Thursday, May 8, 2008

Lake Powell is a class issue -- for that other class

The "Neanderthal Crossing" column I wrote in the latest issue of Inside Outside Southwest deals with an old issue: Lake Powell.

And old issue -- so much so it's almost trite to write about it, and cliche to complain about it. Face it, the penstocks closed on Glen Canyon Damn 45 years ago, and since then the magical, mystical, and now-mythic place called Glen has been lost to everyone but those fortunate few old enough to have experienced first-hand what the canyon was like. I, myself, was not one of those.

My argument in the column, though, is that it doesn't matter that I never got to personally see what Lake Powell flooded: I still loathe that flooding. Because I want to.

One of the points I make on my way to explaining that stance is that the primary effect of the flooding of Glen Canyon was to make what was once difficult to reach -- yet reachable by most anyone willing to do so, and for very little expense -- into something easy to get to, as long as you have the big bucks to lay out for the watercraft (and it's transportation, storage, and fuel) to get there.

And that, to me, is an issue that lies at the heart of the true cost and loss of flooding Glen Canyon: the conversion of something challenging but free (or cheap) for something easy but expensive. That, in fact, I believe, is an issue at the heart of most development issues confronting the American West: Development is a class issue.

But I don't mean "class" in the traditional dichotomized way: poor vs. rich. Herein I refer to a third class ... a middle-path class ... What I might, in my hillbilly lexicon, call the Bum class. (I'm sure there's a more tactful, tasteful term out there, but I like "bum," and sport it proudly. I've been a ski bum, traveling bum, desert bum, and river rat (a variation on the theme) -- and now I consider myself a "parenting bum.")

The Poor. The Rich. And in between that lyeth a mostly ignored true "middle" class: The Bum. Those who live cheaply by choice. Because they choose to focus on living itself rather than making a living. They choose to pursue life with style, rather than pursue a mere lifestyle.

And those people -- we those people (sound familiar?) -- need places to do that living as much as others need places to make a living.

Glen Canyon -- remote, undeveloped, hard to access, yet accessible, and wild, and challenging -- was one of places. One it's best we remember, for the lesson it teaches.

Here are some more pics from our October 2007 day on the reservoir:

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