Archive for 2015 September

Pope Francis: The universe is calling to us

Francis, the Pope, has made headlines by visiting Washington and calling for action on climate change, on poverty, on immigration, and for religious freedom. But that’s nothing! In his startling Laudato Si he actually lays out an even more ambitious agenda.

How could it be more ambitious than solving the problems of climate change, poverty, and immigration?

In a word, he calls us to a spiritual awakening, a new openness to God. In Canto 233, he writes:

“…there is a mystical meaning to be found in a leaf, in a mountain trail, in a dewdrop, in a poor person’s face.”

A footnote leads us to the work of a Sufi mystic named Ali al-Khawas, who in the 16th century wrote a passage that evidently struck Francis, for he quotes it in full:

“Prejudice should not have us criticize those who seek ecstasy in music or poetry. There is a subtle mystery in each of the movements and sounds of this world. The initiate will capture what is being said when the wind blows, the trees sway, water flows, doors creak, birds sing, or in the sound of strings or flutes, the sighs of the sick, the groans of the afflicted…”

dawn over Lake Tahoe

dawn over Lake Tahoe

We are to become “initiates” in the universe.

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People of the PCT: Chop Stakes

In section J of the Pacific Crest Trail, at mile 1140 on Halfmile’s great maps, I met a thru hiker on his way south. A young man, alone, completely comfortable with the trail, and making steady if slow progress. He said he’d just been cheered by passing the 1500-mile mark — that meant he was clearly more than half done, he knew he would finish. And, he stressed in a modest way, he was having a good time. He liked California. He was from Minnesota.

“You flew all the way out here to walk the PCT?”

“Yeah I did,” he said. He sat at ease, eating the classic modern hiker meal, the instant mashed potatoes with whatever, just enjoying it. He was having his dinner by a great water source, a strong spring, a spring that actually turns out to be the headwaters of a great (if often dammed) river, the American River.

Chop Stakes at the headwaters of the American River on the Pacific Crest Trail

Chop Stakes at the headwaters of the American River on the Pacific Crest Trail

We got to talking and I asked him his name and he told me and gestured with his utensils. Chop sticks is what I heard in my mind, but I am told by a reliable source — Hike Alone — that what he actually said was Chop stakes.

Which of course they are. A wit!

(I was a little too dense to get it at that moment, but note that I did get permission to take Mr. Stakes’ picture, and told him where to come find it some day.)

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Why does the park service make wilderness visitors lie about camping next to water?

If you wish to obtain a permit to visit the Yosemite Wilderness, to hike perhaps on the PCT, one goes to the Wilderness Permit office labeled as such, off the main road (not the stone building near the campgrounds) and stands in line and picks up one’s reserved permit, or hopes that someone else does not, and a permit becomes available. I was told this year that fights have broke out in the line to get permits.

If one reaches the desk, one speaks to a polite but stern young park ranger, who asks a number of good questions. Do you have a bear canister, and if so, what type? (Not all bear canisters have been approved for use by the park service.) Where will you camp the first night? (PCT hikers heading north from Tuolumne Meadows will likely be commanded to stay at the Glen Aulin High Sierra Camp, a very beautiful but crowded place for backpackers.)

And will you promise not to camp within 100 feet of water?

The park service forces people who want a permit to walk out ride in these areas to swear not to camp next to water. To tick off a box pledging such and sign.

Even though most camps and most fire rings — which are implicitly sanctioned by the park service, and destroyed if they are too numerous or scarring — are found within fifty feet of water in this section of the trail.

Perhaps the park service has found this method of dealing with the public is most effective, but to this hiker it’s unfair and frustrating. It’s a brutal refusal to see the way people live in nature, and have always lived in nature. It’s like telling lovers they mustn’t kiss, for similar and similarly misguided reasons — fear of diseases.

For example: What hiker/camper could not be drawn to this perfect camp at the aforementioned mile 1024?

No one else is around. It’s not crowded, not polluted, and you will not harm this water in any way, shape, or form with your existence. Further, you have a right to be in this water, to drink it (safely, in my experience) and bathe in it, and live with it.

Now tell me: Who would not camp here?


But wait! There’s more. The vast majority of campsites and fire rings on this trail are like this: right next to water.

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The president as a man in the world: JFK

Love love love this picture, taken by a friend of JFK’s, who allowed its publication for the first time last week in, natch, the NYTimes.


This speaks to me and, I suspect, many Americans because it embodies a big part of what made JFK special. Although (as the article eloquently reveals) he is not the first American president who appealed to the public by projecting an image of himself as a sailor, we see in this frame the informality, the at-homeness in an athletic pursuit, the almost Californian nature of the future White House resident — he’s barefoot for Christ’s sake!

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The tree of the world in autumn

From a Cartoon Movement artist with a unique and elegant style, Ramses Morales Izquierdo, in Cuba.



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People of the PCT: Honeybun and Miner

Caught me lunching by the trail at about mile 1028, climbing out of the canyon of the east fork of the Carson River. They came up the trail grinning. Honeybun had a speaker pumping a Jamaican tune out of his pack.

Honeybun, aka Griffin, and Miner

Honeybun, aka Griffin, and Miner

He gave me a fist-bump as he came up the trail. Miner said something nice about my spot under a tree. They were moving fast.

“It’s a reggae version of “Tom’s Diner!” said Honeybun, as they moved out of sight up the trail.

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“Hiker Trash” at Sonora Pass: Sec J of PCT

PCT hikers who passed through Sonora Pass this summer were fortunate to have available the mobile cooking center/store/community center Sonora Pass Resupply. For $50 this 21st century company will take your package sent by mail and have it ready for you when you arrive at the startof Section J. Plus proprietor KC has whatever else you might need in the way of food etc to hike the trail.

I tried his service myself this year, and sure enough, KC (spelling?) in his nifty truck parked in the campground, by agreement with the Forest Service, deilivered me the package, no problem. (Though he chided me slightly for being a day ahead of schedule, and thus a challenge to his team’s organizational abilities.) Then he helped me send back all the extra stuff I didn’t need.

Around the back of his substantial truck, under a canopy KC set up, around a stove he provided, drinking coffee he percolated, grew a small crowd of hikers and a few non-hikers too.

Ran into my new pal Honeybun. He’s standing looking at the camera, his pal Miner is standing looking away from the camera, and KC is seated in the truck. Can’t ID the others.


“Hiker trash,” Griffin/Honeybun called the group — including himself. And in truth, some of the denizens at the table at other times that morning were smoking, overweight, or living on the edge. Read More →

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Scenes from an explosion/investigation: the felons at Santa Clara Waste Water

As discussed in a number of recent posts here on this journalist’s site, a commercial waste water plant founded by oil companies outside of Santa Paula suffered a massive explosion and fire last November. This led to a cloud of toxic chlorine gas drifting over the county, which sent dozens of people to the hospital, some of whom have not fully recovered and may never full recover. Subsequently a nine month investigation by Ventura County District Attorney’s office led to presentation before a Grand Jury, which in August came back with a 71-count indictment. That indictment with supporting evidence was released on August 19th.

It’s shocking. Criminality seems to be part of the company modus operandi. For example:

“SCWWC corporate managers advertised job openings on Craigslist and routinely hired employees with extensive criminal backgrounds including people arrested and/or convicted of rape, forgery, theft, assault with a deadly weapon, arson, robbery, drug possession, drug use, battery on a peace officer/emergency worker, child annoyance, vandalism conspiracy, parole violations, and gang crimes.”

So says the first 300 pages of evidence released by the judge:

For example, the records say that truck driver Nick Arbuckle, who was seriously injured in the explosion of the tanker truck he had been driving at 3:30 a.m. on November 18th of last year had “his commerical and hazardous materials driver’s license suspended and he had an active felony warrant out of Los Angeles County for possession of a controlled substance and driving while under the influence of an alcoholic beverage.” 

A former employee of the plant, Evelyn Godinez, who had been laid off in February of 2015, said that the human resources department head Marlene Faltemier misled and lied to investigators, offered no safety training to employees whatsoever and added:

Godinez admitted that many of the employees hired by the company had been arrested before. She thought the company did this because they would agree to earn less money and needed work. She said Faltemier was one of her friends and she had a drug problem before and had been arrested.”

Here’s the booking photo of Faltemier, the former General Manager, and Human Resources executive.

Marlene Faltemier

Marlene Faltemier

She faces 19 felony counts, for crimes such as causing great bodily injury by emitting an air contaminant.

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The silence of the deniers: Toles

Besides being the best political cartoonist on the subject of climate and the environment, and actually funny as well, Tom Toles publishes almost as many sketches as he does full-fledged cartoons, plus he has a fiery but smart blog in the Washington Post which he often talks about, yes, climate.

As in today’s The Sound of Ice Melting:

It’s pretty quiet. Have you noticed? The vast armies of climate denial have gone quiet. It is temporary.

For the longest time, the argument was not really with the science. The science was always very straightforward. 1) Carbon dioxide is a heat trapping gas. 2) We are adding significant carbon dioxide into the atmosphere. 3) The warming is nearly inevitably going to show up somewhere. There is no rebuttal to this simple set of facts, other than to hypothesize a lot of negative feedbacks which would somehow save the day.

Yes, there were the denialist websites, packed with anomalous data and spurious interpretations, unfurled and hyped with the goal of flooding the debate zone with confusion. But mostly what we got was the low-rent strategy of saying “WHERE’S THE WARMING??” Subthemes were, on a warm winter day to smirk “If this is Global Warming, I’ll take it!” How do you argue with logic such as this? You can’t.

But now, with weather patterns coming visibly unglued, somehow the deniers mouths have become gluey. Oh, sure, they have retreated to “climate changes all the time,” but this is a terribly weak argument and they know it.

The silence you hear now is the drip drip drip of behind-the-scenes re-strategizing. They know climate action is coming now, and their problem is how to derail or postpone the bulk of it.

They will come up with something. Watch as the glacier retreats to see what it reveals.

Toles brings real edge to his work, and his love for the natural world shines through:


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Great trees of the PCT: Survivor

What words can express this magnificence?


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