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Tuesday, 12 February 2013



Rifle in pickup truck, Wyoming


Life along the Overthrust Belt is lonely. Four 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.

Saturday Night in Gillette

At times along the road from the mines into Gillette, Wyoming, you can spot grazing buffalo, their heavy blunt heads dipped to the purple sage, ignoring the 80 m.p.h. barreling of rush-hour pickups. It's that Wyoming time warp again: the past and the future, both incongruous in the hopelessly undiscriminating and democratic light of the present.


Gillette at night: the motel lady replies to a request for directions downtown with a scowl.

"You don't want to go there."

"Why, what's down there?"

"Nothing. Nothing at all you'd be interested in."

In the Center Bar, about a dozen taciturn workers and cowboys and two longhaired Indians are lined up on stools, impassively watching reruns of Earnie Shavers pounding on Ken Norton. On the jukebox in the background, Waylon Jennings explains how being crazy kept him from going insane. The lady bartender does double duty, pouring drinks and operating a package service out of a side window with a sliding panel of wood. Most of the faces framed when she opens the window seem young, bare and happy-drunk. It's Friday night. Their radios are loud.

The bar lady turns back to the bar to talk about working through the epic, minus 85 degree wind-chill nights and days of the winter just past.

"Oh, and of course we had a lot of snow," she says. "The coal mines and the oil rigs they just go on in any weather. They go right on working with whoever shows up, shorthanded. But back in January when it got at its worst, nobody came to work at all. So the oil people used helicopters. First time I ever saw that happen. They flew the boys out from Gillette in helicopters and then flew them back, just like over in Vietnam."

The jukebox stops playing and the talking lady's voice rings through the bar. A cowboy elaborately disengages himself from his bar stool and goes over to feed the jukebox money.

"Not much of a crowd," the bar lady says. "They're pullin' a lot of the rigs out of here."

"Oil people?"

"That's right. A lot of 'em are already gone. They're down in Wamsutter and Rawlins and over in South Dakota now."

"Do they come back?"

"Oh, sure, they'll be back up here in the fall." She laughs dryly.

"Oil people come and go?"

"Well, right now the boom's starting to fade in oil, so they're lookin' someplace else. But the coal, that's gettin' better and better. They've got three new mines goin' up right now, big ones. You aim to find work?"

"Could be."

"You won't have no trouble finding it around here."


A two-mile-long unit train runs on a new spur down an embankment. On the other side of the road, a dozen mule deer browse in the gentle wooded breaks. Down the road there's an ancient log-fenced homestead. The topsoil of the open pit mine has been dumped on both sides of the road into giant eroded mounds. A new freeway is being built next to the old road, along which the litter of cans and bottles is as dense as you'd find at Coney Island.


Saturday night in Gillette. The main drag's full of fair-haired kids, fat women and guys in webbed baseball hats. The back end of a magazine and souvenir store turns out to be a weapons depot. Big glass cases full of Smith & Wesson .357 Magnums, Ruger .44s, Colt .45s -- some of the biggest handguns in the movies.

Saturday afternoon at the Center Bar is watching two Indian girls beat the dickens out of two wildcatters in a game of nine-ball.


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.


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.

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.

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


Saturday Night in Gillette: extract from TC: Wyo-Booming, in Rocky Mountain Review, 1979
Poems from TC: A Short Guide to the High Plains, 1981

The Wyodak Coal Mine near Gillette, Wyoming. Long-range plans call for massive strip-mining of the Powder River Basin and the construction of huge power plants. One of the power plants will be constructed at Gillette.

Cattle graze on ranch lands near the Dave Johnston power plant on the North Platte River, Wyoming

This 750-megawatt power plant, located on the North Platte River in Wyoming, is part of the massive strip-mining development planned for the Powder River Region

This 750-megawatt power plant, located on the North Platte River in Wyoming, is part of the massive strip-mining development planned for the Powder River region


The Dave Johnston Power Plant
, located on the North Platte River in Wyoming

Windmill and power lines near the Dave Johnston power plant, Wyoming

Ranch in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming

Nest in prairie grasses on a ranch in the Powder River Basin, Wyoming

The Wyodak Coal Mine at Gillette, Wyoming. One of the many power plants proposed for the Powder River Basin will be constructed here.

Butterfly and flowers at the edge of the Acme Coal Company strip mine, Sheridan, Wyoming

Acme coal mine, Wyoming

Acme coal mine, Wyoming

Acme coal mine, Wyoming

Oil wells near Teapot Dome, Wyoming

Abandoned building, Wyoming

Billboard, Wyoming

Photos by Boyd Norton (1936-), June 1973, for the Environmental Protection Agency's Documerica project (U.S. National Archives)


Marcia said...

Indeed - good bye to the pronghorn and the buffalo and prairie grasses. Nothing left but the wind, the ugly pits, and train tracks....

TC said...


At the time we made this trip there were still a few buffalo and antelope left, and of course over by Devil's Tower the prairie dogs... but the greater share of evidence of animal life was the sight of abundant road kill everywhere we went, traffic-flattened jackrabbits, mashed-up rattlesnakes, cow skulls lining the side of the road like sugar candy heads on the Día de los Muertos.

The wind, yes... and snow blowing and drifting over the snow fences, and as the towns got closer, the occasional radio station coming in, filling all that vast empty space with the appropriate "old time" fire & brimstone American evangelism.

Hazen said...

Speaking of visionaries, Simone Weil long ago saw industrial civilization as unstoppable, a “spreading catastrophe” which would destroy the earth and leave nothing for future generations “but a note in a bottle.”

This, perhaps, is what generations to come might find scribbled on that note:

To whom it may concern:

We took everything.
What we couldn’t take
we destroyed.
We left you nothing.
Fuck you.
Deal with it.

The Management Inc. Ltd. S.A.



"Oil people come and go?"


light coming into fog against invisible
top of ridge, bird on black pine branch
in foreground, wave sounding in channel

have been which it could be
asked, had to do with

see momentariness, steps of
perspective, in paint

first silver of sun above top of ridge,
lines of waves breaking across channel

vazambam (Vassilis Zambaras) said...

I sure do like that redeeming phrase from the Wyodak Coal Mine sign that says "readily recoverable"--sounds so neat and easy to extract the stuff that I guess anybody with a pick and shovel can just mosey on down there and fill his bucket to kingdom come. Too bad the landscape ain’t so readily recoverable afterwards.

TC said...

This discussion lapses over...

Wooden Boy said...

You lost track of the lessons
of the journey when the beginning fell out of sight

...and when we start after those lost originary moments, we think the only way back is excavation.

Wonderful, sharp-sighted series of poems and prose.

TC said...

...and that way back is really more like down...