My happy Thanksgiving: racing, reading, camera tinkering, eating, and seeing Interstellar
by Rob Tiller
Lately I’ve been consciously trying to cultivate an attitude of increasing gratitude. As is traditional at the Thanksgiving holiday, I’ll note that I have a great many things to be grateful for. For me, gratitude also means noting connections and acknowledging how very little is attributable to my independent efforts. I really owe it all to everybody and everything else. And so, to you, dear reader, and everything else, I’m grateful.
On Thanksgiving morning, I was grateful to be, at 59, sufficiently healthy to undertake the Ridge Road Turkey Trot, an 8 kilometer (4.97 mile) race. I hadn’t tried a road race with thousands of other people for a great many years. Sally sweetly lent her moral support and driving skills, and got me to the starting line five minutes before the 8:00 a.m. start.
My idea was to challenge myself without collapsing or getting sick, and that much I accomplished. I completed the course in 44 minutes, or just under 9 minutes a mile. I wasn’t particularly proud about this time, since I still imagine myself as capable of 8 minute miles, but this T-day that wasn’t happening. My heart rate was in the low-to-mid 160s for much of the race, which is pretty high, and I didn’t want to find out what would happen if it stayed higher. The hills in the middle of the course took a lot out of me, and the last couple of miles were fairly miserable. Part of me badly wanted to try a bit of walking instead of running. But I didn’t quit, and I did survive.
After the race, I took a long hot shower, and then sat down and read for a while. I finished E.O. Wilson’s The Meaning of Human Existence. Wilson, a world-renowned exert on ants and a leading theorist on evolution, is now 85, and going strong. I enjoyed reading The Social Conquest of Earth, and liked this book as well, in spite of its grandiose title. Wilson puts things in perspective, and helps us grasp that humans are just one of the millions of species on the planet. His basic message is that we can improve our chances of survival and happiness by using the tools of science and better understanding our evolutionary nature.
Wilson contends that natural selection proceeded along two paths, individual and group. He argues that this accounts for our dual nature as selfish individuals and altruistic group members. These conflicting tendencies are fundamental drivers of the human experience, which means we’ll always be in some degree of tumult in our interior emotional lives. But Wilson thinks our contradictions are essential to what it means to be human, and we need to understand them and manage them. He seems to think there’s a chance that humanity can overcome ignorance, delusion, and violence, and quit destroying the natural world.
I spent part of the afternoon assembling and testing my new Ikelite underwater camera housing and strobe setup. I thought long and hard before buying the equipment, both because it is pricey and because it is labor intensive. But I’m really interested in sharing some of the joy of diving through images of the extreme beauty beneath the surface. Even in this time of over fishing, ocean acidification and reef destruction, there’s still an incredible profusion of life down there.
If you’re going to use an underwater housing with an expensive camera, the stakes are high. The Ikelite housing opens at the back to receive the camera and the front to receive the lens. You’ve got to be extremely careful to prevent leaks, which can easily be fatal to the equipment. And working the camera through many unlabeled buttons and levers is challenging. Just figuring out how to put it all together took me several hours. And hauling the it safely to dive spots while staying within airline weight restrictions will be challenging. But I’m looking forward to new dive photo adventures.
We had our Thanksgiving dinner at Irregardless, Raleigh’s first vegetarian restaurant, which now also accommodates meat eaters. Gabe and Jocelyn decided to wait until Christmas for a visit, so Sally and I ate with her mom and sister, Diane and Annie. We also were joined by Alyssa Pilger, the Carolina Ballet dancer we’ve been sponsoring, who is enormously talented. It was fun to hear about ballet company happenings, and about the professional dancer’s life. Professional dancers are almost by definition intensely focused people with superhuman work ethics, but Alyssa offstage seemed comfortable, relaxed and un-self-absorbed.
Sally and I saw the movie Interstellar on Friday night at the Marbles Imax theatre. I didn’t think it was particularly well constructed or acted. I found it cheering, though, that the movie has found a mass audience. The basic set up is a post-climate apocalypse world, which is something we should be trying hard to visualize and then prevent. It would be nice if a good-looking astronaut and his attractive physicist daughter could save us all, but that seems extremely unlikely. We’ve got to figure out how to repair our dysfunctional political structures so that we can get organized and address global warming and related problems with the intense commitment and resources we once used to go to the Moon.