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July 2022

This Week?

So, this week I've been catching up this sabbatical blogging by writing about our trip of the last two weeks, but what I have been doing this week (other than writing those blogs)?

Well, mostly unpacking from one trip, doing the laundry, etc. while also planning for the next round of trips.  I leave Friday for my high school reunion in Oklahoma and Monday for my camping and hiking trip to Glacier National Park.

So, as I went through stuff after retuning from Yellowstone, a lot of it just was set aside because I'll need it again next week.  Today I packed my clothes luggage for Glacier and tomorrow afternoon I'll get together with my traveling companions to go over our gear checklist and who is bringing what.

I've also been kid free this week, so have enjoyed some downtime.  I've napped, read, hung out with a few friends, and went to see a movie (which is a glorious experience for a parent).

But no big projects or activities to report.

Arrange for Change

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"Arrange for change" is one of the catchphrases in the National Park Service brochure on "Climate Change in National Parks."  Given that studying resilience in the midst of a changing climate is one of the research themes of my sabbatical, I saw that brochure and grabbed it.  It discusses the reality of climate change, how it is affecting the parks, and what the parks are trying to do to prevent and adapt.

Of course in middle June when the Yellowstone River flooded, I thought that my grand big summer trip might not happen.  More than a year of planning and then the effects of climate change.

Fortunately, most of the park reopened by the time we visited, but there were still the closures and the difficulties.

The most visible sign of climate change in the park is the widespread loss of forest from wildfires in recent decades.  Of course the NPS has radically altered its fire management from the philosophy of preventing all fires that dominated when I was a kid.  But you drive through vast swathes of old damage and new growth.  Of course some of this is expected, natural, and part of the life cycle of a forest, but you also know they are more frequent and intense than they once were.

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The biggest impacts on Yellowstone were not so visible.  They talk about how the changing climate is affecting which species of plants grow where.  The alpine ecosystems are shrinking and what had been lower altitude plants are creeping up.

Yellowstone is also in the midst of a decades long battle of fighting invasive trout that someone put into the lake or river, which led to a dramatic decline in the native cutthroat trout and the various bird and mammal species that depend upon them.  The park reports success in this endeavor, as cutthroat have rebounded 80 percent.

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While Yellowstone had been inundated with extra water this season, Grand Teton is having the opposite problem.  Jackson Lake is greatly reduced.  On the northern end there is a grassy plain where once the lake stood.  At Colter Bay the marina is sitting on dry ground.

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We were told that the lake is radically down this year because of droughts in Idaho last year.  Idaho can take a certain amount of water from the Snake River in order to irrigate potato crops.  They took everything they could last year, radically reducing the lake.  And snow melt and rain were not sufficient to replenish it.

While on our trip, the rest of the nation and most of Europe were baking in a heatwave.

Next week I head to Glacier National Park, where we all know that the glaciers are almost gone.  I'll have more to report, I'm sure, after that.


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We were in this glorious beautiful place to swim--String Lake--with the family from British Columbia we met at our campground, who also had a seven-year-old.  We had to leave after only a couple of hours because I had tickets for the Jackson Hole Rodeo.

Sebastian had never been to a rodeo.  Rodeos seemed to be one of the things to do in Wyoming.  I hadn't been to one in a long time, and the last few were the Oklahoma Gay Rodeo.

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But growing up I went to the county one every year.  My grandfather had roped calves--I have his lasso.  And when Dad was a kid they traveled the rodeo circuit some.  So, while I might currently have some ethical qualms about rodeo and my life really isn't in that cultural milieu, there was a sense that I have roots in that world.

The Canadian mom said she was curious to see what my reaction would be.  And I was too.

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And I had to much fun.  And qualms.  And a little queasiness at some of the cultural aspects.  But also so much fun.

Rodeos aren't quite what they were when I was younger.  Like all entertainment, it is not constant spectacle.  The loud music never stopped.  The emcee was never quiet.  There was always something to fill the gaps between the action.

Also they were wearing helmets and pads.  Definitely didn't wear that safety gear when I was younger.

Sebastian wasn't quite sure what to make of the experience.  Some of it he liked.  Some of it he didn't.  Some of it thrilled him.  More than once he'd say, "Did you know they were going to survive?"  Sometimes he cheered for the cowboy or cowgirl, and sometimes for the bull or horse (as one should).  He was quite shocked that kids had their events too.

The Jackson Hole Rodeo had all the kids in the stands come onto the field for a sheep scramble.  Sebastian really enjoyed that--racing across the arena.  He said he got close to the sheep, but not before someone else got the winning bandanas.  If he'd only been in his fast shoes instead of sandals.

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He also liked the mechanical bucking bison he rode.

But then he wanted to leave early.  Which was fine.  We got ahead of the crush of cars by about ten minutes.


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I think Sebastian was originally put out that the Old Faithful Inn didn't have a pool or a TV. But it's a magical place. With no WiFi or anything, in the evening everyone was sitting on the various levels of the grand lobby talking, playing board and card games, putting together puzzles, listening to the live music, or sitting quietly watching the geyser field. A magical experience.

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We mostly played Yellowstone Monopoly that we had bought that day at the NPS Visitor Center Gift Shop.  We also played UNO, Transformers, and sometimes just sat quietly watching.

Our two days at the Old Faithful Inn were magical, and some of the best father-son time we've ever had. Ever since I've known about this inn I've wanted to stay there and the stay exceeded my dreams and expectations.

Besides Beauty and Adventure, we also had lots of fun on our grand two week vacation in Wyoming.  We played games and toys.  Did lots of cuddling and tickling.  Raced and played tag.  Put together Lego's.  And all of this besides the swimming, hiking, rock climbing, boating, fishing, camping fun.

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I had hoped for a grand adventure, a trip that he could remember over a lifetime.  And I think he will.

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The best day of simply playing was one we spent in Jackson, Wyoming where we rode a gondola up the mountain, did a giant maze, played mini-golf, rode the chair lift and then zoomed down the alpine slide, and (last and best of all) rode the Cowboy Coaster down the mountainside.  That provided one of the best pictures of the trip.

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NPR Interview

Our local NPR station  KIOS has a new Sunday morning interview show in the spot once occupied by Krista Tippett's On Being.  The show is entitled Lives and is hosted by my friend Stuart Chittenden.  This last Sunday, they broadcast an interview of me that we pre-recorded back at the end of May.  I talk about my faith, my coming out, the pandemic, being a dad, and my divorce and what lessons I've learned for living a good life.  It was a fun interview and fun (and a little emotional too) to listen to it.  Here's the link.


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I really enjoyed Wyoming. 

My only previous visit to the state was in 2017 when on a family vacation to the Black Hills we drove over to Devil's Tower.  So, I hadn't seen much of the state.

Now, there are long, really boring and really ugly stretches.  Like the drive across the high plains from Casper to Shoshoni.  But there are also so many remarkably beautiful places.

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I'd been planning this trip for over a year, and while I knew about Yellowstone and Grand Teton, I didn't know much about the rest of the state.  As I researched places to stay and things to do going and coming, it was fun to learn about more.  

And many of those exceeded my expectations.  The town of Thermopolis was a surprise.  The Wyoming Dinosaur Center there was a excellent, and Hot Springs State Park was a revelation.

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The town of Pinedale is now on my list of favorite small towns with places like Williams, Arizona, Eureka Springs, Arkansas, and Westin, Missouri.  We stayed a delightful 1920's motor court and while we mostly spent the time there resting and recuperating, there was so much to do that I would enjoy going back for the activities there (such as the beautiful Fremont Lake).

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One theme of the trip was seeing all sorts of other thing we could have done or places we could have visited.  Making me ponder when exactly I might go back to some of these spots in the future.

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I've always wanted to do more outdoors activities than I've done.  More camping, hiking, kayaking, etc.  Not having people to do it with and other life commitments, priorities, and turns-of-event have gotten in the way.  

So this two week trip with my seven-year-old son to Yellowstone and Grand Teton was a big undertaking.  I had never planned such a big and involved trip for the two of us alone with no other adult help or presence.  And I wanted to camp for a good portion of it (six nights), which involved preparations and supplies.  And we were going to a place where there is some risk and danger, which heightened the adventure (and my mother's anxiety).  

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And I did it.  I pulled it off successfully and without major incident and it was full of fun for both me and Sebastian and included some of our best father-son time ever.

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And as I watched other folks--families on their trips, seniors actively biking and hiking, young people rock climbing and backpacking, etc., I realized I simply need to do more of what I've always wanted to do.  

So, I came to a third spiritual resolution this sabbatical (I've written previously about the other two):  I'm going to engage in more outdoor activities. 

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I'm going to find the people that will do stuff with me.  I'm going to do more of it on my own and with my son.  I'm going to buy that kayak or paddle board I've been thinking about forever.  I'm just going to do it.

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That was the idea that kept repeating itself during our trip to Yellowstone and Grand Teton.  I kept getting overwhelmed with beauty.  Gasping, even laughing at how incredibly beautiful something was.  Delighted.  

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Some moments it struck like thunder and lightning with awe.  Some moments it was quiet and calm and I found myself resting in the joy of the experience.

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Sometimes I'd start singing.  "O beautiful for spacious skies."  "O Lord my God, when I in awesome wonder."  

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Landscapes, vistas, canyons, lakes, waterfalls, valleys, mountains, wildlife, geysers, blue skies, clouds, thunderstorms, trees, flowers, cliffs, thermal terraces.

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Beauty.  Everywhere.  Overwhelming, indescribable, unimaginable beauty.  And beauty is good for the soul.

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A Different World

In the midst of my travels the last couple of weeks (more on that forthcoming), I was able to finish Gleb Raygorodetsky's The Archipelago of Hope.  In his chapter on the Sapara people of the Amazon, he writes that they "see their rainforest as a living breathing conscious being that must be cherished and cared for."  This is one of the sources of their resilience.  They've already encountered centuries of climate and cultural disaster and have had to repeatedly adapt.  They've done so through their relationships with the environment around them--a good lesson for us going forward.  

In a visit to the Karen in the Hin Lad Nai forest of Thailand, he explores various alternative agricultural options that might help us renew environments devastated by industrial, monoculture farming (though this does leave you wondering if there's anyway to maintain current global populations levels with these more traditional agricultural practices, meaning that overpopulation is one of the central problems that is not so easy to discuss).

The final group he visits is the Tla-o-qui-aht of British Columbia.  One thing I learned in this chapter was the importance of the salmon run for the entire ecosystem.  He writes that 190 species rely for nutrients upon the salmon, including the giant cedars that line the rivers.  Salmon predators, catching and eating them on the banks, end up bringing marine nitrogen into the soil.  Plants five hundred feet from the river can be mostly "made of salmon."  

Joe Martin, one of his guides, states, "One of our teachings is that Mother Nature will provide for our needs, but not our greed.  And it's our greed that's destroying many things nowadays."  As a reminder how nature provides, Raygorodetsky points out, "For the adept, the rain forest is a shelter, a garden, a pantry, a work shed, a medicine cabinet, and a cathedral all wrapped into one."

From the Tla-0-qui-aht he learns that "our medicine must penetrate to the very core of our affliction," and so we must address fundamental values and behaviors to respond to and live resiliently through this changing climate.  He writes, "What a different world we would live in, if it were arranged not along the lines of fear, greed, and power, but around the intricate web of respectful and reciprocal human relationships with the Earth and all its living beings."