Nameless Gulch

In April of 1860, two cousins left their family home in the tiny town of Fields, Alabama on account of the Gold Rush in California. They traveled together over land and river, through the Rockies to arrive in Carson City, where they stocked up on prospecting supplies and food rations. Ulysses Yates, 19 years old, had argued for making an investment in a map there in Carson City, but Pete Campbell, who was 21, said there was no need to spend the money, he’d already looked at enough maps and had the route in his head of where they needed to go.  As the older cousin, Pete always won out, so the two set out southwest, into the Sierra Nevada, with nothing to go on except Pete’s instincts, a dream of becoming rich beyond their wildest dreams, and a peculiar and highly specific vision.

Way back in Fields, Pete had looked at a map of the west out of a magazine, and saw something strange.  On the map, right there in California, just to the left and down of where it cut an angle on the border of Utah Territory, there was a sparkle shining up. It was bright and clear as day and Pete studied it and memorized its exact position on the map.  So when he saw maps in Carson City, there was nothing where the pinlight had been just space between some mountain lumps.   

And so, unbeknownst to Ulysses, the pair was following something out of Pete’s dreams, and they traveled for 10 days to the mountainous region. But as they hiked around trails and over ranges Ulysses steadily grew more agitated that they might not have been going anywhere at all.

But Pete reassured him that they were heading in the right direction, that he “sensed” the gold, despite not always seeming certain when choices needed to be made. Eventually, they found themselves walking along a perilous perch on a cliff, up to a plateau, across it and then down an equally perilous natural pathway that led to a canyon floor, an area well covered in douglas fir.  Pete looked at his cousin and told him that they’d reach their destination.  They set up camp while there was still daylight, dim as it was, because the sun had already traveled well beyond the top of the western canyon wall.

When daylight came, they explored around the canyon floor. Almost at the very moment the sun appeared over the eastern wall, they came upon a rock face that suddenly glimmered in the sunlight, a thin crack of speckles and glints shining at them like a smile. Ulysses was struck dumb, giggling at the fortune, and ran toward the natural wall, his fingers feeling around for a shiny pebble he could simply pull off. Pete had been utterly convinced of his message, and having now been vindicated of its veracity, walked over the Ulysses, patted him on the back and suggested they get started.

Over the summer months, Pete and Ulysses would mine the vein, and every time it seemed like it was coming to an end, it would fan out again. They’d only had pickaxes, and no way of getting better equipment, so the going had been slow.  Pete assured Ulysses in the Fall they’d head back to Carson City and get more supplies, but for the summer they would work at mining it with their simple tools. 

When the Fall came, the cousins continued to work, but one morning at the end of September, the arrival of a freak early snowfall set Ulysses to panic. He urged his brother to depart for Carson City with haste, telling him that they’d collected more than enough, but Pete assured Ulysses that it was unusual: it would melt and they’d have plenty of time after. Ulysses agreed, and they persisted and the snow was gone in a couple of days.

But three days later, while they were in their tent in the small morning hours, the ground started shaking heavily and continued for nearly a minute. They woke up to the sound of loud cracks as high branches fell to the ground. Ulysses was once again convinced now that it was time to leave. Pete agreed this time, and the two brothers packed up, including a handful of gold rocks, and dug a hole for the remainder.

But they’d never leave the canyon.  With Ulysses in front, Pete behind, they had been traversing the route up the canyon wall, when the ground gave way and both brothers fell to the canyon floor, cracking Ulysses’s skull and breaking Pete’s legs. Ulysses died within hours, while Pete suffered in agony for days, managing to crawl back to camp but unable to allow his legs to heal or properly protect himself from the elements.  He froze to death a week later, lying atop of the stashed gold.

With nobody alive to know the location of the canyon or the mine, nobody sought it out.  And even if they had, they’d find it inaccessible, the path up the mountain and down the canyon wall that Pete had so easily navigated was destroyed. So the canyon and the mine had been left in its condition for year after year, decade after decade, with no witness other than the wildlife: deer, mountain lions, bears.

For survey crews, because of its accessibility, nobody even knew a canyon was there at all for at least a century.  All of California had now been mapped, but where the canyon ought to have been was an empty blank space.  

Time marches on, however, and it would not stay hidden forever. While the canyon was hidden from ground view, it appeared on satellite images. And those images were used to improve maps. In 1985 a cartographer with a sense of humor who had been updating geological survey maps of the region, decided to label it, “Nameless Gulch,” which was how it would be called for the next fifty years. 

It was a tiny little canyon in the middle of some average summits, not notable. And oddly, nobody took interest in it. No government agencies, no corporations looking to tap its resources. It was a footnote, an afterthought, too costly to explore for what, a few acres of green land? Mostly, nobody was interested in it.

But technology would advance.  In 2032, a patent was issued, on a Long Range Precious Metals Detector. Which led to the Gold Rush of 2033, the following year.  Helicopters began to criss-cross the state, with these sensors.

In June, a team of field geologists working for PanCorp were on a helicopter over the area when their sensor went off, a large untapped vein of gold was in the chasm nearby. Dr. Jessup, the leader of the team, declared with excitement, “Our work has finally paid off, folks! Record the coordinates and let’s fly back to figure out how we’re going to access it.”

Organize me now!

I have to get organized. In fact, it’s crucial that I get organized, and it is something that I honestly believe I am capable of doing.  Because not believing in my ability to get organized would sink me into a spiral of depression from which I fear I might not recover.

Why get organized now?

But why, you may wonder, is there such doom and gloom associated with my failure to organize myself? After all, for 55 years, my ADHD has allowed me to fly by the seat of my pants, relying on my brain power to fill in the gaps of appointments I need to make, groceries I need to pick up, bills I need to pay, promises I need to fulfill.  For those executive functions I have lacked, I’ve made up for by putting more work on the functions that I possess well.

The truth is, however, that my brain is aging along with the rest of me. Sometimes my cognitive abilities feel like they’re in decline.  I get distracted…a lot, these days.  It’s as if my ADHD is in overdrive now. Which, may be causing my memory to suffer as well. The internal alarms don’t go off like they once did to warn me about doctor’s appointments (one of which I missed last week), pill taking and bill paying.

Two of my lifelong enemies are the demons know as To-Do List and Daily Schedule. I probably still have in one of my boxes, packed away, a Day Runner organizer, a leather bound, thick, but small notebook, which had all sorts of features, tabs and pockets to make people’s lives easier.  I had some success with using it but eventually I gave up on it because I couldn’t discipline myself enough to open it first thing in the morning, take it everywhere with me and write down ideas, phone numbers, or details from appointments. 

Since life moved more toward my computer, I’ve used many apps and programs, perhaps none more than Microsoft products such as Outlook and Notes, with varying degrees of success.  Outlook manages tasks and to-do lists separately, and there seems no intuitive way to integrate either of those items with the calendar feature to schedule myself. Notes is good for taking notes at meetings, in classes, or studying, but I haven’t figured out how it integrates with the aforementioned calendars, tasks or to-do list. Perhaps the biggest benefit to putting something on one of these lists has been that it solidifies in my brain allowing me to retrieve the information at the appointed time, a process that no longer seems to be working. 

But unlike my mental acuity, which, may or may not be declining, my self-discipline is these days on the rise. I’ve developed a few daily practices which are becoming consistent habits and the kinds of things I do to better myself. So I believe I am ready to add something else to those practices, something which could, in fact, change the quality of my life for the better. That is, firstly, creating a list of tasks which are a mix of things I must do (pay bills, go to appointments), things I should do (call friends more often, clean the kitchen floor), things I need to do (go to the gym regularly, plan healthy meals) and things I’d like to do (write fiction and essays, paint, yoga). And secondly, ranking those tasks by difficulty and planning them into a daily schedule around the rest of my life. 

I prefer the word “planning” over “scheduling” because It just sounds easier to me. Throughout my life I’ve fought with trying to schedule myself so just changing the word gives me less of a desire to escape from it.  Plan. It has a nice ring to it.

So needed an app that would take a to-do list and put items on a schedule seamlessly. And one that is open source. And geared toward personal use. This has turned out to be quite the challenge. 

But I have found a few things that are moving me toward what I want to be doing. This is not a review, clearly, as I’ve been going on and on about my executive function disabilities for 900 words before even getting to the first one of these I tried out. And I didn’t delve deeply into how-tos or the instructions, so perhaps something that isn’t intuitive already is in there.

TaskUnifier

After using some appropriate search terms in Bing, like “open source task scheduler,” I found something called TaskUnifier. It appealed to me because it had a calendar, and I had hoped that it would be everything I wanted.

It was not everything I wanted. 

TaskUnifier window
TaskUnifier browser app

TaskUnifier does, in fact, allow you to set a date for tasks, but I could not, for the life of me, figure out how to set a time to do tasks. There is no item for start time in the task form. The calendar day view does provide a calendar measured out by hours, but there is no determinable way to set an activity on the calendar at any time.  All of the items may be found as “all day” on the agenda view. 

So while you can set an alarm for the item at a specific time. I was saddened by this lack of usability, because I was hoping it would be able to do what I was asking, that is, incorporate tasks into my schedule.

TaskUnifier seems good at creating task lists but not good at planning a day, which is what I was looking for.

Freeplane

I did another search, this time in Google, on the phrase “I need an open source software that takes to-do lists and allows me to schedule items.” This led me to a series of search results.

Freeplane desktop app

I found the program Freeplane.  It was not exactly what I was looking for but the material on the program intrigued me. It’s a software that creates mind mappings, something I’ve heard about but never looked at very strongly.  I downloaded the app on my PC, and looked at it. There are ways to use this to tie together ideas and tasks, plus you can set alarms and look at your alarm list. But ultimately, it still doesn’t do exactly what I currently need for my task/scheduling.

However, I’m going to play with Freeplane some more and see if I can use its mind-mapping capabilities to work on ideas, and maybe help organize my thoughts in other ways.  

Tried and true

When I went back to review the search results for this essay, I found a website whose name I had been trying to remember, because I’d used it before with some other online users: Trello.  It’s quite a powerful project manager, easy for groups to use and available for free.  Sadly, however, the feature I wanted, the ability to schedule tasks, is only available on the Premium version.

I gave up and went back to Microsoft Outlook. I have a fully licensed 2016 edition which I’ve used for email for a long time and which I have integrated with my iPhone calendar. In looking at the “View” menu item in my Calendar, I discovered a “Daily Task List” icon.  I could in fact show my tasks while I was looking at my calendar, in fact, those tasks that are listed as “to be done today” or with no date are under the schedule in the Day and Week view.  And I can drag a task to the schedule to create a new item

It’s not what I would call full integration but it’s more than I’ve had so far, and I’ve already got the software to do it. Maybe the perfect software exists for me, maybe it doesn’t, but I am not going to expend any more of my time in searching for it. 

I have to use the task list and scheduler and I have to then do the tasks on the task list and their appointed times.

And the first thing I am going to check off of it is finishing this essay.

Late Night on the BART Platform

Shari ran up the escalator to the platform, only to find the doors closing on the next BART train into the city. Frustrated, she let out an audible breath between her clenched teeth as she watched the train gliding forward, out of the station. The train’s distinctive whirr increased in pitch, and then decreased in volume while it sailed into the distance, vanishing in the darkness.

It had been the last direct train of the night, and now she’d have to wait another fifteen minutes—actually, twenty according to the marquee—for the next Berryessa-bound train, from which she’d have to transfer at Macarthur station to get onto a train taking her home.  She was indignant. She didn’t want to be stuck out here in the East Bay, much less El Cerrito, any longer. 

The platform was quiet. At this hour there would be very few people heading southbound—most of the commuters were coming from San Francisco or Oakland or Berkeley and heading home.  In fact, other than the hunched figure seated far up the platform maybe the length of four or five cars away, Shari was alone in her wait. Biting her lip, she looked up at the marquee again.  Sixteen minutes.

She looked up the platform again, and seeing the hunched figure, frozen in place and still a safe distance away, she pulled out her iPhone. Unlocking it with her thumb, she opened her messages. Her eyes alighted on the top one, seeing again the first few words of the false promise that brought her so far from the city, she shook her head, then she swiped up until Pace’s name appeared in the message list. 

“Can u meet at Mission and 16th in about 45 min?” she typed and sent. The tiny word “Delivered” appeared immediately. She briefly wondered if she’d given them enough time to meet her, considered following up with another message, then decided against it. If she was late she would follow up with a text. She stared at the message with intent, silently willing it to change to “Read”.

When the screen went dim she was shaken from the spell, and she put the phone away. Pace was probably in the kitchen, and didn’t have hands for the phone at that moment. Or in the laundry room. Because they usually responded to Shari right away, and something must be occupying them at that moment.  Shari would hear a ping from their message soon enough.

The marquee read eleven minutes.  The hunched figure had still not moved.  The computer voice of the intercom system, which she’d relegated to background noise until then, declared, “Richmond train, now approaching, platform B.” On the opposite track, a train slid into the station, the whirring sound as it approached forming the opposite tones as the earlier departing train. Its doors opened and through its windows Shari watched it empty the lion’s share of its commuters onto the opposite platform. As it pulled away from the platform, she watched the people funneling on to the escalator or pouring down the stairs until the last commuter on the platform slipped into the elevator and disappeared. 

She looked up at the marquee again.  Eight minutes.  She pulled her phone out and checked the message.  Still “Delivered”.  She looked down the platform and found that the hunched figure had vanished. Her eyes darted to every shadow, every hiding place on the platform as she felt a wave of dread wash over her. Where had they gone?

Conversation on a Dream

Lucien and Pascal are at lunch at a crowded outdoor café. The occasional sounds of traffic nearby and the murmur of other patrons’ conversations are part of the tableau of their reunion.

LUCIEN: “Every few days the dream comes.  Maybe twice, maybe three times a week.  I am staring out into a pristine, snowy landscape. Flat at first, but as I try to move forward, the landscape slopes up, the snow a rippling white as in a bowl of marshmallow cream. I cannot see the peak of this slope, and I know I will not achieve the summit, so I search for another way out.”

PASCAL: “So you are feeling trapped?”

LUCIEN: “Ehhh, perhaps, but not in a panicking way. But as I examine the scene in front of me, I notice a path across the slope, ditched into the snow, parallel to where I am, going upwards from left to right.  The start and the end are beyond my field of view, and I have no way to approach it, for between myself and the path is a deep valley. Still, I have not yet lost hope.”

PASCAL: “I see. You are disconnected from a path that begins from and leads to nowhere.”

LUCIEN: “Not for long.  I suddenly realize that two figures are slowly trudging their way up the path.  I believe they are on skis, although the distance makes perception as to how they are traveling difficult. They are so far away that nothing is distinguishable about their features, their style of clothes, nothing.  As I stare at them, and become aware of them, I feel myself moving across the landscape toward them, over the deep valley, moving fast.  As I approach, I am drawn to the second figure whose face is now clear to me.  It is me!”

PASCAL: “A predictable twist.”

LUCIEN: (scoffing) “As soon as I realize that, I now am the second figure.  I find I am not wearing skis at all, but hiking boots. My poles are simply walking sticks.  However, I have no idea who the person ahead of me is, who is also dressed the same way. I want to know.  I have been trying to catch up to them. I need to talk to them. But no matter how fast or hard I try, they remain ahead of me.  I call out, ‘Hello!  Wait!’ to no avail. I push myself harder, I now understand that they have the means to help me escape from this frozen land. I move faster, crying ‘Stop!’ They turn around, their face is masked but their eyes are burning with malice.  They rush toward me and push me. I lose my footing and now I am falling over the side, into the valley.  That’s when I wake up.”

PASCAL: “The second figure, can you tell what they are wearing?”

LUCIEN: “A ski jacket and pants, no doubt. I’m sure I would notice if they were wearing something different.  Black, I think. Is that important?”

PASCAL: “Perhaps the fact that you can’t remember that detail is what’s important.”

LUCIEN: “Why? What do you think it means?”

PASCAL: “I will tell you what I think. But you won’t like it.”