Friday, October 13, 2017

How to Exorcise the Bogeyman: Mulling Over the Clean Power Plan

Photo courtesy of Thomas Roberts

By Donna Stewart, article originally prepared for San Juan Citizens Alliance.

How to Exorcise the Bogeyman: Mulling over the Clean Power Plan

“With this bellows I will pump the flames of this fire which looks like from Hell, and witches will flee, straddling their brooms…and when this beverage goes down our throats, we will get free of the evil of our soul and of any charm.”

In some Japanese rituals, evil spirits are warded off by throwing roasted soybeans. The Irish started the ritual of dressing up and carving pumpkins to ward off evil spirits and since the eleventh century, some Gaelic tribes ward off evil spirits by chanting the above conxuro (incantation) during the Queimada, an ancient ritual that involves drinking from a flaming pot of very strong distilled wine, coffee, sugar, lemon peel and coffee beans. I’m game.

Halloween’s coming up and goblins, ghosts and ghouls are parading around homes and towns, especially D.C.. Remember that movie, The Last Rain Forest? Remember Hexxus, the evil pollution-chugging ancient spirit of destruction who thrived on poison fumes and oil spills?, With the latest intention to repeal the Clean Power Plan, I’m starting to wonder if monsters like Hexxus could be based on real characters. Ahem.

Here’s “some” good news about that: According to the Wall Street Journal, New York Times and a few other semi-reputable news outlets, many of the nation’s largest power companies are claiming that even if the move to eliminate the Clean Power Plan succeeds, they’re planning to move forward laying the groundwork for renewable energy and nothing will change that simply because clean, renewable energy makes the most economic sense.

With what’s at stake, it seems like only the bogeyman or some other evil spirit would try to send  us back to the days of black lungs and smoggy (er) skies. Colorado Governor, John Hickenlooper, says the repeal won’t matter in Colorado because we’ll exceed the Plan’s guidelines anyway. Colorado is already closing coal plants and developing infrastructure and jobs in renewable energy.

 “We have dramatically cleaner air and we are saving money. My question to the E.P.A. would be, ‘Which part of that don’t you like?’” Hickenlooper noted in a recent New York Times article.

In an interview with CBS, Janet McCabe, a Senior Fellow at the Environmental Law and Policy Center and one of the architects of the Clean Power Plan, said “This administration is doing all kinds of things to try to prop up this industry but we’re finding that because of increased cost, increased automation…there are all kinds of reasons why the coal industry is not thriving.”

By repealing the Clean Power Plan, by stepping back from Paris, “This administration is basically telling other countries, Okay, you can be the global leaders, and you can make the money that WILL be made by investing in a clean energy future.”

Wind farms and solar farms are already developing all over the U.S. with impressive ROI. In Fowler, Indiana, energy giant BP opened three wind farms, reviving an economy that was considering opening up a waste dump in an attempt to generate jobs. BP’s farms have resulted in $17 million in payments to the county and $33 million invested in roads as well as creating over a hundred permanent, professional pay grade jobs. A recent Department of Energy survey found that this year there are 374,000 solar induastry jobs while only 160,000 people have been employed by the Coal industry.

Another consideration to ponder: Right now, China leads the world in renewable energy development and manufacture. Want more of that here? Let’s chant away some evil spirits. The EPA has a 60 day public comment period before a final decision will be made. You can take a moment to make a comment here:

But wait! How about locally? Is LPEA ramping up plans to bring green energy to our fair city? Why don’t you ask them? Start chanting. Write, Call, or show up to meetings and ask them where we are and share your thoughts: email: or call: 970.247.5786 or 888.839.5732

Bippity Boppity BOO! Happy Halloween!

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and author of Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls, available at local bookstore, public library, or Barnes&Noble. You can see more of her work at

Wednesday, August 30, 2017

Solar Systems: Gas Shortages, Coming Full Circle in the Wake of Hurricane Harvey and the Path of Hurricane Irma, Jose and God?

Part III in a four part series on Renewable Energy 

Ah, the Seventies! Paislies! Poofy smocks! Blondie, Queen and myriad reflectors (aka disco balls) spinning over the heads of bushy-headed, bell-bottom-ringing rockers! I wish I had a time machine so I could go hit just one night at Studio 54—rocking my own paisley-patterned bell-bottoms and fringed leather halter top.  Just one night. 

 I was just digging into the history of solar power in the 1970s and apparently you can’t google anything 70s-related without getting some Studio 54 images popping up in the feed. At first glance it looks like the 70s were defined by wild parties, bad taste, Nixon and the Vietnam War. But take a second scroll and you’ll see a few headlines about something called “The Energy Crisis.

I bumped right up against an article about how in 1979, President Jimmy Carter had solar panels installed on the White House in reaction to suffering two energy crises over the decade,  but then President Ronald Reagan called them a joke and had them removed when he became president in the next election. A joke? Really? A researcher driven by a touch of OCD, I dove head first into the endless, swirling bog of text.

What I learned was that it wasn’t so much an “energy crisis” or a “gas shortage,” as much as it was an almost complete redefining and restructuring of world-wide power and alliances, and that these, now understated, energy crises had far more of an impact on our world than Freddy Mercury wearing leather britches while cadenza-ing ‘We Are The Champions.’ Cars waited in line for hours at stations, then were sometimes turned away. Signs were posted: “Pumps Closed.” “No Gas.” There was a “Don’t be Fuelish” campaign reminding people to be responsible with their energy usage during the “gas shortage.” In an effort to save fuel, interstate speed limits were dropped to, gasp, 55 mph. Needless to say, gas prices soared. Psst: We might be experiencing something like that again by the time Hurricane Harvey finishes knawing on the oil infrastructure on the Gulf Coast. Today's Thursday, August 31st. Day 4 of Hurricane Harvey's rampage which has so far shut down three refineries and is expected to shut down a fourth today, according to this morning's Wall Street Journal.  

Here’s the thing: Back then, there wasn’t a shortage. Select countries, including the United States, were denied or had their supplies significantly reduced by Middle Eastern suppliers in retaliation for our support of Israel, among other reasons. That’s when we found out what can happen when we become über dependent on something we can’t produce locally. It was also a huge check on Western arrogance. We thought we could strong arm the Middle East by flexing our big money. Turned out we couldn’t. We needed the oil and they knew it. They gave us less oil, then charged more for it. That’s my extremely pithy cliff note interpretation and it’s way, way, WAY more complicated than that. Check out the full story for yourself. It’s fascinating.

One good thing about it was that it sparked renewed interest in terrestrial applications for solar power. That’s when President Jimmy Carter had those 32 solar panels put on the white house.
Through the following decades, slow but steady progress continued. In 1991, President H.W. Bush created the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, funding real research on renewable energy. In 2001, while President George W. Bush was off clearing brush on his ranch, the National Park Service quietly dressed up a white house maintenance shed with 167 solar panels and two thermal solar systems for heating hot water. Since he never mentioned it, not sure Bush ever knew they were there, but still: Yay!

President Barack Obama was far more open about his support of renewable energy. In 2013, White House spokesman, Matt Lehrich, announced, “Continuing President Obama’s commitment to lead by example to increase the use of clean energy in the U.S., the White House has completed installation of American-made solar panels on the first family’s residence as a part of an energy retrofit that will improve the overall energy efficiency of the building.”

Speaking of American-made panels, most of the panels currently made in the world aren’t. Fortune Magazine says that, “China is utterly and totally dominating solar panels.” They are the world’s largest manufacturer of solar panels at a time where markets are “predicted to expand by 13 percent a year,” according to a December article in Scientific American. The U.S., is a distant third, maybe 4th, which is not where we probably want to be given these recent findings from the Solar Jobs Census2016:

•  One out of every 50 new jobs added in the United States in 2016 was created by the solar industry
•  Solar jobs in the United States have increased at least 20 percent per year for the past four years, and jobs have nearly tripled since the first Solar Jobs Census was released in 2010.
•  Over the next 12 months, employers surveyed expect to see total solar industry employment increase by 10 percent to 286,335 solar workers. Last year the coal industry tallied 75,000 jobs.
•  The solar industry added $84 billion to the US GDP in 2016

So third ain't so bad, but that's assuming we aren't about to get left in the dust by countries giving it their full attention, especially as renewables on the verge of significant advancements. Perovskites, a new material under research at Purdue University and the National Renewable Energy Laboratory, could create solar cells that are more flexible, allowing for broader applications, are also cheap and easy to make. Berkeley Labs predicts they could double efficiency, further driving down costs that have just dropped for the seventh straight year in a row. Rumor has it, Audi has partnered with China to produce a solar rooftop “film” that will power ancillary operations for select vehicles, rolling out of the show rooms in 2018.

The real pickle, however, has always been how to store surplus energy for when ‘the sun don’t shine or the wind don’t blow. Tesla’s Elon Musk believes we are on the brink of rapid advances in energy storage so strongly that, in late March, he tweet-boasted he could deliver a battery solution to fix Australia’s notoriously cranky electrical system issues within 100 days – or it’s free. He also predicted the energy-storage market would grow at “twice the rate of the automotive business.” Then, next month, hee, hee, Tesla unveiled its sleek new solar panels that pair perfectly with…the Powerwall, Tesla’s sexy little, stackable battery, that promises to store sun from the day to light the night. Boom!

Do a search for solar power in google news and you’ll see a nice long list of big companies and government agencies signing contracts and installing solar, ahem, systems: Comcast, Audi, The United States Federal Reserve, Corvalis Airport, Indonesia, etc. etc. etc. It’s beautiful. Since the 70s, “we’ve come a long way, baby.”

Now, with nation’s all over the world committing to reduce the use of fossil fuels, some of them taking Musk’s offer seriously, ScientificAmerican’s 13% market expansion prediction might just be sand-bagged. Between that and Hurricane Harvey's decimation of U.S. oil production and the oil shortages expected from that, if we don’t get more into this game…the joke may be on us. You “dig?”

Donna Stewart is a freelance writer and author of Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals: Mayans, Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls, available at your lovely, local bookstore, public library, or Barnes&Noble. You can see more of her work at

Friday, June 16, 2017

The One About SEX: Get Ready to be Schooled

The One About Sex: Get Ready To Be Schooled

I think it’s high time I take this recurring question on: Did I or didn't I sleep with Francisco? If you haven’t read my book, Yoga Mama’s Buddha Sandals: Mayans,Zapatistas and Silly Little White Girls, but plan to, don’t read this yet. I don’t want to ruin anything for you. If you have read it, then you, too, may be wondering about this: Did I or didn’t I? How could we not have? After all, there was a lot of steam in that jungle! And no one was looking.

I’m getting a LOT of disbelief, ranging in temperature from amused shock to downright seething and snide (primarily from women. WTF?). To the latter, I want to respond with a snarky, “Just because you would have doesn’t mean I would have.” Or “Hey, he wasn’t my first Hot Pursuer.”

To the more gentle disbelievers, I refer you back to Chapter 2. Remember? I was on my own more or less from the time I was 13 years old, in and out of the custody of a dangerous, lecherous father who used and threw away women like empty beer cans: crush-toss. Before that I lived in an über strict Southern Baptist house of shaming where everything I watched on TV or read in books was sieved through narrow-fine moral filters. I grew up in a modern world but my media was almost completely from the 1940s and 50s. While my classmates played on their Xboxes, I grew up on Cary Grant, Jimmy Stewart and Gene Kelly movies where the heroes had impeccable character and spent whole reams of film chasing the girl and in the end, all they usually got was a kiss and dreamy-eyed adoration. And the girl who was so desperately pursued? She was never a tramp. Of course, it’s more complicated than that. 

When my parents divorced and I found myself yanked out of the bubble and thrown into a world of chaos, I had to learn fast. I had to learn to watch my father’s every expression for signs he was about to derail and learn how to deflect him if things started going badly. When I ended up on my own, I had to watch out for and “manage” would-be predators. Living under such circumstances, I heard the whisperings of friend’s parents that, poor thing, I’d end up dead or pregnant within a year or two. I also read about kids in my situation in child development class in high school who fell exactly as those parents predicted I would. Somehow (inspiring books, a strong belief in God, a higher-power, and an above-average dose of idealism, etc.), I believed it didn’t have to go that way for me and I’d do my damnedest to keep it from happening.

Not surprisingly, I did end up getting into a lot of trouble, but the trouble I got into was on my own terms, and possibly trying to wrest control of my own life. I skipped school, I drank as much as I could, I smoked pot. I sought thrills. I climbed the outside of multi-storied buildings, danced til dawn and jumped on moving trains. But I kept celibate. For longer than could have been predicted anyway, despite the fact that some friends called me a prude and despite many clever predators.

And there are many predators out there and they seem to be adept at sniffing out vulnerable people. Somehow I was generally able to spot them before it was too late and learned to evade or deflect them. I watched and I learned and I read. One of the most important things I learned, a lesson that I would love to share with more young women, is both a protective precaution and a path to true love: The way to a man’s heart is not through his stomach and, perhaps more surprisingly, nor through his penis. It actually is through his heart. At least for a man of quality. Here’s something else I learned: A man of quality would be willing to wait (for sex) for the right time.

It was a most valuable lesson for me: You could rule out dangerous jerks by simply not sleeping with them. They won’t wait. They self-select out. See ya! I knew I was in danger of making bad choices because I’d read books about abused kids growing up to marry abusers and get involved in all sorts of destructive relationships. I knew I couldn’t necessarily be trusted to make the right decision in these circumstances. But I could develop safeguards, tests for my suitors. Anyway, by the time I’d actually decided to…indulge, I mistrusted everybody, yet at the same time, I was a passionate woman who dreamed of true love, of a hero that would be willing to ‘run the gauntlet and slay dragons’ for the sake of love. My love. Literally, spiritually and emotionally, I needed a dragon slayer. And that man would be willing to wait for when I was ready, when I trusted, whether that took a month or a year. I have no doubt that philosophy has saved me a LOT of trouble and was so ingrained it held up under the tipsiest of circumstances…mostly. And I did find TRUE LOVE, so yay me!

Don't misunderstand and go voting for sainthood status for me or anything. I’m no saint. I’m human and I’ve made mistakes. Doozies. But I can go into those another time. But now that you know a little more about from whence my strength derived, maybe with this little context you can see how a woman traveling alone would be able to abstain even when the heat was on high? Maybe now you can just accept it as truth? If not, maybe you should ask yourself why it bothers you so much?

P.S. If you happen to know Francisco and are wondering, know this: A perfect gentleman with a noble heart. A definite dragon-slayer. Just not mine. 

Tuesday, June 13, 2017

Lightning Strike on Bear Peak (Part II)

To reach the summit, you had to scramble across, and ever up, a talus field. The field was  a steep slope of craggy boulders and rocks, jumbled and piled precariously to a sharp point. I made the final traverse gingerly testing each rock before I put my weight on it. Towards the top, the vertigo effect had my head swimming so I chose to move on all fours for the largest part. 

Here I found a handful of scattered hiking parties taking in the view, drinking water and snacking on Kind bars and packets of trail mix. Again I was struck by how everyone seemed to take no notice of the clouds that were pushing together right over their heads. 

Personally, I’ve heard way too many lightning stories to be comfortable being the tallest object when clouds are about. Why was I the only one concerned? There was a family over there with two children around nine or ten years old, but Mom and Dad looked like they should know what they’re doing, whatever that means. There’s some trail running dudes over there, with iron legs, who probably do this every week. Surely they know, right? No one seemed to care and I was even more confused. Is lightening not as big a deal at this elevation as opposed to the 10,000+ ft. peaks I had been climbing around Durango? I made a mental note to look into this next time I was parked in front of “the box.”

I decided to keep my own counsel, and that of my daughter, Nila, who had made me promise not to have my snack until I was back down safe in the car. The air was thick with moisture, something you can really notice if you’ve been living in the desert for 15 years, and I felt at the very least, a downpour was imminent.

Boulders shifted as I crawled across them to snap my summit photos. Later this day, one of those boulders would roll out from under and then on top of Dave Mackey, a world renowned elite ultra-runner. The boulder was said to weigh 400 lbs and took rescue workers hours to get it off of him. His tibia and fibula were shattered, but he’s alive. He was later quoted as saying, “I’ve been so lucky in 20 years of doing this stuff that I’m actually OK with it,” Mackey told a news station.”[1] An incredible man with an incredible story. But that’s not my story.

I got my pics and turned to hurry down to where there was something taller than me besides that guy. As I came down, I passed the gentleman from India who looked surprised to see me heading down so soon and I pointed up and said simply, “Storm.” I wanted to say it to everyone, especially the family with the children. I wanted to shout, “Hey! It’s time to get down, ya idjits!” I passed the family I’d already coached about falling rock and was on the verge of telling them, but stopped myself, still wondering if I was over reacting.

A few rain drops fell on the trail in front of me when I saw a woman coming up the trail. I couldn’t help saying, “Am I the only one concerned about lightning?” The upcoming hiker said, “I don’t think there’s going to be lightning.” To which I said, “Really? Why not?” She stopped hiking, looked up to the sky, and said, “Oh.” Then she shrugged and said, “I don’t think there will be lightning.” I was incredulous. Was the air too thin up here? WTF? Then I shrugged, “Okey Dokey.” and turned to hurry down the trail.

It was maybe five minutes before the clouds unleashed. Rain started coming down, hard. The sky went dark, despite being the middle of the day. Then hail mixed with the rain. I had a hood on my jacket, but I didn’t want it up because I wanted to be able to see all around me. Then BOOM! Lightening streaked across the sky and touched down way too close. It was so close I ransacked those mental boxes trying to remember what to do in the event you were caught on a mountain in a lightning storm. I could only remember a few things: Don’t be the tallest thing. Don’t stand near or under tall trees. If worse comes to worse, squat with your heels up and don’t let anything else touch the ground. But was this old advice or new? Do you stand under rocks? Should you just run? Stand near a giant boulder or get far away from it? And what about the other people up there, the ones who didn’t even think this would happen? Should I go back for them? If I did, what would I do? It didn’t help that we’d just seen The Avengers last night, though my husband pointed out later: I wasn’t an Avenger.

A lightning bolt hit the ground less than fifty feet away. At that point, my limbic system told my rational mind to just shut up and run. So that’s what I did. The rocky stairs I’d just climbed up, quickly filled with water, making one long, slick waterfall flowing down hill. My limbic system shouted, “Out of the trail! Water conducts electricity! If lightning strikes near here again, you’re fried!” Or maybe it just said “Yipes!” But I jumped out of the trail and ran alongside it, jumping rocks and logs, sliding down mudslicked slopes, catching myself, up and running again, driving in my heels to keep some traction, eyes glued to the ground to give my feet warning of holes, rocks, drop offs, slipping on little piles of hail accumulating everywhere. When I had to stop to catch my breath, I did so in the lightning strike squat method, then got spurred on by another bolt of lightning, and sent running again. Talk about Crossfit! I admit it. Part of me was loving this. In a lot of ways, it was just what I needed.

As I tore down the hillside I was counting seconds between thunder claps to determine how close to the eye of the storm. Legs burning. For most of the run, it was only a second or less. Then as suddenly as it broke, the thunder and lightning was moving away. The rain was slowing, and I felt like I could too. It had taken me three hours to hike up, but it only took me 30 minutes to get down to the main trail. 

This is where it gets surreal. I came out of the woods and onto the main trail and it was as if I stepped out of this world of chaos into another dimension. A herd of deer grazed peaceably a little further downhill. It was still raining, but now the rain was soft. I heard feet hitting packed earth and a lone runner rounded the bend, smiled and said Hello, as he ran passed. It was Dave Mackey, on his way to the top of Bear Peak.

Then I heard voices behind me and turned to see a couple of spotlessly clean trail runners who were talking about the latest coffee shop to open near Pearl Street as they ran past me, without a second glance, at this terribly muddy woman stumbling out of the trees, still shaking. I saw two other figures come out of the trees in front of me. It was two guys I’d seen on the hike and they looked just as shaken. We fell in together walking back to the cars, talking about our experiences, and how weird it was to come out of the woods back into basically a City Park, everything calm and safe. We exchanged lightning etiquette, none of us sure we had done any of the right things. When I came to the parking lot, I paused just before the trail turned to parking lot, and looked back up at Bear Peak, now swathed in a peaceful gauze of low hanging clouds. Again, I wondered if I should have gone back to see if anyone needed help. I’m still wondering.

Post Script: I checked the news and to my relief, the only casualty was Mr. Mackey, who overturned the boulder on top of his leg. Not that that isn’t tragic, but I was relieved to see no listing of children struck by lightning, or people tumbling down slick cliffs to their death. 

I looked up what should be done if one is caught in a mountain lightning storm and all of the sites basically said, just don’t be there. Apparently, if you hear thunder, you’re already in danger of lightning that can strike ten miles from the clouds where they originate. The definite don’ts: don’t stand under or near tall trees. Don’t be the tallest thing in your area, DON’T stand under rocks or boulders. Don’t take shelter under a picnic shelter or any building that isn’t grounded. The safest place to be is a grounded building or a car. Stay out of water. RUN until you find good shelter, unless you might tumble down a cliff. DON’T use the lightning squat method. 

This was just a day hike up the hill from a big city, but isn’t it marvelous how easily adventure can find you? “It’s a dangerous business, Frodo, going out your door. You step onto the road and, if you don’t keep your feet, there’s no knowing where you might be swept off to.”

[1] Runner’s world.

Wednesday, June 7, 2017

Lightning Strike on Bear Peak (Part I)

Photo Courtesy of Layne Lawson

I hadn’t thought much about what I’d set out to do, but getting struck by lightning certainly hadn’t been part of the plan. Recently relocated to the Denver/Boulder area from the wilds of Durango, Co., mainly I just had to get into the woods, alone, and feel ground stretch out beneath my feet. The clouds were already hanging over the peak, and if I were in Durango, I would have resigned myself to a coffee shop with a good book.

Unfortunately, my opportunities for woods were a lot less on the Front Range and the wilds were definitely more urban in nature, so to speak. But, seeing as how I was already at the trail head with a bottle of water, my down jacket, and a rarely-issued full day’s pass from Mommy we go!

Since the move, all of my wilderness survival knowledge had been packed away in various mental boxes (like many other items gone MIA after the move), de-prioritized as less important to the challenges I now faced in the Big City. Besides, there seemed to be plenty of outdoorsy, and I thought therefore, hip to mountain ways, heading up, despite the clouds. Maybe they were just a thin band on the brink of breaking up?

Since I was alone, I moved at my own pace, head down, driving ever upwards and, I hoped, away from the crowds. If there was one thing I’d learned in Boulder, you can drop most of the crowds by just picking something steep…unless they’re the Boulder diehards, and there are plenty of them to fill the trails, too. Mt. Sanitas, for example, is a nightmare for the trail hound that hopes to enjoy the sounds of the birds. If you don’t keep your head down and your decision to summit that hill ASAP as your priority then you have to deal with this sound incessantly: “Excuse me, on your left.” “on your right,” as the ‘Born to Run’ converts charge up to plant their flag and compare their latest footware purchase with that of other “conquerers.” Dear God, it’s maddening. 

Anyway, so the crowd heading up Bear Peak was both lighter and seemed less poser, more appreciator, even though it’s a steep ass climb and about 4 or 5 hours…depending on who you is. I just wanted to get up into what actually felt like real woods, and not just a pretty city park. I wanted the raw, and I’d heard that if I hiked up there, I’d be in it, just a short 30 minute drive from my house. I was pretty resolute. And it happened. I slowed my pace not only because it got steeper, but because I came to a place in the trail where I had that feeling I so enjoy about the wilderness, like I was in a place so pure I could breathe it through my pores. 

My eyes stopped studying the terrain just in front of my feet looking for ankle twisters, and wandered over the lush green hills I was walking within, electrically sighing under the powerful neural massage. 

There were a couple of other hikers I leapfrogged with over the day; a couple who recently moved from New Hampshire, and another solo hiker, a gentleman from India. I lost the New Hampshire couple early on, but me and the fellow from India walked through the woods, he either 100 yards in front of me, or a hundred yards behind, depending on who needed to pee, both of us staring awed into the world in which we walked. I can only assume that being in this place, at this time, must feel like a spiritual homage to everyone who makes the traverse, but maybe it’s just me. I felt I was walking within a holy place. Huge boulders, some two stories high, glowing green with mosses and ferns, mingled with the sweet smell of rich earth and the lushness of the trees, bushes and flowers. I felt like brushing myself gently against everything, gathering the scent as an infusion I wanted to have move right into my heart. Then the climb got steeper.

At one point, I gazed straight up and caught a glimpse of another hiker's heels disappearing over the crest and, realizing the trail was to get steeper yet, I surprised myself with an excited squeal. I wanted as much challenge as the trail was obliged to bestow and seeing the trajectory of the trail through the disappearing hem of a fellow hikers shorts, I was a kid seeing her favorite ride at the park.

This is the benefit of not being able to get into the woods any ole time I had a hankering for them: When I did get into the wild, be it pine, pinyon or sandstone, I was euphoric, and as you may have noticed, euphoria is hard to come by. It’s no wonder I didn’t notice the darker hue of gray on the under belly of the clouds building over head, nor heard the distant rumble of thunder rolling through the canyons, or that earthy scent in the air you smell just before it rains. 

What did finally catch my eye was the number of decapitated trees and a whole swath of forest reduced to ghostly charred spikes, most likely from lightning-caused fires. It was at this point I started asking people coming down if they’d seen any signs of lightning. Most of them seemed surprised by the question, and answered, “Well, no, but I wasn’t looking either.” This was very confusing to me, because the dark clouds over head were almost within finger-brushing distance from the peak, if you were tall. Around Durango, no one probably would have been here as most people are well versed on wilderness safety out of sheer necessity and generally if it looks like a storm, stay down. Most wouldn’t have risked a summit, even on a little 8,500 ft peak like this one, with storm clouds like that overhead. Why didn’t I know better? Well, I’d been having some adjustment issues to moving to a city and I was confused by what I was witnessing around me. I wondered if maybe the same rules didn't apply here because the actions of so many of my peers ran contrary. And yea, I wanted to tag the peak. I’d been climbing for 3 hours and didn’t want to turn back just at the summit. Actually, I believe that’s a familiar line in outdoor literature. 

I came to another steep face where you could see the trail switchbacking, when a boulder, followed by an end-over-end log, thundered down the mountain past me, slinging rocks and mud in all directions. I heard the people above remark, “Oh! I guess it was there to keep us from going this way.” I made a Marge Simpson groan and stepped up my speed so I might have a word with the hikers who’d just sent a bludgeon practically down on top of me without so much as a “Heads up!” I wasn’t mad, just fully aware of what could have happened had I been fifteen feet further along the trail. I hated to be “that” hiker but I felt an obligation to let them know the proper etiquette in this situation.

It didn’t take me long to catch up to them: A middle aged couple with their teen-aged daughters, all of them outfitted as if they’d just had their wallets hijacked at REI. I smiled and said, hello, then explained how I didn’t want to be “that” person, but that I felt obligated because what just happened could have really gotten someone—me--hurt or killed, and I wanted to let them know what to do if it happened again. I explained that if you send rocks, even small ones, down a steep mountain like that with a switch-backing trail, that you needed to yell, and I mean YELL, “ROCK!” They were nice about my meddling and even said, thank you, and I hiked on up the trail feeling like the biggest ninny on the planet. If we all earn trail names, as we learned about in Cheryl Strayed's Wild, then I just earned the nickname of Trail Ninny. I can’t help it. A born risk-taker, ever since my daughter was born the world has filled with sharp pointy objects, and I’ve had difficulty learning how to turn off the monitor. Was it my business to say anything? Yea, I stand by that. Sharing that info may just save a life some day. But I still feel like a big ninny. Anyway, onward Ho. (to be continued)

Thursday, June 1, 2017

Solar Power: Who Thought of THAT?? Find out by reading my guest blog post to San Juan Citizens Alliance Here:

Wednesday, May 24, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part IV)

Nila stirred slightly, shifting her weight in the backpack as I set off towards Jackson Stairway, another marvel of Chacoan engineering where an ancient road, following some unknown goal, chose to carve a steep stair straight from the side of a cliff, rather than winding round to find a more gentle path down into the Canyon.

Suddenly, there was a sound of a most explosive nature.  A monstrous sized fart rent the air, the sound of which seemed impossible to have come from the 20 pound bundle of sleeping cuteness on my back.

Not wanting to wake her, I struggled to contain my laughter. Until I realized that it twas not just sound, but also substance.  A warm, putrid gel oozed down my back and my eyes grew wide as I remembered placing the wet wipes and diapers on the front seat where I’d be sure to grab them…except I didn’t.  I turned around and sped back to the car, hoping to reach it before she awoke cold, wet and sticky.  We both know I didn’t make it; that I ran back to the car with a toddler screaming in my ear and cold, sticky poo sliding down my back.  You can really get a feel for living primitive cleaning poo off of two people, without running water, while one of those people flails about, flinging it everywhere.  

I swabbed us up as best I could, then sang a lullaby til she fell asleep. Stepping outside the camper, I closed my eyes, and turned my face towards the sun. Then the dam broke. Exhausted, I dropped to my knees in the dirt, clutching my arms around me to keep my frustrated fists from pounding the ground. Tears started down my cheeks and my face burned red as I fought to stifle the sound of my sobs. “I can’t do this!  I can’t live tethered to another person no matter how much I love them.” Could I?

The first time I came to Chaco Canyon I was arrested, yet I had never felt more fully bound than I did at that very moment. It wasn’t that I didn’t want to be a mother.  I just wanted to be a Mother And. Because I was still. But we were doing this alone. I didn’t have family eager to care for my child while I went off frolicking and no one else we trusted was volunteering. Try as I might, I just couldn’t figure out how to reconcile the dichotomous pull between dedicating my every atom to the well being of my family and my own ambitions. 

I wondered if I should just give up, move on out to the burbs and join the PTA. Many people do. I’ve met dozens of parents who tell me how they used to feed their wild spirits, their big dreams. Sometimes, I see a brief flicker of fire in their eyes as they remember who they were. Then there’s this look of acceptance, sometimes serine and satisfied, but sometimes full of longing, as they tell me that this was all before they had kids.  And when they tell me this, I know they chose to give up, that they will never be wild again. And that’s okay, as long as they’re happy about it.  But I’m pretty sure I can’t be.

I peeked in the camper window at the sweet, sleeping face of my daughter.  There’s something magical about gazing on the face of your sleeping child.  It makes you want to do anything for her. There was no question that she was worth giving up everything for, but I sincerely believed if I could just figure out the right formula, I wouldn’t have to.  Leaning on all fours, I clutched handfuls of sand in my hands and declared, “I can do this.”

The next day, the wind blew cold and hard, but I bundled up and set out for Jackson Stairway under a bright blue sky. The wind blew sand so hard it stung my cheeks so I cinched my hood tightly around my face and kept my nose below a neck gator. The sole hiker on the trail, I was practically strutting, under the comfy encasement of my down coat and mittens, as I reached the edge of the canyon. I looked across to Jackson Stairway, etched like a treacherous ladder down the sheer wall. That’s all I needed. Like Armstrong planting the flag on the moon, I snapped a picture and headed back to camp, the wind at my back.

After that everything changed. Most mommies I know prefer the spa for regeneration, but over the next year and a half I managed to travel down that crazy Chaco road more times than I’d go to Walmart, and for a woman with a babe still in diapers, that really says something.  A place that almost landed me in jail, became where I most felt free.

A year later, I took a solo camping trip down that bumpy road for one of the park’s “star talks” that utilize Chaco’s impressive telescope collection.  Because of its remote location, Chaco Canyon offers some of the best stargazing in North America.  Periodically, Joe Public can view spectacles far out in space normally only viewed by professional astronomers and God.   It was a no-moon night and the stars dazzled while bats flit about the sky like dark butterflies.  We gazed into the center of Lyra, the twins, and other far flung galaxies, barely scratching the surface of what’s out there. I was suddenly struck by how much this place, dedicated to the preservation of the past, could teach us about the present, and even the future. About how much I had learned here for my own life.

Did I gain enough of Lehrer’s psychological distance to reconcile the desires of my heart? I want to tell you unequivocally yes and then explain eloquently in exactly what transformative ways that is true.  But I can’t.  Maybe someday. I can only tell you that the bumpy roads are worth it. That Life is hard, but beautiful, as Skeleton man said that it would be. Pa yuk polo (Hopi for):  this is the end of this story. 

Friday, May 19, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part III)

Chaco Canyon Bound (Part III) 
Once into the canyon, there’s a sharp turn and then an abrupt transformation in the road.  Here at the tail end of 13 miles of hellishly ragged road the gravel disappears into smooth pavement.  The landscape changes.  Where once we were ringed by an unbroken sagebrush horizon in every direction, now four-hundred-foot sandstone cliffs rise from the desert floor on either side of the road, and extend as far as the eye can see, with only the park visitor center betraying the century.  While my husband purchased our permits, I perused the book collection. 

I casually picked up a book on the history of Chaco that featured a photo of a grizzled cowboy on the cover and I stood absently turning the pages.  Fifteen minutes later, my husband came over with our daughter to find me plopped down on the floor scribbling madly in my journal, with several books open in front of me. In those books, I'd found an incredible history, part real-life cowboy adventure, part wild mystery. Chaco Canyon just swallowed me whole.

Later that day, I hiked on top of the sandstone cliffs with my daughter in the pack on my back.  Through a bad hand of rock-paper-scissors, my husband had dibs on the first solo hike of the weekend, but I was still heading out.  I was just bringing my sweet little side-kick with me. 

It had taken some doing to gather everything I might need for a hike with a two year-old.  I put the diapers, wet wipes and change of clothes on the front seat where’d I’d be sure to grab them before I left, then grabbed water, snacks, travel toys, warm jackets, hats, sunscreen, and, of course, my journal and camera.  All of this was done while she had a fairly intense meltdown.  I considered bailing on the idea and just waiting for my turn to go out alone tomorrow, but who knew if the weather would hold, or what else might happen.  This could be my window not only for this weekend, but for God knew how long.  

So I pushed through and now we stood overlooking the considerable ruins of the ancient city of Pueblo Bonito, arguably one of the most impressive of 17 “Great house” ruins in Chaco Canyon. Nila happily pressed her pink lips together, blowing raspberries into my ear and giggled.  As the wind blew my hair away from my face, she laid her little head against my back, sighed contentedly and fell asleep.  Ah Bliss.

Well, almost.  I still wanted more.  I loved my daughter, loved being here with her.  But I longed to move over the land unencumbered; to scramble over the desert like a wild lioness, or spend all day in the park library if that be my druther. I was still pining for my former life.  Somehow I hadn’t grasped the scope and permanence when we started talking about this parenthood thing.  I didn’t know that parenthood was going to take everything but the crumbs of my former life.

But I was here now, so there was a day to be seized.  I admired the engineering marvel below me.  Thick walls of varying sizes of stones, perfectly stacked so that the walls were remarkably stable and windproof, to say nothing of their beauty. A mosaic of varying hues of roses and suedes(photo), the walls appear intended as much for art as function, though, once constructed, the walls were covered with a protective mud veneer, completely obscuring the beauty within. Many of the buildings had several floors supported by thick timbers that were hand carried from mountains over 80 miles away. I was staring into the remnants of an ancient society that not only overcame obstacles, but transcended them. 

For a moment my eyes moved to the sky to tell you-know-who he/she was right.  I know.  I’m being a bit of a baby. There are far harsher environments.  I was looking at one.

Agriculturally, it’s a nightmare. For most crops to survive there usually needs to be a minimum of 110-130 frost-free days, but the annual average of frost-free nights in Chaco Canyon is less than 100 days.  At night, it can frost in July if the right circumstances develop. Temperatures can fluctuate over 60 degrees in a single day with highs soaring to 118 F and lows dropping to -38 F.  And it’s dry. It’s very, very dry. Average annual precipitation is 8.5 inches and the wind blows the topsoil all the way to Colorado.  It’s been this way for thousands of years, no offense to Mr. Diamond, so no one was lured here for the abundant milk and honey. Then why?

On an earlier tour, our guide had shared an emergence myth of how the Pueblo people had come to this place, actually onto the surface of the Earth, escaping from an underground existence through a crack in the earth’s crust.  The story goes like this:  When the Pueblo emerged from the underworld, they found the earth dark and empty.  They saw only a giant sitting beside a fire.  The giant was Skeleton Man, the Holy Person in charge of death.  Skeleton man’s face was ghastly, but his manner was kind, so the people asked if he had any objections to their living in his territory.  “No,” Skeleton Man said.  He told them they were welcome and he would be glad to have neighbors but they should understand that this land offered little food and water.  If they sought material benefit, they should seek elsewhere.  Looking into the sky they were awestruck by the dazzling, endless canopy of stars.  They chose to stay and so the West is said to have been peopled.

 I was captivated by this heroic idea of choosing such a challenge, with no promise of reward other than to live free and bask in rugged beauty under the open sky.  Standing on my cliffside perch, I thought of how resourceful one would need to be to exist in this sun-scorched, crackling environment.   It almost seemed a curse for providence to place anyone here to play out the roles of father-son-mother-daughter. But to purposely choose such an existence? 

I looked across to the other side of the canyon where a gap in the cliffs once allowed the ebb and flow of a primeval inland sea to shape the land. Down to my genes I could somehow feel it, sense it, like something I remembered from my own long distant past. I could hear an illusory sea, almost smell the salty air despite the great lack of water now an inherent part of this area.  At my feet, the remnants of ancient sea-beds confirmed these sensations with the fossilized remains of prehistoric sea animals and clam shell beds (photo); evidence of a world that can repeatedly undergo dramatic change and yet endure. For such a barren place, there was so much here! (Continued)

Thursday, May 11, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound Part II

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(continued from Part I)
The thrill of trespassing on Federal property, and a UNESCO World Heritage Site-- a site deemed to be of universal value--promised to keep me warm, and we left the truck and set off towards the nearest ruin.  We only made it a quarter mile before we saw the jeep approaching, a cloud of dust at its bumper.  Fearing jail time and fines, we ducked into the sagebrush, making our actions appear far more sinister than they were.  It was stupid.  They had already seen us.  Now we looked like grave robbers.  Over a loudspeaker the ranger demanded we emerge with hands held high.   

Sheepishly we rose from the sagebrush with hands obediently aloft and shuffled our feet to the proper authorities.  After we convinced them we weren’t looters, just stupid kids, they escorted us out of the park, practically pulling us by our ears.   We spent another hour on the bumpy road, then three, frosty-silent hours home and that was that.  I never wanted to go back. 

So that’s how Chaco and I met.  Not like Romeo and Juliet, but more like Harry and Sally.  Despite all the characteristics that should have had me rollicking through canyons, ruins and books for years, instead I drew an invisible boundary around the place. While I enthusiastically explored practically everywhere else in the Southwest, as if the water was poisoned, I would not go to Chaco Canyon, a mere four hours from my home.  Maybe it was because that whole day had been such a misery. More likely, it was because I’m claustrophobic and this place almost landed me in the pokey. 

Fifteen years later, the adolescent waif kicking and scratching to survive had grown up, put herself through college and enjoyed a life devoted to outdoor adventure sports, funded by a rewarding career as a professional research writer.  For a little white girl from the hood of Memphis, Tennessee, I’d broken expectations.  I’d met the man of my dreams and had the good sense to marry him.  I had fascinating work and spent my free time scraping my belly against sandstone, rock climbing sheer walls all over the Southwest, plunging down rocky trails on my mountain bike or backpacking throughout Central America.

In my anamolous life, I had survived homelessness, poverty, drive by shootings, and sailing a Pontiac Trans-am under a parked semi, watching in slow motion as the corner of the semi ripped through the glittering silver hood, shattering the windshield before stopping a foot from my face.   Out West, I survived belly-flopping from a 95 foot cliff dive at Navajo Lake in New Mexico, breaking the fall with my face, nose and ribs.  I broke my jaw and wrists falling while freeclimbing on a crumbly rock wall in Durango, Colorado and wandered lost in the Utah desert until my lips blistered from sun, wind and dehydration.  I fought through red tape razor-wire and the quagmire of self-doubt to put myself through college--then graduated with honors.

Somehow, I managed to make surprisingly good decisions along my way: Accept the invitation to go backstage and party with Metallica?  No, and I’ll thank you to keep your hands to yourself, if you please!  Try the really hard drugs like cocaine or meth?  Hell no.  Travel across the country in a Volkswagen Beetle with a notebook, a tent and $60 to my name?  Hells Yes! Whether surviving my own reckless ignorance or the caprices of fate, I felt like I was really starting to figure this life thing out.   Until.... 
I became a mother.  I became a mother and I had no idea how to be one, who to ask…or who to listen to amidst the clamor of free advice.  My mother-in-law offers advice by the bushel, but complained that I don’t listen to anyone but myself, to which I replied, “That’s because I have an IQ of 146 and most people don’t.” 

I’m usually not that snarky, but in the process of giving birth I dislodged my sacrum (who even knew that could happen??) and I was uncomfortable on the best days and in dramatic pain on the worst. Rock climbing and mountain biking, which had served in lieu of drugs, alcohol, and psychotherapy, were temporarily verboten, so my husband and I found ourselves dealing with the newness of parenthood and recovery from a significant back injury, alone and cut off from traditional coping mechanisms. 

Then there was the career derailment.  I’d been driving five hours to Grand Junction to get my master’s in psychology, and needless to say, that between back pain and the lack of sleep or outside help, there was no driving five hours or writing papers, so the master’s program was put on hold.  Without graduate school options in Durango, unless I wanted to do an online degree, this meant indefinitely.  So, sometimes I was grumpy.

I thought of stories I’d read or movies I’d seen where a mother abandons her children and that nose-wrinkling-repulsion at the heartless harpy who could walk away from her own babies.  I’m not proud to say this, but I can see how it could happen, how a woman could feel so terrified and rung dry as she watches the picture of who she thought she was lose its color and dim, to be replaced with someone she doesn’t know and isn’t sure she likes.   Giving up my rock climbing gear and career for baby wipes and breast pumps sometimes felt like a demotion.  Other times it felt like a promotion I wasn’t qualified for.  After 200,000 years of Homo Sapien evolution, I was counting on parenthood being fairly instinctual, but I learned through blistered nipples that even knowing how to breastfeed properly doesn’t emerge completely from genetic code. 

It’s not always like that, but if you’re a parent, you knew that.  Or you just decided you’re never having children.  Actually, for most of it we’ve been running on the giddiness of creation and the lunacy of sleep deprivation.   I’ve spent hours gleefully playing “kissy-footy”and peek-a-boo, or lying beside my daughter as she sleeps, listening to the magnificence of her breath.  At first we barely noticed the things in our lives we’d dropped.  But as we grew into our family, sleep deprivation subsided, my neural pathways sputtered back to life.

I had always thought of stay at home Moms as people who just had no outside interests.  Now I understood the dichotomous pull between dedicating every atom of your being to the health and happiness of your family and the slightly more muted voices of your own ambitions.  Those voices, though hard to hear over the roar of motherhood, were vying for recognition and becoming more insistent. Intellectually, I yearned for the stimulation my research work and master’s program provided.  My limbic system yearned for the endorphins of hard exercise and little brushes with death that I never intended, but sure were fun to survive.   My entire being ached for travel, which had often combined both. 

In an article by neurologist and author of Why We Decide, Jonah Lehrer, he said that we are a “migratory species” and that travel not only stimulates human evolution, but that there is something “intellectually liberating about distance”:  It ignites a mysterious “cognitive quirk” that allows us to work through challenges more objectively and creatively when we can attain some distance from them, whether this distance is “physical, temporal or even emotional.”  While we don’t fully understand this “quirk” it appears to be innate, a stimulus that has set humanity roving since first we pulled our bellies onto the sand from out of our primordial ooze. Though, some of us need to rove more than others.

I found it comforting to know that we are actually hard-wired to crave the open road and my deep need to ramble is actually a psycho-biological form of grappling with life’s challenges .  My husband is similarly inclined.

After a year and a half of catastrophic attempts to take our new baby tent camping, we finally bought and lovingly restored a 12 foot vintage camper we christened Old Ironsides, after an 18th century naval frigate said to be indestructible and still floating in Boston Harbor. What better name for the ship we hoped would launch us back to the magical world of traveling? 

As soon as she was ready, my husband suggested we give Chaco Canyon a try given its close proximity.   Yoga and physical therapy had nearly restored my back and I was eager to try out a new child back carrier.  Though the idea of Chaco was at first repellent, fifteen years and one hell of a roller coaster ride later, I returned to Chaco Canyon for a weekend camping trip. 

Other than the tragic loss of the voice of Ricardo Mantolbahn as the park’s radio spokesperson, little seemed to have changed.  The road actually seemed worse.  Below the thin veneer of gravel was clay that turned treacherously to grease after rain, then dried hard, so that our tires were guided and bounced in the grooves of any vehicle whose tires had trod before. We tried to just speed through, until we turned a corner and almost skidded off the road dodging a herd of free-range horses moseying down the middle of the road, long tails sashaying back and forth. They were attended by the smartest dogs I’ve ever seen. One of them, I swear, barked us the riot act as we passed. (Photo).  (Continued). 

Monday, May 8, 2017

Chaco Canyon Bound Part I

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Chaco Canyon Bound

The first time I visited Chaco Canyon, I was arrested for trespassing. Hidden under a smudge of thick black eyeliner and the smoldering remains of a blistering adolescence, I looked more like a girl out for trouble, not a hike around 900 year-old Native American ruins.  I’d been on my own since I was 16, and I’d had to cultivate some rather roguish qualities in order to survive, but I wasn’t really trouble.  I just wasn’t completely tame, either. For Chaco Canyon, I was just another errant bohemian who got snagged while traveling through.
Strewn with the great ruins of an ancient civilization, and grounded in the sandy sagebrush and Pinyon Pine country of Northwestern New Mexico, Chaco Canyon has an unmistakable allure and a long history of drawing mavericks, rogues and rascals to its brushy bottom. Apparently it used to be Vegas. According to an old Navajo legend, the great rock “houses” scattered throughout the canyon were actually built a millenia ago at the behest of a divine reprobate known as, Nohoilpi. Renegade son to Tsohanoai, the sun god, Nohoilpi was an unscrupulous gambler who lured local tribesmen into games only he could win. One by one they lost their freedom and were set to work constructing the great houses whose ruins now dominate this canyon. Or so one legend has it.

After nearly a thousand years, many of these structures remain untouched, a fact owed, probably in no small part, to local tribal taboo of entering a dwelling where someone may have died and their spirits may still be milling about. With the stony skeletons of these ancient ruins standing against the cliffs with their dark, empty windows and doors gaping, Chaco Canyon feels riddled with ghosts.  Just below the surface of the loamy soil, more structures still lay buried under tons of sand, some of them several stories deep, and as of yet, completely unexplored.

Aside from lingering spirits, we also owe these unspoiled ruins to yet another rogueish character, the often vilified Richard Wetherill. Wetherill was a self-educated archaeologist, cowboy and businessman…or treasure hunter, grave robber and cattle rustler, depending on who you ask. He followed a rumor into the desert, stumbling upon the ruins in 1895. While opinions quibble over his ethics, no one disputes that he had a clear set of them where the excavation of Chaco Canyon was concerned.  After a brutal campaign waged by the Bureau of Indian Affairs and an angry mob of historians, who declared he was destroying the site and the people who lived around them, site inspections revealed that not only did Wetherill excavate according to code, he exceeded them.  As to whether he cheated or corrupted the locals?  Hard to say when it turned out most of his accusers owed him money. Maybe, like me, he was judged more rascally than he was, though, my story with Chaco Canyon is quite a bit different. 

At the time, I had only recently transitioned from the role of adrift, troubled teen, who graduated high school with the unseemly gpa of 1.7, to that of first-generation college student on the Dean’s List—the good one. Before then, I had been a homeless teen who had plummeted through the system’s cracks, and I did what any girl my age with nothing to lose would have done:  I packed my few worldly possessions into a ’69 Volkswagen Beetle and left my hometown of Memphis, Tennessee for the widely acclaimed wild, wild West. Let me tell you, being a kid alone on the road with a really old car and hardly any money is just the right combination for some truly character-building situations; Situations like getting caught trespassing on a World Heritage site. 

It was mid November, during the “government shutdown” of ’96.  I was on a first “date” about to go horribly wrong.   It was one of those cold, gray days that make you hunch your shoulders forward and tighten your eyes, like enduring the day through the gauze of a hangover.  I’d just been driven four hours in a truck with no heat, by a shaggy, would-be suitor whom we’ll call “Scott.”  A barely-affording-college student from Tennessee, I didn’t have the right clothing for the cold winters of Northern New Mexico.  While I huddled in the passenger seat, shivering in my second-hand army surplus jacket, my oblivious “date” prattled on, (from the comfy encasement of his down coat, wool cap and mittens), about Chaco’s ruins being built by crystal-wielding-Aliens from another solar system.

I stared out the window at a sea of sage brush blurring by, punctuated by the occasional sandstone formations that rose like great golden ships on a sea.  Scott blathered on.  I ached to blurt out, “Could you please stop talking?” But we were in the middle of nowhere and I didn’t want to risk being ejected from the truck.  Instead, I went with exaggerated eye rolling, which was more amusing anyway because, so full of himself was this guy, that he didn’t even notice.   Annoyance aside, I found myself marveling at that desertscape and how unaccountably beautiful I found it.  It was so stark and barren with its short, scrubby brown brush interspersed with hyper-defensive cacti.  Combined with the stories of rattlesnakes and mountain lions Scott shared, it would seem to be most unwelcoming, yet I longed to walk deliberately into it. 

At the Highway turn-off, we passed a sign suggesting we tune to AM 1610 for Chaco Canyon park information.  Hoping for a distraction from the cold, and a pause to Scott's monologue, I tuned us in.  I remember being pleasantly surprised to hear the Spanish-flecked voice of Ricardo Montalbahn, one-time steward of the mythical “Fantasy Island,” extolling the virtues and mysteries of Chaco Canyon.  Nobody can say “mystery” like Ricardo.  The story sparked my interest in the adventure, even if I was less than excited about my date.  As I remember it years later, according to Ricardo, somewhere ahead of us in this wide expanse of desert, was a great gash in the earth known as Chaco Canyon.  There stand the ruins of a grand civilization that dawned almost a thousand years ago, thrived for two and a half centuries and then was abandoned--for reasons unknown (photo).
Seventeen great house ruins, some consisting of more than 700 rooms and rising four stories high, are scattered throughout the Canyon and were designed and constructed by highly skilled engineers, architects, builders, and, apparently, astronomers.  Evidence suggests the ancient Chacoans had an intimate relationship with the night sky, using astronomical orientation in the alignment of several pueblos and kivas and using special rock formations and pictographs to mark the path of the sun and moon, not only throughout the year, but, in the case of the lunar standstill, which takes 18 years for full traverse, over the course of decades.  These masterminds engineered and constructed over 200 miles of roads connecting them to 150 outlying communities, leaving evidence of a powerful influence that reached across 25,000 square miles, yet left no evidence of a written language or history except a few strategically placed petroglyphs (photo); Far fewer than might be expected for such a venerable civilization that built with such purposeful grandeur. 

Scientists have been studying the remains for over 100 years and still have few conclusive answers about who lived here and why.  Was this a place of worship or refuge? Utopia Or fiefdom? Storage building or apartment complex?  Today (and it would help if you could imagine the voice of Ricardo for the rest of this passage), the place remains shrouded in mystery. Who were the architects of this civilization? Why did they choose such a dry, desolate location for their great cities? Where did they go and why?  Scott’s UFO tales and New Age theories aside, and there are plenty to this very day, this sounded worth making the trip and I found myself leaning forward in my seat, anxious to catch the first distant glimpse of an Ancestral Puebloan Great House ruin. 

Leaning forward in my seat became distinctly uncomfortable, however, as the last twenty two miles of the journey was at considerably reduced speed over a potholed, wash-boarded, gravel road.  If you’ve never experienced a road with wash boards, imagine driving over a deeply louvered surface in a car with no shocks to absorb the perpetual bumps.  Naturally, the shocks on Scott’s truck had long since lost their spring. There was a good side to that, though: Every bump was so jarring it was better if we didn’t talk lest our tongue be trampled by our teeth.   

We bumped and tossed about on this road for over an hour, all the while Ricardo’s enticing voice assured us Chaco Canyon was the experience of a lifetime.  He shared many fascinating theories and facts that fired our imaginations .  He spoke of parrot feathers and other treasures still buried in the sand and hidden in clever rock caches (photos from park service).  He invited us to wonder what might have caused the exodus of such an accomplished world.

But not once did he mention the park being closed because of a congressional squabble.  “Scott” and I stood with mouths indignantly agape as we read the 8 X 10 sign taped to the closed entrance gate, advising us of the closure and threatening hefty fines and jail time for trespassers and treasure hunters. 

 “Well, that would have been a good sign to post back at the highway,” “Scott” said. 
I was thinking that making sure they were open might have been a detail to confirm before asking a date to drive four hours in a car with no heat on a cold November day, but I’m Southern and apparently other norms apply here.  

 Three freezing highway hours, an hour on that bone-jarring road, Ricardo’s grand presentation promising the experience of a lifetime and our fresh-out-of-high-school, newly-adulted sense of morality and justice…well, the combination practically mandated we explore the park in defiance of said closure.  After all, if there were no staff left to post a decent sign or update the radio info, then there probably wasn’t staff to ensure compliance.    With hundreds of unproven Chaco Canyon theories waiting decades for resolution, this one was both formed and proven false in less than half an hour.    (Continued)

Thursday, April 20, 2017

#VanLife? What a bunch of Hooey!

April 20, 2017-A thousand Unedited Words A Day in April

(Remember: this is written stream of conscious and relatively unedited-Good luck!)

I’m reading this article and I’m getting pissed off. It’s an article from the New Yorker called “#VanLife, The Bohemian Social-Media Movement.” This angst has been brewing within for a couple of years now, and it gets more irritated every time it's poked. Like an untreated injury, just getting worse and worse the more I bump it against something. Two years ago in Taekwondo, I was sparring with a titanium-constructed black belt (a lowly camo belt myself at the time) and we were sparring for points. I was winning. Me. A little hundred pound girl. He was freaking that I was winning so he did something he shouldn’t have done as a blackbelt: He lost control and came at me with a side kick. I raised my right leg to block and he planted his heel into the top of my foot, snapping my toe like a dry tree branch. You should see the pictures. It’s disgusting.

Anyway, I’m not good at resting and I was so into the sport at the time that I just kept right on going to classes. I did try to protect my toe by wearing a boot and not using that foot except to stand, but the toe kept getting knocked, bumped and jammed all the time, so it wasn’t healing. That’s kind of how I’m starting to feel every time I run across another “wanderer” or “adventurer” website, who’s posting their “adventures” as the way to earn their income. Something inside of me just rankles. Here’s the thing: as I scan their “stuff” it feels manufactured, manipulated, inauthentic. It’s not quite a lie, but there’s something about it...something about the fact that they are taking something I consider to be a long-time noble, even spiritual undertaking, and they’re commercializing it. They’re neutralizing the most powerful aspects, the most powerful, intangible rewards, of adventuring and I feel sorry for them. I also find it repugnant.

Take one of the things Foster Huntington (somewhat of a founder of the #vanlife movement) said in the New Yorker magazine. “You know, it’s not thug life—it’s van life!” What’s repugnant about that is that it’s a joking reference to Tupac Shakur’s movement, Thug Life. If you know anything about that, making any kind of comparison between Thug Life and a lifestyle CHOICE of some upper middle class white boy who quit his design job at Ralph Lauren (Huntington’s background) to travel around surf havens, doubtlessly calling Mom and Dad periodically when cash got low and things were probably just starting to really get interesting for him…it rankles. Want to hear another one of Tupac’s quotes, “Don’t support the phonies, support the real.” That’s something else that bothers me about all of this. It’s not that they’re having adventures, sharing them, and people are excited and eager to support them as adventurers (at least I don’t think that’s it, but that old subconscious, sometimes you just don’t know), it’s that I feel like they’re perverting both the noble pursuit and the idea of it. They’re turning it into a marketing scheme.

I know it’s not the first time that’s happened. I think we’re all familiar with Columbus and his theatrics to Queen Isabella to gain her financial support of his adventures, but, well, I think we can all agree that Columbus was a big jerk, too. But it’s not just Columbus. Adventurers have to have funding from somewhere, and wouldn’t it be even worse if the only folks allowed to get out there and explore were people who didn’t need to pander to outside sources for funds to fuel their adventurous drives, aka wealthy trustfunders?

So what else is it that bothers me? Okay. The staging of adventures and photos primarily for the sake of Instagram and Facebook posts. That bothers me because it makes everything about what they say or what they post feel inauthentic, like we’re being tricked. If you’re moving through your adventure with a lot of your attention focused on how you can best frame it for your fans, how can you share authentic experience. But why does that bother me so much? Since I’m writing these thousand words a day, stream of conscious style, that question really is posed to me and not you. What do I care? Shouldn’t I just be saying, “Kudos to them for being able to make enough money to let that be what they do!” But instead, I roll my eyes, and judge, judge, judge.

Here’s another thing: Since I published my book, Yoga Mama's Buddha Sandals, I’ve been researching how to get it out there, how to spread the word (I feel like I have an important message to share), and, also yes, truth be told, make some money from my own adventure story. So how am I different? Well, my story is from an authentic experience. Nothing about it was staged or manipulated or orchestrated for facebook or anywhere else. It was an adventure with real risks and rewards. That’s it. It’s all flipping real. Not staged for my “public.” Back to the point, as I’m trying to learn about how to market my book, so much of the techniques encourage, nay, advise to the point they say there’s no other way to do it, other than through a certain amount of inauthenticity. Like posting to Instagram six or more times a day (an actual technique) making your post look authentic, but they’re really not, because, if you’re really into living in the moment and exploring, why the hell would you pause six times a day to tweet, facebook or Instagram about your experience? Can’t you do anything without being connected to the shallowness that is social media? If a tree falls in the forest and no one hears it, did it really happen. If you experience something incredible but don’t rush to tweet about it…

Don’t get me wrong. I post about my adventures. But actually pretty rarely. What? Do you really think the only adventures I have are the few you read about on my blog or Facebook? Come on. I'm an adrenaline junkie. Most of the time I'm either too busy or want to keep it precious and personal. Or feel too cheesy about posting it or embarrassed. Did you read about my bike ride adventure which became a huge adventure only because of mistakes I made? Still, I love them even it they're the result of my own goofiness.

I do love a lot of what social media does for us. I love connecting and meeting cool new friends. But I don’t like this daily documentation of EVERYTHING. I don’t like the idea of “orchestrating” adventures.
And here’s another thing: For a lot of people in this economy: Vanlife isn’t a choice. It’s the only option. Maybe that’s something good about this whole #vanlife movement: it makes living out of your car seem glamorous, even for those that don’t have another choice. There’s more I could say about this and will say later, but I’ve hit my thousand for the day and I’ve got way more to do. So, for the moment, I put  a pin in it