Friday, January 27, 2017

The Bears Ears Blues

Lately Barry and I have been spending a great deal of time at Twin Rocks Café. It’s not that we are less interested in turquoise and coral, wool and wood, sumac and silver; it’s that we are short an assistant restaurant manager. As small business owners we, therefore, are required to fill the gap. Consequently slingin’ hash, sweepin’ floors and moppin’ tables have come to occupy a significantly larger portion of our time.

Since we have been our own bosses the vast majority of our adult lives, we intimately understand the situation and accept the responsibility. Although that acceptance is at times grudgingly given, Barry and I intuitively understand we are singularly unemployable by mainstream business. As a result, we have no other alternative but to keep slinging’, sweeping’ and moppin'. At times Barry and I speculate what we might do if we were no longer the Twin Rocks titleholders. We have yet come up with a suitable answer. After the recent election of Donald Trump, Barry thinks he too may be qualified to be leader of the free world. I have reminded him that Momma Rose always says, “Two wrongs don’t make a right.” I’m not sure Barry understands.

One of the benefits of this episodic manager situation is that we are at the restaurant early and late, and are therefore witness to many spectacular sunrises and sunsets. In this vast open space there are no high-rise buildings or other tall manmade structures to obscure our horizons. Consequently, like the traveler who stumbles onto a nude beach, we have seen it all. From pink blushes in the morning as illumination spreads to rosy smudges as the day wanes, to rising and falling moons, we are witness to nature’s extraordinary displays.

Nestled in our narrow river valley, we are surrounded by soaring red rock cliffs which at this time of year are highlighted by patches of pristine snow. The pioneers who settled this community in April of 1880, after an arduous journey over some of the most “slantindicular” country known to man, were exhausted and entirely spent. Those same settlers often joked that when God finished making the earth he had a lot of rocks left over, so he parked them here, leaving us with unparalleled geologic formations and extraordinary logistical challenges.

Although much of the world has viewed Monument Valley in person, in print and on film, there are countless mesas and canyons in southeastern Utah that rival and even surpass the valley's scenic wonderment. And so it was that President Obama recently named 1.35 million acres of our back, front and side yard Bears Ears National Monument, setting off a firestorm.

While protests against and rallies supporting the executive order continue, virtually everyone agrees this pristine acreage deserves protection. There is, however, a vast ocean separating us when it comes to how this protective process should proceed. It will take years to sort through the existing issues. Monument supporters feel the opposers simply do not understand their situation, while those opposing the park believe they are similarly misunderstood. We are all self-interested, and each might rightly be accused of not giving adequate attention to the other perspective. “It will enhance my business.” “It will destroy my business.”  “It will preserve the land for future generations.” “I won’t be able to go where I have always gone.” “The federal government has no right to control the land.” “The federal government has the obligation to protect this valuable resource.” Only time will tell who is right and who is wrong.

Like many things in contemporary society, in this debate the middle ground has disappeared. The prevailing sentiment seems to be, “You are either with us or against us." Many who have known and embraced each other for decades are at odds, not speaking. Surely it is time to stop singin’ the Bears Ears Blues and begin working together to find common ground and identify sensible solutions to the persistent economic, political, cultural and environmental questions we face in San Juan County. Thanks to Woodie Guthrie we all know, “This land was made for you and me”, not you or me. 

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