Annual Review -- Looking back on the highlights of 2016
Is it already the end of 2016? Wow, how time flies! They say time speeds up as you age, so I guess we'd better get some things done pretty soon because we'll be 5 years older in a few weeks.
We took one nice trip this year, but the themes of this year were similar to those of last year. For Liz, the themes were no 3rd-graders and more fiber arts, and for Jim, the themes were #ProtectGoldButte and the Bucket List.
For Jim, and by extension both of us, the year was dominated by the theme of Gold Butte, an area of about 350,000 acres along the north side of the Colorado River that conservationists have been working to protect as a National Conservation Area for about 15 years. With the dysfunctional republican-dominated congress trying to block progressive causes at every turn, it became apparent that bipartisan legislation crafted over several years was not going to pass again, so conservationists turned to the President asking him to declare Gold Butte a National Monument under the Antiquities Act of 1906. Gold Butte supporters stepped up efforts overall to encourage public participation in the effort, and Jim became a volunteer Board Member with the Friends of Gold Butte.
During the year, Jim lead numerous hikes in Gold Butte introducing people to the area, delivered powerpoint presentations to several groups, added hikes and points of interest to the Gold Butte section of BirdAndHike.com, and continued working on the illegal, bird killing mining claim marker project. Jim even went to Washington, D.C., with other conservation-mined people to talk with Nevada senators and representatives, people in the administration, and people in the Department of Interior describing why Gold Butte is a special place and why we want it, in particular, conserved for recreation and public use (as opposed to industrial or other developments). By January 20, we will know if our efforts have been successful or whether we need to continue working until after the incoming administration is gone, so the end of the year is a nervous time for us.
Between speaking engagements and leading hikes at Gold Butte, we took three weeks for ourselves in the spring and went to Europe to visit family and friends.
We flew to London and spent a great week with Jim's sister Cathy and her husband Peter in their flat in downtown London. We had a great time exploring London. We walked downtown London visiting several museums, art galleries, parks, and cathedrals on our own. With Cathy, we visited the Kew Botanical Gardens (a high point for Liz), and saw lots of beautiful plants and a bunch of birds. The four of us took a long weekend and went to the coast at Dover. We traveled by train and visited cathedrals, Roman historic sites, museums, the White Cliffs, and the harbor. Link to details of the England trip.
Liz and I had wanted to make this a "birding vacation," but the Gold Butte time restraints prevented that, so we decided to skip the birds and make this a "cultural vacation." Even so, we recorded 58 species of Life Birds in and around London!
From England, we took the train to Germany to visit friends we'd rescued in Death Valley years ago. Anita and her husband Jürgen live in a small, rural village (Hamwiede) in northern Germany. They live in a beautiful house they converted from a barn built in the 1800s, and much to our delight, Jürgen feeds the wild birds. Link to details of the Germany trip.
Two of the best parts of our visit were trips to the Harz Mountains in the former East Germany and an overnight to Hamburg. In mountains, we experienced Walpurgisnacht, a tradition in the Harz Mountains where the local culture celebrates a Halloween-like springtime event when witches and devils gather for the night to sing and dance and call upon the springtime sun to return and warm the earth (we had snow on the ground).
In Hamburg, we toured the city, then stayed with Karola and Caro (Anita's daughter and her wife) in their flat near the harbor. The next day, they gave us a great tour during "Harbor Birthday," an annual celebration with a grand boat parade featuring historical and modern ships (replica Spanish Galleon to modern naval ships).
One thing that really struck us during our trip to Europe was how close to the surface World War II remains. In London, we saw new and old buildings side by side (some that survived the bombing and some, now replaced, that did not), and some vacant lots that remain in silent memory of the war. In Germany, the old-adjacent-to-new was even more pronounced, bomb damage was evident in many places, and even Anita and Jürgen left a spot on the back of their house damaged during the war — their own personal memorial. In reference to a concentration camp memorial near their home, Anita remarked: We must never forget, but some things are too painful to remember everyday. Shortly before we left, they both shared with us their gripping childhood stories of surviving the war (just writing this brings tears to my eyes again). Anita's family escaped to the West, but Jürgen's did not.
Although not a birding vacation, in and around cities combined with rural Hamwiede and Jürgen's seed feeder, we logged 68 German Life Birds.
In August, Jim took another vacation from Gold Butte, this time to check off a bucket list item that has been in the works since he was 17 years old: to complete the John Muir Trail (JMT) in the Sierra Nevada mountains of California. When Jim was 16 and 17, he walked all but the southern 44 miles of the 212-mile trail. Liz dropped Jim off about 29 trail-miles south of Mt. Whitney with the intention of picking him up far to the north. The JMT actually ends atop Mt. Whitney, the highest point in the continental US (14,505 ft), so Jim had to hike up there first. After making the summit on day 4, Jim started hiking north. With high hopes of completing at least the remaining 44 miles, but prepared for 200 miles, Jim developed painful shin splints on the evening of the 5th day. After hobbling north for two more days and completing 32 JMT-miles, Jim had to quit and hike out early, completing only 70 miles total. Liz picked him up, and on the way home they started planning a trip next summer to complete the remaining 12 miles of the JMT. It will take many more than 12 to complete those 12 miles, but much of the joy of travel is in the planning, so the quest continues with many happy days ahead.
In October, Jim was recognized by his colleagues with the 2016 Trailblazer, Lifetime Achievement Award for his efforts on behalf of public lands, including authoring the website BirdAndHike.com, working on the Basin and Range and Gold Butte monument campaigns, and the mine marker work. The Trailblazer Award is the highest award given locally by the federal land management agencies to volunteers. In the photo, Jim is flanked by the superintendents of Lake Mead and Tule Springs Fossil Beds.
In November, we took a road trip to Portland, Oregon, to share Thanksgiving with Jim's family. It was great to find everyone well, and in what is likely the last time ever, the entire clan assembled, including all of the nieces and nephews. With the kids growing up and striking out on their own, we don't expect to ever see them again in one place at one time.
Liz took the year off from her 3rd-grade classroom. She has been using her extra time to spin wool, knit and sew, take some classes on spinning and card-weaving, and build friendships with people in the fiber arts community. Mocha refuses to sit in her lap, even when she knits. For Thanksgiving, when the entire 18-member clan got together, Liz made a hand-knit hat for each person, but she also made several extras so that nobody would get stuck with the last hat that nobody wanted. Some of the yarn was even hand-spun. Liz continues to cook too much - we will both be eating less in the new year [oh, right!], and Liz is spending more time in the gym. We trust everyone had a good year, and we wish you'all great success in your next endeavors.