Where Do We Go From Here? 3 August 2015

Been an interesting few days here at the Lohrenz Shelter for Displaced Persons - Anacortes branch. Ideas are being discussed, links shared, and decisions slowly being made. Now, plans are slowly being mapped out.

One of the pillars on which my long-term friendship with Amelia is based is the mutual persistence of the "What am I doing here?" question. There is a very real and powerful part of our minds that are always evaluating the present situation and prepared to leave. We know how disquieting this can be for employers and potential partners alike, but at this point it is etched into our beings. Not that we vamoose whenever the urge takes us, mind you. Typically there is a long runway of thought and consultation prior to moving on; and any delay may have a deeper cause than the ostensible reason too.

On my side, in the past few years, despite considerable expenditures of time and energy towards "productive" goals, I ebbed towards a severe disappointment regarding the stereotypically American adulthood habits. To take the metaphor too far: I found myself with the tide out, stuck in muck, and slightly offended by the smell. Sure, I could attribute this attitude about the state of my life, the nation, and the world to my perfectionist, idealistic, perhaps overly educated, hoytie toytie views about reality...but come on...really?

I could probably list off a few of the major things bugging me (today) like the the cost of medical school (and high student loan rates and debt), how it took a billionaire to get sensical birth control funded, that Congress is so incompetent that we cannot get infrastructure funded, that our entire National Park system is likely to be gutted yet again by Congress right before its centennial, and the sin-against-common-decency known as auto-play videos.

I toil exceptionally hard to learn, work, stay informed, pay taxes, communicate with my Representatives, and be a fair minded person about other viewpoints. And then, at the end of the day, only the bare minimal of what I believe should happen actually happens. It is very discouraging.

Part of me wants to do the stomping around routine and shout "HOW IS THIS OK?!" Another part reminds me that I have known for quite a while that money and power are where real influence is and I have the abilities to acquire both. And then, well, then part of me just wants to escape. The human adult world is not meeting my expectations. It's fired.

So, I think I am headed to Alaska next.


Western Huckleberries 1 August 2015

During the Upper Rogue River hike with Oregon Wild two weeks ago to learn more about the Crater Lake Wilderness Proposal, I continually had to slow down to pick the berries that were tantalizingly close to the trail. Some of the berries were that distinctive dark bluish-purple that I have always considered huckleberries while others were definitely the color and shape of domesticated blueberries. Our guide from Oregon Wild said a botanist had informed her that all of them were huckleberries. I was not exactly convinced. The leaves were very similar in shape but the branches looked different in color and the berries were obviously very different in color and somewhat in size too.

While hiking up to Old Snowy, the same thing happened. Two similar looking plants but with obviously different berries. While absorbing the blessed fruits of the internet (mmmm, YouTube!), I decided to do a few Google searches and finally solve this mystery to my satisfaction. Not all of the links are helpful, but here was the ah-ha moment:

Western Huckleberries
Like their blueberry brethren, Western huckleberries (Vaccinium spp.) have five chambers in the ovary. Both the flowers and fruit look similar to blueberries, but Western huckleberries produce single berries rather than clusters, where their leaves join the stem, and bear fruit on new shoots. Huckleberries resist domestication, so they are harvested from the wild. A single plant yields less than a blueberry plant would, but each fruit contains intense flavor-causing chemicals, making it more flavorful. The black huckleberry (Vaccinium membranaceum) is widely harvested for its black, purple or red fruit. Cascade huckleberry's (Vaccinium deliciosum) bright blue berries are, as its species name suggests, delicious. Both grow in USDA zones 4 through 8.

Source: ehow.com

Finally having the scientific names proved extremely helpful. Wikipedia has entries on both Vaccinium deliciosum and Vaccinium membranaceum with photos easily found via a Google images search. The Vaccinium genus includes both berries and also the lingonberry and cranberry, of all things. According to the taxonomy section on Wikipedia, there are 450 species (look at all the kinds of berries!) and genetic analysis might require a slight restructuring of this genus before too long.

So, I suppose, more or less, the mystery is solved. They can be described as both! Of course, from now on, I think I am just going to call one the Mountain Huckleberry and the other Cascade Blueberry. Makes more sense in my mind and a bit more memorable too.



Summer Revelations of Cosmic Importance! 5 July 2015

  • I am not so good with sitting still and relaxing.
  • Hot afternoons do not agree with my constitution.
  • Despite my easily attained swarthy summer complexion, it is possible for me to receive too much sun.
  • The summer sun is a demon.
  • Having a bed to sleep on in a dark room every so often is very nice.
  • Two years after the PCT, I still cannot force myself to cook couscous while camping.
  • The internet misses me, I know it. I miss it too.
  • Water melted from snow from atop a volcano has a weird taste.
  • City people are easily impressed by outdoorsy people.
  • I am missing summer dress season.
  • Portland in July is rather pleasant at 7am on a Sunday.
  • I am wandering. Still trying to figure out if I am lost.


Tangled in Strings 30 June 2015

Today I leave for the summer. I am unemployed. I am homeless. And, I have no idea where I will eventually end up.

Part of me is trying to work itself up and feel at least a little excitement or perhaps panic. It does not seem to be coming though. I suspect if I had not spent five months hiking the Pacific Crest Trail, it would be significantly easier to be concerned about this new, uncertain path I am taking. But I have stepped into this sort of unknown before. Multiple times. Everything always seems to work itself out. I trust myself to find a solution to whatever problems or cockamamie situations I put myself into. There is a deep-rooted satisfaction in being confident enough in your will and wit to simply break ranks, bail on the comfortable, and be a little foolhardy.

Most everyone has been supportive of me once again quitting my job and running off (except my recent work mates, which is expected, I suppose, given the culture there). I should not be particularly surprised by their support and well wishes, yet I still am. There is definitely a disconnect between how I see myself and how others seem me that I am frequently trying to reconcile.

Reviewing my behavior and ascribing those characteristics to a fictional third person is helpful in glimpsing how others see me. What if I knew a friend who was quitting a very well-paying job for a third time and aiming to be an adventure bum for a summer. Who eschews adult behaviors like buying a home, having a career, and putting down roots. Who has whittled down his possessions to a single car load. Who rarely dates and cannot think of a single real world example of a relationship that would even work with his personality. And then every chance he gets is trying to convince others that they too can break the chains of modern American life and work to live a better, more interesting life, if they just have the courage.

I would expect that guy to run off and be perfectly ok. Seems worth knowing too. On the inside though, I am always questioning these little odysseys of mine. Why can I not find a job/relationship/life that makes me want to settle down and relax a bit? Is this mad itch in my brain ever going to lessen? How can someone with this much intelligence and promise keep on tossing away opportunities to build a stable life?

So incredibly serious. So incredibly non-adult. No sane person leaves a job as CTO to live out of his car. No sane person sits in a chair for 50+ hours a week when there is an amazing world out there to explore. Conflict. Opposing thoughts. Etc.

I know why I do it, why I run off. I really do. There is so much to see and do! The adult life I see most others living is not enough. How can you be satisfied with that status quo? It's so...simple and routine. Where is the challenge? Where are the experiences that you will look back upon and grin like a mad idiot?

And that is who I am. I want a life where my blood is pumping and not just circulating. Where stories and memories worthy of song and campfires happen regularly. If that means I have to cut strings occasionally and let go of stability, so be it. I am still conflicted about it though. I still wonder if I might find a bit of peace from this mad, mad itch.


Best of Times, Worst of Times 7 June 2015

I am not one to raise my voice in times of intense pressure. Neither do I ignore responsibilities or easily lose my ability to focus. I am gifted with the ability to push myself to an exceptional degree in order to accomplish my goals. You know the mantras:

Sleep? Plenty of time to sleep when you die.

Not possible? We'll find a way.

It is a rare moment when I look at a situation and declare it hopeless. Giving up is not what I do.

However, as much as I love the idea of doom, I want challenges not inevitable failures. Eventually you have to realistically look at a situation and decide if it is worth it. And for my current employment, it finally reached the point where I was Done, capital D. There was nothing left for me to do. The situation had gotten so stressful, so exhausting, so frustratingly out of my control that my mind decreed all work would cease immediately.

That is more or less how it happened from my point of view. After months and months of 50+ hour work weeks, having other individuals circumvent both the product development process and my authority repeatedly, and the extra pressure of training two new employees...a proverbial straw was placed upon my back and my mind broke. It refused to do anything further. No amount of rest, caffeine, or convincing could get it to even look at my computer screen a moment longer. I turned in my resignation 24 hours later.

Not sure if it was wise but it definitely felt necessary. Five days later and I still feel it was the right decision. Neither the compensation nor the achievement of a release was worth the strain put on both my physical and mental health. That two week long headache is finally gone and sleep is much easier to attain now.

While I am slightly perturbed that I let the company down, it is nothing compared to how furious that proverbial straw made me after the extraordinary lengths I was going to for my job. Any time I reach that level of an emotional reaction, I know it is time to take a step back and reevaluate what is going on.

So. Here we are. Unemployed and with an entire summer before me.


Welcome to your Midnight Rabbit Hole 6 April 2015

At least once a week I suffer through what I like to call Someone is Wrong on the Internet! syndrome. I will see what is obviously meant to be an offhand comment about an article on either Facebook or Twitter, and immediately think to myself "Really? That can't be right..." What follows is the proverbial rabbit hole of exploration into a topic. Thanks to Google, Wikipedia, and literally a million data sources, you can investigate an issue to your heart's content. Often losing hours of a night or day trying to figure out the real nuances of an issue so you can truly understand it.

Just the other day, a friend posted a link to a Treehugger article concerning the water footprint for various food stuffs; everything from lettuce to beef to tea and coffee. The Facebook comment about the article suggested that if we were truly serious about addressing the water crisis in California we would examine our food consumption and she pointed at meat specifically. The first thought that flew into my head was that not all foods were equal in caloric density. I think any middle school student worth their salt, if you will excuse the expression, would say unequivocally that lettuce provides fewer calories than meat. Thus, water requirements are only the tip of the iceberg [lettuce] when it comes to scrutinizing the appropriateness of our diets in a drought.

Part of me is strictly opposed to relying on simple us vs. them points of view when expressing a voice in changing policy or personal attitudes. Nearly every important issue is nuanced enough that a single article or chart cannot help shape an effective strategy.

For example, looking at calories per gallon for various food items like beef and apples gives you another dimension to the water footprints but that means nothing if you do not know in what quantities those products are grown in California. To do that, you need to have a look at the USDA statistics for each food. Oh, but let's not forget that there are different regions with different drought conditions and times of year for growing. Wait, wait, let's not neglect looking into exports and imports too. Crap, one should compare all of this data for the past few years to get a bit of historical perspective.

I seriously spent two hours investigating this. Learned that two separate experts have calculated that 10-11% of California's agriculture water usage is currently taken up by almonds and that we export a significant quantity of alfalfa from California to other countries so that those countries can feed it to animals for milk and meat. Also, rediscovered how incredibly difficult it is to find, access, and evaluate data on government websites.

In the end, I am reasonably sure a panel of experts would need to do research for weeks before coming up with a real, data-supported strategy for reducing water consumption in California based on changes in the diet of American consumers. Further, I doubt more than a few percentage of Americans would make any changes based on those recommendations. Consumers tend to only change based on emotional and financial pressures. Sort of frustrating, but there it is. Regulations and market forces really seem to be the only full solution. Naturally, government will not move quick enough and the market will resist any changes that cut into profits.

Still. In case you are interested: going vegetarian, eating local, and creating a personal garden would not be a bad idea.

Update:

7 Things to Know About California's Drought - Grist.org


On A Rainy Afternoon 31 March 2015

And then you randomly discover an email that you thought you had long ago deleted. Ah yes, there, there was the girl who made you think that maybe falling in love was too dangerous. Even for you.


The Relationship with Work 30 March 2015

Not sure whether it is the season (In the Spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to...job hunting?) but there seems to be no shortage of people currently seeking a change in employment. Numerous thru-hikers on Facebook are on their way to, or seriously contemplating, their next hike or adventure. Three friends in technology have expressed frustration with their current work and have started polishing their resume for entrance into the market. And a certain redheaded baker up North is on the phone with me once a week wondering how long she will last. I myself probably consider my employment at least once a day. I am a contemplative sort so that should not be overly surprising.

While talking to one of those potential seekers today, I wondered if one can rightly compare employment to a relationship. Here you spend 40+ hours a week in the company of your job. People move across states, countries, and continents for their work. It provides some manner of fulfillment via monetary, emotional, or egotistical means. And it greatly influences nearly every major decision you will make.

Now, if you were to say to me that you are in a romantic relationship that is merely "ok" or "not that great" or "stresses me out", my advice would be to leave and find a new one. Your time and life are valuable–nay, precious. Why spend a fourth of your life in a situation that you could potentially change for the better?

Yes, yes, we do not live in a post-scarcity utopia where are ability to flutter between jobs is without restraint. But, most of us have quite a bit of power and opportunity here, if we choose to use it. One of my favorite quotes in this area comes from the late Steve Jobs:

I have looked in the mirror every morning and asked myself: "If today were the last day of my life, would I want to do what I am about to do today?" And whenever the answer has been "No" for too many days in a row, I know I need to change something.

That is phenomenally good advice.