Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Losing Lost

Well, it's over.

In one sense, my response is thank God! I can finally quit being lost in Lost! There's always a sense of relief when any long-term project ends. And keep up on Lost is nothing if not a project one must be devoted to in order to make it through all six seasons of the show's many -- very many -- convoluted and often confusing plot trajectories.

In another sense, though, I'm sad. Because the end of Lost also means the end of one more family ritual for our slowly aging and not-so-slowly growing-up family.

For the past few years (we came into Lost via DVD, after the show had already aired for three seasons), Lost has been our family campfire. Once or twice a week, we would meet together in front of the TV at a predetermined time for another wild chapter in this epic tale we were sharing in.

While most any television show could serve this gathering-around function, Lost was a particularly good family campfire. It managed to engage and entertain us adults as well as our two teens, with deep, effective characters wrapped in an engrossing, if warped, ongoing and ever-unfolding adventure-tale. And it was a literary tale that spoke to its audience in a uniquely compelling way: by unfolding on a human scale -- years, just like real life does -- that few, if any, other forms of literature can claim.

So this allowed us, for the past few years of our lives together, to get wrapped up in the same narrative. And it was a narrative that in turn provided more than just the actual "campfire" time together.

Lost also offered ample fuel for the fires of conversation, too. Because Lost -- as this week's series finale drove home -- was all about allegories for the various questions and challenges of life and living -- from parenting/child relations, to love, to honor, to religion, and ... well every Lost fan could come up with their own list of the many things they read between the show's scripted lines.

From my own fully-biased point of view, a major theme of Lost was tribalism: How we function as intertwined individuals. How we become or select leaders. What our personal boundaries are. Responsibility, cooperation, and self reliance. And, as individuals, how we accept, swallow, and move on from our own pasts -- and how those in our lives do the same for us, and for themselves.

And, ultimately, as the last episode drove home in all its trademark bizarre beauty, Lost was about one question: How do we do those things well? How and why should be we be our best in the face of the often convoluted, sometimes confusing, and always ultimately inexplicable mystery that we we're all -- and all together --always surrounded by and engaged in, even if we don't crash on a weird island.

And these are things adults and parents have been discussing -- prompted by strange tales and metaphoric legends -- around campfires for a million years.

Friday, May 21, 2010

The callings of Spring

Spring has finally, in big brilliant blast of sunshine, blessed us, and the earth is burst forth.

Or somesuch. In our neighborhood, that basically means that families like ours spend a lot time working around the yard in the sunshine. The wives among us tend to be digging with little bitty shovels and patting the earth with gloved hands. And doing a lot of pointing with those gloved hands, directing us husbands -- who brandish real shovels -- and the teen-aged draftees into this yardscaping enterprise, on what to move where and where to dig with those real shovels.

Oftentimes, while my wife is not looking, hunched over, working the ground and murmoring encouragement to some bedrazzled scrub, I find myself leaning against my shovel and staring ... out there, at the greater -- in both size and grandeur -- landscape around us. Up and away toward Perins Peak, or the La Platas, or some distant butte in Utah that I can see in my traveler's mind's eye beyond the curvature of the earth.

I often see my son when it's his shift in the Boda Garden, as we call my wife's yardly handwork, also staring off, perhaps kicking some skateboard trick in his mind.

Seems the gene doesn't fall very far from the double-helix.

Because this, I have found from a very unscientific, but usually very festive, survey, seems to be the norm among my married middle-aged male counterparts: Women work the yard, and men help. But they're really faking their enjoyment. (One good turn deserves another, eh?) What were really thinking about is ... going, out there, somewhere.

And we're thinking: God already made a garden, darlin'! Let us let Him tend to it with His all-powerful ways! And let us go forth and folic in his Creation! 

But my wife ain't buying it.

Anyway, while I may not always be the most exuberant of employees, I much do appreciate the fruits of this forced labor. And I enjoy seeing my wife's creativity and sense of beauty made manifest.

And given those gender differences in how we might prefer to spend sunny spring afternoons, I particularly appreciate my wife's long-running rock-garden project, because I think it represents the beset of us merged:

Sarah has lined the gardens around our yard with rocks gathered and carried from literally all over the world -- from the San Juan River to Alaska, from Mount Sneffels to Kauai, from the Upper Penninsula of Michigan to Norway to the Pacific Ocean off the Oregon Coast.

I know, because I, Webb and Anna carried them from where ever Sarah found them.

And I love it. This is, when I look at it now, a true coming together of  both our traveling and our homemaking. And that truly is making our home more beautiful.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

A little getaway goes a long way ...

Every little bit helps. And lately, help has been needed.

Specifically, the help needed lately has been to get out. To get out there, anywhere. Anything to dilute the numbing of work and school and a cold, cloudy, restless spring.

The anywhere Webb and I chose this weekend was Muley Point, on the edge of Cedar Mesa, overlooking the San Juan River -- where, we both agree, we'd really like to be. But can't, yet. So we settled for a spontaneous and quick "little bit" -- a 24-hour getaway to where we can at least say hey to the country we ache for.

So on Sunday afternoon we threw camping gear and some food and our guitars in the truck and headed west. Dinner and a fire and some guitar playing and chatting on the rim while the newly-waxing moon floated over the canyonlands -- and the space station zipped by overhead. Then sleeping under the milky spillage of the Milky Way. Then waking for coffee and a walk and ... well, just breathing the air, savoring the silence, drinking in the views and sucking the spirit of the landscape we both love. Then, back home to do our daily duty ... but recharged, some.

It was a little bit, but it sure helped. Until we can get the dose of out there we really need. Soon ...

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

Can Ridges Basin yet survive the Disneyification of Lake Nighthorse?

I've always had this odd predilection: I'm drawn to little places. Ever since I was a kid, I would seek and see the nooks and crannies and the subtle, hidden gems right around where ever I happened to be. And they nearly always harbored interesting and complete -- and wild in their own way -- little worlds.

Big, dramatic landscapes are quite lovely, no doubt -- and damn well worth defending, of course. That's obvious -- because the big, dramatic places are so obvious.

But the little places -- the little stashes and caches of wildness and flow that remain within and amidst the greater general environmental de-evolving development unfolding and/or unraveling everywhere we happen to be today -- well they're important, too. Because even if they aren't as meaty as the big, dramatic landscapes, these little places are the connecting sinew and muscle holding our less-wild worlds together. And they're still essential -- especially because of their proximity -- for keeping us sane and in touch with the undeveloped world.

And they're vital now more than ever, as in the 21st century the lingering big blocks of landscapes get either locked up for chopped up. Now our hungers turn their longing eyes on the little places. Nearby, I cite Hermosa Creek -- which may be on the cusp of getting some needed protection. And the HD Mountains, which recently lost its protection.

And Ridges Basin. Which lost its protection when the ALP project dammed the Basin to created Lake Nighthorse -- but which may yet get a partial retrieve. If enough of us speak up.

The Animas-La Plata Water Conservancy District has won a grant from the National Park Service River and Trails program, and, with the help of a private consulting firm, is working on setting up a process for public meetings and input on the design of recreation on and around Lake Nighthorse . 

We can save both money and what has always made Ridges Basin a treasure through two stipulations on any Lake Nighthorse recreation plan: Minimal building and non-motorized uses.

This is the argument I make in "Silent Nighthorse," my San Juandering column in the May issue of Inside Outside.
One night I was walking the lonely county road that used to run through Ridges Basin. It was a near-full-moon night, cold and quiet, when I saw what appeared at first to be an apparition: a square light from a dimly-lit trailer, and behind it some kind of big, bright mass swirling slowly in the meadow.
As I got closer, the scene came together: An old sheepherder’s wagon stood along the dirt road, and behind it a flock of sheep (600 head, I would soon learn) grazed in the moonlight. While I stood there in awe, in appreciation, relishing the unexpected spectacle, out of the trailer came the sheepherder himself.
As the young Navajo shepherd shined his big flashlight over his charges, I learned he was driving the flock to Ignacio for lambing, having walked from La Plata, New Mexico, a few days earlier. He would cross the Ridges Basin tomorrow, pushing the sheep down through Basin Creek’s narrow outlet canyon, to the Animas River, and on into Ignacio a few days later.
His story amazed me -- that that people still had jobs that required walking a hundred miles of lovely country – but then came the hammer: He informed me that after 100 years, I was witnessing this outfit’s the last sheep drive through Ridges Basin. Why? Because the next year the site of the dam that will create Ridges Basin reservoir, the construction of which had already begun, would be impassable.
We were quiet for a while, pondering the import of all that. The he broke the silence: "Why do they have to ruin good country?" he asked me, not really seeking answer. Because we both knew why.
The Animas-La Plata water project ...
Read the entire "Silent Nighthorse" here.

As a side note, to see a possible nightmare future at Lake Nighthorse, check out the new user fees instituted by the Pine River Irrigation District at Vallecito Reservoir recently to pay for recreational facilities there.

I'll be providing news and updates about public hearings to shape the fate of Ridges Basin and Nighthorse Reservoir on the San Juan Almanac.

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

Durango dust bowl ...

It started a deep-blue day. Then some thin clouds slid in; then the breeze picked up, quickly maturing into a blustery wind.

Then the all-too-familiar silver sheen fell over everything, making the La Platas and Missionary Ridge and Perins Peak seem to slip behind a thin veneer, a sheer sheet making the valley's surrounds slowly fade into a general whiteness.

This is the spring routine we've grown used to, as dust storms driven by spring fronts dredge the deserts of the Four Corners, then drive that dust up the Colorado Plateau, billowing up along the wall of the San Juans.

That was today.

Then, around 4, when I was heading out to pick up my daughter, something else appeared in the west: A great yellow-brown smudge come to blot out whatever visibility remained.

Once this ground cloud swept over the neighborhood -- turning the afternoon light a spooky and heavy gold -- there was nothing on the horizon taller than a tree or rooftop.

Like a white-out in winter, this was a -- yet another -- yellow-out in spring. I could feel the grit in my teeth. It tasted like Utah.

According to the Sustainable Development Strategies Group, there were four major dust storms in the Four Corners in 2005, eight for each of the next three years, and 14 major events in 2009.

Here's a story about the dust-bowl conditions on the Navajo Nation.

Here's a Durango Telegraph story about SUWA's proposal to designate more wilderness in Utah to fight dust storms.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Lawn Chairs Kings rock El Rancho to launch new CD

We headed out with a big band of friends Saturday night to celebrate with one of Durango's most iconic bands, The Lawn Chair Kings, who feted the release of their new CD at Durango's most iconic bar, El Rancho Tavern.

It was a match made in Purgatory.

LCK shared the spotlights with The Freeman Social, who also were cranking out the tunes for a new CD. It was a rocking night for a packed house.

A friend of mine pointed out that when we someday look back, the Lawn Chair Kings will be the soundtrack for our memories of Durango in the '00s.

Well, they may also become the soundtrack of the '10s for Durango -- and lots of other more far-ranging fans -- if the new CD is any indicator of what's to come from the band.

 "Lawn Chair Kings II" is a fun and festive blend of well-written and polished alt-country tunes -- done in a style the band calls "western garage."

The band is fronted by guitarist and vocalist Eric Nordstrom -- who also is the 2010 Durango High School Teacher of the Year. Backing Eric is Steve Mendias on drums, the versatile Kelly Rogers and lap steel and guitar, and Dan Leek on bass.

Garage, maybe; Western, fer sure. 21st century Western. It all says summer in the mountains to me. And when I'm heading up there (soon!) I know what'll be pouring out my truck's open windows.

Learn more and listen at lawnchairkings.com.

Check out the Lawn Chair Kings as they go all mop-top at KDUR's Beatles Cover Night, at The Summit, Saturday, May 22.

Friday, May 7, 2010

Recent DNA studies reveal the truth: Some of us are wilder!

More interesting clues and theories from the Fantastic Voyage-like world of DNA exploration ...

Seems that scientists have found remnant Neandertal DNA blended in with some people's Homo Sapien DNA. Some of us, it seems, are a bit more Neanderthal than others.

I, for one, am relieved to hear this, for I have long used Neandertal genes as an excuse for some of behaviors and tendencies. And I am also proud to say that I postulated that this very condition existed for others in the modern human race some time ago.

How did this intermingling occur? Scientists also recently posited that early Homo Sapien women found Neandertal men to be objects of their primal lusts. It would be logical to conclude, then, that the most handsome and manly of the Neandertal would be the ones most like to have gotten into Homo Sapien women's genes. So to speak.

This, I believe, is good news. Confirmation of this root-level genetic difference between some modern people and others -- those on my side of the family, for example -- can explain a lot of conflict throughout recorded history and today. For it's seems to me that rather dividing people along traditional, common lines -- race, country, religion, political party, sexual orientation, even gender -- you get a far more relevant and meaningful framing of how the world works -- and clashes -- if people are sorted into two categories:

  • Domesticated: Those who are obsessed with control, of self and others, and imposed ways of doing things -- that whole agricultural/farming/factory/military/bureaucracy world, sometimes called "Civilization." Think of farm animals: linked to the mega-machine for so long that they're no longer wild or able to function on their own. And further breeding among this weakened gene pool only furthers the un-wilding. 
  • Feral: Not "wild," because pretty much everybody today is "born on farm," so to speak. But there's those who can help but ... act wild. Be as wild as they can within the framework of the civilized social and cultural world they happened to exist in. So they go feral -- wild where they are, amidst the world of civlized control. They are self-willing, self-reliant, independent, tribal, curious and tolerant of others, and downright mutinous when conditions are necessary. Pirates, but often pirates plying the waters of the so-called "normal" daily world. They are Hunter-and-gatherers finding a way -- each his or her own way, because that's their nature -- in the modern paved-over landscape and economy. 

If you think about it, this one dichotomy is behind damn near every conflict, whether between the Romans and the Barbarians, the Cavalry and the Indians, or the boss and the empolyee. It even illuminates things like why the Democrats and Republicans are equally vile and FUBAR. Because they're the same species. And  a different species from many of the rest of us, who are not much represented.

Why? Because Neandetals don't often make good politicians. Or wage serfs. Or cubicle dwellers. Or businessmen. Or fascists. Or underlings. Or farmers.

The next question for research, then, might be: Where did all these Homo sapiens who supplanted -- and somtimes bedded -- my Neandertal forebears come from? 

Seems some scientists who are traveling on a bit more fantastic (and perhaps chemically aided) of a fantastic scientific journey have a theory for that, too: Ancient alien astronauts inserted genetic code (and probably more) into a select group of ancestral humans, forging those that went on to found agriculture, build cities, fight frequent and epic wars, and finally soil the Gulf of Mexico with oil.

Well, that explains A LOT.

Some of us really are wilder.

And modern chicks find us hot.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

HD Mountains latest sacrifice to oil & gas gods

After a long battle against the San Juan Basin strain of oil-and-gas cancer, the HD Mountains succumbed the affliction on Monday when a federal judge pulled the plug on the region's legal life support.

On Monday, a district judge ruled against the San Juan Citizen's Alliance in the group's attempt to overturn a 2007 decision by the U.S. Forest Service to expand drilling in the HD Mountains, including in roadless areas. The ruling may end some ten years of legal battling to protect the unique and relatively undeveloped area.

I think this is a loss beyond the legal decision. Even beyond this particular area itself.

The HD Mountains are important not because it's a big, dramatic, alluring landscape. But because it isn't. It's a Little Place. The prime cuts have been parsed -- a few gems set aside and the rest thrown to the economic dogs. Now our hungry eyes turn to the little nooks and crannies -- the sinew and cartilage of the San Juan Basin wildlands. That's we're eating now. We're down to gnawing the bones. 

In fact, I wrote a story titled just that a few years ago, about the battle to keep oil-and-gas out of the HDs, and especially its special roadless heart. In that piece, I described the area:
The HD Mountains fall away from the southwestern corner of the San Juans like a dangling foot. Low and rumpled, never rising anywhere near treeline, they stand like choppy water between the Piedra River on the east and the flat plain of Florida Mesa on the west, finally pinching out on the south on the shores of Navajo Reservoir, the sunken middle trunk of the San Juan River. 
On the north, looming over and dwarfing the HDs, rise the massive ramparts of the greater San Juan Mountains - a landscape of ragged, jagged, snow-field-patched peaks and green, stream-laced alpine valleys. Dramatic and charismatic, the San Juans are given their due by being largely protected in perpetuity under the shield of the Wilderness Preservation Act, as the Weminuche and South San Juan Wilderness Areas.
As a relatively little landscape - only about 40,000 acres - the HDs remain little-known, little-appreciated and little-visited. Few people outside of southwestern Colorado are aware of their existence, and even those who do live here mostly know them as the area of rolling hills south of the highway when driving U.S. Hwy. 160 between Bayfield and Pagosa Springs.
Little known, maybe; but they are also, remarkably, and importantly, little developed. In fact, RARE II, a government study in the late 1970s that inventoried the remaining roadless areas around the country larger than 5,000 acres, found 23,000 acres of the HDs qualifying as official Roadless Area designation. Other surveys claim as much as 40,000 acres - all but the outer foothills of the HDs - as de facto roadless area. Still, despite the RARE II findings, the Forest Service chose to not nominate the HD Mountains for protection when they had a chance under the Wilderness Act of 1980.

Even the judge, U. S. Senior District Judge Richard Matsch, noted that "this is not an opening up of a virgin wilderness," he still recognized that the issue here was deeper than a mere legal one. Even though most of the 39-page decision focused on legal issues and environmental law, Mastch made a point to note in his decision, "Gas production is the antithesis of environmental protection. The national policies expressed in NEPA and in energy legislation are in direct conflict."

If we're going to fight for what's left and defend our public lands so our kids have some to share with their kids, then we need to argue on terms beyond law and legislation. We cannot win there.

What we need, I think, goes beyond law: We need new reasons -- 21st century reasons -- for public lands, for roadless areas, for the wild and semi-wild places that are left around us. Even and especially little places.

And we need to say those things for a 21st century world, for 21st people living century lives.

We need to say anew not what we're fighting against, but what we're fighting for.

So ... what might be 21st century reasons to keep our public lands -- and our last lingering little pockets and connecting corridors of wildlands?

Read about the HD Mountains in "Gnawing the Bone" here.

Read about Monday's decision allowing drilling in the HDs here.

Learn more abut the San Juan Citizen's Alliance here.