Today, news broke that a number of pro-Trump House Republicans, including Representatives Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA), Matt Gaetz (R-FL), and Paul Gosar (R-AZ), are organizing the “America First Caucus,” which calls for “a degree of ideological flexibility, a certain intellectual boldness… to follow in President Trump’s footsteps, and potentially step on some toes and sacrifice sacred cows for the good of the American nation.”
The seven-page document outlining their ideas, obtained by Punchbowl News, is a list of the grievances popular in right-wing media. It calls for regulation of “Big Tech,” which right-wing commentators claim is biased against them; an end to coronavirus lockdowns, which the authors say “have ruined many businesses to bankruptcy such that many Americans are left unemployed and potentially destitute”; opposition to “wasteful social justice programs like the Green New Deal”; support for oil and gas; and rejection of “globalist institutions.”
And, with extraordinary clarity, it shows the ideology that underpins these positions, an ideology eerily reminiscent of that of the elite slaveholders of the 1850s American South.
“America was founded on the basis of individual and state sovereignty,” the document says, but that federalism has been undermined by decadent and corrupt bureaucrats in Washington. The authors propose to get rid of regulation and the regulatory state, thus restoring individual freedom. This is the exact argument that animated elite slaveholders, who vowed to keep the national government small so it could not intrude on their institution of human enslavement.
The authors of the America First Caucus platform lay out very clearly the racial argument behind the political one. America, the authors write, is based on “a common respect for uniquely Anglo-Saxon political traditions,” and “mass immigration” must be stopped. “Anglo-Saxon” is an old-fashioned historical description that has become a dog whistle for white supremacy. Scholars who study the Medieval world note that visions of a historical “white” England are fantasies, myths that are set in an imaginary past.
This was a myth welcome to pre-Civil War white southerners who fancied themselves the modern version of ancient English lords and used the concept of “Anglo-Saxon” superiority to justify spreading west over Indigenous and Mexican peoples. It was a myth welcome in the 1920s to members of the Ku Klux Klan, who claimed that “only as we follow in the pathway of the principles of our Anglo-Saxon father and express in our life the spirit and genius of their ideals may we hope to maintain the supremacy of the race, and to perpetuate our inheritance of liberty.” And it is a myth that appeals to modern-day white supremacists, who imitate what they think are ancient crests for their clothing, weapons, and organizations.
Emphasizing their white nationalism, the members of the America First Caucus call for “the architectural, engineering and aesthetic value that befits the progeny of European architecture… stunningly, classically, beautiful, befitting a world power and source of freedom.” They also condemn the current education system, calling it “progressive indoctrination” and saying it works “to actively undermine pride in America’s great history and is actively hostile to the civic and cultural assimilation necessary for a strong nation.” They conclude that “The future of America’s position in the world depends on addressing the crisis in education, at both the primary and secondary level.” They envision a world in which people who think as they do control the nation.
Indeed, the document embraces the Big Lie that Biden did not, in fact win the 2020 election. Despite the fact that all evidence proves that the 2020 election was one of the cleanest in our history and that President Joe Biden won, fair and square, the America First Caucus Policy Platform insists that the 2020 election was characterized by “massive voter fraud” and calls for limiting the vote.
Behind all this, of course, is the idea that a Democratic victory in an election is, by definition, impossible.
This extraordinary document makes it clear that Republican leaders are reaping what they began to sow during the Nixon administration, when party operatives nailed together a coalition by artificially dividing the nation between hardworking white taxpayers on the one hand and, on the other, people of color and feminist women whose demand for equality, the argument went, was code for government handouts. In the years since 1970, Republicans have called for deregulation and tax cuts that help the wealthy, arguing that such cuts advance individual liberty. All the while, they have relied on racism and sexism to rally voters with the argument that Black and Brown voters and feminist women—“feminazis,” in radio host Rush Limbaugh’s world—wanted big government so it would give them handouts.
It was a political equation that worked with a wink and a nod until former president Trump put the racism and sexism openly on the table and encouraged his supporters to turn against their opponents. They have now embraced open white supremacy.
The platform of the America First Caucus appears to have woken up some of the business Republicans—who want tax cuts and deregulation, but not the mindless white nationalism of the Trump supporters—to what has taken over their party. Today House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) took to Twitter to say that “America is built on the idea that we are all created equal and success is earned through honest, hard work. It isn’t built on identity, race, or religion. The Republican Party is the party of Lincoln & the party of more opportunity for all Americans—not nativist dog whistles.”
Representative Liz Cheney (R-WY), the third most powerful Republican leader in the House, tweeted, “Republicans believe in equal opportunity, freedom, and justice for all. We teach our children the values of tolerance, decency and moral courage. Racism, nativism, and anti-Semitism are evil. History teaches us all we have an obligation to confront & reject such malicious hate.”
In an op-ed in the Washington Post today, former President George W. Bush defended immigration in our past, present, and future as “a great and defining asset of the United States.” “New Americans are just as much a force for good now, with their energy, idealism and love of country, as they have always been,” he wrote as he described his new book, made up of portraits he has painted of Americans who came originally from other nations.
Will the business Republicans’ newfound inclusiveness manage to reclaim their party? It’s not at all clear that what conservative commentator Tom Nichols calls “an extremely dangerous authoritarian party” will not win out.
Republicans in the Arizona state Senate today put teeth into the Big Lie when they announced they have hired a private company connected with Trump to recount the ballots cast in Maricopa County, Arizona, in the 2020 election. They claim they want to “restore integrity to the election process,” although the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors, dominated by Republicans, voted unanimously to certify Biden’s win and both state and federal judges have verified that the existing count is valid. County officials have distanced themselves from this recount.
At the same time, though, news is not good for Trump’s supporters. Yesterday, the Treasury Department dropped the bombshell that Trump’s 2016 campaign chair Paul Manafort worked with Russian intelligence to swing the 2016 election, while House Republicans accused the intelligence community of spying on them. Today the Department of Justice launched a civil suit against Trump adviser Roger Stone, saying that he and his wife “intended to defraud the United States” by hiding income and that they owe nearly $2 million in back taxes. It is not unimportant that Manafort and Stone began their political consulting careers under Richard Nixon.
Perhaps most notably in this era of social media, McCarthy’s tweet recalling the Republican Party’s older, inclusive days got what is called “ratioed” on Twitter, with significantly more people disparaging the tweet than liking it. The Republicans are “the party of the Confederacy, white supremacy, Black voter suppression, Kremlin collusion, and violent insurrection,” one person wrote. “The party of Abraham Lincoln has become the party of Jefferson Davis.”
Mountain Gazette has been a free-form, free-spirited favorite publication of many literate free-form, free- spirited Westerners since it was born in the mind of the brilliant editor, Mike Moore, who made it into what many consider the best alternative mountain lifestyle print publication ever seen in America. It lived a vibrant existence from the late 1960s to the late 1970s. There had certainly never been anything remotely like it. Northern Lights, published in Montana, had a similar format to MG and was certainly more literary but not nearly as experimentally counter-culture as MG. Some of the most enjoyable writing about mountains and mountain people (and deserts, fish, coyotes, skis, rivers, mines, dancing, drinking, Buddhism, climbing, the human potential, roads and many other subjects of interest and presence) was printed with an irreverent glee worthy of Ryokan in the original incarnation of Mountain Gazette.
It was a critical success, each issue eagerly anticipated and thoroughly read and then discussed by its small but widely dispersed circle of subscribers. Now that I think about it, many of these discussions took place around tables in local pubs and bars. Alas, it was not a financial success. To give you an idea: Ed Abbey, probably the best known and most financially solvent regular contributor to the original Mountain Gazette, often enclosed a check with his manuscripts. Abbey was that kind of guy.
Mike Moore and Mountain Gazette changed my life and path by offering me a place to develop and regularly publish the kind of writing I most enjoyed and thought most valuable but could not get published elsewhere. Though I had been writing since childhood, little of it ever made it to print, and there is nothing like getting work published somewhat regularly to encourage and inspire a writer. It happened in the winter of 1971 in an odd way. I was working as a coach for the U.S Ski Team and had resigned in the middle of the season in what I considered (and consider) an ethical protest over the self-destructive, obtuse, politically driven, arbitrary, stupid, unfair and wasteful policies and administrators of the U.S. Ski Team. In that particular but by no means unusual case the ski team destroyed the racing career and damaged the life of the best U.S. downhill racer of the time. (Resigning in protest from the U.S Ski Team didn’t do my coaching career or my marriage—my wife was pregnant at the time and I needed the work—much good either, but, though that is another story, it was the right thing to do and I never regretted it, though some of the consequences were heavier than, say, the powder snow of a powder skier’s dreams.)
After my resignation, Bill Tanler, the founder and then editor of Ski Racing, asked me to write a piece explaining my reasons for such a rash, career crippling move. I did. Tanler decided that what I wrote was too “politically sensitive” to print in his publication, but he was good enough to pass it on to Moore who published it in what was then called Skier’s Gazette, the office of which was located in a small room in the basement of the same Denver building that housed Ski Racing. Moore titled it “The Greening of a Ski Coach,” a more palatable designation than the one I had given it, something like “Dinosaurs, Nazis and Cretins of American Ski Racing,” which, perhaps, is indicative of why I was having problems getting my writings published in the mainstream media.
Shortly after that Moore changed the name to Mountain Gazetteto reflect the expanding range of subjects appearing in its pages, skiing being but one area of interest to readers and contributors alike. Skiers were buying Skiers Gazette and complaining that there was nothing about skiing in it, and the publication was growing in ideas and scope if not in profits. “The Greening of a Ski Coach” was well received by skiers and ski racers and ski coaches though not by U.S. Ski Team boosters. Moore asked me to write a piece about a Joan Baez concert I had attended in Berkeley, which is a long way from skiing and even mountains; but it suited the publication and the Vietnam era time of protest and social questioning and change. He liked the Baez concert piece and after that he asked that I write about anything that came to mind as often as I wanted.
I did. I wrote about coyotes, mutant skis, ski racing, Europe, night driving, hypocrisy in climbing ethics, climbing Half Dome, acid trips, road trips, mind trips, hesitation, Gary Snyder, Buddhism, the Disney Corporation, speed skiing and medicine. Twice I sent Moore hundred page manuscripts which he published. (Most manuscripts to most publications were in the 10 to 20 page range. Today’s literary tastes in most magazines are composed of 5 to 10 page features surrounded (padded) by dozens of 50 to 250 word sound bite featurettes.) Many writers, photographers and artists, including Lito Tejada-Flores, Barry Corbett, Galen Rowell, Edgar Boyles, Bob Chamberlain, Robert Reid, George Sibley, Pudim (cartoonist for the Jackson Hole News), Doug Robinson, Sheridan Anderson, N.E.D., David Roberts, Joe Kelsey, Jeremy Bernstein, Ted Kerasote, Gary Snyder, Bruce Berger, Peter Miller, John Jerome, Rob Schulteis and others made Mountain Gazette into a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west publication.
Moore was a dark-haired, bearded, soft and deliberate spoken Teddy Bear of a gentle man with a keen intellect, sensitivity and curiosity about people and the rip tides of existence, a finely tuned bullshit detector and a fierce appreciation for the drinking life. One year he taught a course for the alternative community college in Denver. The course was called something like “Literature and Drinking,” and Moore met his students one night a week in a different Denver bar, usually on Colfax Avenue. I visited Mike and his family in Denver sometime in the 1970s (that decade sort of runs together) and went with him to one of his literature and drinking classes of six or eight students. It was held in a western bar with live band, dance floor, and a nearly full house of dancing, drinking buckaroos and buckarettes doing a 1970s Denver wild-west good time drugstore cowboy stomp with enthusiasm and abandon.
For the first hour the group discussed “A Fan’s Notes” by Fredrick Exley and “Under the Volcano” by Malcolm Lowry, both on the all star list of alcoholic writers who wrote like angels about their demons. One critic described Exley’s novel as “…a memoir with a wink—a sort of ‘Zen in the Art of Motorcycle Maintenance’ for self-loathing depressive alcoholics.” Lowry, whose best known work was made into a fine movie, spent several years of his life living, writing and drinking in Mexico, and is the source of the quote, “They tell you that you’ll lose your mind when you grow older. What they don’t tell you is that you won’t miss it very much.” That gives you an idea of the context of the Mike Moore literature class, but the books were discussed with shrewdness, intelligence and insight, and it was a great deal more interesting and fun to me than my university graduate school classes devoted to things like Edmund Spencer’s “The Faerie Queene” had been. And, of course, after the first hour in the western bar it was even more fun, though likely not so interesting to those outside the class. Moore and I had a couple of editing disputes over some of my writing, one of which lasted four years, but 90 percent of the time he was right, including his criticism of “Coyote Song” which after four years of literary disputes reached print.
The tensions between operating a successful artistic and literary publication that was at the same time an economic disaster, kept alive only through financial life support (more on that shortly) contributed to Moore burning out. Editors of alternative publications tend to burn out shortly before their publications. He left MG and went off to wintertime Scotland with his wife, Sandy, the publication’s art editor, and their children, in search of warmth, inspiration, a good night’s sleep and a resolution of family problems. After some adventures in the New York magazine publishing scene, some wandering even so far as Berkeley, a return to Colorado and a failed attempt a few years later to revive MG which had folded in his absence (more on that later) he eventually settled in Vermont (sans family but with a lovely woman who was and is a successful painter) where he edited and published books for several years. Then, as is only fitting for a counter-culture icon, he seems to have dropped out of even the counter culture and rumors are that he neither edits, reads nor even gardens any longer, but has succumbed to an infatuation with golf. Moore is sorely missed by friends and fans in the world of alternative mountain publications. Gaylord Guenin took over from Moore. Guenin moved the Gazette to Boulder, Colorado where he fiercely but gently nursed it through its last issues before the financial angel, Aspen’s George Stranahan who had kept it alive, pulled the plug. Guenin, who has lived in Woody Creek outside Aspen since shortly after the Gazette’s demise, is known as “the erstwhile mayor of Woody Creek,” (as Stranahan is its patriarch) was a friend and chemical enhancement buddy of the late Hunter S. Thompson and was a suitable lifestyle and literary heir to Moore as editor of MG. In the late 1980 and early ‘90s he was a regular feature at the Woody Creek Tavern. Guenin had the smiling, lined (nay, grooved) face of many hard miles in the style of James Baldwin, Jim Bridwell and Fred Beckey, though to my knowledge he was never a climber. Under his leadership the substance of the Gazette didn’t change significantly from what it had been, and during my one visit to the Boulder offices in 1978 Gaylord orchestrated a great eating/drinking soiree at a restaurant that included Barry Corbet. Readers, contributors and staff of the Mountain Gazette mourned its passing with a well attended and raucous, sodden wake in Boulder. Old copies of the Gazette are considered collector’s items in certain circles, and bound copies of all issues are a treasure.
When life support was removed and Mountain Gazette died in 1979, it left a vacuum in mountain/western publishing. There was no place to publish 100 page manuscripts, no place to counter the perspective found in the slick outdoor/outside/manly macho journals and magazines that cater to image rather than substance and to the advertising dollars of the industry of recreation above all else rather than to the soul and heart of mountain living, mountain recreation, mountains walking for those with the eyes to see. It was a bleak time for writers, readers, poets and photographers who had become accustomed to being on either side of the eclectic pages of the west’s freest mountain journal.
One free-form, free-spirited, devotee of both Moore and MG decided to do something about it. Don Bachman a legendary Colorado based avalanche consultant, a ferocious environmental activist, skier, wanderer over peaks and through woods, avid reader and sometime writer and ex-owner/operator of a Crested Butte bar, put together his life savings and Mike Moore and the three of them set out to resurrect Mountain Gazette. Though I had followed the story at the time it unfolded and heard about it later I was a bit hazy on the details of that adventure, so I asked him to fill me in. Bachman, who at 6’6” towers over the many meetings/forums/demonstrations/marches he regularly attends on behalf of the biological and social environment of earth, now lives a more sedate life in Bozeman, Montana with his wife, the leading mycologist in Montana, replied:
“Your request sent me down a nostalgic dive into some diary notes. For what it is worth, I first discussed the MG revival with Nan Babb in the fall of 1982, and secured use of the MG name on 12/15/82 (my 44th birthday – old enough to know better). Moore consented to help with the launch (ha, we thought we could launch – but could only push off the edge into a heap) the following year in September of ’83.
“We met on November 14, 1983 in Oakland, CA – stayed with my cousins in Berkeley and visited Will Hearst III at the Examiner the next day. No luck, but free lunch.
“On to Seattle via Medford in the rain (what else) to meet with Darrell Oldham of the Seattle Weekly for lots of good, and again free, advice. From there it was on to Missoula – can’t remember who we tried to meet with, but couldn’t for some reason and thence to Livingston. Here we stayed at Tim Cahill’s place and, yes, debauchery seemed to have reigned (since I have a cryptic “drunk” notation in my notes). I do remember early in the evening remaining at the Livingston Bar & Grill after dinner and buying into a football pool to finance the rest of the way home; and, sure enough, winning $100 which I promptly had to reinvest for a round of drinks, lest I lose at least a limb at the hands (and boots) of the attendant cowboy clientele. After crawling back to Cahill’s, I couldn’t remember what I/we/they did. …on to Rock Springs the next day and back to Crested Butte after the 10 day trip of futility.
“But not to be deterred, I somehow lured Mike and the artist, Susan, back to Colorado in early December. We did a fundraiser in Aspen at Chamberlain’s, visited Stranahan and at some point spent the evening in some dowager’s condo next to Chair One, maybe all in the same trip – I can’t remember – maybe you can. We worked damn hard that winter, at spread sheets, writer and donor contacts (Abbey was both – he submitted an essay along with $100), and concept (we’d service the Empty Quarter; viz. The Nine Nations of North America). They left on 3/1/84 and the last notation I made was disconnecting the MG phone the next day. I went back to avalanche consulting and speed skiing prep (at A-Basin this time – wiped out the course w/a fine avalanche which dusted the Avalauncher platform we shot from, and buried the timing tent). Fortunately there was also a fairly lucrative legal case I worked on that spring which helped replace the nearly $5,000 I contributed to this aborted effort. I also drove for CB Taxi in the odd moments.
“If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability – I guess – for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life. “I’ll look forward to the article – and the New MG, if one emerges.”
Not only is there a fine Mountain Gazette style piece of writing lurking in Bachman’s notebooks of his and Moore’s travels and tribulations during the attempted resuscitation of the publication, but, in my opinion, he captured perfectly (I’ve long thought Bachman should do more writing) the ethos and operating manual for the original MG: “If you detect a pattern of debauchery in this narrative – go for it. We had the determination of the righteous but with impaired ability—I guess—for whatever reason, and of course it was fun and just another stumble along the flagstone path of life.
Those of us who shared the determination of the righteous also shared Bachman and Moore’s disappointment, and, possibly truthfully, probably impaired ability as well. We missed MG and collected old copies when we could find them. My own writing went in a different direction. Life, literature, and all pursuits along the flagstone path went on, grateful for the time and lessons of MG, applying them to the present and using them to be attentive and ready for future challenges and lessons. So far, they still do.
And then in 2000 I received a letter from someone named John Fayhee, who I had never heard of, and he was making the first steps toward resurrecting Mountain Gazette and he wanted to know if I had any ideas, suggestions, input, and was I interested in contributing some writing if it happened. I did and I was and we started a correspondence and within six months or so Fayhee had secured financing and a staff and an office in Frisco, Colorado and put out the first Mountain Gazette in nearly 20 years. Fayhee, a bearded man of seemingly continuous movement, it turns out, was a worthy successor to Moore and Guenin. He was as energetic and even manic as Moore was deliberate, a serious and experienced journalist, a mountain person searcher for whatever it is that mountain people are searching for, and an aficionado of the bars of Summit County, Colorado, or, in truth, those of whatever county he happened to be in. Four years after he got MG back on its feet he dedicated an entire issue of the Gazette to bars. He called it the “bar issue” and he explained it in these words:
“Mountain people are flat-out bar pros. In most parts of the country, not the world, if you find yourself in a bar three, four, nine times a week, you’d be a social pariah, the card-carrying town drunk, a citizen who serves as a justified poster child for the kind of person you tell your kids to yell for help if they so much as walk by. And justifiably so. In most parts of the country, people go to bars for all the wrong reasons, and only for the wrong reasons: to slump over a bottle of Bud, bitching at the world. And, worse, they come out for all the wrong reasons.
“In mountain country, people go to bars to celebrate life, after a day of skiing or working fence or kayaking. Mountain people go to watering holes and pubs and saloons and clubs to make connections, to pick up the latest gossip, to tell tall tales that, unlike the tales told in most lowland locales, are often updated; in the mountains, new stories are told at our bars. Bars are where we huddle when we look out the window and wonder, probably subconsciously, just what we’re doing out here on the edge of civilization, up in the cold hidden valleys, far from our people, far from the ways we know.
“There is vibrancy to our bars and our bar life that you’d be hard pressed to equal in the bars of lesser lands. And that vibrancy thematically and culturally lends itself to what we hope will become an annual Mountain Gazette Bar Issue.
“I understand there are a lot of people who are going to recoil at the thought of dedicating an entire issue of Mountain Gazette to mountain bars. Of course, it’s my guess that few of those people are Gazette regulars, but, just in case one or two strayed their way over from Backpacker or Outside, let me caveat this whole thing: You’re either a bar person or you’re not, and mountain country has a high percentage of people who are bonafide, card-carrying bar people, and a high percentage of our readers are bar people.”
Fayhee resurrected Mountain Gazette with the right intention and great spirit and his own brand of frenzied energy, and it looked and acted and felt much like it did more than 20 years earlier. Not exactly, but close, and MG was still free form and spirited and provided both outlet and input for those who see and seek in the mountains that which can’t be found in the pages of slicker, more commercial and ahhhhhhh sanitized and more solvent mountain publications. Times had changed in the 20 plus years that Mountain Gazette had been out of commission. Mountain towns had changed. The ‘60s and ‘70s, in my opinion, were a great and valuable time for America and the mountain people of the west, but they were gone and could not and should not be revived or emulated. Abbey was dead and most of the old MG guard, me included, did not view or live life the same as we had in the ‘60s and ‘70s. Or, at least, those who did couldn’t remember why.
In my case, while I still organized my life around skiing, climbing, writing, wandering, reading and being attentive and ready for whatever the next adventure might become, I was sitting on a zafu every morning rather than on a bar stool at night and had limited my intake of mood, mind and consciousness altering chemicals to nothing stronger or socially/physically controversial than caffeine. Still, over the next six years I sent Fayhee several manuscripts of varying lengths, often longer than he really wanted, though none of them up to 100 pages. It took a couple of years to convince him to publish one or two of them, and one of my favorites he never did publish; but I wrote about and MG published works about vegetarianism, revisiting Yosemite, the joy of skiing, instinct, Arnold Schwarzenegger, climbing in the Yukon, backcountry skiing, Fred Beckey, a life of skiing on Sun Valley’s Bald Mountain, the Prusik, ski instruction in America, DickDurrance and several book reviews. Mountain Gazette remained my favorite venue for my own favorite work.
As a contributor and local delivery boy for MG I could make an educated guess about the current fiscal health of MG at any time by how hard it was and how long it took to get paid. My guess was that it had its 21st century financial ups and downs and that Fayhee was a better editor and writer than he was a businessman/administrator, just like his two predecessors had been in the 20th century.
Eventually Fayhee and his partners sold MG and Fayhee stayed on as editor, but he moved from Colorado to New Mexico. MG was sold again, and again. And in due time Fayhee was no longer editor and MG no longer a print publication. It is, after all, the 21st century. MG is found on the web, not on the streets or bars and newsstands of the Mountain West. MG was based in Boulder, Colorado (again) under the able editorship of Doug Schnitzspahn, part of the Virginia based Summit Publishing. Mountain Gazette continues to be a unique, wonderful and much loved alternative and free (expansive) thinking mostly about the west online publication.
This week, Interior Secretary Deb Haaland visited southeastern Utah in order to “listen” and to “learn” about Bears Ears National Monument and Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument. The visit, which included meetings with tribal leaders, the Utah congressional delegation, and local and state elected officials was part of the Biden administration’s review of the monuments, which were shrunken dramatically by the Trump administration.
A cynic might see the visit as political theatre, and there was some of that. But that shouldn’t take away from the historical significance of the Bears Ears visit. Here was the first Indigenous person to serve as secretary of the Interior, traveling through the first national monument to be conceived of and proposed and fought for by five tribal nations with deep roots in the land in question. And Haaland, herself, a citizen of the Pueblo of Laguna, also has ancestral ties to the region.
(Much has been written about these ties, but for a quick overview I strongly recommend this piece by Lyle Balenquah, a Hopi archaeologist and artist. He’s talking about Hopi connections, in particular, but the ideas extend to the Pueblo people, in general. And here’s another about ties to Grand Staircase-Escalante.)
Unfortunately, that deeper significance is often lost amid the political posturing and squabbling over the monument, “land grabs,” “local control,” the extent of the Antiquities Act, and the like. It is lost among the overblown assertions that a battalion of drill rigs will descend upon the Bears Ears, themselves, without a monument and, similarly, that the place will suddenly be thronged with millions of visitors, a la Zion National Park, as soon as it becomes a monument. I’m not going to rehash all of that now (for more of my thoughts read The Meaning of Monuments, the Mega-monument that Almost Was, and this piece on Industrial-scale Tourism).
Instead, I’m going to ask that everyone slow down, forget about these arguments for or against monument designation, and consider the meaning of this moment in which five sovereign tribal nations—some of whom were historically at odds with one another—saw that their ancestral homeland and their culture was threatened, came together, and over the course of years formulated a proposal that could not only protect some of that culture, but also maybe give the tribes a little more say over how it is managed and interpreted. That is a big deal no matter how this all turns out.
….ah yes, what people spend on lockers in ‘Hasbeen’ would keep us going well into our next reincarnation.
The Fall Creek Monk
“I’ll take a chicken burger,” said a grandfather on a winter afternoon in Sun Valley, Idaho. It was the beginning of 2020, and the counter of the bar was sticky from beer overflow and wine glass ring stains after the lunchtime rush. Wearing ski boots and a glossy red ski helmet, he took a seat at a table that looked out at Bald Mountain. The grandfather was Clint Eastwood.
Early last year, the resort’s most popular mountain access point, Warm Springs Lodge, was in full swing. Famous faces and their children like Patrick Schwarzenegger, actor and son of Maria Shriver and Arnold Schwarzenegger, filled the wood-paneled gateway during peak après hours. And while the crowds in the lodge used to be as densely packed as Coachella’s main stage, the 2020–21 ski season is a different picture. Currently, the resort’s lodges are closed to all social activities and ski-boot removal due to the pandemic.
At any luxury ski resort, the main lodges typically resemble the now legendary cantina scene from Star Wars, bustling with the most powerful and eccentric visitors imaginable. Now, the wealthy watering holes around the world have shut down to socializing. In Sun Valley, the most exclusive action has pivoted a few footsteps north from Warm Springs to the Edelweiss, a Bavarian-style condominium complex that has long since seen better days. Here, celebrities and billionaires have bought (and occasionally sold) studio-size condo units for as much as $1.5 million each—not as a place to lay their heads, but for their privacy, an opportunity to socialize without COVID-19 restrictions, and a special locker dedicated solely to their ski equipment. That’s right: Folks are buying tiny Edelweiss condos for seven-plus figures simply as a place to store their skis!
Tom Ford, the fashion designer and filmmaker, renovated his condominium for a full floor-to-ceiling makeover. Some Edelweiss owners considered this “perfuming a pig.” But to others, Ford simply understood the Edelweiss’s most valuable amenity of all: isolation. And like everything Ford designs, his ski locker received the VIP treatment before the sleek mahogany unit was listed on the market for $949,000 and traded for an undisclosed amount.
On busy ski weekends, Edelweiss owners like Tom Hanks, Rita Wilson, Jann Wenner, and Steve Wynn can be spotted roaming the narrow, brown-carpeted hallways. Residents are greeted with a mural of Pinzgauer cows wearing bells and a hiker moving into an Alpine sunrise. In the evening, there’s no other noise — mingling hours are over. An issue that plagues most densely built condominiums with paper-thin walls are loud neighbors, but not at the Edelweiss. By 6 p.m., the parking lot is almost entirely empty, and so are the condos—or “ski lockers”—as they’re known to owners. Again, because nothing actually “sleeps” here except their owners’ skis.
“I’ve never even considered it,” said Steve Wynn of spending a night at his locker. When informed that there is an in-ground pool between buildings A and B of the resort, the Las Vegas tycoon and fine art collector responded: “There are two buildings?”
There is no central heat or air in the complex, and Kipp Nelson, the chairman of U.S. Ski and Snowboard, calls his first-floor unit “a college dorm.”
During a visit over MLK weekend—one of the resort’s busiest times—Nelson’s condo lived up to his dormitory description. Dozens of upright skis crowded the stand-up shower. “It was a waste of money to install that,” Nelson said about the $50,000 shower renovation for a condo where he never actually stays overnight. “But then it turned out to be a perfect storage spot for overload.”
For much of its existence, the Edelweiss was largely seen as a missed opportunity. Sun Valley does not have the kind of ski-in-ski-out hotel that’s so popular at other destination resorts, and the Edelweiss—a 72-unit burnt-chocolate condominium complex with now iconic Tyrolean typeface—occupies the only viable real estate that could offer the full ski-in-ski-out experience.
Peggy Dean, a widow of a local tire businessman, was one of the first owners of a first-floor unit. In the early 1970s, the Edelweiss was a second home to many in the ski-apparel industry. Developed by Robert Mickelson and named after his now defunct line of athleisure clothing, the Edelweiss often hosted trunk shows and presentations of new ski apparel. During busy weekends, racks of clothing for sale would line the first floor’s deck, and designers could take refuge on their Murphy beds inside. Toward the mid-’70s, there were talks of converting the entire first floor into a retail space, but the owners were less than enthused. “It didn’t get past a discussion,” Dean said. Why? “I just love the convenience for skiing too much.”
Over time, the fashion world moved out, and wealthy skiers moved in. Due to the recent lodge closures, owners are now holding on especially tight. In stark contrast to the beginning of 2020, not a single unit is currently for sale. The only place to socialize in town, the Edelweiss has transformed into a small underground social club of the who’s who of the global .011 percent.
A local relic, the Edelweiss has become famous for its low-key veneer. The dissonance, between ski culture’s innate glitz and the dilapidation of Sun Valley’s most exclusive hot spot, seems perverse. But the Edelweiss is a mascot of what Sun Valley is all about: It may look tired and shabby on the outside, but once you get in, it’s pretty special.
Many full-time Sun Valley residents don’t understand the need for a six- or seven-figure ski locker. “It’s a luxury, and an unnecessary one,” said Phil Barney, a co-owner of Hawaiian-print shirt brand Three Islands Clothing and son of famed American portrait photographer Tina Barney. “I live five minutes away from Warm Springs. I just drive down in my ski boots and park my car in the free lot. Everyone who has a locker has a second or third home here too. Why don’t they just learn to drive in their ski boots? It’s easier than it sounds.”
Matt Gaetz is drowning in political scandal—and there’s nobody around to throw him a life preserver. The Florida congressman, who is under investigation for sex trafficking of a minor, has vehemently denied the allegations swirling around him, casting the inquiry into his conduct and reports of other illicit or unbecoming behavior as an attempt to silence an outspoken supporter of Donald Trump and critic of “the swamp.” “They aren’t coming for me,” Gaetz wrote in a Washington Examiner op-ed Monday. “They are coming for you. I’m just in the way.” That self-aggrandizement might not be particularly convincing—not outside the MAGA bubble, at least—but for Gaetz it may be necessary: Short on allies to vouch for him, he has become his own loudest defender.
Gaetz had few friends in Washington in the first place: He was a bombastic advocate for Trump, but wasn’t taken entirely seriously within the former president’s circle. He’s commanded a large national profile, thanks to his talent for finding cameras and standing in front of them, but has done nothing concrete with it, having never written a bill that has been passed into law in the four-plus years he’s been in Congress. He’s made some fans among the MAGA faithful, but to everyone else—including most of his colleagues, apparently—he’s regarded as little more than a self-promoting asshole.
“I don’t think a lot of people are going to go out of their way to defend him,” a GOP staffer told the Daily Beast last week. “I don’t think you’ll find a lot of people who are desperate to keep him involved in Republican politics.”
This is obviously not to say that the GOP isn’t willing to tolerate toxic, utterly useless creeps with delusions of grandeur. But only Donald Trump gets a blank check to do whatever he wants; for everyone else, there are limits to the depravity. Gaetz may be learning that lesson the hard way now. Immediately after news of the investigation broke in the New York Times, he went on Tucker Carlson in an effort to defend himself—only to find the Fox News host as baffled as anybody by the Florida Republican’s bizarre efforts to explain away the inquiry that was opened up by Trump’s Department of Justice. “If you just saw our Matt Gaetz interview,” Carlson said afterward, “that was one of the weirdest interviews I have ever conducted.”
On Capitol Hill, Gaetz has found support from right-wing Representatives Jim Jordan and Marjorie Taylor Greene. But the backing of the guy who allegedlyturned a blind eye to the sexual abuse of wrestlers at Ohio State and the lady best known for her devotion to conspiracy theories and for harassing a school shooting survivor? That would seem to hurt his cause more than help it. The top House Republican, Kevin McCarthy, called the allegations “serious” and said he’d strip Gaetz of his assignments if they are proven true, and his fellow GOP lawmakers have largely avoided saying anything in his defense. Even Trumpworld has been mostly silent on the allegations. Part of that is because his efforts to explain them away have been so strange, the contours of the supposed conspiracy against him so ill-defined, that no one has wanted to rally behind him. “He hasn’t done a single thing to make people comfortable to defend him,” a Trump confidante toldPolitico Tuesday. But another part is that he wasn’t particularly well-thought-of in the first place, with his own aides routinely sending “embarrassing videos” of him to other GOP operatives, according to Politico, and many in Trump’s orbit regarding him as a hanger-on more interested in self-promotion than in the former president. “Anyone that has ever spent 10 minutes with the guy,” a Trump campaign aide told the outlet, “would realize he’s an unserious person.”
Even those who had been friends of his seem to be turning on him. On Friday, his communications director and longtime aide, Luke Ball, resigned his post as the political crisis deepened. And on Monday, former Democratic Representative Katie Hill, who forged an unlikely friendship with Gaetz while in Congress and was defended by the Republican when nude photos of her were leaked without her consent, wrote in an essay for Vanity Fair that he should step down if there is “even a fraction of truth to these reports.”
“Some of these actions are criminal and some of them should be,” Hill wrote, referring to the potential sex trafficking, as well as reports that he showed colleagues on the House floor nude photos of women he claimed to have slept with. “All are morally reprehensible and unacceptable for a lawmaker.”
With few prominent figures in the media, Congress, or conservative politics interested in coming to his defense, Gaetz is running out of places to turn—and Trump, the man he’s built his political identity around defending, has not yet returned the favor, apparently following the advice of aides to keep himself out of the mounting scandal. That could change, and Trump could defend Gaetz over his alleged sexual misconduct as he defended Brett Kavanaughback in the day. But Gaetz can’t count on it: With Trump, the loyalty flows just one way, and the embattled congressman’s four years of allegiance is no guarantee he’ll have Trump by his side in his moment of need.
Of course, the Gaetz scandal isn’t that he’s unpopular; it’s that he at the very least seems to have engaged in conduct unsuitable for a lawmaker, and quite possibly committed crimes. But those two things—his behavior and his status as a pariah—are clearly related to one another, contrary to his fevered claims that he’s the target of political attacks by a corrupt system that regards him as a threat. Gaetz remains defiant for now, vowing in his op-ed not to resign and casting himself as a “gladiator” fighting a “battle for America’s future” who will not be bowed. But it’s hard to play both the hero and the victim simultaneously, and, as one former official from the last administration told the Washington Post Tuesday: “It only works for Donald Trump.”
Many of the major river basins are at or above average, but surveyors are worried that drought conditions won’t improve
Snowstorms last month replenished snowpack in the Colorado mountains and improved drought conditions on the Front Range, as did rain that quenched the parched Eastern Plains. But smaller amounts of precipitation farther south and west have done less to dampen drought conditions.
Ultimately, researchers say that one big storm is not enough to break Colorado out of its long-term drought.
“What we’ll need are probably multiple years of above average snowfall to really get us out of this,” said Russ Schumacher, Director of the Colorado Climate Center.
Snowpack, the snow that accumulates in the mountains, provides Colorado with 50% to 80% of its usable water. As temperatures rise in April and through the spring, melting snow renews the rivers and fills reservoirs throughout the state. Last month’s snowstorm was a boon.
Data from the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado shows some promising snowpack conditions. The snow-water-equivalent — the amount of liquid water held in snow — is at or above 90% of normal in the Yampa, White, Laramie and North Platte and South Platte river basins. In the Arkansas and Upper Rio Grande basins, it is 110% of normal. Conditions are not as good in the Upper Colorado Headwaters, Gunnison, and San Miguel, Dolores, Animas and San Juan basins, all under 90% of normal.
“We’re definitely in a better position now at the beginning of April than we were at the beginning of March,” said Russ Schumacher, director of the Colorado Climate Center at Colorado State University.
Brian Domonkos, snow survey supervisor at the Natural Resources Conservation Service of Colorado, measures snowpack to gather data on the important snow-to-water equivalent. In the past couple weeks, the statewide snow-water-equivalent jumped up to almost 15 inches, just under the median.
Two methods are used to determine the amount of water present in the snowpack. The more traditional way uses a federal sampler — a set of tubes stuck into the snow to produce a core that is measured and weighed. Snow telemetry, or SNOTEL, sites are an automated method for measuring the water in the snow, while also collecting data including depth, quality of snow, precipitation and air temperature.
However, heavy snowfall does not always mean snowpack will provide enough water for the state or reliant neighboring states. There are a number of other elements at play.
Warm, windy conditions can erode snowpack fairly quickly. In some instances, dust can blow in from the Southwest, blanket the snow and reduce its reflective abilities. If covered with dust, the snow absorbs more sunlight, making it melt faster than usual.
Soil moisture is crucial, but it is a factor Schumacher said researchers are still working to fully understand. Going into the winter with dry soils means it takes more water to rehydrate them first before water can flow into rivers. A warmer spring means snow might melt faster than expected.
“The dry conditions that we’ve seen over this past summer, and even the summer before that are one of the bigger drivers of the below-normal stream flows,” Domonkos said.
Climate change exacerbates this moisture challenge. Schumacher said it can bring about extreme heat and a rapid onset of drought in the summertime, reducing soil moisture.
“If that trend continues, and we continue going into each winter with very dry soils and drought-stressed vegetation, then it just raises the bar on the amount of extra snow that you have to get to make up those deficits,” Schumacher said.
Signs point to more drought conditions, but Domonkos said time will tell.
“For me I think the real proof is going to be in the actual runoff this spring and summer,” Domonkos said. “Unfortunately, that’s just the way that it goes.”
For people sick of news, there is nothing happening that cannot wait, so tonight’s letter is a good one to skip.
Otherwise, there are lots of developing stories today. Top of the list is the story of Representative Matt Gaetz (R-FL), who is implicated in what appears to be a significant sex scandal involving underage girls.
Running a close second is the story Shane Goldmacher at the New York Times broke this weekend: in the closing days of the 2020 election season, the Trump campaign scammed supporters out of more than $122 million by tricking them into “recurring” donations. The campaign had to refund those donations after the election, and it apparently did so by using money raised after the election by asking for funds to challenge the election results. In effect, supporters unknowingly made a no-interest loan to the campaign.
Today’s overarching story is connected to this one. It is the same as yesterday’s big story, and the day before that, reaching on backward until the 2020 election. Republican Party leaders continue to insist, without evidence, that former president Donald Trump won the 2020 election and that Democrats stole it from him through voter fraud. A new Reuters/Ipsos found that six in ten Republicans believe this Big Lie.
This falsehood has been rejected by bipartisan election officials and the courts, including the Supreme Court, but in 43 states Republican legislators are using it to justify election laws that will make it significantly harder to vote.
Those new laws have met with significant pushback, leaving Republicans scrambling to argue that the laws actually make it easier to vote, not harder. This is not true. Former Wall Street Journal correspondent Douglas Blackmon wrote a tremendously clear thread on Twitter spelling out how the Georgia law, for example, makes it illegal for Georgia voting officials to send absentee applications to each voter, and makes it harder to get absentee ballots. It eliminates most drop boxes for ballots, as well, and makes it harder for working people to vote. Blackmon says the law’s “intent seems to be causing much longer & slower lines at the polls, which… will mean large numbers of working class, elderly, and sick voters who just give up and go home.”
The passage of a new voter suppression law in Georgia has opened up a rift between Republican lawmakers and corporations, which in the past have been firmly in the Republican camp. After all, Republicans hailed the Supreme Court’s 2010 decision in Citizens United v. Federal Election Commission, which overturned election restrictions that had been in place for more than a century and permitted corporations to spend unlimited amounts on elections. The justices argued that corporations and other groups had a right to spend money under the First Amendment’s right to free speech.
Now that corporations are taking a stand against the Georgia election law, Republicans are no longer so keen on corporate free speech. Senate Minority Leader Mitch McConnell (R-KY), who has long advocated the use of big money for his political causes and who in 2020 got the most money from the nation’s top chief executive officers, today issued a statement calling the corporations who oppose the Georgia election law bullies. He said: “Corporations will invite serious consequences if they become a vehicle for far-left mobs to hijack our country from outside the constitutional order. Businesses must not use economic blackmail to spread disinformation and push bad ideas that citizens reject at the ballot box.”
McConnell’s sudden turn against corporate political speech is not as counterintuitive as it seems. He wants corporate support in general, of course, but he also appears to need corporate money to fend off a revolt in his caucus. While corporations got cold feet about the Republicans after the January 6 coup and the refusal of 147 Republican lawmakers to count the certified ballots for President Joe Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris, small donors turning out for Trump’s Big Lie made up for the lost corporate money. Now, as corporations stand against the Trump wing of the party in Georgia, it appears the power in the party is shifting away from McConnell’s corporate wing and toward Trump followers who like the extremists promising to continue fighting the culture wars.
House Minority Leader Kevin McCarthy (R-CA) is similarly struggling with his conference as far-right representatives like Marjorie Taylor Greene (R-GA) try to use procedural tools to snarl congressional operations, turning every last House operation into a partisan fight.
While Democrats are pushing quite popular legislation, Republicans are shifting toward lawmakers who are not only aiming a wrecking ball at Congress, but also are facing one of the biggest sex scandals in a generation and one of the biggest funding scandals ever.
When researchers analyzed decades of snowpack monitoring data across western North America, including many in Colorado, they found that snow at more than a third of the stations melted significantly earlier in the year than it did in the mid- to late-20th century.
The new study from the University of Colorado is the first of its kind to look at historical snowmelt data to understand the long-term impacts of a warming world on alpine snowpack, the water storage of the West.
Colorado’s snowpack acts like a drip irrigation system, with the snowpack — and thus water stored as snow — peaking around April 1 each year. As spring brings warming temperatures, snow slowly and steadily melts, first saturating the dry ground, then flowing through rivers and streams to both human and ecological uses.
If the snowmelt begins to drip earlier in the season, there is less runoff to flow on and through the ground during the summer months. Unless precipitation increases — either adding to the snowpack in the winter, or supplementing runoff in the spring and summer — there are fewer water resources during the growing season.
Snowpack declined about 11% during the study period, but earlier winter runoff was roughly three times as widespread, based on data from 1,065 snow telemetry sites. Measures like snowpack can inform resource managers of the current water year’s conditions, Musselman said, while runoff timing is likely more indicative of long-term climatic trends.
“This is one of the first times we’ve been able to put these data together and see that we’re seeing real-time changes in winter snowmelt,” said Keith Musselman, the study’s lead author and a research associate at CU’s Institute of Arctic and Alpine Research.
The study didn’t look at the why of earlier snowmelt, but Musselman said there are some likely culprits. Climate change and warming temperatures can lead to faster melting as well as increase the likelihood of snow to sublimate, or go from solid snow straight to water vapor. Other possible causes for the early runoff, according to Musselman, could include dust settling on top of snow and decreasing its albedo, or reflectivity, which leads to faster melting.
If this all sounds like a bad scenario, it’s because it is. Soils that saturate too early in the year due to winter runoff will act like a sponge full of water, according to Musselman, so they won’t be able to work as a buffer against flash floods as more snow melts or rain falls in spring and summer.
Microbes in dirt also reactivate when runoff returns. As those organisms do the dirty work of breaking down organic matter, they release carbon dioxide, which contributes to climate change. The earlier they get back to work, the more carbon dioxide they emit into the atmosphere.
This winter’s lackluster snowfall means the megadrought across Colorado and much of the West will continue until significant precipitation returns. Musselman said more data is needed to determine the exact impacts of earlier runoff, but there will be implications for how societies manage the liquid of life.
“Our water resource infrastructure in the West is built around snowpack. It’s built around the accumulation in the winter and the melt in spring and summer of the mountain snowpack, and water allocations are based on that infrastructure as well,” Musselman said. “That system is changing.”
More than three decades later, shortly after his eightieth birthday, Miller wrote a beautiful essay on the subject of aging and the key to living a full life. It was published in 1972 in an ultra-limited-edition chapbook titled On Turning Eighty (public library), alongside two other essays. Only 200 copies were printed, numbered and signed by the author.
Miller begins by considering the true measure of youthfulness:
If at eighty you’re not a cripple or an invalid, if you have your health, if you still enjoy a good walk, a good meal (with all the trimmings), if you can sleep without first taking a pill, if birds and flowers, mountains and sea still inspire you, you are a most fortunate individual and you should get down on your knees morning and night and thank the good Lord for his savin’ and keepin’ power. If you are young in years but already weary in spirit, already on the way to becoming an automaton, it may do you good to say to your boss — under your breath, of course — “Fuck you, Jack! You don’t own me!” … If you can fall in love again and again, if you can forgive your parents for the crime of bringing you into the world, if you are content to get nowhere, just take each day as it comes, if you can forgive as well as forget, if you can keep from growing sour, surly, bitter and cynical, man you’ve got it half licked.
He later adds:
I have very few friends or acquaintances my own age or near it. Though I am usually ill at ease in the company of elderly people I have the greatest respect and admiration for two very old men who seem to remain eternally young and creative. I mean [the Catalan cellist and conductor] Pablo Casals and Pablo Picasso, both over ninety now. Such youthful nonagenarians put the young to shame. Those who are truly decrepit, living corpses, so to speak, are the middle-aged, middleclass men and women who are stuck in their comfortable grooves and imagine that the status quo will last forever or else are so frightened it won’t that they have retreated into their mental bomb shelters to wait it out.
If you have had a successful career, as presumably I have had, the late years may not be the happiest time of your life. (Unless you’ve learned to swallow your own shit.) Success, from the worldly standpoint, is like the plague for a writer who still has something to say. Now, when he should be enjoying a little leisure, he finds himself more occupied than ever. Now he is the victim of his fans and well wishers, of all those who desire to exploit his name. Now it is a different kind of struggle that one has to wage. The problem now is how to keep free, how to do only what one wants to do.
He goes on to reflect on how success affects people’s quintessence:
One thing seems more and more evident to me now — people’s basic character does not change over the years… Far from improving them, success usually accentuates their faults or short-comings. The brilliant guys at school often turn out to be not so brilliant once they are out in the world. If you disliked or despised certain lads in your class you will dislike them even more when they become financiers, statesmen or five star generals. Life forces us to learn a few lessons, but not necessarily to grow.
Miller returns to youth and the young as a kind of rearview mirror for one’s own journey:
You observe your children or your children’s children, making the same absurd mistakes, heart-rending mistakes often, which you made at their age. And there is nothing you can say or do to prevent it. It’s by observing the young, indeed, that you eventually understand the sort of idiot you yourself were once upon a time — and perhaps still are.
At eighty I believe I am a far more cheerful person than I was at twenty or thirty. I most definitely would not want to be a teenager again. Youth may be glorious, but it is also painful to endure…
I was cursed or blessed with a prolonged adolescence; I arrived at some seeming maturity when I was past thirty. It was only in my forties that I really began to feel young. By then I was ready for it. (Picasso once said: “One starts to get young at the age of sixty, and then it’s too late.”) By this time I had lost many illusions, but fortunately not my enthusiasm, nor the joy of living, nor my unquenchable curiosity.
And therein lies Miller’s spiritual center — the life-force that stoked his ageless inner engine:
Perhaps it is curiosity — about anything and everything — that made me the writer I am. It has never left me…
With this attribute goes another which I prize above everything else, and that is the sense of wonder. No matter how restricted my world may become I cannot imagine it leaving me void of wonder. In a sense I suppose it might be called my religion. I do not ask how it came about, this creation in which we swim, but only to enjoy and appreciate it.
Two years later, Miller would come to articulate this with even more exquisite clarity in contemplating the meaning of life, but here he contradicts Henry James’s assertion that seriousness preserves one’s youth and turns to his other saving grace — the capacity for light-heartedness as an antidote to life’s often stifling solemnity:
Perhaps the most comforting thing about growing old gracefully is the increasing ability not to take things too seriously. One of the big differences between a genuine sage and a preacher is gaiety. When the sage laughs it is a belly laugh; when the preacher laughs, which is all too seldom, it is on the wrong side of the face.
Equally important, Miller argues, is countering the human compulsion for self-righteousness. In a sentiment Malcolm Gladwell would come to complement nearly half a century later in advocating for the importance of changing one’s mind regularly, Miller writes:
With advancing age my ideals, which I usually deny possessing, have definitely altered. My ideal is to be free of ideals, free of principles, free of isms and ideologies. I want to take to the ocean of life like a fish takes to the sea…
I no longer try to convert people to my view of things, nor to heal them. Neither do I feel superior because they appear to be lacking in intelligence.
Miller goes on to consider the brute ways in which we often behave out of self-righteousness and deformed idealism:
One can fight evil but against stupidity one is helpless… I have accepted the fact, hard as it may be, that human beings are inclined to behave in ways that would make animals blush. The ironic, the tragic thing is that we often behave in ignoble fashion from what we consider the highest motives. The animal makes no excuse for killing his prey; the human animal, on the other hand, can invoke God’s blessing when massacring his fellow men. He forgets that God is not on his side but at his side.
But despite observing these lamentable human tendencies, Miller remains an optimist at heart. He concludes by returning to the vital merriment at the root of his life-force:
My motto has always been: “Always merry and bright.” Perhaps that is why I never tire of quoting Rabelais: “For all your ills I give you laughter.” As I look back on my life, which has been full of tragic moments, I see it more as a comedy than a tragedy. One of those comedies in which while laughing your guts out you feel your inner heart breaking. What better comedy could there be? The man who takes himself seriously is doomed…
There is nothing wrong with life itself. It is the ocean in which we swim and we either adapt to it or sink to the bottom. But it is in our power as human beings not to pollute the waters of life, not to destroy the spirit which animates us.
The most difficult thing for a creative individual is to refrain from the effort to make the world to his liking and to accept his fellow man for what he is, whether good, bad or indifferent.
Terry Tempest Williams, an author and environmental activist, on bird song, Keith Jarrett and slowing down.
By Corinna da Fonseca-Wollheim
March 31, 2021
For a series of conversations about music with nonmusicians, I am swapping songs: exchanging pieces with my interlocutors to spark ideas about how their areas of expertise might relate to organized sound.
Terry Tempest Williams is an author and environmental activist whose work celebrates the red-rock deserts of Utah, where she calls home. Her most recent book, “Erosion: Essays of Undoing,”describes the personal and political repercussions of the depredation of public lands.
For our chat, I chose the “Abyss of the Birds” section from Olivier Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time.” She picked “First (Solo Voice)” from Keith Jarrett’s “Invocations.” These are edited excerpts from the interview.
In your book “When Women Were Birds,” you describe childhood memories of your grandmother creating candlelit listening parties, where she would play records for you and your brother. They included classical music, but also field recordings of bird song.
That’s why I picked the clarinet solo from Messiaen’s “Quartet for the End of Time,” first performed in a German prisoner-of-war camp in 1941; it has stretches of desolate, sustained long notes alongside transcriptions of bird song.
I hear it as breath. I knew the story before I knew the music, and I was struck by how, in the presence of war, you could have two minds: one watching out for the enemy and one listening for the call of a blackbird or a mockingbird. And when I first heard it, I was just devastated by the beauty.
That first note appears to come out of nowhere and then builds through the power of one breath. Especially now, in the time of coronavirus, as a country we can’t breathe. We can’t breathe because of the virus. We can’t breathe because of politics, because of the Black and brown bodies that are being killed on the streets. And here, there is that one opening breath, and at the beginning, it feels like melancholy, it feels like a lament. But then as it progresses, there is that building of the silence to voice that becomes a lighter voice, the voice of birds, a fluttering and flourishing.
The clarinet sets vibrations in motion so subtly that by the time we notice them as sound, they’ve already wormed their way into us.
It also felt like light. I had heard that the piece was created at dawn, so this morning, I took my music outside and sat in the desert. As light spread, against that building of voice, it felt like the music mirrored the dawn itself. And I was absolutely stunned by the birds that were drawn in. The robins were the first ones. At moments, I couldn’t tell: Was that a fluttering from Messiaen or a fluttering from the robins? Then starlings came in, and it was almost like they were trying to copy the music, and then the desert mourning doves came in. And then the larks took over.
Sitting in this grove of junipers, I thought about Messiaen and his musicians creating this music in a time of such confinement — and that is the power of community.
Messiaen was a Catholic who believed in eternity as something both comforting and terrifying. As someone who fights for the preservation of wilderness, to what extent do you also have to think of time outside of how it is measured by humans?
I was a child in 1962, when my grandmother read Rachel Carson’s “Silent Spring.” We were in her garden putting seeds in bird feeders. And she said, “Terry, can you imagine a world without bird song?” It was a terrifying thought. Birds allow us to be present in the moment, but they also link me to a time before the human record and to what will be as we live our own apocalypse in terms of climate collapse. So they’re an arrow pointing in both directions.
Messiaen said, “It is in a spirit of no confidence in myself, or I mean in the human race, that I have taken bird songs as a model.” And he goes on to talk about the “sovereign freedom” of birds.
That is a beautiful paradox I hear in his music. Birds are the ultimate symbol of freedom. They are also the symbol of presence. They hold their past, and we pray that they will carry the earth into the future. Here he was a devout Catholic, and yet he sought his spiritual source not from God but from God’s creation.
The classic instrument to represent a bird would be the flute, but here it’s brought down a few octaves. It’s mediated, or translated.
He slows their song down so we can really hear. And birds feel like they are the mediators between us and heaven. I also think that since birds travel within the realm of air, to choose a clarinet, a single reed instrument that requires breath, is such a beautiful manifestation.
I was really touched by the piece you chose. While the Messiaen exists in this pure darkness with no echo coming back, Keith Jarrett’s saxophone solo plays with the acoustics of the German abbey where it was recorded, a man-made space designed for transcendence.
The two pieces feel interlinked. They’re both single-reed, solo voices. One is highly composed, the other born of improvisation. And both of them felt like invocations. With Keith Jarrett’s solo, it was the echo that moved me most. This energetic vibration that I feel especially attuned to now as we are a year into a pandemic that we first thought was a pause and we now know is a place. The echoes we feel in our isolation, our own solo voices.
Jarrett invites us to ask how well can we live with uncertainty. He offers us a path of improvisation, and the echo turns it into a call and response.
At the heart of improvisation is listening. Jarrett is listening to the echoes, to the spaces in between his notes. You can almost hear him wondering: What happens if I push this note through the resonance trail of the last one, like concentric smoke rings? Can I smudge the difference between the note I play in this moment and the residue that’s still lingering from the previous one?
It’s in the listening that you open up creative space. I was astonished by a passage about two minutes and 50 seconds in, where the music builds to this fullness. For a while, I lost all track of time.
That’s where he stays on one note and bends the pitch. It develops these microtonal inflections that no longer belong to Western music. He allows the note to wilt and revive. He seems to be exploring the spaces in between notes.
If someone were to say, “Tell me where you live, what do you experience,” I would point to this piece. It is this spaciousness. It is the echo of wall against wall in the narrow confines of these red-rock canyons.
Both of these pieces are filled with memory. How do we access that? For me the bridge is silence and stillness.
As harrowing and as grief-filled as this pandemic has been, it has brought us to this place of slowing down and listening. And that has been part of the blessing. If we are going to survive, that is what is required.