Thursday, November 30, 2017

Cajas High

For a little while last summer I had some hiking buddies. We went to a few places like this. It and similar areas are in or near Cajas National Park west of Cuenca, Ecuador.

This was our big day, and last real hike, when two other friends of Mark showed up to accompany Barbara and me. Mark's little Chevrolet Sail was full to the gunwales.

I'm not really sure where we went. Not too far out. Mark, a Brit who is living in Cuenca, had been hiking on his own and knew some places. This one was fun because it was almost kinda-sorta strenuous.

We were able to park at a sort of odd little restaurant, fishing hole, hiking location and probably more called "Rancho Hermanos Prado", right along the highway. And since it is owned and private, and there are people around all day, it's a safe place to leave a vehicle.

Unfortunately, I decided to beg off the next trip to leave room for others, since Mark said he had to turn away a couple of people this time, and after that things sort of petered out somehow. Barbara is from Calgary, Alberta. She has seven dogs, all of which she was sane enough to leave at home. OK by me.

Several years ago I was out on another day hike along the same highway, and got up to 14,000 feet (4300m). I don't know how high this location is, but if you're acclimated it isn't a bad little trek. There is plenty to see.

Like little orange and yellow somewhat-crocusy flowers, evergreen shrubs, ridges, mist, hail, torrential rain, and wind. It has weather, and whether or not you're going to get some is not an issue. The only issues are what, when, and how much. It didn't hit this day until just after Mark dropped us off back in town. I got semi-drenched walking home even under my umbrella.

Rock. There is lots of rock. This is a volcanic area with frequent earthquakes. The land gets created and then endlessly churned. Meanwhile there is plenty of rain, and then things grow — sometimes unfamiliar things. Unfamiliar to me, but pleasant enough.

Up at the end of this hike there was some sort of radio equipment or an automated weather station. I have a couple of photos but left them out since they aren't too interesting in themselves, but there is something at the top, and the end of the road, such as it is, is there too, reasonably. So that's where we stopped and had a snack.

The ground is strange to me. It looks lush and vegetation-covered, and it is in a way, but get up close and the ground is mostly bare, with a layer of small, whitish, broken stone and scattered bunch-grass and shrubs.

Where there is low vegetation, it is green, but not soft and cuddly like moss. I'm not sure I've seen anything you could call moss. It isn't like that.

Touch it and it's hard. This isn't a soft landscape. All the plants feel like they're made of plastic.

Maybe it's the wind. This is a high place. Even if the days don't ever get warm, let alone hot, and there is plenty of rain, there is always wind, and so little atmosphere that what free water does coat the ground evaporates quickly. It's a land of succulents and pricklies.

No trees either. Not this high. But lots of empty space. Lots of vistas.

The good/bad news is that this area is easy to get to from Cuenca, costing less than a dollar each way to hop onto an intercity bus, but you have to speak Spanish and don't want to travel alone. My hearing is so poor that I'll never be conversational in Spanish, and it's hard to find anyone who likes to actually go out and hike in the dirt.

Once you do finish a day of hiking, you simply walk back to the highway and wait for the inbound bus to come along. Flag it down, pay a few cents, and end up back in town. But not so much if you're one person. Two or three or more, OK — but for one person out on the road, standing there all alone, anything could happen, and some of it less than agreeable, so I've been SOL for most of my time here. Haven't heard anything from Barbara or Mark for many months now. Due to leave soon anyway. This might be the last of my hiking here.

More info.

Cajas National Park



Wednesday, November 22, 2017

Definitions: Eke

Little used these days, eke is exceptionally rich for a single-syllable, three-letter palindrome, and still worth knowing to boot. Maybe even worth using now and again. Let's see.

(1) Eke may be confused with eek, which isn't even a palindrome. Eek represents one fright unit during the process of emitting a "squeak of fear", according to the Online Etymology Dictionary, which doesn't give any etymology for the word, but does say that eek was in use by 1940. Given the events unfolding at that time, it's understandable that eek might make its first appearance about then.

But eek still isn't eke, not quite. Eke is different.

Eke can be used to represent fright, fear, disgust, or all three in a bunch, as when one finds that, upon setting foot on a trail early one morning wearing one's newly-purchased $180 pristine pair of zero-drop, all Miracle-Flex, FKT Supr-Hikrs (with lace tassels), one's first step has gone straight into a pile of something describable as "steaming eke".

So, eke can be both the substance and the reaction to it.

The delivery agent for that substance could be almost anything with legs, but in order for the pile of it to be large enough to have the appropriate effect, it must be at least medium-sized. Like a dog. Dogs work.

Dogs work hard at producing this stuff, and are all too often seen on trails these days. As Edward Abbey once said, a dog's best use may be to be ground up for coyote food. And coyotes work too, spotting the landscape, as the dog tribe does, with mounds of soft eke, though more discreetly than domestic canines, being shy. Or smart. More so than dogs, which coyotes don't eat enough of. So it could be a kind of dog eke on your shoe, or it could be elk eke, deer eke, cow eke (which is delightfully soft most days), puma eke, bobcat eke, or everyone's thrilling favorite, bear eke, often occurring in a pleasant dark purple shade during berry season.

"Eke, eeew, poo." You might hear now and again, and see someone wiping a shoe.

(2) Eke as a quiet sound made by an inoffensive hiker carrying a more-than-average quantity of recessive genes when surprised by something. Surprised by anything. Or not even surprised. The eke sound might even accompany lunch, or a snack, or a sip of water, a glance at a watch, a stick, a stone, the rest of a stump, being a little alone, a sliver of glass, a fox in the brush, a knot in the wood, the song of a thrush, a fish, a flash, a silvery glow. The waters of March. Anything. You never know what these people are going to react to next, or why. It can even be fun to join in.

A stick, a stone, it's the end of the road. It's a thorn in your hand and a cut in your toe. It's the promise of life, it's the joy in your heart. While the river bank talks of the waters of March.

All typical manifestations of Eke World.

(3) Eke sounds a little like eft, which is a terrestrial juvenile newt. How about it then?

Newts are the adults. They have lizard-like bodies and hide under leaves in dark, humid locations, coming out only to breed or eat bugs.

Being adolescents, efts are less set in their ways, living in the space between their aquatic larval phase and their fully land-based stuck-for-the-rest-of-your-life-like-this adult situation.

Once upon a time you could use "water-eft" for the teenage form and "land-eft" for the adult, but now it's just "eft" and "newt", or maybe "eftyness" and "newtered" if you prefer adjectives over nouns.

The Old English for eft was "efte", or "efeta". Or "euft", "evete", or "ewt(e)". People can never seem to decide what to call things, especially those squishy low-riders they find creeping around in the garden, doing unauthorized things around the lettuce. In such encounters, you could reasonably say "Eeew, euft!", or just "Eke!" Either works.

And washing your lettuce before dinner is always recommended.) Wash everything.

Case in point: You may have had an "Eke the Magic Eft" squeaky toy when you were a kid, or the neighbor's dog did, which is where you got yours just before you put it in your own mouth, which in turn may explain a lot about why you are the way you are today. So it could actually be too late to start washing everything while expecting it to help, but at least you know where your problems came from.

(4) Eke as a unit of distance as used in backpacking.

Unlike more-famous units of measurement (banana equivalent dose, beard-second, helen, megafonzie, donkey power, warhol, jiffy, micromort, nibble, smoot, wheaton), when measuring in ekes, the farther you go the more they pile up in front of you.

First comes a simple expression of fatigue and despair: "Eke." Then, later, another: "Eke." Then again: "Eke, eke, eke, eke!" And so on, often degenerating into outraged profanity or incoherent mumbling: "How many more freaking, forking, eking miles do we have to go today? Eke, eke, eke, eke!" And like that.

This works because the eke is both compatible with and interchangeable with every other measurement system in existence according to a flexible exchange rate unique to every hiker, each situation, and even the particular time of day.

Traditionally the eke has been taken to be 0.2653 sheppeys, one sheppy being around 7∕8 mile (1.4 km), the closest distance at which sheep remain picturesque, but this ratio is good only on Thursday afternoons in June immediately preceding the night of a full moon. So don't rely on it either. Also, to apply the butt-armor principle to a real-world situation, don't tell anyone you heard it here, 'K?

This setting, including fatigue, sunburn, various levels of uncertainty, hunger, and biting flies contributes to the process of "eking out the miles", which may sound more familiar, or at least you've read about others doing it. True? No? Maybe?

But seriously, hey — when all is said and done, the eke is really a quantity of frustration, not a unit of distance, so the foregoing discussion does not actually apply. Let's move on.

(5) Eke: Quick on the uptake, cheery and enthusiastic, whether warranted or not.

This goes back a ways.

In the very dim past (because that's when people used to burn olives for household lighting), people used to burn olives for household lighting. That wasn't satisfying in any way, even to them, and they didn't know any better, because they couldn't go to Walmart and buy a Disney Princess Table Lamp, Pink, for $19.97 (currently out of stock, shipping not available). But things got better. They had to, possibly because of the annoyance of shopping at Walmart and finding everything they wanted was either "currently out of stock", suffered from "shipping not available", or both, not to mention the dreary color scheme there and the bare concrete floors, and who wants to be seen there anyway?

So they started making their own high tech lighting systems, using the oil of olives, which was about all they had besides dirt. But dirt and olives actually worked, and for a long time.

The olives they stomped on, up and down, up and down, until they had olive oil. Someone even tried eating a little of it, and didn't die right away, and because of that, maybe, olive oil later became a major ingredient in several trendy hobby diets.

The dirt was something they also played with, mixing it with water or goat urine or something and then trying to set it on fire, which wasn't wholly satisfying because dirt doesn't burn that well even with the addition of the very best goat urine, but they did get pottery after a while, a slightly flattened form of which made good but primitive oil lamps. Since this was, in fact, the Primitive Era, everybody said "WTF, it's Good Enough, Yo", and moved on to inventing grapes.

Grapes did not burn well at all. Not in any way even experts could recognize. This was a problem. Seemed to be.

Grapes, however, once invented, did prove interesting to play with. They exploded pleasantly when bitten and released a sweet juice. This was fun. People had never had fun before, so grapes gained a popular following. Life was good, in a dismal yet not completely dreary way. Scattered wars and episodes of plague came and went, and sometimes grapes withered and dried on the vine because people were suddenly too dead to harvest them, but that was OK, since now there were raisins, though not everyone was into dried goo, but a lot were.

Some people tried accumulating grape juice in jugs (made of burned mud, etc. and so on) to drink later in mass quantities, and then a war or plague blew through town, messing up everything and delaying the guzzling. And since there was always the possibility (speaking optimistically) of only a few creepies (rather than lots and lots) crawling into those jugs to set up housekeeping and maybe to die, some yeast got mixed in and then wine appeared in those patiently waiting unattended undrunk jugs.

Wine was a terrifically big deal. Think about it. Your life is delimited by weather, sunshine, darkness, the absence of sunshine even during the day (i.e., winter), disease, death, hopelessness, the smell of burning olives, and mud. For centuries.

Then comes wine. Major change, folks.

Major, major change.

Grape stomping becomes an Olympic event almost, with the proviso that the Olympics didn't start for another one or two thousand years, but they were ready. A religion or two popped up, fueled by wine. Wine inspired many, many dance moves, fights, and much more.

One frequent problem, though, was that in the early days people did this grape stomping on any old flat piece of dirt. (Back to dirt again — did you notice?) Subsequently, the grape juice piddled off the edges of the puddle and sank into that dirt. Not really very good by any definition but that was all they had at first. It did get better though.

First they did the stomping on top of a piece of hide, and then they caught the juice in another hide. Some time later, they had a more permanent place to put the juice, but the key was that intermediate vessel. That piece of hide morphed into what they called a "beker", and the juice that went into it was "eke" (grape puke), sometimes pronounced "eker". They put the eker in the beker.

When this all became standardized, the eker beker stabilized at a traditional length of 37.1 robust ripe olives with a diameter equal to the thickness of sixteen great toes of the average wine-grape stomper of that era, which by now had become the Primitive Era v. 2.01 or thereabouts. Still pre-metric.

Beker (or beaker, as we say in our enlightened age) was actually a word, in case you are beginning to feel nagging doubts about just how far we've gone out on this limb together. You're still here, right? Hope so — I'm still having fun.

The very very-official and astute Online Etymology Dictionary says that beaker is an "open large-mouthed vessel," which dates from the mid-14th century. The Old Norse said bikarr, the Middle Dutch used beker for "goblet". (See?)

Referring to other sources, we have bikeri from the Old Saxon (whose name has been lost to history, but he and his buddies do sound sort of knowledgeable), behhari from the Old High German (whoever he was), bicarium from Medieval Latin, which in turn may be a diminutive form of the Greek bikos, which was "earthenware jug, wine jar, vase with handles," and also a measure. All of uncertain origin, of course, but you can't have everything. We indeed do not have everything but we do have something. Be grateful, my friend, for something. It's more than many have, or even want.

And what we do have here, today, and which is just about the best I can invent, is an understanding that when the eker beker got full, people wanted it, before or after its contents fermented — they didn't care a whole lot too much about which, only about how much. Quality wasn't necessarily a priority when you could be dead within five minutes, any day of any week. There may have been a word for this intense fixation, and it may have sounded a lot like eacher, or not, but maybe, and as beker slowly evolved toward beaker, eker evolved to, first, eacher and then to eager, which is familiar to us, eh?

So then they finally had "eager beakers", a fitting term to describe everyone standing in line or even rioting at times, all desperate to taste the gifts of the vine. This may or may not have ultimately coincided with the development of tall fuzzy hats made of the outer layers of various beavers. Maybe? And just about everyone was eager to have a beaver hat in those days. (Men only, of course, because why would anyone else give a fart?)

Hence the ultimate phrase "eager beaver", which applied to anyone obsessively wanting anything, like hats, beakers of wine, business success, or even "most likely to succeed" award plaques.

All of which is fairly disgusting given beaver hygiene, when it occurs at all, beavers being rodents who live in mud huts and eat sticks, so you have to wonder about all this, right?

But then again — lots of hikers are like this. Lots of Go Getters, Self Starters, High Achievers, Live Wires, Doers, Hustlers, Busy Bees, Dynamos, Fireballs, Hot Shots, and Fastest Known Timers are out there. Kinda fits in a way. All eager beavers, some sober, some with only mild forms of mental illness.

(6) Eke: Where trail names came from.

First, all the other varieties of eking. (Covered already.)

Next, from around the year 1200, eke, meaning "to increase, lengthen". Good enough as-is but not inspiring, so we look a little deeper and find, from the mid-15th century, eke as a noun meaning a "nickname" (from "ekename" or "eke name"), which meant "an additional name", which implies, going back to the beginning of this paragraph, an increase or lengthening of one's list of aliases, possibly as one adds miles or life experiences.

Do you in fact know anyone whose life can be covered by just one unchanging name? If you do, I bet that you regret that sort of relationship. Many people do better.

How about the ekenames of these people? Mr Smiley Virgin, Tough Obnoxious Bitch, Beardy McTickfarm, Cleveland Steamer, Bad Dinner, Toilet Spider ("Paging toilet spider, toilet spider to thread 3."), StonePasser, Fluttering Whisperdick, Stabby McNeckbeard, Little Dirty Barn Monkey, Marmot Pounder, Buck Larceny, Privy Clogger, Climb & Punishment, Slow White and the 7 Drunks, April and Fool. Might be interesting to meet, right? Or at least to view from a safe distance, but not likely to be boring.

Which makes me wonder what happened to two people I knew in high school: Grover Icenogle and Egwan Spelmanus. What trail names would fit them, and how many fights have they gotten into over the last few decades, with or without piling up even odder monikers?

Wednesday, November 15, 2017

Definitions: Flavonoids

Flavonoids comprise a group of naturally-occurring chemicals ("a class of plant and fungus secondary metabolites") which are pretty much the waste products of plants, but which we eat, hoping to gain immortality by trying to change our animalic composition into something more closely resembling our chlorophyll-stoked buddies.

This is usually done in an attempt to disguise ourselves so we can hide from cancer and cardiovascular disease.

In short, the process is a lot like the nutritional equivalent of jamming tufts of grass into your hat band to avoid being shot during deer season.

However, cancer is actually smarter than that — smart enough that it can tell the difference, and will have no problem running you down like a wolf after a hamster, though heart problems are a bit slower on the uptake, so if you scarf a bunch of flavonoids and change your address frequently you might be able to maintain a three- to five-day lead on heart disease for a while.

Assuming that flavonoids actually do something.

So far the plants aren't talking — just sitting on the sidelines and whispering to each other. Maybe smirking a little.

If you do decide to join the trendy parade and gobble flavonoids, you have more than 4,000 to choose from, and they're everywhere.

They are derived from 2-phenylchromen-4-one, 3-phenylchromen-4-one, and 4-phenylcoumarine compounds, and are found virtually by the handful in citrus fruits, berries, ginkgo biloba, onions, parsley, pulses, random uninteresting vegetables, tea (especially white and green), red wine, sea-buckthorn, dark chocolate, Froot Loops, Cap'n Crunch, Cocoa Puffs, beer, cigars, whiskey, marijuana, heroin, crack cocaine, and lizard ear wax deposits.

So take your pick.

Many flavonoids are aromatic, such as those found in onions, cigars, and roadkill, but in addition, flavonoids are also water soluble.


You can employ these last characteristics to pee out your own camp site boundary and thereby avoid confusion about who actually got to the best spot first.

In case of trespassers not respecting those boundaries, just pee out a bit on them too, and then later on you'll be able to use a sniff test to positively identify any late-night creepers trying to infringe on your territory under cover of darkness.

And finally, we should add that various anti-viral, anti-allergic, anti-platelet, anti-inflammatory, anti-tumor and anti-oxidant properties have been reported for flavonoids by random bigshot scientists who normally don't even speak to the likes of us.

However, no anti-tank properties have yet been reported for flavonoids, so if you have a problem with armored divisions roaring around and tearing up your campsite up while you're trying to get some essential shut-eye, you're still pretty much on your own there, although you could try throwing onions.

If that doesn't work, then maybe urinating on the treads of passing armored vehicles might help, but do retain a cautious eye on those whirring tank treads and whatnot, lest you get your delicate plumbing caught up in the works.

Or simply use shoulder-mounted, wire-guided firepower, which is often efficacious. Moms, always leaning a bit toward the conservative side, frequently recommend this option, but it requires proper licensing under several articles of the Geneva Convention, and can end up being a tad expensive for casual use, and, of course, may result in unfortunate levels of retaliation from those annoying military types.

But hey, if you simply want to eat while on the trail and don't care about the fancy details, or desire to eat vegetable byproducts, just buy something in a bag, add hot water, and stick your head into it. Munch until done and see how you feel. You'll probably feel OK mostly. Usually it doesn't get better than that anyhow, so save your extra money for beer, which always works.

Wednesday, November 8, 2017

Elk In My Pocket

Hiking in.

There, that's it, what I came to see.

I've been cleaning out my photos. I have a lot, and a lot to discard. Once I went digital they began piling up like drifts of snow, and many are as useful, so they have to go.

And standing there I look down. A message underfoot. I must understand this in order to know, but what, how? What is my lesson?

I'm keeping the interesting ones, at least those that interest me, and there is a temptation to post them, so I'm doing that.

Moving west, crunching along, under the massive crater. To you it may look inhospitable. To me welcoming, like home, cliffs with their open arms.

So why not now?

Turn around, and then... The lake, Spirit Lake. So impressive that I forgot to level the photo. Or it's a magic lake. Attracted by the mountain, tilted. Perhaps yes.

If not now, when? If not these, then which? Etc. See?

Brush and lens flare.

I had to unpack these images from Canon RAW files, which my long-discarded Canon PowerShot S50 produced. Surprising. Surprising quality, given all the camera's limitations.

Witnesses. Fellow travelers. First encounter. We see each other.

The Canon dates from 2003, has a 1/1.8 CCD (7.2x5.3 mm), and would look silly if you set it into a bunch of today's cameras. It had a resolution of 2592x1944 and captures 5 megapixels of image data. The zoom range was 3x (in big-camera terms that was 35-105mm).

Some are large and confident.

The Sony has a 1/2.3 sensor (6.17x4.55 mm — slightly smaller), with a resolution of 5184x2920 at 21 megapixels, and a 30x optical zoom — in big-camera terms that's 24-720 mm, and it helps a lot. Files, though, are only hard-baked JPEGs. No RAW option.

Some prefer to ruminate at a distance.

Although the Canon is older, with much less resolution, its sensor is 1.4 times bigger than the Sony's, and there is that RAW option. It shows. This was really a great camera for its time, and its quality is still evident. Not too shabby, even after 14 years of technological improvement that it doesn't have.

And others group and move in long columns toward more lonesome locations.

But most of image quality is what the user does. Even 44 years after I got my first real camera, I'm still making beginner's mistakes, though slightly fewer as time goes by, but I did this hike in 2007, so excuses. There are always more — I has 'em.

Then, after half a day of walking, I turned back, and spent more time talking to the mountain.

So about halfway through the editing I got tired, got desperate, tried going impressionistic, and decided to start over and go with that, because easier, because I can say I intended that all along. Nurk.

First the willow thickets.

Still not great, but my crappy technique sort of looks not terrible and kind of artistically creative if you close one eye, squint, and turn your head sideways, and are feeling generous.

Then more landscape.

But really, it's the subject here.

And finally find myself under the cinder cone again.

It was a great day late in the year, I was out all alone on the north side of Mt St Helens, and the elk were in force. September and October in Western Washington can be great. On a good year the winter rains don't start until the third week of October. Some years they come in September. One year I will never forget had good weather into the middle of November, and I was smart enough to make use of it.

Hiking out.

You'd think that backtracking and hiking out would be an unwinding of the inbound route, and it was, but revealed different perspectives.

This year, 2007, I was out on October 28, right on the edge.

The mountain still makes it clear where the weight is, who has the mass, and where to find the rulebook.

Coming in from the Johnston Ridge Observatory, the tourist route, I was safe from hunters. Hunting season may not have opened yet, but if it had, few if any hunters would have been in the area. It's my opinion, based on what I've seen of hunters, that most don't know what they're doing, and look for game where it isn't.

Loowit Creek — never happy. Never sad either. Never nothing it ain't, but splashy, and no nonsense.

I've seen hundreds of elk at St Helens, and they don't hang out around parking lots or on the trails within half a mile of those parking lots, which is where the hunters look. Elk are in the brushy draws and creek beds around the edges of the mountain, and, at times, on the open plains which were once, long ago, blasted clean of all life and are now furred-over with tufted grasses.

In back again, Spirit Lake with its floating logs. In front, elk. In case you weren't sure. I'm sure. Trust me. Elk.

This open land was where I found them that October day.

Some quite big, going somewhere in the usual big way.

They were wary, but less so than usual, and I am small and quiet. On a normal summer day, seeing elk here, in the blast zone, on the pumice plain, means catching sight of three or four, or half a dozen, at distance, and briefly. They are skittish. They vanish, leaving only scuffs of dust to dissipate with the breeze. A quarter-mile is a close approach. Four hundred forty yards, 402m. At best.

But back at Loowit Creek, more of the same, with added emphasis, under the volcano's rough northern edge.

This day, though, they were out in force. Mating season, or a parade, a party, or just wandering around for the hell of it. Safety in numbers it seemed, because though I did not in any way get close, still, they were closer than usual, and there were dozens of them, and I was there stumbling around with my pocket camera, which I filled with photos.

And though it wasn't true, from photos like these you'd assume that I was rubbing haunches with beasts. Not quite. Not nearly quite, but close enough to be inspiring.

Now, 10 years later, I'm editing and posting those photos, in an impressionistic way, to bring back the sense of what I felt that day because if I don't do it now, I may not ever.

Detail with antlers "perhaps from Gallo-Roman cornu antoculare 'horn in front of the eyes,' from Latin ante 'before' (ant- 'front, forehead,' with derivatives meaning 'in front of, before') + ocularis 'of the eyes' (from Latin oculus 'an eye,' from PIE root *okw- 'to see') German Augensprossen 'antlers,' literally 'eye-sprouts...'" Or so speculates the Online Etymology Dictionary. Intimidating tools at any rate.

With luck, I'll be back there next year and will see what I can see. We'll see.

Broken late afternoon country. Where I walked. Scary-looking.

But willows are always happy and not scary-looking.

Stand back, stand off, add some space, and the view broadens once again.

With altitude, Spirit Lake reveals some depth. Mt Adams sends a greeting.

Gain more altitude, stand farther back, take the time to look and you get a better idea of how the world is laid out. Mt Adams remains in charge of the far distance.


Extra info.

Washington State Elk Herd Plan: Mount St. Helens Elk Herd

Elk Viewing — at Mount St. Helens

Mt. St. Helens Elk Herd

Study: Mount St. Helens elk herd reduction accomplished

Mount St. Helens (Wikipedia)