June 2012

Rafting the San Juan River Canyon

By Art Goodtimes

TSP … Math-heads & complexity geeks know it as the Traveling Salesman Problem – how to fashion a formula that will predict the shortest routes between, say, 100,000 cities. I guess there is a certain kind of geeky gratification to solving such a computational Gordian Knot. But I could care less. Shorter and faster are no longer modes of choice. The older this hippie gets, the more he likes going slow. Wasn’t always this way. But times change. And taking my first river overnight on the Southwest’s classic Sand Island to Mexican Hat stretch was a spring highlight … Of course, I was blessed with great rivermates. People I’d sort of known around Telluride but got to know a lot better, one of whom had done some 50 runs on the San Juan over the last 30 years – a wealth of knowledge and great stories … We had a few little rapids. Just enough to keep you alert from getting caught on the rocks or a sandbar. But mostly a nice long lovely coast – at least for me, as my raft captain did all the oaring. Which was tough the first day out – breaking in misplaced oarlocks and bucking stiff gusty winds. But which settled into a pleasant lollygagger’s delight for the rest of the trip … The food was gorgeous. No paltry hikers’ portions or industrial mix-with-water packets. This was the real thing. Cooked over charcoal. One night, salmon fillets smoked on little planks of cedar soaked in bourbon. Beer. Tequila. Coffee with sugar or stevia, half-and-half and touch of Valrhona chocolate. I mean, I don’t eat this good at home … And while the party ethic is encouraged, the leaveno- trace ethic is the prime directive. We had our own groover (portable latrine box with attachable seat) and were instructed to wash hands, crush cans, spills crumbs into the river and not along the river campsites. In fact, the hardest thing of all for me was learning to pee into the river. There’s the shyness thing (although a few males were shameless in whipping out their peter and pissing into the stream in full public view — once as we promenaded by in our raft). It’s impolite to expose one’s genitals to public view in our culture (sometimes illegal). A bizarre, almost quaintly baroque notion – or so it seems to this Rainbow hippie. But it is the custom, and one usually tries to observe the local customs… No, the real reason I was shocked by the BLM river ranger’s etiquette talk was that, in mountain streams, I’d always been instructed not to piss in the water. To get back a ways from the water before urinating. So, learning the new ropes was unsettling … But it was impressive. The campsites were free of fire rings or old toilet paper flags flying from the bushes. And they smelled of willow leaf and yucca, not uric acid … If you want to see some photos, check my Facebook page.


Taking Leave
-for Ken Wright

On sandbars & river’s edge
geese & their goslings
ignore us, boating by

while a solitary heron
perched on legs like cattails
keeps a close eye

Bighorn sheep
leap from ledge to edge
browsing under blue skies

Circling high above us
on a rim of acrylic sandstone
& poured igneous

a hawk. Maybe an eagle.
And first sketch
rafting the San Juan

I feel the cold rush of blood
rippling through the narrows
of my body’s veins

The mind’s hot sun
warming lungs of Russian Olive
Tamarisk. Native willow

Just another critter
on the canyon block
Hitching a ride with the flow

PARTISAN MADNESS … It seems sad that we seem to be being pushed into an orgy of impolite and often untrue attack- ad games when we talk about national politics (even some state politics, though not as completely). I think many of the Republican principles are wise – fiscal responsibility, work rather than welfare, local control (meaning local participation in federal decision-making when it affects local communities). Just like I subscribe to a lot of the Libertarian principles – personal responsibility, ending foreign wars, get government out of the bedroom and our personal lives … But I don’t cotton to the current crop of Tea Party refuseniks unable to set aside differing principles and work across the aisle towards good governance on behalf of the people. There are dozens of reasons why this is a bad idea. But the most recent Scientific American editorial (June 2012 issue) in support of Planned Parenthood gives one pause ... When we champion extreme positions, we all bend the facts a bit to make a point. But when Republican Sen. Jon Kyl of Arizona pronounced on the floor of the Congress last year that PP spent “well over 90 percent” of its money – much of it in the form of federal funding – on abortions, he wasn’t just using hyperbole. He was lying ... PP spends 3 percent of its budget on assisting women with ending unwanted pregnancies (none of those services using federal monies). By proposing to cut its funding – half of it from federal and state funding – Republicans have stepped from good governance into partisan intractableness and even lying. That’s just one of many risks in letting extreme campaign partisanship rule the day. Citizens don’t know if their leaders are telling the truth or not any more. It seeds distrust, and a nation only governs wisely with the trust of its electorate … In 2011 PP served over 4 million people with tests and treatment for sexually transmitted diseases, it performed 750,000 breast-cancer exams and 770,000 Pap tests for cervical cancer. Thanks to PP’s assistance in providing birth-control options to women – in particular the pill — maternal deaths have declined 60 percent since the U.S. Supreme Court struck down Connecticut’s law against public access to contraceptives in 1965. And more than half of all doctoral degrees in this country went to women in 2009, compared to 20 percent in the early 1960s. The Chicago Tribune has even called PP “America’s largest abortion preventer” … Who knows what partisan source provided Sen. Kyl with the false info? The fact is we are moving beyond the reasonable into the realm of the deceptive with our partisanship. And it’s not a pretty picture. Or a true one.

PASTORAL LIFE … This spring, more than any other in my memory, I’ve been unable to sit behind a computer and trade emails … Imagine getting 100 a day – it’s unsustainable. If you’ve emailed me and haven’t got a message back, better go to the telephone. I can’t seem to keep current in cyberspace anymore.… But this year, at Cloud Acre, everything’s possible — with water. For years I’ve been trying to perfect my growing system for my private spud-patch experimental station, where I grow upwards of 50 varieties of potato … That’s right, 50+. I cultivate three or four plants of each variety, and end up with 300 or 400 mounds. Of course, since I’m only a part-time agriculturalist and I depend on the vagaries of the weather, I lose a bunch to drought, flood, long trips, benign neglect, bugs, deer, and the goddess remembers what else. Farming is not for the faint of heart … But after I froze the old pond pump, it was only last year that I’d gotten my new pump outfitted with quick-release couplings and fixed (actually a couple of fixes by very compassionate neighbors) and once finally took spring advantage of my junior water right (thank you, Wayne Goin) to the Goodtimes Waste Ditch as it flows into Foster Pond of the Maverick Draw drainage, thence into Naturita Creek, and down to the lower San Miguel River in Montrose County. Mid-April’s when it started to warm up enough this year to start spring’s great greening-up. But it still freezes over at night in early spring. And I’d already lost one pump and several past years’ water trying to irrigate too early … This year, the quick-release system let me make use of my pond allotment in the day, disengage the pump each night as the pond recharges, and hook up each morning. This year, color me spring green.

SCIENCE NEWS … Most o’ my private life I’ve spent deep in that right-brain intuitivecreative poet space that is my Budadaist Yogic Rainbow path. But maybe it’s the past 16 years of public service, trying to keep local government local, and away from big, or partisan, or deeply indebted, that’s made me crave science. Facts, not the fickle sway of people aroused (which, of course, in a democracy, has its place) … Anyway, I find myself at 66 devouring the science zines. Scientific American and the low-brow Science News, which summarizes hundreds of discoveries… The rare metal Iridium has been fingered in a new catalytic process to store and transport hydrogen at low temperatures and pressures – it could be a breakthrough for hydrogenfueled autos … And I learned a new word – Alkanofer — A subsurface body made of liquid alkanes, molecules such as methane and ethane that contain only single-bonded carbon and hydrogen atoms. Found on Titan, one of Saturn’s moons. Like an underground aquifer on Earth.

Art Goodtimes is a county commissioner in San Miguel County, Colo.