"Utah House Republicans push to eliminate Bears Ears Monument, shrink Grand Staircase-Escalante" is the headline in the Salt Lake Tribune this morning as we wake up to snow the texture of powdered sugar blanketing the city. My first question is, there has never been a more urgent time to protect these places, but what's the point? Do I really believe that confrontation will save these magnificent lands? This is the bleakest of times in the bleakest of civilizations. We have ushered in the destructor with half-hearted pageantry and a disinterested gaze into the middle distance. What? There are such things as wilder places than the municipal park? Do they have mud there? There are probably coyotes that will eat my dog, aren't there. Well, yes, your little cupcake might get torn apart should he get separated from you, or he might just die of dehydration. There are other ways to worry about meeting the end in the desert: by rain swelling the canyons or by a puma or rattlesnake or Gila monster or by divers cacti or by a steep slope (like Sisyphus) or speaking of Sisyphus by a falling rock or even by a Border Patrol Agent. I hear they're very dangerous, particularly if you have brown skin, are walking generally south to north, don't speak English very well, and are wearing 90s era American Apparel.
Point is, the desert is horrible to most white people. But not all of us. To some of us it's a landscape of demented beauty and sharp edges, we love it because it reminds us of ourselves. There is, as there is with everything, however, a shadow side. What the psyche loves it also hates, and without maturity there is no controlling the hatred. Case in point: in the article above a politician from Kanab (his name is easy to find with a Google search) says the The Staircase should be shrunk because "a lot of it is just scrubland, sage and that's it". He's describing himself. He hates himself. He can't face up to his shame so he comes up to Salt Lake City and tells the State with a straight face that the monument should be shrunk because, well, there's nothing there. He's also a leading candidate to run the corrupt Federal Bureau of Land Management.
Of course these seeds have been sown long ago, but now in the Faustian, foaming-at-the-mouth rabid, and anal retentive rhetoric of Utah's political elite and the present administration, we face the unthinkable - the vast deregulation of federal protections of the last of America's wilderness enclaves. This is the myth of progress writ large. We've progressed straight to this moment in our so called Republic - the forced transfer of federal property to the states for the sole purpose of destruction through means of "recreational usage" by which is meant motorized off road vehicles, "resource management" by which is meant mining of minerals and fossil fuels, and "grazing rights" by which is meant the continued denuding of the natural environment by beasts imported Europe which were in turn brought over from the Bosphorus near the end of the last Ice Age much to the chagrin of actual capable people everywhere else in the world.
Can I just say one thing that is not being said enough (or at all): No one gives a fuck about ranchers anymore. The industry is dead. We get our meat from horrible farms in cheaper places - the recently felled rain forest in Brazil for example does just fine. Ranching and grazing throughout the American West is a deficient symbol of what this country once was; it makes us feel better about ourselves. However, like drilling for oil or minerals, it's incredibly destructive.
I cannot but help think of TS Eliot...
In my beginning is my end. In succession Houses rise and fall, crumble, are extended, Are removed, destroyed, restored, or in their place Is an open field, or a factory, or a by-pass. Old stone to new building, old timber to new fires, Old fires to ashes, and ashes to the earth Which is already flesh, fur, and faeces, Bone of man and beast, cornstalk and leaf. Houses live and die: there is a time for building And a time for living and for generation And a time for the wind to break the loosened pane And to shake the wainscot where the field mouse trots And to shake the tattered arras woven with a silent motto.
So here I am, in the middle way, having had twenty years— Twenty years largely wasted, the years of l'entre deux guerres Trying to learn to use words, and every attempt Is a wholly new start, and a different kind of failure Because one has only learnt to get the better of words For the thing one no longer has to say, or the way in which One is no longer disposed to say it. And so each venture Is a new beginning, a raid on the inarticulate With shabby equipment always deteriorating In the general mess of imprecision of feeling, Undisciplined squads of emotion. And what there is to conquer By strength and submission, has already been discovered Once or twice, or several times, by men whom one cannot hope To emulate—but there is no competition— There is only the fight to recover what has been lost And found and lost again and again: and now, under conditions That seem unpropitious. But perhaps neither gain nor loss. For us, there is only the trying. The rest is not our business."