Three Rivers Muse & News

The Kaweah Commonwealth is the weekly newspaper of Three Rivers, Calif. The coverage area includes what is collectively known as "Kaweah Country," from the highest peaks in Sequoia National Park to the Sierra Nevada foothills to the floor of the San Joaquin Valley.

Tuesday, August 21, 2007

Love and Haight, flower children and a touch of gray

Unbelievably, it’s already the middle of August and for many — especially school-age children and their parents — summer is all but over. The fall semesters at the local schools start this coming week.

It’s a phenomenon being dubbed “the incredible shrinking summer.” What used to be three months of summer vacation from school books and teachers’ looks has now, for 75 percent of Americans, been reduced to two months, or with summer school, even less.

It’s further evidence of a society trying to compress more in less. Some educators attribute less summer vacation to a need to get a jump on improving spring testing scores; others say we are so behind that year-round school should be the norm, not the exception.

The bottom line is that we all get less quality time with the ones who matter most — our families.

In the evolution of social theory, it’s a disturbing trend that is explained as a byproduct of institutionalized self-alienation. All these high-tech gadgets that require a more specialized education to understand in the first place bombard our brains with stimuli — wants that we confuse with needs, and in extreme cases, become motives for unprecedented antisocial behavior.

To borrow a phrase from a song made popular by two “righteous” dudes from Orange County — “We’ve lost that lovin’ feeling.” We might be astutely aware of our global position and rapidly expanding networks, but we’re out of touch with our spiritual self and, sadly, the ability to love one another.

At the risk of sounding old and in the way and maybe a bit corny too, consider this. Forty years ago (1967), thousands of high school-aged kids with an extra month of summer set out to become part of the much ballyhooed Summer of Love. Some sought a spiritual revolution, others a political agenda, still others simply wanted to get high on sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll.

Many of these flower children, whether consciously or not, were looking for love or, at the very least, an alternative lifestyle.

Whatever the true motive of these so-called hippies, many believed that love was certainly lacking in a country in the throes of a terrible war (Vietnam) that one day they or a loved one might have to experience via the draft. The media during 1966-67 had a field day glorifying these hedonists at the Human Be-Ins or the free concerts in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park.

This counterculture couldn’t have been better advertised. By the time school was out in June 1967, thousands of high school students and college kids were going to San Francisco wearing flowers in their hair.

In fact, at its peak during July of the Summer of Love, 600 underage teenagers were arriving in Haight-Ashbury everyday. Add to those numbers the thousands who were 18 or older and it was an “Invasion of the Flower Children,” according to a headline in the San Francisco Chronicle. In reality, the City of San Francisco coped with 100,000 hippie visitors.
Ironically, most of the founders of the new hippie movement had already left the Haight district to do their spiritual thing elsewhere. What remained was a transient population of a generation looking for love in all the wrong places.

Whatever that Summer of Love did or did not accomplish, it was a life changing experience for many who made their way out West for the first time. A naïve 16-year old (yours truly) from Cleveland, Ohio, was among those flower children, and after visiting Haight-Ashbury, vowed to one day become a transplanted Californian.

But that didn’t happen until 10 years later and that story is for another time and place. The actor Peter Coyote, a self-described “crazy hippie anarchist” and former Digger, helped ensure that those 1967 visitors had access to free food and social services. He said recently that although the political agendas of the 1960s failed, the cultural agendas “all worked.”

Today, the rise of the 1960s counterculture has had a profound influence on our world. The image of the San Francisco hippie dancing in Golden Gate Park with long hair flailing has endured as an American archetype.
Vestiges of the Summer of Love remain in Yoga classes, pop music, visual art, fashions, attitudes toward drug use, personal computers, and the frenzied greening of America.

If not for the stigma of LSD and drug use, there would be many more fond memories of a time when we could look each other in the eye and exclaim: “Love one, love all, Man!”


Monday, August 13, 2007

In hind cite...

Our family of four had the privilege to enjoy an eight-day backpacking trip last month. While on these annual adventures together over the past dozen years, we have combated injuries, dodged lightning bolts, been pelted by hail the size of golf balls, survived sunburn, endured hordes of mosquitoes, forded chest-deep rapids, trekked across near-vertical snowfields, witnessed trees crashing to the ground and boulders tumbling from peaks, shivered through snowstorms, and other uncomfortable and even death-defying situations.

But none of the above caused as much duress as an incident that occurred on this recent trip.

The wilderness is my church; I would never defile it. Leave No Trace ethics are my Bible; I have read and memorized every verse.

For 13 years, we have backpacked with our children – since they were four and five – and I have taught them how to care for and love the backcountry. They have never cut a switchback, so much as left a corner of a Clif bar wrapper behind, or given one morsel of food to a chipmunk or other creature, no matter how cute.

I like to think that when we leave the backcountry, we have done our part to make it better than it was. We have packed out other hikers’ trash – this trip we found three balloons at three separate pristine backcountry sites that we hauled home, as we do each trip.

We have fed starving hikers, clothed cold hikers, guided lost hikers, bandaged injured hikers, scolded ignorant hikers, and befriended some of the best, most interesting people on the planet.

So this is difficult to admit, but I must confess. During this recent trip, we received a citation from a backcountry ranger for “violating the terms” of our wilderness permit.

Here’s the story… We had a remote, albeit established campsite in mind where we planned to spend a couple of heavenly layover days. When we arrived in the area, there was a tent pitched at the site, but no people around.

We found another somewhat established site in the trees about 50 yards west of the camp. Just as we were ready to pitch our tents, I realized that we were just too close to the other campsite; I certainly wouldn’t have liked it if someone had camped that close to us (Leave No Trace Principle No. 7).

We picked up our packs and moved a few hundred yards downslope to an exposed, treeless, yet established gravel site (LNT Principle No. 2). That evening after dinner, as we were packing up our food for the night, we realized we had a smelly plastic bag of trash that wouldn’t fit in our bear canister.

We had intended to burn the worst of it the night before (LNT No. 1), but a thunderstorm had made us and the surroundings too wet to have a fire even though there were existing campfire rings. Besides, we had a bear-proof storage locker that night as well so we were able to stow everything.

Since our number-one priority in the wilderness is to never, ever let wildlife obtain our food (LNT Principle No. 6), we were concerned about this odorous collection. Had we been at our intended site, or even encroached and stayed in the adjacent area, we would have had a tree from which to hang it.

We were now at a place where “wood fires” are illegal. It said so on a sign along the trail about a mile back. We considered building a cache with rocks, but this is something we wanted to avoid (LNT Principle No. 4) and it wouldn’t mask the odor.

We looked at our permit rules and the main concern seems to be “campfires,” which we interpreted as a blazing fire lit for warmth and/or entertainment and entails scouring the landscape for fuel. Since we weren’t planning on singing “Kumbaya,” a dirt mound about 12 inches by six inches was prepared (LNT Principle No. 5) on which we put our paper waste – mainly TP (LNT Principle No. 3) and prepare-in-pouch dinner bags – and struck the fateful match.

Immediately upon seeing the smoke waft skyward, I saw we had caught the attention of our neighbors above us in the trees. Soon, a “plain clothes” ranger descended upon our campsite and was broadcasting the name of “John Elliott” over the radio to check for prior wants and warrants while writing the citation that has since set us back a couple of Ben Franklins.
John didn’t belabor his defense; I was in the tent when she arrived and decided to stay there and let John take the heat. We swallowed the citation along with our pride.

I’m not ready to admit we were wrong. I will, however, say that we may not be completely right.

We made a judgment call that was based on experience and rational thought. But we were too blatant for the ranger to ignore.

Even though the ranger performed her duties by telling us to pour a bucket of water on the fire, pick up the burnt material, and disperse the remnants, we would have done it anyway. We don’t burn plastic, don’t use foil, and always pick up any remains that may not have turned to complete ash even when burning in an established fire pit.

Ironically, Sequoia-Kings Canyon’s fire policies are inconsistent. The ranger was concerned about blackened rocks; on subsequent days we spotted lightning fires burning in some of the southern Sierra’s pristine high country that would be leaving behind plenty of scorched boulders, and we traipsed through a portion of the Atwell Grove where some ancient giant sequoias have been burned to death due to intentionally-ignited prescribed fires.

We do, however, understand why “campfire” regulations must be written. And we understand the frustrations of backcountry rangers because we have also seen how often those regulations are wantonly ignored.

I am in awe of the Sierra and all that lives and breathes there. Over the past two decades, I have been committed to teaching environmental consciousness to my children, feeling privileged to pass onto them a multi-generational legacy of a deep respect and stewardship for the spirit, the wonder, and the beauty of these fragile wild places.

Friday, July 06, 2007

News and notes

iNformation about iPhones— So, who was the first person in Three Rivers to get an iPhone? If you have one, give John or me a call and provide an update of how it works in Three Rivers.

Move over— On the quiet country roads of Three Rivers, drivers should give walkers, runners, bicyclists, and riders on horseback a break. If there is no oncoming traffic, and there usually isn’t, it’s okay to cross over that center line to give pedestrians some safety clearance.

Health and wealth— I’m anxious to see Michael Moore’s new documentary Sicko. I had planned to see it on its opening day, but it didn’t come to Visalia.

The movie is in wide release, so why is this? I plan to write about our family’s nightmarish experiences with the healthcare and insurance industries soon.

Classified ads— There were a couple errors on the Classified ads page last week and for that I apologize. A “For Rent” ad had the phone number left out; it’s correct this week. A “Misc. for Sale” ad had an incorrect phone number; it is not in this week since the person who placed the ad is now out of town. In addition, a conversion at the printer caused some type discrepancies.

Although I regret all of the above, I have always said that I am never surprised when something is wrong on that page; I’m more surprised that there is so much that’s right!

It’s hot, but not that hot— Several Three Rivers residents have noticed over the past week that on the CBS channel 47 local news, the temperatures in Three Rivers are being shown on the weather map as much hotter than other locations down in the Valley. Since we all live here, we know that’s not true.

It’s hot, but we are certainly not hotter than the blacktopped-encased cities on the Valley floor. One concerned citizen sent an email to the station, asking how they obtain this temperature and stating: “By constantly showing our town to have the highest temperature, you are affecting our businesses by discouraging tourism.”

Colin Jackson at Channel 47 responded by saying that they receive their numbers from the National Weather Service in Hanford.

A telephone call to a NWS representative in Hanford revealed that there are two automatic sensors in the area, one along Highway 198 in Three Rivers and the other in Ash Mountain, but he didn’t immediately know the specific locations of the devices.

He admitted that temperatures could vary greatly due to the sensor’s amount of exposure. He also stated that on July 4 the Three Rivers sensor provided a reading of 104, but Ash Mountain came in with a 112.

Last night, Channel 47 said we will reach 114 degrees today (Thursday). I can’t wait around to find out because our printer just called and said it’s 105 in his pressroom already, so I’ve got to end and send!

Wednesday, July 04, 2007

Independence Day

Fourth of July will never have a greater meaning than this year. Having just returned from my first trip ever to our nation’s Capitol and actually having the privilege to personally participate in the democratic process, I understand more than ever how fortunate we are to live in the United States of America.

While in Washington, D.C., I was proud to be a companion to my son who was one of 150 children, ages four to 17, who were delegates on behalf of the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Among the dozens of activities in which the group participated, the most patriotic were performing a song on the lawn of the U.S. Capitol; being in attendance as the subjects of a congressional hearing chaired by senators Susan Collins (R-Maine) and Joe Lieberman(D-Conn.); and spending a day on Capitol Hill as the delegates met with their various senators and representative.

It was an unforgettable experience to sit back and watch as my 16-year-old son discussed his life with Type 1 diabetes in separate meetings with senators Dianne Feinstein and Barbara Boxer and Representative Devin Nunes and requested that the legislators co-sponsor a reappropriations bill that would increase funding for research toward a cure.

Following our D.C. blitz, we visited Gettysburg National Military Park and the Liberty Bell and Independence Hall in Philadelphia where it became graphically apparent the foresight the Founding Fathers possessed and how many have fought and sacrificed their lives so that we may enjoy the freedoms and liberties that we have today.

Let freedom ring! Happy Independence Day.

Monday, May 14, 2007

Ode to moms

I returned home Tuesday from a trip to Woodlake where I dropped my son off at high school, then took an hour out for a run. The phone was ringing as I walked in and it was my son informing me he was having a minor medical problem that needed my attention.

So back to Woodlake I went.

When I returned, I went to the computer to start my workday. A quick check of my email found a note from my daughter (who’s away at college) asking me to proofread a paper. I opened the attachment and saw it was 12 pages long!

And this is what I call a “Good Mom Day.” My kids are getting older and my assistance isn’t needed as much anymore, so when I get a double whammy like this, I’m thrilled.

Being a mother isn’t always as simple as this, even in the United States. According to the eighth annual “Mother’s Index,” which ranks the best — and worst — places to be a mother, the U.S. ranks 26th out of 140 countries.

In 2006, we were ranked seventh. The report is compiled each year by Save the Children, a U.S.-based independent humanitarian organization.

More children die in the first month of life in the United States than in any other developed country, except for Latvia. What gives our country such a dismal ranking is the inequality in providing access to healthcare.
Sweden and Japan provide free healthcare to pregnant women and newborns. In the U.S., healthcare is big business.

Here are the Top 10 countries (from 1 to 10) in which to be a mom based on mothers’ and children’s health, educational, and economic status: Sweden, Iceland, Norway, New Zealand, Australia, Denmark, Finland, Belgium, Spain, Germany.

Here are the Bottom 10 (from 131 to 140), which means conditions in these countries, all but one of which are in sub-Saharan Africa, are grim: Djibouti, Burkina Faso, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Angola, Guinea-Bissau, Chad, Yemen, Sierra Leone, and Niger.

In these countries, one in 13 mothers die from pregnancy-related causes. One in five children die before his/her fifth birthday (in Sweden, it’s one in 150), and one in three suffers from malnutrition.

In Niger, only 16 percent of births are attended by skilled health personnel. A typical mother has less than three years of education, and the life expectancy of a girl born today is 45 (in Sweden, it’s almost twice that number).

Also in Niger, only four percent of women use contraception; in Sweden, 72 percent of women use some form of modern contraception.

Did you have a little one that was up all night? Two siblings bickering? Tough day to be a mom, huh?

What if you had to raise those children in Darfur, Sudan? Mothers and their children are suffering from poverty, disease, and malnutrition, if they happen to survive the genocide.

They are dying at tremendous rates from preventable deaths due to poor access to routine healthcare. The leading cause of death among Darfuri women is complications during pregnancy.

Here is some of what mothers and their children are currently enduring in Darfur due to the ongoing slaughter by the “Janjaweed” militia. This report is from The Sunday Times of London: “Dozens of screaming toddlers in the Darfur region of Sudan were ripped away from their mothers and shot to death. Older children who tried to save their brothers and sisters were hunted down…”

Now let’s travel about 1,000 miles north to Iraq and consider the mothers raising their children in a war zone. Healthcare in Iraq is no better than that of a Third World country these days.

Prenatal care is almost nonexistent because just traveling to a hospital is a life-threatening task with gun battles, suicide bombers, and improvised explosive devices being the norm. Going into labor at the wrong time is another danger due to curfews and road closures.

Here’s one mother’s story as published in The Boston Globe earlier this year: “Noor Ibrahim felt labor pains at 9 p.m. … [She] decided to bear the pain until morning. At 3 a.m., her water broke. Once the sun rose, she, her husband, and her mother-in-law drove to the public hospital…

“When they arrived… a surgeon had just been kidnapped and the doctors refused to go to work. That left the nurses to deliver Ibrahim’s baby.
“For several hours, Ibrahim pushed. But her baby was big and she got tired. The nurses used forceps to try to pull him out. When that didn’t work, they told her to go to another hospital.

“The ambulance driver refused to take them to a private hospital in Baghdad, even after they offered to pay him.

“[The trio] got back into their own car and drove for 30 minutes as Ibrahim’s baby languished…”

Ibrahim’s son weighed nearly nine pounds. The mother survived this time; the baby did not.

Every woman, no matter where she lives, deserves to have access to education, adequate nutrition, healthcare, and family planning. Imagine a world or, for that matter, our own country, that provided these basics equally to all.

Mother’s Day is about celebrating our own mothers, but also take time to honor mothers around the world who are struggling everyday to keep their children and themselves alive.

Saturday, May 05, 2007

Scary air

QUESTION: What is the most polluted city in the world?
Answer at the end of this blog…

Unless you live in a complete haze, and apparently we do, you may have already heard about the American Lung Association’s report that was released this week. It is a discouraging study that without even mentioning Three Rivers essentially says we are in dire straits.

The organization’s annual State of the Air report lists the most polluted urban areas in the nation. Even though we here in Kaweah Country are nowhere near being classified as urban, we are in close proximity and there’s no escape.

Los Angeles retains top honor as the smoggiest city. It also spewed its way to number one in 2003, 2004, and 2005.

Also in the top 10 for air quality to die for is Bakersfield (number 3) and Visalia-Porterville (number 7). And that’s not all — the Fresno-Madera area is in 15th place while Hanford-Corcoran made 17th. That means Three Rivers is between Moro Rock and a polluted place.

Now here’s where it gets downright depressing. The other metropolitan areas that round out the top 25 as having the unhealthiest air to breathe are all either along or east of the Mississippi.

So it’s L.A. and the Central Valley that can’t get a grip on the pollution problem, then clean-breathing for 2,000 miles until St. Louis, Missouri. Well, not really “clean” because almost half of the U.S. population lives in counties with unhealthy levels of pollution, even if they can’t quite make the top 10 like we can.

Around these parts, we can’t even agree on whether global warming is real or not. Although we can argue that pollution is or isn’t affecting the earth’s processes, we can’t dispute that it’s unhealthy for us to inhale 28,000 times each day.

Actually, we in Kaweah Country don’t have time to save an entire planet; we need to save ourselves. But being that we live in one of the dirtiest air basins anyway, if we reduce local pollution, we tremendously help the planet.

That is, unless we collectively decide to continue our consumptive lifestyles, but get rid of the rest of the state’s pollution that blows our way. A giant, hydroelectrically-powered turbine at Lake Kaweah blowing west might do the trick.

But, seriously folks, it’s time for a lifestyle change so our kids and grandchildren don’t sit around breathing into their ventilators and discussing how uneducated and out of touch we were.

First step: Be aware. Anything that is driven, uses electricity, was processed or manufactured, or has been delivered has consumed fossil fuels and emitted carbon dioxide. Reduce the use of any of the above and, voila, pollution is reduced.

Second step: Be vocal. Call the air district when you see polluting vehicles (they should be smog-tested or off the road), offensive ag burning (debris should be chipped and mulched), or uncontrolled dust (work the land during the wet season or water it down). Also, write to legislators and let them know we want to see Alta Peak, not the air we breathe.

According to a British government study just released, high levels of air pollution reduced life expectancy more than the radiation exposure suffered by survivors of the 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

ANSWER: Linfen, China, is the most polluted city in the world. The 3.5 million residents wear breathing masks to protect themselves from pollution.

Tuesday, May 01, 2007

Food for thought

When I was 20 years old, I somehow came to own a used copy of Adelle Davis’s groundbreaking book, Let’s Eat Right to Keep Fit (Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1954). It forever changed the way I view food, diet, human nutrition, and physical activity.

Ever since, educating myself about optimum health through nutrition has been a lifestyle. Although Adelle’s book is timeless — disdaining white sugar and flour and heralding whole grains, good fats and proteins, and vitamins and minerals — there have been continuing changes in the science of nutrition over the years.

Chapter 1 of Eat Right to Keep Fit starts with this: “Your nutrition can determine how you look, act, and feel; whether you are grouchy or cheerful, homely or beautiful, physiologically and even psychologically young or old; whether you think clearly or are confused, enjoy your work or make it a drudgery, increase your earning power or stay in an economic rut.”

To this day, I believe this is basically true. But presently, there is even more thought that needs to go into every meal.

Two years ago while on a camping trip, my family had nightmares as I read them excerpts from Eric Schlosser’s Fast Food Nation (Harper, 2005). We haven’t eaten corporate fast food since.

More than 50 years ago, Adelle Davis’s book ended with a chapter entitled, “Is Our National Health on the Down-grade?” As we all now know, the answer to that question was, and is, yes.

The book recently added to my all-time favorites’ list is The Omnivore’s Dilemma: A Natural History of Four Meals, by Michael Pollan. Another groundbreaker, Pollan personally follows four types of meals from source to dinner plate.

The meals that have their origins traced are: a McDonald’s feast eaten in a car on a freeway; a plethora of “Big Organic” ingredients purchased at Whole Foods Market; chicken and side dishes from a self-sustaining Virginia farm that uses no pesticides, antibiotics, or synthetic fertilizers; and the most basic of banquets consisting of ingredients Pollan hunted, gathered, and grew.

At the risk of revealing the climax, the McDonald’s meal proves severely lacking in both nutrition and eco-sustainability. The Whole Foods meal contains the unwanted ingredient of corporate compromise. The small-scale farm meal was delectable and eco-friendly. And the hunter-gatherer meal was down-to-earth with a side of guilt.

Then again, this book could also be titled, “Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Corn But Were Afraid to Ask.” The beginning of the book is a meticulously researched exposé on corn, which isn’t just the innocent, all-American summer vegetable anymore, but an exploited, government-controlled ingredient that finds its way, in one form or another, into almost every food and beverage we ingest (it makes up 13 of the 38 ingredients in a Chicken McNugget).

Before reading this book, I thought I was a conscious grocery-shopper and an intelligent eater. I’ve been forced to re-examine some of my strategies.
Writes Pollan: “Perhaps most discouraging of all, my industrial organic meal [from Whole Foods Market] is nearly as drenched in fossil fuel as its conventional counterpart.”

And food really has become a dilemma. Big organic has sold out; industrialization is here to stay; not everyone can be self-sustaining and off the grid; small farms are priced out of the industry because of regulations, subsidies, and processing; and wildlife and wild plants couldn’t support an entire population that went foraging for its supper after clocking out at the office.

In this book, it is explained that food has become much more than sustenance; it has political, economic, psychological, moral, and public health implications. Because of this, we’ve created what Pollan calls a national eating disorder.

“How could it come to pass that a fast-food burger produced from corn and fossil fuel actually costs less than a burger produced from grass and sunlight?” asks the author.

In the end, the omnivore’s dilemma is two-fold: what we choose to eat and how we allow that food to be produced. Unfortunately, the book doesn’t provide a clear-cut answer but it reveals the true cost of food.