Tuesday, March 15, 2016

More home, less hike

NOTE: This post has been edited from its original version. It has been formatted to fit your relationship norms.

I promised a friend that we would go on a camping trip to the desert in my own vehicle the first weekend of March. I thought it might help me "get on with it" in terms of that "simple" American decision of car ownership. When it was clear that I was not going to have a vehicle in time, I panicked a little. Why can't these decisions be easier? I tried to remind myself that I was sticking up for my opportunity to be a leader in the energy infrastructure reformation, and that to do so would require a longer period of due diligence than even I could perhaps predict. Thus, the services of my friend's charming but plucky Mini Cooper were requested. It is a lovely 5-spd. that would be lots of fun in the desert, but hey I guess that's why I'm not driving it. Concerned the Cooper's clutch might not survive the steep cutbacks of the S22 (the park's western entrance), we opted to head up the S2 instead, outta Ocotillo in the south.

With others in the desert, I feel an anxiety that is blissfully absent when I go alone. This is because I worry they will drag too much from the anthroposphere along, instead of taking the opportunity to embrace their kinship with non-human Earth. It is wrong indeed to split 'wilderness' away legislatively... What bio-gerrymandering! But to be in a place where the inspiration remains, or the rawest area of destruction, is to be awake. I want to share as much of that animalness, that geographic belonging, that Earthiness as I can - and thus often prepare for ambitious overnight plans, plans that must be tailored when there are others joining you. As a former dive guide, I will always inescapably be thinking about the maximum safety and enjoyment of my guests. There is always a felt apprehension to see how the non-self human(s) along will experience nature's wavelengths. Sometimes it is a litmus.

Ceding (the illusion of) control over the expedition to the brave Mini, and this non-self human loved one along, it took my ego some time to accept that I wasn't there to summit Whale Peak or bike coyote canyon smelling wildflowers, but to share such sensations with another.

The following 20 photos are from our trip out there (the wild, wild EAST, to a San Diegan?) on the first weekend of March. We arrived around 9:00 PM Friday after an already forgotten blue-collar workday to shockingly strong winds - around 30 miles per hour. Having stopped at a Chevron for forgotten sporks, we chatted with its burly cashier, who smiled politely upon hearing our camping plans. A quintessential green sign of the American highway system could be heard creaking perilously, hundreds of feet away. Wind like that blew over water bottles, mandated shouting when only an arm's length apart, and sent tumbleweeds rocketing past as if fired from cannons. We were not deterred, and continued into the park, beginning our hike down a sandy unpaved road through the "Canyon sin Nombre." A new moon, the stars were our only audience, peeping down at our mortal souls with thoughtless gaze. Tired. Dark canyon walls rose around us with each footall, squelching the windy bellows of the open plain into whines and whistles and squeezing shut the eyes in the sky. We hiked for a mile or so, until the canyon began to open into the Carrizo Valley and our exhaustion set in. We made camp, although I couldn't resist the odd scorpion hunt. We found two small ones quite easily. I most certainly did not pick them up...

Saturday found us doing a little park driving, hemming, and hawing over our second camp site. We had originally timed the trip to coincide with the spring wildflower bloom, but after finding various cactus and wildflowers around us in season decided not to venture further north where the internet said more stunning arrays could be found. We thus headed to nearby Indian Gorge, as Torote Canyon was supposed to be a pretty hike - and short enough to not put too much of a strain on my buddy's cabeza, which had recently suffered from a soccer ball to the face. Concerned at burning out a clutch in the soft sand, we parked near the road and hiked the first mile across sandy plain towards the mountains, then into the gorge. Opting not to hike the last two miles up Torote Canyon with limited sunlight, we set up camp across from the trailhead. The wind continued, abated only slightly from the night before, as clouds whipped across the starry sky. The metal container I brought along to contain our fire - a park regulation in the dry, dry desert - provided our only light as we sat on the orange Mexican blanket I'd salvaged from the streets of Ocean Beach. To my delight, we were attended by a great host of different spiders, scuttling past our fire as if pushed by the wind. (In fact, the very first arthropod my we saw on our first night was a small Solifugid, or camel spider; a very good omen given its single sighting on each of my desert camping trips.) Of course, my friend and I shared opposing views on these creatures, and each eight-legged ambassador that made itself known in the firelight required them to perform the ritual 'spider dance' whereby their headlight was turned on and an odd prancing begun. I tried to console them by politely reminding them that they would only find more spiders if they went looking for them with more light and would be better served by the "out of sight, out of mind" aphorism... but you can imagine the response yourselves. We shared a large can of chili with added tomatoes and green beans reheated over a palm-sized alcohol stove. (250mL of Everclear made four meals and two coffees!)

Sunday found us leisurely hiking up Torote Canyon, with its gnarly alien Cholla sprouting from the hillsides, meditating on our trip. Thinking we'd one last chance to take in the views, we paused on the top of a small hill in the middle of the wide wash at the canyon's origin... Until I erupted a gurgle of laughter. My habit of teasing my friend trained the to immediately seek the cause of my laughter. You see, knowing that the deserts of southern California are home to a very particular charismatic arachnid, I had been searching for one all weekend. And even though my research told me they very rarely left their burrows, it began to dawn on my buddy that this hilltop was indeed a ritzy high-rise for tarantulas. Luckily for the both of us the brown fuzzy ball I'd spotted three feet behind us was dead - for my friend, to retain their dignity with a walking retreat; for me, to photograph. Was it a coincidence that this was the zenith of our explorations before the long trek back to San Diego? I wonder.

With a few beers under us at my favorite desert watering hole, sharing the knee slappers of just how venomous my photographed scorpions were, e.g., another desert trip came to a close - and another parishioner in my church of nature had heard Earth's sermon.


















Saturday, December 12, 2015

SoCal: the NEW desert home


The following post is about a solitary desert adventure made in lieu of holiday merriment with friends or family. Enjoy the prose and occasional photographs and figures. Occasionally coordinates are mentioned; I encourage you to copy and paste them into your GIS of choice (e.g., the free online Google Maps) so you can follow along, so to speak.

Trying to make a living in the U.S.A. again has had its weirdnesses. For instance, I've spent years ignoring U.S. holidays - "American" holidays - due to the dearth of countrymen at hand for reminiscence. Yet last Thanksgiving weekend I found myself cloistered within a California beach apartment as my friends, family, and even roommate were off somewhere else for their own feasts. San Diego felt dead - is that even possible? - and I had a whole four day weekend to spend alone.

Palpable depression crept in. I sweated out most of the Day itself through gritted teeth and repeatedly chittered a tried-and-true "s'alright - just another day" mantra in between the requisite calls to absentee loved ones. (Why doesn't everyone just live here?! Oh, earthquakes, drought, and cost of living, you say? Hmm.) After I'd had enough anxiety and longing and regret, I planned an escape from that mental hell hole.

Well, you COULD take the 15 to 67 to 78 to S2 to S22 to Borrego Springs...
...And traded it for a geographic hellhole. No, seriously, "Hellhole Canyon" was on my list of hikes to investigate once I got my hands on the necessary topographic map. I decided to go back and visit Anza-Borrego Desert State Park, which I first explored two years ago on a west coast road trip. California's largest state park, Anza-Borrego spans some 60 miles north-to-south, from San Bernardino National Forest in the north to Ocotillo on the I-8 down south. It's the second-largest state park in the United States! The park covers and area about the size of Rhode Island!! Yup.

Back in 2013, I borrowed a friend's tent and sleeping bag for a night alone on one of the desert's mountains. I had been browsing around satellite pictures of SoCal looking for an adventure when I found it - and when I found out that it is one of the few parks in the U.S. where camping is permitted everywhere, I was hooked. At 2500' on the eastern slope of San Ysidro, I set up my tent for a balmy 50 degree Fahrenheit evening. Flash forward to Thanksgiving weekend 2015, much later in the year than my last trip, and with a large coast-to-desert rainstorm to start the weekend. Flash floods, anyone?

Friday's Yaqui Pass campsite, with the Mescal Bajada to S.
My first night, Black Friday, I made camp at Yaqui Pass (34.133883 N, 116.351204 W), a windy
ridge at 1700' overlooking the Mescal Bajada and the North Pinyon Mountains to the south.  Just coming to terms with that sentence is incredible. It is not that these named places are uniquely stunning, though they are, but that they are just so observable. Let me explain. As an ocean scientist by training, I have much more familiarity with the seascape. And bathymetric maps, the subsea equivalent of a topographic map, while useful, depict an area that changes quite regularly. The force of currents and tides and storms is more frequent than rain over a desert. Thus in the sea, the benthos (bottom habitats) are always changing; fifty-foot high kelp forests grow and disappear, cliffs tumble apart into sandy slopes, slopes collapse into canyons. Yet seawater conceals the ocean's breadth to human eyes, absorbing light quickly.  In a desert, there are no forests to obscure the view of the bare rock of our planet, whose rubbly crust responds to gravity only when sporadically shaken or washed loose, wending its way down into piles of sand. It is the desert that smacks us with Earth's vastness and openness, where its presence can be acknowledged, questioned, and explored less mysteriously and more invitingly to our terrestrial souls.


Temperatures were forecast to drop to 39 F, so I stayed close to the road (a half mile) in case I misjudged the thermal capabilities of my body or this year's borrowed sleeping bag. The storm clouds that had covered the sky all that day unleashed heavy rain west of the mountains and the park's basin; continuing their drift eastward thinned them out over the barrier peaks, reducing their impact to a chill wind that rattled my un-staked tent all night and wheezed ice crystals across the landscape, through my tent's vents, and over my sleeping face. Overzealous hydration during the day (and a self-congratulatory libation in Borrego Springs before hitting the trail) found me frequently waking to urinate. Given the cold, this task would have been much less enjoyable had the dense clouds not blown away and exposed a brazenly full moon.

The midnight sun lit the landscape as artfully as a movie set; colors were easily discernible, tinted with blue and gold and black. I cursed myself for cutting my nicer camera out of my gear bag to save on weight - a slow-shutter would have given you 1,000 words, shortly. I basked in that eery glow, transfixed, while competing with coyotes to claim the land the old-fashioned way. My chest was heaving as I was drawn into my primal being. I silently scanned for the creeping shadows of mountain lions, chupacabra, or Gollum - snarling to myself, as "red in tooth and claw" as my surroundings. I howled. I howled again. I wanted to run, to hunt down the frail, but I knew I couldn't leave behind my water and warmth for a spiny cobble field to which I was no native. Instead I left my useless tent flap completely open to the moon above, inviting its power and any of the creatures it might embolden to come visit. Surely I've experienced far colder temperatures, but never so long relying on my own body heat as my sole source of warmth.

My stagecoach. I'm eternally grateful for the friend that lent me her manual Mini; it shrewdly thwarted the spiny terrain.



Empowered by the successes of the first night, I decided to carry out my more ambitious plan for the second night. Of course there were a bunch of adventures earlier in that Saturday as I, like the eroding sand, wended my own way around the park; for fun I stumbled down Yaqui Ridge when I woke up just to see how long it would take me to reach the sights I was seeing (25 leisurely minutes to the bajada road, SR-78, 0.5 miles and 400 feet of elevation gain). I also had to return to Borrego Springs to fill up with gas, cursing the lazy "city boy" disease I'd begun to contract that led to that oversight Still, it gave me a chance to tell the park staff I had indeed not died in the night, and to visit some of the sculptures littered throughout the Borrego Basin around the town. By late morning I was off, down the S3 out of Borrego Springs to the 78 to the S2 to Blair Valley, at which point I turned off road and drove seven miles to reach Smuggler's Canyon for my second night. For me the real event was the camping and the big Sunday hike out of the Blair Valley, so I've glazed over the human communities to return to that second night's campsite (33.014774 N, 116.344490 W).


Saturday's camp in Smuggler's Canyon, between Blair Valley to W and Vallecito Mountains to NE.
Blair Valley's higher altitude (3400') brought colder temperatures; the nighttime low as measured in Borrego Valley (~500' altitude) was an almost freezing 34 F. Without a thermometer, all I can note was that my water did not freeze. The park graciously allows campfires provided they are built within a metal container, and all ashes packed out. Thus curling my body around the trash can lid serving this very purpose, I burned a few slabs of untreated Ocean Beach alley lumber to stay warm and kill time before bed. Sunset brought the first licks of cold right at 17:00hrs. I had brought with me my scorpion hunting equipment, and attempted to go on a short walk as soon as it got dark with this purpose in mind, but after forty-five minutes of observing my own breath in the darkness (the moon did not rise until late in the evening), I decided I had best read more about scorpions and their seasonal cycles before expecting to bump into them as easily as in Baja or Bonaire.


Some people might think these conditions sound like a lot of work, or inhospitable. Yet I find the solitude solemnly engulfing; the desolation is an enticing challenge, a temptation to stay away from all our human failings forever, and the solitude is a means to focus on the non-self and non-society. I pondered these things for two more hours as I burned the last of my wood, hands too cold to play the scribe. I had a long day planned for Sunday.

Camping in Smuggler's Canyon; Vallecito Mountains rising in the NE.
Writing on a hill saddling Smuggler's Canyon (left) and the Carrizo Valley.
Arising around 07:00hrs, I hiked up a small hill just south of the tent (see right) to write. Using my topographic map, I made the final appraisal of my plan to summit Whale Peak (5,349'), the highest point in the Vallecito Mountains. It would be 2,000' of elevation gain over 2.5 miles, which I estimated from the day before to take me a leisurely two and a half hours each way, rounding it to three for mishaps given that this was all off-trail wandering. Recall that as camping is permitted anywhere in the park, the limits of exploration are solely up to the training, experience, and preparation of the adventurer. I packed up six liters of water and about 3,500 calories, wrote a note to leave behind with my tent should personal misfortune require a path of bread crumbs for park rangers to follow, and headed off to the foothills of the mountains to NE.

Crossing Smuggler's Canyon for Vallecito foothills
The face of readiness! 






The note I left in the dirt outside my tent.
At 4,000' looking down on my tent in Smuggler's Canyon
After crossing the flat wash of Smuggler's Canyon, I began my ascent up the creeks that cut through the Vallecito Mountains. Temperatures heated up to a wonderful 68 F or so, and the rocky hills were tufted with my favorite desert plants - the teddy bear cholla, the ocotillo, and the mescal/agave/century plant that was so important to indigenous tribes - although these deserve their own post in the future as their appearance and lifestyles are endlessly fascinating. Of course, they are also very painfully spiny - the cholla (CHOY-ya) earning the nickname "jumping cactus" for the uncanny ability of its spines to leap onto/into skin and clothing with the slightest of touches. This requires one to be even more aware of one's footsteps than when hiking the forested east coast of my youth. After an hour of weaving my way up a single steep canyon, I had made my first ~600 feet of elevation gain and had earned myself a wonderful view of the Carrizo Valley to the SE - I could not see the vista from my tent or even the small saddle ridge I'd been writing on that morning; the height afforded the necessary angle. The S2 highway followed in this valley for at least 15 miles on its way to the I-8 down south.

After some sips of water, I pressed on - noting that the steepness I had initially regarded as 'manageable' was becoming a bit trickier. As mountains weather, water and wind cause materials to flow down them, eroding little concave canyons/valleys into the slopes between convex areas the water diverts around. As the canyons converge near the first ridge here, at 4,400', there were multiple paths to select, although their height precluded a full assessment of the strenuousness of their full ascent. It was here that my mind began to doubt, to remind myself that this was foreign territory - mostly literally, but also a little figuratively. Why not just traverse the mountain at the same altitude a bit first until I found a gentler route? I told myself it looked tough, but not impossible. Might as well continue.

At 4,300' looking SSE into the Carrizo Valley; the Sawtooth Mountains on the horizon are seven miles away.
The next three hundred feet of elevation gain were much steeper, and it is with great humility I must force myself to admit my errors. I am greatly embarrassed to post such small numbers for such an otherwise manageable hike, but it was a battle to get myself to stop. In the above photo I am sitting on a rock with quite a steep rise below; behind me, the rest of the climb rises vertically. I had brought rope with me, so that I might hoist my pack up after making a free climb; but after testing the crumbling granite (an otherwise excellently firm rock to climb) and contemplating the results of a fall, I sat down to study the map, reflect, and write. Would I risk the hundred or so feet left of climbing to the ridge, knowing it could very well be a path I would have to come down? Perhaps there was another route that was gentler. Visually surveying the adjacent slopes revealed much of the same picture, and after studying the topo map I realized I had hiked into a trap of sorts. With a minimum 30 degree grade all around me, traversing around my chosen canyon to a ridge would have taken me about another hour. Unfortunately for me given the time of day, that would have meant my last hour and a half of hiking back to my tent, the steepest part, would be in the dark. I had a flashlight and adequate exposure protection; I was more worried about tripping over something in the dark and not being able to crawl down the grade between the cactus alone before the temperature dropped. There at 4,400', I had to stop. It took a lot of willpower and a lot of writing to not only acknowledge this, but also to accept it. I'll share some of my writing from that moment:

"DEFEAT implies that the only SUCCESS is the single stated goal, in this case the vertex of a summit [Whale Peak]. Because of how we speak, it is difficult to name this halting anything BUT a failure of that goal. But which stronger human passes me? I am alone. Which prize awaits me? Only my own. What utility does it have? Only a story in the past.

"...the reason that the true adventurer continues or stops is to address whether this is an acceptable final adventure."

I am an ocean man. Whale Peak, though piquing my ocean scientist curiosity - how many whales are up there, e.g.? - was not the adventure I'd remember to tell my kids - but rather sails and dives to occur sometime other thank Thanksgiving 2015. I grudgingly began the hike back to camp - but now with hours and hours of extra time, I was able to lay out on the warm afternoon rocks and just meditate on the nature around me. In my silence, various birds lost their fear and approached, stealing seeds or such from nearby agave. I made friends with soaring crows cawing down to me; in answering them, they came closer and perched on rocks to listen to my excited monkey giggles. I imagined them as the spirits of ancient tribespeople, ever curious about the visitors to their lands.

Meditation site in a dry creek on my way back down the Vallecito foothills.
Libations @ the Lazy Lizard.
From above Smuggler's Canyon I could see a couple souls wandering the trail to an overlook at the end of the valley, of which I have no photograph. When I made it to my tent and began packing it up, a woman walked by asking about the note. She had wondered about me and asked how it went. In my goofy fox hat and aviators, after such a pensive morning, I must have seemed quite strange; I met no other people over the entire weekend that were camping out of doors. I got in the car, drove down the S2 to Ocotillo, and prepared for the long drive west to San Diego. Fortuitously, a watering hole in the small town afforded me some weekend closure with a couple desert residents. I met a fairly senescent man who had won $10,000 in the local lottery and shuffled in to fill out a winnings form. Another with a formidable paunch came in for frozen pizza, taking a break from his services as a junk hauler for the community. It was calming and warm. From here on out, I have no further narration to recount to you aside from some loose photographs. I hope you enjoyed the prose reviewing the actions pursued by my drought-addled mind... The trip made any holiday woes obsolete, and left me with more leathery skin in the process. Thanks for coming with me on this journey, being the other that I write to and for, and enjoy.

Exploring desert sculptures around Borrego Springs
Spinosaurus, the baddie from JP2, waits eternally for a herd of Borrego (bighorn sheep)...
Don't these petroglyphs in Smuggler's Canyon look like DNA strands? Wish I'd read more about their history...
Can you spot the Mini? I'm parked on a ridge overlooking the Carrizo Badlands (off picture, left).
IS THE DESERT EMPTY, LIKE A BARE CANVAS WAITING FOR OUR ATTENTIONS? DEVALUED WITHOUT OUR SKYSCRAPERS AND STRIP MALLS, WAITING FOR OUR DEVELOPMENT? OR ARE THEY THAT WAY DUE TO THE COST OF LAYING OUR WEIRD GLOBALIZED, CONSUMER COMMUNITIES ON TOP OF THEM? WE'LL WATCH AND SEE...

Monday, November 11, 2013

Seduction Arabia

If you've read my posts in order, in the life-chronicling format I never intended for this site, you may have been wondering if I've gone the way of Lawrence... striding self-assuredly over hazy dunes, seeking secrets among the sands...  For when I left you, nine months ago, I was on a train to a plane to fly back to that desert land, Saudi Arabia.

Out to sea, off a tiny island north of the Farasan Banks that drops to 700m.
Processing Opisthobranchs collected from the Red Sea
Survived?  A sigh; but of course!  Tempered by months back in my homeland's more civil clime (I returned to Massachusetts, USA from Arabia in early April), I must grudgingly recount that indeed I did not succumb to any of those dashingly fatal outcomes known to befall adventurers of yore.  Personally, it is danger's very romantic appeal that makes the adventure worth having - and the story worth telling.   But for my career, to interviewers and potential employers, the tale dries up from its gelatinous reality; time and professionalism subvert it to an account of pre-determined, calculated uncertainties, and finally, to a 12 pt Times New Roman list of achieved goals - as if there were never any difficulties to tackle in the first place.  So it is now months afterwards that I am left dryly touting the bureaucratic successes and the value of the short visit to science, my career, and the public domain!  A paper machismo; ha, and bully, and yawp!

Phidiana indica, from Farasan Banks
Nevertheless, attempts were made at more colorful summaries; if you'd like to know more about that trip, you can read my description of it (with pictures) on the Florida Museum of Natural History's blog, Adventures in Spineless Science; here.  For an executive summary of the field work I was responsible for on that trip, click here.  Photos from the trip illustrate the rest of this post, though they are little more than a backdrop for my esoteric rant...



A fascinating stowaway for a boatful of biologists
Back to the main thrust of this post, it should by now be evident that what you hear about my adventures is a subsampled snapshot of the reality.  Sometimes the process of sharing the story can dull my awareness to the events around me; storytelling forces me to acknowledge, contextualize, and arrange events into a more objective sequence as new experiences are whizzing past unexamined.  I can only imagine what a roller coaster ride it is for my friends who receive the live, unfiltered stream of experiences and events via haphazard voice, text, and photo messages.  Indeed, I can barely keep up with myself.

Slug spp. six pack: NoaldaOdontoglaja, & asst. Sacoglossans
For this reason I feel I must pause mid-journey, as the toxic smog swirls outside my 36th floor apartment in Manila, and hammer down a disclaimer for the sake of my future stability and that of my writing before diving in (ha) to tales that catch up to my current location.  In my humble experience, the secret to producing good writing is practice, regularity, occasional brutal honesty, and a necessary distinction between the adventure and the self.  Compiling a tale of the self is easier accomplished by composing an anthology of the events, adventures, and teachings in one's periphery.  To tackle the tale directly, narrating live autobiographically as the uncertain and frank protagonist, is dangerous, daringly public, overly deterministic, and grossly egotistical.  When I attempt to turn my adventure writing towards a personal account of my destinations and decisions, I operate slowly - possibly for fear of solidifying one reputation from the many possibilities within the private sphere of fluid existence.  Each of the meetings, hikes, buses, projects, etc. one encounters and attempts must have their worth carefully considered before their inclusion in one's public tale.  We all know growth comes from failures, but their halting nature makes it difficult to sell stories and oneself while experiencing them.

The beauty of KAUST at night

A larval Diodontid collected during my light trap sampling
Regardless, returning to Saudi Arabia was such a refreshing re-awakening to the joy of doing natural science.  After a few hours back in the Kingdom, surrounded by my fellow professional nature enquirers, I had responsibilities, meetings, collaborations, data collection, and writing to do.  (I got so caught up when I was there, that on return to Massachusetts I thought the rain was a miracle.  The desert bug bites hard!)  It was thus unfortunate that the visit did not result in employment.  While several very creative offers were stitched together for a PhD at KAUST, their outcomes failed to seduce me.  Fully funded field work is a beautiful thing, but would I receive the education I wanted?  After four years, would I be closer to my goals?  I was concerned that I would not be sufficiently exposed to conservation and management initiatives, that I would not gain sufficient grant writing experience, and that I would not receive sufficient guidance during the process.  Whether this was a deeper grudge with doctoral education in general, a complete misunderstanding of it, or my negative perception of some aspects of the KAUST environment, I could not say.  (Certainly, being overly picky has burned me before; I bombed my chances at a Research Associate position at UMaine during my third interview in November 2012 because I said I "wanted to get back to the tropics at some point.")  Still, would it be better to experience my current sense of loss before or after four years of fantastic field work and growth?  I'd say before, because (and many friends insist I am mistaken in this assumption) I'd rather spend four years studying something I plan on using to achieve societal change, and I need to figure out where my outlet is for that change.  Regardless, I was willing to stay on as a technician, to observe the progress of scientific inquiry around me while helping researchers answer their queries, but sadly my enquiries of several PIs on board the ship this past March (we lived on a boat for two weeks, recall) regarding such a position were answered with laments of insufficient funding - and no future postings in sight I could apply for.  I did not wish to leave again, but there did not seem to be an opportunity for me to stay.  Damn the American military budget!

Sunset at PetroRabigh
Returning stateside was once again painful; and just as in 2011, I came back asking myself where to go next.  Applying for work and getting zero response gets taxing (what happened to etiquette?); eventually, I take whatever opportunity I have in front of me to survive and shrug at its uncertainties (doubtless a method by which many of my peers have chosen their doctoral programs, for which my snarky disdain has injured numerous friendships, despite being a method I use myself).  Tackling the real world (i.e., the world outside academia's coddling) often means facing this uncertainty and feeling unprepared; the world does not offer opportunities based on your ideals unless your ideals align with the flow of money.  Thus, risks must be taken and new directions explored until this intersection is found.  But how can one know what new directions will be fruitful when they include unfamiliar territory, unknown industries, and an overextension of skills?

PetroRabigh's eery Martian landscape; with natural gas spire
This is why the blog halted after I wrote about leaving for Saudi Arabia.  Returning to unemployment rather than a snazzy portrait of professionalism dead-ended the narrative I built my audience up for; I confused the tale of the adventure with the tale of the self.  The purpose of this blog was originally to use my unique voice to share my perspective on the nature around me as I experience it, not to chronicle the risks I've made in chasing after those experiences.  The overlap is tempting, but telling the story of self requires me to narrativize life, its moments both glorious and soul-sucking; an art form for which I am vastly unprepared and uninterested in tackling.  (Remember: I am an ocean nerd.)  Dwelling so much on this subject feels like so much narcissism - especially as the death toll in my new home is estimated over 10,000 today - but I believe closure to my past story will help me move myself and my image forward in this new land, which is why I'm telling the falling action of that adventure; I'm setting up the rising action of the next.

PetroRabigh, a decades older compound, has a beautiful beach
So, to conclude - when making the boldest moves possible, is publicizing one's risk a necessary commitment to the path of success?  Certainly business owners are familiar with this feeling; you have to commit all your resources, hopes, dreams, and even beliefs if you want to hope to succeed in redirecting the flow of money out of established channels and into new ones.  Seduction Arabia was just a catchy title.  The siren song is rather for adventure itself, a quality which Arabia possesses in amounts as vast as its dunes of red-orange sand, and probably the reason why I returned there instead of giving a local fish store more than a few months of a chance.  Though I've never had to openly acknowledge adventure's fatalistic allure before, it makes sense now.  After spending my summer working at a Florida nonprofit aimed at getting people outdoors and guiding them through nature, I've spent my fall preparing for yet another uncertain adventure overseas, whose outcomes are unknown, but for which I will be directing all my attention - or at least battling my psyche to allow me to.

July after Arabia, teaching teens how to guide in Florida
I call it my "last hurrah," which is a bit embarrassingly juvenile - but I perceive it as my last free chance at fulfilling my dreams by finally - and publicly - making the documentary film that has haunted my mind for six years.  That's enough of a teaser for now, you'll have to wait for the next post for the details.  But I will say that this morning, while running on a treadmill and looking out across Metro Manila through the glass panes of a 40th floor penthouse gym (don't worry, it's not costing me a penny thanks to CouchSurfing), that I had to consider whether or not I had really made progress towards life goals.  Have I been selfish and ignorant of life's true meaning?  Am I merely conniving my peers worldwide into enabling a farce?  Am I further ahead than I was years ago?  Have I just run away again, a prodigal scientist, opening myself up for change in a new land?  For the first time, as I listened to Weezer and rocked out on my treadmill, I felt I may not have to change who I am; to allow my new home to alter my dreams.  I may be able to instead come as I am.  Nevertheless, I will certainly be aware; as a citizen of Earth, the point is to pick and chose.  Mab├║hay, Philippines.

Sad that I'll be curtailing my personal details in future posts?  Click here for a photographic timeline of my journeys in America between my Saudi Arabian March and my move to the Philippines in November.