1.4 When Sabbaticals Collide

I returned to the campground as the sky lost its deep darkness to the dawn. I was tired now and falling asleep was an easy matter. Staying asleep was not. Campgrounds come to life at an early hour and become noisy collections of waking families preparing for a new day. The commotion subsided when most campers had driven off to their destinations. The midmorning sun, radiating through a cloudless sky, heated up my tent. Even after moving the tent into the shade I found it difficult to sleep. By 10:00 I gave up and decided that I might as well start traversing some more of the miles toward my appointment in Washington.

Heading west on blue highway 14, I share the road with rural traffic and the occasional bicyclist. I enjoy seeing the bicyclists; they ignite the memory of an earlier epoch in my life when I would bicycle for weeks through beautiful countryside, carrying everything, and camping along the way. Bicycling is just the right speed to experience the land.  A car travels too fast, there is not enough time to truly let in the details of the terrain.  Walking is too slow, the details become stale before you reach the next vista. But a bicycle brings you close, living and breathing the environment you travel through, giving you options to linger or to move on.

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1 Beginnings of a Journey

The curse of beginner’s luck. I had taken this beautiful picture of the Andromeda Galaxy and then spent the next years trying to take more such images, but discovered all the ways that astrophotography can go wrong. If only I had some more time to practice this craft.

1.1 The Windfall

A windfall is a sudden, usually unexpected, influx of wealth. Winning-the-lottery windfalls are rare.  Smaller, but still welcome, are an employee bonus, an inheritance, or a lucky run at the casino. People react in different ways to the experience of unexpected wealth or “found money”.  It tells something about a person:  the easy-come, easy-go gambler versus the frugal saver who salts it away for an indefinite future.

I have experienced a windfall not of money, but of time. A new company benefit designed to attract and keep employees in a climate of dot-com employment frenzy was announced. It seemed like an inexpensive benefit to advertise: employees of five years or more could take a one-time additional 3-week period, a sabbatical, of “disconnect time-off”.  Combined with conventional vacation time, one could be absent for six weeks!  But it would never happen. What high-tech California company had employees that stayed long enough to collect such a benefit?

But I wasn’t a California employee. I had held on for over twelve years in stoic Scandinavian style at a small Minnesota company, a company whose flicker of success first caught the attention of, and then was acquired by a Silicon Valley company desperate for people to help it grow, and eager to retain them. It was an unexpected gift, and I now had the dilemma of how to spend it.

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