Saturday, November 28, 2009

I'm thankful for ...

... a daughter who also could wait no longer for snow.

So Anna and I headed up onto Red Mountain for some early-season turns. And Anna's first backcountry ski.

Hope everyone's Thanksgiving was grand!

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Meteor lights up Utah

A planetarium director says that Wednesday night's meteor over the Salt Lake area was probably traveling some 80,000 miles an hours, and torched 100 miles above ground. 


You can read a story and watch video and a newscast about it here (KSL-TV).

(via BoingBoing)

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Kicked out of Purgatory -- and into the Soviet Union


I mean, what else can you say about today's front-page story in the Durango Herald, "Durango Mountain Resort pulls critic's pass." I checked: It was definitely the Nov. 19 paper, not April 1.

Wow. It'd be funny, if it wasn't so sad.

And I don't mean sad for the critic -- she called Telluride Ski Area, told them her situation, and got a pass over there.

I mean sad for all of us who care for and have supported Purgatory (a.k.a. Durango Mountain Resort, if you like lots of syllables) for so many years. I mean sad that this is what "leadership" at our favorite local ski area has come to.

Look, let's face it: We all who ski here, live here, and work here have a stake in helping Purgatory succeed. And that's why the local community has a right -- hell, a responsibility -- to discuss decisions and actions by the management of our local ski resort in public forums, including (and especially) the local newspaper. Because those decisions affect us all.

This includes controversial decisions -- like making post-sale changes to the conditions upon advertised and pricey products like season and weekday passes. (Read about the proposed changes to Purgatory's passes that started the bruhahah here.) I'm not saying that decision was right or wrong, good or bad -- but it is big, and people -- especially those who laid out the cash to buy those passes, thereby helping the resort -- have a right to question and discuss those changes.

But is this really the way to do it? To revoke the ski pass -- and in such a cowardly, adolescent way -- of someone voicing their questions and reactions in the paper? (Read the letter from the resort explaining the revocation of the season pass here.) Is this quality leadership? Is this good community-building? Is this shared investment in our local resort? Maybe -- in the Josef Stalin School of Business.

According to the Herald, DMR CEO Gary Derck "said that (critic) Lauren Slaff's comments to The Durango Herald caused 'concern and confusion' among employees and customers, and the management team decided it would be best to'"part ways.'"

Uh ... huh? Gary, you want confusion? Stand in the lift lines at the six-pack or quad on a busy day. You want concern? Try sitting, freezing and in a blizzard, on a stalled Lift 8 for a half an hour.

But I digress. Besides, those quaint aspects of the Purgatory experience give the place charm and character. It's what we love about it.

And we do love it. And you don't hear us complaining up those. Much. Because we need each other, Purgatory and its locals. So let me phrase it this way: You want confusion? Try laying out several hundred hard-earned (we're not all CEO's, Gary) dollars for a ski pass to your favorite local ski, and finding out the management has decided to change what you bought. Want concern? Try finding out that if you speak up -- in our proud American tradition of speaking up -- about your confusion, that management will arbitrarily and childishly just "part ways" with you and that product.

Now that's leadership. Soviet style.


Wednesday, November 11, 2009

When do the kids turn into adults?

Ah, life with kids. It's been my mission, my all-encompassing project, my focus and attention, my purpose, my meaning, my every day, and my everydays for a long time now. Sixteen-plus years, in fact.

So when does it end?

Working as a river guide I heard a bunch of times that silly tourist question that always arouses snickers around these parts: When do the deer turn into elk? Silly, but that, to me, is a lot like how we look at kids turning into adults.

But, seriously, when does a boy become a man? A kid an adult?

Not that I'm hurrying the end along. With that end in sight, I'm savoring every taste of those every days, and those everyday experiences of life with kids. But right now we're in an interesting transition zone around here: My 16-year-old son wants to be treated like an adult -- of course. But my wife and I find (or at least feel) we need to keep intervening in his life in the role of parents, because, well, in a nutshell, he's only 16.

And it's got me wondering, when, exactly, do those kids become non-kids?

There are several logical and easy landmarks proposed as marking the divide between adolescence and adulthood, including
  • Getting a driver's license. The first sort of "adult" thing kids have to opportunity to do -- and about the closest thing our culture offers as a socially recognized rite of passage. Seeing many of my kids' friends now doing this, and hearing my son talking it up, I'd say it it's a start, but hardly proves, or rarely even indicates, any sort of "adultness" of the bearer. 
  • Turning 18. This, of course, is the legal definition. Meaningless aside from a nice, clean -- and completely arbitrary -- number.
  • Turning 21. When you are old enough to drink. Which, I, myself, think, is stupid. Frankly, I'd rather see the drinking age at 18 and the driving age at 21.  
  • Graduating high school. 'cause then kids really get to see the fantasy they were living in high school. 
  • Entering college or the military or getting a  job. This, I agree, almost surely gets shifts a kid's psychic transmission into the adult range of gears. It still often takes a while to learn how to use the clutch to keep from grinding those gears, though ...
  • Getting married. Which is, as any married person can tell you, indicative of absolutely nothing related to being an adult. Except in the "adult film" sense.
All valid points of departure worth noting on the landscape between kidhood and adulthood. But none of them really are good, useful, or validating definitions of adulthood. None of them can offer some observable, viable, visible cue that a young person has moved from kid to grown up.

And as a parent, I'd like some measure. Something for myself, and that I can offer up as a compass bearing, a sort of psychic GPS, to my kids. 

So after much thought and observation, I'd like to propose the following two-point operational definition of "adult":
  • Adults control their attitudes. Only children think they can always do only what they enjoy. Adults seek meaning and enjoyment, and endeavor to do their best, at whatever they do, in whatever circumstances they finds themselves in. Even -- and especially -- in situations they don't control. 
  • Adults are responsible for their journey. Only a child thinks you can just float along and be okay. Adults actively, deliberately, strategically navigate their lives and their situations. It's like river running: adults learn to not blame fate or nature or the nature of things, they don't blame what got them where they are, and they don't blame others for where they are now. They act. They enjoy the float, but they also learn, observe, plan, and adapt. And if they flip, wrap or swim, they don't blame the river. They get back in and row again, wiser.
In short, adults know their lives are their true work and art, and that if they don't make it into something, others will.

I understand. This offers no nice clear number to mark this definition of "adult." You don't get any card. It doesn't even grant with any particular freedoms or abilities.

But it's still what I'm going to look for in my own kids as they get their driver's licenses, graduate from high school, move into the world, start their own families. Somewhere along those landmarks, I will be looking for real adults to appear.

And I will welcome them, as peers.

Monday, November 9, 2009

In a cabin in the (pinion and juniper) woods ...

Had the pleasure this past weekend of getting to get down to check out a friend's property, and the very cool adobe cabin he'd built on the place. Its isolation and desert location made it feel like a much more distant venture than just twenty minutes south of Durango.

The cabin is up a remote canyon near the Colorado/New Mexico border. Reminding us how of the dramatic climatic dividing line we dwell on, this short distance brought us into a wash valley lined with bluffy cliffsides and and rolling, rounded, sandy hillocks up and down the valley. A winding narrow lane through the p-j brought us to my friend's place alongside the dry wash.

It was even cooler than I'd thought from what I'd heard. My son, Webb, joined me on this trip. He'd been stayed out here a few times with my friend's son and their friends -- in the mythic "Jack's Cabin." Now, I was finally getting out to check out this teen getaway. And after getting to hang out here, I now hope it becomes a middle-aged getaway ...

My friend John had picked up forty acres of his own crumbling, water-carved chalk-colored piece of the San Juan Basin desert about fifteen years ago, for less than $20,000. Back then, his kids were young and he was working hard, but instead of buying a new truck or bigger TV or something, he picked up this land.

Tinkering over a series of summers (the place gets either snowed or clayed in -- too sticky to drive or walk -- several months of the year), he'd taught himself how to build an adobe cabin, and then built this fine one-room, wood-stove-heated, brick-floored place out here. It cost him about $3,000, he figures. The adobe bricks he made himself from the very soil where the cabin now stands. There's also a great stonework fire ring outside.

Smart thinking. Good work. A great and nearby getaway for his family and friends.

I know I plan on hitting him up for heading down there more.

Friday, November 6, 2009

How the Forest Service was saved -- and shaped -- by fire

There was a great interview on NPR's Fresh Air recently, with author and journalist Timothy Egan, on his new book, The Big Burn.

The book examines the largest forest fire in American history: in 1910, some 3 million acres of forest in Idaho and Montana, an area the size of Connecticut, burned in just a few days, killing 70 people.

The fire also saved the fledgling U. S. Forest Service, which was on Congress' chopping block. It also, though, argues Egan, shaped the future of the Forest Service, turning it into what he calls "the Fire Service." Today, half the Forest Service's budget goes toward "the fire industrial complex," he says.

It also, though, he argues, saved the modern conservation movement, and made it possible for the Forest Service to go from the brink of extinction to expansion, including the creation of National Forests in the East.

The story, though, is deeper than that, and is filled with drama and adventure, including tales of how the black Army forces, the Buffalo Soldiers, came in to help save day and were met with racism; of how Forest Service employees went from objects of scorn -- sarcastically called "Teddy's Green Rangers" -- to heroes in the eyes of the country; and how because of a complete ignorance of how to fight forest fires, both those heroic parties really just "became fuel" for the fire.

That 1910 fire still resonates, Egan argues, since today more than 20 million people live within a few miles of a National Forest.

You can read an excerpt from the book and listen to the interview on Fresh Air here.

You can also read an interview with Timothy Egan about The Big Burn in Smithsonian magazine here.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Hermosa Creek workgroup releases draft of management proposal

I had the chance to attend the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meeting last night, where a draft of the management proposal for the watershed was presented and discussed.

I thought the group was smart and cooperative and well-informed (guided by three mandates: defining "truth" as that which is supported by facts and data, transparency, and consensus). It also contained perhaps the greatest concentration of grey ponytails -- both female and male -- I'd ever seen in one room. Good folks.

The workgroup is an 18-month-old citizen group spun out of a regional initiative called the River Protection Workgroup, formed in 2005 by the San Juan Citizens Alliance and the Southwestern Water Conservation District. A broad and diverse coalition of groups are participating in the group, working under a consensus model.

The workgroup is looking at protections options in the Hermosa Creek drainage, northwest of Durango. Hermosa Creek contains the largest block of roadless land managed by the Forest Service in Colorado, and contains populations of genetically pure Colorado River Cutthroat trout.The group's consensual state of values of the region states:
The Hermosa Creek Area is exceptional because it is a large intact (unfragmented) natural watershed containing diverse ecosystems, including fish, plants and wildlife, over a broad elevation range, and supports a variety of multiple uses, including recreation and grazing, in the vicinity of a large town.
At this point, the group is focusing on generating a land-management proposal, and is holding off addressing issues related directly to water or the creek itself until workgroups complete looks at all the watersheds in the southern San Juans, since water development is best served by a basin-wide perspective.

Here's the core of what I got from the proposal:
  • Creation of a 100,000-acre Special Management Area. This management plan would be written later, with ample opportunity for public input
  • Creation of a 50,000 wilderness area, and on the west side of the creek
  • The 163,000-acre Hermosa Roadless Area will be kept roadless
  • Multiple uses-- from recreation to outfitting to grazing -- will be allowed where presently allowed (with barring mechanized vehicles in the Wilderness Area)
Here are the few "rubs," as they were called, that are still yet to be hammered out about the plan:
  • Wilderness area boundary. In particular, how close to the creek should the boundary should run. Proposals range from at the creek's edge (or center, or floodplain ...) to up to a quarter-mile set back to keep the potential for future water development.
  • What to do about areas with minerals and mineral claims that lie on the edge of the Wilderness boundaries.
  • What to do about a SWSI -- Statewide Water Supply Initiative -- site in the valley. These sites are identified by the state as potential dam and diversion sites, although there is no legally-binding protection, water rights, or set-asides for these areas. Given that, the question is whether or not to keep that area in or out of protected areas (especially since roads for a dam site would cut into the present Roadless Area).
That's a major nutshell of what is a detailed proposal from a long, involved drafting process. But it gives a sense of what's going on.

See photos of the Hermosa Creek drainage here.

Get involved: the Hermosa Creek Workgroup meets monthly. Learn more here.

Also, workgroups for other southern San Juan watersheds will be launched in upcoming months, beginning with a group for the San Juan in January.

Monday, November 2, 2009

Back in the pages of Inside Outside Southwest

Out today is the November issue of Inside Outside Southwest. And in it you'll find my new monthly column, San Juandering.

In February, I retired the Neanderthal Crossing column I'd been writing since 2001. Time for something new.

So I figured I'd wander my way to some new things -- wandering around our home land here in the Four Corners. In the meantime, mulling over the whys, the hows, the WTFs and they why-the-hell-nots of life here in this wild, wonderful, and sometimes woeful landscape of ours.

In this first column I confess the rationale behind my torturing my children by making them do hard, challenging things like climbing Mount Sneffels.

Which means: You'll be glad to know (even if if my kids aren't always ...) that some things haven't changed!

Check out an extended version of the print column here.

And a huge thanks for the San Juandering logo to my good friend and graphic-design sorcerer, Todd Thompson. Now move yer ass back here, Todd!