In June of 2000, my brother, his wife and their still teen-aged older son, along with my wife and I, embarked on the four-day, 24-mile Inca Trail trek to the heights of Machu Picchu in the Peruvian Andes.
Machu Picchu, on a verdant plateau at 8,000 feet above sea level, is the locale of the fabled Inca city rediscovered in 1911 by Hiram Bingham, later a governor of and U.S. senator from Connecticut, and then leading a Yale archeological expedition in search of the Incan capital, Vilcabamba.
The trail is a ceaseless series of awe and extremes — ascents of better than 3,700 feet in a day to a heart-ballooning high of 14,000 feet (Dead Woman’s Pass) and severe descents on paths of uneven stones — amid snow-capped peaks, alpine panoramas, Tolkienesque cloud forests and sightings of condors. It is worth every measured breath.
The journey for most trekkers begins with acclimating to the thinner air and heights by spending several days in and around the gorgeous city of Cuzco, sitting 11,000 feet above sea level in the Sacred Valley of the Incas.
Among the 18 people, from Canada, Australia, England, the Faroe Islands, Argentina, Venezuela, Peru and the United States making the hike together that June was a young man named Thor Hogan, who was in graduate school in Washington, D.C., and traveling in Peru on his way to participate in a summer program in Chile.
He told us that his wife, Kate Kuvalanka, not with him on this trek, was born and raised in southeastern Connecticut and whose mother, Linda Doran, lived at Misquamicut and was a marriage and family therapist practicing in Mystic.
Last Thursday evening, at the Savoy Bookshop in Westerly, Thor Hogan, J.D., Ph.D., associate professor of politics and environmental studies at Earlham College in Indiana, and, of late, Washington Post columnist, spoke about his new book. It is called “Hydrocarbon Nation: How Energy Security Made Our Nation and Climate Security Will Save Us,” published by Johns Hopkins University Press I’ll let the publisher condense the contents: “In ‘Hydrocarbon Nation,’ Thor Hogan looks at how four technological revolutions — industrial, agricultural, transportation, and electrification— drew upon the enormous hydrocarbon wealth of the United States, transforming the young country into a nation with unparalleled economic and military potential.
“Each of these advances engendered new government policies aimed at strengthening national and economic security. The result was unprecedented energy security and the creation of a nation nearly impervious to outside threats. However, when this position weakened in the decades after the peaking of domestic conventional oil supplies in 1970, the American political and economic systems were severely debilitated. At the same time, climate change was becoming a major concern. “Fossil fuels created the modern world, yet burning them created a climate crisis. Hogan argues that everyday Americans and policymakers alike must embrace the complexity of this contradiction in order to help society chart a path forward. Doing so, Hogan explains, will allow us to launch a critically important sustainability revolution capable of providing energy and climate security in the future. ‘Hydrocarbon Nation’ provides reasons to believe that we can succeed in expanding on the benefits of the Hydrocarbon Age in order to build a sustainable future.”
A dedicated outdoorsman who was raised in Alaska and since his time in the Andes has trekked in the Alps and Himalayas as well as Mount Kilimanjaro, he ends his book with a chapter devoted to one of his favorite places on Earth: Napatree Point. While visiting his mother-in-law with his family here, Hogan usually starts his day running at Napatree and likes to body surf with his wife and son there and at local beaches. “Napatree Point has become deeply entangled in our lives and occupies a special place in our hearts,” he writes, noting that though it is a protected conservation area today, the headland remains rather vulnerable. He began the book with a discussion about his environmental awakening after the Exxon Valdez disaster.
On his daily runs, he sometimes notices chunks of coal dotting the sand, and knows that out from the shore, the foundations of stately homes destroyed in the Hurricane of ’38 are buried.
“As the breakers work the ocean bottom, they dislodge this hearty hydrocarbon that had been used by the former residents to heat their homes,” he writes. “As I run past these small pieces of history on a sunny morning, I often find myself thinking about the role prehistoric organisms have played in the rise of the American nation.
“At the same time, I wonder whether humanity can muster the will to keep similar fossil fuels buried deep inside the Earth to prevent the worst impacts of climate change. If not, the entire planet could face the same level of destruction wrought on this small strip of land eighty years ago.
“Yet I am still filled with hope that a new generation of leaders can turn the tide.”
Steven Slosberg lives in Stonington and was a longtime reporter and columnist. He may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.