the ripple effects of one small life
Partner-in-journalism crime Emilie and I recently took a weekend reporting trip to Estes Park – our version of a mini vacation – to see how things are looking post-flooding. We were interested in the town itself, the damage and the repairs in process, as well as how things were looking inside Rocky Mountain National Park – in particular in the Fern Lake wildfire burn zone.
…Aaaaaaand we were also pretty psyched to find a double room in a hotel with a hot tub for just 66 bucks. Perfect.
We found our way down to Fish Creek Road, more than 3 miles of which washed away during the flooding. The damage was indeed as dramatic as it had seemed in the photos that I had seen in news stories online – Emilie and I were both sucked into a photographing-and-filming vortex that lasted over an hour before we’d realized it. Here’s a multimedia slideshow from the Fish Creek Road damage.
I just posted this piece on The Boulder Stand to help share what we found at Fish Creek Road.
I do think it’s important to point out, however, that Fish Creek Road is about as out-of-the-way as a road can get in Estes Park. It is not a major thruway; it’s rather on the far eastern edge of town, at the bottom of a hill, on the far side of a neighborhood.
Estes Park has indeed sustained damage, but it is very much alive and well – we even caught the Elk Fest over the weekend, and the incredible Elk Bugling Contest! (see links below…)
And I think the town would appreciate me saying this: if you are willing and able to make the roundabout (but beautiful!) drive to get there via the Peak-to-Peak highway, it is open for business.
And now more than ever, it needs it.
This story was actually born on a plane.
I found myself seated beside one of the staff of Simple Energy as we headed east from Colorado, each with a vacation-work trip combo ahead of us. With my head in a fog preparing for a whirlwind weekend with family and a month-long journalism fellowship in Norway, it’s a wonder I could hold a conversation – but I found his work fascinating.
…And when I returned to Colorado, still riding high after a phenomenal experience with The Barents Observer reporting on climate change in the Arctic, I contacted said seat-mate and began working on this story.
Speaking with the company’s co-founders as well as some of the researchers behind its strategy, I learned that Simple Energy uses a fascinating behavior change approach to reducing energy use: the trick is to get people to act as if they care, without worrying about getting them to actually care. This means motivating them to “do the right things, for the wrong reasons” – like getting them to compete with their peers (or team up with their neighbors) in a game-like, online, energy-efficiency-social-media format.
In other words, get people to compete for prizes and kudos and save energy in the process, rather than get them to believe that excessive energy consumption is destroying our environment and hope they change their individual energy use habits… Because, well, that’s really really hard to do.
But that’s enough of a teaser. You can read the rest here.
Stories can start anywhere. Thanks for the great plane conversation that led to this one – you know who you are!
Probably not the smartest thing we’ve ever done… but aspiring intrepid reporter Emilie and I went exploring the west side of Boulder last Wednesday, scoping out the areas hardest hit by the flooding of September 12-15, 2013.
We headed west on Arapahoe, with the roadside silt getting thicker, and piles of wet furniture and torn up carpet in front yards seeming to grow more frequent as we approached the edge of the city, where the neighborhood ends and the foothills begin.
We found the office building at 100 Arapahoe completely by accident. Emilie and I had hit a road block where Arapahoe turns and meets Canyon Boulevard – west of the city where it begins its climb into the foothills, Canyon was closed to all but emergency vehicles – so we swung back around and explored a bit more of the end of Arapahoe. ”I wonder if this road is open…”, she said, as we turned onto a road with water still running down one side and debris piled up along the other. The parking lot was eerily empty, although a few workers from Xcel were up in a bucket apparently fixing some power lines.
We crossed the parking lot to get a closer look at the debris sticking out of the mud – a ream of paper, bits of plastic, a book, an end table. It was clear it had all been washed out of somewhere…
And then we saw the source. Just above us, hidden by trees and a pile of massive boulders and dirt, was an orange colored building… split in two pieces, leaning at an impossibly precarious angle, spilling the contents of its rooms through broken windows. And making tiny creaking, ticking sounds. I don’t remember either of us speaking for a few minutes.
I’d actually seen the building before, in photos taken by my bosses/editors/professors extraordinaire Tom Yulsman and Michael Kodas a few days prior, but hadn’t realized that we were anywhere near it. It was a terrifying, awesome (in the literal sense of the word) sight to behold.
Emilie and I are working on getting a few interviews to tell the story of this building, including with a woman who moved out of her office just a few weeks before the flood because of a “premonition” that something awful was about to happen… Watch this space.
For now, here is, I hope, a video that comes as close to the experience of stumbling upon this building as can be conveyed, without putting ourselves in any more danger than we probably already did.
Chris Carruth and I have been saying for a long time that we need to collaborate on a photo project… let’s just call this a teeny tiny beginning to that process.
Chris recently completed his MA at the CU Boulder journalism & mass communication program, where he was a regular and talented contributor to The Boulder Stand. His photography encapsulated the changing seasons – leaves in autumn and epic snowstorms, even in time lapse, in the late winter – as well as the devastation of this summer’s Black Forest wildfire.
In typical fearless fashion, Chris and his camera hit the soaking streets of Boulder, Colorado in September, just as the historical flooding began. These photographs depict what he saw – shock, disbelief, fear, merriment, acceptance, recovery… and more water than most anyone in Boulder can remember ever seeing. I put Chris’ photos into a slideshow, and added the sounds of the Boulder Creek, still rushing and frothing as it runs down Boulder Canyon, where there is normally a clear and near-silent river.
The sun was shining again in Boulder yesterday, a welcome sight for waterlogged eyes. As a resident of Denver who works & studies in Boulder, I had not directly experienced the devastation of the pummeling rains and the flood waters they sent raging down the mountainside – it is incredible what a difference a few dozen miles makes. Instead I had been monitoring events as closely as possible – via social media, the news, phone contact with friends and colleagues and a livestream of the Boulder and Longmont police scanners – from the relative safety of a very wet but relatively unscathed city.
By Monday, I had been given a first-hand look at how natural disasters create opportunities for journalists – my supervisor and adviser at the CU Boulder Center for Environmental Journalism, Tom Yulsman, had been asked to write a piece for Time Magazine on the Colorado flooding. With a tight deadline and an ambitious story to tell, Tom asked me to help him research and report for the article. Michael Kodas, assistant director of the CEJ as well as a CU instructor and journalist like Tom, also worked on the story. It was, to say the least, an exhilarating experience to be part of such an operation.
The result is a fantastic story – written by Tom, with reporting from myself and Michael – just posted last night on Time. It explores and interweaves the personal stories of some of the thousands of people affected by the flooding, as well as the scientific and climatological explanations of how such an epic event occurred – clarifying terms like “1,000 year rain” and “100 year flood,” and how their confluence, combined with other geographic, meteorological and social factors, led to possibly the most devastating flooding in Colorado history.
I am honored to have collaborated on this story with two stellar environmental journalists, who believe in my potential to become one too.
You can see more photos from this building and the surrounding area, on my website.
Today Julia Nelson and I are lucky enough to have our non-profit, Atsika, featured on Operation Philanthropy, the wonderful blog by Renee Houle that shines a spotlight on small-scale but high-impact projects in the sector. Suddenly Atsika is more than a year old, and it is so heartening to be recognized for our slow but steady efforts to improve access to education and create options for sustainable livelihoods in the Ankarana region of northern Madagascar. Please give the blog a read and consider supporting our work!
And here’s an enormous shout-out and thank you to Brendan Hieber, founder of Human After All, for putting Renee in touch with us – and for dreaming of donating part of his hypothetical million dollars to our organization! : ) (I’d do the same for you.) Check out Brendan’s description of his work to support child laborers in Peru, and consider supporting him as well.
Suddenly it’s been over a month since returning from Kirkenes, Norway and an incredible experience reporting from the Arctic. The US Embassy in Oslo has just posted a little news bite about the Arctic journalism fellowship that brought me there, with a little plug for Alexis’ (the other fellow) and my work.
Still hatching plans to get back to the Arctic sometime soon… Watch this space!
An enormous thank you again to the US Embassy, the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, and most of all the wonderful folks at the Barents Observer and Barents Secretariat for such an incredible opportunity.