Friday, October 02, 2015


I sometimes frankly say that I’m writing a book about Valier, but I think what that conjures up in minds, esp. the ones here, is quite different than the outline I’ve been developing and will continue to research until it amounts to a book.  Many people here think in terms of stings and tattles, because so many pop books are based on sensationalism in order to sell. 

My plan and goal is to trace out the relationship between the land and the people over millennia from the glaciation intervals over thousands of years and the eruption of the Rockies.  Then after that last withdrawal appear the rain shadow that created grasslands and Chinook winds and the formation of the Old North Trail.   I will NOT be discussing dinosaurs!  Just their bones and the last of the mega-mammals and the people who preyed on them.

Next chapter is the bison-hunters and the beginning of white contact.

Rockies and wheat = irrigation

The real meat of the book will be the effect of industrialization, the beginning of the Anthropocene.  Dams, railroads, sea shipping, the formation of nations, the addressing of population explosions through raising grain to prevent famine, the impact of world wars, the infiltration of the land with manmade molecules (pesticides, herbicides, meds), alfalfa, species extinction, coal mines, oil wells, wind turbines, boom towns, and so on.  Getting order and continuity out of this will take research and time.  I don't know how many chapters that will require.

Valier cherishes its "Belgian" roots, but Belgium is a composite country divided by language and history.  This calls for more research -- WHICH part of Belgium did Valier come from and what impact did the bloody European Thirty Years War have on the people.

The last chapter will be an attempt to project what a sustainable future might be.  What comes AFTER reservations?  What would governance in general look like -- would it go to ecosystems instead of today’s states and counties?  What would the landscape look like?  Should we restore the original animals?

I will NOT be looking for a publisher.  Today’s publisher-based book producing system is a phenomenon of profiteering.  There are consortiums and organizations but even they by now have developed elites that control the others or have let the mass stifle the inspired individual.  Books in libraries are controlled by practical demands and increasingly becoming access points through computers rather than storing information in books.  This is not meant to be criticism.

The bottom line is change and how to survive in the midst of tumultuous new forces.  Part of that is being able to predict at least a few years ahead.  The great institutional stabilizers of schools (including universities), churches, economic systems, and transportation/communication/energy regulation are already rocking and shattering.  We in this small town are already seeing the imbalances from in-coming people who imagine the town other than it is, maybe hoping for a return to an earlier century, or possibly nefarious wayfarers not responsive to local standards.  Health and welfare issues are no longer supported by extended families.

Valier is particularly interesting because some of these newcomers, including the very early written-down historical population, arrived as a group.  An entire Belgian village was imported to tend the new irrigation-based grain growing made possible by the building of Swift Dam.  This is the real spine of the story I’m after, the industrial web of canals/fields/grain elevators/railroads/ocean-going ships/international politics and today’s international ag corporations that control whole countries.


In addition, Hutterites arrived as groups related to a network across countries and time, trying to preserve a different culture supported by religion.  Compare to the Blackfeet, forced to coalesce into a captive nation, but now demanding sovereignty and participation.  They present themselves as issues of culture, even religion, which gives them some protection, but -- in fact -- they are economic phenomena.

Economics is always ecological, meaning many small forces of survival that amount to general prosperity in the luckiest of times.  Human life is short.  The Anthropocene is only a little more than a century old and already we approach the tipping point of climate change, more extreme, warmer, moving insect vectors and vegetal patterns that carry coded diseases already epidemic.  The right to carry guns will do nothing to defend against malaria.

Militarized police

But guns and near-military force and surveillance may become part of the social dynamics as things become more unstable.  I hope to be gone by then, but some predict big trouble will start within five years and others laughingly point out that we’ve got plenty of instability right now, with the US Congress teetering at the edge of chaos after years of gridlock.  

But I don’t think of equality as a good thing.  Too often it is an assumption of uniformity and that every person should have the same sort of desires and sources when it is plain that successful ecologies are those based on interacting variety.  Even the most extreme outliers, surviving on crime or oppression, suffering from stigma, can have their use in terms of the whole.  They may be explorers, they may be secretly providing something the culture denies, they may be necessary counter-actions in the face of crushing forces from inside or outside.  They might be artists.

Ivan Doig

One of the strong forces in Valier is the constant demand for uniformity, “respectability,” even as admiration is awarded to ostentatious wealth.  Another troublesome tendency is to do what every other town does rather than seeking out the uniqueness of this set of circumstances. I talk about high school rules and one-celled cultures, that don’t want to hear about anything except their own way of doing things.  Maybe these demands for what seems like safety are best addressed in fiction.  But the novels of Ivan Doig, which DO address some of these things, is resented in Valier even though it’s about them.

Our awareness is now forced way out to the near unimaginability of the sedimentary shell of space debris around the planet, molecular saturation of the world’s seas with plastic particles, growing piles of nuclear waste, and the culture of sensational mass communication replacing what was once fitted to an extended family, a local institution, and an embracing ecology.  Some of us will find niches for survival or be able to adapt, many will not survive, and a few may be the beginning of a new species.  I often say that we can’t even find the factors that would allow sorting, and that’s a good thing because we would try to skew it to suit our prejudices, our OWN elements for survival.

Anyway, there is no way to stop the present coming out of the past and zooming on into the future, sort of whacking us in passing as a side effect.  How do we withstand that?  With beauty and pleasure!  Participation, appreciation.  It’s the old Zen story of the monk falling over a cliff and on the way down plucking a raspberry growing in a niche so he knows one last sweet taste.  Much better than balking until one can't hold on any longer.

So much to find out!  So much to do!  Such stories to tell!  Do you  know about Robaire, the town too wicked to survive in spite of the priests living there?  Do you know about the Original Kipp who may have been even more powerful than the Conrad brothers?  Do you know about the decade during which Valier was technically not a town because someone didn’t turn in a document on time?  Do you know why our houses constantly writhe in and out of their original rectangles?  I'll tell you that one.
It's because of the volcanoes in the Cascades.  Sensational after all.   

No comments: