I got clean and sober on the 1st day of fall in 2009. I did not choose that day for that reason. Rather it happened to be the day that I realized that I was no longer on board with the stated plan of drinking myself to death, and that only immediate cessation could stop that from happening anyway. However, if I had chosen a day it would have been either one of the equinoxes or one of the solstices, since these apparently verifiable astronomical events in the earth’s cycles have long been the closest thing to an actual holiday that I believe in.
It took a few years before I realized that I found myself reevaluating my life around the autumnal equinox each year. Sometimes these deep dives involved a questioning of philosophical and spiritual beliefs, sometimes they were just about my avocation as a recreational naturalist. One year I changed jobs, another year I moved to part-time work, and in 2021 I decided in September to retire around the winter solstice, even though I wouldn’t be eligible for social security for another full year. There was just something about the end of summer that made me take a hard look at how I was spending my ‘one wild and precious life’ as Mary Oliver put it, and do some separating of valuable from valueless.
Something shifted after my retirement, and last year as the vernal equinox approached I found myself again actively questioning some tightly held beliefs. This led to a 2 month sabbatical from writing on this website, as I talked about in ‘Refocusing in Retirement’. Eventually I climbed back on the horse, and I was more-or-less happy with what I accomplished over the next ten months. But I was getting burnt out by late winter, as well as dealing with my yearly bout of Seasonal Affective Disorder, and I had already decided to step back from the blog for awhile, when Pam took a nasty fall in the parking lot of a local Winco Foods, dislocating her shoulder and breaking her upper arm bone in two places. (Post X-ray, and while still in enormous pain, my punster wife felt called upon to inform me that ‘it turns out that breaking your humerus is not that funny’).
So I became a caregiver, a task to which I am not predisposed. But it helped that Pam was the best of all patients, and that I loved her in a way, and to a degree, that I wouldn’t have thought possible 14 years ago. We quickly settled into a routine, and because not only was she one-armed but the bad arm was prone to horrendous blasts of pain at random intervals, as well as having no tolerance for any shifting whatsoever, it was up to me to be chief cook and bottle washer, in addition to doing all of the cleaning, shopping, and laundry. Boy howdy, my wife is a worker! And it exhausted me just trying to maintain our home in the manner she had seemingly effortlessly accustomed us to. Oddly, since I am a self-centered slob without a nursing bone in my body, I had virtually no resentment over this arrangement (though that could’ve been because I was too tired to have the energy for resentment), and I even discovered a real enjoyment, though probably not a knack, for cooking actual meals that didn’t involve a can opener and a microwave.
In early April Pam was cleared for physical therapy and limited (<10#) use of her right arm, and she began resuming some of her former activities. This freed up a significant amount of time for me, so I decided to renew my membership at a local rock climbing gym, which made me realize I was woefully out of shape (no doubt related to my newfound love of creative cookery), which led me to joining a regular gym. That still left me with free time, so I decided to try to get back into writing profiles, starting with trying to finish the three linked profiles of some of our region’s false cedars. But, despite the fact that I’d put a significant dent in each of them, I found it to be hard going.
There are multiple reasons why it was difficult for me to complete those profiles with the depth I had been striving for, but the primary one is that I am a lazy man, and it is a lot of work synthesizing and summarizing several different resources (some of which offer conflicting information), especially because I am striving to be accurate and complete, while attempting not to plagiarize them. And, as I have said many times before, I am not an expert. The bulk of the technical details, i.e. the biology, ecology, human usage and interactions, range, habitat, and etymology of the scientific name, are things that I only become aware of during my reading and internet searches. They are not facts and relationships that I can delineate off the top of my head. And by putting things in my own words and making statements, I become responsible for the accuracy of that information. The problem here is twofold- because I have no accreditation I often do not have access to the most current thinking on a subject, and there is often disagreement within a field as to what data are valid, and how they should be interpreted. So I end up being ‘called out’ for making statements that someone doesn’t agree with, despite the fact that I am just a messenger and not a researcher.
But there is a bigger problem here, one of a philosophical nature, and it is this- we don’t know anything! Anything I can find on any subject is just hearsay, and is not only not something I’ve experienced, but the conclusions someone else has reached are often based on yet another person’s hearsay. The fact is that everything that anyone has ever perceived or experienced is only happening within their own mind, because we don’t actually see, hear, touch, smell, or taste anything. We assume that the electro-chemical stimulus from our eyes, ears, skin, etc., that leads to the perception in our mind, is accurately reflecting a world ‘out there’, but there is no evidence for that except our beliefs and assumptions (I was recently blown away to learn that electromagnetic radiations have no color, and that folks calling one color ‘blue’ and another ‘yellow’ is a completely arbitrary labeling based only on the way the cones in our eyes interpret the frequencies that reach them- the colors ‘blue’ and ‘yellow’ only exist in our mind). Because of this there is simply no way to verify that there is an objective universe ‘out there’, and anything that anyone ever says about the universe ‘out there’ should be prefaced by saying “This is just baseless speculation masquerading as solid fact but…”
This absolutely does not mean that I am denying that there is an objective universe, since absence of evidence is not evidence of absence. My take on this is the same as my take on the question of the existence of God, which is that definitive statements on either side of the argument are ridiculous and based purely on the beliefs, programming, and assumptions of the one making the statements. The fact that there seems to be a consensus about the forms and events we perceive is explained as well by the idea that there is one mind dreaming this world, and that each of us seemingly separate entities are merely a point-of-view of that one mind, as it is by the idea that there is an objective universe ‘out there’.
With thoughts such as these running through my mind, you can see why I am questioning the validity, efficacy, effort, and purpose involved in continuing to write these profiles. Yet I cannot deny that I have an interest in learning more about the seeming organisms that populate the world I see in my mind, and that I enjoy sharing what I have learned, specious as it may be. The problem is trying to find a way to continue writing these blogs and profiles without investing my ego in them, without taking credit (or blame) for any information I may disseminate, and without losing sight of the wonder evoked in myself by admitting that I don’t know anything, while still delivering enough information to both pique and satisfy the curiosity of my readers.
What I’ve decided to do, at least for now, is to merely copy, paste, and cite/credit the technical details that I can find online (or copy/paraphrase and credit details found in books), and only apply my own words to that which I have personally experienced as regards these organisms. Hopefully this will save me time and effort, and get me out of the arena of looking like I think I know things which I do not actually know. I may lose readers because of these changes (at least the ones that were not already turned off because of the philosophical views expressed above), but it will feel more honest, as well as being a more sustainable approach to continuing to post on this site. And to those who continue to accompany me on this journey, I offer a sincere ‘Thank you’ for your patience with my absence, and with these changes.