Solace in wild spaces

 

The weekend before the presidential election, I went into the Raggeds Wilderness, a few hours outside of Paonia, Colorado, hoping to fill my elk tag. I sat shivering on a ridge in the predawn dark, watching the stars of Orion wheel over mountains some 70 million years old. Then, as light broke across an aspen grove half a mile away, came the faint chirping of cow elk and the soft bugle of a bull. Through binoculars, I watched the elk drift out of the timber like ghosts, heading to a well-watered meadow beyond the trees. In that moment, I felt myself a part of something whole and beautiful — billions of years in the making, perfect in every detail: me, the cold, the elk, the mountains, the dawn.

Then the election happened, and I found myself the citizen of a country where at least 60 million people, for one reason or another, cast their vote for a man whose campaign was built on ignorance, intolerance and lies. What that means will be debated for years to come, but given the uptick in hate crimes, publicly displayed swastikas and brazen slurs by emboldened racists, I suspect our country is in for some rough years. Maybe I’m wrong. Maybe Donald Trump will surprise us and try to build a society of tolerance and prosperity and happiness.

But until that happens, you can expect High Country News to keep up thorough reporting on an administration apparently hostile to environmental protections and regulations, skeptical of climate change, and in favor of unfettered extraction of public-land resources. Or so it seems. It’s hard to tell, given the number of contradictory statements we’ve heard this campaign. In any case, we’ll find out.

Managing editor Brian Calvert

In the meantime, let us not lose sight of the big picture. The value of the West remains its wide-open spaces, its vast public lands, and its rich natural and cultural resources. In places like the Raggeds, we find solace, as well as common values across cultural and political divides. And so this issue features both news and perspective. In our cover story, Kate Schimel, the magazine’s digital editor, visits a scarred and tangled wilderness, asking what it means to love such a place. Correspondent Sarah Tory takes us to the Bonneville Salt Flats, where a piece of Americana, 12,000 years in the making, is crumbling away. Essayist Peter Friederici and photographer Peter Goin examine our complicity, via Glen Canyon, in the realities of climate change. And Contributing Editor Jonathan Thompson asks what presidential policy can actually do in the face of a global energy market.

We must continue to explore these and other fundamental questions, even as we face a new political reality. For the years ahead will test our values, and our willingness to defend them, as never before.

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