Sunday, May 21, 2017
Untrammeled by Man
Loved to Death
By Stephen L. Wilmeth
“We take good care of it,” had been my old friend’s comment as we climbed the stairs onto the porch. Indeed, there was no indication of leaks. The porch floor had been weather proofed and the metal roof had been replaced in recent years.
We opened the front door and walked back into time. There was no furniture except two wooden chairs in the living room and an old steel bed frame in the bedroom.
“He was shot over there against the window,” was the continuing conversation.
As we stood there, dust fairies raised by our footfall across the old wooden floor danced through the sunlight streaming through it.
“There is the bullet hole through the floor,” He pointed. “He never cheated them again in cards I’ll tell you what.”
As the hole was examined, there was visible stain on the floor.
“That is blood from where he bled out,” was the explanation.
“Really, after all this time?” was my skeptical response.
“Yep, that is blood stain.”
Two years ago we walked together through the door of the log cabin our great grandparents built shortly after they arrived in New Mexico from Texas in 1884. The experience to me was almost spiritual. I had never been in it although I had known about it all my life. As our eyes adjusted to the dim light, we looked at the immense history still protected. We touched the desk that is filled with records. We felt of the groove worn in the left arm of the chair where walnuts were cracked. What we didn’t do was open the leather chest that belonged to our grandmother.
“What is in it?” was the question.
“I don’t really know,” Terrell answered. “I have never looked.”
I wanted to see inside the frame house adjacent to the cabin. I had been told that everything in it remained the same as when it was occupied all those years ago. That wasn’t quite true because it had been the home of the current steward and family patriarch when he and his wife married (knocking on the door of 50 years ago). It was still full of the signs of ranch life, though, and there it stood where it had faced rain, snow, wind, and drought for well over 125 years.
Of course, there is more.
I was with Dusty when we stopped by the set of corrals that once served as the Flying A shipping pens. I had heard that there was a concrete footing on a chute that had a special signature. I found it and traced it with my fingers where my uncle had signed it. I called Pammy and told her about it. She knew exactly what I referenced and remembered her dad had hesitated leaving any permanent mark. We talked for an hour about things that mattered.
Not in any particular order, but there was the milk pen on down the Mangus from that set of corrals. There was a board and batten house just west of it and there was a barn and saddle house on a diagonal from both. The saddle rack had seven saddles on it arranged from most to least used. Mine was the little silver horned Seitzler that sat in the third slot. A bridle hung directly above each and there were two little Navajo blankets covering each saddle.
At Cane, there was a big cement water storage tank. We climbed up there and the water kept the walls cool to the touch. There was an old tin cup that hung from a wire that we drank from. Nobody knew how long it had been there. You could lean out and put it under the discharge of the windmill to fill it. If the wind wasn’t blowing you had to make a different decision. That always depended on how thirsty you were.
Those places were little refuges from the surrounding big country. That was where so many of our family and friends worked and made their lives. It wasn’t easy. Their effort and sheer fortitude was immense.
Change the names across our West and the same examples exist. Bobby and Pat are owners of a way station built into a cave along the Butterfield Trail where original signatures carved on the rock walls are legible and beautifully preserved. Their protective stewardship extends to surrounding mountain.
Walt and JaNeil see the same sight that Walt’s grandparents saw in 1929 when they walk out their door. In Picnic Canyon, the springs come to the surface where lion tracks were seen this very week. There are also more horse tracks within the narrow canyon than any made by mechanical wheels. At the north ranch camp, there is an orchard watered from a spring Walt’s father planted last century.
Dudley and Rose even have a saloon! Three generations are at work on the Hyatt’s. Three more are working at becoming business partners on the Allen’s.
These people care about their land. They are the caretakers, the generational stewards, and the true protectors. In fact, the visible differences in their private holdings and public counterparts are striking. If you want to witness wildlife, go to private lands. If you want to see history preserved, go to a private ranch. Interestingly, if you want to see these lands in a form nearest what was seen when they were first settled, there is a long established best place to witness it.
Yes, it is on private lands.
In juxtaposition is the plight of federal lands where nothing is ultimately protected.
Kanarra Creek in Utah is a best current example. It has become one of the newest public destinations of highest interest. As many as 40,000 newly inducted trekkies were introduced to the canyon last year. With no restrooms or prohibitions against much of anything, the canyon bottom has become a human super path. The resulting problems are multiple and not the least of which the charm and the serenity of the place is being shredded.
“It’s being loved to death,” the town manager, David Ence said. “Last year was over the top. Nobody could believe it. On Labor Day, we estimated 3,000 people. It was a parade of people!”
The little town of Kanarraville isn’t just worried about the beating the canyon is taking. They rely on drinking water piped from state trust land near the falls in the canyon where the traffic is heaviest. Their fear is that the water will be contaminated and those fears are not imagined. They are real.
The town is being told they must determine the “carrying capacity” and what the impacts are. “There is no way to know that if you don’t test the water quality,” says a climbing group director.
So, now, the little town of 350 must now defend itself from the tempest of a public assault and it is their problem to study how many “Lookee Loos” it takes before the once pristine canyon bottom is corrupted beyond recognition.
On the other hand, the BLM confesses it is a difficult discussion because they don’t control the trail head (which the town owns) or the “attraction” (which is the water source at the falls which is the state trust inholding). What they are really saying in plain English is that if they owned the town and the attraction, they would apply their management by special interest and collective, communal enjoyment. They’d collect the trash, paint the slots in the parking lot, build urinals for abrupt stops, tap the Land and Water Conservation Fund to buy the pesky inholders out and pay for the science to discern the microbe that is actually degrading the town’s water source. Until that time, their hands are tied.
Untrammeled by Man
Where my colleagues and predecessors exist history and wilderness are preserved. They are true caretakers of the land and the very things that are touted to be the rights of all. Where they don’t exist nothing remains protected or preserved. The comparison is akin to a deck of cards given away in an estate settlement. Fifty two family members each get a card. Yes, they share in the possession of an object, but what good is it?
A theorem is in order. The more wild land, wilderness, this government declares the more will be required to maintain the attempt to capture what is intended. The truth is wilderness and mobs can’t coexist. They are contradictions of the condition.
Wilderness, at least the actual proxy thereof, does exist, but its status is unacceptable to its advocates. It doesn’t meet the standard of their elite allure. It requires private property rights and we all know that is the real nemesis of the big, green machine.
Stephen L. Wilmeth is a rancher from southern New Mexico. “Until private property rights are actually promoted, all this hand wringing is simply the shuffling of deck chairs on a sinking ship.”
To learn more on how property rights and markets are good for the environment go here.