Once upon a time, many newspaper editors believed they were “watchdogs” of the common good, called to comfort the afflicted and afflict the comfortable. They took particular pride in tweaking the self-righteous and their power and privilege.
It was mainly mythology, but sometimes a watchdog comes along and just won’t let go.
Jim Stiles and his Canyon Country Zephyr seem to be playing that role in southeastern Utah. He throws out well-documented commentary directed at extraordinarily powerful interests in defense of a rural way of life and ecosystem under attack by glam, for-profit marketing savvy and nonprofit wealth.
Members of “environmental” groups and their network of acolytes don’t want to hear the kind of criticism that a decade or two ago was commonplace among their managing boards of directors, especially from the likes of Jim Stiles: namely that a reliance on corporate largesse threatens their raison d’être. So, Stiles is personally attacked in print and becomes a pariah in his hometown.
The latest comes from Jean Binyon (Moab Sun News, Aug. 31, 2017, “Stiles again?”), an activist who has helped the Sierra Club and Southern Utah Wilderness Alliance. Usually, the rhetoric is chock-full of laughable misinformation and patronizing advice on where Stiles should fling his barbs. (Hint: Not toward the Sierra Club or SUWA or bed and breakfasts serving faux haute cuisine and paying servers $10 per hour.) Rarely do the rants in rebuttal address the substance of Stiles’ laser-like criticism.
For example, Binyon says that without SUWA, the Sierra Club, the Grand Canyon Trust and their allies in the Utah Wilderness Coalition and Wild Utah Project, “there would be little public land to protect.”
Thanks, Jean. That makes my list of the top whoppers that will only set back efforts to keep public lands in public hands.
I chuckled when Binyon suggested that without the groups she supports there “very likely” would be no “national monuments designated by Presidents Clinton and Obama.” Frankly, I am confused. Utah Diné Bikéyah is claiming credit for Obama’s designation of Bears Ears National Monument. Red Rock Wilderness Act? Jean, it’s been an anachronism for 30 years, one way SUWA justifies its existence.
Choose your parable to describe Stiles. I am partial to the little Dutch boy who sticks his finger in a dike to prevent inevitable flooding or Don Quixote tilting at windmills. Maybe the child who, when the emperor parades before his subjects in his new clothes, dares to say, “But he isn’t wearing anything at all.”
Stiles echoes stories Native American spiritual leaders and elders have been passing along for a long time. Kernels of enduring wisdom.
One involves a vision of a train rumbling unstoppable through untouched wildlands, destroying everything and everyone in its path. It could be felt and even heard through vibration of the tracks even though it was miles away. The train’s headlights could barely be seen. As it got closer and closer, it became more and more ominous.
Passengers aboard the train were oblivious. They paid a high price for tickets and intended to enjoy the ride. The sentiment could’ve come from the Old Testament prophet Isaiah: “The Egyptians in their banquets exhibited a skeleton to the guests, to remind them of the brevity of human life saying as they did so, ‘Let us eat and drink, for tomorrow we die.’”
I believe the elders used the allegory to describe cultural displacement, if not genocide. The train and its well-to-do passengers were an invasive species with the power to destroy an ancient way of life and the natural ecosystem it depended on. They came to drill for fossil fuel, dig for treasure and cut down trees. Make money. Natives be damned.
Nowadays, the train has left havoc as it chugged through Grand County, and it’s building steam toward San Juan County. Some of its passengers wear masks of environmental righteousness, promising economic prosperity and religious sanctity, but they’re just as destructive to Old West culture – to health and well-being, community sustainability, clean air and water, an ability to earn a decent living and democratic processes – as the drillers, diggers and cutters.