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When fall arrives to the Rockies

Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016

Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016

Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016 Sometimes fall comes gradually, over the course of several weeks such that one is hardly aware of the looming change. Leaves transition from green to yellow to red to brown as the Sun traces lower and lower arcs across the sky.

But sometimes fall comes on the tail of gusting winds so strong that trees shed their leaves in a single day, and the temperature marks the change of seasons from sunrise to sunset. No matter the velocity, when winter approaches, fall descends upon the Rockies with bold display and vibrant array of all that will soon be buried in snow.

Kai Staats: Buffal Peak Ranch, Sep 2016

By |2016-09-25T23:38:45-04:00September 24th, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on When fall arrives to the Rockies

The axe and the fire

Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: chopping wood at Buffalo Peak Ranch

When I was in primary and secondary school, our family heated our home in Columbus, Nebraska with a wood burning stove. My grandfather Raymond would deliver logs from the timber on our farm in Iowa. He drove eight hours round trip, two or three times each year. This was his gift to us, fuel prepared by his own hands in order that we could heat our home at a reduced bill.

My job was to check the stove when I returned from school, as I was usually home before my brother Jae or my parents. I removed the ashes if the fire was out, added wood and stoked the flames. We kept a pot of spiced cider made from unfiltered apple cider, one or two slices of an orange, a tea bag, cinnamon and cloves. The aroma filled the house, from the basement where the stove was held, to the entire upper floor.

I learned that when the stove reached 600 degrees Fahrenheit water droplets no longer boiled away, rather, they bounced around the surface of the stove, retaining their full form. They could even be guided by my blowing on them. After a half dozen, eight, or even ten seconds they absorbed too much heat, the invisible layer which kept them isolated no longer a protective barrier. They stalled and vaporised. I was fascinated by this process, adding salt or sugar to learn if I could increase the time they would survive the tremendous heat. But all I accomplished in my experiments was leaving stains on the matte black stove paint.

Each winter weekend my father would head into the backyard to chop wood. As a boy, I recall him being quite strong, with arms the diameter of the logs he was about to take on. Yet in a recent conversation, my father reminded me that the world looks quite a bit bigger when we are small, our admiration exaggerating further still.

I recall his boots breaking the surface of the hard, icy mid-Western snow. The sound of the axe neatly slicing a log in two was such that I knew, even if turned the other way, if the cut was clean. I stood the logs, one by one on the chopping block, a large diameter stump which received the blade when my father cut through.

For wood too wide for an axe, my father used a sledge hammer to drive a steel spike deep into the grain. The sledge hammer raised overhead drove the spike out the other side. The crack of the wood was a telling sign that the placement of the blade or spike was just right, or if it would jam. We’d stack the split wood on the side of the house or in the garage, carrying an arm full each into the basement to place on the brick flooring which supported the stove.

This past week, here at the Buffalo Peak Ranch, a hint of winter arrived. Nights in the low thirties give way to crisp mornings and afternoons whose warmth is waning. Three evenings last week I maintained the wood burning stove into the night, sleeping on the futon just across from the source of heat. Sometimes I wake in the early AM to stoke the flames, adding three or four more logs, then crawl back into bed.

I am now returned to chopping wood as I was three years prior. Again, I am the one driving the blade into the grain, hoping for the CRACK! and two or three pieces to fall to the sides. As with tending to a garden, repairing furniture, and baking bread, splitting wood with an axe is wonderfully gratifying. It is a workout and a meditation combined, for one must choose the end and the approach at the same time. Avoid the knots! Gage the distance. Focus on the blade arriving to the bottom side and bring it through. A slight twist can provide additional kinetic energy to bring the blade home, or send it glancing, shaving only the bark from the outside.

In just one hour I can prepare ample wood to heat the cabin for a few days. An afternoon of work and I am set for a week. What adds to my reward is this is a renewable resource, if managed properly. Nearly every gram of the mass of wood is sunlight captured, photons from a distant nuclear furnace, stored as fuel. The electromagnetic radiation coupled with water, carbon, and nutrients from the soil is given a second chance to provide warmth, on this planet. The ultimately re-use, recycle.

By |2016-11-18T01:22:09-04:00September 19th, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on The axe and the fire

When Wilderness is Again Found

Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, moose Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, moose

Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, flower Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, straw berry

Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, fishing Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, falls

Kai Staats: Wigwam Wilderness, markings When we are again made to feel small, insignificant, and vulnerable.

When we take steps forward without looking behind.

When we disconnect with the virtual and reconnect with the physical and lose track of time.

Then we know we have returned to the wilderness of our heart, body, and mind.

By |2016-09-19T01:03:41-04:00July 6th, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on When Wilderness is Again Found

When Wilderness is Nearly Forgotten

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, buffalo

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, flower Something happened to me in my two years in South Africa, and subsequent past seven months in Phoenix, Arizona—I became accustomed to living in a city. For the first time in my adult life, I was losing a connection to wilderness.

Since I was 16 years of age and went on my first solo backpacking trip in the Superstition wilderness, there has been this place inside of me that remembers what it means to feel at peace, to truly be at home.

That place has for thirty years connected me to wilderness, the last remaining places on this crowded planet which have no power lines overhead, no pipelines underground, no human crafted water ways or walk ways or roads. Places where the otter and beaver, deer and elk, fox and coyote, wolf, bear and mountain lion yet maintain their domain. Places where the birds nest not on man-made structures but in their original, natural habitat.

I often wondered how those who are born and raised in a city, those who venture to national parks as temporary relief but long to return to the concrete do look to the open spaces and natural places that remain. In my time in Cape Town I longed for the time I enjoyed at Sutherland, home of the South African Astronomical Observatory. The land that surrounds the 6,000 foot observatory is open range, criss-crossed by roads and fences, yet vast, mostly untrodden, and incredibly quiet. It was as close to wilderness as I was able to enjoy during my time in South Africa, and a welcomed respite.

Slowly, I gained an appreciation for living in a country where friends were but a phone call away, arriving with a bottle of wine on a moment’s notice. In time, the conditions of the surf determined how I spent my mornings and I grew accustomed to the clockwork of the city, from the train schedule to the hours of the local restaurants and hangouts. There, I built some of the deepest friendships of my life.

Upon my return to Phoenix I longed for those connections, for those walks on the beach and intellectual discussions over home made bread and South African wine. While I grew up investigating the far reaches of the American Southwest, exploring mountain tops and canyons, river ways and caves, the wilderness had, for me, retreated to somewhere, out there, beyond my reach. I no longer believed the wild places existed, for the news, the media, nothing spoke to me of where I could go to be removed from the overwhelming human condition, to be alone with my own challenges and not those of the entire planet.

I was aware of this, and spoke of it to family and friends. I knew I needed to be reminded of what it was to be in a place outside of the human domain. Last week I returned to Buffalo Peak Ranch. For the summer and into the fall, this will be my home once again. It took no more than the hour drive from the nearest town, into the valley where the buffalo do roam, to remember what it means to be free.

No, this is not wilderness, but in a ten minutes drive or thirty minutes run I can be in wilderness again. It’s just over there, on the visible horizon. Once again I am reminded of what it means to be free of the sound of engines, sirens, alarms and talking, talking, talking. Once again, my body is flooded with the embrace of silence and solitude.

Every hour of every day is my own. I wake to the sun on my face. I swim in the cold pond following my workout. I go for long hikes with camera in hand between longer sessions of email and programming. I make time for making food. And sometimes, I just sit and do nothing.

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch

Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, flower and bee Kai Staats: Buffalo Peak Ranch, coyote

By |2017-04-10T11:17:31-04:00July 1st, 2016|At Home in the Rockies|Comments Off on When Wilderness is Nearly Forgotten

Into the Forest

Once again, I have moved into the forest.

The place where I am most at home, where each hour of each day is mine to own.

Into the forest and the distant, chaotic heart beat of the city is but a fading memory.

Here, the only sounds are those over which humans have no control.

We cannot stop the aspen from quaking, the thunder from shaking, nor the rain from falling.

Into the forest and I feel I am once again … home.

By |2016-06-28T02:33:08-04:00June 28th, 2016|At Home in the Rockies, The Written|Comments Off on Into the Forest

When the Coyote Calls, The Gathering

This story concludes When the Coyote Calls. The prior chapter is Part V

“I don’t believe this is a good idea Lion,” stated Bear.

“It is the only way,” she responded.

“He may not understand. He may not understand the reason, our intent.”

“Then you must help him to understand, when it is done.”

“How?” asked Bear?

“Talk to him. He trusts you. You know him.”

“But he will feel betrayed.”

“Yes. At first. But he will come to understand,” said Lion.

“I don’t know,” shaking his wide head, “I just don’t know.”

Coyote shuffled his paws, pulling at the back of the right front to remove something from the fur with his teeth. He did not look up, apparently uninterested in the conversation.

Bear said, “Coyote?”

Coyote paused, hesitated, and then looked up, “No amigos, es not for me to say. I will bring him to you. Si, es what I will do. No mas.”

Bear shook his head again, frustrated with Coyote’s response.

None of the three said anything for some time. A small but heavy cloud momentarily blocked the sun and the temperature fell. A breeze shook the cottonwood leaves, a coordinated ensemble sustained for just a few moments. The smell of looming rainfall touched each of them.

Bear was the first to speak again, “Ok. It is the only way. And when it is done, I will be there.” He stopped, looked to Coyote and Lion, to the cloud overhead which would soon give way to the heat of the sun, and concluded, “I just wish there was another way.”

Coyote was alert again, looking up from the back of his paw, “Muy bien amigos. I go now?”

Lion responded, “Always eager for the chase, aren’t you?”

Coyote did not respond, but stood, stretched, and without a word, trotted down the trail, in the direction of the meadow and cabin.

“Now, we wait,” said Bear.

By |2019-10-05T15:18:09-04:00July 15th, 2014|At Home in the Rockies, Dreams|0 Comments

The Bliss of Solitude, a Return

Since my departure from Buffalo Peak Ranch in late November 2013, I have shared the story of my time there with both those familiar to me and those who remain strangers. A few share my passion for solitude, for they have experienced it too. Some nod their heads, knowing, deep inside that time off-line, time alone would bring them insight and joy which cannot be found by any other means. But most are simply horrified, shaken by the very concept of being alone.

To those I ask “Why? What scares you?”

“You mean, without internet?” I nod. “I love my iPhone too much,” laughing, “and could not live without Facebook.”

I wait, as the joke subsides, they continue, “It would be good for me to have that time alone. I know it would be good for me. I just, … I just don’t know if I am ready for that, to be alone … with me.” This final statement is often accompanied by fidgeting, an uneasy glance at empty hands, or reach for the mobile phone again.

I have received this honest response more than a few times now, enough to recognize that it likely sits behind the verbalized and non-verbal fear of being disconnected, of living off-line. To be alone is not the real concern. To be with oneself, that is the real challenge, for in that place, we must face the reality of who we are when no one else is around.

By |2016-07-01T23:21:50-04:00May 31st, 2014|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

“A Telescope Opens the Mind to a Larger World”

“A Telescope Opens the Mind to a Larger World”
A TEDx talk for TEDx Frontrange, Loveland, Colorado
22 May 2014

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 In April of last year I was in rural Tanzania, working on a documentary film about Astronomy, how it opens the mind to a larger world.


Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 I was fortunate to meet Chuck from the US and Mponda from Tanzania at a secondary school outside of Arusha. Through the organization Telescopes to Tanzania, they introduce hands-on science education to the classroom.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Following a series of interviews with both teachers and students, I was packing my gear when a young learner Catherine said, “Sir, may I ask you a few questions?”

I had just risen from my chair to break down my camera and tripod, and seated myself again, “Yes, of course.”

Catherine asked “Is it true, … that we live outside the Earth and not in it?”

I smiled, I almost laughed. I pointed out the window at the sun and clouds of the pending storm as assurance we were not underground. But Catherine was quite serious. Mponda, who was seated to my left, nodded, saying, “This is a serious question. You need to answer it.”

I said, “I apologize. Can you please repeat your question.”

She made the shape of a ball with her hands and asked, “Do we live on top of the ball or inside it?”

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Now I didn’t know if I should laugh or cry, but I realized that she was talking about celestial spheres—an ancient concept in which the Sun, Moon, planets, and stars are all reside on multiple sphere of some unknown substance, that the entire universe is contained in a very small ball.

I confirmed that we do in fact live “on the ball” and that the Earth is in orbit around the sun, and that our sun orbits the center of our galaxy. And she was relieved. and then went on to ask questions about how we predict the weather and if she could grow up to an airplane pilot.

Catherine had looked through a telescope just one month earlier, and it had got her thinking, asking questions. Now, she was craving more. I assumed she had missed a few lectures, or was not paying attention in class.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 I later interviewed a geography teacher who having looked through a telescope for the first time a year earlier, saw the moons of Jupiter in the eyepiece. He recognized that they were in orbit, like the Earth around the Sun. It was then that he realized we live outside of the Earth, not inside it.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 He sat back in his chair and folded his arms across his chest, “I see now that the other planets move around our Sun too, and our Sun orbits around the center of our galaxy. The galaxies,” he laughed the laugh of one who is about to say something profound, “there are so many galaxies we can’t even count them all,” he continued, “It makes me realize how very small we are.”

The phrase, “I see how small we really are,” was repeated over and over again by those I interviewed during the making of this film.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Elvirdo, a secondary learner in South Africa shared, “At first I thought that the Moon was inventing its own light. Then I learned the Moon is an object which reflects light and I wondered, where does this light come from?”

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Willie, a retired psychologist and astronomer in upstate New York expressed, “The kids were blown away by what they could see through the telescope. If that can kindle some interest in science, then we have really done something.”

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Laure, a French PhD Astronomer at UCT shared, “Unlike a microscope which helps us look to the parts of which we are made, a telescope helps us see something much bigger, the greater universe of which we are a part.”

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Why does any of this matter?

We wake up in the morning, pour a cup of coffee, drive to school or the office. Eight hours later we head to the gym or return home again, eat dinner, catch-up on Facebook and watch a few videos on YouTube. Day after day, week after week, year after year, we do this over and over again.

Knowing how the Universe was formed 13.5 billions years ago does not change the fact that our phone bills are due and taxes must be paid by April 15.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Let’s consider that right here, at the edge of this stage the earth just stopped. If I take one more step, I will drop off and never come back. What if beyond the western slope of the Rocky Mountains or off the coast of California there was a drop from which you would never return.

That world is filled with fear.

What if our entire world was in fact contained within a crystalline ball beyond which we could never travel? How would the stories we tell our children differ? What would be our hope for the future?

Fortunately, the work of Galileo, Haley and Newton proved the Earth is not contained within a celestial sphere, and that indeed, we are very small.

Astronomy is unique in that it engages all of the other sciences.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 When we look through a telescope we engage engineering and physics for what we see and how we see it. Telescopes make use of some of the most advanced technology on the planet.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014

When we look to our closest neighbor Mars we see polar caps and massive dust storms; what we believe to be ancient river beds and deep, carved canyons. Geology helps us understand what may have happened there based upon what we know happened here, on Earth.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 We look to the light of distant stars shining through nebulae and recognize the chemical signature of the elements we have here on Earth.

Did you know that ten years ago we sent a spacecraft through the tail of a comet and discovered an amino acid. To date, we have discovered more than 1800 planets in orbit around distant stars. We are able to analyze their atmospheres for chemical composition and average temperature.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 Now, we are talking about biology and the potential that life is not unique to our home planet. In fact, it may not even have originated here at all!

There are an estimated 11 billion Earth-like planets in our galaxy alone, and more than 100 billion galaxies in this universe. It is impossible to have this discussion without discussing philosophy.

I want to share with you a short segment of the film which inspired this story.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 To be clear, a lack of understanding for our place in the cosmos is not unique to sub-Saharan Africa or those in under privileged school systems, but around the world with the highly educated too.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 In your lifetime, we will become an interplanetary species, living, working, even reproducing on the planet Mars. This journey started 400 years ago with a very simple instrument.

Kai Staats: TEDx Frontrange, Colorado, 2014 I encourage you to make time to look through a telescope, and then embrace those conversations that unfold.

Thank you.

The Memory of Silence

Tonight will be my very last night here at Buffalo Peak Ranch. This place has given me six months of peace, solitude, and healing. I have found what feels like who I truly am for the first time in my adult life. Such comfort with being me. Amazing.

There was a time when the entire planet was like this place, free from noise and congestion. Just fifty years ago we did not have the constant buzz of aircraft overhead. One hundred and we heard only the sound of horses and wooden wheels. Two hundred–just six generations prior–and we were not even to the Industrial Revolution.

Now, there are only a few places remaining on this globe which are free of human clutter. Audible, physical, tangible infiltration of every sense during our entire life, from first breath to last gasp.

We even have cliche terms such as “tune out” to pretend this noise is acceptable. I have failed to find the switch inside which disables the long term detriment to my soul. I now know, I have solid evidence that nothing, no amount of meditation or insulated walls or power vacations will ever replace the healing of nearly two hundred days and nights of perfect, natural silence.

I hope only that I am able to maintain this sense of solitude and peace inside, no matter where I travel. No matter the traffic, the rumble, the sirens, the tension in the density of viral human populations on this planet–I hope I will recall what it meant to watch the sun set and hear those sounds which never ever tire–the wind, the fall of rain, the occasional bugle of the elk and nightly call of the coyotes–the perfection of absolutely nothing.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00November 25th, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments

The Bliss of Solitude, Revisited

In this place of solitude, there is no room for blame. There is no one to receive the pointy end of my finger, but me. As my days unfold into weeks, and weeks into the close of four months, two of which I have spent almost entirely alone, I recognize that the challenges of being me do not fully subside.

Instead, my anxieties, my fears, my resentment, contentment, and joy all remain completely present and accounted for. Not a day goes by that I do not experience a mixture of two or more of these.

Yes, alone, they are no longer murky, no longer confused by the complexity of relationship with another human being. I am alone, and in this aloneness, have come to experience all of me in perfect clarity.

I cannot help but consider the old man in the cave, the monk sworn to a monastic life, or the shipwrecked sailor who for years is stranded on what would otherwise be a paradise.

We simultaneously cherish and shutter at the thought of that path, that journey, knowing full well the challenge of working through your own internal, broken stuff is as difficult, perhaps more so, than learning to be with another. Or are they the same?

Perhaps. Perhaps not.

Only in publishing this did I rediscover an entry of the same title, on a similar subject, written a year prior. Interesting to revisit and compare my experience of solitude, a year later, both times after having lived at Buffalo Peak Ranch alone.

By |2017-04-10T11:17:36-04:00November 22nd, 2013|At Home in the Rockies|0 Comments