Monday, September 29, 2008

Productive day

Today was a great day.

First it started out with my favorite kind of weather. There were sub-tropical clouds in the sky, the air was humid with a tang of coolness to temper the warmth. It was the kind of weather for riding a Vespa without a jacket. There were even a few sprinkles in the morning. It was the kind of rain you can just continue to sit out in. I love that.

After that, I finally heard from one of the web development gigs I've been trying to get hired for. My self-employment career finally got some input. I'm reminded how talented and skilled I really am. When I don't work, it is easy to forget.

Meanwhile, I've been learning to play Walls of Liscarroll and Garret Barry's Jig on the mandolin. I'm loving the mandolin. It turned out I actually got paid in real money for the gig the other night. So I can claim to be a paid musician now.

If I can ever finish my books, I'll be a paid author, too. I'm struggling with an ending to my PCT journal book. An ending differentiates a book from a series of blog posts. I'm struggling to write the ending, but I am getting closer.

I'm feeling productive. Things may take off for me. I can hope.

Friday, September 26, 2008

What to do next isn't very glamorous

I am still not employed since my PCT hike. I have searched job listings each day and sent out resumes, but I have not had any luck yet.

I did get a lead on a temporary, part-time job listening to whales on audio tapes. I will probably end up doing that for a few months. I think this will be a good thing. What I ought to do is go back to school and take a few classes. I am lucky to have time and money to do this. I could improve and freshen my skills and have more options. All that time walking on the PCT wondering what I could do next and the answer ends up lacking any glamor or adventure. Well, maybe there will be some adventure. You never know.

It always seems like such a great idea to quit a job and be free. But after a while, I feel like I need something to do. It will be a long time before the next semester begins. I need to find more volunteer jobs. Perhaps I could volunteer with the election campaigns. I wonder if they can use people who do not make phone calls or solicit in any way.

Once the semester starts, I will probably take computer classes. I wish there was more I could do or something new. But I cannot think of anything that consumes me enough to get an advanced degree. I would like to learn more about plants and maybe work with them. Perhaps I will also take horticulture classes with the computer classes. Maybe I could combine the two. Too bad I missed this semester's classes. I could have taken a plant identification class. Perhaps with plant identification skills and database skills I could do something.

Meanwhile, my PCT book is coming along. I am cleaning up my writing and adding details that I never wrote down. Next week maybe I will have a chance to read a portion of it in my writing class and get some critiques. I think I am going to need an editor. There is a lady in the class who is willing to swap editing for web design. I feel like it has been so long since I did any web design that I can barely remember how to do it. I do remember some things because I decided to redesign one of my own web sites and was mystified by all the mistakes I had made. I suppose working so much, I did not have time to care about it and just threw it together. Still, it falls short of excellence.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Writers. What makes somebody a writer?

I am taking a writing class. I don't think I am a very good writer. I used to be a great writer when I was a child, but school beat it out of me and now my writing is not very good.

When I think of writers I think of people who read a lot and who read other people's writing while holding a pencil. They make little squiggly marks indicating where proper punctuation ought to go and where the grammar and phrasing is all wrong or where typos occur.

I am not like that. I have typos everywhere all the time. I don't know how to use a comma properly, let alone the difference between an endash and an emdash or what the heck a semi-colon is for.

What I do is write from the heart. I wonder if that is enough to make one a writer. What is more important? The heart or the mechanics. I have known more people who favor the mechanics than who favor the heart, and those who favor the mechanics tend to be stern perfectionists who can stifle any shred of creativity in people like me. They also tend to be more employed and more employable than me.

So, what makes somebody a writer? Am I a writer? Can I write anyway?

Friday, September 19, 2008

Musician for hire, no talent, will work for tri-tip

I take a mandolin to the Glendessary Jam in the park once a week. There I play along to tunes I do not know on an instrument I do not know how to play. By the time they've played the tune through a few times I've got a basic skeleton of the tune and can fake my way through well enough. When I can't fake my way, I just play the bass note of whatever chord they are playing, unless I'm clever enough to play the actual chord, which isn't often since I only know 3 chords. How do I even know what chord they are playing? I don't. I just guess by listening. If I make a noise that matches, it must be right.

Tonight, thanks to being on the email list and having some friends now at the jam, I was encouraged to attend a gig where we would be providing the evening's musical entertainment in exchange for a tri-tip barbecue dinner and wine. That makes it my first paying gig.

So, with no experience and no skills I managed to become a musician. Pretty amazing achievement, I think.

The trick to having an adventurous life is trying things you think you will enjoy even if you don't know how to do them.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Secret pleasure of the bare feet

I have been engaging in a secret pleasure lately. I have been taking walks in my neighborhood in my bare feet.

I have been doing it for a couple of reasons. One reason is that it bothered me that I couldn't walk down my own driveway to get the mail, or even on the wooden steps in my back yard without pain. My feet were too tender. What if the house caught on fire in the middle of the night and I had to run out but couldn't because my feet were too tender? I admit that is an extreme scenario, but still, with such tender feet I feel vulnerable.

Another reason is for the healing aspect of it. My feet hurt so badly when I returned from the PCT I could not even walk bare foot in my kitchen. The pain wasn't the pain of tender bare feet but of broken feet. The kitchen floor was just too hard and my feet just too damaged. It feels like a victory over the damage that I can walk on the pavement and the asphalt at full speed in my bare feet now. The secret to my healing has been the loose freedom of movement that sandals allow and now, bare feet.

Walking bare foot is just as I remembered it as a kid. At first my feet felt tender and when I returned home from a walk the soles felt hot and raw. But they toughened up quickly like I remembered they did when I was a child. It probably helped that they were already a little tough from walking hundreds of miles with sand and small rocks in my shoes. The little tricks I used to have for walking on hot surfaces still work. I walk on the painted lines of the cross walks or the concrete because the heat is reflected and it feels cooler than the blacktop.

I noticed that my toes are more separated than they used to be. I believe this is a result of all that time walking on the PCT wearing men's size 10 shoes. The shoes were very much too big, but they worked for me because my feet were completely unencumbered by them. They kept me from getting blisters and neuromas. It is too bad they wore out and I traded them in for the ones that did the damage. The good side to that experience is now I understand the problem of shoes and how feet really were made good enough just the way they are. Too much support and padding really does harm the feet. It is better for them to be free. Hopefully they will not be crippled again by overly supportive shoes. This is now something I look out for when I buy new shoes.

Summer will end soon and my feet will go back to their shod existence inside their shoe and sock prisons where they will wither and become weak and tender again. But for the remainder of summer, they get to be young and free again.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Book number 2

I began writing, or perhaps a better word is assembling, another book today.

My PCT book has a first-draft done. All the journal and blog entries in all their boring detail are combined into one giant text document. Being a reformed geek, I used TextWrangler, a text editor designed for programming. There are over 2000 lines of text. Paragraphs are all on one line. It's a huge document. I hope to take a writing class and get some tips on polishing the text so that it is not completely boring before I bother to try to assemble the book.

Meanwhile, I thought I should practice laying out a book. There is an online self-publishing service that lets you put together your own book using Microsoft Word or Open Office. I have Open Office. Actually, I have Neo Office. I hope that it will work. I have not used Neo Office much so I have a lot to learn. Some things have been a little frustrating.

My book number 2 is the hard-copy version of my other web site. In the process of copying and pasting the text from the site into my book I'm learning about how to properly create a table of contents, lists and other text formatting. I already knew how in Word so it's only a matter of learning how it's done the Neo Office way. I'm also fixing a lot of typos on my web site. Attention to typos isn't one of my strongest skills.

This second book looks like it will be very long, too. I may have to make two volumes in order to keep the price down. That may actually appeal to people.

I plan to spiral bind it so that it is more useful in the field. I get very annoyed at books that are intended for reference, such as cookbooks or music books, that have perfect binding. They won't lay open to the page you are looking at so you constantly fuss with balancing heavy objects on top in order to make use of the book. I have even resorted to taking some books to Kinko's and having them cut the binding off and put spiral binding on instead. Sometimes this works and sometimes there is not enough margin to do it.

It is good to be productive and moving toward setting up some passive income streams. However, sitting in front of a computer all day does not feel productive. It feels lazy.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

Mulch is a beautiful thing

Today the weather was cool and moist. I felt great when I arrived at the garden. First I watered all the plants I usually water. Then I pulled a few weeds. Then I decided that I was tired of pulling the same weeds every week so I decided to mulch the heck out of the area I work in.

First I mulched with the "gorilla hair" mulch, covering the bare ground around the various plants in the perennial beds. Then I went for the hard-core wood chips and mulched all the grapes growing along the walkway. When I was done, the garden looked like a professional park. Everyone seemed very grateful for my hard work.

It was a wonderful way to spend the morning. For my efforts I was paid in an entire bunch of Misi Luki bananas, a dozen figs, a taste of quince and many passion fruits. In dollar value, the fruit put me over the minimum wage. In pride and enjoyment value, it put me higher.

The garden is wonderful. Still no word from the Parks and Rec department about my application to work in some other gardens. And now I'm trying to decide if I should sell 20 hours of my time each week to pay the rent.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A plan to return to the PCT

So I've been thinking about my return to the PCT. I could actually go back next year if I wanted to. But even if I put that off for a later year, here is what I could possibly do for my return.

I could start by first doing the parts of the trail I missed. I missed 27 miles from Pines-to-Palms Highway to Saddle Junction near Idyllwild due to trail closure. I missed 8 miles near Big Bear. I missed the section from Baden-Powell to 3 Points, a whopping 25 miles. I skipped the awful windmill section between Tehachapi-Willow Springs Rd. and Highway 58, another 8 miles. As penance for my sins of not hiking every single mile, I could do these shorter skipped sections twice, there and back. That way I could just drive my truck and not have to figure out how to transport myself around. And by doing my skipped sections there and back I could meet the current years' hikers.

In between doing some of my sections there and back, I could tool around in my truck doing a little trail magic and meet even more of the hikers. I could kill a little time until July and then do the sections of the Sierras I missed from Bishop Pass to Duck Pass (65 miles), and Section I (about 77 miles) . Hopefully there would be a little less snow and maybe I could get lucky and see a few less mosquitos. I don't think I would want to do them as a there and back since these sections are so long. I would probably use the bus system they have to return to my car.

I would also return to complete the closed section between Quincy-La Porte road and Highway 36 (100 miles). At the end of that section I might be able to leave my truck at my mom's house, or else I could simply drive it home afterward. Since I did not skip this section out of the sins of laziness or fear, I would not do a there and back. And maybe, in order for the snow and mosquitos of the Sierras to have time to die down, I could do this part before the Sierras that I skipped.

Finally, near the end of July, I could start my real come-back and head out where I left off at the end of Section O. I could either maybe get a ride up there or else just take the train from home back up to Dunsmuir. I like the idea of taking the train to return since I came home on the train. It would really feel like a return to the scene of the crime of quitting the trail.

Then I could hike all the way to Canada, through Oregon and Washington. Perhaps I could get lucky and have less snow than people had this year. I could also make sure I have a good tent to handle the rain. This would end up being another epic hike, that is for sure.

It is something to consider since I still have no job and the economy is not all that hot anyway. I think my feet might be up to the task by then, too. I've been slowly feeling better. I can walk barefoot outside on concrete now. When I came home I could not even walk barefoot in the house.

Piper's PCT II, the sequel, coming to a blog near you. Someday.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Hey, I'm a farmer!

I decided to pick some avocados. We have lots of avocado trees. I picked them with a very long apple-picker. It is made of a long, telescoping pole with a wire basket on top. The wire basket has prongs that bend over on one side. You position the basket with the prongs around the fruit and pull down. The fruit falls into the basket.

I picked a large box of avocados. Then I made a collection box out of a shoe box. I cut a little slot in the shoe box so that people could put their money inside. I taped the shoebox to the big box of avocados. Then I made a homemade sign announcing BIG Bacon AVOCADOS 50¢. Because Bacon avocados are different from the Haas avocados most people are used to, I also put another sign near to the slot indicating that bacon avocados are ripe when green and soft. Bacon avocados really are huge so they tend to be popular. That's a lot of avocado for the buck!

I put the box down on the sidewalk. People driving or walking by can easily see the box. Anyone who wants to buy avocados can plop a little money in the box and take a few avocados. It's on the honor system. It's a win-win because even if someone stole all the avocados at least they would be eaten. Unless someone eats them they fall off the tree loudly enough to wake me up in the middle of the night. Then skunks and raccoons eat them instead. It would be sad if someone stole the money, but I check every few hours. Even if someone stole the money, it's not a lot of money and still the avocados would be eaten by someone.

So far I've made over $15 in just one day.

We also have Haas avocado trees. I will fill a box of those next. We also have a Valencia orange tree. I might try that. I suppose you could do something similar with squash or tomatoes or whatever garden bounty. And if you didn't have a garden of your own, any fruit tree that has branches over the fence into an alley or other public place is fair game for harvest. I know where there is an apple tree, plums, loquats and walnuts. I'm sure with a little stealthy bike riding I could find a lot more.

Passive income. I made the money while going for a hike, while relaxing in my home and eating dinner. It's not a lot of money but it's enough to enjoy a little treat.

Friday, September 05, 2008

I miss the people

I was reading the PCT-L email list and someone posted pictures of thru-hikers they met in Washington. Seeing the people with their hiker trash clothes, gear and behaviors made me lonesome for my tribe. There they were, sitting on the ground, eating, looking dirty and emaciated. I enjoyed the scenery of the trail but I think it was the other hikers that made the experience so wonderful.

Not too long ago I was walking down State Street and saw some street musicians. As they walked up the street they met another street musician sitting on the sidewalk. They stopped and introduced themselves and like thru-hikers on the trail, they were instant friends. They had a familiar way about them that I recognized from my hiking experience. They seemed to move among us in their own circle, instantly recognizable to each other, invisible to everyone else. I had a pang of nostalgia for life on the trail.

One thing that makes thru-hikers so easily recognizable is the hair. Men have beards and shaggy hair. I have to say I envy the ability to grow a beard. It's almost like the men not only put on a trail name but a whole new trail face. I always looked just like myself. I only smelled worse.

The nostalgia has me longing for more. Will my feet ever repair themselves? Will I ever have the strength to make another attempt? I admire my friends who are still out there hiking right now. I read their trail journals and am amazed at the strength they have to still be going even though they are now suffering rain, snow and cold temperatures. How strong they are!

Reading their journals makes me sad. I should not do it. But I do anyway.

Tuesday, September 02, 2008

Aguas Calientes

Hot waters.

This weekend I went with some friends to the Santa Ynez watershed behind Santa Barbara. We did something different. We car camped and day hiked. I'm sure lots of people do that, but it's not something I normally do.

First we drove up to Agua Caliente and hiked up the canyon. The trail starts at the Big Caliente Hot Spring and passes a large debris dam, which is intended to hold debris back from the Santa Ynez river that is the source of Santa Barbara's water. The trail continues up the canyon through potreros of dry grass and star thistle (ouch). The potreros give the landscape an unusual appearance compared to what we chaparral dwellers are used to. It is open and golden at this time of year. The drying buckwheat (erogonum) flowers added a deep, orangy-red splash of color.

The creek was very low but there was still water flowing. We followed the creek up to the notch where there should have been a nice pool for swimming. It was too low for swimming. Instead we found a niche in the rock and ate lunch in the shade. The Geo Leo geocache was also located there so a few searched for it. We enjoyed finding it and signing the log book. Tony and I had been the first to find it back in 2003 and our signatures were still there.

We continued up the creek after lunch. We sometimes found the trail and sometimes just stayed in the creek. The mud along the creek was full of bear tracks. I had never seen so many bear tracks in one place. We followed them for miles. Big ones, little ones. We were surprised we never saw the bears themselves.

After 5 miles of hiking we stopped at a small pool deep enough for each of us to take a turn cooling off. We rested there a bit and then headed back down the canyon.

Before we returned to our cars, we stopped at the Big Caliente springs and soaked in the hot pools. The six of us had a pool all to ourselves. We were surprised at how empty it seemed on a holiday weekend. The water was delightful and removed any aches and pains we might have had. Jorge whipped out a cooler of beers and we each refreshed ourselves with one.

After soaking until nightfall was nearly upon us, we walked the final 500 feet to our cars only to find the concrete hot pool by the parking lot was packed with people having a large and noisy party. Now we were worried we might not find a campsite. The party was so wild there were drunken people staggering around the parking area. One even asked us to roll down the window as we were pulling out so that he could offer us a beer.

We passed the two campsites near the hot springs but there were tents in them so we continued to see if P-Bar Flat might be available for camping. Along the way we passed Middle Santa Ynez camp and it was full. It was a big campground, too, so we were starting to think we might have to go home. It turned out that P-Bar Flat was almost empty. We pulled into a site and found the campground to be quiet.

We all pulled out various kinds of backpacking and camping stoves and set about cooking our dinners. Christine pulled out a wonderful quiche that was still warm inside. She makes them in a loaf pan with the dough wrapped all around. Her mother made quiche that way in France in order to keep it warm for picnics. It works and is delicious.

After dinner we set up our tents and slept. Two of our group returned to Santa Barbara. In the morning, the remaining four of us drove up to the trailhead for Indian Creek. We followed the trail and the creek for 7.5 miles, finding the Save Clifford geocache along the way. The day was very hot and we stopped often. One stop was at a nice shady pool deep enough for each of us to take a turn cooling off.

Turtles abounded in the creek and bear prints were common, but less abundant than Agua Caliente creek. I feared stepping on a turtle by accident. I hope the Forest Service fixes up the trail soon to spare trampling the turtles and frogs, all posted as endangered or otherwise worrisome creatures on signs everywhere in the area.

Once we had gone 7.5 miles we felt very tired in the heat of the day. I know that Indian Creek gets much prettier just a few more miles further, but it was too far to go on such a hot day. So we turned back. We had better luck finding the trail on the way back and walked a lot less in the creek. We powered back much more quickly than we went going in.

We stopped once more at the pool in the shade to cool off, then continued all the way back to our cars. Sean shared beer and gatorade with us then declared that he would like to soak a bit in the Little Caliente Hot Spring. So onward we drove.

I hadn't been to Little Caliente in a long time. The pools are wonderful. They've been built up into deep and clean rock pools with little benches to help you take your shoes off. There are three pools and the water is very hot. We soaked for a little while and then drove the long and arduous winding road all the way home.

I still find myself grateful that our trails here allow us easy access to water. Grateful rather than used to it. It is so different from the Pacific Crest Trail which isn't built to support human life. You probably could not hike parts of the PCT now without significant risk of death. We were free of that worry even in the scorching heat of late summer.

The PCT has given me a freedom from worrying about where the trail is going, how long it will be, and even a freedom from concern about where I am or where I will be at the end of the day. I feel confident that each turn of the trail will take me somewhere, even if I do not know exactly where, and that by the end of the day I ought to be wherever I need to be. I thought about that lesson while hiking back to the cars on Indian Creek. It's time to carry that lesson into regular life. Start a trail, see where it goes, have confidence that it will go somewhere good. With those thoughts, I decided that I would seek out freelance web development jobs when I returned.