In the late eighties my brother packed up and moved to Jackson Hole. In the intervening thirty-or-so years, my family and I have visited here more than a dozen times. At first we were all taken by Old Faithful, some hundred miles to the north, and by the profusion of animals we could witness if we were particularly observant.
As years went by I fell in love with other aspects of the place: the Lake Hotel—a longitudinal throwback to the early days of last century when families lounged on stadium-sized decks, enjoyed afternoon tea, and maybe strolled the grounds participating in idle but meaningful conversations; Or Mammoth near the north entrance to Yellowstone, where we were likely to find an elk languishing in a parking spot next to ours, much to the consternation of absolutely nobody.
In more recent trips, however, it’s the expanse of it all that has overwhelmed me, and two days ago, looking north from Jackson toward Shadow Mountain and then, further out of town, toward Mount Moran from Ox-bow Bend, I had a different feeling—one that had little to with awe or amazement, but more to do with nostalgia. In all the years we’ve been coming here I never once felt that a place like this could be taken away from the American people, but then this was the first year I’ve been here when someone like Trump was running the country.
Trump and his associates, shills, sycophants, and assorted frauds care nothing for the environment: they are more likely to look out over Teton Valley and envision an endless skein of derricks and pits and storage tanks, and maybe a string of coal cars lined up on tracks that run through the elk refuge or bisect Jenny Lake.
Wyoming is as red a state as there is, one whose wealth is mined from the land. By some estimates Wyoming possesses a reserve of 65 billion tons of coal. Then there are methane, natural gas, oil—the amounts removed and the amounts in reserve involve numbers in the billions. Huge expanses in the northeastern part of the state are flush with energy extraction machinery: it’s unlikely that the workers or owners give much of a thought to the natural beauty to their west.
And that’s fine—a good paycheck will always supersede the need for natural beauty. (As the Russian Victor says in Local Hero, “you can’t eat scenery.”) Up until now, that truth didn’t bother me much: federal agencies like the EPA were supposed maintain the balance, to have our backs. So was the National Parks Commission whose budget has, of course, been slashed. This season there will be less maintenance, fewer campsites, more restrictions. In recent years visitors have increased and there is no doubt this trend will continue. That means more wear and tear and greater demand for non-existent or retrenched services.
Last November we (and by we I mean nobody reading this blog) elected a very stupid man—we all knew that—but none of us could have guessed the level of his depravity, the absence of concern for anything but the bottom line—his bottom line.
Riding north on Rouse 89 out of Jackson, with the Tetons on the left and the Gros Ventres on the right, we become witnesses to a part of America that the majority of our senators and representatives have chosen to ignore. Aesthetics plays no role in their vision of American greatness: thoughts beyond the most inane and fatuous cannot fit on a red hat.
I guess it’s our job to hit away at these vacuous and myopic officials until they choose a new hat.