Paying it forward…ski-style

You couldn’t ask for a better first day of the season at Mt. Baker.

As we wound our way east on Route 542 this past Sunday, we had one eye on the rain and one on the thermometer. We’d had our share of early season wet conditions, it’s a considerable crap shoot to drive the long and winding hour not knowing whether or not we’ll find it soggy at the ski area, and it’s a real bummer to have to make the choice between skiing in the rain or giving up on skiing and driving all the way home disappointed.

To our delight, as we started to gain elevation a few miles past the tiny hamlet of Glacier, the rain turned to beautful, fat flakes of snow. Yippee!!!

Joining us on this trip was our 19-year old Japanese Homestay student, Shuichi, who hadn’t skied since his one and only time, when he was 5 years old in Japan. We got Shuichi set up with the beginner package — lift ticket, gear rental, and lesson for $48 — but we weren’t really sure how the day would go, since the beginner lift ticket is for Chair 2 only and we like to ski all over the mountain.

Shuichi’s lesson didn’t start until 11:30, so I agreed to stay with him until then and teach him a few things. We started with the wedge — toes and knees pointing inward, back straight, hands out in front, poles pointing backward — from the rental shop down to the bottom of the rope tow, and Shuichi, while looking incredibly uncertain and uncomfortable, was actually able to make turns without me even mentioning how to do so. And while the rope tow is challenging to get on and off of, Shuichi did pretty well. I encouraged him to allow himself to get used to a little speed on the practice hill, letting his skis go parallel, facing downhill, and then apply the wedge to slow down and turn. He fell a couple of times and was able to notice that the snow was soft, and this was good as doing so can often relieve some of the fear of injury.

At 11:30, I left Shuichi in the capable hands of his instructor, took off to join the Mrs. and the son at the top of Chair 3, and we got in a nice hour and half in on Chairs 4, 5, and 7. The only tricky part of the morning was the fog.

At the top of Chair 5 the visibility was incredibly bad, like 50 feet bad, making it hard to see other skiers and boarders and hard to read the contours of the slopes. It was the first time I’ve felt fear on Chair 5 since the first few times I skied it, and it was a thrill and felt like a great accomplishment to get down to the lift unscathed. (You can see some of the fog behind Julian in the photo above, but this was about halfway down.)

At lunchtime, we met up with Shuichi, who looked utterly exhausted. He reported that he’d gotten too hot and he was practically non-verbal until after he consumed a significant amount of water. But when I asked him how the lesson went, I found, much to my surprise, that his instructor hadn’t taught him any more than I had shown him in the morning, and Shuichi still had not made it onto the chairlift.

I had a very mixed reaction to this. On one hand, it seemed the lesson was a waste of money, on the other I felt rather proud that I’d been able to teach Shuichi the same thing that people paid money for. I’d benefited from lessons a few years ago from a friend of mine, and so it felt really good to pay it forward.

And so, after lunch, I was determined to help Shuichi get on Chair 2, which included going down the steepest hill he’d go on all day just to get to the lift. The Mrs. and the son once again took off, and as Shuichi and I made our way to the top of that steep hill I watched him closely to see if he seemed ready. Happily, he did look much more comfortable than before the lesson and, upon looking at the hill he had to go down, he agreed to go for it.

I took the lead and told Shuichi to follow me as I made wide s-turns until we were halfway down. Stopping briefly, I explained that we needed to pick up a lot more speed from that point onward, since the snow levels were still low and there was about a 30-degree grade from the bottom of the hill up to the chair. And though Shuichi wasn’t ready to point his tips straight down in order to get the speed he needed and had to sidestep it up to the lift, he’d made it down the hill and I could tell that he was pleased.

As he pushed through his fear of heights by riding the chairlift and made it down the green beginner runs a few times, I could tell that he was on his way and enjoying himself. After our third lap, with an hour left to ski, Shuichi reported that he was tired and done for the day, assuring me that he did not mind at all if I took off to join up with the Mrs. and the son.

That last hour was a blast! I met up with the family and we tore it up, cramming as much in as we could before the lifts shut down.

It’s an amazing feeling, gliding down the mountain with the Mrs. and the son, weaving in and out of each other’s paths, collectively feeling the joy of play that so often seems in terribly short supply in the day-to-day grind we get caught in.

The drowsy ride home was quiet, as we privately scanned through the day, and in my mind I was already planning my next trip to the mountain.

Salmon Revisited

Back in July, I wrote about an alarming genetically modified salmon that the FDA was considering approving for sale.

The Bellingham Herald article on the Frankensalmon focuses on the danger this fish would pose to wild salmon via crossbreeding, if they were to escape the farms (something that happens with considerable frequency). But, in my post I wrote about what I thought was the scariest thing about this fish:

Company researchers have added a growth hormone gene from the Chinook salmon as well as an on-switch gene from the ocean pout, a distant relative of the salmon, to a normal Atlantic salmon’s roughly 40,000 genes. Salmon normally feed only during the spring and summer, but when the on-switch from the pout’s gene is triggered, they eat year round.

Well, today the Herald reports that a depleted food supply for salmon is a very real problem, even without a fish with an eating disorder added to the equation.

With nearly 650 million adult Pacific salmon swimming in the ocean at any given time, the competition for food is increasing, and the already shrinking wild stocks could be crowded out…

Studies over the past several years suggest competition for food is affecting salmon runs up and down the West Coast, from Puget Sound chinook to Bristol Bay, Alaska, sockeye. In some instances, the fish are smaller when they return, making them more susceptible to predators. In others, runs are actually declining.

See, if these so-called experts would only listen to me!

Happy Thanksgiving

I only have time for a short entry this morning — I’m cooking the Thanksgiving Day feast, need to get started, and can only hope that it will turn out as beautiful as the photo to the right — so I want to cut right to the chase with a list of things I’m thankful for today:

  • My immediate family — my wife and son, whom I love very, very much.
  • My extended family, some of whom I will not see today as they live 3,000 miles away, others who might not make the trip north from Seattle due to the plentiful snow that is falling as I type this, and those who will brave the elements to join us and spend the night.
  • My health, which despite some aches and pains from a revived (after too many years) yoga practice and walking to and from work, is mercifully free of disease and disability.
  • My friends, many of whom take the time to read my humble little blog, and others whom I will hopefully be seeing soon over pints of beer, on the slopes of Mt. Baker, or sitting in a circle with our guitars, banjos, mandolins, and fiddles for some old-fashioned handmade music.
  • My community, the oasis of Bellingham, Washington, full of hard-working people committed to a better future despite the political and governmental dysfunction all around us.
  • My heroes, people all over the world who are doing the challenging and critical work of helping others in need.
  • My artists, for the poet makes grief beautiful.

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

First Drop In The Bucket

Listen, I know that the whole bucket list thing has become a worn-out cliché, but I’m trying to stop making apologies for the fact that, as I mentioned Monday, I’m usually late to the party.

(Aside: You know the equally cliché term early adopter, particularly as it applies to technology products, and how many early adopters come to regret having been so early, because new products often exhibit bugs and other problems that get resolved in subsequent, improved versions? Well, consider me a cautiously delayed adopter.)

Anyway, I came across some amazing photos today by photographer Stephen Alvarez, taken in Madagascar’s Tsingy de Bemaraha National Park. And, I was so blown away by the images that I was inspired to start my own bucket list, despite having sworn I’d never jump on the bandwagon.

Bottom line, I WILL go here before I die:

Plinky: Music when you’re blue?

(Plinky.com sends me an email everyday with a question or other instruction meant to inspire a blog post. Occasionally I take the bait.)

The exact wording of this morning’s Plinky is: When you’re feeling down, what music cheers you up?

Personally, I have an entirely different process when I get down, mainly because I don’t think it’s either realistic or healthy to try to always be happy. We live in a world increasingly obsessed with ridding our existence of any emotions other than glee, joy, elation, ecstasy, etc. — it’s no surprise that the pharmaceutical industry is the 3rd most profitable industry in the world.

Additionally, I strongly oppose the age-old, destructive cultural conditioning that boys and men are subjected to, conditioning that tells boys that they should not be emotional, boys should NOT cry, conditioning that originates from ancient societies that had to prepare boys and men to be wariors. I’d even go so far as to suggest that our failure as a species to fully abandon this ancient conditioning shows an appalling lack of growth, development, and evolution, and that it lies at the heart of our continuing inability to rid the planet of war and other violent atrocities.

That’s pretty heavy, I know. Enough to bum anyone out, right?

Well, why don’t you try doing what I do? Don’t reflexively run from those depressing feelings. Put on some sweet, sad music, dive deep into the feelings, find solace and communion in the melodies and lyrics of songwriters who have felt as you have, and have yourself a good, long cry. In most cases, you’ll feel better after having released the pent up feelings rather than trying to bury them or numb out altogether.

(A somewhat related post I did last year.)


Caveat: This post is not in any way meant to ignore or belittle the potential crippling effects of chronic depression. Nor am I advocating for voluntarily developing a state of chronic depression.

Anatomy of a climb

As I mentioned Friday, we were due to drive down to Seattle for the 2010 Seattle Bouldering Challenge (SBC) on Saturday, but I wasn’t really sure if we’d be able to make it given the icy, snowy conditions.

Well, we decided to go for it, about 10 minutes out of town the snow was all gone, and so we were on our way.

This was Julian’s 2nd time participating in the SBC (read about the first here), he climbed really well, and courtesy of a friend who was there with a camera, we have some great photos of the comp. In particular, there are some cool shots of a sequence of moves near the end of one of the routes he completed that made me think it would be interesting to explain what was actually going on.

As I started to write this, I realized just how much climbing jargon I might need to use, and so I put together the brief glossary of terms you see here.

In this first photo, Julian’s about 10-15 feet up on a 60-degree overhang, he’s got two good footholds, his right hand’s on an easy jug, and he’s gripping a decent crimp with his left. For this boulder problem, he can only use holds marked by purple-colored tape, and you can see the finish hold up and to the left in the red circle. He will need to match the finish hold and look down at the judge to make sure her/she can tell that he’s got total control on that last hold.

Next, you can see that Julian had to make a big move with his right hand, up to a deceptive looking hold (the top is actually a sloper, and vertically it’s a difficult pinch), quickly shifting his right foot to the hold that his left foot had been on, all while holding on to that crimp with his left hand and no hold for his left foot before making his next move.

This was a potentially confusing problem, because there was another route on the wall to the left marked by lavendar-colored tape, and Julian could not use those holds.

In this photo, you can see that Julian’s next-to-last move was another big reach, a campus move, wherein he had to remove his left hand from the crimp it had been on and reach up and over to the big finish jug. In order to do that, for a moment, he had to hold all of his weight with his right hand on that one slopey pinch, and as he swung his torso to the left it caused his feet to come off the wall and swing in the opposite direction.

For climbers, it’s incredibly important to control those swinging legs, requiring enormous arm strength and engaging many muscle groups in the torso. If the legs swing for too long, the arms get tired quickly, and it’s hard to regain control and prepare for the next move. For this reason, this would be considered the crux of this problem.

Here you see Julian’s legs coming back to perpendicular…

…and then he reaches the finish hold for a match before jumping down.

Hooray!

Snow…again!

Lots of beautiful small flurry snow falling on Bellingham, it’s 25° F, so you know it’s sticking.

Forecasts are all over the place, so it’s impossible to know where this is going. Time to embrace the cold and the uncertainty and enjoy this show from Mama Nature.

It’s days like this that I am incredibly grateful to live in a town where the buses use chains and it’s possible to get around for the essentials, without having to risk driving around in a car, dodging other people in cars who don’t know how to drive in these conditions.

Now, where did I put my scarf and gloves?