October 20, 2014
On the one hand, I did a 12-mile hike in the Mount Margaret Backcountry yesterday and I’m not at all sore today. And I bicycled 80-odd miles in the Gorge in two days with a fairly heavily loaded bicycle last weekend, and I wasn’t sore after either of those days, either.
On the other hand, despite getting seven and a half hours of sleep last night, I am so tired today that I am struggling to keep my eyes open.
So, according to the latter, I am relatively fit. According to the former, I’m getting old. Hm.
September 29, 2014
“It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ The Lord of the Rings
I went for a walk yesterday. A friend was driving out to Mt. Hood to do his monthly ski day, and offered me a lift. We parked at Timberline, he went off to do his ski-thing, and I set off in a westerly direction on the PCT.
It sounds silly, but stepping onto the PCT for the first time, and seeing the sign that says “Canada thataway, x miles; Mexico the other way, y miles”… it was compelling. To look along the trail as it wandered off over the rolling slopes of Mt. Hood, and to think that it was a line that continues more-or-less unbroken all the way to the Mexican border… The urge to just set off was strong, no matter how ridiculously impractical.
Similarly, about an hour and a half later, I found myself at the top of a bulge in the topography, looking down over Zigzag Canyon, with the Mississippi Head cliffs and the summit behind me, and blue-green hills, ever-lightening, drawing my eyes away towards the horizon, to where Mt. Jefferson reared up as punctuation. As I stood there, there was little sign of active human influence visible. Most of the Timberline/Government Camp parking lots were hidden by the undulations of the landscape, as were most roads. Though there had been several people down where the PCT hits the eastern ridge of the canyon when I had arrived there, by the time I had made my way up the narrow, faint ridgeline path to my current spot, they had all headed elsewhere, and were hidden by either landscape or foliage.
So it was easy, so easy, to feel like I was alone in the world. To pretend, for just a few minutes, that I was a pioneer, exploring new lands, and to enjoy the mixture of dread, excitement and yearning that the thought produced. The dread from knowing how spectacularly unprepared I would be to be in such a situation, the excitement and yearning part of the same urge to just set off I had felt back earlier.
The urge returned, this time more viscerally. Mt. Jefferson appeared so distant and yet so near, and the desire to travel the distance between, learning about the land at the pace of my feet…
I will go, sometime. Sometime in the not-too-distant future. Not on a walk between Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, but on a Long Walk. I have heard, from those who would know, that it a particular form of madness to undertake such a walk. But… the world is there, the wild is there, and I currently have the use of all of my limbs and most of my brain (on a good day), and, well, I want to go. My feet grow ever more itchy. So I will go. And we’ll see where the road – or the trail, rather – sweeps me.
September 15, 2014
Today I mailed in my Oregon voter registration form. In doing so, it occurred to me that this will be the first time – ever – that I will vote in the place where I’m actually living.
I registered to vote when I was eighteen, but then went off to college in the fern-dark Pacific Northwest. While at college, I voted in the Presidential elections (and have voted in each one since, of course), but as a Texas voter. And I didn’t pay any attention to the local-to-where-I-was-registered elections and ballots; too busy being caught in “the bubble”.
After college, I went gallivanting off to France. I couldn’t register to vote over there, and since Texas was still (more or less) where I existed as a US citizen, that’s where I got my absentee ballots from. That continued when I was in Boston (both times), since I didn’t expect I’d be living there long enough to make the transfer of voter registration worthwhile. Even when I was living in England, I still kept my Texas registration, because there wasn’t really anywhere else in the US that I could call home enough to have my vote there.
Since I never got British citizenship, I wasn’t able to vote in UK elections despite living there, working there, paying taxes there, etc. (something which rankled regularly).
But now, here I am, settled for at least a while back in Oregon, and with local issues I care about coming up for the vote on November 4th. And now that I’ve sent in my form and therefore will – all being well – be able to vote here in a month and a half… I have a heady mixture of excitement and responsibility swirling in me. (Yes, the thought of being able to vote makes me excitedly happy. I’m a geek.)
The thought that I will actually be able to exercise my most basic democratic right to effect change (or support continuation) where I live is wonderful. Woot!
July 30 2014
A week or so ago, I sent a friend an email asking him if he knew what result/purpose he wants his life to have. His response was, “Man. Mostly I just want the harm:good equation to balance or favor the good side.” Which is an answer, but not what I was looking for. What I meant with my question was how does he hope to achieve that balance or favoring of good? Because it’s something I’m wrestling with, looking forward.
Of course I hope not to do harm. But I want more than that; I want more than a 1:1 good:bad ratio for my life, on balance. I want to be a force for good. I already do what I can in the day-to-day. I try to be conscious in my consumption. I try to cultivate a habit of kindness, and to choose to see the good in people/the world, and to retain optimism.
Still, this isn’t enough. I am dissatisfied. The dissatisfaction arises because I know I could do more. I am not my any means using the full scope of my abilities, either in the day-to-day or the long run. So I am left grappling with how to do more.
I am coming to accept that I may never have a job in the environmental sector. While this is frustrating in some ways, in other ways it might actually be a good thing. With a job, there is always the possibility (probability?) that your passion for what you do will dissipate over time, under the stresses and mundanity of daily work. This is a large part of why I chose not to try to pursue music as a career – I didn’t want to lose my passion for and joy in music under the grind of daily practice and cobbling together a living.
Similarly, it may be that by having to pursue my environmental passions on the side, I am able to invest more, be more efficacious, more passionate. I can be quite persuasive when I am passionate about something, and given that I want to do policy work – essentially, to work to persuade people – being able to retain my passion for my projects should be a boon.
So, finding a way to build regular, fulfilling, useful work in the environmental sector into my life is important. Volunteering is the obvious route, and I’m taking steps in that direction. I may speak with my manager about rearranging my weekly schedule to give me a half-day once a week that I could devote to a regular volunteering gig.
Will even that be enough? I know that I need to pace myself – that I’m talking about the effect of my lifetime – and that if I try to pile too much in, there’s a good chance that I’ll burn out.
And I have no illusions that I am going to change the world – at least, not on a grand scale. That’s okay, though; there are so many people like me around the world, each working on one little bit of the puzzle, and with our powers combined… One person rarely changes the world, but it doesn’t take that many individuals doing their thing to have a demonstrable effect. I am content to focus on my corner of the world, perhaps as large as “regional” scale, but certainly locally.
This only addresses part of what I mean, though. There’s so much that I want to do, both personally and professionally, and I’m struggling with how I can fit even a small portion of it into the time I have left – and how I can learn to be okay with doing only that small portion.
A few can make a difference
July 15, 2014
A week or so ago, I received an email as a supporter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, telling us of an amendment being put forth to the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act, which would remove funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program. TAP is “by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.” The email urged us to contact our Senators, which I did.
Yesterday, I received another email from the RTC, with good news: between the 7,000ish of us who, like me, wrote to our Senators, and the action of 85 groups from the sponsor Senator’s constituency, the amendment has been dropped.
While this is good news in and of itself, it also is heartening to consider in light of what it denotes for personal efficacy.
One of the biggest barriers, it seems to me, to people actually doing anything to try to affect societal issues is the feeling that they can’t have any effect. They’re just one person – what good does can they do?
And it is true: realistically, it is unlikely that any given person is going to be the Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. of his or her cause. BUT…
In the small example above, a relatively-small number of people did make a difference. It only took 7,000 people plus however many signed the letter that the 85 groups put together. Even if that means 10,000 people total… that’s not that many. (The US population as a whole is around 313 million.) We managed to affect federal funding policy, to defend something we care about. And while stopping something from being removed that already exists is less difficult than bringing into existence something that doesn’t, it is still a cause for hope… and a reason to keep trying.
One person may not be able to make any difference on the national scale by themselves. But a relatively small group of individuals can.