A friend told me about Firewatch [1], a computer game where the protagonist is a fire spotter.  Fitting to turn this fantasy into a sedentary computer game, because in truth modern fire spotters do work in a windowless, cubicle environment [2].


Firewatch is a mystery set in the Wyoming wilderness, where your only emotional lifeline is the person on the other end of a handheld radio.

The year is 1989.

You are a man named Henry who has retreated from your messy life to work as a fire lookout in the Wyoming wilderness. Perched atop a mountain, it’s your job to find smoke and keep the wilderness safe.

An especially hot, dry summer has everyone on edge. Your supervisor, a woman named Delilah, is available to you

at all times over a small, handheld radio—and is your only contact with the world you’ve left behind.

But when something strange draws you out of your lookout tower and into the world below, you’ll explore a wild and unknown environment, facing questions and making interpersonal choices that can build or destroy the only meaningful relationship you have.






My Time imperative

A Healthy Sense Of Urgency

By Abigail Trafford
Tuesday, February 17, 2004

For geologist Allen Throop, the aha! moment came on a trip across glaciers in Alaska. “I love land forms,” says Throop, whose career had taken him and his family from Pennsylvania to Australia and then to Oregon, where he worked for the state government for nearly 20 years. “It was just awesome,” he says. There was one particular place in this endless, untouched black-and-white landscape of snow and rock. “My favorite spot,” he says. He’d brought his recorder to play some music on the trip. “I sat there for a while. I played the recorder.”

That was the summer of 2001. Throop was 57. Like many people inching toward My Time, he had begun to get restless. “I was healthy. I wanted to do other things. Not that I disliked what I was doing. It was time for a change,” he recalls. “So I quit. . . . I didn’t have definite plans.”

He happily entered a period of second adolescence, a time of letting go and trying new things. He taught some geology classes. He worked on environmental projects in his community. He went on a marine geology expedition. He visited friends. The invitation from a skiing buddy to make the 110-mile trek across the glaciers came out of the blue. At first he thought: “That’s preposterous!” A man of his age to take on such a feat of endurance? His next thought: “Of course I want to go.”

Throop, an athlete who jogged, swam, hiked and biked, trained for months. The trip took 15 days. The four men — Throop and his buddy and two thirty- somethings — carried 80-pound packs as they charted their course.

If he hadn’t retired from his government job, he wouldn’t have made the trip. In retrospect, he says, the decision to make the break “was brilliant.”

Today Throop is in hospice care. A year and a half after the Alaska trip, he was diagnosed with ALS (amytrophic lateral sclerosis), or Lou Gehrig’s disease, a vicious killer that slowly destroys the nerve cells that control muscle movement. Arms, legs and even the throat eventually stop working. There is no cure.

“Life is short for all of us. I’ve always felt sorry for people who hate what they are doing,” says Throop. “Since I retired, I have thoroughly enjoyed all the stuff I’ve done. And now I’m really glad I did it. If you want to do something else, do it. . . . Don’t assume you’re going to be healthy forever.”

This is the paradox of My Time. Statistically, men and women who are healthy and fit in their fifties can expect to live well for several more decades. But you may not. Diseases such as ALS or Parkinson’s can strike no matter how many miles you have jogged, how many vegetables you have eaten.

Throop’s story sends a wake-up call to his generation. A sense of urgency dominates this period of life — or it should. “That’s what we have and adolescents lack,” explains Lisa Berkman, head of the Department of Society, Human Development and Health at the Harvard School of Public Health. “Young people can’t see their way to the future. We know what the future holds. Postponement is not a viable option.”

Jolts large and small start to accumulate, each one sending a message that time is a finite commodity. They are easy to ignore. Throop missed the first symptom. He was backpacking and woke up one morning to find he couldn’t move his hand. The numbness went away as the day grew warmer. A couple of months later, his daughter noticed he was holding his coffee mug with two hands. He recalls her words: “Dad, most people can drink coffee with one hand. You better get someone to look at it.”

His disease is aggressive. He has lost the ability to walk. He can do water exercises; a mechanical lift raises him out of the water. With voice recognition software, he uses a computer to communicate. He can’t play the recorder anymore because his fingers aren’t able to cover the holes.

But his life has been extraordinary since the diagnosis. “This year has been a good year for me,” he says.

It boils down to love. The My Time imperative is twofold: Whatever you want to do, do it now. And whomever you love, show that love — now. Throop is surrounded by his wife and family, by friends who make special visits, by neighbors who come by to fix the bird feeder in the yard, by former students and colleagues. “I’ve had two weeks of wakes,” he says. “I’ve had the opportunity to hear people say a lot of nice things about me.”

Without the urgency of dying, that “doesn’t happen,” he says. “We assume that we could say it tomorrow. We’re reticent to use the word love. I’ve been kissed more this year, and it’s okay. The same people would not do it a year before, when I was healthy.”

That’s why a sense of urgency is the agent of transformation. But why wait until death cannot be denied?

Throop knows his time is being cut short. Still, he has accomplished the tasks of this new life stage by redefining himself in the twin arenas of work and love. He found new purpose in his activities, culminating in the trip to Alaska. He found new meaning in relationships and in the giving and receiving of love.

His health has been stable since Christmas. He is glad that he lives in Oregon and has the option of physician-assisted suicide. “I have started that process,” he says. “It is reassuring to know that I can call the doctor and he would help.” But he probably won’t use it. The hospice care he has been receiving is excellent, he says. Once it becomes too hard to swallow and he can’t eat, he will be given morphine to make him comfortable until the end. “That sounds like a better option at this time,” he says.

Meanwhile, he is enjoying a full life. “I have no regrets,” he says. He’s left his mark on the glaciers of Alaska and made a difference in people’s lives. He is rejoicing in the intensified closeness with his wife and family.

Throop calls out to those who have not yet awakened in the bonus years: Whatever it is in love and work — “Don’t put it off.”

Copyright 2004 The Washington Post Company

Citizen of the World

Book review from 2009.

A collection of letters from a fictional Chinese philosopher who visits England in the mid-1700’s. The style is similar to Goldsmith’s Friend Abroad and also other writings by Mark Twain. I read an edition that included more modern typography, explanatory footnotes, and woodcut illustrations. I was surprised how philosophical some of the letters were, and in some cases almost satirical.

The preface starts by introducing a poetical scale, which maxes out at 20 and reminds me a little of ADND.

In letter XV the Chinese philosopher advocates vegetarianism to avoid cruelty to animals.

In letter XVII the Chinese philosopher discusses the English and French dispute over the northwest American territories. He says that it is bad for territories to become too populated, because then they become too powerful and independent. “Yet, obvious as these truths are, there are many Englishmen who are for transplanting new colonies into this late acquisition, for peopling the deserts of America with the refuse of their countrymen, and (as they express it) with the waste of an exuberant nation. But who are those unhappy creatures who are to be thus drained away? Not the sickly, for they are unwelcome guests abroad as well as at home; nor the idle, for they would starve as well behind the Appalachian mountains as in the streets of London. This refuse is composed of the laborious and enterprising–of such men as can be serviceable to their country at home–of men who ought to be regarded as the sinews of the people, and cherished with every degree of political indulgence. And what are the commodities which this colony, when established, are to produce in return? Why, raw silk, hemp, and tobacco. England, therefore, must make an exchange of her best and bravest subjects for raw silk, hemp, and tobacco; her hardy veterans and honest tradesmen must be trucked for a box of snuff or a silk petticoat. Strange absurdity! Surely the politics of the Daures are not more strange, who sell their religion, their wives, and their liberty for a glass bead, or a paltry pen-knife.”

Letter XXV uses simple language to describe the natural rise and decline of nations.

Letter LXXXII argued that “In order to make the sciences useful in any country it must first become populous … The sciences are not the cause of luxury, but its consequence.” This is a subtle argument. Luxury may produce laws and science, but science may produce an infrastructure that is not a luxury. A luxury in the context of the 18th century may have become a matter of life or death in the context of 21st century population density.

Letter CXXI asserted that reason contributes to confusion and injustice. “The man who examines a complicated subject on every side, and calls in reason to his assistance, will frequently change; will find himself distracted by opposing probabilities and contending proofs; every alteration of place will diversify the prospect, will give some latent argument new force, and contribute to maintain an anarchy in the mind.” The letter argues that a totalitarian government of ignorant subjects, though less reasonable, is safer because it is more stable and predictable. “It is extremely difficult to induce a number of free beings to cooperate for their mutual benefit; every possible advantage will necessarily be sought, and every attempt to procure it must be attended with a new fermentation; various reasons will lead different ways, and equity and advantage will often be out-balanced by a combination of clamour and prejudice.”

Wonder and Joy by Robinson Jeffers

Wonder and Joy

The things that one grows tired of—O, be sure
They are only foolish artificial things!
Can a bird ever tire of having wings?
And I, so long as life and sense endure,
(Or brief be they!) shall nevermore inure
My heart to the recurrence of the springs,
Of gray dawns, the gracious evenings,
The infinite wheeling stars. A wonder pure
Must ever well within me to behold
Venus decline; or great Orion, whose belt
Is studded with three nails of burning gold,
Ascend the winter heaven. Who never felt
This wondering joy may yet be good or great:
But envy him not: he is not fortunate.

Making Peace by Denise Levertov

Making Peace

A voice from the dark called out,
‘The poets must give us
imagination of peace, to oust the intense, familiar
imagination of disaster. Peace, not only
the absence of war.’

But peace, like a poem,
is not there ahead of itself,
can’t be imagined before it is made,
can’t be known except
in the words of its making,
grammar of justice,
syntax of mutual aid.

A feeling towards it,
dimly sensing a rhythm, is all we have
until we begin to utter its metaphors,
learning them as we speak.

A line of peace might appear
if we restructured the sentence our lives are making,
revoked its reaffirmation of profit and power,
questioned our needs, allowed
long pauses ...

A cadence of peace might balance its weight
on that different fulcrum; peace, a presence,
an energy field more intense than war,
might pulse then,
stanza by stanza into the world,
each act of living
one of its words, each word
a vibration of light—facets
of the forming crystal.

The Golden Bough

Book notes from January, 2009.

Reading this was like drinking from a fire hose.  It cast new light on some fantasy books that I have read before.  It was interesting to read that taboos came to exist not because something was holy or unclean, but because it was considered dangerous or in danger.  Making it taboo secluded the spiritual danger and prevented it from spreading.

The theme of a sacred tree guardian defeated in combat by the new guardian reminds me of The One Tree by Stephen R Donaldson.  The similarities are too clear to ignore.

“Brinn, Covenant’s Haruchai bodyguard, sacrifices himself in a duel with the Tree’s Guardian ak-Haru Kenaustin Ardenol. He is regenerated as the new Guardian and leads the party to the Tree itself.”


The book also discusses the idea of superstition being replaced by religion, and religion replaced by science.  Many times it contrasts savages against modern Europeans.

“No human being is so hide-bound by custom and tradition as your democratic savage; in no state of society consequently is progress so slow and difficult.”

“Thus the theory which recognises in the European Corn-mother, Corn-maiden, and so forth, the embodiment in vegetable form of the animating spirit of the crops is amply confirmed by the evidence of peoples in other parts of the world, who, _because they have lagged behind the European races in mental development_, retain for that very reason a keener sense of the original motives for observing those rustic rites which among ourselves have sunk to the level of meaningless survivals.”

“The heathen origin of Christmas is plainly hinted at, if not tacitly admitted, by Augustine when he exhorts his Christian brethren not to celebrate that solemn day like the heathen on account of the sun, but on account of him who made the sun.”

Several passages in the book describe natural beauty.

“For at the dawn of history Europe was covered with immense primaeval forests, in which the scattered clearings must have appeared like islets in an ocean of green.”

“Nowhere apparently are the alternations of the seasons more sudden and the contrasts between them more striking than in the deserts of Central Australia, where at the end of a long period of drought the sandy and stony wilderness, over which the silence and desolation of death appear to brood, is suddenly, after a few days of torrential rain, transformed into a landscape smiling with verdure and peopled with teeming multitudes of insects and lizards, of frogs and birds. The marvellous change which passes over the face of nature at such times has been compared even by European observers to the effect of magic; no wonder, then, that the savage should regard it as such in very deed.”

“For at Aphaca there was a famous grove and sanctuary of Astarte … The site of the temple has been discovered by modern travellers near the miserable village which still bears the name of Afka at the head of the wild, romantic, wooded gorge of the Adonis. … A little way off the river rushes from a cavern at the foot of a mighty amphitheatre of towering cliffs to plunge in a series of cascades into the awful depths of the glen.  The deeper it descends, the ranker and denser grows the vegetation, which, sprouting from the crannies and fissures of the rocks, spreads a green veil over the roaring or murmuring stream in the tremendous chasm below.  There is something delicious, almost intoxicating, in the freshness of these  tumbling waters, in the sweetness and purity of the mountain air, in the vivid green of the vegetation. … Across the foam and roar of the waterfalls you look up to the cavern and away to the top of the sublime precipices above.  So lofty is the cliff that the goats which creep along its ledges to browse on the bushes appear like ants to the spectator hundreds of feet below.  Seaward the view is especially impressive when the sun floods the profound gorge with golden light, revealing all the fantastic buttresses and rounded towers of its mountain rampart, and falling softly on the varied green of the woods which clothe its depths.”

Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa

Tibet’s Great Yogi, Milarepa

Book notes from October, 2015.

“Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or the other, for lasting good or lasting ill.”

From another web page:

“The beauty of Milarepa’s life can perhaps best be described as a paradigm shift in Buddhist thinking.  His life is revolutionary in that sense.  For more than 1500 years, Buddhist thought was that a person’s path to enlightenment was hopeless in their own lifetime, rather, the only worthy path to be followed over a vague, indeterminate period of “countless lifetimes.”

Milarepa became painfully aware of the need to achieve perfect and complete enlightenment, not in countless lifetimes, … but rather in this lifetime, in this body.  The story of his life takes him to exactly that goal, and establishes the real possibility for any human to take that path.”

Introduction from translator

“[This book is] a nosegay of precepts which can be understood only by putting them to the test of practice.”

The introduction compares the Kargyuetpa system of mystical insight to Christian gnosticism.

Milarepa, the Socrates of Asia, counted the world’s intellectualisms, its prizes, and its pleasures as naught; his supreme quest was for that personal discovery of Truth, which, as he teaches us, can be won only by introspection and self-analysis, through weighing life’s values on the scale of the Bodhi-illuminated mind.

Introduction from Rechung

This introduction expounds Milarepa’s accomplishments and virtues.

Chapter 1

Milarepa’s student Rechung dreams that his guru is even greater than he knew.  He is encouraged and inspired to ask Milarepa for his story.  Milarepa consents and begins with his lineage and the origin of his name.

Mila = Oh Man!
Birthname, Thoe-Pa-Ga = Delightful To Hear

He and his sister grew up in comfort, then his father died.

Chapter 2

Milarepa’s aunt and uncle take everything.  His mother and sister live a hard life.  He knows sorrow for the first time.

Chapter 3

His mother asks him to study black magic and seek vengeance.  She promises to pay his tuition.  Milarepa finds a guru to teach him black magic.  The guru listens sympathetically, but double-checks Milarepa’s story before agreeing to teach him magic strong enough for vengeance.

First, Milarepa caused an illusion that stirred up a group of horses.  His aunt and uncle were spared, but their family was killed by the stampede.

Second, Milarepa caused hailstorms that destroyed the community’s barley crop just before harvest time.

Chapter 4

Milarepa repents and seeks salvation.  He finds a new guru, but his guru gives up and refers him to Marpa the Translator.  He finds Marpa, who agrees to teach him, or feed and shelter him, but not both at the same time.

Chapter 5

Milarepa has a tough time under his guru Marpa.  He is instructed to use more black magic, and then he is instructed to pay penance.  Marpa sets him on a series of construction projects, and then has him undo his work half-way through.  Part of this is a strategem to deceive his neighbors and make it easier to construct a house in a disputed location.  Part of it is to make Milarepa work off his karma.  Milarepa develops terrible sores until his back is a solid sore.  He becomes too sick to work for a while.

Milarepa seemed impressionable.  I wonder whether Marpa treated Milarepa harshly to satisfy Milarepa’s desire for penance.

Chapter 6

Marpa initiates Milarepa, explains all of his harsh behaviors, and blesses him.

Chapter 7

Milarepa meditated in a cave for 11 months, somewhat similar to Swami Rama.  At the end, his master asked him to discuss what he learned.

“This, our life, is the boundary-mark whence one may take an upward or downward path.  Our present time is a most precious time, wherein each of us must decide, in one way or the other, for lasting good or lasting ill.  I have understood this to be the chief end of our present term of life.

The ceremony of initiation conferreth the power of mastering deep and abstruse thoughts regarding the Final Goal.

To sum up, a vivid state of mental quiescence, accompanied by energy, and a keen power of analysis, by a clear and inquisitive intellect, are indispensable requirements; like the lowest rungs of a ladder, they are absolutely necessary to enable one to ascend.  But in the process of meditating on this state of quiescence, by mental concentration, either on forms and shapes, or on formless and shapeless things, the very first effort must be made in a compassionate mood, with the aim of dedicating the merit of one’s efforts to the Universal Good.  Secondly, the goal of one’s aspirations must be well defined and clear, soaring into the regions transcending thought.  Finally, there is need of mentally praying and wishing for blessings on others so earnestly that one’s mind processes also transcend thought.  These, I understand, to be the highest of all Paths.”

Milarepa has a vision about another religious text.  Marpa travels to India to get it.  Naropa predicts Marpa’s son’s death and the success of Marpa’s disciples.  It comes to pass.  Marpa asks his disciples to report their dreams.  Milarepa’s dream is taken as a good omen for 4 disciples including Milarepa.  Marpa entrusts each of his successors with a different spiritual path.

Chapter 8

Milarepa had a bad dream about the fate of his mother, sister, and family property.  His guru warns him that if he leaves, he will not meet his guru again in this life.  Milarepa feels compelled to part and return home to check on his family.  His guru sends him off in style with blessings and gifts.

Chapter 9

Milarepa returns home to discover that his dream was true.  His mother is dead and the family property is in ruins.  Milarepa becomes determined to be a hermit and spend his life meditating.

Chapter 10

Milarepa meditates in a cave.  When he runs out of food, he begs.  He encounters his aunt and uncle, who try to beat and kill him.  He saves his life by singing a song to rouse his aunt’s conscience.  He saves his life again by faking black magic to intimidate his uncle.  He meets his betrothed and makes her the steward of the family land.  He instructs her to give the land to his sister, or keep it if his sister dies.

“I am of course opposed to those hypocrites … who, having strong party feelings, strive for the victory of their own party and the defeat for the opposite party.  But as for those who are sincere devotees, although they be of different sects and creeds, if their principle be not like the one mentioned above, then there cannot be much disagreement between the aim of the one or the other, so I cannot be opposed to any of them.”

Milarepa’s aunt contrives to gain possession of the family land.  She strikes a deal to supply Milarepa with food in exchange for the land.  She honors it for a time, and then contrives to scare Milarepa off with threats that the neighbors will be violent.  Milarepa sees through his aunt’s deception, but gives her the property anyway.  He does this to maintain the peace and to accelerate his own enlightenment by practicing a difficult patience.

Milarepa becomes a hermit and lives off water and nettles.  He becomes emaciated and green-skinned.  Milarepa’s sister and betrothed discover his location.  They visit and give him good food.  He has intense pain and cannot meditate.  He opens a scroll his guru gave him to open during crisis.  It gives him instructions for diet and yogic exercise.  He becomes more enlightened and starts to gain psychic powers, including levitation.

He has a number of interesting encounters and conversations.

“Worldly folk regard with shame that which involveth no shame.  But that which is really shameful is evil deeds and wily deception; these they do not feel shame in committing.   They do not know what really is shameful and what is not.”


“Meditate upon, consider, and weigh deeply the serious facts contained in the biographies of previous saintly lives…”

Chapter 11

Summarizes records about Milarepa.

Chapter 12

Milarepa has a minor conflict with Pandit Geshe, who persuades his concubine to poison Milarepa.  During this conflict, Milarepa exhibits psychic powers.  Toward his death he sings hymns and preaches dharma to his disciples.

Brother’s Keeper

Below is a quick thought on the relationship between how one sees the world and how one behaves.

Our minds, by design, present reasons and excuses why things are OK the way they are. Cognitive dissonance requires us to make a choice: to see the world as generally fine so that we can be fine within it, or to acknowledge that it is not and necessarily be propelled into action. We so often choose the former so as not to have to deal with the latter.


Tree at my Window by Robert Frost

Tree at my Window

Tree at my window, window tree,
My sash is lowered when night comes on;
But let there never be curtain drawn
Between you and me.

Vague dream-head lifted out of the ground,
And thing next most diffuse to cloud,
Not all your light tongues talking aloud
Could be profound.

But tree, I have seen you taken and tossed,
And if you have seen me when I slept,
You have seen me when I was taken and swept
And all but lost.

That day she put our heads together,
Fate had her imagination about her,
Your head so much concerned with outer,
Mine with inner, weather.

So Says The Whippoorwill by Richard Shindell

So Says the Whippoorwill

The change could happen anyday
So says the whippoorwill
She hangs around for the seeds I leave
Out on the windowsill
Be-free-you-fool, be-free-you-fool
She sings all afternoon
Then, as if to show me how its done,
She leaps into the blue

The change could happen anyday
So say my true loves eyes
They see into my shadows
With their sweet, forgiving light
She smiles and says, Come on – lets go
Lets stroll the boulevard
Its such a shame to waste the night
Just sitting in the dark

The change could happen anyday
Or so says Father Brown
I listen for that still small voice
But I just cant make it out
Beneath the constant whispering
Of the devil that I know
But who would I be if I believed?
Who am I if I don’t?

The change could happen anyday
So said the mountaineer
Before he turned to face his cliff
Without a trace of fear
Yodel-ay-hee-hoo, yodel-ay-hee-hoo
He sang right up until
He caught sight of the open blue
And became a whippoorwill
He caught sight of the open blue
And became a whippoorwill