Tag Archives: Life

Under the stars, on a bend

When we see people
We see people
We see people who are not whole
They have two arms and
They have two legs and
Something is missing and we just don’t know
We can’t name it
There’s no name for it

Thrown into an Existence Machine
And spit out
Inside out and outside in
And spit out
Who keeps it running? Who keeps it running?
Who is checking the oil?

After Laughter Comes Tears” ~ The Robocop Kraus

The whole “Work to live; don’t live to work” thing is well-meant. All power to people who like their job — I’d consider myself one — but the things I do away from the job just seem to get better and better. Everybody has a “thing” they do. You find your things, you do ’em, you enjoy the payoff.

There we were last weekend, two dads, the uncle (me) and a grandpa, taking two boys (6 and 7) out on the Current River for a sublime canoe and camping trip. We left Friday morning and so were ahead of the obnoxious drunkard weekend crowd — 300 canoes putting in up river above us (we’re obnoxious and drinking too, but we only direct it at ourselves).

The Milky Way
Nice to see you again.

It was overcast all Friday so the Sun couldn’t zap all of our energy on the first day. We found an ideal island beach for a camping site — the best camp site we’d see on this 10-mile stretch of the river, it turns out. We lived.

The island was big enough for the boys to explore the wonders of the outdoors before settling into s’mores time at the fire. It was small enough to make sure no one else camped with us.  It was at a bend in the river, so we saw 250 degrees of river, a steep mud dropoff on the opposite side of the river, and slept that night to the sound of rushing water through the bend.

To add the finishing touch, the sky cleared up completely at nightfall, so without the Moon we saw the clearest sky I’ve ever seen without being on open water. I slept looking up through my tent’s screen ceiling to see nothing but a clear and infinite field of stars from sky’s edge to sky’s edge. And when I woke up in the middle of the night to pass some of the day’s beer, I was nearly knocked off my feet by the sight of the Milky Way streaking diagonally across the sky.

Dude! I’m looking through the thick of the galaxy! I’m living and feeling everything I want at this moment in time! Camping with loved ones, guiding an appreciation of this to the next generation — even the beer, which must be in cans on the river, was excellent. I honestly have never had a more ideal camp site, weather included.

As if confirming the purity of the weekend’s ideal, we woke up to a clear sunny day, blue sky, white fluffy clouds, and another great morning canoeing in the cool spring-fed water. To start that morning off with a bit of camping luxury, I brought out the coffee press. Food and drink are never better than when you have them in that “This is way too good to be consumed out here” setting.

There are ways to survive and thrive in this existence machine. You just have to know how to check the oil.

Like foam, we’re imperfect

This was another older link I wanted to note for some reason. It’s an explanation of why foam falls off space shuttle fuel tanks during liftoff, even though they know it’s a potentially catastrophic problem.

I don’t remember whatever theory was in my head about it now, but I still know why I love it:

Because it stays on only when it’s been perfectly applied. If NASA engineers leave any air pockets or bits of dirt in the foam, or miss a tiny spot, then the extreme conditions of liftoff can knock it right off. As the shuttle accelerates to more than 3,000 mph in two minutes, the foam needs to withstand violent vibrations, air friction, and sudden changes in temperature and pressure.

They explain further that while a machine can apply most of the foam (and we all know machines are perfect, don’t we?), there are difficult areas that humans have to apply. It’s the whole “We can put a man on the Moon…” problem. More precisely: “We can put a man on the Moon, but sometimes shit happens.” In fact, shit nearly happened to prevent the Moon landing itself, which would have made that 20th-century saying a little different.

[Tangent: And how weird would that have been? We’d be walking around with our heads down, all emo-like, going: “I don’t know why my Internet is down again. But I mean, we can’t even put a fucking man on the Moon, so…”]

But the human/machine/tool problem gets even better:

Unfortunately, the workers applying the foam can’t always see very well because they wear protective suits and masks. There’s also no way to test for cracks before launch; the only inspection tool is the naked eye.

I love it! Without getting into the argument about whether manned space travel is still necessary nor the merits of the shuttle program to begin with, I take from these lessons this:

For every challenge, an imperfect solution. So sometimes shit happens. That’s just the way life is.