I recently sent this letter to my daughter, Kristen, of adventures and unexpected lessons from the observatory.
Mounting the beast (Celestron C-14)
I had an experience this week that is sticking with me as a terrific little metaphor. I am the student. The thing has cast a spell. I am pondering how to take in the message.
Last Friday Kirsten [my wife] went to NYC to the annual Torrey House distributor conference and to see her dad and sister. While she was gone I scooted down to Torrey to see if I could install one of my dad’s telescopes in the observatory, one that I had not used before. It is his most powerful scope and it is a big beast. I didn’t know if I would even be able to lift it up to the mount, slightly over my head, into its dovetail fitting. I could have used help, but Torrey is far away and I have already imposed on a willing neighbor there too much. I put on some old work gloves. I hefted the thing up, got the dovetail started, but then it jammed. Before my muscles gave out I set the scope back down and waited a while. The gloves left incongruous dust prints on the pristine instrument. Throughout the day I tried 7 more times and went to bed that night thinking I should lift weights more. I thought about it and the next morning tried a new angle. On the second try I finally got it. I sat down to marvel at myself while I gave the mount the command to move to its home position. As it did so I laughed as I realized I had put the beast on upside down.
Here in the West it is cowboys and Indians again. Or still. I believe the battle will soon turn against the cowboys.
Cliven Bundy and his deadbeat cowboy clan remain free, still owing the United States over $1 million in federal conviction fines and grazing fees, and still illegally trespassing their cows on desiccated public land. Trump came to Utah in December and signed away some two million acres of national monuments, the largest rollback of federal land protection in the nation’s history. Utah has lost the lucrative Outdoor Retailer convention. As our politicians disgracefully cheer, Gallup reports that 61% of Mormons approved of Trump in 2017.
Republican, and Mormon, land grabbers smugly celebrate breaking another promise to American Indians. Salt Lake City, Utah, December 4, 2017
2017 was a rough year for our beautiful, fragile, public lands in Utah. I look at the image above and all I can see is Utah’s Republican politicians celebrating a gang rape led by the pussy grabber in chief. I am with the Salt Lake Tribunethat the image is of Utah at its ugly worst as these quislings celebrate kicking American Indians in the teeth and sucker punching the rest of America. All in the name of . . . what exactly? Continue reading →
I keep telling myself to spend more time reading the stack of print magazines I subscribe to and to spend less time online. So on a trip this week to Seattle (destination Whidby Island) I grabbed an Economist, Harper’s and The Atlantic Magazine for the plane. I like Harper’s in particular because of the longevity of the “Easy Chair” column. The West’s Bernard DeVoto first wrote in the “Easy Chair” in 1935 about many of the same issues that remain today, like ranchers and other businesses trying to take and use up public land. In the August issue writer Richard Manning has an optimistic essay (here) that the political fortunes of environmentalists are already on the rise. In this seemingly dark hour of losses on many conservation fronts, I recommend reading it.
The public lands of Mt. Rainier, seen from the plane.
One would be excused if while traveling across the vast open spaces of the West, crisscrossed with barbed wire and with cows everywhere, one concluded that ranching and farming were a big part of the economy. They are not. Continue reading →
Earlier this week Kirsten and I were on our way from Cooke City, MT to Red Lodge via the incomparable Bear Tooth highway. A cold front had come through several days before and clouds were still hanging low and cold over the peaks. For two days, in the second week in June, the just opened high mountain road was closed again for blowing snow and ice.
Sudden drop from the top
I was in line waiting to use a Forest Service restroom when I asked a woman waiting in line with me if she had come from over the summit. With abundant animation she replied in the affirmative. “I am from Manitoba where it is so flat you can watch your dog run away from home for three days,” she said. “I know flat and let me tell you, this place is NOT flat! Add to that you can’t see twenty feet in the fog up there and I mean it when I tell you I need to use a rest room.” Continue reading →
No sooner had the Bears Ears National Monument been proclaimed than local Utah politicians launched a concerted effort to undo it. Kirsten Allen and her gang at Torrey House Press have gone to great lengths to help support the making of the Monument and may indeed have played a role in its creation by the President Obama and the Department of the Interior. They created and published Red Rock Testimonyand took hundreds of copies to Washington D.C. They simultaneously came out withEdge of Morning,a book of all Native voices in support of the Bears Ears. These are very nice people, why would they promote an outcome that local people don’t want? Continue reading →
Last August I received a call from my 83 year old mother. “Your father wants to speak with you,” she told me. It is like that with Dad and me, not a lot of direct communication. I told Mom I would come over the next day after dinner. When the time came I was surprised to see my wife, Kirsten, grab her purse and head for the door with me. My father has a reputation for being difficult and there are rarely volunteers to join me in seeing him. Dad is in his mid-eighties and as his oldest offspring I am to be the executor of his will. I thought he might want to talk about some details or arrangements, but when we all sat down around the table together, including Kirsten and Mom, he asked me if I wanted his observatory. I thought he was asking if I coveted his belongings, which I surely do not. But in my own advancing years I may have gained adequate wisdom so that when Kirsten kicked me under the table I ceased my objections and turned to see her silently mouth, eyebrows raised, “This is an honor.”
Dad at his Alpenglow Observatory in Salt Lake City, August 2016
The other day I was compared to and quoted on the same page as Yvon Chouinard and Peter Metcalf. Chouinard has never heard of me and Metcalf might have to be reminded, but I will take it as my moment of greatness anyway. I guy now from Monticello, from Moab before that, and perhaps New Jersey originally, got worked up about a comment I made about not wanting a gravel pit in Torrey-Teasdale on a Facebook post of his and he dedicated an article on me (and Yvon and Peter) in a faux objective, compulsively contrarian piece. The unhappy guy refers to himself as a journalist and considered reporting about me his duty. So as not to seem too flattered by the attention, I admit he comes across more as a committed victim than he does as an objective journalist.
12/30/2016. The country is in a deep kind of trouble that requires a response from every thinking citizen. For the sake of my posterity I am jotting down my personal plan.
We have a Republican president-elect who is unfit to serve. I don’t say this just because my candidate lost in a normal election. I do not feel about Trump like I felt about George W. Bush. Certainly I do not feel about Trump like I felt about Romney. In fact, I have thought that it would have been better if Romney had won in 2012 so that white backlash would not have produced Trump. I proudly voted for Hillary Clinton in 2016, the most qualified person to ever run for the office. That we would be electing a woman after electing a black man amazed me, and I was thrilled at my country’s ability to continue to mature and progress socially. But instead of electing the most qualified person possible, we elected the least. Misogyny, bigotry, and racism are constantly espoused by Trump, ripped out from our darkest closets and made to seem as acceptable. Ignorance and intolerance are praised. An anti-intellectual, anti-science, anti-environment cabinet is being put in place. The GOP, drunk on the prospects of unlimited power, continues to put party before country and will not provide check and balance.
I was so smitten by the red rock canyons and high country of the central Colorado Plateau that in the late 1990’s I built a home there near Torrey, Utah. With the house underway and drawn to the landscape around it, I went for day hike on nearby Boulder Mountain. I hoped to spend a little time writing near Meeks Lake which I anticipated would be a pristine natural alpine lake perched on 11,000 foot high Boulder top. On the way up the mountain I noticed there were a lot of cows and that the grass was hammered everywhere. I hiked around barbed wire fences and cattle guards, all on U.S. National Forest lands. I was surprised that there were always cows on both sides of the cattle guards and that livestock gates were always open. When I arrived at the lake I found it inundated by cows. It looked and smelled like a stockyard. Continue reading →