The Great American Dirtbags

The Great American Dirtbags
The book that you can judge by its cover. $13.99 or cheaper on Amazon, or even better at your local bookstore.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Katrina Blair's Wild Wisdom of Weeds

Katrina Blair’s audience is growing like a weed. The longtime Durango resident’s new book, “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds”, which was just published in November, has already sold out her first print run, and is on its second printing. Thanks to a heightened interest in the subject, and a favorable review in the New York Times, Blair exceeded even her publisher’s expectations by selling out 4,000 books in just a couple months.

Blair completing a walkabout, en route to Telluride, Colorado. 

            Blair, who is the purveyor of the local Turtle Lake Refuge, has spent much of her adult life advocating the benefits of weeds, as well as fighting against the use of pesticides and herbicides to eradicate said plants.

            This book, her second, highlights 13 weeds that can be used for food and medicine. Among those plants are: dandelion, lambsquarter, mallow, plantain and thistle. All the plants listed in the book grow on each of the seven continents. Blair remarks that she, “fell in love with these plants all over again during the writing of the book,” and she even had ten day period during the research where she ate nothing but those 13 plants.

            Blair notes that she considers herself more of an opportunist than a vegan or vegetarian, but feels best when she eats a local food diet. “The more we refine food the more the vitality goes down,” she says. “I thrive on fresh, wild, local food, which gives me a high level of clarity and energy.”

            Blair was raised to be resilient. Her father, Rob Blair, now a retired Geology professor from Fort Lewis College, taught her to ski, hike, and climb. Her mother, Pat Blair, who started Durango Natural Foods, imparted an appreciation for plants and nutrition. “My Dad opened the wild, and my Mom opened the doors to health,” Blair says.

            She was camping in the Tetons before she learned to walk, and started climbing at the age of 10 at X-Rock, a local crag on the north edge of town. She spent her high school years in New Zealand, while her father worked on a sabbatical, and learned to appreciate the value of travel and understanding other cultures.

            Perhaps her most formative and legendary experiences have happened in the form of what she calls a walkabout. Blair simply hikes for days, feeding herself on the food she forages. August is typically the best month, and she boasts that in one day, while hiking to Silverton she foraged 19 different kinds of berries. She’s always had a mystical connection to the land, with plants in particular. “As a kid floating on Haviland Lake (located between Durango and Silverton) I felt drawn to the plants on the edge of the lake, and they seemed to say to me, you’re going to live with us now.”

            And she has. Her most well known walkabouts are the annual week long pilgrimages she makes to Telluride for the Mushroom Festival, where she conducts educational workshops. She lives entirely on the plants and berries she forages, and is so confident in her skills she doesn’t even bother to bring a backup stove. Blair notes that the first three days she is typically lethargic. Then something happens, once the detoxing period is over, her energy reaches an all time high. “By the time I arrive to Telluride I’m riding a high, it’s as good as I feel at any point in the year. It’s like a cleanse.”

            During the walkabouts Blair also touches base with her roots as an explorer of the mountains. “I have this deep, profound, trust in nature,” she shares. “While I’m in these precarious situations I don’t have the luxury to have fear. I trust in myself and my intuition.”

            As a kid her only household rule was: be true to yourself. In all her experiences with edible plants she’s only eaten something poisonous once, a twin berry, that is only considered mildly harmful; the effects were only minimal and she recovered quickly.

            As one could expect the book is full of detailed wisdom and creativity. Blair calls it “heavy”, containing more than 350 pages of information and a complete array of photographs, featuring herself, the plants and many members of the Durango community and Turtle Lake family. Recipes range from Hollyhock strawberry baskets to a Clover Flower Apple Pie to Plantain Breakfast Porridge.

            In “The Wild Wisdom of Weeds” Blair also features her battle to discontinue the use of herbicides in Durango’s city parks. She believes that as a community Durango can lead the way for other communities to discontinue the use of herbicides, which she feels are harmful to those who visit the parks. She says that, “changing anything is challenging, but as we remove those herbicides it does increase our quality of life” and adds that she is “grateful that there has been some success in Durango, and that the City Manager and the Parks and Recreation departments have been a supporter to make this happen.”

             Blair also notes that moving towards eating these 13 plants should be a methodical one, “The integration should be small and slow. Wild food is so potent, starting with your morning green smoothie is a good idea for entry.”

            She attributes her success with the book to the growing environmental awareness of the United States. “The ground is prime. There’s so much awareness right now. It’s a small, yet perfect solution to start using these resources.”

Blair's book: The Wild Wisdom of Weeds. 

This piece was originally published in the Durango Telegraph

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

College Me and The Circle of Life

I awoke in the Indian Creek desert to the sound of a crying baby. I tossed and turned over in the back of my Subaru – it’s always a good morning when I wake up in the back of my car – and sat there basking in a new sort of nostalgia. The tribe is growing.
Modern Day    
            Our tribe, those who believe and know our outdoor experiences define who we are and shape our existences, is constantly ebbing and flowing. New friends, kindred spirits, are essential to recreation, but with Persephone, the crying baby, well, she is truly the first in my circle of friends to be brought this closely into the climbing world.

            Sure, I have other friends who have kids, but most of them procreate and then seem to disappear off the face of the earth. They move to places like Denver, Oklahoma, and Texas; and then they become “the friends I talk to once a year on the phone”. There’s no fault in that, raising children is hard work, and I understand why many of my friends have left Colorado mountain towns for steady paychecks and domestication in the flatlands.

            But Persie, her parents have stayed put, for now anyways, in Gunnison, and are still dedicated to climbing and skiing, and all that comes with that lifestyle. This little sweetheart, she puts a tear in my eye and a smile on my face just thinking about her. So, to say the least, I didn’t mind her crying that cold late November morning. I couldn’t have been happier to have her there.

            In college, when I knew everything, I proclaimed to my parents that I was never having kids. I was sure of it. “There’s already too many people on this planet,” I told them. “Overpopulation is the number one environmental problem, so why should I contribute to that?”

            When I shared this bit of information with a ladyfriend of mine in college she replied, “You’re going to be a lonely old man.”

            I replied with silence.

            I know I’m a failure in the eyes of College Me. Everything was about the outdoors and the environment, and my professors seemed to plead to me, it is up to you to do something. I thought our generation was going to save the planet, and I thought I would be able to curb my consumption and carbon footprint. I envisioned myself driving a car that ran on hemp oil or hydrogen or something, living somewhere in a yurt where I raised and grew my own food, and writing ferociously like Edward Abbey, taking down the machine one sentence at a time.

            And where am I at? Ten years out of college and my Subaru is gulping down cheap gas like there’s no tomorrow. My phone does really cool things, I buy most of my food at the grocery store, and my energy comes from all traditional sources that are contributing to climate change. At least weed is legal though, College Me has got to be stoked about that!

I don’t have kids, but not for environmental reasons; that notion has long faded, my belief now is that the outdoor minded/liberal arts educated folks are the ones that should be procreating. Saving the planet. Impossible. Saving yourself and changing your ways. Difficult, not impossible though.

            The one thing I am proud of is knowing and appreciating the moment. Lose a friend to an avalanche, a motorcycle wreck, or a climbing accident and the truth is revealed: your time here is precious and you are just one-minute part of a complex world. Have you done something you’re proud of? Are you doing at least one thing to put your life in the right direction? Is there someone still around that you really love? Yeah, you may not have grown up to be who you wanted, but is there something that still gives you hope? Then that’s what you live for. At least that’s what I live for. Hope. Friends. Love. The moment.

            I don’t have kids simply because I haven’t met my life partner yet, with a huge dash of good luck, and proper usage of birth control. I know most women want kids, and I know there’s nothing I love more than women, so College Me loses in this argument. Seeing the changes that happen in women from their early twenties to late twenties has been eye opening as well; that biological clock thing they tell you about that never seems real until you witness it first hand.

            I think most single people who are grown adults have that one who got away. Or, maybe more than one. I can fondly reflect on a few. The other day on the phone I was talking with a former lover who I once thought was The One Who Got Away. Eventually I realized she wasn’t, but she is still somehow I highly respect and try to stay in touch with. She is also about to deliver her first baby. Educated, passionate, beautiful, and environmentally minded, I know she’s going to be a great mother.

            Our conversation wasn’t overly profound. It revolved around, what so and so is doing, and how our careers are going, but I noticed she was eerily calm and centered. When we dated and she was in her mid-twenties she was certain she didn’t want a child, but as she grew older, and fell in love again, she realized for sure, she did want a kid. And, so she is.

            As our conversation grew to a close she said something that stuck with me. “You know, for most of our lives we’re preparing to arrive. We’re kind of always in that process of arriving at something.”

            Last week I ventured out to Indian Creek to that same campground where we spent Thanksgiving; I was supposed to meet a friend but I couldn’t find her. The campground, which was full over the Thanksgiving holiday, was quiet, with not a single person in sight. I couldn’t bear to stay, it was just too silent, and it would have been weird to stay there all by myself.

So, I turned my Subaru around and headed back to Durango, looking forward to days in the future in the desert, surrounded by friends, and little ones running around; a picture of the future College Me could have never imagined; one more beautiful than I ever could have dreamed.

This piece is published in today's Durango Telegraph. 

Wednesday, December 17, 2014

Heroes in our Dope City of Hip-Hop and Yoga

The author (left) and The Grouch.
So much of life is perspective. Some people are a downer, even to talk to for five minutes; the ones you turn your head from and avoid in the grocery store, those who are convinced that life is a bore, and everything is doomed. Then there are those people who you seek out, who lift you up, who achieve their own potential and radiate positive energy that is incredibly infectious; the lights of the world.

When I moved down to Durango I was in danger of becoming the former of those people I just described. In part, because I achieved a goal: I was a paid writer with a 9-5 that had all the benefits we Americans want with our jobs. This achievement trained me well as a writer, but I was selling my talent, the stories I wrote were scripted, public relations material written in a voice that was not my own. I desperately wanted to achieve my potential in writing, and I was learning its not a one way road, there would be many twists and turns.

The Durango Telegraph was my first writing gig in this fine town, and it has been good to me, starting with my very first story. I was assigned to write about a Paradox Sports event at the Ouray Ice Park dubbed, at the time, “Gimps On Ice”. It was a punchy name to describe an ice climbing festival for disabled and primarily amputee climbers. The inspiration meter was off the hook during this event, and I met many people that weekend who remain dear friends. Ice climbing is crazy enough, but to experience twenty plus people climbing ice who were missing arms and legs, well, there was a certain level of enthusiasm that infected every cell of my being; a sign from the heavens I was on the right path. Yes, this would be a good gig.

Four years later the Telegraph handed me another little nugget: I got to interview The Grouch and Eligh (G&E), two underground kings of hip-hop who played at the Animas City Theatre last week. I’ve always loved The Grouch, his simple, articulate, philosophical style is a refreshing breath of air in an often lack-of-talent saturated genre of music (search YouTube for Young Thug or 2 Chainz, huge stars in the rap world right now, and you’ll see what I mean). When I learned I would get to do a phone interview with him I got nervous. I mean how often do you get to talk to one of your heroes on the phone?

I first heard about The Grouch, through a collaborative album he did with Zion I, called “Heroes in the City of Dope”. He rapped about yoga, world travel, eating well, earning your living as an independent artist, exercise, his wife, and his newborn child. It was uplifting, poetic music, and I played the record, over and over again. Inspiration times a million.

So when I called up The Grouch two weeks ago for the phone interview I was giddy, like I was calling a beautiful woman for the first time. Should I call him by his real name? Or do I say, “Is The Grouch there?” Does that sound weird? Stop having weird thoughts, dude, just be cool. You can do this.

For the first minute of our conversation I fumbled with my words, while I tried to tell him how much of a fan I was. He was humble and appreciative, and I took a couple deep breaths, while I regained my composure. During the interview he explained his history with hip-hop, and how he was a longtime independent artist who used to dub his own tapes, and make CD covers at Kinko’s. The Grouch also explained, while growing up in the early 1990s, the golden age of hip-hop, just before the art was hijacked by gangsters and big business, that it was important for a rapper to be smart, or in the words of the culture: droppin’ science and kickin’ jewels.

The Grouch was patient, friendly, and more than willing to speak to a reporter from a small town independent paper, like yours truly. After the conversation I was charged with energy. They say never meet your heroes, but when you get to talk to a guy like The Grouch you realize, some heroes you should absolutely meet.

Then came the day of the show. When I woke up that morning, I was ready to be disappointed. I’d been listening to The Grouch and Eligh’s new triple album, The Tortoise and The Crow, and was in love with it, my favorite new music of the year, hands down. Their style and abilities have only been growing over the years, and musically and artistically these guys are peaking. To hope that their live show could equal such brilliance would be ludacris (cultural pun intended).

We tried to time our arrival so that we would miss some of the opening acts. The culture of hip-hop has a strange phenomenon that there has to be so many opening acts that the main act doesn’t even go on stage until 12:30 in the morning. At 12:30 I’m usually in my REM cycle, dreaming about kittens and nude beaches. (Separately, of course.)

Talking to my friends I went to show with I was blown away that they all had to work the next day. Work? After staying up until 3:00 in the morning? Shit, I cleared my schedule for the next two days, just so I could recover. At 36, a night on the town is a sure recipe that the next day is spent drinking Emergency’s, watching Netflix, holding my aching head while saying to myself, “Why, momma, why, did I go out last night?!?”

In short, the show was a disappointment, but only in the sense that I wanted G&E to keep playing for another two hours. Their show was just over an hour, almost the same length as the opening act, another phenomenon in hip-hop I’ll never understand. And while the opening act did the usual Colorado, “So who here loves to smoke weed?” thing like 10 times, G&E were classy. They played their down to earth songs, and the vibe ranged from party whompy music to the soulful hip-hop vibe they are known for. To top that off, I got to give The Grouch a handshake and a hug, and he even obliged for a photo.

Three days later and finally recovered, I got to check out The Living Yoga Project. I love yoga as much as hip-hop, and this all-local performance absolutely blew my mind, and left me inspired. The combination of yoga, dance, music, and dare I say a dash of breakdancing, carried me from smiles to tears. I was blown away by the turnout, nearly packing the theatre at the Smiley Building, especially considering they had two additional performances that weekend. Like G&E I could have watched these folks perform for another hour or two.

With such an awesome experience from these two events right here at home, I was reminded of an old truth in art, leave the audience wanting more. Always leave them wanting more. 

This story is published in today's Durango Telegraph. You can follow Mehall on Twitter at:

Thursday, December 4, 2014

G & E, The Nice Guys of Hip-Hop

Sometimes the nice guys do finish first. Such is the case with The Grouch and Eligh, a hip-hop duo twenty years in the making, who will be performing at the Animas City Theatre on Tuesday, December 9th.

The Grouch and Eligh are touring in support of their new triple album, “The Tortoise and The Crow”, which is comprised of a solo album by each rapper, and a collaborative album. All in all there are 51 songs, making it one of the most prolific hip-hop projects in the history of the genre.

The project was inspired by one of the most famous rap albums of all time, Speakerboxx/The Love Below by Outkast, released in 2003. “Both of us are huge Outkast fans, and we thought how cool it would have been if they had done a third album together, as a collaboration,” The Grouch said. 

Thus, The Tortoise and The Crow was born. The tortoise refers to The Grouch’s style, slow and calculated, and the crow refers to Eligh’s style, choppy, fast and abstract. “We compliment each other so well, because we’re opposites,” Eligh said. “It’s better than hearing two (rappers) with the same style. We are water and earth.

While their styles are different, content wise, their paths intersect dramatically. Both are introspective and have the souls of poets. They rap about spirituality, yoga, eating healthy, realizing mistakes they have made in the past, relationships, and trying to live in the moment. In short, The Grouch and Eligh destroy the traditional mold that hip-hop is all about violence, misogyny and drugs and alcohol.

“I rap about what is real,” The Grouch said. “I’m out trying to be the best person I can be, and pushing for a more positive life.”

The Grouch, who is married and has a daughter, often raps about his family, and put together a fitting tribute to his newly born daughter on the 2006 track called, “10 fingers, 10 toes, 10 pounds, 10 ounces”. However, as his name suggests, The Grouch wasn’t always happy.

“I grew up in Oakland, California and didn’t have much.” The Grouch said. “There was a lot of frustration. I would be riding the bus cause I couldn’t afford a car, and people would be stealing from me on the bus. ”

The Grouch went to high school with Hieroglyphics and Souls of Mischief, two hip-hop groups that went on to be relatively well known. “We knew we could do something similar,” he said. “But where they had record deals, we did something else with our limited resources. It did make us say “wow” when they were on TV on programs like Rap City.”

The two met at a mutual friends party in 1995, and began making music together shortly after that. In addition to Outkast, the two share early influences like A Tribe Called Quest, another group known for wise lyrics. “For certain rappers it was always important for them to be smart in their raps,” The Grouch said. “To us it’s called droppin’ science or kickin’ jewels.”

“Back in the nineties we had to hustle so much harder then,” Eligh said.

The Grouch, who actually started out producing music before he was a rapper, said the approach was completely different back then. “Everything was a stepping stone,” he said. “Make it (the music) in your house, sell it on the street and get the reaction. First, it was dubbing your own cassettes and making album covers at Kinko’s. Eventually we got more fine tuned and then the opportunities came.”

Last week the tour, dubbed, “How The Grouch Stole Christmas” kicked off in Santa Cruz, California. They are by accompanied by DJ Abilities and The Cunninlynguists. (If the triple album wasn’t enough, they just released a seven song EP with Cunninlynguists titled “WinterFire”. It is available for free on the Bandcamp website.)

The Grouch and Eligh, both note their favorite element of travelling is being on stage and interacting with the audience, many who are half their age. “The road is hard on me, it’s tiring, and stressful,” Eligh said. “But performing, that is the best part, I wish I could just teleport to each show. Come on teleport inventor, hurry up!”

The Grouch and Eligh also shared that Colorado is home to one of their highest, most energetic and faithful fan bases. “It’s always more challenging with the altitude to perform in Colorado,” Eligh said. “But the adrenaline from all the love we get in Colorado drives us, because the people support us more than most. They love us, and we love them, it’s a love affair.”

The Grouch described the feeling of being onstage as one of pure transcendence, “I love when I’m onstage and I am no longer thinking, I’m living purely in the moment. It’s a flow of energy, like a channeling from a place of God knows where. Sometimes Eligh will start a sentence, and I’ll finish it, with no prior rehearsal. That’s my favorite part.”

For more information on the tour visit: Tickets for the show can be purchased at Animas City Theatre. 

This story is published in today's Durango Telegraph.