Monthly Archives: November 2016

Middle America, you’ve been trumped


Michael Forbes, Press Association via AP Images

“The local people were being caricatured as country yokels getting in the way of progress and not being given a voice by the people who were supposed to represent them.” ~ Golf Courses v. Dunes: A rebellion that failed

I want you to imagine something. Imagine that you have lived in a community your whole life; you’ve grown roots there. You were born and raised in the town that your parents were born and raised in, you know all of your neighbors, and all of your traditions and memories are there. You don’t make a lot of money, but you manage okay, raising your children and making an honest living.

Imagine now that you happen to live on the edge of a pristine and wild piece of land, maybe public lands, suddenly envied by a real estate mogul who wants to build a multi-million dollar golf course and resort there and the only thing standing in his way is you, your community, and your simple way of life. Imagine that when you turn down offers to sell your property, he demonizes you by saying you live like a pig, says you are a poor representation of your country, and encourages politicians to exercise eminent domain to take your property and make you move against your will.

Imagine that your government tenuously respects your property rights but still gives this person the go ahead to build his resort right in your backyard and because he couldn’t take your property, he pushes a dirt berm up around your property and plants trees on it so that the high-paying patrons of his resort don’t have to see the slum-like conditions that you live in. Imagine your access to those public lands, that wild open space that was part of who you are, is now gone and you have not only lost access but the ability to make a living.

Now imagine that this scenario is not a scenario at all; it’s exactly what Donald Trump did to small town residents in Scotland.

In ecology there is a something called ground truthing. It is what ecologists do when they walk the landscape where aerial photographs or remote sensing digital images have been captured to see if what they see on the ground matches what they are seeing in the photos. If we were to ground truth how Donald Trump really feels about working class people, we would find example after example of the real estate mogul dismissing, railroading, and pummeling them. Just ask Micheal Forbes, the fisherman farmer from Scotland who stood up to Donald Trump and may ultimately lose to him.

On the northeast coast of Scotland lies Aberdeenshire. Within Aberdeenshire and north of the city of Aberdeen lies the little village of Balmedie. The population is roughly 2,500. Along the coast is 14 miles of wild dunes listed as a Site of Scientific Interest (SSI), which in the United Kingdom is a designation that denotes a protected area.

To scientists and environmentalists it was a site worth protecting. To locals, the dynamic dune system adjacent to the North Sea was a wild, open space accessible and within reach of ordinary people. Donald Trump convinced politicians to agree that the economic benefits of a golf course on the dunes outweighed the scientific studies and advancement that could be gleaned from them, the environmental sensitivity of the dune ecosystem, and the local use and access the dunes provided average citizens.

The Aberdeen Council rejected the golf course but ultimately got overridden by higher government officials who agreed that the economic benefits would be worth it. When local citizens would not sell their properties, Donald Trump tried convincing the government to exercise Compulsory Purchase Orders (the equivalent to eminent domain in the U.S.) and take their property.

The Scottish politicians would not go that far, but they gave Trump the green light to build his golf course within the protected dune system. When dealing with the stubborn locals who would not sell their property, Trump singled out Michael Forbes, describing his property as slum-like and stating that Forbes lived like a disgusting pig and said visitors to his resort should not have to look out their windows into a virtual slum. To solve the slum problem Trump has bulldozers push dirt up around the local residents’ properties to hide them from view of wealthy visitors who would come to golf.


Painting by David CcCrue

Who in the scenario do you most identify with, the billionaire from Manhattan or the farmer from Scotland? Who in the scenario would you be? I can’t speak for you, but I identify with the little guy. I know what it is like to be caricatured. Despite working a full-time, white collar job, my whopping gross income of $3000 a month for a family of five is too much to get food stamps despite only bringing home $2200 and having to decide each pay check whether to pay bills or buy groceries. But if I did somehow qualify for food stamps I would be labeled a lazy slob who doesn’t want to work and who is just looking for handouts. I know that if my property was in the sights of Donald Trump, he would mock and belittle me just like he did Michael Forbes.

I might not have tractors in my yard, or multiple tin sheds surrounded by farming and fishing equipment, but I know people who do and they are good, hardworking, honest people, not disgusting pigs, and despite our differences, my life more closely aligns with theirs than the real estate mogul from New York. I know that there is dignity in all honest work and that there is value and worth in anyone who puts food on the table for a family. I also know that wealth and money is no guarantee of class, grace, intelligence, or manners.

While many didn’t heed warning signs of what a Trump presidency would portend, I fear that Middle America will learn what Middle Scotland did. We will find out that the distant proclamations and campaign promises of Donald Trump and the pleas of those who so desperately supported him for political gain will not bear out on the ground for hard-working and struggling Americans in any significant, meaningful, or truthful way. And if the past has anything to say about it, we will find that Trump doesn’t care about Middle America any more than he cared about Middle Scotland, only rather than a local village impacted by a golf course it’s going to be the entire country impacted by his Presidency.


Menie Estate Course Clubhouse, photo credit Cabro Aviation

It is unfortunate that we have allowed ourselves to be distracted by cultural issues that have virtually no chance of being changed and that keep us from fighting for issues that we could change. Abortion, gun control, and gay marriage will only change if a new case makes it to the Supreme Court and over-turns current law by setting new precedent, which is highly unlikely in all cases.

By our own gullibility, we have been taken in by crafty marketing campaigns to keep us divided and distracted on issues largely outside of our control, and in being duped we have relinquished our free agency to think for ourselves, to cooperate rather than compete, and have hindered our ability to see and fight for things that have a real impact in our everyday lives.

We have been led to believe that competition is what’s needed, but the only place competition is encouraged is in the electorate because as long as we are divided and distracted, we aren’t really paying attention. As long as we are fighting against each other we are not cooperating and uniting. In nature there is competition for resources, but more often, those species that survive do so by cooperation with other species, not through pure competition.

If we were to come together on job creation, on incomes keeping up with the cost of living; if we checked the impact on the ground with the lofty ideals of policies, we could come together and make our local leaders listen to us the way they are supposed to, and then take our message to Congress and enact new laws, get rid of bad laws, and come up with policies that actually play out in meaningful ways on the ground.

You might be surprised to find out how much you have in common with different races, classes, creeds, and religions if you tried. It’s easy to demonize groups; it’s harder to demonize an individual.

A few years ago I attended the rally put forth by County Commissioner Lyman against the federal government in regard to Recapture Canyon in Blanding, Utah. Ryan Bundy and his entourage were there to illegally ride through the canyon. I was in the minority at the rally. I don’t agree with much Ryan Bundy has to say and I  would assume the same of his supporters, but on our way walking to the canyon, an outspoken woman and Bundy supporter at the rally stopped her ATV and asked us if we wanted a ride. We accepted and jumped in.

Had she known we were opposed to what she was doing she might not have stopped. But we got in and joked and laughed with her on the short ride. She was enjoyable to talk to and I could imagine myself having a beer with her and joking about the struggles of life. She dropped us off at the gate where it was illegal to ride an ATV and continued on her illegal journey. I don’t know who that woman was, but I am certain we share many values and beliefs despite our differences and I am certain that is true of most Americans.

If we continue to divide and conquer among political ideologies we will be the ones who continue to get the short end of the stick. We were not as smart as the locals in Scotland who saw through Donald Trump, but we can be now and not allow his administration to ride rough shod over good, hardworking Americans. In 2012 Michael Forbes won Scotsman of the Year in the Glenfiddich Spirit of Scotland Awards. It hardly compensates for what he has gone through or lost but it’s a start.



The Veteran in a new field, Winslow Homer

Forbes said, “I’m still crofting (farming/small scale food production) but have had to stop salmon fishing as I don’t have direct access to the beach anymore. I have 23 acres of land, which Trump says he needs for his second golf course, and there are 15 homes which still have the threat of a compulsory purchase order over them, but there’s no way I’ll ever sell to Trump.”

Trump’s response?

“All the morons that caused the controversy in Scotland have made my development more successful than anticipated.”

Like Trump’s promises to overturn Roe v. Wade, to build a wall along our southern border, to ban all Muslims, to start trade wars, and to bring back jobs, Trump’s promises to Scotland were much the same. Trump promised an economic boom and 6,000 new jobs, he said he was doing Scotland a favor.

Just like his back-peddling on campaign promises, the golf course provided roughly 200 jobs, most of which were part-time, low paying jobs one can’t make a living on and the golf course is losing money. Local people lost access to a wild, open space that their families enjoyed for generations and the landscape has been forever changed. The resort was not for Scotland, it was for Trump and his promises were as empty  as his political rhetoric and promises made on the campaign trail.

One can only hope that Middle America will stand together and stand strong like Michael Forbes and the locals of Scotland did because if we don’t, the only person that will benefit from Trump’s presidency is Trump’s himself.


***The documentary You’ve been trumped can be watched on Sundance Now.***

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Escaping the election: Reflections from Mt. Dellenbaugh


We ducked out of town the day before the election. Our votes had already been cast and it was just a matter of waiting for the results to come in. It was the perfect time to do some field work and get a break from the rancor of politics. Autumn in the desert means cool, brisk mornings and warm afternoons. We got to Kelly Dam in the afternoon when everything was coated in buttery sunlight and found quickly that our sweatshirts were unnecessary and only made us hot walking the 100 acre burn site to check ponderosa mortality, canopy spread, and to redo photo plots.

The lonely sound of an airplane overhead accentuated our solitude and isolation and made the crunching twigs and pine needs under our feet sound thunderous in the otherwise silent forest. We talked very little.

The forest was adorned in hints of reds and oranges that cast the world around us in soft hues of amber and gold in one last hurrah before being extinguished under winter’s embrace. The heads of blue grama grass make an airy blanket of curled feathers suspended in air a foot off the ground held aloft by their long stems. They and other native grasses are luminescent in the patches of sunlight cast against the patterns of shade in the forest. The curly-q tufts of grass at their base shimmer in the light like flames – streaks of red, orange, and yellow imitate a running ground fire in a trail of light that disappears into the shadows. I am mesmerized by the play of light and vegetation in their game of charade, mimicking other seasons and events.

Some patches of the burn site show no sign of fire and are thick and unruly while other sites reveal intense fire behavior with burn marks 30 feet off the ground and are more open and clear. The fire jumped around and missed spots. The kill rate is higher in some places than in others, noticeable by the fallen trees on the ground. It bothers me, my mind wanting uniformity. It’s a mess in need of more fire.

ponderosa-pinesMany of the dead trees are still standing. I knew the trees were dead if they had no needles, but I had no idea you could tell by the presence of woodpecker holes. Trees decompose much like bodies, leaving clues by what is decomposing them. When a ponderosa pine dies, wood borers are able to move in and feast on the carcass and in turn provide a delicious bounty for opportunistic woodpeckers; predator and prey. The tree thus bored and drilled into is like a standing stack of wafers that crunches and crackles like pressed potato chips when leaned upon. Those are the ones to watch out for; the widow-makers.

We pull off a large piece of the outer bark on one tree that looks like Swiss cheese and see trails etched in the wood by the beetles that had been there. I lean in to smell the dead tree but the life that left with all the needles took the butterscotch scent with it. I am disappointed. I walk to another tree black from fire but still alive and lean in and inhale. The sweet scent lingers in the pockets between the outer bark and inner softwood. I feel like a dog sniffing something it can’t quite get to, sticking my nose in as far as I can. My olfactory senses salivate. I want to take an ax to the tree and cut a slice of pie out of it and breathe it in – take it with me. What is the tree trying to attract anyway? I wonder if this is what it’s like to be a honeybee, intoxicated and distracted by fragrances.

We head to the next plot, a meadow of sage surrounded by ponderosa. Sage is not a particularly beautiful plant especially when it makes up a meadow. Without contrast to bring the features of the plant out the eye scans over the patches of dirt and muted blue grey as if staring out to sea; the eye sees everything and nothing. Like most desert plants its allure is in its scent which rises to our nostrils as we walk through it. The fire didn’t like the sage, clearly struggling to burn through it. We pushed the fire to do its job but it was an unwilling worker. Large circles of blackened stumps stood out in the otherwise monotonous carpet of blue. Strangely, the grasses did not creep into the open spaces but stayed bunched up close to the unburned sage. I was told it might be due to drought. I wonder.

We move to the next photo plot in the ponderosa stands. The fire did its job here. Several fires did their job. The area is how one pictures a forest when they don’t know better. There is not a lot of understory plants or dead trees lying on the ground. It is clear and open, the trees majestically swaying in the breeze overhead, the ground covered in rust colored needles so thick it’s squishy and soft to walk on. The sun is getting low on the horizon and so the light casts through the trees to the ground in sunflecks that set the forest aglow. It’s enchanting.

I have a hard time focusing on my work; my mind is camping in this clearing and relaxes into a day dream-like state. I think this, this is how it should all look; the man-made forest garden. I catch myself, the irony, but I can’t help it. It’s captivating. I am in awe. Fire and people did this. How many other places, small pockets of beauty in remote places just like this, were created by people?

I understand now why fire is man’s best friend – I see it – man has always been in awe of the raw power and grace of fire. And why shouldn’t she be? It enabled people to see what is otherwise hidden, to see what might be sneaking up in the shadows; it enabled people to move quietly when hunting, it brought game, and it enabled cooking the game and staying warm after being satiated. Fire meant survival. I had to drag myself away from East Fork, the pull to stay was so strong, but nightfall was coming and it was getting cold.

With the shorter days of winter upon us, it was hard to know what time it was when I first woke. It could be 3am or 6am. It was too cold to get up and find out. I decided to wait for signs of the sun. Then I could be sure. I drifted in and out of sleep, cozy in my sleeping bag. My face is the only part of me exposed, the air is cold and invigorating, accentuating the warmth of my cocoon. Contentment oozes through me. It’s peaceful and serenely still. The sun creeps in like a cat and before I know it, the sky shifts from dark to light and the curtain opens on the next act.

breakfast-in-the-woodsI bundle up and make a cup of coffee. We get a fire going and create a pocket of warmth against the encroaching cold. The morning, like a cathedral, impresses us to silence. Our breathing comes out in steady white puffs. I breathe out just to see it, a kid again. I don’t have a mircrowave so I drink my coffee faster than normal and have to make another cup. As the air warms and light touches the earth, the forest awakens. We watch a flock of chatty birds dash in unison from trees to meadow and back again, down and up, over and up and down again. It’s a symphony of motion. I am motionless, a statue, the watcher. I hope for a deer or coyote but don’t see one. They know to stay clear.

Our destination on Election Day is Mt. Dellenbaugh. Our thoughts are far from politics. The trail is mellow and meanders first through a ponderosa stand, then up into the rockier ground inhabited by pinion and juniper. We watch our feet and make our way in silence, occasionally looking up for reference. Eventually the trail pitches up onto a rocky outcrop that gives glimpses of the view awaiting us from the top.  The last quarter mile up to the summit is the most strenuous part. We scramble up onto the rocky point and look around at the unobstructed 360 degree view before us. I see fingers of canyons stretching toward us from the Grand Canyon but the Colorado River is hidden from view. I struggle to imagine anyone hiking from the river to where I was standing, let alone to St. George, and yet that is exactly what three men on the Powell Expedition were desperate enough to attempt.

We drop our packs and sign the summit register. “Nov. 8, 2016 – Escaping the election,” I write, and then look around for some good rocks to sit and rest against. I find two shaped crudely like a chair and slide down on them and eat my lunch. I can hear the wind up above my head. The sun is warm and pleasant. And then suddenly the wind drops out of the sky and washes over me. The leaves on the oak next to me shiver and I do too. I look around and wonder what obstacle suddenly made the wind drop to ground level. The wispy clouds above are shaped in curvy, white waves against the sky and I realize the wind is flowing like a river and I am in the current. Of course I didn’t bring my sweatshirt.


I look out across the landscape and notice ponderosa stands sandwiched into long strings by the sea of juniper and pinion trees crushing against them like ice floes against Shackleton’s ship in the Antarctic.  They don’t look as abundant from this vantage point and it surprises me. The bumpy carpet of green stretches as far as the eye can see, broken periodically by open clearings of what I guess are private or state lands. If I look closely I can tell the difference between the juniper and pinion, the juniper being an ever so slightly yellow green, the pinion more blue green. Juniper trees rule here.

After our short lunch we take our photo plots – north, south, east, and west. We finish and then hypothesize about the strange colony of lady bugs inhabiting this rocky spot. Hundreds are huddled together in cracks, but many coat the rock surfaces in what appears to be sun bathing. They fly around periodically and land on us and our gear. I wonder, do lady bugs fly south like birds? Do they hibernate like bears? Do they survive the winter here? It’s strange to see their cheerful little bodies far from a quaint garden up in such a hostile environment. But what do I know. We throw our gear back in our packs and sling them over our shoulders, sending the daring few lady bugs that ventured to check out the colorful new objects flying through the air.

The drive back to St. George is roughly three hours, three more precious hours of repose from the political sporting event in full swing back home. There was no rush to get back; the results would come in with or without us. The landscape was indifferent to our leaving but we weren’t. We brought the tranquility back with us to replay in the convening hours and days thereafter. What sweet bliss those two days of escape provided before the results were known and the knowledge washed our ignorance away.

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