Sunday, June 3, 2012

fire in the mountains

man always kills the thing he loves, and so we the pioneers have killed our wilderness. some say we had to. be that as it may, i am glad i shall never be young without wild country to be young in. of what avail are forty freedoms without a blank spot on the map?
--aldo leopold, a sand county almanac

the beginning of the whitewater baldy fire, taken 5/18
it is officially fire season now. after a dry winter, with a pitiful snowfall (snowpack was less than 50% the average this year), and now building heat brought in from southerly winds, the southwest stands in perfect condition to burn.

everyone kept saying it was going to be bad, but how bad we still have yet to know... if the whitewater baldy fire has any precedent, then we should go ahead and prepare for some of the worst fires this part of the country has seen in a long time.

the whitewater baldy fire started in mid-may, and is still burning... started by lightening, the fire initially spread across a few hundred acres. for three weeks it has burned now, and has grown to over 220,000 acres. a good portion of the gila wilderness has been burned, and may continue to burn, given the extreme terrain of the mogollon mountains--steep, brushy slopes, impeded by craggy, sharp rocks, juniper and pinon, and little roads by which to gain access to the wilderness. below is a map of the fire from the forest service, showing the fire's progression as of may 31. 

whitewater baldy fire progression, 5/31
as you can see, there is significant growth since its first days, the green on the map show the place of origin for the fire. red is the latest growth... its frightening to see how the fire's path weaves itself into the steepest of canyons, then rises up the slopes to peaks, before making its way down the other side of ridges.

as of today, the fire is now 17% contained. this is great news, considering the first two weeks of the fire were 0% contained. humidity has been a constant 3% here in the area, which has only made containing the fire that much worse. monsoon rains are still months away. i am afraid that the whitewater baldy fire is just the first of many, and maybe worse, fires to come.

gomez peak on fire
which brings me to my beloved gomez peak, in the gila national forest, just four miles outside of silver city. i literally ran there the day before the fire... it was a smokey, eerie day. the air was dense with the soot that drifted in from the whitewater fire, which is still about 10 miles outside of town. you could feel the fire though, and as i ran though the woods there, i thought to myself how strange of a day it was.

strange indeed, since saturday afternoon, the day after my run, fire started to burn on gomez. the cause was probably man, since the origin was found near the picnic area. 

this was pre-gomez burn, we are upgraded to "extreme" now
smokey the bear was right to warn us humans to be careful with our flames, so that we might prevent more incidents like gomez from happening... but not all fire was created equal, and while gomez is the fault of humans, and was put out by firefighters immediately, the whitewater baldy fire is an example of what the forest service has set out as an example of the middle-ground--between a prescribed burn (pb for short) and a wildfire--called a "wildland fire". the wildland fire is a fire that is considered to have positive benefits to its destruction, as fire is a natural way for the forest to relieve itself of old, overgrown brush, and allow for new life.
young aspen forest, in the springtime (colorado)
the aspen tree is an example of such new life, and without wildfires, we would probably not have aspen. the aspen grow best in the fertile ash, left in the wake of a forest fire. yet, their evolution has made their root system immune to fire itself--a beautiful curiosity. the aspen was for a long time considered earth's largest single living organism, as their roots are all connected in one complete system. one aspen forest's root system can cover several mountains!  
yellowstone, 23 years later (photo taken summer 2011)

the idea that fire should be allowed to burn is a relatively new one... up through the 1980s forest fire was seen as dangerous and destructive... the forest service quelled any fire at all costs. then there was the yellowstone fire in 1988. the fire in yellowstone was too huge and hot to control, images of flames eating america's most wonderful natural park burned on television sets nationally. finally, the forest service succumbed to seeing the brighter side of the fire, as it set out to control the undergrowth of decades of unchecked brush and debris on the forest's floor. today, the scar of the 1988 fire in yellowstone is still visible, but the new growth there is blossoming to show that after all death, there is new life. 

thanks aldo!
wilderness itself is just a confused euphemism, coined by man to place himself somewhere equal to the force of nature. nothing is wild because man calls it that, but only true wilderness can exist where man's imagination stops and his footprint has never been.

aldo leopold, the godfather of national parks and wilderness areas, designed wilderness as a place for minimal human impact, as he had seen in the turn-of-the-century redesign the landscape of the american frontier from forests to fields, filling once wild country with cattle and roads, turning free-flowing rivers to pre-stocked and irrigated waterways that offered 'maximum use' value to man.

without aldo's genuine gesture to create wilderness, there is no doubt that america's national forests would be overrun with cattle ranchers and loggers. thankfully, what little 'wilderness' we have today has been endowed to us by leopold, who wanted nothing more than a 'blank spot on the map' for which we americans might mark our freedoms.
smokey sun
living in the southwest has brought me closer to those freedoms, undoubtedly from the close contact i have with the wilderness here. america's largest wildernesses, the aldo leopold & gila wildernesses, are my backyard, and i am free to play in them whenever i like... except when they are in flames.

but i am happy there is fire in the mountains, as much as it grieves me to breathe smokey air, and think of little creatures fleeing flaming forests (images of bambi's final scenes run through my head). i realize that fire is man's doing, and undoing. it is the thing that made us the bringer of machine, but is also what stops the machine of mankind.

fire is wild, and man is reminded, in instances of wildfire such as the whitewater baldy, yellowstone in '88, and many other countless incidents, that we are not in control. our freedom, if understood as a blank spot on the map, has the potential to be burned off that map just as quickly as we imagined it there.

Sunday, May 6, 2012

country of ciphers and codex

one thing about this country, is it takes a strong, strong... it breaks a strong, strong mind.
 -bill callahan, "drover," apocalypse 

emory pass, black range (new mexico)

the southwest is a land without explanations... a land of illusions, of dreamers, and eroding realities. 
new mexico, known colloquially as "the land of enchantement" has another nickname to those who spend their time toiling in her badlands and deserts, "the land of entrapment." 

mountain blessings (silverton, colorado)
 what little there is here, it is stunning that somehow life survives... despite little rain, bad politics, roughneck roads, exploited resources, and isolated and indemnified populations, people make a living here.
i have come to understand that the people of the southwest make a living fighting. 
fighting for their native rights; fighting for their land and water; fighting for their cattle; fighting for their wolves and spotted owls; fighting for their forests; fighting for their jobs; fighting for their food; fighting for their children... fighting for generations to come.
pueblo bonito (chaco canyon, new mexico)
what will they win? there are little, but highly valued resources at stake. for a land that has held the oldest civilizations in north america--the chaco, the mimbres, the aztecs, and the bands of tribes relating to today's apache, navajo, and ute native americans--this place has a deep and profound history of life.
what meaning people can carve out of this hard land here in the southwest is a spiritual connection to the earth. 
there is no one here (ok, with the exception of pheonix, the land of great waste and the keystone of destruction for the desert) that doesn't get that any day now there could be an apocalypse of resources. there is less and less to go around here, and so the fighting gets louder and louder... the battles are deeper and deeper entrenched. 
a rare cloud (new mexico)
hardrock mines have more water rights than cities... they flood their waste rock piles so that they will use-up their water rights "efficiently"... so not to loose them under new mexico's "use it, or lose it" water policy. cattle ranchers graze on national forest land, yet the land that they do hold privately they similarly flood for the same reason as the mines. yet arizona would like to see the country's last free-flowing river, the gila river, diverted, so that desert diamonds like pheonix can continue to water their lawns daily, have swimming pools in their backyards, and fountains in their mall parking lots.

san juans (silverton, colorado) 
it is a sad state that keeps us alive: but it is the fight that keeps new mexico beautiful. there is a reason that the tribes of humans that lived here before our own version of civilization were warriors and nomads. this land is of ciphers and codex: the translation, the meaning, the explanation of life is age-old, misunderstood, and eroding quickly. to be on the lookout for threats to the unstable life led here is habitual, generational, and will always be the way of life here. 
to protect what is left, to argue about what was, and to dream that tomorrow the rain will come.
this is the only explanation i can give to what life in the southwest is all about... it is imperfect, and sure to be mistaken. like a mirage on a hazy red horizon, i realize that anything i think i know is surely to be wrong, and the closer i get to understanding why i am here, the further from the truth i will be. 

Sunday, April 1, 2012

little by little

i don't think i have explained the title of my blog very thoroughly, and i think that this post's title deserves a bit of the full explanation... toute doucement means "to go lightly" in french, a saying that is often forgotten in the hustle and bustle of the everyday. but it is my goal to delicately skim the freshness of this earth without  leaving roots or any trace too deeply as i cross through the experiences of life, to tread lightly, following a peaceful and restless existence. as i consider that i have been in silver city for a WHOLE MONTH now, i can only begin to grasp what has happened to me here... i am pursuing the idea that i may have some roots that just need to grow in here, and it could be inevitable. little by little, and ever so lightly, i am testing the soils here, and feeling my own nature shift from roaming to resting...

on that note, i have been playing in the sunshine, and digging around the yard with my lovely neighbor and fellow plant-lover, rachel... and we have been busy! our goal is to plant oodles of veggies and herbs for this spring and summer, and nurture our sad little yard back to a semi-natural state of beauty. plus, as i am trying to help start a school garden at a local elementary school down the street, i thought it would be good to practice some gardening techniques in my own backyard... southwest new mexico presents a whole new set of challenges for gardeners!
to start, there is not much water. that is probably the biggest problem too... we will be hopefully installing a drip irrigation system and maybe even set up some rain-barrels around the yard too. there is talk of hoops over the more sensitive beds as well, in part to conserve water from evaporation, and also to protect the plants from adverse tempertures and sunlight. that would be the second biggest problem: sunlight. we got a WHOLE LOT OF SUNSHINE here, and sometimes it can be overbearing... i got a sun tan already and its april. given, my 'tan' stops at all the places a tee-shirt and shorts would, and i am hoping to perfect my teva-tan real soon as well. 

some of the photos below give a sense of the ever-growing (literally) project size that we have started on... it seems like everyday new ideas pop into one of our heads, and we are on another trip to the nursery or hardware store to stock up on gardening things. my new favorite store in town may actually be ace hardware... second only to our wonderful silver city coop!
the little creek that runs behind our yard. doves love it here, they coo-coo all day long.

the flower bed-bed (its a converted bed frame, or something like that) soon to be housing copious greens!

mmm composted dirt!

rachel & my biggest success yet: our very own compost bin! rot-on!

lavender, columbine, and poppies... my attempt to nurture some colorado flora into new mexico.

my favorite flower, hands down.

hand-built rock wall to the right, a nice spot for herbs to grow!

new home for veggies: tomatoes, peppers, eggplant, beets, carrots, pole beans, sweet peas, chard, oh my!
tomorrow is a big day: we have to saw and haul all of the yard waste (mostly dead tree limbs that have amassed into a 12'x12' "pile" in our backyard. since its fire-season, it has been decided that our ultimate bonfire stick pile should go. we will be hiring our male-friends to help with the sawing and hauling, although i may have to show off my new-found bow-saw skills, thanks to a tree-cutting lesson received in the field at work.

 the winds kicked up fabulously today, and during my sunset hike with a fellow sunset-enthusiast, we laid on our backs and watched the moon grow whiter and the orange skies sink into purple mountains, leaving us in a world of gray-green desert dusk... 
another perfect sunset at boston hill

half-moon rising 

as we dreamed about less perfect things than the magic that is known as nightfall, we hoped for an adventure, looming on the horizon, drawing us back towards the western-setting sun... and so it is told: next weekend we are going to flagstaff, arizona! road trip season begins again (...i only took 4 weeks off)! more details on the budding aspens, honey-pots, and good people and places to behold us!
yay for finding a fellow life-adventurer!

Tuesday, March 13, 2012

slow it down

well if this was week one here in silver city, it feels like week four. to be fair, i have been here 10 days; but to be honest, its like, uh... been a lifetime already.
"turning a new leaf" isn't it at all. its not like something "new" or even could be called a "beginning". really, moving to silver city has been a seamless transition that has felt all too good and too well... if such things can really be in excess.
no, living in silver city is like being exactly where i needed to be all along. its like my heart had found its home here long before my person arrived in my subaru two fridays ago. i have always known my soul lives in mountains, colorado taught me to appreciate that. but then there is this interesting piece about me where lately i had been threatening my friends and family that i was going to live in a hippie commune in the mountains, growing my own fruit and vegetables, raising goats and chickens, and knitting by a wood-stove. now that i am here in silver city i can see that reality projected all around me. what was an illusive threat is actually a very reasonable reality here in silver. these things happen, and, i would not be surprised if the majority of folks from this town have shared in such experiences themselves in this lifetime, and more likely, it is their day-to-day existence.

what i can say for certain is that that this place is real, more real to me than i had expected. its been like living in a constant state of self-awareness...

which brings me to my point: slow it down.

life is often confused with some sort of rat-race, social climbing gig, that in the end, is no fun, leaves you empty handed, and maybe even empty hearted. i decided when i left the big-cat (because in the city its cats that run around killing rats) race of d.c. that that was not for me (i already knew that before, i just needed a big smack on the head as a reminder).
no, i am in it for the glorious moments of silence. for the sunsets. see below.

photos taken from a snowy (!) hike up boston hill for yet another amazing sunset.

how could you not think that life is about nothing but silence on top of a mountain at dusk?

and so i have begun to understand slowing it down. living for the silence. listening, not speaking. taking it in. being overwhelmed... in a good way. seeing, being, believing. i believe that this life is about all of the above, the experience of it all, and the way we shape and shift our being accordingly.

and so when someone asks me, "do you miss home yet?" i think, "how could i?" and i answer to myself, "but i am home, it just took me a while to get here."

Sunday, March 4, 2012

silver lining

soo i made it!
sock monkey and i at the new mexico border (we took the scenic route)

i successfully conquered the midwest, was not killed by tornadoes, duststorms, or blizzards, nor mugged, robbed, or run-off the road by a tractor trailer. i cannot say that i really had any real 'hitches'... except for my AAA tow from middle-of-no-where southern colorado (somewhere in the desert between co springs and pueblo), no pun intended. all in all, my one car-incident was minor, after the tow, i was able to get a free examination at jiffy lube, who determined the cost of my car's blown radiator cap (and thus, the problematic release of all of my car's radiator fluid onto I-25) was a mere $6.00. so there, there is a god.
driving into the black mountains, nm
but why am i focusing on the one bad thing, when SO MUCH GOOD has happened on this trip? there is no good place to begin, nor really a good telling of an end of this joyful story of happenstance adventures. highlights: driving through the mountains of west virginia after a fresh snowfall; meeting my godmother for the first time in st. louis; running through forest park in st. louis; gaining appreciation (if not becoming converted) for KU basketball from mamma mahlburg; becoming intoxicated (maybe hallucinatory) by the vast skies of kansas; seeing how well 4-wheel drive really works in colorado snow; a quick foray into my past-life as a denverite--including trips to my favorite neighborhood, washington park, lovely visits with my best friends, snowshoeing in RMNP, and a memorable dinner at city-o-city; waking up to another beautiful morning on sunrise lane with my family in boulder; crossing the new mexico state line; driving through scenic taos and sante-fe (yay for canyons and mountain passes!); trail-running along the sandinas outside alburquerque at embudo canyon; devouring a "christmas" chile burrito; driving through the desert and seeing many a tumbleweed as i harnessed my car's horsepower amidst 40 mph winds; winding through gila national forest at sunset, and seeing the sunset four times as i ascended to higher-living in silver city.

view from the snowshoe trail at wild basin, rocky mountain national park
view of gila national forest from emory pass
here, in silver city, life is made up of nothing but the simplest joys. to imagine a life where you might spend your days in the high desert, hiking, biking, art-making, gardening, and just loving on this earth is what i have appreciated from the mindsets of those whom i have met sofar in silver city.
the chino mine, seen from gomez peak
in silver city it is not unusual to plan your day around hikes and bike-rides, schedule sunset-appreciation daily, hear music from random corners of town, read articles on yogic lessons for the common-man in the local paper, strike-up a passionate conversation about saving the gila river (new mexico's last wild river!) with anyone you pass on the street, shop at your local coop, realize that there are more people living off-the-grid than on it here, get invited to enjoy private hot-springs communities, see dogs at the bar or coffee shop, admire other's prayer flags on front porches, hang your laundry to dry in your back-yard, tell stories of the "monsoon season", and remind yourself that it probably won't rain for three more months. 
view of silver city, nm from gomez peak
an environmental calling card: the choya cactus
here, in silver city, i have so much to learn still, as i have only been here for three days now. but magically, in this short period of time, i have felt more love and kindness from the community here than anywhere i have ever been. for me, the pleasant welcome that i have received from silver city thus far has given me the awareness that i am exactly where i need to be in this world... and even if it is only for a short-time (i already feel a year will be over before i know it), my instincts tell me it is going to be a good time. there are so many opportunities for me to extend myself into the community, learn from the way of life offered here, and appreciate the fullness and richness of the simplest and smallest everyday things. 
as much as i have wandered over the years, i have suddenly have seen my own shadow here in the high-desert sun--i have caught up with my own self, and just like in "peter pan" when peter catches his own shadow and runs into never-never-land, i have yet to discover where this adventure in my own version of 'never-never land' will take me. 

life is just too awesome and weird to tell. 

Monday, February 13, 2012

the art of craigslisting

i owe most of my life to craigslist.

as i travel from here to there craigslist has been a necessary tool in fulfilling my immediate needs. 

just got into town and have no place to live? apartments to rent.
need to find a roommate? rooms and shares. 
need furniture? furniture sales.
need a truck to get your new furniture home? services.
need a bike? bicycle sales. 
need new bike parts? same. 
need a ski rental? vacations listings.
need ski equipment? sporting sales. 
need a job? job listings.

everything on this list i have successfully found via craigslist. subsequently, i have sold most of what i have acquired via craigslist full-circle on craigslist. 

i really don't know how i would get on with my life without craigslist. 

most of my friends seem to be pretty amazed at my suave bartering skills on craigslist. to me its not that i am talented, or brave, or even smart. as much as i would like to take their credit, i just have to be honest: desperation is key to craigslisting. 
you must be willing to put yourself out there, willing to get a bunch of crap in your email inbox, and reversely, put a lot of emails out there that will never be returned. you must be willing to drive out of your way for perfect strangers. you must bring cash. you must bring pepper spray and/or a friend to a transaction. you must not be disappointed if you don't get what you bargained for. you must be willing to learn someone's abridged life story over a handshake and deal in a grocery store parking lot. you must be willing to give your semi-true life story in a grocery store parking lot.
in the end, you must be willing to be a real person, meet real people, and talk about real things with real money. i appreciate the vague honesty that craigslist brings to the marketplace. the sense of personal trust, nary even a feeling of appreciation and gratitude for a good cut on a deal. 

craigslist is like a warm hug from the universe, giving you a supportive slap on the back that says: "YES! you can pull yourself up by your bootstraps in this world!"

and, my friends, what could be better than that? as desperate as i am, craigslist both feeds and staves my hunger for "things"; while all the while reminding me that indeed, they are just things... things that have negotiable prices, flawed histories, quirky owners... and nothing more, nor nothing less. 

and so as i get ready to hit the road i get to brag about my best craigslist score yet: 
i needed a car--and i got one.
 i am now the proud owner of a 2000 subaru forester. and yes, i am joining the official car of the west club. i am even considering rewarding myself with some new mexico plates... because i have to be honest here, i don't plan on coming back east this time!

how pretty! and its the centinnial! how cool!

Monday, January 23, 2012

ramblin' on

how to get from here to there?

a dreamy perspective of what lies ahead...
i am trying to plan my trip out west. i even went ahead and calculated about how much i would spend on a 2,300 mile trip across the country (about $300). now i just need to find places to stay along the way... the timeline is set, i have at most 7 days to make the voyage, which should be more than enough time to enjoy friends along the way. i am thinking i am good for 8-10 hours of driving max a day. i wish i were a super human and could make the trip to denver non-stop. denver is an ideal place for a stop due to the large amount of friends and family there... although the prospect of fitting mardi gras in new orleans into the trip is weighing heavily on my conscience.

decisions, decisions. maybe some of my followers that know me best (yay friends and family) can weigh in to my decision making process. lord knows i need help.

option 1) virginia--> denver, colorado --> albuquerque, new mexico. stops in louisville, ky; kansas city, missori /or st. louis, illinois; and straight-on til denver... take it easy in the mile high for a few days, then head down south to albuquerque, nm.   http://g.co/maps/s3x5w

option 2) virginia --> new orleans, louisiana --> austin, texas --> alburquerque, new mexico. stops in knoxville, tennessee; new orleans, louisiana (mardi gras!); austin, texas (awesomeness); sante fe, nm; and albuquerque, nm. http://g.co/maps/knr5k

option 3) virginia --> chicago, illinios --> denver, colorado --> albuquerque, new mexico. stops in harrisburg, pa; chicago, illinois (never been); des moines, iowa (yay friends!); denver, colorado (home away from home); and later onto albuquerque... http://g.co/maps/cn7z2