happier and wealthier than it is.”nIf you have recently left the eastern United States and arentraveling west, or were reared in the East where water andnroads shift and turn as they come up against hills andnmountains, it is disorienting to go about the West, where sonmany of the roads are straight lines that seem to disappearnforever in the four directions. Mostly the roads cross at ansharp 90 degrees, and from the air, it looks like Descartesnhad his way. The grid of sections (640 acres) and quarternsections (160 acres) was an abstraction imposed by governmentnoffices in the East. If a quarter section was’ goodnenough for Iowa or Illinois, it must be good enough fornanyplace else.nIt is this kind of detached planning (from the easternngovernment offices) that Powell was trying to warn against.nHe had been out West. He had walked over part of the Westnand gone down the Colorado River. His idea of the Westnwas grounded in the real thing. He explained that homesteadingnby a family on 160 acres was doomed; such a parcelncould not sustain them. A quarter section couldn’t grownenough stock, and irrigation was impossible for most of thensettlers. The sad proof of his rightness lives in the fact thatnour national grasslands are made up largely of lands boughtnback from failed homesteaders in an effort to give them anstart somewhere else.nMy own focus regarding the Arkansas River and its greatnbasin reflected similarities and differences in the naturalncommunities (which are great: alpine in the Rockies, prairienin eastern Colorado and western Kansas, and hardwoodnforests and bottoms in Oklahoma and Arkansas). I was alsoninterested in how man had related to these communities andnto the river, how he had changed these worlds after enteringnthem. A student of the river is confronted with the metalnmine pollution very near the Arkansas’ source in Leadville,nColorado; uranium ore contamination of the groundwaternin Canon City, Colorado; and the depletion of the groundwaternthroughout the prairie portion in Colorado andnKansas. For a start. As each part of the Arkansas River’s storynunfolded, it resembled other stories throughout the AmericannWest, the Western world, and, increasingly, the world.nThe more you read about and study such matters, the morenyou encounter the problem of limits. We are told repeatedlynthat the earth is a finite system, with finite resources, but wenare reminded by bumper stickers on the backs of Winnebagosnand Airstreams, “We’re spending our children’s inheritance.”nSomehow we have lost the idea of limits.nThe buffalo has become a symbol for this recognition ofna modern devastation. We are told by Peter Matthiessennthat there were an estimated 60 million buffalo onnthe Great Plains well into the 19th century, “probably thengreatest animal congregations that ever existed on earth.”nThe animal is extinct in the wilds now. That is a fairlynimpressive record no matter how you look at it: destroyingnthe greatest animal congregation that ever existed on earth.nThis we managed, we must remind ourselves, with merelynhorses and rifles. Now we have . . . well, probably no neednto go into all that.nA large number of people lately feel that the genie has gotnout of the bottle and he is us. It’s as if you have the buffalonbull by the tail and as he races across the prairie, someone isnyelling, “Turn him, turn him.” Such a sense of helplessnessnhas generated an urgency on the part of many for a mythnthat can engender responsibility for the present and thenfuture. Several essays in a recent issue of this magazinen(February 1988) engaged this large question as it pertains tonthe environment. It is clear that thoughtless narcissismn(protecting animals that look more like us), or a detachednurban puritanism (one lady was mad about a pollutednswamp out our way, and the “pollution” turned out to benduckweed), is not going to serve. Our great grasslands, likenour swamps and arctic “wastes,” had until recently beennignored while we went about paving the rest of the country.nThey were thought to be forbidding, not in the top tennplaces to go; but now that is changing.nThe Arkansas River begins in the snow on Mt. Arkansasnat 13,795 feet. If you have trekked from below, you havenpassed treeline and entered a great mountain hall of thenMosquito Range in the Colorado Rockies. In the high, thinnair, with your back to the peak, looking down the amphitheaterncreated by surrounding mountains, it is easy to feel thenpresencing of the world. If a people were to live here for anlong time, perhaps the mountain would take on a divinenpresence itself and, given enough time, would become angod, like Mt. Fujiyama in Japan, like some in Nepal. It isnpossible that it was for some American Indians, though thisnpart of the valley is not rich in Indian artifacts. The peoplenwho came up the valley in the 19th century were of andifferent sort. Down river a little was the famous Cripple ,nCreek gold strike. Just over Mt. Arkansas is Leadville,nfamous for its 1880 gold strike in California Gulch and itsnlater silver strike.nNestled between the Sawatch range and the Mosquito,nLeadville, Colorado, is currently the site of a Superfundncleanup. California Gulch is still in the news. After the firstnstrike the gold miners left ten miles of gravel heaps andncutover land that in turn led to a steady source of mudnentering the Arkansas. Then the silver miners left miles ofntunnels. In order to solve the underground water problem,nthe Yak Tunnel was finished around 1906; miles of minenwater started draining into California Gulch and then intonthe Arkansas. In 1953 the federal government constructednthe Leadville Drainage Tunnel and it, too, drained into thenriver.nMost heavy metal contamination of the river was notnobvious. But one February day in 1983, a wooden retainingnwall collapsed in Yak Tunnel, pouring disastrous quantitiesnof contaminates into the river. One of them, pyrite,nsometimes called “yellow boy,” is visible. A pumping stationn40 miles downstream that diverts drinking water to ColoradonSprings had to be shut down. That brought on a great outcrynand a visit from Colorado Republican Congressman KennKramer to the EPA in Denver. A study has been made now,nand the first part of the cleanup is underway. StephennVoynick, who has written about hard-rock mining, andnspecifically about mine metal contamination, has remarkednthat “metal mine drainage pollution is a national heritage,nsort of a deferred payment for the reckless glories of frontiernmining.”nMany people are under the impression that once Superfundnmoney is spent on a cleanup, that’s the end of it.nWrong. The US government turns around and sues all ofnnnFEBRUARY 1989/13n