Wednesday, August 31, 2016

Son of a Son of a (Sagebrush) Sailor

Although I've never felt much of a need to read Sigmund Freud, his "Civilization and its Discontents" was interesting. In it, Freud mentioned that some people had described a powerful "oceanic" feeling; but he had never experienced it.

Perhaps Dr. Freud never had the experience of camping in drab, ugly, and half-dead forests in the summer -- to escape the heat -- and then busting out into the open in September. An oceanic feeling can be very powerful indeed. Better yet, this feeling can be used for a practical purpose: it helps to keep an outdoorsy lifestyle interesting, long after the tourist phase is over.

Recently this oceanic feeling provided a real phantasmagoria for me: breaking out into the sagebrush hills seemed like heading out to sea on a sailboat. Perhaps this was helped by reading Jack London's "South Sea Tales." (Gutenberg.org)  I even listened to some Jimmy Buffett songs for the first time in a long while.

For instance, as you creep out of the forest gloom, and head downhill into the sagebrush sea, you see trees hanging on to the gullies. They never seem to be thriving. They seem so frail, like the sand spits that stick out from the mainland into the sea. 

(Sand spits might only be a foot above the water level. You can't help wondering why they aren't wiped out by waves during the next storm. Despite the frail appearance, sand spits are waxing, not waning. That is, they are being deposited by currents along the shore.)

But what about these treed gullies? Are they waxing or waning? How and Why did they get there? In general trees invade grasslands because of fire suppression by the forest service and BLM. Fire favors grasslands over trees. So can these treed gullies be seen as the advance guard of the invaders?

It might not be an interesting subject to standard tourists, but it is to me, because of this analogy to sand spits in the sea, and my misadventure of nearly drowning (during my first sea kayaking lesson) off the tip of Point Pelee, sticking down into Lake Erie. (The Wikipedia article says it is the longest sand spit in freshwater.)

So things are working: I am finding things to think about when mountain biking, not just to look at. And nature begins to appear as a dynamic process, rather than a static object for syrupy sentimentalism or pseudo-religious veneration.

My favorite laccolith in the distance. But it is a mere runt compared to the Grand Mesa over by Grand Junction.

Sunday, August 28, 2016

Island Hopping Across a Sagebrush Sea

Yes, 'sagebrush sea' is a bit of a cliché. But it's a good one. Strunk & White do not approve of burying readers under too many metaphors. Indeed, we have all been readers on the receiving end of a writer who was a metaphor drunk. And yet, how can writers suppress themselves when something wonderful has put them into an expansive mood? At such times, the mind naturally seeks out analogies with other good things.

Every year I spend my canonical fourteen-days visiting my favorite mountain biking area, near Gunnison, CO. The topography, geology, altitude, town, and BLM management philosophy are responsible for making it a success. And every year I praise decomposed granite as geology's greatest hit.

To make it even better, I ride downhill on singletracks, and then 'recharge the gravitational battery' by riding uphill on the roads, to complete the loop.

Falling into one of those generous and expansive moods, I can't avoid comparing this experience to sailing certain places in the ocean.  But before I bury the reader under whimsical analogies, let's pause to let the reader play with the idea on their own, if it captures their fancy...

My "sailboat" docked in a protective cove, next to a tree island. The forest mainland is about a mile away.

Tuesday, August 23, 2016

Should Camping Tough Guys Have Satellite Television and Internet?

Let no one confuse a retro-grouch with a human fossil. This retro-grouch made a giant leap forward when I bravely submitted to my first demonstration of Facebook. The fellow who gave the tutorial was quite good at giving demonstrations.

Actually, I was impressed with Facebook as a platform. It seemed useful for certain types of groups. It seemed well integrated with other platforms on the internet.

So then, if I was so impressed with it, why haven't I opened up an account? Two things are stopping me.

1. Won't I lose control of ad-blocking on Facebook? Please don't tell me that ads are not too obtrusive, so far. On an internet browser such as Firefox, you can use a free ad-blocking program that works 98% of the time. I am suspicious that most of the bandwagon towards smartphones and Facebook is ultimately motivated by the desire to get people addicted to a platform first, and then bury them under ads that they can't do anything about.

2. Thoreau's classic wise-crack about new technology as being 'pretty toys...an improved means to an unimproved end.' When you see all these assholes walking around with their smartphones, unable to live without scratching the itch for more than three minutes at a time, you have to wonder what the content is, of these messages. Pictures of their cat? Banal chit-chat about the weather? Whether they ate corn flakes or Cheerios for breakfast?
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Civilizational decline was, at one time, best exemplified by tabloid newspapers and the like. Then Decline added another layer, as society became addicted to the garbage dump of television. Then the internet spam started; remember when people were forwarding dumb jokes to their friends' and followers' email box? And now societal Decline has culminated in Facebook.

In order to honor the occasion, a neologism needs to be widely adopted: triviality, banality, and drivel need to be combined into one word. I was inspired by Merriam-Webster's etymology of the word, drivel: "Middle English, from Old English dreflian, perhaps akin to Old Norse draf, malt dregs, before the 12th century."

Combining these words, let us adopt the word, drivia (drivial, driviality), to describe the effluvia of Facebook and smartphones. 

 
The larger issue here is whether a real camper should be tied into satellite television or the internet at all? Doesn't it seem funny to you that there are all these blowhards [*] on the internet, rhapsodizing about 'boondocking', and the wonderful life of Adventure, natural Beauty, Harmony, Simplicity, sacred Solitude, etc., and yet they spend half the day staring at satellite television or internet drivia. 


Why do they pretend their lifestyle is superior to the average schmo in a stick-and-brick house? Couldn't they just as easily move to a low-cost-of-living town, and buy a premium package of fiber optic internet and television?

I will let the reader cogitate on that for a couple days. What we really need to do is come up with more constructive uses of time when camping.


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[*] In case the reader can't tell, I am ranting against myself as much as anybody.

Saturday, August 20, 2016

Maybe Autumn Will Always be Magic

Once again it's here. My favorite time of year. Every year I am amazed to be so affected by the coming-on of cool weather. Some years I have been interested in analyzing this remarkable longevity. But this year, I just want to feel good about it and hope it keeps going year after year -- like my van!

In a similar vein, I love camping at tree islands in the Gunnison area, year after year. Last year I was in the mood for deconstructing the romanticism of this. But this year, it suffices to bask in it. Perhaps there is a natural dialectic going on here. One year I reconstruct the visualization that I deconstructed the previous year. Let's hope that the new version is better in some way than the earlier one.

There is something symbolic about tree islands -- something that is different than other features that people go ga-ga over. Oh sure, I am probably prone to some anti-tourist snobbery. But a natural feature ceases to have an effect on you when somebody sticks a bar-code on it. Tree islands are the kind of feature that creates an opportunity and challenge in visualization. Therefore they stay interesting, year after year.

Sunday, August 14, 2016

A New Team Sport: Talk-Walking

During the recent 14 days with the Band of Boondockers, we had enjoyable, non-athletic walks up the road, twice a day. It was more like conversational sauntering than hiking.

Some people would consider it pretentious to compare our conversational sauntering to the walks in the garden that the philosophers of ancient Greece took with each other, but an indulgence of this type is useful if it helps bring back a long-neglected, yet wonderful custom. To appreciate conversational sauntering to the fullest, compare it to the new cultural atrocity of people sitting down to a meal at the same table, with one eye on the people they are there to talk to, and the other eye on their damn smartphone.

Consider how the mere act of walking naturally overcomes some of the defects of conversations. Those prone to over-intellectualizing (aka, building sand castles in the sky) might be affected by the physicality of walking: they are reminded that human beings have bodies, and that moods sometime depend more on physiology than psychology. Another benefit is that somebody in a too serious or sour mood might become more cheerful when walking.

Like Swift, I believe that conversations (while sitting in chairs) are ruined by everybody trying too hard to be an entertainer -- they are afraid of being ignored, I suppose. But don't we already get enough entertainment crap elsewhere? Falling into the trap of being a frustrated comedian starts a vicious circle of excessive self-consciousness: you become more interested in applause than in important truths. It helps to forget about ourselves and redirect our attention to ideas, softened by a kindly regard for the frail feelings of other people in the circle. I sense the frustrated-entertainer-syndrome falling off somewhat, when sauntering.

Everybody hogs the microphone at times. Talking-while-walking has a way of breaking that momentum, when, for instance, an interesting sight suddenly appears to the walkers, or when they need to gulp some air. Actually, the group's motor-mouth might be the first to stop and gulp for air, at least at 10,000 feet of altitude.

A talker in a chair is prone to falling in love with their own mighty thoughts. But when they walk, their attention is naturally taken to the external. Their thinking is objectified. They begin to escape the echo chamber of their own skull. Almost without effort they begin to talk to -- not at -- other people.

Conversely, talking improves walking. How pleasant it is to escape solitary, puritanical hiking, and turn it into goal-and-conquest-free relaxation, whose tempo is varied and playful, almost like a type of dance. And with talk as the musical accompaniment.


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You might enjoy the essay by Jonathan Swift on Conversation, at Quotidiana.org.

Also consider Thoreau's essay on "Walking", at Gutenberg.org. 

Wednesday, August 10, 2016

Traveling Down the Path of Righteousness

As I approach my canonical 14 day limit at a location that has internet, a sense of setback is understandable. I had been on a roll of internet-free living, before I backslid into sin, here. Let's back up a step and look at the Big Picture.

This all starts from the premise that there are few better ways to spend the end of your life than in pursuing Moral Perfection, a la Ben Franklin. I'm afraid the results of this project have been disappointing, so far.

Rather than merely dwelling on "Thou shalt not...", the positive agenda is to be more light-hearted when reading real books off-line, and to break my concentration whenever possible. In doing so I can co-opt the cheap trick that the internet uses to sink its hooks into its victims.

Another positive approach is to dwell on the geographical freedom I gain when camping in places where the internet is not available. Tomorrow I have a chance to put this into practice. Ah dear me, let's hope this doesn't lapse into sterile rhetoric.
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The last 14 days of moral setback came with an upside gain: I attended the Band of Boondockers in Buena Vista, CO. RV camping desperately needs alternatives to the uninspiring stereotypes and limitations of the past.  It is worthwhile to give the benefit of the doubt to anyone attempting to improve a culture. I leave, feeling that a little progress has been made.

Metaphorically, this quest is in greater need of a "Brigham Young" than a "Joseph Smith." (Apply now!)  Culture, like politics, is the art of the possible.

Sunday, August 7, 2016

Some Sympathy for Women of the Camping Tribe

Women-campers is a subject I seldom think about. At the moment I'm interested in visualizing campers as an anthropological tribe, and wondering what it all looks like from the perspective of a "squaw." Do they like camping? Do they feel important and fully engaged?

For the women of our neighboring tribe, the answers to both these questions is, "Yes!"  They were from rural Missouri. The grandmother was the head wrangler. She taught her granddaughter the skill of horsemanship. Maybe she was in charge of the tribal cookpot as well. And the horses themselves are like constantly needy children. How did she manage all that at the same time? I dunno. But women have always managed somehow.

But what about the women in our tribe of campers? Do they have a tribal function that is solid and real, or can they just look at the pretty scenery and call that 'success?'  They usually don't know much about motor vehicles, solar electricity, or those watt, amp, and volt thingies. What about customizing or converting rigs?

As far as the "Circle of Life" where women have been very involved in ages past, they seem un-involved today, at least in camp. They are decades past their childbearing years. There are no youngsters in camp. On the other hand, dogs can be seen as replacements for children. 

Caring for the elderly used to be an important role, but Medicare and medical professionals do that, these days. Consider the brutality of life before modern medicine: what comfort you ever got, when you were sick, probably came from a woman.

Even around the campfire, men usually tell the whoppers and jokes, and women usually settle for laughing at the jokes.

They no longer tan hides or give daily care to the Three Sisters of corn, squash, and beans, without which the tribe would starve to death. Food comes from the grocery store. I sometimes wonder if the average gringa even knows how to sew on a button. 

As for outdoors sports, if they do anything at all, it is probably just hiking. Well, that's fine, but it is about as exciting as a breakfast of oatmeal.

I was once boondocking with a woman who said that if she couldn't get rid of the mouse who had gotten into her Class A motorhome, she was going to set fire to it. On top of all that, they are always cold!

No wonder Mildred hopes Fred gets this crazy RV camping notion out of his head quickly, so they can live a normal life in a nice house in an upscale retirement community, with card games in the afternoon, and a Bed Bath and Beyond or a Trader Joe's a couple miles away.
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But, you say, this is just junk-anthropology and speculation, no more scientific than that of Jean-Jacques Rousseau. Why not give up speculating and actually learn something about the subject?

That's easier said than done. Presumably the more hard-scientific anthropology becomes, the more specialized and minute it becomes. Meanwhile, the Big Pictures in anthropology are just pop-science wherein the author projects the latest cultural fads backward into time. So I really don't know how to learn more about the topic.

Wednesday, August 3, 2016

The Under-appreciated

It is quite amazing how over-rated and over-hyped some things and some people turn out to be.  Geographically, Colorado would be an excellent example of this. All you can do is remind yourself that people are sheep, and then flee.

The converse situation, with the Under-appreciated, is more enjoyable to think about. It is a challenge to identify and dwell on the goodies of the Under-appreciated. A tangible example can have a big impact on the observer.

I wrote about my newfound appreciation of Classic Television. Perhaps the reader can suggest other shows than the ones I've mentioned. What I really need is DVDs with those shows.

My current kick is "The Virginian." One episode, "Run Quiet" of Season Two, is about a deaf mute who gets into all kinds of trouble. Along the way, he meets a woman who had been treated shabbily by a fiance. She had become cynical and defeatist about men in general. Despite herself, she takes an interest in this deaf mute.

At the end of the show, the deaf mute avoids Danger, and returns to her.  Somebody, probably the writer or the teleplay-"writer", was thoughtful with a single detail in the ending. It made the show.

His back is turned to the camera. She approaches him and the camera. Paragraphs and paragraphs of story are written into the evolution of her face. (And the sneaky make-up people had gradually made her look younger and prettier through the show.) 

The audience was probably expecting the music to swell, and the two people to melt into a big wet sloppy kiss. In fact, there was an uptick in the music, but it was not-so-obvious. They didn't kiss at all. The woman approached him and grabbed his shoulders, with a look of relief and appreciation. How could mere arms and posture be so expressive? He gently touched her chin. It was so adult and un-Hollywoodish. It was as if the teleplay had been written by Johannes Brahms.

From now on, when they give the credits at the end of the show, I will no longer gloss over the "Teleplay by..." line. Movies are primarily a visual medium; thus even the best writing won't affect the viewer powerfully unless someone has translated Ideas into photograph-able action.