Saturday, January 28, 2012


Some historians say the 19th century didn’t end until WWI when the newly developed industrial capacities of Europe and America took a developmental leap in the name of war. They might also say that the most apt symbol of the industrial steampunk revolution was the railroad trying to find its way over the Rocky Mountains so it could be the Great Northern roaring and wailing shuttle that held the nation together along the High Line before any highway system was built. To help pay the way for that rail line in its last phase approaching Glacier Park, the US government gave the railroad a strip of the Blackfeet land on either side of the right of way plus wood for ties and grass for the horses still used for building. And the railroad magnates used horses to build huge timber resort hotels in the newly designated (1911) Glacier National Park and Waterton Peace Park. The Blackfeet managed to become feathered marketing motifs and to skim off a few horses.

The Blackfeet still live in the tumultuous “surf” along the east slope of the Rockies, where the various machineries -- engines and combines and 18-wheelers and pump jacks -- surge up to settle among the horse herds and the buffalo. Not the last of the buffalo -- the re-established buffalo. Tony Bynum, photographer, documents this in images, working from his studio not far from the Big Hotel in East Glacier. I can't clip photos to post so go to to see his iconic old bull buffalo standing in front of Chief Mountain. It will do you good to look at ALL the photos. Or find out about the gallery at

The enviro people have begun muttering about “environmental pornography,” meaning that all the pretty pictures of nature suggest that there’s no dark side to it, that it’s meant for escape from reality, and that it needs no help from humans because of being so ethereal. Anyway, with your cell phone in your pocket, what’s to fear? (They wrongly assume such gizmos will work in the mountains.) Tony has beat that rap by picturing oil rigs in the foreground of his landscapes. As backup, he includes photos and videos with a map of where the rigs are.

This IS what the environment needs from humans: attention to their own actions, esp. when profit is involved. Not so much more laws or regulations, but simple citizen monitoring, especially in places where people are not likely to be passing by. (A few decades ago the backside of the Sweetgrass Hills had a big bite taken out of it by mining until some rancher went looking for missing cows.) The aerial videos are particularly striking. In the hands of a skilled photographer, oil rigs on the long landscape are not necessarily ugly and are always interesting.

East Glacier is not an easy place to live. It is cut in half by the railroad and in the old days feuds used to explode between the two sides, partly because the side with the Big Hotel has the ranger population for the Park, which is different in style from the tourist businesses along the highway. By spring, I’m told, one side had stolen the other side’s wives and the other side had set the houses of the first side on fire.

In fact, fire is a touchy subject. In the years I lived there (1970 to 1973) the volunteer fire department had a few embarrassments. One was forgetting to assign someone to dig out the doors of the fire truck garage and the other was not realizing that the water in the truck was going to be frozen solid if the temps stayed below zero long enough. In those days John Clarke, the famous ancient Blackfeet woodcarver, lived in the bottom of a two-story house with the top burned out of it. Before piped gas, heating was always risky. I got through one winter with Prestologs in a flimsy little tin stove that danced if it got too hot.

The most spectacular fire was a service station receiving a truckload of fuel. The static control failed somehow and the tank caught fire, sending up a thirty foot pillar of flame. We could see it from Browning. There was really no way to save the office and service bays, which added a column of black smoke when the motor oil cans exploded.

Tony is pretty active with today’s more organized fire department. When a person has put down roots, they become invested in things like the water system and the fire department. East Glacier is one of the three resort communities on the Blackfeet Reservation (the other two are Babb and St. Mary -- I suppose one could include Kiowa.) That means that the population expands greatly in summer and then empties for winter. (The weather is too tough for winter sports except snow shoeing on good days.) East Glacier has become a bedroom community for teachers, which helps somewhat, and an interesting phenomenon is an international cadre of resort workers who return every season. In fact, some of the tourists return faithfully to a standing reservation with their favorite motel or bed-and-breakfast.

Long before I read Deleuseguattarian philosophy, I knew the value of rhizomes (centers from which growth can come) and nomadism. It’s the way of nature and also civilization. But a philosophical head trip is different from an actual demonstration. I refer not just to Tony’s photography but to his participation in the community, both local and planetary, which is what gives him the eyes and brain that guide the camera. In one week the GF Tribune has brought up Tony Bynum, David Trexler, Darryl Flowers, and violence connected to the Bakken oil boom over east, which hasn’t reached us yet. It’s a pattern, an ecology forming, a rhizome drawing on nomadism.

Ecological awareness is as important for humans as fire and water infrastructure -- in fact, it’s the same thing. The understanding and support of how things fit together is what will create long-term profit and long-goal morality. But it is best done from the inside -- participating -- not from some academic or urban setting. Daily I read on the enviro listservs proposals and conference themes that are laughable in their distancing from reality. The real danger is that they don’t KNOW they are relating to nothing at all, that no statistics are in the end reliable, that too much fantasy is toxic. That’s the definition of psychotic; often dour and depressed as well. Tony Bynum is sane. And joyful!! Check out his naked rejoicing at the bottom of a Rocky Mountain cirque, a regular ampitheatre!


Mary Hone said...

I really like Tony's work, thanks for featuring him. I just found your blog. I like it!

Tony Bynum said...

Mary, thank you so much for writing this piece. I love your blog! Keep up the 1000 words per day, you're amazing.