Trial by Fire

Last evening I participated as one of five presenters in a live-audience,  multi-media discussion/presentation with a group of foresters, a smoke jumper and State of Montana’s tourism specialist in the Dept. of Commerce.  The topic was “Can we manage wildfire; Should we manage wildfire.”  As the lone “tree-hugger” on the stage, I tried to probe other panel members for the reasons for their beliefs – most believed in management as a “solution” to our wildfire “problem.”  Needless to say, the anthropocentric viewpoint predominated.

Soldiering on, I tried very hard to interject a few self-evident truths about nature and fire’s natural role in the continuous mystery of life in its many forms.  When cornered with truth, however, the other participants simply lied to escape reality.  I’m sure they believed their lies, but even to the live audience lying seemed obvious, but generally an acceptable answer to a confrontation with an inescapable truth.  Continue reading “Trial by Fire”

21st Century Rape Culture

“A human being is a part of the whole called by us universe, a part limited in time and space. He experiences himself, his thoughts and feeling as something separated from the rest, a kind of optical delusion of his consciousness. This delusion is a kind of prison for us, restricting us to our personal desires and to affection for a few persons nearest to us. Our task must be to free ourselves from this prison by widening our circle of compassion to embrace all living creatures and the whole of nature in its beauty.”
― Albert Einstein

Is there an environmental “rape culture” in the United States? Yes, of course, there is. Most contemporary ecological problems, or “rape the land” mentality, is deeply rooted in Western patriarchal culture.

Rape (transitive verb) definition for this piece: 1a: (archaic) to seize and take away by force b:despoil 2: to commit rape on Continue reading “21st Century Rape Culture”

“Saving” Watersheds and Urbanites

The Prussian “Iron Chancellor” Otto Von Bismarck is often credited with the saying: “To retain respect for sausages and laws, one must not watch them in the making.”

Sen. Steve Daines (R-Mont.) recently introduced legislation to speed forest clearcutting and thinning projects in the Forest Service’s Northern Region.

The “Protect Collaboration for Healthier Forests Act” would adopt a regional approach to disputes over forest management projects that Daines has sought to implement nationally. According to Sen. Daines, “fringe litigators — radical environmental extremists — sue to stop commonsense collaborative forest management projects that would reduce the risk of wildfire.” Continue reading ““Saving” Watersheds and Urbanites”


I had an interesting discussion this morning that really boiled down to “Who are ‘they’?” and “Why?” As important as it is to establish some “What?’s” in our outlooks before moving on the “Who?” and “Why?”, the questions asked there are the major stumbling blocks to reaching people, or even attaining a coherent world view for myself.

I generally refrain from trying to reach people, and just do my own thing here, letting them come to me. Most criticism I get is knee-jerk and emotional, and that is too bad, as really constructive (and painful) criticism would be useful. I am capable of the mirror experience, and do reflect when called out on legitimate grounds. It is the only reason I’ve been able to move forward in life. If I ever stop and think OK, now I have it figured out, I’ll turn smug, cold, indifferent to the views of others, and will eventually join the circus of yappers of no substance, hard-wired into certain beliefs exclusive of all others, also known as American political discourse.

So the questions who and why, while extremely difficult to understand, much less to communicate, have to be addressed.


  • “The CIA.”
  • “The oligarchy.”
  • “The trillionaires.”
  • “Intelligence.”
  • “Spooks.”
  • “Lizards.”
  • “The Jews.”
  • “Illuminati.”
  • “Overlords.”

Add your own.

Each of those answers is a “turtles-beneath-turtles are holding up the planet” type of endless non-answer. They are all another way of saying


“Why” might have a bit of a more substantive answer. For control. To keep us thinking alike. To keep us in a state of fear. To keep us divided among ourselves. To prevent awakening, constructive revolution.

The questions my friend brings up are important. “What?” is fun. Learning that Janis Joplin became Amy Goodman surprised me right out of my chair. It does not get much better! There are only a few ways I can think of to have more fun than that.

“Who?” and “Why?” … much more difficult, less rewarding, and yet, a place that I have to move towards. Otherwise, I am just diddling around, like a drug addict, having a pointless but fun existence.

So readers, please, 1) Have at me. 2) If you can take us beyond the “What?” and into “Who?” and “Why?” even if your own thoughts are as clouded as mine, please do so.

No one ever said it would be easy. Given time and allowance for mistakes, we can figure this thing out.

Is Abbey worth finding?

There is a swirling controversy about Ed Abbey. Was he an alcoholic? He died of a condition related to cirrhosis of the liver, a bleeding esophagus. His friends are highly defensive of him, almost making him out to be a teetotaler.

But wait! Who was Ed Abbey? I spent quite a few years in Montana Wilderness Association, before it was body snatched, and during that time everyone I knew had read Abbey, or claimed to have read him. During and since that time I have read most of his work.

Abbey died in 1989, at age 62. By literary standards, he left behind only a modest body of work, fiction and essays. His most famous was The Monkey Wrench Gang (1975). It’s forgettable, in my view. The Brave Cowboy (1956) is better, as the characters are more real and less caricature. The Cowboy in that work reappears in later works, but is never named as such. Fools Progress, I am told, is modeled on Don Quixote, so that if you have read the latter you’ll see it in the former. I have not read the latter.

Sometime in the early 90s a friend of mine in California just up and surprised me with a book in the mail, one called Desert Solitaire. It’s a collection of essays by Abbey published in 1968. I had never heard of it or him. It is riveting. In part of it crews are staking out roads for Arches National Monument. Abbey, working the booth at the entrance, would go around behind them, and pull their stakes out. Whatever Arches was, when the roads came, he knew it would be no more.

Desert Solitaire is a lamentation of the disappearance of the American West. It’s one of those books that can be read again and again, never losing flavor. Maybe like Jim Bouton’s Ball Four, maybe … Abbey had no idea he was writing a classic. He was just writing.

I learned to love Abbey. I found his essays, especially his river trips, far more enjoyable than his fiction. I found him brutally frank. Honest is the word I am looking for. He pursued truth. His motto was to do that, to follow truth, no matter where it takes you. I think that is my motto too, though I do not know that I have one. I do pursue truth. I do not care where it takes me. Maybe I am like Edward Abbey. That would please me immensely, even to be somewhat like him.

Ed Abbey went to Missoula to speak one time. He spoke out against welfare ranchers, the men in big hats and egos with big fat subsidies. Like every town, the power structure in Missoula is built around land and private wealth. People are allowed to imagine their town to be characterized by the people that live there. Missoula is perceived to be liberal, as are many of its residents.

But Missoula is right wing and redneck. Abbey learned that. No. Abbey already knew that. He just did not care to be polite to the power structure while there. He left a mark.

Abbey always managed to have an existing wife and prospective one at once. He complained of population as he fathered five children. He confessed to being “manic depressive” in his private journal. He is sometimes credited with founding Earth First!, though he did not. I have long suspected that EF! served government interests more than environmental, serving to brand the movement as violent, behaving as agents provocateur. But what do I know?

I have a computer file full of Abbeyisms … “Growth for the sake of growth is the ideology of the cancer cell'” “It is true that wolves eat sheep. They question is, do they eat enough sheep?” Or coyotes. He once observed that losing a few Boy Scouts each year in the wilderness was a necessity … if it was not dangerous, it was not truly wilderness.

I was told one time that Aldo Leopold did the best justification for having wilderness in his Sand County Almanac. I read it, found it syrupy, even wimpy. Abbey, I suppose, has specific words on the subject, but testimony to wilderness is his life in and near it. He never compromised. It challenged him, he never backed away from the challenge. He said earth had nurtured his body for six decades, and he owed earth a meal. His own body.

When he died his friends and family put his body in a pickup truck and took him to an undisclosed location in his beloved desert and buried him under a pile of rocks. His hand-carved headstone reads “Edward Abbey 1927-1989. No Comment.” It’s location is still unknown to any but friends and family.

I am reading “Finding Abbey,” by Sean Prentiss, a Montana State University graduate with Colorado roots. It is a search for self, Abbey’s grave as the metaphorical destiny. Abbey affected Prentiss just as he affected me and so many others, knocking our city comforts aside, making us long for the rugged life outside of the confines of civility and law. I suppose you could call it anarchism – in fact, Abbey’s friend and editor claims his greatest achievement to be the marrying wilderness and anarchy.

Oh – I almost forgot – was Ed Abbey an alcoholic? I don’t know. Who cares.

The nature of the beast

I think about writing this post now and then and back off, as it is much like lecturing the tides. Nonetheless, it does no harm to discuss things as they really are. The way things “ought to be” is a life on a different planet. We have to live on this one.

People are herd animals, or more politely, tribal beings. We value belonging far more than any other psychic reward. Consequently, there is very little interest in knowing anything that does not settle well with mainstream views. For most people, not belonging is too painful to endure. So they only know what the group knows. (How else do you explain religions?)

People have layers. The outer shell claims to think, read, explore. That’s a false front. Most people do none of those things. There are layers beneath the public self, and there is the “self” that our leaders speak to. They know we don’t read. They know when we enter the voting booth, for example, that we haven’t done anything more than view a few TV commercials and don’t even know the names on the down-ballot. They also know to flatter our phony selves while dealing seriously with the one hidden from view.

This is the essence of advertising, public relations, politics, and propaganda – the knowledge that people do not think, evaluate evidence, explore, or use  critical thought. For example, even as your brain might tell you that what is happening to the left here is physically impossible, the leaders and the group tell you it really happened. The group rules. Reality is cast aside. It does not matter.

Some of us are different. In a comment in a prior post, I recalled an event wherein I participated in group ridicule of some kids that were exhibiting nonconformist behavior.* I remember feeling revulsion at my behavior even at that time, in high school, when peer pressure was very high. (Why else would I remember it now?) I also was a very bad Boy Scout, to the point where the group leader finally took me aside to tell me “We don’t talk like that here.” (We were asked to come up with a game to play during a meeting. I had suggested “Ring around the Rosie.”) I lasted all of six months in that group. What a waste of my parents’ money to buy a uniform!

Am I different from most people? Yes. Am I better? Please consult the opening paragraph above. I am merely describing reality.

That does not matter. The larger point, the one I wrestle with is this: Is there any point to knowing what I know, of being different?

The answer is not satisfying, but must suffice: Individuals can make a difference. But it is hard, and along the way, we have to somehow work the herd to our own advantage. This skill is called “politics.” I do not know how to do that. I refuse to pretend to be something I am not merely to win the favor of a group. That is demeaning.
*John Bragg, if you ever by chance read this, even though you don’t know I was part of that group, please accept my sincere apologies.


I had breakfast yesterday morning in a small restaurant nearby, and sat with my back to the wall, as is my custom. I like to watch people. At the table next to me was a couple, obviously not married, as they were conversing. She spoke in a loud voice, self-assured and used to commanding attention. She calmly explained to her partner that the reason for current low gas prices was a plot to put the Bakken producers out of business, so that the United States would not attain energy independence.

As the conversation went on she tossed out some technical jargon, and I realized that she was probably a CPA, or somehow connected to taxes and finance.

She’s part of the best and the brightest, I suppose. I don’t think she has a clue, but she operates on that high level of cluelessness that insulates her from reality, probably reading the Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, and Forbes. Those are all good publications, of course. They are just not enough of the world.

I spent most of my career on the perimeters of the oil and gas business, among small producers. These are smart and technically gifted people, engineers, land swappers, geophysicists, and yes, even geologists. I started out knowing nothing, of course, and learned a lot from them.

But a man has to be a man, at least once in a while. The adhesive glue that binds those people together is no different from that which binds teachers, Democrats, or the Ku Klux Klan: groupthink.

These men and women, called “independent oil and has producers,” need a huge gift from the public, access to our commons. To approach the public with that idea and to say “we want to do it because we hope to get rich” does not fly. They need a cover story, so they use energy independence.

What a crock. Higher up the line, in the real oil business, the one where they talk about “elephants” instead of the small pockets of hydrocarbons that independents chase, there are no national boundaries. None could care less whether or not the United States makes enough oil and gas to feed itself. There’s no need to let these people onto our lands, building their roads and pads and pipelines. They like to imagine they have no impact, but that is only true in the same sense that the impact of the desk sitting here in my office is measured only by the small footprint the four legs have.

Anyway, I did something both stupid and smart at once … there was a meeting held by the supervisor to the Lewis and Clark National Forest in Billings one night, a woman who stood up against the oil and gas people and was eventually hounded (and personally threatened) out of her job. That night I sat on the side of the room with some fellow Montana Wilderness Association members, and spoke against allowing these people on to the Rocky Mountain Front. I’ll never forget the palpable greed and anger that filled that room, the searing glances … “He spoke against us” said a fellow named Mac the next day. I’d never have a another client in that room, and shortly thereafter took a hefty pay cut from one for whom I did work.

Eventually I would ease out of Billings entirely, make my way to Bozeman, and eventually Colorado. This is not a straight line, a linear progression. I was changing in so many ways, and was unknowingly easing myself out of that business. To that point it was all I knew, but my world was getting bigger by the day. Many things were going on in my life, but from an economic standpoint, having so few ties to the business in Billings certainly helped make it easier to decide to move on.

Some might say I did a stupid thing. In retrospect, I suppose it isn’t that big a deal, and did not make that much difference. I was a well-known progressive anyway, so that my words that night were not a coming-out so much as pure defiance. And, I did OK after, not like I entered a monastery.

But group pressure and financial incentives are a driving force that will eventually destroy everything around us. It can be no other way. Anything that has the potential to produce private wealth, no matter its aesthetic value, will be destroyed by incessant pressure of unrelenting commerce. Roadless lands, wilderness, even national parks will come under pressure, and never a true word will be said about the reason for their destruction – greed. All other supposed motives are window dressing.

The only thing that stands between assets of high non-monetary value and the Philistines of the world of commerce is government. So it should come as no surprise that “gubbmint” is a hated evil, one that industry despises. They will always despise government until they take complete ownership. They are very close to their goal.