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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.

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    Friday, July 21, 2006

    I'm heading to Yellowstone: Listen

    Tomorrow at this time, I'll be on a plane heading toward Big Sky, or possibly in an airport in Minneapolis waiting for that plane, as part of my work trip.

    I can hardly contain my excitement.

    On the other hand, I am angry that there is a Big Sky for me to go to for work. This resort nestled beneath Lost Mountain (I cannot make this stuff up!) is a sickening oasis for wealthy white people for whom wilderness is not enough. In Big Sky we find golf courses, and ski slopes, gondolas, and hot saunas. There's even something there called a mall. I can pay to ride the gondola up the mountain and then rent a mountain bike down the mountain, contributing to the erosion of what I expect will be a beautiful 11,000 foot mountain. Somehow in the Yellowstone ecosystem, there is this mess of a place that gives rise to my ability to be there.

    In fact, I may never have been in Yellowstone at all if Grant Village had not been constructed as part of the National Park Service's Mission 66 plan to build a whole new tourist service area in the park, moving services away from the West Thumb Geyser Basin slightly to the south. This large area, the area I still think of as home, is built squarely on prime grizzly bear habitat. During the late spring and early summer, grizzlies descend on the streams feeding Yellowstone Lake in order to fish for cutthroat trout. That habitat has been irreparably changed, though the Park Service manages to keep the campground at Grant closed until nearly the beginning of July while grizzlies feed an increasingly diminished number of fish. Diminished? Well, that has happened because some idiot has illegally stocked Yellowstone Lake with Lake Trout, which are much larger and feed on Yellowstone cutthroat. They are more of a sportsman's fish. The sad thing for these Lake Trout, now, are that they themselves must face a mandatory death sentence for any fisherman who catches one.

    Much like my ancestors came to this continent, my trips to Yellowstone only have resulted because of human choices that others have made. A tourist economy, a capitalist's idea of redistribution of wealth from the rich to the rich, has made everything possible, including my trip to Big Sky. Airplanes, petroleum, steel all contribute to wake me up to the fact that there's nothing pure about my dreams or my dreamworld.

    Your dreamworld is just about to fall.

    When Sheapeater Indians lived in Yellowstone, they mined obsidian from the Obsidian Cliffs and other places--the trade of the obsidian went as far as Ohio, whose state stone is flint, made from obsidian often from Yellowstone. Other Indians are known to have intentionally started forest fires in order to manage the ecosystem and capture game. The very horns of Bighorn Sheep were used to create very fine bows that were later used to kill more sheep. And, though, one can make a point that such practices were sustainable and in some cases perhaps beneficial to the biodiversity of the ecosystem, I don't think we should kid ourselves that Yellowstone has ever been a sanctum of wilderness. It has been a wilderness, but there simply are no sanctums as such.

    I'm going to Big Sky with my camera, with a sense of excitement, but I powerfully feel the need to be deliberate and especially to listen. In Yellowstone, I honestly believe that there's little that we can do for her. We've played God enough (there's actually a classic book I need to read called "Playing God in Yellowstone.") Any hope for a better relationship with Yellowstone depends on us overturning our culture of control, of privatization, of privilege, and it goes beyond doing this or that to Yellowstone. Yes, we should let the bison roam free, but they are not going to roam free until certain values that people have are destroyed. Yes, the snowmobiles should be left out of the Park and ecosystem, but it won't do just to think they can go somewhere else! Clinton stopped a gold mine right outside Yellowstone's Northeast Entrance by Cooke City, MT, but he gave the mining company rights in another wilderness area. This is not something to be thankful for. It's like saying the atomic bomb saved my life because it kept my grandparents from joining the invasion of Japan. What I'm getting at is that I feel a need to listen rather than to give. In Yellowstone, I have had the remarkable experiences of the magical, where I feel that I have been changed more than I've been able to effect change. There are songs in the mountains. What I want to do is listen, see if there's a place for me in the conversation, and then I want to report back to those in my life who will listen to what I heard. Less cryptically, I expect that the breeze, the birds, the wildflowers, the mule deer, the wild grasses, and even perhaps some of the human structures in Yellowstone, will call to mind very powerful and thought-provoking experiences. I guess one can say it's like an Indian Vision Quest, but I'm not simply on a quest for my own vision; I'm on a quest to listen. I have a strong sense that this land and its system of interrelations wants to be heard, touched, felt, carressed, and it wants to do the same with me. Often enough, it wants to teach.

    So, through the rubble we have made, moving earth, making educational conferences in a sterilized paradise happen, pretending that we have found a pristine wilderness that only seems so compared to the mess we've made everywhere else, I still cannot help but be excited. Just because a woman might have been raped, I would not shy away as though the being's ideal rests in some cult of purity. While I will resist the power that makes the scars, I am not going to love the being with those scars any less. I, too, am scarred.

    Tomorrow, I am going home.