Monday, September 7, 2015

Seeing red

"So, how do you like the red?" the woman in the house across the back alley asked me the other day.
I was out there emptying the trash. And, to be honest, I was trying to not think about the red.

"Well ... " I started, gauging how much to temper my response without tapping into my temper. "It sucks."

Turns out I wasn't able to temper my response much. But the fact was, I was still seeing red.

See, over the course of the past spring and summer, our immediate neighbors on our south side in our downtown mountain-town neighborhood remodeled and expanded their old, small, bungalow-style house. They enlarged the building considerably out the back, parallel to our house, and they added a second floor.

They deserved it. Their old house was small and old, and as their two kids approached their teenage years, they needed the space. We didn't have a problem with that -- we had done the same thing to our old 19th century Victorian, years before these neighbors even moved into our neighborhood.

Before they started their project, our neighbors were inclusive and concerned about it. They had us over and showed us the plans, apologizing for both the short-term annoyance and the long-term altering of our views. We'd been friends since before they moved in, so they wanted, it seemed, to allay our concerns about such a big undertaking sure to have such a big impact our daily lives.

We appreciated their apparent concern for the impacts on us. And impacts it had. The daytime hours of this past spring and summer were consumed by machinery and power tools, building crews and subcontractors, and the general cacophony and unsightliness associated with any construction site.

But we were okay with enduring that for our endearing neighbors.

My limit of endurance, though, was breached the last Monday in August. On that day (my wife's birthday) we got home from a lovely excursion in our nearby mountains with our son, who was in from out of town for the weekend. I'll always remember it, though, as the day we first caught sight of the final phase of creation our neighbors were to inflict on us with their new abode.

Our son stepped out of our car and just busted out laughing.

"That's hideous!" he said, laughing again.

He was probably laughing because he knew he'd be leaving the next day. I, however, was not leaving. And I was not laughing.

This shade of red adorning this huge new structure was (and still is) a bright, brilliant red, like found only on fire trucks, in fresh blood, and coating Kentucky Fried Chickens. In a building supply store, this paint would be located just one aisle over from flashing neon lights.

And I knew immediately, with my blood-red heart sinking and my temper rising, that we'd be living with this red as the backdrop for our lives for the foreseeable future. We'll be living with it alongside our front porch, overhanging our back yard, and right outside every one of our south-facing windows -- including our second-floor master bedroom, where the great glowing mass of red blazes only 15 feet away, the first thing we see every morning and the last thing every night.

In fact, I realized, we'd be living with the red monstrosity even more than our colorful neighbors themselves. They won't be able to see it from inside their own house, where all they'll see are views over the softer, subtler hues of the rest of the houses in our neighborhood. Or the rest of the world, for that matter, outside the Kremlin and the Gates of Hell.

Extreme metaphors, I know. But that's how I felt about the red at first, like on that day our neighbor from across the alley inquired about my thoughts on the new color in our shared landscape. I was seeing red, and it wasn't pretty. In fact, it sucked.

I'll admit, though, that over the few weeks since the initial shock of the arrival of this residential red tide in our lives, this experience has become an interesting personal journey for me. I found there are lessons both personal and communal to be gleaned from this experience.

In regards to community, I have come to see that, as the sarcastic saying goes, there's no accounting for taste. Yet I acknowledge freely and without grudge that my neighbors -- the red ones, as well as those employing other questionable tones for their homes here and there in our little town -- have a right to decorate (or desecrate) their dwelling as they choose.

There's no use being mad if I believe in that. And I do. So I'm not mad.

But I am sad. Because I also now realize that on the interpersonal level, even if you have the right to do something, there still needs to be -- for both communities to work and for neighbors to be neighborly -- a balance of that right with responsibility, respect, consideration, and concern for those others who share your immediate space and who also have to live with your freely- and rightfully-made choices.

And so the issue here isn't the choice of color as much as it is the lack of caring about the impact of that on the nearby lives. Like those right over the fence next door.

Regardless, the reality is, we will move on. I don't foresee any cocktails or barbeques or even over-the-fence chats about the plight of the Rockies with our next-door neighbors anytime in the near future. But, perhaps, moving beyond that to something more than a neutral neighborliness again will be my next challenge. So maybe there is a personal silver lining to this crimson cloud that now looms over our humble-colored home (an earthy brown with white trim). Life is nothing if not challenges, and from them we grow.

But the reality is ... it still sucks. And it will until someday some less painful pigment at last coats the southern view of our life. Even if I do learn to live with seeing red.

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Catch "Flume Fever" and learn about a rare piece of Colorado history

Hanging Flume near Uravan, Colorado (photo by Ealdgyth)
"Flume Fever" is a great little five-minute documentary about the coming together of a beautiful corner of
southwest Colorado with a unique piece of Western history.

In the late 1800s, hungering for imagined millions in gold in the Dolores River, miners built an amazing hanging flume to carry water from the San Miguel River to work the placer deposit in the Dolores Canyon. The wooden waterway was hung from the sheer sandstone facade of the San Miguel Canyon, in a completely ingenious -- and almost befuddling -- distinctly regional feat of engineering.

This short film captures the novelty of the Hanging Flume of the San Miguel through a group who put their "flume fever" to use unraveling how to reconstruct a 48-foot section of the flume to get a "glimpse of the level of the effort that went into the construction" of the structure in the first place, says one of the team.

Check out the video. Then go check out the place.

Flume Fever from Mara Ferris on Vimeo.

Sunday, June 15, 2014

A special Father's Day

My dad learned a thing or two from me, too.
This Father's Day is a special one, because it is the first in which I do not have a father.

A living father at least -- although I now only see more how much he lives on in the ripples that ripple on in myself, in my kids, in the people who knew him best, and, likely, in some who knew him little.

And I felt those ripples the first time after he passed away when I was unexpectedly given an unusual task: to write my dad's obituary for the local paper, the Cibola Beacon.

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Old love

San Juan River 1991 -- two years into our 25 years of experiencing together
My wife, Sarah, and I celebrated our 25th anniversary this week. "That sure went fast," my mom commented
about this momentous event when I visited her last weekend. "Maybe to you," I replied, laughing. "It seems like a lifetime to me."

I didn't mean that sarcastically. Nor negatively. It just feels like ... Sarah and I have been together at this being-together thing for a full and ongoing lifetime already. Because while our time together has not always been harmonious, or easy, or perfect, it has always been deep, and varied, and ever-evolving -- experiences as rich as a lifetime.

Tuesday, May 27, 2014

First map of the San Juan Basin was lovely, if not accurate ...

This gorgeous hand-drawn map was crafted by Captain Bernardo de Miera y Pacheco, a retired military engineer when he was a member of the 1776 Dominguez & Escalante Expedition, sent by the Spanish crown to explore the Four Corners region. The map incorporates many names we're familiar with today, and first bestowed by Juan Maria Antonio de Rivera in his 1765 explorations through southwestern Colorado and southeastern Utah, including the Animas, Dolores, and the San Juan itself.

See a large version via the UC Berkeley Library.

Saturday, May 24, 2014

On the river -- at last!

The weather may have curtailed this weekend's Iron Horse Bicycle Classic, but a few of us managed to slip in a lovely half-day float down the Animas Valley between this Memorial Day weekend's waves of cold and wet.

The stretch north of Durango, from Trimble Bridge to 32nd Street, where most trips put in for the "town run," is little visited. The reason, I suppose, is it's a flatwater run, and so of little appeal to most. And it takes a while: although a boat on a river is trending southward, most of the time it's actually traveling east and west, meandering leisurely in great bowtie waves. So you gotta just want to ... float. And paddle.

But we're appealed. Because what we found on this reach of the Animas River were grandiose views of the redrock-lined valley (many of the same sandstone layers found in Canyonlands and along the Colorado River along Powell Reservoir), great stands of spring-green cottonwoods, and long looks back up at the snowy -- freshly snowy today, in fact -- San Juans.

In most other places, this would be a national park.

Today, for us, it was a lovely backyard run.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Karate is all about kicks, kata, and community

If you come to the Durango Open Karate Tournament, at Escalante Middle School tomorrow (Saturday, May 3 -- spectators free), then you'll get to see some of the finest martial artists in western Colorado and northwestern New Mexico -- and many others on their way to one day being among the finest -- in action.

You'll get to see an entertaining athletic competition as practitioners of a wide range of traditional styles of martial arts challenge each other -- and, most importantly, themselves -- in kata (forms), weapons kata, and kumite (point sparring). The top three winners in each of up to 35 divisions earn trophies.

It's fun, and even inspiring, to see these karateka of ages 6 to 70 or more, and range of skill levels from white belt to karate master, put it out there, to do publicly and competitively what is a really a deeply personal endeavor and practice.

But if you watch closely, you'll witness in action something else even more unique and powerful -- and much too rare in our form of society today: A true vertically integrated community.

Monday, April 28, 2014

Celebrating Edward Abbey ... and lots of things

Heaven is home. Utopia is here. Nirvana is now. 
                                                           -- Edward Abbey

The Abbey Party was quite memorable this year, and not just because it was the 25th annual. If not for the fact that our tribe of river rats and ski bums were celebrating a quarter century of celebrating the passing of Edward Abbey, then it was memorable for the snow. And the graupel. And the sleet. And the cold.

Given those inclement conditions, our usual turnout for this year's Abbey Party (tagline: "A friendly, festive gather at which traditional social niceties are dispensed with, and the stated purpose is a philosophical and garrulous drunk.") was only fraction of the usual contingent looking to get together to bid adieu to winter and say "let's do!" to the coming summer -- which, of course, is what the annual Abbey Party is really about.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

The new extraterrestial Earth Day photo

Legend says it was the image the launched the modern environmental movement -- moving groups beyond just saving pieces of land, and merging into one loosely affiliated mass working toward a global change.

Dubbed "Earthrise," the photo of the planet Earth bubbling up above the curved surface of the Moon was taken by NASA astronaut William Anders in 1968, aboard Apollo 8, the first manned spacecraft to orbit the Moon, in preparation for the first lunar landing, by Apollo 11.

Renowned landscape photographer Galen Rowell called it "the most influential environmental photograph ever taken." Because for the first time, it encapsulated the State of the Earth: A small, single fragile oasis in an apparently otherwise barren solar system -- offering viewers that "Spaceship Earth" realization moment. And it's the power of its simple, clear messaging that is credited with waking a lot of people to that reality: This is It. This is all we have to work with. Let's not fuck it up. 

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

A guide to home

Among my many odd employments endeavoring to make a living here in our lovely little corner of the Earth, I was, for a brief while, an "in-country guide" for an expeditionary and service-learning educational program. Once a year I would work with a teacher from a private school in San Francisco organizing and leading a group of 8th graders on a week-long foray around the Four Corners, visiting and doing service work with government agencies and nearby Indian tribes.

For the school, this venture was a sort a rite-of-passage for these high-school-bound middle-school graduates. I, myself, saw it as work. But I also know that, over a period of years, this annual expedition became my own yearly rite of rekindling. Rite of what? Rite of Rekindling ... Wright.

Tuesday, April 1, 2014

Lovin' that ocean! (My way ... )

We just spent a week at the ocean -- trading the great landscape of The Rockies for another: The Pacific
And it was particularly great because this was a week of camping on the ocean's edge -- meaning, good friends in the out-of-doors, in the thick sea-level salt air, with the surf right there, like a pulsing, breathing presence -- albeit a hundred feet or so down at the bottom of a cliff -- for 24 hours a day for our whole break.

It was like a big river trip ... or, more like a five-day layover day on a river trip.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Ed Abbey: 25 years gone

And yet he's somehow still around, eh?

25 years ago today, Ed Abbey moved on to the next great wilderness awaiting us all ... meaning, he died. But he sure had fun when he was here -- as shown in this 10-minute "video essay" he did for a national TV news show that aired in 1986, in which he revisits the places in Arches NP made famous in Desert Solitaire. Pretty funny -- and fun. Of course! As Abbey would say: Carry on, comrades!

Edward Abbey revisits Arches National Park in 1985 [Vimeo link]

Then, have a beer and sing along with Tom Russell's "Ballad of Edward Abbey."

Monday, March 10, 2014

A brief history of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers

It was a cocktail-fuel conversation lamenting that "few hunters' groups show any interest whatsoever
conserving the wildlife resource that is the pie they covet" that birthed a group that filled that gaping hole in the country's sportsmen's group options, writes David Petersen -- the Elk Hunting Bard of the San Juans --  today in the Huffington Post.

That conversation eventually led to the creation of Backcountry Hunters & Anglers, a member-based, volunteer-run, Aldo Leopold-style conservation group comprised of hunters and fishermen (of both genders) who also love the land and rivers that make their wild country pursuits posisble. David Petersen is today vice-chair of the BCHA Colorado Chapter.

This is a great group doing much needed work on the proverbial shoestring budget most groups doing Good Work must endure. Read Petersen's lively nutshell history and overview of the group at the Huffington Post Blog.

Thursday, March 6, 2014

Ice Age artists of the San Juan River

Okay, this is crazy stuff: 13,000-year-old (at least) pictographs of woolly mammoths found near Bluff, Utah, along the San Juan River. That is just ... so ... damn ... cool.

You can listen to and read the story from Arizona Public Radio here.

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Not much has changed ...

A little internet gem: A mini-documentary from 1958, "Magic Rails to Yesterday," which includes a 8-or-so-minute look at the ride from Durango to Silverton on the DSNGRR, starting at 07:30.

Tuesday, November 19, 2013

Warming to the chilly San Juan River

This might be the only river trip that we come back from the river with more ice than we left with.

I thought that on Saturday morning, after I awoke to a curtain of steam over the river, a furry coat of rime frost on all metallic objects, and a crust of ice in the water jugs.

But, at least it wasn't raining any longer. Or lightninging. Yet, anyway ...

Saturday, November 9, 2013

A little travelin' to New Mexico

I hit the road recently. It wasn't much of a journey -- down to Grants, New Mexico (La Frontera!), to see
the parents for an evening and morning. Three and a half hours down, and the same back, across the blank landscape of north-central New Mexico.

Well, not so blank.

See, it may not have been much of a journey, but it was a little bit of traveling nonetheless. And when it comes to traveling, a little goes a long way. Even just sitting on my arse in a car at 65 mph with my dog snoozing on the back seat and trip hop on the stereo. That's all it takes to get me out of valley -- both physically and figuratively -- I've been feeling holed up in (okay, a pretty nice valley, but still), and get me back out -- out there -- and reweaving myself into the Home Landscape ...

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Hunting for ... something

Well, another hunting season passes, and another winter with an empty freezer approaches.

See, this hunting thing is my longest on-going life futility. I have been carrying my own weapon in the woods most years since I was fifteen, and I have yet to leave those woods hauling anything but my rifle or bow and a headful of lovely autumn scenery (so it's not an entirely fruitless enterprise).

Wednesday, September 12, 2012

After the Party

Well, it's been quite a summer for our little piece of Heaven, eh? Fire. Drought. Blazing heat. A murder or two. These kept Durango and southwestern Colorado in the spotlight here and there. But, of course, there were other things that drew the heavy eye of the media upon the region. And a few of the bigger of those this year had to do with cycling.

Monday, August 6, 2012

Changing of the guard

We push off -- four families disbursed across five boats and a few duckies -- and out onto the low-water mid-summer San Juan River.

And already it's day four.

Friday, July 20, 2012

Remembering fire

The Lightner Creek Fire from downtown Durango on June 27
(photo by Matt Kenna)
It's only early July, but already this is a fire year to remember.

We started this summer remembering ten years ago, when the Missionary Ridge and Valley fires ripped a path from the Animas Valley to Vallecito and beyond. I remember standing on the campus of the Fort, watching the fire advancing under a great volcanic plume, flames cresting the southern flank of Missionary Ridge and presenting the beast a clear line to town, while helicopters and slurry bombers gave it all they had. I remember the ash started to fall on us then. All the scene needed was The Doors singing "The End."

Wednesday, June 20, 2012

The Mountain View

The view from here is sweet. No doubt about it.

From my yard, I can watch the sun rise behind a long earthy arm, hairy with pinion and juniper and scrub oak. And it sets -- a view best taken in from our front porch -- behind a sweeping range of bluffs, bristling with ponderosa, bulging behind the far side of town. Every day these views flirt with me, distracting me, drawing my gaze, demanding my attention. Every night I feel it, out there, everywhere, unseen even as its presence permeates my home, my living room, my bedroom, my awareness.

Wednesday, May 30, 2012

Grandview Ridge

It's been on my local bucket list for a long time. Finally got up the highest point -- that big overhanging wave of white stone -- for a look around.

Friday, May 11, 2012

Cast away

Before the shipwreck
It wasn't how I'd intended to launch the river season. But somehow it was the perfect way to go into it: fully immersed.

Wednesday, April 18, 2012

Radio Free Durango

DJ G has no idea who I am. But he changed my life.

That's what can happen to you if, say, like I was, you were up in the wee hours of a late night, drinking your x-teenth cup of coffee, scribbling bleary wisdom upon each page in a interminable stack of term papers, while listening to KDUR through a pair of those enormous deejay-style headphones that blot out all of existence outside the sound force-fed into your head. And on that night, the sound being force-fed into my head was DJ G's "Beats & Rhymes, Etc." show.