A Prolegomena to the 2013 Bedrock & Paradox Ideological guide to Holiday Gifts

Don’t buy your loved ones any physical objects in the next six weeks.  If you have regular access to the technology and leisure which reading this requires, you almost certainly have enough stuff to do a great many fun things in the year to come.  So give those you care about the means and inspiration to do them, and do them better.

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Gear helps you do your activities of choice, but most of the crap we purchase is not of the new sort, it is of the better-than sort.  Better than the quite similar thing we already have, and even the best gear upgrades don’t make us all that much better.  I’m not talking about buying shoes which finally fit; I’m talking about a lighter down jacket or pack, fancier skis or bike, more precise rifle.  In almost every case the amount of betterness is well down in the single percentiles.  The primary purposes of most gear purchases is rather to nurse along our engagement until we’re once again in the field.

This is all well and good, and I’m not proposing any oath about not buying stuff in 2014.  Theoretical engagement, planning, and learning processes which go with them are valuable.   And you should take moderation in moderation, too.  What I am saying is that the American national disease has become chasing happiness without ever being happy.  It is remarkably effective to realize that happiness is a dynamic state not at all free of intrapersonal conflict, and that one of the best ways of being happy is to decide that you are.  Now.  I enjoy my frequent, mid-afternoon walks from office to coffeeshop and back as much for the walking as for the coffee.  I can pause before going back down the hill and, on a clear day like today, see three different mountain ranges coming together in the valley where the Flathead River is birthed.  The drive thru of said coffeeshop will, for the first time ever, be open 24 hours next Friday.  I assume that part of the allure of this ritual has do with breaking the routine, in the company of friends and family and in a slightly uncomfortable manner.  What freedom to be able to do this without the crutch of impulse purchases, trampling others, and the secondary and tertiary global impacts of these activities.  Which ought to trouble us all.

So over the next week I’ll put forth several ideas, big and small, as my interest and spite dictate, for gifts which are too good to be put in a box.  Because you and yours deserve only as much.  No new coats.  No new wheels.  No fucking cuben fiber.  Not even new socks, the most pragmatic of presents.  Just inspiration.  Regardless of where you live the possibilities will exceed your lifespan.  Yes, even in  California.  All you need more of are eyes to see them.

Pieces and pieces

US rivers in the contiguous 48

Most readers here enjoy starting at maps. The above visual rendering of the rivers in the lower 48 is a good one for nostalgia, and the general aesthetic value of fact. A massive, scrollable version can be found here. Discussion of the technical aspects of the image-map, which is beyond me, can be found here.

I did an exceptionally useful mod to my Gossamer Gear Gorilla, which much improves its weight transfer for those occasions where you might be carrying well over 30 pounds.

An article of mine on minimalist footwear for shoulder season backpacking just went up on Toe Salad, which is a somewhat gross name for a good website on shoe-geekery.  Not anything I haven’t written before, but a short summation of all my ideas on the subject.

I also wrote an account of how the Bob Open came to be for Gossamer Gear.

Lastly, in preparation for the fast-approaching elk and deer season, I painted the stocks of both my Remington 700 and our new Handi rifle.  Both were boring black plastic and needed a more inspiring presentation.  Aluma Hyde II in OD green got the job done.

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A nice matte finish.  Aluma Hyde isn’t primarily meant for plastic, and thus the aggressive heat setting which most sources seem to recommend (i.e. baking in an oven for a few hours) is not appropriate.  I followed the factory directions, cleaning thoroughly and doing a series of thin coats with brief heat application between each.  We don’t own a heat gun or hair dryer, so I waved a lit MSR Pocket Rocket under each item for a minute or two as they hunt suspended on wires in our open garage.  This worked well.  To finish things off, and avoid the weeks long air cure Aluma Hyde entails, I suspended the items in front of our open oven, with the oven set on 200.  Using the bits of wire left over from painting, I hung the stocks from the handles of skillets on the range.  A kettle full of water worked as a counterweight.  A few hours, and another week of curing in the safe after assembly, did the trick.

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Aesthetic only, but I like it.  As they say, there are many others like them, but these rifles are mine.

The Remington is a stock SPS in .30-06, with a 3×9 Leupold, and a prefit Pachmyr recoil pad (which also lengthened the LOP a bit).  At 8 pounds all up, it’s the elk gun.  The H&R is a compact .243, to which we added an aftermarket adult-sized buttstock.  The result is a nice compact 20 inch barrel and factory iron sights.  It’s the deer gun.

Glacier National Park: My master plan

 …access to wild places could be seen as an essential precondition to the pursuit of meaning in human life…national parks have done this by removing vast tracts of land from private ownership forever, an act and an ideal which contradicts such inextricably American things as manifest destiny and our pathologic fetishization of the right to private land ownership.

I wrote this last year in my post A 21st Century Park Service, where I concluded that the National Park Service has been something on a cultural anomaly in American history, and is thus is a priviledged location to help us reinvent our national identity in the coming century.  Creating a more mature, sustainable way of being on earth is vital for the United States.  With our democratic, individualistic ideals ever more thoroughly permeating the globe, and with the globe becoming ever more full, it is incumbent upon us to discover a way for democracy to exist outside of what Abbey called “the ideology of the cancer cell.”

crownmapThe Crown of the Continent, radiating from Triple Divide Peak in Glacier.  Map by the outstanding Mr. JC Ellis (investigate his other work!)

Glacier National Park is only indirectly imporatant because it is pretty.  It is important because it sits in a unique geographic position, has a full compliment of large predators, and together with the Bob Marshall complex is large enough to support genetically sustainable populations of said critters.  Visitors react to this, even if they can’t articulate why.  Seeing goats, moose, and especially bears is at least as big a draw as photographing glacial horns.  All of the above could be said of Yellowstone National Park, but it has more intrasigent issues and I know less about it.  So Glacier it is.

The primary mission of National Parks is not to be an ecological preserve; it is to be an educational institution.  Not didactic education, but experiential.  Many of the finer things in life can only be understood by being there yourself, and the NPS must first keep said things around, and then make them educationally accessible in perpetuity.  The crux of future plans for Glacier will have to be concerned with what kind of accessibility will best educate citizens for generations to come.

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Older NPS map courtesy the internet, and used because it shows all current trails.

On the whole Glacier is in good shape right now, better than most parks.  This is mostly due to the relative absence of roads, given the number of annual visitors.  As can be seen above, only one road bisects the park.  Highway 2, which forms the southern border, bisects the greater Crown ecosystem and is open year round, does so via the gentlest pass for 100+ straightline miles in either direction, and is thus the most appropriate and likely least ecologically and spiritually impactful route for commerce.  Other than these two, all roads into the park follow valley bottoms and stop short of transition zones into alpine terrain.  Most of these roads are dirt, and of the two that are paved (Two Medicine and Many Glacier), the later is done so poorly. Predictably, the one road through the park gets a massive amount of traffic for the limited time (usually mid-June through early September) it is fully open.  While the park is of course open every minute of every day all year, most do not consider it open for real until the Sun Road can be driven end to end.

Therefore the first order of business in making Glacier ready for the 22nd century is to close the roads to private vehicles.  Abbey said this half a century ago; “we have agreed not to drive automobiles into cathedrals…we should treat our national parks with the same deference, for they, too, are holy places.”  There is no better example of our national disease of more is better than the idea that you can see more during 1000 miles of car travel than 10 miles on foot.  National Parks need to lead the cultural charge here.  Within Glacier the Camas Road, Chief Mountain Highway, and the brief stretch of Highway 2 will be the only roads open to private vehicle traffic.  The Sun Road, many Glacier, Two Medicine, and the dirt roads (Cut Bank, Bowman, Kintla, Inside NF, and various spur roads) will all be closed to private motorized traffic forever.

The Sun Road will be open to human-powered travel with no restrictions.  A free shuttle will run between Apgar and Logan Creek from mid-April through early December, with the road plowed open as necessary.  The Logan Creek pit, currently a storehouse for gravel and culvert pipe, will become the terminus of the new Logan Pass cable car, which will provide access to the Logan Pass visitor center for a reliable 4-5 months a year.  The west side of Logan pass will never be plowed again, and exist as a conduit for ski, bike and foot traffic as the whims of visitors dictate.  On the east side the shuttle and plows will run to Siyeh Bend, beyond which visitors will be able to walk on a trail shoveled into the old road while the cable car is running.  Access to campgrounds such as Avalanche and Rising Sun will be by bike, foot (see below), or bus, with gear shuttled on the buses for free.  Many Glacier, Two Med, and Bowman will have comparable arrangements.  Kintla, Cut Bank, and the Inside Road will become backcountry road-access only, either via human power or with stock.

New trails will be built, in places like Two Dog Flats, East Flattop, the Apgar Range, the Belly River and the North Fork.  The number of patrol cabins will be doubled, the number of chalet quintupled, and all will be available for public use by advance reservation.  Places like Sperry, Granite Park, and the new Cosley Lake Chalet will be open year round, with guided tours in and out to make winter travel safer and more accessible.  Parties with proper qualifications will of course be free to use these facilities on their own, summer and winter.  Eventually the mission of the NPS will become so generally oriented towards experiential education that ranger guided week long trips will be common, and the park will take over all visitor facilities from concessioners.

Canada, British Columbia in particular, will have to get with the program and expand Waterton to include the whole North Fork drainage.  They stop logging, close dirt roads to private vehicles, and provide modestly priced shuttles for what will become one of the best wilderness float trips on earth.  A joint resolution will dispense with the border patrol within the park, and make travel within it seemless and unlimited.

The park will be funded by means other than visitor entrance fees, allowing an annual pass to cost five dollars.  Camping, front or backcountry, will cost 2 dollars per night.  Cabins, chalets, and the existing lodges and hotels will of course be much more, but a judicious combination will make luxury affordable for almost any itinerary, and backpacking less intimidating.

It will take most of the rest of the century, but in time Glacier will be seen as a revolutionary in both leisure travel and outdoor education.  The norms of 100 years ago, when visitors traveled by train, stayed for weeks, and most often traveled on trails via horseback, will come again with a contemporary conscience.  People will go to Glacier to learn outdoor skills, and/or enjoy a deep and affordable vacation experience.  To quote Ed again, “The only foreseeable alternative, given the current [slow] trend of things, is the gradual destruction of our national park system.”

Recognition in the age of online adventure

It does not take much directed experience, either online or face-to-face, to conclude that communication is fundamentally flawed.  Note that I don’t need to say “human experience” of “human communication” because that would be redundant.  Because we are human we cannot speak coherently outside our own experience, and therefore any type of communication is necessarily our own.

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Bowman Lake, Glacier National Park.

Why is that, and what importance might these ideas have for outdoor adventuring in the online era?

The first question is most easily answered by mid-20th century philosophy of language, and the idea the language is an act of faith.  When someone says “that lake is sublime,” any efficacy depends on a shared understanding of not only the concept lake, but the concept sublime.  At least a little slippage is assumed and tolerated with qualitative words like sublime, but the ambiguity of what lake might mean is less often considered.  Indeed, any variation in understanding might not be considered relevant by many.  And that would be accurate, quantifing variations between one definition of lake and another is not useful, what is important is understanding the impossibility of doing so.  The more complex and nuanced the concept/emotion communicated, the greater the probability that the differences between what is said and what you experience the other person understanding will be consequential.

Why is this important?  Our default mode of understanding/communicating (yes, they might as well be the same word) is to assume that some thing-in-itself is out there independent of any communication concerning it.  If a lake lies in the woods unseen, yes?  But we humans don’t get upset when our words fail to equal the “Truth” of the thing we’re discussing, we get upset when our words fail to evoke a sufficiently comparable experience in and for the person with whom we’re communicating.

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Joy: Easy to understand?

The logical extension of viewing communication as inherently subjective and capitol P problematic, and seeing that any reference to an objective third reality is merely slight of hand, is the idea that existence does not exist without the recognition of other humans.  And by humans I mean other people enough like you.

The relevance of this to the internet’s influence on and place with distinctly analogue outdoor adventure is best seen in the pervasive attitude so lazily expressed by so many: the internet is for gathering beta and tech info, trip reports are ego, and you should go have your adventures and be quiet.

The ego charge is the most absurd.  If communication is so problematic, those best equiped to understand the deeply blended emotions behind our best trips are those who have been closest to those places (physically or psychically) themselves.  With a potential group of hopeful confidants so small, even globally, two conclusions are inevitable.  First, why would you not publicise your doings?  Second, the majority of pseudonymous-via-distance internet feedback is worthless, or at least irrelevant.

Communicating (more prosiacally known as sharing) adventures goes to the very heart of why they remain so popular is a fat age of luxury; they let us know ourselves better.  Denying this cannot but represent a profoundly blinkered attitude towards existence as such.

’13 Prescriptions

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In my recent post on the Sandy Hook shooting I wrote that “Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of intervention and epiphany, but a slow grinding of years and small moments whose efficacy is not seen for years, or decades.”  Since it’s easier to throw stones than pick them up and build a wall I offer the following; a dozen ideas for how contemporary American culture could be made more healthy and sustainable.  In no particular order.  The thirteenth is up to you.

1: Lay manifest destiny to rest at last

The American dream as it was first written has run out for my generation.  The idea, as expressed by Horace Greeley, was always that hard work combined with effectively unlimited natural resources would not only create material wealth for the individual, but moral and spiritual health.  Now that the limits of our physical (and thus economic) resources are becoming ever more acute, it is time to decouple material success and moral virtue.

2: Eliminate middle school

I’ve not been able to uncover who first thought putting 6-8th grades together in one building was a good idea, but they owe the 12 year olds of the United States a great karmic debt.  These are most difficult, most crucial, and most depraved years of anyone’s social development.  Being in the presence of younger children encourages mentoring and good behavior.  Being in the presence of age-peers only aggregated from many schools encourages bullying, isolation, and social problems which last through high school well into adulthood.

3: Smaller schools

No K-8 school should have more than 500 students.  No high school should have more than 1000.  Simple.  Yes this and the above idea will cost more in staff and facilities, but in the long term such savings in other areas will more than make up for the difference.

4: Free the free market

It does not take more intelligence and ability to manage a bank or hedge fund than it does to teach second grade well, but our twisted economic system has ingrained the opposite for so long that the virtue of being in a profession which makes money is unquestioned.  State funding of primary education and the necessarily short-sighted budgeting therein is probably the best place to start changing this.  Pay experienced teachers low six figures and evaluate them on real metrics (not standardized tests) and within 50 years we’ll have schools to be proud of.

5: High school graduation as a requirement for a driver’s license

16 year olds do not have the emotional maturity to be driving cars.  A high school diploma should not be compulsory, but it should be a prerequisite for one of the most important privileges in modern America.

6: 28 day waiting period for firearms purchase

Background checks are well and good, but they’re not going to catch those who are only contemplating their first crime.  A lengthy waiting period would not be too onerous for the masses and remove firearms as a factor in many crimes of impulse and passion.

7: Longer Congressional terms

Given modern fund-raising requirements and the effects of 24 hour news, members of Congress are too tied to the immediate effects of policy.  Good laws are voted down too often for this reason.  Terms in the House should be 4 years, 8 in the Senate.

8: Real sex education

Creepy as it is, anything less than full safe-sex education beginning in 5th grade is no longer responsible for our government to support.  The economic and moral costs of abstinence-only have been catastrophic.  If no one in America had kids before 25 countless social ills would be eliminated or vastly diminished.  This is the least-unpalatable way to facilitate this.

9: Non-profit health insurance

Common decency should have dictated long ago that some things are not appropriate venues for cultivating profit.  Health insurance is one of them.  Eliminating this as a legal practice in the US would internally fix many of the current issues with run-away health care costs.

10: Reform social security

A century ago the most impoverished demographic in America was the elderly.  Thanks to social security this is no longer the case, it is now children.  If I had to pick one or the other it would be an easy choice, but perhaps we could have some sort of future security to improve the odds of children becoming healthy members of society.

11: Welfare state oversight

While many of the protestations concerning people exploiting the welfare state are discriminatory, many are true.  Unfortunately underfunded and/or inefficient state systems rarely have the staff to adequately monitor those receiving disability, TANF, WIC, and so forth.  This is another area where short term budget savings costs more in the long run.  Anyone on public assistance should be have a case manager to ensure the money is appropriately spent, review the validity of current diagnoses, etc.

12: Put the NCAA on probation

The status of college sports, especially football, has corrupted the culture and mission of universities.  The ongoing rape scandals concerning the University of Montana football team is but one example.  This system is beyond immediate repair.  Anything beyond intermural football should be banned in American universities for the next forty years, when perhaps a new generation can make it work.

13:

2012; the most beautiful year

This has been a difficult year.  To use one easy example, the progression of my wilderness skills was orderly and logical in years past.  In 2008 Chris Plesko and I went to Yellowstone.  In 2009 Kevin Sawchuk and I traversed the Bob in October.  In 2010 I traversed the Thorofare alone in May, and learned to packraft.  In 2011 I completed the Classic.  This year my two “big” traverses ended in failure, at least insofar as completed the route was concerned.  Work had similar struggles, as I closed in on and passed 2 years at my current job and struggled with having a sustainable attitude towards a job whose external worth is often so hard to judge.  These battles are why 2012 has been the best year yet.  Compiling the video below brought back an overwhelming layer of memories, and with it a few tears of gratitude.  Job completed.

In the video you’ll notice something rather different than those from years past; people.  I resolved to do, and did, many trips with others.  And loved it.  Solo has been and will still be a huge part of what I do in the wilderness, but getting better at sharing has been enormously rewarding.  I believe some call this growing up.

Last year I wrote, on the occasion of this blogs 5th birthday, that I hoped to raise the bar on content.  Visually things have stayed stagnant, photography wasn’t a huge focus this year and I chose to sink money into going on trips and buying gear rather than upgrading cameras and hardware.  This will continue to be the case, as I just ordered a new packraft (Scout!) yesterday.  M and I had a conversation a few months later, prompted by the second time I was freshly pressed and saw viewed multiply for a week or two, where I concluded that additional volume was not a desirable goal.  I do not want to be anywhere close to the most read blog around.   I’d need to make content here more regular and more ereadily digestible, neither of which will ever happen.  I don’t compromise lived life for blogging, and I see little value in being easily understood.  I want to be the most influential blog in my strange corner of the universe, and judged by that criteria I’m pleased with my progress.  My writing here and elsewhere has improved, with several posts here and articles on BPL whose influence has been easily seen.  I shall do my best to keep this up.

I’m not going to write about specific gear this time around, because while my curiosity and consumerism is far from dead, reflecting on the last 6 years has made the gear urge seem a bit silly.  So long as I’ve had a reliable mountain bike good adventures have come, and the particulars matter little.  Investing in a fatbike, as I did this year, is worthwhile for the new terrain and ways of thinking it opens.  Worrying about the best tires and fiddling with different drive trains or different amounts of suspension does not provide a good growth-experience to fiddle-time ratio.  3 years ago I was enjoying myself and exploring places quite as well with one pair of skis as I will this winter with six.  All this is why you should expect to see a bit less gear writing here and elsewhere, and why I bought a new Alpacka rather than any of the many other things worthy of said funds.  A packraft opens new places, and I want a lighter one to ease my multi-sport explorations as well as a second boat to more easily bring others along (looking at you Danni/Clayton/Lauren/Megan/Ali/etc).

I have big plans for 2013.  The first 12 weeks are already quite full with Fisher research trips in Glacier and the Fat Bike Summit in Idaho.  M and I hope to (finally) return to the Colorado Plateau in April, and come May boating and spring skiing will be upon us, followed shortly by the orgiastic period of dry-dirt hiking known as summer.  I’ll need to train hard to be able to last from July through September with all I plan to do, and with enough in reserve to hunt deer and elk in the Bob.  There will be lots of trout to catch along the way.

I can’t wait.

Newtown for a new century

IMG_7642What’s in your closet?

Gun control is not the answer.

Yes guns make it easier, and perhaps therefore more probable, for the Lanza’s of the world to kill many people.  But let us remember something which most have forgotten in the past four days: the second amendment has nothing to do with hunting, or with skeet shooting.  Nothing whatsoever.  It exists so that everyday citizens may and will participate in the ordering of our republic; be it widespread resistance to a foriegn invasion, shooting a robber at your doorstep, or (yes) resisting the facistic usurpation of liberty by our own government.  Perhaps that idea is quaint in a modern world of 7 billion people, Facebook, and nuclear weapons, but when viewed in this light and still held as legitimate it is rather clear that guns designed to kill other humans, i.e.  semi-autos with detachable magazines like the 1911 above or the AR-15 used by Lanza, are exactly the sort of weapon the second amendment says we as citizens should have.  Perhaps in an age of madness this is untenable, but altering it will require more than an act of Congress, and given the Roberts’ Courts treatment of the DC handgun law it seems clear that only a formal constitutional amendment will suffice, both legally and as a sufficiently clear statement of a change in national interests.

Mental health care is not the answer.

If you haven’t read “I am Adam Lanza’s Mother” yet you ought to.  Virtually all the criticism I’ve read of this article rings more alarmingly hollow than the aforementioned shallow, unconsidered cries for gun control.  I work with such kids on a weekly basis, and Mrs. Long’s portrayal of mental illness at work in young adults in extremely accurate.  Parents in these situations can do everything right, as it seems from one small glimpse Long did, and still have everything go wrong.  I know of almost no social services which seriously deal with the question of what to do with a young man like Long’s son; one who may never be able to participate independently in society.  Even with more than good enough mothering and an army of inpatient, outpatient, and in-home providers there may be little realistic hope for such children.  How to humanely cope with that is not something our society has considered well.

Nothing is the answer; everything is the answer.

At first blush I’m skeptical of claims that we Americans are experiencing an exceptional period of public violence. I’ve yet to see convincing historical analysis on any side of this question, because this data tends to get lost with the passing years. That 24 hours news is good at making us more attentive and alarmed is probable, but might be besides the point. Madness may be inevitable and often beyond reason, but morality should compel us as a society to think deeply about causation and prevention. Urban areas of our country have too many people. Children and adults both spend too many hours looking at dark screens witnessing and playing at horrific violence. The overwhelming majority of our masculine archetypes are toxic. Too many of our schools at least tacitly support socialization which exacerbates rather than heals marginalization. The first problem associated with more extensive, aggressive, proactive mental health for the Lanzas and Loughners of the world is just this; that successful treatment must be done along with the wilfull wishes of the person in question. Real progress is not a movie-friendly month of intervention and epiphany, but a slow grinding of years and small moments whose efficacy is not seen for years, or decades. I don’t have to many particular policy solutions, but seeing the blankness of public outcry reduce solutions to an inch of bullet points reliably takes away what little hope I might have.

Huge, little things all through our world need to change; even if doing so provides only the most general of hopes that these horrors might be prevented.

A living pack

Above are the closest to stock packs which currently exist in our house.

At upper left is my brand new Hill People Gear Runner’s Kit bag (in foliage, which is a great color).  It costs 85 dollars, and is (conspicuously) made in the United States out of US-produced materials.  The body is entirely 500D cordura, and is a simple looking yet deceptively complex design, with at least four layers of fabric in any given plane of thickness.  The zippers run exceptionally smoothly.

At lower left is an Osprey Grab-bag.  It costs 25 bucks.  The tag inside says it was made in Vietnam.  Outwardly it seems more complex than the kit bag, but the single zippered pocket with interior and exterior stash pockets would be fairly simple to cut and sew.

In the middle is my Black Diamond Bbee (the blue daisy chains were added by me).  It retails for 50 bucks, and was presumably made somewhere in SE Asia (I cut the tags out).  The light grey fabric is 200ish denier cordura, while the dark grey is a nice nailhead weave.  There are some very well done details in this pack, which is why it remains my fav daypack, but overall the execution must be fairly simple, with plenty of big and plain seams.

At right is an Osprey Hornet 24, which is almost exclusively M’s.  It costs 119 dollars, and was also presumably made somewhere in SE Asia.  Again, I cut the tags out (freak).  The materials in both Osprey packs and the Bbee were (I assume) made in an Asian mill.  The Hornet is a complex, nuanced design with more fabric panels and stitch transitions than the other three put together.

I’m coming to an argument about global markets through the back door, because what I think first when I compare these four items and their prices is how much the person sewing them is being paid, and how long it takes them.  My speculation on this issue might be fatally flawed, as I’m a glacially slow seamstress, but once I had enough experience to begin to appreciate how complex a pack like the Hornet is, the greater my incredulity that it could be sold at its price (which is, for daypacks, rather high according to conventional wisdom).  Even with assembly line polish, mass-produced pieces, and bulk pricing on raw materials, a Hornet could not be sewn in the USA for anywhere near 119 dollars.  I cannot see otherwise.

Intriguingly, I doubt very much that the higher price of the kit bag would be commercially sustainable absent the cache generated by it being designed, parted, and made in country.  The construction quality is excellent, but not moreso than on the packs shown above.  HPG looses points for not rubbing off the chalk pencil marks in a few places, too.  On the other hand, 20 minutes of carpet testing indicate that it’s probably one of those things where the profundity of the design is not immediately apparent.  It’s true worth, and why I bought it, I’ll discuss later, but on this evening I’m happy with a neat new piece of gear which was obviously sewn by someone making a living wage.

Btw; it’s 11.6 oz with the harness, but without the elastic stabilizer cord.

Internal Wars, Tenkara Wars

My day job as a social worker is rooted in paradox. The perception of an empathic provider is a prolegomena to effective mental health treatment, which is not something suited to fakery. At the same time, we as professionals must maintain a distance, to be able to make effective, “objective” decisions on matters of treatment and for our own well-being. Like all fair and true balancing acts this is impossible, the very idea on many levels absurd. Achieving it is not a static state of enlightenment but an unending and drunken walk down a tilted sidewalk. Which is why, yesterday, I called in sick with a case of oncorhynchustitis.

My fishing rods: TenkaraUSA Amago (first gen) above, Daiwa Soyokaze 27 below.

I should first mention that, as evidenced here, my camera did not die from last weekends swim. The camera in a ziplock of rice trick works; I’ve had to use it twice in the last month.

Perfect.  Too bad you can’t legally packraft it when the water is high enough. (Hint.)

I had a sense it would be a good day. Every evening the last week over has progressed in crispness, and on a particularly early morning riding to work last week I even wore a long-sleeved shirt. Autumnal morning giving over to summer warmth around noon or one is perfect fishing weather; unlike earlier in August, the chill stays in the water such that they will bite all day.

And yesterday was perfect, perfect for thinking as a whole day spent working up a single stream can be. Perfect because I did something right for myself. Perfect because a mild and short bushwack got me a freestone creek within (distant) sight of the road that probably gets fished five times in two years. Perfect because (once again, I might be getting good at this) I caught way more fish than I can count (50-70 in six hours), and, cliche though it might be, perfect because I caught the biggest fish of the year thus far, out of the most unlikely of small but deep pools, cut under the snarled roots of an old cottonwood.  It was the fourth cast of the day, I had caught ~10 inchers on casts two and three, which seemed big enough given the circumstances, and was awful glad I had picked the Amago first (for the extra reach).  I barely kept that fish out of several different snags, and landed and released him still full of awe and the camera still in my pack.  I know that, skinny though it was, that cutthroat was nothing less than 20 inches.  Almost as long as the first segment of the Amago, and huge for the creeks I like to fish.

Only fish photo of the day.  Usually I feel too bad delaying their release.  It is fundamentally a barbarous sport.

No other fish came close to rivaling that giant, but in the next 1.5 miles, as I worked my way upstream, the cutts seemed to be several standard deviations bigger than their cousins further downstream in the same creek.  ~10 inchers were the mean, and without exception they fought like bull trout.  Often two raced each other, out of the rocks below a riffle, the victor airing it out before it realized it was hooked.  As the sun rose above the ridges my mind sunk into the rhythm of fishing, absorbed in nuances of water and cobbles as daily detritus (work, shit to clean at home, country music lyrics) floated in one ear and, never without much delay, out the other.  It was pretty warm by late afternoon, when I reached my destination, stowed my gear, and walked a few miles of trail back to the truck.  I was out of water, out of food, out of will, had scratched all my daily itches, and just needed a soda.  Five years ago I thought that, come forty or fifty, I’d have the patience, no doubt born from a lack of cartilage, to focus on fly fishing.  That I’ve aged faster than anticipated is, hopefully, as good a sign for my spiritual development as it is for the long-term health of my knees (which feel great).

Tenkara has become, besides “…the most extraordinary advance in backcountry gear in the past decade,” and beyond “…the 2,000 year old fad,” a matter of some contention.  Any fad whose criticism which reaches a certain threshold of vociferation has substance behind it.  In this respect tenkara is no different than fixed gears, fat bikes, cuben fiber, or putting bacon on everything.  Tenkara has not only been bashed and dismissed roundly in 2012, but has become the object of a curious turf war over how it will be defined (e.g. market share).  TenkaraUSA introduced tenkara to the world outside Japan (see “fad” link, above), and as of this writing is the number one Google result.  Number three, behind wikipedia, is TenkaraBum, which began as a blog with the most comprehensive range of rod reviews and has quickly morphed into a retailer.  My Soyokaze was imported and sold to me by TenkaraBum (with exemplary customer service, and including a free level line).

The debate can be best understood by seeing this, and then reading this (no permalinks, you want the August 29 and 30 entries).

For my own part, the Amago and the Soko27 (which are very far apart in function, as far as trout rods go) are both very nice.  I’ve been using the former for two years, and am continuously impressed with how such a big and in many ways powerful fancy stick can be so easy to wave around all day, and make catching a wide range of fish fun and satisfying.  (The praise of tenkara, by Ryan and others, is not at all hype.)  The Soko27 is great off the bat for tight places and small fish, but is growing on me as a more multifaceted tool.  It has a lively, zingy cast and while it does demand attention, can land larger trout and is very fun in the process.  I switched from the Amago to the Soyo halfway through yesterday, more to have a change than because the stream or fish got that much smaller, and appreciate the different experience.  Equally good and capable in its own niche, and a welcome bit of diversity.  I will address the cork grip controversy, thus: I don’t find there to be any substantive difference in grip between the cork Amago and the merely textured Soko, but do find the small overall diameter of the later to be less than ideal in certain situations.

So beware the hype.  You might get caught in the misinformation, or even worse, left out of something profound entirely.

Why Head Start doesn’t work

Head Start, the pre-elementary school development program for children with high needs, has come under scrutiny recently.  President Obama has asserted that some Head Start programs are deficient, and following his administrations “race to the top” initiative for public school funding, put in place a program by which some Head Start programs must in essence compete in order to stay in existence.

There two distinct and important points here that are often getting rolled into each other, but have distinct implications.  The first is the question of what deficient means, the second why Head Start does indeed fail in a number of longitudinal studies.

Operationalizing variables when studying the effectiveness of various social services in tremendously complex.  Generally, a researcher has a choice between using more time-limited outcome measures and having a better chance of statistically significant and reliable results, or between longer term measures and an often vastly diminished chance of any statistical certitude.  There are exceptions to this bind, but they tend to be found amongst simpler population and with less interesting research questions.  Following up on 5 and 10 year sobriety with former patients of a rehabilitation program, for instance, is (generally) much easier than measuring the effect of Head Start enrollment on high school graduation rates.  There are various confidentiality barrier that impede the latter, and families tend to move school districts which will mess with your sample such that the stats quickly become wonky, if not invalid.  This is especially true if the rehab program dealt with higher income folks, who seem to move around and change phone numbers less.

For this reason, I’m always very skeptical of systemic claims that a certain intervention doesn’t work, especially when social services and/or the public school system is concerned.  Often the supposedly supportive evidence isn’t as extensive as one is led to believe.

Unfortunately, there is a growing body of research which suggests that gains made in Head Start tend to not be especially durable once students transition to public school.  The reason (in my opinion) is first, that the structure of Head Start and level of intervention it provides is rarely replicated in further schooling, and second that the family, social, and cultural issues which tend to place a kid in Head Start are vast and intractable.  Asking a single program to make a substantive effect in such things is not realistic.

The best work of Head Start has little or nothing to do with traditional education, but rather with socialization and teaching parenting skills.  The hard fact is that Head Start tends to serve lower income families, and that for a variety of reason (which are beyond the present scope) the problems which Head Start is meant to address seem to be correlated fairly strongly with poverty: things like academic delays, poor emotion management, delayed social skills, and limited home support for education.  Head Start at it’s best provides a range of services to meet these challenges, and even if such supports were maintained after two years of Head Start, and even if parent participation is consistent (far from a given), it is unrealistic to think that trans-generational problems will be solved by one or two years of intervention, even at 4-5 hours a day.

The dirty little secret behind all of this is that public schools in America have been social service institutions for well over a century; at least since Dewey et al. saw them as a tool of melting-pot acculturation.  More and more social services are being met through the schools (outpatient therapy, psychiatric medication administration) because school is the one place by law children have to go.  There are (baring Family Service legal involvement) usually no consequences for skipping a therapy appointment, but there are (at least in theory) for keeping the kids out of school.  Ergo until public school is given credit and funding for all the things it has been doing for decades, it will continue to often do them poorly, and thus more exhaustive interventions like Head Start will continue to have limited effect.