Category Archives: Books

I’m currently in the process of getting my first novel published. I’ll give you the inside scoop of the process.

Nevada’s Lady legislature

Long Gone Railroad

Pavement, roadways, fire departments, schools… “Sounds like people who want free stuff.”

Wyoming is a big place. Not many people live here. There is no income tax. Sales tax is 4%. Then fossil fuel tax subsidies flow from Washington DC to the states, kicking dollars out the door to fossil fuel companies that end up helping subsidize Wyoming’s public spending programs. Fair enough until now.

Wyoming levies taxes on coal, gas and oil from the coal mine or pumpjack meter generating more state revenue, this is known as a production tax.

Libertarian bent Republicans have long praised Wyoming’s low taxes on individuals looking the other way about all these fossil fuel levies that are raised to run the affairs of state, county, and city governments.

Republican fundraisers promising to forever defend coal miners, gas and oil operators take campaign contributions to fund elections then go back to Washington DC and stifle, block and gripe about the climate change induced energy revolution barreling like a brahma bull right toward the status quo sweet deal they’ve had going for the past century.

Instead of recognizing the fossil fuel energy system is coming to an end Americans are treated to Texas sized nonsense. Sen. Ted Cruz released a press statement saying that by rejoining the Paris climate accord, Biden is showing that “he’s more interested in the views of the citizens of Paris than in the jobs of the citizens of Pittsburgh.”

Yeah, the roughneck wildcatting coalmining wingers have toiled to power our economy for a good long while, but same as a buggy whips and rotary dialed telephones the industries days are numbered. Policy is important. Displaced workers will require new opportunities. I’ve got about a baker’s dozen list of ideas to help our Trump voting, libertarian leaning, don’t need no stinking Bureau of Land Management agencies getting into our affairs types still too seething and steaming about the Big Lie to realize concerned citizens from across the nation are going to help them through the energy transition.

Wyoming folk know all about wildfires, heatwaves, droughts and deer droppings. “Fact of the matter is climate change is inevitable, part of the natural world, and even if there was something to do there’s no real sense of doing anything since all it is going to do is take our sweet deal here in Wyoming and bring it to an end. No sir, ain’t nothing to do but keep doing what we’ve been doing.”

Hard to think of Las Vegas as having a moderating effect on Nevada’s politics, but with almost 3 million people living in Clark County, Nevada, this block of voter’s values trend center to progressive, net outcome is that Carson City is the first majority female legislature in the country. Soon enough there’ll be nothing but daycare centers for as far as an eye can see, and that’ll be a good thing.

Elko’s politics is all red state, rural, grievance based but with Las Vegas and Reno voters in the mix they can’t bring their anti-government “throw all the bums out and leave us the hell alone ideas to the rest of the state.” Our lady legislature majority acting with inherent matriarchal instincts intends to nurture their Elko neighbors back from the Trumpian brink.

Mural fragment Tonopah

If you add up the towns near my residence in Northern California, that includes Pittsburg, Martinez, Pleasant Hill, Walnut Creek, Alamo, Danville, San Ramon and Pleasanton, this list of municipalities would equal all the citizens of the state of Wyoming. Left coast liberals, moderates and conservatives are packed together in California where in Wyoming a vast sea of Republicans in name only are spread out across all manner of mountains, valleys, rivers and lakes. Wyoming’s got all the fossil fuel jobs and all we’ve got is Facebook, Google and the dirtiest air in all of the United States.

Boiling beneath the surface of our nations fragmented rural versus urban nervous system is a collision between an obsolete industrial revolution energy system and the deployment of our modern emerging new economy energy system. Water scarcity only makes matters that much more complicated. Our depleted grazing lands pressurizes local economic opportunities all that much more. It’s not that citizens are against livestock, the scientific fact is that the range was overgrazed, and it will require decades for the land to recover. No rancher alive today will ever run herds the size and scale of last century. Cliven Bundy’s days of free grazing are coming to an end. Just the fact of the matter, and facts do matter.

Great Basin Rush Hour

America is blessed with an abundance of natural resources, we just need to use our heads and choose wisely. Lithium is up and coal is down. Photovoltaic solar panels are in and uranium mining is out. Choking on air from internal combustion engines in the Los Angeles is coming to an end and flying down the freeway in the lap of luxury in one of these newfangled electric automobiles that is parked in your driveway plugged in and by smart meter either being charged or by use of networked software engineering it is lending back some of its electrons to the grid it is plugged into to help power the neighbors microwave oven, washer or videogame console.

The American frontier consists of more than some vast space where are disbursed a vast treasure of natural resources. Out in the rural west there abounds opportunity to live closer to the land. There is no rat race, no traffic congestion, no long lines. Advanced technologies will provide unanticipated opportunities. Offshored manufacturing will be re-shored, some will be located like the Gigafactory in less populated regions of the American West. Life will be good, bingo will be played, and our babies will have a future. Don’t ever pretend that women in the Nevada legislature are going to turn on voters and throw the key to their loving hearts away on our future. They’re just not, can’t, isn’t in their nature. Saddle up pilgrims.  

mustang and Burro musings

Author in Escondido with his horse

Rounding up mustang and burros when their populations exceed the rangeland’s carrying capacity isn’t a muleheaded idea. If you’ve ever staked out a burro to eat down a blackberry thicket, you’ll appreciate what I mean. Burros come out of Africa. Jack’s and Jenny’s are suspicious animals and know people can be as unpredictable as jackals.

The further you travel into the least populated regions of the American West the more likely you are to encounter overgrazed rangeland. Especially because burros tend to roam deeper into the emptiness, you’ll have to travel farther off the highways into the least visited corners to see what harm the animal can do to the seldom visited places. Javelinas, mule deer, big horn and elk never were meant to be in competition with an African burro and can find their forage stripped right out from their home ground.

Remember just twenty thousand years before now across North America roamed a great many predators, megafauna as they are so adorably referred to by paleontological types, large carnivores kept the small herbivores in ‘checkeroo.’ And that was before the eternally stubborn rapier witted burro arrived from Spain via Africa.

Skippering a sailboat south from San Francisco south to Catalina Island requires preparation, patience and time. You embark not on a date and hour but as the weather allows. You do not travel on one compass heading at one speed, you alter your course with the breeze, you may speed up, decide to decrease sail area to slow down or if conditions deteriorate seek refuge in the nearest harbor. Only a fool is in a hurry.

A citizen living in Tucson, Phoenix, Las Vegas, Salt Lake City, or Denver while close to the American West no longer depend upon the place, urban people feed off a dynamic economy. The urban westerner goes camping out in the empty trackless outback, arriving late Friday to fish, hunt and hike and home late Sunday in time for work on Monday.

Rural rascal residents have a more complicated circumstance, scuffing up a living tends to be extractive, focusing on exchanging the value of the natural resources for fiat currency, the almighty dollar.

The carrying capacity of the American West, how many people and animals can be supported out here has long been tipped beyond the fulcrum of natures balance. To my eye the rural citizen starved of access to resources is a more desperate animal with fewer choices. Stuck in the middle of nowhere with nothing is a corner in need of a fix.

Like that a galloping herd of mustang can be heard thundering over the horizon. Fortunate for America, the nation has got near as many able-bodied men and women ready to embark upon right livelihood. Herds of mustang need to be culled, burros too. Getting the animals off sensitive habitat would be good for starters. Preparing the animals ready for adoption requires skilled horsemen, not knuckleheaded desperados but horse whisperers, skillful people from rural communities that have grown up around livestock will know what I mean. Forget about cheap, this is going to take mucho dinero, revenue, spending, dollars, hard earned and supplied by taxpayers, culling mustang and burros is not ever going to be a project that fully funds itself.

We’ve got mustang everywhere, from California to Colorado, from Washington to New Mexico, and with all those animals comes a horseman and an honest day’s work for a wage. Hotheaded cattlemen want the animals off the range. Bolo tie wearing western range managers caught between the anti-tax fervency of the muckamucks and big shots back east find their hands tied behind the famous rock and hard place.

I’m going full blasphemy and don’t get your knickers in a knot, just breathe with the revelation, allow your imagination to run with the coyote and neighbors dogs, let’s defuse this toxic sagebrush rebellion, bring some human horse and burro sense to the moment.

Mustang, are icons of an American West that is slowly getting surrounded, filled up and near ready to collapse. American taxpayers already subsidize fossil fuels out here, we already giveaway our trees to timber companies, we already dole out water rights to growers that ship crops to offshore markets for their private profit pumping the peoples ancient aquifer like there is no tomorrow.

I would propose we set a new and more enlightened agenda. Repurpose tax subsidies, aim our tax dollars to the rural men and women that can help preserve and protect our rangeland.

All weekend long I’ve been driving between Denver back to San Francisco. Every chance I had I spent reading over all these postings about the crisis the American West is having over the out of control herds of mustang and burros.

What to do about the overpopulation of mustang and burro stories are being published far and wide. Noteworthy was how delicate the tapdancing around the topic seemed. Editors from Elko to Provo, Cheyenne to Yuma are careful about what this sensitive issue. Depending upon the publications readership the writers and editors shaped the story to fit the preconceptions, all the old tired out of date assumptions perpetuated by all the locked into their positions and not going to budge one inch types. I mean it makes a man want to spit his false teeth across the room and empty a quart of whiskey so as to settle his risk of tantrum, fits and spontaneous impulse to break his faith in humanity.

Everything and everybody is doing their damned best to protect their turf. “Ain’t nobody giving up nothing for nobody.” You got a water subsidy, goddamn it, I’m keep my fair share. Have a lease on a tract of BLM land, got dibs on those grazing rights, keeping them too. Mineral rights, drilling leases, deer tags and pinion pine nut picking privileges are never to be surrendered.

The draft horse is a working stiff. I had the privilege of being introduced to a team that together plowed 700 acres. The man that managed this team had nothing to prove, working with the animals was a reward unto itself. A draft horse isn’t finding meaning until its harnessed up and laboring breaking stubborn ground apart with a plow from light of day to dusk. Humankinds relationship with the horse is long and storied. Like a sailor the man handling the draft horses has set his own course to go his own way cultivating a crop for reasons beyond merely marking a commodity to market.

The American West is in transition, the tumbleweeds and sagebrush steppe needs its poet cowboy and renegade go-it-my-own-way types. We need to reimagine the place and people, expand our stunted imaginations, and remake this classic in the eyes of a people scrambling to fix the underlying centuries old assumptions that have kept us all tangled up and stuck. Billions of repurposed dollars could do the trick. Better days are promised to those willing to be the change, to embrace the unfamiliar, to preserve what is right and good about what we’ve found out here. This is remnant frontier homeland, a place that deserves protecting, a place worth paying a man a fair wage for a good day of work.

Green River Hot Stuff

Boom times in Utah swelled the population of Green River. Even before the arms race prospectors came to Southeast Utah digging up vanadium then radium. By the 1940’s the real rush was on, uranium was needed for nuclear weapons.

In 1977 outside Moab on Hwy 128 everyone camped along the Colorado River. You’d try to roll your rig into the salt cedar for privacy. I traveled through unaware the Atlas Uranium Mill was in full operation just downwind of where I was camping. By 1984 the processing facility closed.

Water from the Colorado River is diverted below Moab for use in California, Nevada, Utah, and Arizona. Since 1952 the radioactive uranium mills tailings have been spilling into the river. Nothing about digging out uranium from the Morrison Formation of the Jurassic age has ever made any kind of sense.

Walking along Broadway in Green River, passing by the now closed saloons, new buildings erected next to the crumbling ruins from the old days. You can see the intertwining, you have to wonder who had come here and where did these boomtown miners go?

Modern times the river rafting companies put in here. Summertime the cottonwoods spread optimism and shade. Green River watermelons are feast and treasure. About 900 citizens have stuck it out here since the boom times, back when uranium mining was in full swing it was more like 3000.

Back during uranium’s heyday, when a man could still earn a fair wage for his toil, that’s when Green River was a frontier destination, Town was swelled with hard rock miners packing fat wallets, resisting the Mormon tyranny of faith and sobriety, Friday nights on Broadway this is where love came to be lost and found.

At the foot of Broadway is the Green River train station where the California Zephyr travels through. You can get on and go east to Chicago or west to Emeryville, California. Might as well by a ticket to the moon, nothing seems more improbable than thinking you can escape the life you’ve found here.

Green River today is most of all a gas stop. One-hundred and ten miles west in Salina is the next chance. That would be somewhere beyond the San Rafael Swell and Spotted Wolf Canyon. Motoring east you’ll go another 100 miles to Grand Junction. No fool goes off half cocked out here in this desert. You’ll pay with misery and your life.

Geologists, paleontologists, and archeologists are scattered across the remote hinterlands returning to file reports of nowhere else in the world discoveries. Rockhounding and dinosaur bone finds are frequent.

America’s first people, the Anasazi arrived here 12,000 years before present. Rugged doesn’t describe the countryside and how a soul managed to move from one region to another is unimaginable.

Walking with your fresh polished best pair of boots along Broadway in Green River, that’s where the real riot of humanity was found. Long ago they’d ride up by horseback, then Model T’s, Model A’s, Willy’s and then Jeeps.

I was backstage with a pack of musicians, one was Chris Ledoux. Lot of storytelling was going on. An act out of Wyoming had taken up where his grandfather had left off, traveling between towns playing country music. The player had mentioned his grandfather having played Green River back in the 1930’s. Money for a gig in a boomtown was better than what you make in Cheyenne or Casper. Rodeo champion and country music star Chris Ledoux couldn’t put this touring by Model A out of his mind. All of us had a pickup truck out in a parking lot ready for another 400-mile drive.

Environmental Protection Agency studied the radioactive mine tailings problem left behind by the uranium boom days. The more it rained the more material washed into the Colorado. Closed since 1984 it wasn’t until about 10 years back, they finally acted. Custom trailers had been fabricated so that once loaded would not leak one speck of dust. For years now trailers have been hauling tailings 30 miles north burying the contaminated dirt into a pit. The burial site was lined and will be capped when the work is completed. Projects official price tag is about one billion dollars, but that doesn’t include the radioactive damage inflicted on the human populations both near and far.

The craziest part of me would have given anything to have four wheeled off the desert back into Green River after a long day out prospecting for uranium. Take a shower, put on my saloon dancing duds, hop into my Willy’s and head on down to Broadway chase a few of those cute Mormon girls that have come into town looking to strike it up with one of those hot shot hard rock strike-it-rich types they’ve all heard so much about. There’s no way to account for how good the music was or how proud a daring man might feel holding that night’s love of his life in his arms for the first and last first time.

One thing for sure the half-life of this whole being amorous thing has got to have made Friday nights in Green River the one sure place that a good and not so good girl might go missing in search of eternal bliss until she miraculously reappears at sun up the next morning her heart full and with stories she will never be able to tell.

 

Cassavetes Crossroads

Stuck in Bakersfield. Highway through Tehachapi closed due to snow. Grapevine to LA closed. Packed into a Shell Station with a sea of masked humanity attempting to move east to Barstow, Las Vegas and destinations unknown, how does it feel…

Fixed supper, listened to McConnell fold on organizing rules for senate. House sent Articles of Impeachment to senate this afternoon. Revolution, insurrection and treason don’t draw as big or as enthusiastic a crowd as the revolutionaries. Republican senators are hoping to squirm their way out of this vote. I say flush the senators out, make them vote, find out whose for this project in self governance and whose not. 

Kevin McCarthy, the minority leader’s people encircle my present location. Just passed a citrus processing plant. Maybe we need less orange juice for breakfast. I am a passionate opponent of water grabbing. Water grabbers occupy the lowest rung in the ladder. We need more water protectors!

Then I read the new Prez has mandated the national government buy electric cars, not just any electric cars, but American made electrics. Why topless dancing, speedo bathing suits and high school night sober celebrations are making a comeback. Still love a good looking bikini, I find it restores my faith in the healing energies of  seeing unblemished skin in its mortal manifestation.

Road closures, snowfall delays and high wind warnings beats hungry bears romping through the campsite looking for a taste of sponge cake, pork rinds and cinnamon buns.

Favorite vice is going north on the coast to Tomales Bay. In Marshall stopping to buy fresh oysters is an essential culinary act, it is to join in solidarity with the sea. Buddy of mine, we’d drink and dance at the tavern, always dancing with phantoms, the lipstick drenched finest, then sleep over on Dillion’s Beach. First thing in the morning we’d drive to Bodega Bay for coffee, then devolve into post adolescent fog slick highway sport driving.

Have been driving between San Francisco and Denver since March. Even Bakersfield is bigger now. Citrus groves on the southeast side represent political power. The minority leader is the citrus growers man. Bakersfield is a conflicted soul, an end to a valley that craves no ending. Buck Owens Crystal Palace is here, shuttered due to the virus, but the joint will reopen, and then you’ll have to decide if you need Buck’s music makers back in your alligator skinned boots. Two-stepping remains one of country music’s greatest gifts. The best dancers have imagination,  private investigations and divorces.

I don’t know that any of us can predict how we each are dealt a set of crossroads that we seem fated to return to again and again. Beginning in 1974 and until now I’ve been through here in route for shows, home, or adventure. Took a road trip with my mom to Palm Springs to hang with family. Up top near Tehachapi in a snowstorm, just getting through before they closed the road. Yesterday my mom now long gone, but here she was with me at this crossroads.

In those days you drove Highway 58 through Mojave instead of taking the bypass. Mojave no longer a crossroads has all but killed the place. Motels shutdown, restaurants hung on then failed, gas stations seemed about the only business that survives.

A bit further east Highway 58 intersects with Highway 395. Eight hours from San Francisco, another 8 hours to Phoenix the intersection had a few gas stations, truck stop, convenience store. Have slept here countless nights while in transit one way or another. My first encounter with this crossroads I was riding shotgun in an El Dorado, a real boat of a machine, baby blue with white leather interior, my pop was at the wheel, he kept a flask of Southern Comfort in the glovebox, while we motored south to San Diego we’d take a nip, just enough naughty my playing Faulk to my pops Gazarra, pretending to be players in a Cassavetes film. You don’t drive a baby blue Eldo, you swagger in a piece of Americana such as this, the car announces your overindulgence.

I can’t run these highways without visits from long gone souls. Keep them close at hand. Long distance driving allows us to share time. My two dogs come visit, they were both nothing but ball chasers. They were good dogs, loyal to their owner, dedicated and kind. I loved those dogs more than I can say.

Crossroads, there are a lot of jokes, music lyrics and plot lines for novels have all been sorted out while running the two-lanes to far off intersections scattered all across the west. Nomadic types, those with the itch, the ones that understand why we need to keep moving, what we see, what we find out here, the distinctive landmarks called intersections. This is what a road trip is made for. To take yourself to places you’ve never been, then return to feel the ghosts whisper to your soul.

operating manual to the future

Last Show the Last Day in Grand Prairie

For the past two decades Grand Prairie has been a notable stop while out playing the Canadian festival circuit. Sixty-three thousand make their home tucked up against the Rockies where a boundless prairie hits its westernmost edge. Further south a favorite hot spring, Miette in Jasper National Park beckons after a month of shows. I do love getting myself into hot water.

 Grand Prairie is located come boom or bust on two of the largest oil and gas plays in North America, the Montney and Duvernay basins. You want to play politician in this region then you are immediately sucked into the commodities market. The price of rapeseed, pulp timber, and natural gas are the leading indicators of your political viability polls.

Prime Minister Justin Trudeau somehow (take that America) passed a carbon tax, a cap-and-trade type arrangement, promising to disburse the funds back to the nation’s taxpayers. There’s a lot of moaning, groaning, finger pointing, blame gaming and outright calls from the prairie provinces for secession, this one named after a bunny rabbit, a Wexit. The alleged unfairness of this taxation has sparked outrage among a handful of hotheaded Albertans they echo the same sentiments of some yahoo types down in Wyoming.

The Carbon Tax Hat Trick

Circumstances remain much the same for Wyoming and Alberta.  Nobody wants to be the fool politician who advocates for exiting from the fossil fuel business. Trudeau isn’t saying he wants to exit, he’s just capping and trading, hoping the price signal will wink-wink, nod-nod its way down in value while renewable technologies and other more tenable business opportunities emerge.

Politics being the art of the possible and not the perfect kind only got half a loaf on this cap-and-trade tax. I’d have urged Ottawa, hell I’d urge Washington to put a tax on fossil fuels and instead of rebating this tax to every voter across the fruited plain instead target the revenues to the communities that are getting hammered by the changes. Targeting is the operative concept here, if you work in Midland this doesn’t go lost on you.

Fearless Spectator in Hot Water

Instead, Alberta’s Premier Jason Kenney has been fighting to get his province’s fossil fuels pumped to Houston through the on again-off again XL Keystone Pipeline. Fighting to keep the fossil fuels flowing Kenney has run off into the wilds of wonderland issuing a report grounded in climate-denial science, bizarre conspiracy theories and oil-industry propaganda. The Oglala Lakota Water Protectors have found our new President Biden joining their fight in the neverending eternal work of keeping their peoples water pure and safe.

Wyoming don’t you worry about coming in second place in the smear and fear game, try this on for size, there is “a new breed of zealots less interested in saving Planet Earth than in destroying the capitalist system.” 

Having suffered a fresh bout of insurrection down here in the lower forty-eight I’m urging the loyal good natured hosts in Alberta to stay calm as tyranny and revolution are overrated.  

Street Show in Sexsmith near GP

One man’s gridlock is seen by another man to be obstruction. In Page, Arizona the Navajo with coal power becoming uncompetitive took the decision to shut down the reservations coal powered generation station. Hundreds of Navajo are out of work, the coal mine that supplied the fuel for the station contaminated their groundwater, and there is no help from Washington on its way. Seventy-five more uncontrolled coal powered generating station shutdowns scattered across the nation are going to inject their economic turbulence into the venomous politics of our present moment.

Touring across Canada and the United States I have done shows among all the various impacted communities. My most recent visit to Grand Prairie was in July 2019. I have played the Navajo Nations schools and libraries many times, the most recent in 2016. I can’t speak for these people, but I can feel for them, and support their effort to create jobs, grow opportunities for their children, help enable a viable self-sufficiency, not neglect, not ignoring their problems, but opening doors to the 21st centuries renewable energy system.

One of 75 Slated to Close

I’m going to Denver this week before I go here’s what I’d recommend. First, when the Navajo Power Generating Station was built in 1970 renewable energy systems were expensive and unproven. Today many remote Navajo living off grid without access to water could get electricity using solar panels, batteries and inverters. The costs remain an obstacle but they’re getting lower and we cannot afford to leave this precious natural resource, our nations first people, behind. Helping nurture our partners sovereign nation will be a boundless blessing. Where to get the funds? A cap-and-trade tax on carbon. Calm down!

How about Alberta? How are we going to figure out how to untangle this hot cowboy hatted mess of commodity addicted Canadians? I’d urge Ottawa to repurpose their carbon tax funds and aim them directly at the people with the most to lose, and that would be the communities hit by the changing energy system.

Working for a Living

Putting whole regions of North America into economic freefall because some politicians have no stomach for helping its workers, because certain partisans can’t stand government using its ability to organize and respond to a crisis, because they can’t utter the much despised three letter word TAX!!!! Not being capable of using our collective power to nurture change isn’t going to get the job done.

I say get on your horse and ride or dismount and handover your spurs. If you don’t have the guts to try we may just need a better posse for the job.

Instead of fighting efforts to rein in climate changing pollutants, maybe start fighting to help your workers transition into the new economy. I’m plenty sure there is no cheap or easy way around this crisis, but there are reality based ways we can respond. Saddle up, time we head this trouble off at the pass.

Clock stopping bathing beauties

Good Advice

You’ll get yourself into hot water if you go to Thermopolis, Wyoming. That’s the idea. I’d recommend the town’s health food store, Nature’s Corner and the Crow Bar. I found my people hanging out there and the food my people like to eat.

Twenty years back I got my first taste of hair raising fun while trying my luck cheating death over at the Star Plunge. Waterslides are pleasure enough, but a hot spring waterslide, a pitch-dark pipe with corkscrews, dips and twists that tosses you near as close as you’ll ever come to a free fall, well there’s all of that plus now you’ll be dealing with heart palpitations, and a very real decision over whether you’ve got the guts to try that slide a second time. “Well, do you punk?”

Lousy Advice Found Here Too

Hot water enthusiasts come from all corners of the world so that they may take to the mineral waters found here. Bathing beauties are stopping the clocks here there are also plain various sized and shaped people that help keep all those other clocks running on time.

Getting to Thermopolis is convenient to nothing. Salt Lake City is far away, Denver’s further and the drive from Jackson Hole makes a normal person regret ever having embarked upon the journey.

Nature’s Corner is a Magnet

Nearby Worland is more familiar Wyoming where Thermopolis is an aspiring example of what the Cowboy State could be. Nature’s Corner attracts the counterfactual crowd that has come to this part of the frontier west. Our host at the room we rented was an out of the closet lesbian. Nearby Shoshone and Arapaho come soak at the pools and shop in the store. You’ll see Volkswagen vans in town.

Caw in your Order

South is the Atlantic City Iron Mine. Further south from there is Rock Springs. Nearby Carbon County is undergoing a boom in wind turbines. Three thousand megawatts have been installed.

I have heard said roughnecks believe that leaving the drilling business for wind turbine installation is akin to cheating on a wife. Making a wind turbine service technician out of a roughneck can’t be a hayride or trouble-free transformation.

Europe needs to acknowledge that its future is no longer with fossil fuels, said the President of the European Investment Bank. “To put it mildly, gas is over,” Dr Werner Hoyer said.

Ending the use of fossil fuels that’s where people paid to consider the future are coming down. Wyoming’s fossil fuel industry is trying to come to terms with the end, but like a lot nasty habits kicking the old ways is not quick or easy.

Wind Turbines as Salvation

Five billion dollars was borrowed to build the coal fueled Prairie State Energy Plant in Marissa, Illinois. Dreamed up by the Peabody Coal Company less than ten years ago this colossus is in danger of finding its multiple billions of dollars stranded. There were cost overruns and long-term contracts locking municipalities into expensive rates and carbon pollution the world can no longer afford.

Then, you’ve got states talking about the changes heading their way like it or not, and you’ve got the states with the most to lose that haven’t found the courage to start talking yet. West Virginia, Ohio, Kentucky, and Wyoming remain tongue tied. All that silence is about to come to an end.

Ten years ago, nobody was predicting renewable energy would be today’s low-cost energy leader. Making a better battery was a pipe dream. Next generation batteries will take a full charge as fast as a gas-powered car needs to fill its tank with fuel. Range anxiety, what’s that?

The politics of fossil fuel has been complicated, but it is becoming less difficult. Wildfires are now conflagrations, hurricanes are more frequent. We’ve got an iceberg the size of Hawaii floating in the Southern Ocean. Monday, January 18th, smack dab in middle of winter here in Walnut Creek, California, we hit 79 degrees.

Not another soul to talk to

I return to Denver next week crossing over by Sprinter van. My route will take me across 1200 miles of landscape desperate for more rain and snow. The clock is ticking, winters half over. So far this season the measly three inches of rain in San Francisco is horrible, half an inch in Santa Barbara is terrifying. The new religion here in wildfire wonderland is talking to the weather gods, forty million left coast liberals are praying for an atmospheric river and soon.  

We all know what is barreling straight at all of creation. Humanity has got a raging catastrophic climate change global emergency. Fixing this hot mess is the fierce urgency of now. That’s the Kong sized crisis we’re in, add a pandemic, toss in social inequality, and a rowdy bunch of anxious Hannity audience members and well we do have a full plate. We need a vaccine, solar panels, pay raise and the courage to strike out on a path to save the world.  When we’re finished, we can all go have a good soak at the Star Plunge. We’ll need it.

thacker pass mine approved

Running the backroads

I diverted from Winnemucca north to Orovada. In town I inventoried one school, one church and one gas station.  If you take Hwy 293 west, you’ll end up atop Thacker Pass. I drove out 22 miles parked my rig and took a walk. Clear sky, cool, wind was calm, beautiful up top this discovery. You wouldn’t know by looking that I was standing on the largest known lithium deposit in the United States, there is still room for uncertainty, could be the biggest whopping lithium deposit in the world, for all we know this is the largest recoverable deposit geophysicists have ever discovered or a mining company has laid claim to.

For ten years one mining company after another has been seeking the Department of the Interior’s permission to develop a mine here. Hay growers and ranchers have been scheming like a pack of chicken chasing coyotes trying to stop the project. Then, this last weekend, word came down from on high the Bureau of Land Management sent a formal notice that they had approved the claim and that Lithium America may officially proceed. 

Man Cave Misbehavior

First it was the Atomic Test Site and now for all the pickles, burros, and brothels you can find, the fate of the world has once again come to rest in the Silver State’s hands. Lithium batteries will not save humanity singlehandedly but could be that our ability to manufacture electric automobiles plays an outsized role in our quest to snatch our tender behinds from everlasting vanquishment. I swear to God Cliven Bundy slammed his hat into the dirt, cursed one of his steers, the geezer is jumping up and down, and it is not with joy.

The American West is fated with a first come-first dibs sensibility. The lineage of this tradition stretches back at least to when the first pioneers crossed the frontier to open this territory for homesteading. Cowboys believed that their rights came first, last, and in-between. The original people, the indigenous population, the ancient prehistoric citizens that had arrived here 20,000 years ago, the first to have long settled the Great Basin, a civilization of hunters and gatherers, were pushed off their homeland, and replaced by a more aggressive European immigrant. Hypocrisy, dirty dealing, and no-good rotten irony went lost on this crowd of bronco busting fur trappers.

Orovada Store

At first glance Nevada appears empty. Driving on a two-lane highway you may not encounter another soul all day and night. Looking off into the distance there are wide valleys and steep mountains where you will not see one ranch, hayfield or strand of barbwire. Nothing is out here but landscape, wildlife, and the sound of silence. Almost like Cliven Bundy is right. “Hell, nobody is here. Might as well put some cattle on the rangeland and make a little for the family.”

Sometimes it feels like the world is made up of nothing but claim jumpers, water grabbers and free grazers. Sometimes it seems Nevada is all nuclear weapons, roulette wheels and whiskey addled men. Feels like the Great Basin is biggest man cave known to civilization- this isn’t like just anywhere, this place is for misfits, this is the where you’ll find that home of the brave-land of the free.

Thacker Pass

Standing atop Thacker Pass there remains much unfinished business. There is the matter of scaling the lithium refinement process. Markets agree the Gigafactory would be a buyer, that China has been the global juggernaut of battery manufacturing, that the United States has some serious catching up to do, four years we’ve been awash in a tempest of conspiracy theories, Putin puppetry and peak swamp draining paralysis.  

Still, if you are going to take part in the World Emergency Full Catastrophe Climate Change Comedy Show you need something like the Great Basin Desert, a Jeep full of contradiction, and a good plot threatening existential calamity from beginning to end. It is almost like gridlock, filibuster and procrastination have brought us to the edge of doom, doom and more doom. But we got a new sheriff in town, change is in the air, I’m feeling the tectonic plates shifting. I see progress rolling across the plains. We’re making electricity for spit, and cheap batteries out Thacker Pass dirt. I bend down and grab hold of a piece of rock, it is a piece of tomorrow I’ve got a hold of, and the 10,000 acres that I can see, I’m looking at our future, and I see hope. Today was a good day for an inauguration, Today is a fine clear blue sky, the future holds a promise. Thacker Pass until you behold the place is almost unbelievable, too good to be true, then you come here, see it for yourself, and things inside you shift around, and you see deep into the human condition, and you see possibility, you see the means of building an energy system, a gift for those who have yet come for their turn, here on this earth, the one we must preserve and nurture, our response to the climate emergency isn’t technological, it is a moral duty. I am standing atop the means to our salvation. Don’t let up now, don’t be discouraged, we’re just getting started. I got a piece of hope in my hand up on Thacker Pass.

winds of change blowing into wyoming

As Time Goes By

Out here on the western frontier, where the deer and the antelope roam there remain 33 coal fueled electric power stations. Wyoming is top mess maker, operating a dozen of these dirty devils. Toss in bait of federal tax subsidies, add lobby shops sprinkling magic money dust and Wyoming can’t put the demon coal habit down even though it takes 700 lbs. of coal to power a 100-watt lightbulb for one year.

Coal burning power stations employs people. A good paying job in Wyoming is a miracle unto itself. Hard to imagine now, but in 1886 Wyoming was the first state in the union to give women the right to vote. There was no choice. Had they not counted the women there were not enough voting men to qualify the state for entry into the United States.

Modern day Wyoming voters have shifted to the right, hard right, to the radical right. Half of Wyoming’s land is owned by “we the people,” a much smaller fraction by the state, and right on schedule the mining, livestock and timber industry all remain discontent by the regulatory restraints regulation places on their activities.

Butting Heads Against the Hard Rock

Outdoorsmen flock to Wyoming for hunting and fishing. Real estate around Jackson Hole is sky high. If you can find happiness in Casper, some do most of the rest struggle, somewhere $200,000 will get you a decent home. Wages for labor are lower than they ought to be. Libertarians pass through their resentments of governance blaming distant bureaucrats for all that ails folks here. Gas, oil and coal subsidies, federal tax dollars, inbound to Wyoming somehow escape libertarian criticism.

Wind power is coming on strong. Measured by megawatts the wind has some distance to go to catch up with coal. Nevertheless Wyoming has a lot of wind, it is renewable, you don’t have to dig it out of the ground, put it on a train, unload the rock onto a conveyor belt, burn it, shoot much of out a smokestack, then find you have no cheap or easy means of getting rid of the coal ash that remains a biohazard to the citizens for decades. You try to bury it one place or another, you go bankrupt trying, while all that free clean abundant wind keeps blowing free and easy past higher priced fossil fuel by leaps and bounds.

Politically even if coal, gas and oil are losing the fight against renewables for producing the cleanest, cheapest energy money can buy it still is causing economic disruptions that all of us will need to address. January 6th, 2021 matters in this calculation. Coal plants are going to be shut down, wind and solar facilities are going to be opened. The largest coal power plants employ 100’s of people that are going to lose jobs. This is steady work at a good pay rate. Coal provides a community with economic stability.

Emptiness- My Beautiful Reward

Bigger financial institutions are the most frequent players in the funding of generating stations. There is good reason. A bank can plug numbers into a spread sheet, this many megawatts, produced night and day, twenty-four-seven, year in and year out, ratepayers with almost no other choice than to take what they can get, works out on paper in the banking business to be as sure thing as a money-making proposition can be.

Ramping up drilling in the Powder River Basin, 5000 leases have just been fast tracked, fire hosed and blessed by Texas tea black bullion barons, billions of dollars in federal subsidies, regulatory agencies sitting on their hands, a whole lot of down on their luck drillers are lining up for a piece of the action.

This isn’t champagne, caviar or wing nuts over Yellowstone. This is not a free market economy. This is crony capitalism, regulatory capture, where the favors are doled out to the most favored.

Private equity, Wall Street, the “too big to fail banks” are all becoming reluctant players. Investment dollars are getting harder to come by because the price of renewable energy is down, and that cleaner cheaper thing is, if you didn’t know it, a better thing.

There are fewer Democrats in Wyoming than there are grizzly bears. Republicans in Cheyenne like playing hard ball, deregulate industry, say not one word about federal fossil fuel subsidies, cut the state budget, then cut taxes more, then cut them again, trigger fiscal crisis, then snarl and bark about how government doesn’t work.

What we can do is end the federal fossil fuel subsidies that keep going to Cheyenne. Switch federal tax incentives to the low-cost leader in energy, that would be solar and wind, launch a reality based economic transition program. Help Wyoming’s workers first, the fossil fuel companies second. Then, start a dialogue with the state’s politicians. Wyoming is windy. A redesigned electric power grid is needed, those are all good paying jobs.

Coal is not coming back. Nuclear power is way too expensive. By 2025 the best Ford pickup money can buy will be electric. Miners in Wyoming will be repurposed. National security will require domestic sources of lithium, copper, and manganese be developed.

I’m not kidding, it’s going to be good

We will need leadership in Wyoming to sit down at the negotiating table. Republicans need to look to the energy future. Modernizing our energy system, setting our nations table, setting a course for a cleaner, more efficient, cheaper, world class competitive electric energy supply will pay our people back many times over. World class infrastructure means providing America with the chance to remain a world class economic powerhouse. I’m good with some progressive policies mixed in with conservative ideas too. What we need is a bipartisan agreement to follow the facts wherever they may lead us. Renewables are cheaper and not helping the citizens make it through the energy transition is unaffordable. We can’t squander our most precious natural renewable resource, our people, for the sake of ideology, because we slam the brakes on last century’s oil economy. We all make a decision together, that we all agree that we can’t leave our citizens behind. If this was poker, done right the energy transition is a winning hand. Better times and brighter less expensive lighting is just ahead.

the nevada man

Slightly Used Ready to Go

Forget about that wild card Romeo from Las Vegas. There’s nothing much you are going to learn from a rhinestone cowboy out of Reno. Take a place like Jarbidge, Duckwater or Paradise Valley and you’ll likely find the kind of top shelf Nevadan that will tickle the muse.

Tonopah has a population of 2009, Jackpot 1244, Eureka 462, and my favorite Jiggs off to the westside of the Ruby Mountains counts 2 permanent residents. With the passage of time the men and women that live out on the edge of what is left of our frontier become downright idiosyncratic. It is as if the essence of rural Nevada crawls right into their being and possesses their personage, sort of like when a dog and a dog’s owner somehow begin to resemble one another.

Just Leave it There

Most are self-employed. Another chunk signup to work for the man. There’s plenty to do and hardly a nickel, dime or extra quarter paid for any of it. Barter, trade secondhand stores, swap meets, and want-ads is how most goods and services are acquired.

Toss out the metro dwellers, those big shots from Sparks, Carson City and Henderson are leaning toward the progressive side of the political spectrum. As you travel further away from the population centers another kind of man or woman comes into focus. The Federal government owns most of the Silver State. Railroads own the next chunk. Water is scarce, mustang is plenty. To the satisfaction of not one libertarian leaning misanthropic rural resident the public lands are managed to the annoying benefit and misery of the many. You already know cattle ranchers lease rangeland from BLM- Bureau of Land Management. Pinion pine nut pickers pull permits by auction from the Forest Service. Department of Fish and Game lottery out hunting tags for mule deer, bighorn sheep, elk, mountain goats and pronghorn antelope. Mountain lion tags are readily available. Coyote are target practice and black eared jack rabbit are consternation incarnate. Irascibility is woven into the fabric of Great Basin life.

Ruby Mountain Sunrise

Trout fishing in the high country lakes of the Ruby Mountains will bring a 240 lbs., six-foot-four-inch angler to near speechless Sunday church like reverie. Surveying a pasture Nevadan’s can name dalmatian toadflax, goatsrue, or houndstongue at first glance. They’ll know whether they’ll have to hoe it, spray it, or burn it after they’ve pulled it out by the roots. A great many are voracious beer drinkers. A hay grower understands the forces of nature, how sun, water and healthy soil keep food on his table and roof over his head. Nevada means knowing how to use your hand tools. You don’t get to be stupid for long otherwise you’ll be bit, stung, cold, hot or just plain killed by the harsh conditions.

Rolled into Warm Springs one late afternoon. Two military jets dogfighting screamed by my campsite right down on the deck, low to the ground. United States Air Force was in training. Came and went so fast, I’d have had a heart attack if they’d given me another second or two.

Before dark, a turquoise miner rolled into where I’d parked under a cottonwood tree. The hot spring was where he took his bath. Scruffy beard, dirt smudged to his face, boney as a stick, had me sized up- right off.

“What do you do out here?”

“I work a turquoise mine.”

“You discovered turquoise out here?”

“No, all the turquoise in Nevada’s already been located. I bought the rights from another man, he’d done his time, sick of the work, ready to move on.” Grabbing his towel out of the cab of his truck, “Kill about one rattlesnake a month, we find a lot of two headed snakes, atomic test site seems to have affected reptiles more than us. Don’t kill the two headers, catch and sell them for a good price.”

I’d learned he had a lady friend in Page, Arizona. For fun he drives down now and again. She’s got a ski boat and likes to take LSD. Explained how he goes to a Navajo sweat lodge, knows a medicine man, trades turquoise for Peyote, that it unlocks his animistic vision, that he can see into the nature of things, then he explains for waterskiing acid is better.

Psychedelic small talk out in the middle of the Great Basin was unexpected, but what do I know.

The miner had three or four sun faded dog eared paperbacks on his dashboard. Handing him a book, I’d finished reading Mailer’s, The Armies of the Night. In return I ended up with Zamoyski’s 1812: Napoleon’s Fatal March on Moscow.

 Expectations will double cross visitors from out of state exploring the emptiest parts of Nevada. My license plates told the miner everything he needed to know. Californian’s may come off as sophisticated but that doesn’t make us complicated. Awkward, ashamed of the first impression that had come up in my mind, “I’ve seen some lizards.” Trying to regain my footing.

By now I believe he had enough, he was ready for his bath. “About the only thing a lizard is good for is keeping a cat skinny.”

Thacker Pass as salvation

End of the Line for Texas Tea

Up on Thacker Pass in Humboldt County, Nevada there has been discovered one of the largest lithium deposits in the world. How can I explain how big-the-big, gigantic, enormous lithium ore deposit is in terms that let you wrap your head around the size of this discovery? Back of the envelop—spitballing—figure over the next 4 decades there is enough material deposited at this site to make batteries for about 1 billion electric automobiles. I could be off either way by a billion or two, but you get the idea there’s a lot of potential sitting on this caldera in the wild wonderful Great Basin Desert.

Mining lithium, in this instance an open pit mine, will tear one hell of a hole into the landscape. Cattlemen and women will lose access to 10,000 acres they have been leasing from the Bureau of Land Management, and consequently if they do lose this lease there will be a predictably tense use of pejoratives, expletives and derogatory language filled with spleen, vexations, and disgust. Range fattened heifers and steers add to the bottom line of the cowhand’s ledger, every single head is make or break.

You take a cowboy with a bent nose, toss these brawlers together with two-thousand open pit miners and you’ve got yourself a timeless tale of fistfights and deer poaching. Once the lithium mine is constructed, once both the extraction department and the refinement and packaging side of the operation, plus the steady stream of big rigs running up and down Nevada State Hwy 293, once that’s all up and running, why you have brought change to a corner of a world that hasn’t much changed at all since the European immigrants arrived and pushed out the Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute Indians, the first people to settle here 17,000 years ago.

Now figure that in this one place if it is done right, you’ll use the best pollution control systems. This will be the first lithium mine in the world to process straight from out of the ground. Evaporation ponds have been the only viable method, but geophysicists believe they have come up with an efficient means of pulling the lithium out of the ore without using evaporation ponds. East or west of Thacker Pass there are hay growing operations, and they’re all jumpy as a pack of coyotes about any enterprise that may threaten the water supply. Toss in some sage grouse endangered species concerns and well there you go, the whole conundrum mashes up into one whopping remake of the shootout at the OK Corral.

There’s a new sheriff in town. I’m going to try to paint you a picture of what the world, cowboys and miners might pull off for “each and every last dog gone one of us.” First, the mine compared to oil and gas explorers will have a footprint incalculably smaller than the fossil fuel barons’ operations. No more stinky refinery’s, no more oil drilling rigs, no more offshore platforms, no more tankers running aground, no more oil spills, no more smoke in the sky, pollution in your lungs, and credit cards at the limit because you drove to Disney World in your dang titanic V-8 internal combustion engine powered all-wheel drive pickup truck.

As for all those good paying jobs. Here’s how I would want to cut this pack of labor faced playing cards. I want the mine company to donate to the Nevada Department of Fish and Game. Make it a sizable donation, every year so long as the mine is in operation. Get some funds set aside for Environmental Protection Agency remediation efforts. Support sage grouse habitat expansion across the entire Great Basin Desert. Why not pay a stipend to the ranchers and hay growers, come up with a formula, cut them in on the deal, wouldn’t hurt anyone and might make folks who’ve been scuffing by in Northern Humboldt County appreciate and support the mine and enterprise. I’d suggest money donated to local schools, increase the size of the region’s health care services, and support the county fair south in Winnemucca. I believe it is time to cut the great Western Shoshone and Northern Paiute Indians into the deal.  

Give Bugs and Snakes a Chance

Let me explain what in tarnation all this generosity and altruistic community building is about. The last thing the good people of this region need is a corporation muscling in on their way of life and not getting one red cent for the inconvenience. Instead of alienating every single solitary tractor driver within 50 miles of Thacker Pass try sharing some of the profits, try helping that little guy who hasn’t caught a break since unionization dried up and Ralph Nader’s complaining about Corvairs was a topic of current interest.

Transactional win-win is the key to this enterprise. I would keep the mining town’s footprint as small as small can be. Pay your miners a good living wage so that when a man says, “the drinks are on me…” that the worker can actually afford to pickup the tab down at the famous Alluvial Fan Saloon and share some of the fat in his wallet with those hay growers and cattle operators.

I’d offer classes in how to plant your own garden, kill rattlesnakes, squish scorpions and how to properly clean, oil and your long gun. Volunteer to help the hay growers during harvest, make friends with a Basque sheepherder, and eat more mutton. Church is fine, but taking roping lessons, helping move cattle off a mountain for a neighbor or asking the cutest philly you’ve ever seen to the country fair dance might help everyone and everything. Rodeo queens, barrel racers and a rough and tumble rural woman you might convince to go out for a four-wheel drive to watch sunset could make this lithium mine business something to make a life around.

Capitalism mixed with a properly arranged set of social services could go a long way toward making this new energy system a success as we scramble to save our necks from the “Holy Toledo, it is too dang hot out here.” A more enlightened approach might do us all some good. Disability insurance, retirement benefits, free day care, real health insurance, yoga classes, Wednesday night bingo, and paid vacation time will help everyone.

If Thacker Pass is approved, I’ll have more to say about the project. We don’t have just a world to save we’ve got lives to build. Communities willing to help deploy carbon free technologies should benefit for their effort and sacrifice. The era of fouling our own nest with filthy fossil fuels is coming to a close. I’d prefer to see America smarten up, can’t just be about the fat cats and well connected. Time for us to cut the working man back into the deal. Not a better place to begin than up on this mountain right about starting now before we lose our way, our freedom and this experiment is self-governance. Saddle up buckaroos, we’ve got a whole world to save, and a country in need of more love.