My Absence

My dad on the Hiawatha Rail Trail (the old Milwaukee Route) just outside the St. Paul Pass Tunnel (Roland Trailhead). More info:

Not that I have all that large of a following, but it has been quite a few weeks since my last entry, and I do feel that an explanation is in order. Normally, I wouldn't find many issues in my own personal life something worth sharing on a blog about science and the set of predicaments we find ourselves in as a species. However, in this particular instance, I do think it reflects an issue connected to the wider sense of what this blog is all about - accepting predicaments we have little or no agency over. The picture above was taken in 2012, almost a decade ago. I had suggested that my dad accompany me on a trip out west. I had been telling my parents stories of my trips out west for the previous decade or so at the time, and while my mom had been to the Pacific Coast with a friend of hers, Dad had never been that far west. Originally, I figured that he wouldn't be the least bit interested in traveling out west with me, as he hadn't expressed much interest in my travels. My dad and I had enjoyed bicycling when I was younger, but our jobs hadn't allowed either of us much time for that being my job was mainly centered on weekends when he was available for riding. So, we had done very little riding together outside of small jaunts occasionally up at the lake where they lived. A trip with my dad wouldn't be complete without a long ride together (to give context to the type of riding he and I did, we rode about 100 miles on a trip to Indianapolis on our bikes when I was around the age of 10). He and I rode the Hilly Hundred together in 1978, 1979, and 1980. I had discovered the Hiawatha Trail years earlier while visiting the area and had wanted to ride it, and now the opportunity presented itself to make it happen. Surprisingly, my dad agreed to go with me. 

That trip with my dad was iconic in many ways. I got to spend two weeks uninterrupted with him and do things that we both found most enjoyable. We enjoyed the long days and the experiences of seeing his eyes open wide in a sense of awe were worth more than words can say. On the Hiawatha Trail, there are many signs explaining many different aspects of the Milwaukee Railroad; especially historical ones. My dad was not interested in these and would tell me that he was going on ahead, to which I would reply, "OK, I'll catch up with you. See you on the other side of the mountain!" The railroad (now a trail) snakes around the mountains and through tunnels and across long bridges. One can see distant bridges from these bridges as the trail snakes its way through the mountains, so "the other side of the mountain" was a fairly accurate expression given the circumstances. (Here is a video of the trail from the rider's perspective.) 

While we were out west, tragedy struck at Glacier National Park with not one, but two mudslides, cutting off traffic at both locations and closing the Going-To-The-Sun Highway which goes through the park. Thankfully, we weren't actually there, but were headed to it on July 18, 2012. When we arrived at our motel in Choteau, Montana, I discovered from the desk clerk that the road through the park was closed and would be until further notice. We could have driven west to the first slide once inside the park and then driven back to the entrance of the park, but this seemed like an exercise in backtracking, so we decided to forego Glacier NP altogether and drive around it on US 2 from Browning to West Glacier. 

I had not had this opportunity to spend this much time with my dad in my adult years prior to this, and I never got the chance to do it again, either. My dad suffered a major stroke in 2015 which took many different abilities away from him. He could no longer ride his bikes, despite trying many times and falling every single time. He no longer had the same balance. He also couldn't drive or complete other complicated or complex tasks. He was diagnosed with MSA (Multiple System Atrophy) and given about three to five years to live. 

Many call this period the "long decline" - which is very accurate, as anyone who has ever experienced a loved one with any other form of dementia, such as Alzheimer's Disease, can attest to. Despite still being alive, my dad was no longer the same person. His cognitive abilities slowly left him, although he lived for two years more than the doctors had given him. The last two or three weeks of his life saw him struggle with a series of at least three more strokes, each one taking more of his abilities with their occurrence. The last one immobilized him entirely, and over another couple of days, he lost his ability to swallow. He was given morphine and Ativan to ease convulsions and he never woke again; spending the last three days of his life peacefully sleeping. 

While all of this was going on, I was also involved in a series of new projects, taking my time away from reading and catching up with studies. Needless to say, I have been preoccupied over the past couple of months and been unable to spend much time writing. Because my dad's passing had been such a long time coming, when it finally occurred, the sense of grief I felt also contained a fair amount of relief that his struggle was finally over. 

I've been working on several other articles off and on and responding where necessary, but continue to experience the same general thesis from some people who mistake these predicaments I highlight as problems to be solved rather than predicaments with outcomes. There have been a few comments from folks who think that the trouble stems from a "Malthusian viewpoint" within my thinking. To those who see this as a possibility, I advise them to read Overshoot by William Catton, Jr. I have a hunch that these detractors simply lack a thorough comprehension of ecological overshoot, a very common scenario in nature, and something that many people appear to think we are immune from. Seriously, I probably need to establish a policy to not discuss the predicaments I highlight here with those who have never read this book, because understanding ecological overshoot is absolutely necessary in order to comprehend the overwhelming symptom predicaments we face as a result. Too many people have no comprehension of civilizational inertia and the lag effect behind what we've done - the consequences we have set in motion WILL play out over the following CENTURIES and they will do so REGARDLESS of what we do now. We have the choice of a bad outcome or a slightly less bad outcome. No "good" outcomes that many people envision are coming down the pike. I constantly hear the tripe on TV, and especially from folks like Michael Mann, who make all kinds of claims that views such as mine are "doomer" views and false, and yet it is his claims which really don't hold up under scrutiny. Mann's perspectives along with many other climate scientists simply don't recognize ecological overshoot as the predicament it is and the underlying basis of our living arrangements (civilization) as being unsustainable.

I learned many lessons from my dad's illness; many of them similar to my grandfather's passing from Alzheimer's Disease a generation earlier. I was able to spend a great deal of time with my parents over these past almost 7 years, and I will always cherish those moments. 

I want to give a note of gratitude to those who knew and have offered condolences. Your support is much appreciated!

My dad is never coming back. This is no different than the climate and environmental conditions we grew up with - they are never coming back either. It is entirely possible (although this is very unlikely) that we may indeed limit climate change to +2C or +3C, but the conditions this will bring will still wipe out a huge number of species which still exist today, and the changes globally that will happen will make life for humans very different from how things are today.

Live Now!


  1. Sorry to hear of your father's passing; thank you for sharing and for all the research and wisdom you bring to the blog and the FB group.

    1. Thanks for the update Erik, I've been curious / concerned about the lapse in your wonderful articles. Be well and condolences to you and yours..

  2. Condolences on your loss. Regarding the need to read Catton's 'Overshoot', another important concept is ecological succession -- "successful" species tend to change the ecological niche that they've managed to dominate in ways that are actually less suitable for them, thus paving the path to their own diminishment. In addition, the transition tends to be irreversable; removing the drivers of change likely won't result in a return to the previous state, though it may be similar.

  3. Thanks for sharing, Eric. I extend to you my sincere condolences on the loss of your father.

  4. I'm sorry, Erik. I took care of my parents in 2020/21. My dad died after a massive stroke in March and my mom, Alzheimers, in May. In hindsight, I am glad I had that time with them despite how difficult and traumatic it was. Weird to be an orphan now. Thank you for this blog.

    1. Thank you, Gail. I am so sorry about the loss of your parents and my deepest condolences go out to you.


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