April 22, 2015

Wild Geese

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.
Tell me about your despair, yours, and I will tell you mine.
Meanwhile the world goes on.
Meanwhile the sun and the clear pebbles of the rain
are moving across the landscapes,
over the prairies and the deep trees,
the mountains and the rivers.
Meanwhile the wild geese, high in the clean blue air,
are heading home again.
Whoever you are, no matter how lonely,
the world offers itself to your imagination,
calls to you like the wild geese, harsh and exciting—
over and over announcing your place
in the family of things.

~Mary Oliver

Posted by Julia Haskin on 04/22 at 04:09 PM

March 19, 2015

In just under two weeks, I will be having corrective laser eye surgery, to address that whole “can’t see more than a foot in front of my face” thing. It is an odd thing to consider.

First of all, I’ve had glasses since I was eight years old. Granted, in the past decade or so I’ve used contacts intermittently, but my mental image of myself still has glasses. So there’s that.

Further, I was there when my ex had his eyes done, four or five years ago. Just sitting in the waiting room, hearing the laser putt-putting away in the other room, made me go so green that the nurses seemed more worried about my state than his, once he emerged. At that point, I was pretty certain that I would never ever voluntarily let someone shoot lasers into my eyes.

Even now, I try not to think about what I’m about to do, at least not directly, or images of that scene from “A Clockwork Orange” come traipsing into my head. (And I haven’t even seen the damn movie.) Or I start worrying about worst-case scenarios, like ending up worse off than I am now – blind, for instance. (And then I start picturing myself as Oedipus, tottering around with a tattered bandage around the top half of my head, my “beard bedewed with eyeballs.”) ::sigh::

My ex, along with basically everyone I know who’s had laser eye surgery done (which is a fair number, as it turns out), is quite happy with the results. Some have experienced some myopic recidivism, or have found their night vision to still involve haloes or that their eyes are permanently drier, but all these are things that were addressed as potential/probable side effects by my doctor, and I’m more or less comfortable with them. (Though I have to admit, I really hope the night vision haloes thing fades away completely, eventually. I’ve spent so little time far enough away from city lights to really see the stars; I’d like to be able to see them clearly when I’m through with all of this… Maybe I should take myself away from the city one night before the surgery, just in case.)

Thanks to the aforementioned dry eyes side-effect, in combination with my already-drier-than-average eyes, the doctor and I decided not to go with the super-swift, ready-to-go-in-a-day LASIK option. Instead, I’m having PRK done, which means a longer, more painful immediate recovery period (~5 days), and a much longer time for my eyes to settle down. (But it affects fewer nerves in the cornea, with concomitant lessening of the dry eyes effect.) Basically, I’m not entirely certain how much I’m going to be able to see for most of April, and possibly longer. (It’s led to me cancelling my first-ever backpacking trip to Crater Lake, in early May, because what’s the point of going to see a beautiful, scenic National Park for the first time if I can’t actually see it?) I’m not looking forward to it, but I’ve stocked up on podcasts, and I’ll be hopped up on painkillers anyway, so hopefully I’ll just end up really, really well-rested after that first week.

All of this aside – all this data, all these worries – the oddest thing for me is that it feels like I’m… upgrading to a newer model when the one I have mostly works just fine. I’m not someone who goes out and buys the newest iDevice because ooonewshinywant. Rather, I will generally run my old whatever into the ground, then only grudgingly go get something new.

In this case, my “old eyes” work pretty well in most situations with a few accommodations. Yes, being dependent on corrective lenses has its downsides (case in point: having my glasses stepped on during the plane ride to India in 2010), and a large part of my motivation for doing this is to remove or at least drastically reduce that dependency. If I ever actually do a Long Walk, for example – or even during just a normal-length backpacking trip, or if I go on trips to places where sanitation is questionable – it will be nice not to have to worry about glasses or contact lenses.

But that imagined independence, along with the imagined “being able to see when I first wake up” (which is another large motivation) are both just that – imagined. I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t dependent on glasses, nor when I could see when I first woke up. Glasses/contacts are just part of my life, almost as reflexively as being right-handed. Ninety-seven percent of the time, I don’t even recognize the accommodations I’m making for them, or the limitations they impose.

So my choice to get laser eye surgery is in pursuit of imagined marginal gains, really. And the fact that I have chosen to do it, in spite of that, is very, very odd to me.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 03/19 at 12:18 PM

February 18, 2015

Screw Sartre. Hell is your own thoughts.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 02/18 at 03:41 PM

January 29, 2015

Since getting back to Portland in October 2013, I’ve been happily throwing myself into all sorts of new or different outdoorsy/physical activities. Bouldering, trail running, hiking, snowshoeing… As much as I’m enjoying them – and I really am enjoying them – they have introduced odd new dissatisfactions into my life, too.

For the first time in my life, I am considering getting myself a car, for instance. I’ve never wanted one, and even now, I don’t want one for day-to-day stuff. But getting out of the city, to the mountains… I am frustrated with having to be dependent on bumming rides from friends, and on having to be the kind of friend who constantly bums rides. True, I can rent a car, but the preplanning required for that doesn’t always jibe well with the changeability of weather on the mountains.

Then there’s time. And money. For the first time, I find myself slightly resenting having to go to work. Not because of the work itself – I’m lucky to have a fairly good-paying job, with adaptable hours, and to work with really nice people. No, it’s because when I’m working I can’t be outside, doing things. And as well as my job pays, it’s not enough to support everything I want to do, as well as living on my own. Which is why I think I’m finally ready to start searching in earnest for shared accommodation.

Then there’s the gear rabbit-hole. Seriously, it seems like every time I think I have everything, another something-or-other appears that I could really do with having. And while I love doing the research, finding out about all these new things that I would never have considered considering (ounces! how small it packs down! materials! user reviews! in-store versus behemoth online company versus smaller online company!), there’s also the stress of weighing short-term (i.e., monetary) considerations versus long-term utility and durability and all that.

And then I’ve discovered the perils of DBG (Desire for Better Gear). For example, I have a perfectly useful, light-compared-to-what-I-had-before one-person freestanding tent. But as I consider the Long Walk I hope to take in the next couple of years, I find myself more and more drawn to the idea of a tarp tent. But I’ve got a tent already… Or my big backpack: it’s perfectly useful, got me through seven weeks of traveling around Africa… but it’s heavy. A lighter one would be so much nicer… Or my climbing shoes: I got them almost a year ago, they’re a good beginner’s workhorse of a shoe, they aren’t too worn out yet… but there are other, pointier/grippier/whateverier ones…

I’ve never been much driven by acquisitive urges (except when it comes to books, and god knows I fight that), and certainly not by the urge to replace perfectly useful things with “better” ones. So recognizing this urge in myself when it comes to outdoor gear is bemusing and a bit appalling.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 01/29 at 06:00 PM

November 17, 2014

I am by nature – in my intellectual and extracurricular pursuits, at least – a dabbler. The list of things I have tried for a bit grows steadily, but although there are few things on that list that I would not do again, given unlimited time and resources, the list of things that I actually do regularly, with any intention of developing greater skills, rarely changes. I suppose this is partially to do with the fact that I tend to have a surge of enthusiasm for something when I first try it, but find that energy level is unsustainable and tends to be overwhelmed by the next new thing. (The “ooh – shiny!” effect.)

In part, this is fine. I don’t have unlimited time and resources, after all, and I already struggle to give each lasting pursuit the attention I feel it deserves. (As does everyone, I know.)

But what do I do when there is something that I want to ensure turns into a lasting pursuit? Climbing these past couple of weeks highlighted this issue for me.

I started climbing regularly in late January/early February of this year. At first, as is to be expected, I made rapid gains, “leveling up” about once a month, and being able to keep up a pretty steady stream of enthusiasm. The biggest issue was keeping myself from climbing so often that I injured myself.

However, I have been feeling somewhat blah about climbing this last month or so. Partly that’s been because I just haven’t been going that often, so my skills and strength have regressed, which has meant that climbing hasn’t been as much fun. Partly it’s been because other things have been “shinier” in that time – the bike ride in the Gorge, trail running (which is something else that I want to make sure sticks around long-term). But there’s also a large dose of waning enthusiasm in there.

I was anticipating this. A large part of my joy in climbing over the past nine months or so was to do with sharing an enthusiasm with my best friend. We can’t climb together regularly anymore, so I knew that might affect my interest in climbing. But I like climbing for its own sake, too – like feeling fit and kick-ass, like feeling like I’m good at it – and I want to fight my tendency to just let it slide away.

About a week and a half ago, I got an enthusiasm boost. Both the boost itself and my consciousness of feeling boosted are still giving me a pleasant glow, and give me hope that maybe I can keep this going.

In short, I tried a problem two Thursdays ago that, by the numbers, should be well past my abilities. (It’s a 6; I have yet to complete a 5, and lately I’ve not even been able to do 4s, thanks to the backsliding.) And I got all of the moves, that first night! I wasn’t able to string it together then – I’d already been climbing for two hours when I started it, and by the time I finally got through the crux move, I was pretty much physically exhausted.

I was so excited by it that it was all I could do to wait a few days, until Monday a week ago, to give it another go. I nearly backed out of climbing that day – I was getting sick – and the climbing itself was frustrating. I tried and tried and tried on this problem, and got to within two moves of the end multiple times in a row, without being able to finish. I nearly gave up for the night, even though I knew doing so would leave me feeling frustrated. Eventually I figured out what I needed to do, however (basically, go faster, because I was getting too tired for the last push because I was taking too long on previous moves) and the very next time I sped through it (making up for some dodgy foot placement by dint of not staying on those holds for long enough to fall off), and made it.

And damn did that feel good. Better, actually, I think, than had I been able to waltz through it without the struggle. (I tend not to value as highly things that come too easily.) I got my first 6, nine months after starting climbing. That felt – feels – really good.

Now, I know this is a statistical outlier. It’s a problem that happened to lie right in the sweet spot of “types of climbing techniques that I am quite good at” – to wit, it’s balance-oriented and had a weird stemming move as the crux, and a move that required a lot of hip flexibility as a secondary crux. But that doesn’t mean it’s not an awesome feeling to finish a problem that should be well out of my reach. It encourages me to keep doing what I’ve been trying to make myself do – go do little climbing session more regularly, ones that focus on general strength and stamina by doing lots of easy problems, rather than expending a lot of energy on one or two hard ones. It reminds me that part of why I like climbing so much is the fact that it’s not a strict progression – that some days I’ll hardly be able to manage 2s and 3s, and on others I’ll leap to problems that it should be nonsensical to consider. I should be able to find things to keep challenging myself, even as my “leveling up” tapers off (which I expect it to do).

The bottom line is that I really enjoy bouldering, and I’m good enough at it to want to keep doing it, while not finding it so easy that I get bored.

I have a goal for the coming year, too. I climbed in the Portland Boulder Rally at the beginning of October, and came in next-to-last in the bracket I signed up for (intermediate). That was honestly fine; I had expected to finish at the bottom of the bracket, because it was a “reach” to sign up for the intermediate bracket anyway. Now I have a better notion of what doing a bouldering competition is like, what I’ll need to focus on for next year, and I have a goal: to sign up for the intermediate bracket again, and place higher in the bracket. I have no delusions that I’ll be able to place in the top three next year, but if I could get in the top half of the bracket, that would please me very much. And I have a year to focus on getting there. Allons-y!

Posted by Julia Haskin on 11/17 at 05:24 PM

October 20, 2014

Mixed messages:

On the one hand, I did a 12-mile hike in the Mount Margaret Backcountry yesterday and I’m not at all sore today. And I bicycled 80-odd miles in the Gorge in two days with a fairly heavily loaded bicycle last weekend, and I wasn’t sore after either of those days, either.

On the other hand, despite getting seven and a half hours of sleep last night, I am so tired today that I am struggling to keep my eyes open.

So, according to the latter, I am relatively fit. According to the former, I’m getting old. Hm.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 10/20 at 12:49 PM

September 29, 2014

“It’s dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road, and if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.” ~ The Lord of the Rings

I went for a walk yesterday. A friend was driving out to Mt. Hood to do his monthly ski day, and offered me a lift. We parked at Timberline, he went off to do his ski-thing, and I set off in a westerly direction on the PCT.

It sounds silly, but stepping onto the PCT for the first time, and seeing the sign that says “Canada thataway, x miles; Mexico the other way, y miles”… it was compelling. To look along the trail as it wandered off over the rolling slopes of Mt. Hood, and to think that it was a line that continues more-or-less unbroken all the way to the Mexican border… The urge to just set off was strong, no matter how ridiculously impractical.

Similarly, about an hour and a half later, I found myself at the top of a bulge in the topography, looking down over Zigzag Canyon, with the Mississippi Head cliffs and the summit behind me, and blue-green hills, ever-lightening, drawing my eyes away towards the horizon, to where Mt. Jefferson reared up as punctuation. As I stood there, there was little sign of active human influence visible. Most of the Timberline/Government Camp parking lots were hidden by the undulations of the landscape, as were most roads. Though there had been several people down where the PCT hits the eastern ridge of the canyon when I had arrived there, by the time I had made my way up the narrow, faint ridgeline path to my current spot, they had all headed elsewhere, and were hidden by either landscape or foliage.

So it was easy, so easy, to feel like I was alone in the world. To pretend, for just a few minutes, that I was a pioneer, exploring new lands, and to enjoy the mixture of dread, excitement and yearning that the thought produced. The dread from knowing how spectacularly unprepared I would be to be in such a situation, the excitement and yearning part of the same urge to just set off I had felt back earlier.

The urge returned, this time more viscerally. Mt. Jefferson appeared so distant and yet so near, and the desire to travel the distance between, learning about the land at the pace of my feet…

I will go, sometime. Sometime in the not-too-distant future. Not on a walk between Mt. Hood and Mt. Jefferson, but on a Long Walk. I have heard, from those who would know, that it a particular form of madness to undertake such a walk. But… the world is there, the wild is there, and I currently have the use of all of my limbs and most of my brain (on a good day), and, well, I want to go. My feet grow ever more itchy. So I will go. And we’ll see where the road – or the trail, rather – sweeps me.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 09/29 at 03:54 PM

September 15, 2014

Today I mailed in my Oregon voter registration form. In doing so, it occurred to me that this will be the first time – ever – that I will vote in the place where I’m actually living.

I registered to vote when I was eighteen, but then went off to college in the fern-dark Pacific Northwest. While at college, I voted in the Presidential elections (and have voted in each one since, of course), but as a Texas voter. And I didn’t pay any attention to the local-to-where-I-was-registered elections and ballots; too busy being caught in “the bubble”.

After college, I went gallivanting off to France. I couldn’t register to vote over there, and since Texas was still (more or less) where I existed as a US citizen, that’s where I got my absentee ballots from. That continued when I was in Boston (both times), since I didn’t expect I’d be living there long enough to make the transfer of voter registration worthwhile. Even when I was living in England, I still kept my Texas registration, because there wasn’t really anywhere else in the US that I could call home enough to have my vote there.

Since I never got British citizenship, I wasn’t able to vote in UK elections despite living there, working there, paying taxes there, etc. (something which rankled regularly).

But now, here I am, settled for at least a while back in Oregon, and with local issues I care about coming up for the vote on November 4th. And now that I’ve sent in my form and therefore will – all being well – be able to vote here in a month and a half… I have a heady mixture of excitement and responsibility swirling in me. (Yes, the thought of being able to vote makes me excitedly happy. I’m a geek.)

The thought that I will actually be able to exercise my most basic democratic right to effect change (or support continuation) where I live is wonderful. Woot!

Posted by Julia Haskin on 09/15 at 11:41 AM

July 30 2014

A week or so ago, I sent a friend an email asking him if he knew what result/purpose he wants his life to have. His response was, “Man. Mostly I just want the harm:good equation to balance or favor the good side.” Which is an answer, but not what I was looking for. What I meant with my question was how does he hope to achieve that balance or favoring of good? Because it’s something I’m wrestling with, looking forward.

Of course I hope not to do harm. But I want more than that; I want more than a 1:1 good:bad ratio for my life, on balance. I want to be a force for good. I already do what I can in the day-to-day. I try to be conscious in my consumption. I try to cultivate a habit of kindness, and to choose to see the good in people/the world, and to retain optimism.

Still, this isn’t enough. I am dissatisfied. The dissatisfaction arises because I know I could do more. I am not my any means using the full scope of my abilities, either in the day-to-day or the long run. So I am left grappling with how to do more.

I am coming to accept that I may never have a job in the environmental sector. While this is frustrating in some ways, in other ways it might actually be a good thing. With a job, there is always the possibility (probability?) that your passion for what you do will dissipate over time, under the stresses and mundanity of daily work. This is a large part of why I chose not to try to pursue music as a career – I didn’t want to lose my passion for and joy in music under the grind of daily practice and cobbling together a living.

Similarly, it may be that by having to pursue my environmental passions on the side, I am able to invest more, be more efficacious, more passionate. I can be quite persuasive when I am passionate about something, and given that I want to do policy work – essentially, to work to persuade people – being able to retain my passion for my projects should be a boon.

So, finding a way to build regular, fulfilling, useful work in the environmental sector into my life is important. Volunteering is the obvious route, and I’m taking steps in that direction. I may speak with my manager about rearranging my weekly schedule to give me a half-day once a week that I could devote to a regular volunteering gig.

Will even that be enough? I know that I need to pace myself – that I’m talking about the effect of my lifetime – and that if I try to pile too much in, there’s a good chance that I’ll burn out.

And I have no illusions that I am going to change the world – at least, not on a grand scale. That’s okay, though; there are so many people like me around the world, each working on one little bit of the puzzle, and with our powers combined… One person rarely changes the world, but it doesn’t take that many individuals doing their thing to have a demonstrable effect. I am content to focus on my corner of the world, perhaps as large as “regional” scale, but certainly locally.

This only addresses part of what I mean, though. There’s so much that I want to do, both personally and professionally, and I’m struggling with how I can fit even a small portion of it into the time I have left – and how I can learn to be okay with doing only that small portion.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 08/04 at 04:08 PM

A few can make a difference

July 15, 2014

A week or so ago, I received an email as a supporter of the Rails-to-Trails Conservancy, telling us of an amendment being put forth to the Preserving America’s Transit and Highways Act, which would remove funding for the Transportation Alternatives Program. TAP is “by far the largest dedicated source of funding for trails and biking and walking infrastructure.” The email urged us to contact our Senators, which I did.

Yesterday, I received another email from the RTC, with good news: between the 7,000ish of us who, like me, wrote to our Senators, and the action of 85 groups from the sponsor Senator’s constituency, the amendment has been dropped.

While this is good news in and of itself, it also is heartening to consider in light of what it denotes for personal efficacy.

One of the biggest barriers, it seems to me, to people actually doing anything to try to affect societal issues is the feeling that they can’t have any effect. They’re just one person – what good does can they do?

And it is true: realistically, it is unlikely that any given person is going to be the Gandhi or Martin Luther King, Jr. of his or her cause. BUT…

In the small example above, a relatively-small number of people did make a difference. It only took 7,000 people plus however many signed the letter that the 85 groups put together. Even if that means 10,000 people total… that’s not that many. (The US population as a whole is around 313 million.) We managed to affect federal funding policy, to defend something we care about. And while stopping something from being removed that already exists is less difficult than bringing into existence something that doesn’t, it is still a cause for hope… and a reason to keep trying.

One person may not be able to make any difference on the national scale by themselves. But a relatively small group of individuals can.

Posted by Julia Haskin on 08/04 at 04:01 PM
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