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Narratives Worth Exploring

Assignment Earth, Environmental Journalism / 25.10.2010

Fall-out from the housing market bubble isn’t just affecting the suburbs of major metropolitan areas. Rural communities throughout the Rocky Mountain west are suffering too. Teton County Idaho with a population of fewer than 10,000 now has an astonishing 7,000 vacant lots, rural farms now converted to cul-de-sacs to nowhere. It’s a surplus some say could take anywhere from 70 to nearly 300 years to build out even if the economy picks up.

“It really looks like a wasteland. Its blight and we have zombie sub-divisions just like this all over our valley,” said Anna Trentadue of Valley Advocates for Responsible Development. “And some of them appear to be in some of our most sensitive habitat areas.”

Trentadue works for a non profit that deals with growth. With a diminished market making it tough for developers to finish what they started, here the group is ceasing an opportunity to try to reshape rural development. The hope is to avoid building on all the vacant lots which would create sprawl, a development pattern that’s expensive for tax payers who maintain the roads bridges and school bus routes that serve these far flung sub divisions. The group also aims to avoid carving up all the farmland and this valley’s rich wildlife habitat, bordering the southern end of the great Yellowstone ecosystem.

Teton Valley is home to Grizzlies, wolves, moose elk and many other species. To reshape growth, this non-profit is teaming up with developers, national experts and local government to see if some unfinished subdivisions can be redesigned to reduce the number of vacant lots, leaving more open space.

Africa, Climbing, Environmental Journalism, Ethiopia / 15.10.2010

Eight thousand miles is a long way to travel just to set up a top rope. That’s especially true when there’s a guy with a machine gun blocking your way on the approach. But here on the sandstone cliffs of the Gheralta Massif was a unique opportunity to help writer and mountain guide Majka Burhardt establish some of the very first sport climbing routes in the nation of Ethiopia. The risk of automatic weapons fire notwithstanding it didn’t take long to convince me that it was still a good idea.
Africa, Ethiopia / 12.10.2010

My morning coffee will never taste the same. After three weeks in Ethiopia the standard breakfast blend is desperately lacking that unique flavor of hospitality and culture steeped in a thousand years of tradition. With the rich fresh scent of roasted bunna still wafting through my imagination my thoughts drift back to the highlands of Africa as the sun raises slowly on a crisp autumn morning in Wisconsin.
Africa, Charitable Giving, Ethiopia / 06.10.2010

The Ethiopia Joy Trip is slowly winding down. Today we’ll drive from Hawzen to Mekele where we’ll stay overnight. In the morning we’ll fly back to Addis Ababa. From there I’ll say goodbye to the staff and participants of Imagine 1 Day and head back home to Wisconsin. This has been a truly transformational experience for me. Apart from the wonderful culture and scenery, I have also learned a great deal about a unique expression of community investment. In combining tourism with philanthropy through Imagine 1 Day I have been handed a rare gift, to see the direct impact of a non-governmental organization as it does the good work of creating a sustainable solution to the cycle of poverty in Sub-Saharan Africa.
Africa, Charitable Giving, Environmental Journalism, Ethiopia / 23.09.2010

Dawn breaks on Addis Ababa like any city in America. A rooster crows in the distance and a braying donkey can be heard above the swelling sounds of morning traffic. This is Africa. Yet somehow, Ethiopia feels like coming home.

On first encounter locals here address me like one of their own. The color of my skin, the texture of my hair, the cast of my eyes, are all familiar to them. But upon second reckoning of my clothing, the camera bag on my shoulder, my manner of speaking they realize. I am a foreigner, a “forengee.” Yet still I am welcome. It’s up to me to impress upon those I meet that I have come to love their homeland, my motherland, and that I want to stay a bit longer.

Despite my own genetic connection to this place I believe anyone who visits here might feel a similar since of kinship. After all, it was upon this continent that more than 10,000 years ago the human race was born. In our travels I believe that we often see a common bond between ourselves and others, a shared humanity that will likely be the salvation of our race on this planet. This is a letter from Africa with love.