Thursday, October 27, 2016

Dreaming of Circling the Globe

The other day I found myself poring over this Google map. Each red dot marks a place I've visited in the past four years. Google has been watching me.

Some places don't count: in Seoul I was in transit to Busan, in Salt Lake City we were on our way to Palm Springs, and in Amsterdam I was in transit to Edinburgh or Newcastle upon Tyne.

You can see dense clusters of red dots. Of course the densest cluster is Minneapolis where I live, but there are clusters in the northeast of England where I grew up, Hawaii, and Japan. These are important physical locations in the place where I live. Place is complicated.

In each of the past four years I made separate trips to both Europe and Asia. This week I found myself wondering what it would mean to aggregate the separate journeys. What would a round-the-world journey look like?

Monday, October 17, 2016

Our Annual Walk on Fall Leaves

Every October, after the peak of Fall foliage has subsided, we head up to the North Shore of Lake Superior to walk sections of the Superior Hiking Trail. We like this time of year: the trails are uncrowded, the temperatures are good for hiking, and mosquitoes are done for the year. Besides, we don't need the bling of peak Fall colors.

This beautiful trail stretches over 300 miles from the Minnesota/Wisconsin border in the south almost to the Canadian border in the north. The trail winds its way between views of Lake Superior and views of the back country.

Much of the time we crunch our way on fallen leaves through forest trails. The trail in the photograph at the top of this post took us through an extensive maple forest. I enjoy this quiet experience: the dry leaves underfoot, moss on rocks, fungi on tree stumps.

Thursday, October 6, 2016

My Most Expensive Night Away from Home, Ever

  • In the above infographic I used a stock photograph of surgery being performed using a da Vinci robot, a device that costs about $2 million. July 2016, a surgeon operated a da Vinci on me via five small incisions. I was glued to the table: alcohol was sprayed on my back to activate an adhesive on the table. 
  • The $31,561.86 $32,661.86 [Infographic updated October 20, 2016] bill includes hospital, physician, laboratory, and pharmacy charges. This may not be was not the final total: another bill trickled in last week and another came in after this post was published. The work-up prior to surgery produced $6,400 in medical bills. I expect to undergo radiation therapy which will result in another $30,000, or thereabouts, in new claims going to my insurance company. In all cases, the insurance company negotiates a lower rate with the healthcare provider. 
  • Unpaid healthcare bills are the #1 cause of bankruptcy in the USA. There's evidence most Americans have less than $1,000 in savings. Public policy needs to double-down on access to insurance and the affordability of out-of-pocket expenses. 
  • I'm grateful for my good healthcare outcome, and for good insurance.

Friday, September 30, 2016

Walking in the Company of Crows

Jigokudani (Hell Valley), Shikotsu-Toya National Park
Between flights at Tokyo's Haneda Airport I noticed a comment on my Beyond the Narrow Road to the Deep North blog post. The writer recommended a book,  Ainu Folk Tales.

The Ainu are the indigenous people of Hokkaido. Much of their culture is handed down verbally from generation to generation in the form of stories.

Although the book was published in 1888, it was available for download. I read many of the Ainu stories on my flight from Haneda to Wakkanai in the far north of Hokkaido. I'm grateful for the recommendation.
The devil got up early one morning, long before the sun had risen, with the intention of swallowing it. But God knew of his designs, and made a crow to circumvent them. When the sun was rising, the evil one opened his mouth to swallow it; but the crow, who was lying in wait, flew down his throat, and so saved it. [From an Ainu legend explaining how a crow saved the sun from the devil.]
Crows often invaded my solitude as I walked alone in Hokkaido. On my first day of hiking, they barked like dogs. On a busy city street their defiant "f*ck, f*ck, f*ck" rose above the sound of traffic. At other times they declared a simple "ah, ah, ah."

Thursday, September 22, 2016

Let's Play "Which Button Do I Press?"

Question 1: Which button do I press to dispense hot water? 

A Japanese hotel room is an oasis from the complexity of navigating Japan. I can kick back, have a nice cup of tea, and calmly plan my next adventures.

Or can I?

Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Mt. Asahidake: Shapes in the Mist

The cable car goes part-way up Mt. Asahidake in central Hokkaido. I took it to reduce my round-trip hike to the summit to 3½ hours.

When I started out from the cable-car station, I could not see the summit, but I expected the sky to clear as the day warmed up. Sulfurous steam vents did their noisy best to create vog (volcanic fog) and change my expectations.

Saturday, September 10, 2016

A Place Where Two Seas Collide

Getting to Rishiri Island via Wakkanai  (northern Hokkaido) from Minneapolis is straightforward, with a few perturbations. A place where the Sea of Japan and the Sea of Okhotsk collide is bound to have perturbations.

An agent at Tokyo's Haneda Airport warned me the flight to Wakkanai might have to turn back. I was sure something was lost in translation, until I went online to review the status of my flight: "May return to Haneda (Tokyo) due to bad weather."