Summer Stories09/26/2023 05:50PM ● By Jennie Lay
Rocky Mountain High: A Tale of Boom and Bust in the New Wild West| By Finn Murphy
On the tail of his bestselling trucker tell-all, “The Long Haul,” Finn Murphy is back with a humorous tale about his latest entrepreneurial adventure in the Hemp Space. (Capitalization is his, offered with a wink.) “Rocky Mountain High” is the situational memoir of a stalwart East Coast capitalist with ample cash and big dreams who moves to Colorado, scoops up a few acres of farmland in Boulder, and dives into growing legal hemp. His well-laid plan is to make millions, even though he’s never farmed a day in his life. What could possibly go wrong?
A lot, it turns out – but the chaos is both intriguing and instructional, particularly compelling at that moment when Colorado’s hemp door was first creaking open. The tale of Murphy’s business plan unfolds with infinite humor and biting social commentary as he encounters water, weather, state regulations, sketchy ag data and the lingering stigma of the war on drugs. Shading every transaction is the culture of the West, a “mythical moonshine” from which Murphy had sipped deeply back in New England. “This idea of family ranchers and farmers upholding some mythical idea of a primordial pioneer American way of life is a cancer on our national character, not least because it lets the corporate ranchers and Big Ag hide behind a picture of a ruddy man in a John Deere cap,” he writes. “It also glorifies bogus individualism at the expense of national action and community purpose. I see it every day here in Colorado.”
Eight Bears: Mythic Past and Imperiled Future
It’s fair to say that “bear issues” have jumped into focus with some ferocity for folks in the Yampa Valley during the past few years. Around here, we’ve witnessed how fast complications arise when humans cross into black bear habitat; yet no other bear species fares as well as the ones inhabiting our Steamboat backyards. Such are the dilemmas globally as the planet’s eight surviving bear species struggle in myriad ways in South America (spectacled bears), Asia (sloth, panda, sun and moon bears), North America (grizzlies) and the Arctic (polar bears). For “Eight Bears,” journalist Gloria Dickie has taken a deep, empathic dive into each of their paths to write a deeply researched, often heartbreaking, account of the state of ursine existence.
Human activity has put six of these charismatic species under immediate threat of extinction, but Dickie’s engaging travelogue and clear-eyed scientific curiosity introduce us to conservationists and communities who are trying to save both imperiled bears and ecosystems diminished by drought, climate change and habitat loss. Dickie spells out the science and sociology driving their struggles with accessible explanations and sparkling prose. “We have not shown much compassion to the animal we once considered our next of kin. Where humans have proliferated, bears have often declined in tandem,” she writes. Dickie’s history lessons remind the reader how bears have been mythically familiar in cultures all over the world, and why Ursidae remain among the most magnificent beasts that roam the Earth to this day – eight admirable species, each worth our commitment to saving.
Water Always Wins: Thriving in an Era of Drought and Deluge
Water problems are persistent everywhere. Whether an ecosystem has too much or too little, pursuing “slow water” may hold some critical solutions to move toward equilibrium. In “Water Always Wins,” National Geographic Explorer, independent science journalist and 2023 Yampa Basin Rendezvous keynote speaker Erica Gies takes readers on a global journey alongside various “water detectives” in pursuit of slow water case studies. Each example showcases working with the power of water instead of against it.
Conventional modern water controls have not been largely successful for natural ecosystems. Now climate change is making the overwhelm of these controls acute. Gies leads her readers to more sustainable solutions ranging from central California’s paleo rivers to Kenya’s mountainous “water towers,” to China’s sponge cities, Iraq’s Mesopotamian marshes, Chennai’s traditional communal tanks, Peru’s highlands, Mekong Delta mangrove swamps and beyond. What becomes clear is that things like natural geology, beavers and Indigenous technologies effectively harness water’s natural ebb and flow in ways that our modern gray infrastructure does not. She offers us hope for natural solutions.
Windfall: The Prairie Woman Who Lost Her Way and the Great-Granddaughter Who Found Her
What does it mean to inherit mineral rights...and will they make you rich? It’s a question that award-winning climate change reporter Erika Bolstad dived into personally after the death of her mother. Her investigation starts with a North Dakota homestead and her great-grandmother’s tragic fate, moves on to an investigation of the checks that arrive from a family mineral lease, then follows generations of aspirational hope that weave through the booms and busts of the oil and gas industry. “Windfall” simultaneously disinters the intimate history of a single family and a nation with rich resources and long-embedded dreams about them.
Bolstad’s compelling family saga helps lay bare the legacies of the Homestead Act and the state of modern fossil fuel extraction in the North Dakota oil patch. It’s complex stuff, but Bolstad’s personal buy-in and deep investigation bring the cross-pollinating political, environmental, bureaucratic, social and economic situations to light. This may be Bolstad’s family’s history, but in her broad setting of the table it could be any westerner’s family story. Above all it’s an honest tale about the West, windfalls, and the “toxic myths of manifest destiny.”
A Wing and a Prayer: The Race to Save our Vanishing Birds
In the wake of a 2019 study that documented the fact that 3 billion birds have disappeared in North America over the past five decades, retired journalists and avid birders Anders and Beverly Gyllenhaal set out in their Airstream to see what’s being done to combat the staggering decline. On the road for more than 25,000 miles, they were witness to “the rescues, research, successes and failures” of biologists, conservationists, birders and wildlife officers working to boost the continent’s flocks.
Throughout “A Wing and a Prayer,” they travel through Louisiana swamps with persistent ivory-billed woodpecker seekers; into the Frozen Zoo that harbors frozen vials of hope for endangered birds as a “genomic insurance policy;” over to Hawaii for an audacious mosquito birth control scheme; and back to the luscious birdlife in their own back yard. “Birds make a vast range of contributions, some obvious, some still only partially understood,” the Gyllenhaals write, acknowledging birds as both the workhorses of natural systems and the proverbial canaries in the coal mine that is planet Earth. All along the way, the authors unveil the wonders of birdlife, underscore the urgency to protect the feathered species, and spur us to action.
The Fireballer| By Mark Stevens
The Alison Col mystery series has earned Mark Stevens awards and accolades, but his latest novel slips into a fresh new genre: sports fiction. “The Fireballer” is a baseball story that’s ripe for summer reading. Frank Ryder is a rookie pitcher for the struggling Baltimore Orioles. His 110-mph fastball renders his hitters helpless at the plate, and MLB team owners are starting to wonder if they should change the rules to put a speed limit on pitches.
A lifelong baseball fan, Stevens says he delved into reading more than 20 baseball books, listened to podcasts and watched hours of YouTube videos as he constructed the plot. The characters and their individual struggles are fleshed out by engrossing baseball detail, a love story and the persistent ghost of Deon Johnson, a Black boy Ryder accidentally killed with a fastball when they were kids back in Atlanta. As the pitcher ponders his way toward purpose and forgiveness, his pitches gain steam and accuracy – and the story’s suspense holds tight into the last inning.
Thirst GapKUNC reporter Luke Runyon created this new six-part podcast about adapting to life with a shrinking water supply for 40 million people in seven U.S. states, two Mexican states and 30 tribal nations. The “Thirst Gap” stories provide a broad overview of the intrinsic problems we’re facing in light of climate change and a warmer and dryer future. Traveling the length of the Colorado River watershed, Runyon offers up historic perspective and enlightening conversations with farmers, tribes, boaters, suburban neighbors and trans-border environmentalists. Runyon set out to explore “Who will be forced to give up the most? How do we decide who gets less? And how will the region adapt to a shrinking supply as the climate warms?” Turns out, everyone is making trade-offs.
Subscribe to “Thirst Gap” wherever you get your podcasts, and catch Runyon live with Heather Tanana on Monday, July 31 at the Seminars at Steamboat talk, “Colorado River in Crisis: Learning from the Past to Protect the Future.” www.kunc.org/thirstgap
FOLLOWSnow Raven-Suor is an Indigenous Sakha musician from Arctic Siberia, and her vocalizations of birds, wind and wildlife are nothing short of mesmerizing. Her voice is her instrument, and her “Arctic Beatbox” beats are coupled with stunning imagery and indescribable mimicry. She is fire from the land of ice, and her IG posts are guaranteed to send you looking for more. Follow Suor @snowravenofficial.