Red Rock Stories conveys spiritual and cultural values of Utah's canyon country through essays and poems of writers whose births span seven decades. First delivered to decision makers in Washington as a limited–edition chapbook, this art–as–advocacy book explores the fierce beauty of and the dangers to ecological and archaeological integrity in this politically embattled corner of wild America.
"In the American Southwest, we dwell in one end of the visible spectrum. Passions or furies, we see it all in shades of red." —Amy Irvine
Red Rock Stories features three generations of writers from diverse cultures. Young activists and regional leaders fill the pages with heartfelt testimonies for the red rock wilderness. Notable contributors range from acclaimed writer Terry Tempest Williams and Poet Laureate of the Navajo Nation Luci Tapahonso, to Charles Wilkinson of the University of Colorado Law School and Regina Lopez–Whiteskunk of the Ute Mountain Ute Council.
STEPHEN TRIMBLE, editor of Red Rock Stories, has published more than twenty books. He received the Sierra Club's Ansel Adams Award for photography and conservation and a Wallace Stegner Centennial Fellowship at the University of Utah Tanner Humanities Center. In 1995, Trimble co–compiled with Terry Tempest Williams the landmark book of advocacy, Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness—the model for Red Rock Testimony. He teaches writing in the University of Utah Honors College and makes his home in Salt Lake City and in Torrey, Utah.
|Publisher:||Torrey House Press|
|Product dimensions:||5.40(w) x 8.10(h) x 0.90(d)|
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PREFACE: WRITING INTO THE WHIRLWIND
In the utter simplicity of ink on paper, the writers in Red Rock Stories take readers deep into the wildness and restorative power of southern Utah's canyon country. These women and men have chosen to wield their words on behalf of this land, to counter those who see these canyons and mesas as nothing more than commodities to use and use up. And so when these storytellers evoke rivers running red in flood, when they summon the healing warmth of sun on stone, their words ring with both the solemnity of prayer and the fires of resistance.
In these pages you'll hear the glissade of a canyon wren's call breaking the stillness of a summer afternoon. You'll share in the writers' delight as they capture in language this place where, in Lauret Savoy's words, "aridity conspires with erosion to expose Earth's anatomy." You'll sense the ancient bonds to these mesas and mountains carried by Native peoples.
As readers, we understand how writing can transport us. I've sobbed at the endings of novels and memoirs. I've gasped and chortled and seethed with spitfire anger as I read strong nonfiction. I've melted at the perfectly chosen images in poems. And I've learned the language of every landscape I cherish from reading the writers who have made these places their home territories in life and work.
Words that grow from such deep roots can be contemplative and soothing, but Red Rock Stories means to raise the stakes. When politicians campaign to open up irreplaceable wildlands to destructive industry, when the white men in power scorn the traditional knowledge of Native elders and the sacred inheritance of ruins and rock art, when local officials disdain the shared national ownership of public lands, redrock writers move from quiet journaling to passionate advocacy.
We created this book to capture these emotions and deliver them to Washington, D.C.—and now, to you. The contributors write with purpose and urgency, a need even more pressing since the presidential election of 2016. These writers aim to inform you, to call you to action, to change your life, to create the future. They just may have influenced President Barack Obama when he created Bears Ears National Monument on December 28, 2016.
We'll need their message for years to come. The fossil fuel industry and its supporters in politics and the rural West never cease attacking, never relent in their crusade to wring maximum profit from public lands. We'll need inspiration as we rally again and again to oppose schemes to develop, fragment, sell, or diminish the redrock wilderness.
Red Rock Stories grew organically from events at the beginning of 2016, when a confluence of hostilities and opportunities surfaced in western wildlands.
The whirlwind of threats ranged from sweeping demands for local control of public lands to Utah Republican congressional representatives Rob Bishop's and Jason Chaffetz's Public Lands Initiative. This legislation promised to address the big issues on federal lands in eastern Utah with a "grand compromise" supported by all. Instead, the PLI bill turned out to be both woefully inadequate as conservation and dangerously precedent setting in promoting rampant fossil fuel extraction.
In response, the Salt Lake City writing community began to meet, called together by a couple of long–time activists—all of us ready to ally ourselves with the long tradition of writing in support of conservation.
We had one remarkable campaign to support, the unparalleled Bears Ears Inter–Tribal Coalition proposal. Five Southwestern Native nations had asked President Obama to proclaim a national monument on 1.9 million acres in southeast Utah, to protect extraordinary sacred lands from archaeological vandalism and destructive energy development. The tribes asked for co–management of the Bears Ears, honoring traditional knowledge along with western science.
We asked, how can we best participate in these conversations and affect these decisions with our essays and poems and stories?
Our concerned group of citizen–writers had a powerful model, a 1995 book created at a similar moment of crisis, Testimony: Writers of the West Speak on Behalf of Utah Wilderness.
In the mid–1990s, Congress was considering a bill that would undermine the integrity of the 1964 Wilderness Act and open up millions of acres of Utah's public lands to devastating development. As colleagues and friends based in Salt Lake City, Terry Tempest Williams and I decided that our best chance to counter this anti–wilderness bill lay in gathering short pieces from twenty writers with deep ties to Utah wildlands. In just two months, we invited submissions, snagged a small grant to pay for printing, and took the compilation of writing to Washington, D.C., where we delivered a copy of our chapbook to every member of Congress.
We had no idea if the book would matter. We sent these pieces of writing into the offices of decision–makers as an act of faith. But when Senators Bill Bradley (D–NJ) and Russ Feingold (D–WI) successfully led the filibuster that defeated the bill, they read essays from Testimony on the floor of the Senate. When President Bill Clinton proclaimed Grand Staircase–Escalante National Monument in 1996, he held up a copy of Testimony and said, "This made a difference."
And so, with this 2016 round of attacks on public lands—and the promise of the Bears Ears monument—the Utah writing community once again asked, do we need a Testimony II?
Kirsten Johanna Allen asked that question most forcefully and answered with a resounding "yes." She is both an ardent conservationist and advocate as well as publisher of Utah’s nonprofit Torrey House Press. She asked me to edit and made the commitment to publish this trade edition after initial distribution of a chapbook in the circles of power in Washington, D.C. With a bow toward the original Testimony, we called our chapbook of essays and poems Red Rock Testimony. We call this expanded version you hold in your hands Red Rock Stories.
As we began work in April 2016, we invited nearly 60 writers with ties to Utah to contribute, reaching far beyond the concerned people gathered in Salt Lake City. Writers and citizens from every state love the southern Utah canyon country, and we wished to emphasize that universality. Charles Wilkinson, the preeminent Indian law scholar who was volunteering with the Bears Ears Inter–Tribal Coalition, helped us to reach out to Native writers, since the Bears Ears proposal owed so much to the sensibilities, traditions, and vision of the tribes. Charles begins the book with a quick survey of Colorado Plateau conservation that places the events of 2016 in context.
We gave writers little more than a month to deliver their manuscripts—leaving just enough time for printing before we took the book to Washington in mid–June. The invitees responded with extraordinary efforts, nearly all sending original work. Kathleen Dean Moore wrote her piece about the legacy we will leave to our children while she camped along the goose–necked canyons of the San Juan River during a five–day float trip. She fired off her draft the moment she reached cell service. Gary Nabhan wrote when pain from his recent knee surgery kept him awake in the middle of the night. He recalled a transformative backpacking trip into the Bears Ears as a young man, and I suspect that memory helped him to heal.
Contributors were gracious when we excerpted their longer pieces to make everything fit into 88 pages, the maximum length for a saddle–stitched chapbook. As essays and poems poured in, we realized that the birthdates of these writers ranged from Brooke Larsen, born in 1992, to Bruce Babbitt, born in 1938. Our subtitle became obvious: Three Generations of Writers Speak on Behalf of Utah's Public Lands.
With the printer racing to meet our deadline, in June 2016, Kirsten Allen and I took our cartons of books to Washington, D.C. We distributed copies to decision makers—to staffers at all levels in the land management agencies, to the President’s Council on Environmental Quality, and to a few key members of Congress. Shortly afterward, we sent the book to every member of Congress with a rousing cover letter from Bruce Babbitt.
We hope the book reached the hands and hearts of the Secretary of the Interior Sally Jewell and of Barack Obama. We hope these words helped to inspire their decision to proclaim this innovative 1.35–million–acre national monument during the president's last month in office.
These writers make their homes from New England to California, from Oregon to North Carolina. About a dozen of our 34 contributors live in Utah. We've created a community chorus whose lives span nine decades, a montage of poems and essays that includes Native and Hispanic voices, warnings from elders and challenges from millennials, personal emotional journeys, and lyrical nature writing. These pieces address historical context, natural history and archaeology, energy threats, faith, and politics. Together, they offer a nuanced case for restraint and respect in this incomparable redrock landscape.
In Red Rock Stories, the essays and poems we shortened for Red Rock Testimony have the freedom to expand to their full length, to breathe freely. We have also included a "Red Rock History" postscript, archiving the documents that led to this book and to the Bears Ears proclamation.
The contributors to Red Rock Stories speak as individuals, with untethered artistic freedom. They ask to be heard as writers, as citizens, honoring the land without ties to any single advocacy organization. We include no photographs, no art. We have faith in the abilities of these poets, journalists, and essayists to nourish and embolden readers with only their words.
We send these pieces on their way and believe that here and there a congressional staffer, a BLM administrator holed up in a stuffy office, or a citizen activist in love with redrock wilderness may pick up the book and start leafing through the pages. They'll find a moment of respite and a sense of pride, for these writers honor the good work of these officials and advocates and celebrate the places they labor to protect.
Perhaps Alastair Bitsoi catches that reader's eye when he says, "Bears Ears will always be a significant healing space for young Navajos like me, who live in the concrete jungle that is New York City." Maybe another reader lands on Regina Lopez–Whiteskunk being "floored by the amount of disrespect" she received when the chair of a legislative hearing at the Utah Capitol rudely cut her off as she spoke of the "personal healing like nothing else" that she finds in the Bears Ears.
We offer many ways into the argument for protecting these endangered lands. Mary Sojourner tells of meeting a guy named Bear Campbell in a Flagstaff bar and going camping with him in the woods below Bears Ears. Anne Terashima writes as a millennial grateful for time on the Green River in Labyrinth Canyon, a chance to disconnect from Instagram and Facebook. David Gessner ponders the "freedom of restraint" and concludes that "here freedom becomes more than a jingoistic word used to wage war and sell trucks." And Bruce Babbitt, who served as Secretary of the Interior under President Bill Clinton, makes the case for Bears Ears as a former Arizona attorney general and president of the League of Conservation Voters: "The best way to defend the Antiquities Act is for the President to use it."
With the transition to an administration led by Republicans who abhor such bold acts of conservation and who have little interest in acknowledging Native people, we know these Red Rock Stories matter more than ever. Perhaps Senators Dick Durbin (D–IL) or Martin Heinrich (D–NM) or Congressman Alan Lowenthal (D–CA)—all champions of southern Utah public lands—will find words here even yet, to use when it comes time to lead the fight against bad legislation or to counter renewed attacks on the Antiquities Act.
We know we'll be fighting on behalf of the land during the next four years and for the rest of our lives. We know that much of what these writers have to say applies to landscapes far beyond Utah. And so Red Rock Stories has a long life.
When politics and advocacy grow exhausting and discouraging, turn to these stories from the redrock for rekindling and refuge. We'll need these writers' eloquent calls for protection of the Colorado Plateau now and forever.
As Red Rock Stories went to press, Utah's elected officials thundered their demands to rescind Bears Ears National Monument while polls in Indian Country and across the West documented overwhelming support of Bears Ears and national monument designations. In response, Simon Ortiz reassured the redrock writing community—and all of us—with these wise words:
“Our belief in our community—human, animal, plant, desert, mountain, stars above—will prevail and sustain us.
"Now we know what we must do, a line from a Pueblo song. The land shall endure. There will be victory. The land will go on. We shall have victory."
Salt Lake City, February 2017
Table of ContentsCharles Wilkinson
RIGHT OF WAY
Kevin T. Jones
THE MAN WITH A HEART OF STONE
THE LAND OF NO USE
THE FREEDOM OF RESTRAINT
THE ONLY WAY FORWARD
IT'S TIME TO HEAL BEARS EARS
ON COMPROMISED GROUND
STONE THAT LEAPS
Kathleen Dean Moore
WHAT SHALL WE GIVE THE CHILDREN?
Jen Jackson Quintano
Terry Tempest Williams
A PLACE FOR MEDIATION
Alastair Lee Bitsoi
SHASH JAA' FOLLOWS WHEREVER I GO
THE WILDNESS IN NATURE BINDS US TO THE PAST AND THE FUTURE
THE VIEW FROM THE MESA
Mary Ellen Hannibal
Thomas Lowe Fleischner
THE GRACE OF WILDNESS
FAITH AND THE LAND
WE [HEART] WILDERNESS
IT IS THE LAND THAT TELLS THE STORY
Alison Hawthorne Deming
WHAT THE TORTOISE TAUGHT ME
WHOLE AND HOLY
WHEN THE DESERT MORNING RISES
Gary Paul Nabhan
UP BETWEEN THE BEARS EARS
IT'S TIME TO ACT
I AM A SON OF THE COLORADO PLATEAU
WE COME OUT DANCING TOGETHER