Equinoctial evaluations

Falls Creek Falls, Skamania County, Washington

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. 

Oregon Coast

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’).

Mt St Helens from Siver Lake, CowlitzCounty, Washington

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. 

I just like the shadow

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. 

Columbia River Gorge near Rooster Rock

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. 

Oregon Coast

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…”

I think this is Horsetail Falls in the Columbia River Gorge

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’. 

Upper Falls, Lacamas Creek, Clark County, Washington

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. 

Seal on the Oregon Coast

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. 

Mt St Helens from Loowit viewpoint

52 thoughts on “Equinoctial evaluations”

  1. Well said. I, for one, will continue to follow as I find this, and your, journey fascinating.

  2. First of all those photos are so beautiful, especially of the moth shadow! You have such an eye for photographing!
    Secondly, I support your plan, you could try it out! Or you could just put a ‘disclaimer’ at the bottom of your writings that these blogs are based on ideas from research as well as personal observation/opinon and maybe just list the sources that might be less work?
    Im so sorry about Pams arm that must have hurt so bad!
    thank you for sharing with us your creations!

  3. I’m so glad you’re back. I’ve missed you and all the things you share.
    I’m glad Pam is on the mend. She always sounds so completely wonderful and I’m sorry she’s hurt.

  4. Dan,
    I am so glad you are back doing your thing again, publishing wonderful species accounts that in the end are made more interesting for your wonderful writing style and the occasional personal asides that let us as your readers know there is a living breathing experiencing caring person behind the keyboard.

  5. Brilliantly evoked… and well thought out. If my words carry meaning: I have always been pleased with your content and understand that we are observers and messengers of those observations. Interpretation in an artform designed to inform and to provoke (or is it subvert) thought and ideas. Your interpretations are wonder filled. They carry the joy of being in a world filled with miracles, even though the miracles are common- all-garden miracles and are overlooked by the god seekers and those who wish for more. For me it is an honour and pleasure to read what you write. You are a true naturalist, and as writer a very good natural historian.
    As for criticism, well, we are our own worse critics, and if we survive that, the other slings and arrows are relatively minor. I always remind myself that consensus is a bitch, by saying under my breath, “beware of the power of foolish people in large groups” just as I enter their arena.
    In perspective the natural world is kinder and more succinct with its criticisms, either it eats you whole or maims you for life. “Breaking a humerus is not all that funny”.
    Thank you, for sharing.

  6. Welcome back !
    I appreciate your honesty. Glad you are open to change. Look forward to diving in to a fresh read.

  7. I have always enjoyed reading your posts…but love the pictures you include. I am a firm believer that God created the earth, and you have revealed many of the wonders of that creation.
    Welcome back!

  8. Hi Dan,
    My name is Liz. I ran across your blog last year when researching more info on a plant (can’t remember which one). The way that you wrote struck immediately, and I subscribed *because* there was a realness, an opinion, included in the informational post. It was more enjoyable that way; As readers of 10,000 things, we got to experience a piece of the author as well.

    I live in the PNW (Portland to be exact), and the posts are particularly interesting to me because they’re of plants/ life/ places that I’ve seen, or am now adding to the “to see” list. When I found the blog last year, I wanted to reach out to meet you in person! I liked it that much. I wasn’t able to find a direct contact however, and have remained a reader ever sense.

    Thanks for sharing your experience. It is my opinion that when we put anything online, there will be those who love it, those who are indifferent to it, and those who have a problem with it. I say, if it sparks joy with you, keep going in whatever way makes the most sense for you. I’ll still be reading.

  9. I was wondering what happened to you! Very thoughtful reflections here. So sorry to hear about Pam, but glad you became a “chef” as a result. Look forward to further profiles.

  10. I am glad things are working out for you and your wife! I am all the way over on the Atlantic coast but I enjoy sharing in your nature ramblings. No need to be apaologetic about “current facts” – it’s the exploring and appreciation that counts.

  11. Dan:

    Keep on keeping on. Your philosophical questioning is a good thing. I took enough philosophy courses as an undergraduate that I know the questions you pose have been debated for centuries. Some think that humans have “apriori” knowledge about the world and how our minds perceive it. Others think that what we “know” comes only through the senses. I could ho on but I won’t. Just keep doing what you do. We are all the better for it.

  12. If not for the writing (I hate to write), I would be very jealous of what you have been able to do. I enjoy your articles very much — especially the fauna! It’s also great that you don’t limit yourself to a single environment. Best wishes to you and Pam and I hope to see more of your writing soon!!

  13. Glad to see you back old friend! I think all you really need as a naturalist is the “wonder”. Wherever and how far that takes you is a fine destination.

  14. Thank you for returning Dan!!!!

    And thank you for the excellent discussions of our “cedars.”

    Welcome back. I bet many people are glad. I know I am.

  15. Great blog post Dad! I can appreciate the intentionality in letting go of perfection and righteousness. I’ve interpreted this passion and pursuit to be intrinsically linked with your spirituality and evolving philosophical beliefs and as such it appears sequential for you to continually reflect and realign your intentions and motivation for this project. I agree wholeheartedly that it is important to decenter our ego when making sense of the world around us, which as we both know is a practice, and not a destination. I am inspired by your vulnerability in sharing your experiences and musings. I believe, and it’s made abundantly clear by the comments on this post, that the way you relate, make sense of, and connect to the subject matter of your species profiles, resonates with others, and piques curiosity and wonder for the life around us. I appreciate that you guide us through these reflections as one outcome of your caretaking of Pam and the courage to show up for another, with humility and grace. Curiosity is a great gift of the human condition, as is connection, and it is deeply loving to honor and hold vigil for the many occupants of this planet we share together. We have so much to be grateful for and as all science is autobiographical, it is restorative to share this truth so freely with one another.

    1. Thank you for saying all of that, Morg! I really appreciate your understanding when I suddenly shift my focus from listening to your commentary on the events of life to a bug, bird, or plant during our walks! You are my precious nbo, and I never mean to slight you!

  16. I’m late to commenting on this, but happy to see your posts and beautiful photos popping up in my inbox again…and that is said without pressure to continue at any pace on your end other than the pace that brings you joy. If that’s one post just once in a while, that’s great! I very much appreciate your honesty in this post and I’m sure many of us reading it can relate in terms of our own feelings and emotions around sharing our gifts.

  17. nbo? wtmo… Way too much worry. Such is life, for some. Some do it well, others not so much. While I count myself among the latter, I can recognize the former. I think you have always been in these pages honest and open and happy to acknowledge the expertise of others and your multiple sources of information, never a whiff of narcissism. There’s really nothing I would change about these pages. Thank you.

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