Volcanoes and Ancient Philosophy

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A panorama from Disappointment Cleaver

The weekend before last, I tried to achieve a life goal of mine– #21, Climb Mt. Rainier.  I didn’t.

Here’s what happened.

On the night before we started climbing, everything looked good.  I had been training for months.  Practice climbs, classes, reading mountaineering guides in my free time.  The usual.  I had a team I trusted and liked.  We were all in shape, healthy, and eager to go.  Our bags were packed, gear checked, double-checked, and we even left on time.  Most fortuitously, after we reached base camp on the first afternoon, the rangers said that even though there was some avalanche danger, they were optimistic about the weather– a gift, given five days of storms, high winds, fresh snow, and no one summiting.

Unfortunately, neither did we.

One the second day of climbing, everyone gets up between midnight and 5 AM to try and reach the summit and make it back to base camp before the heat of the day and the weather changes.  We were on the trail by 2:30 AM.  I’m not a morning person, but I wake easy for alpine starts.  We set out across the Cowlitz glacier up towards the imposing Cathedral pass in the dark of night.

A few hours later, we were nearing the base of a giant rock formation that splits two glaciers– the Disappointment Cleaver.  One group– some firefighters from Seattle– had been ahead of us the whole time, and as we crossed the snowfield to the cleaver, we watched their headlamps bobbing up, and then, down the side of the cleaver. We met them at the base– the bottom of the lower part of the rock, on a 45-degree snowfield that bottoms out a few hundred feet below into an enormous crevasse.  It wasn’t the sort of place you’d normally want to spend more time than necessary, but the other group had kicked out little seats for themselves in the snow and were resting up. “How was it up there?”

“Eh, no way up.  You can try; we’ve got no idea.”

I looked up.  They pointed a way not to go.  ”Well maybe I could try below that shelf.  How long are you guys going to be here?”

“Dunno.  We don’t know if we’re going to make it up there.  And here is where the rangers said there was avalanche danger.  Not sure we’d want to be coming through this mid-morning.”

Oh yeah.  Avalanche danger. Read More

5 Bold Rules for Journaling

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Photo credit: Lucia Whittaker (flickr: angelic0devil6)

When my great-grandmother passed away, our family sifted through her house, sorting through all the things we would pass on or give away or throw out.  Somewhere in that fray, someone found and moved to my grandparents’ attic a poorly-bound book with a faded cover.  I don’t remember where I found this book– whether I was hunting around that attic or whether an aunt passed it along to me.  All I remember is my incredible curiosity upon first holding it in my hands and reading the title.

I was looking at a book of poetry composed by my great-grandmother.

The first poems were written when she was a girl.  They were almost a century old.  They described life on the Kansas farm, nature, family, etc.  She described the first time she saw a car– not because cars were rare where she lived, but because they were rare everywhere.  Mass-produced cars had just been invented.  Later on, she becomes a mother.  One poem is a prayer her daughter doesn’t drive too fast down those country roads.

It took me a minute to realize that one particular poem about a new baby David in the family was actually about the birth of my dad.

Here’s a surprising thing:  These poems– they were not good, per se.  There is in none of them any astounding amount of literary merit.  But I treasure them like nothing else, because I can’t help but be attached to this young woman, maybe about my own age, sitting in the shade of an elm tree and writing poems about the Kansas summer.  I am part of what she left on this planet, and these poems are another, and it all feels a bit like I’ve found a long-lost sibling.

* * *

I have told a number of my closer friends that when I die, they are welcome to take my computer, figure out all my passwords, and go through the hard drive or whatever online accounts they can hack into.  Should they choose to do this, perhaps the file that will be the most interesting (certainly the longest) is my journal– or, more appropriately, set of journals.

Almost every day since I graduated college, I’ve written in my journal.  It’s become a gargantuan undertaking– every few month’s I’m producing a novel’s worth of narration.  But I would say without hesitation that journaling is one of the most worthwhile habits I hold, and I fully intend to keep it up until I die. Read More

Personal Experiment: 7 Days of Value

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Photo by Susannah Conway (www.susannahconway.com)

I’ve got a thing for personal experiments.  Every once and a while, I’ll take a week and do something a bit differently– whether it’s eating only one meal a day, going without clocks, or living on a food-stamp budget.  I’ve learned an enormous amount from these little life trials, and while most of those things aren’t terribly applicable to this blog, I recently tried an experiment that was: value week.

So what’s value week?

Most of the time when people talk about networking, I zone out in 10 seconds or less.  Greased hair, schmoozing, and makin’ it rain business cards– it’s nothing I want any part in.  Unfortunately, part of me realizes that at some level, networking is a very useful thing to do.  Fortunately, there are plenty of people out there who promote networking as something more than taking names and sending out form email follow-ups.

They see networking as being an activity primarily comprised of providing value to people.  You give them the opportunities, the information, or the contacts that matter to them, and you let the rest take care of itself.  If and when you need something, everyone you know will be all too happy to help.  But that second part is an afterthought; pumping value is the habit.

According to this philosophy, networking is not something you do when you sense you’ll be laid off– it’s a way of life.  If you are continually being useful to the people you know, things will take care of themselves. Read More