fishing for words

(and tossing out random thoughts)


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National Parks Week and appreciating a high-country home

Centennial-Logo-W-Find-Your-Park-LogoOur days were measured by trout caught, bears seen and miles hiked; nights by stars and the embers of a campfire. During those summers we’d rarely see a familiar face, but the place seemed unchanging. We grew a lot during those short visits, climbing granite domes, hiking trails commonly rising 1,000 feet in less than five miles, floating in a river that only a few miles earlier was born of snowmelt.

I was reminded that Tuolumne Meadows was our vacation “home” last week when I posted a photo of my brother and me with a trophy high-country trout, back when our fishing was more about self-sufficiency and every fish ended up in a pan surrounded by bacon. Mornings my brother, sister and I would hike to Soda Springs to capture the naturally carbonated water – and bits of minerals I’m sure – our mother would gently blend with pancake mix to make some of the puffiest pancakes in the world.

Our visits to Tuolumne Meadows were more adventure than vacation. Stories of our exploits of those summers come up frequently: The poor decision to slide down the granite face of Lembert Dome as the sun set. The bear that followed us back to camp after a long day hike. My sister’s discovery that fish were living beings while ironically still fishing but refusing to eat our catch. On tougher hikes, mom’s constant encouragement to discover what might be around the next bend.

TM-Mark and meIt wouldn’t be out of place to say that Tuolumne Meadows, a less visited part of Yosemite National Park, helped form the person I am today. I’ve since returned to Tuolumne Meadows, one time fishing there with my sons, another time hiking up Lembert Dome with my brother and one son. Nature seems to ignore us humans; the changes over the last three decades are entirely ours.

I’ve been lucky enough to have visited Death Valley, Sequoia & Kings Canyon, Lassen, Redwood and Mt. St. Helen national parks. Many national monuments, recreation areas and historic sites as well: Alcatraz Island, John Muir National Historic Site, Point Reyes National Seashore, Muir Woods National Monument, Cabrillo National Monument, Fort Point National Historic Site and Golden Gate Recreation Area.

The national park system is America’s Best Idea. Next week is National Park Week. Every national park will offer free admission from April 16th through the 24th. If you can, get to one and #FindYourPark.

“Thousands of tired, nerve-shaken, over-civilized people are beginning to find out that going to the mountains is going home; that wildness is a necessity”
― John Muir, Our National Parks


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restoring environmental damage, one criminal at a time

I’ve always thought that lacking a contemporary ‘Australia’ to which convicted lawbreakers might be shipped, widespread use of chain gangs might be a better answer than sending less violent criminals to prisons in which privileges once used to encourage good behavior have become expected and perhaps undeserved perks. Sure, some states charge for the cost of incarceration, but work instead of cash would be better and more direct method of repayment.

This thinking resurfaced while I watched ‘Wild Justice’ on television a few nights ago. I’m convinced that there is no risk that the poachers, idiots and outright criminals suspects shown on ‘Wild Justice’ will learn much from their televised arrests; after all, ‘COPS’ has been on the air for 23 years and still the stock answer from nearly any suspect is either “they’re not my pants” or “only a couple of beers.”

A segment showing California’s Fish & Game wardens clear out a Mendocino County marijuana ‘grow’— with an estimated street value of $28 million, cultivated by surfers and a woman who claimed to have grown disillusioned when trying to reconcile the salary she was paid as a college graduate in corporate America with the money to be earned growing ganja — was a reminder of the often overlooked environmental damage inflicted by these criminal operations. This was a particularly nasty one; a gravity fed irrigation system delivered all sorts of chemicals to the grow, ultimately trickling downhill into the local watershed.

Toxic Marijuana

In addition to 300 pounds of pesticides, the cleanup of 335 California national forest marijuana grows (note this was only in national forests) in 2010 entailed the removal of 130 tons of trash, 5 tons of fertilizer and 260 miles of irrigation piping.

Even just the illegal grading of roads into these grows and the denuding of hillsides is now seen as having an impact on salmonids equal to that caused at the height of logging in Del Norte, Humboldt, Mendocino, Trinity and Siskiyou counties. The profit margin is huge, and the lure, for a mix of growers: Mexican nationals with or without cartel or gang connections, Emerald Triangle natives growing just enough without attracting law enforcement attention, and a network of smaller growers.

Much of it is grown on national and state forest and park land, and with no cost to use the land or siphon off the water that flows there, it’s a high-margin crop made more lucrative by a distribution network that’s grown with the state law allowing limited possession of marijuana for medicinal purposes and an apparent reduction in marijuana crossing the border. (A Mendocino County-commissioned study estimated that marijuana accounts for up to two-thirds of the local economy. It’s also estimated that three quarters of the marijuana sold in the U.S. is grown in the Golden State.)

Without taking a position on either the growing or use of marijuana (or the collision of state and federal laws), I can’t help but think that the folks who wreak this environment damage — suspecting that some of the home-grown variety may be self-styled environmentalists — might be better ‘re-educated’ in cleaning up of the mess they leave behind. Besides, they’ve already built hovels in which they can be housed during the clean up. But, if they want one, they’ll have to pony up their own cash for the hazmat suit.