Sunday, January 31, 2010


I had a little false start on my drive into Yosemite. Here’s a good rule of thumb for anyone driving through the mountains in the winter. If you know that some roads are closed for the winter, you should definitely map out your route and actually use that route instead of relying on a GPS. Otherwise you may find that you’ve added 2 hrs onto your trip when you hit a road that says “snow tires only”.

Eventually I reached Mariposa, CA (which is a bit further from the park than I thought). I stayed there and took the bus in each day (2 days) to avoid camping in the cold weather without the security blanket of my car (and literally the extra blankets in the car). One highlight on the bus was riding across the isle from Shelton John. For those who have seen the Ken Burn’s documentary on the national parks Shelton John is the philosophical park ranger who likes to compare the confluence of geological forces to music, the concept of responsibility in relation to national and state parks, etc. I did not talk to him on the bus because he was either sleeping or praying. Its hard to tell the difference sometimes. However, I did talk to him at the visitor center. He said that people don’t normally recognize him. He postulated that this is because people don’t expect to see people from TV in real life. He said tons of famous people like Harrison Ford come to Yosemite and hardly anyone notices them. This is a valid point, there is a lot of evidence that we completely fail to notice things that we don’t expect to see and further evidence that we fill in gaps of our memory with things we do expect to see. Its been pretty well documented in court studies that visual memory is very unreliable (though it remains the most convincing type of evidence to a jury). Another park ranger noted that when Brooks and Robin Lopez came everyone noticed them, however this could be because it is hard not to notice someone that is 7 feet tall, famous or not.

Shelton John

Yosemite Valley was really cool. Completely surrounded by some amazing mountain formations (that I believe were carved by glaciers). The waterfalls were moving pretty well, apparently they dry up in September, but start moving again in January because the area gets a good bit of snow, but its still warm enough for it to melt. I spent the whole first day in the valley area. I tried to walk all the way to the top of Yosemite Falls. There were a bunch of kids also doing the walk with the Yosemite Institute that does outdoor education. They kids were from San Jose. Their leaders told me I probably wouldn’t get to go past the view point that was on level with the bottom of the upper falls (there are 3 falls upper, middle, and lower that combine to be over 600ft). About a hundred yards after the viewpoint I fell into about 5 feet of snow. I decided they were right, dug myself out of my snow hole, and walked back down. PS: walking up and down a mountain in the snow is relatively easy on your joints but super hard on your muscles, which I guess is a good thing, but it made me very tired. I also saw bride veil falls and vernal falls while I was in Yosemite.

Me at the viewpoint (only upper falls is shown here)

At the visitor center I was informed that I had to put away my bear spray. Bear spray is not allowed in Yosemite. Its not all that necessary because the area only has black bears. I like to compare black bears to my parent’s yellow lab Bratton. If a hamster stood on its hind legs and hissed Bratton would run away scared, despite the fact that she outweighs a hamster by 40 lbs, is no slower than a hamster, and has a much more vicious bite. Bratton is convinced that almost anything can defeat her in a fight. Black bears are pretty similar, they really only attack humans when they get frightened. If you make noise as you walk they’ll run away, all you have to do is avoid sneaking up on them. Apparently instead of just making noise a lot of people from the Bay Area would take out their bear spray and shoot at the bear who was a good 50 ft away and upwind. Bear spray only shoots about 15 ft so. This means that this shot is not only ineffective, but that is also is likely to blow back at the shooter, possibly causing long term damage. Other characters tried spraying their tents or clothes as a way of preventing a bear attack. This is about the worst thing you do with bear spray, short of spraying yourself in the face. After a few of these incidents they outlawed bear spray in Yosemite.

The second day I went up to Badger Pass, where I had a couple of hours to ski. Badger Pass is the only downhill ski area in a national park. It was a good bit of fun and not crowded at all. There were maybe 50 people there (which is not much for a mountain with 4 lifts). A man I had seen on the park bus a few times and was playing the game “gay or European” with (not quite as fun as the game “daughter or girlfriend” but still a good game) thought I was a ski instructor and asked me about lessons. I took this as a major complement to my skiing, I think I’ve gotten a lot better this year. The gay or European guy talked with a slight lisp, carried around a small dog which he called “my baby”, and may have been with another man wearing some pimped out rings and a large fur coat. Fur coat pimp guy was from Charlotte so that’s cool. Never found out where gay or European guy was from, but I’m kind of thinking he is both gay and European.

Badger Pass

After Badger Pass I took the bus out to Nevada and Vernal Falls. The trail was closed after Bernal Falls, but that was ok because it was starting to get dark anyways. The bus driver taking me back to the visitor center told me that they are thinking about restoring Hetch Hetchy Valley. Hetch Hetchy was damed a while back to provide water and electricity to San Francisco. This was the first real environmental v. development battle in the US. Its also the famous battle between Muir and Pinchot and one of the major historical battles during the progressive era of Roosevelt, Taft, and Wilson. The environmentalists eventually lost when the Wilson administration decided to dam the valley. Apparently its not that useful to San Francisco anymore so there is discussion about restoring it. Of course there is a new potential battle within the park community. One group wants to restore the valley but not put in buildings in, leave it essentially off limits to all but backpackers. I kind of like this, in the sense that a valley surrounded totally by mountains is really cool with no buildings in the way. But at the same time there is something to the idea of making the best features of the park accessible to everyone. Yosemite is after all a national park and not a national forest. The group that wants to keep out buildings isn’t really worried about accesability (or my views for that matter). Its main concern is making the area “natural” again. Now I’m not exactly sure what “natural” is, but I’m probably with the group that thinks it’s a relatively meaningless word that people use to promote things they like. Keeping out buildings in Yosemite for this group, keeping birth control out of the phillipeans for Catholics, preventing gay marriage for Pat Roberson, etc. I think it’s a sham. We think of “nature” or “natural” as being good so people try to claim that certain things are “natural” and that other things aren’t. But isn’t creating buildings part of our human nature, isn’t that natural. Isn’t trying to alter our social surroundings and constantly changing social conditions also a part of our “nature”.

Me and the John Muir Statue

I thought about a some similar things in ethics (because we definitely try to make this pitch that “nature” is ethical). What is justice? That’s a tough question right. You can come at it from so many angles: egalitarian, utilitarian, virtues, de-ontological, Kantian, etc. How do you decide. Recently a new brand of utilitarianism has swept the world and its rather enticing. John Rawls said that a just society would be the one we would create if we had to make it from behind a veil of ignorance (not knowing what our place in that society would be). But, Rawls added that we can’t be completely ignorant. We need a concept of economics, otherwise how will we know how to build the society (I would add that we might also need a concept of psychology and an understanding of happiness). But this creates a new problem. What kind of economic model do we use. We could go Chicago school, neo-classical, Marxist, Keynesian, etc. And of course the kind of economic theory you choose is going to have a lot to do with your current economic status, historical, cultural status. There’s no objective way of knowing what to pick and so we’re already infected with an inability to get behind this veil of ignorance. So what is justice really? Maybe the inarticulate Thrasymachus of Plato's Republic was on to something. Maybe justice really is just an argument based on obscure undefined buzz words like nature, good, fair, etc intended to advance the agenda of whoever is talking.

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Notes from San Francisco: A Strange Place Indeed

Driving into San Francisco I got to see the beautiful hills of the Napa vineyards. Back in the days of John Steinbach these hills were worked by abused illegal immigrants who (many of which were children). Thanks to modern social advances in the state of California the hills are now worked by illegal immigrants (many of which are children) who are abused a little less. Hooray!!!

As I drove in I noticed thousands upon thousands of cars driving out. It was approximately 4:30pm which I’m told means that the many thousands of people who go to work at 7:00am in the Bay but can’t afford to live there are supposed to drive in bumper to bumper traffic (at about 30 mph) for 50 or so miles.

I then drove into Berkeley. When I first reached Berkley I was on a very low elevation area that seemed to be very prone to flooding. A lot of Hispanic people, some black people, and a few white people were walking around in this area. The buildings there had bars on the windows. The bars looked like this:

As I drove uphill I began seeing lots of white and Asian people. The two groups had distinctive modes of dress. The Asians wore lots of jeans, sweatshirts, and other clothes you might find at the gap. The whites were separated by gender. The males wore really tight jeans, kind of like cowboys except their jeans were dark. The women wore colorful tights and tops that they bought at anthropologie. I suspect that they would tell you they bought these tops (that definitely came from anthropologie) at the thrift store, but I did not ask any of them so I cannot confirm this suspicion. Some of the white people had bikes. These bikes were very old and lacked the advantages that modern bicycle technology has to offer. Many of them also carried apple computers. Apple a large corporate entity, run by a slave driving maniac, that sells hi-tech items to yuppies so as to increase shareholder profits. Yet apple is cool because it rejects the pleasures of the first-world. I do not exactly understand this, but hope to figure it out soon. . .

Next I drove to San Francisco. I had to pay $4 to cross a bridge. Apparently this is a very special bridge, but I’m not sure why. I did not like paying $4 and would have turned around and gone another way, but I think this would have made the people behind me mad. Driver’s in San Francisco are generally fairly angry people. They like to honk their horns a lot (often for no clear reason). Any time they have to wait longer than they would like they start honking their horns.

This is the place where you pay $4 to go over a bridge.

When you get into the city the roads are very strange. There are these light rail busses that use the same streets as cars. Sometimes you are allowed to ride in a lane with rail tracks, sometimes you are not allowed to do this. I just did whatever the car in front of me did. If there was no car in front of me or if that car had a license plate that read “Minnesota” I quickly turned onto a street that did not have these rails.

Parking in San Francisco is $38 per day. This is more expensive than Mariposa, CA where parking is $0 per day. There are lots of homeless people in San Francisco, when it rains they sleep in their sleeping bags under various shop signs. I would have taken a picture to show you, but I did not know if that would violate local custom.

I stayed in the USA Hostel. My roomate’s name was Venrik,, or Penrik, or Dinrik. I’m not exactly sure, but it definitely ended with an irk. He had been traveling all over America. He was very impressed by Las Vegas. He had intended to visit the Grand Canyon while he was there but he didn’t because “the party and the women that take off their clothes were too good to leave”. I walked down to the Mission District in search of my own party, but I discovered that San Francisco, CA is like Helena, MT in that neither have much of a Monday night party scene. I was going to walk back, but on my way I saw a young woman raise her hand at which point a taxi driver pulled right up to here and took her away. I thought to myself “I can do that too. I saw it from Sex and the City.” And so I did. I did not know if I was supposed to tip the taxi driver or how much I should tip him so I just told him to give me a $10 back as change from my $20 on a $7.34 taxi bill. Was that appropriate?

When I got back I was hungry and noticed a Thai place. So I walked over to get some food. I decided to get sweet and sour duck, because I had never had duck before. It was ok, but not my favorite.

The next morning I walked over to Fisherman’s Wharf. I heard it was touristy, but you get to see the sea lions. Being a tourist myself I didn’t mind the thought of being around my own kind, and I was all up for see lions. Unfortunately I saw neither tourists nor sea lions. I did see some people fishing off the dock and some park employees doing some ship restoration.

Fisherman's Wharf

On the way to and from Fisherman’s Wharf I saw China Town and Little Italy. This was excellent because I had never scene a China Town or a Little Italy before. China Town is the most crowded place on earth. It smells like fish. There are lots of outdoor markets there and as you might guess fish is a primary item. All the people speak a langauge that is not English. I suspect it might be Chinese, but I cannot confirm this because I cannot recognize any languages other than English and Pig Latin. Little Italy has many places to eat that cost more money than I was willing to pay. It also has little flags of Italy on the lamp posts. It seems that China Town may be invading Little Italy, because I saw quite a few stores with Chinese writing within Little Italy.

This is what China Town looks like

After this I decided to drive down the famous Lombard Drive. I was going to pull a James Bond and whiz down really fast, but I noticed a 25mph speed limit sign. I figured 2 tickets was enough for one trip and decided to coast down at a slower speed. After Lombard Drive I drove out of San Francisco at approximately 4:30pm and became one of the cars I had seen on my way in. I honked my horn one time when I wished we were going faster, this helped me fit in with the group and get the full San Francisco experience.

Monday, January 25, 2010

The Redwoods

When you first see them you are in total shock, at least I was. These trees are gigantic. Many of them are over 300 ft tall. 300 feet is about like having 45 times standing straight up stacked against one on top of the other. They don’t have very deep roots. Due to the wet and nutrient ground they don’t need them. Instead their roots spread out and lock in to each other. Then when a big storm or something comes they have a large mutual support network to hold each other up. Their bark is super thick and isn’t alive, this allows them to withstand fire. To some degree they thrive on the fire, they need it to kill off competition that will surely steal all the water and good nutrients if allowed to survive.

And then I’m not in shock anymore, not surprised at all. I’ve looked them over, figured out what they are, categorized them, learned a little about what makes them work . . . in short, I’ve gotten used to them. Pretty soon they were cool but not that exciting and anyways it hurts to look up like that for so long. Seriously, you’re neck is not made to stare up 300 ft all day (and neither are your eyes, they need to look at the ground or else you start tripping all over the trail . . . trust me on that one . . . ).

In some ways the cultural anthropology fieldwork model developed by Malinowski. The idea is that you go to a new place, get totally shocked, get used to it in some piercian process of semiosis, then go back home, get shocked again, get used to it again, and then finally have a new way of reflecting on your experiences and bridging everything together. But what happens when you already have a pretty good idea of where you’re headed. I’ve seen pictures of the redwoods and so my shock didn’t last that long, I was surprised at something I knew was coming (like kids at Christmas) but that surprise doesn’t last long enough to have some lasting impact. I wonder if the same problem is occurring in anthropology – as things like video and globalization become more and more prevalent.

On a separate note I’m glad that the state of California saved so many areas of redwood forests. A lot are gone but a lot are still there. There are tons of good groves and quite a few great parks. I spent some time in Jeddediah and in the Prairie Creek Reedwoods State Park (the avenue of giants drive there is phenomenal). Really I think the whole country has done a pretty good job of saving off sacred pieces of land, we’re probably as good at it as anyone else in the world (the areas that aren’t named as sacred I’m not so sure about).

ave of giants

Unfortunately my run of good luck with the weather ran out in the redwoods and the forecast is 90 – 100% chance of rain for the rest of the week. Because of this I only really spent one day in them. I’m in San Francisco now, and tomorrow night I’ll head to Mariposa and then into Yosemite the next day.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

Columbia River Gorge and Oregon Coast

After Portland I headed down to the Columbia River Gorge and using a combination of the historic highway and the new interstate. This section of the trip wasn’t part of my original plan (mainly because I had forgotten it was here) but when Ashley mentioned it and I thought back to reading about the area in Richard White’s The Organic Machine I knew I had to stop in. The area was absolutely gorgeous. So far every gorge I’ve been too (this plus Linville and New River) has been a great trip. The Columbia River Gorge is absolutely loaded with waterfalls. There are little ones coming down right at the side of the road every mile or so. And a number of gigantic ones. I hiked up to the top of these two large waterfalls

Wahkeena Falls

Multnohma Falls

One of the coolest things about the gorge is that it is a sight where you can literally stand on a number of major historical events. The area was originally home to a ton of different tribes who lived off the abundance of salmon and other sea and rainforest life in the area. During the multifaceted Indian, European, and American trade, colonization, and war that created all sorts of strange and temporary alliances during the 17 and 1800’s a pigeon language combining local dialects with a variety of European languages swept the area. Later due to disease and colonization most of the natives were replaced by Americans who were also heavily involved in the fishing salmon. During the New Deal era two Dams were built to put people back to work and create electricity for the surrounding areas (and flood some Indian villages . . . but no one ever mentions that). A series of fantastic parks and roads for recreation were also built. During the post-war era a lack of fishing regulation, a new interstate built right through the gorge, and the two dams brought the salmon population to its knees. Today we spend more money trying to fix the mistakes of those projects than we spent on the projects themselves. For instance, it takes constant dredging of a stream that was diverted to make room for the interstate in order to prevent mass flooding of the area. A wide variety of plans have been hatched to save the pacific salmon who can’t make it over the dam including “fish ladders”, catching them and the dropping them off upstream, etc. Hopefully in the future we can find ways to avoid building things that will cost more money to fix than they did to make. I’m worried that the gorge is just a sampling of what’s coming next, the realization that suburbia was a very bad long-term plan for the country. I hope I’m wrong.

After a few hours it started raining so I decided to drive down to the Oregon coast. It has a lot more variety than I had anticipated. Some beaches are very sandy with light rolling waves. Others are super rocky with rough waves (I enjoyed trying to climb onto the rocks at some of these). Towards the south Hwy 101 gets really interesting as you have mountains directly to your left and the coast directly to your right.

A rocky coast

I stopped for one night at Beverly Beach State Park in Newport. It had a small nature trail and a cool beach access point. I had a chance to go to the Rouge Brewery in Newport. At Mark and Ashley’s suggestion I tried the John-John. It is named after the master-distiller and brewer (both named John). It is the Dead Guy Ale aged for 3 months in Whisky, pretty good. I also had a pint of a great Hazelnut Brown. I’m a big fan of Hazelnut Brown.

The nature trail at Beverly Beach State Park

At the bay block I heard a bunch of strange noises which I realized the next day are sea lions. There are tons of sea lions from Newport all the way down to the California border. I saw a few swimming around and a ton at the really awesome tourist trap (Sea Lion Cove). I don't understand sea lion culture all that well but I believe I saw some males fighting for the right to various spots in the cove. They didn't really fight, they just pushed each other a little bit until the smaller sea lion gave in. Sea lions are super-polygamous. I feel bad for the weak sea lions which are never going to mate. They say polyagmy in humans is bad for females, I think its just as bad for the vast majority of males who are going home alone in a polygamous society. Really, a lot of things that are pitched as bad for women and good for men are really only good for a small minority of men (I think Eric Wolf and the peasant studies movement really has demonstrated this).

I thought about Darwin and competition for mating and survial rights. One thing we seem to have that the sea lions don't is some sense of something that at least resembles altruism. Other animals protect their young or have group protection setups, but no interpersonal connection. Freud of course thought that we aren't really all that altruistic that its just a myth that helps us repress the truth so that we can just get along with the group protection we need. Marx thought altruism was a myth that helped convince the masses to keep working in a system that didn't favor them. He thought that if people could see their real conditions they would overthrow the system and create a new more benefical system. But out of that he hoped that we could devleope a new sense of values that went beyond the sea lion approach. I don't really know whose right, but I'd like to hope that there's something more going on with us than sea lions already (although I do see plenty of them in us).

Sea Lion Cove

After Sea Lion Cove I got another speeding ticket. Awesome. In my first 9 years of driving I got one ticket. This week I got two. First the 75 in a 70, now I got nailed in a speed trap 47 in a 30 – totally didn’t see the sign and still thought I was in a 45 . . . So I’m really hoping this doesn’t get reported and rock my insurance. The $300 I owe in tickets is enough to begin with.

Thursday, January 21, 2010


I've wanted to visit Portland and the rest of Oregon for a few years now. This was my first chance. I drove to Portland in the dark so I haven't seen the scenery of the state (I'll get a view of that tomorrow as I drive down 101 to the redwoods).

Its been 2 years since I've seen a really large city and having lived in Helena the last year I've begun to think of Billings, MT as a large city. So its a bit of a culture shock to see a skyline, light rail, and a variety of good bars and resturaunts. The weather has been great. Blue skies and no rain which is apparently quite rare here in Portland. I've been really lucky with the weather so far . . . hope it keeps up.

I've stayed with Mark and Ashley as well as their pet pharrot (Olive) and dog (parana). Olive likes to hide in things like sleeping bags, backpacks, duffle bags, etc. A lot of my stuff now smells like pharrot. Sometimes Parana and Olive play together which is very funny. On Wednesday we went to "The In Bar" which is one of the many shops, bars, and resturaunts right by their house in northwest Portland. The In Bar is definitely the smallest bar I've ever seen. It probably had room for 15 people. But apparently it has live music (1 man bands only).

Thursday we went downtown and also made a quick visit to Portland State where we were solicited to sign a petition allowing medical marijuana to be bought by a caretaker or family member of a sick person with a license to grow it. The socitior seemed willing to take my signature if I wrote down an Oregon address (regadless of its validity) but I declined.

In the afternoon we went to SW Portland and visited a few breweries. First the Lucky Dog Brewery which had a great spot to play darts and a great stout. Then the Roots Organic Brewery, which I was probably not cool enough to hang out in. Later we visited the Green Dragon which had at least a hundred beers on tap. They had a "meet a brewer" thing going on and Mark discussed breaking into the industry with him.

I definitely enjoyed the city. It was really pretty, well designed, and had a pretty cool social scene. Still there is always a feeling that the city controls your patterns of movement and thought in ways more rural areas don't. Its not exactly true, but I can definitely relate to the old Jeffersonian idea that rural America is the land of "values" and the city is a zoo that takes away your humanity (even though I know this is far from accurate). After all modern democratic cities never treat its inhabitants like zoo animals . . .

Edit: I forgot to mention that there is a community access channel here that gives homeless people their own 30 minute show, which is generally just a guy (or woman)in a park spouting out whatever thoughts come into his head. Now from my experience a very large percentage of homeless people have some kind of mental illness, which as you can imagine only get's worse during conditions of homelessness. So its pretty interesting to hear what these guys have to say. They do speak in sentences, but I don't think the thoughts are organized enough to say that there are any paragraphs of more than one or two sentences. Sort of a Neitzchian fragment thing . . .

Ashley, Mark, Parana, and Olive

Pioneer Courthouse Square in downtown Portland

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Olympic National Park

What a great place. I started by driving from Bremerton up to Port Angeles, a beautiful hilly at the north end of Washington and right on the water. I visited the main vistior center there and got some advice on where to go for the next couple of days (I always reccomend visitng the information center's at national parks - they are very helpful. From Port Angeles I took 101 to the Mora Campground at Lapush stopping insdie the park for some great hiking. First I took the 2 mile hike down to the large and surpisingly powerful (for this time of year) Marymere Falls then drove a little further and took a 1.5 mile hike to Sol Duc Falls. Sol Duc Falls was fantastic. The river leading into the falls had 3 very large rocks creating essentially 3 seperate waterfalls all coming down at once.

The interior of Olympic NP is rainforest. Its really beautiful and reminds me of the scenes from Avatar. Some people have been getting depressed after seeing Avatar, because they want to live there. Seriously. . . I don't think its about the natural beauty for these people (they could get beautiful rainforests in many places). Its more about the lack of a rule based culture. Freud had a theory (proposed in Civilization and its Discontents) that the reason so many of us civilized people fantasized about "making it in the wilderness" was because the rules, economics, etc of modern culture had so weighed us down that we needed to fantasize about a kind of wilderness society (like avatar). However, in the wake of Marcell Mauss (and plenty of similar research) its become clear that even the most "primitve" of peoples have always lived in rule based socities complete with commodities, spiritual rules, social rules, etc. And those rules are no less complexity or depth than our own (apologies to the very funny movie "The God's Must Be Crazy"). I guess the depressed could try to go it in the wilderness alone, but that's not a very good option either. They're stuck (and to some degree we're all stuck . . . reminiscing about a past that probably never existed.

After the hikes I went to Lapush and stayed at the Mora Campground. The Rialto beach there was incredible. It was exactly the kind of thing I wanted to see. Fast waves. Big rocks jumping out of the ocean. Fantastic.

The next day I drove down to the HoH Rainforest area. I've been noticing that maintaining trails in a rainforest is a real problem. The rain and flooding can wipe them away at any moment. The constant rain also seems to create puddles in the trails which people inevitably try to walk around, which widens the area and seems to erode the area (although maybe that’s not as big of a deal in a rainforest).

After HoH I saw the Ruby beach was another fantastic rocky beach. It was probably cooler than LaPush.

La Push

Sol Duc Falls

Ruby Beach

Trees growing on a fallen tree, apparently this is a common here. Competition is very fierce so the decomposing nutrients and warmth make a good nursery for seeds.

Monday, January 18, 2010

Hiking, Speeding Tickets, and V8

Today's Highlights:
1. Vacummed my room and packed my last few bags
2. Left Helena
3. Did a short hike in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho
5. Got a speeding ticket for going 75 in a 70 (seriously who get's speeding tickets for going 75 in a 70).
6. Staying the night in Bremerton
7. Drank my first ever V8 (not very good)

So I had to say goodbye to Helena. I got one last picture of Mt Helena and then drove out towards Missoula. It really seems like yesterday that I was leaving North Carolina and driving to Helena. Anyway's I got to pass a few of my favorite spots The B&B Market (which I loved until they made the tragic mistake of stopping made-to order sandwiches), Jill and Claire's apartment, and McDonalds Pass came first. A little further on I passed Elliston, MT which is home to one of Montana's strangest events, the annual bigfoot hunt, where on a freezing febuary night hundreds of people run into the woods in search of a man in a bigfoot costume. Yes . . . this really happens. But its not as strange as this .

After Elliston I went through Missoula and was finally in a place I had never been before, which made it feel like things were really under way. Between Missoula and Coeur d'Alene there were a lot of mountains and a lot of fog. When I reached Cour d'Alene I needed some gas and lunch and I decided to try and get down to the lake I had seen from the highway to eat. When I got there I found a series of hiking trails at Tubbs Hill right on the waterfront. From the perspective of a roaming tourist with 3 hours to spend it was a nearly perfect city. It had a great downtown that really merged into the enviornment in a seemless kind of way. Its funny that I mentioned Muir in my last post because he and a few others really represent the idea of a nature that has a spiritual value in and of itself. I think the concept has definitely caught on in a lot of religious traditions. Most notable in my mind is the oceanographer Katherine Jefferts-Schori becoming ECUSA's primate, but there are plenty of other examples as well.

Sometimes I wonry that these attempts to "save nature" forget to really think about how to include people. I'm all about saving preserving certain tracks of land (and I'm planning on visiting a bunch of them in the next few weeks) but its even more important to think about how we can synthesize people and the enviornment into cities that provide both a productivity and quality of life that we can be happy with. Its a bit of an anthropomorphic view, but its the only reasonable view I can come up with. If "nature" has its own value and needs to be saved, then how do we decide what to save. We can't "save" it all if we want to survive as a species. We already have to choose what to save and we choose based on what we like the best. In the meantime its more important to think about how to create cities that "we will like the best". Cour d'Alene may not be a good example of this, but from the perspective of a passer by it definitely seemed that way.

After Cour d'Alene the landscape really flattened out and looked a lot like the eastern plains of Montana. There was some bad traffic around Seattle and Tacoma, but I got through that and I'm on the peninsula now. I'm going through Olympic NP tomorrow and staying at La Push. Then onto Portland. I'll try to blog again then.

Big Foot loves coors light

From Tubbs Hill in cour d'Alene

The plains of eastern Washington

Sunday, January 17, 2010

My Last Day in Helena

So its my final day in Helena. I am planning to leave at 5:30am tomorrow morning (but I'll be lucky to be out before 8:00). You see I'm always a little late. In fact I'm sitting in my office finishing up my final timesheet at Montana Legal Services. I probably should have finished it by Friday . . . which was my last official day of work. Not that it really matters. I'm writing out a timesheet for the last 2 weeks broken down by each half hour. Do I have any idea what I was doing last tuesday at 10:30AM. Not a clue . . . I think I'll write down that I was working on the unsecured debt video. That seems likely enough. I probably shouldn't be admitting this seeing as my supervisor, VISTA leader, MLSA's Deputy Director, and a number of other people are probably going to be reading this. But I will because I think its funny and I don't think it will keep me from getting my last paycheck (watch me be wrong). . .

Emmanual Levinas liked to differentiate between Abraham and Odysseus. He thought of Odysseus as the classic western journeyer. Odysseus was a man on a journey home, he was tired of life away from home and desperately wanted to get back to what he was familiar with. Levinas contrasted this with an archetype more to his liking, Abraham. Abraham left everything that was familiar and in what Kierkegaard called a "leap of fatih" ventured out into the unknown to encounter what was there and to make a new home in a foreign land. I'm part of a third tradition, one so new that it is still looking for its archetype. It seems to have started in mass with beatniks. Its not a journey home and its definitely not a journey into the unknown. Its a journey into the relatively familiar. Its away from home, but not so noble and daring as Abraham's journey. And while its a journey to the familiar it lacks the purpose and determination of Odysseus because there is no plan or end - its more similar to what Derrida what call an "indefinite string of play" in his great lecture at Johns Hopkins. It has a somewhat absurd psycho-spiritual intention that I would like to say is a cross between John Muir and an Ingmar Bergman character. But I'm worried that it is uncomfortably close to a new-age enlightenment.

But what else am I going to do . . . I'm an upper-middle class white male with an anthropology degree, a good car, some money to burn, no job, and no reason to live in any particular place. I've watched enough TV to know what this means. It means that I'm supposed to go on a road trip.

So on that note I'll leave you with a few pictures of Montana (assuming you're still there) because I'm definitely feeling a little nostalgic.

Trask Lake

The top of Mt Helena

The Tetons (technically in Wyoming)

Glacier National Park

VISTA's attempting Yoga posses on our second to last night