Sunday, March 29, 2009

How about a cinema bailout?

My wife and I had a rare treat Saturday: A kid-free night. So we spent it in a rare way: We went to a movie.

We passed a couple of fun hours entertained by this year's Oscar winner for Best Picture, Slumdog Millionaire. And it was, in our minds after seeing it, a well-worthy recipient of film's most prestigious honor. I'm glad we got to see it on the proverbial big screen, too -- there's nothing to replace seeing a theatrical movie the way it's meant to be seen: Big.

That this film was so worth a night out -- complete with sharing popcorn and holding hands in the dark in front of the big screen -- was no surprise. That we shared it with an audience of only six others was.

Granted, we saw Slumdog many months after its release. And our hometown theater is a small venue in a small town. Still ... as I tallied our total outlay for out little night out, I couldn't help but wonder if perhaps something else was contributing to so few others sharing our Saturday night at the movies.

Perhaps the same thing that makes it such a rare experience for us: the excessive, exorbitant cost.

I realize seeing a movie in Durango is still a relatively inexpensive experience compared with life in the Big City, where seeing a movie can run you upwards of $12 -- but that only adds to my argument.

My wife and I paid $19 for the two of us to see Slumdog down the road from house. Then we coughed up another $6-plus for popcorn -- served by three guys working behind the counter (and it seemed to take three of them ....) even though we were the only people in the lobby at showtime in our downtown duplex cinema.

So, $25 for two of us for a two-hour movie. Is it any wonder we so rarely venture to the movies? That so few others are willing to pay up for a night out?

Now, I'm no economic genius (for evidence, ask aforementioned wife), but doesn't it make sense to ... charge less and put more people in the seats? Have people buying more popcorn and soda, even if they pay less per unit??

I like going to the movies. And I know I myself, and my wife, would go to the theater several times a month -- there's usually that many good movies, and it's that enjoyable to see a film on the big screen (even if those screens keep getting smaller -- our own High Five Theater in Durango now is home to seven screens -- and the average home TV keeps getting bigger).

And I know we would go more, a lot more, if it wasn't $8.50 a pop to go. Half that -- even a nice even $5 -- seems fair. And much more reasonable. And doable.

At that price, I wonder how many more seats they'd be filling. I wonder how more neighbors we'd be sharing our night out with, if the studios and mega-cinema corporations had that kind of vision?

How much more fun would that be?

I also wonder how many teens would be out there, too. I know in a little town like ours -- like in most towns of any size anywhere -- teens are always looking for social things they can do. And they all like going to movies. So, make seeing a movie cost a square and affordable $5, make a bag of popcorn a simple buck or two, and don't you think kids would be flocking in? Over and over and over??

Folk wisdom says motion pictures helped keep America peaceful and together and uplifted during the last depression, during the real Depression.

Where, I wonder, is the wisdom now?

Videos of Ed Abbey Night at Maria's--2 of 2

A bit of B. Frank

...and Ms. Niles

Art Goodtimes

and the Fayhee finale

Videos of Ed Abbey Night at Maria's--1 of 2

So, it's taken me a bit to figure out how to upload videos from my camera, sorry.  But below you'll see some snippets from each of the speakers at the Ed Abbey Night that happened at Maria's Bookshop on March 16th.  Almost all those who spoke are contributors here on The San Juan Almanac.  It was a great night, with an outstanding turnout. 

Ken's intro and some of Michael's talk.

Travis talks.


Saturday, March 28, 2009

Going Postal

So I'm sitting here working, listening to the Rockies spring-training game, and this ad comes on. I'd heard it many -- too many -- times on times on Rockies games, where ads replay ad nausem over and over all season like some KGB -- or CIA -- torture.

This one was about the U.S. Postal Service's automated postal services -- which, the Postal Service claims, can do 85 percent of the transactions that you can do with a living, breathing -- and wage-earning -- post office clerk. And even though I had blocked the ad like psychic-spam from my mind, a phrase punctured through and stuck me:

Sometimes, a dumb-blondy voice squeaks secretively, I say 'thank you' to it. That's weird, right?

No. Unfortunately.

But good ol' Durango is, though. Perhaps because those of us dwelling here in southwest Colorado are here by choice, and one of the things that made us make that choice is that we like the big, broad tribe we all belong to.

I think that's why the other day I was in our own busy little down-town post office, waiting in line with several others and next to a woman with a baby that I'd struck up a non-verbal conversation with, when the upper half of a uniformed woman spoke through the firedoors from the lobby.

"There's several of our new automated postage machines out here, if anyone would like to try one."

She smiled. We in line smiled back. She smiled again. We smiled again.

She stopped smiling. She slipped back out the door. And we went back to our waiting, together, to interact with a real, live human being.

Now that's weird, eh?


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Thursday, March 26, 2009

Western Slope Spring

March 23
Reading Snyder and Wishing I Had Stayed In One Place

Oh, he looks back to the ‘40’s, war time,
and he
just getting to know well
the woods
that are still
his growing home;
climbing Loowit / Mt. Saint Helen’s
first, certainly not last,

Suppose I’d lived here
all my life,
I’d have been up
and down Lone Cone
a dozen trips
at least
by now.
I might have found
the old names
for the mountain
by now
names that the wind knows
names that are buried
in the rock glacier’s memory
slipping past us
down the creeks and ditches.

As it is,
I know
where the rare orchid
and gentians hide
and which dappled woods
sprout chanterelles
by the belly-full.

As it is,
I know
Meadowlarks come
before spring
and bluebirds lead them
to these pastures. Killdeer
and phoebe are next and then the vespers sparrows
and barn swallows swarming song and bodies
around whole civilizations
of insects.

As it is,
this is
my growing home.

March 24
Practicing Passion

I leap from book to tea
to dreams of summer
campfire coffee and rain
dripping from trees. All the Latinate
plant names to savor
and later in the season
baskets-full of raspberries, hidenum,
boletes, bellies full of fresh chanterelles
and poems, poems, all year

March 25
After Reading Snyder “Icy Mountains Constantly Walking” and Wondering What I Would Have Said if I’d Been in that Bar in Galway, where,

Over beer, men swapped “stories
of passions and wars.”
In the tribe of mothers
I at last have a place
and something
to say;
my chirp
to add to Snyder’s
growing chorus.

March 26
Remains of the Day

By three o’clock
all but the most shadowed
snow has melted
and the red-hatted
pink-scarfed pinion-armed
pebble-eyed snowgirl
in full spring sunshine.

Weather Report
-for Rosemerry, on her way to the orchard

You made yourself sad
peeking at tomorrow
you saw how the snow
will continue and the cold
will come as it always does
on the backside of the front,
wilting your hopes
for peaches
plopping to the grass
with the soft sound
of release.
All those blossoms
you walked in
last week
will be gone
in one night
and all you can do

is stay with the kids
and all your husband can do
is turn on the fans
and you can all
cross your fingers -
well, you’ll have to cross the baby’s
for her -
and imagine
just imagine
the look on her face
when she tongues
her first juice
of this year’s rarest

A Bum Family Tradition

It's corn season.

I mean my favorite kind of corn: corn snow groomed into a smooth lake-like surface, or corn snow sculpted into long fall-lines of steep waveforms that ski like surfing white-water chop.

I mean like the corn snow we found awaiting us on the first day of Spring at Purgatory this weekend.

So, as we do for a couple dozen days every ski season, we made some sandwiches and poured some coffee and put on our ski gear and jumped in the truck and headed up through the morning-glory blaze of the amazing Animas River Valley.

Another Wright family rite.

Skiing has been the sinew and tissue of our family. Since holding our three-year-old son under his arms so he can sail on his plastic boards on Chapman Hills' meagre slope, through our teen kids' having to wait for us -- sometimes with visible exasperation -- as their telemarking parents huff and grunt their way to the bottom of the lift, five months of our year is woven together with days passed skiing together.

Every year we make that big financial outlay in ski passes for the family. But, this, in my wife and my minds, is an sound investment in our family-health care. In fact, these frequent and, given Sarah's and my lives built around skiing (we met living at in a ski town, and married at the base of the town's ski area), damn-near religious days passed together on the nearby mountain -- and up in our nearby, amazing, gorgeous home-mountain range -- are the why of the what we have built our adult lives around.

We went from being ski bums to parenting bums.

The lift rides alone are worth it. This is why I hope they never really get around to replacing Purgatory's backside Lift 8 with that high-speed quad chair they've been threatening for years: Not only do I welcome that long rest after a long ground down the face of Paul's Park, but this is some the best time I get to spend with my kids: sitting on the chair and having the space in which you can only free-form chat.

Now, knowing there's only a few years of this frequent, ritualistic, intimate time left in our relationship with our kids, I savor every opportunity I get with them like this. Just-talking time, rather than the more common and pragmatic day-to-day talking-about-something-specific time. Time shared in some magnificent place. Time spent out-of-doors and honing and exploring a physical skill.

And the chance to teach them -- to show, not just tell them -- what I think life and living really are:

Do more. Want less.

The Bum life, however those values are manifested.

Watching them schuss the slush, I think they get it. And watching them run into their friends on the mountain -- friends of their often raised by friends of our who, too, live here to be Bum Parents -- I'm thinking they all -- the "Western Ski Bums: The Next Generation" -- get it, too.


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Wednesday, March 25, 2009

Congress protects public lands

This just in from the National Wildlife Federation and
Today Congress passed the Omnibus Public Lands Management Act. This historic plan to protect America's public lands provides the largest expansion of wilderness in fifteen years.

The Omnibus Public Lands Management Act will conserve critical public lands and waters, which provide important wildlife habitat, natural resources and recreation opportunities to continue America's great conservation traditions for generations to come.

Specifically, the Act will secure wilderness designation for more than two million acres of public lands, protect thousands of miles of rushing rivers and establish a 26 million acre conservation system-- the first new system of conservation lands in the United States in more than 50 years.

More news stories about it here and here and here.

Tuesday, March 24, 2009

Some New Books

A Land So Strange
The Epic Journey of Cabeza de Vaca: The Extraordinary Tale of a Shipwrecked Spaniard Who Walked Across America
By Andres Resendez

Cabeza de Vaca had a helluva walk...

This one's for Ken...

Monday, March 23, 2009

Reports from Lone Cone Country

by Art Goodtimes

Attending NACo’s annual Legi meet

DC … The National Association of Counties (formerly the National Association of County Officials) is the organization that represents most of the 3000+ counties in the country, providing various services, hosting gatherings and (most importantly) lobbying for county interests on the national scene. Especially for things like increased federal transportation money, an end to unfunded mandates or PILT (payment in lieu of taxes) … Without federal help, roads in rural areas would mostly likely never get fixed. And without NACo lobbyists, rural interests could easily get forgotten in DC, where only those who push the hardest get heard … Unfunded mandates are the bane of local taxpayers. When the Feds require a program and don’t provide funds to pay for it, guess who picks up the tab? Yep, state taxpayers. Just as when the state mandates a program without providing funds to pay for it, it’s Joe and Jane Propertytaxpayer who end up footing the bill. NACo helps guard against unfunded federal mandates that trickle down increased costs to counties … And one area that I’ve been actively involved with since becoming a commissioner and getting involved in NACo has been the PILT program. Since many western counties have considerable federal land in their boundaries – lands that are exempt from local property taxes, NACo has been successful over the past 30+ years in lobbying for and getting money to local counties to off-set the avoided property tax revenue from untaxable federal lands. In San Miguel County about two-thirds of our land base is under federal ownership and unavailable to property taxation revenues … Although it’s been a long battle, just this past year – primarily through the astute legislative skill of our own Sen. (now Secretary) Ken Salazar, counties across the country have been fully funded PILT monies for the next four years – a boon of about $2 million dollars to San Miguel County alone. In these hard economic times, that’s a significant stimulus to local economies … And as Sec. Salazar told us in a private visit with the Colorado county delegation at NACo, it was primarily because of NACo -- and particularly the efforts of former Colorado Counties (CCI) Public Lands Chair Jake Klein [D-Otero County] -- that Salazar worked so hard to get counties full funding … Commissioner Elaine Fischer joined me at the annual NACo Legislative meet in DC this year – her expenses, like mine, paid for by the state organization. Elaine represented CCI in the Land Use and Natural Resources Committee and I represented CCI in Public Lands. It’s a testament to the increasing importance of progressive leadership in the state that our small county had two representatives on the national level in a state delegation of 42 Colorado attendees.

WEEKLY QUOTA“If we don’t fight hard enough for the things we stand for, at some point we have to recognize that we don’t really stand for them.” -the late Sen. Paul Wellstone

JUNKET? … So, what did Elaine and I do on our trip to DC? Visit museums? Tour the monuments? I wish. There was a little time for fun on our five days in the nation’s capital. I did catch the first film of the annual Environmental Film Festival at the Carnegie Institution for Science’s Elihu Root Auditorium one evening – enjoying a free screening of Maryam Henein and George Langworthy’s film-in-progress Return of the Honeybee, an investigative documentary about the economic, political and spiritual implications of the disappearance of honeybees worldwide, due to the synergistic effect of mites, pesticides and monocrop agriculture (or could it be radiation from cell phones, as European studies would seem to suggest?) … The first couple days of the trip were taken up with committee meetings. As a nine-year veteran of NACo’s Public Land Steering Committee, I saw a lot of old friends – many quite conservative, but all passionate about their perspective on public land issues. As one of the few outspoken liberals on this heavily Republican committee, I am often doing battle with bad ideas – like the resolution calling on NACo to lobby to open up lands around the Grand Canyon for uranium mining and to overturn a ban on mining there that Rep. Grijalva of Arizona was working to make into law. Together with progressive NACo Public Lands Chair Liz Archuleta, we succeeded in getting the resolution tabled … But this year, as a member of leadership (having been appointed by Archuleta to chair of the Gateway Communities Subcommittee), I got to invite speakers, including the well-spoken leader of the No-Fee Coalition of Durango, Kitty Benzar, to argue against double taxation for recreational users on public lands. And I set up a number of task forces composed of progressives and conservatives to work on resolutions together, to see if we can come up with some balanced measures in cyberspace that can be brought to our annual meeting in Nashville this summer for discussion and adoption … Next were several days of conference meetings and workshops, with a special private visit to Sec. Salazar’s new digs in the Dept. of Interior (he was most gracious and welcoming). And the last day was a grueling all-day race around the Hill visiting all nine members of the Colorado delegation, lobbying for our top issues – from continued PILT funding to federal help with renewable energy. We got to personally meet all our congressional members, trade business cards with their aides, and set up future discussions on select issues … You should talk with Commissioner Fischer to find out her perceptions of the trip, but once again I felt that local citizens greatly benefited from having new direct lines of access to congressional electeds and aides, so that when a local issue comes up having to do with the federal government, Commissioner Fischer and I will have lots of options for getting help and increasing local clout in D.C.

PATRICIA VIGIL … Such a dear soul. A Norwood girl, she married and had children and worked hard to get her doctorate against almost impossible odds. She only got to teach a few years, before cancer struck her down, but she left a shining trail. Took on the really tough assignments – prison classes and college extension work. I loved coming in and talking to her sociology students about politics and poetry, as she invited me as a guest lecturer several times. Dr. Vigil. A most amazing soul … I had the good fortune to visit her on her deathbed at her home in Olathe, the same night as a rare conjunction of the moon and a planet in the western sky. I held her hand, read a poem about a pilot light, sighed and laughed and cried. It is what friends do … And kissed her goodbye. Such a shining soul!

CHAVEZ … Widely underreported, Venezuela’s populist president won a referendum last month abolishing term limits for presidency of his oil-producing country -- some 54% of the electorate supporting his neo-Bolivarian revolution … Presidential term limits are one of the interesting set of checks & balances built into the American revolutionary system that have turned out beneficially for the Republic, but changing political leadership works best when the people have a relatively stable (if not immutable) Constitution. In nation-states where the military plays a big political role, stable civilian leadership is almost always preferable to military coups.

SKI TWO … I can see why skiing’s addictive. Sliding down steep slopes attached to incredibly rigid boots & tapered boards with edges, gliding back & forth left to right, slushing through white mud – all of it is great fun. Something most everyone else in this town already knew … So call me slow. At 63 I’m having a ball suiting up at the Boot Doctor with ace rental czar Troy Leedy. Hanging out on Lift 10 with Placerville birthday girl Juliet Benman, her sister Camille and dad. And skiing alongside the legendary Bear Creek backbowl ace Steve Green and his family … Even baker curmudgeon Jerry Green was nice to me at Big Billies. I want a ski pass next year!



Change is the new,

improved word for god,

lovely enough

to raise a song

or implicate

a sea of wrongs,

mighty enough

like other gods

to shelter,

bring together

and estrange us.

Please, god,

we seem to say,

Change us!

-Wendy Videlock (Grand Junction)

as performed by EAR at the Cortez Library

Saturday, March 21, 2009

Hip hop hits Durango!

Now that was fun!

Living here in little ol' remote Durango, we don't get many tastes of Big City Culture. And if I miss anything of living near one of them Big Cities, it's the music culture.

Sure, we get some great underground folk and bluegrass -- such as The Gourds playing the intimate and historic Henry Strater Theatre (a.k.a. "The Hank") last week, and Martin Sexton who will be making his guitar sing as ornately as his voice Sunday night.

But beyond that, the big acts (aside from the occasional acts who were big back thirty years ago when I was a teenager living near one of those big cities, and who are today more like a bit of traveling history than a true, vibrant musical experience, i.e. The Beach Boys last summer, or upcoming shows by the Charlie Daniels Band and Stephen Stills) tend to -- of course -- bypass our little hamlet set so far off the interstate in favor of those Big City venues.

Well, we got a sweet taste of contemporary culture last night, when The Mighty Underdogs brought their dynamic and groovy hip hop beats to the stage at the Abbey Theatre. It was a welcome and invigorating breath of Big City air, right here in our little mountain town. A nice bit of what we might call Hick Hop.

The Mighty Underdogs feature my personal favorite MC and song writer, Gift of Gab, from the fantastic San Francisco-based rap duo Blackalicious. Gabby's song writing is not your usual rap: he writes tight, quick, snappy lyrics wrapped in rhythmic grooves, and generally delivering thoughtful, positive, and witty messages -- what I only partially tongue-in-cheek refer to as "Buddhist Hip Hop."

The Mighty Underdogs -- featuring performers culled from other bands, kind of like a 70s-style supergroup (so you other oldesters out there can compare, like, say, the 21st century equivalent of Bad Company or Asia, but without the stadium shows) -- is, along with Gift of Gab, Lateef the Truth Speaker, of Latyrx, and producer Headnodic, of the Crown City Rockers.

Now I realize I'm just a middled-aged small-town hillbilly white guy, but I love this stuff. And I particularly like this particular genre of rap music often labeled "conscious hip hop." I think it's good stuff, with a good message. And I'm glad my kids and I, particularly my high-school-aged son, can share an appreciation for this modern music together. And I must say that it's pretty cool to be able to say I was the one who turned him on to these fine, fun beats.

And last night I was really glad we could share it together, live on stage, right here in Durango.

To be sure, my wife and I and our buddy Todd -- also a music junkie and conscious hip hop fan -- were the oldest kids at this all-ages show. But that was okay. And it even added to the cultural insight for us middle-aged hipsters. Standing along the rail on the balcony over the main dance floor, we had a prime view of the hundred or so of our town's high school kids and college students (many of whom we knew or recognized) getting their big-city kicks.

The show began with an hour of Denver-area mash-up artist DJ Vajra mixing beats for the swarming mass of kids on the dance floor. Here we got a visual treat and surprise: the dance floor parted and -- I swear, in what was like a modern reinterpretation of that classic dance scene from Saturday Night Fever -- kids would jump into the middle of the circle and offer whatever break-dancing moves they could muster for their fellow patrons' pleasure.

And everyone seemed very pleasured, even by the meagerest of dancing attempts. It was a great, fun, appreciative teen-tribal spirit flowing around the place. And some of the dancers -- like the guy who spun a few moves, then mimed pulling two girls out of the crowd on an imaginary rope, followed by all three performing a synced and crazily-well choreographed chorus-line dance -- were quite good.

But then came the Underdogs, and for an hour and half the trio hopped and rocked the place. You felt they, too, were loving it, and they played it hard, worked the crowd well, and spread those truly good vibrations that some old, worn out dog-and-pony show of a one-time big-time band could never bring to our little town.

Long live the kids! Of all ages!

Check out the Mighty Underdogs:


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Tuesday, March 17, 2009

I'm tired, too

I received one of those viral mass-mailed emails this morning. Okay, I got several of those already today -- that's the nature of the wild, weird, wonderful nature of the great Internet Ocean we all swim in now. But this email was one of the rare ones that was not only interesting and insightful, but even was worthy of a reposte. Or ... repost?

The email was birthed as a posting on the blog The Old Jarhead, by Robert A. Hall, a Vietnam Veteran and ex-Marine, and a former Massachusetts state sentaor.

His post titled "I'm Tired" starts out lyrically:

I'll be 63 soon. Except for one semester in college when jobs were scarce, and a six-month period when I was between jobs, but job-hunting every day, I've worked, hard, since I was 18. Despite some health challenges, I still put in 50-hour weeks, and haven't called in sick in seven or eight years. I make a good salary, but I didn't inherit my job or my income, and I worked to get where I am. Given the economy, there's no retirement in sight, and I'm tired. Very tired.

Then, though, the piece picks up its rythmic --and thematic -- refrain:

I'm tired of being told that I have to "spread the wealth around" to people who don't have my work ethic. I'm tired of being told the government will take the money I earned, by force if necessary, and give it to people too lazy or stupid to earn it.

What follows is essentially a reptition of that refrain, followed more complaints and annoyances over topics ranging from drug and alcohol addiction, to illegal immigration, to racism ("I think it's very cool that we have a black president and that a black child is doing her homework at the desk where Lincoln wrote the emancipation proclamation. I just wish the black president was Condi Rice ..."), to Michael Moore and Al Gore, to ... well you get the idea.

I found it an interesting read, a laundry list of traditionally so-called "Conservative" complaints, concerns, and general irritations.

And I found I generally agreed with many of his points.

But that wasn't what got me to write a response.

So, with all due respect to both the friend who forwarded me this bit of viral inspiration and to Mr. Hall, whom I honor and respect for his service and his life built upon his personal integrity, I toss this post into the great Internet wilderness :

I'm tired of people who are tired of people.

I'm tired of people who are tired of people who disagree with them.

I'm tired of the "I'm tired of people who ..." perspective, because it's the rhetoric of the punk and the dictator, with its broad, vague generalities, false dichotomies and either-or fallacies, name-calling in place of reasoning, and the simple-minded and beligerent "it's them!" drumbeating.

I've seen that alcoholism can manifest as both disease and laziness in different people, and that some deserve help and others deserve a slap upside the head.

I understand that unlimited immigration is a burden on our country's resources, yet I also remember that my non-Native American ancestors at some point immigrants here, for some very good reasons, and were likely seen as a burden on our country's resources. And I bet most illegal immigrants today put themselves through that experience for good reasons, as well.

I've seen that many people deserve the wealth they've accrued, but I've also seen that even the people working at the lowest ranks in society help make the overall system work, and deserve at least a minimum amount of livable and enjoyable benefits -- some shared social wealth -- of the grander system we are all a part of.

I've experienced the actual value of a government-run social safety net, yet I also loathe and want to stop abuses of those systems.

I honor and respect those who choose to serve our country in the military -- in fact, I think military service should be compulsory for all U.S. citizens, so everybody has a vested interest in the care and use of that necessary part of our national defense -- but I also honor and respect the person with integrity enough to resist service if it goes against their conscience.

I too am wary of terrorism and Islamic Jihad and support efforts to defend ourselves and defuse those explosive movements, but I also feel it's wise and in the best interests -- in our truest national interest -- to at the same time look honestly and critically at our own role in creating and fomenting those movements, and to changing that behavior in a way that benefits all parties in the future.

I've learned that there are full spectra of people and paths out there, and that's a reality we need to work with, that it's in our own best interest to recognize, that those are the boundaries we need to live within -- and that it's more fun and interesting to see and explore what's lies in that terrain.

nd that we can never, ever allow ourselves to become tired of that reality.

This does not mean we cannot say what we mean -- we should speak, and we should debate. But it's about how say what we feel, think, mean, believe. The style is the message. Who we are is how we do whatever we do.

To do otherwise is to at best grow mean-spirited, and at worst to invite fascism.

And we're all tired of both of those.

* * * *

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Sunday, March 15, 2009

Addendum to Ed

For Maria's, tomorrow night...on the heels of my "Woman Thing" regarding the dude...

Addendum to Ed.
Back in the day when I used to teach college (a whole two years ago), a class called Human Heritage occupied much of my time. I loved this class. In academic-speak, it approached the human question from “critical multiculturalism” and asked students to examine the Western experience against those of Native America and bits and pieces of China. Where to start with a course like that, you might ask? Answer: Joseph Conrad’s Heart of Darkness. Now, if you haven’t read this book, go read it. But if you’ve seen Apocalypse Now, you have some idea what the book is about, and if you haven’t seen it, you can go rent it tonight when you get done with this little soiree and educate yourself.
Heart of Darkness was published in 1901 by a Polish guy living in England. He was a European seriously worried that when white people got too far away from civilization, they began to rot to the core. Conrad’s Kurtz was such a piece of rot – a champion ivory trader in the Belgian Congo (and therefore champion colonialist) who got too far upriver for his own good and became wholly given over to evil. The book is usually touted as one of the world’s best exposes on the nature of said evil, and indeed it is.
So what does this have to do with Ed, you might ask, and the Woman Thing? Well, here’s the deal. We’d be reading along, the students and I, and then the course syllabus would throw Chinua Achebe into the works. Achebe, the acclaimed Nigerian novelist, said: Wait a minute, White Boys. This is the most racist piece of crap I have ever read. Ok, maybe he wasn’t THAT virulent, but he was rightly incensed at Conrad’s portrayal – or lack thereof – of black Africans, and the fact that no other scholar had noticed this before. African natives were either savages or non-existent, basically, and served as sinister props (drums at night emitting from the dense banks of the Congo, arrows killing the boat pilot flying out of nowhere, patsies to Kurtz’ killings) to the very erosion of civilization Conrad so feared.
Given this, I would ask my students, does this in turn erode the impact of Conrad’s work, its greatness? Some said yes, others said no. I find myself at a similar crossroads with Abbey.
Abbey, like Conrad, was what they call “a man of his time.” And men of mid-20th century ilk were rather unfortunate in their understanding of both women and Native Americans (Abbey has not fared well in that category, either, people). Granted, he was a hell of a lot better than Conrad, for whom women were utterly useless and sexless – unless, of course, they were African, in which case they were the clearly sexual concubines of Kurtz. But let me be clear: Abbey, as with most men of his generation, is in some sense the direct descendent of Conrad. This will make the Abbey-ites in the room shudder. Abbey was a rebel! They’ll shriek. Conrad, after all, was urgently arguing for maintaining a certain status quo! Abbey said: Get the hell out of civilization! Conrad said: Get back in it! But their work supersedes who they were as men, methinks.
In my first piece, I wrote of Abbey as a man. And he was a mixed bag. And this makes me suspicious of him. But I’ve been noticing, lately, just how far-reaching his impact has been, and how he really started a whole movement in this neck of the woods (and elsewhere), and how, like Conrad, he has really made us look at ourselves, be it in the context of his own biases or in the context of ours. And the truth is, what he had to say not only survived those biases but became even more relevant – grew, in fact – with the changing of the times. So just as Conrad can be re-written as a post-modern Vietnam fable of just how corrupting so-called civilization had become in Apocalypse Now, so Abbey can morph into a movement that in fact now does treat both the Earth and women a bit better, and where myth and history do in fact blur a bit, and where nature writing – once called “The autobiography of grief” – tells a damn sad and true tale of the enormity of what we have lost and may lose more of. So, however a classic gets formed, and whatever a classic is, I think Ed fits. Turns out his “theme” – righteous anger in the face of utter destruction of our one and only home – is a bit universal. And so, I place him next to Conrad, in all my feminist consciousness, and all his Monkey Wrench masculinity and furor.

Saturday, March 14, 2009

20 years after Abbey's death ... I mean, LIFE

Twenty years ago today I was in my kitchen in my little apartment in Boulder doing my dishes and listening the usual daily dose of the usual daily news, when over my head came a very unexpected item: Edward Abbey was dead.

The fact that two decades later I can still cite that -- still feel that -- as one of those "where were you when ..." moments says something about the impact Edward Abbey and his writings had on me, and lots of others.

And still has.

Because I believe that 20 years after the end of Ed Abbey's life, his life is what still lives on. Here's why:

Edward Abbey wasn't wasn't a journalist, he was an artist. In the same way, he wasn't an environmentalist, or even an environmental writer. He wrote about other things, bigger things -- about living, about what it means to be a human being -- and from that came what we would consider an environmental stance.

And this is because Abbey didn't write so much the whats and hows of whatever he wrote about, whether it was fiction or essay, article or short story, environmental or experiential or fictional -- he wrote about the whys.

Abbey may have been an "activist" -- but it was in the truest sense of the word: Action. He wasn't against things as much as he was for things: For living differently. For living for different things. For being guided by different whys. Abbey's message, I myself think, was that to move ahead -- to continue to survive and thrive as free, compassionate human beings in a healthy habitat -- we need to go, not back, but backward. Not back to hunting and gathering, but back to applying those perspectives and needs and skills and understandiings in our modern world. Self, Place, Life, Tribe.

And he believed that those shifts, those changes, is each and everybody's choice -- and responsibility. He conveyed that message by modeling that behavior, then sharing it with all. And sharing it well, t'boot.

Abbey has been tagged with lots of labels, from environmental activist to eco-writer to regional writer to nature writer. But throughout his career what Abbey really wrote about was, as he himself called it, his "camping trips."

And for Abbey -- and this is what makes him relevant today, and relevant any time -- he lived his whole life as "camping" -- adventurous, creative, out of doors oriented, principled. For Abbey, his real art was not his just his writing, but his living the life that he wrote about. His was not a perfect life, but it was his life. And that, too was the point he wanted to make: To not do what he or any other guru or authority or cultural norm says, but to do what is you.

I argue, was what he meant by "monkeywrenching."

And that is what persists: Abbey's perspective on living -- not how to live, but why to live. What to live for. And the impact of that Abbey-vision was rested less in what Abbey said and more in the actions he instilled and inspired through his rendering of what he did in his own explorations and experimentations in what it means to live well -- and therefore what we need to live well: Land. Wilderness. Community. Freedom.

Regardless of his written words -- which fortunately, and not surprisingly, nearly all remain in print today -- it is more the many-faceted interpretations of Abbey's perceptions manifested in his fans that matter. What matters and what persists is how people put what Abbey inspired in their own actions, into creating their own lives: those who have built their lives, usually with some challenge and difficulty, around living differently, around living for different things: Place. Tribe. Adventure. Meaningful work. Being true to their Selves.

And those who will fight for the habitats -- physical, social, ecological, political -- that nurture, encourage, and support those lifestyles.

And that is now blossoming in a second-generation post-Abbey -- the offspring of that generation of Abbeyistas who molded their lives toward Abbey's ideas and ideals -- yielding yet new evolutions and interpretations and applications of ideas that passed through and poured from Edward Abbey's pen.

In a way, 20 years later, we find that we Western ski bums and river runners, tree huggers and desert rats -- and also all of us passing those lifestyles onto our kids -- are all the bastard children of Edward Abbey.


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Join us for a celebration of Edward Abbey at Maria's Bookshop at 6:30 p.m., Monday, March 16. Learn more here.

Thursday, March 12, 2009

On crying Wolf too soon... so long to "Macho B"

[map courtesy: Northern Jaguar Project]

For over a decade, a jaguar graced a mountain range I know well. Though ancestral jaguar habitat stretches all the way to the Colorado Plateau, researchers dubbed this cat "Macho B," perhaps as a nod to the concept of a Mexican origin. Every now and then a motion-detecting camera snapped his picture, so though I never saw him or his track, I knew he was there. Though the mountain range became a sacrifice zone in a border war seemingly without end, crisscrossed by night-trails, haunted by overflights, and subject to a migration-fighting wall, the jaguar survived. Other than occasional pictures, very little information was gathered on his day-to-day movements. In late February, he finally stepped in a snare, was radio-collared and released. When I heard the news, I posted a picture here with a celebratory comment that likely offended chihuahua lovers far and wide. On March 2, Arizona Game & Fish announced that the jaguar had been recaptured, transported to the Phoenix Zoo, and 'euthanized.' The post-mortem diagnosis was kidney failure. Here is an obituary, posted by Defenders of Wildlife, along with an overview of the group's Northern Jaguar recovery efforts. Also, the Center for Biological Diversity is soliciting donations to its Jaguar Recovery Fund, to pursue a lawsuit over habitat management.

I learned of of the jaguar's death as I was preparing a celebratory welcome for another species. On February 25th, a lone female wolf was recorded in Colorado, not far from Interstate 70 in Eagle County. This wolf was wearing a collar not much different from the one placed on the jaguar known as Macho B, and researchers had been able to trace her on a circuitous 1,000 mile route from a pack based north of Yellowstone National Park. According to the press release, she has roamed parts of Montana, Idaho, Wyoming, Utah, and into Colorado, crossing from the Northern to Southern Rockies Ecosystem in the process. At least one other wolf made it this far in 2004, only to be killed as he tried to navigate the always dangerous I-70. At least for now, all wolves wandering into Colorado are to be treated as an endangered species, though with last week's decision by the Interior Department to de-list the Northern Rockies population, all bets are off.

In 2007, the Colorado Division of Wildlife posted video of another possible wolf north of Steamboat Springs:

I found no other reported sightings for this one, and there is no more public data on last month's sighting.

As usual, all these incidents received temporary media coverage in their respective areas, with just enough details to feed emotional responses ranging from fear through pity, with side trips into nostalgia and mourning. Realizing that one consideration missing from all accounts was a consideration of the fragmented landscape these animals had passed through, for the past few days I've been seeking habitat and wildlife corridor maps to add to the discussion. The news is not good, but this is what I've found...

Though efforts to define and establish wildlife corridors have been underway throughout the West for over twenty years, current knowledge is as fragmented as the habitat various groups are trying to 'save.' Arbitrary boundaries, ranging from the U. S. / Mexico border to a definition of 'Northern' vs. 'Southern' Rockies, limit maps and management plans to narrow areas of intense focus, surrounded by vast stretches of habitat incognita that wandering wildlife must navigate. A good source for an overview is the Western Governors' Association Wildlife Corridors Initiative Report, published in June, 2008. At 120 pages of politic prose, it could get you through a sleepless night, and may leave you howling in sympathy with the wandering wolf; but a set of maps on pages 12 to 26 should get you started thinking about just where we have to go from here, to move beyond overly studied and overtly controlled populations of feared and pitied trophy species, eventually hunted or "euthanized" from habitat once wild enough to call home.

[Wildlands Network Design map of Colorado (Southern Rockies Ecosystem Project)]

For more on wildlife corridor works-in-progress:

Monday, March 9, 2009

The Traveling Teacher

I like to think of one of my so-called "careers" as that of an anti-career counselor.

I mostly practice this on an as-can basis -- meaning, where ever and whenever I can slip in my subversive messages, I do: into writings (of course), conversations (especially with kids), college-class discussions, interviews, karate classes ... where ever a teaching moment may arise, I endeavor to grasp the opportunity to impart the message of The Option:

You don't necessarily have to join the rat-pack racing for the job, house, cars, toys, etc. etc.

You really can choose to live a life, rather than merely make a living.

The Option is to realize and recognize that there are options. And to realize they're real, and valid, and worthwhile, and attainable.

And so it came to pass that one of those most recent teachable moments arose around the barbeque grill. (An anti-counselor must always be ready to dispense wisdom ...) I was with my nephew, a 17 year old fresh out on his own, seeking those first tenuous, troublesome steps into the Big World, out there.

His big question, it seemed to me, was, what to make those first steps toward.

He is a thinking man, it's obvious, since he already has the insight to question the well-trodden, downright traffic-jammed, trail toward paycheck and pension oblivion. He also made it clear he'd much rather be following less-traveled roads toward faraway places and exotic other worlds beyond the one he grew up in.

A boy of my own heart, for sure. And I, of course, had an answer -- one he perhaps hadn't heard much from the other adults around him (being from a big city back East), or school, or on TV:

Yes! Travel, yes!

Make a life of traveling, yes!

If I could give my nephew anything at that point -- at that moment in time together, and at that point in his life -- the best I could do, I believed, was to give him that: a big fat yes!.

Then, though, I had to really be a counselor: I explained to him that while I believe being a traveler, even a bum -- not just someone who takes trips, but one whose whole life is traveling -- is doable, even preferable, to a "normal" career path, it is, nonetheless, a "career": It still requires learning, preparation, patience, persistence, and strategy to make it happen, and to make it work.

That might mean working two jobs for a while to finance a trip; or it can meaning acquiring skills that you can use to work while you do extended trips -- for years, even. (I, myself, found restaurant work and professional driving (buses, trucks, limos, taxis) to have paid for a lot of traveling and bumming for me.)

Mostly, though, I urged him to start now, immediately, to make those dreams of his come true -- even when he goes back to that big city back East. No matter what he did. In everything he did.




And do those with persistence and patience.

That, too, is the traveler's journey. That, too, is Yes!

Take it from your anti-career counselor.

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Saturday, March 7, 2009

20 Years Without Ed

Most of the folks who read this blog are most likely very much aware of the fact that we're creeping up on 20 years without Cactus Ed.  Of course, like most of us, I never met Ed and was, frankly, too young to care when he passed.   At this point in my life I'm pretty sure that Ed wouldn't have liked me, and I probably wouldn't have liked him much either.  So it goes.  The truth is, though, that one can respect and admire the ethos of a man's work without ever having known him.  

Some folks blame the popularity of Ed and his work for bringing more people out here to the Southwest than would normally have come, and I do see that as a possibility.  Hell, a lot of the contributors to this blog may very well have moved here because something Ed wrote woke something in them; therein lies the beauty of this problem.  Ed's work attracted a lot of folk to the Southwest, but they're, hopefully, the right folks, whatever that means.  

Shit, I'm sick as hell right now...probably rambling, so I'll get to my point. 

With the help of Ken Wright, Kate Niles, Art Goodtimes, John Fayhee, Michael Rendon... and others I'm sure, Maria's Bookshop will be celebrating the life and works of Ed Abbey by reading some of his work, stuff of their own, or possibly just standing in front of the crowd and yelling obscenities... I'm looking at you, Ken.  We're also hoping to help kick-off WilderPress's new publication, proof that the spirit of drastic fundamental change is still alive and pissed off.  

This all happens at 6:30 on Monday, March 16th.  

(Since Maria's isn't a bar, there won't be any beer there, much to the lame-ass bemusement of the Herald's Patricia Miller, but I'm sure we'll all somehow pull through it.  Here's a sidenote question: Does anyone else think that Durango houses too literate and intelligent a community to put up with the substandard and poorly written (and often unnecessarilyand pompously cruel) reviews in the Herald's Arts & Entertainment Section?  Just wondering if it's just me...)

So, besides some rowdy reading by many of the San Juan Almanac's contributors, my friend Andy Nettle, the owner of Arches Book Company and Back of Beyond Books, both in Moab, will (hopefully) be on hand with some of his extremely rare Abbey stuff.  Andy specializes in rare books and has some pretty amazing stuff, including copies of Ed's first book, Jonathan Troy.  He recommends bringing a diaper if you're the excitable type, 'cause he's got some cool shit.

All right.  See you there, I hope.  We should all go hit the bars afterwards.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Utah grows up!

This from the blog Beer at 6512:

Utah parties like it's 1933

"The Utah House voted 58-2 on Tuesday [March 3] to allow the sale of full-strength draft beer in bars and restaurants, taking a significant step toward eliminating one of the major complaints about Utah's quirky liquor laws," The Associated Press reports.

A good day's work, I say. This isn't the place for a full-blown rant about theocracy and America's last prohibitionist state, but suffice it to say, this is positive news for lovers of craft beer. I scratched my head at this tidbit from the AP article:

"Utah is also the only state that prohibits bartenders from serving cocktails directly over the counter at restaurant bars. A partition usually made of glass known as a Zion Curtain separates the two."


Almost makes one wanna run over there and have a few for spring break ...

Check out Beer at 6512 here.

Wednesday, March 4, 2009

Supreme Court decides case argued by Durango attorney

This from the Western Environmental Law Center:
The U.S. Supreme Court [on March 3], in a very limited 5-4 decision, reversed the lower courts’ findings that had overturned a Bush administration rule that denied citizens the right to have a voice in the management of national forests. (Summers v. Earth Island Institute). However, the Court rejected the Bush administration’s attempt to create a broad ruling that would have severely limited citizens the right to challenge any unlawful government regulation.
The argument in Summers v. Earth Island Institute was argued before the Supreme Court in October by Durango attorney Matt Kenna. The suit was a legal challenge against the Forest Service's attempts to exclude public input and environmental reviews from timber sales. Matt had been involved with the case for more than five years when he was selected to make the argument after the Supreme Court accepted it in Dec. 2007. The case had been brought by Earth Island Institute, Heartwood, Sierra Club, Sierra ForestKeeper, and Center for Biological Diversity.

“We are disappointed that the Court reinstated these harmful forest regulations,” says Kenna. “However, the Court’s ruling was narrow in scope and did not accept any of the government's broad theories that would have precluded citizens from challenging a federal regulation except when applied to a specific project.

"This was the most critical issue at stake- if the government had prevailed on its theory, citizens would have had to file thousands of individual suits to challenge harmful regulations on a case-by-case basis while the government could continue to apply the regulation even in the face of multiple court rulings finding the regulation unlawful.”

Summarizing, Kenna said, "It was very close- 5-4 with a concurrence by Kennedy. It was decided on a narrow basis that will not cause too much bad precedent for the future, which is good, but it would have been nice to have won!"

Read the decision here.

Monday, March 2, 2009

Spring Training for all

People ask me what I do in the winter when there's no baseball. I'll tell you what I do. I stare out the window and wait for spring.
—Rogers Hornsby

It takes skill, this following baseball. I mean following a single game, in progress. It takes practice. It takes training. Especially following a game on the radio, which I do a lot living out here in the Rocky Mountain West, where most of my baseball fixes are injected either through or via XM Radio.

So while the dreary, dragging days of February at long-blessedly-last fade into the rebirth and reawakening that we call March, my favorite teams are at last in spring training -- The Red Sox in Fort Myers, Fla., the Cubs in Mesa, Ariz., and the Rockies in Tucson.

And while they're in spring training, so am I.

I mean getting this football-softened brain back into shape -- working hard on my ability to maintain a running consciousness of the status of a ball game whilst keeping up the pace of my multitasking of daily work and life. It takes me a few weeks before my mental dexterity returns to its major-league game-ready regular-season agility. So I'm thankful for those few weeks of spring training games to work on my own game.

(And this year we'll also have the World Baseball Classic to tide us over until Major League Baseball kicks off on April 5.)

But the reward for this spring training is more than merely sharpening my mental game-tracking skills, of course -- just the same way that the joy of following those Grapefruit League and Cactus League games is more than just notching the (relatively) meaningless wins and losses.

Spring training is about ... Spring!

So when I tune my browser to a pre-season Red Sox game from the humble City of Palms Park, or click my XM receiver to a second-string-players match-up between the Cubs and Rockies in the ever-summer climes of Arizona, sure, I'm rooting for each at bat. And, yes, I'm working on my ability to follow the game while I do my work, since games that matter are only a few weeks away (and work never goes away).

But, really, what I'm doing is listening to music, like some cool jazz, feeling the groove, tuning in to the musical soundtrack of Spring itself.

With the lyrical intonations of a Joe Castiglione, or Ron Santo, or Jeff Kingery on vocals.

It's music to my frost-bitten ears.

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