High Country News, the environmentalist newspaper founded by Tom Bell, a former rancher, in Lander, Wyoming, in 1970 turned 25 this year, and since the weekend of September 8 was forecast to be a fine one I decided to attend the anniversary celebration. HCN has been based for about a decade or so in Paonia, Colorado, but the meeting was scheduled in Lander to honor the paper’s birthplace. It is 150 miles from Kemmerer to Lander, with a single town—Farson, population 250 or so— between them at the midway point. East of Farson the tawny plain swept upward to the foothills of the Wind River Range, its peaks shadowed by thunderclouds and streaked by last year’s snows. On the South Pass the wind as usual was strong enough to topple Hannibal’s elephants, and it was still blowing strong out of the mountains as I approached Lander and put up at the Pronghorn Lodge, where the friends of High Country News had begun to gather and spill into the Lander Bar across the bridge on the other side of the Popo Agie River.

Ordinarily, 150 miles is an insufficient distance between me and 100 or more mostly urban environmentalists gathered for an orgy of self-congratulation. But High Country News is different. It is an excellent publication, usually well-written and always informative: the intermountain West’s only regional newspaper, full of information regarding the social, political, economic, and demographic calamities—as well as the environmental ones—taking place throughout the West. Again and again while traveling, poking around in the back of beyond, I have stumbled upon some remote town, bit of wilderness, or event that I recognized from something I had read several months before in HCN. Of course, its point of view is biased, but so is mine. Before the morning session I was introduced to Betsy Marston, the paper’s editor, and shook hands with the publisher, Ed Marston, whom I had never met though we have corresponded for ten years. “I just wrote you a nasty letter,” he said (see page four). Ed, a former college professor from New York City, arrived in the West in the late 70’s, around the same time I did. The morning was devoted to conversation among the members of a selected panel of speakers, who during the afternoon session took questions from the audience. The panel included a retired veterinarian turned rancher from Oregon, a woman cattle rancher from western South Dakota, Ed Quillen (a columnist for the Denver Post who lives in Salida, Colorado), Tom Bell, and a former female Olympic champion who is now an environmental activist in eastern California. The discussions were sensible and interesting until after lunch, when the readership began to be heard from: as with many publications or journals of opinion, the fanatics are found among the subscribers, not on the editorial board. I bailed out after a while and repaired to the Lander Bar for a few beers with a jack Mormon couple from Salt Lake City. After dinner Patricia Limerick, the revisionist professor of Western literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder, did a standup impersonation of a revisionist professor of Western literature from the University of Colorado at Boulder, while I sat on my hands. Ed Marston has promised to give up his myth of the West if I will give up mine. But myths are not the opposite of reality, they are the heart of it. They are also a writer’s stock in trade, and the stuff of literature—as Professor Limerick, to her credit, knows.

I skipped the dance that followed, attended Mass at Our Lady of the Rosary next morning, and was on the road by ten around the southern end of the Wind Rivers where snow fell above 8,000 feet. Far out on the desert a few riders were pushing sheep beneath black clouds and forks of occasional lightning. If it is true, as environmentalists implicitly claim, that pastoralism is no longer an environmentally supportable way of life, then it seems to me the human race might as well cry uncle. Or maybe it is just the environmentalists who should.