A Mountain of a Man

erc1I met Randall Ercanbrack on a morning walk in Provo’s Rock Canyon. It was early, but he was already coming down off the trails. Come to find out: Ercanbrack chugs up Y Mountain in Provo or West Mountain near Payson nearly every morning, carrying a 35-pound pack and scaling 1,500 vertical feet before heading back down in two quick hours.

I was humbled. Even more so when I discovered the talent and accomplishments behind his ruddy face and friendly, open demeanor.

Ercanbrack spends about half the year running his family orchards in Orem, Genola, and Payson. He’s a fifth generation farmer with about 67,000 cherry, peach, and apple trees on 400 acres. Read more at UtahStories.

erc2During the off-season, the 58-year old heads to the mountains – and I don’t mean the Wasatch Front. He’s climbed many Himalayan peaks, including Mt. Everest (twice), Mt. Kilimanjaro in Tanzania, Aconcagua in Argentina, and most recently Chimbarazo, Cotopaxi, and Antisana, three of the highest peaks in Ecuador.

His love of the journey and his joy in “getting out” started young. Before he could drive, his mother (who died in 1985 of Lou Gehrig’s disease) would drop him off in Lindon and give him a dime to phone home. He’d call when he got to Sundance, after hiking up and over Mount Timpanogos.

“The summit is over-rated,” said Ercanbrack, as he showed me photos of far-reaching accomplishments and of climbing companions. He paused to remember many; Ercanbrack lost eight friends in the disastrous avalanche on Mt. Everest this April.

“There is joy in the journey, the weather, the travel, the gear. I like to go with someone I love. And there is a certain amount of freedom in getting up and just going.”

The wiry, barrel-chested man told me farming has made him a more patient person and more patient mountaineer. “I work with Mother Nature and Mother Earth every day. On the mountains, it’s very, very challenging. If you try to fight nature, you will die.”

Randall Ercanbrack with climbing companions, including his daughter, Haley Ercanbrack.

Randall Ercanbrack with climbing companions, including his daughter, Haley Ercanbrack.

Ravens jerk my chain

ravLast month, I thought I was saying ‘Good-bye.’

The quintet of raven babies, born in a large nest atop a juniper tree just a hundred feet from the house, finally left their nest. For weeks, the young ones and their attentive parents had captured my attention. Their cries, which started out barely audible, had steadily developed to loud barks that seemed to fill our neighborhood canyon.

With binoculars, I watched Mom and Dad bring sundry delicacies – mice, small birds, grubs, lizards, and bits of garbage. At their arrival, the nestlings automatically popped their heads up. Their mouths, balanced tenuously on skinny, pink necks, flew open.

After more than two weeks, the nest was all but bursting at its seams. The babies stood, stretched, flapped their wings, pecked at insects, and otherwise gave me the firm impression that they would, at any instant, fly away.

Alas, they seemed to taunt and tease me. I was that over-attentive parent, standing camcorder-ready for those first baby steps that just wouldn’t happen. They carried on for a week, sometimes hopping to the edge of the nest, nearly falling out, only to scramble back in.

rvOnce they fledged, I thought I’d seen the last of them. Turns out ravens are hangers-on. I left for a 2 ½ week road trip to Maine and back. The fledglings are now nearly indistinguishable from their parents, but louder and more clumsy as they fly around the ‘hood. They often perch side-by-side and squawk up a storm, like rowdy, rude kids glued to the living room TV, “Hey Mom, got any more pizza? Mom, Mom!”

Soon, I’m going to dig myself into books like Mind of the Raven: Investigations and Adventures with Wolf-Birds by Bernd Heinrich, a University of Vermont professor, or Bird Brains: The Intelligence of Crows, Ravens, Magpies and Jays by Candace Savage.

This rambunctious crew, full of personality and smarts, is literally too hard to ignore. I need to know more.

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Breaking ice with beanbags

The Old Goat was one of my favorite leisure spots when I lived back in Maine. The Richmond pub became an even bigger fav when I learned about its regular games of cornhole.

chhFor the uninitiated, cornhole is a game of tossing bean bags onto an angled platform which has a hole in it. Points are awarded for getting beanbags in the hole or on the platform. It’s fun (but as with any game, folks can get a tad competitive).

I thought the Goat was special and that only my friends and I had discovered the humble virtues of this simple game.

Not so!

Americans visiting the British Embassy in Somalia have taught the Brits to play.

U.S. soldiers in Kyrgyzstan have taught the Kyrgyz Republic soldiers to play, too.

And at the 21st Birthday celebration for the Uinta Brewing Company…you guessed it, cornhole!

I’m coming to understand why cornhole can be such a fun and popular game:

  • Unlike pool, darts, or croquet (other games often played with drink in hand) no one is likely to get hurt if tempers flare.
  • Unlike poker or softball, the difference between good players and crummy players is not insurmountable.

“We love cornhole,” said Uinta’s Will Hamill. “It is a great team game and brings camaraderie to the brewery. And you can have a beer while playing.“

Yes, research of aforementioned international reports shows that beer is often part of the equation. And, as with all things dug by UtahOutsider, you can play it outside!

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Uintah Basin on Screech

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For our trip to Maine, we decided to avoid Interstate 80 and travel along the lesser-known Route 40 in Utah and Colorado. We’d camp and check out the Rocky Mountain National Forest and Park.

Route 40 runs through Duchesne, Vernal, and serves as the thoroughfare for the frenzied fossil fuel production of the Uintah Basin. Half of the traffic was semi-tractor trailers, rigs dedicated to hauling out the extracted material and sending it on its way. One driver told me he does 12-hour shifts, six days a week. The truck, however, goes non-stop. As soon as he’s finished for the day, another driver takes his seat. The rig has clocked hundreds of thousands of miles in just a few years.

(Apparently, they didn’t name the town Gusher, Utah, for its sugary fruit candy.)

By serendipity, the other half of our traffic was scores of Maseratis, Ferraris, Porsches, Rolls Royces, and the like, running in the high-end Gold Rush Rally.

IMG_0651What a scene.

Imagine, lil’ old me, putzing along in my Toyota, dogs riding shotgun, when dozens of quarter-million dollar sports cars scream by, effortlessly going 100 miles per hour. They passed each other on steep bends, like kids playing tag or leapfrog. Photographers hung out of Rolls Royce convertibles, capturing white-teeth and white-knuckle moments.

Alas, they need gas as much as us common folk.

I caught up with them at a pit stop in Duchesne. Steve Goldfield (I’m assuming it’s his nom-de-guerre and not his real name.) told me they do 150-200 mph when no one’s looking.

Steve, a Gold Rush Rally participant, from California

Steve, a Gold Rush Rally participant, from California

I waited in the crowded ladies’ restroom with several Gold Rush gals. The women were clad in anything gold, one-piece gold body suits with wide slits for, em, ventilation? Gold-colored rhinestone ball caps, gold stiletto sandals, gold stretch jeans.

“Did you see that deer?” said a woman with gold-tipped finger nails to her friend.

I’m assuming she meant a live one, but most of the animals I saw were dead: deer, rabbits, beavers, and prairie dogs. Hundreds of prairie dogs. Literally tons of roadkill.

It seemed like wildlife, like the rest of the outdoors here, is getting run over.

Read how fossil fuel pollution is impacting neo-natal health.

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An Arid Climate…and we’re not talking weather

A recent ride in the Oquirrh foothills, looking East.

A recent ride in the Oquirrh foothills, looking East.

Fabulous.

That’s my typical response when asked about life in Utah.

And it is.

The open space and the agreeable climate suit me to a T. I’ve been so enamored with the Beehive State, I nearly forgot about Maine’s own fabulousness.

It struck me full force during this week’s visit to my hometown of Brunswick.

While much of Utah was drying up, frying up, and otherwise turning several muted shades of grey and brown, Brunswick fairly oozed with rich hues of green.

Interestingly, the same contrast can be observed among small businesses. Here in Utah, especially in the Salt Lake suburbs, independent, small businesses are few and far between. The conditions seem arid and unfriendly for any business unsupported by a national chain.

But in Brunswick, independent gigs rule. Along Maine Street, local businesses outnumber 536579_10150775930341067_53369536_nfranchises or chains by a 7:1 margin (by my estimate).

They’re good. They offer unique value. They’re full of familiar faces. For them, having a ‘vested interest in the community’ is not a catch phrase; it’s something they put into practice every day.

I’ve been researching business friendliness:

Utah usually ranks in the top three states, according to Forbes magazine’s annual review. Maine typically ranks 50th. Read what Mainer Will Hamill, who brews beer in Utah, has to say about this.

It’s so bad that Utahn Alan Hall recently visited to speak at the Maine Real Estate and Developers Association Conference. He offered his two cents on how to get the ball rolling; recommending reducing regulation and corporate taxes.

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Flipside, another local business on Maine Street, Brunswick

That might be helpful for big business.

But what about the little guy?

Small business, after all, is where I want to put my money. When in town, I drink my coffee at the Little Dog Coffee Shop. I taste gelato from Gelato Fiasco, snack on pizza from Flipside, buy a belt buckle from Frank Brockman and books from Gulf of Maine Books. They make up part of this vibrant community, voted 13th Best Small Town in America by Smithsonian Magazine.

Paul Harrison, owner of Little Dog Coffee House, nodded when I described Utah’s depressing dearth of independent companies. He recalled a similar climate in Florida, where he’s spent time.

“Local people just didn’t have the mentality to support these kind of businesses,” he said.

Harrison suggested that certain towns have a distinctive culture and mindset that supports local and eschews national, anonymous chains.

“Whether or not the state is business-friendly has very little to do with my business success,” said Harrison.

How to engender local-biz friendliness seems to mystify many Utah municipalities. Maybe they should import some Maine consultants on how to inject a little green into their desert-like, chain-dominated scene.

Read related story on Utah development and disappearing farmland.

Brunswick Maine Street at dusk

Brunswick Maine Street at dusk

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