Tuesday, May 19, 2009

On limits

“I hope it encourages people not to run huge waterfalls but to understand that the only limits that exist are the ones you create, no matter what you are doing.”
[Tyler Bradt, in Kayak Session Magazine interview]
Palouse Falls [Photo credit:D S Dugan]

(Forgive the departure from home range limitations, but I couldn't resist this one.)

Thursday, May 14, 2009

Speaking of Grizz

Here is more Doug Peacock on Democracy Now!, on encountering the wild with respect:

and on addressing the wilderness within:

Don't forget to listen to local radio station KDUR, which broadcasts DemocracyNow! at 12 noon on weekdays, and support the airing of such opinions.

P. S. - Once you've read Dave Peterson's book on grizzlies in the San Juans, think about checking out "In the Presence of Grizzlies, Revised and Updated" [2009, Doug Peacock & Andrea Peacock]. It's newly out in paperback, and I bet your favorite local bookstore can find you a copy.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Ghost Grizzlies revisited in 3rd edition of San Juan Country classic

No one is really sure if Grizzlies will make a comeback in the San Juan Mountains -- but a fine book about the possibility is back.

David Petersen's classic Ghost Grizzlies: Does the great bear still haunt Colorado, first released in 1995 and recently fallen out of print, has just been re-released by Raven's Eye Press in a revised third edition that includes 15 new photographs.

Petersen has updated the story to bring it into the 21st century, but the real value of this book is timeless: Petersen's vivid images of and unabashed love for the San Juan Mountains and the people who inhabit them -- and for the bears that once, and may still, also call them home.

Here's a review I wrote when Ghost Grizzlies was first released. It's still every bit as relevant now as it was then -- as is the book itself.

Colorado is a land of wilderness with the "wild" removed, argues Durango-based author David Petersen, where the back country has been sanitized by the systematic elimination of the wolf and the grizzly bear. Still, he muses, the San Juan Mountains are "another Yellowstone waiting for permission to happen." And what might give the San Juans that permission is the discovery of a surviving population of native grizzlies.

The search for those wild stragglers is the story at the heart of Petersen's latest book, Ghost Grizzlies, which also offers an affectionate and educational look at the San Juans and the distinct and persistent species of bear it spawned and may still support.

>Still, the search is for more than just animals. "The grizzly is a universal metaphor for wilderness," says a member of the team searching for the great bear in Colorado. "The ultimate question we're raising is: How wild do we want the San Juans to be?"

It is this question that underlies the journalistic look at the issue of whether grizzlies exist and should be allowed to survive in the San Juan Mountains. And for Petersen, the probing of this question is also a personal journey, one that through his evocative and deeply personal writing he takes us along on, both on the ground and through his thoughts. It is a journey well worth taking.

Since 1951, the official line from the Colorado Division of Wildlife has been that the San Juan Mountains are inhabited by "lots of black bears but no grizzlies."

This line continues despite the 1979 killing of an adult grizzly sow (who had at some point in her life nursed cubs) in the South San Juans and a continuing trickle of reports of grizzly sightings. Since the land management agencies refuse to act on those reports, the private San Juan Grizzly Project has for several years now studied and compiled evidence -- yet no live bears -- that indicates that at least some grizzlies survive in the San Juans. But "evidence is not proof," the agencies counter.

Petersen offers up this evidence but goes on to examine some tough questions: Even if it is proven that grizzlies survive in the San Juans, is extinction of what may be a distinct subspecies inevitable? To prevent that, should bears from other regions be introduced? To what degree should human uses of the land be limited? Or an even tougher question: Would it be best for the grizzlies themselves to not prove they exist since they have gotten by so far without special treatment?

Petersen doesn't answer those haunting questions, but that is not his goal anyway; his goal is to inform the public that will have to, and he believes should, decide the fate of the grizzly bear -- either native or introduced -- in Colorado. He does this by letting the major players from all sides discuss those questions, plus he offers what information is known and some personal reflection, and then presents this full picture.

All in all, this is a lot of good work resulting in a hell of a good book. Petersen is not objective about the issue -- he openly states that he hopes grizzlies are out there in our extended back yard -- but he has been commendably fair, accurate, and thorough. This is honest journalism, the toughest to write.

But Ghost Grizzlies is more than mere reporting. It is many things -- investigative journalism, history, natural history, social commentary, personal narrative and an essay on the value of wilderness -- but these mesh to form a whole bigger than the parts. They combine to become story, the story of the late-20th century San Juan Mountains.

This is also a human story. Petersen brings to life the people, both historical and alive now, enmeshed in the grizzly history, and it is these characters that make the San Juans real as a place where people were and continue to be molded by the landscape. Included in these tales is a humorous venture with the last man to legally kill a grizzly in the San Juans, a long talk with the outfitter who was mauled by, and then killed, a supposedly-extinct San Juan grizzly in 1979, and several walks with a South San Juans rancher who believes there are still grizzlies on his property. "I hope we're right," he says. "The grizzly is welcome here."

These in-depth and honest characterizations and personal revealings -- like the fact Petersen admits to very much liking the former government trapper who shows no remorse over killing grizzlies -- shows Petersen is mature enough a thinker and person not to resort to easy stereotypes or simple battle lines in this issue he is so deeply involved in.

And these encounters also make the author himself a character as he muses on the fate and significance of the San Juan Grizz. Like the other grizzly defenders he finds -- mostly ranchers and outfitters and hunters -- we see that Petersen is no New Age, dreamy-eyed, posy-sniffing nature mystic. He is a Vietnam veteran, a hunter, and backcountry walker who likes his fireside shots of bourbon.

It is through this woodsman's sense and naturalist's knowledge, spiced with a good sense of humor and an unabashed love for this place, that Petersen's book enters the realm of the finest nature writing, for he manages to make us feel the value of the real wild San Juans. Which is what this book is really about, with the Griz as spiritual symbol, as historic linkage, and as biological litmus test.

As Petersen himself says: "by working to save the bear and its tiny wilderness enclaves, we are working to save ourselves."

Learn more about the third edition of Ghost Grizzlies here.

Visit David Petersen's website and order his books here.

Saturday, May 2, 2009

GO-ing small

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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