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Monthly Archives: September 2016


The creek gurgled softly, reflecting a trembling light on an overhanging roof of limestone. Here we sat, backs resting on shelves of the polished gray rock while contemplating Ed Abbey’s words, the river, the cliffs that soared beyond our view, the whole river trip experience. Fifteen high school youth, a few scientists, and several boatmen who liked to call themselves “sub-adults,” calling on a scientific terminology heard regularly throughout the course of a day, as we classified endangered humpback chub. And if we boatmen were sub-adults, there was one super-adult among us; a mother, executive, and United States cabinet member. Some would have called her Secretary Jewell. We called her Sally.
A woman of considerable outdoor experience, it surprised me to learn this was her first multi-day river trip. Quite the one to pick—the Grand Canyon’s lower half—where the first day saw three boatmen swept from their seats in the surging peaks of Hermit Rapid. The secretary picked this trip, a Grand Canyon Youth / USGS joint venture, because her own journey had been profoundly shaped decades ago by an adventure youth program, and because science, education, and the natural exuberance of youth filled the evenings, rather than five-star meals and cocktail hour.
At times she presented as a politician, holding court on policy, offering vignettes of life in Washington D.C.; but mostly she was simply one of the crew, eager to help in the dish line, willing to learn the secrets of Dutch Oven cooking, ready to hold a bow line. When the indefatigable youth engaged in an evening abdominal workout, Sally was all-in, holding plank position with the teens at 60 years young.
The earnest and sometimes naive inquisitiveness of teenagers must’ve been a refreshing change from the entrenched attitudes of D.C. When else does the Secretary of Interior get asked, without judgement, “what makes you qualified for this job?” Those of us who overheard the 15-year-old’s query got a chuckle. The curious teenager got some insight into the makings of a cabinet member. Sally, maybe, got a fresh perspective on the honorable responsibility of her position.
Answering questions is a normal day’s work for Sally, as is making speeches and listening to a hundred different agendas, so when she slipped away early from our contemplative limestone overhang, I gave her a few bends of the canyon before following, at some distance. Every ten minutes or so I would see her far ahead, a puny figure beneath inconceivable millions-year-old canyon walls. I supposed she was thinking about her ensuing presentation at the South Rim, but I hoped she was simply experiencing the awesomeness of it all, taking a break from thought, feeling that spiritual connection to nature that is more powerful than any policy speech.
It seems Sally was doing a little of both, because a day later she finished her talk at the park with a haiku, penned during a period of quiet among high school kids and sub-adults, under a dancing limestone roof. Who knows if this moment of reflection will influence national policy before Secretary Jewell’s term expires. Either way, our world must be a better place for it.



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The lake was less than a half-mile away and there was still thirty minutes of daylight left, so one might think that our timing was perfect. But within that half-mile lay a heap of table size boulders, each one leaning precariously on the next, ready to shift with the weight of the next step. The night was going to catch us.
In hindsight, we’d have been smart to retreat from the summit of 13,528-foot Kings Peak, go back to the trail and descend in dusk. But from the eminence of Utah’s highest point, possibilities seemed endless. There was no going back, only forward, as perilous as that might be, toward our destination.
It was day two of Bill Barron’s senate campaign trek, leading across Utah from its highest point to its lowest in a bid to raise awareness about climate change, and maybe even get some votes along the way. A single issue candidate, Barron’s platform is carbon fee and dividend policy—the most practical and essential step our government can make toward slowing climate change. Bill hopes to gain ten percent of the vote this November, because ten percent has been proven to make a statement, and a difference.
The current momentum of our changing climate will be around for decades ahead, but with carbon fee and dividend, scientists believe we can stop global warming at 3 degrees Celsius. That would keep ecological changes at a manageable level. It would at least stem the bleeding.
And that was just what we were doing now—in the fading light among the rocks—recovering from earlier questionable decisions, making the best of what was before us. We stepped carefully and slowly, knowing that pitching camp in the dark was not ideal, but it was infinitely better than breaking a leg at dusk, at 12,000 feet.
The five of us gathered at the lake as stars emerged, got warm food in our bellies, then hunkered in for a night of 60-mile-per-hour wind gusts. At first light we got below treeline, and birds chirped beneath a warm sun. Like humanity might do, we had stumbled, and then recovered. The way ahead was long, but achievable, so we strode out of the mountains with purpose. It was the only way out.