Monday, August 10, 2020

High Country

Yesterday I solo hiked a section of the Arizona Trail that I hadn't done before. The first thing I did was make a wrong turn, having not understood where I was on the map when I started. It wasn't terrible, with semi-desert vegetation, huge granitic basalt rocks, and distant views of the crags on the front (southern) side of Little Mount Elden, but I wanted the other side of it so I turned around. After a long, steady climb, I found myself at the junction with the Little Bear Trail and entering the burn scar from the Schultz Fire. It's recovered into verdant meadow, a beautiful place covered with grass, low bushes, and wildflowers. Insects and birds flitted in all directions. Loud grasshoppers buzzed the air. Looking downhill provided sweeping views of the San Francisco Peaks. Unfortunately my wrong turn meant that I was running out of steam and impatient to pick up early supper from a local steakhouse so I turned back after getting a few photos.

I'm going back to make it to the top of Little Elden. A horseback rider advised me that it's beautiful up there. I'm sure he's right.

Friday, August 7, 2020


This is unconditional love. Complete trust. Complete comfort.

I'm always in pursuit of unconditional love. I don't expect to receive it myself, but I expect myself to be capable of expressing it to others. As a man, that's the best I can do.

Thursday, August 6, 2020

Grandote Sunflower

Big branching sunflower.

It's sunflower season in Flagstaff. When I was a kid, sunflowers were these huge, dinner plate sized flowers that some people grew in their vegetable gardens to harvest the seeds. I didn't realize there were wild sunflowers until I moved to Arizona. I wonder if the seeds are edible? It seems like a lot of work for relatively little return though.

A few years ago I bought some locally harvested pinyon pine nuts. They come in the shell and must be split open, much like unshelled sunflower seeds that you buy in a convenience store. The taste is similar to the Italian pine nuts you can buy in the produce section of a grocery store for making pesto, but it's too much work.

Wednesday, August 5, 2020

Invasive Species

Switchgrass, though native to North America, is an invasive species west of the Rocky Mountains.

I saw an old man shearing the tassels off switch grass in the "pine parks" of my neighborhood. I don't think he was with the landscaping company that the HOA employs, a vigilante environmentalist. 

Many of the species of vegetation we see around us were not here 150 years ago. The seeds ride in on livestock, food shipments, and vehicles. Many have been stupidly introduced by humans intentionally. It seems to me that bad ideas spread around humanity in much the same way. Good ideas spread too though.

Monday, August 3, 2020


Lava Rock

Error messages are a way of life for me. I see them and work with them every day. I'm annoyed that I have been unable to create new blog posts on my old 2020 MacBook Pro due to a broken link in Blogger. I stick with this platform though it is often buggy. I'm creating this on another computer. I wonder, are any of the other blogging platforms better or do they all have issues?

I'm working my way through Stephen King's On Writing. It reminds me of rules I knew in college but have forgotten. King is a grammar nazi, and it is unsurprising that he was a high school English teacher before he "made it." The book is simultaneously inspiring and discouraging. There are too many things to keep track of to write effectively. I want to write fiction but I don't have anything ready for writing. In the past, I have usually needed an outline to finish anything.

I will leave this world knowing there were many things I wanted to do but didn't finish. It's a characteristic of my personality. Probably getting anything published is going to be one of those unmet goals.

I want to live in the now but spend much of my time either dwelling in the past or worrying about the future. We all know that's wrong.

Thursday, July 30, 2020


It's so hot the cat is levitating.

It's hot. It got to 118 degrees in Phoenix today. Not quite as hot here (95 max) but it still drove me out of my garage screen porch.

These people will tell you that you don't need air conditioning in Flagstaff. Well today you did, and I'm glad I had it in my house and hoping the power won't fail over here. Other parts of town have been plagued by outages recently.

Wednesday, July 29, 2020

Skunk Canyon and 47

(This was written on 7/28/2020)

Obviously I have been struggling with my birthday, but today I got past it. I'm 47 years old today, and things can always be better, but I suppose they could be worse too.

I took the day off work and decided that I was in the mood to explore new terrain. I have been curious about an unmarked trail head parking lot off Lake Mary Road for a few years now so I decided that this was the time to explore. From a careful examination of topographic and trail maps, I expected the parking lot provided trail access to Skunk Canyon, a tributary of Walnut Canyon.

The unsigned, innocuous parking lot is easy to miss, and indeed, I missed it for the severalth time, made a u-turn, and went back. There were three trails there, the rightmost labeled with the simple maker "702," the others unsigned. I assume 702 is a fire road number, though I couldn't find much on the internet, but it apparently ran along Lake Mary Road so I took the middle option, which was unlabeled but headed in the right direction.

Social trail off Lake Mary Road.

Soon I was hiking fast through relatively flat, smooth single track into the great ponderosa pine forest of Northern Arizona. This didn't last long though, and the trail joined into an unmarked forest road/fire road that apparently was 702 again. This soon descended on a primitive cinder route into a shallow canyon (dry wash) that exibited the typical Northern Arizona pattern: pines on the edges, grass in the bottom. For the first couple of miles it followed double track that seems to be decades old.

For a long ways, the trail was a little boring, merely open prairie and a cycle of repeating flood control structures, including what I presumed to be a lonely and dry stream gauge.

I think this was a stream gauge.

The canyon narrowed into a defile and featured cool, shady slopes, underbrush, and some plant species more common at higher altitudes.

Eventually the trail became more interesting, as it descended into a narrow, shady defile. You could feel the difference in air temperature and humidity, and the biodiversity of the forest increased. This segment is a true microclimate, featuring dense undergrowth and high altitude tree species.

Undercut rock in the narrow section of the canyon. I propose to call it "The Narrows."

The hillsides are undercut in places. I believe this reveals where the water level was in the past. These undercuts frequently extended deeply enough to be called a cave and provoked my curiosity, but they also looked like possible lairs for bears and mountain lions so I resisted the urge to get too close to them.

Eventually the trail drops into a wider canyon and intersects with the Arizona Trail, though it was unmarked. I never saw a single sign marking Skunk Canyon all day, and would not have been certain I was in the right canyon if I had not asked a passing couple hiking. It isn't a great trail although neither is it terrible. I think the unsigned, relatively unmaintained character of the trail represents the past of Arizona to a certain extent. Newer trails tend to receive signage, but we still have tons of unofficial, unsigned trails that beckon to the curious.

A view from the Arizona Trail. The ridge in the distance marks the confluence with Walnut Canyon near Fisher Point.

After I eventually came upon a sign that confirmed I was on the Arizona Trail, I considered going all the way to Fisher Point, but the day was getting warm and I developed an unpleasant pain on top of my left foot in a place I have injured before, so I turned back. It seemed a relatively short return hike, though over 3 miles. Skunk Canyon is a pretty easy hike.

The foot injury has me limping now and I think I should have loosened my laces when it first started hurting. Too late now. Based upon past experience it should be well again by the weekend.

Skunk Canyon is an okay hike, but not great. I'd possibly roll it on a bicycle next time, or use it for a short out and back trail run, but for hiking there are other places near Flagstaff that I'd rather go.

I'm 47 years old today. I can't believe it.

Monday, July 27, 2020

No Country for Old Men

Death personified.

Still on the topic of aging, I went through an early mid-life crisis from my late thirties through my early forties. In that era I became drawn to literature and movies involving themes of aging and death, especially the Coen brother's No Country for Old Men. I did not see it in the theater but decided I wanted to watch it so I picked up the novella first, which is my preference for movies that are adaptations, and then saw the movie. It adheres very closely to the original work by the gloomy author Cormac McCarthy, a specialist in human suffering, especially in the desert southwest and Mexican border regions of the United States.

This is an excellent discussion of the meaning of the story, which I have always perceived as involving the inevitability of death.

I didn't shake off the gloom of my early midlife crisis until I learned that my father had a terminal disease condition. Hopefully it won't take something like that to shake it off this time, but m
y birthday is tomorrow and I continue to dwell on aging, and the inevitability of Death, who comes for all of us eventually.

Sunday, July 26, 2020


Monsoon sunset over the Arizona high country. Soon this will all be houses.

I keep getting older and can't seem to stop it from happening.

I remember when I turned 30. As my birthday approached, I wasn't feeling any particular worry about it. I was in excellent physical condition and having a lot of fun so there seemed to be no reason to worry. Then when I got within a day or two of the date, I got extremely crazy and had some type of flip out. It was a more psychologically transformative event than I had anticipated.

Forty came and went without as much upset, though I noted the cultural significance of the number.

As I approach my birthday this year, I look forward to it with dread. It can now be said that I am approaching 50 and the years are flying by. Many middle aged and elderly people seem to be completely comfortable with aging. I can't say that. I resent it.

There is a line in one of my favorite movies, Blade Runner, where a "replicant" (android) named Roy, has gone back to his designer when he finds out that he has a 4 year limit on his lifespan. He asks to have his life extended. The designer, under duress says that it isn't technically possible, but he will give him anything else he wants.

Roy: "I want more life, fucker!"1

This is how I currently feel about things. I want more life, though I want it only with good health. What I really want is more youth. I'd have stayed 30 forever if I could have.

Footnotes and Comments
1 I would clarify that I do not direct the demand at God. Though not an atheist (which I have written about elsewhere), I perceive nature as an organic machine that runs according to natural laws. There are good reasons life forms have limited life spans, too complex to go into here.

Friday, July 24, 2020

Cat Behavior

Ada on the left.

I puzzled over my cat Ada's behavior when she wants something. Rather than positioning herself near or in the direction of whatever she wants, she tends to jump up onto me and generally make a nuisance of herself until I get up. This makes it difficult to understand what she wants.

I think I finally reasoned out why she does this. It's because she frequently goes to the front door and meows, wanting me to open it. But I don't allow my cats to roam without supervision, so most of the time I say no and do not go to the door. As a consequence of this happening so frequently, she has started skipping the step of going to the door and goes straight to the next step: pestering me, climbing on my computer keyboard, or otherwise interfering with my peaceful existence.

Ada is a lovable and gregarious cat, who sits around smiling much of the time, but she is the worst nag in the world and will persist with the nagging long after any average dog or cat would have given up. I'm trying to retrain her to go to the thing she wants, but I don't know if that will work as long as she continues to want to be set free at the front door.

Wednesday, July 22, 2020


Monsoon moisture from the Gulf of California.

We have finally been receiving adequate rainfall. So far I have been lucky and not been caught out in it when far from shelter, although I have been lightly sprinkled a few times. I have noticed that the hourly forecasts from the National Weather Service have gone to heck and can't be relied upon. As usual, the rain seems unevenly distributed around Flagstaff, apparently due to relatively small differences in altitude. My neighborhood generally gets a little more precipitation than some other neighborhoods.

My main concern is lightning. I normally don't care much about getting wet, although I have to admit that I went through two or three thunderstorms when I was going to Texas A&M that were unlike anything I have experienced before or since. East Texas thunderstorms can be like the inside of a dishwasher. You can get thoroughly soaked like you jumped into a swimming pool in a matter of 60 seconds or so. Thus far I have seen nothing so bad here although we do get lots of lightning and hail or graupel.

Life in the high country!

Monday, July 20, 2020


"Your axis on a tilt." - Stephen Jenkins. i.e. sorry about the horizon not being level. I know how to fix it but it takes a few minutes. This is a view of the eastern, dry side of the San Francisco  Peaks, near the city limits of Flagstaff. Sunflower season is upon us.

I can't explain all of the decisions I make from a rational standpoint. Sometimes I act on impulse or whim.

I went for a bicycle ride yesterday morning, an idea that started out as a moderate, easy ride on swift single track trail, and quickly grew into a monster involving forest road, highway, and the bike paths of the Flagstaff Urban Trail System (FUTS). Over 17 miles later, I arrived at my car, out of water, dehydrated to near muscle failure, and overheated. 

I knew perfectly well that electrolyte balance is a necessary consideration for exercise, but nonetheless abandoned the practice of maintaining it over the years, until M reminded me of it recently. She is a mother, and a fundamentally empathic person, and by example rather than confrontation "reminded" me that I should be using electrolytes.

I stopped at the nearest convenience store and picked up a large Gatorade and began my recovery.

I am not one of these people who thinks he is never wrong, because one of the defining characteristics of my personality is that I'm frequently wrong. After about age 12, you either go off into egomaniacal waste, or you learn the lessons about yourself and keep moving forward. I chose the latter many years ago. I'm sore, but clearly recovering.

Friday, July 17, 2020

Morning Runs

Muddy morning. Sunflower season should really blow up now that we've gotten some rain and it is mid-July. There is a fresh quality to the cool mountain mornings during the monsoon. Unfortunately this will all be houses in a year a two.

The monsoon season finally started behaving normally, which means I must go running before work if I want to run at all. Last evening my hoped for run got rained out so I arose early this morning and jogged around the sleepy the side streets of the nearby neighborhoods. Unfortunately I'm usually hungry all day when I run before work, and I end up eating all day, and I'm already too heavy. It's still worth it though.

When I bought my house, it was described as being on the wildland urban interface, but new construction is already bringing that to an end. The good news is that the demographers are now predicting the world population will stabilize sometime by the end of the century. I think we can assume that is a fuzzy prediction, but I'll take it. I'm hoping the new neighborhoods will put pressure on the city to finally build a pedestrian bridge along Woody Mountain Road to more safely cross the interstate into the remaining woods. That would be a positive side effect of the development.

Wednesday, July 15, 2020

Living in the Past

A sight by the stream last weekend.

This week has been one of looking backwards to the previous weekend. It was a busy, but good weekend, and I felt like my next post could not likely match it.

But life marches forth and it has been back to work. My mind busy, my body sore after a few days of exercise. I find I need a prolonged rest for my legs after hiking, paddling, carrying things, and riding a bicycle on Monday. This makes me impatient but I have learned that it is counterproductive to skip necessary rest.

I'm contemplating my next more distant road trip. Tonto Bridge State Park looks nice, but I'm certain is very hot right now. It may be nice in the fall.

Monday, July 13, 2020

The White Mountains, Arizona

Monsoon thunderstorms moving in over Crescent Lake in the White Mountains. The mountains look like hills here but the base elevation is over 9000 feet above sea level.

My girlfriend "M" and I spent last weekend in the White Mountains of eastern Arizona. This is an area I have wanted to visit ever since I read the essay "The Mountain," by Aldo Leopold, an important figure in the history of conservation, wildlife management, and environmentalism, back in the 1990s, if not earlier. I recall reading about the White Mountains in Arizona Highways magazine in the 80s. The White Mountains are the other extensive mountain range with high peaks in Arizona, aside from the San Francisco Peaks around Flagstaff. Visually they resemble the foothills, lesser ranges, and high plateaus of the Rocky Mountains, and it was refreshing to see so much surface water, including flowing streams, and lush green valleys with hay fields, grazing cattle, and elk. The region is very reminiscent of the verdant valleys of Colorado and New Mexico.

The plan was to do at least one hike and one paddling trip on a lake. Since we are in the middle of the North American monsoon, we knew we had to get things done early in the day. The drive to our Airbnb just outside of Alpine was over 3 hours, so I found a trail to hike on the way to break up the trip, one that would follow a flowing stream, something rare in this state, and we got hiking at 10 am sharp. The trail was Apache National Forest Trail #97 along the South Fork of the Little Colorado River. It was a small, bubbling creek with cool water.

The trail was fairly easy, although the air temperatures were relatively hot, despite the trail being around 7800 feet above sea level. The early part of the trail was well shaded but we soon broke out into a large burn scar that would persist until we decided to turn around.

The hot trail of the burn scar. Eventually it clouded up and made the return hike slightly more comfortable.

We saw plenty of birds and insects. The trail generally follows the stream uphill but moves away in places and much of the course is lined with dense brush including young aspens and a tree that M tentatively identified as tamarisk. We finally found a place where free range cattle or wildlife obviously have pushed their way down to the water, but not recently. We settled in for lunch on a shady rock in the middle of the stream. It was very pleasant with the stream and shade cooling the hot day. We spent perhaps 20 or 30 minutes relaxing there.

Lunch spot on the South Fork of the Little Colorado River. This water ends up in the Grand Canyon.

Monsoon clouds and raindrops in a pool of the Little Colorado River. There were some water striders too, but we definitely got sprinkled on in this spot.

I had noted early signs of monsoon moisture building cloud in the direction of the higher peaks. These clouds grew steadily throughout the morning and I insisted we get moving. I have been caught out in thunderstorms a few times over the years and it isn't an enjoyable experience. The growing clouds provided some shade through the extensive burn scar that had been hot hiking on the way upstream, and it was easier walking downhill back towards the car. Eventually it started sprinkling intermittently and broke into a light rain for just a few seconds at one point. We started passing groups of people heading out even as the storms were looking ever more threatening. We were lucky and got back to the car without getting soaked or zapped and headed to our Airbnb rental outside Alpine.

The Airbnb was a modest place, a "modular home" set onto a foundation, kitted out as a cabin, with wood paneling on walls and ceiling. It wasn't great. The appliances and furniture were old but the bathrooms were clean. We settled in for a nap, burgers, and then headed over to nearby Luna Lake to get in a second hike. There was no official trail but we followed some fishing trails and enjoyed the waterfowl and the mountains. The air cooled off with a few sprinkles but no thunder.

Luna Lake. It kind of looks like Scotland here but it was actually green and lovely. The rain clouds are making it look gloomier than it was. We got sprinkled on here too.

We returned and enjoyed the evening on the deck of the Airbnb house, watched hummingbirds buzz us, apparently two different species, and were serenaded by a bull elk somewhere nearby. I heard him in the middle of the night, and heard the hummingbirds again in the early light of the next morning. We packed up early, handed the keys back to the host, and headed over towards Big Lake, where we planned to kayak and enjoy the views of Mount Baldy, the highest mountain in the range at 11,409 ft.

The drive over to the lake was amazing and the road climbed up into high country that was reminiscent of some of the higher areas in Colorado and New Mexico, especially US highway 64 that crosses over the Rockies between Tres Piedras and Tierra Amarilla in New Mexico. It features high parks and fir forests with aspen groves, though there are many signs of wildfire and possibly bark beetle damage. I have no patience for these people who will not behave responsibly with camp fires. It isn't that difficult, and it's a small minority that feel entitled to a fire even during burn bans; thoughtless, selfish people.

I suggested we listen to an audio book recording of "The Mountain" because it refers directly to the landscape we were driving through and was therefore as poignant as possible in the modern era. Unfortunately I somewhat forgot the melancholy and wistful nature of the writing as Aldo Leopold had been stationed there as a US Forest Service ranger in the early 1900s and the essay contains his regrets about his participation in the extermination of the last of the wild wolves from the region. He also related a tale of a government trapper who killed the last grizzly bear on Escudilla Mountain, which looms over the northern and western parts of the range and can be seen from a hundred miles away. Eventually Leopold became a professor at the University of Wisconsin and developed an understanding of the unintended consequences of making the mountains safe for human economic development by removing the wild predators. He wrote that what seemed good for humans at first, was bad for the mountain, and as a consequence, eventually bad for humans too. It was sadly moving but informative. It's one of my favorite essays of all time, and has influenced the modern environmentalist movement.

Panorama of Big Lake. Click for larger version. Mount Baldy is on the horizon left of center, the fifth highest peak in Arizona.

Big Lake is at 9,000 feet above sea level and Mount Baldy is visible from most of it. There are a couple of boat launches and other points where small craft could easily be launched. There are fishing boats on the lake, but no jet skis or speedboats, so it's a good place for kayaking. M has an inflatable kayak. I chose to bring one of my hard shell, closed deck whitewater kayaks because I haven't had it out of the garage in a couple of years. I was very comfortable paddling it but the spray skirt was almost impossible to get on the boat after two dry years in storage for the rubber rand. It's always been a tight fit, good for hard whitewater, but I think I'll order a bungie cord type of spray skirt because my days of hard whitewater are probably over and the bungie cord rands are easier to get on.

We saw numerous fish flop on the surface, a great blue heron, and numerous other waterfowl and soaring birds, along with an osprey. The scenery was amazing and we paddled about half of the lake before returning. Thunderstorms were brewing over the high country and the skies were awe inspiring.

Our lunch view of Crescent Lake from a ramada. My friends and family back east may know this as a "pavilion," but out west they always call them by the Spanish word ramada.

After loading up, we drove a few miles to another high country lake a bit closer to Baldy and found a ramada for a picnic lunch. It was a nice, quiet place in terms of people, but soon we heard thunder. There were a few more booms before we finished and loaded up to head home. It was a great weekend and my travel bug has been satisfied enough to last me a few more months.

The drive from Crescent Lake to Springerville was astonishing, featuring high, rolling sub-alpine grassland, ponds, marshes, and distant peaks. I think that is the summit of Escudilla Mountain in the distance, 10,916 feet above sea level. I hadn't realized there was such a large area of high country in the White Mountains.

High desert on the drive home. These are isolated cinder cone volcanoes on the Colorado Plateau, with monsoon storms building over the triple-digit surface of the desert. My car thermometer read as high as 105 degrees as we passed through the Painted Desert between Holbrook and Flagstaff - huge contrast to the high country of the White Mountains. That's Arizona for ya.


Friday, July 10, 2020


Nothing homemadešŸ˜¬ I love fish.

I have difficulty focusing on Fridays. I call this Friday-itis. It's a disease of mood.

I have a lot going on this coming weekend and I think I'm either going to have to move my planned Monday off or else take part of the day to call into a conference call. The situation is annoying but I remind myself that at least I have a job. I guess it isn't that big of a deal.

As you get older, this approach seems to dominate my philosophy. In the end, almost nothing that can happen to you as an individual is that big of a deal.

Thursday, July 9, 2020

Thankful Thursday

"The whole conviction of my life now rests upon the belief that loneliness, far from being a rare and curious phenomenon, is the central and inevitable fact of human existence." - Thomas Wolfe, American novelist.

I am very grateful for all the people in my life, especially my wonderful girlfriend, who has rescued me from a very long, very lonely period of my life, which has generally been a lonely life anyway.

There are many other things I'm thankful for: my beautiful house, my personal freedom, a good job, and my wonderful pets.

Work has been somewhat busy and I'm learning new skills. One more day of on call and then I'm free for a few more weeks. Two more call cycles and summer will be over. It's astonishing how quickly it passes.

Wednesday, July 8, 2020


Bicycle helmet. We had a small catalog to choose what we wanted.

Today I got my gift for 5 years of service at my current job. It looks pretty slick but I may add reflective tape to it since it is black.

The cats got their 5 year gift as well: the box it came in.
Scuff, scuff, scratch.

Over the last week or so the cats have walked on my keyboard so many times that I have found random text in documentation I was writing, code files, they have closed applications I was using, and typed a garbled message into Slack and sent it. I love my cats but they are evil.

Tuesday, July 7, 2020

Afternoon Lounge Music

Sade Adu in 2011. Ninoska YĆ©venes / CC BY (

My favorite lounge song. Ok, it's more like "lounge rock."

Absurdly windy today, no monsoon for a few more days.

Sunday, July 5, 2020

No Monsoon

The waterfall in Picture Canyon. This is the only perennially flowing waterfall in the Flagstaff area, but it is fed by a sewage treatment plant. It's nice to look at though.

The Monsoon started, dropped a good quantity of rain, then left, and shows no sign of returning. This is the biggest downer since the COVID-19 lockdown. We went for a short hike today but the doggle got her paws burned on the lava sand and we had to cut it short. It's too hot, too dry.

We looked at the moon and Jupiter last night but I couldn't get my telescope to calibrate for some reason. I've done it many times before successfully but my usual targets weren't above the horizon until late. We still got to see the bands of color on Jupiter and at least 3 moons though.

Back to work tomorrow and we have a weekend excursion to look forward to next week. That's good because I am feeling very low at the moment.

Thursday, July 2, 2020

Freedom and Happiness

Freedom makes me happy.

America's self-loathing may finally have crested out. It was bound to happen. I still celebrate our independence and feel very grateful to live in the Land of the Free and be able to vote for my own government. I pity those who have not learned the lesson that a society with individual freedom and basic civil rights is better than any other system yet devised. The solution to unequal experiences of freedom is more freedom, not less.

This is a happy holiday for me and I intend to proceed as usual.

This has been a very busy week for me but it's Friday on Thursday and I'm looking forward to a day off and a long weekend.

Monday, June 29, 2020


Brace yourselves, Independence Day is coming. Some of us still fly the flag without irony.

The normal dates for the beginning of the monsoon are quickly approaching but the forecast remains ambiguous as to whether or not it will deliver moisture. Unfortunately there is a high pressure area forming that resembles some that have stifled the monsoon in past years. That said, the weather is changeable right now, which is welcome, and the air temps are cool.

Back to work today. Independence Day is coming and I have arranged a three day weekend. For some reason, people tend to refer to it as the "Fourth of July," which is merely the date. Maybe it's a pet peeve, but people seem to have forgotten the reason this country exists, and I like to refer to it by the official name: Independence Day.

Friday, June 26, 2020


Armand Gautier / Public domain (Detail)

Every few weeks I have a 1 to 3 day crazy period where I'm a little off. I think I just went through one and still not sure if I'm out of it. It's characterized by circular irritation and saying awkward things. I don't really think it's caused by stress although perhaps that is a contributing factor, because the fact of the matter is that I have always been this way since I was a child. It almost seems to be cyclical. I have to let it out once in a while.

On the other hand I have been thinking about how it will likely be another year before we have a readily available vaccine for the novel coronavirus, if in fact we get one. I don't want to think about what if we don't? There is a little stress there.

When I'm like this, I never know what I'm going to say next, and indeed, I got mildly outrageous on a meeting yesterday. I'm trying to shrug that off.

At least it is Friday and I hit my weight target for the week.

Thursday, June 25, 2020

Bryan, not Ryan, Adams

Marco Maas / CC BY (

I rarely admit to being a fan (fanatic) of anyone. It dates back to my adolescent years. Engaging in hero-worship inevitably ends up in disappointment because people are humans and their imperfections are always eventually revealed. But in the musical sense there are some people whose work I have always liked to near that point. Some songs are better than others but I consistently like everything at least to a degree. One of these is the Canadian singer/songwriter Bryan Adams.

Bryan was one of the earliest rock stars that I would unapologetically state that I liked. Prior to that, there were very few non-christian recording artists that I would admit to liking. Still love his music.

If I had to criticize it in any way, then Bryan Adams tends to be derivative, however I have always perceived this as much as tribute, or simple affection for the style, as copycat behavior. Every artist is influenced by previous artists anyway so to me, it's ok to imitate another artist's style as long as you don't infringe copyright.

There are elements of Beatles songs in "This Time," Rolling Stones in many of his songs, Blue Oyster Cult in another huge hit "Run to You," and probably some others that I'm not thinking of right now. His sense of melody is wonderful, and in just a few years in the early to mid 1980s he wrote or co-wrote numerous hits both for himself and other artists, including Joe Cocker, .38 Special, Roger Daltry, and the Canadian band Glass Tiger. He charted additional hits in the 1990s and even wrote a hit for one of the Spice Girls in the early 2000s for her solo album.

Bryan Adams wrote so many hits that he gave away some that he merely thought didn't have the right characteristics for his personal material or sound. Although most of his songs have co-writing credits for others, these were typically producers he was contracted to. They really just arrange music but the co-writing credit is a way for producers to make money from their efforts.

Ironically, my favorite album of his has long been Into the Fire, which has a very different sound. Unfortunately it wasn't as well received as his more guitar-pop oriented albums and he went back to making pop music (and had several more huge hits).

Heavy Cloud No Rain

First sprinkling in several weeks a couple of days ago.

Flagstaff is in a very dry period, which is normal for this time of year. We had a very short sprinkling on Tuesday. It lasted only about 3 minutes or so, just enough to wet surfaces and raise the distinctive pungent smell of a rain after a period of drought. In the southwest, you will hear people say, "It smells like rain," when a storm is approaching and you catch the scent on the wind.

The trails and forest roads continue to be bone dry and covered in "moon dust." It gets into everything and I have to walk directly into the shower immediately when I get home from trail running every time, sheets of dirty water circling the drain.

There is another slim chance for rain this weekend and then more dry until the monsoon arrives. The National Weather Service says the leading indicator is water temps in the Gulf of California, and those are not quite high enough yet. Likely we will not have any significant rain until after Independence Day.

It brings to mind this old song by Sting.

"We look to the sky
But we look in vain
Heavy cloud but no rain"

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

Training and Recovery

Trail running at the Highlands Trail yesterday, Flagstaff. It was a sea of dust and pollen.

I'm continuing with my rumination on aging again today, this time on the topic of athletics.

Every summer I get overtrained in the legs due mostly to running and bicycling. Usually this starts to resolve itself around August, but I find it necessary to take an entire week off at some point, usually June or July. The problem is that getting in shape after your low 30s takes a certain amount of maintenance just to retain your base fitness. Making progress becomes more difficult than it was in your 20s.

Taking an extra day off means that your next workout is not likely to make forward progress. Instead, you will merely be preventing yourself from losing your gains. Speaking from experience, after age 34 to 35, gains tend not to be loyal.

If you take two extra days off, you will likely lose some small amount of fitness and need more than two workouts to get it back, in addition to normal recovery days.

If you take an entire week off, it will take more than a week to regain your fitness. I'm 46 and it seems to take me about 10 to 14 days to get back to where I was before I took time off. Since I took time off in the first place due to being overtrained, this assumes I can avoid injury or going into an overtrained state again.

Monday, June 22, 2020


Youth vs. Adulthood

I expected aging to involve a degree of physical and mental deterioration that would be uncomfortable, but an aspect I did not expect was the feeling that time is getting away from me. Once I got into my forties I started to feel as though time was flying and I was rushing towards the end of my life like a runaway train. I try not to dwell on it but sometimes I experience an urgency about accomplishing things. There is this realization that there won't be enough time and money to do everything I thought I would or travel to every place I thought I would see.

I suppose I have difficulty living in the present and look to the future too much. I know many people become very happy and complacent with their lives in middle age and accept aging gracefully, but I have yet to get that feeling. I'm not sure it's in my character.

Friday, June 19, 2020

History and Choices

The officers quarters at Fort Loudoun State Park in Tennessee, 2012. This is a recreation of a colonial era fort, hence the red coat in the painting.

I read a lot of military history. For every war, there is a debate about whether the outcome could have been different. For every such debate, there are a bunch of professional historians that argue the outcome of the war was inevitable based upon initial conditions. It's like they can't think outside of the historiography. Initial conditions are important but for the most part choices direct outcomes. We call it a choice because the decision isn't predetermined.

If we consider a lifetime as a personal history, the same thing applies. Initial conditions are important, but outcomes are mostly a consequence of your choices. I will always believe that I could have done more with my life, but also recognize that I could have done worse. A few times I came close to disaster but somehow made it through.

Hiking tomorrow in the high country. It hasn't rained in weeks at my house and no sign of the monsoon yet. We could use some rain but at least we won't have to worry about lightning.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

The Verde River - TAPCO to Tuzigoot Bridge

From a trip on Monday, June 15, 2020.

The TAPCO RAP launch site. A pueblo is just visible on the mountainside at center (much more visible in person).

My girlfriend graciously arranged for a float trip down the Verde River in Clarkdale, Arizona last Monday. Her father is a river steward and is very familiar with a commonly floated section. We were all on inflatable kayaks as a group of 5. The Verde is one of very few perennially flowing streams in Arizona, and with the possible exception of the Salt, is probably the most accessible.

The Verde flows through north-central Arizona through a series of canyons and valleys to the Salt River. It features stretches of relatively calm paddling interspersed with shoals, good scenery with towering colorful mountains, a pueblo that is visible from the river just down from the launch, vegetation, and wildlife. More remote sections feature some more difficult whitewater. The easily accessible section in Clarkdale from the TAPCO River Access Point (RAP) to the Tuzigoot RAP features rapids up to about class I+ (maybe class II at very low water). It was swifter than I expected and I was told that the June water levels are about as low as it ever gets.

Cattle were a common site both on the road and river.

The water quality was quite good, though there are cattle roaming around in the open range in which the TAPCO launch site is located (TAPCO was the name of The Arizona Power Company, later APS, and an old power plant was located just upstream of the launch). After living in Arizona for over 5 years, it is always refreshing to see a flowing river with abundant life along the banks. It's become a somewhat rare sight for me and I hunt places within range of Flagstaff where flowing water can be seen.

This section of the Verde features mostly very long pools with rock shoal drops consisting of wave trains. The most significant rapids are Willow and Boulder, the later of which has more of the quality of a rock garden drop. Willow flows in a very narrow channel swiftly along the left bank for a few dozen yards with a modest wave train. It was the most fun. Boulder was quite low and everyone got stuck except me, though I had the benefit of seeing people get stuck before me to choose my line. I eddied out, picked a line along the left and slid over shallow rock into the pool below. 

Aside from the cattle, we spotted various birds and fish. There were catchable size fish jumping periodically. The air was filled with birdsong and insects. I saw a couple of dragonflies, a rare sight in Arizona. The forest along the banks was dominated by cottonwood and what I presume to be willows, but we also saw some catclaw, a notorious bush that grows in the surrounding high desert. There were even some ferns in the well-watered river bottom.

The remains of a diversion dam.

We had one swimmer on the day, the victim of one of the sharper eddy lines where an old "diversion dam" failed recently. This was a structure meant to provide a pool of water to feed into irrigation canals or aqueducts. The decision was made to not replace it.

It was not a bad day for swimming, with a high of around 96 F, though we got an early start and avoided the heat of the day. The water temps were cooler though, and this moderated the heat. Clarkdale is around 3500 ft above sea level, which in Arizona means that it is a very hot time of year and moving any significant distance from the banks brought you into the dry blast furnace of Arizona June. All the better to be on the water.

A quiet place we setup folding chairs for the afternoon while the kids went swimming.

Friday, June 12, 2020

Heat and Paddling

Meanwhile, in 2006 . . .
Hiwassee River, Tennessee. May 28, 2006.

As evidenced by the history of this blog, I used to spend quite a bit of time on whitewater. In fact, in the years prior to starting the blog it was what I did with most of my free time. I was either paddling or planning and preparing to paddle. When I lived in the southeast, we went all year round. That is very difficult to do in the western US due to a relative lack of water most of the year and the presence of snow and ice in the high elevations. Anyway my lower back no longer tolerates the long periods confined to the cockpit of a closed-deck kayak. Nonetheless every summer I look longingly at my friends photos of paddling on a hot day.

I haven't been paddling in over two years at this point, due to a variety of factors: the death of my father, injury, moving into my house, etc. Paddling takes a little bit of effort and you have to be motivated to go do it. Hopefully that will come to an end on the upcoming three day weekend. If everything goes according to plan, I will be able to add another stream to my river list. It's going to be hot and I am going to be on a river. I can't wait.

Better yet, I won't be on call as of 5 pm today!

Wednesday, June 10, 2020

Ryan, not Bryan, Adams

By 6tee-zeven - Originally uploaded to Flickr as Ryan Adams, CC BY 2.0,

Ryan Adams is usually described as an indy rocker, folk rocker, or a country rock recording artist. It's not unexpected that he is frequently confused with the Canadian guitar-rock legend Bryan Adams, but Ryan Adams is from North Carolina and it shows. I think it's reasonable to confuse a few of their songs, but Ryan (not Bryan) Adams is clearly an independent creative force. I'm also a huge fan of Bryan Adams, who seems like a nicer guy and has many more hits, but is also a highly commercial artist.

Since Ryan writes country rock, the music can be a little bit of a downer upon prolonged listening, but he really is a brilliant lyricist. On the other hand he released an entire cover of Taylor Swift's album 1989, played in his own style. It was a remarkable move that completely contradicted his entire career up until that point, and it was successful and well reviewed.

This is a sample of his original songwriting.

Nobody Girl