Friday, July 19, 2013

A Branch in the Road

The other day I was driving Ethan to work. Along one of the rural country roads, a large tree branch had come down and was blocking about half of one lane. The drivers had adjusted. There was enough of a shoulder on the oncoming lane of traffic that they simply gave a wide berth to the lane that had the tree branch. Everyone was taking it nice and slow, but both lanes of traffic were moving.

I dropped Ethan off at camp and by the time I passed the tree branch scene again, a motorcycle cop had come to direct traffic. He was now letting one lane of traffic through at a time while making the other wait. I assume this was until someone could come to haul the branch off the road.

I wondered about the efficiency of the "group think" solution to the tree branch problem versus the inefficiency of the "institutional" solution by the cop. Why did he feel compelled to stop what was clearly a win-win solution to the problem and implement his own win-lose solution? Was it because this was his job? Did he have a procedure to follow that didn't allow him to use common sense? Was he afraid of a law suit should someone accidentally run into the branch and have an accident?

I know this idea has applications in other situations too. It doesn't always work to have a group of people who are directly affected by a problem, concern or issue come up with the solution, but a lot of the time it does.

I don't know what else to say about this because I'm tired and want to go to bed. But I know there is something more to this and I'm just scratching the surface. Something about zero-tolerance policies, or national health care, or the US Postal Service, or Congress.

What happens to the quality of solutions when we are constrained by rules that don't always make sense? I seem to remember hearing about a small dairy that had to close because of new rules about milk that were designed to favor big milk producers.

I'm sure there are more examples.

I'll figure it all out later.

Monday, July 8, 2013


It's kind of my goal to take a hike every week during summer break. There are so many great places to hike around here that I think we ought to take advantage of them. Besides, hiking is free--other than gas to get to the hiking venue--and good exercise.

I'm hesitant to make an official "goal" though because I don't want to be tied down that way. What if I don't want to hike one week. I need the flexibility not to hike. And I don't want the goal hanging over my head making me feel guilty.

This is summer break, after all. Not a time to create burdens for oneself, but to cast off the troubles and schedules of the school year and "go with the flow."

(My flow always includes reading and naps.)

So, here are the hikes we've done so far:

Latourell Falls in the Columbia River Gorge was a 2.3 mile loop with a 425 foot elevation gain. It was a fun hike, the trail was uncrowded, the scenery was gorgeous and the upper falls was spectacular. There was a stunning view of the Columbia River at one point. However, I think we had to leave the trail for a bit to reach it. We went to Dairy Queen for S'mores Blizzards after.

This next hike wasn't really a hike, but it was definitely a walk. (Do you see how I'm already fudgeing the truth in order to keep the goal alive?) This is Knights Ferry, California. A booming gold rush town that fizzled out after the gold rush, and after the railroad went through the town of Oakdale to the south west. The railroad ruined everything for Knights Ferry. We took a walk, maybe a mile loop. There was no elevation gain. There was a covered bridge. The longest covered bridge west of the Mississippi

Next we hiked Powell Butte in Portland and got stunning views of Mt. Hood, Mt. St. Helens, and Mt. Adams. In real life, Mt. Hood was a stunning presence in the above picture. Unfortunately, photographic evidence does not attest to this at all. It's possible we hiked 3.5 miles. The parking lot was closed for construction, so we had to walk up from Powell Blvd, which was a pain. And it was one of those really hot Portland days. So sweating was involved. Elevation gain about 220 feet.

Last week our hike took us out to the Oregon Coast and Ecola State Park. We hiked the Tillamook Head trail which was a 3.6 mile loop with a 900 foot elevation gain. (I saw 700 feet somewhere else, but it felt like 900 and that's what I'm going with.) At the top of the trail--which, by the way, was the farthest point of Lewis and Clark's expedition (they were looking for whale blubber)--you get a spectacular view of the Tillamook lighthouse perched off the coast on a craggy rock. 

Here's what it would have looked like (see below) if we hadn't been socked in with fog (see above).

After that hike Robert noticed our huffing and puffing and in one case, profuse sweating (we were hiking in fog!) and said, "Gee, I thought you guys were in better shape." I don't think I will invite him on the next hike.