Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Happy Anniversary Escapade!

One year ago I finally acquired my own canoe. It was one of the best things that ever happened. This is to you Escapade, thanks for a great year!

Rio Grande Del Norte from mumblefords on Vimeo.


Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Genesis: An Essay on Freedom

There are times in my life where I am in awe of the accomplishments of man. It strikes a chord with me sometimes...


A failure of logic seems to be universally accepted in modern civilizations: In order for us to provide what we need, for our own being, we must exchange our time, goods, or services to provide something others need. It is a circular failure. So much energy is wasted. We help others live comfortably so that we may gain some reward of money or goods, so that we may live comfortably.Why have we not circumvented this and simply provided for ourselves?

The answer is simple: The goods and services we rely on for comfort are incapable of being reproduced by an individual.

Consider an example easily identified with modern life: the automobile. Many of us in a modern civilization are reliant on this machine but it is a complex relationship; well beyond the ability of any individual to produce or fully maintain. Even if you are a skilled mechanic, someone or some machine built the engine block you just put in, or the crane that helped you lift it, and even designed the machine that built the engine block. That same mechanic can not reproduce the microchip that controls tire pressure sensors or could have mined the copper ore, smelted it and turned it into the electronic connections, much less have harvested the raw rubber materials, processed them and finally manufactured it into an insulation for that copper. An individual can not do everything in our complex world of technology and specialization.

It is possible we take the use of the automobile as increasing our quality of life and giving us greater range of expression. Is this not true? With the use of the automobile you can travel far and wide while increasing the number of things you have experienced. Mountains, far from my home, can be visited or the great cities built by the hands of generations of men. But at what expense?

In the perspective that has been laid out, specialization and advanced technology may add to our perceived quality of life but could also simultaneously remove our individual freedom.

We are not free if we rely on things that are beyond our individual capacity. It could be that true, intrinsic, freedom may come only when the tools we use to better our existence are within our individual capacity to recreate them. The automobile will only serve us well as long as we need no others to maintain it. When it fails, we see our quality of life diminished and our expression limited. We need someone to help return us to our desired way of life.

To use specialized technology is to sacrifice our freedom for an illusion of expanding it. It is an enslaving agent. 

In an example of basic technology recall the gift of Prometheus.  If you were a paleolithic man, raised in a world where fire was used to prepare meals, fend off animals and sustain warmth, and you did not command the ability to make fire, you would be reliant on your fellow man for sustenance and protection. However, as one who knew how to make fire you, alone, could travel as far and wide as your feet and skills took you, all the while having the freedom to use fire. It is a possessed skill, a possessed knowledge, capable of being reproduced regardless of who is in your company or social reach. In that there is total freedom.

Freedom is expressed when you need not the technology but only the capacity to recreate it. 

The man who becomes reliant on the ax for his quality of life, and can not recreate it, should it fail, is enslaved to the ax. He may perish under the prison he created, unless a solution is found within his capacity. The man who makes a new ax from materials he collects has command of the tool, and freedom of the skill. 

What can we make of all of this? The most basic way I can convey it is: as we have become more and more reliant on technology and others to maintain our perceived quality of life, we are limiting our freedom by becoming enslaved to the technology and our fellow man. If we want full freedom we have to live in a world that is capable of being reproduced by an individual and not a society of men. 

When my mind follows the line of thought I have outlined above I begin to think about Genesis. The book in the bible. In the western world these are ancient stories. I do not approach them from some religious significance but from an understanding of a deep moral problem that was understood fully and wholly by our ancient ancestors. 

The first story we encounter in Genesis is that of the Garden of Eden. This is a story with roots over 6,000 years ago. In this story man has everything he needs. Fully sustained and satiated by nature,man  provides for nature and nature provides for man. It is interrupted however by the original sin, the first and most grave of sins: The desire for more. It is not enough that man possessed the capacity to do what was desired and live as they wished to live. What was wanted was the ability to control the earth like a god. Virgin mankind wanted what was beyond the individual human capacity. Once the goal is reached for, God punishes, and the bounty of nature is removed; men become enslaved to the land, to each other. 

Cain and Abel follow the fall and provide another story capable of interpretation in the same vein. In giving a sacrifice to God, Cain is rejected in his capacity to create crops while his brother, Abel, provides a sacrifice he sought through his hand in the wild. Abel's sacrifice is accepted however. A conflict of agriculture vs. hunting/gathering for ones needs? Agriculture is the key development that led to civilization. Civilization leads to specialization of skills and, consequently, a way of life an individual can not solely sustain. Could this be the great sin against God here?

Population increases as agriculture takes hold and men rely on other men. Sin becomes rampant and we encounter the third mythical story of Genesis: The Great Flood. This story is told and retold by a number of peoples and cultures but in our western tradition it has a specific, poignant, purpose. The flood is a device used to return us to the beginning. To start anew. Might it not be an attempt to return us back to a world within the capacity of the individual? If so, it fails.

We are then led to the great Tower of Babel. Specialization returns and the great cities of men arise. No one man is capable of the great works they desire and we all begin to work together to a goal. The consequence of such great works comes in the form of us failing to be able to communicate. As the men in the story build this great structure they are plagued with varied tongues. Unable to communicate they are forced to live the life of an individual. A minor return to the beginning?

When I consider these stories I would like to see the ancients telling us of the greatest tragedy of man. The sacrifice of the individual freedom. What they really mean, I can never fully know but, there is the possibility this is the sin God punishes us for: We have sacrificed ourselves to raise the collective whole and worthy few.

To become reliant on others and the greater works of man could be the highest of sins because it denies us of our self and true, personal, freedom.

It is a hard one to swallow considering the world we were born into. A challenging feat of character or necessity would need to be undertaken to escape from modern society. The attitude to reliance on others, a desire for that which is beyond our capacity, has enslaved generations past and the generations to come.In that point lies the nature of why it may be the great, original, fault of man. It has become a perpetual state. A perennial condition of mankind.

After an effort to make the precluding arguments, I must consider a counter line of thought. I assume freedom is a high good. That it is a state to be desired and sought after. However, under the definition above, it is an incredibly elusive state in our modern world. Now, I ask, "Is freedom even  in human nature?"

Human beings, Homo Sapien-sapiens, have tirelessly been considered social creatures for countless generations. A fantastic case can be observed in other social creatures, a pack of wolves, a pride of lions, or a herd of buffalo. These are noble creatures. There existence, though, is dependent on each other. It is the nature of their being. Are humans so different? We are not the albatross that needs no companionship beyond a mate to sustain. Nor are we like a polar bear wandering alone among the ice. We are naturally reliant on one another. It is a world we are literally birthed into. We suckle at the mothers breast for the first years of our life while other, more solitary, creatures can sustain within minutes, hours, days or weeks. 

Take it as you wish but maybe freedom was a concept never meant for mankind. Maybe it is a product of our psyche as we have desired to exist beyond what we have been granted. The idea of absolute individual freedom might be the forbidden fruit we were never to touch.  Or maybe a state of freedom is the greatest state of bliss. That is to live in a world made by your hand, sustained by your hand and capable of being reproduced independently by your hand, is the most elusive, and highest of goods.


Saturday, April 19, 2014

Saturday Night Movie: Deep North

Brooks Range? Photography? Expedition?

This is a fine short film that shows alpinism as art.

Nikon - Deep North from Corey Rich on Vimeo.

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Who Knows?

"Who knows what tomorrow will bring
Maybe sunshine, and maybe rain
But as for me I'll wait and see
And maybe it'll bring my love to me
Who knows?
Who knows?"
-Marion Black 1969

It was just another day. An exciting day. 

I did what one would expect of me.

In the morning I accommodated two clients from North Carolina on a three hour canoe tour. It was my first tour at Cane Bayou this year and I was not let down. We encountered numerous turtles, blooming lotus lilies, one osprey and 11 alligators. One even topped in at over 7ft. The highlight of the trip, though, was not getting to Lake Pontchartrain. The highlight was one creature of the wildlife we encountered: a river otter. I had heard rumors of otters on the north shore but I had yet to see one. An animal I frequently encounter in the mountains; I saw here at home, on a backyard adventure. How exciting. I almost didn't believe it.

(I wish I had pictures of the canoeing today, but, alas, I was "working" and did not have my camera.)

The tip my clients had given me ended up being used for a fine lunch of a "Surf and Turff" (fried shrimp and roast beef ) po'boy from Parkway Tavern. In a strange twist of events, during my lunch, I was invited to come aboard the Pineapple Express for an afternoon of sailing. 

Now, I know I talk about outdoor recreation and sing the praises of wilderness all the time, but, if there is one thing I have always wanted to do it has been to get into sailing. Even as a little kid I recall dreaming of owning my own sailing boat and living off it. Not having a house, or a car, just the boat. When hurricanes would come I could sail to a safer harbor or something. It would be cool. The first step though was learning to sail. The number of hobbies in my repritore was too high to accommodate though and that ambition landed on the back burner.

Today I got my first taste, and, hell, it was awesome. 

We met for 5:30pm to participate in the Wednesday Afternoon Regattas on Lake Pontchartrain.

Our Capitain, Guy, and his Hobie. A great leader and a pleasure to serve under.

My friend Molly who got me on the Pineapple Express, and of course, the Monkey Man.

Maybe this is the first step for me.
Maybe my hunger for the water is deeper than I even can begin to understand.
Maybe one day I may have a boat of my own and fulfill a childhood desire. 
Maybe I'll charter a crew and sail to Patagonia and "bring my true love to me"... 

...the mountains. 


Monday, April 7, 2014

Out Where the West Begins

Monday always breeds daydreams. Today we dream of the West. I hope you can enjoy one of my favorite poems as much as I do.

Out Where the West Begins

Out where the handclasp’s a little stronger,
Out where the smile dwells a little longer,
    That’s where the West begins;
Out where the sun is a little brighter,
Where the snows that fall are a trifle whiter,
Where the bonds of home are a wee bit tighter,
    That’s where the West begins.

Out where the skies are a trifle bluer,
Out where friendship’s a little truer,
    That’s where the West begins;
Out where a fresher breeze is blowing,
Where there’s laughter in every streamlet flowing,
Where there’s more of reaping and less of sowing,
    That’s where the West begins;

Out where the world is in the making,
Where fewer hearts in despair are aching,
    That’s where the West begins;
Where there’s more of singing and less of sighing,
Where there’s more of giving and less of buying,
And a man makes friends without half trying —
    That’s where the West begins.

- Arthur Chapman 1917

Photo of Mike G. at Canyonlands N.P. by Charlsie S.

Wednesday, April 2, 2014

Operation Darkwater

Mars' orders had been drafted
The cogs of the great machine began to turn
This is the valley where Heroes are grafted
Glory sought, our true character learned.

One of New Orleans prestigious private schools had brought into being a small contingent of the Corps of Discovery.  Many of the finest students from this institution were called into service. Outfitting for the venture began weeks before the mission by many of the new recruits. A call to action was in motion. The Canoe and Trail General Staff was summoned to provide support. Mobilization.

The objective of the operation was simple: Build confidence, show the value of teamwork and leadership while providing challenges through the education of outdoor skills over three days. The chosen site of the engagement was Black Creek, in Desoto National Forest M.S.

March 26th.

Over 50 students comprised this expeditionary force. A few shy of the full 7th grade class. They met for first muster and shuttle to Black Creek.  Byron, Chief of Staff (C.S.), Evelyn and Tom, members of the General staff (G.S.), had arrived at Moodys Landing on  Black Creek. A depot was established complete with  canoes the food and water. Logistics. The General Staff awaited contact with the shuttle.

A minor break in the communications link between the G.S. had resulted in minor confusion but arrival at Moodys Landing occurred on schedule. Lunch was served and the force was divided into four separate Corps. Red corps was to be led by Expedition Commander (E.C)  Bill and took the namesake of the "Red Barrons". White Corps was to be led by Corps Commander (C.C.) Karren . Blue Coprs, led by. Jenn C.C. and Paul C.C.. Camo Corps, led by Jason C.C..

The four Corps were directed to haul their gear and canoes down to the river and began launching canoes

Chief of Staff.

All  of the canoes had made it on the water. The Corps had launched individually and at regular intervals  to maintain proper distance in order to navigate over the obstacles they would encounter on their advance.White Corps at to be at the front with Red Corps taking the rear guard.

The expedition comes upon an oxbow bend in the creek that affords a large, broad, beach. An order to bivouac is called in by the G.S.

After dinner a communication link is achieved between the party and General Headquarters in New Orleans. The information that is gained is less than satisfactory. A large, potentially powerful, storm front is heading in our direction. Impact is forecast for the following evening some time around 19:00.

Decisions in and any expeditionary attempt are rarely decided  by an individual. The course of direction is often decided through debates, combinations and compromises of multiple strategies and the tactics necessary to carry them out. The General Staff, Expedition Leader and Corps Commanders met to discuss the options. The party would Paddle to Janice Landing in the morning, as early as possible. From there Command could decide to stay, paddle on the four more miles to Cypress Landing, order a withdrawal to a safe location to prepare proper defenses or call the shuttle for a full retreat.

March 27th

The recruits had awakened early and to a clear morning. Breakfast was being prepared and Blue Corps was given mess duties.

Bivouac had been broken and the canoes reloaded. The process of launching began.

All boats were on the water pushing for Janice.

All four Corps make it to Janice.

After a moment of recovery through time and a meal; the four corps met to haul all the gear from the river. The expedition decided on withdrawal from the creeks front lines and was to head west, just over a mile, to high ground to meet the approaching front.

A proper encampment had been set up. Tents were pitched on high ground and a mess hall was prepared under the large pavilion. Dinner quickly led to rest among the recruits in anticipation of the coming front. The encampment became entrenched.

March 28th

Full contact was made with the storm front. The sporadic bursts of resistance sustained earlier in the evening were fully overshadowed. Violent, forceful and dynamic. Many of the recruits were initially shaken by the onset of the event. Once confidence in the defenses had been built, the sense of fear was abated.

 By mid morning the troops had maintained a high degree of morale in the wake of the previous nights engagement and victory without casualty. Joyful, in a state of solidarity, and slightly  drenched the troops awaited departure.The encampment had been broken down and the shuttle to take the expeditionary corps back to G.H.Q. in New Orleans had arrived. The freshly trained troops left the General Staff to complete the clean up of the site and shortly after, the G.S., departed for G.H.Q. also.

No mission is complete without setbacks but we managed to accomplish all of our intended objectives. The new troops of the Corps of Discovery had been sufficiently challenged. The respectable qualities of leadership and teamwork were instilled and the duration of the trip was maintained. One, unintended lesson though was also conveyed to the new troops: The value of Safety and Respect for Mother Nature. It was displayed by all members of command, an intuition for perusing safe operations, and when contact was made, with the violent force that nature can be, a plan and quick response, in the name of safety, had followed through.