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Sunday, 28 March 2010

Wyo-Booming, 1979 (I)


File:Rock formations Great Divide Basin2.jpg

Robert Smithson Would Have Loved It

Coming around a corner
to one's first vista
of a big carbon extraction scene
like the Belle Ayr Mine
in Campbell County, Wyoming
is like stumbling
into the Nile Valley
during the building of the Pyramids

File:Coal mine Wyoming.jpg

The Biggest Little Mine in the USA, 1978

Despite losing one-third of its production
during an August conflagration
the Belle Ayr operation
still sucked out 15 million tons

File:Male Antilocapra americana.jpg


Executive class townhouses are the first thing to grow out of
the empty cliffs around Gillette since the inland sea left.
The buffalo and antelope still play amid these grasslands,
but they look a little diminished next to the Minoan scale of the open pit mines.


Population Control in Gillette

The coal trains go through all night long
with a racket like all of hell being unleashed as noise.
A first, as you lie in bed in your motel room or mobile home,
it merely disrupts your sleep, your nervous system. Later you kill your dog and wife.


Uranium District in Wyoming

Driving through the yellow scorched vastness of the Gas Hills
you roll your windows up tight & try not to breathe
any harder than that cow skull lying along the road is breathing.
The road curves involuntarily into the Rattlesnake Range.


Jeffrey City

In Jeffrey City the snow piled up higher last winter
than anything in town except the CD sirens.
But when the sirens sounded, it was good to know
every web-hat in town could drive his house out from under it.



Life along the Overthrust Belt is Lonely. Fours by fours with
rifle racks, six packs, Willie & Waylon, Miller's & a shot
can't defeat the ultimate meaning of
having to drive 200 miles in a different direction every morning to get to work.

File:Rig wind river.jpg


The '77 shootout at the Red & White Cabins
took more than the 2.8 lives the U-dust
of 25 years ago snuffs every year. Besides these mines
are safe now: says a nervous fire inspector
who's waiting get this month's rad badge
back from OSHA, so he can work next month.



Perhaps it's because it's such a threatening space
what with its great expanse of unaffectionate sky
that workers in this boom region travel from
job to job with their housing intact
& never further than ten feet behind them.

File:Dave Johnston Power Plant.JPG

S.E. Wyoming

The great trans-synaptic stack flashers
of the coal-fired electrical generating plants
that tower over the Badlands across the Platte River
may provide useful power to all the Dakotas
but to the traveler they are purely retinal messengers


"The clouds steely..."

The clouds steely off over the mesa to the East
suggest twisters in the Badlands have taken away
what was owed them by the pilgrims there
and now are moving off to test the northern settlers,
or were those twisters we saw merely the swirl above the tipples?

They won't be there to pay if they can help it.
There's no lack of character in fleeing in the teeth
of the prop wash, particularly since the new
type of technological thresher advances only in reverse.

File:Wyo snow at sunset.JPG


Coming down out of Ten Sleep Canyon into Worland
where they still haven't cleared the dust away
from last winter's thirty foot tall drifts
which just melted down and left puddles of
everything that blew through Worland since last Fall


Breakfast in Moorcroft

Where Ed stiffed on a rail crew thirty years ago, has a new
cast of drifters now, not railroad but coal
but equally transient, the only thing (pancake shop included) really local
going on is the generally surrounding & impoverished Short Grasses

File:Bouteloua gracilis 2004-08-22.jpg


The big bluestem has roots six feet deep
Indian grass grows with the bluestem;
switchgrass also ripples there in the wind.

Going west you get less rain:
the little bluestem grows waist high, and so does
the side oats grama, and the bearded needlegrass.

Further west, the short grass of the Plains grows:
the blue grama, knee high; and the buffalo
grass, which grows up to the ankles.

File:Bouteloua curtipendula.jpg

"Grasses are a complex..."

Grasses make up a complex life which does not recover
so easily from mining and drilling as the apologists of
"reclamation" would have us believe, it now turns out

Wanting to "improve" the land is always a hit or miss
proposition depending on your definition of how said
land should be used

File:Hawk Springs 2199.JPG

Checking Out

Across this whole part of the continental table
Time falls away & all that's left is the dusty light of
motels in the West thirty years ago, laughter of
women somewhere off in the distance, crickets
in the violet dusk & a lonely horizontality
against which the beast shadows of the rigs are painted.


What the Pioneers Always Wanted To Do Was Arrive

Which meant getting across the mountains alive
But then what? You lost track of the lessons
of the journey when the beginning fell out of sight
beyond the black unreeling truck lane of eternity

Out the window it helps to sing, Goodbye
to the pronghorn, & the buffalo
drops his shaggy head into the unreclaimed sage
unremarking our mechanized passage

File:Buffalo Roaming.jpg

Rock formations, Great Divide Basin, Wyoming: photo by MONGO, 2005
Coal mine, Wyoming: photo by Bureau of Land Management, 2004
Pronghorn antelope (Antilocapra americana), male: photo by Michael Lemmon, 2007
BNSF train headed north, Platte County, Wyoming along Interstate 25: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2008
Killpecker Sand Dunes, Red Desert region, south central Wyoming: photo by Bureau of Land Management, 2007
Aspen Mountain, Wyoming, from Aspen Mountain Road, south of Rock Springs: photo Millonica, 2008
Interstate 25 southbound near exit 14B, Converse County, Wyoming: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2008
Natural gas drill rig on the Pinedale Anticline, just west of Wind River Range, Wyoming: photo by Bureau of Land Management, 2007
Oil refinery, Evansville, near Casper, Wyoming: photo by Tara Crooker, 2006
Dave Johnston Power Plant east of Glenrock, Wyoming: photo by Xnatedawgx
Route sign along southbound Interstate 25 near McKinley, Wyoming: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2008
Wyoming snow at sunset: photo by Leila Monaghan, 2008
Interstate 25 southbound at exit 151, Ayres Natural Bridge, Wyoming: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2008
Blue Grama (Bouteloua gracilis), High Plains prairie shortgrass, single-sided inflorescence: photo by Curtis Clark, 2004
Sideoats Grama (Bouteloua curtipendula), perennial prairie shortgrass: photo by NRCS Plant Materials Center, 2005
Looking west at Bear Mountain mesa during sunrise from Hawk Springs Recreation Area, Goshen County, Wyoming: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2007
Interstate 90 eastbound at Montana-Wyoming state border: photo by Xnatedawgx, 2008
Bison roam with Teton Range in background, Wyoming: photo by refractor, 2004


~otto~ said...

I've never been -- but now I feel like I have

Elmo St. Rose said...

a poet can see the whole world
in a grain of sand

what do you suppose would happen
with the average person, town,
city, state when the minimalist
approach to use of natural resources takes hold......a lower
standard of living....bankruptcy
ie as it is now in many places...

science plus capital to transition

it won't all be clean

preserve what you can
when you can

TC said...


I've been, but here I am again.


I think it may be possible to say that going into the earth after the "old" forms of energy would at least create jobs. Judging by what we saw in March '79, that was obviously the case. Plenty of jobs. Plenty transitory though. And a plenty ugly scene all in all.

I mean, this set of writings is a sort of "capture": of a moment of cultural history, a snapshot of a transient-labouring wildcatter America with a romance all its own but also a special kind of denseness all its own. The greed to rip carbon out of the earth is a special kind of greed. It's not the conquistadors, who were at least after bright shiny things. The object of all this was simply to get anything that could be burned. A lot of the slurry pipeline product was going to Texas and Louisiana. The coal trains likewise were taking great parts of Wyoming out of Wyoming to heat and light up the East and Southeast and Midwest & c. The inevitable image of the raped landscape still lingers in the memory.

Lally said...

What a brilliant little book this serial post is. The wonders of the web that you can get it done and out and in my eyes and mind and ears and heart so instantly. Makes up a little for the broken hearted wretchedness of what you call the "raped" landscape. When I lived in Southern California I always missed what I used to call "the landscape of my soul" as in the East I grew up around, the denseness of the trees in some spots and the rolling hills no one has beheaded yet. I am grateful to be back despite the changes and the ghosts. But what would it do to my soul if I was a native of Wyoming or Appalachia or so many other naturally stunning places that are being permanently altered for the worse? Sorry to go on so long, but this post got to me even more than yours usually do.

. said...

It's the scale of that '.. violet dusk and lonely horizontality' that often shocks us little islanders. From the madness of a Spiral Jetty out of control, or maybe that should be our ability to control too much, to the melancholic romance of a calloused hand and landscape.

Elisabeth said...

Michael Lally directed me here. These are powerful images and even more powerful words, Tom. Scary and awe inspiring at once. Thanks.

TC said...

Michael and Elisabeth,

Very grateful for Michael's post linking to this.

Yes, maybe it's the poignancy of our sense of all that's been lost that lends urgency to this desire we have to work on saving what's left.

Up against, of course, that accompanying or following sense of time's winged chariot breathing at our backs, reminding us how very late in the "game" it is.

But in reflecting upon the meanings there might be imbedded in the very evocative term "the soul of the landscape", I find myself travelling in the mind (my only vehicle, these days) back to the road survey 31 years ago that led to these writings, and remembering something of that enormity of scale Leigh has now spoken of.

For in Wyoming it is above all the vastness of space that lays a world out before the traveller, the skies without end, the distances so clear, it is not uncommon, coming down out of higher elevations, to see a place for forty or fifty miles before coming to it.

And the scale of the excavations we saw in that survey was of similar amplitude, mind-boggling, almost beyond descriptive words.

I am struggling to say that perhaps what we think of as "soul" in the more intimate landscapes to which we are accustomed implies a term difficult to apply to spaces of this order of magnitude.

The soul of the Wyoming landscape, maybe, is no one's but its own.

(Everything is nothing but itself...)

When I first published some of these poems, Ed Dorn, with whom I had been travelling, and the best-informed student of Western landscapes and landforms and histories I have ever known, wrote a small essay on the work.

He spoke of how the West has always been plundered, violated and exploited, e'er since white men first came, initially with their covered wagons, later with their four-by-fours, and plastic boats on hitches inevitably trailing behind.

"...But *Of Course* the West wouldn't be the West if that weren't so. There are, it is true, types who want to protect it, who want to throw themselves in the way of the Behemoth, who feel a 'relationship' with it. Some are sort of married to it, others just live with it, but that's stretching the latter term quite a lot, There is no geographical location more subject to nostalgia and that was also true from the first paintbrush. The yearning for its savagery was a nostalgia projected on the huddled masses of the East.

"Life along the Overthrust Belt is lonely... This is just the same old inconvenience it always was. Still, there is no doubt that a traveller as late as Fitzhugh Ludlow could describe a beauty which was more raw than laid open..."

But the place we saw in 1979 was more than anything else rent, ripped, torn, and laid open.

Parts have been "reclaimed", parts have "recovered" or will "recover"...until, that is, the time comes again when it becomes "economically viable" to again rend, tear, and lay open.

It is perhaps only the soul-lessness (in, again, the more intimate human sense of soulful) of the place that will be its defense against these creatures who are born to violate, these men, in the end.

Ed thought of these poems, by the way, as "essays" or "comments":

"[These] miniature essays do the traditional service the lingering traveller in The West has done over the decades. The best of western literature has always been acute observation, whether from geologists or poets. There have been more geologists than poets, as difficult to swallow as that may seem in the present statistic. But the worth of these comments is far beyond observation..."



Good to see this here today, especially having just flown back over it, snowdrifts still in full force heading west last week, below clouds yesterday). Check out Michael Gregory's paintings at Nancy Hoffman Gallery in Chelsea for a view of the west without quite so much human intervention
( . . . Meanwhile, this small offering ----


grey whiteness of cloud against invisible
ridge, red-tailed hawk calling on branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

meaning sensations with gap
between them, or word

of either, two word example
every day, “order” of

grey cloud above shadowed brick building,
bird gliding to the right across from it

TC said...

Good to hear you have travelled safely, Steve.

A long voyage... from grey cloud to grey cloud?

every day, “order” of

grey cloud above

('Twas mildly springlike in your absence, have you perhaps brought winter back with you, hidden in your shoe?)

TC said...

One reader has expressed (in a comment on another post) some confusion as to the provenance of the writings in this post and the one below it. I hope I've explained what there is to be explained in the course of these two comment threads.

Perhaps, though, a fuller sense of the background to this "survey" may be found here.