Sunday, June 23, 2013

Homesickness, Growth, Anthropocentrism and National Parks

An unexpected late June, nearly unheard of, rainstorm has canceled the remainder of this camping trip my friend and I are on. Yet another weather oddity that is a precursor of Climate Change. We had planned on spending a few days camping in Lassen National Park but neither one of us feels like sitting in a tent in the rain, feeling miserable, when we don't have to. At our age, misery should be a choice.

And so we had to change the itinerary of the trip. Again. Where to go? We found a cheap hotel in South Lake Tahoe and traveled to this town that has grown so much over the last twenty years. South Lake Tahoe has a Staples! McDonald's! God forbid!

We got here in time to walk through the casinos. I had a bloody mary and lost ten bucks on video poker. The bartender comp'd my drink, so not everything was lost. And then it was up to the 18th floor of Harrah's for the obligatory buffet. It was awful.

Sometimes the best thing about a vacation away from home is returning home after the vacation is done. Both Scot and I are feeling that tug of homesickness. The desire to see our loved ones. To feel comfortable in our own space again. I long to take a walk with my dogs; to walk in my own private wilderness.

Traveling across California, it is difficult to feel too hopeful about the future. Every place we went, the sprawl just keeps getting bigger and wider and further on; humans impinging in reckless droves, ever consuming more space. Highway 50 up to Tahoe has been widened to four lanes way up into the Foothills. This has led to an ugly expansion of McMansions, all of them with that tile roof so common in the Southwest, and not a solar panel to be found anywhere.

All of this growth can be blamed on one commonly held notion, deeply ingrained in almost all human culture and certainly taught by almost all Religion: The Earth was created for humans to dominate. Adherence to this belief leads, inevitably, to sprawl, exploitation, extinction and extirpation of all non-human species. We will never end the growth monster until somehow, someway, in a 100th Monkey sort of fashion, we come to the notion that we are not the Crown of Creation.

The Chain of Being leads to Chains for all other Non-Human Beings.

Visit a National Park and you will first experience the "Visitor's Center". Here you will see exhibits that teach about ecology. This education is done in the antiseptic way similar to the way we teach sexual education to 7th Graders. After looking at the sterile exhibits, step outside and you will find a trail, handicapped accessible of course, that leads to some interesting tree, view, rock. That trail will end in about 200 yards which is about the length most Americans can tolerate walking. After that, it is back into the car to the next exhibit, where the whole process is repeated, not by a Visitor's Center, but by a sign--and then the inevitable paved trail to the interesting tree, view, rock.

Nothing in this "educational experience" leads to a dramatic shift in world view. We see nature as a museum exhibit. And we have Parks for all those animals to live in, therefore we can build, drill and exploit every place else because some small smidgen of land has been left to wild things. The wolves have Yellowstone, saith the Rancher; that's quite enough for them. And so the goal in Montana is to have a population of wolves that number in the low 100's.

National Parks don't educate. They are amusement parks.

So where does that shift away from an Anthropocentric view of life occur? How can we get enough people to change the way we think, the way we live, so that we limit our impact on the world and we let other species pursue their right to happiness?

It has to happen through moral persuasion. A religious experience that sinks deep into our souls. We bring out the holy books written by Leopold, Abbey, Muir. A visit to a National Park won't do it. Only dedicated Servants of Nature who unabashedly speak up for the rights of other species, like Paul Watson and his brave crew, only then might we make a tiny bit of a difference.

But first off, people need to get outside with a quality wilderness experience. You can't love what you don't know. Unfortunately, visiting a National Park will not necessarily lead to such a transformation. It is sad that our one best hope for environmental transformation has been turned into something similar to a visit to Six Flags.

Saturday, June 22, 2013

Stuck in Lodi Again....

I guess you would have had to have been stuck in Lodi once in order to be stuck in Lodi again (with thanks to John Fogerty for the reference). But here I am. In Lodi. Stuck. Once.

I write this six days into a grand excursion of California. I shall probably visit this trip with a bit more information at a later date. This is just a waiting-for-the-washer-to-wash-your-clothes post. Its been a whirlwind tour of driving and camping.

I'm traveling with a childhood friend--taking a "bucket list" tour of California. Many years ago, my friend and I had talked about traveling Europe after graduating from High School. We didn't. So this nine or ten day tour of California has to be a poor excuse for the vanished dreams of youth.

The initial plan had been to visit the "Oldest, Biggest and Tallest" trees in the world. We got through the first two (oldest and biggest) but it seems like too much of a journey to go to the hinterlands of the northeast corner of California to visit the Tallest tree in the world (in Redwoods National Park). So we shall finish up this camping tour in Lassen National Park where I will, once again, seek guidance and inspiration for a piece on Ed Abbey and the disintegration of the radical environmental movement.

It might seem strange to some people at work that I am taking this trip at all since I am on "disability"; I have lots of pain meds along and my friend carries everything for me. It isn't all that much different from being at home recovering from an injury. Only the scenery is different. And I've been advised by my doctor to take lots of walks.

My friend isn't as tolerant of the "camping, non-shower, stink to high heaven lifestyle" so we stopped and got this room at the Econolodge in Lodi, California. Showered and with clean laundry, we shall resume camping tomorrow.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Los Angeles

The best thing about going to Los Angeles is leaving Los Angeles.

Saturday, June 15, 2013

Packing for the Tree Tour...

Well, I've been busy doctoring the last week or so. For the last month, I've spent too much time worrying about my demise; I've been forgetting to live. I've worried about calcium in my coronary arteries- indicative of coronary artery disease; prostate cancer, liver cancer. All the while, my back is in constant spasm from my workplace injury. My ribs do seem to be healing, but they are still sore. The good news is that I've been put on disability at work until, at the least, the fifth of July.

Five or six months ago, my childhood friend, Scot, and I planned a camping tour of California. Scot is flying here from Iowa. I'll be writing more about Scot in subsequent posts. The plan is to rent a van and take Joni and the girls to San Diego (where Joni will visit with her Mom). Scot and I will then take the van and disappear into the desert, mountains, coast, for an extended bit of van camping. Cue the Jackson Browne music...running on we attempt to camp in Bristlecone forest at 12,000 foot elevation; we will camp at Sequoia National Park and then meander along the coast until we get to the very tippy top of California in Redwoods National Park.  We are on a "Tree Tour". We want to visit the groves that contain the oldest, largest and tallest single living organisms on the planet. They are all trees that reside in California.

It might be rather foolish to attempt this trip when my back is in spasm and I'm dependent upon a Flexeril/Norco cocktail to get through the day; it makes me feel a little like a welfare cheat because I'm collecting Disability right now. But how different is doing this than sitting in my Lazyboy at home and taking therapeutic walks with the dogs? It is the pain medication that makes me not able to work. Scot will have to do much of the driving. Since we will be traveling in a van, I can just med up and lie down in the back of the van and hallucinate my way all across California. I will also be bringing a special "anti-gravity "chair to relax in and a blow up mattress to sleep on.

And, as always, I will keep a journal of this trip.

Monday, June 10, 2013


We are getting our first ripe Apricots off our lone tree. Every year is different as to how many Apricots we get. In the six years we've been here, the tree has bloomed as early as the first week of February and as late as the third week of March. When the tree blooms too early, late frosts tend to cut our yield and we get very few Apricots. This year is a good year: I've been eating mostly Apricots for the past couple of days. It fits in with the changes I need to make to my diet. An Apricot purge.

Sunday, June 9, 2013


After driving the 165 miles home from the Napa Valley, the thermometer read 102 degrees Fahrenheit in our house. It was 109 degrees outside. As I type this, after midnight, the temperature in the house is still a balmy 88 degrees. We don't have air conditioning. My sweat is sticking to the sheets.
Joni and I took our three dogs for a walk in the evening when it had cooled down under the century mark. Our dog that we call Little One, ran off into the brush. Later I heard a "Yelp". We called for Little One to come to us. No answer. She didn't come. This is quite unusual for her. We waited for an eternity for her to return. Ten minutes go by; Joni started to cry.
I wondered if the Yelp! I heard was Little One making her last sounds as a mountain lion pounced on her.
Just when we had given up hope that our Little One would return, she came happily bouncing along through the woods. She was quite pleased with herself. Joni, got down on her knees and welcomed our wayward dog with open arms. That is, until she realized she was hugging a dog that had just been sprayed by a skunk!
Despite the stink, we decided we were still happy to see that Little One was still alive. This is the third time she has been sprayed by a skunk. She seems to enjoy it. Her Human owners don't care for it much. We walked her home and washed her with tomato juice, followed by a baking soda bath, followed with one last rinse of some lavender wash. It was like a Dog Spa day.
Little One still has a faint stink to her. But it isn't bad. I rather enjoy the smell of skunk. From a distance. The odor reminds me of hot, sticky August nights in southeastern Minnesota, when I couldn't sleep because it was too hot (we didn't have air conditioning in our bedrooms). I'd sit by the window and the smell of skunk would waft through the room. Memories. Good ones.

Saturday, June 8, 2013

Meeting with Mr."P"

One of the nicer things about working in the Napa Valley is that, sooner or later, most of your friends will make the pilgrimage to the fermented grapes of California. When this happens, we generally celebrate with good cheer and gusto. My architect friend from Minnesota, "P"., showed up with his new bride a couple of days ago. Joni and I joined them to share a couple of drinks and a fancy gourmet dinner.

I haven't seen "P". since we graduated from High School. He has done very well for himself. He became an architect and raised a family in the burbs. After 25 years of marriage, he found himself having to start over. He found himself another gal (who has three kids in their teens) and set up a household in a fine Minnesota town that boasts two decent private colleges.

"P" was quite liberal, maybe even radical, growing up. The years have mellowed him, giving him a maturity that most liberals acquire through raising a family and living in the burbs. Like many independents, he is liberal on social issues and a bit more conservative on the issues of government and spending. Raising a couple of kids will do that to you.

After I got over the shock of talking to my High School friend, who looks more like his Father than my friend from years ago, we had a pleasant and long ranging conversation. "P" has learned to listen and politely asks questions with tact and a lack of rancor that we had as children. He has that combination of Minnesota Nice along with a temperament that is measured and rational. I'm sure this tact has developed through years and years of listening to what a customer wants in regards to designing a building.

There is a pride one has when you meet a friend you grew up with, were close to, who has done well for himself. My hometown public school system should be congratulated that they have done such a fine job educating young men and women who develop into successful and inquisitive adults. As I ponder the people I was close to from the ages of ten to twenty two, all of them seem to have successfully weathered the perils of each of life's stages. They have come out on the other side, now grappling with the joys of being a Fifty something, most with their heads and hearts in tact. Most remain weathered liberals; wiser and shaped by the winds of wisdom and experience.

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

The Freedom of Slowness and Inefficiency

We have a society, a culture, an economic system that is obsessed with speed and efficiency. These two items in business are deemed the prime characteristics of free market capitalism. Most Economists would say these values are the hallmarks of a good, successful society. Adam Smith detailed such principles in the laws of comparative advantage. On a personal level, we all are obsessed with speed: fastest computers, lap tops, cell phones, G4, fastest commutes, directions, meals, fastest emergency rooms, 10k running times, fastest thru hikes on the PCT. Time is considered "valuable". We want to know the quickest way to get places and we measure distance, not by miles, but by time.

"How far are you from home, Allan?"

"Oh, about three and a half hours."

There was a reason why I titled the piece I wrote yesterday about the 13 year old boy who was struck and killed by the Mercedes in the crosswalk "The Tyranny of Living Fast"; speed and efficiency, as  primary cultural and economic values, are tyranny. The people of Paradise should not accept having an uncontrolled four lane highway enter their town amongst the residential neighborhoods where children are walking, playing and are generally busy being kids just because it is the fastest way to get to work or the mall.

Cars are less important than people. Three pedestrian deaths in less than a year is too big of a sacrifice to the speed and efficiency automobile god.

So should Forty Thousand people who must use that road have to wait longer to travel the only road down the ridge to Chico? Why, yes. Of course they should! Safety and living trumps the needs of a commuting public. Or at least it should.

And here's another idea that won't win any popularity contests because it doesn't even involve humans: Speed limits should be imposed on known animal corridors both during the day and night. A Forty mile an hour speed limit on our local Highway 70 would decrease the number of deer that die on that meat mauler. In California, twice as many deer are killed by automobiles than by hunters. We should be able to drastically reduce those numbers. Wildlife is more important than speed and efficiency.

Henry David Thoreau put his finger on the problem back in 1852:

"If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen."

Should we value sloth? Retire it from the list of the seven deadly sins? Teach courses in business school on inefficiency and slowness? If it is rooted in values that include biodiversity and egalitarianism, I'd say: Yes! That's an idea worth pursing.

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Tyranny of Living Fast

Last Friday, at this crosswalk, a 13 year old boy with no cell phone or identification on him, attempted to cross the street in Paradise, California. The name of the street is Skyway and 40,000 people in the towns of Paradise, Magalia, Sterling City and Inskip are dependent upon this one route to go to, and from, the larger city of Chico. The boy entered the crosswalk; one car stopped. He continued walking when a late model Mercedes Benz, driven by an important man in the town of Paradise with an excellent job running the Water District, neglected to yield to the kid. The boy was hit by the Mercedes so violently that his shoes were thrown off of him.

The young man was knocked unconscious by the collision. He had multiple broken bones and also endured severe trauma to the head. Because the boy had no Identification on him, it took 30 hours to discover who the boy belonged to. The boy's father thought his child was spending the night at a friend's house. When it came time for the boy to come home the next day, the father was informed his son never made it to the friend's house. It is the mistake a trusting father would make of a good son. The father didn't pay attention to the news or social media over the thirty hours the boy was in the ICU alone, so he didn't know that social media, television stations, newspapers, radio and the police were frantically looking for the family of this poor child.

The boy died two days after the accident when  he was declared brain dead. He never regained consciousness. His organs were harvested and they will be used to save a few other lucky soul's lives. And so disaster for one child becomes opportunity for others.

As is so common these days, a make shift memorial/altar was set up at the scene of the accident. I stopped  and paid my respects. The cars flew by as I took photos--many vehicles exceeding the posted speed limit of 35 miles per hour.

Nobody does 35 mph on this stretch. Given the four lane nature of the road and the lack of traffic lights, speeds of 50 to 60 miles per hour are common.

On a poster at the memorial, the boy's father wrote a very personal and heart breaking note:

To my son:

You were the best achievement in my life. You had become such a good young man. I was so proud of you. You were the biggest help and I could not have had a more open and honest and most of all, loving and charitable son. I was so proud of you when you took your lawn mowing earnings and donated them to charity. You always wanted to help anyone and everyone. You would have made a great man.

Love always and forever,


Such a waste.

It is impossible to read this loving note from the father and not be motivated by this wonderful kid to be a kinder, gentler, more charitable person.

As for the man who was driving the Mercedes? The important man from the Paradise Irrigation District who was in such a hurry? I'm told he is a decent man who will be haunted for the rest of his life by the Tyranny of Living Fast.

Slow Down.


Monday, June 3, 2013

National Trails Day and the BMI's of Children....

National Trails Day. June the First.

What's not to like about that? Is there anything more exciting than a  hiking trail through the woods? Is there nothing more basic to the genetic impulse to wander? The Right To Roam usurps private property in my book. Owning a piece of the earth is less important than roaming that said piece of earth.

In celebration of the event, I took an anemic hike up the Oat Hill Mine Trail in Calistoga, California. Napa County, where Calistoga is located, is a text book example of how to manage land properly . There are "no growth" provisions. There are no "chain" restaurants once you venture north of Napa, the city, with the exception of a KFC that got grandfathered in when the "No Chain Restaurant" rule was passed by the County Supervisors. There are Ag setbacks from the Napa River which has led to salmon and steelhead re-entering, and spawning in, the river. The towns of Calistoga, St. Helena, Yountville---all have prescribed city limits and cannot grow beyond certain "green lines". The whole county became an Agricultural Preserve in the later 1960's so that the valley would never become a bedroom community. They had the wisdom to do this before the Paris Tasting of 1976 that put the Napa Valley on the map as a premium wine production area.

What have limits to growth done? It made the way for the creation of a whole food movement that is taking the nation by storm. In a sense, Michael Pollan and Alice Waters are possible due to the foresight of the 1968 Agricultural Preservation bill. Housing values have boomed and have stayed high, unemployment is low, the schools are well funded, the restaurants are the best in the world and the Napa Valley is the third most popular tourist destination in California.

For those who think that Growth is the only way to economic prosperity, let the Napa Valley be the first evidence to the contrary. Community planning doesn't have to mean strip malls and 3,000 square foot houses with postage stamp lawns, no porches and three car garages that face the sidewalk-less street.

But trails. Back to trails. Both pedestrian and bike trails should be a part of every community's recreation plan. Right now we link towns by roads that carry automobiles. I think we should also have dedicated pedestrian and biking trails connect every community too. Right  now we have only three long distance hiking trails (with two more in the planning stages); I think we should have thousands of long distance hiking trails. Every hamlet, town, community and city should be linked by dedicated bike and pedestrian paths. Complete with campsites. Hiking is good, cheap, healthy fun.

If we ever get smart enough to create a public works program again for the millions of unemployed people who sit home with their snack foods and EBT cards, let's put them to work building recreation and community with hiking and biking trails.

One last point: My hometown in Minnesota established a fifty mile bike/pedestrian trail thirty years ago. Last time I visited there, I saw a fine thing: No fat kids. I saw kids on bikes, outside, laughing and playing. They were everywhere. But I didn't see any obese children. The place is a healthy advertisement for the benefits of outside play. You don't have to be a rocket scientist to figure out that Communities that have bike and hiking trails that are actually used, have kids that have lower BMI's.