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Taking a look backward, or maybe it’s forward ...

Darrah Blackwater gets her fortune told just as her walk across China hit 2,000 kilometers. If all goes well, the 23-year-old Fort Lewis College graduate’s future soon will hold a conclusion of her long journey.

The original intent of today’s column was to take a look back, to revisit previous stories and provide a “where are they now.” But instead of just looking back, I found myself looking sideways, up, down and ahead.

Life’s so confusing.

Anyway, here’s a mishmash of topics from around the globe. We’ll start in Asia and wend our way to Southwest Colorado.


The walk across China has been harrowing, but it was an event back home that nearly derailed Fort Lewis College graduate Darrah Blackwater’s 1,300-mile-plus backpack to raise funds for Chinese children with disabilities.

Blackwater, you may recall from my March 16 column, went to China as a tennis instructor. The job didn’t work out quite as planned, so the 23-year-old Farmington native found a Chinese partner and took off by foot from Zhongshan on Feb. 1. Their cause is to raise money through donations and pledges for foster homes for the children, specifically New Day South in Zhongshan and New Day North in Beijing.

It’s been a long, often exhausting trip in a challenging country where she’s dealt with a language barrier and a cultural gap. Being away from family and familiarity added to the difficulty.

Then, in early May, she received some terrible news from home: Her mother, Corkie Blackwater, a teacher in Farmington, was in a bus crash on the way back from a field trip in Arizona. Among her injuries was a nearly severed ear.

“My mom had to have her ear reattached after the crash,” Blackwater said in an email last week. “She was so busy checking on her kids that someone had to tell her that her ear was dangling off her head. So gross. So badass.”

Corkie assured her daughter she was fine and urged her to keep walking. Corkie still plans to be in Beijing when Darrah and her hiking partner, Ann Liang, finish their journey. They have about 150 kilometers to go, and they plan to finish June 13.

“I am so excited to hug her and never let go,” Darrah Blackwater said.

She has struggled with homesickness and the smells of thick pollution and human waste, going as far as to put a drop of lavender oil on her face mask to shield the smell.

“But I am also filled with gratitude for this experience,” she said. “And, most of all, I am hoping that all of our (money-raising) efforts come to fruition.”

To follow Darrah Blackwater’s adventures with Ann Liang as they finish their walk, visit www.facebook.com/ZSVAD. To donate to New Day, visit www.nikeyi.org


Proving once again how generous they can be, Southwest Coloradans ponied up $20,000 on Wednesday night toward improving the lives of natives of the Bhotkhola region of northeastern Nepal. That’s the birthplace of Karma and Jyamu Bhotia, Durangoans since 2007 and owners of the Himalayan Kitchen. The couple dreams of helping the villages of their birth adapt to the 21st century. Their goal is to improve education, health and living conditions.

The money was raised at a silent auction fundraiser for the Karma & Jyamu Bhotia Foundation at the Durango Arts Center. The foundation was created last year to focus on the Bhotkhola region, but the recent earthquake in Nepal prompted the foundation to set up a separate account to fund relief efforts in selected villages.

Last fall, I was among 11 Southwest Coloradans who traveled to Nepal with Karma Bhotia. In November, we began the process of tearing down the school in Chyamtang, the village where Karma and Jyamu grew up. The school had been damaged in a 2012 earthquake. Earlier this year, work on a new school was completed, and fortunately, the new school was undamaged by either of the two recent major quakes.

People at the event (including my gracious in-laws from Loveland) learned that auctioneering is not a forte of mine. Thanks to Chiara Amoroso for bailing me out.


From Asia, we’ll travel back across the Pacific Ocean and make a stop in Utah.

Back in early March, this column ruminated on Utah’s Cedar Mesa, and whether federal protection status is best for the area, which includes mostly U.S. Bureau of Land Management territory. It’s a large and emotional issue for many of us Southwest Coloradans, who love hiking among the red-rock canyons and ancestral Puebloan ruins only a couple of hours away.

A problem is that we and others around the world are loving it in numbers a bit too large for its own good. Ruins are being damaged, and the characteristics that make it so special – quiet and solitude – are vanishing.

So there was interest locally in an attempt by two U.S. congressmen from Utah, Republicans Rob Bishop and Jason Chaffetz, to bring together all those interested in public land in eastern Utah counties and reach a consensus on its future. What should be protected? What should be developed?

I called Bishop’s Washington, D.C., office Friday and spoke with his communications director, Lee Lonsberry, to see what I’d missed regarding the Utah Public Lands Initiative.

“You haven’t missed anything yet,” he said. The bargaining and negotiation phase is ongoing. Other groups, including another county (at my count, that makes eight) have come to the table.

“The spirit of the deal is hearing everyone out and trying to get the most for folks, and that demanded just more time,” Lonsberry said. “We want to be moving toward something, but really it is open-ended right now. The sooner the better, though.”


And now, back to Durango.

I’m still cleaning the dirt splotches off my rainpants and running tights, and the mud off my shoes, and I still haven’t watered the lawn this year.

After May’s ridiculous but welcome streak of cloudy and rainy days, the forecast is for sun and a warming trend.

We’ll enjoy each sunny day that June brings – for a while anyway, until it’s time to begin complaining about the summer heat.

johnp@durangoherald.com. John Peel writes a weekly human-interest column.

Aug 13, 2022
Taking big steps in China
Aug 13, 2022
Is the window to the past closing?
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In Nepal, we gave them the boot – in a good way
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Durangoans help Nepali village
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