Sunday, September 27, 2015

It's that bloody moon

"And I will show wonders in the heavens and in the earth, blood, and fire, and pillars of smoke. The sun shall be turned into darkness, and the moon into blood, before the great and the terrible day of the LORD come."
--Joel 2:30-31

Tonight marks the occurrence of the "Blood Moon" -- a combination of a normal total lunar eclipse and a "supermoon" (i.e., when the moon is at the nearest point to earth in its elliptical orbit).  Pretty cool, although I wasn't able to spot it low on the horizon from where I live, being surrounded by trees, street lights, and other obstacles.  As I write this (at 8:45 p.m., PDT), the moon appears as a crescent, as I view it as it leaves eclipse mode and rises in the eastern sky.

But the excitement, according to some, is yet to come.

Irvin Baxter, well known philosopher and theologian of "Endtime Ministries" of Plano, Texas, notes that tonight's occurrence marks the fourth "blood moon" in the past four years, a coincidence that constitutes a "tetrad."  These tetrads suggest big events in the offing.  Baxter believes this one precedes the signing of a peace agreement between Palestine and Israel.

I don't need to tell you that such a treaty would be a certain indication that only Seven Years remained until Armageddon and the Second Coming of Christ.  Which would mean the end of the New York Stock Exchange and the World Cup Soccer matches, among other disturbances to our daily lives.

Tetrads are only minimally rare.  We had one in 1982, and will have another in 2033.  In cosmic terms,  or even biblical terms, those are fairly short periods of time.  Although it's true that bad things occasionally happened to the Jewish people at roughly the time of past tetrads -- the Spanish Inquisition, the Six Day War -- that coincidence doesn't sound too amazing, and it leaves a lot of tetrads occurring when not much exciting happened.  That would include, of course, the most recent 1982 tetrad.

NASA assures us that nothing in the natural order seems to threaten life on earth in the next decades.  The Church of Latter Day Saints denies that the current tetrad means anything.  Pope Francis leaves America seeming cheerful and unconcerned.  The Bible itself seems fairly clear that only God knows the hour and the day when Christ returns (Matt. 24:36), and that He will come "unexpectedly as a thief in the night." (I Thess. 5:2)

All this should be reassuring.  Or if not reassuring in the larger sense, at least reassuring with respect to tonight's "blood moon."

But Baxter and others seem to feel that although only God may know the time of the Second Coming, he has slyly inserted a few clues in portions of the Bible for the benefit of canny and crafty scholars like Irvin Baxter.  In other words, God has inscrutably leaked secret information under the guise of "a usually reliable source."

Perhaps the heavens will indeed soon fall.  But I'm not losing any sleep tonight over the prospect.  The heavens will fall for each of us as individuals, I suspect, long before the Final Catastrophe wipes away the old earth on which we live.
P.S. It's now 9:10 p.m., and the moon appears as though a mouse had just taken a small nibble off one side of its round disk of green cheese.  It's bloody days are over, for now, and it shines down upon us mortals with its usual silvery radiance. 

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Coast to Coast trail -- part 2

Kirkby Stephen is a small, picturesque village in eastern Cumbria (neé Westmorland), snuggled down at the base of the Pennine mountains -- the range that bisects England from north to south.

Perspicacious readers of this blog -- which surely includes you all -- will recall that Kirkby Stephen was the eastern terminus of my hike in May, as I marched resolutely from the Irish Sea, up and down across the high fells of the Lake District, and thence over the rolling hills of Westmorland. 

I'm pleased to announce that I will complete the Coast to Coast hike next July, returning to Kirkby Stephen as our starting point.  Rather than hike alone this time, I'll be joined by five members of my family, including my six-year-old niece Maury.  I completed our bookings yesterday, and all has been confirmed.  The company through which I arrange the hike is -- even as we speak -- booking the ten nights' accommodations that will be required to put up our motley Yankee crew as we traverse the Sceptered Isle..

We will hike a total of 112 miles in nine days of hiking.  I've arranged for us to have a rest day in the market town of Richmond after the third day of hiking, and an extra day once we reach the North Sea, at the picturesque coastal village of Robin Hood's Bay.

Our first day's hike will lead us out of Westmorland ("Cumbria," if you insist), over the Pennines and into Yorkshire.  From that point on, we will be hiking through the Yorkshire Dales and over the North Yorkshire Moors.  All just names to me now, but places that will be fixed indelibly in my mind by the time the hike has been completed.

Actually, Yorkshire will not be totally new to me.  I was a callow lad of 21, off by myself between terms of study in Italy, when I rented a bike in York for a week, and biked a loop around northern Yorkshire.  At one point, I found myself out on the moors -- the same moors we will cross next July -- as night fell, with no accommodations in sight.  I rolled off the road, curled up in a ball, and slept my way fitfully through a rather chilly night.  Luckily, it was June 21, the shortest night of the year.  I eventually made it to the coastal resort town of Scarborough, where I stayed in a youth hostel. (Several shillings a night -- less than a dollar in those uninflated days)

This ancient history is vaguely relevant, because Robin Hood's Bay is a bit north of Scarborough, and -- our trip at an end -- we will need to take a bus to Scarborough where we will find our closest access to the British railway system for our return to London.

How will young Maury hike those 110 miles, you may well ask?  Well, she probably won't.  Her parents plan to take turns each day traveling with her by bus to the next night's lodging or -- if the area is not served by buses -- begging a ride from the van that carries our bags while we hike happily with only a daypack to burden us.  Maury's parents assure me that finding their way will be an adventure, and that neither of them will mind missing certain days of the hike.

July is a long time in the future, but it's fun to make these arrangements now, and ponder the experience far in advance.  If the first half of the Coast to Coast was any indication, it will be a highly enjoyable and memorable experience for us all.

Monday, September 21, 2015


Poltergeists make up the principal type of spontaneous material manifestation.
--"Pup Dog" in Walt Kelly's Pogo comic strip  (his only line of dialogue other than "wurf! wurf!")

If my lawn had not grown to scandalous heights, I would never have dreamed of mowing it in September.  But it had, and I did.  Dreamed of mowing it, that is.

As I may have mentioned, in these parts we don't water our lawns in summer.  By July they grow brownish -- let's say beige -- and stop growing.  No growing, no mowing.  Sometimes the rains come late enough in the fall that the lawns turn green, but otherwise put off growing until spring.  But this year, no.  My lawn was definitely getting out of hand.

So yesterday, I dragged the mower out of the garage, filled it with gas, and pulled the cord.  Or tried to.  It wouldn't start.  This wasn't one of those irritating first mows of the year when you repeatedly pull the cord all the way out, and the motor refuses to turn over.  This was something I've never experienced before.  The cord pulled about four inches and then stopped cold.  Nothing I could do would persuade it to pull out farther, whether I coaxed it slowly and gently, or yanked it with all the fury that I was beginning to feel.

I turned the mower upside down to see if the blade was stuck?  No.  I opened any available apertures to check for problems.  Nothing.

I reconciled myself to buying a new mower.  I dragged the infuriating machine back into the garage, changed back into civilian, non-mowing clothes, and watched the Seahawks.

The Seahawks lost, but that's another story.

By the time that the Packer green and gold was dancing for joy all over my TV screen, it was time for bed.  I went upstairs, began getting undressed, unbuckled my belt -- and the belt fell  apart.  The buckle fell off.  On a fairly new and still attractive belt.  Inspection showed that a tiny screw connecting the buckle to a metal plate that covered the end of the belt was severed.  The belt was useless.

Note to self:  Buy new belt.  Wear shorts tomorrow until mission accomplished.

Seconds later, I climbed into bed with a portion of the Sunday paper I hadn't yet read.  I leaned back on my pillow.  The backboard collapsed against the wall.  What the .....!!!!  A tiny screw (you see a common thread here?), connecting the headboard to the upright post, was severed.  It was irreparable, although fortunately the collapse had no effect on my immediate ability to sleep in the bed.

Let's review the bidding.  Within a few hours:

1.  Lawn mower unexpectedly and inexplicably can't be started.

2.  Tiny screw is severed, making belt unusable.

3.  Tiny screw is severed, forcing me to buy a new bed frame.

Odd coincidence, you may say, but of course merely a coincidence.  I hear you chuckle at my paranoia, my superstition even?

Perhaps you recall that, almost exactly three years ago,  I related how my house cleaner quit.  The scheduler working for the service that provided her advised me that she claimed my house was haunted.  I scoffed.  The scheduler laughed with me, nervously, and informed me that another house cleaner had quit a couple of years earlier, also claiming to be alarmed by "paranormal events" happening in my house. 

I hardly took any of this seriously, except for perhaps that first night at about 2 a.m.. when I awoke and lay in bed wondering if -- as the latest cleaning woman had suggested to her employer -- I had never noticed ghostly presences in my house because I wasn't "sensitive" enough, because I simply wasn't paying attention to what was happening under my very nose -- my insensitive nose.  I sincerely hoped, at 2 a.m., that -- should this be true -- I would continue blissfully unaware in my insensitivity.

So.  I claim nothing.  I don't believe in poltergeists.  I don't think I do.  According to someone, presumably an expert, named Gordon Randall Garrrett, "The poltergeist phenomenon is usually spectacular and is nearly always associated with teen-age neurotics."

I'm neither a teenager nor a neurotic.

Shut up!

I've got to buy a new lawn mower.

Saturday, September 19, 2015

Take the bus -- leave the driving to us!

Gabriel Campanerio, Seattle Times

Progress!  Yesterday, the demolition crew made short work of Seattle's downtown Greyhound bus depot at 8th and Stewart, clearing an entire block for construction of a new hotel.  The mission-styled depot, with Spanish tiled roof, had stared listlessly at the street, vacant and boarded up, for about a year, awaiting its obvious fate. 

Greyhound has left its downtown location and moved south to a new depot, near the football and baseball stadiums.

I can't say that I have a lot of nostalgic memories centered on the Seattle depot.  While in grad and law school, I did take the bus a number of times south to my home town, but the train service was better and more enjoyable.  The depot -- like Greyhound depots virtually everywhere in recent years (decades) -- was a bit scary.  It was filled with people looking for the cheapest way to travel, and with others who looked as though they had no destination -- in life or in travel -- and had just come in out of the cold. 

Although I won't really miss the Seattle depot, I do have nostalgic memories from undergraduate days of bussing by Greyhound between my home in Southwest Washington and San Francisco.  Again, I probably took the train more often, but the bus was cheaper, and in some ways more interesting.

Because my travel always fell during school breaks, the buses were filled with fellow students also going home for the holidays.  Their company made bus travel more sociable, and certainly more comfortable psychologically.  We stopped for breaks every two or three hours; I have vivid memories of waking up as we pulled into Redding or Medford in the middle of the night.  Medford at about 2 a.m. had a dreamlike quality as we staggered off the bus into a nearly empty station -- a few locals hanging around listlessly, as though waiting for a long-delayed Portland stagecoach to come through.  In fact, most stations had a café called a "Post House," a name that did call to mind earlier forms of horse-drawn transportation, but where you could now buy a less romantic burger and coke.

Maybe because the trip by bus took longer than that by train, it seemed to awaken stronger emotions -- especially when I was still a homesick freshman: a gradually intensifying sense of joy as the palm trees and the flat agricultural lands of the Sacramento valley were left behind and the highway crossed the forested Siskiyous into the green world of Oregon; a feeling of gloom returning the other direction, as the miles between myself and my family increased.

After leaving school, I still took the bus occasionally.  I recall, sometime in my twenties, sitting in the San Francisco bus depot, waiting for some friends I was visiting to pick me up.  I think that was the first time I realized how depressing a bus depot could really be -- not the dull architecture so much as the feelings of hopelessness I could read in the faces of the crowds sitting about me.  When one of my friends finally arrived, cheerful and full of greetings, I perhaps only imagined a sense of resentment in my gloomy fellow depot-mates -- as though a bright angel had descended into hell and assured me, in full view of the damned, that a mistake had been made and that his chariot awaited to carry me off to salvation.

I've been told that Greyhound service has become substantially more upscale in recent years -- actually enjoyable to ride.  I rarely see Greyhound buses anymore, but when I do see them, they appear sleek and comfortable.  I'm tempted to check out the new Seattle bus station, and see how it looks.

I'll be less interested in how modern the building appears than in watching the people waiting in the depot, in seeing whether their eyes still display the hopelessness and despair that I recall from that experience in San Francisco.

Tuesday, September 15, 2015

Berkeley 2015

As noted in a post last spring, the University of California had offered my great niece admission to its freshman class in the College of Natural Resources.  Maya accepted that offer, and began classes a couple of weeks ago.

On Sunday, while visiting with family in Sonoma, I traveled to Berkeley -- together with Maya's mother, step father, and younger sister -- to see how Maya was doing.  I can only assume that she's doing fine in her classes -- we didn't talk much about class work, so early in the term -- but it's amply apparent that she has fit in admirably with her classmates and dorm mates, and with the entire Berkeley zeitgeist.

I'd been on the Berkeley campus several times in the past, but each time while caught up in a great hysteria over an afternoon's football game.  I didn't see much farther than the stadium.   "Cal" was a word that formed nothing but half of the phrase "Beat Cal," so far as my undergraduate self was concerned.  And, perhaps, even some of my older selves.

But now, as an older, wiser human being, less prone to wild hormonal swings and with fewer pronounced tendencies to see all things -- including the merits of every college but my own -- in Manichean terms of black and white, evil and virtue, I'm happy to report that I found the Berkeley campus to be quite handsome, both in its natural beauty and in its monumental architecture.  And that -- even more surprising -- I found Cal students -- at least those members of the Cal student body I had the pleasure of meeting -- to be quite charming and seemingly highly intelligent.

Who'd a thunk it?

We visited Maya's floor of her dorm, a floor occupied by both men and women.  I knew all about, and was expecting, this bi-gender living arrangement, but it contrasted vividly with my own memories of women's dorms that served as closely guarded fortified castles -- castles that permitted male presence only under highly restrictive conditions and for severely limited periods of time, castles whose drawbridges were raised nightly at a relatively early hour -- preventing both entrance and egress.

Nowadays, guys and girls share communal rest rooms, brushing their teeth nightly, side by side:  An activity that would have been hard to envision, back in days when it would have been equally hard to
imagine women eating dinner -- or wanting to -- side by side with men in the same dining hall.  ("Dining halls" are now something of a misnomer; dorm residents today eat all over campus in pleasant buildings that look like public cafeterias, open from the street.)

Not only have the dorms changed, but so has the zeitgeist.  I went to school just as student unrest was becoming the defining characteristic of American universities -- and it was the Berkeley campus that was leading the charge.  Now?  Well, Maya and her classmates had a class assignment to organize a protest, and, apparently, to document their achievement.  They pounced on the crisis presented by California's current severe drought, and organized a (tiny) protest against the watering of lawns.  My family was drafted to swell the number of participants that were to appear in photographs of this somewhat smallish demonstration.

But I'm now proud to say that I did not go through life without participating in a Berkeley student protest.

I enjoyed the day's visit immensely, liked the campus, was happy to see Maya so happy.  And I was gratified to realize how smoothly I could make, for a day, the mental transition back to being an undergraduate -- assisted by the tactful willingness of Maya's friends to feign belief that we fell into an age grouping only a few years beyond graduation.

And the best part of our "return to campus" was of course this: When Maya finally told us that she really had to finish schoolwork for her next day's classes -- we simply hugged goodbye, jumped into our car, and returned to our adult lives, adult lives free of burning midnight oil and of nagging guilt over still unwritten essays..

Wednesday, September 9, 2015

View Master

Today is the day that Queen Elizabeth became the longest reigning monarch in British history, surpassing even the amazingly long reign of Queen Victoria. 

I was regaling my Facebook readers with news of this anniversary, noting that, as a lad, I had collected View-Master reels of scenes from her magnificent 1953 coronation.  As I did so, it occurred to me that most of my audience probably had no idea what a "View-Master" was.  I duly noted this sad fact in my post, and told them -- in so many words -- that, for purposes of my subject, if they had no idea what I was talking about, it really wasn't worth explaining. This disclaimer applies to so much of what I say on Facebook that it was accepted without comment.

But I was hit by twin waves of nostalgia and curiosity -- whatever happened to the ubiquitous View-Master?

As the photos suggest, the View-Master was a device designed to give the viewer stereoscopic images.  The "reel" or disc, when slipped into the viewer, gave each of your eyes a slightly different view of the subject -- just as your eyes view objects in real life -- and your brain combined the two images into a three-dimensional image.  Each reel contained fourteen photographic slides, which produced seven 3-D images, one following another as the reel was turned by clicking a lever.

The viewer was so simple to operate, and the reels so easy to load, that the device was ideal for children.  But, at least in those halcyon days when I owned my viewer, View-Masters were also quite popular with adults -- not just for the stereoscopic effect but for the scenic subject matter: color slide film for cameras and slide projectors did exist by that time, but were not widely owned or used.

View-Master reels made good, inexpensive gifts for both adults and children.  I owned many reels of national parks -- which also could be purchased at gift shop souvenir counters in the parks themselves.  I had a number of reels showing scenes from fairy tales and Disney movies.  I believe View-Master gave me my introduction to Rudolph the Red-Nosed Reindeer.  And, of course, there was Queen Elizabeth's coronation. 

After several years of post World War I development, View-Master was acquired and marketed by Sawyer's, Inc. -- the nation's leading producer of picture post cards -- and introduced to the public at the New York World's Fair in 1939.  Its golden years appear to have been during the 1950s -- the very time that I  owned mine and was mulling over the elaborate rituals in Westminster Abbey.

View-Master was sold to another company in 1966, a purchaser which subsequently marketed the viewer and reels primarily as children's toys.  The views of scenery and National Parks were largely replaced by images from TV shows and cartoons. 

So what finally happened to View-Master?  Why did it disappear?  The answer is that it didn't.  It's still around.  In fact, according to Wikipedia, 2015 is the year View-Master goes digital.  Instead of viewing tiny slides set in a cardboard reel, the viewer will scan plastic cards with his smart phone.  In some way, a 3-D image will then be revealed.

Don't understand it?  Well, neither do I.  But you soon will have a chance to figure it out: the new digital View-Master is scheduled to go on sale next month (October).

When I find myself yearning for the good old non-digital View-Master with scenic views of the Grand Canyon and the Matterhorn -- together with the occasional coronation -- I remind myself that what I'm really yearning for are the good old days of being 12 or 13 again.  It's an easy mistake to make, and one quite common among those of us past the first blush of youth.  It's rarely fatal.

Tuesday, September 8, 2015

Summer's end

To-morrow, and to-morrow, and to-morrow,
Creeps in this petty pace from day to day,
To the last syllable of recorded time;
And all our yesterdays have lighted fools
The way to dusty death

Yesterday was Labor Day, and tomorrow Seattle kids begin wending their way back to the classroom.  Every kid who has ever lived, I suspect, has exclaimed -- "Summer's over?  Already?  We hardly did anything!  Why did we waste so much time doing nothing?"

Of course, all that "doing nothing," from an adult's perspective, is what makes a child's summer seem so wondrous, so magical.  But that's not the point of today's lecture.

Analogizing life to a season, or to a year of seasons, is a cliché.  But it's become a cliché because it's an analogy that comes to mind so spontaneously, and because it expresses our emotions so perfectly. 

We begin every summer full of plans and hope.  We accomplish, perhaps, a few of those plans, perhaps traveling for a couple of weeks.  But we spend most of the summer shopping, mowing the lawn, driving the kids to camp, fixing meals, and -- of course -- going to work.  And suddenly the nights are chillier, the leaves are turning, summer is over and -- looking back -- we can hardly recall how our days were passed.

A week ago, Tim Kreider wrote a piece for the New York Times which expressed and expanded upon this commonly-felt frustration.   He had planned to spend the summer in Iceland, a visit he'd been hoping to make and repeatedly putting off for years.  "The summer looked as wide open and shimmering with possibility as the summers of childhood."  He didn't, of course.  One obstacle after another seemed to spring up in his path.  And now, the summer was over and he looked back with -- as he put it -- a sense of "desolation."

It wasn't just that he had delayed Iceland for another year.  Iceland was -- again, as he puts it -- but one exterior sign of an inward "existential panic."

... [I]f you're a procrastinator and a ditherer like me you can manage to sustain until well into midlife the delusion that you might yet get around to doing all the things you meant to do ....  But at some point you start to suspect that you might not end up doing that stuff after all, and have to consider the possibility that the life you have right now might pretty much be it.

And we aren't just talking about last summer, he reminds us.  As he feels at summer's end, he no doubt will also someday feel lying in a hospital bed, sensing the life drain from his body.  Nothing will change.

I'll probably still be evading the same truth I'm evading now: that the life I ended up with, much as I complain about it, was pretty much the one I chose.  And my dissatisfactions with it are really with my own character, with my hesitation and timidity.

Mr. Krieder speaks for all of us -- at least for most of us -- doesn't he?  In June, I was excited as we approached the solstice, the days increasingly long and warm and sunny.  Summer seemed to stretch ahead far into the horizon of time, so much time to do so many things. 

I did have a couple of wonderful hiking trips, and during those trips time slowed down dramatically; so much occurred each day that a day on trek was felt as a week or more of normal, daily life.  But most of the summer, I was not trekking.  I was sitting around the house -- reading, playing with the computer, walking well-worn walks around my neighborhood.  Time passed.

And now, it's the day after Labor Day.  And as summer passed, so, metaphorically, we all draw ever closer to the Labor Day of our entire lives.

We envy a child's ability to do nothing all summer, and enjoy it.  Analogously, I suppose we should value our own lives not just for life's great events -- the travel, the marriages, the births, the job promotions -- but also for the quiet nothingness of our daily lives.  "Life is what happens to us while we are making other plans," wrote a guy named Allen Saunders in -- where else? -- Reader's Digest (later absorbed into lyrics by John Lennon).  We see the truth in that, but something tells us, and has told centuries of poets before us, that a life filled with forgettable days has been a life wasted.

As Lucy told Charlie Brown, "I don't want any Downs! I just want Ups and Ups and Ups and Ups."

Macbeth, himself no ditherer or procrastinator, became King of Scotland.  But even he, his life seemingly filled with sound and fury, fully understood that sound and fury weren't enough;  life still crept by, day by day, and ended in a tomb.

"Life sucks, and then you die."  Shakespeare just expanded on the thought, and expressed it more eloquently.

Saturday, September 5, 2015

Encyclopedic memories

We were as excited as when we'd bought our new car,
and it, too, weighed a ton, ... 

Thus begins a poem -- a hymn almost -- that relives a family's joyful purchase over fifty years ago.  The poem, by Jane Shore and appearing in this week's New Yorker, is entitled, simply, "Encyclopaedia Britannica." 

The poet reminds us that before Wikipedia, before the Internet, there was the encyclopedia -- a publication -- printed and illustrated on tangible paper -- that, at its most expansive, attempted to summarize and explain all knowledge of any importance.

The poem brings to mind, prosaically and less poetically, my own fond memories of the World Book Encyclopedia.

I'd always known of encyclopedias, of course, from the school library.  But until I was about 11, I had never dreamed of having my very own, within reach at all times -- ever available to solve all puzzles -- to enable us to replace, as Ms. Shore's verse reminds me, our accepted opinions with verifiable facts.  It was in that year that the salesman for the Book of Knowledge came door to door, displaying his sample volumes.  I was overwhelmed not only by the number of bound volumes in the set, but by the presence of a limited number of full-color plates.  (I recall specifically the page that showed samples of various precious stones in full color; colored illustrations and photos in those days, even in, say, the National Geographic magazine, were not common.) 

Please, please, please, I begged.  We have to buy it.

My dad hesitated, but finally said no.  We already had a set of the Book of Knowledge, he claimed -- his own set from his own childhood.  He'd dig it out of storage and give it to me.

And so he did, and I was grateful.  But it wasn't the same.  It was old, old in every way.  It was the 1923 edition -- the year in which, ironically, my dad was himself 11 years old.  It might as well, from my callow perspective, have been the 1823 edition. 

I was an inter-planetary travel devotee long before I turned eleven, and I was scandalized to see the distance between earth and various heavenly bodies illustrated by drawings that showed express trains barreling along on inter-planetary railway tracks.  This is how long it would take a train, going 60 mph, to reach Mars, the volume exclaimed.

Well, really! 

The issue simmered below the surface, until a few years later, a nice lady came to our door. I was now 15.  She was met by my mother, rather than by my father.  My mother agreed I needed a modern encyclopedia of my own..  The order was placed.  I have no idea how much it cost.  More, I'm sure, that we could afford.  But, I'm proud to say, my parents ranked education higher than they did many other discretionary indulgences.

A few weeks later, I came home from ninth grade to find an enormous box waiting for me in the living room.  My mother and I opened it together.  Each of the nineteen volumes -- in pebbly-grained red and blue bindings -- was carefully wrapped in paper.  Over a matter of hours, each volume was reverently unwrapped and given an initial inspection.  They met with my full approval, even though, looking back, many of the articles now seem rather rudimentary for the studious 15-year-old that I was -- or, at least, as I like to recall my being.  They certainly didn't match the level of the more erudite essays to be found in the Encyclopaedia Britannica, as I was to learn in high school.  But they were mine.  I was ecstatic.
Jane Shore's poem concludes that her Britannica now

... resides
in a climate-controlled storage unit on River Road,
in the cartons I packed after my parents died:
between covers, warped and moldering,
its defunct contributors bulldozed under
for eternity, as in a family graveyard --

Well, that sucks!

I'm happy to reveal that my 1955 edition of the World Book Encyclopedia, together with a number of subsequent annual supplements, now rests proudly on display within a few feet of my computer, in a dining room bookcase. (One shelf above my dad's Book of Knowledge.)  I often pull out a volume, either seeking a specific subject or simply browsing.  Yes, the material is dated, provincial, naïve -- and at times embarrassingly so.  The entry for "New York City" begins "New York City is probably the greatest city in the world."

I've grown much older, more complex in my thinking, and somewhat jaded, even cynical, as I compare myself now to myself as a boy of 15. But my World Book has not.  It still insists, it still reminds me, in a touchingly Whiggish, Macaulay-esque manner, that all of history had been but prelude to mid-20th century American civilization, and that we of 1955 were then living in the best of all possible worlds.

It's nice to be reminded of days when both America and I were so young and optimistic.

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Bleeding ink

There is nothing to writing. All you do is sit down at a typewriter and bleed.

I once advised a fellow blogger to write a post whenever he felt had something he felt compelled to say.  But not to write anything just for the sake of writing.

I offered this advice -- its soundness obvious --back when we were both writing a couple of times a week.  But he long ago abandoned his blog, and now ... well, if you check in on the Northwest Corner every so often, you've noted that I have written two posts in the last two months.  And neither was much more than a quick summary of a travel experience -- certainly nothing that required any real thought.

So what's up?  Am I just following my own advice? Do I write so little of late because I've stopped having anything to say? 

Part of my excuse is Facebook.  Ideas that used to result in a moderately long blog are now compressed into a short blurb on Facebook.  It's certainly easier.  And I get an instant indication of my readers' interest or lack thereof in what I had to say.  Instant gratification.  Or not.

But ideas on Facebook that require more than four sentences to convey run into a blank wall of indifference -- i.e., no one reads them -- which can be much more daunting than writing a blog, whose readership I can fondly imagine to lie in the thousands.  And even if I should get twenty "likes" on Facebook, I can't fool myself that I have said anything profound.

A more worrisome possible "excuse" is that because of advancing age or laziness or too many past posts -- I've run out of new ideas that might move me to write.  And yet, even within the past week my mind has been brooding over such issues as Donald Trump, the death of Oliver Sacks, the peculiar weather this year of the Northwest, readings I've been doing about Central Asia, the volatility of the stock market, the wisdom of Joan Didion, my nephew's new profession as a high school teacher, and the conflict between religious beliefs and one's duties as a governmental officer. 

Somehow, unfortunately, the national press seemed to have analyzed most of these subjects to death.  Why this should now concern me, when it never did in years past, I'm not sure.  Maybe I keep raising the bar for the quality of my writing -- which I suppose is admirable, but not if the bar's new height intimidates me into writing nothing at all.  After all, as I've discussed in earlier posts, I write primarily for myself -- to help clarify my own thinking.  I'm hardly a correspondent  for a newspaper or magazine, with a salary to earn and a reputation to maintain.

I seem to recall articles I've read about "writer's block."  The advice often given was that I should write anything -- anything at all, however trite or boring.  Just to get myself back into the habit of crystalizing thoughts and putting them to paper (or to blog, in my case). 

So consider this my trite and boring attempt at self-help.  Observe me on this first day of September, a new month and a new season, walking out of the vast literary desert of July and August into the promised land, into a land of milk and honey, into vast lush fields of literary fertility.  A come-back, the dawn of a new era of productive blogomania for the Northwest Corner. 

Well, we'll see.

Wednesday, August 26, 2015

Journey to Orcas

We travel to distant and exotic lands, sometimes forgetting that some of the most interesting and beautiful locales lie beneath our very noses.  Especially so when we live in the Northwest Corner.

My sister came visiting for several days over the weekend, and I realize once again how often I explore those "interesting and beautiful locales" only when I'm entertaining a visitor. 

So, on Saturday we spent the day on Orcas1 Island in the San Juans, departing by ferry from Anacortes -- about an hour and a half drive north of Seattle.  No longer, sadly, can one simply show up at the ferry landing and hop the next ferry.  Well, I suppose it's still possible if a last minute vacancy appears (or if you're traveling without a car, as a foot passenger), but in summer a vacancy rarely does.  I made on-line reservations a couple of weeks in advance, and still had to settle for a 7:25 a.m. departure -- which meant waking up at 4 a.m. and leaving home by car at 5. 

But it was fun watching the dawn break as we drove north.  We checked in early, as required, and had a coffee on the dock as the sun rose over the Sound.  The ferry took us past forested shorelines and across long stretches of water, finally arriving about an hour after departure.

Orcas is an oddly shaped island, wrapped around two inlets -- a smaller one called Westsound, and a much larger and deeper, fjord-like inlet called Eastsound.  The town of Eastsound, at the head of the eponymous inlet, is the largest community on the island.  We stopped there for an excellent breakfast, sitting on the restaurant's open deck, gazing down the entire length of Eastsound (the inlet) that stretched before us.  A high point of the day.

We drove down the east side of Eastsound (again, the inlet), past the Rosario resort (which we checked out on the way back), and into the large Moran State Park, crowned by Mt. Constitution.  Moran State Park is named after the Seattle mayor who at one time owned the five-thousand-plus acre property, and donated it to the state.  Mt. Constitution, within the park, rises 2,409 feet above the Sound.  Like the significantly higher Mt. Washington in New Hampshire, the summit can be accessed either by a trail or by a paved road.  I've hiked to the top of Mt. Washington.  We drove to the top of Mt. Constitution.

The summit is surmounted by an odd stone tower, with an internal stairway which we, of course, climbed (joined by my sister's dog).   The tower was one of the many worthy projects constructed by the depression-era Civilian Conservation Corp., and is -- so says Wikipedia -- "patterned after the 12th-century Caucasian towers."  Right; got it.  The view from the tower, and from the summit itself, is magnificent, with the waters of Puget Sound visible in all directions. 

We enthusiastically set off on a hike 1.3 miles down the trail from the summit to "Cold Water Springs."  But where was the water?  Well, we're participants in the West Coast's drought this year.  Let's just say the walk was worthwhile in and by itself.

After driving around most of the island, including a visit to Deer Harbor resort on Westsound, we caught our 5:35 p.m. ferry back to Anacortes, stopped for dinner at a seafood restaurant in town, and finally drove back home in the dark to Seattle.  It was a long day, but fully worth our time and energy. 

1You no doubt assume that Orcas Island is named after the many orca whales that frolic about the area, no?  Actually, no.  Again according to Wikipedia: "The name "Orcas" is a shortened form of Horcasitas, or Juan Vicente de Güemes Padilla Horcasitas y Aguayo, 2nd Count of Revillagigedo, the Viceroy of Mexico who sent an exploration expedition under Francisco de Eliza to the Pacific Northwest in 1791."

Monday, August 3, 2015

Land of the Uighurs

My nephew Denny and friend

It's been a week, now, since I returned from my trek -- with my nephew Denny -- through the Chinese Pamirs.  My experience was highly memorable, but it's a bit hard to pick a single theme about which to write.  So, let me just offer a few observations.

1.  Tension between the native Uighur population and the ruling Han Chinese remains high, but this tension is not obvious to the casual tourist.  Most of the people you see on the street are Uighurs.  All signs are written in both Chinese and in Uighur (using Arabic script).  Although China is said to be discouraging the practice of Islam, the central Mosque was full to overflowing for Friday prayers.  Merchants go about their normal business, and street scenes are lively.

2.  The Chinese love of order and discipline clashes with the chaos of Central Asian street life.  "Every valley shall be exalted, and every mountain and hill shall be made low: and the crooked shall be made straight, and the rough places plain," is the Chinese mantra; you recognize Chinese urban planning from the air by a town's rigorous grid pattern.  The Chinese are the Imperial Romans of our time.

The Chinese thus instinctively abhor the winding narrow streets of Kashgar's old town.  The old quarters have been mainly bulldozed and replaced by broad streets with streetlights and trees, with a Uighur-esque gloss applied for atmosphere.  This is Uighur life as it is being presented to the tourists.  These newly rebuilt streets, with their outdoor cafe's under Parisian umbrellas, are certainly pleasant enough -- as are the similar streets of Samarkand and Tashkent -- but like the renovated town plans of those Uzbek cities, little of the romance and intrigue of the old town remains.  To see that, I arrived twenty years too late.

3.  The Chinese are coming.  The government has built blocks and blocks of still-empty apartment buildings, and huge shopping malls, standing empty without merchants.  The Chinese aren't stupid.  These buildings have been built to serve the hordes of Han Chinese who are being enticed to move to Kashgar (and Xinjiang in general) from eastern population centers by the offer of large financial incentives.  The Uighurs are about to be gentrified into insignificance -- or so, at least, is the plan.

4.  Most Americans just plain like Uighurs better than they like Han Chinese, apart from ideological or political concerns.  Marco Polo described the Uighurs as similar to his own Italians; other writers compare them to the Lebanese.  They are friendly, relaxed, good-natured, and eager to make a deal.  The Chinese, on the other hand, appear -- perhaps unfairly -- rigid, tense, and pushy, the product of crowded urban centers.

5.  Xinjiang is quickly becoming a fully accessible part of the world.  We traveled about eight hours south of Kashgar on the China-to-Pakistan Karakoram Highway, to reach our first campsite at Lake Karakul.  The trip should have taken five hours, but we were on gravel roads for a large percentage of the trip.  Our bus broke down about five times, and we were delayed at one point where the road had washed out and several vehicles had got stuck in the mud -- blocking us and a long line of commercial trucks from proceeding.  BUT -- the Chinese are rapidly improving the highway with long, aesthetically pleasing bridges that soar majestically across valleys.  The Karakoram Highway will soon allow travelers to complete the trip to the Pakistan border, driving on roads that meet modern freeway standards. "Every valley shall be exalted," indeed.

6.  This trek was almost certainly my last attempt at hiking much above 12,000 feet.  We were at 14 to 16 thousand feet during much of the trek, and I never adapted fully to the elevation.  The drug Diamox does an excellent job of preventing symptoms of acute mountain sickness, but it does not force oxygen through your lungs at low atmospheric pressure.  The hikes themselves were not difficult, had they been several thousand feet lower; but at my age the high ridge over which we climbed each day required more oxygen than I could force through my lungs.

7.  My basic axiom in choosing hikes remains confirmed -- the more difficult the hike, the more enjoyable your hiking companions.  As a result of some form of self-selection, the kind of people you hate to be around at close quarters for a week or more tend not to be interested in the more difficult hikes.  Somehow, I have to choose hikes in the future that give both this point and the prior point due consideration!

I could say much more, and may in the future.  It was a memorable trip, and once more reinforces my attraction to Central Asia. 

Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Consciousness and the universe

The New York Times occasionally rises above its grave and methodical reporting of politics, world events, sports, and business affairs.  It does so, certainly, in its extensive coverage of the arts, but also -- less frequently but at times more dramatically -- in its essays on science.

In today's issue, an essay entitled "Our Existentially Lucky Numbers" tackles the basic question: Why is there Anything?

The essay is too brief and superficial to really delve into the subject -- and who would read it if it delved more deeply? -- but it raises the issue for us to ponder.  Everything about our  Universe seems designed to permit the existence of Us.  The Human Race.  The writer speaks specifically about the value of "alpha," an electromagnetic constant whose value is given as 0.0072973525698.  A number that sounds totally random, but one which, if it were even the slightest bit higher or lower, would have allowed no stars to have ever been formed.  Or us to have lived to worry about it.

There are other such constants.

Most explanations -- aside from "that's just the way it is" -- are variations of an Anthropic Principle, a conclusion that our existence itself in some way explains the nature of the universe.

"Intelligent design" nowadays has a bad ring to it, as a counter-"theory" to that of evolution.  But the Anthropic Principle, in many of its forms, suggests some form of "design" for the universe.  Not a divine guidance of evolution, step by step, shaping life as we know it on Earth, but as a setting of the original parameters of the Universe at the time of the Big Bang.  Because none of us -- and I include you and me -- can follow all the scientific nuances of the discussion, we are left free to pontificate on the meaning of it all in whatever ways might satisfy our own predispositions.

Wikipedia summarizes from a book by Paul Davies to present seven different responses to the question of "Why is there Anything," or, more specifically, why do the constants in our Universe happen to be those very specific and unique constants that make it possible for us to be here asking the question:

1. The absurd universe: Our universe just happens to be the way it is.
2. The unique universe: There is a deep underlying unity in physics which necessitates the Universe being the way it is. Some Theory of Everything will explain why the various features of the Universe must have exactly the values that we see.
3. The multiverse: Multiple universes exist, having all possible combinations of characteristics, and we inevitably find ourselves within a universe that allows us to exist.
4. Intelligent Design: A creator designed the Universe with the purpose of supporting complexity and the emergence of intelligence.
5. The life principle: There is an underlying principle that constrains the Universe to evolve towards life and mind.
6. The self-explaining universe: A closed explanatory or causal loop: "perhaps only universes with a capacity for consciousness can exist." This is Wheeler's Participatory Anthropic Principle (PAP).
7. The fake universe: We live inside a virtual reality simulation.

No. 1 is the unimaginative answer, and that embraced joyfully by writer Doug Adams.  No. 7 is a delightful answer that I have discussed in prior posts.  The others seem to be to be various forms of "intelligent design," the "Designer" being a more or less conscious "person" depending on which choice one considers. 

My problem with intelligent design, from a scientific viewpoint, has always involved scientific elegance.  If the purpose of the Universe is to provide life to humans on Earth (or even to humans on Earth plus other beings on other worlds), the Universe as we know it seems to be overkill.  It's as though I built a single-family house and had several square miles of building materials left over, sitting around useless.  If our existence is the only reason for the Universe, a Ptolemaic universe with Earth at the center and a few crystalline spheres surrounding us would make more sense.

On the other hand, I realize, if I had the power to create Earth and all its accessories, presumably I could throw off a few billion galaxies while so doing, just to keep Earthlings puzzled and pre-occupied, with not much additional effort.

The nice thing about the issues raised by the Anthropic Principle is that we can speculate endlessly.  I don't foresee any final conclusions being drawn in the next few centuries.

Monday, June 22, 2015

In Xanadu

Dalrymple back at Cambridge

Imagine being an undergraduate and deciding that your summer vacation would be more fun if you retraced the route Marco Polo followed in 1271, from Jerusalem to the Chinese Emperor's summer palace at Shang-tu (Coleridge's "Xanadu"), a bit north of Peking (Beijing).  I've traveled a fair bit in my life, but reading about such an adventure at any age leaves me seething with jealousy.

But that's what William Dalrymple did, at the age of 22 while still a student at Trinity College, Cambridge, back in 1986.  Traveling by bus, minibus, hitchhiking, walking -- through Syria, Turkey, Iran, Pakistan and all across China.  He did the final leg into Beijing in a first class train coach, having been caught traveling once too often into sensitive areas of China forbidden to foreigners.  In 1989, he published his account of the trip, In Xanadu.

Dalrymple tackles his trip with all the impetuosity and fearlessness of extreme youth, accompanied by his two female friends -- the first, Laura, a "fearless traveler" whom he met at a party in England, who was able to accompany him only as far as Lahore; the second, Lou, a former girlfriend, who joined him in Lahore and completed the expedition with him.

The travelers departed from Marco Polo's route at only one point -- Afghanistan in 1986, as now, was patently unsafe for casual travel.  They detoured through southern Iran and the wild and wooly Pakistan province of Baluchistan.  Once they reached Lahore, Pakistan in the 1980s was still safe for travel and enjoyable -- a condition that today we can only envy.  I seriously considered joining a hiking expedition in Gilgit and Hunza, near the Chinese border about the same time that Dalrymple was passing through.  I seriously regret now that I didn't seize the opportunity.

My primary reason for reading the book was to hear of Dalrymple's travels north of the Sino-Pakistani border -- into Xinjiang, with its Uigher population, and its city of Kashgar where I will be spending several days in three weeks.  Dalrymple, like other authors such as Colin Thubron twenty years later, found Kashgar disappointing.  Holed up in the former British consulate, which by 1986 had been been demoted to use as a primitive hostel, he found little about 1986 Kashgar that was romantic:

A gloomy dust haze hangs over the town like a shroud.  The old city walls have been pulled down and only fragments remain.  Large open streets have been punched through the bazaars, with separate lanes for cars, buses, bicycles, and pedestrians.  There are no cars yet in Kashgar; there is a five-year waiting list for bicycles, and few of the buses are ever in working order.  ...  {T]he Chinese want to give the impression that Kashgar is looking forward to the next century.  For this reason, the streets are now lined with charmless totalitarian buildings and in the centre of the  principal boulevard stands an outsized statute of Mao, hand raised in benediction towards the empty expanses of People's Park.

Mao no doubt is gone, thirty years later.  And Dalrymple himself soon discovered traditional Uighur life continuing in makeshift bazaars squeezed into the blank spaces between the sterile boulevards imposed by the Han Chinese authorities. 

But I believe it was Thubron who noted the increasing Chinese tendency to eradicate most of the ethnic particularities of Chinese cities, but to save and "sanitize" a sectors of those cities for tourist consumption.  Thus, I may discover that Kashgar offers a Disneyfied area of "Uighurland" for my enjoyment -- in the same way as Samarkand and Tashkent had been tidied up and prettified -- now seemingly almost Californian cities with radically renovated monuments -- when I visited Uzbekistan two years ago. 

Although to Dalrymple, traveling Marco Polo's Silk Road seemed to take forever, he necessarily skims over much of the route.  He and his companion were ill, or they were traveling by night, or they were totally focused on dealing with odd locals and bureaucratic functionaries, or they simply had to move all too quickly through an area that they themselves would loved to have investigated more thoroughly.  Dalrymple is very much a travel writer in the British tradition of Robert Byron (whose reconstruction of  nonsensical dialogues with locals he loves to emulate) and Patrick Leigh Fermor -- a traveler who is also an amateur art history connoisseur.  He spends many pages describing mosques, palaces and other monuments in detail.  He states openly that he is happy to be able to pontificate without fear of contradiction about architecture that professional art historians haven't yet had a chance to dissect authoritatively.  The reader may or may not appreciate his detailed discussions.

More popular with "Lonely Planet" type readers may be his ruminations over the hardships of traveling on the cheap -- of which there were many, and frequent -- and his willingness to ignore "forbidden" areas or activities, and continue blithely onward until nabbed.  And even then his frequent ability to talk his way out of trouble.  Sometimes they were saved just by luck, as when an Iranian police officer was about to arrest Dalrymple and Laura as spies, but then discovered Dalrymple's university library card:

"What is this?" he said.  He looked at the card.  Then he looked up.
"You are at Cambridge?"
"Cambridge University?"
"Cambridge University."
His expression changed.
"Oh.  Agah," he said.  "By the great Ali!  This is the most famous university in the world."
He examined the card.
"Ah, my heart!  Look at this card.  Expiry date June eighty-seven.  Borrowing October eighty-six.  Five vols.  Oh, Agah.  For me these are magic words."
"For me too."
"Agah.  I am your servant."
I sat up.
"Do you mean that?"
"Agah.  You are a scholar.  I am at your service."
He did mean it.

In a foreword to the 2014 edition, Dalrymple cringes a bit at his youth, naivetè, tendency to stereotype others, and Anglocentricity:  "a person I now feel mildly disapproving of: like some smugly self-important but charming nephew who you can't quite disown, but feel like giving a good tight slap to ..."  Well, sure, but we're all young once, and Dalrymple went on to become a highly respected travel writer and historian.  His 1989 book is informative and amusing and a product of its era -- only thirty years ago, but "a world that has in many ways already disappeared." 

I read the book primarily to learn Dalrymple's observations of Kashgar and of the Uighur people.  I'm a little disappointed at the observations (offered both by Dalrymple, and by Colin Thubron in his more recent Shadow of the Silk Road) of Chinese attempts to weaken Uighur culture and impose Han ideals of tidiness and order on ancient Kashgar.  But every traveler sees the sights before him differently, depending on his own background and interests. 

I look forward to drawing my own conclusions three weeks from now.

Sunday, June 21, 2015

Mission aborted

So, last Wednesday I decided it was time to stress my body in preparation for my trek next month in the Chinese Pamirs.  No more lollygagging around the fells of Cumbria, calling it "climbing.".  No more daily four-mile walks at sea level, and calling that a "work-out."

It had been four years since I climbed to Camp Muir on Mount Rainier.  A climb from Paradise at 5,400 feet to Camp Muir at 10,000 feet.  Could I still do it?  I was certain I could.

Generally, in June, you would hardly consider hiking from Paradise.  Often, at this time of year, you'd find ten feet of snow.  This is the year of global warming, however -- at least in the Northwest Corner.  Paradise is clear, dry, beautiful, and blooming with wild flowers.  Marmots are frolicking.  California tourists are rooting about.  Summer is here.

I packed my daypack, and grabbed (after waterproofing) some light leather boots that I hadn't worn for several years but that appeared in good shape.  I drove the three-hour drive from Seattle, arriving at Paradise at an embarrassingly late 10:30 a.m.  I should have started a couple of hours earlier.  But we were near the solstice, and I would have light until well past 9 p.m.  I wasn't worried.

To reach Camp Muir, one follows the Skyline Trail from Paradise, connecting near Panorama Point (6,800 feet) with the Pebble Creek Trail.  Once one reaches Pebble Creek, the trails cease.  You are on the Muir snowfields, which climb ever upward to Camp Muir.

I began cheerfully climbing in the bright June sunshine.  After about 45 minutes -- still hiking on the gravel Skyline Trail -- my foot caught slightly.  I looked down and noticed that the toe of my right boot was loose.  Uh oh.  I walked on carefully for a few more minutes.  Could I actually hike in snow with a flapping toe on my boot?  Then the lugged sole simply dropped off the boot.  After another couple of hundred yards, the sole on the left boot also fell off.

I was now walking on a light under-sole -- essentially hiking in ballet slippers.  And -- as I discovered as soon as I hit the first snow on the trail -- hiking in water absorbent ballet slippers.  More and more of the trail was becoming covered with snow, and my feet were quickly cold and wet.  Moreover, the trail was becoming steeper, and I was trying to negotiate it with no lugs on my soles to provide traction.

This wasn't going to work.  I made it to Panorama Point, enjoyed the scenery, and returned.  Prudence prevailed.

I've got other boots.  Ones I'm certain won't disintegrate.  I'm returning to Rainier this week.  I'd be willing to accept my endeavor's failure as the result of my own muscular weakness or injury, or because of my inability to handle high elevation. 

But not simply because of "equipment failure."   

Sunday, June 7, 2015

English ramble

I returned Friday from my seven-day hike on England's Coast to Coast Path -- a route cobbled together from existing paths, bridle trails, country roads, and faintly discernible right-of-ways by hiker Alfred Wainwright in 1972. 

The path is still not officially recognized, apparently, by whomever recognizes paths.  Therefore, it is poorly (or not at all) marked as it passes through national parks, but is quite clearly marked elsewhere, in areas where the business brought in by hikers is happily welcomed. 

As mentioned in an earlier post, I completed only the western half of the total route, from St. Bees on the Irish Sea to Kirkby Stephen, just shy of the Pennine range and Yorkshire beyond.  My seven days could be broken into three distinct forms of terrain.

1.  Day 1, crossing the coastal plain.  A fairly flat hike, with a climb, not particularly necessary, over an odd, isolated peak named "Dent," thrown in for the sake of variety.

2.  Days 2-5, crossing the fells and dales of the Lake District, from Ennerdale Bridge to Shap.  Each day offered at least one ascent and descent -- varying in difficulty -- before reaching the night's lodging.  For a couple of stretches, alternative and more difficult routes were offered.  These I declined.  The fells are beautiful, lonely, and at times a bit foggy.  I ran into frequent groups of hikers -- many of them teenagers-- on only one stretch, on day 2, between Ennerdale Bridge and Rosthwaite.  This leg of the path lies in a popular area in the Lake District, and presents a number of hiking and backpacking opportunities into higher and more remote locations.  The dales, where I slept at night, were much-visited tourist areas.  Grasmere, the largest of these towns, is famous for its associations with the poet Wordsworth.

3.  Days 6 and 7, in historic Westmorland. These were relaxing days of hiking through rural England -- across meadows and over moorland, and along narrow country lanes -- beginning in Shap and ending in Kirkby Stephen.

Hiking in England today probably varies little from hiking in the same area sixty years ago, with the modern addition of GPS and wi-fi.  The people are friendly in the same way as English people appear friendly in old movies.  Everyone greets you as you pass.  Older folks are eager to tell you stories.  Teenagers smile, look you in the eye, and wave.  They even speak to you in complete sentences.  (!)  In fact -- I actually witnessed English teenagers cheerfully eating meals and walking with their families without looking sullen and without rolling their eyes!

Both the fells and the lowlands are home to far more sheep than humans.  The land is green beyond the imagination of today's Californians.  (A local told me with amusement how excited a group of Californians had been to witness rainfall.)  And yet, although weather forecasts before leaving home had been dire, in seven days of hiking I walked in significant rainfall for a total of only one hour on one day. Somehow, rural England maintains a welcome balance between the modern world and the values and landscapes of past generations.

It was a great walk, and I'm homesick for England already.  I may well go back another time and finish the eastern half of the walk through Yorkshire to the North Sea.  I certainly will go back and hike again somewhere in Britain. 

Photographs of my hike, posted on Facebook, can be viewed at
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