Dear friends

  • Interns Paolo Bacigalupi and Bryan Foster in downtown Paonia

    Cindy Wehling

How Gifford Pinchot got to be chief

In his autobiography, Breaking New Ground, Pinchot writes on page 136 (Island Press edition, 1987) of his decision to accept the position of chief:

"But the position of chief of the Forestry Division was under the classified civil service. Before I could hold it, I had to pass an examination. Since there was nobody else under the government who could do it, I was asked to make out the questions for myself to answer. Before, however, I got a chance to answer my own questions, which were stiff enough in all conscience, President McKinley, at Secretary Wilson's request, covered me into the civil service without any examination at all."

Batteries included

Paonia is not quite ready for the modern age. When a post office employee picked up a box that had the shakes, her first thought was "bomb." That led to closing the post office and a call to the nearest bomb squad, 70 miles away in Grand Junction.

The squad arrived by 11:30 a.m. and by 2 p.m. had removed the box from the building and determined, according to the River Valley News, that the package held an "exotic adult's toy that had had the switch turned on most likely by accident."

Over at High Country News, the long delay in distributing the mail - a police officer kept us and the rest of Paonia from our P.O. boxes - showed that despite faxes and modems and Federal Express, we're still heavily dependent on the U.S. mails. Staff also discovered that we are not as innocent as we look. Most of us guessed correctly what was in the package.


It was higher-degree time at HCN.

Thomas Brill, with a fresh Ph.D. in natural resource economics (groundwater pumping) in hand, came through Paonia to talk about the West. Dr. Brill, an Albuquerque resident, is touring the region looking for advice on how to use his new degree.

Professor Timothy Duane from the University of California, Berkeley, took a day off from skiing Telluride to visit HCN and Paonia. He specializes in rural land-use planning.

Professor William Freudenburg, who did his Ph.D. in the 1970s on Paonia in its former incarnation as a coal boomtown, and who is now at the University of Wisconsin, Madison, made his annual visit here during the Christmas break to see how his former thesis subject is getting along.

Corrections and emendations

First, a correction to a correction. Former HCN board member Bill Hedden of Castle Valley, Utah, says we referred in this column to Moabite Sam Cunningham as a man. Sam is a woman. Our apologies.

Then, a story on coal-bed methane in the San Juan Basin, which ran in the Dec. 27 issue, blurred some of the engineering information. The article said the methane molecules are bound to the coal by the high water pressure. Reducing the water pressure, the article said, allows the methane to bubble out of solution. But Paonia resident J. Richard Guadagno writes:

"The coal is saturated with water, not immersed in it, and the methane contained within the coal is dissolved in this water." Reducing the water pressure by pumping allows the gas to come out of its watery solution, rather than to break free of the coal.

On a related subject, Guadagno warns that while most of the methane bubbles out of water once pressure is reduced, that does not happen with gases like propane, butane and other hydrocarbons found in natural gas deposits associated with coal beds. "I have seen no published data revealing the content of these other gases in the coal-bed water, nor any analyses of local well water which might reveal their presence." Guadagno says this may be important, since the health effects of these other hydrocarbons are not known.

New interns

Though from Montana, new intern Bryan Foster says he hadn't driven through real mountain weather until he headed toward Paonia from Great Falls. On 12,000-foot Loveland Pass, he reports, wind turned the highway to ice and transformed land and sky into whiteness. He saw a tow-truck on the side of the road, sunk in snow, and two semi-truck drivers playing it safe by pulling it over. Bryan made it through the whiteout safely, but the 125-mile trek over the Rockies took four hours.

Bryan graduated last spring from Carleton College, Minn., with a bachelor's degree in environmental studies. During his college years he also started a half-acre organic garden, which students ran, and managed a recycling group.

Oberlin College senior Paolo Bacigalupi is interning at HCN for a month before returning to school for his last semester. Son of HCN associate publisher Linda Bacigalupi, Paolo grew up on Sunshine Mesa just outside of Paonia. He studies Chinese language and culture and worries that he will never find a job in the United States.

* Ed Marston for the staff

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