Wednesday, July 26, 2017

A Dog's Purpose, A Woman's Purpose

On our bicycle ride to town my dog and I have crossed paths several times with an older female jogger. What a tough ol' gal! An ideal observer would let someone like her inspire them, and then write a nice little sermon about her.

But I needed a little more. About 50 yards behind her, ran her even frailer old dawg. There is something about him that produced a lump in my throat. 

What was he thinking about? He looked so frustrated and disappointed, now that he can no longer keep up with his human -- and she is pretty frail herself. Was he thinking about a few years ago, when he was a still spry 10 year old dog, and she was a 70 year old "girl", and they were knocking off the trails one after another?

What kind of life had they had together? And now it was winding down.  

Perhaps the reader has seen that wonderful new movie directed by Lasse Hallström, "A Dog's Purpose." In the movie, a dog lives with his humans for awhile, ages or dies, and is reincarnated into a new doggie life.

How would the tough old broad jogger and her struggling dog fit into an episode of that movie?
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A couple days ago someone interrupted my siesta with a knock on the door. A hiker had just come off the main trail, where he saw a couple women trying to rescue an emaciated dog. He took a photograph with his smartphone of the location. I got busy finding the phone numbers of local animal rescue organizations.

Then another hiker gave her version of the story: that two woman had gotten the dog to come to them, and they were carrying it down the trail, for a mile or so. The dog was a brown labrador, and weighed 30 or 35 pounds. I asked if I should get the wagon I had been given for heavy work, and see if I could get it across the river, so the women wouldn't have to keep carrying the dog.

Off I went with the wagon. By the time I got to the river, the two women and the dog had crossed the river. They had been taking turns carrying this dog in their arms, for the last mile. The poor young female dog looked even more tired than the women.

Although I was disappointed to end up being useless, there was something significant and meaningful about what these two women had done. In a way, my involvement would have detracted from their experience. 

They had started a hike with no real result in mind other than a standard, meaningless, touristic experience. They had ended up having an experience about as satisfying and primal as it could be. What could be more natural and fundamental than a female of any animal species protecting and nurturing life, especially young life?

The dog's owner's phone number was on its collar. Soon he was there. The brother of the young female dog had managed to make it into our campground, on his own power. So now the owner had both of his dogs back. They had gone AWOL at a campground five miles away, with a huge mountain in between. They had been missing for five days.

Sunday, July 23, 2017

Busting my First Stealth Camper

What is the right attitude -- the fair attitude -- towards a certain category of campers? I refer to 'stealth' van tramps. There is something about them that makes me want to bust them, in my job as a campground host.

Is it their impudence? They think they can outsmart the system. Maybe what really pisses me off is they think they can outsmart me with their little games.  There is a grim humor in this: think of the old Roadrunner and Coyote cartoon. But I'm not thinking about the fun when trying to bust them, even when they do no apparent harm to anyone, including me.

Some of their scheming for free camping makes no economic sense. For instance, last night we had a new-ish, $50000 Mercedes van trying to play the stealth trick. The camping fee was $5. That is a ratio of 10,000 -- ten thousand. We have vehicles with $20,000 of all-carbon mountain bikes in the back of a $50,000 pickup. And they act so wronged and victimized to pay any fee at all. Our fee would barely pay for a cup of coffee in town, after tax and tip.

The rules that apply to everybody else don't apply to themselves. Why not? It's as if they have all been programmed by some internet blogs to play this game. (I could give you a list...) Regardless of the bloggers' intentions, they are not doing their readers much of a favor.  

Although van tramps purport to be self-contained in their rigs, I have yet to meet one that I considered truly self-contained. They don't have the space for storing trash or poop, so they need public facilities; but they don't think they should have to pay anything for the convenience.

Still, the real explanation of my aversion to van tramps almost sneaked in to the opening sentence of this post by way of Freudian slip. I almost said "a certain class of camper," instead of "category." 

"There he goes again," says the long-suffering reader of this blog, "Making a piñata out of yet another group of people." OK, let's give a constructive alternative: people who are desperate for free camping would be better off asking for advice from hosts and rangers, rather than trying to trick them. They would be wise to maintain a perfectly clean campsite, avoid building fire pits, and having campfires.

Thursday, July 20, 2017

The Best and the Worst Tents

The other day I was walking by a campsite on the river...and stopped dead in my tracks. That has never happened before. I had to stop and admire a large screen house tent that was lording over the river. What a great view they had in that tent! It seemed that a person could live there.

After all, a tent is physical shelter -- a temporary abode. How can something seem livable unless you can stand up in it? No wonder I disliked tent camping when I was young: I would buy those backpacker-style tents that you couldn't even sit up in, or put your pants on, let alone stand up in. The average coffin has more space for its resident.

Somebody else had a screen house, with their pickup truck parked nearby. During the day they painted and lived their lives in the screen house. Imagine trying to paint if you were swatting bugs. Then at night, they slept in the back of the pickup cap, with some protection from bears.

So far, I've seen a couple big name brands, but haven't yet seen the famous Clam brand of screen house that is supposed to pop up in a minute.

At the other end of the 'brilliant' spectrum we have the roof top tent. It seems that every young hipster from the big city has one of these. I can't imagine a stupider tent.

They can't be serious!
Studying these tents has laid out something rather fundamental. Consider what a big deal shopping/consumerism is, in this country. And yet, how often does a new product really impress or please you that much?

Sunday, July 16, 2017

Passing the Time in Better Ways

If 'life is short' is such a universal complaint then why do we waste so much time on the internet? The best thing you could say about it, is that it helps pass the time when the weather is bad or the sun is down. But so would playing Solitaire.

Charles Hugh Smith had an interesting post about how worthless 'the News' is:

The "news" is so devoid of content that a simple software program could assemble a semi-random daily selection of headlines, scrolling banners, and radio/TV "news" reports from a pool of typical "news" stories and insert a bit of context...
What he said about the news would apply to other genres of internet fluff, such as debt&doom blogs, travel blogs, or perhaps worst of all, the 'what I did today' blogs.

This is all so obvious that there is little to be gained by berating this stuff. Instead, let us just accept the fact that human beings have a certain amount of time to kill, and that they also need distraction from the dreariness and seriousness of life. The question is, can we think of a better way to meet that need?

The publishing industry is the real villain here. The world is full of talented writers forced to produce weighty tomes that don't meet the humble 'daily nibble' requirements of real human beings.

Another under-rated activity is non-extreme sports and outdoor activities, such as sauntering with your dog. I have gone to nice, new dog parks in small cities and found nobody there. Where is everybody? At home, watching the news? When somebody is there, a much better conversation ensues than at bars, restaurants, or coffee shops.

Very few places in America have a bicycle culture, even in a state like Colorado. The other day I overlapped with a woman riding her "commuter" bike into town. There is a special charm in adult women using a bicycle to run errands in town, especially if they are wearing a dress. They look so youthful and unharried by the 'thousand and one' things-to-do of the average matron. We had a nice conversation in which I did most of the listening.

As we hit the city limits and the ride was nearing its end, I found myself involuntarily fluttering my eyelashes at her. She hadn't dropped the infamous "We..." into the conversation, and I wanted to invite her to a cup of coffee at my favorite hangout. But she needed to go to work. 

Monday, July 10, 2017

Helping Versus Interfering Versus Enabling

When I was first told by my employers to not get involved with people driving across our river, it seemed harsh and unkind. After all, every man is a bit of sucker for wanting to play the hero. But with experience, I have come to a 'keep hands off' position.

Sometimes people seem to resent my advice. Do they suppose I know nothing about the situation when I just saw some fool, with a car of the same category, maybe an hour ago? But now I accept that they want some adventure, and don't want a safety lecture. Apparently the financial consequences of their rashness do not matter to them. Well, they should be a better judge of that than I. 

The biggest reason for adopting a hands-off policy is that I was being an enabler -- that is, offering a safety net for encouraging post-adolescent foolishness. Let them make up their own mind, and live with the consequences. 

Let's find some goodies in "The Case for Working with your Hands," by Matthew Crawford:
My point rather is to consider the moral significance of material culture. 

On all sides, we see fewer occasions for the exercise of judgement...

The necessity of such judgement calls forth human excellence. In the first place, the intellectual virtue of judging things rightly must be contemplated, and this is typically not the product of detached contemplation. It seems to require that the user of a machine have something at stake, an interest of the sort that arises through bodily immersion in hard reality...
Don't you just love it that this quote used the word 'immersion' ?! Thank you, Matthew.

This post could be interpreted on a second level: turning the reading of a book into a hands-on experience by blending it with real life.

Saturday, July 8, 2017

German Engineering...in the Middle of a River

These days I feel like a professional accident-gawker. People are doing the craziest things, and not always getting lucky about it: driving across a high and fast stream in crossover utility vehicles; driving low clearance vehicles on rough roads; and in general, having the wrong tires on the wrong car at the wrong place.

They can't imagine being away from phone service, therefore they are confident that every problem can be fixed by whipping out their smartphone, and giving somebody a credit card number. Do they know how long it can take for a tow truck to arrive in the mountains on a festival weekend in a busy tourist town?

Don't they understand that automobile repair and tire shops are closed on the weekends in small towns? That a small town tire shop isn't strong in specialized European or barrio-style tires? That the river is higher in the evening than in the morning?

My favorite was a small Mercedes crossover utility vehicle that tried to do exactly that, cross over, our river. It was probably his license plate that I fished out of the river the next day. He learned that, despite the vaunted reputation of German engineering, it is not a good idea to put the alternator at the bottom of the engine compartment.

Naturally he didn't have a tow rope. (Why would he ever need a tow rope -- he's driving an expensive car?) Although there were plenty of pickup trucks who could have pulled him out of the drink, none of these ruff-n-tuff weekend warriers had tow ropes, either. (I did have one, but my van was in town at the repair shop.)

It took all day for a tow truck to come. I went out a couple times to check on their phone connection and their supply of drinking water. Then I couldn't believe what the tow truck had to do: a modern vehicle has an electronically-controlled transmission. So when the vehicle is electrically dead, you cannot shift into neutral. So the tow truck has to winch the vehicle up its ramped bed, with dead car's wheels skidding on the ground.
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But we could drown in more examples like this. (ahem...) What principles do these examples illustrate? In general they show the disconnect from physical reality that most people from the big city have achieved.

Nobody knows anything about cars anymore. That part of American culture has been killed off by the mandated complexity of modern cars. 

Nobody knows how to use tools anymore. Everybody works in a cubicle,  and dicks around all day with spreadsheets and planning software.

Men have become useless to women in situations like this, and if they weren't useless, women wouldn't trust them anyway, or resent their sexist helpfulness.

People's notions of automotive capabilities are completely warped by television commercials showing some mommie-mobile blasting through snow banks or gliding over sand dunes.
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But it is too easy to mock modern society. Let's end this post with a practical and positive suggestion: that it should be mandatory for high school students to read, "The Case for Working with Your Hands, " by Matthew Crawford.

Tuesday, July 4, 2017

Testing One's Mettle Over the Fourth of July

Campground hosting over the Fourth of July, in a popular tourist area? It should be the ultimate test of one's moral fiber.

Alas, it was a bit of an anti-climax. The campers are no longer the young hooligans of the past. Perhaps because the campground now has fees, it has acquired an outdoorsy family clientele. On top of that, the area does not cater to motorheads or party-at-the-lake types.

Thus I was disappointed: no test for me. But a woman came to my door halfway through the weekend, with a story she was quite upset about. Apparently she had been meditating by the river, when some loose dogs chased a fawn. She wasn't sure how badly it was injured.

Long-suffering readers of this blog expect me to have rolled my eyes and launched into a standard stump speech. But I sensed the opportunity to make a test out of this. So I took her sincerity and discomfort seriously.

There wasn't anything I could actually do. But it seemed to be accomplishing something to just listen to her and put myself in her shoes, as difficult as that was, for me. In its own way, this was the 'test of my moral fiber' that had been missing.

Today a woman asked where the best place to cross the river was. I told her, and added, "Just stay 20 feet downstream of that spot." She asked, "This way downstream?"

Naturally I gave some boorish male retort, like, "Lady, how many ways downstream do you think a river has?" She wouldn't speak to me after that. Back to my old ways.