We are told that absolute power corrupts absolutely. It’s a line used so often it’s easy to dismiss. But with a Republican controlled congress and a Republican administration in the White House, we are beginning to see what virtually unchecked power can produce. Many important issues are under attack, one of them being our public lands and how we manage them.
Jason Chaffetz (R-Utah) has introduced two bills aimed public lands and he is not the only one. He belongs to a large cadre of Republicans not only in Utah but across the West leading a concerted effort to dismantle open access and management of iconic American landscapes and open spaces.
House Bill 621 would direct the Secretary of the Interior to sell 3.3 million acres of land that “serves no purpose for taxpayers.” That of course begs the question: Whose purpose do they serve? (See post script)
H.R. 622, the Local Enforcement for Local Lands Act, first introduced last year, removes the law enforcement function from the Bureau of Land Management (BLM) and U.S. Forest Service. According to Chaffetz’s website, the bill calls for deputizing local law enforcement, combined with block grant funding, to empower existing duly elected law enforcement offices to carry out these responsibilities. Posse comitatus come to mind?
In Nevada, Representative Mark Amodei introduced H.R. 243, The Nevada Land Sovereignty Act (it is also in the Senate) to prohibit the further extension or establishment of national monuments in the State of Nevada except by express authorization of Congress.
Alaska Senator Lisa Murkowski introduced Senate Bill 33, the Improved National Designation Process Act. This bill provide for congressional approval of national monuments and restrictions on the use of national monuments, to establish requirements for the declaration of marine national monuments, and for other purposes.
Similar bills from across the West are being sponsored in Congress by those irked by the constraints of federal law and public lands. Like many before them, these opportunistic representatives see this moment as their time to do away, once and for all, with lands set aside for the enjoyment and use of all Americans. In Utah alone they want to undo Grand Staircase Escalante National Monument, the newly designated Bears Ears National Monument, and they want to do away with the Antiquities Act.
While giving away three million acres might not be a big deal in the grand scheme of things, and trying to help local communities is important, it is also important to understand that public lands and the conservation and management of them carry forward the long American tradition of striving for the social democratic ideals of equality and commonwealth. Retaining the last remnants of our great heritage of land benefits us all.
The sad truth about local groups or users is that they often look only at their own needs. All people do this. It takes discipline to commit in a very real way to ideals and principles, especially when they do not produce immediate benefits. Having a perspective based solely on limited local experiences ignores the rest of the country and the Nation as a whole. Everyone struggles economically; everyone wants the benefits of the government while maintaining autonomy without constraints. But there are limits to freedom and there is no guarantee in life that you will always have a thriving economy or that your way of life will never change.
As Garrison Keiller recently said in a Washington Post op-ed, “Jobs are lost to automation, innovation, obsolescence, the moving finger of fate. The carriage industry was devastated by the automobile, and the men who made surreys and broughams and hansoms had to learn something new; the Pullman porter union was hit hard by the advent of air travel and the porters sent their sons to college; the newspaper business was hit hard by Craigslist. Too bad for us. Who doesn’t get this? The idea that the government is obligated to create a good living for you is one the Republican Party has fought since Adam was in the third grade. It’s the party of personal responsibility. But there they are, promising to make the bluebirds sing. As if.”
One of the last great bastions of equality is public space, open and accessible by all. That those lands are not owned and controlled by the few is a testament to the tenacity and forethought of people who saw not only the potential benefits of preserving them, but the potential loss of not preserving them. Martin Luther King said, “Capitalism does not permit an even flow of economic resources. With this system, a small privileged few are rich beyond conscience, and almost all others are doomed to be poor at some level. That’s the way the system works. And since we know that the system will not change the rules, we are going to have to change the system.”
Changing the system is not voting for politicians who tell you what you want to hear so that you can win in Congress at the expense of others. That is the system, and to continue on that path will be to witness the tides turn and see another group gain at your expense. Changing the system is working with people you might not otherwise work with to find solutions that benefits everyone to some compromised level. Survival happens through compromise not through hard lines and competition. Compromise is how you don’t lose it all.
Furthermore, to suggest or believe that one group deserves special protection by a majority in Congress, not for ideals of equality or justice but to maintain a status quo, is privilege. That privilege has run its course. Not because monuments have been designated or there are restrictions on industry, but because that is how life and the economy and progress work. Nothing is static. That is not to say that rural communities do not matter or deserve the Nation’s care like all other groups, it just means that old ways give way to new.
The right way to move forward is not to go backward to the “good old days” but to accept the march of time and adapt and move with it by being creative and open-minded, by working with others to find solutions that maintain traditions but also embrace progress, and by caring for others by putting yourself in their shoes and allowing them to step into yours. Different user groups who come to the table and work together have the ability to not only address local needs, but to address local needs while ensuring that National traditions and principles form the foundation of the work.
A perspective on public lands that takes into account the entire nation, our whole country, is what’s required. The long view that includes all people, the entire economy; that seeks to balance the costs and rewards among user groups equally – to say nothing of the redemptive act of restoring a respectful relationship with Native Americans – as well as the scientific benefits, the historic preservation of artifacts, and the health of ecosystems, watersheds, and biodiversity, is the hard work many ignore and some members of Congress are shirking for short term benefits at the expense of our posterity.
Our public lands embody American ideals and principles of stewardship and responsibility, the history of a young Nation’s wild and audacious drive to expand westward, of the awakening that preservation for the benefit of current and future generations is the moral thing to do, that equal and open access for all regardless of economic class is an American birthright, and yes, the economic growth that built this nation into what it is and provides benefits and quality of life we all enjoy. But they also embody this Nation’s dedication to the ideal, the ethic, that some things have value far beyond monetary worth and that they are worth preserving and protecting as they are.
Though rural people may not feel privileged, they are fortunate in ways others are not. They have open land and the freedom to roam unhindered right outside their door, they have clean air to breath and clear vistas to see, and they wake to beauty every morning. They are not encumbered with overcrowding, traffic, or pollution.
Struggling financially is never fun, but it’s easier to handle when you can escape into paradise and forget your worries for a while – to enjoy a picnic with your children in the shade of a ponderosa pine because it’s all you can afford and be queen for an afternoon knowing it’s not the lack of money, but this that your children will remember. Open spaces soothe the soul and enable one to clear their head and face the realities of life rejuvenated and refreshed. Not everyone has this at their fingertips. It is wealth that no amount of money can compensate for and yet it’s so easy to forget when the worries of life overwhelm.
The people who live near such places know this. Many claim that the best protection is no protection; don’t put it on the map in other words. There is some truth to this idea. We have all witnessed a special, secret spot get shared on social media and then watch its exposure change it into a popular destination, to our chagrin. But we don’t own these places, no matter how much we love them; they belong to everyone, young and old, rich and poor, urban and rural, and from all backgrounds, genders, cultures, religious or political viewpoints, and walks of life. And without proper protections and management they are vulnerable in un-imagined ways.
Tourists and outfitters will come with or without designations and protections, and so will the oil and mining companies – but with the help of short-sighted and opportunistic politicians, the influx will not be managed well, if at all, and the aim will be profit. Those who stand in the way of that, who aren’t profitable, will be expendable.
Political expediency is the act of using forethought only when it coincides with one’s own wishes, where the most blatantly obvious facts can be dismissed or ignored because they are simply unwelcome. It is this above all else that we should be most wary of.
U.S. Congressman John F. Lacey said in 1901, “The immensity of man’s power to destroy imposes a responsibility to preserve.” This was the prelude to the Antiquities Act that the Iowa congressman sponsored and put before Congress and ultimately saw enacted into law in 1906. Lacey was a Civil War veteran who had seen first-hand the destruction perpetrated by man against man, but he also lived at the heyday of man against nature, when wildlife such as bison and the passenger pigeon were being hunted to extinction and the West was not only open to expansion but to wanton greed for resources such as timber and minerals, and for ancient artifacts of American antiquity.
While these places and artifacts belonged to native tribes and peoples, they had no voice in the discussion taking place between the European-American factions discussing their fate. The landscapes that held their stories, sacred sites, histories, and surviving culture would be determined by greedy businessmen, hungry ranchers, worried anthropologists, determined educators, and warring politicians. What was happening across the Southwest, whether intentionally or not, was the white-washing or cultural cleansing of pre-settlement history as sites and artifacts were looted and sold to the highest bidder.
Regimes throughout history have sought to wipe out the memory, beliefs, and histories of opposing cultures and ethnicities through book burnings or destruction of cultural and historical sites thereby making the destruction of their opposition complete. To destroy places, writings, and texts not only destroyed the physical existence of these cultures, but also their cultural knowledge. German Nazis and the Taliban in the Middle East offer a couple of examples. It became such a problem during World War II that in 1954 the U.N. adopted the Convention for the Protection of Cultural Property in the Event of Armed Conflict to protect cultural heritage. They explain that cultural heritage reflects the life of the community, its history and its identity. Its preservation helps to rebuild broken communities, re-establish their identities, and link their past with their present and future.
While no one here in America is engaging in intentional cultural cleansing, our history with Native Americans is well-known and documented. Our actions have bespoken an arrogance and preference for our own history over theirs, or even worse, the seizure and ownership of their history as our own, using it for prestige or profit. Like putting a new coat of paint across a mural, we have been writing over the rich history of those who came before us, and thereby in small measure, erasing their presence and cultural identity.
Despite the reality of the spoils of conquest, where we said, “This is now mine,” we eventually embraced a more communal view of natural resources and lands with the designation of public lands for the use and enjoyment of all Americans as a National Heritage and birthright.
The designation of Bears Ears National Monument was an historic if not redemptive event, not just in terms of designating the monument, but in terms of healing broken relationships and a scattered and broken past. Allowing Native Americans to co-manage the monument and have a say in the destiny of their homeland and history not only enables them to reconnect to their past, but in a significant way, to join in the present and move into the future with the rest of Americans as equals.
With a reconvening Congress meeting under new leadership and power, the ever insidious threats to the Antiquities Act and the rich heritage public lands provide is as imperiled as ever. If Congress succeeds in disposing of public lands or undoing the designation of Bears Ears National Monument, it will not only be a slap in the face to Native Americans who have long been waiting to be recognized and treated with dignity and respect, but a slap in the face to all of us who share in the communal access public lands afford. Those landscapes now hold our shared cultural heritage and our identity as well.
Despite his valiant efforts and success at getting the Antiquities Act passed, Lacey’s game and bird law came too late to save the passenger pigeon, with the death of the last bird marking the species extinction in 1914. It was a stunning symbol of the squandering of America’s natural bounty. In a speech to the League of American Sportsmen in 1901, Lacey revealed the depth of his concerns about such waste and misuse of natural resources—about, as he put it, mankind’s “omnidestructive” ways wherein he warned that if the destruction was allowed to continue, the world would “become as useless as a sucked orange (Sellars, 2007).”
If we are not vigilant, we may live to see the extinction not only of the Antiquities Act, but the extinction of our access to public lands and the natural bounty they still hold in wildlife, recreation, solitude, beauty, healing, and history. We may also let the opportunity pass to lock arms with our Native brothers and sisters and create a shared future where their voices add to the depth and meaning of our own.
Post Script: Rep. Chaffetz has withdrawn H.R. 621
We got our tickets to see Alex Honnold a month in advance. It seemed like a cool little event worth attending, not because of Alex’s climbing ability, which is incredible, but because Alex seemed like a thoughtful person who had something to say. I was more interested in him as a person than him as a climber. Did he have something to say, and more importantly, did he have something to say worth listening to?
As the date of the event grew nigh, I realized he would be in town the day I returned from work related travel. I didn’t feel well on the drive home and started to question whether I would attend the book signing and even the presentation later in the evening – which was what I really wanted to attend.
How badly did I really want to go to this thing? I asked myself.
My climbing days were lean at best and non-existent at worse. I can’t even call myself a weekend warrior as work and kids suck up most of my time and every choice invariably requires giving up one thing for another. I had also lost touch with those in the climbing community as our lives seemed to go in different directions and I felt like a poser calling myself a part of it anymore. So with 30 minutes between getting home and the book signing started, I was still up in the air, but the family wanted to go and so I hurried over. How bad could it be, right?
When we opened the door to The Desert Rat we were greeted to a line snaking its way around the small outdoor store. I don’t know why I was surprised, but I was and felt a little discombobulated as we meandered through the crowd to the end of the line. We stopped and visited with friends we had not seen in what seemed like ages and I felt a twinge of remorse for the lost time because it great to see them again.
As I stood in line I realized I didn’t know anything about Honnold’s book and wasn’t sure I wanted to buy a copy just for the hell of it. What was it about? I thought. Is it just about climbing? I finally asked a guy behind me if I could look at his copy to see what the book was about.
“In Alone on the Wall, Honnold recounts the seven most astonishing climbing achievements so far in his meteoric and still-evolving career.”
It sounded okay but along with not having time to climb, I don’t have a lot of time to read, so I choose my books carefully. I didn’t want to waste my time reading a book that just recounted climbing stories. I handed the book back to the guy.
Do I really want to spend my money on this? I thought. I honestly just wanted to hear him speak. That being said, I also didn’t want to spend an hour in line just to get up there and shake the guy’s hand – how weird would that be? So I bought a copy of the book and got my obligatory signature and photo, chatted with some more friends and then headed home for dinner.
We had time to kill after eating so we sat down to watch a TV show and again I found myself up in the air about attending the presentation. I was home, it was warm and cozy, and I was relaxed and weary. It was raining and cold outside and I didn’t want to leave again. But my curiosity won out. I wanted to hear what Alex, the guy I had seen in so many Reel Rock films, had to say, because in the films he came across as someone who could stand alone and think for himself, who lived by his own code seemingly humbly and with humor, and who was not afraid to put his opinion out there. That was who I came to see and that was who I hoped to read about in the book.
In other words, I wanted to listen to Alex because I liked him.
So I bundled up and headed out again. The auditorium was packed with excited fans and when Jason Hurst finally introduced Alex, the crowd burst into applause and anticipatory cheering.
Right off the bat I was stoked about his presentation because he told us he was going to talk about his recent trip to Kenya. He was relatable, funny, witty, humble, snarky, and the bright-eyed and bushy-tailed guy I had seen in the films. It was a pleasure to walk through his adventures with him. But the best parts were those when he wandered off into the world of ethics and morality.
Honnold spoke about dying glaciers, mourning elephants, and the struggle between conservation and destruction as if in wide-eyed wonder at what he had stumbled upon. His words and emotion were a mixture of awe and dismay, of sincerity and conviction and at times he seemed to be thinking out loud – and we the audience could hear him as he formed thoughts about what he had discovered.
It was refreshingly genuine. He wasn’t regurgitating what he had heard from others and he wasn’t promoting environmental tag lines that revealed the cool club he belonged to. He spoke clearly and honestly about what he saw.
Being of like mind I thought, if there was ever an effective spokesman for the moral crises that humanity faces in regard to our disregard of the earth’s systems and life and our intimate place in them, however reluctantly he may be, he is it.
Honnold did not pitch a movie about environmentalism and then spend the whole film showcasing his climbing. He went on a climbing trip and tripped into something significant that impacted him – and then it impacted us. He did not state any absolutes or try to convince the audience of anything, he stated simply what he saw and invited us to see and experience it with him. It was compelling.
At the end of his presentation I discovered that all of the proceeds from his book are going to his foundation to give to people who need it the most. I work hard for my money and have precious little of it, so I was thrilled to find out that my hard earned $20 was going to more than shaking a man’s hand, and more importantly, going toward something I care deeply about.
Mary Oliver, in describing Ralph Waldo Emerson’s transcendentalism said, “All the world is taken in through the eye, to reach the soul, where it becomes more, representative of a realm deeper than appearances: a realm ideal and sublime, the deep stillness that is, whose whole proclamation is the silence and the lack of material instance in which, patiently and radiantly, the universe exists.”
Emerson said, “Prayer is the contemplation of the facts of life from the higher point of view.” And I think that is what Honnold shared. He climbed, but while he did, he took in the world where it reached his soul and was transformed into something more. It was about more than climbing. It was about what climbing invites you into, what you can see, and what you become through it – if you choose. I saw Honnold using his climbing wealth to give back.
And perhaps therein lies the greatest responsibility of those who contemplate and think and are moved to act: to let the world penetrate the soul and then open one’s mouth and speak authentically about it.
While I admire Alex Honnold the climber, and I know it is that which got him the platform from which to speak in the first place, his climbing is not what moved me. He moved me. I am a fan of the man and I hope that his experiences compel him to speak more, to share more of the internal make-up of who he is, because beautiful form in a person of substance is an inspiring combination the likes of which lit up my cynical mind. And the best part? He inspired my kids. That alone was worth the price of five books- and every minute it takes to read my copy.
“I ask you to stand with me at this new turning-point of our life, that we may look before and after, and judge ourselves alike in the light of early dreams and accomplished goals. We cannot too often accept the challenge of self-examination. It will hearten, it will steady, it will moralize us to reassess our hopes, restate our ideals, and make manifest to ourselves again the principles and the purposes upon which we act. We are else without chart upon a novel voyage.”~Woodrow Wilson, The Ideals of America
I’m not sure how often we get to look back, or do look back, at the life we have built – especially when intentional decisions were made in the hope of a desired end. I have not lived an intentional life, at least not the way some do, setting goals like a road map to some desired future outcome. I mostly lived my life by desires and found creative ways to fulfill them. They were short term goals that satisfied an itch but that ultimately got me nowhere beyond the goal. The person I had become had come into being absentmindedly, as if I were merely a passenger on the ship rather than the captain. It was not until my mid-thirties that I began to know who I was and what I wanted.
When I awoke and realized that I was the captain of my ship and took the helm, I saw myself and began to understand how all of the pieces of my life shaped the internal form of who I was and I liked who I was despite how directionless I had lived. The haphazardness of my life had also shaped me. There is a certain beauty in the mystery and discovery of self but there is also the dull remorse that follows discovery, as knowledge reveals lost time and opportunity.
The eventual awakening that provides a clear view into the exhilarating array of possibilities of a self-directed life if not made early in life is short-lived and inevitably constrained by the decisions made along the way that anchor one to a certain path. Perhaps this is why people seemingly stop living. They may never have really lived before, but once that perspective is gained, the burden of reality is that much heavier to bear and then all that is left is the struggle to carry on and not succumb to routine, resignation or distraction.
Two years ago I sat on the precipice of a decision. Like Janus, the god of beginnings and transitions, I knew enough to know that every decision was a one-sided door and that walking through any one of them meant not going through any of the others, and further, that once I crossed the barrier between then and now, my life would turn down the road chosen – for better or worse. This decision had the potential to set my life on a trajectory of my choosing. So sitting at a soccer tournament in Las Vegas, challenged by the book I was reading, I let the world know of my impending choice, and then I jumped.
My calculations were accurate and the door I chose brought me where I wanted to go, but ironically, not what I wanted to become. Like being granted a wish from a genie, the consequences were only visible once the wish was attained.
When we are young, we don’t understand the weight of our decisions and that’s probably good. The young do so many things that the experienced are no longer willing to risk. They build mountains and seize opportunities that bring joy later in life when security and safety are paramount. But there is a difference between wanting something and wanting to be something. Not being something as in a profession, like being a lawyer, but being in terms of who you are – what you are. The first is external, the second internal.
I didn’t know what I had at the time of making my decision – which was time. Sure, there were struggles and desire for things and opportunities I didn’t have, but there was a plenitude of time for thoughtful introspection, for the formulation and sorting of ideas, for crafting ideas into something meaningful to my life. There was time to connect – to people and place. It was a fertile land, both mentally and physically. And now, though I am on the path that I chose and wanted, I look back with longing. Is that the curse of growing older? Or is it the challenge of growing older – to fight for pockets of time that enable you to infuse the mind and soul with intangible riches? To deposit life’s capital into your internal bank account that runs dry without use?
I am impotent with busyness; my mind and body consumed with work and chores and focused learning but starved for sustenance and nourishment. There is no room to roam, to let my mind float and to see. My body lacks the soreness of labor and movement. A cold front has moved into my being and I am trapped under the inversion of my decisions. I’ve succumbed so quickly – more quickly than I’d like to admit. Routine, comfort, and mindless entertainment have unwittingly become my companions. How quickly we divest ourselves of the responsibility of living intentionally.
But like Mary Oliver said, I have seen the difference between doing nothing, doing a little, and the redemptive act of true effort. As we get older, the dichotomy between how things are and how we’d like them to be is stark and so it is redemption we seek – renewal and meaning and depth – that signify a life well-lived, well-worn, and hard trod – but to have fulfilled that end begs repeating the question: What do I want and how badly do I want it? Because life is not static and neither are we.
“…I don’t know exactly what prayer is
I do know how to pay attention, how to fall down
into the grass, how to kneel down in the grass,
how to be idle and blessed, how to stroll through fields,
which is what I have been doing all day.
Tell me, what else should I have done?
Doesn’t everything die at last, and too soon?
Tell me, what is it you plan to do
with your one wild and precious life?”
It’s Christmas morning. My kids are sleeping softly…or are lying awake, quietly counting down the minutes til they can finally open presents. I’ve gotten up early to do homework, the perpetual student. But my mind can’t seem to focus on ArcMap and GIS. Instead it keeps rolling back to stories.
I have been given books filled with stories written by past relatives. They have become part of the fabric that makes up our Christmas rituals. Old Santa Claus (1) and the Wheeler boys is particularly fun with three boys of my own. I read the names. I don’t know any of them, but they are mine – my people – and the realization that I am theirs brings a subtle pride and sense of belonging. I love that they wrote their poems, songs, recipes, and traditions. They are the notes that anchor our family to a song that continues in time as long as we don’t stop playing.
At our annual family Christmas party I was given a book by my grandmother. She had written memories of her eight children and gave us all a copy. It got me thinking about my own kids, things I would want to pass on to them and stories I’d like to put down for posterity.
Due to a recent conversation about Christians and climate change with a good friend of mine, my mind was already churning up memories of events in my life that were significant in shaping me and the way that I think.
My friend had written a scholarly article that had triggered the conversation wherein he referenced the conversion of a man to Catholicism and eventually to becoming a monk that was in response to reading A Portrait of the Artist as a Young Man.
My friend argued that Joyce’s description of his early Christian experiences was so authentic that they swayed someone toward the faith through his novel and then suggested that most people are swayed by experience rather than intellect.
My conversion to accepting climate science was wholly the opposite of that, but strikingly similar to that of the Catholic monk who read Joyce. It happened through reading. I read great minds argue tenets of environmentalism and every one of them gave sound and compelling arguments – ones that I couldn’t help but acknowledge had merit.
Even though I didn’t accept any one philosophy in its entirety, I did accept; however, that each was valid, and they swayed my thinking. This was the primer that opened the door to accepting climate change science and connecting the dots from what the science was saying to my own choices. I could see the ethical imperative to do something about climate change, if possible, because of the ripple effects my choices would have on others – particularly the poor and disenfranchised.
Unfortunately you cannot un-know something and the by-product of knowledge is action. If you know someone is being abused, you should do something about it. If you know a stop sign means stop, you should stop. If you know that climate change is real, then you must examine your life. There is a certain danger that comes with knowing – in knowing, you no longer have the comfort of living without conscience. You know you should act. Of course ignorance has its dangerous consequences too – and those can be just as painful – but they don’t carry the weight of guilt that comes with knowledge.
Because I love my children, it’s not hard to love others’ children and to ache for those who will bear the brunt of the effects of climate change. Because I can put myself in their shoes and can imagine the fear, pain, and heartbreak it would bring me and mine, I am compelled to do my part. Which brings me to another story.
Anton Chekhov’s, The Bet, has had the single biggest impact in my life and it happened in second grade. My teacher, who I don’t even remember, showed a video of the story. It took me until about a year ago to discover that the story was not some obscure educator’s tool, but a famous classic. I don’t know why she showed it, but her decision to do so dramatically shaped my life. It may also have been the beginning of my love of Russian writers, but I digress.
In my little eight year old head, I learned that there are things much more valuable than money and that many confuse God with money. I also learned that it matters how you spend your time, and that learning was one of the most valuable ways to spend it.
As I sit here on a dark Christmas morning awaiting the ritual of opening presents around the Christmas tree with my family, Chekhov and the wisdom in his story is not far away. How we live, how we consume, what we leave for our children, and their children, matters. This may very well be the story that I add to the annals of our family history.
- Old Santa Claus by Jennie Snow Christensen
Old Santa Claus put on his boots and his coat and buttoned a muffler snug round his throat. “I have dolls, books, skates and what-not and yet there is something I must have forgot….Now what can it be?” he said with a frown, “But I must make haste, or be late into town.”
So he jumped in his sleigh and rode off through the snow, for the jolly old fellow had miles to go. And hours before the bright moon went down and Old Santa was happily riding through town.
“Oh Ho! I am here!” he said with a shout, “And the lights in the windows are nearly all out. Now first to dear little John Wheeler’s I’ll stop, for his book and his skates and his sleigh are on top.”
He came to the Wheeler’s and what did he see? Pa Wheeler, Ma Wheeler and the Wheeler boys three. Old Santa Claus chuckled and listened awhile and his face was a light with a mischievous smile.
“Oh Ho! So the Wheelers are planning to see Old Santa Claus, are they? Well, bully for me! I saw just in time to spoil all,” chuckled he. “Why, boys ought to know its against Christmas laws for children to see old Santa Claus.” So he hastened away with his bag full of toys and filled up the stockings of good girls and boys.
Back to the Wheeler’s he came very late, jumped out of his sleigh and passed through the gate. “Now that chimney looks rather narrow and high,” said St. Nicholas, looking up into the sky. “But all it requires is one pinch of snuff — to go through that chimney I’ll be small enough.”
He owns a small airship as everyone knows, and up to the roof in his airship he goes. Then into the chimney he creeps very sly, but when half way down he sends up a shrill cry: “Oh where is my snuff box — my snuff box!” calls he, “The thing I’ve forgotten, it surely must be! The snuff that I carry to make me grow small! Help! Help! I am fast in a hole in the wall!”
“I cannot get either one way or the other. My sides, I declare, are both crowding each other. Too fat to go up and too fat to go down! Get up, Mr. Wheeler, and wake up the town! I cannot grow smaller — my snuff I’ve forgot, and I’m fast in the chimney all covered with soot.”
Then he kicked and he yelled , and he yelled and he wriggled, and the Wheeler boys hearing his plight lay and giggled. But Santa sent up such a very loud shout that the family arose and went hurrying about.
Pa Wheeler got ropes, and Ma Wheeler got worried. And off to the neighbors the Wheeler boys scurried. They called out, “Help, help!” and they woke up the town and the people in nightcaps came hurrying down.
The crowd gathers fast, and excitement increases and some begin tearing the chimney to pieces. “Go slow,” cried St. Nick, “Or my head will be damaged, with judgment and care this affair must be managed.”
The neighbors worked slowly, each striving to pick, piece by piece from the chimney the plaster and brick. Soon they had uncovered Old Santa Claus, and the night air was filled with a hundred hurrahs! As out from the chimney he came with a bound and bowed right and left to the crowd gathered ’round.
Then slyly he winked at the Wheeler boys three. “You’ve seen me at last, my find lads,” chuckled he. “And now to your beds, and I’ll return when you’re safe and sound, sleeping and snoring again.”
“The chimneys now days aren’t wide enough, nearly, however, I’ll visit the boys and girls yearly. My sides are all bruised, and I feel very sore, so hereafter, I think I’ll come in at the door.”
With a jump and a bound and a twinkling of eyes, he left the crowd gaping in open surprise. “Merry Christmas,” he called, “and a happy good night!” Then he jumped in his sleigh and was soon out of sight.
2. The Bet
“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.
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.
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.
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.”
“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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