Sunday, October 23, 2016

Piute Log...Zack Did a Weird Thing 1999

23 Oct (Sat)     … At the Fremont crossing: Brenda and Zack were both following on their own (to save me from having to lead a long string…I knew they’d just follow their pals). I rode Woody into the river and he was ready for a long drink (as were the rest after their breakfast of alfalfa pellets). Zack did a weird thing: he waded into the river off to my left, right into what is the very deepest hole I know of in the upper West Walker, scoured out by the ’97 flood. In high water he’d have been swimmin’ but the late river is, figuratively, just a trickle so he was only belly deep. I have never seen a horse willingly, needlessly, plunge into deep water…not to mention the obvious enjoyment displayed by the blond horse’s thrusting his entire head into the river, up to his eyes, and tossing it around, scattering water. ◦◦◦◦◦ A week ago, while in town those few days, I fed our horses at the barn. I filled their big Tupperware water trough and checked on it after some minutes. (It takes forever to fill and, quite often, the fill-er forgets that the water’s on and the thing overflows, turning the corral into a muddy quagmire. Ick.) So I stood there, watching, rather than risk starting to do something else and forgetting. The stock all gathered ‘round: our two new guys on one side of the fence and Woody, Zack, Red, and Brenda on the other. [The trough was positioned in a gap in the fencing so animals in two separate pens could have access to it.] Water running into the trough. Zack had his nose in it and was splashing, tossing his head up and down. Five horses and the giant mule were clustered around him, getting splashed. Most odd: at times he’d be flipping his head forward with his lower lip dangling down. I could see it flaring open under the water like a pelican’s bill. He was flinging water on the two new drones who budged not an inch. And then! He’d switch techniques, thrusting his head down into the water (curling it toward his chest) and then his upper lip would scoop water out of the trough making a muddy puddle in the sand and wetting down Zack and all his friends (who stood, shoulder-to-shoulder, getting hosed down without any emotion save an almost imperceptible, vague interest). This event ranks among the more curious things I’ve seen horses do. Which, I suppose, is a commentary on how inexperienced I am with livestock. I watched this show for ten solid minutes as Zack flung water on all his comrades. Good, clean, horsey fun. There is absolutely no telling what makes them tick. No doubt they think the same of us. And that’s what I was thinking today at the river crossing when Zack waded out into the very deepest spot at the ford…

©2016 by Tim Forsell              10 Aug 2016

Saturday, October 15, 2016

The Demeaning of Life...Part XI

XI.  What the Experts Have to Say

Dogmas and taboos may  be suitable for religion, but they have no place in science. No theory or viewpoint should ever become sacrosanct because experience tells us that even the most elegant Laws of Nature ultimately succumb to the inexorable progress of scientific thinking and technological innovation. The present debate over Darwinism will be more productive if it takes place in recognition of the fact that scientific advances are made not by canonizing our predecessors but by creating intellectual and technical opportunities for our successors.

                                                                James A. Shapiro, “A Third Way” (1997)
The significance of these findings was huge and sparked a complete reappraisal of    developmental theory. It would be hard to over-emphasize the magnitude of such a game-changing breakthrough; in their wildest imaginings, no biologist would ever have considered that such a disparate array of organisms could share virtually identical genes—not to mention these genes having been conserved for hundreds of millions of years. It’s not often that the results of a new scientific discovery are so stunning and completely unanticipated. But evolutionary biology was in need of a good shake-up.

The staunch neo-Darwinian faction had been mistaken from the beginning in their unremitting insistence that each organism is a clear-cut representation of its genes and that the evolution of new forms depended on specific genetic mutations being subject to natural selection. There was also the dogmatic contention that natural selection was almost solely responsible for variation.

There are several contributing factors in the curious rigidity of neo-Darwinist thinking. The founders of the modern synthesis were strong-willed men with sizeable egos—leading experts in their fields and accustomed to having their views taken seriously. A number of them had worked diligently for years toward a shared vision of unifying the various disciplines and their competing theories. Once the synthesis was achieved, and so many fellow researchers found themselves united in a common pursuit, that coming-together may in itself have fueled certain inflexible attitudes: uncompromising orthodoxy and dogma often result when an association transitions to a movement. Tellingly, Ernst Mayr wrote of the participants at the 1947 Princeton symposium, “Not all…biologists were completely converted.”

Also contributing may have been that string of exciting advances, which lent further credence to the new paradigm. The synthesis was not seriously challenged until Eldredge and Gould’s theory caused a genuine uproar in the 1970s. Richard Dawkins’ The Selfish Gene was (and continues to be) particularly influential even while many of his views are considered outmoded by geneticists. In fact, the public’s views regarding evolution and  genetics seem to be locked into obsolete models. And considering the role of genes: contemporary geneticists have shifted their views considerably, understanding that their work is far from completion. Finnish-born American cell biologist Kai Simons was one scientist who recognized the shortcomings of earlier conceptualizations. Science writer Nigel Calder noted that Simons

had for long mocked the overconfident, one-dimensional view of some molecular biologists, who thought that by simply specifying genes, and the proteins that they catalogued, the task was finished. “Was it possible,” he demanded, “that molecular biology could be so boring that it would yield its whole agenda to one reductionist assault by one generation of ingenious practitioners?”

As originally conceived, one of the primary objectives of this work was bringing to light what I firmly believed to be serious deficiencies in current evolutionary theory. I was convinced that evolutionary processes had to be far more complicated than currently envisioned—the result of many competing factors, some of which were possibly unidentified or acting in ways not yet fully understood. Discovering that the synthesis was overdue for substantive revision—that my concerns were indeed valid—delivered a gratifying sense of vindication. Even more so to learn that such a movement was already in effect and even has a name: the Darwinian extension.[1]

In the course of discussions with friends and associates (biologists and science educators among them) regarding matters pertaining to evolution, I’ve formed an  impression that most still adhere to Dawkins’ selfish-gene “theory.” And while many acquaintances voice strong opinions in its favor—often in reaction to my own skepticism—they appear to be unaware that the self-seeking gene concept is more akin to metaphor than hypothesis. Among those with whom I’ve discussed evolutionary theory, few appear to have heard about contemporary developments in genetics or are aware of findings coming from evo-devo research. No one I’ve spoken with regarding these issues has been cognizant that there’s such a thing as an “extension” of the modern synthesis afoot—or any need for such revision.

I can’t make any reliable assertions as to what an educated and scientifically literate public might believe but those of my acquaintance tend to claim, unreservedly, that natural selection by way of randomly occurring  mutations—classic Darwinism—accounts for all evolutionary processes.

Here are the words of a few writers who unreservedly believe this to be the case:

Author Robert Wright: “The theory of natural selection is so elegant and powerful as to inspire a kind of faith in it—not blind faith, really…but faith nonetheless; there is a point after which one no longer entertains the possibility of encountering some fact that would call the whole theory into question.” (1994)

Philosopher and author Daniel Dennett: “It plays a crucial role in the analysis of every biological event at every scale from the creation of the first self-replicating  macromolecule on up….”[2] and is “the single best idea anyone has ever had.” (1995)

Evolutionary biologist Paul Ewald: “That’s the beauty of it. It has to be true—it’s like arithmetic.” (1999)

Novelist and essayist Barbara Kingsolver: “[Darwin’s theory is] the greatest, simplest, most elegant logical construct ever to dawn across our curiosity about the workings of natural life. It is inarguable, and it explains everything…. As the unifying principle of natural sciences, it is no more doubted among modern biologists than gravity is questioned by physicists.” (2002)

Richard Dawkins: “Perhaps we should entertain the possibility that other principles, comparable to Darwin’s, remain to be discovered—principles capable of mimicking an illusion of design as convincing as the illusion manufactured by natural selection…. I am not inclined to predict any such event. Natural selection itself, properly understood, is powerful enough to generate complexity and the illusion of design to an almost limitless extent.” (2006)[3]

These statements (several of them coming from non-scientists) were made not so long ago but, even at the time they were quoted, had already been rendered obsolete some years before by a new generation of genuine evolutionary specialists. Despite serious resistance, a new picture of the way evolution operates in nature has finally acknowledged (in particular, due to advances in our understanding of embryological development) that such matters were never so clear-cut and unambiguous as they’ve long been portrayed. Back in 1997, James Shapiro wrote of this shift in understanding:

[O]ur current knowledge of genetic change is fundamentally at variance with neo-Darwinist postulates. We have progressed from the Constant Genome, subject only      to random, localized changes at a more or less constant mutation rate, to the Fluid    Genome, subject to episodic, massive and non-random reorganizations capable of producing new functional architectures. Inevitably, such a profound advance in awareness of genetic capabilities will dramatically alter our understanding of the evolutionary process. Nonetheless, neo-Darwinist writers…continue to ignore or trivialize the new knowledge and insist on gradualism as the only path for evolutionary change.

And a bit earlier in this article for Boston Review, addressing another important point:

Novel ways of looking at longstanding problems have historically been the chief motors of scientific progress. However, the potential for new science is hard to find in the Creationist-Darwinist debate. Both sides appear to have a common interest in presenting a static view of the scientific enterprise. This is to be expected from the Creationists, who naturally refuse to recognize science’s remarkable record of making more and more seemingly miraculous aspects of our world comprehensible to our understanding and accessible to our technology. But the neo-Darwinian advocates claim to be scientists, and we can legitimately expect of them a more open spirit of inquiry. Instead, they assume a defensive posture of outraged orthodoxy and assert an unassailable claim to truth, which only serves to validate the Creationists’ criticism that Darwinism has become more of a faith than a science.

Neo-Darwinism, because of the historical and cultural circumstances that came into play with the advent of the modern synthesis, led to a notably dogmatic and rigid attitude among certain adherents, whom Niles Eldredge dubbed ultra-Darwinians.[4] In a review of Daniel Dennett’s influential book, Darwin’s Dangerous Idea, Gould addresses this penchant for what he considers unwarranted zealotry:

Why…should Darwinian fundamentalism be expressing itself so stridently when most evolutionary biologists have become more pluralistic in the light of these new discoveries and theories?... There is something immensely beguiling about strict adaptationism—the dream of an underpinning simplicity for an enormously complex and various world. If evolution were powered by a single force producing one kind of result, and if life’s long messy history could therefore be explained by extending small or orderly increments of adaptation through the immensity of geological time, then an explanatory simplicity might descend upon evolution’s overt richness. Evolution then might become “algorithmic,” a surefire logical procedure…. But what is wrong with messy richness, so long as we can construct an equally rich texture of satisfying explanation?

James Barham is an independent scholar, ex-Christian atheist, and a formerly devout neo-Darwinist. As a secular humanist whose work centers around a strong sense of the individual’s worth and moral responsibility, he adds this angle: “The real problem with the evolution debate is not empirical Darwinism. Rather, it is a sort of theory creep in which a bold but circumscribed scientific claim becomes conflated with a much more sweeping philosophical claim. The philosophical claim is then presented as though it were a confirmed scientific fact.”[5]                       

In 2003 I purchased and read Carl Zimmer’s Evolution, a lavishly illustrated book (and companion to a PBS series going by the same name). I’d become conscious of my ignorance regarding a fundamental topic which, for some reason, hadn’t yet fully engaged my interest. This quickly changed. I was a “blank slate” regarding evolutionary theory, unaware that there was a thing called “Darwinism,” with philosophical overtones above and beyond the purely scientific aspects of the great scientist’s ideas.

Several years later I read The Blind Watchmaker and found Dawkins’ arguments quite stirring. At that point in time, still relatively ignorant but in agreement with the basic tenets of evolutionary theory, I’d already acquired certain doubts regarding the Darwinist viewpoint. I had vague misgivings about some of the arguments being presented but, beyond that, found myself put off by a sort of glib certainty that both Dawkins and Zimmer often displayed. (This, a characteristic reaction of the natural-born skeptic to firm conviction in any form). I sensed early on that evolution must be a mysterious and extremely convoluted affair; starting with my initial exploration of the subject it seemed evident that a number of matters must surely be far from settled.

The creation science debate was often in the news around that time and the Intelligent Design (ID) movement perhaps at its apogee. I followed the media accounts with dismayed fascination, which led me to read two collections of essays refuting IDers’ arguments. Curious about the commotion over another book, Darwin’s Black Box, I read it as well, hoping to better understand the ID position from their standpoint—not realizing its publication had in fact catalyzed the movement. Written by a respected biochemistry professor, Black Box was an entertaining read, very educational, and (despite its clear bias) many of the author’s arguments were compelling. With a slight sense of guilt, I found myself questioning elements of the neo-Darwinist account of evolution that I’d absorbed without knowing their logical flaws and limitations. I became increasingly preoccupied with all these matters and tried to square what I was learning with a life-long enthusiasm for all aspects of natural history.

It became increasingly apparent that neo-Darwinism had some serious “issues.” Thanks to lingering differences between pro-evolution camps (primarily, but not solely, between gradualists and saltationists), creationists were able to exploit such conflicts—at least to the extent that complacent mainstream media presentations helped make it appear that evolutionary science was in a state of confused discord.

This gave rise to an outrageous situation: scientists forced to go on the defensive in the face of shocking, willful ignorance. Some pro-evolution individuals’ reactions displayed an all-too-human hostility and bitterness that—coming, as they were, from those on the side of rationality—sounded unbecomingly small-minded and childish. (Several prominent evolutionary scientists have made less than diplomatic statements in print or interviews, which serves only to fuel the fire.[6]) Through reading Darwin’s Black Box I came to see that creationists, despite their fallacious premises, have a number of legitimate arguments.

It was after stumbling upon a a collection of essays entitled Uncommon Dissent: Intellectuals Who Find Darwinism Unconvincing that I realized there was a “third way.” While William Dembski—the compilation’s editor—is well-known as a fervent ID supporter, a number of his book’s contributors (according to their brief biographies) professed no religious bias. Focusing on those authors, it came as a relief to find other people who, like myself, were intellectually residing somewhere between two consistently dogmatic factions.[7]

The more I’ve learned, the more it appears that contemporary Darwinism (including public opinion regarding evolution) is locked into an outdated and constrained model. This, I believe, is an unfortunate result of the coincidence of neo-Darwinian dogma and scientists unwilling to lose ground to creationists through expressing doubts or acknowledging theoretical shortcomings. This has created a unique state of affairs. Practitioners of science seldom need to publicly defend their findings or shy away from admitting uncertainty and doubt (which, after all, are integral and honorable elements of all scientific endeavor). Nevertheless, this doesn’t alter the fact that what we’ve learned about life is calling out for a general reappraisal.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                           

     ©2016 by Tim Forsell   draft                                15 Oct 2016

[1] Also called “the extended synthesis.”
[2] Quoted slightly out of context here; he was referring specifically to adaptation (natural selection’s primary consequence—change in response to randomly generated mutations).
[3] Dawkins, chief modern proponent of neo-Darwinians, has been called “Darwin’s Rottweiler” and “England’s most pious atheist” for the vehemence of his unfaltering convictions. He remains an extremely popular author and scientific figure and is seen as a beacon of rationality and reason but is probably also the individual most responsible for the reading public’s oversimplified views on evolution and its tie with genetics.
[4] “My name for the articulators of the gene-centered and essentially reductionist approach to evolutionary explanation….” Eldredge goes to some lengths at the book’s outset to explain his position, viz. ultra-Darwinism.
[5] Barham is directing his criticism specifically at individuals like Dawkins, whose penchant for making caustic statements such as the following (Barham believes) invites such reproach: “We humans have purpose on the brain. We find it hard to look at anything without wondering what it is for…. Show us almost any object or process, and it is hard for us to resist the ‘Why’ question…. And the same temptation is often positively relished when the topic is the origin of all things or the fundamental laws of physics, culminating in the vacuous existential question ‘Why is there something rather than nothing?’… The universe we observe has precisely the properties we should expect if there is, at bottom, no design, no purpose, no evil and no good, nothing but blind, pitiless indifference.”
[6] He famously wrote in a book review for the New York Times that anyone who denies evolution is either, “ignorant, stupid or insane (or wicked—but I’d rather not consider that).” The quote has been reprinted endlessly in creationist diatribes, along with condescending words by Dennett and others, as ample proof of evolutionist arrogance.
[7] I subsequently learned that some of these authors had, somewhat circumspectly, concealed their religious views.

Sunday, October 9, 2016

Piute Log...The Big Weekend 1999

2 Jul (Fri)     A note from 6/21 I forgot to mention. Up on the crest that day, north of Blue Mountain in the andesite: soil development is very poor in those gravels derived from the volcanic rock and the few alpine plants there appear to sprout out of nothing more than shattered stone. Saw a lone dandelion at 10,000 feet bursting out of pure rock! I’d guess one of those seeds would sprout in one’s hair if watered a few times. (My father, who despised dandelions on principle, would’ve gotten a kick out of this story.) ◦◦◦◦◦ Big day ahead! Set the alarm last night for 5:15. Still windy. The horses were halfway up the meadow so I went out and caught Red before they all disappeared. Got on the trail a bit after 8:00. Red all wigged; mostly my fault (as usual): tied him to the hitch rail at 6:30 and he stood there for an hour and a half, his pals in full view all the while. He was really jumpy when I got his saddle on…danced when I sprayed him with bug dope. Then, the wind (it moving bushes around, turning them into shrub-demons). We were jogging down the trail, shortly after leaving, and I had the reins hanging around the saddle horn while jotting something in my notebook. All of a sudden a big doe came streaking around a bend in the trail—running full tilt, right at us! She finally saw us only ten yards away, dug in all four, and came to a near-instantaneous stop in a cloud of dust. Red did about the same but I managed to hang on. That doe wheeled and fled back down the trail and we both watched her long bounds. ◦◦◦◦◦ Notta lotta folks today for some reason. Sierra Club bunch on their way to climb Tower Peak. The leader, one Charles Schaeffer, was pulling drag. He was overweight, soft-looking, and his group was having to wait for him. He’d never climbed Tower before …never been up the West Walker. At first, he seemed slightly offended that I wanted to check the map and suggest where they camp but he soon warmed up. This guy had planned to climb the peak more “directly” by following the steep drainage just west of Rainbow Canyon. I suggested he forget that plan; that gully is steep, brushy, talus-filled, and to climb the peak from that side is all slabs and cliff bands choked with snow. Charles had wanted to save time by “not going all the way to Tower Lake.” Right. This was typical Weekend Warrior mentality: read the guidebook, look at a map, plan a trip based on this info, do some horrendous drive, and bag that peak! With just a couple of minutes of mere talk, blah bla blah, I saved some blameless people a lot of grief and made it easier for them to achieve their objective. ◦◦◦◦◦ Another incredible tale: met a dayhiker, 50-ish, who was walking out fast. I passed him but he stayed right behind me and we chatted. Said he’d been coming up here for 40 years! But not for a long time and he hadn’t been to Piute Meadows for the last fifteen. Told me this fantastic tale: ◦◦◦◦◦ Many years ago the guy had a friend who worked at Leavitt Lodge (which closed down around 1985) and the friend wanted to take him back to Piute Country and visit this old man who lived in some sort of hut “built into the hillside.” Said it was a rock structure, half dug into a slope, but the thing had a wooden door. It was “somewhere up there” near Piute Meadows, supposedly, but he admitted the memory was hazy. I think he’s mixed up and thinking of someplace else. As vague as he was, the specific details lent some credence to his story. But not much. Still, he put a bee in my bonnet…. ◦◦◦◦◦ At Roosevelt/Lane Lakes: typical 4th of July weekend scenario. On the neck of land between the two lakes, 20 feet from the trail, a dome tent (rental job), unstaked and upside-down. Its contents were the only thing keeping it from blowing into the lake, what with the stiff breeze. It was now lying right on top of a brand-new, crudely constructed fire-ring. Trash in the ring and all around, and two tin cans discarded under a tree. Nobody about. (Likely off fishing.) It was clear that this party was pretty inexperienced. ◦◦◦◦◦ Total whim: so few visitors, so few hassles, so early in the day (noon)—decided to ride all the way out, drive to town, come back in, and meet late-starters. Will admit that this plan, though sound, was mostly inspired by the prospect of picking up mail from my gal (who has been on the east coast and away too long). So we cruised out to the pack station and I parked Red, zoomed to town, got mail, went to the office and give brief trail report to front desk folk, then headed back out to Leavitt. I was in the saddle again only an hour and a half later with an unopened letter from Kristi in my saddlebags, riding up-meadow in a semi-gale that folded my hat around my ears. ◦◦◦◦◦ Stopped by that bad camp between the lakes. No one home though the tent was now staked down and more items scattered about. (Earlier, had asked one of the packers about the site and he told me it was a man and his son. Just a few minutes before, I’d ridden past a surly and dull-looking teenager, fishing; thought he looked like he went with this camp but I didn’t accost him.) This is another standard 4th-of-July-thing: finding travesties in unoccupied campsites with no chance to resolve problems, educate, or dissipate my frustration. Suck it up, ranger—don’t let it eat your innards. ◦◦◦◦◦ Got up to Fremont Lake. Only a few sites occupied! Where’d everybody go!? Too quiet! Bart was in the basecamp, wearing the same hat but acting as trip cook. He was taking a big smoked chicken out of a contraption made of tinfoil and wire just as I arrived. Little chicken wire cages to hold charcoal briquettes (add three every hour he sez), chicken hanging by a string from a little tripod, the whole deal shrouded in foil. In three hours it’s smoked to perfection, the decidedly western-looking chef told me. The sight of it alone, all juicy and brown, made me salivate profusely. And the smell! Gads! Had a nice Bart-visit—he in fine mood, all confidential, telling me his woes. Told him the story about the old guy in the dugout hut and, like me, Bart thought the fella was thinking of someplace else. Bart reported that they’d left the basecamp unoccupied for a day and, in absentia, a case of Coke® and stack of firewood had disappeared. Not the beer, though. (There’d been a group of boyscouts camped nearby who were obvious suspects.) ◦◦◦◦◦ Getting late. I looked into another couple camps farther along the shore—folks I’d seen earlier. It was windy and now cold. Headed for Chain o’ Lakes. No one about. ◦◦◦◦◦ Just north of Lower Long is a skinny, though pretty sizeable pond I call “Little Long Lake.” One end comes right to the edge of the trail but, for some reason, no one ever camps there. Riding past it, a giant bear runs across the trail not far ahead of us and up into the rocks. My instinctive impulse: spur Red up and go after him, of course! Pursuers advantage! Saw him go behind a granite bench, watched as he turned and jogged left. Sure enough, the big fella popped up on top of a boulder, very dramatic-like. We all froze. Only 40 feet away: huge boar—the biggest bear I have ever seen; certainly the largest wild animal I’ve seen in the Sierra. Now: I’m conservative with such matters, not trying to impress anybody…I just want to know. Guessing this bear was in the 450 lb. range. It was certainly three of me and I discounted for fur. He stood probably 40” at the shoulders, head about 14” wide. Pretty amazed now that Red let me force him so close. The bear was utterly calm, peering down at us. I looked right into those beady ursine eyes, scrutinizing us with no hint of anxiety. Red clearly terrified but holding steady…perhaps just petrified by fear. Maybe 10 seriously long seconds later, bear finally wheeled and rambled on—all jiggling fat over solid muscle. Massive beast. Pale ring around his nose, rich brown coat. ◦◦◦◦◦ This brief meeting completely changed our day’s flavor. Soon as the beast was gone my saddlehorse bolted. But first, when the big boy turned to go, Red did this thing I’ve never heard coming from a horse though it was a sound I’ve heard from spooked deer: a sharp exhalation through the nostrils. Not quite a “snort,” but close. The bear didn’t react at all and then we were rollin’—at speed. Red did this snorty-thing about 10 times in the next few minutes, each time looking back in the bear’s general direction. All in all, this was a pretty thrilling close encounter with the furred-kind. I’m completely comfortable with the notion of living among large omnivores—animals that conceivably could choose to dine upon me. This was perhaps the first time I’ve met one actually large enough to pull it off. He’d stood there on that rock looking down on us so calmly. Not disdainfully—just…looking. Not with superiority but total self-assurance. That was quite some look he gave us, whew. ◦◦◦◦◦ Needless to say, Red took us back to the cabin in a hurry. He was really pumped-up. Got home a bit after 8:00. Too windy for river bath so I sponged off indoors. Another 10 o’clock dinner, done eatin’ at 10:30. Long day. As usual, this first day of the “big weekend” provided lots of vivid experiences. It’s almost guaranteed. In ranger-world every day brings with it something new and interesting and different but this particular weekend cranks out the unique and the absurd almost without fail.
  53 visitors          25 miles              1 tree            3 lbs. trash

4 Jul (Sun)     Caught up the horses early and locked ‘em in the round corral. Still real windy. ◦◦◦◦◦ Getting ready to saddle up, heard voices across the river. Then the “sound of wading” as I went to get Red. Like his old self, I had to drag him to the hitch rail. Walking at his ½ mile an hour snail’s-pace, pulling and straining, not wanting to leave the exalted presence of Chino and J.D.  Now, I was sore and tired from the last two long days. This dragging-thing always takes me to the edge of anger, and fast. Out of the corner of my eye, I saw visitors walking across the meadow towards the cabin. My anger bloomed when I got Red to the rail. Didn’t slug him but cussed him good and tied him really  short, pulling his nose right down to the wood. I went to tie him off—my movements all jerky and hot—and clipped the edge of my too-long thumbnail on a crack in the rail and broke the tip off way back over the nail bed. Ooh—big ow. And that’s what petty anger buys me, almost every time. ◦◦◦◦◦ So now I’m all grumpy. Here comes a woman and her man. She ahead: follows the horse trail that leads toward the yard then wades across the mucky pool just below the cabin—through this horrid, quicksand-type goo held in the trail’s low spot, which she could easily have walked around. (I don’t ride through this bit myself until after the bog it crosses dries—I simply ride around it on solid turf.) She gets across no problem. The portly husband follows. I’m sitting on the porch, putting my boots and spurs on, still ill-tempered after ripping my thumbnail, watching this unfold. Astonished, again, by how people will blindly stick to a trail. They could’ve walked around the little mud-swamp but, noooooo! They have to stay on the trail! So the man goes in as well but he flips out—cursing and shouting as if in physical pain, every step telegraphing genuine agony. His wife comes back, extends a hand to help, and he shouts, ”No! Don’t come back in!” He was swearing the whole time. Took him over a minute to get across the 10 feet of bottomless muck. (The woman had just ploughed through stoically.) I’m shaking my head in rank disgust—“Feebos! Nimrods! City-beaters!” still pissed off at Redtop (and myself) and thinking, “Now, don’t ‘kick the dog’…don’t take your angst out on these innocents.” Soon as the guy finally clambered out he turned jolly, laughing it off. I hailed them. They were gonna stride right on by. I had to call them back to chat and check their permit. Heading for Tower Lake; no, never been back here before. Very friendly but obviously nutty people. Another thing that dumbfounds me; seen this many times in various forms: here we have some guy in a green costume—ranger—with a charmingly rustic old log cabin, and a horse for backdrop. These two folks never so much as glanced at the cabin or the horse at the rail…asked me not a single question, made no reference to my uniformed presence in this heavenly location. They would’ve cruised by me with a wave. They were on a mission: Tower Lake. Do they not have a shred of curiosity? “Whoa! What’s that neat old log cabin doing here? Who’s this uniformed guy with a horse?” This is a distinct quality I’m talking about: a type of blindness. I find it unsettling, weird and actually offensive. (Okay, okay, I’m venting again…need to offload some angst and this is how I do it.) That was a bizarre encounter and, with the lead-in, not a great way to start off on the 4th of July, 1999 edition. ◦◦◦◦◦ The mountains seemingly deserted today. Almost spooky. As usual, I tried to plan for the best route to meet as many people as possible. Seems like, often as not, I make the wrong call and did it yet again. Typically, I’ll zoom down the main trail and go up to Fremont Lake, then Chain o’ Lakes, et cet. Today, rode to Harriet, took the PCT cutoff, checked Upper Long, then back to Fremont. Apparently, none of the parties going to Fremont continued past there except on dayhikes. No one at Harriet Lake! Met a lone PCT hiker below there. Then, nary a soul ‘til I got to Fremont Lake and only two of the sites occupied. Two small parties showed up while I was there. Talked with two groups from yesterday who were delighted by the peace and quiet. (The pack station group had even cleared out.) WHERE DID EVERYBODY GO!?! ◦◦◦◦◦ Left Fremont Lake, headin’ home at 6:30. Down the hill a bit, here comes Peckerwood!—Bart’s old golden retriever. Nobody behind him. He’s clearly beat, tongue hanging down, heading for the lake. I spoke to him—“Nobody there, ol’ buddy”—and he didn’t pause or even glance at me. He was on a mission, too…obviously misplaced and distressed. He probably came up with Gordon to pack Bart out, maybe nodded off when they took a break on the way out, and woke up alone. All the rest of the way home I tried to decide whether or not I should get on the radio and have someone call Bart and tell him where his dog was. Maybe old Peckerwood would head back home once he found basecamp deserted. ◦◦◦◦◦ Nature notes: at Harriet Lake, saw a fine-lookin’ 5-point buck. Rode right up on him, within 30 feet, and he just continued grazing. As I’ve noticed so many times, when on horseback the wild ones aren’t nearly as afraid of me. Rode a bit closer—Red kinda nervous—and the buck turned to face us square. Then his hind end seemed to hunch up and go kinda limp and—this dude’s a real buck’s buck—I thought for a second it was some kind of threat behavior. But, no…he just cut loose and took a giant wizz. ◦◦◦◦◦ Got home to find Chino and J.D. had broken out of the round corral. Chino is an escape artist—relentless. I locked him and J.D. back in and left Red free to graze, knowing he’d just hang close to his pals and I’d have an easy catch in the morning. ◦◦◦◦◦ So much for the big holiday weekend. A strange one.

  only 7 visitors!                   17½ miles                     2 lbs. trash

 © 2016 by Tim Forsell                          9 Oct 2016