Solstice Tribute to Maureen and Jeff Killed in the 2013 Rockville Utah Rockfall

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The night of the rockfall, those of us within a mile of the ruined house were asked to evacuate, not so much for fear of more fall but because, in the home’s shattered remains, emergency crews could not find the gas shutoff. I changed from mud-smeared barn clothes to appear-in-public clothes, and loaded the dog, three laptops, and my well-honed overnight needs into the truck. After—what is this—my fifth evacuation? I have it down to a science. And at that point, if my house blew up, I couldn’t have cared less. A beautiful day had just gone horrifically bad. The sky had indeed fallen.

I had just driven my workman Brice home to Springdale and returned ten minutes later to find the road beyond my house obliterated by a strange yellow-brown. . . smoke? haze? The morning radio had predicted desert fog, a scoff-worthy anomaly, and yet, what was that? and why had it come up so suddenly and in such a limited space? Fire? I wondered, and drove into the dimness. Inside, the darkness turned red and particulate, eerie and sunless. It was neither an inversion-choked chimney nor smoldering grass, not winter’s condensed breath nor the mark of a dust devil’s passing. It was something I’d seen only once or twice and never from within—pulverized redrock suspended mid-fall—buoyed only by still air’s impassive resistance, afloat on its own surprise.

Confused, I searched for some clue, scanning left and right until I saw, out of the corner of my eye, Ground Zero. I did not stop, did not linger, did not slow. My head snapped forward, eyes wide, and we drove on: my body kicking into mechanical while my brain caught up— “Danger. No chance of survival. Rescuers at risk.” Farther along the road, I parked askew, flipped on my hazards, and flashed my brights at highway-speed cars entering Rockville and the rescuer-obscuring cloud.

Behind me others were stopping at what was once the two-story home of Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey. In my rearview I watched neighbors jump from home-bound trucks, dash across the highway and up slope toward the crushed home; I admired their bravery—no one could know if more rock would fall, but more I admired their hope—I could not conceive anyone surviving that blow. As 911 phones rang across the county, I dialed Jack Burns, the survivor of our first traumatizing home rockfall, “Sweetie. I need to tell you. There’s been a horrific rockfall. And, if anyone was home…”

As the sheriff’s tan SUV roared past, I reluctantly joined the growing roadside vigil. The home’s second-story lay on the gravel drive like a casually discarded hat; above, the kitchen’s burst-belly revealed a mission-style dining room table still standing, and a comfortable green armchair kicked aside and dust-covered; the home’s foundation still held, anchored as it was in the boulder field of a former rockfall. Between the redesigned, implacable boulderscape and the log home’s swinging timbers echoed the fresh bomb blast, the impossible silence of still-warm disaster.

Those willing combed the debris,peering into cavities, reaching into possibilities, then stood, arrayed around the house on fallen boulders, and stared at us, as silent as the rocks and as unmoving, hollow-eyed and shellshocked. This would not be a rescue.

I disentangled myself from a supporting friendship-knot and, as darkness fell, headed back to my car and home, only two houses distant. I noticed for the first time the view Maureen and Jeff had from their floor-to-ceiling windows—out across unobstructed pastures to the cottonwood-lined Virgin River, up across sage-coated redrock mesas to the towering Canaan Mountain Wilderness and the blue-skied beyond. I also noticed, in Mr. Herschi’s deep grass pasture near the road, the rare, knee-deep virginal snow and its new sprinkled-sugar coating of powdered redrock.

I had been in my barn clothes as dusk and rocks fell and rescuers asked me to leave because that day, December 12, was my first ride since the big snow. Five days before, we’d gotten a rare 18 inches, and I, not owning a snow shovel, had dug my way to the horses with a hay fork. This was the snow that would provide me such a beautiful, memorable afternoon, and set loose the rock that would later kill Maureen and Jeff.

The horses, and especially I, get antsy when pent, and after a week of buried fields but gradually clearing roads, we dared a short ride in brilliant sun. We began with due care on snow-packed ice, but when Mr. Baby saw the untracked orchard field, he broke acanter and I let him. Never had I felt that particular exhilaration! In snow’s deep silence, one can neither hear nor see hooves hit ground so horse and rider simply fly. Had the field gone on forever or had I fallen to earth and cracked my head wide open, I would have been happy ever after.

I drove, that evacuation night, to the local Mormon Church’s annual Christmas Party, a usually lively but very subdued affair. My 30-year-friend Marion asked, “Are you still living in Rockville?” “Yes,” I replied, “I’m still living in Rockville”… unlike others, I thought sadly. Rockville, settled in 1860 when pioneers abandoned the flooded town of Adventure across the Virgin River, probably got its name from difficult plowing, but has unfortunately taken on new meaning. This is not an easy landscape—just as our lives and decisions are not easy. At the candlelight memorial held a few nights later amid fallen rocks and departed souls, friends spoke of how Maureen decided, with great intention and without fear, to live in Rockville, in that very house, because she loved it. She was aware of the risk, calculated the odds, and made her decision. And I honor her choice. More power to you, Maureen!

From now on I’m also choosing to live with intention. Having developed a few less-than-desirable habits, devastatingly effective procrastinations, and functionally slippery ways to side-step things that need to be said, I’m now choosing to be more present.

And I hope the next time I end up with yet another pony-induced black eye, more stitches, a dysfunctional body part, or even kill myself falling from cliff or saddle it’s because I chose to get on the horse again. Stitches are temporary, but a life lived without intention is forever.

Last week, escaping the desert’s firm grip on my soul, I traded loose-hipped canters for a kayak’s unfamiliar hug. Far from shore on an ocean’s winter night, one tip away from a hypothermic death, I found myself immersed in mysterious cronks and snorks—the dreams of herons on their island roost. A paddle length behind me, a curious seal surfaced, revealed in her inky wateriness only by the abrupt snap of opened sinuses followed by a deep, voluminous inhalation. As she and the silence descended again, I paddled on and reveled as phosphorescent bioluminescence swirled from my everybladed stroke, particulate radiance whipped up—then gone—like glowing dust devils—like the infinite galaxies whirling overhead.

Rockfallville

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A newly released state geologist report defining Rockville’s rockfall hazards puts half my house in the High Danger Zone and half in the No Danger Zone, meaning, I suppose, I can spend half the night sleeping in peace and half lying awake contemplating my home’s current market value. Or, since the line puts the kitchen and office in the Danger Zone, perhaps it means I can sleep soundly, but cooking or working is out of the question, which, come to think of it, seems small price to pay for my personal safety.

my house
Note location of my house marked by pink rectangle on right bottom edge of the Danger Zone! (click to enlarge)

While the 2001 rockfall nearly killed our friend Jack, the 2002 boulder landed on the highway, and the 2007 fall destroyed a newly built fence–in southern Utah, hardly worth sniffing at–the 2010 rockfall got our attention–anomaly it seemed at the time. That rockfall hit the house across the street from mine, destroyed four outbuildings, an SUV, a full-size pickup, and somehow managed to miss the barn in which my horses stood, though the barn was directly below the fall. The horses spent the next three weeks with their butts pressed against the highway fence staring at the cliff. To this day, Mr. Baby will not willingly pass a sandstone boulder no matter how many times I reassure him it will not jump up and get him. He has never forgotten. Neither have the two woman living in the house at the time. Below are images of the 2010 Rockfall I took when I walked across the street that morning to feed the horses. Click on the image to enlarge and read caption.

What follows is the Geologist’s Report in it’s entirety, including a photo taken by a passing motorist of the redrock fog I described in my 2013 Solstice Letter and tribute to Maureen and Jeff (to be posted on this blog soon) which I did not have the presence of mind to take myself.

redrock fog
Inside, the darkness turned red and particulate, eerie and sunless. It was neither an inversion-choked chimney nor smoldering grass, not winter’s condensed breath nor the mark of a dust devil’s passing. It was something I’d seen only once or twice and never from within—pulverized redrock suspended mid-fall—buoyed only by still air’s impassive resistance, afloat on its own surprise.
Dust cloud from the December 12, 2013 Rockfall. The motorist, Jack Seegmiller, who photographed the event, estimated the rockfall’s duration as 10 seconds or less. Photo from the report below.

 

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Click to view report

Next Posts

  • Winter Solstice 2013
    A tribute to our friends Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey killed in the Rockville rockfall
  • “Yes, Ma’am, the Trails are Safe, but I Can’t Guarantee the Geology”
    As Trail Crew Foreman Dan Blackwell once said to a Grand Canyon hiker who stopped to inquire. What does Rockville’s new Rockfall Hazard Report mean to those living In The Zone? And, after Rockville’s fatal rockfall and Washington’s fatal mudslide, one has to wonder what’s going on. The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wonders too.

People Have Been Asking

imagesQ2KRKJRDWhenever I am forced, as I have been this last month, to sit at my desk, unrelentingly, working and reworking someone else’s written product, ad infinitum, to the exclusion of all other thought, like a convict chained to a ball, I become a tad, shall we say, snarly. A titch unfriendly. I go about my work and chores with my head downcast, teeth clenched, dreaming at night about being made human sacrifice by alien overlords. When finally, in that dream, I saw my friends running free across a heartless desert while I floated balloon-like overhead wearing a dress of barbed wire and white toile, I felt serenely happy they had been released and deeply sad I couldn’t be with them. JESUS H. ROOSEVELT CHRIST! I began reading Vietnam War novels again. I knew the Thai dish Evil Jungle Princess had been named for me personally. Last week I could have taken on the entire Vietnamese fucking army singlehandedly and won. Handsfuckingdown. Just give me the goddamned machine gun and take off the fucking safety if the thing even has one.

But today the sun is out and the project is off my desk and it has stopped raining and I can think again and speak without scowling and its warm enough to have on a short skirt and my hair is down and I am sweetness and light again. So yes, I am well. Going through revolutions of ridding myself of needless clutter, cleaning out a writing room, and preparing to shift gears.

Upcoming Posts
Rockfallville
A newly released state geologist report puts half my house in the “High Danger Zone,” meaning, I suppose, that I can spend half the night sleeping in peace and half lying awake contemplating my great investment’s current market value

• “Yes, Ma’am, the Trails are Safe, but I Can’t Guarantee the Geology”
As Trail Crew Foreman Dan Blackwell once said to a Grand Canyon hiker who stopped to inquire. After Rockville’s fatal rockfall and Washington’s fatal mudslide, one has to wonder what’s going on. The New York Times’ Timothy Egan wonders too.

• Winter Solstice 2013
A tribute to our friends Maureen Morris and Jeff Elsey killed in the Rockville rockfall

 

 

 

Indescribably Cool

Years  by Bartholomäus Traubeck

A record player plays tree-ring disks. Year ring data are translated into music.

Modified turntable, computer, vvvv, camera, acrylic glass, veneer, approx. 90x50x50 cm.

A tree’s year rings are analysed for strength, thickness and rate of growth. This data serves as basis for a generative process that outputs piano music. It is mapped to a scale which is again defined by the overall appearance of the wood (ranging from dark to light and from strong texture to light texture). The foundation for the music is certainly found in the defined ruleset of programming and hardware setup, but the data acquired from every tree interprets this ruleset very differently.

Visit the website at: http://traubeck.com/years/

 

Marc Garanger Speaks: Anger and Passion

Interview with Marc Garanger – New York Photo Festival 2010 Lifetime Achievement Award from New York Photo Festival on Vimeo.

In my last blog, I posted, without much personal comment, an image and link to Photographer Marc Garanger’s stunning photographs of Algerian women taken in the 1960s. I found these images shocking, having never seen anything like them, from that time or now. I found them more surprising than seeing raw, but ubiquitous nakedness, twisted pornography, or horrific war images. What I saw in the photographs was deep anger, subversion, a keeping-of-self beyond what could be done to one’s exterior. I saw the future in the making.

In this Vimeo, Garanger speaks passionately about his 1960 portraits of Algerian women “Femme Algérienne,” shot 1960—62 during the French/Algerian War, under duress (both his and theirs), for identity cards.

Garanger, forced to make the women show their faces in public, often for the first time, turned an act of cultural imperialism into a raw depiction of beauty and sublime dignity. Garanger returned to Algeria four decades later to foster a discussion within the same communities around these photographs.

Marc Garanger received the New York Photo Festival Lifetime Achievement Award.

Credits:
Directed and Edited by Sebastien Cros
Sound and Music by Johann Levasseur
Production UKOSO 2010

Women Unveiled: Marc Garanger’s Contested Portraits of 1960’s Algeria

A 1960 photograph of an Algerian woman in a French regroupment village. Click image to view original article and more images.

I can’t recall how I stumbled on these images on the web, but I’m glad I did. I find them haunting. I have been on a Vietnam War reading streak lately (more in a future post), and couldn’t help think of these women in that context.

In the Time Magazine online article about Marc Granger’s images, photo historian and poet Carole Naggar wrote:

“For France, the trauma of the Algerian War (1954-1962) was not unlike the experience of the Vietnam War for the United States. But, unlike the conflict in Vietnam, few photographic documents exist from that period in Algeria: it is as if the French responded with collective amnesia. Marc Garanger’s Algerian Women is one of the few photographic essays dedicated to that painful period.

“In 1960, Garanger, a 25-year-old draftee who had already been photographing professionally for ten years, landed in Kabylia, in the small village of Ain Terzine, about seventy-five miles south of Algiers. Like many politically engaged young men, he had put off his departure for the army as long as possible, hoping that the war would end without him. He was soon selected as his regiment’s photographer.

“General Maurice Challes, head of the French army, attacked the mountain villages occupied by two million people, some of whom had joined the Algerian resistance, the FLN. To deprive the rebels of their contacts with the villagers, he decided to destroy the villages and transfer the population into regroupment villages, a euphemism for concentration camps. Soon Garanger’s commanding officer decreed that the villagers must have identity cards: ‘Naturally he asked the military photographer to make these cards,‘ Garanger recalls. ‘Either I refused and went to prison, or I accepted. I understood my luck: it was to be a witness, to make pictures of what I saw that mirrored my opposition to the war. I saw that I could use what I was forced to do, and have the pictures tell the opposite of what the authorities wanted them to tell.

“The women Garanger portrayed came from neighboring villages. Either Berber or Muslim, they had never before come into contact with Europeans. When Garanger arrived, there was a detachment of armed men with machine guns across their shoulders, an interpreter, and the commander. The women would be lined up, then each in turn would sit on a stool outdoors, in front of the whitewashed wall of a house. Without their veils, their disheveled hair and their protective tattoos were exposed. Their lined faces reflected the harshness of their life. The stiffness of their pose and the intensity of their gaze evoke early daguerreotypes.

“’I would come within three feet of them,” Garanger remembers. ‘They would be unveiled. In a period of ten days, I made two thousand portraits, two hundred a day. The women had no choice in the matter. Their only way of protesting was through their look.’

‘It is this immediate look that matters,’ Garanger continues. ‘When one discharges a condenser, a spark comes out: to me, photography involves seizing just that instant of discharge. In these sessions, I felt a completely crazy emotion. It was an overwhelming experience, with lightning in each image. I held up for the world a mirror, which reflected this lightning look that the women cast at me.’

“In the Middle East, the veil is like a second skin among traditional people. It may be taken off only within the secrecy of the walls, among women or between husband and wife, but never publicly. Garanger’s portraits symbolize the collision of two civilizations, Islamic and Western, and serve as an apt metaphor for colonization. The women’s defiant look may be thought of as an ‘evil eye’ they cast to protect themselves and curse their enemies.

“Fifty years after Algeria’s independence was proclaimed, Garanger’s contested portraits have not lost their strength. When he went back to Algeria in 2004 to meet those he had photographed, he found that the pictures he had taken were often the only ones that the women ever had of themselves, and they welcomed his return: he had become the keeper of their memory.”


Garanger’s portraits were exhibited at the Musée d’Art Moderne, Algiers, April 20 – August 30, 2013

Carole Naggar is a photo historian and poet. She recently wrote for Time LightBox on s images of children in Europe after World War II and the visual fables of Pentti Sammallahti
See More Images: Women Unveiled: Marc Garanger’s Contested Portraits of 1960s Algeria

Utah Book Festival

Craig  Childs, Greer Chesher, Jim Aton


Date:         Tuesday, October 29, 2013
Time:         4:00 PM
Location:  Charles Hunter Room, Hunter Conference Center,
                  Southern Utah University

Authors Greer Chesher, Craig Childs, and Jim Aton participate in a panel on western landscape as part of SUU’s symposium “The Art of Literature: A Celebration of Authors, Books, and Place.”

And it appears we all need new author’s photos.

John Fogerty Can Play Guitar

John Fogerty, CCR at Oakland Coliseum Arena, January 1970When I was a young teen in the ‘60s, I was madly in love with John Fogerty. Remember him? The power behind Credence Clearwater Revival? The one with all the hair? Watching a CCR performance on our living room TV, my mother, groaning at my swoons said, “How do you even know what he looks like?” Who cared? That long hair, and for a while, that mustache! Those tight jeans! And THAT VOICE! I loved it.

That good-looking young songwriter is now 68. A recent NPR interview mentioned Fogerty, after fifty years playing guitar, still spends hours every morning practicing. I thought, if anyone already knows how to play guitar, it’s John Fogerty! It set me to wondering if there was anything I liked doing so much I’d spend hours doing it every day when I didn’t have to!

At first, I was disheartened, thinking, I put off what I want to do until I’m caught up, have enough time, have finished my to-do list, etc. But then I enumerated what I do every day and realized I actually do the thing(s) I want to be doing. I also realized there are two things I truly need to do daily–like John Fogerty clearly needs to play guitar–and three others I want to do, and I could stop beating myself up about not getting done whatever it is I think I should be doing.

What are the thing(s) you want to/would do every day if you didn’t have to do the things you do? Tell me yours and, in the next post, I’ll tell you mine.