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  Sierra Magazine
  November/December 2008
Table of Contents
 
  COLD SWEAT:
Ice Manliness Cometh
A Six-Dog-Power Engine
I (Heart) Snowshoeing
Skiing Yellowstone
Freeze-Frame
 
  MORE FEATURES:
Welcome Back to the World
Rotten Fish Tales
Big Fun in the Green Zone
 
  DEPARTMENTS:
Spout
Create
Enjoy
Hey Mr. Green
Smile
Act
Explore
Grapple
Comfort Zone
Mixed Media
Bulletin
Last Words
 
  MORE:
Sierra Archives
Corrections
About Sierra
Internships at Sierra
Advertising Information
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Sierra Magazine
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Spout | rant, react, chat, blather
November/December 2008

Letters, editor's note, and corrections | Web-only letters

Broken Bones Versus RSI


A Web site called Stuff White People Like got so much buzz recently that it spun off a New York Times best seller. The Sierra Club is striving mightily to diversify. Still, at least two-thirds of the more than 100 things listed on that Web site at last count--for example, #23: "microbreweries," #25: "David Sedaris," and #75: "threatening to move to Canada"--might also have made a list called "What Sierra readers like."

"Being offended," I should note, is #101. But as pale as I am, the list doesn't offend me. Except for item #9: "Making you feel bad about not going outside." Because I will not let anyone, regardless of race, creed, or color, make me feel bad about making people feel bad about not going outside.

In a way, nudging people off their couches was the theme of this year's Outdoor Retailer trade show in Salt Lake City. The world's makers and sellers of tents, boots, kayaks, and roof racks realize that unless kids start hiking, backpacking, and paddling more, the industry will soon have no one to outfit.

Speaker after speaker at the show recited a litany of problems with 21st-century children of every ethnicity: They're fat, they're depressed, and they're so sheltered that few ever have a chance to break a bone. Instead, today's kids are increasingly afflicted with repetitive strain injuries because they spend so much time joysticking virtual starships and stolen cars across 60-inch plasma TVs.

These industry folks, who sink lots of money into refining the materials that make dome tents waterproof and headlamps lighter and brighter, see initiatives to get kids outdoors as another investment. They're not alone. For years, the Sierra Club's Inner City Outings and Building Bridges to the Outdoors teams have coaxed young people into backpacks and river rafts, knowing that lessons learned in the wild are uniquely powerful in shaping the human spirit. That sometimes they forge leaders.

The Sierra Club is again working to elect pro-environment candidates up and down the ballot, but in recent years Club policy has precluded publishing their names in Sierra. As an alternative, I'll paraphrase the speaker at Outdoor Retailer who asked his audience to imagine a moment 20 or 30 years from now, when none of the political leaders making decisions about forests and wetlands have ever backpacked along a stream or paddled through cattails.

It's that scary thought that compels me to exercise my right to nag. So as soon as you finish reading this issue, please go canoeing through the Everglades or skiing in Yellowstone, or at least climb a tree in your local park, preferably with a child in tow. —Bob Sipchen, editor in chief

Comic Reactions
Comic-book-style art ("Cool Schools," "Staring Down Doomsday," September/October) appeals to the child in 62-year-old me. The cover was outstanding.
Marlene Hellman
Piedmont, California

I was incensed to receive the issue of Sierra with the comic book cover. I tore it off immediately.
Shirley Dunn
Minneapolis, Minnesota

Stoopid Sheeple Scooters
If you really want to get the American sheeple to ride clean, electric motor scooters ("Enjoy," September/October), hawking a nearly $10,000 example (MaxiScooter) is perfectly stoopid.
J. Keith Brown
Dallas, Texas

Wrong About Right
OK, already, I get it: oil bad, polar bears good ("Create," September/October). But saying "the notion that we should try to anticipate the consequences of our actions, and take responsibility for them on behalf of future generations, is anathema to the right" is just plain stupid. I know. I'm conservative, and I belong to the Sierra Club.
Bruce Carnes
Springfield, Virginia

Bashing Bass
I just read "The Hunt for Clarity," by Rick Bass ("Ponder"), in my copy of the Slavering Shooter. Wait, it was in my September/October copy of Sierra!
Evan Jones
Sacramento, California

Had it been a human he was stalking, Rick Bass's claim that he "was meant to find and take this animal" would have marked him as a homicidal maniac.
Steven G. Kellman
San Antonio, Texas

Blogorrhea
I like fresh lobster flown in from South Africa on my hikes. Sometimes I take along manatee jerky or bald eagle burgers too. If I can afford the outrageous cost of it, I take along panda patties as well.
Jim (commenting on a Green Life blog post on backpacking food)

Corrections
"Bold Strokes" ("Grapple," September/October) converted knots to miles per hour incorrectly; five or six knots is six or seven mph.

"Ten That Get It" misstated Warren Wilson College's partnership with Asheville, North Carolina. The college has a climate alliance with the city, and it buys carbon offsets for all its electricity use, but the two are unrelated. "From Zero to Hero" referred to the EPA's RecycleMania competition. RecycleMania is a project of the College and University Recycling Council; the EPA is a sponsor. "Five That Fail" misspelled the name of the College of William and Mary's president, W. Taylor Reveley III.

Contact Us Tell us what you think about Sierra. E-mail sierra.letters@sierraclub.org or write to us at 85 Second St., 2nd Floor, San Francisco, CA 94105. Please include your name, city or town, and e-mail address or daytime phone number. Letters may be edited for length and clarity.


More Readers Spout Off Web only!

September/October 2008 issue

In years past I could draw from Sierra much of my inspiration, sustenance, hope, and validation that what I do as a Sierra Club volunteer matters--for our Earth, for our communities, and for our loyal members who are proud to be a part of what we call the Sierra Club.

The September/October "college" issue of Sierra pretty much destroys all of that. I wonder what we can expect if the carefree editorial attitude of that issue continues. One can debate the merits of a six-page comic book in the magazine or odes to pointless consumerism (yak-wool fashion wear?). But when on one page Sierra promotes off-road motor vehicle riding, on another has an ad for power boating, and then prints all of two sentences on the successful Wild Sky Wilderness campaign that has excited Pacific Northwest Sierra Club members like few other conservation efforts, I have to ask what the purpose of the magazine is, and who is making the decisions about it.

For five decades Sierra Club volunteers around the country have fought to keep motorcycles, 4x4 vehicles, and snowmobiles out of critical wildlife habitat and pristine backcountry areas. For nearly as long we have faced an organized opposition funded by the companies that manufacture the off-road vehicles. Now Sierra has a hip article that promotes a new electric off-road motorcycle as ecofriendly. A zero-emission vehicle that emits vast dust clouds as it grinds trails down into ruts, terrorizes wildlife, churns soils into mud that washes into creeks, and chases hikers off backcountry trails.

I suppose this all heralds a Brave New World of outdoor recreation, with marketing experts planning motorcycles that are painted with alpine wildflowers, emit soothing digitized sounds of birdsong and bubbling brooks, and have tires made from recycled hiking boots. Sierra will be there to promote the cool new toys as a way for readers to save the planet with their consumer dollars, with off-road vehicle manufacturers helping to pay for the magazine. Meanwhile, in a nod to our quirky history, Sierra has a couple lines in the back to mention the successes of a few doddering activists who prefer to visit the natural world on their God-given feet and still toil in their quaint efforts to preserve real wilderness.

Quite a vision for Sierra and the Sierra Club--congratulations to the me-generation promoters who came up with this one.
Mark Lawler
Seattle, Washington


"Staring Down Doomsday" (September/October 2008)

In the September/October 2008 issue of Sierra, the info-comic "Staring Down Doomsday" portrays the "true" story of "some high school students from the Bronx [that] hit the Appalachian Trail and face their fears," discussing, among other things, global warming and rising sea levels. One of the students says, "My family's from Puerto Rico. It's an island. The ocean could wash over it." The next student says, "Same with the Dominican Republic."

Question: Is that really what is being taught to these students?

Inconvenient truths: Puerto Rico features a central mountain chain where the largest mountains rise up to 1,338 meters above current sea level. The Dominican Republic is home to the four highest peaks in the West Indies, rising 2,760-plus meters above current sea level. Which global-warming/rising-sea-level hypothesis supports the notion that the ocean could possibly "wash over" Puerto Rico or the Dominican Republic?
Leonard Blatsky (submitted by e-mail)


While I loved seeing New Jersey's section of the Appalachian Trail in "Staring Down Doomsday," two comments are in order. Even though it's New Jersey, litter is not generally a significant problem along the trail. And hikers should be aware that swimming is permitted at unguarded ponds only on federal land, that is, the Delaware Water Gap National Recreation Area. On state land it is prohibited. This means "yes" at Hemlock Pond but "no" at popular Sunfish Pond and Surprise Lake, all along or close to the trail.
Bob Moss
Bloomfield, New Jersey


"Profiles in Courage" (September/October 2008)

After reading this fine article, I was shocked at the number of high-level resignations over the current administration's anti-planet policies.

What surprised me in this day of spin is that you associate maverick as a good term. Our single most important goal is to keep a self-described maverick out of the White House.

I'd love to see ads of the cowboy and the maverick.
Guy Lofts (submitted by e-mail)


It is easy to assume that charges of "suppression of science" against the current administration must always be true. After all, numerous examples of egregious cases do exist. However, not all such charges are in fact true. In your article "Profiles in Courage," you highlight Christopher De Rosa and his allegations of suppression of science at the CDC. You cite as the "heavy" in his case Dr. Howard Frumkin, who is the director of the Center for Environmental Health at the CDC. It is true that there were problems with the study on formaldehyde in FEMA trailers, and it is true that there were problems with the Great Lakes study on cancer and mortality rates. What is not true in this case, however, is that either Dr. Frumkin or the CDC suppressed good science in favor of political agendas or to protect themselves or others.

Anyone who knows Dr. Frumkin--a widely respected man who has served on the national board of Physicians for Social Responsibility, was for a long time the lone voice at the CDC advocating attention to global warming, and in general has dedicated his life to public service and the protection of the environment and public health--knows that he has too much integrity to allow such things to happen. His decision to not release the Great Lakes report has been recently supported by the Institute of Medicine, and Congress's investigation into the CDC's role in the FEMA trailer study has found no evidence of political motivation or suppression in that study's handling.

The Sierra Club should have done more investigation on this and not simply reprinted allegations found elsewhere. Had you done so, you would have realized this is not a true whistle-blower case or a case of political suppression of science. If the Sierra Club chooses to look into this now and discovers the larger story, it should consider printing a retraction or correction to restore the good name of Dr. Frumkin.
Julie Mayfield (submitted by e-mail)


As a longtime supporter of the Sierra Club, I am deeply disappointed in a recent "Profiles in Courage" article. Much of the article, including the claim that Dr. Christopher De Rosa was reassigned for expressing his views, appears to have been recycled from other sources without fact-checking or verification. A more thorough examination of the facts would have revealed a far different story.

With regard to the FEMA trailers, the Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry (ATSDR) issued a report in February 2007 that evaluated formaldehyde levels in new unoccupied travel trailers. The report was authored by Dr. De Rosa's staff. A few weeks after the report was released, Dr. De Rosa identified an omission in the report. His concern was promptly transmitted in a follow-up letter to FEMA, the agency that had requested the original report. Agency scientists later recognized additional shortcomings, and the agency reissued a more complete and clear report in October 2007. The ATSDR and the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) carried out a range of additional studies on formaldehyde exposures among Hurricane Katrina victims to better understand the significance of the problem. The CDC's landmark study of formaldehyde exposures in occupied travel trailers led to significant changes in current practices for emergency housing. Your readers can review this work at cdc.gov/nceh/ehhe/trailerstudy.

With regard to the Great Lakes report, Dr. De Rosa supervised preparation of this report between 2001 and 2007. When he presented it for release in 2007, significant scientific deficiencies were evident. Accordingly, I did not clear the report for release and directed that these shortcomings be corrected. This was routine scientific vetting, not "suppression" as your article suggests. According to an independent assessment recently conducted by the respected Institute of Medicine, "most of the concerns expressed by ATSDR regarding the 2007 draft were valid, especially as related to the health data used, the contaminant date used as indicators of exposure, and the juxtaposition of the health and exposure data." The data, according to the IOM, "were summarized and described in a manner that could encourage the reader to reach conclusions not supported by evidence. Key conclusions in the 2007 draft were either not clearly stated or, as in the executive summary, overstated." Your readers can review these documents at www.atsdr.cdc.gov/grtlakes (where there is also a link to the IOM report).

Every day public servants work to protects the environment and public health. They often work against seemingly insurmountable odds to advance science, implement programs, and help people understand how to protect themselves and their families against environmental pollutants. These professionals--many of them Sierra Club supporters--work in agencies like the ATSDR and CDC and are true profiles in courage for their persistence and selfless dedication to the cause of environmental health protection.
Howard Frumkin
Director, National Center for Environmental Health/Agency for Toxic Substances and Disease Registry, U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
Atlanta, Georgia


"Carbon Confessional" (September/October 2008)

In "By the Numbers: Slim City" ("Grapple," September/October 2008), the per-capita carbon dioxide emissions in tons for 2005 ranged from 1.35 to 3.45. The source was the Brookings Institution, but a caveat included at the bottom of the graph was: "Data does not include industrial and non-highway transportation sources."

However, "Carbon Confessional" identifies nine carbon footprint calculators online. The author calculated carbon footprint, then varies by what looks like a factor of three. The article states "you might as well simply contemplate the 20 tons of CO2 the average American produces each year" (source: U.N. Development Programme's 2007-'08 human development reports). This is nearly ten times the Brookings Institution graph referenced above.

On page 80 the article continues with the quote: "'I don't feel we're ready for carbon calculators,' says Arpad Horvath, an associate professor of civil and environmental engineering at the University of California at Berkley. 'The science isn't there yet.'" The concept of including indirect emissions totally confuses things and leads to double counting and other problems.

I do what I can to try to reduce my environmental footprint, but until the engineers and accountants can come up with the rules of the game, I can't put much stock in carbon calculators.
John Sheerin
Bloomingdale, Illinois


I'm not Catholic, but I feel your intern editors showed very poor taste by imitating (mocking?) a Catholic confessional in the introduction to the article "Carbon Confessional." In fact, I found much of the effort to look "cool" in this edition uninviting. Please bring back your true editor in chief, who hopefully is more aware of the demographics of your membership.
Susan Hunter
Plano, Texas


Might it be better that instead of attempting to present a scientific assessment of carbon counting, especially by those writing with no background in physics or physical chemistry, each of us who are concerned about fossil-fuel consumption merely endeavor to enact the old virtues of frugality, spartan life, and limited consumption of resources? This might start with Sierrans limiting vans and other large vehicles in their routine activities. It might be giving up beer--an extremely energy-consumptive product in its making, container, and transport. Be bold, make such terrific sacrifice, maybe the minivan too. There are lots of things that individuals can do, but they involve giving up luxuries. A little self-discipline is called for, not a lot of complicated accounting for pounds of carbon.
Frank Laraway
Fairhope, Alabama


"Vertigo"(September/October 2008)

Apparently it was media day when you took pictures for the article. Almost every person had either a camera or a video recorder on the Skywalk. I just hope they followed the other rule and weren't packing heat.
Chris Petersen
Sacramento, California


As a frequent traveler to the Southwest, I have experienced many of the landscapes described in "Vertigo." While I find them beautiful, I do not feel the need to attach various grandiose metaphors to them. Rather, I am struck by the abject poverty and destitution on the various tribal lands I have visited. This sense of helplessness and hopelessness was not conveyed in the article, beyond a passing mention. Instead, the author wrote of how the Skywalk allowed many tourists to fulfill their American dream or give them the sense that they could. What he failed to mention was how the new modern-day structures that blight the natural beauty of the Grand Canyon have failed to allow the native peoples to achieve their own American dreams.
Rebecca Kiefer (submitted by e-mail)


I was disappointed when I read "Vertigo" in the September/October issue of Sierra. I think the young author, Dev Das, made a number of critical mistakes with this article and clearly did not do his homework. First and foremost, it would have been nice if he would have consulted with some of the members of the Grand Canyon Chapter to see how we feel about the Skywalk, as well as a number of tribal members who have concerns about it.

In the second to last paragraph, Wilfred Whatoname talks about poverty and addiction, and then on page 52 there is talk of drinking with tribal members. Drinking is not permitted on tribal land. This should have been edited out of the article, and the author should have checked on the laws prior to visiting the tribal lands and then abided by them. When you drive down the Diamond Creek toll road, there is a large sign that has the fee listed as well as the consequences for not paying it. It was extremely arrogant of the writer to think that because they were "writers" that they were somehow exempt from paying.

As a veteran Grand Canyon river runner, I have always believed that appreciating the Grand Canyon is best done by using the minimum tool and with as little fanfare as possible. Hummers, helicopters, and motorized rafting are given de facto promotion in this article. This is out of place in Sierra and is contrary to the Sierra Club mission. There are many problems and issues associated with the greater Grand Canyon ecosystem that this author could have responsibly addressed, including a better discussion of problems the Hualapai Tribe is facing--uranium mining threats, managing recreation and its negative impacts, and air-quality issues related to a proposed cement kiln. This article now becomes part of the problem, instead of part of the solution.
Jim Vaaler (submitted by e-mail)
Chair, Grand Canyon Chapter


Dev Das's story regarding the newly constructed observation platform was definitely interesting, informative, and relevant to questions of sustainable economic development. I feel the story included two unnecessary parts. First, nix the picture of the author. I really don't see the relevance and do not believe that is common in published stories. Second, I fail to see the importance of the author including his flirtations with a random woman boater prior to being stopped by the park ranger. Other activities such as his thoughts as he stepped onto the edge of the Grand Canyon, now that's what keeps me focused on the story.
Joe English
Durham, North Carolina


Dev Das's compelling article about the grandeur of the Grand Canyon was totally exhilarating. He transported me to the brink of one of America's grandest national treasures, and I felt as if I were there beside him exploring a part of the canyon that I missed on my two previous excursions. I will have to now return for a third visit just to experience the magnitude and majesty of the canyon from yet another angle--the new $30 million Skywalk. Kudos to Mr. Das--an insightful and talented young writer. Please feature him in future articles.
Doris Gartrell Anderson
Bloomfield Hills, Michigan


Reading through the article "Vertigo," a quote from the postmodern American novel White Noise immediately came to mind: "National parks fail to touch the heart." The typical summer vacation to a sectioned-off part of America has come to represent a middle-class ideal. And that is all it stands for. The visit does not allow anyone to appreciate the vast majesty of nature. Rather, it is the process through which families can prove to one another that they are just as American, just as average, and just as conforming as everyone else. Grand Canyon National Park is one of the most visited state parks in the world. It has even topped the list on "Places to Take Your Child Before They Are Ten." Why? It's simple. No one goes there anymore merely to appreciate the beauty; they go through the movements for the sole purpose of having gone through them. Striking a pose at the edge of the railing. Faking a smile and snapping a picture. It's part of the new American dream.

Not only have we resorted to pursuing worthless goals, but we've also lost the capability of fulfilling our original purpose. Why do we need to build a glass perch over the canyon? Why do we need to destroy nature in order to appreciate it? It's because we've lost the ability to be alive. We need to feel the thrill, the whoosh in our gut--a rollercoaster ride, the glass floor of the CN Tower, the view from the helicopter flying over the canyon--in order to be reminded that we have life in us. We've lost tradition to technology. We've lost life to money. I feel sad and desperate for these people as I'm reading "Vertigo"; the woman hyperventilating on the Skywalk, the Natives who agreed to the project, the people who built the Skywalk. "When the idea for the Skywalk was proposed, I rejected it at first because I was concerned for the land. But look at the potential this has for our community. We need to embrace changes while still keeping the land beautiful," Whatoname is quoted saying in the article. But he's only cheating himself. Where's the beauty when we've destroyed it? Where's the hope when we've lost our society to consumerism? How can we have confidence in humanity?

I suppose we just have to believe. Call it stupid. Call it blind faith. But there are still good people with great potential in the world. I know a few. One of them wrote "Vertigo."
Juliana Mi (submitted by e-mail)


Great magazine this month! I wanted to comment on the fantastic style of the new young journalists section. Mr. Das's article was a pleasure. I really enjoyed the video component. Keep up the great work!
Jamie Ormond
Montreal, Quebec


My husband and I are avid nature junkies, and we've been enjoying the content lately. Dev Das's article on the Grand Canon Skywalk and the Hualapai told an extremely engaging story while tapping into so many themes of today's America. While my curiosity about the Skywalk kept my fingers turning pages, the piece made it clear by the end that the real story here is about the people of the reservation and their struggle to lift themselves out of degradation, a struggle that we as a nation must face in the months and probably years and maybe even decades ahead. It touched upon the delicate balance between a nation's pride and the money it reaps from the land, as well as how we define ourselves by the importance of place. The piece reminded me of Kenneth Basso's Wisdom Sits in Places, which outlined the ethical code of the Apache and how it tied into the sacredness of place. I'm wondering if the author used that book in his research for the article.
Cloe Jackson
Eugene, Oregon


There is an undertone of sadness in your article about the Grand Canyon Skywalk, that the Hualapai Tribe must, to make a living, sell a glitzy, manufactured, drive-by view of this beautiful space. Would it work for the tribe to offer a more natural way back to nature awareness for over-urbanized moderns? Skilled tribe members could offer courses in how to read the land, find water, identify and use native plants, and a host of other soon-to-be-forgotten lifeways. There would be fewer customers, but they would pay a whole lot more than $29.95 each. This might also support apprenticeships for the next generation of the Hualapai community and would be a whole lot more interesting for them than waiting tables or answering the phone in the Grand Canyon West hotel complex. If the Hualapai Tribe doesn't already have the infrastructure to organize trips and courses, perhaps a Sierra Club partnership could be considered.
Mina Loomis
Austin, Texas


A few issues ago, Bob Sipchen made a comment in the editor's note about environmentalist's rarely having a sense of humor about things. Much of the reason conservatives and Republicans point their dismissive fingers at conservationists for being elites and snobby, or even tree huggers, stems from our tendency to be self-righteous and stuck-up when we discuss our agenda. Occasionally we must take off the Birkenstocks and do what Governor Palin refers to as the "straight talk" to our fellow folksies. (She may be an idiot, but she has a point.) If we expect people to pay attention to the importance of conservation and protecting our environment, we're going to have to level with people and talk to them in a way that helps them plug in to the cause.

I really enjoyed reading the last issue for its unpropagandist, unpatronizing sense of fun. It was really enjoyable to read "Vertigo" because Dev Das conveyed the feeling of discovering a beautiful place that so many people think of as iconic and familiar, while at the same time poking fun at himself and at the situation in which he happened to find himself. I could tell that this man had fun on this journey, and he did an excellent job of sharing that fun with readers. His vitality sparked a desire to seek out the untraveled and unexplored areas of the Grand Canyon. A place I thought I knew. It's a pleasure to read such a fresh perspective.

"Staring Down Doomsday" also really tickled me--way to go keeping things fresh and exciting at Sierra. Lately the magazine has really been hitting some homers.
Rodney Dowell
Brighton, Massachusetts


As I Googled the controversial Skywalk at Grand Canyon West for more information, I stumbled onto an article titled "Vertigo." I have always appreciated that the Grand Canyon was one of very few places that American tourism could flourish in the splendor of natural beauty. My first thought of this Skywalk was something along the lines of "what a tragedy."

"Vertigo" gave me an outsider's view on what it was like to visit the Grand Canyon. The author, Dev Das, paints an excellent picture of his entire experience. He begins his story from a sort of biased view of how this new structure could be the downfall of the Hualapai people. Das does a good job informing his readers about the economic aspect surrounding this Skywalk and how it is going to help uplift the community. The fact that the Hualapai had to choose this structure for the possibility of economic uplift is very disappointing considering they've yet to see change. The video was an excellent supplement to this story as it showed clearly the conditions in which the Hualapai live. Like Das, I was a bit disappointed in [Wilfred] Whatoname at first. I felt as if I was almost betrayed that he was "selling out." As the story continued, though, you knew that Whatoname was choosing to do better for his people.

Das tells a great story that ends up surprising himself. He actually changed my mind about the Skywalk. Being a stranger to the Grand Canyon, knowing nothing of the grandeur of the canyon, his experience made it feel as though I was also there. Das described his first moment with such intensity that just gave me goose bumps. He said, "And there it is, the great mouth agape, her warm, sweet-smelling breath drawing me in from all directions. My toes breach the edge, pushing innocent pebbles into oblivion. No guardrail. Maybe a thousand feet down, the wind carries a couple of clouds across the canyon. Winged specks catch thermals and lift in a slow, vertical spiral, looking for a bite. I force my neck to stretch over the edge. Now I can see over the rock, straight down to the canyon floor. I can hear the abyss's challenge. Come closer ... I dare you." That single moment in time Das mentions is so powerful and vivid that brings you to the edge of your seat. This man is a poet. "Vertigo" is a beautifully written story. I hope to see more of this fellow in the near future. I am looking forward to this series of young writers.
Manan S. Patel
Clinton Township, Michigan


"Seizing the Masthead" ("Spout," September/October 2008)

I know I have no sense of humor, but there is absolutely nothing about the state of the planet justifying such "cute" self-indulgence--posturing and all; as they used to say in "filmic Russian," "Eez to make like puke on."
Perry Bezanis
San Pedro, California


"Enjoy" (September/October 2008)

This is a comment on "Scoot and Save." Your magazine endorsed, through this ad, a vehicle that would shiver the foundations and dreams of John Muir.

Please let me help you to be aware of the potential effectiveness of the Zero X off-road motocross motorcycle. This stealth killer of delicate habitat is not only quiet, it is much more agile and aggressive and accelerates faster than its fossil-fueled counterparts. In other words, the animals, naturalists, and habitat will not even know it is coming.

Greenhouse gases need immediate intelligent attention, but forest and desert preservation has been around since our beginning.
Tom Bond (submitted by e-mail)
Chair, ORV Subcommittee; Santa Margarita Group, San Gorgonio Chapter


As a longtime science-fiction writer and fan, also of Pixar animation and your magazine, I applaud the anti-hyperconsumerism theme in both Wall-E and Charles Solomon's note on the film ("Wall-E's World"). Where both the film's and Solomon's analysis fall down, however, is in failing to address the other great factor in the environmental-damage equation: namely, human hyperpopulation. Global warming, after all, is not only the unintended consequence--the "unplanned pregnancy"--of our long love affair with flame, but also of our long love affair with ourselves above all other creatures, even above creation itself.

Globally, human population is still rising steadily in absolute terms. Too much of humanity still lingers on the wrong side of the demographic shift. Until we address not only hyperconsumption (through simpler lives and real-time, non-fossil energy) but also hyperpopulation (through voluntary reductions in global birth rates), all our "greening" only amounts to spraying slightly less flammable green paint at a forest fire.

It is probably too much to ask a popular, animated family entertainment to deal fully with the root causes of our global environmental mess, but it should not be too much to ask for such thoughtful analysis from a magazine and an organization dedicated to protecting and restoring the quality of both the natural and the human environment.
Howard V. Hendrix
Shaver Lake, California


"The Hunt for Clarity" ("Ponder," September/October 2008)

Bush, Cheney, Palin, and other anti-environment lackeys just love to see division in our ranks. Some "holier than thou" types are making them happy by bad-mouthing sportsmen/environmentalists like Mr. Bass. If fishing and hunting are not your thing, that is fine--but it is foolish to drive away those who agree with 95 percent of your objectives. Hang in there, Mr. Bass--Americans are becoming more tolerant on most issues; hopefully they will soon see the light on this one.
Nick Sabetto
Fort Loudon, Pennsylvania


If Rick Bass truly is hunting for clarity, he is way off base feeling that he "was meant to find and take this animal," hunting a beautiful elk. On just the next page, he could read the fascinating search by Nicole Alper for a glimpse of the sea dragon ("Explore," September/October 2008), or on the following pages Steve Hawk's article on stopping the brutal slaughter of dolphins and whales ("Act," September/October 2008). Someone please give the man a camera instead of a gun!
Holly J. Barrett
Apache Junction, Arizona


I was dismayed to see an article glorifying hunting in Sierra. The award-winning author apparently does not see the contradiction between the exhilaration hunters feel--"our own way to fit into the world, into this rank and bountiful place"--with killing some of their fellow creatures that share it.

One wishes that Mr. Bass with his extraordinary writing skills would channel his enthusiasm for hunting into stalking the magnificent animal for close observation, which would equally require hauling himself "up one mountain and down another, traveling always to deeper, farther reaches, the backsides of places, following tracks and scent and intuition and landscape." Surely few of us hikers have the daring and experience to pursue large animals for close observation; few of us his writing skill to convey the adventure.

Then if Mr. Bass must conclude, as he climaxes his article, that he is "meant to take" the elk he has cornered, let him take stunning photographs that show the kinship he says he feels after they had spent the day together: "But he was weary, like me, and just standing there in the hard rain and blue fog ... breathing hard."

Ironically, the author's way of communing with the seasons and wild places upsets the natural predator balance, as man with his gun, already an unfair advantage, enjoys as sport what for the diminishing wolves, mountain lions, and bears is a necessary activity.

Indeed, one can only wonder how he could actually drag such a large carcass back across those many mountains. For this reader, the image adds disgust to sadness.

Everyone I have talked to is surprised and disillusioned that the Sierra Club would publish an article about hunting, hardly an activity that protects and serves the environment--rather another case of man's interference with the very natural beauty that he aspires to become one with.
Lynne Forester
Tomales, California


I'm a Sierra Club member and a member of several wildlife conservation organizations including the Rocky Mountain Elk Foundation. I love wildlife, I love the land, and I love hunting. Please note that I didn't say I loved killing. I don't.

I'd like to thank the editor at the Sierra Club's magazine for printing Rick Bass's piece on hunting an elk. Frankly, it's about time since hunters deserve credit as thoughtful conservationists who also sink a lot of money into the cause. And I'd like to express my disappointment in the reaction by the majority of the letter writers, especially those who expressed their intention to no longer support the Sierra Club due to the printing of Bass's article. You can take your toys and go home, but the rest of us, including hunters like myself, remain committed and will continue to fight the good fight, protecting our country from selfishness.

Laws referred to as the "North American conservation model" have been amazingly farsighted and successful at bringing modern game populations back from the edge of destruction to record numbers. When you see wild game, you witness the vision of hunters working to enact these laws to both keep wildlife ownership in public hands, not in the hands of private landowners, and "harvest" game animals in a controlled and sustainable manner.

Humans evolved hunting, killing, and eating animals, and hunters assert that humans can treat animals respectfully and eat them. Modern hunters strive for this respect through the "fair chase" pursuit of game on foot and clean shots that bring death quickly. Yes, gun maniacs and ATV enthusiasts call themselves hunters, and the "hunting channel" is often a bunch of nitwits shooting whitetail deer attracted by feeders. Changing the practices of these people will take time, as will changing the stereotypes nonhunters often have about hunters.

Who's your farmer? And if you eat meat, who's your hunter? I hope it's not some feedlot with drugged animals up to their knees in filth. I'm lucky. My meat comes healthy, sustainable, and with a clear conscience.

I know that surprising new science demonstrates that the human brain isn't that exceptional relative to animal brains. Animals have amazing mental abilities, and I believe ancient people understood much about the wonder of animals. Those people recognized animals as gods, not because they were "primitive," but because their depth of understanding went incredibly deep with their lives depending on it. My own hunting is the reason why I can begin to fathom this.

Hunters are good people. Hunters care. My good friend is a vegan who respects my hunting, and I respect the mindfulness that his veganism brings to his life. Rick Bass, a widely published author and committed defender of the things we all love, wrote a piece on killing an elk. Good for him. Believe me, if everyone out there was as thoughtful as Bass, the Sierra Club would be out of a mission. Please shed your stereotypes about hunting and work together with hunters to strengthen the Sierra Club.

And please see Dan Crockett's excellent piece on being a hunter/locavore.
Brink Kuchenbrod
Missoula, Montana


An editorial comment: A 25-year vegan, environmentalist, and member of an intentional community in a wilderness setting, I still learned lots about nature's fragile balance from an old cattle rancher. Didn't like his occupation, but he wouldn't shoot wolf or cougar, as he knew their necessity to the balance. He did hunt a deer each year and knew why that was OK. Read a Rick Bass novel, might change your mind.
Michael Frazier
Salem, Oregon


"The Hunt for Clarity"? Clarity means killing a defenseless animal? Or is Rick Bass "taking" this animal to a safer place? Perhaps you could get Bass to fill us in on the gory, or hopefully non-gory, details.

If his clarity and ego require terrorizing and killing helpless animals, he needs to examine his role as a human being on this planet or, as he puts it, find his way to "fit into the world" without the needless slaughtering of one of God's creatures.
Roxwell Hafdahl (submitted by e-mail)


I am concerned about several things I read in the latest Sierra issue. While I understand that environmental organizations are joining forces with hunters and outdoor industries to try to protect the environment, I see a conflict between these schools of thought and behavior.

Firstly, "The Hunt for Clarity" disgusted me. Killing for sport and to reassert manhood is lame and selfishly abusive in my book. I do not care how eloquent a vocabulary a person uses to write about killing a trapped animal. It is not spiritual and it is not "taking"; it is killing, not protecting. Reduce human population and reintroduce natural predators and allow them to thrive.

If the Sierra Club is going to rub shoulders with and advertise the recreational fishing industry, please teach them to remove the fish lines and hooks from waterways and trees where I have seen many birds and wildlife hanging and tangled in lines. This is epidemic.

I live in Florida and have attended many public hearings to protect wildlife areas/habitats and endangered animals such as the manatee. The boating industry, which you now have advertising for in your magazine, is diabolical. They push to have manatee removed from the Endangered Species Act; they push to develop vital habitat for boating marinas. Powerboaters and fishermen protest speed limits and animal sanctuaries that protect marine wildlife because it interferes with their fun and money. I have witnessed powerboat propellers slice open a sea turtle's head and run over mating manatees.

This does not jibe with the Sierra Club's mission, does it? Are you selling out, or have infiltrators taken over?
Tamera Trexler
Winter Park, Florida


In "Ponder," Rick Bass was smooth in his justification for trailing and trapping a bull elk on what I assume was a bow-and-arrow hunt. Maybe it's because in my 76 years I've seen too much killing, but when he finished with "I was meant to find and take this animal," I pondered much. Killing any creature, including humans, is too easy to justify. I wonder how this article would have been received if he'd ended with "I was meant to find and kill this animal."
J. D. Gallant
Quilcene, Washington


I was very excited when I received a magazine from you yesterday, as this was the first time. When I reached page 15, I couldn't believe what I was reading! I actually almost thought of stopping reading the magazine altogether, but instead I skimmed the rest of the article and continued on through the rest of the magazine with my mind constantly wandering back to this article, thinking maybe that I might have misread it. When I finished I went back to Rick Bass's article and read it word for word. Am I missing something? I thought the Sierra Club stood for the environment. How can hunting possible be promoted as a positive thing? The circle of life should be happening naturally, not by humans knowingly killing animals just because we think we can! How can you justify printing this article in your magazine? I am quite upset about this since in the past I have supported you because I thought you were one of the good guys! I have signed petitions through you and supported you monetarily. I cannot do that anymore if hunting is supported by you.
Debbie Rose-Walter (submitted by e-mail)


I was really blindsided by Rick Bass's lyrical take on tracking down some poor animal before blowing it away. I know hunters will go to almost any length to justify their "oneness" with nature, but I certainly didn't expect to find this sad, sad story in Sierra! I immediately threw the issue in the trash (recycling bin, of course).
Jan Brown
Van Nuys, California


I think you should counterbalance Rick Bass's disturbing essay, "The Hunt for Clarity," by printing Elizabeth Bishop's brilliant poem "The Fish" in a future issue. The contrast between Bass's chilling last phrase--"I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal"--and Bishop's triumphant last line--"And I let the fish go"--is extraordinary.
Maura Stanton
Bloomington, Indiana


I was stunned when I read "The Hunt for Clarity" by Rick Bass. I kept having to check the magazine cover to make sure I wasn't reading Hunter's Weekly or Bloodthirst International. Bass says: "I was meant to find and take this animal." Puh-leeze! And I guess the animal must have been "meant" to be murdered by Bass; nice life's goal for the beast.

I was with Bass in his description of the hunt and his gradually aligning his mind with the natural world (ya know, if he was better at navel-gazing, he could do that anywhere), but why does he feel the need to finish the event off with killing? Why couldn't he just stare at that wondrous beast, let it stare back, and walk away? Or does the clarity come only with the killing? Sad indeed for me to read this in Sierra; I guess you're not who I thought you were.

Oh well, back to my navel-gazing in the woods near my house. Inspired by Bass, I just might go after the next squirrel that wanders by, if "taking it" will give me the clarity I desire.
Tim Brace
Austin, Texas


When I received your September/October issue and started through it, I was impressed and engaged by your new format. Then I got to Rick Bass's boastful article about killing a cornered animal on a hunt. That is as disgusting a story as I have ever read, made more repellant by the fact that it appears in Sierra. What is the Sierra Club's magazine doing promoting a blood sport? That is not a subject the Club should recognize. Bass spoiled the rest of the magazine for me. I hope I never encounter such an article (or Bass) again in Sierra.
Wallace Danielson
San Diego, California


I was absolutely disgusted to read the Rick Bass article, in particular the last section where he describes tracking a big bull (deer?) all day until it was cornered. I fully expected him to finish this by saying that he was so impressed by the endurance and courage of the animal that there was no way he could kill it. But no, instead he felt that "I was meant to find and take this animal." How egocentric can one get? I suppose that if Bass were chased by an armed mugger through the streets of New York all day until he was cornered in a dead-end ally, he would agree that the mugger was meant to find him and take him?

If this is the sort of thing the Sierra Club endorses, then I very much regret having recently renewed my membership.Margaret E. Law
Arlington, Massachusetts


In regards to the cold-hearted, murderous article submitted by Rick Bass of Montana, I have the following comments to submit: This [article] in its entirety disgraces the Sierra Club and contradicts everything we stand for. It is the type of claptrap I would expect to find in the pages of True, Saga, and other so-called men's magazines but not in the pages of Sierra. Bass states the beauty of the hunt, the life of the body, and states that every hunt is special and wonderful. If I were to bet, I would bet he also supports the wholesale murder of the wolves of our mountain states. He implies that his hunting prowess borders upon something masculine and divine. Nothing could be further from the truth. If he wants to realize the pure and awesome awareness of himself with nature, he should leave the weapons in the landfill and relegate his curiosity to the wonderful world of photography and painting. His article should reflect the wonderfulness of being one with nature and leave out the murdersome attitude that he describes as being special and wonderful. An additional benefit is to leave nature intact so that everyone can enjoy the magnificence of other species of animals and the beauty of our landscapes. After all, the elk he so relentlessly pursues and murders has fought the wolf pack, survived terrible winters, fathered countless generations of new elk, defended his harems, and remained true to himself. Doesn't he deserve to live with peace and dignity, instead of dying in front of some psychopath's gun?
Mason F. Braman
Eureka, Kansas


I was very appalled and disturbed to read Rick Bass's' article on elk hunting in the latest issue of Sierra. Why did you publish it? I don't think romanticizing and glorifying the egotistical and wanton killing of wildlife is consistent with the mission of the Sierra Club or of environmentalists in general.
Lisa Dare
La Crescenta, California


In reading "The Hunt for Clarity," I was wondering where this essay was going, why it was in Sierra, but also admiring the author's way with words. When I reached the final line--"I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal"--I suddenly felt disgust for the author, and chagrin at my naïveté.

If the author were honest with himself, and precise in the use of language, he would have written: "I felt, as a result of my egotism, that I deserved the right to kill this magnificent animal just to satisfy my self-indulgence."

I wish that I could use far stronger words that you could not print.
Charles Ostrofe
Oakland, California


As a lifetime member of the Sierra Club for almost 20 years, I am shocked and deeply disappointed to see "The Hunt for Clarity" in your September/October 2008 issue. To feature an article extolling the virtues of hunting, with a rifle, a magnificent elk is beyond belief. Hunting is a blood sport, a remnant of a previous century (or two), not some meditation on nature. "I was meant to find and take this animal" indeed: The author is referring to chasing, boxing in, and killing an integral part of the local ecosystem, solely to achieve a "dream state." Perhaps he needs to exit his dream state and join the modern world. Go ahead, chase your animal and photograph it. Same thrill of the hunt, no senseless slaughter.

Shame on you, Sierra magazine editors, for your poor taste in choosing this meditation. When my wife and I joined the Sierra Club, we expected to see preservation of nature as its thrust. Blood sport? Sounds like Dick Cheney to me.
Mark Mellander
Freestone, California


I was angry and disgusted that Sierra included Rick Bass's glowing, gushing tribute to hunting. Writing such things as "Every hunt is special and wonderful" doesn't fit with my image of the Sierra Club as a "take only photographs, leave only footprints" kind of solid environmental organization. Will an upcoming issue feature an ad for the NRA? Please leave the glories of elk hunting to those Field and Stream–type magazines and put Sierra's energies (and our contributions) to infinitely more important concerns--such as the urgent need for global human population control.
Ann Ornitz
Saint Louis, Missouri


I never thought opening my Sierra magazine would make me so sickened. I have always been an environmentalist and thought when I recently joined the Sierra Club that you would never support and/or encourage the mindless killing of wildlife for someone's sick pleasure. Rick Bass savors his hunting and finishes with his enjoyment of killing an exhausted and innocent elk. But let's not forget he embellishes in killing a variety of animals for the hunt. Hunting is no sport. He doesn't need to kill to survive. How is it ever fair when one has a weapon and the other is just scared and trying to survive? I am so disgusted that the Sierra Club would support this "writer" and probably even paid him. I'd expect that from some stupid hunting magazine, but not you.
Kara Heiser (submitted by e-mail)


I protest your giving a full page to "The Hunt for Clarity," by Rick Bass. As an animal lover, I am deeply offended by the whole article and especially the last sentence: "I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal."

The abuse of animals, including the "sport" of hunting, is a cause for the environmental disaster we are having. The horrible notion that the animals are there for us to "take"--why not say "kill," "murder"?--is the happy sister of bringing to extinction the polar bears and other animals, which you protest elsewhere in your magazine.

A real conservation organization would understand that we have to protect all animals in order to protect the environment and our existence. Animal abuse in all its forms--farming animals, hunting and fishing, fur farms, etc.--is what brought us here. I ask that you stop your collaboration with hunters and fishermen--now.
Ronit Weiss (submitted by e-mail)


The juxtaposition of Rick Bass's commentary, "The Hunt for Clarity," and the interview with Dave Rastovich ("Act") is ironic. On page 15, Bass, indeed articulately, glorifies killing an elk ("I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal"), while on page 18 the "horrific killing" of dolphins by Japanese fishermen is, articulately, lamented.

The senseless killing of any wild animal should be decried, be it an eagle, an elk, a dolphin, a bear, a hawk, or little bunnies. Otherwise, we humans can always self-righteously claim we were "meant to find [and kill]" whatever animal strikes our deadly fancy.
Richard Turner
Sacramento, California


I have long admired Rick Bass's passion in defense of the Yaak Valley, along with his descriptive powers. But it occurs to me that the elk Bass was "meant" to "take" in the last sentence of "The Hunt for Clarity," given Bass's powers of speech, might express other plans.
Bruce Berger


In "The Hunt for Clarity," Rick Bass closes with "He had boxed himself in: He had hopped over a girder work of lodgepole and found himself in the equivalent of a small corral. . . . He was nonetheless, finally, in a sort of wild roofless cabin, and I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal."

A sportsman calls that "shootin' fish in a barrel."
G. B. Ketcherside
O'Fallon, Missouri


I am outraged after reading "The Hunt for Clarity." In fact, I want to cancel my membership effective immediately.

I had no idea that the Sierra Club promoted hunting! I was under the impression that your organization was all for saving the natural world for its own sake, not so that people could blast away at it with rifles. Which apparently Rick Bass is gleeful about, as he states that the start of rifle season is "the ultimate opportunity for bounty gathering."

In his article, after relentlessly pursuing an elk all day, Bass believes he "was meant to find and take this animal." "Take" is a nice word for "kill," isn't it? And "meant" by whom? I think the animal would beg to differ. How about just enjoying the animal and the surroundings by going for a hike? Why does the result need to be death? It is this kind of arrogance that makes me irate. And please don't give me the "we need to keep the population under control" argument, as I don't see anyone culling our numbers as our population spirals out of control and takes over every remaining natural resource.

I will not be associated with any organization that promotes hunting. If I did, I would be a member of the NRA, not the Sierra Club.
Ismael Macias
Sacramento, California


You will not get one more dime from me. I was appalled to read the article "The Hunt for Clarity." It was about a hunter tracking a helpless animal to its death. If I wanted to read something like that, I'd buy a "sports" magazine. Adios, Sierra Club!
Phyllis Hale
Tipp City, Ohio


My first response to "The Hunt for Clarity" was to whip off an angry letter of protest. But on second thought, I'd like to be more precise about what appalls me about this and other similar musings one sees from time to time. It is the flagrant hypocrisy of presenting the hunt as not being about the killing of the animal, but rather pseudo-mystical, quasi-philosophic, self-absorbed, and entitled notions of self-fulfillment that are an embarrassment to read since the premise is untrue. It is about the killing of the animal.

The proof is easy to see. All such musings can be equally true when one is "armed" with a camera instead of a gun. No animal needs to be killed to enjoy the fragrance of a campfire, the breathlessness after a hard climb, or the panorama from the top of the ridge.

Beyond that, take a look at sportsmen's publications; fish and game agency publications; pictures tacked to walls of popular taverns in hunting communities; photos in the homes of sportsmen; the grotesque mounts of antlered heads of deer, elk, antelope, and moose in stores, homes, restaurants, and fish and game offices. Many photos show hunters standing/kneeling with their guns beside the dead animal "posed" in an unnatural manner. There are no accompanying poems or inspirational thoughts included with the depiction of the carnage.

Obsession with the size of the animal killed, Boone and Crockett [Club] scores, big-game records kept by fish and game agencies all point to the primal importance of the kill to the hunter. In my 30-plus years of attending fish and game meetings in Nevada, I've never once heard a hunter talk about "adjusting my pace to his and experiencing the landscape . . . topography, precipitation, substrate, temperature" as Bass writes in his piece. Rather, many sportsmen seem to have trouble putting more than a few sentences together in a meaningful way except to complain about some perceived injustice with the tag allocation system, or to demand a larger quota in a certain hunt area.

The one thing Bass got right was the sense of arrogance and entitlement that characterizes some sportsmen. As he put it at the end of his story, "and I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal." An incredible statement, perhaps, to some readers but not to those of us who frequent fish and game meetings where such utterances are commonplace. I've given this attitude displayed by sportsmen a moniker, "Mother Nature's little helpers." That is, those sportsmen who decide which animals shall live and which shall die based upon their spiritual assessment of the moment when hunter and prey come together. Of course, the spiritual assessment appears to hinge upon the sex, size, antler configuration, and other physical factors.

I hate to see Sierra magazine offer such material as that presented by Bass without equal time afforded to those of us in the majority who do not hunt, who appreciate wildlife alive rather than dead, and who are "equal" owners of the wildlife resource.
Don Molde
Reno, Nevada


I must say that I was appalled and nauseated by the fact that you would find it appropriate to give space to a hunter who glorified his tracking down and slaughtering of a majestic, defenseless animal. It goes without saying that someone in this organization needs to be reprimanded, if not outright fired, for allowing this magazine to be commandeered by members of the right in an effort to find "common ground" with hunters in order to protect the environment.

Although I have been a very longtime member of the Sierra Club, this, without doubt, will be the last time I will donate anything to this organization since it has undoubtedly sold out to Clorox, the NRA, and the others who cloak their efforts to destroy our environment with "green products" and fancy slogans.

You all should be ashamed.
Robert and Cathy Haigh (submitted by e-mail)


Writer Rick Bass states in his article that he felt he "was meant to find and take this animal." He should have just said "kill". That is what he did, so why not just tell the truth? I was so disappointed, disgusted, and heartbroken at the way this little saga played out. He hunted him, tracked him, and then cornered him; for a real hunter and sportsman, that should have been the goal, the real thrill of the hunt, not the brutal slaughter of a defenseless animal. It would have been so much nobler to respect this magnificent creature and his will to survive and let him live.

I simply do not understand man's need and desire to kill.
Ellen Stein
Trinity, Texas


Because of the many good things the Sierra Club does, especially in my state, such as fighting the toll road in Orange County, LNG terminals, the Navy sonar testing on whale migration routes, etc., I have been willing to overlook the Sierra Club's support of hunters. However, the article "The Hunt for Clarity" makes it impossible for me to ignore this flaw in the Club's philosophy.

On first read, I thought, "Maybe this is satire," but by the time I reached the last paragraph, I realized that Rick Bass really enjoys killing defenseless animals. This type of article belongs in a hunting magazine, not in one for people who enjoy and try to preserve nature and all the animals who share it.

I no longer belong to the National Audubon Society nor the National Wildlife Federation because of their support of hunting; now it appears I must add Sierra Club to that list. Unfortunately, I had just renewed my membership, but this will be for the last time unless the Sierra Club changes its policy by opposing hunting and never again publishes an article glorifying killing animals.
Ann Cantrell
Long Beach, California


I have never hunted. Although I have deep concern about such sport as a release of human aggression on animals, I do appreciate the primal call to hunt, the challenge and adventure of the hunt, and the sociability associated with hunting. In this context, I read "The Hunt for Clarity," by Rick Bass, with anticipation of being elevated to a higher plane. The article unfolded with delicately balanced insight and perspective on the crossing life paths of a man and a noble elk--until the final judgment: "I was meant to find and take this animal." I thought I was being led to humankind's beneficence and grace, but I was led to slaughter.
Ronald Enholm
Encino, California


My husband and I have been supporters of the Sierra Club and have regularly donated to support the admirable work your organization does to preserve the wilderness for future generations. However, we were extremely disappointed to read "The Hunt for Clarity."

Hiking in the wilderness, observing wildlife, and leaving no trace behind is how "to fit with all things," to borrow a phrase from the author. Tracking an animal for hours until it is exhausted and cornered in a "small corral" of fallen trees is not. The article's concluding line, "I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal," was particularly chilling. This was not a case of destiny. This was the cowardly and cold-hearted pursuit of an animal for the sole purpose of taking its life. There is nothing "special and wonderful" about that. And to those who would simply call it wildlife management, I would call that an excuse--and a poor one at that.
Lelia Miller
Randolph, New Jersey


I received my latest issue of Sierra and was disappointed to see the inclusion of Rick Bass's essay, "The Hunt for Clarity." Reading about his tracking, cornering, and finally "taking" an animal truly saddened me. And reading his comment "A stepping-up of hunger and its broader, perhaps more interesting cousin, desire" simply gave me the creeps. Confronted with a beautiful creature like the one shown in the accompanying photo, how could anyone think "I desire to put a bullet/arrow into that animal so it dies"? And after tracking that animal all day until it was cornered in a "gnarly tangle of lodgepole blowdown" and killing it, what did he do? Butcher it on the spot and haul it out (presumably all night?) so he could feed his family, or leave it to rot in the wilderness as a silent decaying monument of his "victory"?

Please continue to include articles on hiking in the wilderness, observing wildlife, and leaving no trace behind, but if they come to the same conclusion as this article--an exhausted and cornered animal being killed for "desire"--I may need to rethink my subscription.
Chris Miller
El Cerrito, California


I was disgusted by Rick Bass's essay, the bloodthirsty description of his hunt. Hunting is no longer required for survival. According to a Fund for Animals report, it is estimated that for every one of the 100 million animals hunters kill annually, at least two are wounded and die slowly and painfully from blood loss, infection, or starvation. The recreational killing and maiming of defenseless animals is an aggressive, unnecessary, and obscene act of cruelty and has no basis in a humane society. The essence of the Sierra Club is to respect and preserve our wild places. Not encompassing the wild creatures that inhabit these wild places is totally contradictory.
Joseph Di Stefano
North Tustin, California


I've had enough of futile Sierra Club embracing of the hunting element. Do you think that hunters and environmentalists share a bond of nature appreciation? That hunters support you? I'll bet you a dollar that Rick Bass votes for the McCain/Palin ticket in November. I'll pick up a copy of Field and Stream if I want to read hunting stories.
Philip Ratcliff
Cloverdale, California


In the September/October issue on page 6, I read Carl Pope's essay on the importance of protecting polar bears ("Create"). On page 15, I read about how Rick Bass loves to chase down and kill elk. Then on page 18, I read an impassioned plea to stop the killing of whales and dolphins ("Act"). Am I the only one to see a problem with this? How can the Sierra Club care for the rights of polar bears, dolphins, and whales and not be concerned about the harming of elk (or birds or fish or deer)? Every hunter I have ever talked to gets excited about chasing down their prey and making the kill. I do not know how they can profess to love the poor, frightened animal that they chase down, shoot with a bullet or arrow, and then track it's "blood trail" to finally finish it off. (One hunter described to me in gory detail how his gun had jammed, so he finished off his elk by smashing it over the head with the butt of his rifle. He was smiling and very excited through the entire story.)

Hunters need to admit that they hunt because they love the thrill of the chase and the kill. I am concerned about people who find pleasure in the pain of animals. If anyone doubts that animals feel fear, pain, and distress, please review the scientific literature that shows that they do.

I can understand why the Sierra Club would want to partner with hunting and fishing groups for common goals, but that does not mean that hunting needs to be promoted as a worthy activity. You can still enjoy the outdoors, get exercise, be close to wildlife, and spend time with friends and family, without hurting beautiful animals. The elk have a right to life and freedom, just as Bass does.

Jane Goodall said, "Every individual matters. Every individual has a role to play. Every individual makes a difference." I encourage the Sierra Club to not glorify hunting in their publications. Every individual does matter, whether it is a dolphin, whale, polar bear, or elk.
Richard Schneider
Roseburg, Oregon


I've just read the article by Rick Bass, "The Hunt for Clarity." My wife and I are longtime Sierra Club members and leaders. However, our relationship with the Sierra Club is over.

In his article, Bass blithely starts out with the statement that "some of us will have been out shooting birds in September and early October." Hard to believe this is a Sierra Club publication. Where I live, we hunt birds with high-powered field glasses.

Then Bass launches into the elk hunt with the pretentious statement that "for all of my navel-gazing, I still think it's easier to walk your way into a fit with landscape than to think your way into one." Are your editors unable to see that we're entering the quagmire of self-regarding solipsism? Bass would like for us to believe that he and the elk are similar, even equals, as the day of hunting progresses. However, Bass carries a sophisticated weapon, and the elk carries only his antlers. Despite that fact, Bass concludes that "I felt that I was meant to find and take this animal." Bullshit. The terrible prose reflects the ridiculous thinking. Or "navel-gazing," as Bass prefers.

How you could publish this nonsense in a section of the magazine called "Ponder: Your Place in Nature" is beyond me. What place in nature do modern hunting weapons occupy? If the birds and elk were similarly armed and capable of defending themselves, the hunt might be sporting. The language of the elk hunt is traditional, high-flown, romantic clichˇ, and attributing parallel emotions to hunter and hunted is anthropomorphizing at its worst. There is a large hunting literature of pseudo-mysticism, and it is amazing that you could put this silliness before informed readers. As a teenager, I was a hunter for the very short time that it took me to realize that shooting animals causes them pain and that my shotgun gave me an unfair advantage over them.

I've just finished reading John Muir's Travels in Alaska. During his trip to Glacier Bay, Muir would shake the canoe when the Indians with him attempted to shoot ducks, and he objected to the shooting of deer along the way, despite the fact that the Indians were gathering food, not imagining themselves to be secret sharers of the world of their prey. Clearly this is no longer the Sierra Club of its founder.

So take us off your mailing lists, remove us as members, and forget about ever again getting a nickel from us. This is the end. Instead we'll increase our support of Defenders of Wildlife and the Nature Conservancy.
Gordon and Linda Bainbridge
Greenbank, Washington


Your article by Rick Bass about hunting makes me question my support of the Sierra Club. Why is the Sierra Club glorifying hunting in this article? This is contrary to the goals of an environmental organization.
S. J. Curtis
Greensboro, North Carolina


This is the first time I was aware that the Sierra Club promoted hunting (other than starving people in need of food). I was disappointed and disillusioned upon reading that your publication would print this story of hunting for the pure thrill of the kill as stated in the ending paragraph. Somehow I have mistakenly thought your interest in nature was pure and that meant not to destroy it.
Ella M Rydzewski (submitted by e-mail)


When the big bull hopped over the wind-felled girder work and found himself in the equivalent of a small corral, too bad he did not have a gun or a weapon. That would have been a lot more sporting.
J. Hastings
Lewes, Delaware


In regards to "The Hunt for Clarity": I was shocked and appalled that I would find an article in a magazine that protects and treasures nature about slaughtering elk. Have we not evolved past this point?
Rose Linck (submitted by e-mail)


I am disgusted that in your magazine there's an article titled "The Hunt for Clarity," by Rick Bass, that details his hunting exploits. How can you justify allowing articles aimed at glorifying the hunt into your magazine, when your group claims to defend the environment and animal rights? As if I'm supposed to be happy for him that he's getting exercise tromping around the wilderness while out killing animals, or impressed by his tenacity to follow the animal to the place that "he was meant to find and take this animal"?

I can guarantee you that I would never have donated my very hard-earned money to join this group had I known that you'd be publishing this crap. I'm less than impressed, to say the least. If your mission is similar to this article, you can take me off your mailing list. And fast!
Amanda Ladyha
Chaska, Minnesota


"Act" (September/October 2008)

I couldn't help but be struck by the irony of an article decrying the killing of fish, dolphin, and whales for food by foreign countries ("Wave Riders Unite") sandwiched between ads touting the wonders of sports fishing (takemefishing.org). Would the portrait of the young boy holding his catch surrounded by beaming family members seem as wholesome if he caught a baby dolphin? All creatures feel pain. As a vegan, I can't understand why hooking and suffocating a fish is considered good family fun while doing the same to a dog or cat would land the perpetrator in jail.
Mike Weinberg
San Diego, California


"Grapple" (September/October 2008)

"Biofuel Takes a Beating" reminded me that I recently saw an interview on CNBC with an officer of a company that makes biofuel from corn. He was asked about the effect that using corn for biofuel production had on food supply. His reply was that the type of corn used is the [same] type used as animal feed and not the type consumed directly by humans. Further, he stated that the residue after making methanol from the corn remained a high-protein animal feed that has about 90 percent of the nutritive value of the original corn. If that is true, and if the residue is actually being fed to food animals, then the effect of corn-based methanol on world food supply is being grossly exaggerated.

I also have heard repeatedly that methanol production requires more fuel than the fuel value of the resulting methanol. That doesn't seem credible, but then I haven't been able to find anything that either supports or refutes that claim. It occurs to me that those making this claim are counting all the energy necessary to grow and harvest the corn, which may not be appropriate if the residue is still used as animal feed.

Can someone out there give us the facts? I would like to know if the residue from the corn used in methanol production is as great a source of animal feed as is claimed, and if it is actually being used for that purpose. I would also like to know just how much energy is actually used to produce a unit of energy from methanol.
Ken McCollum
Maryville, Tennessee


In "Biofuel Takes a Beating," Andrew Kimbrell is quoted saying:"crop-based biofuels will continue to deprive the hungry of desperately needed food." This statement begs the question, is he referring to hungry people or hungry factory-farmed animals? In the Northern Hemisphere, the vast majority of cropland is used to grow animal feed, so does Mr. Kimbrell have concern for the feedlot animals that are presumably going hungry because of biofuel production, or is he concerned with people? I urge Sierra to do at least a little bit of research before printing such statements that are obviously misleading.
Steve Del Grosso
Fort Collins, Colorado


The Southern Baptists (of the Baptist's Convention) make me disheartened for their lack of concern over global warming ("On the One Hand ..."). It is not "speculative." It is a real threat.
Sierra Wilde
Longmont, Colorado


Michael Fox's review of the cost of guzzling fuel is way over the budget of most families ("The Times We Might Have Had"). I suppose a driver deciding between a Lamborghini and a Prius would save money on the purchase price, as well as the improved miles per gallon of gas. Even a Chrysler Town and Country minivan might cost more than a hybrid. But for those making less than $30,000 a year, the math is different. A hybrid costs around $26,000. For $11,000 to $13,000, a low-budget car buyer can get a Kia Rio that is not a hybrid, but delivers a respectable 35 to 37 mpg (EPA estimates--in real life, from 31 to 41 mpg). Not quite 46 mpg, but frankly the difference in fuel costs doesn't pay for the 150 percent difference in cost of buying the car in the first place. And the Kia is way ahead of 5, 10, 12, 15, or even 20 mpg with conventional gas-guzzlers. By the time Kia's ten-year warranty expires, we can hopefully look forward to mass-produced, low-budget hydrogen fuel cell vehicles hitting the market, but for now it can be the more accessible way to save greenbacks and conserve fuel.
Charlie Rosenberg
Milwaukee, Wisconsin


"Comfort Zone" (September/October 2008)

Whatever happened to the Sierra Club's concern about urban sprawl? Veteran columnist Reed McManus celebrates the lifestyles of the rich and profligate, adoringly tracing the pilgrimage of a retired dot-com executive from the crowded Bay Area to a "less trafficked desert landscape" where she erects a "relatively modest" 3,400-square-foot "mountain mansion" in a "gated community" to share with her two cats. McManus has no problem with destruction of habitat and a "constructed wetland" in the desert but is critical of "government obstacles."
Roger D. Harris
Corte Madera, California


In "A Bright Idea," Mrs. Suzanne Johnson said she got $3,500 in renewable energy credits she earned for the surplus electricity she transferred to the local utility. My question is, why have the U.S. government and state government not taken advantage of the technology this nation has and used solar power systems to power government buildings? This wasteful spending that the government does has driven us into debt and proven who is responsible for this economic downfall.
Kevin Newby (submitted by e-mail)


Photo by Mike Houska/Dogleg Studios; used with permission.

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