Sunday, April 23, 2017

Our First Catskill 3500+

We ascended our first 3500'+ Catskill High Peak yesterday, Windham High Peak. It's the northernmost 3500, but it's one of the least high summits--it's only 3,525' (although our elevation gain was ~1,200' in a couple miles).

We thought it might be a good one to begin on, and it's very early in the season. Temps were in the forties at the trailhead, though at least ten degrees cooler at the summit. Low cloud ceiling, too, but an amazing view nonetheless. It was a very wet hike, this early in the season.

Saw a cool tree-burl-kinda-thing early on in the hike.

A little way in to the hike, there is a patch of old-growth forest, which is rare to see around here--even in the Catskills. It was much . . . darker than the photo seems to suggest. The word "primeval" fits; it felt sacred, otherwordly.

Views from the top . . .

Looking south-ish

L to R: Blackhead Mountain, Black Dome Mountain, and Thomas Cole Mountain. Tops obscured by low-ceiling clouds.

US Geo Survey Triangulation Benchmark

USGS Summit Benchmark
It was a great hike, overall, and a lot of exercise, even if it was an "easy" Catskill.

Fitbit says I climbed 142 flights of stairs . . .

GPS overview of post-hike route

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Messing around with GIMP

Messing around with photo manipulation. Beach pebbles and a thistle.

Saturday, February 25, 2017

Wherein I freak out a little . . .

I gotta be honest, I’m pretty freaked out by what’s happening in the U.S. It’s a litany of terrible things happening every day—not even one new terrible thing every day, but several. 

I don’t even know where to start. I believe in the scientific method, empirical evidence, logic, supporting one’s positions with objective facts and evidence. I believe that people should be treated equally under the law. I believe that all people are not, as a practical matter, treated equally. Part of the reason for this is the profound income inequality that exists in the U.S., part of it is systemic oppression, and a whole host of other reasons; it’s comorbid, it’s multifactorial. I believe—and this one is pretty radical—that, due to these inequalities, in a civilized society, we all should support and contribute to programs we all benefit from.

I support economic safety nets, like welfare, social security, and universal healthcare; safety and health regulations for workers and consumers, like OSHA, FLSA, the EPA, the EEOC, the FTC, the FAA, the FCC, the FDA, the NLRB, ; unions; paid family leave; anti-trust and monopoly laws; public schools; a movement toward free or deeply-subsidized university education for all citizens; NEA and NEH; PBS; environmental protections; freedom of the press . . . you probably get the idea, though I could probably go on and on and on.

All of these things are under assault right now. Steve Bannon, another fucking monster watching over the President’s shoulder, is on record saying that he is “a Leninist” who wants to “. . . destroy the state . . . I want to bring everything crashing down, and destroy all of today’s establishment.”

And we are seeing exactly that.

An Attorney General (Sessions) with a damning record on civil rights issues. A Secretary of Education who lacks any experience with education and who wants charter schools and vouchers. An EPA-head (Pruitt) who has deep and long-term ties to the fossil-fuel industry. An insane also-ran-for-prez, Ben Carson, for Housing and Urban Development, with zero experience in anything even vaguely related to the position for which he’s been tapped. It’s like a bizarro-world where throwing darts or rolling dice for the picks would have made as much or more sense.

A President who watches TV in the evenings and mornings and then launches a volley of incoherent tweets based on his channel-flipping.

Who complains on Twitter about a department store dropping his daughter’s brand.

Who refuses to say anything about the rapidly-increasing threats to Jews and Synagogues, and when it’s clear that he must say something, he reads a statement from a podium, barely looking up to make eye contact with the people covering the event.

Who attacks the credibility of a native-born Federal Court Judge and impugns his ability to be fair, because he is “Mexican.”

Who calls legitimate news “fake” when the media outlets do not fawn over his every decision.

Who signed an ill-conceived and poorly-executed executive order banning Muslims from some countries from traveling to the U.S.

Who has admitted to sexual assault (and who has been accused, in sworn testimony, by his previous wife, of raping her). 

Who wants to increase our stockpile of “nukes” so that we're the biggest, baddest dog in town. (And this coming from a guy who had to ask--HE HAD TO ASK--"if we have nukes, why can't we use them?")

Who has the attention-span of a ferret high on methamphetamine.

Who cannot even parse the questions being asked of him and so responds with nonsense that bubbles up from his ego and need to be always self-aggrandizing.

I mean, this is not a comprehensive list, you know? I could spend a few hours typing up all the stuff. Just look at the EOs to date, or other lists of the ongoing insanity.

But it has led to a point, for me, where I feel completely demoralized. The current administration is doing their damnedest to roll back all of the progress that has occurred in the past two terms, and more.

I have always been aware that the U.S., for all its “freedoms,” is also a deeply problematic construct, in practice. The ideal is many things, some of which we strive for and some of which are simply propaganda, a false grand narrative we always already bought into. Our foreign policy is one that has created enemies all over the world. We enjoy a high standard of living, in some cases at the cost of other peoples’ lives (and if we didn't, your iPhone would cost $2000). We accidentally kill women and children in other countries, written off as “collateral damage.”

And I admit, in the past, I didn’t have to worry about a lot of stuff, politically-speaking, because I was comfortable inhabiting a position of privilege. I didn’t have to worry about being shot by a cop at a traffic stop. I didn’t have to concern myself with being clocked and followed around in a store. I didn’t have to think about not being listened to, or taken seriously when I spoke, in social, academic, or vocational arenas—or any others.

So I apologize for being less of an ally than I could have been. Now I want to be an advocate, I want to be an ally, I want to support people who are at risk to be deeply hurt by the positions this administration is taking.

But. The demoralization . . . it’s . . . powerful. It’s so bleak. That people even exist that support this administration and the ideals they hold is completely terrifying to me. It is so callous, so cold.

I find myself vacillating between wanting to seek out better, more progressive places to relocate to, or, alternately, stocking up on preserved food; buying a long gun, a shotgun, an AR-15, a concealed carry permit, and a Sig-Sauer or a Glock; packing a bugout bag, and literally heading for the hills. That sounds . . . crazy, probably. Yet no less true for that. How bad is it going to get? All these people need is an attack on American soil, either because it will, of course, happen eventually, or because they employ Agents Provocateurs to do some dirty work. And then panic, an excuse to declare martial law, and . . . “Papieren, bitte.”

I hope it won't come to that. I hope that 1984 and The Handmaid's Tale and The Man in the High Castle and The Road and Mockingjay aren't as relevant right now as I fear they are. 

Monday, February 20, 2017

Sacred Geometry

So I’ve been drawing a bit lately. I don’t consider myself particularly talented when it comes to “art,” at least with respect to graphic art, but I certainly appreciate art and design. I bought a 9 x 12-inch sketch pad of 60 lb. fine-toothed paper, and a bunch of other stuff (new compass, erasers, protractors, straightedges, etc.) from Michaels a few months ago. I’ve been drawing mostly with a compass and straightedge; variations of overlapping circles grids, i.e. flowers-of-life, Metatron’s Cubes, et cetera.

This kind of thing.

There is something very relaxing about drawing with mechanical pencils (primary weapon of choice is a Pentel P205, 0.5 mm), and there’s something compelling about geometry, particularly “sacred” geometry. I’m not—and never have been—talented mathematically, either, but I can easily see how the universe (as we perceive and understand it) can be interpreted through math. All one need do is look at the fractal branching of a tree, or the curve of a nautilus shell, or the Mandelbrot-set-beauty-ad-infinitum of a Romanesco Broccoli head, to see it play out. Or one can look to more ephemeral things: the Brownian motion of white cream poured into hot, black coffee, the swirling and rolling and rising curls of beige; exhaled cigarette smoke or wisps of hot breath in the winter; the sinusoidal crests and troughs of lake- or sea-waves lapping or crashing onto shore; the invisible ellipses of the planets’ or satellites’ orbits . . . it’s everywhere, really. Math is an esoteric and occult language to me, but no less compelling for that. I admit it’s a little bit like knowing a few words in a foreign language—in this case, a language that is inherently magical.

The things I’ve been drawing are really variations of the themes mentioned above; iterations of overlapping circles, and as I’ve been making new drawings, I’ve been slowly increasing the complexity, sort of testing the limits of what I can do. A lot of it, more recently, has been inflected by the additional motif of the four (or five) classical elements (again, depending on which tradition one is aligning with) of air, fire, earth, and water (and sometimes “æther” or “spirit” or whatever). I’m not religious, and in fact I consider myself an atheist, but the symbology resonates with me. The ontological / cosmological / epistemological questions we all have are ever-present and the world and everything in it are manifestations of the questions, and at the same time, partial answers to those questions.

The universe is, simultaneously, mystery and revelation.

I sit at my desk and draw, stepping out circles, circumscribing questions, demarcating answers. The pencil makes a satisfying scrape across the paper when traveling along a straightedge connecting vertices, and a soft shushing when shading in a section.

My father was really good at math—he was an Engineer working for the Long Island Lighting Company (subsequently LIPA, KeySpan energy) for most of my childhood. He was involved in the design of the Shoreham Nuclear Power Plant, and took me there as a child to see it, both during construction and later, when it was undergoing initial testing. It was as cool as you might imagine.

Robert Sherwood (dad) at Drawing Board

I have his old drafting materials now; high-end German compasses, triangles, an eraser-shield, a slide rule, Vernier calipers (not quite a drafting tool, admittedly), all sorts of stuff. He taught me to use a compass when I was ten or so. I remember him guiding my hand, showing me how to draw “flowers” using the compass, stepping out the angles of the circle using its radius, then connecting the six sections with arcs. I remember my amazement at how . . . exact it was, and how elegant.

One of dad's compass sets.

That was a beginning, a brief moment of satori, a little flash of insight. It was a seed, a spark, an exposure, illuminating that which lies behind or under the plain truth of things.

He used his tools for his work, and I am using them for play. My father passed on in March of 2013, but I feel him “with” me, most strongly, when I draw. Drawing like this requires some patience, and he was the most patient man I have known. Drawing like this is a little bit ritualistic, a little bit meditative. It’s a time to make space for wonder, for revelation, and for remembrance.