Saturday, November 06, 2010

Off again

Here's a shot from the convention center. I attended a lot of interesting presentations during the four days I was there, many of which were about geoscience education. Some particularly interesting ones involved eye-tracking cameras to see how students differ from experts in where they looked when examining photos of rock outcrops. I also found this at one of the technical poster presentation sessions:

In this study, students were interviewed on their knowledge about plate tectonics. As I read this, I realized that I'd been one of the interviewed students back at URI (as you can see, the poster's primary author is from Rhode Island) and that I was actually in the majority who got some significant concepts wrong during the interview. Oops. The poster went on to show how simple line drawings were much more comprehensible by students, as opposed to detailed, full-color 3D drawings of the type that textbook makers now seem to prefer. (Oops for them!)

I am heading now for the Grand Canyon, where it will be extremely cold on the rim. I want to hike to the bottom, but I'm not sure if I'll be able to do so... there are a limited number of permits given out for camping at the bottom, and I'm not really in good enough shape to make going to the bottom and back in one day an enjoyable experience. But after that, it's on to Death Valley and 90 degrees, then southern CA, AZ, NM and TX. I could continue traveling through the spring, but don't currently plan to... the places I won't have been yet will either be very cold or rainy, and I'm not sure I would enjoy the experience as much.

Spending two months on the road has not really been difficult... some things have been different than I expected them to be... everything is farther away than I expect it to be, and I don't really feel good after sitting for several hours, nor after seeing how much I've spent on gas; so these long drives have been the hardest part. My other expenses have been more what I expected. Sleeping on the ground every night has been no trouble at all, and living with so few possessions has been great; while it's true I used almost everything I brought with me when I traveled alone, when I put 1/3 of that stuff into storage to make room for Katie, I didn't actually miss anything I'd ditched.

Sleeping in the freezing cold is not a huge problem as I have an appropriate sleeping bag, but it is annoying dealing with the cold and darkness in the morning and evening. What exactly can you do with your time when it's freezing and pitch black from 7 in the evening till 8 in the morning? Katie and I had been sitting in the car to read at night, going to sleep at 9 and getting up at 8 AM... and my body seemed to have no problem with the sleeping, perhaps because there was little electric light to tamper with my biological clock, but it's hard to manage to not have to go to the bathroom for 11 hours straight.

Anyway, here I've been in Denver for the past week, thinking about what I'll do when I'm done traveling. This is really up to me; I could travel virtually indefinitely, if "travel" meant staying at one free campsite for the maximum 14 days and then moving on to the next closest one, as retirees with campers sometimes do, making food the only significant expense, but I imagine I'd be a bit bored with that. So I expect I shall settle somewhere, either volunteering for one of the national parks that provides housing for volunteers, or coming back to Denver here.

All these thoughts of settling have been a bit depressing, not so much because travel is necessarily more fun than living and working somewhere particular, but because travel is itself a buffer against depression that I am happy to have. Travel--at least, the kind of travel I am doing--requires constant decisions about where to go, which route to take, where to try to find a campsite, et cetera. More importantly, the consequences of those decisions are fairly immediate. If I choose wrong I am usually going to be cold, or wet, or waste time and gas driving around.

(Choosing a campsite, for instance; BLM land is usually much warmer than National Forest land, being usually at lower elevation, but it's often harder to find a place to pull my little car off the road and camp on BLM land. Their roads are either hugely built up into a mountainous ribbon of gravel bordered by monster ditches, or they're tiny threads of barely passable mud and soft sand. So do I want to risk being cold in the forest, or losing two hours of my day driving around the featureless scrub, perhaps ending up heading to the forest anyway?)

Anyway, all these decisions and their immediate consequences lend a kind of interactivity and vitality to life that it usually lacks, for us here in the developed world, with our schedules and our houses sheltering us from the weather. I think the concept of agency is essential to happiness; we need to feel that our actions affect our environment and vice versa, and we need timely feedback on our decisions to be able to recognize our own agency. Being able to choose where to camp at night, even though it may be a choice between being cold and wasting time, keeps me in the present and connected with my environment in a way that, say, choosing whether to invest in McDonald's or Exxon doesn't. And this can be much more effective at preventing depression than any kind of invented treatment.

Today I have felt good, getting all my stuff together and deciding what to take and where to go for the coming month. Though I have been unemployed since the end of summer, I've gotten tremendous practice at certain skills--well, okay, mostly how to plan for cheap camping. I've also become a lot more flexible (weather is the darndest thing) and I care less what people think of me (we can't all afford campgrounds with showers!) than before I started. I feel good about things today because I have become good at what I am doing, and so, armed with both a sense of agency and a sense of competence, I go forth happily.

I am sad, of course, that Katie has left for the east coast. A funny thing happened before we left. She had contacted the cousin she was going to stay with on her way back, in Kansas, and he said he wouldn't be there--he was at a conference. In Denver. He was staying at the Sheraton--which was where we were staying. So we went out to dinner with him, and then he said he was getting to fly home early, and would in fact be in Kansas to welcome Katie when she drove in the next day.

There have been many other things that happened that I'm sure I forgot to write about... like the deer that hit our car, or how the mountains bordering Hells Canyon may be rising due to erosion (how's that for some geology?), but a blog post can only be so long. Especially without pictures. But here's the final photo from the conference:

in which Katie and I gaze hopefully toward the future, our rainbow glasses on. Or perhaps we are just goofing around.

1 comment:

Mom said...

I like the way you explain the concept of agency.