Crossfire Canyon: A study in conflict, part three

September 28, 2007 | 35 comments
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See Part Two posted 9/27.

On September 22nd, I rose early and hiked into Crossfire. Afterward, I stopped at the local market and ran into a women I’d seen at the BLM’s open house, one of the most vocal SPEAR members present that night. We greeted each other and she demanded to know who I was and what my interest in the canyon was. “Are you one of those tree-huggers or something else?” she asked. “Who are you affiliated with?” “No one,” I said. “I’m a floating free agent.” When I explained I was new to the area, she said, “Well, if you’re going to live in San Juan Country, you need to get you an ATV!” I said I hoped people wouldn’t think too much less of me if I didn’t. I allowed how as a “hiker,” my freedom to enter favorite canyons was also in jeopardy. “Have you ever requested a tour of the damaged areas?” I asked. Wonder dawned in her face. “No,” she said. “But that’s a dang good idea!”

On September 23rd, while doing background Internet research as I tried to find out more about the groups involved in the conflict, I ran across the website of the hiking club the BLM law enforcement officer had introduced to me superficially back on the 15th. As I read their on-line Winter 2007 newsletter, missing puzzle pieces fell into place. It told how a retired BLM special agent now living in Bluff, Utah had contacted this group, based in Durango, Colorado, and alerted them to the destruction of cultural resources that ATV use had caused because this Colorado group had been running an off-road vehicle monitoring program. This group’s staff members then hiked into Crossfire and documented illegally constructed trails and other damage to the canyon, probably more than once. I recognized a dog in one of the pictures in the newsletter. About a year ago, my kids and I ran into two women and a man in Crossfire Canyon. The man was packing an impressive camera and tripod. The dog in the Internet newsletter picture was one of the dogs accompanying the trio that day.

The article asserted how the local BLM, “… in numerous instances, has given incomplete and less than accurate information, has attempted to ‘cover up’ and legitimize these illegal activities, and is receiving considerable pressure from San Juan County and SPEAR (San Juan Public Entry and Access Rights), the local ATV organization, to acquiesce to their demands.” (Sound familiar?) Suddenly, the BLM’s language for the closure made sense: “Once it comes to BLM attention that a site is damaged, we’re legally required to close it.” My guess: The Colorado group had supplied the BLM with overwhelming evidence and/or exerted legal pressure on them to comply with federal regulations. In the newsletter, the group described itself as “working in partnership with SUWA (Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance), which is providing legal assistance and grassroots organizing expertise, to stop illegal activity on these lands.” Furthermore, the Colorado group states that one of its goals is to return parts of Utah to “quiet users and the critters.”

Uh-huh. The locals’ fears that this temporary closure might turn into a permanent one are justified. Furthermore, it’s apparent to me that the Colorado group is dedicated, sophisticated and well connected. For nearly a year, they’ve planned and worked, pitting photography and other forms of documentation, GPS mapping skills, and application of modern conservation law against some of the most recalcitrant frontier-era concepts of land use and stewardship mounted on the latest model ATVs. While ATVers and other San Juan County groups have been making shows of strength on spiffed-up ATVs and driving floats displaying SUWA-prohibited signs in Fourth of July parades, activists have quietly managed the posting of OHV-prohibited signs in the ATVers’ “backyard.” I think many of my Mormon neighbors still aren’t sure what hit them.

In the general land use lexicon, the word “stewardship” remains too slippery, perhaps, in some cases, deliberately so. I wrote here about some of my ideas why that might be, but in my community, it appears that some still nurture a concept of stewardship rooted to one-hundred-year-old pre-ATV ideas that include subduing the land and using it at will to sustain a settlement. Some of my acquaintances assert that the Anasazi culture has given nothing to their Euro-American one; why, they wonder, is preserving their primitive architecture, artifacts and trash heaps so important? Meanwhile, just a few hours south in Arizona and New Mexico, the Puebloan peoples whose ancestors the Anasazi were fight their own cultural battles. An archaeologist friend tells me that many Hopi and other Puebloans still come into this area to hunt. When they find Anasazi sites, they build shrines on them. LDS ought not to find this connection between place and origins difficult to understand. The LDS Church maintains a strong presence on lands deemed of historical significance to the origins and development of its own culture, the Hill Cumorah Pageant in New York, which yours truly has attended, being one of many examples.

As long as the embattled local residents don’t understand or refuse to consider what’s wrong with causing wear and tear to cultural or natural resources, they make it easy for groups like the one out of Colorado to take steps to monitor and control them. In other words, they run the risk of being “managed” like a nuisance species, just as their pioneer forebears took it upon themselves to manage mountain lions and coyotes that didn’t get what was wrong with killing settlers’ lambs and calves in their “backyard.” Such management policies will include ideologically, technologically, legally, and above all, bureaucratically reinforced rabbit-proof fencing. Parade floats and steaming letters to the editors of local newspapers just won’t cut it; rather than promoting change for the better, such behavior maintains the battle, making the fight the focal point rather than progress toward better circumstances for most or all involved. Some reading this series have posed possible courses of action, suggesting, for instance, that residents dissatisfied with the most vocal and combative camps form another. Whether or not Crossfire remains closed to ATVers, the appearance of some new group, more balanced in its approach and more carefully spoken in its appeals, could not only help folks adapt to more current land use philosophies and practices but also open up possibilities nobody has yet imagined.

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35 Responses to Crossfire Canyon: A study in conflict, part three

  1. Jacob M on September 28, 2007 at 3:16 pm

    In other words, they run the risk of being “managed” like a nuisance species

    By far my favorite line of the series. In the second part I mentioned how when some new rule comes in, it is usually in response to someone doing something really stupid. These posts seem to back this theory up. What it makes me think of is the stewardship being taken away. In the parable of the talents, the man who recieves one has his taken away because he buries it. The emphasis we usually put on that is to make sure we don’t hide our talents, like this particular servant. But now I’m thinking that he wasn’t punished for simply hiding away the money, but for not using the money properly. So, to bring it back to our stewarship over the earth, I wonder how we are supposed to use the land we’ve been given properly. I also wonder how exactly will the Lord take away our stewardship. Interersting thoughts, and once again, thank you for an intriguing post.

  2. John Mansfield on September 28, 2007 at 3:25 pm

    It’s just a relief to know that hikers never, ever destroy cultural artifacts, and so will never find their access to wilderness managed away.

  3. Clark on September 28, 2007 at 4:01 pm

    John, +++

    While I have seen lots of ATV trails that are annoying. They aren’t *everywhere*. Whereas I *have* seen lots of destruction due to hunters and hikers and mountain bikers. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not opposing such groups. Before I had young kids I was out biking and hiking most of the areas in southern Utah. But I think ATVers get a bit more of a rap than they deserve.

    Likewise, say what you will about supposed environmentalists opposed to ATV and other such uses, yet when they get their paws on things it doesn’t always end up nice either. Look at what happened around Boulder once Clinton put in his park. And don’t get me started on the insanity that happened up at City of Rocks to make the park accessible to non-climbers.

  4. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 4:44 pm

    #1 Jacob M: “So, to bring it back to our stewarship over the earth, I wonder how we are supposed to use the land we’ve been given properly. I also wonder how exactly will the Lord take away our stewardship. Interersting thoughts, and once again, thank you for an intriguing post.”

    You’re welcome. Thanks for reading. As for defining stewardship, I’m glad you’re taking specific concerns about it regarding land use and applying them more widely. As you’ve observed, the problems stewardship poses aren’t just limited to land use. Errors we make in land use are related to errors we make in all aspects of behavior, sometimes quite directly.

  5. kevinf on September 28, 2007 at 4:49 pm

    Clark,

    We all bear some responsibility in this, and it has to be in relation to our potential impact. While one hiker won’t impact a meadow or desert soils as much as a loaded ATV with rider weighing over five hundred pounds, a group of 40 hikers all walking in the same place can sometimes create greater damage.

    I recently took the loop trail through Walnut Canyon near Flagstaff Arizona, which takes you right up to the old Anasazi dwellings. At one spot, they describe how archaeologists some 100 years ago actually totally dismantled one of the dwellings, dug up the floors, and otherwise destroyed part of the site in the interest of preserving artifacts. Seems a little shortsighted now.

    Patricia, thanks for this series. It was very enlightening, and I appreciate your conclusion that our misunderstandings of how the world and culture changes can cause us to end up wondering what happened. I do have sympathy for the long term residents of Southern Utah. It would appear that outsiders suddenly are taking control of their way of life and metaphorical back yards away from them. And to some extent, to the “outside” groups that are orchestrating these circumstances, have sometimes resorted to unfriendly ways of accomplishing their goals.

    I end up, though, recalling how Teddy Roosevelt and his Secretary of the Interior, Gifford Pinchot, sneaked the creation of the US Forest Service past congress by designating all of the lands they knew of through their own experiences traveling the West, beating a Monday morning deadline imposed by legislation. Few of us would argue today that the preservation of our forest lands for wilderness, recreation, and timber harvesting was anything but visionary. At the time, though, it was reviled as the worst sort of executive branch behavior (100 years gives us new perspectives on that, too). Once a wilderness, or an untracked area, or an ancient dwelling is gone, it’s gone. We can’t bring it back.

    You can also say the same thing about humans, that a way of life, ie rural stewardship that focuses on use rather than preservation, can also be gone for good. The difference is that we as humans can adapt, change, repent, whatever you want to call it.

  6. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 5:01 pm

    #2, John Mansfield: I appreciated your calling attention at M* to the civil servant living life with just a small percentage of what is usually thought standard size for a human brain. I’m interested, of course, because my daughter operates on just a portion of hers. Thanks.

    But, gee, your comment here looks like sarcasm. Don’t know you well enough to say for sure. Is it? If so, I’d appreciate it if you could figure out what your point would be w/out the sarcasm and put it up for discussion. If not, then help me get your point.

  7. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 5:10 pm

    # 5, kevin f: “The difference is that we as humans can adapt, change, repent, whatever you want to call it.”

    I think that repentance (adaptation, changing, etc.) is underrated. Associated too much with the gnashing of teeth end of the spectrum of emotional turmoil and too little with the liberating, exhilarating end. There are so many good things out there for us, but we have to change to even begin to imagine what’s possible.

    Yay, repentance! Hm, maybe I should write a post titled, “The Joy of Repentance.”

  8. Local Yocal [sic] on September 28, 2007 at 5:23 pm

    I think that Patricia has described the situation in this area pretty well. It makes me sad to see men and women that should know better act like children who have been told “No.” On the other hand, it scares me to see large, powerful, outside groups have a say in what happens in my backyard. Upon moving here I decided that I needed to take advantage of living in such a beautiful outdoor playground. I grabbed my backpack and my kids and started exploring. However, I know that there will come a day when I can’t hike 10 miles a day wearing a pack. (This day will come for everyone – remember that.) I will still want to see the country. I’m not asking that ATV trails be made up to the front door of every ruin, but I would like to be able to get close enough so that I could still hike in. I’m looking for a reasonable compromise. I just wanted to comment on a few things Patricia has mentioned:

    “Are you one of those tree-huggers or something else?”

    This is a common rallying cry in the area. It is us vs. them at its worst. It demonstrates a lot of shortsightedness on the part of some locals. To many in town I would be considered a tree-hugger because I don’t think access should be a free-for-all.

    “destruction of cultural resources” and “illegally constructed trails and other damage to the canyon”

    This is a good example of the rhetoric that is used in these kinds of situations. This rhetoric gets in the way and is often inaccurate. This rhetoric also is very effective is gaining political and financial power even if it is inaccurate.

    “overwhelming evidence and/or exerted legal pressure ”

    “Overwhelming evidence” is arguable if you are talking about anything other that the atv trail inself. Damage to cultural sites could have been done by anyone. The real stinger here is the “legal pressure”. Through legal actions, the protectionists have basically commandeerred the Federal Government to do their bidding. This is a pretty intimidating situation for Joe ATVer.

    “driving floats displaying SUWA-prohibited signs in Fourth of July parades”

    I agree that this is pretty childish. It is just another form of rhetoric. However, I think this act has its origins in the fact that the local access group knows they are pretty much powerless when compared to the protectionists. It is like that picture of the frog that is half-way down the cranes mouth but still has his hands around the cranes neck.

    “activists have quietly managed the posting of OHV-prohibited signs in the ATVers’ “backyard.”

    This statement bothers me a bit because it gives the impression that the activists are full of nobility and honor because the do things “quietly” as opposed to in the 4th of July parade. While the locals may be acting like selfish toddlers, the activists are acting like condescending bullies. Both sides are really messing this up for the middleman/woman.

    “I think many of my Mormon neighbors still aren’t sure what hit them.”

    Be careful not to make this a religious issue. There are many non-Mormons who are playing a significant role and don’t know what hit them either.

    “recalcitrant frontier-era concepts of land use and stewardship”

    Ouch! I agree that a new approach is needed. However, some of these frontier-era concepts have benefitted each of us. Many of the best trails in the National Park system are the result of cattlemen, sheepherders, miners, and timbermen. It may just be possible that ATVers can be beneficial to other land users. I know a local motorcycle trail group that maintains trail for everyone. I’ve hiked these trails and know that if it weren’t for the motorcyclists hikers and backpackers would be out of luck. Not everything is bad.

    “some still nurture a concept of stewardship rooted to one-hundred-year-old pre-ATV ideas that include subduing the land and using it at will to sustain a settlement”

    For all (and I do mean all) of the ATVers that I ride with stewardship has nothing to do with subduing the land. These riders only want to enjoy the beautiful country they live in. Granted, there are some that ruin it for the rest but not all ATVers are Satan.

    “As long as the embattled local residents don’t understand or refuse to consider what’s wrong with causing wear and tear to cultural or natural resources, they make it easy for groups like the one out of Colorado to take steps to monitor and control them.”

    This is really the problem I think. Some local residents don’t have the foresight to manage their own actions. It’s like the government coming in and taking over the school? It is like the social worker coming in and taking your kids? How would you feel if these things happened to you? This is why some of the locals feel the need to fight like hell (if you can call a 4th of July float fighting like hell ;-). These groups don’t compromise. The locals feel that if they give an inch, then these groups will take a mile. This makes for an impossible situation.

    “Whether or not Crossfire remains closed to ATVers, the appearance of some new group, more balanced in its approach and more carefully spoken in its appeals, could not only help folks adapt to more current land use philosophies and practices but also open up possibilities nobody has yet imagined.”

    I agree that the locals need to adapt to more current land use philosophies. However, the activist groups also need to adapt to more realistic land use philosophies. All of the burden of change shouldn’t fall of the shoulders of the locals. The conservationist groups must also recognize that they should change some of their ideas as well.

    My purpose in writing all of these posts has not been to distract from what Patricia is doing. I think that she has done a good job in bringing to light a difficult situation. I think that she is truly interested in finding solutions that meet a variety of needs. My purpose for writing is to show that there are people who want to both protect and use the land in which they live. The moderate voices, who are likely the ones that could find real solutions, are often lost in all the comotion that is generated by the opposing forces.

  9. Jim Cobabe on September 28, 2007 at 6:57 pm

    I should add some positive thoughts about public land management agents. They’re not just a bunch of desk-bound Washington bureacrats.

    Many of these people are just like us — in fact, most of the local people are our neighbors. They love the land, they cherish wilderness. They have their own views and values that reflect on such issues as multiuse, restrictions and closures, and lots more to consider that probably never even occurs to most of us. I have never met anyone in public land management that wanted to compromise our use and enjoyment of wilderness lands.

    A link to publications of my friends at the Rocky Mountain Research Station. They have devoted an enormous effort in thought and research to just such problems.

    Rocky Mountain Research Station publications

    Here’s one paper that is a general examination of stewardship issues: The challenge of wilderness stewardship

  10. mlu on September 28, 2007 at 9:35 pm

    In other words, they run the risk of being “managed” like a nuisance species, just as their pioneer forebears took it upon themselves to manage mountain lions and coyotes that didn’t get what was wrong with killing settlers’ lambs and calves in their “backyard.” Such management policies will include ideologically, technologically, legally, and above all, bureaucratically reinforced rabbit-proof fencing.

    Yes, this is the danger. The earth will be a pleasurable resort for those who really know, and the rest are a nuisance species, of which there are already too many, with their crude habits and tasteless forms of recreation.

    The readiness of many “environmentalists” to see ATV-ers, loggers, poor people, and the masses in general as primarily a threat to their treasured “resources” has seemed, to me, the main environmental problem of the age.

    As much as I distrust government by experts, most of the natural resource managers I’ve worked with–the experts–have been wonderfully nuanced and careful people–those from BLM but also the National Parks, the Fish & Wildlife Service and those poor folks at the USFS. The special interest groups who descend upon them, however, leave me wanting all important decisions made only by people who have actually won elections.

    The thousand ways these groups find to dissolve the connection between “consent of the governed” and power seems more of a threat than all the ATVers in Utah.

    I enjoy your writing, Patricia.

  11. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 10:59 pm

    # 8, Local quoting me: “destruction of cultural resources” and “illegally constructed trails and other damage to the canyon”

    Local’s comment: “This is a good example of the rhetoric that is used in these kinds of situations. This rhetoric gets in the way and is often inaccurate. This rhetoric also is very effective is gaining political and financial power even if it is inaccurate.”

    If I remember, I picked that language up from three sources: The BLM’s language explaining the reasons for the closure, including the BLM law enforcement officer I talked to on the 15th; the Colorado group’s newsletter; and the Trib article quoting SJ County Commissioner Lynn Stevens. All three sources claim the trail I commonly use to climb out of the canyon was “built without a permit,” which I interpreted to mean “illegal.” Perhaps my interpretation of that language and the three sources are all wrong. Could be, I guess.

    The “destruction of cultural resources” argument might be a common ploy, but I have seen how the ATV trail skirts the edge of one group of rubble mounds forming a fairly significant site, which means that while it doesn’t go over the remains of buried structures proper it still technically cuts through the site proper and puts outlying architectural alignments and other archaeologically/culturally significant features at risk. But perhaps you have another interpretation of the scene? I haven’t been down in the canyon any lower than that fairly obvious site, so I don’t know what’s beyond it, ATV-trailwise.

    Local: “‘Overwhelming evidence’ is arguable if you are talking about anything other that the atv trail inself. Damage to cultural sites could have been done by anyone. The real stinger here is the “legal pressure”. Through legal actions, the protectionists have basically commandeerred the Federal Government to do their bidding. This is a pretty intimidating situation for Joe ATVer.”

    I agree that the legal pressure is what seals the deal, but I assumed, perhaps wrongly, based on the damage to sites I’ve seen in the canyon — the canyon bottom ATV trail clipping and crossing at least a couple sites, and what I’ve been given to understand about the ATV trail into the canyon, that such evidence provided the Colorado group with the ammunition it needed to press the legal advantage. Perhaps I’m being naive about how the legal system works around here?

    Local quoting me: “activists have quietly managed the posting of OHV-prohibited signs in the ATVers’ ‘backyard.’”

    Local’s comment: “This statement bothers me a bit because it gives the impression that the activists are full of nobility and honor because the do things ‘quietly’ as opposed to in the 4th of July parade.”

    Um, maybe. But it wasn’t my intention. I meant to imply they made a sneaky attack while the locals’ attention was turned elsewhere. I have made it clear that I find the rhetoric and behavior on both sides less than attractive and would not align myself with either group.

    Local quoting me: “I think many of my Mormon neighbors still aren’t sure what hit them.”

    Local’s comment: “Be careful not to make this a religious issue. There are many non-Mormons who are playing a significant role and don’t know what hit them either.”

    I do realize that, but _my_ neighbors — my immediate neighbors, the ones I spoke of earlier in the piece, many of whom make heavy use of the ATV trail, and at least one of which suspected me of finagling the closing of the canyon — are Mormon. “My Mormon neighbors” accurately describes my, er, Mormon neighbors.

    Besides, this is a Mormon blog and the fact that my Mormon neighbors are in this predicament and said and did thus and so will be of special interest to Mormon readers. Hence, the emphasis on “Mormon.”

    Local quoting me: “recalcitrant frontier-era concepts of land use and stewardship”

    Local’s comment: “Ouch! I agree that a new approach is needed. However, some of these frontier-era concepts have benefitted each of us. However, some of these frontier-era concepts have benefitted each of us. Many of the best trails in the National Park system are the result of cattlemen, sheepherders, miners, and timbermen. It may just be possible that ATVers can be beneficial to other land users. I know a local motorcycle trail group that maintains trail for everyone. I’ve hiked these trails and know that if it weren’t for the motorcyclists hikers and backpackers would be out of luck. Not everything is bad.”

    No argument here. There’s something of a tone bump here that perhaps threw you off. I am not prone to engage in name calling. In case you haven’t noticed, I can’t even bring myself to call you “Local *cringe* Yokal.” What I was trying to do here was capture what I imagine the Colorado group’s impression of the locals to be and lay that against their own practices and procedures. I was attempting irony, guess it failed. Don’t worry, I’ll figure it out.

    Well, I don’t feel the need to comment on your comments on my comments point by point. I’ve already made lots of comments, some of which address your comments. Just one last one:

    “My purpose for writing is to show that there are people who want to both protect and use the land in which they live. The moderate voices, who are likely the ones that could find real solutions, are often lost in all the commotion that is generated by opposing forces.”

    My purpose in writing is to tell about my first experience with this sort of conflict, try to understand what I’m witnessing by writing about it and receiving readers’ insights, and generate meaningful discourse if possible because I haven’t found the rhetoric I’ve heard from the two most obvious camps satisfying at all. Out of the breach, you’ve risen to the occasion, and I’ve admired and appreciated that; on the other hand, your resignation, signalled by sentences like that final one, puzzles me. You’ve come close to dominating the conversation (and I mean that in a nice way) here; why not take a stand on home ground?

  12. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 11:08 pm

    # 9, Jim, excellent, thanks. I’ll study up.

  13. Patricia Karamesines on September 28, 2007 at 11:16 pm

    # 10 mlu: I’m happy you appreciate the “common folk.” I do, too. I aspire to be one.

    Thanks for reading, and I hope we meet up in another post.

    Man, I’m hungry! Anybody for pizza? I just got paid …

  14. Seth R. on September 29, 2007 at 1:08 pm

    I grew up in Southern Utah.

    Yeah, they want to enjoy God’s beautiful country.

    But let’s not kid ourselves. The people I grew up with were also in it for cheap laughs. They would tear up stream banks, rip up mountain wildflower beds, and take pot shots at local jackrabbits, all the while having a fabulous time. For a lot of them, alcohol seemed to play a big part.

    So Local Yocal says that the ATV-ers he/she rides with are responsible.

    You willing to make that guarantee about your TEENAGERS? You willing to say the same thing about your own youth?

    Because I grew up with those teenagers. My experience was that a lot of them didn’t really give a damn about crapping all over God’s creations for cheap laughs. Not that they were malicious, but they sure weren’t that responsible either. And the local culture down there tends to pretty-much give their kids free reign of the local mountains.

    The stereotypes exist for a reason.

  15. Stephen M (Ethesis) on September 29, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    “they run the risk of being “managed” like a nuisance species, just as their pioneer forebears took it upon themselves to manage mountain lions and coyotes that didn’t get what was wrong with killing settlers’ lambs and calves in their “backyard.””

    I know, everyone is struck by how accurate and telling that comment is, but it really works.

    Something that struck me was Yellowstone. Snowmobiles have less negative impact than skiers and hikers. They don’t leave feces behind in places where it doesn’t belong, don’t get in trouble leaving the trails and amazingly have less of a negative impact. I remember an editorial on the subject by a new age guru type that really struck me. In Yellowstone the hikers and cross-country skiers are the nuisance species.

    Though ATVs really have potential. The real problem is that land use does use the land.

    “I know that there will come a day when I can’t hike 10 miles a day wearing a pack.” and that is a real issue. I had some great times in Colorado using a friend’s ATV with my daughter Heather. Now we used trails and were pretty much the only people on the mountain area at the time, but we covered so much, saw so much, did so much more than we could have done on foot or on horseback (not to mention for so much less money).

    ““activists have quietly managed …” I somewhat saw “quiet” as “sneaky” rather than “noble.”

  16. Patricia Karamesines on September 29, 2007 at 1:37 pm

    Update

    After sitting at the computer for three days running this series, I needed a break. Yesterday afternoon, I grabbed my pack, my willow walking stick (light enough to clench in my teeth when I need both hands free), and headed for Crossfire. Probably, I was on the very edge of my safety zone, having lost sleep over these posts — couldn’t settle my mind. But my need for movement was so intense I went for it anyway.

    As I walked along the dirt road to the trailhead, a bluster of wind carried the strong fragrance of sage to me. I wondered why the scent rode the wind so pervasively but didn’t bother to look close enough at the plants to find out.

    The trail down showed no sign of human wear. A recent potent rainstorm had erased all traces of me. I liked how the trail looked with the polish of tracks sanded off — a wildly “random” mosaic of run-off shifted, strikingly-colored pebbles; water-wear patterns of flat, braided sand; ragged ruts and channels. Cloud cover had flattened the light and rendered the shadows of things wan. When I looked around, trees and stones appeared to cast hardly any shade at all, what there was looking like the bare beginnings of a blond five o’ clock shadow on a fair-skinned man.

    Along the trail, I saw a blooming plant with long wispy stalks that looked like grass, but at their tips erupted pale purple stars, sparsely blooming. A lone bumblebee worked each blossom thoroughly, his drone rising and falling in pitch as he traversed spaces between flowers and dodged obstacles.

    In the canyon bottom, I was surprised to find how wild some parts of the trail have already gone, and with only slightly over two weeks passing since the closure. One section had reverted to arroyo, with wide plaits of flood-tangled sand completely erasing ruts. The storm surge along this arroyo had combined with a flash flood in the creek to breach the lowest beaver dam. The beavers had repaired it, packing fresh earth and cattail stalks along damaged sections. The pond above this dam had been empty for weeks, maybe months, but it was filled to the brim now, with only a dripping trickle filtering through the patch.

    The clouds brought a premature dusk to the canyon, which unsettled me for some reason. I wondered why I felt slightly nervous in a place where I usually felt completely at home. The effects of the unusual false dusk combined with a constant wind that sheered through the cottonwoods, plucking off the first yellow leaves and sending them flying. I thought the wind’s extra noise, which prevented my hearing anything else going on around me, and the added motion in the air of swirling leaves, was disturbing me.

    I hiked south, noticing coyote tracks along the trail, one set of adult tracks and one smaller set trotting alongside, probably a partly-grown pup. When I returned along this trail, I watched the tracks more cloely. As I was now walking with them, I noticed something I missed when I walked against them: the pup trotted right through a skin of mud overlaying sand in a rut while the the adult skirted the mud. Typical.

    As I passed the other three beaver dams, I saw evidence of the significant flash flood that had gone through — a piles of waterborne debris and current-flattened sedges, and the beavers’ recent craftsmanship on all of their structures.

    Looking at their work, I marvelled at their hydroengineering skills. Beaver vision isn’t good. I’ve gotten quite close to the family — two parents and a couple or three kits — with my own kids in tow. But these animals are literate where the discourse of water is concerned; they read the changes in sound and water pressure fluently. Since Crossfire’s closure will allow them more peace, I suspect their efforts at some of the lower points along the trail will further overcome it, perhaps submerging it completely.

    I found the sage in the canyon bottom as fragrant as up on the rim, and now I understood why. It’s preparing to bloom. Each plant was draped in greenish-white, beaded plumes, many of which bend in graceful arcs, weighed down with hundreds of tiny buds. From time to time I ran my hands through them and pressed my palms to my face. Sage has an odor I associate with the sacred. Something purifying, maybe, or uplifting.

    As I followed the trail away from the creek, the wind softened and I could hear again. But my uncertainty clung. Rain and flooding had altered this part of the trail rather dramatically, grinding off ATV ruts and laying down fresh blankets of water-woven sand, and finally I realized why I felt nervous. Since I usually hike alone, I take care to stay within my range of acceptable risk. That is, I keep to the trails or inclines least likely to put me in danger because if something were to happen there’d be no one else to go for help. The ATV trail is going feral. Rather than the familiar worn textures and easy gravitational tensions I’m used to, I’m finding roughed up terrain and obstacles, and with these, an increased sense of isolation. With a stab of irony, I realized I felt more nervous in Crossfire because the ATV trail — a constant assertion of human presence in the canyon — is being gnawed down and I’m feeling a slight edging upward of risk. Looks like the joke’s at least partly on me.

    On the “unpermited” trail out of the canyon, I found the bloom-laden rabbit brush leaning even more steeply into the trail. Pushing through flowery boughs, I picked up a dusting of goldenrod-colored pollen. I’m biologically incompatible with the plants, but the pollen on my skin had a golden, grainy beauty that wasn’t completely lost on me.

    At the point where the BLM’s signage posts the canyon’s closure, I found what appeared to be a small act of human rebellion. It looked like someone had moved the BLM sign pointing ATVers down an alternate route so that the arrow pointed instead down the closed trail. “Trail,” the sign says, and its white arrow pointed toward the juniper log barricade barring the way.

  17. Local Yocal on September 30, 2007 at 12:16 am

    Seth,

    No argument with what you say. You can’t control everyone. However, the complete closure of everything is not an objective solution. There needs to be a more creative way rather than just posting a “Trail Closed” sign.

  18. Jim Cobabe on September 30, 2007 at 11:45 pm

    This evening I took a hike up the backyard mountain to look at the fall colors. About half a mile up the mountain, the road runs out and narrows down into a fair hiking trail. A ways further, and it fans out into a dozen faintly defined meanders through the PJ.

    If you wander through the mixed Juniperus scopulorum and Pinus monophyllum long enough, detouring around the scattered patches of Arctostaphylos, you can hook back into the mountain road that crosses the saddle and descends into the next valley. Beautiful vistas all around. I usually find the trail virtually untracked by humans, and a nice hillside to watch the sunset.

    Some time in the last couple of weeks, an ambitious soul on an ATV took it upon himself to blaze the foot trail through.

    Nothing tragic about this. It was always an unremarkable spot, nothing special to distinguish it from mountainsides and ridges all around this area. But it was untracked before. I presume that it never will be again — not in my lifetime.

    I’ve seen this happen before in other areas around this neighborhood. Opening one track starts it. Where one ATV operator sees tire tracks, it apparently signals a green light to traverse the same ground.

    There’s no reason to make new trails in this area. There are hundreds of miles of dirt trails to explore. Ripping a new one across formerly pristine territory is just senseless destruction.

  19. Patricia Karamesines on October 1, 2007 at 10:22 am

    Relevant article on ATV use in Penna, which claims “fourth highest” state in ATV sales. Hat tip sis Lori.

    http://www.pittsburghlive.com/x/pittsburghtrib/news/cityregion/s_530273.html

  20. kevinf on October 1, 2007 at 3:42 pm

    Patricia,

    This is publishable, once you string it all together, and edit it for continuity and flow. You have a gifted eye, and a good sense of story. Very much enjoyed it.

    Interesting to see how you reacted to the real sense of being alone. We get so used to the presence of others, that wilderness solitude can sometimes be exhilarating, or other times unsettlin. Most of my outdoors time has been with family, scouts, or youth groups, it seems, so I rarely experience the solitude. A couple of years back, I hiked in with our scouts to a private cabin in January, with the dirt forest service road covered in three or four feet of snow near Snoqualmie Pass in Western Washington. I was mostly there just to help haul things in, and cook fajitas for the adult leaders. About 10 PM, I took leave of the group, grabbed my flashlight, knapsack, and the obligatory polarfleece, and headed back down the one mile hike to the winter trailhead. It was at or near a full moon, and with the snow, most of the time I did not need the flashlight. For the first half mile, I was fascinated with the silence, the moonlight and shadows on the snow, and the sense of being completely absorbed in the forest. During the second half mile, my mind began to wander, and I started thinking about bears. No, bears, would be hibernating, wouldn’t they? Well, unless the scouts were leaving garbage around the cabin. No chance of that, right? What about mountain lions? Do they hibernate? I don’t think so, and up here they have attacked bikers riding the trails on their mountain bikes in broad daylight. I held the 4 D-cell maglight more tightly in my gloved hand, started trying to make more noise, and generally become more detached from the wild world around me, and not so absorbed. The moonlit spaces made me an easy target for a predator, while the shadowy parts of the trail probably hid all sorts of hungry carnivores.

    Suffice it to say, I made it back without even seeing a rabbit, but your mind can play tricks on you. I was glad to get to my car, crank up the CD player, and head for home.

  21. Travis on October 1, 2007 at 4:20 pm

    Patty. In response to my comment in part 1 you wrote, “The topic isn’t sympathy; the topic is change and how to accomplish it. Keep Off the Tar Babies!” But quite clearly, sympathy was (at least in part) the point of this series–sympathy for you, the misunderstood and mistreated outsider attempting to document your innocence under the guise of a post ostensibly addressing stewardship issues. Now, in this case, the evidence you cite suggests that you were indeed misunderstood and wrongly maligned by your neighbors, but you should at least honestly admit that point and be prepared to discuss it and the related issues you raised.

    You also wrote, “We can play the blame game all night; I guarantee, that’s a game nobody will win. I’d rather play the change game.” If that claim really reflects your intention, then you might consider keeping off the tar babies yourself and simply posing the pertinent question. And in anticipation of your T&S fellow bloggers who will inevitably leap angrily to your defense, may I point out that this is a tactic often eployed at T&S: address a very personal but hidden agenda in the course of discussing some related topic, and then lash out at anyone who responds to the hidden agenda or related issues. I think it’s only fair to expect readers to respond to the tar babies you yourself reference and drag into the open. If you and your fellow bloggers don’t want that to happen, especially with hot-topic issues, then you might consider writing posts without all the distracting color. I, myself, happen to like those personal anecdotes and revelations. But I also think that once they’re revealed, they should be fair game to discuss and it’s disegenuous of you to expect otherwise.

    That said, as an avid and long-time hiker of Southern Utah trails (including, I suspect, the canyon in question), I found your post very interesting, But stewardship was hardly the main (or most interesting) issue you raised therein.

  22. Ardis Parshall on October 1, 2007 at 4:33 pm

    Aw, gee, Travis, don’t go giving Patricia free credit for all our bad habits — she hasn’t been around long enough yet to be fully indoctrinated into all our hidden agendas. Our next scheduled lesson is on angry lashing. If you can make it to the club dungeon at noon tomorrow, we’d love to have your help with the demonstration. Inevitably yours, Fellow Blogger of the Day

  23. Adam Greenwood on October 1, 2007 at 4:41 pm

    You know, Travis, a tactic that is frequently found not only on T&S, but even elsewhere, is something calling “poisoning the well.” For instance, a person might make some stupid attacks against one of our bloggers, and then argue that if the blogger or one of her cobloggers responded, it was evidence that they were acting in bad faith or whatever.

  24. John Mansfield on October 1, 2007 at 4:54 pm

    Patricia Karamesines, I followed your three-part presentation with interest, wondering where the final installment would end up. I felt betrayed to find a conclusion that your neighbors’ fears were well-founded, but their fears are irrelevant because their day is past. This conclusion arrived as a betrayal because of your frequently repeated proclamations of neutrality in this conflict. Though you are not part of the Colorado group, yet you end up the victor as much as they, since you may use public lands in the manner you desire, and your neighbors with the ATVs, whose manner of enjoying public lands had encroached on your own, may not unless they reform and become more acceptable to those who have banished them.

    There are many choices to make in management of public lands, and not all will be pleased. I’ve been disappointed to find trails with mountain bike ruts that my hiking feet have to uncomfortably stradle or buzzing ATVs on a dune where I was used to solitude. All those choices are beyond our influence, though. This form of land management is really very old, going back to the time when American colonies were the domains of European kings and use of them first required authorization from the viceroy. It’s not the way of a self-governing people. Then-Governor Mike Leavitt’s testimony to Congress on the creation of Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument is an unforunate example of what we have currently.

  25. Ardis Parshall on October 1, 2007 at 5:21 pm

    I’m fascinated that both Travis and John Mansfield take Patricia to task for apparently having a position, as if their own rather heated remarks making known their own preferences were somehow of a different character. Being neither a hiker nor an ATVer, I have no direct personal stake in this (although of course I have opinions, political and otherwise) — maybe, being not directly involved, I’ll be permitted to make a comment without being subjected to the same scorn. Or maybe not.

    This is pretty much the same question we face whenever we have two or more activities competing for the same space: I hate cell phones, especially in research libraries — yet an obnoxious proportion of visitors to the church archives ignore all the signs instructing them to turn off their cell phones and persist in having loud and tedious conversations in a room where everyone has to listen. I prefer nursing mothers to be discreet in Sacrament Meeting — yet a vocal segment of the Bloggernacle has called me a baby killer for stating that preference. We can’t all have our own way — your convenience versus my professional concentration; your convenience versus my undistracted worship; one faction’s preferred type of access to Crossfire Canyon versus another person’s preferred type of access to the same canyon.

    I think — and I’m sure someone will blast me if I’m wrong — Patricia is asking for discussion on how two competing uses of resource can be negotiated to coexist. She isn’t saying that her preference must win and your preference must lose. Can there be shared access?

    She hasn’t condemned ATVs or the culture of those who use them. There’s no call for any of you to condemn her because she doesn’t champion your culture.

  26. Patricia Karamesines on October 1, 2007 at 6:07 pm

    Wow, thinking this thread done, I wander off to make a vegetable casserole and pet the cat who climbed up onto my shoulder and come back to find all kinds of fun things have happened in my absence!

    kevinf: Thanks for the suggestion to publish. I’m not sure the story’s over yet, who knows. I don’t have enough experience to tell.

    “Interesting to see how you reacted to the real sense of being alone.”

    It interested me, too, though I’ve been alone in wilder places than this is. Just not for a long time. I bet that as I continue traveling down there, give up the familiar and embrace the differences (IOW, get used to it), a new relationship between Crossfire and myself will open. I’m excited to document what happens, not just to the canyon, but to me.

    I loved your moonlit snow-angst story. I occasionally feel that. Every once in a while I hike alone in the dark. I don’t do that much anymore because my nighttime vision ain’t what she used to be. But one night I was out, not too far from home, and my hiking boot came untied. I started to bend down to tie it when a voice in my head said, “Do NOT bend over. Better to walk with it untied.” I listened to that voice, though I don’t think any dangerous creature actually lurked outside the range of my flashlight beam. It was just an old, old voice of instinct, and I obeyed, because it’s better to obey it when you’re out there like that.

    I’ve seen and read some of those stories about mountain lions attacking mountain bikers. I suppose that might be one advantage of hitting the great outdoors in an ATV — less of a risk of mountain lion attacking a noisy ATVer than a mountain biker, I suppose.

    Only seen one mountain lion in my life, and it was just outside Payson, UT. But once you see one, it’s in your brain and you watch for lions, you wonder about them, you think what you’d do if you met up with one. Always a risk, putting yourself out there for a little “solitude” (still not quite sure what that is) or any other kind of experience with nature.

  27. Patricia Karamesines on October 1, 2007 at 6:55 pm

    # 21, Travis — Whew!

    “But quite clearly, sympathy was (at least in part) the point of this series–sympathy for you, the misunderstood and mistreated outsider attempting to document your innocence under the guise of a post ostensibly addressing stewardship issues. Now, in this case, the evidence you cite suggests that you were indeed misunderstood and wrongly maligned by your neighbors, but you should at least honestly admit that point and be prepared to discuss it and the related issues you raised.”

    Wow, this really tests my “put the language out there and let people do with it what they will” theory of writing. Thanks for the fascinating object lesson.

  28. Patricia Karamesines on October 1, 2007 at 7:33 pm

    # 24, John Mansfield: “I felt betrayed to find a conclusion that your neighbors’ fears were well-founded, but their fears are irrelevant because their day is past. This conclusion arrived as a betrayal because of your frequently repeated proclamations of neutrality in this conflict. Though you are not part of the Colorado group, yet you end up the victor as much as they, since you may use public lands in the manner you desire, and your neighbors with the ATVs, whose manner of enjoying public lands had encroached on your own, may not unless they reform and become more acceptable to those who have banished them.”

    Actually, John, in light of my experience, I’ve been thinking about how I can improve my own “use” of public lands, since I know I as a “hiker” may very well one day find myself on the receiving end of a prohibited sign. I know of a movement to close at least one of my favorite canyons to everybody. My first trip into this canyon twenty-some years ago changed my life; I feel a strong urge to take my daughter there, once she comes of age — an urge to return with my child to a place of extraordinary importance to me. Yet there’s a chance I might not be able to.

    To be clear, here’s my position: Neither of the two obvious sides involved spoke and behaved in ways I found admirable. I’ve learned a lot from the ensuing discussion, and I’ll study it carefully to educate myself further. Yes, I’m pretty darned excited about having the chance to explore and to document changes to the canyon I’m capable of perceiving, because they’ll provoke changes in me, too, but I don’t feel like I know enough yet to decide whether closing the canyon to ATVs indefinitely is the best or even most interesting solution to the problems both stated and unstated. I see no reason to trust the Colorado group’s reasons for wanting Crossfire closed and don’t count their success as a personal victory. I just get to hang out in the canyon till the next conflict over it arises, and that next one might threaten my own rights to enter it at will.

    As for people “having to reform and become acceptable to those who have banished them” … not a meaningful summary of the situation or a satisfying proposal. My thoughts on change and adaptation are complex and hopeful, and I apply them foremost to myself.

  29. kevinf on October 1, 2007 at 7:50 pm

    Travis,

    I may be all alone here, but I don’t see that the designation of the Grand Staircase/Escalante as a national monument was anything but good in the long run. However, it might be that this is cogent to our discussion, as it directly addresses the issue of working together for a common good. You have to recall that the Utah congressional delegation, with the exception of the 2nd congressional district, were pretty much trying to be obstacles to just about everything the Clinton administration was trying to do for 8 years. Clinton wasn’t going to win any votes in Utah that he didn’t already have. This is not to defend President Clinton and the lack of communication, but it’s the same polemics we are talking about here on Crossfire Canyon. You’ve got two groups who don’t trust each other, afraid that any compromise will weaken their position, and unwilling or unable to engage in a meaningful dialog. Then, folks get caught in the “crossfire” (didn’t think about your choice of names till now, Patricia), and are unhappy with the results. Certain individuals and groups in both parties with other agendas make decisions, and Patricia and her ATV-riding neighbors get caught, one way or the other. I suspect that Clinton’s actions and Leavitt’s protests were not so much about Grand Staircase/Escalante, just as the BLM, environmental groups, and ATV riders were not so much concerned about Crossfire Canyon. The BLM claims it has to follow the laws, the ATV riders are fighting economic conditions they have no control over, and the Colorado group might just be trying to tie up more financing for other projects, and can now claim a win to show how effective they are.

    All of these assertions are suppositions on my part, but I think it helps to explain the end results a little better, and perhaps serves as a cautionary tale about really engaging in dialog and discourse. That means that everybody has a part to play. Let’s talk, folks, and see if we can’t help each other out.

  30. Patricia Karamesines on October 1, 2007 at 10:48 pm

    “I suspect that Clinton’s actions and Leavitt’s protests were not so much about Grand Staircase/Escalante, just as the BLM, environmental groups, and ATV riders were not so much concerned about Crossfire Canyon. The BLM claims it has to follow the laws, the ATV riders are fighting economic conditions they have no control over, and the Colorado group might just be trying to tie up more financing for other projects, and can now claim a win to show how effective they are.”

    Then there’s all the personal history people so often bring to these kinds of conflicts that gets parlayed into crusades for truth and right. It gets hard to tell where the personal history leaves off and the canyon begins …

    This discussion has left me filled with wonder. I haven’t paid much attention to land use disputes, but as a result of this one my ear is becoming tuned to them.

  31. Lib on October 3, 2007 at 5:46 am

    Oh bother, thanks a lot T&S and Patricia. (grin) This joint clearly has the makings of a friendly trap that could keep a fella up way beyond a reasonable bedtime. I’m not prone to writing fan mail but I thoroughly enjoyed dropping into the muddle of this topic and losing half an hour on the thoughtful opening post and the thoughtful replies.

    Patricia, I read you as looking for a middle ground but most sympathetic to the conservation side. If true, fair enough. There is rather a long and painful history in the West over using the public lands that I’ve witnessed and more I’ve read about. You could probably trace some of Utah’s part in the Sagebrush Rebellion and its many skirmishes, like the Crossfire Canyon dispute seems to be, to the roots of the Utah War without going too far wrong.

    It’s in the DNA of a lot of people in the state, particularly, but hardly exclusively, in rural areas, that the Federal Government is not the agent of the people, a proxy for their interests, but is, in fact, an unwelcome, unbidden interloper and a bully. If the ground is close to home these folks consider it theirs to use as they see fit. So whether it’s damming the Bear or declaring every 50-year-old miner’s jeep track a county road or extracting coal from the Kaiparowits, a lot of Utahns think if they’re nearby that ought to trump the other 300 million souls’ opinions in the country.

    Not me. I’m a partisan about these issues and I justify it with the 100-Year-Rule. That’s a little discipline that asks what our descendents a hundred years from now will have wanted us to do during our time at the helm. Will they be glad we took off every last Ponderosa we could get to the mill, scraped the guts from the earth so we could pour some more CO2 into the air, opened every defile to roads and vehicle traffic, or grateful we kept them in mind and passed our natural and cultural legacy on in as good or better shape than when we received it? I’m betting the latter.

    That said, there is a useful middle ground on most of these questions including obtaining the minerals we need. Finding it is complicated by a tactic much used by both sides and whose parentage is disputed, namely, asking for more than you want and more than you think you can get in order to compromise down to something acceptable, but far better than had you gone in proposing your final position.

    If I have any insight on these matters it is that the way forward has fewer obstacles if extreme positions are militantly set aside and the parties look for common ground at the intersection of their interests, which invariably exists with a little empathy and compromise.

    I don’t know the facts whatever about Crossfire Canyon but on principle it seems there must be a way to horse-trade to a solution. For example, Crossfire is open (or closed) to ATVs and Place X is the opposite. Yes, this makes a sacrifice area of some places and locks up others but it is a formula that is workable and sustainable with a little good will, a lot of user input, some expert opinion and by agreeing to stay out of court as long as the talks go on.

    All over, out here, hunters and livestock men, fishers and hikers, tree huggers and locals trying to make a living on the land so they don’t have to move to the city and be heart surgeons, are finding they have more in common than they had thought. You have gifts that might allow you to beguile people into suspending their prejudices long enough to discover those shared interests with their opponents, visit in each others’ homes, break bread, compromise, and move forward.

    Patricia, someone up the thread suggested your work is publishible. It is. You write well. It’s clear to me that you have a book in you. For most folks with the yen, that’s the best place for it. In your case how about harnessing your estimable abilities and turning out the interesting, provocative tome you’re born to? The time is now and Crossfire is the wellspring for the subjects. Think of it, your first book.

    In the meantime, I suggest you spec a piece to High Country News, http://www.hcn.org, as a first-rate venue for an article or a series like yours. Their hearts are in conservation but they diligently present all sides. And, they eat, drink and sleep the West. Call for a free copy. (Oh yes, I have no connection with them beyond simple admiration.)

    I’ll begin at the beginning, now. Thanks, all, for a good read, especially you, PK.

  32. Lib on October 3, 2007 at 6:20 am

    Lest I come off as way too reasonable, let me push a little with a question that bothers me. It’s wrapped up in Patricia Karamesines’ piece and the advice not to make it about religion.

    If the place is in Utah and a bunch of Mormons are involved it seems to me religion is a perfectly fair ground to explore. Surely there might be religious foundations of some attitudes on the Mormons’ part that might inform the discussion a little.

    I think one of these is Mormon notions of the future. Let me illustrate. I live in the Salt Lake Valley and by any measure this place is filling fast and splashing up the mountainsides. So thinking ahead a little, with dread, I ask my Mormon friends what they think Salt Lake will look like in five hundred years? I invite you to try the experiment for yourself. (Best results if you confine yourself to denizens of the center stakes of Zion.)

    The answer I invariably get (okay, close enough for all practical purposes,) is a kind of head-shaking astonishment at the stupidity of the question followed by a confident assertion that by then the Millenium will have long since arrived, so the question is moot. It may be true that we no longer have the certainty that our 19th century millenialist forebears did that the day is nigh, but we retain the certainty the day will arrive and in my anecdotal surveys a large fraction of people think the Millenium will either arrive in their lifetime or very shortly thereafter.

    Where I’m going is obvious. If the earth is here to use by divine permission and its end and renewal are near, then maybe the meaning of stewardship is not as restrictive as otherwise. After all, we need have no thought for 500 years from now and maybe not even 50. We can safely take what we want, use what we want, even pollute where it’s convenient, and justify it all in doctrinal certainties that soon it won’t matter.

    Okay, don’t cheat using mine, do your own survey; report back.

  33. Lib on October 3, 2007 at 7:13 am

    KevinF, your midnight alone on the trail in the backcountry made me smile and put me in mind of a similar experience.

    Okay, I admit it. I lied about my age and went to work for the Teton Lodge Company in Grand Teton National Park one summer at seventeen. So one night a buddy with an old car thought it would be a great idea if I drove, with him and his girfriend in the back seat, up to Old Faithful, in Yellowstone. Naturally, sounded good to me. We got there pretty late.

    Never crossed my mind that I might wind up stranded but as it turned out, the couple decided to keep the car and stay, and if I wanted to make my early morning shift I’d have to find a way back on my own.

    No problem. Rex the Wonder Horse would just start jogging along the highway and someone was sure to stop for a wandering waif at 1:00 AM and scoot him on down to Jackson Lake. Or shoot, if I had to, I could just hoof it. So I hit the road.

    It’s like 15 miles to West Thumb. I got passed a couple of times but people mysteriously sped up when I raised my thumb. Definitely not in the plan, but I eventually trucked up over the gentle Continental Divide and down the other side to the marge of Yellowstone Lake.

    With no rides in sight and nothing open it seemed the smart thing to do was start eating up the 50 more miles to Coulter Bay. Right. So I kept on running.

    I did fine on the first leg and don’t recall any apprehensions. But exhaustion and cold soften you up. And there was a moon. After I left West Thumb something switched on in my primitive brain that started processing the continuous shadows on either side of the highway and whispering an incessant warning in my ear, “There be dragons here.” Well, bears, it said. Bison or moose, too, maybe.

    After a while I got so nervous out there alone (that’s a weasel word, I was scared) that I picked up all the speed I could carry and ran straight down the center line of the road, which placed me as far as possible from the countless grizzlies and black bears that lined my route, sizing me up for a tender morsel of human veal.

    I kept that up for what must have been hours and the evasive maneuvers worked perfectly. I was never actually attacked and eaten, but I did have to veer off the center line a few times to give a particulary threatening dark spot of a griz as wide a berth as possible – while watching out I didn’t make it too easy to pick me off from the other side.

    No cars.

    This dodging the predators went on all night until finally, in the gloaming of 4:30 or 5:00, I don’t know how far I had made it, some truck making an early delivery somewhere stopped and picked me up, the driver wondering what in the Hades I was doing in the middle of nowhere and running wide open down the middle of the road?, though he didn’t think I was an axe murderer on the lam.

    I made it to work on time and have had a lifetime of bragging rights for stupidist human trick accomplished while driving a black Dodge Dart with make-outs on board, at night, in Yellowstone National Park. I give myself a ten for technical merit, no points for style.

    Back atcha.

  34. Patricia Karamesines on October 3, 2007 at 6:05 pm

    # 31: “Oh bother, thanks a lot T&S and Patricia. (grin) This joint clearly has the makings of a friendly trap that could keep a fella up way beyond a reasonable bedtime.”

    I’m doing my Snoopy Dance of Welcome. Does that take the edge off the bother?

    “Patricia, I read you as looking for a middle ground but most sympathetic to the conservation side. If true, fair enough.”

    Lib, I’m looking for better ground. Whether that lies somewhere between the farthermost reaches of a polarized discussion or somewhere outside both poles in the invisible range of the possibility spectrum, I don’t know. I do lean toward conservation. But for me, the question of sustainability stretches far and wide, including into language, which I see as a remarkable wilderness. And in that wilderness, I find preservationists who are as much wastrels of rhetorical resources as the worst spoilers of the earth are with their equivocating, angry, self-defensive talk. When the language of both sides roots itself in accusatory, embattled verbiage, that suggests to me that the fight itself is the focus of everyone’s effort, not conservation per se.

    In Crossfire’s case, I find the language from both of the obvious camps weighing heavily on the accusatory side. (Oh, and the BLM’s lingo set to the bureaucratic standard of public discourse so that it’s stripped down to legal mechanics and thus appears rational, but it lacks moral heft.) The prevalent language being exchanged over Crossfire says to me that these people would be fighting no matter what the issue was. I’m new to discussions of land use, but in other subjects where name-calling, guilt by association, tu quoque, red herrings, etc. are played so freely, I pull up my horse and start looking to ride in another direction.

    “Not me. I’m a partisan about these issues and I justify it with the 100-Year-Rule. That’s a little discipline that asks what our descendents a hundred years from now will have wanted us to do during our time at the helm.”

    I like the forward-looking focus of the 100-year rule. But where much of the battle’s being conducted with rhetoric, I’m not sure how much more persuasive this rule is than the language of the “OHV-Prohibited” signs are. In fact, while they’re resented, the language of the “OHV-Prohibited” signs is actually clearer and more meaningful. In other words, asking folks to think about how their children 100 years from now will appraise their behavior might render the argument too abstract for many to accept it as meaningful. After all, in my area, many of the most strident ATV advocates are the offspring of pioneers who came to the area 100 years ago. Also, the 100-year rule appears to base itself on some idea that our offspring will somehow be more hip or awakened to land use issues, maybe because the bar in conservation ethics will be raised, or maybe because they’ll be unhappily awaked to their awful situation. But why should we think our children 100 years from now will be any more enlightened on environmental matters than we are, especially with the kind of volatile, polarizing, fuming language that rises from the debate, tainting and obscuring the view? What we do now, and maybe more to the point, what we say now and how we say it, will in part foster what what our children 100 years from now are capable of seeing and believing about conservationism.

    Looking forward is vital. But right now, I wonder if we can improve the language, i.e., clean up the rhetorical landscape, including the borderline superfund sites that some land use battles have created. (That might be hyperbole, but it makes my point.) I wonder if it’s possible to speak about place in such a way as to sustain the human landscape at the same time, to care about place in such a way as to make it possible for others to care about it, to make breakthroughs in language so as to make it possible for others to imagine their places in the land in new ways. And not necessarily in expected ways!

    “I don’t know the facts whatever about Crossfire Canyon but on principle it seems there must be a way to horse-trade to a solution. For example, Crossfire is open (or closed) to ATVs and Place X is the opposite. Yes, this makes a sacrifice area of some places and locks up others but it is a formula that is workable and sustainable with a little good will, a lot of user input, some expert opinion and by agreeing to stay out of court as long as the talks go on.”

    I’m not sure, but I think matters are trying to head in this direction. The night of the BLM open house, the acting field manager spoke very precisely to me about “prospective plans” being in the works to permanently open designated roads and trails as well as permanently close some areas. I was unfamiliar with that language, but yours matches up.

    BTW, thanks for the excellent suggestion to try publishing this in High Country News and for providing the link. I’m familiar with HCN but the thought never occurred to me. Gracias. Please do come by T&S lots. You’re welcome on my posts anytime.

    You know, this whole discussion is proving very valuable to me. It’s educating me, helping me focus my thinking, and pointing out further resources. Thanks to all.

  35. Patricia Karamesines on October 3, 2007 at 6:25 pm

    Also, Lib # 32: “The answer I invariably get (okay, close enough for all practical purposes,) is a kind of head-shaking astonishment at the stupidity of the question followed by a confident assertion that by then the Millenium will have long since arrived, so the question is moot. It may be true that we no longer have the certainty that our 19th century millenialist forebears did that the day is nigh, but we retain the certainty the day will arrive and in my anecdotal surveys a large fraction of people think the Millenium will either arrive in their lifetime or very shortly thereafter.”

    “If the earth is here to use by divine permission and its end and renewal are near, then maybe the meaning of stewardship is not as restrictive as otherwise. After all, we need have no thought for 500 years from now and maybe not even 50. We can safely take what we want, use what we want, even pollute where it’s convenient, and justify it all in doctrinal certainties that soon it won’t matter.”

    I am familiar with this thinking. Whether or not the Millenium comes according to schedule, this language constitutes what I call “abandonment rhetoric,” or the rhetoric of stealing God. That is, it engages belief in something — some transactional power — and abandons responsibility to it — God, fate, genetics, etc. I see it as a kind of religious fatalism that has at its heart a sense of powerless. “The problems are so overwhelming, the degree of change required of me is so extreme that it’s out of my power to imagine how to act. Only God can make this right.” I wouldn’t be surprised if, at least in some cases, it’s discovered to be a symptom of depression.

    Again, I prescribe a total language makeover, something that offers people more than they expect, something believably hopeful and refreshing. Something active and sustainable.

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