Dear friends

  • Conference participants Michelle Sullivan, Alvin Josephy, Teresa Jordon

    David Swift

Good news, bad news

This column is usually free of the "issues" that permeate the rest of the paper. The "Dear friends" column is HCN's version of a small-town cafe's liars' table. It is here that we gossip, remark on who got married or had a child, and welcome visitors. But this fortnight's mix of good news and bad news - the election on the one hand, and the sparing of Washington's Methow Valley and Idaho's Owyhee Canyon on the other - is so striking that staff needs to publish a disclaimer.

We didn't deliberately set out to create a mix of environmentally positive and negative news. These stories just happened to appear in the same issue. All we have done here, as in all regular issues, is provide a snapshot of what's happening across the West. As always, it is a fascinating juxtaposition.

Celebrate the West

A few dozen people from across the nation came together in early November in Jackson, Wyoming's, new National Wildlife Art Museum to talk about "The Next Hundred Years in the American West" and to honor their friend, historian-journalist Alvin Josephy.

Gary Snyder read poetry, George Horse Capture described the National Museum of the American Indian, and Bill Kittredge and Terry Tempest Williams, among others, read from their works. The audience was treated to a two-hour preview of a CBS documentary by Jack Leustig on American Indians titled 500 Nations. Alvin Josephy has written a book of the same name to accompany the documentary.

Historian David McCullough's keynote address was described by one person as akin to watching a bravura opera performance. McCullough, speaking without notes, gave a textured talk that ranged from suggestions on how to think about the conquistadors to a description of the fight against Disney's attempt to patent American history.

Fittingly, the most interesting presentation was by the 79-year-old guest of honor, who divides his time between Greenwich, Conn., and the Wallowa Valley in eastern Oregon. Alvin Josephy spent his early career working for the nation's most prestigious magazine - Time. His job, which he did enthusiastically and skillfully, was to celebrate and propel along the industrializing and suburbanizing of the United States.

If there were a road to be built through a wilderness, or a valley to be drowned by a reservoir, or a power plant to provide light and heat to a city, Josephy and Time were there to promote the project. In retrospect, Josephy told his audience, he was suffering from "General Motors Futurama Syndrome." He had caught it in 1939 by attending the GM exhibit at New York City World's Fair.

It was easy to catch the syndrome - nature as an enemy to be conquered was in the air. Once caught, Josephy helped spread the infection through the pages of Time:

"Flushed with the notion that the Futurama Syndrome was on target, I wrote a large "think" piece, exulting in the forthright, pontifical and somewhat arrogant style of the Time magazine of Henry Luce that in a hundred years the Western half of the United States would be just as fully populated and developed as the Eastern half. We were still really only half a nation, I announced. We would not be a fully completed nation until the West was seamlessly like the East ..."

Josephy was cured bit by bit. The destruction of Indian communities by reservoirs and other pieces of industrialization was most obvious. But he also came to see that non-Indians in the West were being uprooted from their developing links to the ground:

"There were many ... moments of sudden revelation, when I witnessed the raw brutality of powerful groups and forces disrupting and ending the spiritual bonds that were beginning to be formed between non-Indian Westerners and what was becoming their native place ..."

The uprooting of Indians across the nation and non-Indians in the West led Josephy to turn against those he had formerly worked with - the Army Corps of Engineers, the Bureau of Reclamation, the Bonneville Power Administration and large corporations. By the time he was fully cured, Josephy was no longer at Time. He had become a full-time historian, writing mostly about American Indians.

His talk showed one of the reasons environmentalism and regionalism continue to grow - the present system cannot keep the loyalty of the best members of its establishment.

Alvin Josephy was honored at the Fourth Annual Nature, Culture and Human Values symposium, put on by the Snake River Institute in Jackson. In addition to invited guests and an audience made up mainly of Jackson Hole residents, the Institute brought in high school students from across Wyoming to participate in the three-day event. The Snake River Institute can be reached at 307/733-2214, or at P.O. Box 128, Wilson, WY 83014.

* Ed Marston, for the staff

High Country News Classifieds