Thursday, July 30, 2020

Levitation

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.


https://www.cinemablend.com/news/2496458/no-country-for-old-men-ending-explained-what-was-tommy-lee-jones-talking-about

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

Age

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

Rain

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

Electrolytes

"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.

Cheers.

Friday, July 10, 2020

Friday-itis


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

Anniversaries

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 (https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/3.0)

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.