THE WILD WEST ETHIC AND THE CRUCIBLE OF PARANOIA  Hunter Gray [Hunter Bear]  January 2, 2003

 

[For a pleasant sequel to at least part of this -- the Bureau of Land Management and the  U.S. Forest Service -- see  http://hunterbear.org/LUPUS%20PREDATOR.htm ]

 

Sure.

I'm a radical.  Been one most of my life.  Socialist democracy is just fine
with me.  But my view of that Beulah Land is that it had better provide a
full measure of bread-and-butter -- and a full measure of liberty.  I like
the idea of a maximum number of reasonable choices -- and I don't
cotton to the idea of living in a rabbit hutch.  Or even a corral.

And also, as someone who grew up in rural Northern Arizona -- with a
full-blooded Native father and a mother from an old Western "frontier"
family -- I also hold to an Ethic coming jointly from each of those
not-always-congenially-together perspectives: don't ask personal questions
outside your circle of family and friends -- and, unless it's a distress
situation, mind your own damn business.

Here's a recent and relevant tale for you all:

Coming back about high noon from my several daily hours in the far-up rugged
and high country, early November-cool and with our Shelty named Hunter on
leash, I had just topped out on the final ridge before starting down the
very long
and steep sage-brush and juniper covered slope. As the land below me plunged
sharply down, for me at least a ten minute final junket from where I stood,
it was slowly narrowed by two boundary canyons -- right into the scattered
residential area, bordering the wild country, where our family has our
home.

At that point, there is a fence with an open gate which separates the
official 'way-up western city limits of Pocatello, Idaho from the public
land areas -- Bureau of Land Management [BLM] -- on which I was now
traveling, and also some adjoining stretches of the
Caribou National Forest.  From the gate onward for a ways into the high
country, there is a thin and rough trace of an "off-road" road -- and BLM
formally closes that to any vehicles of any kind for six months starting on
November 15.  But that date was some several days away.

As I now began to go carefully down the steep slope, I saw, far below, the
tiny figure of a man slowly come up past some houses and, going through the
gate, walk just up a bit of the rapidly steepening slope. An occasional
walker on the edges was not unusual.

But then!

Up the road toward the gate came two new pickups I'd never seen before. And
they were close-followed by the vehicle of a neighbor who lives not too far
from
the Pocatello side of the fence. He went quickly into his garage and out of
sight.

But the two pickups stopped at the gate. Two men got out of each. Going to
the fence, they then stood as a lined-up foursome -- facing up. Like they
were waiting.

Maybe waiting for me -- who was slowly and carefully and steadily walking
down toward them. The lone walker joined the group, obviously visiting.

I couldn't help but wonder at this strange sight. And it had already been --
to couch it as understatement -- a not-so-good day.  Not at all.

Much earlier in the morning, going down a very steep and narrow stretch --
partially icy-muddy -- I had suddenly flash-slipped and, half-spinning
downward, struck hard ground face-on with a super jarring and jolting blow.
The brim of my wide Australian Akubra hat - stiff - was bent sharply
up.  I lay there for a long moment hearing Hunter whining anxiously.  Then I
arose. My face was cut and scraped in a number of places. Several large dark
drops
of blood came down my cheek and onto my leather jacket from a deep cut in my
left eyebrow -- a gash  which had missed by only a hair or so the eye
itself.

But my blood always clots with extraordinary speed and, even as I took quick
stock of myself, the bleeding stopped.  My inventory indicated to me that
there were no reasons at all why Hunter and I should not continue with the
four miles or so remaining on our projected journey.

And so we did just that. Keep fighting.  Keep going.

And then, just as we were preparing to descend for our final home stretch, I
saw Them.  And now, as we moved slowly downward, they and the little
scenario -- still very far below -- came into clearer perspective.

The four men did not look like city cops or sheriff's deputies or state
police. My sharp eyes spotted no uniforms.  But they were in a kind of
deliberate line which stretched from the rim of one of the boundary canyons
along the fence and gate and then along more fence to the rim of the other
canyon. It was clear that there was absolutely no way that I -- had I wished
to do so -- could veer off into either canyon without being immediately
spotted.
The walker stood with the four.  They were all facing upward and obviously
waiting for Something -- and now it certainly appeared to be me.

And, for our part, Hunter and I were bent on getting home -- quickly,
safely.  With deliberate speed, we continued our descent.

And I watched them warily.  Trouble.

Like a great many life-long radicals indeed, I'm certainly used to all
sorts of open and covert Federal and other kinds of witch-hunting and
whatever.  The FBI began targeting me when I was still in my very early
'twenties --and I've since recovered, via Freedom of Information Act/Privacy
Act, more than 3,000 pages of my FBI file[s] which cover the time period
from 1957 to 1979 and involve my being given various "high priority"
agitator rankings:  Section A of the Reserve Index/Security Index, and
Rabble Rouser Index.  In addition, there are several hundred pages which FBI
won't release to me short of a Federal court fight.

And then there are the hundreds of pages on us from the old Mississippi
State Sovereignty Commission which we recovered a few years ago -- and which
we immediately made public.

[Not bad at all, I should say, for an outstanding member of Monsignor
Albouy's Explorer Scout Troop at Flagstaff, Arizona.]

We've always assumed -- without letting any of this inhibit us in any
fashion -- that we are being targeted by various forms of official
surveillance.  Hence, we didn't, for example, find surprising the
Federal/state/local task force situation which focused on us when, in late
July 1997, we arrived back in the Mountain West at our new, 'way up home on
the far frontier of Pocatello, Idaho.  And no sooner did we arrive than it
became clear that my reputation as a "known agitator" had preceded me.

Police commenced almost immediate surveillance and official-type people
began to circulate in our immediate area. We started having weird phone
problems -- sometimes with a crudeness reminiscent of our civil rights years
in the Deep
South.  Heavy mail delays -- including innumerable stalled and sometimes
opened Priority packages -- became commonplace.  And some mail has been
deliberately water-soaked and ruined. [Three detailed complaints on my part
to regional postal inspectors at Seattle have gone unanswered,
unacknowledged.] Our garbage has been surreptitiously searched.  Now, going
on six years
after we've arrived, the situation -- sometimes overt and often covert --
continues.

But with only a few exceptions, our immediate
neighbors -- people who've gotten to know us on a personal basis -- are
friendly and fine.

But this is Idaho -- and here, as everywhere we've gone, we are much
involved in controversial social justice issues and organizing. Thus in
addition to the enemies who awaited our coming years ago and who greeted us
with multi-faceted hostility, we've now made a whole new crop as well.

And so, as we now proceeded downward, over the sage and through the
junipers -- my eyes much on the unmoving entourage which so obviously
awaited us -- I thought of all of these things.

And I thought, too, of something else -- something very weird.

At the end of this past October, Hunter I were taking our daily trek -- five
and six miles up into the very rough and rugged turf which begins almost at
our back door.  There was some fresh snow and, as always, I saw no other
persons once I got into the basic very wild country.  Early the next day, we
retraced that trip and I suddenly saw the footprints of someone else -- from
the previous day -- faithfully following mine over some considerable and
increasingly rough distance.  Then, when I entered the really challenging
steep stuff and it was clear that I was taking an obscure and extensive
game trail almost straight up and from which I could see much indeed in all
directions -- down and around on all sides and sky-wise -- the person turned
back.

We never see other people even near there.  An experienced tracker from
childhood, I had spotted no "sign" of anyone in dust or dirt and -- until
this situation -- in the snow.

And now we were much closer to the four men -- and the walker -- who waited.
From a hundred and fifty yards or so above them, they all seemed essentially
average in appearance. No uniforms, no suits -- but they weren't laborers.
And they were certainly all looking hard at me.

And then, as I looked beyond them at the neighbor's house in our strange and
scattered "frontier" residential setting  -- he who had followed them so
closely and who'd then disappeared into his garage -- I thought of
something else.

In mid-October, we had suddenly encountered him walking up on the edges of
the rough and rugged turf. We knew him to be a sometime technological
worker of some sort -- and someone who frequently worried about
strangers in the area and especially anyone going up into the high country.
I had heard from an acquaintance that this person often calls the Bureau of
Land Management to report allegedly suspicious folk and doings. He's also a
fairly conspicuous American flag man -- but of course a lot of people around
here are these days.  In any event, not exactly a friend of ours, and
visibly surprised to see us, he talked somewhat awkwardly.  And then --
then!

His eyes were suddenly fixed on the left side of my wide-brimmed hat.  And
there, as always, resides my old battered union badge -- from the now  gone
but always remembered in legendry: the always radical and thoroughly
democratic and hard-fighting Mine-Mill union.  The
badge is 1 and 3/4 inches across, white backdrop, and the word Mine is in
red with Mill in red right below it. On the upper rim in very small blue
letters left-to-right are the words, International Union Mine, Mill -- and
on the lower rim, again left-to-right, are the words, & Smelter Workers --
all of
this in interlocking conjunction with the big red Mine Mill letters.

The Mine-Mill -- the hard-rock metal miners union -- had been vigorously and
effectively active all over the Mountain West and surrounding regions for
generations.  It had been a major force in North Idaho.  But, with the
exception of one local union in eastern Ontario which declined absorption,
it had been gone from the 'States and Canada since its 1967
merger with the much, much larger United Steelworkers of America.  This man
was old enough  to know at least something of the old fighting Mine-Mill
union and the wild controversies engendered by its many venomous enemies.

He looked downright strange. Very much so.  I abruptly turned my head to
cut off his view of the badge.

And as we parted that mid-October day, he was now visibly hostile,
suspicious.

Now, as I directly approached the waiting men, I recalled that on a
number of occasions since that surrealistic meeting with this neighbor,
he -- often right around his home -- had seen me from a distance coming
down from the high country, day after day, just as I was
now doing.  And  always at around this very same time.  He didn't come over
to talk.

Then I was there -- at the gate and the group.  The walker's face looked out
at me from under a heavy cap.  As he held up his hand in greeting, I
recognized him as an elderly neighbor -- and certainly a friend -- from down
below our house.  The other four were stony-faced, expressionless. They
struck me as trained field men of some kind.  One was middle-aged, almost
non-descript. Another was in his twenties.  An older man, his face lined by
decades of hard weather, was looking at me with especial intensity.  The
fourth man who, almost imperceptibly at first edged forward, was obviously
the leader.  He was as tall as I and heavier.

I respect age.  Looking directly at the older man, I said, "Howdy, you all."

Silence.

This was weird.  My face was obviously cut up -- but that wasn't the origin
of this cold little drama.

Then the walker/neighbor grinned, "So you're the guy," he said, "that's
tearing up these hills."  He smiled broadly.

That comment struck immediate resonant relevance within me and, tucking it
for ready reference at the fore of my mind, I simultaneously said, "Hell, no
one could get back there with any vehicle now.  Way too muddy, icy."

Even as I said this, the leader came toward me and then -- then! -- to the
point immediately on my left. He stopped right there. From my eye-corner, I
could see him looking at the Mine-Mill badge. Then I saw a kind of motion
with his hand.

And then suddenly, he was walking back in front of me -- and his three
colleagues relaxed like puppets whose taut strings had been abruptly
loosened.  The older man smiled.  "I bet it's a mud bog back there," he
said.

The big man -- the leader -- added helpfully, "They say it's going to rain
again tomorrow. Maybe some snow as well."

I smiled at them.  "I may have to get me a mule," I replied.  Then I added,
"I took a bit of a spill myself earlier today."  They nodded politely.  On
that one, they didn't even imply questions. "But I always keep going," said
I.

And then I waved to them.  "Adios, I'm heading home.  Live right near here."
The big man nodded in friendly, knowing fashion. Joining me, my walker
neighbor and I headed off.  I was tempted to ask him what he meant when he
made the comment about "tearing up these hills" -- what he'd heard from the
group -- but I didn't ask the question.

However, I did comment, "Those must be BLM guys."

And he, who had of course been talking with them at some length, confirmed
they indeed were.

I heal with very great speed.  By the next day, most cuts and scrapes had
faded from my face and, a day or so later, even the gash above my eye was
all but gone.  And my hat brim, bent sharply from the hard fall, had
immediately bounced back to normal. [Aussie hats are damn resilient.]

But questions -- obvious ones -- hung in the clean air of Idaho.

One answer I was sure of:  this was the doing of the neighbor who'd been so
obviously alarmed at my Mine-Mill badge.

But had he called BLM about a radical coven I was hatching and ministering
in the mountains?  Prepping for a Red Dawn invasion over the mountains and
down into Pocatello?

Or, had he misread the badge -- and somehow assumed I was running a
surreptitious prospecting and mining operation back yonder?  Those, by the
way, are perfectly legal on most public lands -- including these.

Quien sabe?  One of those -- or maybe both.  Big Bill Haywood -- who
married Nevada Jane  here at Pocatello in 1889 and honeymooned here
as well -- was a hell-raising Red who also had cowboyed and prospected
and certainly mined all over the Intermountain region.  His original union
was the  Western Federation of Miners which eventually -- in 1916 --
rechristened  itself as the International Union of Mine, Mill  and
Smelter Workers.

All of this was, as I say, in early November.  A few days later, a BLM man
took five minutes to lock the gate to any vehicles until mid-May.  And then,
weeks later and deep into December on a snowy day, I ran into the
inter-meddling neighbor for the first face-to-face time since he'd looked at
my badge.  Although I was wearing the hat with it loyally thereon as always,
he kept his eyes averted.  His unease and embarrassment, even as I was
politely civil, were totally revealing.

And, yes, I checked his tracks.  They aren't the tracks of the man who
followed me in the snow that fall day.  That one remains a significantly
serious mystery.

Hunter and I continue to make our daily five to six mile junkets -- up into
the very steep and rugged high country that begins almost in our back yards.
But now, although we never see any human sign, we do it mostly in the very
early morning hours -- going and returning in the dark. I wear my hat with
the Mine-Mill badge and also my bear claw choker. Bears and rattlesnakes
are seasonally asleep. But we often hear mule deer and
moose.  Bobcats and lions circulate around, sometimes following us -- as
friendly coyotes do consistently each day and close-by for at least a mile.
I have excellent night vision and, in this kind of setting, we have -- like
many of the other creatures of the wild -- maximum control over our
situation.   The Sun is our Vision -- but one can say much for the  natural
darkness as well. It doesn't ask questions and it minds its own business.

If there are chains, break'em.  If a cupboard is bare, toss in loaves of
bread -- and much more. Let's build a system where those are among the many
Good Life guarantees.

But let's not pry with petty ears and eyes and questions and, sans distress,
let's not intermeddle arrogantly or even sanctimoniously into the lives of
others.

Don't fence us in.  Don't even try.


Hunter Gray  [Hunterbear]
www.hunterbear.org
Protected by Na´shdo´i´ba´i´
and Ohkwari'

In our Gray Hole, the ghosts often dance in the junipers and sage, on the
game trails, in the tributary canyons with the thick red maples, and on the
high windy ridges -- and they dance from within the very essence of our own
inner being. They do this especially when the bright night moon shines down
on the clean white snow that covers the valley and its surroundings.  Then
it is as bright as day -- but in an always soft and mysterious and
remembering way. [Hunterbear]

previous

index

continue