The Essence of Things

Many moons ago I was fascinated by the adventures of Everett Ruess, a young man, who traveled isolated deserts and canyons of the West about hundred years ago and then disappeared. Much has been written about him, including some biographies by W. L. Rusho and David Roberts and more recently a more fictional account of the young man by Robert Louis DeMayo: “Pledge to the Wind, the Legend of Everett Ruess”. That one is high on my “to read” list.

I have seen almost more beauty
than I can bear.”

Everett Ruess

Everett was an artist and he managed to support his journeys in part by painting. He also wrote a daily letter to his parents and kept a diary. I have not seen any of his watercolor work, but I have seen reproductions of his woodcuts. They are amazing. Woodcuts are a god’s end for minimalists. They capture the essence of a scene with a minimum of detail. Everett was a master at that.

I became interested in the technique. Since we are living in the 21st century, I decided to make my first woodcut on a computer. That’s not art, you say? You are right. It’s just a fun way to concentrate on the essence of an object. There is a wonderful tutorial by Cheryl Graham on the web and the robin in it has been treated and mistreated hundreds of times. Here is my version.


Since the nights here are getting shorter by around 6 minutes every day, there will be less chance for working on my woodcut skills, but the prints remind me to focus on the essence of things.

Inside Out, Life

A serious case…

 of instant gratification.

Am I part of a covert marshmallow experiment?

Today I walked into our grocery store. I don’t know where you live, but where I came from shopping has become an overwhelming task: Which store do I choose today, who has the best deals and my favorite products? Off course I always expected to find well stocked shelves with endless choices.

Not so here. We have one grocery store in town. Goods come in once a week, which have already been on the ship for a whole week, when the boat arrives, so nothing is “really” fresh. As quickly as the shelves are restocked, the goods disappear.

Then I tried to open a checking account in our one and only local branch. “Let me setup an appointment for you. Oh yes, we have an opening in 2 days from now. Would that work for you?”. Really? Well, it has to work for me, because I don’t have a choice.

Finally, my bicycle broke down and I needed a new part. That would be a 2 week break from bicycling. Fedex does not deliver to our town, so forget about overnight. Until I can pickup the replacement part from our local post office that would be a while.

Don’t get me wrong, I am here by choice and I am happy with it, being able to have something to eat every day and a roof over my head. Not to mention the amazing, ever changing natural beauty around me.

It just made me think, how spoiled I was by living in a society that fosters instant gratification. Anything I want, anytime. How did we get there? Were our ancestors constantly hungry? Always on the hunt for the next bite? No time to think about consequences in the future? Now that we have plenty to eat, we extend our expectations. Movies on demand have replaced video stores. Online news killed the newspapers. Cubicles and computers… And all that for what? So we can buy and have things that we want. Things that are supposed to make us happy…

I happily accept my new life style. I will be patient. I am not going to live in a cave, but I can wait for the next ship that may or may not bring bread and milk. I can wait for that bank appointment…

Paul Roberts has written a brilliant book about this topic: The Impulse Society: America in the Age of Instant Gratification. And on the subject of choices I very much like the following TED talk: The paradox of choice.

On the Road


Imagine there’s no countries
It isn’t hard to do
Nothing to kill or die for
And no religion too
Imagine all the people
Living life in peace

John Lennon, who else?

temple of the moon, cathedral valley, UT

temple of the moon, cathedral valley, utah

To me it becomes unbearable to read or watch the news lately. It seems the world is going fugazi. Senseless killing in the name of religion, mindless blurbs of “celebrities”, sprinkled with never-ending sports news…

I have been living and working in remote places for a couple of years now with limited access to news (and people). In those places I can imagine living in peace. This may not be the world John Lennon envisioned in his lyrics.

“When I was 5 years old, my mother always told me that happiness was the key to life. When I went to school, they asked me what I wanted to be when I grew up. I wrote down ‘happy’. They told me I didn’t understand the assignment, and I told them they didn’t understand life.” Maybe that’s the problem. Some people never understand life. There is no dress-rehearsal. This is it. Our choice.

Love, peace, and happiness.




“Compassion grows out of the recognition that all sentient beings – friends,enemies, complete strangers – want the same thing. We all want to be happy, and yet again, we act in ways which bring suffering to ourselves, and to others, and through others back to ourselves. Seeing through the superficial differences to this core of sameness is the great equalizer, stripping away the mask of unique personal identity and revealing us one and all as simple, wanting, fearful, hopeful, bewildered beings. It is an enormous daily mental challenge to see Mr Matthew not as my enemy bit simply as my neighbor, wanting exactly what I want, and being mistaken, just like me, about how to get it.”

Jamie Zeppa

Who is Jamie Zeppa, you ask? She wrote a wonderful book about her experience as a school teacher in Bhutan. She fell in love with the country and…

Well, you got to read the rest yourself!

Inside Out

In Search of Solitude


After a week on the road with fellow tour guides and a 4th of July celebration I am ready for some solitude. It has been difficult to find time for myself. Even the skies of California are busting with human activity. The pope reminded us today that we should take better care of nature… pointing to South America. Yes, we are destroying the rain forest, which will further impact our climate. What about the rest of the planet, that already has been covered with concrete and asphalt?

Inside Out

Note to self

It’s best to fix the roof when the sun is shining.

Ryan Howes

A great location and a great day for fixing the roof.

A great location and a great day for fixing the roof.

Amen. I guess this advice does not only apply to home improvement.

I feel lousy today, despite the sunshine. A mixed bag of emotions, and worries…

I know I should live in the moment, be present.

The roof needs fixing. Let’s go.

Inside Out

Into the blue

Winter has gone. With that my job as a winter caretaker comes to an end. It has been an amazing experience to live away from civilization for an Alaskan winter. Amazing if you like solitude, serenity, tranquility, with a few moments of loneliness, anxiety, and urgency. Now that spring is here I am awaiting a plane to pick me up and drop me back into the real world as we know it.

What is next?

Into the blue

Into the blue

I am not sure. As always, there are options, opportunities and choices. Why is it such a difficult task to decide on the next steps? Change, maybe?

Today, I had a day with the horses. It was a good day.

We have 17 horses that spend all year living outside. No heated stable, no roof. We feed them horse feed year round. During the winter that is their only food supply. They are tough. During the cold season they come in every morning, finding their place in the corral, where we tie them up for the daily feeding. Once they are done we let them go.

Today, we decided to follow the horses and see how they spend the day. It was a life lesson.

After getting their much-loved breakfast pellets, they decided to take a digestive nap in the morning before leaving the corral. After an hour of basking they trotted of into a swampy valley to munch on some fresh greens. Leaving plenty of new grass for tomorrow they headed uphill to an open area, clear of willows and alders. This seemed a good place for a nap. Some horses lied down, rested their heads on the soft tundra. Some closed their eyes…

Others stood in the warm sun, motionless for minutes. The rest found enough to graze on without much walking around. One horse, Ember, had enough of this and walked back.

Another hour went by and the group slowly headed to a boggy area. Most of the time we could easily keep up with their pace. That bog was good for another 2 hours of grazing.

I had brought a book about the PCT. The author was in his 60s, when he walked all the way from the Mexican border to Canada in about 6 months. He reports not only on the daily stages and events, but also on his inner journey. Having been fired from his job, he started out angry, disappointed, and questioning his purpose in life. His job was a corner stone of his life.  In the beginning it was important to him to meticulously keep track of the miles hiked. That became irrelevant after a few weeks. The experiences that you cannot quantify, only feel, became most important.

Watching the horses, contemplating my own future, I stopped worrying. It was a great day, sunny, warm, few mosquitoes, surrounded by plenty of lingonberries from last year, a fantastic view of the mountains, the tundra awakening from hibernation…




One Man's Paradise


It’s being here now that’s important. There’s no past and there’s no future. Time is a very misleading thing. All there is ever, is the now. We can gain experience from the past, but we can’t relive it; and we can hope for the future, but we don’t know if there is one.

George Harrison

Just another gorgeous day in paradise. No need to dwell on the past or fear the future. I am just taking in what the days are offering.

I am expecting a loud boom any time. An explosion. That’s how fast nature is changing. Probably it’s not that dramatic. Just appears to me that way after those winter days. First of all, there is so much light. Even before I open my eyes in the morning at 6:45 the sun is already up. No more amazing sunrise images for me, at least for a while. Too early for me… When I do my last round around midnight I don’t need a flashlight. It’s still twilight! During the day the sun stands high on the firmament, gotta wear shades, it is so bright. Glaring light barrels down from the snowy mountain sides. Too much light even for my tender greens. I have put seeds of bell pepper, squash, and avocado into small pots and they are going like gangbusters. Kept the seedlings in the house so far. Yesterday I put them in the greenhouse during the day. It must have been close to 80 inside. They love that.

The willow catkins have progressed a bit, after being stagnant for more than 2 months. The first wildflowers are out, although I still don’t know what it is. It looks like a little plant eating monster,  a dark purple mouth with fuzzy white teeth. The lawn pushes a hint of green much to the delight of our horses.

In the morning I heard the first flock of geese heading North. I could not see them at first. They were somewhere in the big sky. There. 50 or so, a small group. V-formation, high above the ground taking advantage of the prevailing wind. Not as the crow flies. The general direction is North, but for their own reasons they deviate from the prescribed course, maybe looking for suitable drafts? They may not soar as effortless as an eagle, but they sure go the distance. Where do they go? To Beringea, the paradise of the North?

One seabird with long orange legs and a skinny beak has made a rest stop at Puntilla Lake. Three seagulls and a handful of ducks also took refuge in the little open water the lake has to offer. A think crust of ice covers the water in the morning, testimony to the frigid water temperature. It is interesting to watch the breakup process, very different form freeze up. Trapped gas bubbles reappear, small ice bergs float around the lake shore. The lake surface goes from white to gray, to green and blue. There are insects in the water moving swiftly. They have one specialized leg that serves as a paddle.





Inside Out

Earth Day

“This we know. The earth does not belong to man; man belongs to the earth. This we know. All things are connected like the blood which unites one family. All things are connected. Whatever befalls the earth befalls the sons of the earth. Man does not weave the web of life, he is merely a strand in it. Whatever he does to the web, he does to himself.”

Chief Seattle

What did I do to celebrate Earth Day?

I did not drive my car to work today.
I did not heat the house today.
I did not shop today.

Well, that’s not much, given my current situation. There is no road. I have no car. Although it is below 20 degrees outside the house remains warm enough so that I don’t need to fire up the wood stove. During the day it warms up to 49 degrees Fahrenheit. Under a clear sky the sun feels more like 80 degrees. Is there such a thing as the Arctic Solar Factor? And shopping? The next store is 120 miles away and they don’t deliver right now. So, no big deal.

Although, I commend the institution of Earth Day, I think that it is not enough. We should have an Earth Year, followed by an Earth Century, where we give Mother Earth a reprieve from our abuse. I am not sure what we should or should not due to heal Earth, but I am sure we cannot keep going as we do now. We can, but it will be a crowded, artificial place and in the end wilderness and adventure will be distant memories.

What does the fox say?

"What did you do for Earth Day?"

“What did you do for Earth Day?”