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Life Finds a Way

Was I just imagining the New Mexican landscape as more barren than usual in spring? At any rate it certainly affected me. If a thesaurus were handy, what would the perfect adjective be? 'Disconsolate' might do, although it sounds a bit odd when applied to a landscape. But why fight it? It was impossible to look at this landscape and not sink into hopelessness. We turned a corner and lost some altitude as we approached the mighty river of this area. I couldn't believe what I was seeing: an effusion of light-greenness from the leaves of cottonwood trees that lined the river. Is the green of young leaves special to their newness, or is it just that the brain hasn't seen anything but grey and brown for the last six months? I wanted to scream with relief. Soon we crossed the mighty river, all of four inches deep and four feet wide, and yet it must be responsible for that marvelous verdancy.  It would be interesting to use an auger to drill down 10 feet or so, and then point

Finding a Non-insulating Bed for Summer Camping

Gringos, that is, people from a northern European culture, have no appreciation for architecture in warm climates. I learned that when I went to Mexico a couple times in my RV, where I just loved the interior courtyards, high ceilings, bougainvilleas growing over a cheap wooden lattice overhead, etc.  Or think of a languidly rotating ceiling fan in a dark room with high ceilings and protected with bug or solar screens, while a dusky maiden in a loose and gauzy dress, with a tropical flower in her hair, pours a chilled drink for you. (Eyelash-fluttering emojis are needed!) More generally, the Gringo is totally mal-adapted to hot, sunny climates. Their clothing, their sleeping in the cool mornings, and their high activity levels in mid-day... They are even so stupid as to deliberately expose that delicate white skin of theirs to the Western sun.  The garment industry has outdoorsmen -- bicyclists especially -- brainwashed into buying tight-fitting, plasticey garments that are torture cha

Pop Quiz on Summer Camping

  It has been a long time since I popped a quiz on the readers. I suspect they've been getting soft. One hint: this photo pertains to "thermal management" for summer camping, that is, how to stay cool when camping in summer. Gladiator cargo net for holding loose loads down in a pickup truck. All kidding aside, I am really excited about the possibilities of this. It is not cheating to go to the link for a better photo. Perhaps my questions are too obscure. Very well then, here is another hint: Polyester mesh installment by gulfcoastalaluminum,com

The Ultimate Solar Air Conditioner for Summer Camping

When camping in the summer, Mother Nature can be coaxed into giving us shade, breezes, low humidity, and cool evenings. We can adjust our active hours to mornings and take siestas after lunch. We can dress in a manner that fits the weather, rather than society. We can switch from hot sports like hiking to biking, surfing, or kayaking. Beyond these practicalities we can feel a nostalgia for the summers of childhood. School break; the summer reading program at the public library; playing kick-the-can at dusk; waiting for different fruits to ripen and climbing trees to get it; spending half the day on a bicycle with air blowing through your flip-flogs; trips to "the Lake"; eating ice cream and lemonade and watermelon; and visiting the grandparents on the farm. At least some baby boomers can do that. If you can't generate these pleasant notions from personal experience, try it vicariously by reading Henry Adams's "The Education of Henry Adams," particularly the

Watery Dreams of Summer

I have frequently called summer a long disease that has to be suffered through -- and I meant it. But I do like the challenge of escaping scorching sunlight and summer heat.  It is perverse how a person can be pulled in the direction of solving their problems by spending money on gadgets. It's true -- you could get lucky and the gadget might function a year or more, before it heads to the landfill. But what are the alternatives to such uninspiring problem-solving? Most people suffer most from heat at night. Remember what it is like in bed in summer: your skin tries to avoid contact with other skin and with the bedsheets. I resent skin-to-pillow contact, and will sometimes sleep pillowless on my back. Would it help to use a "water pillow?" I don't know if anybody makes something actually called that, but there are plenty of flexible water bladders sold in the sporting goods industry, made by Camelbak and others. If ambient temperature water was put into these bladders

Making Peace With Summer

A camper needs some sort of project to work on. Mine is to tolerate summer better than in the past. 1. Let's start with the easier improvements: hats. Baseball hats are OK, but they provide sun protection only on the face. Barmah hats have been popular; their dark leather brim is surprisingly hot.  The breakthrough was the Henschel Australian Breezer, with the widest brim provided. The crown is mesh. Besides all that, women like to look admiringly at that hat. 2. As a beginner I used to smear my arms and face with sunscreen in order to mountain bike in the western sun. Basically OK -- but that greasy glop distracted me at the desk, after the ride. You are forced to take too many showers. Then I started wearing Da Brim over the bicycle helmet. It does not restrict air flow to the slots in the helmet, so it is much cooler than a baseball hat or cotton bandana under the helmet. They make Da Brim for horse people's helmets, too. I am surprised more bicyclists don't wear Da Bri

Novelty

It isn't worth taking siestas in winter -- the daylight hours are too short to waste any of them. But now another summer is coming on. I hate summer. Therefore it benefits me to concentrate on the pleasure of siestas which I only experience in summer. A siesta is best after a morning mountain bike ride and lunch. I am astonished how something so simple can be almost intensely pleasurable. The real trick is not to fall asleep, but to simply let your voltage sag from 14.3 Volts DC to about 12.2 Volts DC, and then snap back into alertness. I have written about this before. Why does a blogger think they must apologize for any post that isn't new? How much newness is there on so-called news programs, weather reports, the president said this or that, movies or TV shows, etc? Why is newness of such great importance, anyway? A quote came to mind, but I wasn't able to find it in those lists of famous quotes, as usual. It went something like, 'True wit is but nature dressed, wha

Are Reading and Writing Obsolete?

When listening to audio books, I can't help but wonder what a map of the brain would like, right at that moment. How does it compare to a brain-map when reading a book? It is strange to think that both modes lead to a similar comprehension. But which mode is "best"? Language came before writing, historically. Human physiology has evolved to make it possible. Although it is true that vision is a big part of the brain, no evolution in the brain is necessary to read an alphabet. Let's avoid the temptation to use the silly term 'natural' and say that language is more visceral than writing. from creativemarket.com Writing/reading had the great advantage of not requiring the two communicators to stand a few steps apart at the same moment. Writing/reading was mobile, recordable, and replayable.  But what about today, when smartphones and digital cameras make it easy to record the voice, and transport it instantly around the world. Doesn't that make writing obsole

Phony Pragmatism

It was my own fault: sometimes I click on some RV or van-building nomad's YouTube channel, and all they do is piss me off. There should be some upper limit to how stupid and how phony these people can be! You would think that people in this line of work would 'march to the beat of a different drummer,' but in fact they are just selling the old foolishness of over-spending for entertainment or to raise the customer's self-esteem. These You Tube charlatans are helping to destroy a good lifestyle with their money-making propaganda. Let's talk about a positive agenda: it is a fine thing to think of ways to get comfort and functionality without getting sucked into all these expensive gimmicky products. Imagine possessions that are inexpensive, mass-produced things available at big box stores, anywhere. Imagine them with maximum versatility. Adapt them. Why roll up your sleeves immediately with D-I-Y projects. First ask yourself 'why', not 'how.'  Maybe th

Sleeping With a Volcano

Something important was happening on yesterday's ride. Can you spot it? It looks like planet Earth again, instead of Arizona. How nice it is to have soil on the ground instead of rubble! But New Mexico is about as dry as Arizona, so why is there soil and grass here? It is probably the higher altitude.  Most people probably wouldn't say this photo is breathtakingly beautiful. But tell that to your butt and hands! The trail felt so smooth and fast and safe.  I like the challenge of letting the significance of that soil sink into my mind. It takes discipline to stay focused on something meaningful, after the travel blogosphere and the tourist industry have gotten everybody addicted to mindless postcards. Taking on challenges like this encourage me to think that I'm not just wasting my time as a perpetual tourist. A couple days ago, when I was still back on that alien planet of Arizona, this rock grabbed my attention. It was close to the campsite. The rock seems to be bent like

A Critic's Challenge to Travelers

  I've reread Irving Babbitt's "Rousseau and Romanticism" a couple times. It was a good choice. Sometimes I wonder if books are a waste of time. When you are done with all that eyeball-fatique, and 10,000 words have been scanned into one eyeball and then have flown out the other eyeball just as quickly, you are left wondering what difference it makes to you? What has been retained, what has had an impact on your life? He wasn't writing about the philosophy of travel, but here is quote from the book that certainly pertains to travelers. "...but to take these wanderings seriously is to engage in a sort of endless pilgrimage in the void. The romanticist is constantly yielding to the “spell” of this or the “lure” of that, or the “call” of some other thing. But when the wonder and strangeness that he is chasing are overtaken, they at once cease to be wondrous and strange, while the gleam is already dancing over some other object on the distant horizon. For nothing

Hitch Your Wagon to a Falling Star

There is a place around here that I had never visited before. Think of it as a mini-celebrity of the tourist industry. For whatever reason I rolled in and had my first look. It only took a few minutes for me to leave and camp elsewhere. What is it that scares me off from such places? Is it just snobbishness? Objectively it wasn't that bad. Sure, there would have been a bit of litter, music noise, and loose dogs, and probably quite a bit of door-slamming. But only a small fraction of the campers at a crowded place are terrible neighbors. Nonetheless I surrendered quickly and easily. Camping is supposed to be a soft adventure. But popular boondocking places never have a feeling of adventure to them; they just seem like shabby little hobo camps. Finding uncrowded camping is becoming the most important skill -- so why all the harping about converting vans, on the internet? The rig isn't the problem -- overcrowding is the problem. Visualize an electronic instrument meter with a nee

Restored

Campers might differ widely in how tolerant they are of rain and mud, but none of them like it. And yet I actually liked the mud yesterday. When I walked uphill, towards the mountains, the ground was rocky and well-drained enough to be un-muddy. Walking downhill, the land flattened out and became less rocky: sure enough, my feet left muddy prints on the road. Glorious! By the end of the day, the sky cleared up. It too felt glorious. That is what is special about rain in the desert. The land seems to exude health. But it isn't just the land. The human observer is also restored to healthy-mindedness. There is so much difference between dry sunny skies most of the time versus all of the time. That is obvious, but you have to live through it to really appreciate it. I keep re-designing a homemade rain gauge in my head: some sort of wide-mouth funnel, cone, inverted umbrella; with a translucent straw glued into its bottom. I want amplification over 100. The trouble is that it is too b

A Little Night Music

  Rain can be surprisingly loud on the roof of a camper at night, so much so that a camper might have trouble sleeping. I can remember reacting like that, in years past. But not now, not in this horrible drought. I was deliberately ignoring the weather forecast about showers last night. Why go through the disappointment if you don't have to? And the forecasts are usually worse than wrong -- they are useless. The very minute I laid down in bed last night, soft steady rain began falling. It sounded so wonderful, healthy, and kind. According to my Pocket Rain Gauge app, we got 0.06" of rain, which "counts." The number might sound small, but every drop soaked in, rather than ran off. But it might have to satisfy Arizona until the monsoons start in July, if they start. As an aside, to let you know how desperate a person can get for rain in this barren gawd-forsaken wasteland: I spent a frustrating hour on the internet recently, looking for weather sites that tell you the

Evening Strolls With No Sweat

It might seem like common sense to a beginner to see sunrise and sunset as mirror images of each other. It certainly did for me, many years ago. The middle of the day isn't good for much besides scalding sunlight and wind. And this mirror image mindset worked reasonably well. Until it didn't. I got started too late in the day once on a mountain bike ride, lost my trail, and panicked about the approach of sunset. As a result I read a few books about outdoor survival and safety. One point came through loud and clear: an evening outing is drastically more dangerous than a morning one, especially for a solo hiker or biker. And this fact just isn't obvious until something has happened to you. If something goes wrong for the morning hiker, he has all day to get rescued. But let the same misadventure happen to the evening outdoorsman, and he could be without help and die of exposure. High deserts, let alone mountains, are cold at night. But it is hard to judge how much coldness at

Reviving Sunset and Evening

A couple posts ago I was writing about a wonderful time at sunset. It is a time of the day I had completely lost interest in. Why so? Many people seem to become lively towards the end of the day. I have never understood "evening people." It seems logical to be tired at the end of the day, and lively at the beginning of the day after hours of rest/sleep. If rest doesn't have that effect, then why do it?   Aristocrats during their era used to stay up all night, doing the things they were interested in: attending soirees, gambling at cards, and pursuing their latest adulterous love affair. The servants were in bed at night, so the aristocrats could run amuck without being seen. Thus staying up all night became a status symbol. Cities are magnets to talented and ambitious bourgeoisie, who naturally aped the aristocrats. Actually being a morning person makes a person feel a little odd. Just walk up to any store at opening time -- 10 in the morning, typically -- and you wonder

Understanding Tourists in Tombstone

Tombstone, AZ is probably on many travelers' bucket list. That doesn't say much for bucket lists. I have been through several times, just because roads intersected there and I needed gasoline. It has always been 3 minutes of fun. Then I left while still rolling my eyes. But scowling at tourist kitsch isn't much fun. Let's try to explain the tourists. In the 1950s and 1960s Westerns were big on television. I watch DVDs of some of those shows today. But most of the tourists in Tombstone are young, so why would they care about the past? Westerns are not a big part of the entertainment industry today. Brian Tarr, fineartamerica.com So what is the attraction of Tombstone to a young tourist today? Yes, there are a few restaurants and ice cream parlors, but they can find all of that closer to home. Is it really fun and exciting to walk into a tourist store and buy over-priced T-shirts with "Shootout at the OK Corral" screen-printed on them?  I understand tourists are

Putting a Platitude into Practice

Earlier I praised the idea of combining a favorite piece of music with an outdoor or camping situation. The argument was platitudinous, perhaps.  Last night I made the idea concrete. Recall that my old pup and I took a nice walk near sunset, with the rocks reflecting the lowering sun. I felt quietly euphoric for several reasons. I was back inside my camper before the sun literally set. The view probably got better and better outdoors but I preferred to look at a quadrilateral of coloring light on the ugly unpainted plywood wall inside the camper. And I played some famous music by Schubert: it goes by different names, such as "Serenade" or "Schwanengesang" (Swan Song.) But it helps to use a number when looking things up: D. 957. I prefer the solo piano version, arranged by Liszt. Even though I was familiar with the music and have almost overplayed it the last month, it seemed twice as enjoyable right then and there. Why is that? Should I even try to analyze it? Mayb

Coming Clean on My Arizona Bad-mouthing

Long-suffering readers probably suspect that much of the bad-mouthing about Arizona on this blog is due to a specific problem. Drought. It really affects me, and it should. Otherwise I would just be a tourist who thinks it is all nicey-poo that skies are dry and blue. Seriously the essence of reality in this part of the world is the dark drama of drought. Whether or not I do a good job of imparting that to the reader, it is right to try. But now that we've had a Noah-like 0.13" of rain, I feel cleansed and reborn. And getting back on the road helps. Almost immediately my dog was as enthusiastic as a pup and my camera was fluttering its eyelashes, in the Tombstone area.  

Good Riddance

I was caught being pessimistic again: I was mocking the predicted historic storm as a farce, but in fact we got 3 millimeters of rain. Believe it or not, a person can feel grateful and satisfied with that. It is impressive to see a puddle or two. Why talk about the weather? "Weather talk" seems trivial because of how it is presented on television: "stayed tuned for the forecast of the upcoming weekend, after this word from our sponsor." Will there be a 30% chance of rain? This is the purest nonsense. Just think of the hours wasted in front of electronic screens, watching crap like this! But try living in a bleak desert like Arizona. It is amazing that any plant or animal can live in this god-forsaken wasteland. And yet human life goes on in a more or less normal fashion, thanks to technology, petroleum-based transportation, and an economy that can take advantage of it. I am ready to leave a town that thinks such things are evil. It is a town of yoga instructors, art

The Winter Wonderland of Arizona

  I gave up a little too quickly. The great and mighty storm predicted by the weather media finally buried us under life-threatening, historic conditions: Maybe the governor will call out the national guard! But all facetiousness aside, it is mid-March and we are 18 miles from the Mexican border. So Arizona deserves some praise for this. Still, it would be nice if this amounted to more than 0.01" of water.

Rare Praise for Arizona

  Since I bad-mouth certain states, it is gratifying to seize on opportunities to praise them. AZ has had a cool winter, and now a couple cold spring days coming up, right at the switch-over to Daylight Savings Time, which Arizona doesn't do. How is that for a lot of praise in one sentence? It would be nice to praise it for some winter rains, but I'm afraid this winter was a dud. I am not being facetious. Daylight Savings Time is ridiculous. It is the fiat currency of clocks.  

Managing Projects Rather Than BEING Managed

Recently I have been helping somebody on projects with their house. It has made me appreciate how short-lived most consumer crap is, these days. That is not exactly news, but the extent of the problem is appalling. Especially electronics and plastics. Neither of these two categories is very repairable to the average person. In contrast, wooden things are wonderfully repairable.  When working with older houses you have a chance to notice another syndrome: 'mission  creep!' You start off to address a specific symptom and then one thing is connected to the next thing; and in no time, you have stepped into a quagmire. You have almost forgotten the original symptom! The more experienced the handyman gets, the better he gets at seeing this syndrome almost in advance! That is what I find perversely fascinating: with hardly any solid evidence, the handyman is already "smelling" a quagmire coming on. (What exactly is happening there? It is probably similar to the pattern rec

Forever 'More'

  One of these days, when I grow up, I will stop blowing up with enthusiasm over some new thing, only to be disappointed later. That is the way I felt about audiobooks, which only recently I was wildly enthused over. How many words have to bounce off your eardrums before you just say "Oh will you just shut up!" All those words. The narrator might be really talented. But stop burying me under all those words, please! I have always had this problem with the world of books, and it doesn't matter if they are delivered to the customer through the eyes or the ears.  In fact it is tempting to use 'obscene' to describe excess verbiage. Have you noticed that people who read too many books tend to talk in long paragraphs of stilted, oxygen-deprived English, instead of the way a sensible person talks: in short lively punchy clauses? _____________________________________   It was probably no accident that I had those thoughts about excessive verbiage as trekker after trekker

Plato, a Pundit, and the Evening News

People who are suckers for things classical are familiar with Plato's famous "Cave", an allegory that emphasizes the difference between the false reality of appearances (for unthinking people) and true, underlying Reality. The trouble is that his allegory is complicated and drawn-out and thus loses its force, for me at least. Caitlin Johnstone wrote an op-ed piece the other day that improved on Plato's Cave. I have no idea whether her version was original, and I don't care. She put it to great use. Doing daily commentary on world power dynamics feels a lot like staring up at the sky watching clouds...   but no matter how long you lay there staring up at [the different cloud shapes] you're really only ever seeing one dynamic play out with different appearances from moment to moment.   The daily news is very much the same, except most consumers of news media aren't aware that they're watching clouds.   They don't see the real underlying dynamics,

Let No Crisis Go To "Waste"

  It is pointless to discuss virus stuff because the whole thing is hopelessly politicized. By the time somebody says three words about masks, vaccines, etc., you know what side of the partisan divide they are on, and you might as well save your breath. But here is a topic that partly escapes that syndrome. Recall the 911 tragedy and the uses it was put to. I am happy to say that I was not completely taken in: it was used to justify policies that the powers-that-be were always in favor of, but were waiting for the right opportunity. That is one way to look at virus policies. Look at the size and expense of this sign, paid for by the public in a small town. Quite ridiculous.   This seems like the perfect opportunity to skimp on public services. Every park, every business has always wanted to eliminate trashcans, restrooms, free condiments, and customers with their own cups for a cheap coffee refill, etc. And now they have their chance. Maybe society should stop being so hung-up about fe

Surrendering to the Internet Subscription Model?

To anyone else, it would be comical to see the efforts I will go to, to avoid paying for any kind of subscription on the internet. But it isn't funny to me. My face is red with fury whenever I go to a new website and they try to force me into setting up an account, providing my email address, come up with one more damn password, and get lured in a certain direction. I probably went to the website because it seemed to offer something interesting, for free. But then it starts: could you please turn off your adblocker?; if you upgrade to the Silver Plan, you will get an ad-free environment; or maybe I should install their app, which will take adblocking away from me. Consider music on the internet: an old school, first generation internetter wants to buy music -- rather then paying rent on it for the rest of your life.  There is something visceral in that issue to people of a certain age. When we were young we heard our relatives talk about some poor sap who paid rent all those year

Unplugging From the World We Live In

  People usually don't take their own New Year's Resolutions all that seriously. In fact, failing at them is almost expected, or even joked about. Thus I am pleased to be doing rather well at reducing the amount of time squandered on the internet. It seems doomed to failure to focus on 'Thou Shalt Not.' That just fires up your own rebellion. It must be preferable to focus on what you will be doing with all the time previously squandered on the internet. That will be different for everybody so there is no point in wallowing in my own details. Suffice it to say that I feel mentally healthier and proud of the respect shown my own mind and life, by de-emphasizing the internet. It is strange how many health fads and food phobias there are in the world. Sharing a meal with another human being has become something to be avoided, and this was true long before the virus. And yet, where is the concern for what we are doing to our minds with all those hours on social media, news s

Struggling With Tawniness

Despite being away from a northern or eastern climate for many years, I still expect some goodies in spring. I should know better by now. This part of the Southwest is nothing but tawny, dead grass in the spring. And flowerless. So what is supposed to delight you on an outing in such an environment? I was struggling with this question on the morning ride. The route was a good one. The weather was excellent. So who wants to entertain disappointments on a day like this? But when your dog slows down with age, a mountain biker can no longer get a buzz just from the exercise. On the way back, two ravens disported with the wind along a grassy ridgeline. Ahh, that is what I was looking for. Although my dog can no longer hear well, thereby killing her obsession with ravens, I remain infatuated with 'ridge lift.' And there is something expansive and liberating when a camper finally leaves the hideous rubble and thorn pit of the lower Colorado River.  Thus the only 'flowers' pos