15 July 2008

Grand Tetons

Took a long, long drive through Wyoming today to arrive late this afternoon in Jackson. Right now, I sit peacefully on the porch of our room looking out on the Grand Teton, and the two smaller Tetons. I am forever awed by mountains; their existence reduces human hubris to a laughing matter. These mountains stand impervious to the presence of human beings; they do not acknowledge us.

I am also overwhelmed at the engineering feat which built the roads which cross the country and climb the mountains and descend into the valleys. Sometimes we traveled along roads seemingly cut through the mountains. There were signs noting the ages of the rock formations of which the mountain was comprised: one location at the top extended back 2.5 billion years ago! The roads were much newer, even at times, yet in process. At one point we waited twelve minutes (their designation) at a stop point where the road was being retarred. I guess at times the workers blasted away the rocks to make room for our movements, though the mountains remained seemingly unaffected. I think that there is almost nothing we could do to upset the mountain’s balance and send it tumbling down as we tumble the bricks in the game of Genga, or as occurred in the collapse of the World Trade Center Towers. Br>
Sometimes, perhaps, these roads descended from the traditional passes through the mountains taken by the original pioneers and settlers who populated these lands, but there was little note taken of this. I think these were incredibly brave people--not unlike the Pilgrims and Puritans who emigrated to the Colony in the early 17th century. Of course, both turned quickly nasty--the Puritans to everyone who opposed their theocracy, and the pioneers to the Native Americans.

There was a sense of unreality as we drove west. All along the trail the historical past was exploited for commerce after having first been washed clean. Buffalo Bill was a showman; the legend is that he got his name by massacring buffalo. I recall the scene in Little Big Man when the white men (I can’t call them hunters!) kills the buffalo on the plain as if the event took place in a shooting gallery. The settlement of the West which could occur only as a result of the massacre and eventual displacement of the Native Americans speaks little of the slaughter of millions upon millions of people, the theft of their lands, the destruction of their lifestyles and their cultures except where it has been placed inside the museums where infinity goes up on trial. We are staying in a resort where the streets names are Indian, but no one knows to what the names refer. I am guilty of this crime.

And there we were traversing these giants along roads sometimes even newly paved, roads that went on seemingly straight ahead and seemingly forever. Even right through the Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. And I was struck there by an enormous contradiction, a fatal flaw in our relation to the land, perhaps. Because I note that we drive into nature as occupiers; we take the privileged world we enjoy outside of these places into the wild and wholly domesticate it; we tame our sojourns with all of the stuffs from our non-natural existence: the radios and televisions and cell phones and PDAs. Even the hikers with backbacks marched to the beat of their own iPods. We transform the wilderness into our backyards. Oh, we two had no intention to camp; rather, we read the signs and looked at the beauty of the land through our car windows as we sped rapidly through on macadamized roads. We were hardly innocent of our hypocrisy, but we held it in check. We knew where we were and who we were. Serious hypocrisy without the pretension, perhaps.

And we saw everywhere these monstrous Recreational Vehicles which guzzled gas and labored along the roads carrying everything from the world outside inside the ‘natural parks.’ So socially irresponsible were the occupiers, they took over the roads with seemingly little remorse or concern. One RV, significantly large, towed behind it a jeep, a boat, two bicycles and everything else a family might need to make life out in the wild comfortable. What relationship they established with nature was wholly mediated through the mediums brought from the world of which nature had no part except, perhaps, as ultimate resources and object, as when one watched a program about the wilderness from inside the comfort of the living room or the safety and warmth of the Recreational Vehicles. Perhaps if we go into Nature, we should really try to experience it unmediated.

I look out on the magnificent mountains, but they are not part of me.


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