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Fifth Street

November 5, 2020

In this issue: Labyrinth and Repeat | Solar Nemesis | From Our Kitchen to Yours | Damn You, Bookstore-Killing Internet!


I NEVER THOUGHT much about labyrinths until this year. If I did, it was only to feel a twinge of sympathy for the Minotaur, the man-bull of ancient Greece and occupant of the original Labyrinth — a guy myth-optimized to serve as a violent, misbegotten symbol of what happens when gods and kings act out, and who can’t relate to that? But his labyrinth? Rarely a thought. Then I read about a San Francisco labyrinth-maker whose business is booming during quarantine.

Well, I figured, that explains all the beastly men I’ve seen in the news. Second thought: Who, in THIS moment, wants to build a MAZE?

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But, I’ve since learned, a labyrinth isn’t a maze, though we use the words interchangeably (and the mythical Labyrinth clearly was a maze). No, technically, a maze branches into dead ends, wrong turns, mounting frustrations, and, if you’re a mouse, the possibility of cheese. A labyrinth, on the other hand, has come to mean a single, twisting path — the word for it is unicursal — that winds you to the center and brings you back out. No tricks, no getting lost. It’s intentional, contemplative, said to be emotionally soothing. A quieted mind is your only cheese. That’s what’s keeping the labyrinth guy busy.

“The labyrinth is a sure path for uncertain times,” he told Bloomberg CityLab. “It brings order out of a sense of chaos.” That seems to have been their main purpose in the 4,000 years we know they’ve existed, across many cultures, frequently in spiritual settings. 

The way a labyrinth briefly mimics a maze’s baffling complexity before resolving into a clear passage — that’s precisely the clarifying dynamic that my brain, which has tested positive for 2020, needs. So I set out to experience a few. (This online labyrinth locator helped; it lists some 6,000 worldwide.) 

First up was a starter labyrinth nestled in a corner of Reunion Trails Park in Henderson. Circular, like most ’rinths, this one is a narrow cement trail curving through lush grass. It’s small, just four courses, and only required 293 steps to work my way to the pipe sculpture at its center, and back out again. 

But even that was enough to hint at why there’s a bull market for these things. Walking at a deliberate speed, eyes focused on the path, wrapped in the cool morning and murmuring suburban soundscape, I felt my distractions scootch back a few cognitive inches. True, I may have willed myself to overfeel the effect — pandemic life has trained me to max out every wisp of tranquility — but it was a nice respite anyway. (And maybe good for me: Studies have touted the stress- and blood-pressure-lowering effects of labyrinth walking.) Midway around the path, mysterious splash marks: A minotaur marking his territory, probably. My youngest son, who was with me, walked out backward, which ought to be a metaphor for something.

The labyrinth at St. Rose Dominican Hospital’s San Martín campus (right) is considerably larger: 11 courses, modeled on the most famous version, at France’s Chartres Cathedral, installed in the early 1200s. According to the hospital’s website, its labyrinth combines the focused time (walking the long path) and hushed setting (it’s in a quiet, partially shaded courtyard) that allows for meaningful contemplation.

But also, regrettably, to be contemplated: Many windows look out onto the courtyard, and, depending on how armored your psyche is, your deep inner spelunkings might be undone by the itchy sense of being observed. All those eyes judging your labyrinth style. Is this how the mouse feels? In any case, too much performance anxiety for me. “The labyrinth is not magic,” the hospital’s website says, “but it is full of mystery. It produces different results for everyone — or perhaps none at all.” Noted.

I saved the elaborate labyrinth at St. Andrew’s Catholic Church, in Boulder City, for the big test: the morning after the election, with the results still uncertain and our collective psychology frantically Rubik’s-cubing into new configurations of despair, hope, anxiety, anger. Laggy with my own pessimism, I shambled through the surrounding grove of narrow evergreens and onto the large, intricate design painted onto a circular concrete pad. I was alone. Let’s see what you’ve got, 11-course Chartres pattern.

Enacting a journey toward faith or enlightenment, the route to the center is too intricate to understand in a glance. It leads you toward the middle, then back to the circumference, then toward the middle again, continually folding in on itself like a freakishly symmetrical intestine. I wonder if this sensation of being swallowed is deliberate, but I’m no theologian. You’re tempted to shortcut toward the center, but, hey, this is a church. 

Forcing myself into a measured pace, I reached the center in about seven minutes. Depending on your physical condition, the weather, and the state of the nation, you might work up a light sweat, or maybe that’s just me. I'll say this for the experience: More than a novelty stroll but less than a conversion experience, that labyrinth walk turned out to be the most serene 17 minutes of that day. For a few minutes there it was just me, a winding path, jostling trees, five distinct varieties of birdcall. Not once did I think of our labyrinthine democracy.

Then I was done, and it was back out into the maze, hustling for cheese with the other mice.

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AT THE SUNCOAST HOTEL in July 2019, the Gemini Solar Project — the largest in the U.S., as proposed — got its first public hearing. Such a plan, to cover more than 7,000 acres of public land northeast of Las Vegas with a sea of photovoltaic panels, would normally draw widespread protest from the environmental community. And yet, only a couple conservation groups were represented that day. And only one spoke out: Basin and Range Watch. 

Kevin Emmerich, who cofounded the group with his wife, Laura Cunningham, described the project as an environmental abomination that would displace hundreds of desert tortoises, which is a threatened species, and destroy countless plants that provide food and shelter for lizards, birds, and other wildlife. Emmerich’s comments stood in stark contrast to the bulk of the testimony praising the project’s job-creation capacity and contribution to fighting climate change. Off the record, the scant other conservationists at the meeting admitted they didn’t disagree with Emmerich, but their organizations’ official stance on renewable energy projects was that the benefit of fighting climate change outweighed the environmental harm.

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Though nobody knew it then, that was one of the last public hearings of its kind — at least for a while — due to both the COVID-19 pandemic and the Trump Administration’s aggressive curtailing of federal regulatory review processes. But it won’t be the last renewable energy project that Emmerich opposes on behalf of Basin and Range Watch. That’s the group’s main mission now, and it’s a mission that will continue to put him at odds with mainstream environmental nonprofits. 

“We took off because of this,” Emmerich says. “The green groups were compromised on the issue. They always have been. They’re the groups that want to promote a solution to climate change. We’re the solution to their solution.”

Emmerich and Cunningham founded Basin and Range Watch in 2008. They’d retired to their ranch a couple hours north of Las Vegas several years earlier — long enough to be accepted as rural peers by the locals. Combined, they have extensive backgrounds in wildlife biology and desert ecology. They care about the plants and animals occupying the public lands surrounding their home and had time on their hands to write about them, so they started a blog that focused initially on a nearby strip mine and extreme off-road motor race near the Amargosa River, which they felt were unnecessarily degrading the landscape. 

Then, in 2009, they attended a Bureau of Land Management meeting where they learned that the Amargosa Valley was peppered with solar applications.

“At that time,” Emmerich says, “it was a NIMBY (not-in-my-backyard) issue, because that was our backyard. … We immediately got concerned. We did some additional research and found out there were applications like these all over the desert in California, Nevada, and Arizona. And we decided we needed to be the voice on that issue.”

The main reason for that decision is the defense of the desert. But the subtext is Loraxian: Basin and Range speak for the trees (and tortoises, and yucca plants) because no one else will. The reason no one else will is complicated. Ask other environmentalists, and they’ll echo what the conservationists at the Gemini Solar public meeting said: Fighting climate change is more important than protecting desert ecosystems. Ask Emmerich, however, and you’ll get a different answer: It’s political.

“They don’t want to become unpopular with the public,” Emmerich says. “They worry that people will lump them in with conservatives who oppose renewables. Also, they have donors and funding sources, some of which are climate groups that really want to see parts of the desert developed for this energy.”

Basin and Range doesn’t care about that. The 501(c)3 organization subsists on small, private donations, Emmerich says, so it’s not beholden to any major donor (its most recent IRS form 990, from 2018, showed gross receipts of $50,000). Furthermore, he and Cunningham don’t care if their opinion is unpopular in the environmental community. They believe what they’re doing is too important to get bogged down in politics. And finally, they do support renewable development; they just feel that industrializing it is the wrong approach.

Consider the two projects that Basin and Range Watch is currently focused on: Yellow Pine Solar, a 500-megawatt plant projected to cover 3,000 acres near Pahrump, and Battle Born Solar, whose size is under discussion but would also generate several hundred megawatts and occupy several thousand acres of the Mormon Mesa near Logandale. Emmerich notes that both, like Gemini, are slated for pristine public land. Why not, he asks, site them on abandoned mine sites instead? Or in the BLM’s designated renewable development zones? Or cover the existing built environment with solar panels?

Put those questions to renewable energy insiders, and they’ll respond that these options come with high costs and hassle, from getting landowners’ permission to passing the necessary regulations. What they won’t say is, it’s less bureaucratically cumbersome (and more profitable for developers) to do new builds on vacant public land. And, these developers argue, distributed solar doesn’t pencil out to provide the amount of renewable energy needed to replace fossil fuels and substantially reduce carbon emissions.

Emmerich is undeterred by these arguments. He’s had a few successes — perhaps most notably helping to kill Apex Clean Energy’s proposed 9,000-acre wind farm near Searchlight in 2017 — and he believes public opinion is on his side. Tourists will dislike seeing the vast Yellow Pine Solar plant marring the landscape on the popular drive between Las Vegas and Tecopa, he says. And hikers, off-road vehicle enthusiasts, and other Moapa Valley recreationists will object to the Battle Born Project taking over a spot they frequent.

“Our position has really resonated with public lands users,” Emmerich says. “If you go on social media and look at a BLM page saying ‘We just approved this project in this location,’ you’ll get 100 comments saying, ‘Why did you do that?’ and ‘Why don’t you just use rooftops?’ … It would seem to me that the people supporting this (renewable development on public land) are urban, and they believe sacrificing some wildlife and biodiversity is worth it.”

He disagrees. And if public meetings on such proposals ever come back, you’ll hear about it. 

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IF THIS IS the year that launched a billion loaves of sourdough — mind you, we’re not complaining, because who doesn’t love fresh bread? — 2020’s enforced domesticity has also prompted many of us to expand our home menus. In that spirit, we’re sharing a few go-to recipes from some of Nevada Public Radio’s heartiest, best-fed staffers. Enjoy!

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BOILED COOKIES

These scrumptious cookies have been a favorite of mine since childhood. My mom was a great cook, and this was one of the simpler treats she would make for us, and I still love them. Some folks call them no-bake cookies, but to me, they’ll always be called boiled cookies. — Rick Andrews, announcer

2 cups sugar

½ cup milk

1 stick unsalted butter

¼ cup unsweetened cocoa powder

3 cups old-fashioned rolled oats

1 cup creamy peanut butter

1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract

Pinch of kosher salt

Parchment paper

Bring sugar, milk, butter, and cocoa to a boil in a medium saucepan over medium heat, stirring occasionally, then let boil for 1 minute. Remove from the heat. Add the oats, peanut butter, vanilla, and salt, and stir to combine. Drop teaspoonfuls of the mixture onto a parchment sheet and let sit at room temperature until cooled and hardened, about 30

minutes. Enjoy a few right away, then refrigerate.

 

WHAM SALMON

As a lazy cook, I wanted to offer a simple recipe that was both friendly to those who follow a low-FODMAP diet and appealing to everyone else. — Mike Prevatt, producer, KNPR’s State of Nevada

1-1¼ lbs. salmon

2 tbsp maple syrup

1 tbsp Dijon mustard

¼ tsp paprika

Sea salt

Black pepper

Optional: 1 tbsp spring onions, 1 tbsp fresh dill, sesame seeds

Preheat oven to 370 degrees. Mix syrup, mustard, paprika, salt, and pepper. Optional: Chop spring onions (use green parts only) and dill. Line baking sheet or baking dish with aluminum foil, then brush olive oil onto it. Place salmon on foil, then brush mixture onto it. Optional: Sprinkle onions, dill and/or sesame seeds atop salmon. Bake salmon in oven for 15-20 minutes. Serves up to 4.

 

PIZZA PINWHEELS

Even though my family and friends are scattered across the country, this recipe makes me feel like I’m at my parents’ kitchen table on game night. It’s super-simple and has lots of room for variations — great for a fun dinner, or you can keep it in your back pocket for the next time you need to feed a crowd. Leftovers are great either cold or warmed in the microwave for a few seconds. — Nikole Robinson Carroll, Morning Edition host

Crescent roll dough (packaged or recipe of your choice)

Shredded cheese of choice

Pepperoni, veggie pepperoni substitute, or any other fillings

Dipping sauce of choice (I recommend marinara!)

Form crescent roll dough into rectangles approximately 4 to 5 inches wide by 6 to 7 inches long, either by fusing pairs of packaged dough triangles together or by rolling out and cutting other dough. Spread a thin layer of cheese and toppings over each rectangle. Roll each rectangle into a log shape, like a jelly roll. Pinch to seal each roll at the ends. Cut each roll in half, sealing the cut ends. Cut the rolls in half again and place them sealed-end-down on a lined or greased cookie sheet or silicone baking mat. Bake the pinwheels at 375 degrees for 10 to 15 minutes, or until they’re golden brown with melted cheese. Remove pinwheels from the oven and let cool for about 5 minutes. Serve with sauce of choice.

 

VEGETARIAN MATZO BALL SOUP

Over the years, this soup has been a staple comfort dish for me, and I wanted to share it now when we could all use a little more comfort. — Caty Foley, donor relations manager

4 cups vegetable broth (I use Osem “Chicken Style” Consommé Soup Mix)

1 package Manischewitz matzo ball mix

8 oz. carrots, sliced thin or diced

1 cup diced celery

1 large white onion, diced

3 cloves garlic, minced

2 tbsp oregano

1 package fresh dill

2 large eggs

3 tbsp oil (EVOO or preferred)

Ketchup 

Salt and pepper

Clean and chop your veggies. In a large stock pot, drizzle about 1 tbsp of olive oil over onions, carrots, and celery, and stir. Add oregano, black pepper, and a pinch of salt, and sauté on medium-high until veggies appear translucent, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and sauté for an additional minute. Add water (approx. 2 quarts) to your veggies. Add 1-2 tbsp of veggie consommé to the water to make a broth. 

While the broth heats to boil, make matzo balls. Follow packet instructions, or gently whisk 2 eggs with 2 tbsp of olive oil in a small bowl. Add contents of the matzo ball mix pouch to eggs and oil and mix thoroughly. Refrigerate for 15 minutes. Remove your matzo dough from the fridge and roll into balls. Roll balls under a cold tap into preferred size (my family likes big balls, so I tend to roll them around an inch and a half). Gently add matzo balls into the boiling water, cover, and reduce to low. Now add a squirt of ketchup and fresh dill. Simmer for 20 minutes. Add more seasonings to taste. I like to add red pepper flakes to my bowl, but that’s up to you. Enjoy! Preferably on the couch with a glass of wine.

 

 

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THE MUCH-HERALDED business theory of disruptive innovation is proving to be the bane of my existence.

You know what disruptive innovation is even if you aren’t familiar with the phrase. It’s when an innovative new product or market — for a recent example, let’s say the internet — comes along and displaces products or markets that most people were perfectly happy with.

For me, disruptive innovation decimated the industry in which I had invested the first 25 years of my professional career and to which I had planned to dedicate my entire working life: the newspaper business.

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Newspapers — you know, those folded-up pages of text and photos that arrived each morning on your driveway? — were doing just fine, thanks, before the internet came along and ruined everything. Fortunately, I was able to get out on my own terms and find a new career in which I am extremely happy. Tens of thousands of other journalists across the country have not been so fortunate. That also means fewer watchdogs are monitoring our governments. Bloggers and YouTube influencers ain’t gonna do it. You just know there’s more political corruption going on than the relative handful of remaining reporters can sniff out.

Disruptive innovation also is ruining one of my most cherished destinations for intellectual stimulation and leisure-time activity: used bookstores.

I can say without apology that, other than working and sleeping, I have spent more hours perusing used bookstores over the past 40 years than I have done anything else. Used bookstores are just the best, and I have visited dozens of them across the country. 

But used bookstores are going out of business in a hurry. It’s happening everywhere, but Las Vegas has been hit particularly hard. There was a time not so long ago when we could boast of having more than a dozen used bookstores. It may have peaked at 15 or 16 at one point. I spent time in all of them, and got to know some of the proprietors fairly well.

I can remember Saturdays when I would hit three or four stores in an afternoon. Inevitably, I would arrive home with an armful of treasures. I remember stopping in at certain shops on a lunch break. Some had better books than others, but I loved them all. There was always the anticipation that I might find a book I wanted somewhere on those shelves.

Wandering through a used bookstore is far more interesting than searching book titles on a website. You never know what you’re going to discover as you scan the shelves. Often, you will happen upon a great book you never knew existed, or one that never would have popped up in an algorithmic online search. It’s the very definition of serendipity.

Used bookstores typically reflect the personalities of their owners. Some shops are very well organized. Others are in a constant state of aspiring to be organized. Still others gave up trying to be organized a long time ago. Some are bright and airy; others dark and dank. Without exception, they are a benefit to any neighborhood. 

For whatever reason, Las Vegas has had some great used bookstores over the years. Albion at Desert Inn and Eastern was a gem. So was Dead Poet Books, which was first at Sahara and Valley View and then moved to Rainbow and Charleston. We mustn’t forget Plaza Books at Eastern and Warm Springs, nor Academy Fine Books on East Charleston. There also was Book Magician at Rancho and Charleston and Books or Books out on Sunset. I could mention many more.

One of the best stores hung in there — Amber Unicorn, on Decatur, north of Sahara. For years, it has been the local gold standard. Its proprietors have run a tight ship and offer a large and wide-ranging inventory. (In recent years, I have plucked many books from Amber Unicorn’s history and true crime shelves to populate The Mob Museum’s research library.)

Sadly, we have learned in recent weeks that Amber Unicorn is closing at the end of November.

Used bookstores close for different reasons. The primary culprit is, of course, the internet, but it’s not the only cause. Greedy strip-mall landlords have been a huge problem, and e-books and audio books haven’t helped. But as with most things these days, it’s largely the internet.

After Amber Unicorn closes, I believe that only three used bookstores will remain in operation in the Las Vegas Valley: Dragon Castle at Cheyenne and Rainbow, the Copper Cat on Horizon Ridge in Henderson, and Bauman’s Rare Books at the Venetian Hotel. (There’s also a plucky little store still going in Pahrump.) Since most of us can’t afford the rare books at Bauman, this means there will be two local stores left standing. Do me a favor, please: Pay a visit to Dragon Castle and/or Copper Cat and buy a book, or they could face the same fate.

I have to mention that the Writer’s Block in Downtown is a community and cultural treasure. You can and must support this store as well. But Writer’s Block is an independent new bookstore. It does not and need not aspire to the musty, dusty, dog-eared glory of a used bookstore.

In short: You know what you can do with your disruptive innovation.

Geoff Schumacher is the vice president of exhibits and programs at The Mob Museum.

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Photos and art: Labyrinths: Christopher Smith; Emmerich: courtesy of Kevin Emmerich; Food photography: Janko Ferlic/Unsplash; Food illustrations: Brent Holmes; Bookstore: Scott Lien

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