Ruminations From the Western Slope

Ruminations From the Western Slope
Colorado River near Moab, Utah

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

The New Mexico of Memory

When we crossed into New Mexico from Colorado two weeks ago, I swear that the sky suddenly changed, taking on a clarity and depth not found anywhere else. We journeyed over rolling high hills dotted with pines, took in little towns like Tierra Amarilla and Los Ojos, photographed crumbling adobes, and stopped at roadside churches. And all the while there was that deep blue sky overhead. It stayed with us as we descended from Chama into the badlands around Ghost Ranch where we camped for the night in a nearly deserted campground, surrounded by pinyon and juniper and Georgia O’Keefe’s colorful cliffs.

We lived in Albuquerque in the late 90s while I rangered away at Petroglyph National Monument, one of those politically created parks that should have been given to the city to manage instead of the Department of Interior. By the time I got there in 1994, the burgeoning tract homes had already been built right up to the volcanic escarpment on which most of the petroglyphs had been carved. There were literally petroglyphs in peoples’ backyards. The City of Albuquerque hated the park because it was an impediment to further development. Later political machinations by Sen. Domenici allowed a corridor to be removed from the park boundary and made available for a four-lane highway in order to facilitate development on the west mesa.

As a result, these “sacred images” carved in stone now look down upon strip malls, neighborhoods, and gridlocked traffic. There are few places where one can experience the actual context in which these images were made. To add insult to injury, in 1997 a new superintendent took over the reins of the monument and immediately alienated the entire park staff. A woman with a chip on her shoulder and a hatred of white males. Despite our pleas to upper management over the next couple of years, little was done to curb the lying, deception and abuse. I saw the writing on the wall and got out at the end of 1998. Leaving New Mexico was one of the hardest things we ever did.

And that superintendent......She eventually got caught using her government credit card to pay off gambling debts and was removed and demoted (anyone else would have been fired). I went on to bigger and better things with the Bureau of Land Management at Red Rock Canyon in Nevada.

But being back in New Mexico again two weeks ago was still a bit of heaven. We gorged ourselves on cultural and tourist sites in Albuquerque, attended a festival in Santa Fe, and ate lots of green chili. We took the High Road to Taos through little towns like Nambe, Chimayo, Truchas and Las Trampas....towns that have changed little over the years and still reflect the rural Hispanic culture when you look between the art galleries and get off of the beaten path.

So maybe the sky really didn’t change at the Colorado/New Mexico border but my emotions certainly did. We were back in a place we had called home. The place where we honeymooned. The place where our daughter was born. A place that is truly the Land of Enchantment.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Got Thoughts?

I am beginning to realize that we live in a society that rewards and reveres ignorance as typified in the rise in popularity of shows like The Biggest Loser, Are You Smarter Than a 5th Grader?, America’s Got Talent and anything on FOX News. Something in the American psyche takes a morbid interest in seeing others being humiliated and disgraced on national media. Or seeing the smart guy get his come-uppance. It’s often been referred to as the “dumbing down of America” but I believe it is much more sinister than that. It is a calculated, organized attempt to create an ignorant and passive electorate, a society of rubes and reactionaries who will dutifully fall at the feet of right wing ideologues and super-patriots.

On the one hand we are fed the seemingly earnest platitudes from politicians about the importance of education to our youth and the ultimate goal of producing college graduates, yet as soon as those students obtain a degree they are labeled as “intellectuals” and summarily reviled by the conservative right. It’s better, after all, to find Jesus and embrace family values than to be “an educated fool”. So we elevate the status of the Sarah Palins and Glenn Becks while at the same time diminishing the contribution of scientists, writers, educators and artists. We worship a fabric flag instead of concrete knowledge; blind aggression over quiet reason.

This is nothing new, of course. But I worry that it has become so pervasive in this country. There are the obvious parallels to the rise of Nazi Germany and other authoritarian regimes, but these seem to take a back seat to the continued pursuit of capitalism at any cost, rampant racism, and unbridled jingoism.

This may come as a shock to many but America may not be the greatest country on the planet. It might be New Zealand or maybe Sweden or maybe some small isolated island with a more balanced view of cultural diversity, environmental integrity, and intellectual stimulus. And that’s okay with me. I don’t care if we are not number one. I’d rather live in a country that seeks progressiveness, respect, and compassion for its population. How do we get back to that? Or were we ever there to begin with?