Tuesday, May 12, 2015

As Butch Cassidy said, "Who Are Those Guys"?

University of Leeds, Dept. of Cultural and Media Studies

        Not only am I hopelessly out of date in cultural studies, but I don’t even remember the date. However, this is not one of those dirges by an old-lady-who-once-was-cool-looking-back nostalgically-at-her-radical-past-saying-in-my-day-we-did-it-better. I don’t use the phrase « in my day », because I’m still here. I am often very still, but I am here. And please remember that the linguistic root of radical is root.

I’m reading Maggie Nelson’s brilliant The Argonaut, and I fell in love with this phrase: »if prose is but the gravestone marking the forsaking of wildness...". I will come back to this later, I promise. But meanwhile I have been absorbed in Nelson’s world of contemporary cultural studies and gender preoccupations.

I taught Women’s Studies beginning in 1974. The door of rediscovered female accomplishment in the arts opened for me at the same time as my students: We learned of Artemisia Gentileschi, first woman admitted to the Accademia di Arte del Disegno in Florence. We were outraged that all of the artist Judith Leyster’s work had been attributed to Frans Hals, and it turned out that the unfamiliar artist and sculptor Rosa Bonheur had been famous in the nineteenth century. None of these artists had appeared in the art history books I’d been assigned in college. Our new knowledge was the result of exciting research by J. J. Wilson and Karen Petersen.  
Judith Leyster, Self-portrait, c. 1630
      If I were still teaching, would it be Cultural Studies? I would need to learn a new language. For example, I would have to admit that my life with a husband and a house and a garden was heteronormative. Could I create a sentence with the word performativity in it? Could I avoid telling my students that performativity is not post-poststructuralist, but the work of J. L. Austin in the 50s, a white male who looked like a woodpecker and told us that words perform acts? 
As a teenager I consumed 50's French cool. The flavors of choice were Jean-Paul Sartre, Albert Camus and Simone de Beauvoir, so we said that life was absurde, wore berets, and argued over whether Sartre’s turn toward Communism was a defection from Camus’ early indifference. What was more profound than « Mother died yesterday »? That this period in our lives was a transition between the conformity of high school and the courage of individuation was not even known, let alone expressed.  
(photo from Progressive Thinking)
Sartre & de Beauvoir, The Guardian

Full disclosure - I miss my students. But teach now? Cultural Studies?  Jacques Rancière, Alain Badiou, Peter Sloterdijk: Who are those guys? I only got as far as Irigeray, Kristova and Deleuze before my attention turned elsewhere.

      So back to »if prose is but the gravestone marking the forsaking of wildness... » Ah, the dangers of maenads and Orphic hymns, and wild sex and the seance of their calling! 
      But this is where that phrase led me: When the wild song that wilderness sings ceased to repeat in our brains like the lyrics of pop songs, did we turn to prose? Is the deep green and root-ridden forest the natural home of poetry - along with the riverbank and the wave-struck beach and the red dunes, and, and….all of it? When I heard the trees in the last patch of old forest in Chiapas call on me to speak for them, could I have written essays instead of poems? Published an anthology of prose rather than poetry?
from PBS website

Ficus Andronicus
The Queen of Trees. Walking Palm. Hoatzin bird. Bowerbird. Desert Paintbrush.  Not my only, but my new vocabulary, married to rhythm, and rhyme and alliteration and imagery. I could teach that biopoetic language. But then there would be syllabi to create, and media presentations, and papers to grade, and grades to give, and……..
I wouldn’t be free anymore, and I’d have to remember the date.



Tuesday, April 28, 2015

Talking to the Leaves of Nasturtium

        I have never written prose about my garden. It seemed to me too slight - too Better Homes and Gardens. How silly, I realized, (with the help of my friend Dan). Time to honor both my garden and the season after spending the morning planting.

      Two things laced me to the cycle of the seasons: The first was the ceremonial calendar of my childhood, that begins with the High Holy days of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur in the fall. The second cycle belonged to nature, and the intense seasonal changes of the Midwest.

     With the exception of the harvest holiday called Sukkot in autumn, and an egg, lamb bone and greens on the Passover ritual seder plate to commemorate Spring, the two cycles, one of the Earth Mother, the other of the Sky Father, seemed unconnected. It is in the myths of the Pueblo peoples of the Southwest that Earth Mother and Sky Father connect and work together, and those myths had a profound effect on me.  The two cycles also come together in the rituals I have practiced with women over the years - and now in fact, spirit and nature are inseparable to me, in the wilderness, but especially, in the garden - and in the photo.

Atlanta Botanical Garden

Every year my garden delivers its spring offering: the flowering plum and pear and apple, rhododendron, tall pale yellow iris, and 20 rose bushes, and every year it is one of the best gifts life offers me - the gift of petals.

       In Elizabeth Alexander’s heartbreaking memoir, The Light of the World, she describes a peony that her husband planted for her. It bloomed for her birthday every year on May 30th. Never mind that the peony’s season of blooming corresponds to that date. Never mind that the opening of those buds at that time is a normal event. For Alexander, it was a magical, deliberate gift - the gift of petals

My garden
      My husband fondly remembers the food of his childhood, and recreates the meals for us that his mother made. Those dinners were his first imprint of flavor, as my mother’s and grandmother’s gardens were my first imprint of petals. Peonies, lily of the valley & lilac, zinnias & phlox, the rose they called American Beauty, and tulips. 

      It is not cold enough in California for tulips to repeat in my garden. I treat them as annuals, spend an extravagant round number every fall to dig bulbs into the cold, (and now no longer wet), soil of December, assuring bloom as though without my labors Spring would not happen.  I'm planting hope as the year darkens.

Pike Street Market, Seattle, April 2015
     And peonies? I once so craved those luxurious blooms that I hauled bags of ice out to the yard in January, and dumped cubes on a faltering plant, knowing they needed winter's freeze. The plant couldn't be fooled, and the treatment didn’t work. Once a year I treat myself to a bouquet of peonies, remembering that my mother never cut her abundance of peonies, or any other flower, to bring into the house. I’ve mentally gone through all the cupboards in my parent’s house and I can’t find a single vase. Why? Self-denial? Another one of her mysteries I will never solve, and a practice I  don't follow.

     My roses have begun blooming and there are arrangements of roses in every room. Each morning my first act is to bring all the vases into the kitchen, recut the stems and replace the water - even before my essential mug of coffee. I suppose this action falls between care, habit, and ritual - the obsessions of ceremony:

 The Key to the Pay Tree Ark

The high priest was always rushed
The holy ones were due any minute
The altar flowers in alternate rows
 of blue
    and white
must be picked immediately
in virginal bud
the bones must be scraped
of flesh before blood dries
table and sun set precisely
Since we could not see the face
of the clock that timed him

we assumed it was God's.
When we think of him now
that we've aged
and our language has changed
we try out words like compulsion

We wonders if the seeds
would have sprouted without him.

The gift of petals on the dining room table

 I didn’t begin that garden with confidence. I didn’t know when to expect flowering. I went around to each plant and spoke to it, and I begin my real service to the Muse with this poem:

Speaking To The Leaves of Nasturtium

"Flower" I hear myself say to the plant.
Flower. Sounding each syllable.
Speaking as you would speak to a mute.
Not a demand. Not teaching the flower to speak.
I am not the man in the tale who would teach
a stone to talk.  To break its stony silence
with a word, perhaps bird, b-i-r-r-r-d
so the word would emerge from the rock
like a fledgling pecking out its shell.

Nor would I teach a dolphin language,
not to discover why eons ago
it returned to the water,
not to pry into its secret signals,
not even to ask why it loves us.
Could the dolphin accept our word
for how it knows and know
to tell us how it guides?
could it state the impossible
demands of grammar:
Turn right at the next corner,
Don't forget...
Hold me.
The dolphin has its own purpose,
it is our fate to talk to ourselves.

As for the plants
I have no questions that watching could not answer.

At Findhorn they called on spirits
to learn the needs of the green ones.
They said that the spirits were pleased
to answer.  More water.  More sun.
A little more to the left.

I hear myself speaking to the leaves of nasturtium.
Clearly, sounding each syllable.  Flow-er.
As though the green cells could hear
and respond in buds. As though I could cause flowers
by teaching the word. As though I could cause
by teaching.  Flower.  Flow-er. Repeated to the leaves
whose learning only flows from the roots upward.
I cannot stop speaking but the silence
of leaves is training me to see.                                                         

Photo by Bill Fulton


Thursday, February 26, 2015

Morning Walk With Bird Cries

      It has been months since I've written a blog, because whatever I’ve had to say the Muse has grabbed for poetry. In fairness to her, she always teases out ideas I haven’t thought of. 

      If I feed her the Muse will work for attention, but her diet, her cravings, can be mysterious. Generally, she feeds on culture, but sometimes I have to make imaginal  trips to specialty stores. For example, the prints of the Japanese printmakers Hiroshige and Hokusai are her sushi. She can make a main course out of a complex myth like The Crane Wife, or the rain forest. Sometimes it’s hot peppers and, on occasion, bitter herbs to remind me of those who are still enslaved. 
The Crane Wife    unknown Japanese artist
My curiosity shifts when the Muse is here. I explore images and myth and theater and nature and myself. It's not really research - more like a butterfly collecting nectar,  flitting flower to flower. When I find what the Muse wants, she gives me an opening line, or fills me with words.

       Where is the Muse when she's not here? On vacation, a religious retreat, maybe having an affair? When she arrives she gives Commandments: I am your Muse, the Nameless One. Thou shalt have no other interests before Me. Honor My Time and keep it Holy.  
Greek vase  5th Century B.C. E. 

      Today she made an appetizer out of a bird call, had a buffet of animals and gave me rhyme and rhythm.  I am grateful, and I’ll put the new poem here because I want it to be read. And now, after hours of work, I’m starved, so it's time for a late lunch.

  Morning Walk with Bird Call

 ‹ Life ›  ‹ life ›   cry the crows
and when I pause 

the long-running performance 
that plays in my mind 
and listen    I am revived
I ask how to keep species alive
and the Muse speaks -
Tell those who don’t love 
the pawed and tailed  
finned and horned 
that it’s people who need animals 
Mention crows and lizards 
starfish and ocelots
because profusion startles 
the narcissist
Describe lark and lynx and lizard
since feather fur and scale
teach us the genius 
of shapeshifting cells
Finally, creatures remind us 
that innocence means 
not knowing
And we humans know too much
don’t we?




Tuesday, October 28, 2014


                 A few years ago, when we were in Chiapas, it seemed as though the great trees of the rain forest asked me to speak for them, and eventually I did. The trees were on the edge of the last remnants of old rain forest in the state. I wanted an in - a path, a way to walk through the forest - but I couldn’t find one, and the foliage was so dense. I have longed to walk through the rain forest since that journey.

     We are in Peru, on Lake Sandoval, in the Amazon. We walked two miles from the boat landing to the lake on a wide path through the forest. There are other paths here, leading out from the lodge, and you see the most amazing things. 

         Mimicry, mimicry, mimicry - nothing is what it seems. Leaves become butterflies, stones are beetles, snakes are vines and vines are snakes. If it is beautifully colored and patterned it’s poisonous - camouflaged is edible. The amount and variation of pattern and texture is constant. Everything is both everlasting and sudden - the sighting of a toucan, an alligator rising, the river otters cascading like rapids.
Photo by Bill Fulton
         The bird that has whooped since wake-up turns out to be a frog. The half minute buzz like a loose high tension wire is the bird with a name out of Dr. Seuss: the blue crowned motmot. The guacamayos are much noisier than starlings, and it is wondrous and strange to see them in groups squawking, rather than singly in a cage, the word macaw written on some brittle plaque. The sudden epidemic of wheezes came from birds with orange plumes a blue streak and the body of a chicken. Now when we are on the lake and hear what sounds like a ward of asthmatics we know its the hoatzins.  

Photo by Bill Fulton
It’s magical to put the sounds and patterns and practice together into how a world behaves. Some plants must be explained before we can fathom their magic: The fruits growing straight out of the mottled thin trunk of one tree are cacao beans. The  walking palm, with a tepee of thin branches instead of a trunk, moves 30 inches a year. I don’t seem to tire of watching the squirrel monkeys. They cover such great distances between branches. It looks like flight and I can’t believe it's not play as well as transport.

Walking palm
          Rain! it pours and pours for an hour leaving puddles and the butterflies come to drink. We are breathless from color and pattern but no one can photograph the fast blue morpho, a silk streak who never seems to land. We are told that when the rainy season comes this quiet waveless lake will rise and rise and bury the roots of the great trees.

       The rain forest trees are my people, my tribe. I greet each one with reverence - kapok, rubber, brazil nut (of course there’s a bird that can crack that nut) and ironwood and my soul tree, the fig that I also found in Africa - all buttressed like cathedrals.
       I ask the fig/ask myself what the trees need, and the response is a deep silence and I understand this is not a refusal to answer but what is necessary.    
     The trees tell us they are Gaia’s lungs - beings who breathe through their roots. For the Inca and other peoples, Pachamama, we were told, is known as a goddess, but in Incan philosophy she is nature plus time, or how the world works. It was Gregory Bateson who used the word stochastic to describe the union of nature and time and, that, he said, is how evolution works.
Photo by Bill Fulton






Tuesday, September 23, 2014

A Long Meander - leading to Future First: Women’s Congress for Future Generations

Russian River trip   photo by Mark Cohen
   I love river trips. Paddling canoes on the swift, sinuous rivers of Michigan, where I grew up. A 3 day raft trip on the Rogue in Oregon - those long smooth glides, then the rush and thrill of white water, and the guide yelling « Hard forward! » The boat trip down the wild part of the Mekong through the forested mountains of Laos, watching boat traffic, stopping at very scattered villages along the way. 
Rogue River  photo courtesy of RogerRiverVacations.com

        In Myanmar we went from the towns of Mawlamyine to Hpa On on a small river boat on the Thanylin - passing strange river craft, early morning fisher folk, the stupa of gilded temples - and the mountains known as dragon teeth. 

       This summer we took a ten mile canoe trip on the Russian river with our friends Judy & Mark. I like learning the ripple pattern on the water, and I like the feeling of the wind on my face  - and sometimes I like going fast. OK, full disclosure:

       Once Bill & I went up to Payette Lake in Idaho. We rented jet skis, overcoming our dislike of noise and pollution.  Bill tried out all kinds of maneuvers on his, but me? I wanted to see how far and fast I could go in one direction. So here I am trying to figure out if that’s a metaphor for my life or the life of the people in this country.
Early evening on the Mekong, Laos   photo by Bill Fulton
        For this country straight is the gate (and fast) and narrow is the path that leads to -success.  America is about climbing, and once I made it out of the mire I happily leveled off, stayed in the same teaching job and finally figured out how to do it fairly well - about 10 days before I retired.  You don’t have to do it that way, especially in community and small colleges, where you can become a dean, or even President. I had no impulse to do that.  Some might say I had no ambition, no drive. 

          Of course in my fantasies, I have great luck and talent. In one I received the award for Best Supporting Actresss. Why only Supporting? I was deliberately raised in humility, so Best Actress was out of the question, even in fantasy. Maybe I thought that all that acting out in my teens and twenties - OK, my thirties too - should pay off.          
        I practiced my speech while driving to the college, and when the college actually gave me a teaching award, I  gave a speech and thanked the entire support staff, especially Audio/Visual, who in fact, hadn’t shown up on time or delivered the right equipment for years. 

The first fantasy I remember occurred when I was around 4 years old.  I got my first bike, a three wheeler, and I rode around pretending to be the sheriff.  I never shot anyone, just rode fast (yes, in one direction) and imagined helping people who were in tough situations. (Full Disclosure: Last year for Halloween I bought a tin star and fastened it to my sweater.)

       But helping people in tough situations - that’s the part I am worried about. Who is going to help future generations? If you’ve graduated with hundreds of thousand of dollars in debt, can you afford to take a job teaching? Or join the Peace Corps or Ameri-corps? As we become a corporate state, who will care for the welfare of future generations? And what will the impact of climate change be on our grandkids? Will the result of the great climb upward be a landslide, a great inundation or a wildfire that will not end?
Thanylin River, Myanmar   photo by Bill Fulton
         There is a group who cares deeply for these questions: Future First: The Women’s Congress for Future Generations, whose concerns includes the Declaration of Rights Held by Future Generations, issues of collective liberation, interconnectedness in the climate justice movement, and examples of women leading direct actions for climate justice. I attended the Congress last year, and the learning and bonding and good work accomplished left me motivated and glowing for months.

        This year the Congress will be held in Minneapolis, November 6-9. Below is the poster, and you can check out the Future First website, http://wcffg.org/ I hope you will consider joining us - in the name of the children and grandchildren in our world - and future generations.







Tuesday, July 15, 2014

Distant Neighbors: Wendell Berry & Gary Snyder

              My friend Dan calls from the middle of the country. He has a longish layover in (Minneapolis? Milwaukee? It began with an M) on his way to Europe. He’s been reading Charles Wright’s poetry and he has a question. Or is it an answer? We have been doing this for decades, learning from the knowledge each of us has of the realms we share.

        Every other Wednesday for 40 years Naomi & I meet for dinner and critique our poetry. We dive into the deep of each poem and wrestle with grammar on the surface. We have had similar themes throughout the years, and now, once again, our work has centered - on the Earth. Each of us has written about the other’s work, and we’ve read together. « Each other »  becomes  an I-and-Thou, a We, united by devotion to our work and love for each other.

        Patricia and I share a great love of animals, the wild, the carefully cultivated and we have shared those concerns as they appear in our lives and our work. We are  environmentalists, in our own ways and our own words, and we have also read together. 

       Which brings us to Distant Neighbors, Selected Letters of Gary Snyder and Wendell Berry, which focuses on just such a sharing  - along with the ideas and insights of two men who will not let their often profound differences damage the love and respect they have for one another. That love and respect was very obvious in their recent reading together.
First reading together, 1977
    Wendell Berry is a Christian who refuses the authority of the church, a farmer who admires the tradition of English literature, mentioning Milton and Pope and Blake as his forebears - a man who takes his bible into the forest.  Gary Snyder is a Buddhist who admires the Old Ways, hunters and gatherers, and the poetry of China and Japan. For him the authority of Zen comes through a teacher. The way these two men address, resolve and  accept their difference is a teaching in itself. 

         Snyder asked his Sunday school teacher 
         " Does my dead heifer go to heaven?
         No, said the teacher.
         Well, I’m not going where my heifer can’t go!" 
         (Reading, June 27)

         Berry speaks always of continuity. « Continuity between 
         the wonders of  the bible and life in the forest. The spiritual    
         and the material are not bifurcated - they are one fabric.
         (Reading, June 27)

        Snyder - " My bible is the archaic universal world body of 
        folklore and folk mythology."  (Distant Neighbors, P. 73)

          With Snyder in the foothills of the Sierras, and Berry in Port Royal, Kentucky and both men engaged in very public lives as poets and environmentalists, plus family obligations and Berry’s farm work, there are few opportunities to get together. But they take the time to write these letters because their love of the land and their commitment to writing creates a duality.  They ask each other questions that others might not respond to:
         Berry - What kind of economy would cherish trees? 
                                                         (Distant Neighbors, P. 134)

       In their concern for the environment, and the actions that each took -  the books and articles written, the panels they sat on, the conferences they attended, the protests they made, Snyder and Berry are our fore brothers.
Berry and wife Tanya
      And they were prescient, raising issues as though they foresaw the crisis in both government and the environment that we are now living through.  In one of the letters Berry writes: "I accept the tragedy that one must take sides." (Distant Neighbors, p. 89)

                Berry - "Snowden is patriotic. People who make deals 
                know secrets. if a voter enters the booth uninformed - 
                what happens to  democracy?" (Reading, June 27)

              Snyder, 1980 - "….[there were] conversations with 
              assorted folks after my talk on China, …..where 
              they tried to play down the seriousness of species 
              extinction." (Distant Neighbors, p. 69)

         They sent letters. By mail. Even after email appeared. Are other writers still writing letters to each other? We email, skype, facebook, tweet, send photos that display what we wish to have known about ourselves and upload the antics of our babies and pets.  Shall we have the collected tweets of future artists? The collected FB comments?

     Are you familiar with their poetry?
One of my favorite poems - one that I reread over and over - is Berry’s The Peace of Wild Things, first published in 1968. The poem is written in language a nineteenth century reader would recognize, but the universality and depth of feeling and experience remains as fresh as dawn:

When despair grows in me
and I wake in the middle of the night at the least sound
in fear of what my life and my children's lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting for their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free. 
                                 (Poemhunter, http://www.poetryfoundation.org/poem/171140)

     When did I start reading Gary Snyder?  Was the first book Earth House Hold?  I loved the  juxtaposition of Asian literature with the names of plants and animals and the titles of mountains and rivers, the Old Ways of making and being, his sons. The purely experiential, experimental, the sensory and the eternal. 

       Sustained Yield
                     For the treeplanters

Spain, Italy, Albania, Turkey, Greece,
once had hills of
oak and pine

This summer-dry winter-wet
manzanita, valley oak, redwood,
         sugar pine, our folk
sun, air, water,
          our toil,

Topsoil, leafmold, sifted dirt,

Hold the whip of a tree
steady and roots right
somebody tamp the
           earth, as it’s slipped in,

Keep trees growing in this
             Shasta nation alta California
             Turtle Island
                                      (Left Out in the Rain, p.134)       
This sharing. Of words, of images, of music. How it endows us as humans.






Wednesday, June 25, 2014

"The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly"

Photo from Star Hotel FB page
           Why is it I can find good, healthy food anywhere in the world that we’ve traveled to except my own country? In a  restaurant in Nevada, Bill is handed a plate with 21 ozs of steak, and 4 side dishes -  french fries, baked beans, cole slaw and spaghetti, plus a half loaf of bread with an ice cream scoop of butter, not to mention cabbage soup before and the possibility of a sundae with churros - fried donuts - after. 
         We see obese children, obese adults everywhere. I feel such sorrow for them. But two hamburgers, fries and a soft drink cost $13. An organic, beautifully plated restaurant dinner can be more than double that - for one. There are huge, pornographic signs of juicy burgers along every highway to tempt the hungry, just as in the Bay Area there are billboards of sinfully thin cell phones in suggestive colors.

       We’re crossing the mountains. My turn, and I drive Highway 82  over Independence Pass. The vistas are stunning,  and then it is raining,  pouring, and I take hairpin turns at 10 MPH and the temperature is dropping -  down to  53, 47, 37, and rain turns to sleet. There is nowhere to pull over and wait it out. 
       The driver in front of me must fear heights because he is driving down the middle of the yellow line - if another car comes the other way?! I began the morning in sandals and when we can finally stop I jumble through my suitcase for shoes and socks, and we drive through the mountains to our rented house, where we hope for quiet and solitude.
Snow on the side of the road, full moon and the shadow of pines on bright meadows.
Welcome to Colorado.


         We stop at the Colorado Wolf Sanctuary in Divide
(Yes, Divide), where there are also coyotes and a colony of foxes.  The rest of our tour group walks on, but one wolf stays by the fence and I remain, staying silent and still. The depth of those eyes! Their faces are so expressive, how could anyone imagine they don't feel?  Three thousand wolves have been shot in the last few years, since they have been delisted. Extermination? In sci fi action films humans are always in danger from some alien force that wants to do away with us. We pay to see the unconscious revenge for our own murderousness.  

Wolf photo by Bill Fulton
         And then there’s the coyote who seems so much wilder than the wolves. It’s stride is undoglike - but it is no less beautiful. These rescued animials are not there to be viewed,  but viewing is what pays for their food and veterinary care.  Our guide tells us to howl, and we all howl and the wolves howl back - 19 of them! To hear them howl, click on or go to: 

          The view from our rented house is of red boulders massed into mountains, and in contrast to that massive stillness, there are the clusters of quaking aspens that the cottage is nestled into. A trembling ballet - each leaf loose on its petiole, moving in its own arc in the slightest breeze. I watch the leaves. To exist on pure sunlight is the genius of plants.  
           Everywhere we go, people are so friendly, chatty, helpful. We have forgotten that Americans have these qualities, since they are rarely experienced in urban California.  

         I have traveled from a high tech center where raw materials are converted into wealth, to the place where the materials come from. We visit a restored 19th century gold mine in Cripple Creek, riding the cable-driven cage down 1000 feet. We are there because I wanted to know what it felt like to be a miner, working by candlelight below ground, desperate to not use up the 3 candles he was given.
       We learn how it began in the 1850s when a miner only had had a steel mallet and a spike. Along came the drills that deafened the men and sent dust into their lungs. The mine owners knew there would be 1 oz of gold per ton, and the drills got faster, more powerful, and heavier - and heavier.  One man had to take the drilled and blasted rock and load it into a metal cart on rails - load a ton in twenty minutes or get fired. 
             There were actually many jobs in the early West - carters,  millworkers, haulers, carpenters, blacksmiths, ranch hands and drovers - but mining paid $3 a day while the going wage was 75 cents. The metal carts were once pulled by burros who never left the mine. They were tethered and fed in packed underground stalls until they were replaced by engines. Feral donkeys, their descendants, now roam the mountains. What seems to drive technology is not human need but the bright and new and shiny and machines of war.
               Now gold mining is done by mountain top removal, using mammoth pieces of equipment. I couldn’t bear to visit the new Viktor mine, though I could see where a range of the Kenosha mountains had been leveled.  I think of Crystal Good’s poems in The Book of Now: Poetry for the Rising Tide, the anthology I edited. Crystal is from West Virginia,  where Mountain Mama speaks:

Holding her breath, she let him go in
gentle, like before the other Jaspers came.
He drilled deeper and deeper than the explosion
first above then underground.

Mountain Mama had a history of violations
sirens, sounded, emergency in the dark

           (Jasper is an Appalachian dialect word for outsider)

               On our way to a wilderness hike, we drive though miles of burnt forest. Could this be the stillblack remains of the 2002 Hayman fire, which destroyed 138, 000 acres? It is. We drive forest roads though unforested rock littered with burnt branches, till we see the sign for Lost Creek Wilderness,  then the land is green and treefull again. We walk into the forest, listening to the birds and the creek. 
             How did the wilderness escape the fire, we wonder, only to find out that if we had taken a different road we would have seen the burn of wilderness as well as national forest. A man-made fire 12 years ago, and there is no sign of renewal. Nothing has grown back. No new post-fire species have appeared. 
Hayman post-fire photo by Steve York
           Driving thought Utah and Nevada back to the Bay Area:
Watching the women walk into the restaurant, I imagine myself in  high heel boots, rhinestone studded jeans and black leather jacket. Who do I know in San Francisco whose shirts are as perfectly pressed as the men here wear with jeans and a Stetson? And then there are the teens in cap and gown having a proud supper with family- here where underemployment is daily life - and will they have it any better?

       Was it engine-uity blasting through the rocks of Capitol Reef creating a slit large enough for the 26 wheelers to pass through? The trucks look dwarfed and the last sign said Goblin Valley. We are looking at strata laid down before the Permian extinction, 250 million years ago.

    We’re following a giant mining truck, hauled around the curves on a tractor trailer. Then another one. There are open pit gold mines all over Nevada. 
         But oh those spaces - the vast, rolling, peaked and pine-studded West.  Can we save them from ourselves so the next generations can experience what we have?