Way of the Mountain #180

Publication and performance are the twin pillars of the poetry world. Personally, I’m a fan of crossovers, but I dig reading written poems and I love hearing performance poetry — slam, hip-hop, open mike. Or the Gourd Circle — a gathering of friends for dinner and several rounds of telling stories, poetry & song.

But poetry can be more than just outreach to an audience. For some, it is valuable personal practice. Valerie Haugen of Glenwood Springs falls in love with a new poet a day. Lorine Niedecker. Amy Lowell. Gerard Manley Hopkins. Their words, insights and stylistic breakthroughs inform her poetry. Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer of Placerville has made a lyric practice of writing a poem a day. After going on three years of this, she’s become a master of capturing language and experience. Both great personal practices. And both poets take advantage of the Web’s blogosphere to “publish” their work and explorations.

Another bright exploratory star flames out … Gregory Greyhawk was one of those giant souls, huge-hearted, a string of his own hockey teeth pearled around his neck. Brilliant, erratic. I loved being around him. Anything could happen, and sometimes did … I just ordered his book, “Wailing Heaven, Whistling in Hell” (Howling Dog Press, Berthoud, Colorado, 1996) … Gonna miss the wrap of his big arm as we caromed down a Denver sidewalk, and the wild grin of his gap-toothed smile. — Art Goodtimes, Cloud Acre

Remembering Karen Chamberlain

lanky stalk of grass
singing in the autumn wind
your voice packed with seeds
— Carol Bell
Ft. Collins

Cool Dad

My dad, who never blows his cool
the day i left for Vietnam
sat down to a stack of homemade buttermilk pancakes
and poured vinegar on them, by mistake.
— Dennis Fritzinger
Earth First! Journal editor
Berkeley

P.S.

As for us, yes, the young still go to war,
And wars continue at the speed of darkness,
Not the world wars you expected, but the others,
Wars of despisals in our countries, in our cities, in other countries and cities.
Promises and solidarity collapsed, and in the confusion
justice circles this sweating planet, looking for somewhere to land.
— Jackie St. Joan
Excerpt  from “Letter to Muriel Rukeyser at the End of the 20th Century”
Denver

Rainforest Bedroom
(excerpt)

…jaguar has moved into the bedroom
meadowlarks are nesting in the corner
sunfish swim in the water glass on the nightstand
black widow makes a web in your shoe
the bed is a jungle
and it’s raining emeralds
— Galaxy Dancer
Durango

 

While Considering Demolition

I ask my teacher
about walls.
She says, Notice them.
I ask,
What’s on the other side?
She says, You are.
— Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer
Placerville

In the Zone

Photo: B. Frank

Old man Harrison knew the apple business, and he had a vision. He liked to walk the orchard with his fastest pickers before the harvest, telling us how much we’d make on the first day, thanks to his judicious pruning, thinning and the measured applications of water, fertilizer and pesticides. When we agreed with his appraisal, he showed his pride by picking a still-green apple from a tree. He’d open his pocketknife as we walked and cut slices to hand around, so everyone could taste how much sugar was coming up in the fruit.

“I’d say just a few days now, these trees’ll be ready to pick,” he predicted. As we walked on, the old man described how he’d seen the future while on a driving vacation through California with his wife a few months back. “Why, those dry valleys are nothing but sun-blasted brush now, but they could be filled with orchards, just like this–,” he interrupted himself to wave at the trees, “–with water, you could grow all the fruit you wanted.” He looked around at us, “And I saw plenty of water, behind that Hoover Dam.”

The old man grew the best-damned apples I’d ever picked, with irrigation water impounded by one of the projects extolled in the local paper’s masthead, “Apple Capital of the World, and the Buckle of the Power Belt of the Great Northwest.” Although I was several years shy of my 21st year on the planet, I knew enough to listen to him.

The orchard was next to the once-mighty Columbia River, now tamed by an assortment of dams begun in the 1930s. Private electric companies had opposed the competition from public funding, while irrigation promoters loved the promise of cheap water and flood control. Bonneville and Grand Coulee became “New Deal” names rolling off the tongues of left-leaning politicians hooking for votes from an electorate recently humbled by economic collapse, while right-wingers thundered that it was all part of a “Socialist boondoggle” leading the country to ruin. To help combat this charge, by 1941, the Bonneville Power Administration had retained an “information consultant” named Woody Guthrie to write songs for a film promoting its projects. From Woody’s “Grand Coulee Dam” comes this:

“Uncle Sam took up the challenge in the year of ’33

For the farmer and the factory and all of you and me.

He said, ‘Roll along Columbia. You can ramble to the sea,

But river while you’re ramblin’ you can do some work for me’.”

While the Northwest’s self-named Inland Empire digested its doses of backbiting and branding, Hoover Dam had already jump-started the Desert Southwest’s multi-decade fling with cheap hydro. To transmit the electricity produced, transmission grids that eventually became part of the Western Interconnection soon crisscrossed public lands, and enough impounded water was pumped from the canyons of the Columbia and Colorado rivers to feed dreams of human industry.

I’ve been dreaming old man Harrison’s industrious vision tonight, after a long day spent driving a rented HEV (hybrid electric vehicle), looking at BLM’s (Bureau of Land Management) proposed SEZs (Solar Energy Zones) in the Mojave Desert (no acronym, sorry) of southern California (SoCo). Several decades beyond my fruit tramp years and in a new century defined by fears of impending collapses, the idea of orchards in these dry valleys seems far-fetched, as abandoned lettuce fields in the Imperial Valley 100 miles from here grow dust-clouds so the over-booked Colorado River can continue sprouting housing developments on the California coast.

I’ve seen four SEZs in the last few days, will drive by three more tomorrow, and can close my eyes and visualize the landscape surrounding about a dozen more from rambles similar to this one in decades past — seemingly, aimless travel on a budget is a side benefit of living a life of outdoor leisure interrupted by short (usually) periods of industrious labor for (sometimes) lucrative manna, with which to finance my hedonistic pursuits in “undeveloped” places managed by the alphabet soup of public lands agencies.

After dark, I turned off the highway onto a dirt road that led toward the dark side of Joshua Tree National Park, hoping it would lead to a dead-end set of ruts, and maybe a bit of shelter from a tailwind that had raised the hybrid’s digital efficiency graph to periodically claim 75 MPG (yup, another one — miles per gallon, this time. Get used to it, there’re more of ’em coming.). The road ended in a bulldozed patch of dirt by a chain-link fence. The wind kept howling, and I unrolled my sleeping bag on the lee side of the low-slung car. Not as good as hoped, but not bad.

Now the only light is from a half-moon that rose while I slept. It shines directly in my eyes. Ah well, probably what ended the dream for me, but at least the wind has died. The only sound is a gentle burbling from the other side of the fence. It is the sound of water flowing. No more sleep for a while now. A short walk to the fence confirms that I’ve managed to camp right by the Colorado River Aqueduct as it carries old man Harrison’s vision through the still-dry-as-dust Mojave. To the west, there are no orchards, no green fields. Beyond the aqueduct, the moon lights the Coxcomb Mountains inside the national park. Northeast, the proposed Iron Mountain SEZ site is hidden in shadows cast by its namesake mountain range. South, toward Interstate 10, is more crosshatching on the BLM map that marks yet another SEZ.

It’s time for a bit of exploration here. The SEZ process seems to be another effort to establish long-term land-management plans during my own home-state-produced, honest-to-gawd cowboy-hat-and-boot-wearing Secretary of Interior’s tenure. Though it’s hard to paint the honorable Mr. Secretary as an environmentalist’s wet dream, overall it’s been a refreshing change from the “Drill, Baby, Drill” sloganeering of the now-busted boom time. He reminds me of an old-time steward-of-the-land-type rancher preaching grazing rotation and summer/winter pasture gospel, though, as usual, “the devil is in the details,” as me own aphorism-spouting, FDR-hating great-grandmother would’ve phrased it.

SEZ is an acronym dreamed up by the current occupants of the Interior (DOI) and Energy (DOE) departments, in the process of setting an overall policy for permitting utility-scale solar-energy projects on 22 million acres of BLM land in six states (Arizona, California, Colorado, Nevada, New Mexico, Utah). The plan would remove another 77 million acres of BLM land from consideration for solar, while streamlining the permitting process in 24 zones (yup, the SEZs) chosen for proximity to power transmission corridors and roads. Current projections are that between now and the year 2030, developments will cover over 200,000 acres with solar arrays producing 24,000 megawatts of electricity (an output roughly equal to five Fukushimas).

As of now, the details are still being hashed out, and as a citizen of the benighted empire, I’ve taken the liberty of casting myself as a “stakeholder” while attending public meetings, reading virtual reams of official descriptions and media coverage courtesy the web, chatting with a few jargon-fluent Departmental suits, walking some proposed SEZs, driving past others, clicking panoramic photographs handily available on the solareis.als.gov website (I know, I know, enough acronyms/abbreviations already), and closing my eyes to visualize just what some of these zones would look like with brush, sand and rocks replaced by fields of solar collectors pumping electricity into the humming wires of the Western Interconnection.

According to every formula for effective “advocacy journalism” I’ve ever stolen from, this is where I should deftly preach my own gospel of a shining future: for the enviro-defensive demographic, the preservation of our beloved public-land jewels; for upwardly-green-and-mobile strivers, a 21st Century riff on ol’ Woody Guthrie’s paean to the Grand Coulee Dam. I know, I know — but one problem is, we’ve got some cross-over on this one, as defenders of extraction extol the virtues of open spaces (the preservation of which will incidentally improve their favorite oil/gas/coal/nuclear corporation’s bottom line), while more than a few self-proclaimed environmentalists offer to trade acres for peace of mind on the production front (quoting actual online comment here, “Ultimately, I think it’s worthwhile to displace some tortoises if we can get real meaningful energy change by developing solar plants.”).

Comments I’ve collected so far have some environmental organizations defending their favored stretches of “habitat,” farmers worried about competition for water and land, residents of housing developments jealous of their “viewshed,” accusations of a BIG GOVERNMENT SCHEME TO LOCK UP THE WEST IN A GREEN ENERGY SOCIALIST BOONDOGGLE, and/or (fill in a favorite fear or two here), while corporations hoping to crash the renewable energy production party let their actual endgames lie fallow, to let bureaucrats take the heat. We’ll hear more from them later, I’m guessing. Currently, the multi-agency group that drafted the plan is sifting through a mountain of opinions, accusations and actual relevant comments while finalizing an EIS (Environmental Impact Statement), so tune in for the next round in coming months.

Here’s another problem — a point-of-view can be an amorphous thing, subject to having “skin in the game,” as the investment gurus say these days. After all, Guthrie’s celebratory lyrics promoted projects that took a formerly free-flowing stretch of public river and turned it into a daisy chain of industrial sites that provided a decent chunk of my early, very minor, part in boosting the empire’s GNP (gross national product [couldn’t resist this one, sorry]). I don’t recall being racked with guilt as I spent that apple-picking money. Depending on the stretch of country I see, I can feel both sides on this one, too. As a certain young brasileira sadly said to me as I left Rio long ago, “Is muito complicado.” Yes, I agreed, complicated indeed. So, what the hell, I’ll do as always and ramble on.

*SEZ DOI DOE BLM GNP*
So it’s the next day, and I’m poaching a hike on one of America’s jewels, leaving tracks in a shallow desert wash without benefit of a day pass. A line of signposts awhile back proclaimed the park boundary, and my view is a ragged skyline far from popular parts of Joshua Tree NP. Turning east, I can see the shape of my rented hybrid car by the flowing aqueduct, and far beyond the Iron Mountain SEZ, I can visualize other valleys in the Mojave that some corporate-board-types may be eyeing as I walk. Across the Interior West, the prospect is the same.

I rented my eco-consumer’s transitional dream car in a desperate bid to not change my pattern behaviors too much, now that gas prices are pushing past $4 bucks a sip again; and I’ve got to admit it feels good to be researching solar development sites without asking my old Chevy’s 350 CI (cubic inch) engine to suck at peak oil’s ever-ready teats. In my decades of rambling, when occasional bouts of social consciousness have interfered with my daily routines, I’ve rationalized that my unseemly gasoline consumption is more than offset by an equal number of years living with minimal drain on the electrical grid that keeps our cities and backyards secure from the terrors of darkness, but if enough of us switch to HEV or EV (electric) cars to make a serious dent in national oil consumption, we’ll need more electrical generation and transmission capacity than now exists.

Most of the proposed Solar Energy Zones I visited are near highways and along existing power lines. It’s hard to make a case that putting a solar plant on most of these would scar the landscape more than current uses, but the idea of yet more industrial sites on public land offends my sense of balance. Noise and dust pollution, water use, loss of habitat and wildlife corridors will vary with each site and by type of power generation built. This makes a one-size-fits-all assessment impossible, but some zones are beyond roads and along corridors that have not yet had transmission lines installed. I’m eyeing the Colorado River Aqueduct, seeing shadows of old man Harrison’s vision of the future, and envisioning sacrifice zones.

Right now, choices are being made in corporate and government offices that will decide the mix of power generation in the rest of this century. King Coal wants to dig, Big Oil/Gas wants to drill, the Nuclear Renaissance wants to do both, and a budding Green Energy industry promises enough capacity to give extractive-industry-types nightmares. Common ground for all the above is the desire to dig, drill and/or build on public land, rather than deal with the headaches and hangovers of private land development (read: cheap land = higher profit). Also in agreement on a desire for more power transmission lines, corporate lobbyists of all stripes clamor for additions to the power grid, preferably near their clients’ investments. For proposed power lines on public land, count on finding a multi-year planning process already grinding its gears toward completion, so Solar Energy Zone planning is not the only game in town right now.

We need to decide how much undeveloped public land can be turned into bottom-line profit; put another way, “Just how many displaced tortoises does it take to power an empire?” The piecemeal approach to permit processing has led to rape-and-run Superfund sites, and to true-believers climbing trees, trashing equipment or crashing resource-leasing parties with fake bids in desperate, usually futile attempts to save this or that jewel from development. You know the stories by now, and I know these observations could be expanded into a visionary gospel, but I see too many incongruities anymore. As the old saying goes, “One man’s meat is another’s poison …” or something like that.

Before looking for a place to camp yesterday, I drove my HEV to the top of a hill overlooking an operational solar power plant. Rows of collectors concentrated the sun’s heat onto tubes full of fluid, superheating it enough to power turbines that fed energy into wires stretching across the desert. There was no plume of smoke, no smell of burned petroleum, no invisible cloud of radiation. To the east and west stretched strings of trucks and cars on the highway that replaced old Route 66, the Mother Road that carried Woody Guthrie to California a few years before he sang for the Bonneville and Grand Coulee dams. Beyond the shining rows of collectors, traffic and wires, I studied the Mojave’s mountains and tried to decide if the solar plant was a blight or blessing for the desert landscape.

As I drove back to the highway, I approached a roadside antique store’s back-lot. It was full of old signs: Standard, Texaco and other blasts from our passing fling with muscle cars and unlimited resources. As I drew closer, I saw a scantily clad mannequin leaning against a chain-link fence — and then she turned around and glanced my way. As the lovely leather-bikini-sporting model waited with her retinue of irritated photographer and bored assistant, I continued driving my oh-so-defensible dream of renewable mobility right through the background of someone else’s fantasy shot of unattainable pulchritude. See — incongruity rules. Ah well, so goes life on the mother, the road.

I realize I’ve started stripping off layers as the sun brings on another day’s heat. Turning back to the mountain, I climb toward a longer view. I don’t yet know how far I’ll go, but I’m going to leave you with a vision that came to me — of a no-longer-young man walking naked in the desert, picking a cautious path through a wilderness of thorny denizens and dilemmas. Now try to think of your envisioned character as a slightly confused uncle. Sam, let’s call him. He doesn’t know yet which way he’ll turn, and asks for some advice.

This Uncle Sam needs more from his citizenry than slogans, accusations and fear. Take a look at the public lands in your own stretch of country — then have a say in how to generate the power our visions and dreams will cost, where you’d like to see it developed, and maybe, just maybe, how much is enough.

More alphabet soup anyone?

Here are a few places that will aid entry to “renewable” energy’s weird wired world of grand plans and piecemeal permit applications.

Keeping in mind that all internet links are ephemeral, check these:

National Renewable Energy Laboratory; solar potential of a landscape near you.

Bureau of Land Management; solar, wind, geothermal, biomass and transmission grid projects.

So what’s transmission got to do with it? This year, rivers have been out-competing wind projects for space on the Western Interconnection’s transmission grid in the Northwest, pointing up the impending storm over too much generation capacity and too few wires. This’ll get you started:

Western Electricity Coordinating Council; Western Interconnection projects.

If high-tech methods fail or leave you cold, contact your oft-maligned Honorable Representatives of a government of by and for “we the people” — via old-fashioned mail, phone or the very direct action of walking into the local office of said minion. Good luck and let your reception guide your vote. Enough said.

Senior correspondent B. Frank is the author of “Livin’ the Dream.” His blog, “The Ragged Edge,” can be found here. Frank splits his time between the Four Corners Country and the Borderlands.

Dog Days of Summer

Jess Wojcik enjoying a cold one in the backyard. Photo: Erich Hennig

Writing a column in late May destined for the High Summer issue in July while watching flakes the size of coasters build to a soggy eight-inch-deep mess on the front deck is no easy task. On the radio, the talk is of serious snow in the central Rockies, and the possibility that the intrepid souls at CDOT may not have some of the seasonal high-alpine passes open for the Memorial Day weekend. Independence Pass is 25 feet deep in places, but the locals in Aspen still hope for a regular start to summer, hot on the heels of near-record skier visits this past winter.

I haven’t been up the Roaring Fork Valley in years, not since Widespread Panic and Ratdog played something called the “Howling Wolf” at the base of Buttermilk in the late-’90s. At that time, the Flying Dog Brewpub still operated in Aspen, though the bottling operations had been moved down to Denver. The larger production facility allowed owner (and MG founder) George Stranahan, (also producer of Stranahan’s Colorado Whiskey), to distribute his flagship Doggie-Style Pale Ale and the rest of the lineup in 45 states. I’m a big fan of Doggie-Style, and I always wondered at the connection between the beer, Aspen and the unique artwork on the labels.

As it turns out, George was the owner of the “Owl Farm” property in Woody Creek that was the long-time residence of the late-Hunter S. Thompson. He leased it to Hunter, and through his acquaintance, was introduced to artist Ralph Steadman. When Flying Dog began bottling beer for distribution, Ralph agreed to design the labels. His first label, for Road Dog Porter, contained the scrawled slogan, “Good Beer, No Shit.” The Colorado liquor board, apparently concerned that adults over the age of 21 would be irreversibly harmed by this bold stroke of marketing genius, pulled the beer from shelves. A four-year legal battle ensued, during which time the words, “Good Beer, No Censorship” replaced the original moniker. Flying Dog prevailed in court, and the label art was restored. Today, it can be found in any decent liquor store across the country, with the notable exception of the State of Texas, whose mixed-up liquor authorities still can’t handle that shit.

With the closure of the brewpub in 2000, Aspen was without a true local brewery until 2008, when the Aspen Brewing Company opened up shop. The brews are served in the on-site tasting room, and at notable venues in and around Aspen. I was lucky enough to run into them at a beer festival on Earth Day in Boulder. I enjoy India-Pale-Ale-style brews, and found ABC’s offering, Independence Pass IPA, to be a crisp and refreshing hop experience, and a welcome break from the current trend of double- and triple-strength concoctions out there, many of which drink like chilled Robitussin, and hit like a full bottle of the same.

That same summer, a friend and I hiked the Lost Man trail over the 4th of July, from the top of Independence Pass, to where it again intersects the highway, seven or eight miles below. Standing on the side of the road in a sweaty tie-dye with my thumb out, none of the 13 out-of-state minivans grinding up the pass in a slow line behind an RV would stop and give me a lift. As I watched them pass, a jet-black Trans-Am skidded to a stop on the gravel shoulder. Jumping in to the black leather seat, the driver, wearing aviators and a silk shirt, looks over to me and says in a Swiss/South African accent (a combination possibly heard only in Aspen), “I just watched them pass you. I used to ride up here. Now we pass them all”! Burying the pedal, he proceeds to tear up the narrow lanes of the pass with complete disregard for solid yellow lines, speed limits, other vehicles, sheer drops or blind curves. As we recklessly swerve around them, the honks and shouts from the flabbergasted minivan drivers are drowned by the deep-throated roar of the big-block, and Elton John’s “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” which the driver has turned up to 11. At 70 mph, he makes his move on the rental RV, and with open road now ahead, I see the hairpin just below the top of the pass where our car is parked. Not wanting to get behind the RV again, he slows to a roll and I jump out with a shout of thanks. As he screams away, I stand at the inside of the hairpin as the RV and all 13 minivans that had refused to give me a lift, roll slowly by. The shocked looks on the face of the Midwestern wives and children was great. The last guy in the line shouted as he passed, “Nice choice of Rides!” Priceless!

Erich Hennig, an avid home brewer, is the Four Corners columnist for the Rocky Mountain Brewing News. He lives in Durango, Colo.

Rednecks Everywhere

These guys speak fluent redneck — the Honey Island Swamp Band.

Honey Island Swamp Band claims its Bayou Americana makes you smarter, thinner and better looking — but frontman Aaron Wilkinson also admits to being a fifth-generation North Florida redneck.

The musicians have traveled from their home base in New Orleans throughout the West to play in such fine establishments as The Goat Soup & Whiskey in Keystone and Whiskey Jacques in Ketchum, Idaho; this Fourth of July, the band, voted Best Roots Rock Artist in OffBeat’s 2010 Best of the Beat Awards, hits the Waterfront Blues Festival in Portland, Ore.

Wilkinson wasn’t sure what to expect when the band began touring Colorado’s mountain towns, even though now, after years of traveling, they’re all beginning to blur together, he said.

“First time I’d ever really seen mountains, so I was all wide-eyed and full of wonder,” Wilkinson said. “Guess I kind of had an idealistic vision of what it would be like, nature and all.”

About six years ago, he and his crew followed a Telluride-area local to “secret” hot springs back in the hills.

“The city slickers in the band were huffing pretty heavy,” he said about the hike, which was a piece a cake for the locals. “You’re not prepared for that thin air, and we don’t exactly lead the healthiest lifestyles anyway. But after about an hour and a half of stopping every 50 yards so that my 55-year-old emphysemic drummer didn’t keel over and die, we come upon the spot.”

Situated at the bottom of a rocky bluff, it was gorgeous, just as advertised. Only problem: It wasn’t so secret; a rather portly man soaked in the pool with his cluster of kids — and at least a case of empty, crushed Busch cans beside him.

“He had on this bright red bandanna and a pair of those heinous reflective Oakley Blades,” Wilkinson said. “He’s all, ‘Come on in and join us,’ and we probably would have, given what we went through to get there.”

Just as the band was about to join the pool party, a train appeared on the ridge across the river, and the 6’6” man stood up, hollering and flipping off the train.

“Turns out, he’s butt-ass naked,” Wilkinson said. “Proud of it too. With his kids right there in the pool with him. Giving that train all he’s got and all God ever gave him.

“Needless to say, we didn’t join him, but then and there I realized something: Florida, Louisiana, Colorado — there are rednecks everywhere in this world, God bless ’em.”

Kimberly Nicoletti is the entertainment editor for the Summit Daily News. She lives in Silverthorne, Colo.

Movies: “Cold” by Forge Motion Pictures

A good adventure-sports movie, no matter what sport it covers, usually accomplishes one thing: It makes you, the viewer, want to go out and do whatever it is those athletes are doing on film in that beautiful location, at your own speed — mountain biking, climbing, skiing, whatever. “Cold” is an achievement in that, instead of inspiring you to climb an 8,000-meter peak in winter, it makes you want to go home, curl up in the fetal position under a down comforter, and not come out.

The film begins with photographer and climber Cory Richards hunkered down in a tent at 21,959 feet, as the viewer is informed that the temperature is -51 degrees F., and can see that the inside of the tent is covered in snow. Richards asks, “What the fuck am I doing here?” And over the next 20 minutes of the film, you will ask the same thing. Richards and mountaineers Simone Moro and Denis Urubko summited 26,362-foot Gasherbrum II on Feb. 2, 2010, succeeding in the first winter ascent of an 8,000-meter peak in the Karakorum Range.

“Cold” gives you an up-front seat to all the post-holing, avalanche burials, whiteouts and the high-altitude coughs. Anson Fogel assembled Richards’ tirelessly filmed footage, and, with writing help from Kelly Cordes, won the Best Adventure Film at the 5Point Film Festival this spring. This is not three guys smiling for one moment in a summit photo. It’s real pain, cold, suffering and misery — high-altitude winter mountaineering at its best. It may not be inspiring, but it is amazing. forgemotionpictures.com

Books: “The Way Home: Essays on the Outside West” by James McVey

In his third book, author and University of Colorado professor James McVey takes the reader along on his experiences in the backcountry — hiking, running rivers, backcountry skiing and fishing — and provides scholarly depth in each experience, weaving history, ecology and philosophy into classic nature writing. McVey draws on 20 years of venturing into Colorado’s backcountry, from places as popular as Boulder’s Chautaqua Park to the solitude of a post-rafting season run of the Green River through Dinosaur National Monument.

The collection of essays in “The Way Home” provides rich writing with a solid balance of adventure and nature, and the question of our place in all of it. McVey writes of a day of backcountry skiing on Wolf Creek Pass: “But the truth is, something else drives us out here to the geographic backbone of the continent. What lurks there in our tangled psyches? What genetic baggage left over from the days of sabertooths and woolly mammoths?” $19.95. uofupress.com

 

Bob Chamberlain’s Mountain Vision

Lito Tejada-Flores. Telluride, 1978

Somebody once said to me, “You sure do a lot of things you don’t want to do!” Well, I don’t know, last week I had my feet up, cruising on Trout Lake in my little slip of a sailboat, and now I’m looking at a sign pointing out the trail to Hope Lake. Great! That’s me, Hope Lake!

So it’s Hope, hope hope, “the Boys are Marching!” Hope, hope, I hope it’s not too far! I hope, hope hope it’s really worth it! I hope there’s snow, I hope the wildflowers are out around the lake. I hope there’s not a lot of mud from the run-off to slog through, I hope there’s a rock to sit down, so I can put my ski boots on. I hope no one has to see this grizzly knee brace I have to wear. Hope I can hide my shame from the full, bright summer sunlight.

It’s okay, Peter is already near the top of the couloir, he won’t see a thing! I hope I can catch up. Catch up, up, up, and wipe the sweat out of our eyes. Hope, hip and a hop, and we’re on the top!

Peter goes first, so I can shoot a pass-by, my un-favorite type of ski photo. The Nikon goes into my jacket, and then I’m off!  What a relief just to let ’em run, after a whole winter of squeezing through the trees! I  pass Peter by, because it’s just so easy to keep on going, over the sun-cups freeze-melt, long, wide turns — “SVOO-pers!” — and then you’re down. Right to the edge of the scree. But how could it be over so soon? There’s got to be more!

That’s Hope Lake — hope, hope, all the way home! What’s “Hope”? Hope is just having a project into the future. Something like, “Live to Ski Another Day.”

Letters – #180


We’re in the market for decorative envelopes to help beautify our Letters pages. If you’ve got an artistic envelope bent, pull out your weapons-of-choice, decorate an envelope with our snail mail address on it, mail the resultant envelope to us, and, if we print it, we’ll give you a year’s subscription to the Mountain Gazette.

Little Dog lives!

Dear Gazette Readers: For those of you concerned about the welfare of Little Dog Casey (Smoke Signals, “Little Dog,” MG #176), rest assured, your concerns are unwarranted and needless. Having just spent several days with M. John and Little Dog, it is easy to see the Karmic Dog Gods were smiling on Casey when she landed in the laps of John and Gay Fayhee, literally and figuratively speaking of course. A couple trips a day to the friendly confines of the Silver City dog park, where she has already made several friends, more toys than one dog could possibly need or chew up and a comfortable dog bed at night! Inside, I might add. Having been a surrogate “uncle” to Cali for nearly a dozen years, I know what Fayhee dog love is all about and having just witnessed dog love part II, Little Dog has a wonderful home for the rest of her doggie years. If all dogs go to heaven, Casey is already there.
Fayhee does need to be concerned about one thing though — if he is not careful, Little Dog Casey is going to think her first name is Sweetie!

M. Fox,
Frisco, CO

Spreading our legs, er, wings

Hi, Fayhee: The recent issue of MG seemed like you are reaching out to other mountain places more. The piece on Bear Valley (“Terror and Wonder at the Mountain Roundup,” by Vince Welch, MG #177) struck me. We drove up that BV highway over and over seeking our caretaker winter paradise in our old Landrover 88. Her name was Galushka. She deserves to be remembered. I would buy her back for 5X.
Yes, reach out to these other island mountain worlds from which we look to the plush and verdant mountain lives on the Great Divide.

Sorry. The magazine means a lot. We still carry around these boxes of the primal Gazette magazine, never wishing to throw them out in spite of each year’s recurring, attempted self-stripping to the bone, to somehow become as light as we once were.

Love yuh. Don’t drink too much. Live On.

Dave

To go or not to go

John: Your piece on Bull Sluice rapids (Smoke Signals, “Deliverance,” MG #177) raises one of the essential ethical conundrums eventually faced by many non-solitary adventurers, particularly in the mountains — the question of whether to proceed in the face of exceptional hazard or to turn back/go the long way/portage around. A split group must address a variety of ethical dilemmas and psychological negotiations on the spot, often with rapids roaring/blizzards blowing in their ears and elevated adrenal production in their blood. The story is also a reminder that we never really leave behind the social politics of the playground, with its herding behavior, unspoken codes and uncompromising dichotomies. The field of avalanche safety and winter backcountry travel in particular is rife with case studies in these group dynamics.
Adventure Orgy Guy was right on script when he expressed disappointment in your choice to demur at the last minute. However, he overplayed his hand when he tried to pin the blame on you for his own decision to continue. In some such situations, the go/no-go question has implications for the entire group, as when it changes the route, or when each alternative entails risks of its own. But in this case, with portage as an option, Adventure Orgy Guy’s choice to run the rapid anyway does not give him the right to place the burden of his choice on you, and in particular does not absolve him of essentially ordering an employee to go in your place. As with those formative confrontations on the playgrounds, we indeed find ourselves replaying the dramas in our heads again and again, long after the fateful day.

On the other hand, a more generous interpretation of his comment would be merely as a wistful expression of regret for an opportunity missed.

It strikes me that this question of field ethics would be a fine feature idea for a future MG issue.

Malcolm McMichael,
Carbondale CO

Granite, schmanite

Dear John: Having read George Sibley’s article in MG #177 (“Sera and the Wildernext”), I have one small correction. Judging by his description of a magnificent marble entrance to a bridge in Lower Manhattan, one can deduce that this is the Manhattan Bridge, which connects downtown Brooklyn to Chinatown in Manhattan. This is the only East River Bridge with any monumental ornamentation. The columns, beaux arts reliefs and friezes are not of marble, as Mr. Sibley states, but granite, a much more durable material.
The frieze above the massive entryway to the bridge was sculpted by Charles Cary Rumsey. It depicts, oddly enough, a buffalo hunt by four Indians on horseback.

The urban wilderness has had for me, as well as Sibley’s daughter, a haunting draw for the unexpected and profound.

Well done.

Allan Cox,
Silver City NM

Editor’s note: Mr. Cox was a monument restorer for the Department of Parks, City of New York, from 1970 to 1996, and retired as the chief monuments restorer.

Dear Mom

John, You deliver again with the “Scar Tissue” story.  (Smoke Signals, MG #179.) My mom is visiting, and you’ve elevated my appreciation for the time with her. Your stories frequently hit home, I’d put you up there with the best writers to have graced this crazy globe. Thank you.

BS (serious)

Off the map

John: I too spend hours looking over atlases (Smoke Signals, “Injun Joe,” MG #178). I look at them both when traveling to new places, or occasionally even when going somewhere I have been dozens of times; actually, I think I might spend more time looking at them when I am going somewhere that I have already been to dozens of times. Atlases and maps are some of my most prized possessions; this may be partially due to the time I’ve spent backpacking and on paddling trips when maps are one of the few things along for the ride, but it is mainly because they, often more than photos, are tied in with memories — and anticipated further travel, of course. I have never tried using a GPS system, nor do I have any interest in them; maps are amazing things and it makes me sad to see someone looking to yet another display screen for direction.
The atlas is like a table of contents for trips. The atlas highlights an area and then I look over topographic maps for specific places to go. I am not much into following trails, though on family trips we usually do; I suppose I get my share of trails then. I enjoy seeing what is on the map on my own. For me, I like to look over the atlases and maps and tie my memories to them; a map of a region I have explored on foot or by kayak or canoe come alive when I glance at it. A map is like a beautiful work of art for me, I would rather have a map of one of my favorite regions hanging on my wall than nearly anything else.

I have an old atlas with random points of interest listed, but it does not say what the points-of-interest actually are or even assign names to them. Many of the highlighted points-of-interest are not located on roads; they are out in the middle of heavily forested areas or marshes. I have to wonder if some of these places are the sites of plane crashes, buried treasure, UFO landings or Bigfoot sightings. I recognized one of the places, marked along a creek several miles from the nearest trail,  as the location of a turn-of-the-century logging camp where smallpox had hit and every logger died. The place is now the site of the mass grave where the loggers were buried. Most of their family members, if they had any, were probably still living across the Atlantic when the men died. It was strange the first time, every time I guess, to see the small dot marked “POI” on that spot; the only reason I knew what the dot marked was that I knew the history of the area — it made me wonder what the other dots could be. The atlas presented many puzzles. I wondered if whoever compiled the atlas had wandered into small cafes and asked where interesting things had happened but had lost their notes before everything was marked.

Old mines and ghost towns in the mountains have always struck me as being of the sort of wilderness George Sibley wrote about in the April issue. The mines a century later do not seem quite so imposing; they are an altered landscape that sometimes make me think of post-apocalyptic movies when I stumble across them; finding places like that is something that topographic maps have helped with before too. There were many times when I picked a route and found an old cabin or two, or old mining works, and suddenly I was not just a lone man wandering through the wilderness, but a lone man wandering through an abandoned world too harsh for others to live in and could expect to encounter armed bands of cannibals at any time.

The mines and ghost towns are the rural Western equivalent of abandoned warehouses and factories in the long-inhabited cities and regions of the country. In the Twin Cities, where my brother roams, there is a strong vein of explorers that goes out to the abandoned buildings and especially the caves along the banks of the Mississippi. Many of the caves were used during Prohibition as speakeasies and distribution points along the river, and now abandoned warehouses holding large amounts of explosives back up to caves there also. This sort of new explorer is the subject of the documentary film “Urban Explorers,” which I recommend to anyone interested in the abandoned and decaying sections of cities. Some of these abandoned places are amazing to see, and I have to admit that they are quieter than some of the designated wilderness areas I have been to.

I cannot imagine this new sort of exploration becoming a huge new trend with special clothing and gear lines, mainly because the majority of the areas that are being explored are privately held and kids could end their adventures in jail (of course that happens when the kids head out to parties or the bars, so maybe it is not a very strong argument), but with scarcity of resources and a growing outspoken segment of society deciding to stay in their own backyards, there could be more kids taking to the abandoned factories and sewer systems in the coming years — where else can you go to be wild in a city surrounded by cities?

Bottoms up,

Joseph Van Nurden,
Gunnison, CO