Hope and redemption

  • Jodi Peterson

 

Seven years ago, Daniel McCool, a political science professor and director of the American West Center at the University of Utah, wrote an eloquent essay for this magazine, in which he said, "A dam slated for the wrecking ball is a kinetic form of politics -- falling concrete that embodies the energy of a whole new concept of river management. As dams fall, hopes rise -- a stark exchange of the past with the future."

McCool's words still resonate here in the West. The story of this region is a story of the quest for redemption, one that is repeated endlessly. It's not just a personal quest we're talking about; our entire landscape is in serious need of healing. From the Gold Rush pioneers to the modern energy boom, people have always fought to extract what they can from our forests, rivers and plains. And once they succeed, they usually abandon the land, leaving others to try to repair the damage. But it's not always straightforward -- fixing one problem often creates others.

This year's special books and essays issue focuses on the Western search for redemption. Montana journalist Brad Tyer lived in a cabin near Anaconda for six months, exploring the "sacrificial landscape" of the ironically named town of Opportunity, which bears the weight of pollution from old copper  mining -- and also from nearby restoration projects. Tyer's essay is derived from a forthcoming book, which is, he says, "about deciding where waste goes, the ways in which we find our own places in the world, and the consequences of those choices. It's about falling in love with a place and coming to terms with the fact of its fucked-upedness."

Kim Todd finds a more realistic shot at redemption in the biggest dam-removal project in U.S. history, a rare chance to undo a part of the past that no longer works. Last week, the Glines Canyon and Elwha Dams on Washington's Olympic Peninsula started coming down. It'll take three years to fully dismantle them, but scientists are eager to return salmon and steelhead to the largest watershed in Olympic National Park and restore its native vegetation. Todd explores the contradictions and challenges inherent in such a massive project.

Other essays and book reviews delve into more facets of redemption. Author Shann Ray talks about how his flawed characters achieve a kind of grace. Montana-born Mary Clearman Blew saved herself from the narrow path that women were expected to follow in the '50s and '60s, becoming a prominent author and teacher. And H. Lee Barnes writes fiction in which men bearing both physical and emotional wounds seek reconciliation.

Wallace Stegner once wrote, "One cannot be pessimistic about the West. This is the native home of hope." Late in life, he came to question that belief. There's no doubt we are living in difficult times; the litany of problems is long, the reasons for pessimism many. And yet we can still strive for, as Tyer puts it, "remediation, reclamation, restoration." Our hope is that this issue gives you some hope as well; heaven knows we can all use it.

High Country News Classifieds
  • WESTERN DIVISION DIRECTOR OF FIELD PROGRAMS
    DEADLINE TO APPLY: October 29, 2021 LOCATION FLEXIBLE (WESTERN HUB CITY PREFERRED) Overview The Land Trust Alliance is the voice of the land trust community....
  • COMMUNICATIONS AND OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Communications and Outreach Associate Position Opening: www.westernlaw.org/communications-outreach-associate ************************************************* Location: Western U.S., ideally in one of WELC's existing office locations (Santa Fe or Taos, NM, Helena,...
  • FREELANCE GRAPHIC DESIGNER & PROJECT COORDINATOR (REMOTE)
    High Country News (HCN) is seeking a contract Graphic Designer & Project Coordinator to design promotional, marketing and fund-raising assets and campaigns, and project-manage them...
  • FILM AND DIGITAL MEDIA: ASSISTANT PROFESSOR OF INDIGENOUS MEDIA, CULTURAL SOVEREIGNTY AND DECOLONIZATION (INITIAL REVIEW 12.1.21)
    Film and Digital Media: Assistant Professor of Indigenous Media, Cultural Sovereignty and Decolonization (Initial Review 12.1.21) Position overview Position title: Assistant Professor - tenure-track Salary...
  • REAL ESTATE SPECIALIST
    To learn more about this position and to apply please go to the following URL.
  • ENVIRONMENTAL GEOPHYSICS
    "More Data, Less Digging" Find groundwater and reduce excavation costs!
  • RARE CHIRICAHUA RIPARIAN LAND FOR SALE
    40 acres: 110 miles from Tucson: native trees, grasses: birder's heaven::dark sky/ borders state lease & National forest/5100 ft/13-16 per annum rain
  • CENTRAL PARK CULTURAL RESOURCE SPECIALIST
    Agency: Oregon Parks and Recreation Department Salary Range: $5,203 - $7,996 Position Title: Central Park Cultural Resource Specialist Do you have a background in Archaeology...
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    Come live and work in one of the most beautiful places in the world! As our Staff Attorney you will play a key role in...
  • ARIZONA GRAZING CLEARINGHOUSE
    Dedicated to preventing the ecological degradation caused by livestock grazing on Arizona's public lands, and exposing the government subsidies that support it.
  • OPERATIONS MANAGER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo (friendsoftheinyo.org) is seeking a new Operations Manager. The Operations Manager position is a full-time permanent position that reports directly...
  • WATER RIGHTS BUREAU CHIEF
    Water Rights Bureau Chief, State of Montana, DNRC, Water Resources Division, Helena, MT Working to support and implement the Department's mission to help ensure that...
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    The Amargosa Conservancy (AC), a conservation nonprofit dedicated to standing up for water and biodiversity in the Death Valley region, seeks an executive director to...
  • DEVELOPMENT & OUTREACH ASSOCIATE
    Southeast Alaska Conservation Council is hiring! Who We Are: The Southeast Alaska Conservation Council (SEACC) is a small grassroots nonprofit based out of Juneau, Alaska,...
  • DESERT LANDS ORGANIZER
    Position Summary: Friends of the Inyo seeks a Desert Lands Organizer to assist with existing campaigns that will defend lands in the California desert, with...
  • IDAHO CONSERVATION LEAGUE
    Want to help preserve Idaho's land, water, and air for future generations? Idaho Conservation League currently has 3 open positions. We are looking for a...
  • LUNATEC ODOR-FREE DISHCLOTHS
    are a must try. They stay odor-free, dry fast, are durable and don't require machine washing. Try today.
  • EVENTS AND ANNUAL FUND COORDINATOR
    The Events and Annual Fund Coordinator is responsible for managing and coordinating the Henry's Fork Foundation's fundraising events for growing the membership base, renewing and...
  • EDUCATION DIRECTOR
    Position Description: The Education Director is the primary leader of Colorado Canyons Association's (CCA) education programs for students and adults on the land and rivers...
  • 10 ACRES OF NEW MEXICO HIGH DESERT
    10 Acres of undeveloped high desert land in central NM, about 45 minutes from downtown Albuquerque. Mixed cedar and piñon pine cover. Some dirt roadways...