Wagon Wheel Saloon Gossipmongers

Nothing Much Happens in Light of Day

Judging mind is what afflicts most of my waking day. As environmental activists go there appear to be various kinds and types. Good weather is a terrible thing when you need awful weather to help fill reservoirs, swell rivers and provoke useful flash floods.

To quell certainty and consult with higher authorities I swing south to the Mexican frontier and pull into Patagonia, Arizona where I will speak with the town’s grizzled survivors of past and present confrontations.

All five hundred citizens live in mesquite and cottonwood splendor up in the higher country. Sonoita Creek runs when it runs at all along Patagonia’s northern boundary. An Australian mining operation in the Patagonia Mountains is good news for jobs and not good news for contaminated waters that runoff into Harshaw Creek. The bone dry headwaters of the Santa Cruz River are to the west, further yonder is Nogales.

Santa Cruz County has been losing citizens for most of a century. Ranchers ran too many head of cattle until the rangeland collapsed. A century later recovery is slow and fat times and big herds are long gone.

Daylight comes pull on your pants best start with coffee at Gathering Grounds. If you want to know what is and isn’t going to happen in Patagonia word will spread from here reverberate off Santa Rita Rd to Roadrunner Lane then crash land by dusk at the Wagon Wheel Saloon.

Gossip and speculation arrive as the simple truth later that day all dressed up with exaggeration and outright falsehoods. All this speculative ruminating heals small town solitude. For some the hands of time crawls, for others clocks stand still, here in Patagonia all this slow aching wait will make a stash of whiskey go missing.

Dogs Ride Shotgun

There is no rush hour, no crowds, no lines, no waiting. If you suffer from an automotive breakdown the only reason it is not fixed this instant is to do with the mechanical philosophy employed by the talented souls that have dedicated their waking hours to fixing the problems you alone have caused. All these worn out used machines didn’t just get like this, something has caused all this wear and tear, all this put off maintenance and mindful neglect. You will need more time to be more ashamed of yourself.

You’ll be directed to get a room at the Stage Stop Inn. Supper is served early, don’t wait too long, because by then the cooks finished and steadying their culinary trials at the Wagon Wheel before walking back to their tin roofed adobe with its brightly painted green front door.

Younger souls arrive by mistake and a handful try to make a go of it and stay. At one time most had come by Volkswagen bus. All the full timers see the many who seek a life here and the few who find one to be part of Darwin’s great insight into survival. Patagonia is not the Galápagos Islands but by closing time at the Wagon Wheel people in the parking lot out front enjoy a few last cuss words while throwing stones to scatter pesky javalena.

The lithium mine up on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada is about to break ground. I am in here in Patagonia to put the open pit mining troubles in the Great Basin up for discussion down here in the Sonoran.

Water contamination is always a concern when an open pit mine is involved. Once a mining company can see the first glimmer of the end they’ll belly up go bankrupt, defund the miners pension plan, look to stash their profits into untouchable accounts and leave as much of the mess for governments to cleanup, there is no profit in buckling under to authority.

Socialists, communists and libertarians are epithets, Chevy, Ford and Dodge pickup trucks reflect upon the vulgar purchasing decisions of the drivers. There is no such thing as elective surgery in Patagonia or Thacker Pass, there are no surgeons, no hospitals and no health care system at all. You drive to Nogales or Winnemucca if what you want to do is go on a date with a doctor.

From space looking down on Thacker Pass Lithium Mine

Still, here we are up on Thacker Pass, about to jump off the cliff and commit to a Canadian mining company’s proposal to bring lithium out of the ground, refine the ore and then ship this battery making compound to markets here in the United States.

A band of blockaders have set up camp on Thacker. Here told they say that no good can come from this project, that humankind needs to forget about the automobile and imagine a less mobile life that is more in line with how we’ve been doing it since we first arrived on this planet. Nike stocks are up and Goodyear Tires stocks are down in this groups solutions to our planetary problems.

Like Patagonia up on Thacker once the mine swings into production water will be pumped, refining process requires water, then the waste water will need remediation and a safe journey back into the ground. Lithium mining operators up here must get this right, have the know how to do just that, and all we need to do is hold them to it.

Looking out five decades to the mining operation exhausting the lithium up on this mountain, nobody knows for sure how many batteries will be built with this ore, but plenty guess, my best guess is near about one billion automobiles plus or minus one billion to be about right.

Here you see how far you’ll have to go to get away

I keep trying to wrap my judging mind around our effort to pull our world out of the carbon trap we’ve set. Outside the Wagon Wheel Saloon in Patagonia I propose that the best whiskey drinking solutions often tend to end by being read fairytales by frolicsome partners.

I’m seeking a proper solution here. For both operations, one near Patagonia the other up on Thacker Pass water treatment and filtration, we make damn sure we are running a wholistic system that doesn’t endanger our future since we are doing this because our future is already endangered. Screwing this up even more is as stupid as stupid gets, hope you wildcatters in the Permian are listening.

Second, we put more teeth in bonds mining company’s are legally required to post. Right now they can do some no good dirty double crossing and just as you near the time you start winding down the mining company and its assorted subsidiaries scatter like jackrabbits with the loot and vanishes without a trace. We’ll need to sharpen our contracts, make sure a promise made is a promise kept, put into a contract, put a royalty on the product, stuff that into an untouchable account and when time comes pensions, cleanup funds and other assorted closing costs are fully cared for.

Friends I’m afraid that’s about all the spleen, chewing tobacco and my favorite pet ring-tailed coatimundi stories I have time for. Slow walking across the field to Train Track Trail my rig is parked my bunk waiting where I’m going to rest my judging mind and allow for some night hour dreams to shelter me from life’s storms.

Buckets of Rain Buckets of Tears

Last summer’s monsoons in the Southwest last went missing . Last weeks Southern Colorado-Northern New Mexico snowfall in the headwaters to the Rio Grande while welcomed offered little relief. Most of New Mexico is in severe drought.

Reservoirs in Marin County, California are so low water agencies are within a week of enacting mandatory conservation orders similar to those caused by the drought in 2013-2017.

On March 23rd California State Water Resources Control Board mailed — “warning notices to agricultural water rights holders urging them to plan for potential shortages by reducing water use and adopting practical conservation measures.”

Utah’s governor is urging residential water users to begin conservation measures. From Ogden to St. George the region has been hit hard by a lack of rain and snow.

Lake Powell is less than 38% full with its water level down by 129 feet.

Napa Valley California’s premier winegrowing region rainfall totals are off for a second year. The last time the region was hit with a two year below normal rainfall season the Valley Fire of 2015 erupted and became one of the state’s most destructive wildfires in history.  

Our dry winter has impacted water wells too. The United States Geological Survey has released a study that warns of 200,000 water wells in California were tested and that scientists found increased levels of arsenic that exceed Federal safety standards. Arsenic increases risk of cancer.

Colorado’s Front Range got clobbered two weeks ago by an epic winter snowstorm that has moved the states drought status from severe to water customers now expecting that there will be no water restrictions.

There is no such luck for Colorado’s Western Slope where ranchers and farmers near Grand Junction remain in desperate straits.

Up and down the line circumstances are dire. An estimated 75% of the land in eleven states here in the American West, a vast geographic area encompassing almost half of the nation’s landmass is facing the driest spring in the last seven years. Electricity produced by hydropower is being cut back, vast tracts of agricultural lands will be forced out of production, fish populations will be damaged, and this year’s fire season has the potential to eclipse last years record setter.

California’s economy is diverse. Agriculture in the state accounts for 3% of the gross domestic product while using 50-70% of the states water. Agriculture dependent Modesto, Manteca, Merced, Fresno and Bakersfield will all take a huge hit to their local economies.

As the pandemic winds down, as the virus is brought to heel the damage caused by water scarcity will destabilize California’s economic, social and political outlook.

Arizona, Nevada and Utah continue to attract new residents just as a once in every 1000-year megadrought bares down on the region.

Water rights awarded a century ago in the midst of above average rainfall years have been over allocated. Governments at all levels have maintained a hands-off approach, the politics of the situation is fraught, worse still when there have been subsidies made available for water and crops those incentives have proven misguided.

Water interests in the seven states near the Colorado River are tangled in tense ongoing negotiations with a deadline of 2025. The drought, wildfires and climate emergency only complicate matters that much more.

Water regulators in Marin County have called for a halt to permitting new water hookups for residential housing. California already faced with a shortage of affordable real estate can ill afford to worsen the situation, but in Marin County reservoir capacity is limited and mandatory water rationing is expected to begin soon.

Water needed for a growing residential population continues to expand exponentially across the region. Las Vegas and Phoenix in the last three decades have increased threefold, each from one million to three million. Southern Utah is bursting with new residents. Colorado’s Front Range sprawling expansion has favorite Rocky Mountain destination resorts jammed to the hilt.

Because of the climate emergency the American West is at an inflection point. “Tucson Water Director Tim Thomure. He still oversees the utility as interim assistant city manager.” Addressing the loss of Colorado River water Thomure claims Tucson’s water resources remain sufficient. Assistant city managers have a job to do and elected official to keep in office. His assessment is an outlier.

Tucson and Las Vegas will be forced to seek funding to build desalination plants. This is my opinion, my informed guess, there is not enough water in the Southwest. Expensive purified desalinated water will force residents to put in place stringent water conservation measures. Water pipelines will route across the desert to tap sea water from the Sea of Cortez and Pacific Ocean.

High priced water will force rural grass crop growers out of business. Food crop planting will increase. To conserve water fields will be laser leveled and drip irrigated. Moisture sensors plugged into nut trees sending signals back to software enhanced computers will turn water on and off automatically based upon moisture content measured by remote instruments.

Scarcity will force agriculture to make hard choices, crops will be rationalized, there are sure to be other regions of the state or nation better suited for growing specific crops.

Another dryer warmer winter has come and gone, spring rains are deficient our water deficit is large and the water in our reservoirs is low. California is 50% of normal for rainfall, about 60% for snowpack. With no water to irrigate many crops will go unplanted. Other fields with grapevines or orchard crops will use what water that is allocated to keep their root stock alive until next year.

There is a agriculture lobby group, California Water Alliance that has been behind efforts to ship more water from the delta near Sacramento south into the San Joaquin Valley’s colossus Westland’s Water District. The more water diverted the more fish die, the more salt intrudes into the domestic drinking water reservoirs. The only constituents for these diversions are the enterprises that could use the water for their private profit. Big urban citizens, sizable majority’s don’t want the fish killed off or salty drinking water coming out of their faucets.

In California there are still twenty million acres that haven’t burned in over a century or more, they are dangerously dry and overgrown, one mistake, one lightning strike and the American West will burn on and on.

Groundwater will in the next few years start to be regulated and pumping is scheduled to be cut back. The Colorado River is flowing at a historically much lower rate while the needs of a growing population that depends on this resource continues to grow. Push has come to shove, bullet biting never popular is here and the unavoidable tight spot has arrived.

I can tick off a dozen moves our water managers are going to be forced into this year.

Hotter and drier conditions in Napa Valley are disadvantaging the famous Cabernet Sauvignon grape that is ripening too quick, concentrating sugars that are too high, making the wine too sweet to tame. Winegrowers are planting further north in the higher latitudes.

Interesting times are here. Putting things off won’t do, we are short of water and out of time, we meet the moment by making difficult decisions. The meek will not inherit this hotter and drier earth.

diagnosing art brain

Artists find fitting in to be littered with warning signs. Ordinary day to day life triggers the creative mind. Some events pull us closer while other experiences repel. There is always this foreground-background dynamic. Point to what is standing out, a particular detail is where the talented mind leaps.  

Often alienated by the mundane, trapped in the tedious practicality of chores, when frequent impulses send the talented misfit on a quest for a more ascetic interconnection with the world.

The art brain is full of tripwires, people who care about what trials we endure will try to breakthrough, “you’ll be alright, you’ll settle down, a lot of us were like you when we were young.”

The admonitions are not helpful.

Nonconformists with a creative bent appear to be intentionally uncooperative, unwilling to be realistic about what to expect from a world that is optimized for the benefit of so many other more fundamental activities. A piece of art gives flight to the human spirit but is nowhere near as vital as is our access to running water and flushing toilets.

Most emerging artists don’t even know what’s wrong. Life is weird, things non-art addled brains seem to be able to tolerate are unendurable to the art freaks. Worse still are the creatives who haven’t settled on how to use this cognitive muscle. Some flit from poem to play to oil painting, they are surprised to learn that everyone else isn’t compelled to have such a penetrating appetite for wanting to manifest this vision so clear in their minds.

If there is early trauma in an artist’s life too many choose to leave the wound open and create from this tormented location. Because wounds stick out, command so much of our attention, the temptation to live in these wounds can distract from the real journey of living beyond these injuries. Gatekeepers daring to get in our way often feel the artists vengeance. Retaliation is all too human. Artist’s breakaway from what has harmed and scarred, once they’ve broken free, they can go their own way.

Bernard Moitessier writes after a year sailing solo at sea, “I found a little temple from forgotten times, lost in the faraway forest… But how can I tell them? How can I tell them that the sounds of water and the flecks of foam on the sea are like the sounds of stone and wind, helped me find my way? How can I tell them all those nameless things…leading me to the real earth? Tell them and not frighten them, without their thinking I have lost my mind.”

In 1967 the mystic sailor would sail non-stop for 37,455 miles. Moitessier abandoned the solo circumnavigation race, slinging a rock with message to a passing ship that he would not finish but instead would sail on in hopes of saving his soul. The sailor’s sailor finally came in from the sea putting his anchor down in Tahiti.

The French-Vietnamese Moitessier imagined his sailing was an opportunity to merge his soul to the wonder of passagemaking. Like Mount Everest rounding Cape Horn is a serious undertaking and has a history of killing mariners who have tried.

Painters showing new work at galleries may or may not sell, if they do, they may not command a fair price, perhaps they find success one year then what they feel is new and better work falls flat the next.

Try as they might to conform, working as art instructor they are viewed as quirky and difficult, they may or may not be offered a permanent position.

Pursuit of a career in show business because an insistent nagging voice, because you have no other talent, you cannot manage to impress attempting anything else, you are hired and soon dismissed, you are desperate and barely show any interest in doing anything else. You suffer mood swings, remain silent for days on end, and male or female it doesn’t matter you have a vague sense of being pregnant and the due date seems certain and near.

Interview after interview, it is the same, this isn’t something the actor wanted to do, it is something they had to do, nothing else worked.

I had gone by sailboat to find Moitessier along the Richmond waterfront. Holed up in a warehouse he was building his new boat Tamata. Joshua had been dragged ashore in a freak storm in Cabo San Lucas.

Happy as ever, waving, lending a hand to secure my bow, Moitessier’s young American friend, the street performer had come looking for him. Sitting on a jumbo bollard smoking cigarettes, recounting how having lost everything standing on the beach the situation hopeless then selling Joshua to some Dutch sailors for salvage rights. Moitessier knew when to let go.

Moitessier thought my working along the waterfront in Fisherman’s Wharf where I could play my comedy show for tips from tourists was a worthy path. How I had managed to fashion a simple live show that was good for the soul of the common man. How I had conjured up some way to make ends meet, to keep the “hungry cows” away. Moitessier knew along my path were hidden rocks and hazardous seas, the great circumnavigator had extra courage to share. Two rascals living by the seat of their pants determined to bet their lives, hoping against all odds that with some luck charm and faith in self they’d live to tell.   

More first timer north

Port San Luis Harbor, the sea surface- still, smooth. Sea lions barking from their perch on the jetty. After coffee we slipped the line looped to the mooring ball ring and motored north 24 miles.

Humpbacks and sea lions were feeding off the entrance of Morro Bay.

The guest dock at the yacht club was available. We were side tied, registered, deposited our dock fee, the crew walked up to the business district. The Shine Café is not to be missed.

Speaking on the phone to Passage Weather my router was amused, he had thought the best tactic when slipping north past Point Conception was to tuck inside, my decision to go 18 miles offshore in his judgement is where more difficult conditions can be encountered.  I explained that fewer tacks meant there was less chance for error, maintaining steady boat speed would get us north with all due haste. My router laughed sympathetic to my judgement, the point of the matter is the tactic worked.

The router had much to discuss about the nonstop 110-mile leg from Morro Bay to Monterey. Due to incoming weather north off Point Sur it was agreed I would depart tomorrow by 1400 hours. Conditions for this leg were forecast to be difficult, three different swells, one predicted to measure 8’, from three different directions would be converging making the motion of the boat uncomfortable. My router thought our best chance was to pass Point Sur at midnight, winds were forecast to be low, but off this part of the California coast predictions are made with less confidence.

Communications would be intermittent, cellphone signals are sketchy in this remote area, texts could get through if not too far off the coast, voice calls almost never. Here too is where VHF radio broadcasts switch from Coast Guard Station Los Angeles to San Francisco. On my charts I had marked all known emergency anchorages.

Given the hurricane driven southern swell the router advised if I was unable to maintain my course north to retreat to San Simeon. That was the fallback plan, retreat, regroup and then retry. If I were able to slip past Point Sur, the remainder of the passage to Monterey would require much less of boat and crew. And once again because of the low-pressure system setting up in the North Pacific the router advised this was our one and only best chance to make Monterey before this window closed.

The main was raised and we were able to motor sail until off San Simeon. Wind dropped to dead calm. West of our position there was a fogbank, then its leading edge overtook us, it would be pitch black soon.

Our attention turned to the chartplotter and I confirmed the autopilot was steering to our first waypoint off Cape San Martin. There was no traffic on the display, but I was only using AIS, the vessel was not equipped with radar. Visibility was estimated to be 200 meters or less. An encounter with an undetected vessel was unlikely. Standing watch was intense, our vessel yawing into the confused seas was wearing on the crew.   

As desolate and empty as this stretch of coast might be, as unlikely as it would be to encounter any traffic, even knowing all of that, this is the one time in the whole of the summer where radar would have proven its worth.

The Yanmar burned a tick less than ¾ gallons per hour. A large pod of dolphins joined our boats northbound course, contrail like bioluminescent streaks appeared as the dolphin chased the bows wake throughout the night. By this time while we were standing watch in drizzle. My crewman had not spent a night at sea before, I could not leave him to stand watch alone, not in these conditions, not tonight. I brewed coffee, brought out snacks, checked and rechecked our heading and coordinates then fixed the time and position on paper charts.

Approaching Point Sur, the AIS transponder signal of a seagoing tug pulling a barge could be seen on the chartplotter. I radioed and after a proper back and forth I worked out a plan with the pilot to pass port to port, keeping a good mile distance apart.   

By Point Lobos visibilities were in transition, first the light of dawn, the fog giving way to overcast, sunrise was monochromatic, black then gray, feint blue silhouettes along the shoreline.  

Seaweed was sucked into the raw water filter. We shut the motor down long enough to clear the debris. I checked fluid levels visually inspected the engine, all seemed shipshape, restarted the Yanmar to resume making our way north atop an undulating sea.

On wing at dawn a Laysan albatross, a true pelagic bird was nearer to shore than is common buzzed our boat while skimming the seas surface hunting for breakfast. With a wingspan measuring seven feet, the unanticipated encounter with the winged aerialist was auspicious, a sign, having gone seafaring off the coast was all to the good, the sloops presence intriguing, as legend has it the albatross possesses the soul of a mariner, and when spotted by a sailor will bring them good luck.

Sleepless the crew spent, relieved to be out of the cold foggy night, one hundred and ten miles north, this marathon leg was completed at noon, total time from Morro Bay to Monterey was 22 hours.

Taking a guest slip at the harbor crew fixed early afternoon supper aboard, drank more Irish. Spirits ran high knowing the most difficult stretch of coast was behind us. A pair of weary sailors were in our bunks asleep before sunset.

Passage Weather agreed staying over in Monterey one more day to rest fit with the forecast. Tomorrow was not promising for sailing but looked favorable for motoring as the seaway was lying down and winds were predicted to be light. To make Emery Cove I needed the Yanmar to give her crew 16 hours.

Departing Monterey at first light we pushed north. A pod of killer whales were just off the entrance likely hunting the resident sea lions. Seas were rolling but smooth, there was no fog, we could see our way along the coast, stand watch, eat, drink coffee, bring the passage to a proper end.

Night fell as we neared Half Moon Bay. The fishing fleet was out west of us with working lights shining on the black horizon. The sky was overcast but not cold. We transited north steering buoy to buoy. Approaching the entrance near midnight, the final port of call, the welcoming sight of a fog veiled Golden Gate Bridge, after such a long series of days working our way north, after all the changes and worries a passage puts a crew through, it changes a sailor’s perspective, the most common sights are made with new eyes.

Even if on arrival we would be slowed to a crawl in the teeth of a monster ebb, that would be the fact of it, how I had mistimed the entrance in the wee small hours of the morning bucking a fierce ebbing current, my navigational error the results of eagerness, a testimonial to the returning sailor’s impatience, where the point of the matter I’d argue is that we had lived to tell and had made it back.

Aside from a refrigerator compressor failing, autopilot pully belt breaking, and one overlarge cockroach put to an untimely death there is little else to tell except for perhaps the brand of Irish the skipper and crew had sipped to such fulsome abandon. 

I remember getting the boat secure at the dock, my crewman getting picked up by his impatient lover, my getting out of my gear, crawling beneath the bed covers, and then the incessant dreaming, and then more dreaming, the same wanting dream.

No sailor can shake off the want of returning to her, none that I know can forget her bustling harbor, it isn’t possible to cast such beauty out of our memory. The serenity at midnight, the lapping sounds of waves against the hull, held close sleeping in her arms, the temptation is sure to be too full of want and desire, the balmy nights too sweet, the lure of Avalon’s pleasure too pure.

First timer goes North

Avalon August 2018

Avalon kept tugging at my wanting. How balmy tranquility tucked into a snug harbor on a mooring ball becomes a summer fling you cannot jilt. Before dinner we motor to the dinghy dock and walk Pebbly Beach Road out and back to Lovers Cove. We slip into the Lobster Trap for dinner and drinks. After we take the dink back to our sloop and dig into our bunk. This is how the want of a never ending summer on Santa Catalina Island ruins a good for nothing sailor.

Long range weather forecasts were pressing on my timeline. I had purchased the services of Passage Weather to route my 1997 Jeanneau Sun Odyssey 36.2 north to San Francisco Bay. The professional router advised moving north 100 miles to Santa Barbara to take advantage of a window that once closed he warned may not open again for weeks.

From Avalon our first leg was north to Marina del Rey. We dropped guests off. The following morning, we motored west to Channel Island Harbor. Late in the afternoon we hoisted sails and powered into steep chop, motoring would have been arduous. Pushing off from the guest slip after getting groceries we sailed to Santa Cruz Island taking a route south of Anacapa Island. Running out of sunlight we set our anchor in Prisoners Harbor. A rookie mistake by the way, I’d passed Smugglers Cove, while here there was a swell wrapping around the headlands making the night uncomfortable. For all that bit of hell on anchor at sunrise we aimed precisely magnetic north to Santa Barbara. Every mile north is hard earned.

Eileen returned to Los Angeles by train. That late afternoon a crewmate arrived to help bring the boat back to San Francisco. Provisioning as men without spouses are wanting to do is accomplished without the divine guidance of our better halves.

After dinner I was on the phone back to Passage Weather confirming forecasts remained unchanged and that I should depart at dawn and point west up the coast to Cojo Anchorage.

Afternoon breezes filled in, the last 8 miles the sloop beat into a raucous windblown whitecapped chop. A sunny blue sky brushed with brilliant white clouds aided morale, the pounding against the sea was met with good cheer.

Point Conception, fortress like, impermeable, impassable, almost impossible loomed in our worried minds. Banging into a blustery afternoon to anchor at her entrance acting out a dress rehearsal for the big show that was schedule to open at dawn tomorrow.

The weather router followed our progress tracking us with the AIS transponder aboard. Connectivity in Cojo is plenty good. That evening my router texted, “Sweet Seas, departing first light, no matter the conditions hoist anchor and be underway by 0600.” 

The weather router had urged me in Santa Barbara while speaking on the telephone to put trust in his sailing instructions and depart as planned, to not freeze up and remain on anchor in the morning at Cojo. I remember his last words, “Conditions may seem extreme when you depart, but they are forecast to moderate before increasing in the afternoon when a small craft advisory is scheduled to go up. You must leave as planned. Is that understood?”

By this time in the trip, I had put 800 coastal miles under my keel. Near all had been sailed reaching and running. Ahead, the uphill challenge, saving the stoutest part of the voyage for the end, forced to confront the Pacific Ocean dead on the nose, addicted and softened by lulling about in Avalon I had time to imagine all manner of sailing catastrophe, seasickness and profound regret for having ever dared to believe I could get my moderate displacement sloop safely north to home port. “What were you thinking?” I could never quite shake off the bite of doubt.

Perspective

Former Emeryville Yacht Club commodore Linny Martinson and her husband Marty aboard Perspective had been on a mooring ball north of us in San Luis Rey Harbor. As we arrived in Cojo they departed south for Santa Barbara. Winds in our rigging were howling, the noise kept me awake, I was up and down in my bunk, I tracked Perspectives progress by AIS and when they arrived off Point Arguello radioed Linny about 0300 hours, to get an update on sea state and wind pressure. Marty was asleep below. Linny at the helm running downwind reported 30 knots with gusts even higher. Making good progress by 0500 hours I stood on deck spotting their navigation lights as they passed running downwind bound for Santa Barbara.

I ate a bowl of oatmeal, another cup of coffee, I swallowed more Dramamine. My routers voice ringing in my ears, “no matter the conditions, hoist anchor, you must leave as planned.”

At first light, 0600 hours we got the hook up, trimmed the shortened sails to close hauled heading west out like lambs into the teeth of Point Conception. Never tacking, sails drawn in tight, traveler eased. By 0830 hours we were eighteen miles offshore careful to stay away from the oil rigs. Chop was short and steep, swell was to 6’, winds had been easing all morning and now blew steady at 22 knots gusting enough to test my faith in what a clevis pin could withstand. Crew had found their sea legs, we were holding up, we remained tentative, on guard but in good spirits. Tacking over now we headed north for the first time since Santa Barbara close hauled the bow pointing high in the gusts, enough I could tell that we would clear Point Arguello. By noon we were making our way back to San Francisco in the firm hand of a fair blow and lively but manageable seaway.

Northbound with Crew at Helm

All the morning Sweet Seas had sped close hauled to her homeport at over 6 knots. Much of the afternoon was spent reaching toward the Bay of San Luis Obispo, sheets were eased by Lompoc, the boat rising and falling, a hefty steepening swell on the beam, the trim sloop plunging ahead romping, on this point of sail she was making good progress, a steady 8.5 knots.

Taking a mooring ball at San Luis Rey Harbor by 1600 hours we had completed the 60-mile passage in 10 hours. Exhausted but exhilarated, I recorded in my log that Sweet Seas had been generous to her crew providing us with an unforgettable day of high intensity sailing.

A weary but chatty crew spent the night drinking a bit of the Irish, making dinner, raving about our days sail, going over the charts, preparing for tomorrows 24 mile jump north.

As the most experienced sailor aboard, I had to be the skipper of record if my claim to bringing my boat north was to hold up, if I could prove by firsthand experience that I could muster the skill and stamina. I would need more time at sea with her to learn more, to grow my confidence, to test our relationship. The boat is a good one, this sloop wants the same as she gives—treat me with skill, pull on my lines, I will take you where you wish, I’m eager to go, I’m fresh and fast, today you made your boat happy, today something has changed, I won’t soon forget…   (Pause)

sailing the soul

By my 29th birthday I had reached an inflection point. Doors opened moving me closer to my goal. I wanted to be a street performer, to drift from place to place, spend my waking hours building the best of the best shows.

Every day, seven days a week I would practice my skills, rehearse routines, write jokes and work the phone building another tour.

Then a voice, a warning— you’re losing your balance, look at you, you’ve become dull and overworked, burnout is everywhere— Unpleasant, moody, preoccupied, I had no attention span, I was unavailable. As some said— I didn’t have a life.

Standing at a crosswalk I noticed a flyer stapled to a telephone pole. I tore one of the dangling shreds of paper with a telephone number and called. Staff answered my questions, offered to take my name, I had a spot reserved in the next class. I knew nothing about the sport, but now I was registered, I was going to learn how to sail.

First thing was to purchase Royce’s Sailing Illustrated, and a second pamphlet, it was a more rudimentary beginners guide to sailing. There was a short session in a classroom, the instructor went over the basics at a chalkboard. There was a break for lunch. In the afternoon, the class broke up into pairs and practiced setting up and putting away the 14’ sloop rigged keelboats. On the first day we never left the dock.

By the second week of class everything happened on the water.

Sailing broke the fever of my one-dimensional life. Smiling more, breathing remained a little forced, I was learning to get on a boat and go play with whatever the winds and tides would give me. Sailing was my teacher, the sailboat was showing me how to be comfortable in my own skin. After four weeks I was now an official beginner, free to charter the school’s keelboats and go play with the breeze.

Maestro, built 1959 restored by this sailor

I continued taking classes, by now I was reading about first aid, practicing man overboard drills, and how radar could help keep you safe. I completed a course in coastal navigation.

Another navigation student, ambitious and eager, asked if I’d like to take a day long celestial navigation workshop in Sausalito. Crossing oceans on a small sailboat seemed improbable, risky, farfetched. “It’s not that dangerous, if you took this celestial workshop, you’ll at least have the choice of whether to go or not.”

A reed thin Frenchman greeted us at the harbor. His steel ketch I would later learn had first departed Marseille in 1963 while I was still just a child. The lipstick red steel hull and white deck fit with purpose in its slip, standing out among the other vessels, appearing to have been sailed farther, the standing rigging stouter, the running rigging gauged for heavy weather, the vessel Joshua was an ocean boat, the first I had ever seen.

Running low of money Bernard Moitessier sailed from Tahiti to Sausalito in search of work. The famous sailor was soon engaged as a gardener, boat repairman, and celestial navigation instructor.

The lack of money vanished from the French circumnavigator’s life. Sausalito would offer a helping hand. Moitessier’s new fortunes he described as the dragons, hungry cows and holy trinity, self-fashioned expressions he used to identify his demons or allies. Moitessier understood that there were battles a dragon like soul must confront, or when the hungry cows of poverty move too close, or the sense of the Divine to be found while playing with the sun, the wind, and the water.

The thinking style of a boy growing up on the Mekong Delta had been tempered by experiences unavailable to a childhood spent sailing on the Chesapeake. Moitessier appeared to be all French, his Vietnamese mother’s influence was more visible in the way he used his mind, his perceptions, instincts blending the Eastern religion and philosophy he had absorbed coming of age in Southeast Asia.

Seated below deck in Joshua’s salon Moitessier rolled out the chart he had used to navigate from the South Pacific to California. Weather reports were received by shortwave radio. A threatening storm formed and had clocked toward Joshua, then for a few days followed coming close to overtaking his ketch. Moitessier tracked the storm’s movement by radio reports and with each change in its position marked the low-pressure system in pencil with a larger and larger X.

Crucially he could tune the radio to a station that transmitted tones that identified Greenwich Mean Time. Knowing down to the exact second in a minute what time it is as measured by atomic clock and then simultaneously capturing the angle of a celestial body, most often the sun, a navigator can with great accuracy calculate a line of position. To obtain an exact position the navigator uses the sextant to measure a second and third celestial body. The vessels position is fixed somewhere in the triangle formed by the three lines.   

Empowering other sailors to navigate by the stars suited the gypsy spirited Moitessier. If a sailor could take accurate measurements with a sextant, they could safely cross oceans, find islands, arrive at a predetermined destination. With this skill the gentle Frenchman had given others the means of filling their sails with wind and setting off on a voyage.  

In the era of the clipper ships sailing long distances was common. In 1965 Moitessier’s record breaking return sail from Tahiti back to France was the first and longest voyage of its kind for a small sailboat. The feat is often likened to climbing Mt. Everest. What the Frenchman described as The Logical Route daring to return by sailing around Cape Horn was a feat many times riskier than anything I had ever imagined, this was the first time I had considered that crossing oceans by small sailboat could make a sailor’s life more whole and fulfilled. I’d thought sailing to be a pastime, a watersport, something to do with an afternoon. Placing sailing into the center of my life wasn’t a consideration.

The clever Moitessier had let go the invisible lines I had been using to hold my imagination back, his astronavigation student had been set adrift. Imagine what changes you could go through by using the stars to help find your way through a world you had yet the courage to explore. Bernard Moitessier’s thinking was uncluttered, he had sailed his boat anywhere, taking voyages for the pleasure of knowing more about who he was while offshore at sea. Being in his presence, the distinctive quality of wit and whim, outnumbered by less experienced sailors, there was only one French-Vietnamese circumnavigator, only one of the many below deck was prepared to hoist sails and go now.

Even a simple afternoon sail in the estuary had new meaning. With the winds bit in the boats teeth, filling the sails, the sound of the hull rushing headlong through water became elixir and anthem. My time spent off the water had changed too. Sailing was amending my constitution. I had been guided back to a bigger sense of story, willing to entertain a more purposeful adventure, my fearing unknown horizons had been tempered by Moitessier. The possibilities of what a sailboat could do, how a passage could enable my life created a better version, a more resourceful self, I became someone who was more willing to strip down to the bone, a less guarded new sailor had learned how to unlock his mind, open his heart, and embrace the world of change.

i give you colossus!

Penniless painters piled into the blighted Arts District decades ago snapping up big chunks of skylighted concrete, brick and beam on the cheap. The juggernaut that is the buying a piece of California is a fiery moonshot on an ever upward trajectory. The chic industrial ruins that enterprising creatives occupied were too soon discovered, word got out, then, the sorting of souls, the coming and going, the artists lost, gone, another kind occupies this space today. Fifty thousand newly anointed Angeleno’s have been drawn here to seek a less grinding commute, to live closer in, to be nearer the work they’ve found.

Living close to 3rd and Santa Fe within the terminus of the artistic yesteryear I’d take walks, crossing the Los Angeles River to explore Boyle Heights. On East Cesar Chavez I found the dandy Evergreen Auto Body Shop where I received superb Tijuana trained service, rock bottom prices, and first class repairs. I’d cross back over the 4th Street Bridge. If near quitting time I’d slide into the reclaimed repurposed warehouse district to indulge at LA’s perennial top ten restaurant, Bestia. Clientele, aerobically lean and hair styled with flash, urgently connected, tanned, pierced, skin inked, this joint jumped with an upward thrusting trajectory. Upward and thrusting meant to characterize social ambitions, LA’s up and comers are found here. You landed at Bestia because you had finally ditched the dead end life in West Covina.

Zinc Café allowed cooler no less amorous heads rule. Café Gratitude on Santa Fe was peopled by an oasis of vegans, a veritable sea of principled eaters, all a rioting mob of promiscuous plant based diet enthusiasts. Love may be rationed by signals from the heart, but in the Arts District, as Mr. Cole Porter observed, “if you want the thrill of love, I’ve been through the mill of love, old love, new love, every love but true love…” Love was available to the meat eaters, given for free to those who have become whole food plant based kind hearts.

Twenty miles south of the Arts District is the Port of Long Beach, then abutting this behemoth is the even larger Port of Los Angeles. Nobody has time for long talk, if you are trucker you are going to Long Beach (LBC), most will be dropping their load at a business somewhere between LBC and DTLA- downtown Los Angeles.

Big rigs park bumper to bumper on the Harbor Freeway rotting. It’s a hit or miss game, hell are the unpredictable all too common traffic jams. Spewing stinking diesel fumes, stuck in misery, on the infamous one-ten waiting to crawl into the terminal where International Longshoremen and Warehouse Union workers load the rigs.

Two transcontinental railroads, Union Pacific, and Burlington Northern Santa Fe haul freight up to switching yards near the Arts District.

Port of Long Beach to downtown LA, this is the belly of the beast. If this chunk of enterprise were a nation unto itself this region would rank 18th most productive out of 218 other nations. Not Saudi Arabia, Switzerland or Sweden generate as much wealth. Just this one piece of California’s gross domestic product measures well over a trillion dollars.

I got off the freeways and drove the boulevards to get a feel for what this wealth creation machine looks like. Much of what passes for architecture comes disguised as low-rise concrete warehouses. Nondescript, more than unremarkable, I saw buildings marked by nothing but their number, the street address. Capitalism’s creative destruction runs at such velocity, that the name of one building is coming off while a hopeful new entrant of another is being plastered on. Startups are measured in the thousands, failures are tallied by eviction, repossession and bankruptcy. Going out of business is frequent.

I’m driving the lean mean streets of Torrance, Gardenia and Compton. Hawthorne, Vernon and Commerce too, the list is longer, call it what it is, this is LA.

Texas is always talking smack about California, and Houston is productive, but here in Southern California is the best of the best, the grand national champion of the gross domestic product world.

Here’s an example of the dynamism you’ll find. NewChef manufacture’s prestigious uniforms for many of the top restaurants in the world, they supply the American Culinary Federation, handle embroidery for the World’s Association of Chefs Societies, and notably the executive staff at NewChef is all women. I stumbled upon an interview of how they’d gone from startup to break even to established multimillion dollar success. Located in Vernon NewChef is surrounded by blocks of fishmongers, logistics companies, food distributors, flower wholesalers, restaurants, saloons, and every other size and shape of enterprise known to the working stiff.

Traffic in LA masks the what and where of all this economic magic. Way too big to walk, to spread out to travel to work by bus or train, you’ll be hard pressed lost among the miles and miles of commerce and industry to see another human being. Desolation Rows cinderella’s are rumored to be sweeping up here.

Nominally the Fashion District is a tiny fraction of this behemoth, and their merchants and merchandise spill out onto the sidewalks with fashion designers and seamstresses bustling from kiosk to kiosk hunting down buttons, zippers and fabric.

California is electrifying everything. The South Los Angeles air basin one day soon will be safe to breath. Asthma, emphysema and heart disease will decrease. Railroads will use electric trains to get freight out of LBC. Container ships will arrive from foreign ports powered by fuel cells. Trucks traveling within this region will be electric, rigs running longer distances likely will be powered by hydrogen. Cleaning up LAX will take longer, but shorter distanced commuter flights will be powered by electric engines. Our high speed trains, yes we need to travel from downtown San Francisco to downtown Los Angeles nonstop at the speed of lightning, business types will disembark at Union Station for work here in California’s cauldron of capitalism.   

Aerospace is here in a big way. There is Raytheon, Northrop Grumman, Space X, Hughes, Boeing, Relativity Space, Wright Electric Planes, Rocket. Lab, Smartplane, and Slingshot Aeronautics. There are countless companies working on every aspect of artificial intelligence, from basic research to real world applications.

Herbalife, Neutrogena, and Ralph’s corporate headquarters are here. Shooting a television show, going into production on a movie you are likely to send your makeup artist to Dermalogica NYX to get the whatever is needed.

The American West isn’t all horses, ranches, farmers, and sagebrush. Here is a patch quilt of places. The most populous state in the Union, the economic crown jewel of the nation, diversities best and most vivid example, a place that has long been a destination for people from across the world coming here to find some way of squeezing in, to participate in the process of becoming a Californian.

Five hundred and ninety-two miles north and east is Baker, Nevada where all of 56 citizens have come to scratch out a living, spend nights resting beneath a canopy of twinkling stars. I’m acquainted with some of Baker’s citizens, a good many having gone there because their life in California had taken a turn, that there were just too many damn people, too many damn cars, too much traffic, that there was nothing and no place to escape where they could feel a sense of solitude, a sense of peace, relief from the astronomical cost of the cracker box of a house they toiled to pay off.

Citizens across the American West are knit tight. We agree on almost nothing and that’s the one and only thing we have ever been able to agree on. Water, electricity, highways, railroads, airports, all those indispensable crucial supply chains we all spend so much time concerned about, linking us into one interdependent organism.

I can feel Baker, Nevada in my bones walking down the sidewalks of the Arts District, can’t help thinking of one place while I’m there caught up in the midst of the other. The frequency of becoming sentimental, regretting what you’ve done, what you had to give up, California can call you back, drive you away, all at once or never again. Wishing you were here knowing as a practical matter you need to get back so that you can get work done there.

I’m through and through, born and raised, spent most of my life chasing a life down these streets, I’m a Californian. This last stint in LA, this searching out what makes a place tick, how all these fragments of LA work, what’s the same and why is that different, it is an unanswerable curiosity as to what is required to come here and want to stay. Your can-do attitude will determine the pain and pleasure you create.

Traveling into the heart of the belly of this beast, where capitalisms chaos makes and breaks a thousand different lives, to takeaway some scrap of insight how this piece of LA fits into that puzzle we call the world, how this part, distinctive when compared to all of the state’s other parts, is unlike anything I had imagined until I looked. Even as garish as this hood appears, cracked windows, faded paint, chain-link fences, the untrained eye adjusts, we learn to set our judgements aside, this place, here turns out to be hidden in plain sight is the living and breathing economic colossus of the nation’s most productive part.

hot honey of a world

California’s rainy season begins in October and ends in May. During the dry season there are years where there won’t be a drop of rain for six months. Like the prevailing westerly winds off the Pacific Ocean, our weather pattern defines us.

From San Francisco it is twelve hours north to Portland, sixteen hours east to Salt Lake City, six hours south to Los Angeles. Each place is distinct, each has its own fashions, the same-same suburbs, one destination even comes with its own religion.

Phoenix in 1990 a million people by then had arrived with plans to stay. Sunbirds migrating south for winters acting like newcomer’s, the hardcore full timers holding a grudge impatient waiting for the Valley of the Sun to empty out. Phoenicians know another full timer even when they don’t. Scottsdale has a turquoise and sterling silver monied vibe, people from San Francisco coming here without the cooling fogs rolling over their pale hued skin wither and wilt. The chapped lips, the frizzy hairdos, faces beet red from too much sun. The Sonoran can be an unforgiving thorny venomous place. Welcome to the desert, now go home.

Vineyards have been planted in Wilcox, Sonoita and Cornville. Dedicated winemakers are producing world class wine.

The Hood River I knew is not the same place since windsurfing became a thing. The Dalles remains truer to form, older, a little less razzle dazzle, no supercharged go-go real estate, a storied place, sited along the Columbia, The Dalles is where you want to be from, you work up the spunk to leave, might go back, when you run out of luck.

Twin Falls is bigger but still not much changed. Sun Valley isn’t Idaho. Try Salmon, Lewiston, or Bonners Ferry if you want to find Idaho. Moscow is what I’d want Idaho to be, it is a blend of nothing the rest of Idaho wants. The Palouse is an acquired taste with a mere fraction touching Idaho, but once your palette shifts, once you understand the Palouse’s flavor, the sweep of mounds, slopes and sprawl of grass, here is a provocative serenity.

Took all of twenty years for the population of Bend, Oregon to have doubled to 100,000. Traffic on the highway back to Portland feels like its quadrupled.

I know of Steamboat Springs from stories my father told, where he grew up trout fishing and downhill skiing off Rabbit Ears Pass. Back in the day his boyhood town wasn’t even 500 people, now there are 13,000.

New Mexico’s Sierra Blanca rises 12,003 feet and is the highest southernmost alpine peak in the continental United States. Ruidoso is down at 7000 feet in the Sierra Blanca’s foothills. The Mescalero Apache nation is just south where the hard to come by headwaters of the Rio Ruidoso originate. The river flows at a rate of 900 gallons per minute. For context in Albuquerque the Rio Grande flows at a rate of 205,000 gallons per minute, and in Vancouver, Washington the Columbia flows at a rate of 76 million gallons per minute. Developers in Ruidoso hoping to expand can’t find water and without access to water there are no permits to build. Ruidoso is at or over the limit, depending on who you want to quarrel with.

Colorado Cattlemen’s Association have half a mind to lasso and brand Governor Jared Polis for having the temerity to set March 20, 2021 as “Meat Out Day.” The Governor thought he had a civic duty to promote the health benefits his constituents might enjoy if they ate a little less meat. This has set off a stampede of criticism. Cattlemen have vowed to circle the wagons. Tensions, consternation, and high blood pressure have forced the industry to draw a line in the sand no governor should dare cross. Texas longhorns are coming in, red angus are being pep talked, a shipment of Beyond Meat has been halted at the border and ordered to turn around and head right on back from where that load of counterfeit non-meat has come from.

National Oceanic and Atmospheric Association has published its worrisome forecast for spring. Rain and snow will be down, temperatures slightly up. La Niña deserves some blame, then there is the grinding change in our climate that is tending more to drought than flood, if it’s not one disaster it’s another. None of this is good news for nobody.

The twelve western states are bonded together by a climate that is aggravating the water supply. Access to drinking water is growing tighter here, there, and everywhere. Rural communities are feeling the pinch. Ranchers and farmers get out of bed put their boots on and work with the cards mother nature deals. To a one a rancher knows if this spring’s forecast holds up livestock will be grazing on parched rangeland. Getting the herd fat, hoping the waterholes don’t dry up, praying a heatwave doesn’t punish the headcount, having something to show for all their hard work is no certain thing.

Dairymen are in a fight for market share. Consumers are choosing almond milk more often and it’s putting pressure on dairymen. Isn’t possible to catch a break, not in this capitalism, not where the North Star disruption driven by free market fundamentalism grabs hold. States are tracking groundwater. Hay growers know what’s ahead, swelling urban populations are clamoring for access to a dwindling resource. Water rights are complex, litigation can span a decade, a tangled mess of special interests from seven western states are between now and 2025 in the process of reconsidering what to do about all the water that’s gone missing.

More citizens from Phoenix, San Diego, Los Angeles and Portland need to take up the cause of helping our rural communities. Traveling out to hike, fish and hunt isn’t going to buy one more book for the local library. Visitors passing through don’t see the gauntlet our rural citizens endure. Minimum wage ain’t nothing, sometimes you get paid for how many bales of hay you can buck. Sure, there are some cutting a fat hog, but plenty more are just scraping by, living on the land, each one with a fated story. I have met lonely workers stuck out there on station at some remote outpost, I know others near woebegone because they crave the solitude.

Neighbor in Oregon didn’t own land of his own. He did have a used tractor, worn out pickup truck, and a twenty-year-old John Deere combine harvester purchased at auction. He’d rent tracts other growers wouldn’t plant. Pain in the butt. Had to move his equipment from one plot to the next while his competition worked one big piece. Had a problem with a well pump that he sorted out, saved me from having to call a repairman. Broke my heart when his little girl doing chores was tossing feed to the horses when one turned and kicked, caught her in the forehead. Helicopter evacuated her to a hospital in Portland. Whether his girl would live was not certain, the blow was as awful a thing any father could ever imagine happening to his child.

This complicated big fat sloppy kiss of a world needs some tending to. Talking to people it is ordinary to learn that none are too pleased about this corner we’ve put ourselves in. Appears that this change will test our will. Painkillers won’t do, biting on a poker chip is too cruel, knowing the change is going to hurt like hell, still there’s no avoiding the fact surgery is needed, worse than pulling a tooth, more awful than taking a lung, mending will require patience and healing takes time, not every community, rural or urban will feel the same pain, but enough good citizens will pass the test, and I’m for one betting cooler heads will prevail.

Time, we get to doing what we’ve been putting off, fix this hot honey of a world, make her shine, get the love of survival gussied up, not so much for us, but for the folk who’ll be born into her, who’ll take over from where we’re going to be leaving off.

 

Going to the dump

Diablo Canyon Nuclear Power Plant is scheduled to close. The first reactor will shut down by 2024, the second reactor goes offline by 2025. Since events in Fukushima on March 11, 2011 concerns a tsunami could deliver a knockout blow and scatter radioactive contamination across the coast of Central California is all too real. Earthquake faults and nuclear power are a match made in probability hell. There is no win, lose or draw. Consequences of a catastrophic event are unimaginable.

Fully decommissioning Diablo Canyon will demand eye watering sums of money and a span of time even Chaplin’s Great Dictator failed to grasp. Moving the spent fuel rods to a safer storage site will be litigious, expensive and one of the most hazardous engineering feats ever attempted. Containers with spent fuel rods will be hoisted onto trucks, reloaded onto trains then unloaded into an underground storage vault where the radioactive waste will slowly decay for the next one quarter of a million years.

The twin reactor buildings at Diablo Canyon will be sealed and guarded by security officers and monitored by technicians for decades. Radiation levels will drop over time and then the removal of the reactors will come at the end of this century.

Closing Diablo Canyon is pegged at $3.9 billion, a phantom number, a sprawling untethered guess. How and if PG&E, California, or humanity completes this job remains unanswered. Ratepayers should have been warned.  

In 1981 in Nevada the Department of Energy began studying a remote and isolated Yucca Mountain, then scientists described underground aquifers and seismic activities that after 27 years rendered the proposed storage site unworkable. Seventy miles south 2.3 million mortal Nevadans and one pugnacious former senate majority leader Harry Reid all breathed a sigh of relief. Las Vegas residents wouldn’t be subjected to being an experimental randomized statistical study on the incidence of cancers caused by a leaky radioactive storage facility.

A second repository has been proposed by the Nuclear Regulatory Commission at a facility between Carlsbad and Hobbs, New Mexico. Locating a suitable underground storage vault where all North America’s nuclear waste can be safely stored for the next 250,000 years exceeds the limits of any previous human endeavor.  

Nuclear waste disposal is a complex yet to be solved problem. Keeping track of the materials, making sure storage containers remain sealed, monitoring the site for earthquakes, guarding against a fluke fiery meteorite plunging into the atmosphere and like a tsunami striking the disposal site, a cosmic bullseye of all bullseyes, worries of this kind are on the short list of what might go wrong and could go wrong.

Plate tectonics, continental drift, or an earth in a bad mood might trigger unforeseen radioactive extinction events. Unimagined flooding such as happened when Hurricane Harvey stalled over Houston is followed by drought, what was thought to be a stable underground vault might become plagued by swarms of earthquakes, a vent opens and there is a volcanic eruption where none had been anticipated. Scenarios such as these sound as if they were found on the pages of comic books. Setting aside all the ways a storage containment site could be breached there is the technological challenge of building a warning sign that could hold up to howling wind, sun, rain, snow, and ice over the course of tens of thousands of years. Experts have created a short list of languages and universal symbols to be placed on the mother of all sign’s that must hold up to the father of all tests of time.

The National Energy Laboratory in Idaho has cooked up a plan to build what are called miniature nuclear reactors. Utah, Montana, and Wyoming with coal going the way of the dodo bird are all considering deploying the 5-megawatt reactors across their states. Nuclear power interests who believe in this technology know that even small miniature nuclear reactors are by the billions and billions of dollars too expensive, their costs make the technology uncompetitive, even still the industry can’t seem to stop trying.     

Failure is not an option and so it has become a feature. Plutonium contamination at Rocky Flats near Denver haunts the former bomb making facility. Radiation at Nevada’s Atomic Test Site isn’t going away anytime soon. Atomic waste at the Hanford site where our nuclear arsenal was built is a mess wrapped in a riddle inside of an unsolvable conundrum. Politics, science, and journalism have no words to describe the severity of this situation. There is every reason to be concerned that a radioactive spill could work its way into the Columbia River, spread downstream to Portland, beyond to Anacortes, out into Pacific and then by ocean currents the remains of our atomic bomb making materials could be swept around the world.

The debate over whether the climate is changing is over. Dismantling last century’s fossil fuel energy system and replacing it with this new century’s decarbonized energy system is under enormous time pressure. The world must move faster than has ever been done before. It is as fantastical as sending a man to the moon, but this time, we are all going, and if it doesn’t work out, none of us will be coming back.     

In Las Vegas, the honorable Peter Guzman of the Latin Chamber of Commerce makes the case we must continue heating our homes with natural gas, that to do otherwise would damage the economy and the pocketbooks of the people he represents. Guzman took on the work of being a leader for this organization, for the people he’s been elected to speak for. The responsibility of how to respond to the climate emergency hasn’t made it into his job description, but that is going to change. All of us will be asked to participate in the solution. Deploying the new energy system is the responsibility of leaders higher up the chain of command. Powerful storms, floods and wildfire have changed minds. A sizable majority, not all but most support efforts to fight climate change.

Trust what this change means to our survival, embrace the challenges, volunteer to be part of a citizens brigade willing to try new things. Raise your hand, sign up to go work elsewhere, be a willing participant, hold up your end of the bargain, there is no free lunch, no easy way out.

Building Confidence thru Play

A path to a better world, a more whole and healthier American West, walking this trail doesn’t happen by accident. A moral compass is made of hearts and minds, understanding there is an opportunity in making a measure of sacrifice, acknowledging the journey is difficult, that our prevailing against the odds is- good trouble, that this inner guidance system, the climate challenge we face, the path we walk, asks of us that we give the best of who we are. To plant a tree, start a family, mend the roof, cook a tasty wholesome meal, remind the children by deed and word, how you believe that in their hearts, between what they trust and know and doubt and fear, that you have confidence in their power to steer their fate, that this power to imagine animates the path they will choose, it is their story that our children are creating, with their magic pen, it is the story of their life. If only we have the willingness to nurture in this new generation the most renewable of renewable energies, the power to have faith in who we truly are.  

survivals gameboard

Getting it done, doing it right

Environmental risks stack up floor to ceiling when you are in the business of hard rock open pit mining. If you start messing with underground salt domes and something goes wrong, you are in a Fukushima without the hazardous radiation Armageddon mess.

The lithium mine on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County Nevada will remain in operation until 2070. When finished the 18,000 acres will undergo a process of remediation. There is a lot to be concerned about, and we have to get this right.

In Delta, Utah there are a different set of worries. Using salt caverns to store diesel, gasoline, hydrogen, and natural gas all could make trouble. Nearby earthquake faults, relatively active, could damage a dome and trigger all manner of environmental mayhem.

Extracting lithium from ore requires the use of sulfur dioxide. Same stuff found in common car batteries. For safety trains will bring the separate components for making sulfur dioxide to Winnemucca, each separate part is then trucked to the processing facility up at the mine where it is mixed before the start of the manufacturing process. Evaporation ponds are more common to lithium refining, extracting lithium from ore with sulfur dioxide has proven harder to scale commercially. In October 2022, about 18 months from now construction will be complete, processing will begin, and we’ll soon know if this is going to pencil out. The world needs this to work.

The technological leap in Delta, Utah is no sure thing either. Timeline is longer, the experimental Mitsubishi turbines won’t be ready to start spinning until 2025. Over the next 48 months a large scale electrolyzer will begin producing hydrogen from water, separating and storing the green hydrogen in the salt domes while releasing the two oxygen molecules harmlessly into the atmosphere. This bit of magic has never been attempted at scale and there are a million ways this can go off the rails. All living creatures on earth have a dog in this hunt, we need this new technology to work.

Mitsubishi will first try to spin the turbines using a blend of 30% hydrogen with 70% methane. The combustion process is complex, hydrogen burns hotter, the turbines and exhaust gases create new challenges. To fuel with pure hydrogen special stainless intake and exhaust manifolds will need to be designed, metallurgically refined turbine blades capable of withstanding the heat generated by the hydrogen will be installed. Engineers are working to zero out nitrogen oxide exhaust gases created in the combustion process. Mitsubishi is confident this technology can work, it’s just that nobody has done it yet. There’s a first time for everything.

It’s what is underground…

The 18,000 acre mine on Thacker Pass is potent environmental problem solver. Imagine the thousands of offshore oil platforms scattered across thousands of miles in the Gulf of Mexico all being safely shutdown. Imagine the fossil fuel operations in West Texas, Eastern New Mexico, Alaska, North Dakota, Wyoming, Louisiana and Oklahoma all no longer being needed. Mining for other metals will be necessary, the electricity for this new century isn’t cost free, but it will be cleaner, the atmosphere will begin to heal, we have a path, we can do this right.

In the United States there remain about 75 coal fired generating stations to shutter. Job losses will devastate the communities where these facilities and workers are located. As of now without salt domes adjacent to a power station the cost of repowering with hydrogen doesn’t pencil out. The energy transition is a term of art for the creative destruction the climate emergency has unleashed. Our fragile politics is that red flashing light on our dashboard. The fossil fuel industry isn’t going to go quietly. Not here, not anywhere, those working on the transition have to build out a new energy system and build out a glide path for all the businesses and people disrupted by this change.

An arctic blast knocks Texas out. In the Atlantic the Gulf Stream is stalling. All around the world promised targeted reductions in carbon dioxide are missed. The urgency of our circumstances keeps confronting us. The mine up on Thacker Pass, the salt domes in Utah offer us a way forward, a chance to work mankind’s magic. Traveling between California and Colorado getting a firsthand look at the efforts that are underway, the work being done. We are in a climate emergency, the world is responding, the efforts give hope, we have a path, a way to walk this crisis back, there is still much to do.

Author-Entertainer