I owe you an apology

Hi! It’s me, Betsy, and boy do I owe you an apology! It has been MONTHS since our last post and I am sorry for the lack of commitment. Our bloggers’ lives have gotten ridiculously busy so it’s been up to me to remain engaged here, and well, obviously I have not done that.

So where have I been? I’ve been tweeting and occasionally posting in Facebook. When I’m not hanging around the social media water cooler I am working on the ReadyCommunity facilitator’s guide (I will share more about this in another post) and center publications.

Today I have been preparing the Call for Abstracts for the May issue of Rural Connections. The topic for this issue is “Local & Regional Food Hubs Boost Rural Economies” and thanks to Jim Barham from USDA-Agricultural Marketing Services, the Call for Abstracts expertly describes food hubs and what we are seeking for this issue.

I will release the Call for Abstracts on Tuesday, Jan. 31 so watch our website, Twitter and Facebook pages for the details. Or join our mailing list and you’ll get the announcement delivered to your Inbox.

So that explains what I’ve been up to in 2012. How about you? What projects have you started or renewed in 2012?

Top Ten Things I Will Miss About my Corner of the West – Installment #2

By Stephanie Malin

Taking up where I left off with Installment #1 of this two-part series (so official sounding!), I’m going to dedicate this blog – one of my last with the WRDC, for now at least – to sharing what I will most miss about the West as I venture to the East Coast for the next two years.  Having adopted the West as my “home region” years ago, I now feel a deep ambivalence about leaving.  I know the move to Brown is an amazing opportunity, a wonderful chance to collect new experiences, and an adventure that must be embraced quickly given its temporary nature.  On the other hand, I’m saying goodbye to a landscape that fills me up, a community I’ve come to think of as home, and a group of people I love.  I tell myself all new opportunities happen when they do for a reason, and I know my husband and I will love our northeast adventure and then find our way back to our “home region” sooner than later.

Without any further (sappy – sorry!) delay, I share below the top five things I will miss about my corner of the West.

5) The Unique Aroma of Logan Canyon:

An odd thing to miss, perhaps.  But I will miss in nonetheless.  This has hit me several times in the last few months, since this decision was made, usually as I would exit Old Main in the evenings and take a deep breath of fresh canyon air.  Utah State University sits in the foothills of the Bear River Mountains, nestled in among the green-to-brown, sometimes blue landscape.  The winds from the canyon occasionally whip onto campus – especially during Logan’s notoriously snowy winters – but most of the time, there is a pleasant, light breeze that wafts into the valley, passing campus on its way.  It’s made its way through Logan Canyon from Bear Lake, brushing over the sage brush, off of glistening Logan River, and through the aspen trees.  The canyon smells like a deep, comforting cinnamon to me, a smell that brings instant comfort because deep breaths of it have gotten me through tough courses, comps, and some serious bike rides and hikes.  It is a lovely combination of juniper, sage, river, and wilderness that I will always love…and wish I could bottle.

4) Wildlife in Abundance:

Grand birds of prey can be seen during a daily bike ride.  Moose often amble down the mountainside from Tony Grove.  Majestic elk descend from the tallest heights during winter and feed in the valleys.  Bighorn sheep create surreal silhouettes along the ridgeline.  The Tetons, only a few hours away, boast wolves, grizzlies, wildlife galore.  I will miss driving thirty minutes from home and seeing antelopes in the distance and eagles high up above.  The West has treated my husband and I to a wonderful wildlife show while we have been here, made even more varied by Utah’s unusual and multi-faceted terrain.  In ten hours, we could go from seeing lizards to bears….Amazing!

3) The people, both serene and rugged:

The people we have met here have made the West feel like home.  We were fortunate to encounter people from around the world who called Logan their home temporarily, and living here brought us together.  The camping, hiking, biking, and other recreational opportunities created an atmosphere in which we all bonded around our love of those past times.  Outside our immediate circle of friends from USU, my husband and I met several families native to Utah or the West, families that opened their homes to us.  Through them, and in visiting rural communities for my research, I’ve learned that Western folks are largely an interesting combination of serenity and ruggedness.  The remote landscapes of rural Western communities lend people relaxed and contemplative demeanors, even as they make a living in extractive industries, ranching, or entrepreneurial endeavors.

2) Being in the thick of energy issues:

I love studying impacts of energy extraction and development, from individual-level experiences to community-level social movements.  For the next two years, I will continue to study these issues, of course, but I will feel further away from the “hotbed” of many of these controversies.  I have met memorable characters in uranium towns, have been fascinated by fracking’s outcomes, and lament the oil spills that currently plague our rural communities.  The West is the stage upon which our energy future will play out, and I plan to be back to observe it firsthand!

1)The mountains:

I grew up outside of Chicago.  While the city is gorgeous and its outskirts are pretty, green, and full of beauty, the terrain is flat as a pancake.  Our middle school clubs used to take “skiing” trips to large hills, and our young minds were blown.  I longed for mountains even as a young girl and living at 4,500 feet for six years has been a dream come true for me.  For me, the mountains exude an energy that is unparalleled…except for the surge of it I feel at the ocean.  Perhaps the coast won’t be that bad, then….

Thank you, WRDC and all of our stakeholders for letting me share the West with you for the past several years….I look forward to sharing it with you again in the future.

July is National Park and Recreation Month

Orange Hawkweed, Douglas Island, Alaska :: (c) 2011 Linda Kruger

Orange Hawkweed, Douglas Island, Alaska :: (c) 2011 Linda Kruger

Somehow I missed June. It slipped right by. The first topic I had intended to focus on in June was going to be the weather, which seemed to be pretty unusual almost everywhere. Certainly here in Juneau it was more beautiful than we have come to expect. Then, an invasive species distracted me … in my own yard! I thought I’d write about invasive species, and I promise that I will write more on invasive plants later this month. I actually spent a couple of Saturdays trying to gain some ground against the orange hawkweed (Hieracium aurantiacum) that has moved into my yard and many other locations around Juneau. I think the persistent little plants are still winning … more on invasive plants and the weather in another blog.

July is National Park and Recreation Month. I hope each of you out there will help me celebrate by getting out, getting active and getting healthier! Take your friends and families along too. National Park and Recreation Month has been officially celebrated in July since 1985. Not only does this make July special this particular July is VERY special.

In case you haven’t checked out a calendar there are 5 Fridays, 5 Saturdays, and 5 Sundays in July! This hasn’t happened before in any of our lifetimes. In fact, it only happens once every 823 years . . . so don’t expect to see it happen again! Another interesting fact about this year (2011) is that if you take the last two digits of the year you were born and add the age you will be this year (before the end of 2011) the result will be 111 for everyone in the world. How does that work?

4th of July Fireworks, Juneau, Alaska :: (c) 2005 Linda Kruger Library

4th of July Fireworks, Juneau, Alaska :: (c) 2005 Linda Kruger Library

We will be celebrating the fourth with fireworks (weather permitting) at 11:59 on July 3, becoming the first event on July 4th. The days are so long and it is light so late into the evening that it has to be that late to be dark enough to really see them. Unfortunately sometimes clouds do get in the way and if that happens the event is delayed for a day or two. Later, during daylight hours of July 4th there are not one but two parades in recognition of the earlier days when Douglas and Juneau were two separate cities. Juneau’s parade starts first at 11:00 AM followed by the Douglas parade at 2:00 PM. That leaves enough time for parade entrants and spectators to get from one parade venue to the other. Many of the floats and vehicle entries participate in both parades, and even some of the marching groups make their way from Juneau across the bridge and into Douglas. The Douglas parade is known for its kids on decorated bicycles and other kinds of kid entries … and both parades are know for flying candy! I dare anyone to go home without candy in his or her pockets or without sampling some of it on the spot! (Trust me I’ve tried and I’ve failed year after year ….)

4th of July Parade, Juneau, Alaska :: (c) 2006 Linda Kruger

4th of July Parade, Juneau, Alaska :: (c) 2006 Linda Kruger

At 1:30 the 2-mile fun run starts at the base of the bridge on the Douglas Island side and runners run into downtown Douglas, with finishers leading the parade into town. There is a sandcastle building competition on the beach, and after the parade there are field events for people of all ages including 10 to 60-yard dashes, 3-legged races, sack races and other fun events. All participants receive $1. (No one gets rich but it is fun!) There is a deep-pit beef barbeque (and a variety of other food booths), soapbox race finals, pony rides, a dog frisbee contest, a watermelon eating contest and live music and dancing. In other words, there is fun for all. We often walk the two miles from our house to Douglas and leave our car at home. Unfortunately again this year the weatherman is calling for showers. Here in Southeast Alaska we are used to wet weather. Folks pull on their Xtratuf rubber boots and rain jackets and head out to enjoy the festivities in spite of the weather. You’ll see the mayor, legislators, even the governor out in Xtratufs.

4th of July Sandcastle Building, Douglas, Alaska :: (c) 2006 Linda Kruger

4th of July Sandcastle Building, Douglas, Alaska :: (c) 2006 Linda Kruger

Circling back to our celebration of National Park and Recreation Month, following the parades, many of the days fun events, the sandcastle competition, field events, concert and food booths take place in Savikko Park, managed by the City and Borough of Juneau Parks and Recreation Department. In Juneau we are fortunate to have a variety of parks and trails managed by the City and Borough, Alaska State Parks, and the US Forest Service. Residents and visitors alike will be enjoying a variety of activities—some are organized like the 4th of July events at Savikko Park and others are informal family and friend events—at parks facilities around the borough. Some will walk, hike or bike, others will arrive by car, and some will travel by kayak or boat.

What is your favorite 4th of July memory? How will you get out and experience a park or trail? Think about how to celebrate National Park and Recreation Month. Please take a moment to share your favorite park or trail experience.

Top Ten Things I Will Miss About My Corner of the West – Installment #1

by Stephanie Malin

As some of you may know, I recently completed my dissertation at Utah State University, and I will be heading out to Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island, in about a month to start a 2-year postdoctoral fellowship in Environmental Ethics.  Crazy.  I still have not wrapped my brain around all of these changes, though I am trying to for the sake of my own sanity and that of my husband, who is accompanying me and making many sacrifices along the way.  One huge sacrifice for both of us is leaving a community that we have called home for some time; a place that has many of the amenities and natural traits we long for in a permanent residence.  Frankly, we are bummed to leave the West and, for me at least, bummed is putting it mildly.  Though I grew up outside Chicago, becoming a ‘Westerner’ has long been a goal of mine; thus, this move feels a little strange.  My heart keeps screaming “Excuse me, but don’t you know we’re heading in the wrong direction?!  That’s East, dear….You’ve always wanted the West!!”.  I know the move is temporary, and we are determined to end up back out West (especially if one of you fine folks out there in the Internet ether needs an environmental sociologist in a couple of years!).

In honor of this move, and my love of our adopted home community and region, I’ve decided to enumerate the ten things I’ll miss the most about the West.  This month, I will share with you five of them….and keep you in suspense until next month for the rest of my favorites in the West.

10) Acquisition of Excellent Lung Capacity:

My husband and I love to hike, snowshoe, camp, just be outside in general.  Living in Logan, Utah, we are situated at a nice 4,500 feet above sea level, nestled in the Bear River Mountain range.  When we hike, it is often through these mountains, with some of our trails requiring 2,000 or even 3,000 feet (if we’re feeling especially ambitious) in elevation change.  As you hikers out there know, those elevation changes can be grueling, and they can often be required not once but twice as you ascend the mountains, descend to take in a beautiful lake vista or other site, and then return the way you came.  As a result of this high-elevation hiking regimen, we have developed some terrific lung capacity.  The thin mountain air has made me a pro at hiking here, and I can feel my lungs filled to the brim when we return to sea level.  I will miss the chance to expand my lungs, though I think muscle/organ memory will kick back in in a year and 10 months or so, fingers crossed.

9) Mountain Streams:

Even when living in humid, sometimes swampy Missouri, we loved camping next to streams, lakes, and rivers, canoeing and swimming in them when we could.  The Current River in southern Missouri became a favorite.  But the West introduced us to a whole new echelon of beautiful lakes and streams, cascading down from mountain peaks.  I’ve often been tempted to drink from them, they seem so clean, so cool and refreshing.  Though my background in environmental justice and mining pollution reminds me this could be a decidedly bad idea, the fact that I can see the bottom of the river bed as the water whisks by it makes this impulse more than fleeting.  I will miss the crystal clear streams, their babbling as they rush by our camp site, and the welcome touch of their water on my bandana or hat in the middle of a particularly grueling hike.

8) Lack of traffic:

We just returned from our first trip to Rhode Island, to Providence, where Brown is located.  And they have a little thing there called traffic.  A lot of it.  I’m not a fan of driving in the first place, but the sparse traffic in my corner of the West has made the task a little less dreadful.  Now, I know many Westerners deal with their share of traffic, especially our city dwellers and various California residents, so you are not forgotten.  But, my goodness, the East boasts real traffic and it is everywhere!!  We deliberately chose a place within walking distance to Brown so that this traffic may not become a daily battle.  I hope it does not.  Wide, well-paved, and sparsely-traveled roads of Logan, I will miss thee….

7) Camping on Public Lands:

Often, summer camping for us includes choosing a spot on BLM land, setting up our tent and camping gear, and then heading off onto yet more public lands for hiking, sightseeing, and exploring.  The camp sites are free, as is the exploring, and nothing can beat this scenario.  I love that we can access some of the most beautiful places in the West, tread lightly there for a few days and nights, and not have it put a dent in my graduate student pocket book.  I will belabor this point next month, I’m sure, but I just may get arrested back East for trespassing.

6) My Fellow Outdoorspeople:

Not to say that easterners are not also outdoorsy, or have the capacity to be, but most Westerners have outdoor activities in their blood.  They were raised on four-wheeling, camping, hiking, and being outside on those accessible public lands I mention above.  I’ve learned in my time here that this creates a culture that is highly aware of their relationship to the land (even if it’s not called this or interpreted this way).  Back East, the network of interstates, private lands and buildings, and the abundant populations make cultivating a relationship to the land a little different for Easterners, I’m being reminded.  I look forward to learning about the East Coast, its natural pockets and gems, and I’m sure we will meet people with a strong land ethic and connection to the natural world.  But, my fellow Westerners, I will miss the comfort that many of you have with being a lonely little dot, or two or three, in a vast expanse of wilderness.

I’ll be thinking of my next five list items over the next few weeks.  If you were to leave the West, what would you miss the most?

Memorial Day Traditions in the West – This Year is Tricky

By Stephanie A. Malin

“Sooner or later, Utah is going to heat up. It will be like filling a thimble with a fire hose.”
Randy Julander, the federal government’s premiere snow survey expert in Utah, discussing what’s going to happen when higher temperatures arrive and begin to melt the state’s ever-increasing snowpack.
– Utah’s Deseret News

Triple A estimates that 35 million Americans will travel this weekend, kicking off their summers with road trips, camping, picnics, or hours on the beach.  For those of us in the West, however, recent weather patterns and a late spring – perhaps the result of climate change’s global weirding effects – will make some traditional activities more challenging to execute this weekend.  Across the West, flood warnings from melting snowpack, early wildfires, high winds with dust storms, and even late-season snow require regional travelers to tinker with their Memorial Day traditions and expectations.

My husband and I are big campers.  We like to head about twenty minutes down the road to Logan Canyon, where we have a few favorite spots to set up camp and sleep in the canyon for an evening or two.  The spot we frequent the most possesses just the right mix of amenities to make camping there a treat.  A large, level area for the tent, chairs, and even parking; a sizeable fire pit with a six-foot-tall boulder that projects the fire’s glow as the sun recedes; babbling and bubbling of one of Logan River’s side streams as it runs just south of our sleeping spot; and a vista that includes looming limestone cliffs and even the occasional deer.  Yes, perfect, for us at least.  Typically, we begin camping at this spot at about this time of the year, with Utah’s cold nights giving way just enough to make it bearable to sleep outdoors.  We don’t necessarily fight the Memorial Day weekend crowds but take advantage of our teaching schedules and pounce on the spot shortly after the weekend concludes and the canyon empties out a little.

This year, though, those plans have been complicated.  In anticipation of this tradition, we recently headed into the canyon to check in on our spot, say hello to our home-away-from-home after a long, snowy, chilly winter.   However, as we pulled up, we saw that camping will not be an option, at least not this week.  The babbling, bubbling side stream had risen well beyond its banks; the fire pit was too damp to nurture a substantial fire; and the ground throughout the area – though still level and lovely – was wet and would remain too damp to allow comfortable tent camping.  Aside from our spot’s damp appearance and the rising river, the weekend will bring with it at least two days of unusually substantial rain, according to our local meteorologist, putting a final nail in the coffin of our tradition.

Camping will have to wait, it seems, and perhaps longer than a week or two.  While spring rains have been common in Utah for my six years here, the amount of rain we have gotten this spring exceeded our normal levels of precipitation, combining with quickly melting snowpack to create flood concerns in Cache and Weber Counties.  Breaking with the norm, there have been more rainy and cloudy than sunny days.  Other areas throughout the state have seen similar flood concerns and late-spring rains and even snows combine to fill their canyons and camping spots.  Though this could certainly be a fluke – an odd weather pattern that will prove to be an anomaly and nothing else – observers like Randy Julander suggest that such anomalies may become the norm in typically arid states like Utah.  In fact, scientists such as Julander suggest that climate change may be impacting weather patterns to such an extent that they have termed these shifting patterns ‘global weirding.’ Global weirding refers to increased flooding in normally arid regions, increasing intensity and duration of storms (as we see in the Midwest’s recent spate of tornadoes), increased intensity and duration of wildfires, and affected growing seasons and agricultural outcomes.

While this observation doesn’t necessarily explain our camping spot’s unseasonable appearance, when combined with other serious weather and natural events across the West, it is hard to ignore the pattern.  Fires and floods ravage Colorado’s Western Slope, wildfires have already sparked to life in Arizona, multiple sites of flooding plague Montana, and rain and even some snowstorms have doused the West Coast.   This Memorial Day weekend, as people throughout the West search for their customary camping spots and enact their traditions, it seems likely that they may encounter flood damage or even remaining snowpack.  Executing traditions, it seems, may be trickier this year for the outdoor enthusiast.  How has your weekend or early summer been impacted?