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Friday, April 18, 2014

Birthday Eve Ruminations

The Clearwater River looking down
on the Greer Bridge

Well…, I was going to say that I have now put my sixty-second winter safely behind me.  But after the winters that most of the folks east of me suffered through in the winter of ’13-’14…, I won’t be making any rash weather predictions.  Monumental snow and cold in the mid-west and northeast…, drought in California and Texas, hurricanes and floods, disappearing glaciers and the arctic ice pack.  There are still a good many politicians that are climate change deniers…, but nobody with a lick of sense or smidgen of self-respect will try to deny that what we have been doing…, and are continuing to do…, to this poor old planet is causing anything but great damage.  And there are some well-respected and credentialed folks like James Hanson and Guy R. McPherson who say that what he have already done has pushed us past the tipping point of being able to do anything about stopping runaway climate change in the not so distant future. 

So I will try to drown that sobering thought with a few more ice cold Hamm’s as I wait for midnight to officially put my sixty-second year behind me…, and listen to a great song from Tom Russell that brings back a lot of old memories.

American Rivers
“Ain’t no more cane on the Brazos,
It’s all been ground down to molasses “

I always wondered what the little opening refrain of the song was all about…, so I Googled it up when I started writing this.  Wiki says that it is an old traditional song that was sung by prisoners on the Texas chain gangs.  I would have a hard time defining irony for you…, but I recognize it when it slaps me in the face.

Saw a red iron sunset, from a rust iron bridge
In the Indian country, of the Mockingbird Kid.
Saw the moon in box car, being carried as freight
Through sixty-two winters, through forty-eight states
In an old Chinese graveyard, I slept in the weeds
When a song and a story, was all a kid needs.
Yeah, the rhymes and the rattles, of those runaway trains
And the songs of the cowboys, and the sound of the rain.

Yeah…, I’ve seen some spectacular sunsets.  From Alaska to Mexico to Virginia…, and from many points inside that devil’s triangle.  They don’t get any better than the ones viewed from the bluffs overlooking Lower Ford’s Creek and the Clearwater Valley in Idaho though.  I’ve crossed at lot of bridges over the years…, and hope that I haven’t burned any behind me.  I tried Googling up The Mockingbird Kid, with no success…, I guess he wasn’t as notable a character as Chief Joseph of the Nez Perce tribe that roamed the country…, both west to Oregon-Washington and east to Montana…, of the area of Idaho that I grew up in.  I never rode on a train…, but if I ever do…, I hope it is in a box car on a full moon lit night.  Oh…, I might settle for a Tom Russell Songwriters Train ride…, I guess.  So…,  as I put this sixty-two years behind me and start working on sixty-three,  I know that there are still a lot of those forty-eight states that I haven’t seen…, but I don’t know if I would rather see some new ones…, or see some old haunts again.  I’ve never slept in an old Chinese graveyard…, but I have rolled an old sleeping bag out in some pretty strange places…, and have scared myself walking around in the dark near the old Chinese Hanging Tree historical site outside of Pierce.  Yeah…, it’s all about the songs and the stories, the rhyme and the rattle…, and the sound of the rain.  Sometimes in The Saddle Bar(n) I will get up and turn the stereo down low to hear the sound of the rain on the tin roof…, and sometimes I don’t have to turn the stereo down to hear it here on the Olympic Peninsula.

And it’s Momma I miss you, I woke up and screamed
These American rivers, they roll deep through my dreams.
Colorado, Allegheny, Shenandoah, Susquehaynee
And the Wabash, and the Hudson and the brave Rio Grande
I was a kid there, asleep in the sand, near your waters.

No…, I don’t dream of my Mom…, but I do miss her.  Before my Aunt Ethel passed on, she assured me that Mom had made a peaceful entry to the other side…, because she didn’t dream about Mom either.  Me and the Old Man, on the other hand…, must still have some rivers yet to cross before he finds his peace.  Or is it mine?  We always find something to argue about in my dreams.  I have seen and crossed many of the rivers in the song…, and still have a vow to uphold that I will go back and explore more of the mighty Colorado and its awe inspiring Grand Canyon.  They tell me that you can rent a mule and ride the trail down to the bottom of the canyon and back…, that’s a ride I would like to take some day…, if they will let me use one of my George Lawrence saddles.  And down at the river I will spool out that old bedroll and sleep in the sand near its waters.

We named them for Indians, our guilt to forsake
The Delaware the Blackfoot, the Flathead the Snake.
Now they flow past casinos, and old hamburger stands
They are waving farewell to the kid on the land.
With their jig-sawed old arteries, all clogged and defiled
No open heart miracle, is gonna turn ‘em back wild.
Past towns gone to bankers, past fields gone to seed
All cut up and carved out, so divided by greed.
And old grandfather catfish, with his whiskers so long
And his life in a struggle, cause the oxygen’s gone.

Yeah…, there is a whole lot of guilt to forsake.  The story of what we did to the Indians during the westward expansion of the American Empire is a tragedy of epic proportions. I always thought that the river of my youth…, the Clearwater River…, should have been named for the Nez Perce.  They were the tribe that Lewis & Clark met when they stumbled out of the Bitterroot Mountains onto the Weippe Prairie in the late fall of 1804, cold, shivering, and nearly starved to death.  Those Indians fed and sheltered the strange white men and helped The Corp of Discovery build canoes to float down the Clearwater to the Snake and the Columbia to the Pacific Ocean.  The Nez Perce took care of the herd of horses the explorers left with them through the winter…, and returned every one the next year when The Corp made it back from the coast.  There are no Indian tribes that are spoken more highly of in the journals of Lewis and Clark than the Nez Perce.  There is the town of Nez Perce nearby…, but they deserve a river named after them.  And yes…, there are a couple of casinos belonging to the tribe along the Clearwater now.

The story of what we are doing to our planet and its environment..., that is now evident to anyone willing to open their eyes and is a proven scientific fact to anyone but the diehard deniers…, is likely to make the aforementioned tragedy look like a romantic comedy in comparison to what Hanson and McPherson are predicting.  They aren’t talking about a race or an ethnic group being nearly exterminated…, they are talking about human species survival.  There may be room for debate about the survival of our species…, but there should be no debate about the fact that we should be acting in an aggressive manner to curtail the burning of fossil fuels to the point where it is physically painful.  It was around eighty years ago that it must have looked like the end of the world to the folks anywhere near the Dust Bowl.  It was brought about by poor farming practices…, and it took a massive effort to overcome and correct the damage done…, but it was accomplished.  Back forty years ago or so we got serious about clean air and clean water…, after the Cuyahoga River caught on fire and acid rain was creating havoc in the industrial mid-west.  Back then the Big Business Men, Banksteers, and the politicians in their pockets, yapped and howled like a pack of coyotes that the added expense of clean air and water regulation would bankrupt industry and be the downfall of the nation’s economic prowess.  Just like they are doing today.  You damn right it hurt.  But it didn’t kill us.  What will kill us…, is doing nothing.  Yeah…, a lot of people lost a lot of dirty jobs.  The Chinese are choking on them now over in Beijing.  Yeah…, it’s not just an American problem any longer.  This old Mother Earth can’t take much more.  Some say she can’t take what we’ve already given her.  As Guy R. McPherson says, “Nature Bats Last.”  Well…, old Mother Nature has shown me that she’s a clutch hitter when we back her up.  She laid off the dust storms when we started treating her right…, and she quit pelting us with acid rain when we showed her a little kindness.  Who can say for sure that if we scratch out a couple of hits and get a couple of runners in scoring position…, ole Mother Nature won’t clear the bases with a mighty swing of the bat.  Even if it is just a futile gesture…, I think we owe it to her to at least try…, out of respect and in gratitude for what she’s already given us.  Things like the Crooked Fork and White Sands Creeks that flow out of the mountains along the Idaho-Montana border to form the Lochsa…, that is later joined by the Selway to form the Clearwater…, that is itself jointed by its own South and North Forks...., until the mighty river empties into the great Snake before it leaves Idaho.

Those Idaho rivers still flow through my dreams.

And it’s Momma I miss you, I woke up and screamed
These American rivers, they’ve poisoned my dreams.
Colorado, Allegheny, Shenandoah, Susquehaynee
And the Wabash, and the Hudson and the brave Rio Grande
I was a kid there, I was asleep in the sand, near your waters.

1 comment:

  1. Oh My Gosh.... I was just traveling through your blog saw this photo and said to myself "OMG I KNOW THIS PLACE..... " I grew up in Weippe, Idaho..... WOW this is awesome