December 19, 2023

Long wintery shadows are not so beckoning this time of year…


Nostalgia is a file that removes the rough edges from the good old days.

-Doug Larson


A cold wind blows into my parka hood, inflating it slightly, numbing the skin on my face.  I’m wearing a ski cap pulled down over my ears, so it doesn’t chill them, even though the air is stirring there.  My nose is running a bit and my fingers are getting just a bit achy, but not unbearably.  Bringing my leather gloves was a good idea.  Just the same, I put one hand in a pocket to keep it cozy, so I can change hands if the one holding Waldo’s leash needs a warmup.  The wind was forecast, with temps just below 30℉, so I’m wearing rain pants to keep the heat in.  I’ve gotten pretty good at judging what to wear, based on what my cellphone says.

Man, life has changed with the advent of technology.  If I had been told fifty years ago that today, I would be carrying a computer in my shirt pocket that is much more powerful than the one NASA used in the Appollo lunar lander, I would have said it was pure science fiction.  Electronic chip manufacturing was making good strides at miniaturization in the 1970’s, but how could you possibly make a battery small enough to fit in your pocket and still have enough power to make the thing run for more than five minutes?  Walkie-talkies, at that time, had batteries nine inches long, a good two-thirds of the length of the entire radio.  Computers that had more than rudimentary computational abilities filled large rooms.  And, of course, there was no such thing as the internet, let alone the ability to draw data from it in any kind of volume or speed.  Compared to today, I had to live my life by the seat of my pants.  I had to show up with a variety of clothes, sample what was happening at the moment, look at the sky, guess what was coming and decide what to wear and what to leave behind in the car.

I remember flying a single-engine Cessna over the outback in Australia in 1985.  At that time, there was no radio communication and no radio navigational aids out in the hinterlands.  Navigation was all dead reckoning – you picked a compass course to fly, noted your airspeed and the time you were in the air, then calculated where you were supposed to be.  Sounds simple enough.

However, compasses aren’t so accurate and, after flying for several hours, you can’t be sure you haven’t wandered off course enough that you’re lost.  Forecast winds (that you got by phone before you took off) weren’t perfect (still aren’t) and that can contribute to the problem too, because you can be blown off course.  In a part of the world with landmarks to follow, it’s a bit easier because you have something to check against your maps.  But flying in the outback is like flying over a table top.  Everything is so flat and dry — no lakes or large rivers or mountains, and there are no real roads.  You understand, I wasn’t afraid of getting lost, that can be a great adventure by itself.  I just really didn’t want to run out of fuel before I got to where I was going – it’s too easy to bend airplanes that way.  In the end, I found a way to navigate in the outback without getting lost, but it took some skill.

These days, you hit a “direct-to” button on your GPS and a purple line comes up on a computer screen.  There’s a little white airplane icon too and you just keep the little plane on the purple line and you can’t get lost.  You can even get on the internet (by satellite, if need be), look at a radar map of your area and watch the weather change in almost real-time.  It’s all so — cheating!

Sigh, life used to be so much more an adventure than it is now.  I know people who travel in strange cities with two cellphones so that if they lose one, or it goes pfffft, they still have a backup and they can download a map to help them get to where they’re going.  I remember being in Madrid years ago, trying to get from the airport to a train station, and not speaking a word of Spanish.  I had to be real creative with hand signals, pointing and gesturing to get people to help me get to where I was going.  It was great fun.

Waldo lives life without all the gizmos, of course.  He has his sable birthday suit, a sensitive nose and an enduring sense of exploration.  He also has an adaptable nature and a seemingly endless ability to find joy everywhere.  Right now, he’s biting at the leash, trying to get me to play tug-of-war.  In a bit, he’ll be batting at my feet with a front paw, or jabbing at my leg with a stick, trying to get me to play some game that’s more like Calvinball than it’s not.  He’s not worrying about the weather, how cold it is, or how wet it might become.  And he’s sure not thinking about not getting lost.

Maybe I should leave my gadgets home sometimes and just be in the moment too.


Stick season is almost over, Waldo. You’d better find them before they’re buried in snow.

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