I have on the wall a few feet away from me here the above photo taken in the 1980s, the subject of the encircled part a man I will call Clem. The main photo was taken in Yellowstone National Park on the Blacktail Deer “trail”. He and I spent the whole day breaking trail, and as I worked to keep up with him I saw this: A lone man by a lone tree. I thought it apropos of Clem, as he lived alone, had no girl friend, but many men in his life, his city buddies. (Clem was not gay, by the way.) The lower left photo I keep there to remind me of Clem at his best, the two of us in the mountains. He would leave his smokes and liquor behind. As one mutual friend described him, Clem was a “mountain gem and a city slut.” He drank too much. Way too much.
I gave this enlarged photo to Clem, and he hung it on his wall. People went through his belongings after he committed suicide in 1998, and the photo was returned to me. The reason I bring this up is that while grieving over his loss, I took the photo apart and wrote on it every trip we made, every hike and incident I could remember. In so doing I realized that I had been many places and done many things in the wild. Three years before Clem’s suicide, I had met my future wife, and the journeys would continue. She and I hiked and backpacked the mountains of Montana and Wyoming. Eventually, beginning in 2010, we would add Alaska, the Alps of France, Switzerland, Italy, Patagonia, the Galápagos, New Zealand, the Andes and Himalayas. Though our backpacking days are over, we ain’t done yet.
We just lost the northern half of the Crazy Mountains. They have been enclosed, effectively turned into private property. I am grieving. To steal them required advance planning, strategy, and two judges who appear to be bought. The ruling goes against Common Law and 100 years of landowner-outdoors people cooperation. Judge Timothy Cavan, a federal magistrate, recommended that an upper court judge rule that all tradition and history of cooperation be set aside. In record short time, District Court Judge Susan Watters agreed in total. Outdoor groups and individuals lost everything. It is a travesty of justice. Honestly, the odor of money and power and influence lingers in those court rooms.
“The Crazy Mountains are screwed because in Big Timber and in Billings and in Livingston, only a handful of people care a wit. Then they play the local card — jobs, economy; rural reprobates who like being colonial slaves. Jump? How high? Where there are billionaires there will be “crumbs” for the peasants.” (Steve Kelly, comment.)
I am one who gives a wit, always have. But I sense that my generation, the Boomers, may be the last generation that gives a wit, and we are dwindling. Most, like me, are limited now to day hikes, as we cannot just strap a pack on and go anymore. There is a long trail in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana commonly known as “The Beaten Path.” It extends 26 miles from one side of the wilderness to another. The first time I did the journey, at Rainbow Lake, maybe a third of the way, I was forced a half mile off the trail to find a camping spot. It was that busy. The last time I did it, with my wife and son, we saw one other person over the entire 26 miles, and that was a forest ranger on a horse.
Steve is right. We lost the Crazies because not enough people care, not enough people leave behind their electronics and motorbikes and boats, and just get out in nature, suck it up, relax, get very tired, and sleep on the ground. It does not sound like fun, but that is the whole point of having great outdoor places, to go there, to experience them.
I learned a lesson and then relearned it with the Cravan/Watters disaster. This was in the 2000s while we still lived in Bozeman. That is a town surrounded by mountains and trails, and at that time those trails were under assault by mountain bikers, motorcyclists, snowmobiles-and dirt bikes. Not to be too disrespectful, but the object of those machines is to allow out-of-shape and overweight people the “wilderness” experience. That wilderness experience ceases to exist once you introduce exhaust and noise. It is no longer quiet.
The Forest Service called for a meeting of the various groups, including horseback riders, to sit down and discuss things, maybe reach an accord. They asked a local hiking group, the Bozeman Women’s Activity Group (BWAGS) to represent the hikers. Prior to participation, all were required to sign an agreement that if a consensus could not be reached, the local Chief of the Forest Service would make the final decision.
Are you seeing where this went? The other four groups ganged up on the BWAGS, even calling them obstinate and unreasonable. They were not. They were only doing what the others were doing, defending their turf. There was no consensus, and after it was turned over the the head ranger, he found in favor of motorbikes, dirt bikes, bicycles and snowmobiles (himself an avid snowmobiler, I was told). The BWAGS maybe ended up with one quiet trail, but memory does not serve me well.
It was a trap. Psychopaths and sociopaths love to set and spring traps. The mistake that the BWAGS made (wisdom after the fact for me) was to join the process. Once they were in, they lost. During that time outdoor enthusiasts were being seduced statewide into “Consensus Councils,” aka traps. The organization I worked with, Montana Wilderness Association, was part of one. I managed single-handedly to get them out by reporting at an Excom meeting (I was a member) that Governor Racicot was screwing people over, putting words in their mouths, making it appear that they had conceded ground. The reason that I was able to prevail that day was that a certain ExCom member, JG, was absent. He was livid! (I am still suspicious that he is controlled opposition.) But we got it done.
I forgot the lesson. When I first wrote about the Crazies, I did not see a trap. But then it became apparent. I woke up one morning realizing that the landowner harassment of hikers, fishermen and hunters; that the Forest Service pulling out and refusing to honor standing public/private agreements, even suspending a ranger who was taking down barricades, was designed to induce a lawsuit. When the conservation groups sued, they initiated a process. and of course lost. It was a trap, ducks were in a row, and it was understood that the two judges, Cravan and Watters would seal the deal.
Steve wrote a remarkable comment which I will link, as this piece is already too long. He takes things in stride, as he has been at it so long. He has a long view. I do not. These losses sting, even the quiet trails loss fifteen years ago. I hate people who set traps. They usually win because honest people do not think like that, do not set out to fool people.
Stephers closed out her response to Steve with the following:
Popeye: Bluto. Even though you’re bigger than me, you can’t win, ’cause you’re bad, and the good always wins over the bad.
If only it were so. I am more inclined to think of it in the manner of Dark Helmet, from the movie Spaceballs:
I miss Clem, the quiet trails around Bozeman, and am grieving over loss of the Crazies, about which I gave a wit.