By Geoff Babb
Road to Nowhere
well we know where we're goin'
but we don't know where we've been
and we know what we're knowin'
but we can't say what we've seen
and we're not little children
and we know what we want
and the future is certain
give us time to work it out
We're on a road to nowhere
Come on inside
Takin' that ride to nowhere
We'll take that ride
I'm feelin' okay this mornin'
And you know,
We're on the road to paradise
Here we go, here we go
--- David Byrne
We’re back home now from a 10 day work and play trip to Arizona. I was asked to help organize a fire workshop for extension agents and the idea of Tucson in March was too much to pass up. But, as we often do, we added some vacation time on either side of the meeting. This trip was especially fun because we were able to reminisce about our first trip to the Grand Canyon when, as newlyweds in 1985, we stopped there on our way to the unknown and excitement of our first permanent job with The Nature Conservancy. Traveling south from Washington we listened to The Talking Heads and wondered what we were getting ourselves into. All these years later we still sing “we’re on a road to nowhere” as the road to paradise unfolds in front of us.
For the first time on a plane trip, we took two wheelchairs; my lighter, more comfortable everyday chair, and the AdvenChair, which is much better on hills and trails. We think we were quite a sight in the airport with Yvonne pushing me in the red chair, and me pushing the AdvenChair with the duffel bag on top. We were pretty happy with how efficient it was, and that United didn’t charge us to check a second chair (although we did hit a sliding door and push it out of its track).
After flying to Tucson we drove north to Phoenix where we met Merle and Nate Harlan at a Thai restaurant. Merle and Yvonne were teachers at the Waldorf School of Bend, and Nate was one of Yvonne’s students. After coffee at Yvonne’s Café (despite the name it was actually pretty disappointing) we visited the Desert Botanical Gardens where things were just starting to bloom. From there we drove 4 hours up to Grand Canyon Village and Tom Zell and Clover Earl’s place. After a great breakfast – 1 of several killer meals Tom cooked - (he founded Zell’s Café in Portland) we rolled several miles on the South Rim Trail through patches of snow, under clear blue skies. Someone described it as “glorious.”
On our way through Flagstaff we had a quick drive-by visit with Rob and Amy Waltz. I stayed in the car while we chatted in the driveway for a half hour before heading south again. Monday, we slept in before meeting 2 old friends from that early ‘80s era at an ancient pueblo site. I worked with Rod Hoibakk and Nina Verzoni early in my Forest Service career but hadn’t seen them in years. They had both moved around themselves and had lost contact with each other until I invited them to meet us for a hike. They’ve lived for 4 years 8 miles apart in rural Arizona without knowing they were neighbors!
The workshop that got us to “the Old Pueblo” was a nice little 3 day affair to help extension agents learn how they can better inform their particular audience how to prepare their homes for wildland fire. Despite recent surgery to repair a broken collarbone, Mark Apel drove 2 hours from Bisbee to see us (thanks Mark!). A highlight for me was talking with Bob Mutch, one of the early pioneers of fire ecology who was a big influence on me 30 years ago. For being close to 80 he is still incredibly passionate about both the natural role of fire, and how people can live safely in fire-prone environments.
Wednesday night we had dinner with Tom and Debbie Collazo, who by offering us jobs at Ramsey Canyon Nature Preserve set us on our original road to nowhere; David Mount and Jendy Hall, who put me up in Tucson when Yvonne and the week-old boys were in the hospital, later offering dresser drawers as Cory and Emory’s first cribs; and Junardi Armstrong, who we have known since those Tucson days.
On Thursday we got a cook’s tour of the new Laboratory of Tree Ring Research at the University of Arizona from Margaret Evans. She is now Doctor Evans but we first knew her as a 15 year-old at Hancock Field Station, the science camp where we worked the summer before our wedding. That night we attended a lecture by Gary Nabhan, an ethnobotanist that Yvonne has followed for years.
Friday found us just a few miles from Mexico when we visited Greg Nolan, who I fought fire with on the La Grande Hotshot crew. He took us to the Buenos Aires Wildlife Refuge where we rolled by ponds and through cottonwoods and hackberries.
Saturday morning, before we closed our loop by heading to the airport, we spent some much needed quiet time in the oak woodlands of Madera Canyon, listening to the birds and wind in the trees. Oak woodlands, or encinal, are special places to us; we lived in them and I studied their fire ecology for my Master’s thesis. The Emory Oak, in particular, is an important part of the encinal. Growing in poor, rocky soils and a hot, dry, almost unforgivable climate, it must also live with frequent fires, which it either resists with its thick bark, or by sprouting new stems. I really admire this tree because it is incredibly tough, resilient, and long-lived; a true survivor. How prophetic that we named our son, Emory, after the tree.
By midnight we were home to our dog Casper and happy to fall asleep in the paradise of our own bed. Here we go, here we go...