Panoramic Alberta

Back in April I took a too-brief trip to Alberta, Canada because of you-know-why. We drove west out of Calgary, up the Icefields Parkway through Banff National Park and Jasper National Park, then east along the Yellowhead Highway to Hinton. I posted a set of pictures from the trip on Flickr. Here I’ve posted a few panoramas to whet your appetite.

One of my hobbies is stitching strings of photos into panoramas. I got hooked on this when I lived in the Mojave for a season. The long, flat horizons are difficult to express in a single shot. A long, flat panorama captures the scene better — gives the viewer a more immersive experience in the environment, just as it was for me when I was there.

Also, why get an image of just one mountain when you can get an image of four?

The Miette Range looming over Talbot Lake (really big version)
Talbot Lake and the Miette Range

The Athabasca River in front of Mount Greenock (really big version)
Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

The Athabasca River running under Mount Fryatt (really big version)
Athabasca River, Jasper National Park

This is one of my best, I think, just for the scene. It’s even better because my lovely assistant is in the photo. (How she tolerates me standing in one place for five minutes taking photos of what must look like the same scene to her is beyond my ken. +10 points for patience.)

Athabasca Falls (really big version)
Athabasca Falls

The funny things about Athabasca Falls is that when we visited it last year, it was absolutely swarming with people — tons and tons of people. Thanks to an unexpected snowstorm on the way up, we had the place to ourselves. Hooray for quietude. Also, that blue, just-melted-from-a-glacier water is amazing.

All of these panoramas were created in Hugin. It is a fine piece of software that you should use if you get the itch to create panoramas yourself.

(“Hey, we found a dead mouse in our beer, eh. That means you owe us a free case.”)

Pilgrimage; or, the creek and the peak

I finally bought the tickets. In July I am going on a semi-irregular pilgrimage — two pilgrimages strung together into one, actually.

First I’m going to Illinois, to Ingersoll Scout Reservation — home. Sometime in the midst of whatever camp staff reunion activities they have planned, I’m going to steal away to Beaver Bend, that 90-degree crook in the Cedar Creek. I’ll sit on the rocks. I’ll scuff at the ground, imagining a fire ring constructed with rocks we dragged up from the bank. I’ll climb the goat path to the Artesian Well. And so on.

Then I will go out to Las Vegas. I told Joe that I’d arrive on a Friday morning. That’s sort of true. My flight arrives just before midnight on Thursday, then I’m renting a car and driving to Death Valley. In the twilight I’m going to climb to Corkscrew Peak.  I don’t know what I’ll do there, maybe just sit on the rocks again. Maybe I’ll read some Desolation Angels there — “And I will die, and you will die, and we all will die, and even the stars will fade out one after another in time.” — which seems fitting because I’ll be starting from Jack’s hometown. Or maybe I’ll read a bit of Desert Solitaire — “The desert says nothing. Completely passive, acted upon but never acting, the desert lies there like the bare skeleton of Being, spare, sparse, austere, utterly worthless, inviting not love but contemplation.”

These are places that, fundamentally, seem to remain constant, though my memory of them stretches and distorts. These are places where I go to measure time and my passage through it. Forgive me my anxiety. These trips are too few and far between. Besides, who knows if this will be the last? Perhaps I should be ashamed of my nostalgia for rocks and rivers, peaks and creeks, things and places. I’m not.

(And in both places I have something to leave behind.)

Two worlds at work

I live in two worlds at work. One is good, one is bad. I created them both. They move in different orbits. Despite my education in orbital mechanics, I don’t know how to predict their paths nor do I know how move them.

The first, my native world, is the bad one. It is a land of belching fumaroles and badlands — a discontented place. This is me at work.

The second is peaceful, positive. Here is where I feel at home but do not reside. This is me at work, but not at work — meaning, the things I do that are not defined as part of my job.

I recognized this today after our weekly Toastmasters meeting. It was a special meeting because HR interjected a group of summer interns into our meeting. Today I was the table topics master. For those not part of the Toastmasters cult: table topics are two-minute extemporaneous speeches on topics defined by the table topics master. My topics? I read a few of my favorite lines from books, and the volunteer speakers had to describe what they were thinking when they wrote the lines as if they were the authors.

What I learned: I have a really good reading voice. Take this with a grain of salt, of course, but I can make that thing boom. I don’t know where that came from, but in a room full of engineers, that’s a remarkable trait.

Later, in the hall of a different building, I intersected with the intern coordinator who was at the meeting. She complimented the meeting and asked why I go to the meetings since I’m so good at speaking. I told her I go because I don’t do any speaking at work, and I don’t want the skill to atrophy. She told me I was being wasted. I told her that I agreed.

At that moment the difference between the two worlds became immediately resolved, as if I were seeing the two through a needed pair of glasses for the first time. Bad vibes and required tasks on one world, good vibes and the freedom to choose on the other — an artificial assignment of value. I fell in the trap of needless martyrdom when she offered the bait. Woe is me, etc., as if my communication skills were intentionally diminished by my evil taskmasters.

One world at a time, eh, Henry?

I’m trying to get better. I’m not making much headway. I started this project at work at the beginning of the year with enthusiasm to learn, but I let it go to waste. It all went downhill after my task lead told me, after I suggested a different way to approach the work we were doing: “When I was your age I used to want to do things my own way, but it was beaten out of me and I’ll beat it out of you, too.”

Yes, that’s one of the most repugnant things I’ve ever been told. No, I shouldn’t have allowed that to sour the next three months of work. That’s like going for a hike in the mountains, getting bit by a mosquito, then throwing myself off a cliff in retaliation.

I’m trying patience. I have a great deal of patience in some contexts. I could walk or drive or sit all day, focused on anything I like. (Kurt Vonnegut, Breakfast of Champions: “Can you see anything in the dark, with your sunglasses on?” she asked me. “The big show is inside my head,” I said.) Add to that just a drop of someone telling me what to do — and, god forbid, telling me a certain way to do it — and I will lay waste to anything within reach.

I’m trying. You’d need a scanning electron microscope to measure the results, but I’m trying. I borrowed a copy of Pema Chödrön’s audiobook Don’t Bite the Hook from the library. Every day I listen to it for 20 minutes on the way to work, 20 minutes on the way back. I’m on my fourth run through it. It is, in short, about recognizing the onset of the urge to do something rash, acknowledging it, and practicing the art of not indulging it. I’m not there yet but I’m trying.

(Kurt Vonnegut, Jailbird: I still believe that peace and plenty and happiness can be worked out some way. I am a fool.)