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Showing posts from March, 2015

How To Retire Early

It is odd that I mention "early retirement" in the subtitle of this blog, but seldom talk about what some readers would care about: "how the hell can you possibly do it?" One reason I shun the topic is that I get accused of being anti-woman.

How generous of Fred Reed to offer up an essay "Against Marriage," which provides me with easy "cover." Although he doesn't mention early retirement per se in his essay, his arguments against marriage apply triply to somebody who wants to retire early. 

But let's be clear: his essay is against getting sucked into a destructive legal/financial relationship (aka, marriage) with a woman. It is not anti-woman. People who reflexively trot out that old canard do so as a crutch: they don't want to look at the arguments against marriage honestly and intelligently; they would rather perform character assassination on the man making the argument.

If you read the essay, you will probably find it provocative an…

A Brave Little Beast

A couple birds carried-on a noisy aerial dogfight over my trailer. It's not unusual for a couple small birds to get after a large raptor, but here a single small bird held forth, valiantly. The fight went on for half an hour. My dog was annoyed the entire time.

But isn't it amazing what inexpensive point-and-shoot cameras can do these days! Those two birds were up there, say, 300 feet. I took the optical zoom way out there, so far that it was hard to keep them in the frame. And yet the box turned green -- focus was achieved. And even after digital zoom was added, the photo is still pretty clear:

I am now reading Jack London's "The Sea Wolf," so my mind takes to "wind sports". I wonder if London ever wrote a couple paragraphs on something like what is in this photo, and what meaning he read into it.

Balanced Scenery

'Balance' is a subtle form of beauty in a landscape, but it is a real one. It is also a rare one in the West. When people show postcards of western scenery and describe it as 'breathtakingly beautiful', they are being narrow and philistine. What they mean is that something in landscape -- hopefully reddish -- is freakishly large and vertical.

The truth is that much more balanced scenery exists in the East and the South, and a little bit in the Great Lakes region. Imagine a place that actually has pretty forests full of a variety of trees that have leaves (!),  a creek, a barn, and some productive fields. In most of the West (other than the Willamette Valley in Oregon) forests are nothing but dreary monocultures of some species of needle-tree.

The lack of balance and variety in the West just means that I have learned to appreciate those rare places where it can be found. One of those places is southeastern Arizona. That is the theme of today's postcard.

Are Extreme Sports an Answer to Shackleton?

Is it crazy to read about Ernest Shackleton's adventures when our modern world lacks real adventure? Everything on earth has been seen. If you were to sign up for XYZ Adventure Tours, they would have you sign legal disclaimers, despite nothing genuinely dangerous being permitted. And you would be encased in safety equipment.

In the world of travel, people who might see themselves as "adventurers" are actually like a lazy student who looks up the answers in the back of the book, rather than attempting to work the problem out on his own. With Benchmark and DeLorme atlases, Wikipedia, websites, blogs, and Google Earth, everything is known.

So are we just looking back at the good old days of Shackleton, when men were made of iron and ships were made of wood, with romantic nostalgia?

But there is still this thing called extreme sports in the modern world; marathon running, peak bagging, bicycle racing, etc. These don't offer the glamor of the unknown, nor are they particular…

What Would Shackleton Think of Modern "Adventurers?"

It was time for a rematch with a slot canyon that I love. Well, it isn't exactly a slot canyon in the Utah red-rock sense of the word. Actually, it's creepier because it is a steep gash in packed dirt, with layers of gravel every couple feet; except that it seems too hard for dirt, and too soft for rock.

The gash is only about 75 feet high. It seemed to be cleaned out -- deepened -- compared to last time.

Believe it or not, the photograph shows my limit of penetration. Physically it was possible to walk another hundred feet, and I would have done so if it had been real rock. But the idea of the "angle of repose" kept spooking me out.

Ah well, I walked out of there and had a good chuckle about myself. It accomplished a little something. It seems that any time nature affects you in something other than the standard scenery-tourist way, you have experienced something real, non-trivial, and memorable.

But it is humbling to the extreme to look at a little experience like this…

Architecture Enables Lifestyle

Most people probably think that architecture is partly civil engineering and partly artistic design and beauty. How important is the subject of beauty to architecture? For the moment let's interpret 'beauty' the way that most would: a combination of shapes, colors, and textures that are somehow pleasing to the eye.

Shapes?  A rectangle is a rectangle, an arch is an arch. There are only so many building materials and most of them are flat, so you can build with only so many shapes. Even when you see a structure as radical as a geodesic dome, you have to eventually say, "So, I now know what an equilateral triangle is."

Colors? How many colors can a building have?  White, earth tones, metallic grey, rust. Anything else would look ridiculous or age in an unseemly way.

Texture? Rough or smooth.

Of course, reductionism like this is unfair. Couldn't we also say, "How many notes are in the musical scale? So when you've heard a few minutes of any music, you…

What is Architecture?

Perhaps a recent commenter was correct in thinking I wouldn't learn much about being an architect just from re-reading Ayn Rand's "The Fountainhead."  But at least the book has me thinking in terms of architecture, a different perspective for me. But let's resist rushing off to build philosophical skyscrapers...

1. My host in Patagonia took me on a walk to the ruins of a stucco hunting-cabin. It was used as recently as 15 years ago, but now Mother Nature is rapidly reclaiming it. The main room was about 50% bigger than my converted cargo trailer.

Spartan? Not compared to the Outdoors where the hunters spent much of their day. 

Beautiful? Not really. The appliances and materials are not significantly different than modern ones. There are no exotic shapes, structures, or colors.

So then why did I feel a small lump in my throat when inspecting this little cabin and the neglected cemetery outside it?

2. Down the street from me there is a h…

A Different Kind of "Open Range"

After sermonizing about grasslands in the last post, I started wondering whether this could be just one example of a general urge that some people have...

It all started when my Patagonia AZ host tried to make an "honest man" out of me.  No more driveway mooch-docking and eating delicious leftovers from her catering business: now I had to earn my keep with a "small" repair project in her house.

How lucky this turned out to be! It made me furious. All it required was a bit of electrical wiring, and then mounting something to the ceiling with four screws. Sounds tough, eh?  But it was enough to remind me how frustrating it is to find something solid to sink the screw into! That is true of stick-and-brick houses as well as standard RVs. 

I have been infuriated with this all my life, until I converted a cargo trailer into my new trailer. In a way I don't want to lose the ability to become enraged when the Half-Insane is widely accepted as normal. 

The desirability of …

Falling in Love with the Half Beautiful

Looking back on a winter in the desert, it is gratifying to learn how to appreciate it more -- no, not the postcards of saguaro cactus or red sunsets. Those present no challenge to an experienced traveler. Rather, it is the touch-feel of harsh rocks, rocks that almost cause your hands to bleed if you lose your balance on a trail and put your hands down, to regain your balance.

Perhaps the "credit" should go to the youthful orogeny of volcanic sky islands. But when you are out there, immersed in the sheer horribleness of it, you can't help but think that aridity is the cause. Surprisingly you see that rocks are somewhat rounded in arroyos that flow only once per year, if even that often. Ironically that is where aridity makes it greatest impression.

By this time of the year we have started the Great Loop. We've moved up to 4000 foot grasslands in southeastern Arizona. My friend in Patagonia was boasting of the winter rain, so I came…