Archive for February, 2012


February 24, 2012


  Hear about that horrible fire in Comayagua Honduras this week?  Daughter called to express concern.  She taught third grade in that city 2003-2004.  We visited. Flew into Tegucigalpa where the landing strip is too short for a big jet and thus its nose protrudes over the edge of a cliff when it finally comes to rest.  Everybody claps.  Beat up truck tows it back to “terminal”. 

  Bus from the capital city to Comayagua was a used yellow school bus from the US still sporting the name of its alma mater.  Several hour trip not for faint of heart.  While passing another bus going uphill around a curve the driver’s accomplice leaned out the door to beat the hood of the sensible with a baseball bat while laughing uproariously.

  Going downhill was even more disconcerting because of the increased speed and noise from the chickens as we rocked and rolled.  I put my feet up on the back of the seat in front of me, but the copilot pointed at them with his slugger.  Don’t know if I’d committed some sort of cultural faux-pas (er, paso en falso) or if he was insulting my manhood.

  Relieved to arrive alive we made our way to the Hotel Casagrande.  Daughter had given us two choices – “a really nice, but sort of expensive place that would be convenient or one further away that would be less expensive”.  “How much for the expensive place?”  “$25.00/night with breakfast.”  No foolin’.

  Daughter speaks Spanish – obviously – but purpose of the Escuela was/is to make the students Spanish/English bilingual.  It is a private school for the children of the local elite and expensive by Isthmus standards.  It was clear that her students loved her and vice versa.  She worries after them these years hence because of the oozing of the drug trade down from Mexico.  Hope none of her former charges were in that hoosegow* conflagration… 

  We traveled around the country for a week ending back in Tegucigalpa.  Went up to visit the Galeria Nacional de Arte, but were initially disappointed to find it closed.  Shot the breeze with the guards a bit and ended up getting a private tour.  The space was a converted colonial building made all the more interesting by its lack of most modern museum accouterments.

  Daughter hailed a cab to see us back to the airport.  Driver was worse even than that of the aforementioned bus and used sidewalks and green space as passing lanes.  Hija spoke to him sternly and fury immediately blazed in his eyes.  The taking of instructions from a female was not part of his life experience.

  I couldn’t believe it, but curbside at the airport daughter told him to wait while we embraced and goodbyed.  He’d drive her to the bus station to start her way back to Comayagua.  Oh lord.  I told wife if she hadn’t made me have kids we’d have a whole lot more money and a whole lot less heartache.

*From the Spanish: juzgado – courtroom

**Piece above is “Pasion por Amapalo” (Passion for Poppy) acrylic on canvas by Jorge Restrepo.  cf Show was called “Urdimbres” (Waves) and was up in the Honduran National Gallery of Art 15 to 30 April, 2004

***Ironically, the Honduran island of Roatan is often mentioned as a beautiful and muy barato place to retire.  We visited and agree.

Final Answer

February 17, 2012

  In the Science Tuesday section of the 2/14/12 NYT was an interesting article about novelty seekers*.  Heretofore a positive answer to questions like “Are you easily bored – do you thrive in conditions that seem chaotic” were linked to problems like attention deficit disorder, alcoholism, and worse.

  New research suggests that “Novelty-seeking is one of the traits that keeps you healthy and happy and fosters personality growth as you age… is a crucial predictor of well being… can lead to antisocial behavior, but if you combine this adventurousness and curiosity with persistence and a sense that it’s not all about you, then you get the kind of creativity that benefits society as a whole…”

  They call it “neophilia” and describe its role in the evolutionary success of our forebears.  We’d never have left the shade much less Olduvai had we not, at least some of us, a healthy dose of curiosity.  And novelty-seeking combined with two other traits (persistence and self-transcendance) turns out to be “a crucial combination… in people who flourished over the years… [and have the] greatest satisfaction with life”.

  There was an online quiz accompanying this article and I figured I might as well take it.  Tone was set with question #1.  I wanted to answer no to “Do you ever speed” but unfortunately I’d won a $168.00 speeding ticket earlier in the day.  Suffice it to say that the final results indicate that I ought to live forever and be quite happy**.

  Such knowledge couldn’t come at a better time since, after thirty-five years at the same job (no sick days) it is now time for plan B and my roommate and I are excited.  In case she reads this and takes the quiz though I must hasten to add that I didn’t get a ‘perfect’ score.  To the question: “Away at a convention a gorgeous married colleague from another city suggests a rendezvous, you…” 

  I checked C “You feel insulted”.  Final answer.

*”What’s New? A Penchant For Novelty Has Benefits” by John Tierney

**”You tend to enthusiastically approach the new and different as potentially rewarding and downplay any risks involved.  You may live too fast and die too young, but you also explore, experiment and otherwise push the envelope for the rest of us, often in productive ways.  You’re innovative, adventurous, and extravagant but also apt to be impulsive, irritable, and overindulgent regarding food, alcohol, drugs, and other temptations.”

Don’t Be A Stranger

February 10, 2012


  Much to my chagrin and way too late I just found out that the Wall Street Journal has an “extreme sports correspondent”.  If anyone out there knows what he gets per column inch please don’t tell me.  It would probably make me throw up.

Anyway, the most recent bit* was about climbing The Nose of Yosemite’sEl Capitan.  The route goes up the line between light and dark in the photo above and the top is some 3,000 feet above the valley floor. (The Burj Khalifa is about 2,700 tall) The first ascent in 1959 required an effort spanning thirty days.

Record time now is just over two hours which blows my mind.  Nose in a Day (aka NIYAD) – summit in twenty-four hours – is a relatively common occurrence and I’m close to convincing myself that with a bit (well, lot) of training and a young partner I could maybe accomplish that feat.  The considerable traffic over the last fifty years has made the path quite plain and clean.

Interesting thing is that though there is risk in opting for speed, there is also an element of safety.  The weather can change quickly, trapping those halfway through the more typical four or five day vertical journey.  Climbers die there every year.  Not long ago a pair froze to death not far from the finish.

In about 1975 I climbed up the dang thing with an amazing guy by the name of Ted Davis.  Ted’d left the states and the draft forCanadasome years before, but in those days of border porosity it was no problem to go back and forth with anonymity.

I’d never met a “draft dodger” and was predisposed to disrespect.  My number in the draft lottery was 101 to which the board never got close so military service got little serious consideration in my numb naïve mind.  Grizzly Ted took great pleasure filling in all of the blank spaces.  Including gratitude for those who did find themselves in harm’s way.

Politics had never come up with any of my other climbing buddies.  Neither did Buddhism, meditation, vegetarianism, or the environment until I met Ted.  He railed against the clear-cut decimation of northern forests and operated a company – Yossarian Enterprises – that replanted by the thousands.

Ted had climbed the Nose the previous year and invited me to accompany him for an attempt up a route more difficult and less traveled.  Two days in, about half way up, tired, hot, and cramped, we found ourselves atop a huge flat ledge.  It was wonderful to be able stretch out and reorganize our gear.  But then sun went down and stopped evaporating what turned into a waterfall.  We got soaked to the bone.

Water and green slime characterized the next few rope lengths (150’ ea).  The 25th was vegetated, rotten, running with water, and punctuated with a few dead mice(!).  Whenever you’d extend an arm to the rock, whether to place or remove protection, the water would course down your sleeve.  We should have turned back, difficult though that would certainly have been.

Day later we got to the tiny and sloping Sous Le Toit ledge.  Out of the waterfall we hoped to dry out.  Weather took a turn for the (even) worse.  It got much colder, windy, and began to snow.  Ropes froze.  Blizzard.  We put on our cagoules and climbed into our bivy sack.  Knees to chest we were for twenty-four hours.

We played umpteen games of twenty questions of which I won only about five.  We talked about his journey north and how his family felt about it.  It’s been a long time, but I clearly remember him describe his family’s disagreement, but still fervent support.  This was tremendous food for thought and I’ve come back to it again and again as first a brother and later as a parent.

Next day as clouds began to pull away from the Captain we began to hear the swoosh swoosh of helicopter blades.  I started to move around to get organized and recommence our upward progress.  Ted told me to “hold on a moment.  They’re here to rescue someone and we don’t want them to think we need help”.  I didn’t think we did either, but would have enjoyed a sympathetic fly-by expression of concern.

We topped out the next evening and started the hike down, but it was overcast and pitch black.  We decided that it would be dangerous to continue and best to spend one more night in the other realm.  Ted had some matches and we stoked a small fire till just before dawn.

That summer was the last time I laid eyes on Ted Davis.  We kept up correspondence and had several near misses, but never again crossed paths.  He died of cancer a few years ago and it pains me no end that but for a few miles and weeks we could have hiked together with our kids in Colorado several summers in a row.

Few days after he died daughter called with a big decision to make and had spent a lot of time alone in contemplation.  I told her that was a good approach and quoted from a book Ted had given me: “Perhaps the deepest reason why we are afraid of death is because we do not know who we are… Without our familiar props, we are faced with just ourselves, a person we do not know, an unnerving stranger with whom we have been living all the time but who we never really wanted to meet”**.

*Wall Street Journal February 2, 2012

**Sogyal Rinpoche, Tibetan Book of Living and Dying

***The route Ted and I did, the Salathe, is left of the Nose, goes up to the heart shaped depression, around its left edge, then straight up.  The ‘document’ just above is the topo we drew with the help of several other friends who’d recently climbed the route.

It’s True Even If It Didn’t Happen*

February 3, 2012


 OK. It is probably either because I’m an insecure misfit or else am in search of an excuse for misanthropic behavior, but I’m again going to quote my bud Carl Jung: “The more a man’s life is shaped by the collective norm, the greater is his individual immorality”.

  Why now?  Well, because, as you may have heard, it is the fiftieth anniversary of the publication of One Flew Over The Cuckoo’s Nest.  On NPR I just heard the bit from the movie where Jack Nicholson playing McMurphy asks Nurse Ratched to modify the work schedule so the guys can watch the World Series.  “A little change never hurt, huh? A little variety?”

  She wouldn’t have it.  “What you’re asking is that we change a very carefully worked out schedule.”  Conform.  Hew to the baseline.  Don’t raise your hand, ask questions, or use your outside voice inside.  That was in 1962 and the tumult in western society was just getting started. 

  Thinking back upon all that, I find it incredible that in one sense popular culture is more misdirected than ever.  Globally now even.  As Irish poet John O’Donohue told Krista Tippett**, “One of the huge confusions of our time is to mistake glamour for beauty.”  It’s like the metaphor from The Cuckoo’s Nest that pervades is the lobotomy…

*A great line from the book.  And I guess it would apply to all great fiction…

**On Being 1/26/12