David Friedman: The Day I paddled with Edward Abbey

In this dreamlike voyage any unnecessary effort seems foolish. Even vulgar, one might say. The river itself sets the tone: utterly relaxed, completely at ease, it fulfills its mighty purpose without aim or effort. Only the slow swing of the canyon walls overhead and the illusory upstream flow of willows, tamarisk, and boulders on the shore reveal and indicate our progress to the sea (Abbey, 184).

It was the late afternoon and the sun was blazing down on us. We were all gunneled up (all of our canoes attached) taking turns reading from Desert Solitaire, one of Edward Abbey’s most celebrated works. As each of us took turns reading this book of gospels I grew increasingly eager to read. Finally, I thought to myself as the book was passed to me. I rubbed my thumb across the title that continues to impart wisdom and knowledge, Desert Solitaire, A Season in the Wilderness: A Celebration of the Beauty of Living in a Harsh and Hostile Land.

We were right in the middle of the chapter, Down the River. In this chapter Abbey is recounting his rafting voyage with Ralph Newcomb through Glen Canyon. This chapter is really a poem or eulogy, if you will, for the once-majestic canyon. Since then Glen Canyon has been transformed by the Glen Canyon Dam. This dam generates energy and irrigation water for the west. In addition to energy, it has created recreational opportunities on its reservoir, Lake Powell. Although the canyon has been industrialized, its memory lies on with many locals from the town of Green River, Utah. Bob, the outfitter who equipped us with our gear for our canoe trip down the Green River, shared many stories with us about the historic canyon from countless voyages he took down the river with his father. As we parted ways he said in a raspy voice, “there are a number of sections you will be paddling in Labyrinth Canyon that that are eerily reminiscent of the once majestic Glen Canyon.” 

There I was in my canoe, with the poetry of the past in my very hands. It was a powerful moment, for it felt as though Abbey was with us. As I read the historic chapter I felt Abbey’s words soak into my senses.

Beyond the side canyon the walls rise up again, slick and monolithic, in color a blend of pink, buff, yellow, orange, overlaid in part with a glaze of “desert varnish” (iron oxide) or streaked in certain places with vertical draperies of black organic stains, the residue from plant life beyond the rim and from the hanging gardens that flourish in the deep grottoes high on the walls (Abbey, 184).

I could feel, smell, hear, and touch his passion for the land. I felt like we were interpreting the landscape together. I could imagine him sitting with us gazing at the canyon walls and contemplating the wilderness that surrounded us. As I read Abbey’s words while I floated down the river – it was unlike anything I have ever experienced before. I couldn’t help but feel that I was side by side or better yet, paddling with this historic river runner. For today was the day I grew closer to the river runners of the past. For today was the day I paddled with Edward Abbey.


Job Opportunity: Missoula Farmer’s Market

The Missoula Farmers Market is seeking a Market Manager and Market Assistants to run the Market beginning in May and lasting through October. These positions include the operation of a Tuesday evening Market generally held from early July through early September.
The Manager and Assistants manage the Market for the benefit of the vendors and the public.
 Duties include:
serving as general information contact for vendors,
set up and breakdown at the Market,
accurate record keeping of fees and vendor placement
attending Board meetings when needed
For an application visit the Market website at

Graduate Study Opportunity: Evergreen State College – Applications Due Feb. 15!

I studied at Evergreen (a long time ago) as an undergraduate, and I sneaked into some of these graduate environmental studies courses to see what the fuss was about. They were some of the best experiences I had at Evergreen. I credit Evergreen’s seminar approach to learning for setting me up well for professional life – especially teaching at WRFI. If you are looking for a program that is focused on forging better futures for our landscapes and communities – this one DOES it. – Dave Morris

The Graduate Program on the Environment at The Evergreen State College is a unique, interdisciplinary program in Olympia, Washington that will enter its 30th year in Fall 2013.  Students use natural and social sciences to study and solve environmental problems through required core courses, electives, internships, independent study, and a thesis.  Graduates go on to work in government, policy, natural resources, nonprofits, environmental education, and sustainable business.  The two-year program is made for experiential learners—classes are in the evenings leaving time for jobs, internships, and volunteer experiences.  We recognize that the best environmental solutions come from a wide variety of perspectives–that is why we accept all majors, and why our students, who come to us from across the US and abroad, represent a wide range of ages, cultures and expertise.

The Graduate Program on the Environment‘s priority deadline for Fall 2013 is next Friday, February 15.  After that date, we’ll accept students on a rolling basis, so it’s not too late to apply!  

Speaker Update: Radical Farmer Randy Ramsley


Students on our Colorado Plateau Semester course know Randy Ramsley well. He has built a vibrant farm on some very rough land near Hanksville, Utah. Agricultural experts told him it was impossible to grow anything in the poor soils of his property. But over that last decade Randy has carefully built up those soils with cover crops, and now supports a happy herd of goats, flocks of chickens, and a leafy orchard. You can buy excellent goat cheeses, baked goods, and other produce in his Mesa Farm and Market. If you are ever able to visit him, you must do it!

Randy had a rough summer in 2012. His longtime partner passed away, and his work crew left mid-season. He says these hardships nearly “put him in the ground.” But he got through the year with help from friends and a lot of hard work.

Randy is very excited about the prospects for the farm, he says that this year will be “a new octave and a new song,” at the Mesa Farm. There is a great farm crew lined up, and they are thinking hard about projects that the 2013 WRFI crew can help with. Randy is an inspiration to everyone he meets, we at WRFI feel incredibly fortunate to have met him, and we look forward to introducing him and his farm to many more students!

Issue Update: Northern Cheyenne honor their ancestors’ journey

The few Northern Cheyenne who survived the Jan. 9, 1879, breakout from Fort Robinson, Neb., had nowhere to turn for help overcoming their nightmare of death and pursuit.

Their wounded psyches passed the pain from one generation to the next, even after the government — under pressure from the public — finally established a reservation in their homeland in 1884.

“Today we want to start the shift and stop recycling the effects of oppression and trauma,” Phillip Whiteman Jr. said Monday as children — descendants of those survivors — ran the last leg of a 400-mile journey following the footsteps of the Fort Robinson survivors.

It is the 17th time the tribe’s children volunteered to retrace the terrible journey from a frontier Army post in the northwest corner of Nebraska to Busby, where remains of some of the Fort Robinson victims were repatriated in 1993 after more than 100 years of storage in scientific institutions in the East. Continue reading

Energy, Water, and Power on the Colorado Plateau – High Country News

Producing more power means using more water

Locked up inside the 6 million years of sediment that makes up the Green River Formation, which extends across mostly public lands in Colorado and Utah, may be the equivalent of a few trillion barrels of oil. Even if only half of it is recoverable, the oil shale of the Mountain West could one day fuel the world, turning the phrase “U.S. energy independence” from slogan to reality.

Provided, that is, that there’s a reasonable way to coax the fuel out of the rock. Trapped in fossil-fuel purgatory, oil shale has to be heated to super-high temperatures, a process called “retorting” that requires enormous amounts of water. No one can even say for sure how much, although some energy companies try. Utah-based Red Leaf claims its technology needs only a tiny amount; other estimates say that full-scale development of oil shale in Colorado would require more water than all of Denver uses in a year. Continue reading