The certainly new, and hopefully improved, DBB

It’s a good idea, reality-based education. Architecture internship – any sort of internship – is founded on it. And even that doesn’t usually include actual building, beginning with nothing more than an expanse of landscape and need for adequate, reasonable shelter. First, design is based in mindfulness, drawn upon a living, breathing client, in these cases a client born facing a steeply uphill playing field, if one could even conceive of the Navajo reservation as anything other than political and socioeconomic jail, the time whiled away in alcohol and in a nearly absolute, gainful employment abyss. Beautiful in its ruggedness if you’re just passing through – Anasazi ruins around every bend, Monument Valley, the Grand Canyon, the canyon formerly known as Glen, now Lake Powell, all of which add to the learning, about self and place and everything between, alighting, one hopes, upon responsibility, something that with the advents of cheap, bleeding energy and the Me generation has backslid countless vertical feet from its American peak of 110-percent, one-for-all engagement during World War II. Responsibility. Welcome, DesignBuildBLUFF, based in what is hoped and expected to be a next new reality and understanding.

 

My tenure at shepherding the program has been a blast; I’ve loved it all, but for a few, of the hundred and fifty or so students who’ve passed through, as we worked hard, side by side, scratched heads, laughed, ate, drank, played games, played mostly innocent tricks, and laughed some more, poring over sheaves of details, and details scratched into lumber, concrete and sand. I remember a lot of the few thousand days; I have notes and graphs and schedules and calendars, some never realized, others in spades – balance, of course – and my own scratching of head in tens of journals, and I still can conjure specific difficulties met and the triumphs celebrated. Yeah, ten thousand hours, per Malcolm Gladwell. I should be someone somewhere. I might be defined by the DBB alumni, and I’d be glad for that, masterly talent and confidence given. I’m happy that I’ve done it. As they say, one has to let his children leave home, and one hopes, doesn’t he, they go away to college. The metaphor couldn’t be more apt. DBB, the program that constructs what is usually only imagined architecture for the Navajos, has gone to the Utes. The College of Architecture+Planning has accepted DesignBuildBLUFF as a new assembly of appendages. CA+P is taking the reins and the ultimate responsibility at last. I’m upstairs, more or less kicked by myself, and smiling.

 

One of the bandstands nearly killed me our very first year, at the end of what was then the design/build studio, one semester, three hours three days a week. Baby-stepping. A 300-pound steel capital atop a twelve-foot tall, twelve-by-twelve column fell directly at me as we failed to manually muscle it vertical. I was saved from being crushed and likely mangled by a steel tube railing, stouter than you’d think, its structural capacity probably just intuited (as can be many sizes and connections), fine by me. It may have contributed to my recent back surgery, but the incident would be listed along with many others in the rolling credits. Not to mention the more chronic examples of cause. The summer we began building a home for Thupten Kunga and his family of seven Tibetan refugees, a student told the television reporters, “Basically, all we did was dig.” The eight intrepid students who came to Bluff that first, experimental year (tell me which one isn’t) renamed the exercise “design/dig”. Some weeks ago today physical therapists performed a pantomime for me, how not to shovel snow – I’d spent a decade doing the exact same movement moving gravel, one of DBB’s more expert Zen koan repetitions, like the Karate Kid’s wax on, wax off. Never forget that this whole gig is merely a path. Humility is the most important virtue that we teach, along with persistence and patience, and humor, and…eventually there is a house you’ve built, with running water and streaming electrons, made up of maybe millions of moments. And like Kurt Vonnegut’s fictional alien race from the planet Tralfamadore, who are immortal in the sense that they skip infinitely in time back and forth, forth and back, at will to any selective point of their life, death and birth included, we students of the design and build process are allowed the same dance. And I think we dig it. (About the millions of moments I’m fairly sure. I named my small architecture firm/studio gigaplex, a term for ten to the billionth power, the number, it is said, of possible states of mind a human’s traipses through in an average lifetime.)

 

What other manner of education can match the worthwhile of exploration? Addition and multiplication memorization come to mind, the periodic table and anatomy, and even those are booster rockets into whatever space you might choose to explore. At DesignBuildBLUFF you are not trying to please a professor’s certain brand of aesthetic, nothing rote about it; tips toward the safe use of tools, sure, but nothing spoon fed to barf back up. Questions, none dumb, are often answered by the aural equivalent of mirrors. As much as anything, this is a novel about self-discovery, diving in and dog paddling, like the caterpillar, to the butterfly. Students‘ lives are changed; they all write about it. To do is to understand, as one, or all, of those Chinese ancient dudes once said, confidently. Like they say today, it’s a brand. Only a little bit disguised, we preach; I still wholeheartedly endorse the fact that it’s a good idea, reality-based education.

 

The student designs his or her own course (I recognize that the possessive pronoun “their” is acceptable now that women are human, too, even included in the catch tag “you guys”, also weird, yet easy, but adding the extra words still sounds more poetic, and we’re in the midst of courting [but, some would ask, when are we not?]). It is simple. It is the kinder, gentler, more optimistic version of giving them enough rope, and yes, they get hung up. But they will discover their own trail back, or better, forward, and that very act of bushwacking is indelibly stained on a consciousness. Do you merely not get in their way? There are untold nuances to mentorship, to the making of and then enforcing a tablet of rules. Nimbleness needs to pervade, and the spirit over the letter. And the Force.

 

Be it with the College of Architecture+Planning. I’m alongside, on board, on the non-profit board, upstairs (my father always talks about the guy “upstairs”, so, hey, I can be your Bette Midler windpipes, beneath wings, too, if like her, there is also “ha-ha”, to quote textinglish). Frank Ferguson, one of the F’s in the Salt Lake City architecture firm FFKR, a guest lecturer while I had lay prone to the muse, once mightily professed, scoldingly, at the jury’s presenter, Architecture is a matter of life or death! It’s limiting, I think, and institutional, an anvil squeezing the neck, like a Hell Week interpretation of architectural studio culture, chain them to their desks, feed speed. No, I would shorten the shouting: Architecture is a matter of Life. I called it Life-specific design. Any kind of life; any kind of animal; any kind of vegetable; its acronym, a synonym for architecture, opens your mind.

 

The goal: the certainly new, hopefully improved (finger+finger) DesignBuildBLUFF. Give us your weak, tired, huddled masses to house. Give us your time and/or money in order to just do it, or – as I’ve said many times – do justice.

 

– Hank Louis

Rain House Completed!

The close of another successful semester shines on DesignBuildBLUFF as the Rain House completed construction mid-December. 20 UC Denver students and 2 Southern Utah University Engineering students spent four months in Bluff collaborating during the design and build proving that architects and engineers can live and work in harmony!

 

Lorraine Toney and her five children moved into their finished home just in time to celebrate Christmas and New Years.  The ‘Rain House’, named after Lorraine’s nickname, is fully functional with running water and electricity.  Completed for the total of $36,560, the 1200 SF  house includes three bedrooms, two bathrooms, kitchen, living and laundry.

 

The adapted design parti ‘Bar Box’ is distinctly expressed as a reclaimed wood slatted box intersects a rectangular concrete form. The hand mixed concrete walls were poured bucket by bucket in 12” lifts, each layer subtly different in color to achieve the horizontal aesthetic of the surrounding red mesas.  A void, defined by south and north face curtain walls, breaks the rhythm of the linear concrete mass providing a clear view through the house framing the North Mesa. The ‘Bar Box’ sits comfortably under a low pitched shed roof as it blends into landscape.

 

Oriented on the length of north/south axis, the south elevation provides 20% glazing to effectively heat the concrete floors by solar gain during winter months.  To prevent any heat loss during the night hours, two interior sliding walls are designed to cover the large south and north facing curtain walls.  The concrete wall is constructed with a 3” exterior concrete veneer and a 6” interior concrete structure. The two sandwich a thermal break of 3” rigid foam insulating the interior.  A dramatic roof overhang provides appropriate shading during the summer to protect the interior from harsh southern exposure.

 

For the first time, the National Renewable Energy Lab in Golden, Colorado worked with DBB students to digitally model the house’s design in energy modeling software known as Energy Plus.  Such software abled student’s to calculate the house’s winter and summer temperatures.  Energy Plus calculates the house’s temperatures to maintain 60 degrees in winter and 70 degrees in summer.

 

Upon entry through an east facing door, one emerges into a dimly lit, low ceiling foyer providing an intimate transition from the exterior into naturally illuminated living and sleeping spaces.  The open plan of the living space includes a kitchen and family room that visually extend into a northern exterior deck.  A large curtain wall separates this indoor/outdoor space. The intersecting wood slatted box cuts through the interior kitchen and emerges through the north face running parallel to the deck.  Designed for privacy,  Lorraine’s bedroom lies on the west, opposite her children’s east end bedrooms.  Each bedroom has a small sitting nook cut through the concrete wall providing a small space to read, write or relax.  Similar to the intersecting box, the ‘pop outs’ emerge in the exterior concrete wall finished with reclaimed wood slats.

 

– Cindy Bithell

A neither/nor proposition…

Fall’s mold or sage’s bloom, or the Idaho forest fires’ smoke — hay fever season — has my sinuses  in a vise grip, forcing drainage to full flow.  So I wonder, as always, as every autumn it thunders into my skull on massive buffalo hooves like clockwork, like the springtime turkey buzzards’ return to Bluff — I wonder:  is it more environmentally appreciative to toss soiled tissues into the toilet, or into the trash? (Of course I know well enough not to use what we generically call Kleenex — I learned a hundred years ago, not so much because of ungreen superfluous packaging, but the equally allergenic, oily, cheesy perfume, the same that leaves your unclean seeing glasses even filmier and foggier than before.)  A conundrum, it seems, identical to the check-out lady’s old question, “Paper or plastic?”  There are arguments for, but mostly against, either.  A neither/nor proposition in the end, yet it begs a bring-your-own-washable-cotton-bag solution.  As we reach paralysis (on many levels), do we traipse backward to employ what has been derided a ‘snot rag’?  Yeck! we think.  Why so enamored of the antiseptic?  (Not just any kind of bag, mind you, but “washable” cotton for your groceries — doesn’t that sully the water, too?)  Save up for a mini weenie roast bonfire?  What are the front-end costs of compostable?  You do have to include environmental accounting — what does it do to the “good bacteria”?  Head spinning even worse I consult the title which, indeed, laughs out loud:  How Bad Are Bananas?  Its subheading: The Carbon footprint of Everything.  For instance, bananas themselves:

 

“are good for just about everyone — athletes, people with high blood pressure, everyday cycle commuters in search of an energy top-up, or anyone wishing to chalk up their five servings of fruit and vegetables per day…They are grown in natural sunlight — no hot-housing required.  They keep well, so although they are grown thousands of miles from the end consumer, they are transported by boats (about 1 percent as bad as flying). There is hardly any packaging, if any, because they provide their own…”

 

But, it continues, “Don’t let me leave you with the impression that bananas are too good to be true…Of the 300 types in existence, almost all those we eat are of the single, cloned ‘Cavendish’ variety.  The adoption of this monoculture in pursuit of maximum, cheapest yields has been criticized for degrading the land and requiring the liberal use of pesticide and fungicide.  Furthermore, although land is dramatically better used for bananas than beef in terms of nutrition per acre, there are still parts of the world in which forests are being cleared for banana plantations.”  As I intimated, it’s a jungle out here!  The truth in accounting goes on to say that the only really bad bananas are any that you let rot in your fruit bowl, joining “the scandalous 40 to 50 percent of food wasted in the U.S.”  I cringe, sheepishly run to pulse up a smoothie.  The book breaks down most other fruits, too, and vegetables, according to their “co2e” (carbon dioxide equivalent, which includes methane, nitrous oxide and refrigerant gases, all generally lumped into the warming, or weirding, culprit called “greenhouse”).  Other categories up and down the spectrum include:  A war, Driving one mile, A new car, Doing the dishes, A heart bypass operation, Christmas excess — tell me about it — and,

 

An email

0.3 g co2e a spam email

4 g co2e a proper email

50 g co2e an email with long and tiresome attachment that you have to read

> A typical year of incoming mail adds up to 135 kg (300 lbs.)

co2e:  over 1 percent of the 10-ton lifestyle and equivalent to driving 200 miles in an average car.

 

I knew there was a reason I eschew it, email, to my and everyone else’s detriment, they say.  But the actual detriment comes because I don’t really eschew it, truly.  I dabble in it, putting my own particular screw to the world.  A virtual cad who knows next to nothing about CAD, much less BIM, but an athletic supporter in a cheerleading fashion, leading people on, mysteriously vacating a questionable broadband-aided self for weeks, even months at a time.  Then coming back to turn it in a little deeper.

 

I do freak about a misplaced iPhone, but secretly I loathe it just the same.  Ehlias, my son, Skyped the other day (verbs these days, to Skype, to FedEx) from Aix-en-Provence, and recounted an exasperating, initiation-type gerbil wheel against which he’d been recently running madly.  He couldn’t buy a cell phone until he provided a bank account, couldn’t open a bank account until he had a semi-permanent residence, and he couldn’t find a semi-permanent residence until an agency might know him well enough to trust him, stemming from French law, skewed, not surprisingly, to the favor of lessees.  Not exactly sympathetic, as unfortunately can be my wont, I spewed a version of back in the day having to walk five miles to school through inconceivably deep (remember warming, weirding?) snow; I reminded him that for several years while he was growing up (in a Banana Republic, as it were) we didn’t have even what we now call a land line, relying instead upon the local cantina’s connection to news about four kilometers south in Matapalo, named for the ubiquitous vine (there in the un-virtual jungle) that chokes trees to death.  I suppose, however, it’s all relative.  As I said, I freak when I don’t feel the wireless umbilical buzzing my front right pocket, or when it has died and I’m lacking the hard-wire umbilical to plug into the grid!

 

So, I pick up the Sunday New York Times, which from distraction and personality I stretch throughout the week.  Someone I once hung out with pointed out the potential fact that relationship compatibility could possibly depend upon the order in which you read its sections, adding fuel to the argument that opposites attract.  It should shock no one that found at the bottom of my pile is the front page.  Addlepated, maybe, but I’d be dumbfounded further to learn that anyone other than a wonk reads the first things first, and even he would seek out what used to be called The Week in Review, or Op/Ed, which now have been combined.  Getting to the front page, lead article:  Power, Pollution and the Internet, Industry Wastes Vast Amounts of Electricity, Belying Image.  Seems the Times has conducted a yearlong examination.  It begins with an amusing anecdote about back in the day, Moore’s Law style, early 2006, when Facebook’s 2400 square foot bank of servers were about to melt from overheating and the engineering chief “cleaned out all of the Walgreens in the area” of their fans as solution.  Today the company requires outsize versions of that facility, spreading over hundreds of thousands of square feet, and  those are a “mere fraction of the tens of thousands of data centers” using “about 30 billion watts of electricity, roughly equivalent to the output of 30 nuclear power plants.”  Piling on, “McKinsey & Company analyzed energy use by data centers and found that, on average, they were using only 6 percent to 12 percent of the electricity powering their servers to perform computations.”  Ten years ago the most data-intensive customer had about 50,000 gigabytes in its entire database; now roughly a million gigabytes are processed and stored in a data center during the creation of a single 3-D animated movie.  “Sending a message with photographs to a neighbor could involve a trip through hundreds or thousands of miles of Internet conduits and multiple data centers before the e-mail arrives across the street.”  Talk about perspective.  I had thought that computerizing everything was supposed to save energy and resources, you know, the old paperless promise, saving trees (should we de- or re-jungle?).  There are other ways, sure, but I feel a little bit sang and danced.  And the cloud?  The cloud, according to a source, “just changes where the applications are running.  It all goes to a data center somewhere.”  The cloud is disk drives.  What’s driving this massive growth is “the end-user expectation of anything, anytime, anywhere.”  We have seen the enemy and he is us.  Earlier:  “player statistics flowing into servers that calculate fantasy points and league rankings, snapshots from nearly forgotten vacations kept forever in storage devices.  It is only when the repetitions of those and similar transactions are added up that they start to become impressive.”  Impressive, check that:  I have seen the enemy and he is me.

 

I threw the tissue in the toilet, thinking that one, like I said, it wasn’t the fancy, lacy-traced, smelly stuff from out of an extra chipboard box, but toilet paper, not super squeezy, but not that cheap, loud, waxy kind you find in squat or National Forest facilities, either, more the Goldilocks type; and two, that water’s bound to be flushed sooner or later with more pressing concerns, hence, I can walk away from the two-point shot and follow through, conscience clean.  Is that any way to spin it, though?  It’s a least bad, weaselly option at best, I’m afraid.  Gunking it up down the toilet over here, Boss.  What if it were a privately-owned septic?  The utter arrogance of my action, albeit decisive, reminded me of a recent piece published in another paper, the Salt Lake Tribune — no, not about him, not necessarily — that nearly made me drop and hug that same commode.  Arguing about a move to disallow homeowners to retain ambiance by legally declaring their neighborhood an historic district in the wake of tear-downs and the ensuing erection of starter castles, Salt Lake City Council Chairman Soren Simonsen (an architect), said “that the 51 percent approval is measured only by the ballots returned to the city.  That, he maintained, makes the threshold lower and the historic district designation easier to attain because disinterested homeowners most likely won’t participate.”  Terrific.  Banking on disinterest; policy by ambivalence.  As if this current election doesn’t really matter perhaps because of the omnipresent Washington partisan gridlock, or because this state’s already been painted a deep, deep red, or because it’s only part of an election cycle.

 

Winter, at least, gives me temporary reprieve to at last wrest the white, or the black, or even the black and white from unending gray phlegm.

It’s the Institution, stupid…

Hank’s Diary: Spring 2012

A few years ago I received a note from the founder of the Sun, a terrific magazine of interviews, literature and readers’ writings about topics which are planned and deadlines published a year or so in advance. The magazine was on the ropes, and the founder/publisher/editor had decided that things needed to change, economically, in order for it to sustain itself. Like those great television advertisements that you can’t ever recall exactly what it is they were hawking (Jobs and Chiat-Day’s famous 1984 commercial for a Super Bowl long before the roman numeral L loomed, for instance), I don’t remember exactly the strategy offered by this brilliant man of the Sun – it might have been just a hike in the price of subscriptions in order to keep the slim magazine advertiser-free, a huge basis for editorial freedom, for sticking to convictions, virtues, rubbing away the silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth – but apparently it worked. Just the other day, at the end page of the Utne Reader, Eric Utne himself wrote that the magazine he’d founded was now moving to Topeka, classically not Minneapolis, after having been bought out a few years prior. He wasn’t melancholy. Hardly, far from it, more of a cheerleader – it was his baby, after all. You let your children grow up and go off to college and all you can do is encourage and advise either quietly or boisterously from the sidelines. Mr. Utne had a couple of suggestions about departments to keep, and the culture they would, he hoped, maintain, but otherwise fanned the new group to go wild, combust, experiment with new ideas. When Tina Brown, editor of Vanity Fair, moved to the New Yorker it seemed as if everyone collectively shuddered; the stakes for the magazine for literature (along with the Paris Review) with its venerable Baffert-esque stable of whinnying and brushed down writers here and then who made their names household, big screen, along with the tugging and leading and perhaps even love from two longtime editors who stood not in the shadows, but basking in the glow of the talent who actually admitted their genius in mentorship. It was all going to come crashing down – there again was that ubiquitous Chicken Little. What did Ms Brown do? To the world as well as to writing, she brought color. The covers of the Atlantic Monthly and Harpers change just about mid-generation, it seems, or each time a newly hired editor hires his colleague, the new art director.

It’s the institution, stupid.

The headmaster – in fact, John McPhee wrote a book about him, called The Headmaster, who we not altogether affectionately called the Quid, and it took me a long time to understand why we did so (it was slang for a wad of chewing tobacco, he being the player/coach of the baseball team, whose field was the only sport featured on the upper quad) – the headmaster at the school where I began my secondary school years had been in that capacity for more than 60 years. The second ever in history joined us during my senior year and suspended me (and a few other friends) for a few weeks at the end of the year. We were the first ever to be suspended, or so it is remembered, the Quid never admitting that he couldn’t turn a kid around single-handedly to be an esteemed citizen for the present and future. Anyway, we were misjudged in the grand scheme of things, 90 percent innocent – there were girls and drink – but wholly innocent of the charges, which were trashing, to the tune of hundreds of thousands of dollars, a mogul’s penthouse who knows where in New York City (I’d come from Phoenix). He – the mogul – had showed up the weekend after us, visiting his perch for the first time in an untold number of years. He had something like 12 sons, one of whom was our buddy who’d backed out of joining us at the eleventh hour, another who was in his mid-40s or maybe older, from like five or so wives ago, and many of them had been taking advantage of the place week in and out for years. We’d noticed champagne and other stains all over the place when we’d visited. The Quid would have been angry, for sure, but he might have been more lenient, understanding things about the mogul, who’d sent every one of his kids to the school. But we were a convenient example. I never minded, truthfully. I never minded. My parents had known all about it, and my penance was to go to the library at Arizona State University with coeds for three weeks in order to write a thesis-like paper. Today the school keeps pumping out world-renown statesmen, CEOs and artists alike.

I’m not physically nor emotionally running this gig for 60 or more years. I’m probably not physically running it at all any more, really, although I wish I were able. I like spending time with these students, kids younger than my oldest sons. I like getting to know them, maybe even helping them get to know just who they themselves are, or, more importantly, who they can be. I have no design on it, no real pedagogical sense, really; it drives all of the academics crazy. I can try to be apologetic for it, knowing how serious they all seem to be about their meetings and things. I’m a fan of Mockbee, Socrates, and even Rem Koolhaus, I’d guess, who refuses to teach anything he thinks he knows anything about, or so we’re told. I’m on record just about everywhere with an advocacy of Paulo Lugari’s advice to the apprehensive engineer/school head who he’d appointed to take the reins of his “village to reinvent the world”, Gaviotas, an experimentally sustainable community built from scrub by all kinds of engineers, brave and strong-willed, in the savannah of Colombia, “You only have to be right 51% of the time!” The stiff-collared of the bureaucracies of the Academy don’t seem to get that for a second.

We at DesignBuildBLUFF work with the clients in order to achieve a home that will bring souls to tears of outright joy all around. It just happened with the home we’re calling Little Water, which we constructed for a pair of invalided Navajos, parents of a friend of ours, Gary, who has helped us with plumbing for the past couple of years (I would never deny the fact that we, like everyone else, don’t give me any shit, are a political organization, just like the behemoths that we work for and with). Tears were flowing from all sets of eyes as they so graciously and ceremonially professed their gratefulness for the home, not for themselves, but for a home that will stand and protect their grandchildren, and perhaps even their great grandchildren, allowing all of them to stand just that slight bit more erect.

Recently we made a mistake by choosing the wrong client to receive one of the smallish – 1,000 square feet or fewer – pieces of architecture we design and build for them, free of charge. In the case of a person who I thought might be good for the Reservation as a whole, an educator in the midst of his PhD studies at the University of Utah, his wife a respected school teacher in the Salt Lake Valley, anxiously awaiting a return to teach the children of her own culture. He whined because we couldn’t provide him surround sound, nor a hot tub. He’s just a tiny smear, like most of us; he just wants to be bigger.

It’s the institution, stupid. It’s the students. They’ll keep scraping away at that silvery goo on a lottery ticket called Truth.

Skow and Nakai houses

The Skow house reinterprets the use of a standard lumber pack and existing block stem wall.  The inverted roof of “el sombrero,” towers and floats above the desert floor with sweeping views of Monument Valley.  Features include: inverted roof trusses, straw bale walls, post and beam construction, oil pipes as columns, glass curtain wall, rocket stove and a compressed earth block floor to name a few.  A complex house that will be complete in the coming months!

 

The Nakai house surrounds a bookshelf and captures the spirit of the client and the surrounding homestead.  A parabolic roof that seems to move with the wind and the surrounding dunes rises above a spandrel glass rain screen that reflects the desert landscape.  A ribbon window frames Cedar Mesa perfectly while seated at the kitchen table and a window seat projects outward beneath the shade of a tree, a place for Lorraine to read.  One of the few DBB homes to complete construction in 5 months and the first to end the semester with the lights on, thank you Mike Steele!

 

A special thanks to Big-D Construction and Park City contractors, Don Craig and Bill Hart for the stockpile of beautiful building materials.

 

- Andrew Foster

The Changing Landscape

So now they’ve ruined Indian Canyon, one of my favorite drives between Park City and Bluff. “So sad,” as says Atsushi Yamamoto, alumnus and four-year jack-of-all-trades staff member of DesignBuildBLUFF, when anything goes wrong. No shit. It reminds me of the quintessential Native American warrior who turned teary-eyed to the camera after some idiot had thrown a bag full of fast food trash at his feet in a television commercial to bolster Lady Bird Johnson’s Beautify America campaign.

 

I’ve been a ‘fan’ of, or in the even more current parlance, “liked”, SUWA (the Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance) all of these years, always appreciating anyone or group who will passionately battle the ruthless corporate insanity of trashing the pristine vastness of this state and the rest of the West, or how about the whole globe, just because they can. And now we have Governor Gary Herbert whining that the Feds (read the Obama administration) have shrunk the number of publicly owned acreage that may be ravaged while at the same time berating individuals for contributing up to one-third of Salt Lake Valley’s ugliest air in the country. He maintains that we, the people, are guilty of tipping the the difference from Yellow air quality alerts to Red, when they recommend that we stay inside, and that school children take recess in the hallways. What a riot. What a joke is this politician, the epitome of the Peter Principle, which if you don’t remember, or are too young to have learned the theory that our organizations promote employees to the level of eventual, or ultimate incompetence. The only argument I’ve ever had against Jon Huntsman, Jr, is that he left our Life Elevated, Greatest Snow on Earth state in the grasp of a total buffoon. How about this, from the Op/Ed page of the Tribune just the other day?:
“Remember the tale of Chicken Little, who cried that “The sky is falling!”? Chicken Little is hit on the head by an acorn, whips his friends into a frenzy and convinces the others that the sky is falling, which ultimately leads to their being eaten by a fox. The moral of the story is not to believe everything you hear. This is still sound advice.

 

“To hear Gov. Gary Herbert and Utah’s congressional delegation tell it, times have never been harder for energy companies operating on public lands in Utah. Hardly a day seems to go by without Sen Orrin Hatch complaining that the Bureau of Land Management isn’t selling oil and gas leases fast enough, or Herbert imagining that the federal government is standing in the way of a robust energy sector. In other words, the sky is falling.
…According to The Salt Lake Tribune, at the end of 2011 the state of Utah had a record high number of 10,300 producing oil and gas wells , the majority of which are found on public lands… At the end of fiscal year 2011 there were just under 4.5 million acres of BLM managed lands under lease, but just over 1.1 million acres in production. That roughly 5:1 ratio has stayed steady for years… If anything needs to be fixed, it is the wildly unbalanced BLM land use plans left on Utah’s doorstep in 2008 as the Bush administration left office. The plans opened more than 80% of eastern and southern Utah’s BLM managed lands to oil and gas leasing, including millions of acres of the state’s wildest public lands.”

 

Don’t get me wrong. Very high on my list is kicking action toward minimizing, in hope of finally eliminating, our reliance on imported foreign oil. As I’ve written before and continue to espouse to whomever might lend an ear, there are multiple manners by which we can achieve it, all of which need to be attacked (via research and experiment and failure) concurrently, siphoning off subsidies paid to the too big to fail, tax credits, encouragement of the proud American entrepreneurial spirit, cheerleading the Dream that’s thought lost by the droves, whatever percentage you care to use. Likely no single maneuver or direction – not wind alone, nor solar, nor geothermal, nor tidal, nor nuclear, nor fill in the blank (we know there are hundreds to thousands of wild and crazy ideas out there, including the elusive cold fusion, just read Freakonomics or Superfreakonomics, think about Helium3, or mining platinum on the moon – explain to me that you imagined that all of these slimmer and slimmer portable boxes and slick devices would drive our days and nights, or that Apple, Inc, would briefly climb to become the Fortune 1) – no, no idea can yet be singled out to accomplish our goal. Yet everything might, alternatively to spewing carbon, that is. It’s killing Indian Canyon. It kills another species at least daily, maybe, chillingly, every hour. Michael Sorkin, the architectural critic, years ago explained to an audience I was fortunate enough to be a part of, that our planet is quite like an airplane, wherein every species comprises a rivet holding fuselage and wings together, and that as each one fails its way to extinction the ability to fly altogether reaches its tipping point at which we all, homo sapiens included, go down with the ship. The environment will survive, of course: the case is how soon will our stuff become like so many artifacts in a future Museum of Natural History, and we so many bones wired together with a little guesswork.

 

Those giant metal chicken looking things pecking at the earth, flattened pads beneath the whole ordeal to hold and access them and the gray-and-green-painted cylinders failing miserably to achieve camouflage, pipes snaking away above grade, surely counter reasonable code, backhoes and front-end loaders compacting more of the same scarring unnatural flat pads, and drill rigs boring for more, more, more. What was it that dolt woman (her appearance on Saturday Night Live generated one of its highest ratings ever) from Alaska said? “Drill, baby, drill?” Should we worry that our comedians, in this case the remarkable Tina Fey, are seemingly infinitely more intelligent than our politicians? David Brooks, a favorite of mine from the New York Times, began a statement the other night, “Lesser pundits would say…” Brilliant and hilarious, cracking up the whole panel. It reminded me of the debate between Glenn Beck and Jon Stewart (who by the way, comes up just after Jon Huntsman on a Google search) on the latter’s show, who kept having to remind the controversial conservation talking head that he is a comedian, not to be taken seriously. Many of our wisest ancestors have been attributed the quote that “there exists not a shred of scientific evidence that life is serious.” Alan Watts said that that’s why angels are light.

 

The canyon at its most beautiful is but a quarter to half a mile wide, so these ugliest of chickens are spitting distance from the road. We pull over to retch – actually to urinate (it’s a long drive from Bluff to Park City), but what’s the difference, either provides the Bill McDonough’s Waste=Food nutrition to some little, even microscopic critter. And I’m thinking that Ed Abbey probably had it right; throw your beer bottles or cans out the window, for the road is a despicable intrusion and pollution in and of itself. Pisser, I couldn’t bring myself to that edge of Abbey’s monkey wrenching frenzy, no Henny Penny or Loosey Goosey me; I still tilt toward Lady Bird’s windmill, toward clean and positive energy. They don’t take these chickens away once drought leaves them impotent. Something akin to Moore’s Law tells me that even the spare parts will be obsolete. The Chinese might dig the rusted steel, though, who knows.

 

About a mile or so past the Eve of Destruction, where the North Fork of Indian Canyon veers toward what I’ve always determined to be the southwest, I see the old barn of a private cattle ranch with it’s south facing roof covered with either solar or solar thermal panels (my pedal has hit metal today, especially). Slowly a couple “what ifs” plug into my addlepated brain: what if these were giant shiny solar arrays? What if they were ten-story triple-winged (Mercedes or Peace?) wind generators? Those things appear beautiful at the mouth of Spanish Fork Canyon, and on my longer distance drives through Wyoming and the grain belt of the midwest, and arrays in the desert excite me to no end, as does the exploration of space (the only thing that Newt and I might agree upon – I’d be happy to be fired by you, Mitt). I’m keen on Helium3. I like to explore wilderness – in the side canyons all along the 80-mile stretch of Comb Ridge alongside Bluff one can easily feel him or herself to be the first intruder since the Anasazi packed up and hurriedly left back in 1230. Quickly you intuitively learn to hop rock to rock to leave no trace for the rest of the curious.
I dig risk, not the status quo of “close-ology”, how I was once explained the science of proximal drilling for oil in Texas, nor the tirelessly disruptive, distracting mechanical chickens. Noah would have banned them from the float, I believe.

 

At Bluff we provide “a place where chance can incubate.” Call it a version of the Ark.

 

- Hank Louis