Fontenelle Creek ran fast and brown at the crossing, the waves flashing backward, flooding islands of willow that bent before the strength of the water to show the gray undersides of the slender leaves. I left the jeep at the trailhead on the near side of the ford and commenced walking, taking along only binoculars and a new pair of yellow elkhide gloves.

I walked very quickly up the trail through the dark cold woods and across the two shaded openings in the trees to Bear Trap Creek. The creek was high with the late spring runoff, all the stepping-stones covered by domes of clear foaming water. I walked straight through it, feeling the snowmelt soak in around my feet, and up the opposite bank in squelching boots. On the grassy rise beyond, a snag lay across the base camp where Kovaches used to put a hunting trailer before the Forest Service closed the road, overlooking the creek where it descends the steep-sided canyon. Beneath the flooding, the changed meanders cut since fall by the runoff showed plainly. It was hot in the open bottom, going between the willows growing over the trail on the creek side and the wildflowers and sagebrush rising steeply with the terrain on the other, and before I had walked half a mile the boots were dry and the socks inside them only damp. Baked by the sudden heat, the red clay trail fixing the tracks of deer and elk was rigid underfoot. I pushed hard in spite of a bunged knee, drawing down air to the bottom of my lungs and setting each foot well ahead of the other as I breasted the slope: climbing back from the pale watery green of northern Michigan where things had not gone so well last weekend, especially for the knee.

Here in the canyon there was no breeze but the smell of the June sun on the red clay and the black pine boughs. Arrowleaf balsam bloomed yellow below the edge of purple cliff, and small butterflies fluttered ahead as I walked in the trail. I halted behind a flight of them and bent above the butterflies as they fanned their wings, which were silver with circumscribed spots on the undersides and tender blue above. At a bend in the trail I started a young bull moose, his paddles still in velvet and his spring coat patchy with clumps of the dead winter hair, from the creek where he had been taking a midafternoon drink. Climbing hard and watching, I had no need of thinking, and no desire to do it. The restorative powers of nature: we really do need an environmentalist movement. But not this one.

As the snow melted out of the mountains and the back country opened up, fox-faced urbanites were venturing out of Salt Lake City, Denver, Boise, and Phoenix, into the Wyoming wilds. I met one this afternoon, driving his Land Rover with a canoe strapped to the roof, on the road from Kemmerer, and deliberately gave him false directions. He’s probably trapped in mud up a game trail right now, 100 miles from nowhere. Of course he was an environmentalist of some sort, gasoline-powered and without a backpack and pitons. Alston Chase merely confirms what I have always suspected: the environmentalist movement is essentially fraudulent, hypocritical, dishonest—based on “science” it knows to be false and pursuing agenda that extend far beyond environmental preservation. I keep pretty well abreast of environmentalist literature, and environment-related stories in the press. Yet it was news to me that, as Chase relates in his new book, the spotted owl is not endangered, and that the federal government’s decision virtually to shut down the logging industry in the Pacific Northwest was made in full knowledge of the fact. It also was news that old-growth forests in the region are, historically speaking, a recent development, and that the Northwest, at the time of Columbus’s landfall on Hispaniola, had substantially less forest cover than it does today. (The same is true of the rest of the North American continent.) Environmentalists know this, and so do the federal agencies that support the policies environmentalists demand. They never talk about it, however, and neither do the media and other representatives of the cultural, political, and financial establishment that has made “ecosystem stabilization” and “preservation of species” principal mantras of a popular religion more respectable than Christianity and as superstitious as Hinduism. The National Environmental Policy Act in 1969, and the Endangered Species Act in 1973, were passed by Congresses eager to demonstrate the fundamental benevolence of a government fighting a bloody and unpopular war, but without imagination to foresee the disruptive potential of legislation that to them—and everyone else, including American industry—seemed almost entirely symbolic, and completely unobjectionable. It took about a decade for the import of NEPA and ESA to sink in, and even then not everybody saw the light. Bill Clinton, for instance, became President on a promise to find legislative solutions to the impasse between environmentally minded federal bureaucrats and the Wise Use rebels. Shortly after his taking office, however, the green lobby seems to have buttonholed him to explain the infinite value of environmentalism to a national government dedicated to extending its control, largely by stealth, over everything that walks, creeps, or has its being in the United States of America—and beyond it. The President, we all know, is not a man who easily withstands temptation.

Indian Ridge appeared around a bend in the canyon, a steep backwall still covered in snow and crested by snow cornices. Clouds moved out from behind the ridge, silver and white, piling high into the deep sky, imminent in their purity and detail through the vaporless atmosphere. I paused in the hollow where Bear Trap diverges from its tributary and the pitch of the trail increases, looking up through aspen stands toward elk camp, still a couple of miles farther on. I felt my leg. The muscles were unstiffened and the knee secured all right so far, but I was expecting it to give trouble in the descent. I sat on the grass to watch a redtailed hawk pivot slowly on one wingtip before catching a thermal and soaring until, from a great height, he plunged toward the mountain slope, pulled out of his dive, and slid sideways on a lateral current, aided by slow occasional beats of his curved wings. Behind him, the sun came through the long primary and the secondary feathers, outlining the dark head and body in fire before he disappeared suddenly behind a wall of the dark pine trees.

I rose from the grass and started downhill, pulling back on the hurt leg before setting my foot to reduce the shock and cushion the swollen knee. The shadows grew toward four o’clock and the down-canyon wind had begun, tossing the willows and raising a low roar in the pine woods that merged with the rush of the creek. Unarmed, my progress covered by the flow of w ind and water, I looked far out and around as I went, to avoid getting up on a bear and having to climb a tree. Years ago, when an elk tag was also a license to take a black bear, I was hunting bulls early one October day with John Kovach along the top of the ridge that forms the northwest wall of Bear Trap canyon when John asked, “If you were to see a bear, would you shoot it?” “Of course.” “Well, I know where a big sow lives. Come on, and I’ll let you have the first shot.” He led through a stand of black timber to the den where we stood with our guns at ready, but no bear came out. Long scratch marks scarred the bark of some of the trees eight feet and more above the duff and fallen pine needles, which smelled of bear. Today bear hunting is being challenged by animal rights activists in the East who have sued the Forest Service to halt bear-baiting until the agency has made an environmental assessment and adopted a set of formalized rules governing the taking of bear (which the state game commissions have already done). “What good are grizzlies?” Clyde Clark asked last fall while going around my horses between swing shifts at the coal mine. What good are Wayne Pacelle and Ingrid Newkirk? The urbanization of the West and the triumph of urban values over rural ones are now accepted “facts” out here, including by environmentalists, some of whom seem to welcome the situation. But Marc Reisner, the water historian, points out that the urban West is an irrigation civilization, and every irrigation civilization in human history has failed, sooner or later. Of course the rural West is also dependent on irrigation, but on a far lesser scale. If the deepening water crisis were to end, say 100 years from now, in the collapse of the Western megalopolises, then the destiny of the West would once again be predominantly rural. Should Westerners be planning for a rural economy and a rural culture a century from now? Ed Abbey, for one, might have said yes. He explained why in Good News, the worst novel he ever wrote. Seven years after his death I continue to miss Ed, but I am also mad at him. What kind of friend leaves his friends with nothing new that’s good to read? Thank God this knee didn’t have to carry mc all the wav down from elk camp.

From a small park on the far side of the creek a pair of coyotes stared at me across an early supper before bolting toward the timber. I waded the creek and went over to have a look at the remains of their meal. It was a cow elk, dead probably since early spring. When Bill Wilson, the yet, opened the stomach of a coyote he’d shot, he found it full of maggots. The teeth remained intact in the jawbone, but I had neglected to carry a knife as well as a revolver and lacked a means of cutting the ivories away. Rising from my throbbing knee, I crossed back over the creek and got on the trail again.

Western culture is finally a type of frontier culture, and the preservation of frontier culture means leaving things deliberately unfinished and underdeveloped. Are the Wise Use people really capable of finding satisfaction and fulfillment in underdevelopment? Have they the wisdom to appreciate the good life while it is theirs, and not try to push it to its “logical” conclusion’ If so, they are nearly unique in human history—the wisest men since the Wise Men traveling home by night to Mesopotamia. Here is the challenge for Western patriots. Westerners ought not to allow Washington to crucify them on a barbwire fence post. Nor should they crucify themselves on a cross of gold of their own devising. If the aim of the Wise Use movement is to reject Big Money together with Big Government; if it is to promote animal husbandry, silviculture, and extractive industry in ecologically and socially responsible ways; if it is to moderate respect for abstract wealth, power, and tire other fetishes of empire, and to smash the idolatry of Growth worship, then I am for the Wise Use program. If, on the other hand, the movement’s secret goal is simply to employ the power of the Western myth to transform Western civilization into a facsimile of the rest of the nation, I am against it, and wish all Wise Users in Hell.

Occluded by rising thunderheads in the west, the sun came and went on my back as I approached the mouth of Bear Trap canyon. Crossing the ford I paused in midstream to bathe my knee in the cold lashing water before wading onto the bank, where I removed the boots and wrung out my socks. The inside of the knee was marbled in purple, yellow, and green, but the swelling had subsided and much of the stiffness had worked out of it. I drew on the clinging socks with difficulty, relaced the boots, and walked the last quarter-mile to the jeep.

The world looked better somehow than it had when I left it on mv way into the mountains. My world, not the contemporary one-size-fits-all world: ProleAmerica, with its profound ignorance and ugliness, its piggish culture, aimless men, and faithless women. There is a loss that comes from living substantially apart from men—and women—but in certain times and situations it is the only way. I got up in the jeep and put the key into the ignition. The engine turned over, cranked, and kept cranking, not catching. The 1970 Toyota motor—the straight-six Chew engine of the 1950’s—does not seem to care for the unleaded gasoline I have been feeding it lately. I rested the battery before trying again. It is 49 miles back to civilization, dirt road all the wav except for the last six or seven, and the knee is not responding well to the clutch pedal. I let the carburetor drain, and tried once more. The engine shook itself hard all over like a wet dog, and fired, sending out blue smoke through the broken tailpipe. That gave me a good feeling. I could have walked, of course, but 49 miles is a long wav on a bum leg, and the waitresses at the Frontier Saloon have the prettiest smiles as they make their way through the barroom twilight, carrying a T-bone steak and a double gin martini on a tray.


[In A Dark Wood: The Fight Over Forests and the Rising Tyranny of Ecology, Alston Chase (New York: Houghton Mifflin) 535 pp., $36.95]