The house shook yesterday at 4:36pm. It was a single shock, rattling the windows but doing no damage. Jen and I speculated about it over a glass of wine. Earthquake? There was no record of an earthquake on the US Geological Survey earthquake tracking site. Sonic boom? That was my best guess, although it would have to be a military aircraft, and they have strict standing orders not to fly supersonic around populated areas. I remember how a supersonic fighter broke a couple of hundred windows in Tucson when I was a kid in the mid-60’s, but I digress…
Speculation was rampant on our nextdoor.com neighborhood site, as people all over Fairfax reported experiencing the same thing. Finally, one of the residents in the area nailed it — we had a big meteor, a fireball, cruise right over the middle of the bay area at 4:33pm! The picture is from the American Meteor Society tracking section, showing a dozen reports from observers that enabled them to estimate the path of the fireball. Sure wish I’d seen it!
These things start to burn up at around 50 or 70 miles up in the atmosphere, and can make it all the way to the ground on occasion (a meteorite). According to the witnesses, this fireball burned up in the air, so it was probably a baseball-sized rock. It was traveling way faster than the speed of sound, perhaps five or ten miles per second, so it created a hell of a sonic boom.
My brain cheerfully digests data like this. One witness in Tomales (not too far away) reported hearing the sonic boom 3-4 minutes after seeing the meteor. That totally makes sense — we heard it at 4:36, sound travels about 1 mile every 5 seconds, so 3-4 minutes would be 36 to 48 miles away. The flight path over southern Marin was about 9 miles away from us, so the fireball was roughly 35 to 45 miles up in the atmosphere. The math checks.
More interesting is how I feel after a nearby cosmic event. This little chunk of rock traveled around our solar system (or further, who knows?) for probably millions or billions of years, to end it’s life in a 10-second encounter with our precious atmosphere. If it had been bigger, there would be a hole somewhere near Concord now, and if it had been the size of a bus, the hole would be pretty damn big. I am reminded how precious our lives are, how ephemeral, and how easily I take myself and world events so seriously. I vow to savor my day today.
One of the pleasures of living on the outskirts of Fairfax is that we are in contact with wildlife, though I seldom comment on it. From the beginning when I was camping on the hillside above the house during construction, I knew this spot was going to expose us to deer, skunk, raccoon, fox, owls, hawks, vultures and dozens of kinds of birds, several kinds of snakes, and perhaps bobcat. I’ve not been disappointed, I’ve seen all of them.
The neighborhood got a real wake-up call three weeks ago, when several folks on nextdoor.com reported seeing a mountain lion on the other side of the ridge behind our house. We probably see 50 people a day walking their dogs on the street and on the trails of our canyon, and the word spread quickly: we are in cougar country. Perhaps little Fluffy should be on a leash after all.
Also called cougars, panthers and pumas, Puma Concolor were hunted to extinction in many parts of the US. Not so in California, where they are a protected species, and their population has recovered to the point they are now sighted on the edges of towns. If you want some idea, go check out the Bay Area Puma Project website, where you can see records of many sightings in the San Francisco area.
Then a couple of days ago, our neighbor told us she saw what was probably the same mountain lion crossing our street near our houses at around 5pm. Aaack, that is close!
Finally, last night while hiking the trail across the canyon from our house around 5:30pm, we heard a weird sound, like a child crying, up the hill above the trail. At first, we were sure it was a child, and we are wondering if we should go investigate. The sound moves toward the trail ahead of us. Then it turns into a cat fight. Big cats. We can’t see anything, and choosing discretion over valor, we scramble back down the hill, away from the fracas.
We feel adrenaline for hours. The experience was unreal, especially since I had spent the first part of the hike telling Jen about the neighborhood discussion. Did I manifest this experience by putting my energy into it?
So I feel surprised and honored to experience this. And living with one or several large predators in the neighborhood, changes how I feel on some primitive level. When I’m outside, some part of me is just aware. There really isn’t any danger, as I’m sure they are well fed, and cougars generally avoid all human contact.
Still, a 6-foot, 180-pound cat is a presence to reckon with. And much more immediate and interesting than the daily soap opera of our national government.
This was my fourth year at Burning Man, my first solo trip, and my first art build. Last year at this time, Jen an I were wiped out after nine days on the playa, and the noise and chaos at the end of the week as ten thousand party peeps arrived for the weekend. This year, I left Saturday morning, feeling replete and happy. And really dusty.
This is how we have camped the last couple of times. Actually a photo from 2018, it looked pretty much the same this year, except I was packed in on all sides by other Westys (here is what it looked like in 2015). The popup shade structure is quick and easy, and the shade netting totally helps with wind, privacy and temperature. I added more solar lights this year, so home was easy to find at 3am.
The art project was Purr Pods, by Paige Tascher, one of my campmates. I worked on it with her for 3 months. Three welded steel cats, with LED lighting, illuminated eyes and hearts, and sound transducers and touch sensors. They each had separate personalities, with sounds recorded from Paige’s cat collection. Touching them elicited purring sound and vibration, plus entertaining yowls and mews. The project was a total hit, appearing in a “ten best art pieces” article. Here are some pics of the build, the truck that took them to the playa, and finally a video.
On their way to the playa.
Saturday, just before the general admission opened. All ready for the week ahead!
Alas, I had to miss the final build on the playa. On my way up (via our cabin in Lassen) the water pump blew in Mz Parker. I limped the final 25 miles to the cabin, started tearing the engine down to remove and replace the water pump…
…and discovered that the water pump (right photo, black thing in the center) body extends underneath the timing belt cover (gray thing on the right). Requiring removal of the exhaust system, exhaust manifold, timing belt cover, belt and sprockets. At that point, I called a tow truck, and found a good shop down in Chico do to the surgery. So instead of arriving on Tuesday, five days early, I didn’t get there until Saturday, just before it opened.
(The three day adventure in Chico was a whole experience of it’s own — I arrived too late to rent a car, hiked most of the way across town to one of the last hotel rooms available, lived out of a small backpack for a couple of days, and finally borrowed a Westy from the shop to go back up to the cabin while they finished the work.)
Saturday I headed east early, through Chester and Susanville, took my 66-mile dirt road shortcut from Susanville to Gerlach, and arrived midday. The Purr Pods were all set up, so all I could do was set up camp, and pull out several liters of frozen margaritas for my camp mates.
Art work was fabulous this year. Here is the Shrine of Sympathetic Resonance, made of piano innards and full of sacred geometry. Absolutely beautiful, full of thoughtful feelings and soft sounds.
My eight days were a curious mixture of freedom and loneliness, pleasure and service, with a liberal sprinkling of tequila, music and laughter. It was my first burn without Jen, so most of my experiences were solitary. It always takes me a little time to settle into myself when traveling solo, even surrounded by friends and familiar faces. By my third day, emerging from the Westy at dawn, I realized that it felt like I’d been there for a year. Perhaps our nomadic selves are never far away; I’ve had this feeling on backpacking trips as well.
The serendipity of Burning Man is always astounding — a friend of a friend camped with me in a tent, and somehow I knew when she was driving up, walking right out to greet her, even though I had never met her before and had no idea what kind of car she had. I did a lot of energy work and massage that seemed to be just what was needed, and had many amazing and deep conversations with strangers that illuminated both of us in profound ways. That’s the magic of the playa.
I love VW Bus Camp, and our pop-up village of self-sufficient iconoclasts. Unlike many camps, we have no shared infrastructure or dues (though someone did bring a very artistic shower device for all to use!) We had the Leopard Lounge set up again this year, a place of music, tequila and foot rubs. I spent time there each day, socializing, resting, doing energy work on visitors and soaking up the spontaneity.
Here is another little video. Eric is playing Johnny Cash, Bingo handing out tequila shots, and a crew of volunteers play percussion and give foot rubs.
By Saturday, I felt complete, so I packed up camp and headed west across the desert at midday. Dusty, happy, unshaven, thoughtful and full of feeling. I will be back next year, this is too good to miss.
While it’s appropriate to start planning spring and summer, there are special delights in the here and now. Some of it is introspection; I’m contemplating what is truly fulfilling for me, having released my career and identity as a software architect. I’m finding fulfillment in small pieces, by being as present and as receptive as I can, following small impulses and delights to see what fruit they bear…
A couple of days ago, Jen and I hiked a local trail loop that took us through a nearby neighborhood, where we found dozens of chestnut-looking objects scattered on the side of the road. Many of them were cracking open, with an emerging shoot reaching down toward the earth. Looking up the hill, it appeared then came from a large tree with a short trunk, and being the nerds we are, we both want to figure out what we were looking at. Jen found the answer first. These are nuts from a California Buckeye, Aesculus californica. We’ve both seen them on the ground before, and the trees are especially notable in the spring when they show beautiful large cones of white flowers.
Somewhere in my dim brain, I imagine these growing around my house and across the street, where 40-year-old Monterey pines are dying one by one and leaving lots of space for something new. I let the impulse flower into a project, and yesterday morning, I hop on my trail bike for the first time in a year, and take off to go pick some buckeye chestnuts I can plant.
The first thing I discover is that I’m really out of shape. Biking is not the same as Hiking! Huffing and puffing up the canyon at the end of our street, I take the trail loop that will return me to the neighborhood where we saw all the nuts on the ground. After perhaps ten minutes, I’m seriously winded, and stop up on the hillside across the canyon from our house to catch my breath. Nice muddy day, cool and cloudy, I’m enjoying myself, looking across at our house from a rare vantage point even as I wonder if I’m having a cardiac event. Turning to look up hill, I see many dozens of buckeye nuts on the ground not ten feet away, fallen from a huge 30-foot-wide tree.
Being a mental type, I have to think about my discovery for a second and compare my original target to this new bounty, but It doesn’t take long to jettison Plan A and take advantage of my windfall. The serendipity of it is amusing, especially because I momentarily consider continuing my ride to the original site where we first saw the sprouting nuts. How did I just happen to stop here, at the only buckeye tree on this trail? I hop off my bike, pick up a dozen nuts, and take the shorter path home.
One of the joys of home ownership is an ever-present task list. When we finished building our home ten years ago, I made a list of 50-odd things that required completion, most of which still await my attention. Some items have been added and resolved, like the failed foundation sump pump I spent two days replacing last month, or the tree that came down in September. However this is the happy story of knocking an old item off my list.
During construction, we purchased two large pieces of silk-and-wood-stamped artwork from our dear talented friend, Tomoko Murakami. Tomoko taught me how to make silk art more than 15 years ago, and you can see the pieces on her website, Yusaifu #7, Blue and Red. These 70”x80” translucent panels were perfect for the large walls of the house, so we designed light boxes into our central stairwell landings, sized exactly for them.
…Except that we were so out of money, we couldn’t finish the lighting and mounting. So I carefully hung them in front of the boxes, where they looked interesting — but not exactly stunning — without back light. I don’t think a single guest has commented on them over the years, which perhaps tells you just how important proper lighting is for visual artwork.
Meanwhile, lighting technology has progressed in good ways. Back then, it would have required maybe six hundred watts of Lutron-dimmable fluorescent lights, and the $3000 was just not in our budget. Now we can buy strips of warm efficient LED lights with electronic dimmable power supplies…and 300 watts of lighting at a cost of $700 is sufficient for the whole project.
So I did it. The house is transformed, the dimly-lit stairs are now bathed in gorgeous color, and the core of the house has a luminescence that carries throughout, into all the rooms and out onto the street at night. Tomoko, I bow to your creativity, and Nancy, I bow to your vision. I feel replete.
Although it’s not yet done. Now I must fabricate the frames that will finish off the pieces. One more item back on the list.
I’ve saved the best for last. The final task in this project is to replace the heater fan. This is not for the faint-of-heart, as the fan is deep inside a sealed heater box, bolted to the front of the body, buried under wiring, hot water hoses, and the dashboard. I started the process more than two weeks ago, by removing the instrument panel, the steering wheel and glove compartment, unbolting the steering column, then disconnecting all the various switches, the radio, lighter, heater controls and lighting controls in the dash. Six screws and four bolts later, with by a lot of tugging and cursing, I have the dash panel up and out.
This is scary work. I’ve never done it, I don’t know what headaches I will find, I hope I don’t break anything, and I hope I can get it all back together without paying someone $$$ to fix something I messed up. I’m driven by the fact that I can take the time to do a good thorough job. I can clean things, replace worn bits that would otherwise never see the light of day. I’m also driven by cost: it would probably cost me over a thousand dollars to have a mechanic replace the heater fan.
I’ve worked on the mysterious guts of cars before. I know some tricks, I have a lot of tools, and I have all the time I need. So in I go. For example, I label the wires and control cables as they are disconnected, so I have a hope of getting them back in the right place. This is methodical work, one cannot hurry, for the penalty of error will almost certainly be painfully expensive. So I took a couple of days to extract the heater box, working for an hour or two at a time, then taking a break and contemplating the next steps. It all went well. Voila, the heater box is out (photo below), drooling radiator fluid on the driveway.
I’m going to explain the next week of work, not so much to torture you, but to remind myself of the journey. After all, the climb to the top of Mount Everest is more interesting if you include the weeks of planning, preparation, travel and trekking in order to get to the base camp! Also, the information may be of use to other intrepid Westfalia owners; probably all old Westys will eventually require this job.
Now that I’m this deep into the innards of Mz. P, a place I never want to venture again, I’m fixing everything I can. The fan has arrived, ready for transplant. I have a new heater core coming, along with a wiper motor and new control cables. I’m cleaning everything I can reach — you can see how much playa dust is all over the black heater box — and the inside of the dash is a tangled mess of decades of wiring bodges. Upon pulling the box, I had my first unpleasant surprise: under a layer of ancient duct tape, is a big melted hole on the cover. Apparently some time perhaps 20 years ago, a prior owner burned something in the ash tray positioned right over the top of the box, destroying the ash tray, melted the top of the box and making a hole right through. I cannot imagine how they did this without causing a major fire!
My first task is to separate the two halves with a putty knife and sharp blade, clean the box, and fabricate a patch for the hole out of steel plate (a standard electrical junction box cover) and JB Weld epoxy. This takes all morning. The afternoon is spent installing the new fan and heater core into the heater box, with foam tape sealing the parts into place. All the sealing foam on the control vents in the box are crumbling from old age, so another few hours are spent scraping off old foam, and replacing it with new foam tape. This heater has always leaked hot air — unpleasant on a summer day in the central valley — so hopefully the rebuilt box will work better. I got custom whizbang $3.95 clips from the VW dealer to hold the heater box back together. I’m now well past the halfway point on the project.
There is another day of detail work. The new wiper motor arrives, so I spent a few hours disassembling the wiper mechanism, greasing all pivots, and replacing the motor. I also cleaned up some of the wiring for the radio, re-routing speaker wires in an attempt to get rid of the persistent buzzing sound in the rear speakers. When I temporarily plugged the radio in, the noise was gone! Thank god, that was an annoying problem. And I replaced the panel lights for the heater controls, lighter, and rear heater fan. I’m hoping we will be able to see the controls at night now.
Oh, speaking of lighting, I also ordered LED headlight bulbs, LED tail light bulbs, turn signals and backup lights, and new smoke-colored lenses to replace the cracked rear lights. After three hours of work they are all installed, and the rear of the van looks a bit more modern. Also, the LED headlights are hella bright!
Reassembly is the reverse of disassembly, as they say, and my methodological approach pays off. The heater box bolts back in place without a hitch, hoses reconnect easily (I used a watering can to pre-fill the heater core so I wouldn’t have to burp air out of the cooling system), and control cables reattached with only a little cursing. I had to spend some time adjusting them into the right positions, so that the control levers worked properly. Next time (hopefully never happening) I will mark the cable locations to make it easier 🙂
A long strap looped over the top of the cab helps me suspend the dashboard and move it gradually into place. As I proceed, I make sure all heater vent hoses and electrical switches are connected, fished the radio wiring out through the hole in the dash where the radio goes, and pulling instrument cluster wiring up through the appropriate holes. The heater control panel screws right into place. Lowering the dash with the strap, I am able to reinstall it by myself without pinching anything.
The reassembly takes all day, but by sunset, I have it all buttoned up, with the steering column bolted back into place and the steering wheel aligned and bolted properly (I remembered to mark THAT one before removing it, fortunately!)
The heater works! The dash lights work! Today, I am driving down to Santa Barbara for a little adventure of my own, and — other than one vent that needs the hose reattached — I’ve had no problems at all. In fact, it all looks like nothing happened.
But I know better. I have confronted my fear, spent more than two weeks inside mysterious, seldom-seen parts of Mz. P, and fixed everything. Plus I have a deep, deep sense of satisfaction, knowing her more intimately, reminding myself that I have patience, skill and experience, and saving a bucket of money.
This is actually a lot more fun than my career ever was.
The Westy resurrection includes fixing a fuel problem. At highway speeds and full throttle (occasionally, she gets going fast enough to pass someone!) the engine will hesitate like there is fuel starvation. Our fuel pressure gauge confirms a big pressure drop, so when we got home, I did my research. It turns out that the original design of the system (fixed the year AFTER our girl was built) was flawed. I can just replace the fuel filter until it happens again, but the real fix is to swap in parts for a later model year. There is another problem too — when we fill the tank full, some fuel drips out of an inaccessible vent hose, so the rubber hoses have degraded. You see, vehicles in 1985 were not built for gasoline that contains ethanol, and modern gas corrodes the original hoses. Knowing she has the original tank, almost certainly rusty, and a fuel level sender that has, let us say, a lot of character, I’m replacing the whole thing with new parts that avoid both of these problems permanently.
It’s always a moral and ethical dilemma for a mechanic: is the quick fix good enough, or do I take the time and money to really resolve the problem? Sometimes I go one way, sometimes the other. I know I have to drop the tank to fix the vent hoses, I want the fuel system to be utterly reliable, and I don’t want to change the fuel filter every few months because it gets clogged with rust from the tank. And I don’t want to have to ever work on this part of her again — one has to drain the tank before removing it, and there is no way to do this job without smelling like gasoline for a day.
I’ve become the nexus for parts packages from all over the country (see Part I: heater fan, tail light parts, LED bulbs), and the first to arrive are the fuel system parts. A shiny new gas tank, fuel sender, vent hoses, gaskets, fuel filter and clamps to put it all together. So I don my mechanic’s one-piece pullover, rubber gloves, and wade into the fray. The partially-disassembled dash can wait.
After about two hours, the front of my modern house is looking quite out of place for Fairfax. The front of Mz. Parker is up on ramps. Tools and parts, a pan of gasoline and rags and a jack are strewn about, and the first half of the transplant is complete. I am grimy, looking and smelling like The Dud from the game Mystery Date, if you are old enough to remember that. The filthy rusty tank with rotting hoses is lying in my driveway.
Installation of the shiny new bits was not too bad, perhaps 2 hours start to finish. There was one moment when I’m lying on my back under the new fuel tank, supporting it with my knees and chest, as I reached as far as I could over the top of the tank to plug the overflow balance hose into grommets on either side. The hose has to go OVER a bunch of stuff in the middle of the chassis, running down through the indent in the top of the tank. It took all my strength, ten minutes of wrestling and a healthy array of curses in multiple languages to get the little fucker plugged in. As I read long ago in an ancient E. E. Smith Lensman sci-fi novel, “I could eat a handful of iron filings and puke a better design than that!” .
There is a place where channeled fury and sheer determination makes all the difference between success and failure. I was about ready to give up on the hose installation at one point. However, one more all-out attempt, reaching into the 2-inch space with snarling sound effects and bruised knuckles leveraging off the grimy underside of the body, and the connector popped into place. Once I had the tank bolted up, I finished the plumbing with a series of short hose pieces connecting the tank, fuel pump, fuel filter, fuel pressure sensor andima line going to the engine. I cleaned and replaced the filler tube, plugged in and clamped the (five!) vent hoses, dumped in a bit of gas, and she fired right up with nary a leak. My First Major Accomplishment on this adventure is done.
I like fixing things, especially vehicles. So perhaps it’s no surprise that we own a 1985 Volkswagen Westfalia camper, a vehicle known throughout mechanic-dom as a labor of love. “Mz. Parker”, as she is know, is not an unreliable vehicle, she’s simply a self-contained mobile living space with plumbing and electrical issues. Westfalia ownership requires as much inner journey as outer journey — and by inner journey, I mean exploring both her innards, and my own. Why do I enjoy working on her so much? For there seems to be a Law of Westy Conservation:
For every mile traveled, you shall spend either $1 or 1 minute of your time working on your Westfalia.
First, the journey into her innards. Mz Parker carried us well to Burning Man, however, several “issues” became apparent on the trip. The worst was the taillights, which…just went out. Knowing law enforcement at Burning Man, we carefully traveled only by day, and when we were forced to arrive after dark, we sneakily drove internal roads through Black Rock City to avoid the overabundance of Nevada sheriffs patrolling the outer road. They are well known for pulling you over for any slight infraction, and inspecting your vehicle with dog-sniffing exhaustive thoroughness.
There’s more. At freeway speeds, she started misfiring at full throttle, and would lose fuel pressure (thank you, extra gauges!) Plus, the left speaker went out, there is a constant buzzing in the rear speakers, the heater fan blows a fuse whenever we try to use it, and part of the dashboard illumination isn’t.
Given our experience with her, it’s remarkable that the German’s ever figured out how to make reliable vehicles. Granted, this particular 33-year-old has been bastardized by several generations of prior owners. For the fuel problem, I did a full day of research, sighed at the results, then ordered a pile of parts which will arrive tomorrow (I’ll write about that adventure in Part II). Meanwhile, I’m googling wiring diagrams, and indeed, some kind soul has posted them.
The reality of the dashboard is nothing like this neat diagram, as shown in the top photo. After two hours, I have:
mostly disassembled the dashboard
performed surgery to remove 20 pounds of unneeded electronics
found and fixed the cause of the speaker outage
found the source of noise in the rear speakers, they run by the fuel pump, harder to fix
found and fixed a broken connection to the driving lights, disassemblling the front grill & dropping the spare tire to get under the car
become certain I need to replace the heater fan
come nowhere closer to figuring out the taillight problem
The surgical extraction was interesting. Our Westy came with a DVD player mounted in the roof of the cabin, apparently wired into the stereo to provide four-way sound. In 1998, this was a pretty cool thing, but these days, it’s about as handy as kerosene running lights. The amount of electrical plumbing was astounding, so I decided to simplify our lives before proceeding deeper into the tangle of smoke-filled wiring. One DVD player, THREE control boxes and about ten yards of cable later, the DVDectomy is complete. By the way, we never could get the thing to work in the first place.
The heater fan replacement will require me to completely disassemble the dashboard, and remove the heater box. There is a great YouTube video by a professional mechanic, where he does the entire removal in 40 minutes. It’s gonna take me longer. This is a Serious Operation, so I’m putting it off for the moment…and ordering a replacement fan.
Having no other option for the tail light problem, I did what I probably should have done first, and took the tail lights apart. Eureka! I mean, Ick! Cracks in the lens let in water, there is a ton of corrosion in the light sockets, and sure enough, both tail lights had bad connections. One of them was so rusted into place I had to remove the bulb in pieces with penetrating oil and pliers, just to find the socket was irreparable. Off to Ebay, to buy a used replacement. In fact, I’m getting all new parts and bulbs. And super-bright LED backup bulbs, which should make it a lot easier to back into a camp site. And LED headlights. The technology has come a long way since 1985. Of course, so have I 🙂
Or have I? Ah, the other inner journey…why do i think this is fun and fulfilling? There is a clue in how I feel about different vehicles. When I was young and limitlessly enthusiastic, I owned Austin Healy Sprites, and did everything for them — frequent carburetor adjustment, electrical repairs, an engine rebuild — with joy and abandon. These tiny sports cars represented fun and freedom, and I gleefully went on trips all over California with a backpack full of camping gear stuffed behind the seats (and 50 lbs of tools and parts in the trunk!) Working on other cars isn’t the same, they are transportation with character, not quite the same projection screen as my early adventure-mobiles. To be honest, our 2001 Jeep Cherokee is a pleasure to maintain, as it is a tough, solid, go-anywhere truck, both comfortable and reliable. But the Westy (and my motorcycles) get most of my attention, and now I know why.
A Westfalia is one of the smallest self-contained living spaces in existence, and it’s mobile. I have friends from our Burning Man camp who travel for weeks and months and even years in their Westy, in some mystical symbiotic relationship. I love being able to take off in Mz. Parker, with Jen or solo, ready to eat and sleep in comfort pretty much anywhere we end up. The thrills of variety and exploration truly nourish my soul.
Motorcycles do it too, as I went on many long trips on my BMWs, with full camping gear, all over the US in my 30’s and 40’s. Since damaging my wrist by logging far too much time on computers, I haven’t been able to spend long days in the saddle like I used to. However, I can now see travel and adventure are a theme in my life, and I’ve always found ways to explore new places.
Mz. Parker is the latest vehicle for exploration. So it’s not all about “fixing things” for me. It’s about enabling the journey. I love working on vehicles I have adventures in. Good to know. I have some vehicles to get rid of. Why not just focus on what I love?
I’ve recently turned 60, no longer working for companies, and getting used to all this freedom to do exactly what I want. It’s a little disconcerting how often I look for ‘what I should be doing’. What do I truly enjoy, what feels fulfilling? And why did I wait so many years before seriously asking myself these questions?
I actually quit working two years ago, but it’s taken time for me to fully realize that I’m free at all times to do what I wish. There was never a ‘decision to retire’, it just sort of crept in, a more body-based and receptive process. My mind may be wrestling with all this freedom, but my heart and body revel in it. Once upon a time, I believed (like most in our culture) that my intelligence, consciousness and awareness are mental, however I now realize that my mind is just a part of who I am, and it often gets in the way of true awareness and fulfillment.
My professional ego — the part of me that identifies as a software architect — is dissolving, leaving enormous room for new things. I don’t miss the grueling software projects, the countless meetings, the long hours, or having to read continuously to keep up with technologies. Now I get to read what I want, do what I want, learn what I want. My curiosity has become my guide, allowing me to study energy work, plant medicines, and corners of natural sciences I’ve neglected for decades. Jen and I helped build our camp at Burning Man this year, and early arrival gave us much more time to visit our friends and neighboring camps — without being on a tight schedule defined by vacation days. We also got to spend 9 days on the Playa, in our very cozy and cool campsite.
What could we call this stage of our lives? Some of us find this internal freedom much younger than I. Retirement is an outdated concept. Our culture has no modern model for maturity, or we are just starting to create one.
I am not bored. Oh, no! Projects surface regularly. For example, since 1993, I’ve been one of the administrators of ibmwr.org, an amazing repository of BMW motorcycle knowledge. The email lists support thousands of BMW bike fans all over the world, there are 200 tech articles — and I don’t know how many trip reports — scattered on this site. It’s a nexus of BMW motorcycle geekdom. The original site was pure HTML, a monument to the early days of the internet, and an incredible maintenance headache. I recently spent six weeks rebuilding it in WordPress. I took on the project almost by reflex, and somewhere along the way, realized that I loved creating the new site. Compared to what I did for a living, the work was dead easy. My pleasure is in the results and the service to a huge community, not the mental process and problem solving along the way. What a deep shift.
Really, I feel like I’ve returned to my early 20’s, when I had far less sense of who I am. I’m planning more travel, and I’m enjoying taking care of our home and it’s half-acre of oak forest, the cabin near Lassen National Park (where I’ve been hanging out for a few days), and our various vehicles. I remember the thrill of rebuilding my first engine, and now cheerfully refurbish the fuel and electrical systems on our 1985 Westfalia camper. My enthusiasm for all things mechanical is returning. Plus it makes more sense for me to do vehicle maintenance than pay someone else to do it 🙂 This photo from a road trip in my youth really captures how I feel.
The best part is, I rarely need to hurry. And I have much more time to notice the small things that make life so rich. Stacking an oak wood pile at Lassen, I notice the glistening beauty of sap on a nearby tree.
This expansion takes many forms, including casual exploration in the moment. A huge resounding BOOM shatters the quiet. Our neighbor’s small cabin carries hidden drama. Check out the tree behind the cabin, a massive sugar pine. Now notice the foot-long pine cones in the second photo. Can you imagine being inside this cabin when one hits the metal roof? I nearly jumped out of my skin, though I was a hundred yards away. A second look at the roof, and I see a hundred big dents. Glad I don’t live there!
After all my wood pile work, there is a ton of bark and slash to burn off in the campfire circle. And I smile at the irony of:
This is not a bush behind our house. And the odd appliance in the center is not harmless, it is a chainsaw.
Jen and I were recovering from Burning Man on Labor Day, resting our exhausted selves and doing laundry, when we heard a big crash behind the house. Looking out the upper window above the kitchen, we saw a lot of greenery that wasn’t there a moment ago. Much to our surprise, one of our coastal live oak trees came down. On a clear, sunny and calm day, no less.
We actually waited a couple of days to go up the hill and find out what happened. This 18” oak was growing out at an angle, leaning toward our house, and I guess it was just it’s time to come down. The miracle is, it missed the other oak on the right side of the photo, and was too short to hit the house. Our little wood lot has been quite stable for several years, with no loss of trees…however August and September (the end of the dry season), always seems to be the time if we lose one. This is the third tree to come down on our half-acre in 12 years.
Of course, this is a Power Tool Moment. I’ve spent two morning up there with my trusty Stihl chainsaw, reducing the massive stalk into a hundred pieces. We need hardwood to heat our cabin in Lassen, so this tree will not go to waste. I got my ration of exercise carrying logs down the hill and loading the Jeep. I now have a very personal relationship with this tree, knowing every inch of trunk, seeing all the new growth that is suddenly at an end, dragging the slash into a pile for future disposal. And my back has deep respect for the mass of even a moderate-sized tree like this 🙂
Looking closely at the broken stump just a couple of feet above the ground (on the right, in this pic), I realize this tree was diseased. The tell-tale signs of Sudden Oak Death are here, brittle crumbling brown bark, globules of dark sap oozing. This tree has been weakened. If it hadn’t snapped, then perhaps it would have died next August, finally succumbing to the stress of the fungus that has killed so many coastal live oak in Marin.