Posts Tagged ‘Gulf of California’

Was Edward Abbey A Mystic?

September 12th, 2011

Jack Loeffler And Edward Abbey Discuss Mysticism While Camped At The Strait Of Hell On The West Coast Of Sonora, Mexico

White Herons, Playa, Baja California, Mexico, copyright 1981 by Philip Hyde.

In his biography of Edward Abbey, Adventures with Ed: A Portrait of Abbey, Jack Loeffler described traveling, friendship and working with Edward Abbey on various environmental campaigns. In one chapter Jack Loeffler told a story about exploring and car camping with the “Thoreau of the West” and his wife Clarke Cartwright Abbey on the west coast of Mainland Old Mexico. “On a dirt road that extended from El Desemboque to Kino Bay,” Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey made camp.

They dubbed their camp “Osprey Bay” because they could see “no fewer than five inhabited osprey nests…” and during the day they could see osprey aloft nearly all the time. To get to the camp they had traveled several hundred miles from the U. S. border. Their camp was across Estrecho Infiernillo, or the Strait of Hell, from Baja California with Tiburon Island and Shark Island a few miles out in the Sea of Cortez or Gulf of California. Nineteenth century explorers called the narrow passage between Mexico and Baja California the Strait of Hell because during high tide and low tide, in some conditions, treacherous currents and sand bars tended to obstruct navigation and still do today. “There we remained for the better part of two weeks, hiking, floating in the rubber raft, avoiding stingrays, eating, drinking cold beer and warm beer, and even considering thinking about working.”

Edward Abbey made forays for firewood. Jack Loeffler and Edward Abbey dug a fire pit and lined it with large rocks in which they put a giant stuffed Turkey that Clarke Abbey had wrapped frozen before the trip. In the evening after their first Turkey feast when “the sound of the surf lulled them into a collective reverie,” Edward Abbey and Jack Loeffler set out on a walk east toward the mountains a few miles away:

The moon was bright. The air was warm. There was no wind. The conditions were ideal for a nighttime stroll near the Straight of Hell. We spoke very little for the first mile or so. We finally crossed the main north-south road and followed a trail continuing east. We were able to walk abreast and listen to the night sounds.

“Jack.”

“Ed.”

“Do you consider yourself a mystic?”

“Wow, I have to think about that for a minute. Do you?”

“Consider you a mystic? Yes.”

Consider yourself a mystic.”

“I asked you first.”

We stumbled along the trail for a bit.

“Probably no more than you do,” I replied vaguely. “Is there any vestigial Presbyterianism left in you?”

“Oh maybe a remnant or two left over from my childhood… But I was asking if you were a mystic?”

“It’s ironic, when I was in college, I was one of the two professed atheists on the campus. It took me years to realize that my sense of atheism was mostly the result of semantics. I certainly didn’t and don’t believe in an anthropomorphic god in any biblical sense. It seems that somehow I’ve intuited the presence of some principle or urge that the English language, at least, isn’t prepared to define. I suppose any religious feelings I have stem from the way I feel about the Earth and about consciousness. I’ve suspected for a long time that the planet is the living organism and that life is the way the planet perceives. We’re just a step along the way. Humans, I mean. We’re really not all that important when you think about it.

“Yeah, I know what you mean,” said Ed. “But what about a sense of purpose? I wonder if we have any purpose in a higher sense. It seems like you spend years trying to absolve yourself from your childhood biases. If you’re really interested, that is.”

“What about you, Ed? Have you ever had a sense of the mystical?”

“Well, as you know, I’ve always tried to follow the truth no matter where it leads. And intellectually, I’ve tried to come to terms with reality by examining the evidence of my own five good bodily senses that I was born with, using my mind to the best of my ability. But there was a time back in Death Valley where I had what I guess was as close to a mystical experience as I’ve ever had. That was years ago. I was a young man. I’ve never had anything quite like it since. As close as I’ve come is after I’ve been out camping somewhere for at least two weeks. It takes at least that long for me to really get into it and leave all the baggage behind.”

“Can you describe what happened back then?” I asked.

“Well, it’s not something that’s easy to remember intellectually. It was more the way I felt. As I recall, I felt like I wasn’t separated from anything else. I was by myself at the time. It was as if I could almost perceive some fundamental activity taking place all around me. Everything was alive, even the rocks. I was part of it. Not separate from it at all. I wept for joy or something akin to joy that I can’t really describe. It was a long time ago. It’s not something that can be remembered in the normal way, or at least normal for me. The only time I can get close to it is out camping. I don’t get to do that enough. Not nearly enough.”

See a video of Jack Loeffler on the role of artists in environmental activism… Or, read more about Edward Abbey and how he met and wrote Slickrock with Philip Hyde in the blog post, “Who Was Edward Abbey?

The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 8

May 20th, 2011

Glen Canyon, Grand Canyon, The Escalante Wilderness And Other Regional Repercussions Of The Battle Over Dinosaur National Monument

(FROM THE CATEGORY, “Excerpts Of New Book,” CONTINUED FROM THE BLOG POST, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth of Modern Environmentalism 7.”)

Anasazi Grain Storage In The Sandstone, Dinosaur National Monument, copyright 1951 by Philip Hyde.

The reservoirs on the Colorado River are currently at all-time lows because they lose more water annually to evaporation and seepage than they conserve, especially in drought years. Water and its management will increase in political prominence in the future as populations grow and the supply of water as a resource declines. The Glen Canyon Institute today is campaigning to have Glen Canyon Dam bypassed. As water in the Western United States grows more and more scarce, this idea is destined to gain momentum.

Immediately after the dams in Dinosaur National Monument were dropped from the Upper Colorado River Storage Project and the corresponding bill passed both houses of Congress, David Brower, still in Washington, spoke by telephone to a group of Sierra Club Board Members back in San Francisco, urging them to continue the fight and remain in opposition to Glen Canyon Dam. Unfortunately, in The History of The Sierra Club, Michael Cohen explained, “Bestor Robinson felt that such a purist stand would result in defeat, since the Club had made a compromise, saying in effect that the Bureau of Reclamation could have Glen Canyon. Bestor Robinson later said that ‘if you didn’t have the Grand Canyon then Glen Canyon should be preserved’; but, he argued, ‘the trade-off was necessary.’” For more about how long it took to fill Glen Canyon and other Glen Canyon miscalculations and mistakes, see the blog post, “Glen Canyon Lament By Philip Hyde 1.”

The Virtues And Vices Of Compromise

“Bestor Robinson was worse than a compromiser,” Martin Litton said. “It was as if he were on the other side. The point is, no matter how hard you fight, you are going to end up with a compromise. If you start with a compromise, you have lost. Richard Leonard, Sierra Club President, believed the compromise had to be kept if the Sierra Club was to maintain credibility.”

Martin Litton said that Richard Leonard expressed concern in Sierra Club Board Meetings that Congress would be convinced the ‘preservationists’ were unreasonable.

“Richard Leonard was afraid we would be accused of suggesting the waste of the ‘entire Colorado River,'” Martin Litton said. “He thought Congressmen would say conservationists intended the Colorado River to be ‘unused’ and allowed to flood away into Mexico and the Gulf of California, as if that would have been so bad.” Studies now show that the Gulf of California, also known as the Sea of Cortez, is dying because its salt content has increased to unnatural levels with less and less fresh water from the Colorado River reaching it.

“Richard Leonard believed that the Sierra Club would not have been able to keep dams out of the Grand Canyon if Glen Canyon Dam had not been built,” said Martin Litton. “I disagreed with him. We had the public’s confidence in us, and we had the nation on our side as a result of Dinosaur. We could have carried that momentum right through the whole Colorado River system. I don’t mean there never would have been any pressures, but there wouldn’t have been any dam or reservoir once we got the great Escalante National Park.”

The Proposed Escalante National Park

Escalante National Park had been discussed by some members of Congress and President Franklin D. Roosevelt much earlier before World War II. It would have surrounded the entire area of Glen Canyon, the Escalante Wilderness and thousands of additional acres in the region. With the bombing of Pearl Harbor and the entry of the US into World War II, Congress turned its attention to more pressing matters and Escalante National Park never materialized beyond the idea stage, not even as a proposal. Escalante National Park would have saved Glen Canyon. The Escalante Wilderness finally became officially part of the National Park System in 2000. President Bill Clinton signed Grand Staircase-Escalante National Monument into existence on his last day in office. An act that enranged off-road vehicle users and local Utah anti-wilderness conservatives. The main drawback to President Bill Clinton’s National Monument is that under political pressure, he designated the new Monument under Bureau of Land Management care rather than the National Park service. The two agencies have significantly differing policies regarding their care and preservation of wilderness lands. President Bill Clinton compromised.

David Brower wrote in his autobiography about Glen Canyon, “My own bitter lesson there was that you don’t give away something that you haven’t seen; you don’t suggest alternatives until you’ve been there.”

The Green River, Yampa River And This Is Dinosaur

In 2005, the runoff was again higher than normal after years of drought, helping the reservoirs of the Upper and Lower Colorado River Storage Projects to recover from severe depletion. On the Green River below Steamboat Rock in Echo Park, Dinosaur National Monument, a river crew lifted a white three-pontoon river raft up the beach to the truck. The side of the boat’s inflatable outer pontoon said, “Outward Bound.”

The Outward Bound crew was one of hundreds of groups that float through the Dinosaur National Monument river canyons now every summer. Back when Philip Hyde ran the Green River and Yampa River, the Sierra Club had just overcome the myths of unknown danger and begun to prove to the American people that rafting through Dinosaur National Monument was safely possible.

Ardis and Philip Hyde ran the Yampa River in 1955 with a Sierra Club group. By then, many Sierra Club and other groups had run the Yampa River and the Green River since the first Sierra Club trip braved the canyons in the summer of 1951. That same year, 1951, Philip Hyde covered Dinosaur National Monument by land. It was the first photography assignment on behalf of an environmental cause. The Sierra Club sent Philip Hyde to see what Dinosaur National Monument had to offer and whether it was worth saving. Philip Hyde’s assignment and a group of essays by prominent river guides and naturalists of the time became the book This Is Dinosaur: Echo Park Country And Its Magic Rivers with introduction and a first chapter by Wallace Stegner and documentary and landscape photographs by Philip Hyde and Martin Litton.

(CONTINUED IN THE FINAL BLOG POST OF THE SERIES, “The Battle Over Dinosaur: Birth Of Modern Environmentalism 9.”)