Things That Need Fixing

In the spirit of yesterday’s post about the future, I am going to point out a few situations that need to be fixed. I find myself hashing and rehashing these same issues over and over again. Probably because I care about them and I see little change to the positive around me.

  1. We need to listen to multiple viewpoints, and we need to learn to work together. Of course, the current cadre of political candidates might tell you the opposite. We need to stop preaching and just listen. The reality is that we all must exist together and we have finite resources to sustain our species, at least for the moment. (Now is not a time to discuss space travel and related topics, as science and technology funding is ever decreasing and pushed to the back burner.) How can we make this country work? We all must work together, find common ground, and take care of each other. It’s that simple.
  2. Every single U.S. citizen ought to learn – and care about – from whence their drinking water comes. I am convinced that our domestic water supply (or lack thereof) is one of the biggest – if not THE biggest – domestic issue facing our nation going forward. Name for me, if you will, one watershed (or one city, for that matter) that isn’t facing some sort of water crisis. Pollution, drought, water rights based on historic numbers (either in supply OR demand) that no longer hold true, water rights disputes, allowing of non-essential uses (i.e. watering things like golf courses and lawns in drought years), etc. etc. etc.  I can’t tell you how many people have told me something like, “As long as the water comes out when I turn the faucet on, I don’t care where it comes from.” Ignorance is NOT bliss and people who hold attitudes like this are just ignorant and selfish.
  3. People need to openly admit that we, as a species, CAN and DO affect the climate and ecology of our planet. Here in North America, we have done a lot to change our section of the world, just to name a few: suppression of natural forest fire regimes, water diversion projects (dams, reservoirs, etc.), and even the forced removal of free-ranging bison on the great plains have all had impacts on water regimes, air quality, plant communities (and how plant communities function), and wildfire behavior, just to name a few. Each of these processes then affects our neighborhoods and the resources we need to sustain our lives. (Think we don’t need clean water? Ask the people of Flint, MI, what they think of that statement.) It is our own arrogance and dislike of responsibility that causes us to deny our innate ability to change our environment and climate.
  4. We need to take an honest, fresh look at what we consider “hard work” and “skills” and make ourselves willing to do just a bit more. This country’s infrastructure was built by hard work, and while some people still must work very hard, technology has made our lives a lot easier and more simple. But here’s the kicker: some things have not changed. For example, we still use toilets. They often require plumbers. Do you do your own plumbing? If so, great! But many people wouldn’t know where to begin, and that is the problem. Many skills have gone by the wayside for various reasons. We need to see a resurgence of skilled tradesmen and tradeswomen in the U.S. citizenry, and a respect for such trades, if we are going to close our borders and ‘make America great again’ (as one current candidate keeps blathering). There is a lot of work out there, if we had the skills – work that needs to be done and done WELL. We need to learn these skills and work hard enough that we feel pride in stamping our name to a job completed. Frankly, I’d love to see projects brought back like the Civilian Conservation Corps. Get young people out of their homes, away from technology, teach them some skills and trades, and send them home with a bit of money upon which to start the rest of their lives. (Maybe fewer people would raise an eyebrow at me when I say I knit my own socks, gloves, hats, and scarves. I have skills.)


Now, you might have thought I was going to talk about which political candidates I thought needed fixing. (Too late; they’ve already reproduced.) But I think our nation’s problems are deep and the Reactionaries trying to get into the White House are just the outward manifestation of these problems.


Random Notes from a long week

This last week has been long and tiresome.

With all of the gardening stuff going around on Facebook and Pinterest lately, and me being stuck in this smoggy city with grey snow and ice every few days, I have been planning endless pots of flowers and veggies for my tiny patio. I have lots of seeds sprouting and big ideas for them once the last frost has passed.

These have been a welcome relief from the bigger pressing issues of the week:

1) Mr. Patronizing at work. Mr. P. speaks to me as though I am one of his 10 children I suppose he is used to his stay-at-home wife who has lived a very different life than me. But I am not his wife, nor his child. In fact, this man is less than five years older than me.

He’s just an idiot without a clue. Oh, but he did buy a Hummer H2 this week. So he’s a rich idiot with 10 kids.

2) The mess in the Ukraine. I have discussed this with a couple of history-minded friends (who also happen to be politically-minded). There are lots of patterns being repeated from the twentieth century over there. It is both sad and scary. I am wondering about our national response.

A book I have been reading discusses the American presidents post World War II,  and how they worked together, ofter WAY behind the scenes, to deal with current crises. Stories of Hoover and Truman intrigue me, as I don’t see much of Bush reflecting Hoover’s wartime efforts.

I guess we will see, eh?

3) The horrific picture from Redwoods National and State Parks that was everywhere last weekend (NPS photo):


To do that to a 2,000 year old tree in a National Park must take real callousness. And a total lack if disregard for anyone or anything other than yourself. My friend boiled it down to one word… Greed.

I know burls make interesting wood for veneers and furniture. And I am sure that this tree was sacraficed for the black market.

Yet another reason to make things yourself. You know your finished products weren’t the result of embarrassing black market activities.


I actually had started a note about the Redwoods, but I just couldn’t finish it. That picture made me rather numb all week.

What got to you last week?

Some Random Thoughts for a Sunday

1. People ask if you’ve read any good books lately. But I generally don’t have much to share. I am pretty sure they are looking for something ‘fun’ or ‘entertaining’. But outside of the occasional mystery or re-read of a Jane Austen novel (can you ever really get enough of Hercule Poirot or Mr. Darcy?!), I really don’t read much fiction. My current tome is this:


2. Granted, in school I grabbed on to math and science. History and civics classes were never much of interest to me. But as I have figured some things out about how I learn, I think these subjects never captured me because I couldn’t be active in them, like I could math and science. Math and science required me to think and to do. Social studies classes, at least as they were taught to me (from what I can remember), required me to merely memorize random facts. Memorization was always a losing battle with me.

3. Back to the book. Politics fascinates me, and I find working in such political entity both fascinating and entertaining. One of the chapters I just finished talked about President Hoover’s ideas and policies in the first half of the twentieth century. He talked about voluntary sacrafice a lot, both as a necessity to stave off coming crises and for personal political gains. It makes me wonder… How many modern Republicans have disavowed Hoover ideals? How many people even know what he wrote about or what he suggested to President Truman in the years after World War II?

4. How did those policies clear the way for our modern system of agriculture and food production? And the current quality problems we face in regards to food? (Emphasis mine.)

5. Back in my undergraduate years, I knew this young woman. We will call her “Red”, for the purposes of this discussion, because of her red hair. Something she said to me once stuck with me. I have no idea what we were talking about at the time, although I was probably questioning the ‘why’ of some or another concept, as I usually do. Anyway, Red giggled quietly, clapped her hand over her mouth, shook her head at me and said, “Jenny, you think too much.”
   To this day, that still stings horribly, and has forever shadowed my opinion of her. I believe it is our job as citizens, much less human beings, to question the world around us. If we are to learn, to grow, to help make this place a better place for us all, we must question our leaders and our institutions. If something is confusing, or doesn’t seem to work correctly, isn’t it better to point out the issues and change things for the better?

   Now, to the best of my knowledge, Red is still judging me on the paths I have NOT taken, and wondering why I think so much.

Let her wonder. Maybe the thinking will do her some good.

Meanwhile, I am going to keep learning and reading and questioning. This country we live in is amazing and I would rather be an active citizen than an armchair critic.

Where to begin?

To say I’m a little lost is easy. Actually, I feel like I’m in one of those TV scenes where the camera focuses on the person, but everything else around said person is blurry, noisy and out of control.

Four plus months into the new job and I feel like I’ve learned a lot. Mostly about certain parts of the Code of Federal Regulations (CFR) and which government departments and agencies are, uh, “special”. And really, that list doesn’t include the National Park Service. In fact, most Interior subagencies are fairly boring from a Personnel/Payroll/HR standpoint.

But of course, the U.S. Department of the Interior is responsible for processing many other agency’s personnel/payroll/HR paperwork (approximately 300,000 federal employee accounts to be more precise), so I’ve gained a bit of insight into a few other departments.

While I can’t delve into the details – much of the data I deal with daily is protected by privacy laws – this has provided me with a better baseline to understand the bureaucracy.

Yes, the B word. The bane of all Republicans everywhere, or at least the Republicans who I grew up around. (The other universal curse word, by the way, for this group of Republicans is “politicians” – meaning any, of course, that are not the RIGHT side of the aisle.)

The problem is, I’m willing to bet my college education (which is considerable) that most U.S. citizens really do NOT understand our country and our government as well as they like to tell people they do. “Bureaucracy” has become a buzz word when people want to complain. About everything. I have had to learn that I heard a lot of complaining when I was growing up. But I’m questioning the factual correctness of a lot of what I heard.

Now, I’m not going to say that problems don’t exist. They certainly do. But I wish more people would do their homework and actually understand that of which they speak – instead of just sharing memes on Facebook, as seems to be the habit these days.

It is infuriating to me. Absolutely infuriating. The problems themselves are infuriating. And the people who speak as though they are ‘experts’ (who are really just pandering to ‘leaders’, leaders who rely on the masses REMAINING uninformed and undereducated) are equally infuriating.

Please stop and think for a moment before you share any memes from one side of the political aisle. There is always two sides to every story. A good place to begin is to acknowledge the existence of both sides.

I have decided that I need a better understanding of the roots of our nation’s policies and beliefs. Because things have changed over time. But things have also stayed the same, in many ways. And it is one of my new goals to understand this much better.

Saying Goodbye to Elvis

Today we said goodbye to a friend. A couple of my good friends here in Denver had to make a very hard decision this last week. Their dog, Elvis, is almost 14 years old and was having trouble walking around. He also had bladder control issues that developed very quickly over the last month or so. At his age, he might live a few more months, but with all of his pain and problems, it would be a rough few months. The decision was made to put him down.

My friend called me this morning, voice cracking and in tears, and asked if I would meet them at the local city park for their last walk with Elvis. Of course I said yes. So I met up with the three of them this afternoon and walked, talked, and fed Elvis as many treats as he wanted. Today was “not a day to use the N-O word”, so Elvis walked without a leash (he couldn’t really move too fast either way), and was allowed to sniff his way through the park. Even the prairie dogs were not much of an issue. He just stood watching them, sniffing the air, but never made a move to chase them.

It was sad to give Elvis his last hug. He was always happy to see me walk in their front door. Even when he couldn’t walk very well, his tail was always wagging at me.

Today reminded me of the passing of time, change, and hard decisions. Life has a way of forcing decisions on us. For me, even the right decisions are very hard. And 2014 is starting out to be a very different year for me, when compared with the last few.

For one, I have moved back to the big, bad city for a career move. I miss the mountains and wide open spaces more than words can express. City life is confining, expensive and moves way too fast. My current job can be a bit taxing on my brain as it relates to data and details, many of which I must retain for only about 5 minutes before moving on to the next. I find myself taking out my knitting at lunch in order to slow down my mind and look at something different for a few brief moments.

I walk to work some days, just to get fresh air, but it seems that people driving down the roads are out to hit me. It doesn’t have the safety of being alone amongst the trees. All I see around me are apartment buildings, office buildings, zooming cars and people staring at whatever they are holding. Some days, I feel like the zombie apocalypse has already begun.

How will I feel in a couple of months when I walk to work and there are no wildflowers around me to catch my eye? To that end, I have begun to educate myself more fully on American – and World – History. A large component of National Park Service sites are related to our collective and individual histories and cultures, and while I might know more than some, I am by no means well-educated in terms of history and civics. Botany and ecology, yes. History as NOT told by old white guys? Not so much. I feel like this is going to be a component of my future, and I am trying to bring myself more up to speed.

Of course, the next logical topic is politics. I work for the government, and this job is getting me slightly closer to the game in Washington, D.C. than my time in the parks ever did. I made some comment on Facebook last week that I had power and people in D.C. noticed. While I can’t really discuss the details I found in the data I was working with, I find it funny that someone jumped to the ‘corruption’ conclusion. Or that I was involved in any so-called ‘corruption’. Um, no. Nothing that interesting at all. Just an HR mistake that caused someone to miss out on part of their due wages.

Corruption? Dear god, what do people think of me?

Some of the political stereotyping and memes I see posted and re-posted on Facebook every day make me want to get more into this political game. I’m sure I would get eaten alive. But I want to help make good decisions about our country’s natural resources. And frankly, I think both sides are so screwed up that we shouldn’t follow either side. We need to think and act rationally, which neither major party is doing right now (again, my opinion). We need to make decisions that are not based on money, but on the fact that people need clean air and clean water to sustain life. Without life, what is the point of money anyhow? You can’t take it all with you, right?

So maybe that will be something else I pursue during this year of change. History, politics and new ideas. Hopefully, Elvis had a last good day in the park with us today as he encouraged us to start again.

A Symptom Of A Larger Problem

The other day, two U.S. Border Patrol agents got shot….

I had a friend who blamed the current U.S. President for selling guns to those cartels. Do you really think it makes a difference WHERE the shooters got the guns? Granted, I don’t think we should sell them guns. But I also believe that they will get guns from other sources, regardless of our actions.

Drugs and human traffic come across our border every day. These two things are really big business. And the truth is that the Border Patrol is just getting in the way of those businesses. These may be illegal businesses that we don’t like at all, but the issue is about businesses and money nonetheless.

What about curbing the businesses themselves? We need to address those who purchase said ‘products’ – i.e. illegal drugs and illegal labor. We need to bust up the market for these goods. We need to address drug abuse and labor abuse. We essentially can’t do anything about the people who ‘own’ the businesses if they are owned/run from other countries, but we can – and should – make it UNprofitable for them to operate in America. And that takes lifestyle choices on all of our parts.

We need to not send guns to other countries, yes. But don’t you think there is a bigger picture that isn’t being addressed, because it would impact all of our daily lives? Maybe you don’t do illegal drugs (and, yes, I include marijuana in that… Never tried it, never will -I couldn’t be bribed for a million dollars to take even one hit of that crap and I’m PROUD to admit that).

But where do your veggies come from, presuming you eat things like strawberries, lettuce, oranges and tomatoes? Can you prove where they are grown, by whom they are picked, etc.? Illegal migrant farm workers are a mainstay of agriculture in this country, whether we like to admit it or not. Our food is cheap(er) because of them. Without them, we might be paying what other people around the world pay for food – or we would *gasp* each have to produce our own food.

I’m sorry to see a Border Patrol agent get killed. It’s horrendous and shouldn’t happen. But it’s a symptom of a much larger problem for North America. And I think that, until we address our lifestyles as Americans, these ‘businesses’ are going to keep on running and we are going to continue to see Border Patrol agents put at risk.

The Death of Rocky’s Pine Forests: An Analogy for Modern America

Each of us on the staff here has a different set of park resources that fascinates us, that we have studied in depth. Off the top of my head, I can think of individual rangers, each of whom specializes in a different resource within the park: bears, Colorado History, water rights and the Colorado-Big Thompson Project, invertebrates, hummingbirds, moose, wildflowers, wolverines, geology, Grand County History. Just to name a few.

A topic near to my heart is the current issue of the Mountain Pine Beetle and the resulting dead-standing Pine trees.

First of all, it is a fascinating process that we are watching. So much more complicated than some folks might admit. Park visitors, every single day, ask me why this is happening. What has caused this? What is being done about it?

Well, the deaths of millions of pine trees across western North America seems to be boiled down to one culprit: the Mountain Pine Beetle (Dendroctonus ponderosae).

That’s the easy answer. That’s the buzz phrase of the decade.

But in reality, we need to look at a few other things.

  1. We need to look at the forest stand conditions pre-epidemic. Here in the Kawuneeche Valley of Colorado, we had very thick stands of Lodgepole Pines. And with few exceptions, these stands were representative of many forest stands throughout the western U.S. Very dense and compact, most of the trees were large – the same age and size. This happened because the last big natural disturbance that came through these stands were over 100 years ago, and the stands had aged. Why? Because we’ve repressed disturbance (a.k.a. “fire”) regimes in our forests. Wildfires would have been very healthy for our lands. (Incidentally, from what I’ve read, many tribes of Native Americans knew this fact, but we white folk refused to listen, thinking we knew better.)
  2. The climate is changing. Don’t give me the line that we can’t prove the climate is changing, or that it’s just a cycle and NOT human-induced. I don’t give a flip how you might phrase it or what you believe the causes of the changes are (believe me, my dad has given me every line in the Republican Handbook). The simple truth is that we are no longer having sufficiently cold winters. You see, this pine beetle is a native species. And yes, there are some birds that prey upon this insect. But historically, cold winters killed off some of the larvae each year. This was one natural means of population control. Without such control in place, and with great habitat and food source (the perfect sized trees), the beetle population flourished.
  3. Along with the warmer winters, we experienced another weather-related phenomenon that has enabled the beetles: drought. Drought-stressed trees have less sap in them. The trees use their sap, in part, to help defend themselves. Without such a defense, the trees face the proverbial uphill battle against any attack.
  4. So what about this fungus? The Blue Stain Fungus is the final straw. The beetles carry the fungus (supposedly in their mouths) and spread it as they chew into the trees. The mycelium of the fungus then grows and spreads, essentially blocking the tree’s phloem, helping to starve a tree that has already been somewhat girdled by beetles.

Ok, so the epidemic is complex and we might not have a complete understanding of every single factor. Add to this complexity one other factor.

The Human Factor.

People are attached to this place. Many of Rocky’s visitors have been here before – often coming to experience the park every summer, if not every season. And it hurts to see a place we love die. It looks like a lot of death and destruction out there on those mountain slopes. It hurts us to watch this, and we want to do something.

But really, at least in part (in this writer’s opinion) we are responsible for this epidemic. We made unhealthy choices for our natural resources. We repressed natural systems. We had unreasonable expectations. We must let this play out. Our forest stands are regenerating themselves, slowly but surely, with no help from humans. Go figure. We need to heed the natural world just a bit more. We need to learn from our experiences.

So there we have it. A very complex issue. A very emotionally-charged issue. An issue of which everyone has an opinion and a solution.

Sound familiar?

In this political season, every issue ought to be treated as such. We need to look beyond our own little scope of knowledge and be willing to listen to all sides. We need to be informed and not just listen to mainstream media stereotypes.

In the last week, I have had to come to a realization. We need to let things play out, just like in our forests. We need to let people make bad choices, so hopefully they will learn from their mistakes. No matter which side of the aisle wins in November, I’m willing to bet it won’t really make an ounce of change in the country if the citizens themselves don’t change.

And we’ll talk about that next.