Sunday, June 21, 2009

A heartfelt Solstice

This morning (at 5:45am UTC), which roughly means yesterday at 10:45pm MST here in Santa Fe) was the 2009 Summer Solstice, vernacularly known as the longest day of the year (in our northern-hemispheric-centered way of thinking)...
To celebrate this midsummer day (I know it's weird to think of this as mid-summer, but in the old days they only had 2 seasons: summer and winter), Simon Mehalek, Shawn Barr and I planned to hike up from the Santa Fe ski basin (10,350 ft = 3,155 m) to the top of Tesuque Peak, which stands at 12,047 feet or 3,672 meters above sea level. Sunrise here was at 5:48am, so we got on our way at 2:30am and began walking up around 3:15am so we could get to the top in time to see the sun rise over the horizon.
Simon led the ascent at a clip that quickly became clearly unsustainable for my unacclimated body. Just as soon as I got him to slow down, Simon had an episode of AVNRT, which is a non-life-threatening, congenital form of Supraventricular Tachycardia from which he (and his siblings) suffer. The stress from the highly successful Frankencircuit show at the Santa Fe Complex had caused another episode earlier in the week, therefore we took this as another sign from Simon's body to "take it eezy" and relax. So, as all good mountaineers are apt to do, we decided to abort our solstice mission and return to base camp. Just as we were doing that, Ben Lichtner, his girlfriend Marie and two friends were coming up the slope. My idea about the solstice sunrise hike had inspired them to join us, so it was good to think that at least one of our SFx teams would make it to the summit (though in the end they didn't either)...
As we came down the mountain and back to civilization I found myself pondering about a recent Wired magazine article entitled "Know thyself", about the personal metrics movement and the "quantified self" or more generally about the "macroscope", whereby we'll be able "to link myriad bits of natural data into a larger, readable pattern". If Simon had been monitoring himself, and sharing his health symptoms on curetogether, while tracking his food intake with tweetwhatyoueat, and recording vital statistics automatically using Nike+ or Fitbit, or manually logging his heart rates and blood pressure on a mobile app, perhaps he could have prevented the (re-)occurrence of his palpitations? I wonder...
Earlier in the evening, we had received an invitation to go to a stargazing party, which we decided to bow out of because of our hike. Once we were on the mountain, we got to see the firmament in its full glory even without the aid of a telescope. It was an awesome reminder of just how small a place we humans occupy in the spatio-temporal vastness of the universe.
At the same time, though, the microscopically aberrant cycles of Simon's heart reminded us of the irreplaceable value of each human being here and now. His continuing life on this mostly harmless and utterly insignificant little blue-green-planet was of paramount importance to Shawn and me and getting him to a place of safety was much more urgent than anything else at that moment. We got back safely, saw the sunrise from town and were no worse off for it.
And yes. Simon is fine, in case you wonder.
Happy solstice to all!
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