Thursday, October 30, 2008

I need a Windows computer

Great work is coming my way. I will have a chance to help someone optimize their web site. I know she will be happy with the results.

I need a Windows computer. I'm a Mac owner and I love my Mac but one thing a Mac cannot do is run IIS and .NET. Well, technically my Mac can do that if I run a dual boot system, but I do not have the very latest Mac OS so it appears that it would be a pain to get set up. I also do not have a Windows OS installer.

I do have a Windows computer but it does not work. I took an A+ course many years ago but I do not feel comfortable working on the computer myself. I think the hard drive is shot. Plus everything on it is probably bootleg and I'm not too fond of the Chinese characters that come up on some of the DOS screens. It seems like he computer is more of a hack than anything to depend upon.

I am looking forward to getting started with my new project. I hope I will have sufficient time to devote to it. I am starting to get very busy with my acoustical analyst job and the pet store.

Monday, October 27, 2008

Lessons from the pet store

I work at a local pet store that sells only birds and bird-related supplies. They do not sell a lot of birds, and this is on purpose. Birds are very difficult to live with and people often want to buy birds for the wrong reasons or without doing enough research. Then they see how difficult birds are to live with and abuse, neglect or relinquish them. Rather than add more birds to the world, the pet store prefers to support the birds already out there and help relinquished birds find new homes.

The birds that the pet store raises and sells are all small birds, the kinds that are easier to live with. They have a bird sanctuary full of big unwanted birds for those people who think they can handle a cockatoo, African grey or Amazon. People who think they want a bird like that have to go through a lot of hoops to be approved to take one of these large, wild animals home. This ensures the birds won't come back again. Some of the birds will probably live at the sanctuary forever, especially the ones with unpredictable temperaments or the ones who have pulled out all their feathers. The sanctuary will sometimes provide the latter birds with a little sweater to wear.

I do not particularly like working in retail but the pet store offers a unique experience because I get to work with the animals. Yesterday I helped groom the birds. My job was to hold them while my boss did the actual grooming. Holding them involves putting a choke-hold around their necks so they cannot bite me or the groomer. They are not actually choked. I hold them around the neck under the mandible so that they can't tilt their heads down to bite. I also have to hold their bodies so that they won't wiggle too much and accidentally get a toe chopped off. Grooming involves cutting their toenails, trimming their wings (if that is desired) and sometimes using a dremmel tool on their beaks.

Yesterday we groomed an African gray that had had a bad experience with grooming and boarding at a different facility. No one knows what happened to the bird there, but the bird went into the facility happy and came out terrified. It has taken four years for the bird to learn to step up again.

The groomer had to struggle to get the bird out of the cage. The bird saw the towel coming and started screaming a horrible cry that showed the bird was terrified. He fought coming out of his travel cage with all his might, which only made the experience extra traumatic for him. He lost two feathers in the struggle.

He cried the whole time we held him down. Something about his cries were so heartbreaking that my eyes teared up. What had they done to him to make him so terrified? I wished we could communicate to him that he would be ok, that we would not hurt him. I tried to comfort him with my voice, but we are not the same species. How could he understand?

His nails were half an inch too long. Normally only a tiny bit is cut off the nail. We cut a large curly-cue of nail off. He will be able to grasp normally again. We hoped our efforts did not further traumatize him and set him back on his progress toward trusting people again.

After we groomed the African gray, the groomer gave a Moluccan cockatoo a bath in the kitchen sink. My job was to blow dry the bird. Fortunately the bird enjoyed blow drying. Cockatoos love attention so having someone fuss and touch the bird all over and blow warm air was something this bird enjoyed. As the bird became nearly dry, he seemed to enjoy being hugged and cuddled as I dried under his wings. I enjoyed hugging and cuddling the beautiful salmon and yellow bird, too.

Meanwhile, Dolly, the resident Moluccan cockatoo, who has been hazing me since I started working there, could only look on with hatred and jealousy. If only Dolly would quit hazing me she might get attention from me, too. Instead, she tries to bite me whenever I come by. She doesn't really bite. She just tries to show me she's boss by faking taking a swipe at me. So I wave a stick at her to show her she is not the boss. She runs into her cage and we give each other the evil eye. Funny thing is she never treated me like this when I was a customer. She would let me pet her like she lets all the other customers do.

These are the things you have to deal with when you deal with birds. That is why they are so hard to live with. You never know what kind of bird you will end up with. Will it be fearful and distrusting? Will it bite huge painful holes in you (that has also happened to me too many times to count)? Will it demand constant lovey-dovey attention as it tries to suck you into a vortex you can never fill? Even if the bird has a perfect personality it will likely destroy your carpet, doors, precious personal items and more.

At lunch I continued reading the book I checked out of the library called Writing Down the Bones. There is a story in there of a man who worked as a remote backcountry ranger. He was so remote and alone he spent two months not wearing any clothes. One day he was out picking berries and felt a tongue on his back. He turned around and a deer was licking him! He and the deer went back to picking and eating berries side-by-side. He felt he had reached a state of Oneness with nature at that moment sharing a berry bush with a deer.

I am not naked at the pet store, but I get little chances to make a connection to the animals. It is a similar feeling like making the connection to the Earth when I was on the Pacific Crest Trail. My experience out there showed me at a deep level that I am a creature of the Earth like the birds and other animals. We are all one. If we humans would stop seeing ourselves as separate from nature I am certain that nature would provide for us like it provides for the wild birds and the deer. Instead we separate ourselves and become like pet cockatoos: insatiable vortexes demanding more.

We are not meant to be separate, us and nature. That is one reason we try to artificially add animals to our lives. We are seeking that connection to Oneness we've lost. It works on some level, but the animal ends up having to make similar sacrifices to the ones we have made. As we have separated from the great Oneness, we have both become a little diminished, a little crazy with repetitive behaviors, violence and materialism. Our wants grow disproportionate. We both forget how to let nature provide for our needs and in forgetting become destructive. We both become little black holes of need that try to fill up our wants with artificial love instead of the Oneness that is available if only we stay wild. We humans have become captive wild animals.

Update on my PCT book

I have almost completed my book. I have created it and ordered the review copy. If all is well, I will approve my book and it will be available for purchase. It is actually already available for purchase, but I still have a chance to edit if I find any glaring errors. After editing it so many times on screen it will be nice to finally see it in print.

The last time I edited it I accidentally wiped out a day and a half worth of editing. Arrgh. I have read my story so many times now I can see what an irritating person I truly am. I hope people will enjoy my story anyway.

I will let you know when the book is approved and I will provide links to it. It is going to be $18.95, which I admit is expensive. They charge by the page so it is hard to get the price down. If that is too high, you can order a PDF download for $5.00. I actually make more money on the download so either way is fine by me.

The publisher is It is a print-on-demand publishing service that is rated very highly, does not cost a lot to use and allows you to self-publish a book that can be made available through Amazon and other online bookstores. Seems like a revolutionary way to do things to me.

It has been fun writing a book. I have enjoyed it enough I think I will write more books. I am even thinking maybe I should consider technical writing as a future career. I enjoy writing and I enjoy technology so it seems like a good fit. The hot topic in technical writing these days is XML and DITA and that sort of thing interests me as much as writing. I think I would be good at it, but so far I have no experience and have no idea where to begin or how to get started. I hope to find out. But I will keep working on my freelance web development, too. I don't see technical writing as that far off from web development. It's all information architecture and technology. Writing is just more wordy and uses different software.

Meanwhile, I have finally started my job as an acoustical analyst. I'm looking for the sound of whales in the ocean. Seems interesting and boring at the same time, but the people there are very nice. I really think with quitting my job, hiking and now working part-time, unrelated jobs I might have screwed up my employability. At least with big companies. At least temporarily. So far, I do not care that much. I think I was kind of done with big company web dev anyway. You get stuck with whatever out-dated technology they use. C'mon! Font tags? You know who you are. Font tags were so 1997. So out-dated I can't impress anyone with that whole year and two months worth of effort. Nobody can grow a web dev career with font tags.

Anyway, I hope someday I will make enough money to live on again. But so far life is interesting.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

A friend had a different after-the-hike experience

I was contacted by one of the thru-hikers I met on the trail this year. I had left my email address on her trail journal guest book hoping to hear from her. It was Kat of Mike and Kat. I had met them on their first night of the PCT and my second. It was good to hear from her.

I asked about their post-trail experience. It would be interesting to write a book about that. The hike changes people inside and then they have to return to where they came from and somehow fit back in. It is not an easy thing and is not something most people write about after their hike is over. Most people reach the terminus in Canada and that is the end of their story. Their story ends and we're left to wonder what happened.

For Mike and Kat it has not been easy because they returned to exactly where they were when they left. They had to return from the trail quickly to go back to work. They did not have any time to recover. Kat said that it was a strange feeling, almost like the hike never happened. They have had to compartmentalize the experience in order to function. One day they are living the peaceful experience of the trail and the next they're right back to everything they were doing before the trip.

That seems sad to me. I believe the trail has something to teach the world. But the world does not want to listen. It wants us to stay the same. It wants to eat the Earth alive and we are forced to conform. We have to leave our experience on the trail behind in order to survive. We have to pretend the hike was a dream when we know it had been proven to be true reality, the way life should be.

The birds, flowers, mountain passes and creeks, the sunshine and cold mornings, the exertion and pain taught us what it is to be human and alive. Modern life wants us to put those things on calendars, save them for documentaries on TV, keep exertion and pain a weekend activity, confine and compartmentalize nature into parks, small islands in a sea of spreading development. Modern life wants us to believe that cars and microwaved food and cellphones and making lots of money are truer when they are not.

I struggle daily with re-entry. I feel the universe does not want me to return to where I had left off. But it's not leading me anywhere clear. I am very slowly forming a patchwork of jobs, but I feel like a drop-out. I know Tony is disappointed with me, but he keeps it to himself. I am disappointed, too. The only thing I seem capable of doing well is inspiring others, hiking and owning a web site about hiking. But nobody pays you to be an inspiration, to hike or to have a web site about hiking.

Sigh. Where does this nomad go next?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

My book is almost done

I have finished writing my book about my PCT hike. Tony is proofreading it for me. Hopefully there will not be too many edits.

I'm looking at for self-publishing. I won't make much money on each copy I sell, so my book will never be a money-making thing. But it was enjoyable to write it.

Tuesday, October 14, 2008

On the PCT from Walker Pass to Canebrake Rd.

I drove to the meeting place in the middle of the desert, a place outside of Pearsonville where I was to meet Tom. I had never met him in person. I was an hour early but he showed up a minute after I arrived. We drove up to Chimney Creek campground to leave a car for our shuttle. Then we drove back together in my truck to Walker Pass. We would camp there and begin the hike in the morning with Sue, another hiker who would meet us later in the evening.

The drive up to Chimney Creek was spectacular. A winding mountain road barely clinging to the edge of the hill. A sign indicated rock fall would be removed daily from 9-4. The drive up Walker Pass was gorgeous as well. Thick Joshua tree forests lined the way and California broomshrub was in blazing yellow full bloom. We drove from desert to Joshua tree forest to Pinyon pine forest at 5000 feet.

Walker Pass campground had many people staying there. There were hunters playing conjunto music all night. They turned it on full blast at 4AM. There were boyscouts yelling and swinging on creaky gates. There was one hunter on horseback returning without a deer.

We set up our tents in the wind and cold in the same site I had stayed in when I was a thru-hiker. It was too cold to sit at the picnic table and we did not want to make a fire, so we huddled in Tom's tent shivering. I tried to drink some hot apple cider to warm up, but the shivering started up soon after and I had to go to my tent and go to bed to warm up. The wind roared all night but I slept well and warm.

Sue arrived very late in the evening, sometime around 10:30. I just happened to see her when I was out using the outhouse. I think I was the only one in the whole campground that ever used the outhouse. Toilet paper was everywhere. People are so disgusting nowadays. Nobody learns about littering or leave no trace ethics anymore. I remember learning that in school as a kid.

We got up early in the morning, looking forward to getting away from this nasty place and into the wilderness where it would be quiet and beautiful. We organized and packed our things. I walked down to the water trough to fill up my water. I wanted to see how it looked in October now. I had come through this place in June before. The trough was just as full now as it had been then and the cattails looked good. As I walked back to the campground with my cold water it began to freeze in the Camelback hose.

After scraping frost off my windshield with a credit card, the three of us drove up the hill to the trailhead and parked. I left a cooler of fruit behind the trail sign in case any Southbound thru-hikers would come by. None did.

We put on our packs and off we went into the hills. I was back on the PCT. Home again. It felt good to be on the trail.

The landscape in Fall had changed. Flowers bloomed on bushes everywhere. The cool air made it less arduous to climb. I felt strong once again, no longer worn out by daily marathons. There was time now to look around and enjoy the views. We would be hiking only 12 miles today.

I stopped at the Mt. Jenkins plaque where cellphone reception is good and called Tony to say hi. He did not answer so I left a message. Making that call was the only reason I brought the phone. I wanted to relive my earlier trip a little.

As we hiked onward in the cold air, I worried it would be too cold to enjoy the trip. It was only 35 degrees at 10AM and at the warmest part of the day, it was only in the mid-40s. Lots of thoughts went through my head about how lost I had felt over the past few months being home from the trail. I should apologize to Tony for being so lost, I thought. I needed to get my act together. I was not a thru-hiker anymore. I needed to get a job and be responsible and stop pissing my savings away.

But then my thoughts would switch again to something I remembered a counselor had said to me years ago. She had said some people live life differently. They don't go work 9-5 jobs and move up the ladder. They instead take art classes and volunteer and live the life of artists and writers. Some people are fulfilled this way and if that was my calling, I should live my life that way and any man who loved me would be supportive. I have always fought against what she said. I have felt I should fully support myself, that being financially dependent on someone else is wrong. Still, what she said has haunted me ever since.

Lately I had been reading Writing Down the Bones, a book on being a writer. There was a small chapter in there about how writers are artists and as artists they have to be careful how much of their precious time they sell to others. Sell too much and they cannot have time for their art. My art seemed to be hiking. How could hiking add value to the world instead of seeming like an escape from it? It didn't seem right to make art that doesn't add value. Still, the chapter in the book resonated and haunted me. I wished I had someone to talk to who understood and could help me. I wondered who would understand a 43 year old, childless, long-distance hiking woman?

We reached Joshua Tree spring at around 2PM and sat in the sun at the junction before going down to the shaded spring. The spring was down in a small canyon shaded by oaks and sheltered from the wind. We made our camp there. I set my tent up on a thick bed of oak leaves. The three of us sat in the sun and ate dinner and talked and played my strumstick, adding layers of clothing to keep warm until I, at least, was sitting in the sun under my sleeping bag with my fleece leggings wrapped around my head.

I wrote in my journal as the sun waned. I thought about hiking alone during the day, observing the soft folds of the desert hills below the peaks. I watched shifts of tiny birds go to the spring for water and big noisy Jays would yell at us intruders every now and then. I felt so happy. It felt so perfect to live on the trail. But my happiness at my perfect life was tainted by feelings of selfishness. Tony should be here. I should not have come. It felt wrong to enjoy myself with strangers while Tony toiled at home.

Eventually it was too cold to stay outside. My pen was freezing and the ink no longer ran. We all decided to go to bed. The night was still and silent and the oak leaves cradled me. I slept well, better than my bed at home. Out here was my home as much as anywhere and feeling the Earth underneath me felt safe and secure.

In the morning as I packed up my things, my water slowly froze in my two-gallon bottle. The temperature was in the 20s. We filled up our containers with the uranium-tainted spring water and headed up into the sun and back to the trail.

I walked along in the dry valley below the tree-covered peaks coming around bends to see views that were suddenly so familiar. I had so many forgotten images from before that were still so vivid. The hiking seemed easier than it had been in June, probably because I was not suffering in the hot sun. The air was still calm and I was able to walk comfortably wearing a light jacket. Eventually I could even take it off, until the trail dropped into the shade and descended to Spanish Needle Creek.

At the first Spanish Needle Creek crossing I looked for the stream orchids. The blooms were all dried up now and there was no water except for two puddles someone had carved into the mud. The puddles had a layer of ice. I filtered a little water from them to top off my containers. Spanish Needle Creek would be our last water for the rest of the trip.

The second instance of the creek was a rushing waterfall. It looked fuller than it had been in June. The third instance of the creek was just a trickle surrounded by wild rose hips and cockerel. The last instance, the source for the first, was a lightly dripping grotto with columbine still in bloom.

Past the creeks, I climbed the switchbacks that I remembered had nearly killed me back in June. They seemed so easy now. I walked for a few hours, seeing myself rise to meet the distant peaks, watching the desert view in the distance, the mountains of Tehachapi and hearing the quail the guide book eerily knew would be there. I wondered if they were the same tiny babies I had seen last June.

Suddenly I was at the top of the crest were we planned to make camp for the night. It was still early in the afternoon but I did not mind. I was not a thru-hiker anymore. Just being out here was enough. I was happy to be home here on the trail and not compelled to make more miles. I had a feeling of calm and centeredness with the trail that now I could savor in large doses rather than in the fleeting moments before pressing on like it had been earlier this year.

Soon the others arrived and we set up our tents on the saddle next to Lamont Peak. We sat in the sun trying to soak up its meager warmth. We talked about hiking and life. Tom liked to help other PCT hikers and this summer he had helped a young woman named Truant. Truant had attended the PCT kick-off, a party held at Lake Morena Campground that often became the default start date for many thru-hikers. At the kick-off she had done an over-the-phone job interview and gotten the job. During the hike, which she had started before finishing college finals, she carried a heavy law book. She took her final exams for law school in Agua Dulce. She had to finish the trail before her job with the Alaska Supreme Court was to start after Labor Day. So she went as fast as she could and finished before Labor Day. We were in awe of this woman. So focused, so successful. Gets a job at kick-off before even finishing school then finishes school on the trail. And then look at us mired in confusion unable to commit to either life or the trail.

Tom said that after this hike he needed to get back home and get his act together. I laughed. Listen to us, I said. We sound like junkies. Just one more hike and I swear I'll get my act together. After this hike. Just one more.

Soon it was too cold to stay out of our tents, the warmth of my hot mashed potato dinner had worn off. So we went to bed. The wind started and grew in strength throughout the night. Miraculously my tent stayed up with only tent stakes and no rocks to anchor it, but my hiking stick, which held up one end of the tent, slowly collapsed under the strength of the wind until the tent bowed inward so much I had only half the space inside I usually do. The noise of the wind was so ferocious I could not sleep. My tent snapped and popped violently. It was like trying to sleep on the runway at LAX. Still, I was warm.

In the morning I took off quickly rather than linger in the horrible wind. I ran off down the trail seeking shelter and found it in the cold shady places of the trail. The scenery was beautiful as always and I felt happy and truly at peace on the trail. I watched my progress across the ridge, took a short rest in the warm sun, then descended into the boulder-strewn valley and meadow to Chimney Creek. The hike was over.

We completed our car shuttle back to Walker Pass. I retrieved my cooler. Nobody had eaten any of my fruit. We had been the only people out there this weekend. I loaded up my truck and drove home.

As I drove, I looked at the sprawl of the cities and the ugly businesses along the way. So many chain stores, corporations, banks and mortgage lenders that have been in the news lately. Why do we allow any place with a board of directors and profit as the only motive decide what is good for us? I observed the plastic bags and trash lining the freeway and thought about how tenuous our way of life is. Why don't we as a people do or make anything anymore? How could we have thought money-making schemes and consumption and waste was a base of strength to build a nation? I, who made and did nothing except for hiking and music these days, had no answers.

I saw a crow trying to negotiate the wind and 6 lanes of traffic. I know what it feels like to be so naked, I thought to myself. It was a strange thought. It was not nakedness as in being revealed that I understood. It was the sense of being an outsider with all that I have on my back, making my way to my destination, sometimes passing through the world of excess and fullness as I go. I am invisible to that world of full, overstuffed, overburdened people in their steel and glass cages, hauling crates of bulk food or RV trailers. It is the simplicity of having very little and feeling completely at home with the flowers and birds, puddle water and still, dark nights that I share in kinship with that crow.

I had said one night last July that I felt like a bird in a cage with the door open, that I had stepped outside but had not left the cage. Seeing the crow I realized that, if only fleetingly, I had flown free.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Piper returns to the PCT

Piper returns to the PCT. Now as a section hiker.

This weekend I will be hiking a small section of the PCT from Walker Pass to Canebrake Road. It was a tough section and this time around I will not be in as good shape as I was and I won't be acclimatized to the elevation. But I won't be putting in any 13 hour, 23 mile days, either.

I plan to bring some fruit to provide a little trail angeling to any sobos along the trail. I hope we meet some. This could be the time of year that south bounders come through.

I will be bringing my full-sized sleeping bag, not my quilt. Nighttime temps at the 5000 foot level are projected to be in the upper 20s and low 30s. I will need the extra feathers.

I'll be hiking with two people I have never met, too, which should be interesting. I've met them through the PCT list but not in person. We'll see how it goes.

Monday, October 06, 2008

Too many job opportunites right now

Here we are in a downturn in the economy and I find myself with too many job opportunities.

Just yesterday I was offered a job. I will go there today and begin. It's a very small job; just something to do until something more comes along. I will help out at the Menagerie, a store that sells birds and supplies for birds and has a noisy bird sanctuary in back.

Meanwhile, I've been involved in the interview process for a corporate gig doing web development. It will probably pay well and give me an opportunity to learn more new things in web development. Right now it is serving as a sort of incentive to see if I can get my own freelance business going. I would really rather freelance.

I am not finding a lot of work freelancing. I am thinking I need a new strategy for finding clients. Perhaps I could make a flyer and post it where potential customers like to go. I want to provide web dev to people with tiny businesses. Right now, I think people with home businesses or other small businesses probably never go anywhere but the grocery store. But maybe they visit art supply shops, too. After all, part of the reason for running your own very small business is having more time and balance in your life and being able to do things that matter to you.

Most people with very small businesses try to build web sites themselves or else they hire students. They end up with crappy web sites. I can make them better. Since the PCT taught me a lot about living simply, I don't feel compelled to charge a fortune. Just a reasonable rate that doesn't shortchange other web developers. Being quick, my rate is affordable because I can get a lot done in a short amount of time. And I don't know the meaning of the words "it can't be done" like inexperienced web developers.

I suppose I can still work on my own on the side if the corporate gig comes through. But I'd rather continue toward my own business.

Thursday, October 02, 2008

Powering forward on a new trail

I've been surprisingly excited about the idea of freelancing my web development skills all of a sudden. The excitement has had me back in my programmer's chair, slaving away at a new incarnation of my personal web site. I feel that I have a lot more ideas lately about how to sell myself as well as an answer to what exactly I have to sell. I wonder if that is a result of the experience of the trail.

I enjoy reading the PCT email list discussions. The list is starting to get 2009 hopefuls, writing in for advice about gear. It's fun to see how they usually start their emails off with "I'm hoping to maybe hike the PCT next year." That kind of hesitance rarely gets by the seasoned PCT hikers. They will tell them, "Stop hoping and just do it!".

Stop wondering what it would be like to work for yourself and just do it. That's what my mind has been saying lately. Living your dreams seems to be a universal lesson learned among PCT hikers. Just go to the terminus and start walking.

In order to support my dream, I've read several books on starting a small business. I've been toying with Wordpress again, investigating its content management abilities, and learning its templating features. I have a plan for a new blog, one that will not have a lot of articles, but the articles that it does have will be focused and purposeful, designed to market myself. I've been learning a little about copywriting, although I have almost no skills in it. I have seen some bad copy and know I could improve it with the limited, untrained skills I already do have. All of these things I'm doing to myself are things I will be able to do for others.

It is disconcerting to realize that I have not been employed since March. But I feel better about that because I am giving myself an education, checking out books at the library in order to learn what I need to learn to run my own business and improve my marketable skills. The small number of gigs I've already had have helped me move forward. No job has been too small. They have all helped me focus. I have learned what kind of people I enjoy working with, what kinds of things people need help with, how much valuable knowledge and skill I posess.

And in this crumbling economy, what other choice do I have anyway? Corporate gigs are becoming harder to find, and you know they aren't becoming more pleasant in this atmosphere.

I feel kind of like I've walked into Idyllwild. I've gone far enough to feel like I have a direction now and that I am really going somewhere. I fell off the edge after I got off the trail, and now I'm finally walking forward again. Power forward.