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Thursday, January 26, 2017

Wilderness, Changes, Hopes, and Frustrations

          There is a Blue Buffalo dog food commercial that talks about how inside the soul of a puppy, people will find a wolf. Sure, it’s savvy marketing, but it works nicely to express to all of us that there is something primitive and unrestrained in an animal, a place, or in us. A good word for that uninhibited desire stretching out to every boundary that it touches is wilderness. We can see this in animals, people, and in nature. 
             If you love the wild in yourself, like the wild in the dogs I described, then you have to embrace it as much as you can. Unfortunately, not all of us can do that for many reasons. Some of these include lack of confidence, health issues, perceived time constraints, and not knowing how. There are ways to remedy this, but they can all fit under one header, which says raise up the people around us to be better for their world. Let them see the fire in themselves, and good things will come. 
             To this end, Jack London once said, "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry-rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time." It it my belief that everyone has that right if they want it. If they don't, well we can't make them, but if people want to live strong and give back to themselves and the community, then we should help them do this.
             In addition to people, there is wilderness, and if you love the wild, there isn't as much of it left as there once was. For instance, in the lower 48 states, the furthest we get from a paved road is 28 miles. In the Eastern United States, the swamps offer us 17 miles of buffer zone from humanity. What’s in between places like that 100+ mile stretch of highway across Utah on Route 70 is a whole lot of desolation, national monuments, national parks, government-protected property, ranches, mining operations, and desolation. Some people would call that much nothing land a waste of space or a place to dread visiting, but others would call it a paradise. I'm one of those people, and so was Edward Abbey, who said, “A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches - that is the right and privilege of any free American.”
             However, not everyone has this respect for the unrestrained or that which yearns to be in its truest form. Instead, they seek to subjugate man, animals, and nature's will to that of their own strength and decisions of what is and isn't right.
            For example, on April 11, 1956, the federal government ecstatically authorized the construction of Glen Canyon Dam to power the West, making it possible for cities to exist in the scorching desert while flooding the wilderness. After all, it sure beat doing all of this to the Grand Canyon, and it helped society. Win / win, right? However, what used to be there in these canyons, places like Cathedral in the Desert, is now completely dead, dying, or whittled away significantly because of America’s need to get bigger and bigger. 
            Unfortunately, this reaction is what it is when the inevitable change has to occur. Seeing as people like me want to see the sights on vacation, there has to be a way to do it. That way is that people need to live in this wilderness to make that goal possible, and something in the world has to give to make these things a reality. In addition to this it’s true that no matter what solution we offer, inevitably, someone will complain about what’s lost to largely deaf ears. With this, more often than not, nothing will be remembered by the casual masses until it's too late, but for those of us who scream and shout our warnings anyway, anywhere, just to be heard in the muffled vacuum of silent space, we will reach some people.
           But will it be enough? 
           Fortunately, even if we only get to their words years later, we can still listen wisely to the voices of the past so we won't make the same mistakes again. When we do this, we can't apologize for someone else's mistake, but we can do our best to learn from it so we don't repeat.
            But this brings us back to where we are now with the decisions that compromise our individual rights and our own personal wilderness. Many times this exists in utilitarianism, but other times, it exists in the will of a bull in the china shop looking to impose its desires on anyone around it to make things right for it by any means necessary. Here, then, we need to ask why is this thing acting as it does? Can we rationalize its will or is it out of control? 
            Here we must realize that, like it or not, forced change by people who know better than us must be implemented through government authority to make things like this happen from time to time. Such is the fact that things like eminent domain and police enforced authority are the drawback to even something that can be so positive for so many people as utilitarianism, no matter what we believe when we get the dirty end of the stick. Hence, we live in a paradox of free will to object and necessity to do anyway. 
           This seems to be true no matter the issue that we put to our government leaders and the teams that they assemble. We do our best to predict the future, but often, we just can't. Even with our skills and foresight to smooth out the nasty and necessary, our inability to perform truly perfect longitudinal studies in advance of the incident happening means that problems are bound to occur. For instance, completing our feasibility studies with technical results from our calculus equations, even those integrated with the possibility for friction and chaos, hurts us when years later, we find ourselves in a conundrum. When this happens our country is forced to do confusing and ethically-challenged things like pardon wind turbine companies for killing eagles, which are otherwise protected, while we hope they figure out ways not to do this in the thirty year grace period they are extended. 
            After all, nobody wanted birds to fly into wind towers, it's just something that happens when we're trying to generate power, which is a necessary things. Not all the ways to make birds not do this are easy, and it's not going to be 100% safe for flight out there no matter what we do, after all birds do fly into buildings, but if something can make a difference, then why not? Sometimes, we need to assume the cost and pass it on. It sure beats a boneyard under the mountain towers.
             This brings us back to the thought of government / private industry trying to do whatever with the best possible results. Intentions mean nothing when better actions could mean everything.
            Thus, just like the wind turbines, the monstrous form that was Glen Canyon rose to create a jar in Arizona, much like the one local Reading, Pennsylvania, poet Wallace Stevens spoke of, which was created in Tennessee, and there was a feeling that at least this wasn’t the tragedy of Hetch Hetchy Dam all over again. We weren’t going to be crucifying Yellowstone / Grand Canyon National Park / Dinosaur National Monument, so yeah, Who cares about a stretch of desert canyon river in the middle of nowhere. Manifest Destiny or whatever we were going to call it, and we can hope for the best. At least we were respecting the sanctity of PARK / MONUMENT, which said and meant something to Americans everywhere.

            Sixty years on, we are fighting a different fight. A decade ago, we saved ANWR from drilling, which would have benefited Japan more than America. When this fact was ascertained, we rescued northern Alaska from execution at the last minute to keep a crappy GOP law from taking out the porcupine caribou and the way of life of the local population. Sure, this meant giving up jobs for Americans, which is never easy, but America as a whole looked at their long-term best benefit to figure out what they should do and where they should be. 
            Now, we face the same thing at the resurrected Dakota Access Pipeline as it looks to help foreign markets with their oil issues. Energy independence or short term sales to benefit investors?
            We, the people who love the natural world, even the one they will never see, won that first fight, but unfortunately, we can’t and won’t save every shred of wilderness from potential effects like this, so we have to choose our battles. We thought we won the DAPL fight, but it's back again. Can we still win or will Trump make this happen no matter what? As a result, this fight is very real. It's real for Native Americans, the environment, and opposing views. It's a war that must be fought.
            However, when it comes to other issues, we must decide what's right and where it's right and make the best choices for the most land, animals, and people that we possibly can save with the time, effort, and money we can muster.
            When we do this, we must consider the words of the past. As John Muir said, “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul.” These are simple words, but they make a lot of sense. We need nature to hike, fish, hunt, play, photograph, mountain climb, meditate, and travel through. If we don't protect, respect, and utilize it, it might not be here when we really need it.
            With these thoughts, today, my mind rings out in the hope that the nice weather of the past 2 days, for the most part, will continue until tomorrow afternoon when I can get myself between some trees when work finishes at noon so I can relax in nature. Sure, it will only be a local hike to the Horseshoe Trail, but that could lead me to Middle Creek, Colonel Dick’s Park, or somewhere else beautiful where I can get out and breathe fresh air instead of being stuck indoors, staring out a window at birds flying by and tree branches blowing in the winds. I know that while I'm there, there may only be a mile or so between road crossings, but sometimes even that is enough to get effectively lost for a while.

            At the end of the day, even a simple trail pushing through nature can be enough to live free instead of living out some perpetual existential cycle of wake up, shower, work, eat, poop, watch TV, and sleep. That stuff gets old.
            And for as happy as that should make me, the future state of the wilderness in nature and in society and myself is breaking my heart. In just my three main issues of concern, they are affected more than they have ever been in my life because we have a president that needs to be Stone Cold Stunnered by the ghost of Teddy Roosevelt. 
            Here, I begin my discussion of concerns with nature since that's my favorite way to relax. For years, things have been done on the down low in secret (kudos to Larry Laruso on sharing this link, which exemplifies one of them), and I guess that what we don't know doesn't hurt us, especially for people looking for a reason to get upset about everything, but the more we learn, the more we realize that an administration that embraces their questionable agendas openly won't need to hide programs like these.

            Simply put, we are facing an administration looking to give Sean Hannity every wish that he and his ilk, as well as Ya’All Qaeda, have ever had for the environment so that they can continue to reap its every benefit with no regard for environmental balance. I write this not to stand opposed to the necessary and appreciated act of ranching (or farming or hunting or fishing), but to say that sometimes, ethics demands that we consider others before our selfish ways consume everything without regard for next year, next decade, or next century. Thus, do we need to engage in hard and fast strip mining of our resources or can we do things realistically and minimally?
            While there are 2 extreme ends to this with regard to how the radical extremists feel we should engage in animal and natural resource use (1: radical eco-terrorism that stands in opposition to anything done to an animal / mature for whatever the reason and 2: the whatever the hell I can and will do to the land without your damn government hands on my land side), the sensible and realistic answer is one of moderation. Shelby Foote spoke about how Americans are great at compromise, and that’s what we need again. Peaceful discussion with both sides must exist (and that goes for everyone, not just Trump America). We need the middle to rise up to take control back from the fringes who have been pulling America apart since 9.11. We don’t need the Trump Administration to flout their win by openly destroying everything they hated in less than 2 weeks with no sensible plan of replacement or long-term understanding of the consequences of what they are about to do (and to give them credit, they've done a hell of a lot in 1 week). In the same way, we don't need the polar opposite of what's happening now being done to benefit the left-leaning equivalent (though the more I think back, the more honest Bernie Sanders' dreams really were - even if they were very tough to financially initiate).
             In looking at the ways that the future stands compromised by a run amok Trump administration, we risk seeing the Endangered Species Act gutted so that the land endangered animals live on will not be protected from the interests of business (timber and ranching, for instance). While this is being done under the guise of eliminating frivolous lawsuits by people who want to protect the land by whatever means necessary (not eliminating names on the list), the consequences for many species' futures are equally threatened by not having this fail safe to protect them. Anyone who has any doubt what having their local environment affected dramatically can do needs only to look at Flint, Michigan. Thus, as industry waits for the last ivory-billed woodpecker to shuffle off this mortal coil, we finally have a way to speed up its demise as “inevitable” and a pro-job creating tactic (if we're looking to create more jobs like those found at strip malls).
            Thanks, Donald.
            We also see federal lands getting ready to be handed over to the states so that they can babysit them by their own terms (whittle the protection provisions down on the guise of cutting the federal budget). If this means getting rid of a tax burden, it's hard to see how they can do this unless the lack of rules for them from the feds will allow the states to sell them off as amusement parks or the like. That would truly let the real users pay for their watered-down nature fix. After all, someone still has to pay for the land to be run, whether it's just Wyoming and those who use Yellowstone or it's the whole United States paying for the National Park Service to still be there when we do get to utilize it, even if it's just a roadside amusement park instead of the pristine nature we try to keep it at now. 
             Does he really think we're too dumb to get that this is what privatization really means (Holiday Inns, Burger Kings, and oil wells inside the gates)?
             In thinking about the shortsighted-ness of this knee jerk reaction, Heaven forbid that a person from Pennsylvania is given a say over how Utah and Wyoming take care of the lands that were created and maintained with federal taxes for all of America to use. I mean it’s not like the Organic Act says anything about this ("the Service thus established shall promote and regulate the use of the Federal areas known as national parks, monuments and reservations…by such means and measures as conform to the fundamental purpose of the said parks, monuments and reservations, which purpose is to conserve the scenery and the natural and historic objects and the wild life therein and to provide for the enjoyment of the same in such manner and by such means as will leave them unimpaired for the enjoyment of future generations").
             If only Gustaf Nordenskiold was still alive, he could plunder the rest of Mesa Verde for pennies on the dollar to pay off our national debt, Antiquities Act and Native Americans be damned. 

            Additionally, we can see the disregard for benefits to our society as a community (rather just a business) when we look at Trump’s "well-intentioned" cut in agencies and funding with the end in sight for 17 different Democrat backed agencies and projects that include more environmental protection / regulation as well as civil rights and the arts. While many people don’t see the need to fund someone’s ability to be creative and artistic unless we would pay for the DVD, CD, or artwork (myself included, though Big Bird and Ken Burns were awesome), the money saved per person from killing off the National Endowment of the Arts will be so minimal that it feels more personal for them funding the bullwhips of Mapplethorpe as well as a slap in the face of all of those he beat to the world's complete and utter surprise. It's like he's literally urinating all over their yards to mark his territory. Nevertheless, to only see things by the terms of what benefits me would see me standing back, not taking action until it gets to me.
           By that time, it could be too late.
           Nevertheless, THAT TIME IS HERE because he has arrived at 3 things I really do care about. This is not to say that I don't care about the others, but these things are personal
           And for this, there are things in my job's future (education), which scare me. I have no problem with people's right to school choice and eliminating No Child Left Behind and Common Core, but to see Betsy Devos's desire to complain about government education while crying over taxes like a good Republican (and I am registered Republican) while sticking her hand out for vouchers to fund private schools that don't have to follow government regulations is both hypocritical and sick. There's nothing like privatizing businesses on government dollars. Here, a sane person might wonder if this endeavor of creating charter schools, home schools, religious schools, and whatever else, while eliminating (instead of reforming) unfit schools would go as well as sucking at the cash cow of private prisons did. Being the handpicked choice of the man who created Trump University, this is a nightmare waiting to happen for many people who already have trouble navigating with choices of higher education (to be clear, through no fault of their own since there's so much to know). Imagine if parents have to investigate different schools from kindergarten to 12th grade!
           However, while schools and nature will exist in some way or the other (hopefully) the destruction of Obamacare by any means necessary and with whatever eliminations possible scares the poop out of me. Here, I'm not alone. Whether it's for reproductive care or keeping college kids on their parents' insurance until 26 (or something else), there are good things in there despite the cost and the fines (unless someone doesn't want to pay for his or her employee's birth control pills or have to pony up for benefits after government assistance opportunities, then it's EE-VILLL). 
            As I am diagnosed with Parkinson's disease, I now have a pre-existing condition. Can I trust the government to include this existing law and other facets of the bill I like in the new one while removing only the fine and the price gouging done by insurance companies (like that done in Toledo during the water crisis and by some Toyota dealers during Cash for Clunkers) who chose to see this law as a cash cow since they were mandated to take high-risk people on board (and find ways to profit just like property insurers did when they managed to conveniently deny people coverage with convoluted language after Hurricane Katrina)? Can I hope that I am not job locked or stuck in a world of hurt if I'm not able to work? While I have good insurance now (THANK YOU, GOD), what if bad things come or change needs to happen? I need to be eat healthy, take medicine, stay positive, and be active so I can keep making a difference and not progress to darker stages of my disease. Can the government help me do this or should they take me to the glue factory now?
            My own senator who I voted for (never again), Pat Toomey, compared me to a burned-down house by saying, "So we have a system in collapse .. and figure out what's a better way to go forward. When we talk about reform, sometimes I hear people say we have to keep coverage of pre-existing conditions because, we've got to keep that. And when I hear that, I think that we're missing something here and here is what I'm getting at. There's obviously a number of Americans who suffer from chronic expensive healthcare needs. They have had these conditions sometimes all their lives, sometimes for some other period of time. And for many of them, the proper care for those conditions is unaffordable. I think we agree that we want to make sure those people get the health care they need. Now one way to force it [coverage] is to force insurance companies to provide health insurance coverage to someone as soon as they show up, regardless of what condition they have, which is kind of like asking the property/casualty company to rebuild the house after it's burned down. But that's only one way to deal with it." 
          There's a lot of things I can still do. Really.
          Besides, I didn't try to get this disease. This isn't from smoking crack, hiring male prostitutes, building a meth lab, participating in mixed martial arts, getting blown up by illegal firecrackers, worshipping Satan, supporting Black Lives Matter, donating to Planned Parenthood, or hiding undocumented immigrants (all things that any good Tea Party senator might object to and blame for my situation like conditions of the past, which were blamed on evil behavior by the fundamentalists of their day). Currently, a new theory says that Parkinsons begins in the gut. That's a far cry from devious behavior that should see me ostracized by the current regime, let alone anyone. The same can be said for other pre-existing conditions, birth defects, and illnesses. Through help, we make lives better. Through education, we defeat them. Through understanding, we respect those people with them. And let's be honest; when people are disrespecting and leaving others out in the cold, they aren't be utilitarian, compassionate, or just. If all I am is a burnt down house that needs to be relegated to a corner then I'm not interested in the politician, agency, or institution seeing me as that. This is about being a person first. I haven't given up on the wilderness in me despite my need for Azilect and neither should the law.
          I'm not alone in this boat. According to The Guardian, 27 out of 100 Americans (do the math over 320 million Americans) have pre-existing conditions. We are 1 MEDICAL CATASTROPHE AWAY FROM DEAD BROKE if we don't have medical care. We are 1 MEDICAL CATASTROPHE AWAY FROM DEAD if we don't have the ability to pay for a hospital visit and choose not to go in there to pray for the best or to wait it out. We are 1 MEDICATION THAT ISN'T GENERIC AWAY FROM A PERMANENT FINANCIAL BURDEN if our number comes up in the "my body is wearing out sweepstakes," as all of our bodies, Pat Toomey's included, will do. If this happens, we become a permanent statistic of the welfare state unless the lottery comes up in our favor. Think about that. For an industry (insurance) that asks us to gamble our money with larger premiums for problems (rightfully so) isn't it right to ask them to be responsible to the ENTIRE community it serves, too (not just athletic and youthful types who don't skydive or climb mountains so they can make shitloads of money)? Quid pro quo. Opening a business means you assume risk, not beg the government to save you after a hurricane rains day.
           While talk of this happening is in the "don't worry" variety, I could hope for the best, but my tremors and other symptoms as well as my fear of this Breitbart wet dream coming to be real have caused me to feel differently, and so I speak out to take matters into my own hands
           As a result of the future that I and many others face today, it is necessary to stand with the Badlands. It is necessary to stand with Death Valley, and it is time to stand with Golden Gate National Park. It is necessary to March with Science when the time comes. I stand with the USDA and EPA, who are being micromanaged for publishing revolutionary ideologies. It is necessary to say that if the government wants to play the Hatch Act against people posting scientific facts that all too many members of a political party choose to ignore and deny in the name of gaining votes from the Once-ler, whether in protest or not, then those of us who are educated and responsible enough to be able to analyze and interpret science will stand against them for playing politics with the truth, and we will come at them with change in our hearts and minds. We will use civil discourse, and we will bring back this country with our efforts and dreams of what America means as opposed to hating it and annihilating what it was to start a revolution of anger like some others are doing in the false name of protest (let it be clear; this isn't with the anarchists). We will be mature, and we will speak confidently and evenly with a brave truth to what has been presented to us. Like the women who marched last weekend, we will all stand stronger together because we get what's at stake, and we are good people. 

            I and others like me are the people who need to be the other face of this movement. We are the Never Trumpers. We didn't vote for Hillary, and we aren't sorry for that. While we could have accepted her coronation and disliked much of her adventures these next 4-8 years, we chose the other lesser evil (Gary Johnson, in my case, who I only sort of liked and now like even less). In the aftermath, as we sit back and stare at the remains, we sit here and we get photographic manipulations and stories about time and traffic delays. We know why comparison pictures are posted on social media, and frankly, we don't care either way for how many people did or didn't show up for Trump since we know that Barack was more popular than Trump coming in. It's a scientific fact. It doesn't mean one is better than the other. All the same, we're scared of the alternative facts we're stuck with and the scrapping of civil rights and global warming from government positions as our new leaders eat Member Berries when the change was too much, too quickly. 
             This leaves us to ponder what we must do.
            In his day, Thoreau was so carefree with his life that he said that, "In an unjust society, the only place for a just man is prison." While he had Emerson to bail him out of jail, whether he wanted it or not, we don't want to be bailed out because we don't want to go to the pokey. Our lives and our future mean too much to casually betray ourselves for some notion of martyrdom / childish adventure. Instead, we want our voices heard like the millions of women who marched last weekend for a different set of rights, standing proudly and peacefully against the varying degrees of sexism and discrimination that they couldn't accept any more.
            Those people who do not want this Trump future aren't alone. The whole management team at the State Department said adios. So did the Border Patrol chief as discussion of the wall becomes more real, a statement that just caused Mexico's president to cancel his visit. If this was chosen for them or their choice, the answer isn't clear, but the reality is here, and it's called CHANGE. We're not the whiny millennials with their coloring books crying over Hillary's defeat. It's the whole middle ground that likes individual choice, community, and social responsibility (given and received), which needs to be listened to.
            Thus, the response to this is my change as well. I haven't felt this way about realigning my politics since seeing the Democrat betrayal of 2005 (protesting the Republicans to protest party difference as opposed to a better America). At that point, I saw the loss of things we needed to stand for as I walked through the monuments and museums of DC. Now, I feel the same way, but pulled back to the middle in the other direction. As a result, if this new administration is the face of conservative America, then I am not. If the last administration was the face of liberal America, then I'm not that either. Instead, I represent the independent right to choose the parts of both sides I like best to stay moderate and non-partisan. These include community and the right to give my fellow community members the best that we can give to the most who want to contribute to that community. These include the individual rights to beliefs, ideologies, lifestyles, and pursuits that don't harm others. I have no interest in the right to shout fire in a crowded theater, to chain myself to barriers in the middle of a highway, or to open carry AR-15s in public, but I do believe in free, but responsible speech and the right to be armed. Like Shelby Foote, I'm willing to compromise for the right reasons. 
              Simply put, I want my America back.

           In the end, I would rather be mellow and happy with pictures of puppy dogs and joyful kids. I would rather not care about casual issues because we're all big enough to not need a babysitter, but I know that isn't true. We do need a babysitter. The selfish and loud voices have said that the only way we can make a difference is to be more than a slacktivist by giving things a like or a meme post. We have to keep rising up in protest and let our faces be seen and our voices be heard against their screams and tantrums. 
           That said, we can't let the people in charge get us down. We need to keep being us because really, 2018 is coming really fast. When it does, the majority will be gone, and hopefully, in the meantime, Congress and the Supreme Court will dial The Donald back.

Wednesday, January 18, 2017

Vacation Hike Planning 101

            One of my geekiest hobbies is “map staring,” which is combined with Youtube daydreaming, guidebook reading, and old travel / hiking magazine hording to inspire me to do all kinds of cool stuff in the future. You could say that I’m a regular Rocky Dennis. At one point in a tribute to him, I even had a map hanging on the wall, where I put pushpins of all of the places that I wanted to go and did go. I even had them color-coded, if that tells you how big of a geek I am with this stuff (something I developed in my later Air Force days when a former girlfriend and I traveled much of England, though I never even looked up where the base I was being stationed at was previous to arriving).
Generally, I avoid these hobbies when I'm not traveling, in the same way I avoid my Scott E. Brown and Michael Kelsey books, as they do more to promote the ideas that A) I live in the wrong part of the state / country / world, B) I don’t make enough money to travel as much as I want to, and C) I don’t have enough time to travel like I should.
            These are not necessarily positive things, so I am contemplating how to rectify them.
One way to do this is to get people to buy the books that I’ve already written and to write more. Some of this is in the works already, so yeah, I’m covering those grounds to create my Parkinson’s story to go with my ghost / archaeology / save the world / action stories. Another way is to win the lottery, but I get the idea that math is against me on that one, so instead, I have decided to pimp myself out to obtain corporate sponsorship and products. For instance, I would proudly exclaim my love of Black Diamond trekking poles, Kahtoola Microspikes, Camelbak backpacks and reservoirs, Keen boots, Cabelas Polar Fleece long underwear, and Berks ring bologna in return for more products or cash. I will gladly list product information and even wear patches of each brand. The only line I won’t cross is getting a tattoo on my body for a company, though if Southwest Airlines gave me free flights for life, I’ll get their logo tattooed to my chest. I would do the same thing for a supped-up green Jeep Wrangler XL. I’ve never driven one before, but damn, I could tell you that I’d like it. All the same, I have driven a Toyota Yaris, and I would emphatically state how nice that my Macho Dude has been to me.

            Thus, any information you can give me on being a professional product shill, the kind that makes Oprah’s favorite things and Wayne’s World seem tame in comparison, I would gladly appreciate it.
Timeliness is very important in this since last night my wife and I decided to fork over cash for the first of the vacations this year, which will see us go to see my Air Force friends in Jacksonville, Florida. As a result, I am in I can’t wait mode for something else besides just the Christmas present 90 minute massage I have scheduled for Friday night. We're already thinking swamp boat tour and going up to Waycross, Georgia, to see where my grandparents got married as well as to St. Simon Island. 
            Thus, it would seem reasonable to state that I now have permission to break out the atlas and road map, as well as the greenlight to look on Youtube to see the actual images of what places look like.
            Additionally, since we booked our hotel in Virginia Beach for the end of the school year, I can look at that, but really, this is low priority for planning considering what else we want to do. After all, a beach is a beach is a beach. The only real differences are public, private, nature, polluted, or nude, and no, I won’t be doing nude or polluted, be it with trash or jelly fish.
            People may not be able to distinguish me from the jelly fish.
The first big summer shindig is that in June, we also will be doing one getaway weekend to Coney Island for the Mermaid Parade because, why not? They describe themselves as a combination of “ancient mythology and honky-tonk rituals of the seaside,” so yeah, I’m down for that on June 17th. Gotta love Long Island, birthplace of Billy Joel and former stomping ground for Walt Whitman.
More importantly than even a crazy parade like that, though, is that we started figuring out the “real deal” 2-week summer vacation in August to fly into Denver to do Wyoming, Montana, Idaho, Utah, South Dakota and Colorado. Thus, I’ve been watching videos of Nine Mile Canyon in Utah to brush up on my petroglyph dreams, which go with the already stabilized dreams of going to the Great Gallery in the Horseshoe Canyon extension of Canyonlands National Park. On a positive note, there are 4-wheel drive excursions for this, so I don’t have to worry about mega drives into the canyons with a rental car or not having someone to help us out if we have trouble finding things or get into trouble like we did in IceboxCanyon, which is outside Vegas, when my wife took out her ACL (with her zombie ligament, she's OK now, but her ordeal and strength getting out was amazing).
That’s just not good.
Now I’ve done some things out there before, but I’m definitely not one to pass up on petroglyphs, dinosaurs, mountains, waterfalls, archaeo-astronomy, Americana, science fiction, and long drives into the western sunset, so if that’s you, too, feel free to share your choices.
Our goals are definitely Yellowstone, the Grand Tetons, and the 2 places listed above. I want to see BigHorn Medicine Wheel and the wild horses at Pryor Mountain, which are very close to one another. Additionally, we want to go to Hell’s Creek, Montana, to see the dinosaur digs.

Feel free to share your hiking investigation stories. I’d love to hear them to learn and be inspired by them.

Tuesday, January 17, 2017

Educating Myself and Others

            I’ve always loved learning. It’s the little things that we want to know about and that we choose to fill our minds with, which make us feel a geeky sense of trivial pleasure or a prideful sense of accomplishment in what we are now able to do. For my whole life, I’ve loved this, but through junior high and high school, I found school challenging in trying to make my life connect socially. This is something that I had trouble succeeding at, so I went to the sad places, where I lost track of me for the better part of a decade. Not to get into this story (a story for later), but I did manage to relocate myself when I went to community college after my time in the Air Force and in England (during and after the Air Force). My early twenties allowed me so much learning in retrospect that when I got the formal learning I did much better because I was more mature, divorced from the peer pressure / bullying / puberty nonsense of those earlier years that I managed to find me again.

            Now, I enjoy the learning I love because it makes me happy. Life is too short to put up with other people’s judgement. As a result, I get to go places like the Franklin Institute in Philadelphia to see the animatronic dinosaurs. My wife Heather and I really enjoyed this day, pushing ourselves through the hordes to learn about velociraptors (much smaller than in Jurassic park), stegosaurus, triceratops, T-rex, and brachiosaurus as well as a few other fanged reptilian friends. Mixed with The Cheesecake Factory, a pretentious but delicious adult prelude to our childlike fascination, we enjoyed our day tremendously before heading home just in time to beat the snow, sleet, and rain.

Days and events like this fire me up to teach people, and the winter term promises to be a great one as another semester is upon us. This is officially the 12.5 year point of teaching at a college that is local to me. I also taught high school for 3 years. It feels like ages since I made the decision to be a teacher in 1998, which was when I drove back from California and concluded that this was the path that I was meant to take (a long story for later). Since finishing up my education at Reading Area Community College and Alvernia, I’ve acquired my Masters of Education degree, and I’ve learned a lot about who I wanted to be in a classroom with regard to education and management.

Including student teaching, I’ve been in the education game since January of 2001, which was when I began student teaching. In my time, the greatest learning I have had is based on a quote by Abraham Maslow, who said, “I suppose it is tempting, if the only tool you have is a hammer, to treat everything as if it were a nail.” Another version of this quotes is by Abraham Kaplan, who said, “I call it the law of the instrument, and it may be formulated as follows: Give a small boy a hammer, and he will find that everything he encounters needs pounding.”
As a teacher, we teach in many ways. Many of us force our love of education, our love of topic, and our understanding of what education can do down people’s throats. I know because, well, I’m guilty of forgetting that not everyone learns and likes things like I do, but the trick is to give them the best value for their dollar that they want and need. As a result, I’m trying not to be so caught up in my world and views first as much as I once did (like my former boss Karen once said and I agree, "I'd like to go back to my early students and apologize for my mistakes"), and I know I’ve changed, but I’m still working at being professional and not being the boss in charge or a dictator. While I do that, I’m moving away from the podium as a 15-week lecturer and working more 1 on 1. I like that, and it seems like the students do, too.
I’m also being conscious of looking at rules in ways of making them here to make the room better as opposed to something that I have to enforce in a George Orwell “a sahib has to act like a sahib” kind of way. On days with constant behavioral issues (not paying attention / talking in class / intentional disruptions, for example), it’s not always easy, but like Samuel L. Jackson in Pulp Fiction, I’m trying really hard to be a good guide to redirect bad behavior instead of creating conflicts that are impossible to win.
Thus, the hardest thing to do in teaching is to step back when we can’t help people win despite our best and most conscientious intentions. We can motivate, ask questions, redirect, or discipline, but still, no homework comes in. Tests aren’t studied for. It just is. As a teacher, it’s hard to just say, “Whatever will be will be.”
But we have to while hoping students get it later.
Nevertheless, seeing people’s lives and frustrations hold them back from success is also tough, so for that, it’s great to have had the successful students that I have had to balance out the others. We don’t always see them, but when we do, it’s great.
And on a quick aside, with very little exception, it's a known fact that teachers remember very few students who caused problems later... unless they were students who went on to use the nuclear options against us, in case anyone is wondering. Nevertheless, we always remember the good ones who taught us and honestly acknowledged our teaching.
Working with some of the great students, either those whose educational light goes on or those who go from good to great is the best. In college, we get to do honor’s contracts with these people, if they elect to. About two years ago, I did an honor’s contract with 2 different guys. Both of them were non-traditional students. In fact, every single student I’ve ever done an honor’s contract was non-traditional. Both of them blew me away. One was a former drummer from a frat boy band that had gone big and national (I’m keeping the band name confidential to respect his privacy, but their 1 mega hit has 215 million views on Youtube as of today). The other was a former high school newspaper writer with a lot of interest in social media, networking, music, and auto racing (safety issues in F1 racing was his essay). In the past, I’ve had a host of honors people researching a lot of different things. They're always done well. Even the non-honors papers teach me a lot when they're done conscientiously.
Anyway, I hadn’t done an honor’s contract in a while until last semester when I worked one with an online student whose drive and interest in charitable organizations in the developing world inspired her to spend a decade or so working in Guatemala and having her life changed for the better. Well, let’s just say her project was great, and I was green-lighted to work an independent study with her on learning how to be a non-fiction memoir writer. I never thought that was an option for an adjunct like me, but I was.
How do you say, “Man I’m jazzed on this” in a professional adult way, because I sure am?
Additionally, I will also be teaching a Sociology of Deviant Behavior class to students regarding criminal justice at a different school. I took a lot of social science and humanities classes as well as do my part to keep up with the news, but this subject, too, is something new. Another different thing about this class is that it is also all male except one woman. Normally, I teach female dominated classes, even if they’re only slightly more gals than guys. Here, everything will change, too, on how things are done and the entertainment / education / behavior concepts.
But all the same, I’m doing, and I’m learning, and I’m ready for the stretch run that is the end of the 2016/2017 academic year. Here’s hoping I get a lot of good thoughts, research questions (what effect if any does X have on Y?), and testable responses to these questions to go with the students teaching me because it’s really all about back and forth learning.
I’ll be honest, I may be my best student ever, but I’d rather follow the advice of e.e. cummings than be stuck in my own head lecturing myself all day, every day.

You shall above all things be glad and young.For if you're young, whatever life you wearit will become you; and if you are gladwhatever's living will yourself become.Girlboys may nothing more than boygirls need:i can entirely her only lovewhose any mystery makes every man'sflesh put space on; and his mind take off time.that you should ever think, may god forbidand (in his mercy) your true lover spare:for that way knowledge lies, the foetal gravecalled progress, and negation's dead undoom.I’d rather learn from one bird how to sing

than teach ten thousand stars how not to dance.

The Pursuit of Adventure - It's in our DNA.

           America is a nation of doers. I would say that this is equally our best and most dangerous quality. It’s an awesome part of our DNA because we are descended from a hearty stock of people that migrated to our country from all over the world (I realize some were slaves, indentured servants, and prisoners, but many of these people also struggled to forge a life in the new world despite the reasons that they were brought across on said journey). We see the images of these tough dudes and dudettes in Lewis and Clark like pictures that stretch across 2/3 of this country from Camp Dubois, Missouri, to Fort Clatsop, Oregon. We hear their tales in John Wesley Powell’s epic voyage down the Colorado River through the Grand Canyon as his men mutinied in the face of the unknown as the 1-armed Civil War officer kept traveling to who the hell knows where (this ended up being the mouth of the Virgin River in the corner of Arizona / California / Nevada, and those guys who mutinied were later used for target practice by Native Americans).

Thinking of new places to explore fills our minds with excitement and joy. Living every day in the pursuit of pushing boundaries and overcoming obstacles fills our heads from the time we are little kids to adults. As my English teacher, Ron Borkert, used to say, every story is either a journey out or a journey in. I’m sure something exists to dispel that absolute (probably written by Jane Austen or the like), but I think that’s a fair accounting with evidence like Joseph Campbell’s Hero with 1,000 Faces as my evidence. At the very least, we’ve got Gilgamesh and Star Wars on our side.
That’s what life is: a journey to find stuff. Whether it’s a philosophy, an understanding, a cure for Parkinson’s disease, a hidden treasure, or a lover, we’re all looking for something (so I guess even Jane Austen has a little bit of Thor Heyderdahl in her). The question is what are we doing to find this? What danger are we risking? What’s holding us back? How is this an adventure as compared to just an ordinary trip to the mall to find something to wear at a party (but then again, a story like that could even be a journey if it involves a flat tire, lost credit card, meeting some sex-a potential love object, or getting caught in a food fight in the food court)?
But it’s all about the emotion and feeling. For an 8-year old kid, excitement is much different than for an adrenaline-fueled 19-year old teenager. The same could be said for a 30-year old, a 45-year old, or a 77-year old. Then again, if that 77-year old person is John Glenn, well then he’d put a whoopin’ on whatever the 19-year old kid did since Glenn went back into space at that point in his life. I guess it’s fair to say that Glenn is tough enough to earn Chuck Norris’s respect.
Thus adventure comes two ways. Either people are pushing themselves and the boundaries for a better tomorrow through their own heroism and adventure, kind of Indiana Jones in Raiders of the Lost Ark style since he saved the world from Nazis obtaining religious artifacts, or they’re pushing it out of an aggressive since of competition. There’s nothing wrong with either, in and of themselves, but this latter quality becomes dangerous with the Evel Knieval jerk mentality that went from daredevil to self-important jerk / thief / womanizer / self-destructive accident waiting to happen (then again, some of that other nonsense always was). And by accident, I don’t mean the Snake River. I’m talking about jail, money problems, divorce, fights, attitude, and driving away all of the people in his life with racially charged nonsense. Then again, it takes a majorly brave and equally stupid man to push an envelope that big solely for money and bragging rights when it's fueled on alcohol and extreme odds.

Was this a by-product of his profession?
I’d say no, but I think all of those things are a by-product of any quest for domination. In baseball, there’s a difference between winning and showing up pitchers. I have no problem with a bat-flip by Jose Bautista in the playoffs, but in game number 42 when a team is already up 8-3, watching the majestic track of a home run is just being a spoiled winner.
America seems to have plenty of those already. We definitely don’t need more.
However, we need more risks in exploration, innovation, philosophical thought, and adventure to go to new and better places, be they Mars or a future without fossil fuels. We need to push our limits, whatever they may be. We need to find our rewards and calculate our risk. We need to make our life count with its accomplishments. We need to follow the words of Edward Abbey to remember that, “A venturesome minority will always be eager to set off on their own, and no obstacles should be placed in their path; let them take risks, for godsake, let them get lost, sunburnt, stranded, drowned, eaten by bears, buried alive under avalanches- that is the right and privilege of any free American.”
We need to listen to Jack London when he says, "I would rather be ashes than dust! I would rather that my spark should burn out in a brilliant blaze than it should be stifled by dry rot. I would rather be a superb meteor, every atom of me in magnificent glow, than a sleepy and permanent planet. The proper function of man is to live, not to exist. I shall not waste my days in trying to prolong them. I shall use my time."
We need to allow ourselves to be guided by Thoreau when he exclaims, "We should go forth on the shortest walk, perchance, in the spirit of undying adventure, never to return,- prepared to send back out embalmed hearts only as relics to our desolate kingdoms. If you are ready to leave father, mother, and brother and sister, and wife and child and friends, and never see them again - if you have paid your debts, and made your will, and settled all your affairs, and are a free man, then you are ready for a walk."
And we need to listen to the words of Jack Kerouac, putting aside the fact that he was always the passenger and never the driver when he furiously typed out, "They rushed down the street together, digging everything in that early way that they had, which later became so much sadder and perceptive and blank. But then they danced down the streets like dingledodies, and I shambled after as I've been doing all my life after people who interest me, because the only people for me are the mad ones, the ones who are mad to live, mad to talk, mad to be saved, desirous of everything, but burn, burn, burn like fabulous yellow roman candles exploding like spiders across the stars and in the middle you see the blue centerlight pop and everybody goes ‘Awww!’" 
Because that’s what life is. We need to quest for happiness, both our own and that of other people. We need to see the sights and push ourselves further to help push mankind further. And just like Evel did, we do need to come back for a victory ride and slap high fives to our adoring public, but more importantly, we need to find heroes whose hands we can slap in this joy.

That’s what my dad, my brother in law Matt, and my nephew CJ did when we went to see motorcycle and ATV racing on ice. Yeah! It was as fun as it sounds. CJ gave the high fives, I shot the video, and we all watched in appreciation as young and middle-aged guys risked it all to get the rewards of their racing. Many of the races were pretty much determined from the position out of the gate, but stalling, skidding on fluffy snow, and competition did make things exciting as one race even went to a near-photo finish.

All in all, it wasn’t too expensive ($30 tops for a front row ticket), and it was a good family time together, which is also something that’s important in life. I can’t be sure if any of the kids will set out to go crazy on a 2, 3, or 4 wheeler, but after almost being knocked over so that kids behind me could give their gladiators mad props, I can say they were entertained and impressed to be more than just sedentary.
Quite honestly, that’s something we adults can appreciate a little more of in our own lives, too. As a 45-year old man, I know that I still have things to push myself to do, no matter what my fears are and no matter what my obstacles are. Even with the Parkinson's, it's too early for rust. It's time to live and be free in all that I do.
I hope you find this same freedom in your life, too! Kick off the rust and rigidity and find your own adventure, even if it's just a series of small steps to somewhere new or back to somewhere old and special.

This Glass is Half Full or How Not to Jump off the Handle at Well-Meaning Help

          One of the main concerns I see from many people who are disabled is to maintain a fierce sense of independence despite the obstacles that they face. I get this, both as someone who now has early onset Parkinson’s disorder and as someone who generally doesn’t want to rely on other people unless he has to. Nevertheless, I find that the older I get, the more I realize that we are responsible for families, friends, and communities. I don’t say this to be political, but rather, I say this because we should all want to be a community of like-minded individuals. We should want to make people smile when they’re down or teach them how to do things that they can’t do. We should want to barter our unique talents for their unique talents, whether buying things at Wal-Mart or getting someone to chop down the dead tree in my backyard in exchange for money that I made from teaching people to be better writers / researchers.
            On the trail, it’s easy to find greater obstacles if we’re suffering from conditions. This number of potential problems multiplies in winter. The snow and ice combine with steep cliffs and rocks on the ascents and descents along the mountain face. Add the rapidly descending darkness of dusk to the picture and WAHLAH! There’s a problem in our way. The question becomes, “How do we face this if we’re here on the trail and our legs / bodies aren’t what they used to be?”
            For me, this was real on Sunday night as I pushed up the face of Hawk Rock at Duncannon. This isn’t a big or steep mountain, but there are some rocky areas, and seeing as it’s been sort of cold, but not really cold, the ice on the rocks was the thin invisible kind. I had been watching my step on this all the way up. I chose not to wear my chains since people coming down with tennis shoes said there was only some patches of ice, but the chains wouldn’t help with it since they were too thin.

            They were right.
            Most of the journey was dirt. Sure, there was salt shaker snow sprinkled here and there, but it didn’t cover the ground in any capacity. Even up on the big push right before vista level, there was no snow of consequence, though there was a seriously iced-over rock in the woods, but even that was an outlier.

            Nevertheless, the invisible ice was slippery. My Keen boot took a slide over one rock, and I doubled up care, wedging my foot against the next step and in the crevices of rocks while choosing leafy sections of the path over straight up stone whenever possible. Through rigid knees and chesty congestion, I made it to the top just as another dad, son, and dog passed me by on their way to the view, huffing it up before dark. Fortunately, an in-shape person could do that mile-long gradual ascent / descent in no time, provided he or she was confident on the rocks.

            When I got to the top, the son was looking to get close to the edge for the best pictures he could get. Dad wasn’t in the spirit of letting him risk an icy drop for a digital image, but the son was really into the multiple views. As he skirted the line between safe and in danger, Dad and I spoke about hikes and the like. The subject of Parkinson’s came up, and well, it was getting darker and darker, so I had to ask if I could have the rock really quickly for a couple fast snaps and a picture of myself so I could get it before it got too dark.
            I wanted to clear the big rock patch before dark.

Sunny pictures from July 2015

            Dad agreed, and I made my shots lickety split so I could get out of there. As I was doing it, the father asked if I wanted him to wait for me so I would be safe getting down.
            I help up my wrist to show my shakes, and I smiled as I said, “I may have this, but I’ll be OK. Thanks for asking.”
            I wasn’t hostile, mean, or stand-offish. In fact, I appreciated the concern. I’m glad they asked. Sometimes, a little help goes a lot further than no help. If he would have thought I’d refuse him callously, he might not have asked. Why raise someone’s ire with a question that falls on aggressive ears? However, he chose to be a community and to help a fellow hiker down.
            I appreciate that since it shows he cares enough about someone he doesn’t know to want to be responsible for someone else’s welfare.
            Some people get really upset at people who want to infringe on their independence and not call them by the right name (People First Language). However, I’m trying to see things from the perspective that most people are just uninformed.
In my life, I’m trying to do a couple things differently. First and foremost, I’m trying to look on the positive side. Most people who want to talk about my issues know as little about them as I did when I started out. To most average people, if they know about Parkinson’s, it’s Michael J. Fox, tremors, and medical marijuana (an offer that really annoys me, but alas, that's a whole different post). They don’t know dopamine. They don’t know that medical marijuana is not a ticket to a cure (instead, it’s a way for them to feel that I'll get all Bob Marley without the tremors so that they can get all Bob Marley, too, despite having no medical marijuana needing conditions). They don’t know about what’s being done to find a cure for it, though they might know stem cell research, a vague concept, is involved. They may not always see my tremors. They may tell me I look good despite this. They may think I’m too young to get this. They may think I’m too active for this. They may not see my other symptoms. However, they don’t know what to look for because it’s not them.
Thus, my need is to educate people. It’s not always about taking them for bathroom visits to show how bradykinesia slows things down to constipation. Sometimes, just listing symptoms without gory details is enough. People who are willing to listen are people who are willing to understand and share knowledge. By the way, if someone ever told me I was too young too have Parkinson's, I'd agree, but I'd educate them that we're all too young, and my early stuff made me 1-15,000 or so unlucky. Boy, talk about losing the lottery!
My job is also to be positive about this. My job is to be energized as well. Number one, I need to avoid rigidity. I could feel that on the trail in my knees on Sunday, but now for having walked, I feel better since my legs are worked again. Here, being energized shows people that not all people with disabilities are inhibited by their condition, though some people are. Thus, making a choice to be energized is being a role model to myself and others. I should note that I had thought hard about driving home without stopping after the Standing Stone Trail Club meeting, but I didn’t. I needed to push my tubby butt up the mountain. Right now, I can feel my big ol’ belly getting bigger. That needs to change. I can feel the call to the vista, and really, I’m so much happier on a mountain top (cue the Hendrix “Voodoo Child”). To sum it all up, if I’m not pushing hard, then I become a stereotype. Personally, I don’t know what to be with regard to fulfill my Epictetus role as a person with a disability, but I definitely don’t want to be a stereotype.
Thus, my job is to show people what it means to be people first. Many able-bodied people aren’t. With their Bonbons and their 64 ounce boss bottles of soda, they don’t live life to the fullest. They don’t choose to live life. That stuff is anathema to me. I may have to give up some things in life, but I’m not giving up the ship. Additionally, if I can motivate me, I can motivate them. Thus, they should choose to be a person first. Then, they’ll see the importance of the words. I’m not tremors or eyes that don’t blink or an every other day visit to the bathroom. I’m Dan. I’m a husband. I’m a teacher. I’m a son, a friend, a writer, a hiker, a music aficionado, and a goofy me. I may happen to not be able to smell some of my own gas (a side benefit of Parkinson's), but I'm not sciatica, dystonia, and freezing.
Here it’s important to note that these people don’t know all of our “politically-correct lingo” or symptoms managements / discussions. They know diseases and conditions, but they don’t know how we fight to be seen and understood. As a result, we need to gently educate, not start riots or tantrums when people don’t get these rigid rules. We can’t assume they know (the vast majority who aren't recently college educated don't) since then we would be making an ass out of them and us. Besides, the maniacal levels of conform or die PC theocracy are getting out of hand. I’m willing to be 99.99% of all people who say “disabled person” instead of “person with a disability” aren’t throwing hate or trying to put me out to pasture.
They simply don’t know, and it's our job to show them how able we're willing and capable of being.
And that brings us back to people who want to help others out. It’s our nature as a species to care. We just forget about this since so many people are too selfish to think about anyone other than themselves. In the same way we want the right to be independent and able, we can politely refuse and be thankful for the touch of humanity when people offer things for us that we could and should be doing ourselves.
And that’s what I felt slowly moving down the mountain, using my Black Diamond poles to hold my balance and get down the staircases, rocks, and paths, which glowed in a ghostly manner as I descended back to my car in the rapidly darkened early evening. All in all, it was a great hike, though only about a 2 miler. Still, any day above ground, any day in the woods, and any day learning is a great day, especially one without falls and bruises.
On that note, may all your trails be awesome adventures, whoever you are.

PS – to the person who asked me if I wanted help, thanks. Had the trail been really icy, you would have had a companion.