Hi, my name is Jim Macdonald, and I have an odd assortment of interests. In no particular order, I love Yellowstone, I am an anti-authoritarian activist and organizer, and I have a background in philosophy, having taught at the college level. My blog has a lot more links to my writing and my other Web sites. In Jim's Eclectic World, I try to give a holistic view of my many interests. Often, all three passions show themselves interweaving in the very same blog. Anyhow, I think it's a little different. But, that's me. I'm not so much out there, but taken together, I'm a little unusual.
Check out the left sidebar of the blog as well as the bottom of this particular one.
When I began publishing the Yellowstone Newspaper in 1999, I never intended it to be anything more than a personal research tool that I felt might as well be shared with the public at large. Of course, it has proven to be a useful tool for people over the years that I have had the time to make this a priority. When I stopped publishing in 2003 when the Iraq War started, I was averaging approximately 100 unique visitors a day, which isn't bad for a personal Web project hidden in the nether regions of the net. Currently, stats show me averaging between 35 and 40 unique visitors a day as the paper has gradually picked up readership. I was over 60 a day during the height of the fire this week near West Yellowstone.
It occurred to me some time ago that I should make this content available for people through feeds, but I still have been and am working from the same static page I began with back in 1999. I've put in a little bit of styling, made some tweaks, but it's the same basic static code that I go into every day and change. That's created a challenge in getting people to realize that I've got a resource here that can be very useful for people following news in Yellowstone, Grand Teton, and in Greater Yellowstone and should most days save them the trouble of sorting through Google news since I've already done so. There are a few other decent complilations of Yellowstone news on the Web, especially the one at Yellowstone Notebook, but I am sure this is the most complete. And, if you can stand my editorial asides and my obvious radical political leanings, it's all there for you from as many sides of the news as I can find.
So, I've created rss feeds for each section of the Yellowstone Newspaper, which is still in the same static HTML code. This way, you can have filtered content and use the feeds that make sense to you (probably in most cases the actual newspapers' feed, but perhaps other feeds depending on the purpose of your site). Starting this month, you'll also notice that I will publish all government (federal, state, local) press releases and reports in the section that has typically been reserved for news and press releases from outside sources like activists, blogs, corporations, and anything not a newspaper and generally not simply an opinion piece (though, press releases almost always stretch the meaning of "news"). The government, I've decided, should not be exempted from that designation, and now it's in its proper place. The other reason is that government press releases often come online days, sometimes weeks after the release, and they should more easily be found here.
You'll also notice that I've created a series of widgets that can be uploaded directly to your site. I've done this already for my blog, in part to handle a problem I have with the old blogger in rendering recent comments (the workaround is quite an interesting technical feat in itself that I discovered elsewhere online). Of course, those of you who know all about RSS feeds don't have to use them, but I thought it might be easier for people who want a fairly easy way to put Yellowstone Newspaper content on their Web page, myspace page, blog, or what have you.
Anyhow, I want to point you directly to the feeds.
When I went on vacation to visit family in Ohio, I did not expect to undertake any touring that in any way related to my studies of Yellowstone National Park. However, on Saturday morning while sitting down in my brother's dining room in the Cleveland suburb of Parma, I received an email from Tom Bremer, who is researching a history of religion in Yellowstone National Park. In Tom's email, he told me that I should visit Cooke Castle on Gibraltar Island near Sandusky, suggesting that I should because Jay Cooke, the financier of the Northern Pacific Railroad (at least until he went bankrupt and helped cause the Panic of 1873), was probably the person most responsible for the creation of Yellowstone National Park. Cooke, though he lived in Philadelphia, was originally from Sandusky and later bought Gibraltar Island, where he would summer the rest of his life (except for the years following his bankruptcy when he lost control of the property).
Tom's email excited me. In the last year, I read a recent biography (Jay Cooke's Gamble: The Northern Pacific Railroad, The Sioux, And the Panic of 1873 by M. John Lubetkin) about Jay Cooke and Northern Pacific surveyors. That Cooke had owned Gibraltar Island had slipped my mind, but I wasn't aware of any islands right off the coast of Sandusky (Cedar Point, famous for its roller coasters, is not an island). A quick internet search turned up something remarkable (at least in respect to my travels). Gibraltar Island is actually in the harbor of Put-in-Bay, which is most identified with South Bass Island, a larger island that hosts Perry's Monument. As noted in my previous entry prior to going to Lakeside to visit my family, Genevieve and I already had plans to visit South Bass Island. Now, I wondered if it would be possible for us to take a visit to Gibraltar Island, see Cooke Castle, and learn more about the capitalist entrepreneur who raised $1 billion for the Union Army and probably suggested and certainly put himself behind the lobbying effort that created Yellowstone.
I kept searching, and soon I discovered that Gibraltar Island was owned by Ohio State University as a research laboratory. Stone Laboratory has existed since 1895, though it has existed on Gibraltar Island since 1925 when the island was donated by its owner - now Julius Stone (who had purchased the island from Jay Cooke's daughter and son-in-law). Though I was not that interested in the current biological research laboratory, I wondered if they had information on how to get to Gibraltar Island. They did, though I did not read it very carefully. Only a lot of luck ultimately got us to the island last Wednesday.
Genevieve and I chose to go to Put-in-Bay on Wednesday mostly because of the weather. The first couple of days in Lakeside proved to be unseasonably hot, and I did not want a repeat of my only other trip to South Bass Island. On a July 4 back in 1988, my family took a trip to Put-in-Bay in record-breaking 100-degree heat. We were so utterly miserable, and it's funny how memories live on. We chose to go to the island on Wednesday because that was the first day of cool temperatures without a threat of rain.
Because I had been away from Lakeside so long, I had not experienced a phenomenon that has returned to the area in recent years. Everything was covered in insects called mayflies. Showing you a picture of one of these large aquatic insects could not possibly express to you how many millions of these things were around. They covered cars and roads. I am not exaggerating to say that the roads looked like they were close to being dirt trails. You could see tire tracks through the endless fields of mayflies. Besides being rather sticky, they were harmless. We had both heard of their existence, but we did not give them a second thought until we found ourselves in this strange new environment. Indeed, environment and ecology would not be distinct from historical inquisitiveness the rest of the day. Mayflies have their own special connection with our day on Gibraltar Island and the subsequent thoughts I'll be sharing.
Fast forwarding a bit to our actual trip to Gibraltar Island, Genevieve and I almost never got to see it except from a distance. The directions I looked at from the Stone Laboratory Web site had told us to go to the office on South Bass Island in order to arrange transportation. When we got to the office, we could only hear a couple people talking in another room. I was almost too shy to ask where we might get a water taxi to the small 6-acre island. When I finally asked, the people at the office told us that all we had to do was go back into town and go to the end of a particular boardwalk where a boat would take us over at 11 AM. What was odd about that was that the sign on the door had a completely different time while the time on the Web site said 10:45 AM. Also, it was not clear why we had to go all the way to one point on the island just for them to turn us almost all the way back from where we had started. When we reached the dock, there were no signs telling us where to pick up the boat. When Genevieve finally asked someone, they thought that the boat was picked up all the way back by the office. She and I got lost from each other at one point, and I could see no sign of a boat that was taking people to Gibraltar except that I could see a small boat parked on the island and thought that perhaps it would come to get us. Then, at 10:45, we saw one of the boats that we had seen full of people and speeding off toward Gibraltar Island. Oh no! We had missed it! I was so upset and couldn't believe my bad luck. I was upset that we had been told 11 AM and that it was so hard to locate the place where we were supposed to find the boat.
I thought at that point that there might be a chance to catch a boat in a couple of hours, and I was pretty much resigned to wait it out. We saw the boat returning from the nearby island, and we walked over there. A couple of other people saw the boat as well and stopped the boat operator to ask when the next boat would be going over. The boat operator said, "That was the boat for the day." They responded, "But, they told us at the office the boat would leave at 11?" At that point, I chimed in, "That's what we were told." The boat operator at first seemed a bit frustrated but then opened the boat for us and some others who soon came over to get on his boat. Then, I began to realize that we were far more lucky than unlucky. The operator said, "This is the first tour of the season, and so there are bound to be some glitches." What? First tour of the season? Don't they do this every day as long as it's warm? In fact, they don't give these tours every day. They only give them every Wednesday beginning this very week, which is in fact what the Web site says, though I had missed that part in a quick attempt to get at the details of how to get there. If we had come on a Tuesday or any other day, we would not have made it. If we had come a week earlier, we would not have made it. If we thought we could have caught a later boat, we would have been out of luck. Now, somehow, we were on our way to Gibraltar Island and able to make the one tangible Yellowstone history connection that I knew could be made on this trip.
On the shore of Gibraltar Island, the Stone Laboratory director, John Hageman, had just begun his tour of the small island. Unlike the famous rock of Gibraltar, this island as you could see in the photograph wasn't especially Gibraltar-like. There was a stony quality to it, but what made it a bit like Gibraltar was the fortress feel of the island. Commodore Oliver Hazard Perry apparently used one point on the island as a lookout so that he could see the British fleet during the Battle of Lake Erie. On this gorgeous day, we could see many of the Lake Erie islands, including Pelee Island, which belongs to Canada. Hageman's tour was heavy on ecology and light on history as one might expect from the director of a biological research lab. All the same, he took us to the place I expected to see.
Cooke Castle was finished by Jay Cooke at the end of the Civil War. While much of the country, especially the South, was destroyed by bitter warfare that Cooke had done the most to help finance, Cooke made a lot of money off the war. That money made him extremely wealthy and allowed him to spend the money to construct this "castle." In the castle, Cooke hosted many people, often mixing business with pleasure. He was especially fond of hosting clergy, whom he liked to have around and for whom he would often pay their way and all of their expenses.
Cooke Castle itself has seen better days. I have no pictures from inside of it because we were not allowed inside despite the fact that $1 million has been spent in the past ten years in attempts to restore it. Some of the work done to the porch is already rotting again, and it has been deemed extremely unsafe for passage. One thinks that Ohio State has not done well with the money appropriated to it, and it seemed pretty clear that Hageman wasn't particularly interested in the historical restoration. If he is, he was not convincing. There was a historical marker about Jay Cooke that was barely visible inside of one of the windows. Some of the tourists with us were eager to see it and could not understand why it was buried inside of the house. Hageman explained that the house for years had been used as a dormitory for students at the laboratory, though that obviously stopped when the home came into such disrepair.
How appropriate that Cooke Castle had gone by the wayside the way that Cooke's and the country's fortune did in 1873. That year, the Northern Pacific Railroad came to a momentary halt. It bought time for Plains Indians tribes trying to maintain their traditional ways of life. It may have bought some time that was crucial in keeping Yellowstone itself from being overrun by railroads. Everything from the Battle of Little Bighorn to the Nez Perce War might never have happened had Jay Cooke made different decisions. Now, Cooke Castle was an afterthought of a university team devoted to studying the ecology of Lake Erie.
The ecology of Lake Erie was in fact the star of the day, and now it is impossible to think of Cooke Castle without thinking of mayflies, zebra mussels, plankton, walleye, and dead zones. For the ecologist/tour guide Hageman - and in the literature that Ohio State put out - Jay Cooke was simply the man who financed the Civil War, but Lake Erie to him was clearly so much more than the fourth largest Great Lake in surface area. Most people still probably think of Lake Erie as relatively dead, but the lake is anything but even if it faces significant threats, especially as a result of global trade.
John Hageman spent much of his time educating us about Lake Erie ecology. He pointed to a bunch of reddish looking water out in the lake. The lake was full of these swarms of what turned out to be mayfly skins. He explained that mayflies cannot launch out of the water until there are sufficient number of those skins to serve as a launching pad. The mayflies, he explained, are an indicator species. They will only survive in water where the bacteria level of the lake is low. The return of mayflies to Lake Erie is an indication that pollution levels in the lake are low enough to support that and consequently other life in the lake. Besides mayflies, the lake is home to a large number of fish. In fact, he made the amazing claim that there is more fish in Lake Erie than all of the other Great Lakes combined, a claim I either misheard or is simply stunning given the size and depth of the lake. However, there are also threats to the life of the lake in the name of exotic species, namely zebra mussels and the similar quagga mussels, of which recent population estimates show there are more of now than zebra mussels. These mussels, which probably came into Lake Erie from the water of ships' ballasts, are extremely numerous. They eat pollutants, but they also eat a lot of algae that smaller and developing fish need to survive. We learned that clear water is not indicative of water that is alive with life. While nearby residents are pushing for herbicidal treatment to rid themselves of lake grasses and seaweed that get in their boats, Hageman and other scientists are arguing that the herbicides are hurting the aquatic life of the lake by taking away food sources, especially for the fish that also serve as a revenue stream for the tourist-minded industry of the Lake Erie islands.
We also learned about the dead zones in Lake Erie, namely the layer of water where there is little oxygen. When calm waters - especially in July - warm up, the water becomes too warm for many species to survive. They swim to colder waters that in parts of the lake have very little oxygen. Species moving to these areas die and float back up to the surface. In Lake Erie's central basin, east of where we were, this creates a dead zone, which turns out to be part of the nature of life in the lake, not nearly so worrisome as the mussels and other exotic and invasive species, which in the case of the mussels no one can do anything about.
Hageman showed us in one of the island's laboratory classrooms a drop of Lake Erie water under a microscope. In one drop of water, you would be astounded by the amount of life. We could see so much; however, over and over again, Hageman pounded home his belief that Lake Erie is threatened by the lack of shipping ballast regulation, which is introducing exotic species into the Great Lakes and from the Great Lakes into other parts of the world. He said that the cheap goods at Wal-Mart are in some sense being subsidized by the enormous costs that invasive species are costing people who live in coastal areas. Boats and docks must be treated, rivers are being poisoned, and millions and millions of dollars are spent in often losing battles to adjust to the reality of new species in the water just so people could shop at what he called "Junk Mart."
In proportion to the indifference that Hageman seemed to have about Jay Cooke, he expressed great passion toward the plankton in the water and the overall diversity of life in the lake. What puzzled me, however, is why there wasn't a greater attempt to connect the life of this one man to the reality of Great Lakes shipping today.
Jay Cooke was a railroad and banking magnate, a capitalist who built railroads, one of whose main purposes was extractive industries like mining and lumber. To build the railroad through Lakota, Crow, and other indigenous lands required the government to force Indians into reservations. Enforcing that policy required elimination of the main food source for Indians, the buffalo. The destruction of the buffalo is directly related to the expansionist policies that the railroads helped to push and to facilitate. Jay Cooke was in the business of making money by building a railroad, settling people, extracting goods and resources, and where it fit his interests, setting up places like Yellowstone National Park so that people would ride his railroad again and again and sleep in the hotels and lodges that would later become part of the Grand Tour of Yellowstone National Park. Nineteenth century industrialism, banking, and trade practices are key ingredients of the American place in today's global economy. Ships coming from China, whose ballasts are not being regulated, relate directly to the world that Jay Cooke helped to finance and push. Ironically, places like Yellowstone and Stone Laboratory on Gibraltar Island are also part of Cooke's legacy. Yellowstone has become a place of capitalist exploitation of a different sort, just as the fee I paid to Ohio State University along with other tourists has become part of the reality of the Lake Erie islands. Those who work to protect the life of the islands and Lake Erie in particular come from the same heritage as those who have introduced all the mussels and other kinds of exotic species into Lake Erie.
To me, as someone who has studied these issues and thought about them, the connection of Jay Cooke's world and the world of John Hageman and the staff at the Stone Laboratory is quite obvious. I am a little alarmed that Cooke has simply become a quaint Civil War financier rather than the force he was in the American economy of his time and the world that exists today. While he is not the only force, he is directly related to the world around the Lake Erie islands just as he is for any student of the national parks, especially Yellowstone. It's not enough to go after shipping ballasts without understanding the context in which the shipping and trade happens. That one change might spare further damage of that type to Lake Erie, but it won't address the herbicides, it won't address poverty, it won't address centuries of racism and genocide, it won't address the full extent of the current reality. Cooke Castle should not be simply a historical aside on an ecological tour. That's not to say I think another dime should be spent on restoring it; it's not a terribly interesting place, and I don't understand how $1 million more thrown at it will make much difference. It is to say that I think we should understand the relationship of Jay Cooke to mayflies, Lake, Erie, and Yellowstone. Our world is framed by the world he was imaginative enough to exploit.
That aside, I learned an awful lot that I did not know before about Lake Erie even as I learned virtually nothing I did not already know about Jay Cooke. What I appreciated the most was the personal opportunity to make the connections and to note the ironies. Now, scientific researchers look under microscopes on the small piece of land that Jay Cooke used to build homages to Commodore Perry and dine with business partners and clergy. On the face of it, that's a world turned upside down. Looking more closely under the microscope, we see a world fully integrated by these different types of lives. The contradictions of global capitalism are alive and well. What cleans the lake is also the same force that destroys it, and no one has a shared understanding of what any of that means. The world is so utterly complicated that far off Yellowstone was not mentioned even once in either context.
The only thing that seems to march on is human vanity. Thankfully, at this stage of human vanity, the mayflies have found a way to return to the lake just as one day I will return to Yellowstone to live what I hope will be the most substantial chapters of my life.
FYI, the post on my trip to Lake Erie, specifically the Yellowstone connection to my trip is upcoming, but I first must attend to other matters.
I've been tagged by this blogger for the "thinking blogger AWARD,"(click here or on image to the right for proof of the tagging) and I will return the favor to her among the five bloggers that I tag as thinking bloggers. One hopes that the pyramid of thinking blogs runs dry. If there were even two unique blogs tagged for every one, then we'd eventually run out of blogs. Surely, methinks, not every blogger can be a thinking blogger. So, take this with the grain of salt it so richly deserves and see for yourselves whether these bloggers are truly of the thinking variety. And, thinking that these awards will some day end made me wonder about the beginnings - see this as the most likely cause.
I was not tagged by BORF. All you from my town know what I'm talking about.
Anyhow, according to the rules, I'm supposed to come up with five blogs that make me think.
1.Cellular Coyote's Blog by Julie Lehman. Julie is the dearest of friends. If you want a different expression on thoughts that are basically no different than mine, see the infrequent but thought-provoking posts here. Another place to find her, if you know where to look, is right in my blog, often giving some anonymous but poignant commentary on my writings. See for instance, this one in my John Locke and private property series. 2. A Step Apart by skyblu. As a non-meat-eating person who didn't even like squirt guns when I was young, it's no small wonder that I find the posts on this blog, many of them related to Yellowstone, so thought-provoking. I don't always agree, but more often than not, I do, especially on issues related to the strange marriage of monopolistic wealth and environmental correctness (though not always scientific correctness, which lies elsewhere beyond the blaring noise of relentless cheerleading) that has characterized policy throughout the history of Yellowstone and Grand Teton (Rockefeller and Albright should have exchanged wedding vows). 3.National Parks Traveler by Kurt Repanshek (and now also by Jeremy Sullivan - new version just launched; I was commenting from the old.). Kurt tirelessly reports and comments on the national parks. He does so with great care and fairness. You will find a lot of original material and news. I don't know too many people who can draw an audience of park superintendents, rangers, ex-rangers, disgruntled ex-rangers, tourists, conservatives, liberals, and anarchists like mysef into one place. 4.Christian Philosopher Activist by Matt Klempner. Matt was my best friend growing up in the wasteland community of Southeastern Ohio known as Cambridge. Matt writes infrequently to his blog; however, when he does, it's worth reading. I don't always agree with Matt the way I once did, but in him you'll find a special person with gifted intelligence and a very unique perspective. How many very devout Catholics are going to support Barack Obama and attempt to defend themselves on theological grounds? See his blog and the ensuing discussion for more. I don't support Barack Obama or anyone for President, but I admire the effort. 5. Anything by WSQT on DC Indymedia or Beltway Indymedia. WSQT is a pirate radio station that broadcasts live in parts of Washington, DC, on various frequencies. The particular broadcasts are the stuff of local legend. Beyond the mystery, there are some amazing cult classics of propagandist media. You must listen to this uproarious piece on Mark Foley. Remember him? He was the one who quit Congress last year because of advances he made on a page. While funny and outrageous, WSQT pushes the envelope, especially in its unashamed militancy and willingness to do anything against "the enemy," forcing more thoughtful critique and response than seems plausible given the obvious humor value of the broadcasts.
Should you choose to participate, please make sure you pass this list of rules to the blogs you are tagging. The participation rules are simple:
1. If, and only if, you get tagged, write a post with links to 5 blogs that make you think
2. Link to this post so that people can easily find the exact origin of the memo (and apparently in order to feed the original poster's ego, which isn't always so bad)
3. Optional: Proudly (now is that a thinking person's adverb? even taken sarcastically, the wit at best is cliche) display the ‘Thinking Blogger Award’ with a link to the post that you wrote (here is an alternative silver version if gold doesn’t fit your blog).
And, remember BORF is not a tagger; BORF is a movement. *snicker*
For the next week, Genevieve and I will be taking our vacation. Last year, I took a biker/hiker trip to Grand Teton and Yellowstone, a solo experience with my bike that I'll never forget. The year before, Genevieve and I drove to Yellowstone via the Badlands, with a trip through the national parks of Utah and home through Colorado. That was my first trip back to Yellowstone in seven years. This year, we have nothing quite so grand in store. We are going to Ohio! Isn't that exciting?
OK, what gives? Those of you who know me know that I'm from Ohio, but it's been a long time since I was convinced that Ohio, which is named after the river that translates "beautiful", was not the most sublime place in the United States, especially since it's been long since most of the beautiful forests of Ohio were chopped down to pave the way for agriculture and mining.
Genevieve and I are traveling to Lakeside, Ohio, known as the "Chautauqua on Lake Erie." That is, it was founded as a kind of religious camp meeting town. However, unlike other camps, this one is on the relatively exotic landscape of the Great Lakes. Lakeside is situated on the Marblehead Peninsula and faces out toward the Lake Erie islands. The town has an old fashioned feel to it in some respects, small and old cottages serving the summer tourist trade, miniature golf, shuffleboard, and small little gift shops, old hotels without full services, some restaurants. On the other hand, the dominating landscape of the lake keeps Lakeside - despite a fair number of trees - feeling like that camp out there in the woods.
My family went to Lakeside every year from the time I was 11 because my father became a United Methodist minister. The United Methodist Church is divided into various conferences. Ohio has two conferences, one for East Ohio and one for West Ohio. Both meet in Lakeside in June. My dad is a member of the East Ohio Conference, and he has mandatory meetings in Lakeside where the conference decides various matters of church policy. The annual conference consists of clergy and laity (members of the churches throughout the conference) who have voting rights. They can decide on the church position on an issue to matters of how much health insurance people like my father get (never enough). Where in Catholicism, power is centralized in the Pope; in the United Methodist Church, power is consolidated in the conferences in the quasi-democratic system. There is a bishop, but she or he doesn't make decisions regarding church policy. He oversees the annual conferences and acts as something like the executive branch of government.
Anyhow, I would go to Lakeside usually for what's known as youth annual conference the weekend before, then to annual conference, and then later that summer for a Methodist-affiliated church camp. I can tell you a lot about evangelicalism in the United Methodist Church and about the sheer diversity of the ways different churches function. There's barely a core that unites the denomination together. I would argue that the denomination, like so many, is no longer very distinctive. You need to go individual church by individual church, and there you will see a wide range of differences across this and other denominations. Some are fundamentalists, some are liberals, some are "high church," and some are "low church."
That's something of a digression. Genevieve and I are going to Lakeside to see several members of my family and to experience something I haven't experienced in any length since after my senior year in high school. My last time there, except a visit for one day several years later, was one of the most crushing experiences of my life. I had my heart broken severely in a horrible miscommunication. You can bet that time will be with me, especially as I look out at the lake where some of the worst moments happened.
We chose to go to Lakeside because it will be relatively relaxing, thousands of busy conference delegates and their families aside. Genevieve has traveled a lot in her life, but she's never really experienced the Great Lakes at any length. For her, strange to my ears, it's exotic to her to see the lake that looks something like the ocean. Since she is now almost finished with her sixth month of pregnancy, we needed to be able to relax. This fits the bill. We have rented a cottage, which is something we could never afford while I was growing up. Then, we stayed in tents or in the bare bones cabins. Even now, money in my family is scarce, but together and with the subsidies my dad's church provides, we can now afford the cottage. Since this is such a special time for us, and since we may be moving much farther away from Ohio, it's a time to cherish. Ohio may not be my first choice, but it's perfect this time.
During the week, I may get a chance to share a little bit. I probably won't be able to share much. We plan on going to South Bass Island on one day, an island with a monument to Oliver "Hazard" Perry, the hero of the Battle of Lake Erie, during the War of 1812. I don't care about that. I just want to do something a little different, perhaps go to the caves, and see the lake from a different perspective. Otherwise, we hope to be pretty lazy and watch pick-up games of basketball, play shufflboard and miniature golf, and sit around and enjoy the lake. I'll also be curious to know what the Methodists are talking about these days.
Anyhow, it's not Yellowstone; I'm not worried. I will not need to vacation in Yellowstone after I live near it. My vacations will be to the mundane places like Cleveland, Ohio, and Columbia, South Carolina (where Genevieve's family is from). My regular life will be in paradise. So, I'm getting used to a different way of vacationing, and Lakeside is one of the nicest parts of Ohio to boot.
(I neglected to mention that Lakeside is usually closed off by a gate and run by a group of people known as the Lakeside Association; some have called it a little prison town. But, the gates are open this week, and so no need to make a lot of political and economic complaints, yet).
I remember what it was like to hold her tight on the boardwalks of the Porcelain Basin in a land called Norris, to kiss her lips for the very first time under the dark and steamy sky, water crackling around us and beneath us. In a wink of an eye, that moment was gone. Long after driving back through the fog of early morning in Hayden Valley, long after she told me it wasn't working out among the hot pools on a dark night at West Thumb, long after the severe depression that ensued, I remember that moment, that moment with someone I may never see again and have not heard from since she told me just how unhappy she was with my insanity.
In moments, we can be carried by a force we scarcely understand, one that launches us both to joy and to sorrow. The same force that gives us life will undo our DNA and scatter it elsewhere. Whatever we are, the power of those moments is unfathomable.
In time, I have had other moments of joy and sorrow. In the narrative I weave about it all, we know that the story has ups and downs driven by these forces. I will not end up on top; I will end up in a grave, or preferably with scattered ashes. And, even if a Last Judgment smiles on me, we cannot pretend that eternity is so dull as to be free from the yo yo of passionate ebbs and flows. If we are free of it, then we are not alive.
All of this makes one wonder what one is striving for; if the joys we strive for decay into sorrow, or even vice versa, what is one to continue striving for in the midst of such a realization? When one is no longer blind to the inevitability of what the pre-socratic Empedocles talked about (and if you don't know what I'm talking about, thank God for wikipedia), namely that the force that giveth will also take away (Yellowstone, your days are numbered as well, some say they are overdue to explode), how is one to act? What are we striving for? The impulse to achieve seems less when one feels the doom of decay. What is it?
I think about this tonight looking at the poor bison suffering in Yellowstone, hazed or slaughtered, of those striving to protect them, of those who wonder what this means for the Yellowstone we love. It seems insane that life and death is determined this way and for these reasons as though something meaningful is being achieved by this wisdom. I worry, though, that even as we fight against the insanity, that we think a utopia is around the corner. Let's never pretend that everything will always be well; that is not really the world that any of us want. No sooner do we solve one problem than another one appears. What directs this striving, this touch of the lips, the hips, and the subsequent rejection? What is this madness that leads us to want this and nothing else, to build ivory towers, or buffalo corrals, or hamburgers, or even the alternative? What is so golden about going green, anyhow? Do we really think there's a fountain of youth?
My words are wrapped up in a kind of poetry. I think I'm saying something that I can say concisely and analytically, though. I don't think we are very clear about what we are doing in places like Yellowstone, or in our own lives, and we won't fess up to our value judgments, or defend them. Yet, we will defend the consequences of those value judgments to the extreme. Those who are most successful at it rule the world, at least until it unravels for them. It is to say that I don't know what we should be striving for; I only sense we are only a little better off striving against this cycle, but "a little better off" seems so hopelessly vague.
If all our striving is for something we know to be a moment soon lost, for a reality that will decay, I don't think we can strive very long. The philosopher Albert Camus wrote about the Myth of Sisyphus, the man condemned by the gods to roll a rock up a hill for all eternity. For Camus, he imagined Sisyphus defiant and in his defiance happy, though all his striving was for nothing. Eternal meaning was in the defiant moment, to take the worst the gods could throw at you, and to persevere. However, can you persevere when you are not merely Sisyphus pushing a rock but Sisyphus recognizing that you are hopelessly pushing that rock? For me, I have always felt the striving ripped out of me at that very moment. If the metaphysical underpinning is pointless so to is the physical pursuit.
We cannot be governed simply by the impulse to hate what is unjust even if we cannot quite articulate what is just. This hopeless drama must contain within it the seeds of its own hope if we are to get anywhere. That is, all this doing and being must also be at root good, even if it's a good that keeps decaying on us. Life must be good, not simply a something that blows us around in the wind until we are shattered. But, that begs the question: is it? And, if so, how is it? And if the answer to that isn't consistent with the sense of touch, the tender cold of the cheek, the steam and comfort of that moment of bliss, of the indescribable joy we get from seeing that being wander, of the communion of beings, that lamb and lion in fact lying down, then what difference does any of this make? I can pontificate policy, fight against those I hate, but if it's not consistent in some way with the sensuality of my experience, big freaking deal!
I think we must ultimately argue that life is beautiful, if only because the resonance of the dilemma can only breathe where beauty has meaning. A difficult thought to get around, eh? No doubt it is! We wouldn't struggle with questions of happiness if this were easy, but let me put it this way. If our striving seems to be for nothing, then our highest woe doesn't exist in the fact that we can't have what we have striven for but because the striving itself is meaningless. But, just that stratification of our woe, namely the woe of not getting what we want and the higher woe of the lack of permanence in what we strive for can only exist in a world where value is quite real. There is no higher or less in a world without meaning. Yet, who can possibly say that woe is greater for having lost a love than the woe of believing that all love is pointless? If the one woe follows from the inevitability of the other, then woe resonates with levels that resonate in us. How odd that out of woe can come a glimpse at salvation? (St. Anselm in reverse!) In mourning and grief, we recognize that there is in fact reason that breathes. Meaning undergirds our doubts about it. The moment we put it to the question, we recognize the question presupposes the answer.
If my theoretical verbiage feels empty to you, imagine how your insistence that we must kill buffalo to save the cattle industry from the scourge of brucellosis feels to me! If it sounds sophisticated, what can be more sophisticated than the science that goes into a hazing operation! Resistance against this nonsense is not futile if only we will search the depth of the meaning behind resistance. That is, what does reason say and how does that speak to us as living, sensing, empirical beings, who breathe and therefore live and fuck and decay and die? In fact, there's nothing less sophisticated than to say that that buffalo is no more or less than you or me, that that cow that you abuse on your ranches for your livelihood is no more or less than you or me or the grass that it munches on. That rock that we all toil with, whether it's the one that works in a field, sleeps homeless on a bench, seeks twigs to build a nest, blows in the wind, comes to be by a baptism in cement, is not a nothing for you to do with as you will. I might have made a big mistake kissing her that night on the boardwalk of the basin named after Philetus Norris, and I certainly made one when I refused to let her go, even if it was all bound to decay. Why?! Isn't it obvious? Because, it's not all equal; one action reverberates, and the action which tends to control others - from having the impulse I have tonight to explore the beauty intrinsic to it all - is diabolical. To take and harness and manage this reality for your twisted sense of value and permanence is a deeper shade of nothing (sound contradictory? Read Sophist and understand why it's not.)
I take inspiration from the buffalo and those working for them, but I'm clearly not a buffalo. My nature is quite directed and pointed at you politicians, you wealthy interests, and even you poorer ones who would sell out solidarity for your piece of the pie. I take aim at myself, perhaps, most of all. Isn't that the proper way to be carnivorous?
I've made horrible mistakes at times toward those I love, even recently. I can't let go of moments of bliss on Yellowstone boardwalks or on DC couches, beds, and woods. I can't seem to allow new moments of bliss to arrive in their place. In a world where I can't have mine, I seem prone to make sure others can't have theirs. In my world, brucellosis might be my own craving and insecurity, the thing I must sanitize away and destroy any that has it in its path. It's the decay of relationships, the poisoned meat, the reality that keeps popping up. I wish certain things would go away that have no bearing on anything that matters. What am I talking about? Many of you will know exactly what and who? For those of you who are primarily wondering what this has to do with Yellowstone, wondering if I'm off my rocker, I smile. Pity me; I'm also infested. And, this infestation will in fact get into what you most would like to control, and you will not be able to resist it.
I think that's my way of saying that I'll be in Yellowstone soon, and I will be joining those who continue to turn this land into a zoo "for the benefit and enjoyment of the people." It also suggests to me that perhaps I sense you won't take me seriously, dismiss me as a rambling poet. But, these are just words. And, we can all have a good laugh. I'm quite serious, though. I cannot get my romantic moments back; they are long gone. I have new and special ones that have since taken their place. I can work to stop you from making this place, Yellowstone, simply one that blows up in all of our faces more than it one day shall probably long after we decay. When buffalo and elk and wolves and grizzlies roam, and when WE roam as well, we will all be better off. When we turn back centuries of genocide, we will be better off. Then, the rock we roll, the one we will roll until we die, will be dramatically better. In doing and in being, there can be virtue. That, I'm sure of, but not all doing is good, and I have no doubts that what the National Park Service and the Montana Department of Livestock are doing isn't. I am not doing so hot, either, but I promise you that I will do better.
And, to you who know what else I'm talking about, I'm far less confident and more tentative, but you know that I'm going to keep trying. Erotic and soulful, crazy and rational...kindred and singular, splendidly diverse, like each drop of the ocean.
And, ummm...Kim, I'm sorry. Maybe, I shouldn't have said that much, but the impact of that night, you know, ummm...Yellowstone magic, and I think, mistakes and all, you helped me in a significant way to where I am now.
And, finally, to Yellowstone, my beloved, what else? I'm coming soon.
I've not had a lot of time to write, especially at the times I have been most inspired to write.
If this had been another day, I would have written about Yellowstone bison, about how we as people should move away from talking about how we should "manage" or even "preserve" wildlife as though humanity is the main actor on the stage of the world. I would have written about ranching and class, clearly connecting to my view that there is no such thing as a right to property.
On yet another day, my mind was drawn to the Great Falls of the Potomac, which aren't so much overwhelming in their beauty as they are surprising given their proximity to Washington, D.C. On two successive weekends, Genevieve and I went to Great Falls (once on the Maryland side alongside the old C&O canal and once on the Virginia side in a delightful mist). If you think about Yellowstone as much as I do, you can't help making the connections and drawing distinctions. In a land far less beautiful and perhaps even less wild - swimming in people - Great Falls still has its advantages, the first of which is clear diversity of the people able to visit such a place. I might have written about eastern trees and western trees, the metaphors of empire and the surprise of beauty in its blind spot, and perhaps some of the strange management decisions I noticed in Great Falls. I might have shared a picture I took of my pregnant partner now in her sixth month of pregnancy and what I take for granted.
In recent days, my mind has been on NBA basketball. My family is from the Cleveland area, and no Cleveland team has won a major sports championship since 1964, 9 years before I was born. Of course, they lost last night, not to anyone's surprise, least of all someone from Cleveland. Yet, to watch Cleveland sports is to watch from the vantage of misery and shared hope. Of course, I couldn't help but think of the mess in Yellowstone, more poignantly the context in which the mess exists. I received a thank you letter from Jay Winter Nightwolf for my write-up on his work with Pine Ridge in South Dakota. I can never see the tourist-infested Yellowstone as anything but one of the consequences of the genocide that also created Pine Ridge. And, NBA basketball, of course, is another consequence of sorts. And, yet, hope and shared misery mixes the metaphors up in my singular being. To "witness" Lebron James, a Nike billboard come to life that inspires frenzied belief in a town that's suffered far more than sports futility over the years, a spiritual person like myself can't help it. I'm at once rooting for a basketball to go through a hoop, a defensive stop, and yet noting that there's something very strange in our diversions. They are both consequences of what we have lost on this earth and yet singular with them in the sense that both involve a striving and a suffering. The only thing that people seem to miss is the ability to see things in different contexts.
I might have written about all that and more.
Of course, the dominant event in my life is preparing for the coming of my new son. Of course, he's already here. When Genevieve walks in a room, it is obvious. I put my head to her belly and feel movement; I have even seen the boy kick. We prepare to bring a child into this strange world, and strangers congratulate us, acting as though we mean more to humanity because we have reproduced. Both of us are sick of it. Our joy isn't so much tempered as it is schizophrenic, oscillating between euphoria and the realization that we are bringing a child into this world. Then, we realize we will be raising a child in Yellowstone, a place we would never have been in (like the place we are now) without a long and brutal history. And, yet, the thought warms us of the possibilities, excites us to new possibilities.
Because I work on a little compiling project called the Yellowstone Newspaper, I see pretty much everything that people are writing on the Web related to Yellowstone, outside of what appears in some online forums. I see much more than what appears in the newspaper. Most of what doesn't appear is remarkably dull, reducing Yellowstone to a photo, or a list of happenings without context. The blogs I find most interesting are the employee blogs, which have grown since the write up I just did on them. I suppose many readers will have trouble understanding what could be so interesting about drinking in the employee pub or going out on one's 21st birthday, or how bad the food is in the employee dining room. Except for those blogs I have put comments in, I have a sense that I'm a relatively anonymous observer. You sense who the audience is, and perhaps that's what is most interesting to me, this notion of explaining the unexplainable to people who often can't possibly understand. We can't help it, eh? I still find myself relatively disappointed by most of what I read, both in the blogs and in the news. Things just poke along, and the conversation has very little daring to it. Rarely is it in service of organizing; it's empty passion. The exception is Buffalo Field Campaign, and yet the lengths they need to go to for people to care is unfortunate. When bison were scheduled to be slaughtered, they had to trot out pictures of calves. To stir an outrage, it isn't good enough simply to state what's happening. I don't blame them; in a crisis, you have to use what speaks, and yet that this is the image that speaks is sad to me. The merits of a free roaming bison population are enough; yet, in blogs, only those closest to Buffalo Field Campaign were careful to make that point. The rest was a cut-and-paste hysteria that stopped satisfied that bison survived via the torture of hazing rather than be sent to slaughter, sent back to Yellowstone to munch on too little grass (is it any wonder that bison are going to keep leaving to greener pastures?)
I might have written about that as well.
This Sunday, I'm going to a demonstration related to Palestine. I don't particularly like mass mobilizations anymore, certainly have no love for United for Peace and Justice, but I do in this case want to register my solidarity with others who are suffering under an oppressive regime. These days, I would like to do more in connecting global and local struggles and make people aware of the systems and history that brought us to where we are, but I feel a bit scattered in finding the direction to make that happen. Being stuck between Washington and Yellowstone, I am biding time. I long to know the people working beneath the radar in the place that I am going; they are there for sure. Oppression, and therefore resistance to it, is all over the place. The likely landing place for me is Jackson, Wyoming, which is not a friendly place for poor people. In a short time there last year, class and race issues were palpable to me. I've read a lot about businesses embracing "being green", which more and more sounds like the newest wave of class and race oppression (and perhaps environmental oppression as well). In Palestine, the forms of oppression also morph. People are stuck while authoritarians on all sides make rubble.
I think a lot about Iraq, the death, and the obvious bigotry inherent even in the commentary I hear of most people, even and perhaps especially most of those who now oppose the war. So many are dying, wounded, and displaced, but the ones we seem to care about most are the American ones, and even then many wonder if most even care that much about that. There are now over 3,500 deaths in Iraq of American soldiers; I wonder how there can be any Iraqis left after so many decades of brutal war. Yet, even in Iraq, my mind wanders to Yellowstone. What wonders have long since been forgotten along with everything else.
I've thought a lot about work, which is something I don't write about ever in public. Let's just say that the reform revolution is alive and well ticking beneath the scenes in bureaucracies everywhere. I am a witness, and I believe.
However, in all these thoughts, it's been hard to put something meaningful together. In all of this, the strange thing is that I've been remarkably happy and joyful. It's easy to mistake cynicism for sadness. Life is full; that I write so much - even such scattered thoughts - is evidence to me of how alive I am.
I have a good feeling that there's going to be a lot more to come; some of us suffering fans don't know when to stop and get a perverse joy out of this process called life. Supervolcanoes be damned; we're going to have a great ride ahead of us.