A Wild Faith

This morning I woke up about 5am. Couldn’t get back to sleep. Tried to sleep in to an hour fitting for a Saturday but nothing for it.Instead about 6:15 I hit the road.I’d packed the night before. Four part fly rod, a little box of flies, reel, a few leaders.On top of the usual: backup layer for cold, windbreaker, extra socks, gloves, a knife, compass, a few other survival items, granola bars, water, bear spray, sketchbook and pencil, throwing knives.I didn’t use the pencil or the throwing knives but the extra weight builds character.I gassed up the jeep and coffeed up me and hit the road in the dark. No traffic. I wound my way up the Forestry Trunk Road and turned up Waiporous Creek. I don’t head North all that often which is part of why I’m going this way today. My go to getaway has been the Millarville side of K Country of late. Time to shake it up.Last time I went down this road I had my lovely wife with me. We hiked up to the fire lookout, found fossilized conifer needles, and swam in the creek. I already missed her on the drive, the music we play, holding hands on the road, our secret jokes.But sometimes you have to go out on your own.Sometimes you hear the Call of the Wild and that’s a different day outdoors than a day with a wife, a friend, a group of friends. And I’d been hearing the Call a while now.I parked when I was equal parts raring to hike and sick of getting bounced around on the road. Doublecheck to make sure no lights on. Go time. Heading West up the braided channel of the Creek. There is a layer of frost and I put on another layer.I’m not familiar with this creek at all and the water doesn’t look too friendly to fish. I cross the Creek and up into the woods. There is no plan now. Just sheer exploring. I don’t know what ahead or where I will go. The peaks of the Rockies are roughly to the West, the Creek cuts a straight line to my North, and I can see the fire lookout shiny on top of a hill. The sun rises over the hill behind me.I follow game trails, some thinning into nothingness, then scanning over to find the next trail, bushwhacking over deadfall. The forest is evenly made and not too thick, my guess is a fire 40 years or so ago, the soil relatively thin this close to the creek. The forest opens up into a meadow to the South. I follow an old quad track for a ways. With any luck I may find a nice shed in the meadow.I hear it before I see it. A creek. I get closer. A creek twists and turns through the meadow. It has a nice level of clear water, pools. I’m amazed there is a creek this close to Waiporous Creek running almost parallel. I put the rod together and rig up. I stalk up to promising looking water. I drop my fly in, let it drift with the current, pick it up, try again. I can’t see any fish visually. Move up the creek to the next seam. Nothing. I snag a fly on an underwater branch, lose it, tie on another. Onward.I am feeling a little disspirited that despite the promising water and the most scenic stream you ever laid your eyes on I am not getting any action, or even seeing anything. I walk a ways up and try again. Such a nice pool below a little logjam. Nothing. I pack up the rod. I slosh across the creek and aim for the hills to the South. Perhaps I can cross over into the next drainage.I climb up an old cutline. Near the top of the hill the trail deviates around where the cutline is blocked by deadfalls and overgrown. The forest here is ancient, it has not been logged, it has not been burnt in a long time, the cool, wet, north facing hilltop. It is a forest of wisdom, tangled with massive fallen trunks and undergrowth, the fresh forest below naive and uncluttered.On a ridge I hit another cutline. The way further South seems like a tough slog. I turn west along the cutline, uphill. Then downhill. Across another boggy meadow. Along a stream too small for fish. One last little meadow.The last time I was anywhere near here, was with two friends in early February 2007, the day before I flew to Rome. We were young and fit. We ran up the Creek and across not this exact meadow but one like it, one last meadow before the mountains. We ran up an old trail, slogging, the snow up past our knees. We turned around. On the way in we ran into some goofy snowmobilers from New Brunswick They were cooking up some deer meat, and offered us some. So we stood around the fire and ate with these friendly folk. Somewhere there’s a picture. Then we ran on.I’ve turned back. Instead of following my exact path I try to take the path East. I go up and down and up and down two big hills. I don’t see anything promising heading back north, and the woods look thick. I double back towards the way I came in.I hate doubling back. I am thinking about work. I am out of the ecstasy of pure exploration. My feet are a little sore. I haven’t been hiking enough. I’m hungry. Was this hill this big on the way down.Sometimes this year I just wished I could get out of this year, like it was somehow cursed and in some way connected to the calendar. Just like now, should have just gone the straight way back. But there were also such incredible blessings. A car accident, covid, a family health emergency. A wonderful new niece sent by heaven, Baptism, my Wife on the other. I thought of a friend who passed last week, it felt like a light went out, and yet that light will never go out will it, it’s still here in us isn’t it? It’s not this year, that’s just life, everywhere always the same though we try and figure it out with the limited tools we have, imagine saddling this complexity with ‘what a year!’, NO.Ultimately it’s a matter of vision, of faith. The one creek is empty, but there is another. It looks good but it too is empty. You get snagged. You move on. The leap of faith is not so much knowing that there is another good creek beyond the horizon but that it doesn’t matter if there is or isn’t, and that either way it’s a perfect day.I am back on the right track. Back through the ancient forest and down. I cross the creek, sit for a moment, drink some water, eat a granola bar. I watch the water, the grass on the bank in the wind. I walk along a quad path and pick up the stream well below where I tried it before. I rig up the rod and try again.

Pickleball, my pet peeve

You may have noticed the growing popularity of pickleball in recent years. Now tennis courts are mobbed with people playing pickleball, where a few years ago, tennis was the only sport played on tennis courts, which is what they were designed for as their name would indicate.

It’s a form of tennis that has had as much athleticism stripped from it as possible, no running, no range of motion, no hard serves, and don’t worry about sweating, you won’t. You barely have to move. You might lunge a bit, but your feet are pretty much planted in a tiny court. You literally move more playing ping pong in your basement, or harnessed to vr goggles, than doubles pickleball. If you’re young, and don’t have serious injuries, you have no excuse for playing pickleball.

I don’t have anything against pickleball per se. Particularly for people with limited mobility, (it seems particularly popular among the recently retired, knee brace set). People are outdoors having fun and getting exercise, all good things.

But to me pickleball is symptomatic of a general trend. Another example is e-bikes. A few years ago, you didn’t see any. Now everybody is buzzing around on these, and don’t worry if you prefer to not do any work and move around on a scooter, there’s electric scooters, electric skateboards, electric everything. Or camping. According to MEC, less and less people are going backcountry camping, and more are choosing car camping. People have stripped the sweat out of things that were meant to be sweaty fun and left only the fun. But is that really fun?

And what’s wrong with sweat? With mechanization, as a culture we mostly cut the sweat out of our working lives. Needing to sweat to stay healthy and sane, we started sports and gyms. And now we’ve cut the sweat out of our sports and gyms. ‘I’m going for a workout on my pedal assist electric bike. Then some pickleball to cool down. Then I’ll take an e-scooter home while I talk loudly on the phone and push my belly out in front of me.’ It’s pathetic.

And then we wonder aloud about high rates of childhood obesity, obesity, type 2 diabetes, and the like. We’ve stripped the sweat from sport and the nutrition from food. We’ve pickleballed our entire lives.

Think about this: if youi’re playing pickleball now, in the flower of your youth, what will you do when your joints are worn out? Water pickleball? Where do you go when you start with the softest sport and need to go softer. It’s a question people will need to play out soon.

Look at our economy. Our governments borrow hundreds of billions every year, with no plan to pay it back. We’ve stripped the sweat from the economy and kept the fun. I wonder if there will be any consequences? The societal equivalent of type 2 diabetes is already rampant in the Western world and it’s getting worse every day.

For me, I will not play pickleball. Not until I’m arthritic or surgerized from enjoying my youth running hard, and playing real sports. I will not get an e-bike or ride one of those soft scooters. Yes you can say I’m one of those ‘back in my day’ men. Because I am, and I’m too old to change.

Finding

My old boss always used to bring us obituaries of people he knew, especially hard working lawyers that died young. I didn’t fully understand why at the time and probably still don’t. There was an element of ‘life is short’, he also used to turn it into a joke about how hard we, his apprentices, were working him, and also that there’s more to life than the office. But we all used to work six days a week elbow to elbow too.

In any event reviewing obituaries has become a habit. At first glance it appears morbid, but as much as you could be dwelling on death really you see life, the lives of all sorts of people you’ve never met and some you have, and the love that their families have for them. It’s very humbling and touching. When you read enough of them, you understand how precious life is. Sometimes it is taken away from mere infants, inexplicably, sometimes from young parents, from the very old, doctors, teachers, carpenters, devoutly religious, people with substance abuse issues, people with and without families, there are statistics that can describe this but the tapestry that emerges is textured and touching.

The past several years have changed the way I think about a lot of things. I became a regular churchgoer, and will be baptized next month. I fell in love with and married the most incredible woman, who has brightened my life and made me feel that anything is possible. This was at the same time as covid19, where our social lives and much of the economy were stamped out, for reasons that were understandable at the time, but are currently arbitrary and punitive government action. It shows that even a benign western democracy will trample you without a thought, perhaps more subtly than once was done, but they will take your job, make it practically impossible for you to travel, and the like.

In March my wife and I were in a car crash on the highway. Everybody walked away from the accident with what could be best described as whiplash injuries, which was itself a blessing. When the accident first happened, the cab of our car was full of smoke from the airbags. I tried to move the car forward but it wouldn’t turn on much less move. My Wife couldn’t open her door. I was about to step out of my door when a huge semi blew past at breakneck speed. What he was doing I have no idea. But if I had set foot out of the car I surely would have been killed in an instant. I got out when it was safe and cranked open my wife’s door. You can’t imagine how good it felt to know that she was ok, certainly shook up but nothing obviously critical.

In July there was a serious medical emergency in our family, out of the blue and seemingly without root cause. As I round the corner on 40, it brings the point home, you can’t take anything for granted. But we always always do. I’ve asked the question here before, where are we going? Where are we rushing off to? Stuck in a traffic jam, overheating. A bad car crash and a family emergency… what should I be taking from this? Still, just plunge back into work.

I can’t help but feel that these events were signs, warnings. But I’m not sure what I’m supposed to do different. I have changed but nothing I do has changed. I haven’t taken the time, or don’t have the wisdom or the courage to drill into it. And maybe there is no meaning. Maybe this is just statistics, dice rolling. I don’t know.

Ruling engines and lapping the ultimate screw

The story of the ruling engine is one of those bizarro incredibly important things that has slipped into obscurity, only really known by people still directly involved in this sort of thing. I was briefly involved in this area working at LBNL’s Advanced Light Source, measuring diffraction gratings, their efficiencies, and attempting to estimate how […]

Ruling engines and lapping the ultimate screw

Cypress Hills Trip

One of the all time great trips Dad and I did was early May, probably 2006, to the Cypress Hills and Southeast Alberta. We left in the afternoon, it felt like the world was truly alive, not just green and growing as in May, but farmers seeding, rigs drilling, irrigation pipe being trenched and laid, busy busy beehive world. We had a bite in Medicine Hat, stayed overnight in Shaunavon, drove South, checked out pretty little Eastend tucked in a coulee, where Wallace Stegner lived a while as a boy. At the time Dad and I had both read ‘Wolf Willow, where Stegner talks about his childhood and the historical context of the area and the West as a whole so we were excited to see what we’d been so absorbed in with our own eyes.

We went to Fort Walsh, the first NWMP post in the area, on the edge of the hills. It felt like a long ways from anywhere, and would have been that much more remote in the days before rail, road, flight. We drove into the Cypress Hills proper, and across the Gap, we were worried about getting stuck in the bottom, as the road was wet and mucky with spring moisture, and there were only wary antelope for miles around on the wide open fenceless steppe.

The next day we went through, Manyberries, I loved that lots of people there had old painted up pumpjacks as lawn ornaments there. Prior to our trip, Dad had spotted a road that cut down to the Milk River, and made a map to it. He was always interested in the idea of having land where you could put your back up something like a big river or a grazing reserve, and have no visitors, real quiet like. We made our way to the road across real wide open short grass prairie, not a fence for miles, just cowboys riding with their cows.

At the bottom of the road was a beautiful little ranch and a well site. The type of ranch dreams are made of. In the road cut we spotted a shell bed and got some neat fossils when we stopped on the way back up. There was a big dinosaur leg bone too, we noticed it had been flagged for recovery,, almost thought it was petrified wood, but no that was a big ol leg that would make a cows leg look like a chickens by comparison.

Then we went back up and across the bottom of Pakowki Lake which was totally dry alkali at that time., across and down to Writing on Stone Writing On Stone. Writing on Stone in May is one of God’s true gems. Swallows flitting about above the river, everything leafing out green and fresh. The petroglyphs are absorbing and make you think deep thoughts about the primal power of the earth and the people that, although they hunted with stone arrowheads, felt the same things we feel in spring, and perhaps wrote about it, on stone.

We talked about all the things fathers and sons talk about. That and the roads Opa built down there in the 40s and some wells dad drilled, success and failure, the natives and Stegner and early settlers. Looking back it almost seems odd, we didn’t take any pictures, and what’s more didn’t feel the impulse to,. This was before cell phones had good cameras and it was expected that people document everything for social media. In some ways I wish I had some to help me remember, in others, I’m happy that we were just on a road trip, father and son. It’s been said before but is worth drilling home – savour those times with your family.

Sky Burial

Ran his fingers through his hair he had just shaved real close. Fingers pricked over stubble and the boy felt like a monk. His left hand remained on the wheel, held low, below the level of the dash. Repeated running his hand over what was left of his light-blonde hair as though he might want […]

Sky Burial

Russia and Ukraine

Russia and Ukraine are at war.

Once again, we in the West, safe from the immediate consequences of the war, take brave stands. These brave stands include Conservative politicians demanding the expulsion of Russian diplomats, reluctantly reducing the flow of Russian oil, (we’ll bravely pay a price at the pumps they say as though this was some sort of solidarity with real people who are being killed instead of an exercise in vanity), and otherwise calling for what amounts to war, more war.

CCM drops Alex Ovechkin from their marketing. Junior hockey stops bringing over teenagers from Russia. A University briefly bans Dostoyevsky. More brave stands.

Isn’t it odd that our society has taken great pains to understand and educate ourselves about the struggles of people of colour, and other oppressed peoples and now we turn around and collectively dehumanize people for their ethnicity? Have we learned nothing, or even regressed? We wear a pose of being at the apex of progressivism, and behind the mask we give vent to the same ‘othering’ that humans have always had lurking inside in the dark corners of their hearts. The same impulse that led to pogroms and slavery and countless other atrocities, Rwanda, Auschwitz, the Killing Fields of Cambodia.

The last time we were here, I remember the hysteria well. It led to war with Iraq, and twenty years in Afghanistan. How many dead, how many shattered families, and for what exactly? I remember thinking at the time, why are we going into Iraq, how do we get out, what’s the endgame. and being alarmed when Nancy Grace, George W. Bush and Hillary Clinton all spoke with the same voice. That was a new experience for me. Just as there is darkness in our hearts, there is an instinct to run with the herd. When these two primal forces align, and walk hand in hand, there is no more dangerous time.

It’s wrong to invade another country, wrong for soldiers and especially civilians, to be harmed and die, this is already tragic. But ask, why? Did this war was start in a vacuum? Do you think this is skin deep, the work of one evil man, or are there layers to the onion? What is really going on, who can you trust for information? Ukraine? Russia? The foreign press of various countries? Random social media accounts? Is it possible that people are trying to manipulate you? And where do we go from here? These are just questions.

I am a big boxing fan, and to see the Klitschko Brothers on the front lines, and Oleksandr Usyk, fly from London to Ukraine, leave a position of safety, and take arms to defend their homeland, it puts a human face on the struggle, and that of World Champions, men of honour and achievement, whom I admire. They could die. Kiev is well on its way to being encircled as I write this. The contrast with our leadership in this country is stark. Our leaders run, in every sense of the word, from difficult things. The contrast too, between the emergency they declared regarding Ottawa (which was certainly illegal) and the emergency that the Ukraine is facing is stark. How would they respond to an emergency of this nature? Enemy tanks and rockets, civilian casualties, destroyed airstrips and power plants? They are already, in the midst of this war, in Parliament discussing ‘environmental racism’. Is anything serious to them, or is it just another pose? They’re always looking for the next safe thing.

I don’t blame them. What is rewarded in our society is the safe thing – not the hard thing. The safe thing is to run with the herd, whether that means looking down at anti-vaxxers yesterday or Russians today, or Japanese-Canadians in the 1940s. That’s how you move up in a company, a political party, a bureaucracy, blend in, say the right thing, when the winds change, go with them. What we will find in time is that, after too much of always doing the safe thing, there is no more safe thing.

Don’t give in to the safe thing. Do the hard thing. Refuse to generalize and demonize people. Refuse to add your voice to the chorus, the chorus that is calling for the blood of others. Stand for reason and fairness, for understanding and peace.

My Opa went on technological exchanges to the USSR in the mid-seventies, their focus was on drilling rigs. On the trips they were briefed by Canadian intelligence to keep their lips buttoned, and I assume the Soviet engineers got a similar talk from the KGB. They had intelligence escorts to keep an eye on things throughout the trip. This was the Cold War, the last time we had ‘othered’ Russia and they had ‘othered’ us.

Opa told me that one night they all got drunk on vodka. He said that they talked openly (as one tends to do after a bunch of vodka and arm-wrestling) with the Soviet engineers, the intelligence escorts turned a blind eye. So what did they talk about? Did they let ‘state secrets’ which they didn’t have anyways, slip?

No. They talked about their families and children, and the challenge and fun of being an engineer.

That always stayed with me, and bears remembering now.