Earlier today. I hiked here a couple years ago with Larry Hogue and Florian. It hasn’t changed much. That’s good.
… I have one here. Really, I mean I’ve been threatening to do podcasts up around here for like five years but putting it off because editing and reformatting and cleaning up was too much work, and here they go and make something where I just talk into my phone and hit “save?” This first ‘cast is entitled The Extinction of Trivial Experiences. Hope you like it. You can keep up by checking the right-hand sidebar widget box on this here site, or clicking one of the very many RSS icons to be found attached to either the widget or the individual podcasts.
Future installments will likely include sessions recorded mid-hike, sound effects, interviews and readings of things I wrote a long time ago if I don’t hate them now.
This one’s a rumination on once-common, perhaps too-common experiences that have become far more rare as a result of technological advancement.
Apologies, by the way, if you’ve gotten multiple announcements of this, especially on Facebook or Twitter. Still ironing out the configurations for how those get updated.
A little bit of blurry video, anyway.
Not shown: a frillion lizards, two species of hummingbirds conducting territorial and mating displays, a red-tailed hawk keering loudly behind my head but remaining unseen, and my lack of sandwich in my pack. Not counting the extra mile of walking and bushwhacking from stupidly asking a local how to get to the hard-to-find north trailhead (though the resulting walk up Chino Canyon was pretty), this was about four miles and 1500 feet of climb, more or less.
At about 4:30 this afternoon the hair started standing up on the back of my neck and I went outside. I’d been working all day on a website — work for a friend, but paid work, much appreciated these days — and though I’d promised myself a break in mid-afternoon the day got away from me. The sun started sliding past the other side of the mountain, the clouds started building up on the ridge, and I suddenly thought of my summer in Nipton: the desert all around me, and I spent most of the summer inside with the blinds drawn, moping.
I drove down to the south end of the South Lykken Trail, tightened my bootlaces and headed up the hill.
It was a gorgeous and inconsequential hike. Chuparosa was in full bloom in the flats, and Costa’s hummingbirds in them as thick as bees, flashing their mind-boggling purple heads. The incienso has come further into bloom, with a few scattered daisies here and there and a frillion buds across the hillsides a week away from opening. By Tuesday the mountain will be yellow.
The trail switchbacks up the mountain rather steeply after you get about a quarter mile from the trailhead. I am starting to realize that I should save time and just note when a trail around here doesn’t start out in steep switchbacks. I am more out of shape than I had thought, I told myself during breathing break number three. Pacing has always been a problem for me. All those climbs of Diablo came with naps on the way up, but I often fail to remember this. It gets harder to recover my losses with each passing year, each increment of age. I am a rubber band just past its sell-by date: less eager to spring back, more likely to tear. Or so I felt. A two-mile hike would have been nothing for me five years ago. Or so I felt. The sciatica is intimidating, but it doesn’t actually harm me if I ignore it and walk anyway. I can breathe hard for a very long time if I have to. I remembered the switchbacks at the head of Mitchell Canyon on Mount Diablo, which climbed 122 feet in a mile and a half, and when I got to the top I still had another five miles and 1700 feet to climb, and then I had to turn around and walk back.
The thing that saved me on those hikes was that I’d stop, and rest, and watch and listen, and I’d always see something that would justify the stop. I thought about that for a while as my pulse went back into double digits.
That was when I finally heard the coyote song drifting up to me from the floor of the canyon. After a while the canyon wrens joined them. A cold breeze off the ridge soaked the back of my shirt.
Five years ago the prospect of a two-mile hike in the desert mountains less than five miles from my house on a late afternoon whim would actually have seemed unbelievably fortunate. Just two miles and just six hundred feet climbed. Not much. A Costa’s hummingbird the size of my thumb could cover that in less than a minute. Of course it’d be one-fiftieth my age, or something.
[Something I wrote in comments on the old blog a few years back. Found it, decided it deserved its own post. Here it is.]
I am only an old man, sitting here in sunlight
bright morning, springtime in these mountain heights.
The children followed me. “Nanpo Tszekhi, sing us a poem!”
I spread my arms wide, opened my eyes wide,
sang to them as the pea hen calls its mate.
They ran off laughing. I walked alone into the mountains.
What is this tree, its canopy so broad
the teams of a hundred chariots could shelter underneath?
When Heilongjiang’s winter storms descend,
each stallion would remain dry and warm beneath these branches.
Why have these mountains’ men not cut it down,
sawn stout limbs for temple timbers, planks for Huang Ho barges?
I looked: no branch ran so much as two chi straight.
There is enough wood here to fire ten thousand pots,
and then to boil water to fill all ten thousand pots,
and then to roast pork enough that each of the ten thousand pots
could steam a hundred bao! I sniffed the wood.
Its aroma, dung with ichor and ammonia, made my nostrils burn.
The smoke from such wood would empty out a town.
Still, I thought, the villagers could surely use the roots
to carve coffins for their dead,
or smallboxes to lacquer and keep rice.
No root was broader than my thumb. A basketwork of them
held the palatial tree fast to the mountain.
Cannot the leaves be used to season rice,
to wrap small fishes in for steaming?
The leaf I plucked made my tongue bleed with its rasps.
Massive enough to hold a town, this tree is worth little.
All men die, princes and monks and laborers.
The ten thousand things die. What was useful is consumed,
its ashes tossed on the dungheap, its beauty forgotten.
In uselessness this tree found immortality.
(A non-exhaustive list.)
- “Wow, someone certainly has a lot of time on their hands.”
- “When progressives form firing squads they stand in a circle.”
- “Whatever happened to personal accountability?”
- “I know it’s not politically correct to say this…”
- “Let me tell you in excruciating detail why the term ‘mansplaining’ is offensive.”
- “Here’s why the collapse of Building 7 seems suspicious to me.”
- “It’s really more about class than race.”
- “You really could be working on more important issues than this trivial identity politics anger thing.”
- “PZ Myers hates me!”
- “gender feminists”
- “I’ll pray for you.”
- “I’m just saying that [two contrasting subsets of the human species] are wired differently, that’s all.”
- “There’s no reason to get hysterical.”
- “Are you being paid by the pharmaceutical industry?”
- “You know what else is dangerous to the environment and human health? Dihydrogen monoxide!”
- “Here is a list of different ways to say ‘I’m a big honking jerk’ on the Internet.”
- “They criticize him now, but back in 2007 they called us racists for suggesting Obama was shiftless, lazy and no-account!”
- “That thing you’re doing is just SO [span of time] ago.”
- “I like to call those kinds of environmentalists ‘BANANAs’ – Build Absolutely Nothing Anywhere Near Anything.”
- “Don’t apologize for that slur. The people who claim to be upset are just jealous of your success as a blogger.”
- “I’m not the enemy, you [slur].”
- “Isn’t it ironic that you’re making this argument on a computer.”
- “What, solar is bad now? It’s so hard to keep up.”
- “This blog is so much more welcoming than the jerks over at [X] blog”
- “What, we’re not supposed to call them [Negroes/girls/trannies/Papagos/whatever] anymore? It’s so hard to keep up.”
- “So why is it perfectly okay for a Black person to call me ‘honky’?”
- “He was just a dog. Shouldn’t you be over him by now?”
- “As a popular blogger, you have an obligation to write about [X]”
- “By responding negatively to what I said you are violating my freedom of speech! Shut up, you freedom-of-speech-violating person!”