Saturday, October 13, 2007

Gamblers, speculators all! Sat, Oct. 13 pm

My friend Bill sent me this: Here are a few lines from Douglas taking the train in 1881 through Utah.


“…[T]he traveler… has time to think of the strange fate which induced a community… devoted by the very articles of their creed and the rules of their church to agricultural and pastoral pursuits, to plant itself in the heart of these mountains, where its members are industriously reclaiming the desert and tilling every nook and crevice among the mountain’s recesses which will raise a blade of grass, while around them surges a population of restless, reckless miners and speculators – gamblers all – their very opposites in character and pursuits; and one wonders what the upshot will be!”

Traveling by car through Utah, New Mexico and today the Texas panhandle, the traveler still has time to ponder answers to Douglas' musing about the fate of the West. Funny, they are all here and all still wildly pursuing their sometimes opposing, sometimes reinforcing
goals. Church and nation, cross and flag now dominate the symbolic visible landscape of western America. A scan of the radio dial yields little more than evangelical ministers calling for a new social redemption and gospel music (alternating ironically with rap and hip hop). Crosses (often lit up at night) have been erected in the fields and on rocky outcroppings illuminating the path ahead for wayward travelers. Yet these same agriculturalists and pastoralists: "industriously reclaiming the desert and tilling every nook and crevice among the mountain’s recesses which will raise a blade of grass . . ." have become as dedicated to individual pursuit of wealth as their "reckless" mining and speculating neighbors. The "social" gospel of the panhandle and much of the rural west is a gospel of individual wealth--in their parlance--"freedom." These pastoralists now lease their land for wind mills, oil rigs, coal mines, feed lots and every other way they can find to exploit the land for every dollar it can grow, produce or yield. Not sure what Douglas would say today as he looks out upon a landscape where the dollar is the crop of choice.

Yet what anger and discontent seethes just below the surface. While pursuing economic change--the main chance--these same good Americans and good Christians are angry at every other kind of change: angry at immigrants, ragheads, the Indian shop keepers who now own or operate every motel and gas station in the West, gays and lesbians, liberated women who refuse to obey their husbands. (Its worth reading
carefully the news accounts and transcript of the trial of the Utah Mormon tried as a polygamist and rapist, [or was it the reverse], whose vision of good social order placed himself in the center with his numerous wives revolving around his sun.)

Yet, ironically the old West--the West that Douglas imagined and was probably never there--has also grown amazing crops of urbanity and sophistication. Places--perhaps outposts or better, inposts--have sprung up in the rural centers; places like Austin, Rio Ranchero, Albuquerque, Santa Fe, and more, places that glitter with a sense of community, albeit yuppie middle class technological community, slowly sowing the seeds of social change: "liberalism," god forbid!, and its urban cousin "tolerance" for true individualism, i.e. cultural and individual difference. Amen brother. Written from somewhere in the Texas panhandle where Bush continues to reign supreme.

TedTom Sat. October 13

I'm writing from one of my favorite places: a Borders in Rio Ranchero New Mexico. A day into 64; spent my birthday (my very deep thanks to all of you who sent me notes and called!!) evening under the stars in Chaco Canyon (here is a nice site:, a place I have always wanted to visit for myself. Spent two days and one evening wandering around the valley looking at the ruins of ancient pueblos and ceremonial buildings (perhaps)and structures. Hawks, ravens, lizards, rabbits and birds of many sorts shared the space with me. The damn raven and chipmunks enjoyed my uncooked rice and peck a neat hole in (right precisely in the middle) my plastic gallon water jug--I hope the thirsty devils enjoyed it. But my friend Bill says i have to write more about myself--he says thats what my audience--any audience--wants to know is what the writer is really thinking and experiencing. Probably true.

Anyway the best thing that happened on this "small" loop from the Grand Canyon (visited in the morning Thursday Oct 11) to Monument Valley where I spent that evening (and I'm without words to describe) on to Chaco Canyon to celebrate my birthday with the ravens--was, picking up TedTom an older Navajo man sort of hitchhiking on his way to Farmington NM--about twenty miles--to run some errands. TedTom was actually sitting outside the trading post at a small crossroads somewhere south of Mexican Hat (man there is so much to tell you guys about. If you are ever in Mexican Hat, stay at the San Juan Inn and Motel for the evening or week of your life-- indeed click on this link). Well, old Tedtom and I set off after I bought us both a cup of coffee for the road. I asked only one thing in return for the lift: that he allow me to take his picture--he agreed and off we went.

We drove first to his home about 4 miles away where he showed me his horses about to be raced at the Tuba City annual fair and introduced me to his granddaughter whose picture I took with her grandfather--now that cost me 10 bucks which I offered and she accepted. TedTom also showed me his sacred Hogan built by his father and replastered a few years before by him and his three sons. TedTom was born on September 22, 1940 which he remembered for being born in the family "Shake" house--a typical regional wooden structure made of small trees and branches--brought at some labor from the nearby mountains--and used for all ceremonial gatherings of the family and friends--births, weddings, parties, and just nice dinners. I felt myself to be quite lucky to be allowed to visit TedTom's home, his Hogan and his Shakehouse. Not many white men--as he called me--had been to his home.

Then, off again to Farmington where TedTom had a few things to do. After further conversation I found myself giving TedTom a little money to pay a water and electric bill; afterwards we said good bye. Now, I admit it did cost me 30 dollars to give this old Navajo gentleman a lift but it was the best thirty dollars I ever spent.

Well, and now on from here over the Rockies onto the desert (again) of west Texas. The last time I crossed the panhandle of Texas, Merle Haggard's Okie From Muskogee was playing on the jukebox of the very hostile joint I mistakenly ventured into wearing my hair fashionably long--some might have called my wife and children--hippies but we thought of ourselves as students and respectable folks. Well let's find out how things have changed; I need to add one of those smiley faces here.

Tuesday, October 9, 2007

Glacier National Park

Talk about missing a few posts! Nobody skips Glacier National Park, the incredible coasts of Oregon and California and the absolutely magnificent Redwood Giants. I did and apologize. I also apologize for not posting my pics. Can't seem to do it for some reason. I have them and will post one day soon.

Leaving the Museum of the Plains Indians I started up the eastern face of the Lewis Range (Rt 89) hoping to cross the Park through Logan Pass (Going to the Sun Road) but before reaching St. Mary's I found the Pass closed for repairs (met an amazing woman living on this barren and wind swept Front Range, raising horses and providing lodging for folks in the summer). I was already impressed: the mountains were beautiful and rugged beyond words; the wind was cold and blowing at gale force, snow was beside the road now. Natives said the Front Range always blew but even they said today was severe. A guide mentioned his car being blown across the road on a similar day. Still, it was invigorating, if a little scary. Not being able to cross at Logan I took 89 south again until I found that I could possible take a shortcut to West Glacier by taking Rt 49--also closed but you could take "your chances." It was wonderful. I an another car traveled together over Looking Glass Pass seeing fabulous vistas; so glad I took the small risk. At the very top of Looking Glass I met Scott who bicycles to the top of the Pass every day and has since his childhood! Had a great cappuccino at Brownies in the lovely little village of East Glacier and left from there for West Glacier. 55 miles from East to West but what a climate and biology difference! The east face of the Rockies is bitter cold and windy, the 55 miles (here at least) mark more than a continental divide--the western slopes are much, much warmer, more tall pines and greener vegetation--warm and comfortable enough for me to get my tent out and go back to a T shirt. Slept well--proud of myself for getting the tent out and spending the night there. More tomorrow--maybe!