Sunday, December 31, 2017

(Revised) Starting the New Year as a "Dear Abby" Columnist

Once a friend told me that she/he never quite knew what I would blog on, next week. I considered that a fine compliment --the kind that all bloggers should aim for. Very well then, a new year is starting, so let's start off in a new direction: giving "personal" advice.

But first let's dismiss the reader's objection that my credentials are not in order, when it comes to being a relationship columnist. Since when are credentials an issue on the internet? I thought that was half the reason for having an internet. If bloggers only blogged about subjects they actually knew something about, of what use would semi-unlimited data limits be on the internet?

Since my friends don't even know have I have a blog, let alone read it; and since I don't blabbermouth names or places on the internet, I should be able to discuss their "case" without invading their privacy.

I listened to he/she discuss the personality and behavior defects of their other half. Thank goodness it was on the phone so she/he couldn't see me rolling my eyes. It was the usual complaints about poor communication, lack of commitment, intimacy, etc. 

I assert that men and women get along pretty easily together, and that relationships needn't be all that complicated. If you don't believe me, just go to a dog park and watch male and female dogs getting along with each other.

In fact both halves of the couple mused that it was strangely ironic how well suited they were for each other, politically, financially, age-wise, culturally, etc. So what's the problem?

It is just one more example of the classic quote in Charles Dickens's David Copperfield. 

'My other piece of advice, Copperfield,' said Mr. Micawber, 'you know. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure nineteen nineteen and six, result happiness. Annual income twenty pounds, annual expenditure twenty pounds ought and six, result misery. The blossom is blighted, the leaf is withered, the god of day goes down upon the dreary scene, and--and in short you are for ever floored. As I am!'
A man and woman may match up on 67% of their lives together -- and virtually without effort! But then one of them aspires to 69%, and with a great deal of work they might get it. Then they go for 70%, and the result is the destruction of everything, including the 67% that was easy.

You know the complaints: trivial personal habits, money squabbles, emotional or at least verbal retardation in the other person, how to get the relationship to the next level of intimacy, ad nauseum, ad infinitum...  It hardly matters what the specific complaint is, as long as somebody's needs and greeds are open-ended.

When is society going to stop letting emotional greed be masked in grandiloquent verbiage that helps it pose as positive aspiration? Most sane adults recognize that the family must conform to some kind of financial budget. But he/she doesn't think that a budget must also constrain emotional demands. 

One half of the couple expects to succeed at this game because Mother Nature (or her sexless PC replacement) gives them all the tools to dominate the other half.  And the other half is usually uxorious and subservient enough to put up with it.

The real irony is that my friends are hard-core leftists, so they are supposed to be opposed to open-ended greed. 

It would be interesting to see their reaction to a certain episode in season 2 of the classic television program, "Wagon Train." In it, a woman getting on in age, and becoming bothered by her Old Maid image, finally gets her chance to marry Prince Charming. She had previously ignored a proposal of marriage from a not-so-dashing Lorne Green, a year before he got the role of pater familias of "Bonanza!" 

Although the woman was getting on to middle age, she knew nothing of men and marriage other than what she had read in novels or poems. Her head was still full of schoolgirlish notions of romance.

A tragedy threatens to ruin her dreams, until she reconsiders the offer from the Lorne Greene character. That happened after she accidentally discovered an opened book of poetry in his wagon. It was by Robert Browning, her favorite poet:
Grow old along with me!
The best is yet to be,
The last of life, for which the first was made...


[Extra credit points will accrue to the reader who can identify the poem or the episode of Wagon Train.]

Friday, December 29, 2017

Sinking into a Surprise

Of all the advantages of a fatter tire on a mountain bike, not the least is being able to go down dry washes, arroyos. Arroyos are the most natural highways, with ridgelines coming in for second prize.

I was doing so, the other day. Thank goodness I chose a route that descended that arroyo, and finished the loop by coming back on a smoother dirt road.

What was it about this arroyo? It certainly wasn't pretty. But it was impressive on some level, if only I could figure out what that level was. The arroyo had gotten a small bit of ATV traffic; thus the gravel was packed down just enough for me to keep moving on the mountain bike.  So neglected -- and yet it was only a couple miles from where masses of RVers hang out in the winter.

Downward it went, always sinking closer to the Colorado River. There is something creepy about that, in the pit of the stomach, and not just because I had to dig out of the hole on the second half of the loop.

Maybe it was analogous to aging and death. At any rate, it had the quality that the novelist, Thomas Hardy, would have called 'a negative beauty of tragic tones.' At least that is one possible explanation.

And then the clippity clop of two large bighorn rams crossed the arroyo just ten bike lengths ahead of me. They heard me, but didn't seem terribly frightened. They clambered up a ridgeline, and out of view, before I could deploy the camera.

Wildlife is not the deity to me that it is to most greenies from the Metropolis. And most sentimentalism in that direction seems rather pukey. But it was odd to become infatuated with the harshness and the neglect of this arroyo by my 'fellow' homo sapiens, and then to realize that only a couple ungulates shared that opinion with me.

From the archive: my previous encounter with bighorns.

Wednesday, December 27, 2017

Making RV Travel More Adventuresome

Two reasons make this topic timely. I just read another adventure history by Samuel E. Morison, called "The Great Explorers." Books like this always rub a modern fellow's nose in his own weakness and non-adventuresomeness. Compare Magellan to a modern traveler -- the latter doesn't even rate as an earthworm!

Secondly I am camped near large groups of RVers hitting the Quartzsite scene in January. It is truly amazing how serious and worried these people are about the microscopic practical details of their rigs. Don't they understand how easy and comfortable it has become?

But maybe there is a good reason for their constant and obsessive worrying: as a culture we are not so many generations removed from when travel was physically difficult and dangerous. So the tradition lives on...

At least one commenter on this blog would argue that we should just put physical adventure aside, as a thing of the past; and that we should move on to social, psychological, or aesthetic adventures. And he is probably correct. But I am not wired up like that; I want to see if physical adventure's lifespan can be extended.

Here are some approaches towards doing just that:
  1.  Make one's camping style more backwoodsy.  Avoid RV parks or highly improved, regulated settings like state parks, national parks, etc. Downsize to a more basic rig that is capable of doing backcountry camping. Turn 'discomfort' into an advantage, without becoming a pretentious holy-man-in-a-van who sees himself as a modern monk of the desert.
  2.  Stretch your thermal comfort zone: don't always look for afternoon high temperatures of 72 F. For instance, if you lag behind the snowbird flood into Arizona in November, you can enjoy chilly locations to the north. These places will be gloriously uncrowded.
  3.  Spend less time on the couch or at the desk. Satellite television and social media on the internet are just time-wasters. Stop trying to 'look up the answer in the back of the textbook,' by wasting hours and hours on yoob toob, travel blogs, or discussion forums.
  4.  Experiment with more athletic outdoor pursuits. Start off walking, sauntering. Don't visualize it as grim, puritanical "hiking." Focus on tweaking it to make it more interesting. Don't focus on 'how far' and 'how fast.' You can gradually climb up the ladder of enlightenment until you become a mountain biker.

Friday, December 22, 2017

Life Exists During the Christmas Shopping Season

It has been awhile since I offered extra credit points to the reader who can supply the right information: in this case, the name of the essay in which Thoreau said (more or less) that he had walked all the way across Manhattan and hadn't seen one person who was actually alive.

That is a useful thought to keep in mind if you find yourself in a busy shopping area in the USA near Christmas. There are softies out there who will tell me that that is not a "nice" thought. But it was actually...

I walked into a Walmart recently in an Arizona desert town, and the quote from Thoreau came to mind. But something I saw relieved this otherwise gloomy thought: a little dog was walking around next to a touring bicycle, fully loaded, and leaning against the side of the building.

Why wasn't the little dog on a leash? Where was the owner? I considered guarding the little dog, but maybe I too wasn't really alive. Instead, I continued into the store to do some routine shopping.

When I came out, the dog's owner still wasn't there. The little dog had jumped up, apparently, onto the cargo piled onto the rear of the bike. Is that how the little guy stayed on the bike? It was piled up a bit like a doggie saddle. He looked so professional about his job. (He and his human were on some kind of ride-across-the-country fundraiser for animal shelters.)

It was disappointing not to get a chance to meet the bicyclist and dog owner. But what really mattered was that, of all the hundreds of shoppers there that day, one little creature was convincingly alive. 

That little dog really affected me, proving, I guess, that there is nothing like a good 'setup' before an experience can really move you.

Saturday, December 16, 2017

Payback For Not Blabbermouthing Boondocking Sites

Ordinarily it is not a source of pleasure to find that an interloper has discovered your own secret dispersed camp site. So why did that happen here? It was in an arroyo somewhere in southern Nevada. 

Years ago, when this lifestyle was new to me, I happened upon a rocky overhang in the side of a cliff, which was redolent of an Indian cliff dwelling. It wasn't perfect -- it opened to the north, instead of to the south. How gloriously comfortable it would have been if it had faced south.

Still, it was tall and provided good protection. Back then, I was more impressionable. I positively fluttered my eyelashes over this spot. So I dragged my trailer to it, almost getting stuck in the process. And I had a campfire under the rocky overhang. It was fun to act like a kid, by projecting shadows of my hands onto the roof. 

Who's been sleeping in my bed?

But now I noticed somebody else had at least had a campfire there. Maybe they had slept there, too? Instead of being angry about the intrusion I felt strangely good-natured and generous about it. Why so?

Perhaps it was the thought of a nice payback for my policy of not giving away boondocking sites on the internet. This policy had, apparently, preserved the magic for somebody else -- somebody who decided on their own to find and appreciate this spot. (And it must be 'on their own' in order for there to be any magic in the camping.)

I'll never know who this person was. 

As desert dessert, there was a slot canyon in the "front yard."

Tuesday, December 12, 2017

Nietzsche and Desert Tortoise Fences

The other day I noticed fences, intended to protect desert tortoises. (Or some other species. It hardly matters to the rest of this post.) The fences seemed so elaborate and expensive. Common sense asserted itself to make me think, "You've got to be kidding..."

By luck I happened to be reading Mencken's book on the "Philosophy of Nietzsche." Imagine Nietzsche pulled though a time machine to modern America. I don't think he would be an angry white man about what he saw.  More likely he would just sneer at modern culture and say something like, "I knew it would be bad, but I didn't think it would be this bad!"

The limiting case for his sneering may be these fences. What could more perfectly embody the "slave morality" of the masses than treating endangered animal species as though they were so precious. Nietzsche would have thought it was just fine that a superior species, such as homo sapiens, could wipe out an inferior species like the desert tortoise.

You may disagree with Nietzsche about this. That is not the point. This was a splendid little example of how travel can make reading a book more interesting, and vice versa

Saturday, December 9, 2017

Building Character in a Canyon

I had a rematch with a complex canyon system recently. Would it still be interesting -- even after hitting it pretty hard the last few years? Proceeding through the canyon, the experience became more subjective and internalized. What could I do differently from the past? Or should I forget about myself and "externalize?"

Indeed, something was quite new this year: instead of walking the canyon, I was mountain biking it on my new bike, with 3 inch wide tires. These "plus" tires do quite well on the rubble and sand. I highly recommend that anybody in the market for a new bicycle go with 3 inch tires.

The experience also seemed new because biking is faster and cooler than walking. Walking is so slow that it almost numbs the mind. And it is warm.

The canyon has a badlands type appearance because much of it is rather soft and easily eroded.

The trick is to focus on it qualitatively rather than quantitatively. Think about the variety of interesting shapes, and how they got that way, rather than on how BIIIIIG things aren't. 

One single thought made a big difference to me, subjectively: I imagined sculptors coming into the canyon and carving gargoyles into these canyon walls.

Soon I was seeing gargoyles every hundred yards -- but something more than gargoyles: sculptural autochtons that grew out of the bizarre shapes of the canyon walls, and merely intensified and stylized the ideas already in the canyon walls.

So much fuss is made over petroglyphs made by the early tribes of the Southwest. Why use a two-dimensional art to merely scratch the rocks, instead of three-dimensional sculptures? Then again, maybe sculptures were made somewhere, and they just haven't been found. Eroded by time and weather, they collapsed into a cloud of dust at the bottom of an unknown canyon.

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

Quality Travel Experiences

Strangely, a certain coffee shop near St. George, UT, has been the location of a couple different experiences for me, memorable because there was something to them, other than scenery.

The coffee shop was located in an affluent housing development, at the foot of red cliffs. Until recently the coffee shop had a gift shop built into it -- the gift shop was trying to look like an Indian 'kiva.'  (Presumably the gift shop was "inspired" by the small Indian reservation, nearby.) 

It always seemed ironic and thought-provoking that Native American culture appeared so upscale and glamorous in the gift shop, with the expensive coffee table books, hand-carved wooden flutes, music, books, etc.; and yet, the genuine Indian reservation a mile down the road was a slum. (I rode my bicycle through this irony when I rode with a local club.)

But this year the kiva-gift-shop had been converted to an expensive restaurant. Presumably the menu featured items 'sacred to the Native Americans,' while in actuality they probably came from the Sysco truck, as with most restaurant food in the USA.

So that was a disappointment. But on the positive side I was reading a book on Russian culture and literature. During the 1800s, intellectuals went through a period of romanticizing the peasants of "Holy Russia."

It was delicious to think about that delusion in Russia while standing in a place in Utah that featured an analogous delusion.  There is no idea too ridiculous to be universally popular with intellectuals at some time or some place.

This is one more opportunity to give an advertisement for the strangely satisfying experience of reading the right book in the right place, when traveling. But why is the satisfaction so profound? Perhaps it is because different planes of existence are temporarily and serendipitously overlapping.