The Casual Blog

Tag: Horseshoe Bend

Going to a new gym, the battle for truth in Trumpworld, and intelligent animals

Sunrise at Monument Valley, Navaho Nation

Sunrise at Monument Valley, Navaho Nation

Last week I got a new gym membership at Lifetime Fitness at Six Forks. Why? I needed to get out of a workout rut and push forward. The cardio and weight equipment at Lifetime is more plentiful than at O2, and the space is larger. It also has a pool. It’s a little farther, but still easy to get to. I think I will like it.

My usual early morning workout starts with 10 minutes on the stairs machine, then 10 on the treadmill. Then I do core work (planks, leg lifts, etc.), balance, and flexion for 10-15. The next 25 is for resistance training, doing upper body and lower body on alternating days. Then 10 intense minutes of intervals on the elliptical or bike. At the end I stretch for 5-10 minutes. The numbers don’t quite add up, but it covers a lot of systems, and takes about an hour and a half.

Speaking of exercise, I want to give a little shout out to my new heart rate monitor, the Polar M400. Keeping track of my cardio effort level when exercising sometimes inspires me to work harder, and at least shows something is happening. The new device has a chest strap with a small snap-on Blue Tooth transmitter that signals a wrist monitor. In addition to showing current heart rate, it calculates average and maximum heart rate, steps, calories burned, and (with GPS) speed and distance traveled. It comes with some easy-to-use software for saving results on a smart phone or a laptop. There’s a little stick figure salutes you and congratulates you enthusiastically. My former device, a low-end Garmin, was less reliable, less entertaining, and more costly, so in hindsight I’m glad it finally broke down and needed replacing.

Waiging for sunrise at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

Before sunrise at Mesa Arch, Canyonlands National Park, Utah

While working out, I’ve been listening to various podcasts, including the latest This American Life. This show just keeps getting better – taking on some big subjects, with insight and dark humor. This week Ira Glass looked at Trumpworld, where lying is non-stop and shameless. We know this now, but we’re still struggling with something even more disturbing than pathological lying: that in Trumpworld, truth has no force.

It doesn’t matter that clearly indisputable facts show that crime is down, immigration is under control, our military is by far the strongest in the world, election fraud is incredibly rare, and the President is not a Muslim who founded ISIS – the true believers will not believe it. Until recently, I thought that these bad ideas were a problem of ignorance – just not having the right facts – but it turns out that that’s not it. For these folks, if evidence contradicts their beliefs, the evidence must be disregarded. We know that some of these people are intelligent, generous, and well-meaning, but they live in an alternative reality.

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend, Navaho Nation

Sunset at Horseshoe Bend, Navaho Nation

Speaking of unconventional psychology, I finished reading Jonathan Balcombe’s recent book What a Fish Knows: The Inner Lives of Our Underwater Cousins. I liked it. Balcombe challenges the conventional wisdom regarding fish intelligence, which has it that their lives are largely automatic and instinctual, without consciousness or creativity. There’s a lot of evidence to the contrary. Some species have astonishing memories, the ability to plan, and to use tools. They experience fear and pain, and also pleasure. They have complex social relationships, and form groups both for hunting and protection. And they have an incredible range of skills in sensing and responding to their environment.

I also recommend Frans de Waal’s new book, Are We Smart Enough to Know How Smart Animals Are? De Waal, a primatologist at Emory University, debunks with overwhelming evidence the old chestnuts that only humans use tools, cooperate in social groups, and recognize individual identity. He presents an array of fascinating examples of non-human cognition, and invites us to use our imaginations to enter those other worlds. After reading De Waal, it is hard to view humans as entirely distinct from other animals and inherently privileged to exploit them. The gifts of other creatures are awe-inspiring.

Sunset at Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah

Sunset at Balanced Rock, Arches National Park, Utah

Seeing and photographing some awesome icons in the Southwest


I just got back from my nine-day southwestern photography trip, which started and ended in Las Vegas. Vegas did not enchant me. It reminded me of an upscale shopping mall interbred with Times Square and Disneyland. Leaving aside some public near-nudity and drunkenness, it didn’t seem very extraordinary, much less alluring or sophisticated. Gambling in smoky casinos was not my thing, and I wasn’t much in the mood for a show.

But walking the Strip on my last night, I was impressed with the sheer size and busyness, and I liked all the glowing neon. The service personnel I encountered were surprisingly warm and friendly.

My real objective was to take in some of the iconic rocks and other features of Utah and Arizona and learn more about landscape photography. I went with a group of eight photographers organized by Aperture Academy and led by Scott Donschikowski and Phil Nicholas. We drank in and photographed Zion, Bryce, Canyonlands, Arches, Monument Valley, Horseshoe Bend, Lower Antelope Canyon, and the Grand Canyon.

It was amazing! Photographs can never do complete justice to these landscapes, which may be why, even knowing there are so many previous pictures, we keep on trying. I was moved, awed, and inspired. The forces of nature that made all this – primordial minerals, oceans and rivers, tectonic plates, hundreds of generations of flora and fauna, sun, rain, and wind – brought to mind geologic time – tens of millions, hundreds of millions, billions of years. It made me feel at once very small and incredibly fortunate. The beauty is powerful.

I learned some very practical things about photography. For instance: there’s stiff competition to stake out a position for your tripod at the most famous sites, and so you have to get there really early. We were out the door and on our way as early as 3:30 a.m. for sunrise shots. We traveled in the middle of the day, and then set up at a new site for sunsets and shot until they were done. We got tips on composition, learned about using various filters, and experimented with white balance, apertures, and shutter speeds. We also learned various post-processing techniques.

I made lots of mistakes, but learned from them. My teachers were generous with their support, photographic and otherwise. Phil helped me regroup after a fall on a steep hill at Monument Valley, and Scott let me use his tripod when I lost a critical piece of mine. We had good weather throughout, though as Phil and Scott noted, the clouds could have been a little more dramatic in places.

My fellow shutterbugs were friendly and supportive. We were not all in agreement on the question of Clinton vs. Trump, which at first concerned me. Every day there was new news of Trump’s deep flaws, and the Trump supporters were clearly accomplished, intelligent people. I gathered that they had managed to filter out or suppress the information about his dishonesty and other unethical behavior, and greatly magnified the supposed negatives of Hillary (Benghazi! The emails!). And in spite of their apparent security and prosperity, they seemed very worried about crime and immigrants.

It was good, though, to be reminded that people with some disturbing opinions can also be knowledgeable, wise, considerate, and ethical. And good to be reminded that we can agree on many things and help and enjoy each other, even when we disagree strongly on others.