Wednesday, August 27, 2008

The Words I want to hear

It's a blustery time. And not just because it's fall.

It's an election year, and the we're rounding the bend into the home stretch (atlongfrickenlast, since the election cycle has turned into a multi-year-long forced march).

We finally have our finalists for the gold medal round, and we got the conventions -- those absurd and expensive spectacles where the already-done officially happens, the same trite already shoe-worn rhetoric gets retreaded, political celebrities get to preen, and where all those election-addicted political activists can get together and whoop it up. Everyone deserves a party on the public tab every now and then.

But after that, we're left with the wind of words -- that barrage of blustery, inflated, time-worn and focus-group-tested, value-laden and good-feeling terms that makes a candidate look like he stands for something, without really revealing the brittle stilts the nice ideas stand upon.

"Change," of course, is Sen. Obama's favorite. A time-tested term, especially in times of strife and economic uncertainly. Which is most of the time. The Senator is also fond of "hope," a word with the benefit of being monosyllabic -- easy to remember, easily slipped into even the smallest cracks in a conversation, even if it is rather passive an activity, implying a somewhat helpless reliance on some power or authority. A president, perhaps. Or a political party.

Sen. McCain is fond of "law" and "protection" -- phrasing that suggests a speaking from that position of power and authority, and that is well-established, fatty, rich language that's always good for hooking a large chunk of Fast Food America. Beyond that, rather than brandishing his own visionary lexicon, Sen. McCain seems to prefer spending his time disparaging the words Sen. Obama favors.

What I don't hear are words that say what we really need and want to hear today. I, myself, would like to for once hear someone take the initiative to whip out some new words that are truly suited to the realities of the 21st century world, and that perhaps really can work as compass bearings toward principles and programs our leaders need to be employing to guide us from those positions of power and authority in this still-new century.

"Enough." There's a word I'd like to hear. Just that word, as a guiding principle, a statement of position. You want change, Sen. Obama? A change would be a leader leading us by saying what we all need to hear, and won't from any industry or politician: "Enough! You know what? We're fine! We're there! We did it, and now it's time to slow down and see how long we can make it last."

Which brings us to another word I'd like to hear: "Share." It would work nicely with "enough," in fact, as in, "We have enough, and we're doing so well we're going to share what we have with those who don't have enough." For Sen. McCain, this might be a nice alternative to the more belligerent connotations of relying on "law" and "protection," offering the sense that perhaps we can find real hope and make real change (a chance for McCain to pull a judo move on Obama's own favorite handles) by changing how we interact with the rest of the world.

"Enough" and "share" also have the benefit of leading logically to a third vague but value-filled term: "Enjoy." Those three terms together (if Mr. Bush were running for President again, he might cleverly brand those three points "the Axis of Anti-Evil"), I argue, make a solid tripod of talking points on which to support a real "revolution" (another favorite political platitude) truly suited to the world we face ahead of us in the 21st century:

Let's enjoy and share and keep alive the good things we already have.

You want hope? Protection? Find a way to make that platform law.

And that's some rhetoric that really would make me say "hope."

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Even the New York Times gets Roadless Areas

Seems often times that the East Coast doesn't get public lands -- what they are, what they're worth (I mean beyond mere money), and what it takes to keep them as they are with their worth in tact. This blindness exists despite the fact that many of the biggest decisions on public lands take place in the East.

But, today the New York Times came out in support of Congressional action toward making the Clinton Roadless Rule law, to get out of the legal limbo it sits in now -- a status, as the editorial says, that "leaves too much room for mischief." In regard to that, the editorial cites the Bush Administration's constant attempts to weaken the Roadless Rule, as well as the recent overturning of the Rule in district court.

"Last year, more than 140 House members and 19 senators introduced the National Forest Roadless Area Conservation Act," the editorial says. "It is past time to provide permanent protection for the forests by turning the Clinton rule into firm law."

When it come's to the West's last and irreplaceable stash of roadless areas, this can only help.

The editorial can be read here.

Everyone can -- and must -- help: You can make public comments on the Forest Service on the Bush Administration's latest, perhaps last, and blatantly lame-duck attempts to weaken the Roadless Rule (which, of course, was also introduced lame duck ... but it was good!).

Send your comments to
  • Rick Cables, regional forester, at rcables@fs.fed.us.
  • You can also submit comments urging Colorado Gov. Bill Ritter to give Colorado's roadless areas better protection via COcomments@roadless.org.

Wednesday, August 20, 2008

Housing woes in places worthing living

There was a good story on NPR's "Morning Edition" this morning. The story, titled Around Resorts, Boomlet Towns Thrive, Too, focused on Flagstaff, where the cost of living there -- the median home price is $350,000 -- is driving people out of town, to remote parcels of land and to once-decaying neighboring towns like Winslow. The piece looks at both the hardship and hard feelings this situation creates, as well as finding the positive in new communities that are arising around the West as these folks who can't afford to fit in carve their own niches.

It, of course, reflects the situation in Durango, where a recent report from the Region 9 Economic Development District says that 72 percent of households here don't earn enough income to purchase a home at the median home price in Durango -- which is also estimated to be $350,000. Around Durango, the towns of Bayfield and Mancos -- both 20 or 25 miles away -- are absorbing the economic refugees from the Animas Valley.

The NPR story also examines the plans for Northern Arizona University, in Flagstaff, to build affordable housing for its faculty and staff, who can't afford to live in Flagstaff on the school's salary. Fort Lewis College is also looking toward building such subsidized housing on the edge of the mesa south of the college.

Next: It'll be interesting to see where $5 -- or $8 -- per gallon gas takes this migration, its migrators, and the outlying towns that are the bases for these migrations -- and that is often fueled by a commuting economy.

Friday, August 8, 2008

It's my Van in a Box

I had a van for a while. But no more.

It was a bigt 1980s Chevy, a solid beast of a machine pulled by 360 horses. I had it for less than two years, but in that time is was both a grand experiment and a great teacher. But it also wasn't very practical -- expensive to drive and bulky to keep parked around neighborhood when it wasn't being driven. Which was most of the time. It had to go.

What I miss most about it, though, was the great escape at my fingertips it offered. I called it the RaVan, to honor the philosophy I acquired it to dabble in -- a raven-like philosophy, since I see a raven as a creature that has managed to stay wild yet be fully adapted to the world's modern circumstances. I used the RaVan to explore how feral I could become right here in the modern world, in my modern world -- out there, yet right there in my daily life with house and family and work.

What the RaVan offered was the ability to jump in and go. I mean "go" as more than just "go somewhere" -- I mean "go" as a philosophy in an of itself, an attitude, as a skill. To go, even if it's just over the hill for the night, or up some nearby Forest Service road, or on some scenic turnout that includes my own house and town in the scene. With the RaVan, I always had a tin tipi ready to go.

I remembered how cool this had been the other day when the kids and I elected to go. We decided to jump in the car and head down to Navajo Reservoir, camping along the remote north end of the impoundment, near where the still-wild San Juan enters its temporary pooling.

I remembered when I went to pack for our quick little foray to this neat little piece of nearby faraway and found that the packing was not quick. Since we do a lot of river trips, our camping gear is generally pretty together, still, it took me some three hours to gather all our crap and get it packaged and packed in the back of the truck. So much for just jumping in and just going ...

And I remembered then how much we used to do this kind of thing when the RaVan was there because it was always ready to go. Because we didn't have to spend hours rallying to go, we did just go because we could just go. And I remembered how healthy that going had been and still could be -- especially with the kids, still. Because they need it, too. Because I want to teach the skill of go onto them, too.

Well, I can't afford a van right now (even though a friend of mine just got a lovely 1988 VW Vanagon, giving me a major case of van envy), but I can still be ravenesque about this. So all the time on our venture to Navajo Reservoir, while my kids and I were lounging by the waterside, or inside the car riding out a vicious thunderstorm (another far more comfortable experience with a van), or sitting in our camp under that stars or laying in my sleeping bag in our tent (other chores that aren't necessary with a van ...), I was chewing on how to adapt to these circumstances today ... how to further develop those skills at go ...

And that's how I came up with my newest experiment. Call it, Van in a Box. I thought that if we were able to pretty much throw and go, then I and/or we would just go a lot more -- maybe not in the RaVan days, but certainly more than we do right now -- for just quick jaunts to those many nearby faraways we have right here, right around us. So ...

Taking our river kitchen dry box, and a big wooden footlocker left over my our kids' days at Colvig Silver Camps, I set up what is actually a Van in Two Boxes:

Food and cookware ready to go in the dry box. The dry box itself can also function as a workspace.

In the footlocker are:
  • sleeping bags (our small summer bags),
  • a tarp (for makeshift canopy or ground cloth),
  • rain gear, gloves, hats,
  • maps,
  • cards and games,
  • paper and pens,
  • dog food, a bowl, and a leash
  • a lantern and our headlamps, a set of maps for the area, and a potty shovel and t.p. (with matches in the paper to burn it in the hole).
Stacked next to those in my garage and also ready to throw in are the other essentials to quick and equipped going:

  • A stove and gas bottle,
  • a portable table,
  • a set of fold-up chairs,
  • the tent,
  • sleeping pads (if you're not gonna have a van, you gotta have Paco Pads),
  • fishing gear,
  • a water jug (one of those five-gallon barrel-like one with the push-button spout at the bottom).
Hey, it ain't a van. But it is in the spirit of the van, the raven spirit, the RaVan spirit. And it is a movement in that direction -- doing what I can with what I have.

And that, too, is going, no?

This blog was also posted on my other blog, The Backyard Frontline.