The Press: The Good, the Bad, the…Different

As in any form of communication, there is a certain amount of information that is inevitably lost in translation. This seems especially true of print journalism, where the fidelity of the story is sacrificed at the hand of so many factors. Deadlines, editors, the short time a journalist has to spend with a story while others wait in the wings, the journalist’s style and the particular “spin” of the piece. For all of these reasons, I both love and loath the craft. And it is that – a craft. So, I often take time to put myself in the shoes of the journalist before I offer criticism. I don’t critique each scissor snip during a haircut; I don’t tell the mechanic how to fix my car (when I owned one); as an educator/instructor, I was sensitive to those telling me how to teach.  There are aspects of each art form that must appreciated as that. However, if I come out of a haircut with uneven sideburns and a chunk of hair missing from stray clippers, I ask for a touch-up.

That said, I want to offer a point of clarification on the story that ran in our university newspaper today. The story, “Not all who cycle are lost” was an interpretation of my story by the journalist. There are understandably some mis-quotes and missing information. This seems to be part of the deal with any story. The quibble I have with the re-telling lies in the third paragraph.

“The twenty-eight-year-old Hartford was one of five students working this summer to tame the property near Trout Creek in a University of Montana pilot project for sustainable agriculture. Hannah had volunteered her 100 acres of unruly evergreen forest that was nestled in a small valley between two mountains for the study.”

I think that the journalist was well-intentioned, but in this paragraph, she missed the actual point of the story. With three words, she unwittingly stepped into dangerous philosophical territory.  Never did Susann, myself, or to my knowledge, any of the other interns wish to “tame” the land.  It is true that the land was “unruly”, but that descriptor does not deserve such a negative connotation.  The land was as unruly as every other part of the world we live, buffeted by forces that we have no control over. This is what made it beautiful. In the short amount of time I spent on that 100-acres, it was clear if there were to be any taming, it would be of myself by my surroundings. This is not so say that we had no intention of altering the landscape, but the objective was to to do so in a way that preserved the integrity of area and allowed a small group to use only what they needed.

There are so many ideas about what sustainability means, that the word has lost much of its significance. Sustainability takes so many different forms that sometimes the only way to approach understanding it is by knowing what it isn’t. In all of my travels, those who most impressed me were the farmers, policy-makers, activists, and regular citizens of the Earth that understood that there was no taming our world. They hoped to live simply and thankfully in a world that, in the end, has complete control over them.


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Off the Bike, Behind the Desk

Wow, I am back in Missoula and already immersed in school! In case you have only been tracking my progress on wildandsacred, I completed my two-month tour without any major glitches to speak of, arriving back in Missoula inspired and exhausted. Being back home has been great, but only now, four weeks later, do I feel that I am finally at a point to reflect on the trip. So many of my interactions with family and friends has been spent reporting my journey, rather than processing it. However, it has been a wonderful opportunity to practice the art of storytelling – something in which I found immense value over those 2,000 miles. I do apologize for the gap in posts from Whidbey Island to Portland. It was extremely challenging to type blog posts on an ipod. I took great notes and spoke to some wonderful people in the last few hundred miles, so look for those stories over the next weeks.

There are/have been a few forums for me to share my experiences with others. The first will appear as a story in my college newspaper, the Montana Kaimin. The other will be a showing of the movie Food, Inc. on November 17 at the University Center Theatre. I will introduce the film and then afterward, speak about the sustainable agricultural practices I witnessed on my three months in the saddle.

In the meantime, I have been busy with wrapping up a Climate Change Studies minor, taking some great agriculture classes (one where I lead field trips for schoolchildren on our student farm), and working hard to “put up” food. I have been slaving away, making elk jerky; fishing; gleaning apples, plums, and pears; and canning endless amounts of beans. I continue to organize for 1000 New Gardens – Missoula, working on an exciting new project in conjunction with the Office of Planning and Grants and the local utilities.

Check back for more updates in the coming weeks…

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A Coal vs. Wind Showdown

The New York Times reported today the story of a single West Virginia mountaintop still standing in the midst of the massive excavation of the surrounding peaks. The article captures the complexity of the energy issues we face in this country. Would the people of Appalachia support mountaintop removal if they were not desperate for the short-term economic benefits? My home state of Montana is dealing with similar issues. With the 15% coal severance tax (proposed to be cut in half) funding our public schools and municipal projects, the opposition of coal developments would take millions from programs desperate for dollars. The efforts to provide alternative technologies to coal production is forward-thinking, especially when the hidden costs are accounted for.

I was turned on to the efforts of two musicians working to protect the mountains of Kentucky and West Virginia. Ben Sollee and Daniel Martin Moore put out a duo album called Dear Companion.  All the proceeds from it go to .

They are both from Kentucky and the funds are going to fight mountaintop removal.  Many of the songs deal with issues around mountaintop removal, especially Flyrock Blues, about the huge projectile boulders that get fired off the blast sites.

A Battle in Mining Country Pits Coal Against Wind

Published: August 14, 2010

LORELEI SCARBRO’S husband, Kenneth, an underground coal miner for more than 30 years, is buried in a small family cemetery near her property here at the base of Coal River Mountain. The headstone is engraved with two roosters facing off, their feathers ruffled. Kenneth, who loved cockfighting, died in 1999, and, Ms. Scarbro says, he would have hated seeing the tops of mountains lopped off with explosives and heavy machinery by mining companies searching for coal.

Read the rest of the New York Time’s article here.

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Climate Change Information From the Source

I was listening to the Climate Desk podcast from NPR and learned about Climate scientists contribute to the blog, responding to questions, misinformation, and explaining some sometimes complicated concepts in a way that seems accessible to the public. Scientists are sometimes pegged as poor communicators, but not so here. Real Climate is an entry point to the science without spin. Certainly worth checking out.

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Good Current Events/Climate Summary

Here is a good article from Climate Progress about some of the severe weather events happening world-wide this summer.

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Note From The Road – August 8th

For all of the cyclists who know this nugget of wisdom, pay it no mind. To the rest, a hypothetical insight:
Any time you happen to get a flat tire along your journey, patch the tube as soon as possible. Do NOT procrastinate and rely on your stockpile of fresh tubes. You never know when you may find yourself 10 miles in the wrong direction, in the rain, dark out, on a surprisingly busy backountry road trying to guess which tube doesn’t leak. Well, guess what? They all do! And now you have to patch one in the rain (FYI: glue only sets up when dry). Even when you do manage to stop the leak, it still fails, albeit only a 1/4 mile from your destination, but only because you’re lucky.

The analogies to an energy transformation in this country are endless, but I will have to postpone them while I go christen a new patch kit.

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We Must Teach Our Children Well

The concept of generational equity is often part of the climate change dialogue. In his new book, Eaarth, Bill McKibben captures the frequency with which future generations are referenced as bearing the burden of a changing climate. MKibben illustrates his point by saying, “…[I]f you’ve got a spare month some time, google ‘global warming’ and ‘grandchildren'”. He claims such a search would yield “585,000 essentially identical and anodyne responses”. The argument he drives home in his latest work is that the future is now. We are already seeing the effects of climate change. Given such a reality, if you believe it (which thousands of scientists,  many royal societies, and national academies say we should), it begs the question: how do we communicate the urgency of the problem to the current youth, saddled with the ecological, ethical, and economic fall-out decades from now?

I stopped by the North Cascades Institute (NCI) to visit with Megan McGinty, environmental educator and program manager of the Cascades Climate Challenge. The “challenge” is a 21-day course for high school students at the the NCI mountain campus on Diablo Lake, nestled amongst Washington state’s Cascade range. The program is experiential; students learn scientific concepts, apply them to their surroundings, and interact with field scientists working in the area.

The 40 high-aptitude teens learn key concepts related to climate change. Systems functions like the greenhouse effect and the carbon cycle are understood more in-depth when students meet with forest, alpine, and aquatic ecologists, as well as glaciologists and other scientist-educators. The natural science alone is enough to fill a summer, but the students also spend time on leadership development, leave no trace practices, and canoe skills.

McGinty sees the diverse curriculum as both a challenge and an opportunity. It’s difficult to go deep into the science and fulfill the outdoor and backcountry skills components, she notes. However, it is the learning outside the classroom that makes the climate science stick. Instead of using fearful rhetoric, she allows the student’s experiences to inform their understanding.

“Scare tactics don’t work,” she says. “The goal is to help students fall in love with this place. It is the 2nd and 3rd order connections to climate change here that make it stick,” McGinty explains.

When naturalists like Jon Reidel tell their stories and explain the changes in the mass balance of area glaciers, the effects of climate change begin to resonate. This is where the affective, emotional connection is made. “Students begin to own it,” McGinty says.

The two groups of high-schoolers disperse to their respective schools come fall, where they are required to engage in a service project related to their learning at the NCI. In sharing their experiences and working on solutions in their communities, the students are adapting to a rapidly changing Earth. McGinty states with wistful pragmatism, “Possibly, the ability to adapt is what may save us in times to come”.

Watch the promotional, student-produced video here:


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