Happy Leap Day!

It is impossible to deny that Leap Day is the greatest of all holidays. For one thing, it happens only once every four years, making it much rarer and more valuable than other yearly holidays, like the so-called “President’s Day,” Labor Day, or even Halloween. Also, due to its quadrennial nature, Leap Day throws a wrench in the idea of age. Indeed, those born on Leap Days age at one fourth the normal rate! To attain drinking age, a Leap Day baby will have to wait until they’ve passed eighty-four normal human years! Thus, leap day is an excellent example of Einstein’s relativity theory, as time goes relatively slower for Leap Day babies than for the rest of us. (It’s science; it’s a fact.) And, of course, Leap Day is also the day we celebrate the amazing tale of Leap Day Williams (see video above). Case closed.

PS – Don’t forget to wear your blue and yellow!

Leap Day Williams lives

Zen Story: A Cup of Tea

A cup of tea

A Cup of Tea
Nan-in, a Japanese master during the Meiji era (1868-1912), received a university professor who came to inquire about Zen.
Nan-in served tea. He poured his visitor’s cup full, and then kept on pouring.
The professor watched the overflow until he no longer could restrain himself. “It is overfull. No more will go in!”
“Like this cup,” Nan-in said, “you are full of your own opinions and speculations. How can I show you Zen unless you first empty your cup?”

The above story is the first in the book Zen Flesh Zen Bones. It sets the tone perfectly, reminding the reader that before the page is turned, it is important to empty one’s mind as completely as possible.

This is very hard to accomplish in our day-to-day lives, because we cling with every ounce of our being to our assumptions, possessions, and desires. The value we place on material things or accomplishments or the opinions of others is gravitational. It is in our genetic code and our cultural code. But as we all must die, and not one scrap of these things can accompany us, it is really for the best that we understand our desires and fears in this larger perspective.

At the end of the 1990 movie Jacob’s Ladder, there is a scene where a sage chiropractor (Danny Aiello) offers advice to the protagonist, Jacob (Tim Robbins). Jacob has been having terrible hallucinations — men with faces distorted and blurred, eyeless doctors operating on him against his will, his girlfriend being molested by a demonic lizard at a party — and we’ve learned that he was a soldier in Vietnam. [Spoiler alert] At a certain point, we come to realize that Jacob was actually killed in Vietnam, and that the entire movie is comprised of the last moments of his tortured consciousness, played out in his expiring brain. The fantastic hallucinations make sense in this context, and the context of the chiropractor’s words: “If you’re frightened of dying, and you’re holding on, you’ll see devils tearing your life away. If you’ve made your peace, then the devils are really angels, freeing you from the Earth.”

In this sense, the entire movie is the efforts of Jacob’s brain to make peace with his life and his death. This is something we all must do, whether we are young or old, sick or in fine health. We should always operate with the understanding that our time is limited. It gives us a certain sense of urgency about things. That we must not pass our days feeling afraid, anxious, or full of regret. Better to fill our time with things that bring us and others happiness. Better to treat every moment as the start of an existence filled with infinite potential.

Although I don’t know if Steve Jobs was a happy or well-balanced man, I do know that he was a powerful thinker, capable of seeing through to the inner kernel of a matter. In his 2005 Stanford Commencement Address, now very famous, he offered this statement, a bare, resonating filament of truth:

“Remembering that I’ll be dead soon is the most important tool I’ve ever encountered to help me make the big choices in life. Because almost everything — all external expectations, all pride, all fear of embarrassment or failure – these things just fall away in the face of death, leaving only what is truly important. Remembering that you are going to die is the best way I know to avoid the trap of thinking you have something to lose. You are already naked. There is no reason not to follow your heart.”

When Jobs gave this commencement (view it here), he had already been diagnosed with the cancer that would claim his life. He spoke as a great mind, but also as one who is forced to look his own end square in the eye. Such an encounter can leave a person hopeless and depressed. (And it is likely that Jobs felt these things, at times.) But ultimately his message was one of acceptance and understanding. More, he saw death as necessary — a thing that actually gives meaning to life.

We are all headed this way, and we have all always been headed this way. Will you attempt to ignore that truth? Will you let it drain the marrow from your life? Or will you use it as a source of energy and meaning, powering you to make the world greater than when you entered it? Every day, we must empty our cup and approach life full of excitement for the time we have. Humbled. Naked.


The Anti-Tourist: LA Recommended

Growing up as only child, my parents kindly took me with them on their many travels. Without fail, the most exciting thing about our destinations was the food. France, Greece, Northern California, New York City… before our trips, I recall mom and dad clipping reviews from papers and magazines (pre-Google! pre-Urban Spoon!), plotting out our culinary itinerary to the meal. It’s only logical though — nothing gives more intimate connection to a place and a people than food.

This past weekend, my fiancée and I headed to Los Angeles to meet up with my folks and enjoy a brief vacation. Again, meals provided the anchors around which the rest of the trip would flow. Admittedly, three nights in LA are not enough to scratch the city’s strange, smoggy surface, but my special lady and I certainly came away from the trip with a few food and entertainment recommendations. If you’re heading to LA for a day or a week, or (I suppose, if you live in LA and just need an excuse to try something new) consider adding these to your list. They’re places worthy of planning a trip around.

Check out a photo gallery from my LA trip, here

The main dining room of Gjelina, on Abbot Kinney
The main dining room of Gjelina, on Abbot Kinney

Gjelina – Located amongst the pricey eclectic boutiques of tragically hip Abbot Kenny Road, Gjelina offers a high-end rustic setting with fresh, well-thought-out food: raw wood planks and beams, bare light bulbs with bright orange filaments aglow, rusted metal fixtures, a monumental steel I-beam exposed on the ceiling. We sat in the back patio, where patina-colored tables rested on antique bricks. Every dish we tried was superb: grilled brussels sprouts with bacon, dates, and vinegar; a mixed cheese plate with goat, cow, and sheep’s milk cheeses; a flatiron steak sandwich on a baguette with chili peppers, arugula, and a sinus-infiltrating (in a good way) horseradish aioli; a fried egg sandwich with roasted pepper, mozzarella, prosciutto, arugula, and harissa aioli; and a lamb burger with the same harissa aioli, roasted tomato, and arugula. Next door is Gjelina GTA, a take-out specific space for those looking to save a little money and a lot of time – gjelina.com.

Mixed cheese plate at Gjelina
Mixed cheese plate at Gjelina

Intelligentsia Coffee – Also on Abbot Kinney, this spot takes coffee dorkery to its logical extreme. The first and most noticeable trait of the large, airy café is the layout. Instead of the typical straight block of forward-facing counter space, Intelligentsia features a circular counter, penning in the four or five tragically hip knowledgable baristas working the gleaming coffee machinery. The theory behind the counter circle, our barista informed us, was to reduce the distance between barista and customer. In the rear of the shop was an area labeled “slow bar.” Here, a coffee expert will take you through the origin story of the particular coffee you order. Whether you enjoy Intelligentsia’s ambience or not (I did), it’s hard to argue that the high-quality, fresh coffee was expertly prepared. The cappuccinos and lattes were artful blends of well-pulled espresso and what I can only presume was local, organic milk. A small, moist red velvet mini cake sported a layer of raspberry cream and a delicate chocolate coating. While enjoying our Intelligentsia experience, we were also stoked to see our favorite ex-IRA weapons expert, Fiona, from the TV series Burn Notice (her real name is Gabrielle Anwar). Our LA experience felt somehow more complete for the television-star sighting – intelligentsiacoffee.com.

Note: Our barista at Intelligentsia was practiced in the art of latte “leaf” creation (see below). For a very cool piece on this frothy medium, check out The Art of Judging Latte Art on Slate.com

 cacA barista pouring a near-perfect latte at Intelligentsia
A barista pouring a near-perfect cappuccino at Intelligentsia
A barista at Intelligentsia Coffee
A barista at Intelligentsia Coffee

The Lazy Ox Canteen – Located in one of my favorite downtown LA neighborhoods, Little Tokyo, the Lazy Ox isn’t a Japanese restaurant. The owner, Michael Hide Cardenas, however, was raised in Japan, and Japanese notes definitely infiltrate many of the eclectic dishes. Our party of four waited a solid hour to be seated sans reservation, but luckily a walk through Little Tokyo burned most of that. At one point, we came across an awkward outdoor karaoke session in a little plaza full of bakeries, noodle shops, and fashion boutiques. We spent the final twenty minutes of our wait sipping sake and big bottles of Kirin at the Japanese restaurant next door to the Lazy Ox. Once seated, we ordered four small and four medium-sized plates, not of a single one of which was less than amazing. Still, some standouts included barbecued short ribs, polenta with mushrooms, the tempura artichoke hearts with a citrus mayonnaise, and the ricotta fritters with honey. I can only assume the rest of the items on the ever-changing menu would have been as exceptional, too. For desert, a seasonal fruit crumble, and butterscotch pudding were among the party favorites, but again, nothing was disappointing. The Lazy Ox philosophy is “to bring exceptional ingredients prepared artistically at an approachable price.” The first two items I can see, but the approachable price thing seems like a bit of a stretch. Maybe I’ve forgotten how much things cost in the big city… – lazyoxcanteen.com

Also highly recommended are LA’s many food trucks. We only ate at one, which served killer Bánh mì (Vietnamese sandwiches on baguettes),  so you’ll have to experiment to find your style. Totally worth it. Find them at findlafoodtrucks.com

A food truck in LA
"Cool Haus," one of many food trucks in LA. This one was parked across the street from the LA Country Museum of Art, which has a great show on California modernist design from the 1930s-60s.

And here are a few places we didn’t get to go but that were highly recommended by trustworthy sources:

Photolog – LA | Santa Monica | Venice

Travel report to come… For now, enjoy some photos.

Photo Friday: Travel + Los Angeles

At the airport in Salt Lake City
At the airport in Salt Lake City
The view from the airplane just west of Salt Lake City
The view from the airplane just west of Salt Lake City
A very nice hotel room on the 30th floor
A very nice hotel room on the 30th floor
The view from the 30th floor
The view from the 30th floor
Looking up
Looking up

Open House: Art On Iowa

The Art on Iowa House
The Art on Iowa House

Salt Lake City’s Iowa Street is a diminutive thoroughfare, existing only between 300 South and 200 South. It’s less a street than a block-long one-way alley, tightly arrayed with middle-class houses. Wood planks, brick, peeling paint, yard plots maybe big enough to lie down in, a few gravel parking spots, the odd tree. Halfway along Iowa on the east side of the street is the brick edifice of Tim and Camille Erickson’s house, site of Art On Iowa, a gallery concept devised to make viewing art more of a personal, communal act, than a sterile and pretentious one.

I first encountered Tim and Camille in New York, where Tim and I both were in a Masters writing program. We all ended up in Salt Lake City by coincidence — them mostly because it’s their hometown and me for work. When Tim braved Facebook (for the first time) to announce Art on Iowa, I was immediately interested. Salt Lake City is a cultural dead zone compared to Manhattan, or even to my last town of residence, Boulder, Colorado. Every creative spark here offers promise of a new age of enlightenment. Also, I have a friend who ran house concerts in Denver and Boulder under the name Back Forty Presents. Those crowded, super-personal little performances were unique experiences worthy of duplication.

The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa
The artist showing her work at Art on Iowa

On the night of the event, from my stance beneath the house’s green-columned portico, I could see through the glass outer door into the clean, well-lighted interior. Looking past a little handwritten note Scotch Taped to the door (“Doorbell broken. Please knock.”) around 9 p.m., a well-dressed, hipper-than-usual crowd was visible. Thirty or so people mingled and maneuvered, clumping together in conversation or else wandering the peripheries of the rooms to examine the dozen or so framed photographs by the artist Michelle Buhler.

Tim and Camille patrolled the party conversing with the guests, some of whom they’d known since childhood, others who were complete strangers. Four or five young children (presumably belonging to the guests) played raucously around the adults’ knees. Far from being upset, Tim expressed joy at their presence. It was all part of his vision for the show. It reminded me of the open-house days at the Brooklyn Brewery in Williamsburg, where whole families would come and drink, order pizza, and look at local artists’ works in an old-school block party atmosphere.

A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa
A Michelle Buhler photograph, on show at Art on Iowa

Tim’s attire was a kind of professorial chic — a broad, patterned tie beneath a dark cardigan, thick-framed retro specs, and blond, pointed goatee. I asked him about the motivation behind Art on Iowa. “You know, we came from NYC, from that shark tank, where everyone preens and postures at these kinds of openings, everyone sizes each other up,” he said. “Part of our inspiration for this was to provide a place where serious art could be shown, but that avoids that sort of fake-o stuffiness.”

Boxes of wine and a bucket of beer on ice sat next to a collections jar in the kitchen. In the den, the artist discussed photographs (“They’re inspired by the movie Apocalypse Now”), which featured colored blooms of smoke rising up out of assorted natural landscapes. The images were brightly lit, the scenes conspicuously lacking a human element. Their starkness implied a trauma somewhere out of the picture. “I specifically am drawn to smoke signals in the context of war,” Buhler’s artist statement begins. “I am interested in the phenomenon that the occurrence of something beautiful is contingent on an opposite or less-attractive happening at or around the same time.”

A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa
A guest and a photograph at Art on Iowa

“Where’s a red marker?” cried Tim after one guest expressed his desire to make a purchase. “We need to put a red dot next to the piece to show that it’s been sold!” Camille, who studied painting in college, stood nearby in a simple black dress and a brightly patterned scarf to hold back her fine blond hair, a cup of wine in hand. The proliferation of beer bottles and plastic wine cups, while not worthy of note at art openings elsewhere in America, was a bit outside the norm for Salt Lake City — a fact that seemed to make the guests appreciate their drinks all the more.

In New York, Tim co-directed a poetry series called Speakeasy. Would he be interested in bringing readings to the Art On Iowa setting? I asked. “Readings are so fraught with stuffiness, and so often sheer boredom, that they are very difficult to pull off.” He replied, adding, “if we can come up with some formula to get poets heard (in a world where we poor poets… are completely ignored unless we’re playing guitar), that would absolutely be a part of Art on Iowa’s mission.” Music, too, is on the docket, as long as the noise doesn’t reach an un-neighborly level.

The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa
The shoes of the very first Art on Iowa

The goal with Art On Iowa is eventually to have a show on the third Friday of every month, though at the moment every other month will have to suffice. Originally, the couple hoped to get several houses on the tiny street to open their walls to art, to create an Art On Iowa gallery stroll, of sorts, but Friday’s opening was the first, and Tim seemed unsure whether his neighbors would follow through. “If we don’t get anyone else,” he said, “we’re still excited to keep it going at our place.”

For those interested in showing their work at Art On Iowa, email the Ericksons at artoniowa@inkwill.com, along with JPEGs of three representative pieces of work. And for those who want to attend future shows, send an email saying as much to the same address, and you’ll be added to the mailing list.

You haven’t heard of Jonah Lehrer?!

Jonah Lehrer
Photo: Guido Vitti, via Wired online

If you haven’t heard of Jonah Lehrer, you are lucky. Lucky because you get to discover him for the first time. Very exciting.

Lehrer, not yet thirty years old, is a master at snatching ideas from the modern world’s vast information flow and piecing them together in interesting ways. His topics typically center around the science of the brain and its relationship to our behavior and psychology. Like Malcolm Gladwell, Jad Abumrad and Robert Krulwich, and Michael Pollan, he makes very complex things seem simple, almost intuitive. And yet his ideas are always surprising.

Precociously he’s a contributing editor for Wired, a regular contributor to The New Yorker and Radiolab (and if you haven’t heard of Radiolab yet, today is really your lucky day), as well of the author of three cool books.

For a taste of his style, here’s a video of him speaking at Oregon’s Williamette University:

Bullshit Lowball Choss: Climbing Irony from East to West

You Did a Rock Climb - A Decision Tree from Bass For Your Face
You Did a Rock Climb – A Decision Tree from the funny East Coast jerks at Bass For Your Face

This is a post about a blog called Bass For Your Face. But before I say anything about this blog, which strikes a perfect, zine-like balance between awesome and stupid, I have a question for you: If you’ve climbed in both the Eastern and Western United States, you might have noticed that many climbers in the West are lacking something. Do you know what it is?

No?

OK, I’ll tell you.

It’s a sense of irony. In other words, a deep love of sarcasm. A shit-talking streak that will make you feel like a total moron while at the same time letting you know that, even though you probably are a moron, your climbing buddies love you anyway. Having lived in Ohio, New York, Colorado, and now Utah, I’ve gotten a good sense of this difference. Often, when talking to a climber from the Western states, I’ll make a snarky East Coast comment, like shouting “Dab!” as a climber enters the crux of a climb. Or suggesting we go climb choss at Little Cottonwood Canyon. “What? I didn’t dab!” They’ll say, totally missing the point. Or, “LCC isn’t chossy! It’s, like, bullet granite, dude!” C’mon, son!

I don’t know what it is about New York, New Jersey, Connecticut, Pennsylvania, and the rest of those frozen, Blair Witch-looking little states packed together in the Northeastern corner of the country, but the people out there just have an edgy, self-deprecating sense of humor that the people in the West tend to lack. Maybe it’s because the population density in the East is so much higher, or the weather is so much more hateful. Or maybe the vast, open spaces of the West just make the human brain go slack.

And maybe it’s related, but Western climbers also tend to take their exploits on the rocks more seriously. In the East, you can’t even start to spray about your accomplishments without getting smacked down by your “friends”. It’s like the scene in Hitchiker’s Guide to the Galaxy where big paddles shoot up out of the earth and whack the protagonists in the face every time they have an idea. In the East, you’ll just have to learn how to turn off your ego and have fun. In the West, when some dude throws a wobbler because he fell of his project again, his girlfriend and two other dudes will run over and start rubbing his back and telling him how strong he looked. Jet fuel for the narcissistic ego fire.

B4YFers climbing rad boulders
B4YFers climbing rad East Coast boulders

Now before you go getting your sarcasmically challenged panties in a bunch, Westerners, I know this doesn’t apply to all of you. And I know there are plenty of insufferable tool bags on the East Coast, too. But it’s something I’ve noticed and I just felt the need to finally get it out.

Ahhh… much better.

Back on track: If you’d like a taste of the New York climbing vibe, raw and uncut, I recommend checking out bassforyourface.com. In the “About” section of their site you’ll find this little tiddlybit of language: “Not satisfied with Louder Than Eleven (inches)? Bass For Your Face will make you cry for FIFTEEN.” This gives a pretty good sense of the kind of content contained therein. B4YF is run by a hyper-ironic band of rowdy hipster rock climbers constantly working to put up (or just repeat, as the case may be) new boulder problems in the Gunks. In a climbing area widely regarded to be picked cleaner than a turkey carcass at Joey Chestnut’s Thanksgiving dinner, the B4YF crew, along with Ivan Greene and some other enterprising bloc-jockeys, have been adding instant classics left and right. For example check out all the V4+ goodness in this professionally shot and edited YouTube masterwork:

Finally, if you want to see an East Coast, off-topic snarkfest to end all snarkfests, don’t miss out on boldering.com, a message board centered on the depraved lives of Internet nerds who climb up little rocks for fun. This board was starting by at least one East Coaster so intensely sarcastic he’s almost impossible to talk to. You keep asking yourself, “Is he being serious, or is he making fun of me?” (Or at least, I do.)

On this post, as will all my posts, if you don’t like what I write, you can tell me to STFU in the comments.

Today Is Not President’s Day

George Washington Portrait
George "G-UNIT" Washington

Just in case you were wondering, today is the celebration of George Washington’s birthday, not a celebration of all America’s illustrious presidents. At least on a Federal level. Oh, and Washington wasn’t born on the twentieth but the twenty-second of February.

This lengthy and somewhat confusing snopes.com article lays out the particulars of the designation of the third Monday in February as a Federal holiday referred to as Washington’s Birthday. Technically, Federal holidays apply only to Federal employees, but most states and private businesses follow the Federal government’s example.

Here at my office, we’re working today. But I think the day off got scooted down to December, so people could take longer trips. Something like that.

In closing, I leave you with a fun fact about George Washington, since it’s his birthday on Wednesday. According to this site, which may or may not contain facts, “At his inauguration, Washington had only one tooth. At various times he wore dentures made of human teeth, animal teeth, ivory or even lead.”

Bros on A Rope and Other Swingers

There has been some controversy around the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video, posted on YouTube by the videographer Devin Graham, aka “devinsupertramp.” The video, filmed at the Corona Arch in Moab, Utah, shows a group of adventurous, smartly-dressed youths cavorting about in an orgy of sun, fun, and death-defying stunts. It is easy to imagine the few minor tweaks that would render the video a perfect Mountain Dew commercial. (Might we expect to see a Red Bull Rope Swing Freestyle competition in the near future? I would watch that…)

The above-mentioned controversy centers around the rope swing’s safety rigging and possible impact on a natural arch. In both cases, it seems like the crew is in the clear, however, as the Arch is on relatively unrestrictive BLM land, on which climbing and other activities are technically kosher. (A local guiding concession even runs tours that include rappelling off of Corona Arch.) Also worth noting, the viedo crew did not place the bolted anchors used for these rappels. The safety issue is also less than clear. The swing looks to have been relatively well rigged, with rope protectors used where the rope would rub against the stone during the pendulum swing. And to my eye, all the biners in the video were locked.

This is NOT a rope swing
This is NOT a rope swing. Delicate Arch, Arches National Park, UT. Photo: © Justin Roth

More dangerous than the act portrayed in the video is the suggestive influence it and the other devinsupertramp videos might have on the squishy, unformed brains of the world’s impressionable youth. Like the Jackass movies, in which highly sketchy stunts are elevated to the level of commercial art, the World’s Largest Rope Swing video glorifies a stunt that requires serious rigging know-how. Watching the video, a gullible crew of local college students might get the impression that the Corona Arch rope swing is a great afternoon activity, and a good way to impress a harem of female onlookers. Heck, how complicated can setting up some ropes be?  In short, the video’s glib attitude, played up in shot after shot of laughing and dancing bros and brodettes, is more problematic than the actual stunt performed.

And more problematic still is the inaccurate title of the video, smartly selected to maximize Web traffic. In fact, many much larger rope swings have been performed. Below are just two examples, though admittedly the production quality of World’s Largest Rope swing is much, much higher than either.

Dan Osman, aka the Phantom Lord, was one of climbing’s most polarizing celebrities. His speed free-soloing segment in Dean Fidelman’s Masters of Stone was hard to see as anything else than a balletic death wish set to a heavy metal soundtrack. He was irresponsible, a bad example, a slo-mo train wreck… and of course, the world never failed to watch his exploits with morbid fascination. Osman tied into ropes and  jumped out of tall trees, swung through sandstone arches, and hurtled through the air in what he called “controlled free-falling.” Eventually, on a thousand-foot leap in Yosemite Valley, his luck ran out and his rigging failed. He was 35 at the time of his death in 1998.

On a happier note, there’s “Sketchy Andy” Lewis, who gained a little fame via the recent Reel Rock Film Tour DVD and then a LOT of fame with his toga-clad slack line performance in Madonna’s Super Bowl halftime show. In the above video, you can see Andy do all kinds of crazy stuff, including a two-person rope swing, at the 3:25 mark, that appears to be several hundred feet long.

In the end, the best thing about the “World’s Largest Rope Swing” video is the cinematography. Graham used DSLRs  and GoPros artfully to create an energetic, visually engaging video that has been watched three and a half million times, in a matter of days, on YouTube alone. Though one needn’t be a total stick in the mud to wonder if this success may not be a great thing for everyone in the end. As one poster on Mountain Project commented, “Video was REALLY well done! Which is why this will not end well for the access to Corona Arch, methinks.” Is that the smell of a Dean Potter/Delicate Arch controversy in the making? Only time will tell. Until then. hats off to Mr. Graham and his gang. I’m not sure I’d want to hang out with them, but I’ll certainly spend a few minutes watching their videos.

Zen Story: Not Far From Buddhahood

Buddha and The ScripturesA little Saturday night Zen.

“Not Far From Buddhahood” is one of my favorites. When I was a child, my father used to read to us after dinner from both the Old Testament and from Zen Flesh Zen Bones (the source of the story below; you can purchase a copy here, if you like it). At the time, any similarities between Western and Eastern wisdom were lost on me. Now, I’ve come to believe that a universal kernel of truth resides at the heart of our many human philosophies.

Organized religions always seem loathe to acknowledge that truth is not exclusive to one belief system. Zen tends not to have this problem. I do not think it’s fair to say I’m a Zen Buddhist or Zen practitioner, but certainly Zen is the closest thing to the constantly evolving Open Source Philosophy that I’ve created and live by. This story does a good job of expressing the Zen belief that truth can be found anywhere, from the petals of a flower to the Christian Bible.

-TBL

Not Far From Buddhahood

A university student while visiting Gasan asked him: “Have you ever read the Christian Bible?”

“No, read it to me,” said Gasan.

The student opened the Bible and read from St. Matthew: “And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field, how they grow. They toil not, neither do they spin, and yet I say unto you that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these…Take therefore no thought for the morrow, for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself.”

Gasan said: “Whoever uttered those words I consider an enlightened man.”

The student continued reading: “Ask and it shall be given you, seek and ye shall find, knock and it shall be opened unto you. For everyone that asketh receiveth, and he that seeketh findeth, and to him that knocketh, is shall be opened.”

Gasan remarked: “That is excellent. Whoever said that is not far from Buddhahood.”

One Thousands Hits and Counting

Billy Fucking Murray Fiver

Just writing to say that since posting my first real post on thestonemind.com eleven days ago, this blog has had well over one thousand hits. Not to mention a handful of “likes,” several comments, and a fair bit of link clickery. That makes me feel all warm and gooey inside.

The numbers aren’t so big yet, but every day since I started posting (excluding weekends) has had more traffic than the previous day. It’s a nice trend to see. Right now I’m hoisting a delicious  bottle of Brainless Belgium, from Epic Brewing in celebration.

I guess you could say this post is the blog equivalent of the five dollar bill that a fledgling diner hangs behind the counter. One step at a time, you know?

And of course there’s plenty more to come. You stay classy, San Diego.

– TBL

Photo Friday: Three From China

I’ve been taking pictures since I was a wee lad. My parents got me a basic film SLR when I was in high school, and I shot as much as I could afford to develop (ah, the good ol’ film days!). Starting in college, I began to work my way up the digital ranks. An early Sony point and shoot, then a D70, D80, D700, and I just put in a pre-order on the D800.

These days, I live in scenic Salt Lake City. Well, the surrounding mountains are scenic, at least… when they’re not shrouded in lung-searing smog. I also travel a lot for work and for pleasure. Both things offer plenty of great photo opportunities. Recently, I went to China for the Petzl RocTrip. I managed to grab a few nice shots, three of which comprise my first “Photo Friday” post. If you like them, keep your eye out for my travel report from RocTrip China, coming soon. In the meantime, Andrew Bisharat, on his blog eveningsends.com, has posted on the same topic, here and here.

A Farmer Plowing in the Getu River Valley, China
A farmer plowing his rice field in the Getu River Valley, China
Climbing on the Rim of the Great Arch
Climbers on the outer rim of the Great Arch, a limestone formation so large that Chinese fighter jets once flew through its mouth, or so I've read.
Two Climbing Couples Being Wed in the Village of Getu He
Two climbing couples getting married in the village of Getu He, just before a big dance party started. A moment later, climbing legend Lynn Hill came out and helped perform the ceremony. It was a surreal moment, at least for the Westerners in the audience.

The DOSE energy drink will make you So Ill

The DOSE energy drink from So iLL
The DOSE energy drink from So iLL

I recently caught wind via the Bookface that one of my favorite hold companies in the universe, So iLL, has created their very own energy drink. In keeping with their other products, it has a medical moniker: The DOSE.

Now, if you know me, you’ll know that I love energy drinks. In fact, I’m slurping one right now. It’s called CRUNK!!!, and I got it because I heard that Lil John makes it in his bathtub. (Can anyone please confirm or disconfirm?!) I once called the 800 number printed on the can and get a recording of Lil John reading me through the phone tree. Besides Lil John, the thing I like most about CRUNK!!! is how much you can taste the horny goat weed extract.

All this is just to say that I’m pumped out of my mind about the idea of an energy drink made just for climbers. Sick. I also love when climbing companies push against the typically boundaries of our little industry. It’s exciting and interesting and makes you wonder which brand, if any, will become the Burton Snowboards of the climbing world.

Continue reading The DOSE energy drink will make you So Ill

Is Dani Andrada a climbing role model? [VID]

via La Obsesión – A film about Dani Andrada on Vimeo.

A nice new video from Haroun Souirji, creator of Better Than Chocolate, about the man, la máquina, Dani Andrada. It’s a thoughtful portrait in which we follow Dani as he boulders and climbs routes, most notably La Reina Mora (5.14b/d) and La Rambla (5.15a). More interesting than the climbing, though, is what Dani says in the longish interview segments. He touches on a topic important for all climbers:

Siurana and more precisely Cornudella, that is below, has turned into a climber’s town. There are a lot of people climbing. It is a very “fanatical” moment… During the week, 12 years ago, there were 4-5 cars. Now every day seems to be a weekend day.

The phenomenon of once-peaceful crags becoming over-crowded is increasingly common. Perhaps nowhere in the United States is this trend more evident than at Kentucky’s Red River Gorge, which seems to be experiencing growing pains in many locations. Muir Valley is one example, and the recently closed Roadside Crag another. Dani comes back to this idea at the end of the video with a somber assessment of climbing’s growth. Before, when only a few people were climbing at a given crag, a small percentage of them leaving a mess wasn’t enough to threaten access, he recounts. But now, with so many climbers, even a fraction of them behaving badly can cause real problems. (The emphasis in the quote below is mine.)

Popularity is very good for climbing in part… [But] what I see in Spain is many crags being damaged, people leaving papers and leaving the place dirty, and this is really a serious issue. It’s not a problem with the climber but with education. And in the future it might get worse…

The thing I enjoyed most about this video was that it didn’t focus just on Dani’s projects and his personal climbing goals, but also the perspective he’s gained from many years of climbing and his desire to give back to the community. It’s a welcome departure from the borderline narcissistic tendencies on show in a lot of today’s climbing videos.

This just leaves me wondering, could Dani Andrada be one of the few pro-climbers worthy of the label “role model?” What makes a climbing role model, anyway, and who else would you put in that category? Lynn Hill? Fred Nicole? Chris Sharma? Just some possibilities… Would love to hear your thoughts in the comments.

Dani Andrada at RocTrip China
Dani Andrada at RocTrip China.

About A Blog: Splitter Choss on Cerro Torre

The wind-blasted beauty of Cerro Torre

I am constantly adding snippets to my running list of blog ideas. In this quest, I enlist the help of handy apps like Evernote and Google Docs, pen and paper, and even voice memos. It’s a long list with a few good thoughts and lots of junk. And, of course, not all of the ideas will come to fruition. Ideas are easy; it’s the execution that’s difficult. And then there are those times when someone just beats you to the punch. Such is the way of things.

One of the ideas on my list that actually got my pot percolating had to do with the controversy surrounding Hayden Kennedy and Jason Kruk’s recent bolt-choppery on the wind-blasted, knife-blade of a Patagonian peak known as Cerro Torre. (Read the dynamic duo’s manifesto official statement here.) I won’t go into detail, but basically, a climber named Cesare Maestri attempted to climb Cerro Torre in the 1970s, using a compressor-powered drill to pepper the immaculate granite wall with bolts. The route, in honor of his technique, is called the Compressor Route. This bolting spree has pretty universally been accepted as wrong, as it scarred the rock and all but ruined the climb for any future climbers who might want to do it using cleaner (i.e, much less bolt-y) means. Fast forward to 2012: two young tough guys climbed the Compressor Route (relatively) cleanly and then pulled out a bunch of Maestri’s bolts. Seems simple enough, but a heated debate followed nonetheless.

The controversy is, in the truest sense of the term, a tempest in a teapot. Climbers on the Internet have tripped over themselves in a effort to share their opinions on the topic, most of whom, as Kelly Cordes pointed out in his most-excellent appraisal of the situation, never have and never will lay a finger on Cerro Torre. Meanwhile, to non-climbers, the “ethical” debate over bolting must be confusing (at best) and, at worst, trite.

With many experts who know far more of this topic than I ever will having already weighed in, I reasoned the only value I could add would be an tongue-in-cheek explanation for non-climbers or climbers who just can’t stand to take things like this so seriously. Then, of course, BJ over at splitterchoss.com beat me to it:

Cerro Torre For Dummies & Non-Alpinists : Splitter Choss.

My favorite paragraph from the Splitter Choss post:

People leave the controversial route in place, because it’s much easier to get to the top using all the bolt ladders. Over time it becomes generally accepted, even though everyone knows it’s wrong, like porn, or watching American Idol.

I guess I can’t complain — I still managed to make a post (of sorts) on the topic, even if it is a blog about a blog. I’ll cross the idea off my list and start working on the next one. Such is the way of things.

WTF: Fitness Equipment and Hostess Sale

At the friendly neighborhood Target

What is America’s Problem? Oh, it’s a Loaded Question, I know. To admit that we have a Problem, well, that’s tantamount to admitting you’re a communist. Of course, to deny we have a Problem is about like admitting you’ve had a prefrontal lobotomy. So let’s just say obesity isn’t a Problem but a God-given right that we Americans exercise whenever we feel like it. And all these wonderful businesses out there, like Target, as the case may be, are doing their darndest to help us exercise our bodies (who doesn’t want a six pack…of abs?!) and also our rights when it comes to buying high-calorie, low-nutritional value, chemically preserved food-like objects at bargain-basement prices. You know, they’re just helping grease the wheels of Freedom (and our gastrointestinal tracts) with all that transfat. Well, God bless ‘em, we sure do appreciate it. Until next time…

Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 3

This is the third and final installment of the Pro-Spective series on the new Nikon D800 DSLR. (Read the first, with Sam Bié, and the second, with Tim Kemple.) The series sprouted out of personal curiosity. I wanted a replacement for the D700 I sold in late 2011. But when the D800 was, at long last, announced, I didn’t jump to place my pre-order. There were some hang-ups; it wasn’t what I’d expected. So I went about exploring the question of who the D800 is really great for… or not so great for. The result is this series. It’s by no means comprehensive. It’s just an attempt to add the perspectives of three great, professional action/adventure photographers to the mix. I picked them because I know them and I know that they have a good handle on tech like this. Talking to these guys and writing these blogs has certainly helped me get a better grip on the pros and cons of the D800. Below, I’ll post Corey Rich’s thoughts, and then I’ll tell you what I’ve decided and why.

Continue reading Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 3

In Case You Missed It: Guy on a Buffalo

Buffalo Rider movie poster
Note the awesomeness written on this poster: “Before the Indian would starve or the buffalo disappear, he thundered across the plains… 2,000 pounds of stampeding revenge!”

The Guy on a Buffalo series on YouTube is a viral masterpiece that took what was the cinematic equivalent of driftwood and carved it into four hilarious pieces of handicraft.

The original source for these musical shorts is the 1978 “classic” film Buffalo Rider. A movie that would certainly have been lost in the dusty celluloid vaults of cinema history, had an Austin, Texas, band called The Possum Posse not re-invigorated it with their own music and lyrics.

Placing these shorts into the YouTube jungle was, perhaps, one of the finest marketing maneuvers ever executed. No Manhattan firm could have dreamed up a campaign with more  return on investment (5.5 million views and counting for what one can only assume was a small cash outlay). The result is sure to inspire you to take up a rifle and find a baby buffalo to raise until it’s old enough to carry you on its back on a mission of revenge and survival.

And what of the Possum Posse’s “normal” musical stylings? I’m no country music critic (or fan, for that matter), but lyrics like “The only time you call me back is when you pocket dial,” and songs like “What’s Going On With Grandpa,” about a country grandpa coming out of the closet with his “new best friend,” have already started to win me over. Now stop pretending to work and watch these videos:

Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 2

D700/800 split

[To get the big picture, check out the other two posts in this Pro-spective series. Part 1 with Sam Bié and Part 3 with Corey Rich]

In the first post in the Pro-Spective series on the New Nikon D800, I talked to French action-sports photographer Sam Bié. He was decidedly not interested in getting the D800, as he felt it didn’t offer him anything he needed. At this time, video is a not a priority for him. In addition, he feels his D700/D300 combo is working just fine. Tim Kemple, however, had a completely different take on the matter.

Tim Kemple giving a thumbs upTim Kemple

Tim Kemple is a Salt Lake City-based photographer/videographer, and a really good rock climber, to boot. He’s the man behind many memorable print ads for The North Face, Gregory, and EMS. He’s been published in Outside Magazine, Climbing Magazine, Snowboard Canada Magazine, and many others. And he’s a co-founder of the Camp 4 Collective, one of the outdoor industry’s leading video production companies. Tim received some extra press as of late with this sweet music video he shot entirely with iPhones. From my encounters with Tim, he’s a perfectionist and a consummate professional. He also has a lot of very nice equipment, so to him the D800 is a no-brainer. He’ll probably buy a D4, too, just for the heck of it. He is one good example of who the D800 is for. His answers, particularly to the last question, below, also made me rethink some of my personal hesitations.

Continue reading Pro-Spective: Who is the D800 for? Part 2