Thursday, May 28, 2015

How Do You Find Eclectic Blogs?

Once again my internet browsing is wallowing in the gutter. Perhaps it would be better to say that I am bored to death. Blame laziness.

It seems like most blogs write about the same thing every day. Political blogs and travel blogs are the worst of the worst. Travel blogs could be replaced by a computer program. Indeed, maybe somebody should sell an "app" that automatically puts travel posts on "your" blog. How would anybody know? The result might be a blog with friends and followers in the thousands. 

Let's have some fun: what would today's blog title be if an app was writing it. "An Exclusive Paradise Adventure in the Grand Canyon, for Free, Topped Off with a Beautiful Sunset!" Nah, too long.

Perhaps we are so trained as mass consumers that our information-grazing habits imitate our consumption. Thus we fall into blogs that offer tired formulas and repetition.

My excuse for being so lazy is that one only has so much time, there are too many haystacks to look through, and blogs make it difficult to size them up quickly. Imagine you have just run into a new list of blogs and the title of the post is "Another Tuesday." How does that help you decide if it is even worth five more seconds of your time? Why is it so difficult for the blockhead (bloghead?) to choose a title that accurately and truthfully describes the theme of the post?

I prefer blogs that start off with first hand experiences that are odd, or at least non-routine, because these tend to raise interesting questions. Trying to answer the questions causes the blogger to graze in a wider pasture. The blogger might have to borrow an idea from here or there, and borrow an experience from one part of their life or from somebody else's book. 

If it didn't progress beyond the level of the concrete and immediate, it would probably degenerate into one of those dreadful "here's what I did today" blogs. At the other extreme, if the blog started with abstractions and platitudes it would freeze into dogma, bumper sticker slogans, or aphorisms meant for pretty calendars or Hallmark cards.

I guess the right word is "eclectic." But that word gets abused, so I'm not sure that doing a search with that term will do me any good. Dare I hope?

Until then, here are some words of wisdom from a successful, early "blogger", Michel de Montaigne. (Complete Essays):
...and no matter if he forget where he had his learning, provided he know how to apply it to his own use.
Bees cull their several sweets from this flower and that blossom, here and there where they find them, but themselves afterwards make the honey, which is all and purely their own, and no more thyme and marjoram: so the several fragments he borrows from others, he will transform and shuffle together to compile a work that shall be absolutely his own; that is to say, his judgment: his instruction, labour and study, tend to nothing else but to form that.
 That is my project: looking for blogs who know how to 'make the honey.'

Friday, May 22, 2015

Calming the Beast in the Cabin

I'm weakening. I hate camping underneath a thunderstorm. But the mud will dry up tomorrow.

There must be readers who are sick of my praise for wet snow and cold mud in May in the American Southwest. They are probably thinking, "Put up or shut up. Move to Puget Sound if you think wetness is so great."

My sermons are an echo of the ones from William James, presented in the page-tab at the top of your screen, Summiting: Ideals and Suffering. In trying to benefit from suffering, the key word is 'non-routine.' Over the long run, suffering loses its charm. In order to be stimulated, you must somehow idealize it, and that is hard to do to something routine. The weather the Southwest is having right now is definitely non-routine.

I'm not just opining and theorizing. My bouts with cabin fever have done me some good, and hopefully for the long term.

I was forced to do things that are easy to neglect: a book that was supposed to be re-read, but somehow wasn't; cleaning and organizing; off-line organizing on the computer; doing push-ups on the muddy trailer floor; cooking time-consuming foods such as rice and beans; crawling under the sleeping bag and napping at odd times, not because I was tired, but because I craved warmth.

It isn't good enough to just grit the teeth and try to force yourself to do these things. It is better to exercise the imagination on them, and visualize them as being valuable. At the very least I had to give them the benefit of the doubt, and judge them less harshly than usual. I had to be content with these half dozen activities instead of a dozen more activities which I should be able to pursue and which should be more exciting.

At first I saw only tangible things and activities. Over time a general principle appeared behind the scenes. Patience. I was developing patience.

Just as a child's imagination tends toward personification, I imagined Impatience as an unruly beast who I was trapped with. It seemed a huge wet dog, young and puppyish, and erratic. This even made it destructive in such a small trailer: scratching at my air mattress, getting excited and peeing on the floor, shaking off all over the bed. 

The beast wasn't malevolent by intent. In fact its flaws were rather common to its breed and age. Neverthless it was necessary for It to calm down.

So it is with the virtue of patience. Impatience always seemed to be a common and petty vice, before, and thus boring and easy to underestimate and neglect.  

But what profound consequences Impatience has in the long term. We are forever scratching an itch, driving to stores, spending money. So much of the money and time of our lives is spent fleeing boredom. We only needed to conquer Impatience. This issue is triply important to early retirees.

The great advantage of cabin fever is that we can no longer shrug off Impatience.  We are faced with a crisis, and the villain becomes apparent.

This may be an example of what Malcolm Muggeridge was writing about in A Third Testament. In his chapter on Dostoevsky, he writes:
Dostoevsky found himself in solitary confinement in the Peter and Paul Fortress where so many revolutionaries – Bakunin, for instance – were at one time or another incarcerated. For Dostoevsky it was the true beginning of his inner life, and of the illumination out of which his great works were to come. 

Prisons, let it be said, have fostered far more art and mystical insight than any Arts Council, Ministry of Culture or other such effort in the way of governmental encouragement. In the Peter and Paul Fortress he was willy-nilly introduced to the theme of punishment, which he was suffering, and crime, to which a long, elaborate examination sought to relate it. The punishment was tangible, the crime more elusive...

Saturday, May 16, 2015

Cabin Fever of the Mind

In an earlier post I played at visualizing cold wet weather and mud as medicine. Not only does it postpone the wildfire season later into June, when the monsoons are only a couple weeks away, but it also rebuilds a healthy appreciation for sunshine in your own mind.  Depending on where you live, you might not need any help in appreciating sunshine; but a gringo in the arid western states certainly needs help.

What Southwestern weather is supposed to be like, in May and June.
And Mother Nature is at it again. When cabin fever reaches a crescendo, you can fight back, but don't fight back too soon: there is an art to enjoying a miserable day. Your rebound is robbed of its glory if it isn't prepared by a nadir. Artificial aids are permitted: consider watching the first five minutes of the latest "Jane Eyre" movie, the one with the faint lighting and the haunting score by Dario Marianelli.

It is quite amazing how tuned in you can get to the amperage and voltage of your solar controller. Even doing pushups on a muddy trailer floor brings instant relief.

But even better, slap on some rubber-bottomed mudder boots and take the dog frolicking in wet snow and mud. People who have never had a dog might not realize how medicinal it is to watch your dog enjoying the very thing that you think has got you down.

Yesterday I would go for short walks during the day's more-lucid moments. Once I was walking through the forest and doing my best to fight the anxiety of hope, but usually losing. Then I looked down to the grass and saw the faintest shadow of my own body. There is an exquisite point when you are torn between reality and your own imagination.

I want the shadow to be objectively real. I don't want to bounce around in the prison-confines of my own mind. That is just another type of cabin fever. And yet, Reality is such a bitch goddess at times, leaving the Imagination as the most effective tool.

So, am I getting a bit crazy to attach so much importance to a barely visible shadow? Let's look as some of the usual symptoms of insanity. There is nothing destructive or unhealthy about this pleasure. It is also quite practical: the trailer batteries need to get charged up. 

In fact, to doubt one's sanity in this example is really just confusing Sanity with mere Conventionality. Look at what a huge industry scenery-tourism is. Do people think it is necessary to squander vast sums of money to appreciate nature? If so, it is because they visualize nature, beauty, and pleasure as objects to be consumed, hopefully in an ostentatious or bourgeois-respectable way. 

They would be better off to stay home and enjoy the miracle of gardening, help their dog deliver a litter of squirming puppies, or look for faint shadows on a cloudy day.

Wednesday, May 13, 2015

So What Happens When You Miss Your Turn?

I was getting that sinking feeling that I had missed my turn. Sure enough, I ended up 60 miles away from where I was "supposed" to be. It happens every now and then. So what?

You can't be lost near the edges of the Plains of San Agustin in central New Mexico. It is unique, or at least rare. It's a chance to escape the sameness of mountains.

Lately I've been doing better than usual at having good camping experiences in places that I tend to neglect. Why the neglect? Is it just internet addiction? There is usually wi-fi somewhere, although it is expensive to use it unless you have a will of iron to resist eating there.

But I have it easy. What if I was a real city-slicker with some extreme, ideological diet? How would you survive with the tiny grocery stores? Western Family, and Shur-Fine brands are the only things that aren't priced at a confiscatory level. There are a few staples available, and with a tub of dry goods and canned goods in the rig, you should be alright for awhile. 

The trick is to be flexible and patient. 'Flexibility' means that you stop trying to impose a pre-conceived pattern on your new location, and you stop overlooking what is actually there. You come into a rural area with consumer habits of instant gratification. You come in thinking that you can't solve the problems of life without a busy commercial strip with all the usual big box stores along it. But people who live in these areas have some way of surviving. They have houses that need to be repaired, dogs and horses that need veterinarians, and cars that break. There has to be someway to do it.

But I have become so spoiled by the convenience of small cities that the survival skills of truly rural areas have become exotic to me. This makes me feel weak and stupid.

Very well then. I'm here in Datil, NM. Let's take it as a challenge. Sure, that sounds like a mere platitude. But what if this sense of being in some kind of vacuum is not visualized as austerity, but rather, is visualized as wide open space to expand into -- as wide and as open as the plains of San Agustin themselves.


Monday, May 11, 2015

Thirsting for a Special Type of "Beauty" in the Badlands

Reserve, NM. I was up to my old tricks on a hike when I became aware of an unusual thirst and satisfaction. By 'old tricks' I mean choosing hiking over mountain biking on unusually cold days, leaving early, walking up canyons with my dog, and avoiding marked trails. Obviously I never take my GPS gadget or study Google Earth before going on an outing: no cheating is allowed!

What was unusual was the badlands topography: one arroyo and ridge, leading to the next. There didn't seem to be any rhyme or reason to it. I had never noticed before how extreme randomness in a landscape creates a desperate thirst for some kind of order or pattern. 

Looking at badlands has somewhat the same effect as looking at "Medusans" in an episode in the third season of Star Trek: the Medusans were reputed to have the most sublime thoughts in the galaxy, but their bodies had evolved into a formlessness so ugly that the mere sight of them would drive human beings insane.

For awhile the only "order" was gravity. Even when a dry creek bed has only 1 or 2% slope, it is surprisingly easy to tell upstream from downstream. And of course there was the Southwestern death-star to navigate by. I had decided to take a clockwise loop and try to hit the road I was dispersed-camping on.

I was laughing at myself for this new-found lust for order and patterns out there. But I couldn't think of anything else. Signs of ranching, an abandoned telephone line, litter, anything! At long last a straight barbed-wire fence appeared. Doesn't that sound exciting? But it was, and "beautiful" too. I walked along it, feeling a ridiculous amount of satisfaction. Surprisingly we came out on the road I was camped on, and walked it home, feeling quite smug.

Not far from the badlands, it turned very nice.

Thursday, May 7, 2015

Travel Envy

For whatever reason I continue to glance at bicycle touring blogs frequently. Usually it only takes a glance to gong them, and for reasons you can easily guess. Nevertheless it is almost worth the daily discouragement in order to experience occasional bliss. And I'm doing that now, with a blog by a cycling couple from the San Juan Islands, who are touring a park northwest of Seville, Spain.

Why do I enjoy the Griffins' blog so much? In part it may be that their lack of tent camping spares the reader a lot of repetitive details. But I even enjoy their photographs, which I usually dismiss in travel blogs.

Perhaps the route itself gets some of the credit. They are riding medium-fat-tire bikes on dirt trails in what is almost a national park. The trails are usually mild -- an under-rated pleasure in bicycling, if there ever was one.  Remember that there is no mountain biking allowed in national parks in "freedom-loving" America. The scenery is much like New Mexico, except that there appears to be a lot more agriculture.

There are many towns and villages along the way. They are picturesque and interesting, but not cyootsie-wootsie touristy and up-scale. They don't seem to be encountering dead animals and litter as a gringo tourist would in Mexico.

At one point they really had me fluttering my eyelashes:
You can't help but feel a shiver of anticipation as you walk into the mezquita on the hilltop above Almonaster la Real - the kind that comes when you realize you are seeing something significant that will open up a new dimension of understanding in your mind. This 11-meter by 10-meter room captures 2000 years of Iberian history in its small space. Here we were standing in the same spot where Romans, Visigoths, and Arabs had come and gone, leaving their marks on the present day culture of Spain, and we could feel it all in just this small room, inhabited at the moment only by us and the birds that were constantly swooping by at eye level. At one time there would have been small rural mosques like this in villages all over this part of the peninsula, built with materials reused from earlier cultures. This is one of the few that has survived. It was built in the 900's, reusing materials from a Visigothic basilica that was built here in the 5th century. That basilica itself seems to have reused materials from Roman times.
My goodness, in my next life I want to come back as world traveler. Compare what they saw to the history of New Mexico: 'Billy the Kid slept here.'  Or, 'Butch Cassidy porked a saloon girl, buried outside this town.'

A North American traveler certainly has some advantages, but they are mainly geographical and climatological. There is nothing interesting about our towns. Too much of America is alike. Perhaps our real chance to see something worthwhile (besides postcards) was destroyed by English-speaking Yankeedom reaching from ocean to ocean. If states had stayed semi-autonomous, and Washington DC had not become supreme, it might actually mean something when the RV crosses the obligatory sign welcoming you to a "new" state.

But I don't want to leave the reader with too much of a downer. In fact, when I crossed back into New Mexico from Arizona today, I was delighted to see the dilapidated hovels that New Mexico excels in. You would think the other Four-Corner states would give New Mexico a run for their money, but they don't. I wonder why?