Reality

We are in the coastal town of Bahia de Caraquez, which is known as an eco town. Also, someone who works for Planet Drum Foundation, a group I’ve worked with, manages a sustainability project here. But this town was severely hit by an earthquake 2 years ago, there is still rubble. This is life in the developing world.We wonder if this impacted on eco projects. We will be here a few days, I will connect with my contact person. We will also hike. Feliz ano nuevo!

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Bussing across Ecuador

The bus ride from Banos to Cuenca took us through high Andes canyons, past crashing rivers, through farm land bordered by high peaks and through some beautiful towns. It also took us through some dust filled towns and a congested, polluted  city that screamed Poverty! People with broken teeth leaned against buildings, apparently  with nothing to do. This of course is the legacy of imperialism and colonialism. The world’s contradictions smack you in the face in the developing world. Some say beauty is a bourgeois luxury that is irrelevant to oppressed people. Others say it is essential to them, that it is their strength and survival, and they appreciate it more than we comfortable ones do. I am with the second opinion, although this may be a naive First World hope. I will explore this question more on this trip and beyond. I know that awareness of life’s bittersweetness sings for me, I have reason to believe it is useful for all. But I must work on this.

We are in Cuenca, a lovely town in the southern Andes. More to come.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

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Back From the Road

So I really didn’t get a chance to write from the road during a month long trip to different parts of America. To put it briefly, I had a pad with an inadequate keyboard and no real space to set up the larger and more functional keyboard. So I will write about the trip now, it will take several entries.

America’s vastness is hard to figure out sometimes. We took a train , starting in Sacramento heading towards Montrose, Colorado where we hung out with Kate’s brother and sister in law for a few days. Amtrak is problematic – unpredictable schedules based on the fact that Amtrak doesn’t own the tracks, and there can be delays whenever a freight train approaches. Also, the dining car is expensive and the snack bar often inadequate, at best.

Still I love Amtrak, the way it rolls and rumbles, through the rugged, tan Sierra Nevada with their  green blanket of ponderosa pines, western hemlock, and incense cedar.. Higher peaks are still snowy in July, and glacial lakes appear when least expected. The train rattles into Reno, Nevada then down along a stream into basin and range country where tall  mountains in parallel rows are smooth and rounded. They stand together like horses ready to run. Sagebrush thickly dots the parched ground, bordered by barbed wire fences. Occasionally there is a pond but I can’t figure out where the water comes from.

This goes on for infinite miles, it seems as the sky darkens and the stars allow themselves to fade in. Sometimes there are two lane roads. Occasional trucks with steady headlights flow along sometimes, cars are much more rare. Sometimes an unpaved  road breaks away from one of these and wanders off into the dusty hills.

This goes on and on until it seems it can’t continue but it does,unconcerned with my thoughts. This is what I mean by the vastness. Who lives out here? What do they do? There don’t seem to be many cattle behind the barbed wire and I can’t figure out what people would grow out here, I can’t see any irrigated fields.  America here seems to be an immense loneliness.

People do connect out here though, they know how to survive these unending spaces. I can’t imagine how they do it, they must be more tolerant of driving than I would be. What do they think about out here when winter comes? Is there snow? Does it isolate them from neighbors?

Here we are in the Trump years. I wonder if he might seem like a guy who might connect some of these folks. He says things they believe they believe, comes to them through Twitter, is the great uniter who puts them in touch with neighbors with whom they agree. Now that is scary.

On and on into tne Nevada/Utah night, the darkening sky, the peace that comes from isolation and certainty. I need to stop and go to bed, there will be more soon.

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Another adventure begins

Yes, Kate and Are leaving tomorrow, taking a train to Colorado to see her brother and sister in law for a few days then moving on from there to various destinations. I am taking work I have to do on the Bidwell Park book and other projects with me, but will blog as I can. We will be gone a month altogether, for details watch this space.

It is really going to be an interesting time for travel in America so we can see for ourselves what people are thinking about the current state of things. Is this country really splitting in half as some say? Again, I think the idea of a civil war is a real paranoid fantasy, but the divisions are very real, it’s hard to imagine how this will all work out. No clue here..

At the moment much of the country seemes stunned and angry by Trump’s connections with Putin, even some (not all) of Fox News seems mad. I do not think it is a good thing at all that many democrats are coming off pro militaristic and COld War (not saying Putin is a good guy, but the Cold War was nothing to write home about, he said ironically… it seems to me that when it comes to good guys, they are few and far between among politicians these days. My hope comes from grass roots projects we have found in Costa Rica, Scotland, Nepal… not political movements as such but creative ways of creating change. I plan to look for these wherever I go, there are probably some hiding in the US even as a write, For more on that and the trip, watch this space!

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Bidwell Park

Discipline, once again, so I will continue to write. Here is a little information about Bidwell Park, the municipal park I am researching and writing about.

 

It is a huge (3000 acres plus) park that actually connects with downtown Chico and extends towards the Sierra Nevada foothills. Lower Park, closer to town is fairly developed with swimming areas, picnic areas, playgrounds, etc. but also some short and pretty hiking trails. Upper Park, closer to the foothills is wilder, and many of us want to keep it wild.

Big Chico Creek flows originates on a Sierra mountain and flows though the park, eventually connecting with the Sacramento River west of Chico.The bedrock here is called the Chico Formation which was deposited by an inland sea many millions of years ago. There are places next to the creek where it is exposed and where you can find fossils of  sma  prehistoric sea creatures. Lava from a volcano near the present town of Susanville came later, creating the Lovejoy Basalt structures that can be found by the creek and in other parts of this region. The later Tuscan mud flows, which developed when a volcano in the Cascade range erupted and melted snow that carried rocks throughout this region form most of Upper Park’s hills. Big Chico Creek left alluvial fan deposits that are the underlying structure for flatter Lower Park.

Foothill woodlands thrive high on Upper Park’s ridges. Blue oak groves, chapperal, and grasslands cover the lower slopes. Galaxies of wildflowers blaze here in spring, although the park is dry now, due to California’s natural summer drought. (The drought has often been worse lately due to climate change, that is another story.) Valley oaks and other water loving trees border the creek. Autumn will bring a psychedelic display of colors from trees and plants.

A wide range of animals live here – acorn woodpeckers are the most common birds, although we often see and hear hawks, quail, towhees, and many others. Mule deer, raccoons, gray squirrels, and many other animals live here, including mountain lions and black bears – those two species are careful to steer clear of people. Hordes of butterflies zip along in spring and summer, especially dark pipe vine swallowtails whose orange spots warn predators that they are toxic.

The park’s history is complex. The Maidu people have lived here for thousands of years, and people have found many signs that they were active in the area we call  the park. The settler and rancher John Bidwell owned this land from the 1860s until his death in 1900. His widow Annie began to donate land to the city of Chico in 1905; she later made other gifts, and the city bought additional land to complete the park. Annie included a few requirements: animals and plants should be protected, there should be no hunting, some ranching could continue, and alcohol should not be produced or sold in the park (she was a  Presbyterian and a strict prohibitionist.)

The situation became troubled after Annie’s death in 1918. A Park and Playground Commission was formed to manage the park, but its powers were limited to making recommendations to City Council. The policy statements are weak, and many have taken advantage of the lack of enforcement. A golf course was built near Upper Park in 1918 – I am one of those who thinks it should really be somewhere else, but there is nothing we can do about its presence.

Other projects have including a rifle range, military training activities, a short lived zoo, and unauthorized use of off road vehicles. Other proposed projects such as an airfield, a Woodstock type rock festival in Upper Park, an RV campground and others fortunately didn’t see the light of day.  For a while, lovers of feral cats were leaving gourmet meals for them in the park; I love cats but they are very hard on birds and other species. Warner Brothers decided the park resembled a British oak forest and filmed parts of THE ADVENTURES OF ROBIN HOOD here in the 1930s.

The problem really is that the stated policies are so weak that anyone can propose any project, and many have developed. The city’s funds are relatively low – they have increased since the recession of 2008, but the park does not seem to be a high priority. Volunteer groups  work to clean up the park, preserve habitat,  and to educate the public about the treasure at their doorstep.

I am  doing massive research along with interviewing biologists, historians, a Maidu woman, and will interview others in the future. I see this project as my way of contributing to this wonderful places long term survival. It involves massive work but it is really fascinating, and I think it is relevant to the question of how any town should relate to the wild lands around it. I hope to have a draft by the end of the year, they I will have to revise it and look for a publisher. For more information, watch this space!

 

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Discipline, discipline…

I am finding myself working hard on a major writing project, which is evolving into a book about Chico’s wonderful Bidwell Park, a very large space that includes both developed and wild places. It is a complicated and fascinating story that dives into a lot of issues about how people see nature and relate to the land around them. My own bias (no surprise, I am sure) is very much towards preservation of nature, but I know I will need to talk to people coming from other places and presenting them as fairly as I can.

 

So I find myself writing and lacking the energy for blogging but I need to get past that. Blogging is a kind of journal, a way to record the many thoughts that flash through me. One theme sticks with me. Kate and I recently spent 5 days camping in Plumas County, a region in the Northern Sierras east of Chico. It is a wonderful area, full of mountains, waterfalls, lakes, forests, full of summer wildflowers and butterflies. It is bear country, of course, but we didn’t encounter any furry friends other than seeing scat and places where they had ripped logs apart searching for grubs.

 

As much as we like living in Chico, it was a shock to come back. We had avoided hearing news for most of the trip, and we returned to the peak of the crisis around Trump’s policies about immigration – not that this has receeded but it isn’t getting quite as much press as a week ago. We both wanted to return to the lakes and waterfalls, a place that really did seem separate and pure – that is an illusion, of course, a topic for another day. But the spots we visited were wonderful and we miss them.

So here we are back in the midst of political chaos. The right wing blogger Alex Jones put out something  about how liberals and progressives were going to start a civil war on July 4. This shows he knows nothing about us – for example, why would people (like me) who dislike guns and know nothing about them ever dream we could go up against forces like the NRA?  Besides that, why would we dream that something as self destructive as a civil war would accomplish anything positive instead of sending everything into a faster tailspin than it is tumbling into already?

No, the liberal/left is not looking at starting a civil war, and that didn’t happen – that said, the liberal/left is a mess. The level of irrational screaming and shouting is reaching a peak, and many people are saying that it is time to stop being polite and to aggressively put out our positions. This amounts to personal attacks, shouting people down irrationally, breaking all ties with people from different political perspectives, etc. etc. etc. What is the point of all this?

I am not a la-de-da dreamer who thinks we can all sit down and reason together and all will be groovy, I’ve been a few places. I do think that the strategy  of insulting people, assigning blame where it is not deserved, and coming off like self righteous jerks is counter productive. I understand frustration and rage, but I would say that we need to deal with these feelings privately, screaming into a pillow is one idea, and then try to present ideas calmly, creatively and rationally, meeting people where they are coming from but challenging them.

This is hard and I have to be honest and say I am not doing it. My organizing days were in other lifetimes, I see myself as a writer/educator now. But I know there are others out there who understand that behaving like jerks will not get us past the crisis we are in and help put out a progressive agenda. Somehow I hope we can all come together and share thoughts.

Those are my thoughts for today. Now I want to go back to the mountains.

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Far, far too long

I have to get back into blogging. It is a great way to reflect on flie at the end of the day, whether anyone else in the world is reading it or not. I do not think I have written since the end of the Ecuador trip, which is more than five months ago now. SO much since then…

I was a volunteer coordinator for the Chico Science Fair from the end of the trip until early March. That took up a massive amount of time and attention, but my work was really successful, and I felt very appreciated. Since then, I have been working on a long writing project about Chico’s excellent Bidwell Park, a huge and largely wild preserve. This is taking a lot of time and attention and will continue to do so. I till be a book ultimately, and I hope to find a publisher rather than self publishing. I will post here from time to time. I also coordinated storytelling and poetry events for an environmental gathering,  and will share more about that another time.

I recently retired from substitute teaching with Chico, Ca. public schools, after many years of working in schools. I will actually be making substantially more than I did as a sub, and will have time for my writing project. I will also develop curriculum for the next science fair, and will teach an environmental education class in the fall. Kate and I continue to hike, camp, and will do more traveling – more about that to come.

As a retiree, one who is still relatively young, energetic, and healthy, I hope to have time for many things, including blogging. Dinner is ready, gotta go… see you.

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WE MISS ECUADOR!

It is very odd being back in the States, where I-phones are everywhere (they are in Ecuador of course, but not in such mass numbers), where we are not running to a new town every three days, where the Andes are gone, where we have a total fool for a leader (more on that later), and much more. Strange. Happily, we like Chico, Ca. more than we did Oakland, and good projects and events are approaching. Still we miss Ecuador.

Ecuador does not claim to be a tropical paradise the way countries that appeal more to U.S. tourism do. It is, rather, a complex, spectacularly beautiful, and sad country. The contradictions are everywhere. I asked in another post how beauty and tragedy can coexist. I have never  found a satisfactory  answer.

Years ago, Kate and I visited friends of hers in Milwaukee and went to a Unitarian service with them. A big poster in the sanctuary said something very close to “There are no answers, only questions.” This summed up my thinking beforehand and gave me something to quote since then. One insight I like from Buddhism  (although I can’t claim to be a Buddhist) is that all life is suffering; accept that and you can see that it is much more in addition. Life is bittersweet, that’s how it is, but I don’t think anyone really  knows why.

Ecuador is bittersweet, and a place we would like to return to, we barely scratched the surface. Of course we have many places we’d like to return to and life is short, but we’ll see. If we do go back to Ecuador or somewhere else in South America,   we may need to find something like a project where we can have a base to work from and people to connect with more. One issue is my Spanish boiled down to what Kate calls “Survival Spanish.” Well, I survived. Kate did better than I did, she has more experience with Spanish, although she says I did better than I think. Maybe, but we did feel isolated and lonely sometimes. We did find people to talk with, but more would have been better. We will see what the future holds.

So here we are, back from the Developing World and Trump talks about s**thole countries. I find this deeply offensive.  Kate and I have traveled in other third world countries and found them all to be complex. beautiful, and sad, like Ecuador. What does Trump really know? It’s scary, I’ve thought for a long time that U.S. society and culture were in decline; Trump and company are taking us into a tailspin, and I do not know where this will go. It is hard to see how the world’s response will effect us as people who love world travel – this is certainly a first world problem, there are more important issues of course. All these topics are for future thoughts and posts.

I do have projects out the wazoo, but I must continue to blog on travel and other topics. Discipline, PGB! And I will pull some photos together and put them here when I can, most likely with other Ecuador thoughts. For now – hasta tardes! Viva Ecuador!!

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BOO HOO!!!

THIS IS OUR LAST DAY IN ECUADOR. AND, OH YEAH, I AM USING AN UNFAMILIAR KEYBOARD AT AN INTERNET CAFE AND CANNOT GET IT TO GO TO LOWER CASE, SORRY. WE LEAVE FOR SAN FRANCISCO ON A FLIGHT TONIGHT.

TODAY WE WENT HIGH IN THE ANDES OUTSIDE OF QUITO WITH A GUIDE WHO SHOWED US COUNTLESS BIRDS. THE HUMMINGBIRDS WERE ASTOUNDING, AND EVERY IMAGINABLE COLOR. OTHERS WERE ALSO LIKE BITS OF THE RAINBOW. THE MOUNTAINS WERE ALSO ASTONISHING, HIGH PEAKS, INCLUDING SOME OF THE VOLCANIC CONES COVERED IN CLOUDS. I WILL WORK ON GETTING SOME PIX ON THE BLOG IN THE NEAR FUTURE.

WE ALSO HAD A DISCUSSION WITH OUR GUIDE ABOUT POLITICAL CORRUPTION IN ECUADOR. HE SAID THE LAST PRESIDENT, CORREAS, (I HOPE I AM SPELLING HIS NAME RIGHT, I WILL CORRECT IT LATER) HAD A WONDERFUL PLATFORM, SUPPORTING NATURE AND THE POOR. HE FUNDED IT BY TAKING LOANS FROM CHINA, WHICH ARE REQUIRING ECUADOR TO SUPPLY CHINA WITH OIL. ALSO, HE CREATED A LARGE GOVERNMENT TO SUPPORT HIS PROGRAMS, AND SOME OF HIS COLLEAGUES WERE DISHONEST, INCLUDING HIS VICE PRESIDENT, WHO WAS INVOLVED IN SOME SCAMS AND IS NOW IN PRISON. IT IS NOT CLEAR WHERE MONEY FOR PROGRAMS WILL COME FROM NOW THAT THE DEBT IS SO LARGE. THERE IS A LOT MORE, I WILL TRY TO MAKE COMMENTS LATER.

THE RIDE BACK INTO QUITO WAS VERY EYE OPENING, MASSIVE TRAFFIC, BAD AIR, PEOPLE WALKIND IN THE MIDDLE OF THE ROAD TRYING TO SELL DRIVERS FRUIT, WATER, SELFIE STICKS, AND MORE. THERE ARE PROGRAMS TO ALLEVIATE POVERTY BUT POVERTY IS DEFINETELY HERE.

I COULD GO ON, BUT WE HAVE TO PACK. WE ARE COMING HOME TO GOOD THINGS IN OUR LIVES, BUT WE ARE SAD – ECUADOR IS COMPLEX AND VERY BEAUTIFUL, WE WILL MISS IT A LOT. I WILL BE POSTING MORE THOUGHTS FROM HOME, PROBABLY AFTER A FEW DAYS. HASTA LLUEGO, ECUADOR.

 

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