Monthly Archives: July 2008

Water on Mars

Today, many news agencies reported that the Mars probe called the Phoenix Lander had successfully collected water ice and analyzed it. The ice was brought into a small oven, melted and then “tasted” by the sensors on the probe confirming that it was water.

Confirming water on Mars is a significant discovery and one step closer to gaining definitive proof that life exists outside of Earth. In our current understanding, water is essential to life as we know it. So, we make the assumption that finding water may lead to finding evidence of life.

Over the next several weeks, the water (ice) sample will be further analyzed to look for organic compounds that would indicate life. I’ll be anxious to hear the results.

The announcement is important to me as I believe news like this opens our minds to possibilities that we either have refused to accept or not thought about. Confirming life on other worlds means we are not alone which has the potential to shake many of our belief systems to the core.

We live in very interesting times.

Michael

Our Secret Person

There is a secret person undamaged in every individual. – Paul Shepard

An effective human being is a whole that is greater than the sum of its parts. – Ida Rolf

I love the idea of a secret person residing undamaged inside ourselves. It helps to remove the negative views we have that seem to drape in layers over this perfect person we so carefully hide. I’m a firm believer that underneath all the history, experiences, behaviors, negative imagery, mistakes, successes, relationship baggage, childhood issues and perceived failures stands a clean, confident, abundant individual.

As a species this simple fact makes us more the same than different. Our goal should be to rip through our veils and disguises to let the real “person” inside emerge. Many times fear prevents us from accomplishing that. Fear of judgment. Fear of responsibility. Fear of rejection. Fear of success. Fear of failure and etc.

Fear is just an overt indication of the separation from who we really are deep down inside. As we peel the layers off in the journey to get to our real selves, we incrementally become happier and less fearful. It’s much easier to do this slowly and consciously.

You can do this with any technique available. The secret is only use what is working for you. Don’t continue to do something that is not helping you achieve this goal. The ideas that can work are as varied as there are different individuals.

If you are dealing with a difficult person, take the time to see what lesson or opportunity for growth is available to you. If you are experiencing something other than being happy, figure out a way to be a little happier. If you are dealing with deep emotional issues, take the time to find a good counselor to help you work through and ultimately release those old patterns. If you aren’t enjoying your career, look for something different that is more in line with your desires.

You get the idea. Take it slowly. Don’t make a big deal about all of this. Enjoy the time you have. Play more than you do. The closer you get to you true self, the more your world will brighten and open up to unlimited possibilities.

Have a great day!

Michael

Happy When Times Are Not

Anyone can be happy when times are good; the richer experience is to be happy when times are not. – Susan Harris

Susan Harris, a television writer and producer, has hit the “nail on the head.” It sounds so obvious, but most of us don’t practice this technique. We get too wrapped up in the moment especially when things are not going good. The more we focus on what is happening around us when things are not fun, the longer we stay in that negative situation.

There is a real easy way to tell if we need to make a shift and that is looking at how we feel. If we are feeling good, do more of that. If we are feeling bad or any kind of negative emotion, then that is your signal to make a change. Of course, you say, everyone knows that, but frankly most of us just stay in the negative moment and ride it out. We don’t consciously try to make the mental shift necessary to feel better.

If you are feeling the opposite of happy, try the following techniques:

  • Is there some thought you are thinking that you could “tweak” to be just a little bit more positive? Continue tweaking your thoughts to feel a little bit better.
  • Is there something to distract you from your negative mood or situation? For example, a hobby you love, a comedy show, reading an uplifting book, writing in your journal, talking to a friend (not about your “problem” though), taking a walk and etc.
  • Meditate
  • Take a nap

It really doesn’t matter what you do to make yourself feel better. If it works continue that. If it stops working, then change your tactic immediately. Each small step you take to feel better will open up your world of possibilities and make the next step towards happiness a little easier.

Just remember to take small steps. They are much easier than making big leaps as that really doesn’t work at all. Don’t forget that the birthright of everyone is to be happy. If you learn to be happy within your own mind, then you’ll never have a problem when the world around you changes.

Have a great day!

Michael

The Cure for Boredom

The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity. – Ellen Parr

I’m rarely if ever bored. I continually find something interesting to do, to read, to experience, to watch, to ponder about, to converse on and to question. If I’m bored, I know something is off kilter. I know that I need to look inside and see what needs to be adjusted.

It’s not that I need to be continually stimulated mentally, because I can sit still and just observe the world around me without feeling bored. But, I know many people that seem to be bored a lot or a majority of the time. I’m sure the reasons are varied and many, but I believe that developing a sense of wonder about the world can help to alleviate those feelings.

A bored mind is not productive, creative or of any value to yourself. A bored mind is one that is not growing, held tightly down by the bonds of boredom. A bored mind is not happy.

If you are bored, try to develop a behavior of exploration. Go and find out what is around the next bend or travel down a road you’ve never been on just to see what is there. Cultivate a new hobby. Try something you have always wanted to try but just haven’t gotten around to it yet. Write in a journal. Take a trip. Surf the internet about a topic you don’t know anything about. Try cooking a new recipe. Get together with some friends. Play board or card games.

It really doesn’t matter what you do, but do something to break the cycle of boredom. You may find that it is easier than you think.

Have a great day!

Michael

Alaska Cruise – Recovery Starts

Early this morning the cruise ship docked at Pier 30 in the Port of Seattle. I only had a few hours of sleep last night due to the fact that we had to pack our bags and leave them outside the room before 1:00 a.m.

After our last breakfast on Deck 9, we said our farewells to a couple of friends and then got in line to disembark. Total time to get off the ship and through customs was around an hour.

We quickly found a taxi and took a short ride to the house of a friend of Erica’s. It was a beautiful home with fantastic views of Puget Sound, the Space Needle and the entire Seattle downtown area.

We were quite exhausted from all the activity over the last week and it was nice to sit on a cushy sofa and do absolutely nothing for a few hours.

So, today was all about getting back to eating healthier, relaxing our tired muscles, watching a movie, visiting with new friends, taking short cat naps and reliving all of the incredible experiences we had over the last seven days.

It’s a funny thing but seeing all of nature in its pristine abundance somehow has made me feel more abundant. I have a better outlook on life and I’m excited about what the future will bring. I can’t really explain why but I’m not complaining. Those things along with the memories of my adventures and experiences have forever changed me. I see some of the effects now in my attitude about life but I suspect that other changes will take a little while longer to manifest. I can’t wait to see what happens.

Michael

Alaska Cruise – Victoria and Orcas

Orca WhaleThe last stop on our return to Seattle was in Victoria, British Columbia on Vancouver Island. We could tell this was an interesting city, but unfortunately we didn’t have any time to tour the city as our last excursion was a boat trip to view orca or killer whales hunting in the evening.

Every summer two or three pods (about 20 – 40 per pod) of orcas feed in the waters between Victoria and the United States. The primary source of food during their brief summer visit is salmon. The boat ride out was about 45 minutes long, so we were several miles off the coast of Victoria and in fact were within the waters of the U.S.A.

Our captain quickly found a group of orcas hunting and feeding. These creatures move incredibly fast and I found it very difficult to photograph them and also deal with a boat that was rocking due to the many waves in the open water. Persistence paid off and I was able to get several decent photos for my first orca portrait shoot.

It was amazing to watch them work the salmon in pairs or in threes. As they were moving constantly our captain guided our boat as best as he could to follow with them. We witnessed several large males breaching; i.e. jumping completely out of the water. It was magic and we all felt like we were part of a National Geographic movie.

Cruise ShipOne of the naturalists that tour with us told an amazing story of an orca coming right up to the boat and showing a large freshly caught salmon in his mouth. And then, unbelievable as it may sound, the orca then went to two other boats to show off his salmon catch. The guide told us that orcas are very social within their species but sometimes show that behavior outside of their own kind. Quite incredible!

On our way back to the cruise ship, we stopped briefly to see several large harbor seals resting on the rocks around a lighthouse station. These animals were huge.

The cruise ship was all lit up when we returned and it was stunning to see. It’s hard to believe this is our last night on the ship. We are headed to Seattle tonight and disembark early tomorrow morning. Seeing some sights in Seattle is on our agenda tomorrow before flying back to the east coast on Monday.

Michael

Alaska Cruise – Ketchikan and the Rain Forest

While Erica took the skies in a float plane to view the Misty Fjords area surrounding Ketchikan, I started my day off with a view of two eagles hunting for fish near the cruise ship. Shortly after, I boarded a small jet boat to tour the surrounding waters south and east of Ketchikan.

Harbor SealsAfter about a 30 minute ride we came close to an outcropping of rocks covered with seaweed near the shore. Two large groups of harbor seals were basking in the early morning overcast sky. We watched them for about 10 minutes. All of them were very leery of the boat and quite skittish, so we kept our distance. They looked like they were waiting for something, probably the salmon which are about two weeks late this year. We also viewed several eagles flying over the water and saw an eagle nest high in a tree.

We made our way to the next point of our expedition. After unloading on the shore, we donned our rubber boots and water/mud proof pants for a two mile hike into the temperate rain forest. It rains an unbelievable 13 ½ feet of rain after year. Yes, I did say 13 ½ feet or about 165 inches of rain per year. So, it was no surprise that a gentle rain fell almost the entire time we were hiking. There were many sections of this “unimproved” trail that were quite muddy sometimes going up to our knees. Other spots felt like we were walking on sponges because of the moss and roots.

Temperate Rain ForestAbout half way through the hike, we spotted a black bear about 150 yards away. I was able to see it for about 10 seconds, but the tour guide spoke a little too loud and that frightened it away. Later in the day we saw a black bear cub but not their mother. It was exhilarating to see these creatures.

As we hiked alongside the White River, which is a popular fly fishing area because the salmon spawn here, we ate wild blueberries and salmon berries. Very cool and quite tasty!

Only six of us were hiking; two guides and four hikers. It made for a very peaceful experience which enabled us to get in touch with the environment around us. I could not imagine walking through this almost impassable forest without the small bit of trail we had. The animals are completely adapted and get around very easily. We had some rough going at several points.

The list of wildlife I saw today was long:

  • 17 eagles (one was immature; i.e. less than five years old)
  • 2 black bears
  • 2 or 3 dozen harbor seals
  • 2 fire belly newts
  • 3 very large banana slugs
  • 1 kingfisher

I also was able to see two more eagle nests and the tracks of a mature black bear, a black bear cub, a wolf, a pine martin and some Sitka black deer tracks.

It was an incredible day experiencing and connecting with the immense wilderness that Ketchikan is but a small part.

Tomorrow we arrive in Victoria, Canada on Vancouver Island. Our mission is to see orca or killer whales feeding off the coast of the city.

Here’s to creating and finding adventure!

Michael

Alaska Cruise – Awe Inspiring Sitka

We arrived in Sitka, Alaska early in the morning. Sitka is home to about 9,000 people, 14 miles of state highway and some of the most pristine natural areas you can visit in the world. Believe it or not the main industry or source of employment in Sitka is health care. You would think it was tourism or fishing, but it’s not.

Sitka is situated 1/3 of the way down Baranof Island on the side facing the Gulf of Alaska. Erica and I loved this sleepy village. The scenery consisted of old and second growth trees of the Tongass National Forest, multiple islands dotting Sitka sound and abundant wildlife of all types.

The area is smack in the middle of the largest national forest in the United States which happens to be temperate rain forest, so it usually rains about 100 inches per year. One local told me that the weather can be summarized like this: 75 days of some sun, 75 days which are overcast and the remainder of the days it rains. Snowy peaks contrast with the rich green hues of the abundant evergreen forest which is growing in every available niche.

Humpback Whale Tail - Sitka Sound, AlaskaWe started our day on a powered catamaran touring the islands near the city in Sitka Sound. Our first objective was to find some sea otters. Once we hit Black Island we were awarded with a large group resting on their backs on top of a kelp forest. We continued touring for awhile observing the otters in their natural habitat. They live in shallow water due to the fact that they can’t hold their breath for very long; about three minutes.

A bonus during this trip was that we saw 16 fully mature bald eagles and two very large eagle nests. We saw them sitting in trees, fishing in the ocean and flying. You would think that after seeing so many that it would become tiresome. But, I have to say that it was as exciting to see the last one as it was to see the first. Note: Southeast Alaska is home to 25,000 bald eagles which represents ¼ of the total population throughout the United States.

Volta the Bald EagleNext we went on search for humpback whales out in the middle of Sitka Sound. It was quite rough as the ocean swells were high due to an approaching storm. But, the ride was worth it as we were able to watch three humpbacks feeding in the deep waters. One came within in about 30 yards of our boat and startled several of us. Apparently they can be quite curious but not dangerous at all.

After the incredible boat journey, Erica and I took a bus to the Alaska Raptor Center which is one of the largest hospitals for raptors in the country. They work very hard to rehabilitate these magnificent birds and release them back into the wild. Volta, who is the eagle shown in the photo to the right, has a wing bone problem that could never be fixed. So, for the past 16 years, this eagle has been used to teach others about eagles all around the country.

The rest of the day consisted of walking around Sitka and just exploring the town before we had to return to the ship.

Tomorrow is a short stopover in Ketchikan. Erica takes to the skies in a float plane around the misty fjords and I take a long hike in some old growth rainforest looking for bears and other wildlife.

Michael

Alaska Cruise – Juneau

Today was quite special for me. I had nine bald eagle sightings. I’m fairly certain that four of the nine were the same bird, but that’s not really an issue. I’ve seen more bald eagles in two days than I have in my entire lifetime, which until yesterday was only one and that was in Maine’s Acadia National Park.

Alaska is a special place. I’ve only been here for two full days and I’ve fallen in love with its natural beauty. Nature seems purer, cleaner, wilder and closer to the way things once were and how they can be again.

Mendenhall Glacier Ice FallErica and I toured the city of Juneau for a few hours, stopping at the shops and visiting the Juneau-Douglas City Museum. Our main shore excursion for the day was a helicopter trip to Mendenhall Glacier. The glacier is about one and half miles wide where we landed. It is an intricate mixture of white and blue ice, boulders, moraine material and running water called mill streams.

We toured the area for about 15 minutes before landing and then we went on a short guided walk across the glacial ice. The 12 mile long Mendenhall Glacier is fed by the Rhode Island size Juneau Ice Field. It was like walking on another planet.

The ice photo is a cascading section of the glacier called an ice fall. The Mendenhall is one of the glaciers that are receding year after year; partly due to natural cycles and partly by global warming.

Michael in the Helicopter - Mendenhall GlacierAfter our fantastic ride up and back down again, we had a coffee at the end of the day. I sat out on the cruise ship observation deck and watched two eagles in a tree up the side of a mountain about ½ mile away.

I ended my day watching the ship leave the Juneau port, salmon jumping out of the water (being chased by harbor seals), clouds hanging low and kissing the mountains surrounding us while drops of rain spread thousands of ripples on the water between Juneau and Douglas Island. Ahhhhhhh!

We wake up tomorrow morning in Sitka, Alaska about 90 miles south and slightly west of Juneau.

Michael

Getting Organized

Ok, so it’s a favorite topic of mine, dealing with clutter. I took a big step today dealing with my email inbox. First there was a great article on reducing email inbox clutter in the July 2008 print edition of Macworld. That article further referred to this series of posts at the 43folders.com personal productivity website. This series addresses the psychological reasons for keeping too many emails (the writing is hysterical), and then it offers simple solutions.

Some are practical, including a great sample schedule for how to tackle email in a typical work day so that you aren’t becoming a slave to the new email message notification beep. But my favorite comment is when the author says, Wouldn’t it be great to suck a little less?

That could be a motto for me as I strive to be easier on myself. A lot of my friends are like me in wanting to become more superhuman by trying to do everything. Naturally, none of us can do everything. Those who thrive take stock of themselves, their energy, their time and priorities, and they put their effort where it will make the biggest impact.

So applying these simple guidelines today for scanning and deleting email, I cut the volume of stored messages in my inbox by 800 items. The article calls this getting the piano off your foot. Call it that, or call it sucking a little less. Either way it’s liberating.