Living in the Shadow, Colstrip Montana

I drove around the small town of Colstrip Montana for 30 minutes looking for a place to eat breakfast among the locals.  30 minute was enough time to drive every street in the small south central Montana town of 2,200 at least twice.  On a Saturday morning there was not a community cafe’ to be found. I headed over to the community recreation center parking lot to eat the staples I purchased at the grocery store last night. I can live forever on some salami, cheese, sardines and a piece of fruit. I sat there staring at the smoke stacks of the coal fired power plant. On one side of me was the enormous bellowing smoke stack ensconced in steam and on the other side was the newly constructed community recreation center. The irony was not lost on me.

The Colstrip coal fired power plant is at the center of every environmentalists cross hairs. It is the second largest coal fired power plant west of the Mississippi and produces enough electricity to power 500,000 households, considerably more than the 405,000 households in Montana. The plant consumes 10 million tons of coal each year and emits over 18 million tons of carbon dioxide annually. I sat in my truck as I watched the smoke billowing from the gigantic stacks  into the air while fitness enthusiasts filed into the Rec. center for an morning exercise class. Is it estimated that this single coal fire plant is responsible for  31 deaths, 48 heart attacks and 530 asthma attacks. It would seem that simply living next to the plant would obliterate any hope of health and wellness toward which the fitness class participants strive.

Waterslides next to Colstrip Coal Fired Power Plant

Waterslides next to Colstrip Coal Fired Power Plant

How are we much are we willing to compromise? To what extent are we willing to exchange our health, our children’s health and the survival of the planet for a paycheck?  Everyone just wants to take care of their needs however they perceive them.  For the citizens of Colstrip compromise is something that must weigh heavily their minds. “Is this beautiful community recreation center fair compensation for the asthma, heart attacks and mercury poisoning that my family will endure?” I wanted to ask these questions, but knew they would be welcomed with the same vitriol that attends any conversation that questions the source of one’s paycheck. Besides I could not find a cafe with anyone to entertain my curiosities.

It’s true that the reason for this towns existence will soon be obsolete. I wondered where these people will go when the plant is finally shuttered. I tried to comfort myself with the idea they will all be absorbed into the solar or wind power industries. Some might. Most will suffer a major life disruption and relocate to another state. There will be heart ache and pain. Colstrip could be the next in a long line of Montana ghost towns. When politicians and policy makers eventually take the plant “offline” to the cheers of environmentalists they are summoning the doom of Colstrip. Even in the shadow of the newly constructed water slides I could feel their pain and desperation.

Before driving away I watched the smoke mix with steam and white clouds against a blue Montana sky I watched a Bald Eagle playing in the warm thermal updrafts provided by the power plant. He floated effortlessly rising higher and higher on an comfortable elevator like ride. One of natures wildest creatures oblivious to the mortally toxic ethers in which he  frolicked. By some mysterious conflagration of reason we humans are able capable of the same hubris.

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How Many Pairs of Boots Do I Need?

What to change your life?  Need to make changes to feel you are living congruent with your deepest values?  That’s the way we have been feeling around our house. As I clean out my closets I find snow boots (one for cold and one for wet), hiking boots, hunting boots, running shoes, dress shoes, gym shoes, river sandals, wading boots, three styles of cowboy boots, and some dusty old wingtips. We already live in a  modest home by american standards. 1,600 square feet for 4 adults is not exactly spacious. Over the last 9 years we have accumulated many things to make us more comfortable. We moved here in a pick up truck and a horse trailer. Now it would take a semi to move all our “stuff”.  We have been longing to move closer to town and spend more time engaged in the community and less time driving.  We have attempted to sell our house several times in the past and had nearly given up.

Miraculously someone approached us to buy our humble home. Equally miraculous a friend is moving from their small rental downtown, two blocks from Montana State University. Now we need to liquidate much of the comforts we were certain we needed. A large closet of clothes. 3 large couches, stereos, three sets of dishes, 3 large boxes of Christmas decorations! It is an interesting spiritual exercise to let go of some of my comforts. I love my large sectional sofa where I spend my morning writing in my journal while drinking coffee. I love my large screen TV and integrated sound system. The problem, or the blessing… is that all of it will not fit into our new home. It forces the question “what is truly important?” After taking 3 carloads of “stuff” to the Good Will donation center and realizing there is much more left to let go of,  there is still a lot of opportunities to ask similar questions. How many pairs of boots does it take to live in Montana? How many computers do I need?   It helps me to remember the quote “if you have more than one pair of shoes you are stealing the second pair from the poor that actually need them”.  I still think I need more than one pair of boots.

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You Get What You Focus On

The Carbon Emitter

The Carbon Emitter

I made it through lent without buying another vehicle! I did not plan to take the bus during lent, it just happened that way. Things just happen, or as it is written on our refrigerator “We get what we focus on”.  Let me explain. Even though I lamented the fact that climate change will never change until we change our behaviors.  If we hold onto an intention that intention will eventually manifest in our life.

3 months ago I was driving a 3/4 ton diesel truck to work. I justified the drive, well…because I could. I knew that it was  a huge carbon emitter, I knew the bus travelled within 1/2 mile of my home. I knew I needed more exercise. But, I also knew how easy it is to walk out the front door, turn the key and drive myself to work. I had known all these facts for months yet I continued to ask “what can I do about climate change?” I kept asking myself that question and I came up with few answers. Then my big truck needed more repairs.  Something about driving a 1986 diesel makes my mechanic gleeful. Every time I saw him I was handing over my credit card. Finally I had enough. I placed an ad on Craigslist and a few weeks later someone decided they needed my truck.

Riding the bus was a learning experience. I came to enjoy my walk to the bus stop. I watched winter turn to spring and saw the sun come up a little later each morning. I heard the robins sing for the first time a few weeks ago. I learned that our family could survive with one less vehicle. My world became smaller. I turned down a lot of meetings that would require me to drive across town in the middle of the day. I arrived one hour earlier to the office each day which allowed me time to do 30 minutes of yoga and be prepared for my day. Then I realized that without making a purely conscious decision to reduce my own personal carbon footprint I had actually done it!

I am not claiming some self-righteous glory. I simply thought about a change I wanted to make and eventually in happened all on it’s own. You are right. Statistically the change was insignificant compared to all the other sources of carbon emission. There are many ways to pray.  Perhaps as individual we can proceed as Mother Teresa advised, “do small things with great love.”

 

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The 2014 IPCC Report on Climate Change

If you are as wonky as I am about climate change your Facebook news feed is already humming with all the bloggers talking about the new multi-government report on Climate Change.  In case you have been in hibernation National Geographic summed it up nicely:

“The 772 scientists who wrote and edited the report argue that world leaders have only a few years left to reduce carbon emissions enough to avoid catastrophic warming, which would produce significant sea level rise and large-scale shifts in temperatures that would dramatically disrupt human life and natural ecosystems.”

As I look beyond the latest scientific report I continue to ask myself “will this change anyone’s behavior?” Will one more study on top of over 130,000 studies convince anyone to change their daily habits?  If the past is a predictor of the future the answer is that a few will change, but many  more consumers will be produced in the race for prosperity both in the U.S. and in developing countries. There are positive changes happening in our country. Gas milage is improving, we are burning more natural gas and less coal, we are recycling  more, even public transportation use is increasing, local food and urban farming are producing healthier produce.  The sobering fact is that we are exporting the consumptive lifestyle at an incredible rate. The good intentions of a small minority of americans can not compete with the cropped-Screen-Shot-2013-11-12-at-9.45.35-AM.png Every developing country wants the same opulence that the perceive all americans enjoying.

Can we curb our gluttonous hunger for more stuff and more individualism or are we ready to move to a new consciousness that celebrates community and sustainability?

 

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The Collective Unconscious of Climate Change

The noted psychologist Carl Jung believed that the alienation, anxiety and depression many people contend with everyday is connected to a deeper pain related to the destruction of planet earth. I found this to be a profound message.  I finally felt justified for some reason. When a famous scholar puts into words the exact emotions you have been feeling, somehow you feel vindicated.

Carl Jung did not deal with climate change. He lived in the later part of the 19th and early 20th century. It is said that he had a dream that predicted the destruction and death of World War I. Up until that time war was a regional problem, somewhat contained in it’s destruction. The 620,000 lost in the American Civil War could not compare to the 37,500,000 that would die in WW I or the 48,000,000 that perished in WW II, both within Jung’s lifetime.

Maybe some of us are aware of the coming catastrophes of climate change on the collective unconscious level that Jung experienced. We hardly need to tap into such a mystical state when studies like DARA

Carl Jung

Carl Jung

state that up to 100 million people may die as a direct result of climate change by the year 2030. Or perhaps grim projections such as these simple give academic justification for what we feel in our souls.

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Food and Faith

The biggest challenges facing the American West is climate change. Integral to that challenge is food. Where and how we get our food has tremendous implications for how we care for  God’s creation.  Over the last several years there has been more discussion about food and faith. Every time we take a bite of food we are casting a vote about what kind of world we want. Do we want a world where local farmers can earn a livable wage growing healthy food for their community? Or do we want to support a misdirected, government subsidized agricultural system that degrades the environment and makes only large corporations healthier?

There are many candidates for which  to cast your “edible vote”.  The most basic is growing your own garden. In his new book Soil and Sacrament, Fred Brahnson speaks of the undeniable connection between faith and farming. I have been deeply moved by his artful combination of both scientific, and theological knowledge.

Shopping at farmers markets are another great way to cast your vote. Studies show that 10 times more conversations occur at a farmers market than at a grocery store.  Farmers markets create community. People get to know their farmer.

Joining a community supported agriculture farm is another way to improve both the quality of your food and the quality of your community. CSA’a  provide fresh produce and sometimes meat throughout the growing season for a subscription fee paid to the farmer at the beginning of the growing season. This subscription helps to cover the farmers operating expenses and ensures him/her a livable wage even if one variety of crop fails to produce. This way the risk (yes farming is risky) is spread between the farmer and the consumer.

Church Gardens are another way many people are finding fresh, healthy food. Many churches own land and have a leadership structure that enables community gardens to flourish. Many of these gardens are run by church members and are open to the broader community. The abundance of produce is often donated to the local food bank to feed the marginalized. Could there be a better way to internalize one’s faith than working with Creation to  feed those most in need? Church gardens represent the perfect means to put one’s faith into action.

Next time you sit down to a meal remember that you are casting a vote for the world you would like to create. VoteIntensive-Vegetable-Gardening-672x372 wisely!

 

 

 

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Leaving “Everything”

The last post dealt with the first question people ask, often unconsciously, “can he do it?” With the same honesty I will address the second unasked question “how can he leave everything behind ” and just go?

This question gets to the root of so many of our fears and values. It is a question that digs the deepest into our souls. There has been a lot to leave behind.  The attachment we have to people, places and mostly things can get in the way of pursuing our deepest desires.  Leaving everything sounds  irresponsible to many people, while at the same time igniting a bit of envy. They see the life they have created and can’t imagine sacrificing any of it to pursue what they perceive as their true calling.

I personally dealt with this issue this morning.  In order to lighten our economic, spiritual and financial load my family of 4 has decided to move into a smaller house, closer to town. We currently inhabit a 1,600 square foot house, though considered small by U.S. standards it is palatial next to the 1,200 square foot house we will be occupying in a few weeks. It’s amazing how attached I get to “things”.  When I think about it the things are not as sticky as the memories and hopes that we attach to the things. As I work my way through our storage shed, sorting through what I will give away or sell,  I come across children’s books that I hope to share with my grandchildren, hunting clothes that hold special memories. Outdoor gear that was purchased for a special trip that never happened.  A 3/4 length duck hunting parka that once gave shelter to young lover. All precious hopes and memories. The goal is to cherish the memories and let the objects go.

There is also the common issue of finances. “How will he support himself?” This is not a simple issue. I envy some of my younger friends without spouses, children, houses and businesses. They seem to be able to go and do what they wish with nary a care. My strategy is more complex because my life is more complex. I plan on doing on-line health consulting through a holistic care website. I have not been hired as of today, but I hold out great hope. I also own and operate a chiropractic clinic in Bozeman. I have made arrangements for a very good doctor to cover the practice whilst I am away. There are no financial guarantees with any of this. It is still a leap of faith. “Leap and the net will appear”, I read somewhere.

The personal side of “leaving everything behind” is my family. My wife, Karen is very supportive of my need for  adventure. She knows that important journeys must be made.  I am not implying that she is crazy about the idea of spending the summer alone and worrying about my safety. She will be seeking her own adventure working in a Ugandan orphanage with my daughter Madeline through the month of June.

Before you consider heading out on an adventure be warned that you will not be leaving it all behind. Likely you will carry much of the responsibilities with you, they will simply change forms slightly.

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Letting Go

When I share the Trek with the public they invariably listen with interest and I can see the gears turning in their heads. They are asking themselves some common questions.

1.Can he really do this?

2.How can he just leave everything behind?

3.Could I do something like this?

So far most of my blog posts have been written about why I am taking the Trek from an external perspective. Yes there needs to be rapid action to deal with climate change in the American West, but that is not what draws people to be interested in the Trek. What attracts each person’s attention is the thought of dropping everything and standing for a cause.

I thought I should document some of the “behind the scenes” processes, both practical and spiritual, that are taking place so that others who feel so inclined to make a dramatic change in their lives can find comfort in reading the trials and victories of a fellow pilgrim.

Let’s focus on the first question. “Can he really do this?” No one has said that it could not be done. No one has told me that riding 1,300 miles  by horse in our industrialized civilization is impossible. Yet I see it in their eyes. The truth is I ask myself this question dozens of times everyday. Do I have the physical strength? I am past 50 years old and lifting heavy saddles and packs is a fair amount more difficult than it was when I was 40.  My lower back is much more temperamental and requires regular maintenance in the form of chiropractic, massage and yoga to stay functional. My diet is much more restrictive (I am both gluten and dairy sensitive) so preparing food on the trail becomes quite laborious. Sleeping in a tent is not as comfortable as my king size bed at home.

The biggest challenges are mental questions. Can I handle the loneliness? There are hundreds of miles where I may be alone for days. Days and weeks of hot windy travel with little protection from the elements. The bigger question that has required the deepest introspection is “what if nobody cares?” What if I commit my life to this cause and nobody even notices? We all want to make a difference in the world, but the fact is most of us have a legacy that barely out lives the flowers at our funeral. Mostly our lives are but a breath of God’s creation. I usually comfort myself with the knowledge that I am inexorably called to do this.  I pay attention to the supernatural, primal instincts that if not acted upon will surely lead to a complacent life.  I listen to my thoughts and daydreams. I focus on what’s possible. I focus on potential. I believe God has a unique plan for each of us; that each of us feels a certain resonance when we are living that plan.

I don’t know EXACTLY what I am doing. I just know I will never be the same.

How about you? What life changing adventure is calling you? If you are SURE you can accomplish it perhaps you need a bigger dream.

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Just a Saddle

SADDLE PIC

The old saying goes “he sold his saddle”.  The implication is that when everything else is gone the last thing to go is a horseman’s saddle. I’ve sold my share of saddles over the years and yes it has always been as a last resort. When you have a $3,000 saddle sitting in the barn and some bills that need to be paid the temptation and call of responsibility can be too much to bear.

This saddle was almost sold also. During the winter of 1999 I did not have a horse to ride. I had been admiring all the  beautiful saddles in Western Horseman Magazine,  and in a  fit of cabin fever I decided that I could build a saddle. I ordered the kit and waited on the UPS delivery man.  I spent many long nights in the basement cutting patterns, building and rebuilding different parts of the saddle. The seat was especially challenging. The seat of a good saddle uses the best cut of a hide. There are some intricate fitting and measurements that have to be “just right”. I remade the seat of that saddle three times. Each time I had to special order a $200 piece of leather to start over again. Late into the cold dark nights of February I was using a smooth mayonnaise jar to rub the wet leather into a comfortable seat.

That saddle sat on many horses over the next year. Some it fit quite well and others it was too narrow. I seemed to go through periods when I was sure that I should leave horses behind and focus on my career. This picture is one of those times. I advertised the saddle of E-bay. I thought I should sell it and be done with horses. My wife talked me out of selling it.

Over the last 10 years that saddle has sat on a lot of colts. It has endured numerous wrecks, been chewed on, stomped on and soaked in rivers. After purchasing Gus, the Montana Travler, I discovered that the saddle fit him perfectly. I installed new saddle strings last year to replace the ones that were chewed off. Also new is the D-ring behind the cantle to accommodate a crouper for those long downhill rides.

It’s not as fancy as some of my other saddles. It reminds me of an old pickup, it just works.

 

 

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Teaching an Old Horse New Tricks

They say you can’t teach an old dog new tricks. I disagree. It may be more challenging to teach an old dog new tricks,but not impossible. Such is the case with an old horse. Let’s just say Gus, my horse has some baggage. I know where he was raised and I know who started him. I know he was not given a whole lot of nice easy lessons. His past experienced have a lot to do with how he reacts today as a 10 year old horse. He is nervous, “pacy”, easily frightened and at times distrustful.

During these early season rides he seems to rush through any ride so that he can get back to the safety and comfort of his herd in the paddock. It seems to take many miles for him to settle into a relaxed walk in which Lucy the mule is not constantly yo-yoing from a walk to a trot and back again. I always try to follow the sage advice of Ray Hunt and make the thing I want them to do easy and make the unwanted behavior difficult. I always found that wisdom easy to follow in the arena and the barn. Riding down the shoulder of a busy road, pulling a mule is a difficult place to adhere to that advice. Then I quit fighting the horse and just thought about the problem and studied my horse. Every time he would lurch forward in a anxious manner his head would come up ever so slightly. On many horses this is easy to notice, but Gus is just 14.2 hands (small for a horse) and move pretty collected. Once a horse lifts his head and walks quickly he hollows out his back and moves his weight more to his front end.  In other words he moves “all strung out”. It’s ugly, uncomfortable to ride and taxing on the horse.  Since I could not move the horse sideways or bend him into a corner I had to figure out a way to keep his head in a relaxed, low position. Since I was using a mile curb bit I simply lifted up on the reins and held his head up until he pulled it down. After about 3 miles it was like magic, as soon as I gently lifted the reins he would drop his head. That simple movement allowed him to engage his hindquarter more efficiently and kept a lid on his anxiety. I did not fix the entire problem on one ride, but he did become more relaxed.

How about you? Do you have any secret training tips that produce a straight, relaxed horse?

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