Thursday, April 30, 2009

GO-ing small

"The little things? The little moments?" once queried Buddhist writer John Kabat-Zinn.

"They're not little," he answered himself.

In fact, for some of us, they're damn near everything.

For about a third of the year, working at least one day per weekend and several nights a week is the norm for me. That's because I've crafted my life to be driven by a sort of migration pattern: I work hard in the Fall, Winter and Spring, and the Summers I keep for me.

This doesn't mean I don't "work" in the Summer -- it just means I work at what I want. I work on creative writing, I do personal research, I explore things and places and activities, and I work on my other personal business ventures. I let my spirit go places the places it craves.

And I get out: In the Summers, my family and I venture forth on many long and short trips, both nearby and faraway -- including epics over the past several years that have included long, extended trips to Europe, Norway, Northwestern Canada, Alaska, and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

And that philosophy is something my wife and I have endeavored to pass onto our kids: GO!

Because to me, GOing is what it's all about. And so you should carefully strategize your life to maximize your ability and opportunities to GO!

Like any good migration pattern, though, the yang requires some yin. So my yin is in -- meaning, indoors, a lot, for a big chunk of the year. So, in the non-Summer months, I give myself over to closer-to-home ventures: teaching, free-lance writing, running a karate club, and managing the other little businesses I've got going to help forge this piecemeal occupational existence I attempt to live off. And it damn near fills my days -- and nights, and weekends.

But that doesn't mean I don't still hanker to GO. It's just that that GOing has be sneaker and closer-to-home than in the big open of Summer.

So in these seasons of long days and nights hammering away at business busy-ness, I feed the need in me to GO! with lots of little snacks rather than the big fun feasts of Summer venturing.

This observation was driven home to me the other day when my son gave me a hard time for working on a weekend day. His intentions, I like to think, were noble: to return to me the favor of raising him to appreciate getting out a lot by calling me on my staying in a lot.

That's when I took stock of all the little GOings I manage to squeeze into the days ostensibly passed with my nose to the proverbial grindstone: Short walks with the dog. Longer -- but still quick -- runs. Bursts of karate practice in the back yard. Grading or writing out in the sun on the deck. Commuting on foot to my various obligations. Doing errands in town on my cruiser. Soaks under the stars with my wife and kids in our hot tub. Meals taken out on our front porch. And then there's the nights once or twice a week spent sleeping out in the back yard ...

Little things, but deliberate things. Meaningful things. Brief but powerful things that put me into physically, tangibly, meaningfully into the world around me -- the traveling traveling at home, every day -- and all woven into the thick fabric of my packed-to-bursting days. Not big going-aways, but GOings nonetheless.

In these busy months I may not be able to go far, but GO! is still my philosophy, my mantra, war cry, my life purpose. So I still GO, even at home. GO at home. Or, as I've come call it for short, GOh!.

And I'm going to teach that to my kids, too -- Fall, Winter, and Spring. Go! And GOh! even more.

# # #

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Tuesday, April 28, 2009

Highway of Dreams

It'd be funny -- as I'm sure it is to the rest of the country -- if it wasn't so sad, ugly, expensive, arrogant, wasteful, and stupid.

I mean, of course, Durango's enormous new partially constructed -- and, we learned last week, absolutely worthless -- highway overpass and its surrounding traffic-strangling construction zone on US 160 east of town. This metal and concrete monstrosity spans the highway like the swollen leg of some out-of-context roller coaster, someday to swoosh traffic downward to smoothly merge with the highway and siphon cars and trucks off the highway and up onto the mesa south of the road.

The reason for such an elaborate traffic contraption in a wee backwoods community like Durango was that CDOT had decreed that US 550 -- gateway to Farmington -- needed a rerouting from the long, steep cut in the side of Florida Mesa that leads that north-south traffic down to its confluence with the east-west-running US 160.

Which is fine. But CDOT, in its manic road-building madness assumed it would acquire the land required to, well, connected the new span with the present highway. Now it seems the landowner in that path ain't too happy with the idea.

Seems it now ain't gonna' happen ...

Last week, the Durango Herald reported that CDOT now admits the the overpass will never connect. Still, no mere waste nor foolishness will stand in the way of the Highway Builders! The project,says CDOT, is going ahead with ints next phase, need be damned!

So far, the project has cost $35 million, including $4 million received from the federal government's 2009 American Recovery and Reinvestment Act.

Meanwhile, the Durango 9R school district is laying off 19 teachers and staff ...

Maybe they can get jobs flagging for the new Durango Ornamental Overpass.

But, CDOT assures us it won't go to waste. "It will serve its function in providing access to U.S. 160 for those north of the highway," says the Herald story. (I assume it means "south of the highway," otherwise the overpass has some other problems. Which, I suppose, wouldn't be a complete surprise.) Which means it's only a small exaggeration to say this $40-million-plus bridge will serve, like, seven people (who have already said they don't want the bridge) and six thousand cattle.

Seems appropriate to me that this item appeared on the front page of our local paper on the 20th anniversary of the release of the movie "Field of Dreams," and its culturally embedded catchphrase, "If you build it, they will come."

Exactly.

Because that is exactly -- I mean aside from its Hell-bent money-wasting land-ravaging road-building mania (see also: Pass, Wolf Creek) -- my gripe against CDOT: If you build it, they will come.

See one of the things that led my wife and I to throw out our anchor and set up our lifetime base camp here in the Four Corners was one interesting fact: It’s about as far away as you can get from an interstate in the continental U.S. That’s changing, though. Even if there's no official designation, you can now follow a nearly a defacto interstate from Albuquerque to Salt Lake City.

Why don't we embrace the fact that the Four Corners is remote. And that most of us like it that way. That that's a valued characteristic. That in the future, as we evolve into new economies, that may be its greatest asset. That it's a condition that will serve us and our kids in the future.

Toward that end, I have a modest proposal: I’d like to see CDOT become simply a fleet of ten thousand pickups with dirt and shovels in the back.

The department will hire anyone who wants and needs a job -- a great way to support high school kids, ski bums, off-season river rats, anyone else who just wants to make few bucks to get to work out of doors. Then they'll just ... drive around, look at the scenery, pick up trash, help wayfaring strangers and RVs bedazzled by what will ultimately become an increasingly degraded series of roads over time, a process of road-to-trail evolution that will only be minimally mitigated by the labor of these CDOT employees in pick ups shoveling loose dirt and asphalt into the decaying pavement -- as the Western Slope of Colorado blossoms in a new cultural revolution linked directly to its return to its status as a hard-to-get-to place.

And someday our kids will take their kids out for a walk along the highway-turned-bikepath that rises from the old highway in a marvelous structure that swoops up onto the wooded mesa above -- an lasting monument to a time when people didn't know any better.

Now that's my kind of field of dreams.

******

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Thursday, April 23, 2009

More on the Misplaced Monument ...


The Cortez Journal -- confronting what might be the biggest story to hit the area since the whackos with guns rampaged through town and disappeared into the wilderness 10 years ago -- has done some fine journalistic investigation into the case of the apparently misplaced Four Corners Monument. (Three-Point-Nine-Seven Corners M0nument ...?).

It seems the monument isn't really misplaced, it's more, like, just confused.
The boundaries of most Western states were created based on the Washington Meridian, not the Greenwich Meridian, which accounts for the 2.5 mile miscalculation made by geocachers who probably used the Greenwich Meridian. The United States began using the Old Naval Observatory in Washington, D.C., as a surveyors starting point in 1850, but switched to using the Greenwhich Meridian - the world's Prime Meridian - in 1884, according to the Ordnance Survey, Great Britain's national mapping agency.

The Four Corners was designated based on an 1875 survey. Subsequent surveys have shown that the 1875 survey was about 1,800 feet - not 2.5 miles - off, Doyle said. Had the survey been accurate, the Four Corners would have been designated about 1,800 feet east of its current location. Even so, an 1,800-foot discrepancy was still fairly accurate considering the surveying equipment used in 1875.
All this surveying stuff is just all around confusing in general, the article concludes.

Information gathered by Senior Geologist Bill Case, of the Utah Geological Survey, found that the original Four Corners surveyor, Chandler Robbins, missed the mark in 1875 due to problems with early surveying techniques and rough terrain. Robbins' diary from the Utah Historical Quarterly stated, "The needle of the compass had lost its power, which I did not discover until we had entered upon the survey."

Low-powered telescopes, combined with having to use the solar system to survey, made accuracy difficult. And that didn't begin to describe the hassle with vegetation, mosquitoes and wide ranges of elevation, Case said.
Actually, the article is kinda fun and interesting. Check it out here.

I'll take that news over more stories about dipshits with firearms any day.

Monday, April 20, 2009

Four Corners Monumental mistake?

It seems X doesn't mark the spot after all.

The Desert News reports that the popular monument that is supposed to locate where the states of Colorado, Utah, Arizona, and New Mexico meet is actually ... about 2.5 miles west of where the states really do converge.

According to the article:
The true location would be downhill to the east of U.S. 160 in Colorado and northeast of the San Juan River as it flows into New Mexico.
The article offers a brief but interesting history of the site, and say a surveying error led to the misplacement of the monument. Over time the new location has become legally binding. Seems, too, that Colorado and New Mexico gained from the error, while Utah and Arizona lost some turf.

There are no plans to move the monument, though, the article states.

Read the article here.

What's in a name?

I've lately noticed an interesting trend: several people I know have asked to be called something different. Often those new names are comprised of nouns, and sometimes adjective-noun combinations, that aren't, shall we say, generally aligned with traditional naming practices.

Not that there's anything wrong with that. So, being an open-minded and polite sort, I have endeavored to acknowledge and adhere to their requested new self-monikers, while at the same time working to stifle any snickers that might try to burp up unbidden.

The funny thing is, even though I can't seem to help smirking, I don't really think people giving themselves new names is funny. Or bad. In fact, in a theoretical way I fully support, and even embrace, the concept. Yet when it actually occurs, when someone I've known and engaged with for a long time under one name suddenly, willingly, deliberately decides to change their name to some plant or animal or celestial event, well, I still can't help but find it somewhat ... peculiar.

But, I get it. Totally. And I am self-aware enough to recognize that my upwellings of cynicism arise not from what I feel, but from what I think -- those reflexive responses conditioned by our social and cultural upbringings. Because in our culture, this is obviously a different process from the accepted ways we usually get our names:

1. Birth, given by parents and family lineage.
2. Nickname, given by others.
3. Marriage, last name only.
4. Earned and bestowed honorific.

Beyond that, cultural conditioning teaches us to distrust and resist self-imposed re-identifying of ourselves.

Of course, despite these norms and conventions, renaming ourselves is actually quite normal and common -- if we define "normal" as including full variety of human culture, and see what is "common" across the full multi-million-year historic range of human society and culture. In those terms, there's strong evidence that what is "normal" for people -- what transcends our present-day accepted acculturation, and instead arises from our very source, our being, our human being -- is something quite different.

In that broader context we can see that the act of finding and adopting new self-chosen names, often several times in the course of one's life, is actually normal, expected, anticipated, sought out and celebrated.

Yet while this might be common and consistent among tribal peoples worldwide, we think that a singer changing her name to "Pink" is somehow silly and juvenile, different from a Native warrior who has a pwerful vision and so changes his name to "Crazy Horse."

But is it, really, that different?

And we still do it, anyways, don't we? In the business world, it's called "Rebranding." The idea is, essentially, if you rename it, they will come around -- around to seeing your product in a new way, they way you want it to be seen. Think of "Gatorade" now just becoming "G."

Another interesting and new place where people are now renaming and reinventing themselves themselves is online -- emails, discussion groups, chat rooms, social networking sites. And, importantly, and more pervasively, in online gaming, where a participant can create a whole new persona, from name to completely new identity, personal history, and personal story -- a completely new who-you-are. These new identities are called "Avatars," and they can represent, I believe, not just a fantasy, or even an escape, but one of our deepest and most natural human desires: To start over. To be re-invented. To look ahead to believe who we can be, not just who we have been.

And it all begins with our name.

The point being -- it's something many of us want to do. And I think it's something that would be good for most, if not all, of us in our ongoing personal development. Because when you think about it, being stuck with only one name throughout your entire life really only benefits bureaucracy and organizations and those who want you to be permanently attached to your past and your assigned designations. And the result is just that: We are anchored to our past instead of liberated to move to new ways of being.

Seen that way, then, name changing is a sort of spiritual rebranding, with the purpose of recasting ourselves not as histories, but as fresh stories -- from who-we-were to avatar. A new name drops the old storehouse of history and past, and instead works as a compass bearing, a guide, a reference point. It becomes an intention.The idea is, if you rename it, you yourself will come around -- you will live up to that, work toward that, make it so ...

Well, I've been thinking about this since my recent encounters with my friends-formerly-known-as-whatever, and although I can't yet bring myself to rename myself (What would it be? "MoneyMaker"? That would be a welcome change, for sure. "Pulitzer"? It'd take more than a name ... "UpWright," on the other hand, might help my boating ... ), I do see some places where some renaming-towards-revisioning some things might be a real asset right here in our American West. Here are a few ideas:
  • "Public Lands" could be renamed "Grandkids Lands."
  • "Recreation" could be phrased "re-creation."
  • The term "lake" could be applied only to acts of God rather than acts of engineers.
  • "Wilderness" could be called "Homelands" (retrieving the name from the agency of that name), and urban/suburban blights could be labeled "wilderness" -- then we could get back to taming the "wilds" and forging them back into "homelands" again.
Well, it's only a thought. Only a start.

How about you? What would you like to rebrand, and why?

******

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Tuesday, April 14, 2009

Launching the 2009 River Season: Take me to the river ...

... Drop me in the water.

It wasn't how I planned to launch the river season -- or the Next Big Life Project I'm on. But somehow it was the PERFECT way to launch both:

With a hefty heapin' helpin' of humility.

See, I was cocky. No doubt about it. My buddy Jono was visiting from San Francisco, and for his last day I planned a grand -- and very nearby -- adventure: a canoe float down a stretch of our home-town Animas River. It would be, I assured him, just a two-hour cruise ...

... a two-hour cruise ...

Jono and I have been on several multi-day canoe ventures together, so this one seemed like a leisurely trip -- from Baker's Bridge, at the north end of the grand Animas Valley, down to Trimble Lane, where we usually put in for our canoeing day trips down the valley to town. This stretch is, I had been assured by a kayaking friend of mine (renown for his class- V paddling expeditions, which should've suggested to me that I get a second opinion), a flat-water float through wide, slow, low-water meanders.

It was, he assured me, just a ... two-hour cruise ...

With Spring starting to spring, the river season a'comin', and my paddling pal in town, I decreed that this quick two-hour trip also, then, would be the first run of my life's next Big Project: Over the next few years I will paddle my canoe down the lengths of the San Juan and Animas rivers, as both my 50th Birthday pilgrimage, and also to serve the narrative thread that will run through my next book.

So with all those auspicious beginnings afoot, I knew: It was going to be a great day!

But I was cocky. It was, after all, flat water. (Even if I'd never actually seen this stretch myself ...) And we are experienced paddlers. And it is right close to home. (Even if one of the themes of this book-to-come is the adventures to be had that lie close to home ...) We wouldn't need much, then. Floatbags? Naw. Hell, I'll bring a little token bail bucket. Spare paddle? Ha! Ballast? I'll throw in a couple of bags of gear and a few beers. Dry bags? Well, I'll bring one, but I certainly won't seal it well. And I'll put the rest of our gear -- extra jackets and shells and hats and gloves -- in a day pack and call it good.

After all, it was just a ... two-hour cruise.

For us, it was about a hundred-yard cruise. Paddling anyway. Then we swam. Then we spent an hour running up and down the bank, recovering out boat and gear, and communicating with with comical versions of American Sign Language to our friends who had beached their boats on the far shore so they could gather our various jetsam and flotsam washing up on the other side of the river.

Meanwhile, my beloved canoe sat abandoned and flooded and lodged on a rock (there were a lot of rocks ...) in the middle of the river.

After an hour or so of recover and rescue, I and Jono (whom I, in my cocky "guiding" mode, urged to wear hiking boots and jeans for our mellow, flat-water float) were damn cold. Our "dry bag" was half-full of water and weighed about 50 pounds, full of now-sopping foul-weather gear. Much of the rest of my gear was either redistributed among the still-floating boats or (including our beer) had been sacrificed to the river gods.

We prudently chose to abort.

We humbly chose to abort.

We respectfully chose to abort.

Failure, then? No way. Yes, I still consider that short venture the start of both this year's river season, and of my grand multi-year paddling project. I also, though, now consider it the perfect start to both.

For now I will go into both the right way: With humbleness. And respect. And prepared.

The way one should always go to the river -- whether for a two-hour cruise or a multi-year project.

Our two companions continued on to finish the trip. Meanwhile, Jono and I are determined to tackle this unsuccessful venture again. Hell, maybe we'll make it an annual mission. We could call it the "Annual Baker's Bridge Classic": a triathlon that consists of a hundred-yard paddle, a 20-yard swim, and a three-mile trot along a cobblestone shoreline mostly carrying a 16-foot canoe.

The river will always be the winner.

Check out the pics below. Note that there are no pics of the actual flip, or of my canoe lodged like driftwood in the middle of the river, since my camera was still in the swamped canoe.



******

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Monday, April 6, 2009

As snow flows to rivers, so we look to floating ...


Well, another ski season is logged in Üllr's books. (Ski area-wise, anyway -- backcountry corn is still yet to come ...)

So if you're like me, then your eyes are now turning from looking upstream to gazing downstream.

Alas, though, even despite this weekend's small gift of April snow, that prognosis looking upstream to see what might be headed downstream as temperatures rise isn't all that promising.

State-wide, the snowpack across the state's seven major river basins was 96 percent of normal on April 1 -- that after having been as high as 120 percent of normal on Jan. 1, after December's mega-storms. In February, reports were calling the snowpack the best since 1997 , including above-average snow in the San Juans -- the Rio Grande basin was 130 percent of average, and the Animas/Dolores/San Juan basins were 116 percent of average (still, though, at only 75 percent of last year at that time).

But then came a warm, dry March ...

According to an AP story this morning, though, this weekend's storm pushed the average back up over 100 percent of average.

In Southwest Colorado, though, the reports aren't quite as bright.

Dolores River

Last year we long-time Dolores junkies felt like were thrown a party and got to binge once again on one of the region's -- or, hell, the damn planet's -- most glorious river canyons. For the first time since the mid-1990s, the Dolores offered up boatable floww from April into June.

This year, though, the Dolores Water Conservation District is now reporting that an early prediction of a month of recreational flows to be spilled from McPhee Reservoir has been scaled back after the dry March. The district's website reports:

March was not a good precipitation month for us. The storms that rolled through brought mostly high winds and dust, and almost no precipitation. The current forecast for April 1 has dropped the spill to approximately 30,000 AF (acre-feet). Therefore our best estimate at this time is that the spring runoff will be below normal. The rafting window has closed some, but water that becomes available will be released around the end of May.

The district predicts:
  • Flows in April will stay as low as 50 cfs.
  • Releases in early May should increase toward 400 cfs.
  • Releases the week of May 11 - 15 may increase to 400 cfs to facilitate Colorado Department of Wildlife fish surveys.
  • After that week flows are projected to rise to rafting levels of 800 to 1,200 cfs.
  • Those flows may last about two weeks and should include Memorial Day.
The district urges boaters to check doloreswater.com around May 7 for updated predictions.

San Juan River

In mid-March, with the San Juan Basin snowpack at just over 100 percent of average, the Bureau of Reclamation was predicting several weeks of releases of 5,000 cfs beginning in mid-May.

Since then, though, BuRec has lower its estimates to as little as a week of high-volume releases.

A public meeting on Navajo Reservoir operations will be held at 1 p.m., Tuesday, April 28, in Farmington. Reservoir operations over last fall and winter will be reviewed, and plans for next spring and summer 2009 operations will be discussed. Contact BuRec's Durango office at 970.385.6560 for information.

******

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Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Skier's commandments -- rules to live by in and out of ski season

Well, ski season is almost over (for ski-area skiing, anyway). But, the lessons learned from skiing are year-round.

So, with that in mind, below is the "Skier's Ten Commandments," as posted in the Winter Club Room at the Ahwahnee Hotel in Yellowstone National Park. The Commandments were proffered by Swiss ski instructor Jules Fritsch in 1928.


Fritsch's commandments:
  1. Thou shall have no other sports before ski.

  2. Thou shalt not take with thee any showshoes, neither any toboggans,
    nor any other means of transportation from the heavens above to the
    earth beneath.

  3. Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain, for what of it?

  4. Remember the winter-time and keep in wholly, in the summer shalt
    thou labor and do all thy work, but the winter is the season of the
    ski, thy Lord and master. In its evenings thou shalt not fritter away
    the time with backgammon, nor with red-dog, nor michigan, nor
    tiddleywinks, nor jig-saw puzzles, but in the sweat of thy brow shalt
    thou polish and wax thy skis. For in ten hours shalt thou labor and
    climb up the hill, and in ten minutes shalt thou be down again. (Oh
    yeah.)

  5. Carry thy own skis and thy knapsack, that thy friends shall not
    avoid thee, and that thy days may be long on the ski trips that thou
    makest.

  6. Thou shalt not dither.

  7. Thou shalt not commit sitzmarks.

  8. Thou shalt not swipe thy neighbor's ski-wax.

  9. Thou shalt not bear false witness of thy downhill runs, nor thy jump turns, nor thy telemarks.

  10. Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s sealskins, nor thy neighbor’s
    agility, nor his Stem-Christiania, nor his Closed-Christiania, nor his
    Open-Christiania., nor any Christiania which is thy neighbor’s.
"Sitzmarks are made by fools like me, But only Fritsch can miss a tree."



Amen, Jules.


(Skier's Ten Commandments via Empty Beer, on Teton Gravity Research Forum.)

******

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