Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Hearing Voices

Actually, one voice. Here's the scoop. This morning as I was walking to the bus stop, I listened to President Obama's inaugural address on my iPod (I was in class at the time last week and had never gotten around to listening to the audio). I'll spare you my commentary on the speech, but, to be succinct, I found it inspiring and hopeful, if a bit wonky.

After I got to the bus, I turned to my daily scripture study (I read a few chapters from my PDA on the commute to work each day--now I just need a good system to consistently study over the weekend and on break). But having listened to the President's particular cadences and intonations, drawn as they are from a rich rhetorical tradition (think Martin Luther King and the oratory style of the black church), I found myself hearing 2 Nephi chapter 2 in Barack Obama's voice, complete with his characteristic pauses and inflections. And it worked pretty well. The literary style of that chapter in particular--and Lehi's words in general--fit the kind of patterns used by our new President in his speeches.

So now I'm just waiting for the audio recording of Barack Obama reading the whole Book of Mormon. Should I make that suggestion at the new and improved White House web site? Or do Mormons for Obama have that in their business plan already?

Saturday, January 24, 2009

Good Eats

This entry has two themes. First, some good eats in our home this past week. On Wednesday I came home and encountered an unexpected aroma. It was blueberry pie, made from scratch that day by Summer using some blueberries she bought at the store a few days earlier. The berries were nearing their end that day, so my provident wife made use and made a great bit of pie.

Then yesterday, in celebration of National Pie Day, she made a cherry pie (canned berries and a store-bought crust this time, but it was a busy day). With some vanilla bean ice cream, it has made a yummy treat. Few things in life are as good as homemade pie.

Next, I'm still plugging away at Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, and it's--no pun intended--growing on me. As the memoir progresses, Kingsolver seems less pious about her family's experiment and more grateful for the bounty they reap from their labors. the text is at its best when it's personal and narrative instead of didactic and preachy.

Right now it's August in the book and the tomatoes are in full force. July was zucchini season, and both of those chapters have reminded me of the garden Mom & Dad had at the farm house when I was growing up. It was a real blessing to be able to wander out and pick fresh tomatoes and peppers for a stir fry. I hope in 15 years or so I can be half the gardener they are.

In the meantime, with full-on spring not too far off, it's time to think about what to plant. We got some nice tomatoes last year, but the peppers never amounted to anything. In the past we've pulled off pumpkins, squash, zucchini, and cantaloupe. Any suggestions from the readership?

Finally, here are some links from the AVM website:
  • Slow Food, a movement away from processed, frozen, premade food
  • Local Harvest, with information about and links to local growers nationwide
  • Sunstone Herb Farm, a relatively new operation in the South Valley--I'll check it out one of these days

Saturday, January 17, 2009

More on Good Reads

Time for a confession and a repetition of the thing I'm confessing to. In a recent post, I ranted about the book I was reading at the time, Travels in the greater Yellowstone. Here I vented about the author's condescending and seemingly overly simplistic view toward environmentalism and ecology. Well, as it turns out, as the book continues, Turner's views become more nuanced, to the extent that, in the final chapters, he admits to a certain level of hypocrisy, some of which mirrors the critiques I made in my entry. So i came away from the book with a pretty positive impression of Jack Turner, as well as a resolve to not make hasty judgements about books or authors before I have sufficient evidence before me.

Now to forget that resolution entirely...

My new read is Barbara Kingsolver's Animal, Vegetable, Miracle, an account of her family's one-year project to produce their own food and get off the grid, food-wise. Now, I've read a fair amount of Kingsolver's work (I recently read Homeland and found it a good December book, the kind that you can plow through during break without feeling like you're betraying the integrity of being on vacation), and I find her work well-written, if a bit trite and emotionally over the top.

So far AVM meets those expectations. I'm done with chapter 1, in which Kingsolver, her husband, and their two children, move from Tucson to a family farm in Appalachia. The departure is painful, as 25 years in a place you've come to call home will always be, but this is tempered by an awareness that the rapid growth of the Sun Belt over the past 30 years has outpaced the area's natural resources. At times this sounded like the story of ABQ, although, having visited Tucson, I feel that our climate and topography have hedged us in nicely (the city can only grow so far north, south, and east, due to reservation land and mountains), and ABQ's growth has been more intelligent, relatively speaking.

The basic thesis of the book (which Kingsolver has repeated in various forms at least 6 times in 25 pages--I get it, already!) is that our food industry is broken, inefficient, and unsustainable, and I agree with this. Having seen Summer's efforts to eat better over the past few months (I don't even complain when she replaces oil with baby food in homemade bread anymore) trickle down to the rest of us, and having felt better myself as a result, I agree with Kingsolver that we can eat smarter and feel better, all while treating the earth better.

I suppose this is the lesson I hope to learn from this book, that even in our small circumstances, we can grow some foods (the best cantaloupe I ever ate grew on the rocks in our front yard a few summers ago, and last year's tomatoes were amazing) and buy more locally-grown foods. In the meantime, I intend to hunt around on the website for AVM (the book has a 25-page resources and readings list, so I wager the website's pretty informative too) and see if I can learn a thing or two.

Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Pursuing Happiness

I've found some interesting stuff online over the past week or so, and they've gotten me thinking. While there's a lot of despair over economic woe and wars (and rumors of war, to coin a phrase), there seems to be an interesting counter-cultural movement afoot online. Here are some things I've run across of late.

The first is a blog called "1000 Awesome Things." It's been around for a few months, but I just discovered it the other day. The premise is to create a list of 1000 things that bring simple joy into one's life--stuff like "When you’re really tired and about to fall asleep and someone throws a blanket on you," or "The first scoop out of a jar of peanut butter." They're all small things, and, while some of them make me go, "meh," a daily dose of awesomeness is pretty nice.

The second site I found recently is Gretchen Rubin's "The Happiness Project," which has been around for a few years, but which I just found today on its new Slate blog. Rubin's project, part of a book she is working on, is to explore the things that make us happy and identify commonalities among sources of happiness. A bit less concrete than the 100 things blog, and certainly rather academic in tone and nature, this blog gives some interesting insights into happiness.

All of this gets me thinking that it would be fun (and probably good for me) to post my own small pleasures, those little things that I often overlook. Stuff like getting to the bus stop right before the bus pulls up, or when Evan doesn't throw his snack on the floor. Here's to a happier year in 2009!

Tuesday, January 6, 2009

Yellowstone--There's Nothing Greater

When I as growing up in Evanston, Wyoming, my parents would gather us up a few times a year and make the drive north to Yellowstone National Park. We frequently stayed in the Old Faithful Inn, although I also have memories of the Lake Lodge and trips to Mammoth at the north end of the park.

When I was 8, Dad and I got up early one morning and started hiking. We set off around the hot springs of the Old faithful geyser basin, tromped through forests and along streams, and scaled up and down all day. Eight hours and 20 miles later, we met up with Mom and my sisters and went back to the lodging, pleased with an epic day of hiking, one that would leave my young leg aching for weeks to come.

Later, as a teenager after we moved to Pennsylvania, Yellowstone became a central part of any good trip West. I vividly recall sitting on the porch at the Old Faithful Inn, reading and waiting for the next eruption, as the sun slowly set behind me.

A few years ago, when Isaac was a baby, we joined my parents for a trip to Yellowstone. We stayed in the cabins at Canyon and hiked down to the Lower Falls several times. It was my first--and, to date, only--trip to the park as an adult and parent, so my memories are a bit heavy on making sure Ryan didn’t fall into the geysers and braking quickly as bison crossed the road a few feet in front of our Hyundai in Hayden Valley.

I am currently reading Travels in the Greater Yellowstone by the tastefully-named Jack Turner, a series of essays about the ecology and geology of the ecosystem of the Greater Yellowstone area. Turner’s writing is clear and poignant as he reflects on a half-century of hiking, climbing, fishing, and fighting among the mountains, valleys, meadows, forests, rivers, and towns of northwestern Wyoming and southwestern Montana.

At the same time, there is a strangeness to the book, which leaves me with a bitter taste in the back of my mouth. Turner decries--as should any responsible lover of this wild land--the environmental degradation of the Great American West at the hands of unchecked mining and drilling, urban sprawl that reaches even places like Cody and Bozeman, poorly-managed tourism, and global climate change, which he details with the technical knowledge of the scientist and the remembrance of the old-timer who has seen Spring coming earlier and Summer growing warmer.

But that’s not what bothers me. It’s the hypocrisy I find in Turner’s attitude. The argument is, much like it is in Edward Abbey, that wild places need fewer visitors, fewer roads, more solitude and isolation. I agree, but it’s hard to make that claim when you live in a cabin in Jackson Hole and make your living as a mountain guide (i.e. dependent on a certain kind of tourist), as Turner does. I find it hard to say “amen” when the preacher says “Do as I say, not as I do.”

Or, more to the point, the preacher is saying “Here is something wonderful--this soul-enriching wilderness--but it is only for some, those who, by my standards, respect and understand it, who get it.” It’s the same attitude that looks down on middle-class, suburban tourists like the family Turner describes in his chapter on fishing the Firehole River: “While I set up my tent, four kids--my neighbors--stamp on every ant in sight. Their parents are figuring out how to erect their tent, a contraption nearly as large as our cabin. In its present state the tent looks like it was struck by a tornado. After watching me set up my tent--one pole, eight stakes, no floor--they glance hopefully in my direction. I ignore them but decide the kids need a sermon on food-chain dynamics.”

As an often-hapless father of small children whom I wish to expose to wild places, and who at times act irresponsibly once we get there, I’ve gotten those looks (more often at the Rio Grande Nature Center State Park in town when one of the little ones shatters the serenity of a hike by chasing after a roadrunner). And I’ve seen the attitude that Turner embodies here--the condescension of the wilderness-sage-in-his-own-mind who has to share his turf with a less-committed hiker or camper.

(As an aside, this is the real weakness of the environmental movement. Forget “tree hugging;” to me the shortcoming is in the environmentalist who looks at anyone who lives on the grid, shops at Wal-Mart, or uses the Internet regularly as a monolithic mass of resource-wasters and ecosystem-destroyers. It’s a good way to alienate potential allies in a quixotic appeal to absolutism.)

However, I find Turner’s expertise in the land he loves, as well as its flora, fauna, topology, and climate, to be enlightening and intoxicating. He’s also a word nerd; he spends time in a chapter on alpine tundra connection etymologically the words “wonder,” “wander,” and “wild.” And his prose captures the power and mystery, the allure and awe, of a landscape I wish I knew more intimately, one that is rooted in my memory and that I hope to instill in my children’s sense of self.

And, in the end, I find the persona that Turner embodies, for all its flaws, to be intriguing. In a chapter on the reintroduction of wolves into the Greater Yellowstone area (a project that Turner views ambivalently), he describes accompanying a female colleague to a meeting in Dubois with ranchers and hunters who oppose wolf reintroduction. She was nervous, so he comes along: "I left a loaded, sawed-off .12 gauge shotgun in the front seat and walked into the lecture hall armed with a 9 mm semi-automatic , extra magazines, and a snub-nosed .357 magnum in a small of the back holster. Not everyone in the environmental movement is a tree-hugging pacifist." (While I don't like guns, this is Wyoming he's talking about; I do wear sunscreen in New Mexico.) A pretty cool guy, this Turner fellow, all thing considered.