Showing posts with label changeOfSeasons. Show all posts
Showing posts with label changeOfSeasons. Show all posts

Wednesday, October 19, 2016

Finally, Finding Hope in Moab

I have been struggling to make 'lemonade from the lemons' of Moab. The pressure was made worse by a Utah school holiday coming up. But I'm glad I didn't give-in to defeatism. 

Surprisingly good results can come from remembering that 'the early bird gets the worm.' There is a jeep/ATV road that is easy to see from my campsite. It looked quite appealing to mountain bike on. Should I be so foolishly naive as to try?

I started a few minutes after sunrise, when it was still chilly. For the first hour and a half, not a single motorized device passed me, despite this trail being well-signed and well-known. Then I popped out on a dirt road and had a nice conversation with a young couple who was taking their niece on a walk. My dog loves children, and vice versa.

It is not surprising that this worked, but it is that it worked so well, and in Moab! There is probably quite a wind chill factor when 'four wheeling' in an open jeep, ATV, or Texas wheelchair ('side by side'). So why would they start early?

Besides, they are on vacation. They want to sleep in, and then take the family out to breakfast at a sit-down restaurant. That takes forever. No wonder 90% of the motorhead traffic is in the afternoon.

From now on I will dress up in cool-weather-cycling clothing, and hope for the best, starting at sunrise. 

Thursday, September 8, 2016

A Heart-breaking Song in Sagebrush Hills

I wrote the last post after being so affected by the contrast between holiday tourist traffic and the total isolation I had just enjoyed on a mountain bike ride, earlier in the morning. If uncrowdedness were so great, why doesn't everybody avail themselves of it?

I suppose it is just human nature to go where everybody else does, by chasing brown signs put up by the forest service, park service, and BLM. It seems undesirable to think for themselves.

But the mass-tourist would probably not agree with that. They would argue that crowded places are crowded because they are more beautiful than the average place. If you then asked him, "What is beauty?', he would think you are being silly or argumentative, since beauty is "obvious." He means anything that is BIG, vertical, or freakish.

Although few tourists would consider the location of my morning mountain bike ride to be ugly, they would think it less entertaining than where they were.

But I was quite entertained, I assure you.  Of course, you can hardly go wrong when you are under the influence of psycho-tropic drugs like dopamines and endorphins. 

Despite the sunlight and perfect weather, there is a noticeable austerity to sagebrush hills. And once again I was affected by the fragile tendrils of forest that creep down the gullies of these hills. Frail copses clung to the edges of mesas, as well. Some of these trees and the ground vegetation were already turning orange and yellow.

Fall colors bathed in clear crisp air are supposed to be something to exult over. When the entire mountain side turns yellow, its glossy photograph would be included in next year's promotional pin-up calendar put out by some Colorado real estate office.

And yet, to the DNA of a northern European, there is something poignant about autumn, despite colors and crisp air. Aspen trees are famous for quivering in light breezes.

At breakfast that day, I had listened to some heart-breakers sung by EmmyLou Harris, with her quivering falsetto and all the emotion it evokes. While thinking of her music, I looked at these quaking leaves as if I were seeing them for the first time.  I don't ever remember being that affected by an entire mountain side of it.

Monday, September 5, 2016

Watching the Summer Tide Drive Home

Unaccustomed as we are to wasting time and money at coffee shops, Coffee Girl and I were sitting in the cool September shade outside a coffee shop in Gunnison, CO. We had just finished a satisfying mountain bike ride up steep sagebrush hills.

Just think: it was Labor Day weekend, and we didn't run into a single person out there. Not even any "Texas wheelchairs!" Great views and land, and pretty good dirt roads. But it wasn't a "brand name" location. (And if you don't learn anything else from this blog, Grasshopper...)

Looking at the stream of gigantic vehicles drive by (mostly from Crested Butte), I was at a loss for the right word to describe my feelings. Earlier in life, when I was a hothead, I might have looked at this tidal flow with disdain. A few years later, I would have rolled my eyes. But what about now?

'Perspicacity' comes to mind. Normally that word seems right for high altitude, when looking down towards all the little scurrying ants in the city. But here I was looking over horizontally. It seems that a retiree is separated from the tide of humanity in ways more important than a certain number of feet of altitude.

What word would you use to describe that profound separation? Again, I don't know. But I do feel the sweetness of nostalgia when recalling when I too was a piece of metropolitan flotsam, trapped in this Tide. It seemed like half of southeastern Michigan drove 'up north' to lakes and cabins, on holidays. It was so tense, with most of that traffic on one interstate. And it was a long drive too!

It was an important step in my life when I finally said, "To heck with going up north. I will stay in the metropolis where traffic is light, and go on a long solitary bicycle ride. And I'll save money, too, and be one click of the ratchet wrench closer to escaping this hellhole." It worked. It was wonderful.

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, June 12, 2016

One of the Greatest Pleasures Outdoors

This May and June we have actually had clouds in the sky, and a bit of rain. There are no fire restrictions yet, despite being into the second week of June.

What the sky is supposed to be like, in May and June. Ghastly!
Sometimes I just sit out in a chair in the afternoon and marvel at how magnificent it is to have clouds and shade in mid-day. If the wind blows, it actually feels cool. Truly, this must be one of the greatest pleasures an outdoorsman ever experiences.

I'm so glad I started years ago at trying to appreciate the Agony of Dry Heat, and the Ecstasy of moderate humidity and the southwestern monsoons. It isn't the obvious tourist-like approach. Perhaps it was just snobbishness on my part.

At any rate, taking that approach has paid off. Last night, for the first time in a long time, I left the outer door open all night. 

Monday, March 21, 2016

What Nomadism Really Means

Mid-February was so warm that I said goodbye to the hiking season and hello to the mountain biking season for the next 10 months or so. I was biking down a dirt/gravel road in southeastern Arizona. Suddenly I felt misty-eyed.

How strange! I am not one of those modern 'sensitive' men who acts weepie and huggie because he has been told to do so. In fact, in all the years (19) that I've been in this racket, this is the first time this happened.

(Long-suffering readers of this blog know the formula by now: observe something odd or experience something unusually affecting, and then try to explain it by walking my way to the general and timeless.)

Perhaps I was affected by southeastern Arizona having some of my favorite balanced scenery, that is, grasslands in the foreground and mountains in the background. And oak trees! In contrast I have little interest in the pine monocultures that cover most of the mountains in the West.

Or maybe it was the realization that I come here every year. Having a friend in town certainly helps. Better yet, the woman who introduced me to my long-term friend was also in town. I went to visit her.  It was pleasing to both of us to hear gratitude. I feel at home here.

Home? That may seem like a strange thing to say for a full-time RVer. After all, aren't they supposed to be moving all the time? But in fact, I have never praised the 'channel surfing with gasoline' lifestyle that is so over-praised by newbie travel blogs.

'Home' to me does not mean "finding that perfect undiscovered mountain town" to settle down some day. I don't want to live in one spot, with crappy weather most of the year. Nor do I want to be stuck with endless house repair and tax expenses. But more generally, I don't want the pettiness, the constraints that eventually oppress, and the cloying domesticity of living in one spot.

Lately I've been reading about voyages of discovery, old-time trade routes, and nomads in North Africa and Eurasia. Some men are just not cut out to live the life of Cain, with its routine and sedentary drudgery. And the relentless over-concentration on such a small number of things!  They are meant for the life of Abel.

They need more variety, but that doesn't mean the geographical promiscuity of a first year RVer who begins to feel bored with any place before his engine even has a chance to cool off.

Awhile back I wrote about finding a better way to live without a generator that I seldom used: I fixed an inverter to run off my van's engine and battery, and sent that electricity to a battery charger in the trailer.

This is analogous to a pastoral nomad who learns to milk his herd, instead of just using them for transportation, clothing, cash, hides, bones, and meat. Seeing this analogy gave such a feeling of authenticity to my travel lifestyle -- it was much more pleasurable than, say, a free admission and camping ticket for 5 years to America's Top Ten national parks. 

A "pastor" from South America pursuing the lifestyle of Abel, in the high country of Utah'

Friday, February 12, 2016

Taking Sensual Pleasures to a Higher Level

The other day, I sat out on the porch of the "Chatterbox" cafe. It was noon on an unseasonably warm day. Already I felt a mild dread about warm weather returning, and on top of that, I was drinking hot coffee.  But the porch was shaded. The gentle breeze felt so cool and reassuring.

Wasn't it just a few weeks ago that I would pop my insulated bib overalls on and lie out on the 'patio' (ramp) of my cargo trailer, with it facing the still-valid Arizona sun. Then, I was asking relief from the wintry air. 

These two experiences were as pleasant as they could be. They were mirror images of each other. Today's pleasure was even more piquant because of the contrast with the oh-so-recent mirror image.

But the pleasure didn't stop there. Recently I posted about the visual metaphor from "The Creature from the Black Lagoon," with the ugly Creature swimming upside down while stalking the beautiful girl swimming on top of the water, with the sunlight rippling the surface. [*] (The camera was underneath the water, looking upwards.)

With this visual image in mind, the experience was transported to a higher level -- from the purely sensual to the aesthetic realm. This made a noticeable difference. I'm glad that I've finally come to appreciate, and actively shop for, visual metaphors from the movies. It is possible to find examples from the world of cartoons or even sculpture.

What a shame that visual metaphors are so hard to find in the world of (still) photography! It may be possible that many photographers don't even know that they are supposed to aspire to visual representations of ideas or fundamental components of the human condition. 

[*] As usual, lots of good movie trivia is available at

Saturday, December 19, 2015

Pascal's Winter Cabin

Winter is not just a season of climate, but is also a phase in a person's mind. In 18th and 19th century novels, the rural gentry conventionally retired to London in winter. Can you blame them? It wasn't just the darkness and weather, it was the muddy roads. People living in "normal" places in the modern world forget how frustrating muddy roads can be.

Every now and then I run into an Alaskan in the Arizona desert in the winter. They usually curse the darkness in the North more than the cold. Easy to believe.

I suppose there is a correlation between northern latitudes and alcoholism. Some of that might be the lack of grapes, and the northern grains lending themselves to hard alcohol. But surely some of it is due to the darkness and isolation.

There is something about sinking into the reality of winter-camping that brings a piquancy to a famous quote from Blaise Pascal in his Pensées, probably the only work of his still read today:
When I have occasionally set myself to consider the different distractions of men, the pains and perils to which they expose themselves at court or in war, whence arise so many quarrels, passions, bold and often bad ventures, etc., I have discovered that all the unhappiness of men arises from one single fact, that they cannot stay quietly in their own chamber.
Well, maybe Pascal would have been good at making it through winter in Alaska. 

But there is a bitter-sweetness to the rest of the chapter, as he advertises for an internal life. He was so ill. He was walking away from his brilliant accomplishments in mathematics and physics during the "breakout" century, when European Christian civilization led the world out of superstition and scientific ignorance. The long term consequences were so great it was as if homo sapiens had become a new species.

And yet this brilliant fellow was shifting his emphasis from explaining the real world in order to move towards morbid religious sensibility. If he had lived longer and continued down this track, what would he have accomplished? Sit indoors and wallow in a pool of emotion? Wouldn't he have wasted his life in self-absorption and introspection, as so many monks and holy men had done before him? What was new or brilliant about that?

I am not really sure I agree with Pascal's quote. I don't want to lose the healthy and external orientation to life in the winter. I don't want to become a monk or a 'holy man of the desert.'
But any winter camper or resident in an isolated cabin has an internal emphasis forced on them by the darkness and the social isolation. How far should we go in that direction? There is no one correct answer, of course. I do not seek one. But I would be pleased to identify the symptoms better, so I can switch back to an external orientation when I have gone too far.

Monday, June 8, 2015

The Second-best Sensual Pleasure Outdoors

Sometimes you just have to slow down and soak it up.  My campsite was broadside to the west wind, coming off a large sagebrush flat near Cuba, NM. It was the hottest time indoors, 4 o'clock. But soon the shade from one large ponderosa pine would cool off my trailer. This was proof of how few trees a summer camper really needs.

I hardly ever sit outside in a chair, therefore I was paying Mother Nature a genuine honor to move a chair into the shade of that lone ponderosa, and do absolutely nothing. Normally it is more comfortable and useful to be inside my little igloo on wheels. Usually people don't use 'windy' as a compliment, but they should: not only does it cool you, but it keeps the bugs off.

But this afternoon I just sat there, indolently and contentedly, in the shade of that lone ponderosa, and took a wind-bath in la brisa fresca from the west. Since I dislike heat, and this was the hottest day since February in Yuma, it was easy to appreciate the cool breeze almost to the point of sighing. I was, as a poet once said, 'feeding on the shadow of perfection.' 

Now I know what you are thinking: somebody was playing with his Picasa or Photoshop and saturated the crap out of this sunset. But I didn't. I cheerfully set aside my prejudice against sunset postcards in order to honor this view that I got from the same campsite described in the post.

I confess to being skin-oriented (dermo-centric?) in my appreciation of nature, unlike most people, and all tourists, who are opto-centric.  But warmth causes a neglected sense to flare up: the world smells more interesting in warm weather. This can bring on waves of nostalgia for boyhood on my grandparents' farm, not unlike what Henry Adams experienced at the old president's farmhouse in Quincy, MA:

Winter and summer, cold and heat, town and country, force and freedom, marked two modes of life and thought, balanced like lobes of the brain. Town was winter confinement, school, rule, discipline; straight, gloomy streets, piled with six feet of snow in the middle; frosts that made the snow sing under wheels or runners; thaws when the streets became dangerous to cross; society of uncles, aunts, and cousins who expected children to behave themselves, and who were not always gratified; above all else, winter represented the desire to escape and go free. Town was restraint, law, unity. Country, only seven miles away, was liberty, diversity, outlawry, the endless delight of mere sense impressions given by nature for nothing, and breathed by boys without knowing it.

Boys are wild animals, rich in the treasures of sense, but the New England boy had a wider range of emotions than boys of more equable climates. He felt his nature crudely, as it was meant. To the boy Henry Adams, summer was drunken. Among senses, smell was the strongest -- smell of hot pine-woods and sweet-fern in the scorching summer noon; of new-mown hay; of ploughed earth; of box hedges; of peaches, lilacs, syringas; of stables, barns, cow-yards; of salt water and low tide on the marshes; nothing came amiss.
There he goes again, some incorrigible reader says, quoting mouldy ol' books that have nothing to do with the Here and the Now. But the quote above is not so far afield. One of the episodes that Henry Adams experienced on his presidential grandfather's farmhouse was a boyish temper tantrum, when he was forced to go to school. The old president came downstairs, grabbed little Henry by the hand, and silently led him a mile to the schoolhouse. 

Looking back on it from age 70, Henry Adams thought the silence of the old president was perhaps caused by his preoccupation with the conquest of northern Mexico by President Polk (from a slave-state.) It was that very conquest -- nasty as it was at the time -- that was responsible for me lying in the shade in New Mexico on that warm day.

Perhaps the real value of the word "classic" lies in some things being so fine that they should be immortal. Since my own carcass and memory are not long for this world, I want to believe that something transcends these limitations. I am glad to have experienced those 'ancestral acres' and the nostalgia for them, especially since it is dying as a part of our culture. Perhaps it has been preserved for all time by Henry Adams's quote above.

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.

Monday, April 27, 2015

The Healthiness of Being Stuck in the Muck... an appetizer for Lust for the Dust.

There are people who move to the American Southwest for "nice, warm" weather. I am not one of them. I never fled the Cold of mainstream Gringo-ville; I fled what goes along with the cold.

During the recent spring storm in upper Arizona, I was socked in for 48 hours. Surprisingly, the solar panels (480 Watts, nominal) did a half-decent job of charging the batteries. But without a generator, it was necessary to supplement the struggling solar panels by running the tow vehicle's engine. It would be undesirable to do much of that of course. After turning the engine on, the dog and I went for a walk, and tried to make the best of it.

How wholesome and healthy-minded this experience was! May and June are the crisis-months when I take to dreading Dry Heat. They are the months of disintegrating fingernails, nose-bleeds, cracked heels, paranoid parking with the dog in the van, fire closures in the forest, and wildfire evacuations.

When the monsoons finally arrive in the last days of June, they offer such relief that you want to worship them.

And that is why it is so gratifying to endure a little torture from a storm. (I love the Spanish word for storm, 'la tormenta.') It makes you appreciate sunlight and warmth, instead of dreading them, as I usually do. Shall we compare coldness and mud to a psychological "bank account" that builds up during a storm, and then allows you to live off of your "account" when the Dry Heat starts?

Just think: no driving, no spending money for 48 hours. You feel an inexorable tug to get everything back to normal, that which is predictable, bland, bar-coded, middle-class, and comfortable. But let's resist that tug, and see what happens instead.

Trapped in my little house, I had to adapt my clothing, sleeping, cooking, walking, reading, and everything else to mitigate a grim situation. I saw 'value' in things that would have been uninteresting under normal circumstances. It was wonderful just to cook beans in my pressure cooker, and warm up the little trailer. And my innards. 

It was like living in a bygone century, when winter and mud meant solitude and boredom. Just imagine how talented you would have to be, as a historian, to affect the readers even 10% as strongly as being mud-bound for a couple days does.

It takes imagination and determination to deal with this. Somewhere, Bertrand Russell lamented "modern man's" (his 1920s) inability to thrive in solitude. Proud atheist that he was, he admitted that a religious bent is a useful tool for thriving in solitude.  The recluse can imagine "God" as a friendly companion to talk to, and as an ally against the harshness of life. Have secular people done such a great job at inventing a rational substitute for the god-companion?

Long-suffering readers are used to me praising (short term, voluntary) Discomfort, not for its own sake of course, but rather, for its possible consequences. It is like a coiled metal spring: something must compress it so that it can subsequently expand and do positive work.

Thursday, February 19, 2015

A Snowbird Searches for the Right Myth

My bio-rhythms have been so screwed up with the 90 degree heat in Yuma -- in February! Soon I was in Patagonia AZ at over 4000 feet of elevation. It felt so good to sleep in a chilly bed again; to get out of bed in the morning and walk while trying to keep my toes from touching the 40 F floor; to put on a jacket and walk downtown Patagonia. Ahh, cool air and warm sun.

Over the winter in Yuma, things that seemed like luxuries at the beginning began to bore me. Even my dog got bored: we walked in a beautiful desert at sunrise and sunset, but there was no game there. Just rubble. Eventually a snowbird can't or won't apply the mental discipline needed to ignore the overcrowding.   

The tipping point came when my attitude changed about my road cycling club, the main reason why I was there in the first place. The high speed riding by 70-year-olds seemed so admirable at the beginning of winter. By the end, my loyalty to living at the point-of-diminishing-returns reasserted itself.

Does all this sound like complaining? It isn't. What it really means is that my winter has succeeded; it has served its purpose. Earlier in my career I would have been frustrated with these end-of-winter feelings; after all, it sounds bad to use words like 'bored' or 'sick of.' But words like positive, negative, good, and bad really don't apply so well to a natural cycle.

What did I think? That retirement was 365 days per year of wrinkle-free perfection? Where do we get such crazy notions? Probably from our Christian tradition of going to heaven for eternal bliss, even though it really must be sheer boredom up there. When Western Civilization started outgrowing Christianity intellectually in the 1700s, all the mighty intellectuals did was replace the idea of a far-away heaven with a more immediate, material, and utilitarian paradise.

We all like the Spring themes of rejuvenation and renewal. Again, it fits in with the Christian theme of resurrection -- or is it the other way around?

The myth of a dead "vegetation" god, who goes into the ground for awhile, and is reborn during the planting season occurs across the spectrum of ancient myths. We who are of northern European background think of the deadness of winter, but the theme works well whatever the cause of the agriculturally-dormant season. For instance, in ancient Egypt the floods came in late summer, and the planting started in October. 

Our pre-snowbird lives prepared us to see winter as a drab dark dormancy, and to look forward to spring for warm sunshine, blooming wildflowers, and cute witto bunnie-wunnies being born. But this myth does not really serve the needs of the snowbird, who experiences an active and delightful winter. In order to get the most from my snowbird lifestyle I need to abandon this winter dormancy/spring rejuvenation paradigm, and embrace a new model for life. If you want to personify this, just for fun, let's say I need to find a new myth, a new "vegetation deity."

Was there ever an ancient civilization with 12 months per year of agriculture, as in Yuma? The crops would have changed, but agriculture would not have gone into dormancy in the off-season. What kind of myths did they create?

Such an ancient civilization would be the soul-mate of the modern snowbird, who lacks a dormant season, but merely changes his "crop" with the seasons. A snowbird needs to let their imagination run in the direction of that myth -- if there were one.

Thursday, January 1, 2015

Uses for a Cold Day in a Yuma Igloo

Was it a waste of time to read some of the non-famous-novels of Tolstoy and a biography of Gandhi, "Gandhi Before India." by Ramachandra Guha? Today most people see the "prophet" Tolstoy as a prudish, anti-sex crusader and a romanticizer of Russian peasants. Gandhi was obsessed with diet and holiness even back in his student days in London.

Perhaps, instead, I should read about their actions and ideas that make them remembered as great men, rather than as oddballs and cranks. But maybe it is not that simple. Recall that Isaac Newton wrote more theology than mathematical physics. Was he not earnest in both endeavours? How could the same mind and personality be brilliant in one field and a forgettable crank in the other?

Perhaps we fail to read between the lines in their crank endeavors. More imagination might be needed to spot the great man in the fields where they did not shine.

At any rate I usually mock asceticism until it gets cold. Then I start acting like a holy monk. Yes, this is certainly inconsistent, but is also earnest. I have yet to use any supplemental heat this winter. Last night the inside of my trailer fell into the upper thirties (F). I was ready for it after retrieving my heaviest sleeping bag from the van.

I become furious at any weakness about the cold. It is best to get out of bed when it is still dark. Ahh, how nice it is to turn on the stove and heat up the water for coffee. Then a warm breakfast. When the sun finally pops over the local mountains, and pushes through the only window on that side of my trailer. It makes a square foot of bright rectangle appear on the opposite wall.

I am pleased with this photograph, but not because it is "beautiful," but rather, because it might be a non-verbal path to ideas. I hope it causes the viewer to start building a little essay in his mind.

The condensation on the metal screws is due to them connecting to the steel rafters of the wall and the exterior aluminum skin on my converted cargo trailer. 

Since I had to get hands-on involved with my window, it is a pleasant memory and an experience to me, not just a mass-produced good from a factory. I had to buy the right one and hope that it fit between the wall rafters. And where should I put it? Finally it came down to 'now or never', as I got out the drill and saber saw. My palms did sweat a bit, but it turned out easier than I thought. 

I did some reading on building igloos. They poke holes every so often for ventilation. During the polar winter/night, they sometimes put a window (about half the size of mine) in the direction that points to the brightest (and sunless) spot in the sky. Where that would be, I wonder? Three-dimensional, celestial maps are hard to imagine without a globe, a flashlight, and a dark room. 

Every "unit" of dreadfulness or discomfort suffered at night or in the morning darkness is paid back in double portions of pleasure and satisfaction, soon after sunrise. An hour after sunrise the warm sunny rectangle moves to the spot on the bed where my dog snoozes after her morning frolic in the desert. 

There is something about just having one window that focuses the imagination, which then intensifies my appreciation. It is almost a religious reverence: the rectangular spot is like the light pouring through the stained glass windows at the front of the church, and suffusing the altar with benevolence and hope. 

And yet there are comfort-worshiping, bourgeois sybarites in RVing that praise many windows and large windows in an RV. What soul-less philistines they are! (We needn't mention the cult-brand of RV.)

In the future I will see my little white cargo trailer with its lone window as an igloo all alone in the Canadian arctic, suffocating under 24 hours of darkness, but with a chink in its wall, focused on the brightest cluster of bulbs in the Milky Way.

Saturday, November 15, 2014

Seasons Can Be "Complementary Lifestyle Modules"

Once again I am in Yuma, wondering if there is a business where I can put my brain into cold storage for the winter. 

And why not, I ain't got no use for it, anyhow -- at least not for the next couple months. In fact the intellect is over-rated, as my winter lifestyle will prove. My enjoyment of life will be physiological and anthropological: I will be roadie-cycling with the single best cycling club in the Southwestern winter.

As you can tell, I just finished my first club ride, came home and took a navy-style shower, popped "The Big Country"  into the DVD player, and took a deep sag in front of it. (Notice I did not say 'nap.')

There is a real satisfaction that comes from changing your lifestyle in the winter, rather than merely changing your geographical location. What is the marginal utility of one more location to an RVer after 50 locations, the rest of the year? [*]

But if he can spot some deficiency in his lifestyle the rest of the year, and if he can somehow come up with the complementary pro-s and con-s in the winter, well then, he has constructed the perfect 12 month lifestyle.

In my particular case, I experience more pretty scenery than a sensible human being would need. I know that Life's Little Adventures and Box Canyon Blog won't agree with me on this issue. Wonderful (and unique) people though they be, and as happy with their lifestyles as they are, they still suffer from a serious substance-abuse problem: pretty scenery is their heroin. (grin) Or it could be that they just don't invoke the concept of diminishing marginal utility as the Prime Directive of their blogs.

Thus in the winter I head to Yuma, one of the few places in Arizona that is visually uninteresting, if not positively ugly. Let my eyeballs and camera rest for a couple months.

The rest of the year I disperse camp, mountain bike, and walk arroyos with my dog, who is of course ridiculously happy about it. But unintentionally I live the life of recluse. I've tried various approaches to overcoming that; they were about 5--10% successful. 

Perhaps I will never solve this "problem." So be it. Life is too short to worry about the same old issues year after year. Whatever disappointment I feel in this one department of life can be turned to advantage by showing up in Yuma and riding with the road cycling club. Talk about turning lemons into lemonade!

[*] Isn't it strange how the prophets of the RV blogosphere, imbued with all their Higher Forms of Wisdom, can so easily see the folly of the conventional lifestyle with its insatiable demand for one more gadget or one more granite counter-top. 

But they cannot see the pointlessness of one more location, after pushing their geographical "channel button" 100 times per year.

Monday, September 1, 2014

A More Sane Approach to Holidays

Little Texas #3, CO. Let's get one thing out of the way: I like Texans. All it took was spending my first winter as a full-time RVer in the Texas Hill Country. I left wondering why so many Yankees have a prejudice against such friendly people. At least I did, at one time.

Furthermore, I do not hate motorized recreational sports. There are just too many of them, that is all.

Aren't there better alternatives to the weekend/holiday warrior pattern? Just think of the expense families suffer when they own motorized toys, one for every family member over age 6, and then use those toys a couple days per year. And then there is the toy hauler or flat-bed trailer, and a $65000 King Ranch F350 pickup truck to pull all that crap. They are pissing money away so fast. They should save it for double digit inflation in healthcare, college, and food.

Let's try to come up with some constructive alternatives. Wouldn't it cost less to give their little darlin' 6-year-old girl lessons with an Uzi machine gun? And stay home. Keep the money in the local economy. (e.g., the Uzi instructor or the local gun shop.)

Seriously folks, wouldn't it be advantageous to take under-utilized public facilities, such as the county fairgrounds (or the county landfill for that matter), and build a dirt obstacle course? There could be a kiddie track next to the adult track. Public safety would be enhanced. Think of the ski industry.

At my dispersed camp this weekend there was a bit of excitement. An ambulance circled through my camping area, with all lights flashing. A sheriff followed. Then they left. What was that all about it?

The next day I returned to camp to find a flat-bed toy trailer loading up ATVs, with the supervision of a Law Enforcement officer of the U.S. Forest Disservice. I must have given the father a dirty look for blocking my campsite, because he began apologizing. One of the ATVs was pretty banged up. He said his son had driven off into a ravine the previous day, had broken his shoulder blades (?), and was now in a Denver hospital. That was what the ambulance and sheriff's car were all about the previous night. I wonder what the kid's age was.

Besides safety and expense, dirt tracks with obstacles at the county fairgrounds would create a festive atmosphere every weekend: country-western bands, barbecues, antique car or tractor shows, arts and crafts. People could camp in the infield of the racetrack and whoop it up all night. Nobody has to drive anywhere that night -- all the fun is right there! And that county fairground is un-used most of the year.

You might say that this would hurt the tourist economy in Colorado. Yea well, so what? The economy of this state depends on retirement McMansions as far as I can tell. The money not spent in Colorado would be spent more efficiently and safely back in Texas.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

The Sun Winds Down

It was better than a colorful sunset. Surprisingly I had never done this before: drive out of my way to a spot where the mountains didn't block the last hour of the sun. Then I made a cup of tea and sat on the front step of the RV and watched the sun set. What did I think? That if I sipped the tea slowly the sun would slow in its descent, and I could suck out another five minutes of daylight?

But the leisurely sipping seemed to honor the sun and season. It is that time of year again, when I always getting a funny feeling in the stomach and a lump in the throat. It is time to retreat from the highest altitudes. No matter how many times I have done this, it still seems significant and dramatic.

But why does this funny feeling only come at the beginning of autumn? It never feels this way in the spring. Shouldn't it be symmetric?

My best guess is that we gringo/palefaces have a tribal memory of winter: winter is dangerous, winter is suffering. To escape winter by heading downhill and southward is a very dramatic thing.

This ritual had been so pleasant and satisfying, I couldn't help but think about how informal and inconsistent rituals of any kind have become. In 19th century novels, rituals are mentioned so often. Were they really considered that important by folks back then, or was the novelist just filling the page with ink in an easy way?

The decline of ritual might be a part of the decline of Formality, in general. There is no distinction between people any more. The Young do not honor the Old by calling them 'Uncle' or 'Mister.' Men do not honor women with little gallantries of daily behavior. Everybody is on a first-name basis with everybody else. A gentleman and a peasant wear the same slob-clothing. Everybody listens to the same ghetto music.

Formality is undemocratic, I guess. We keep extending the French Revolution to more and more categories. When do we get bored with this endless leveling?

This slouching in the standards of civilization has been going on all during my life. But civilization can't just slouch into informality forever, or it would have ceased to exist millennia ago. When does civilization take a spike upward? Are those rare and rapid events in human history, followed by many generations of slouching?

Yes, I know. Grouchy old men have always had that point of view. I was rereading the beginning of Boswell's "Life of Johnson" the other day. Even back in the late 1700s Boswell, a genuine Scottish laird after all, was complaining how meaningless the term 'gentleman' had become in degenerate modern times.
[Samuel Johnson's] father is there stiled Gentleman, a circumstance of which an ignorant panegyrist has praised him for not being proud; when the truth is, that the appellation of Gentleman, though now lost in the indiscriminate assumption of Esquire, was commonly taken by those who could not boast of gentility.
This topic is too long and difficult for this morning, and I am too lazy. The only thing that is certain is that there is no better place to think of these issues than a land delineated by orogeny and erosion, a land of mountain and canyon, of lifting up and wearing away.

Extra credit to any reader who can identify this peak in the Tucson area where I play out the spring equinox ritual. In a couple weeks it will be time for the Autumn Equinox ritual of camping with the sun setting or rising on some fine topographic feature.

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Partly in Paradise

One of the advantages of writing is that it is deliberate and slow. It gives you a chance to test the clarity of your thinking.  Computers have made it so easy to edit what you've written that there are few excuses to be inaccurate or misunderstood.

Despite all those advantages there is still room for improvement, particularly in my recent advertisements for the Good Life in the great outdoors. I haven't been clear: it's living partly outdoors that deserves to be praised to the heavens.

Friday, March 7, 2014

Lending Wings to Your Stride

There was a time when I seriously feared and hated the onset of Dry Heat in Yuma, usually in March. Experience and old age have turned the experience into what could almost be called 'appreciation' and 'good humor.' It's not that I no longer feel the misery of heat; but now I can see past the temporary misery, and playfully romanticize it as noble suffering. Think of the dramatic religious procession in Bergman's "The Seventh Seal."

Besides, what fun can there be in leaving a place unless you really, really, want to leave? And it is getting like that, now.

But before I crawl out of winter's chrysalis, and stretch out my new wings of travel, let's think about what was accomplished this winter. It is 1/4 to 1/3 of the year, after all. I realize that most readers have no interest in bicycling, but they might be interested in the general principles that the cycling experience can illustrate.

Furthermore I will assume that the reader has a certain amount of sympathy with the noble quest of making outdoor exercise non-puritanical. Let's take Duty, Guilt, oppressive repetition, and drudgery out of it.  Let's look for reasons for outdoor exercise other than 'because it is good for you.' So then, no more goodie-goodie; nor do we really need to be  'bad'; but let's be a little bad-ass at least. 

When William James discussed the "moral equivalent of war," (Lecture XIV, The Value of Saintliness in "Varieties of Religious Experience") he argued that courage-with-poverty could fit the bill. My thinking runs in a different direction: towards intense outdoor sports as the moral equivalent of war.

There were supreme moments of excitement during this winter cycling season: moments when I ignored everything, including my self-consciousness; everything except half-crazy, bloodthirsty, male, tribal, hunter/warrior feelings. Sometimes this happens when the cyclist takes a noticeable step up in his athletic performance.

The feeling might be intensified by simultaneous competition and cooperation amongst the cyclists. The cyclist is most aware of the snapping heels of the cyclist ahead of him. He is also only a foot or two away from touching tires. If that happens a fairly serious injury (messed up shoulder or broken collar-bone) will usually result. Therefore the paceline of cyclists shares much of the psychology of a platoon of combat troops.

But even more, I've come to appreciate the synergy, the feeling of enlarged corporate tribal power, that comes from moving along, aggressively, with your mates.

Hill Climb on annual Tour of the Gila near Silver City, NM

By luck I found the book, "The Culture of War," by Martin van Creveld. In Chapter 6, "The Joy of Combat," he quotes a well-known historian, W.M. McNeill, on his military experiences:
Almost half a century after leaving the army, a famous American historian also recorded, not without surprise, how much he liked "strutting around" on the parade ground. "Words," he wrote, "are inadequate to describe the emotion aroused by the prolonged movement in unison that drilling involved. A sense of pervasive well-being is what I recall; more specifically, a strange sense of personal enlargement; a sort of swelling out, becoming bigger than life, thanks to participation in a collective ritual."
Anthropology, assuming that it is more than conjecture, is real nature, rather than the PC, bowdlerized version of nature that is presented in coffee table books. Can you think of a constructive use of human anthropology in your outdoor activities? This isn't just a rhetorical question.

The last thing you want to do is get solitary and unsociable, and start up another of those travel blogs that writes paeans to "Nature", sacred solitude, peace and harmony, and the rest of that sickly drivel.

Friday, February 21, 2014

Building a Better Winter Lifestyle

Earlier in the winter I was wondering how to improve my winter snowbird lifestyle. The term 'snowbird' only implies a change in geography. That isn't good enough. The intent was to build a lifestyle in the winter that is -- not deliberately the opposite of -- but complementary and independent of the summer lifestyle.

I'm happy to report that I think this worked: more social, no moving from place to place, and built around road bicycling with a club, rather than the summer lifestyle of nomadic and solitary public-lands-camping and mountain biking with my dog. Even my dog has adjusted to short daily walks in the desert, because she gets to romp with her fan club.

In the past I might have resented the relaxed contentment of a lifestyle with more routines, would have wanted to keep things shaking, and even looked down on plugging into a "system."  But now I happily snuggle in to the security of routines built around cycling with other people, afternoon siestas, and reading thousands of pages of Patrick O'Brian's Aubrey/Maturin (Master and Commander) novels.

It was a real pleasure to hit this paragraph in the book:
"Far out into the Atlantic, long tack upon long tack, every day having the same steady routine from swabbing the decks at first dawn to lights out, its unchanging succession of bells, its wholly predictable food, nothing in sight from one horizon to another but sea and sky, both growing more agreeable, and the habit of sea-life exerted its usual force; cheerfulness returned to almost its old carefree level; and as always there was the violent emotion and enthusiasm of the great-gun practice every evening at quarters..." [p. 4196 of "The Thirteen Gun Salute."]
 That pretty much sums up my lifestyle this winter in Yuma, AZ.

People who leave the "System"  -- whether to retire early, move to a rural area, take on self-employment, kill their television sets, home school their kids, or live on boats -- take on quite a responsibility, quite a load onto their own shoulders. They might not even be consciously aware that this extra burden is digging into their shoulders. It's a burden that is well worth it. But it is still enjoyable to take a sabbatical from it, in the winter.

Wednesday, December 18, 2013

Off-line Victory over Waste on the Hard Drive

Very well then, we are all agreed that in pursuing a winter lifestyle that enlarges our overall lifestyle we must move towards complementarities rather than outright reversals. For instance, the internet is a pretty big part of most people's lifestyle these days. But surely most people suspect that much of their online time is wasted on predictable repetition of absolute trivia. It's tempting to fantasize smashing the computer with a hammer and chucking the whole thing into a dumpster, and then dropping the expensive monthly charge of the cellphone carrier.

But wait. Where is the perpendicular move? It must make a youngster's eyes roll when an old timer tells them that that they used computers for several decades without being online. (Although they were hooked to a mainframe computer, usually.) In fact it even makes me wonder sometimes what I ever found to do with an offline computer at home.

But remember my sighs over the great charnel houses in the cloud, or for that matter, on our own hard drives? I mean the photographs and music that moulder in a heap that is so astronomically big, in part because the heap is so big, and because the "online" mindset habituates us into ignoring anything that isn't "breaking news" or "trending" on the stupid internet.

Lately I've taken to going through my own photographs and music on the hard drive. It has been enjoyable. If nothing else it is a great thing to do the last hour of the day, when the eyes are too tired to read, and when you need something else to do as you valiantly fight the Early Bedtime Syndrome. There is a sweet nostalgia when remembering where and when you took that photo. With the music, you can't help but appreciate how much wealth you have learned to overlook.

Of course reading a book (rather than some silly and predictable website) is another "offline" activity that we should probably emphasize more in winter. Last episode I mentioned Patrick O' Brian's "Master and Commander" novels. I had to grin at the incessant reminders of how concerned the sailors were, with wind and tide; they are even more so than roadies, aka, road bicyclists.

But think of this as a new pleasure that comes from seeing a commonality in two activities that seemed to have no connection: reading and bicycling.

In disinterring the photographs on the hard drive, there are many such opportunities; it's just that I was being too much of a blockhead to notice them. Photographs taken in different places and different years can appear like two manifestations of a general principle.

Maybe finding these commonalities is the point, and the pleasure, of photography, rather than just how purdy (or Dairy Queenish) the stupid thing is. And if we took photographs with relationships in mind, we could build entire webs out of the connections. So too could we build our music collections into better and better playlists.

As another example of perpendicular addition to your winter lifestyle, consider today's post by Charles Hugh Smith on buying non-mainstream books.