West to New Mexico

“I am glad I will not be young in a future without wilderness.”

-Aldo Leopold

I went to New Mexico to wander the dunes of White Sands National Monument and savor the crystal blue skies and perfect geometric shapes of the desert.  The afternoon I arrived a wild wind whipped the sands into swirls of murkiness and visual frustration. I camped twenty miles away because the military was conducting missile testing next door to the monument at the military base. In the morning, dawn rose calm and clear and I went back to White Sands, entered the park for free – it was National Parks Week – removed my flip flops and climbed the cool white dunes of sand looking for the best angles on this other-worldy landscape.




I went to New Mexico to hike fourteen miles in the Gila Wilderness. (With strong advocacy by Aldo Leopold, the Gila was the first designated wilderness area in 1924.)  I waded across the Middle Fork of the Gila River fifteen times to reach the warm waters of the Jordan Hot Springs. In twenty four hours I saw only five hikers. At the springs I saw nobody, except the two bright yellow eyes of an animal – reflected by my headlamp – as I was hoisting my food bag for the night. There aren’t too many places left where you can go and experience nature unaffected by humans.

I went to New Mexico to drive endless roads and give the one finger wave to three cowboys in three pickup trucks in three hours. I went to New Mexico to eat green chile stew and fresh tortillas at breakfast.  I went to New Mexico to have a beer at the classic Buckhorn Saloon in Pinos Altos. I went to New Mexico to arrive in remote Reserve at twilight and check in by telephone to the Frisco Motel, the only place in town.

I went to New Mexico because I lived there before in Gallup in 1999, working at a newspaper, covering the gritty town and surrounding Navajo Reservation. But because the state is so big, I never made it to White Sands or the Gila Wilderness. My brother Roger also lived in New Mexico in Las Vegas, attending United World College in the 1980s. I have strong memories of soaking in hot springs there, inhaling the cold crisp air and fragrance of Ponderosa pines all around.

Logging in Shrewsbury, Vermont

My Dad bought ninety acres of land in Shrewsbury, Vermont in 1963. It was at the end of Tabor Road in the shadow of Saltash Mountain. When he and my mother moved to Vermont in 1970, they briefly thought of building a house there, but they arrived during mud season, Vermont’s fifth season, axle-deep in mud. They quickly decided to look for a house down in the valley, settling in the town of Brandon, forty miles to the north. Over the years we would picnic at the land or sometimes camp in a meadow.  As they years went by, the forests became thick, mostly with spruce and fir. A hundred years ago Vermont was three quarters open land, cleared of trees for farming. Today just the opposite is true with most of the land covered in forests. Sustainable forests provide jobs, fuel for heating, wood products and improved wildlife habitat.

We often thought of logging the land, but never took action. Finally a few years ago we hired foresters Galen and Andy Hutchison to draw up a forest plan and mark trees to harvest. They contracted with Shrewsbury logger Gary Martin to do the work with his son Tim. Not only does Gary have a good reputation, he is also a neighbor, living just down the road from the land. With the addition of a temporary logging road, it becomes easier to walk the land, see its small streams, a stone wall, an old homestead foundation and to look more clearly up towards Saltash Mountain.