a geek in the woods

About nine years ago, I rediscovered the pleasures of the extended nature walk, something I had taken for granted during my years as a land surveyor, but lost track of in my new, sedentary career as a computer geek.

About nine years ago, I rediscovered the pleasures of the extended nature walk, something I had taken for granted during my years as a land surveyor, but lost track of in my new, sedentary career as a computer geek.

But becoming ambulatory again did not mean I gave up on my gadgeteering geekiness.

As I packed up for my weekend afternoon wandering, I would stock my backpack with the usual necessities: a canteen of water, some trail mix and fruit, maybe a tin of tuna.

Then I would add the other things necessary to take care of my cultural and technological nerdiness: a book or two, maybe a magazine, a pen and notebook, half a dozen music CDs for the portable CD player I wore in a holster on my belt, my Olympus 2.3 megapixel digital camera (just slightly less in size and heft than a conventional SLR camera), and my stick-style cellphone – because, after all, just because you are lighting out to the forest primeval doesn’t mean you want to miss an incoming call, right?

Thus, with the equivalent of a small sack of potatoes on my back, I would ply my favourite trails around town, most often to a small pond on the trail out to Long Lake, where I would settle in for an afternoon of music and reading and blank-minded nature-staring.

Over the past few weeks, with the advent of genuine sun-basking weather at last, I have been doing much the same thing in much the same places, but this time with a technological difference.

The trail snacks and water remain (though the snacks go in my pants pockets now, and the water bottle hangs off my belt), but, with the exception of my new, smaller 7.2 megapixel digi-cam, all the other stuff is gone.

The books, magazines, notebooks, music CDs and CD player have all been replaced by my iPod Touch.

Minus the literary and musical encumbrances, I now have the luxury of slinging a portable camp chair over my back, so I can settle in at one of my favourite sites and pass the afternoon in greater comfort.

Plus, thanks to the iPod, I have more literary, musical and techno-comforts, too: 1,355 songs to listen to, 1,348 photos to look at, and, at the moment, about 150 books spread out over a number of book-reading apps; also with my New York Times app, I can browse through previously downloaded news stories at my leisure.

In short, it is great to be a geek in the woods, these days.

We have come a long way with portable electronics in the past decade, both in terms of the size and weight we have to deal with, and in terms of the power efficiency of the units.

As I sunbathed by my pond last weekend, I thought back to my first experience as an ambulating techo-geek, back in the early ‘80s, when I bought my first “portable” (really, more wearable than portable) CD player in 1985 – the year Dire Straits’ Brothers in Arms came out, which was the first CD I ever owned.

A Hitachi unit, the thing cost me something like $300 – a lot of money, in 1985 – and the player itself was about the size of a trade paperback.

In its portable configuration, it came with a leather case and a sling to hang off your shoulder, and a snap-on container for the four C-cell batteries required to power it in mobile mode.

After a few attempts at wearing it on the job, as I worked in the survey field, I quickly gave up on it as anything more than an in-house player to attach to my Bose Roomate speakers back in camp.

With the battery pack, it weighed in at probably around two kilograms – light enough to be carry-able, but heavy enough to swing and bump around too much on its strap when you moved; also, it was a C-cell-consuming monster.

Now, I can have all the music and other entertainment I need, literally in my shirt pocket, and it will run all day.

Not all of the effects of the new mobile communications technology are positive, of course – we need laws about driving and using cellphones, for instance; and our teenagers’ compulsive texting is a looming threat to their future attention spans – but they have definitely improved the esthetic experience for woodland wanderers.

You will notice, though, that I speak here of wandering with an iPod, not with an iPhone.

There are two reasons for that.

First, since the iPhone 4s have just come out in Canada, and I do not have one, yet.

Second, though I am as geeky as ever, I am also nine years older and perhaps a smidgen wiser than I was before.

I have learned that when you are luxuriating in a picturesque landscape, listening to a Brahms string quartet, and reading, say, Ariosto’s epic romance Orlando Furioso (available for free on iBooks, by the way) on your iPod, you really can afford to miss an incoming call.