Craig Wisner

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Swimming with Beasts.

An average morning surfing a local jetty with John before work- I catch a glimpse in the distance of a tail breaking the water’s surface, soon after a spout blows.

“Hey John…whales!”

A pod is congregating about a quarter mile away on our 10 o’clock.

Another surface breech, this time I see a pectoral fin as the whale rolls.

“Cool!”

We continue surfing.

The whales are now drifting closer, perhaps 200 meters away.  We catch a good look at one, its massive head and back, and are pretty certain they’re Humpbacks.  There appear to be at least half a dozen of varying sizes, a family, all moving slowly north.  Pre-dawn fishermen and beach walkers are beginning to congregate on the sand to look.

We keep surfing, watching.

Within a few minutes, the pod is now directly in front of us, about 100 meters deep.  We decide to swim outside to get a better look, not expecting them to actually be there when we get out.

But the whales hold, seemingly waiting for us, massive shapes lurking below the surface.  Small boils, ripples, and turbulence on the surface give away their locations.

They’re getting very close.  We sit on our boards, watching, slightly nervous.

Without warning, the largest whale slowly  breaks the surface, a smaller one beside it, lumpy black-grey backs parting the water.  The largest is easily over eight feet wide.  They’re less than 10 meters away and headed right for us.  There’s a mix of laughter, amazement, and a background fear that we’re too close.  The massive bodies then dip and silently disappear below the surface.  They’re somewhere in the deep under us.  One then surfaces not far from John.  Another appears behind me.  Again they disappear.  Most stay under, sending ripples and small wakes around us.  We’re fully surrounded, apparently being investigated, and we’re completely exhilarated, yelling at each other in disbelief, craning our necks to figure out where they are.  We’ve been gifted by the presence of swimming giants, powerful yet gentle beasts seemingly expressing nothing but curiosity towards us.

Stillness now.  They’ve moved on, sliding northward, soon surfacing about 50 feet away.

We’re grinning wide-eyed like maniacs.

Zion Canyons. 4/5 and 4/5/2014

The background information and cast of characters on this trip are well explained by Jacob on his blog post, Hike It. Like It: Traversing Zion.

Adan and I did Keyhole Canyon on our first day, a great easy introduction to slots and swimming.  I fully intend to get the kids into this one with me this summer.  The rappels are straightforward and I could lower them if necessary.  Temps should be better as well; I lost feeling in my feet within 45 minutes of getting in the water.

Photo conditions are difficult; all of these canyons were far darker than they appear here.  All of my photos were taken on a GoPro Hero HD without the ability to adjust the shutter speed or exposure so some blurriness ensued…

Canyoneering is too much fun.  Needless to say, it looks like we’re both hooked.  Plans for bigger, better, and harder canyons are already in the works and a new rope is in the mail.  While I’m pretty well versed in rock climbing and climbing anchors, this is a new application of some of those skills that I’m excited to explore.

Keyhole Canyon:

Gearing up and over geared.  Going by the books, we carried more than necessary.  Knowing what I know now, this canyon can be done with a harness and 60' of rope.  Maybe a sling and a link as backups.

Gearing up and over geared. Going by the books, we carried more than necessary. Knowing what I know now, this canyon can be done with a harness and 60′ of rope. Maybe a sling and a link as backups.

The biggest little adventure car, my new Honda Fit.  Los Angeles to Zion on $65.

The biggest little adventure car, my new Honda Fit. Los Angeles to Zion on $65.

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Orderville Canyon:

(Unfortunately I missed most of the best jumps and swims in the latter half of the canyon when the camera died…)

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This hike was a lot of fun. ~12 miles, we finished it in about 6 hours.  More of a hike than a technical canyon, no serious rappelling was involved and most of it could have been downclimbed if you wanted to.  We had a blast in the lower half throwing our packs off of ledges and taking some good jumps and swims.  This sort of travel definitely makes you think about the robustness of your gear.

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Chess Delirium.

I’ve recently found myself dusting off old companions like Modern Chess Openings 14, staring into midnight computer screens, fingers trembling on the mouse as I watch my remaining time hit 16 seconds in an online game that should be won, or drifting to sleep pondering the lines of the Fried Liver Attack.  Most often I feel like a hack, but on occasion a feeling of artistry emerges, coupled with a sense of disbelief and new-found inspiration.  A fleeting consideration that despite my being eons from greatness,  I may actually be penetrating a slightly deeper level of this maddening game.

mikhail Tal

Mikhail Tal. “The Magician from Riga”, one of my favorites.

I never fully left chess, having maintained sponsorship of my school’s chess club for over eight years now.  Over the last few years, however, my energy has been primarily devoted to teaching (beginner) beginners, functioning as a tournament director, or simply providing the space and equipment to play, with little attention or effort put towards maintaining or developing my own game.  Days of spirited analysis and club blitz tournaments are far and few between now, primarily due to the graduation of a dedicated cohort of chess players a few years ago and my waning energy after their departure.

All of which leaves me in the position of being a much better teacher and chess historian than player.  Lines that once easily flowed from memory and hours of study have now become muddled and I find myself all too often blindly falling victim to tactical combinations that once would have been strikingly transparent.

And there is also, of course, the ever humbling experience of being a grown man and losing to a peach-fuzz-mustached Freshman with an oversized backpack during a lunchtime match. That happened today.  Again.  I tell you, it takes courage, though I have long accepted the fact that as the elder in the room, my ego has absolutely nothing to gain.  If I win, it was somehow expected, and nobody cheers me.  If I lose, however, I bestow powerful and irrevocable bragging rights on my adolescent victor.  I beat the teacher!!!

Yet I feel a powerful need to get back in the game.  It may be the only thing that can keep my aging brain from getting too dull and mushy, too fast.  My son has shown an increasing interest over the last few months and I find myself catching the bug again.

There’s one small barrier I’ve been facing lately:  My Own Brain.  Who would have thought sleep disorders are not conducive to furthering chess study?

Salvador Dali ”Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening”

Salvador Dali Dream Caused by the Flight of a Bee around a Pomegranate a Second Before Awakening

Years and years of alternating nights of waking dreams, sleepwalking, apnea episodes, and sleep paralyses are continually robbing me of rest and leaving me in a perpetual state of sleep deprivation, despite being in bed in time to get 8 or 9 hours.  Tomorrow evening I check in to my hospital’s sleep lab for a night of electrodes on my head to see if anyone can figure out what’s going on.  I remember a chess epiphany I had years ago while playing on a Saturday morning on the ICC server: I played better than ever at 7:30AM because I wasn’t falling asleep yet.  Now I often find myself so tired I can’t think straight by noon, leaving me rapidly losing my power to calculate during the simplest of sequences or during a quick online 5/0.  Perhaps my lot in chess will be one of a lifetime relegated to a sleepy stupor at the board and tournament after tournament of getting crushed by gifted 10 year olds in my rating bracket.  The price to pay, I suppose, for an overactive imagination and a brain that doesn’t seem to be able to turn itself off.  But I do love the game.

As Vonnegut would say, “So it goes”.

Mose Allison’s My Brain has become my chess anthem.

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Tonight: 50 problems on Chess Tactics Server, a 30 minute game with my son, and a look at an al-Adli problem (circa 840):

White to move and mate in three.

White to move and mate in three.

 

 

It’s going to be a long road.

Edit:  Perhaps all is not lost.  I solved the problem above within 30 seconds of posting this.  From a 9th Century Islamic scholar composing chess problems to a ceramics teacher sitting in the suburbs of Los Angeles in 2014, what a beautiful game this is.

Horse Flats ~ Rock Gardens. 3/25/14

I have to remind myself to stop thinking of this place as a Zen garden; Zen gardens are a poor imitation of this.

Reacquainted with long lost friends, formations, large and small, featured and smooth.  Cold fingers crimp down on a familiar hold, tendons creaking, locking, pulling skyward.

Many a sunrise has been witnessed alone from the top of a boulder here.

A somewhat forgotten fear is remembered, feeling blindly for a hold, freezing, looking down, pulse quickening.  I force myself to climb all the old standards until the fear is gone and my fingers no longer tremble at the top, until I can climb relaxed, until I can purely focus on movements learned and memorized long ago.

It was good to feel strong today.

 

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Spearing, 3/16/14

North of Malibu with Adan, in the water at sunrise.  The boogie board dive float works well; a nice base camp for storing fish, water, and gear.  Visibility wasn’t great, but still doable.  I shot one small perch; not many other opportunities presented themselves as fish were sparse.

The highlight of my diving was discovering an octopus lair.  Deep within a crevice I spot a large pile of empty shells strewn about, the garbage pile of an old underwater recluse piled outside its doorstep.  The the actual lair was too deep to find the creature living inside of it; I tried to stick my head in on successive attempts but couldn’t penetrate the darkness.  I like to imagine an old fellow sitting back in the darkness wondering about me.  I wouldn’t mind being an octopus.

I’m enjoying doing gyotaku, starting to get a feel for things.

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Perch gyotaku.

Perch gyotaku.

Gyotaku.

This is my first attempt at gyotaku, the Japanese art of “fish rubbing”.  It is my understanding that the practice originated amongst fishmongers in the 1800s, fish being printed and posted as advertisements prior to being filleted, as well as being printed as evidence of trophy fish amongst fishermen.  Lacking sumi paper, my first attempt is on 90 lb. Stonehenge printing paper, far too stiff to capture proper detail.  The sumi paper traditionally used is far more flexible, allowing for a cleaner and softer wrap around the fish.  The fish is spread into position, inked, and pressed with paper.  Details are then sharpened/enhanced with a brush.  The following print is a rockfish, just a hair under 15″ in length, taken by polespear after work on Thursday (3/13/14) while solo diving in north Malibu.  Diving visibility was excellent and I thought I had some great pics of the day on my Gopro…only to return home to find that I forgot to put the SD card back in.

I’m anxious to continue developing my skills with this.

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Los Padres Storm. 3/1 thru 3/2/2014

The “worst” storm of Southern California’s “winter”.  Where else should one be but in the mountains?  Snow, sleet, slush, rain, wind, and muddy mayhem with Adan and Michael.  Poetry reading, howling, shivering, strategizing, slumbering, coffee brewing, and menudo eating.  Awakening to coyote laughter at 3Am, echoing through wind and trees. Three thirds complete, what one of us forgets, another remembers.  To start Monday morning tired and cold from the weekend; It’s good to know people as foolish as I.

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