination, sometimes with reflective thought. But, wherever it is found, there is the zest, the tingle, the excitement of reality; and there is 'importance' in the only real and positive sense in which importance ever anywhere can be. [William James, Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals. The chapter, On a Certain Blindness. Downloadable for free from]
But what our human emotions seem to require is the sight of the struggle going on. The moment the fruits are being merely eaten, things become ignoble. Sweat and effort, human nature strained to its uttermost and on the rack, yet getting through alive, and then turning its back on its success to pursue another more rare and arduous still— this is the sort of thing the presence of which inspires us, and the reality of which it seems to be the function of all the higher forms of literature and fine art to bring home to us and suggest.[William James. Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals. The chapter, What Makes a Life Significant.] 

There is a big difference between routine, work-a-day dreariness and the Noble Suffering I was experiencing, or what Richard Byrd experienced when he was nearly dying "Alone" on his solo Antarctic trip, or what so many polar explorers or sea voyagers have experienced. Their bodies might be in even worse condition than the body of a routine drudge, but something else is happening "in there."
...that their souls worked and endured in obedience to some inner ideal, while their comrades were not actuated by anything worthy of that name.
The barrenness and ignobleness of the more usual laborer's life consist in the fact that it is moved by no such ideal inner springs.
Sodden routine is incompatible with ideality...
And now we are led to say that such inner meaning can be complete and valid for us also, only when the inner joy, courage, and endurance are joined with an ideal.
Climbing a mountain is boring and unfulfilling if it's just exercise. Taken to its logical conclusion, the Colorado Exercise Lifestyle is just one more manifestation of the standard Rat Race. Why not stay back home in the city, go to the gym, and work out on the StairMaster? Exercise needs to be joined to a metaphor to make it noble and meaningful.

Let's go back to our hired mountaineering guide:
...mere ideals are the cheapest things in life. Everybody has them in some shape or other, [...] and the most worthless sentimentalists and dreamers [...] possibly have them on the most copious scale.
The more ideals a man has, the more contemptible, on the whole, do you continue to deem him, if the matter ends there for him...
Inner joy, to be sure, it may have, with its ideals; but that is its own private sentimental matter. To extort from us, outsiders as we are, [...]the tribute of our grudging recognition, it must back its ideal visions with what the laborers have, the sterner stuff of manly virtue; it must multiply their sentimental surface by the dimension of the active will, if we are to have depth... The significance of a human life [...] is thus the offspring of a marriage of two different parents, either of whom alone is barren.
There must be some sort of fusion, some chemical combination among these principles, for a life objectively and thoroughly significant to result.
The solid meaning of life is always the same eternal thing,— the marriage, namely, of some unhabitual ideal, however special, with some fidelity, courage, and endurance; with some man's or woman's pains. 

Wednesday, July 24, 2013

Hiring a Mountaineering Guide

Although this post will begin wrestling over concrete activity in a specific location, I hope to progress to the more general. Is there any better opportunity to take this approach than when climbing a mountain? Human nature loves a physical challenge, but as the viewpoint becomes grander and grander, the climber naturally wants to entertain "bigger thoughts," that is, wider perspectives that transcend the trivial "jostling on the street," that William Blake referred to.

The Little Valiant One surmounts a 13,000 foot pass on his 13th birthday.

A superstar traveler would come into a place like the San Juan Mountains in southwestern Colorado and "knock the ball right out of the park." He would aim "high" at some completely new level of experience, or at least a completely new sport.

But I was aiming at a solid base hit instead of a home run. One of the benefits of becoming wise old men is that we get a little better each year at choosing reasonable (non-romantic) expectations. In my case that meant turning mountain biking in the San Juans from a 5% success to a 10 or 15% success.

So how was I supposed to get out of my rut? Any of the mountain towns have a variety of outfitting or guide-services businesses. So I went into Lake City, shopped around for a reliable expert, and finally hired a mountaineering guide. His name was William James.
In Professor Bain's chapter on 'The Moral Habits' there are some admirable practical remarks laid down. Two great maxims emerge from the treatment. The first is that in the acquisition of a new habit, or the leaving off of an old one, we must take care to launch ourselves with as strong and decided an initiative as possible. [1]
I started off in temper tantrum mode, just as I did for "stream walking" a couple years ago, written about last time. There are nambie-pambies, loyal followers of squishey pop-social-science, who see Anger and Hate as "negative" emotions. That's like saying that fire or sharp-edges-on-metal-tools are negative things because they can injure people. In reality, as long as such things remain a servant and do not become your master, they can be positive tools.

In an explosion of rage I started pushing my mountain bike up a mountain near Lake City, CO. There was no guarantee that it would be possible to ride the bike very often. And the descent might be unsafe. No matter. Yes, it all seemed pretty weird, but also overdue.
This will give your new beginning such a momentum that the temptation to break down will not occur as soon as it otherwise might; and every day during which a breakdown is postponed adds to the chances of its not occurring at all. [1]
There is something relentless about climbing a mountain; something stubborn and almost fanatical.
The second maxim is, Never suffer an exception to occur till the new habit is securely rooted in your life. Each lapse is like the letting fall of a ball of string which one is carefully winding up: a single slip undoes more than a great many turns will wind again.
Only the smallest-thinking athletic nerd would see climbing mountains as the outdoor equivalent of working out on the StairMaster, at the gym. The obsession with getting to the top causes the human imagination to reach out.
As Professor Bain says:— "The peculiarity of the moral habits, contradistinguishing them from the intellectual acquisitions, is the presence of two hostile powers, one to be gradually raised into the ascendant over the other. It is necessary above all things, in such a situation, never to lose a battle. Every gain on the wrong side undoes the effect of many conquests on the right. The essential precaution, therefore, is so to regulate the two opposing powers that the one may have a series of uninterrupted successes...
But a philosophically-dreamy reader might object to besmirching his noble thoughts and exalted sentiments with raw sweat. He is making a mistake. There is an interaction between our minds and our bodies. Intellectual vanity and pretentiousness are the motives for believing that Truth exists in an antiseptic world of Mighty Thoughts alone.
A third maxim may be added to the preceding pair: Seize the very first possible opportunity to act on every resolution you make...
It is not in the moment of their forming, but in the moment of their producing motor effects, that resolves and aspirations communicate the new 'set' to the brain. No matter how full a reservoir of maxims one may possess, and no matter how good one's sentiments may be, if one have not taken advantage of every concrete opportunity to act, one's character may remain entirely unaffected for the better.
When a resolve or a fine glow of feeling is allowed to evaporate without bearing practical fruit, it is worse than a chance lost: it works so as positively to hinder future resolutions and emotions from taking the normal path of discharge. There is no more contemptible type of human character than that of the nerveless sentimentalist and dreamer, who spends his life in a weltering sea of sensibility, but never does a concrete manly deed.
The act of climbing a mountain seems to be the perfect embodiment of these thoughts of William James (and Professor Bain.) Even better, it's a pictorial representation of his ideas.

Wrestling with the Bigger Thoughts while Resting at the top.

Everything was working so well as I kept pushing the mountain bike up the hill. Although Anger was effective at the beginning, it started to wear off. Now what? What could I replace it with? I'll conclude this series next time with the answer to that.

[1] William James, "Talks To Teachers On Psychology; And To Students On Some Of Life's Ideals," the chapter, The Laws of Habit. Downloadable for free from

Monday, July 22, 2013

Can a Good Traveler Break Bad Habits?

Finally it's time to explain how I got on this "What are Mountains Good For?" kick, a couple weeks ago. I knew I would soon be in Ouray CO, wallowing in the friendly hospitality of the San Juan's best hosts of Box Canyon Blog. Before that happened, I needed to bust out and expand the San Juan experience.

So I spent some time in the eastern San Juans, an area I didn't know too well. Enough (!) of the excuse that there is no Verizon wireless in that area; there is a roaming signal, and that's good enough. Actually it was high time I made those areas work, in general.  Remember, this isn't a standard RV travelogue that aims at the mission of comfortable, serial sightseeing. 

The best way to expand into a new area is to take up some new sport or activity, there. I had the good luck to camp next to a couple fly fishermen, over there on the east side. It would be a good idea to stay open-minded about that sport. After all, the rivers (streams and creeks, actually) are arguably the best part of Colorado, although the mass-tourist from Texas and the Midwest thinks that the mountains are.

Because there is no such thing as a bland postcard of the San Juans, it's easy to jump to the conclusion that they are easy to enjoy. Ahh, it's not quite that simple. Dispersed camping sites are few and far between, and they seldom have a wireless internet signal. How could they? There's a damn mountain in the way, everywhere! Campground camping is over-priced and crowded. In fact, everything is over-priced and crowded. The south side (Durango) is hot and over-priced and crowded.

Hiking would seem to be ideal here, and it is, but only 1/3 of it.  Remember that "hiking" is really a misnomer. It's actually a tripartite sport consisting of 1) too much driving, in an over-priced four-wheel-drive vehicle, 2) glorious hiking up the mountain, and 3) trudging and drudging back down to the motor vehicle; slipping, sliding, and stumbling.

There is no perfect sport. You just have to make sure you have a couple choices, and then do the right thing at the right place. So the challenges are definitely there, but so is the potential. Sometimes this contrast can raise your emotional temperature and make you lash out in desperation. There is something exquisite about this kind of agony/ecstasy cycle.

One year I couldn't stand not getting any real good out of these wonderful streams, so the Little Poodle and I just angrily stomped out into the stream (with my sneakers on) and went for a cold, wet walk. My imagination ran away with itself to the point of believing that this was a new sport, to be pursued on a regular basis. (and its own section in REI.)

The Little Valiant One after crossing a raging stream in the San Juan Mountains.

In the past I've written off the San Juans for mountain biking. Not only are the roads and trails too steep and rocky, but there is a motor-crazed yahoo dusting you off every ten seconds. OK, it's not that bad mid-week or off-peak-season. The best improvement I could think of for this year was to turn this 5% success to 10 or 15%.

People praise traveling as a lifestyle that is less prone to the sodden and dreary routines of work, commute, house, toob, and shopping. All in all I agree with that assessment. But normally people think that travel refers to the romance of "seeing what's around the next bend in the road"; that is, going someplace you've never seen before.

I think recurring visits to favorite places are under-rated. Maybe you were just there last year or six months ago. You remember how to take care of your basic needs there. You remember what worked and what didn't work. So you have a high-jump bar to clear this time. Improving your visit this time is quite a bit like breaking bad habits in general.

And so I tried to think of my stay on the eastern San Juans as analogous to breaking bad old habits and replacing them with something better. I was surprised how well that turned out...

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Why Bother Photographing the Mountains?

Earlier I expostulated on Tolstoy's idea of Art: that Art is really NOT about Beauty, but rather, is anything that conveys emotion from the artist (who experienced it directly) to an audience.

Now that we are all agreed on that, let's move on to conquer the issue of Beauty. Even the most dissolute and stubborn optical sybarites -- and I know a few, personally -- would be willing to correct the old adage about 'Beauty is in the eye of the beholder', to 'the brain of the beholder.'

But we should really say 'the mind.'  Somebody needs to convince the optical sybarites that Reality and Beauty actually exist in Ideas, of which photographs (paintings, sculptures, etc.) are merely the concrete representations.

Yes, I said 'merely'.  Shapes and colors, or textures and contrasts, no matter how well they tickle the eyeball, can only be "beautiful" in the same sense that gooey lacto-globular confections at a Dairy Queen can be "delicious" to a seven-year-old.

It is fundamental Truths that are beautiful; and yet, they need pictorial representation. After all, 'Man is a little lower than the angels.' We aren't disembodied intellects like those orbs that housed the mighty minds of some aliens in one of the more memorable episodes of the original series of Star Trek. We have bodies and senses. Thus it is important to find concrete representations of Ideas. But still, it is the Ideas that matter most.

I certainly don't want to endorse the iconoclastic fanaticism of the JHWH cult (Jews, Muslims, and bahbll Protestants). Lucky for the Christians that they absorbed some of the intelligence of the Greeks, and their appreciation for the representation of Ideas.

Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Why Climb Mountains? (II)

Long before Jon Krakauer was around to write about climbing mountains, others did, although not necessarily as well. It wasn't so long ago that mountaineering was an adventure for gentlemen. Before that era, little was written about climbing mountains.

What's the oldest? Oldness is not good in itself, but something could be gained by reading something written when the idea was fresh to Civilization. 

And we're lucky, too. Apparently the first written record of a mountain climbing expedition was left by the "father of the Renaissance," Francesco Petrarca, aka Petrarch. In the 1330's, just a few years before the Black Death hit Europe, he got it into his head to climb Mt. Ventoux, aka Windy Peak. (You might recognize the mountain as a famous stage in the annual Tour de France.) Even odder, he then blogged about it.

When I came to look about for a companion I found, strangely enough, that hardly one among my friends seemed suitable, so rarely do we meet with just the right combination of personal tastes and characteristics, even among those who are dearest to us...
...such defects, however grave, could be borne with at home, for charity suffereth all things, and friendship accepts any burden; but it is quite otherwise on a journey, where every weakness becomes much more serious.
I had to smile about his difficulty of finding a compatible travel partner. That was a problem almost 700 years ago, and it still is! So remember that, the next time you suffer some frustration on this account.
We found an old shepherd in one of the mountain dales, who tried, at great length, to dissuade us from the ascent, saying that some fifty years before he had, in the same ardour of youth, reached the summit, but had gotten for his pains nothing except fatigue and regret, and clothes and body torn by the rocks and briars. No one, so far as he or his companions knew, had ever tried the ascent before or after him.
Perhaps the old shepherd was right, if you see climbing a mountain in purely physical and athletic terms; and we could still make that mistake today. But Petrarch was a thinker, so he started thinking of climbing Mt. Ventoux in metaphorical terms.
I finally sat down in a valley and transferred my winged thoughts from things corporeal to the immaterial...
His metaphor was Christian of course: climbing a mountain was analogous to the climb toward Bliss. This was the Middle Ages after all. Many modern people have become so priggishly atheistic that they can't appreciate anything from another era. Why, I've even known a European who wouldn't even blurt out a reasonable expletive if she hit her thumb with a hammer! But we need not take religious doctrine literally when reading something from a religious era. Their metaphors could be generalized to something poetic or philosophical that we can still relate to.

Perhaps Petrarch's short essay doesn't do you as much good as William Blake's, "Great things happen when men and mountains meet, that doesn't happen jostling in the street."

The Little Valiant One triumphs at the summit cairn over another mighty peak.

But what are Blake's "great things?"

This essay probably seems like it is meandering and not really going anywhere. I can only beg patience from the reader. Think about the multi-colored dots on the computer screen when you first turn on Windows 7. They spin around for a couple seconds before you realize that they are centripetal rather than centrifugal. At first, they appear too random to really lead to anything. Finally they coalesce in the center as a Windows symbol and a musical jingle. Maybe all essays should work like that.

Monday, July 15, 2013

Flowers to a Lovely Girl

On my way to a visit in Ouray CO, I drove through Gunnison. It is nice to see a "cycling chick chic" culture developing there, as it has in Salida, Crested Butte, and a few other towns. There are very few examples when I actually like visiting a city. It's nice to finally have a chance.

Although the word 'charming' is easy to overuse, it does seem to be the right word to explain a middle aged (!) woman in a summery dress, pedaling a funky girlie-style bicycle, while wearing flip-flops. A wicker basket in mounted on the handlebar, and she might have a boule of bread sticking out of the basket. How youthful, unburdened, and unhurried she becomes the minute she jumps on that bike!  

It would be nice to know where else this culture has developed besides a couple towns in Colorado -- and Copenhagen, of course.

I dispersed-camped overnight while visiting Ed and Patches. I think they liked the sagebrush hills and dirt road that we chose for our "Rage in the Sage."  Later that night the sun set in the Elk Wilderness to our west; it colored the virgas over the sagebrush hills.

We just got back from our first hike with fellow bloggers, Mark and Bobbie, and John Q, a refugee from Indiana. Bobbie and John Q picked some alpine wildflowers, and adorned our alpine darlin':

OK Mark, the alpine wildflowers were breathtakingly beautiful -- and no facetiousness is meant. I thought that the frustration over the lack of sunlight was a good thing. It is more exquisite to yearn for some pleasure, and to get tantalizingly close to getting it, than to just wallow in it and lap it up.

I was pleased how one photograph turned out. Yes, pretty flowers are fun to look at. But it is more intriguing to imagine what the world looks from their point of view, and from the viewpoint of the ground, rather than the human spectator.

A lone columbine amongst its neighbors.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

Kissing a Butterfly in Colorado's San Juans

Silverton, Colorado. A classic hike up to a glacial lake and cirque sounded good. We used a road rather than a hiking trail in order to get a more open view in the forest. Although there are a lot of motorheads in the San Juans, the ones we encountered were all polite adults.

We got a start still early enough to experience something that should not be interesting, but was: when walking into the morning sun, all of the flying insects were backlighted. They zinged across the glare, like a video game.

But they didn't all zing away. A small, orange butterfly remained on a rock in the middle of the road. Maybe it was too frightened to move; maybe it was just sunning. Then the little poodle quite amazed me by slowly lowering his muzzle to the butterfly, until he and La Mariposa shared a gentle nose kiss.

On the way up to the lake we saw scenery like this:

But since this is the kind of scenery you expect in the San Juan Mountains, it didn't have much effect on me. I was enjoying myself immensely, but the pleasure was coming mainly from the exercise, not from the scenery.

Something about that interaction between dog and butterfly was magical, as if they were in an old fairy tale; the butterfly was a forest nymph or wood sprite in disguise; she whispered some secret suggestion to my unsuspecting dog; and it turned out to be a mischievous trick.

Whatever the explanation is, a year from now I won't remember the San Juan scenery and the perfect weather. But I will remember that serendipitous dalliance of dog and butterfly for the rest of my life.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

The Dog That Should Take Over the World

...and wouldn't you know that I didn't get a photo of her. My next camera is going to be smaller. Maybe high-resolution cameras on smartphones is the way to go. Anyway, her name is Emma, and she is a half-grown miniature labra-doodle, sired by a miniature poodle, and brought into this world by a Labrador Retriever mother. A good guess is that she will top out at 25-30 pounds.

A person can be a professional dog-lover and still have only weak respect for many dog-owners. For all I can see, most dog owners have little practical common sense about their dogs; they selected the dog based on its physical appearance more than anything.

How did the average metropolitan Indoorsman/couch-potato/cubicle rat ever get it into their head that they need an 80 pound Lab or an energetic hunting breed? Why do so few owners try to socialize their dogs, such as taking it to the dog park and getting it used to having fun with other dogs? Where did they get the idea that dogs are better than an electronic security alarm, and end up choosing a Rottweiler or German Shepherd? And when the hell is the world going to ban pit bulls!?

In the real world of the suburb (let alone the world of RVing) a small/medium, non-shedding, companion pooch is what most people should have. But husbands refuse to be seen walking a small dog because they don't think it looks manly enough -- they want a dog that would look good on the front cover of the Cabela's catalog. Apparently the husband can't admit that he only goes hunting with the boys two weekends per year, and last year he didn't even go once.

Emma has a poodle-coat that doesn't shed, but she doesn't get a La Cage aux Folles-looking haircut at the groomer; nor does she get her toe nails painted or pink ribbons tied around her ears; nor does she have a cropped tail -- why wouldn't anyone want to see a natural tail wagging away? She is the perfect dog for the vast majority of metropolitanized dog owners, and if there is any rationality in the world of dogs, she will become the Mother of what takes over the dog world.

Tuesday, July 9, 2013

Crappy Cellphone Service

From time to time, most cellphone users must have wondered why, with all the progress in telecommunications technology the last 20 years, cellphone voice quality is not as good as landline voice quality when Alexander Graham Bell was still alive. But then they push the issue aside because every third TV commercial is about the latest and greatest, cool, smartphone; so the world believes in all this exciting "progress" taking place in that field; so why think thoughts that make you feel like a crank?

It is very gratifying when I actually find something on the internet that is worth reading. And it happens so rarely, I feel like a fool for wasting as much time on the Internet as I do.

There is an interesting article on Karl Denninger's blog today about cellphone service ("The Destruction of Quality"). You don't have to agree with his politics to enjoy the article -- the article isn't political.

Saturday, July 6, 2013

Why Climb Mountains?

" is not sufficiently considered that men more frequently require to be reminded than informed."  [Samuel Johnson, Rambler #2, available at]
Few better examples of that aphorism could be found than that of a traveler, moving up into Colorado for the summer, who rereads Jon Krakauer's "Into Thin Air."  And so I did, just before climbing Mt. Taylor near Grants, NM.

It might seem silly to read about somebody's hard-core adventure before heading off to our own soft-core adventure. But is it silly for somebody walking along an ocean beach to wade out, ankle-deep, into the incoming foam? It helps them connect mentally and philosophically with the ocean. 

I haven't enjoyed a hike this much, in years. Although Mt. Taylor is only 11,300 feet high, it completely lords over a large section of New Mexico. It was oddly calm on top. The lack of wind made for visibility of 70 miles in all directions.

There are certain conditions that almost guarantee a fine hike. First, start below tree-line, in a dismal, mismanaged, over-grown forest. (The US Forest Service makes success easy, in this regard.) You want to experience the full intensity and liberation of walking out into the openness.

A serried tree-line is best for visual contrast; otherwise you would walk out onto a monotonous lunar landscape of scree (or rubble). The most interesting tree-line is similar to the most interesting shoreline: one of coves, bays, and islands. 

A forest ranger explained the pleasantness of Mt. Taylor to me: fires used to burn the afternoon-facing slopes right up to snow banks along the top. Today the hiker can enjoy this partly open characteristic throughout the last hour of the hike.

Something about his explanation evoked the word, bergschrund, used by Krakauer. Fire instead of ice; fire climbing up the mountain instead of down it, like a glacier. Upward swiftly and capriciously, rather than downward and inexorably. Fire as an anti-glacier. 

And yet another pleasantness: the mountain isn't too steep. Remember that a helicopter isn't waiting at the top to spirit you off the mountain. Who wants to walk back down a steep trail where you are always worried about slipping and sliding? The constant fatigue of walking down a steep slope turns into sheer trudgery and drudgery.

  The gullies had an interesting look.

The photograph -- a mere two-dimensional medium, after all -- doesn't do justice to the sculpted, three-dimensional shapeliness of those gullies. I had to grin (and sigh) about them.  How susceptible a young man's brain is to curves of a different kind!, and how silly it all seems to me now, as an old man. But think of the consequences -- most of them dire -- to an unfortunate, naive, young man. And yet it's the youthful madness and delusion that we owe our existence to.

I haven't written too much about the 'why' of climbing mountains. But in writing an essay I prefer to start with the Concrete, and then step-by-step, put it into a Bigger Picture. Indeed, isn't that what we naturally do as we climb a mountain? More next time on this theme.

Monday, July 1, 2013

Cleaning Fire and Smoke with Water Music

While waiting out the smoke from the forest fire, I was able to walk and bike some without the smoke bothering me too much. Bicycle garb can be soaked each day in a bucket of soapy water, and then rinsed off. Here is what the water looked like from one day's bike ride:

My gosh, what was the smoke doing to my lungs!

When the evacuation order was lifted for South Fork, CO, I finally had a chance to get to their laundromat. It had been open during the week of civilian evacuation; the fire fighters had been using it. There were still hundreds of small laundry soap boxes lying on the tables. They had been offered free to the firefighters. I kidded the attendant that an entire box or two was probably needed for each load of their laundry. She had indeed been amused by the brave and hardy young buckaroos.

After I gave up on getting a package delivered to the post office in South Fork, I was free to escape all that dreadful smoke. It felt so liberating, and was overdue.  At some point you have to ask yourself what is the point of being in Colorado if you can't even see the mountains? Clearly I needed to move to the upwind side of the forest fire.

They have finally opened the highway from South Fork to Creede (Colorado) via safety-vehicle-escorted convoys. Creede was twice as smoky  as South Fork. Just think, things were a bit un-pretty on the drive to Creede, and there was a tiny bit of inconvenience and -- dare I say it -- danger.  It surprised me that we weren't entitled to (free) psychological counseling after we survived the ordeal.

I was surprised how long it took to get away from the smoke. Finally, near the continental divide, the sky looked healthy again. It felt so good that it hurt. Better yet, there was a nice rain shower at the Divide. It is worth it to suffer aridity and fires in May and June just to experience the bliss of the monsoons starting up. How could the mere pitter-patter of rain on the windshield seem as valuable as your favorite music?

Today everything puts a Southwesterner in the mood for appreciating rain, humidity, clouds, and flowing water. Yes, I'm now camping along a stream on the east side of the San Juan Mountains. After the drive I was ready for a nap, and needed to select the perfect music to honor the occasion.

What is the perfect afternoon nap music to celebrate this occasion? It certainly wouldn't be rock, rap, opera, or brass marching band music. It wouldn't emphasize drums or horns. It might emphasize woodwinds.

But wouldn't soothing piano music be best? The piano is unique in how well it fits with the white noise of a flowing stream. The music need not have romantic or emotionally intense melodies, but it must be smoothly melodious. It should not be too cerebral. Rather, it should be physiological.

It should be uniform in volume (decibels). It needs to evoke inevitability. Yes, a sense of Ease and Inevitability to flow effortlessly into sleep.

How about one of the piano-dominant movie soundtracks by Jan Kaczmarek? In fact I chose "Hachi."  Zzzz...