Categories
Blogging Journal Ultralight Backpacking Walking

Mad World

I am in the midst of researching how to create a magazine-style blog and will be moving Laughing Knees over to a new server, possibly on new blog software (I’m using WordPress and like it, so may stay with that, but I am also looking at TextPattern, Nucleus CMS, BlogCMS, B2Evolution, and Expression Engine… If I can get the multiple blogs showcased on the front page feature of WordPress working, then WordPress will probably be where I’ll stay, mainly because I’m familiar with it and it is very well supported, but setting up my idea for the site design with one of the other platforms is in many ways much more straightforward and easier, so we’ll see. I like Expression Engine the best of all these platforms, but if I am going to move on to including a few commercial things on the site… I want to sell some published things like books, illustrations, and higher quality photographs… then Expression Engine can be quite expensive initially. But it may be worth it. I tried out TextPattern for Laughing Knees for a while, but the development is so slow that it doesn’t seem to be keeping up with what is going on. I don’t want to spend all my time coding things. I used to do that, but I just don’t have the time or will any more. Though, TextPattern is truly elegant….

It will be good to get the blog settled in one place with a server that I like and to finally start moving on with the other ideas ideas I’ve always had for the site, like fictional stories, essays, photos, illustrations and cartoons, tutorials, a few concentrations on some of my hobbies, like ultralight backpacking, bicycle travel, photography, books, ecological housing and communities, and wildlife, all of which I’d like to write up more static, permanent pages for. I’d even like to record many of the songs I’ve written and sung so that people can listen to them. All of it takes time, of course. But I’m slowly getting there.

Mariposa Plus

I will continue the photo series of my Europe trip soon. I just finished a long stint with tests and class preparations recently so I’ve not had much time outside of school beyond stumbling back home, heating up some soup, and falling into bed. Tomorrow I, finally, get to leave the area and go on a two-day hike, to celebrate my birthday (Nov. 26, 1960… erm, no I am NOT crying out for attention!!!), and try out my new and long-awaited Mariposa Plus backpack.
After years of spending and wasting money on lots of other more expensive, heavier, and ultimately unsatisfactory packs, the one that originally caught my eye, but which I shunned for the fancier stuff, finally came home. Trying it out three weeks ago and packing it on and off with different loads for different seasons and different climates and terrain, I think I’ve finally found the pack that does exactly what I want a pack to do, basically meaning that it holds my light selection of gear and disappears on my back without calling attention to itself. I think I’ve gotten most of my other gear pretty much worked out, including switching, for most walks, over to a tiny, woodburning stove that will eliminate the need for carrying gas cannisters and allow me to learn more about making fires while at the same time being environmentally safe, a pair of sturdy, but light hiking shoes with more thickness in the insole than the shoes I used in the Alps this summer, which caused quite a lot of swelling and pain on the rocky descents, and reverting, from the miserably cold and wet film of plastic of my expensive Montane Superfly to the heavier, but more protective and reliable Paramo Cascada jacket. Sometimes lighter isn’t always better. And sometimes it’s nice to just wrap up inside something warm and dry, no matter how heavy it is. And I guess I’m just tired of spending so much time thinking about gear all the time rather than being out there actually walking and losing myself in the woods. After all, I didn’t start going for those long walks all those years ago so that I could get wrapped up in what I was walking in; I went out there because I forgot all that. There were times when I’d emerge from the woods and stand there blinking in surprise, wondering where I had stepped out into.

Of course, a lot of what all this concentration on going lighter has to do with is being able to go encumbered, and that is thanks to the evolution of my gear selection and hiking and camping techniques, along with a quantum shift in how I approach being outdoors, ever since I read Ray Jardin’s “The Pacific Crest Trail Hiker’s Handbook” and later, his “Beyond Backpacking” and after that discovered the Backpacking Light site and community in its early days of its refreshingly new ideas and a number of other sites, like the now dormant Joe’s Ultralight Backpacking”. Walking with camping gear is actually fun now, no longer a burden and source of agony. The only thing that keeps me from truly enjoying the climbs and descents is being out of shape. If I work on that, well, there are a lot of mountain trails I want to explore!

From this point bushcraft seems like the likely step for my evolution, learning to go even simpler and discovering further what it means to live close to the elements. Of course, I want to balance this with a healthy understanding that with all our billions on the planet it is no longer responsible to go around chopping down trees and killing animals for sport. But there is something about knowing exactly where your food comes from and why animals behave the way they do in different environments and that you will be all right if your lightweight pack actually does fall off the side of the cliff (something that actually happened while I sat eating lunch with a friend… one moment we were sharing a tangerine, the next, his pack had disappeared in the clouds below) that calls to me and seems to remind me of what it means to be alive and why we have these brains in our heads and noses on our faces and hands on our arms. Whenever I see videos of the Inuit going hunting or the Saan discovering a buried gourd for drinking water, I just have to think how ignorant the rest of us are about basic needs.

I often wonder if the simple test of having to find food for the day, of having to concentrate on survival rather than how to screw your neighbor, brings people together more than other way of life possibly can, simply because we cannot survive alone. Maybe that is why I love the mountains so much; up there you are definitely not in charge. You have to give way and watch yourself, you have to make sure your partners are all right, you have to rein in your ego and do your best to get companions to share and cooperate. Coming back from a difficult mountain trip always humbles me, and all the crap of jockeying for recognition in a company, of people scrabbling to tell other people what to do, of accumulating too many belongings, of constantly being sullen or apathetic or lazy or inconsiderate all come across as alarmingly anti-life. I don’t know how close I can get to living with less and learning to get along better with people, but I want to at least try. It’s part of what will help us survive in the mess we’ve created.

Categories
Journal Natural Places Nature

Fresh Snow

Pond Logs
Logs and reeds in Shirabiso Lake, Yatsugatake, Japan, 2003.

For anyone who has driven their car to a trailhead, hoisted on their backpack, and stepped away from the tarmac onto a path leading a week through a region cut off from help or convenience, the first sense of how big the world is and how small each of us are might feel quite familiar.

The Discovery Channel aired a documentary the other night reenacting a possible scenario of what it might have been like for the first Siberians to cross over the land bridge into the Americas. Most likely they had no inkling that in the vast continents ahead of them not another human soul existed, that they were the very first people across. At the time of the land bridge, with no sea to drown the highlands, it must all have seemed just a continuation of the Siberian land mass itself. But for me, living in the confines of crowded Tokyo, with dreams of wandering some expansive steppe with not a human figure or even a tree in sight, I envy those people no end.

Just the sheer self-reliance they exercised in order to survive in a harsh environment with giant animals that no longer exist today mocks the knowledge I have worked at over the years for my little forays into the mountains and on long distance tours. So much of what I know and feel proud of relies on highly technical materials and gadgets, almost all of which I know next to nothing about making myself. While I do possess knowledge about basic survival and could probably survive a winter snowstorm for a few days, I have never hunted, never made my own clothes, never had to slog for months on end through snowdrifts and wild, uncharted mountains. I think of arriving on the shore of a new continent, with nothing but the animal hides on my back, the hunting tools I’ve fashioned, and the lifetime of intimate lessons in animal behavior, moving in the terrain, and working in life saving cooperation with others, and realize just how far from the mechanism of living I have actually strayed. Put me in the same position and that shore would seem like a death sentence, vast, unfriendly, unforgiving, and indifferent.

In spite of knowing how inadequate my skills in surviving in the natural world are, I can’t live without nature and remain happy or fulfilled. This Tokyo world I live in gathers a sterile amalgamation of concrete, steel, and structure, excluding most of what makes the real world whole. I live here like a drone, performing my function in the hive, but otherwise useless and utterly dependent. I think back on the wonder I carried about all living things around me that filled childhood and can sense that the function of that wonder was to drink in the living world and learn how to participate in it. The wonder allowed me to learn without feeling it was meaningless or irrelevant. It must be something much like the native enthusiasm for hunting in cats and dogs, or the urge to beat their wings in fledgling birds. That so many of us have been breeding the wonder for nature and the wholeness of living within its sphere out of our experience seems to invite a kind of personal ecological death.

One day I would like to step onto a distant shore and set out across the unknown with just a spear and my companions. And feel my confidence lapping at the shores of wonder and the eternal.