Art in the natural world

A random design in the Crosscut Canal reservoir.

A random design in the Crosscut Canal reservoir.

How many times have I hiked a trail and stopped at something beautiful that caught my eye?  Many times. Problem is I don’t always stop long enough to study it.  Something is there.  But what exactly?  Impatient, I move on.

But not always.

Several weeks ago I hiked down to a reservoir at the end of the Crosscut Canal here in Phoenix.  Looking across the water I found a snowy egret.  After photographing it, I happened to see an oil slick.  It was practically under my feet.  And it was interesting.  So I snapped a shot of it.

This was not the most beautiful oil slick I’ve ever shot but nice anyway.  It almost looks like the head and neck of the egret I just shot.

My most beautiful oil-slick shot lurks in a dark corner of my photo catalogs.   I’ll have to dredge it out someday.  I shot it at Pearl Harbor.

Although the U.S.S. Arizona has layed beneath the bay’s surface for almost 72 years, it emits oil that rises to the surface of Pearl.  It was god-awful beautiful.

Cropped from a photo of an ocotillo along the Geronimo Trail.

Cropped from a photo of an ocotillo along the Geronimo Trail.

You might argue the oil slick is not a work of nature.  But I would disagree.  True, the oil is man-made and so is the sunken ship.  You might even say the artists are the Japanese bombs who sank the ship.  But the real artists are the bay’s tides.  They give the slick its unique  design and separate its rainbow colors to near perfection.

The sharpness of ocotillo thorns, the beauty of its veins and the colors on a fallen palo verde branch have all caught my attention lately.

You just have to slow down to see these subtle beauties. Trust your eye.   Not an easy thing for the modern hiker to do.

To fast or not

My Breville juicer purchased in April 2012 for $99

My Breville juicer purchased in April 2012 for $99

The most compelling segment of the 2010 documentary, “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead,” begins at a Winslow, Arizona, truckstop.  That is when the filmmaker, Joe Cross, accidentally runs into morbidly obese Phil Staples, an Iowa truck driver who weighs in at almost 430 pounds.

It is the middle-aged and beaten-down Staples, not the effervescent and 100 pounds overweight Cross, who quickly becomes the star and inspiration of the award-winning film on losing weight and regaining health by juicing vegetables.

I saw the film for the first time a few days ago.

I am neither fat nor sick.  Nor nearly dead.  Not that I know of  anyway.  I am getting up there in years.   But nonetheless, the film renewed my enthusiasm to juice and hopefully become healthier.   At the same time, I am not eager to jump into the world of fasting as Cross did.

An Australian, Cross comes to America with a goal of fasting for 60 consecutive days.  And cameras are rolling.

I’m guessing the film would’ve come to The End with Cross’s return to the Land Down Under having lost his weight and rejuvenated his life.  And I would not have cared much.  He is, for me, too full of life, too full of positive thinking, too full of himself, too much the salesman.  And he calls nearly everybody, “mate.”  Impersonal to say the least.

But Phil Staples is different.  I cared for him from the get-go.  Besides being overweight, Phil is sensitive and  intelligent.  And he is so depressed about everything.  He is “trying to eat himself to death,” his father says.

Phil is crippled by his weight.  He can barely walk.  Once a champion swimmer, his only exercise now, he says, is walking from his truck to the truckstop restaurant.   His sole purpose is to eat and eat and eat.  That is until the chance meeting with Cross in Arizona.  It is not until after Cross returns to Australia that Staples calls him in desperation.  Cross flies back to Iowa to get the shuffling Phil into the juicing lifestyle.  And to film it.  To Cross’s credit, he knows a great story line when he sees one.

The film’s last part focuses on Staples as he begins to juice under the guidance of his physician.  He begins a walking program.

I marveled as he progressed.  He measures his weight-loss in a unique way.  “I lost six bowling balls,” he tells a group in his hometown after a recent drop of 90 pounds.  Phil’s demeanor changes.  He is happier and more out-going.  He becomes closer to his son.  The two are seen together throwing a football, a feat Phil would not have been able to do in the past.

His story will make many viewers tear-up.  He overcomes the odds and recovers a life gone awry.  He has an auto-immune condition that leaves his skin blistered and his joints painful.  He takes tons of pills.  In the end, he is jogging and holding community meetings to discuss the joys of juicing.  You hardly recognize him anymore.  He has become a hero.  I actually clapped as his story unfolded.

As for me, I bought a Breville juicer about a year ago and have juiced irregularly since then.  Now I am thinking I should try a short fast of maybe a week or 10 days.   But I am not going to jump into it.  I am leery for the film is all one-sided like you would expect of propaganda.

“Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” does not tell you about the downside of vegetable juicing.  It does not tell you that without fiber in your diet, you may have to take laxatives to have bowell movements.  It does not tell you about the loss of salt in your body.   It offers little guidance as to what vegetables to use, how to clean them and how often to juice during the day.  Juice every time you get hungry, I assume.

Neither does the film show you the work involved.  Constantly going to the grocery store to purchase fresh vegetables.   And cleaning the juicer after every use.

The film shows Cross and Staples often pouring glasses of juice from a large container.  But I’ve read that to get the most benefit from the juice, you should swill your concoction as soon after making it as possible.  How can you then have a supply on hand?  It can’t be freshly made.  Sure, it saves time if you juice once a day.  But how much nutrients remain?  The film doesn’t say.

So, as inspirational as “Fat, Sick and Nearly Dead” is, I am first going to study juicing a lot more.

Fasting will have to wait.

The lesson of a lost trekking pole

Sometimes I forget the goodness in people, and something as small as a lost trekking pole reminded me of that a few days ago.

I had left the pole at Moeur Park in Tempe after a hike.   It was near sunset, and I was hungry and in haste left it at the curb where I had changed back into sneakers.  At home that night in Phoenix, I realized the pole was gone.  Hopelessly gone, I thought.

The trekking pole back at home.

The trekking pole back at home.

This was not just any old trekking pole.  It held great sentimental value.

I had purchased a pair of matching poles at a boutique in Grindelwald, Switzerland, more than a year ago.  I gave one to Nebra and kept the other for myself.  My pole traveled with me on almost every hike since then.  Under the “Wall of Death,” the Eiger’s sheer North Face in the Alps.  Up and down three peaks in the Adirondacks last summer.  In the mountains and along canals, washes and trails here in Arizona.

I even used this dinged-up green pole with “Grindelwald” written down its length on walks through our neighborhood in Phoenix.  Just in case I came across a grumpy canine.

The pole is carried in my right hand, balanced and parallel to the ground, swinging naturally back and forth to the rhythm of my footsteps. Only occasionally do I jam its reliable point into terra firma, usually while descending steep slopes with loose rock.  The pole has saved me numerous times from a nasty fall.   I feel naked without it anymore.  It’s strange how stuff grows on you.

So, on the following day, the 12th, I planned to return to Moeur Park with sinking hopes of finding my companion.  It was about that time that “good people” began popping up.

It started with this.  While I moped around, Nebra made an early morning call, unknown by me, to Tempe Parks.  She left a message:  Has anyone turned in a lost trekking pole?

The message eventually reached a woman named Denise Brewer, who has the title of  Public Works Supervisor for Field Operations at Tempe Park Services.  Denise, in short order, hopped on her bicycle and pedaled from her office to Moeur Park, a distance I later calculated via Google Maps as 1.6 miles. She found the pole leaned up against a bicycle rack and whisked it back to her office.  Then she called Nebra who called me.  Within an hour I had the pole in grasp again.

Denise would not accept my offer of a reward.  She was going to the park anyway as part of her job.  She said.  Whatever, I believe Ms. Brewer went beyond her job description on this one, and I am grateful more than I can express.

Not forgotten is the anonymous soul who plucked the trekking pole from the parking lot and placed it in a conspicuous spot.

Angels follow me around sometimes.

NOTE OF DISCLOSURE:  In a way “Long Row” is plagiarizing.  A person using the handle of “black toes” posted a very similar piece yesterday on a hiking website.  I trust “Long Row” and “black toes” will not go to war over the issue since they are one and the same person.

Flying the flag

The flag at our house, a symbolic reflection.

The flag at our house, a symbolic reflection.

Almost every car dealer will be flying the American flag today.  It’s Veterans Day.  And there seems to be a war among them who can fly the largest flag.   For the dealers, it is not about patriotism.  It is of course about selling cars to those who call themselves patriots.

It is a different deal for American conservatives, particularly the addled right-wingers of the Tea Party.

These ultra-conservatives would have you believe they are the only segment of U.S. society that is truly patriotic.  Even if they are racist and fail to understand the true meaning of democracy.   Their idea, these “patriots,” is to have a subtle apartheid.  A democracy of white people in which some blacks and Hispanics are allowed to participate.  Poor people, you’re on your own.

You can bet all Tea Partiers worth their Lipton’s bag will fly a flag today.  And do it not only with pride, but with arrogance, nasty suspicions and condescension for anyone who does not fly.

The conservatives have a flawed view of the landscape.  Many on the left, progressives or liberals or whatever you want to call them, are patriotic by questioning the traditions and myths of the past.  They may or may not fly the American flag today.

At this left-wing house, the flag is out and flying, a symbolic joust at conservatives.

A Jack O’Lantern’s last stand

Our Halloween pumpkin, Jacques II, lasted only a few weeks.  He succumbed amid mental turmoil.  He had, a propensity to scare human beings on the last day of October.  Not much of a life, if you ask me.

Jacques in better days.

Jacques in better days.

His date of birth I know not.  It means nothing anyhow these days.  It can be at conception, or at the pumpkin trimester, depending on your politics.  In any case Jacques was adopted.  We picked him up for a song at Bashas’ grocery up the street.  The paperwork mentioned a price, but I no longer remember it.

And then I mutilated him horribly. Cut hm open for a hasty autopsy through the brain, removed his innards, leaving only a smattering of seeds. Then I cut some eyes, a nose and mouth with a serrated kitchen knife.  If he was in pain, ever, I didn’t hear about it. My motives were pure.   I wanted to embrace Halloween and not pee-off any of our visitors.

I don’t think Jacques scared anybody, though.  Of the 300 that came to the door this year, I noticed only one little girl, maybe 4 years old, who eyeballed him at length.  She looked down through the brain-hole I’d fogotten to cover, merely curious.  In that way, Jacques II was a failure.

I left him out there on the front porch, like an Indians used to leave dying tribe members along the trail.  That’s what I saw in the movies anyway.  In that vein, the porch was then Jacques’s last trail, so to speak, me having a smidgen of Cherokee blood.   No tears.

Not long ago, he began to blacken and turn mushy.  It was all I could manage this afternoon to hold him together long enough to place him in the compost bin.  I washed my hands afterward.

He’s gone to a better life.  That’s what I tell myself.

Driving with Mother Jane

An editorial in this morning’s New York Times reminded me of a drive I took from Tulsa to Oklahoma City about 35 years ago.

Driving under the influence of marijuana, the Times said,  is far less hazardous than driving with alcohol.

I was a sports writer back in the day, and was driving home from an assignment with a male friend who happened to have a couple of joints in his pocket.  Not long after getting on the Turner Turnpike, we lit up.  It was a cold winter night, the windows were closed and the smoke grew dense inside the car.  I never got so high in my life.

We started out with the radio tuned to some music from a Tulsa station.  The farther we drove, the weaker the signal and pretty soon we were listening to static.  I remember the static being clear and distinct and so entertaining that we did not switch stations.

I remember too the white line on the pavement.

“Do you think we should pull over?” my friend asked.

“No,” I said, “I’ve never seen the white line so well.”

The world outside my windshield was so clear and I was in a layed-back mood.  The road itself became so interesting I had total focus.  And absolutely no aggression.  If a car had cut me off, I would’ve for the first time in my then young life thought nothing of it.  That night, high as a kite, I was the safest driver on the road.

That was the power of marijuana.

The Times editorial said much the same thing, in quoting several research studies.

“(The studies) have suggested that drivers under the influence of marijuana actually overestimate their impairment.  They slow down and increase their following distance.  The opposite is true of drivers under the influence of alcohol.”

I didn’t need any study to tell me that.

The statistician of Halloween

I count the number of Halloween visitors each year.  And I do it by half-hour segments from opening bell at 5:30 until we turn the lights out at 8.   The data are entered into a spreadsheet and compared with totals going back to 1995.

The 2013 Halloween stat sheet.

The 2013 Halloween stat sheet.

For instance, I can tell you that the 299 visitors we had last night are a far cry from the record of 441 in 2005.  Also, that the period between 6:30 and 7 was the busiest.  We had 99 come to our door in that time frame, hardly equal to the 119 in that same slot in 2011.  And far from 182 from 7:30 to 8 in 2005, the half-hour record.

But I don’t stop with Halloween.

On a recent hike up a segment of the Grand Canal here in Phoenix, I counted hikers, bikers and joggers on the banks.  Not to mention ducks and grocery carts in the water.  Oh, and the three squatters who had set up a crude camp on the south bank near 23rd Avenue.

I am not particularly proud of my mania for figures.

It is not lost on me that in counting Halloween visitors, for instance, the kids and their costumes can become numbers and not real people.  I constantly have to remind myself of that.