GIVING A DAMN...
One time, several years ago, Ken Sleight saddled up his horse and attacked a D-9 bulldozer that was tearing up pinion/juniper woodlands on the mesa above his ranch. It was something of a mismatch--I have no idea how many horsepower a D-9 bulldozer has, but it's definitely more than Ken's horse, Knothead. And perhaps Sleight's Charge was nothing but a symbol of his frustration, but I'd swear that in that critical moment when Sleight and steed faced off with fifty tons of steel, Ken thought he just might win.
To me, that's what "giving a damn" is all about--putting conscience and honor before complacency or the conventional, prevailing wisdom of the time. Most moral battles are waged, at least in the beginning, against overwhelming odds. Often, the cause worth fighting for is not even that well-defined in the minds of most people. It can seem absurd to many---a folly to most.
Consider the most recent "Lost Cause" of some citizens, who want to drain Lake Powell on the Colorado River and restore the once magnificent Glen Canyon.
The idea has been ridiculed and mocked by a variety of special interest groups. Of course, all the houseboat/jet ski recreationists are stunned and dismayed by such a notion, but even longtime river runners, especially Grand Canyon river runners oppose the plan. They claim that draining the reservoir will de-regulate the flow of the river and put their own jobs in jeopardy. Even many environmentalists scoff at such "radical" notions---they don't like the dam, they say, but it's there and there is nothing we can do about it. They think restoring Glen Canyon is such a fantastic notion that to embrace it would damage their own credibility on other issues.
But isn't that the way it has always been? Every time our civilization has bumped forward a bit, it has occurred, at least in the beginning, over the objections of the vast majority. Look at the institution of slavery. Although its moral value was severely questioned, slavery was believed to be an economic necessity even to such visionaries as Thomas Jefferson.
It is wrong, but it is there---we'll have to live with it.
Consider other hopeless causes: Women were not allowed to vote until the second decade of the 20th Century, because the prevailing view by men was that women were incapable of casting responsible and informed votes. The doomsayers predicted political chaos if the women prevailed. The same Chicken Little Proclamations were heard after child labor laws were enacted in the early 1900s, after FDR introduced Social Security in 1935, after the Civil Rights Act of 1964, and after the Clean Air & Water Acts of the early 1970s. Again and again, our collapse as a society was predicted, and each time we learned that we could do the right thing and survive--even flourish.
Someday I think the same will be said about this latest "Lost Cause." Glen Canyon will be restored.
THE SIERRA CLUB COMES TO MOAB
In that spirit of giving a damn, some Moabites are organizing a grass roots 'group' of the Sierra Club. For many years, the canyon country of southern Utah has had no real active Sierra Club participation at the local level. At times I have despaired at the apathy that seems to grip this part of the red rock wilderness; yet, I have often found myself at odds with the Sierra Club, who sometimes seems more interested in doing upscale and expensive outings for rich and trendy yupsters than really fighting for issues.
But now all that seems to be changing. With Ken Sleight (here he comes again) as chairman and longtime Moabite John Weisheit as vice-chair, the Glen Canyon Group, as it has decided to call itself, offers a chance for all of us to get involved in the battle to save the canyon country in a very personal way.
The Group hopes to take an active role in supporting wilderness, stopping the transportation of radioactive waste into southern Utah and...restoring Glen Canyon. Two years ago, the national board of the Sierra Club voted unanimously to support proposals to drain Lake Powell. But the Utah Chapter has taken a public stand against the national board, saying that it violated protocol, if not procedure, when it made that decision without consulting the state chapter first.
Technically, the Utah Chapter may have a point. But how can we ever let procedure get in the way of what's right? To oppose the restoration of Glen Canyon because it is not the politically expedient thing to do at this time is to deny one's own basic beliefs.
However, I believe that the Sierra Club's members are wise enough and tolerant enough to at least respect each others' sometimes divergent positions. In that spirit, the Glen Canyon Group will hopefully soon be a reality.
If you would like to join the Sierra Club, you can sign up via the internet, by going to: www.sierraclub.org. Or you can write to them at: P.O. Box 52968, Boulder, CO 80321-2968. I think it's $25. Then and only then, contact the Glen Canyon Group at: P.O. Box 477, Moab, UT 84532, and let them know you have signed up and that you want to be a member of the Group. DO NOT SEND MEMBERSHIP DUES TO THE MOAB ADDRESS. Until the Group is approved by the Utah Chapter, the Glen Canyon Group is trying to put together a grass roots membership; however, once it becomes official, anyone, coast-to-coast, can be part of the Glen Canyon Group.
STILES RULES OF THE ROAD (RAGE!)
Okay...it's mid-summer, hot, and tourists are swarming over the landscape like crazed locusts. Right?
Not exactly. The tourists may be swarming but they are hardly doing it in a crazed manner. In fact, the average tourist rarely moves at a speed that could be called "crazed." Their forward movement (so called) makes me crazed. If you are a tourist, and even if you are not, listen to me...PLEASE.
Don't take it personally, but if you can't do the speed limit, for crying out loud, move over! A couple of years ago, the federal government revoked its miserable little 55 mph national speed limit law and allowed the states to regulate their own highway speeds. Utah has passed legislation that establishes 65 mph as the official limit on highways and I intend to drive at that speed. It's not just a good idea...it's the LAW.
I can understand the tourist's desire to gawk and gaze at our magnificent scenery. It is absolutely stunning, isn't it? I agree. So why not PULL OVER and really take advantage of the view. Soak up the sights to your heart's content, but do it on the side of the road, not in the middle of it.
As for you motorhome and RV owners--you gluttonous, over-consuming, slow-moving, self-absorbed behemoths, be grateful that my vehicle is not equipped with proton torpedoes, or I would have no choice but to vaporize you from the face of the desert. Since I do not have that option, I can only ask for your cooperation. If your 150 ton motorhome cannot make a grade at the designated speed, please pull over and let faster-moving traffic pass by.
I'm really trying to be nice right now.
Some of you may be saying to yourselves...what is wrong with this guy? Is he mental? Why doesn't he just slow down? Why doesn't he take a nerve pill or something?
I've tried that and, besides, the question is irrelevant. I'm trying to obey the law; you asphalt snails out there are the violators, not me. In fact, every time I hear that some guy lost his patience and tried to pass seven cars and ended up in a head-on collision with a bus load of nuns, I can't help but wonder, just who is really to blame? Is he the true culprit? Or is it the spineless drivers in front of him who crept along at 38 mph and refused to either pass or pull over? I believe, at the very least, the blame should be shared by all.
There is no reason to clog and choke southern Utah's highways with slow-motion traffic. Move over. Forewarned is forearmed. In these days and times, with technology racing ahead at leaps and bounds, remember---the commercial production of proton torpedoes may be just around the corner and I'm taking down license plates.
REMEMBERING THE IRASCIBLE ROCKY NEWELL
Longtime Moabite Rocky Newell died a couple of weeks ago at the age of 78. He was one of a kind and I doubt if Moab will ever be as interesting a place to live. If you're new here (relatively speaking) you might not know Rocky by name, but you do know he was the crossing guard in front of Helen M. Knight School and that if you didn't obey his instructions, you probably got a look from the Rocket Man that would have curled your liver. Rocky was not a man to be trifled with.
I knew Rocky for almost 20 years. He was a seasonal maintenance man at Arches when I was a seasonal ranger and he was almost a daily visitor to the Devils Garden trailer during the lunch hour. Well...no...that's not quite right. He was in the vicinity. Many Moabites don't know that Rocky Newell was one of the great environmentalists of our time, and he'd slap me silly right now if he heard me say all this.
But it's true. I'd come back to the trailer at noon for lunch and as I passed the NPS garbage truck, I often detected a slight movement coming from its innards.
"Rocky!" I'd yell, "Are you in there?"
"You bet Jim-O," he'd answer.
"A few cans and a cook stove," he'd advise.
Rocky Newell kept more good stuff from going to the dump than perhaps any man alive. I doubt if a single empty aluminum can ever left Arches National Park if it didn't leave with Rocky. In those days the NPS had no official recycling plan, so Rocky took it upon himself to provide the service. I put out a spare garbage can and hung an "aluminum cans only" sign on it to help out, but it was mostly Rocky's relentless pursuit of aluminum that allowed him to supplement his income by a few bucks each week (he'd never give me exact figures on his aluminum booty).
But he pursued more than just aluminum. Anything that could be recycled, Rocky claimed: discarded tents, sleeping bags, cook stoves, articles of clothing---even food. Nothing went to waste. He once dropped by with a bag full of fruits and vegetables and, to be honest, they looked a little ripe. But Rocky assured me the produce was fine and suggested I make a big salad for dinner.
That evening, still dubious about his offering, I decided to pass on the salad idea, but, not thinking at all, I threw it in the garbage. The next day at noon, there was Rocky, holding the salad that wouldn't die.
"What's wrong with you?" he growled. "This is good food. Don't waste it."
I nodded meekly and promised I'd never make the same mistake. That night I drove out to Salt Valley and left the fruits and veggies in the desert---out of sight from the road. You couldn't be too careful.
One of the saddest days of his life came when Moab City closed the dump to junk salvagers like Rocky. "If I can't make an extra $2500 a year from dump junk," he used to say, "it's a bad year." He found everything from vacuum cleaners to curling irons up there, brought them home, fixed them and then had a yard sale.
Recently he turned to art--gourd art to be exact. His creations were beautiful and I regret that he never tempted me into buying one (which he proudly displayed and sold out of the trunk of his car). I saw him the day before he died, standing at the post office in those big baggy shorts he was so fond of wearing, and I cannot believe I'll never see him again. Rocky made life a lot more fun and a lot more interesting and I will surely miss him. His likes will not pass this way again.