Backpacker magazine rates the hike to Yosemite’s Half Dome as one of the most treacherous in the United States. Dangers along the trail include, apparently, fatigue, dehydration, scorpion stings, rattlesnake bites, mountain lions, bears, hanta virus, plunging to one’s death from a great height – be it over waterfall or cliff – forest fires, and believe it or not, the plague.

No locusts though.

As a man more accustomed to the excitement of reading a good history book in bed, I was surprised to find myself, an hour before sunrise, facing the infamous cables that enable the final assault to the Half Dome summit. For those of you yet to do Half Dome, after hiking most of the night, one is greeted by what appears to be an impossibly smooth, impossibly vertical, sheer face of granite scaled by a rickety ladder of cable and wood that promises a 2000-foot sled ride to death should one misstep just once on any of the wobbly rungs.

‘No way,’ I said. ‘Not a chance.’ Every nerve in my body told me to turn around and head back down the valley.

Unfortunately, I was with 10 of my closest friends.

‘It’s easy’ they said. ‘Four-year-olds do it’ they said. ’80-year-olds do it. Everyone does it.’

And so I climbed half-dome that morning, not because I faced-down the advertised biblical dangers, but because I was more scared of peer pressure, and what my friends would think.

We were nearly the first to summit – beaten by a couple who had camped the night on the peak. The sun rose above the mountains lighting up Yosemite Valley below, and pretty soon the four-year-olds, the 80-year-olds and the families-of-five started to join us.

Now that I’m home, far from that monstrous granite outcropping, I laugh in the face of Half Dome, supposedly the most dangerous hike in America. Hah!

Just don’t confront me with my deepest fear, the opprobrium of my peers.

With a Perspective, I’m Luke Pease.

Luke Pease is contemplating paragliding next weekend at Ed Levin Park in Milpitas.

At a recent meeting concerning foster youth, I met a young woman, Shamir. Waif-like, with immaculately coiffed hair, she clicked her long nails nervously on the table.

Abandoned as a toddler, she passed through dozens of foster homes before ending up homeless in Vegas where she worked as a “dancer”. She returned home with a young baby, but no one, she found, would take her. That’s when she decided she would go to college. She dreamt of opening a shelter for foster youth with children.

Right now, she said fiercely, the only thing keeping her from her goal was an Algebra class that she’d failed twice. “I got this thing with math,” she said.

By any standard, foster kids perform abysmally. Abandoned, they find it notoriously hard to trust the world. These are the throw-away kids who’ve grown accustomed to being failed by the system. More than half end up homeless or exploited.

At break, I asked Shamir if she would like some help. Later, we sat with her seven-year old boy, who demanded her attention. He needed help with homework. He was hungry. Someone at school had taken his lunch.

Shamir struggled with equations that involved inequalities. She didn’t understand why if you divide by a negative number the equation shifted. You have to flip the sign for the equation to remain true. I struggled to explain why this was so. Shamir, though, had little time for it. She just needed to make it through the next test. So I gave her simple rules, she tried some problems, and they seemed to work. She smiled with relief.

“Now that’s good,” she said. “I like it.”

But then her phone rang. “Is she okay?” she asked abruptly. “Are they still in lockdown? Did they get her out?” She left the table.

Her boy looked up. “My school was in lockdown three times last month,” he said. Shamir returned, clearly shaken.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“I’m okay,” she said.

“Are you ready?”

“Yeah,” she said. “I’m ready.”

“Are you ready for the inequalities?” I asked.

With a Perspective, this is Andrew Lewis.

Andrew Lewis works with at-risk youth while working on a memoir about the emigre experience. He lives in Sebastopol.

As I walk through ancient pines under a fire lit sky, a protruding mountain blocks the sun from all below it. A lake surrounded by houses and forest blend into its reflection. I grip a rod tightly as I cross a stream that seems to be made of needles when it runs through my legs. I remember the countless times I have fished and failed, yet here I am.

I make a motion I have made thousands of times as my line slices the water then sinks below. I look around and see a chipmunk scurrying up a tree, a Steller’s Jay chasing a bug, and an Osprey scanning the water.

My rod starts to twitch and I set the hook. A skittering flash of pink and green leaps making a fold in the still water. A rainbow trout peels my line soothingly. He seems to reflect all of the forest in his deep yellow eyes. The trout stops wrestling once in my hand and I release him to the lake.

I continue the catching and releasing until one trout catches the hook deep in his mouth. I try to keep him in the water, but it is too hard to find the hook. One minute passes until I get the hook out. I quickly place him in the water trying to revive him, but he just floats belly up. I watch his jaw moving slowly up and down and his beautiful colors start to dim while a streak of blood runs from the gills. I am too late.

All things die for food or other reasons. I just feel that I wasted a life. With that thought I keep him and make him my dinner.

From that day I learned life is delicate and should never be wasted. I regret that I did not consider this and left two trout on the bank, hoping they would not be squandered. I hoped a coyote, bear, Osprey, or another hungry animal would find the fish and feast.

With a Perspective, I am Beau Detels.

Does the name, John Peter Zenger ring a bell? Unless you attended elementary school in New York City, probably not. I learned about him in the third grade and hadn’t thought about him since. But recently, it slipped back into my consciousness. A little research established why.

In 1734, Zenger, a German immigrant, started publishing a newspaper, in which he was very critical of the royal governor, one William Cosby. Though he did not deny the charges, Cosby sued Zenger for libel, accusing him of printing, in his words, “false and seditious reflections”. Zenger spent eight months in jail awaiting trial. His lawyer, one Andrew Hamilton of Philadelphia, no relation to Broadway Hamilton, was the first to wear the sobriquet “Philadelphia lawyer” as a tribute to his legal acumen. Knowing the judge for a Cosby crony, Hamilton tried the case before a jury, arguing that telling the truth was a valid defense against libel. The jury quickly agreed.

What got the acquittal, however, was not Hamilton’s argument, but Cosby’s massive unpopularity. No precedent was set, but the seed sprouted seventy years later, when a man named Crosswell was convicted of libel, again in New York. On appeal, the more celebrated Hamilton came to his defense, also arguing that statements should not be considered defamatory if they are true. Because the judges split, the conviction stood, although Crosswell was never imprisoned. And, a year later, the state legislature made truth as a defense a law.

Ironically, also in 1804, Hamilton was rapping one night across the dinner table with the Jeffersonian candidate for governor. His excoriation of the Federalist-leaning opponent was leaked to the press, contributing to that worthy’s defeat. That worthy was one Aaron Burr. The musical tells you the rest.

In one of history’s neat little codas, both Alexander Hamilton and John Peter Zenger rest in the graveyard of Trinity Church, in lower Manhattan.

John Peter Who? Imagine the discussions we might not be having these days without him.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Friedlander.

Richard Friedlander is a mediator, actor and author. He lives in the East Bay.

During a trip to Tanzania I once watched a herd of elephants march slowly across an African savannah under a blistering blue sky. The scene revealed such an immense sense of the earth as a beautiful, ancient and wild place that my own puny senses could hardly take it in.

Recently, I read that elephants had declined 30% over the last 10 years mostly due to illegal killing to remove their tusks to make into objects nobody needs. The elephant’s tusk is designed to help the animal live successfully, yet here it is causing its demise, not only of individuals but possibly an entire species. If the trend continues, experts predict, that by the end of this century, the few elephants left will survive only in zoos. I can’t imagine a world without elephants.

The question is the same as it always is when confronted with a painful fact. What to do? The first thing I did this time was give money to several elephant conservation groups. I talked about the issue with friends. Some, and I don’t blame them, looked off into space. Others told me it was too painful to talk about. I could easily fall into the latter category and sometimes do. But then I remember it’s not about my pain. It’s about the pain of elephants, or tigers, or an orphaned boy in Syria, or a war-widow in Iraq. I could go on and on, as we all could.

Giving money is good but I feel I need to do more. I try to focus on the task not so much on the goal. Work the tasks one at a time and don’t think about how small they are. What are the economics? Who buys poached items? How are they stopped? Write letters, make phone calls. Become a pest.

Here is my task for today. Paste this essay on my bathroom mirror. Follow my own advice. Do a little more to help an elephant, a Syrian child, a tiger, an Iraqi widow. Because if I don’t, part of me disappears, too.

With a Perspective, I’m Carol Arnold.

Carol Arnold is a retired environmental planner. She lives in San Francisco.

Okay, it’s true I’m a geologist, and I’ll cop to seeing the world through senses shaped by a geologic perspective. But don’t think this is an apology for that perspective. Quite the contrary, I feel extraordinarily fortunate to have that influence superimposed on my otherwise human views.

Here’s an example. I’m at a ballgame at AT&T stadium and the seats are packed with thousands of fans representing the enormous diversity of the Bay Area. From where I sit high up in the stands the throng looks pretty much look alike. Of course I know differently.

And then, suddenly, I’m on a field trip to Death Valley, high up on a hill looking out over a broad valley covered by a field of rocks. They were washed down from the surrounding hills by streams and rivers. From where I’m standing they all look pretty much the same, but the rocks reflect the diversity of their source material, the bedrock underlying the hill surfaces. And, indeed, they do, being composed of chunks of igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic rocks, sandstones and shales and granites and lava. The surface is called desert pavement and the similarity in colors is termed desert varnish. The rocks look alike, but we know they are different.

It’s the same with the fans at AT&T Park. They all look pretty similar. But I know they are uniquely different, reflecting their origin and history going back generations. When we study the geologic history of Death Valley, we take that geologic history into account, explaining the uniqueness of the rocks and surfaces. How much richer would our appreciation of the diversity and uniqueness of the viewers in the stands be if we took the time to appreciate their distinctive histories?

Sometimes we can learn a lot from geology.

With a Perspective, I’m Ray Pestrong.

Ray Pestrong is an emeritus professor of geology at San Francisco State University.

On a June afternoon, Glacier National Park’s Lake MacDonald reflected the same shade of blue as a breaking Hawaiian wave. As I walked into the chilly waters, both the size and the whiteness of my feet seemed amplified against the red and grey cobbles.

Gradually, my submerged legs adjusted to the cold. I took a couple more steps forward, winced, and looked ahead to distract myself. In the distance stood a forest of cedar trees. Higher up, the trees surrendered to the permanent coldness, leaving bare rocky slopes where mountain goats forage for alpine grasses. A few glaciers still filled the highest cloud covered valleys.

I entered the all or nothing phase of mountain lake swimming. I needed either to exit or dive in and start swimming.

I plunged. I did my best crawl for 25 yards or so, until my moving muscles dispelled the chill. Renewed, I treaded water, enjoyed the liberation from two days of tent dust and sweat, and took in the view.

The movement of the clouds across the lake created evolving patches of turquoise, royal, and navy blue. During a ranger talk that morning, I found out that the lake’s unique color comes from the glaciers grinding the sedimentary rock below them to a flour-like consistency. The meltwater then flows into the lake, scattering mostly blue light into a plethora of variations.

In the same presentation, I learned that scientists estimate that all of the park’s glaciers will be melted by 2030. The distinctive colors of the park’s many lakes will diminish, and there will be less cold habitat for mountain goats and pikas.

As I did a lazy backstroke, I realized that 2030 is not that far away. I will be 66, and hopefully still bathing in alpine lakes. Maybe my kids will have kids of their own. We might again camp together by Lake MacDonald. The view will still be beautiful, but some magic will be gone.

With a Perspective, I am Beth Touchette.

Beth Touchette is a K through 12 science educator in the North Bay.

Just recently I got a peek at the new for me food culture of road cycling. At rest stops on a biking jaunt I slurped nutrition from little white squeeze packets while enjoying boiled potatoes with salt, cookies, fresh fruit, and a smorgasbord of energy bars designed to help us cyclists summon the energy for the next 15-mile push.

This was all a bit jarring in that over the last several months I’ve been experimenting with a seemingly opposite fitness-oriented food culture. For my fellow members of the zone diet challenge at my local Cross Fit gym, potatoes are definitely off the menu, and the fructose in the squeeze packets a giant no-no. My wife and I, both ex-vegetarians, have been busily scarfing full fat Greek yogurt by the tub, sardines by the boatload, and pork chops by the, well, we’ll leave that one alone.

There’s a curious Northern California connection to these trendy but opposed food cultures. The manufacturer of the squeeze packets is headquartered in Berkeley, while the author of a bestselling book extolling the benefits of diets high in animal protein is based in Oakland. Cross Fit got its start in Santa Cruz, and many of the bikes breezing past me on my endurance ride were made by a company in Morgan Hill.

We seem to export food and fitness trends from Northern California every bit as much as we export technology. But it’s worth noticing that food and fitness trends and fads, like most trends and fads, tend to be rooted in fear. Could it be that a lot of us fear the obesity epidemic, and have latched onto fads instead of fixing our unjust healthcare system, our subsidy-fueled agricultural system, and the general economic inequality at the epidemic’s roots?

Or if, as some suggest, the obesity epidemic has just a single villain, sugar, then why are we so afraid to follow our progressive era ancestors like Teddy Roosevelt and take the fight directly to the sugar trust?

Old Teddy appreciated the strenuous life, of course, and people like me who participate in the flourishing denominational multiverse of American fitness subcultures are in many cases successfully improving our health. But when does it become time to add a dollop of bravery, of real democratic commitment, to our expensive Greek yogurt?

With a Perspective, this is Matt Mitchell.

Matt Mitchell teaches middle school math in Sacramento.

“They leave the wings,” Jack said. We crouched down low, scanning the damp sand as the morning mist began to burn away. Among the forlorn scattered feathers, and the oddly disembodied, bright white wings, bold etchings told the story. The peregrine a dark, decisive bullet shooting down toward the gull, striking hard and severing the spine. Its tail and feet grazing the sand as they struggled, outcome long foretold. The gull become a meal, nature’s harsh and unremitting destiny — every morsel gone except those lonely, pristine wings.

We moved on, eyes alert for other signs. A string of dots tucked beside a rocky cliff face, each tiny toe kissing the dust lightly as the mouse scurried toward shelter, tells another story. Not far off, we find what we expected, a slightly wavy line of tracks, soft round pugmarks of a bobcat searching for a snack. The two don’t cross, and there’s no sign of a scuffle, so we know the mouse arrived home safely. The cat continued up into the dunes, where we lose the trail but find instead the blunt, chewed stems along the hem of every plant and bush that signal rabbits — abundant numbers, by the look of things.

Around one dune and down another, skirting bursts of poison oak and trying not to crush the sand verbena, we find the rabbit tracks, runs of prints from one safe haven to another. By now the sun’s well up, the fog long gone, and the wary dune inhabitants all under cover, though their tracks are unmistakable for those prepared to slow down and use their senses.

They are threads of a tapestry we all used to know, waiting to be picked up again. Each one ties us to the animal that made it, leading to a new, old world of rediscovery.

With a Perspective, I’m Peggy Hansen.

Peggy Hansen is a photographer and organic farmer in Santa Cruz.

Zoom back about four years to fourth grade: I was sitting in the office crying, waiting for my parents. I had gone insane. Again. I didn’t even remember what happened. I never did. All I knew was I completely flipped out, like I had several times that year. This led other kids to think I was insane. I always sensed everyone was slightly afraid of me, and I hated it. I wanted to control my anger, but I just couldn’t. Calming strategies never helped. Neither did taking a break nor countless hours with therapists and such. It seemed impossible, like I would always be like this. I had almost accepted this as fact and was completely closed to any help. I sometimes came close to going insane on people who tried to help. I wanted to give up on myself.

But I am not one to give up, and that is largely because of this. I found activities that helped me be my best self, and they quickly became hobbies. My fourth grade teacher found running helped me be my best self, and now I have run several races. I also discovered I felt calm after reading. I now have three bookshelves in my room, and even those aren’t enough. Then I realized puzzles and brainteasers calmed me down. Along with my books, I now have a stack of puzzles and mazes, and there’s always a puzzle cube next to my bed.

These hobbies helped more than any calming strategies anyone came up with. Gradually, outbursts became less and less common. I began to feel better than I ever had. It felt great to get rid of my reputation for being insane. I had way more friends than before, because people weren’t afraid of me, and I generally felt much happier and more at peace with myself. Although outbursts still occasionally happened, I usually was able to stop them before they started.

And here I am now. My anger issues are now in the past, and I think most people have almost forgotten I used to have behavioral issues in the first place. When I look back on when I was younger, and think about the times I had huge reactions, I want to go back in time and tell myself it’s going to be okay. Because it really is.

With a Perspective, I’m Zander Ashworth.

Zander Ashworth is completing eighth grade at Kent Middle School in Kentfield.

Twenty years ago, I was working on archaeological excavations in the mountains south of Battle Mountain, Nevada. We were working on a small mining town, a few standing houses scattered here and there along dirt roads. The place was so abandoned, the rabbits had taken to kicking human bone out of the cemetery, reclaiming the ground as their own.

Next to one of these houses was a gorgeous butter-yellow rose bush, armed to the petals with tight clusters of tiny thorns. The house had been built in the 1920s, a Sears Roebuck mail order home that the owner had modified to his liking. No one had lived there in at least 40 years. The last upgrade to the house was the installation of a toilet. Behind the house was an even older stone house that had been converted into a cold storage building, and it was between these two that the rose eked out its living, surviving without being watered or fertilized for decades.

I knew the whole town was going to be an open pit mine. I took clippings as best I could. I don’t know what kind of rose it was. Perhaps it was an heirloom variety that no longer exists. It occurred to me at the time that it might be the last of its kind. It pains me to say that, at the time, I knew little about roses and the cutting didn’t survive, both mother and child now long gone.

I love these relic plants that form uneasy truces with the natural vegetation. I’m not talking about invasive species like the scotch broom or periwinkle; I mean those shy, solitary trees and seasonal bloomers that keep to themselves. Left on their own, they go through their paces as if they were still tended to. The agapanthus family still huddled around the border of a house now long gone. The secret pear tree, bent with age and leaning against the boulder, who still has a few pears in her every fall for the raccoons and mice, her arms still raised to the setting sun.

With a Perspective, this is Mike Newland.

Michael Newland is an archaeologist with the Anthropological Resources Center at Sonoma State University.

Camus, the existentialist writer, held to the notion that life is absurd, yet we must confront absurdity with courage and dignity.


For the following, I blame the dog.

It was she who ran off the trail into the bushes, a moment later racing down the hill, a turkey in fast pursuit. My husband and I laughed until the turkey, wings flared, turned her attention to me, a much slower target.

It is absurd to be chased by a very large bird.

I wasn’t courageous. Nor was I dignified. Camus may not have known it, but if he were around today I’d like to share with him that it’s very difficult to appear dignified while running for your life. The three of us, the dog, me, the turkey, tore down the hill in single file, in memory a comic tableau, though at the time not amusing. Turkeys in pursuit are fast, persistent. Perhaps the dog had found her nest: the mother instinct, especially in feathered dinosaurs, is fierce. Ultimately, the gobbler gave up the chase, no doubt satisfied that she had ‘reminded’ us whose turf we’d violated.

Camus also mused, “Look deep into nature and then you will be able to understand everything better.” It’s a lovely sentiment, though one the dog does not subscribe to, her unfortunate skirmish firmly imprinted on her brain.

Now the dog sports a citronella collar and stays by our side. Today when we encounter a flock of the big birds, which are abundant in the foothills, our canine quickly turns her head and walks on, pretending she never saw them. If I can’t see them, she seems to think, they most certainly can’t see me.

Absurdist? You bet. But a practical response that works. I don’t blame her. Like the dog, I have a new-found respect for gobblers.  Camus might agree that if anyone has a right to partake of a turkey dinner this Thanksgiving, that would be me. He might also delight in the fact that our feathered foe chose to chase a vegetarian.

With a Perspective, this is Judie Rae.

Judie Rae teaches college English and is a freelance writer. She lives in Nevada City. 

Corny joke: young man is carried into a restaurant. Passerby says: “Such a handsome boy and he can’t walk.” Mother replies “Oh, he can walk, but fortunately he doesn’t need to.”

I’ve been thinking about that joke, with another school year ending. As a teacher, I see a lot of parenting styles, from hands-off to helicopter.

Being a parent is a huge job, with no one way to do it all perfectly. Not being a parent myself, I’m hardly in a position to judge.

But every year I notice more parents who view parenting as cushioning their child from every bump on that long road to adulthood. Every grade less than A plus disputed, any conflict the other kid’s fault, any stress instantly removed from their child’s world. Not first place for spelling? These parents decide everyone needs a ribbon, because their child might feel sad.

I understand parents’ instinct to protect their children. But these parents aren’t doing the kid any favors. Shielding children from every disappointment also means preventing them from gaining skills to cope with life’s inevitable obstacles.

Fighting every battle and completing every hard homework assignment for your kids is not going to keep the realities of the world at bay forever. Instead of frantically fending off problems, I wish parents realized some are opportunities to learn one of life’s important lessons: that things are not always easy. What kids need to know is trouble won’t invariably be solved by someone else.

Some situations do require parental intervention. But for those that don’t, here’s advice from a teacher: allow kids to tackle tough stuff. Lately educators have been buzzing about “grit” – resilience found in successful students who don’t crumble, but push through, however grueling.

The irony of doing a great job as a parent is you work yourself out of a job. That means preparing your kids for that day when you won’t be there to fix everything. So, parents, just like you did when they took that first step on their own – teach your children well that life can get challenging, but when you fall down, you get up and keep going.

With a Perspective, I’m Richard Swerdlow.

Richard Swerdlow teaches in the San Francisco Unified School District.

Folks are always asking me what wild soundscapes reveal. Having recorded them over the past half century, I’ve learned, first and foremost, that they provide vast narratives of time and place.

I’m especially drawn to the abundant collective dawn choruses of birdsong – welcoming signs of spring – that fill the acoustic space of Sonoma Valley where my wife and I live. By mid-April, the height of the season, those lovely biophonies are usually everywhere. At one particular site here, the stream typically runs well into June or July – a gentle, reassuring burbling voice produced by the rains of winter. But recently, I’ve noticed a disturbing trend toward eerie silence that has descended on our area. Here is an example from 2004. The sound is still healthy and robust.

(Many Bird Sounds)

In 2014, the third year of the drought, the change was profound. The stream was dry, subduing the riparian part of the habitat, and birdsong was extremely light.

(Lighter Bird Sounds)

And, in 2015, the fourth drought year, there was virtually nothing, the first silent spring I’d ever experienced.

(Ambient Outdoor Sounds)

Many people have told me that they’ve observed similar changes… like the natural world is desperately trying to tell us something – begging for us to listen to its divine message. To me it sounds like a shout-out balanced somewhere between creation and destruction – and we embrace that kind of silence at our own peril.

With a Perspective, I’m Bernie Krause.

Bernie Krause is a naturalist, composer and soundscape ecologist. He lives in Sonoma County.

Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor

KQED Public Media for Northern CA