The stock market is over 10,000, Michael Kinsley exhorted Pat Buchanan recently, and so America can do as it likes internationally in the exercise of the U.S. mega-military machine that Madeleine Albright has been slavering, throughout her Foggy Bottom years, to activate. America, according to journalistic convention, is fat, happy, and content, having arrived finally after half a millennium at El Dorado, the Seven Cities of Cibola, and the Fountain of Youth, gathered together in one immense, Disneyesque theme park. That leaves me and a few forlorn friends—so it seems, anyway—hunkered down away from the crowd, kicking against the pricks. Either they’re crazy, or we are. From our point of view, the stream of bad news is unrelenting, from Koppel to Kosovo; but, as the works of Gibbon, Robert Conquest, and a few others suggest, times have been bad before. American exceptionalism, though, does seem to be shot: growing tyranny, European-style, at home masked by appeals to accustomed tyranny of the bureaucratic variety in the European countries, not to mention elsewhere. (We used to think of Europe as the Bad Old World, the American nemesis: Today our New World politicians prod us along the trail of a smothering progressivism blazed by European predecessors.)

With these and other melancholy thoughts in mind, I commenced my annual spring ramble across the American West, driving north from Las Cruces, New Mexico, toward a rendezvous with Dick McIlhenny and Bill James in Antonito, Colorado, 394 miles north. Before I reached Soccoro, New Mexico, only 130 miles upriver on the Rio Grande, National Parrot Radio was announcing new bombing raids against Yugoslavia, and the exodus of another 100,000 or so refugees from Kosovo province. We are in fact the World’s Cop now —and a bought one into the bargain. Talk about destroying the village in order to save it. No one expects Bill Clinton to have a cultural memory, but what about a personal one? Is this Alzheimer’s or hypocrisy? Maybe just syphilitic dementia. Seventy-three percent of the American public approves of the Yugoslav war, according to the polls: interestingly, the same number pollsters said supported Clinton in his battle against the 13 House managers. What do these figures mean? I personally don’t know anyone who believes the President ought to have been acquitted by the Senate, or supports aggression against the Yugoslavs, though I did read recently about a newspaper columnist and clitorista who swore she’d be happy to get down on her knees and service Bill Clinton herself in gratitude for his determination to keep abortion legal—rather an extreme gesture, it seemed to me, for even a Friend of Bill to make. But feminism, like the law, is “a ass,” though not necessarily the kind Dickens had in mind.

The snow was gone from the uplands of northern New Mexico and San Antonio Mountain, and the thermometer registered in the 70’s as I drove into Antonito at the southern end of the San Luis Valley in southwestern Colorado, where Dick and Bill had arrived a couple of hours before from Denver. We had a beer and drove to the Conejos County sheriffs office looking for Joe Taylor, a semi- retired deputy who has witnessed numerous phenomena in the line of duty, including what he believes to be the tracks of a Bigfoot on the bluff above the Conejos River. Mr. Taylor was off duty that evening, but he instructed the dispatcher to direct us to his home on a dusty side street not far from the old Catholic church in Antonito. His son, Joe Jr., a full-time deputy, had the video of the tracks, so his father described for us the bizarre lights in the sky over the San Luis Valley—meeting searchlights that seemed to open a window in the sky at night and glowing spherical objects the size of a Softball that skim several feet above the surface of the ground—while we waited for the younger man to show up. (The year before. Bill James had heard similar stories from the tow man who rescued his motorcycle from a back road in the mountains above the Alamosa River.) When Joe Jr. arrived he mentioned, good-naturedly, the ribbing he received from some several of his colleagues, then rolled the tape, which the Taylors believe show the tracks of an immature Bigfoot beside those of an adult one in the snow. While Dick, Bill, and I were not entirely persuaded of the presence of two creatures, the prints themselves looked entirely natural and convincing. Joe Sr.’s ladyfriend put in that, about the time the tracks were discovered, the neighborhood dogs were strangely aroused and one was found crushed to death, its throat punctured by fangmarks. Noting that alleged Bigfoot sightings often coincide with appearances of the unexplained lights, she suggested the two are related in some way and that both are of extraterrestrial origin. Other residents of the so-called Mysterious Valley believe the lights, anyway, have a more proximate explanation. Nobody, in any case, trusts the federal government, its explanations or its silences. Whether Bigfoot is a reality or not. Bighand and Longarm are felt, demonstrable entities.

We spent three days camped with the recording equipment along the Conejos at 9,600 feet of elevation in the San Juan Mountains, the steep valleys funneling the winds at 60 and 65 miles an hour while we tramped uphill along the Lake Fork trail—past the beaver pond below the slide where Keith Hawkins and his boys had been fishing when they heard the threatening roars five summers ago to Big Lake, only a mile and a half or two miles below our campsite the previous year—until the cloud ceiling lowered onto the dark, silent ridges and we turned back at last through flights of shrikes, bluebirds, robins, and jays jinking above the brittlebrush to establish their territories, unconcerned by the approaching spring storm. About three the next morning, the raging wind dropped suspiciously, and at first light six inches of snow had fallen in camp; by the time we pulled out a couple of hours later, the fall had deepened to eight. We broke trail for 20 miles in four-wheel-drive, past groves of aspen whitened by the flying snow and standing pale against the black timber, the willows already turned spring orange in the floodplain, and arrived after an hour or so at civilization, where the storm was expected to make a four-day blow and drop two to three feet of snow in the mountains. After two winters of southern New Mexico’s drought and duststorms, I felt like a man on all fours discovering a lake of chilled dry martinis in the Sonoran Desert.

A couple of weeks later, still in search of cold weather and even, possibly, more snow, I left Las Cruces bound for a rendezvous in Reserve, New Mexico, with Tom Sheeley on his way east from Flagstaff. One radio station after the other faded away and died from Las Cruces to Deming, Deming to Hurley, Hurley to Bayard, Bayard to Silver City, while the powerful voice of Government pursued relentlessly, undimmed by distance and topography: National Parrot Radio, useful for entertaining the residents of my domestic bird sanctuary while I work all day behind closed doors, and for monitoring the federal psyche, its peculiar obsessions and neuroses. Today my diagnosis is as usual: blacks on the brain, women up the wazoo, combined with a hypocritical concern for the Kosovar refugees. As usual, the announcers offend: those effete, affected, epicene voices from nowhere, every trace of regional or social identity removed by a process of sterilizing Posturalization, the tonal equivalent of the genetic blending that gave us Tiger Woods. The trouble with the modern world is it does not offer, let alone depend on, the kind of work that produces real men, genuine, honest-to-God women.

At Bill’s Bar in Reserve (county seat of rambunctious, rebellious Catron County, New Mexico), patrons watched the evening news broadcast from Denver, featuring the progress of the Yugoslav war: “None of our business.” “About time we learned to let people manage their own affairs without any so-called help from us.” A tall man in a black Stetson hat and purple shirt, carrying a knife on his belt, came through the door and sauntered up to the bar. “Hello, Mr. Forest Service Man,” the barmaid greeted him. “How nice of you to pay us a visit this afternoon.” Only several years ago, the NFS was warning its people against driving the distinctive green agency trucks in Catron County—and other Western rural communities.

When Tom arrived we drank a couple of beers and headed north into the Gallo Mountains. Hurrying to make camp before sundown, we followed the dirt road only a few miles before stopping beneath tall ponderosas overlooking a meadow of buff-colored winter grass broken with bars and reefs of gray sagebrush, overlooked by dark, pine-forested mountains beyond. While I built a fire, Tom prepared the meal of spicy fresh chorizo from his Flagstaff butcher, mixed with beans and chopped onions and rolled in flour tortillas browned in the dutch oven lid, and we made an early supper of burritos, not forgetting plenty of red wine and part of a fifth of Jim Beam, afterward around the campfire while a cold wind arose and the temperature fell like an ice meteor. We turned in when the first big log burned through and slept until after dawn to find the water in the canteens and plastic bladders frozen solid.

For breakfast there were cheese omelets with chili con carne and espresso; afterward we brought out folding stools and the guitar and sat facing into the April sim toward the mountains while Tom played Segovia, Ponce, and Moreno-Torroba: three Spanish composers, he reminded me, who lived to be nearly a hundred on wine, good food, books, music, adventure, love, and good humor.

“Unlike the progressive political types with no sense of humor, no enjoyment of life, sour—hate everything while taking themselves so damn seriously.”

“And ‘conservatives’—they don’t care enough about art, take it seriously enough, to bother even politicizing it. Mostly because it isn’t the way to glory and POWER, the aphrodisiac of the intellectuals.”

“Anyway, what’s important is to know what’s good in life and follow it: books, music, wine, wilderness, the love of a good woman, food. And let the world take care of itself”

“Which isn’t the same thing as quiescence, or what the left calls ‘apathy’ —just the recognition that every man’s job isn’t to change the world, just brighten his corner of it, as they say. ‘Love your neighbor.’ While remembering that in another sense you can’t ‘love’ people and places you don’t know, beginning with that luscious stranger in hiking shorts shouldering her pack at the trailhead.”


“Nowhere,” I said. “She’s hypothetical.”

We struck camp after noon and moved it to the highlands between Agua Fria and Largo Creeks: brushy mountains full of alligator juniper and several species of pine tree. Here we built a raging fire against the cold and the dying of the light, etc., while playing rude songs by Frank Zappa on the truck sound system.

“What’s the most non-native species you can think of?” I asked him.

“I don’t know. The National Park pigs?”

“I was thinking maybe Republicans.”

We devoured a couple of 14-ounce New York steaks with bearnaise sauce, baked potatoes, and a salad, and I brought out the second magnum of red wine. Evening birdsong faded into the coming night; the wind died; the fire roared; the wine flowed.

“This is pretty nice,” I said.

“There’s really nothing more to life, is there? Anyway, there doesn’t have to be.”

The night warmed around three o’clock, and by morning, with birdsong sounding again from the fading darkness and the ravens flapping overhead on their greasy black wings, mare’s tails had appeared in the sky with a change of weather coming. We packed the camp in while the ravens wheeled in lowering circles above, their bright eyes fixed on the moveable — already moving—feast below. Tom brought the camp garbage bag and shook the gristly remains of the steaks onto a flat rock.

“Leave something for Raoul always,” he explained.

For the 250 miles back to Las Cruces, the news was all about bombing, refugees, the Allies’ terms, civilian casualties, 300 new planes, Apache helicopters, 30,000 reservists. . . . “Only Anglo-Saxons can govern themselves,” William Allen White wrote. And now, not even we—too multiculturalized, perhaps. What is there to be said for a political system where the leading candidates for the next national election are the spouses and siblings of the most failed and incompetent national politicians? As if, in Mencken’s words, a starving man set before a lavish banquet should satisfy his hunger by catching and eating flies. A mass-produced and self-stupefied people, we Americans. Fortunately, there is still something remaining of non-human America to enjoy.