On the Lake: The Magical Night Sky

STG 0926 on the lake 01

There is something magical about the night sky in the wide open spaces of Southern Utah.

When you look up and the Milky Way stretches through the darkness — millions of pinpricks of light glowing with a brilliance that dazzles and reminds one of just how small we are and how vast the universe around us is — it’s easy to see why our ancestors created myths surrounding the shapes they saw.

The beauty is breathtaking especially when the moon has set and even the light it casts isn’t mucking up the view of the stars.

Glen Canyon is a fantastic place to take in that view, especially the further away you get from Page and the light pollution the town emits.

One of my favorite things to do on Lake Powell on those crystal clear and moonless nights is to set up my tri-pod, and leave the shutter on my camera open for an extended period of time to try and capture some of the beauty on display.

And while I often make images I really like on those late night photo session, photographs alone don’t really do it justice.

Being there, turning your head and being able to see the sheer magnitude of the stars, all around you, meteors streaking across the sky, the faint light of the stars playing on the water and the cliffs of Glen Canyon, it’s an experience that far too few people get to enjoy anymore.

Not too long ago, we all experienced it, nearly every night.

STG 0926 on the lake 02

Our ancestors sat around the fire at night and marveled at the stars, so much so that they began to tell tales of Orion the Hunter and Ursa the Bear.

It’s only been in the last few hundred years that light pollution has blotted out the stars and hidden them from the view of the vast majority of us.

STG 0926 on the lake 03

Street lights, neon signs, light spilling from our homes, all of it adds up quickly and hides from view the true majesty of the night sky.

I feel fortunate to, at the very least, live close enough to some of the more vast stretches of dark night skies left in the United States. It’s not too difficult for us here in Southern Utah to get out a little way from the cities and towns and rediscover the brilliance of the night sky that has entranced humanity for thousands, if not millions of years.

I spent six years living in New York City in my youth, a town in which light pollution prevents one from seeing much of anything in the night sky that’s any dimmer than Mars or Venus. Most of the sky that you can see between the canyon walls of skyscrapers just glows with a yellowish-orange tinge that seems so unnatural.

STG 0926 on the lake 04

Perhaps living without those stars gave me a greater appreciation for them when I moved back to a place where they shine as brightly as they do here.

I love the quiet of the darkest part of the night, spending 15 minutes or so doing nothing but sitting and waiting for enough time to pass to capture the faint light and spinning of the stars as they rotate through the sky and reflect upon the image sensor in my camera.

And while it’s sometimes a little challenging to wake up the next day after having been up until the wee hours of the morning taking a only the handful of pictures that can be had when each image takes as long as a half an hour to capture, I keep finding myself tucking my family in for the night and then breaking out my camera when we’re on the lake.

After all, I can always catch up on my sleep when I’m back in St. George and looking up the orange glow of streetlights.

Email Jud Burkett, Chief Photographer for The Spectrum & Daily News, at jburkett@thespectrum.com.

In Our View: Unacceptable

Southern Utahns should be embarrassed.

The fact that we barely managed to get 40 percent of the eligible voters in Washington and Iron Counties to the polls is shameful, and the fact that turnout in the rest of this state was just as bad should have us all blushing redder than Utah’s newly elected congressional delegation.

Many in this community regularly profess their pride in our nation. We wave the flag when it comes to parades and rodeos, we recite the Pledge of Allegiance and sing the National Anthem with respect at every local sporting event or public meeting, we encourage our young men to participate in Boy Scouts, we pay to have flags planted in our front yards for every holiday and next week we’ll support our veterans as well with programs and speeches on Veterans Day.

But more than half of us took the freedoms and rights for which those brave men and women fought on battlefields from Normandy to Fallujah for granted when we let others decide who would represent us in our democracy.

All of the flag waving and chest thumping we do is hollow, meaningless and empty if we as citizens don’t take voting seriously.

We can talk about the reasons many chose to stay home — often we point to the fact that elections here in Utah are usually extremely one-sided — but in this past election there were other equally important issues on the ballots in Washington and Iron Counties like the Washington County Recreation Arts and Parks Tax and the property tax increase in Enoch and, still, the majority of us failed to show up to cast a ballot.

While there are close to 100,000 people in Washington County who are eligible to vote, only 28,048 votes were cast either for or against the RAP Tax.

Of the 3,500 or so eligible voters in Enoch, 1,516 voted on the question of whether or not to increase property taxes.

While the turnout last Tuesday is disconcerting, it’s not really unexpected. Voter participation has been trending downward in Utah for decades but the numbers have truly gotten to the point where something needs to change.

The legislature can and should be looking for dramatic, game-changing ideas that will reinvigorate Utah voters. Simply building a website filled with voter information and creating a series of mildly humorous commercials featuring the lieutenant governor is obviously not enough to reverse the trends we’re witnessing in voter participation.

Earlier this summer Sen. Charles Schumer, D-NY, wrote an op-ed in the New York Times advocating the adoption of the top-two primary system throughout the United States. And while ideas that come from Democrats are often shunned in this neck of the woods, it’s just the kind of game-changing and drastic idea that could light a fire under Utah voters.

In most of our districts it would mean two Republicans duking it out but having the top two primary vote getters in the November general election would mean that these elections would matter. Those two Republicans would be forced to campaign more enthusiastically and reach out to more voters because neither candidate would be able to rely on their base voting strictly for their party values.

More candidates going door to door, scheduling more debates, more interviews, and generally pushing for more face time in the media would be the fastest way to inform more people on the issues and candidates. And hopefully more informed voters would be more likely to show up on election day. Not only that but two Republican candidates on the November ballot would force those candidates to sell voters on their qualifications and not just on the letter behind their names.

Whether it’s a top two primary or some other drastic change to the way we elect politicians in Utah, it should be painfully obvious now that we have work to do. Forty percent is truly unacceptable.

In Our View: Miles to go

Last week the voters in Washington County and the City of Enoch were asked to decide the question of whether or not they wanted to increase their taxes.

In Washington County, the RAP tax, designed to provide additional funds to further the recreation opportunities, arts offerings and parks available to residents, appears likely to pass barring a surprising result in the counting of absentee and provisional ballots. While in Enoch, the vote on an increase in property taxes that would have paid for a variety of general fund items from the city’s library to fixing potholes was defeated.

In both cases, the results mean that decisions will have to be made.

In the case of Washington County, the county commissioners will now appoint a committee that will ultimately choose how the new tax money, once collected, will be spent.

In Enoch, the city council will need to choose what services to cut in order to get the budget back into the black.

We have no doubt that neither of these decisions will be made lightly, but they also require further input from the citizens of Washington County and Enoch.

While in the case of Enoch, the types and levels or services they will be able to offer their citizens will decrease, and in Washington County they will increase. In order for those who will ultimately choose to make the best decision, they will need to hear from you, and not just those of you who voted for the RAP tax or against the increase in property taxes, but all of you.

Our reporters will stay on top of these stories as they progress and will do their best to provide you with the information on the proposals for where money will be spent or cut. Some of these decisions could have major positive or negative impacts on members of our communities. It will be up to you to make your voices heard, to speak up and attend city council meetings and to stay informed when it comes to RAP tax proposals in order to make certain that the best decisions are made.

The elections were just the first step, and we’ve got miles to go yet before we can be confident out tax dollars are being spent in the most effective way possible.

Hoops

STG 1028 spt bkc dsu 01

Basketball has already started. I shot my first game of the season this week, and I have to admit, I had fun. I like shooting basketball. It’s probably my third favorite sport to shoot after hockey and baseball. Hockey I like because I like the game and the constant action and flow of the game make it a fun and challenging game to photograph and baseball I like because it’s another game I enjoy watching and usually, here in St. George, the weather is warm and the sun is shining and it’s just great to be outside shooting baseball.

In Our View – Bye bye Blue Bunny

I’ve officially been handed the reins of the editorial page at the Specturm & Daily News so I’ll be writing the opinions of the editorial board a little more often. I’m posting them on my blog as a way of archiving some of the pieces of which I’m most fond because they don’t live forever on thespectrum.com… This one was published on Wednesday, Sep. 3, 2014.


 St. George received a bit of bad news from the labor market front on Tuesday when Blue Bunny confirmed they will be closing their St. George plant.

Anytime a business announces a plant closure in Southern Utah — and there have been more than a few over the past few years — you have to pause for a moment and feel a bit of sympathy for the people whose lives will be impacted by lost jobs and lost incomes.

Some hurt more than others. We’ve had larger closures than Blue Bunny’s. We saw 350 people lose their jobs in Cedar City when O’Sullivan closed their plant there in 2000, and about 220 people lost jobs when Viracon closed its doors in St. George in early 2013, but honestly, the numbers don’t matter if it’s your job leaving town.

The next few months will bring plenty of challenges to the Blue Bunny employees whose jobs just vanished.

They’ll be refreshing resumes and pounding the pavement looking for work.

We sympathize with those who are now or will soon be out of a job. We hope their searches for employment will be short and that they’ll land even better jobs than the ones they lost with Blue Bunny.

But it’s part of the American model of capitalism that’s responsible for events such as these. Capitalism dictates that struggling businesses will close up shop, but hopefully, stronger, more vibrant businesses will quickly step in to fill the voids left behind.

We’ve got a fairly diversified local manufacturing economy, and our local and state representatives are continually doing their best to bring more and more manufacturing jobs to the state and to the area.

Losing the Blue Bunny plant will hurt, but gaining Family Dollar, SyberJet, the Industrial Brush Corporation and Litehouse Foods in the past few years are just a few examples of the kinds of successes that our local representatives can brag about when it comes to luring manufacturing and light industrial jobs to Southern Utah.

We have a great location for light manufacturing. We have a state government that’s extremely business-friendly and we have a fairly well-educated work force, so there’s no reason to think we can’t find a bigger and better replacement for Blue Bunny.

Blue Bunny has been a model business in our community for the past decade. It’s provided ice cream at more than a few city sponsored events, including the St. George Marathon, and there will be more than a few runners saddened to see that there won’t be an ice-cold Bomb Pop waiting for them at the finish line anymore. And that doesn’t take into account the many private charitable events in which Blue Bunny took part.

Blue Bunny will be missed, but there are other business opportunities out there. It will be difficult, but we can and we will eventually do better.

In Our View – Honoring the American worker

I’ve officially been handed the reins of the editorial page at the Specturm & Daily News so I’ll be writing the opinions of the editorial board a little more often. I’m posting them on my blog as a way of archiving some of the pieces of which I’m most fond because they don’t live forever on thespectrum.com… This one was published on Monday, Sep. 1, 2014.


We hope you enjoyed the three-day weekend.

If you did, you might want to pause for just a moment and ponder the reason why Americans take the day off every year on the first Monday in September.

It is after all, Labor Day. A federal holiday set aside to honor the American worker and organized labor.

And, for the most part, it’s organized labor most of us have to thank for the fact that we enjoy even our regular two day weekends, let alone this particularly long one.

The word itself, “weekend” didn’t even exist until around 1870 when the United States was well into the industrial revolution.

At the time, most employers insisted their workers, and not just men, but women and children too, put in 10 to 16 hours days, seven days a week.

Labor unions began the push for eight-hour days, overtime, child labor laws and yes, they pushed for and won the right that most American workers now enjoy, a day of rest on Sunday, and another on Saturday for those who celebrate the Sabbath a day earlier.

Lunch breaks, worker’s compensation, retirement benefits, employer provided health care insurance, paid vacation, holiday pay, safer working environments, these are just a few of the benefits most Americans enjoy now because organized labor fought for them a century and a half ago.

Have unions lost their way at times? Sure. It’s awfully hard to win concessions from unions reluctant to give back benefits their members enjoy even when the very existence of the company they work for is at stake.

And now, when unions seem particularly weak and ineffective, especially in right to work states like Utah, the reasons for their very existence in the modern age is easy to call into question.

To be certain, there is a balance that should be sought between organized labor and the corporations that employ their members. Both entities should be striving to create a thriving business that supports stock holders and workers alike.

As we approach the seventh anniversary of the beginning of the Great Recession, American workers are still seeing stagnant wages despite record highs on the stock market and soaring corporate profits.

Would stronger unions in the United States be able to help the American worker begin to share in those profits more quickly? Probably.

But would those stronger unions have allowed companies to make the choices they need to to survive by reducing workforces and cutting costs with the economy in free-fall in early 2008? Probably not.

Yet it’s clear we’re out of balance. The Occupy movement and the outrage most Americans feel about extraordinarily generous CEO salaries are just two indicators of the growing anger the middle class is feeling over the widening wealth gap in America.

And unions alone can’t solve the problem now, just as they didn’t solve the problems alone in the early days of the labor movement.

It took the vision of savvy businessmen like Henry Ford, a man who despised unions but gave his employees a “weekend” long before it was common practice, not for altruistic reasons or because striking union workers forced him to but because he saw it as a sound business decision.

He recognized that if workers were stuck in factories seven days a week, they’d have no way to go out for a Sunday drive and less reason to buy a Model-T. Ford advocated for the weekend and made commercials promoting the idea of the weekend road trip and thus helped usher in the era of the five-day work week.

There are in fact more than a few CEOs out there right now who could learn a lesson from Henry Ford. In the consumer driven economy of the 21st century, paying workers more and lifting those stagnant wages would put more money in consumers pockets with which they could, in fact, buy more goods and services and increase profits for shareholders and employees alike.

Happy Labor Day.

Best of 2014 (rough cut, January – July)

I’ll trim these down come contest time in early 2015 but this is the first rough cut of my favorite images of 2014 so far…