Ralph Higgins

Ralph Higgins
color pencil sketch by Gayle Higgins

Quotes I Like

“Everyone is a genius, but if you judge a fish by its ability to climb a tree, it will live its whole life believing that it is stupid.”

-Albert Einstein


Monday, May 26, 2014

What's a "Baggar"?

            The term “Baggar” may pop up in comments on my posts.  It’s an esoteric term that refers exclusively to six college buddies.  No one really knows the source of the word, or “non-word,” but the label “Baggar” somehow stuck to us.  The six of us were roommates at different times during our stints at San Jose State College (now S. J. State “University.”) 

Four of the six Baggars in the early '60s.

Top - Roger Koskela, Joe Medal
Bottom - Ralph, Dwight Klassen

            The photo above was taken when I moved into the “Baggar” apartment.  Two former roommates had graduated and moved on.  I was the new guy and had much to learn about the prevailing language, culture, and pranks of this group of guys.  We had known each other for years prior to college, but somehow the mixtures of personalities during college created what evidently defined “Baggar.”

One of our wives took this photo many years later,
but years prior to our recent adventure.
            This past week - more than a half-century after those great college days - five of the six former roommates got together to pick up where we left off many decades ago.  It was a time for fishing on Lake Tahoe, golf, the retelling of old stories and wondering what happened to old girlfriends. 

            We have maintained contact through the years and some of us have cruised to foreign lands together with our wives, but to get all six guys together in one spot was rare.  Thanks to Bob Rodde we had a beautiful house on the Old Greenwood golf course in Truckee and a scheduled boat and fishing guide for a calm day on beautiful Lake Tahoe.  Joe Medal was the only one of the six who couldn’t make the trip, but for the rest of us, it was a memorable treat.

            After an exhilarating discussion that lasted late into the night and reminded me of the philosophical debates we had in college, we were up at 3 or 4 A.M. (can’t remember exactly) and ready to catch a fish or maybe hook old Fredo Corleone, who is said to be floating in the depths, well preserved by the cold Lake Tahoe waters.

Left to right - Klassen, Koskela, Rodde, Higgins, Horton
           Fishing did not turn out to be exactly as any of us imagined.  The weather leading up to our day of fishing was somewhat tenuous, but, despite the possibility of an incoming storm, the consensus of the group, including the boat captain, was a “go.”

            Then the storm hit.  The water got rough, the wind blew the rain sideways, but we certainly didn’t expect sleet and snow.  I’ve done a lot of fishing in my life, including halibut fishing in Alaska and pulling a shark in tail-first in the Monterey Bay, but I don’t remember ever fishing in the snow. 

            Pulling a fish up from 400 feet with frozen hands, along with sleet and snow, made standing on the rocking deck somewhat treacherous. But that made our fishing trip even more fun, in my opinion.  No one threw up and we all caught beautiful fish.

            The next day was for golf, but I had to leave for the Bay Area and missed it.  Evidently the snow was only scheduled for our morning on the water.  From what I’ve heard, the golfing went well.  No snow.  (Correction - Since posting this, Rog Koskela told me that they had a hail storm on the golf course.)

            I don’t have the space here to provide a profile of the six “Baggars,” but we are an eclectic group, despite the commonality we all share.   All six of us have post-graduate degrees and credentials, including Bob’s MBA from Harvard and Jerry’s Doctorate, so it makes one wonder why this group would be found fishing in the dark during a snowstorm while riding the only bobbing boat on the entire lake.  An intelligent man would stop at Safeway and buy a fish, but there’s no fun in that. 

Thursday, May 15, 2014

A Mountain Man’s Guide to Life in the City

     After a great time with family and friends in the Los Gatos, San Jose, and Discovery Bay areas, Gayle and I just returned to the tranquility of the mountains.  We left the cacophony of city sounds and the ambient hum of busy highways far behind.  It’s roughly five hours from our home to the Santa Clara Valley.  We have a five or six trips scheduled for the next two months, so home is only a temporary respite.

            City living takes some getting used to again after being away from it for several years. It’s different than life in the Sierra foothills. Up here you never see bike riders in funny hats with rear-view mirrors, water bottles, and tight pants or joggers with the facial expressions of a woman giving birth.  We have horses, motorcycles, and trucks instead.

            Speaking of trucks, I’m convinced that suburbia has been invaded by little guys in pick-ups with leaf blowers powered by jet engines with afterburners. This invading force always attacks at the break of dawn.  After being startled by the roar, the invaders send in the second wave of troops manning power mowers modified with used NASCAR engines. These guerrilla gardeners hit and run leaving ringing ears and spilled coffee in their wake.


            Yogurt Vanilla Honey body wash has replaced the old fashioned bar of soap in some hotels and even some homes.  You smell so delicious after a shower that hungry homeless people stalk you if you go outside too soon after a shower.  

            There are many rules that must be followed when living in the city. Gated communities and others have CC&R’s that tell you where to park, what color to paint your house, how many times you can flush your toilet, and when to turn your lights off at night. Of course, guns, cigarette smoke, and nativity scenes can result in a drone attack.

            Gone are the days of the lone garbage can.  Trash must be separated and placed in the proper containers, which are to be positioned in the proper sequence in the street on particular days.  This allows the roar and clanks of garbage trucks to fill in when things get too quiet. 

            There is a can for food waste, a can for recyclable plastic and another for garden waste.  I don’t know what the other cans are for.  Maybe cans for dog waste, cardboard, used under wear, or the occasional victim of a drive-by shooting.  

            Driving in the Bay Area requires strategic planning.  It’s advisable to schedule your trip at low tide.  If you try to drive during high traffic hours you should carry water, dehydrated food, warm blankets, and flares. 

            Unless you know the correct freeway off-ramp it is very common for a driver to be stuck in a river of traffic that will take him 100 miles out of town before it is possible to change lanes.  A family from Kansas got stuck in the traffic on Highway 17 and was never heard from again.

            Following a car with a headless driver can be disconcerting.  We’ve all seen them.   For the uninitiated, driving in the bay area encourages the consumption of hard liquor or tranquilizers if you actually make it home.

            The natives seem comfortable driving 80 mph, bumper to bumper, while eating a deli sandwich.  But inevitably the traffic screeches to a halt and moves at single digit speed, allowing drivers to read bumper stickers, like “Support World Peace or I’ll Kill You.” 

            For yuppies, Starbucks is the only place to buy coffee.  It’s a place to hang out with a laptop and look “way cool.”  A cup of coffee costs as much as a small car and a take-out cup with the Starbuck logo is a status symbol when carried in the mall or left on the dashboard of a BMW.

            Seriously, our recent trip was worthwhile and fun, but I feel like I’m between rounds in a prizefight with my trainer splashing water on my face in preparation for the next round.  Despite the congestion and its frenetic pace, there is an obvious energy that animates the Bay Area.  I hate to admit it, but that energy is something both Gayle and I miss. 

            The first thing I noticed when we pulled into our driveway at home was silence. At first I thought I had lost my hearing.  I have tinnitus from the army or maybe the time I shot a gopher with a 12 gauge shotgun from my kitchen, so it was quiet enough that I could again hear the familiar ringing in my ears.  

            I like to joke about the traffic and pace of life in the Bay Area, but we always enjoy spending time with family and friends.  They say you can never go home, but there’s a gravitational pull of family and friends and the social stimulation of civilization that creates a constant dilemma for Gayle and me. 

            It’s too bad that we can’t level San Jose and create a wooded oasis by dropping a big hunk of the Sierra forest right in the middle of Silicon Valley.  Who says you can’t have it all?

Thursday, May 8, 2014

Beyond Reason to Faith

     Gayle and I live close to nature and we hike in the mountains daily with Dakota, our dog.  When I walk alone I have a lot of time for contemplation.  I’ve always wrestled with ontology, which is a big word that applies to the nature of existence.  My Christian faith provides answers, but I like to think beyond that to get a sense of the general context.  Walking in the woods and everything I know in this regard always leads me to teleology, another big word that refers to the evidence of design in nature.  Design without a Designer makes no sense to me.

            I’m sure we’ve all thought about these things at some time or another, but we always come to a point where questions remain unanswered.  Our minds are limited.  And science is limited in its scope.  Science is not the only path to truth.  Truth does not exist within our virtual world.  To make matters worse, science can also be influenced by a prevailing philosophy.  Take man-made global warming or Darwin’s theory and the so-called “consensus” of science. 

            The geocentric view prior to Copernicus was based on scientific consensus that the earth was the center of our solar system.  Copernicus changed that with the heliocentric view that the sun was the center of our solar system.  He paid a heavy price for going against the science of the day, but this proves that scientific consensus can be wrong.  Even the word “consensus” has no place in science, since science is always evolving and should always be challenged.

            So “What’s it all about, Alfie?”  Philosophers have struggled with that question for centuries.  Even this old fool-on-the-hill has wrestled with existential questions for which there are no answers.  But what is an “existential question?”

            An existential question would be “What is the meaning of life?  “What happens when we die?” “What is the purpose of it all?” An existential crisis relates to the stripping away of identities or meaning leaving us with our basic essence as a human being and questions of reality. 

            I’m not sure I fully grasp the concept and its variety of applications, but here is my understanding of existentialism as a philosophy. 

            Existentialism emphasizes the isolation of the individual in a hostile and indifferent universe.  The individual is a self determining agent in an unexplainable existence with full responsible for the consequence of his decisions.  Man creates his own nature through his freedom of choice.  In a pure interpretation of this philosophy there is no inherent purpose in life, but this does not normally extend all the way to nihilism.

            Perhaps the only existentialist thinker I can relate to is Soren Kierkegaard.  I quote him frequently in my posts.  A variety of philosophers have put a variety of spins on existentialism, but Soren Kierkegaard and Friedrich Nietzsche may have kicked it off, with Karl Japers and Jean-Paul Sartre and others adding additional flavors.

            I like Kierkegaard, because he is considered a Christian Existentialist who puts the emphasis on faith to fill the gaps.  The term “Christian Existentialist” seems counter intuitive, but to Kierkegaard, the choice of faith is critical.  It’s through faith that Kierkegaard chooses Christianity.

            The entire Christian perspective, from creation to the resurrection of Jesus, is difficult to fathom through reason.  Much seems illogical. Conversely, to think that our existence happened by chance is also unreasonable – at least to me.  This is what Kierkegaard would say is where faith obviates the absurdity.  He implies that we can’t believe in these things by virtue of reason.  This is where faith comes in and Christianity is all about faith.

            If we choose faith, which is the foundations of Kierkegaard’s philosophy, we must suspend our reason in order to believe in something higher than reason.  You’ve heard the phrase, “the leap of faith.”  This idea had its origin with Kierkegaard, but he actually stated it as a “leap to faith.”

            So when you get into ontology, the origin of life, the existence of God, the virgin birth of Jesus and his purpose, as well as other things that seem difficult, if not impossible, to understand logically, you are forced to go beyond reason.  There is too much that is beyond the reach of science and human understanding.  It is at this point that you are required to take that leap to faith.   

            The point of all this is that we can never find answers through reason to the “existential” questions that plague us. Maybe the universe is not as empty as an existentialist believes it to be, but regardless, there are enough limits to our intellectual understanding to require faith to take us beyond reason.  And I believe that ultimate truth is beyond reason.  Thus faith.