Thursday, February 2, 2012


For those of you just tuning in, this is - unfortunately - the tail end of my story. To read about my Yellow Summer-ine chronologically (which is how I lived it), I highly recommend going back to the very first July posts and reading the blog backwards.

Thank you, and I hope you enjoy.

Friday, September 16, 2011

The Road Ahead

The forecast called for snow in Yellowstone National Park this morning. Instead I woke up to a chilly drizzle which issued from low-hanging clouds that shrouded the geyser basin in a mist made luminescent by the rising sun. The gloomy weather seemed appropriate to me on a day like this, for today marks the end of a glorious chapter - a passage, if you will - in my life. Today I left Yellowstone.

As I watched the sun set on Montana for the last time just a while ago, it struck me that I'm no less fascinated by this country than I was two-and-a-half months ago. In fact, I would say that I'm even more captivated. There seems to be no end to discovery here, and the more you learn the harder it is to walk away. Yet this is a walk that is necessary. We must all physically come down from the mountain at some point - even if our spirits remain on the summit. However, the walk is not that of a frustrated or defeated man; it is one of a changed man.

I'm still finding it hard to believe that, at this time tomorrow, I'll be frantically packing my belongings in preparation for moving back to school. Ohio seems distantly unfamiliar to me - a sort of sub-mythical place that I've heard stories about, but have no real understanding of. It's funny how viewpoints can change in just less than three months. In expressing to one of my closest friends my anxiety of returning to Ohio, it was suggested to me that I re-read Psalm 104: "O Lord, how manifold are your works! In wisdom You have made them all. The earth is full of Your possessions," (Psalm 104:24 NKJV). I realized that, in this sense, Ohio is no different from Yellowstone. God is not partial to any certain region of His creation, so why should we be? Wherever we dwell, so also dwells the Lord.

Certainly my heart is ready to come back home (if I can call it "home" - these days I feel more like a homeless wandering nomad). The things I've seen and the lessons I've learned this summer have truly been life-changing. I have acquired a new outlook on life and, perhaps more importantly, I've become better acquainted with myself as a person, as a worker, and as a follower of Christ. I miss my family and my friends, and I really should be getting on with the business of graduating... But my body and my soul want nothing more than to remain in the mountains - free to continue exploring and growing.

Who's to say, though, that growth and exploration can't take place in Ohio? We are limited only by ourselves in this regard, and my summer experience would be worthless if I was unwilling to take it and continue to apply it - no matter the setting. In any case, I'm going back whether I like it or not. The choice is mine whether to embrace the fact or rebel against it, and I choose the path of acceptance.

I have decided that this will be my last blog entry. It's a shame that it consists of incoherent ramblings, but at this point in time, my brain is just as messy with flurries of emotions and thoughts as I try to turn it back to civilization. I would like to thank everyone who has been reading along this summer, and I hope that you've managed to mine a nugget of truth or two from the chaos that is my writing. Thanks to my family and friends who have been so supportive of me and this crazy adventure I've been on. Most of all, thanks to God for revealing Himself to me and helping me discover who I am in His eyes.

Wildy yours,

Monday, September 5, 2011


I was told yesterday that this has been one of the busiest weekends of the entire season at the Grill. I also learned this firsthand as I witnessed the perpetuation of an out-the-door line which continued from 12:30 to 4:30. I kid you not. This was four hours straight of grievously fire-hazardous crowds. We literally ran out of veggie burgers. Veggie burgers. And they said that Saturday was even worse.

But I wasn't there on Saturday. I was hanging out with my progenitors.

Things have been a little lonely around here lately, so when my parents showed up - presumably to make sure that I was still alive - I was delighted to take the day off. (Who am I to turn down the opportunity of having a vehicle at my mercy?) Of course, these plans had been in the works for several weeks and, admittedly, I was really looking forward to their visit. I haven't seen a familiar face all summer, so in order to keep the familiar faces close by, I designated myself as the official tour guide and packed their three-day trip with as much sightseeing as I possibly could. (Also, who am I to turn down the opportunity of having a vehicle at my mercy?)

And drive we did. As I've noted before, Yellowstone is an enormously large place. We saw just about all of it, plus the Grand Tetons. Dad said that he put close to 800 miles on the rental car in three days. Needless to say this was a tiring weekend - rivaling some of my more strenuous hiking treks.

Anyway, our journey started as soon as they arrived at Old Faithful. We exchanged greetings, checked them into their cabin, and hit the road. I took them up the eastern arm of the Grand Loop road, stopping to explore various places along the way. "Exploring" is, of course, much safer when Mom is around, but she put up with (I'm sure) more than her fair share, going out on several motherly ledges - so to speak.

We all, I think, agreed that of the two Grand Canyons we've seen this summer, the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is the prettier. But we didn't have time to linger around all day. We were on a schedule!

I found that over the course of the summer, my method of verbal communication has changed. I'm not entirely sure if it's for better or for worse, but it was noticeable in my conversations with my parents. Most of my conversations these days don't last any longer than five minutes, so it was odd to find myself talking with the same humans for hours at a time. It's funny how even the simplest things seem special after time spent without them.

As we drove, we slowly ascended into the lofty northeast corner of Yellowstone. Passing Mount Washburn, I was eternally grateful that I had decided to abandon its ascent the previous week, because I might not have been alive when my parents arrived. Driving up a mountain is much easier anyway, and it leaves you with enough energy to get in a good CrossFit endorsement.

Who needs a gym?

Cruising right along, we made it to our destination: Tower Falls. Looked at the falls, hiked two miles on the wrong trail, ate PB&J in the car, drove an hour and a half back to Old Faithful in the dark. It was a good first day.

The great thing about parents is that, while they never completely stop being your parents, they become less like parents and more like companions as time progresses. My dad often jokingly refers to himself as "Wise Sensei", and though his kids roll their eyes as they imagine him wearing a gown and a fu-manchu while sitting cross-legged in his dojo, we secretly admit that he holds more wisdom than we give him credit for. After all, it is we who ask the majority of the questions in the house - not him. And where I used to roll my eyes, I'm now eager to listen because soon I'll be needing to use that wisdom; and Dad won't be over in the living room waiting for me to ask him about it.

The next morning was an early one, finding us awake at 5:30 so that we could get to our destination at a good hour. I must admit, the Grand Tetons are much prettier than Yellowstone. Certainly Yellowstone comes out on top, thanks to its incredible diversity, but in a purely aesthetic sense one would be hard-pressed to find a more beautiful spot on the entire planet.

Great googly-moogly, I rest my case. But seriously, I think this picture is hanging somewhere in God's bedroom. I had really just wanted to see some moose*, but this... This is one of those places that you have to experience in order to believe it. I could tell this was going to be another good day. (*Zero moose were seen.)

Basically we hiked in this the whole morning, and I'm not even going to write about it because trying to describe it would be useless. So here's a picture of us:

The rest of the day was spent in and around Old Faithful. I'm actually considering renting out my parents to a travel agency, because it seemed like every time we passed a geyser, it erupted. We saw several geysers erupt that I've never seen before, affirming my longtime suspicion that my parents are magical.

Day three was - in true Paul Conover fashion - entirely made up on the spot. I knew we would go north, and that's about it. So, getting on the road with nothing else planned, we ended up at Mammoth Hot Springs. It's important to note that, over the course of three days, I heard Wise Sensei mutter "I just don't get it" more times than I've ever heard before. How did that rock get there? Why did those trees grow in the middle of that hot spring? What the heck's going on here?! ... They're the same questions that I've been asking all summer, and that scientists have been asking for more than a century. They're questions that we may never know the answers to - not even Wise Sensei.

After pondering the Mammoth Hot Springs for a while, we climbed a mountain. We had been thinking about climbing another, more mountainous mountain, but eventually decided that this less mountainous mountain would suffice (even though the less mountainous mountain was still quite mountainous in relation to the mountainous amounts of mountains that there are to mount). Regardless of which mountain we climbed, Mom was a hero. You see, Mom isn't a big fan of heights. She also isn't a big fan of the fact that her children are (literally and figuratively) living on the edges of cliffs. On top of that, she hadn't been feeling well that morning. Nevertheless, she willfully climbed the mountain. Bless her heart, when I went to take this picture...

...I'm fairly certain I could hear it pounding in her chest. We had been talking about personalities, and how mine has changed in the past few years. She said she was the type who would rather read stories about other people who do dangerous things. I said that I used to be like that, but that now I want to be the person writing the stories. So when she yelled that I wasn't to take a single more step out onto the cliff's edge, I asked her how she was planning on reading my stories if she didn't let me write them. As quick as any loving mother, she replied, "It'll be hard to write your stories if you're dead at the bottom of a cliff." I had to laugh, because it was then that I realized how strange this situation was. If you had told me four years ago that I would very soon climb a mountain in Yellowstone with my mom, well,  you wouldn't have even thought to make up such a ridiculous story to tell me. Yet here we were, hiking up the side of Bunsen Peak, and it was perfectly natural. I have to commend my mother immensely for finding the strength to let me come out here. Her motherly instinct, I'm sure, was begging her to stuff me in a bag and haul me back to good ol' safe ol' Troy, Ohio. But I think she understands that this, like the time when I was potty training under her watchful eye, is a vastly important time in my life. And I appreciate that she's beginning to let go gracefully.

Climbing the mountain was probably my favorite part of the three days I had with my parents. It was later noted that I haven't had as much one-on-one time with them since before my brother was born. It's probably true. But what better time to get some facetime? Before now, they were just always there - like the furniture, only it gives orders and packs your lunch. It's so easy to take your parents for granted. I realize now that when it seemed like they were breathing down my neck, they were really just trying to shape me into the man that they knew I could be, but that I didn't yet want to acknowledge. My dad always says, "See, I do know what I'm talking about," which is a fatherly way of saying, "I told you so! Nanny nanny boo boo!"... It's scary how often I find that this is true. Many times I'll learn a life lesson and think, I feel as though I've learned this from someone before. More often than not, it was my parents who taught me in the first place - I was just too stubborn to learn it the first time around. Even now I think I'm too smart for my parents. I'm not, but it's nice to wish.

I guess what I'm trying to say is that my parents are the best in the world. If you take offense to that, then too bad; because it's true. I don't tell them that nearly enough, though.

Sunday, August 28, 2011

River to Ridge

In my dream last night, I did a lot of running. Some villains were attempting to blow up a school that I was trying to save, so with the help of a motley crew of relatives, friends, acquaintances, my dog, and more than a few strangers, we agreed to settle things over a prison-rules game of softball. Before I could find our who won the game, however, I was awakened by my roommate - who decided that four feet away from my face at 7am was the perfect time and place to give himself a buzzcut with a broken beard trimmer. I do remember, though, that right before the screeching swarm of bees alerted me to morning, I was struggling against injuries to both of my legs as I ran to save the life of my uncle, who of course, was in dire peril for one reason or another. Upon waking, I discovered that the pain in my legs was very real. Weird, I thought.

It didn't take me too long to determine the source of my cramping legs. As it turns out, hiking in canyons is slightly more difficult than hiking in the comparatively tame hills that I'm used to. I can't say for sure why that thought didn't cross my mind until I was staring up at the canyon's cliff-walls; sweating like a politician in church; knowing that I still had two miles to the rim. "This really sucks," became my battle cry, and I put it to good use. I can't remember the last time I drank so much water... And that was just the first time I had to climb out of the canyon, and I wasn't even wearing my pack or soaking wet.

Rewind to Wednesday afternoon. In trying to figure out what to do on my weekend, I discovered that I have literally hiked every inch of every trail in the Old Faithful area. This poses a big problem to me, who is not rich in transportation options. In fact, my only reliable modes of transportation are attached to me and don't smell all that great. So I began to meticulously plan a trip that may or may not happen, depending on the generosity (or lack thereof) of those with vehicles. It became apparent to me that I would not be able to reach my destination, hike out, hike back, and get a ride home - all within one day. "Screw it," I decided, "I'll just go camping." It was shaping up to be a 35-mile weekend, but hey, these are things I have to see before I leave Yellowstone. So, backcountry camping permit in hand, I packed my bag and made a trip to visit my very lovely friend at the activities desk to make sure there was a spot on one of the buses the next morning. Bingo. Transportation accomplished.

Thursday morning I woke up, wondered what I was getting myself into, went back to sleep, woke up again, looked at the time, snatched my gear, ran out the door, devoured breakfast, and caught the bus just in time. I sat in the back and listened to the same guided tour that I've heard several times before on the same bus. One lady commented that she was glad I had bear spray with me. Thanks, lady... The trip was uneventful to say the least, with the exception of one spot in Hayden Valley, where we observed bison in rutting season.

Hmm... Bison sex. Interesting... The incredible part of this rather uncomfortable scene was that (aside from the shamelessness of roadside "dating") we got to watch the progression of two of North America's largest male land mammals as they eyed one another, exchanged words, got to arguing, then began butting heads and fighting with enough force to effectively demolish any decent living room. All this to show off for the ladies. If only humans were as civilized...

Anyway, we arrived at the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at around noon, and when the vacationers dispersed for lunch, I went on my merry way. I had registered for the campsite at the furthest extremity of Seven Mile Hole - a daunting name for a trail, in hindsight. First, though, I made a quick side-trip to Inspiration Point, which turned out to be somewhat less than inspiring...

...Yeah right. I was freaking pumped to get hiking. And so I set off. I had ambitiously planned another side trip to the summit of Mount Washburn, the trail to which intersects with Seven Mile Hole shortly before Seven Mile Hole plunges into the canyon. Thinking I was a pretty macho dude, though, I decided that I would just hike down, set up camp, come back up, hike Washburn, then descend again for the evening. That way I wouldn't have to lug my pack up the side of the mountain.

This plan would've worked, but for a few minor exceptions:
- I am not as macho as I like to think I am
- The canyon ascent was brutally unforgiving
- As soon as I got to the rim, I got smashed with a thundering hail storm
- At this point, it's already 6:30 and getting dark, and there are still 5 miles to the summit of Washburn
- I am not as macho as I like to think I am

So about a mile into the Washburn Trail, I realized that I was being an idiot and I turned around, having done nothing more than hiking some odd useless miles and having to strip down to my skippies to avoid getting all of my clothes completely soaked (but of course they got wet anyway). So yet again - only this time discouraged and wet - I descended to my campsite where, luckily, my camp was mostly not-drenched.

Now having some time to kill, I decided to go exploring. There was a neat little stream not too far from camp, so I went to check it out. This was a good decision.

Nothing like a nice jacuzzi session after a long hike. [Note: They say it's very illegal to get into hot springs. I say, If a person gets into a hot spring in the canyon and nobody's around to see it, did he really get into the hot spring?] Under normal circumstances, this would've poached me like an egg, but given that this hot spring was connected to the much cooler canyon stream, the temperature was perfectly safe. In any case, this made my evening. [Note: I don't recommend just jumping into any old hot spring though. People die from doing that... Which explains its illegality.]

Trying to get to sleep was something of a bother, considering that my pants and shirt were still wet, but eventually I fell asleep, dried off, and actually ended up having one of the more pleasant nights' sleep that I've had here. I think there's something about total solitude that puts me at peace. That, and I was completely worn out from the hike. Whatever. It was a pretty decent evening.

Morning came slowly, and with it my dread of the ascent to the rim of the canyon - this time with my pack and with wet shoes. But I decided that the sooner I got the heck out of there the better. The last thing I wanted to do was to have to climb out in the heat of the midday. So off I went, water bottle close at hand. There were some places that were so steep - and soggy - that I literally had to crawl on all fours up the trail. Let's just say that this hike would give many a CrossFit workout a run for its money. (2.2 miles weighted lunges, Rx'd weight 30#, 1 round for time) But then sights like this are so much better appreciated when you're drenched in sweat and gasping for air.

Long long long long story short, I made to the top. The plan now was to hike along the canyon rim until I reached the Howard Eaton, which I would take for 15 miles to Fishing Bridge, where I planned on hitching a ride. The rim hike was quite pleasant, though it found me ascending and descending halfway into the canyon a couple more times to get some good pictures. In fact, I'll just let the photos do the talking about this trail:

So yeah, moisture was kind of the story of the day. Water water everywhere... Anyway, I discovered at the end of the trail that my hopes of hiking the Howard Eaton back in the direction of home were for naught. I owe this to the smartypants who went and got himself mauled by a bear earlier in the season (See Bear Spray). The park authorities closed the Wapiti Lake Trail - and several other nearby trails - for the remainder of the season, and it just so happens that the Howard Eaton shares about 0.2 miles of the same trail. So my access point was cut off, even though the Howard Eaton veers off in the complete opposite direction after parting with the Wapiti Lake Trail. Bummer. I concluded, though, that this must have happened for a reason, because another 15 mile hike wasn't exactly looking appealing at the time.

So I hitched a ride with a nice European family (I swear, the Europeans are amazing for hitchhiking) and sort of just flew by the seat of my pants. After a nice conversation, I told them they could dump me off at the trailhead of Elephant Back Ridge - another flippin' mountain that I just had to climb. At this point, I'm thoroughly exhausted. But hey, there's a top to every mountain...

...And half of the hike is always downhill. So what the heck? It's only my legs that I'm bothering.

Obviously, though, my legs have their own way of getting back at me.

[Footnote: Gross Elevation Change within the 27 hours I was on the trail: 6138 feet]

Friday, August 19, 2011

Who Is John Galt?

It was one of my goals for the summer to finish what I started. That is to say, I was determined to complete the mammoth 1100-page-dictionary-print odyssey of a philosophical novel that I had started and given up two summers ago. The brick (er, book) in question being Ayn Rand's Atlas Shrugged - the story of a dystopian American society in which all of the truly great minds have gone on strike, refusing to come out of hiding to fix the crumbling world. Years ago I had read Rand's The Fountainhead, having been drawn to its architect protagonist, but not having any other clue as to what lay in store. What I found was an intriguing philosophy which, at the time, was groundbreaking for me, and eventually led to a great deal of research on Rand, her works, and her way of thinking. While The Fountainhead remains among my top favorite books, I began to realize, through my research, that something was amiss with the ideology. Atlas Shrugged ultimately drove home those doubts.

Nevertheless, I continued reading - both out of a mounting curiosity and the determination to finish the darn thing. Oh, and also I plan on writing an essay to submit to the Ayn Rand Institute for the annual Atlas Shrugged essay contest; which is partially the reason for this post: to practice. Of course, ARI expects a well-constructed essay that conveys a sound understanding of the book and its implications, and I intend to give one to them. But I have no intentions of giving them an essay that spews praise and admiration of the book or its implications, because I have none to give. Of course, the book is incredibly well-written and interesting (or else I would've stopped reading a long time ago), but I can't consciously bring myself to agree with the crux of Rand's philosophy: the virtue of selfishness.

Through her novels and formal work, Rand espouses her philosophy, which she calls Objectivism. Despite my research of years past (which, I'll admit, was for a high school paper, and thus was shoddy at best), I had been confused about the name Objectivism. I understood that the "objective" - as opposed to the "subjective" - embodies that which lies in observable fact; for which right and wrong are distinct entities (i.e. sandwich-crafting). And I went ahead and made the intellectual leap to the connection between the "objective" and Rand's reality-as-reality philosophy. But I didn't really complete the circuit until reaching the climactic 50-page speech towards the end of Atlas Shrugged. In said speech, the underpinnings of Objectivism are made crystal clear within the first two pages, and are continuously reiterated over and over forever and ever for the next forty-eight. "A is A", repeats John Galt - the book's hero and orator of the speech [hereafter "Galt" and "Rand" are interchangeable] - meaning that a thing can be nothing other than itself. "Man is Man," he says. Through this logic comes the idea that man is bound to objective fact, which is the standard to which he must rise.

The characteristic that separates man from animal is his ability to reason. It is what has allowed him to climb out of the jungle and into the modern world. His mind is thus his ultimate possession, and his ultimate purpose is to use it. Logic, therefore, is the moral law, and as such, rules the actions and beliefs of the main characters. Nothing is said or done that defies the logic of survival. "Rational self-interest" is the lifestyle - that is - "the rational pursuit of my own rational goals is the meaning of my existence." What, you might ask, is the difference between "rational self-interest" and "reckless greediness"? Why not just rob a bank, do a bunch of drugs, kick your boss, and generally do whatever the heck you want? The answer is simple: these things ultimately are not in your own self-interest. Jail is decidedly not the "rational goal" of any person. In a factual world of pure, natural, logic, the only "rational goal" can be that of achieving the highest possible standard of living; in other words, material success.

Atlas Shrugged projects this idea through an industrial screen. The heroes (Dagny Taggart, Hank Rearden, Ellis Wyatt, etc.) are individuals who build their respective industrial empires (transcontinental railroad, steel, oil, etc.) on their own merit: hard work, dedication, and - most notably - their own brilliance. The villains (James Taggart, Orren Boyle, The State Science Institute, etc.), on the other hand, have gained their industrial power through favors, inheritance, and dishonest means. In the end, who is the better businessman; the one who built his company by his own power, or the one to whom it was given? Galt refers to the latter as the "looters" - men who prey upon the achievements of others, claiming them for themselves in the name of "the good of mankind". She regards unearned wealth (physical or otherwise) as the paramount of evil. Wealth is exchanged - properly - by means of trading: one service equally for another. Every action must benefit the self. This is how Galt views industry...

[So far, so good. There shouldn't be too many grievances so far with the philosophy (which is - so far, essentially - conservative economics), outside of simple political differences of opinion. But as we continue, things start getting hairy.]

...This, in Galt's "A is A" world, holds true in every facet of the hero's life. Trade. Every action must benefit the self. Self-sacrifice is the purest form of evil. What does this do for love? Brotherly love is out of the question, because it, in essence, is self-sacrifice. Certainly supernatural love, too, is unmentionable for the simple logic that it is beyond logic, and therefore nonexistant. We're left with romantic love, which really becomes "vicarious self-exaltation". Romantic love and its related acts are nothing more than very personal trade. Protagonists claim to love one another for the right reasons, but their love is conditional as long as the other keeps up his/her end of the bargain. Unconditional love is impossible because, after all, my lover might fail me, or I could find someone better. The villains in the book make the argument that the heroes love unfairly, saying that one should love another not for their good qualities (which is simply a love that they have already earned), but that true love is love for a person's bad qualities. Here I agree with Galt, though for a very different reason. It's true that nobody in their right mind would love someone for their bad qualities. Love of evil is a great evil. However, we are called to love in spite of bad qualities. Galt insists that Original Sin is man's most malicious illusion, because it dooms him to eternal servitude to those better than him. Yet, inevitably, every single person will mess up at least once in their lifetime, effectively removing the possibility of a perfect human. So, no matter what the case, all love is love in spite of bad qualities. The difference arises when we consider the worth of other people to us. Again, in the case of romantic love, nobody would choose a partner who meant little or nothing to them; rather they choose a partner that means everything to them! But for whose sake do they mean everything? Does a loving husband look at his wife and say to her, "I love you because you represent an achievement which I, through my moral living, deserve"? Not unless he's John Galt, whose thinking brings a whole new meaning to the term "trophy wife". No, a relationship cannot last unless each person is willing to love for the sake of the relationship - not for self's sake, or even for the other's sake, because each is a form of slavery. Rather, it is the union of two imperfect people striving for perfection that is to be loved.

Brotherly love, as forbidden by the principles of Objectivism, is nothing like it is portrayed as in the book. Does "for the good of mankind" necessarily have to be equivalent to the Marxist slogan "from each according to his ability, to each according to his need"? I think not. In a perfect world, perhaps so. But in a world of dishonesty, waste, and vice, each man can only be expected to pull his own weight. One cannot require his brother to pick up his own slack. However, one should always be prepared to help his brother. This is a biblical tenet: "Anyone who has been stealing must steal no longer, but must work, doing something useful with their own hands, that they may have something to share with those in need." (Ephesians 4:28 NIV) Galt bisects humanity into what she calls the "producers" and the "looters"; or "those who create" and "those who take". And there is constant tension between the two factions. The looters want to keep taking, and the producers don't want to keep giving. Truly, it isn't right that a producer should have to provide for a lazy bum ("A sluggard's appetite is never filled, but the desires of the diligent are fully satisfied" - Proverbs 13:4 NIV), but he should be prepared to. Self-sacrifice - condemned as evil by Galt - isn't black and white. I hold that there are two kinds of sacrifice: receptive self-sacrifice, which is an act performed that does not benefit the self in any way, but is nonetheless beneficial to others (charitable donations, etc.); and needless self-sacrifice, which benefits nobody (jumping off a bridge, etc.). The former is virtuous, and the latter, lacking benefit, is necessarily iniquitous. But why do we love our brother in the first place, that we would give of ourselves to him? The answer isn't logical. It can't be proven, and in fact, it goes against what we observe in nature: We love our brother because he, too, is a creature with a soul, struggling to figure life out just as we are. We help him because we pity him. It's a feeling, not a fact, and Ayn Rand would disapprove greatly of it. Yet everyone - even Rand's heroes - feels it.

Of course, if we take a look at Jesus' Golden Rule, "love your neighbor as yourself" (Matthew 22:39 NIV), we come to the answer straight away. But even then we see that our love for our brothers is not an act of slavery by him. We are to love him as we love our own selves. We are all equals - not to take or be taken advantage of, but to work together for the glory of He who defies logic and reason.

Perhaps the most abhorrent form of love, according to Galt, is the completely unfounded love for the supernatural. "A is A" and nothing else. "A" is not sometimes "B", and "A" cannot be "G". "A is always A". There is no room in Galt's universe for the non-absolute; the inexplicable. If the human mind cannot possibly fathom it, it cannot exist. So goes the "logic". Yet it is faulty logic - a bold accusation against John Galt, who declares himself "a man of the mind". Unless a thing can be "absolutely" proved non-existent, there still remains the possibility of its existence. By definition, the "non-absolute" cannot be "absolutely" proven either way, so one cannot "absolutely" deny its existence. Therefore, it's not so easy to write the supernatural off as imaginary. In as "absolute" terms as I can muster, I see two paths to follow from here:
      1. Believe, without "absolute" foundation, that God does not exist, that the universe is nothing but really cool random matter, and that there is no meaning to life other than to survive in the best way possible.
      2. Believe, without "absolute" foundation, that God does exist, that there is a higher meaning to life, and that when our physical bodies die, something happens to our souls; for better or for worse.
Even (and especially) the strictest of logical thinkers has to admit that, of the two choices, the second has a much greater potential reward. When faced with this mandatory gamble, the choice seems easy - put faith in God, and if you're wrong... Well, it doesn't really matter after all... This is supernatural belief in its elemental form. Either way, there is no "absolute". A leap of faith is required in every single conceivable circumstance. So why not make a leap of faith that's worth something? Believers of every religion, cult, faith - regardless - have gone through this process in their minds. This is basically as far as human logic can reach into the supernatural: Since I can't really be absolutely sure one way or the other, it seems that I stand a better chance of having my eternal soul (which I may or may not have) live forever (which my instinct tells me would be best for me) if I put my belief in a higher being and do what he/she/it tells me to do. Of course, our faith is infinitely more complex than that, but face it; you've thought that very same thought. Probably a number of times. The great thing, however, about our logic is that though it cannot prove God's existence one way or another, it drastically enhances our perception of Him. If we were stupid or if we were programmed robots, we wouldn't have any clue (even less than we have now) of the grandeur of God. This is why we love God: because, despite our self-perceived high-and-mighty intellects, we are faced with the incredibly undeniable conclusion that we don't know squat. But we believe that Somebody does, and that that Somebody has taken a mystifying interest in us relative nobodies. We love Him - in spite of Galt's 50-page speech on the contrary - because our minds are unable to do anything meaningful otherwise.

"Romantic" is one of the words that most accurately describes Rand's writings. (Romanticism is, in fact, the subject of one of her nonfiction works - aptly entitled The Romantic Manifesto.) Her characters are more like legendary heroes than normal people. She uses them as a standard rather than an illustration. Of course, this is hard to avoid when she's trying to endorse a very specific philosophy, and we'll find that most philosophical literature speaks of its characters in terms of perfection. However, these characters inevitably have an air of being shockingly un-human (with the biased exception of Jesus Himself - even though he, too, was shockingly un-human, only in a very different sort of way). Her characters rarely, if ever, make mistakes. When they do, it is usually due to an over-estimation of the rest of the human race. John Galt is perfect in every way. How, then, can his principles apply to the common man? Rand writes in such a way that it seems that, in order to practice her philosophy correctly, one must be a genius in every sense of the term. Personally, I cannot build a revolutionary static-electricity motor, as Galt did. I cannot keep a transcontinental railroad running smoothly single-handedly, or invent a new type of metal that's stronger and lighter and cheaper than steel, and I cannot devise a way to pump oil out of solid rock. Perhaps I could do these things if I tried really really hard, but industry is not my calling, and I do not have a brilliant inventive mind. I wouldn't last a split-second in the executive office of Francisco D'Anconia. How, then, can I be a good little objectivist? The way I see it, I can't if I expect to stay alive. The only thing I can do is to run my business (because a business is about the only thing you can run effectively under the doctrines of Objectivism... Try running a family that only knows how to love conditionally) to the best of my capabilities, work my butt off, and pour my entire life into having the very best hardware store on Main Street. When I'm on my deathbed, though, am I going to be satisfied with my life, knowing that my family hated me and that I missed countless opportunities to enrich myself, but that, hey, I had the very best hardware store on Main Street? Not if I have an ounce of humanity in me.

Looking back on a life like that - in which material gain was my only objective, and my mind was my only friend - would be like looking at a great golden serving platter without a scrap of food on it. Is that where logic gets us?

To conclude this hasty mess of philosophical reflections (and what has kind of turned into a book report), I will once again remark at what a provocative set of ideals that Ayn Rand has given the world. Many things can - and perhaps should - be learned from it: the concepts of hard work, business integrity, and proper use of the mind; and the condemnation of laziness, second-handing, and unjust distribution of wealth. But just as evil cannot exist without good, the shortcomings of this philosophy couldn't exist without its truthful tenets. The sanctity of the ego is an inflation of these tenets to the point where they become the only truths - where self-acclamation becomes the sole purpose in one's life. Yet Rand fails to explain, "WHY?". If, logically, we are nothing more than chemicals and minerals, bound back to earth, then what's the point of creating a million new motors and amassing the world's largest wealth? In one of the saddest scenes in the book, a minor character who had been a villain throughout, finally "gets it" after being mortally wounded during a factory riot. His last moments were witnessed by the great Hank Rearden, who was the source of the character's change of heart. Rearden, attempting to carry him to safety, acknowledges that this character has finally changed. But then he dies, and Rearden feels nothing at the fact that his new "son" is now little more than well-organized dirt... As I read this, my mind was screaming, "What's the point?!?" So the guy had two minutes of "realization", but then what? Nothing? He just dies and that's it? THAT, not the big "O", is the gaping hole in Objectivism.


At my brother's request, I decided to make this a full-fledged book report and include a very abridged Character Log:

Dagny Taggart - The protagonist. She is the Vice-President of Operations of Taggart Transcontinental, the nation's largest railroad.
Henry Rearden - Owner of a number of productive enterprises, including Rearden Metal - a revolutionary metal that is stronger, lighter, and cheaper than steel.
Francisco D'Anconia - Childhood friend of the Taggarts. A genius in everything he did, from business to recreation, and owner of the giant D'Anconia Copper dynasty. Turned into a worthless playboy for no apparent reason.
James Taggart - President of Taggart Transcontinental. Older brother of Dagny. Weak-spirited and uninspired, he feeds on the successes of others.
Wesley Mouch - The Economic Controller of the United States. Nothing happens to the economy without his permission or the oversight of himself or one of his scrooges.
John Galt - A mystery. A legend. People talk about him, but nobody seems to know who he is. "Who is John Galt?" is a common slang expression meant to convey hopelessness.


So yeah. Hopefully you haven't given up reading by this time. If you're still with me, I thank you for sticking it out! I really would recommend Atlas Shrugged to anyone. It's an excellent read; rich in thought-provoking ideas and practical lessons. However, I encourage that you read with a grain of salt. I don't believe that Rand had a very good understanding of how life is meant to be lived, despite her undeniable brilliance. There's another book that I would recommend anyone consult with questions about life. It's extremely long, but I consider it to be pretty much exhaustive when it comes to advice about life... It's called The Bible, and you probably have a copy lying around your house somewhere. It's an excellent read.

I'd say it's the best read ever read.

Monday, August 8, 2011

The Hair We Wear

I was gently reminded today, once again, that facial hair of any kind is not permitted in the kitchen. Company policy, they tell me. It's been a few days since I last shaved because, you know, I'm in Yellowstone... So my homework for tonight is to drag out the cheapo (I speak of quality here, considering that the Yellowstone General Store Company has something of a monopoly on essential toiletries) single-blade Bic razor and, once again, remove from my face the beginning of that which I had so earnestly looked forward to growing this summer.

I can't be certain what it is about the beard that is so enticing to me. Honestly, though, I think it's mostly the tractor-beam pull of laziness. Something keeps growing on my face. Social ethics request that I kindly get rid of it, but...I'll do it tomorrow. I have more important things to do; like blogging... It's either that or the beard helps cover up my boyishly round face - which is a lot like shoving a cat into a burlap sack. You're free to exercise your imagination with that metaphor.

In any case, I won't have to worry about that because I'll be (mostly) perfectly clean-shaven this summer, and despite my whining, I can't say that the fact bothers me an incredible amount. Because a beard can be an incredible asset, or a crippling handicap. There's a very fine line that separates the lumberjacks from the wizards from the pedophiles.

Of course, some people wear beards for style, some for neglect, some for perceived style, and some for reasons unknown to the greater percentage of mankind. Every beard, however, tells a story. Many are boring and irrelevant, but every once in a while you come across a beard full of wisdom and experience.

I recently watched the movie Into the Wild (rent it, buy it, steal it, watch it now), which tells the tremendous real-life story of Christopher McCandless - a young man who gets fed up with the consumerism and insincerity of society and, upon his graduation from college, sets off on a tramp's journey to nowhere in particular, eager to find a more meaningful purpose than the 9 to 5 desk job that seemed looming in his future. Especially interesting to me was watching the progression of his beard throughout the film, as it was a constant reflection of his circumstances. From squeaky clean college graduate to wandering vagabond, his story could, in part, be told by the hair he wore.

Let's face it. Few physical attributes can be as genuinely expressive as one's hair. Its maintenance - or lack thereof - requires a special effort because, after all, it's attached to you. Hair is one of the first things that gets noticed on a person, and leads to first impressions such as: Sorry, this company doesn't hire pedophiles; or, Excuse me, but I was wondering if you could turn my dentist into a newt; or, I want to help you build a log cabin then live with you in it forever and have your babies.
[Please note the pun at the beginning of this paragraph]

You can tell a lot about a person from the way they choose to groom themselves, but you can't look into their soul. That requires interaction. Many times we pass people off as a first impression, and that's all they ever are to us. How many times, though, have we actually been forced to get to know someone and they turn out to be completely different than the stuck-up, greasy, insensitive jerk that we were certain of? As it were, at least one of my best friends used to be a stuck-up, greasy, insensitive jerk. After all, the best way to gain a friend is to be a friend... That, or get extremely rich.

I'm done talking about hair and related thoughts.

Wednesday, August 3, 2011


It rained today, and nothing of any significance came of that fact - other than that I found myself sitting in front of the great fireplace thinking...

I am privileged to bear witness to hundreds, if not thousands, of different personalities each and every day. Most people that I come in contact with are visitors to the park, here for only a few days. And, for the most part, these people are perfectly amiable.

One of my favorite things to do is to talk with complete strangers. For example, the other day while sitting writing postcards, I got into a conversation with the guy sitting on the couch opposite me. He was impressed that people still have the capacity to write things with pens, and I was impressed that he was a professional photographer from Las Vegas - a profession in which I assume is hard to gain notoriety; especially in a city like Vegas. We ended up talking for roughly an hour about photography, architecture, and his homemade mobile photo studio; and I daresay we almost became friends. Check out his website at I promised to give him props on the blog, but seriously, he shoots some incredible photos.

On the other hand, however, there are the irritable tourists. You know the type: I've planned this vacation out to the second, so FOR PETE'S SAKE YOU'RE GOING TO ENJOY IT!!! This is Daddy's only week off... I'm reminded specifically of one woman who came through the Grill, found a minor something wrong with her meal, took it out on one of my coworkers, then proceeded to sit grumpily in her booth and write a novel on the back of a comment card. I was astonished by this woman's bitterness, and wondered why some people seem so miserable on their vacations. What's with the stress? Isn't that exactly what a vacation isn't? Honestly, I think that a lot of people treat their lives like checklists:
Go to college... Check.
Get a job... Check.
Get married... Check.
Have a boy and a girl. Name them Billy and Susan... Check.
Get a raise... Check.
Appear to have it all together. Become the envy of "friends"... Check.
See Old Faithful erupt... Check...
...And heaven help the person who stands in the way of checking off "Enjoy vacation with family."

I wonder what would happen if some geological disturbance caused Old Faithful to quit being faithful - or worse, retire for good. Would people still come to Yellowstone? Certainly the Old Faithful Inn would feel the pressure, and I'm willing to bet that someone would try to sue the National Parks Service for ruining their vacation.

But in reality, Old Faithful - though awesome - is pretty boring compared to much of the rest of the park. People are drawn to it simply because it's predictable. It's something that everybody is supposed to see. Somebody told them when to show up, and like clockwork, the geyser erupts. Photos are taken for proof. Check. What's next? Let's go to the gift shop to buy some more proof.

Meanwhile, two hikers eat lunch together under a waterfall that less than 1% of Yellowstone visitors will ever see. They don't have a single informational pamphlet or vacation guide with them, but they're enjoying each other's company.

(Side Note: I'm fascinated by the fact that I'm fascinated with the fact that the waterfalls and geysers don't ever stop going. There is no great big "OFF" switch. The Park Rangers don't shut down the attractions when all of the guests leave. It's a shocking revelation when you're sitting on a ledge observing nature that the river beneath you has been doing the same thing for thousands of years, whether or not anyone was around to sit on the ledge and observe it. And yet I wonder why it's such a shocking revelation. Are we so caught up in ourselves that we find it audacious to think that there are things in this world that are happening without our approval? Do we really not recognize that there just might be a higher power at work here? ... Just a thought.)

I'll be the first to admit that I sometimes find that I'm living my life like a scavenger hunt. I pursue experiences not for the sake of learning anything or even just for the experience, but for the sole purpose of checking them off my list of things that I'm supposed to - expected to - do. I want to do things because they would look good on my resume. I want a good resume because I want to get a good job. I want to get a good job because then I'll appear to have it all together and I'll look really good to everybody. Then, when everybody likes me, I'll be happy.

I think, though, that we have it backwards. Perhaps we aren't happy because people like us. Perhaps people like us because we are happy.

It all starts with attitude. Attitude will determine whether we will truly enjoy seeing Old Faithful erupt, or whether we will resent the fact that it was nine minutes late. Attitude allows us to confidently seize opportunities, and it allows us to be flexible when those opportunities turn out to be duds - which is frequently. The ability to be situationally (as opposed to morally or emotionally) flexible is one of the greatest virtues man can have. But this is impossible if our lives are like grocery lists. We'll pretty much always find that bread, milk, and eggs keep making their way back onto the list.

To live a scavenger hunt lifestyle is to assume that there are winners and losers. We decide that, in order to be a winner, we have to find all of our objects the fastest and in with the greatest style, and blinded by the desire to be winners, we speed through the game heedlessly - resenting anything that stands in the way of victory. Occasionally we pass something irrelevant that nevertheless looks really interesting, but in the name of the hunt we rush past it. Eventually, having collected our items, we return to base, anxiously awaiting the final results, knowing that we are winners...

...But why is it that oftentimes it's the losers of scavenger hunts that ended up having the most fun?