News from the Front #6

Halloween Special:  The Lunar Influence on Salmon Recovery


The full harvest moon brings to mind Ned Ludd, an English lunatic famous for fighting technological innovations in the weaving industry; he is the father of the word “luddite”.  In 1975, environmentalist writer Edward Abbey dedicated his novel The Monkey Wrench Gang to Ned Ludd.  The hero of the novel, which celebrates eco-terrorist attacks on Western development (and most famously on Glen Canyon Dam), is George Hayduke.


In the course of attacking roadbuilding and mining operations, and planning to blow up Glen Canyon Dam, Hayduke also finds time to celebrate the virtues of drunk driving,[1] littering,[2] violence,[3] and even peeing in the river.[4]  He and his associates attack Christians,[5] farmers,[6] and even Native Americans.[7]  Hayduke’s abiding hatred of technology[8] leads him to pursue a society where human beings revert to running wild like animals:


“When the cities are gone, he thought, and all the ruckus has died away, when sunflowers push up through the concrete and asphalt of the forgotten interstate freeways, when the Kremlin and the Pentagon are turned into nursing homes for generals, presidents and other such shitheads, when the glass-aluminum skyscraper tombs of Phoenix Arizona barely show above the sand dunes, why then, why then, why then by God maybe free men and wild women on horses, free women and wild men, can roam the sagebrush canyonlands in freedom – goddammit!  -- herding the feral cattle in box canyons, and gorge on bloody meat and bleeding fucking internal organs,[[9]] and dance all night to the music of fiddles!  banjos!  steel guitars!   by the light of the reborn moon! – by God, yes!  Until, he reflected soberly, and bitterly, and sadly, until the next age of ice and iron comes down, and the engineers and the farmers and the general motherfuckers come back again.” (p. 100-01)


Like many environmentalists, Hayduke does not notice the contradictions in this vision—such as how “free men and wild women” can play steel guitars with no steel mills.  Environmentalists like Hayduke don’t think through their romantic visions; they want action.  It doesn’t matter that technology can solve environmental problems.  As the Bible tells us, “a fool hath no delight in understanding, but that his heart may discover itself.”[10]


What does this have to do with salmon recovery?  The Oregonian recently revealed that Oregon’s Governor, John Kitzhaber, for many years sported a bumper sticker declaring “Hayduke Lives!”[11]  Kitzhaber now tells the Oregonian that he “embraces Hayduke’s spirit”, while not supporting Hayduke’s actions.[12] But Hayduke’s spirit is the spirit of destruction; the destruction of Technology to promote the ascendancy of Nature.  More civilized citizens might recall that in a State of Nature, the lives of humans are, in the words of Hobbes, “nasty, brutish and short”. 


But Kitzhaber too is a man of action, and he now urges Pacific Northwest citizens to seize control of the dams from the Federal government.  That would be probably be a good idea, except Kitzhaber proposes to put the dams under control of a special interest group, salmon advocates, who have no hope of serving the broader public interest.


Not as forthright concerning his heart’s intentions as Hayduke, the Governor speaks in code, telling the Associated Press:  “On the fish side, we don’t have the capacity to develop a fish and wildlife plan that we can actually compel federal agencies to carry out.”[13]  What the Governor means is an alliance of every Pacific Northwest State except the one actually containing the Snake River Dams, the Federal Government, and the Tribes can convince Congress to let Kitzhaber and other Hayduke followers blow up the Dams.


The Governor is probably right, because we live in lunatic times.  As the cold November winds sweep across the Pacific Northwest, and the dams toil silently to keep the lives of Northwesterners warm and comfortable, we can only hope that the influence of the moon will wane.


James Buchal, October 31, 1999

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[1]“Hayduke, rejoicing, scarfing up more beer, concluding his Flagstaff six-pack, wheels down to the river on the narrow road at a safe and sane 70 per, bellowing some incoherent song into the face of the wind.  He was indeed a menace to other drivers but justified himself in this way:  If you don’t drink, don’t drive.  If you drink, drive like hell.  Why?  Because freedom, not safety, is the highest good.”  E. Abbey, The Monkey Wrench Gang 26 (Avon paper ed. 1975).


[2]“I throw beer cans along the fucking highways,” Hayduke said.  “Why the fuck shouldn’t I throw fucking beer cans along the fucking highways?”


“Now, now.  Don’t be so defensive.”


“Hell,” Smith said, “I do it too.  Any road I wasn’t consulted about that I don’t like, I litter.  It’s my religion.”


“Right,” Hayduke said.  “Litter the shit out of them.” (p. 65)


[3] “’What’s more American than violence?’  Hayduke wanted to know.  ‘Violence, it’s as American as apple pie.” (p. 163)


[4]“Hayduke unzips and send a four-hundred-foot arc of filtered Schlitz pouring down through space to the master stream below.  No sacrilege – only a quiet jubilation.” (p. 27)


[5] “Page, Arizona: thirteen churches, four bars.  Any town with more churches than bars, that town’s got a problem.  That town is asking for trouble.  And they’re even trying to make Christians out of the Indians.  As if the Indians weren’t bad enough already.” (p. 150)


[6] “Never did have much use for farmers,” Smith goes on.  (Trudge, trudge.)  “And that includes melon growers.  Before farming was invented we was all hunters or stockmen.  We lived in the open, and every man had at least ten square miles all his own.  Then they went and invented agriculture and the human rate took a big step backwards.  From hunters and ranchers down to farmers, that was one hell of a Fall.  And even worse to come.  No wonder that tomato picker Cain murdered his brother Abel.  A farmer gets that way – like a snake in the grass.” (p. 332)


[7]“The real trouble with the goddamned Indians, reflected Hayduke, is that they are no better than the rest of us.  The real trouble is that the Indians are just as stupid and greedy and cowardly and dull as us white folks.” (p. 25)


[8]“Hayduke, also a romantic and a dreamer, thought mostly of masochistic machinery, steel in pain, iron under unnatural duress, the multiple images of what he called “creative destruction.”  One way or another they were going to slow if not halt the advance of Technology, the growth of Growth, the spread of the ideology of the cancer cell.”


[9] The environmentalist image of gorging on wild flesh is not unique to Hayduke.  A recently-published celebration of salmon recovery efforts on California’s Mattole River contains a similar image:


“I have no memory of having arrived where I did by any logical thought process; I don’t remember telling myself that this is what I should do.  But I found myself alone in a dark corner of the fish hold squatting with a ten- or twelve-pound sockeye salmon still alive across my knees.  With a knife I opened up its chest cavity just enough to find the heart and tear it out with two fingers and a thumb.  It came with a ripping and squirting sound.  I popped the heart into my mouth and bit down once, hard, through the gristly thing.  One bite brought a flavor like all of Icy Straights and enough saliva to float ten salmon hearts, enough to swallow it whole”  (Freeman House, Totem Salmon:  Life Lessons from Another Species 112-13 (Beacon Press 1999)


[10] Proverbs 18:2.


[11] J. Long & B. Denson, “Crimes in the Name of the Environment: IV”, The Oregonian, Sept. 29, 1999, at A10.


[12] Id.


[13] AP, “New agency to guide BPA, fish sought”, Seattle Post-Intelligencer, Sept. 17, 1999, at C7.