Knowledge, a wrecking ball

 

Until I was 18, I lived in the same house, in the same town, just a handful of blocks from the hospital where I was born. Ours was a neighborhood of unremarkable ranch houses on a mesa in Boulder, Colorado. My friends and I knew every backyard shortcut and nook, including a tiny pink house tucked back from the street on a sprawling, overgrown lot that we thought was haunted. Once, when we went there to pick irises, we peeked inside to see a TV turned on to snow in a dark, deserted room — and fled in terror.

Now, when I visit my folks, three megahouses stand on that once-haunted lot. A wall of palatial abodes with price tags in the millions rings the mesa’s edge, part of an endless wave of gentrification. Sometimes, filled with quiet vengeance on night walks, I’m tempted to leave my dog’s offerings on the manicured landscaping.

The gift of staying in any place long enough to learn it well is that it shapes your way of seeing the world, becomes mortar with which you assemble the pieces of yourself. And the grief is that it inevitably becomes something else beneath your feet.

In this issue’s cover story, contributing editor Sierra Crane-Murdoch profiles a man grappling with the transformation of one of the grandest spaces of all: North Dakota’s prairie and badlands. Over the last few years, the Bakken oil boom has chewed through private land and the Little Missouri National Grasslands all the way to the edge of Theodore Roosevelt National Park. John Heiser, the park’s backcountry ranger, has lived near it his whole life and worked there longer than anyone. Arbitrarily drawn borders can do only so much to protect any landscape, so Heiser has watched with rising fury as drilling noise and lights diminish the park’s sense of sanctuary, and an invasion of new visitors — mostly transient workers — brings in the crime and chaos that are de rigueur in Bakken boomtowns.

This erosion of peace has set off a deeper erosion of trust, cutting into the bedrock of those communities. Residents have turned inward and bunkered down; many have left. These are no longer places, Crane-Murdoch writes, where everybody knows everybody. Heiser, the boom’s most vocal critic, is unusual for pointing these things out loudly and often. But he articulates a feeling many North Dakotans share: Something timeless has been changed forever. And when that happens, what’s left for those who stay?

The kids growing up in my old neighborhood today don’t know a cougar once killed a deer in the vacant lot down the hill where a church and condos now stand; I don’t know what the mesa looked like before houses were there at all. It is hard to grieve what you never saw or understood. Ignorance can be shelter; knowledge can turn from mortar to wrecking ball.

High Country News Classifieds
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    Seeking passionate full-time Executive to lead the oldest non-profit organization in Idaho. Must have knowledge of environmental issues, excellent organizational, verbal presentation and written skills,...
  • CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Carbondale based public lands advocate, Wilderness Workshop, seeks a Conservation Director to help direct and shape the future of public land conservation on the West...
  • DEPUTY DIRECTOR FOR WATER PLANNING WITH WRA'S HEALTHY RIVERS PROGRAM
    Founded in 1989, Western Resource Advocates (WRA) is dedicated to protecting the Wests land, air, and water to ensure that vibrant communities exist in balance...
  • TROUT UNLIMITED BIGHORN RIVER BASIN PROJECT MANAGER
    The Bighorn River Basin Project Manager identifies and implements projects to improve streamflows, restore stream and riparian habitat, improve fish passage and rehabilitate or replace...
  • NON-PROFIT OPERATIONS MANAGER
    One of the most renowned community-based collaboratives in the country seeks full-time Operations Manager to oversee administrative, financial, fund development, and board development duties. BS/BA...
  • RUSTIC HORSE PROPERTY
    in NM. 23 acres, off the grid, rustic cabin, organic gardens, fruit trees, fenced, call 505-204-8432 evenings.
  • DIRECTOR OF VISITOR SERVICES & BOOKSTORE OPERATIONS
    The San Juan Mountains Association in Durango, CO is seeking a Director of Visitor Services & Bookstore Operations to lead our visitor information program &...
  • SOLAR POWERED HOME NEAR CAPITOL REEF NATIONAL PARK
    1800 sf home on 4.12 acres surrounded by Natl Forest and recreational opportunities in a beautiful area (Happy Valley) between Torrey and Boulder. [email protected], www.bouldermoutainreality/properties/grover/off-the-grid-in-happy-valley,...
  • 40 ACRE ORGANIC FARM
    potential fruit/hay with house, Hotchkiss, CO, Scott Ellis, 970-420-0472, [email protected]
  • STAFF ATTORNEY
    STAFF ATTORNEY POSITION OPENING www.westernlaw.org/about-us/clinic-interns-careers The Western Environmental Law Center (WELC) is a nonprofit public interest environmental law firm with a 25-year legacy of success...
  • LAND CONSERVATION DIRECTOR
    Manage, develop and implement all stewardship and land management plans and activities on both private and public lands. Guide and direct comprehensive planning efforts, provide...
  • INTERNET-BASED BUSINESS FOR SALE
    Dream of owning your own business, being your own boss, working from home ... this is the one. 928-380-6570, www.testshop.com. More info at https://bit.ly/2Kgi340.
  • EXECUTIVE DIRECTOR
    If you are deeply committed to public service and would like to become part of our high performing, passionate and diverse team, NCAT is looking...
  • TRIPLEX .8 ACRE KANAB, UT
    Create a base in the center of Southern Utah's Grand Circle of National Parks. Multiple residential property with three established rental units and zoning latitude...
  • FORGE & FAB SHOP
    with home on one beautiful acre in Pocatello, ID. Blackrock Forge - retiring after 43 years! Fully equipped 5,500 sf shop including office, gallery and...
  • SMALL FARM AT THE BASE OF MOUNT SHASTA
    Certified organic fruit/berry/veggie/flower farm. Home, barns, garage, separate apt, more. Just under 2 ac, edge of town. Famously pure air and water. Skiing, mountaineering, bike,...
  • FOREST STEWARDSHIP PROJECT DIRECTOR
    Become a force for nature and a healthy planet by joining the Arizona Chapter as Forest Stewardship Project Director. You will play a key role...
  • LIGHTWEIGHT FLY ROD CASES
    4 standard or custom lengths. Rugged protection for backpacking. Affordable pricing.
  • DIRECTOR OF DEVELOPMENT
    will develop and execute Wild Utah Projects fundraising plan. Call, email or check full description of job online for more details:
  • HAND CRAFTED LOG HOME IN TETON VALLEY
    on ten acres. Full view of the Grand Teton. 35 miles to Yellowstone and 20 minutes to Grand Targhee Ski Area.