October 06, 2003

One Bloogle of Separation

On August 7th of this year I posted The Fine Edge, an account of a hike Wife and I made to Utah’s Catherine Pass and Sunset Peak. Notable about the hike, other than the extraordinary scenery, was that a search was underway in the area for another Utah hiker, Micah Clark, who had been missing for several days. They found Micah’s body later that day very near where we had tread. I wrote at the time:

Yesterday afternoon we learned that they found Micah’s body about 1:00 P.M., about one mile from his truck at the trailhead, which would put his location at Catherine’s Pass and Sunset Peak. It’s very possible that the whistles I heard were the alert of the party, calling the others to note that they had found his camera and tripod. I suppose I won’t know.

Yesterday, at times, on the ridgeline trail, we were very close to the edge. While the trail itself is not dangerous, a slip could have resulted in easy tragedy. Somewhere along the way, either on the trail or just off it, Micah Clark slipped. He came prepared, walked where we walked, traced the same trails others had traced, and slipped where others did not.

For me there was a message in yesterday’s experience … not one of melodrama, but one of a simple reminder: Each day we walk the ridgeline, the margin between meadow and 800-foot exposure, the margin between fortune and misfortune. It is a fine edge.

Artists and authors have cast this message with greater justice than can I, but the message remains, and it was as tangible for me yesterday as it was 12 years ago when I absent-mindedly stepped off the curve and into Salt Lake City traffic, as it was the morning of September 11th, 2001, when I had the good fortune board a commercial flight that arrived safely at its destination. Each day we walk the fine edge. People slip. We should hold those whom we cherish close to our heart.

Again, I wrote that post on August 7th (read the entire thing here), and on September 17th I received an automated email noting that a comment had been added to the post. The comment read:

Alan: I happened across your story “The Fine Edge” quite by accident. It is beautifully written and reduced me to tears as I read about Micah. It brought back all the tender feelings of those days up on the mountain as we waited, hoped, and prayed for him. I am Micah’s mother. I wanted you to know that he was a good man with a kind and generous heart. His love of the outdoors has given me a new appreciation for nature, as I now try to see things through his eyes. We miss him so very much. Thank you for your account of that day. May I ask…who are you and what is Avocare?

I was shocked when I read the comment, speechless for a moment until I managed an “Oh my God” to Wife. I took a few moments to consider a response, and then emailed a long reply to Renita Clark, expressing my sincere condolences for her loss, and attempting to explain Avocare, weblogs, and why her web search had revealed a story about her son, written by a stranger whom neither she nor he had met, published on a website unaffiliated with any professional organization. In part I wrote:

I wrote the post about Micah for the same reasons I write about nearly any post: I come across an item, or a vista, or an experience, which I simply feel I should share with others. Micah’s story was one I connected with, in part because I have spent countless hours hiking in the Wasatch or the desert alone … not something that many people would do, but which Micah clearly loved. The fact that I had made that hike alone several times before; added to the fact that we were hiking on the day Micah was found made the experience even more powerful for me.

I again thank you for your comment and kind words. I hope you don’t mind that I wrote of my experience … if you are at all uncomfortable with the story being on the web, I’m more that willing to remove the post … just let me know.

A few days passed before I received Renita’s reply. She was kind and considerate, noting:

I don’t mind at all that you wrote of your experience up on the mountain that day. I’m actually very glad you did…it offers a whole new perspective. It’s comforting for me to know that even in death Micah has touched others. Hundreds came to his funeral and the gathering the night before, and told us how Micah had impacted their lives for good throughout the years. For a mother to know that she has sent home a good and honorable son, it is a great blessing.

I am going to be putting together a memorial booklet for family and Micah’s closest friends. I would like to include your story “The Fine Edge” if it’s okay with you. Please let me know.

I said “yes,” of course, and in our last exchange of emails told Renita that I felt this entire experience was remarkable, and that if she wouldn’t object I’d like to try and capture it in another post. Here’s her full reply:


By all means, please write the post you mentioned. I will be anxious to read it.

Isn’t it amazing that by the simple act of typing “Micah Clark hiker” into the search engine, I would find your beautiful story? I can’t tell you how my heart was touched. How curious is it, that because my son died, two otherwise strangers would have reason to correspond?

A group of Micah’s friends and family climbed to the site of his death this past Saturday and planted a tree in his memory. I read them your story … it was so appropriate …. and it touched their hearts as well. Thank you.



Even now, reading that note, I skip a breath, amazed at our connectedness. The adage “six degrees of separation” isn’t simply pop culture or an urban myth. It comes from a very well established body of sociological research regarding social networks, which is perhaps best recounted by Columbia’s Small World Project, which you can see here.

For me, though, my exchange with Renita illustrates something even more remarkable: that the intersection of blogs and powerful search engines reduced Renita and me to one degree of separation … two independent events—a journal-style post and a web search—immediately linked two strangers in an unmediated exchange. It’s an extremely powerful thought: as we post, we are indexed. As we are indexed, we are made searchable. As we are made searchable, we become accessible to the full universe of users.

As we blog, we become prone to the world … we are no longer participants in the electronic network, we become part of the global SOCIAL network. Blog regularly and the nodes and degrees surely diminish, one by one, until the entire world is just outside the room, only one click away from walking through your virtual door.

Renita had it right: “Isn’t it amazing that by the simple act of typing ‘Micah Clark hiker’ into the search engine, I would find your beautiful story?” It is amazing, Renita, amazing, and also a bit overwhelming. But I’m glad you found The Fine Edge and that our degrees are down to zero.

After all, fellow bloggers: the chance to connect with … even contribute to … the lives of our readers—isn’t that why we write?

Posted by Avocare at October 6, 2003 07:46 PM | TrackBack


As a mother of a son my heart goes out to Renita. Thank you both for sharing.

Posted by: Cynthia at October 6, 2003 10:30 PM

Your post moved me very deeply. Here I sit at my computer. A grown man. Tears in my eyes.

Posted by: Patrick at October 6, 2003 11:48 PM

I cried the first time, too. Thanks.

Posted by: john at October 7, 2003 12:34 AM

I feel so lucky that I read this today and learned about Micah. I'm originally from Idaho/Washington and have hiked many times by myself and now with my son. My heart goes out to his family and friends.

This also reminds me why I always thank my mother-in-law during my wife's birthday. Behind every beautiful woman/man is a beautiful mother/father.

Posted by: chrys at October 7, 2003 03:15 AM

I, too, sit here increased to tears. Thank you.

Posted by: Val Prieto at October 7, 2003 07:52 AM

I had a similar experience about 18 months ago, when an Enron executive committed suicide. In my post on the story, I included a photo of the suicide note, which was widely available in the mainstream media. Shortly thereafter, I received an email from the executive's wife, who was none too happy that I had posted a photo of her husband's suicide note. Upon giving it some thought, I realized that she had a point. While I don't believe that I did anything wrong, I did email her with my apologies.

This incident really brought home to me the power that all of us wield from time to time. While I post some pretty strong opinions, it is never my intent to increase someone's pain, particularly just after their husband committed suicide. Let's just say that I am much more cognizant of my responsibilities to others now. I think that's probably a good thing.

Posted by: Jack Cluth at October 7, 2003 08:05 AM

Awesome writing. Thanks for sharing the experience. It really does mae the world seem smaller.

Posted by: Doc at October 7, 2003 09:37 AM

The greatness of this post speaks for itself, through your beautiful writing and the perfect filigree of content. Thank you!

Posted by: Oscar at October 7, 2003 10:11 AM

What a wonderful story and so well told. It is a remarkable reminder of how small our world is and how our words can affect others.

You connected and touched another's life through your thoughts and words. Well done.

Posted by: Nate at October 7, 2003 01:04 PM
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