Archive for January, 2010

“We’ve not had very many visitors to the Grand Staircase Monument, and those who have come look at it, and kind of look around and say, “This is a national monument? Wait a minute. Why is this designated as something particularly special?” because, quite frankly, it’s not. It’s not the kind of thing that visitors to America, or visitors from other parts of America
coming to Utah, expect to see in either a national monument or a national park.”

This quote comes from Utah’s Senator, Robert Bennett. It is part of a new John Howe documentary on Utah wilderness  (Wilderness: The Great Debate: February 3, KUED, 7 p.m.).  I spent a lot of time working in the towns at the edge of the Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, and was hiking there in a wild canyon on the day President Clinton made the declaration. I swear I felt something change, once this amazing landscape had permanent protection. Senator Bennett is currently involved in engineering a number of rural county wilderness processes, and this is yet another indication that this guy is the wrong guy to be in charge of something as important as this.

Perhaps it’s my age, but I didn’t throw anything or swear when I read the Senator’s comments. It could have been that this is no surprise from this man who seems to speak an entirely different language when he talks about what parts of this amazing state are worthy of protection. Or it could be that I’ve been doing some research on tourism, reading some interesting papers about motivation which have made me think that the same place can be the site of a full spectrum of different experiences.

According to a 2007 survey by the Travel Industry Association, 25% of people planning on taking a trip are interested in a ‘spiritual’ experience….something that adds meaning to their lives. I know I’m taking a risk here, suggesting that time spent in the wilds is somehow “spiritual”, but I don’t care because I believe that it is.

While looking for information on this phenomenon I found a reference to a paper written by Alex Norman, a graduate student at the University of Sydney (Australia). In it he mentioned “the plane of meaning” in tourist experience, with ‘recreation’ is at one end of that plane, and ‘pilgrimage’ at the other. I contacted him because that idea fascinated me. I asked him about intention, and how what we desire or expect from our travels determines where, along that plane of meaning our experience falls. (In the back of my mind was the difference between how Senator Bennett and I feel about the Grand Staircase). Norman told me that “the awe, natural grandeur, and the sense of the numinous that wild places can provoke in people can be a real and legitimate tool for creating meaning, psychological healing, and of course, a refreshing change from the city.”  How has Senator Bennett missed this? Perhaps he doesn’t look for meaning in wild places. Perhaps he doesn’t believe that meaning in possible in wild places. Or perhaps, he’s just not all that interested in meaning because he already has some of that. (more…)


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I'm sitting on the edge of the Utah Wilderness Coalition's "Mary Jane" unit, east of Moab/Photo by Chris Noble.

In his book, Nature and Madness, Paul Shepard said that “civilization is a veneer”. I think he was referring to Carl Jung’s concept of modern self or the outer, conscious world. Beneath Shepard’s  ‘veneer’ exists is a core where we all have  “a secret person, undamaged”.  Carl Jung referred to our ‘core’ as the “Two million year old man”alive in all of us, as our archaic self (the inner, unconscious world).

The Wilderness Act of 1964 laid out the reasons to save wilderness, many of which made the assumption that modern humans need things like places that have retained their “primeval character and influence”, that are affected “primarily by the forces of nature”, and have “outstanding opportunities for solitude”,  for example.  What Olaus Murie and Howard Zahniser might not have considered during the years they spent writing the Act, (more…)

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Last weekend, over the course of three days, I facilitated the creation of a mural at Club Red Afterschool Program in Moab.We had Thursday and Friday afternoons with the kids, who were mostly high school age (12-18). Participation is optional, so I was warned that getting them to do much of anything would be difficult- Lots of texting and such.

Moab student posing in front of mural

On Thursday afternoon, after some coaxing and bribes of pizza for later, eight or so students sat around a butcher paper covered table and doodled with markers. The instructions were: “Draw from your imagination”. The conversation that was going on during the drawing helped to determine the objects drawn. There was a lot of self-doubt about the ability to draw well/realistically. I had to really convince them away from such self-consciousness and tried to model drawings that were obviously not realistic. The conversation that was going on during the drawing helped to determine the objects drawn. (more…)

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Spent the afternoon working with the teens in Moab on a mural. We began with imagination-based drawings and then transferred the ideas to the wall. I particularly enjoy the Ibex.

More pics tomorrow. Stay tuned. (more…)

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Watching the Salt Lake City news during the holidays, I saw a story on the fact that scientists have found a strain of tuberculosis that is resistant to any drug we’ve made. The story moved onto our growing use of soaps classified as “antibacterial” which is contributing to the creation of ‘super bacteria”.

I started thinking about this in terms of our on-going, three billion year-long process of evolution. One key reason that our species made it this far: our dependence on our amazing immune systems to constantly confront and destroy any bacteria, virus, or parasite that might challenge our survival. (more…)

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I posted this last week to the Trivani Field Notes blog, but wanted to pass it on to Great West readers as well…
I am so excited to pass on this report from Uganda I just received today. Moses Echibu, one of the field staff at Asayo’s Wish Orphanage just sent me this email that includes photographs of a new mural on the girls curtain latrine at the orphanage. As an “art student”, Moses has continued to work with the children, allowing them opportunities to be expressive and creative with paint. (The paint was left from the first mural undertaken at the Orphanage in September when Megan and I were there last. ) Thanks Moses!


hi chris,
how are you ? did you have a merry christmas ? i hope so !!!! we had ours with the orphans and it was so nice and lovely. the kids would love to know how you enjoyed your christmas. i told them that you are in the winter, i explained to them how very very cold it is there in the US. they were like how did you manage to enjoy your christmas. (more…)

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By Chris Peterson and Brooke Williams

THESIS: We propose that facilitating and investing in the creativity and imagination of the next generation is perhaps our greatest hope for a sustainable future on Planet Earth.

The ArtParks Experiment is designed to produce an urban parkspace development model for application in urban and suburban areas that is driven by grassroots processes involving art, local leadership, and a network of community relationships and resources.

BACKGROUND: Richard Louv’s bestselling book The Last Child in the Woods provides strong evidence that direct exposure to nature is essential for healthy childhood development and for the physical and emotional health of children and adults. Nature Deficit Disorder, as he calls it, is the product of children not spending enough “unstructured play time in natural areas”. Based upon our own experience, we agree and think that imagination and creativity are the perfect vehicle for a grassroots approach to this problem.

In response to the idea that children in urban and suburban areas are the most susceptible to Nature Deficit Disorder, Great West Institute began work on rethinking the urban and suburban parkspaces and the ideas of David Sobel‘s place based-education. The result is a multi-phased pilot project dubbed (more…)

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