Tuesday, May 15, 2007


Back in Oakland, or, as I call it, the "Center of the Mutha-Effin Universe."

For the moment I'm shacked up at the house of a long-time friend whom I met in graduate school. She was a post-doc in my 'environmental chemistry and geomicrobiology research group' -- how's that for a mouthful -- and is out of the country on personal biz at the moment. But her place has everything I need -- a full-featured kitchen, internet access, and is located a mere 20 minute bike ride from my pool -- 15 if I feel like racing the buses down Telegraph, which I almost always do since it seems to piss the drivers off.

I've been riding my buddy's single-speed fixed-gear. Getting used to it and liking it. Perhaps now I have completed the personal sub-cultural migration to "hipster." I don't care. I still won't listen to The Clash or Echo and the Bunnymen. My policy is that I don't listen to any music that was recorded after I was born, except for the Black Crowes who are so plainly derivative from music that was recorded before I was born that they don't count, so my statement is consistent and I'm not a hypocrite.

As soon as I got home I found my blue jeans and corduroys, and a few western shirts. These were hastily jammed into boxes and stashed in a friend's basement before I left the States. The two pairs of Carhartts that dominated my fashion repertoire for so long have been given a thorough washing in my benefactor's bathtub and for the moment are taking an indefinite rest on the drying rack. I had forgotten how damn hot I look in tight Levis 517s and snap-front western shirts. No wonder I was always getting so much attention from the ladies when I lived here before. And the mando playing just put things over the top.

Speaking of, this week I will re-string my very nice, very expensive, handmade-in-Idaho mandolin and try to shake the rust off my poor, tired and disused fingers. Then possibly next week I will make an entrance once again on the Bay Area elite bluegrass scene at the Alameda jam.

I have done a lot of catching up with friends. Probably none of this is interesting to re-tell here. The highlight is that there has always been good beer involved. I drank a pint of Boont Amber Ale, then saved my piss and drank it just to see and it was still better than Thai beer.

I have dropped some applications at local coffee shops and bakeries to try to pick up some hours and cash. Will have to see what turns up. Tomorrow I'm having lunch with the people at the Footprint non-profit where I used to work. Wednesday I think me and some bros will head up to Sonoma Co. for the garden volunteer day at the Arts and Ecology Center at Occidental. That place rules -- they have the first composting toilet I ever used, a pivotal moment in my life. Thursday I meet the people who run the Ladakh program. They hinted that they might have a job for me this summer -- could be cool, have to see.

And the bbqs and parties abound. Pretty much that's the story here every summer. Also I may catch the train up to Sacramento to visit some friends from grad school who have proper, respectable jobs up there now teaching and doing environmental policy for the state.

My swim coach had her baby the day I got back -- 8 lbs 14 oz, boy. A big boy. I volunteerd to cook for them for the next few weeks if people on the team bring the groceries. So maybe I will be the family's personal chef for a while. Fun stuff!

I'm captaining a team for this year's Trans Tahoe relay. Don't know the line up yet but there's a lot of interest. One of my buddies is a sick bike racer and wants in. I'm excited about that. He holds the record for the beer-mile for the whole ACC. (He was a miler at UVA.) I think my best (sober) mile time is only about 10 seconds faster than his beer mile. Ridiculous.

I've got a ways to go to be in shape to rule the open water scene and defend my position as 24th in the world. But I might start doing two-a-days at the pool until I regain a firm hold as lead Otter. Our first event is June 2 -- one mile and two mile races in Lake Berryessa, Napa county. Last year I did both races back-to-back; probably I will just do one this year, since I've been out of the water for so many months.

People back in the hollers of Appalachia seem good as well. The moms seems happy I'm back within three time zones, and interested to talk about Buddhism. Dads is getting closer to quiting his job of thirty-plus years and putting in an application at Home Depot - his dream job. And the only ex-girlfriend who still talks to me, my "high school sweetheart," if you will, recently called off her wedding because of me. I didn't do or say anything, hadn't spoken with her in months, mabe a year or more. She just thought about me and that was it, done, no wedding, dumped the guy. Poor fella.

You see the kind of power I have? Sometimes I can't believe how awesome I am. It's seems unfair to the regular humans. But oh well -- too bad for them. My intention is to keep on rocking hard, maybe even step up the intensity -- just because I can, because I am so hardcore.

In fact, I am so hardcore, I don't read books anymore -- I just stare them down until I get the information I want. Furthermore, nowadays I rock so hard that I don't need to wear a watch -- I decide what time it is. And when I jump in the pool to swim, I don't get wet -- the pool gets Josh Kearnsed.

Sure is good to be back where I fit in, where people understand and appreciate how friggin awesome I am. But what else could I expect from the Center of the Mutha-Effin Universe?

Tuesday, May 08, 2007

"Stranded" in Kathmandu

It turns out I’ll be in Kathmandu at least a couple of days longer than expected.

Royal Nepal Airlines, the company that I have enjoined to transport my self and my belongings along the Bangkok leg of a journey that concludes in San Francisco via Hong Kong, is at the moment perhaps succumbing to the initial stages of implosion and ultimate self-destruction. One of the airline’s two planes is grounded with mechanical difficulties, and has been so for nigh on a week. Thus all flights to Bangkok and a smattering of other Asian cities representing half of the company’s routes have been cancelled. It hasn’t been possible so far to get a seat with another carrier since all of them are full and will be for some time as they struggle to absorb the hordes of deposed passengers.

So for the time being I’m “stuck” in Kathmandu, which in effect means that I hang around in cafes and drink lots of tea, eat pastries, and read books and magazines. Not a bad deal. And for now, Royal Nepal Airlines is attempting to run all of its routes with one plane. So I’m waiting, literally, for the plane to Bangkok – the plane to Bangkok.

In negotiating my situation with the ticketing agent the other day, I chided him that it seems presumptuous for a company with two, and now only one, airplane to call themselves an “airline.” I remarked that there ought to be a minimum number of planes one has to have to call oneself an airline. We discussed what this number ought to be: six, twelve, twenty? Hard to say exactly. I said that a company with just one airplane ought not to be called an airline – really at that point you’re just some guys with a plane. A hobby pilot with a Cessna could have overheard our conversation and chimed in, “Hey buddy, you gotta get to Bangkok? I’ve got a plane…” and no one would think to call him an airline. Using Royal Nepal’s logic, I joked, “I could go out and get an ice cream cone and call myself Baskin Robbins.”

The ticket agent and I laughed among the pandemonium of incensed travelers that had descended upon the Royal Nepal Airlines (sic) corporate office in central Kathmandu. The place really needed more authentic laughter; there’s nothing like air travel delays and complications that set people off into vitriolic fits of anger and indignation. Myself included – I hate airports and airplanes and everything having to do with them.

For instance, I hate standing in a long line before the ticket counter. Invariably I’m there next to a harried and exasperated middle class family with two or three or four kids with food smeared on their faces and shirts that wine and nag their parents for this or that and cause all sorts of commotion and disturbance. The family always has, in my judgment, way too much luggage, and in the ticket line I silently heap scorn on them for their blind and ignorant materialism as well as their lack of travel-savvy that unavoidably leads to chronic and excessive over-packing. The parents invariably look worn down to the point of breaking, and seem posed to shout at any moment: If you kids don’t stop…we’re not going on this vacation! I mean it! We will get back in our over-priced, gas guzzling SUV and drive right back to our characterless suburban tract home and it will be McDonald’s and video games for the next two weeks!!!

And once you’ve survived the ticket counter melee, your first reward is to have a grumbling security ogre take away your shoes, jacket and bags for inspection by other ogres while he or she pats you down with suspicion. The second reward is an interminable wait to board the plane in an environment “improved” by its having been made to resemble a shopping mall. Well I hate shopping malls; and airports made to look, smell, sound and feel like shopping malls I hate even more.

Being on the plane is miserable as well, since it’s cramped, smelly, either too hot or too cold, the food is crap and the flight attendants often hassle you if you request a vegetarian meal. What’s with that anyway? When they eventually come down to my seat, they say, “Roast chicken, or meat lasagna?” and I answer “vegetarian, please.” Then they have to go get this long piece of paper that looks like it was printed on an ancient dot-matrix printer and find my name to see if I specified a vegetarian meal in advance of purchasing the seat. Whenever I am given the option I specify vegetarian, even though I know this will almost surely result in consternation and delay of the meal service later on.

The anti-vegetarian bias in our society is something that has always bewildered me – it makes absolutely no rational sense. Great care is always taken to ensure that several options are available to meat eaters; meanwhile the “vegetarian option” is usually sad and inadequate. But meat eaters are really omnivores – they can easily accept vegetarian meals if necessary. (I’ve only known one person to eat exclusively meat who wasn’t an Inuit.) The reverse is not true. Thus it makes logical sense to stock an excess of vegetarian meals, rather than an excess of meat meals. It would be cheaper as well – I’m surprised the airlines haven’t at least caught on to that aspect.

As it is, I more often than not end up accepting a meat meal on the plane. I can do this because I am a “flexible” vegetarian. I abhor dogmatism in all its forms, including the dietary. What strict, or, as I call them, “dogmatic” vegetarian and vegans fail to realize is that their rigid adherence to dietary restriction is in fact a form of indulgence. Perhaps my Protestant upbringing has led me to look upon indulgence with measured trepidation, given its often-touted linkages to eternal damnation. The thought of being sent to Hell for indulging in strict dietary dogmatism is nearly equivalent to my love for bacon in my decision to be a “flexible” vegetarian.

Anyway, where were we? Ah, yes, how air travel is so unpleasant it makes me want to thrust my head into the whirling silver blades of a Waring blender…

Another thing I hate about air travel is that feeling in my stomach – up high, just behind the ribs – that ache that I get standing there at baggage claim staring holes into the sliding metal plates of the luggage carousel waiting for my bag to appear. I’m always thoroughly convinced that my bags have been lost, owing to the assured incompetence of the baggage handlers at whatever airport I’ve just come from. To-date my bags have never been misplaced. Though my fear is empirically ungrounded, I still suffer the symptoms each time I approach a baggage carousel.

Furthermore, I hate how everyone from the plane dashes to the baggage claim in a near sprint, even though we all now it’s gonna be at least fifteen or twenty or thirty minutes until the bags come out. And I hate how everyone piles up by that little doorway covered by the heavy black rubber strips where the bags come out. The crowd is so thick you can hardly see through between the bodies to spot your bag when it eventually arises from the dark underworld of the luggage conveyor system. Isn’t that annoying? I bet everyone there thinks about it and agrees that it’s annoying. Yet it still happens. Why are humans such silly, bloated, obstinate goats?

I could go on and on naming other stuff about air travel that irritates me to the point of distraction. Like how as soon as that little “ding” goes off when the plane pulls up to the jet way, every friggin obstinate goat on the plane leaps up and clogs the aisle and makes getting off the plane take longer. Usually right about then some jerk next to me is on his cell phone: “Yeah…yeah…I just landed…Salt Lake City…no, I said…Salt Lake City…Oh, it was great…yeah, Charlie and me played nine holes everyday…those guys in accounting screwed the whole deal…” All this is made worse by the fact that I’m half standing up, bleary-eyed and feeling hung over even though I haven’t had a drop to drink, hunched over trying not to bang my head on the underside of the carry-on luggage bin, while this pompous schmo on his cell phone is right by my ear shouting to his wife or whomever about his stupid business trip. Aaargh!

I could go on and on about the living nightmare that is air travel, and the vehement curses that I lay upon all of the selfish, inconsiderate, fat, smelly, boring, egocentric professional jerk-wads I invariably encounter (attract?) when I travel by plane. But people who complain incessantly and interminably are also on my list of individuals deserving of a slow and exquisitely painful death, and I wouldn’t want to be hypocritical.

So with all of this in consideration, the reader will have me back at the Royal Nepal ticketing counter, making jokes and yukking it up with the ticket agent. As I’m attempting to get my travel arrangements sorted out, amended, ratified, confirmed, stamped, and sealed into a parchment scroll with a dab of wax bearing the imprint of the seal on the ring of the king of Nepal, all the while making jokes, smiling, and maintaining as light a heart and mood as the situation could possibly permit, I abruptly become aware of a couple of young British women – aspiring Royal Nepal Airlines (sic) passengers, as it were – who were decidedly not taking well to my slap-happy approach to the snarled conditions of Nepalese air traffic.

Ah, my teachers had finally arrived! There’s a saying in Buddhism that difficult people make the best teachers. Although it causes me great pain to do so, I have to admit the deep truth of this assertion. It is so because people whom we think of as “difficult” are so, almost invariably, because they reflect to us characteristics we revile about ourselves.

These young – probably mid-twenties – British women were what I would call “high maintenance,” though in fairness I offer the caveat that I find a very large percentage of women, and a good deal of men as well, to be “high maintenance.” I’m an incurable introvert, and as it requires such a Herculean expenditure of energy on my part to be in the company of my fellow species while maintaining a modicum of civility, I tend to cut a broad swath in my mental grading of the disagreeableness of other people. Were I to be able to attain a higher degree of objectivity on the matter, or were I to have encountered these young ladies under different and less stressful circumstances, I might have found them mildly likable. Perhaps.

At any rate, their freshly painted claws were out, and their bangle earrings fluttered and danced as they attacked my poor jesting companion over the cancellation of their flight to Bangkok. You see, their friend (or “mate” as the British call their friends, a word I always thought should be reserved for copulating animals) was due to arrive in Bangkok on a flight from London at such-and-such an hour, and that they had to be there to meet her since they were all due to be relaxing on an Andaman Coast beach with drink in hand and toes in sand by noon on Tuesday. These travel plans were perforce carved into granite tablets because they were all on “holiday” (another curious word used by Brits to mean vacation) from work and had a limited and tightly scheduled window of opportunity for proper rest and relaxation.

Well, the bottom line, in reality, was that there was no way these prissy, shrill London birds were getting to Bangkok, unless, being “birds,” they sprouted wings and flew there under their own power. As I mentioned, Royal Nepal has one plane, and it’s not scheduled to go to Bangkok until Wednesday at the earliest. All the other carriers are full from taking up Royal Nepal’s slack. But of course, what’s reality in the face of an obnoxious, self-important young professional’s will to badger her way onto a plane?

Too much, I suppose, since my young traveling cohorts had to make due with the same wait in Kathmandu that I’m presently enduring, with its perfect weather, pleasant tea shops, ubiquitous used book stores and mouth-watering apple crumble. I find the fact that “reality” won this round against the girls’ relentless protests gratifying. Reality should always win, right? Sometimes it seems like it gives out and I begin to wonder. But in this case, rooting for the home team didn’t disappoint.

I stated out the outset that these girls were my teachers, and now that I’ve thoroughly decried their characters I’m bound to show how this is so. The girls were pushy and impatient, and wanted “their” way, right away, no compromises, no nonsense, no nothing. They were ready to step over or on any one or anything to get what they wanted. Their trip to Bangkok to meet their friend was more important that all the travel plans of all the other people who were suffering in the same logistical quagmire. They wanted special treatment, special consideration; and if the consequences for others of their getting what they wanted were unfair or difficult, they didn’t care.

And this is exactly how I am. And I resented them for being exactly how I am. They did a really good job of outwardly showing the hatefulness and self-importance that continuously brews within me. I, as a show of my coolness, affability, and “enlightened” nature, made jokes and made light of the situation. See how relaxed and groovy I am? See how mellow and confident in the face of distress? I am so cool – I don’t get overheated! I just cozy my way up to the service agent and make friends.

I act real friendly like, so they let their guard down a little. You see, I know they’ve been dealing all day with hotheads and pompous jerks that think they’re so important and deserving of special consideration. When the agent finally gets to work with me – well, it’s a relief! In fact, it’s a pleasure and an honor for them to have me at their ticket window! I’m so cool -- people just naturally regard me as their friend. I know how tough it’s been for them to deal with all these other jerks. I offer sympathy. I make some jokes, so that we can have a laugh and take some deep breaths before we have to do our regrettable business. Too bad I can’t hang out at their window all day! We’ve been having such a great time…

But veiled beneath this suave approach is a seething storm of angry egotism not unlike the violent whirling red spot that terrorizes Jupiter’s upper atmosphere. This monster would crush the life out of every wretched soul in the ticket line if it meant I’d get on that plane sooner. The venomous gargoyle I call my ego is, in reality, a million times worse than what my teachers were showing me the other day in the ticket line. They were going easy on me – it could have been a lot worse if I’d had to suffer a more full-on witnessing of my own egocentric maliciousness.

But at the time I was mad at them for being so pushy – I was annoyed and felt very superior with my cool-guy attitude. It took me a day or so to get over it and to acknowledge the lesson there for me. They were good teachers – and the whole situation was a perfect classroom for learning how the ego works.

Buddhism posits that the causes of suffering are ignorance, attachment and aversion. My personal experience continually confirms the veracity of this view. If one is attached to the realization of a certain outcome – say, arriving in Bangkok in time to meet one’s friend and go to the beach, or in my case, getting rapidly into the comfort of a friendly home territory – then for this outcome to be threatened causes suffering. We often call this “stress,” and react to it in myriad unhealthy ways. In addition to causing suffering for ourselves, negativity spills over into our environment and affects those around us.

This is why I hate airports and air travel so much – because the psychic environment is so poisoned by the collective stress and negativity of thousands of people who are helplessly enslaved to the spite and capriciousness of their own egos. I am one hundred percent guilty of this myself, and my personal powers for putting down the ego, letting go of attachment and seeing my surroundings through compassionate eyes are fairly puny. I become an anti-social knot of resentment and frustration as soon as my meager spiritual defenses are breached by the onslaught of modern techno-frantic ego-stoking life.

Of all the hubs of activity, transportation and commerce in our society, airports, owing to the especially high-stress environments they create, are perhaps the best classrooms for learning about the ego and its sinister workings. At some point in the next few days I’ll be boarding a plane for Bangkok, then another for Hong Kong, and finally another for San Francisco. Ripped from my comfortable and relatively isolated corned of the tea shop, I’ll be thrust mercilessly into the thronging classroom of egotism studies, 101, for a lecture lasting no less than thirty hours. I’ll make heroic efforts at compassion and equanimity, though I beg your forgiveness in advance for the almost certain slippages back into ordinary resentment and spite.

Thursday, May 03, 2007

The crisis of too much energy

A number of people have emailed me pointing out the recently announced collaboration between the University of California and BP in a big-money deal to research biofuels and thus address sustainability, tackle the energy crisis, etc. I guess this is the biggest collaboration between the corporate sector and academia in history or something, and I feel kind of obligated to say something about it, although I’m getting too tired to keep digging into these things and besides I’m beginning to feel like a broken record when it comes to criticizing the corporate-military-academic complex. But I can try to be concise, so here goes…

All you need to understand is that the real energy crisis is that we have too much energy. The way politicians, the media, corporations, economists, etc. make it sound you’d think we don’t have enough now, and that we’re really anxious about the future when our energy needs will be even greater because of population growth and economic expansion and stuff like that. But this is a just a good test for my rule of thumb about reality: whatever they’re saying on the TV news – on Fox, on CNN, etc. – is probably just about the opposite of reality. I mean if you watch the news and play a game of “opposite day,” like we did in third grade, then you will have a better idea of reality more than fifty percent of the time.

So if we play opposite day, then we’re supposed to get all excited that BP and UC are going to spend a lot of money (mostly public subsidies) on high-tech research and development to discover and invent technologies to solve the environmental and economic problems created by our use of high-technologies to-date. Since this is the biggest, most expensive collaboration of its type so far, then surely it will be able to (finally) discover and apply technology to solve the problems created by technology. Talk about fighting fire with fire!

What this is meant to do is allow us to continue conducting business-as-usual. The fundamental tenets of the faith of modern economics aren’t being questioned. This UC-BP collaboration is just the latest and most ostentatious (so far) denial and refusal to address the only two rational questions that can be put regarding the so-called energy crisis.

These two questions are:

(1) “What are we doing with all the energy we have now?”


(2) “Do we really need to do those things?”

To address the first question, in only a cursory way (since it’s totally unnecessary to make a research project out of this), I’ll offer a few examples. For one, a ton of energy goes into the military. The military is fighting in Iraq and elsewhere to get more energy (e.g. oil). So if we just stopped fighting so much then we wouldn’t need so much energy, and fewer people would be hurt and killed and there would be less incentive for terrorism. So that solves a bunch of problems at once. But the military contractors, engineering outfits and weapons corporations don’t like this easy solution.

Also, a huge amount of our energy goes for pumping water. A lot of water is pumped all around to service industrial agriculture. In addition to the pumping, industrial agriculture uses scads of energy for fertilizers, pesticides, farm machinery and food processing and transport, and is in general an all-around nightmare (I’m not going to explain why here, you can read about it on your own). So if we reformed our agriculture system and embraced small-scale, self-reliant permaculture and organic agriculture systems then that would use way less energy. But the big agribusiness corporations don’t like this easy solution either.

Where else do we use a lot of energy? Well, we drive a lot. People in cities like Atlanta commute, on average, over an hour to work, one way. That’s a lot of driving time, lot of gas burned. Some very silly people, like me, use a lot of energy flying all around the world in airplanes to learn about and work for ecological sustainability. (I plead no contest. So it goes.)

And we use a lot of electricity. TVs for instance. In the average American home, the TV is on almost eight hours per day. And it’s a double wammy since what’s mostly on TV is advertisement that cajoles people to go out (in their car) and go to the mall and shop, shop, shop. So there’s loads more energy there, in people going out to buy tons of crap they don’t need, because commercials have made them feel inferior.

OK so you get the point. A lot of what happens with the energy we have now is destructive, wasteful, and/or unnecessary. None of the stuff I have listed (and I could go on for hours and hours listing stuff like this) makes our lives any better. In fact, all this stuff makes our lives worse. Three hour’s round-trip commuting in Atlanta traffic sucks ass. I don’t care if you do it in air-conditioned style in your new plush Lexus SUV. It blows.

The medium of television could make our lives better but it doesn’t. Most of what’s on there is garbage. The rest is advertisement – advertisement for garbage. Sometimes people ask me, “Josh, what’s the one thing I can do to really make a difference in my life and the world?” I don’t know why people think I’m a good person to ask but this is what happens. First I give them a hard time for wanting the easy way out, for looking for the one thing, the conscience-cleansing “silver bullet” they can do for a better world. Once I’ve dressed them down for being lame I tell them that probably the best thing they can do is to stop watching TV. I tell them, “It’s mind poison. Literally. Stop poisoning yourself.”

If I could do one massive experiment on the whole US I would take away TV for a month, or maybe for six months. Once a chunk of the population got through the mind-poison withdrawal I bet great things would start to happen. People would shop less, exercise more, talk to their neighbors, maybe even, dare I say, read a book or plant a garden. The social and political landscape of the US would look mighty different you can bet.

Anyway, that’s a digression. Let me bring it on home for you:

The status quo assumes we need lots of energy for good quality of life. On the contrary, we have too much energy now and our use of it has damaged our quality of life and the environment as well, which is inextricably linked with our quality of life. Right now our use of energy is very often damaging, inefficient, wasteful and unnecessary – accessing new energy sources will certainly exacerbate this problem, not ameliorate it.

As an example in support of my argument I offer myself – I spent the winter living fantastically abundantly with a very small Ecological Footprint in a locally self-reliant organic farming community in northern Thailand. I can attest that the quality of life is very high, despite the relatively low (material and energetic) standard of living. So there you go.

But you can also see why the proponents of the big-money, high-tech R&D deals like the UC-BP collaboration will never get this. Because it’s hard-wired into their paradigm that quality of life and standard of living are positively correlated, even that they’re synonymous. That’s how they can be so tremendously irrational in assuming that continually pursuing more and better technology will solve the problems created by technological expansion. You try to tell them that quality of life and standard of living, at this point in history, for many people in the developing world and almost everyone in the West, are inversely related and see how far you get. It’s like trying to tell conventional economists that economic growth is making us worse off instead of better off. They just won’t get it, just can’t get it. It means calling into serious question fundamental axioms of the whole modern paradigm and they’re just not going to do that. If they did they’d be out of a job and replaced with people who’d more assiduously keep the dogma.

So remember, the real energy crisis is that we have too much energy. Over the past century, modern civilization has behaved like a ten-year-old with a fire hose when it comes to our energy use. We need to ask ourselves what really makes for quality of life, and go for that. Our rampant pursuit and use of energy for transport and to power all sorts of new techno-gizmos, not to mention the out-and-out destruction caused by militarism, economic globalization and industrial agriculture, is killing us and the ecosystems we depend on. The win-win solution of embracing high-quality, low energy and small Footprint lifestyles is there, it just requires a bit of swimming upstream in the current cultural milieu. You can start by turning off the TV.

Trekking photos: top ten

Of the hundreds of photos I took on my three-week trek in the Himalaya, these are perhaps the best ten. Enjoy!

You can find more images in the subsequent posts below this one, including several shots of wildflowers and the domestic animals of the region.

Trekking photos: mountain scenery