A cowpie welcome

Where you gonna camp? via A cowpie welcome

The Bears Ears and the “local” card

Napa and Point Reyes

The best part of publishing is the combination of people, places, ideas, and books that Mark Bailey and I get to experience with Torrey House Press. We hit the road to the north Bay Area last week and what amazement we found.

Thots and Shots

Kirsten and drove the A6 to Truckee and then on to Napa and Pt. Reyes leaving Saturday March 28 and back to Salt Lake the next Friday. Kirsten was meeting with our latest author, Sasha Paulsen for an editing session on Dancing on the Spider’s Web. Now back in SLC I notice that I did not take many photos and did not take any notes. Thinking about it I decided to combine this blog with my previous entries from THP Green Adventures and change the site title here to Notes and Shots. I will use it both as a travel and conservation journal in the  blog and a place to keep my best photos in the galleries.  That way I can feel more free to take notes and shots without thinking they need to be interesting and good enough for National Geographic.  Even though I will make the site…

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Rosette Nebula

Why go with woo when you can take in awe? When people engage with the beauty and wonder of the nature, openings emerge that can help us relate and to respond to its realities. Here’s a brilliant look at the night sky, the origins of us, from the dark skies of Torrey, Utah. Science is wowzy!

Mark Bailey Photography

Rosette Nebula, Torrey, 2/16/2015 Rosette Nebula, Torrey, 2/16/2015

This is my first deep sky object capture in a while and the first after modifying my camera to accept more red in the Ha wavelength. This cosmic rose is about 5,000 light years away near Orion in Monoceros. The red is nebula matter (hydrogen?) that is heated up by the hot stars in the center that formed from the same matter.

I tried to get this picture Sunday night but got blanked out by a strange, stuck cloud. A rare failure in the forecast by the amazing Mr. A. Danko at ClearDarkSky.com.  As part of the weird weather we are having (very weird, exactly as predicted by the global warming models), the jet stream is distorted and was blasting down with much turbulence in the upper atmosphere out of due north and created a standing lenticular cloud exactly in the way of where I…

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Bad Romance?

Cliven Bundy rides his horse waving the American flag. He’s a Fox News hero who refused to pay fees and fines for illegally grazing his cows on federal lands for 20 years and then participated in an armed standoff with law enforcement, a frightening and fraught encounter for which he’s never been charged.  He’s a cowboy hero, an icon of the rugged individualist, a living piece of the American Dream. Though he fell off his pedestal by blathering racism in the media’s glare, he still commands a lot of sympathy either consciously with right-wing rurals or, worse, unconsciously in the minds of everybody who wants to be, or at least preserve, the American cowboy.

And who doesn’t love the dashing vision of a cowboy, tall in the saddle on his handsome horse, splashes through a sunlit stream as he herds those little dogies along? Methinks, perhaps, the 80 percent of wildlife species that depend on riparian areas, a mere two percent of the land in the intermountain states. Cow-trampled, muddied streams with no overhanging grasses leave these once lush areas with a fraction of the biodiversity they evolved with. The livestock impacts of upland aspen and sagebrush steppes decimate the complexity of the delicate interplay between life and precious water in these drier, more prevalent ecosystems, leaving bare ground that blows away causing even more problems with snowmelt at high elevations. Meanwhile, public lands grazing has cost taxpayers over $1 billion in the last decade, and, as Christopher Ketcham reports in the New Republic this week, livestock are draining the arid West as the historic drought deepens.

Feral Horses

Wild horses! Popular, less destructive icons of the West!

There’s nothing wrong with a myth. It’s only harmful if it supersedes reason in decision-making. And there’s the rub. Though public lands ranchers raise only 3% of the nation’s beef and though they represent only a small fraction of the economies in their states, the livestock industry holds outsized power in the West.  In Utah, county commissioners influence elections of party convention delegates, the folks who determine who makes it to the ballot. Or not. Like, for instance, the popular incumbents Sen. Bob Bennett and Gov. Olene Walker, who both enjoyed big approval ratings even as the party faithful refused to nominate them to the ballot. Ranchers disgruntled by Bureau of Land Management or Forest Service regulators can call Sen. Orrin Hatch to complain–and he’ll respond! By telling the agencies to stifle the enforcing officers or dismiss them. States cut education budgets but lavishly fund departments of agriculture that serve less to protect the public’s food supply than to support agriculture interests, economic and cultural. One of my favorite campaigns in Utah is a series of posters and PSAs that say “If their way of life goes away, what will happen to ours?” (Where’s the save-the-publishers campaign??)

The myth of the rugged, handsome cowboy is not serving us well. Not economically or ecologically. But we need myth. We crave it. We could replace it with a new romance, a new myth that captures the spirit of freedom and space. How about we trade the cowboy for his horse? The BLM

Running free!

Running free!

estimates that there are fewer than 50,000 feral horses on public lands, a trifle compared to the millions of cows grazing at public expense. Of course, ranchers complain that the wild horses are taking the forage from livestock and damaging the landscape–and on that last point the environmental community agrees. On the other hand, tens of thousands of horse lovers advocate passionately for the horses to run free on our landscapes. In 2013, the Utah BLM office received nearly 20,000 letters in support of the nonnative equines. And they are lovely. People love them, and the damage they do is minimal compared to that of livestock on public lands. How about we scrap the cowboy and replace him with the horse?

Civil Rights to Wilderness: African-Americans Reconnect to America’s Wild Places

The Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act were both signed into law fifty years ago, but the two movements behind the landmark legislation didn’t join efforts in 1964, and real integration between wild places and minority groups remains elusive today. One organization is working to change that. Outdoor Afro reconnects the black community with natural spaces and outdoor recreation through organized events and social media connections. Founder Rue Mapp wants to disrupt the “false perception that black people do not have a relationship with nature.” She suggests that with the 50th anniversary of both acts, “we have a chance now to make their real connections come alive today, recognizing the delicate and essential links between people and the wild all around for the betterment of everyone.” However, the disconnect between black people and nature is rooted in part by very real fears. She points out that “in the collaborative efforts around the country to re-invent African American connections to the environment…it is often essential to address fears that linger about the wild. These fears are not only about potential contact with wildlife: there are still perceptions among black folks that one might be susceptible to violence in the cover of the wild.” Consider, for example, the plaintive refrain of Billie Holiday’s haunting Strange Fruit:

Southern trees bear a strange fruit,
Blood on the leaves and blood at the root,
Black bodies swinging in the southern breeze,
Strange fruit hanging from the poplar trees.

Adding insult to fear and horror, many people of color are coldly distrusted and even apprehended when they do visit national parks and other wild places, many of which are located in western states with overwhelming white majorities.

How can such a frightening legacy of fear and distrust Outdoor Afrobe overcome? One national park ranger wants to reframe the African-American engagement with earth and dirt and wild as a continuation of the civil rights struggle. Shelton Johnson points out that access to America’s wild places is ultimately about freedom, not just preservation, and he believes securing that access is a critical piece of today’s efforts to secure all Americans’ civil rights. In his book Gloryland, Johnson argues that a relationship with the earth is both possible and essential. He suggests that “visiting the biome of Yellowstone might also mean a chance to reclaim what it means to be Yoruba, Mandingo–or African-American. Whatever you call yourself, it matters little, because it is all the same people, the same earth.”

While the reconnection of black people and wild places is far from done, Outdoor Afro’s Mapp believes that “with a vision of healing, Outdoor Afro and many other organizations [can help] people re-invent connections to natural places both near and far through a variety of peer led activities. One experience at a time, we can replace old fears and reservations about the wilderness with joy, curiosity, and wonder for all ages in our lands.” She argues that despite the divide between the original networks and movements that produced the Wilderness Act and the Civil Rights Act, “we have a chance now to make their real connections come alive today, recognizing the delicate and essential links between people and the wild all around for the betterment of everyone.” The question she asks is “Where shall we go together in nature from here?”

How millennials can save wilderness (and the planet)

Election got you down? Climate deniers in command? Planet in peril? To the dismay of many progressives, the most populous generation in history hardly showed up at the polls, but there remains vast potential in their collective voice and heart. Here University of Montana graduate student Abbey Dufoe suggests that the generations ahead of her can help hers save wild places by mobilizing the millennials. I think she’s right.

Environmental Explorations

I don’t have to take a Buzzfeed quiz to know I am the stereotypical millennial.

Okay, okay, I did take a PEW Research Center quiz. Questions included whether I have a cell phone, landline or both (I only have a cell phone), whether I watch an hour of TV per day (Netflix, duh), and whether I read the newspaper regularly (I don’t). Electronics attached to limbs is the stereotypical definition of a millennial.

On a normal day, I watch TV on my iPad, text my friends on my iPhone and answer e-mails on my computer, sometimes all at once.

This is why some older wilderness protectors seem to have lost faith in us, the technologically-savvy, sassy-mouthed, social networking-obsessed generation. But what happens when you can harness that power to help save Earth’s most pristine places?

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Eat More Books: Jaren Watson Interviews Novelist Braden Hepner

One of the joys of being co-publisher and editor at Torrey House Press is working with the West’s brilliant writers and thinkers, considering and discussing the disparate cultures, economics, histories, and landscapes that cohere in this distinct home place. Tonight, one of these writers, Braden Hepner, launches his deeply beautiful and sometimes disturbing debut novel, PALE HARVEST at The King’s English Bookshop in Salt Lake City. If you’re in the vicinity and pay attention to literature and the West, Braden will give you much to ponder as he discusses his book. Please join us, and in the meantime, listen in on–and by that I mean read–this conversation between THP’s Braden Hepner and his writing colleague Jaren Watson.

the salty beatnik



Critically hailed as “stunning” (Publisher’s Weekly, starred review), and “a deeply moving and intellectually profound novel. A bravura debut” (Kirkus, starred review), Braden Hepner’s debut novel, Pale Harvest, is available now in bookstores and at Amazon.com, as well as other online book retailers.  Hepner will be reading from Pale Harvest this upcoming Thursday (28 August) at The King’s English Bookshop. See Hepner’s Events for more reading dates.

Long before I had the privilege to count author Braden Hepner a colleague, even before I knew him as a gifted writer, I knew him as an unusually bright English major as we shared a senior-level course in ethical criticism. I didn’t know his name then, but I remember being impressed by the sophistication and insight present in his comments in class. Later that year, he and I, along with JD Fish…

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The Anti-Science Crusade Against Women

When my son was a baby, I took him to an abortion rights rally, his—and my—first public demonstration. With rosy cheeks and golden curls, he was the cutest protestor at the Utah State Capitol. As a new mom, I was struck every day with how marvelous it was to be a parent, to drink in every laugh and coo and smile, to adore and protect such a wonder. I was fortunate to have been ready and able to take care of an infant when Matt was born–and I knew it. Shouldn’t every baby be a loved and wanted baby? How could that happen if women couldn’t make their own reproductive choices?

Baby Matt

Baby Matt, abortion rights protestor

Utah legislators were debating a bill that would make most abortion illegal, and I was appalled at their arrogance. Who were they to make decisions about who could have babies and when? Of course, Utah went on to pass what was at the time the most restrictive abortion law in the country, prohibiting nearly all elective abortions and making performing abortions a Class III felony. The law was ruled unconstitutional in 1992, but in the following two decades, Utah and other conservative states would develop creative strategies that simply reduce access by requiring waiting periods, mandatory counseling and invasive exams, and regulations that effectively shut down clinics. In just the last three years there have been over 200 state-level restrictions on access to abortion. That’s all state moralizing with a lot of religious intrusion. But the recent Supreme Court ruling allowing Hobby Lobby to evade health insurance coverage of some forms of birth control added an infuriating new twist to abortion politics: a legal decision that refutes science in favor of unsubstantiated beliefs.

Hobby Lobby and Conestoga Wood Specialties argued that the Affordable Care Act provision that employers provide their employees with health insurance coverage for contraception violated their religious beliefs. Specifically, they believe that four types of contraception are abortifacients, and that requiring the companies to pay for coverage of these contraceptive methods presented a substantial burden by forcing them to violate their “deeply held religious beliefs.” They believe that any contraceptive method that may result in the loss of a fertilized egg is a form of abortion and thus forbidden by their faith, that birth control pills or intrauterine devices that prevent an egg from implanting in a uterus are abortion agents.

Neither science nor the legal or medical definition of abortion support this view. Abortion terminates a pregnancy. A fertilized egg, whether it’s in a Petri dish or a Fallopian tube, is not a pregnancy. You can believe it’s a pregnancy or a child or a cucumber, but that doesn’t make it one. And yet, five Supreme Court justices waltzed right by that fact to rule in favor of belief and science denial and against the health care needs of women. It may not sound as absurd as Representative Todd Akin’s declaration that a woman can’t get pregnant during a “legitimate rape,” and it’s not the only time science has been flouted in reproductive health policy, but the Hobby Lobby case sets a frightening precedent that science doesn’t matter. What it means is that women don’t matter and neither do babies.

What Can You Learn From A Coyote?

Wildlife, wildlife, wildlife. The grandeur of Wingate cliffs and the delicacy of a Colorado columbine draw me into wild places, but wild creatures connect me to deserts and mountains with a particularly vivid immediacy and intimacy. Whether I’m startled by a snake rustling fallen leaves or awed by a soaring hawk, I’m thrilled by the lives of creatures so different from me but dependent on the same water, air, and land that I am. When I leave the built environment to engage with the natural environment, I allow for marvel and humility, a glimpse into the intrinsic value of wild places. Or at least wilder places. Here, author Susan Imhoff Bird rides her bike up a Utah canyon to find a wildlife wonderland that ignites her own wild places.

the coyote in my canyon by susan imhoff bird

approaching the final curve before the hill’s crest, the sun is moments from advancing the sky from dawn to day.  particles of the night’s darkness hang in the air and everything—rocky hillsides, trees, the road itself—blurs gently around surfaces and edges and my headlight throws a fat cone of weak light that illumines naught but hovering molecules of night.

nothing is sharply defined, and all is tinted by the watery mutedness and appears mottled green or one of sixteen shades of earth.

when a dust brown creature suddenly appears at the far reach of my vision it shifts from apparition to solidity slowly, my revolving wheels lessening the gap between us and changing fuzz to fur, brown, mottled, four legs, a slender torso, a long and narrow tail.

it is my coyote.  he has crossed the road south to north and disappeared into the tall grass and scrub edging the asphalt. I watch the spot with intensity, wondering if he will wait and watch me pass as he often does.  the steep grade retards my approach and I am still half a dozen yards away when a howl shatters the air.  bark, bark, howl. I see him now, he sits in the sage and cheatgrass, his back to me, and howls.  another bark, and a long howl sent out over the valley opening below him.  the sound dancing on those lingering particles of dawn, dropping on trees and shrubs, falling on leaves, tickling the ears and minds of squirrels and rabbits.

parallel to him, now uphill of him, he howls again, ignoring me, or perhaps serenading me with nonchalant neglect. I pedal, he howls, I reach the top of the climb after his vocalizations have ceased, their reverberations no longer trembling blades of grass. the air is still, and the sun, lifting itself over the furthest eastern mountain, has removed the last vestiges of dawn and what had been soft is now sharp, what was unclear is now illuminated.

this morning’s sighting is my seventh, and each has brought me as much delight as the one before.  it’s an unspoken hope each time I ride, let the coyote cross my path today.  he is curious and, other than the single concert, silent.  for a canine he is surprisingly cat-like, his paws like fog.  he has dashed across the road behind my descending wheels, he has hovered on the side of the road.  he has feinted toward me like a pugilist, then apparently thought better of it and retreated to the shoulder to watch me pass. I’ve been studiously ignored; I’ve been studied as though I’m the first human he’s encountered.  he brings what’s untamed, wild, to my border and dares to cross into my land.

great horned owls hunt in my canyon as the sky releases its deepest ink and the world becomes one of silhouette, their wings spread wide in flight, to scan, to attack. I look to treetops, utility poles, seeking that familiar elliptical shape focused on examination of the shrubs and ground below.  details cloaked, it is shape, silhouette, everything dark against a sky of baltic blue.  porcupines amble and deer startle, bounding up hillsides of scrub oak and balsamroot.  a stretch of road is silent, then the cacophony of bird song reigns for the next mile.  raccoon eyes shimmer between scrubby brush, a rabbit turns tail and runs.  but not a creature is anything like my coyote.

perhaps it is the teeth, its predatory nature, the fact that it is only size that keeps me from being at risk.  or perhaps it’s that he is only evolutionary steps away from being a household pet.  that my mind and heart think dog when he trots across the road or seems to consider interaction.

or maybe it’s the howl.  a howl that send shivers up spines, that declares desires and needs, that energizes air and speaks to all within earshot.

the canyon is not mine, nor the coyote. but at the edge of dawn and day when all is dirt brown and muddy green, I am transported to a world of deepest truth and being by four-legged creatures that leap and amble, bound and jump and trot, and, when all my stars align, occasionally and resonantly, howl.

Reposted from the tao of cycling | susan imhoff bird

Look for Susan’s exploration of the wolf controversy, Howl: Of Woman and Wolf, in May 2015 from Torrey House Press.

The Freelance Film (and TV) Critic

a highly idiosyncratic take on art and culture

The No Bull Sheet

Private cows on public lands

Thots and Shots

Essays and photography of land and sky. -Mark Bailey

The Word Count Times

An exploration of the Digital Humanities


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