Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Down the Road: Lessons from the Archives

I’ve spent my morning reading through old issues of the Fauna Preservation Society journal, Oryx (today this organisation is known as Fauna and Flora International; it was once the Society for the Preservation of the Wild Fauna of the Empire!).  Even in 1953 people were beginning to worry about the Polar Bear, although the threat was not any kind of planetary phenomena, but rather unregulated hunting and the need to set aside sufficient space for breeding populations.  Today, as we all know, the Polar Bear has become the very powerful poster-victim of campaigns to arrest global warming.  The use of what are often referred to as the ‘Charismatic Megafauna’ in environmental campaigns should be familiar to us.  There’s a reason why it’s the Giant Panda and not the equally-endangered Kauai Cave Wolf Spider which features as WWF’s logo. 

In 1953, the Editorial Board of the Fauna Preservation Society noted the difficulty in estimating the numbers of bears—whose protection was then a contentious issue in Norway—around Spitsbergen, a western isle in Svalbard.  “Statements about numbers from professional hunters are of doubtful value”, the secretary wrote, “for hunters are inclined to call the stock quite satisfactory, as long as they can get a few bears.  After that it may be too late to save the species”.*

This is not only the essence of the conservationists’ chief challenge then as now—that is, persuading people to anticipate developments, to act to avert problems, to think in long-term fashion.  It is also a problem with our politics, and cuts to the heart of right-wing arguments about governance.

If we were to adopt Republicans’ market-oriented regimes—whether for economic direction, energy and environmental policy, social services—we would be caught in the same trap in which people’s short-sightedness has long got us due to a short-sighted approach to all matters environmental.

In short, orienting our politics towards market management means that we will be forever reacting to crises, and that it will take a crisis—which has serious negative consequences for people’s livelihoods, their economic futures, the cleanliness of their water and air, the health of the land around them—to make us react.  A market-oriented approach to politics means that we eschew the use of our critical faculties to anticipate the consequences of a given policy or its actions, or of economic, social or consumptive trends.  It prevents us from acting in advance through regulation—whether financial or environmental—to ameliorate the effects of bad policy, overuse or economic irresponsibility.  We have, in other words, engineered our politics such that people have to suffer needlessly before we can fix problems.

It is the kind of thinking which has not only plunged countless animal and plant species to the brink of and into extinction.  It has allowed our government to be blindsided by the recession of 2008, it has led to the destruction of too much our natural environment, it has allowed us to act surprised when the Wild West economics espoused by neoliberals increases social and economic division and makes our communities less fair and less safe.

Self-correction comes, by definition, after a mistake has been made.  Markets do not self-correct.  Rather, they require a moral, political intervention to right the wrongs their handlers perpetuate when our politics leave the flight cabin and let proponents of the free market take over the controls. 

Now is the time to think about down the road.  And that thinking should be infused with a moral purpose.  Conservationists began to see this need almost immediately as they began to look into the causes of habitat destruction, species extinction and land degradation.  It makes sense to plan, to manage, to intervene and to protect, and we should be applying these lessons to the direction of our economy and the maintenance of our society. 


*   “Editorials” in Oryx: Journal of the Fauna Preservation Society.  Hertford: Stephen Austin and Sons, Limited, 1953: 73.

Today, Polar Bears are listed by the IUCN Redlist as ‘Vulnerable’, and are thought to number 20-25,000 worldwide.  Their numbers are in decline, and the combination of the shrinking ice-pack, intensified oil exploration, and over-harvest puts their future in doubt.  On Svalbard, the bears have been seen to spend more time on land in recent years.

Monday, October 24, 2011

In Which I Wear a Gown, Meet the Praelector and Ponder the Not-Insubstantial Matter of the Election in Zambia

I was late for today’s Centre for African Studies talk about the Zambian elections, and found myself dashing into the room and plopping down in a seat next to a guy who bore a scary resemblance to Daniel Arap Moi.
I had a good excuse for my tardiness.  I’d been informed at the last minute that I needed to report immediately to the Praelector’s office since I hadn’t yet matriculated into college.  No, the Praelector is not a Roman tribunal or a hander-down of medieval punishments, but rather some guy in an odd get-up who serves as master of the matriculation ceremonies (your formal induction into your college).  Actually, Wikipedia says that “the praelector is also vicariously responsible for a student's actions and can be punished for those actions”.  I reckon that means that if I walk on the lawns he'll be the one to get ten lashes and have his fingernails pulled off by the college porters.  At any rate, I managed to be late dashing into his office, and he came ‘round the side of his desk and asked, “Do you have your gown?” 

“No”, I snapped, “I don’t have my gown.  I don't do gowns.  In fact, I’ve got philosophical objections to gowns...this is supposed to be a university, not a Harry Potter film set”.  Actually, I left it at “No”.  He gave me the sort of look I’d normally reserve for a child molester and slipped out of his own gown with a practised ease I couldn’t manage while trying to put it on.  In the meantime, he whipped down another gown—which looked exactly like the one he’d just taken off, but heck, what do I know?—and put it on.  I was expecting this ceremony—which NEEDED to happen TODAY at this EXACT time when I was supposed to be somewhere else, and which COULDN’T possibly occur at ANY other moment—to be somewhat elaborate, but it basically involved me (in gown) scribbling my name in a mouldy book with a fancy pen that leaked all over my hands and gown sleeve (ha!), performing a series of awkward manoeuvres to get out of his gown so that he could put it back on in place of the identical one which he jettisoned back to the closet, and then tearing down the stairs, sprinting out of the college, vaulting over a dog, running over the top of an old lady with a zimmer frame, and hurtling down Free School lane to the African Studies seminar room.

The essence of the talk—at least what I gathered while ascertaining that the gentlemen next to me wasn’t actually the notorious Professor of Politics—was that the Zambian elections of last month marked one of very few instances of an incumbent being defeated in recent African history.  How, Dr Alastair Fraser puzzled, had insurgent candidate Michael Sata (hardly new to politics) and the Patriotic Front managed to defeat Rupiah Banda and the MMD, who had all of the state’s machinery of patronage at his fingertips.  Not only was Banda able to batter the opposition with attacks from state media (Fraser likened Banda’s state television flunkeys to “American shock-jocks”, who would basically follow on the evening newscast which had been spent telling Zambians what a lousy degenerate Sata was with a half-hour rant on the Sata threat accompanied by scary music) and parade his followers on brand-spanking-new trucks, painted the MMD colours, while forcing the PF campaign underground even in its Lusaka base; he also had the services of British PR firm Bell Pottinger, which apparently has a Division for Dictators and Autocrats. 

The answer we were given was twofold.  And no, it didn’t have to do with Guy Scott helping Sata to win the white vote.  On the one hand, Sata became a populist “empty signifier”.  That is to say, he became—justifiably or not—the embodiment of people’s frustrations with the MMD’s 20-year rule.  On the other, he and his supporters used their underdog status to craft a campaign based on the phrase “Don’t Kubeba” (akin to “Don’t tell”) which, acknowledging the patronage-oriented politics to which Zambians are accustomed, urged people to go through the motions of turning up at MMD rallies, wearing MMD shirts, eating MMD goats, but, at the end of the day, voting for PF.

Fraser was guardedly optimistic about the possibility of Sata actually fulfilling his campaign promises, which focussed on excising corruption from the body politic, shifting the balance on the copperbelt (long one of Africa’s most industrialised regions) from mining companies (many foreign run/owned) towards workers, and seeing that the benefits of Zambia’s recent growth is more evenly distributed.  He also noted that Sata appears to be working on a Mandela-esque “Man of the People” image, the maintenance of which might force him to avoid more obviously egregious abuses of his position.

Let’s hope the optimism proves justified.  Whether the PF’s election victory and strategy can serve as a model for other oppositions across the continent (and whether it is a model that does much in the service of democracy and accountability) is a slightly more complicated question, but one which we might hear more about when Kenyans go to the polls in August (I'll be posting updates from Nairobi!).

Sunday, October 23, 2011

Asking for 'coherence' misses the point

I hate when they come up with a title that doesn’t quite reflect the argument of what you’ve written.  But a brief defence of Occupy Wall Street from the charge of incoherence in the Record Searchlight.  

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Yonder There Be Dragons: The Curse of Centrism

Gentle reader, I invite you to accompany me on a journey to a faraway, mythical land.  Step this way, and mind the gap.

On your left, you might have noticed a picturesque, snow-covered land...that’s Narnia.  And over there on your right, where you see that smouldering volcano and the short, hairy people running around, is Middle Earth.  Don’t venture too far out there...I’ve heard that the orcs are getting restive these days.  Out there somewhere—nobody’s sure just where, but we’ll tell you when we find it—is Utopia, and beyond those hills lies Oz. 

But now, reader, if you will turn your attention from these wondrous worlds, let us now stop and gaze on this fair land which now stretches out before us.  It is oft-described but seldom-seen.  Its name is The Centre, and if you’re quiet enough, and are sufficiently sharp-eyed, you might just manage to see one of its elusive denizens, a Moderate.


I couldn’t begin to speculate about the origin of the Moderate, and I remain unsure of how much real purchase the term has amongst the people who supposedly comprise its members.  But political moderation and centrism are concepts best-beloved of a certain stripe of commentator.  The species and the idea are seen as a throw-back to happier days, and are regarded as a cure-all for California’s political ill-fortune.

Witness LA Times political writer George Skelton sum up Governor Jerry Brown’s philosophy as follows: “Gov. Jerry Brown is not a mystery.  He’s a moderate”.  Or listen to the California Moderate Party describe its ambitions to “end hyperpartisanship and start a movement to fix government, create jobs, and improve education”.  Or read Kevin Starr describe cross-filing (a process which seeks to create cookie-cutter, ‘middle of the road’ political candidates) as a reform which could help to save California (in Lustig’s Remaking California).  Or come back to Skelton to see him praise David Crane’s idea of a “grand bargain” in which we take the middle road that means the adoption of solutions mid-way between those proposed by Democrats and those proposed by Republicans.

So what’s the problem with this place called The Centre, supposedly inhabited by ever-growing numbers of Californians as they flee from the two major parties, or with the idea of political moderation?  Being a ‘moderate’ certainly doesn’t sound bad.  The word has a positive connotation.  Being in-between ‘extremes’ might have a certain appeal.  Let’s start to unpack that.

Firstly there’s the fallacy which assumes that if someone doesn’t agree with either the Republican or Democratic Parties, they must be half-way between them.  For some that might be true, but it’s not likely the case for Tea Partiers who see the Republicans’ assault on labour, environmental protections, education funding and the efficacy of the state as timid and half-hearted.  Nor is it true for those who believe in social democracy, and think that it makes more sense to grant more powers of supervision and regulation to an entity that is democratic and accountable, rather than scattering those powers amongst a diverse and incoherent group of corporations and industries who are primary concerned with profits.  And what of the libertarians, who think that an overweening security state and gun laws are dangerous, or environmentalists, who aren’t very likely to hear either of the main parties talk about issues that are important to them?

What we quickly realise is that not only is the absence of ‘moderation’ not the problem (the political spectrum is wide, multi-dimensional, and people’s views are not always easily pigeonholed), but that if we had a legislature full of ‘moderate’ candidates, even fewer people would have their views represented, because only a very shallow and a-philosophical (I’ll come to this later) slice of the spectrum would have its concerns aired.  If all of our politics gathered around a pollster’s statistic, we would see the mass disenfranchisement of Californians who have actual views about how our society should function.

So why the enduring appeal of The Centre and of Moderates?  I suspect that in part it has to do with the laziness of journalists and pollsters.  Un-affiliated voters (sometimes called non-partisan voters) are assumed to occupy the space between the two parties.  And you can understand how, when the media spends a lot of time braying about political polarisation, and the two main parties spend millions of dollars labelling each other ‘extremists’, people might feel pressured to identify with somewhere as comfortable-sounding as The Centre.  After all, who wants to be affiliated with a group that all the networks and newspapers and shock-jocks and comedians are labelling hyperpartisan and ‘extreme’?  This might account for the Moderate Party claiming that 32% of voters are Middle-of-the-Road (which, it should be noted, is not a philosophy).

But reality is more complicated.  The ‘None of the Above’ category now comprises nearly a quarter of California’s electorate.  That means that roughly 56% of California’s voters do not associate themselves with the Democratic Party.  But larger percentages than that regularly declare their willingness to spend more money on schools and universities (that is, they would approve of more taxes, although they are less clear on where those taxes should come from and on whom they should be levied).  The point is that anyone with an ear to the ground or a finger on the pulse of Conventional Wisdom knows that only raging socialist, tax and spend, liberal, anti-Freedom, godless, Islamist Democrats favour spending on institutions like schools and universities.  So how do we go about reconciling the mismatch in these numbers?  If you believe in the fantasy world of The Centre and in the mythical creatures called Moderates, you can’t.

But the more critically-minded might question the wisdom of assuming that all un-affiliated voters are ‘Centrists’, and might wonder whether it makes sense, when trying to gauge the politics of the public, to ask them to position themselves along a spectrum with so few options (Democrat, Republican, Other), which are often very meaningless.  Because after all, people in different parts of the state with different modes and styles of politics are going to have different concerns and priorities, and might have different ideas about left and right or prefer a different blend of policies. 

If the logic behind the cult of Centrism is sketchy from the outset, it all breaks down even more when you sit down to have a conversation with a proponent of Centrism.  In my experience, it generally goes something like this.  “So what is the Moderate platform?”  “We’re about non-partisanship and efficiency”.  “But what’s the moving philosophy behind Centrism?”  “Governmental efficiency, managing things well, making tough choices and being honest about those choices”.  “But Efficiency isn’t really a philosophy.  It describes how you’re going to do something, not what is going to be done.  How would you decide what to do?”.  “We’ll adopt the policies that make the most sense for California”.  “But what’s the philosophical mechanism by which you choose one solution over another?  At some point you have to choose, and shouldn’t you be directed by some kind of moral compass?”  And so on...

And therein lies the rub for Centrists.  Nothing would make me more happy than to see more political parties in California.  But go to the website of the Moderate Party, and you’ll soon see what the problem is.  The aspiring party’s agenda is to “Fix Government”, “Create Jobs”, and “Improve Education”.  They will do that through “Collaboration”, “Innovation: finding practical, common sense solutions, embracing new and creative thinking, and rejecting bureaucracy and rigid rules”, and “Results”.  Their central message: “Smarter Government, Better Outcomes, Faster Progress”. 

Forgive me if I’m not blown away, but the first thing I look for when I go shopping for a political party is a philosophy.  It goes deeper than the above in the fine-print, but not always very much.  And the solutions are a random grab-bag.  There’s no way that I or other people would vote for a party when we couldn’t predict how they were going to react to a problem.  And there is no serious philosophy. 

It’s a technocratic endeavour which is trying to pretend that “collaboration, innovation and results” will de facto lead to “smarter government, better outcomes and faster progress”.  Who defines a good outcome?  Progress towards what?  There is no indication what would be this party’s moving principles when it comes time to face the predicaments that bedevil the extant parties.  And the reliance on shibboleths is disheartening.  Who wouldn’t like to find “practical, common sense solutions”?  The problem is that one person’s practical, common sense solution (investing in Pre-K, K-12 and higher education with the expectation that such investment will produce a more equal society, give more people more opportunities, create critical citizens, lead to innovation in technical, scientific and moral spheres which will help society as a whole) is another person’s “liberal tyranny”, “fascism”, “communism” or “anti-Americanism”.  It’s easy to say that we need to create jobs, but there is no a-political, philosophically-neutral way to go about creating jobs (as the debates since 2008 show).

The other Centrist tactic is to bemoan partisanship and to say, “Can’t-we-all-just-get-along”.  The call for bipartisanship is misplaced.  Bipartisanship, in the context of U.S. politics seems to mean taking one part of one idea and one part of another idea (without any regard for the merits of the ideas in question), and mashing them together to satisfy the egos of the ideas’ proponents.  It’s a politician-oriented approach which exhibits a total disregard for good policymaking, which should require ideological coherence—otherwise the policy will be an abject mess, something you would think we would have learned at the federal level of government long ago.  Bipartisanship disrespects elections which turn up winners, and ignores other solutions (fair voting and multi-member districting) which could make our politics more genuinely democratic.

What we need is not a rush to a fantasy world populated by dry technocrats, clerks and scribblers, devoid of philosophy and passion rather than elves, dwarves, dragons and witches.  We need to create the conditions in which elections matter.  So that if the Democrats or Republicans win, they can do something.  At present, support for the Democrats could vary between 51 and 66% and it simply doesn’t matter very much.  That’s wrong. 

In 2010, in California, we turned to the Man on the White Horse.  The destrier turned out to be a nag, and the man himself is sitting the wrong way ‘round in the saddle.  Now the Centrist brigade think it’s their hour.  But they have their lance firmly fixed on a monster that doesn’t exist, and are ready to make a charge that would take California for another uncomfortable ride. 

We do not need technocrats or non-ideological managers.  We need representatives and parties that care about people, have forceful agendas that reflect a philosophy of some kind, and are passionate about promoting those philosophies and their policy outgrowths.

Thursday, October 20, 2011


On my lunch-break today, I took a stroll through Regent’s Park in London and had a cup of soup.  It was an ideal day for strolling, the kind of day which will grow scarcer as the days grow shorter.  Blue skies, sunshine and the first inklings of the wintry light which makes cold, clear days exceptionally beautiful in British winters meant that the park was full of heavily-dressed people and dogs.

I suppose it was the sunshine—though it could have been the dogs—which made me reflect on what a nice, slow summer it had been in California.  Not all summers are like that.  Some involve dashing here and there, getting on flights, having to be places, and the whole production drawing to a close to the lurking suspicion that very little was actually accomplished.  People always say, ‘Oh, that sounds like an exciting agenda’, but I have to admit to being the type who’d rather have a pleasant routine in a comfortable place, and last summer I was able to spend time in three of my favourite places.

First, the East Bay, which has really grown on me in the past few years, Berkeley in particular.  Understand, I’d grown up in a place that saw itself as the antithesis of everything the Bay Area stands for in the popular imagination—socially, politically, culturally, physically—and so I’d heard my share of horror stories.  Some parents wouldn’t even let their children go on school trips south of Sacramento, lest their offspring be corrupted by the cultural decadence lurking around every corner.  My parents obviously didn’t buy any of this, but as refugees from the Bay Area, they didn’t have much good to say about the traffic, the crowds, the weather or the smog.  Of course I’d spent plenty of time in the Bay Area visiting family as a kid, but I still didn’t reckon it was a place I could see myself existing for long.

Maybe it was the pleasantness of my routine, or perhaps it was the knowledge that I’d be going away for a while, but I grew increasingly attached to the East Bay during the summer.  Attached to walking out onto Second Street in Hayward in the morning to catch the bus, just in time to see the fog receding down the hill, the sun rushing down in its wake.  Attached to feeling the thrill that now comes every time I come into Berkeley—whether in a car down the narrow Tunnel Road or in a howling BART train to the west of campus—and see the Campanile, the Stadium, the I-House, the Claremont silhouetted against the Berkeley hills that lead up over Grizzly Peak to Tilden Park and Wildcat Canyon.  Attached to walking out of the library some days to see spectacular sunsets behind the Golden Gate, on others to be enveloped in the fog that crept up under the bridge to settle on campus, giving the Campanile and Doe Library a spectral, otherworldly mien.  And attached to getting back in time to take the dog out for a brisk walk in the fading light, and to see, from the Hayward hills, the whole East Bay turn gold.

It can’t feel too bad a place when you’re in the East Bay hills above Berkeley and El Cerrito, not a building in sight, surrounded by blowing grass, wispy trees and circling birds of prey that periodically vanish without a trace into the sun before swooping back down to earth.

Or walking from one end of Oakland to the other, passing neighbourhoods in which people are speaking dozens of languages, having come from many countries in the world, many parts of our state and many corners of the city and innumerable traditions and backgrounds to live lives in common.

Or watching the campus come to life from the balcony at FSM in the morning, keeping one eye on the aggressive squirrels at all times, of course.  Because although it’s subdued, Berkeley still breathes deeply during the summer, the libraries are still widely used, summer students walk around between classes, Memorial Glade is always full.  But it’s all so much calmer.

Or when you’re walking the dog in the sultry sunset in Hayward and see, riding up Campus Drive, seven vaqueros, erect in their saddles, wide-brimmed hats casting impressive shadows, looking neither to the left nor to the right, making their stately way with their elegant steeds along the busy by-way, AC Transit buses, cars and trucks all unquestioningly giving them their due space.


Next, of course, I was at home.  Those of you who know me have heard me whine about the politics, the weather, the lack of public transportation and the malaise that often seems to affect much of northern California.  But it’s a beautiful place, and I’m never more relaxed than when, having taken the Amtrak train to Sacramento, the Amtrak bus to Redding, I’m finally in my parents’ car rolling over the Sacramento River, out of downtown, out through the ranches and small towns, up into the foothills and forests, disappearing into the trees and letting the warm summer air come through the window; air which gets dustier down the dirt road and which picks up the wholesome smells of the meadow and creek as we pass them by.

My favourite part of the summer days at home comes when I rouse the dog from her slumber on the tile floor of the kitchen or the wood floor of the porch.  She staggers up, blinking, wondering where the hare she’d been chasing in her sleep had got to.  She gives me the look that says, ‘Do I have to get up?’, but once she sees me putting on my shoes, her tail starts wagging, and the giddiness of this appendage inspires the rest of her, until she’s bouncing around as best her years allow. 

And then we’re off on the narrow track through the forest which runs parallel to the creek.  She’s in heaven, sniffing mountain lion scat, scrutinising the places where wild pigs rooted or turkeys scratched into the hard, dry soil, in which we can see big, wide bear tracks from the last time it rained, now crumbling away, but still distinctive. 

On our last walk the dog was panting and dragging, so I slowed to an amble.  Instead of continuing straight along the old logging road—recently widened in anticipation of Sierra Pacific’s foray after timber, the dust only kept down by the layer of golden pine-needles—which leads circuitously down to a ford on the creek, we cut straight down through the woods to a pool where the dog could get some water.  After lapping at the water, she moved further out into the creek and stood, chest-deep, sides heaving with exertion, tongue lolling out, looking for all the world like she was smiling, letting the water flow easily, gently around her.
I realised more fully what had been hovering in the back of my mind the last couple of times I’d been home, that she’s getting too old for this, and that this would be our last walk of this length, ever.  We make our way, slowly, to the ford, where she drinks some more, and then we cut back up to the fence-line along which some of the old families used to range their cattle, from the last days of the nineteenth century.  And then back home, slowly, because it’s up-hill.

In the winter it is breathtaking to come on a herd of elk thirty strong down in the ranch country on the way into town, their breath silvery in the morning air, the mist gathering around them as though they were creatures from another world, descended from the ridges to walk amongst mere humans.  In the summer there is something equally special about seeing them a bit farther from the road, just below the tree-line on the hills which have now turned brown, and have a reddish hue in the dying light of the day.  The heat means that there’s almost a mirage-effect to their movement.  Their dark brown and tan bodies shimmer as they move sedately through the grass with a leisurely, lolling gait, hardly glancing at us as we stop along the road to watch them.


It was a real treat to make it out to Lassen Volcanic National Park twice in one summer (once on a day-trip, once camping).  Just over an hour from Redding, this place might rank as my favourite anywhere in the world.
Mount Lassen itself is the major attraction—it’s hard not to see it from anywhere in the park—and the area around the Peak Trail and the Bumpass Hell Sulphur Works is always crowded, even during a summer like this one where snow lay thick around much of the park into the middle of August.  So thick that we missed the peak trail on Brokeoff Mountain and wound up on its northeastern flank, the way to the top impassable.  So we satisfied ourselves with the views across the ridges and valleys and smaller peaks, all of which used to form one massive volcano.

There’s a little bit of everything in Lassen.  Below the peaks, to the east, a seemingly unbroken forest stretches out towards Lake Almanor in the distance.  If you venture down in the right place, you’ll come onto King’s Creek Falls, the waters of which gather speed as they course across the otherworldly verdant meadows that make up swathes of the park, get really rumbling as they come down through boulder-strewn, snow-covered banks, and cascade over the edge to rush down into the forest.

Paradise Meadow is justifiably one of the more famous of the park’s open spaces.  The ascent to the meadow isn’t too steep, but takes walkers up a well-maintained trail along Hat Creek before opening up into the enormous expanse, some parts of the year strewn with abundant wildflowers, some of which are still in bloom on the slopes around the aptly-named meadow.

And then there are the lakes: Ridge Lake, Shadow Lake, Terrace Lake, Cliff Lake.  Their names tell you all you need to know about their locations.  But Lassen is not a grim, rugged park.  Although the snow makes reaching the lakes more difficult—the paths are obscured, it’s easy to slip on the meters-deep snow, and sometimes you’ll break through—they are all within reach, and worth every step.  Some of their waters serve as a mirror for the mountains.  Others look like you could run across them.  And some you can scarcely see as the evening sun reflects off the snow, sending blinding lights flickering across the surface.

It’s when I see places like these, the sulphur rising from the cracked earth; hikers making their way along snow-covered slopes against rock which appears to be straining up through the white covering with the rising of the moon; the rivulets giving way to streams which are transformed into roiling waterfalls; the mist rising from impossibly still waters in the gentle light of morning; and the mountains...that’s when I know how right John Muir had it when he reminded us that “Everybody needs beauty as well as bread, places to play in and pray in, where nature may heal and give strength to body and soul alike”. 
Everybody’s places are going to be a little bit different, but so long as we each have our own, on which to draw as resources for body and mind, it feels like we’ll all be that much closer to an elusive kind of personal peace.