Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Backpacking Trip

Oh yeah!  I didn't die on my backpacking trip.  We hiked/camped in the Palisades in Swan Valley, Idaho.  The trip was about 15 miles in all, and I kicked butt.  Didn't slow anyone down, didn't have problems with my pack (once Bryan situated it correctly so it didn't hurt) and didn't get hurt.  Success!

Second day of hiking; this is right after camping at Lower Palisade Lake.  I was so exciting there was an 'outhouse' close to our site!!  In reality, it was a toilet seat on a platform over the ground with walls on two sides; it was still nice to have two walls!  It afforded a TINY bit of privacy for pooping.

We saw a LOT of moose.

Upper Palisades Lake is reaaaalllly beautiful.  Bryan caught two fish!  And then released them back in the water.

We found this skull hanging on a tree branch at our campsite.  The previous camp site had a elk jaw bone.  Kinda weird and kinda cool.

The next outhouse had three walls and a door!  Woohoo!!!  Still just a hole above the ground but whatevs.

The last day hike back - 7.5 miles both ways.  The last mile of the hike was HARD but everyone says that's just how it goes; you're ready to go home, you're tired, you're starting to chafe, and you just want to be done!

Back at the car, full of satisfaction and hurting a bit...  We got some delicious peanut butter chocolate fudge shakes on the way back to Jackson, though; that helped.

All in all my first backpacking trip was a complete success, and I can't wait to do another one soon!!

Pale Blue Dot

My friend Danny recently posted this on his Facebook:
The entirety of human history will never compare to the majesty and importance of the existence of a single star. The only reason we live and breath and see is because of the beautiful bright burning entity we call the sun and we think our lives are so important and significant. Maybe just another case of drunk philosophy or maybe I'm right and we mean nothing.
Well, yeah, he may have been drunk.  A few beers and an Irish Car Bomb will do that to you, I guess. But that doesn't mean that this isn't an incredibly significant statement.  It reminded me of this lecture given by Carl Sagan in 1994.  Below you can hear the lecture; I've included the transcription as well.

From this distant vantage point, the Earth might not seem of particular interest. But for us, it's different. Consider again that dot. That's here, that's home, that's us. On it everyone you love, everyone you know, everyone you ever heard of, every human being who ever was, lived out their lives. The aggregate of our joy and suffering, thousands of confident religions, ideologies, and economic doctrines, every hunter and forager, every hero and coward, every creator and destroyer of civilization, every king and peasant, every young couple in love, every mother and father, hopeful child, inventor and explorer, every teacher of morals, every corrupt politician, every "superstar," every "supreme leader," every saint and sinner in the history of our species lived there – on a mote of dust suspended in a sunbeam.

The Earth is a very small stage in a vast cosmic arena. Think of the rivers of blood spilled by all those generals and emperors so that, in glory and triumph, they could become the momentary masters of a fraction of a dot. Think of the endless cruelties visited by the inhabitants of one corner of this pixel on the scarcely distinguishable inhabitants of some other corner, how frequent their misunderstandings, how eager they are to kill one another, how fervent their hatreds.

Our posturings, our imagined self-importance, the delusion that we have some privileged position in the Universe, are challenged by this point of pale light. Our planet is a lonely speck in the great enveloping cosmic dark. In our obscurity, in all this vastness, there is no hint that help will come from elsewhere to save us from ourselves.

The Earth is the only world known so far to harbor life. There is nowhere else, at least in the near future, to which our species could migrate. Visit, yes. Settle, not yet. Like it or not, for the moment the Earth is where we make our stand.

It has been said that astronomy is a humbling and character-building experience. There is perhaps no better demonstration of the folly of human conceits than this distant image of our tiny world. To me, it underscores our responsibility to deal more kindly with one another, and to preserve and cherish the pale blue dot, the only home we've ever known.   source
I first read this lecture my junior year of college, and I was struck with two immediate and opposing realities:  we mean nothing, and we mean everything.

Our lives are but a little burst of energy in a vast continuum; we are born, we live, and we die in a blink of an eye in relation to this universe.  The light we see from stars has been said to be billions of years old.  So far we have not found intelligent life on any other planet, but we can only physically study the stars and planets in our solar system.  Our solar system is just a spec when seen against the backdrop of the universe.  It would appear that we are nothing in relation to the cosmos.  I certainly feel like a mote of dust when compared to these wonders:

This nebula, located 20,000 light-years away in the constellation Carina,
contains a central cluster of huge, hot stars, called NGC 3603.

This composite image shows N49, the aftermath of a supernova explosion
in the Large Magellanic Cloud.

The Crab Nebula, the result of a supernova noted by Earth-bound chroniclers in 1054 A.D., 
is filled with mysterious filaments that are are not only tremendously complex, but appear
to have less mass than expelled in the original supernova and a higher speed than expected
from a free explosion.  The Crab Nebula spans about 10 light-years. In the nebula's very center
lies a pulsar: a neutron star as massive as the Sun but with only the size of a small town. 
The Crab Pulsar rotates about 30 times each second.
These pictures and their descriptions leave me feeling so very insignificant.  We mean nothing.  But once again, the dichotomy:  we mean nothing, and we mean everything.

If we are the only intelligent life in our galaxy, and possibly the surrounding galaxies, than every thing we do reverberates into the cosmos and affects change.  I do believe that there could very well be intelligent life in other galaxies; the increasing size of our universe makes it seem very probable.  Whether or not there is extraterrestrial life, we only know of the life on our planet, that Pale Blue Dot that seems so insignificant.  But if we are the only known life, then we are the only known intelligence that can create morals, governments, scientific theories, families, genocide, novels, computers, poetry, war, and the idea of true love.  Creativity lies within us, the insignificant.  The power to do good and extinguish hate lies within us.  All the good things and all the bad things lie within us, the insignificant; this makes everything we do entirely significant as we are the only ones in the galaxy (possibly the universe??) doing ANYTHING with the power of critical thinking (whether or not that thinking is used).  

So I think my friend Danny is right; we mean nothing.  But he's also wrong; we mean everything.  This is the dichotomy in which we live and breathe and have our being.