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Clio's Temple


Pave paradise, put up a parking lot

Posted on March 1, 2013 at 11:55 AM Comments comments (3)
In one way, the old European monarchies with their corps of idle aristocrats had the right idea: Preserve the land. Of course, that sometimes meant, "let the peasants starve," but that's  another argument. At least they didn't entertain the illusion that letting pillagers and poachers loose on their land was a wise policy.

Today marks the date in 1872 when President Grant signed into law the bill setting aside what we now know as Yellowstone National Park for future generations. It's been a part of the American landscape for so long that most of us can't conceive of any higher use for these lands. Which brings to mind an unsettling memory. I seem to recall that when President Reagan nominated James Watt for the post of Secretary of the Interior, some senators questioned his track record of supporting the massive commercial exploitation of federal lands. His profound reply was something like, if I remember correctly, "Senator, Jesus could come back at any time and we need to use this land while we still can." I don't know if any mouths dropped open among his questioners, but if they didn't, the senators must have been asleep.

I tell my American History students that Westerners and Easterners have (in many cases) very different attitudes toward federal land ownership. This is understandable when one looks at a map of Nevada or Idaho and sees how much of the landscape is under Uncle Sam's control. I can understand the attitude of, "Use the land" but with the caveat that "as long as we remember that we're borrowing it from our descendants." The Lakota and Arapaho might say, "at last you guys are getting smart." Custer may have died for our sins in coveting someone else's territory, but he has plenty of disciples nowadays. The promise of cheap coal, oil, gas, or timber is pretty alluring.

So let's enjoy what we have while we still have the ability to enjoy it. Happy Birthday Yellowstone and may many future generations have the chance to experience your glories!


Posted on February 24, 2013 at 3:22 PM Comments comments (9)
This weekend St. Thaddeus has hosted some visitors from Cange, Haiti, which is a mission focus of the Episcopal Diocese of Upper South Carolina. When we think of Haiti, most thoughts turn to the 2010 earthquake and the long struggle to dig out of the rubble of that disaster. Beyond that, our thoughts are most likely to go to the endemic poverty, disease, and daily battle with life that is the lot of so many in that part of the world.

Such was not the focus of our visitors. The homily was delivered by a priest educated in the Bon Sauveur school set up in Cange in the 1980s. Another member of the delegation told us in precise French of how the Cange mission had given him opportunities he would never have had otherwise. We got a reminder that Haiti's slave uprising of 1791 provided the impetus that led France in due course to lead the way in abolishing slavery. In our focus on the gloomy, we forget such things.

Deforestation is a serious problem. Charcoal is the cooking fuel most Haitians use and it has caused the denuding of much of the Haitian landscape. Cange stands as a bright exception. The diocesan liaison said that, on his first trip, Cange sat on a dusty plateau. Nowadays the terrain has been restored to much of its former lushness.

It's a good thing to be reminded of the human-nature relationship. We Americans built our nation in a land of temperature climate and abundant fuel and water. Others have had to show more ingenuity in their adaptations. Sometimes this is damaging to the world in which we live. One solution now being tried is to use "biodigestion" to accelerate the process of generating methane from organic waste, in the hope that Haitians will be able to use gas instead of charcoal for cooking. One thinks of all the landfills in the U.S., each a cookpot for producing methane. On the American landscape, though, it's usually more economical to drill for gas. Haitians are not so fortunate. One can only admire their tenacity and ingenuity in facing up to their challenges.