Thursday, June 5, 2014

Penny Cliffs II


S.S. Yucatan In Ice
Bearing Sea
June 13th, 1908[i]

Another trouble with dams is that if you want to examine the consciousness that birthed the environmental movement as we know it you have to consider them, and that’s a complicated ball of worms that no one seems to know how to handle properly. Dams have been the harbingers of the End Times to conservationists since the beginnings of both dams and conservationists, so pondering dams is deeply troubling if you don’t like them. How does it happen, a thoughtful conservationist can’t help but ask, that the same hundred years that spawned the Children of Thoreau simultaneously spawned 70,000 dams? It doesn’t exactly speak to the success of the movement. At least it doesn’t on the surface. How does one properly handle a ball of worms? I don’t know, but I’ll claim the nobility of process here as opposed to results. I’ll give it my best shot and invite you to fill in the blanks. 

Steam shovels were the original loudmouths. “If you can do it”, these 19th Century by-products of the Industrial Revolution growled at the People, “why not?” John Muir, one of the first conservationists recognized as such by a national audience, knew why not, and he tried to warn the People away from wreck and ruin with eloquence, a standard conservation tactic at the time.
At stake was the Hetch Hetchy Valley located in the northwest corner of the newly created Yosemite National Park. The Tuolumne River ran through the Hetch Hetchy, and those who knew that remote valley before its demise claimed it was a smaller, more beautiful version of its famous sister, the Yosemite Valley at the headwaters of the Merced. San Francisco developers, however, had been wanting to dam the Tuolumne at the narrow neck of the Hetch Hetchy for some time, to flood its natural bathtub basin and build an aqueduct across central California to the coast—a massive project for its day--where the Hetch Hetchy waters could be more perfectly cashed in for the real gold in California--real estate.
There was a biblical snake involved, and his name was James D. Phelan, former mayor of San Francisco, financier, and the prototype of a long, long line of shamelessly lying dam promoters. He was good at it, in other words, and like any good plunderer he knew an opportunity to exploit the suffering of others for his own personal gain. Immediately after the San Francisco Earthquake in 1906, when people were still searching the rubble for loved ones, he publicized an unsubstantiated claim that there would have been plenty of water to fight the earthquake fires if his bid to dam Hetch Hetchy had been not been hung up by political maneuvering in Washington and been more promptly approved. Everyone who actually fought the 1906 Earthquake fire knew that there had been plenty of water available at the time, but most of it was undeliverable because the pipes had ruptured from the violently moving Earth. The resulting huge mud morasses actually made rescue efforts more difficult. Additionally, even if Phelan’s request to dam the Tuolumne River—which he owned the water rights to--had been approved on the day of its receipt in Washington before the earthquake, it would have been many years after the disaster before any Hetch Hetchy delivery system could have gone online.
But Phelan’s timing, like other shameless liars, was impeccable. Immediately after the quake people were prone to be near hysterical concerning anything to do with water, and in their eyes there was an actual devil involved. Spring Valley Water Company was the monopoly that had been gouging San Franciscans for decades before the earthquake with extravagant water delivery prices, and so people already hated them. The facts were that this was the tail end of the Gilded Age, that the spoils system was firmly entrenched in the national psyche as the only way to do business and that most well heeled citizens agreed that Spring Valley was only doing its fair share of skinning. All knowledgeable citizens couldn’t help but concur that Phelan was only trying to get his own fair share. But when you’re digging in rubble, common sense need not apply, and San Franciscans hated Spring Valley Water Company with renewed intensity, including some of the high-minded founding members of the Sierra Club living in the Bay area at the time. It didn’t take much eloquence, then, for Phelan to lay the blame for the earthquake’s devastation at the doorstep of the corporate entity that stood in the way of his own aspirations for a publicly-subsidized fortune, which is where, in the minds of the movers and shakers at least, the blame stayed.
Muir knew the Hetch Hetchy well. He’d camped in its difficult-to-access nooks and crannies and explored it more than any other human being until the valley became part of his heart, just like the Yosemite had. So in 1907, a year after Phelan’s pitch, he made his own in the form of a Sierra Club resolution to Theodore Roosevelt’s Secretary of State, James Garfield.
“Since there are other adequate sources of water supply available for San Francisco it is only just to the nation at large, which is vitally interested in preserving the wonders of Yosemite National Park, that their destruction or alteration should be avoided if it is possible to do so, as it most certainly is when the question resolves itself into one of mere expense.”
Muir wanted to save the Hetch Hetchy Valley for its own sake, which was a watershed concept at the time toward steering the general public on a course of environmental consciousness based on science, economics, spirituality or any combination of the three.
The snake, however, was already in the tree and whispering into ears, and nothing against snakes, but they do know how to talk. Hetch Hetchy crystalized into the watershed moment that split the waxing conservation movement into two superficial factions, the Pinchot-style utilitarian “conservationists” and the Muir-style, poetic “preservationists”. Not enough of the People would listen, in other words, even within Muir’s own creation, the Sierra Club, whose members were drawn heavily from the recently shaken-up San Francisco area. These members who supported the damming of Hetch Hetchy had supported Muir in his poetry and even his vision, but because of their hatred of Spring Valley Water Company and Phelan’s whisperings, they now openly suspected that Muir was somehow pimping, either unwittingly or otherwise, for Spring Valley Water!
“I most earnestly protest against the Sierra Club being used as a catspaw to pull chestnuts from the fire for the Spring Valley Water Company…” a well-heeled Sierra Club member wrote. This member was a prominent attorney and he, like Phelan, knew how to talk[ii].
So in this very first battle against the Dam, Muir was tarred by some of his own freshly converted “conservationists” as either aiding and abetting Spring Valley Water or in not being a “conservationist” in the utilitarian sense of the term. Ah, the games we play with words, and such serious games! Muir was the premier conservationist of his time who could rightly claim more ownership to the term than any other single American. Yet by the time the Hetch Hetchy affair was through, Gifford Pinchot became that word’s champion, while Muir was relegated to the spanking new ranks of “preservationist”. Most of us today who share Muir’s fear for the fate of the Land would call ourselves both, but this was the start of the Great Divide which undercut the Sierra Club’s effectiveness in presenting a solid front against Hetch Hetchy’s loss and has, in the final analysis, given us 70,000 dams in spite of ourselves.
Phelan’s successful ploy in presenting himself and his backers (euphemistically labeled “the City of San Francisco”) as “true conservationists” worked, and so the battle line of whether or not there should be a dam at Hetch Hetchy was arbitrarily drawn by conservationists as well as by developers to include an inappropriate dam somewhere in the “solution” no matter whose poetry won out. When that other card carrying founder of the modern conservation movement, Theodore Roosevelt, caved in favor of drowning Hetch Hetchy, the deal was done and the die was cast for the next hundred years. “True Conservationist” versus “Unrealistic Preservationist”. As Jesus might well have said about the whole thing, “How…how boring!”
 Muir was haunted by the debacle for the rest of his life. As bitterly disappointed as he was by the success of the dammers, he was even more so by the split within the conservation movement. No less than Warren Olney, for example, within whose law office the Sierra Club had been born and who had served as its longtime director had testified before Congress for the Dam’s approval.
“Wrong cannot last,” he wrote in 1914 shortly before he died. “Soon or late it must fall back home to Hades, while some compensating good must surely follow.”
Muir believed in biblical snakes, and he was right and still is, because when you’re talking about dams, you’re talking about the double-edged tragedy of the modern conservation movement that has retarded its evolution in coming to terms—through science, economics or sheer nostalgia—with what the First Americans have been saying all along. Coyote did it! And there’s such a connectivity to the complexity of the World that you'd better just stick to that explanatory tale if you want to behave like a human being rather than a bunch of planet-devouring aliens[iii]!
Additionally, since Hetch Hetchy was the first visible fracture that has become the seismic split in the movement’s effectiveness, it’s fair to view the otherworldly fake grey cliffs we take so much for granted for what they really are; giant tombstones the likes of which we humans seem to have such a proclivity for erecting as a prelude to our really screwing up. We've surely seen these sorts of otherworldly public works projects before. Pyramids come to mind, and you know what happened to those people.

Next—Echo Park and the Black Ford Sedan




[i] The S.S. Yucatan was the steamer my Grandfather, D.E. Cooper, took to Nome, Alaska during the Gold Rush after he and his brother lost their Market Street streetcar concession to the San Francisco earthquake. It’s also the ship that floated the Rough Riders to Cuba during the Spanish-American War. It’s shown here stuck in the Arctic Ice, waiting for a thaw, its smokestack belching carbon. Somehow it seems like a good fit here.
[ii] “The Life and Adventures of John Muir” by James Mitchell Clarke, Sierra Club Books, 1979
[iii] “Independence Day” 1996, 20th Century Fox, grossed almost $1 billion. I don't know how much Coyote makes, but you’d think we’d learn…


Thursday, May 29, 2014

Dallas Erickson vs Life As We Know It



A mere few years ago, when Dallas Erickson mounted his “Not In My Bathroom” campaign to fight a Missoula ordinance to ban discrimination based on sexual orientation, I agreed with him. There are certain kinds of people I would not want to be alone in a public bathroom with my kid. Dallas, who has worn his sexual insecurities on his sleeve for as many years as I’ve associated the city “Dallas” with the name, “Erickson”, was top on that list and that hasn’t changed. Not that the Flat World Right has a corner on the “insecurities” market. But in my experience, most Lefties, if they suffer, don’t do so in such a public manner. That’s what our superficial labellings boil down to when you get to the burnt scrum at the bottom of the political pot, which is where we are now. The Left, for all its many, many faults, is not an ideological haven for open perverts and misanthropes. The Right, on the other hand, is.

If I were doing the boiling, I’d say the gist of the matter as to whether we want our grandkids to remember us as “Righties” or “Lefties”, is enclosed within the following two recent news items:

On May 29th, in a letter to the Ravalli Republic, Mr. Erickson wrote that “Ravalli County is made of a great number of people who call themselves Christian Conservatives. As such we feel that abortion is even more evil than the holocaust because we consider it the taking of a human life. Scientists are in virtual consensus that life begins at conception and unlike their vocal stand on “man caused global warming” they are silent as thousands of babies are killed.”[i]

Never mind, for the moment, that “Science” is in no such virtual consensus that life begins at conception, while it is in virtual consensus on the question of “man caused global warming”. Just let Dallas’ jabbering be for the moment, because he make his own point, which is also mine.

To point, Item Two: Five days before Dallas' local dogmato-screed, on May 24, 227 Republicans (and four Democrats) in the U.S. House of Representatives voted for an amendment that would prevent the Department of Defense from addressing climate change. In justifying this example of jaw-dropping hubris, the author of the bill, Rep. David McKinley (R-WV) posited the rhetorical question that should be on everyone’s lips these days.“Why should Congress” he opined, “divert funds from the mission of our military…to support a political ideology.”[ii] To rephrase this in geo-political terms, 231 of the most powerful people currently on the face of our dear Earth found this statement to be without screaming inconsistencies, and voted to divert funds for Rep. McKinley's (and Dallas") more perfect political ideology.

I don’t think I could say it any better than Mr. Erickson or Rep. McKinley. What can be more disturbing than a “Christian Conservative” or any other confused person sharing one-on-one bathroom time with any of my kids? How about enough self-righteous, dogmatically blinded voters agreeing with the likes of such an open homophile like Erickson in this time of our own extremity, to the point of allowing these flatworlders who have no intention of dealing in any meaningful way with Humankind’s survival to occupy positions of vast power where they debate that very subject? Change begins at home, remember, and if we Bitterrooters put up with Dallas' screeds without consistently condemning them than we are complicit in his foisting of his wretched world view on all of us. If you don't believe this, just remember three words. Family Planning Clinic. Extinct in our community today because too many of us are simply not paying enough attention (or something simpler) to the fascists in our midsts. And I do mean fascists. Remember: Dallas made $100,000 (gross--and I do mean "gross") as Walmart's frontman in shoving their corporate agenda up ours just before the international corporate bank heist that tanked our economy and temporarily made their super-sized mega-store a moot point and also sent the likes of Swiss-owned insurance vice presidents like Rep. Nancy Ballance (R-Victor) to be one of our moral den mothers. (Let us pray...).

Many Righties, such as Erickson and Harris Himes (remember him?) actually want our world to go to hell. They believe in this outcome, and they and theirs say so every day. Let that reality stare you in the face for a bit and then know that our grandkids, whether we self-identify on either the Right or the Left, will rightfully damn us, each and every one, for allowing this collective insult of reason to have gone on for so long. 

How about we get busy and start effectively counteracting this utter nonsense? 

Thursday, May 22, 2014

The Rapture


Jesus was much misunderstood even in his own day, but in his infinite wisdom He knew that this human flaw, presently referred to as "disconnect", would get much worse over time. To speak to this concern, He first of all predicted to His followers that if this thing they were starting really got off the ground (so to speak) He would eventually be misquoted, misrepresented and downright lied about so shamelessly by those who forever have taken good things and knocked them on their asses for their own narrow purposes that eventually things were bound to get really, really bad for everyone. But not to worry. His dad had promised Him that when things got truly unbearable, He (His dad) would suck up all of these misguided troublemakers into the sky, which is where they will be pining to go anyway, so everything will end up working out fine for everybody, which is all Jesus really wanted. This sucking will be temporarily inconvenient, but will ultimately be worthwhile, and will be known as the Rapture for reasons inscrutable. All who would yearn for Good Things, Jesus admonished His followers, should pray for it.

I know I am.

Penny Cliffs



 Penny Cliffs Dam Site/ Middle Fork Clearwater River, Idaho
                                                           


I

Here’s a confession. This whole nature-writing project of mine was born out of an eighty-nine-year-old activist’s preoccupation with getting people off their dead butts to save the planet while firmly believing that most nature-writing serves no purpose other than putting Jesus to sleep. You might have noticed by now that Brandy’s preoccupation has been the inspiration for this endless jabbering, so this is supposed to be more of a call to arms in defense of the various and sundry Justices, including Environmental Justice, that we’ve let slip than about wilderness per se. But I'll admit it’s moving pretty slow so far. Maybe Jesus is getting sleepy. 
As you may or may not know, Jesus was a nice guy, and like all nice guys, he liked to listen to people. But he was also an old-time activist if there ever was such a thing, a man of action, and you have to admit that in the end action is what counts when you’re an activist[i]. You don’t want to put a guy like that to sleep, which is what I’m sure Brandy thinks I’m doing with this endless line of jabber.
But I can’t help it. That’s partly because, as so often happens with jabberers like myself, I’ve led my own share of charges against windmills and looked behind me to find that between nobody and two souls have my back. That didn’t work out too well on a couple of levels, so I’ve been forced by my own preoccupation with the state of things to tread down the path of what I’ll term “deep organizing” and to ponder our most urgent post-modern conundrum. If self-preservation doesn’t motivate people these days, what does?
Well, as you might have guessed, I have an opinion on that and I must share it. Here it is: If there’s any single lesson in the Bible worth internalizing to the point of being mildly hazardous to your health it’s that people love a good story. Jesus had such a bunch of good ones that people followed him over a cliff and you know what happened to him. Don’t worry. I won’t be comparing anyone to Himself, and I also don’t see why anyone would want to go where he went. Ouch. But as one of the very, very few authentic Christians I’ve known in my life always liked to say, “People are people are people”. This was my mom’s kind-hearted equivalent to a more cynical person’s shoulder shrug and that’s the Good Lesson. We’re stuck with human nature to work with, and if you want people to go along with you on anything, you gotta give them a good story first. Ask any crap-selling marketer, and theirs are bad stories. So it follows, if bad stories can work for the crap-sellers, maybe good ones can work for the rest of us. 
     Stark contrasts are an old trick in crystalizing images both visual or written and can be useful here. Anyway, I’ll leave it up to you, whether I’m hitting the nail or my thumb. If you don’t think this tale comes off enough to suit you, try one or two of your own until we can at least agree that it’s worth the effort to come up with a potent argument for knocking enough of us humans off of our complacent asses to do something about this Global Warming thing we've cooked up for ourselves [ii].
So...Penny Cliffs. Heard of it? Probably not. I hadn’t either until Brandy and AnnaVee mentioned it to me one afternoon when I was picking their brains for what I thought was more important stuff. People and events they were on intimate terms with; Howard Zahniser, Sigurd Olson, Mardie and Olaus Murie. You know, the Wilderness Law, that sort of stuff. It’s turning fifty this year, the Wilderness Law, and that’s what Brandy calls it and he ought to know. He and AnnaVee are among the last of those who midwived the Law into existence and it wasn’t just an “act” to them. It was Law inviolable, and that’s the kind of stuff we were trying to get at this afternoon. There was a mild sense of urgency because we knew that, just as sure as warblers return to their nesting country even after the place has been trashed, there’d be some embarrassing shindigs cooked up to celebrate this unlikely anniversary by those who thought of it as a mere cultural construct, an “act”. You know, the federal agencies, the hollowed-out conservation outfits such as the Wilderness Society who are its nominal guardians and still could be the actual ones if they’d get it right, which they don’t anymore. So we knew there’d be a veritable flurry of public pattings on each others’ backs while neglecting to mention the good stuff, like the gems that AnnaVee seemed to be able to come up with at the drop of a hat or a hankie.
“Well,” she told me that afternoon. “There are some things that you should know about Sig Olson and Olaus and Zanhiser.” We were sitting on the Brandborg’s back porch south of Hamilton, with Blodgett Canyon and Mill Point standing guard to the west, assuring us a serene view. This was necessary for such recallings. AnnaVee and Brandy were both in their late eighties, and had been experiencing their various, inevitable health problems that are oftentimes the price of wisdom, and AnnaVee especially had been in and out of hospitals the last couple of years. But she was out now, and happy, as always, to be sharing with those who asked about anything, always happy for that matter. It was a sunny afternoon, as I recall.
“Zanny” she wanted me to know, “was somebody that you just immediately loved. You just felt good in his presence. The same was true for Sig. You were glad to be there, and glad to have him with you. 
"Olaus was a little different sort of person. To me, sitting with him was like sitting next to Christ.” That’s the stuff, I thought.
But Penny Cliffs? On the Middle Fork of the wild Clearwater River in Central Idaho? A monster, right smack in the middle of our wilderness? And neither I nor the many other outdoor addicts and conservationists in the area had ever heard of it? Hell, the Lochsa and Selway wilderness has been our backyard playground since most of us came into this country decades ago and was the reason why most of us came into this country at all! Now Brandy and AnnaVee are telling me that a wide swath of this largest contiguous wild area in the lower forty-eight came within a politician’s hiccup of being drowned back in the '50’s[iii]? Four miles upriver from little old Kooskia? 
By a dam, of course, and not just any old dam but a seven-hundred-foot concrete straight-axis gravity dam as near as I can figure, just like the one you can see any time at Bruce’s Eddy out of Orofino today. 
You might know this. Dworshak Dam, or Bruce’s Eddy as it was known at the time, is on the North Fork of the Clearwater, right above where it meets with the Middle Fork. That’s the one they built. Penny Cliffs on the Middle Fork, about thirty-five highway miles up from Dworshak, that’s the one they didn’t. Maybe you know, the North Fork died with the Bruce’s Eddy plug, or at least its heart stopped. The largest, most magnificent steelhead run on the planet before the dam is extinct now except for a few hatchery sperm donors and their dead women. The Army Corps of Engineers couldn’t have obliterated the North Fork more thoroughly than if God had been the culprit. Go up and take a look for yourself sometime. Tell me if I’m wrong. 
     “A monument for our disregard for what we have in irreplaceable animal and plant community” is what Brandy calls it, and I’d agree although in somewhat stronger terms. You can see it plain enough. A couple miles west of Orofino on Highway 12, just look up past the mouth of the North Fork where the sprawling Dworshak National Fish Hatchery complex is riprapped now and forever into the fork of these two great drainages. The dam, a looming seven-hundred-foot cement wall holding back the sky. It's hard to miss but is also unremarked by anyone anymore because, after all, it's been there since before our kids were born. On the other hand drive by that same Highway 12 east up the Middle Fork about thirty five miles, just out of Kooskia and you'll see the country as it always was, except for the highway running through it, and a few other things. You can’t see the Penny Cliffs Dam because it’s not there. Why? Do you know?
      For a clue, drive a few more miles upriver and you'll find the tiny forest hamlet of Syringa tucked between the trees and the water. There's a homemade sign there, you can't miss it. It's right next to the highway on the edge of a weedy property supporting a collection of dilapidated '49 Chevy trucks. The trucks have been there a long time, since at least as long as I've been driving through Syringa, which has been since the late seventies. On the side facing east the sign declares “We Support Megaloads. Let the Big Rigs Roll”. The side facing west declares "$$ Megaloads: Keeping Idaho Green  $$". These pro-developement sentiments are on a piece of property that has probably been dilapidated since at least the the mid-50's when the dam controversies raged. They're in reference to the latest environmental outrage playing out in the Lochsa country and are not unlike the anti-conservation sentiments expressed by some of these same residents sixty years earlier. The "Megaloads" controversy is part of the epic saga of shipping monstrous pieces of equipment over this treacherous section of highways to the tarsands of Alberta. The most reasoned evidence today suggests that the development of the tar sands, the world's filthiest energy source, will surely kill these forests and their towns as thoroughly as if the towns had been converted to mermaid habitat a half-century earlier for hydropower. Syringa's fair game, then, as an example of how striking it is that this place, as well as these trucks and the property the trucks sit on, would have been located under several hundred feet of water today, just like Atlantis, if Penny Cliffs had been built, and Idaho had been "kept green" then. The answer to why Penny Cliffs didn't get built are still within easily-accessable living memory, in other words, and that answer is bound in contradiction, which all good answers are. Part of the answer is that Syringa is suffering from the same amnesiatic illness that the rest of rural Idaho and most other rural areas in the country suffer from today. Idiotic Teabaggery, diagnosed by a self-destructive urge to selectively forget everything that won’t fit neatly within the morality play of an old-time dime-store western, and then sending politicians off to Boise and D.C. to occupy seats of great power in order to act out these pulp fiction shootouts in real life. If that seems too harsh, I'll just point out that I believe that it's a noble disease on certain levels and that it's only part of the answer. But those noble levels, most readily accessed through hyperventilating and then applying angry concepts like "rugged individualism" to angrier ones like "gun control", are superficial and ultimately destructive, and so I stand by my partial statement. Part of the answer is a chronic disease that has inflicted almost every rural population in America that you can name at one point and has now been allowed, by neglect, to become systemic. The other part of the answer has to do with the a similar dysfunction that has plagued the conservation movement since its beginnings. These are intractable issues of great social import, and when you're dealing with these sorts of things--which we are when you think of what's at stake-- the first step is in acknowledging what you're up against. That's what the old-time conservationists did, and that's why there's no dam at Penny Cliffs, and why there is one at Bruce's Eddy. I'll explain.

It’s ironic that Brandy, who is as responsible as any other single person for the salvation of the Selway and Lochsa countries, holds himself personally responsible for the building of Dworshak Dam. This is because it was his self-appointed task as Special Projects Director for the National Wildlife Federation with contacting the chair of the House Public Works Committee, Senator Clarence Cannon of Missouri, and reminding him to strip the funding requests for the initial engineering studies, the legislative point of no-return for dam proposals. Clarence, who incidentally has a dam named after him in his home state, was bordering on senility by the mid-to-late fifties but he was still an astute parliamentarian if he could only be reminded to be so. Sportsmen’s groups from his state allied with the Wildlife Federation had been in steady contact with Senator Cannon throughout the several years of the Clearwater dam controversies, urging him to oppose the dams, and Clarence, an honest man, was listening. He just had to be reminded, which was Brandy's self-appointed job and which he had diligently done. Until 1960, when there was inner turmoil within the national office of the Wildlife Federation. Brandy's friend and mentor, Director Charles Callison, was resigning. It was Callison who recognized Brandy's potential in the early '50s as a top-notch wildlife biologist who had also grown up in the wilds of the Northern Rockies and had a highly-intelligent passion for its salvation and convinced him that his expertise and passion were both needed in equal amounts in in Washington political swamps where such decisions as building habitat-killing dams were ultimately being made or dashed. One result, therefore, of the Wildlife Federation's inner turmoil was that Brandy was soon to follow with his own resignation after securing a position under Howard Zahniser at the Wilderness Society. There followed more inner turmoil, both professional and personal, and Brandy said he simply didn’t get to Clarence in time, and the funding for Bruces Eddy—Dworshak Dam--slipped past the elderly gentleman. 
     But not for Penny Cliffs, and the record remains somewhat turbid as to why not. It's a fact that Penny Cliffs didn’t have the Orofino booster club led by that city’s Mayor, A.B. (Bert) Curtiss, behind it, and that "the old curmudgeon", Senator Dworshak, the dams’ main proponent in Congress and Brandy's primary nemesis, passed away soon after he shepherded through the dam that was ultimately to be named after him. Brandy himself doesn’t recall exactly why Penny Cliffs slipped away, but a political hiccup can suffice as a pretty good explanation until a better one turns up. For now, it's safe to say that Brandy and his intrepid allies, including an interesting character named Mort Brigham whom I’ll talk more about later, can be fully credited in stalling the beast until it ran out of gas, until the vast Lochsa and Selway countries slid past the hiccup intact, and then floated them safely through into what is now their official “Wild and Scenic River” status--which legislation Brandy and the old Wilderness Society also leant a hand in enacting. They’re safe enough for now.
 “Oh my yes,” I remember AnnaVee saying. “For a while it was Penny Cliffs this, Penny Cliffs that. It was all Penny Cliffs, Penny Cliffs." Yet today this deranged proposal that would have impounded over 2,000,000 acre/feet of pristine Columbia headwaters and turned many miles of both the Lochsa and Selway countries--including little Syringa--into the sucker hole soup known in engineering vernacular as “the pool”, is forgotten? How did this happen, that we who know the place so well as it exists today and love even more can't remember the fight that saved it?
Well, first of all, what can one say about dams that hasn’t been said already? They exist, solid as geology, massive as Godzilla and just as vicious. Irrevocable landscapes, as real as taxes. Why bother?
That’s the trouble with dams. We take them for granted as the immoveable blots on the landscape that they are and nothing more, even though the era that spawned them spanned no more than the life of your average baby-boomer. Take a drive between Bonneville Dam and The Dalles east of Portland, for instance. You’ll pass through what’s known today as the Columbia River Gorge National Scenic Area, even though the Columbia River is a slackwater lake now and a lot of the scenic gorge is underwater. It’s a sure bet, though, that the visible part remains one of the most beautiful places in the Pacific Northwest, and millions of humans have passed through what’s left of the Gorge on Interstate 84 in the last few decades never remarking the part that’s missing. The mountainscapes are still laced with breathstopping waterfalls reeling past our windshields faster than the speed of thought and are still ones of grace. The pioneers still ride and conquer through our imaginations as though any of those myths ever kept pace with the Industrial Revolution, which they never did and never will. And just so, the Army Corps of Engineers’ proved out its Machievellian principle that has since been replicated whole-cloth by our other huge aberrations of social organizing, including the Forest Service and the National Security Agency. That’s enough for you, this principle goes. We’ve done the studies, bought the scholars and we’ve decided that, whether it’s beauty you crave or privacy or anything else, that’s all you need. We’ll take the rest.



[i] That’s my attempt at saying something uncontroversial. Nice try, huh?

[ii] The term “global warming” has been declared “old-fashioned” by shallow pundits and other talking heads who would have us play to the middle of a squeamish public with compromise phrases like “climate change”. This is silly and counter-productive. While agreeing that various terms may be used to accurately describe what is occurring, I strongly disagree that pandering to folks who refuse to face reality with what amounts to corporate-approved euphomisms and platitudes is somehow going to convince the flatworlders among us to quit being believing that the Edge of the World is just south of Darby, Montana. We can’t wait for them for chrissakes. Let’s quit acting like English-speaking amateurs. The world is heating up because of us. No arguments need apply and the proper term for that has been and still is "global warming".
[iii]  The Selway Bitterroot Wilderness contains 1,350,00 acres. The Frank Church/River of No Return Wilderness, contiguous to the Selway Bitterroot contains 2,237,000 acres. Added together with currently existing contiguous unprotected roadless areas, this giant hunk of wild country currently stands at roughly 4,000,000 acres.