Purpose Statement

Exploration -> Experience -> Feeling -> Transformation -> Understanding

Monday, May 30, 2011

Time, Life and Death

"Doest thou love life? Then do not squander time. Time is the stuff life is made of." – Benjamin Franklin

"For the essence of time is flux, dissolution of the momentarily existent; and the essence of life is time." - Joseph Campbell

Gratitude and Respect



Word came today that Dr. B has entered hospice.

Years ago, I tried to express my gratitude to Dr. B for all that he had done for me. He conjured up the image of a long line of people, with me standing in the front, and he in the number two spot. He said that what he had done for me, number three had done for him, and number four had done for number three, and so on, stretching back to time immemorial. He told me that the way to express my gratitude to him was to turn around and give my gift to the next person in front of me. I will be dwelling on this challenge in the coming days.

Dr. B initiated me into life. He was my Virgil that accompanied me on my descent into grief. When I was afraid, he was my Buddha signaling the Abhaya Mudrā. When I discovered that joy hurt as much as grief, he was my patient Bodhisattva, smiling knowingly.

I've been preparing myself for years for this inevitability. There will be grief, of course. I love Dr. B. I am terribly attached. But the coming experience is much bigger than grief, bigger than Dr. B and me. The coming tsunami is grief and joy and awe of our tragic, comic human condition and gratitude and respect to Dr. B for opening my heart to the experience of life.

Friday, May 27, 2011

Lew Injured at Box

Upsetting news from the paragliding community in Tucson.

There is a lot of history that makes the news of Lew's accident at Box even more upsetting. I wrote the following accident report 13 years ago:

On Sunday, March 1, 1998, several Tucson area paraglider pilots gathered at Box Canyon for an evening flight. The gathering included pilots Fred Leonard, Lew Smith, Red Walsh, Ian Stine, Ed Hileman, Buddy Crill, Scott Horton, Leigh Anne Gallagher, Arjan Ala, Kep Taiz, and Larry Mayer. Larry's wife Rose offered her services as chauffer.

Box Canyon is a horseshoe of ridges with the open end facing west. The inside, north-facing ridge of the south leg of the horseshoe is very steep and rocky and is consistently soarable in a north or northwest wind. There is a landing zone (LZ) at the mouth of the horseshoe where most pilots park their cars.

Several pilots hoofed the one and a half hour hike from the LZ up to launch with their paragliders. Several others four wheeled the washed out dirt roads to the bowl of the horseshoe and lugged their equipment up the 30-minute trail to launch. Rose stayed with the vehicle in the bowl of the horseshoe. She had a cellular phone and a modified two-meter FM radio.

Most pilots arrived at launch between four and five PM. Conditions were ideal for the recreational pilots. The wind direction was due north and the velocity was sufficient to ridge soar, but not so strong as to make for complicated or difficult launching. The gust factor was minimal.

Fred was the first pilot off and he enjoyed a 30-minute ridge soaring flight all by himself as the rest of the pilots were setting up. About the time Buddy launched, Fred headed to the LZ and landed. Scott and Arjan followed next, and the ridge slowly started to fill up. Before too long Ian, Kep, and Red were in the air. Conditions were smooth and ideal and everyone was anticipating a bird's eye view of a spectacular Arizona sunset.

At this point one pilot was in the LZ, six pilots were in the air, four pilots were on launch, and Rose was with the vehicle behind launch. The lift was not abundantly strong but it was certainly not necessary to scratch. However, most pilots were working the strongest areas of lift and traffic in those areas was a bit congested. Several of the pilots commented at the end of the day that they were intimidated by the traffic they observed in those areas and were uncomfortable with the prospect of flying in that situation.

Then the accident happened.

At approximately 5:30 PM, Red was ridge soaring his Edel Super Space in a westerly direction at a higher altitude (maybe 100 feet) than Arjan, who was ridge soaring a Nova Axon in an easterly direction. Red was flying into the sun, but none of the other pilots recall glare being a problem. As the two pilots approached each other, Red encountered sink and his altitude advantage over Arjan was diminishing.

Red initiated a right-hand turn away from the ridge, which Ian suspects was in an attempt to avoid Arjan. At the same time, Arjan initiated an aggressive left hand turn away from the ridge. Ian believes that Arjan was starting a 180-degree turn to head back west down the ridge. Ian also believes that Arjan's attention was focused to the north, the direction he was turning towards, and that he was unaware of Red's proximity.

Red must have observed Arjan's heading change and foreseen a collision because Ian saw Red abandon the right hand turn away from the ridge and initiate a left hand turn back into the ridge. Time and distance between the two were very short.

As the new trajectories manifested themselves, Red found that he and Arjan's canopy were going to try and occupy the same space at the same time. Red screamed. In a last ditch effort to avoid collision, Ian saw Red reach up and grab the top of his risers and pull his body up, rolling his feet up over his head as though he was going to do a back flip, trying to get his body out of the way of Arjan's canopy.

Red's body and Arjan's canopy collided. Ian says that Red's body went right into Arjan's leading edge. Arjan's canopy wrapped around Red's body and lost all semblance of an airfoil. Scott remembers seeing Arjan's canopy, a brilliant wadded purple ribbon, horizontally laid across the backdrop of the brown and green ridge. Red's canopy also became distorted. The two pilots and their canopies plummeted at a shocking velocity.

Arjan was roughly 50 feet over the summit of the ridge when the collision occurred. He impacted the ridge approximately 150 feet east of launch and 40 or 50 feet below the summit. Red impacted the ridge 20 feet above Arjan. The area of impact was rocky with sparsely scattered scrubby bushes.

Arjan was wearing a very lightweight plastic helmet that resembled a kayaking helmet. Arjan's harness did not have a spine protector. Red wore a solid, probably fiberglass, Bell style helmet and his harness was equipped with a spine protector.

The four pilots on launch ran to the victims. Arjan was found unconscious on his back, bleeding from the nose, his shoulders propped up by a scrubby bush, his legs crossed at the ankles, and his head sagging to the side in an unnatural way. Red was found on his side, lucid, complaining of lower back pain and loss of feeling in one leg.

Red appeared to be stable. Arjan however was completely unresponsive. He appeared to be breathing although respiration was spastic and jerky. Spine and neck injury seemed apparent, so the four rescuers left Arjan where he lay.

At this point the two heroes of the day emerged. Lew Smith did an outstanding job of taking charge and directing the rescue team and Rose back at the vehicle called 911 on the cellular phone and coordinated with the authorities. Lew directed Rose to get two MediVac helicopters in route and even had radio frequencies, GPS coordinates, road names, and quadrangle map numbers for Rose to relay to the authorities.

Leigh Anne was monitoring Arjan and noticed that he had stopped breathing. Lew radioed to Rose to get a doctor on the line to ask if they should move Arjan to begin CPR, even though back injury seemed evident. Scott radioed to Lew that if breathing had stopped, mouth-to-mouth must be started. Lew, Leigh Anne, and Larry moved Arjan as gently as possible and began CPR. Scott top landed and joined the CPR efforts.

CPR was administered for what felt like hours, although the helicopters and paramedics arrived in probably under a half an hour. Ed was in communication with the helicopter pilots via radio and vectored them in for backside hill top landings.

The paramedics connected an EKG to Arjan while CPR continued. When they were ready, the EMTs directed "Stop CPR!" The EMTs found no electrical activity from Arjan's heart and explained that there was nothing they could do. "Your friend is gone."

Everyone was overcome with emotion and sobbed uncontrollably for a few minutes but regrouped quickly because Red had to be loaded on a spine board and carried to the helicopter. Red had apparent spinal injury and the process of removing his harness and rolling him onto the spine board took a long time. By the time he was loaded and the helicopter left, the spectacular Arizona sunset had come and gone, and the five pilots remaining on launch were tired, cold, and emotionally drained.

Arjan's body was loaded on the second helicopter in the dark and the five pilots began the hike down with their paragliders on their backs.

Everyone regrouped in the LZ, shared their observations, and agreed to meet at the hospital that Red was taken to.

Arjan's father was contacted and informed of the tragedy.

The Pima County Sheriff's department interviewed everyone at the hospital and seemed to have a reasonable understanding of what had happened, although their press releases indicated it was a hang gliding accident.

Red did in fact have a spinal injury and had back surgery Monday afternoon, March 2, 1998. The doctors seem to think Red will have a near full recovery after extensive rehabilitation and physical therapy.

Thursday, May 26, 2011

Awesome Time Lapse

I have been wanting to do time lapse, motion controlled photography ever since I saw Baraka. Seems like lots of other people are getting into it. All it takes is time and money. And talent I suppose.

Dreamy Me

I’ve been working at home on the computer the last few days, so I’ve been able to sleep until my body is ready to wake up, as opposed to the alarm jolting me up at some uncivilized hour so I can drive several hours to a job site. One of the benefits of sleeping in is I get to dream. I’ve had two remarkable dreams in the last two days.

A bit of background for the first dream: I used to work with an engineer that I’ll call Bob for this story. I rarely communicate with Bob anymore. Also, I have a ridiculous 4x4 truck project, El Borrego Cimarrón (the Mountain Goat), that is nearing completion.

The first dream: Borrego Cimmarón is finished and in my mechanic’s garage. Bob has put dozens of antenna, like Ham radio or CB antenna, all over the roof of the vehicle. It looks like a porcupine. I wonder why on earth did Bob put all these communication antenna on my truck. I inspect the mounting of one of the antenna and it is half-assed. I hear the phone ring.

I wake up, the phone rings again. I jump out of bed and answer the phone. It’s Bob.

So what’s remarkable about this dream is that while Bob, in Tucson, was directed to communicate with me by his employer, and he went about looking and asking for my contact information, I was dreaming about Bob putting communication antennas on my truck. Woo Woo. Makes me think that Jung’s Collective Unconscious is a real phenomenon, not just a metaphor.

Background for dream number two: My bliss would be to live on a sailboat in the south Pacific making Jacques Cousteau style documentaries for the BBC, yet I’ve spent my adult life pursuing the much more pragmatic and secure career of an electrical engineer.

Dream number two: I am asleep on an inflatable floating mattress in the water. I am covered by another inflatable mattress stacked on top of me. I am vaguely aware that a boat is passing nearby, presumably to check out the floating mattress. Annoyed, I choose to remain asleep. I think it occurred to me that I was naked as well, so staying under the floating mattress kept my nakedness concealed. The boat passed by again, very close. Suddenly the mattress was under tow. I sat up and surveyed the situation. My floating mattress is tied to my sailboat. My sailboat had been at anchor off shore. Apparently while I was asleep, my sailboat had broken free of its anchor and slowly drifted toward shore. The boat that had passed by me twice had lashed on to my sailboat and was towing it away from shore – in effect saving my boat. I jumped onto my sailboat and waved “thank you” to the other boat and indicated that I wanted them to tow me out to my anchor. But as my sailboat arrived at my anchor, I realized that my anchor was still on the bottom and I was alone on my boat. I contemplated my options:

1. Let my sailboat drift, abandoned, while I snorkeled to the bottom to try and recover my anchor. If I recovered the anchor quickly, I could re-anchor my boat in the same spot. If I could not find the anchor quickly, my abandoned boat could drift back into shore and be damaged.
2. Sail away. I was anchorless.

Surprisingly, it took me a while to get this dream. It seems so obvious now, but it needed to percolate in me for half a day. To summarize metaphorically; I’ve had a sailboat (vehicle to my bliss) for a long time, but I anchored it and went to sleep. In the not too distant past, my sailboat broke free of its anchor (This was probably when I left my corporate job to join ProConn), but I continued to sleep. Sleepy me and my sailboat were about to run aground, to become stuck and damaged, but someone (my boss, the entrepreneur) towed me back out into deeper water. And now I am anchorless and I have to figure out whether to try and recover my old anchor, re-anchor myself in the same place, anchor someplace else, sail away without an anchor, … I am awake, I already have a sailboat, I’ve not run aground, I’m in safe depths, and I am anchorless.

This was a good dream.