the new modus operandi
Is doing nothing.
Of course I do not mean literally doing nothing. I mean that sitting around at the ranch - with wine or without - while watching captain chase a gopher or an Eva Air MD-11 fly overhead is just as much fun as, well, almost anything else. I would love to go skiing or backpacking but you can't do that every day. I can wake up here, make coffee, sit in the pasture, and observe. In the pasture alone one can see humming birds, turkey vultures, pigeons, scrub jays, california valley quail, woodpeckers, red-tailed hawks, crows, and another brown bird I haven't identified. Vern swears he saw a bald eagle (I think I saw one in Menlo Park too). While you are sitting there a gopher might poke his head out of the ground, Duke Marmalade might eat said gopher, a couple deer might run by, and if you are really lucky you'll see a bobcat. That hasn't happened yet this year.
Play some horseshoes. Go for a run. Sit in the hot tub. Sometimes I just sit. In that case I really am doing absolutely nothing.
Compare going to a Giants game: Drive 75 miles into San Francisco. Spend 20 to park. Spend 30 per ticket. Stress about traffic and parking. Stress about whether your backpack is too big. Drop god knows how much on food or beer. Sit and watch someone else have fun playing baseball. Drive 75 miles home again.
No thank you.
It is a little sickening how much stuff I own. I have been trying to decide what hobbies to drop? I wonder, in 20 years, which hobbies I will have successfully stopped performing. The first to go will probably be climbing. After that I might stop mountaineering and stick to scrambling. Winter mountain climbs require a lot of equipment. Then again, it is really fun. Sigh.
april in soquel
There is not much to say about being back in the USA.
People drive much more than they should. There are too many cars, too many roads, too many potholes.
Flight tracking is less sophisticated here, leaving a lot of planes unidentifiable.
Running on narrow trails in Nisene Marks Park is very fulfilling.
I prefer chainsaws to data loggers and pruning trees to measuring ground surface temperature.
Staring up at the sky through an olive tree can transport you back to Croatia without the many hours it takes to get there on a plane.
Three days of "Defense against wild animals" training convinced me that I will not be taking a firearm with me to Alaska.
I used up about 3 months of my two year postdoc in 2012. That leaves 1.75 years equals 21 months equals about 630 days total but 2 of every 7 are weekends making it 450 minus 10 days of holiday per year (17.5 days) = 432.5 but I'm gonna work a 4-10 so we can multiply by 4/5 and we are down to 346 days. Tack on 10 federal holidays per year (another 17.5) and we are down to ~328 days of work left. I used up 3 of those at firearm safety training - 325 days to go until freedom.
If I could spend 85% of my time at the ranch working in the yard, 3% with friends over the hill, and 10% backpacking in the Sierra Nevada I'd be good for the next 70 years.
I have no interest in any current television programs. Cheers is good though.
I'm pretty sure my days of work math was flawed.
february 24 - march 4
Switzerland (Nanikon, Zurich, Interlaken, Jungfraujoch) and Italy (Milan, Venice, Lake Como)
As a final celebration of our time in Europe (and of course to see what life is like for us over here), Steve came to visit. Responsiblities at home - named Ben and Evan - limited his trip duration to one week. It is a long way to fly from California and I felt the need to make it worth it.
Blitz: 2. informal a sudden, energetic, and concerted effort, typically on a specific task. The first definition refers to the military. Our bike ride to Dubendorf notwithstanding, we'll stick with the second definition.
Day 1: Steve arrived in the late afternoon. he was totally stoked and shocked by how easy it is to get through customs. we gave him a beer. we drove home. the weather was not great, but we went for a walk anyway around nanikon. he saw the alpacas. he loved the trains - so quiet, so frequent. Steve asks a lot of questions and I had almost no answers. Ugh. Leigh made dinner. We went to bed.
Day 2: A day spent in Zurich. Steve made it clear his favorite thing to do in new cities is walk. Well, we walked. How well can I remember where we went? Let's see. We went down Bahnhofstrasse (I started to make a map but it was far too complicated). It went like this: Burkliplatz, Fraumunster, Pastorini Spielzug (toy store), COOP on the river, polybahn, UZH cafeteria, Niederdorf, Grossmunster, Bellevue (Sternen Grill), Zurichhorn (southern end of lakeside park), walk along lake, then river, arrived Landesmuseum but it was closed, tram to Zurich west, Freitag Store for the first time (great view from top, lame merchandise within), walked for a while to a less affluent area of Zurich, crossed the river, hung out in a coffee shop to warm up (ratio of women to men - 10:1), tram back to main station, train to triemli, brief stop before heading up to Uetliberg (view of city is so-so, the alps were obscured), take train back down, walk to dinner at Zeughauskeller, Leigh is waiting for us, discover the existence of Usterbrau, Steve discovers he likes Swiss beer, after dinner we walk down the street to the main station, home again.
Day 3: The weather dictated it was the day for altitude and we obeyed. Up early, Kenyan coffee. Leigh to work, us to play: specifically, to Interlaken where we would leave our car at a hostel and take 3 trains up through the Eiger to the Jungfraujoch. Steve was not about to visit Europe again any time soon, so why not? He also had never slept in a hostel. I figured he should experience it at least once. Well, he was totally down with the Jungfraujoch but only certain aspects of the hostel. The aspects that did not involve drunk Australians. Too bad. As I did with Jeff in 2009, you take a train from Interlaken to Lauterbrunnen; then from Lauterbrunnen to Kleine Scheidegg; then from Kleine Scheidegg through the Eiger to the 'Joch. Every cog of the way is surreal. I had never been in that area during winter before. Skiers all over the place. What can you say about the train to the Jungfraujoch? You definitely need to ride it to believe it. I will say, as far as the negative aspects, it is somewhat disappointing how much froo-froo shit is up there. This damn building is built into and above a narrow arete between the Monch and Jungfrau. You can walk outside on the surface of a glacier or in the opposite direction onto snow above some rocks. You can stand inside or outside and look down the Aletsch Glacier, the longest glacier in the Alps, or the other way down precipitous cliffs to Kleine Scheidegg. What more does one need? The Swiss seem to think you need a Bollywood store, a high class watch shop, an ice tunnel filled with ice sculptures like penguins, bears, Sherlock Holmes. Why not a weird Switzerland snow globe diorama? Look out the windows people! I'm not even going to push for people going outside - it was 8F and windy - since I understand that isn't comfortable all the time. I think they need more signs describing the mountains and glaciers up there. On the way down they notify the occupants of the train in numerous languages that the train is approaching Kleine Scheidegg. German first, then french, Italian, English, something, and all of a sudden someone who sounds 10 and perhaps on crack starts speaking Japanese. Many people in the car chuckle, one individual completely loses it, in response Steve guffaws. It really it hilarious. At Kleine Scheidegg I had two goals: 1. drink beer on the balcony of a restaurant and 2. explore the hotel where the Eiger Sanction was filmed. We did both. The hotel is freaking awesome. And empty. Odd place. Lots of wood. The beer was on the balcony was great too. What a day! Back at the hostel it was very hostelesque. People from everywhere, every age, lots of awkwardness. The most memorable moments were as follows: an Asian 20-something who did not know how to open a bottle of wine; a French family that made raclette in the common room; a group of three Australians the leader of which we pegged as obnoxious within 0.5 seconds, who did not disappoint when we later became acquainted with him…….
More to come later.
a pile of train tracks at the station
As children, Luke and I had a LGB-scale Playmobil train with track sections about one foot long. Yesterday I stumbled across the real life equivalent - the resemblance was startling. Over the weekend a train derailed north of Nanikon. The SBB, it would appear, chops up the tracks into 10 meter sections, lifts them with a crane, and in this case, stacked them at our train station.
I went to visit the site of the derailment. The SBB built some temporary tracks in order to maintain service but by comparison they are loud and sag as the train travels over them. The unexpected clickety-clack made me miss the United States, where it seems all tracks are little better than Switzerland's temporary rails.
a case of the mondays
Leigh is notorious for questionable time management. She has a weak grasp on the duration of a minute. She seems to think 1.5 minutes is how long a real minute should last. This characteristic of Leigh's is most amusingly portrayed in the morning when she is preparing to go to work and has to catch the train. By bike it takes 3 minutes to get to the station, lock the bike, and walk up the ramp. There are four trains per hour to Zurich from our town. They leave at 14, 27, 44, and 57 every hour between 5:44 am and 12:14 am. This schedule has existed since we moved to Nanikon. Nevertheless, Leigh has a lot of trouble making it to the station. Today was especially bad.
Leigh planned to catch the 57 train. We said goodbye. A couple minutes later she was back. She realized as she headed out it was too late. No bother, there is another train in 17 min. She leaves again. I look at my watch and it reads 9:13. How is she going to make it in one minute? I run outside.
"What time do you think it is?" I said.
"11 after, why?" she says.
"It is 13 right now. Is your watch wrong?" I inquire.
"Uggggghhhh, yes, I must have set it wrong on the plane back from California," Leigh says.
This is not the country to have a watch two minutes behind.
No bother, there is another at :27. I'm futzing on the computer, petting the cat. Leigh is in the bathroom retouching her make-up or what not. A while later she comes out and looks at her watch. "AAAAHHH, I did it again. It's too late!" At this point she has 'missed' the train 3 times in one morning. We resort to setting an timer on her watch that will beep one minute before it is time to hop on the bike. It works and Leigh heads off to work.
The Lachenstock lives up to its name
Canton of Schwyz, Switzerland
In the past month I have driven the car 4 times: twice taking Leigh to the airport, once picking Leigh up from the airport, and yesterday to drive to the end of the Wägitalersee for a (yet again) solo ski tour. It was only solo, however, in the respect that I did not go with anyone. This being Switzerland, the mountain was covered with people.
When I woke up in Nänikon the outside air temperature was about 14°F. I say about because I think having our thermometer on the patio causes the temperature to read too high. When I passed Uster, 3 km south of here, the car registered 1°F - the coldest temperature the car has experienced. Driving across the Rapperswil-Pfaffkin causeway I saw a large fox.
The tour begins at the south end of the Wägitalersee. From all the cars and people milling around I could tell it was going to be a crowded slope. I began at 8:47 am. Almost immediately I found myself behind a group of ten working their way up the track. Although the crowds in Switzerland are sometimes frustrating, they do create fantastic tracks; following others' tracks probably requires 10% of the effort of breaking trail. In this case the track was already substantial and the group of 10 was just in the way. One skier who came up behind me got fed up quickly and passed through the soft snow. You could tell he was wearing himself out tremendously in the effort. After 20 minutes, maybe more, the group of 10 finally stopped and let me (plus one other man) pass.
Not long after that I paused to adjust my clothing. It is amazing how much one can sweat in 10 degree air. There were people below me and people above me. Dozens of them. I read online beforehand that this slope can be popular. Because of that I decided to ski to the Lachenstock instead of the Redertenstock: everyone skies up to the latter rather than the former because it is closer and steeper. To get to the Lachenstock you can either leave the track very early and break trail for, perhaps, 2 miles up gently sloping terrain. Rather than this "normal" route, I chose to follow the track as high as possible before heading across open terrain toward the Lachenstock. There were so many people around, I felt confident someone would have gone over there to get away from the crowds, and I would follow their tracks.
Unfortunately, I was wrong. The only 'tracks' heading toward my goal were made by chamois, ibex, or something else. Some of the tracks were definitely of the hoofed variety, but in some places they were paw prints. I have no idea what kind of animal made them. I was surprised by how much reality was matching my expectations. I wanted sun, snow, solitude, and had all three. Behind me, perhaps 60-100 people were marching up the ski track one by one. Standing atop their destination (it isn't really a summit, just a point along the ridgeline) I could see at least 20 people. Yuck. I also was looking forward to seeing the Zindlenspitz up close in the winter because Leigh and I walked up in October. I am a sucker for reminiscing.
But taking your own path is not without its difficulties. I had to break trail while sinking up to my knees for a mile and a half. That is a lot for me. All the way I was humbled, so to speak, by the chamois tracks heading directly up 45 degree slopes, then immediately turning around and going down again. As I approached the final slopes to the summit, I became very aware that I was becoming exhausted. It is my experience that a well chosen ski tour is one where in fact you do feel exhausted near the top. Once up there you rest, drink some water, snack, and on the way down your reserve tank kicks in. The reserve tank gets you down the mountain.
On this ski tour, however, I made the ultimate ski tour boner move. Not a dangerous move, liking setting off an avalanche or skiing off a cliff. Emotionally, my poor choice was almost worse than that: I had selected a mountain with a descent route who's angle was too gentle to maintain motion in the soft snow. I had 5-6 good turns, then completely bogged down. Within five minutes of the summit my skis were off and I was walking up to my hips in the snow. Even when I could ski it was still only by pushing. A quarter of a mile further, a dilemma. Do I skin back to the crowds where the slope is steeper or do I try to take the direct, low angle line back to the car? I chose the low angle. 10 minutes later I stopped again. There was no way this was gonna work. Reticently I pulled out my skins and headed back up to my track. My reserve tank would be spent getting me back across the Redertengrat.
The next hour was not pleasant. One of my skins lost its ability to stick and fell off numerous times. I experienced a 20 minute period where I was concerned about throwing up. Following my track made it 80% easier than my original crossing, but I was also 90% more tired. Even when I was sure I had crossed far enough for a descent, I found myself skiing toward a hole and had to "walk" another 50 meters. Pitiful.
By the time I started skiing - that is, using gravity rather than muscles to move forward - everyone else was already down the mountain. The snow was sublime. You can't summarize how good it feels to ski after such a long, tiring hike, so I won't try. In the last few hundred meters I was so tired I crashed a lot, but that was way below the untracked snow. Due to funneling terrain, the bottom section of the descent route was completely skied over. I returned to the car at 4:30 pm.
watching the 49ers
ryan was kind enough to set up his parents' dvr and slingbox to record and stream the 49er playoff game against the packers to me here in nanikon. it is now the fourth quarter. how am I feeling about football these days?
why do fighter jets fly over sporting events? how can anyone watch more than one game on television per year? the number of commercials is disgusting. are the analysts as stupid as they sound or made to sound stupid by their bosses? how can anyone put up with joe buck? why can't they have two audio feeds? the first would be the simple game description and the second more complicated. i'm sure i would be lost for a while with the more complicated analysis but eventually learn enough to get more out of the game than "Whichever team makes the most tackles in the second half is gonna win."
why has howie long looked so angry during this entire telecast? what percentage of the scenarios that verizon claims to have created technology in order to prevent or solve were a result of previous technological advances? i wonder what percentage of people do something productive while watching football? You do not really need to pay much attention to it. I also wonder if people pay less attention now than they used to because of all the commercial breaks. Sometimes the time between commercials is so short I never realize the game even came back. I cannot imagine working all week - especially behind a computer - and then spending all of sunday (and for some people saturday too) watching football. I would not mind playing football. I'd rather play soccer. Or futbol.
On a more subtle note, I often wonder about comments such as "Harbaugh made a gamble picking Kaepernick over Smith, and that gamble paid off". How do you know it paid off? You cannot have it both ways. Who knows how it would have gone with Smith at quarterback? What I consider real gambling - like slots in Vegas - you either lose or you don't. Or with stocks, you keep the money in a savings account and get 1% returns or you buy some stock and it either does better or worse than the savings account. Perhaps that is a gamble. I would argue that knowing whether a quarterback switch was a good decision is impossible. In such a situation where a team is 0-8 and then you switch and the team goes 8-0 it is almost certainly a good decision. With the 49ers that was not the case and we'll just never know.
49ers win. About 0.01% as satisfying as it was in the late 80's up at the ranch with mom, charlotte, and the grandparents.
two factors have severely restricted my ability to do anything outside in the year 2013: the weather and the cost. the year is now 12 day old, and we have had 2 days of sun. as far as the car is concerned, if you account for wear and tear, rather than just gas, it costs ~70 CHF per trip to the Alps. What is one to do? One must fall back on the old good-weather, easy-going, cheapest activity I know of that is as fun as any other activity i know of - the putt putt.putt-putt (noun): a bike ride, done more for pleasure than for exercise, without excessive speed, that rambles here and there. one is encouraged to stop for unusual sites. putts-putts are best when done in a group, but it is not essential. if possible, a janky bike, rather than a nice one, should be used.
my putt-putt broke a couple rules: I was alone and I did pick a destination. nevertheless, I went slowly (it took twice as long to get to Rapperswil as it would have on my nice bike during regular exercise) and I rode a janky bike: Leigh's commuter bike, all two gears of it.
on the way to Rapperswil (distance of 16 miles from nanikon) i saw an unexpected waterfall, a lot of barns, the alps. some fields had lanterns with burning candles inside, a tradition I am not familiar with. I picked some mistletoe. in rapperswil I visited the castle and walked through the old town. the castle is much more impressive than i expected. the castle grounds have deer in a pen and i felt sorry for them. the zindlenspitz, covered in snow, reminded me of great times spent with leigh this fall.
on the way back i lost the bike path almost immediately. it is ridiculous how hard it is to follow signs in switzerland. that led to way-too-steep-for-leigh's-commuter-bike footpaths that led away from the zurichsee and back to my route home. i made it up all but the last 10 meters of the hill. the lutzelsee is a great example of a great aspect of swiss culture. it is a small lake, surrounded by a nature preserve. there is a walking path around the entire thing. on this path there must have been 100-200 people. they were there to enjoy the sun, get some exercise, see some birds. more than half the people were over 60. then, halfway around the lake, they plop down for some white wine outside a barn and talk. i skipped the wine and continued home.
the highlight of the return trip was a fall streak hole. i do not know if it formed as an airplane descended to Zurich or occurred naturally. either way, i set spotting a fall streak hole as one of my goals for 2013 and it did not take very long. still haven't seen a kelvin-helmholtz wave cloud yet though.
of all the trees
the view from our apartment, which used to look like this:
now looks like this:
yes, the farmers who own the field where my favorite swiss tree was located, cut it down. isn't that just the way things go? my favorite tree in this entire country and they cut it down. I am ready to move on and I take this as a sign it is time to go.
From Lord Jim by Joseph Conrad:
"And then, I repeat, I was going home - to that home distant enough for all its hearthstones to be like one hearthstone, by which the humblest of us has the right to sit. We wander in our thousands over the face of the earth, the illustrious and the obscure, earning beyond the seas our fame, our money or only a crust of bread; but it seems to me that for each of us going home must be like going to render an account. We return to face our superiors, our kindred, our friends - those whom we obey and those whom we love; but even they who have neither, the most free, lonely, irresponsible and bereft of ties - even those for whom home holds no dear face, no familiar voice - even they have to meet the spirit that dwells within the land, under its sky, in its air, in its valleys and on its rises, in its fields, in its waters and its trees - a mute friend, judge and inspirer. Say what you like, to get its joy, to breathe its peace, to face its truth, one must return with a clear conscience. All this may seem to you sheer sentimentalism; and indeed very few of us have the will or the capacity to look consciously under the surface of familiar emotions. There are the girl we love, the men we look up to, the tenderness, the friendships, the opportunities, the pleasure! But the fact remains that you must touch your reward with clean hands lest it turn to dead leaves, to thorns, in your grasp. I think it is the lonely, without a fireside or an affection they may call their own, those who return not to a dwelling but to the land itself, to meet its disembodied, eternal and unchangeable spirit - it is those who understand best its severity, its saving power, the grace of its secular right to our fidelity, to our obedience. Yes! Few of us understand, but we all feel it though, and I say all without exception because those who do not feel do not count. Each blade of grass has its spot on earth whence it draws its life, its strength; and so is man rooted to the land from which he draws his faith together with his life."