On returning to work

Want a reliable indicator of whether or not you need a vacation? Here’s one you might try. Ask yourself whether you can afford the time (not the money – the time).  The more vehemently you feel that you can’t take time away from your work, the more urgently you need to adjust your attitude.

It works that way for me.

Or more precisely, it works that way for my loving wife. Year after year she’s had to put up with weeks of my objections and pleadings leading up to these breaks, only to hear me say afterwards, thanks, I needed that.

Thanks, honey, I needed that.

This year, it was something I’d long wanted to do, at least in the abstract – see a bit of Alaska and take a cruise through the Inland Passage. We’ve just gotten back from that trip, which we took with six friends. Flew to Fairbanks, panned for gold, toured Denali Park and saw the mountain, switched to a train in Anchorage that took us to the cruise departing from Seward…saw critters, glaciers, forests, some of the world’s most magnificent mountain and island scenery, and got just the barest taste of its extent and scope, its history and its people. Got to cruise through a storm with 45-knot winds and 12-foot seas for a day, which was enough to make me happy I hadn’t experienced any really bad weather.

Also got to see the huge economic machine that is the cruise industry. Incredible infrastructure and physical plant that extends far beyond any individual ship to all the associated tours and other mechanisms for milking thousands of credit cards on land and sea, for weeks per cruise but for months on end. Thousands of crew – young people from every nation of the world with a range of educational background and skills ranging from cuisine to the arts to IT to economics and marketing and much, much more. All taking advantage of the opportunity to get paid for touring the world, rubbing elbows with their peers, getting a start on life. Got to listen to morning lectures from “Dr. Fred,” (not his real name), on topics ranging from the physics of glaciers to the mating habits and life styles of whales, to the climatology of the aurora, all the while helping us see how privileged we were to be on that particular tour, and seeing the particular things and events we were seeing. I thought Dr. Fred was pretty good, especially after I learned that he’s an OB-GYN.

And speaking of medicine, I got to learn a little about epidemiology. One of our party…“Patient Zero”… arrived in Fairbanks with a pretty bad cold. By the time we left the ship in Vancouver, five of us were suffering from it.

But not so badly that we didn’t have a really great time.

That despite the fact that it was clear throughout that we weren’t experiencing the real world that is Alaska and the Canadian Northwest, but rather a sanitized, watered-down, virtual Disney-like replica of the real experience. Hearing about running dog teams in the Iditarod for ten days with only an hour or so of sleep a day is different from preparing for and running the race. And that itself is different from eking out a living in the Alaskan interior during the winter months. And the 2012 experience of really living in Alaska is a much tamer version of that same life circa, say, 1912…or, say, 10,000 BP.

And of course in the backdrop every evening we were treated to another virtual world…the world of Democratic and Republican political conventions in a presidential-election year, thanks to satellite disk TV in the staterooms. A world where we could hear such insights as

President Obama promised to begin to slow the rise of the



And to heal the planet.  My promise is to help you and your



Mentioned this in part because one thing we did miss was that portion of the virtual world known as the blogosphere. Came back to find that Judith Curry in Climate Etc. had done a nice post on climate change and presidential politics. There’s a lot more material out there, but you might want to use her post as a portal to further in-depth reading on this subject. Certainly provided a window to a thought process more nuanced than the sound bite above.

And it’s hard to disagree with Ms. Curry that relatively few votes are likely to be decided on this issue. More likely it’ll depend a lot on your and my reaction to other sound bites at the conventions, such as this one:

You see, we believe that “We’re all in this together” is a far better philosophy than “You’re on your own.”


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2 Responses to On returning to work

  1. Bill:-
    Isn’t Alaska amazing? Two years ago, my beloved and I did the cruise as well as the land tour up to the Arctic Ocean along the Dalton Highway. Really made us appreciate Ice Road Truckers! This year, I got dragooned into going on a Baltic cruise – equally fantastic. Tallinn and Helsinki are gems that get too little attention compared to St. Petersburg and Copenhagen. As my Dad used to say, really cleared my filter. Welcome back!

    • Many thanks, John. Your comment reminds me I meant to record an overall impression from the trip. It was a forceful reminder of how big and complex the Earth-human-ecosystem is and how naive we each are individually about the vast bulk of its workings. On the other hand, we each also know quite a lot about some tiny bit. To make our way going forward, it’s imperative that we pool our respective scraps of knowledge, and we develop protocols for patching them all together. It’s in that deepest sense that “we’re all in it together.” And it’s the essence of the 21st century challenge.

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