November 19, 2014

Zen and the art of trail maintenance

For the past couple weeks I've been spending three to five hours most days on a project to restore an abandoned trail that my peers and I took for granted in middle and high school, but has since fallen into ruins.

Clearing thorn bushes and the ubiquitous invasive vines along the edge of the woods, so that the portal into the trail can be seen and easily walked into. Logging the fallen and leaning trees (and some dead standing ones), plus all the branches strewn along the tread. Re-positioning logs so they don't dam up a bunch of leaves and water whenever rain flows downhill. Dislodging large hanging branches so that every step doesn't feel like you've got the sword of Damocles dangling over your head. Raking away all the debris that not only obscures the tread but makes it slippery to walk over — leaves, rocks, sticks, etc. Clearing leaves out of drains...

I've noticed how abandoned the woods have become for awhile, but now that I've started to try doing something about it, in a place that I knew well as a teenager, my mind struggles to comprehend how many areas need attention, and how effortless it used to be in the good old days when everybody pitched in here and there.

Part of the cause is the status-striving and inequality trend. Government funding for trail maintenance and similar programs has dried up since that benefits ordinary middle-class white people, when those funds could be better used to give mortgages to Mexicans, or to bail out the Jews on Wall Street who bet on the Mexican mortgages.

Status-striving also leads to a withdrawal from civic participation (less time, money, and effort to spend on self-advancement), a la Bowling Alone, so don't expect to see legions of volunteers regularly pitching in. Even the Boy Scouts these days seem to be more about fundraising for the Boy Scouts (how many bags of popcorn should we put you down for?), so they can attend the national Boy Scout jamboree, than practicing stewardship in the communities they live in.

The collapse of deliberate and concerted maintenance wasn't so noticeable in the context of woodland trails during the '80s and early '90s (well into the era of civic disengagement), because the society was in its outgoing phase of the cocooning-and-crime cycle. Every trail-goer who kicked a branch out of their way or bashed up a thorn bush in their way kept the trail in decent shape. Since the return of cocooning and helicopter parenting over the past 20-25 years, though, hardly anybody wanders back through there, so there aren't even the unwitting volunteers to keep it people-friendly.

I haven't been posting or reading comments here during this time because hours and hours of barely skilled labor in the woods is one of the most fulfilling activities I've ever done. It reminds me of my childhood when my Pap used to take me back into the Appalachian woods and we'd cut back thorns, push over dead trees, and take care of other public-space groundskeeping.

Although ideas for posts strike me while I'm out working, and I even elaborate them into fuller thoughts out there, I just don't feel like plugging my brain into the internet when I get home, nor would I feel like plugging in before I left for the day, putting me in the wrong state of mind.

I'll try to write some of this up soon, but in case it takes awhile, here is the gist of several, to get people thinking and talking again.

- Trail creation and maintenance is rooted in transhumance pastoralism (not nomadic). Why don't Slavs, chinks, spics, and blacks seem to care about the very presence of trails through nature, let alone practice stewardship over them?

- The long stretches of unskilled manual labor is rewarding because there's a point, and the effects can be clearly seen and appreciated. Working out at the gym has no point, other than toning your buns to please your gay lovers. Even the paleo exercises that are more in touch with the tasks we're adapted to do, are in the end still pointless leisure. If you want to be really paleo, get some damn work done while you're exerting yourself. It'll give you a sense of accomplishment and pride that you must otherwise force / con yourself into believing when it's just doing X many reps for Y many sets, or the equivalent end-points for a paleo routine.

- The hiker / rockclimber / outdoors culture is also purely leisure-based. Conspicuous leisure and conspicuous consumption (their "gear" is more encrusted with logos than a middle schooler's). And focused entirely on advancing the self in a status contest, rather than stewardship of shared common spaces. Look at how few tools those stores sell.

- Conservatives who do nothing to preserve, in whatever little way they can, the shared common spaces that made this country great, need to answer for their negligence, or be brushed aside as worthless whiners. "There's no point — the country is being over-run with Mexicans, so what's the point in preserving something that the Americans of 2050 won't appreciate and will allow to fall back into disrepair?" Well why don't we just burn the whole place to the ground, then, including your own house with you still in it? White Americans are still going to be around in 50 years, and they're going to be counting on us to keep things as well preserved as possible. Otherwise they'll just go to what is being preserved, i.e. Walmarts full of lardass spics. Innumerable people before your time shaped the places you connect with, so you've got to do your part too.

- Getting less political, what accounts for the split between woodsmen, woodworkers, and carpenters on the one side, and mechanics on the other? In the hardware section of Sears (burn down Home Depot), I was struck by how much mechanics tools there were, and how little any of it resonated with me (my mother's father was a carpenter). People-oriented vs. thing-oriented? Wood in the shop or in the woods as a natural substance, hence more people-like than exhaust pipes and drive trains? At least there's a preference for natural vs. artificial objects to work on.

- Warning coloration to ward off wildlife that may want to tangle with you. There was a decent-sized buck staring me down from about five yards away, who had a high-ground advantage over me, where I also had no maze of trees or anything to run back into or up into. Usually they'll walk a few steps at a time to see if you back away. This time, I'd taken off my coat since it had gotten warm, and I had on t-shirt with a very busy black-and-white Southwest Indian tribal print. That was the only time so far that I won in a staring contest up that close, at such a disadvantage. He blinked first, turned his head first, and walked away uphill. I wonder if having such a high-contrast pattern, like a skunk or badger on cocaine, played a role in driving him off.

- Why are both the outdoors and hunting scenes so averse to wearing "gear" from animal sources? It seems like they're finally learning about this ancient invention called wool, but it is damn rare to find animal skins or furs at a hunting store, outdoors store, or army/navy surplus store. The answer is not price, since their over-engineered Franken-fabrics cost an arm and a leg. I put it down to the trait of following natural vs. engineered solutions. Animals that have been shaped by millions of years of natural selection to adapt to cold, wet, thorny, outdoors conditions are going to have superior protection compared to whatever the latest lab fad is with consumers who have too much disposable income. We ought to copy what adaptations those animals have evolved — and if we can't copy them, we can just steal them.


  1. "Why are both the outdoors and hunting scenes so averse to wearing "gear" from animal sources? It seems like they're finally learning about this ancient invention called wool, but it is damn rare to find animal skins or furs at a hunting store, outdoors store, or army/navy surplus store."

    Animal products are more expensive and difficult to procure, so clothing made out of them would have to be priced more than say, a polyester puffy jacket.

    Americans have proven time and time again that they would rather pay low prices for crap that will fall apart in two seconds rather than pay a higher price for something that is built to last.

    Besides, in this day and age of 'comfort' sensibilities people bristle at the thought of wearing heavier weight clothes (warmth without weight, yoga pants etc.). Polyester/nylon jackets appeared in the 70's and remained fairly fashionable into the 80's even though the 70's are ridiculed as the polyester age.
    And it's definitely gotten worse since the mid 90's with very few people wearing real leather jackets or wool rain coats/pea coats or even jean jackets anymore compared to the 70's-early 90's.

    Interestingly, animal skin rancher style jackets are one of the few points of 70's fashion that contradicted the generally accurate stereotype of the 80's being more averse to synthetic clothes.

    You did hit the nail on the head about overpriced 'outdoor' gear that is more proof of how desperate and gullible people will overpay for junk in order to have trivial bragging rights. I get MY China made fleece gear at REI, you get YOURS at Wal Mart.

    It's also depressing that the sheltered, overschooled, undersocialized Millenials are not developing any appreciation for nature and adventuring.

  2. Animal products only cost more if you keep the level of craftsmanship, elite customer base, etc., the same. You can walk into a hardware store a grab a pair of goatskin work gloves (for driving too) that are durable, flexible, and breathable for only $15. Maybe another $5 if they're lined with cheap Thinsulate.

    But most people want to spend more than that $15 on gloves that are acrylic, polyester, nylon, or some designer hi-tec synthetic fabric.

    It's just not hard to find affordable animal skins.

    The lightweight / non-bulky factor sounds more in the right direction, but it's not like those leather work gloves are thick. Goatskin is thin. I'm sure they could use that to make aviator style hats or lightweight jackets.

    But utilitarian clothing is not fashionable, and doesn't help the consumer in their status-striving treadmill lifestyle.

    I don't chalk it all up to fashion vs. utility, though. There's some kind of general aversion to animal products (like most people's increasingly de facto vegetarian diets -- all starch, no meat). Or progress vs. tradition -- animal skins being the first type of heavy duty clothing homo sapiens adopted, unlike brand new trademarked fabrics designed in a lab by SCIENTISTS.

  3. Remember how in 50's-earlier 70's sci-fi the costumes were synthetic-shiny-light looking? That was part of the progress aesthetic that was kind of a wet dream for mid-century nerds,though it least they earnestly believed in something rather than being cynical misanthropes like we are now.

    As westerners got closer to the 80's, we were souring on the progress rhetoric while also looking to adopt a more rugged stance. Mad Max, Alien, Death Race traded polyester for cotton, denim and leather. In the apocalyptic 80's heavy metal bands and fantasy movies featured heroes who wore skins and armor.

    As people get wimpier & more cerebral/autistic, they seem to run further and further from nature. Straight hair, mid century sci-fi clothes worn casually etc.

    Funny how Steve Sailer's mid century Sci-Fi musings Don't appreciate how quickly barbaric fantasy displaced the earnest crew cut era in the 70's.

  4. Semi-skilled work can contribute to what psychologists call "flow". Lots of people play video games in part to access that state.

    On another topic you've discussed before, Tyler Cowen linked to an article in the Atlantic on the state of modern music which wasn't very heartening (one conclusion is that the masses are philistines whose tastes were uplifted in the past by DJs with their thumbs on the scales), but a commenter linked to this overview by Steve Albini which was very interesting coming from someone who's been in the trenches long enough to compare to the olden days.

  5. It's a cliche that 'older people' stop caring about contemp. pop music at some point, but at what point do you fall into that demo? Does it differ depending on the quality of music? Would a 29 year old in 2014 be as likely to hate Coldplay and Kanye West as a 29 year old in 1978 would hate Boston and the Bee Gees?

    You can't blame the teeming masses for a lack of good contemp. music since today's autistic climate means that virtually no good music is being recorded. It isn't even necessarily a lack of good material; I've heard recent covers of classic 70's/80's songs that are devoid of spirited life and dynamics which suggests that today's narcissistic,impatient, boring culture has destroyed our ability to even perform well written material, much less write good new material.

    By the way, Steve Albini's demonizing of 80's culture (note the ripping on spandex, hair metal and the suburbs) and his haughty disdain for popular middle American tastes (he takes shots at Phil Collins, Def Leppard, and Prince) indicate that he's a grade A snotty class conscious liberal with the dweeby physique to match. His disdain for body oriented music also suggests he's the autisitic overly cerebral type who probably adores the wretched mess that America has become in the last 20-30 years.

    He was born early enough in the 60's (july 1962) that it's not surprising that he's got a Boomer's big mouth.
    I probably would want to punch him in the face if I had to spend more than 10 minutes around him.

  6. "The lightweight / non-bulky factor sounds more in the right direction, but it's not like those leather work gloves are thick. Goatskin is thin. I'm sure they could use that to make aviator style hats or lightweight jackets."

    There's gotta be some explanation for all the made in China acrylic/poly/nylon fake ass material that's used in so much modern clothing. Didn't Dahila lament recently that we've been stuck with this crap since the late 60's with it obviously being the worse in the 70's, receding in the 80's a bit, than becoming more common since the mid-late 90's. Don't think she tried to explain it, though.

    Does it make the manufacturing process cheaper? The companies would love that.

    Is it less frightening to a public out of touch with nature? Probably.

    Is it, on average, lighter weight? Well, leather and old fashioned denim are basically heavy by default since they are supposed to protect you from tough weather and work. A fleece or even poly blend hoodie is going to be lighter weight than a jean or leather jacket. Cotton jeans are going to be lighter than yoga pants.

    Spandexy modern jeans that have been getting progressively more popular since the 80's. Compared to say, 1975, it's harder these days to find jeans rugged enough to serve their original intended purpose which was protecting the legs of people who did rough work.

    I was looking for some jeans a bit ago and checked out the version of Levi's I've worn before. It figures that all 4 or 5 of the washes they had were paper thin and way overpiced.Even Levi's, who were once known for their rigid, tough as nails jeans (which they helped invent, after all) began cheaping out shamefully in, yep, the 90's.

    In terms of the glove/hat issue- Leather gloves or nylon gloves, Acrylic knit hat or leather/wool hat? Well, regardless of the weight of each type many people these days aren't even bothering with gloves and hats to begin with.

    To be fair to these companies, modern dorky/lazy people simply want to wear as little clothing as possible. You're not going on much of an adventure with your shorts and flip flops in the summer, or your hoodie, sweat pants, and sneakers in the winter. As noted above they don't even bother with hats and gloves much of the time.

    These days people are so immature, wimpy, and boring that wearing clothing that suggests resilience, planning, maturity, hell even basic dignity seems to be out of the question for many. In addition to the (anti) clothing, look at all the guys who don't bother to shave if possible and all the gals with dull/no makeup and too straight, too short hair. Are physical representation says more about the disheartening state of the culture than most people care to admit.

  7. Agnostic is right about natural fibers working better than synthetics. For example, is fleece as warm and functional as wool? My hat is made of wool, and that was a deliberate choice because when I was a kid my ears were damaged by frostbite, and if they freeze again I might lose them. None of the fleece hats, gore-tex hats, or blends I have tried have been nearly as warm as wool. The fleece products are OK but wool is considerably warmer.

    Also, for camping synthetic insulation isn't as good as down. Even with modern technology, down sleeping bags are SO much lighter than synthetics - there is no contest. The synthetics insulate very well but they are much heavier. And if you are wiling to spend the money you can get a down sleeping bag with a waterproof/breathable shell that will keep it from getting wet most of the time. But even a cheap down bag is a major, major improvement over the synthetics, it's a little more susceptible to getting wet but if you pitch your tent carefully, that should not be an issue, I've spent hundreds of nights camping and have only had a sleeping bag get soaked once, and that was because we were sleeping in an old, crappy tent owned by the Boy Scout troop that was due to be replaced.

    That's also a good point about Scouting service projects, although it isn't that bad. I am the den leader for my youngest son's Webelos den and we are making a point to do a service project that benefits the rest of the community. We cleaned up trash along the trial at Eaton Canyon last year and this year we are trying to think of something else to do that is age-appropriate. The kids are too young to do much meaningful work but I want to make a big deal out of the service project so they will understand that service is an important part of being a Scout and a citizen. It's true that most of the service projects are Scouting related, though. My guess is that is because the people who ran Scouting for the past 20-30 years were all Boomers. Even Boomers could not destroy Scouting, but naturally it became more inward focused and lost some of its emphasis on serving others, since such things do not resonate with Boomers.

  8. I may have painted the Boy Scouts with too broad of a brush based on signs from the East Coast. Or it could be that it's California that's unusually environmentally conscious.

    The primary Boomer urge is to compete for its own sake, to be on the winning team. Boy Scout troops are now going to operate more like high school football teams than the Elks Club For Juniors that it was in the past.

  9. I was curious about your take on the whole Nik Wallenda thing. That is, do times of rising inequality, et al., lead to more acts of derring do? I grew up in the Evel Knievel age. And then there were all the Niagara Falls daredevils in the early 1900s. Is there any pattern to the popularity of these kinds of stunts, fitting in with your societal theses? Would love your take on it, if there is any correlation. Cheers!

  10. Trail creation and maintenance is rooted in transhumance pastoralism (not nomadic)

    Kinda thought about this while doing some gardening earlier.

    First time I read it, I thought it was kind of dopey - rolled my eyes, "Trail maintenance isn't evolvable"...

    but I gave it some more thought, breaking it down into components, you'd need
    high levels of activity and a willingness to do agricultural work to maintain a shared environment. this is a no go in pure nomadic pastoralists like the Bedouin or Mongolians and found a little in hunter gatherer and horticulturalist women, but both groups are generally "lazy" and do not cultivate lands ("The Arab is little more than an eater up of other men’s produce; he is a destroyer rather than a creator" probably has some truth). By contrast these traits are found in spades among agriculturalists, particularly rice agriculturalists working in shared fields.

    so that's the skill dimension.

    you wouldn't need that much of that though, because it's probably not that monotonous or hard a task and you see relatively immediate, satisfying results (compared to gardening where you prepare the land, plant, nurture and wait).

    and then there's also the motivation dimension, which I'd think of as a enjoyment of wandering around down paths and trails. and this is a little opposite to the skill dimension where, the intensive agriculturalists wouldn't have much, since they've never needed that trait, and the hunter gatherer and pastoralist nomads would have the most.

    where these meet in the middle would be people practicing an extensive mode of agriculture with mixed pastoralism, like transhumant pastoralists. enough agricultural work characteristics in terms of clearing meadows, planting some grain, and a way of life that means a lot of travel is on the menu.

    while most people are couch potatoes these days, the descendants of mixed extensive pastoral farming might maximize the combination of skill and motivation.

    it might also be that their way of life tends to create an environment with a median level of wilderness as well. intensive agriculturalists have pristine wilderness next to very intensively cultivated lands. you can see this if you look at the population densities of China, which are really not that high when you look at the countries but where there are hotspots which are way more crowded than the West, and this is true across history. that can lead to some impressive natural parks if the cultural motivation is right like in Japan, where appreciating nature is a value, contra just eating nature as in China. but often just leads to completely untamed wilderness, while nomad pastoralists are at home in grasslands and arid deserts, not anywhere with a forest or wilderness of any sort.

  11. You don't have to analyze trail maintenance down into psychological or behavioral traits. I meant that transhumance pastoralists are the ones who have maintained trails as part of their way of life. They don't follow any old course as they move from summer to winter pastures, and back around again. Trails or paths form and are maintained by those who use them.

    They also created and maintained the drovers' roads along which they led their surplus flock to sell to settled folk at a livestock market.

  12. I meant that transhumance pastoralists are the ones who have maintained trails as part of their way of life.

    Yeah, that's the bit I thought was dumb - going from that they'd done that straight to it being an evolved trait.

  13. What's dumb is the lobe of your brain responsible for reading comprehension. Typical Millennial.

    Here's what I wrote:

    "Trail creation and maintenance is rooted in transhumance pastoralism (not nomadic). Why don't Slavs, chinks, spics, and blacks seem to care about the very presence of trails through nature, let alone practice stewardship over them?"

    It does not refer to evolution or genetics at all. It says that the practice is "rooted in" their way of making a living. Does that mean genetic adaptation or cultural adaptation or a co-evolution of the two? It's not important. The point is, a certain subsistence mode brought trail creation and maintenance into the world, and people from cultures and/or genepools falling outside of that subsistence mode will have little interest or skill in creating and preserving trails.

  14. Why don't Slavs, chinks, spics, and blacks seem to care about the very presence of trails through nature, let alone practice stewardship over them?"

    Related: The many recent credit hacking scandals are heavily based in Eastern Europe esp. Russia. Another reminder of their lack of concern for the commons and their lack of a visceral sense of honor and empathy.

    Putin has also really warmed up to the Jews who, as usual, flourish in an environment that degrades the importance of sanctity, dignity, and respect for others.

    If countries like America and Russia would take a lesson from prideful, vigilant, fiery cultures which detest Jews they would never let the culture sink to such abysmal levels that Jews entrench themselves into the Driver's seat.

  15. Just to round out that thought, the Chinese are the worst at stealing, copying, pirating, etc.

    What do they and the (non-southern) Slavs have in common? Not race, ethnicity, culture, language, or hardly anything else. It's being adapted to large-scale agriculture. That's also what drove both toward convergently evolving toward Communism, something that skipped over their Serbian and Tibetan neighbors.

  16. Just to round out that thought, the Chinese are the worst at stealing, copying, pirating, etc.

    I wonder who lies the most.

  17. "Why are both the outdoors and hunting scenes so averse to wearing "gear" from animal sources? It seems like they're finally learning about this ancient invention called wool, but it is damn rare to find animal skins or furs at a hunting store, outdoors store, or army/navy surplus store."

    Synthetics are lighter, warmer and more water-repellent than animal products. If you're on a multi-day hunting/fishing/backpacking trek where you're carrying everything on your back, the lighter and drier then better. The only animal product I have in my gear is a goose down sleeping bag. Super light and warm, but God forbid it gets wet.

    My two younger sons are in Boy Scouts, we're lucky that our troop is very active in both actual backpacking outings (most troops car camp these days) and in service projects. That is not the norm, but I'm not sure it ever was. My troop in the 80s didn't do a single community project and certainly didn't backpack. I think we tend to put on our rose-colored glasses when thinking about "the good old days when everybody pitched in here and there."

    "Getting less political, what accounts for the split between woodsmen, woodworkers, and carpenters on the one side, and mechanics on the other?"

    I love woodworking, but my mind simply can't grasp anything mechanical. I wish I was more adept at that. I think the split comes down to having different aptitudes, although there are probably some aesthetic preferences coming into play as well.

    What do you have against Home Depot? That is tends to crush smaller hardware stores? I get that. But damn if it doesn't have just about everything one needs to do almost any project under the sun.


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