April 28, 2011

The Green Revolution?

Morning dew, Grand-Sault, New Brunswick.
As the seasons change along with my recreation opportunities, I would like to step back from trip reporting for a bit and delve into some of the more philosophical issues that tend to divert my attention from time to time, and I would like to share some random photographs from my collection that show the various moods of nature that I have witnessed on my travels.  With last week’s celebration of Mother Earth Day and my involvement in my employer’s sustainability initiative, my mind has been awash with thoughts of the condition of the natural environment and the recent “green” revolution.  It seems that every media outlet is touting some new “green” product and governments are promising major leaps in renewable energy and transportation alternatives.  Closer to home, my office has been making efforts to reduce consumption of paper goods and electricity in the name of sustainability, and I have been attempting to ride my bicycle to work to save on a little gasoline here and there.

Moonrise on the Riga Plateau, New York.
This notion of sustainability is part of a spreading environmental awareness that has emerged in popular culture in the last few years; all of which is a step in the right direction, but I have this feeling that something is missing.  Our culture, despite the “greening” pastures, still seems hell bent on following the consumer model that has become entrenched in the last 50 or 60 years.  You should have an idea of what I’m talking about – the conspicuous consumption of petroleum and disposable retail goods, our reliance on an agricultural system based on chemical fertilizers and monoculture, and sprawling suburbs that leave automobiles as the sole transportation choice.  Perhaps you’ve heard the saying that if each of Earth’s citizens lived an American lifestyle we would need something like five or six more planets to accommodate everyone’s needs.  This hardly sounds like sustainability and brings to light the myriad environmental injustices being perpetrated around the world in the name of profit and convenience.  When I ponder this, the pessimist in me starts to think that the whole "green" revolution is pile of smug shit that lets us, on a mental level, continue to live our wasteful lifestyles while believing we're doing something good for the environment.

Graham's Harbor, San Salvador, Bahamas.
The optimist in me, however, takes heart in that factions of the younger generations are recognizing the folly of the mass consumption model and are making an attempt to return to a simpler lifestyle for reasons both economic and environmental.  I see a renewed interest in planting gardens to supplement store-bought food, and people are choosing to live closer to the workplace to avoid long commutes.  Interestingly, I also see a weakening of the  of "work hard and sacrifice and you might be rewarded" corporate mentality (at least among employees, not necessarily employers).  Instead, I see a shift towards scaling back lifestyles so as to minimize reliance on the daily grind.  Obviously, though, there is a long path to walk in this respect, but every long journey begins with a single step.  Thoreau was on that right path, back in 1845 in his cabin by the pond...

Na Pali coast of Kauai.
I wonder, though, how the current cohort of environmentally-minded pioneers will fare as they progress in their careers and begin earning the money that makes the consumer lifestyle more attractive.  Take a look at the Baby Boomers, who sparked the first nationwide environmental movement in the 1960's and 1970's and then moved on to become the most voracious consumers in American history.  I am hopeful that younger Americans may stay true to their ideals of simplicity, self-reliance, and environmental stewardship because the future of the American economy may require it.  Let's face it, the glory days of booming manufacturing and cheap raw materials are waning and we may have no choice but to return to regional economies in which foods and goods are produced locally and wasteful consumption becomes unaffordable.

Connecticut River south of Enfield, Connecticut.
When I think about conscious lifestyles, I look back to my grandparents' generation, often referred to as the Great Generation; those born in the raucous 1920's, raised in the lean times of the Great Depression, and seasoned on the lethal shores of France and Iwo Jima or in the aisles of a factory at home.  In my mind, these people knew how to stretch a dollar because they had no other option, and they learned how to go without.  They grew gardens, walked to work, and hung clothes on the line not because of the environment, but because of economy.  (Not The Economy, as pitched by the media and stumped upon by politicians, but economy as in living within means; Thoreau's notion of economy).  But come to find out, what was good for economy was good for the environment, and vice versa. 

Hammonasset State Park, Connecticut.
So, as the "green" tide pushes further and further inland into the consciousness of American society, we need look only a few generations back to get a sense of what our future may hold.  The next few decades may prove to be a shock to our collective systems as we forge on with finding innovative ways to power our homes and feed our bodies, but as long as we develop a grasp on true economy and don't allow The Economy to pillage the environment and our souls, we just might make some progress as a human species.

April 17, 2011

The Art of Living Simply: A Backcountry Trip Report, Part II

My cousin Johnny G. was cool to share his photos from the backcountry trip.  Rather than typing some overly-worded essay on the ethereal nature of backcountry skiing (did I really write "Gaia's temple" in the last post?  Note to self, cut back on drinking and blogging), I'll simply post up the pictures and let them speak for themselves (well, plus some captions; blogging is by definition narcissistic so I can't help but impart some Woods Hippie flavor).  Enjoy.

Camping and skiing here is one of the coolest things you can do without involving a 9-iron, pack of condoms, and some illegal fireworks.
We're, like, totally hardcore and all, but you can't argue with chowda' bread bowls and cold pints!
Long distance runner, what you holdin' out for?
Caught in slow motion in a dash for the door.
The flame from your stage has now spread to the floor
You gave all you had, why you wanna give more?
The more that you give, the more it will take
To the thin line beyond which you really can't fake.

Fire! Fire on the mountain!

Saturday was a tryst between orographic snowsqualls and an emergent spring sun.  While the cosmos had yet to declare winter or spring as victor , we as riders won big.
Dear couch potatoes.  It's okay, we understand that you didn't want to miss the next episode of Idol.  We made sure all this powder got skied.  And by the way, while you were letting the television rob you of your mind and an actual life, we were thriving in the woods and continuing the great survivalist tradition.  It's cool though, but don't get mad at us and those like us when this society goes to shit and we procreate with your girlfriend and inhabit the woodlands while you sit uselessly on the couch, trying in vain to click a remote control at a blank TV screen while wondering what the hell to do with yourself...
I should have waited one more week to shave the beard.  It was friggin' cold out.
Winter is but a distant memory here in CT, and Johnny G. is onto the next thing, along with the rest of us.  Marquis nailed a top-10 finish in his first MTB race of the season, and my running shoes have been hitting the trails on the reg.

April 12, 2011

The Art of Living Simply: A Backcountry Trip Report, Part I

"Most men, even in this comparatively free country, through mere ignorance and mistake, are so occupied with the factitious cares and superfluously coarse labors of life that its finer fruits cannot be plucked by them."


Perhaps this post should be titled, "The Art of Simply Living".  Either way, the message is the same.  I am pleased to report that the Woods Hippie ski tribe plucked the finest of fruits during a recent extended excursion into the wilds of northern Vermont's backcountry.  In a fitting tribute to Thoreau's notion of economy (please read Walden if you have not already), we resided in a simple cabin with Spartan accomodation and our souls were enriched by tending to our most basic physical needs of food and shelter while living for days on end on skis and snowshoes.  We lived and breathed the ski lifestyle for a few ephemeral days, and, with the cares of a grinding civilization temporarily behind us, our thoughts were able to circle around to the direction of the wind, the condition of the fire in the woodstove, the tilt of windblown icicles on the high-mountain spruce, the interplay of sunlight and shadow on freshly-fallen snow, and...so as not to sound too erudite...the level of beer in the keg.  Replace the Gore-Tex with leather, skis with muskets, and fresh powder stashes with bison and we could have just as easily been a band of spirited mountain men in the pre-colonial past...both scenarios boil down to men thriving in wild pursuit of adventure in equally wild places.

The cabin was at once an incongruity and an extension of the mountainside...an incongruity in that such a crude structure should not reside in Gaia's temple; an extension in that its simplicity somehow just fit in with the woods, a permissible excursion of man's modest need for shelter in a cold place.  In many ways our small cabin was a modern version of Thoreau's; a shelter that serves to grow the spirit of wilderness travelers without unduly imparting itself on the experience.  Except, as Thoreau ultimately discovered, the cabin was so magically simple that we couldn't help but make it the centerpiece of our excursion.

Thoreau harvested beans and we harvested powder.  Other than that, not much else differed.
Kindling still needed to be split in 2011 as in 1845.

The crew was mixed this year with two seasoned vets and two cabin rookies, though the cabin rookies were no strangers to the outdoor lifestyle.  Johnny G. jumped into the fray with a fierce head cold and shone through by tending the fire and providing some rich venison stew.  Jamie joined the party with a 5-gallon keg of Trapps Golden Lager (hauled over a mile from the trailhead by Marquis de Richmond, I must add) and a home-grown ham dinner.  Marquis and I toasted the third successful installment of the cabin trip and lamented the absence of one of the founding triumvirate.  Everyone found a sheer delight in the remarkable late season snow conditions; late season by calendar only...Mother Nature gripped us in the full force of mid-winter with below-zero nighttime lows and howling daytime winds choked with copious orographic snow.

The woodstove stood as the silent sentinel over the day's activities; a source of heat and purified water and a catalyst for conversation.

The day's explorations unfolded with minimal forethought; we suited up and stepped into our skis and snowshoes and struck off on the high mountain trails, guided by the occasional marker until our search for powder and trees found us navigating the woodlands by map, compass, and dead reckoning.  After two years of teasing us with variable snow conditions, Ullr finally blessed us with shin-deep pow on top of a gracious base.  Skis and 'shoes expedited travel, but the base was firm enough to prevent postholing on late night latrine runs...

Johnny G. gettin' his.

By late afternoon on the second day, all parties converged at the cabin.  With woodstove blazing and night falling, the temperatures on either side of the thin wooden walls made their respective shifts, and our attention turned from skis and trees to cold beer and hot food.  The non-campers and spouses out there might ask, "What do you do on those camping trips?"  Jamie succinctly offered, "Mostly burping and farting..."

In all reality, a ski cabin trip is an age-old tradition in the vein of deer camps and fishing lodges.  I won't even attempt an explanation.  Those who know, know.  Those who don't, don't.

Marquis gettin' his.

Then he got an idea.  An awful idea.  The Grinch got a wonderful, *awful* idea!
Looks like all the Whos in Whoville will get their presents this Christmas...

Stay tuned for Part II, hopefully I'll figure out how to embed Johnny's sick GoPro footage.