Hyperspecialization, Career, and Conformity

It happened again last week. One of my co-workers — this time, one of the smartest people in the company, in fact, though most everyone where I work is above average in intelligence — was in the basement garage retrieving his bicycle at the same time I was retrieving mine.

He started walking with it in the direction of the elevator. To which I remarked:

“You don’t have to do that.”

“Oh, you have a door opener? I don’t.”

“Yes, I do, but that’s irrelevant. You can get out without one. There’s a button.”


It was one of the first things I checked on my first day riding a bike to work, because: a) I had no garage door opener at the time, b) it’s easier to exit from the garage door, and c) I was at least 99% certain there was some way to exit without an opener. The latter point was because of two reasons a) fire codes typically mandate that all doors be usable as exits, and b) the building management’s own self-interest is to allow drivers whose door openers fail after hours (batteries do die, after all) a way to get out that does not require them to go to the expense of dispatching someone to free the entrapped vehicle.

And sure enough, there it was: a standard, commercial-grade up/stop/down garage door control. A quick push on the “up” button, the door opened, and I was on my way significantly faster than if I had taken my bike up to the first floor on the elevator. I thought little further about the matter.

What floors me is that people who are smart enough to get advanced degrees (far more advanced than mine, and probably with a far better GPA than I managed as well) never even seem to go down that same train of thought. It’s not as if it’s a very complex or difficult one; it’s all pretty basic facts and logic.

It’s related, I think, to how badly I cope with advanced capitalist society’s demand that one hyperspecialize in one small area such as writing computer software. It’s one reason most of my spare-time pursuits are decidedly non-software; I crave the variety. I start going nuts if I have to do almost the same thing all the time.

It’s one reason my career path has generally been so rocky: simply because it’s a career path, and any such path falls afoul of my need for variety.

So maybe it’s not a surprise that someone who’s done better than I in the career world (and the academic world, for that matter, which also demands hyperspecialization) wouldn’t realize he could almost certainly use the garage door to exit. It’s something he can easily ignore as off-subject.

I wouldn’t trade the way I am, however. It’s probably the biggest reason why I’m an anarchist: because I have, over my life, felt compelled to dive into various diverse areas of knowledge. I know enough about enough things that standard propaganda tends to not work that well on me: I can come up with counterexamples and see the logical fallacies hiding beneath the rhetoric.

The Answer is Yes

When I moved to Bainbridge Island last spring, there were areas of woods on the island which looked just right for chanterelles. On my way to checking to see if the dead alders were bearing oyster mushrooms again, I investigated the areas of suspect chanterelle habitat to see if my suspicion was correct. The subject line says it all.

Most of the chanterelles were in the button stage, so even though I only found two of pickable size I have more harvesting to look forward to, hopefully quite a bit more. If somebody else doesn’t get them before I do, that is.

Da Klagwats Updates

I’m definitely quite sore from it all, made worse by my not breaking out the arnica oil until today. Still well worth it.

The year of my previous visit was probably 1996. I had my Dad’s old Minolta X700 with me then. It broke within a year of my getting it, and I replaced it with another of the same model which proceeded to get stolen in short order. I used either the old one or its replacement to photograph Comet Hale-Bopp, which peaked in 1997. That makes 1996 the most likely year of my other trip there.

I managed to locate a print of the photo of my standing atop the summit spire and added it to the gallery. There is unfortunately no date stamp on the print, so the year 1996 remains an educated guess.

Da Klagwats aka Mount Pugh

After an absence of about 20 years, I finally managed to re-visit Da Klagwats (aka Mt. Pugh) yesterday.

The mountain had been repeatedly and increasingly haunting my imagination in recent years. Was it really as spectacular as I had remembered? Even the names had acquired a haunting quality to them: Lake Metan, Stujack Pass.

In this on-line era, it’s easy to find accounts (such as this one and this one) which attest to the general correctness of those old memories. But those are but pixels on the screen, a poor substitute for being there.

A related factor is that the age clock is ticking. I’m 50 now, and I tire much more easily than when I was younger. If I kept pushing off returning to the mountain, eventually the day would come when I couldn’t return. So getting back there this year was one of the goals I set on my birthday last winter.

As before, the first test the mountain does on you is the one with your patience. It’s high enough that dry weather is critical. The weekend I had originally scheduled in August came and went (not only was it rainy in the mountains, I was still recovering from an illness and not back in peak shape yet). Every subsequent weekend was also rainy. All in all, not so different from 20 years ago, when it was late September when I finally summited Da Klagwats (late enough that it had been snowing the week before and I ran into melting snowbanks in the high country).

I took a leap of faith Saturday and loaded my truck with camping gear despite the thick overcast threatening to drizzle. All the weather forecasts had been predicting dry weather Sunday, and unlike some times, the forecasts had been very consistent instead of flip-flopping around. I camped near the trailhead so I could get an earlier start.

Amazingly, Sunday dawned mostly clear. Unfortunately, it wasn’t completely clear; the peaks were still shrouded in mists. However, the mists came and went, so I figured I’d at least get some peek-a-boo views from on top, and at that stage I had already spent enough effort getting to the area that it would be a pity to waste it.

The trail leaves from a low/mid elevation forest and persistently goes up, up, up. I made sure to pace myself because Pugh tests one’s endurance After an hour you come to small Lake Metan, which feels sort of like a halfway point. Hardly; at this point only 1,200 of the 5,300 vertical feet have been gained.

Onwards and upwards through old-growth forest the trail presses. The fall rains came early this year, so the forest floor was populated with multitudes of mushrooms. Took a picture of a few of them, but no time to dally, this is a hike with a goal in mind. Keep up a steady, moderate pace.

The forest seems to go on forever. The trail is on a south-facing slope, so the transitions to higher-altitude vegetation happen slower than they normally would. Eventually the spicy pungency of Alaska Yellow-Cedar is evident here and there, but despite that, the forest is still mostly of the huge old trees one sees at lower elevations.

Then, suddenly, the forest ends and one is at the base of a steep, open slope. Pikas are whistling. It’s a good place for a needed rest break. At this point, I’m a little over halfway up.

Press onward through switchbacks in the alpine sunshine now, zig-zagging up a steep slope between two sheer cliffs to the notch that is Stujack Pass. Lunch at the pass with a view of a snowfield below. It’s a spectacular place, rivaling most other hikeable summits.

But this is Pugh, and you ain’t seen nothing yet. At least that’s what my memory and the pictures I’ve seen online say, though it’s hard to believe both. Onward I press, with anticipation.

I am not disappointed in the least. It takes longer to reach the knife-edge ridge section than I remember; somehow the bonsai-filled meadow above the pass vanished from my memory. Maybe because I was faster back then and sped through that section, maybe because it pales compared to what follows.

And then it begins. Suddenly, you’re in a land of ice and bare rock. There’s a glacier below you on the north side of the ridge, and the sheer cliffs you saw from below on the south. The trail alternates between a narrow ledge above the glacier and the top of the ridge. Put away the hiking poles for now; hands are needed for scrambling.

It’s simply breathtaking. Views in every direction, and just like the first time it’s hard to believe one can get to such a place without technical climbing gear. But every time one gets to a spot where one is certain one has gone as far as one could go with mere hiking gear, an easy route onward and upward appears.

Past the head of the glacier, rocks shift to granite. Good; I remember granite at the top, it means I’m getting closer. More scrambling across bare rock, following the path from one cairn to another.

Ah, the summit meadow. I remember it getting easier near the top, and indeed it does. It’s still by any standards a very steep and rocky trail, but it’s a proper trail again. I check the altimeter: 6,900 feet, almost there.

The meadow is full of crowberry (Empetrum nigrum); this is the first place I saw that plant, and the only one I’ve seen it in so much abundance. It was good to see it again.

Mists come and go. Onward.

Tangles of old, rusting cable run across granite boulders. That means I’m basically there; the cables used to anchor a fire lookout. Sure enough, there’s the summit a few dozen feet ahead. Back again after 20 years.

Mists shroud both where I am and the nearby peaks, but I do manage to get a few good views of Glacier Peak during the times that both are clear. That settles it: when I return, I’ll be a 100% stickler for absolutely dry weather, even if it means postponing to the next season.

And then it was time to go down, down, down, down.

I normally eschew close-toed shoes and hike barefoot or in sandals, but the sheer amount of rugged downhill trail before me motivated me to don boots for the return trip. Despite the discomfort factor, I’m glad I did; I was much more steady on my feet in the steep spots (and there were many of them).

In the alpine zone, monitoring my overall progress was easy, because the landscape lay before me in plain sight. No such luck in the woods, but I had counted switchbacks on the way up (32 total before one hits the treeline), and counted backwards on the way down. Turns out I had missed a few on the way up, though, so the Lake Metan didn’t come into view through the trees when I expected it to. And then I missed a few going downhill below the lake, so I thought there were two more when I hit the final one.

Saw several obvious edible mushrooms (boletes, some young Hericiums, and one large chanterelle) on the way down, but collecting fungi wasn’t the purpose of this hike so I had nothing suitable to put them in. The exception was the chanterelle, which was only about 1/2 mile from the trailhead and thus easily survived being jostled around in my pack a bit. It went in tonight’s dinner.

As the sun was was slipping below the ridge, the road and my parked truck suddenly came into view. No need to break out the headlamp I had with me.

What an incredible place. Yes, it was every bit as magic and spectacular as I remembered it.

I’ll download the pictures I took soon.

Boletus edulis

boletusWell, I’m 99.5% sure that’s what this is. The only remaining thing would have been to pick it, slice it, and see if it stained to a bluish color (if so, not edible). But I didn’t have any of my books or notes with me, and hadn’t reviewed them beforehand, not expecting to find any boletes on that hike.

A pity, because this one was in beautiful shape for collecting — big enough to be a good find, yet young enough to probably be free from fungus gnat maggots. However, it’s always better to miss out on a treat than it is to mistakenly eat something poisonous, and I know where I found it, so I have a spot to return to.