Wednesday, September 27, 2017

An Old Truck Can Capture Your Heart

Vehicles and houses are funny things. They are just material and supposedly only commodities -to be bought and sold. But somehow that's not the total of what they are. A car, or a truck, and also a house, are more than just "things". They somehow hold memories. And that's what makes them special.

I said goodbye to my 1968 Ford truck today. It hasn't ran for years and just sat next to my barn slowly decaying. And yet it gave me comfort, every time I passed and glanced it's way.

I bought it sometime in the late 1980s or early 90s. It was already a classic. I loved describing the 4-barrel carburetor, the big V8 engine, the duel-exhaust headers and the power this beast had as it leapt into action roaring with just a slight tap of the gas. It drank gas like air and always turned an eye coming down the street.

I gave it to my teenage son, to safely grant him power and protection I thought, as he drove through his High School days. Next, my daughter of course drove it through her High School days to the envy of every young male there. Their tales are told repeatedly, with laughter and fond memories of the mishaps and adventures driving this old truck.

This truck drove us from Houston to Austin loaded with dogs, family and grandparents, faithfully, though not without doubts, making the journey successfully back in the mid 2000s.

I've replaced the engine, rebuilt the brake system, gave it a new carburetor (after poking a hole in it clumsily) and gave it a new $2000 paint job at one time. Ariel learned mechanics and independence turning wrenches, getting greasy, and repairing one part at a time, learning the ability to keep yourself sustained and moving.

I've scrubbed and polished it, started it repeatedly just to drive it around the block -stretching its metal bones- and worked on every part of this machine myself to give it life.

Eventually though, it grew tired, cranky, and rusty. I ignored it for other things in life, and it slowly sank into retirement for the spiders, birds, and squirrels to nest under its hood. Now finally, someone else thinks it worthy of attention. Today it has to be hauled up on a specialty wheeled flatbed with a winch to be hauled down the road to places unknown.

Thank you my old '68 Ford truck. You've been a friend. May your memories live on for years to come. I know I will always consider our time spent together more than just ordinary. It was a fun. It was special.

We don't own our animals. We host them.

Freckled Dwarf Monitors a long way from
their native home in Australia I hosted for a while
I have decided it is not accurate nor useful to think that we own our pets. Just like we don't own our children nor our parents nor our friends, animals under our care are individual creatures beyond ownership.

Viewing them as objects owned, blinds us to their unique place in the universe separate from us and masks much of the joy we have the opportunity to receive by simply recognizing them for who they are.
Indonesian Jungle Carpet Pythons
I hosted into the world from eggs with their parents' help

We don't own animals. If we're lucky, we get to host a few of them. And that's better for all of us.

Phoebe Dove - a friend for 14 years
named after my Great Great Grandmother
 

Mowgli - hosted by Alena Sanders in Czech Republic

Friday, July 14, 2017

A Hero Has Fallen


A hero for human freedom died yesterday while under imprisonment for speaking out against the state. His name is forbidden to be spoken in China and his life and death hidden and forbidden to be revealed to the 1.4 Billion people that Liu Xiaobo fought to bring freedom to.
Liu Xiaobo was in New York at the time Tiananmen Square peaceful protests broke out for freedom in 1989. He went to those demonstrations before the government crack down and is considered to be 1 of the 4 of main Chinese intellectuals who spoke out for the Chinese people's freedoms. He saved and negotiated for the escape of many students before the government slaughtering began at Tiananmen Square.
He has been in prison for the last 8 years for speaking out against the state. His body is kept within China to control any outside observances of his grave site. The 1.4 billion people within China do not know what this man has done or said on their behalf - nor do they know of his death. His entire life will be hidden from their history and cultural consciousness.
Liu Xiaobo's struggle for freedoms was not just for China, but for the future of all men who he warns can easily also lose their human dignities and rights by an oppressive government if men do not speak out and fight for their freedoms.
I didn't know much of Liu Xiaob, but my heart sags knowing that great men like this arise now and then - though their bodies are captured and beaten - and their memories are wiped.
May freedom ring.

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

When Babies Die and Life Goes On

A friend from work had a tragedy beyond words, where in recovery for weeks in a hospital he still was not told the fate of his children for fear of his inability to recover. Finally he was told his two child had died in the car crash. Here is his story a year later in an email to friends, along with my story back to him. Shed a tear and thank God for the preciousness of life. 

---------------
From: N.
Sent: [date omitted]
To: [A select few]
Subject: A new year... a new life... a new beginning

I believe every individual has that event in their life which result in a life altering sequence of changes where you see a consequent shift in the very fundamental characteristics that define you. An year ago, [date omitted] to be exact, while travelling to Hyderabad in my car I met with an accident that involved my wife and both my kids. The doctor said it was a miracle that I and my wife survived but we lost our kids. My daughter K. was five and my son I. was two. Experience, they say is the best teacher in life but in my case this turned out to be a very harsh lesson. After what seemed like an eternity, we slowly started accepting reality. Over the next few months we endured several things that we never thought we could but somehow managed to bring some order to this chaos, put this behind us and move on. Physical recovery also picked up pace and now we are able to manage things on our own.

Not sure if I should call it misfortune or just fate, but it did take our kids away from us, denied us the blissful delight of watching them laugh, cry, play, run around falling and getting up, get sick and be nursed back to health, it essentially snatched away the joys of parenthood from us. It took us time and effort to come out of this state of mind and a few months ago we started thinking of rebuilding our family all over again. Giving thought in this direction and after weighing several options we finally decided on adoption. Out of all this darkness and gloom that we had endured so far, this was our opportunity to show the same love and affection of a parent to a child who does not have it today. I will not deny that at this point of time we were both yearning to get another chance to have a kid, to protect as a father and to nurture as a mother. We went through the application process, interviews and finally all our efforts came to fruition last week. A baby girl ( 5 months old) was up for adoption and we were called for a visit. It was love at first sight. A week later we welcomed her into our home, our family and our lives.

Throughout this ordeal I discovered many things which I believe in our daily busy lives we either ignore or take for granted. The preciousness of life, moments you cherish with your loved ones, warmth of friendly company and I can go on... Among these, the rallying support from all of my family, friends and colleagues was the chief catalyst for our recovery and the guiding strength for us to move on and think of rebuilding our family. Right from the scores of folks who came all the way to Hyderabad and visited me in the hospital time and again, donated blood, took up my responsibilities at work and managed things through this year, the burden of getting our lives back on track was greatly reduced. The support and well wishes from my colleagues was a big help and showed me that this is truly my extended family.



We did lose our kids and with them a part of our lives as well but their memories are with us to remember and cherish forever. I wouldn’t want to think of this new bundle of joy as a ray of hope but rather a second chance that brings happiness back in our lives. For everyone who has done so much for me so far, for the love and care that has been bestowed on my family, words fall acutely short in my expression of appreciation and gratitude. I hope I will get an opportunity someday to do the same for you.


Please welcome our baby girl… K. junior... 

N.

---------------
From: Mitch Sanders
Sent: [date omitted]
To: N.
Subject: A new year... a new life... a new beginning

Dear N.,

She is darling beyond expression. She will bring much joy to you and your wife I’m sure. God bless you Narendra and thank you for sharing such a powerful story. Good to see you coming out of the darkness that death casts you into.

Just so you know my story a bit also. We had a darling baby girl 8 months old. The last I saw her alive I laid her down in her crib and went out with a friend leaving her in care of wife and friends at house. I came back a couple of hours later to a home with my wife in the front yard screaming and our baby laying on the ground. I tried to give her mouth to mouth, but from the hollowness of her chest I could tell she was dead. Ambulance came and stuff like that, burial etc.

My daughter today
I only tell my story to honor yours. In some ways you never get over the loss of a child. Life does go on though. We had a daughter about 2 years later who has grown up to be a zany fun loving delight. The gap of the loss of my first daughter (Aysley Wynn was her name) will always remain, but the cycle of sorrow and joy is much of what makes life. My love and heart to you always. Thanks again for the bravery of writing such a letter and sending it out and to include me. I am honored. 

“Better is sorrow than laughter, For by the sadness of the face the heart becometh better.” 
-King Solomon, Ecclesiastes 7:3, circa 931 BC

Mitch

Tuesday, November 29, 2016

FEAR AND THE TEMPTATION TO LIVE

FEAR AND THE TEMPTATION TO LIVE
================================

I felt a bit rebellious

I didn't put my seat-belt on

I drove a long way ... I was a little nervous... Careful... I watched the cars and stayed in my lane


driving on a dark curvy road
...don't want to be too risky though
  ...so, i put back on my seat-belt
    ...ahhh, that's better
      ...comfort again
        ...in tact again


most cars go around me
  i stay in my middle lane...
move to the right...
  speed up a little
    too many cars passing


my dad didn't wear his seat-belt once
...got in a wreck
  ...broke his neck
    ...ruined his life
      ...can hardly walk now
        ...constant pain... can hardly turn his neck...


it hurts to see him...


he gave me a wrist-watch recently...
  called and said he had about 10 of them and wanted to know if i wanted one
      i said "sure"
      i'm wearing it now


"X Alert!" ..."KA Band!"
...my radar detector speaks to me
  ...i hit the brakes - don't see any cops
    ...cars are passing me still
      ...i've got my seat-belt on
        ...i move to the right lane


i got pulled over once
one day before i had my radar detector
a friendly cop pulled me over


- he told me to get out and put my hands behind my back
he snapped his metal handcuffs onto my wrists
he put me in his car
we left my car on the side of the road - highway 290 - on the way to work
he took me to jail -


he said, "too bad... you seem like a nice guy"
(my license was expired or something - i didn't know it...
  some glitch in the mailing system...
    my fault.
      my problem.)


he left - i haven't seen him since


they frisked me
  they signed me in and took my stuff out of my pockets
they took away my shoes
  they put me in a cold concrete holding room
  with other guys - who were bad also


they gave me a blanket
  there was a small plastic window
you could see the cops doing stuff
  they couldn't hear you
  we inside were all sad


i drive slow now
i watch for cops
i wear my watch


i didn't wear my seat-belt driving to work today - for awhile
i wanted to be risky - and a bit defiant
i snapped it on after a mile or two
i enjoyed it though - i was awake for just a bit


i returned to my fearful norm - finished my drive to work
awake for a few moments - just a few
free - and awake
alert - and alive


but i wear my father's watch now
...i guess it's my inheritance
   ...it reminds me of him - and keeps at bay
      ...the temptation to live


Sunday, November 30, 2014

Individual Autonomy via Non-Conciliation of Propositional Tensions: Lessons from Kierkegaard

Individual Autonomy via Non-Conciliation of Propositional Tensions: Lessons from Kierkegaard

Thesis

An approach to personal authenticity for today comes from Kierkegaard who appropriated from Socrates that individual truth can only be obtained negatively via an internalized acceptance of unresolved tensions of dialectic propositions.

 

Introduction

Søren Kierkegaard, the Danish philosopher of the 19th century, besides being credited by many following branches of philosophy as a founding thinker, including Existentialism, Post-modernism and various Deconstructionism, should best be interpreted from his own context and his own writings. His admiration and even obsession with Socrates became his personal model for how one can best bring enlightenment, albeit in a negative fashion, to ailments of modern society.
Kierkegaard lifts the Socratic Method from being simply a mode of interacting with students to a fundamental paradigm in how truth itself can only be approached at a personal level. This is in direct reaction to Hegel's views at the time of truth being derived from the reconciliation of Thesis + Anti-Thesis -> Synthesis.

An approach to personal authenticity for today comes from Kierkegaard who appropriated from Socrates that knowledge can only be obtained negatively via an internalized acceptance of unresolved tensions of dialectic propositions.

 

One ailment of modern society is the overwhelming influx of too much knowledge. 


Kierkegaard's answer to this derives from Socrates approach of taking away presumed knowledge. As Socrates, in his dialogues, would initially concede to the expert knowledge of his interlocutor, and then question them bit by bit to whittle away, via the interlocutor’s own statements, the expert solidarity of the person's claims, so does Kierkegaard claim for example in "The Concept of Anxiety", "Concluding Unscientific Postscript" and in "Philosophical Fragments" that the tension of Hegel's dialectical resolutions only creates continued tensions that need in themselves resolved. Resolution is best left "non-resolved" in the state of tension. He also applies this criticism to the church itself in Denmark and criticizes them claiming they stray from the essential Christianity by constantly adding knowledge to try and resolve propositional conflict. Kierkegaard opens the door directly for internal Christianity outside of authoritarian propositional and doctrinally-driven Christianity.

Another societal ailment unique to modern society is endless cultural and technological fragmentation creating specialists and experts. 


Endless expertise now is similar to Socrates’ times in ancient Greek where trades and professions were sanctified by society and granted sanctioned authority. Today, skills, professions, and expertise is so extreme, deep and specific to individual branches of knowledge with recursively stemming branches, it leaves every common man feeling lost with no recourse to offer individual autonomy in the face of such bona fide experts. The answer that Kierkegaard offers which he learns for Socrates is to respond with Socratic irony. In this form, he doesn't attempt to compete or counter "the expert" on his own grounds and in his own terms, but instead offers a dialogue of continuation and even deconstruction with such experts to allow them to undermine themselves via their own isolation. This possibly even helps one realize their own expertise may be on shaky ground. This tactic for modern man allows avoidance of direct confrontation, while maintaining face and possibly adding enlightenment to locked in expertise.

A third societal set of ailments of alienation and despair stem from modern society's deep trends to democratization and ironically the elevation of individualism itself. 


With today's vast social media and hyper-communication technologies, people find themselves inundated with over exposure via online profiles like Facebook and on-the-minute availability with cell phones, such that ironically, the more connected we are, the more isolated we feel. This is due to a shallowness and need for immediacy that such technology inevitably grows. Kierkegaard addresses these aliments ironically, not with solutions per say. That has been tried in modern times with longer work hours, more and more communication, endless opinion offerings (Amazon, Product reviews, etc.) such that every opinion and anything spoken is of value in such a politically correct, hyper-democratic culture. Instead, Kierkegaard allows and even encourages these ailments by recognizing them and offering no solution. The very fact they can be recognized without an alternative solution is what prevents the oscillation into other ailments that offer no peace for modern man. Naming and awareness of these ailments ironically, while not resolving, provides paths for individual recovery of authenticity.

Conclusion

Kierkegaard offers us today not only realization and the offer of autonomy to face societal ailments brought upon modern man, but options and even techniques, literary and tactically for dealing with the embedded pressures these ailments bring. Modern man, ironically has hope of finding individual personal authenticity, by in fact embracing and even accepting the very dialectical propositions we are inundated with by society.



[This essay was a final submission I wrote for a class I took "Søren Kierkegaard - Subjectivity, Irony and the Crisis of Modernity" ending 11/30/2014 from Professor Jon Stewart on Coursera with the University of Copenhagen. A big thank you for this excellent MOOC on a philosopher deserving such quality exposure.]




Thursday, August 7, 2014

Hiking to the Narrows From My Backdoor

A Crazy Idea

My wife and I hiked to "the Narrows" yesterday.
This is a grueling hike of five miles each way from my house up the Blanco River.


The Narrows from inside... a little bit past the main pools below falls.

When I say hike, I don't mean hike like walking with a stick over a trail. I mean hiking like crawling/hacking through brush with a machete, climbing up and down steep ravines, boulder jumping, and free swimming while holding your pack up with one hand - yeah, that kind of hiking.

Flood levels carry big trees

The River

The Blanco River is one of the last truly wild rivers in Texas. It does not have dams controlling the flow and making lakes for people to build houses on and go fishing from off their backyard dock. It is a wild river. It goes underground in places during drought seasons and carries large trees and brush when it floods during heavy rains.

From my house on the Blanco river you can get into the valley. From what I can tell it's maybe the closest inlet access on the east side of the Narrows. We started our 5 mile journey from here at 7:30 AM on Wednesday, August 30th. Temperature was expected to hit 100 degrees Fahrenheit.

My plan was to wear my heavy hiking boots most the way and carry my lighter weight river shoes - switching when needed. My wife only had river shoes.

Stuff - Do I really need all this?

The Gear

I carried a machete and a small .22 pistol along with a Leatherman, 4 bottles of water, and a gallon jug of water. Wife carried all the food, 3 bottles of water, and first aid. The plan was to drink from the jug on the way up and stash it half empty about half way for the return trip. I had a compass, my phone (with GPS if needed - it was), and a piece of map gotten from a Google satellite photo.

We covered the first 2 miles in just over an hour. It took us 4 hours to cover the next 3 miles. (Do the math.)

The Skills it Takes

I had hiked this valley during dry spells several times. A couple times with a friend mapping the springs for his Master's Thesis. We maybe only covered the first 2 miles. Give or take.

I'd also hiked this with 2 determined healthy friends several years ago. We turned around at about the 4 mile point, unbeknownst at the time how much further we had to go. We were less than prepared and one guy had twisted his ankle already. I think we were out of water and just about to get to the hardest parts. It's good we turned around. That trip took about 10 hour’s total.

A mermaid enjoy her triumph
I say that to say I had some experience and knowledge of the land layout. I knew certain trails already and markers and what to avoid. That knowledge is what made this trip's first 2 miles go a lot quicker. After that I had to constantly figure things out.

The main skill on successfully pulling off a hike like this - I'm convinced (besides pure endurance and preparation) - is the navigation. Navigation - it must be what Lewis and Clark geniuses were made of. My eyes were constantly looking up and down, both sides of the valley, trying to determine if that slope was getting higher and turning into a sheer cliff in a half mile, or was it fading away? Do I go UP this side, outside the valley, and try to follow along keeping it in sight, while hacking through brush and woods? Or do I stay in the middle of the hot river bed, crunching through mixtures of deep gravel, boulder jumping and wading through water? You don't want to have to back-track. We only had to a few times.

That sort of navigational instinct need is what pulls at you constantly. And you HAVE to keep walking at fast a pace as doable. No space in time to sit and ponder in the hot sun over a map. Remember; whatever you hike TO you also have to hike back FROM. Time is limited unless you're prepared to camp all night.

We made it. Wow it's hot!

Hog Trails

The country from here to there changes somewhat. I finally started seeing what the animals that live there see. We noticed hog wallows and trails. Muddy swampy areas they were. The trails of a hog aren't much good. They walk UNDER brush. And your back gets sore bending over too many times. They are not good animals to follow and you really don't want to come upon one either - especially without a nearby tree to climb. I have seen hogs weighing well over 200 pounds in this area. They are not your friends.

Deer Trails

Deer trails are everywhere. You have to use them when you can but don't depend on them. More times than not, they get through some tight area but then they network into several veins eventually petering out to nothing. You can watch deer do this. They rarely follow single file except through tough areas sometimes.

Cattle Trails

If you're lucky, you'll be in cattle country for a while. Of course you are trespassing throughout this whole hike and could be shot at I suppose if some owner just happens to be out there. Most of this is ranch land, and ranchers don’t particularly want their cattle disturbed. Cows are big beasts that will generally move away from you. You just hope there's no bulls. In an open field though don't ever run. I've had a herd chase-follow me one time when I was running. I wasn't able to make it to the fence line before they did. Almost stampeded over me. That's another story though.

Eating Wild Grapes Along the Way
Cow trails are guiding signs hiking through their country. We considered it a prize to see cow chips. Cows are tall enough they break up the brush. And if you are hiking down middle of the river bed and see where cattle have made a solid trail up the bank at some point, you might as well follow that trail. They're doing that for a reason. They've already been up ahead and you can't get through. Use your instinct and think like a cow or else you'll be back-tracking.

It looks like you are somewhere, but you are really nowhere

It is Illegal

There are a few other events that occurred that I won't elaborate on. Remember you are trespassing on private land. That is illegal. You are there by the grace of the land-owner. Enough said.

You Will Get Lost

At one point, I did feel lost a bit but not panic stricken. We were trying to cut off maybe a mile or less of hard brushy/rocky hiking. We went high and using just a compass trekked through the best country we could find. At one point I finally broke out my phone and tried for the GPS. I had never actually used the mapping before or GPS and wasn't sure it'd work. It picked us up on the map instantly and did show where we were in relation to the river. Now the trick was just to find a way down that wasn't falling - off the cliff we were navigating around. Not easy, but the GPS did help confirm at least we were where we hoped to be.

When we finally got there, we found a warning sign. It was weird. It was like this was a park or something. We know it's not. It's private land that Texans to some degree in these parts have known about for a century or more. No one is really welcomed there.

This is a safer picture... prettier ones I didn't take

You Are There, But You Are Not

Now the trouble was, how do we get IN to the Narrows. If you've seen pictures or been there you know it’s just a giant narrow gorge, where the Blanco River flows over 3 levels down and into a basin of magic swimming holes. When water is running significantly, these are raging waterfalls that only an Olympian kayak-er would dare to try. Kayaks-ers coming down river will just "port" around this section.

My wife bravely declared we should hike to the start and just slide down the falls. "Okay," I said, smiling from exhaustion and lack of a better idea.

It worked out, but she was scared and leery of jumping into these dark dark water holes that look like they go forever. For all I know they are aquifer deep.

God's Swimming Hole

The water felt totally refreshing though. We swam and ate. I tried to take pictures and take a nap. Any more romantic notions of lingering and bathing in God's swimming hole where over-shadowed by the looming burden of the hike back. I've been here before, coming down the river in kayaks. I was scared for my life then and can't say I had good feelings about the place still.

You Made it to Nowhere

Face it. There is a level of lonesomeness and isolation from civilization by sheer distance and rugged terrain that is scary. I've been lost in the woods and in foreign cities once or twice before. It never feels good. But sitting in the middle of the Narrows on a hot summer day in Texas isn't lost. You know where you are. And you know it's the center of nowhere. (At least in Texas.)

We made it back after 5 hours of trudging work. I was delirious a few times. You know, getting to the point where you thought you saw something move or heard something. You stop, look and listen. It's gone. You’re confused and testy. Drink water. Keep walking. Keep watching.

We got lost a little bit once, but was lucky in our choice, going to high country till finally it smoothed out.

Memories of a Distant Swimming Hole Where Angles Swim
The final hike up my hill, up my back porch steps, and into my back door was the hardest but most satisfying of course.

When You Make Your Own Path - It's Maybe Better to Stay Home

My advice for anyone thinking about doing this hike, (and I've been asked by several people) is simply this - "don't." You really don't want to do it. It is dangerous. There are no real routes. Every step is of your own choosing. No pre-configured way of "that's how experts do it" to get you though. It's not there. It requires good knowledge of this country, some wilderness instinct, good gear and grit. All these plus some luck and good sense when to turn back if needed.

I am but a Chigger on the Ass of Great Men Before

One final note:  I'm left awestruck and can only nod with embarrassing humility to the giant explorers of old - such as Lewis & Clark, Joliet and Marquette, Daniel Boone and the mountain men of the old West - perhaps even Pocahontas, my wife's 13th great-grandmother, who traveled to England to die.

These people lived life on the adventurous edge to an extent I can only maybe vaguely glimpse at. It leaves me feeling like I've lost some major part of my humanity by being born in civilization where large territories have already been explored.

To the point where a little 10 mile turn-around hike out my back door seems like a big deal.

Whew! I'm 5 Years Older but Wiser - Well, Older at Least