CLIMATE CHANGE DENIERS IN SKIING

The following appeared as a letter to the editor in Powder Magazine last spring, in support of an article Porter Fox wrote in the online Powder Magazine at http://www.powder.com/stories/news/campaign-donations-link-ski-industry-leaders-climate-change-deniers

November 15, 2016
Bozeman, Montana

To the editor:

Re: Those who support deniers of human caused climate change.

The world of skiing is a microcosm of the larger world. I am one of those fortunate enough to have spent my life in this privileged, tiny, dependent on snow sphere. My gratitude for a life in skiing includes some awareness that all things are connected, no matter how large or small one’s world of experience and attention, and that each of us are responsible for how the world is faring. That is, our actions and thoughts matter.

Snow is the literal foundation of skiing and, as reservoir for the waters of spring and summer, the foundation of much larger spheres of life than are found in the corporate properties and offices of Vail Resorts, Jackson Hole, Mammoth Mountain, Squaw Valley, Sugarloaf and others. Human caused climate change is and has been and will continue to decimate the world’s environment and ecology, including the foundation of the world of skiing. It is a crisis of unprecedented danger to all life on Earth, and its menace will be immeasurably compounded for our children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren.

Skiers and other human beings who attempt to deny human caused climate change are absurd and shameful, and their futile attempts to deny reality are based on stupidity, ignorance or purposeful ignorance. Stupidity can sometimes be alleviated by experience. Ignorance can be cured by well-intentioned and thorough education. Purposeful ignorance—which afflicts those who are neither stupid nor ignorant but whose compassion, personal ethics and morality have been stunted and deformed into deception by greed, ideology, laziness or the illusion of disconnection from all things not serving their self-interest—can be coaxed into reality by honest, courageous journalism.

Thank you, Porter Fox and Powder Magazine, for being the first major skiing writer and publication to address this issue and shine some light on the dark deniers. Don’t stop now.

Sincerely,

Dick Dorworth

THE PURPOSE OF PLACE

“To be rooted is perhaps the most important but least understood need of the human soul.”
Simone Weil

“Of all the memberships we identify ourselves by (racial, ethnic, sexual, national, class, age, religious, occupational), the one that is most forgotten, and has the greatest potential for healing, is place. We must learn to know, love and join our place even more than we love our own ideas. People who can agree that they share a commitment to the landscape/cityscape—even if they are otherwise locked in struggle with each other—have at least one deep thing to share.”
Gary Snyder

I have an old friend, now in his 80s, who has lived since he was a child on the same piece of land in a beautiful valley of a western state framed by mountains. I once wrote a letter of congratulations to him “For remaining rooted in place….There are few people in our culture who have this sort of good fortune, and having such deep roots has allowed you to grow in certainty from young agile boy with a smile looking for the next adventure to old, bionic-kneed man with a smile looking for the next adventure.” During the years from childhood when his home was nearly 10 miles outside town to the raising of his children to playing with his grandchildren that town has grown and surrounded and made a cityscape of the landscape of his youth. Still, his sense of place has allowed him to keep his priorities in order, his integrity intact and his sense of humor in operating shape. He has retired from a teaching career and has a sufficient but not extravagant lifestyle, and when a real estate developer offered him $14 million dollars for his property he turned it down. My friend said to me, “What would I do with $14 million? Move to Sun Valley and buy a condo? I like it here. I always have. This is my place.”
My friend’s wisdom is both informative and inspiring, as are Weil’s and Snyder’s.
A person rooted in place has a different experience and understanding of that place and thereby the larger world than one who is passing through to make the next step on the ladder of upward mobility, looking to crash as gently as possible after falling off that ladder, moving to the next job, following the restlessness of disaffection to the next layover or being pushed off place by rising prices. Place as used here is not to be confused with property and it need not be a particular dwelling or tiny or humongous parcel of land within either landscape or cityscape. Roberta McKercher’s place was Hailey, Idaho in the home where Ezra Pound was born. Mary Jane Conger’s is Ketchum, Idaho where her family has lived for three generations. John Muir’s was the Sierra Nevada. Another old friend, writer/photographer Peter Miller’s is Colbyville, Vermont. Jane Goodall’s is Tanzania. Han Shan’s was Cold Mountain. The Dalai Lama’s is the Potala, which he has not seen since 1959. And Gary Snyder wrote of his place, “I set up my library and wrote poems and essays by lantern light, then went out periodically, lecturing and teaching around the country. I thought of my home as a well-concealed base camp from which I raided university treasuries. We named our place Kitkitdizze after the aromatic little shrub.” There are those who are only at home and at peace with themselves (and committed and attuned to place) in the mountains, others on the sea and still others upon the rivers that connect them. For Wilfred Thesiger it was the southern Arabian Desert. In the late 1940s he was one of the first Europeans to even see what was then known as the Empty Quarter, and he titled the book he wrote about his experiences and sense of the place “Arabian Sands.” One description of Thesiger’s work reads, “It is a book of touches, little things—why the Bedouin will never predict the weather (“since to do so would be to claim knowledge that belongs to God”), how they know when the rabbit is in its hole and can be caught. It is written with great respect for these people and with an understanding that acknowledges its limits. With humility.  Fail the humility test, and the desert will surely kill you.” Today the Empty Quarter is filled with oil wells, Land Rovers and people passing through with a notable lack of sense of place or humility.

It might be said, Fail the humility test of sense of place, whether the place be a plot of land, a river, mountain, sea or neighborhood and it will surely kill at the very least some essential part of the soul.
If you have a sense of place, treat it with respect. If you don’t, start looking.

WIND RIVER UNIVERSE

“When we try to pick out anything by itself, we find it hitched to everything else in the Universe.”

John Muir

 

Those oft-quoted but not often enough pondered words of John of the Mountains come to mind when I think about the Wind River Range of Wyoming. Every Winds climber experiences those qualities and all are altered by them in subtle and significant ways. Whether they take a 40 mile roundtrip trailhead to trailhead one day ascent of Gannett Peak or free the North Face of Mt. Hooker in a day, the experience transforms them differently‑‑but no more momentously‑‑than less ambitious endeavors like the Northeast Face of Pingora or the North Face of Haystack Mountain.

The Winds have everything climbers and other humans could ask of a mountain range, and each visit leaves us more complete. The unique character of the range includes 40 granite peaks above 13,000 feet, alpine forests, 7 of the 10 largest glaciers in the lower 48, more than 2000 lakes‑‑and a serrated topography that even Joe Kelsey, the John Muir of the Winds, hasn’t fully explored. On a clear day, the surface of Lonesome Lake reflects the sweeping silver walls of the Cirque of Towers, a glacial polished mirror to the climber who cares (dares?) to gaze into the reality that rock is more durable than but not immune to the transitory human touch and take that reflection back to the larger world.

 

My first and favorite Wind River outing in 1972 gave me a transformative personal experience guiding a woman named Elizabeth who had escaped the Nazis by crossing the Pyrenees in World War II and who taught me a new dimension of all we mean by the word ‘freedom,’ and one of my best climbs with a then new and now old friend and climbing partner Sibylle Hechtel. A third gift of that trip was a dream I had one night camped by Lonesome Lake in the Cirque of Towers. I turned the dream into fiction as vision or hallucination (but it was a dream, honest) in a short story titled “Medicine,” previously published in Mountain Gazette:

He lay exhausted in the afternoon sun, his eyes resting on the great, broken east face of Warrior Peak. His vision moved slowly along the large vertical crack systems and intersecting, diagonal lines. One detached slab near the top of the face seemed like it would fall any instant, it could not last another winter and spring thaw. He imagined sitting in that spot for thousands of years, long enough to watch Warrior crash apart, piece by piece, until nothing remained but a mound of rock that once was a mountain. He pictured Warrior as it would eventually be, a rubble heap of broken rock, continuously reducing itself into smaller and smaller particles. Even mountains are returned to the sea.

When he superimposed this image over that which his eyes saw as the east face of Warrior, a strange thing happened. He saw a zigzag pattern of unbroken movement flowing up the fractures of the face. He perceived an endless mass of people jammed together on the same path. Some were carrying big loads on their backs, others in their hands; some carried nothing while others had carts drawn by animals‑‑men, women and children, all struggling to progress. The pathway of people moved like a river, a flowing stream of light comprising all mankind, every man and woman carrying their own loads up the same strenuous path, together. He watched it a long time, filled with compassion.

It slowly began to change from movement to form, like the creation of understanding itself. That which was flowing up a steep, winding path formed itself into a human hand, a fine, beautifully formed hand, palm up, with long, graceful fingers extended and together, thumb relaxed and not quite touching the first finger. It was the hand of man and everything he had ever seen and known and touched and loved and felt and cared about was in that hand. As soon as he understood this all that remained before his vision was the East Face of Warrior.


I took the gift of that dream back to the larger world as reminder of something we all know but fail to ponder with enough effort and focus: that the hand of every human holds the earth within it and the hand of every climber brings and then leaves more than new climbing routes, slings, bolts and other manufactured protection. On any busy summer day, at what I once referred to but no longer can as ‘pristine’ Lonesome Lake it is not unusual to find two or three dozen campers, not all of them climbers. What they (we) leave depends on their (our) level of consciousness of being hitched to everything in the universe, including unpacked out shit and toilet paper buried or not, carelessly or uncaringly abandoned garbage, campfire ash from easily gathered wood that will no longer be available to rejuvenate local soil, the impact of millions of footsteps trampling vegetation and making hardpan of porous soil on and off the trails.

When I first wandered the Winds climbers and other visitors were still few, and winter erased most signs of their passing. Within the span of a human life 45 years is huge, but in the time that is hitched to everything else it is miniscule. Today the snow pack melts 16 days earlier than it did in 1972 and it will continue to vanish earlier and earlier each year. The environmental integrity of every mountain range is degrading with as yet unknown consequences as a result of human overpopulation, overproduction and overconsumption fueling the rising temperatures of Earth. Some countries and peoples are suffering the violence of climate change more than others. America drives those changes more than most nations and so far suffers less, but eventually the ecological degradation will visit all countries and all peoples.

I cannot imagine how climbing standards will accelerate in the next 45 years but assume they will keep pace with the increasing velocity of environmental squalor and unwelcome change that will meet climbers when they enter the Winds and that will accost them again as they exit back into that larger world. What I like to think about is that any solution to the man made global warming crisis that affects everything to which we are all hitched is in the hands of humans. The approach to climbing as pilgrimage. Environmental activism as a mission. Improving lives through living our own lives in a sustainable manner. Educating the ignorant about retreating glaciers and melting snow and encouraging simplicity as a (partial) solution. I think the holy Wind River Range which has given us so much would be honored, grateful, relieved and reciprocal to such a hand from its climbers.

Don’t you?

 

BACK TO THE BASICS IN THE BACKCOUNTRY

The number of skiers and snowboarders who climb up on their own power in order to slide down snow covered backcountry slopes has grown significantly in recent years. Many of these climbing skiers/boarders also ride ski lifts and slide down groomed runs some of the time and others haven’t ridden a lift in years. A few have never been on a lift. This cultural/athletic phenomenon is as evident in the Wood River Valley as in the rest of the skiing world, and the reasons for this are varied and personal. One oft quoted explication came from Pepi Stiegler, Olympic gold and silver medal winner in alpine skiing who directed the Jackson Hole alpine ski school for many years. When asked why he and other alpine skiers are spending more and more time in the backcountry, he replied, “It’s like it was in the beginning. It’s pure. Skiing in the backcountry is like going home.”
Other motivations include economic (lift tickets are expensive), a search for solitude or at least quietude, the physical benefits of a good workout and the mental/emotional profits of a day away from the madding crowd(s) in a pristine environment. Going home, at least to those for whom skiing has been a foundation for rich, rewarding, healthful lives, is a return to the basics in much the same spirit as eating the fare from your own home grown organic garden. It costs less money and more effort to grow, but the results are healthier for body and mind than the less arduous and more expensive alternatives.
For several reasons beyond the scope of this writing there is more terrain easily accessible to Idaho’s Wood River Valley backcountry skiers/boarders and fewer people using it than in any other major ski area in western America. As a result the local backcountry skiing/board scene is relatively quiet, both in the hills and in the bars. In contrast, on a busy weekend the backcountry chaos on Teton Pass between Victor, Idaho and Wilson, Wyoming will see hundreds of people, feuds and dented fenders over the limited parking, lines of climbers on the way up and few lines left after 10 a.m. on the way down and recognizable as home only to those from very large families. Even the social media obsession of the Go Pro/Facebook generation has not (so far) brought such attention and congestion to the vast backcountry terrain surrounding the Wood River Valley.
Some (not all) zealous purists among local backcountry regulars can be tight-lipped about their favorite lines and peaks and how to get there, considering those of a more communicative nature déclassé. Such zealous purity inspires words not usually printed here to describe those who use helicopters to access their favorite backcountry lines, though, in truth, some of those same puritans have been known to use snowmobiles to cross the long, arduous and monotonous flats to approach those same lines.
Still, the word gets out about the best, most easily accessed backcountry areas, and anyone with enough interest in local backcountry pursuits to acquire the proper equipment, attire, attitude and energy to return to the basics will quickly discover enough skiing/boarding in the Wood River Valley to last a lifetime.
After all, it’s like going home and is where I live in winter.
 

KIM SCHMITZ

The first noble truth of Buddhism is that life is suffering. By that measure, as well as others less agonizing — including high adventure, the burning fires of passion as well as the healing waters of compassion, humility, kindness and seeking Kim Schmitz, a longtime Buddhist, lived life to its limits and, sometimes, a bit over.

Schmitz, who was born June 26, 1946, in Oakland, California and died September 19, 2016 in northern Idaho spent most of his early life in Portland, Oregon.

He was one of the finest climbers in history. After graduating from Lincoln High School he spent a couple of semesters at the University of Oregon in Eugene. But though he was a voracious reader with a keen intellect and curiosity about the world, classrooms and academia were too confining for Kim Schmitz. He lived to climb and ski in the classic tradition of mountaineers for whom mountains are the defining relationship of their lives.

By the time he was a teenager he had climbed Canada’s Mount Robson and Mount Waddington and gained a reputation for first ascents on some of the hardest technical climbing routes of the Northwest. He climbed a lot at Smith Rocks in Oregon.

“Without rival, Kim Schmitz emerged as the top all-around Smith climber during the first half of the ’60s,” guidebook author Alan Watts opined,

Schmitz and climbing partner Jim Madsen arrived in Yosemite in the mid ’60s and quickly raised the local standards of the valley’s big wall and hard free climbing. Schmitz never lived full time in the Northwest again, spending his summers climbing in Yosemite and winters working as a ski patrolman in Squaw Valley. After his friend Madsen was killed rappelling off the end of his rope on El Capitan in October 1968, Schmitz teamed up with Yosemite climbing icon Jim Bridwell and, among many other things, pioneered new routes on both El Capitan and Half Dome.

By the 1970s Schmitz was climbing and skiing in Asia. His 1977 first ascent of Pakistan’s 20,623-foot Great Trango Tower in the Karakoram range, a 4,300-foot wall, was the first big wall, hard technical climb in a high-altitude alpine setting and became know as “the biggest big wall.” In 1979 Schmitz returned to the Karakorum to be the first to climb 20,043-foot Uli Biaho Tower, 34 pitches of difficult technical climbing that took 12 days and became the first Grade VII climb in the world.

In 1980 Kim joined trip organizer Galen Rowell, Ned Gillette and Dan Asay for a nearly 300-mile ski tour called the American Karakoram Traverse Expedition across northern Pakistan. The trip started March 27 and ended May 8, and each man’s pack weighed approximately 120 pounds. Toward the end of the tour food ran low, their energies followed, and their pace had slowed from 4 miles an hour to 4 miles a day. Schmitz devised a solution that Rowell described in a fine essay about the trip: “Kim was our medical officer. Although not a doctor, he had a strongly developed historical sense of medication for mountaineering. He knew of a drug that had been developed precisely for this purpose by native people who found it necessary to carry tremendous loads at high elevations with low caloric intakes. Small amounts of this extract from a South American leaf were at one time the main active ingredient of the most successful multinational soft drink until the potential for abuse made it illegal. Propitiously, Kim had been able to purchase an ounce of this material at the Khyber Pass to add to our medical kit.”

In October of that year Schmitz was part of an American expedition to 24,790-foot Minya Konka, the tallest mountain in China’s Sichuan Province. High on the mountain Schmitz was roped up with Yvon Chouinard, Rick Ridgeway and Jonathan Wright when an avalanche took them on a 2,000-vertical-foot ride. The accident killed Wright, broke Schmitz’s back and some ribs and pummeled Chouinard and Ridgeway without seriously injuring them. The broken back was the beginning of the decline of Schmitz’s climbing career.

By then Schmitz was a Jackson Hole resident for much of the year, making his living guiding for Exum Mountain Guides, skiing in winter and climbing as much and wherever possible. Al Read, longtime owner and president of Exum and leader of the Minya Konka expedition, who invited Schmitz to work for Exum, knew him for most of his life and recalls him as “an imposing species of human who was intimidating because of his goodness, his physical presence and his unbelievable strength and skill in the mountains. Just knowing Kim made me a better man.”

On Aug. 4, 1983, while guiding a client on the Jensen Ridge of Symmetry Spire in the Tetons, Schmitz fell 80 feet, landing feet first on a ledge, shattering both legs in numerous compound fractures and sustaining a major head laceration. It is safe to say that Schmitz never experienced a pain-free moment from that time to the end of his life 33 years later.

“I was amazed on Minya Konka at how strong Kim was climbing at altitude, and then after the avalanche, at how stoic he was,” Chouinard said. “He had to ride a horse off the mountain with a broken back. After his accident on Symmetry Spire I visited him in the hospital. Kim pulled back the covers on his bed to show me his legs. The sight of them caused me to pass out on the spot.”

Schmitz endured numerous major surgeries over the years as a consequence of that fall and, later, intestinal cancer. Those who knew him best considered his return to climbing, guiding, skiing and as normal a life as one can have in constant pain, both miraculous and a testament to his inner strength (and stubbornness) as a human being.

By the time he got serious about zen practice, he was 44, and his glory days as a climber had ended. His leg injuries made it impossible to sit either cross-legged or kneeling, but he didn’t want to get up on a chair, so he usually did zazen with both legs straight out in front of him.

In the early ’90s Schmitz joined Jack Turner, Thekla von Hagke, Jeff Foott, Susan Stone, Rod Dornan and others in the Jackson Hole community in founding the Cold Mountain Zendo.

Schmitz’s life and his practice were complicated by repeated health challenges: numerous hospitalizations and surgeries, ongoing pain, recurring abuse of alcohol and painkillers, DUI convictions and incarceration and losing his job at Exum. The loss of his job also meant financial problems and forfeiting his place in the world literally (his cabin) and figuratively (his identity as a climbing guide).

Schmitz was preceded in death by his father, Alfred “Alla,” who immigrated to the U.S. from Germany in 1929 and was himself a climber and outdoorsman and a leader of Sierra Club and Mountain Travel trips on which he introduced Kim as a boy to his destiny. Kim’s mother, Virginia “Ginny,” and his sister, Dede, also passed before him. He never married and had no immediate family, but he leaves a large extended family of friends and cohorts, none more devoted than Dr. Bruce Hayse, Jim Williams, Andy Carson and Thekla von Hagke.

 

kinds of winter

KINDS OF WINTER
by
Dave Olesen
Wilfrid Laurier University Press
$19.99

Dave Olesen is a thoughtful, articulate adventurer who closely notes the details of an extraordinary existence in which the mundane chores of daily life entail severe consequences for inattention, keeps track of his experiences and observations in journals which he turns into books to share with fortunate readers. His latest book “Kinds of Winter” is, to sum up, beautiful. Olesen lives with his wife and two children, forty three huskies and a ninety year old Danish sailboat on a remote homestead by Great Slave Lake next to the Hoarfrost River in Canada’s Northwest Territories where average winter nighttime temperatures are below -20F and there are five hours of daylight in December. He works as a bush pilot and guide and for 15 years was a competitive dog musher, finishing the grueling Iditarod Trail Sled dog Race eight times. That’s a long way from the small Illinois town where he grew up, but in 1987, armed with B.A. degree in Humanities and Northern Studies, fled to the north to pursue a life that inspired Gary Snyder to write of Olesen: “I salute this man and his passion, and his family for giving him space to explore it. An old Inupiaq Eskimo once said to me as I set out in a canoe on a September river, ‘Don’t have any adventures.’”
But the daily challenges of life at Olesen’s home are a backdrop and nutritious foundation for the kinds of winter he seeks and discovers when he and his teams of sled dogs really do go looking for adventure. He explains it thus: “Once a year for four consecutive winters I hooked up a team of dogs and set out on long trips away from our homeland, traveling toward one of the cardinal points of the compass: south in 2002, east in 2003, north in 2004, and finally west in 2005. Having gone out, I turned home again. It was as simple as that.” Yes, as simple as a man alone with his team of dogs going south for 155 miles, east 380 miles, north 210 miles and west 520 miles through the kinds of winter that keep the Northwest Territories sparsely populated.
The adventure alone makes “Kinds of Winter” worth the read, but Olesen is no chest-thumping conqueror of the extreme compiling a resume of achievement for the reader to admire. Olesen, like his literary/spiritual predecessors Muir, Thoreau, Leopold, Abbey and Snyder is reminding himself and the reader of Muir’s admonition: “Keep close to Nature’s heart…and break clear away, once in awhile, and climb a mountain or spend a week in the woods. Wash your spirit clean.”
Every human being can, with a bit of intentional effort and spirit of adventure, break clear away, once in awhile, and wash the spirit clean. But there are very few who do so who also have the literary skills and discipline combined with the human and environmental insight to realize and write: “Time. It is all nice and fuzzy that: ‘Go out in the wilderness and just let Time flow’ or ‘let Time have no meaning’ stuff, but in traveling between supply caches, or climbing a mountain, or paddling a long river in a short summer, Time takes on fundamental importance—it cannot be ignored. It is the approach of dusk at day’s end, the looming onset of winter in mid-September, the final sack of feed rationed out to a hungry team. Like it or not, folks, the clock is ticking, even ‘way out here’ in la-la land, Today, though, sitting just 75 miles from home, I am long on time. I can rest, and walk, and watch the day go by. Muir and Thoreau would be happy for me.”
We should all be happy for Dave Olesen who has the skills, discipline and insight to make every reader happy he and she took the time from the ticking clock to read “Kinds of Winter.”

GRIZZLY LESSONS FROM PEACOCK

 

Last year a man was killed and partially eaten by a grizzly in Yellowstone. That same year an American dentist, a member of the trophy hunting organization Safari Club International with at least 43 trophy kills including caribou, moose, deer, buffalo, polar bear and mountain lion on his resume, illegally killed a celebrity lion, Cecil, in Zimbabwe

Which inspires more hope for the future of earth, a predator that kills for food or a predator that kills for a trophy on the wall?

When I think of hope, Doug Peacock, author, grizzly bear and bison expert, wild lands activist and character model for Hayduke in Ed Abbey’s novel “The Monkey Wrench Gang,” comes to mind. He went to Southeast Asia in the 1960s a warrior/patriot/true believer ready to fight and kill and die for his country. He accomplished the first two but returned from Viet Nam with no more hope than the tattered remains of a road map to Montana, “to remind him of both beloved country and mythical place,” in the words of Jack Turner. Peacock went into the wilderness alone because he loved the place and was guided by its myth. He found hope (and healing) by living for long periods in close proximity to grizzly bears. Peacock lived his hope. In his book “Grizzly Years” he describes it in terms of power and mystery when he encounters a grizzly in the woods and chooses not to shoot the bear:

“I peered down the gun barrel into the dull red eyes of the huge grizzly. He gnashed his jaws and lowered his ears. The hair on his hump stood up. We stared at each other for what might have been seconds but felt like hours. I knew once again that I was not going to pull the trigger. My shooting days were over. I lowered the pistol. The giant bear flicked his ears and looked off to the side. I took a step backwards and turned my head toward the trees. I felt something pass between us. The grizzly slowly turned away from me with grace and dignity and swung into the timber at the end of the meadow…I felt my life had been touched by enormous power and mystery.”

Those are breathtaking words. There is more raw beauty and hope for planet earth in the relationship and moment they describe than, say, in photographs of the birth of galaxies and the death of stars and suns the size of our solar system or, needless to say, in the raving braggadocio of many of the sneering, self-admiring, bunker living cowboys riding the current campaign trail.

Peacock found hope in the courage it took to lower his pistol in the face of a creature above him in the food chain, choosing life over another round of killing. Something passed between the bear and Peacock, and the bear turned away with a noted grace and dignity as powerful and mysterious as Peacock’s courage of hope. The bear was an active participant. It is neither unreasonable nor difficult to imagine the bear conscious of and changed by the passing. What was exchanged between the man and the bear is encompassed by the living meaning of the word “hope.”

 

 

AN EARLY ADVENTURE

“If a man walks in the woods for love of them half of each day, he is in danger of being regarded as a loafer. But if he spends his days as a speculator, shearing off those woods and making the earth bald before her time, he is deemed an industrious and enterprising citizen.”

Henry David Thoreau

 

Like every adult, I have come to realize that certain of my childhood experiences changed everything and defined and directed all that followed. I had the astonishing good fortune to grow up in the mountains surrounding Lake Tahoe in a time that the perspective of age sees as idyllic and that from any perspective was simpler for children and adults alike. Because my parents worked long hours in the Tahoe tourist summer season, I was largely unsupervised for three months a year. Some might (and did) consider such parenting as ‘benign neglect,’ but I think of it as an invaluable gift.

While the concept of “adventure” was unknown to a young boy, the impetus to explore, to follow curiosity, to reach and see beyond the edge of the familiar and acceptable is innate, though such stimulus is sometimes threatening to and feared by the cautious, invested and powerful, and it can be both trained and bludgeoned into conformity, incuriosity and blind faith. One summer day in 1950 or, perhaps, 1951 my buddy John Robinson and I had a day in the mountains that changed something‑‑perspective, scale, possibility or maybe direction‑‑inside. I knew it then and remember it now, and I never see that area of the Sierra without smiling.

The day stays in mind because it was the biggest of its kind in that pre-teenage Tahoe time when summer rules and parental supervision started and ended with the admonition to be home for dinner. Whether it was trust and confidence in our basic instincts and capabilities or uncaring neglect of the duties of parenthood, the children of Tahoe in the post WWII era had a lot of latitude and a great deal of personal freedom, many years before I knew the difference between Mahatma Gandhi’s practicality‑‑“The greater our innocence, the greater our strength and the swifter our victory.”, and William Blake’s spirituality, “To see the world in a grain of sand, And heaven in a wild flower: Hold infinity in the palm of your hand, And eternity in an hour.”

My folks probably thought I’d gone to the beach the day John and I headed to what we called Eagle Rock, a remote, romantic, mysterious outcrop visible high above and to the northeast of Kingsbury Grade, which went over the Sierra to Genoa, Nevada’s first community. It seemed unreachable until we decided to reach it, and then it became a huge goal that gladdened our hearts from the moment we embarked. I was 11 or 12, John a year older, when we set off from south shore along Highway 50 and up the narrow dirt road of Kingsbury, filled with our quest and the self-sufficient knowledge, even glee, that no one in the world knew where we were or what was our goal. After a couple of hours we veered off Kingsbury into unknown terrain of pine, fir, aspen and manzanita, the evergreen shrub, sprouting out of the sandy soil of the great Sierra Nevada under a clear mountain sky. We were guided by a general sense of direction and the pure joy of going where we had never gone before, secure in the knowledge that even as we plodded up, always up, with fatigue taking its toll on body and motivation, turning around and going down would eventually get us back to Tahoe, the familiar, home, dinner.

My friend John was big for his age, strong, athletic and a fine skier. We encouraged each other to continue in those times when we could see neither Eagle Rock nor Tahoe and the dominant constants were the upward slope, the downward slide of our energies, our companionship and that ineffable something that had started us in the first place. We went on for hours and then late in the day we gained the ridge and scrambled up Eagle Rock on top of our world, the backyard of my childhood, the Sierra Nevada. To the east lay the Carson Valley and the high desert mountains of Nevada. To the west was the Tahoe Basin holding the Lake of the Sky, nature’s own bassinette, and being on and looking around from the summit of Eagle Rock was the most exciting and wonderful thing I had ever done. We went back down and I made it home for dinner and I never told my parents where we had gone. After that day I always knew solace and meaning were mine for the taking, always there to be explored and experienced in my own backyard, just one step away from the highways and byways of civilization, no matter where I may be. It would be many years before I discovered in the writings of Muir, Thoreau, Abbey and others that I was a member of a tribe, not a hermit of the spirit.

UNINTENDED CONSEQUENCES

Everyday, everywhere, everyone is affected by “The Law of Unintended Consequences” which the cynical term “Murphy’s Law.” In many cases previously invisible consequences are more aptly termed “ignored” than unintended, and “law” implies a certainty about human understanding of the nature of things that carries its own unintended (ignored) consequences.
In our nation nearly three percent of scientists and approximately half the population discount the findings of the ninety-seven percent of educated, concerned scientists who agree on causes, consequences and crises of human caused global warming (also known as anthropogenic climate disruption) and their unintended (ignored) consequences. The willful ignorance of the discounters, popularly known as ‘deniers,’ gives Murphy a bad name.
Like all human dynamics, unintended consequences are as old as human history, but the term was popularized by Robert Merton, a professor at Columbia University and the founder of the sociology of science. Merton also coined the terms “role model” and “self-fulfilling prophesy.” The term grew out of Merton’s 1936 paper “The Unanticipated Consequences of Purposive Social Acton” in which he emphasizes that “purposive action…is exclusively concerned with ‘conduct’ as distinct from ‘behavior.’ That is, with action that involves motives and consequently a choice between various alternatives.” He pointed out that action is not always based on reason and that motive affects rationality. The motives driving human caused global warming deniers are clear—the comfort and convenience of the most powerful sectors of modern civilization at the expense, among other components of the web of life, of the less developed nations of the world and the future of all the people of the world, including your and my grandchildren. ‘Irrational’ is a polite term to describe such thinking and the motives that allow it, whether expressed by disgraced ex-politicos like Dick Cheney, those still in the game like Senators James Inofe of Oklahoma and Michael Crapo of Idaho, or the frothy ramblings of media meteorites like Rush Limbaugh, Glenn Beck and Sean Hannity or asteroids like Sarah Palin. Neither they nor you nor I will miss out on the unintended (ignored) consequences they so blithely deny.
Unintended consequences come in many forms, a few of them beneficial. The two and a half mile wide demilitarized zone between North and South Korea was put in place in 1953 at the end of the Korean War. Despite its name it is the most heavily militarized border on earth. Because humans do not inhabit the zone it has become one of the richest, most diverse natural habitats in the world, home to several endangered and rare animal and plant species and an environmental/ecological haven.
Most unintended consequences are more like the ones from Idaho’s four Lower Snake River Dams built in the 1950s to supply irrigation, hydropower and navigation from Lewiston to the Columbia River. Today they supply little of either, cost taxpayers millions of dollars every year, and have decimated the salmon and steelhead populations of Idaho and turned the once lovely Snake River into a fetid canal.

 

AMIE ENGERBRETSON: More than a pretty face

 

Like every avid (addicted?) skier past a certain age, I am impressed, awed, mind-boggled, inspired, sometimes alarmed and always intrigued by the exploits, standards of skill and commitment and thin lines of error in the lives of today’s best skiers. (Note: not the best ski racers, a separate category.) Their lifestyle has evolved into a media savvy/GoPro/self-promotion culture whose members ski outrageous lines down unskiable mountain faces with a few unbelievable inverted aerials thrown (sic) in to keep the incomprehensible interesting. I don’t speak for all skiers past a certain age, but evolution of a lifestyle is fascinating—even if you not entirely facetiously refer to yourself within that culture as a dinosaur.

Last week this old ski dinosaur had the pleasure of coffee and conversation with one of today’s high profile professional skiers with sufficient sponsors to support her passion for skiing and its traveling demands in comfortable style. Amie Engerbretson is 28, began skiing at 3 in Squaw Valley and is pretty with a smile to melt glaciers. Her intelligence and demeanor of satisfaction and joy in the life she has chosen are obvious. We had never met, but I coached Amie’s mother, Nancy O’Connell, when she was a young ski racer in Squaw more than 35 years ago and knew Amie as one of those inspiring, mind-boggling skier/athletes who has made visible the continuous evolution of skiing and, thereby, skiers.

An hour with Amie eased my alarm and increased my respect and appreciation of the modern culture that skis so well along those thin lines of error. What we see in magazines and film is the edited version of considered thought, the judgment of experience, the skill of training and the on-going process of learning from mistakes. I’ve long maintained that skiing is a metaphor for life, and Amie was a reminder that life both on skis and off is a continuum. It is worth contemplating that the under 30 generation is expanding the limits of the possible, nourishing the culture with vision, hope and passion and are the group of eligible voters least likely to vote for Dinosaur Don the Trumpster.

On her website amieski.com she writes in a blog post titled ‘Free Spirit or Homeless…, “My only master is Mother Nature and I am free to make moves completely at the whim of the NOAA forecast.” In another, ‘Blind Spot,’ she and an entire film crew overlooked the obvious and she was completely buried in an avalanche that could have easily killed her. “I knew that the accident report was going to be one that if I had read it about someone else I would have thought, ‘Wow. Those guys were idiots.’… I realized that I had just been a primary witness to the most dangerous aspect of backcountry travel—the human factor… I have always thought I was too smart to make that mistake, but I did. At some point we all have. I am truly grateful that the situation was not worse. Most importantly, I am grateful that this can be a wake up and a lesson in humility for me, and everyone like me, to stay smart, not forget to use our brains and to always check our blind spots.

The first words on her website are: “Amie Engerbretson is more than a pretty face.”