Sunday Drive

One thing about heat is that it sucks the water out of everything, including people. In the mile high city of Prescott, Arizona, it was bordering on being too hot today when we went out into the woods to walk Sammy the dog. As we drove out Thumb Butte Road, past the Butte and onto the loop road posted as "primitive," we were surprised to see that so many of the dead trees, destroyed by bark beatles, haven't yet been cleared, even the ones right beside the road. In the distance we saw the plume of smoke rising from the Ash Creek fire, being fed by similar dead trees.

The traffic coming around the loop was unusually heavy. On most days there are a few SUVs and trucks coming out from Dearing Park, a community of wooden homes set in the forest, but there was a steady stream of them today. "They're coming around this way because of the construction on Copper Basin Road."

We drove through Dearing Park to see the new houses that have been built there. "Would you build a house out of wood here?" I asked.

"I'd use rock," Linda said, "with a steel roof."

People are having to think more and more about defending against fire these days, because the moisture is getting sucked out of the trees by unseasonably warm weather, there's no snow pack, the creek isn't running along the hiking trail on Thumb Butte Loop, and of course we watched on television the crazy spread of the southern California fires. Lots of dry fuel was available.

The city of Prescott's fire department has responded with a plan that would simply destroy the aesthetics of many Prescott homes by making everybody chop down any trees or bushes close to them. We have a huge, beautiful old oak tree beside the house which would have to go. That's as stupid an idea as burning down the barn to roast a pig. But somehow I'm not surprised.

When I got out of the Navy I began college here, and the mentality of the local leadership wasn't any different then. Because of the situation in Berkeley and other major universities, the local college decided to put in a dress code, and make all the men shave clean and wear short hair. That went over really well with the Vietnam veterans. They can do that kind of shit to kids but we were grown men. We had to sue the paranoid bastards.

What was amazing was their comparing the local community college to Berkeley. These were guys like me, who were raised on the desert, and drove around in Jeeps and pickups. (I guess the women weren't affected all that much, unless they tried to force them into dresses and take their shoes.) I must say that the idea of my being some kind of radical entertained me enormously, especially when the dean refused to allow the journalism department to let me edit the college paper. Paranoia runs deep in the heartland.

At the crest of Thumb Butte Loop there is an amazing overlook, from where we looked out over Skull Valley and the Hassayampa River, to the southwest. No matter how many times I pull up to that overlook I am always stunned by how beautiful it is.

A mile or so around from it we were passing a campsite and Linda noticed that somebody had left a smoldering fire in the fire pit. We had to stop and shovel sand on it. The campsite was littered with beer bottles. Sammy was eating something which I thought at first was old Chitos but then I realized it was puke, and I had to put him back in the truck.

Despite all the warnings about not leaving a fire without putting it dead out, people still don't seem to get the message. Somebody has to come along behind them and take care of it for them, if they're lucky. If they're not, and the wind comes up and spreads some sparks to the abundant kindling in the forest, they end up liable for another fire. This is exactly how the fires happen much of the time: pure carelessness and terminal stupidity.

In the distance the plume of smoke from the Ash Creek fire drifts along the horizon. It seems they are going to take advantage of the still days here to just call it a controlled burn to get rid of a lot of the brush. It's not far from that fire to the Snoozer Mine, where we own a large parcel of high forest land in conjunction with a few other people. The main problem with building on the property is that there's just one very narrow road in to it, and a fast spreading fire in dry timber could be dangerous. But people live near there, in very expensive wooden homes.

As we drove back into town we were amazed at how many new homes are going in, in the same manner as they are sweeping through Prescott Valley, where herds of elk used to run, and Chino Valley to the north,which used to be mostly farming. There are new wells going in all the time, sucking out the groundwater. To the south, Young's Farm closed down after their water rights were shifted to drive them out. There are plans for a high density subdivision.

With all of this, there is a steady opposition to population control, just as there has been a steady opposition to the reality of global warming as being exacerbated at an alarming rate by pollution, an ignorance of the devastation being caused by chemical fertilizers ... the real and urgent problems go on in the background, like cancer in somebody who still feels okay.

Sometimes I take Sammy to the dog park, where everybody except me seems to be rapidly right wing. One man told me that volcanos cause more pollution than carbon emissions. I didn't think that was right but I didn't know. So I looked it up and got some factual data, which I then shared with him. He snarled at me, "I hate Al Gore and I'l always hate Al Gore."

The facts don't make any difference.

I read somewhere -- I think it was in Marie Louise von Franz -- that one difference between men and women is that most women, when confronted with new evidence which contradicts what they believe, even if they have believed it all their life, will adjust to the new evidence and change. Most men, on the other hand, will not adjust to new information. They tend to have their identity tied up with what they have believed in the past, and will fight against the new information. The idea of their having been wrong, or having built their identity on erroneous information, is intolerable. Some of them will commit suicide before they will admit they are wrong.

Somehow that is not a surprise.

Posted: Sun - November 4, 2007 at 01:25 PM