Monday, December 9, 2019

An ode to Drew and Zinnia

‘Round about 20 years ago Ashley and I were up on the ridge above Alta having a snack and some tea before our descent when we heard a voice hollering at us from across the ridgeline:  “Hullo!  Would you mind keeping an eye on me for a sec?” Though an avalanche would definitely have spoiled our little tea break, of course we hollered back:  “Sure!” and thus he pushed off and we watched him slice down a nice run uneventfully.  As we watched, Ash said “I think that’s the new avy forecaster, Drew Hardesty.”  We had only heard him over the pre-recorded morning avalanche report, but his voice was distinctive, and so it was. 

We chatted a bit at the bottom and went our respective ways that day, but that was the beginning of a long friendship with the Sage of the Wasatch (one might be inclined to call him the Wizard….but…) that reached a fun pinnacle in early October when we were able to join Drew and his lovely Zinnia with a great posse of their friends as they got married in the shadow of the Tetons. 
The bride, groom, and clergyman were sort of oddly apart, but it still went off!
 Drew grew up in the famous skiing mecca of Kentucky, and loved gittin’ out.  Once high school was over he headed for Colorado for school to get his start in the avalanche world by studying science…..political science!  But somehow it served him well enough to become an intelligence officer in the military, and he served in the original Desert Storm in Kuwait telling the good guys what the bad guys were up to.  Even as I’ve heard some of Drew’s stories from the military, it’s still hard for me to imagine this bearded and sorta scraggly dirtbag of today being the sheared and uniformed military officer of yesterday! 

The military was apparently a good preparation to become a NOLS instructor, which Drew did for a few years, and then parlayed that experience into becoming a climbing ranger on Mt Rainier.  The national park climbing ranger community is pretty tight, and when venerable Teton climbing ranger Tom Kimbrough announced that he was retiring after 20 or 30 or maybe a hundred years there, Drew’s ears perked up.  Since Tom had been one of the original Utah Avalanche Center forecasters for pretty much the same amount of time and full retirement sounded better than half-retirement, he also gracefully stepped out of that role, and Drew was able to effectively become the new incarnation of Tom Kimbrough, splitting his time between the Wasatch in the winter, the Tetons in the summer, and the desert and other far flung places during the shoulder seasons. between. 
Drew's latest passion:  pack rafting!
 Not long after I met Drew he and his wife split up, and I had the good fortune to become friends with a pretty decent litany of great women that Drew had connected with.   However, for a variety of reasons one by one they fell away.  Then one day several years ago we bumped into Drew at a trailhead at the end of a ski day, and he had a ski partner I hadn’t met before whom – even through the helmet, face buff, and goggles  - I could tell was pretty much bursting with positive energy.  We had the great fortune of being introduced to Zinnia’s world.

 Zinnia Wilson is a Salt Lake native with an eclectic past.  It’d be easy to assume that Zin’s parents named her for the fun, brightly-colored flower that is a perfect emblem of what she was to become, but her dad actually named her for the street that they lived on, oblivious to the fact that the street was named for the flower!  Tragedy struck their family early when Zinnia’s dad died in a fall at Indian Creek, but his wife/Zin’s mom Louise soldiered on solo with two precocious kids.  Zinnia continued to climb, and eventually applied her considerable athleticism to the world of modern dance, which in turn enhanced her athleticism.  She apparently was as smart as she was athletic, because she got into Williams College, one of the most notoriously-difficult schools in the country to be accepted into.

A prestigious, esoteric, small East Coast college was of course great preparation for Zin’s first and main career:  trail building!  For 15 years Zinnia worked on the Teton Wilderness trail crew, creating and maintaining hundreds of miles of backcountry trails in the vast and wild area between the Tetons and Yellowstone.  The Blackrock station became her home and the folks there her second family, and modern dance gave way to hefting big loads into the backcountry, swinging McCleod and Pulaskis, and managing horse, mule, and people teams.  Along the way she met Eric Tietze, a fellow Salt Laker, Williams College grad, and climbing enthusiast, and they went on innumerable adventurers together, climbing and canoeing their way around the US, South America, Asia, and Europe.  They were engaged, all was well. 

On a day off from the Blackrock station Zinnia and Eric went to do the Cathedral Traverse, which begins with a climb of Teewinot, traverses to Mt Owen, and carries on to the north face of the Grand Teton.   On the traverse from Teewinot to Owen Eric went on ahead, with Zin and another friend following.  They kept going for what seemed like too long to reconnect with Eric, then doubled back, but were still unsuccessful in finding him, and ultimately they returned to the valley floor as night fell.  A search was begun in the morning, and rangers found Eric’s body 5-600 feet below what was determined to be a challenging climbing move that he had soloed.  One of the rangers on the recovery was Drew Hardesty. 

Anyone who has met Zinnia Wilson has been affected by her radiant smile, buoyant energy, and propensity to sing.  She is positivity personified.  
Not many people can throw back a laugh as hard as Zin!
Therefore, it’s hard to imagine her any other way, but grieving is brutal, even for the eternally positive.  Drew has been part of many successful rescues (including one that earned him a congressional medal of honor) but also an equal number of body recoveries.   This one hit him hard, and as Zin grieved and Drew learned more about Eric, they grew closer, and ultimately became a couple themselves.  

Now it’s Drew and Zin gallivanting around the West doing river, rock, and snow adventures, with Zin having eased away from her Blackrock “family” back to Salt Lake, where her on-the-ground experience with trails has been transmogrified into the Trails Manager for the Wasatch section of the Forest Service.
From hippy girl in the jungle.....

to pushup machine in the backcountry!  

Drew is a profound thinker, and has devoured many a deep tome by the likes of Cormac McCarthy, Siddhartha, John McPhee, and others, and he is known for his propensity to quote from the Book of Job in his avalanche forecasts.  His thoughtful essays pepper publications from the UAC blog ,  Ascent magazine, The Avalanche Review, (p 15), and even Outside Magazine, he’s become a great interviewer of interesting avalanche personalities on the UAC’s podcast, and he’s fascinated with the human factors associated with adventuring. So when I asked him “I’ve had the good fortune to know a lot of your girlfriends, and they’ve all been great.  Is Zin your latest....or your last?” Drew took a characteristically long pause, also characteristically stroked his considerable beard, and finally answered: “I’d like to think….she’s both”, followed by his characteristically huge laugh. 
Zin and Drew in front of the cabin that Zin built at Eagle's Rest, deep in the Teton Wilderness
And so it was that a few of their friends were able to celebrate their eagerly anticipated nuptials in Lupine Meadows, near the front porch of the killer little  cabin that Drew called home for 20 summers, and in front of the rescue cache where their relationship rose out of the ashes of tragedy.  

They cautioned that the ceremony would happen regardless of the weather, and as the cold breeze blew snowflakes against the bare shoulders of Zin in her wedding dress (a beautiful $5 special from the Deseret Industries!) we all knew that this fun and tough couple were ready to continue their charge through life.  
sometimes going in opposite directions?
But always pulling it back. 

It’s been an honor, fine people. 

Ash photobombing! 

Monday, December 2, 2019

I am thankful for....Richard Nixon?!?!?

Richard Nixon was a terrible president, one of the worst ever, if not The Worst.  Or was he?  There’s no doubt that Tricky Dick was a deeply flawed character and will remain infamous for paranoid pettiness run amok and keeping America in a tragically-unwinnable war for too long,  but the truth is that America owes much to the Nixon administration for stemming an environmental crisis (that Trump seems determined to renew).  
"I am not a crook!" stated not long before the world realized that, indeed, he was a crook. 
In 1969 the Cuyahoga River that runs through Cleveland literally caught fire (actually, for the 12th time) due to the industrial pollution that was in it.  The outcry over this spawned some actions by the Nixon administration that have been major contributions to environmental and human health over the last 50 years (and the Cuyahoga river itself was named this year as the “River Of The Year” by American Rivers for 50 years of environmental resurgence). 

Nixon signed the National Environmental Policy Act (NEPA), which mandated that the federal government had to take into the account the environmental impacts of its actions, and established the position of President’s Council of Environmental Quality that coordinated environmental policies at the executive level.  The fundamentals of NEPA are the Environmental Assessments (sort of a first level) and Environmental Impact Statements (deeper level), and they have created a baseline for federal and state construction projects for the last 50 years so that they don’t destroy the flora and fauna that freeways, buildings, roads, etc may affect.  Today over 100 other countries have enacted laws based on NEPA. 
Nixon signing NEPA, with Ruckelshaus looking on
In the summer of 1970 Nixon proposed the establishment of the Environmental Protection Agency to establish and enforce pollution controls and after an executive order it was opened in December with its first administrator, Bill Ruckelshaus in a cabinet-level position.  Ruckelshaus was, according to NPR,  “a conservationist, an Indiana Republican conservative who believed in conserving balanced budgets, limited government powers, constitutional checks and balances, and clean air and water. He was ultimately brought back in to head the agency in 1983 to clean up the mess that Anne Gorsuch (mother of Supreme Court Justice Gorsuch) had created under Reagan where she slashed the budget and pushed the agency to cozy up to the industries that it was to be regulating (coincidentally, BillRuckelshaus died Wednesday, and he wrote an op-ed for the Washington Post comparing Nixon and Trump a year ago that is still quite relevant, and And here’s an interesting Washington Post op-ed by another guy who’s far smarter’n me comparing Nixon and Trump).   

Now, of course, the EPA is pretty much a shitshow at the highest levels (though with plenty of good people – like Mike – who are dedicated professionals doing their best to execute on the agency’s ideals), with Trump’s first pick Scott Pruitt – who did not have any relevant experience and spent his career prior acting against all sorts of environmental policies - getting forced out due to a variety of shenanigans.  His successor, Andrew Wheeler, is a former coal industry lobbyist (for Murray Energy, which just announced it’s filing for bankruptcy), and his chief of staff Ryan Jackson is a former longtime staffer for James Imhofe (of the infamous snowball incident showing definitively showing that global warming is a myth, and the author of  The Greatest Hoax”) and they seem committed to destroying the very environment that their no-doubt dedicated staffers have been trying to indeed, “protect”.  But don’t get me started….

A coupla smokestacks; then:

and now:

Among other things, the Nixon administration also created the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration (NOAA) which clearly has become a critical agency for everyone from farmers to hurricane zone-livers to skiers, and the Nixon administration also created the Occupational Safety and Hazard Administration (OSHA) which has undoubtedly saved many lives and limbs in workplaces.  And last but not least, the Nixon administration was the one to push automakers to include catalytic converters on ALL cars sold in the US, which had a profound effect on overall auto emissions (though I believe my dad was furious about that because he thought it inhibited car performance!).    

And if all of these weren’t enough, the Endangered Species Act was passed in 1973 during the Nixon reign.  The ESA endeavored to identify and protect species that were endangered as a “consequence of economic growth and development untempered by adequate concern and conservation."  It is administered by the US Fish and Wildife Service and the National Marine Fisheries Service, which was founded….in 1970, during the Nixon administration. 

There is no doubt that these agencies are considered by some to be the archetypes of government bureaucracy, but there is also no doubt that the pollution and related environmental and human health effects that faced the US in the early 70’s would have created an apocalyptic environment now if it had been allowed to continue unchecked for the last 50 years.  Additionally, though they didn’t know it then, the cumulative effect of these efforts at least postponed the carbon emissions that we know now has created global warming.  Therefore, good on Republican Nixon for being encouraging of this impressive series of bold initiatives to protect our environment.  Given the perspective of Republican leadership of today, it’s hard to believe that they were the party of environmental leadership (though to be fair, the Dems controlled both houses of Congress for Nixon’s entire reign, though to be fair to the Dems, Nixon won reelection in a historic landslide in 1972). 

Last but not least, Nixon provided some of the boldest leadership of any modern president by taking the initiative of visiting China in 1972.  China was effectively “closed” for 25 years, with no formal communication with (at least) the US, and without any democratic countries able to pay attention, the Chinese “Great Leap Forward” of the late ’50’s actually was a disaster and resulted in between 20 and 40 million deaths, which is 3-7 times that of the Holocaust and up to half of the entire casualty count of World War II.  Then the “Cultural Revolution” of the 60’s resulted more chaos and isolation.  Nixon’s visit effectively was the beginning of the end of that era and set the tone for the “opening” of China, which set the country up to become the world’s manufacturing center for the next 3 decades and enabled Chinese people to come off the farms and start the long road towards catching up with  - and surpassing - the rest of the world economically. 

There is no doubt that China is still not a great place and in fact is a bad place, as the recent protests in previously-free Hong Kong make very clear, in addition to their near-annihilation of Tibet and the similar “cultural genocide” happening to the Western China Muslim Uighurs.  However, the Chinese experiment in a weird capitalist/communist experiment has kept our shoes, TV’s, tables, books, and toys affordable for a long time, whether we like that fact or not.  And Nixon’s boldness in making that weeklong meeting in 1972 was so monumental that, as Wikipedia puts it:  a "Nixon to China" moment has since become a metaphor for an unexpected, uncharacteristic or overly impactful action by a politician and perhaps fulfilled his own modest declaration that it was “the week that changed the world.”   
No one would be so bold as to call Nixon a hero by any means and it’s unlikely that he had many/any green bones in his body, but in an era of our Republican leaders opposing any and all concepts of environmental protection legislation, Trump’s nationalism crushing our global integrity, and tariffs jeopardizing our economy, I am thankful this Thanksgiving season that a Republican president who was indeed a crook and resigned in disgrace did some unusually good things.  
As seen in SLC last week.