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Cities Burn, Max Hikes

Monday, June 1st, 2020: Black Range, Hikes, Sawyers, Southwest New Mexico.

Is denial a river in Egypt?

We depend on news media for information about the world outside our neighborhoods. But news media are businesses within the capitalist consumer economy. News media reflect the dominant worldview of our society. The information they deliver is driven by their business agenda and prioritized by the dominant values of society – the values of elites: Eurocentrism, anthropocentrism, individualism, statism, imperialism, competition, etc.

This is okay with most of us, because we share that dominant worldview and we accept those dominant values. It’s what we were taught in the schools.

But is our worldview accurate? What might it be leaving out?

What about our history? Do we absorb the news in context of our history as brutal conquerors and enslavers? Do we assume that the past is past, problems are solved and errors forgiven? The Native Americans whose land our ancestors stole, upon whom they perpetrated genocide – all that’s in the past, we Anglos are the natives now. The fact that our great cities sit on the land of indigenous people and our children are consuming their resources – that’s just the way things are, you can’t turn back the clock. Besides, Native Americans weren’t that great – scientists say they drove Pleistocene megafauna to extinction. Anyone defending them is just naively romanticizing the noble savage, and this land is better off in our hands.

Lincoln freed the slaves, the civil rights movement of the 60s ended segregation, one day a year we celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. – shouldn’t that be good enough?

In the media worldview, we live in a democracy, so when people seem to threaten that, we call them fascists. But how many of us are really aware that the U.S. maintains a worldwide military empire, with over 600 bases in foreign countries on every continent, and we’re actually still at war in Afghanistan? We don’t get to vote on any aspect of our military or how it is used, so from the point of view of our warriors and their victims, the argument of fascism vs. democracy is largely irrelevant – in a military sense, the U.S. is not a peaceful democracy, it’s truly a violent empire.

Nor do we get to vote on the U.S. economic and industrial empire, or on the implementation of new technologies that determine our future. A billionaire like Elon Musk can surround the Earth with tens of thousands of satellites, disrupting the entire planet’s night sky, without any public dialog, and without even making the news headlines. No wonder we’re so often shocked by the news – our main source of information leaves us clueless.

We have a justice system – everyone has the right to a trial by a jury of his or her peers. Really? How many of us are aware that local prosecutors actually decide the fate of the accused in most cases, single-handedly imposing punishment on people whose guilt is never proven? As our prison populations spiral out of control, are we aware of restorative alternatives to punishment and incarceration which were developed and successfully implemented by societies we’ve conquered and replaced?

Come on Max, be realistic. We have to deal with things as they are.

Sure, our society has problems. But they can all be solved by electing the right president, and implementing the right technologies. Space exploration will solve everything – as we know from Star Trek and Star Wars, in space all races can live together in harmony. Earth is obviously the source of all our problems. Screw the Earth – let’s colonize Mars! After all, colonialism has worked well for us Europeans so far. Our generation may have screwed things up, but our kids will do it right.

My generation, the generation that came of age in the 60s, was supposedly enlightened. Funny how as they aged, they gravitated toward more and more affluent, whites-only jobs and neighborhoods. Choosing a community of peers, they ended up in bubbles surrounded by like-minded people, unaware of how others were living, thinking, or feeling. Their kids went to private schools – one of them even chose a college formerly known as “White-Man College” for its near-complete lack of minority students. My friends seldom considered that they were helping to make our society more segregated than ever. As a result, their families are doing great – they’re completely isolated from people of color and poor neighborhoods. But that’s okay, because they have their trusted national media to keep them well informed.

So they believe in progress, and unless the news tells them otherwise, they think everything’s fine in the world. No conflict, no segregation, no discrimination, no poverty, no frustration, no suffering. My generation even elected a Black president! Sure, he was a half-white lawyer from the suburbs, not a son of poverty from the ghetto, but it was progress, anyway, right? That’s the important thing, we’re moving forward, away from that past where we made all those mistakes.

In the rural Midwest, I grew up with Black classmates, and I went to college amid the vast Black ghettos of Chicago’s South Side. Unlike many of my friends, as an artist and musician needing cheap studio space, I lived in dangerous slums and barrios among poor Blacks and Latinos most of my adult life, where I had Black colleagues, bandmates, friends, and roommates. My old hometown of Oakland prides itself on some of the most successfully integrated neighborhoods in the world, but much of it is also segregated, with a history of racism and racial violence. My current hometown in the rural Southwest has only a handful of Black folks, but unlike almost all of my friends, I live now in an integrated, relatively egalitarian community, in a neighborhood that’s half Latino.

In poor ethnic neighborhoods of West Coast cities, I’ve had police helicopters and SWAT teams surround my house multiple times. I was falsely arrested and spent a night in a jail cell with poor Blacks and Latinos. The cops have seldom helped me and often hurt me, and I reject all our institutions of “justice” and “law enforcement” as simply the destructive, coercive mechanisms of social control employed by the imperialist ruling class.

But I’m not immune from denial. It took two years of hard work to recover from my chronic foot injury, and another 18 months to build to my current level of fitness. Yet after my foot started to hurt again on Saturday, and I swore to take a break from hiking, I got up on Sunday and went out for a hike anyway.

I rationalized it because when I got up, my foot no longer hurt. And it felt fine for most of my hike. I hadn’t forgotten yesterday’s pain – I planned to take it easier than usual. This meant hiking closer to 10 miles rather than 15, and keeping my elevation gain closer to 3,000′ rather than 4,000′.

I was targeting the southern segment of the crest trail that normally takes me north to a 10,000′ peak. This southern segment sees less traffic, and those who hike it usually only go as far as the 9,600′ southern peak, which is 3-1/2 miles one-way. I figured I’d try the trail past the peak, although it traverses the heart of the 2013 wildfire burn area and there was no information on whether it’d been cleared of logs.

As it turned out, nobody else uses the trail beyond the peak. It’s unmaintained and abandoned. It’s overgrown and blocked by deadfall and blowdown, and the farther you go, the less evidence there is that a trail ever existed. I managed to get about a mile and a half beyond the peak, fixing landmarks in my mind and cutting arrows in the dirt to help me find the way back, before I gave up and turned back. But at least I was able to get a view of the southern part of the range as it trails off and subsides into the low desert.

This part of the mountains lies outside the protected wilderness area, and I’d seen old cowpies along the trail from the start. In fact, the abandoned segment beyond the peak is now used only by cattle. I glimpsed a lone bull in the forest above me when I sidetracked off the trail to climb the peak. And on the way back, I passed three cows grazing in lush grass at 9,000′ on a steep forested slope below the trail.

The New Mexico locust whose dangerous thorns I’d been contending with in other high-elevation burn scars were now blooming, and I’d been informed by a local botanist friend that the flowers were edible, so I sampled some and found them pretty good, with just enough sweetness on top of the sour base. Hopefully they’ll hold their blooms until the wild strawberries are ready and I can combine them.

It wasn’t until the last mile that my foot began to hurt, and when it did, it was so bad I couldn’t put weight on the ball of my foot and had to limp the rest of the way to the vehicle. There, I examined a historical plaque that explains the name of this high pass.

Like our news media, the sign leaves out most of the story. Lt. Emory was part of the Army of the West. This army was an early agent of the imperialism in which our white, Eurocentric society has replaced native peoples. The story is far too complex for most of us to keep in mind – first the Spanish came and conquered the Indians of the Western Hemisphere, then they established European colonies, then we Anglo-Americans conquered parts of their colonies along with what natives were left. And now we consider ourselves natives. What’s past is done, right?

Another aspect of the complexity we deny is that science accompanies our violent conquests – Emory represented science in the Army of the West, and we credit the scientific discovery of this place to that violent conquest. We deny how these things go hand in hand. No pleasant urban neighborhoods with their galleries, theaters, pubs and nightclubs, coffeehouses and bookstores, without the militarized police and the hidden military empire, without the violent conquests, the capitalist oppression, the consumerist exploitation of distant rural communities and habitats.

But you probably know by now what I see. I see that our society is perpetually in a state of collapse. Our cities are parasitic enclaves grafted unsustainably onto land stolen from indigenous peoples. Our police, our military, our presidents will fight their way to their own demise, and good riddance.

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Lion Food

Sunday, August 2nd, 2020: Animals, Black Range, Hikes, Nature, Sawyers, Southwest New Mexico.

It was forecast to reach the low 90s in town, so I figured I’d head for the high country. I could do the Black Range Crest Trail to 9,700′ Sawyers Peak, a hike I’d only done twice before because it was less than 7 miles round trip. I could make it longer by fighting my way through another mile and a half of deadfall, or I could try a branch trail that might or might not be passable since the 2013 wildfire. Although it’d be hot at first, I figured there was also a good chance of clouds and rain in the afternoon.

When I got to the trailhead up in 8,200′ Emory Pass, there were already two other vehicles, plus a pile of stuff concerning a lost dog: a khaki jacket, a pile of dog food, and a note with a phone number.

As I hiked up the trail, I pondered the dog note. All dogs are supposed to be on leash on these trails, but nobody complies with the rule, hence the lost dog. And if their dog was lost, why did they leave? Why wasn’t the owner still here, waiting or looking for their dog? Why did they expect others to find the dog for them? If I’d lost something that important, I’d be camping out on the mountain.

A quarter mile up the trail I met a young guy with a camouflage backpack and an Aussie cattle dog. He said he’d been out here before dawn, scouting for elk, since he had a hunt coming up in November. He said he’d seen four bulls together, up around the peak. I wished him luck with the hunt.

A mile farther, I passed an older couple, also with an off-leash dog, who said they’d climbed the peak. A little farther and I reached the branch trail junction. I was starting down through the high-elevation forest, aiming for vague patches of tread, picking my way over fallen trees, when suddenly a dog barked up ahead. The lost dog!

I talked to the dog in a friendly way, and soon it came into view. It was a dark brown, short-haired little hound, and it looked on its last legs. Holding my hand out, I got it to come to me. It seemed in a state of shock or severe depression. It had a collar but no tag. It looked like it could hardly stand, let alone walk. As I walked past to check out the trail, the dog laid down in a depression it had made in the dirt under a ponderosa pine. I hiked another 50 yards and discovered there was literally no trail left to follow. I told the dog I’d be back later, and continued back to the crest trail.

With no branch trail I was doomed to battle deadfall past the peak. But I’d done it once before, and this time might be easier because I knew where I was going.

Traversing the side of the peak I encountered the four bull elk. They were in the standing snags above the trail, and their racks were huge. This was the first time I’d encountered a group of mature bulls in the wild, and it was pretty impressive.

I decided to skip the peak on the way in, and decide on my return whether to climb it or not – it’s only a few hundred feet above the trail. I continued south on the abandoned part of the crest trail as dark clouds moved over the range from the northwest. Finally, as I approached the grassy knoll that was my destination, I saw three young buck deer up ahead. It was a day for male ungulates!

The bucks took off and I climbed the knoll. Lightning and thunder had started farther north, and there wasn’t much cover up there. I crawled under a low juniper and ate a lunch of mixed nuts while I watched the storm come to me.

Rain started as I got up to start back. It was light at first, but by the time I got to the saddle below the knoll I had to unpack my poncho. By the time I was working my way up through the steep jungle of deadfall toward the peak, I was in a full hailstorm with lightning striking nearby and deafening cascades of thunder. Just my kind of weather!

When I reached the saddle below the peak, I decided to climb it. I hadn’t stopped thinking about that poor dog, but I wasn’t going to cut my hike short just for some fool’s pet. Besides, the dog could at least find some water now that it was raining.

There was no trail to the peak, and it was a difficult hike up broken, rocky ground with lots of deadfall. On the way back down, I strained my knee, which had been giving me trouble for the past couple of months, so I had to stop and put on a stronger brace. My pants and boots were soaked.

Continuing down the trail, I thought about the dog. I checked my pack and found a nylon strap I could use as a leash. And luckily, I’d brought two sources of meat protein – a venison bar and some salmon jerky. I’d give the salmon to the dog. And I could lay my poncho down in the dog’s dirt depression and fill it with water. I’d taken a photo of the stuff at the trailhead, and when I checked my camera, I discovered I could zoom in on the note and read the phone number. I was planning to give the owner a hard time. No leash, no tag, what were they thinking?

When I reached the branch trail, I took off my poncho so the dog would recognize me. I started calling it, and when I reached its little bed under the big pine, I saw it coming up the slope toward me.

I laid my poncho down and poured a little water into it, but the dog wasn’t interested in that. So I poured out the salmon jerky, which it ate, but not with much enthusiasm. Then I fastened my nylon strap to its collar and started leading it up toward the saddle. The dog soon balked and stood firm, and I couldn’t drag it forward. So I took the leash off.

I noticed it was a female. “Come on, girl!” I urged. I walked a little ahead, and the dog slowly followed, stopping frequently to sniff the ground. We continued this way, slowly, to the saddle, and then down the trail, me turning back frequently to encourage the dog. Soon we reached a couple of fallen logs that had to be climbed over. I crossed easily, but the dog seemed completely at a loss. She glanced from side to side, then turned around and walked away from me, her head hanging down.

I went back and called her again, and she came up. “Come on,” I said, patting the logs. She put her front legs up, and as I backed away, she finally climbed weakly over. It was as if she’d never seen a log before. Her entire attitude seemed one of shock and depression. I forged ahead, but after I’d gone a dozen yards I turned and saw she’d stopped again. She sniffed the trail, then turned and headed back toward her comfort zone. She was apparently just going to lay down and die back there under that pine.

Lion food, I thought. I’d been thinking about this for a while. People pride themselves on adopting “rescue” animals from shelters, animals that would otherwise be euthanized. The new owners are supposedly “rescuing” these animals from death.

I have a better idea. Pets make great food for wild predators. These clueless pet owners could actually help native ecosystems by donating their domesticated animals to the wild. Pets are ecologically negative – they only serve to damage nature; as food for predators, they would actually be helping nature. I did feel sorry for that dog, but it had already given up. Its spirit could live on in a mountain lion, a real animal with an actual, positive role in this ecosystem.

I reached a place where a couple bars showed on my phone, so I called the owner, but it went to voice mail. I told them where to find their dog and said if they really wanted her, they’d have to come and get her.

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