Orion Blog

Concrete Progress: The Electric Car’s Necessary Next Step

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Concrete Progress is an ongoing series of columns by Peter Brewitt devoted to exploring America’s infrastructure. It is part of Orion’s Reimagining Infrastructure project.



The first time I saw a Tesla on the road was in 2008. This was before the cars were properly on the market, so they were still a bit of a rumor. I wasn’t far from the company headquarters in Silicon Valley that day, so I’m guessing it was a company car—maybe Tesla’s CEO, Elon Musk, was behind the wheel. I’m not a car enthusiast, but I have to say: what I saw was awesome. The Roadster, the first car made by Tesla, had a Lotus body and looked like a chrome rattlesnake. It had an aura of The Future about it—right there, right in front of me, idling at the light, was something new under the sun.

But aura only goes so far. After the sexiness wore off, I wondered why people would buy such a car. If you drove a Tesla in 2008, you did so within the confines of an invisible circle with a radius of 245 miles, a circle that shrank with every mile you drove. If you ventured outside the circle, you would be too far from your charger and your car would break down. You could not drive from Boston to Washington DC, or from Fort Worth to Houston, or even from Los Angeles up the Big Sur Coast to San Francisco (a journey that every owner of this serpentine car surely yearned to make). You were tethered to your home dock, like an automotive tracking bracelet. Also, the Roadster cost $109, 000.

Fast forward to now. There are many more electric cars on the road, from a few hundred in 2011 to about 225,000 by the middle of 2014. Tesla is selling a much-celebrated sedan for the semi-reasonable price of $70,000, and its range has improved to 400 miles, putting its battery on par with the gas tank in my old Camry. Other car companies are developing electric cars, too. But the invisible circle remains: we still need electric gas stations.

Enter NRG Energy. NRG is one of the bigger utilities in the country, with millions of customers in states across America. Utilities, being in the business of selling electricity, would, you’d think, be eager to sell it to people in their cars as well as their houses. But NRG seemed to sense the need before others: in 2010, as electric vehicles were just starting to hum across America’s highways, the company formed an electric-vehicle wing called eVgo and opened their first Freedom Stations.

Freedom Stations, while they sound like a prison in a George Orwell novel, appear to be the electric “gas” stations that we’ve all been waiting for. A station offers several charging options, and eVgo members pay for charging time, the price varying with the power of the charger they’re using. Powering up at a Freedom Station takes longer than at a gas station (the fast chargers add about 2.5 miles to your battery per minute) but they add enough juice in, say, ten minutes, to maintain drivers’ peace of mind throughout the day. NRG’s Freedom Stations are currently clustered in seven cities, from Washington, DC to San Diego, and they will be in fifteen more places by the end of next year—here’s a map.

Take a close look at that map, and you might spot the Freedom Station hotspot that piqued my interest, which is located in NRG’s hometown of Houston, Texas. There are at least two things to know about Houston, and the first is that it is enormous. Houston is the fourth-biggest city in the country, by population and by acreage (changing, a little, depending on how you measure), and it sprawls across the hot, flat, east Texas landscape like a blacktop version of Jabba the Hutt. I used to work for the Houston school district, so I speak from experience when I say that you can start from downtown, drive in one direction for an hour and a half, and get out of your car still deep inside Houston.

The second thing to know is that the city is absolutely dominated by hydrocarbon companies like Phillips 66, Halliburton, and ConocoPhillips. (Once, when I visited the science museum, there was a whole wing devoted to the science of getting oil out of the ground.) So, as places for advancing the post-carbon economy go, Houston is no San Francisco. But from an individual perspective, it makes total sense. If you had to drive all over a 600-square-mile city, you would be glad to save on gas no matter what your politics looked like or who you worked for. Today, there are eighteen Freedom Stations in greater Houston alone. Buy all the Teslas you want.

Peter Brewitt has wondered about infrastructure ever since a flood kept him away from three days of kindergarten. He is a professor of environmental studies at Wofford College. He wrote his doctoral dissertation on dam removal politics at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and is devoted to understanding how people decide to restore and remake their environments.

The Tricky Business of Edward Abbey Fandom

My beautiful pictureThe legendary writer, troublemaker, and lover of Western landscapes, Edward Abbey, is the subject of David Gessner’s piece in the Lay of the Land section of the January/February 2015 issue of Orion. Gessner’s forthcoming book about Abbey, Wallace Stegner, and the American West is due out in spring.



Early on when I was writing my book about Wallace Stegner and Edward Abbey, I e-mailed a fairly famous writer friend of Abbey’s, asking for an interview while I was out West.

“I am not into hero worship,” he wrote back.

I understood this response. Too much of the writing I’d read about Abbey vacillated between just that sort of worship, penned, you suspected, by writers who had posters of Ed on their walls, and a kind of angry dismissal of the writer as a misanthropic troglodyte.

Later I would discuss this issue with Ken Sanders in Salt Lake City. Ken’s store, Ken Sanders Rare Books, is one of the central places of worship in the greater Church of Abbey. While the names Morrison and Roth might be better known to the general reading public, in this store Abbey outsells all other writers combined. Here there is a cultish fervor associated with the man nicknamed “Cactus Ed.” And cults, whatever their flaws, tend to have the power to keep names alive.

“When I give talks about Ed my goal is to bring him back to life for a new generation,” Ken Sanders said when I visited. “There is a whole new generation of readers in college now who weren’t alive when Ed died. I want to introduce them to this writer who can still speak to them. He said he never wanted to write a classic. Because his definition of a classic was a book that everyone has heard of but no one has read. Well, Ed’s not written that kind of classic. He’s still read. We sell more of his work in the store than all other authors combined. After slow starts, both Desert Solitaire and Monkey Wrench Gang have sold over a million copies.”

Before I left, I asked Ken if he had ever thought of writing a book about his friendship with Ed.

“I’ve thought of it,” he admitted. “But I don’t want to do another I Was Ed’s Chum book.”

I nodded. There was a whole cottage industry of I Was Ed’s Chum books.

It is a tricky business being an Ed Abbey fan these days. We shift toward uneasy ground. Because Abbey is no longer just a writer whose books you read; he is a literary cult figure who has followers. The skeptical reader recoils: “Oh, I don’t want to be part of that.” But clearly Abbey lives, at least in the West. Fresh off the press the same week I visited Ken was an article in the Mountain Gazette, a journal in which Abbey himself often published, in which M. John Fayhee, the editor, took no small delight in mocking the Abbey fandom: “They wore clothing that looked like what Abbey wore. They drove vehicles that would meet with Abbey’s approval. They tossed beer cans out of truck windows because Abbey did.” This hit a little close to home. I thought back to my days in Eldorado Springs and remembered the cans of refried beans I ate, part of the official Ed Abbey diet. I fear I was, unbeknownst to myself, a sort of groupie.

It is easy to mock the more rampant Abbeyites. But the tendency to attach ourselves to writers is a not an entirely unhealthy thing. Fandom may be laughable but it has its purposes. Stegner wrote of Bernard DeVoto that “father hunting had almost been a career for him.” He meant that DeVoto sought out older writers, and was eager to sit at their knees. He did this with Robert Frost, whom he first believed was “living proof that genius could be sane,” but whom he eventually broke from with the words: “You’re a good poet, Robert. But you’re a bad man.” Stegner in turn would look to DeVoto as a model, a father of sorts, though a father with the wild streak of an adolescent son. It is easy to dismiss these relationships as mere hero worship, as Oedipal. But what underlies it is something better, I think. A hunger for models. For possibilities. For how to be in the world.

My beautiful pictureAs we shook hands goodbye, Ken and I talked about how the Abbey legend had grown.

“He was almost as famous for his death as his life,” Ken said.

I knew that after Abbey died, his friends, per his instructions, placed his body in the back of a pick-up, packed it in dry ice, forged a death certificate, and took him out on one final camping trip. They drove him deep into the Cabeza Prieta wilderness and spent the night there, with Ed in the truck. The next morning they dug the grave, which two of them climbed down into to test for “fit and comfort.” When they deemed it acceptable they buried their friend and poured beer on the grave as a final toast. His burial was, of course, completely illegal.

The burial, and the wakes that followed, were well-orchestrated, and added greatly to his legend. The wakes, one in the Saguaro National Monument near Tucson and one in Arches National Park, were wild celebratory affairs. At the raucous public wake in Arches, “held on a big slab of white rock slanting out toward a whole world of mountains and desert,” according to Wendell Berry, Abbey himself had once again left instructions. Berry read aloud the letter celebrating Abbey from their former teacher. “He had the zeal of a true believer and the sting of a scorpion,” Stegner’s letter read. “He was a red hot moment in the life of the country, and I suspect that the half-life of his intransigence will be like that of uranium.” There was much drinking and singing among the red rocks, and not too much reading of words, just as Abbey wanted it.

Writing in his journal in October of 1981, Abbey had left elaborate instructions for not just how he should be buried, but for what music should be played, and what books read from, at his funereal. He wrote: I want dancing! And a flood of beer and booze! A bonfire! And lots of food—meat!

Not every man leaves stage directions for his final show.

Before I left, I told Ken that when I was first planning out my trip I was pretty sure I was going to go in search of Abbey’s grave. It was part of the Abbey legend after all—that grave out there somewhere in the unknown wilderness. I knew I would likely be able to find the spot: I had good contacts, old friends of Ed’s, and thought it wouldn’t be too hard to figure out the location. But when I got to the Abbey library in Tucson I changed my mind. The plan had the whiff of grave-robbing to it, and, worse, of a stunt, and I decided, finally, that I would let the poor man rest in peace.

I had seen pictures however and knew that Abbey’s grave, unlike George Stegner’s, was marked. In a manner at least. Abbey had chosen the epitaph himself.

“No Comment,” it said.

David Gessner is the author of nine books, including the forthcoming All the Wild That Remains from which this piece is adapted. He is the founder of the journal Ecotone. Photographs courtesy of Milo McCowan and Lyman Hafe.

Welcome to Wolf Country

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Last year, OR7, the first wild wolf to roam California in nearly a century, met his mate and started a pack in southern Oregon. Sightings of another wolf in the area were reported earlier this week. Author Joe Donnelly took a recent trip to Oregon, retracing his travels described in “Lone Wolf,” his story about OR7 that appeared in the September/October 2013 issue of Orion.



Driving from Los Angeles to Ashland, Oregon, in the middle of August 2014, on an expedition to visit the freshly claimed territory of Oregon’s newest wolf pack, a pack established by arguably the world’s most famous and intrepid wolf, I am confronted by what could be taken as a sign from the gods. It descends from above just after Interstate 5 snakes through the canyons and valleys of Shasta and Siskiyou Counties and eventually slips past towering Mount Shasta, at 14,180 feet a stairway to heaven, or perhaps hell in this case.

It is right around here that the early afternoon sky starts to drop and turn gray as if a fog is settling. One is not. Just past Mount Shasta, the sun shrinks to a tiny, red dot while smoke and ash choke the air. The scene looks like it was lifted from the movie version of Cormac McCarthy’s The Road. The world appears to be on fire, and, in fact, at the beginning of California’s wildfire season, a lot of it is.

It’s not a pretty picture, but it starts to look better almost as soon as I cross the Oregon border. The tsunami of smoke and ash remains in the rearview mirror, but the sky ahead is blue and the sun is a familiar shape and color. A greener hue colors the nearby foothills and mountains.

This area, the Sky Lakes Wilderness and adjacent Crater Lake National Park, is much valued and fought over by conservationists and loggers. And, in keeping with his knack for walking into the middle of controversies, this is where wolf OR7—or “Journey,” to his many fans—established the first wolf pack in southern Oregon in decades.

OR7’s family, the Rogue Pack, is named for the Rogue River basin just west of Crater Lake where they seem to have settled. The designation means that the three pups OR7 sired with a female wolf in the spring of 2014 survived through the end of the year.

This appears to be a happy ending for a wolf that was considered a “genetic dead end” when I wrote about his long and lonesome wanderings around northern California for this publication. For him, it was a quixotic quest that failed to net him a California girl, but for the gray wolves that will inevitably follow in his paw prints—so long as wolves are allowed to continue their dramatic and tenuous comeback in the West—it did win California Endangered Species Act protections. No small feat for what was then California’s only wolf.

But the future is still uncertain. The toxic airborne event in my rearview mirror seems to ask which path humans will choose: the one behind me that leads to ash and ruin and a dangerously dry California, or the one in front of me, which seems to point toward healthy Oregon forests and a viable future for both wolves, the embodiment of wild nature, and man.

***

During his epic travels through California and Oregon between 2011 and 2013, OR7 became the first wild wolf to traverse the Oregon Cascades in more than sixty years. His excursion into California, where he spent most of 2012 making wide loops around Siskiyou, Lassen, Plumas, and Tehama counties, made him the first wild wolf in California in almost ninety years.

His perambulations earned him the nickname Journey while inspiring conservationists and alarming Old West interests such as ranchers, hunters, and loggers who see wolves, and what they represent, as a growing threat to their livelihoods. Now, to add to his legend, OR7 is the alpha male of the first wolf pack in southwest Oregon since wolves were extirpated here in the 1940s.

Genetic tests on his mate’s scat have shown that she came from the same neck of the woods as he did. The fact that another wolf made it this far and that these two met is something of a miracle—like two needles in two different haystacks finding each other. It’s also a testament to the genetic imperatives of wolves to spread out and establish biologically rich territories.

In Ashland, Oregon, some thirty miles past the California border where the smoke cloud still hovers, I meet up with Joseph Vaile, the executive director of the Klamath-Siskiyou Wildlands Center (KSWC). The lands under Vaile’s purview have been thought of for decades as prime potential wolf habitat and his organization does its best to protect what is now home to the Rogue Pack. Vaile has generously agreed to guide an excursion into the fringes of the pack’s territory in the one-in-a-million chance I might catch a glimpse of the creature that so captured my imagination.

Like OR7, Vaile is a traveler. He grew up in Dixon, Illinois, the boyhood home of Ronald Reagan, surrounded by what he calls “a sea of monoculture corn and soybeans.” The opportunity to be around the last remnants of wild America drew him out West. “I studied biology and got really interested in seeing some of these landscapes that are unaltered,” he says as we wind our way up into the mountains north and east of Ashland. “I felt like, god, that would really be one of the most important things I could do with my life, if I could have some influence on maintaining some of these biological reservoirs in unaltered states.”

After a brief stint as a field biologist charged with identifying threatened species and supporting old-growth stands for the Bureau of Land Management—the flipside of finding forest to cut—Vaile took up with KSWC. The area under his watch, what the center calls the Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion, is a patchwork of protected wilderness areas and national forests stretching from the Grassy Knob Wilderness just south of Coos Bay, Oregon, down to its southeastern boundary just north of Lake Almanor and Lassen National Forest in California. This is where the southern Cascades meet the Sierra Nevada and where OR7 spent a great deal of his California tour. The Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion embodies an impressive number of mountain ranges, watersheds, topographies, and microclimates.

“It’s sort of a melting pot of different regions coming together—the Great Basin to the east, the California Floristic Province along the coast,” says Vaile as we ascend into the southern tip of the large stretch of backcountry that is Sky Lakes Wilderness. “We just passed a juniper tree—that’s kind of a Great Basin element.”

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Oregon’s Sky Lakes Wilderness, which comprises almost 114,000 acres, is home to OR7’s Rogue Pack.



The Klamath-Siskiyou Ecoregion is one of the last frontiers for gray wolves reclaiming historical Western territory. It forms much of an area that could support hundreds of wolves according to some studies. So, while gray wolf reintroduction is literally under fire in states such as Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana (thousands of wolves have been killed in state-sanctioned hunts since federal protections were rescinded in 2011), OR7 is staking a claim in one of the largest remaining potential habitats. Most importantly, and thanks in part to his well-publicized adventures, wolves have state protections here.

After an hour or so of gaining altitude, the roads get narrower, the switchbacks steeper, and my bearings more lost. Vaile insists he has a particular trailhead in mind, but its possible he’s being cagey. It’s important to keep OR7’s location a mystery. There are plenty of people who aren’t happy wolves have made it this far.

Finally, Vaile spots the trail he says he’s been looking for. We park and climb up into an anonymous section of forest at the edge of the Sky Lakes Wilderness. When Vaile walks into forests like this one, he isn’t just taking account of the flora and fauna; he’s mentally checking its health against the political, economic, and climatic challenges it faces.

“These systems are more stressed than they were before,” says Vaile. “All those different stressors—from cattle grazing to logging to water withdrawals—have an increasing impact on the integrity of the system.”

The arrival of wolves here brings challenges and opportunities. For Vaile, the challenge comes down to finding the calculus of coexistence among these competing claims on the land. “Just the mere thought of wolves being here strains people. And certainly, if anyone has to do anything different from how they’ve been doing it as a result of wolves being here, whether it’s changing their practices or being thoughtful in various ways, that creates a lot of pressure.”

On the bright side, Vaile says that OR7’s story has worked like a recruiting campaign for conservation. “There are a lot of people who stepped into this work because of OR7, who heard that story and became so enamored with wildlife recovery, and it’s a segue for a lot of people into the other areas we work in, whether it’s salmon recovery or forest recovery,” says Vaile. “He can be a gateway drug for a lot of people to get engaged in environmental issues.”

Climate change is the most pressing challenge to these ecosystems, says Vaile and other environmentalists working here. They would like to see the relatively intact forests and backcountry OR7 has been navigating protected to form a wilderness corridor that runs from northern California up through the southern Cascades and and Coastal Range. These are the habitat islands OR7 navigated to make his way to California back in 2012.

Many people see these pathways as increasingly important to other wildlife, too. “Scientists are telling us that wildlife would adapt to climate change by moving up in elevation and going north,” says Eric Fernandez, wilderness coordinator for Oregon Wild. “As they are making those migrations and adapting, we want to have protected corridors they can migrate through, both north and south and with a wide band of elevation.”

One of the key components of this plan is the Crater Lake Wilderness proposal, a plan being pushed by conservationists to get OR7’s current territory designated as wilderness.

First, though, they have to protect it from several logging proposals that will cut into its edges. One of them, the Bybee project, would log 1,300 acres and build twelve miles of new roads in the area, according to Fernandez, and would effectively cut off several intact wildlife corridors in the process. He says the logs that would be taken from the cut could fill trucks stretched end to end from Medford, Oregon, to Crater Lake National Park.

Not surprisingly, OR7 is one of the weapons being wielded in a lawsuit Oregon Wild filed last June asking a U.S. District Court Judge to review the logging proposals. The suit maintains the plans pose a potential threat to the wolf and his pups, since they live in the vicinity of the proposed cut.

***

Back on the trail with Vaile, the slope we climb is full of old-growth stands with a generous supply of fallen trees supporting diverse flora and fauna. Chirping birds pierce the silence, butterflies flutter about, and small mammals scurry under logs and leaves. The forest is alive.

I’ve followed OR7’s travels, literally and figuratively, for years now. I’ve trekked around his natal pack’s territory and followed his tracks around Plumas County, California, where he summered in 2012—always hoping against hope for a glimpse of this charismatic character.

The new Rogue Pack’s territory is vast and the chances of seeing OR7 now are as slim as they’ve ever been, but somehow I feel closer. A couple days before Vaile and I set out on this trail, a hunter scouting deer and elk caught an image of a black wolf nosing around a large fallen tree in an old-growth hollow similar to the one we’re hiking through.

“We’re in the ballpark,” says Vaile, scanning the forest.

About a mile or so up from the trailhead, we come upon a relatively fresh pile of scat, which Vaile makes for deer droppings. Soon after that, we notice several piles of older scat left by a large predator. Vaile says it’s not from a bear. I snap some pictures, excited by the possibility that this is evidence that we’re following the footsteps of OR7 and his mate, though Vaile and others caution me that it’s more likely been left by a mountain lion, a species that is well suited to the steep terrain and thick forest here.

Returning to the trailhead, a film of ash has settled on the car like a thin wool blanket. During the drive down the mountain, heading toward Ashland, the dark cloud comes back into view, hanging ominously over the southern horizon like a warning.

I ask Vaile how, given everything these last remaining wild lands seem to be up against, his morale is holding up.

“When you look at climate change and when you look at the direction things seem to be headed in, so many problems we faced on the very first Earth Day have only gotten worse,” he says. “But there are certain glimmers of hope, and I think OR7 is one of those. I hope that there’s going to be a tipping point where as a society we choose the right path, where we are like, ‘Okay, we are in control of the earth and we can do it a different way.’ There’s still a lot at stake here that’s functioning and worth fighting for. Even if everything crumbles around places like this, maybe it will be a seed source for future wilding. I almost have to look at it like that.”

Back home in parched southern California, I e-mail pictures of my potential brush with greatness to Russ Morgan, wolf coordinator for the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife, apologizing in my note for bothering him with something as rote as mountain lion scat.

A few days later, I get a reply.

“I don’t know, looks pretty wolf-y to me,” says Morgan.

Award-winning author and journalist Joe Donnelly was executive editor of Mission and State; co-founder and co-editor of Slake: Los Angeles; deputy editor of LA Weekly for six years, during which it garnered more awards than any alternative newsweekly in the format’s history, including the Pulitzer Prize; and editor of the seminal pop-culture magazine Bikini. He has written for numerous national and international publications.

The Long Swindle

Blog_UnrealCity_coverimgJournalist and historian Judith Nies’s story “The Black Mesa Syndrome,” about how the U.S. government coerced the Navajo and Hopi Indian tribes into relinquishing land sought by mining interests, appeared in the summer 1998 issue and remains one of the magazine’s most frequently cited pieces. Nies’s new book, Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West, picks up where her Orion article left off; it traces the Black Mesa story to present day, wherein the coal beneath Black Mesa, a four-thousand-square mile area of Indian land in Arizona, became a fuel source for two power plants (one recently closed and the other, the Navajo Generating Station, cited as one of the ten most polluting power plants in the country) sending electricity to Phoenix, Las Vegas, and Los Angeles. Here is the author on how she became involved in the story and became the storyteller for Unreal City, published in 2014 by Perseus Books and included in Amazon’s Top 100 Books of the Year.

I learned about the so-called “Hopi-Navajo land dispute” forty years ago; sixteen years ago Orion published my article “The Black Mesa Syndrome: Indian Lands, Black Gold”; eight months ago Perseus published my book Unreal City: Las Vegas, Black Mesa, and the Fate of the West, which dives deeper into the themes of that article; and a few weeks ago I received an e-mail from the Black Mesa Indigenous Support Group telling me that history was repeating itself. SWAT teams and helicopters had arrived once again on Black Mesa, impounding Navajo livestock, imposing thousand-dollar fines, and harassing the remaining Navajo who still live there.

The reason? Peabody Energy, the largest coal company in the world, headquartered in St. Louis, is in the process of negotiating a new Black Mesa coal lease.

I first came to the story in the 1970s, when I worked in Congress as a legislative aide and speechwriter. I was there when the Hopi Land Settlement Bill was introduced under the guise of restoring lost land to the Hopi, and heard one of my colleagues, who knew that those same lands held one of the richest coal deposits in the U.S., observe: “They’re going to steal those lands fair and square.”

When the bill was turned into law in 1976—the law that became known as the Black Mesa law—I was back in Massachusetts as Assistant Secretary of Environmental Affairs, monitoring environmental legislation and acting as federal-state coordinator for the Boston Harbor Islands Park and Lowell National Park Projects. Since one of the Islands held artifacts from a 17th-century Native American settlement, it required the intervention of the state’s Indian Affairs office, and, as a result, I met the memorable and impressive John Peters-Slow Turtle, a Wampanoag tribal medicine man and executive director of the Massachusetts Commission of Indian Affairs.

Ten years later, Boston became one of the centers in the public effort to reverse the Black Mesa law that required removal of some 15,000 Navajos from their lands that lay over a coal bed—lands that had been presented to Congress as “largely uninhabited” and which were now designated Hopi Partition Lands. Remembering our earlier collaboration, John Peters asked if I could assist the lawyer for the Black Mesa resistance with legislative research.

I discovered that the law originated in 1956, when Senator Barry Goldwater of Arizona, assisted by John Boyden, a Mormon lawyer from Salt Lake City, submitted a bill to set up a special court for the sole purpose of deciding a “friendly suit” between the Hopi and Navajo. The bill directed the court to define boundaries between their reservation lands. Any doubt about the real purpose of the bill was clarified by correspondence between a vice president of Arizona’s largest bank and Stewart Udall (then a freshman congressman from Arizona who introduced Goldwater’s bill in the House), which stated that any royalties due the Indians would be deposited “in a trust account” while mining proceeded. John Boyden, appointed as the Hopi tribal counsel by the Bureau of Indian Affairs, represented Peabody Coal and its parent, Kennecott Copper, at the same time he was representing the Hopi, a clear violation of legal ethics. The Justice Department opposed the bill in both House and Senate hearings, arguing that it was an improper use of a three-judge court, that there was no legal issue for such a court to decide, and that all the boundary issues involved were political.

In short, what we see here is forty years and a billion dollars of taxpayer money expended to destroy a traditional indigenous culture through a bogus court issuing a decision based on an invented legal suit. I followed this story for four decades because it reveals a diamond-cut example of the corporate takeover of American political life along with erosion of the political will to deal with the pressing environmental issues of water, air, public lands, and climate change.

On the other hand, it also reveals how nonlinear change can happen. Orion readers should know that my frequently cited 1998 article is still distributed by the Grand Canyon Trust in Arizona and given to volunteers for the Black Mesa Indigenous Support Group. Last April, when students demonstrated at Washington University in St. Louis, a school unknown for student activism, they demanded university divestment from Peabody Energy stocks and called for the resignation of Peabody’s CEO Greg Boyce from the university’s board of trustees. The New York Times covered the demonstrations (which lasted for sixteen days) and captured in their photos hand-held signs reading “Solidarity with Black Mesa.”

Black Mesa is a story with a long tail.

Judith Nies is the award-winning author of the books The Girl I Left Behind, Nine Women, and Native American History, which won the Phi Alpha Theta prize in international history. She lives in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

“Triangulation,” a Video Poem

Elizabeth Bradfield’s poem “Historic Numbers of Right Whales Skim Feeding Off Cape Cod” appeared in the March/April 2012 issue of Orion; this fall, she created a video for this and two other whale-related poems. The video, called “Triangulation,” continues Bradfield’s work as a poet and naturalist bridging the gap between science and verse. The film was recently shown at the Maritime Museum in Greenwich, England, as part of a day-long event called “The Whale.”



Elizabeth Bradfield is the author of the poetry collections Approaching Ice, Interpretive Work, and the forthcoming Once Removed. Editor-in-chief of Broadsided Press, she lives on Cape Cod, works as a naturalist locally as well as on expedition ships, and is Poet-in-Residence at Brandeis University and an instructor in the low-residency MFA program at University of Alaska Anchorage.