Saturday, February 22, 2014

Unrighteous Dumb Minion

 In 1997 my van was new and “cool,” and I would have been labeled a solid middle class citizen. However, in 2014 I am more likely considered an old creepy dude driving a cheap piece of crap. Both assessments are correct.

Driving a nice car doesn’t make you a nice person.
Driving a big strong truck doesn’t make you big and strong.
Driving a beautiful sports car (yes, some machines are beautiful, in their own way,) doesn’t make you beautiful.

Cars don’t change who you are any more than clothes do. A piranha in a tutu is not a ballerina. A rat in a $600 suit is still a rat (even if--especially if--a banker.) You are who you are inside, no matter how you cover up. You may fool me, but you can’t fool you.


Paint Your Car for Eight Bucks!

Everyone likes a shiny car. (Crows, too, like shiny objects. Also, they mate for life, for better or worse.) Old cars can be made more socially acceptable with a gleaming new paint job, no matter how much juice leaks out their guts. We like to pretend there are no class distinctions in Disunited States, but fresh paint makes your car more “classy,” or even “a classic.”

Your options: A glittering high-class paint job from a skilled professional paint-inhaler for, like, $2000. Or, the “budget” version: remember "Earl Scheib" ? In the 1970s, any car, $99.95, one-day service (?!), quality impossible. The way they shellacked their workers was even worse. (In 2010, the company dissolved like cheap varnish in a rainstorm; a true American suck-cess story.)

Or: Do it yourself for an $8 can of Rust-Oleum from Crap-mart! This first-class repainting cost me a little more, ‘cause I paid my son to sand off the rust spots, since he has the height of a small forward (basketball vernacular) and the wingspan of an Andean Condor (almost extinct, btw).

Witness the class-transcending beauty:


The automobile began as our friend and playmate, but has bred an army of robot-monsters now actively working to destroy us. In North Amer’ca, very few folks can go food gathering without a car. Most think they must own one; the alternative is to (shudder) ride a bus with “lower class” humans, or (silently weep) walk with the lowest classes (or, if well-dressed, be labeled a “health nut”). Now the mechanical demons are taking over China, India, and the rest of the world. Our geese are cooked.

Not really the solution.
One horrifying fact is that autos produce deadly farts. Another is that if a person drives to gather food, instead of walking/running/foraging/farming like the prior many thousand years, they often become afflicted with a condition that cuts across all class lines: they get “fat.”

Food/car addiction is far more deadly than all drug addictions put together. Even if your body (or car) is a temple, bigger is not better. (Military recruiters nowadays consider obesity the single biggest problem facing new recruits.) However, the solution is simple: stop eating crap, and start walking everywhere. This may be a pain in your butt, but surely less pain than carrying a hundred extra pounds everywhere for the rest of your life.


Get more mileage out of your pathetic rotting “flip-flops” with a strip of duct tape!

I prob'ly got another week out of 'em, for $0.00037!


Bad news for oil/gas companies, their investors, and their lovers/defenders: global warming is absolute irrefutable fact.

If you are interested in having an opinion based on science, you might try reading this. Bill McKibben’s work has been consistently correct for 25 years. Most of you won’t read a story this long so I will summarize for you: we’re screwed. The oil and stuff that’s already “discovered” and “owned” is, by itself, enough to destroy life as we know it.

We can’t wait for governments to force us to change our ways. If we want to have a world for our great-grandchildren, we absolutely must change right now. Stop driving...stop flying in airplanes (who wants to be groped like a terrorist anyhow?) Walk or bike to “farmers’ markets” for local food (even so-called “organic” is often flown and/or trucked long distances.) Pretend like gasoline is $50 a gallon--because it will be, someday, when its true cost is figured in.

McKibben suggests that we end the rule of Big Energy the same way we, as a world, forced South Africa to end apartheid: sell all stock in these companies. Refuse to do business with them. Cut ‘em off at the wallet. It can work.

We can stop driving today, right now. If we don’t rise up against our mechanical masters and walk, we are all dead!

(Admission of hypocrisy: This was written while seated by a smoky campfire, having driven to a camp site, near the biggest copper mine in North America, where I had a job interview the next day. What a self-righteous ass!

For penance, I mined aluminum nuggets along the highway for a couple hours. Arizona’s draconian “open container” law ensures that every rural road is lined with beer cans, ripe for the harvest.)


Historian Barbara Tuchman (1912-1989):

“…we use incessantly that equally lethal weapon, the automobile, which kills fifty thousand annually in the United States, not counting the thousands maimed—a self-inflicted Hiroshima every year. If one adds to the human casualties the land the automobile has destroyed by highways and parking lots, the pollution of air by its fumes, the horrors perpetrated upon the countryside by its gas stations, the choking of cities by its traffic, it can be reckoned easily the most destructive instrument ever devised by man. Yet at its inception it was a wonderful instrument of freedom that whirled people at exhilarating speeds and opened up new realms of movement and travel. Now it has become a monster of which every person needs one or more, usually twice the size and horsepower necessary for utility. The proliferation and evil effects could be controlled, but are not. Everyone suffers, but no one calls a halt….
   There is a craziness about all this, a sense of forces getting out of control, of the machine running away with man, which is another source of the general uneasiness of this age.”

From Practicing History p.274


Note on the title, in case it makes no sense: I thought "unrighteous dominion" was a Christian phrase, but when I Googly'd it, discovered it is strictly "Mormon." A wacky, wonderful bunch, from which I am descended. The title refers to me.

Saturday, February 15, 2014

Cowpies on the Towel

Out in the wilderness, with food and bed on my back, is the only time I ever feel anything like “freedom."

Towel creek trail
Many moons ago, I routinely pulled my sons out of school for a few days, to let them taste that freedom. To teach them that all anyone needs for human success is a warm blanket and knowledge of edible plants. A slightly more important lesson than how to regurgitate business propaganda for burned-out underpaid mis-educators.

With sons grown and working, coordinating schedules is now the only difficulty. Employers don’t accept a note from Dad as a work excuse.

Dudine thinks I’m too old to backpack alone, thankfully sons two and three, Leroy and Malcolm, and their friend “Ant,” were able to join me on a trip down little-known Towel Creek to the Verde River, an official government “Wild and Scenic River.” (The rest, I suppose, Tame and Ugly.)

Towel Creek trail

It was the first backpacking trip ever for Ant, and it didn’t begin well. At the remote trailhead, he grabbed his pack to put it on (for the very first time!) and tore a shoulder strap completely off. I had foolishly assumed his gear would be functional, and he foolishly brought gear so old the fabric had dry-rotted.

However, in the single most virile act I’ve witnessed in all our treks, he rigged a shoulder strap with a “bungee cord” and insisted we proceed anyhow. (And never spoke a word of complaint thereafter.)

Towel Creek
Towel Creek runs through cattle grazing land. Cattle, their feces, and disastrous overgrazing, are part of local history. The Verde (green) Valley was indeed green when the white conquerors arrived, but now it should be renamed Moreno (brown). This used to anger me but now I shrug it off. Desert-grass cattle grazing is far less freaky than force-feeding them (sickness-inducing) corn in a prison setting.

Also, modern desert ranchers have been forced by nature’s economy to graze critters sensibly. Rich hippies have become ranchers, and ranchers a little bit hippie. For the better.

Towel Creek ruin
We saw our first “cowboy” within a couple miles. He was wrestling rocks off the old jeep trail to “Towel Tank,” one of the many little earthen ‘check dams’ that catch scarce rainwater for cows (and deer and ducks and coyotes). “You’ve walked a long way,” he said, and we hikers laughed.

The next wrangler rode a little gas-engine “quad,” had hauled salt blocks to popular cow hang-outs. The third was riding one horse and leading another. This guy knew Leroy, they’d been wise-cracking back-row classmates, and we all chatted. He was a horse-hollerer, his critters skittish and misbehaving. “You’ve got a long walk ahead of you,” he told us. Ha-ha, boo-hoo.

By the end of the day we would walk seven-plus miles, carrying 30-40 pounds each, and sleep on cold ground not comfy beds. Simple proof that backpackers are much tougher than cowboys nowadays.

Towel Tank crap field
Every good flat camp spot along the trail is covered with crap. Also, the cows don’t pay one lick of attention to the trail cairns (rock stacks that mark the way). Most of the route was obvious, these old trails had begun as animal trails, become Native trails, only recently cattle and new native fools like us.

On the way we passed the old “line shack," which the Gub'ment website incorrectly states is still used. If I had to rate it for a travel website I would give it negative five stars.

Towel Creek "line shack"

The afternoon faded, the trail climbed out of the creek, and tall dry grasses obscured most of the cairns. No creature had been down this section since the last good rains, months ago. We wasted a lot of time wandering to find the route, finally went off-trail based on an old topographic map, and stumbled down the last steep hill by the light of the moon. (We had quit carrying flashlights (and tents) years ago--unnecessary weight.)

The Verde gurgled nearby, we heated dinner and threw down our beds, too tired to build a fire. Across the river (but 30 miles by road) lights shone from an old ranch. No escaping those hopeless electric eyes, it seems. Through the night we repeatedly woke up, cold, except Malcolm and his inner furnace.

@ Verde River

In the morning, play time. A nice warm fire, and a stroll to find a better camp spot. Then we struggled through brush and rock-climbed, hoping to find better water to drink than the “dirty Verde,” but Towel was dry where it met the river. Hurray for water purifiers !

Like childhood play, ours could be practice for real life. The ability to survive in the wild is far more critical than a closet full of guns. If you can’t carry your arsenal (and a full pack) anywhere, you are just another sitting target, for government drones and other killing machine enthusiasts.

We also gathered firewood and broke it with rocks. Though time-consuming, I’d rather gather wood and haul water to survive than sit in an office, but maybe that’s just me. Dudine considers backpacking one of the most purely masochistic activities a human could voluntarily pursue.

As the sun sank lower, the young men began their camping sacrament. Gin and Alligator-Ade, (a ‘fortified’ sports drink!) Their plan to ration their drink over two nights was soon abandoned. We decided the “five-second rule” does apply to food dropped in dirt--a gritty mineral supplement. Beans are a camping staple, and soon we were all stinking out loud and laughing.

Our firelight shadows danced in the trees, our smoke and laughter rose into the night. All but Malcolm wore more clothing to bed, to stay warmer, with mixed success.

@ Verde River

Next morning I headed back up the trail to locate public housing from a few centuries ago. The young men stayed at camp to do what ancient hunter/gatherers often did: nothing.

Towel Creek ruins

This old complex has become the bat cave.

Towel Creek ruins

Bats do not clean house, it stank. Nice view though.

Did the former tenants enjoy the view too? And before them, who wandered this vast landscape? Did they feel something like freedom all day?

There is another ‘ruin’ but I was too tired to search it out. Got back to camp as it was getting dark.

The last night all but Malcolm put on nearly every bit of clothing we’d brought. Leroy wore nine pairs of socks! Malcolm wore one extra shirt, and slept partway out of his sleeping bag. All reported a warm sleep, finally.

The hike out became a bit of an adventure. My fault, as expedition leader. In years past I hiked behind to keep an eye on my babies, now they hike so fast I have no choice. Early in the day I lost them, or they lost me. Observing footprints, to develop my tracking skills, I noticed their flattened-grass tracks going off trail...I thought.

After a while I stopped and waited. But what if I was wrong and they were far ahead?--and I hurried on.

I waited again at the little spring in a side-canyon that cows hadn’t fouled, where we had planned to lunch and pump water. No fresh tracks, they had to be behind me, but what if...? Onward!

Towel Creek trail

They, too, took a long break when they got to the water hole, debating whether I was ahead and hurrying, or below some cliff with multiple fractures.

It became a nervous comedy for both parties. I hurried and waited. They finally began to hurry, ignoring the nagging worry that I lay bleeding somewhere. Ultimately, it was our mutual trust that kept us from panic. I knew they would find their way back to the trail; they know I am a careful hiker whose only injury has been a broken pinky finger (when I slipped while squatting to poop, deep in the Grand Canyon).

View from trail looking south

We finally reunited at Towel Tank, happier to see each other than we would admit, I think. They hurried ahead and I straggled to the truck at sunset.

I don’t hate civilization, I am always glad to eat a greasy burger and sleep in a (warm!) bed. I don’t love civilization, either; it must have been the first day of work for the idiot kid at the burger joint, all but incapable of putting our food order into his electronics. Pardon my profanity, dumb child of the conquerors. Too many cars, too many all-night lights for no reason, too many stupid human slaves.

Contrary to the patriotic propaganda, freedom is free. But all our “convenient” crap, and dirt-wage jobs, and bossy ignorant people with their churches and governments, conspire constantly to take it from us.

I am deeply grateful for the places out here in the western United States that are still as rugged and wide open as 20,000 years ago. I will wander whenever and wherever I can until I can’t. Even if I must dance with cow pies. Smells like freedom!

Towel Creek trail
As for man, his days are as grass; as a flower of the field so he flourisheth. For the wind passeth over it, and it is gone; and the place thereof shall know it no more.” (Psalm 103: 14-16 KJV.)